“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.
“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?”
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.”
“Why, it’s the most interesting man you know, come to pay you a visit.”