If the enemy loses his grip, give him no respite.
If his forces are gathered, separate them.
Attack him when he is unprepared, when you are not expected.
Sun Zi, the Art of War, this century BC.
Beijing, CIA bureau
The atmosphere was laden. Stenton, slumped in his heavy leather armchair, appeared totally drained and remorseful. Lorna Green’s face showed defeat, reflecting the devastating failure of her efforts. Despite her stunning intuitions, she had been totally powerless to stall China’s devastating missile. Only Song, while remaining silent too, looked more aloof, as though unconcerned by the CIA bureau’s setback.
Lorna glared at him, infuriated by his detachment and smugness under such circumstances. Nothing seemed to unruffle him. Neither the murder of a secretary at the Ministry, nor all the accusations levelled at the CIA, the loss of an agent, nor even the Order against Microsoft’s industrial policy… he was totally complacent, as if the events were flowing by him in another world. He walked with a brisk pace around the office, almost about to break into a skip, as his superiors sank into despondency, smothered in each other’s silence.
‘I have ten times more material than I need to compromise that Jin girl together with her boss, that shady Zhou.’ As Song broke the silence with this outburst, he pulled out a USB key from his pocket. He drew a sinister smile.
Brandishing the tiny device, he transfixed Lorna Green with his eyes as she looked on in disbelief.
‘I found this on the body of one of our agents. He had looted the hard disk belonging to the Rulings and Standards Director. What I’ve got here is a year’s worth of reports, correspondence and confidential memos. I had them printed out.’
Stenton got up in his chair.
‘Do the Chinese know we have all this information in our possession?’ He asked.
‘It’s pretty unlikely,’ answered Song.
His eyes flashed and darted around more than usual.
‘We’ll make that spy Jin pay. And her chief is going to tumble with her. All we have to do is tell their superiors who gave us all this information…’
Stenton remained thoughtful. He found the idea interesting. And, after all, he hardly had any other alternative. Everything else across the board had failed since that same morning. They now had the occasion to weaken the enemy by lighting a counter-fire exactly when tough negotiations were about to start. All that remained was to make sure the plan seemed credible.
‘And how would that Jin woman have come in possession of all this information?’ asked the American
‘Through her own boss, Zhou! His name appears on some of the documents. He could very well have had a hand in organising some of the meetings when the fate of Microsoft was sealed. For a character who likes to pull the strings from the shadows, he’s going to be in for some surprises!’
Song excelled in setting up these dirty tricks.
‘What about the motive? Out of love for Tom?’ suggested Stenton.
‘And what if she manages to convince her counterespionage services that she was framed?’
‘No one would want to believe that,’ interrupted Song. ‘The least you could say is that the intelligence services of the Ministry of State Security, to which Jin and Zhou are attached, is not cheek-by-jowl with the Public Security Ministry. This matter could be a godsend for them to get shot of these two characters.’
While Stenton and his acolytes continued in slowly constructing their unassailable plan, Lorna remained silent, choosing to stay out of the conversation. She seemed to be totally devastated, as if the mere idea of unsettling China was beyond belief. Everything was carefully put together, she thought, but if this does not cause China to backtrack on its decision, then… then it is totally vain and useless.
‘But do you really think, gentlemen, that just by getting that… Zhou and the girl we’d be able to change the course of events?’
Lorna looked intently at Stenton, wishing with all her heart that he could give her some reassurance.
‘Could this Order possibly be repealed?’ asked Lorna once again. Do you still seriously believe that China would ever renege an Order endorsed by the members of its top administration and admit they were guilty of making the wrong decisions?’
Moving up to Lorna, Stenton answered her in a calm, considered tone.
‘I fear that at this stage, China’s decision is definitely irrevocable. In any case, it’s out the hands of the CIA. If there’s anything to be done, it’ll be up to the respective governments. But I reckon the United States certainly have some hefty arguments to throw at the Chinese.’
Lorna could not come to terms with the fact that such an insignificant person as Song could be right. She thought for a moment before reluctantly admitting that they were to go by his recommendations.
‘I accept the plan.’
After all, it is never a bad thing to break the cover of secret agents. And, who knows, it may even push Bao Yutai, the chief of Rulings at the Information Industries Ministry, into a tight corner. If he came to stumble, others could follow in his wake.
Song did not hide his satisfaction at seeing the CIA boss having to accept his analysis.
‘We now have to settle Tom Bailey’s case. He’s vanished with Jin since yesterday,’ Song pointed out, as if to show that he was in the driving seat as far as this plan was concerned.
‘Could he have abducted her?’ wondered Stenton aloud, a look of worry coming over him again.
‘No. No way. According to his colleagues, he went away with Jin. He’ll be back later today to take part in a meeting scheduled a long time ago. That’s at 4 p.m. sharp, at their residence.’
Tom turned up at the residence shortly before 4 p.m. The welcoming party gathered before him was pretty fearsome. He spotted some of his colleagues – members of the Microsoft’s local branch – who had been working with him on the security program. They all had the same grave look. Before he could even start to worry about the situation, he was intercepted by the Special Services team, headed by Song.
‘Mission over, Tom,’ announced Song, briskly gripping his arm.
‘Hey, what’s going on?’ protested the young American, trying to make sense of all this agitation around him.
‘China’s just decided it will now go without Microsoft,’ snapped Song.
But Tom still did not understand. Song continued in a tense tone, well aware that the American despised him.
‘The People’s Republic of China is imposing its own operating system that is to totally replace Windows in computers throughout the country, including home PCs. Getting the point? Your mission’s come to a dead end! You’re going back home,’ said Song with contempt.
‘That can’t be!’ exclaimed Tom with a sincerity that could not be challenged. ‘And what about GSP? Why would they have made us work together? Why would they have demanded to see our source code?’
‘Must have been their decoy, I guess. They must have been working on this for a long time,’ blurted out Song, red with anger. Tom was dumbstruck.
‘It’s got nothing to do with you,’ reassured Stenton, appearing beside Song. ‘The Chinese have staged a perfect plan. They used GSP to put us off guard.’
Song was showing signs of restlessness. He could no longer contain the fury this young scientist had triggered in him.
‘Well go on! What does your sweet lady friend have to say about this? That nice little Lao Jin! Now you know why she took you around the summer Palace! Why she took you boating on the Lake of Eternal Spring!’
‘Jin’s got nothing to do with it!’ blurted out Tom with marked anger, while wondering how the heck that man could have known about their escapade.
But Song, blind with rage, took no heed and continued in his charge.
‘That girl’s a spy. She works for the Chinese intelligence services. We had proof of this for ages.’ Tom turned to Stenton, as if to call for his help. But the latter’s expression seemed to confirm what he had just heard. Jin, a spy! That was a knockout blow for Tom.
‘That’s the reason we’ve been watching her. Her job’s to glean information from Westerners.’
For the second time, Tom leapt to her defence, assuring them that she was a first-rate programmer, that she…
Once more, Song interrupted him.
‘Your Jin’s just a whore! We have a file that thick on her. Didn’t you know that? Do you want a list of all those she screwed around with? IBM, Sun … she’s had them all. All pals of yours!’
‘That’ll do, Song!’ interrupted Stenton, who had remained surprisingly absent throughout the exchange. It’s no use picking on Tom. Nor on that girl either, for that matter. After all, she’s only doing her job, like the rest of us.’
Song left Tom in the hands of his boss and moved away, seething with rage. He was muttering, cursing at Tom, Jin and the world in general. As he returned to the small group, Tom caught a snatch of the Eurasian hissing some final words, followed by a thin smile on his lips:
‘In any case, she’s done for. She’s in for the chop!’
Tom turned livid. He said nothing, but clenched his wrists in silence. He felt like leaping up to that monster and plucking his eyes out. However, another feeling began to well up inside him: doubt.
Could it just be feasible that Jin had double-crossed him, as he had heard? Or rather, how could he possibly have been so misled by her? He was wrought by torrents of conflicting emotions that left him haggard, incapable of formulating the slightest rational thought. And yet, amid this emotional chaos, one sentiment prevailed: grief… over the loss of the one who had become the dearest person in the world to him.
Stenton placed his hand over Tom’s shoulder, just as a father would under such circumstances. After a few seconds, he gave him his instructions.
‘Tom, you’re leaving today. You’re booked on the flight for Tokyo that takes off at 8:45 p.m. You have just one hour to pack up your belongings. We’ll meet you in the lobby, right here at five thirty sharp. There will be a vigil at your door… in case you need some help.’
Stenton then affected a more friendly tone. He could feel the scientist’s distress. In the duo he formed with Song, the Eurasian had a part of the baddy and he Mr Nice Guy. The casting could certainly have been better, but it worked sufficiently well to gain the young man’s confidence and stop him doing from anything foolish.
‘Go ahead, Tom, there isn’t much time left. Don’t worry, it’ll be all right.’
Tom made his way to the elevator, followed like his shadow by Ming, the strong-arm man of the CIA’s Beijing bureau.
When the elevator doors had closed, Song moved up to Stenton.
‘What d’you reckon?’
‘I guess he’s stunned for good while yet. We were right to shift up a gear. It was getting far too dangerous to leave him in Beijing even one more day, seeing the spell’s this girl’s got on him. Did you see to everything?’
‘Everything’s done,’ replied Song, savouring the moment. The secret police attached to the Ministry of public security should now be in possession of a well-furnished docket on Miss Lao Jin. Material that apparently comes from their own services, but which we passed on via the appropriate channels. There are documents we concocted proving she leaked out ultra-sensitive information to the CIA through Tom Bailey! Documents that they’re bound to find at her home, of course…’
‘Did you take all the usual precautions for Tom?’
‘Yup, I’ve got the residence closed in. There are guards everywhere. Ming’s been ordered to follow his heels and act if he tries any tricks. But, believe me, he won’t even think about it.’
Tom, back in his bedroom, saw the walls beginning to waver, the furniture about to collapse. He was in a state of total devastation. He went through the motions of packing his suitcases, his vision blurred by tears. He attempted to focus on the events to come along. The airport, the plane, a stopover at Tokyo in the middle of the night, San Francisco where his home and his friends were. The features of his former girlfriend flashed before his mind. It had been two months now since he had last called. He recalled her blonde hair, freckles, tried to relive the feelings he once felt for her. But there was nothing, his hear rate did not change by an iota.
He was now feeling like an intruder in this city, in this country. And to think he imagined having found love there…. ‘that was crazy,’ he said to himself. He did not belong to this world where everything was foreign to him, hostile. He had to leave. He wanted to expulse every bit of China that got into him, right down to his bones. That country wasn’t his home and never will be. He shoved his laptop into its pouch and folded closed the small picture frame with a photo of his parents. He thought to himself how great it would be to go out there to Scotland and find his mother, and just to find himself for that matter. He placed the frame on his suitcase. What else was there to put away? Two pairs of shoes, a jacket…
Suddenly, a violent emotion erupted from the inside and gripped him. There was pain. But not only. Like a tidal wave, a huge surge of love swept him, flushing away his doubts and cleansing him like the tears streaming down his cheeks.
A voice was singing in his head:
Jennifer Juniper lives upon the hill,
Jennifer Juniper, sitting very still.
Is she sleeping? I don’t think so.
Is she breathing? Yes, very low.
Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love?
As the music permeated his body, his pain ebbed away. It left him with a great sensation of joy, a certainty that gave purpose and reason for his existence. How could he ever have given into doubt? He felt terrible for it. He now knew what he had to do: dispel his grief, his misgivings. He grabbed the soft leather shoulder bag and began to pack a few items of toiletry, two changes of clothes, his personal documents, his iPod…
Song’s words were turning over in his mind and would not let him go: ‘She’s had it…. she’s in for the chop….’ Who wanted to harm her? The CIA? The Chinese secret services? China? He was feeling invincible
He opened the door of his room and took a peek down the corridor. Ming’s huge bulk was right in front of the door and blocked his exit. About ten metres further along, a large laundry cart, pushed wearily by a chambermaid, seemed to be there waiting for him. Tom closed the room door, his mind racing to find a way to escape from his guard’s vigilance. He made his way to the window and was tempted for a moment to escape by the balcony. But such a route would have been sheer suicide without at least a rope. As he chewed his thoughts inside what had become a cell, he heard a conversation going on outside the door. ‘It must be the relief guard,’ he surmised, continuing his reverie. But as he once more pressed his nose against the large window pane, contemplating the city at his feet, the door was pushed open.
A chambermaid appeared, wheeling in the laundry cart he had just seen. Ming’s frame could be made out behind her, still on guard. Just as the door was closing, Tom had a brainwave. He darted into the bathroom, turned on the shower and drew up to the young maid, begging her silence by placing an upturned finger to his lips. Her puzzled expression turned to a gasp as she saw him thrust out a 100 $ note. Without waiting for a reply, he jumped inside the laundry cart and covered himself with towels and sheets that lay around him, giving the girl a last imploring look. A few moments later, he felt the cart judder and move. He heard the guard rasp out a few orders to the maid, then the soft clunk of the door closing automatically behind. The seconds that followed took dozens of heartbeats. The cart jolted and moved a few metres, then stopped again. A door was being opened. Tom did not even have the time to wonder what the chambermaid was up to before he felt bundled bed sheets being tossed over his head. She repeated the same routine at each of the rooms along the corridor. Just when Tom felt he would die suffocated, he finally felt the cart change direction as it left the corridor. Sensing he was out of immediate danger, he poked a small hole through the pile of laundry and cautiously prodded his head through the opening. There was nothing in sight to stop his escape. He slipped a second banknote into the hands of the young woman, who instantly bowed to thank him for his generosity. He then scrambled down the stairs leading to the basement.
As he pushed the door leading to the hotel car park, a pang of fear came over him. There must surely be men guarding all the exits. There were bound to be some by the front door, at least. But it was also most likely that Song had posted some men to check the flow of vehicles. He shuddered. As he was shifting along the car park lanes, the surrounding silence was ripped by the booming raw of a motorcycle. Tom hid behind the nearest pillar and observed. The cycle drew closer, revving to the whine. Tom recognized the rider. It was Mat, Mat McCallum, one of the Microsoft delegates. He was a great guy, a Californian like he, and a first-rate programmer. His Chinese girlfriend, Ling, was on the pillion seat. Tom jumped away from his hiding place, trying to regain his breath and composure.
‘Hey, Tom, my old friend, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at the gathering put on by the Embassy guys? You know there’s a crisis going on; it might even end up as the Third World War! The Chinese have just banned Windows from their country, can you believe that!’ shouted Mat, trying to compete with the din from his motorcycle.
‘Mat, you’re a life saver!’ answered Tom drawing closer to him. ‘I need your help. You’ve gotta lend me your motorbike, this is desperate.’
‘What, my motorbike? Gimme a break, man!’
Mat turned off the engine and pulled off his helmet before carrying on.
‘I’ve got to take Ling back into town within an hour for an appointment she can’t miss. We can spend the evening together afterwards, if you like. It’s our last night. Do you know they want to chuck us all out tomorrow?’
‘Yeah, I know, Mat,’ answered Tom, suddenly realising his friend knew nothing of his suspension and precipitated eviction. ‘But you won’t be released from the meeting with the embassy bods before at least an hour. Believe me, these things go on and on. On the other hand, if you let me dash off now, I’ll be able to drop Ling in town and be right back here well before the start. Will that be okay for you?’
The big Californian hesitated. Then his face lit up with a broad smile.
‘You’ve got a date with Jin, right? Come along now me old pal, own up!’
‘You got it, it’s for Jin alright. She doesn’t know we’re leaving tomorrow,’ lied Tom. In fact, I’m pretty certain that she doesn’t know anything about Microsoft! The problem’s she’s planned to go and see her mother and taking the train tomorrow evening. I can’t get her on her cell phone. She’s unreachable! I’ve desperately got to warn her before she leaves, otherwise I’ll never see her again…’
‘Okay, don’t worry, take it. But what d’you want me to tell these guys up there – that you’ll be back in an hour?’
‘Yeah. Send them my apologies if you would. I won’t be long. Thanks a million, Mat, you’re a real pal!’
‘Here, take my windcheater unless you want a souvenir print of Beijing’s urban pollution all over you,’ joked Mat.
Tom donned the Californian’s clothing and slid his crash helmet almost right down to the collar bone. Standing behind kissing his girlfriend, the Californian could not see the elated look on Tom’s face as he pulled down the visor of his helmet.
‘Ling, you’re going with Tom. He’ll drop you off right near the square and I’ll meet up with you up this evening, as planned. Okay baby?’ He gave her another kiss, passionately, without letting her express her disappointment.
Tom started the motorbike and waited for Ling to settle in behind. She wrapped her arms round his waist. He turned round towards Mat and gave him a wave of the hand. He wanted to show more gratitude, but that would risk arousing suspicions. So, without more ado, he rode up the ramp that led to the street.
Two men in plain clothes barred the passage. With a signal of the hand, they ordered the bike to stop. Tom considered for a moment accelerating hard and charging between them, but he was on a steep slope with no visibility at the exit. The risk of falling off and injuring his passenger was just too great. He halted when he got to the level of the vigils. His full-face helmet masked his features, and the two men seemed to recognize the motorcycle and its two riders they let in a few minutes beforehand.
‘Sorry, no-one is to leave. Orders from the embassy. Your name, please?’ asked one of the guards.
‘Mat McCallum, don’t you remember seeing me come in? I’m just popping out for a few moments to drop the girl off at her home.’
The vigil pulled out his walkie-talkie.
‘I have to obtain instructions…’
‘No need, I’ll be back straight away.’
Without waiting for a response, Tom let the clutch in, accelerated and turned into the street. The vigil, who had not received precise instructions concerning that young man, put away his handset, somewhat taken aback by this American’s attitude
Tom rode for at least 15 minutes before he reached Tiananmen Square. He dropped off the girl who handed him back his helmet and vanished away immediately amidst the lines of crawling traffic. A thought kept running through his mind, tormenting him like an obsession. Song’s words: ‘she’s in for the chop’. He opened the throttle and reached Yin’s apartment building after a few minutes.
A large limousine was stationed in front of the entrance. The driver was wearing dark glasses and appeared to be waiting for someone. Tom decided to remain and stay put.
Mat went up to the lobby of his residence. The area was abuzz with agitation, reflecting the evolution in the events of the past 24 hours. He greeted his colleagues and exchanged a few words with some of them. The general astonishment could be read in each of their faces. China’s announcement that it will terminate all imports of Windows products caught everyone by surprise. Then, spotting members of the Embassy staff, he made his way towards them.
‘Gentlemen, I have a message from Tom Bailey,’ he announced brazenly. ‘He’s sorry but he’ll be a bit late. He has an urgent matter to attend to.’
Val Stenton and Santana Song nearly choked on the spot.
‘Hey, cool it, guys,’ resumed Mat, clearly failing to understand. ‘He’s only gone for an hour. He’ll be back.’
Stenton broke the silence that marked their shock.
‘How did he leave?’ he suddenly asked the unsuspecting Mat, still wondering why these embassy people were so jittery.
‘I lent him my motorbike, why? Hey, it’s nothing bad. Can’t you give him a break a little?’
‘When?’ Hollered Stenton.
‘Why, just now, not even a quarter of an hour ago. I’ve only just left him. We were in the underground car park.’
Tom had been hiding for around 10 minutes, approximately 100 metres from Jin’s apartment building. His anxiety hit a climax when the main door suddenly burst open and a young woman appeared, her head down, hands tied and flanked by two heavies. It was Jin. Tom did not stop to consider what he was doing. He was already back on his motorbike. A reflex reaction. The big single cylinder engine shuddered as it fired up.
Opening the throttle to the full and making a beeline along the street, Tom just had time to glimpse at the look of surprise on the two men who were carefully going down the stairs leading to the pavement. Before they could so much as raise an arm, Tom hurled himself against them. He leapt to the throat of one, letting the bike collapse to the ground amid a flurry of sparks. Knocked off balance, the captor fell back limply under Tom’s momentum till his head hit a step with a dull thud. There he remained, motionless.
As Tom was getting up with difficulty, Jin hurled her knee deep into the gut of the second captor. He was still lurching forward, winded, as the young woman threw three kicks, each striking his head with phenomenal force, and kept her right foot floating threateningly in the air. He collapsed in a heap. Despite the handcuffs that seemed to be cracking her wrists, Jin managed to clasp the handgun the man kept in a holster under his left armpit. She was now aiming at the driver in the limousine.
‘Tom!’ she called out.
He was clutching his right arm, which was dangling loose in the air.
‘Tom?’ repeated the young woman. ‘Are you OK ?’
‘Yeah, I’ll be all right.’
‘Open the driver’s door,’ cried Jin, ‘and grab his gun!’
Tom was now beside her.
‘D’you know how to use this?’ she asked.
The young man nodded his head.
‘Great. Hold him at bay,’ ordered Jin, already leaning over one of the captors, searching for the keys of her handcuffs.
Some passers-by on the opposite side of the street had stopped and one of them was already calling the police on his cell phone. Jin gave them a threatening look. Then she darted to the motorbike that was leaning untidily against a low wall, its engine still hot. She heaved it straight, pulled the clutch handle to wheel it free, jumped on, pressed the start button and clicked into first gear. She drew up to Tom.
‘Keep the gun pointing and hop on the behind me. Quick!’
As Tom tried to get on the bike, he was overcome by a searing pain. All his right side was a mass of burning tissue. He managed to clamber up behind Jin, and fling his left arm round her waist, his right-hand still holding the gun. The young woman pulled off immediately and shifted up the first three gears on the fly. They heard some gunshots from behind. The bullets hailed by without hitting their target. A siren began to howl in the distance.
Tucked in the shadow of a doorway, a discreet observer had witnessed the entire scene. Hearing the approaching police patrol cars, he slipped away.
The motorbike weaved along the tiny streets that bounded large shabby buildings. After a few minutes, and making sure no-one was following them, Jin turned into an urban highway that connected Beijing to the suburbs.
Clinging on to Jin’s waist, Tom was feeling his strength ebbing away. The burning pain in his head and arm was agonizing. They rode on for about 20 kilometres before the young woman turned off into a small road. It skirted round scattered dwellings and continued as an unsurfaced lane bordered by the high walls of a vast private property. The top of the wall was festooned with barbed wire and CCTV cameras, leaving no doubt that it delimited a high-security area.
Jin slipped the bike inside between a hedge and the perimeter wall and pulled up against a steel door that no uninformed person would have spotted. There was an interphone with a metal keypad on which she entered a code. A voice crackled on the speaker. She gave her identity and a series of passwords. The door opened amid the whir of a drive mechanism. She manoeuvred the motorbike so as to place it in line with the narrow passage and rode along the path opening up before her and turned into a park a few hundred metres farther along. After a few minutes, a large traditional house sprang into sight.
Jin turned round to get Tom, who was groaning with pain.
‘We’ve arrived,’ she said.
She went past a second arched door and parked the motorbike in the courtyard.
A man in his forties, followed by teenager who could have been his son, stepped out of the house.
‘Quick, he’s hurt. Help me taking in.’
Tom was struggling to remain seated on the bike. The two men helped him get off and led him inside. He was still holding the pistol, locked in his clenched fist.
They were greeted by a middle-aged woman. She hugged Jin at length.
‘I’ll tell you all about it later, Suyen. We’ll stay here a few days, the time it takes for my friend here to recover. He’s injured.’
The two men wheeled the motorbike into a shed at the bottom of the garden. The old house had regained its peace and tranquillity.
Jin, clad in loose black silk slacks and a white tunic, had watched over Tom throughout the night, squatted down by his mattress. The young man had fever. He was delirious. His injuries had caused a severe rise of temperature. Suyen dressed his wounds, covering them with natural balms that would promote the healing process.
He opened his eyes at daybreak, under the continuing rain from the night before. He caught sight of the young woman smiling serenely. He was in such pain that even moving a finger was agony. The previous day’s events bubbled to the surface of his mind: his escape from the residence, that desperate leap at the throat of the man taking Jin away, his fall, the gun he pointed at the driver, and again that motorbike.
‘Jin, I was only trying to help you,’ he uttered, as if to excuse himself.
‘Tom, you saved my life… you saved me from life imprisonment and, more probably, from execution…’
She was smiling gently. There was nothing but love in her look. He plunged his eyes into hers before being taken over once more by sleep. At that moment, they both knew that nothing would separate them
The White House
‘Here, Digby, come back with that ball, Digby!’
The president of United States, James Adam Walker, was playing with his dogs on the rolling lawns behind the White House.
The large greyhound ran up to its master and got up on its hind legs. It placed its front paws on the President’s shoulders and eyed him proudly from his new height, the tennis ball locked between its jaws.
‘Down, Digby. Down. There’s a good boy.’
Jim Walker strolled back to fetch a golf club from a large black leather bag. It was out of the question to practise drives in the gardens of the White House, but he could not resist a few putts… He even went so far as to have a green practice rug fitted in the Oval Office.
Jessie, his female Labrador who was having a nap near the pool, suddenly broke off from its sleep and came up to its master, shaking its body convulsively. The president’s personal assistant appeared at the top of the steps.
‘Mr President, Mr President!’
‘Hey, what’s the matter? Can’t you see I’m playing golf with my dogs?’
He made his way back into the building, accompanied by his two pets chasing around him.
‘Mr President, Donald Chandler is here with Edwin Nimoy.’ She was referring respectively to the CIA chief and the Secretary of State.
He strode into the Oval Office in his tracksuit, handing over his golf club to his secretary.
‘Of course, I’d forgotten. Thanks for reminding me, Emma!’
‘Well gentlemen, I hope you have a good reason for disrupting my morning’s golf session!’
‘Good morning, Mr President,’ began Nimoy. I would like to get straight to the crux of the matter. Early this morning, China put out an Order – or law, if you like – that, despite its administrative nature, could very soon spell disaster for us.’
‘What’s China had been up to now? Has it invaded Taiwan or something?’
‘Specifically, Mr president, it has just banned Windows and we thought that…’
‘What do you mean, Windows?’ Jim Walker may have been a keen golfer, but he cared little for computer technology.
‘Windows, Microsoft’s operating system…’
‘Microsoft! Why the hell didn’t you tell me that straight away?’
He remembered very clearly these wonderfully supportive people who contributed so generously towards his presidential campaign.
Chandler, the CIA chief, took over the conversation. He was an old friend of the President, a buddy from his Stanford days. They were on Christian name terms.
‘Well, Jim, those Chinese pulled a nasty trick on us that caught us completely off guard. They’ve just slammed the door on the Microsoft – our world’s number-one software editor!’
‘That’s more a matter relating to commerce. Nick Brown should see to that. He must dig his feet in. I insist. We shall take retaliatory measures. They’re going to regret this! You can count on me for that!’
There was a big bone of contention between the state secretary for commerce and the Empire of the Middle.
‘No, Jim, I’m siding with Nimoy on this issue. This is potentially far more serious than a mere commercial conflict. The effects could be devastating for our economy…’
‘Why would that be?’
Information technology had never been his cup of tea. Walker’s background was in the arms industry – fighters, missiles – before he became Senator and then Governor of Nevada.
‘Because if Microsoft goes into a tailspin on the NASDAQ, it can bring down all the other values in its wake.’
‘Can’t we just support the Microsoft stock until all this dies down?’
Nimoy rose to the question.
‘That could certainly be envisaged in short term, Mr President, but beyond that it would be outside our control. We suspect China took this decision with the specific intention of weakening our position.’
‘And what makes you think that?’
It was now Chandler’s turn to report the information gathered by the CIA.
‘The sheer brutality, the suddenness of this measure. When you think that up to the eve of this announcement we had a delegation from Microsoft working in close collaboration with Chinese officials on preparing the future versions of Microsoft’s software. Our exchanges were open and sincere! The decision stunned everyone, including the Chinese party. It was kept secret up to the very last minute for maximum impact.’
‘If our fears are confirmed,’ Nimoy continued, ‘then the Chinese have no less then dropped a bomb on us!’
‘A bomb? Aren’t you pushing it a bit?’
President Walker saw State Secretary Edwin Nimoy as a warmonger, a hawk, whose reactions needed tempering. He had been drawn into the Cabinet to reassure the conservative wing of the Republican majority in Congress.
‘No, Mr President. I really mean a bomb. It gives off no energy because it works at the level of information technology. But it’s in every way as awesome and can destroy our economy.’
‘Jeez, and what’s your answer to that?’
Walker had got up and was looking through the window at the two dogs playing together.
‘The advantage of an IT bomb is that it can sometimes be reversible. And if things started to turn out really bad, we’ll have to force the Chinese to backtrack, to retract their decision.’
‘By what means?’
‘By diplomatic means to start with, then by concrete threats and, finally, by military force.’
The president stepped back into the centre of the room. He spoke in a firm tone:
‘Let’s begin by the diplomatic means, shall we? We’re not going to start a World War just for the sake of a CD-ROM manufacturer! That’s going to be your job, Nimoy!’
‘You can Count on me, Mr President.’
‘And I want from you, Don, a detailed report drawn up by the CIA on all this business! The agency has once again demonstrated its incompetence! How come they saw nothing coming?’
Donald Chandler broke into a plea of defence of his own troops:
‘We did in fact have some information. We were keeping very close tabs on a lobby that was actively militating for the eradication of foreign technologies from Chinese soil. We correctly identified all of their members. But this decision was made by a very small committee. The logistics behind it were limited to the bare bones. And Microsoft was totally confident.’
‘And don’t forget there was this business with the agent,’ added the State Secretary, who seemed to find interest in undermining the position of the CIA.
‘What’s that you’re referring to?’ broke the President turning towards Chandler.
‘We had an agent infiltrate the ministry from where the anti-Microsoft order came. This agent managed to obtain the documents before they got published, but was caught red handed by a secretary and had to eliminate her. We, in turn, had to silence him. The Chinese don’t have any proof, only suspicions.’
Ed Nimoy added with barely disguised pleasure:
‘And that’s one of the reasons why we weren’t able to exert the pressure we would have liked to prevent the publication of that Act.’
Chandler tried to explain:
‘Let’s put it down to an unfortunate series of events.’
The president looked at Nimoy straight in the eyes.
‘Are you telling me that America is under attack?’
‘Yes, sir. The United States is being attacked!’
A book by JF SUSBIELLE – Translation by Dominic KING