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The rule of the people, p.23
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       The Rule Of The People, p.23

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  General Liang boarded the helicopter with a sense of failure, even though he knew there was little more he could have done. His persuasive abilities had been used to the full but Morozov remained unconvinced, the satellite data greeted with wry acceptance. The CMC’s proposal was still on the table but he wasn’t optimistic, and every hour wasted in prevarication would merely lengthen the odds against success. Perhaps he had been stupid to expect anything else: Morozov’s reluctance was based on an understandable lack of trust; fear too of the potential repercussions should China’s assistance ever become general knowledge.

  The Politburo’s hopes of being able to delay a Russian invasion were fast evaporating, the strategy of reducing the number of threats to something more manageable faltering before it had barely begun. Negotiations with Vietnam and the Philippines were close to stalling, both countries keen to await America’s next move. While the situation in Xinjiang had stabilised, the internal problems had merely shifted focus, moving on from the nationalist aspirations of the border regions to become a peace movement affecting several major cities.

  Success for those pressing for a more progressive China was typically measured over decades rather than days, and their numbers had never quite been enough to worry the Government into a rapid change of heart. Now that complacency was under threat, the anti-war sentiment across China far stronger and far more vociferous than even Liang had imagined. The latest intelligence reports predicted that Sunday would see the number of protestors reach a million or more, with virtually every major city in China affected.

  For now, the silent majority was still supportive of the Government and a Russian invasion would only provoke a sense of patriotic fervour, at least in the short term; the danger was it would quickly disappear as China’s difficulties mounted. For the Politburo, the peace movement was an unwanted distraction, China needing to show unity if it were to have any chance of negotiating its way out of the crisis and allowed to escape with honour intact. President Zhao was still hopeful that America would be the one to back down, convinced that the frequency of Deangelo’s various deadlines proved the U.S. was wary of actually going to war. The Politburo’s Standing Committee had even gone so far as to discuss a pre-emptive strike against the U.S. naval forces presently in the South China Sea before quickly rejecting the idea, the spectre of a widespread and unrestricted war a powerful incentive to continue the search for a peaceful resolution.

  It was still possible that the threat from Russia was exaggerated, with Golubeva preferring to wait until America had brought China to her knees. Nevertheless, President Golubeva’s patience did not seem to extend to matters involving General Morozov and the armoured thrusts towards the city of Astrakhan were timed to coincide with the pre-dawn attack on the port by Russia’s Special Forces – that gave Morozov no more than eighteen hours to plan his response.

  As if on cue the co-pilot’s voice sounded in Liang’s headset, an urgent message from Cheng needing an immediate answer. Liang listened intently before responding in the affirmative, eyes closing in silent thanks to whatever gods had chosen to answer his prayers. The desperation of Morozov’s predicament had finally forced his hand, the CMC’s offer accepted as being the best from a set of impossible choices.

  It was a time for them all to be blasé as to the risks, where simply doing nothing was in itself a significant gamble. The Politburo’s strategy would now be put to its sternest test, the key player a Russian general with little love for his unwanted Chinese allies.
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