The sun sank slowly into the western horizon, staining the sky red. The Himalayas towered in the distance, the snow and ice on its peaks faintly visible. It made for a spectacular picture; solemn and sacred.
Three Ford Raptors ran out of Peshawar and headed to the Afghan border.
They got to the border checkpoint at nightfall. Two Pakistani soldiers signalled for the cars to be inspected and Tang Yu-Yan handed them a document from her car window. The two soldiers immediately raised the barrier arm after reading the document. All the Pakistani soldiers waved, sending their best regards as the three Ford Raptors went onward.
This situation made Xia Lei feel like the soldiers wouldn’t even care if the cars had box-type nuclear warheads in them. They weren’t called ‘Pakistani comrades’ for nothing. Only Chinese who have gone to Pakistan would experience this feeling.
Xia Lei spoke up after they crossed the Afghan border. “Why is there a border checkpoint at Pakistan but not at Afghanistan?”
“Who will be responsible for running the border checkpoint if they have one? The Islamic militant groups or the ruthless government army? The Afghan government will not bother unless it’s an important economic channel. The road we’ve chosen is quite remote and of no value to either the militant groups or the government. We won’t run into them unless our luck’s bad.”
“It’s still better to be careful,” said Xia Lei. He thought of Xia Chang-He’s warning.
The convoy went on for about ten more kilometres before a battered pick-up truck appeared on the roadside between the mountains. It had no license plates and the vehicle logo was lost too; he couldn’t tell which brand of car this was.
A middle-aged man with a headscarf on his head stood next to the pick-up truck. Xia Lei recognised him at once - he was the guide, Karam.
The three Ford Raptors stopped by the side of the road. Tang Yu-Yan alighted and exchanged a few words with Karam, then returned to the car. Karam drove his pick-up truck in front of them, leading the three Ford Raptors deeper into the mountains.
Afghanistan was known as a mountainous country and mountains could be seen everywhere here. Bald, yellow-dirt mountains, rounded and flat, crowding up one’s field of vision. This was a land abandoned by the gods and the people living here were suffering from the strains of war.
“How long will it take us to reach that tribe you talked about?” Xia Lei broke the silence in the car. He found that Tang Yu-Yan had become a little nervous and quiet after entering Afghanistan.
“If we don’t run into any trouble on the way there we’ll probably get close to our destination this time tomorrow. No need to be nervous; this route is very safe,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
Xia Lei laughed. “I’m not nervous. I think you’re the one who’s nervous so I started talking to you.”
Tang Yu-Yan rolled her eyes at Xia Lei. “I’m nervous? Why don’t I feel it? Stop joking. I’m not nervous at all.”
Xia Lei chuckled. He’d discovered that Tang Yu-Yan was actually quite a proud woman.
At that moment, a line of fire suddenly shot from the top of a hill on the left. It was very obvious in the night sky. Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan looked over at almost the same time and before Xia Lei could react, Tang Yu-Yan shouted, “Rocket! Dodge!”
Tang Yu-Yan had a wealth of experience, much more than Xia Lei had.
However, her warning was slower than the rocket itself and she’d just finished speaking when it hit the pick-up truck Karam was driving, right in front of them. BOOM! A great explosion blasted the pick-up truck into the air, trailing flames and smoke as it was flung towards the car Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan were in.
Tang Yu-Yan wrenched the steering wheel sideways and avoided the wreckage of the pick-up truck as it fell from the sky.
Boom! The pick-up truck Karam was driving landed on the mountain road and exploded. Flames shot into the sky and car debris flew in all directions like artillery shells. The Ford Raptor behind them managed to slam on the brakes in time but its windshield was shattered by the debris and the hood of the car was blown open.
Another line of fire shot from the top of the hill.
Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan unilaterally opened their car doors and jumped out before the rocket got close to them.
BOOM! The second rocket hit a rock in front of them and the rock was blasted apart, leaving one part which rolled down to the middle of the mountain road. The driverless Ford Raptor rolled straight into that rock and stopped.
“Combat!” Tang Yu-Yan yelled, and ran quickly for cover, shooting blindly at the hill as she went.
The agents in the two cars behind them alighted swiftly too and found a nearby bunker to hide in. Some shot blindly while others used night-vision equipment to look for the target so they could snipe the enemy.
Xia Lei hid behind a rock, his head ringing. His hands were trembling. Gunshots and explosions thundered around him, accented by the whistling of bullets as they flew overhead. His mind was a blank, however, and he couldn’t think. This was a battlefield, and every flying bullet was ruthless, every second a test of endurance!
He had the experience of shooting three people with a sniper rifle but that was no battlefield. It was not a close-quarters battle at all since the enemy had not been able to get close to him within his range of 3,200 metres. Even if they had, he would’ve been able to take care of them with a bullet once they got close! This time was different, however. This was a real battlefield, and judging by the gunshots from the enemy side, there had to be at least 20 people. Twenty guns and a rocket-launcher - this definitely was a hail of bullets!
Tang Yu-Yan realised Xia Lei’s unusual condition and she bit her lip before grasping her rifle tightly and doubling over while dashing to Xia Lei.
Xia Lei looked at her woodenly, unresponsive.
“What’s wrong with you?” Tang Yu-Yan grabbed Xia Lei’s shoulder and shook him hard. “Get a grip!”
BOOM! Another rocket exploded and an agent had his legs blasted off. Pieces of rock slammed into his body and blood fountained continuously. A wound like this could not be mended, not even if he had surgery immediately, and much less in this deserted mountainside.
This blast shocked Xia Lei awake. He shook his head hard and forced himself to dispel his fear and the horrors of his first time on a battlefield.
“Can you still handle a gun? Let me do it if you can’t!” yelled Tang Yu-Yan at Xia Lei.
“I can!” Xia Lei straightened himself behind the rock and moved his sniper rifle out from behind the rock. His body was pressed tightly to the back of the rock and he slowly inched his head up. He did not go completely out of the rock’s cover, however, but activated the power of his left eye to see through the top of the rock to look for the operator of the rocket launcher.
The rocket launcher operator was the biggest threat now and he had to be taken out.
The top part of the rock before him disappeared from his vision and the scene on the hill opposite was as clear as day. At least 30 armed men were advancing swiftly towards the mountain road. They wore military camouflage, had protective gear and wore tactical helmets. The variety of weapons they carried was astounding. These camouflage-wearing men moved in rows and the first row provided protective fire while the back row took advantage of the terrain to push forward quickly, then swap places with the front row and so on. They were highly trained in combat and neither the Islamic forces nor the Afghan National Defence Force could hold a candle to their finesse!
Xia Lei looked around and soon spotted the camouflaged man operating the RPG rocket launcher. He was hiding under his team’s protective fire while quietly looking for targets. A red line shot forth from his sighting device, aimed at a piece of rock. Two Chinese agents were hiding behind that rock, unable to even lift their heads under the assault of their enemy’s firepower.
Xia Lei could see the smirk on the face of the soldier operating the RPG rocket launcher.
“You punk! Where’s your courage now? Give me the sniper rifle!” Tang Yu-Yan was mad.
Xia Lei blocked her line of sight with his back and pulled the trigger. The modified sniper rifle made a muffled boom as a bullet came speeding out and into the brow of the soldier carrying the RPG rocket launcher. Half of the soldier’s head was blasted away, and the rocket in the launcher was shot into the sky because of his death.
Xia Lei had completed his sniping before Tang Yu-Yan got a clear look, and she had not seen any part of how he had done it.
This was the reason for Xia Lei’s blocking her line of sight. He did not want Tang Yu-Yan to discover that he was still under the cover of the rock when he had sniped the RPG rocket launcher operator.
“I’ve taken out the operator of the rocket launcher,” said Xia Lei. He had entered battle mode and was slowly getting used to the atmosphere or battle.
“You… How did you do it?” Tang Yu-Yan looked at Xia Lei in surprise with disbelieving eyes. It had been too quick. If it were her, she would probably still be searching for the rocket launcher operator and looking for an appropriate opportunity to snipe him but Xia Lei had used just three seconds to eliminate the target!
At that moment, a bullet suddenly hit the rock that they were hiding behind. The great impact made the rock tremble and fragments of rock flew past their heads.
It was the enemy team’s sniper.
“Cover me. This spot is too low. I need to get to higher ground,” said Xia Lei.
Tang Yu-Yan nodded, then issued an order through her communications device, “Team, suppressive fire!” After she issued the order, she stuck her rifle out from under the cover of the rock and fired wildly at the hill opposite.
All guns were firing and bullets trailed fire as they flew in the night.
Xia Lei took his opportunity when the enemy’s advance was being interrupted to suddenly rush out from behind the rock and dash towards another hill to the side. He did not go straight either, but changed direction every few steps to prevent the enemy from locking their sights onto him.
The hill loomed before him in the blink of an eye and a rock three metres high blocked his way. Xia Lei ran with no sign of stopping and he bent his legs in a jump. His body was lifted off the ground in one bound and he jumped atop the rock. A sniper rifle bullet struck the rock below his feet after he jumped, throwing up sparks and rock fragments.
The enemy sniper had predicted that Xia Lei would go to that rock but he had not expected him to leap onto it!Previous Chapter Next Chapter