Daylight on Iron Mountain (Chung Kuo Series #2)by David Wingrove
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China is on the verge of world domination, but now rebellion threatens its dominion. Can the kingdom weather the storm? The second installment of David Wingrove's epic masterpiece Chung Kuo. CHANGE IS ON THE AIR: The generals of the Middle Kingdom await the decision of the emperor. The campaign to secure the border from China to Iraq has reached a strange impasse. Two blood enemies - Arabs and Jews - have united against their common cause. But with the lives of thousands at his whim, the exalted Tsao Ch'un, the Son of Heaven, cannot decide. Destroy the Middle East in one blinding flash? Or take another path? BUT THE WAY IS UNCLEAR: In the court of Tsao Ch'un, men of power have become smiling lackeys whose graces conceal their fear or their ambition. A man that can be trusted absolutely is a rare thing. And so, with his family held hostage by the empire, General Jiang Lei finds himself appointed to a special task: the orchestration of the last great war against the West. The total dominion of America. WAR APPROACHES: But life in the world of levels continues. No hint of war, or want, or discontent can infiltrate the oppressive, ordered society that replaces the world Jake Reed once knew. Since the first airships rolled over the horizon, nothing has been the same. His new life means new thinking, new customs, a new way of behaving, and with his every move scrutinized, Jake can only serve the bureaucracy of new China. But he is not the only citizen who feels discontent with the anodyne new order.
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Daylight on Iron Mountain
Chung Kuo Book 2
By David Wingrove
Atlantic Books LtdCopyright © 2011 David Wingrove
All rights reserved.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DRAGON
Two years had passed and Jiang Lei was returning home.
It was only now, looking out across that endless, geometric whiteness, that he understood how staggeringly vast Tsao Ch'un's city had become. Operating at the very edge of things – at the breaking crest of the great wave of resettlement – he had been too close to see it. But now that he did, he grasped how different in kind it was, how transformational the idea behind it. Compared to it, all of the cities of the past had been but mud and daub. For this was The City, and he was returning to meet its creator.
As his craft banked to the left, Jiang saw before him the massive hexagonal gap in that otherwise unblemished surface. Down there, in the deep gloom, at the bottom of a massive well five li across and two li deep, was what remained of China's past.
The Forbidden City.
For 800 years this had been the heart of China, of Chung Kuo, the Middle Kingdom. Tsao Ch'un had made it his capital, once he had wrested power from the Politburo, taking on the mantle of the emperors and naming himself Son of Heaven in the ancient style.
It was here, beneath the Dragon Throne, that Jiang Lei was to meet the great man at noon tomorrow.
The craft descended slowly to the landing pad. From the way the banners tore at their moorings, Jiang Lei could see that a strong wind was blowing.
Welcome back to Pei Ching, where the sky is full of yellow dust.
They set down with a hiss and a shudder, the engines dying with a descending whine.
On the flight, Jiang had been reading a collection of poetry from the Sung dynasty. It was not a period he knew well and the poems of Su Tung-p'o had, before now, passed him by. But after reading them he was intrigued, both by the poems and the man. Like Jiang Lei, Su Tung-p'o, under his birth name of Su Shih, had been a government official, a conservative by nature, upholding the Confucian ideals. Unlike Jiang, however, it seemed that Su Shih had spent time imprisoned and in exile for his beliefs – mainly for criticizing government policy in his poems.
Jiang set the book down and looked across the narrow cabin. Steward Ho was sitting just across from him, staring out the window. Ho had begged to be brought along. He had been willing to pledge eternal loyalty if Jiang would but let him have a single glimpse of the ancient imperial city, and there it was, stretched out all about them, its steep tiled roofs and massive white marble stairways celebrating the grandeur and power of this most ancient of cultures.
'Am I to accompany you to the rehearsals later on?'
'It is certainly my intention.'
Much had changed since Jiang had last been here, among them this curious reversion to ancient imperial rituals. Which was why, before he was allowed to see Tsao Ch'un, he was to be tutored in court etiquette; taught how to behave and what to say in the great man's presence.
That troubled Jiang. Tsao Ch'un had not been like this in the old days.
But word was that Tsao Ch'un had changed. Grown more brittle with the years. Responsibility could do that to a man, even one as great – and as unpredictable in his moods – as Tsao Ch'un.
While Ho saw to his bags, Jiang Lei stepped out onto the landing pad.
A small group of officials – clearly some kind of welcoming committee – waited by the entrance to the airlock, shivering in their thin silks.
Jiang narrowed his eyes. This too was different. They could have stepped straight out of a historical drama, because no one had worn silks of this fashion for centuries. Not since the last emperor, P'u-i, had stood down.
Raising his chin proudly, Jiang walked towards them, seeing how they fanned out and allowed him room to pass between them, their heads lowered respectfully.
As indeed they should, Jiang thought. After all, am I not a general in Tsao Ch'un's Eighteenth Banner Army?
Only Jiang could not fool himself. He found this business loathsome. All this bowing and scraping. Oh, he would abase himself before Tsao Ch'un, but that was different. Whatever one thought of him, Tsao Ch'un was a great man. Was, without doubt, his Master.
Inside, still damp from the fine, disinfecting mist, Jiang took his leave of the nameless men. He knew none of them, had been introduced to none of them. Whoever they were, they were simply there to greet each new visitor.
Steward Ho appeared, minutes later, dripping wet and accompanied by a small, fussy man in a bright scarlet silk, the Chinese character San – three – embroidered in black on a pale cream background in a big square of silk in the middle of his chest.
'Number Three' bowed low to Jiang Lei, smiling an obsequious smile.
'General Jiang ... I am Ts'ao P'i. Our Master has asked me to show you to your quarters.'
Ts'ao P'i ... Jiang almost smiled at that. Ts'ao P'i, otherwise known as Emperor Wen of the Wei dynasty, had been a famous poet. Indeed, he was a better poet than a governor, if the ancient histories could be trusted.
Jiang followed, walking alongside Ts'ao P'i. Ho trailed a little way behind, struggling to carry Jiang's things, his head bowed so deeply that his chin almost touched his chest.
After a while Jiang noticed it. He stopped. 'Ho ... walk straight. Lift your chin. Ts'ao P'i understands that he has your respect.'
And with this, Jiang looked to Ts'ao P'i and gave him the barest nod of his head, as if to thank him for indulging his servant.
But Ts'ao P'i's expression had changed. 'Forgive me, General,' he began hesitantly, 'but out of kindness I should warn you. The court has changed since you were last here, and such formalities as existed then have been greatly extended. It is ... how should I put it ... a matter of great sensitivity.'
'Are we are talking of a man's status, Ts'ao P'i? Of his face?'
Ts'ao P'i nodded, his face stern now.
'Precisely. Speaking for myself, it does not trouble me should your servant not show me his respect, but there are others who ... well, let us say that to forget the outward signs of respect might be to tempt fate, even to win oneself enemies.'
Jiang took this in, then bowed to the other man. 'I thank you deeply for your advice, Ts'ao P'i.'
He turned to Steward Ho, who had witnessed this exchange about himself with open-mouthed astonishment, and smiled. 'I am afraid, Steward Ho, that you must be as you were.'
Ho's chin went down again.
Jiang Lei turned, looking back to his guide. 'Lead on, Ts'ao P'i. And thank you. I'll not forget your kindness.'
But before the other man looked away, Jiang saw in his eyes; the calculation there behind the smile. He wondered what deeper game Ts'ao P'i was playing and who, out of all his possible friends and enemies, he reported back to.
Court intrigues, he thought, walking on swiftly, half distracted by the beauty of the ancient architecture through which he walked. It makes such exile as I've suffered seem almost welcome.
At last the officials had departed.
Jiang sprawled out in the chair and summoned his steward.
'Ho! A cup of wine! Quick now!'
He let out a deep, heartfelt groan of anguish. Was this what it had all come down to? This ghastly pretence, this hellish puppet show?
Jiang Lei shook his head exaggeratedly. He would do it all. Of course he would. What choice had he? But just what was the point?
When they had said in his orders that he would be tutored in court rituals, he had thought it a small matter of which etiquettes to follow. But this ...
How to stand, what to say, who to look at and bow to, who not to look at, when to speak, when not to speak, which way to face, how often to bow, when to prostrate oneself ...
Thinking about it, Jiang Lei laughed. It was like joining a theatrical troupe. And maybe that was not so poor an analogy. Maybe he would write a poem, ostensibly about such a troupe, whereas in fact ...
'Master?' Ho stood there, head bowed, holding out a silver bowl filled to the brim with Jiang's favourite red sorghum wine.
Jiang stood and, taking the cup from Ho, took a long sip from it. Setting it down, he looked to Ho with a mischievous grin on his face, turned and gave a bow. Then a deeper bow. Then put his hand to his mouth, as if he'd spoken when he ought not to have.
Ho, terrified, feeling his Master must have lost his mind, grimaced and pointed to the camera.
'But Master ...'
The reminder sobered Jiang.
'Forgive me, Ho,' he said, 'only ... those men. Those monkeys in silk ... aiya!'
He sat again and reached for his wine, drained it at a go, then held the empty cup out to be refilled.
Jiang shook the cup. 'Quick, Ho! More wine!' But Ho shook his head. 'No, Master. You cannot ...'
Jiang sat round, staring at his steward as if he'd now lost his mind. 'Cannot?'
'No, Master. You have visitors. They have been waiting this past hour ...'
Jiang Lei stood, surprised. Visitors?
'Very aristocratic-looking gentlemen,' Ho went on. 'Real ch'un tzu.'
Jiang frowned. Aristocratic? He didn't know anyone aristocratic. Not these days.
'You wish me to show them in, Master?'
'Have you no names for these ... these ch'un tzu?' Ho looked puzzled at that. 'Names, Master? They seemed to know you very well, so I thought ... One has too little hair, the other ...'
'... too much.' Jiang Lei laughed. Now he knew whom Ho was talking about. 'Send them in, Steward Ho. And bring more wine. I have not seen my good friends these past fifteen years and more!'
Ho grinned then did as he was bid. Less than a minute later, two men stepped into the room. One was small and completely bald, the other tall, with a great lion's mane of hair that ended halfway down his back. Both were Han, and both looked decidedly aristocratic with their colourful silks and long fingernails.
Jiang rushed towards them, delighted to see them after all this time.
'Pan Tsung-yen! Hsü Jung! How wonderful to see you!'
Jiang embraced one and then the other. By the look of them, they were every bit as glad to see him.
He bade them sit, then had Steward Ho serve wine. Only then did he ask what he was burning to know.
'How is Ching Su? I thought, perhaps ...'
'Ching Su is dead, Jiang Lei,' Hsü Jung said in a low, mournful voice. 'He died ten years ago. He was exiled ...'
'Was he?' Jiang said, but he was still suffering from the shock of that awful news. Once the four of them had been inseparable. They had sat their exams together and, afterwards, joined Tsao Ch'un's 'Brigade' together. They had shown their poetry to one another, drunk wine on endless moonlit evenings, and sung – tunelessly in Pan Tsung-yen's case, drunkenly in theirs – a thousand romantic songs.
As Hsü Jung told the story of Ching Su's sad fate, Jiang found himself remembering moments from his past; seeing Ching Su vividly in his mind laughing and sharing a joke with them all. They had all been much younger then, of course, barely in their twenties. Before life had turned serious.
'Ten years,' he murmured, and shook his head sadly. Ten years ago Ching Su had died. And no one had thought to tell him.
As the wine flowed, so the talk became less sombre, more 'upbeat' as the Hung Mao called it. Jiang had picked up a smattering of such terms and phrases from his time on the Western Isle – in fact, he had started a notebook to try to capture them before they disappeared.
As they will, he thought. Now that we Han are in control.
'I read your last collection,' Pan Tsung-yen said, butting his bald head forward as he spoke, in the old familiar manner. Like a boxer, Jiang thought. He uses words like punches. Not that Pan Tsung-yen was physically belligerent.
'It was good,' Hsü Jung joined in. 'Very good. I must have read each poem a hundred times, Nai Liu. Only ...'
Jiang smiled at the hesitation. Again, like Pan Tsung-yen, Hsü Jung may have aged, but he hadn't changed. Not in essence. He spoke his thoughts in parts, bringing each new aspect to the discussion like it was a parcel, especially wrapped.
'Only?' Jiang coaxed.
'Only it is four years since it was published. I had hoped ... well ... I had hoped you would have kept on writing.'
Jiang sat back, smiling. 'I did. In fact, that's one of the reasons why I'm here. To see my publisher. I have a new collection – Thoughts At Twilight – that's just the working title. I'm sure to come up with something much better, only ...'
Only I can't use my preferred title, The Vanishing World. It wouldn't get past the censors.
They talked for hours after that, catching up on what each of them had been doing, throwing in whatever they knew of old friends and acquaintances. Towards the end, however, it seemed to Jiang that they were holding something back. There was something they wanted to say, but felt they couldn't. Was it something about his wife, Chun Hua?
Finally, Pan Tsung-yen seemed to lick at his lips as if they were dry. Then, with a brief, revealing glance at the camera, he spoke out.
'It has been good to see you, Jiang Lei. It is pleasing to know that the years have enhanced our friendship. But there was a reason for us coming here tonight, and though we may get ourselves in trouble for saying so, it would have been a betrayal of our friendship to have neglected saying it.'
Pan Tsung-yen paused. 'We think you are in danger here, Jiang Lei. Things have changed. You may even have sensed it yourself. Various of our friends, whom we dare not mention by name, have died.'
'Victims of court intrigues?' Jiang asked.
'Who knows ...' Pan Tsung-yen answered. 'Yet they are dead.'
Hsü Jung sat forward suddenly, anger in his face. 'It is a viper's nest, Jiang Lei. A foul, oppressive place. And the spies ...'
Spies? Jiang Lei narrowed his eyes at the word. 'And you think I might be subject to these ... intrigues?'
'The Han are Han,' Pan Tsung-yen said, nodding to himself. 'A nation of gatekeepers and opportunists. Corruption is rife, Jiang Lei. As to whom you can trust ...'
'Trust no one,' Hsü Jung said.
'Not even you?' Jiang asked.
Hsü Jung shrugged, then smiled at the paradox. 'Least of all us ... after tonight.'
Pan Tsung-yen stood. 'Come. We have said enough. We'd best leave you now, dear friend, dear Nai Liu.'
When they were gone, Jiang went and sat at his portable comset.
Who knew who was watching him? All that was certain was that someone was. Maybe even Tsao Ch'un himself. But, whoever it was, they would know he had been warned.
Unfolding the keyboard, Jiang typed in 'Su Tung-p'o' and sat back.
At once a face appeared. It looked like a photograph, but it couldn't be. Su Tung-p'o had died in 1101.
A list of options appeared. He selected BIOGRAPHY.
'Text or spoken word,' the machine asked, in its light, anodyne tone.
The truth was he couldn't stand that voice. Would have changed it, had it been allowed. Only it wasn't.
Su Tung-p'o had, it seemed, not been alone in his calling. Both his father and his younger brothers had been poets of some note. Su had taken his exams in 1057, at the age of twenty-one, and done brilliantly – so well that his papers were copied and circulated among students. However, before he could be appointed to a government office, his mother had died. Being a good son, he returned home to spend the next twenty-seven months in mourning for her, as was strict Confucian practice. It was thus not until 1061 that he had taken up his appointment as an assistant magistrate in Shen-hsi Province.
All might have been well, for Su Tung-p'o was a distinguished official, but he was sympathetic to the plight of the common people. Through his poetry, he made clear his opposition to the policies of Wang An-Shih, a fellow poet who was the architect of the government's plan to enforce the centralized control of the Chinese economy.
Despite various banishments and exile, Su had a long and distinguished career, including being secretary to the emperor from 1086 to 1089, but his political enemies finally triumphed. Even so, Su Tung-p'o lived on, through his beautifully crafted poems and his writings, the clarity and simplicity of which meant that they were copied many times and thus survived down to the present day.
Generally acknowledged to be the finest poet of the Northern Sung period, Su wrote in both the shih and tz'u styles, with a fine eye for descriptive detail.
A very fine eye ...
Jiang Lei sat back, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Reaching across he took his book and opened it at his favourite piece. It was only four lines; even so, it was probably the most evocative of all Su Tung-p'o's works. He read it aloud.
'Spring night – one hour worth a thousand gold coins; clear scent of flowers, shadowy moon.
Songs and flutes upstairs – threads of sound;
In the garden, a swing, where night is deep and still.'
Jiang closed his eyes, savouring the lucidity of the poem; how it pushed aside the cloak of years and spoke to now. He himself struggled endlessly for such uncluttered beauty in his poems, and here it was. He particularly liked the way it spoke to all the senses, and then, at the very end, to mystery itself: 'where night is deep and still'.
Excerpted from Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove. Copyright © 2011 David Wingrove. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Wingrove is the Hugo Award-winning co-author (with Brian Aldiss) of The Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. He is also the co-author of the first three MYST books: novelizations of one of the world's bestselling computer games. He lives in north London with his wife and four daughters.
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So, I wish this volume 2 was available!