22 May, 1987, 0248
Lian Xing cursed her chopper pilot for the hundredth time that night. The bastard had intentionally left Lian at the wrong drop point, northwest instead of north of the city. A cute little joke to play on the girl for her first mission, Lian thought coldly. The cute little joke had cost her precious time wandering through the desert, and Lian hated to be delayed, and hated deserts even more, like the one that engulfed the city of Kashi, were she had been born. By the time Lian had sorted out her bearings and reached Kabul, she was completely disoriented and wasn't exactly sure what side of town she was on.
"I'm gonna kill him, I swear," she muttered in her native tongue, Chinese, as she surveyed her new surroundings from behind a stack of garbage piled on the side of a dirty, desolate street. Most of the buildings here had been blasted to rubble by either the Soviets or the Afghan rebels—they were so far gone she could only guess as to their original purpose. Did they house children, or elderly? Was a hospital among the ruins? Lian shuddered involuntarily, but not because of the chilly desert night. War was a terrible thing.
She turned her attention back from her private musings to the task at hand. About 100 meters ahead, the street widened into a plaza. It might've been a marketplace back when there was still something in this forsaken city to sell. She couldn't pick out any cover, but the plaza was pitch black, with no street lights operational, if there were any in the first place. Lian wasn't too happy about the prospect of going through the plaza with no place to hide, but it wasn't like she had much of a choice. There was no convenient way around the area, and the sooner she found the part of the city where the Soviets camped, the sooner she'd be able to get out of this hellhole and take a bath.
With a mental shrug, she made her decision and came out from behind the garbage pile, hoping she was lucky enough to get by quickly and quietly enough to not alert any Soviets or Afghans that were undoubtedly lurking around the area. She was here to help the Afghan rebels against their Soviet invaders, but either group would shoot a stranger wandering down the street in the middle of the night. Hell, they'd probably shoot down their own sister if she was caught on the street at night.
Lian didn't make it very far. Not even to the boundary of the plaza, before someone grabbed her from behind: at the waist and around her arms, so she couldn't move, and around her mouth, so she couldn't scream. You chose the wrong girl to rape, buddy, she thought, and she kicked over her head, scoring a hit on her assailant's face.
The man obviously had been caught off guard by her feat in flexibility and stumbled to the ground in surprise, but unfortunately not caught off guard enough to release his grip on her, so when he fell, she went with him. Lian squirmed to get her arms free, kicking wildly in the darkness in hopes she'd score a hit against her opponent… or whatever friends he had close by. Now it was her turn to be surprised when the man she had landed on wrapped his right leg around hers to still them, tightened his already iron grip on her arms and torso, and flipped them both over by tucking his left leg underneath them and pushing with brute strength. In seconds, Lian was pinned, and she quickly realized there wasn't anything she could do about it. She immediately stopped resisting, hoping that would keep the victor from hitting her in an effort to pacify his victim. He didn't move for a few moments, and she winced, not knowing what would come next, when suddenly, he somewhat loosened his grip on her.
"If I let you go," he whispered in her ear in perfect… almost too perfect Arabic, "will you promise not to kick me again?"
"That depends on what you're going to do to me," she replied, also in Arabic, which had been her second language and was nearly undistinguishable from that of a native speaker.
Her captor got off of her, and released his lock on her upper and lower body, but maintained a strong, but not painful grip on her wrist. "Come with me," he whispered. Lian's first instinct was, now that she was free, to knock the man down again and run, but something in his demeanor caused her to allow herself to be lead by the wrist away from the plaza, towards a ruined building. She could take him out at any time, after all. She doubted that the brute knew that he was up against a Chinese Secret Service agent who happened to be a specialist in martial arts. Yes, the man may have strength on his side, but she had agility, flexibility, and training. As long as she kept the element of surprise, she would come out ahead.
When they arrived at the demolished building, he knelt behind a half standing wall of concrete, and since he was still holding her wrist, she did the same, facing him. Enough of the wall was standing that they were given cover from the three sides facing the streets, as well as a little cover above their heads. The man took out a flashlight and shined it against the wall to reduce the amount of light that would leak out of their shelter. It was enough for her to see his face. And his uniform.
An American Army Rangers officer? Here?
"I'm sorry, I didn't…" he started in Arabic, but Lian interrupted him.
"I speak English, Major," she said smoothly, in the slight Californian accent she had been taught.
"But you're not American."
It was a statement, not a question, so Lian chose to tell him the truth. His country and hers were technically on the same side here anyway. "I am a Chinese agent."
"Yes, I figured as much. I saw you behind that rubble over there." He gestured over to where she'd been hiding earlier. She was able to identify his accent now as New English. "Well, I'm sorry, miss, I didn't mean to startle you. But I was hoping we might be able to work together, us being friends here and all."
Lian tilted her head to the side fractionally and offered him a smirk. "And why would I need to work with you, Major?" she asked sweetly, studying him. The light cast shadows over his impassive face, throwing sharp contrast onto his features. He wasn't particularly handsome, she decided. His eyes were dark and focused, the eyes of a killer she decided, with a chill down her spine, but she could see a hint of fatigue in them. And was that blood on his jacket?
"Because I just saved you from a Soviet ambush, princess," he replied mockingly. "Did you really think that that whole plaza was empty?"
"Not really," she started flippantly, but then decided to change her course. There was no point in arguing with the American over pride. She softened her tone. "Not really, but I didn't see much of a choice but to go through. Thanks for the help."
"Any time, but there is something you could help me with."
"And what would that be?" she replied suspiciously.
"I've got a cargo truck coming in. Supplies for the rebels, but in order to get the truck through, I need those snipers cleared. Can you…"
"Leave it to me," Lian said confidently. She really wasn't too fond of killing, but she really did owe the American one. And those supplies were desperately needed by the Afghans.
"Thanks, princess," he replied and the stony looking man actually smiled. The smile lit up his features in spite of the shadowy darkness, making the stranger look quite friendly, almost warm. Perhaps he was handsome after all. Suddenly Lian realized she was gaping at him.
"I have a name, you know," she snapped, more out of irritation for her own weakness than the stranger's nickname for her.
"Oh?" he asked, his smile broadening.
"Xing Lian… erm, I mean… Lian Xing."
"I got it, thanks. Alright, Xing, here's a frequency we can talk on." He handed her a small piece of paper with the number written on it. "I appreciate the help. Call me when the road's clear."
"Will do," she replied, pocketing the frequency. She turned around and started to get up, but then stopped and turned once again to face him. "You got something I can call you besides Major?"
"Yeah," he said, almost reluctantly, she thought. "Name's Gabe Logan."