With the orders dispatched, Wisecarver set up a duty rotation among the national security staff and Chowdhury was sent home, to return the following morning. He expected the strike to occur sometime in the night. There would, of course, be a response from Beijing. And the national security staff needed to be ready for it. On Chowdhury’s drive home, entire blocks were still without power. Only about half the traffic lights in the city worked; the other half were blacked out or shuffling their colors nonsensically onto empty streets. In only a few more days, the trash would begin to pile up. When he tuned in to his favorite radio station he was met with static.
So he drove in silence.
And he thought.
He thought the same thought all through that night—as he ate dinner with his mother and Ashni, as he carried the girl up to bed with her arms looped heavily around his neck like two ropes, and as he wished his mother good night in the guest room and she kissed him, uncharacteristically, on the forehead and then touched his cheek with her cupped palm as she hadn’t done in years, not since his divorce. The thought was this: I have to get my family somewhere safe.
Chowdhury knew where that place was. It wasn’t a bomb shelter (if those even existed anymore) or outside of the city (although that wouldn’t be a bad start). No, he concluded; none of that would be enough.
He knew what he needed to do.
Who he needed to call.
In the quiet of his home, with his mother and daughter sleeping so near he would need to speak in a whisper, he picked up his phone and dialed. The answer came after the first ring.
“Admiral Anand Patel speaking. ”
Chowdhury froze. A beat of silence followed.
“Hello, Uncle. It’s me, Sandeep.”
13:36 JUNE 27, 2034 (GMT+8)
300 NAUTICAL MILES OFF THE COAST OF ZHANJIANG
White light on the horizon.
That’s how Sarah Hunt would always remember it.
11:15 JUNE 30, 2034 (GMT+8)
TAIWAN TAOYUAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Lin Bao believed he had known them, but he hadn’t.
If he had once considered himself half American, he no longer thought so. Not after what they’d done at Zhanjiang three days ago. Every member of his crew knew someone who’d perished there, and almost all had family within the blast zone. Countless friends of his—from his academy days, to postings on other ships, to three cousins who had nothing to do with the Navy but who lived in that port city by the turquoise sea—each gone in an instant, in a flash. Others had not been so lucky. Lin Bao couldn’t bear to linger on the details; they were too gruesome. But he knew the hospitals in Beihai, Maoming, Yangjiang, and even as far away as Shenzhen had already filled to capacity.
If the American strike on Zhanjiang had been swift and decisive, the invasion of Taiwan by the People’s Army had proven its equal—though it wasn’t Beijing’s response to the 150-kiloton blast; that was yet to come. A discussion of that response was the reason Lin Bao was summoned away from his ship to a conference, so that he was now awaiting the arrival of Minister Chiang in the airport’s international terminal, in what had once been the British Airways first-class lounge. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed Lin Bao to marvel at his country’s occupation of the island. Though the invasion had shut down the airport to civilian traffic, it was busy—if not busier—with military traffic, commuter jets having been replaced with fighters and transports, and vacationers and business travelers having been replaced with soldiers. When Minister Chiang at last arrived in the lounge, he was followed by a vast retinue of security, which, as he explained apologetically, was the reason for his delay. “They’ve become very protective of me,” he said, and laughed nervously, offering one of his characteristically expansive smiles to his security detail, none of whom returned it.
Minister Chiang escorted Lin Bao into a conference room, a clean glassed-in cube designed for executives to use between flights. The two sat next to each other at one end of a long table. Lin Bao couldn’t help but notice Minister Chiang’s uniform, which wasn’t his usual service dress but rather a set of poorly fitting camouflage utilities that still held the creases from where they’d been folded in plastic packaging. Like Lin Bao, the minister couldn’t help but steal the occasional admiring glance at his troops as they moved efficiently through the airport, dispersing throughout Taipei and then beyond for the seizure and annexation of this stubborn republic, finally brought to heel.