Authors: Dave Swavely
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To Alfred Bester and Howard Chaykin,
who fueled a young imagination with their “kaleidocide”
of ideas and images in the graphic-novel version of
The Stars My Destination
xing lu cai se
was now ready, and it was the best possible time for Michael Ares to die.
General Zhang Sun had decided to take his revenge in this manner a year earlier, when he had first received the information, but it took six months for the complex preparations to be completed. Then he had to wait for the fall season, when the leaves began to change, so that the assassination could be the most successful according to his
ban lan jiao,
or “religion of powerful colors.”
He stood next to the transteel wall in his twentieth-floor office, staring down at the trees in the middle of the Beijing City Center and noting with satisfaction that they were indeed the epitome of
xing lu cai se
âa many-colored death, where the numerous shades of green, red, and gold on the leaves marked the end of their lives, and made it a beautiful thing. Sun knew that his target, on the other side of the world but in the same hemisphere, would also be surrounded by such majesty at this time of year. The trees and vineyards dominating the landscape around Michael Ares's home in Napa Valley would be adorned with the same hues, and Sun knew this was no mere coincidence. This was a sign that the ancient spirits were ready to use the modern technology at his disposal to balance the justice of the universe by the satisfaction of this blood debt.
The thought of modern technology reminded him that he still wore the net glasses that he had just used to issue the final orders for the
xing lu cai se,
and that they were still set in the secure mode that was necessary because those orders could not be public, owing to the factions within his country that he did not yet fully control. He had nearly absolute power in the ironically named “People's Republic,” but
nearly. Yet Sun considered any risk he faced to be a small price to pay for the pleasure of seeing Michael Ares suffer.
To bolster his confidence, he took the glasses off and surveyed the impressive City Center with an unobstructed view. His tower and twenty other skyscrapers of various heights surrounded the trees and water in the massive park, under which was a geothermal heat-exchange system used to passively heat and cool all of the district's buildings. This was the crowning achievement of China's building craze in the years before and after the turn of the century, when they were in a race with the United States for the world's largest Gross Domestic Product. After building the infamous “ghost cities” (which now provided housing for Sun's growing army), the government hired the eminent architectural firm SOM to transform the Dawangjing District into a “sustainable city” that would be an urban center impressive enough to symbolize China's ascendancy among the nations.
The new Beijing did symbolize that reality well, and drinking it in assured Sun that there were few limits to what he could achieve with his power as supreme leader of his
empire. And he was absolutely sure that even those few limits would be effectively removed by the
ban lan jiao
ritual he was about to perform. The demise of his enemy was a foregone conclusion in his mind, for the
xing lu cai se
had never failed to accomplish it.
He strode excitedly across the room, stepped into the elevator, and rode it twenty-two stories down to another of the architectural marvels of new Beijing, the reconstructed Underground City. Built during the Cold War by Chairman Mao Zedong to shelter or evacuate prominent residents in the event of a nuclear attack from Russia, the original complex included about thirty kilometers of tunnels, a thousand bomb-proof rooms, and seventy well sites. As the nuclear threat receded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the tunnels were sealed off, a few remained in secret use by the highest officials, and still fewer were opened to the public as a tourist attraction. But when the new City Center became the seat of government, making it a target for terrorism or outside aggression, many of the tunnels were re-opened and improved to serve their original purpose again, as well as to provide exclusive transportation for the elite.
It was the latter purpose that General Sun appreciated the most, especially when he had discovered that one of the tunnels under his building led to the Western Hills, a quiet and picturesque area outside the city that both the twentieth-century builders and their twenty-first-century heirs thought would serve as a good evacuation destination for their influential customers. What they did not know, but was obviously no surprise to the spirits that guided Zhang Sun, was that one of the tunnels ran to Fragrant Hills Park, which contained the Temple of Azure Clouds. This Buddhist holy site was one of the few that actually had a color in its name, and was therefore a veritable capacitor for supernatural power in Sun's religion. And the general was able to leave his office building at any time and be in the temple within twenty minutes, by way of the tunnel and the miniature maglev train that was propelled by the same technology as the larger ones in the subways and on the surface.
As his custom car sped through the tunnel, Sun rehearsed in his mind the twist of fate that was perhaps the greatest gift provided by the
spirits in regard to his worship in the temple: an effective alibi. He could not openly practice his cultic faith in the current political atmosphere because atheism, Buddhism, and Christianity were still the most prevalent worldviews among his rivals and the voters. But fortunately he had an acceptable reason for his frequent excursions to the blue cloud temple, because inside it was a memorial hall dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, a government leader from the early twentieth century who was China's most famous populist icon. His body had been entombed in the temple pagoda for several years before being relocated to Nanjing in 1929, and it had been replaced by an empty crystal coffin that the Soviet government had given as a gift “in memory of the great man.”
Sun smiled at the thought of the autocratic Soviets honoring a democratic hero, for he knew they did it only for show. And it was for that same reason he himself told people that he had changed his name to Sun (pronounced “soon”) in honor of Sun Yat-sen, and that his frequent visits to the temple were to meditate at the shrine of his “hero.” But in fact he was practicing the advice of his real hero, the ancient war strategist Sun Tzu, who said, “When seeking power, make it appear that you are not doing so.” It was Sun Tzu whom he secretly honored by the new name he had chosen when he first became a general, but it was useful to have his people think that he was cut from the mold of the other famous Sun.
When he arrived at the surface entrance near the temple, he waved off the security detail greeting him there and made his way through the courtyard and gardens toward the temple pagoda. As he did, he passed several of the resident monks, who were working in the gardens, but mostly working to conceal their perplexity or disgust at his latest visit. He wondered how many of the monks knew what he was really doing in the room he had commandeered in the temple, and was sure at least some of them did know and considered it a defilement of their holy site. But they wouldn't dare say anything publicly, of course, for fear of losing their government sanction, access to the temple, or much more.
Soon he reached the base of the Vajrasana, or Diamond Throne Pagoda, which was by far the most impressive structure on the temple grounds, and the largest of its kind in the world. Sun took in the intricate carvings in the brick and marble as he climbed the stairs to the top of the pagoda's base, and began to feel intoxicated when he stood at its edge with the five towers rising into the sky behind him and the exquisite view of miles and miles of brightly colored fall foliage filling the hills and valleys in front of him. Just as his high view of the Beijing City Center earlier had symbolized the modern technology available to him, this one represented the timeless occult power that would tip the scales in his favor and make his plans invincible. His enemy might have the former, but the
forces were only Sun's to command.
Eager to do that, he left the crest of the temple and stepped into the small dark room with the altar, which he had chosen precisely because it was a tight space that enabled him to better absorb the primeval energies summoned by the ritual. As he fumbled to remove the first item from the small bag he carried, he began chanting the names of the
colors and the foundational elements they represented.
i sÃ¨Â â¦ hÃ³ng sÃ¨Â â¦ bÃ¬Â â¦ bÃ¡iÂ â¦ huÃ¡ng,”
. “JÃ¬nÂ â¦ ji
ngÂ â¦ zh
nÂ â¦ lÃºnÂ â¦ r
As he repeated the words, he brought his OutPhone from the bag and opened two files on it, then sat it on the altar in the center of the chamber. The phone's projector soon filled the space with the colors he had named, switching locations every few seconds on the walls and ceiling above the little machine. Each one was a darker version than the basic color, because black was the most important one and it had to be mixed in with all the others.
The other file was being projected now as well, and a single stationary screen appeared on one spot of the wall in front of Sun, where a biographical clip lifted from the net began to play. It showed various pictures of his enemy as it described him, and Sun enjoyed the effect as the colors from the other file alternately tinted his face. The
xing lu cai se
was now being applied to its target, and there would be no escape from it.