The M-bomb

‘Those who win battle after battle are not the most skilful.
Those with greater skill employ strategy to make their opponents yield before reaching the stage of conflict.’

Sun Zi, The Art of War, 5th Century BC.

Washington, the White House
D-day – 2 before the ultimatum

‘What’s all this thing about the interest rate?’ snarled the president.

Hadn’t he enough on his plate already with the war? They were just five days, five short days, before the final assault! The strategy was sewn up and the combat units were on full operational alert, just waiting for the green light from the president.
So why did he choose to bring the interest rate into all this?
William Rothko, the Governor of the Federal Reserve, took a seat in the Oval Office where Ed Nimoy, the Secretary of State, and Larson, the Security Adviser, were already present.
‘I’m afraid it’s a crucial issue, Mr. President. I’ll go straight to the point: the long-term interest rates for ten-year state loans leapt from 6% yesterday to over 8% this morning. They’ll reach 9% or 10% this evening if the crisis continues, and could exceed 12% as from tomorrow.’
‘What’s your point?’
‘Some very big brokers are flooding the market with T-bonds, causing a sudden plunge in their trade value and, as a result, their long-term rates are soaring. The dollar is continuing to sink. It’s now only worth half a euro as the rest of the world stands to defy the US dollar.’

Why were they bothering him with all this when he was supposed to be in the situation room with the military, watching over the naval task force as it approached the Sea of China! The State bonds could go to hell. He was in no mind for economic headaches. He found nothing better to say than an astonished:
‘So what?’ he immediately retorted, looking totally bewildered at the idea of an economic briefing when the war situation was calling him to much more forceful actions of a military nature.
‘But Mr. President, the consequences are nothing short of dramatic. And I’m weighing my words,’ added the boss of the Fed with a hint of indignation. The country is heavily in debt. It needs to finance a 700 billion dollar budget deficit each year, as well as a commercial deficit on the same order. Our citizens are likewise deeply in debt, because we opened the credit flow pipeline.’
He paused for a few seconds and began again, his voice now grave and solemn:
‘I must remind you that we need over two billion dollars each day. Failing that, we’d be in a state of virtual bankruptcy. I’m forced to increase the interest rate of the fed funds.’
‘What do you mean forced to? I thought it was you who decided the interest rates!’
Somewhat embarrassed, almost apologetic, he answered:
‘It’s an optical illusion, Mr. President. All we do is adjust the interest rate to follow market trends. In the present situation, the trend will cause the crash of countless sectors. We’ll witness a succession of bankruptcies that will plunge the economy into a long-term recession. We won’t emerge from it for another ten to fifteen years. Mr. President, in comparison to what’s waiting for us, the so-called ‘Microsoft bomb’ was just a firecracker.’
The President remained speechless, features drawn and looking sombre. Nimoy broke out:
‘Do we know who’s selling the T-bonds?’
‘Yes, sir, and that’s what I was coming to! I immediately ordered an enquiry. The sales come from the Far East. And we traced it back to… China…’
‘It has sufficient T-bonds in stock to continue its trick for several days. But that’s more than enough. I wouldn’t give more than 48 hours before our monetary system completely disintegrates.’
‘China,’ repeated Walker.
William Rothko, who had analysed the situation, thought he had grasped its full significance. He cast a sideways glance at the two hawks of the administration. He was going to poach on their territory but could not care less. He never compromised over his conscience.
‘Mr. President, this deliberate act can be interpreted in the following way. China is sending us a very clear message. If we maintain our military ultimatum, they’ll continue to use their monetary weapon. And we’re the ones who’ll lose…’
Larson leapt up from his seat.
‘Absolutely no way. We’ll never give in to blackmail. You’d be well advised to stick to your field of competence, Rothko!’
‘We won’t back away under their threat,’ added Nimoy eager for just one thing: seeing the governor leave the Oval Office.
‘We’ll ask Japan to rally with a massive purchase of bonds to support their price, suggested the National Security Adviser. All our allies will contribute to the war effort, and I’m thinking not only of Japan, Korea and Singapore, but also of Germany and Great Britain. We’re not short of resources, Mr. Rothko.’
President Walker was still stunned. And under those moments of extreme dejection, he became very pessimistic.
‘We’re caught in our own trap. We’re threatening China with arms we’re making on credit while getting into debt. But our creditor happens to be China. It’s that country which is paying off our debts! And it’s just reminded us of that fact…’
The President needed a pep talk. Someone had to bolster his morale, and Nimoy excelled in that task. Seizing the occasion, he drew out the line of action to follow.
‘Rothko, we must hold on five more days. You got that: five days. Do whatever it takes to maintain or contain the rates, or I don’t know. Just do your job. We’re at war, and we cannot give in. We have such sophisticated weapons in our hands that it shouldn’t take more than two days for China to capitulate.’
The governor got up from his seat.
‘Very well. My duty was to warn you. The political decision doesn’t belong to me. Mr President, I’m at your orders.’
‘Thank you Rothko. Go, do your job; hold fast for those five short days we need!’
As he spoke, he folded his fingers into fist as a sign of encouragement.
The economist left the room.
Nimoy was readying another salvo. It was important not to let the president’s determination wane. It was no time to flag so close to the goal.
‘Mr. President, I think it’s time we spoke to you about an ultra-secret project.’
‘A weapon so awesome that it shall give us victory without even having to fight,’ added Larson.
‘As the sixth day comes to dawn, China shall request unconditional surrender.’
‘And why wasn’t I informed?’ demanded Walker.
The two acolytes exchanged knowing looks.
‘Because nothing was possible up till the last few weeks. We now benefit from optimal conditions.’
‘Alright, I’m listening. What’s that secret weapon?’
‘Well, you see, it’s a…’
He broke himself short.
‘Mr. President, why don’t we go out into the garden?… We could then walk as we talk…’
The three men left by the French window giving onto the lawn where the president’s dogs Digby and Jessie were playing.
They started walking away, followed by the two dogs leaping around them.

Zhou was delivered a box containing everything Jin had brought back from her visit to Ron Baxter’s hotel room that January the 19th. The objects were spread over a large table: bills, receipts, business cards… The team of analysts had reconstructed the IBM computer scientist’s schedule down to the last detail. They knew where he spent his evenings, whom he met, what he ate…
The history of his trip was followed up by Jin and her team, who drafted the surveillance report. Now, several months after the events, they were able to follow the American’s trace during his stay in Beijing. Every day except… that evening of January the 18th between 11pm and 8am. There was simply no data for that time period. It was the only dark zone.
All they found was a tiny and insignificant creased-up note. A tab from a taxi. It was scarcely legible because the ink was almost completely erased, but they managed to discern the date: 18th of January and the number of the taxi: 189268.
It was 3pm. There now remained less than five days before the American ultimatum expired. They had managed to identify the taxi used by Baxter. It belonged to Beijing Taxi Services. The driver, alerted by phone during his break, was waiting for Zhou in the street. He wanted to meet him and discover the ride the American took.
He went down to the ground floor, crossed the compound gates and walked over to the street corner. That was where the taxi was waiting for him. The vehicle, a model produced by the Shanghai GM factories, was parked on the other side of the road. As Zhou went up to it, he noticed the driver, a man in his late fifties, eyes closed, head tossed back and mouth open…

Zhou tapped on the window. The man remained still. He tapped again, louder. The driver woke up and unlocked the doors. Zhou settled next to him.
‘Did you bring you logbook for last January?’
Chinese taxis note down all trips made during the day, including the leaving and destination addresses.
‘I brought everything along, every journey made since the start of the year,’ the man replied.
He put away between the seats his glass bottle containing tea. Zhou dipped into the list for January. There were four trips that could fit in with Baxter’s time schedule, whose activities on the evening of the 18th were unknown. However, only one of those trips began from the Great Wall Mirama hotel.
The taxi started off straight away and around forty minutes later pulled in at number 104 of a street full of shops in the town centre.
Having asked the taxi to wait, he made an inspection of the surroundings. Number 104 corresponded to the entrance of a shopping mall inside a 1970’s style office building. There was nothing luxurious about the shops, just simple retail outlets for cheap clothes, mobile phones, electronic goods, small restaurants… What would Baxter be doing in such a modest neighbourhood? He pushed open the glass door and stepped inside entrance hall of the building. He scanned the names marked next to the buttons on the interphone panel. Nothing but importers-exporters, goods merchants, travel agents, graphic designers…
His team would have to check all these addresses one by one. That would take time. He tried to find a clue. Baxter was here nine months ago, possibly to buy secret information from China. With whom did he meet up? A member of Professor Mok’s team? Several agents were right this minute questioning the computer scientists who had worked on the M531 security module.
He was now back inside the shopping mall. He had not eaten anything during the day. He walked up to the end of the mall. It extended right through the building and led out on the other side to a car park. A hundred meters on the opposite side stood Central Hospital No.3. That was where Professor Mok Mengma had fixed the meeting for 6pm. The man spent his days there at the bedside of his sick daughter. It was vital to get Professor Mok’s collaboration, for there would be little chance of solving the enigma without his help. Would he accept?
Zhou got back inside the taxi.

Still inside the vehicle used by Baxter a few months earlier, Zhou went through the gates of Central Hospital No.3. The taxi pulled up at the drop-off zone in front of the main entrance. The girl at the reception greeted him with a broad smile. His manly and mysterious style obviously appealed to her.

‘Have you come to visit a patient?’
‘Correct. I’ve come to see a child named Mok Lili.’
The girl turned to her computer screen.
‘Mok Lili… Mok Lili, ah yes. She’s in block M, that’s the biology unit. You have to go back out from where you entered, follow round the hospital building on your right and walk about 200 metres down the path.. You can’t miss it.’
Zhou followed her instructions. The hospital was very well signposted. Before leaving, he cast another quick look at the file on Professor Mok.
The man had been through many ordeals. His wife had left him after the birth of their daughter Lili and he never got over it. She went to settle with a rich businessman from Shenzhen and now lived in the island of Hainan. She never showed any interest towards the child, whose custody she had left entirely to the father. Then, Lili very soon showed symptoms of an extremely rare disease whose prognosis left almost no hope.
He reached the door of her room. It was open, letting him see a doctor at her bedside, a man of average size in his forties wearing a white blouse. Zhou knocked to signal his presence.
‘Hello,’ said the doctor holding out his hand. ‘I’m Doctor Wu Hanru. Her father won’t be long, he informed me of your visit. He’s just gone out for a few minutes.’
He noticed the little face of the child sitting on her bed.
‘And you’re Lili, if I’m not mistaken? Here, Lili, I hope you like chocolate, that’s if Doctor Wu gives his permission…’
The girl and her doctor were both smiling.
‘You certainly do have my permission! We’re celebrating a great victory, you know. The latest tests confirm it, Lili is on the road to recovery, a complete and total recovery! It’s simply marvellous. We’ve been battling for five years, but now we’re there.’
Zhou patted the little girl’s cheek. She was so lovely.
‘Indeed,’ continued the doctor proudly. ‘The treatment she received at the beginning of the year was a total success.’
A strong voice burst from behind them.
‘She’ll live, Mr. Zhou, she’ll live!’
Zhou turned round. Professor Mok was there. They did not hear him enter. He was a tired man, greying and with a slight stoop.
‘I’m so happy, Professor Mok, she’s an adorable child. As a matter of fact, we’ve already exchanged greetings.’
It was now Mok who scrutinised him.
‘So, you’re the one who snatched away my best student! Because it was with you she left… you are Jin’s boss, aren’t you? I was curious to meet you, Mr. Zhou.’
‘Oh, I didn’t steal anyone, believe me. Jin decided on her future of her own accord!’
‘Just joking! But, to be quite honest, I must admit I was counting a lot on her. I felt very bitter towards her for having ditched me, to join the army among all things…’
He was clearly out to show his contempt for that institution.
‘Such a talented girl! I decided I would never speak to her again. But now that my darling Lili is recovering, I could possibly make an exception…’
He sat down next to the girl and cast upon her a look a look full of tenderness. He adored that child. Doctor Wu took leave and returned to his patients.
‘What can I do for you, Mr. Zhou? I was told you wanted to meet me, for an enquiry, I believe?’
‘Professor, an American computer scientist called Baxter came here to China, last January. We knew that man was a spy, but nothing about his real mission. Now we’ve just come across some vital clues. We have reason to believe he was in Beijing to obtain some information about a software module designated M531. Jin explained to us how important this module is in the secured architecture you developed for our operating systems.’
‘Indeed, M531 is the codename of that core element. Jin was right there. It would certainly be a strategic objective for a rival intelligence service. I can well believe that. But you know, it’s now almost a year since I left that department. How can I be of any use to you?’
‘Professor, we need your assistance. This computer architecture is your brainchild, you know the team around you who wrote all the lines of that program…’
He turned abruptly towards Zhou, and suddenly went into a rage.
‘And first of all, why doesn’t Jin come over herself to request my collaboration? Why is she sending you in her place? Is she scared of me? Do you think that’s the proper way to act?’
Zhou was ready for that. The man was known to be terse, and his relation with his former student was still a sensitive topic…
‘Professor, please excuse our friend Jin; we’re in a state of war, as you know. She’s out on a mission and even I don’t know where she is right now. We had a very brief telephone conversation at the end of this morning. Please try to understand the urgency of the situation. If the Americans got to know a part of our operating system, then we’d be extremely vulnerable. There’d be a risk they could get inside our operating system.’
‘I quite understand, Mr. Zhou, I quite understand.’
He appeared to have calmed down a little. Zhou continued.
‘We’re now gathering up information on all the members of the team, all those who worked on the secured architecture, and more particularly those involved in the development of the M531.’
‘The team was broken up, I believe. It began before I left…’
‘Professor, you’re the only one who knows precisely the tasks performed by each member of that team. You must collaborate with us; it’s a matter of national duty! We are at war, Professor!’
Mok seemed to have grasped the scale of the events. He remained speechless for a few moments, eyes immersed in the face of his little girl Lili.
‘When will Jin return?’
‘Soon. Tomorrow, I hope, the day after at the latest…’
He felt some shame at not being more precise. He was her boss, after all.
‘Mr. Zhou, I can’t promise you anything; I’ve been living as a recluse for a long time. But now I know Lili will live, a ray of light has come into my life. I would even be prepared to meet Jin, if she deigns to come.’
Zhou got the message. It was up to Jin to make the first step. Mok was going to collaborate, he was sure about that. It was clear from the tender look the father cast on the face of his daughter, finally cured.
Zhou made a wink at the little girl before leaving.
He gave the order by phone to have Professor Mok followed like his own shadow. The man was to stay at hand. He must remain reachable 24 hours a day.
‘But where could Jin be; where the heck was she?’ he thought.

East Coast of China, Rui’an airport.
The same day

It was coming up to 17:15.
Standing near a car parked a safe distance from the runway, Lorna Green waited for the ambulance to arrive with Tom Bailey on board. Lorna had landed at Beijing less than an hour beforehand. It was she who had suggested to the Chinese administration that small airport on the East coast, 400 km south of Shanghai as an ideal site for discreet exchanges.
After a few minutes, an ambulance drew up alongside the tarmac of Rui’an airport, followed by three unmarked police cars which ground to a halt at the top of the runway. The car that brought Lorna had already gone away.
In the distance, the landing lights of a plane descended onto the horizon from the blue sky. The rendezvous was perfectly synchronised.
It touched down before them with a screeching of tyres as the pilot applied reverse thrust.
The plane, an Embraer 175, bore the Federal Express livery and came from Macao, its home base. It did a U-turn at the end of the runway, made its way towards them along the taxiway up to the point where the ambulances were waiting, and turned round again. It was now ready for immediate takeoff.

A flight of steps emerged as the door opened. Nobody was allowed to disembark except the doctor and his assistant nurse. Such were the conditions laid by the Chinese. The ambulance pulled in at foot of the plane and the rear doors opened. The nurse had raised a surgical mask for germ protection over her face before entering the vehicle where her colleague who made the journey with Tom was waiting for her.
The nurse reappeared, her face still masked, and asked for Tom’s wheelchair to be brought out. The vehicle doors were then closed straight away and the ambulance drove off from the runway. Walking in front of the doctor, the nurse pushed the wheelchair in which Tom was still sleeping towards the plane. The entire ground operation was completed in a few minutes and Tom Bailey was homebound.
The plane in fact had nothing to do with the postal services. It was fitted out in two large compartments: one served for the crew while the other, at the back where Lorna and Tom had taken place, contained highly sophisticated military detection and transmission equipment.
The pilot opened throttle to maximum power. The Embraer 175 screamed along the runway over a short distance and climbed into the sky.
Lorna found herself alone with Tom, who was regaining consciousness.
‘Well, Tom, you’ve finished with your adventures this time?’
The young man was not yet in a state to answer.
But where were those lawyers from Honk Kong and the CIA agents who were supposed to accompany them? And what about the nurse? Why had she abandoned Tom?
The indicator light had just switched off. She made her way towards the front compartment.
At that moment the door opened. She jolted. She was face to face with a man. She regained composure.
‘Song! What are you doing here?’
The Eurasian was standing before her, wearing a triumphant smile. He was the last person she expected to see onboard.
‘I understand your surprise! You thought you’d managed to clear me from the field. How naive of you! As you can see, I’m still around!’
She took a step back, more out of disgust than to let him through.
‘My orders were very clear concerning you! Can you explain to me your presence here?’
‘Explain to you? Why, of course!’
He pulled out a gun, a model fitted with a silencer, and pointed it at the director of the CIA’s Asia Department.
‘Just what are you playing at?’ she snapped dryly, giving vent to her anger. ‘You’re going to pay very dearly for this, Song…’
He frisked her in search of hidden weapons. He removed two mobile phones she was wearing round her belt. Lorna began to loose her calm.
‘What was he doing in a plane chartered by the Agency?’ she thought.
‘Well, are you going to tell me? What are you doing here? You’re going to be dismissed of your functions at the CIA!’
He looked at her with a mix of condescension and contempt.
‘But, my poor Lorna, I’ve never worked for CIA!’
‘So, who do you work for, then? The Chinese? Taiwan? The Russians? The Japanese? For who?’
It was now for Song to raise his tone and snarl:
‘I work for the United States of America. Just like you! So cut it out!’
Tom was witnessing this incredible scene and, like Lorna, was trying to understand. In any case, he always had a deep dislike of Song! Lorna was standing, white with rage, under threat from the Eurasian pointing his gun. The truth now came to her in bits…
‘It was you who hid the evidence revealing the activities of the ‘Lin Zexu’ group! Wasn’t it? And you again who helped the Chinese catch us out! Why?’
Song was not denying. He sat down casually on a couch in a corner of the compartment, pointing his gun at Tom and Lorna. He seemed to draw some perverse satisfaction at being exposed in that way.
In the front compartment, the passengers and three-man crew had also unfastened their seat belts, as did the doctor and nurse who kept on the surgical mask that hid her face. The plane was rapidly gaining altitude.
The nurse was the first to get up. She went towards the toilets, taking along her briefcase containing some medical equipment. When she got out of sight of her fellow passengers, she opened the briefcase and drew out a small gas mask which she immediately placed around her face. Then she pulled out from her pocket a miniature grenade and calmly pulled out its safety pin. She bowled down the centre of the aisle.
The grenade came to a stop under a seat in the middle of the compartment and began to belch out a thick white smoke. The other passengers let out a cry and brought their hands to their throat. The next moment they collapsed in their seat. The nurse unbuttoned her white blouse and stripped off her cotton slacks. She was now in a full commando suit. From her suitcase, she retrieved her gun, several cartridge clips, a thick watch which had a GPS transponder function, a knife and a pair of goggles.
She opened systematically the cupboards until she found some parachutes. She got out two. She donned on one of them, tying and strapping it around her waist. That was how she was going to leave that plane. She and her protégé.
The onboard ventilation system was beginning to draw in the fumes of the powerful narcotic. It was enough to keep the others asleep for several hours. She removed her gas mask and drew up to the dividing door, pistol in hand, and opened it very slowly.
She could hear voices, including a female voice coming from the right close, dead close.

Lorna was at a loss for an explanation. If the Eurasian worked for the Chinese, then how was he able to take over the control of a CIA plane?
‘So who do you work for, Song?’ she asked him again.
Everything went quickly.
A woman in a commando suit burst in the cabin. She slid up behind Lorna and got her in arm wrench to stop her moving.
She pressed the gun against the American woman’s temple.
Only then did she spot the weapon Song was holding in his hand.
‘Drop that weapon or I’ll shoot!’ ordered Jin.
Tom instantly recognised her. He wanted to join her but he was still strapped to his wheelchair.
Song appeared unflappable by this unexpected event. In fact, he seemed to make a game of it.
‘Now look who’s here, our old friend the Chinese spy, the one who sold secret documents to the CIA out of love! The one who betrayed her country! Isn’t it so cute, I’m such a romantic you know!’
‘You’re the one who plotted all this,’ Jin retorted. ‘Drop that weapon immediately or she’s dead…’
‘Ah, so it’s your turn now to make light accusations, is it? And how did you manage to get aboard the plane? Oh, of course, the nurse. How silly of me! You took the place of the nurse in the ambulance! Well played!’
She tightened her grip on Lorna and pressed the barrel into her cheek.
‘For the last time, Song, drop that gun!’ repeated Jin, blind with rage.
Song burst into a laugh.
‘Ha-ha! Because you think I might value Lorna’s life! Lorna Green’s life’s worth nothing to me, nothing at all!’
He was wielding his weapon in a fit of an unconfined eagerness.
‘D’you know what she’s worth to me? Watch this…’
He aimed at the CIA agent and pulled the trigger.
The silencer deadened the shot to a light pop.
Jin felt Lorna’s body slump slowly. The bullet had penetrated her thigh, passing through the main muscle and fracturing the femur into several fragments. Lorna cried out in pain and collapsed on the floor.
Jin had lost. The American woman served as a shield. She put down the gun and helped Lorna sit down, taking her head in her arms. She was in agony. Tears were running down her cheeks as she gasped for air, mouth agape.
Song picked up Jin’s gun. He now had control of the situation. All his enemies were there, powerless, at his mercy. He was triumphant.
The pilot’s voice came on the speaker. He sounded alarmed.
‘Sir, this is your pilot. All the passengers in the front compartment have been drugged. They’re asleep. What am I to do?’
Song moved up to the onboard telephone.
‘I have the situation under control. Lock yourself in the cockpit and wait for my instructions.’
Lorna found the strength to turn towards Song. How on earth could he have authority to give out orders on a CIA plane?
‘Song, I need to know. Who do you work for?’
‘For crying out loud, Lorna, haven’t you understood yet? We have the same employer. We both work for the government of the United States of America!’
It was Jin who uttered the name.
‘He works for the NSA, the National Security Agency, am I right, Song?’
‘Well done, aren’t you a good spy. I’m so impressed.’
‘And it was you who killed Baxter in Beijing last January, and it was you again who attempted to assassinate Tom Bailey this morning…’
Song smirked.
But he was no longer in a laughing mood.
‘You know far too much, little miss spy. But who cares, you’re going to die anyway…’
Jin continued.
‘Baxter was working for you. He was an NSA agent. When you learned he blew his cover, you chose to eliminate him. What was he up to in China?’
Song did not answer.
Lorna overcame the pain torturing her body.
‘But why? What was the NSA looking for? Why did it fight against us, against the CIA, against Microsoft and against American interests?’

This time, Song was inclined to answer.

‘Why, Lorna? Think about it! The fate of Windows and Microsoft in China was settled a long time ago! The Chinese were imposing their Linux on all their administrations. And there was no reason why they would stop there! It would only be a question of time before they would clamp down on private users, on the 100 million PCs across the country! Windows was doomed anyway. Everyone knew it! Everyone except the CIA, which followed blindly what those fools at Microsoft were telling them. Saving Windows was a battle lost from the start! That was when we, at the NSA hit upon another idea…’

He paused, visibly savouring the moment. The CIA’s Asia director was writhing in agony in front of him. She was lying on her side to avoid pressure on her blood-drenched leg.

‘As we said to ourselves, if China took the decision to ban Windows, that would be a golden opportunity for us…’
‘A golden opportunity for what?’ asked the agent, grimacing with pain.
‘War, Lorna. War!’
She pressed on her leg to reduce the haemorrhaging.
‘You got it! The Microsoft bomb and its devastating effects fully justified a US military intervention against China. We then had the pretext we needed to launch a preventive war against our No.1 rival, a war that would provide us another century of domination over China! The NSA was keeping close tabs on the discreet efforts of the ‘Lin Zexu’ group which operated in the sidelines to eliminate Windows.
‘And you actually helped them along?’
‘In fact they helped themselves. All we did was to remove any obstacle that could slow them down. We neutralised the CIA, pushed back suspicions, muddled the leads… that’s all.’
‘What about Stenton?’
‘Stenton did his job as a loyal CIA agent. It’s all your fault, Lorna! You posted him in China because you trusted him but you didn’t know the country. You know your problem, Lorna? You don’t like China. You don’t understand it and you’re wary of it. You’re scared of being manipulated by the CIA’s China bureau, and that’s why you shunned China and dumped it all on poor Stenton. But you know what? He didn’t know the country any more than you do, and fell back on good old Santana Song who was recommended to him by, would you believe, a former NSA agent!’
Lorna now grasped the extent of the disaster.
‘So you helped to boot out Microsoft to justify a war with China! That’s completely crazy! Who drew up this strategy? It can’t be Larson! Or is it Nimoy, who was a former director of the NSA! It’s Nimoy, right?’
‘There’s no other possible strategy regarding China… I know the Chinese well, believe me! I remember how they treated my poor mother, just because she had curly hair and wasn’t a pure Han!’
Lorna tried to figure out the succession of events.
‘And how do you guys think you’ll win this war?’
‘You’ve seen nothing yet, Lorna. The world’s seen nothing yet. The big offensive is due to start in five days! Because while the Chinese were replacing Windows, we at the NSA were installing in their territory a weapon that’s so powerful you wouldn’t believe it. A weapon that will bring us victory without even having to raise a finger! The ultimate weapon…’
‘And what’s this weapon?’
Song looked at his watch.
‘Sorry Lorna, but I’m afraid your time among the living is up…’
She knew too much, she was going to die; they were all going to die.
Jin attempted another question.
‘But Tom? What’s Tom got to do in all this?’
That girl was undeniably curious!
‘He should never have come to China… The NSA had always been against it and opposed his participation in the GSP. But Microsoft insisted. It was really out to impress the Chinese! That boy can’t be controlled and he’s ready to betray his country. He’s too dangerous.’
‘Dangerous? But why?’
‘Because he’s too smart…’
He was to say nothing more. His smile suddenly froze. He was about to finish with them.
Lorna was now lying in a pool of blood. She surmised Song’s intentions.
‘And now you’re going to kill me?’
‘Me? Kill you? Of course not, Lorna.’
He turned towards Tom, still sitting in his wheelchair, and designated him with his finger:
‘No, he’s the one who’s going to kill you!’
He exploded into laughter, a sick laughter.
‘And why would he want to kill me?’ asked the American woman.
‘Because he’s real mad at you, Lorna! You’re responsible for the death of his poor father!’ He broke into laughter once more. He was clearly enjoying this.
‘Don’t they say ‘like father, like son’? Already, over thirty years ago, his father was betraying his land of adoption, the United States of America. He was an active and violent anti Vietnam War militant; he kept close links with all the enemies of the United States, including the KGB. In fact, he was one of their agents! Can see now, Tom, how your treacherous genes drove you along the path traced out by your father, Geoff Bailey? But what d’you expect, it’s programmed in you. All those of your caste are traitors. You simply had to betray your country, your employer, and all that for a second-rate little Chinese spy!’
With a weak voice, Tom tried to defend himself.
‘I did not betray! Jin was in danger through your fault. I just helped her…’
He cut him short in a threatening tone.
‘You betrayed just as your father betrayed! Your father conspired against the interests of the United States, and the CIA had him eliminated. And do you know who was the CIA agent in charge of that dirty job? It was a young woman from the Action Department. She’s now aged a bit, but you know her name. It’s Lorna Green and she’s there, right in front of you, Tom! One of your first missions, I believe, Lorna?’
Lorna lashed out at that statement.
‘It’s all lies, Tom, I didn’t kill you father. Don’t listen to him! Your father was watched by the CIA but, believe me, his death was accidental!’
Song was frothing with excitement. He loved torture, especially its psychological form. He continued.
‘Poor crazy bastard! They killed your father like they killed John Lennon…’
‘Tom, its all a pack of lies, don’t believe him!’
He got up, untied the strap of Tom’s wheelchair and pushed him roughly to a computer terminal.
‘Well, why don’t you check that for yourself. Go on! You see this computer, it’s connected by satellite to the NSA’s central server. Make the most of it, it’s the chance of your life! Type in the search box the shameful name of your father, the traitor Geoff Bailey.’

Tom was being rocked by very powerful and mixed emotions. As much as he hated Song and wanted to throttle him with his hands, he felt drawn to the keyboard by an irresistible force. His father! What did he in fact know of him? Of his activities, his death in a road accident. He knew nothing because, out of respect for his mother, he never wished to awaken a painful past. And now, there he was in that plane, the truth perhaps a few centimetres away.’

‘Type!’ yelled Song, as if in a trance.
The young man stretched out his left hand but could not reach the keyboard. Being strapped to his wheelchair and with an arm in a sling, Tom could hardly move.
Song turned towards Jin.
‘You. Go and help him,’ he ordered.
Jin got up to the computer and seized a stool beside Tom.
‘Go on, type ‘Bailey’, type!
Jin placed her fingers on the keyboard and began typing on the filename search field: B, A…
Tom was fascinated. His eyes were riveted to the screen, the flashing cursor, the data field in which the letters of his name were beginning to appear.
Jin continued: X, T, E, R… BAXTER! Then she hit the ‘enter’ key…
No luck! The NSA server came up with no file under that name. Tom did not understand but said nothing.
‘Well?’ asked Song, standing back to keep watch on Lorna. ‘Well?’
Jin raised her head humbly.
‘I made a mistake, I’ll start again…’
She could no longer afford another mistake. This was her last chance. She now typed just three figures: 5, 3, 1.
The numbers Zhou had given her over the phone. The same figures as found on Baxter’s computer.
One more time, she hit the ‘enter’ key. This time she had knocked on the right door! The NSA screen gave way to a page on a pale blue background bearing the inscription ‘Project 531’
She clicked.
‘Well?’ resumed Song.
For Tom, the emotional shock was too strong. He had expected to see the ghost of his father on the screen, whereas instead of that… But what on earth was Jin up to?
The young woman opened a file mentioning Baxter, then another. Her eyes scanned the screen frantically. She was memorising each line, each word, in a fraction of a second, cramming as much data as possible in her head.
‘Stem cells’, ‘DNA’, so that was what the M-bomb was all about…!’
A bacteriological bomb!
Suddenly, her mind was gripped by the vision of tens, hundreds of thousands Chinese children struck by a new plague from the United States! She saw open graves swallowing up corpses of victims of the epidemic. The countryside annihilated, towns devastated, the country drained of its lifeblood. China was going to disappear…
So that was the absolute weapon Song was mentioning! ‘A weapon of awesome power that would allow America to win the war without even having to raise a finger….’
America had made the decision! Like in 1945 over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it had decided to launch a new weapon, horrifying, inhumane…
She continued reading, mobilising all her brain cells to retain those specialised terms: ‘transformants’, ‘plasmids’, ‘hybridization’…

The genetic weapon, the arm of the twenty first century! The mass extermination of the Chinese people.
And then, there, at the bottom of that page: a name. The name of the doctor in Beijing Baxter met on January the 18th to hand him over genetic equipment. That was the accomplice, possibly the one who was in charge of spreading the evil…
Now it was Jin who was stunned. She batted her eyelids to clear the tears she could not hold back.
‘Now you’ve seen for yourself, you’ve seen who murdered your father!’ broke out Song to Tom.

It was then that he noticed the blanched face of the young woman, as if it had turned to snow. Song shuffled up to the workstation before Jin had time to close all the pages. It was not Geoff Bailey’s history that was up on the screen! He understood immediately.

‘You fucking bitch!’ he hollered, striking Jin in the face with the butt of his gun. The young woman fell and instantly lost consciousness. He disconnected the computer from the NSA server and seized the onboard telephone.
‘Descend to 7000 feet, depressurise cabin, unlock doors.’
‘Understood,’ answered the captain.
Immediately after Song’s orders, the plane dived to its new altitude. Song was furious, furious at himself. Furious for having given in to his vanity. He should have got it over and done with right away.
‘Now that calls for a slight change of plans. What a pity! I quite liked my script.’ He began to imitate a newscaster. ‘After having betrayed his country, the fervent computer wonder avenges his father assassinated by the CIA. He guns down the director of the CIA’s Asia Department who had come over specifically from Langley to collect him! Then he kills himself after leaving a message on the PC aboard the plane! Kind of neat, huh? But of course, there had to be that little Chinese spy to throw a spanner in the works of this master plan!’
The plane had reached its new cruising altitude. They were now flying level at 7000 feet.
Song unlocked the plane door and shifted the oblong release handle to the right. The door sprang open, sliding along the fuselage. There was a violent bolt of air entering with a deafening roar.
Jin was regaining consciousness.
‘Welcome back among us, my little Chinese spy! I wouldn’t have you miss the show! I’ve just made it up especially for you!’
He made her step back to the opposite partition of the plane.
‘Now here’s the plan: you’re the one with the parachute but I’m afraid it isn’t you who’s going to jump!’
He burst out in a convulsive laugh.
‘It’s your friend Tom who’s going to make the leap. That’s right. He’s going to give us a world exclusive demonstration of free fall from a wheelchair! Congratulations Tom, we’re right behind you, old boy!’
Sheets of paper were whirling around them as the wind swept inside the cabin.
Bathing in a red pool, Lorna Green had lost an enormous amount of blood and felt her life ebbing away. She no longer had the strength to react.
Song pointed his gun to Jin.
‘Farewell, little spy!’
He aimed at the heart and fired. She fell back with a heavy thud.
Song grabbed hold of the wheelchair by the two vertical bars behind the backrest, and wheeled it to the doorway. The front wheels were now balancing over the void below.
‘You ready son? Today’s your big jump! Look, doesn’t the ocean look beautiful? It’s inviting, it’s all yours!’
The sea was lit by the last rays of the sun.
Tom was desperately thinking how to escape, but the leather belt held him too tight to the accursed chair. Where was the buckle? He found it, pressed to open it… Too late.
Song had taken two steps back to gain momentum and pushed the wheelchair beyond the plane’s threshold. Tom disappeared in the next moment, sucked away by the speed and wind.
In the fraction of a second that followed, Song received a violent blow. He felt struck and immediately propelled towards the void in front. He tried to dig himself in, but the energy of the impact was too strong. Despite his attempts, he stumbled heavily towards the open door. He continued beyond, screaming in terror a he fell.
It was Jin.
The bullet had ricocheted against the heavy metal plate that held the straps of her parachute. She had leapt up and flung herself at Song with all her might. Her momentum accelerated Song’s forward movement and expulsed him as he had toppled over Tom’s wheelchair.
She was now floating in the air.
Straight away, she placed her goggles over her eyes. The plane was already far. Tom must have had half a second’s lead on her.
She scanned around her for signs of Tom Bailey. She spotted two dark smears against the sky. Just two tiny dots. She darted down, arms placed straight along the sides of her body for maximum speed. She set her angle of penetration to about 40 degrees and headed towards her target, just the angle to give her sufficient vertical speed to catch up with Tom.
The spot was getting closer. It was Tom alright! It was him!
He had broken away from his wheelchair as soon as he fell off the plane and had taken the position of a freefaller, body horizontal and limbs spread out for maximum air resistance. Poor Tom! He must be writhing in agony with his injured shoulder! Was he even conscious?
She was now only about 100 metres from him. It was time to reduce her angle and slow down, decrease her relative speed and negotiate the final approach.
The gap was closing in. His hair flowing was now clearly visible. She approached in a quick succession of body flexions: 40 metres, 20 metres, 10 metres. Now she was over him.
She wrapped her arms round one of his legs.
Anchoring herself to his waist, she embraced his body, locking her limbs into his, arms welded round his torso… She knew it, the jarring effect was going to be terrible as the parachute opened. Tom was heavier than she. He could easily slip away from her clasp…
Suddenly, before their eyes, a few metres away… the face of the devil. Santana Song was there, he had joined them. He was in a body glide, gun in hand, hair straight, mouth distorted, cheeks and lips pulled back by the wind. He was a horrific sight. He pointed his gun to shoot.
Jin pivoted on her back, Tom above her, and tugged on the parachute’s handle.
Song’s face faded away, sucked down into the air. Then came the shock. Jin cried out to give herself courage. A wailing cry. Her body flipped round under the pull of her straps. She felt her hands slip, her legs uncross under the overwhelming force. But she held on fast. The parachute had done its job; it slowed down their fall, just in time, for they were now only 100 metres above the surface.
Song’s body was about to hit the surface of the water. At that speed, it would be as hard as concrete. Song was going to cross the infinite mirror of the Ocean against which reflected the rays of the falling sun. He was going through the other side of that mirror, into the nether world, the world of legends and mermaids, a silent and muffled world, the original womb from which all life sprang.
But it would be another Song altogether; a pathetic heap of crushed flesh on which multicoloured fish would feed, nibbling at his venomous skin, his corrupt meat saturated with the toxins of the city, and a soiled soul which they’ll leave aside.
Or rather, the fish will let nothing remain of the ignoble Song, because fish are oblivious to the soul’s immortal nature. Fish are only concerned with the nutritional value of organic waste…
Jin no longer felt her exhaustion. She was cradling Tom in her arms as they were both descending, slowly, towards the silvery surface of the ocean, like a single being. She used that moment to activate the transponder on wrist.
They hit the surface with a fair bump and sank a few metres under the waves. She undid the straps of the parachute and pulled the cord that inflated the life buoy round her neck. She was propelled to the open air, still holding Tom in her arms. He had lost consciousness, probably when the parachute opened, or possibly even before… With his injuries, the young man was undoubtedly in a state of exhaustion.
She pushed away the white fabric of the large square parachute that saved their lives. Tom was breathing, slowly, feebly, but he was breathing. The temperature of the water did not exceed seven our eight degrees. All they could do was wait for the rescue team, assuming that the transponder hadn’t failed… She chased that thought away from her mind.

Zeying pushed open the door of the control room where Zhou was sitting.
‘Colonel, we’ve got it, we’ve found her. Jin’s set off her transponder. She’s just been located!’
‘Where is she?’ asked Zhou, torn between the hope of seeing Jin and the foreboding that she was in danger.
‘At sea! Off Fuzhou.’
‘What’s she doing out there? Have you done everything?’
‘Yes, a destroyer’s less than 50 kilometres from her position, at the entrance of the Straits of Taiwan. It’s going to their rescue.’
‘Be careful, Zeying. She may still be with that American, and he may still have an electronic bug on him!’
‘We’ve sent that information to the Navy!’
‘We cannot take any risks.’

Tom’s face now took on a violet complexion. His body temperature was dropping and his strength was ebbing away. It was now forty minutes since they had emerged to the surface. They must find them – quickly – if he were not to die in the middle of the ocean. Surely they could not have gone through all this simply to succumb, vanquished by that immense body of liquid?
Night had fallen and Jin suddenly felt extreme fatigue fall upon her. How were they going to find them in this darkness? Thanks to the white stain of the parachute in the sea? The waterlogged parachute had sunk ages ago. And how precise was this transponder? Enough to locate them to within a few metres?
With one hand, she felt the pockets of her suit. She hadn’t yet done an inventory of everything that made up the standard commando kit. She found what she was looking for: a distress flare! It was just a small stick which gave out an intense light when the end cap was pulled off. That was enough to reassure her. The sea was calm and the absence of waves would simplify their recovery.
She hugged Tom harder still and kissed him once more on the mouth, as if that kiss could pump some heat into him. He opened his eyes for a moment and, upon seeing her, managed to utter:
‘Jin, you’re still alive!’
Those few words were her greatest reward.
‘You too, Tom, you’re still alive!’
He lost consciousness again…
She could clearly make out the sound of the blades of an approaching helicopter. Yes, there was no mistaking. She could now see the powerful vertical searchlight scouring the surface of the ocean. It was heading towards her at very low speed. When the cone of light embraced her, she waved frantically.
She had been spotted without her having to fire the rocket.
The helicopter canted slightly and hovered, creating tremors in the sea beneath it. It immediately dropped two harnesses from respective cables. Tom was the first to be hauled. Jin had hardly clambered on board that the helicopter pulled away.
The craft was not equipped for medical assistance, but the ship’s doctor had come in person. He took Tom in charge and gave him a heart stimulant by intravenous injection. After having sounded him, he declared:
‘He must be transferred urgently to a block. His body temperature’s dropped. He’s in a bad way!’
Jin sipped piping hot coffee from a metal mug, warming herself as best she could under a blanket thrown over her shoulders.
‘Is your ship sufficiently well equipped?’ she asked.
‘Well, er… you’re not going on board our destroyer. You’re going back ashore in a submarine. The chiefs of staff are afraid your companion has a hidden electronic tag on him. They’ve therefore decided to isolate you from radio satellites by immerging you do a depth of 100 metres…’
They must have covered around 60 kilometres when arrived above the submarine. A few men were already on the bridge. They had prepared a stretcher which was hauled aboard the helicopter. Tom was placed on it and lowered down to the submersible. Jin thanked the rescuers and followed the same path, suspended from her harness. Then she slipped inside the conning tower, followed by the last seamen who closed the hatchway shut.

The craft was ready to submerge.
‘Welcome aboard,’ said the captain saluting her.
‘Thank you captain. It’s most urgent that you look after my American passenger, he’s very weak…’
‘Rest assured, he’s been taken to the medical block. He’s in good hands. Our medic had enough time to be briefed by the one who accompanied you in the helicopter.’
‘I must immediately contact Colonel Zhou of the special services.’
‘We’re getting the radio link ready, it’s a matter of a couple of minutes. Why don’t you have a nice hot shower while you’re waiting? We’ve prepared some dry clothes for you… You’d be surprised by the level of comfort of our PLAN submarines!’
She was adjusting the sweater she had just put on when a naval officer introduced himself.
‘Miss Lao Jin, we’ve established a communications link with headquarters. Colonel Zhou, you must speak to him immediately!’
He regretted his choice of words himself as soon a he had finished, embarrassed at having given her orders. He attempted to soften his words.
‘Of course, that’s if you wish to…’
‘I’ll think it over,’ she said coyly, getting up.
She followed him into the command room where the duty officers gave her a military salute. Her naval aviation adventures had undoubtedly gained her the admiration and respect of all those seamen!
The submarine was immerged to periscope depth for the duration of the communications link with the satellite. As soon as the communication was over, it was to plunge into the deep waters.
The radio operator handed her a two-way headset, which she put over her head.
‘Jin, I want you to come home straight away…’
That was Zhou all right! She too would have preferred to be at home rather than going through these aerial stunts!
‘Zhou, listen to me, it’s very important. I managed to gain access to the NSA computers! I know everything. I know what the ‘M-bomb’ is! Zhou, it’s simply beyond belief, the ‘M-bomb’, it’s…’
In Beijing, Zhou was straining his ears, but some crackles made the end of the phrase inaudible.
‘We’ve lost communication,’ warned the radio officer, ‘That’s due to rolling motion.’
‘Well do your damndest to get it back, and quick,’ he ordered.
They had to wait a good five minutes. Jin resumed her debriefing.
‘So, I had enough time to scan through several files concerning what the NSA calls ‘Project M531’
She caught her breath back.
‘Zhou, it’s beyond all belief; they mention stem cells, molecular biology, DNA purification, cloning, transformant selection, plasmid preparation, hybridization, enzyme enhanced DNA sequencing; that’s about all I could memorise. Baxter came over to China to hand over some stuff that was genetically modified in American labs.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Absolutely certain. Zhou, we’ve been on the wrong track! The ‘M-bomb’ Baxter mentions in the mails found on his PC… it’s in fact a microbial weapon! The figures ‘531’ are no doubt the code for a gene…’
Zhou was staggered.
‘A biological weapon! The Americans have constructed a bacteriological weapon on our soil!’
‘My thoughts exactly! I had time to open half a dozen documents, all of them concerned genetics and manipulation. And it didn’t begin with Baxter; he was only the last on the list. I saw other names with dates going back farther. They’ve been working on it for years on our territory. They’re bound to have imported highly lethal strains of bacteria or viruses, with ten or twenty times the virulence of the SARS virus. And remember the havoc the SARS epidemic caused, the panic and disruptions which ensued. Well, it looks like the Americans learnt a lot from that and must have developed extremely pathogenic strains. That’s what the ‘M-bomb’ is! It’s the NSA that’s behind all this, and the big offensive is imminent – at the end of the ultimatum!’
Zhou tried to collect his thoughts.
‘And where are we to search, Jin? Where do we start our investigations? Did you see a name or any clue that could give us a lead?’
‘Yes, I was lucky. I hit upon the name of a Chinese doctor. The very same one Baxter met during his stay. He works for the Americans. He’s bound to be the one responsible for operations on our soil.’
‘You’ve got his name, Jin?’
‘It’s a certain Doctor Wu Hanru…’
Zhou leapt from his chair.
‘Doctor Wu Hanru! Are you sure?’
‘No doubt whatsoever. Wu Hanru. I memorised his name and can even tell you he works at Central Hospital No.3 in Beijing. Zhou, you must arrest him, he’s the one Baxter handed the samples to.’
Zhou had met Doctor Wu Hanru at the end of the afternoon, in a room of that very Central Hospital No.3 in Beijing. He was at the bedside of a lovable patient, the little Mok Lili.
So, Wu was a traitor who collaborated with the Americans in introducing pathogenic strains into China!
‘Jin, I’ll be meeting you in an hour’s time.’
‘On the subject, Zhou, I’m not returning alone, I have a passenger with me.’
‘I don’t want to know, Jin; you just return immediately, that’s all. Consider it an order!’
Trying to take on a detached tone, she replied:
‘Zhou, right now I’m inside a nuclear submarine in submersion! We’re heading towards Fuzhou at a speed of 25 knots. So please don’t expect me for dinner…’
She turned back towards the nurse and slumped down on the bunk facing Tom, who appeared to sleep peacefully.
She too had deserved a few hours’ rest.

Zhou was paralysed. His brain refused to work.
His mind would not face the reality of these facts. He thrust it away desperately as soon as it neared his conscience. For this reality was so awesome and diabolical, repulsive and violent, that he simply could not grasp it.
The truth burnt him like a blinding light, the light of madmen, of those who pretend they can stare directly into the sun…
Capital ‘M’s were flashing before his eyes.
M for ‘Microsoft’ for the bomb he had invented three months ago and of which he had been so proud… and which now haunted his nights.
Or else the M followed by ‘531’ that key element of software on which depended the whole security of China’s computers?
Or again M for ‘microbial’ referring to the genetically modified bacteriological weapon Baxter had, according to Jin, introduced into China and was about to create millions of victims?
Or was it M for ‘monetary’ since such was the nature of the counterattack that President Ren had anticipated?
And then there was M for Mok. He uttered separately each syllable of that name, making the M resonate: Mok-Meng-Ma, Mok: the ‘dazzling horse’!

The truth was there, staring straight at his eyes. But still he turned away from its blinding clarity.

Jin was wrong. There was no biological warfare. The solution was much simpler.
Because there was also the M of the block where little Lili happened to be treated.
And no matter how he tried to turn these ‘M’s around, all he could see was a single face, still and placid, smiling gently at him, the face of a child, the sweet face of little Lili.
There lay the key to the mystery.

D-4 before expiry of the ultimatum, 8:30 am

Zhou entered the compound of Central Hospital No.3 where he had met Professor Mok the day before. This time he was escorted by two agents, two members of his team. He bypassed the reception desk and went directly to M block, into Dr. Wu’s lab. They had no difficulty penetrating into the first room, where a dozen people in white laboratory coats were busy in front of computer LCD displays, drawing up the results of therapeutic experiments. The doctor was in a second room, a sterile chamber used for analyses and whose access was restricted. Zhou called for the doctor on the interphone.
He instantly recognised Wu when he appeared.
‘I’m afraid you’re unlucky, Professor Mok will only be here towards the end of the morning…’
Zhou cut him short briskly, without even a greeting.
‘It’s you I’ve come to see, Doctor Wu!’
‘Me?’ he retorted, taking on an air of utter surprise.
‘We have a few questions to ask you. Show me the way to your office, please.’
Wu cast a sweeping look around him to make sure none of his collaborators had seen him being addressed so sharply. The Chinese are taught never to loose face. He eyed the two agents and sensed the threat.
‘Very well, follow me,’ he replied heading into the corridor.
He was beginning to get seriously worried. One of the two guards passed in front of him to prevent any attempt to escape. Zhou closed the door of the room behind him. It was a spacious office with a large French window giving onto the back of the building. Against the walls were tall bookshelves filled with books in Chinese and English, international reviews, theses and publications.
Dr. Wu immediately went in and sat down behind his desk, a derisory move, as if that piece of furniture could serve him as a shield.
‘Well, gentlemen, I have to inform you my time is short,’ he began, ‘I have my visits to do. I’m listening!’
Zhou pulled out his gun. A simple gesture of intimidation, but which often gave results.
‘Get on your feet, he ordered Wu. You, search him!’
The geneticist found it wiser to comply.
‘Put your hands against the wall, legs spread apart,’ enjoined the agent.
This psychological manoeuvre was particularly humiliating for the honourable professor, but always effective in softening up a customer. Being degraded in this way weakened the defences and served to gain time.
He was stripped of his mobile phone and pager.
‘Unplug his fixed phone too.’
Dr. Wu, head of the molecular biology department at Central Hospital No.3, had turned pale.
‘Right,’ continued Zhou, ‘You’re now going to explain a few things to us. How did you obtain the genetic equipment you used on little Mok Lili?’
‘I don’t understand,’ he answered feebly ‘Everything comes from this laboratory, as you saw yourself. We’re at the leading edge of research…’
‘Do you know an American under the name Baxter? Ron Baxter?’
‘Never heard of him. I go to quite a few international congresses, you know, I can’t remember all the names…’
Zhou pulled out a photo from his pocket, taken by Jin’s team during Baxter’s visit at the beginning of the year. Wu cast a rapid glance at the picture and turned his look away. It was enough, he recognised the man. Almost despite himself, he again turned his gaze back to the photo, this time longer, more attentively.
Memories flashed back in his mind.
He shook his head.
‘No, sorry, never met him,’ he answered mustering all the composure he could.
‘Well, it turns out that this American, whose name is Baxter, paid you a visit on January the 18th last and handed you over some therapeutic samples. We know these products were for treating Professor Mok’s daughter.’
‘But I told you, everything came from our own laboratory…’
Zhou rested a foot on the chair and adopted a friendly tone towards the doctor:
‘Dr. Wu, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. Baxter was an American spy well known by our services. He made a trip to Beijing last January supposedly for maintenance on a computer. But in fact he came over here to see you!’
The doctor remained silent.
‘That meeting was so secret that no sooner than the next day the American special services thought it wise to eliminate Baxter, fearing the purpose of his visit might be discovered! In other words, Dr. Wu, Baxter was killed to cover up his meeting with you!’
Zhou got out the photo of the overweight American murdered in his room at the Great Wall Mirama hotel.
This time Wu had difficulty in recognising his American colleague.
‘It took us months to crack the code protecting his laptop PC. We finally managed to and we now know the real purpose of his mission.’
He got up suddenly and uttered in an accusing voice:
‘Baxter met you on the 18th of January, and he handed you over gene therapy equipment prepared specifically to treat Professor Mok Mengma’s daughter.’
He continued in the same register, giving no time to let the doctor recover his wits.
‘Do you admit having received genetic equipment from the hands of this man?’
Wu’s expression collapsed and gave a glimpse into an intense inner conflict.
‘I cannot… he muttered, I can’t tell you anything, it’s impossible…’
Zhou could sense it, his customer was ripe. He took on a conciliatory tone.
‘Dr. Wu, as you know, we’re at war. It happens that you got yourself involved in a matter that goes way beyond you. In fact the matter’s so serious that it can decide on the outcome of this war.’
‘You are aware of the importance of Professor Mok’s work, aren’t you?’
‘Yes.’ he uttered almost inaudibly from his lips.
‘Dr. Wu, you are going to be charged with conspiracy against the interests of the People’s Republic of China, intelligence with the enemy in time of war, and sabotage. You do know the verdict for that type of crime? It’s death, Dr. Wu, and banishment for your family.’
Dr. Wu began to tremble throughout his body.
‘This Baxter… I didn’t know him under that name,’ he whimpered.
‘Under what name did you know him?’
He began to speak very fast, as if to relieve his conscience.

‘He didn’t give a name. He was a geneticist. He came over on January the 18th to bring some samples of stem cells to be introduced in the last phase of the treatment on Professor Mok’s daughter. He insisted on being there because the protocol of administration was extremely complex.’
‘He came in person to the hospital?’
‘Yes, he entered discreetly by the back of the building, hidden inside an ambulance. We were able to work through part of the night.’
‘Why didn’t you tell anyone of all this?’
‘They made me swear to keep it secret. It came from a private American laboratory. They were carrying out genetic manipulations on stem cells and foetal cells in total illegality. They told me they were risking a lot by supplying these products. As for me, my career would be ruined and I would be liable to criminal charges if the matter came to light. But I was so eager to learn, and they were so far ahead in their research…’
The explanations were consistent and smacked of sincerity.
‘It was Professor Mok who introduced you to them?’
‘No, it was me the Americans first contacted, during a congress in Las Vegas. They spoke to me about their research and – just in case – I sent them some sample genetic cells of little Lili. It was through me the whole story started, more than two years ago.’
‘And Mok?’
‘Oh, Mok wanted just one thing, having his daughter cured! When the Americans told him they had a solution, he begged me; he was crying out, he was ready to do anything…’
Zhou had everything he needed to know.
‘Dr. Wu, tonight you’re going to sleep in a rather special kind of hotel. But I must warn you, it’s not like Las Vegas… there are bars against the windows.’

D-4, 15:30

Jin hardly had just a few moments to call at her flat for a shower and put on more feminine clothes. For had she followed Zhou’s instructions to the letter, she would have turned up straight in the canvas trousers and thick blue sweater lent to her by the submarine crew.
They had docked at Fuzhou early in the morning, where a military plane immediately flew them back to Beijing.
Tom was allowed to be of the party, as in the submarine they had found implanted under his skin a microcapsule the CIA must have placed surreptitiously during a routine medical visit. He was now invisible to American satellites. Upon his arrival in Beijing, he was put into therapeutic sleep until the next day. His wound was starting to heal well and he would soon be back fit again, the military medics had promised.
Jin arrived at Professor Mok’s home in the middle of the afternoon. It was a single-storey detached house with a large, gently-sloping roof. She spotted three unmarked cars of the military police guarding the house. The man was under house arrest since the day before. She entered the home accompanied by an officer. Her gaze turned instantly towards the furniture. It was very conventional Chinese style: a chest of drawers of lacquered wood, large porcelain vases, some classical paintings depicting traditional mountains emerging from the mist…
The entrance to the library was guarded by an armed man. That was where the Professor must be.
The officer knocked on the solid wooden door and opened it.
He was there, standing in front of his desk, his back turned to her, busy sorting out some papers, facing long rows of shelves filled with books and ornaments. Another guard carrying a machine gun was keeping watch inside the room.
‘Good afternoon, Professor.’ She wanted her tone to be neutral and composed.
‘Hello, Jin.’
He turned round.
It was the first time in five years she had seen her Professor, the genius, the brilliant Professor Mok Mengma. More exactly since that April morning when she announced to him she would leave the lab because she had signed an eight-year contract with the army’s computer services, a more elegant way of designating the counterespionage section.
She found him changed. In any case, he no longer corresponded to the image she had of him in her memory. Gone was the dashing, handsome academic, whom the People’s Republic of China one day decorated for his contributions to National Defence and State Security.
He was not yet fifty, but his stoop, untidy hair and vacant look betrayed the state of dejection and self resignation he had slid into. The real Mok had vanished, he was gone.
‘I knew you would come, I knew it would be you…’
She felt a lump in her throat but did not let anything transpire.
‘Professor, I am empowered by the authorities…’
He did not let her finish her phrase.
‘Such is our destiny. It was written that it would be you who’d come to execute me…’
She refused to be drawn into his pathos. But she too was striking a sentimental chord.
‘Professor, our country is at war, I’ve come to ask for your help, in memory of our friendship, I beg of you…’
Was it because she evoked those very close links that bonded them in the past? He was taken over by sudden and violent fit of temper, agitating his arms before him.
‘Friendship, how dare you speak of friendship! And for a start, get rid of these guards!’
He pointed his threatening finger to the officer and soldier in faction inside the room.
‘If I speak, it will be to you and you alone. Get them to leave immediately.’
The young woman hesitated.
‘Jin,’ he growled, ‘it’s take it or leave it…’
She turned to the two military present.
‘Could you please leave the room?’
The officer refused.
‘That’s impossible, Madam, I have orders…’
Jin wanted to waste no time. She gave her order to the two men in a curt tone:
‘Please leave the room,’
‘I have to warn…’
‘Warn Colonel Zhou, but start by leaving the room.’
Reluctantly, they finally obeyed. This seemed to calm down the professor. He grabbed a half-empty cigarette packet from his desk and flicked his lighter open. He drew a long deep breath through his cigarette, bringing a scarlet glow to its tip.
Jin was seated on the sofa. There were just the two of them now. She wanted to know, she wanted to know how the man she admired the most in the world could have betrayed his mother country.
‘Professor?’ she asked in a calm voice. Why?
He drew again on his cigarette, blowing out a dense cloud of smoke which rose to the ceiling. He took on a sad, despondent expression which she had never seen in him before.
‘Why, Jin? Why? Well, it’s very simple, really.’
He went to sit in front of her on a wooden chair. He was slumped, heaped up on himself.
‘My wife had left me… she was everything to me… I was nothing without her. I was lost. And then…’
He hesitated for the space of a second. Was he trying to hold back the tears welling up in him?
‘And then, my darling little daughter, my little Lili fell ill. Her days were counted and I was alone to look after her, all alone. That was when the other woman that I loved so desperately also walked out on me…’
Jin had never realised how deep his distress had been. She asked innocently:
‘And who was that woman you loved so much?’
He raised his head and looked at her with such intensity that she felt uneasy. He had got up from his chair.
‘That woman, Jin, it was you!’
She could not help flinching upon hearing her name.
‘Yes, you. I loved you from the very first day you came into my laboratory. Your boyish look, your hair, your face, and… you were the only person who understood me, we were the same, you and I, so much alike…’
She was struggling to sort out the flow of emotions that were rocking her. He had slumped down again, head bowed, as if resigned.
‘When my wife left me, I began to entertain hopes, imagining that you and me… You understand?’
She remained silent. There she was, in front of him, unable to move. Mok Mengma was only fifteen years her senior, but the natural respect she had for the Professor and the void left by the absence of her parents made her incapable of seeing in him anything other than a father figure. She too had let her head sink.
After a few seconds, she managed to mutter:
‘Why didn’t you tell me all this?’
‘I was afraid of your reaction. I was desperately trying to detect something in each of your words, each of your gestures, the tiniest sign of love, a simple mark of affection. But I saw nothing, nothing other than friendship. Friendship! How I hate that word!’
She did not answer.
‘When you left me, Jin, I was at a complete loss, I had nothing to cling on to. And so I flipped over…’
He drew another cigarette from his packet and craned his neck to reach the lighter. His nervous lips squeezed the filter tip so hard that his mouth was just a horizontal line. There was a slight crackle as the tobacco touched the flame, then the end turned red. His face became surrounded by plumes of smoke.
‘It was at that time when at the hospital Dr. Wu spoke to me about his American colleagues. He mentioned a team from Chicago which was leading far ahead in the field of genetic engineering. He met them at an international symposium in Las Vegas. They worked for a private firm. Wu took the initiative of sending a DNA sample from my little daughter Lili, just for an opinion. And then, three years ago, they discovered the gene responsible for her illness. An incurable disease.’
He cut himself short.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘Well, they got into contact with me. They were ready to spend a lot of money to modify that gene and develop a molecule from it. But the research was expensive, far too expensive, and that affliction was so rare the amount invested would never be recovered. Despite that, they were ready to go through with it, but there was a price to pay…’
‘Which was?’
‘During one of my trips to Europe, they were there. They explained to me that China had decided to impose its own software and get rid of Windows, and all this was dangerous for peace and the world balance. Peace had to be saved.’
Jin began to anticipate.
‘You handed over to them the source code of your software?’
‘No, I refused. But I wanted to save my child. They then revealed to me that there was a ‘backdoor’ tucked secretly inside Windows, allowing the American authorities to penetrate into a remote PC. That was compulsory in the United States. They had to provide the Federal agencies with a door into all the software on the market, so that they could fight effectively against organised crime, terror, or against an outside enemy… They told me all PCs in China equipped with Windows could thus be hacked by the NSA. And that this had been going on for years without anyone suffering from it.’
Jin listened to this fascinating account without interrupting.
‘The United States would never attack China,’ they explained to me. But they had a mission to accomplish as part of their established role as the world’s police force, the defenders of peace and world stability. However, China’s decision to boycott Windows constituted a grave menace, and was the first step in an escalation that would inevitably lead to a large-scale conflict. So, I accepted….’
He dipped his head even lower.
‘Accepted what?’ she asked harshly.
‘I accepted to prolong what was already going on in all the computers in China! In other words, I accepted to introduce a secret communication module into our software system.’
‘So that’s what it was!’ thought Jin.
‘The United States had never in the past abused of this Windows back door. And so there was no reason to think that they’d act differently with the new system. They gave me their assurances. I trusted them.’
Jin had got up and now dominated over the man sitting on the chair.
‘Professor, you have introduced a back door into China’s own operating system!’
He got up in turn, but it was not out of defiance. Quite on the contrary, he stepped slowly to his desk.
‘Yes, and I have no regrets. We are heading towards an inevitable and generalised confrontation between these two empires. Jin, are you so blind? Can’t you see the tension rising, the skies darkening? It all starts with oil, then it’ll be the other raw materials next, and then even the air we breathe… China will want to control everything, its supply sources, its maritime routes, its neighbours, and then it’ll want to conquer space…’
‘But it’s our country’s right!’ she burst out. Why do you want the largest country in the world, with its billion inhabitants, to delegate its own security to someone else to the detriment of its own interests?’
‘Because rivalry and confrontation lead inexorably to war, Jin. You have proof of this today. What kind of world are we going to pass on to our children? The Americans saved my little Lili; I want her to live in a world at peace. Do you think I did all this so that she’ll grow up to discover terror and fire? Well no! I made sure she’d be able to live in a calm and serene universe.’
She had heard enough. It was time to get to the bottom.
‘When and how did you implant the American module?’
‘The operation began a bit over two years ago. It’s not a black box if you want to be precise. It’s lines of code that have been introduced into the central module of our operating system, the M531. This parasitic insertion is almost impossible to disentangle from the host code because they’re so closely interwoven.’
Jin was thinking.
‘The Americans have thus supplied you with the source code of their back door?’
‘Yes, I’ve just told you, it’s not a module, it’s code. They wanted their software routine to go unnoticed and at the same time to be difficult to extract without risking serious damage to the entire system.’
‘And they trusted you? You could have led them up the garden path!’
‘They’d thought of everything. The delivery of the genetic equipment for treating my little Lili always followed closely the validation tests of the main phases in the integration of the routine. Last year, they checked that the operating systems installed in China’s air and sea ports were indeed fitted with their back door and that it was operational.’
‘What about your team, did they know about it? Didn’t anyone notice anything?’
‘I’m the only one to have pulled together the final version of the M531. I’m the one who compiled it. It’s used in that form in all the versions of the operating system installed in the administrations and, just recently, in the CNOS.’
‘And the last time the Americans got into contact with you was?…’
‘Back in January. The laboratory had already put me on the sidelines several months before and I preferred to resign from my post, which was a relief to everyone. So, in January, an American geneticist came specially to China to proceed with the last phase of the treatment himself.’
‘I don’t know his real name. He worked with Dr. Wu. He came to Central Hospital No.3 with his gene samples. The results were tremendous, truly amazing. Lili has pulled through, she’s definitely saved.’
‘Did Wu know about your dealings with the Americans?’
‘No, he never found about it. He’s a scientist. All he’s interested in is technology; the Americans were ahead and he wanted to learn everything from them. I believe he also received some money to maintain absolute silence.’
He was on his fourth cigarette. She was looking at that man for whom she now felt nothing but contempt, the utmost contempt. He will be condemned to death for high treason. The People People’s Republic of China which had awarded him all the honours was now going to execute him.
She felt no sadness at the thought.
And yet this was the man whom they now had to ask for help. To save what could still be saved, to counter the American manoeuvres and try to shut the back door that made China so vulnerable.
Mok felt the weight of the contempt expressed in the woman’s face. But he was beyond caring; he was already dead. All that counted now was his little Lili, she alone was still holding back his final day on earth.
Jin wanted to leave the room, but it was impossible. She had to overcome her disgust and get that traitor to cooperate.
Fortunately, he took the initiative, and announced in a toneless voice:
‘Jin, I’ll give you a deal.’
‘Go on…’
‘I give you the source code from the Americans. I give you my entire set of comments I wrote when I was integrating the American code into the M531. With these comments, it’s possible to trace through my work step by step and understand each stage of the procedure. With a team of the sharpest brains, it should be possible to develop an antidote, a piece of software that would come to inhibit the action of the American code…’
‘Would they only have the time? The ultimatum was due to expire in four days!’ wondered Jin.
‘And what’s on my side of the deal?’
‘I want you to look after Lili. She has no family left; I’m an only child, like we all are in China, and my parents are too old. She needs someone young. I want you to find a foster family for her, to make sure she’s happy, that she has the happiest possible life, that she does well at school, that she thrives…’
‘My job’s very demanding. I’m not able to look after a child…’
‘No, Jin, she needs somebody to watch over her, someone she can count on for everything. When Zhou came to see me at the hospital yesterday, I understood it was all over. So I got my lawyer to prepare the legal documents by which Lili will be in your ward until she reaches her majority.’
He pulled out a cardboard folder from his office drawer. He drew out two copies of a document he held out to her.
‘I want you to be her legal tutor. You see these two flash memories behind the computer? In less than a minute they’ll be loaded with the American source code for the back door, together with my comments.’
She hardly had any choice. And in any case, even without this sordid dealing, she would not have refused that mission. She too had lost her parents at a very early age.
‘How can I be sure that all this code is indeed there, in that memory? That you haven’t blanked out a stage in the procedure, that you haven’t hidden anything, that all you comments are there?’
He looked at her in the eyes.
‘I give you my word for it, over the head of my little Lili. It’s all that’s left of my existence.’
She signed the two copies and placed one on the table.
Mok typed several commands on his computer and transferred the data into the flash memories connected to his PC’s USB port.
‘I was going to forget. The Americans also placed a bomb in the M531.’
‘A bomb?’
The ‘M-bomb’!
‘Yes, because the American program doesn’t serve just to penetrate inside our computers. It also contains a device that can be set by remote control and which triggers off several days later. At the set time, the procedure starts up and destroys all the data inside the computer…’
‘Did they set the bomb so that it would go off at the end of the ultimatum in a few days?’
He lowered his head and finally admitted:
‘It’s more than likely.’
‘That just leaves us four to deactivate the bomb!’ thought Jin.
‘Jin, be careful. You shouldn’t try to disconnect the computers, nor try to replace the operating system with another. If you tamper with the M531, the bomb will go off and destroy the machine. Don’t forget either that all these computers are now linked up to the NSA’s computer systems. If the Americans observe any modifications, they’ll take the initiative and create an all-out crash… There’s only one solution, and that is to disable the program, but in no way attempt to destroy it.’
‘Are you going to help us, we’ve only a few days left?’
‘That’s impossible. I’m under watch. If I collaborate, they’ll know it, the bomb will explode and Lili will be in danger…. They’ll kill her.’
He held the two memories in his closed hand and placed them in Jin’s.
‘Just one more thing…’
He was now right close to her, he could touch her. He could breathe in her fragrance, the scent of a woman who meant so much to him, and whom he had lost for ever.
‘What else?’ she asked.
Her question was purely out of form, for she had guessed… She had prepared herself for it.
‘Jin, I don’t want to loose face, I don’t want my little Lili to know that her father was a traitor. I don’t want her to feel guilty all her life thinking I did all that for her…’
She turned away.
‘You can’t refuse me this. A death from natural causes would suit everyone…’
She made her way to the door. She would have wanted to finish with this in the most normal way possible by calling the soldier to take him away… But he was right and she knew it.
The call was now heart rending. As if he wanted to die in the hands of the woman he loved so much.
Jin grabbed the door handle.
She paused and slid her hand inside her coat pocket. She pulled out a small opaque plastic flask. It contained a hundred or so pale green oblong pills, synthesized vitamins mixed with plant extracts.
In the middle of the cluster was hidden another pill, grey and unlike the others. It was small and round, chilling and lethal.
She placed the flask on the chest of drawers. And, without even turning her head, without a word, she opened the door and left the room.

Beijing, Central Military Commission

President Ren was presiding over a crisis cell of the Central Military Commission.
But the term ‘crisis’ was far too feeble to describe the situation to which they were confronted. ‘Natural catastrophe’ would have been a more appropriate term, because the earth had virtually sunk beneath their feet.

By the end of the afternoon, the special services had discovered the unimaginable machination! Mok, the renowned Professor Mok, had betrayed his country… He had collaborated with the Americans.
And the operating system China had imposed on all its administrations, businesses and home users, that operating system which symbolised the country’s thirst for independence and expressed its sovereignty, was now bugged by a program made in USA!
And this program gave the NSA, the United States’ powerful intelligence agency, a privileged access to all the computers in the country! The program also contained a bomb set to trigger off in four days. And that wasn’t all! It was impossible to stop that fiendish machine without causing it to explode.
They were all mad at themselves for having been so naive. They had acted in haste, neglecting to take the most elementary precautions. And the American agencies did not miss that extraordinary chance which opened up to them to acquire the key to all the computers in China!
They were ashamed. Ashamed to have been, in their innocence, the instruments of promotion and propagation of the poison.
For they had all become – albeit unwittingly – the zealous auxiliaries of the American administration. All of them had taken part: the government, the ministers, the civil servants, industry, private and public companies, and tens of millions of citizens. They had unwittingly helped install a malicious module in all the computers of the country. China was caught in a trap and, to cap it all, a trap of its own making!
For it was by wanting to free itself from the stranglehold of an American private company that it handed itself over fully bound to its worse enemy… China’s information system, its nervous system, its neural network, was in the hands of America.
Ren had explored the situation from all angles. There was no way out. There was no chink in the NSA’s plan. There only remained for the Americans to cast the final blow and finish off the animal caught in their nets.
‘We have exactly four days left!’
‘We must disconnect all these computers,’ growled Liu Rong, the chairman of the CMC.
‘I’m afraid that’s impossible. If we do that, we’ll set off the software bomb. Mok warned us. The United States are watching us. They mustn’t know that we know.’
‘From a technical standpoint, the options are limited. It’s impossible for us to replace the software without alerting our enemy. And we simply don’t have the time. The only solution is to make use of those four days to develop some form of antidote that will inhibit the action of the American program.’
Professor Shu, who succeeded Professor Mok as head of Software Research Institute, had formed a team of the brightest brains in China. He managed to find several programmers who had previously worked with Mok. They had already got down to the job.
‘What if we inform the public of what we’ve just discovered? What if we put America under accusation in front of the world opinion?’
The general clearly did not mind loosing face.
‘That’s impossible, no-one would believe us. They’ll see it as a paltry excuse to cover up technical problems encountered in setting up our operating system!’
‘That’s perverse to the nth degree! For if they manage to make our computing systems collapse, the Americans can pretend it’s the proof of our incompetence. They’ll say: China wanted to do without Microsoft, now look at the result!’
President Ren summed up the situation in a sombre tone.
‘We have only three options. The first is to make use of the few days we have left to develop an antidote. Professor Shu is already working on it. If we opt for this solution, then we’re condemned to be inactive while we wait for the results. I suggest we give him three days before talking about failure. That’s the most favourable the – most satisfying – solution. But it rests entirely on the premise that Professor Shu will succeed.
‘He shall succeed!’
The Prime Minister was optimistic.
‘The second option consists in bringing forward the deadline date and declaring a state of emergency in the country. We will disconnect all the computers and replace their software. The country will cease to function for several days and will be completely disrupted for several weeks. America will take advantage of this to attack us. In concrete terms, that amounts to scuttling ourselves to prevent the enemy from sinking us. The third option privileges initiative. We secretly prepare back-up computers in the country’s most strategic sites. We equip them with safe and reliable software. Then we go on to attack the US Navy before the end of the ultimatum.’
There was hardly any other choice.
‘Gentlemen, I favour the first option. I suggest giving some time to Professor Shu, while preparing option three. If we don’t have the antidote, we’ll be left with twenty four hours in which to act…’

D-3 before expiry of the ultimatum

The plane touched down on the runway of Baltimore airport. The door opened and the stretcher on which lay Lorna Green was wheeled out. They had found the director of the CIA’s Asia Department alone, inside the empty compartment of the Embraer 175, when it landed in Macao. She had lost a lot of blood but was still breathing. When she briefly regained consciousness, she asked to be taken back home to Baltimore, her town of birth. By chance, the hospital had one of the best teams for bone surgery.
Donald Chandler, head of the CIA, was there in the waiting room and accompanied Lorna into the ambulance. She had a drip feed and wore an oxygen mask over her face.
‘Don’t worry, we gave her some hypnotics and analgesics for the trip, but once she gets to the hospital, we’ll wake her up,’ indicated the doctor in a reassuring voice as they crossed the town.
‘How had the NSA been able to infiltrate so easily into a plane chartered by the CIA? The National Security Agency benefited from protection at the highest level.’ These were the thoughts churning over in Chandler’s mind as he paced up and down the hospital corridor for hours, waiting for Lorna Green to emerge.
The nurse finally called him.
‘Sir… she’s asking for you.’
He was first of all struck by her extreme pallor. She was wan. Her skin was insufficiently irrigated and had lost all its coloration. He left leg was enclosed in a resin box frame. They had removed her oxygen mask to let her talk, but her breath was weak. She just managed a weak smile upon seeing her boss.
‘Hi Don, I caught a sunstroke, but it’s me alright…’
‘Didn’t they warn you about spending all your time on the beach, Lorna!’
He placed his hand affectionately on her shoulder.
She spoke fast in a weak and trembling voice, as if she were afraid her time would run short, as if she were afraid of dying before revealing the secrets of that extraordinary affair. She hurried out her words.
‘Chandler, listen! It’s Nimoy and Larson! They’re the ones behind all this Chinese thing. It’s the NSA. The NSA’s the one pulling all the strings. Santana Song, Stenton’s right-hand man out there… he was in fact the NSA’s head of operations in China. Nimoy and Larson wanted a pretext to start off a war against China. They wanted to wipe out its economic and military power before it became a dangerous rival…’
He tried to slow her down.
‘Take it easy, Lorna, take your time. Your life isn’t in danger; the doctors are very optimistic and assured me you’re already on the road to recovery…’
She attempted another smile, hardly more successful than the previous one, and took a succession of deep breaths.
‘They’ve deliberately brought the American economy into chaos to justify a war against China… And they’ve introduced a secret weapon into China, something awesomely powerful they’re about to trigger off when the ultimatum expires. They’ve decided simply to wipe China off the map! Chandler, you’ve got to warn the president! And the vice-president…’
‘Was the president aware of all this? He was his friend, why didn’t he put him in the know?
‘Chandler, they’re all little Hitlers. They pushed America into bankruptcy and then dragged it into depression, all this in order to declare their war, a war that’s going to cause millions of deaths!


A book by JF SUSBIELLE   – Translation by Dominic KING

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