Home - Contact Joe
STORIES FOR EVERYONE by joe
romance - crime - comedy - spy/thriller - space opera - short reads - long reads
CONSPIRACY OF THE DRAGON

CONSPIRACY OF THE DRAGON

The secret history of the war for our world.

by Joe Reister © 2017

Please note that this story contains adult material.

 A Chinese secret agent starts World War I to avenge decades of humiliation by the West, and begins a century of struggle to determine who will rule our world.


 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Claw of the Dragon

Chapter 2: The Bulldog’s Charms

Chapter 3: Beneath The Giant

Chapter 4: The Horde and the Sun

Chapter 5: The Eagle Rises

Chapter 6: The Future of War

Chapter 7: The Wrong Side

Chapter 8: The Giant Rises

Chapter 9: Off Their Knees

Chapter 10: The Upper Hand

Chapter 11: Breaching Protocols

Chapter 12: Asymmetric Warfare

Chapter 13: Enemy Mine

Chapter 14: Open Doors

Chapter 15: Finnerty’s Revenge

Chapter 16: The Middle Kingdom’s Rise

Chapter 17: The Giant Missteps

Chapter 18: Bipolar

Chapter 19: Won World

 


 

Chapter 1: Claw of the Dragon

 

July 31, 1914

 

Most Honorable Shining Sun:

 

The Eagle Flies To The Sea,

Waking The Bulldog,

To Join The Cock and Bear

And Destroy Them All.

 

The Dragon Will Rise Again.

 

Your Eternal Servant,

 

The Golden Claw

 

 

She sealed the note and handed it to the young man as he leaned forward, halfway through a hidden door.  She kissed him slowly, pressing the note into his hand and he held her until she let go.  She bowed low and locked the hidden door behind him before looking at herself in the wall mirror and hearing a key click in the front lock.  She turned, closing her robe and kneeled on the carpet, her eyes low. 

“I knew England would fall into our trap,” a voice said, pushing open the front door and waving away those around him.  “Now we will show those shopkeepers what a fighting navy can do.”

He came into the small apartment and saw her, shutting the door behind him and looking into the mirror.  “The English have thrown down the gauntlet.  Now, we will show them and those damned frogs how to fight as we stand tallest in the world.”  He smiled at himself.  “They will cry at the beating we give them, but thank us for leading them to a better tomorrow.” 

He took her chin into his hand, caressing it, and looked into her eyes. 

“This war has been coming for years, and now we will make them bleed.  First Paris, then London, then all of Europe and Russia will see the virtue of Prussian wisdom.  I know you don’t understand, but you savages will thank us for bringing you civilization.  No more dog eating, feet binding and whatever other humiliations you visit upon each other.”

She watched as he looked at himself in the mirror.

“Emperor and savior of civilization,” he said and patted her head.

She stood up slowly, and started undoing the buttons of his jacket.

“Of course I’ll need several new uniforms once we win the war,” he said to the mirror.  “Something in blue would look good.”

She loosened his uniform and removed his clothes slowly, trying to avoid looking at his pale skin and withered, useless arm.  She grazed it and winced before laying out his clothes on an oak chest at the foot of the bed.  He nodded and she removed her own robe slowly, taking a deep breath and pressing her body against his.

He turned to the mirror again, watching her naked back with a smile.

She kept her face calm as her hands moved slowly over his body and then kneeled on the floor. 

“That’s right, my little whore.  Some things you do understand.”

“I understand everything.”

His eyes opened wide.

“I’ve always understood,” she said and yanked him forward, throwing him to the floor.  He looked up and she kicked him in the head.  “Since Moltke gave me to you four years ago, saying, ‘to indulge in pleasures that are beneath the empress,’ I’ve understood every single word.”  She kicked him in the stomach.  “I’ve understood how pathetic and helpless you were since you first touched me.  How scared you were of anything different, and how you drove away smarter men who could’ve pointed you to a better future if you hadn’t felt so small and inferior to them.”  She kicked him in the chest, turning him over.  “I’ve kept you happy and distracted, and used your stupidity and arrogance to make you do whatever I wanted.  I’ve made sure that you pursued your destructive obsession with the English, and never saw your ministers’ recommendations to avoid war with France and Russia.”

He tried to catch his breath and she kicked him in the chest again. 

“You were so easy to manipulate.  Ignoring your better ministers, believing you were right because of your birth and crying like a baby when the world mocked your stupidity.”  She looked down at him and kicked his useless arm.  “I could’ve done almost nothing and you would’ve dragged Europe into a stupid, senseless war.”

She kicked him in the arm again and he curled into a ball, clutching it. 

“Now you’ve got what you’ve always wanted, and it will destroy your precious Prussia and the husk of the Dual Monarchy,” she said, pulling out her clothes hidden under the bed and beginning to dress.  “You’ve guaranteed the fall of Europe just like we’ve always planned.”

“What?” he said, trying to get up, but she knocked his head into the floor.

“Your soldiers shouldn’t have raped and plundered their way through Beijing as they destroyed the Boxers,” she said, dressing.  “You all should’ve stayed out of affairs that were none of your concern.”

“We didn’t...”

“Europe shocked us with its armies arriving so quickly to save its ambassadors,” she said, pulling him up by his hair and looking into his eyes.  “We realized how truly powerful and dangerous you were then.”  She smiled.  “But we also saw how much you envied and hated each other, and how we could use that to destroy you.”

She slammed his face into the floor. 

“You’re so convinced of German superiority that you can’t see that the world will slip away from Europe’s grasp as your armies destroy one another.  Germany may well cripple France and Russia, but the English will bleed you dry just like they did Napoleon one hundred years ago.”

“We took Paris before, and London will…”

“Bismarck took Paris because he attacked only France, and he got lucky.  You’ve already sent your armies to Russia and they’ll cross Belgium tomorrow or the next day.  In a week the English will create a third front, choking you off from the sea and draining the life from you,” she said, looking into his watery eyes.   “You can tell yourself whatever you like, but in six months, maybe a year, Europe will be a graveyard, and it will all be your fault.”

“They’ll lie down when they see our guns.”

“And you’ll see theirs.  And all of your armies will fire every bullet, dull every bayonet and bloody every fist until all of the soldiers are all dead and gone.  In a generation Europe will be nothing but ruins on the western edge of Asia.”

“No,” he said, looking away from her.  “No, I’ll call my armies back.  Cousins George and Nicky will listen to reason.  Together we will…”

“Die.  You sealed your fate the moment you gave the order to mobilize your armies.  Your soldiers can’t and won’t stop, and you’d know that if you had listened to your ministers and generals for even a minute.  All that waits are their deaths and your subjugation to the Middle Kingdom.

“You coolies aren’t even human.  You won’t…”

She kicked him again and again, doubling him back into his ball.

“We ruled for millennia before you white devils rose from the mud, and soon you will be nothing more than a historical stain.  With our boot on your throats, we’ll return to the glory that was and is China.  And you?  You’ll be nothing more than the cabbage eaters you always were.”

“You won’t get away with this.”

“I already have,” she said, looking right into his eyes.  “You won’t tell a soul that your yellow, slant eyed whore destroyed your empire as you moaned your pleasures.  You can’t even believe it now after all I’ve just told you, and once I’m gone you won’t be able to forget it fast enough.  It’ll be like I was never here.”

Tears started down his face.

“I should kill you for what you made me do in the last four years.  But it’s all worth it knowing that you’ll watch as Germany and Europe destroy each other; knowing that in a generation you will all be serving the Middle Kingdom, and knowing that we will be the masters and you will be the slaves.”

He sobbed and she stood up, opening the door hidden in the wall. 

“I want you to remember my face when your empire dies and you have nothing left but nightmares,” she said, standing over him.  “I want you to remember how a Chinese girl destroyed you and your world.”

She turned her back on him, leaving him crying in a little ball on the floor.

Seven years later he could think of nothing else as an Englishman listened to his story and reread the note written in Mandarin. 

“That’s quite a tale, your majesty.”

Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany, frowned.  “You don’t believe me?”

“I do,” the Englishman said and looked up at the former Kaiser.  “And we won’t let this stand.”

The former Kaiser’s eyes narrowed on the Englishman.

“I’ve already talked to an Irish friend, your majesty, and despite our current differences, we are going to make this right.  It might take a few years, but your little whore and her country will feel our wrath.  They will pay for what they’ve done.”

The former Kaiser blinked, tears forming in his eyes.  “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” the man said, leaving a pistol in front of the former Kaiser and opening the only door in the room.  “It’s all I can do not to kill you myself.”

The former Kaiser watched the door close and picked up the pistol.  “I know,” he said, staring at the pistol before putting it down and sobbing.


 

Chapter 2: The Bulldog’s Charms

 

“That is heaven,” the man said, finishing his scotch and placing the glass on the hardwood table.  He stared at the two guards in front of him and sniffed the air.  “Not that you rancid butt fuckers will ever know.”

The two guards stood still, and the man glanced at two more behind him, pushing his glass toward the nearly half-empty bottle.  “Another.”

The first guard shook his head as the second just looked at the bottle.

“God damn, you bloody, grass eating, cocksuckers,” the man said.  “It’s no wonder we’ve fucked 300 million of you up the ass for the last century.  You’re practically God damn useless with the simplest of instructions.”

The first guard stared straight ahead and scowled, but the second filled up the man’s glass.

“About fucking time, you yellow, shit eating bastard,” the man said and picked up the glass, smelling the scotch and smiling.  “It’s not like you haven’t kissed my ass before.”

The first guard’s mouth tightened.

The man took a long sip, looking at the first guard and laughed out loud.   “I’ve seen more piss and vinegar from Belfast girls, you eunuch cunt,” the man said and glanced at his watch.  He drained the glass.  “Careful or I’ll fuck your sister again.”

The first guard’s face hardened.

“Please,” the man said and laughed again.  “You fucked her when you had a dick.”

The first guard stood up even straighter. 

The man smiled at the first guard and pushed his glass forward again.  “Another.”

The second guard refilled it. 

The man turned to the sound of the opening door and stood up.

A large guard walked in, holding the door as a simply uniformed man entered the room with a woman a pace behind him and another guard behind her.

The first four guards bowed.

“Mr. Finnerty,” the uniformed man said.

“General Chiang,” the man said and bowed even lower.

Chiang saw the half-empty bottle of scotch.  “I hope you remember your manners this time,” he said as the woman behind him translated the words into English. 

“I do, General,” Finnerty said.  “I also remember how beneficial our last meeting was, sir.”

“Yes,” Chiang said and sat at the head of the table, motioning for only Finnerty to join him.  “I hope you have a more perceptive view of the world than the last Englishman I saw.”

“I can’t imagine it’s worse, General,” Finnerty said and sat down.  “And the Empire can certainly do better than offer the ramblings of a shell shocked and senile old colonel, sir.”

“Mr. Townley seems quite familiar with our situation.”

“I’m sure he did, General.  The man became obsessed with China after the Kaiser blamed one of your whores for starting the Great War.”

The woman’s eyes went to Finnerty.

“Please excuse me if I have offended your sensibilities, miss,” Finnerty said, looking at her.  “That’s an American accent, correct?”

The woman turned away and continued translating.

“Mr. Townley is an angry, old man who will say whatever comes into his head like old men everywhere,” Chiang said.  “What I want is to know what the British truly see in China’s future.”

“That’s why I’m here, General.”

“I am surprised your new minister has not ventured out of his embassy.”

“Sir Lampson is still overwhelmed with the complexities of China, General,” Finnerty said.  “That’s how Townley took the opportunity to pay his respects, sir.”

“Mr. Townley’s perspective and audacity surprised me.”

“I apologize, General.”

“The Chinese can only understand a simple, straight forward approach.”

“The same is true for the British laboring classes, General.”

“Yet Mr. Townley believes that I should gradually and peacefully come to terms with the communists and the warlords, ignoring the current events on the ground and the logic of history.”

“And if you don’t mind me saying, General, Townley and several others in the British embassy are a bunch of fucking wankers licking each other’s balls,” Finnerty said and picked up his glass again.   

The woman stopped for a moment, and Chiang frowned. 

“Townley would be happy to see China on its knees for another hundred years, General, but you and I both know your people deserve more than a government of rat eaters and rapists,” Finnerty said and took a sip.  “And the truth is the Empire now needs a united and prosperous China to safeguard its own future.”

Chiang stared past Finnerty, but the woman looked right at him.

“With Sun Yat-Sen gone, you are the only one who can unite China, General.  Like Washington united America, only you can bring your people together and return the Middle Kingdom to its rightful place in the world.”

The woman nodded, but Chiang did not move a muscle.

“It’s unsaid, sir, but General Washington’s America heralded the rise of the British Empire in the 19th century,” Finnerty said.  “Now the Empire wants and needs China to renew it for the 20th.”

“I doubt Mr. Townley would agree with that assessment.” 

“I doubt Townley could find his dick in a brothel, General.  He believes that the Empire won the Great War intact; failing to see that they lost Ireland a decade ago, risk losing India in the next and may even lose Suez in a generation unless it changes with the times.”

“You are surprisingly candid, Mr. Finnerty?”

“I’m paid to be, General, particularly when the King and Prime Minister agree with me,” Finnerty said, meeting Chiang’s eye.  “That’s why I’m here, sir: to send a clear invitation for you to make history with the Empire’s support.”

Chiang looked at him.

“You want the Chinese to rise up to lift the British into a better future, Mr. Finnerty?” the woman said in English and then Mandarin.

Finnerty turned to the woman.

“Well,” Chiang said, his eyes on Finnerty.

“Yes, and in return the Empire will lift its boot from China’s neck and do everything possible to unleash the potential of what was once the world’s greatest civilization,” Finnerty said.  “And you, General Chiang, you are the only man who can seize that future.”

“With your Empire profiting, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Of course, General,” Finnerty said and took a larger sip of scotch.  “Otherwise we wouldn’t be talking.”

Chiang glanced at the woman. 

“This is your moment, General,” Finnerty said.  “The British Empire and all of Europe are distracted with their own problems; Japan isn’t yet sure of its place since the war and America now wants nothing to do with any of us.  The time to act is now, sir.”

“I humbly disagree, Mr. Finnerty,” the woman said.  “We lack the means to...”

“Do you?” Finnerty said, ignoring the woman, who kept translating, as he kept his eyes right on Chiang’s.  “You control southern China, General.  You could seize the north and Manchuria tomorrow if you wished, and no one, not even the Empire, could stop you.”

Chiang shook his head. 

“No one else can do it, General,” Finnerty said, leaning forward, his hands on the table.  “Sun failed, the communists have shown they can’t fight and the warlords won’t leave their fortresses.  Now is the time to stand up while the world is distracted.  Now is the time to regain China’s future, sir.”

The woman stared at him for a moment and then nodded again.

“You have given me much to think about, Mr. Finnerty,” Chiang said and leaned back in his chair.

“Only you can reverse a hundred years of humiliation, General,” Finnerty said and finished his scotch.  “Now is the time no matter who profits, sir.  You don’t want to lose this moment to make history.”

Chiang stood up with Finnerty doing the same.  “Walk with me, Mr. Finnerty.”

He followed Chiang down the hall with the woman behind him and the guards surrounding them, passing millennia old urns, centuries old bronze castings and decades old paintings.

“Does your Empire have such a history, Mr. Finnerty?” Chiang said, gesturing to the artwork.

“We don’t, General,” Finnerty said and stopped at the front entrance, meeting the General’s eye again.  “But we have a future, sir, something China lost centuries ago.”

Chiang frowned and the woman stepped back.  

“But it can, General,” Finnerty said and pulled out an old parchment from his coat, unrolling it to show detailed voyages of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  “Zheng He’s fabled travels in the 15th century, sir: centuries ahead of their time when China nearly ruled the world.”

Chiang glanced at the map.

“The Middle Kingdom was nearly the entire world then, sir,” Finnerty said.  “Perhaps it could be so again: no matter what the Empire does.”

The woman blinked as Chiang picked up the map. 

“It is my gift to you, General,” Finnerty said.  “I apologize as always for my brusque manner, and beg your forgiveness to return another day.”

Chiang nodded, studying the map as the first guard escorted Finnerty through the front doors, across the courtyard and out the gate. 

The woman watched until Finnerty disappeared onto the street. 

Finnerty stopped and pulled out a flask, taking a long sip.  The first guard stood next to him, glaring, and Finnerty offered him the flask. 

The first guard hesitated and then took it as Finnerty left him for the only car on the street, opening the back door and getting in.

“Well?” the driver said as the car pulled away.

“I told him exactly what he wanted to hear,” Finnerty said.  “Your recommendation to share power with the communists and warlords fell on deaf ears just as we planned.  Chiang wants to be emperor.”

“He’ll fail like all the others.”

“Yes,” Finnerty said with a nod.  “Although the woman, his translator, Soong May-Ling, might see through us.”

“I doubt it,” the driver said.  “They’re marrying next month, and she’ll do anything to ensure Chiang’s success.”

“Then we’ve succeeded?”

“Yes, and China will tear itself apart worse than Europe did.”

“Just like you want, Mr. Townley?”

“Yes,” Townley said and smiled.  “Not that it will make up for she did.”

“No,” Finnerty said and stared out the window.  “No, it won’t.”


 

Chapter 3: Beneath The Giant

 

“Something’s not right here, Mr. Finnerty.  I’ll tell you that,” the large man said, staring through an automobile window at a dimly lit shop.  He turned around.  “Something’s definitely not right.”

“No shit, you dumb, yellow cocksucker,” Finnerty said, looking past the man and searching the dark, empty street.  He closed his eyes as the large man stared at him, and then opened them slowly, looking back.  “If I thought you’d be this fucking useless, Zhou, I would’ve never given you that God damn flask and hired your sorry ass from that useless, syphilitic general.”  He took in a deep breath.  “Now pull your shit together or go back to that butt fuck, cesspool of a village you call home.”

“Yes, sir,” Zhou said and handed the flask to Finnerty. 

“Of course something’s wrong,” Finnerty said and took a swig, looking again at the shop.  “Our guard is missing, the front door is open and someone left the back light on.”  He took another swig.  “We never leave that light on.”

Zhou nodded and faced forward again.

“First the troubles in Belfast, then the fires in Shanghai and now…”

“And now your shop in Hong Kong, Mr. Finnerty,” Zhou said.  “Something’s definitely not right.”

Finnerty scowled at the back of Zhou’s head.  “You’re right,” he said, checking under his coat and opening the door.  “So, let’s find out what’s wrong.”

“Yes, sir,” Zhou said and got out of the automobile, scanning the empty street as Finnerty walked straight toward his shop.  “Mr. Finnerty?”

“I already checked the street,” he said, his eyes on the front door.  “Come on.”

“Sir, this might be a trap.”

“No shit, you dumb bastard,” Finnerty said and stopped in front of the shop, staring at the door.  “This is obviously a trap, which is why you’re going in first.”

“Like last time,” Zhou said and sighed.

“It’s what I’m paying you for, you stupid son of a bitch.”

Zhou’s mouth tightened, but he stepped forward.

“Wait,” Finnerty said and grabbed Zhou’s arm.  “Listen.”

They stood still, not hearing a thing as Zhou pulled out a large knife from under his coat.  Finnerty sighed and stepped forward, nudging open the door with his foot to see the giant mirror he purchased last year in the entryway.  They stared at themselves for a moment and Zhou swallowed hard while Finnerty stepped inside the shop and peeked past the mirror.  He surveyed the dimly lit main floor, glancing at the ancient sculptures, vintage porcelain and antique jade displays spread throughout the shop, seeing nothing out of ordinary except for the light from the back room.  He checked the empty staircase leading to the second floor and took another step forward when his nose twitched.

“What’s that smell, Mr. Finnerty?”

He frowned, sniffing the air.  “I don’t know,” he said and checked the walls, counting the framed paintings and maps as he walked to the back room.  “Nothing’s been stolen.”  He turned to Zhou who kept an eye out behind them.

“Sir…”

Finnerty put a finger to his lips and pointed for Zhou to go to the left as he went to the right.  He sniffed the air again and pulled out a handkerchief, covering his nose and mouth as Zhou did the same.  Then they exchanged a last look and Zhou stepped into the back room, knife raised high.  He blinked as Finnerty followed him, stopping in his tracks.

He stared opened mouth at the naked, old man lying on the dark, damp floor, lamp light reflecting off the thousand tiny cuts on his clammy, pale skin.  “Townley,” he said, bending down and feeling for a pulse.  “Edmund?”

Zhou noticed the pink and brown stain underneath Townley and stepped back, coughing from the stench.

Finnerty examined Townley’s blank, hollow eyes, his handkerchief still covering his face.  “They bled him to death.”

“My God, my God, my God, my God,” Zhou said, staring at the dead body and taking another step back.  “We have to get…”

“Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine,” Finnerty said, closing Townley’s eyes.

“… out of here, Mr. Finnerty…”

“Et lux perpetua luceat ei:” Finnerty said and made the sign of the cross.  “Requiescat in pace.”

“… We’re not safe here,” Zhou said, pulling on Finnerty’s shoulder.  “We have to leave right now.”

“Requiescat in pace,” Finnerty said, shrugging off Zhou and wiping away a tear.  “Amen.”

“We should have stayed in the automobile,” Zhou said, now yelling and grabbing Finnerty.  “We should have never come here alone at ni…”

He dropped to the floor, almost knocking over Finnerty, a knife in the back of his head as a woman and three men stepped into the back room.  The woman held up a lantern, and Finnerty looked right at her.

“You should have listened to Zhou Gang, Mr. Finnerty,” the woman said, looking down at the still twitching body.  “You might have seen tomorrow’s sun.”

“Madame Ni Dao-Ming,” Finnerty said, standing up without even glancing at the three men.  “The infamous Golden Claw: hired gun and bloody whore to the Soong family, General Chiang, Sun Yat-Sen and everyone in the Qing Empire.”

The three guards drew long knives, but Ni raised a hand.  “No,” she said, smiling.  “No, let’s hear Mr. Finnerty’s last words before his miseries begin.”

He looked at the three men.  “I’m surprised you’d step out of the shadows with your clothes on and legs together, Madame Ni, especially since you’re nothing more than a wrinkly, dried up hole.”

“Said like an old man out of options, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and straightened her seamless sheer dress.  She smiled.  “Or someone who sees what they want but will never possess.”

Finnerty smiled.  “I should thank you, Madame Ni,” he said, leering at her.  “I’ve been searching for you for a decade, and now you find me."

“So predictable, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said, still smiling as her men eyed her raised hand.  “But neither you nor Mr. Townley ever concerned me.  You’re both fools living in the past, too blind to see that your Empire is spent and nearly on its knees.”

“And yet China’s been face down in the mud for centuries, Madame Ni,” Finnerty said, noticing the men’s tattered coats.  “Its glory barely a memory as your people starve in the streets.”

“More words meaning nothing, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and pointed to Townley’s body.  “Your mentor is just the latest example of how weak the British are.”

“Townley was an old man…”

“Who died very slowly by my hand, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and her eyes narrowed on his.  “Just like your Belfast home burned to the ground last week, thieves ransacked your Shanghai warehouse five days ago and an accident crippled your youngest daughter yesterday.”

“You expect me to believe…”

“That I control events a world away?” Ni said and nodded with a wider smile.  “Of course, Mr. Finnerty.  I’ve started wars, caused revolutions and orchestrated the fall of kings right under your nose.  The razing of your family home is…”

“A coincidence,” Finnerty said, but swallowed.  “Nothing more than a coincidence, Madame Ni.”

“You believe what you will, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and pointed to Townley.  “But right there is all the proof you need that I can do whatever I want to whoever I want.”

Finnerty barely held her stare.

“We cut him slowly and deeply, Mr. Finnerty, bleeding him over three days as he screamed and cried, begging us for mercy as we drained the spirit out of him like he wasn’t even a dog.”   

Finnerty’s eyes flickered to Townley.

“I showed him a death that made your Great War look like a school yard fight, Mr. Finnerty: a child’s game.  And on his last day Townley realized that I was right.  That it’s only a matter of time before the English kneel before Chinese might.”

He looked up again and she lowered her hand.

The guards stepped forward and Finnerty stepped back.

“And as we slowly bleed you to death, I want you to remember that I could do the same to your young wife and precious children any time I wanted, Mr. Finnerty.”

“No,” he said and pulled out a pistol from under his coat, shooting the largest man in the head.  “No, I don’t think so.”

The largest man collapsed to the floor and the other two froze as Ni kept smiling at Finnerty.

“That’s not going to happen, Madame Ni,” Finnerty said, looking at her with his pistol now pointed at the second largest man’s head.  “Not while I’m alive.”

“Of course not, Mr. Finnerty,” she said and raised her hand again.  “But that shouldn’t take long to rectify.” 

He backed up another step.  “You know Chiang will shit all over China no matter what you do to me, Madame Ni.”

“And your Empire will collapse in my lifetime, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Powerful words from someone who hides in the shadows, Madame Ni,” he said, staring at the two men.  “Britain will never…”

“Your ‘civilization’ is rotting form the inside out, Mr. Finnerty.” 

“Which is why our warships control your coast, Madame Ni?”

“For now,” Ni said and stepped closer to Finnerty.  “But that won’t last now that America has turned inward against your precious mercantilist policies, will it Mr. Finnerty?”

His face hardened.”

“They hate you for bringing them into your Great War and causing their Depression.  Hate you so much that they’ll close their own borders even if it cuts into their own trade,” Ni said and laughed.  “It’s just like we planned a generation ago, Mr. Finnerty.”

He pulled the trigger, dropping the second man to the floor and turning his pistol to the third.

“I’ve touched on a sore point, haven’t I, Mr. Finnerty?” Ni said and pulled out her own gun, aiming it at his stomach.  “I’ve shown you how weak you are and it scares you.”

“We still have China in our pocket, Madame Ni,” he said and turned his pistol to her face. 

“Until America kicks you out, Mr. Finnerty, like they did to your redcoats 150 years ago.”

“You don’t understand Americans at all, Madame Ni.”

“I understand that we’re both living in their shadow, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said, and took another step toward him.  “But it’s only a matter of time until we bleed them to death too.”

“You misunderstand China’s true potential, Madame Ni.” 

“Perhaps, Mr. Finnerty, but you yourself told General Chiang that the British plan to exploit a resurgent China to reinvigorate their own Empire, even as you fight us and claim that we have no future without you,” she said, staring back at him.  “A daring amount of hypocrisy even for an Irishman.”

“Only if it doesn’t work, Madame Ni.”

“It won’t, Mr. Finnerty,” she said and took another step forward.  “Your time is nearly done.”

“And America will just let China rise, Madame Ni?”

“They won’t see the danger until it’s too late, Mr. Finnerty.”

“You’ll never be dangerous with Chiang keeping you in the dirt, Madame Ni.”

“His successors will do better, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and the third man turned to her.

“Mao and the warlords are even worse than Chiang, Madame Ni.” 

“Perhaps,” Ni said and shot the third man in the neck.  “But England’s future is even worse for you, Mr. Finnerty.”

He stared at the third man screaming on the floor.

“The world is changing faster than Chiang knows,” Ni said, lowering her pistol and nodding to him.  “You know it, I know it, and that’s why I want you on my side, Mr. Finnerty.”

“On your side?” he said, turning back to her.

“You know England is collapsing under the burden of its Empire, and that China could return to greatness with the right leaders,” Ni said.  “You could be one of those leaders, Mr. Finnerty.”

He looked right into her eyes.

“You’ve spent almost your entire life in China, Mr. Finnerty.  You’ve become rich here, made a life here.  Do you think you could have done that in England as the Irish Catholic boy you were?”

He looked down at Townley’s corpse and then into the front room and a fraction of his Chinese wealth.

“Help us make the future, Mr. Finnerty.  Embrace the reward you so richly deserve and that the English will never give you.”

“No,” he said, raising his pistol to her face.  “No, I don’t think so.”

“You’re making a mistake, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Like you did when you threatened my family and livelihood, you cocksucking, stain of a whore.”

“They’re alive because of me, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and laughed, smashing the lantern on the floor, lighting it on fire.  “You would do well to remember that.”

He lowered his pistol, his eyes right on hers again.

“Good-bye, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said, turning her back to him.  “We won’t see each other again.”

“I’ll see you dead, whore.”

“No, you won’t,” Ni said and left as the flames rose up between them.

Finnerty ignored the fire and holstered the pistol under his coat.  He turned around, pushing Townley and Zhou’s bodies aside and tracing his hand along the floor, revealing a trap door.  He smiled.  “I will see you dead, Madame Ni,” he said and lifted the door, heading down a waiting ladder.  “And China too.”


 

Chapter 4: The Horde and the Sun

 

“I didn’t realize there was anything worth seeing outside of Shanghai, Mr. Finnerty,” the young woman said and smiled, taking in the rail lines stretching for miles.  “But I was wrong.  This is…”

“A shithole.  A shithole worth something only because the Germans wanted a railroad in China before the war,” Finnerty said next to her, the both of them riding horses past drilling Chinese soldiers at the bottom of a hill where a Japanese flag waved at the top.  He looked her up and down. “And that naïveté makes me wonder if you’re ready for this, Miss Fife.”

“I’ve prepared for this my whole life, Mr. Finnerty,” Fife said, just holding onto her smile.  “Although I’m wondering why we’re up so early.  I understand you’re a late riser.”

“I haven’t slept yet,” Finnerty said and looked at the Japanese guards and the Japanese colonel on his own horse.  “And I’ve heard Luce is a late riser.”

“He is,” Fife said, nodding.  “So, I’ll translate for you both?”

“You are trilingual, as well as trained in a variety of other techniques, correct, Miss Fife?”

She frowned, giving him a look.  “Yes.”

“Impressive for nineteen.”

“I’m more than ready, Mr. Finnerty.”

“I’ve heard a thousand say that since ’14, and for your sake I hope you’re right.”

“I’ll do whatever is needed to succeed, Mr. Finnerty.” 

“That’s right,” Finnerty said, giving her a look.  “You will.”

She stared straight ahead.  “I heard you were a bastard.”

Finnerty nodded and laughed.

“Did you convince Chiang to build a barracks right under Japan’s nose, Mr. Finnerty?” Fife said, looking back at the Chinese soldiers.

“I didn’t need to convince him, Miss Fife,” Finnerty said and pulled out a flask.  “The Chinese hate the Japanese almost as much as they hate us.”

“Yet they built and now maintain the railroads that the Japanese have controlled for fifteen years.”

“The Chinese have worked themselves to death for all kinds of rulers, Miss Fife,” Finnerty said, pointing to lines and lines of laborers approaching the rail lines and the unfinished Chinese army barracks.  “But now Chiang expects them to work for him.”

“I don’t think the Japanese will appreciate your recommendations, Mr. Finnerty?” Fife said as they approached the summit.  “They’re already stretched to the limit.”

“They don’t know that yet,” Finnerty said and dismounted, bowing to the colonel who also dismounted, and holding out his hand.  “So, don’t fuck it up, Miss Fife.  I want this Colonel Itagaki cocksucker to stand up to the shit eaters and be a man.”

Fife swallowed, but dismounted and bowed deeply, looking down as she told the colonel how honored Finnerty was to meet such a well-regarded soldier.

“It is my honor, Mr. Finnerty,” Itagaki said as Fife translated and bowed again, shaking Finnerty’s hand.

“Very good,” Finnerty said and shared a smile with Itagaki, noticing the sparse fortifications around the Japanese encampment.  “And please tell the colonel how impressed England is as Japan ventures forth to join the world’s great powers.”

Itagaki nodded listening to Fife’s translation. 

“Colonel Itagaki thanks you, Mr. Finnerty,” Fife said.  “He appreciates your opinion knowing that you served so honorably in the Great War.  He knows your country suffered greatly before defeating the Germans.”

“Of course, and I thank him for letting me call on him during my visit to Manchuria.  I hope he doesn’t mind that I brought a gift from the King,” Finnerty said, pulling a bottle of scotch from his saddlebag and handing it to the colonel with a bow.  “In exchange for his hospitality and the chance to offer my perspective on Chinese, Manchurian and Japanese relations.”

“Excellent,” Itagaki said, taking the bottle and gesturing to a set table with Chinese servants at the ready and Japanese soldiers behind them. 

“Thank you, Colonel,” Finnerty said, sitting down as Fife remained standing behind him.  “Please allow me to be direct as old military men are.”

“Of course, Mr. Finnerty,” Itagaki said, and stopped leering at Fife to look Finnerty in the eye.  “We are both men of action.”

“She is beautiful,” Finnerty said, having noticed Itagaki’s gaze.  “And has such a talented tongue.”

Itagaki smiled as Finnerty filled their glasses with scotch. 

“I’m sure you know that Japan has a golden opportunity to shepherd this region into the modern world, Colonel,” Finnerty said, raising his glass.  “That Manchuria is at a crossroads in its development that could fall under the sway of General Chiang or spread its wings under Japanese influence.”

“I see that, Mr. Finnerty,” Itagaki said and sipped from his glass.  “Even if Tokyo is blind to the possibilities.”

“Of course, Colonel.  These developments are so subtle and complex that neither of our governments have any idea on how great the potential here is,” Finnerty said.  “Only those in the field do.  And your army is in a unique position to seize the opportunity of Manchurian nationalism and expand the influence that Japan so richly deserves, particularly while the Europeans are now so distracted with their own affairs.”

Itagaki nodded and Finnerty clinked their glasses together.

“Japan has impressed my countrymen, Colonel, transforming itself from a traditional civilization to revolutionize itself in two generations as the only Asian power worthy enough to industrialize, face off against China and Russia and continue to expand beyond its own boundaries.”

“Thank you, Mr. Finnerty,” Itagaki said with a tight bow as Finnerty topped off his glass and refilled his own.  “My people have worked very hard.”

“They have, Colonel, but now Chiang is emulating Europe too, trying to industrialize and reunite the Middle Kingdom with Manchuria in his sights, and possibly threaten Japan itself, no?”

“I have spoken to the high command about this, Mr. Finnerty.”

“And they haven’t listened have they, Colonel?” Finnerty said, drinking more scotch.

Itagaki drank too. 

“I saw the notes from Chiang’s meeting last month, Colonel,” Finnerty said, looking Itagaki in the eye.  “He plans to occupy Manchuria now that the communists are on their back foot, and will soon be here unless someone stands up to him.”

Itagaki shook his head.  “We aren’t here to help your agenda, Mr. Finnerty.”

“My only agenda is to ensure China doesn’t threaten anyone else, Colonel, including the Japanese.”

“Not revenge after what they did to your family last year, Mr. Finnerty?” Itagaki said, putting down his glass.  “Not to protect your own business interests?”

“The world is complex, Colonel,” Finnerty said, topping off Itagaki’s glass again.  “But you have a much bigger target on your back than I do.”  He pointed to the dozens of Chinese soldiers and hundreds of Chinese laborers at the bottom of the hill.  “I am but one humble businessman and servant to the British Empire, barely noticed in a land of hundreds of millions of people, while you and your army are considered an invader and occupying force by Chiang and his minions.”

Itagaki nodded.  “We could sweep them aside like insects, Mr. Finnerty.”

“And no doubt will have many opportunities to do just that, Colonel,” Finnerty said, looking down the hill again.

“Hmm,” Itagaki said, topping off his own glass as they both saw a blond man on the other side of the camp walking toward them.  “Do you know the American, Joshua Luce.”

“We’ve met,” Finnerty said, draining his glass.  “And I know his uncle well.”

“You don’t care for him, Mr. Finnerty?”

“He is a capable linguist, Colonel,” Finnerty said, refilling his glass again.  “But like many Americans, young master Luce has too much faith in himself and too little knowledge of how the world truly works.”

Itagaki laughed, clinking his glass against Finnerty’s, and they drank together.

“Colonel Itagaki and Mr. Finnerty,” Luce said in Japanese and bowed to the two of them as Fife translated for Finnerty.  “It is an honor to see you this morning.  I didn’t realize you were meeting so early, sirs.”

Itagaki nodded quietly as Finnerty smiled. 

“Americans always seem to arrive late, Mr. Luce,” Finnerty said as Fife translated for Itagaki.  “And no doubt with a new and idealistic solution that was not asked for and will not be appreciated.”

Itagaki hid his smile behind another sip of scotch.

“I assume you arrived early again to insinuate yourself into affairs that don’t concern you and further your own cause, Mr. Finnerty,” Luce said in Japanese as Fife translated.  “But let me reassure you that I do not represent the American government, and am merely here as a favor to the colonel.”

“I would expect no less, Mr. Luce,” Finnerty said and poured a third glass which Luce left on the table.  “America is hiding behind the Nine Power Treaty and Kellogg Briand Pact while the rest of the world has to deal with the chaos that is human history.”

“The world is at peace, Mr. Finnerty,” Luce said in English.  “The League of Nations guarantees…”

“Nothing without America in it, Mr. Luce,” Finnerty said and laughed, sharing a look with Itagaki.  “The most powerful nation should have the sense to stay quiet when it leaves England and Japan to clean up the world’s messes.”

Itagaki nodded as Fife translated Finnerty’s words.

“That’s a simplified perspective, Mr. Finnerty,” Luce said.

“But correct nonetheless,” Itagaki said, noticing Luce’s untouched glass of scotch, and turned to Finnerty.  “Thank you for your perspective, Mr. Finnerty.  You have given me much to think over.”

“Thank you for your time, Colonel,” Finnerty said and stood up, pulling a briefcase out of his saddle bags.  “I have written down some ideas that you might find useful, sir.  Miss Fife has been briefed on them and would be happy to stay and review them with you until we meet again.  She can explain them in detail and help you in any other manner that you may desire.”

Fife swallowed hard as she translated Finnerty’s words. 

Itagaki looked her over again, his eyes focusing on her mouth and nodded.  “Thank you, Mr. Finnerty.”

“You’re welcome, Colonel,” Finnerty said.  “And I hope you don’t mind if I borrow Mr. Luce on my way home.”

“Not at all,” Itagaki said, taking Finnerty’s briefcase and nodding Fife toward his tent.  “I look forward to speaking with you soon, Mr. Finnerty.”

“Let’s say in a week, Colonel,” Finnerty said, taking Luce by the arm and leading him and his horse away from the camp. 

“I can’t believe you left her with him,” Luce said halfway down the hill.  “Do you know what he plans to do with her…”

“I do, and so does Miss Fife,” Finnerty said without looking back.  “And without her Itagaki wouldn’t be able to attack the Chinese with a sword much less make it look like their fault.  She’ll have him groaning in pleasure by the afternoon and taking over the province by the end of the month.”

“And how many innocent people will die, Mr. Finnerty?”

“Fewer than if we did nothing and Chiang attacked Manchuria, Mr. Luce,” Finnerty said, noting a car driving by the Chinese barracks.  “And it’ time you understood that.”

“None of this is right, Mr. Finnerty, and it won’t bring back your family.”

“Perhaps, Mr. Luce, but I don’t expect it to,” Finnerty said, handing him his horse’s reins.  “What I expect is your government’s thanks as I turn Japan’s attention away from your mutual and conflicting interests in the Pacific.”

“I don’t work for the American government, Mr. Finnerty,” Luce said, noticing the car stop at the bottom of the hill.

“Of course you don’t, Mr. Luce, because you’re just a simple missionary born and raised in China with multiple family and business connections in America who aren’t concerned about the future of this once great civilization,” Finnerty said and laughed, walking right up to the car and opening the door. 

“That’s correct, Mr. Finnerty.”

“You can keep my horse,” Finnerty said and got into the car.  “It’s one more thing you’ll owe me.”

Luce looked up the hill at the Japanese encampment, then at the bottom with the Chinese barracks, and frowned as Finnerty drove away.


 

Chapter 5: The Eagle Rises

 

“Madame Ni, it is not safe here.”

She looked up from the back of the black Mercedes and saw almost nothing.  The two flickering street lights cast more shadows than light and nobody was on the street.  “I’ll be fine,” she said, opening the door to the winter air, but left behind her great coat.  “What do you think could happen when no one is here?”

The driver’s mouth tightened as Ni and a large man got out of the car.

“Wait here,” Ni said to the large man, and he stopped as she headed straight to the small building in front of the automobile, pushing open the giant oak door.

“Madame…” the large man said, following her.

“I said ‘wait here’, Jin,” Ni said with a look, and entered the lobby alone. 

It was almost darker inside but Ni saw a young girl jump at her sudden appearance and then stare at her foreignness, which she ignored, walking to the stairs at the back of the building and climbing to the second floor.  She stopped in the hallway, looking around and then up and down the stairs, listening for anything, and then hearing the music from the front apartment.  A smile escaped her hard expression as she saw the ‘Fuchs’ nameplate on the apartment’s door.  She stared at it for a minute and then raised a hand, knocking on the door and stepping back, smoothing her dress and brushing the hair out of her face when the music stopped and she heard someone approach.

The door opened and she saw a tall, lean man with thick blond hair and the brightest blue eyes looking right at her.

“Richard,” Ni said and stepped forward, touching his face as she looked over his worn but formal attire.  

“Dao-Ming, you needn’t have come,” Fuchs said, taking Ni’s hand in his own and squeezing it.  “I will always be there for you.”

“And I you,” Ni said, looking into his eyes.  “But I needed to know you were all right.”

“I am not,” Fuchs said, pulling her gently into his apartment and shutting the door behind them.  “But I am better seeing your face and hearing your voice.”

She smiled and they both blinked before she wrapped her arms around him.  “I’m so sorry, Richard,” she said in a whisper and kissed him on the cheek.  “I would’ve never asked for your help if I’d known.”

“How could you have known, Dao-Ming?” he said, looking back into her eyes.  “I don’t speak of it.  Grief is for the weak.”

“You can’t do this, Richard,” Ni said, putting a finger to his lips.  “Not now.  It’s too dangerous.”

“I will move on, Dao-Ming, like I always have,” Fuchs said and stepped back, still holding her hand and looking her over.  “Like we always have, no?”

She nodded.  “I don’t have any other choice.”

“We have both refused to live with the circumstances God has given us,” Fuchs said, leading her to a divan, a bottle of wine and two glasses by the front window.  “No matter what’s happening in the world.”

They sat down together, her eyes on him.

“Things are hard here,” Richard said, pouring the wine.  “But it’s worse in China.”

Ni nodded, taking the glass from him.  

“Is it worth it?”

“Yes,” she said, sipping the wine.  “Most of the time.”

Fuchs nodded.  “You know what you’ve asked me to do will lead to another great war: a worse war, if such a thing is possible.  Germany won’t stop until it’s humiliated those who wronged it twenty years ago, and this man, Hitler: nothing is beneath him.  He wants to destroy anything and anyone that is different: everything, including your China.”

“He’d have to cross all of Asia, Richard, and will sate his and Germany’s ambitions and lust by destroying France, England the Russia first.”

“And we will, Dao-Ming,” Fuchs said.  “It’s not a matter of if, but when we destroy them.”

“And that when is now, Richard,” Ni said.  “Hitler is the man who can and will inspire Germany to bring both a weak Europe and a disinterested America to their knees.  He will undo the defeat of the Great War and lead Germany into a future it has always deserved.”

“And all you need me to do is light a match?”

“Yes,” Ni said, holding Fuchs’ stare.  “We can finish what we started in ’14.  Make the world a better place, the place it should have always been.”

He sipped his wine and so did she. 

“Everything is ready,” Fuchs said, looking past her.  “I have arranged a means to destroy the Reichstag and blame it on the Communists, and all with a literal match.”  He finished his glass.  “With the Left discredited, the Nazis can and will seize full control of Germany and lead it into the future you so desire.”

“And the danger to yourself?”

“Is negligible,” Fuchs said.  “A Dutch communist, van der Lube, needs little encouragement to help, and is an easy and obvious scapegoat.”

“Who won’t then blame you?”

“No one would believe him and I don’t care if he does,” Fuchs said, filling his glass and topping off hers.  “You’re right that Germany needs to move forward, and now is as good a time is any.”

“I’m glad you understand,” Ni said, smiling.

“I always have, Dao-Ming,” Fuchs said and stood up.  He stared at the framed photo above the mantle of him, his dead wife and boys, and then turned to Ni. 

“I’m so sorry, Richard,” Ni said, now standing next to him.

He drank more.  “How is Anguo?” he said, wiping a tear.  “I imagine he is much bigger than the last time I saw him.”

“Nearly a foot,” Ni said, taking his hand.  “You would be so proud of him.”

He looked into her eyes again.

“He speaks and understands English and German better than I do, Richard, just like we planned,” Ni said, nodding.  “And he’s larger and stronger than any of the other boys in his class.”

“And you’re preparing him for the future, Dao Ming?”

“Yes,” Ni said, pulling him closer.  “He was accepted to the new military academy that General Chiang started in Nanjing, and is second in his class.”

Fuchs put his wine glass on the mantle.

“I expect him to be first, though,” Ni said, putting her glass down too.

“I’m sure he’ll get there.  He’s a bright boy, just like his mother,” Fuchs said and smiled for the first time.  “And I would like to see him again, Dao-Ming.”

“Maybe in the summer,” Ni said and smiled too.  “If you can get leave.”

“Commodore Schmidt wasn’t happy the last time,” Fuchs said, losing his smile.  “But Anguo is the only family I have now.”

“Not the only family, Richard,” Ni said and took his other hand.  She pulled him even closer and put her arms around him. 

Fuchs let her and squeezed back. 

“You’re a good man, Richard,” Ni said, kissing him gently on the cheek and resting her head on his chest.  “Still kind and thoughtful, like you were at the court a lifetime ago.”  She looked into his eyes.  “You saved my life then, and you’re still helping me now.”

Fuchs took in a breath.  “I’m so tired, Dao-Ming,” he said, letting her kiss him.  “But I will complete your mission.  By the end of the week.”

“I know,” Ni said and started loosening his clothes.  “And this will make things right.”  She kissed him again.  “And our son will have a better future.”

He nodded, kissing her back.

 


 

Chapter 6: The Future of War

 

The girl shrieked but could barely be heard with the world around her.

“Mei,” Fife said, yelling over the girl and the clamor outside as she unchained the front door.  “You have to calm down and…”

“Mr. Finnerty, we have to hurry,” a large man said, looking at the girl and then turning back to the violence outside the front window.  “The girl is right to…”

“Let her scream,” Finnerty said in Mandarin, dumping a canister of gasoline all over the floor as the girl howled even louder.  “The world is going to hell, and she’s not hurting…”

“Shut up,” Fife said, slapping the girl to the floor and turned to Finnerty.  “We need to leave.  Now.”

He frowned, dumping a second canister in the back of the building when something slammed into the door from the outside.

“There’s nowhere to go,” Mei said, following Finnerty’s gaze to the door and then the window.  “We can’t run and there’s nowhere to hide.  The Japanese are raping and killing…”

“We don’t need to run or hide, girl,” the large man said, pulling out a pistol and turning to Finnerty.  “But Miss Fife is right, Mr. Finnerty.  It’s time to go.”

“Shut up, Jin,” Finnerty said, kicking over one last canister and walking to the front window as the remaining gasoline spread over the floor.  “I can’t believe the Nips are doing this.  We’re in Nanjing, God damn it.”  He pulled a pistol out of his jacket and gave it to Mei, but she wouldn’t take it.  “We’re in the fucking capital of the God damn, fucking Middle Kingdom, you yellow, cocksucking bastards.”  He turned to Fife.  “You said this wouldn’t happen, that the Japanese were civilized.”  

Fife ignored him, shoving a pistol in her belt and checking the ammunition in a second, pulling back on the hammer.

“I can’t go out there,” the girl said as Fife unlatched the bottom bolt.  “I won’t go out there.”

“You don’t have a choice, Mei,” Finnerty said, nodding to Fife and Jin.  “I didn’t bring you to Nanjing to die, and I’m not leaving without you.”

“I’m not going out there,” Mei said and stood up straighter.  “I’d rather die than let those monkeys touch me.”

“I can protect you,” Finnerty said, turning back to the girl and then gesturing to the Fife and Jin.  “We’ll all protect you.”

“Yes,” Jin said.

“I promise,” Fife said, trying to hand Mei her cocked pistol.

“You can’t protect me,” Mei said, staring out at the street to see a Japanese soldier smash his rifle into an old woman’s face.  She fell to the ground and another soldier attacked her.  “No one can.  There’s too many of them.”

“We have to leave now,” Finnerty said, his nose twitching at the gas fumes, and he lit a match. 

“We’re committed once you drop that match,” Fife said, raising her pistol and unlatching the top bolt.  “They’ll be no turning back.”

The fire spread quickly over the gasoline covered floor.

“Let’s go, Mei,” Finnerty said, reaching for the girl’s hand.  “Come on.”

But she pulled back, turning to the fire.

“I’m begging you, Mei,” Finnerty said, stepping toward her, almost into the flames.  “Please.”

But the girl stepped right into the fire, screaming as her clothes burst into flame.

“No,” Finnerty said, staring at the girl as Jin looked away and Fife unlatched the final bolt in the door.  “No.  God damn it.  No.  What a fucking waste.”

“Finnerty,” Fife said as the flames spread and she grabbed his shoulder.  “We need to go.  Now.”

“Let me fucking go,” Finnerty said, pushing past her and Jin, and kicked open the door.  The fire flared behind them with the rush of air, but they didn’t move, staring at the dead in front of them with the Japanese killing more and raping the rest.

“Oh my God.”

“Don’t look,” Finnerty, pulling Fife and Jin forward.  “Don’t even think about it.  Close your eyes and head west.  It’s only a hundred yards to the Diplomatic Quarter.  We’ll be safe…”

“My God, my God, my God,” Jin said, staring at the carnage.

“Take God damn point, Jin,” Finnerty said, shoving the larger man forward.  “Right now, and don’t stop for anything.”

“Finnerty,” Fife said, keeping her eyes on him as Mei screams came through the door. 

“Shut up and move,” Finnerty said, pushing her forward and watching their back.

“I can’t believe…”

“The Japanese are panicking if they’re doing this,” Finnerty said, raising his pistol and shooting a soldier who stepped toward them.  “They shouldn’t be here.  We shouldn’t have encouraged this.”

“I told you…”

“Shut up,” Finnerty said, seeing more soldiers eyeing them and shoving Fife and Jin forward even faster.  “We have to…”

“No,” Fife said as a head rolled in front of them.  “No, we aren’t part of this.”

“I am,” Finnerty said, seeing screaming children, watching men being butchered and looking away from the women being raped and worse as the world came down around them: all caused by the Japanese soldiers who had conquered the city weeks ago without a real fight or even much resistance.  “I set this in motion six years ago in Manchuria.  You were there.”

Fife turned to him and Jin looked back at both them, pointing to the Diplomatic Zone as Finnerty wiped tears from his face. 

“We’re almost there, Mr. Finnerty,” Jin said, looking past the horrors.  “We’re almost safe.”

Finnerty nodded as a young woman was tackled right in front of the gate.

Three soldiers grabbed her and a fourth held up a sword to them as the others started tearing off her clothes.

“Come on, you white cocksuckers,” the fourth soldier said in broken English, staring them down.  “Give me a reason.”

Finnerty stared right back and turned to see all of the horror behind them.

“You ass licking dogs are too weak to even be women,” the fourth soldier said, pointing his sword at Finnerty as the woman screamed loud enough to be heard over the chaos around them.  “I would as soon as shit down your…”

Finnerty shot him in the head.

The other soldiers looked up from the naked and bloody woman.

“Finnerty, we can’t…”

Then he shot the other three soldiers, two in the chest and one in the head, and stared at the woman.

“We have to get out of here,” Jin said, yelling as the woman got to her knees and reached a hand out to them.

And then he shot her too.

“Finnerty,” Fife said, grabbing him.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“Saving her,” Finnerty said, shrugging off Fife’s grip and reloading his pistol. 

“You can’t…”

“Keep moving,” Finnerty said as a Japanese soldier behind them raised his rifle.  “We’ll be safe in the zone.”

Fife shot the soldier in the chest, and they raced through the gate.

“They’re going to kill us,” Jin said, Fife’s pistol still raised. 

“Put down it down,” Finnerty said, turning to look her in the eye.  “We’re safe here.  The German made an agreement with the Japanese to give anyone here safe passage.”

“Are we safe?” Fife said, pointing to the continuing chaos outside of the gate.  “How long before they turn on us.”

“Not long,” Jin said, turning to the street and clutching his pistol, tears streaming down his face.

“This is our future, worse than the Great War,” Finnerty said, looking with them as an officer turned from the killing to see the dead soldiers just outside of the zone.  “And we deserve it.”

“Mr. Finnerty?” Jin said, raising his pistol.

“Don’t,” Finnerty said, pushing Jin’s gun down.  “The Japanese are under orders to leave the zone alone.”

“Just like they’re under orders to rape and kill,” Fife said.

“Yes,” Finnerty said as another officer noted the dead soldiers.  “They’re good at following orders.”

“They’ll never make it to Europe,” Fife said. 

“It’s going to be even worse in Europe, Miss Fife,” Finnerty said, turning to her.  “The Germans are going to finish what they started in the first war, and England’s not ready.  Nobody is, but they all want to settle old debts that they can’t afford.”  He looked back at the soldiers and the chaos around them.  “This is nothing compared to what we’ll do to each other.”

Fife swallowed hard.  “But the Nazi, Rabe,” she said, pointing into the diplomatic zone.  “He arranged all of this.  He convinced the Japanese to let in at least some of Nanjing’s civilians.  People the Germans consider a yellow horde.”

“They do,” Finnerty said, reaching under this jacket.  “But Rabe is better than that.”

“You think the Germans would do this?” Fife said, waving to the soldiers.  “To other Europeans?”

“We put a boot to their throats in 1919, and humiliated them for the last generation,” Finnerty said, hearing the screams behind them and reaching under his jacket, handing Fife a velvet pouch.  “They’ll do worse.  I guarantee it.”

“Yet you want me to deliver these diamonds to Rabe?” Fife said, shoving the pouch under her coat. 

“Like we talked about.  It’s what I said I’d do to help” Finnerty said, turning to her.  “Then I need you to find Ni’s son.”  

Jin looked up.

“Make sure that he’s still in the zone, and that no one’s given   him a gun,” Finnerty said, noticing a few Japanese soldiers coming toward them.  “I want him alive, Miss Fife.”

“As a bargaining chip against his mother?”

“No,” Finnerty said, turning to the soldiers.  “No.  We’re not doing that anymore.”

“What?” Fife said, staring at Finnerty.  “You know how long I worked to find him, and how much longer it took to get him.  How many men I had to…”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care?” Fife said, raising her voice.  “After what she did to your family, you don’t care?  You bastard.”

“You heard my orders, Miss Fife,” Finnerty said, stepping up, inches from her face.  “And I expect you to follow them to the letter or die trying.”

She blinked, but her face hardened in front of him.  “Yes, sir,” she said, staring at him, and then turned on her heel, heading into the diplomatic zone.

“Go with her,” Finnerty said to Jin.  “Make sure she finds the boy and keeps him safe.”

Jin nodded, following Fife into the zone.

Finnerty turned back to the Japanese officers and more gathering soldiers, watching them and pulling out a flask from under his jacket, pouring it out in front of them.  “We’re all going to pay for this.”

They just stared back at him.

He spat at them and then walked further into the zone, not looking back.


 

Chapter 7: The Wrong Side

 

Finnerty pushed the door open and walked into the dark room, seeing Jin nurse a drink at a table near the entrance, and headed for the bar.  Fife followed as every eye turned from Finnerty to her, the only white man and woman they had seen in a month.  He nodded to the bartender who handed him a glass of ice and a bottle of whiskey.

“Rough day, boss,” the man said in Cantonese.

“Rough year, Jimmy,” Finnerty said and smiled, walking to the back of the bar. 

Fife grabbed her own glass and they sat at a table with a good view. 

“This is the height of stupidity, Finnerty,” Fife said, taking in the stares.  “You might as well have a target on your back.”

“You’re right, Miss Fife,” Finnerty said and put down the glass and bottle on the table before reaching under his coat for his pistol and slamming it on the table.  He turned to the other patrons as they all looked somewhere else, and poured himself a drink.

“Is that really the best idea?” Fife said, pouring one for herself too.

“I think so,” Finnerty said, taking a slow sip and swallowing it even more slowly.  “Hong Kong is surrounded by the Japanese, France has a German boot on its throat and the English are reeling.”  He took another sip.  “The Germans are threatening the Russian motherland, the Japanese can go anywhere they please, and we’ve almost been killed six times in the last six weeks.”  He took a third sip and looked over the bar again.  “I can’t think of a better time for a drink, Miss Fife.”

She stared at him as he clinked his glass against hers and then finished his drink as they both saw Jin stiffen near the entrance.

Madame Ni drew everyone’s attention as she walked directly across the bar to Finnerty’s table, leaving behind three bodyguards and sitting down across from him.  They nodded to each other as the bartender brought her a glass of ice and she filled it with Finnerty’s bottle.

“I didn’t know you drank, Madame Ni,” Finnerty said.

“I didn’t know you were alive, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and smiled, taking half a sip and looking him over.  “Although it looks like a close thing.”

“I could say the same for you,” Finnerty said and grinned.  “But we both know Japan’s not subtle in attacking its enemies.”

“I imagine you would know that better than most,” Ni said.

“Unfortunately,” he said, shrugging.  “But here we are.”

Ni took another half sip, taking in the bar and noting her three bodyguards’ positions: one near the table, another at the bar and the third near the entrance; and then turned back to Finnerty.  “You stand out like a sore thumb,” she said and pointed to Jin.  “Your man must have his work cut out of him.”

“I thought he was your man,” Finnerty said and picked up his pistol, shooting Jin in the head.

Everyone jumped as his body hit the floor.

Except Ni who smiled.  “How long have you known?”

“Since before Nanjing,” Finnerty said, holding the pistol on her.

“Your men don’t usually survive that long,” Ni said, raising her hand as her three bodyguards raised their pistols at Finnerty.

“He could hold a conversation better than most,” Fife said, eyeing the situation and cocking her pistol under the table.  “I’ll miss him.”

Finnerty nodded.  “He was a good go between for us, whether you knew it or not.”

“I knew it,” Ni said, frowning at his body.  “He was the one who told me you saved my son.”

Finnerty nodded again.  “Anguo’s a good boy,” he said, putting his pistol back on the table.  “Smart and with a strong sense of right and wrong that he must have gotten from his father.”

“Yes,” Ni said.  “But I’m sure you didn’t invite me to this flea infested hole to talk about my son, Mr. Finnerty.”  

“No, Madame Ni.  I came to discuss how the enemy of my enemy is now my friend.”

“The English are that desperate?”

“China’s coasts are conquered, Europe is becoming a German Empire and the Japanese are deciding whether to expand north or south,” Finnerty said, topping off their glasses.  “I think there’s enough desperation for everyone, don’t you?”

“There’s that English sense of entitlement and power,” Ni said with a look at Fife.  “You know, you and your slut are only alive because of me, Mr. Finnerty.”

“And here I thought you were only alive because of me, Madame Ni,” Finnerty said, ignoring Fife’s frown and nodding to the bartender with the shotgun pointed at Ni’s back.

Ni pulled up her own gun from under the table and placed it next to Finnerty’s.  “I’m listening.”

“Churchill wants to reopen the Burma Road,” Finnerty said.  “Supply China with whatever it needs that we can provide.

“After knuckling under to the Japanese in July?”

“The situation is volatile,” Finnerty said with a shrug, nodding to the bartender with the shotgun.  “You have to take the opportunities when they present themselves.  You know that.”

“You’re such cowards,” Ni said.  “You’d supply us only because you can’t face the Germans or Japanese directly.”

“What does Mao need?” Finnerty said, looking her right in the eye.  “We already have a list from Chiang, and we know that you’re now playing both sides, even though that fucking monkey is nothing more than a sociopath advocating a failed philosophy.”

“Just like every Englishmen, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and took her whiskey.  “Except he’ll win.”

Finnerty scoffed, holding her look and draining his glass. 

“No matter what happens, the English will never return to China after this.”

“Perhaps, but China will be on its knees for at least for another generation, maybe two,” Finnerty said and smiled.  “It’s been my grand success.”

“And mine’s been Germany,” Ni said, smiling too.  “The Hun was even easier to manipulate than in the Great War, and this time they’ll win.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“They still know how to fight, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said, taking a full sip.  “That’s more than you can say for your own empire, much less the French.”

“I tried to get Chamberlain to turn them east.”

“And failed so badly that they almost ordered Miss Fife here to kill you.”

“Almost,” Finnerty said as Fife nodded.  “But I’m not the only one who worries about their masters.”

“Madame Chiang has chafed at my counsel, Mr. Finnerty, but she would never hurt her sister.”

“So we both survive, Madame Ni.”

“Like China, which will outlast anything the monkey Japanese can do to us, just like we outlasted your empire and the Mongolian hordes and our own warlords.  China is eternal, Mr. Finnerty.”

“I think you may have been drinking more than I have,” Finnerty said, refilling their glasses.”

“We will win,” Ni said, and Fife shook her head.

“Not without supplies.”

“Which is why we’ll take your help, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said, pushing back her full glass of whiskey.  “Every little bit helps, even if it’s from white devils.”

“White devils?” Finnerty said and laughed, draining his glass in one, quick movement.  “You’re going to love the Americans, Madame Ni.” 

“I will, Mr. Finnerty.  Because once they come, and I agree they will, they will not only kick out the Japanese, but make sure you and your Empire never return to Asia, much less China,” she said and reached into her sleeve to pull out an envelope, pushing it across the table to Finnerty.  “Here’s the list for both Mao and Chiang.”

“I see Jin was in touch with you.”

“No, Mr. Finnerty,” Ni said and stood up, picking up her pistol.  “I just know you and your empire, and that you want us to do your fighting for you.”

“We won’t be able to get you everything on the list,” Finnerty said, standing up with her and taking his pistol and the envelope.

“It’s a start and the road is long,” Ni said, nodding to him.  “I doubt both of us will be alive at the end of it.”

“Perhaps we’ll survive long enough for the Americans to get here,” Finnerty said.

“Perhaps, but there are vultures everywhere,” Ni said, giving her bodyguards, the bartender and finally Fife a look.  She then smiled at both Finnerty and Fife.  “Especially on the side of the losers.”

Finnerty watched her walk out the door and laughed again, pouring himself and Fife more whiskey.

 

Chapter 8: The Giant Rises

 

Finnerty and Fife handed their gun belts to the two American marines and patted the dust off their uniforms before entering the dining room to frown at Madame Ni smiling from the other end.  “I wish I could say this is a surprise.”

“Colonel,” Ni said, pouring three glasses of scotch into crystal tumblers.  “You look worse every time I see you.”

“And you still think you look good in an evening gown, Madame,” Finnerty said and crossed the room, taking two of the scotches and handing one to Fife.  “I assume you’ve already had the General’s dick down your throat,” he added in Mandarin and laughed, with a look at Fife.  “I owe you a carton of Camels, Captain.”

“That’s three, Colonel.”

They drank the scotch, savoring the flavor and then the feel on the back of their throats before putting down the tumblers on the table.  

“I’m surprised you survived Hanoi, Colonel,” Ni said, holding up the third tumbler.

“Your agents certainly tried before giving you up and dying painfully,” Finnerty said, smiling at the two large marines watching him and switching back to English.  “You’re not planning on trying to kill us today, are you, Madame Ni?”

“Not today, Colonel Finnerty,” Ni said, shaking her head at him and smiling at the marines.  “Today’s for talk and planning a better future, correct, Captain Fife?”

“I hope so,” Fife said, giving her a look.  “But tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow we start the fight for allied victory, Captain,” Ni said, glancing at the marines with a bigger smile.  “And with the Americans now in the fight, I’m sure we’ll succeed.”

“Anything’s possible,” Finnerty said, turning from the marines to Ni and looking her in the eye.  “But I wonder if after all is said and done your life’s work will be worth it, Madame Ni, considering all the men you’ve fucked and sucked and a son who hates you for it.”

Ni’s jaw tightened and one of the marines stepped forward.

Finnerty smiled, noticing her reach for a very thin blade strapped to her wrist that the marines missed.  “Because I’m certain the Americans have their own plans for China.”

“We plan to free the Chinese from Japanese oppression, Colonel Finnerty,” a man with three stars on his collar said entering the dining room, and smiled as Ni handed him the scotch.  “Something you and the British Empire fully support, correct, Colonel?”

“Absolutely, General Stillwell,” Finnerty said, turning to the man as he and Fife raised their hands in a salute to see Stillwell’s staff officers take their seats at the table.  “And it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, sir.”

Stillwell frowned, taking in Finnerty for a moment and then returned their salutes.  “I’m glad you could make it, Colonel,” he said, walking away from Finnerty to help Ni sit down at the table.  “I understand you’re a busy man, what with some doings in Hanoi.”

“Yes, sir,” Finnerty said with a look that Ni ignored.  “Captain Fife and I rescued the head of France intelligence services here in Asia and a Vietnamese national who’s been denouncing the Japanese for the last year and a half.”

“Just after Dunkirk,” Stillwell said and sat down at the head of the table.  “Nonetheless, I understand you’ve been Britain’s man in Asia since the Great War, and I appreciate you making the trip to Burma, Colonel.”

“I didn’t see it as a request, General,” Finnerty said, still standing.

Stillwell eyed him.  “I expect Britain would be happy that we’re here, Colonel.” 

“We hoped you’d get here sooner, General,” Finnerty said, looking down at Stillwell.  “Although we do appreciate your president’s lend lease program.”

“I imagine you would since it’s kept you in the fight,” Stillwell said and he looked down at an open folder.  “I was warned of your attitude, Colonel Finnerty, but told that you had a keen understanding of the Chinese situation.”

“That’s why Churchill sent me, General,” Finnerty said, nodding.  “And you’ll have to forgive my lack of diplomacy, sir.  My adjunct and I haven’t slept in a bed or sat down for a meal in nearly a month.”

“Then why are standing now, Colonel?”

“You haven’t invited me to sit, sir,” Finnerty said.

Stillwell gestured to the two empty chairs and Finnerty and Fife took them.  “We’ll get you a warm meal too.”

“Thank you, General,” Finnerty said and shared a look with Fife.  “We appreciate it, sir.”

“Good, because while we didn’t start the war and we aren’t ready for it, we sure as hell are going to win it, and that starts today.”

Ni nodded to Stillwell and they shared a smile.  “General Chiang agrees completely with your plan, General.  He knows you can secure the Burma road with your officers leading our battle hardened troops, and that we can then ramp up the supplies that will rebuild the Chinese armies and take the fight against the Imperial Army here and eventually to Japan, sir.”

“I’m glad General Chiang feels that way, Madame Ni,” Stillwell said with another smile and turned to Finnerty.  “And I looked forward to meeting him tomorrow.”

The rest of the table nodded, but Finnerty shook his head. 

“Chiang is never going to give you control of his men, General, no matter what Ni told you in bed.”

Stillwell turned to look Finnerty right in the eye.  “What did you just say, Colonel?”

“Chiang is a syphilitic liar who will tell you whatever you need to hear to keep American money and supplies coming his way, General,” Finnerty said, looking back.  “Madame Ni knows this and the true situation in China better than anyone, sir.”

Stilwell’s face tightened.  “Excuse me, Colonel.”

“A million American boys aren’t going to make the difference like they did in the Great War, General” Finnerty said.  “The allies need many more men, equipment, planes, tanks, trucks, bullets, guns and everything else you can afford more than we need your advice, sir.”

“In other words, everything you lost at Dunkirk, Colonel.”

“At least the British were actually fighting, General.” 

“The United States doesn’t…”

“Fight, General.  I know.  That’s part of the problem.  You’ve been supplying the rest of the world, but left us to the fight while you philosophize about the four freedoms,” Finnerty said, ignoring the marines eyeing him.  “And now that you’ve actually been attacked and are ready to get your lily white hands dirty, we’re going to find out that you’ve arrived too late to make a difference.”

“I don’t think we’re too late, Colonel?”

“Then you’re not thinking, General.  Otherwise you’d realize that while you dithered, Japan destroyed your battle fleet and the Nazis have already taken over Europe and the Soviet Union’s oil fields on their way to clearing a path across Siberia that’s been laid out since Hitler published Mein Kampf.  And while we’re losing the real fight on the other side of the world, you’re stuck in this fucking backwater asshole of Asia without a hope of driving Japan from the Chinese coast, sir.

“You can’t…”

“Japan will conquer Burma by the end of the summer, leaving you with nothing to do except watch as your Navy retakes all of the islands it lost in the last two months, except it’ll take five years and by then you’ll be dead or nothing more than an obscure, historical footnote of a general too incompetent to realize that he began the fight a year too late to make a difference.  Sir.

“Colonel,” Fife said as a large American major knocked back his chair and stood up.-

“No, I appreciate the Colonel’s opinion, Captain,” Stillwell said, holding his hand up and looking right at Finnerty with a very tight smile.  “After all I’m told he has the most experience of any British agent in Asia, and has seen how desperate your Empire has been since the Great War.”

Ni smiled as did the marines.

“But we’ll be going with our own strategy now that we’re here, Colonel.  A winning strategy,” Stillwell said, turning to look again at Ni.  “Building on the struggle of ordinary Chinese as they regain their strength and restart their fight against the invading Nips.”

“And waste a lot of men’s lives, General.”

“I doubt I’ll come close to what you orchestrated in Manchuria and Nanjing, Colonel.”

Finnerty blinked and pushed back his chair as Ni lost her smile. 

“It’s not that simple,” Fife started to say.

“Speaking Mandarin and having lived in China doesn’t make you right, General,” Finnerty said, looking right in Stillwell’s eyes.

“I can see that from your example, Colonel,” Stillwell said and laughed.  “But we’re here now and won’t leave until will win this war.”

“Building guns doesn’t mean you know how to use them, sir.”

“We’re done here, Colonel,” Stillwell said as Chinese servants brought out food.   

Ni nodded at the dishes and then bowed and smiled at Stillwell.

He bowed back.

“Next time send your Captain alone or someone who knows how to give an opinion that’s worth my time, Colonel,” Stillwell said.  “You understand me, Finnerty?”

“Yes, sir,” Finnerty said, eyeing the food, but standing up from the table and saluting.

Stillwell waved him away, and Finnerty and Fife grabbed their gun belts as two large marines escorted them from the dining room.

And Ni kept smiling at the General’s side.


 

Chapter 9: Off Their Knees

 

“The Americans should have learned from Chiang’s mistakes,” Madame Ni said, walking forward and taking in a rebuilt café on the ruined wharf.  “No other country would repair a restaurant for the wealthy while so many are starving in the streets.  Nobody except perhaps the Germans.”

“And they lost the war, Madame Ni,” one of the large men with her said as a second man nodded in agreement.  “Just like the Americans will lose the next.”

“Not easily,” Ni said, spotting Joshua Luce at a table and waving back to him.  “And not without a fight.”

“You are correct as always, Madame Ni.”

“That’s enough,” Ni said and smiled as they approached the café, counting the ten sailors surrounding the outdoor veranda.  “Be ready.  Things are going to happen fast.”

The four men around her nodded and checked the weapons under their coats.

“Madame Ni, it is a pleasure to see you again,” Luce said, standing up in American Navy dress whites and extending his hand.  “It’s been too long.”

“I didn’t realize you’d risen to the rank of commander, Joshua,” Ni said, noting his insignia as she let him kiss her hand.  “I feel like you should still be the boy I met twenty years ago.”

“The world’s come a long way, Madame,” Luce said, beckoning for her to take the seat across from him.  “And finally for the better, no?”

“I hope so,” Ni said, sitting down, and placed a wrapped box she’d been holding in front of him.  “For you, as a token of all that we have to thank America for.”

“We all contributed to the war effort, Madame,” Luce said, joining her at the table and pouring her tea.  “But we still have a way to go in China, don’t we?” 

“We do, Joshua,” Ni said, sipping the tea and pointing to the bombed out buildings around the harbor.  “We have a whole nation to rebuild.”

“Of course.  Which is why we’re here, Madame Ni,” Luce said, nodding and looking at the wrapped box.  “America is committed to making China the great power it once was, to making it a leader in our new United Nations and to raising up the rest of the world into a peaceful and prosperous future for all.”

“How commendable,” Ni said, putting down the tea and watching him fiddle with the box.  “And so much of what you dreamed of as a boy, Joshua.”

“Yes,” Luce said, nodding.  “I feel like I’ve lived my whole life for this moment, Madame Ni.  To finally see a better future for all of us.”

“I imagine many Chinese still don’t see that future, Joshua.”

“Not yet,” Luce said, turning from the box to her. “But that’s why I invited you here today.”

“Not to relive old memories?”

“No, I want to talk about the future.”

“Of course,” Ni said, smiling.  “Have you replaced General Stillwell as well as become a naval commander, Joshua.”

“The General didn’t truly understand the complexities of a 5,000-year culture, Madame Ni,” Luce said and shook his head, pulling out a knife for the ribbon.  “He was too focused on simply getting the Japanese out, not realizing how much more was going on.”

“He was, but now that the war is over and the Japanese are gone, it’s time to focus on China’s real problems,” Ni said, noting her man on the left stare at the box.  “And I am sure you have a better understanding of the Middle Kingdom than General Stillwell did, Joshua.  Having grown up here, you certainly see the way forward that he didn’t.”

“The Middle Kingdom?” Luce said and smiled.  “I haven’t heard that term used outside of the history books in a long time, Madame Ni.

“That is what China aspires to return to, Joshua.”

“An impressive goal,” Luce said, cutting the ribbon.  “Although maybe past its time, no?”

“I think we still have the potential, Joshua,” Ni said and raised her left hand.  “Although perhaps I’m thinking too big, eh?”

“I don’t think we should set limits just yet, Madame Ni,” Luce said, removing the gift wrap.

“Perhaps, Joshua, although your British counterpart lived here half his life and never understood what the Chinese truly needed,” Ni said and took in a deep breath.  “Although perhaps you do.”

“Mr. Finnerty is a racist, imperialist murderer who is corrupt through and through, Madame Ni,” Luce said, fiddling with the lid.  “He lacks any moral character and is the worst of what the British Empire represents or should be.”

“And you’re all above that, aren’t you, Joshua?”

“I hope so,” Luce said, lifting the lid off the box to see Finnerty stare at him with wide, bloated eyes.  He turned to her.  “What…?” 

Ni lowered her hand and shot the two marines soldiers behind Luce with the pistol she had hidden under the table.

They crashed onto it and Luce’s eyes went wide as the world exploded around him, bullets flying everywhere and sailors’ bodies dropping to the ground.  He dove under the table and looked up to see one of Ni’s men fall to his knees, before Ni tipped over the table and shot Luce in the leg.  He screamed and she kicked him in the same leg and then in the chest, pointing her pistol in between his eyes.

“I hated Finnerty for being the killer you described, Joshua, but at least he knew himself and the world we live in.  He stood up for his dying empire, just like I have for mine, and we understood each other,” Ni said, leaning over and jamming her pistol into his nose.  “And he did try to undo the horrors he unleashed in Manchuria even though he knew England’s time was up, and for that I killed him quickly.”

She pulled the pistol out of Luce’s face before kicking him over and turning to see three of her bodyguards still standing.  She nodded to them and turned to the fourth bleeding all over the veranda, and then double checked on the ten dead soldiers surrounding them.  She noticed several onlookers, a few with smiles and turned back to Luce.

“Why?” he said from the ground, groaning, his face clenched with pain.  “Why are doing this?  America wants to he…”

“America wants to exploit us, Joshua.  Tell us what’s right, what’s wrong and make us do all the work while it profits off our labor, just like the British and Japanese did before it,” Ni said, shooting her man in the head to end his misery and making Luce jump.  “Stillwell never understood that we know how to take care of ourselves and neither do you, you stupid, self-righteous bastard.  China no longer needs yours or anyone’s help, and never did.”

“The Japanese would still…”

“They’re gone, so are the British, and the Soviets will be soon enough.  It’s just a matter of time,” Ni said, now standing over Luce.  “Finnerty saw it coming, but Stillwell didn’t, and I want you to understand that America won’t be here long either.  Do you hear me?  You’re my messenger, Joshua.”   

“You’ll pay for this,” Luce said.

“I already have, Joshua,” Ni said, pointing to Finnerty’s head.  “He knew that, although I’m not surprised you don’t.  At least not yet.”

Luce turned over, groaning more but getting to his knees.  “China can do better and we can help. 

“It can and you will help, Joshua,” Ni said, looking at him.  “By leaving and staying out of our fight.”

“We’re not going to do that,” Luce said, ripping off his sleeve and jamming it into his leg.  “Chiang is a loyal ally and leads a great people.”

“Chiang is a corrupt, stupid, vain man who has killed tens of millions of his own people, but still couldn’t drive away the Japanese or unite our nation,” Ni said, spitting on the ground.  “And America wouldn’t support him for another minute if it has any sense of right or wrong.”

“And Mao’s communists do?” Luce said, almost getting up. 

“He supports the people, Joshua.  He wants a better world for all, just like you did when you were a boy.”

“No, Mao is worse than Chiang,” Luce said, swaying on his feet and looking her in the eye.  “America just brought peace to China, Madame Ni, and we plan to bring stability and prosperity as well.  We would’ve done all of that with you, but we’ll do it just as easily without.”

“That’s what the Europeans said to us a hundred years ago, Joshua,” Ni said, leveling her pistol between his eyes again.  “Yet we’re not better off now.”  She cocked back the hammer.  “You and every other white devil need to leave.”

“No,” Luce said and smiled, seeing Finnerty’s head on the ground and standing up straighter.  “No, I’ve seen too much in the war to be intimidated by an old woman with a gun.”

“Who just killed your bodyguards, Joshua.”

“And who knows the 7th Fleet will shell and destroy this entire city if I don’t return, Madame Ni,” Luce said, steadying himself with a chair and staring right into the barrel of her gun.  “America isn’t Britain.  We aren’t desperate and clinging to power.  We’re the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, and we are going to use that power to make the world a better place, whether you kill me or not.”

Ni stared at him for a moment and then laughed, lowering her pistol.  “Tell your masters that America needs to leave the Middle Kingdom, Joshua.  That we see the light at the end of a century long tunnel, and America has no place in it.”

Luce stood up straight on his own, looking back at her.  “And you should understand that America will stay here in China whether you like it or not, Madame Ni,” he said.  “We plan to fix Europe’s and your problems to make sure we never need to fight another war like this again.  Understood?”

Ni laughed again and turned away from Luce, walking away with her guards following her.  “You have a lot to learn, Joshua.”

“So do you, Dao-Ming.”

“Really?” Ni said and turned back to him, the largest of her bodyguards, pulling out his pistol until she raised her hand.  “We’ll see, Joshua, but you’ve been warned.”

Luce nodded, watching Ni and her bodyguards walk away.  “So have you,” he said and stood up straighter, turning away from her and looking to the setting sun and the rest of China.  “So have you.”


 

Chapter 10: The Upper Hand

 

Madame Ni scanned the city of Fuzhou’s burned out streets and buildings and saw a US army jeep zoom into view with four Red Army trucks chasing it.  She adjusted her binoculars to see Madame Chiang sitting next to the driver with a soldier in back firing an M1 Carbine at the closest truck.  He took out it’s driver, causing the truck to veer and tip as another rammed into it and slowed down the other two.  Madame Chiang smiled wide eyed at the crash and then turned to her driver, yelling at him as the man in back reloaded his rifle.  Ni frowned when she recognized her son.

“That’s Anguo,” the man on her right said and lowered his binoculars, getting a look from the large man to her left.  “Madame Ni, that’s…”

“I know,” Ni said, watching two more trucks join the chase and her son dropping three grenades on the road in front of them.  “They ’re not going to catch her.”

“They will,” the man on her left said, pointing to the street market on the edge of the port.  “Madame Chiang won’t…”

The jeep mowed down the crowd, running over the women and children who didn’t see it coming or didn’t get out of the way fast enough.  Several Red Army soldiers in the market started shooting at the jeep until Ni’s son returned fire, taking down two before the rest ducked into the now rioting crowd.  Madame Chiang yelled again at the driver, pointing him toward a clear path to the waterfront as they ran over a few last stragglers and Ni’s son shot at anyone with a gun. 

“Mao’s men are useless,” Ni said and threw down her binoculars as the jeep headed straight for them.  “They’re going to make it to the custom house.  We have to cut them off before they reach the dock.”

She led her large men down the stairs, guns drawn as they hit the ground floor and rushed through a service corridor at the back of the building, everyone scattering out of their way as they heard a giant crash.

Madame Chiang and Ni son’s had slammed the jeep through the building’s front doors and skittered through the lobby to a stop.  They jumped out greeted by a half dozen Nationalist soldiers and headed to the back of the building.  “Hurry,” a sergeant said, beckoning Madame Chiang and Ni’s son toward a freighter waiting for them by the dock.  “The communists have breached our defensive per…”

He fell to the floor with a loud bang, his head half gone.

Ni shot another soldier and then pointed her pistol at Madame Chiang as her bodyguards opened up, mowing down the rest of the Nationalists as Ni’s son turned to face her.

“Anguo,” she said.

He looked back, half raising his pistol in her direction.

“Shoot her,” Madame Chiang said, screaming, and pointed to Ni and her bodyguards.  “Shoot her God damn it.”

Her son didn’t move. 

“You’re lucky Mao wants you alive, sister,” Ni said, walking forward, her gunsight pointed right on Madame Chiang’s forehead. 

“You betrayed our family, our government and our people, you fucking whore,” Madame Chiang said, staring down Ni.  “After we took you in from your dying mother, and made you everything you are.”

“You made me into a twelve-year-old weapon and spy and sent me to be raped by an arrogant cripple, and then do thirty more years of your dirty work,” Ni said, walking out of the corridor.  “While you went to America and returned to allow your husband to lay waste to the world’s greatest civilization, sister.”

“Shoot her, Anguo,” Madame Chiang said, spotting a pistol on the floor in front of her, but stopped, seeing Ni’s bodyguards’ rifles pointed at her.  “Shoot her before…”

“Your husband has corrupted everything he’s touched, sister,” Ni said and pistol whipped Madame Chiang to the ground, standing over her.  “He killed millions of his own people and let the Japanese rape our country.”

“No,” Ni’s son said, shaking his head.  “No, the General didn’t…”

“He only cares about himself, Anguo,” Ni said, turning to her son.  “Comrade Mao is the one who is fighting for China.  The only one who truly cares for our people.”

“No.  That’s not true, mother,” Ni’s son said as a low rumble came from the back of the building.  “Mao is a sociopath.  A man who would do anything for power, even espouse a corrupt system that has already killed millions of people around the world.”

“Comrade Mao cares about everyone, Anguo,” Ni said, reaching out to him.  “Even you.  He’s asked me about you by name, and he wants you to come home with me.  His men are coming here now to save us.”

“From what, mother?” her son said, shaking his head.  “No.  I can’t stay here.”

Ni touched his cheek with a trembling hand.

“You’re going to die, Dao-Ming,” Madame Chiang said, looking up with a bloody eye.  “You’re going to pay for all you’ve done.”

“I was going to say the same thing to you, sister,” Ni said and nodded to her larger bodyguard. 

He raised his rifle over Madame Chiang’s head, but fell to the ground.

Ni turned to the waterfront and her second bodyguard’s chest exploded.

“No,” she said, and a dozen American marines rushed through the back of the building, several surrounding her while the rest ran forward to secure the front of the building.  She turned her pistol to Madame Chiang’s face.

“I can’t guarantee your safety or freedom if you kill Madame Chiang, mother,” her son said.

“Although I would be happy to sacrifice the General’s wife if I can see you dead, Madame Ni.”

She turned, her face hardening.  “Luce.”

“I told you you’d pay for what you did in Shanghai,” he said, stepping into the building, another dozen armed marines coming up from behind him.

“This is none of yours or America’s business,” Ni said, her gun still on Madame Chiang as she spotted Luce’s insignia.  “Not even China’s, Captain.”

He shook his head. 

“It’s a family affair.”

“Don’t be naïve, Madame Ni,” Luce said and laughed.  “You don’t have any family.  You and Madame Chiang have despised each other for decades and you haven’t seen your son since Finnerty saved him in Nanjing.”

“I’ll kill you if you take my son.”

“I’m not taking him anywhere,” Luce said and smiled.  “He’s coming with me.”

Ni turned her pistol on Luce.

“He’s the only reason you’re still alive,” he said as a dozen rifles turned to Ni.  “And he’s choosing to come with us even though you have his daughter.”

Ni looked back to her son, but he turned away, helping up Madame Chiang and leading her to the ship just a hundred yards from them. 

“He’s going to build a better China, Madame,” Luce said.  “A China you’ll never see.”

“Formosa’s not China, Captain,” Ni said, lowering her pistol and staring down all of the marines as they lowered their rifles.  “America tried and failed to build China in its own image despite the efforts of your greatest general and your millions of dollars.”  She spat at Luce.  “You picked the wrong side and that’s why you’re fleeing to Formosa.”

Luce wiped the spit from his uniform, still smiling.  “Perhaps, Madame Ni,” he said and turned to her son and Madame Chiang.  “But like so many other things, I don’t believe you truly understand how wrong you are.”

She stared though him.  “This isn’t over,” she said, a very loud rumble coming from the front of the building.  “And you will pay for this.”

“I don’t think so,” Luce said, waving for his marines to return to the ship.  “Mao’s army only counts in a country of beggars and peasants.”  He shook his head and laughed again.  “You don’t have a place in country like that, Madame Ni, and I don’t expect to see or hear of you ever again.”

He turned, the last of the marines following him as Ni saw her son and Madame Chiang disappear into the ship and heard Communist soldiers entering through the front of the building.

“You should have killed me, Joshua,” Ni said, turning to the Communist soldiers who started firing at the ship.  “Because your death is going to be far worse than anything you can imagine.  Far worse.”

Chapter 11: Breaching Protocols

 

Luce turned the key, heard the deadbolt slide and opened the door to see a large man sitting in a small chair looking at him.

“Who are you?” the large man said, standing up and reaching under this coat.  “This is a private suite.”

“I know,” Luce said in a quiet voice, pocketing the key as the two larger men behind him rushed forward.  “That’s why we’re here.”

The large man swung a truncheon at the first of the larger men and then grunted, shuddered and fell to the floor as the second larger man pulled back the cattle prod. 

“Impressive,” Luce said, hearing the man groan, and pulled out a pistol from under his jacket, screwing on a silencer.  “If a little loud.”

The large men gave him a look. 

“Spread out,” Luce said, and led them into the rest of the suite, heading for and listening to the double doors in the main room.  He twisted the handle slowly and pushed open the door to see an old man and a naked woman lying in bed, and next to them a second naked woman reaching into her purse.

She pulled out a gun, and he fired, her head splattering on the back wall.

“You’re going to pay for that,” the first woman said in Mandarin and leaped forward, scratching Luce’s face.  “I’ll…”

He pulled the trigger right over her heart and she collapsed to the floor, the old man’s eyes going wide. 

“Louis,” the old man said, pulling a blanket over his nakedness.  “Louis, where are you?”

“Be quiet, Secretary Acheson,” Luce said, leaning over and checking both women, shooting them again.

“It’s a violent year for you, Captain Luce,” the Secretary said, grabbing his glasses off the night table.  “First that incident in Fuzhou, and now…”

“It’s Director,” Luce said, turning to Acheson.  “You know…”

“That’s right, and what’s your little department called?” the Secretary said, staring at the dead women.  “And where’s Louis?  You didn’t kill him, did you?”

“He’s unconscious in the outer room, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, seeing one of his men nod an ‘all clear,’ and holstered his pistol.  “I don’t kill secret service agents, sir.”

“Just working girls, Director?” Acheson said and sat up.  “I thought the Chinese were your type.”

“Well, they’re clearly yours, despite the warnings my office has given you over the last year, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, upending the second pocketbook on the floor and picking up another gun.  “I imagine your wife and children would be happy to know about your working dinners.”

“I doubt that’s worth killing over, Director,” Acheson said, looking at Luce with a smile.  “Although maybe you’re jealous.”  He closed his eyes as a giant flash went off and opened them to see one of Luce’s large men taking more photos as the other ripped off the blanket.

“Get dressed,” Luce said, tossing Acheson his pants and pointing for the man to photograph the two women.  “Now, Mr. Secretary.”

“Piss off, Director Luce,” Acheson said, not moving.  “You don’t give me orders and I won’t submit to blackmail.  I’m too important to be intimidated by…”

“The North invaded South Korea three hours ago, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said as his men kept taking photographs.  “All along the 38th parallel with everything they have, and it looks like Stalin is involved.”

Acheson blinked and turned to look Luce in the eye.  “That’s not possible.”

“It’s not only possible, it’s happening right now, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said and slapped Acheson across the face.  “Now get dressed before we do it for you.”

Acheson eyed Luce and started putting on his pants.

“You need to start thinking beyond Europe and Russia, and realize that most of the world lives on the other side of the Eurasian continent, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, taking a booklet from one of the large men and dropping it in front of Acheson.  “Your White Paper on China displayed a criminal ignorance of East Asia, sir, and because of your stupidity we’re about to lose our best and last foothold in the region.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Acheson said, taking his shirt from one of Luce’s men.

“I’m talking about the speech you gave at the National Press Club in January, Mr. Secretary, right after getting serviced by these and three other whores right here in the Willard hotel,” Luce said, pulling out three 8x10 explicit photos and dropping them in front of Acheson.  “The speech where you told the world that Korea didn’t lie within America’s defensive perimeter.  The one that Stalin heard after you pointedly withdrew the last of our troops from the Korean peninsula.  The same speech that Stalin used to convince the North’s Kim Il-sung to invade this morning, and the one that could very well leave communist troops less than a hundred miles from Japan, which is within your definition of the American defensive perimeter.  Sir.”

Acheson nodded.  “We can’t let that happen,” he said, putting on his socks and shoes.  “I’ll talk to the president.”

“He’s waiting for you, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, pulling open the curtains to see the back of the White House.  “And you’re going to tell him that you were wrong and that Stalin doesn’t plan to invade Europe based on what we do in Asia.”

“I don’t believe that, Director Luce,” Acheson said as Luce handed him his tie.  “Stalin’s a conniving bastard who jumps on weakness.”

“He won’t against us, Mr. Secretary.”

“And why is that, Director Luce?” Acheson said, knotting his tie.

“I have a source, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, picking up Acheson’s suit coat.  “A good one, and she assures me that Stalin is much more worried about our atomic arsenal than we are about his handful of bombs.”

Acheson took his coat.  “The use of just one in Europe would be a catastrophe, Director.”

“Which is why even Stalin won’t use them, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said.  “He has nothing that can touch the mainland United States, and if he strikes in Europe he hurts himself.”

“Hmm,” Acheson said with a nod and put on his coat.  “What do you recommend, Director Luce?”

“Convince Congress to get on Truman’s side right now, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said.  “The president has already asked the Pentagon for a plan on how to stop the North, but you could be decisive in convincing the Hill to move fast, sir.  We don’t want another Munich in this generation.”

Acheson nodded.

“And if you don’t, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, taking the first roll of film from his men and holding it up.  “We’ll ruin your career, your life and the lives off your family and children.”

“Very dramatic, Director,” Acheson said and looked down at the naked dead women.  “But unnecessary, sir.”

“Good.  Have the president tell MacArthur to pull his head out of his ass, stop acting like he’s the Emperor of Japan and send our boys already there to reinforce the South Koreans ASAP,” Luce said, taking a second booklet from one of his men and handing it to Acheson.  “We don’t have much time, Mr. Secretary, so my office has taken the time to draw up some preliminary plans, including preparing for China to enter the war.”

“China?”

“Has a long history with Korea, Mr. Secretary, and certainly won’t want America soldiers near its borders,” Luce said.  “But that’s a concern for another day.  Right now, you need to hurry to slow down the North Koreans.”

One of Luce’s men handed Acheson his briefcase and the other pocketed two more rolls of film.

“We’ll have your photos developed before Truman sits down for dinner, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, walking Acheson through the suite.  “And put on a good public face.  Like you did for Time earlier this year.”

Acheson stopped, seeing Louis unconscious by the front door.

“We’ll make sure he’s all right and clean up the rest of your indiscretion, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, patting Acheson on the back.  “And I promise a half dozen whores for you who aren’t from the Chinese intelligence services.”  He looked him in the eye, shaking his head.  “Say next week, sir?”

Acheson turned to Luce, nodded and opened the door.  “You’re not going to dictate policy to me, Director Luce.”

“I agree, Mr. Secretary,” Luce said, pushing Acheson out the door.  “As far as I’m concerned we never had this conversation.” 

“Good, Director, and I don’t expect to see you again.  Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Luce said, watching Acheson get on the elevator.

“Follow him, sir?” one of his men said.

“No,” Luce said, shaking his head.  “I already have two men in the lobby to escort him to the White House and make sure he gets the job done.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Thank you,” Luce said and smiled.  “We’re going to make the most we can of this crisis.”


 

Chapter 12: Asymmetric Warfare

 

“Five more minutes, Director Luce, please,” the young woman said in Mandarin, drawing another look from the older woman behind the desk.  “These are very important and busy men who want to hear what you have to say, and...”

“They’re not the only ones with busy schedules, Miss Lee,” Luce said, pacing back and forth when the door to the inner office opened and grabbed his attention.  “I had lunch plans over at the Pentagon, and now you’ll have to reschedule.”

“Of course, sir,” Lee said, and the older woman beckoned Luce and her forward. 

“Senator Fulbright’s ready to see you now, Director.”

“Thank you,” Lee said in English and they were shown into the inner office as Luce nodded to the men staring at them and the older woman closed the office door behind them.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Director,” Senator Fulbright said, sitting in a high backed chair and gesturing for Luce to take a seat opposite him.  “My colleagues have been busy with their campaign schedules.”

“Understandable, Mr. Vice President, Senators,” Luce said, sitting down with Lee standing behind him.  He took in Vice President Nixon and Senator Lodge sitting on a couch to his left and Senators Kennedy and Johnson on another to his right.  “It’s a pleasure to see again, gentlemen, and for once in an official capacity.”

Nixon nodded, but Kennedy, Johnson and Lodge chuckled as the older woman sat down next to them in front of a stenograph. 

“I appreciate you finding the time to brief the candidates on the current situation in China, Director,” Fulbright said as the older woman started transcribing.  “Your last report to the Foreign Relations Committee hints at eliminating any threat from the People’s Republic of China for a generation, sir.”

“Yes, sir, Senator.  Thank you.”

“I understand you’ve secretly retaliated against Mao and his cronies for their entry into Korea, Director,” Nixon said, nodding to the other Senators and then looking right at Luce.  “Senator Fulbright feels it might be to time for you to share some of those details.” 

“I understand, Mr. Vice President,” Luce said and nodded to the stenographer.  “Although the operation is highly sensitive, and if word got out it would undo the whole program, threaten the lives of my agents and destroy nearly a decade’s worth of work, sir.”

“Understood, Director,” Fulbright said, holding up his hand as the stenographer stopped typing, stood up and the left the room. 

“Is your assistant aware of the program, Director?” Johnson said, looking over Lee.”

“Miss Lee is a trusted member of my staff, Senator.”

“I’ve heard that,” Kennedy said, also looking.  “I understand that she has a talented tongue too, Director.”

“She is fluent in several Chinese dialects, Senator.”

“Excellent,” Fulbright said, giving Kennedy a look and drawing back the vice president’s and senators’ attention.  “So, what can you tell us about the specifics of this program, Director?”

“I can tell you that it was desperately needed after the fall of the Republic, Senator,” Luce said, leaning back in his chair.  “General Marshall’s efforts, while tremendous, couldn’t undo the incredible failures of General Stillwell and the State Department, which allowed Mao and his cronies to take over all of China, consolidate their power and then threaten our interests in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, sir.  A year later Mao attacked us directly in Korea, undoing MacArthur’s advances and threatening again to drive the United Nations’ forces into the sea.”

“And yet you turned all that around, Director Luce,” Fulbright said as the rest of the men nodded. 

“My office understood the threat, gentlemen,” Luce said, sitting up straighter. 

“Yes, but how, Director? Lodge said.  “How are the Chinese now on their backs, sir?”

“I don’t want to bore you with the specifics, Senator,” Luce said.  “Needless to say it involved nearly a decade of grunt work and the sacrifice of several agents before we could begin influencing Mao and the standing committee, sir.”

“Which resulted in the Great Leap Forward, Director?” Fulbright said.

“Yes, a fantastic attempt by Mao and the Chinese to leapfrog their agricultural and industrial base into the second half of the 20th Century,” Luce said and smiled.  “Instead our network turned that around to cripple the entire country back to the 19th.”

Fulbright’s eyes narrowed and Johnson nodded for more.

“All of you in this room and many on Capitol Hill and our nation have worried about Mao working wonders since Korea, Senators, but my office has eliminated that threat.”

Kennedy and Nixon exchanged a look.

“We’ve crippled China, gentlemen.  The largest country in the world, the one that helped kill and maim 125,000 Americans in Korea, lays prostrate on the world stage.  We even crippled their alliance with the Soviets, Mr. Vice President, Senators.”

Fulbright nodded. 

“It’s amazing what the right women can do with a naked Mao,” Luce said, smiling again.  “And his appetites are considerable, gentlemen.”

“As is the intelligence you’ve procured, Director,” Fulbright said, leaning forward.  “Although I understand it’s come with a price.”

“Mao’s policies did bring famine last year and this, Senator,” Luce said with a nod.  “Frankly, though, we expected some casualties, sir.”

“Casualties?” Johnson said, glancing at a nodding Lee and then looking right into Luce’s eyes.  “How many are we talking about, Director?”

“I’m not sure, Senator.  We expected casualties not famine, but it appears they may be widespread.”

“Widespread, Luce?” Nixon said, glancing at Lee.  “I hate the bastards who run the People’s Republic as much as you do, Director, but the Chinese people themselves have never done anything to America.”

“Yes, and now they can’t for at least another generation, Mr. Vice President.  We’ve crippled them, sir.”

“Yes, you said that, Director, but at what cost?” Kennedy said, looking right at Luce.  “How many people have died because of your network, Luce?”

“I don’t know, Senator,” Luce said, looking back at Kennedy and the others.  “Like I said, we didn’t anticipate the famines.”

Nixon watched Luce’s face, and shared another look with Kennedy.

“How many, Miss Lee?” Fulbright said, looking past Luce.  “I don’t believe for a second that your office created a deep cover network in a totalitarian state that your director has done nothing but brag about for the last three years and you don’t have an estimate of how many Chinese Mao has killed through the Great Leap Forward.”

The entire room turned to her.

“Tell us, Miss Lee.  How many?”

“Mary?” Luce said, looking right at her.

“Twenty million minimum,” Lee said, her eyes right on Luce and then turned to Fulbright.  “But possibly up to thirty or forty million, Senator.”

The room blinked.

“That’s approximately five percent of China’s population, Mr. Vice President and Senators,” Lee said, walking to the coffee table in the middle of the room and placing three photos of emaciated women and children on it.  “A comparable loss in America would be eight or nine million people starving to death, sirs.”

The men turned away, repelled by the photos and Lee’s words as Luce stared right through her.

“You need to remember that this program was created at the height of the Korean War, Mr. Vice President, Senators,” Luce said.  “We were completely taken aback by the Chinese invasion, and Truman ordered a response…”

“That was a decade ago, Director,” Fulbright said.  “Ten years, and…”

“We’re technically still at war, Senator,” Luce said, turning to face Fulbright and looking him in the eye.   “And if you had served in the war like I had, where men actually died, you’d know that you fight to win.”  He looked at all of them. “Eisenhower understands that, gentlemen, and I would hope you do too.”

“I understand wars,” Kennedy said, the room turning to him and he held up the photos on the table.  “And this is what we, what America, fights to stop, gentlemen.  What we went after Japan for, and why we liberated Europe, Director.”

“Stalin and Hitler killed like this, Director, in horrific numbers,” Fulbright said.  “But the government of the United States of America does not condone famine or mass murder, sir.”

“That’s an incredibly naïve perspective, Mr. Vice President, Senators,” Luce said and shook his head.  “And don’t think for one second that Mao or the rest of China’ leadership wouldn’t do the same to us if the shoe were on the other foot, gentlemen.”  He looked right at Kennedy and then Nixon.  “The Chinese aren’t simply going to roll over for democracy and capitalism, sirs.  Not after what we, the Europeans and the Japanese did to them.  No, they’ve tried to hurt us for nearly five decades, and it’s past time we struck back.  And that’s what I’ve done.  What I was ordered to do.”

“Those are impressive words, Director, but don’t justify your actions,” Fulbright said, taking a file from Lee and adding it to the table.  “I understand you had the opportunity several times in the last three years with your ‘swallows network’ to eliminate Mao as a threat.  Replace him with someone more rational and perhaps even amenable to the United States.  Someone like Deng, Lin or even Peng, and yet you didn’t.  You chose to let Mao live and stood by as millions died, sir.  Why?”

Luce’s eyes narrowed on Fulbright. 

“Director?” Nixon said.

“Did you ask me here to end my career, Senator Fulbright?”

“I invited you to here to learn the truth, Director,” Fulbright said, staring right back at Luce.  “About your office and more importantly about you, sir.”

“And now you know why China is no longer a threat to American interests, Senator.”

“But at too high a price, Director,” Kennedy said and the others nodded.

“I see, gentlemen.”

“I recommend that you quietly consider another profession, Director,” Fulbright said, gathering everything off the table except for the last folder.  “Because if this ever gets out I guarantee the blame will rightly fall on you, sir.”

“I see, Senator,” Luce said and turned to Lee.  “You won’t believe what I’m going to do to you, Miss Lee.”

“No, I won’t, Mr. Luce,” Lee said and opened the last folder, pulling out another series of photographs.  “No, you’ve threatened me when you had a power, but now you have none, and are no threat at all.”

The Vice President and Senators turned away from the photos of Luce with two other men.

“I don’t expect to ever hear from or ever see you again, Joshua,” Lee said, pulling out more photos with more men.  “Understood?”

Luce glared at her and then stood up, ignoring the looks of Fulbright and the others as he turned and left the room.

“His job is yours now, Miss Lee,” Fulbright said with a nod from both Nixon and Kennedy.  “And I think we can all agree that it’s time to start putting aside our differences with the Chinese and look to a better future.  Yes, gentlemen?”

“Yes,” Nixon and Kennedy said. 

“Understood,” Lee said and stood up, turning to the door with a quick look back.  “And thank you for calling this meeting on my behalf, Senator Fulbright.”

“You’re welcome,” Fulbright said.  “And don’t let us your country down.”

“I won’t,” Lee said and closed the door behind her.

Chapter 13: Enemy Mine

 

“Can I help you with you something, sailor?” the co-pilot said and lost his grin, seeing the woman in an Air Force flight suit with eagles on her collar.  “Director Lee…  Colonel?”

“Yes, Lieutenant.  Colonel,” Lee said, watching the lieutenant come to attention and salute as she entered the cockpit.  “First secret mission, son?”

“Yes, um, Colonel, and my apologies, ma’am,” the lieutenant said, stammering.  “I was…  I was catching some shuteye as ordered by Captain Stark.”

“Very good, Lieutenant?” Lee said, waving down his salute and pointing to his chair.  “I expect this means you’re ready to roll.”

“Yes, ma’am, Colonel,” he said, sitting down and turning back to the controls.  “My apologies, Colonel.”

Lee nodded.  “Everybody gets nervous on their first secret mission, Lieutenant.  Don’t give it another thought.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

“Good,” Lee said and hid a smile, clapping the pilot on the shoulder.  “Drew, how are you holding up?”

“As well as can be expected, Colonel Lee,” the pilot said and smirked at the lieutenant.  “Although I’m feeling a little jittery too, flying so close to the Chinese, Russian border, ma’am.”

“I imagine, Captain,” Lee said and laughed, looking out the cockpit to see a long river with barren landscapes on both sides of it.  “Makes you wonder what all the fuss is about.”

“Yes, Colonel,” the captain said, noting a look from the lieutenant and grinning.  “I guess I should’ve told you Director Lee is a genuine Air Force legend, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant said, his face a straight line and his eyes back on the controls.  “Probably, Captain.”

Lee stifled a laugh and directed their attention to four dots to the north.  “New company?”

“Four new Sukhois, Colonel,” the navigator said behind them.  “Replaced our previous Ivans about a hundred miles ago, ma’am.”

The captain shared a look with Lee.

“They could have nukes, Captain,” the lieutenant said, looking back at Lee.

“We have reports they do, Lieutenant.”

He swallowed.

“They have intentions against our new friends, Colonel?” the captain said, pointing to the mass of troops assembled to their southwest and pushing down the yoke.  “That’s why we’re here, correct, ma’am?”

“That’s a long and classified story, Captain,” Lee said, noting their approach.  “But yes, and we need a tight landing.”

“That strip’s awfully short, Colonel.”

“Then I hope you’re a better pilot than you were in Hanoi, Captain,” Lee said and turned to the cargo hold to get a nod from a large and heavily armed Navy SEAL.  “Because you’re going to have turn this bird around and be prepared to take off four minutes after landing.”

The lieutenant looked at their approach, and then turned back to Lee.

“Understood?” she said with another look.

“Yes, Colonel,” the Captain said, focusing on the quickly approaching landing strip.  “We’ll come around quick and hard, and be ready to fly in under a minute, ma’am.”

“I know,” Lee said, heading to the cargo hold and waving away the salutes of the SEALs.  “Commander?”

“Four SEALS with you, and eight on the supply drop, Colonel,” the Commander said.  “Just like we planned, ma’am.”

“Making sure that the Chinese know they’re getting fresh food and liquor, Commander,” Lee said, double checking the men, the forklift and the twenty tightly wrapped pallets as she made her way aft.  “You have only three minutes.”

“We’ll get the job done, ma’am.”

“I know, Commander, and make sure you crash the second pallet of liquor like we discussed.”

“Understood, Colonel,” the Commander said and smiled.  “Not very subtle, ma’am.”

“Not trying to be, Commander,” Lee said and smiled back.  “We want the Chinese to know what we can offer and what we can afford to lose.”

He nodded.

“Brace for landing in 2o seconds,” the lieutenant said, and Lee and the SEALs all grabbed overhead straps.

Twenty seconds later they hit the ground, jerking back and forth as the captain braked hard. 

“Be ready,” Lee said a minute later, pushing herself aft as the plane skittered to a stop and the cargo doors swung open.

“Good luck, Colonel,” the Commander said, and Lee nodded as the four largest and most heavily armed SEALs followed her out the doors.

They hit the ground double time, the first pallet right behind them as they headed across open ground to an older woman standing on the edge of the landing strip, surrounded by hundreds of young Chinese soldiers.  They stood at attention, but their mouth fell open as Lee walked by in her crisp United States Air Force flight suit.  She raised her hand in salute and every soldier returned it.

“Madame Ni,” Lee said in Mandarin, her voice carrying as she stopped in front of the older woman with the SEALs behind her and extended her hand.  “It’s a pleasure and honor to meet you, ma’am.  I’ve followed your career since university and wrote my dissertation on how much effect you’ve had on current events.  Although I’m not sure it’s always seen in a positive light, ma’am.”

“I wish I could say the same, Director,” Ni said, shaking Lee’s hand and noticing the insignia.  “I had no idea you were an Air Force colonel, my dear.”

“The world is full of surprises, Madame Ni,” Lee said, looking back at her and gesturing to the river valley around them.  “I never imagined I’d make it to the banks of the Amur, ma’am.”

“The same thought crossed my mind, Colonel, much less speaking to an American who looks and sounds just like me.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Madame.”

“It’s backhanded at best, Colonel,” Ni said.  “Our troops are well aware that the United States hates the Chinese and has since California outlawed us from their shores 90 years ago.”

“A lot has changed since then, Madame,” Lee said, turning to the SEALs unloading the pallets in front of the Chinese troops.  “But not soldiers’ wanting decent food and drink, ma’am.”

“Very true, Colonel,” Ni said as six cases of bourbon shattered onto the hard ground.  “And not very subtle.”

“True, Madame, but perhaps you could explain to me why you invited us here as my men finish unloading,” Lee said, noticing the Chinese troops eye the supplies.  “I didn’t think you’d let an enemy into your home, ma’am.”

“Very dramatic, Colonel,” Ni said and laughed, looking around the desolate valley, smiling at the soldiers at attention and then pointing north.  “You did see the Soviets, no?”

“They’ve shadowed us since we hit the mainland, Madame,” Lee said, nodding north.  “Saved you the trouble.”

“We have enough troubles of our own, Colonel,” Ni said, walking them back between the troops and supplies and toward the transport.  “But I imagine you know our situation.”

“I wouldn’t have made the trip otherwise, Madame.”

“Of course,” Ni said and turned back to Lee.  “Mao is unstoppable again.  His Cultural Revolution has turned into the nightmare I warned the Central Committee about two years ago.”  She nodded north.  “As has this border dispute with the Soviets.”

“Alliances between giants can be tenuous, Madame,” Lee said, pointing to the dots in the sky. 

“We’ve already scared them with one quick attack, and could overwhelm their ground forces,” Ni said, staring at the dots.  “But we worry they’ll counter with nuclear weapons.”

“Taking out your numbers advantage,” Lee said, watching as the dots turned toward them.

“Yes,” Ni said, looking back to Lee.  “And it’s something we can’t counter.”

“That’s why I came, Madame.”

“Yes, Colonel?” Ni said, nodding for more.

“We don’t want the Soviets to open the door to nuclear weapons on something as minor as a border dispute in an area that nobody really cares about, Madame Ni,” Lee said with a look.  “That’s a door that can’t be closed once opened.” 

“I agree, Colonel,” Ni said with the hint of a smile.

“Which is why you requested and the Pentagon is interested in talking to you, Madame Ni,” Lee said, looking back at the dots.  “The United States’ use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki worked wonders because nobody understood what happened, we were in the greatest war in history and…”

“And nobody could retaliate in kind, Colonel Lee.”

“Exactly, Madame Ni” Lee said.  “But now they could, and once one nation uses nuclear weapons…”

“Then others might,” Ni said.  “Which helps no one.”

“And hurts everyone,” Lee said with a nod, turning to Ni.

“So your president’s willing to help us then, Colonel?” Ni said, waving a ‘thank you,’ to the eight SEALs leaving behind the fresh supplies.  “Even with Chinese advisors in Vietnam?”

“The president proposes a secret ultimatum to the Russians that any nuclear escalation would result in an appropriate American reaction in support of the People’s Republic, Madame,” Lee said, stopping in front of the plane’s open cargo doors.

“And in return?”

“You pull back from the border and we both consider a longer term look at Sino-American relations,” Lee said, handing her an envelope.  “Possibly end the ’49 split and resume normal political and economic relations.”

“And Formosa?”

“We’ll work that out in the future, as is spelled out in the letter.”

“While the Soviets feel isolated just by our talking to one another,” Ni said and laughed, taking the envelope.  “Can you get Nixon to China, Colonel?”

“It’ll take a few years, Madame, but Kissinger’s already working on it.”

“I’d heard that,” Ni said with a smile and bowed.  “Thank you.”

“I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Madame Ni,” Lee said, bowing back.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Colonel,” Ni said, looking her over.  “Despite your slick presentation, the liquor and high quality food, and even help with the Soviets, all of this is in American interests.”

“I think you’ll discover it’s in China’s interests as well, Madame,” Lee said and smiled.  “The world is getting smaller.”

“That it is, Colonel,” Ni said, pointing to everything around them.  “Why else would we meet here?”

“Please read the letter, Madame Ni,” Lee said and stepped back onto the plane.  “And remember that the first step is always the hardest.”

“Not that anyone will ever know, Colonel Lee,” Ni said, shoving the sealed envelope under her coat and backing away from the plane as it started rolling forward and away from her.


 

Chapter 14: Open Doors

 

“Today is so beautiful, Grandmother,” the younger woman said in Mandarin, taking in the snow covered park in front of the White House with the Washington Monument behind it, and turning to the older woman with a smile.  “So clean.”

“Until tomorrow, Ming Hua,” Madame Ni said, peering over the railing.  “And then it’ll be as dirty as Beijing’s winters, my dear.”

“My dear?” Ni’s granddaughter said with a look.  “I am Assistant Director of the Chinese Special Services, grandmother.  Not, my dear.”

“I’m enjoying the moment, and I think I’m entitled, Ming Hua.”

“You are, Grandmother, but all of this feels like we’re on bended knee.”

“It feels more like we’re finally turning a corner, Ming Hua” Ni said, smiling at the White House.  “One we can enjoy.”

Ni’s granddaughter nodded and they both turned to the squeak of the terrace’s double doors opening.

“Colonel,” Ni said in English, watching Colonel Lee and a middle aged man step out onto the terrace.  She looked him over with a tilt of her head.  “And Joshua Luce.” 

He nodded.  “I’ve waited a long time for this, Madame.

“You look so old after your exile to Formosa, Joshua,” Ni said, still staring.  “And I expect you’ve waited in vain.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Ni said with a laugh and turned to Lee, pointing to the six secret service agents surrounding her, her granddaughter and her own four bodyguards.  “I am surprised you see such an old woman as a threat, Colonel.  Certainly you don’t think I’d try to do anything to Joshua here, do you?”

“Not here, Madame Ni,” Lee said, smiling, and they shook hands as Luce scowled at them. 

“Then are they here to protect me from Joshua?” Ni said, sharing a laugh with her own four bodyguards.

“You know I prefer private settings for such personal matters, Madame Ni,” Luce said, drawing the secret service agents’ attention.

“Of course, Joshua,” Ni said, looking right at him.  “But that can wait, can’t it?”

“It can,” he said and smiled.

Ni laughed again.

“You should learn to let the past go, Mr. Luce,” Ni’s granddaughter said, setting herself between him and her grandmother.  “After all, your government officially recognized the People’s Republic today and is feting Comrade Deng at a state dinner this evening.” 

Luce turned to Ni’s granddaughter.

“I want to thank you for setting up the network that kept Chairman Mao distracted and happy for so many years,” she said and smiled.  “Your ‘swallows’ ensured Comrade Deng’s survival even if that wasn’t your intention, and that made this all possible, sir.”

Luce eyed Ni’s granddaughter and then Ni, staring at the railing behind them and then the secret service agents.  “I’m surprised you knew about that, Ms. Ni.”

“We discovered it in 1970, sir,” Ni’s granddaughter said, watching him.  “When you were posted to Formosa, along with the revelation that you enjoy sodomizing young Chinese men.”

Luce looked at her and laughed.  “I’m sure the photos are spectacular, Ms. Ni,” he said.  “Better than the hundreds we have of your grandmother fucking everyone and everything from the Kaiser on up.”

Ni’s bodyguards turned toward Luce, but she raised a hand.

“I’m glad to see that two of the most important countries in the world can share their perspective so openly, Madame Ni,” Lee said and pulled back on Luce’s arm.

“I certainly look forward to strengthening our ties with the United States, Colonel Lee,” Ni said, ignoring Luce.  “It’s certainly done wonders for Formosa, despite Chiang’s corruption and the authoritarianism that’s continued even after his death.” 

“No doubt you’ve learned from your son’s success in Taiwan and the United States, Madame Ni,” Luce said.

“That is none of your concern, Mr. Luce,” Ni’s granddaughter said.

“I’ve come to know your father quite well in the last three decades, Ms. Ni,” Luce said, smiling at her.  “He still thinks of you every day, and would give anything to see you again, despite your life choices.” 

Ni’s granddaughter stepped forward.

“I hope you didn’t travel around the world just to insult us, Joshua,” Ni said, touching her granddaughter’s shoulder, her eyes again on Luce. 

“Of course not, Madame” Luce said, looking back at her and laughing.  “Although I do remember Chiang and your sister coming on bended knees to the White House, just like Deng is today, and then doing everything we asked them and more as we took over their island, an unsinkable aircraft carrier a hundred miles from Fuzhou.”

“Mr. Luce,” Lee said, pulling him back further from Ni.

“I expect we’ll own China in a generation or so as Deng and his successors lap up our advice, Madame Ni, bending Chinese customs to accommodate Western wealth and values, shedding the lies of communism and teaching your leaders to answer when we call,” Luce said, ignoring Lee as the secret service agents and bodyguards eyed him, Ni and then each other.  “Just like Chiang did.”

“I do imagine that we’ll learn how to get rich from America, Joshua,” Ni said, still smiling.  “But we’re not Chiang, terrified and isolated on a tiny island.  No, we’re Earth’s Middle Kingdom, the most important country and culture in the history of the world, a nation that the west has envied for 5,000 years and couldn’t destroy even when we lay humbled for a century.  A civilization that you grew to love and admire, and only wish you could return to.”

“I did feel that way once, Madame Ni,” Luce said as Lee’s eyes narrowed on him.  “But that was before Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution destroyed what was special about China and killed more of your people than Europe and Japan ever could.”

Ni nodded.  “Hurtful words, Joshua, but we and America are now looking to the future, not the past.”

“Is that what you call prostituting yourself again for a prostrate nation of dirt farmers who need us to save your economy like we saved you from the Soviets in ’69,” Luce said and laughed loudly, turning to Ni’s granddaughter and then the bodyguards before looking back at Ni.  “I relish the future where we’ve transformed not only your economy, but your beliefs and politics to accommodate ours and change your 5,000-year-old civilization forever.”

“Bold words, Joshua,” Ni said, raising her hand higher as her bodyguards seethed and the secret service agents inched toward Luce. 

“True words, Madame Ni, and I’ve won.  Your entire life, all that you’ve sacrificed, your son, your wealth and your pride, have all been for nothing now that you’re here groveling for help.  Nothing.  And in a few years no one will remember you, not even for all the horrors and suffering you’ve caused.”

“That’s enough, Mr. Luce,” Lee said, moving completely between him and Madame Ni and gesturing to the secret service.

He backed up.

“I want you to know that they’re protecting you now, Joshua,” Ni said behind a smile in old, guttural Mandarin.  “But I promise you that we’ll see each other soon without and any guards and you’ll answer for all that you’ve said here today.”

Luce smiled back.  “I look forward to it, Madame Ni.”

“You won’t.  Because after today, you’re out in the cold and all alone,” Ni said, continuing in the old, guttural Mandarin and gesturing to Lee and the White House.  “You will no longer have their protection at all, Joshua.”

He blinked.

“What?” Lee said, turning to face Ni, looking her right in the eye.  “What are you saying, Madame Ni?”

“That I’m sorry Joshua won’t be at tonight’s dinner, Colonel,” Ni said, switching back to English and turning away from Luce to smile at Lee.  “And how I can now retire that my life’s work is done as only he can appreciate.”

Lee stared at Ni, watching her for a moment.  “Very good, Madame,” she said, nodding to Luce as the bodyguards and secret service stepped back.  “And unfortunately, it is time to leave, ma’am.”

“Of course, Colonel,” Ni said, with one last look at the White House and then Luce.

“You can enjoy the view as long as you like, Mr. Luce,” Ni’s granddaughter said, following Lee and her grandmother off the terrace.  “But I don’t ever want to see you again, sir.”

Luce nodded, not moving as he continued staring at the White House, noticing a few minutes later several limousines with Chinese flags drive toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

Chapter 15: Finnerty’s Revenge

 

“It’s working,” the old woman said, staring at the television as the students exchanged cigarettes with the soldiers surrounding them in Tiananmen Square.  She took the scotch from the attendant and sipped it slowly.  “They’re talking instead of shooting, which means Zhou is listening and must have convinced Deng about a better future.”

“Yes, ma’am,” a much younger man said, turning to a plane taxiing to the jetway nearest the Admiral Lounge, and took his own scotch.  “Or they could be bringing in outside troops now that Gorbachev is gone.”

“I agree there’s still a fight ahead, Mr. Johnson,” the old woman said, clinking his glass and raising hers.  “But it’ll be quick, and after 44 years of hard work and subterfuge, we’ll finally have justice.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Johnson said, noticing the plane stop short of their jetway before sitting up to a rising commotion outside of the lounge. 

“It’s just a matter of time,” the old woman said as the television went black and she too turned to the outside commotion.  “But still worth celebrating.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Johnson said, putting the glass to his lips and pulling out the pistol from under his coat.  He turned to face the door head on and drank the scotch.  “I agree completely, Mrs. Fife.”

The door burst open and Johnson fired.

The lead Chinese soldier fell and a fellow traveler screamed behind Fife as three more shots were fired.  Another soldier fell and the glass of scotch crashed to the floor, Johnson slumping in his chair with a sudden gurgle.  Seven soldiers then rushed through the door, led by a middle aged woman and followed by an even older one. 

“This is a diplomatic safe zone, Captain,” Fife said, staring down the closest soldier and sitting back in her chair.  “You can’t…”

“Shut up, Fife,” the captain said, directing the other soldiers to the people dropping their drinks and backing away from Johnson’s body.  “You don’t…”

“I do, Captain,” Fife said, staring through him with a smile at the older women.  “As your commander and her grandmother know this entire section of the airport is designated a diplomatic safe zone as agreed by your own government.  I’ll have you up on charges for assaulting my assistant.”

“You will not,” the first woman said, looking right at Fife and pointing her pistol at Johnson’s head as he continued to bleed out from his chest.  “This is not a normal day, diplomatic niceties are out the door and we’re authorized to maintain order by whatever means necessary, Mrs. Fife.”

“So, you’re attacking an old, helpless woman who…”

“Who once headed Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services China Office and is responsible for the deaths of…”

“I’m retired, Ms. Ni,” Fife said and nodded to the older woman.  “Much like your grandmother.”

“Margaret,” the older woman said, nodding back.  “I can’t tell you how surprised and happy I am to see you, my dear.”

“I didn’t think you left your compound in Shanghai anymore, Madame Ni,” Fife said, sitting up straighter.  “The Central Committee must be....”

“Things are well in hand, Mrs. Fife,” Ni’s granddaughter said as soldiers behind her finished herding the other travelers out of the lounge.

“That’s not what I saw on the TV, Ms. Ni,” Fife said, smiling.  “And shooting Mr. Johnson screams of desperation.”  She looked at the lead soldier.  “I’m sure…”

“As I said, today is not a normal day, Mrs. Fife,” Ni’s granddaughter said, pulling the trigger as Johnson’s head exploded.  “And I am in no mood for your nonsense.”

“I understand,” Fife said with two loud bangs as the soldiers in front of her crumpled to the floor, one screaming.  She pulled her pistol out from under her coat, aimed it at Madame Ni and clicked back the hammer.  “These are unusual circumstances.”

The soldiers and Ms. Ni turned their guns on Fife as Ni raised a finger. 

“Unusual circumstances are the only reason you’re still alive, Margaret,” Ni said, looking past the screaming and the dead, and smiled, lowering her finger.  “I don’t trust myself with a gun anymore, but...”

Ms. Ni fired.

“My granddaughter is an excellent shot,” Ni said as Fife dropped her gun and grabbed her thigh.  Ni stepped forward past the soldiers as Fife stifled her scream.  “We need to talk, and we don’t have much time.”  She nodded to the captain.  “We have a very busy schedule, Margaret.”

“God damn you,” Fife said, looking up with a scream.

“No,” Ni said as the captain squeezed Fife’s thigh.

She screamed louder, and the soldiers turned away. 

“I miss the days of fieldwork, Margaret,” Ni said and leaned in, looking down on Fife.  “I haven’t seen an enemy up close and personal since I had Joshua Luce tortured to death for trying to humiliate me in Washington ten years ago.”

“He was a fool,” Fife said, grunting as the captain took a medical kit from another soldier and jammed her with a needle.

“Your mentor and I nearly killed each other several times over the course of a generation, but that was decades ago,” Ni said, taking Fife’s chin in her hand and watching as the morphine took away the pain.  “He was a worthy man for his times, and when I cut off his head, I did it quickly.”

“He hated you,” Fife said, breathing deeply and bleeding all over the floor as the captain started to bandage the wound.  “And he would’ve killed you if you hadn’t been so useful in the war.” 

“And I him, Margaret.  That’s why I wanted until we’d won,” Ni said, looking past Fife and smiling.  “He was one of the only people I’ve known who truly understood how the world works.”

Fife spat in her face.

Ni raised her finger higher to those behind her and then wiped off her cheek.

“He would be impressed with what you’ve done since he died, Margaret,” Ni said, pulling Fife closer and caressing her face in her hand.  “I doubt anyone else alive would have the patience and sophistication to mastermind the uprising now in Tiananmen Square.  Certainly, not the Americans.”  She looked into Fife’s eyes.  “You’re the first to force my hand in more than four decades, Margaret.  I’m impressed.”

“It’s easy since liberty beats tyranny every time,” Fife said, groaning through the morphine, and struggling to hold Ni’s gaze. 

“Tell that to the Romans, Margaret.”

“People will always fight oppression.  It’s what you did against the English, the Japanese and even your own leaders for the last eighty years.”

“But that’s not what’s happening today, Margaret,” Ni said and shook her head.  “No, today, the Party is stamping out dissidents and terrorists who value themselves over their nation and freedom over prosperity.  A prosperity that the Party has given to them, their parents and their grandparents.  A prosperity that only the Party can guarantee now and in the future.”

Fife gasped as the captain tied off the bandage.  “The people don’t believe that after the Party’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.”

“Mao’s mistakes were truly horrible, Margaret, but for the greater good,” Ni said.  “They will be forgotten and even forgiven as we grow richer.” 

“That’s not what the students are saying,” Fife said, managing to sit up.  “They’re saying the Party needs to cede power to the people, to accept that democracy is its future and...”

“I never saw you as a fool, Margaret,” Ni said, letting go of her face.  “But the students will learn like everyone else that their voices are no match for bullets and bayonets.”

“The local brigade won’t fire on its own people.”

“No, but the ten thousand troops entering the city from Chengdu tomorrow will.  They’re loyal to the Party with no sentiment for Beijing, and won’t hesitate to crush any demonstrators foolish enough to endanger our stability,” Ni said.  “Your little rebellion will soon be as finished as you are, my dear.”

“Maybe,” Fife said, wincing as she failed to stand up.  “But the seed I’ve planted will spread far beyond Tiananmen.”

“Defiant to the end, Margaret, just like Finnerty,” Ni said and smiled, looking into Fife’s eyes and shaking her head.  “But the Party will never to allow your foreign backed students to disrupt our stability.  It means too much to the party and the people, and we’ll never allow outsiders to control us again.”

“You’re wrong, Madame Ni,” Fife said, forcing herself to sit up straight.  “We and America have already infected China with the ideas that will bring you down.”

“Perhaps America, Margaret, but I haven’t given England a second thought since I was handed Finnerty’s head to Luce in ‘46.”

“Fuck you.”

Ni took Fife’s chin in her hand one more time.  “Thank you for letting me indulge in nostalgia, Margaret,” she said as two soldiers picked up Fife and put her on a stretcher.  “You’re soon going to tell us the names of the student leaders and who financed them.”

“It’s going to be a one-sided conversation,” Fife said, breathing heavily.

“Probably, Margaret, or your death will be much worse than your mentor’s, or even Luce’s.”

“No,” Fife said, biting down hard on a false tooth.  “No, it won’t.”

Ni frowned.

“Damn it,” Ni’s granddaughter said, lunging toward Fife as her head jerked back and she started foaming at the mouth.  “Get it out of her mouth.”

The captain reached down Fife’s throat for a moment, the foam spreading on their fingers and hands, but then looked up from the limp body.

“Impressive even at the end,” Ni said and stepped forward to look over Fife’s lifeless body.  “I miss that level of commitment.”

“Which is why the Party needs to strengthen its hand, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.

“I suppose,” Ni said, still staring at Fife.  “Make sure her body is cleaned and cared for before returning it to England.  She deserves at least that.”

“Yes, grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said, looking at the horror etched across Fife’s face and then noticing Ni shake her head again. 

“Such a waste.”

 


 

Chapter 16: The Middle Kingdom’s Rise

 

The older woman watched the Union Jack’s last flap in the air as a British major lowered it slowly and steadily down from the Hong Kong skies into a colonel’s hands.  Together they folded it formally, placed it in an official tube and carried it to the right side of the courtyard as a Chinese major raised high the People’s Republic flag next to the city’s orchid tree banner.

She smiled walking very slowly into the center of the courtyard, an old woman helping her on her left and a younger woman holding a baby on her right.  The major saluted her and she nodded back, shaking his hand.

“I’ve waited a lifetime for this, Major,” she, wiping her face.  “And thank you for letting me be here.”

“Thank you for getting us here, Madame Ni,” the major said and bowed before escorting her and her relatives to the left of the courtyard. 

They stood across from the British colonel as the ceremony shifted to the far side of the courtyard, and Ni stared back at him, examining his features, and then smiled.

“Great Grandmother?” the woman with the baby said.

“I’m fine, Junlei,” Ni said, waving her aside as she noted the colonel’s name badge and stepped toward him.  “Colonel Finnerty?”

“That is correct, ma’am,” the colonel said, barely moving a muscle, his eyes still on hers.

“Do you know who I am?” Ni said, walking slowly toward him.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded, pointing to his badge.  “And you are…?”

“Yes, ma’am.  His great nephew.”

Ni nodded, standing right in front of him.  “Who comes to see your uncle’s greatest loss, Colonel?” she said, her granddaughter and great granddaughter right behind her.  “The return of Hong Kong 150 years after the English stole it.”

“Did you think we wouldn’t return it, Madame Ni?”

“No, Colonel,” Ni said, noting the British major behind Finnerty turn to them.  “But did you have a choice?”

“Of course,” Finnerty said, pointing to the Government House complex, the city skyline and the harbor full of ships.  “We could have granted Hong Kong independence just like we did with Singapore, the world’s other great city state, and so many other former and successful British colonies.”

“Except we wouldn’t have allowed it, Colonel.”

“Perhaps now, Madame,” Finnerty said, nodding to the nearby plain clothes Chinese policemen.  “But twenty years ago we could have done anything we liked and the People’s Republic could have only watched.”

“And yet you didn’t.”

“The British keep their word, Madame Ni, or is that too hard to imagine?”

“I can imagine almost anything after all I’ve seen and done, Colonel,” Ni said, looking at the city around them before turning back to him.  “After all you’re here.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Your great uncle would approve of you staring me down as the English return Hong Kong,” Ni said, smiling as she examined his face again.  “Particularly after all you’ve have lost in the last half century, Colonel.”

“Yet the United Kingdom is thriving like never before, Madame,” Finnerty said, smiling back.  “In fact, I’d say that Hong Kong with its free markets and elections might someday show China a new and better future.”

Ni laughed.  “An audacious statement, Colonel,” she said, raising her finger as her granddaughter stepped forward.  “Particularly since your uncle’s successor failed to undermine the People’s Republic so completely just eight years ago.”

“I heard Director Fife came so close that you personally supervised her capture, Madame Ni.”

“Did you?”

“And she certainly laid another seed toward China’s free markets and future democracy.”

“Defiant to the end, Colonel,” Ni said and turned away.  “I like that.”

“I’ve heard that’s what you told Fife, Madame Ni.”

She laughed, and turned back.  “I didn’t realize England’s Secret Services still had those kinds of resources even eight years ago, Colonel.”

“The world is full of surprises, ma’am,” Finnerty said to Ni, drawing narrow eyed looks from her granddaughter and great granddaughter.

“I wish you luck, Colonel,” Ni said, turning to the continuing ceremony.  “I imagine you will need it.”

“Thank you,” Finnerty said and nodded, holding the stares of Ni’s granddaughter and great granddaughter.  “I imagine you’ll need it even more.”

Ni laughed again and walked away.

“Grandmother, please don’t let this colonel spoil our triumph,” Ni’s granddaughter said, moving to help Ni forward.  “All of China is ours again, growing more powerful every year and undoing our century of humiliation.  Soon, in another generation, the West will bow down before us and you’ll see the fruits of our labors.”

“You don’t have to reassure me of what I’ve already done, Ming Hua,” Ni said, continuing forward slowly as the crowd made room for her.  She looked at all the people again and caught her breath.  “But I think you’re a little unrealistic about the future.”

“China will…”

“I’m not talking about, China,” Ni said, holding out a hand and letting her granddaughter support her on the right as her great granddaughter took her left hand.  “I’ll be a hundred next year and I’m surprisingly healthy.”  She nodded to two people in the crowd.  “But I’m not going to see China rule the world, and you might not either.”

“What?” Ni’s granddaughter said, looking at her.  “What do you mean by that, Grandmother?”

“Colonel Lee,” Ni said and smiled at the woman and man walking straight toward them.  “I didn’t expect to see you and your new assistant today.”

Ni’s granddaughter turned, frowning at the man behind Lee.

“Madame Ni,” Lee said, bowing and sharing a side glance with Ni’s granddaughter who frowned.  “I don’t believe you’ve met my new director of operations, Jeffrey Lin.”

“Mr. Lin,” Ni said, nodding to Lin’s bow and catching her granddaughter’s look.  “Your reputation precedes you, sir.”

“Thank you, Madame Ni,” Lin said, ignoring Ni’s granddaughter and smiling at the great granddaughter.  “I hope in a good way.”

“In a way,” Ni said, turning back to Lee.  “Your staff seems to keep changing, Colonel.”

“I’ve found a staff with varied backgrounds pays off, Madame Ni,” Lee said, looking at Ni’s granddaughter and great granddaughter.  “I’ve always wondered why your office never expanded beyond your family, ma’am.”

“We never needed to.  Not when I had the right people under my nose, Colonel,” Ni said, looking back at her.  “Although I’ve always been happy that even America realizes how important it is in the great game to have a staff who speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese.”

“Dramatically said, Madame Ni,” Lee said and smiled.  “But we’re all American regardless of the languages we speak.”

“Are you, Colonel?  I remember America’s history of immigration a little differently.”

“Then you miss the broader picture to include everyone into the American dream, Madame Ni,” Lee said.  

“That was dramatically said, Colonel.”

“I’d say it’s a dramatic day, Madame,” Lee said, pointing to the pageantry surrounding them.  “One where China has taken the final step into securing its historical borders.”

“Except for Formosa, Colonel.”

“Formosa, Madame Ni?” Lee said, almost frowning.  “I thought Comrade Deng settled that question eighteen years ago.”

“I think Comrade Deng chose to put off that decision, Colonel,” Ni said and smiled.  “In fact weren’t two of your aircraft carriers in the South China Sea last year?”

“Yes, in the Taiwan Strait,” Lee said as Lin nodded behind her.  “Their president invited the seventh fleet for maneuvers, I believe.”

“You believe?” Ni said as her granddaughter and great granddaughter eyed Lee, and she again raised a finger.  “And you still think I’m dramatic?”

“You seem to have a great deal of admirers,” Lee said, noting the many looks she was now attracting as Lin stepped closer to her, his hand reaching under his coat.

“As you know it’s a big day, Colonel,” Ni said, smiling with her finger still raised.  “And I very much appreciate you making the effort to join our celebration.”

“It’s a whole new world, Madame Ni,” Lee said, stepping back.  “And I thank you for inviting us.  We’re honored to be here and I’m sure we’ll have even more to talk about in the future.”

“I’m sure we will, Colonel,” Ni said.  “And I’m sure my granddaughter will see you and Mr. Lin soon.”

Lee bowed and backed away with a hundred pairs of eyes watching her and Lin join the crowd. 

“We’re going to have deal with Lee and her new assistant soon, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “America business might be investing in China, but their military and intelligence agencies, directed by her office, are plotting ways to destroy the Party and take over the country.”

“Now you’re being dramatic, Ming Hua,” Ni said, letting her granddaughter and great granddaughter continue to lead her through the courtyard.

“Great grandmother…”

“I know they are a problem, Junlei,” Ni said, nodding to more people in the crowd.  “But Colonel Lee’s right that it’s a whole new world.”

“One with higher stakes, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “Those carrier groups could have bombed Beijing and we didn’t even know they were there.”

“The Americans do need to be countered, Ming Hua,” Ni said, turning to a bench.  “But the stakes are higher than you’d like to admit.”

“Which is why we established the missile bases along the coast, are expanding to a blue water fleet and will eventually establish a trade network throughout Eurasia that will counter America’s freedom of the seas, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “Just like you recommended after Tiananmen.”

“I’m old, but not forgetful, Ming Hua,” Ni said, sitting on a bench.  “Now let me enjoy my moment, please.  I’ve worked the last eighty years for this.”

“Yes, grandmother.”

Ni looked at the People’s Republic flag fluttering next to Hong Kong’s orchid tree flower banner over the British-built Government House and smiled as the sun started setting behind it.  She looked to her great granddaughter and nodded to the baby she’d been carrying the whole time.

“She’s well behaved in all this drama and pageantry, Junlei,” Ni said as her great granddaughter handed her the baby very slowly and carefully.  She pulled the baby up to her chest, closing her eyes and smelling the top of her head.  “You made everything I’ve suffered through and everything I’ve done worth it, my dear little one.”  She opened her eyes to see the baby now look back up at her.  “And we’re going to make sure that you never have to do what I’ve done to live a full and happy life.”

Ni’s granddaughter nodded, and her great granddaughter smiled as Ni pulled the baby even closer.

 


 

Chapter 17: The Giant Missteps

 

Madame Ni felt the world come into focus, feeling the wires poke into her chest, the needles prickle her arms and the tubes fill her nose as someone squeezed her hand.  She squeezed back, hearing a quickening, mechanical beep and then opened her eyes to see her great granddaughter’s smile.  She smiled back, then saw her granddaughter and a nurse, two old men in suits and three younger men in uniforms all staring at her and smiling too.

“I knew you were too stubborn to die, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said. 

“Thank God,” Ni’s great granddaughter said, crying and squeezing her hand again.  “Thank God.”

“Thanks my doctors and your devotion, Junlei,” Ni said, squeezing back and smiling at the nurse as she tried and failed to sit up.

“I’ve got it, grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said, pushing a button to lift up Ni in her bed.

“How long have I been asleep,” Ni said, now able to sit up and taking in the men before turning back to her granddaughter and great granddaughter.  “A day?”

“Just an hour, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “And you have visitors.”

“I saw that,” Ni said, looking at the television on the wall with the American tanks above the CNN logo as her granddaughter turned up the volume.  “Thank you, Ming Hua.”

“You’re welcome, Grandmother.” 

“… the Americans and their allies easily overwhelmed Iraq’s 375,000 battle hardened troops with only 160,000 of their own forces, but backed up by a massive technological advantage in weaponry, communication and coordination that is said to have left Saddam Hussein fleeing Baghdad on the first day of…”

“With these 24-hour news channels we almost don’t need intelligence networks anymore,” Ni said, nodding to the television and smiling at the now frowning men in suits and uniforms.  She turned up the volume even more.

“…are already questioning if the invasion costing in the billions was worth losing all of the international support America received after 9/11, if Saddam Hussein was bluffing about weapons of mass destruction or if the Iraqis will welcome the Americans and their allies as liberators or conquerors without a United Nations mandate…”

“Maybe all we have to do is sort through the truth,” Ni said to her granddaughter.

“That would be easy, Grandmother, as most of this is just lies,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “Well told lies, I admit, but lies nonetheless.”

Ni looked at her.

“President Bush simply wants revenge against Hussein for attempting to assassinate his father when he was president.  The United States can’t and won’t remake the Middle East in their image.  And Iraq and all of its different sects and ethnic groups have no idea what free markets or elections really are,” Ni’s granddaughter said as the men in suits and uniforms nodded behind her.  “It’s just a matter of time before his lies are found out.”

“Yet they are better lies than the Central Committee tells us every day, Ming Hua,” Ni said, stopping the men shaking their heads with but a look.

“But Bush’s lies will be found out much sooner, Grandmother.”

“To America’s credit, Ming Hua,” Ni said, turning back to her granddaughter.

“Yet, they, the Americans, will still waste countless lives and treasure, which we can use to our advantage.”

Ni seemed to shrug.

“We may even want to move up our schedule, Mother,” Ni’s great granddaughter said.

“Perhaps,” Ni said, squeezing her great granddaughter’s hand and looking her in the eye.  “But you and so many others are missing the point.”  She turned to the television again and the entire room turned to see a pilot’s perspective as he bombed and destroyed a column of fleeing Iraqi tanks and troops.  “We’ve always assumed that the Americans were essentially weak and coddled, never willing to make real sacrifices in treasure and lives.  But this shows again, like in 1941 with the Japanese, that the Americans can and will do whatever it takes to eliminate threats to their security.”  She nodded to herself.  “Even it means putting aside their core beliefs, values and morals.  They will fight and attack their enemy as violently and relentlessly as any other nation or people on Earth.  Maybe more so, since they have so much to lose.”

She stared at a burning city on the screen as everyone turned to her.

“Grandmother?”

“Imagine what the Americans would have done if more people had died on 9/11,” Ni said, turning back to her granddaughter and the men in suits and uniforms.  “Imagine what they would do to us if we attacked, Ming Hua?”

The men turned to one another and then Ni’s granddaughter.

“They would learn how much we can endure, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said.  “And nothing the Americans could throw at us compares to the hundred years of European humiliation, the brutality of the Japanese or even Mao’s’ self-inflicted mistakes, because we are stronger and better than before.”  The men in suits nodded.  “Yes, America is more powerful now, but in a generation we’ll have the bigger economy and a more powerful military, and...” 

“And what?” Ni said, managing to lean forward on her own and turn to the men in suits.  “I’ll be dead soon, but where do you and these men who know almost nothing of the world plan to take China, Ming Hua.  To America’s shores?”

“If we wish it, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said, looking back.  “In another 20 or 30 years…”

“We’ll still be in Asia, Ming Hua.  Surrounded by America’s allies in Asia, Europe and around the world.  While we have what?  North Korea?  Pakistan and Russia?” Ni said, noticing the men in suits shift on their feet.  “We and the Russians have never trusted each other for long and never will.  We may say ‘yes,’ this year, but the next will be different, and they’re the best we have.  The best.”

“For now, Grandmother, but in a generation…”

“Stop thinking in the past, Ming Hua” Ni said, shaking her head.  “The world is changing so quickly and is becoming so small that America just invaded a country on the other side of the planet, and could destroy many more, including China, if they truly wanted to.”

“They aren’t alone, Grandmother.”

“And then what, Mother,” Ni’s great granddaughter said as Ni’s granddaughter turned to her.  “Then nobody wins.”

“Junlei is right,” Ni said.

Ni’s granddaughter’s face tightened into a frown.

“We’ve done well under the Americans, Ming Hua.  Most of the world has.  And unlike the Europeans or Japanese, they’ve never coveted Chinese territory.  They’ve only want an open door.”

“But we’ll soon be richer than them, Grandmother.”

“But not enough to dominate them and the world together, Ming Hua.  The American system has become too entrenched with too many allies and too many people wanting to be just like them to allow China to provide a serious challenge, no matter how rich we become.”

“We’re going to change all of that, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said and the men in suits nodded.  “We’re going to bring back the center of the world to Beijing and Shanghai.  We’ve already subverted America’s economy to our advantage and we’ll soon do the same to their military and culture.  Then all of the world will respect the Middle Kingdom again.”

Ni shook her head again.  “The price is too high, Ming Hua, and the world is too small,” she said and turned to her great granddaughter.  “The Americans would do to us exactly what we’ve done to them.  Undermine us and whatever world order we establish at a time when the world needs to come together for everybody’s good, not just our own.”

Ni’s granddaughter blinked.

“You don’t even know what tomorrow holds, Ming Hua,” Ni said, squeezing her great granddaughter’s hand and touching her pregnant belly.  “China is rising today, but what about the rest of the world?  India?  The Europeans or even a resurgent America?”

“We’ll make sure those things don’t happen, Grandmother,” Ni’s granddaughter said and the men in suits nodded.

But Ni frowned and so did the men in uniforms.  She rubbed her great granddaughter’s belly again and then turned to her granddaughter.  “You need to think of the future, Ming Hua, how to protect what we already have, and how to get the rest of the world to help us protect it too, particularly America.  Or none of us, not even the Middle Kingdom, will have anything to fight over.”

Ni’s granddaughter swallowed hard.  “Yes, Grandmother,” she said, but couldn’t hide her frown.

“Good,” Ni said, watching her granddaughter’s face and squeezing her great granddaughter’s hand, holding onto it.  “Now I need to sleep again.”

The men in suits and uniforms nodded and left the room, Ni’s granddaughter going with them. 

“Think about tomorrow, Junlei,” Ni said, looking her great granddaughter right in the eye and letting go of her hand.  “Always tomorrow.”

“Yes, Great grandmother.”

Ni smiled, touching her great granddaughter’s belly one last time, and then rested her hand on her own chest and closed her eyes. 


 

Chapter 18: Bipolar

 

The dark suited man shouldered his way through the crowded hallway and shoved open the door to an outer office.  “Is he in?”

A woman turned to him with a look.

“Miss Chen, I said is Director Lin in,” the man said.  “Does he have the news?”

“Dr. Nadel,” Chen said and rolled her eyes.  “I assume he does since he hasn’t left his office since 7:30.”

“Well, what are you standing there for?” Nadel said, circling around her.  “Out of my way.”

Miss Chen shook her head. “Just let yourself in,” she said, shutting the outer office door to the line waiting outside, and sighed.  “Like you always do.”

Nadel stepped into the inner office, shutting the door behind him.

“John,” an older man said, looking up from three computer monitors.  “How are you this morning?”

“Director Lin, we knocked out two Chinese Chengdu J-10s three hours ago when they approached too close to the USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea, a hundred nautical miles northwest of Palawan.”

“Near the Spratlys,” Lin said, turning one of his monitors so Nadel could see the video of the crashing J-10s.  “No missiles were fired, but two F-15 faced off against the Chengdus about 20 miles away from the Reagan.  The aircraft carrier responded appropriately in protecting itself.”

“Sir, the Chinese pilots are dead,” Nadel said.  “And the PLA is going to be pissed.”

“And understandably so, John, which is why I sent a message to Director Ni an hour and fifteen minutes ago,” Lin said, checking his cell phone.  “I imagine she might get the news from us before she gets it from the PLA.”

“I assumed as much, Director, but we need to…”

“Offer condolences, John?” Lin said and nodded.  “We will, along with another suggestion to deepen military contacts and stress the importance of freedom of the seas.”

“Sir, that hasn’t worked in the past,” Nadel said, standing up straighter and pulling out his tablet.  “We need to show the Chinese that we mean business.  The Navy has contingency plans to fly over their cobbled together bases in the Paracel and Spratly Islands.”

Lee glanced up from his cell phone.

“The bombers are in the air, locked and loaded, sir,” Nadel said, holding out his tablet and showing a map of the South China Sea with tiny planes over the Philippines.  “They’ll only fly by, show off their bombs, and demonstrate what we can do.”

“And then watch the Chinese shoot missiles near, but not hit the Reagan, John?” Lin said and put down his cell.  “No.  We don’t have authorization for any of that, and there’s a reason those are just contingencies.  Admiral Hines has already ordered those planes back.”

Nadel looked at his tablet and then turned to Lin with a frown.

“We’re not going to risk some twenty something lieutenant or ensign on either side doing something stupid while we demonstrate what we can do, John,” Lin said, clicking off the video of the downed Chengdus on his monitor.  “We’ve already had enough mistakes for one day and nobody on either side wants to make any more.”

“Director Lin?”

“You’re showing your lack of military experience again, Dr. Nadel.”

“Sir, you hired me for new options and the political ones have failed,” Nadel said and raised his tablet again, showing prepared images of Tiananmen Square in 1989, massive arrests of the Falun Gon in 1999, Google leaving China in 2010 and police stopping a demonstration yesterday.  “I know that Mary Lee is still respected in the intelligence community and revered in this office, but after 27 years of following her plan and ten years after her retirement, perhaps it’s time to think in more realistic terms.  The Chinese have squashed any hint of democracy outside of the Party’s control, ignored their own laws that guarantee individual liberties, kept out US businesses that didn’t suit their national interests, built their own internet and headed off numerous American threats, both real and imagined.”

“That’s all true, but both our media and theirs report on the country’s numerous demonstrations, tens if not hundreds of thousands every year at the local and provincial levels,” Lin said, turning his monitor back to Nadel to show large crowds in Chinese cities and towns.  “That the Party listens to public opinion.”  He clicked to images of officials bowing to crowds and cameras.  “And that every day millions of ordinary people flaunt China’s great internet wall.”  The images shifted to a street full of people looking at their smart phones.  “Just as Colonel Lee predicted they would a decade ago, John.”

“Director, we’re talking small steps when the Party and the PLA…”

“Check your American history, Doctor,” Lin said, smiling.  “The Declaration of Independence is the result of years of local protests, the English parliament responding halfheartedly to the colonists and the birth of what we now call free speech.”

“I know my history, Director Lin,” Nadel said, shaking his head.  “I also know that the Party spends more on internal than external security, sir.” 

“And still the chutes of democracy are sprouting.  People are growing richer, the regions, cities and towns are gaining influence and the center is losing control,” Lin said and turned around a framed photo of a smiling woman on his desk.  “And Colonel Lee saw all of this coming together, John.  She predicted that the internal security budget would outstrip their external three decades ago.”

“Perhaps, Director, but whatever Colonel Lee saw and expected the chutes aren’t growing.”

“They’re almost there, John,” Lin said, pulling up images of crowds dressed in the latest American fashion.  “China’s middle class has grown larger than America’s in the last decade.  More than 250 million people have worked hard, made money, bought property and shown themselves and their children that life is good even after a century and a half of war and revolution.  And now they want to keep and protect what they’ve earned.  More importantly, the Communist Party wants to keep them happy so that they can stay in power, and together those 250 million people and the Party are going to figure out how they can run the country together for the benefit of all.  Or create what you and I call democracy, Doctor.”

Nadel sighed.  “Life’s not that simple, Director.”

“It’s not, John?” Lin said.  “It happened here and in western Europe, didn’t it?”

“Starting 250 years ago, Director, and taking generations and the emergence of civil rights to make it work.”

“Yes, and amazingly, Taiwan, Korea and Chile have managed to become rich and democratic in just one or two generations, John,” Lin said, his monitor now showing people smiling from all three countries.  “Right after they developed substantial middle classes just like the People’s Republic is doing right now.”

“Yet the Party is firmly in control, Director.”

“As much as the authoritarian governments were in Taiwan, Chile and Korea, John,” Lin said and smiled again, bigger than before.  “Until they weren’t.”

Nadel looked at Lin.

“Sit down, John,” Lin said.  “You looked tired.”

“I am tired, Director.  We’ve had this discussion before and nothing changes,” Nadel said, pulling up his tablet and showing the Chengdus crashing again.  “Whether China is democratic or not doesn’t matter.  It’s still going to want to control the South China Sea, and will continue to escalate the situation regardless of what their neighbors want, the United Nations say about their artificial islands or whether or not we send in the 7th fleet.”  He swallowed, looking right at Lin.  “History is on their side, sir.  Aside from us, they are a giant among minnows.  The power of geography, population, economics and long term military logic dictates that they’ll control the area sooner than later.”

Lin nodded, picking up his cell phone again.

“The United States did the same thing more than a century ago in the Caribbean when we became the world’s largest economy and started building up our own fleets and driving the British out to never return,” Nadel said and pulled up a map of the Caribbean shaded with former British colonies and protectorates.  “And sir, they weren’t happy about it, didn’t trust us and only aligned their interests with ours when we needed each other in World War I.”

“I aware of the history and its parallels, John,” Lin said and looked at his phone.

“You’re not telling me we want a war, are you, Director?”

“No, John, and neither do the Chinese,” Lin said, looking up and shaking his head.  “No.  War would be a terrible idea.  Horrible.”

“The Chengdus and the carrier group say otherwise, Director.”

“Meaning it’s time we started aligning our interests more closely with China’s, John.  Like the British did with us a hundred plus years ago.”

Nadel looked sideways at Lin.

“We’ve already started with the more obvious environmental concerns, Doctor, and at times economic,” Lin said, ignoring Nadel’s tight expression.  “Now it’s time to get our political and military interests in better sync, find a balance to accept their rise and allow them more authority as well responsibility near home and around the world.  Figure out how to give them the respect they want in all of the international organizations and clubs we basically lead and get them to buy into the system that they so want to control.”

“Sir, we’ve been trying to do that for a generation,” Nadel said.  “A whole industry has been set up…”

“Then let’s stop setting it up and start doing it, John,” Lin said and leaned forward, looking right at Nadel.  “Now’s the time to get real.  Convince Congress and the American public that we live in a shrinking and crowded world and it’s time to get along with all of the neighbors, because the Pacific isn’t a big enough ocean anymore.   Understood, Doctor?”

“Yes, sir,” Nadel said, looking right back, but blinked. 

“Director Lin,” Miss Chen said, knocking on the door and opening it.  “Ms. Ni is on line one.  She’s says it’s important, sir.”

“Understood, Janice,” Lin said, putting down his cell phone and grabbing the landline while still looking at Nadel as he clicked on his monitor again.  “One of the first things you need to do is set up a direct line, Doctor.”

“Sir?” Nadel said, shaking his head, but then saw the video of the Chengdus crashing again.  “Yes, sir.”

“We’ve come a long way with China, John,” Lin said, fiddling with the receiver.  “But we still have a lot to do if we’re going to truly cooperate with them.  And we need to make it work.”

“Understood, sir,” Nadel said and nodded.   “I’m on it.”

“Excellent,” Lin said and hit line one.  “Good morning, Ms. Ni.  I understand that we have a lot to talk about.”


 

Chapter 19: Won World

 

They could hear the water splashing against the wharf. 

“This is the café where Ni gave Luce Colonel Finnerty’s head in a box, Director Lin,” the dark suited man said.  “Where China threw down the gauntlet in ‘46 and insisted America stay out of its affairs or suffer the wrath of the Middle Kingdom.”

“Very dramatic, Dr. Nadel,” Lin said and smiled, taking off his sunglasses and putting them in his suit jacket pocket.  “Yet the state of the union is strong and here we are, honored guests of the People’s Republic.”

“You know what I mean, sir.”

“And this former café is now a three star Michelin restaurant, Doctor,” Lin said, admiring the polished hardwood floors and restored early 20th century detail and decor.  He looked at both of them in the large mirror behind the bar and then at the rest of the very well dressed patrons, recognizing some with famous faces.  “I don’t think we have to worry about a ’46 repeat.”

“No, sir,” Nadel said, checking out the younger women at an older man’s table.  “Although I don’t see our host.”

“I imagine she’s got a private room for our meeting, John,” Lin said, turning around to look at another young woman.  “Correct, Miss Wu?”

The young woman blushed.  “Yes, Director Lin, you are correct,” Wu said and smiled, pointing to the side of the lobby.  “If you would follow me, sir?”

Lin and Nadel did, through a door hidden in the wall, up two flights of stairs to a small dining room that overlooked both Shanghai’s skyline and harbor through floor to ceiling windows.

“Please have a seat, Director Lin, Dr. Nadel,” a smiling, middle aged woman said and gestured to the chairs.  “I’m sure you noticed that things have changed since Americans and Chinese met here last, Director.”

“We were just discussing that,” Lin said, pulling out a holstered pistol from under his jacket and placing it on the table and out of reach.  “And I’m also glad your hiring practices have caught up to the 21st century, Miss Ni.”

Miss Wu’s eyes widened on the gun.

“They have,” Miss Ni said, looking at Wu and then placing her own pistol on the table and out of reach too.

“I thought you were talking about the pollution,” Nadel said, looking past the guns and nodding to the hazy skyline.  “A sign of so much progress, Miss Ni.”

“Yes,” she said, turning to Nadel.  “And a symbol of how much further we still have to go, John.”

“Yes,” Nadal said and frowned.  “I suppose.”

“Our condolences about your mother, Junlei,” Lin said, nodding to Miss Ni.  “And congratulations on your appointment to the Director position.  It is well deserved.”

“Thank you,” Miss Ni said.  “We both have a lot to live up, Jeffrey.”

“Yes, after more than five generations China is whole, respected and on its way to the role it’s held for much of recorded history.”

“You’re too kind, Jeffrey,” Miss Ni said, smiling more.

“Your great grandmother would be very proud, Junlei,” Lin said and Nadel pulled out an ornate, wooden tube, presenting it to her.

“This isn’t a head, is it?” Miss Ni said, sharing a look with Wu and opening it slowly, pulling out a scroll and unrolling it. 

 

July 31, 1914

 

Most Honorable Shining Sun:

 

The Eagle Flies To The Sea,

Waking The Bulldog,

To Join The Cock and Bear

And Destroy Them All.

 

The Dragon Will Rise Again.

 

Your Eternal Servant,

 

The Golden Claw

 

“Great grandmother,” Miss Ni said, reading the note slowly and smiling before handing it over to Wu and turning to Lin.  “How?”

“Finnerty used it to try to convince Luce that Madame Ni was dangerous in 1944.  Lee found it fifty years ago and passed it on to me.”

“Not Fife?”

“Finnerty realized that Britain was out of the game once Singapore surrendered to Japan without a fight.”

“Yet he kept fighting,” Miss Ni said and looked at her great grandmother’s note again.

“So did Fife,” Lin said.

“Against American wishes, Jeffrey?” Miss Ni said, looking him in the eye.

“The note’s represents China’s success, Junlei,” Lin said, looking back.  “I hope returning it symbolizes a more peaceful future now that the stakes have grown so high.”

“So, America finally understands that neither side could win a war?” Miss Ni said, sitting back and sipping one of the glasses of wine in front of all of them. 

“Dr. Nadel wrote the paper on that, Miss Ni,” Lin said, taking his own glass.  “But does the Central Committee understand that?”

“That’s why we kept last month’s sinking of our missile cruiser a private matter, Director Lin,” Miss Wu said, sitting between Lin and Ni.  “And admitted that our captain was too aggressive.”

Nadel nodded across from her.

“We can’t let a true fight break out, Jeffrey,” Miss Ni said, holding up her glass.  “Both sides are too stubborn to give up.”

“And we know where they could lead, Junlei,” Lin said, raising his glass.

“Yes, the Chinese still have a century and a half of history they need to get over, Jeffrey.”

“Whereas we Americans have started to realize we no longer rule the world alone, Junlei.”

They drank.

“The middle ground is easier to find now that we’re the largest economy in the world, Jeffrey,” Ni said. 

“And yet China will never reach America’s status, Junlei,” Lin said, drinking more wine.  “We’re both too big in too small a world to do anything but cooperate now.”

“If we want to survive, Jeffrey,” Miss Ni said, drinking her wine too.  “That’s why we’ve deescalated the South China Sea situation.”

“And we’ve given China it’s fair share of votes in the World Bank, the United Nations…”

“Along with all of the responsibilities that come with the alphabet of international organizations you created after World War II, Jeffrey.”

“Letting China be one of the world’s important leaders, Junlei,” Lin said.  “Which is what your great grandmother always wanted, correct?”

Miss Ni nodded and gestured to the parchment on the table. 

“And why my office, the diplomatic community and numerous business and opinion leaders in the United States have worked so hard for the last ten years to convince the American public and both sides of Congress to take a closer look at creating a better future for both our two great nations, Junlei.”

“Yes, Jeffrey,” Miss Ni said.  “And my office has worked on convincing the Chinese public, our princelings and new robber barons and most especially the Central Committee to cooperate with America, and accept and support its international system despite your continued efforts to undermine the Party with your ideas of democracy.”

“Like you did with Brexit, Junlei?” Lin said, tipping back his glass and smiling.  “But not the 2016 election?”

Miss Ni finished her wine.  “We understand our limits more than the Russians, Jeffrey.”

“And the importance of so many secrets, Junlei,” Lin said, nodding to the parchment. 

“Which makes it easier to work together in a shrinking world, Jeffrey.”

“Of course it helps that our populations are both growing old and the cost of war is becoming even more expensive.”

“Very true, Jeffrey.”

“So, together we’ll manage the world…”

“Instead of running it,” Ni said.  “Particularly since we both now have so much of what we want.”

“And no longer wish to rock the boat,” Lin said, leaning back in his chair and finishing his wine.

“Our long term goals are now aligned, Director Lin,” Miss Ni said and picked up her holstered pistol.

“Your great grandmother would be so proud, Miss Ni,” Lin said and strapped his pistol back under his jacket. 

“To be continued,” Miss Ni said, pushing back her chair.

“And continued,” Lin said, and stood up with Nadel and Wu.

“The alternative is too awful to imagine,” Miss Ni said, meeting Lin’s eye and smiling.

“I look forward to our next meeting,” Lin said, smiling back and leaving with Nadel right behind him.

Wu led them down the stairs, through the hidden door and back into the restaurant.

“I’ve heard the food’s very good, Director,” Nadel said as they left the restaurant and got into their waiting car.

“I promise to buy you dinner at our next meeting with Miss Ni in New York.”

“You mean, Junlei?”

“It’s called building trust, John,” Lin said, driving out of the parking lot.

“You know that they’re moving forward with their plan to retake Taiwan, Director.”

“I know that 25 million Taiwanese could lead the way forward in China, John,” Lin said, stopping at a red light.  “After all, if a wayward province can vote why can’t 1.5 billion Chinese?”

Nadel stared at him and then smiled. 

“History never ends, John,” Lin said, moving forward with the green light.  “But hopefully we’ve found a balance we can all live with.”

“I hope so, sir.”

“I do too, John,” Lin said, turning right.  “The alternative is too terrible to imagine.”

 

 

All material copyrighted by Joe. Please contact him at joe@joestories.com if you have any comments, queries or questions.
Home - Contact Joe