Oasis: The China War: Book One of the Oasis Series, страница 1
Oasis: The China War
a novel by James Kiehle
Copyright©2018 by James Kiehle
All Rights Reserved
Prologue: The Night After
Sitting cross-legged in mud, Russ Perry wondered: Am I the only one left?
Thick copper-colored, smoke-edged clouds drifted above, obscuring the stars. Russ turned to see Mt. Hood behind him, backlit by an eerie orange-and-pewter glow. Farther south, his home town of Bend was far away; a silhouette of high hills and black forest blocked any conceivable view.
Stranded near the top of a mountain, unblinking eyes still wide from shock and fear, Russ was tossing small stones across the flattened, damp grass, trying to keep from going batshit. He stared past a newly-formed, misty glen as if seeing ghosts far off in the forest. Here and now, outside of logically imminent death from predators, unknown forces of nature, lack of potable water, eventual starvation, or sheer loneliness, Perry’s chances for survival registered in the low zeroes.
His thoughts wandered for a second, recalling his wife’s smile, his daughter’s laugh… so Russ shook his head and tried to assess the scope of the wager and not waste time daydreaming or remembering.
Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
Food: Stashed in the rear of his Dodge Caravan minivan somewhere down the hill. From the look of things, there were apparently no animals he could kill for food, as if that was possible. Russ had murdered only cockroaches, spiders, and bugs up through his middle-aged life, though he squished a mouse once, an accident involving heavy boots in a dark basement.
Water: Dasani bottles back in the van, otherwise, ironically, no. Russ was surrounded by possibly radioactive lakes both north and south—undrinkable. No streams visible or heard, just murky pools from the recent flooding fifty feet below.
Shelter: Only the trees for now. Russ knew of an old lodge a mile or so from the Caravan, but its location was a mystery. He’d have to start walking before nightfall to first find his van, then search for the hotel. It couldn’t be that far.
Fire: A real problem. It was getting chilly in the twilight. No dry wood in sight—worse, nothing to start a fire with. Russ didn’t carry matches or a lighter. No need. Again, ironically, an intense line of flames was eating forests far to the east, illuminating the horizon in a 180-degree horizontal arc, but they were nowhere near his end of the woods.
Those were the big four. Without them, death was only a matter of time.
Russell’s chances of making it even through the night were as slim as hearing from his family by cellphone—his wife and daughter were where? Or what? Ashen flakes of bone and flesh scattered on the irradiated bloody shores of Waikiki? Or safely back at home in Bend, folding sheets and picking tomatoes in the small garden, hoping Russ would call soon? His final words to them had masked his panic, saying everything is fine, you’re safe from harm. No, no, don’t cut your trip short. I love you.
Now all that remained of Russell’s original world were the clothes on his back and a gun in his lap, which he absently fondled. A perfectly reasonable solution, that weapon.
Finally, there could be peace.
As far as his family went, at least Russ ended with a loving phrase, not with a rebuke or an argument. All the transgressions and petty misunderstandings were shelved, silenced. All bad grades in school, all failed enterprises, all relocation moves in a search for the perfect place to settle, the perfect job—all the banal, everyday stuff that passed for a life…
The only other living things Russ could see, aside from an obnoxious fly circling his head, was a forest of Douglas firs and Hemlocks that swayed in the breezes, and listened as Russ spoke to heaven. He stood, arms and legs stretched out like the Da Vinci drawing.
“So let me get this straight, God: This was Your divine plan? Apocalypse? Not to second guess, but You’re in charge of this little blue ball in space, right? This earthly paradise? Did you just flat-out give up on us mortals and say screw the Rapture or what? If the idea was to thin the population, well, good work. But otherwise, I speak for any survivors and say You are fired as our Lord God Almighty. No notice, no severance.”
Russ sat down again, emotionally, spiritually, physically spent, knowing full well that God wasn’t to blame. Perry didn’t believe in a deity or Heaven. Fairy tales. Besides, there were so many interlinked man-made and cosmic dangers piling up in the days before the collapse—each singular event foreshadowing larger troubles before the destruction went global—to more than make up any religious slack. Even the Bible, Nostradamus, or the sage Amaria couldn’t predict all that had happened. Television broadcast conditions that changed minute by minute, recorded up until the very last nanosecond by the ever-present eye of the tube, until even that came to an end and the screen went black.
Russ Perry’s obsolete job was—had been—reading other people’s words, sifting through wire reports and dispatches, editing tales of events both local and far away, deciding what was news and what was not.
Then from the heavens a fiery rain that blanketed the skies and covered the Earth in detritus, ushering in wholesale death and changing the entire planet for eternity.
The end of the world was the beginning of—what?
It would be so easy to give up now, knowing that everyone and everything Russ ever cared about was gone, vanished in hard light, morphing from living thing to particles, a rearrangement of molecules spread by the clouds all over the dark planet.
So, really, why did Russell’s living—his survival—still matter? What was the point?
Russ lifted the gun and stared at it. It felt heavy.
Loaded with salvation?
Russ saw imagined ghosts at the edge of the misty field and drifted into memory of the days before, when at least the four basic needs were satisfied. The fifth and possibly most important—Love—didn’t seem like something to live for. He’d already felt love; now it was probably gone forever.
Russ’s mind’s eye paraded remembered views of his wife and daughter—Judy, Iris—so beautiful; their pleasant, pretty, All-American faces topped and framed by Cleopatra haircuts, bodies shaped like Olympic swimmers, minds shaped by intellect and intuition. Maddening sometimes, a little whiny, they still made him smile and probably, in a way, somewhat happy.
Russ lifted the pistol and placed the barrel to his right temple. He closed his eyes, his finger gingerly gripping the trigger. Then, as if a video of his daughter’s face played full screen in his mind, Iris seemingly cocked her head, grinned, and said, “Seriously, daddy, are you nuts?”
1. Breakfast in Beijing
Four days before all hell broke loose, a black Mercedes Maybach limousine zipped through Beijing at twice the posted limit. It wheeled around the northern bend on Tian Tan Donglu, speeding past legions of bicyclists, motorcars and pedestrians, all heading for work before seven in the morning on a hazy day in June. The driver kept her eyes fixed firmly on the butt of the rider on the Suzuki she was tailing.
By protocol, she dared not study the mirror, not look back through glass, not catch a casual glance at her passenger, probably the third most powerful man in China.
And yet, she did.
Behind the glass, the Defense Minister of the People’s Republic of China spoke with his handsome aide, who furiously pumped keys on a laptop computer; an ultra-high-def monitor recessed into an opulent walnut-finish headboard in front of him. When the aide motioned to the screen, it seemed as if he was waving the driver away. She s
His superior was livid, the old man’s face flushed a deep red. Animated and concerned, the minister kept pointing at the screen, screaming something, while his harried-looking assistant—the one with the briefcase chained to his wrist—tried to calm him. The aide had the look of a frightened, if pampered, puppy.
The driver never been introduced to him, was only aware of his rank, a captain.
But his name was Xiong Guoxiong and in four days he would be among the most important people in the history of the world, right up there with Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.
And forever the least known.
Though the back seat was soundproofed, the driver had earlier rigged a listening device, a state-of-the-art microphone no larger than the elegant pen it was concealed in, resting now in the pad before them. Though every word was digitally recorded, the driver would never actually hear the conversation but would simply—and secretly—pass on the device to her contact in a few hours. She presumed that vital information would likely be shipped to Hong Kong, overnighted to Washington, or else scrambled and sent to cyberspace or something.
She didn’t care what happened after she delivered it.
The driver’s ignorance of the actual chat was to prevent an unlikely admission on her part should her treason ever be discovered. Still, she had withstood three years of deep cover and hadn’t been caught yet, and the driver believed it was likely her big, dark, innocent eyes—hidden now by serious black-rimmed sunglasses—that protected her from suspicion. Truthfully, to almost everyone, the driver was both nameless and faceless, a true believer in the laws of hierarchy, one who knew her place.
Silent and efficient.
In short, she was golden, and richer by almost three million dollars off the American taxpayer’s largess, the money secreted away in a Grand Cayman account her expatriate cousin had set up. In her everyday world she lived a spartan life in a four-story walkup in Qaunshan District, owned but three cats, a home computer and a mobile phone. Unlike her few friends, she rarely texted, and when not acting as the driver, she tooled around town on a well-used Vespa.
One day soon, that would change.
The driver followed the lead of the three motorcycle police pacing her, sirens engaged, clearing the way. She edged through the central Parks district; four additional armed escorts following closely behind. They dodged swarms of insane drivers swerving along the wide boulevard, threatening lives. There were thousands of sworn police in Beijing but they’d largely given up on trying to enforce traffic laws.
In the mirror, the driver discreetly failed to read lips backwards.
The elderly leader closed the laptop, leaned back, pinched the bridge of his nose and seemed resigned to some unknown destiny. He chewed his nails as he stared absently at the street, peered out through the dark glass that cloaked his identity from the People, watched faces that blurred as the elegant limo raced past them—dizzy watching them.
In a twist to western organization of independent military authority, in the PRC the second highest position below the president is the Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission, who is usually also the Vice General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, as well as an Army general, but he preferred the title of Minister of Defense. He usually got his way.
The aide said, “Sir, I have reviewed the reports and have concluded that the Americans continue to spend their energies watching North Korea. They seem fixated on the NPRK’s four or five ICBM’s.”
“Four or five? Math was apparently never your strong suit,” the minister corrected. “Besides, America can so easily be distracted. Pour me a tea.”
The aide prepared the beverage, adding honey and lemon and served it to his boss, who watched the great city through tinted glass as he sipped the brew.
Over the wall that rings the Temple of Heaven, the minister could see that, though early, throngs were already in position to climb the white steps that lead to the Prayer for Good Harvest Hall in Tian Tan Park.
The captain looked as well. “So beautiful.”
“This place is a tomb for memories,” the old man told him.
He recalled how as a soldier during the Cultural Revolution, propelled in philosophy by the teachings of Mao and Sun Tzu, he had once guarded the Hall, had led the call to seal it off from dissidents. He found a great peace within its sanctuary. Blissful. Content. Far from here and now.
Though he had not been inside for years, the minister once marveled at the 60-foot-high cupola, ringed by its twelve ornate columns, painted deep red and brilliant gold, topped by the symbolic painting of the Gods, etched high above in the faux clouds. That the Temple had been finished during the Ming Dynasty in 1420 AD as a sacrifice to the Gods made it somehow even more impressive, having survived natural calamities and hundreds of years of changing political landscapes.
How times had changed.
“Do you know why only the Emperor was allowed to cross the Vermillion Steps Bridge?” the minister asked his captain as they passed the massive complex of buildings and temples that made up the two-million-square-meters park.
The aide was only too happy to answer the question. His forefathers had been important players as far back as the long reign of the Qing’s and he was steeped in history.
“Yes, sir, because the Emperor believed it to be the Sacred Way, his pathway to Heaven, and he did not wish to share the experience. The Emperor walked alone while the princes and high officials used the adjacent bridge to cross, slightly behind the Emperor,” he replied. It wasn’t often that the captain was able to answer his commander’s questions correctly and he felt satisfied with his response. In fact, he was seldom asked something that he actually knew he could answer.
But instead of approval, the defense minister merely shook his head, as he so often did, and cast an almost pitying look his way. The minister had a round, weathered face with deep, red veins that coursed across thin skin like a road map of China. Cursed with a pockmarked face that only a mole rat’s mother could love, the minister had thin lips and hard, weary eyes. Hair spurted out from his temples like small, curly shrubs.
“No, captain, it is because the Emperor was a fool,” he said, shaking his head. “He separated himself from the People. It cost him his entry into Heaven—if you believe such nonsense. We must never make that mistake. The People are our reason for living. They are our living Heaven.”
The aide could only manage a tight smile. He was thinking how the minister was not unlike the Emperor. The automobile the leader was riding in cost close to one million dollars, US, and Xiong estimated that it would take the equivalent yearly salaries of 76,000 agricultural workers to pay for it.
Still, the aide replied, “Of course, sir. The People are our priority, always,” while not truly believing it. He was from a class of the elite and knew his kind would excel, no matter the current dogma.
“The old ways have passed. I’ve watched it happen, captain. I’ve seen China jump from the 19th century to the 21st in a snap! Sadly, reliance on technology has moved the People into decline. We must strive to be Hongguo again,” he said, meaning ‘great nation.’
The aide was confused. “Isn’t China already the greatest nation? Where do you see the problem, sir?”
“Take your pick. Our crops have been failing, earthquakes and floods have killed hundreds of thousands, animal flu is now running rampant, and we need to import more and more from outside China. The People have become lazy, demanding, and greedy. Greed consumes them. It’s all we, as a government, can do to hold on. The People. They need a shaking up.”
The aide nodded soberly.
“These are the issues at hand,” the minister went on. “These are the important questions, but only the important answers count. And there is only one real answer to our situation.”
The minister paused, hands clasped in his lap, looking pleased. The captain had to wonder if the old man was preparing his speech.
It took a few moments to register in the captain’s mind.
“We are invading Taiwan?” he whispered.
The defense minister was emphatic. “Reclaiming Taiwan. It’s legally ours. The island has had their experiment with democracy; it is time they came back to the fold. Return to China. Take their rightful place as a province.”
The captain sat back in the plush seat, the ramifications running rampant through his mind. A liberation of the island would involve tens of thousands of soldiers, airmen and sailors; amazing levels of planning and logistics. And yet all this information had been kept from him.
He felt shame.
Yes, he was fairly new to the job, but from a prominent family, with ties that got him the job as the minister’s assistant after scrupulous vetting. As he sat in the dark behind the reinforced steel and bulletproof smoked glass, the captain realized how far his star had fallen—and how quickly.
The aide felt disoriented, out of the loop.
Only the briefcase attached to his wrist gave him any semblance of pride.
“History does not applaud timid men,” the minister told him. “You can quote me.”
The captain thought: No need, sir. I saw that once on a bumper sticker in Berkeley.
The driver and her military escorts swerved right onto Dianmen Dajie, passing by Mao’s Tomb and the renowned Tiananmen Square beyond, then roared through the Dongcheng District. Bystanders strained to peer inside this car of cars. Some held up their hands to shield their stares against the light of a bright sun seen through a persistent patina of urban pollution. It seemed as if they were about to witness Brad Pitt cruising in the limo instead of China’s Defense Minister.
People gabbed on phones or texted while they nibbled on You Tiao, the deep-fried doughy morning staple of Chinese breakfast, the sight of which made the aide hungry. He had been up since four and only had a small, warm, savory bowl of Congee, a watery porridge-like food that he livened up with marinated pork left over from the night before. Still, his stomach growled. The minister heard it and laughed.