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About the Author:
American author Fritz Galt has lived in Europe, the Far East, and South Asia. Trained in fiction writing, Galt brings the reader an immediate sense of "place" and a narrative richness rarely found in popular fiction.
The concrete-reinforced bunker trembled under André's thick feet. A muffled boom rose like a pained moan from below the desert's limestone crust. Four thousand square miles of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region awoke early that morning.
"Mon Dieu," the large Frenchman exclaimed. He lurched forward against a bank of consoles.
Through a tinted window, he watched vultures spring to flight, lizards scramble from holes, and dust puff skyward as if a large hand were beating a cushion.
The concrete floor jolted sideways, and he staggered, trying to recover his balance. He crouched halfway to the floor, listening to every creak and groan of the control room.
He didn't trust PRC technology in any form. He had insisted to the Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China on witnessing the subterranean atomic detonation firsthand. But he hadn't expected to be so close to the blast. Sure the Chinese had designed the control room to withstand the jolt, but could the room contain the more harmful effects of atomic blasts-the hellish heat, the flash burns, and the poisonous radiation from penetrating neutrons and gamma rays?
"Impressed?" General Chou inquired in English.
Somewhat premature to ask, André thought. The room still bucked up and down. He checked the thick black fur on his arms. His hair hadn't fallen out, yet. The room's temperature hadn't lost its pre-dawn chill.
Like ocean waves subsiding against a beach, the quaking dissipated against China's Takla Makau Desert to the west. As dust cleared against a deep blue sky, André found himself staring once again at dry and barren sand, stuck forever in the rain shadow of the Tien Shan Mountains. Lop Nur Nuclear Test Site occupied wasteland, a region of ephemeral, disappearing marshes and lakes. Why the Chinese bothered to hold tests below ground, he would never know.
He removed a pair of protective goggles and thick eyeglasses. With a large handkerchief, he wiped away his sweat, but couldn't repress a grin. "Yes. Impressed."
A distant sparkle in his calculating eye, he wondered what form the requisite bribe should take. The going rate was fifty percent in China. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty aside, he was posing as a third-country businessman on a mission to procure arms for Pakistan. He had the money to pay, and the General seemed only too willing to sell, no questions asked.
The General's shallow cheeks looked hungry, and his narrow eyes left no room for misunderstanding. The General needed the money.
He contemplated some acceptable options. There was a certain office complex in downtown Beijing. Franchises on segments of the Hong Kong-Guangzhou Superhighway were still up for grabs. He could always offer stock in some multinational corporation.
General Chou guided him away from the plate-glass window and the desert sunrise. In an adjoining cavernous room, the general had assembled gleaming examples of his army's most powerful weapons.
"These are all three-stage fission-fusion-fission thermonuclear devices,"
General Chou said. He pointed to his three-megaton and his five-megaton. André studied his reflection in the sleek uranium jacket on one of the cylinders. General Chou, a trim career warrior, probably didn't approve of his bulky frame and slovenly appearance, but André didn't approve of the bomb. A clean hydrogen bomb would produce none of that radioactive fallout.
He walked up to the smallest device arrayed before them.
"This is a twenty-kiloton tactical nuclear weapon," General Chou explained. "It's a spherical, implosive atomic bomb."
"One of these, please."
"Certainly. Would you like a guided missile system to go with that?" General Chou offered. "We've developed a land-launched variant to the French Exocet guided missile."
"No, I won't need that."
"As you please."
He wiped the back of his neck with the crumpled handkerchief. This would go well, as long as he didn't offend the General. "Can you deliver?" he asked.
He wrote down the name of a ship, the Alabaster. "She's currently offshore in the South China Sea. She belongs to my Hong Kong partner, Johnny Ouyang."
"I know Johnny well," the General said. "The People's Liberation Army is a majority shareholder in Johnny's brokerage."
"Can you deliver today?"
"Now for the price," André said.
"Yes, the price," the General said.
Around the room, technicians picked up chairs, straightened out consoles, and wiped the dust from their hands and knees.
Suddenly it occurred to André that he had no idea what price to affix to a weapon that took 1.2 billion people over twenty years to develop. He studied the sweat that had accumulated on his handkerchief.
"General, how would you like Taiwan?"