My parachute mushrooms in the wind, dragging me ever so slightly back and stirring my eyes open to a squint. There I see the parachute like a frantic jellyfish, swelling and contracting in the breeze with its tentacles caught on my back. It’s that tug and pull that wakes me up, not the random artillery fire, radio transmissions or the Chinese distress calls blaring across the city but that glance at a metaphor.
It’s the first day of a U.S. led invasion of the People’s Republic of China. Another war over resources and the staggering global overpopulation ratio. I quickly realize that I’ve lost sight of my troop. Lying in the middle of these densely populated city streets with a large azure parachute hooked to my back, I must be every sniper’s dream.
I frantically uncouple the fasteners to my parachute; the same ones that a moment earlier I prayed wouldn’t come loose. With the sound of that last click my parachute skips into the breeze and I charge into the opposite direction, into a narrow alley ahead of me, behind what looks like a bookstore. But with a burnt out entrance and shattered window display there’s no way to tell for sure.
I crouch down next to a carriage or car of some sort. Its three wheels, small engine and wooden tailgate make it a montage of ancient and modern. Hunkering deep under its shadow I run my palm against my chest to make sure I wasn’t hit by the antiaircraft machine guns and the bullets that were whizzing all around us like sharp fireflies as we parachuted into the Beijing night.
Confident that my well-being is intact I look back to the empty main street and quickly become aware that this part of the city is too quiet. I can’t even hear the sirens or distress signals echoing between the skyscrapers on the horizon.
I scuttle to the other side of the alley, peeking into every cracked door and open window as I run by. Most of the civilians have been ordered to stay inside but I thank God I haven’t been spotted by any as of yet. Beijing has perhaps the highest population in the world and the only thing worse than killing a civilian is having a civilian kill you.
The main street, which I couldn’t pronounce if I tried, is empty except for a few tattered vehicles, piled-up and turned over on the side of the road. Quickly tiptoeing behind a capsized bus I flinch as I step on the cracked pieces of glass. That crackling resonance flares into the silence and seems to open up the quiet evening. It becomes so loud that at one point I stop moving entirely, knowing that if I run into any of the millions of Chinese troops I’m as good as dead.
Each step I take on this street I approach taller and taller buildings, all playing on my imagination. I imagine a sniper just following me silently in the center of his scope. I can just feel the bullet snapping into the air and popping into my skull. Thus these trash bins, crashed helicopters, and every shadow serve as my cover and turn what would normally be a five minute stroll into fifteen minutes of crouching and crawling.
From what I remember the rally point should be around Tiananmen Square which is more than half a klick to my west. Though as I stare in the direction of the famous Chinese landmark I don’t see any explosions or hear any gunfire and the Chinese wouldn’t give up Tiananmen that easily.
Tired of skulking I sprint towards the center of the city, ignoring the eerie shadows in the hollowed out windows above me. The battle for Tiananmen has been the most planned and dreaded battle in U.S. military history. Fears of facing not just the millions of Chinese military forces but the billions of civilians that may heed some nationalistic call to arms has brought the largest military air strike in history and perhaps the largest concentration of human beings in any one place at a time, in this unconscious solution to overpopulation.
Reaching a ridge overlooking Tiananmen Square I stare into the one time tourist destination and feel my brow crook down in anguish. No one is there, no troops, no guns, not even a dead body. The sight of thousands of dying American soldiers and burning monuments would have brought me more relief and sanity that staring into that barren plaza.
I scamper into the center of the square with a negligent skip in my step and my eyes locked into the sky. I don’t notice any other paratroopers feathering down nor even the slightest sound of a jet or gunship.
“Somebody,” I shout as I reach the center of the open square. “Is anyone there?” But only an echo replies.
What could have gone wrong? Was the attack delayed, had we beaten them already or did we lose? I delve into my mind as I dig through every pocket and strap, snatching up maps, my GPS, I even check the time and compass on my watch. But nothing’s wrong, it’s all just the way it’s supposed to be.
Exhausted and bewildered yet trying to maintain a sense of poise for the unnerving suspicion that I am being watched, I tidy my fatigues, refasten all the straps and wipe the sweat cascading down the back of my neck. Then suddenly I gasp at the realization. I run my palm around my neck again, almost like a noose, my finger tips reaching and feeling for something that obviously isn’t there. The one possession I hadn’t felt since I touched ground on the Asian continent and perhaps the most important.
“My dog tags are gone,” I say to myself again and again as I stagger distressed across the empty square, still reaching, still fondling my neck. “My dog tags are gone.”