Chapter 7 - The Great Glacier
I stood up straight and mimicked the tone of the squad leader’s voice in my reply. “No thank you, no thank you. Why does it have to be me again? It should be La Mu Cuo, that kid’s turn. After all, equality is the principle of society.”
The second squad leader said, “Little Hu, my comrade, why do you always have something weird to say? I told you not to mimic me. Besides, I am the squad leader. If I say you may speak, then you speak. There’s no need for all this talk of absolute egalitarianism.”
I looked at my other comrades around me. They were all sitting there waiting for me to speak with a serious face. That little kid even stuck his tongue out at me when the squad leader wasn’t paying attention. These little grains were too unloyal. Now I could only find a way out of this situation by myself. “Reporting to squad leader. What is the topic of our discussion today? If you don’t tell us, how are we going to talk?”
Just then, the instructor walked over here. Instructor Li Jian was about thirty years old, mediumly built and was a very refined person. He was a senior soldier with more than ten years of experience and treated his officers well, without any arrogance. He walked over and said, “I see that my comrades are having a meeting? Don’t mind me joining too.”
The second squad leader hurriedly bowed to the instructor. The instructor just waved at him and told him to carry on. He didn’t want to disrupt their discussions.
The second squad leader had a very low standard. He got extremely flustered with the instructor around and was at lost for words. Perhaps he thought that singing would be easier so he told the other soldiers, “My comrades, let us sing a revolutionary song to boost our morale and rekindle our fighting spirit. What say you?”
“Swell!” The soldiers replied in unison. The instructor who was listening from the sideline was so amused that he almost bursted out laughing. However, he quickly concealed it with a few fake coughs.
The second squad leader however didn’t see what was so amusing about it. He raised both of his arms solemnly, and gestured as how an orchestra conductor would. “My comrades, I shall take the lead. Er ya ma Erlang Mountain, ready, sing.”
“Er ya ma Erlang Mountain. Even if you are extremely tall, the People’s Liberation Army men are strong as iron. If they have decided to charge, do not fear howling wind nor the snow. The road to Tibet is to be repaired.” The snow was getting heavy. The singing voices of the soldiers reverberated across the snowy skies of the Kunlun Mountain range. It wasn’t certain if it was the flying snow of the boundless mountain ranges that set off power and grandeur of the military song, or it was the singing voices of the soldiers that adorned the desolated silence of the Kunlun Mountain Range. For a moment, even a few engineers inside the other tent were attracted by the singing voices and had forgotten about their altitude sickness. Thoughts surged in their mind while they stared off into the distance of endless mountain peaks.
The instructor made a speech to everyone in the end. “I am the same as everyone. This is my first time visiting the Kunlun Mountains. The condition here is indeed very harsh, and the environment is extremely vile. What we are currently facing is the most grim ordeal. But my fellow brothers, we are not an ordinary troop. We are even given the title of ‘Adventurous Heroes Squad’. This honor is built on the life and blood of our seniors of the Sixth Squad. We must not let this flag be tainted at all costs. For Chairman Mao of the Party Central Committee to assign such a glorious duty to us signified the great trust he has in us, the Sixth Squad. We must perform. Show him that we are not afraid of the hardships and are fearless, and complete this mission perfectly like the soldiers of revolution we are. Comrades, do you all have the determination?”
“Yes!” We replied in unison.
The instructor nodded his head in satisfaction and continued. “We rest early today. We shall cross the great glacier tomorrow. Make your preparations in advance. That’s all. You are dismissed.”
The third morning after entering the mountains, the squad had arrived at the big frozen river. Legend has it that there was a low-lying small basin around here. Our destination was that basin. Due to the fact that this was a classified mission, we were not allowed to engage any local guides to lead us there (actually no one knew the way). So we could only blindly find the way to our destination with just a map for military use that was crudely made.
The Great Glacier was made up of three sections, with a big difference in elevation for each section. The slopes were extremely precipitous. The highest point was over 6,000 metres above sea level, blanketed by snow that never melted. The ice of a slippery trail that reflected like a mirror stretched a long was as thick as a hundred metres. The lowest section had a lower elevation than the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.**
Before we left, an engineer had warned everyone to not make too much noise when marching at the foot of the glacier. Otherwise it could cause an avalanche on the mountain’s summit and we would be buried alive down there.
No one even dared to gasp. However, an incident still occurred during the journey. While we were travelling from the glacier to the mountain valley, an engineer from Beijing lost his footing and fell down the glacier. We found his mangled up dead body at the oasis located at the foot of the glacier. A female geologist, Luo Ning, who was also his co-worker of the same unit, couldn’t help but to sob loudly at the terrible sight.
Another expert geologist with the surname Wang hurriedly covered her mouth with his hands. “Don’t sob noisily,” he whispered.
Luo Ning buried her face into Wang Gong’s chest as she sobbed painfully. The instructor took his hat off to bid a silent farewell to the remains of his comrade. Soon after that, Little Kid and I gathered his corpse in a bag and buried him. This engineer had only been with us for less than three days. I had only known that he was from Beijing. He had passed away silently just like this before I even got the chance to know his name.
Big Guy digged the soil with a military shovel. After a few scoops, a big blue fireball that was the size of a basketball, suddenly flew out from the pit he had just dug. It hovered in midair for two seconds before suddenly it charged towards the crowd. The members of the squad hastily dodged it.
The fireball landed on the ground. Its blue flame gradually extinguished. It turned out that it was a small weird-looking ladybug. Its entire body was like a transparent red crystal and its wings were also sparkling and translucent. Its translucent innards could vaguely be seen through its transparent carapace. It was as if a faint flame was flowing within it, and gave off a mysterious strangeness.
We all looked at each other, and wondered what was this bug. But no one seemed to have a clue. It was probably a species that had yet been discovered. Wang Gong went closer to it curiously and adjusted his thick glasses that sat on the bridge of his nose. He excitedly picked up the ladybug that was as red as crimson flame with two fingers for a closer examination. However, his fingers were ignited by a blue coloured flame the moment they came into contact with the ladybug. The raging flames instantly swallowed his body whole.
Wang Gong’s entire body was engulfed by the blue flames. A layer of blisters showed up on his skin in an instant but they were immediately burnt. The glasses sitting on his nose bridge was deformed from the heat and fell onto the ground. He was also struggling and twisting on the floor in pain.
We wanted to save him but it was already too late. His blood-curdling screams from being burnt by fire reverberated across the mountain valley. It was chilling to people who heard it even though it wasn’t even cold. On top of that it seemed like he wasn’t going to die anytime soon.
Some wanted to extinguish the flames on his body by throwing dirt that was shoveled up. But the burned surface area on his body had already reached nearly 100% and it was a third degree burn. Even if they managed to extinguish the flames on his body, he most likely couldn’t make it over one or two hours due to the lack of medical access in the depths of Kunlun Mountain. He would only suffer more if he lived.
The scene of someone being burned alive was too cruel. Luo Ning didn’t dare to witness it and turned her head away. The expression on her face was frozen while she covered her ears with her mouth open, not sure if she wanted to cry or scream. Little Lin, who was the youngest among everyone was frightened too. He hid behind Big Guy and couldn’t stop trembling.
The second squad leader took out his gun, wanting to help him end his suffering. He really couldn’t bear to see him being tormented like this. Furthermore, if he let him continue to scream like this, an avalanche would definitely happen.
The instructor laid his hand over the second squad leader’s hand which was pulling on the gun’s bolt. “You can’t fire here. Use the bayonet. Let me do it,” he said softly.
There was a great amount of accumulated snow piled up above the glacier on the mountain’s summit. Even the slightest noise could possibly trigger a catastrophe. The only favor we can do for Wang Gong was to stab his heart with the bayonet and let him to die an instant death.
Without any delay, the instructor took a Type 56 Semi-automatic rifle with a bayonet fitted on it from one of the soldiers. He quietly apologized to his own comrade for letting him down before shutting his eyes and pierced the weapon through Wang Gong’s heart. Wang Gong finally stopped his heart wrenching howls and collapsed onto the ground motionlessly. The flame on his body however continued to burn.
The instructor was just about to pull the bayonet out from his chest when that monstrous blue flame suddenly burned brightly and unexpectedly spread along the bayonet and travelled up the rifle.
The speed the flames spread was just too fast. Within a blink of the eye and before anyone could register what was happening, the instructor’s body was already engulfed by those blue raging flames.
Just like Wang Gong, the instructor let out a blood-curdling scream in pain. Everyone knew the instructor well and he was definitely a tough man. Although he had a gentle and frail appearance, he had the fortitude and perseverance of a professional soldier. He must have been suffering an intense and unimaginable pain from being burnt by those odd flames to be letting out such a shrill cry.
The second squad leader tearfully held up his gun. He couldn’t care about the avalanche now. He simply couldn’t bear to see the instructor to suffer any longer. Just when he was about to pull the trigger, the instructor who was engulfed in flames suddenly spoke. “I order… none of you are allowed to fire your weapons… Hurry up and leave with your comrades…”
Although the pain on the instructor’s body was difficult to bear, his mind was still clear. He was aware that his own screams could cause an avalanche. To keep himself from emitting any more noises, he turned the bayonet that was heated to glowing red around and pierced it through his own heart. His body had only burned into a pile of fine ashes after for a long, long time.
The remaining members in the squad watched the entire heroic tragedy that unfolded before them in agony. Everyone was clenching their teeth and fists tightly, and tried to fight back the tears that had welled up their eyes. Some even bit their lips until they bled.
The mountain valley was quiet. The azure sky over our head that was reflected on the icy surface of the Great Glacier led people to have a misconception that the world has two identical skies. Unsure that which one was on top and which one was at the bottom. A scenery that was as magnificent as the paradise but was instead filled with a strangely frightening atmosphere.
Those two piles of ashes on the ground had been well and alive just a few minutes ago. Yet they were reduced to nothing but a small pile of ashes now, not even a trace of their bones or residue were left. No one would have believed that something like this would happen in this world if there were no witnesses.
A blue colored fireball suddenly emerged from the pile of ashes that was left by Wang Gong’s burning. It hovered in midair and faced everyone, as if choosing its next target. It had an exceptionally fast speed. Anyone within its range of attack stood no chance in escaping. A faint vibrating noise could be heard in the air. It must be from the vibration of this weird ladybug’s wings.
The squad had lost three people now and they were all the key members. The instructor who was leading the team, and two engineers had been sacrificed. Only two engineers remained. One was Luo Ning, the cartographer and the other was Liu Gong from the Geological Institute of Shanghai. It seemed like it was impossible to complete this mission.
Without the instructor around, the soldiers had lost the core of their heart. However when everyone was faced with this monstrous blue colored fireball, almost everyone had the same thoughts: “I’d rather be buried alive by the avalanche than to be burned to ashes by this creepy thing alive.”
A few soldiers who was starting to lose their cool had already lifted and aimed the gun in their hands at the ladybug in midair. The second squad leader suddenly told everyone, “My comrades. The instructor has sacrificed himself for us. Now I am the leader! I order you all to return alive, what say you?”
I suddenly caught on to what the second squad leader was planning to do. He was thinking of sacrificing himself to buy everyone some precious time to withdraw. I pulled on his arm and choked. “No way. You are not even a political party member. Why do you have to do this? If someone is going to do it, let it be me.”
The second squad leader pushed my hand away. “Little Hu, you’re not even a squad member. I have told you not to speak like me, but you’d never listen.” He was already running off without turning his head towards the fireball that was suspended in midair before he even finished speaking.