you can move.”
Lee helped Cheung out of the wagon and on his feet. Cheung walked a little, wobbling, but quickly gained strength.
“Thank—thank you,” Cheung said.
Lanterns appeared behind them, followed by shouts.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “Come on.”
“Dead. We have to go.”
They ran for the steam car of the Imperial Guard. Lee got the driver’s seat. Cheung rode shotgun.
“Where are we going?” Cheung muttered.
“Someplace that’s not here.”
Lee drove and drove until he found himself in a seedy-looking neighbourhood. He parked in a secluded alley and changed his clothes. He left his bloodsoaked clothes in the backseat and ignited them. He didn’t want to give a ritualist blood to track with. Not if he could help it.
The adrenaline wore off and a cacophony of aches and pains emerged. Lee kept going, urging Cheung along. They halted, near a secluded alley, only when it became clear that the old man was losing his sense of direction. They waited until dawn, not quite sleeping, not quite resting. Lee meditated, restoring his chi as best as he could and channelling the excess to the old man.
Lee shook Cheung awake and they set off again. Cheung recovered enough sense to find the main road, where they flagged down a horse-drawn taxicab. The driver dropped them off at a bus station at the edge of town. From there it was a ten-hour journey to T’aip’ing.
They sat side-by-side, dirty and scuffed and shunned by the other passengers. Which was, for now, fine by Lee. Lee continued meditating, while Cheung stared out the window.
“Why did you kill Ms Tung?” Cheung asked, finally, in Liangtunghua.
“She wasn’t going to listen,” Lee said, “and the Guard were coming.”
“You shot her.”
“When two tigers fight, one dies, the other is crippled.”
Cheung pondered that in silence for a few hours. When the noon sun came and went, he asked, “Why help us escape?”
Ethan Thomas Lee inhaled. Exhaled. “The Boxers killed my father in the early days of the Uprising. After the Uprising, the Imperial Guard executed my mother for being a ‘collaborator’. You know what they had in common? Closed-mindedness.”
“Yemaitai is coming. The only question is how to discourage or defeat them. Discarding something because it is Western is the height of foolishness. Did we not defeat the Westerners with their own technology?”
Cheung smiled at that.
They went their separate ways at T’aip’ing. With no cargo to guard, and the Imperial Guard looking for an old man and a young mixed-blood man travelling together, going separately was the only choice. Cheung boarded the evening train, Lee left in the morning.
Occasionally Lee got out at random stops, spending a day or evening in a strange town or city. He kept his ears out for word of an Imperial Guard manhunt and heard nothing. Once in a stopover he sent a coded telegram to the Risk Taker’s Guild in Sum Kong, to Lam. The next day, Lam told him everything was calm in the city.
Lee returned to the city four days later. He stopped in at the International Quarter. Cheung’s office was shuttered, the signboards removed. The bank told him he had been paid in full, plus a three-peso bonus. He returned to his apartment, inventoried his equipment, cleaned what could be cleaned and made a list of what he needed to replace. Then a long bath and a short walk to his bed. That night, he awoke in the dark only five times.
In the morning, he left his bed, changed into something presentable and returned to the Risk taker’s Guild. In the tea hall found a chair next to the radio and ordered a bowl of pork porridge. He ate slowly. Carefully. No need to rush.
At eight o’clock precisely, the music faded away and the radio announcer came back on.
“This is Sum Kong Radio, with breaking news. Two days ago, at one in the morning, saboteurs from Yematai were caught in the Northeast Province near the cross-border railway with Chüsenkuo. They were armed with dynamite, pistols and rifles and dressed like civilians.
“They were discovered by Imperial Guardsmen patrolling the border. Our forces heroically killed all five saboteurs with no loss to themselves. Shortly after this incursion, Yemai forces were observed massing at the border. Our glorious army is moving to protect our sovereignty against the Yemai imperialists. More news to follow.”
Lee finished his breakfast quickly. Paid the bill, walked out. He had equipment to replace, new items to buy, experts and contacts to talk to.
More jobs would be coming. And soon.
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