Chapter Five – Passage Nine
Pondering, Van taps her fingers against her lips and thinks for a moment. She paces to the windows and back. Outside, the sun has long since set and beyond the glass, it’s all now nothing but black, well into night.
“That is actually not as insane an idea as it first sounds,” she finally says. “Unfortunately, Alan’s right. I think he wouldn’t fit in well enough which could cause problems. The last thing we want are the Uyghurs sniffing him out and then stringing Alan up out on the rack in the town square at high noon as an example. That would be bad.”
“Yes,” says Deepak dryly. “That’d be very bad.”
Alan looks relieved beyond all measure. Clearly, going on some secret agent assignment to infiltrate the ranks of aspiring, would-be domestic terrorists was not high on his list of life goals.
“However,” continues Van, “I think a trip out west to Xinjiang is actually a good idea. It will help you all learn a lot. Along the way, you could additionally stop by several Chinese provinces to see the lay of the land. These past few weeks, you’ve heard and learned all about China. But maybe it’s high time you see the real thing with your own eyes.”
“You’re planning to send them to Urumqi by train?” asks Shu. “That’s a ~4,000 km trip that’ll take two solid days. They don’t even speak the language.”
“That’s why you and Alan are going with them,” Van says smiling. “Consider it an educational exercise to expand horizons. A cultural exchange between nations.” The woman is clearly enjoying this.
Shu looks dismayed. She purses her lips but says nothing.
“If we’re going by train, we could also visit the experimental smart cities in Hebei and Gansu along the way,” says Alan. Though he initially seemed apprehensive, he appears to be warming to the idea. “This could actually be good.”
It might be my imagination but I feel like Kristen perks up a bit at the mention of visiting the other smart cities. But it’s late and maybe I’m just overthinking it. She’s been quiet this entire time though. I honestly can’t tell what she’s thinking.
Personally, this outing to Shanghai and Jinshui is the first time I’ve ever set foot outside America. And it’s been great so far. Free food, meeting interesting people, and tackling a tricky Gordian Knot of a problem. If we’re traveling on the CCP’s dime, might as well milk the gravy train for all it’s worth. See the world! Learn something new! Take in some sights along the way.
Let the record show that when adventure came calling, Dexter Fletcher answered the call.
“Let’s do it,” I say. “When would we leave?”
“It’s settled then,” says Van, “tomorrow afternoon. I’ll call the office in the morning and make the necessary arrangements.” She smiles. The prospect of a bunch of gringos traversing the Chinese countryside, clueless and confused, obviously amuses her. “Buckle up, boys. You’re about to get a whirlwind, firsthand taste of China.”
“Oh joy,” says Coleman wearily. “What could possibly go wrong?”