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9:29 a.m., White House
The US President Todd Johnson was in back-to-back meetings since five in the morning. According to his morning intelligence brief, Iran was acting up, and North Korea was getting aggressive. He expected to have a breather by 9:30 when he would finally have his breakfast while thumbing through the morning headlines on his tablet.
Just as Johnson was about to get out of his current meeting, Alex Fischer, his Chief of Staff, opened the meeting room door and walked up to him. "Sorry to disturb you, Mr. President," he whispered, "Mother is on the line."
A call from Mother was serious. Johnson looked up and examined Fischer's face, which confirmed his doubts. Not many people knew about Mother's existence in the White House, but those who knew about her knew that she never called to ask for niceties. The President followed Fischer down towards the Oval office. The meeting was set up in the room adjacent to the Oval office. It's one side of the wall covered with screens, right now was divided into two parts. Johnson saw Mother sitting in the darkness on one side of the screen and Helms on the other. Two unknown faces stood behind Helms.
As soon as Johnson entered the room, Helms cleared his throat. "Is anyone else joining us?" he asked.
Standing behind Helms, Jake and Alisha somersaulted in their heads. They were seeing the US president in the same room. Not literally, but they were in the same meeting with him. This was much bigger than they had anticipated just a few minutes ago.
They had never worried about their appearances ever, but now they suddenly seemed very conscious of how they were looking.
At the same time, Jake felt what Jack Ryan would have felt meeting the US President for the first time with the intel he had unearthed. Jake was Jack. Jack was Jake.
Alisha was still so enamored with everything happening at such a breakneck pace that she could very well be dreaming. He had seen the President only on TV giving speeches and doing photo ops. This was beyond real.
"No," Fischer responded, and Jake and Alisha came back to the meeting room, mentally.
"Okay, let's get going, then." Johnson nodded at Helms's suggestion. "Last month, we briefed President Johnson about a secret Chinese program – Dragon Fire. If any businessman talks ill of the Chinese government, Chinese secret services - Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the 2nd Bureau plans their abduction and transport from foreign lands to China to falsely implicate them of crimes they never committed. We had also shared a list of potential businessmen who could be targeted. Wang Jun and his partner, who lives in Hong Kong, were third on that list. Last night Mr. Jake and Ms. Alisha, here, has decoded a message that Wang Jun had been abducted and en route to Hong Kong as we speak."
"What about his partner?"
"He is missing since he spoke negatively about the Chinese government in an event recently."
The tension in the room thickened. Johnson and Fischer shifted in their seats a bit, but everyone held their questions for the moment.
"This abduction, if reported by the media, could be problematic for China, but it will have huge consequences for our country's reputation." Helms continued.
Helms brought up an image of Wang Jun. "This photo was taken seven days ago from outside his house in New York."
He pulled up some more detailed numbers of Jun's business empire on the screen. "His company IBCC is the key player in using drone technology in healthcare and is a pioneer in UAVs research. But it's not just healthcare. IBCC's technology advancements in the UAVs have opened limitless options even in warfare. The UAVs developed can be used as unmanned weapons that can help us eliminate many safety and redundant systems a manned aircraft would naturally have, which means this aircraft, when developed, can outfly and outmaneuver anything we've ever built. There's a small group at DARPA that can provide more detailed specifics. In summary, Jun and his team are working on the future of how the wars will be fought. Getting him back on soil is critical for us."
"Do we have intel on when he would reach Hong Kong?"
"Between 3 and 4 p.m. today. I believe Jun will be taken to Beijing from Hong Kong tonight."
"Why Hong Kong? They could have taken him directly to Beijing. Why this diversion."
"We suspect its usual China playbook. First, drop any abductee in Hong Kong, which is still seen as an open society compared to the Mainland. They would probably give reasons like he is there to visit family or business to keep the international media attention diverted. And then take him to Beijing where no international coverage is allowed except the state-run media."
Fischer jumped in. "Do we have anyone in Hong Kong that we can use to intercept this?"
"Not without raising eyebrows and political repercussions."
The President also understood the reference. China and the US were also on a very different trajectory now as compared to the past. The China of today was not the China that was a decade ago. It was a triangular situation with the US, Russia, and China at its three corners, with the balance shifting from one corner to another. There was also an ongoing discussion that China was emerging as a new superpower and would replace the US from the global power structure. There was also no doubt that China had already become a global powerhouse economically and was expected to surpass the US as the world's biggest economy by 2030 or earlier. But it was still behind, although on its way to surpassing the US in military power with increased spending on weapons technology and developing several secretive weapons.
But even when the Soviet Union competed with the US to claim superpower status during the Cold War period, it somewhat matched America's strength in leading alliances and military power. However, even at the height of its power, the Soviet Union was never a match for US domination economically or culturally.
The silver lining for the US was China's tough neighborhood, with India breathing down its neck. While China lacked trusted, powerful allies, the US, on the one hand, had established strong political and military cooperation with many regionally powerful countries like the UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia from the Cold War days. It had continued to keep those allies while getting new ones like India. On the other hand, China's only significant ally in the world was Russia, but that alliance had suffered from many contradictions and had not passed the test of time. So, the question was, can the Communist Party-led China be ever as formidable and complete a superpower as the US has been for the last so many decades.
The President chewed on that for a moment. "We have to get him back in the country." He spoke decisively. "What options do we have on the table?" The question was for everyone in the room.
"Sending a small team to intercept the transfer in Hong Kong." This time Mother spoke. "Jun would land in Hong in five hours or so. We have to engage with the Chinese government to stall his movement diplomatically. Then make sure he stays in Hong Kong for the next 48 hours or more so that our team has a shot. His stay should preferably be in a hotel and not some basement which no one knows about. He is a US citizen, so we must go full throttle to push China to agree to our demands until we get to Jun." This was the longest Mother had spoken ever, but the plan made sense. It would require the highest level of diplomatic and espionage efforts, but the US has the will and might to do it.
"Fischer, summon the Chinese ambassador here," Johnson spoke.
"What about the team?" Fischer asked the critical question. Diplomacy could only take them up to a certain point.
"Leave it to me." Mother said.
Fischer didn't like the answer, but Johnson spoke first. "We don't have an option to err."
"I understand." Mother said in the mechanical voice.
"You will get all the help you need."
"Thank you, Mr. President," Helms spoke this time.
The meeting was over, and a lot of things needed to be taken care of before the plane would land in Hong Kong.
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