2046 - Beijing, China
“The Yellow Dragon has struck again,” said Manager Chow, as he entered our dark, computer screen lit office. “Class two protests are now being tracked in twenty-three cities.” He tapped his tablet, forcing the screens on our computers to switch to live CCTV footage of the national protests. “There, you see. Look at all those troublemakers.”
As usual, Manager Chow’s announcement was old news to my team. But,given his family connections at the politburo, it is important to make Manager Chow feel important. “How would you like us to proceed?” I asked. “Since the pirate broadcast went live, we have already increased our suppression of protest-related social media comments in our assigned region.”
“Liling, it is serious this time. The president has concerned himself with the Yellow Dragon’s terrorist activities. He himself called our office not two hours ago.” Manager Chow glared around the office, checking to see whether my fellow censor specialists—Weimin, Xin, Ping, Delun, and Shaiming—were paying attention. “I just left a meeting with Minister Ch'ien. He is pulling your team off social media monitoring duty. It will be reassigned to a smaller unit. By order of the Ministry of Public Security, you are now tasked with uncovering the identity of the Yellow Dragon.”
I could hear the murmurs of excitement from my team members behind me. “But what of Huang’s team in Guangdong, and Shau’s team?Did they not successfully track him down?”
“Both failed. And both teams are now dissolved.” Manager Chow’s eyes fixed on mine. “Your team is the best in the region. You represent me. And now the president is watching. He has ordered us to catch this serpent before the national elections this November. … Two weeks, Liling. It would be unwise to fail.”
I left my office late, heading west on Guanghua Road, past the CCTV Headquarters. It would take close to an hour to walk home and the evening was far colder than the winters I had grown accustomed to as a child. I thought about taking a taxi, but I needed to lose myself on the walk, relax my mind.
My team was on edge from Manager Chow’s warning. To ease their worries, I had bowls of pho delivered from our favorite Vietnamese shop and we stayed in the office until we agreed on a strategy for our digital hunt. The Yellow Dragon was a dangerous activist, but more important, the Dragon was an ingenious hacker with access to a restricted quantum computer. The Dragon was a ghost who could penetrate any firewall.
Walking home, even in the business district, you could see graffiti supporting the Yellow Dragon at every corner. Never have the people been so bold. The Dragon has awoken something in them.
I reached my building in the Dongcheng district at quarter past ten. It was far too late. Mother would disapprove. Opening the door to my eighth floor apartment, I found my mother lying on the couch with the television on, just as I had left her. You are late, she scolded, as I turned on the lights.
“Yes, Mother. Have you not seen the news? This is a busy time for us with the protests.”
I do not care, she said. I am an old woman. A child must look after her parent when she is sick. You care more about the Party than you do about me.
I sat on the couch by her blanketed feet. She smelled but no more than usual. “That is not true, Mother. You are everything to me. Who paid for you to leave the slums? Who paid your bills when father died? Why do you think I brought you here when your breathing worsened?”
I miss our home, she said. I miss working the fields. I miss feeling the soil between my toes. Can we go back?
“No, Mother. Our home is gone now.” Some days were better than others. I had to remind myself not to get angry. This wasn’t my real mother. Only a ghost of the woman I once knew.
“I still can’t see the strategy,” said Weimin, swiping through the news stories shown on the display screen that covered the length of our office table.
“Well, he is obviously trying to embarrass Party officials,” Delun added, between slurps of pho, “but the timing of the releases, the selected media, the geographic targets, they all seem so random. Were it not for the quantum signature of his IP, we wouldnot even be sure he was the one behind the releases.”
“Delun, if you spill another drop on our table, I will have you clean the entire office. You know how long it took me to get this screen refinished?”
“Sorry, Li.” Delun scrubbed the droplets off with his sleeve, while the team snickered.
“What do you think, Li?” asked Ping. “Are we missing something?”
“I think you are both right. The Dragon wants to undermine the Party but the randomness of his releases is also his way of remaining undetected. We won’t be able to predict his next target or means of media release, which is why we must focus elsewhere. What is his core message? His ultimate goal? All these releases, they feel too small to be worthy of the Dragon’s efforts.”
“Is his goal not to destroy our glorious state through these venomous pictures and emails?” said Xin. “This serpent is a madman. All he cares about is ruining our national unity. Why are we looking for order in his chaos?”
Xin was never the brightest among us. “No matter his mental state. All men have reasons for their actions. It is the ‘why’ that we must focus on.”
“Maybe it is best to start over,” said Shaiming.
I agreed. I waved my hand over the table, clearing its display of everyone’s news pickings and notes. I then pinched a folder from my tablet and tapped the table’s display to transfer its contents. The screen then displayed a timeline of the Dragon’s exploits through the full length of the table.
“The Yellow Dragon first appeared three months ago on July 1, 2046, the CPC’s Founding Day”, I explained. “During the height of the great famine, he interrupted a state-televised news broadcast to show images and videos of Cabinet ministers exchanging gifts and indulging in a celebratory feast. The ministers stepped down from their positions and two weeks passed without any further messages.
“Then he released an email package on the WeChat messaging service. Two years worth of messages from Minister Gamzen, of Fujian province, detailing bribes and other subversive activities. He stepped down soon after.”
“Every three days since, email attachments arerandomly released either through the press, social media, messaging apps, or virtual reality gatherings, incriminating provincial level leaders for similar misdeeds. Most stepped down while others killed themselves before their emails were released.
“Now, the Dragon is targeting individual Cabinet ministers. The last one ruined the reputation of Minister Boon. He was rumored to be next in line for the presidency.”
“With so many ministers discredited,” said Weimin, “is it possible for the Party to elect a new president, new ministers?”
Shaiming shook his head. “The protesters are calling this the Great Purge for a reason. With the most qualified bureaucrats unable to ascend to higher positions, it’s difficult to comprehend how the next generation of the government can function.”
“Then we have our endgame,” I said. “Between the failure of the rivers and the loss of farmland, China has not had enough to eat for close to a decade. You cannot reason with the sick and hungry. Add to that an unemployment rate in the double digits and the people will latch onto anything to release their frustrations.
“With each act, the Dragon is telling the people that the Party is no longer fit to rule. He is removing the limits placed on the everyday citizen, freeing information to give them power over the Party.”
“Madness!” said Xin. “This is all madness. Can the not people see that the climate is not the government’s fault? It is the West who polluted our world. If it were not for the Party, China would have crumbled long ago. The Party’s Grand Strategy of Renewal has already started to ease these problems.”
“Not fast enough,” said Delun. “For now, it is only the firewall that has kept the protests regional. So long as people from different parts of China do not learn how widespread these releases are, the Party can contain the protests, stop them from turning into a national uprising.”
“Wait, maybe that is it!” said Ping. “The next target.”
My eyes widened. “The Golden Shield Project? The firewall? Impossible.”
Another late evening walking home from the office. Mother would not approve.
The boys feltthey haddiscovered the Dragon’s true target. But how do you protect an unhackable system? How could the Dragon penetrate a firewall made up of a network of supercomputers whose layers of quantum-based defenses are infinite? It would be impossible. Any attempt from the outside and our trap would catch him in the act. Only then could we begin to track his whereabouts. But we would need senior-level clearance to install such a mechanism inside the firewall. Manager Chow was not be pleased when I told him.
As I neared my turn at Chaoyangmen S Alley, I began to hear the chants of a large crowd in the distance. Not longer after, I looked behind me to see a long line of armoured vehicles from theBeijing Special Police Force racing west on Jinbao street toward the disturbance. I quickened my pace to follow them.
Once I reached Chaoyangmen S Alley, I peeked my head around the corner and saw a dragon. Only a few yards ahead, a writhing sea of protesters filled both sides of the thoroughfare for miles. They were all wearing yellow, holding up signs, and waving flags of the Yellow Dragon. Their number was impossible to count.
More armoured police vehicles drove past to support the riot police already lined up in formation. Dozens of police drones followed, hovering over the crowd, shining their spotlights, and taking pictures. No more than two hundred police held their ground against the approaching mob.
As more and more police flooded in, one of the officers near the front commanded the crowd over his microphone to disperse and go home. The mob responded by chanting louder, demanding an end to the coming communist party elections, demanding a free vote. The officer repeated his command, adding the threat of arrest for whoever stayed. The mob responded louder and started to march forward. The officer repeated his threat, adding that he was authorized to use force if his officers were threatened. The mob was unfazed.
Then it happened. The moment the officer commanded the riot police to raise their batons, the crowd rushed forward. The line of riot police was overwhelmed in seconds by the rush of people. Those in the front were trampled under the weight of the mob, while the police in the rear lines retreated behind the armoured vehicles. But the mob followed. It wasn’t long before the police sitting atop the vehicles and the drones above started to open fire. That’s when I ran.
I could barely breathe by the time I reached home. My hands were so sweaty that I had to wipe them against my coat four times before the door’s palm scanner could identify my fingerprints.
You are late, mother scolded as I turned on the lights. She lay on the couch with the television on, just as I had left her.
I leaned against the wall and slid down onto the floor. I didn’t have the breath to fight her. The smell was worse tonight.
Do you not care? she said. I am an old women. The child must look after her parent when she is sick. You care more about the Party than you do about me.
“No, Mother. I care about you more than anything.”
News of what happened would spread fast. It wouldn’t be long before the Dragon acted on this event. This is the moment he has been waiting for. If the police cannot contain this,the city will falland, with it, the Party.
As cheers echoed from the streets below, I texted my team to meet me at the office as soon as it was safe. I then called Manager Chow but was forced to leave a message. If he did not grant us access soon, the Dragon might strike its deathblow.
I miss our home, said mother. I miss working the fields. I miss feeling the soil between my toes. Can we go back?
“No, Mother. Our home is gone now.”
All of my teammates made it back to the office under the cover of night by quarter past three in the morning. I only connected with Manager Chow an hour later. He has been on the phone with Central Command ever since.
The mob had broken off into smaller groups making their way throughout the city, their ranks swelling with more and more emboldened marchers. What was left of the city’s police force—those that remained loyal, that is—rallied near the CCTV building, a block from our building. They wouldn’t engage until the military arrived to back up their forces.
Meanwhile, my team and I redoubled our efforts to complete our Dragon intercept script. Once installed into the firewall’s operating platform, it would pick up on the Dragon’s attempt to infiltrate the system and trojan a tracking script into his network. It was a simple program, the sameused to track many of the hackers we had worked against in the past. But this was notjust any hacker.
Another hour passed before Manager Chow entered the office. “The tracking program, is it ready?”
“Yes,” I said, “Will we be given clearance to the firewall’s operating system?”
“Through me, yes. The minister has approved it.”
“Manager Chow, I think it is best if we install it ourselves. It would be safer.”
“You do not have the clearance. Only I do. Give me the packet and I will forward it to Firewall’s Chief Operating Controller. He is waiting for it at the server building as we speak.”
“ … As you wish.” I looked to Weimin and he handed me the tablet with the completed script. I made a few additions, condensed the files to a single folder, then transmitted it to Manager Chow’s tablet. “Do you have it? It should be the yellow folder.”
“Yes, thank you, transmitting it now.” He made a few swipes on his tablet, then exhaled a sigh of relief. “I have to go meet with Minister Ch'ien at the CCTV building. Contact me as soon as the Dragon makes his move. The Controller will contact you himself once your program has been installed.”
“Yes, I’m sure he will.”
After Manager Chow left the office, we all held our breath in anticipation of the Controller’s call. Every minute felt longer than the last. This was the first time any of us had been given this level of access to the firewall, let alone this level of exposure to such high-ranking officials. I think I was the only one who felt completely calm. My work was done.
Nearly fifteen minutes passed before the screens on our office workstations began to flicker.
“Something is happening,” said Xin.
“Is it our script?” said Shaiming. “I thought the Controller was going to call us.”
“Holy shit!” Delun rolled his chair away from this workstation. “Guys, the firewall. This cannot ….”
The firewall dashboard displayed on our monitors was replaced by the bright yellow symbol of the Yellow Dragon.
I turned around to face my friends. This would be the last time I ever saw them. “Boys, you caught the Yellow Dragon.” The phone began to ring. “The police will be here shortly. I will be staying. It would be wise if they did not find you here with me. I am sorry.”
You died on a Thursday. Almost two years to the day. I still remember how frail your body was, how cold you were. I wrapped you in as many blankets as I had and you still couldn’t find the warmth you were asking for.
The doctors said you had lung cancer. The same as Father. They said the air you breathed from the coal power plants the government built beside your farm caused it. It only got worse when you inhaled the smog of the city after they took our farm from us.
They took everything, Mother. They took so much from so many in the name of progress. Never again. In death I hope I have given you the justice stolen from you in life.
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11