The Edge of Madness

The Edge of Madness by Michael Dobbs

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Authors: Michael Dobbs
Tags: thriller
Britannica look like a comic strip. The Opium Wars, the Boxer rebellion, the imperialist invasions, the era of Unequal Treaties, the rape of Manchuria, the foreign settlements, the enforced leasing of Hong Kong–and Taiwan, of course. They remember it all as though it were yesterday. Mao wants to wipe the slate clean.’
    ‘Settle scores.’
    ‘He’d call it restoring face. But he has a problem. For all its mass, China doesn’t have enough muscle. The People’s Liberation Army is still light-years behind the competition, some of it’s still riding bikes, so Mao knows he’s got to find an answer on the cheap,’ and that appears to be precisely what his boys have done. Cracked the cyber-warfare codes. Now they can worm their way inside our systems, mess with them, and apparently get out without leaving a trace. That’s what they’ve been up to, trying out their new box of tricks on targets all round the world, Harry. Russian nuclear plants, American power supplies, all sorts of things…The list is endless.’
    Harry tapped the brake pedal, knocking out the cruise control. Suddenly he didn’t trust it any more, wanted to be back in charge. He put his foot down, sped away. If only life could be as simple as a Range Rover. Beside him, D’Arby’s breath was coming in short, shallow bursts. When he spoke again, he seemed diminished.
    ‘And you know what really terrifies me, Harry? What’s got me throwing up every night?’
    ‘Right now I don’t care even to imagine.’
    ‘That Chinese bastard has made this country his number-one target.’
    Early Friday morning. Beijing.
    Fu strode away from Mao’s office in his own peculiar manner. He had a bobbing gait, a little like a wading bird, his body leaning forward while his feet seemed to be searching for a secure foothold. The step summed up the man. Nothing was taken for granted. He was a private individual who preferred shadows to sunlight. Not for him the interminable speeches that others made from the podium of the State Council. He didn’t care to explain, certainly not to others, and sometimes not even to himself. Introspection, he found, was a worm that ate away at a man’s courage.
    As he walked into the cleansing morning air beside the lake at Zhongnanhai and towards his car, a large sedan passed. In its rear seat, squashed uncomfortably together,sat three of the most senior commanders of the People’s Liberation Army, dressed in their full military regalia; strutting peacocks all, Fu thought. Their eyes met his yet there was no greeting, nothing but coldness. The PLA’s world was one of military codes and inflexible structures, a world in which minds were always turned back on the last war, not towards the next one. These men had no time for subversives such as Fu, and the mistrust they felt was reciprocated in full.
    Ducks scampered for the safety of the water as Fu approached along the bank. He smiled inside. The generals would be scampering, too, when they found out what was afoot. Not long now: the country had arrived at the crossroads that separated the past from its future. It was time to decide. Modern China was a great nation, and one that carried great burdens united only by the pollution and muck that engulfed them all. It must move on, but to where? It was no longer Communist in anything but name, on that point there was agreement, if on little else. Mao knew which direction to take, of course, but so many were too blind to see it, were reluctant to follow. There were doubters, there were whisperers, there were malcontents and traitors, and that was what made Fu so necessary, like a surgeon who dealt with discontent and cut out the gangrene. Yes, that’s what he was, a surgeon.
    Wu Xiaoling had been part of that malady, a whisperer, a traitor. Yet how much had she whispered, how much had she told? And just how much had Mao told her? Fuhadn’t dared ask, but women had such wiles, could extract so much, infer even more. Fu rejoiced in the fact

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