Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Long War, Part XXII - Mobilization


The Chinese were leaving Tanegashima.

The order came several hours earlier, and the two companies assigned to the X-Com task force had their gear packed and ready to depart. The Chinese barracks were stripped bare, and the soldiers were now simply lounging around the grounds waiting to board the transports that would take them to Osaka Airport, and from there, China. Such was the current tension between the two nations that any military aircraft from Japan entering Chinese air space would be shot down. The Chinese would be flying home from Osaka on Turkish civilian airplanes.

Six months earlier the Japanese would have scarcely batted an eyelid at the Chinese's departure. Both nations conducted regular war games in which the other was the oft-unacknowledged but tacit enemy, and it showed in their attitude to one another. Japanese ground crews and base personnel maintained the facade of tatemae, but in bar rooms, barracks and mess halls, out of earshot, jokes and insults were thrown around carelessly and spitefully. The same was true for the Chinese, who came to Tanegashima with an attitude of arrogant aloofness. Only the presence of soldiers from numerous other nations prevented the two rivals from coming to blows, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Now neutral observers were treated to the incongruous sight of Japanese and Chinese soldiers talking side by side, sharing cigarettes and making jokes. Communication was done mainly in pidgin English, but it sufficed. The Chinese and Japanese companies had held the line side by side in Ogbomosho, and what began as a hostile and antagonistic relationship morphed into something far different. In the dark hours before dawn, when the X-Com task force was beginning to buckle under the pressure, the two nations had merged their lines, shared their stocks of weapons and ammunition, and provided fire support for one another. And when NATO forces finally arrived on the morning of 9 April to prevent the UN collapse the Japanese and Chinese troops had cheered together, and exchanged hugs, back slaps and handshakes. Belgian, Dutch and German troops arriving to relieve the sector found it difficult to differentiate between Chinese and Japanese soldiers, whose units were mixed together, intermingled and unified in their relief and joy at having survived.

Many friendships began in the crucible of Ogbomosho, and these ties would be deepened and strengthened by joint exercises and future operations. The rising tensions brought on by the incident on 27 August dismayed and worried both sides, a reaction no one would have predicted at the beginning of their deployment. The withdrawal of the Chinese from X-Com was inevitable, and when the Chinese began to pack and haul their gear to the mustering areas they were assisted by the Japanese soldiers they had fought with. The regret on both sides at this turn of events was palpable, as was the mutual understanding that if it came to it, both sides would do their duty by their nation.

Kappa was one such Japanese soldier, and he was smoking a cigarette with Dacheng, a Chinese captain leading the second of China's two companies. Both soldiers were regarding the side of a Cobra helicopter solemnly. The Japanese ground crew had painted a vivacious, smiling and alarmingly cheerful cartoon character on the side of the aircraft. Kappa did not share in his nation's enthusiasm for anime or manga, which he considered juvenile and puerile, but his disdain was not shared by Dacheng, who looked at the smiling girl approvingly.



"This is good," Dacheng said thoughtfully. His Japanese was excellent.

Kappa snorted. He could speak basic Mandarin, and he sought to practice it at every opportunity. He pointed at the picture. "She's the pilot, apparently."

"Have you met her?"

"No."

"Pity. She's pretty."

"Not my type."

"Your loss."

"I never thought I'd see so many women in the SDF. Or in the PLA, for that matter."

"When it comes to fights for the state's survival we Communists have never shied away from being pragmatic. Women make up half the population. Why waste half the state's manpower?"

"You're Communists only in name now, Dacheng. Never seen so many investors and developers emerge from a Communist country before."

"I don't disagree with you." Dacheng flicked away his cigarette. 

"The world is changing, my friend, and I'm not sure it's for the better."

"The world will take care of itself."

"What the fuck does that mean? That has no meaning."

Dacheng laughed. "It means that I believe common decency will prevail, regardless of whatever the future brings."

Kappa's face darkened. "I hope so."

The two soldiers stood in silence, until the sound of a raised voice in anger interrupted their reverie. In the distance a Japanese crewman was hurling a stream of profanities at a Chinese soldier, who in turn was standing his ground. A crowd was gathering around them, and both sides seemed to be at an impasse, until the Japanese soldier shoved the Chinese soldier and started a real fight.

Kappa and Dacheng broke into a run, and rapidly intervened. Dacheng pulled off the Chinese soldier while Kappa restraining the Japanese crewman, who was somehow still yelling and cursing.

"Oi! O-mae! Uru-se!" Kappa barked at his countryman who was staring furiously at the Chinese soldier. "Nani atten da yo?" Hey, you - quiet! What the fuck are you doing?

The Japanese soldier spat at the Chinese soldier's direction. "The Chinese occupied the Senkakus an hour ago. They've invaded Japan."

Kappa and Dacheng exchanged heavy glances. "Ku-so." Well, shit.

*****

"We've analyzed the data multiple times," said Chief Engineer Raymond Shen. "It was not possible for Chinese fire control radar to lock onto the Japanese jets. Data from Japanese E-767 AWACs clearly shows that the Chinese fighters were out of range."

"So the Japanese fired first, as the Chinese claim?" Brigadier-General John Bradford was listening to his first briefing as the new X-Com Force Commander, having taken over from General Kiyofumi Iwata of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF). Also present were an intimidating array of international representatives, with no less than the UN Secretary-General and the US Secretary of State also present, along with the Japanese Prime Minister.


"Yes and no. Flight records clearly indicate radar lock warnings going off in all the Japanese jets, but whatever set off those warnings did not originate from the Chinese jets. They were too far away. But something locked on the Japanese - the pilots had every reason to believe they were being fired at when they went weapons free."

"You're not telling me anything I don't already know, General Bradford," said the Japanese Prime Minister through his interpreter. "Our analysis of the flight data reveals the same conclusion."

"If the Chinese did not lock onto the Japanese jets then who did?" The US Secretary of State clearly did not believe Shen had anything of import, and did not bother to hide his feelings on the matter.

"You have a hypothesis, Chief," Bradford said. "Let's hear it."

"We know the aliens can manipulate their radar signature. We know they can disappear off our scopes. We don't know why they don't stay off our scopes permanently, or how they do it, but it's well within their capabilities to mimic the signature of a Chinese drone. What if the aliens had mimicked the signature of a drone to provoke an international incident? They lure the Japanese in with a fake signal, which provokes a Chinese response. Once the fighters are in close proximity the UFO mimics Chinese fire control radar and locks on to the Japanese fighters, fooling them into thinking they're being fired upon. The Japanese retaliate, the Chinese fight back, and we come to the situation we are at today."

"Could we not share these findings with the Chinese?" Bradford directed this to the UN Secretary-General. "Ask them to stand down?"

"I'm afraid all this will do is give hard evidence to the Chinese that they did not fire first," replied Ban Ki-Moon. "They'll dismiss the rest as preposterous. Do you have any further evidence supporting your claim?"

"Only the pilot's testimonies. The two surviving Japanese pilots testified that they saw a UFO in the vicinity."

"That will not be sufficient to sway Chinese opinion."

"Look, I hate to interrupt, but listen." US Secretary of State John Kerry was characteristically blunt. "Blaming the aliens for anything bad that happens is the new fad of the moment. Lost your cat? The aliens took it. I read on the news the other day that the aliens were responsible for Brexit. They're becoming a convenient scapegoat for everyone. Unless X-Com has real, tangible proof of alien involvement we should confine this discussion to the Chinese and Japanese."

Shen did not take this lying down. "We just proved to you that the Chinese fighters did not lock on to Japanese fighters. So what triggered those warnings in the Japanese jets?"

"Equipment malfunction? Pilot error? It doesn't have to be aliens that locked on to the Japanese fighters. Have you considered the possibility that Chinese stealth fighters may have been responsible? They have a new stealth fighter, the J-20. It's possible, yes? That a fifth generation fighter could slip under AWACs and light up the Japanese?"



"Yes," said Shen through gritted teeth.

"Thank you. X-Com was only invited to this meeting at the request of the Secretary-General, and now we've heard what you have to say. Our time should now be focused on the real agenda - that is, how to defuse the situation in the East China Sea."

"I agree with the Secretary," said Abe. The Japanese Prime Minister paused to collect his thoughts. "Events have moved beyond the simple assignment of blame. As you know, earlier today the Chinese Navy moved into the Senkaku Islands. Chinese marines have landed and are in the process of digging themselves in. It is no longer a question of reparations or apologies. Japan has been invaded. The Senkakus are Japanese soil - your country should know most of all that the Japanese are willing to die to the last man to defend their homeland."

"No need to lecture us on history, Prime Minister - we are allies now, and have been for more than a generation. The President has stated unequivocally that America will fulfill her obligations under the treaty."

"But you will not help us take back the Senkakus."

"Attacking the Senkakus would irrevocably escalate the conflict. We have a range of options that we should exhaust first before committing to all out war."

The Prime Minister was angry now. "Let me remind the Secretary that China is already occupying Japanese soil. They have already attacked us, Mr. Secretary - the only question now is whether America's word is worth anything these days."



"We're not going to send American soldiers and sailors to die over a bunch of uninhabited rocks, Prime Minister," said Kerry sharply. "But President Obama was unequivocal. If the Chinese escalate beyond the Senkakus we will be there. The Seventh Fleet and the Eight Army have been fully mobilized. But it is paramount importance that we go to war only as a last resort. The world hasn't been this close to global war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. We're fortunate in that the Russians are smarting so much from the debacle in Syria that they haven't thrown their full support behind China."

"Our intelligence tells us that Xi is under tremendous pressure to launch a preemptive strike. The Chinese military is well aware of what America and Japan are capable of if they are given time to prepare. It's a miracle that the missiles haven't started flying yet, but the longer we wait the more likely it becomes."

"So your solution to avoid a preemptive strike is to conduct a preemptive strike of your own?"

"As I have said repeatedly, Japan has been invaded. We have every right to retaliate with every weapon at our disposal."

"The situation in China is not as black and white as it appears," Ban interjected smoothly. "I have heard from reliable sources in the Chinese diplomatic corps that Admiral Wu acted unilaterally in occupying the Senkaku Islands, and Xi was forced into giving his actions official sanction in order to preserve the illusion of unity. In reality I believe that Chinese hawks are trying to force his hand. There is a real opportunity to prevent war here, an opportunity that will be lost if Japan launches a preemptive strike."

"Xi built his reputation as a party strongman," Kerry said skeptically. "I find it hard to believe that anyone in his party or in the armed forces would defy him."

"Therein lies our only hope of avoiding armed conflict, Mr. Secretary," said Ban. "If Wu did act unilaterally only Xi has the political muscle to pull the armed forces back from the brink. I agree with Mr. Kerry. We need to exhaust every possible avenue before committing to a war that would cripple the Asian region, and possibly draw in every superpower into the conflict. No one can afford this. No one."

*****

"Dacheng."

"General." The Chinese captain gave Bradford a crisp salute.

"At ease, soldier. You don't have to salute me anymore. China is no longer a member of the X-Com task force."

"I salute the man, not the rank, General."

Bradford grinned wryly. "Isn't it the other way around?"

"I don't know. English is very difficult for me."

"I'll get right to it. I was told earlier today that you know how to contact a Colonel Shaojie Zhang. The intelligence officer who defected to Taiwan and was deported to Hong Kong."

"That is correct, General."

"Enough of the General, please. If you're going to call me anything, call me Central."

"Yes, General."

"Suit yourself. Zhang was your commanding officer in the PLA? You served as one of his non-coms when he was in the navy special forces?"

"That is correct, General."

"You are friends?"

"That is correct, General."

"Can you contact Colonel Zhang character on behalf of X-Com? We would like to see what he has, and if it's legitimate, we want to offer him asylum."

"General, 48 hours ago I would have done this without hesitation. Now, I cannot answer until I consult with my superiors."

"Understood, Dacheng. Let me know as soon as you can."

*****

"Think she'll go for it?" Tengu asked. A gathering of X-Com's most trusted strike force soldiers were lounging around the mess hall. Bradford was also present. He enjoyed hanging out with the strike force that he had built - he found the informal egalitarianism refreshing, but more and more he realized that his rank and position made this impossible. For now he was grateful that he had an excuse to spend time in the mess hall and converse candidly with his troops. The soldiers spoke to each other equally regardless of rank, but each of them had earned their place in the strike force. Even so, Bradford noted that many of them, like Dacheng, were no longer calling him Central, but addressing him as General instead.

"Doesn't matter what she thinks." Akuma replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "She's a loyal patriot - she'll do what the party tells her to do."

"Well, we'll find out soon," said Tengu. "Here they come."

Xanziee and Dacheng walked towards the waiting Japanese squad leaders. Xanziee was in overall command of the Chinese, but she had handed over leadership duties when she joined the strike force. With the withdrawal of China from the X-Com project she had once again resumed command. She was the daughter of a high ranking member of Xi Jinping's cabinet, and as such had a direct line to party headquarters. She was envied and feared by the Chinese in equal measure - envied for her political and family connections, and feared for her no-nonsense application of the power she had at her disposal.

"We have the green light to find him."

"Excellent news," Bradford said.

"Two conditions. I go on the mission, along with a squad of my choosing." 

"Negative. Half the squad will be composed of your people. The rest we assemble from the remainder of X-Com. The second?"

Xanziee did not argue. "Anything we find is shared equally with Chinese intelligence."

"At this point we don't have a choice. We'll prep immediately. Dacheng, you can contact him?"

"Already left a message. Just waiting for a response, General."

"Good, good."

"One more thing," Xanziee added slowly. Her hesitance was uncharacteristic.

"What is it, Xan?" Tengu asked.

Only Tengu and a few others called her by that short hand. She liked the Japanese sergeant and found him to be dependable and unflappable under fire. Used to the trappings of power, however, the egalitarianism in the strike force was something that took her a long time to get used to. She looked at Tengu, then at Dacheng. Dacheng slowly nodded. "This comes from the highest authority. The highest."

Bradford looked sharply at Xanziee. "From President Xi?"

"Xi did not order Chinese marines to occupy the islands. That was Admiral Wu, acting unilaterally. But Xi has been forced to throw his full support behind Wu to prevent the hardliners from breaking away. Privately he is having reservations. Xi does not want war. China does not want war. No sane person wants war. But the party is dangerously split. Xi has to show strength. He cannot tell Wu to withdraw without good reason, or else he risks alienating the hardliners."

"You've seen the data, Xan. The Japanese were provoked into firing."

"Perhaps. Maybe if the Japanese pilots had showed more nerve none of this would have happened."

Akuma glared furiously at Xanziee, who returned his gaze with serene indifference. Tengu shook his head. "Let's not exchange recriminations now, shall we? We are all here trying to stop a war, are we not?" He looked at Xanziee. "Are we not?"

The honest earnestness in the Japanese soldier's voice disarmed the Chinese officer. "Yes," she replied. "Yes, we are." Dacheng and Akuma nodded in assent. She continued. "Let's hope that this Chilong has something of substance, and is not just wasting our time."

Dacheng spoke. "The fact that we have been given the go-ahead tells me that Beijing is desperate for a back channel solution, even for ones as outlandish as this."

"You know this man, Dacheng," Bradford asked. "Is he trustworthy?"

"He was my commanding officer. A good soldier. A friend. I would trust him with my life."

"Xanziee?"

She shrugged. "I don't know the man. But his service record is impeccable. Not a man given to wild flights of fancy. My father thinks highly of him."

"What does he have?"

"He claims to have a list of compromised personnel in the PLA. He claims that the aliens can mind control weak individuals and compel them to act according to the aliens' wishes. All wild, fantastic stuff. I would have dismissed it as the words of a lunatic a year ago."

"Yes, before the aliens arrived. Now all bets are off."

"He also offers evidence."

"Evidence? What kind?"

"Video footage. Audio. Alien artifacts. As I said - fantastic stuff."

"Maybe Xi doesn't know who to trust in his party anymore." Tengu ventured. "Maybe he wants that list in order to find out who he can trust, so that he can bring his party to order."

"Or maybe Chilong is a lunatic and this is all a giant waste of time." Akuma again.

"Maybe it is." Bradford felt increasingly old and isolated. "Maybe war is inevitable. But we have to try. Meet me in the briefing room in an hour."

*****

The Secretary-General looked tired. There were bags under his eyes, and his usually impeccably fastened tie was loose around his neck. 

"That's good news, John." The Secretary-General was one of the few people who addressed Bradford by his first name. "When will they leave?"

"As soon as possible. The squad will be made up of Chinese and Japanese soldiers. The squad leader will be jointly led by Tengu and Xanziee, a Japanese and a Chinese national respectively."

"Is that wise? Why don't we include some Europeans or Africans, just in case they fall out?"

"With the exception of one or two soldiers, all of them have fought together in Ogbomosho. Some have deployed together on UFO assaults and recoveries. They know each other, sir. I would even go so far as to say that most of them are friends and comrades."

"I find that hard to believe, given the circumstances."

"It's combat, Secretary-General. Under fire you learn a lot about a person's character. The Japanese and Chinese companies were deployed side by side in Ogbomosho, and had to support each other against waves and waves of chryssalid attacks. I guess both sides liked what they saw."

"I'll leave that up to you, John. What about your other deployments?"

"Kurogumi will go to France and make contact with Rousseau. I want to know if there is any truth to what Rousseau claims. We'll put French speakers in the team, probably French Canadians from Quebec who have a good command of the language."

"Rousseau is the one claiming that the aliens are mind controlling former X-Com soldiers?"

"That's correct. In addition to our deployment in France we will re-establish contact with Takeda and Shirogumi, and pull them out from Syria. I think it's fair to say that recent events have made their mission there redundant. If they can bring back EXALT cadavers or alien tech that will be a bonus. But the aliens coming out and declaring for the rebels pretty much confirms what we suspected about EXALT."

"Understood. Anything else?"

"Aogumi and Akagumi will remain on standby here in Tanegashima in case the aliens resume abduction missions. Our brigades will do the same. I'm spreading the task force out into Kyushu and Kanto - if the missiles start flying then the base here in Tanegashima might be one of the targets. I don't want to lose all of X-Com in one hit."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

"Is there hope for a diplomatic resolution?"

"There's always hope, John. This back channel approval is encouraging. It means they're also looking for a way out. Let's hope your team finds something. What's the squad's designation?"

"Pinkugumi, sir. Pink team."

*****

"We're fucking pink team?" Kappa could hardly contain his incredulity.

"It was Xanziee's call." Akuma did not look up from the French language book he was studying. "Take it up with her. Besides, it's just a name."

"That's easy for you to say. Your team has a cool name. Black Team. Your team sounds tough. Mysterious. Covert. But pink team? Couldn't we have brown or green instead? What happened to purple? Gold? Silver?"

"I think pink team sounds cool." Tengu said lightly.

"That's because you are a rampant homosexual with questionable tastes. Seriously, though? Pink team?"

"Kappa." Tenshi was the squad's sniper, and one of Okami's proteges. "What color is the Japanese flag?"

"White, of course. And red."

"What about the Chinese flag?"

"Red. What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"What do you get when you mix white and red?"

"I don't know. Red?"

"Pink, you idiot. You get a shade of pink." She gestured to the Chinese and Japanese soldiers gathering in the back of the Skyranger. "We're pink team."

Kappa stared at the sniper with disbelief. "That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard." He turned his gaze to Oni. The Japanese girl grinned and gave him a peace sign, before turning back to clean her weapon.

Tengu continued. "Pink is the color of sakura. Cherry blossoms are the symbol of our nation. It represents beauty, ephemerality and the transient nature of life. What's not to like?"

Kappa ignored the slow nods of agreement coming from the other Japanese soldiers, and sat down next to a burly Chinese gunner. He addressed the soldier in Mandarin. "You believe this rubbish?" He laughed derisively. "Lot of women on this plane, eh?"

The Chinese soldier turned and glared at him.

Kappa winced. "Of course. You're a woman, too." Some of the Chinese were staring at him contemptuously, but it was punctuated by smiles and chuckles from the rest. Dacheng shook his head in mock disbelief. Tenshi and Oni were trying not to laugh. Only Xanziee remained aloof and above the banter in the Skyranger, her concentration focused on a touch pad detailing the mission specs.




He sighed. "Go go, pink team."

4 comments:

  1. Go Pink Team ! (still, if you combine the Chinese and Japanese flags, you'll have more red than white)

    Also good job on the special ops and thank you for the chapter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Welcome back! Hate to be selfish I know you have a life, but missed your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks guys! Just posted another chapter, sorry for the wait.

    ReplyDelete