The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly – Extract

9781743517017[American zoos] are visited each year by more than a hundred million people, a number that exceeds the combined attendance of all big league baseball, football and basketball games.

—National Geographic

Here, there be dragons.

—Warning written on ancient maps to define an unknown region

 

 

Introduction

From: Fischer, Adam

China vs the World

(Macmillan, New York, 2013)

CHAPTER 5:

China and the Power of Disneyland

It is difficult to describe just how dynamic modern China is.

It is setting records that no other country can match: it builds a new city every year, its economy is growing at rates the West can only dream about, and its burgeoning middle class grows wealthier by the month, demanding all of the products that China used to manufacture for Western consumers.

And at every opportunity the Communist Party proudly reports these achievements to the Chinese people through state-controlled media.

But there is a problem.

China desperately wants to be Number One, the pre-eminent nation on Earth. In the Communist Party this passionate desire even has a name: the ‘China Dream’.

But to achieve that dream, China must seize the position currently occupied by the United States of America, and to do that it must first match America’s twentieth-century achievements in war, in space and in industry: it must build a powerful military, it must land a man on the moon and it must create companies that are known worldwide.

And then— then— to truly replace America as the world’s most dominant nation, it must do something even more difficult.

China must replace the United States as the cultural ruler of the planet.

How America came to dominate global culture is nothing short of astonishing.

After defeating the Axis powers in the Second World War with its military and industrial might, the United States then set about waging and winning a far more subtle war against the whole world: a war of cultural superiority.

This war was not fought with guns or tanks. It was fought with movies and music, Coke and Pepsi, Fords and Cadillacs, and, of course, arguably America’s greatest weapon in soft diplomacy: Disneyland.

Put simply, American culture became the world’s culture—drive-in burger joints of the 50s, Easy Rider in the 60s, platform shoes in the 70s, Coca-Cola ads in the 80s.

Hollywood played a big part in this, helped along later by MTV. Thanks to hundreds of American movies, TV shows and music videos set in America, the names of American cities, towns, roads and products became known worldwide: New York, Vegas, Fargo, Key Largo; Route 66; Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny; DeLorean, Nike, American Express.

Apart from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, can you name another Chinese city? Can you name a Chinese brand of sport shoe?

What, I ask you, apart from the panda bear and a very long wall, is singularly and uniquely Chinese?

And here lies China’s biggest problem in the twenty-first century.

It has nothing truly its own.

It makes other people’s stuff. Every Apple product is a slap in the face to China when it declares: Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. A limitless supply of cheap labour might build you a new city every year, but it ultimately just makes you the factory floor for other countries’ companies.

China wants to rule the world. But without the soft diplomacy of culture, China will always play second fiddle to the United States.

Where is China’s Ford?

Where is its Coca-Cola?

Where, I ask you, is China’s Disneyland?

THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA

PROLOGUE

Guangdong Province, China

16 February

Breathless, bleeding and covered in sweat, Bill Lynch dropped into the mouth of the cave and crab-crawled further into it as quickly as he could.

He snatched his cell phone from his trouser pocket.

no signal. sos only.

‘Fuck,’ he said to no-one. The bastards had jammed the entire valley.

Voices from outside made him spin. They spoke in Mandarin.

‘— went this way—’

‘— into that cave on the cliff-face—’

Lynch heard the safeties on their assault rifles click off.

Beyond the mouth of the cave, Bill Lynch saw a jaw-dropping view: a broad valley featuring lakes, rivers and waterfalls. In the middle of it all, shrouded by the hazy air common to southern

China, was a huge central mountain that stabbed the sky.

Dramatic landscapes like these had rightfully made the nearby region of Guilin famous. Soon, Lynch thought, this copy of the Guilin landscape—and it was a copy; it was nearly all man-made—would be more famous than any other place on Earth. And by the look of things, Dr Bill Lynch—senior herpetologist from the University of Florida’s Division of Herpetology—was not going to live to see it. Right then, the smell of the cave struck him. Lynch screwed up his nose at the stench, the rank odour of rotting flesh.

The smell of the lair of a carnivore. Alarmed, he spun to search his newfound hiding place for its owner. But the cave was empty . . . except for the flesh-stripped skeletons of three large animals. They looked like the skeletons of horses—yes, horses, up in this cave three hundred feet above the valley floor. Their elongated skulls were tilted backwards in frozen shrieks of terror. Their bloody ribs pointed skyward. Holy shit, Lynch thought. He knew the creature that lived here. The cave delved into the cliff, and although it looked like a naturally formed cavern, it was not natural. It had been constructed to look that way. Indeed, carved into the otherwise natural-looking floor was a brass plate with an ID code etched into it: e-39.

‘Dr Lynch!’ a voice called from outside in English.

Lynch recognised the voice and its Chinese accent. It belonged to Colonel Bao, the head of security at the zoo and a bona-fide asshole. ‘Dr Lynch, we can make this quick and easy for you, or we can make it very painful. Please come out of there so we may do this the easy way.’

‘Fuck you!’

‘Dr Lynch. This facility cannot be allowed to fail just because of an unfortunate incident.’

Lynch stepped deeper into the cave as he spoke:

‘Unfortunate incident?! Nineteen people are dead, Colonel!’

‘Over twenty men died during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Dr Lynch. Does anyone regret that? No, all anyone sees is a marvel of its time, a great achievement in human ingenuity. So it will be here. This place will be beyond great. It will be the envy of the entire world.’

Lynch strode further into the cave. After a dozen steps, he stopped abruptly. It was a dead end.
There came a sudden beep! from his wrist and he looked down to see the green pilot light on his watch wink out. Lynch’s blood went cold. They’d deactivated his sonic shield. Now he had no protection from the animals. Lynch suddenly realised what Bao had meant when he’d said this could be done the easy way or the hard way.

‘You can’t kill every witness, Bao!’ Lynch yelled.

‘Yes, we can,’ replied the voice. ‘And yes, we will. Fear not, Dr Lynch. Your death will be a noble one. We will announce it to the world as an awful accident, the result of a light plane crash. It will be such a shame to lose so many brilliant people in the one accident. Of course, our facility will need to find another reptile expert to do what you have failed to do. I was thinking of your protégée, the young Dr Cameron.’

Bill Lynch yelled, ‘You bastard! Let me give you some free advice. Don’t mess with CJ Cameron.

She’s tougher than I ever was.’

‘I’ll be sure to remember that.’

‘And another thing, Bao. You’re a fucking psychopath.’ There was no reply.

The Chinese soldiers were probably getting ready to storm the cave. Lynch turned away, searching for something he could use as a weapon. As he did so, behind his back, a large reptilian head at the end of a long serpentine neck curved in through the entrance to the cave and stared directly at him. It made no sound. Lynch snapped a rib off one of the horse skeletons and turned— The animal now stood in the mouth of the cave. Its fearsome silhouette completely filled the cave’s entrance, blocking out the light. It was a prince, Lynch saw, nine feet tall, wingspan twenty feet. A red-bellied black. The great beast peered at him as if surprised to find an intruder in its lair. Its stance was powerful. In the dim light, Lynch could make out its sinewy shoulders and razor-sharp claws. Its wings were folded behind its body. Its long barbed tail slunk back and forth with cool calculation. But the head didn’t move. It was eerily still. In silhouette, the creature’s high pointed ears looked like demonic horns. The giant reptile took a step forward. It bent its head low, sniffing the ground. Then, very slowly, it opened its mouth, revealing two rows of long jagged teeth. It growled. A deep angry sound. Lynch felt his heart beat faster and in a deep analytical part of his brain, he realised that the animal could sense this. He also now realised why Bao had stopped talking from outside. The Chinese colonel and his men had seen this thing coming and had wisely got out of the way.

Bill Lynch had no time for another thought for just then the massive thing roared and rushed at him, and within seconds Lynch was lying on the floor of the cavern, screaming desperately and spitting blood as he was foully eaten alive.

First Evolution

The Unknown Destination 

The myth of the dragon is a very peculiar one, precisely because it is a truly global myth.

Giant serpents appear in mythologies from all over the world: China, Scandinavia, Greece, Persia, Germany, Central America, the United Kingdom, even Africa.

There is no discernible reason for this. How could the myth of a large serpentine creature be so consistent across the ancient world?

—Eleanor Lock, Dragons in History (Border press, London, 1999)

Hong Kong, China

17 March

One Month Later

The sleek private jet shot through the sky above the South China Sea, carrying two passengers who had never flown in a private jet before: CJ Cameron and her brother, Hamish.

The plane was a Bombardier Global 8000, the most expensive private aircraft in the world, the jet of choice for Saudi princes and Russian billionaires. This Bombardier, however, did not belong to any individual. It belonged to the Chinese government. Dr Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron peered out her window as the plane landed at Hong Kong International Airport, an ultra-modern facility that had been constructed on an enor-mous man-made island.

‘Is there anything China can’t build?’ CJ said, gazing out her window.

‘I heard they built some wholly fake Apple Stores,’

Hamish said. ‘Did you read about that? It wasn’t just a few counterfeit iPhones, they were whole frigging stores. They even had Genius Bars. All the employees thought they really were working for Apple!’

CJ threw a sideways glance at her brother. ‘Wise ass.’

A black Maybach limousine was waiting for them at the base of the jet’s airstairs. Standing beside it was a pretty young Chinese woman dressed in a perfectly pressed navy skirt-suit. Not a hair on her head was out of place. She had a Bluetooth earpiece in her ear that looked to CJ like it lived there permanently. When she spoke, her English was flawless.

‘Dr Cameron, Mr Cameron, welcome to China,’ she said.

‘My name is Na and I will be your escort during your stay here. Should you require anything—anything at all—please don’t hesitate to ask. Nothing is too much trouble.’

Na ushered them into the Maybach, which whisked them out a side gate. No Customs and Immigration. The limo then took them to the Four Seasons where they were put up in penthouse suites, all expenses paid. The next morning, they were told, they would be picked up at 9:00 a.m. sharp. This was all very unusual for CJ Cameron. Once a renowned herpetologist—a reptile expert—these days CJ worked as a vet at the San Francisco Zoo.

At thirty-six, she was a petite five foot six, with piercing amber eyes and shoulder-length blonde hair. CJ was fit, athletic, and pretty in a sporty kind of way. Men often approached her, only to turn away abruptly when they came close enough to see the grisly scars that dominated the left side of her face. The scars stretched all the way from her left eye to the corner of her mouth, looking like a sequence of poorly aligned Xs. The ophthalmic surgeon had saved her eyesight. And the plastic surgeon, one of the best in America, had managed to reconstruct her jaw, but the slashing wounds to her left cheek had proved to be too much even for him.

CJ didn’t care. For vapid men or for herpetology, not after the incident. All her life she had been something of a tomboy anyway. She didn’t bother with make-up and she didn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She lived outdoors: hiking, camping, horse riding. A keen horsewoman, she sometimes preferred the company of horses to people.

Once upon a time, she’d been a star lecturer at the University of Florida’s Division of Herpetology, widely regarded as the best reptile faculty in America. Specialising in alligator research, she’d worked mainly at the university’s field site in the Everglades. But not anymore.

In addition to her doctorate in herpetology, she was also a trained veterinarian, and now she worked as far from alligators as possible, tending to sick and injured animals in the clinic at the San Francisco Zoo. Which was why she’d been surprised when her old boss from National Geographic, Don Grover, had called and asked if she’d go to China to write a piece on some big new zoo.

‘No thanks,’ CJ had said.

‘It’s all expenses paid. Private jet. Swanky hotel.’

‘That sort of thing doesn’t impress me, Don.’

‘The Chinese asked specifically for you.’

That stopped her.

‘Really?’

‘They’ve read your stuff. Done their homework. They mentioned the pieces you did for Nature on the hunting behaviour of saltwater crocodiles and the Nat Geo docu-mentary you did with Bill Lynch on alligator vocalisations. The Chinese asked for Lynch to go over there and write a piece on this zoo, but then he died in that plane crash. Now they want you.’ CJ had been saddened by the news of Bill’s death. He had taught her everything she knew and had begged her not to leave the university after the incident.

‘They also know you speak Mandarin,’ Grover said.

‘Which is a big plus.’

That had been CJ’s father’s idea. When she and Hamish had been little, their father, a humble insurance salesman with an insatiable curiosity and a penchant for dragging his two children away on unbearable camping trips, had insisted on them taking Mandarin lessons: ‘The future of the world is China, kids,’ he’d said, ‘so you should learn their language.’ It had been good advice. Their dad wasn’t rich or famous, but he’d been ahead of his time on that one. As for the camping trips, he would always dismiss their whining complaints with the cheerful phrase, ‘Hey, it’s character building.’

‘Photos, too?’ CJ had asked Grover.

‘It’s a full feature spread, kid. Come on, do it for me. The Chinese government is gonna pay me a king’s ransom for this. It’ll cover my bills for five years, and your fee will pay yours for ten.’

‘I want to bring my own photographer,’ CJ said flatly.

‘Who?’

‘Hamish.’

‘Goddamn it, CJ. So long as I don’t have to bail him out of jail for deflowering some senior minister’s daughter—’

‘Deal breaker, Don.’

‘Okay, okay. You can take your stupid brother. Can I call the Chinese back and say you’re in?’

‘All right. I’m in.’

And so, a week later, CJ and her brother had boarded the private jet bound for China.

At nine o’clock the next morning, CJ and Hamish arrived in the lobby of the hotel to find Na and the Maybach waiting for them in the turnaround. Na was again dressed in her perfect navy skirt-suit and wearing the Bluetooth earpiece in her ear.

CJ wore her standard field clothes: hiking boots, tan cargo pants, black San Francisco Giants T-shirt and a battered brown leather jacket. Around her neck she wore a leather strap, hanging from which was a three-inch-long saltwater crocodile tooth: a gift from Bill Lynch. She wore her hair tied back in a careless ponytail. After all, they were just visiting a zoo.

She and Hamish slid into the back seat of the Maybach, their destination: a military airbase twenty miles inland. While CJ was immune to the charms of expensive hospitality, Hamish wasn’t. Sitting in the back of the limo, he munched on not one but two packets of potato chips.

‘How cool is this, Chipmunk?’ he grinned. ‘Free mini bar.’

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Hamish.’

‘But there are such things as free plane rides, free penthouse suites in six-star hotels and’—a surreptitious glance at Na up in the front of the limo—‘free bathroom products.’

CJ rolled her eyes. ‘You didn’t steal the hotel shampoo?’

‘And the conditioner.’ Hamish wore his tattered multi-pocketed photojournalist’s vest over a Bob Dylan T-shirt. He lifted the flap on one pocket to reveal four hotel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles. ‘It’s Molton Brown. That’s top shelf.’

‘Why do you need shampoo? You hardly bathe anyway.’

‘I bathe.’ Hamish sniffed his underarms.

‘You’re an idiot.’

‘No. I’m awesome.’ Hamish settled into the seat beside her and resumed munching his chips.

They couldn’t have been more different, CJ and Hamish, in size and in personality. The Bear and the Chipmunk, that’s what their mother had called them. It suited. Four years younger than CJ and a towering six foot three inches tall, Hamish was large in every way: a photographer and videographer who had done tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he lived large, partied hard, drank a bit too much and was always getting into trouble. He even had oversized features: a big face, square jaw, huge blue eyes and a great booming voice. He rarely shaved. He wore a red rubber WristStrong bracelet on his right wrist intertwined with a couple of hemp surfer wristbands.

CJ, on the other hand, had always been the good girl: quiet, mature, unobtrusive and very academic. Having a near-photographic, or eidetic, memory helped with that.

While Hamish went to war zones and parties, she’d worked away at the university, penning papers on her specialty, reptilian behaviour, specifically that of crocodiles and alligators. Among other things, it was CJ who had quan-tified the intelligence of big crocodilians, proving they were as smart as or even smarter than chimpanzees.

Other intelligent animals—like chimps, wolves and hyenas—might set simple traps. Crocodiles often set traps several days in advance. If a six-metre saltwater crocodile saw you coming down to a riverbank at 7:30 a.m. for four days in a row to check your lobster cages, on the fifth day it would wait at the water’s edge, just below the surface, and pounce when you arrived. Crocodiles had extraordinary patience and amazing memories. Their ability to spot routine was incredible: sometimes they would set up ambushes based on the weekly, even monthly routines of their prey.

CJ’s considerable professional success had not been reflected in her personal life. While Hamish had gone through a swathe of girlfriends over the years, CJ had not had many serious boyfriends, just the one in fact, Troy, and that had ended badly: immediately after the incident that had destroyed her face. Only Hamish had stayed by her side, her ever-loyal brother.

‘Is everything okay back there?’ Na said from the passenger seat up front.

‘We’re fine,’ CJ said, glancing at her brother’s stolen hair care products.

‘Remember, nothing is too much trouble,’ Na said as the limo turned off the main road and zoomed through the gates of the airbase without stopping. Clearly, Na had called ahead. ‘If you need anything, just ask.’

The Maybach drove out onto the runway, where CJ saw the Bombardier from the previous day waiting for them, its airstairs folded open. Only today, CJ noticed, there was something different about the private jet. All its windows had been blacked out. CJ stepped warily up the airstairs.

‘Why black out the windows?’ she whispered to

Hamish.

‘I have no idea,’ Hamish said, equally concerned. He carried his Canon EOS 5D digital SLR camera slung over his shoulder.

Arriving in the plush main cabin of the jet, CJ stopped, surprised. Already seated there were two Americans, both men, one of whom was in the process of being interviewed by a Chinese television crew. CJ paused in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt.

She had always been a good observer, a close watcher of things. It came, she guessed, from observing predators in the wild—you didn’t settle in to watch a croc or a gator without first assessing the surrounding area for other predators. Whether she was in a shopping mall, a meeting or here in a private jet, CJ’s eyes always swept the area for important details—and with her memory, she remembered everything. She saw many details here.

A sticker on the television camera read CCTV: that was the Chinese state television network. The cameraman’s jacket was a cheap Lacoste rip-off, common in China. The female TV reporter looked like a stewardess on an aeroplane: crisp brown skirt-suit with the same CCTV logo on the breast pocket. The American being interviewed—and he seemed quite comfortable being the centre of attention—was a big-bellied man of about fifty with a carefully trimmed grey beard that had clearly been grown in an attempt to conceal his wobbly jowls, the jowls of a man who had enjoyed many long lunches.

‘That’s Seymour Wolfe,’ Na whispered reverently to CJ,‘from The New York Times.’

Na needn’t have singled him out. CJ knew who he was. Everyone knew who Seymour Wolfe was. He was not just a columnist at the Times, he was the columnist , the paper’s most well-known and influential op-ed writer. After a few successful books on twenty-first-century global affairs, he was regarded as the man who informed America about the world. He also, CJ saw, appeared entirely untroubled to be travelling in a jet with blacked-out windows. CJ heard snippets of what Wolfe was saying:

‘—I was here for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. What a spectacle! Things move so fast here. If the government wants a new high-speed train built, it is built. If it wants a new city, then a new city is built. It is just so dynamic—’

‘—China is the future and the rest of the world had better get used to it. One in five people on this planet is Chinese—’

The CCTV reporter smiled broadly, almost fawning as she asked, ‘Are you excited about what you are going to see today?’

Wolfe leaned back and smiled. ‘I’m not sure what to think, as I don’t yet know exactly what I am going to see. If China has re-imagined the concept of the zoo, then I am curious to see what she has done. I cannot imagine it will be small. I am . . . how shall I put this . . . officially intrigued.’

The interview concluded and CJ and Hamish were ushered inside the jet. Na introduced them to Wolfe, before indicating the other, much younger man travelling with him. ‘And this is Mr Aaron Perry, also from The New York Times, from their e-news division.’

Aaron Perry was about thirty and he had spiky black hair that had been carefully moulded into position with large amounts of gel. He wore serious thick-framed glasses, a designer suit and the attitude of someone who knew more than you did. He slouched in his seat. CJ hadn’t heard of him, but evidently Hamish had.

‘You’re the Twitter guy!’ Hamish boomed. ‘I love your shit, dude. Forget the paper, I get all my news from your Twitter feed.’

‘Thank you.’ Perry smiled wanly, apparently too cool to accept praise. He held up a small Samsung phone. ‘My office. Although not today.’

‘Why not?’ CJ asked.

Na answered. ‘Our destination is a secure facility. It is covered by an electronic scrambling system. No cell phone signals in or out.’

‘And the blacked-out windows?’ Hamish asked. ‘You don’t want us to see where we’re going?’

‘Please forgive us, but the location of our zoo is a closely guarded secret, at least for now,’ Na said. ‘Not only must cell phone tracking systems be disabled, but even visual references. You will understand why when we get there. I am very sorry.’

The blacked-out Bombardier didn’t take off immediately. Apparently, it was still waiting for two final passengers. As the plane waited, the Chinese TV reporter approached CJ.

‘Dr Cameron?’ she asked. ‘Dr Cassandra Cameron from the San Francisco Zoo? I am Xin Xili, China Central Television. Would you mind if I interviewed you?’

‘Sure,’ CJ said.

The reporter gave CJ a quick up-and-down, her gaze pausing for the briefest of moments on the scars on CJ’s left cheek. It was not exactly a pleasant evaluation. When the interview began, the fawning smiles of her interview with Wolfe vanished.

‘You are an expert in reptiles, are you not, Dr Cameron?’ Xin asked quickly.

‘I am.’

‘One of the world’s leading experts in large reptiles: the Nile crocodile, the Australian saltwater crocodile, the American and Chinese alligators.’

‘That’s correct,’ CJ replied.

‘Not for much longer,’ Xin said curtly.

She then signalled for the cameraman to stop recording, smiled tightly at CJ and turned away. CJ watched her go, perplexed. Just then, another private jet pulled up alongside the Bombardier, a smaller and much older Gulfstream. Looking out the open door, CJ saw that it had an American flag painted on its side plus the words: united states diplomatic service. Two men in suits emerged from the Gulfstream and walked over to the Bombardier. The taller and older of the two—he wore a perfect grey suit, had perfect silver hair, a perfect tennis tan and perfect teeth—swept into the jet as if he owned it. He smiled broadly at everyone, the practised smile of a professional politician.

‘So sorry to keep you waitin’, folks,’ he said with a distinctly Texan drawl. CJ noticed he was wearing expensive cowboy boots.‘I’m Kirk Syme, US Ambassador to China. Just flew down from Beijing. Got caught on the phone to the President. You know how it is when the boss is on the line. You gotta take the call.’ He indicated his offsider. ‘This is Greg Johnson, my chief aide from the embassy in Beijing.’

Johnson was a younger and more compact version of Syme: about forty, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and sharp dark eyes. He carried himself in an odd way, CJ thought, tensed, hunched, like an athlete who seemed uncomfortable wearing a suit. He did not, she saw, wear cowboy boots like his boss, just regular brogues. With everyone present and accounted for, the Bombardier’s airstairs folded up and the plane taxied down the runway.

CJ still felt a little unnerved sitting inside the blacked-out plane. It was claustrophobic and, well, kind of weird. It was a very trusting thing to do, to allow yourself to be flown to an unknown destination. But then, she told herself, she was travelling with some serious VIPs—the US Ambassador to China and two high-profile New York Times journalists— and they seemed perfectly fine with the arrangement.

The Bombardier took off, heading to God-only-knew-where. The Bombardier flew for about two hours.

We could be anywhere in southeast Asia, CJ thought.

Thanks to the blacked-out windows, she didn’t know if they had flown in a straight line or in circles. The Chinese were very keen to keep the location of their new zoo secret.

When it finally landed, the Bombardier taxied for a few minutes before coming to a halt at an airbridge. The six American guests disembarked to find themselves standing inside a brand-new airport terminal. The walls and floors gleamed. None of the many shops was open but they looked ready to go. The entire terminal, built to handle the move-ment of thousands of people, was eerily empty. High floor-to-ceiling windows revealed the landscape outside: spectacular mountains and moss-covered limestone buttes.

‘Ah-ha, we are still in southern China,’ Seymour Wolfe said. ‘If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say we are in the north of Guangdong province.’

Na nodded and smiled.

As she guided them all through the empty airport, Wolfe said, ‘This area is famous for these incredible landforms. Towering pinnacles and mossy buttes. There’s a well-known crater out here not unlike Meteor Crater in Arizona: it’s not as big as Meteor Crater, but it’s beautiful, perfectly circular, and over the eons it has filled with water, so it’s called Crater Lake.’

Na said, ‘That is correct, Mr Wolfe. Crater Lake was created by a nickel meteorite that hit here about 300 million years ago.’

Wolfe said, ‘Make no mistake, people, with its natural wonders and its industrial centres, southern China is a commercial juggernaut, the engine room of the entire country. The two mega-cities of this area, Guangzhou and Dongguan, are home to 60 million people. But fly a short way inland and the cities vanish and you essentially travel back in time to landscapes like this. Out here, you’ll find only small communities of rice farmers.’

Three Chinese officials were waiting for them near the exit. They were all men. The first was dressed in a bright red blazer with a yellow tie. He had slicked-down hair and a pencil moustache and Na introduced him as Zhang, the deputy director of the zoo. CJ noted that he had a peculiar nervous tic: he kept smoothing his tie, as if it had a crease he couldn’t flatten out.

The second man wore a military uniform. The stars on his shoulders indicated that he was a colonel. He had no nervous tics. He stood with the firm, feet-apart stance of a commander who was used to being obeyed.

Na introduced him as Colonel Bao, and when he shook CJ’s hand, he said in English, ‘Dr Cassandra Cameron? You are Dr Bill Lynch’s protégée, are you not? He actually visited our zoo. I was most saddened by his death.’

‘So was I,’ CJ said.

The last Chinese man was easily the youngest. He was a lean, handsome fellow of about forty-five. He wore a stylish navy suit and a dark tie: the standard attire of a Communist Party member. He also had one singular physical feature: just above his right eye, he had a sharply-defined patch of pure white hair on his otherwise black-haired head, a condition known as poliosis. CJ had known a few people in her life who’d had poliosis and they’d dyed the offending patch of snow-white hair, making it disappear. This man had not done that: in an otherwise entirely black-haired country, his white forelock made him distinctive and he was evidently quite happy about that.

‘Why, hello!’ he said brightly to them all in English. ‘I am Hu Tang.’

As Hu moved down the line of visitors, Seymour Wolfe whispered to CJ: ‘Don’t be fooled by his age. Mr Hu Tang is the most senior man here. Youngest ever member of the Politburo. He’s what they call a “princeling” of the Communist Party, a member of the Red Aristocracy, those Party members who trace their ancestry to great revolutionaries like Mao. Educated at Harvard, Hu Tang is part of the new wave. He supervised the construction of the Great Firewall of China, the system that censors the Internet here. Now he’s the head of the Department of Propaganda and a member of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo.’

‘They have a department of propaganda?’ Hamish said in disbelief. CJ ignored him. ‘The US Ambassador and a Chinese heavy hitter? What kind of zoo is this?’

‘I’m wondering the same thing,’ Wolfe replied.

Hu Tang spread his hands wide. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Welcome to the most incredible place on Earth.’

A short walk to a beautiful—and also brand-new—glass-enclosed train station followed. It was a gigantic space with a curved glass-and-steel roof. Four state-of-the-art maglev trains were parked at parallel platforms underneath the high soaring roof. The bullet-shaped trains looked very fast and very, very powerful. A huge red sign above the space blazed in English and Mandarin:

WELCOME TO THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA!

Within a minute, CJ and her VIP party were aboard one of the trains and zooming through a tunnel at four hundred kilometres per hour, heading for the mysterious zoo.

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