Authors: Steve P. Vincent
He who holds the pen holds the power.
When a corrupt think tank, The Foundation for a New America, enlists a Taiwanese terrorist to bomb a World Trade Organization conference, the US and China are put on the path to war.
Star journalist Jack Emery is pulled into a story far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Because the Foundation’s deputy director, the ruthless Michelle Dominique, recognizes that whoever controls the message controls the world. And she
take control, no matter the price.
Enter Jack’s boss, Ernest McDowell, owner and chairman of the largest media empire on the planet. In the midst of political upheaval, EMCorp is about to become the final play in the Foundation’s plan. When Dominique traps the EMCorp owner in her web, Jack’s the only one left to expose the conspiracy before it’s too late.
As the world powers smash each other against the anvil of Taiwan, Jack will risk everything to battle the Foundation and prevent them from taking control amid the devastation of a global war.
“Great fun. A two-fisted thriller, escaped from five minutes into the future.”
―John Birmingham, author of the Axis of Time and Disappearance trilogies.
For anyone that likes to daydream, imagine and ask
Keep it up.
Chen Shubian cursed under his breath at the old Hewlett Packard as it whirred to life. He was seated at the rear of a little internet café on the outskirts of Taipei, watching the light in the middle of the case occasionally flash with activity. He was losing patience and about to force a restart when the Microsoft logo appeared.
Chen shook his head. “Vista.”
He dug a small envelope from his pocket and tore it open. Inside was a piece of paper with an alphanumeric code, meaningless to most people. It was Chen’s key to the private server set up by his employers. They’d found him on the Darknet, a refugee searching for his vengeance, and brought him to their community. Now, the private server allowed them to conduct business outside the view of the authorities.
The code wasn’t all that was required to access the server. He plugged his Hello Kitty USB into the front slot of the computer and tapped his fingers on the desk as the ancient machine whirred some more. He typed the code into the black command box that appeared on the screen and hit enter. The black box was replaced by an ordinary-looking web browser.
Chen clicked the only bookmark on the browser, which took him to a message board where likeminded people connected to chat about politics, sport and blowing up international infrastructure. A message at the top of the screen reminded users to ensure the security of the network, lest they end up in residence at Guantanamo Bay.
Chen searched his pockets again and found a small photo. He put it below the computer screen and stared at it for a few moments. His mother and father stared back at him, standing on either side of a slender fifteen-year-old boy with straight, shiny, black hair. The photo had been taken the last time Chen and his parents were all together.
Chen’s life had changed forever when his father—an employee of a large American investment bank—had been arrested on a routine business trip from Taiwan to China. He had been charged with espionage and executed after a show trial. In grief, Chen’s mother had taken her own life soon after the death of her husband.
Chen blamed China, but he also blamed the American bank that had left his father to rot. They’d obviously determined that their business interests in China were more important and had done nothing to help his father. The thirst for vengeance against China had guided Chen’s life ever since: from school, to university, to the Taiwanese Army and then its Special Operations Command. It had honed his anger and his skills.
Though the attack he planned would rock China, his employers assured him that the act would also cause great heartache for the United States. It was a happy coincidence.
He smiled with pride as he browsed the thread, which connected him with others slighted by China and united them all under one cause. He left a message for those who would help him undertake the attack, confirming the final details. He typed another to his employers in the endeavor, noting that their funding had been received and confirming the details of their meeting in a few days’ time.
When he was finished, he ejected the USB and all signs of the message board vanished from the screen. Chen left the internet café as anonymously as he’d entered, satisfied that everything was in place for the attack. He had no expectation that he’d bring down the Chinese Government, though he did believe that a heavy enough blow could cause a fracture in the monolith. He felt a small degree of guilt for the innocents who’d die, but their lives were the price of vengeance.
Men of decisive action changed the world, and if it had been good enough for Mao, who’d driven Chen’s ancestors from mainland China to Taiwan, then it was certainly good enough for him.
In London today, Ernest McDowell, Managing Director of EMCorp, fronted the British Parliamentary inquiry into the phone hacking of UK politicians, sports stars and celebrities. During his testimony, Mr McDowell denied all prior knowledge of the crimes, but also noted that the company’s head of UK operations had been fired and the
had been closed. Despite these moves, and Mr McDowell’s assurances that he’d stamp out any remaining rogue behavior in his company, the inquiry chairman seemed unimpressed. Mr McDowell will not enjoy any breathing room when he arrives home in the US, with a similar investigation about to get underway in the United States Senate and mounting pressure from his board to step down.
BBC World News
, August 31
Jack Emery woke with a groan, face down in a pool of vomit. The sickly soup had matted his hair and dried on his face. He dry retched, one more protest from a body familiar with this type of abuse. He had the worst hangover of all time, or at least this side of the crucifixion. He rolled out of the puddle and onto his back. As he moved, his head felt like it was a tumble dryer. Once he was still, he took a minute to do a physical stocktake. He moved his fingers and toes, then his limbs, pleased that everything seemed to be in working order—more or less.
“That’s a start.” His voice was raspy, and he considered calling for a crime scene unit to stencil some chalk around him, haul him off and call it even.
He opened his eyes and looked around, glad that he’d found his way back to his hotel. He stood, walked unsteadily to the window and opened the curtains. Despite the frost on the window and his aching body, the sight of New York City made him smile. The skyscrapers and the bustle. It was chaotic, but somehow it all worked. He turned to the bed, mad at himself for lacking the sense to pass out onto it rather than the floor. At least he didn’t have to make it every day. It was the only advantage of being forced to stay at the Wellington Hotel for the past month.
He sighed and decided to bury that particular set of thoughts for the time being. None of it was going away in a hurry, so there was no sense adding mental anguish to his physical trauma. He needed a shower, a shave and breakfast. He staggered to the bathroom and started the shower.
As Jack waited for the stream of water to become warm, then scalding, he stole a look at himself in the mirror. It wasn’t pretty. His hair was greasy, his skin dry; he was showing every second of his thirty-five years. He stepped into the shower and successfully washed away the stink of stale beer and vomit.
Once out, he toweled off and then tore at his stubble using the terrible complimentary razor. He felt a bit fresher, and left the bathroom to do his best to find some clean clothes among the piles of dirty laundry that littered the room. He dressed and slipped on the same shoes from the night before, complete with speckles of vomit. He gathered his keys, office security pass, cell phone and wallet, then made his way to the first-floor diner. He pushed open the double doors and took in the scene with distaste. No matter how many times he ate here, it never looked welcoming. He sat.
It didn’t take long for a waitress to shuffle over. “What can I get you?”
Then his phone beeped. He fumbled around for it and looked at the message. He absentmindedly waved the waitress away. As he stared at the text, bile rose in his throat
Not attending this morning? I didn’t think you’d sabotage your career to avoid me.
Erin. Tall, blond, beautiful. Good colleague and great shag. Unfaithful wife.
Jack looked at his watch and realized he should have been at the morning
New York Standard
staff meeting, being handed the assignment of a lifetime. Instead, he was in a diner. His life was a mess.
Thoughts of breakfast forgotten, he went outside and hailed a cab. He jumped in and gave the driver the address. As the cab drove downtown, Jack’s head never left his hands. He’d wanted the job for months, but had probably lost it because of his self-annihilation.
The cab pulled to a stop and the driver turned his head. “Eight seventy, pal.”
“Thanks, mate.” Jack gave a ten-dollar note to the driver. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks, pal. You Australian?” The driver gave a toothless smile. “See you ’round.”
Jack rushed into the
New York Standard
building, through the security gates and into the elevator. He tapped his foot impatiently as the elevator climbed to the eightieth floor, and as soon as the doors opened he burst into a run past the reception desk. Every additional second he was late reduced the chance of him getting the China gig.
He slowed as he reached the large wooden door and placed his hand on the knob. He took a second to compose himself, but knew he looked like shit: out of breath and sweaty. He sighed, opened the door and stepped inside. Two dozen pairs of eyes bored into him like lasers.
The booming voice he didn’t want to hear came from the head of the table. “Nice of you to join us, Jack.”
“Thought I’d let the rest of you get some work done.” Jack kept his eyes down.
Nobody spoke while Jack found his way to his usual seat. Coffee cups and all manner of food covered much of the table. At its head in a high-backed leather chair sat the paper’s managing editor, Josefa Tokaloka, a Pacific Islander turned American citizen who’d been with EMCorp for decades. Everyone else sat on far more modest chairs.
Jack found his seat and looked up to see Tokaloka’s eyes on him. They held the stare for an awkward few seconds. Eventually, Tokaloka nodded so slightly that Jack thought he might be the only one who noticed, and that was it. He knew there would be no chewing out, the point had been made.
Tokaloka looked back down at his papers. “As I was saying, this stuff from Britain is killing us. We’ve done nothing wrong, but we’re one of the few brands in the company that can say that. Keep yourselves clean. If you’re in doubt, don’t do it. I don’t want anyone deciding they don’t have to play by the rules.”
Jack looked around and saw plenty of nods. The troubles at the
office—the hacking, the denials—had led to a decision by Ernest McDowell to close the whole paper. A century-and-a-half-old institution gone overnight, with hundreds of colleagues out the door. There had been issues elsewhere, as well, including the US.
“Anyway, only one more thing to cover. China.” Tokaloka paused. “Erin, it’s yours.”
Jack’s head moved so fast he risked whiplash. The World Trade Organization Conference in Shanghai was supposed to be his gig, the career boost he needed to get over his current malaise. Tokaloka had obviously decided otherwise and abandoned him. He’d had a hunch he would lose the gig when he was late, but not to her.
Jack slammed his hands on the table and stood. “Hold on one bloody minute, Jo. That job was mine!”
Tokaloka stared at him. “You’re too flaky at the moment. You walk in here late and looking like shit. It’s not good enough. You’re benched until you get it together.”
Jack was about to argue, but decided against it. Making a scene would just dig him into a deeper hole with the boss. He bit his tongue and sat.
Tokaloka turned to Erin. “I want you on the ground in two days. You’re going to be as busy as hell, but you’ll have Celeste along to help.”
Erin flashed the smile Jack had fallen in love with. “Happy to help, Jo. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Tokaloka nodded. “Right, we’re done.”
Jack stayed where he was as the room exploded with conversation and staff rose to go to their desks. He was still in shock. He’d spent weeks doing the prep work on the WTO conference. While he knew his mind had been off-track for a few months, he could still do the job. Tokaloka taking it away wounded him. They were friends, after all.
Jack waited for the bustle to clear and for the sting of losing the China assignment to ease. When he looked up, he was confronted by Erin, Celeste Adams alongside her. He was trapped, and couldn’t escape without looking like a fool. He hated to admit it, but Erin looked great. He knew that if she offered, he’d take her to the nearest secluded place, undress her and mess up that blond hair. That would never happen, though, because she’d continued to shine while he’d spiraled down into a dark mire.
“Got a minute, Jack?” Her voice was soft.
“Fuck off, Erin.”
“Suit yourself, just remember it’s me trying to heal this, at least a little.” She shook her head as she turned and strode away.
“Heal yourself! We might’ve had a chance if you had.” Jack’s words were wasted, because Erin was already out of earshot.
Celeste smiled. “That had nothing to do with me. I’m just shadowing whatever she does, which apparently includes relationship destruction.” She was younger and different to his wife in every way: average height, where Erin was tall; preferred dresses to the hard, boxy pant suits that Erin wore; and had a mane of fiery red hair that flowed across her shoulders.
Jack snorted and changed the topic. “You’re one of the refugees from London, right? Your accent is as strong as mine used to be.”
“Yeah.” She laughed. “I started at the
a few weeks before they shut up shop. I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I managed to get a job here. I’m trying to adjust.”
“Listen to Erin. She’ll be your ticket to bigger things.”
“Got it. I’ll see you around.”
As Celeste left him, Jack’s cell phone beeped. It was a message from Jo.
You’re letting me down, Jack. I need more of the Pulitzer Prize winner and less of the current version. It’s time to bite the bullet on your divorce, my friend. I want you to meet me for a beer later in the week.
Jack sighed and started to type his reply.
No hard feelings, but did it have to be her? Meeting the lawyer tomorrow.
Mogul, visionary, ruthless bastard.
Ernest stared at the magazine for a long while. His deeply lined face stared back at him from under gray hair. He sighed, picked up the magazine and threw it at the small table. It fluttered the short distance and landed cover up alongside a few papers and other weekly news magazines, though none of the others had his face on them.
“Never should have rejected that buyout, right Peter?”
His assistant didn’t take the bait, even though Ernest was sure that, deep down, Peter Weston was feeling vindicated. A few years ago, Ernest had declined an opportunity to buy the same magazine that now plagued him, despite Peter’s advice to the contrary. Ernest had rarely gone against his advice since then.
Peter smiled from the seat opposite. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Easy for you to say.” Ernest sighed. “It’s not every day you get subjected to a dozen-page hatchet job in the largest weekly news magazine in the United States.”
“It’s poorly researched and full of errors. It won’t do any damage.” Peter waved his hand. “There are bigger things to worry about.”
Ernest laughed. “You mean the British Parliament going for my jugular or the US Senate going for my balls?”
Peter laughed. “Quite a dilemma, I suppose.”
Ernest massaged his temples with the tips of his forefingers, trying to see off his headache. He wasn’t sure if it was caused by the sound of the aircraft engines, which droned in his ears like a fleet of mosquitoes, or the million or so conflicting ideas ricocheting around inside his head.
He sank deeper into the brown leather seats of the Gulfstream IV. He hated these trans-Atlantic flights, even if he did get to ride on a private jet. He was looking forward to getting home after a few days in London, which had cost Ernest his head of UK operations and the
“Want a drink?” Peter held up his hand to get the attention of the flight attendant. “I think you need one.”
Ernest looked up as the woman swayed down the aisle with a bottle of Laphroaig and a pair of glasses. She knew their poison.
“I’ll take it neat, thanks, Clara.” Peter flashed her a grin.
She nodded at him and smiled at Ernest. “One for you, Mr McDowell?”
Peter laughed. “Normally you’d be all for a little recreational drinking on such a long flight.”
Ernest frowned. “Not now.”
He watched absentmindedly as Clara poured Peter’s drink. Ernest knew that he was being difficult, mad at himself because he hadn’t yet found a way to control the situation. He’d work it out eventually, but for now he was content to feel sorry for himself. Once Clara had finished, she left them.
“I want to know how I managed to build this company, see off three wives, raise a daughter, stare down takeover attempts and get us through the global economic meltdown, only to be undone by an ambitious jerk hacking the phone of a former British prime minister!”
Peter was silent for a few moments as he sipped his drink. Ernest didn’t mind. He’d learned to appreciate Peter’s careful, considered advice. “It was more than just one cowboy, Ernest. It was a systematic regime of criminal activity. We were right to shut it down, but despite that, we’ll take our hits.”
Ernest took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “We already have. They want more.”
“The UK issues will dissipate. We’re through your testimony and you’ve cut away most of the cancer. The problems we have there were an appetizer.”
Peter was right. The evidence of EMCorp wrongdoing had first emerged in the UK and it was limited to the activity of one overly ambitious newspaper. It had burned hot for a few months, and led to the Parliamentary inquiry, but Ernest’s contrition and swift action had cooled things down a bit. A much larger fight was looming at home.
He closed his eyes. “The British are used to this sort of thing from Fleet Street. But trying to get the Senate and Patrick Mahoney to back off is a larger challenge.”
Peter said nothing as he took another sip of his drink and leaned back in his seat.
“I really do hate the fat bastard, Peter.”
Peter laughed. “Well, given the fat bastard chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which is on you like a fly on shit, he’s a problem.”