General Wei Tsu Tin finished pulling on his dry socks as one of his soldiers ran up and saluted. Wei returned the salute as the soldier reported.
“Sir, we have the tracking device up and running.”
“Good,” Wei replied. “Where are the scouts?”
“They seem to have separated, sir,” the soldier reported. “One is about four kilometers due south. The other is approximately five kilometers southeast of the first.”
Wei was puzzled. He was not an expert in scouting maneuvers but he assumed that it was rare for two scouts to work so far apart.
“Are they moving?” Wei asked.
“Neither one has moved since we fired up the receiver a little more than five minutes ago,” the solider replied.
That puzzled Wei even more. Unless … unless they were dead.
Wei swore bitterly – a rarity for PLA generals. Protocol demanded that the general stand head and shoulders above his troops in all ways, including his use of language and demonstration of emotion. The reporting soldier pretended not to have heard.
“I want two squads to go in after the scouts,” Wei ordered. “Locate the bodies ….” Wei paused. “Locate the scouts and return with a report. Do not engage the Americans if at all possible.”
“Yes, sir!” The soldier saluted again and turned on his heel to do his general’s bidding.
Wei laced up his boots alone with his thoughts. The Americans had proven themselves challenging adversaries time and again. This time appeared to be no different. Wei realized that he needed a difference-maker … a force multiplier … something to give him an edge.
Lost in thought, Wei didn’t notice as his radio operator approached.
The communication specialist stopped a few feet from Wei, giving him a moment to return from his reverie, and then saluted. Wei returned the salute without standing.
“What is it sergeant?” Wei demanded.
“Sir, there’s a call for you on the radio,” the comms guy was obviously nervous.
Wei took the handset from the man. “Wei here.”
“General Wei,” the transmission was laced with background static but clearly discernible, “this is General Watanabe of the PLAAF. I understand that you are pursuing some American rebels in the Okefenokee Swamp.”
“That is correct,” Wei replied.
“I am the commander of the third air wing,” General Watanabe continued. “My orders are to support you in your mission any way possible.”
Wei’s face lit up like a lantern.
“Much appreciated, General Watanabe,” Wei replied. “Where are you located?”
“My squadron is currently marshaled at Ft. Benning, approximately 320 kilometers, by air, from the north end of the swamp,” General Watanabe responded.
“What equipment do you have at your disposal?” Wei went on.
“We currently have eight Xian JH-7 fighter-bombers and two Shannxi Y-8 transports at our disposal,” Watanabe outlined his squadron’s capabilities.
“Excellent,” Wei rubbed his free hand on his cheek and then wrinkled his nose at the remaining smell from his damp socks. “We are working to locate the American headquarters. Once we have done so, may I reach you on this channel for further planning and tactics?”
“Certainly,” Watanabe replied. “We will staff this channel twenty-four hours a day until we hear from you.”
“Copy that,” Wei tried to sound as much like a military commander as possible. “Wei out.”
“Watanabe out,” the other general closed the connection.
General Wei stood and looked down at the radioman. “Tell the colonel to get those recon squads moving now!”
“Yes, sir!” The communications specialist saluted and double-timed back to the main group a few yards away.
Roughly eight kilometers away, as the crow flies, Manuel Colón was finishing up a friendly conversation with the surviving U.N. scout.
“Stay here,” Manny instructed the scout. “I’ll see if I can get you something to eat.”
The scout’s eyes lit up. Even though they were well supplied back at the FEMA camp, food had been in short supply during their foray into the swamp.
“Thank you,” the scout replied as he decided that perhaps the Americans weren’t as bad as they’d been made out to be.
Manny hustled back to Pappy’s cabin where Pappy and a half-dozen other men, many years his junior, sat on the porch.
Manny pulled up a rickety wooden chair with a woven cane seat. The seat sagged and the chair groaned in protest under Manny’s 165 pounds. The group of men stopped talking as Manny sat down.
“They have a pretty sizable force already here in the swamp,” Manny began. “He’s not sure how far away they are because he lost his bearings a bit as Pitcher brought him here.”
Heads turned to look at Pitcher.
“Hey, I was jut trying to maintain opsec,” Pitcher turned his palms upward and shrugged his shoulders.
The group of men chuckled.
“Based on what the guy said,” Manny continued, “I’d put them within six to ten miles away on a straight line.”
“That gives us some time even if they’re already on the move,” Pappy stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“My guess, based on what I found out, is that they’re waiting for the scouts to return before they make a move,” Manny replied.
“With that said,” Pitcher tried to redeem himself, “if the scouts don’t return as planned, they’ll either send out a smaller group of troops to find them or the whole bunch will come crashing through the swamp looking for us.”
“True enough,” Pappy spat tobacco juice off the porch and into the dirt near the steps. “Either way, we best be getting ourselves prepared.”