Excerpt 2 from The Hainan Conflict | Verso.ink

Excerpt 2 from The Hainan Conflict

Book 2 of The Net thriller series

By DM Coffman

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0015 hrs, Sunday, April 1, 2001
(D-Day for Operation April Fools)

The crew of the Dolly Mae arrived at the briefing room of the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. Although the muster hour was unusually early, the crew had flown other “special” missions requiring odd briefing times, so they suspected nothing out of the ordinary. That is, until they entered the room. There were at least two dozen people more than usual and most of them didn’t look like intelligence types.
“Some of these guys look like posters I’ve seen in the post office back home,” Jake Newman, a radar navigator on the crew, whispered.
Major Frances Bachmann, who had walked into the room right behind Jake, acknowledged his comment with a broad grin. She obviously agreed with his characterization.
They located seats in the middle of the room.
Everyone stood. The room grew quiet as General McMaster walked to the podium.
This is crazy,
Colonel Brett Garfield, pilot of the Dolly Mae, thought. He could not remember the last time the general had briefed a mission, especially at that time of the day. He began to surmise the possibilities, given the general’s presence. I hope we’re not going to drop a nuclear bomb somewhere.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” General McMaster began forcefully and with unmistakable clarity, “your mission this morning is one of the most delicate and dangerous missions you’ll probably ever be called upon to perform.”
The room grew even more silent.
The general continued. “We have been asked to conduct a surprise attack to eradicate an international terrorist training camp and control center located on a small island in the South China Sea.”
Looks of confusion and murmuring passed around the room before silence again took over.
“Yes,” the general said. “That means entering hostile airspace. And, yes, that means a change from your routine missions of surveillance and intelligence gathering. You will be transporting nineteen Navy SEAL special ops commandos and one bioweapons expert from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which I’ll address in a minute. Your job is to get them there. Now, here’s the tricky part. The success of the surprise element of this operation hinges upon your careful interaction and full cooperation with military forces of Communist China’s People’s Liberation Army. Specifically, people, you will need to stage a wing clipping with a certain Chinese fighter pilot.”
Colonel Garfield had to stifle a laugh. I know those guys well.
“Here’s how the action will break out,” the general continued, a little more strongly to impress to his audience the fact that important details followed. “At 0100 this morning, Colonel Garfield will take off on what our observing friends and enemies will take to be a routine intelligence surveillance mission along the Chinese border. Your old friend, Lieutenant Wu Dawei of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, will approach you as you near China’s airspace . . . about here.” He pointed to a place on the wall map. “He will be his usual harassing self. However, this time he won’t merely engage in his flight interference maneuvers; he will in fact attempt to clip the wing of the Dolly Mae sufficient to have the world think that the two planes have collided. The Dolly Mae will then issue a mayday distress signal requesting permission to land at the nearest airfield,” he said, once again pointing to the map, “located here at Lingshui Military Air Base on Hainan Island.”
The general paused, no doubt from the number of gaping jaws before him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot stress enough the importance of this maneuver. The ability to successfully carry out a surprise attack on this terrorist group’s control center hinges on a convincing performance on both radar and radio by the Dolly Mae. Now, once the Dolly Mae has landed, Chinese military forces will surround the plane, and to the world, this will appear to be a takeover of the aircraft. However, I assure you this is being staged in full, friendly cooperation with the government and military of the People’s Republic of China. This is not a hostile situation. Nevertheless, people, at no time—I repeat, at no time—are any Chinese military to gain access to the Dolly Mae, be it soldier, observer, inspector, or otherwise. In addition to the usual highly classified instrumentation installed on the Dolly Mae, there will be highly specialized, classified equipment on board specific to this mission. China is not to gain access to our aircraft or the equipment on board. Therefore, once the Navy SEALs have vacated the aircraft, the remaining crew will secure the aircraft until they return.”
The general took a sip of water from the glass on the podium and cleared his throat. “Colonel Garfield, as I alluded to earlier, you will not be taking your usual crew on this mission. As you have probably noticed, we have members of the Navy SEALs special ops forces with us. In addition to their specialized combat training and bioweapons handling expertise, they are trained on the surveillance and cryptology equipment and specialized instruments carried on the Dolly Mae. In addition to yourself and Major Bachmann as pilots, Air Force Captain Jake Newman as navigator, and Marine Sergeant Vince Rotelli as flight engineer, these SEALs will substitute for the remaining members of your crew. They are the crux of this mission. Upon your safe landing on Hainan, they will carry out a surprise attack on the Wild Boar Island stronghold . . . located . . . here.” The general pointed at the map to a small island off Hainan’s southern coast. “Once the area has been secured, Mr. Siminski here,” he gestured to a thin, awkward-looking man in white shirt and tie, “from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, will oversee the removal and handling of any and all bioweapons and explosives. This Department of Defense group, whose expertise is in handling weapons of mass destruction, has provided specialized equipment for this mission for the detecting, analyzing, storing, and handling of any chemicals, biochemical weapons, and explosives found in the biochemical laboratory believed to be located on the island. You will then return to Yokota Air Base near Tokyo where Mr. Siminski has a trained crew standing by to take control of these weapons. I cannot overemphasize the need for caution and secrecy here, people. The success of the overall mission depends on your ability to marshal a surprise attack and then carefully carry out your orders. Are there any questions?”
? Brett thought, Yeah, I have a few—like how do we know we can trust the Chinese? How do we know this isn’t a trick to get the Dolly Mae on the ground so they can have access to our high-tech equipment? And what happens after the SEALs and Mr. Siminski here do what they’re supposed to do?
Suddenly, Brett became cognizant of the fact that his thoughts had been translated into sound and he was no longer sitting in his chair but standing with all eyes upon him, including the general’s.
“Your questions are noted, Colonel Garfield,” the general said, somewhat impatiently because of the time. “This operation, designated as ‘Operation April Fools,’ was planned at the highest levels of both countries.”
The general’s strong emphasis on the word highest gave the audience an increased sense of the importance of this mission. “Answers to your other questions are contained in your written orders, which will be given to you by your commanding officer.”
The general stepped from the podium, and he and his entourage left quickly through the crowd of stunned men and women, all now standing at attention.
“Brett, you sure like to put your foot in your mouth,” Colonel Timpson said, moving quickly from the podium area to where Brett and his crew were sitting. “Didn’t the significance of this mission get through to you? Anyway, we don’t have much time. Here is a list of your specialists and the corresponding member of the SEALs team who will be taking their place. Get your men over to the Dolly Mae on the double so the SEALs can be briefed in the short time we have left.”
Brett sensed the urgency in Colonel Timpson’s instructions and immediately handed the list to Lieutenant Ben Jensen. Pausing long enough to realize his trusted crew members were in fact being replaced by unknowns, he said, “Ben, get on this, now.”
Ben had his people fall out one by one along with their designated SEAL replacements and Mr. Siminski. They loaded into the jeeps waiting to take them to the Dolly Mae. He returned to the group surrounding Colonel Timpson in time to hear, “. . . I’m not comfortable with this either, Brett, but it’s all been worked out by men that I couldn’t get near enough to spit-shine their boots.” The colonel continued impatiently, “All I know is the Dolly Mae is going to issue a mayday, enter Chinese airspace, and then land at a Chinese airfield where Navy SEALs will disembark to capture a terrorist control center and the plane with its remaining crew—yourself, Fran, Jake and Vince here—will appear to be impounded by the Chinese Government. That’s what the world is supposed to think, anyway. And, Brett, it’s your job to make it happen.”
Colonel Timpson then patted Brett on the back. “We’re counting on you, Brett. Have a good flight.”
Completely stunned by what was happening, Brett watched his CO walk out of the building. Looking down at the folder in his hands, he tried to ignore the array of alarms going off in his head. Pushing aside his concerns about what can happen in the air between two powerful hunks of metal, he walked out into the cold night air to join his new crew.
The Dolly Mae, specifically a Lockheed Martin EP-3E Aries II Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft belonging to the United States National Security Agency’s Fleet Electronic Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1 detachment out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, was chosen because its primary purpose was known to be surveillance—not strategic attack. For this mission, however, attack was exactly what was planned. Brett knew he would be ferrying a team of Navy SEALs specifically for the purpose of carrying out a subversive attack. The adrenalin flowing through his body created an altered state of mind that was both exhilarating and terrifying—a feeling he had never experienced before.

* * *

Wu Dawei knew they would be watching on radar. He knew it was dangerous, but the only way to make it appear convincing was to come in contact with the other aircraft. He had come close on several other occasions. The United States government frequently flew surveillance aircraft near China’s airspace, and Wu Dawei and his fellow fighter pilots on several occasions had to fly interception to make the aircraft turn back. The United States had been warned many times. But this time was different. They were authorized to be there. And Dawei’s ability to stage a collision was imperative to the success of this joint military operation.
Watching the US aircraft come into position, Wu Dawei slowed his jet and maneuvered alongside, his right wing just below the US aircraft’s left wing. He then waved to the American pilots—something he had done many times before—not so much as a friendly gesture but more to say, “You’re doing your job, and now I’m doing mine.” This time, though, they were working together, and it was most important to him that it be done right. His success in accomplishing this critical military strategy would bring great honor to his family. The maneuver was risky, but he was good, really good—probably the best pilot China had. He was confident. He had done similar maneuvers before, and he knew he could do it now.
He tipped his wing up against the underside of the US aircraft’s wing, brushing it ever so slightly but enough to look like a midair collision on radar. He then saluted the American pilots, smiled, and began to pull his F-8 fighter jet away from the US plane.
Just as Wu Dawei began to think of returning home to accept the government’s bestowal of honor on himself and his family, the acceleration of the Chinese fighter jet drew the EP-3E to the left, catching the fighter jet’s vertical stabilizer tail fin with its left propeller. As the tail section broke into pieces, a large chunk hit the nose radome of the EP-3E and sent both planes plummeting downward.
Colonel Garfield, Major Bachmann, and members of the crew worked frantically to stabilize the EP-3E but also watched in shock as the fighter jet spiraled out of control. With fire and black smoke spewing from the broken tail section of the fighter jet, they knew Wu Dawei was in serious trouble.
Suddenly, a parachute billowed out from the crippled fighter jet, and a collective sigh of relief spread through the EP-3E. The pilots and crew watched as the broken fighter jet plane crashed into the South China Sea.


“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” Colonel Garfield issued the distress signal from the EP-3E at 6:02 AM. “Lingshui Air Base, this is United States Navy-1565. We have sustained structural damage from an in-flight collision and are requesting emergency authorization to enter Chinese airspace and land at your facility. Repeat, this is US Navy-1565 requesting authorization for emergency landing at Lingshui Airfield. Copy?”
There was no response.
Colonel Garfield repeated the distress signal several more times.
After a few minutes the response came, “United States Navy-1565, this is Lingshui Air Base. You are not authorized to land. Repeat, you are NOT authorized to land.”
Colonel Garfield looked at Major Bachmann who returned his puzzled look. Their briefing documents had stated China would give them authorization to land.
“Lingshui Air Base, this is US Navy-1565. Due to structural wing damage and engine failure we are not, I repeat NOT, able to sustain a change in course. We must land at your airfield—estimated arrival at 0625.”
Minutes passed before a response. “US Navy-1565 you are NOT authorized to land. Change course immediately or prepare to be shot down.”
Glancing to her right, Major Bachmann noticed a Chinese military F-8-II fighter jet maneuver into position and open cannon fire at them. She turned to Colonel Garfield. “They’re firing on us, sir. What are we going to do? This turboprop can’t out-maneuver their jets.”
“Major,” the colonel replied, “we follow our orders and hope they follow theirs. Let’s slow this baby down and prepare to land. Maybe we can shake ‘em off. The slower we go, the harder it’ll be for them to stay with us without stalling out.”
“Let’s hope they don’t shoot us full of holes before we can get this plane on the ground,” the major replied.
The officers in charge of each of the four Navy SEALs attack groups reviewed their orders as they readied themselves for combat. Of the nineteen SEALs, six were outfitted as frogmen, dressed in black wet suits with blackout face masks and Draeger LAR V breathing units. The total weight of their gear exceeded seventy pounds—twenty-five of which were C4 explosives. They would be the first group to engage the Net’s operations center by entering through the underwater tunnel leading to the cave. They would secure the communications console, disarm the security systems, and radio the other teams.
Four SEALs, dressed in camouflage combat gear and equipped with M4 rifles, would attack the Net’s operations center from above ground on Wild Boar Island. The last-minute intelligence information that the center’s main entrance was located inside the lighthouse was a major coup in strategic planning. They would be able to attack from above ground as well as underwater. Once the Net’s soldiers, computer systems, chemicals, bioweapons, and explosives were removed, the underwater demolition team would blow the infrastructure of the operations center and both entrances to the cave.
Two SEALs, one male and one female, were dressed in civilian clothes carrying hidden weapons. Along with a few plainclothes Chinese soldiers, they would proceed to the culture village and remove the terrorist presence located there. Their orders were to capture Net soldiers and couriers and confiscate the computer system, electronic files, and any hard disks.
The remaining seven SEALs, also dressed in camouflage combat gear and carrying M4 rifles, would join with Chinese military forces to capture the combat training facility next to the beach resort area.
All hostages would be detained in China until transport arrangements could be made. The confiscated computers and communications equipment, along with any bioweapons, would be transported back to Yokota Air Base on the EP-3E.
Except for the loud noise from the two still-functioning turboprop engines, the nineteen Navy SEALs sat in silence as they mentally prepared for their courses of action.
“That’s an interesting breathing apparatus,” Mr. Siminski shouted to one of the frogmen as he clumsily put on his own camouflage flack jacket and helmet. “I’ve never seen scuba gear like that.”
“The Draeger’s pure oxygen breathing loop is much more complicated than a standard regulator but also much smaller than scuba gear with air tanks. It’s ideal for maneuvering in narrow spaces,” the frogman replied.
“That’ll come in handy,” Mr. Siminski added with a nervous chuckle as he contemplated the events about to unfold before them.
The US Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance aircraft landed at Lingshui Military Airbase at 6:33 AM Sunday morning, April 1. No sooner had the aircraft come to a halt than it was quickly surrounded by hostile-looking Chinese military forces with rifles raised and ready to fire.
Minutes passed. The crew on the Dolly Mae looked at each other, wondering what would happen next.
The pilot scanned the crowded airfield. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed four Chinese military transport vehicles coming toward the Dolly Mae. As they pulled alongside, one soldier jumped out and saluted the pilot.
“Here we go!” he shouted to his crew.

* * *

Yi looked at his watch for the tenth time. It read 6:50 AM. Although it was still dark, Yi knew the sun would start rising soon. Still no sign of Navy SEALs.
What could have happened?
Yi decided to give it a few more minutes.
Suddenly, a single beam of light swept across the water. Yi’s adrenaline starting pumping. Inhale. Exhale.
A black, motorized raft pulled up to Yi’s boat. One of the six frogmen saluted Yi, then gave a thumbs-up. Without a word, Yi positioned his face mask and regulator. He slid into the water, and the six frogmen followed.
Dropping to twenty feet, Yi switched on his headlamp. As they reached the ocean floor, the beam of light cast a bell-shaped shadow on the rocky base of the island. Yi was relieved to have found the mark so quickly. He positioned himself to the back of the outcropping and pointed to the opening. The head diver gave Yi another thumbs-up and entered the tunnel. One by one, the other frogmen entered behind their leader.
Caught up in the moment, Yi had the urge to follow them. Instead, a sense of pride and homesickness for America overcame him. He wanted to go home. But he knew he had to finish his mission first. And, more than anything, he wanted to see Sarah again.
He slowly maneuvered back to the surface and climbed into the boat. He removed his gear, then started up the little engine and steered toward shore.
The first hints of light were beginning to appear on the horizon. Yi could just barely make out the tent area of the Net’s training camp near the Yalong Bay Resort. Shouting and gunshots rang out followed by machine-gun fire. Tiny flashes of light interrupted the last of the night’s darkness.
Yi could see both Chinese and American forces rounding up soldiers in the uniforms he had been unable to identify. Looking back toward Wild Boar Island, he could see several of the black rafts leaving the island. Then, a sudden boom and burst of fire shattered the sky as the lighthouse exploded. What a historical event, he thought as he watched the successful outcome of this US-Sino military operation.
As he walked up the sandy beach to the hotel, two more tremors rocked the ground under his feet. He thought about the underwater tunnel—it was now gone. No secret entrance to Meijuan’s cave. The thought saddened him. It was the end of an era. More than anything, he wanted to tell Sarah about all that had transpired. He would try calling her again once he got back to his room and had a chance to clean up. He felt drained. A hot shower will feel great.
Aiya!” came a maniacal scream from behind Yi. As he turned, he saw Bao, red faced, running at him with his hand raised in the air, a knife blade glinting in the early morning sun.
Yi stopped immediately and dropped his gear. His defense training took over. He spun around and caught Bao in the jaw with his foot. The blow stunned Bao, and he fell to the ground. The knife disappeared in the sand.
As Yi bent over to grab hold of Bao, Bao threw a handful of sand in Yi’s face.
“You’ve ruined everything!” Bao shrieked.
Blinded, Yi scrambled to clear his vision of the stinging sand. Before he could do so, Bao located the knife and lunged again at Yi. Still unable to see clearly, Yi didn’t fully block Bao’s thrust. The top of the blade grazed his forearm.
Instinctively, Yi moved in the direction of the knife and caught Bao’s wrist, twisting it around behind his back. Bao’s knees buckled as he squealed in pain. This time when the knife dropped, Yi kicked it out of reach. Bao slumped over, whimpering like a small child.
“It’s over Bao,” Yi said and released his grip.
In one swift motion, Bao swung both arms up, hitting Yi under the chin and knocking him back. Stunned and enraged, Yi pounced on Bao, grabbing him by the throat and forcing him to the ground. As Yi thought about this annoying creature and the despicable way he had treated his mother, Meijuan, and all the suffering he had caused, the downed airplane that Yi should have been on and all those who had died so tragically, Yi’s hands began to tighten around Bao’s neck. Bao gasped for air.
“Do you realize how many people you’ve hurt?” Yi growled. He could feel his self-control slipping away. His grip tightened even more. “For one, you’ve dishonored your mother and her people.”
A puzzled look crossed Bao’s face.
“That’s right, Bao. Your mother, Meijuan, sent me here. She told me everything. She’s responsible for putting an end to your corruption and the evil presence you’ve let in.”
The shocked look on Bao’s face gave Yi great pleasure. He wished Meijuan could see it.
As Bao grew weaker, Yi knew he could end Bao’s life. It was tempting. It would feel so good. But a voice came into Yi’s mind: No, there are proper procedures to follow. Remember the rule of law.
Yi loosened his grip around Bao’s neck.
As he pulled Bao to his feet, Yi said, “I could kill you, Bao; and I’d probably be doing you a favor. But I’m not going to.”
“What?” Bao muttered, still gasping for air.
“Nope. Nobody’s above the law. Not you, not me. It’s called the rule of law. You’re going to stand trial for your crimes then pay the penalty—whatever that may be.”
Panic filled Bao’s face. “I’d rather die here. They’ll torture me!” He started to whimper.
“Sorry, Bao. I can’t help you.”
Yi called out to where the Chinese military soldiers were assembling the Net hostages. “Can I get some help over here?”
Several soldiers ran to where Yi was holding Bao. Yi instructed them to take Bao into custody for corruption charges including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.
“But I am Mayor of Sanya.” Bao struggled to regain his voice. When his title didn’t influence the soldiers, he added, “I can pay you a lot of money.”
“He may be the mayor here,” Yi stated, “but he’s the one responsible for all of this. Don’t let him fool you.” He then turned to Bao and patted him on the shoulder. “Your mother will be relieved to know this has finally ended.” As he started to walk away, he added, “She’s a great leader.”
Yi picked up the knife and his diving gear and headed back to the hotel.

“Please return my calls, Sarah,” Yi mumbled after leaving yet another message on her cell phone. More than anything, he needed to hear her voice.

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About DM Coffman

DM Coffman specializes in clean suspense thrillers (no offensive language, graphic sex or extreme violence). Strange experiences while living in China inspired The Net thriller series, and many unusual truths are interwoven into the stories of espionage and international intrigue. It's up to the reader to figure out where truth ends and DM's imagination begins.

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