Letter of Marque

Fiction Contest Week

3rd Place Finisher

By Hal Wilson

The world was burning. Or so it seemed from the after-deck of the MV Rawalpindi.

Whipped from Java’s farthest edge, scorched by the hundred thousand forest fires in-between, the westerly winds rushed at them. From beyond Bandung, beyond even Jakarta, they ran like scalded dogs until they came here, the Lombok Strait. Even out at sea, sweat evaporated the moment that it beaded; lost into air that was dry-baked, as if from an oven. The sky was shaded like thick terracotta, backlit by a disc the color of bleached bone.

Leaning on the ship’s guardrail, First Officer Larissa Barr gave silent thanks for being offshore. The air here tasted like the burnt phosphor of a struck match; inland, it could only be worse. She jerked as she felt a splash of warmth on her neck. Another. On her forearm, now. It was the hot, hard touch of over-cooked rain. She scowled: the water, blackened with ash from the fires, offered no respite from the heat.

“First Officer Barr,” a monotone voice issued from the ship’s speakers. “First Officer Barr to the AI cabin.”

She pushed from the railing and headed amidships, taking the ladder up from the aft deck.  As she went, she glimpsed the Rawalpindi’s funnel, branded with the stylized wolf-head of the Wolverhampton Wanderers: a black outline with two harsh, white eyes. A quixotic quirk, courtesy of the ship’s master, but the 5,000-ton platform support vessel was otherwise outwardly rigged for its last job: supply runs to Indonesian oilfields in the Java Sea.

Boatswain Shekhar Magar saluted her at Rawalpindi’s davit, where he and a workparty fussed over the ship’s rigid-hulled inflatable boat.

“Any problems, Bosun?” She did not slow her pace.

“Just readying for launch, ma’am.” Belying his salt-and-pepper hair and faint paunch, Magar’s dark eyes were as stoic as a younger man’s. She waved him to carry on as she turned at a hatch, stepping with relief into the air-conditioned passageway.

The deck-head inside loomed low and the old fluorescent lamps flickered. But in here, at least, she could breathe. At the AI cabin, a technician greeted her with a dismayed face. Server stacks waited behind him like soldiers on parade; the air was suddenly close again.

“Bad news, boss.” His voice was that of a man accustomed to nothing else. “It’s the heat again. The cooling systems keep dropping out. We’ll have to keep the AI at minimal capacity, unless you want us melting the bloody thing.” Despite the promise of last decade’s futurists, AI technology had still not achieved miniaturization. Rawalpindi’s AI, hastily installed barely three weeks ago, occupied this entire cabin. Barr fanned herself to no avail.

“Will it still be able to run the spike-wedge?”

“Yeah,” the tech nodded, “just tell the captain we’ll need Head Office to cover the rest.”

Barr continued to the ship’s bridge, where the other half of Rawalpindi’s deck department was at work. Captain John Cresswell was a giant of a man, an ex-Royal Navy commander recruited onto this voyage after retiring some years ago. His broad frame was topped with greying hair and a face like a granite cliff—all craggy, harsh edges. He waved.

“Number one.”

“Sir,” she said, “AI cabin reports we’re down to spike-wedge ops only for the duration.”

Cresswell reached for an old-fashioned satellite phone, his face darkening.

“Cressie here. Hark up. The AI’s down to spike-wedge only. Get on with upstairs, will you? They’ll need gap-filling meantime. Get those joint-effects types to earn their keep. Sound.”

“Are we aborting?” Barr asked as the call ended. “We can’t run horizon sims without the AI.”

“Bloody ‘ell we ain’t,” Cresswell snapped. The pressure of the moment betrayed itself as his clipped Naval College tone slipped, replaced by the lilt of his native Black Country accent.

He gestured at the terracotta gloom beyond the Rawalpindi’s generous bridge windows.

Hainan Bonanza is almost in the Strait. We’ll ‘ave ‘em inside the hour, as planned.”

She stepped closer, imploring him. “If we wait to restore coolant to the AI, we can still make contact as it transits the Java Sea.”

“You saw the algorithms,” Cresswell scoffed. “With each hour we run north, our risk profile skyrockets. This here’s our only shot an’ you know it.”

Barr bit her tongue. She knew he was right. Cresswell held out an e-paper. He jabbed at the flexible polymer screen.

“Now look here: Head Office has our quad-copter arriving in five. Is Bosun Magar ready aft to receive it?”

“Aye, he’s finishing prep with the RHIB meantime.”

“Sound. I’ll hold course and speed: you go back aft and join Magar and his party. With the AI down, I want some senior eyes-on through this op. Keep it on the straight and narrow.”

She took a breath to protest—then relented.

“Aye, boss.”

Cresswell saw her look and a miniature smile quirked at his lips. His accent slipped back in.

“Now get gooin’—and don’t do it for us. Do it for the prize.”

_______________________________________

“What if they just shoot us all?” Boatswain Magar stood with Barr as the oversized quad-copter drone emerged from the terracotta haze. Out there, somewhere, a company-owned Hybrid Air Vehicle mothership was serving as their floating armory.

“You saw the briefings,” she spoke sidelong at him. “It’s a tanker. And not like mine in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. No guns. 20 crew. And millions of barrels of light, sweet crude.”

“This is a bad idea.” He mused. “Having you fly out with us, that is.”

They raised their hands against the downdraft as the delivery drone approached the deck, its four torso-sized rotors accelerating the moment it detached its cargo container. It raced back into the haze at once, pilot-lights glinting. Magar waved for his party to start unpacking.

“Cressie’s orders. And,” Barr moved to help, “with the AI down, it makes sense. Anyway, I’m on the Letter.” The Letter, with a capital L. There was no need to elaborate further.

“Did you even train to fly these things?” Magar grunted with exertion. Barr pulled away packing tape and retrieved one of the cargo pods from within. Matte-black carbon-fibre frames lay inside: a flight-suit, visored helmet, backpack, and two twin-turbine wrist mounts.

“I trained, Bosun,” she nodded. “And I know better than to get in your way. You go in first.”

The Fairbarn-Sykes knife tattooed onto Magar’s forearm flexed as he hefted the contents of another pod: a shining-chrome tubular barrel, with a pistol grip and a cable-linked backpack. It rested in his arms like a baby.  

“Why join up anyway, ma’am?” he asked abruptly. “On this mission. Why volunteer?”

“You ever try buying a decent house in Berkshire with two kids and this job market?”

“No.”

“It was rhetorical, Bosun.”

Barr started shrugging on the matte-black kit from the cargo pod. Magar said nothing, and she regarded his dark, impassive eyes.

“How about you? What made you sign on as our foreman?” She was curious: was Magar a mercenary, or an adventurer?

“My old man was a Gurkha. All sorts of stories from back in Helmand. Me? 20 years in the fleet with nothing more than bar fights ashore in Singapore.” He shrugged, looking at the haze. “They promised it would be an interesting job. We’ll see if they were right.”

Barr frowned. An adventurer, then. She would definitely let him go in first.

_______________________________________

The Hainan Bonanza loomed from the blood-orange haze as a mountain pierces through fog. The ship’s stark white flanks, streaked with rust and ash like so much war-paint, were as sheer as an iceberg and twice as stern. Its fat, broad bow crushed the waters like a slow-motion avalanche. At some 670,000 tonnes’ displacement, with a hull longer than the Empire State Building, it was the largest floating vessel in human history. And, nestled in its guts, four million barrels of oil lay as snug as a clutch of robin’s eggs.

For a ship so vast, entering the Lombok Strait, just 12 miles wide, is an exercise in discipline.

It is also the ideal ambush point.

Approaching the Bonanza head-on was the Rawalpindi’s RHIB. At barely 26 feet in length, it raced over the waves like an insect on a pond. Stung by the salt spray, chilled by the 30-knot wind speed, Barr looked up at the Bonanza. It filled her helmet visor, looming ever-larger until she felt that this towering vastness was the only thing on all the oceans. Her gorge rose in her throat and her guts knotted tighter than a banker’s grip. Not for the first time, she wondered if they were tilting at windmills: would they be like so many ants, dashing themselves hopelessly against this boulder?

“Final check!” Magar cried over the roaring winds, looking at the four other passengers.

Anonymous behind their matte-black helmets, they each gave thumb-ups. Pulled back from her reverie, Barr noted the green icons on her visor-screen and gave the same gesture. Magar nodded and pulled down his own visor. He used one hand to describe a lazy, vertical rotation. All five passengers got to their feet. Their remote-driven RHIB killed its outboard engine. The thundering motion beneath their feet died away. And each passenger leapt from the craft.

But like marionettes on taut strings, they stayed aloft: on each outstretched arm they wore twin, miniaturized gas-turbine jets—and another on their backs. Engines flaring, they tilted ahead on the final stretch to the Bonanza. Barr, teeth gritted in concentration, kept pace with the rest. But simply holding flight-posture demanded close mental focus and a tense physical core. With the weight of the equipment buckled to their chest rigs, the challenge was doubled. She darted her eyes across the visor, overlaid with a wireless feed of altitude, speed, and fuel data. Magar and the others were beetle-black shapes against the haze.

Riding the 1,000-horsepower thrust, they each made for the planned drop-point: the Bonanza’s distinctive, spread-eagle bridge wings. Unfurled to each flank of the ship, the bone-white protrusions dominated Barr’s vision even as she blinked away nervous sweat. They grew larger, larger, larger, as the jet-suits gained altitude until—at last—they leveled. Crewmen, the size of toy-soldiers against their leviathan ship, dotted her vision. One waved.

Another fired a gun.

Ahead—maybe Magar, maybe another—one of the black-clad figures jerked like an epileptic, lost his flight-posture, and dropped from the air as if dive-bombing the waves. More flashes issued from the bridge-wing: a single point of light, a semiautomatic strobe. Barr bellowed a helpless curse.

She was too close to abort. And the jet-suits carried fuel for only one approach.

Body tensed for an inevitable bullet, Barr accelerated in. Almost there

_______________________________________

Impact. As hard and fierce as a prize-fighter’s gut-strike. The world goes black.

Then a tang of copper in the mouth. Barr coughs blood, splashing it across her visor interior. She realises that sun-kissed decking rests underneath her. She tenses her body. No spasms of pain from a sucking gut-shot. No jarring of broken bones grinding together. She raises her head from the deck. A silhouette is ahead of her. A figure in coveralls, reloading a pistol with practiced hands.

The clip enters the receiver. The silhouette racks the slide; raises the pistol to take his shot.

Barr lifts her right arm, pulls the thrust-trigger to full depression. The twin engines, still hot, scream into life. They give enough thrust to send her racing along the deck. And to lift the silhouette off his feet, tumbling with a scream over the bridge-wing and clean out of sight. Disoriented and sickened, Barr struggles to her feet. The thought of her children fills her mind.

Nearby, another figure is climbing up the ship’s ladder. In a moment of perfect adrenaline clarity she takes in his every detail. A thickset Chinese man, in blue fatigues with a red star on his heavy-duty Kevlar vest. He needed a shave this morning, and the morning before. OCEAN DRAGON is emblazoned across his shirt-sleeve in crimson. For a big man, he does a good job getting the pistol off his hip—so fast it looked as though the barrel had always been there, staring her down like the mouth of a Tube tunnel.

But he disappears in a blur of smoke and vapor, as if struck by a tidal wave. Barr blinks.

“Thought you said you wouldn’t get in my way?” Magar appears besides Barr, hefting the fire-fighting shotgun he had collected from his cargo-pod earlier. He works its vertical grip with a satisfying clunk, reloading another pressure charge from the tank across his chest. Firing at almost 250 miles per hour, Magar’s concentrated blast sent the Ocean Dragon guard sprawled against the railing. Or, rather, almost through the railing—the force of his impact bent the metal. Passed out mercifully, the guard slumps down to the deck.

“Thanks for that,” Barr murmurs, slipping off her engines. “Who got hit on the way in?”

“Singh, I think. Poor bastard. Come on, we’re not finished.”

_______________________________________

Together, they hustled to the exterior hatchway of the Bonanza’s bridge.

Alarmed, the crew had already locked it. Magar gestured at the adjacent bridge-window.

“Fireball up.” Barr unclipped a spherical device on her rig and lit its fuse. Magar held the shotgun against the window and fired. The impact-proof glass shattered against the intense, concentrated force. Barr tossed in the sphere. Seconds later it exploded with a dull thud. White foam erupted from the shattered window. Magar vaulted through at once, sweeping the bridge. Barr followed immediately. A modified fire-fighting device, the ‘fireball’ had detonated expanding foam laced with percutaneous muscle-relaxant. Incapacitating on skin contact, Magar and Barr were safe enough in their full-body jet-suits. The bridge crew, however, lay about the deck in crumpled shapes—alive, but helpless.

“Spike-wedge!” Barr snapped, and Magar pulled a simple USB from his webbing. He tossed it across to Barr, standing by a console. She jabbed it into a receiving port, letting the intrusion software automatically get to work while they swept the bridge.

“Clear!” Magar barked at length, after policing the crewmen for weapons and injuries.

“Sending the good news,” Barr pulled a flare gun from her webbing. Emerging onto the bridge wing, she fired two green star-shells in quick succession. Caught on their parachutes, they drifted slowly off to starboard, twin emerald smudges among the haze.

She watched them go, chambering a third flare. Red. Abort. Just in case.

In the minute that it took to do so, the spike-wedge software had established a handshake with a dormant Windows machine eleven decks below, down on the middle engine plates. An old unit, long-forgotten, it had been installed under a now-expired third-party agreement—but had never been removed. An ancient TeamViewer application within the machine was activated. Simultaneously, the intrusion software autonomously hijacked the ship’s control network and locked out the main operating panels in the bridge itself—as well as every operator station across the ship. No hidden crew could attempt to retake the Bonanza now.

By then, Barr had fired her star shells.

High above, lost among the haze, the quad-copter drone which had delivered the Rawalpindi’s equipment picked up the infrared signatures of the two flares. It immediately deactivated the blanket electronic jamming it had been laying down since Barr and Magar lifted off from their RHIB. The hijacked TeamViewer application was now able to reach out to the Rawalpindi’s AI. Bypassing the Bonanza’s Engine Interface Control Unit, it afforded remote control of the ship’s navigation, steering, and 100,000-horsepower engine block.

And so, firewalled against outside cyberattack, the world’s largest ship fell to a single USB.

Barr felt the deck shifting as the Bonanza increased revolutions and came hard to starboard. Good: it meant that, despite running hot, Rawalpindi’s AI could still implement the getaway. She toggled her throat-mic radio and spoke to the remaining members of the boarding team.

“Airwaves now clear, people. Magar, you and me are sweeping the containers—the rest of you, secure the prisoners in the bridge.” She unspooled a length of carbon-fibre cabling, tightly coiled in a loop about her waist, and then secured it to the railing. By then, Magar was with her.

“I hate bloody heights,” she muttered as she clipped her automatic anchor to the cable.

“You literally flew here,” Magar quipped, readying his own autoanchor.

“This is different.” Barr clambered over the railing, her mouth sandpaper-dry. Above-deck containers were arrayed below. From up here, they appeared as pieces on a chessboard.

Vertigo cloyed her as she tightened her grip on the autoanchor. Then, with a last gasp, she pushed from the railing, and let gravity take her.

Tied to her chest rig for safety, the autoanchor jolted in her hands as it detected her increasing speed and applied brakes for a slow descent. As she went, the gusting winds from the fires ashore batted her, as a cat might play with a strung-up toy. Glancing about, she spied the guard who had first had her at gunpoint: he painted the deck. She averted her eyes. Instead, she kept the cable between her legs and in a loose hold above with her spare hand. Better safe than sorry.

By the time Barr finished the descent, Magar was halfway behind her. She swept the area.

The Hainan Bonanza had undergone modification to allow above-deck container storage, as well as the vast oil tanks under her feet. She began calling off the ISO container numbers. The briefings had left one particular container code burned into her mind: HNS-U-305438-3.

“Eyes peeled for the precious cargo,” she said. Head Office had given them assurances about the rough location of the container—but it was still down to them to find the bloody thing.

“Head Office was wrong about the guards.” Magar came to a rest behind her. “They could be wrong about this, too.”

“Only one way to find out.”

Down here, the stacked containers were like valleys, funnelling the dry wind from inshore so that it whipped around them. Metal groaned in a discordant, nonsense chorus.

“Movement!” Magar barked, gesturing down a steel canyon. “Two of them.”

Rounding a stack, they found two Ocean Dragon guards coming to a halt at a nondescript container. The first carried a bolt cutter. The second, a rifle.

“Hold it!” Barr snapped. The first ignored her, using the bolt cutters on the container’s padlocked chain. The second pivoted on the balls of his feet. And brought his rifle up to fire.

Magar beat him to it. The concentrated blast hit the guard with such force that he left a matted clump of hair on the container from where his skull struck against it. A spasm passed through the guard’s hands, and his rifle spat a single round with a flat, crisp report. The bullet lodged itself in the meat of Magar’s thigh. He went down hard, snarling. The first guard, finished with the chain, pulled something free from his belt. Barr acted on reflex. Reached for the first thing to hand. The flare gun. She sighted and fired. The red flare crossed the space between them like a crimson lightning bolt, trailing sparks as a comet leaves a spiralling tail. It caught the guard on his collar bone, lodging in his webbing. Dropping whatever he held, he screamed and scrabbled to unclip his webbing—and to dislodge the burning flare. In a moment of tragic comedy, the flare’s parachute automatically triggered. Barr ran to the guard and helped him out of his webbing, tugging away the polyester parachute before it could catch on the searing magnesium.

“You alright?” Barr shouted back to Magar, still sprawled on the deck.

“Never better.” Magar bellowed in pain as he fixed a memory-plastic tourniquet over his leg.

Barr felt the pulse of the Ocean Dragon. Steady enough, despite the burns to his chest. Perhaps already in shock, he did nothing to stop her taking his sidearm.

“You were armed,” Barr mused, “but you didn’t reach for it.” She looked across the deck.

To where an egg-shaped grenade lay waiting, patiently.

“Grenade!” Barr threw herself behind the nearest container, mouth opened, to save the detonation blowing out her eardrums. Not that it would help if it caught the fuel below-decks, then it…

Nothing. There was nothing at all. Barr let the seconds tick past in mounting disbelief. Each one was a blessing. Or a farce. At length, she gathered her wits and got back up. She found Magar, limping and peering down at the grenade.

“Nerves of steel, boss.” He pocketed the explosive. “Hotshot over there didn’t even get a chance to pull the pin.” Barr hesitated, unsure if the quip was earnest or barbed.

“I thought you were shot.”

“Looks that way. Now I’ve got a story to tell my old man, for sure.” Barr shuddered.

“What kind of maniac takes guns on a fuel tanker? Let alone a bloody grenade?”

Magar looked at the freshly unlocked container, reading off the stamped ID code.

“HNS-U-305438-3,” he announced. “Maybe he was planning on tossing it inside this thing.” Together, they opened the container.

Though dark inside, there was no doubting the contents.

“Bosun, tell me you’ve got a camera?”

_______________________________________

Rawalpindi, we have ship control. Be advised: resistance encountered and cleared. One friendly overboard, one wounded. Two hostiles dead, two injured.” Barr flinched at a pain mounting in her ribs: the adrenaline was wearing off. Her injuries were biting back.

“Chrissakes,” Cresswell’s voice crackled back. “The plan was no guns. No fire risks aboard!”

“Tell that to the home team.” An exasperated sigh issued from the far end.

“Sound, Bonanza. I’ll get Head Office to airlift the injured and run SAR for the overboard. Our AI’s running hot, but the boffins say it’s got your new course locked fine.”

“Getaway is clear, then?” Cresswell made an affirmative noise.

“Joint-effects department cooked up a trick so that any virtual-reality user is going to see Chinese crew topside only; they’re even replicating the crew’s social media like normal.”

“And the AIS?” Barr referred to the automatic identification system for location tracking.

“Spoofed,” he said. “You’re hidden. As far as a ship that big can hide at sea, anyway.”

Cresswell paused. His voice was husky as he asked: “What about the precious cargo?”

“Sending you photos shortly.” Another positive grumble, before he changed subject.

“One last thing: Legal wants you to read the Letter to the crew. Summat about due process.”

“Really? Bloody formality.”

“Legal says just read it. And give ‘em the Mandarin copy. That’s why they wrote it.”

Barr turned from where she stood on the bridge wing. Magar sat nearby, helmet off and teeth gritted with the pain of his wound.

“Medical airlift inbound.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “And thanks for the quick aim. I owe you.”

He waved her off with a smile. “No fuss.”

She stepped inside the bridge, still shattered and foam-flecked from her forced entry. The bridge team lay about from the muscle-relaxant; their guards were ashen-faced. She picked out the eldest-looking of them, who looked up from his cable-tied wrists with equal parts fury and fear. He stiffened as she lifted her visor and reached into her webbing. Then beetled his brows as she produced two fine vellum deeds. Attached to each was a red-wax pendant seal.

Barr handed one to him before breaking her own seal. The handwritten penmanship was of a sort long-since thought extinct, like some exotic animal. She read the document aloud:

King Charles III, by the Grace of God, King of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and Our other Realms, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, Defender of the Faith, charges and requires John Cresswell and Larissa Barr, of the M/V Rawalpindi, to operate on behalf of J.R. Enterprises S.A., a Corporation with a registered address in Zürich, Switzerland. 

Whereas We are aware of the present hostilities between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America, by these Documents We see fit to empower the apprehension and seizure of such Vessels carrying Warlike Materials for use by the People’s Republic of China. 

Appended herewith are Our full Terms, and a Secondary Document in Mandarin.

Now therefore know ye that this Letter of Marque is made Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm on the Sixth Day of July.”

Barr folded the vellum, adding: “We hereby take possession of this ship. God Save the King.”

_______________________________________

London

Yang Cixin rolled into Grey’s Club like a stormfront—all dark menace and bluster.

Under the lobby’s vaulted ceiling and the flaxen light of gilded lanterns, Yang marched past the patrician portrait of the club’s founder, Viscount Grey. He ignored its weighty stare, as well as that of the maître d’ standing watch by the Club’s ornate iron elevator. Waving off the uniformed man, Yang strode into the club dining room. The space was vacant. All bar one table, by the tall windows that look into the leafy park of St. James’ Square.

Yang went to it as a knight would have gone to battle: with a hungry stride and clenched fists. At the table, a man looked up from his chateaubriand and claret, glimpsing Yang over his half-moon spectacles. Brushing back his thick fair hair, he waved for Yang to sit.

“Mr. Yang,” he swallowed his mouthful of steak, “please, won’t you have a seat? If I’d have known you were visiting, I would have ordered a whole carafe to share.”

“Explain yourself, Lewis.” Yang snapped.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be rather more specific.”

“The Hainan Bonanza. I just heard that your firm won’t honour the insurance claim.” Yang leaned across the table, letting his voice drop an octave. “Hainan Shipping pays me to be their man in London. The man they trust to know things. To handle things. Why the hell didn’t you come to me first?”

Easing back in his chair, Lewis put his palms up in a laconic shrug. “Open-and-shut case, Mr. Yang. Terribly sorry.”

“Pirates stole the biggest vessel in the Hainan Shipping portfolio—in the whole fucking world—and you say ‘sorry’?” Lewis made a pained face, as if dealing with a truculent child.

“This would be easier if you sat down.” Yang scowled, and took the empty chair opposite.

Lewis reached into his suit pocket, producing a flexible scroll of e-paper. He placed it on the table so that it faced Yang, showing a series of still photos.

Specifically, the contents of an ISO container: ID code HNS-U-305438-3.

Inside, loaded high, were fat-bodied missiles with odd, stubby winglets and flanks daubed with strange, alien script. Yang felt his stomach sinking. He realised the script was Persian.

“Paperwork aboard shows these—and several similar such containers—were transhipped during the Bonanza’s recent visit to the Chinese-owned port of Gwadar, in Pakistan. Silkworm missiles. Stockpiles that China sold to Iran in the eighties. Very retro, I’m told.”

Lewis flashed a toothy smile, lacing his hands together. “But then, I suppose your military fired off so many missiles lately that they’ll take whatever they can still find on the shelf.”

“Why does it matter?” Yang jutted his chin. “And why does it allow you to breach contract?”

“Well,” Lewis frowned, as if it were obvious. “We were forced to activate our illicit cargo clauses. The Bonanza policy was sadly voided.”

“Who sent you those photos?” Yang demanded without pause. “Why do you have them?”

“The new owners were very considerate in sharing them with our firm. And in renewing the vessel’s policy with us.” Lewis splayed his long fingers. “At double your rates, I should add.”

Yang jolted upright so fast that his chair clattered to the floor.

“The Board will transfer the whole portfolio,” Yang spat. “COSCO survived it. So can we.”

“As is their right.” Lewis nodded. “Once they pay their early termination fees, naturally.”

“Do you people realize you’re playing with fire? Supporting this attack on Chinese shipping? We went to war with America for less.”

Lewis sipped his claret. “Yes, I suppose you might drop an EMP, as you did with Taiwan. Although, I hear London is your foreign currency lifeline now—so perhaps you won’t. Awful lot of money at stake.”

Yang stood gaping, almost lost for words. “You really think you can have it both ways. So brazen, so shameless!”

Another shrug. “Someone in Downing Street clearly thinks so.” The maître d’ appeared to one side, discrete.

“Is this gentleman troubling you, sir?” He asked, glancing at Yang. “Shall I ask for security?”

“I’m afraid so, Peter. Please see him out. And then another glass of the claret, thank you.”

Mr. Wilson is a member of the Military Writers’ Guild and specializes in using fiction to explore future conflict. His published stories include finalist contest entries with War on the Rocks, West Point’s Modern War Institute, The Forge, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project. He lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in military aerospace.

Featured Image: “Shipping Ports” by Javier Lazo (via Artsation)

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