An Inch of Ashes (Chung Kuo)

By: David Wingrove

INTRODUCTION

Soren Berdich0" ev, Head of the Dispersionist faction, is dead, his spine snapped by Gregor Karr after a long pursuit that led finally to Mars. Meanwhile, back on Chung Kuo, DeVore has abandoned his old friends and forged a new alliance with the Ping Tiao, or ‘levellers’, terrorists from the crowded lower levels, who wish to destroy the City and start again.

Within the Seven there is discord for the first time in their history, sown mainly by its latest and youngest member, the obese T’ang of Africa, Wang Sau-leyan. Seen as a selfish, dissolute young man by the older T’ang, he is, in fact, a highly intelligent and cleverly manipulative politician, and his presence among them makes them weaker than ever before.

Li Yuan, heir to City Europe, has married his beloved Fei Yen, his dead brother’s wife, and, at his young age, has become his father’s most trusted advisor.

Kao Chen, once a kwai, or hired ‘knife’, is now a servant of the T’ang, a Security officer and a friend of Gregor Karr. Alongside the redeemed figure of Axel Haavikko, these three are chief among those fighting DeVore and his minions. One of those – an unexpected figure – is Hans Ebert. Major in Security, heir to the massive GenSyn Corporation and betrothed to General Tolonen’s daughter, Jelka, he seems to have it all. Only he wants more. He wants to rule, and DeVore – like the devil he is – has decided to help him get what he wants, whatever the cost.

And then there are Ben and Kim, both still young men, who will become the premier artist and foremost scientist in Chung Kuo. Two young men who walk very different paths and represent in themselves very different things, like the two sides of the great Tao.

Historically, it is a moment of stillness, of quiet before the great storm. For the storm is sure to come now. Nothing the Seven can do will prevent it. Change is coming to Chung Kuo, like the darkest of clouds on the horizon. Who will survive the days to come? And who will go under, as the Great Wheel turns once more and the War of the Two Directions takes on a new, more violent aspect?

PART TWELVE

AN INCH OF ASHES

AUTUMN 2206

The East wind sighs, the fine rains come:

Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder.

A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it, burn the incense.

A tiger of jade pulls the rope.

Draw from the well and escape.

Chia’s daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young,

The goddess of the river left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei.

Never let your heart open with the spring flowers:

One inch of love is an inch of ashes.

—Li Shang-Yin, untitled poem, 9th century AD

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