Chapter Eleven – Passage Two
“You’ve already done so much. You’ve been with us since the beginning. Every step of the way, everything we’ve done, we couldn’t have done without you help.”
Shu smiles. “Not just another pretty face?”
“Not at all.”
Shu kisses me on the cheek.
“That’s very sweet of you to say. I should get going. Or I’ll be late.”
Shu makes her way down the hallway and I head back into the hotel room where the others are waiting. They’re all gathered around Alan’s laptop and I see that Shu’s been fully wired up– the jade pendant she’s wearing around her neck is a small camera with a small microphone. We’ve got eyes and ears.
Coleman’s grinning widely when I walk in and… well, whatever. I don’t care.
“You’re a real lady killer, you know?”
More than I know.
Maan Café is where Alan’s contact is supposed to meet Shu. It’s a small but hip and stylish establishment that’s among the first to reopen after the COVID-59 outbreak. The vaccine is finished and released now but given that it was rushed through clinical trials, the CCP has adopted a phased rollout plan. The thinking is that while it’s supposedly safe given everything we know about it, we don’t exactly know everything about it. But the reasoning is solid, at least to a laymen like me.
“The metric being used,” the head scientist had explained during the Chinese CDC presentation VOD, “is whether or not releasing the vaccine now will do help more than it harms. And while we admit we don’t know everything at this present moment, the answer to that question is simple– a resounding yes.”
And so the CCP had begun rolling out the vaccine widely to the population. As part of that effort, businesses were going to be reopened in a staggered fashion. That way if something did go grotesquely sideways, at least you didn’t have the entirety of your population in one basket. Redundancy in all things, after all.
“Who’s your person on the inside?” I ask Alan as we both huddle around his computer to see what Shu’s pendant is seeing.
“Someone mid-level in Governor Hu’s office.”
“Someone you can trust?”
“I guess we’re about to find out.”
On the screen, we see that Shu’s taken a seat. The café is by appointment only but even so, it’s significantly busy and crowded. With millions of fellow human beings dying off every day, you might think that people would be a little cavalier about moseying about. But all available evidence I’ve gathered so far proves the contrary. After nine months of quarantine and isolation, the young people at least, are ready to risk it all if it means they can go about their lives. From what we see from Shu’s vantage point, everyone who is out and about are young. Thirty at most it appears. Shu fits right into the crowd.
Shu’s gotten there a little early and several minutes later, at one o’clock, a young man is led to her table by the maître d’ and joins her.
The man smiles. “Really a lovely time of year for violet hydrangeas, wouldn’t you say?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Shu replies, repeating the passphrase that we’d rehearsed before, “I’m a much bigger fan of blues one. Prettier, I think.”
The man looks around casually and then takes a seat. He places an order on the touchpad that’s at each table and a coffee shortly arrives on a conveyor belt that runs by each table. It’s like one of those sushi boat places, but for everything.
We then learn the full story.
There was an assassination attempt. It failed. Xi was injured but is still in charge. Supposedly. No one’s entirely sure. During his convalescence though, party secretaries Hu and Ji and have taken the helm, consolidating princeling control. There is a very tight rein on the information in the politburo so aside from these details, the governor’s office doesn’t currently know much else. For the past nine months, apparently behind the scenes in Beijing, the situation had descended into chaos.
“And the virus?”
“Chinse CDC is rolling out vaccinations across the entire country. It appears like the incident in Urumqi was not authorized by the Standing Committee at all.”
Back in the hotel room, Alan and I look at each other. A rogue element inside the CCP?
“Good lord, this must have been what the Soviet Union was like when it fell.” I mutter. “No one seems to know what’s entirely going on. Is Xi dead? Is he alive? Is he on the mend? Does anyone even know?”
Alan grimaces. “They managed to end that without total nuclear annihilation. Let’s hope we’re so lucky.”
Coleman and Deepak are sitting on the bed and they’ve been watching everything play out as well. Deepak strokes his chin thoughtfully.
“It’s impressive, actually,” Deepak muses. “While you’d think that China is entirely under the control of Beijing, the thirty-four individual provinces have actually been able to manage on their own with little direction from Zhongnanhai.”
“It makes sense, right?” Coleman replies. “Just because it’s a communist regime doesn’t mean there’s no bureaucracy. After all, it’s communism, not anarchy. There’s a huge state apparatus. Just because the figurehead or great leader at the top is incapacitated, it doesn’t been the entire system just falls apart. That’s why there’s a politburo and standing committee. There’s an entire hierarchy in place to ensure continuity of government in case of events like these.”
For day-to-day operations, it makes sense the each province possessed a fair amount of autonomy. Not to pass laws or for self-rule, but simply for logistical reasons. Each province is managed by two governmental figures; both (of course) appointed: The province governor who manages the ins-and-outs of the province. And a committee secretary who serves as the CCP liaison between the governor and the politburo. Together, the two are expected to work in harmony to keep the great machinery of government and municipality running smoothly.