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Inside PAC Headquarters
Tuesday, February 13th, 2018, 1:30 am
Tong had wanted to tell Peng off for weeks. Actually, Tong had wanted to tell Peng off for years, but that was for other reasons. Today though, today was the final straw. Tong had been working late to get his border patrols ready for the holiday. No major issues were expected, but the troops were all considerably upset about having to work through the holiday while almost all the other soldiers in the PAC had the week off.
Tong did not really care that his men were upset. In fact, he was pretty upset they were making such a fuss about it. Still, it gave him the perfect fuel to finally confront Peng. Tong considered Peng a showboating politician rather than a member of the army. How else could Peng have gotten that high, especially in peacetime? Wartime, though, that was where Tong would succeed.
When Tong finally was finished dealing with all the complaint-related issues from his men, he noticed that Peng was still in the headquarters. Tong assumed Peng was there gloating about the success of the vacation plans, maybe even watching for Tong to leave to see how much the vacations had made him suffer.
Tong went to Peng’s office for the long-awaited confrontation. Peng’s receptionist was long gone, not that Tong would have been stopped by some low-ranked poor excuse for a secretary. Tong opened Peng’s door without even knocking. When Tong stepped inside, Peng did not even look up from his computer. Peng just sat there typing away at some probably meaningless work. Tong walked right up to Peng’s desk and slammed his fist down on the clean surface demanding to be heard, demanding to be attended to.
Peng, still typing, said, “Just a minute, General.”
The audacity: he did not even look up. How did he even know he was talking to a general! It must have been a lucky guess. If Peng had known it was Tong, he would have said so.
Tong waited silently as if he was in a phone queue listening to soothing music to be calmed before finally speaking to an unempowered and uninformed support representative. It had to be a tactic, a simple delay tactic, a simple act to get a person calm and possibly misbalanced. Tong would not succumb to such a tactic. If Peng truly knew Tong was a general, how could Peng think that such a lay tactic would work? How did somebody so soft become the most important general of China!
Finally, Peng stopped typing, looked up, and said pleasantly, “What can I do for you, General Tong?”
“Sir, I’m here to issue a complaint,” Tong replied in mocking politeness.
“Please, take a seat.”
“I’d rather stand, Sir.”
“What is your complaint?”
“My complaint is that while your men are off having a grand vacation, my men are still at their posts.”
Without any sign of emotion, Peng asked, “And you feel this is unfair?”
“Feel this is unfair? I know this is unfair!”
“What about the staff under other generals who are also on vacation? Have you spoken with those generals as well?”
“No, why should I? I know you’re the general that proposed the idea!”
“So, it’s my fault because I proposed the vacation?”
It was ridiculous to Tong that Peng was laying it out to him like he was a child. “Yes, if you’re going to give others a vacation, you should give my men a vacation. My men are actually actively protecting this country.”
“And what of the southern border patrol that is not under your command? Does their commander share your concern?”
Tong did not care about the southern border patrol. Their commander worked directly under one of the other higher-ranked generals who had far more soldiers than what made up the comparatively small force of the southern border patrol. “Their commander is just a commander. His general has many other soldiers that are on vacation. This was personal; all my men are stationed on border patrol.”
“What motive would I have for such a personal affront?”
“Good question; you should tell me. Is it a cheap form of hazing for the new general? Or maybe you just have a thing against the border patrol, a sort of superiority complex.”
“Tong, those men are going to battle in almost a month. If we are successful, it is very unlikely any of them will see their families for months. In fact, it may be years before they can even have rotated vacations. Your men, on the other hand, will be staying in China to protect the border. In one way, it will be easier because Russia will not need as much guarding. On the other hand, Mongolia and especially India will need to be more heavily guarded. In any case, the role of your men doesn’t change. They are here for defense, which means unlike the thousands of Chinese soldiers that will die in this war, your men will be safe and facing danger very infrequently in comparison. Because your men are so close to their homes, it will also be easier to have rotated vacations like the ones they already have.”
As good a case as Peng made, it brought up another huge contention. “My men deserve to take part in this war, too.”
Peng shook his head and then said, “Don’t you get it? Many of our soldiers are going to die. Do you really wish for your men to die?”
“There’s no greater honor than to die for one’s country!”
“Then by all means, die for your country. Give up your commission and volunteer for the front lines. If any of your men don’t mind dying either, bring them along, too.”
Tong hesitated, wondering if Peng was bluffing. “Fine, sign me up! I’m not afraid of doing my duty!”
“Excellent,” said Peng as if he was a used-car salesman congratulating somebody on their purchase of a lemon. “I’ll sign you up to one of my front-line battalions immediately. For your years of service we can make you a lieutenant or possibly a captain.”
Tong just stood there waiting for the bluff to end.
After a moment Peng prompted, “Is that all? I’m very busy working out some details of the offensive. I’d like to get home before my family wakes for the day. Please send a letter stating your intention to resign your commission to me or the president. Also, please include any recommendations for replacements.”
Tong thought bitterly, ‘Why don’t you replace me, you jackass.’ Tong walked out of Peng's office, less sure that it was a bluff. If he sent a letter to Peng, it could be stopped by Peng. Peng mentioned sending it to the president, though. The president would probably never hear of the conversation and therefore accept the resignation.
Tong walked to his office thinking through the possibilities. When Tong got to his office, he had decided to call Peng and say something like, ‘Ha-ha, you really got me with that bluff.’ When he got to his office, Tong looked up Peng’s extension. The personnel locator indicated Peng had already left the building. So maybe it was not a bluff. Tong sat in his chair for a while and finally decided that if Peng asked about it he would just say, “Oh, sorry, I thought you were joking.”
Tong signed himself out after doing a little tidying. Unlike Peng, Tong's desk seemed used. It had some stacks of paper on it and a few awards he had got throughout his career. The computer’s monitor had a small camera on top of its monitor.
Tong had an old-fashioned conference phone. Tong loved his phone; he almost never used the actual hand piece. Even the rare times he paged somebody he used it in conference mode. His favorite part of calling people with it was that when you got called from a conference phone you could almost always tell it was a conference phone by the sounds of not only the person speaking but also the surrounding room. Because a person could never know if others were listening to the call, they would always be defensive and willing to agree to almost anything Tong asked for. Even his superiors became more agreeable! He was sad to see them go out of fashion; they were definitely a tool of power and control.
When Tong was done, he walked out of the building and then to his car. On his way out, he noticed two cars on the side of the road. Almost unconsciously, he memorized both plate numbers.
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