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Zero Time Minus Eight Weeks
COWARD! IT'S EASY to take the moral high road when your neck isn't on the line, but when integrity comes at a personal price...
Colonel Yun-Kai paced the cramped area of his office. Four paces forward, four back. Midway along the route, his gaze was drawn to the black video-phone on his desk, equipped with a direct scrambled line to his superior officer in Beijing. Although reluctant to make the call, he considered himself a man of integrity, and as such, he felt compelled to express his concerns.
The invisible fist that had gripped his intestines the previous evening gave another squeeze and he gasped as an explosion of pain rocked his body. From past experience, he knew the problem would disappear after he stopped wrestling with his conscience. As the agony subsided, he ran a trembling hand through his hair and wedged his bulk into the chair behind his desk. It was time to make the call.
He reached for the phone, and then paused. A conversation about security issues should be done face to face, but his isolated location and the swift advance of the campaign, code named Avalanche, made a meeting impossible. And to question his superiors' decision could prove disastrous if they felt he was criticizing Avalanche.Yet, the consequences if the strategy went bad were too horrific to contemplate.
Frustrated with his own cowardice, Yun-Kai slammed his fist on the desktop.
It's madness! It will never work. My instincts, and this cursed gut, haven't failed me yet.
The small communications room, part of a massive bunker complex locatedforty feet beneath the ground of Kashgar, was cold, yet Yun-Kai wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his uniform. After a struggle that pitted his sense of moral obligation against both his job security and his family's honor, he activated the call to the capital.
Honorable ancestors, forgive this foolish man for any shame he may bring to your name, he prayed as the connection was made.
The lean face of General Huan Piao appeared on the screen. "Have the scanners picked up something interesting, Colonel?" Piao asked in a friendly manner. It was a false friendliness, a thin veneer that covered a legendary explosive temper.
"Nothing unusual, General. But it's not the Kashgar station I'm calling about. I feel...." As he hesitated his gut gave another squeeze and the pain forced him to try again. "I feel that it's my duty to discuss the potential danger of campaign Avalanche with you, sir." He was now committed to having his concerns heard.
"Danger? What danger?"
"Once Avalanche is implemented, in the event of a Red Alert --"
"What the devil are you talking about?" The slow pace and careful enunciation of General Piao's words underscored the anger in his voice.
Yun-Kai groaned inwardly. His worst fears were realized. Once again he cursed the day he had been made privy to the knowledge that China's rocket delivery system was, within certain parameters, a self-launching automatic respond system.
The accusing finger that Piao stabbed at the screen loomed large in Yun-Kai's sight, blocking out the face of his superior.
"I don't remember when you were given the authority to comment on decisions made by your superiors! Need I remind you why you're at Kashgar, Colonel? You're to keep an eye on The Soviet Nation's underground weapons testing. Nothing more!"
For decades after the break-up of the Soviet Union, corrupt officials and others with power had joined together to form the Russian Mafia. This criminal organization stripped whatever flesh was left on the carcass of the country. Finally, the people demanded order, and welcomed a right wing nationalistic dictator who consolidated power by whipping up resentment against the West. The former Russia was now forcibly restored to her previous power under the name The Soviet Nation, complete with a nuclear arsenal and a fanatic at the helm.
Despite the rebuke from his superior, Yun-Kai forged ahead. "Nervousness, stress, unforeseeable miscalculation... General, the retaliatory systems on both sides are automatic and irrevocable."
"You're talking nonsense! You know very well that there'll be no atomic explosion that could trigger an automatic reaction."
"I realize that we won't trigger a nuclear explosion, General. But a third party--"
Piao opened his mouth to interrupt but Yun-Kai pressed on. "Iraq, Pakistan or even Korea! Intelligence indicates that Korea's new dictator has surrounded himself with hard-line military advisers." Yun-Kai was relieved to express the nub of his concern.
"It's not my habit to discuss the intelligence issues on the phone, Colonel! Even on a scrambled line. But I can assure you that there's not the slightest sign that Iraq is prepared to test again at this time. The international outcry last year has put --"
"But a risk still exists!"
"Enough, Colonel!" Piao thundered. His face was dark with anger and he leaned closer to the screen. "Europeans and Westerners alike have abused us for centuries and now we have Korea breathing down our necks. It's time we regain the position we deserve in the world! This is a nuclear age, and we have no alternative but to obtain nuclear capability on a par with the Super Powers. Look what happened when we took back Taiwan! There's a certain risk involved, that I will concede. But without risk we remain a ridiculous giant with feet of clay. Do I make myself clear?"
"Of course, General." Yun-Kai slumped in his chair, defeated.
"Good. We'll have to discuss your posting in Kashgar at our next meeting, Colonel." A blank screen signaled the end of the conversation.
Copyright © 2002 by Alex Domokos with Rita Y. Towes