China’s Ministry of State Security and the Central Intelligence Agency are locked in a deadly battle of wits – from Muslim unrest in Xinjiang Province to the high-tech nerve center of US American intelligence at the National Security Agency. A paperback and Kindle edition of the book are available at Amazon.
Chapter 18: The Road to Xinjiang
“Call me Ismail,” said the driver. He had a small bald spot in the center of his hairline from touching head to ground in prayer five times a day. His frame was skeletal and his cheekbones protruded from his face. The man must be living on amphetamines, thought Paul, like a lot of Chinese long-haul drivers. But a highway accident due to a wired-up driver was the last item on his worry list.
“I will show you where to hide,” Ismail whispered. He rolled up the back door of the trailer, which was piled high with large cardboard crates containing washing machines. A gap between the rows of boxes was just wide enough to squeeze through. At the far end of the trailer, there was a frame nailed together of stout wooden beams. It contained two thin mattresses, woolen blankets, a large cooler, a radio, a battery-powered electric light, and a chemical toilet. A flimsy screen served the needs of modesty. An electric air pump was attached to a hose whose other end poked through the wall. He showed the bolt-hole to his guests with great pride. “I made this myself,” Ismail said.
“The man and the woman will ride in back,” Paul told him. “You and I will ride up front.”
“I was told, two passengers! Two passengers only! And not a Westerner! The police will be suspicious when they stop me, and they always stop me for a check, especially when we get close to Xinjiang,” Ismail protested.
“Nothing to worry about,” said Paul. “I’m a hitchhiker, and you brought me along for company.”
“But why do you have to ride in the cab?” the Uyghur complained.
“Two reasons,” said Paul. “First of all, to keep you awake. It’s a 40-hour haul to Urumqi. Then it’s another 20 hours to Kashgar.”
“What’s the other reason?”
“That’s to make sure you behave yourself. If you don’t, I’ll break your neck.”
“Your Honor, do not be angry with me. I am taking a great risk for the freedom of my people. At the Liangpingchuan Service Area in the Gobi desert, a relief driver will meet us and replace me. It is too far for one man to drive. He is my cousin and completely loyal. When we reach Urumqi, my boss Arzu will personally take the wheel and drive the truck across the border.”
The truck had two seats in the front and a bed – really a padded bench – behind them. Paul climbed into the back out of sight from the windows, and Ismail eased the rig onto the 4th Ring Road going south. They merged on to Lianshi Road heading west, and continued onto the G5 through the western Beijing suburbs, past Changping, where the outskirts of the capital melted into green mountains. They continued along the Guanting Reservoir onto the Jingxin Expressway, as rough green hills rose up on their right, past the Hauilai vineyards, and into the gray mountains of Heibei Province. Ahead of them lay the wastes of Inner Mongolia and 30 hours of monotony. Paul stretched out on the bench in the back of the cab and slept using his shoulder bag as a pillow, the Beretta holstered in his right-hand front trousers pocket. Better to keep Guang-Yin and her father locked up in back, Paul thought. After the smoke bomb at the mall, she will have figured out that she’s not in Kansas anymore, and I don’t want to find out what she thinks about it until we’re safely out of the empire.
Ismail liked to talk. His father had been a cattle dealer who started out with a single motorcycle that would carry a single sheep tied to the pillion seat to the Sunday livestock fair at Kashgar. Ismail didn’t mind driving but he missed the fair, the conviviality, and the gossip. Farmers would drive long distances to sell their animals, and it served as much as a social club as a commercial venue. During the dark years of the Cultural Revolution, his father had somehow saved enough to buy a two-wheel trailer for the motorcycle, making it possible to transport half a dozen animals. He had reckoned himself a prosperous man. “Those were different times, Your Honor,” Ismail said. “No-one had any cash money, but we ate well, and people feared God. Children obeyed their parents and wives obeyed their husbands. The food in Beijing is disgusting,” he added. “The Han chop everything up into small pieces and fry it. You need a magnifying glass to find the meat, and it all tastes the same. You can’t eat better than at the livestock market. The butchers buy sheep live from the cattlemen and slaughter them on the spot. You know just what you’re getting, and where it came from. In Beijing, you get frozen lamb from New Zealand, and it has no taste. There is nothing in the world as delicious as the meat of the fat-tailed sheep of Xinjiang. The butchers buy the live sheep from the farmers and slit their throats on the spot. They hang the carcasses in front of their stalls in the open air, and cut it for you to taste. They make kebabs fresh over charcoal at the market, and eat them with samosa. A Kashgar man won’t eat dry noodles out of a box. We pull our noodles by hand and eat them fresh. My wife makes a chicken stew called dapjanji with chiles and potatoes that you would love, Your Honor. And it is all halal, clean under Islamic law.”
Ismail’s bony jaw tightened. “Now the Han try to force us to eat pork. They make us eat during Ramadan when we must fast. They cut the long dresses of our women to destroy their modesty. And they make our children learn the Chinese characters and teach them contempt for their parents and for Islam. There were very few Han in Xinjiang when I was young and now they are everywhere. Our children leave home and go to the cities. Our girls become immodest and immoral. We have more money now but we are losing our children. You Americans must destroy them! Promise me, Your Honor, that you will destroy them.”
“That’s not up to me,” said Paul. “But you are doing a great service for America and can count on our gratitude.”
Ismail grunted assent and drove on in silence.
Ten hours later, Ismail drove into a small rest area and brought back hot tea, buns, noodle soup and roast lamb from the small restaurant. The relief driver came with him; he had been waiting in the small restaurant for many hours. That wouldn’t attract attention; it was normal for truckers to drop off drivers. Paul stayed out of sight in the cab. There were no police cars in sight, but there would be closed-circuit television at the rest area and there was no need to arouse curiosity. The new driver refueled the truck. Ismail said, “This is my uncle Rukiye. He has been driving across China for 20 years and the police all know him, so no problem.”
Paul took Ismail aside and grabbed him by the collar. “Tell Arzu that plans have changed. We’re not going to stop in Urumqi. We’re going straight on to Kashgar. Tell Arzu to meet us at the Bake Ajimu Mailisi warehouse complex in western Kashgar. Got it? Repeat it back to me.” Ismail did what he was told. “No phone calls, no texts, nothing electronic, if you want to stay alive. You whisper this in his ear personally.”
Paul had no particular reason to change the plan, except that it might give him maneuvering room. When in doubt do the unexpected. Arbitrary changes in a plan might distract the predator on your trail. If the Uyghurs had been indiscreet and sent a text message too many, the Ministry of State Security might have learned the location for their rendezvous. A last-minute change shaved the odds in his favor.
Night had just fallen when they pulled onto the highway. Paul was sorry to pass Gansu Province at night. The red mountains and weird landforms of Gansu were legendary and some would be visible from the road during the day. Just after dawn, they passed through the ancient Silk Road town of Jiayuguan. Rukiye’s Mandarin was rudimentary, and they didn’t attempt a conversation.
A patrol car stopped them just after dawn. The Uyghur driver pulled to the side of the road, rolled down the window and looked indifferently at the two Chinese policemen. “Papers,” they said. They took his picture and uploaded it to their mobile face recognition system, and it corresponded to his trucker’s license and personal ID. Paul handed them his Hungarian passport. “What are you doing here?” one of the policemen asked. “Enjoying Chinese hospitality and beautiful Chinese scenery,” Paul said in Mandarin. They didn’t bother to take his picture. China’s face recognition is highly accurate for Asian faces thanks to years of machine learning, but considerably less reliable for Western faces, because China has a far smaller sample of Westerners to learn from. “Where’s Hungary?” asked one of the policemen? “In Eastern Europe. We were barbarians in Central Asia, and the Qin Dynasty build the Great Wall to keep us out. So we migrated across the Steppes until we came to Europe. Every once and a while we like to come back to visit our old home.” The policeman laughed. Paul offered him a Marlboro, and they lit up, talking about the beautiful places to visit in Gansu. Unbidden, the driver dismounted, walked to the back of the truck and opened the gate. One of the policemen followed him and climbed up into the back. He produced a box cutter and opened one of the cardboard crates at the seams, verified that there was a washing machine inside it, nodded, and climbed back down.
They drove another 12 hours through endless desert pocked by the occasional industrial site. Just before Urumqi, the driver turned south on the G30, skirting the city, and joined the G312 for the final 15-hour haul to Kashgar. This was unrelievedly ugly country. Enormous wind farms and a couple of petrochemical plants interrupted the featureless desert. After nightfall, Rukiye steered the truck onto a dirt road off the expressway and curled up on the bench in the back of the cab for a two-hour nap. Utter stillness surrounded them, as Paul opened the rig’s back gate and called to Guang-Yin, “Bring your blankets.” He wore a packable winter coat but still felt the cold desert air. A bit shakily the woman alighted, and Paul helped the old man down. “No cameras here,” Paul said, “but if we see headlights, it’s back inside.” There was no activity on the road. The dry air and lack of ambient light made the stars shine brilliantly. Guang-Yin shivered despite her blanket and Paul put his arms around her. Yongmin walked back and forth, stamping his feet and rubbing his arms to stay warm, and then climbed back inside the truck. Guang-Yin followed him and Paul returned to the warmth of the cab.
In the middle of the following afternoon, they reached Kashgar. Rukiye drove into the city on Kunlun Avenue, swung left onto the Western Ring Road, and turned north on 314 National Road, the main north-south artery. They passed the Bake Ajimu Malisi warehouse complex sprawled on their left, made a U-turn and pulled in. The vast parking lot was empty except for a few wrecked cars. A row of disused sheds occupied one side of the lot. The wind whipped up puffs of dust. Otherwise, there was no sign of motion. Paul rolled up the back gate of the rig and called the all clear, and presently Guang-Yin and Yongmin emerged from behind the washing-machine crates. Paul helped them down onto the tarmac and they walked behind a row of wrecked trailers out of sight from the highway. A tan 5-series BMW waited a hundred yards away. Arzu and Muhemmet climbed out of it and walked towards them.
Paul watched the road nervously. Arzu and Muhemmet were still 30 yards away when a black Great Wall SUV veered off the main highway into the warehouse complex and accelerated towards them. The two Uyghurs turned and ran into an alleyway between rows of ruined buildings. The SUV lurched to a halt in front of Paul and the two Chinese fugitives and three men alighted. Paul walked up to them quickly.
Chapter 19: Irkeshtam Pass
“Come with us, Mr. Richetti,” said Major Ma of the Ministry of State Security. Two uniformed policemen stood behind him, hands on their holsters. But Paul already had the Beretta in his hand and he double-tapped the two policemen before shooting the major in the forehead. Guang-Yin screamed. Deng Yongmin charged at Paul, and Paul turned and shot him in the heart. The old man didn’t seem to notice and kept coming. As he closed, Richetti knocked him back with his left elbow and punched him in the throat with the gun barrel. Deng grabbed at his throat, and fell, his legs twitching.
The little .25’s had made little more noise than firecrackers and left neat red dots where they entered. Richetti took the pistols from the dead policemen’s holsters, and then stepped back and shot each of them in the head. This time the pistol cracked thunderously and the slugs erupted out of the back of the dead men’s heads with blood and brain matter. The coup de grâce wasn’t necessary, but Paul wanted to test-fire the weapon in case he had to use it later. The guns were Norinco 92 semiautomatics, used by China’s military rather than police. Paul ejected the magazine and glanced at the cartridges; they were Chinese-made 5.8 millimeter armor-piercing rounds, with a bullet not much thicker than the Beretta .25’s but propelled by a bottle-necked cartridge with enough power to drive it through a bulletproof vest. He tucked one of the guns in his waistband, and then ejected the chambered round and the magazine from the other. He made a mental note that he had about 35 rounds at his disposal.
Guang-Yin stared at Paul and tried to understand. “How…?”
“Shut up and behave,” growled Paul, “or I’ll kill you too, and take my chances. But I’d rather not, because I’m counting on you to get both of us over the border into Kyrgyzstan.”
“You killed my father!” Guang-Yin wailed. “Why?”
“We don’t have time for bullshit. Listen very carefully and you still might come out of this alive,” Richetti said. “This dead guy was no more your father than the man in the moon. You ran an MSS honey trap. But you overdid my profile. You knew that my mother had killed herself in Shanghai. You have a dossier on me going back to grade school. You figured that I would want to redeem myself by rescuing you. It damn near worked. By God, you bastards are thorough – you even got surgery to mimic razor cuts on your wrists. That was the first giveaway. Women who cut their wrists hesitate the first time and the scars are messy. Yours are too clean. You should have had a pathologist do the cuts, not a plastic surgeon. That’s all the same now because you’re never going to talk to your handlers again.”
“You’re talking crazy, Paul, Guang-Yin pleaded. “You’ve done something terrible. But I love you. We can get out of this together.”
“Stop wasting time. The clock is ticking. You have two options. You die here and now or you work with me. Before you do anything else give me the homing device.” Paul was flushed and he was shouting into her face.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
“There was no surveillance between Beijing and Kashgar. We got out of Dodge clean. I made sure of that. The Federales here knew where to find us because you’re carrying a homing device. I hope it’s not an implant. I’d hate to have to cut it out of you.”
“Do you want me to strip you naked and do a cavity search?” said Richetti. “I will if I have to, but I’ll have to shoot you first.”
“Paul, I love you.” Guang-Yin sobbed. “How can you speak to me this way?”
“Shut up and hand over the homing device,” Richetti said. “You’re State Security. You know the procedures. You’re going to find us a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
“That’s something from a game called Monopoly, which is what we dumb Americans play instead of Go. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to get us across the border and then you’re going to defect.”
“Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài,” the Guang-Yin screamed. “F* your ancestors eighteen generations back. Go ahead and shoot me, you gweilo turd.”
“It would be my pleasure, chòubī,” Paul rasped in Mandarin.
“I’m not going to help you.”
“Consider your options and work out the odds. But think fast. Tick, tick tick. How did I get into China? Your people were waiting for me at the airport. How did I evade them? How did I get a gun into the country? How did I know that the stiff over there isn’t Deng Yongmin?”
“You tell me.”
“I recruited you. I couldn’t have worked it all out by myself. You’re in love with me. I’m a dumb American just off the Farm, with a lousy personnel evaluation. And the setup was perfect. You had me wrapped around your little finger. I was in love you, living out a rescue-fantasy about my dead mother. That’s what you told your masters. But I told my masters a different story. I told them that you had fallen in love with me and that you were ready to defect.”
Guang-Yin looked at Paul with panic. “The hell you did.”
“Not only did I tell them, but I sent the report to the Director of National Clandestine Services, eyes only, with standard CIA encryption. The message was transmitted a couple of hours ago, on time delay from my home computer. In case there’s any doubt about your loyalties, there’s plenty of video from the safe house. You’re a convincing actress. You damn near convinced me. They’ll probably run a certain part of the tape in a loop in the locker room.”
Guang-Yin became very still and breathed very evenly. She spent a minute in concentration. Then she launched her whole body at Paul, aiming the knuckles of her second and third fingers at his larynx. He was waiting for the attack, and slid down as she came at him and threw her up over his head. She somersaulted over him came down on her back. Paul spun around, put a foot on her ponytail to pin her head to the ground, and shoved the muzzle of the Norinco pistol in her eye.
“You’ve got about 30 seconds to choose a martyr’s death in the service of the fatherland or a comfortable retirement in America, Guang-Yin. Your masters are about to intercept and decipher a CIA cable that identifies you as a traitor. They have four corpses to explain. What are they going to tell their higher-ups? That a rookie CIA agent cracked a plan devised by the best minds at MSS and executed by their superstar Mata Hari? Or that you ratted them out? The first conclusion makes them look like idiots. The second conclusion takes them off the hook and makes you look like dog meat. I don’t know what they will to do to you when they get their greasy mitts on you, but I’m sure they will give a great deal of thought to devising a truly disgusting way for you to spend the rest of your miserable short life.”
Guang-Yin said nothing. Paul offered cheerfully, “If you’d prefer a bullet, honey, I’d be happy to accommodate you. You saw what these 5.8’s do to a human brain. Yours can be splattered over pavement next to the cops.’ Say the word, and I’ll do you one last favor and put you out of your misery. If you’d rather live, we’d better get to work. We have 20 minutes tops before someone from State Security starts looking for the major and his goons.” He took his foot off her hair and let her right herself.
For a couple of minutes, Guang-Yin sat motionless. She reached behind her back and produced a plastic token. “That’s the GPS tracker.” Then she said, “I can buy us an extra half-hour or more,” Guang-Yin said. She turned over Ma’s body and found his cell phone, and held the retinal scanner up to the dead man’s eye. The screen came to life. She found the last text message. “In 20 minutes, Major Ma will text his superiors that he has made the arrest and is on his way to a safe house to conduct your interrogation. They’ll track the location of his phone, so we’ll have to discard it. They will wait another hour or so before they come looking for him. All together that’s an hour and a half.”
“The Kyrgyz border is 156 miles from here. We’ll take Arzu’s BMW – I can drive there in an hour and a half barring sandstorms or bad weather,” said Paul. “Will they alert the border guards?”
“Not yet,” said Guang-Yin. “First, they will call Beijing and ask for instructions. That will go straight up to Chen Wenqing.”
“The Minister of State Security?”
“That’s right. And it will take a few minutes to get Chen on the phone because he’s on vacation.”
“How do you know that?”
“Chen Wenqing is my sister-in-law’s uncle.”
“Why are you so sure that the border will be open?”
“For the same reason, we knew that the CIA would choose the back door out of China to exfiltrate a defector. We let the Uyghurs come and go easily, the better to observe them.”
A new four-lane highway took them out of Kashgar, into scrub desert backed by a moonscape of brown hills, past red-roofed farmsteads and sparse herds of cows and sheep. The four lanes had turned into two, and the 5-series Beamer purred over the Macadam. Paul kept the speed around 160 kilometers, passing trucks every few miles. Groves of newly-planted trees on the side of the road interrupted the bleak desert. Guang-Yin stared through the window.
“Why did you choose that junkyard for the rendezvous?,” she said after some time.
“They were planning to meet in Urumqi, and the Federales would be waiting for them in force. If I changed the venue, there was a chance that we’d run into a smaller team. I got lucky.”
“But how did you find the place?”
“It was one of a dozen spots I found on Google Maps.”
They drove for the next hour in silence, until the Pamir Mountains – the Roof the World – floated into view behind the foothills like white mirages. The two-lane Macadam had turned into a rural road and showed the effects of severe shifts in weather, and the Beamer bucked and bounced. A cow standing in the middle of the highway just after a sharp curve forced Paul to brake hard and he skidded onto the shoulder. As they drew closer the white-capped mountains loomed above them like an escarpment. Snow covered the ground. A curtain of heavy cloud hung above the Pamir chain, separated from the peaks by a thin blue ribbon of sky. Puffs of snow shot across the road as the wind whipped up, and Paul slowed the car to 50 miles an hour. They climbed steadily to the pass, a mile and a half above sea level where the oxygen was thin.
Chapter 20: The Killer Drone
The border crossing consisted of a concrete plaza 400 meters across. “Let me drive, and let me do the talking,” said Guang-Yin, and they stopped and exchanged places. They passed the Chinese customs house, a new building with a façade of tiles and mirrored glass and entered a narrow passage for customs and immigration checks. Across the fence, on the other side of the passage, a long line of trucks waited to enter China. A Kashgar minibus idled in front of them, while a Chinese border guard wearing an enormous peaked cap and a camouflage uniform checked passports. Elmer Fudd flashed into Paul’s mind and he had to stop himself from giggling. His heart was beating too fast. Two other guards opened the bags of the Kyrgyz traders from the minibus. They carried pistols on belt holsters. Guang-Yin tensed. “I am not going to be taken alive,” Paul whispered. “I just killed a State Security officer. I’ve got a pistol in my waistband with 20 armor-piercing rounds and if there’s any trouble the first one will go into your brain.”
“Oh, shut up, and let me handle this,” the woman said.
The guard with the enormous cap took his Hungarian passport and Guang-Yin’s. He asked Paul, “What is your business in Kyrgyzstan?” Guang-Yin leaned over and said, “My business is my own.” The guard looked uncertain for a moment and then waved them on. “Never be nice to Chinese security people,” Guang-Yin said, “and never try to explain. I look so out of place here that the guard assumed that I wouldn’t be here unless I had an official reason to be here, and he doesn’t want to get into trouble.” Guang-Yin stopped the BMW at the Kyrgyz side a hundred years down the tarmac, and she changed places with Paul. Back on the Chinese side, there was a commotion of some sort, and the Chinese immigration officer had thrown off his cap and was running towards them. But the Kyrgyz guards looked at their documents incuriously and waved them through. Guang-Yin watched through the back window and said, “They know we’re here. Get out of here as fast as you can.” Paul floored the accelerator and the Beamer leaped forward. Two miles later an SUV loitered on the shoulder and pulled out behind them as they passed. “You have to drive more than 100 miles an hour!” Guang-Yin urged.
The pockmarked tarmac rattled them as he pushed the speedometer past 140 kilometers. Then a burst of automatic weapons fire shredded the back windshield. “Faster!,” Guang-Yin screamed. “They’re using a hand-launched weapons drone. It’s probably a clone of the American TIKAD with a top speed of 95 miles per hour.“ A second burst sent stones flying to their left. In front of them, a dump truck idled in the middle of the highway. Paul passed it half on the road and half on the shoulder and hoped that the Beamer’s computer would keep them from skidding out onto the fields. The road twisted as it headed downhill into a sharp turn, and Paul felt his left wheels leave the ground as he accelerated into the turn. A long burst put more holes through the car’s left rear window. Then there was just the busy hum of the BMW engine. “The drone must be out of ammunition,” Guang-Yin said. Ahead of them, a herd of sheep blocked the road and a couple of trucks waited to pass it. Paul stopped the car, bent over, put his hands on his knees and vomited.
Another hour on icy roads brought them to Sary-Tash, a collection of ugly prefabricated structures housing a couple of thousand locals, a few rough guest-houses, three cafes and a gas station. Paul bought a phone and SIM card at a small shop and called a number in Langley. On the recommendation of the proprietor, they drove a few hundred years to the Pamirextreme-Shamurat guest house and took a carpeted room with bunk beds. The innkeeper’s eyes widened at the shattered rear and side windows and the bullet holes in the back of the BMW, but Paul gave her enough money to douse her curiosity.
Guang-Yin curled up on the lower bunk with her back to Paul. For several minutes she was still, but her body began to shake, and then she wept with short, convulsive grunts. The innkeeper banged at the door and asked if the guests needed help. “Nothing to worry about,” Paul said without opening the door. “It’s that time of the month.” Guang-Yin remained in a fetal position and howled for another 15 minutes before exhaustion quieted her. Paul felt no impulse to comfort her. He sat in a corner of the room underneath the only window, facing the door, the Norinco pistol on his lap. The Chinese had taken their shot with the armed drone and missed. There would be another attempt soon, but it would take a few hours to organize the personnel on the ground. If his luck held out the cavalry would arrive before the bandits. There was nothing to do but wait and hope.
There, in the thin air of the Pamir, the stratagems of his superiors and his adversaries seemed remote. He remembered Robert Frost’s poem about the bearer of evil tidings, who abandoned his errand and took up with a girl in a remote Himalayan village founded by a company of Chinese soldiers who neither could go forward nor return.
The bearer of evil tidings
When he was halfway there
Remembered that evil tidings
Were a dangerous thing to bear.
Guang-Yin was going into hell, and she knew it – years of interrogation followed by a twilight existence in which she never would be trusted by either side. She didn’t know that Paul was returning to a situation almost as precarious. There was so much suffering in the world. Did it really need him to add to it? For a moment he thought of taking the woman and disappearing into the mountains like Frost’s messenger.
Then he heard the roar of the helicopter rotors in the field behind the guest house. The innkeeper looked at them incredulously as they walked away. Paul gave the old woman a wad of 1,000 RMB notes and put his finger to his lips. The chopper took them to Manas Air Force base 900 kilometers to the north. Ten hours later they were on a C-17 Globemaster headed to the United States.
“As a matter of professional courtesy,” Guang-Yin asked, “when did you suspect that I wasn’t who I said I was?”
They were strapped into the netting of the big transport plane, along with two Air Force guards in the cavernous cavity of the long-distance transport aircraft.
“Everything about it was wrong,” Paul said. “You knew too much about me, pressed too many of the right buttons. And it was too cute, quoting Yeats at me. Yeats hated America. He was a mystic almost as much as Eliot. Beast slouching towards Bethlehem – that’s all about Western degeneracy, isn’t it? You despise us for being corrupt, and soft and weak. Not that I blame you, but that has nothing to do with the present case.”
After a long pause, she said, “It revolted me to have sex with you. They used me as bait. I hate you. I hate them.”
“There’s something arachnoid about your bedroom manner,” Paul replied. “I had to close my eyes and think of Langley.”
“Why do you work for them? You are more Hungarian than American.”
“What do you know about being an American? Anyone can be an American who wants to,” Paul said.
“The people you work for are fools.”
“They’ll never accept you as an American. They think you are an imposter.”
“Maybe I’m a real American, and they’re the imposters.”
“Then why work for them?”
“They asked me to. And it’s the only kind of work I’m suited for. I suppose I could be an ordinary gangster, but I’d rather be a gangster with official sanction.” Paul paused. “Besides, you have to start somewhere. Maybe one day they’ll be working for me.”
“You are a megalomaniac! Chinese people don’t show that kind of disrespect for their superiors!”
“That’s why I like America.”
“But Paul – you are a civilized person. You know the characters. You know Chinese civilization. How can you hate us so much? Do you want to help the Uyghur terrorists?”
“I don’t hate you. Not in the least. You are what you are. And I don’t care about the Uyghurs one way or the other. Kill all the Uyghurs you want, as far as I’m concerned. But I take exception to being set up. I guess that I was supposed to be living proof of a grand CIA conspiracy with Uyghur terrorists. I don’t know if there’s a grand conspiracy or not, but I’m not going to be the chump.”
“Paul, don’t you sympathize with the cultured Chinese against these barbarians?”
“Goddamn it, Guang-Yin. You’re so convinced of your superiority that you assume that everyone else is ignorant and uncivilized. Do you know something? I grew up in China, and I never got the impression that the Chinese particularly like China. The English speak of Arthur as the once and future king. The Germans had a legend that the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa sleeps under the Kyffhäuser Mountain, waiting for the appointed hour to awake and lead his people once again. The Jews pray for the return of the dynasty of King David. Tell me which Chinese dynasty you want to come back.”
Guang-Yin looked baffled.
“You’re glad to see the back of every one of them. They all were failures, and you said good riddance to them. The Communist dynasty might last longer than most. You got rid of a biological royal family and substituted rule by a committee of Mandarins. But that’s a temporary solution, like everything in China. You think it’s a big deal if a dynasty lasts for two or three hundred years. Most of them fall apart sooner or later, because they turn corrupt and incompetent. America has been around for 250 years, longer than most of your dynasties. And it’s not going away any time soon. I’m not going to tell you how to run your country, but your history doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as far as the rest of us are concerned.”
“Don’t you talk to me about corrupt Chinese dynasties, Paul Richetti,” she scolded. “The West is corrupt. I don’t mean the bankers who brought on the great financial crisis, or the big monopolies in technology, or the politicians. I am talking about the people of the West, who want something for nothing. Deng Xiaoping threw the socialists out of China 40 years ago, and now you have socialists fighting for power in the United States. A third of our students study engineering, and with you, it’s one in 15. Don’t tell me about Western culture. I study English literature and I have never met an American who cares about it. Western classical music will survive only because of Asians. T.S. Eliot was right. You’ll go out not with a bang, but a whimper.”
“There are a few of us lit-lovers holed up in caves in the mountains.”
“You had feelings for me, Paul,” Guang-Yin said.
“Sure I did. You counted on that. But I learned something useful from the man who trained me, to acknowledge one’s feelings, accept them for what they are, and then put them on the cold slab of the laboratory for dissection. They’re evidence, like anything else. You were yanking my chain.”
“But why do you have to do this to me?” she pleaded.
“Guang-Yin, or whatever your real name is, it isn’t personal. We have a job to do, and it isn’t a nice one. We’re the phagocytes in the system. There’s a perpetual war at the frontier of your immune system, where antibodies hunt and destroy intruders. That’s what we do. We stop problems before they get big enough to start wars. We’re the buffer, the circuit-breaker. War is horrible, Guang-Yin. It eats up lives and spits them out. There’s a place in the world for gangsters like us. That’s why I joined up. I didn’t know until later how much I would enjoy it.”
“You enjoy killing people?” Guang-Yin asked.
“Not particularly. But I’m entitled to some pride in craftsmanship.”
“You are a nasty little man,” Guang-Yin said. “You may know the characters and speak Mandarin, but you don’t understand China. Let me tell you something about China. When the Japanese invaded in 1938, Chiang Kai-Shek faced the Japanese invaders near the city of Wuhan. To slow them down, he destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River at Huayuankou. That started a flood that killed between half a million and a million civilians – people argue about the number. China’s leaders today are tougher than Chiang. The Chinese will make any sacrifice and endure any hardship if they have to. You will never crush us.”
“I’m not interested in crushing you. But I’m damned if I’ll put up with you reading my email. You bore me, Guang-Yin.”
Paul turned away from her and slept for ten hours.
Guang-Yin sang quietly to herself:
Copyright: Spengler, David P. Goldman, The Quantum Supremacy