Chapter Six – Passage One
Quaint, idyllic Chinese countryside races by my passenger window. We’re on the Silver Dragon, a highspeed express train which is scheduled to reach Xi’an, the first smart city on a two-day trip to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province. The maglev train itself is a gleaming technological marvel, a polished steel stallion that cuts its way across the Chinese northlands. It’s been thirty years since China finished its high-speed rail system, having laid down more track in that same amount of time than all the rest of the world combined.
“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?”
I’d hoped for an entire row to myself but fate had seated Coleman next to me. He’s wearing his giant earmuff headphones around his neck and looks like a hyperactive rabbit stuck in a box.
“It’s impressive,” I admit. I was trying to get some work done on my laptop but it was a hopeless task. When I wasn’t being distracted by the gorgeous scenery passing me by at 350km/hour outside my window, then I had Coleman talking in my ear.
“Tell me,” he continues, “why are you really here?”
“I’m here because I’m a specialist in data analytics and this is a state-surveillance project built on a mountain of data. Why are you here?”
Coleman downs the rest of his gin and coke and gestures towards the sexy attendant standing in the connection way for another. She’s wearing a plaid miniskirt that’s apparently the formal train uniform despite the fact that it’s something like nineteen Celsius in the cabin. Since we’re in business class, there’s an attendant per every train car whose sole purpose is to wait on their passengers hand and foot. A moment later, the attendant’s whisked his empty tumbler away and replaced it with another, freshly filled. Coleman’s twenty-two and he’s clearly living the time of his life. I’m pretty sure he’s already knocked a few back, as it is.
“I was summoned here like the rest of you. Received an anonymous, secure message in my inbox one day. Took an assessment. And apparently did something right.” Coleman shrugs. “And so I’m here.”
I roll my eyes. “Obviously. I meant why are you here?”
“Yeah, I know what you meant.” He sighs and studies his tumbler briefly before replying.
“You must think it’s weird, because I’m black, right? That I’m helping Communists set up mandatory internment and reeducation camps.”
“I literally didn’t say any of those words. Or any words even phonetically similar to what you just said.”
Coleman just looks at me.
“Yeah, maybe. But you were definitely thinking it.”
“Coleman, son. You are literally a few years removed from High School Musical territory. No, never mind. You’re so young you don’t even know what that is. Point being: You have no earthly idea what I’m thinking.”
“You know, man,” Coleman continues, his speech a little slurred. “Have you ever contemplated the possibility that black people can basically be like white people too? We’re perfectly capable of racism and acts of atrocity for the sole desire of material greed and power. It’s not like white people have a sole monopoly over colonialism and enslaving others.”
“Yeah,” I say dryly. “I think the Japanese and the Mongolians would likely agree with you. Colonialism and empire building are most certainly not the sole province of white people. That’s a real keen insight you got there.”