Premier Cho Lai watched the American on the video screen dispassionately, willing himself to study the man and what he said with the mind of a scientist and observer. The American’s message was one of venom, directed at Cho and his people, the Chinese country, and especially the Chinese army. It made Cho boil with anger and lust for vengeance. He wanted with all his heart to punch his hand through the video screen, to smash it—or better, to punch through the screen and somehow take this Josh MacArthur by his skinny, blotchy neck and strangle him. Cho could almost feel the boy’s thorax collapsing beneath his hands.
That was what he was. Not a scientist, not a man—a boy. A rodent. Scum.
No one would take him seriously if not for the images he’d brought back. They flashed on the screen as the scum’s voice continued to speak. The Chinese translation played across the bottom of the screen, but Cho had no need for it; he spoke English reasonably well, and in any event the images themselves told the story.
All of his careful planning to make the invasion look as if the Vietnamese had instigated the war was threatened by this scum. It mattered nothing to Vietnam—Vietnam would be crushed no matter what the world thought. China needed its rice and oil, and it would have it.
But this threatened the next step. For Cho knew that his country’s appetite was insatiable. The people who thronged the streets of Beijing not far from his compound were desperately short of food. Keeping them satisfied was an impossible task.
Impossible for anyone but him. The last two governments had toppled in rapid succession, each lasting less then two short months thanks to food riots and dissension. Cho had used the unrest to maneuver himself to power, promising to end the disturbances. He would remain in power only as long as he could keep that promise. It was not that he had any enemies—the most prominent had met unfortunate accidents over the past few months, or else been exposed in corruption trials, or, in a few cases, bought off with timely appointments outside the country. But as his own rise had shown, it was not the prominent one who had to fear in the chaos of the moment; it was the obscure. Cho had risen from a job as lieutenant governor for agriculture in the parched western provinces. Two years before, no one in Beijing would even have known his name. Now they bowed to him.
As the world would.
But first, this danger must be dealt with. America, the world, must not be brought into the conflict. The giant must not be wakened, until it was too late for it to stop the inevitable momentum of Chinese conquest.
Cho snapped off the video. He had seen enough.
Copyright © 2011 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice