A new snippet of “The Middle of Nowhere” – a short chapter

Chapter 8

The Chinese military aide stationed at ISSII was startled at a rapping on his hatch. Most people did business over the com and he had very few visitors to his work space. He liked it that way. “Just a moment!” he called and looked over his desk and shelves carefully to make sure nothing of a confidential nature was visible. Then he shut his computer  completely off. Turning just the monitor off didn’t mask the emissions this machine could give off, betraying it activity.

When he answered the door his section chief was standing there with a Laowai right in their secure cubic. He bristled at the sight, but was neither reprimanded nor given any apology. His boss apparently had bigger troubles today than what he or the foreigner either one thought.  

“Song Zhang, if we might have a moment of your time, do these have any meaning to you?” He thrust forward a multi-pane printout of  tattoos. They were oddly distorted in a way he’d never seen, but still legible. He looked at the White Ghost, unwilling to speak what he knew in front of him.

“We have need of your knowledge. Be assured you will not endanger anyone by telling us what these mean. The body on which these were seen is beyond concerns of the living.”

“That is – unfortunate,”  Zhang allowed.  “These are inspirational slogans common to the elite of special forces and usually tattooed with other images of unit banners and badges. Yes, I see the edge of one there. May I ask how we come to be in possession of these?”

“Traffic control noted an object slowly drifting away from the station large enough to be a hazard to navigation. When a scooter was dispatched to collect it they were surprised to find a corpse in a rescue ball. The discoloration is due to exposure to direct sunlight and the fact the pressure had bled off somewhat,” he explained.

“Rescue balls are only designed to hold breathable pressure for a few hours unless the person inside releases oxygen from the small canister attached to the inside. This person had been in the ball for something like six hours, and was in no condition to activate the canister when he was put in the ball.”

“You mean he was deceased when he was inserted?” Zhang inquired, surprised.

“It certainly looks that way. He had three rounds to the heart and lungs of a large caliber pistol with frangible ammunition, an ordinary kitchen knife jammed to the hilt through a kidney, and visible burn marks about his head and shoulders that indicate electrocution too.”

“Was he in uniform?” Zhang asked both sickened and alarmed, but hid it from his face.

“No, he was in European civilian clothing, and oddly his hair and upper body were stained with coffee. Does any of this make sense to you?”

“Not at all. But with those tattoos I can assure you he is ours. If you would acquire custody of him I will run his identifying characteristics through the military system and find out to whom he should be returned. Undoubtedly he had comrades and family who would want to know.”

The supervisor just looked a question at the foreigner, and he gave a nod of agreement. So he spoke Chinese well enough to have followed their exchange.

“That is all then. The fellow will be repatriated with our medical section in a few hours so you can conduct your inquiry,” and they left without another word.

It was bizarre. He knew no special forces were present on ISSII. He’d be notified if one was even passing through to another destination.

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