“Do you want war?” yelled the Chinese Premier down the phone to the President of the United States. “Because wars have been started over far, far less!”

“With respect, Mr Premier, we had no choice but to respond after your sub sunk the Abraham Lincoln,” replied POTUS. “You had to expect a response with the whole world watching.”

“Bah! With greater respect, Mr President, I already told you that we didn’t initiate that attack,” replied the Premier, shifting uncomfortably on the chair in his luxury hotel room in Manhattan. “Why would we? What would there be to be gained? If we haven’t responded to your other provocations in the South China Sea, why would we now?”

“The missile came from one of your hunter-killers,” said POTUS, emotions in check. “That is an unmistakable fact.”

“A submarine you also sunk, which puts you ahead in casualty stakes.”

“It’s more helpful if we don’t think of things in those terms, Mr Premier.”

Which, thought the Premier, was an easy thing for the person with fewer casualties to say. “In any case, we think the sub missile was launched by one of those ninjas running loose.”

“Chinese ninjas, by all accounts. Trained by your military.”

Alleged Chinese ninjas.”

“Alleged, then.” Both men had an archness in the voices, unaccustomed as they were to being so directly challenged. POTUS continued: “I’m sorry, Mr Premier, but I have to answer to my people and my military. Action was required.”

“That action was unjust,” said the Premier, still angry. “Many other ships were destroyed besides the Sun Wu.” The Premier recalled the scene of the wreckage, now being played side-by-side on the world’s TVs with the footage of the downed American carrier. The images enraged him – how dare the Americans kill his people? – but the death toll and the mysterious manner in which the Chinese aircraft carrier was destroyed produced in him not a little awe.

In the end, perhaps death was the only thing not overrated in life.

But back to the duplicitous American on the other end of the phone.

The Premier continued: “Now I have to answer to MY people. They’re furious, too. Our national prestige has been assaulted. There’s an angry mob outside your embassy in Beijing.”

“Matched by an equally angry mob outside your embassy in New York. But to answer your previous question, no, we don’t want war. I want to do everything possible to avoid that.”

“Attacking our navy is a poor way to start, then.” The Premier glanced over at the armed bodyguards in the room. “What exactly did you use, anyway? God’s own gun?”

His people had told him the attack had come from space, which is why the Chinese military was readying its anti-satellite missiles and searching for a target. The Premier had heard that the Americans had cancelled Project Thor, its secret project to deliver a kinetic orbital strike from space . . . but maybe they had mothballed Thor to create a newer, better weapon. So much for the Outer Space Treaty banning weapons of mass destruction from space.

But the US President wasn’t giving anything away. “The weapon system is classified, Mr Premier. What is not classified is my sincere desire to sit down with you and talk this over.”

The Premier paused and leant back in his chair, thinking furiously. He was already ensconced in his hotel ahead of tomorrow’s UN meeting when they had learnt of the sinking of the aircraft carrier. He was now in enemy territory. His security people had quickly taken over all the floors of the hotel – rudely evicting VIPs from the top floor – and turned the building into a fortress. A fortress filled with giant TVs and marble spa baths, but a fortress still.

More armed Chinese agents were outside, maintaining a wide perimeter around the hotel.

The Americans let it happen, maintaining a respectful distance. Such efforts had been anticipated by the home forces.

For now, there was an uneasy stalemate.

And it was going to take a lot more than the ritualistic exchange of pandas to solve this political problem.

The Premier hadn’t lied. The Chinese people were demanding a response. His military wanted to respond as well, anxious to shake off the “peace disease” that had afflicted and weakened their ranks. Escalation was in the air. The US and Chinese navies were facing each other, commanders with fingers on triggers waiting for the order to fire. Rival jets were flying so close to each other it was a miracle none had collided. Citizens both East and West were baying for each other’s blood, humiliated by the blows to their national prestige.

“Why should I meet with you tomorrow? How do I know you don’t have more outrages planned?”

“Because the criminals behind this are pushing us towards conflict . . . conflict neither of us really want. The world is holding its breath, just like it did during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mr Premier, this is our Cuban Missile Crisis. A show of unity at the UN would be the best way to show everyone that we’re jointly determined not to be cowed or coerced by terrorism.”

“By all rights, I should just leave. Your actions prove you are a poor host.”

“I implore you to stay, Mr Premier,” said POTUS, soundly deeply sincere. “This is a time for unity. For diplomacy. Not for leaving the negotiating table. We need to unclench our hands.” And our sphincters, perhaps, thought the Premier. Then the other man added: “I can guarantee your safety.”

For a moment the US President sounded like a Mafia godfather, guaranteeing a rival’s security at a sit-down where the rival would be assassinated.

The Chinese Premier paused for a long time. Many thoughts swirled through his head. The sinking of the carrier. His own domestic political situation. The military posture of the Americans. The risk of his own assassination, just like that of the American Vice President, a secret his security forces had winkled out. The possible repercussions if he did leave.

What was the right thing to do? What would be gained by staying? Was “POTUS” planning further attacks?

The American President was supposedly a “good” and “honest” man. But how “good” could any leader that sent men to their deaths be? And how “honest” was any leader who would give the order to suddenly blow an aircraft carrier out of the water with a secret, undeclared weapon?

The Chinese Premier often found the Americans inconsistent. Whereas the Chinese stated their intentions and kept their word – the benefits, perhaps of having a one-party system – American policy and intentions sometimes varied between Presidents and administrations. That made them unpredictable, prone to about-turns and policy changes based on personality and public opinion.

And they called the Chinese inscrutable.

But POTUS wasn’t completely off the mark. They had both lost aircraft carriers. There was a delicate balance of sorts as the two navies stared down at each other on the South China Sea.

“Mr Premier?” prompted POTUS.

The Chinese Premier paused again. He needed to make the right decision here, particularly after the early “retirement” of his predecessor. The stakes for him – personally – were high. Perhaps he needed to play for time. Perhaps staying put was the wise move.

And above all else he needed to make the wise move. His predecessor had made “unwise” moves. And look what had happened to him.

And so the Chinese Premier eventually said: “I will stay, Mr President. But there had better be no more surprises. No more sunken ships or death from above. Because then we might be faced with circumstances neither of us will be able to control.”

Continue the story with Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback. And see how the story started with the first book, The Spartan, out now.

The inside of the elite retirement home boasted the sort of wood-meets-marble-meets-money look that rich retirees and Bohemian Grovers drooled over. Judging by the level of comfort and the contented demeanor of its occupants, the casual observer would never think that the mighty USA was suffering outside. This was a port from the storm, an oasis of calm in the surrounding scorched earth.

Garin shuffled along the blond wood floor past patients, nurses and doctors, keeping his face hidden under his sailor hat, until he came close to the door he wanted. Checking to make sure no one was watching, he silently let himself in.

Inside, the room’s single, white male occupant – a man in his mid-80s – was sleeping lightly, snoring under the blankets, his nose making a whistling noise.

Looking at him, he seemed like just another old coot . . . hardly the man behind one of the 20th century’s most terrible crimes.

Garin recalled images he’d seen of his suspect: first as a vital young Turk, then as a middle-aged powerbroker with his face blacked out in secret photos, and finally as he was today, thinned out, face like sandpaper. Yes, it was him. Eyeball confirmation. Target is green.

The colonel pulled a chair from the corner and brought it near the bed, the chair complaining with a squeaking noise. As he moved closer, Garin looked at the cross above the patient’s bed. He smiled a wry smile, briefly remembering his own holier-than-thou youth. It had been a long time since he had heard His voice. And he probably never would again . . . regularly coveting his neighbor’s ass was the least of his trespasses against the 10 Commandments.

Meanwhile, the asshole in the bed kept snoring.

Garin grabbed the vase, threw out the flowers and tossed its water into the man’s face. A second or two later he spluttered. Joe Patient’s eyes came to life.

“What? What?”

“It’s time for your sponge bath, sir,” said Garin merrily.

“Who are you?” said the other man, eyes blinking rapidly. “What are you doing in here?”

“What, you’re not buying the sponge bath story?” said Garin conversationally, removing his hat, folding his legs and taking a seat. “Anyway, who am I is classified. I could tell you who I am, but then I’d have to kill you.”

The patient stared at Garin warily. “I don’t know you. Get the fuck out of here.”

“And here I thought all men were brothers.”

“To hell with this,” said the patient, reaching out for the control with the “nurse” button on it. Garin gently removed it from his liver-spotted grasp.

“Ah, ah. Don’t be naughty.”

“If you want money there’s some in the drawer,” said the man, now afraid.

“It’s not about money.”

“Then what do you want? Get to the point, then get out,” said the man in the bed, pointing his eyes at the door.

“No foreplay? Fine. Why am I here? JFK.” Three letters that hung in the air like an accusation. An accusation that travelled through the decades of history, begging for an answer that never came.

The man opposite looked like he’d just seen a ghost.

“JFK?” he croaked.

“Yes, John F. Kennedy, former President of the United States of America. Someone you know only too well.”

There was another long, fraught pause, interrupted only by the sound of the humming air-conditioner.

“Everybody knew JFK,” came the weak reply.

“Some better than others. Like you. Even if your name never came up during the Warren Commission. Even if your finger wasn’t on the trigger that day in Dallas.” Garin leaned in. “Only the rest are now horse glue. You’re the last. And I’m not about to let you get away clean.”

Garin then said the man’s real name. The patient made a strange, choked-off noise, as if he hadn’t heard those unfamiliar words in a long time. His hands shook. If it were another man, Garin might have placed a gentle hand on his to calm him. Yet he didn’t. Instead, he said: “You’re at the end of the road. So why not bare your soul?”

The man’s eyes lit up in panic again. Then, a certain acceptance came over them. Then calculation.

“You open the kimono first,” he said slowly. “Who are you?”

“My name is Colonel Garin. Lover, fighter, retweeter.”

“I’ve heard of you. What was it, special forces? SOCOM?” SOCOM being short for United States Special Operations Command.

“And Homeland Security, among other things.”

The patient fixed Garin with a malevolent look. “Are you like one of those assholes who never got over Vietnam?”

“Wrong war.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, colonel, but don’t you have better things to be doing right now? Have you looked outside the window? The country is godforsaken. FUBAR, even.”

Garin’s eyes were drawn to the window in the room, then back towards the patient. “I do have better things to do. But I thought you didn’t deserve to die peacefully in your sleep. You and your friends robbed the US of a great President.”

The patient shifted under the sheets. “Didn’t you hear? Oswald did it.”

“Very funny. But I do the jokes here.”

“Who sent you? I can’t imagine anyone giving you clearance for this.”

Garin laughed. “You’re the first person I ever met who hoped that red tape would save them. No, I sent myself. One of the benefits of giving orders. Occasionally you can give one to yourself.”

“You still can’t do this. This is America.”

“This was America.”

Garin’s target exhaled as the weight of a great secret left him. “I always wondered if someone like you was going to turn up on my door one day. For years, I used to check underneath my car for bombs. I watched for strange cars in the driver mirror. I woke up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, expecting to find a hitman in the bedroom.”

Garin nodded. “Guilty conscience, eh?”

“But after so many decades, I realized no one was coming. So, I got on with living my life. A rich, full life I may add, asshole.” Garin didn’t react to the barb. “Now I suppose you want to know why. Like every other dime-store detective out there.”

Garin nodded.

The patient sneered. “Why is a child’s question. You already know why. Because it had to be done. JFK was soft on Communism. Hell, he let the Beard install nuclear weapons on Cuba. On our very doorstep!”

“Permit me to ‘Greedo’ you here . . .”

“What?”

“’Greedo’. It’s Star Wars speak for violently cutting someone off. Which is what I’m doing over your claim that the Commies unilaterally installed nukes in our backyard. Because we had our own Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Right on the USSR’s doorstep. So it was natural for the Russkies to respond by putting theirs in Cuba.”

The patient was unimpressed. “So what? That doesn’t mean Kennedy shouldn’t have backed our boys during the Bay of Pigs. JFK was losing the Cold War. The arrogant bastard was threatening our interests all over the world. He was going to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces. If we’d left it to him he would have cut off our balls and handed them to the Russians.

“So . . . we did what needed to be done. We acted. With the help of our friends.”

“Your friends . . . I know all about those ‘goodfellas’ of yours,” Garin said with disdain.

“You hypocrite,” spat the patient. “Are your hands clean? What have you done for God and country?”

Garin nodded his head slowly, finally agreeing with the cur on something. “You’re right. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’ve never had a President assassinated.”

“The world is full of sin,” came the reply. “Is this what you’ve been reduced to . . . avenging one sin at a time?”

Garin carefully considered this surprising riposte. Eventually he said: “In the end, every man draws a circle around himself and says, ‘Everything inside this circle, I accept. Everything outside this circle, I cannot accept.’” Garin pointed his finger at the other man. “And you, I cannot accept.” Garin then stood up, reached over and removed the man’s pillow from under his head. “Anyway, you seem uncomfortable. Let me fluff up your pillow.”

The JFK conspirator knew what was coming. In Garin’s experience, men could be divided into two categories at this point: those that attempted to beg, plead or rationalise at the end; and those that said “fuck you” in the face of oblivion.

The JFK conspirator was the latter.

“Damn you to hell!” he shouted. “It was 50 years ago! No one cares any more!”

“I care,” said Garin sadly.

“Who do you think you are, some kind of hero? Who will ever know what you’ve done here?”

I’ll know. And in some strange way, history will know.”

The prone figure laughed bitterly. “History won’t know dick.” He laughed again, then shook his head. “Whacking a senior citizen in a retirement village . . . they’ll give you the Medal of Honor for sure!”

“Hush now.” Garin loomed over him, holding the pillow above the man’s head. “Incidentally, the pillow’s not for your benefit. It’s for the maid’s.”

“I regret nothing!” yelled the conspirator with his last ounce of strength. “I’m a patriot! I did my duty!”

“I’m doing my duty, too.” Garin bunched up the pillow, feeling feathers in his fingers and the rush that always came before the kill. “JFK sends his regards.”

The pillow descended.

Continue reading with Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback. Then read the first instalment, The Spartan, out now as an ebook.

For the Young Adult book market, the biggest event is the release of a new Harry Potter novel. For the adult literary market – particularly for those with a taste for the historical – the release of a new Hilary Mantel novel is perhaps its equivalent.
The Mirror and the Light, the third and final instalment to Mantel’s superb, million-selling Thomas Cromwell trilogy, was released last month. Critics are already enthused about the Booker winner’s latest offering, calling it a masterpiece.
I have already ordered my copy and blocked out time to pore through its 912 pages with glee. I regard Mantel’s story about the rise and fall of King Henry the Eighth’s Chief Minister as the most enthralling historical work since I, Claudius (or, as many a schoolboy called it, Roman letters included, “I, Clavdivs”). The TV series starring Claire Foy, Damian Lewis and Oscar winner Mark Rylance as Cromwell also rivals the television adaptation of I, Claudius.
Yes, I admit it: I have “Mantel mania”.
Yet is saddens me to think that others will turn their back on the new book, not only for the number of pages, but also because it is “historical”. I noticed a disdain way back in high school for modern and ancient history, a lack of interest in the tales of the Greeks, Tudors and Romans but also Australia’s own history. As for myself, I was so fascinated by the Spartans they have influenced my own books.
Sadly, this disdain has made its way into society. History is “fusty” and “boring”. Statues and memorials are Airbnbs for pigeons, not opportunities for reflection.
Yet without history, how do we understand where we are now? How will we appreciate the eternal battle between church and state? How will we mark the many wars, the many sacrifices, the many inventions that helped create today’s society? How will we avoid the mistakes of history if we don’t know what they are, such as “the Thucydides Trap”?
If we don’t read and understand history, we won’t appreciate it, either in books or in our landscape.
We will condemn our history to the wrecking ball, as we seem to be already doing in our major cities.
Then there is my current fear: that the terrible memories of the recent bushfires will be forgotten. That amid new events and catastrophes, COVID-19 or otherwise, we will forget the smoke in the cities, the terrible toll in the bush, and be surprised if and when it happens again.
For those who don’t learn history are in danger of being continually surprised.
Or, even worse: they are doomed to repeat it.

Keep the reading going with my military thriller The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then enjoy the sequel, Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback.

The Chinese Premier had learnt how to handle unexpected phone calls from the US President. Typically his American opposite asked him to address the vast difference in their balance of trade, to let the yuan appreciate or to do something about Chinese protectionism. Or, most tiresome of all, he would lecture him about human rights like he was addressing the White House press gallery in public and not the Chinese Premier in private.

The premier would listen politely, promise to look into it – and then, just like the Japanese had done with the Americans decades before, when they were at the height of their powers, do nothing. He wasn’t about to hamstring China for winning at a game that the Americans themselves had help create. The Americans had forgotten one of the rules of international diplomacy: never ask for something you don’t have the strength to take.

The latest G20 summit, where the heads of Europe had offered him and China’s money a rock star welcome while the US President sat fuming on the sidelines, should have told the Americans everything they needed to know about the new global realpolitik.
Yet it was with great alarm that he heard the president rage about the presence of biological weapons of mass destruction on American soil. Worse, that he had proof of Chinese involvement in bringing them to the States, and plans to detonate them. The furious president said that if even one went off he would hold China responsible, and he couldn’t guarantee what would happen next. America had invaded Iraq on the strength of suspected weapons of mass destruction. They were stone-cold paranoid about WMDs. If they had proof of real ones on US soil …

Now coldly angry, both at the threat and the idea that someone had planned this attack behind his back – he would never have authorised something like this during China’s catch-up phase – the premier promised he would do everything in his power to assist the president. That as soon as he got off the phone he would launch an immediate investigation, starting with the background of the assailant that had been caught, now dead. (Did the Americans torture him to death, he wondered.) He would send some of his best men to assist in the investigation. The premier offered the US President China’s full co-operation, and he meant it. The president said he’d phone again soon and that he hoped they could avert catastrophe together.

When the call was ended, the Chinese Premier slammed his fist on his desk. He did not need this kind of headache. He did not want any disruption to the status quo, anything that might make the people restive and question their leaders. He did not want an Arab Spring sweeping his country, where the West hypocritically turned on its former partners and installed new leaders. The lesson of Colonel Gaddafi, that strutting buffoon, was that any country without weapons of mass destruction could be invaded and overthrown by the West. China would never make that mistake. Its leaders would never allow themselves to be pulled out of a drain pipe and shot in the head by rebels like the late Libyan dictator. They would not die suspiciously of “exhaustion” on military trains like the late Kim Jong-il. There would be no Chinese Spring.

He knew that some of his generals had talked about war with America – seemingly welcomed it, even, yearning to embrace China’s glorious military heritage. The military was always pushing the civilian establishment, jostling for position, seeing how far it could go and how much ground it could win from the soft civilians. The premier knew how the military thought: they viewed politicians as weak, corruptible. Yet the premier and his cohorts were far from weak. And corruption was a country-wide problem, from the lowest villager to the most powerful general.

The Communist Party as a principle was firmly against such a war with the US. Not until China’s economy rivalled America’s, along with its army, would they consider such a step. And it wouldn’t be a full-scale war: more like a lesson. Such as seizing the recalcitrant Taiwan and fending off the inevitable US response. Or discouraging American warships in Asia with patrols of their own. No, with trillions of Chinese yuan pumped into the US economy and millions of Chinese working in factories making products to sell to the US, China didn’t want to destroy the US. You don’t destroy your best customer. But China did hope to supplant it, in Asia, in Europe, in Africa.

The Chinese Premier picked up the phone. “Get me everyone,” he said.

Continue reading with The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then keep reading with the sequel, Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback.

 

“Why, it’s the most interesting man you know, come to pay you a visit.”
“Welcome Colonel Garin,” said the president’s secretary, Harmony, a blonde beauty in her early fifties. “The president is expecting you.” Garin sat on the desktop next to her. He detected a delightful perfume coming from her.
“Thanks, darling.”
“Darling?” said Harmony, trimmed eyebrows raised. “Ever heard of sexual harassment, Colonel Garin?”
“What, I’ll be prosecuted because I haven’t harassed you enough?” Harmony laughed a delightful knowing laugh. She had always liked Garin, his direct sexuality, something far removed from the young stuffed shirts who paraded through the office. She seemed about to say something when the president’s door opened.
“Stop flirting with my secretary and get in here, Colonel Garin.” Garin winked at Harmony.
“Another time,” he said.
“Enter freely and of your own will,” said the President as he waved Garin through the door into the Oval Office. Every time he came in here he was impressed by the sense of history that came with the room. The President gestured for the colonel to sit in a chair. Garin sat down before the president’s desk.
“I’d like to say your visits are welcome, colonel, but you always tell me something appalling in afoot. I feel like Pavlov’s puckering dog – every time you enter my sphincter puckers in fear.” The colonel laughed.
“I’m afraid this time it’s not any better, sir. Maybe even worse.” The President sighed. He’d gotten visibly older since taking on the job. His hair was greyer, his features older. But still a vital president. Still a good man. Garin had voted for him – several times, actually, in the same election.
“A Chinese agent was caught trying to plant a biological weapon on a rooftop in Brighton Beach.”
The President sat bolt upright. “What?”
“Preliminary intel suggests it is part of a larger conspiracy to attack the US with more such devices. Blues States, Red States – none are safe.  We don’t know how many canisters and agents are out there, but I believe we have four days to find them.”  The president was shocked. His handsome face did something weird.
“Sweet mercy. What was in the canisters?”
“I’m having the one we have analysed. But I believe it is ….” Garin told him what it was – an incredibly contagious bioweapon made during the Cold War. Limited edition batch. Made people bleed from eyes to asshole before it killed them. Part of Project Rebirth.
“The Russians were willing to kill everyone in the United States with biological weapons?” gasped the president.
“It was the Cold War, sir,” reasoned Garin. “Both sides had all sorts of bullshit plans. We probably had one of our own just like Project Rebirth.”
“I don’t want to even know. So now we have multiple canisters of it waiting to go off? And the Chinese are behind it?”
“It looks like it, sir. Frankly, it was only blind luck we even caught this first one.”
“Luck?” exclaimed the president, practically hyperventilating. “We spend billions … trillions! … so we don’t have to rely on luck!”
“Sometimes that’s what it comes down to, Mr President. Sorry. Anyway, an associate caught this man in his club. He’s old-school – he looks people in the eye rather than rely on technology.” The president looked ill.
“But why a nightclub?”
“We don’t know that for sure. It could be personal. But if it is what we think it is, the weapon is so contagious it doesn’t matter where you detonate them. There’s an incubation period of a few hours, so by the time people realise they’re sick they’ve spread it on. The problem is, the symptoms don’t reveal themselves for days.” The President nodded. He’d been fully briefed on chemical warfare.
“Thus spreading the contagion to the maximum number of people. I want that substance analysed immediately so we know what we’re dealing with, and whether there is any cure.” The President saw the red light on his phone go on, but he ignored it. “Where is this Chinese agent now?”
“He’s dead.”
“Dead?”
As dead as newspapers. Killed during interrogation by my associate.” The President frowned.
“I don’t condone torture, Colonel Garin.”
“I know sir.” That’s why I don’t tell you when I use “enhanced interrogation techniques”, thought Garin. “But there are some encouraging leads there.” The president appeared to be staggering under the weight of this new information.
“Guess I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.” Garin took pity on him and tossed him a pack of Luckies and some matches.
“Smoke ’em if you’ve got em.” The president lit up.
“Thanks. The press would crucify me if they saw me smoking again.”
“I think no one would begrudge you a puff on a moment like this, sir.” The president took a drag.
“I guess it was too much to expect that terrorism died with Osama bin Laden.”
“Yes sir. Terrorism never dies. There are only peaks and troughs.” The president blew out smoke.
“Why would China do this?”
“I admit that it is a dangerous escalation, sir. But let’s consider what we know about them. Firstly, let’s look at their aims. They want to re-absorb Taiwan back into the motherland and resent us selling Taiwan advanced weaponry, as well as our treaties to protection them if China attacks. Secondly, they are an ally of North Korea and want all American troops out of the Koreas. Thirdly, they regard the territory of the seas around China as their own and want to greatly restrict or stop our navies patrolling the area. Fourth, they’re tired of us bleating on about human rights and get the shits whenever we let the Dalai Lama visit the country. In short, they want us out of Asia sir so they can dominate the region once again, as they have done historically.”
The president leaned back in his black leather chair, more thoughtful now, over his initial shock. “Many of our allies want us in Asia as a counterbalance against Chinese power.”
“Agreed, sir. But let’s look at some of China’s other actions. As we know, they have launched anti-satellite missiles against their own satellites. The implication has to be that if they ever go to war with us they can blind our eyes in the sky. We already know they are working on an anti-aircraft carrier missile to destroy our carriers. Meanwhile, they’ve built and launched their own aircraft carriers. They have advanced cyber warfare capabilities. Their hackers are constantly attacking our nodes, testing for weaknesses and searching for information. They are working feverishly on updating all of their military equipment, modernising their armed forces.
“Our various bodies are tracking at least 15,000 known Chinese agents, spies, paid sources and operatives in America, who are trying to steal every technological secret they can get their hands on for their military and their economy. They’ve even tried to recruit non-Chinese to spy for China – with some success, I may add. The Chinese are hoovering up any and all information like a vacuum cleaner.”
The president was surprised by the large number of agents. “Fifteen thousands – still that many?”
“ And that’s just the ones we know about. We know they want to world to replace the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Meanwhile, they hold trillions of our debt. America is becoming dependent on their money to stay afloat. And our human intelligence network in China is very weak.”
“What is your final analysis, then?”
“It’s simple, sir. They are building their strength to challenge and inevitably replace us as the world’s dominant power. And if you look at history, from the rise of France and Great Britain and Germany to our own rise, no great power has assumed its place on the world stage without some kind of major conflict. Throw in dwindling oil supplies, a strong nationalist sentiment in China, the rise in power of its generals and continued competition for scarce resources around the globe and it’s a recipe for conflict. It’s a question of not if, but when.”
“God … I need another cigarette after that.”
“But I have some good news, sir. I don’t believe now is the time. Despite everything, the Chinese economy and armed forces are still inferior to our own. I would think such a conflict is 10-20 years away. Certainly not within your presidency, sir.” The president laughed grimly. “I suspect that this attack is the work of possibly a rogue group within the Chinese military. Intel – and my hunch – suggests as much. If the Communist Party really wanted to scare us, they’d probably choke their chickens.” The president chuckled again despite himself.
“Choke their chickens? Is that some kind of sex reference, colonel?”
“No. It’s a proverb: choke a chicken to scare a monkey. Attack a lesser target to warn off the bigger one. We’re the monkey. Only someone seems to have bypassed the chicken stage all together. I’m betting it’s a higher-up tired of waiting for our come-uppance. Their military was always more eager for war with us than their politicians. My suspect would be some powerful military guy whose brain has gone AWOL.” The president nodded.
“Hopefully, we’re dealing with a very small number of Chinese operatives who are probably working without state sanction. With any luck, we’ll be able to keep this completely under wraps. No one will read about it for decades.” And maybe they’ll be a convenient fire in the records department, thought Garin. Or a flood. Every document will be destroyed. Computer hard drives will be ruined.
“I hope so. I’ve already got enough problems. My healthcare initiatives are hanging by a thread. I’m still trying to repair the economic damage after the global financial crisis. America has some difficult years ahead.”
“I hear you, sir. My people are working on a file for you on this latest crisis. It will be with you within the hour. I believe you may even be able to enlist the Chinese in helping you stop the attack. They could find out more about this plot.”
“Good thinking. I’ll call as soon as I’ve read the report. I’m not looking forward to that phone call. We already have enough beefs with China over our trade deficit and protectionism and the yuan.” The president paused. “There isn’t a great spirit of co-operation between our two countries, let me tell you. I don’t have a hot phone where I can reach the premier like we had with the Russians.”
“Good luck with your call, Mr President. Meanwhile, I’ll co-ordinate the search from Homeland Security. And I’ll put my top man on the recovery of the weapons.”
“This top man of yours … is he discreet?” The colonel smiled.
“That is one word I wouldn’t use to describe him, sir. But he always gets the job done.”
“Just the one man? You sure you don’t want a small army?”
“He is an army,” smiled Garin. “An army of one, just like in the recruiting ads. But I’ll also be throwing all of Homeland Security’s resources on it, Mr President.”
“Be discreet if you can. I don’t want to see tracer bullets on Time Square. Or news of the plot reaching the press.” The president exhaled. “I want you to report directly to me on this, Garin. I’ll brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Situation Room, find out our options and our readiness against a biological attack. If some of those devices go off this could mean war.” Garin looked at the president, wondering whether he had the gumption to obliterate millions in nuclear retaliation if it came down to it, to pull the trigger on mutual annihilation.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that, sir,” said Garin as he stood. “If that is all, I’ll get right to work.”
The president nodded, then returned his attention to papers on his desk. As Garin reached the door the president called out to him.
“You know what day it is in four days, don’t you, colonel?”
“Yes sir. July the 4th. Independence Day.”

Continue the story with The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then keep reading with the sequel Game Of Killers: The Spartan, available as a paperback and ebook.

Bad news comes in threes, and for those enlightened few still paying attention to the big picture, news that China had overnight banned all flights to and from the US was a shock. The Chinese publicly blamed a potential SARS-like virus emanating from the US. Privately, they were preparing themselves in case one of their rogue agents succeeding to letting off one of the plague bombs. And they were putting all their chips on the bet that at least one would succeed.
The public, being information poor, knew little better – as long as there was still NASCAR, the Lingerie Football League, soap operas, movies about boy wizards battling evil sorcerers, celebrity miracle diets and medieval-themed chain restaurants, life went on as normal. Yet the rich and powerful were alert and alarmed, antennae up. The smart money was short-selling American companies on the stock exchange. Important IPOs were mysteriously delayed. More than one American billionaire had tried to flee the country on “business”. Garin had had his men stop their Gulfstreams at the airport, cars with flashing lights blocking take-off, telling them they had to stay for reasons of Homeland Security. They had kicked up a stink – “don’t you know who I am?” – but to hell with them, Garin thought. You made your billions here, you dodged taxes here, you can die here along with everyone else if it came down to that.
Meanwhile, the nation’s finest content providers and establishment print media who sniffed Pulitzer material were pursuing the virus story with vigour. Were the Chinese right? Was there evidence of a SARS-style virus on American soil? If so, where? Was there a link between a potential virus and the raising of the terrorism threat level? What was the reasoning behind all military leave for soldiers stationed in the US being cancelled? Why won’t the president clarify the situation?
The President couldn’t clarify anything, knee-deep as he was in apocalypse planning. In the halls of US power, grim cogitations were taking place in secret rooms behind closed doors. (In the past one would have described those rooms as “secret smoky rooms”, where general puffed on cigars as they plotted nuclear trajectories, but now even the Pentagon was a non-smoking area. Smoking while discussing the apocalypse was a health hazard, apparently.)
Preparations for containing a civilian outbreak were continuing. A quick check of the plot space in the nation’s graveyards proved that they were woefully inadequate for the type of mega-casualties expected in the case of mass biological outbreak. Garin wondered if they’d end all up in a Doctor Strangelove-type world, living in mineshafts 100 feet under the ground, 10 women to every man, having mandatory sex to create babies and bring the population and GDP back up.
Plans for isolating entire cities in case of outbreak were finalised. Police were reminded to read their manuals for dealing with terrorist threats. News of the directive quickly leaked to the net: more fodder for the conspiracy theorists and Armageddon scaremongers. Beat cops were pulled away from handing out tickets and attending domestic disputes to search for the terrorists.
Meanwhile, the American empire busied itself protecting its overseas interests. Luminaries important to the US economy on the ground in China were quietly advised to leave the Communist state and return home, by private jet, boat or other means. Sprout wings if you have to, but get out of Dodge. Explanations had been suitably vague and dire. Other VIPs across Asia were told to be on a high state of alert.
Uncle Sam’s armed forces changed their posture accordingly. Nuclear-armed submarines were sent into position in South East Asia, missiles in range of the Chinese heartland. American aircraft carriers headed en masse into the region for “training exercises”. An express delivery of armed democracy. Spy satellites were diverted to orbit above China. Long-range bombers were given new orders, new flight paths. Allied countries were quietly tapped on the shoulder, reminded of long-dormant security treaties and commitments. You got rich on our watch, we protected you from the commies, now it’s time to pay Uncle Sam back. Important people around the world were shadowed by operatives: some with orders to protect, others with orders to neutralise if worst came to worst. The country’s defence readiness condition quietly slipped to DEFCON 2 – one step before DEFCON 1, or imminent war.
America suspected – in fact, knew – that China was mirroring many of its own actions. Its submarines had been tracked approaching the US east coast. Red satellites changed course. Critical members of the Chinese diaspora  were warned. Nuclear weapons were tested for readiness. Sleeper agents were activated. The drums of war beat louder. And if those plague bombs went off, it would only take a small push, or a regrettable incident, or an overzealous commander with his finger on the trigger for the world to go up in flames.

Keeping reading with The Spartan, now available as an ebook. Then follow the story in Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out as a paperback and ebook.

Marchenko unsealed the fridge and removed the suspicious device.
“Good thing it didn’t go off in the club,” said Colonel Garin, staring at the metallic canister.
“We’ve got the remote control,” said Marchenko.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be standing so close to this.” Neither man moved back.
“Afraid, American?”
“Only of the clap … so what do you think it is?” Garin asked.
“A weaponised, contagious vectoral agent. A bioweapon.” Marchenko told Garin what Chen had said. Garin flared up.
“It’s a weapon of mass destruction. Screw you Ruskis for this!”
Marchenko appeared offended. “We couldn’t afford to keeping spending billions of dollars on missiles and planes to keep up with you. Bioweaponry was much cheaper. And we were good at it.” Marchenko gestured towards the canister. “I think this is part of Project Rebirth.”
“What in the name of Sputnik is Project Rebirth?”
“The idea was to seed many of these canisters around the US and release them in case of war. I never knew the precise details, but the substance mimics something like the flu. It takes a while before it kills you – several days I think. By the time anyone realises what they’ve got it’s too late.”
“Like SARS. The only effective treatment is right at the beginning.”
“Right. It’s highly infectious. It doesn’t have the transmission problems of other viruses. A cough or a touch … fuck me roughly with a horse’s cock, even close proximity will do it. You’ll pass it on before you know you’re infected. Within hours. And it’s something like 90 per cent fatal. It was tested on Russian political prisoners, some of them vor. First you get the chills, then you start throwing up – a few hours later you start bleeding through your eyes and nose. Then violent sickness, major organ failure and death.”
“What does the rebirth part of Project Rebirth mean?”
“It means that the North American continent would be scoured free of life and a communist rebirth could begin.” Garin’s eyebrows reached for the sky.
“Fuuu-ck!”
Marchenko seemed unimpressed by Garin’s reaction. “What – you didn’t have plans like these of your own? What about your own bioweapon stockpile?”
“We destroyed them, just like the treaty said,” lied Garin.
Marchenko smiled sceptically. “Someone obviously decided to keep some canisters lying around in case you didn’t live up to your end of the bargain.”
“Wipe that smirk off your face. We’re in a world of shit here.” Garin had seen enough.
“Keep it and the control here. I’ll have some of my men pick it up. And keep your goons out of the basement.” Garin paused. “I need a final favour.”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll consider the price.”
“I know you want revenge. I know people are going to die. But I need a week to try and stop this. After that it won’t matter.” Marchenko appeared thoughtful.
“The vor are hot-headed and angry. They will want to strike right away.” Garin waved a hand.
“Tell them to wait. One crisis at a time.”
“We will need time to plan anyway. I can give you a week.”
“I have your word – as a vor?” said Garin, repeating what the dead Chen had asked.
“Very funny. Yes.”  Garin put his hand on Marchenko’s arm in a comradely gesture. It was an expression of thanks, not only for capturing the device and the agent but for giving Garin time to try to stop them madness.
“Thank you, comrade.” He started to walk out of the basement. “Now I just have to tell the president America is under attack.”

Continue the story by reading The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then follow the story in the sequel, Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as a paperback and ebook.