Bridge over the China Sea

14 Jan

It took thirty-five years to construct the sea-bridge between Shanghai and Osaka. Less than five miles wide, it consisted of buoyant, flexible silicon matrices that held soil, clay, water, and concrete roadways. At fifteen mile intervals stood stability stations that contained a variety of oceanic excavating, refining, manufacturing, and processing plants. The mining of both ocean floor and the distilling of salty sea water were major occupations that justified the astronomical costs of building the “matrix”, as its inhabitants called it. Specially engineered and designed harbors served sea shipping needs. Air fields and an enclosed rail tunnel provided cheap transportation from continental China to southern Japan. The hundreds of miles of surface for solar power generation and hydroponic farming the year around. A thriving hotel, sports, and leisure industry attracted visiting Chinese and Japanese tourists. A permanent population of half a million kept the industries, facilities, and services of the bridge always active and busy.

Japanese capital investment and Chinese labor had built the bridge matrix section by section. It was a sign of prosperity in the Orient and Pacific solidarity. The matrix was neither under Japan’s or China’s political authority, but had its own jurisdiction as an international legal entity. It was under the rule of the entire Pacific Community. Previously built sea bridges, such as over the English Channel, had been much shorter and owned by the nations that constructed them. The Pacific Community had permanent settlements organized on the bridge. It was a multifunctional matrix, with multiple functions and purposes. New ones were found as more people moved onto it. Gigantic gyroscopes beneath the surface panels kept the matrix in equilibrium. Fish and algae farms operated down below at sea level, while light absorbers on the bridge deck created energy for the settlements and for transfer to China and Japan. Surpluses of grain and vegetables were exported from the surface farms and gardens.

Commerce was an important activity on the matrix. All large Japanese and Chinese trading houses and firms had offices and facilities here. Ocean ships connected the bridge to all sections of the world. Overhead, lighter than air aerostatic balloons floated at intervals, helping to stabilize the matrix and providing moorings for airships carrying bulky loads.

Hu was familiar with the police chiefs in charge of the main administrative districts of the sea bridge. Under international Pacific Community law and jurisdiction, they controlled the police forces made up of both Chinese and Japanese personnel. He had an appointment to meet Chief Xue of the Third Matrix District at his headquarters office. Climbing off the Shanghai-Osaka monorail express at the zonal urban center, the news reporter headed for the tallest building he could see, five stories high, in the exact middle of the settlement. The Chief, an old acquaintance, was a native of Manchuria who had been recruited for work on the matrix from the Shanghai police. Having fought crime in China’s largest city, the matrix had at the beginning seemed a serene rural setting for his police career. But growing population and industry had brought more trouble and cases to his Third District than he had ever foreseen.

The hallway that Hu entered was full of citizens of the bridge there on business. Clerks, secretaries, and uniformed police officers moved about. Hu walked down to the end of the corridor and gave his name to the female receptionist, who then ushered him into the Chief’s private office immediately.

Xue and Hu shook hands and greeted each other with smiles, then got down to business as soon as both of them were seated.

“I am here on the matrix to investigate the burgeoning crime situation and try to find out what is behind it,” began the correspondent.

“Tell me this: what do you think is behind it?” frowned the Chief in reply.

“I wish I knew, but I don’t. My mind is open to hear answers. All I am after are facts, not merely opinions.”

“But don’t you bring any possible explanations with you, Hu?” asked the Chief.

“Even if I had some idea of my own, it wouldn’t have any value. You are right in the middle of it all. If the police have no explanations, who else can?”

“We in the police force don’t know everything that goes on. We see just the outside surface of events. A lot happens that we know nothing about.”

“Whom do you think I should interview, someone connected with the criminal underworld perhaps?” cleverly asked Hu.

“That might be a good idea, but don’t tell anyone that I told you so,” said Hue with a wink and a grin.

“What is the big difficulty you face here with organized crime, then?”

“It’s the rising number of cases and incidents that have a ganglike nature to them. Those are growing the most.”

“Do they indicate the presence of an underworld mob in your district?”

“Look at the figures. In the past year there were 62 cases of highjackings in our harbor. Just in the last month, we suffered twelve of them. Their pace is quickening. There were thirty-five killings of known criminal figures last year just here in my district. Last month saw ten more. Twenty-four bombings connected to the underworld have occurred in the past year. Nine explosions happened here last month alone. Look at what the targets were: casinos, night clubs, beer gardens, bars, amusement parks, theaters, and sports gymnasiums.”

“So there happens to be a clear pattern,” summarized Hu.

“The street has it that a Japanese syndicate and a Chinese gang are battling for control of gambling, vice, narcotics, high-jacking, and the extortion racket in this sector of the matrix.”

“How about the smuggling business?”

“Yes, that too has a war going on. You should know what the markets are by now, Hu. They never thought when they built this sea-bridge that it would turn out to be an open door for illegal materials and substances into both China and Japan, not to mention other nations. For a long time, there seemed to be enough business to satisfy both the Chinese and Japanese smugglers drawn to the matrix. But now we have become a magnet attracting the mobs from both sides. But there is not enough demand for all that can be brought here illegally, not with the present economic depression all through the Orient. Competition has grown fierce and furious in the underworld. Murder and bombings have become standard weapons in the mob warfare.”

“Do you think that the chieftains and bosses of the contesting groups are on the matrix or on land elsewhere?” asked the reporter.

“I doubt that they live here. They are probably in Japan or China.”

“So, even when the police are successful, they only catch the small fry.”

“It’s hard to arrest even the small ones,” said Xue with a sigh.

“I don’t want to make arrests myself, of course. I only want to learn the facts and send them back to my waveline editor.”

“How do you plan to go about that, then?” asked the Chief.

“I’m not a police detective or a professional investigator. But we reporters have our own special methods. We possess some unique sources.”

“Well, I am not asking you to act as an informer for me. Not at all.”

“I’m interested in the whole pattern and who is pulling the strings from on top, not in individual petty thugs.”

“That’s how we differ then. I need to capture and arrest the minor thugs who operate on the sea-bridge,” chuckled Xue.

“And I need the whole picture in order to write a good story, my friend.”

Before Hu left, the Chief gave him a copy of an internal report listing the victims of the attacks and explosions on that section of the matrix in the past year, along with the names of known underworld suspects with criminal records.

From the beginning, the sea-bridge saw tension between its Chinese and Japanese builders, and then its residents. Japan and China might be political and economic allies in the great Pacific Community, but here on the matrix individuals, companies, and interest groups clashed and fought each other in bitter, brutal conflicts. The dozen districts of the bridge were settled from Shanghai at one end and Osaka at the other. Populous China furnished more immigrants than did the islands of Japan. But all twelve zones contained a mixture of both ethnic populations in varied proportions. The highest percentage of the Chinese was in the districts closest to the coast of the Asian continent, and the highest ratio of Japanese was in the area of the bridge near the island of Honshu. As a result of these patterns of settlement, the different zones on the matrix had varying degrees of inter-group conflict. The clashes occurred everywhere, but were most frequent in the central region in the middle of the China Sea.

The entire matrix was an artificial jurisdiction, a synthetic international institution. There had developed no sense of patriotism to the sea-bridge itself. There was no Matrixian national or ethnic identity. Individuals remained Japanese or Chinese in language, traditions, culture, and ancestral memory. A small minority of Koreans were not at all visible or audible. Difficulties arose over the use of languages, law codes, and employment opportunities. The bulk of the population became bilingual from necessity.

The Japanese were the majority in Districts One and Two. The Chinese were dominant in Districts Twelve and Eleven. The original plan had been to have six Chinese language zones and six Japanese ones. Conflict arose first in District Six as the Chinese migration spilled over into areas that the Japanese had considered reserved for them. The unexpectedly gigantic influx of settlers from China upset the original calculations of planners on both sides. The large Japanese minority in District Six organized itself politically and started a campaign for language and employment equality, despite its being outnumbered by the Chinese. Marches and meetings led to clashes between the two nationality groups. Cultural clubs social centers were set up by both peoples. Since local officials were elected, all the politics on the matrix revolved around the central issue of ethnic interest. Firebrands from each group aroused their followers to support the demands made in their name. The cry coming from both Chinese and Japanese organizations was for linguistic and cultural domination and autonomy.

The place-names of settlements was a bone of contention. The right to open schools, the use of languages in official documents, and the appointments to the civil service of government became dividing issues. The Chinese tended to enjoy the greater numbers in most local disputes. But the Japanese had more business companies, bank capital, and technical education than their Chinese rivals. Even sports events between teams from the two groups became battles in the great social war, often ending in riots. Damage to person and property could be enormous.

Throughout its short history, the sea-bridge had been a divided place. The central districts were a region of unresolved confusion. The Japanese hopes of exploiting their technological supremacy had not panned out. They had not prevailed as anticipated. Educated Chinese families taught their children the Japanese language in order to guarantee their future careers on the sea-bridge. Chinese youth came to resent their parents subservience to the need to master Japanese. Street fights often broke out among the school children with strong national loyalties. Ugly incidents occurred for many years.

The matrix had become an uneasy association of two populations. The two communities were like hermetically sealed worlds all to themselves. The Japanese in Districts One and Two ignored the Chinese and their culture completely, just as the Chinese in Eleven and Twelve did the same to the Japanese. But elsewhere there existed unending social, cultural, and political conflict and antagonism.

In recent years, radicalized Chinese students insisted that their people not speak or even learn Japanese. Japanese signs and books had been publically destroyed. Those studying the language of the enemy were assaulted and forced to quit their courses. The matrix had become a place of fear, hatred, and suspicion. Many were prepared for violence at the slightest incitement or instigation.

The Pleasure Palace had twenty-four hour a day gambling. There was continuous entertainment at the sex shows. Independent prostitutes operated in surrounding apartment complexes. Both Chinese and Japanese vacationers made up the gamblers and watchers in the casino rooms. The bars and restaurants were always packed. A fog of smoke and laughter floated through the entrance hall of the Palace as Hu walked in one evening. He had seen Chief Xue that day, then rested for awhile in his hotel room on the edge of the entertainment center. Hu did not like staying in expensive tourist accommodations near the Pleasure Palace, but that appeared necessary for his plans. Professional gamblers with plenty of cash and resources preferred this central part of the matrix, as did the addicted members of the general public. The stakes and game risks were the highest out here.

This was the place where Hu had the highest hopes of learning what he wanted to find out.

Fei Deqing, manager of the Palace’s roulette casino, was a longtime friend and information source for Hu. He knew both the world of legitimate business and the shadow realm of the semi-underworld. The reporter always enjoyed talking with the unpretentious transplanted Cantonese gambler.

Since gambling and prostitution were legal within designated areas in the central zones of the matrix, the mainland Chinese gangs had to build more subtle rackets such as smuggling and business extortion. It was known to crime reporters like Hu that gigantic fortunes were made each year in those sectors of crime. He hoped to gain a general picture of the recent spurt of violence and destruction from his friend, Fei.

Hu asked a bartender where the manager was. He was directed to a large gambling table where Fei was standing next to the croupier, watching the wheel spin. A crowd of two dozen players and viewers were also looking at the wheel. Fei suddenly noticed the approaching Hu and smiled in recognition. The two friends rushed to greet each other, shaking hands and forgetting the roulette game going on behind them. The pair broke out in warm laughter and moved away together.

“Hu, how have you been? Where are you working now? How long it’s been since we saw you at the Pleasure Palace?” Fei grew breathless as he posed questions to the correspondent.

Hu explained that he had been busy at headquarters in Shanghai for a year and had not traveled onto the matrix for several months. The two headed for a private room behind the cashiers’ windows where Fei and his top lieutenants counted up receipts every night. On the way there Fei ordered cups of saki for himself and his dear friend and chum.

It was soundlessly quiet in the room. The distant din of the gamblers did not reach this far. As Hu sat down across a coffee table from Fei, he could see the darkness of the China Sea through a large picture window on the far wall. Reflections from the brightly lit casino danced over the water, revealing the undulations of the tidal waves.

“How is business this time of year? Even though the holidays are over, there seems to be a large crowd of players and tourists out there tonight,” began Hu, pointing with a movement of his right hand back toward the roulette room.

“Oh, our business is always good. All seasons are the same out here on the bridge. We might as well be out in space, floating on solar waves. There is a world-wide depression going on. People are out of work and businesses are failing. Factories are shut down all over Asia. But you would never know any of that if you only looked at our receipts and profits at the Palace. Our doors are always open and our tables full of players. There is no depression for us, not at all. The gamblers make their money elsewhere and cannot wait to get out here to lose it to us.”

“They know they are going to lose their money but they travel here to the matrix all the same,” said Hu with a smile and a sigh.

“Maybe at the bottom of their unconscious mind they actually want to lose,” said Fei. “Perhaps losing is some sort of weird thrill for them. Their dancing near the edge of destruction out here is a reward to them in itself.”

The manager had a strange, faraway look in his sparkling ebony eyes.

“Do you take in a large gross income?” inquired Hu.

“Every day and night. Week after week and month after month. We rake in more than the banks do.”

“The banks aren’t doing so well of late. They are being closed and taken over all around the Pacific Rim.”

A bartender brought in two cups of saki and placed them in front of each of the two friends, then quietly left.

Hu and Fei were both pensive for a time, then took a few sips of their saki.

“Are these recent explosions connected to a conflict among the high-jackers who operate in this district?” abruptly asked the correspondent.

Fei pondered about ten seconds, then answered.

“You talk about the smuggling and the high-jacking, and there is certainly a lot of both here on the matrix. But there is more than that. For example, extortion is widespread at the docks and in the settlements.”

“Who would be behind violence committed in the extortion racket?” bluntly asked Hu.

“It is not just simple extortion. There is an insurance racket connected to it in recent days.”

“In what way is insurance involved?” continued Hu. “Is someone selling security and protection at a price?”

Fei took his cup of saki and drew a long, slow sip before replying.

“Remember, centuries ago Chinese insurance people furnished guards to prevent theft and put out any fires. There is a very hazy border between protection and extortion. It depends a lot on how much is being charged, among other things.”

“Does the Pleasure Palace pay for any special protective insurance to any person or agency?”

“That’s hard to say. There are ways of concealing extorted money as special assessments and added costs.”

Hu grew excited. “You mean that insurance companies can mix the illegal in with the perfectly legal?”

Fei grinned like a cat. “I’ll put it this way: the insurance handlers may be under threat. So they have to charge high extra amounts for coverage in order to pay off the racketeering gangs.”

“What gangs are these that can frighten the insurance providers?”

“There are all sorts of syndicates and mobs on the bridge,” frowned Fei.

“Are they Chinese or Japanese gangsters who are involved in extortion through insurance?”

“I do not know for sure. You will have to find that out for yourself, Hu.”

“Why won’t you tell me more specifically?” demanded the reporter.

“Remember, most of us do not deal directly with the extortion gangs. We pay them money through high premiums and added assessments that go through the insurance companies.”

“Then you can only guess who might be behind it all?”

“That’s right,” nodded Fri. “Just like you, I can only guess. It’s not always healthy to know who is putting the threat on you. Especially when you can’t do a thing about the situation.”

“But the insurance people must know a lot about who is acting through them,” concluded Hu.

The two had by now finished their saki. They rose together and returned to the roulette room. There they watched the central table for a few minutes. Then, Hu said good night and headed back to his hotel.

An explosion came an hour before dawn, waking Hu. He sat up in bed, his mind whirling. At first he wondered whether it was something in a dream. Then he realized the truth that it had been a bomb.

He rose and quickly put his clothes on. At the window, the reflections of nearby flames were visible. Police and firefighter sirens could be heard approaching the area. Hu rushed out of his room, down the stairs three floors, and out the hotel entrance. Soon he was running toward the pillar of smoke in the vicinity of the warehouses on the matrix edge.

Fire-fighting equipment kept arriving and going into action. Hu viewed a scene of rapidly spreading fire. Walls, roofs, and stored wares were being eaten up by the red and yellow, crackling flames. Firemen were starting to spray their chemicals onto the edges of the conflagration. Breezes from the China Sea cooled the air very little. Hu could feel the intense heat of fire.

Showing his press pass to police officers, he crossed over to the warehouse nearest the fire, but not yet damaged. Though out of breath, Hu managed to ask a group of policemen: “What kind of explosion could this have been?”

“Who are you?” asked a uniformed officer in anger.

“A reporter for Shanghai News,” answered Hu, showing him his credentials.

“Well, it looks like a plastic explosive with a double-cell fuse,” stated the officer.

“One of those devices that goes off when two compounds slowly mix until the critical explosive point is reached, setting off the whole gigantic charge,” added a second policeman.

“A technically advanced form of arson, then,” said Hu, foreseeing the details that he needed for his coming dispatch to Shanghai News. The fire soared higher, although its spread had been stopped for now.

A sudden shout startled the three.

“Look over here. Come and see this, a burned body.”

Hu and the two policemen hurried toward the voice coming from an alley behind the gate to the burning warehouse. Under a bright arc light stood a fireman looking down at a human body.

The three who were approaching all gasped for breath. What they saw was unexpected. The fireman was staring into a bronzed Japanese face. It was recognizably that, the trio of Chinese viewers knew at once. But this face had no nose on it!

Hu immediately decided that the nose had been cut off. It had been done recently, because red fresh blood was still gurgling out of the hole in the middle of the face.

The two police offices, the fireman, and Hu as well were as still as solid statues for awhile. No one dared speak. The sight of the horrible face transfixed the four men into children. None of them noticed that the person was dead. That was secondary to the atrocity visible to their eyes.

Everyone breathed heavily and gasped for air. The fire itself fell out of their minds. The disfigured face had them all hypnotized for a short time. The totally unexpected had thrown them into a trance of utter surprise.

Hu heard voices and footsteps behind him and turned around to see who it was. Chief Xue was walking toward the group and the body. He called out to Hu by name. Then he noticed the dead man’s face and stopped in his tracks.

It was the Chief who decided they had to discover the cause of this death. He turned over the body with his hands to reveal a large, thick sword sticking in the lower portion of the back. Xue turned to Hu and spoke.

“I would wager that this is the sword that was used on the nose.”

“You mean that the face was mutilated before the victim was stabbed from behind?” inquired Hu, focusing on the details of the crime.

“Yes, a gruesome ritual for our modern tastes in killing.”

A silence followed as everyone tried to collect their wits. The small group waited for specialists to arrive and take the corpse for laboratory examination.

Ideas began to stream across the screen of Hu’s mind. Was this a case of madness or of bitter gang warfare? Was it a revenge murder of some sort? And how was it connected to the major fire?

The sky began to color itself with the soon-to-rise sun. The fire was now under control and burning itself out. An ambulance arrived and removed the body that had electrified so many viewers of it.

Hu turned to Chief Xue. “Could I have the reports of the coroner and the fire examiners?”

“As soon as they are finished, I promise. You will be the first to see them.”

“Thanks. I’m not trying to swoop anyone on the story. It’s something else. Call it my burning curiosity to get behind all this.”

“The police would like to tie together the arson and the murder,” muttered Fei. “Come and see me this afternoon. You probably want to get some sleep now, like I do.”

Hu walked back to his hotel at a slow gate. He was tied after the alarms and shocks of the last hour. Before he went up to his room, he transmitted over wave-phone a report on what he knew and had seen back to Shanghai. Then he took a four hour nap, more to clear his mind than to get any rest.

Hu woke up more tired than he had been when he came back from the fire. His fatigue was a delayed reaction to what he had seen and experienced. Human bestiality made him sick to his roots. Had this sea-bridge been engineered and constructed so that arson and mutilation would have a site on the Sea of China? The realm of human evil had conquered a new territory for itself. It was now his duty to investigate these crimes.

First on Hu’s agenda was seeing Chief Xue. There was no waiting for him. He went directly into the office of his friend.

“Did you get any sleep after what you saw?” asked Xue.

“Yes, but it was only my physical fatigue that I got over. Who can forget the sight that we saw?”

“I agree. I’ve seen a series of these mutilations, and I’m not used to them yet. Each one is as horrifying as the first one was.”

“Any clues that connect this to the other atrocities?”

“First of all, the victim was a small shopkeeper in the Japanese part of the district. He sold cameras and film and belonged to a Japanese language rights club and had been an activist student a decade ago. Here is the coroner’s preliminary report on him.”

“Thank you,” said Hu as he took it from the Chief’s desk. “Who was the owner of the warehouse that burned down?”

“Let me see. It was the Cobra Importing Company. The warehouse held expensive goods from India and East Africa. A lot of furniture, carpets, furnishings, and household items.”

“What do you think the purpose of the bombing was?” continued Hu. ” Was it individual, communal, or just gangs?”

“We are still only guessing. Your ideas are as good as ours.”

“Was the place insured?”

“Indeed, it was. For the full amount of the building and all it contained. It was covered by the Gucheng Insurance Company. It is an underwriter from Canton.”

“That’s very interesting.”

“But an insurance angle is the hardest in the world to prove in a case like this,” moaned Xue.

Hu picked up the police reports and took his leave of the Chief. He departed with his mind focused on the next destination of his agenda for the day.

Zhou Ping had run an independent insurance agency for fifteen years and was familiar with the risks, damages, and expenses of material losses on the matrix. His office was in the central business district of District Six, so that Hu had to take a motor-cab for the trip there. The entrance to the building was impressive, with enormously large potted palm trees giving it a tropical look. A secretary led Hu into the crowded office of the manager. The latter was at a desk on a platform at once corner of the room.

“How are you, my dear friend?” asked Zhou with a wide grin on his circular face. He was taller and thinner than Hu. It was recognizable that he hailed from Hunan. He had the typical physical form of Northeast China.

Hu shook his hand and smiled back, taking the seat offered by the manager.

“Do you know about the explosion and big fire last night at the Cobra warehouse?” began the correspondent.

“Yes. The noise of the sirens woke me up. I saw pictures of the damage on my wave-wire this morning.”

“There was a very horrible murder of a Japanese man nearby, as well.”

“That’s right. And the bulk of the business losses belong to the Japanese also. So there is obviously an ethnic component to the whole affair,” noted Zhou carefully.

“This is not the first case with such a pattern,” slowly declared Hu.

“There have been a series of similar mutilations in the Sixth District.”

“Are you familiar with the Gucheng Insurance Company of Canton, Zhou?”

“Yes. We do not do business with them, but I have heard things about them. They have the reputation of being an insurer of last resort. They write policies that no one else is willing to, but charge sky-high rates for minimum coverage. They are considered high-risk wildcatters in our field.”

“They offer the last chance to insure a property?”

“That company takes on risks that no one else is willing to?”

“A Japanese-owned facility might be under pressure from Chinese rivals and enemies that makes it unacceptable for coverage by Chinese insurers.”

“Might such pressure be the product of extortionist gangs?” asked Hu, his nerves aroused and throbbing.

“All I know about that sector is simply rumor,” muttered Zhou. After a slight pause, he went on in a softened tone. “The matrix’s first nationalist organizations often degenerated into criminal gangs. I guess that a whole generation of idealistic youth is not going to stay honest in any social movement as they grow older and more materialistic. After a time, the dregs of society are left in charge. So, they are able to rationalize their extortion racket under the old slogans, as a means of building up the necessary funds for beneficial activities.

“They focus on Japanese businesses or on Chinese ones they consider insufficiently patriotic. The most notorious organization of extortionists that I have heard tell of is called the Han Chimera. Have you ever come across it in any way?”

“Yes,” answered Hu, “that movement was the original ethnic defense organization for Chinese on the sea-bridge. But it fell into decline. More political groups came on the stage and replaced it. The students tended to abandon the Han Chimera. The latter came to consist of older people alone. Have they fallen to becoming extortionists as the membership aged?”

Zhou, noticing how agitated his friend was becoming, suddenly decided to change the subject.

“Of course, I am only speculating about the matter. The Han Chimera in this district was for years able to strong-arm Chinese enterprises for contributions and threaten the Japanese. But that may have died out years ago. I really do not know what they do today. It may be that they have hidden underground, so to speak. I am ignorant of their present situation, Hu.”

“Do you think that this Canton insurance outfit could be connected to them?”

“I cannot say that I know for sure. I can only guess based on whispered rumors.”

Since his friend could not or would not help him any further, Hu found an excuse to leave. Where could he locate some useable leads? he asked himself. How was he going to proceed?

That evening and the next morning Hu carried out research in the historical files of the central district wave library. He later talked with several Chinese reporters for matrix publications about their knowledge of clandestine activities by secret organizations like the Han Chimera. From all these sources he compiled a report to send back to Shanghai News.

“The Han Chimera was founded by six Chinese university students in the Sixth District forty-six years ago. They demanded exclusive use of the Chinese language in all administrative and business transactions. All place-names had to be changed to ones they accepted. As their numbers grew, new branches were set up in all the other districts of the matrix. Their program became increasingly xenophobic and anti-Japanese. Demonstrating members began to attack Japanese businesses and individuals. Looting became common as Han wrath led to resentment and unbridled hatred.

“Mob violence grew, only declining with the failure of the Han to win any of its goals through direct action that broke the law. Police learned to use tear gas to repel crowds of roaming Han youth. Helicopters flew above to track the routes and activities of the wild street gangs. Eventually, the victimized Japanese population of the twelve districts of the matrix formed defense units and the police learned how to prevent and suppress ethnic conflicts that degenerated into crime.

“The most notorious action taken by the Han Chimera was the derailment of a matrix train that left Osaka with over four hundred passengers aboard. The majority of the riders perished by drowning in the East China Sea. This tragedy compelled the governments of both China and Japan to assist the matrix police in taking steps toward a serious crack-down against the Han.

“Eventually, twelve members of the organization’s leadership were indicted and convicted of criminal terrorism and murder. Their execution by hanging had a strong effect on the loss of popular Chinese support for direct action that ended in mayhem and violence.”

Hu discovered an old Han Chimera booklet and sent excerpts from it to his Shanghai editor to use as needed. Its words were inflammatory, almost rabid.

“We call ourselves after the name of the earliest empire and dynasty in China, that of the great Han warriors from the North. They brought glory, greatness, and prosperity to our peoples. It was the foreigners from the Pacific who destroyed our ancient kingdom. But the symbol of the Han, the dragon we call the chimera, is rising again from beneath the land and the sea. We, the people of the Han, shall throw out all the foreigners and traitors and restore our rightful inheritance. Once again the divine authority will reign, in place of the intrigues encouraged by the island people from Nippon. (We call them by their original name, as we aim to restore our own name – the people of the Han.)

“The Nipponese have built themselves a world-empire based on money and gold. We, the Han, will fight and destroy it. Then we will construct our own Han kingdom as it was in early times. We will restore the purity of our language. The West and the South will once more obey our laws. The green chimera of the Han will make the planet shake and tremble.

“The gold-hungry bankers and merchants of Nippon have their webs of cohorts everywhere today, especially on our sea-bridge. The matrix must be a Han possession, and no one else’s. The Bank of Japan, the Fuji Bank, the Sumitomo Bank, and the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank monopolize the bond and credit markets of the Pacific Rim and must be brought down. Their downfall shall start here on the matrix, which shall be made into the Han bridge to the future. Twice each day these Nipponese banks send agents to a board room where behind closed doors they decide the world price of gold and the future of all credit and securities. Waves of speculation are the result, and only the Han Chimera has the will and strength to put an end to this fraud.

“The rebirth and resurrection of Han greatness will begin when the sea-bridge becomes wholly and only ours.”

Hu believed that press exposure of the nature of the Han Chimera would help to flush out the conspirators. He suspected that the gang’s squads would soon be hunting for the correspondent who was writing about them.

Chief Xue wave-phoned Hu and asked him to come to police headquarters at once. The two walked down to the police garage without any indication to the reporter about what the purpose was. Xue asked Hu get into his police vehicle and drove him several miles without saying what there destination was. The reported was both puzzled and intrigued. “There is something I want to show you, Hu,” was the limit of what the latter learned.

The silicon platform of the matrix, two hundred feet above the sea’s surface at high tide, received its relative equilibrium from complex gyroscopic balancing mechanisms within periodic bridge stations. The latter were reached by elevators on the outside edges of the matrix. Xue and Hu went into a compartment and descended down to the station level, only thirty feet above high tide. At the station office, they could see and hear the spinning movements of a series of gigantic magnetized spheres that gave the bridge a feeling of smooth flexibility and balance.

A group of uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives were standing around a plastic tarpaulin lying on the floor. It covered a dead body with a sheet over its head.

“Look at this,” said the Chief as he pulled the sheet away.

The face’s features were barely visible through a layer of solidifying, but still semi-liquid cement. The nostrils and the mouth were stopped up.

Hu stood there dumbfounded. In all his reporting experience, he had never seen evidence of so drastic a crime. The noseless corpse did not compare in demonic character.

“Was he suffocated by the cement?” asked the horrified reporter.

“It was a real death mask made of plastic cement. Here on the side of the head is the plastic sheet that held the material in place. It appears that the victim was held tightly on both sides as the cement mask was wrapped around his head. The air was cut off entirely and he must have died quickly. But you wonder: why this elaborate method just to cause suffocation?”
Xue looked puzzled and baffled.

“The plastering may have been part of a ritualistic murder,” opined Hu. “Have you ever heard of anything like this in the past?”

“Not in my lifetime. This may have some old, ancient significance.”

“Is there any identification?” said Hu.

“All we can tell is that the victim was Chinese.”

“So, this was not part of the anti-Japanese campaign, was it?”

“Maybe it’s deeper than we think. We are trying to trace the fingerprint records for anything like this man’s.”

“It was found here at this buoyancy station?”

“At this very location. The killers brought the victim down here without being seen or noticed, by either guards or workers.”

“You’ll tell me if you find out more, won’t you?” asked Hu.

“Certainly. You will be called in at once. But at the moment we are in the dark.”

Hu smiled an unhappy smile in return. He felt himself trapped in a maze.

That evening Hu decided to visit the Pleasure Palace and see Fei again.

When he inquired at the entrance, he was directed to look for his friend in the nightclub section. A virtual light show was about to begin shortly.

Hu hurried along the main corridor, hoping to locate Fei before the performance started. He passed row upon row of optical slot machines, with money-card equipped players watching the rotations on their monitors.

As he entered the club room, Hu spotted his friend sitting at a small table with another person. He decided not to bother him in case he was engaged in important business at that moment. So Hu sat down at an empty table and watched the five-minute virtual light show. Colors the reporter had never viewed before shot about the room in brilliant cascades of shapes and forms.

As the show reached its end, Fei noticed Hu, smiled and waved at him, then got up and came over to his friend.

“How are you doing?” asked the manager.

“Fine, fine. And how are things going with you?”

“Not badly. Business is quite heavy today, for some reason.”

“The area of crime has been busy too since we met last,” added Hu. He then went into a brief description of the bombing, the mutilation, and the suffocation at the matrix station.

“A pretty gruesome picture, isn’t it?” said Xue as he sat down across from Hu. “But I think that such ferocity must go far beyond crime.”

Hu asked Fei who his companion had been during the virtual light show.

“Oh, it was someone you might like to meet. Come over with me and get acquainted right now.”

Fei rose from the table and Hu followed him over to the table where the stranger was still sitting. The manager introduced his friend to Soeng, a chemical engineer from Canton, visiting the matrix for a scientific conference.

The tall, stringy Soeng seemed thrilled to meet a crime reporter. Fei and Hu sat down and began conversing with the engineer.

“Crime appears to be a serious and difficult problem here on the sea-bridge,” commented the man from Canton.

“But this seems to be organized crime,” said Hu. “Old-fashioned Chinese tong gang crime as in times past.”

“Hu has been investigating the underworld connections of these incidents. That’s where he thinks the key to solving them lies,” interjected Fei.

“I would say underground rather than underworld,” objected Hu. “There are secret conspiracies that might possibly be the masters of what has happened.”

“The Han Chimera was the most important such movement here on the matrix,” said Fei. “Now they are gone, as most fanatical organizations end up.”

Suddenly Soeng grew animated. “Do such movements really die out once they get into trouble, or can they return out of the past into the present? I’ve always believed that the social and national issues from which these secret organizations spring forth always give birth to new movements when the time is right.”

“Yes,” continued Fei. “Here on the matrix, the Chinese have always had problems with the Japanese, blaming them for our troubles. Especially during a depression like this one. There is always a need for the image of an enemy.”

Soeng smiled with self-assurance. “Your sea-bridge is a new way of living and surviving, but it cannot escape the conflicts and tensions of the past. That seems pretty clear and evident to me.”

“What you are saying, then, is that continue warfare by one means or another is the inevitable fate of the sea-bridge,” slowly muttered Hu, staring at the engineer. “That is a very hopeless viewpoint, I would say.”

After a few moments of silence at the table, the reporter excused himself and left the night club as well as the Pleasure Palace.

There were certain items of information he wanted to get by wave-phone from the records of Shanghai News.

Early the following morning, Hu appeared at police headquarters and urgently requested to see Chief Xue. The latter ordered that he be allowed into his office immediately.

Once his visitor was seated, the Chief began describing his situation at once.

“My entire force is stymied,” he groaned. “There has been no progress made at all. These cases may never be solved, I’m afraid.”

“Last night I collected some interesting and strange information that I want to give you so that it can be followed up in greater accuracy and detail.”

“What is it you have?” inquired Xue with suddenly aroused curiosity.

“Last night I was at the Pleasure Palace and met an engineer from Canton, a chemical engineer. I had my news service look him up and discovered a fact of amazing coincidence. Remember you told me that a Gucheng Insurance Company was the insurer of the warehouse that was destroyed? I was astounded to find out that this chemical engineer is employed by a Gucheng Chemical Company. The two corporations are part of the same major investment complex in Canton. I think that is a meaningful connection.

“But there is more.

“This man, called Dr. Soeng, was very active in his youth in various young people’s organizations of a political and nationalistic nature. Among them was the one we know as the Han Chimera.

“Isn’t that an interesting set of connections, my friend?”

Chief Xue looked at the correspondent in silence for a time. “Perhaps I should bring this man in for questioning. Where is he staying?”

“The hotel of the Pleasure Palace,” said Hu. “Do you think I can stay around here so I can learn what the results of his interrogation turn out to be?”

“Certainly,” answered the police official.

Hu camped himself in the office of the Chief all that day and well into the night, waiting for the questioning of the chemical engineer to reach some conclusion and end. But all that he received were a series of reports of its continuation, hour after hour.

Xue ordered that sandwiches and tea be brought in for his friend, but did not himself appear. It became apparent to Hu that the Chief was himself conducting what must have been a grueling interrogation of the man from Canton.

Night fell over the matrix, but the process proceeded on. Was that a good or a bad sign? The reporter was unable to decide that. There was no let-up for him till the middle of the night, when Xue entered his office looking tired and disheveled.

“I final got him to confess!” loudly shouted the police official. “The truth rolled out like a tsunami, but it took half the night and a colossal effort on the part of me and my chosen squad of assistants. But we succeeded in breaking the man’s will, even though he proved to be a hard nut to crack.”

Hu had at once leaped up from the sofa he had been using as a bed. He stood staring into the eyes of Xue. These seemed to glow with some fever of excited thought.

“Let me tell you what we now know for sure,” went on the joyful Chief. “Yes, Dr. Soeng stands at the center of a conspiracy, a subtle and deeply hidden one. He has employment with the Gucheng Chemical Company of Canton, but he also acts as an instrument of the Gucheng Insurance Company and indirectly for the Han Chimera extortion gang.

“His assignment in my district was to devise an untraceable incendiary system for burning down that particular warehouse. But he also was able to provide his confederates with a way of suffocating the Japanese victim that was found at the buoyancy station with no clues that would tie the killing to anyone or any group.

“He confessed that, in time, he was to construct and deploy four more apparati that would ignite uncontrollable fires at important locations here in the Sixth District. What was the objective of this plague of arson? In an ingenious way, two different goals existed. One was to terrorize all property-owners to pay doubled rates for insurance protection and extortion tribute. But also to drive many frightened and terrorized Japanese merchants and businessmen out of this district and off of the matrix.

“This was to be the initial battle in a war to destroy all Japanese property and investment that still remains anywhere on the entire sea-bridge. It was to be a daring, heartless campaign of destruction.” Xue paused and concentrated his gaze on the bewildered correspondent from Shanghai. “The creator and primary pivot of the complex and many-sided complot is a man you are familiar with, Hu. It is the manager of the Pleasure Palace here in this district, the clever manipulator called Fei.”

Hu felt faint as he heard the name. How could that be? It was certainly a mistaken conclusion that made no logical sense. But a sudden idea arose in his mind: that could be the secret of the conspiracy’s successful concealment until this confession happened. The central role of Fei would have appeared an absurd conclusion. What proof of it was there beyond the accusation from the mouth of an arsonist? Hu decided to pursue the question of the complicity of his friend in these ugly matters.

“Is there any evidence beyond the word of Soeng to incriminate Mr. Fei? Can any case be made against him that will stand up in court?”

Chief Xue gave him a sly, knowing grin. “I made the engineer tell me where he had charts and documents hidden in his hotel room and the Pleasure Palace’s security office. Both of those locations are being raided for evidence.” He glanced at his wrist-timer a second. “Those searches should soon be completed and central headquarters informed of the results. I gave orders that Fei be arrested as soon as these papers are in police hands.

“It appears that the manager of the Pleasure Palace has long been a secret adherent of the Han Chimera and its ultra-nationalism. He has had his hands deep in the extortion racket as well. Soeng told me that your friend hoped to drive all Japanese gambling interests off the matrix and make himself the lone monarch of underworld enterprises from Shanghai to Osaka.”

Hu finally realized that he had to accept this new, unmasked version of Fei. “I have been wrong and mistaken about this person. He appeared to me as one thing, but he happened to be the exact opposite. I was completely blind to the reality, accepting a false identity as the true one.”

Xue suddenly placed a hand on the shoulder of Hu. “I have learned from my experience with the criminal world that lies and fictions are a part of the very essence of human life. We have constructed the magnificent sea-bridge matrix, but we have not changed or reformed human character and its propensity toward evil out here on the China Sea.”

“I guess not,” sadly conceded the journalist.

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