Mandate of Heaven
Re: Free Vacation Offer
Destination of your choice in the known universe. And...we pick you up!
Han Tzu waited until the armored car was completely out of sight before he ventured out into the bicycle-and-pedestrian-packed street. Crowds could make you invisible, but only if you were moving in the same direction, and that's the thing Han Tzu had never really been able to do, not since he came home to China from Battle School.
He always seemed to be moving, not upstream, but crossways. As if he had a completely different map of the world from the one everyone around him was using.
And here he was again, dodging bikes and forward-pressing people on their ten thousand errands in order to get from the doorway of his apartment building to the door of the tiny restaurant across the street.
But it was not as hard as it would have been for most people. Han Tzu had mastered the art of using only his peripheral vision, so his eyes stared straight ahead. Without eye contact, the others on the street could not face him down, could not insist that he yield the right of way. They could only dodge him, as if he were a boulder in the stream.
He put his hand to the door and hesitated. He did not know why he had not been arrested and killed or sent for retraining already, but if he was photographed taking this meeting, then it would be easy to prove that he was a traitor.
Then again, his enemies didn't need evidence to convict---all they needed was the inclination. So he opened the door, listened to the tinkle of the little bell, and walked toward the back of the narrow corridor between booths.
He knew he shouldn't expect Graff himself. For the Minister of Colonization to come to Earth would be news, and Graff avoided news unless it was useful to him, which this would certainly not be. So whom would Graff send? Someone from Battle School, undoubtedly. A teacher? Another student? Someone from Ender's Jeesh? Would this be a reunion?
To his surprise, the man in the last booth sat with his back toward the door, so all Han Tzu could see was his curly steel-grey hair. Not Chinese. And from the color of his ears, not European. The pertinent fact, though, was that he was not facing the door and could not see Han Tzu's approach. However, once Han Tzu sat down, he would be facing the door, able to observe the whole room.
That was the smart way to do it---after all, Han Tzu was the one who would recognize trouble if it came in the door, not this foreigner, this stranger. But few operatives on a mission this dangerous would have the brass to turn their backs on the door just because the person they were meeting would be a better observer.
The man did not turn as Han Tzu approached. Was he unobservant, or supremely confident?
"Hello," the man said softly just as Han Tzu came up beside him. "Please sit down."
Han Tzu slid into the booth opposite him and knew that he knew this old man but could not name him.
"Please don't say my name," said the man softly.
"Easy," said Han Tzu. "I don't remember it."
"Oh, yes you do," said the man. "You just don't remember my face. You haven't seen me very often. But the leader of the Jeesh spent a lot of time with me."
Now Han Tzu remembered. Those last weeks in Command School---on Eros, when they thought they were in training but were really leading far-off fleets in the endgame of the war against the Hive Queens. Ender, their commander, had been kept separate from them, but they learned afterward that an old half-Maori cargo-ship captain had been working closely with him. Training him. Goading him. Pretending to be his opponent in simulated games.
Mazer Rackham. The hero who saved the human race from certain destruction in the Second Invasion. Everyone thought he was dead, but he had been sent out on a meaningless voyage at near-lightspeed, so that relativistic effects would keep him alive so he'd be there for the last battles of the war.
He was ancient history twice over. That time on Eros as a part of Ender's Jeesh seemed like another lifetime. And Mazer Rackham had been the most famous man in the world for decades before that.
Most famous man in the world, but almost nobody knew his face.
"Our friend has exquisite taste in messenger boys," said Han Tzu.
"No time for chat," said Mazer Rackham.
Han Tzu accepted that and waited in silence.
"There is a place for you as head of a colony," said Rackham. "A former Hive world, with mostly Han Chinese colonists and many interesting challenges for a leader. The ship leaves as soon as you board it."
That was the offer. The dream. To be out of the turmoil of Earth, the devastation of China. Instead of waiting to be executed by the angry and feeble Chinese government, instead of watching the Chinese people writhe under the heel of the Muslim conquerors, he could board a beautiful clean starship and let them fling him out into space, to a world where human feet had never stepped, to be the founding leader of a colony that would hold his name in reverence forever. He would marry, have children, and, in all likelihood, be happy.
"How long do I have to decide?" asked Han Tzu.
Rackham glanced at his watch, then looked back at him without answering.
"Not a very long window of opportunity," said Han Tzu.
Rackham shook his head.
"It's a very attractive offer," said Han Tzu.
"But I wasn't born for such happiness," said Han Tzu. "The present government of China has lost the mandate of heaven. If I live through the transition, I might be useful to the new government."
"And that's what you were born for?" asked Rackham.
"They tested me," said Han Tzu, "and I'm a child of war."
Rackham nodded. Then he reached inside his jacket and took out a pen and laid it on the table.
"What's that?" asked Han Tzu.
"The mandate of heaven," said Rackham.
Han Tzu knew then that the pen was a weapon. Because the mandate of heaven was always bestowed in blood and war.
"The items in the cap are extremely delicate," said Rackham. "Practice with round toothpicks."
Then he got up and walked out the back door of the restaurant.
No doubt there was some kind of transport waiting there.
Han Tzu wanted to leap to his feet and run after him so he could be taken out into space and set free of all that lay ahead.
Instead he put his hand over the pen and slid it across the table, then put it into the pocket of his trousers. It was a weapon. Which meant Graff and Rackham expected him to need a personal weapon soon. How soon?
Han Tzu took six toothpicks out of the little dispenser that stood on the table against the wall, beside the soy sauce. Then he got up and went to the toilet.
He pulled the cap off the pen very carefully, so he didn't spill out the four feather-ended poison darts bunched in it. Then he unscrewed the top of the pen. There were four holes there, besides the central shaft that held the tube of ink. The mechanism was cleverly designed to rotate automatically with each discharge. A blow-gun revolver.
He loaded four toothpicks into the four slots. They fit loosely. Then he screwed the pen back together.
The fountain pen writing tip covered the hole where the darts would emerge. When he held the top of the pen in his mouth, the point of the writing tip served as the sighting device. Point and shoot.
Point and blow.
The toothpick hit the back wall of the bathroom more or less where he was aiming, only a foot lower. Definitely a close-range weapon.
He used up the rest of the toothpicks learning how high to aim in order to hit a target six feet away. The room wasn't large enough for him to practice aiming at anything farther. Then he gathered up the toothpicks, threw them away, and carefully loaded the pen with the real darts, handling them only by the feathered part of the shaft.
Then he flushed the toilet and reentered the restaurant. No one was waiting for him. So he sat down and ordered and ate methodically. No reason to face the crisis of his life with an empty stomach and the food here wasn't bad.
He paid and walked out into the street. He would not go home. If he waited there to be arrested, he would have to deal with any number of low-level thugs who would not be worth wasting a dart on.
Instead, he flagged down a bicycle taxi and headed for the ministry of defense.
The place was as crowded as ever. Pathetically so, thought Han Tzu. There was a reason for so many military bureaucrats a few years ago, when China was conquering Indochina and India, its millions of soldiers spread out to rule over a billion conquered people.
But now, the government had direct control only over Manchuria and the northern part of Han China. Persians and Arabs and Indonesians administered martial law in the great port cities of the south, and large armies of Turks were poised in Inner Mongolia, ready to slice through Chinese defenses at a moment's notice. Another large Chinese army was isolated in Sichuan, forbidden by the government to surrender any portion of their troops, forcing them to sustain a multi-million-man force from the production of that single province. In effect, they were under siege, getting weaker---and more hated by the civilian population---all the time.
There had even been a coup, right after the ceasefire---but it was a sham, a reshuffling of the politicians. Nothing but an excuse for repudiating the terms of the ceasefire.
No one in the military bureaucracy had lost his job. It was the military that had been driving China's new expansionism. It was the military that had failed.
Only Han Tzu had been relieved of his duties and sent home.
They could not forgive him for having named their stupidity for what it was. He had warned them every step of the way. They had ignored every warning. Each time he had shown them a way out of their self-induced dilemmas, they had ignored his offered plans and proceeded to make decisions based on bravado, face-saving, and delusions of Chinese invincibility.
At his last meeting he had left them with no face at all. He had stood there, a very young man in the presence of old men of enormous authority, and called them the fools they were. He laid out exactly why they had failed so miserably. He even told them that they had lost the mandate of heaven---the traditional excuse for a change of dynasty. This was the unforgivable sin, since the present dynasty claimed not to be a dynasty at all, not to be an empire, but rather to be a perfect expression of the will of the people.
What they forgot was that the Chinese people still believed in the mandate of heaven---and knew when a government no longer had it.
Now, as he showed his expired I.D. at the gate of the complex and was admitted without hesitation, he realized that there was only one fathomable reason why they hadn't already arrested him or had him killed:
They didn't dare.
It confirmed that Rackham was right to hand him a four-shot weapon and call it the mandate of heaven. There were forces at work here within the defense department that Han Tzu could not see, waiting in his apartment for someone to decide what to do with him. They had not even cut off his salary. There was panic and confusion in the military and now Han Tzu knew that he was at the center of it. That his silence, his waiting, had actually been a pestle constantly grinding at the mortar of military failure.
He should have known that his j'accuse speech would have more effects than merely to humiliate and enrage his "superiors." There were aides standing against the walls listening. And they would know that every word that Han Tzu said was true.
For all Han Tzu knew, his death or arrest had already been ordered a dozen times. And the aides who had been given those orders no doubt could prove that they had passed them along. But they would also have passed along the story of Han Tzu, the former Battle Schooler who had been part of Ender's Jeesh. The soldiers ordered to arrest him would have also been told that if Han Tzu had been heeded, China would not have been defeated by the Muslims and their strutting boy-Caliph.
The Muslims won because they had the brains to put their member of Ender's Jeesh, Caliph Alai, in charge of their armies---in charge of their whole government, their religion itself.
But the Chinese government had rejected their own Enderman, and now were giving orders for his arrest.
In these conversations, the phrase "mandate of heaven" would certainly have been spoken.
And the soldiers, if they left their quarters at all, seemed unable to locate Han Tzu's apartment.
For all these weeks since the war ended, the leadership must already have come face to face with their own powerlessness. If the soldiers would not follow them on such a simple matter as arresting the political enemy who had shamed them, then they were in grave danger.
That's why Han Tzu's I.D. was accepted at the gate. That's why he was allowed to walk unescorted among the buildings of the defense department complex.
Not completely unescorted. For he saw through his peripheral vision that a growing number of soldiers and functionaries were shadowing him, moving among the buildings in paths parallel to his own. For of course the gate guards would have spread the word at once: He's here.
So when he walked up to the entrance of the highest headquarters, he paused at the top step and turned around. Several thousand men and women were already in the space between buildings, and more were coming all the time. Many of them were soldiers under arms.
Han Tzu looked them over, watching as their numbers grew. No one spoke.
He bowed to them.
They bowed back.
Han Tzu turned and entered the building. The guards inside the doors also bowed to him. He bowed to each of them and then proceeded to the stairs leading to the second floor office suites where the highest officers of the military were certainly waiting for him.
Sure enough, he was met on the second floor by a young woman in uniform who bowed and said, "Most respectfully, sir, will you come to the office of the one called Snow Tiger?"
Her voice was devoid of sarcasm, but the name "Snow Tiger" carried its own irony these days. Han Tzu looked at her gravely. "What is your name, soldier?"
"Lieutenant White Lotus," she said.
"Lieutenant," said Han Tzu, "If heaven should bestow its mandate upon the true emperor today, would you serve him?"
"My life will be his," she said.
"And your pistol?"
She bowed deeply.
He bowed to her, then followed her to Snow Tiger's office.
They were all gathered there in the large anteroom---the men who had been present weeks ago when Han Tzu had scorned them for having lost the mandate of heaven. Their eyes were cold now, but he had no friends among these high officers.
Snow Tiger stood in the doorway of his inner office. It was unheard of for him to come out to meet anyone except members of the Politburo, none of whom were present.
"Han Tzu," he said.
Han Tzu bowed slightly. Snow Tiger bowed almost invisibly in return.
"I am happy to see you return to duty after your well-earned vacation," said Snow Tiger.
Han Tzu only stood in the middle of the room, regarding him steadily.
"Please come into my office."
Han Tzu walked slowly toward the open door. He knew that Lieutenant White Lotus stood at the door, watching to make sure that no one raised a hand to harm him.
Through the open door, Han Tzu could see two armed soldiers flanking Snow Tiger's desk. Han Tzu stopped, regarding each of the soldiers in turn. Their faces showed nothing; they did not even look back at him. But he knew that they understood who he was. They had been chosen by Snow Tiger because he trusted them. But he should not have.
Snow Tiger took Han Tzu's pause as an invitation for him to enter the office first. Han Tzu did not follow him inside until Snow Tiger was seated at his desk.
Then Han Tzu entered.
"Please close the door," said Snow Tiger.
Han Tzu turned around and pulled the door all the way open.
Snow Tiger took his disobedience without blinking. What could he do or say without making himself seem pathetic?
Snow Tiger pushed a paper toward Han Tzu. It was an order, giving him command over the army that was slowly starving in Sichuan province. "You have proved your great wisdom many times," said Snow Tiger. "We ask you now to be the salvation of China and lead this great army against our enemy."
Han Tzu did not even bother to answer. A hungry, ill-equipped, demoralized, surrounded army was not going to accomplish miracles. And Han Tzu had no intention of accepting this or any other assignment from Snow Tiger.
"Sir, these are excellent orders," said Han Tzu loudly. He glanced at each of the soldiers standing beside the desk. "Do you see how excellent these orders are?"
Unused to being spoken to directly in such a high-level meeting, one of the soldiers nodded; the other merely shifted uncomfortably.
"I see only one error," said Han Tzu. His voice was loud enough to be heard in the anteroom as well.
Snow Tiger grimaced. "There is no error."
"Let me take my pen and show you," said Han Tzu. He took the pen from his shirt pocket and uncapped it. Then he drew a line through his own name at the top of the paper.
Turning around to face the open door, Han Tzu said, "There is no one in this building with the authority to command me."
It was his announcement that he was taking control of the government, and everyone knew it.
"Shoot him," said Snow Tiger behind him.
Han Tzu turned around, putting the pen to his mouth as he did.
But before he could fire a dart, the soldier who had refused to nod had blown out Snow Tiger's head, covering the other soldier with a smear of blood and brains and bone fragments.
The two soldiers bowed deeply to Han Tzu.
Han Tzu turned back around and strode out into the anteroom. Several of the old generals were heading for the door. But Lieutenant White Lotus had her pistol out and they all froze in place. "Emperor Han Tzu has not given the honorable gentlemen his permission to leave," she said.
Han Tzu spoke to the soldiers behind him. "Please assist the lieutenant in securing this room," he said. "It is my judgment that the officers in this room need time to contemplate upon the question of how China came into her current difficult situation. I would like them to remain in here until each of them has written a complete explanation of how so many mistakes came to be made, and how they think matters should have been conducted."
As Han Tzu expected, the suck-ups immediately went to work, dragging their compatriots back to their places against the walls. "Didn't you hear the emperor's request?" "We will do as you ask, Steward of Heaven." Little good it would do them. Han Tzu already knew perfectly well which officers he would trust to lead the Chinese military.
The irony was that the "great men" who were now humiliated and writing reports on their own mistakes were never the source of those errors. They only believed they were. And the underlings who had really originated the problems saw themselves as merely instruments of their commanders' will. But it was in the nature of underlings to use power recklessly, since blame could always be passed either upward or downward.
Unlike credit, which, like hot air, always rose.
As it will rise to me from now on.
Han Tzu left the offices of the late Snow Tiger. In the corridor, soldiers stood at every door. They had heard the single gunshot, and Han Tzu was pleased to see that they all looked relieved to learn that it was not Han Tzu himself who had been shot.
He turned to one soldier and said, "Please enter the nearest office and telephone for medical attention for the honorable Snow Tiger." To three others, he said, "Please help Lieutenant White Lotus secure the cooperation of the former generals inside this room who have been asked to write reports for me."
As they rushed to obey, Han Tzu gave assignments to the other soldiers and bureaucrats. Some of them would later be purged; others would be elevated. But at this moment, no one even thought of disobeying him. Within only a few minutes he had given orders to have the perimeter of the defense complex sealed. Until he was ready, he wanted no warning going to the Politburo.
But his precaution was in vain. For when he went down the stairs and walked out of the building, he was greeted by a roar from the thousands and thousands of military people who completely surrounded the headquarters building.
"Han Tzu!" they chanted. "Chosen of Heaven!"
There was no chance the noise would not be heard outside the complex. So instead of rounding up the Politburo all at once, he would have to waste time tracking them down as they fled to the countryside or tried to get to the airport or onto the river. But of one thing there could be no doubt: With the new emperor enthusiastically supported by the armed forces, there would be no resistance to his rule by any Chinese, anywhere.
That's what Mazer Rackham and Hyrum Graff had understood when they gave him his choice. Their only miscalculation was how completely the story of Han Tzu's wisdom had swept through the military. He hadn't needed the blowgun after all.
Though if he hadn't had it, would he have had the courage to act as boldly as he did?
One thing Han Tzu did not doubt. If the soldier had not killed Snow Tiger first, Han Tzu would have done it after---and would have killed both soldiers if they had not immediately submitted to his rule.
My hands are clean, but not because I wasn't prepared to bloody them.
As he made his way to the department of Planning and Strategy, where he would make his temporary headquarters, he could not help but ask himself: What if I had taken their initial offer, and fled into space? What would have happened to China then?
And then a more sobering question: What will happen to China now?
Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card