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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

PROPHETS

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From: Locke%erasmus@polnet.gov

PASSWORD: Suriyowong

Re: girl on bridge

Reliable source begs: Do not interfere with Chinese egress from India. But when they need to return or supply, Block all possible routes.



The Chinese thought at first that the incidents in Xinjiang province were the work of the insurgents who had been forming and reforming guerrilla groups for centuries. In the protocol-burdened Chinese army, it was not until late afternoon in Beijing that Han Tzu was finally able to get enough information together to prove this was a major offensive originating outside China.

For the fiftieth time since taking a place in the high command in Beijing, Han Tzu despaired of getting anything done. It was always more important to show respect for one's superiors' high status than to tell them the truth and make things happen. Even now, holding in his hands evidence of a level of training, discipline, coordination, and supply that made it impossible for these incidents in Xinjiang to be the work of local rebels, Han Tzu had to wait hours for his request for a meeting to be processed through all the oh-so-important aides, flunkies, functionaries, and poobahs whose sole duty was to look as important and busy as possible while making sure that as little as possible actually got done.

It was fully dark in Beijing when Han Tzu crossed the square separating the Strategy and Planning section from the Administrative section-another bit of mindlessly bad structure, to separate these two sections by a long walk in the open air. They should have been across a low divider from each other, constantly shouting back and forth. Instead, Strategy and Planning were constantly making plans that Administrative couldn't carry out, and Administrative was constantly misunderstanding the purpose of plans and fighting against the very ideas that would make them effective.

How did we ever conquer India? thought Han Tzu.

He kicked at the pigeons scurrying around his feet. They fluttered a few meters away, then came back for more, as if they thought his feet might have shed something edible with each step.

The only reason this government stays in power is that the people of China are pigeons. You can kick them and kick them, and they come back for more. And the worst of them are the bureaucrats. China invented bureaucracy, and with a thousand-year head start on the rest of the world, they'd kept advancing the arts of obfuscation, kingdombuilding, and tempests-in-teapots to a level unknown anywhere else. Byzantine bureaucracy was, by comparison, a forthright system.

How did Achilles do it? An outsider, a criminal, a madman-and all of this was well known to the Chinese government yet he was able to cut through the layers of fawning backstabbers and get straight to the decision-making level. Most people didn't even know where the decision-making level was, since it was certainly not the famous leaders at the top, who were too old to think of anything new and too frightened of losing their perks or getting caught out in their decades of criminal acts ever to do anything but say, "Do as you think wise," to their underlings.

It was two levels down that decisions were made, by aides to the top generals. It had taken Han Tzu six months to realize that a meeting with the top man was useless, because he would confer with his aides and follow their recommendations every time. Now he never bothered to meet with anyone else. But to set up such a meeting, of course, required that an elaborate request be made to each general, acknowledging that while the subject of the meeting was so vital it must be held immediately, it was so trivial that each general only needed to send his aide to the meeting in his place.

Han Tzu was never sure whether all this elaborate charade was merely to show proper respect for tradition and form, or whether the generals actually were fooled by all this and made the decision, each time, whether to attend in person or send their aide.

Of course, it was also possible that the general never saw the messages, and the aides made the decision for him. Most likely, though, his memo went to each general with a commentary: "Noble and worthy general would be slighted if not in attendance," for instance, or "Tedious waste of heroic leader's time, unworthy aide will be glad to take notes and report if anything important is said."

Han Tzu had no loyalty to any of these buffoons. Whenever they made decisions on their own, they were hopelessly wrong. The ones that weren't completely bound by tradition were just as controlled by their own egos.

Yet Han Tzu was completely loyal to China. He had always acted in China's best interest, and always would.

The trouble was, he often defined "China's best interest" in a way that might easily get him shot.

Like that message he sent to Bean and Petra, hoping they'd realize the danger to the Hegemon if he really believed Han Tzu had been the source of his information. Sending such a bit of information was definitely treason, since Achilles's adventure had been approved at the highest levels and therefore represented official Chinese policy. And yet it would be a disaster for China's prestige in the world at large if it became known that China had sent an assassin to kill the Hegemon.

Nobody seemed to understand that sort of thing, mostly because they refused to see China as anything other than the center of the universe, around which all other nations orbited. What did it matter if China was regarded as a nation of tyrants and assassins? If someone doesn't like what China does, then that someone can go home and cry in his beer.

But no nation was invincible, not even China. Han Tzu understood that, even if the others did not.

It didn't help that the conquest of India had been so easy. Han Tzu had insisted on devising all sorts of contingency plans when things went wrong with the surprise attack on the Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese armies. But Achilles's campaign of deception had been so successful, and the Thai strategy of defense had been so effective, that the Indians were fully committed, their supplies exhausted, and their morale at rock bottom when the Chinese armies began pouring across the borders, cutting the Indian army to pieces, and swallowing up each piece within days-sometimes within hours.

All the glory went to Achilles, of course, though it had been Han Tzu's careful planning with his staff of nearly eighty Battle School graduates that put the Chinese armies exactly where they needed to be at exactly the time they needed to be there. No, even though Han Tzu's team had written up the orders, they had actually been issued by Administrative, and therefore it was Administrative that won the medals, while Strategy and Planning got a single group commendation that had about the same effect on morale as if some lieutenant colonel had come in and said, "Nice try, boys, we know you meant well."

Well, Achilles was welcome to the glory, because in Han Tzu's opinion, invading India had been pointless and self-defeating-not to mention evil. China did not have the resources to take on India's problems. When Indians governed India, the suffering people could only blame their fellow Indians. But now when things went wrong- which they always did in India it would all be blamed on the Chinese.

The Chinese administrators who were sent in to govern India stayed surprisingly free of corruption and they worked hard but the fact is that no nation is governable except by overwhelming force or complete cooperation. And since there was no way conquering Chinese officials would get complete cooperation, and there was no hope of being able to pay for overwhelming force, the only question was when the resistance would become a problem.

It became a problem not long after Achilles left for the Hegemony, when the Indians started piling up stones. Han Tzu had to hand it to them, when it came to truly annoying but symbolically powerful civil disobedience, the Indians were truly the daughters and sons of Gandhi. Even then, the bureaucrats hadn't listened to Han Tzu's advice and ended up getting themselves into a steadily worsening cycle of reprisals.

So ... it doesn't matter what the outside world thinks, right? We can do whatever we want because no one else has the power or the will to challenge us, is that the story?

What I have in my hands is the answer to that theory.



"What does it mean that they've done nothing to acknowledge our offensive?" said Alai.

Bean and Petra sat with him, looking at the holomap that showed every single objective in Xinjiang taken on schedule, as if the Chinese had been handed a script and were doing their part exactly as the Crescent League had asked them to.

"I think things are going very well," said Petra.

"Ridiculously well," said Alai.

"Don't be impatient," said Bean. "Things move slowly in China. And they don't like making public pronouncements about their problems. Maybe they still see this as a group of local insurgents. Maybe they're waiting to announce what's going on until they can tell about their devastating counterattack."

"That's just it," said Alai. "Our satintel[?] says they're doing nothing. Even the nearest garrison troops are still in place."

"The garrison commanders don't have the authority to send them into battle," said Bean. "Besides, they probably don't even know anything's wrong. Your forces have the land-based communications grid under control, right?"

"That was a secondary objective. That's what they're doing now, just to keep busy."

Petra began to laugh. "I get it," she said.

"What's so funny?" asked Alai.

"The public announcement," said Petra. "You can't announce that a Caliph has been named unanimously by all the Muslim nations."

"We can announce it any time," said Alai, irritated.

"But you're waiting. Until the Chinese make their announcement that some unknown nation has attacked them. Only when they've either admitted their ignorance or committed to some theory tat's completely false do you come out and tell what's really happening. That the Muslim world is fully united under a Caliph, and that you have taken responsibility for liberating the captive nations from the godless imperialist Chinese."

"You have to admit the story plays better that way," said Alai.

"Absolutely," said Petra. "I'm not laughing because you re wrong to do it that way, I'm simply laughing at the irony that you are so successful and the Chinese so completely unprepared that it's actually delaying your announcement! But... have patience, dear friend. Somebody in the Chinese high command knows what's happening, and eventually the rest of them will listen to him and they'll mobilize their forces and make some kind of announcement."

"They have to," said Bean. "Or the Russians will deliberately misunderstand their troop movements."

"All right," said Alai. "But unfortunately, all the vids of my announcement were shot during daylight hours. It never crossed our minds that they would take this long to respond."

"You know what?" said Bean. "No one will mind a bit if the vids are clearly prerecorded. But even better would be for you to go on camera, live, to declare yourself and to announce what your armies are doing in Xinjiang."

"The danger with doing it live is that I might let something slip, telling them that the Xinjiang invasion is not the main offensive,"

"Alai, you could announce outright that this was not the main offensive, and half the Chinese would think that was disinformation designed to keep their troops in India pinned down along the Pakistani border. In fact, I advise you to do that. Because then you'll have a reputation as a truthteller. It will make your later lies that much more effective."

Alai laughed. "You've eased my mind."

"You're suffering," said Petra, "from the problem that plagues all the top commanders in this age of rapid communications. In the old days, Alexander and Caesar were right there on the field of battle. They could watch, issue orders, deal with things. They were needed. But you're stuck here in Damascus because here is where all the communications come together If you're needed, you'll be needed here. So instead of having a thousand things to keep your mind busy, you have all this adrenaline flowing and nowhere for it to go."

"I recommend pacing," said Bean.

"Do you play handball?" asked Petra.

"I get the picture," said Alai. "Thank you. I'll be patient."

"And think about my advice," said Bean. "To go on live and tell the truth. Your people will love you better if they see you as being so bold you can simply tell the enemy what you're going to do, and they can't stop you from doing it."

"Go away now," said Alai. "You're repeating yourself."

Laughing, Bean got up. So did Petra.

"I won't have time for you after this, you know," said Alai.

They paused, turned.

"Once it's announced, once everybody knows, I'll have to start holding court. Meeting people. Judging disputes. Showing myself to be the true Caliph."

"Thank you for the time you've spent with us till now," said Petra.

"I hope we never have to oppose each other on the field of battle," said Bean. "The way we've had to oppose Han Tzu in this war."

"Just remember," said Alai. "Han Tzu's loyalties are divided. Mine are not."

"I'll remember that," said Bean.

"Salaam," said Alai. "Peace be in you. "And in you," said Petra, "peace."



When the meeting ended, Han Tzu did not know whether his warning had been believed. Well, even if they didn't believe him now, in a few more hours they'd have no choice. The major force in the Xinjiang invasion would undoubtedly start their assault just before dawn tomorrow. Satellite intelligence would confirm what he'd told them today. But at the cost of twelve more hours of inaction.

The most frustrating moment, however, had come near the end of the meeting, when the senior aide to the senior general had asked, "So if this is the beginning of a major offensive, what do you recommend?"

"Send all available troops in the north-I would recommend fifty percent of all the garrison troops on the Russian border Prepare them not only to deal with these horse-borne guerrillas but also with a major mechanized army that will probably invade tomorrow."

"What about the concentration of troops in India?" asked the aide.

"These are our best soldiers, the most highly trained, and the most mobile."

"Leave them where they are," said Han Tzu.

"But if we strip the garrisons along the Russian border, the Russians will attack."

Another aide spoke up. "The Russians never fight well outside their own borders. Invade them and they'll destroy you, but if they invade you, their soldiers won't fight."

Han Tzu tried not to show his contempt for such ludicrous judgments. "The Russians will do what they do, and if they attack, we'll do what we need to do in response. However, you don't keep your troops from defending against a present enemy because they might be needed for a hypothetical enemy."

All well and good. Until the senior aide to the senior general said, "Very well. I will recommend the immediate removal of troops from India as quickly as possible to meet this current threat."

"That's not what I meant," said Han Tzu.

"But it is what I mean," said the aide.

"I believe this is a Muslim offensive," said Han Tzu. "The enemy across the border in Pakistan is the same enemy attacking us in Xinjiang. They are certainly hoping we'll do exactly what you suggest, so their main offensive will have a better chance of success."

The aide only laughed, and the others laughed with him. "You spent too many years out of China during your childhood, Han Tzu. India is a faraway place. What does it matter what happens there? We can take it again whenever we want. But these invaders in Xinjiang, they are inside China. The Russians are poised[?[ on the Chinese border. No matter what the enemy thinks, that is the real threat."

"Why?" said Han Tzu, throwing caution to the winds as he directly challenged the senior aide. "Because foreign troops on Chinese soil would mean the present government has lost the mandate of heaven?"

From around the table came the hiss of air suddenly gasped between clenched teeth. To refer to the old idea of the mandate of heaven was poisonously out of step with government policy.

Well, as long as he was irritating people, why stop with that? "Everyone knows that Xinjiang and Tibet are not part of Han China," said Han Tzu. "They are no more important to us than India- conquests that have never become fully Chinese. We once owned Vietnam before, long ago, and lost it, and the loss meant nothing to us. But the Chinese army, that is precious. And if you take troops out of India, you run the grave risk of losing millions of our men to these Muslim fanatics. Then we won't have the mandate of heaven to worry about. We'll have foreign troops in Han China before we know it- and no way to defend against them."

The silence around the table was deadly. They hated him now, because he had spoken to them of defeat-and told them, disrespectfully, that their ideas were wrong.

"I hope none of you will forget this meeting," said Han Tzu.

"You can be sure that we will not," said the senior aide.

"If I am wrong, then I will bear the consequences of my mistake, and rejoice that your ideas were not stupid after all. What is good for China is good for me, even if I am punished for my mistakes. But if I am right, then we'll see what kind of men you are. Because if you're true Chinese, who love your country more than your careers, you'll remember that I was right and you'll bring me back and listen to me as you should have listened to me today. But if you're the disloyal selfish garden-pigs I think you are, you'll make sure that I'm killed, so that no one outside this room will ever know that you heard a true warning and didn't listen to it when there was still time to save China from the most dangerous enemy we have faced since Genghis Khan."

What a glorious speech. And how refreshing actually to say it with his lips to the people who most needed to hear it, instead of playing the speech over and over in his mind, ever more frustrated because not a word of it had been said aloud.

Of course he would be arrested tonight, and quite possibly shot before morning. Though the more likely pattern would be to arrest him and charge him with passing information to the enemy, blaming him for the defeat that only he actually tried to prevent. There was something about irony that had a special appeal to Chinese people who got a little power. There was a special pleasure in punishing a virtuous man for the powerful man's own crimes.

But Han Tzu would not hide. It might be possible, at this moment, for him to leave China and go into exile. But he would not do it.

Why not?

He could not leave his country in its hour of need. Even though he might be killed for staying, there would be many other Chinese soldiers his age who would die in the next days and weeks. Why shouldn't he be one of them? And there was always the chance, however small and remote, that there were enough decent men among those at that meeting that Han Tzu would be kept alive until it was clear that he was right. Perhaps then-contrary to all expectation- they would bring him back and ask him how to save themselves from this disaster they had brought upon China.

Meanwhile, Han Tzu was hungry, and there was a little restaurant he liked, where the manager and his wife treated him like one of the family. They did not care about his lofty rank or his status as one of the heroes of Ender's jeesh. They liked him for his company. They loved the way he devoured their food as if it were the finest cuisine in the world-which, to him, it was. If these were his last hours of freedom, or even of life, why not spend them with people he liked, eating food he enjoyed?



As night fell in Damascus, Bean and Petra walked freely along the streets, looking into shop windows. Damascus still had the traditional markets, where most fresh food and local handwork were sold. But supermarkets, boutiques, and chain stores had reached Damascus, like almost every other place on earth. Only the wares for sale reflected local taste. There was no shortage of items of European and American design for sale, but what Bean and Petra enjoyed was the strangeness of items that would never find a market in the West, but which apparently were much in demand here.

They traded guesses about what each item was for.

They stopped at an outdoor restaurant with good music played softly enough that they could still converse. They had a strange combination of local food and international cuisine that had even the waiter shaking his head, but they were in the mood to please themselves.

"I'll probably just throw it up tomorrow," said Petra.

"Probably," said Bean. "But it'll be a better grade of-"

"Please!" said Petra. "I'm trying to eat."

"But you brought it up," said Bean.

"I know it's unfair, but when I discuss it, it doesn't make me sick. It's like tickling. You can't really nauseate yourself."

"I can," said Bean.

"I have no doubt of it. Probably one of the attributes of Anton's Key."

They continued talking about nothing much, until they heard some explosions, at first far away, then nearby.

"There can't possibly be an attack on Damascus," said Petra under her voice.

"No, I think it's fireworks," said Bean. "I think it's a celebration."

One of the cooks ran into the restaurant and shouted out a stream of Arabic, which was of course completely unintelligible to Bean and Petra. All at once the local customers jumped up from the table. Some of them ran out of the restaurant-without paying, and nobody made to stop them. Others ran into the kitchen.

The few non-Arabiphones in the restaurant were left to wonder what was going on.

Until a merciful waiter came out and announced in Common Speech, "Food will be delay, I very sorry to tell you. But happy to say why. Caliph will speak in a minute."

"The Caliph?" asked an Englishman. "isn't he in Baghdad?"

"I thought Istanbul," said a Frenchwoman.

"There has been no Caliph in many centuries," said a professoriallooking Japanese.

"Apparently they have one now," said Petra reasonably. "I wonder if they'll let us into the kitchen to watch with them."

"Oh, I don't know if I want to," said the Englishman. "If they've got themselves a new Caliph, they're going to be feeling quite chauvinistic for a while. What if they decide to start hanging foreigners to celebrate?"

The Japanese scholar was outraged at this suggestion. While he and the Englishman politely went for each other's throats, Bean, Petra, the Frenchwoman, and several other westerners went through the swinging door into the kitchen, where the kitchen help barely noticed they were there. Someone had brought a nice-sized flat vid in from one of the offices and set it on a shelf, leaning it against the wall.

Alai was already on the screen.

Not that it did them any good to watch. They couldn't understand a word of it. They'd have to wait for the full translation on one of the newsnets later.

But the map of western China was pretty self-explanatory. No doubt he was telling them that the Muslim people had united to liberate long-captive brothers in Xinjiang. The waiters and cooks punctuated almost every sentence with cheers-Alai seemed to know this would happen, because he left pauses after each declaration.

Unable to understand his words, Bean and Petra concentrated on other things. Bean tried to determine whether this speech was going out live. The clock on the wall was no indicator-of course they would insert it digitally into a prerecorded vid during the broadcast so that no matter when it was first aired, the clock would show the current time. Finally he got his answer when Alai stood up and walked to the window. The camera followed him, and there spread out below him were the lights of Damascus, twinkling in the darkness. He was doing it live. And whatever he said while pointing to the city, it was apparently very effective, because at once the cheering cooks and waiters were weeping openly, without shame, their eyes still glued to the screen.

Petra. meanwhile, was trying to guess how Alai must look to the Muslim people watching him. She knew his face so well, so that she had to try to separate the boy she had known from the man he now was. The compassion she had noticed before was more visible than ever. His eyes were full of love. But there was fire in him, too, and dignity. He did not smile-which was proper for the leader of nations which were now at war, and whose sons were dying in combat, and killing, too. Nor did he rant, whipping them up into some kind of dangerous enthusiasm.

Will these people follow him into battle? Yes, of course, at first, when he has a tale of easy victories to tell them. But later, when times are hard and fortune does not favor them, will they still follow him?

Perhaps yes. Because what Petra saw in him was not so much a great general-though yes, she could imagine Alexander might have looked like this, or Caesar-as a prophet-king. Saul or David, both young men when first called by prophecy to lead their people into war in God's name. Joan of Arc.

Of course, Joan of Arc ended up dying at the stake, and Saul fell on his own sword-or no, that was Brutus or Cassius, Saul commanded one of his own soldiers to kill him, didn't he? A bad end for both of them. And David died in disgrace, forbidden by God to build the holy temple because he had murdered Uriah to get Bathsheba into a state of marriageable widowhood.

Not a good list of precedents, that.

But they had their glory, didn't they, before they fell.




CHAPTER SIXTEEN | Shadow Puppets | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN



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