Who's Next?

Her patience grew shorter with each revolution of the light above. The room was hot, humid, and smelled like the rest of urban Pakistan. The last she could remember, the date was July 30, but the blackouts in between beatings had taken their toll on her sense of time. Her face took most of the damage, which wasn’t all bad, she still had total use of her limbs and she could still see out of one eye. But it was Pakistan. Women weren’t exactly well regarded in this part of the world, particularly after the latest coup, the worst would come sooner or later. Her interrogator spoke English, barely. He was typical mid-level ISI, entitled, annoying, and bearing a mustache which his paper-thin frame did not support. Nothing a knife couldn’t fix, she cracked her swollen lips as she grinned. She took another look around the room, there wasn’t much to see wherever the light touched. Blood-spattered concrete walls, blood-spattered floor (some of it hers), nothing that was going to aid her in her escape. She’d have to use whatever toys her hosts brought to the party. At least the ropes were loose.

Another hour passed before the door unlocked, maybe it was two hours. Two guards entered first, sporting Sigs and worn fatigues, followed by someone new. He was stockier than her last interrogator, no Pakistani fatigues either. She couldn’t see the details of his face through her one good eye and the swinging light. For a few minutes, he just stood there. She wasn’t sure what was killing her faster, the light, the dehydration, or the anticipation to see this new asshole. On each revolution, she could see the glimmer of a Captain’s rank, the PLA camouflage was unmistakable. China was popular in Islamabad, as popular as any infidels could be, but she didn’t expect PLA officers working with the ISI, not in front of an American. Before she could speak, he did.

“It’s been too long Sarah, I was beginning to think I’d never see you again.” The posh accent was unmistakable.

“Oh I agree, I haven’t kicked your ass in years.” She threw in a bloodied smirk. How the fuck did HE get here?

“Hmm…I was simply being nice to a chio bu. You could have done so much more with that face. As I recall, beauty pays in the District.” Well, time in uniform certainly hadn’t deterred his confidence.

“Careful now, motherfucker. Keep dropping that Singlish and your ChiCom friends will start to remember that you’re not a real boy.” She was honestly surprised one of Xi’s purges hadn’t cost him his limbs. Roaches survive.

“Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head. By this time next year, there won’t be much of a difference between Singapore and Shanghai.” It really is amazing who you meet in college, isn’t it?

“Is that because I’ll have dumped parts of you in both cities?” Like with the heat and the light, her patience was growing thin with this conversation. “What do you want, Zhao?”

“Why Sarah, why so intolerant? I’m merely here as a friend, to pay my respects… and to offer you a chance to join the winning team.” His arrogance made her want to puke even more than smell of the rotting grey matter in the corner did.

She laughed, spitting out a tooth in the process. “Now Zhao, you and I both know I’m already on the winning team. Always have been.”

“Sarah, the 21st belongs to China, just as every century before the 19th did. America is on the decline, there’s no point for bloodshed to messy the process of hegemonic transition.” Oh, how she loathed IR theory. “I don’t want you or anyone else to die for something that is inevitable. I want us to be friends again.”

Ugh. “Alright. First off motherfucker, we were never friends. You dated one of my friends, and you beat on her because your daddy didn’t hug you enough. Second, you’re pretty cocky for someone who knows how pissed America gets when you break her shit.

Tsk tsk, Sarah. You should know by now, you’ve seen our successes. And you’ve seen America’s failures. We have a mandate, just like our ancestors. We have restored the Middle Kingdom, and now the world will bow down. That includes America. You’re losing friends left and right and you’re destroying yourselves from the inside out. What exactly makes you think you have any more a right to the world than we do?”

Oh, how she regretted not killing him years ago, this was the worst torture she’d ever endured. His death would’ve been justified, too. “Okay Confucius, where do I begin? Your precious CCP killed millions of its own people because it couldn’t figure out birds were important to the ecosystem. You ran down your own people with tanks because they wanted to be treated like people.You murder and torture dissidents because they challenge your leaders. You’re choking your own people with your factories, condemning millions of children to grow up without clear skies or clear lungs. For decades, you were too stupid to invent your own shit so you stole it from people who actually worked for it. Then again, that’s your whole philosophy, isn’t it? Some animals are more equal than others? Treat everyone below you like shit and just hope no one comes knocking with a bigger gun? Oh yeah, you’ve got a mandate alright, but it sure as shit isn’t from heaven.” Right hook, there goes another molar. She spat it up on the table into a puddle of blood and puss.

“You Americans are so ignorant of your own reality. I’ve seen your country, read your history. You are the only state to ever drop the bomb, twice. You eradicated an entire continent’s worth of people just so you could have a bigger backyard. Your people are murdered in the streets by their fellow citizens and your culture celebrates it. Your politicians are owned by a media run by corporations bent on destroying the working classes. Your children throw orgies in their academic institutions and burden their families with insurmountable debt in exchange for cheap alcohol and cheaper lovers.”

“I don’t recall you complaining about the booze and orgies at Georgetown while you were there.” Left hook.

“You abandoned your friends. You let those drunk bastards in Moscow run over Eastern Europe. The biggest American joke going is ‘Never again.’ It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad to see how you squandered hegemony. Freedom and prosperity. HA. You left your throne with half the world in chaos and the other half begging to burn your country to the ground.” Right hook, again.

“Because Beijing has been so much better to its friends? Tell me what happened to the Vietnamese, or the Soviets, or how about the North Koreans? You know what, since you’re so fond of Pakistan now, why don’t you tell me what you’re planning on doing with your buddies once you’re done here? It’s not exactly like anyone can find out about this meeting.” No punches, just a quiet laugh. The men at the door started to pay attention.

Glancing over his shoulder, he switched to their mutual French, “Well I certainly wasn’t going to let them live.”

She smirked, turning her stare to the guard on the right side of the door. “Funny, I wasn’t going to either.” The hint had the desired effect, the swinging light showed the guard’s hand a bit closer to his holster. Not wanting to die immediately, Zhao dismissed the guards. Self-preservation will get you killed, Zhao.

“So, tell me Zhao, how exactly did you end up in that ridiculous marching band uniform? Was there a signing bonus for guys with experience in losing fights to Americans? Lose too much in Macao and daddy sent you away to learn some responsibility, did he? And how the hell did you end up in this shithole anyway? Just enough danger to get laid back home but far enough from combat that you’d never have to fight someone on a level playing field, huh?”

“I volunteered actually, but you were right, father did help out. They wanted to send me off to the rocket forces, and if there’s one thing that America and China have in common, it’s that no one wants that job.”

“Shit, can’t argue with you there. That’s why I joined the Army.”

“But you’re not with the Army now, are you Sarah?”

“Shit no, pay sucks, and they didn’t let me kill impotent wife beaters like you often enough.” Uppercut, the Agency better pay for the plastic surgery.

“Why would you want to kill me? I can offer you the world, just come to our side.”

Killing him is gonna feel so damn good. “And what? Bow down before the dear leader, betray the country that gave me everything so I can help the shithole that acts like a spoiled child, that thinks the world owes it everything? Go fuck yourself Zhao and fuck the whole Middle Kingdom.”

His face was red with rage, “You little bitch, you never knew respect in college and you don’t know it now. Fuck the deal, I’m gonna enjoy watching you die.” It worked. He pushed the blood-stained table out of the way and went in for the kill. At that moment, Sarah swung herself onto the floor, dislocating her shoulder and wrist but breaking free of the ropes in the process. She rolled over and charged Zhao, slamming him into the blood-stained wall. She unleashed a flurry of hooks and crosses, breaking ribs and knocking out teeth. She threw him on the floor, his shattered body lying in Sarah’s blood. Writhing in agony, Zhao couldn’t get up. The last image he saw was Sarah standing over him, bare foot on his throat. She pressed down on his larynx. Goodnight.

She grabbed the QSZ-92 from his holster, checked the mag, and chambered a round. Stumbling to the door, she grinned, her old friend would be proud. Sarah reached for the doorknob…shit. She almost forgot to relocate her shoulder. Pop…fuck. Right before she left, she took one last look at Zhao.

“You know, it’s a shame we never got to finish our philosophy debate, but then again, me alive and you dead…that kinda speaks for itself, don’t it?”

She turned and opened the door, pistol leading the way. Outside were the two guards from before, shocked at the bloodied and swollen face staring back at them.

“So boys, he lost round one, who’s next?”