Cavalcade of Rejection: Ascent of the Monkey King

Before I introduce today's entry into the Cavalcade, I'd like to mention that in my ongoing quest to get people to read The Fabulist, I have made a print version available. I hadn't planned on making a print version available as I couldn't make it free, hoping that some enterprising soul might do me the favor of selling a copy for his or her own benefit (which you have permission to do, may I remind you). I did this because I had a lot of time and I know that some people refuse to read anything on a screen. The odd price of $8.84 is the absolute lowest I was allowed to set it. I do hate that it's Amazon, but that's the easiest option for now.

(You have read The Fabulist, right? It's right here and it's free)

On to today's story: "Ascent of the Monkey King" is another one that's been rejected twenty times, and I guess I understand why - it's relatively long, which makes it a hard sell. Not my best work, but given that it's one of the five stories that science fiction journals are willing to publish right now, I thought I might have a shot. It was one of several stories that formed the basis for All the Stars Within Our Grasp, a novel that will probably be joining The Fabulist in the CC Club pretty soon.

One thing that may have hurt this story (as you'll see in the comments at the bottom) is the setting. I like to set my stories in a particular time and place thinking this will give it more flavor than something in a generic sci-fi setting, but this really just bamboozles editors. For this story, I wanted to give it just a taste of what I experienced while living in one of the most corrupt places I've ever known. Unfortunately, people from WEIRD countries often have a poor understanding of what life in an authoritarian state is like (it's more frustrating than frightening, at least most of the time) and I would have been better served just playing to existing Western stereotypes about China.

Related note: This story was originally called "In the Buddha's Grasp," a reference to the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, until I though "Well, no one's going to understand that" and picked something more ordinary.


Ascent of the Monkey King

April 2020

Most of the overblown spectacle and feting of the foreign press had passed by the time Wan Baoyu took the podium at the China National Space Administration building. This was to be a serious presentation, delving into the technical nuts and bolts of an especially ambitious project by the PRC – simplified and condensed for the sake of a lay audience, but no less grounded in science. Not that Wan Baoyu was naïve enough to believe that this was entirely about education the public at large, as his own presence suggested. He wasn't an administrator or project head, he had no inside information on the workings of Wukong-1, and was among the youngest personnel on the project. On the other hand, he was exactly what the gathered reporters expected to see – what his superiors wanted them to see. Slyly handsome in a way wholly unlike the rest of the scientific elite, Western educated, fluent in English and well-versed in foreign sensibilities, he was no less a part of the spectacle than the parades and aerial displays his government had already arranged.

Wan Baoyu knew all this and accepted it. He didn't care for politics or fame but was ready to accept both if it meant that such an important project would continue to blossom. Anyone trying to save humanity should be prepared to dance for the cameras if that's what it takes.

Wukong-1 is the inauguration of the next great step in human history,” said Wan Baoyu, intoning each word with its due solemnity. “Earth is a place of wonder, but it can not sustain the human race forever, nor should it. This launch begins a grander 25-year project to establish permanent facilities on Mars. Yes – there is truth to the rumors, even if the rumor-spreaders exaggerate. On reaching the red planet, automatons aboard Wukong-1 will execute a set of pre-programmed instructions. They will construct a facility capable of housing the skilled astronauts who will be dispatched in the next phase of the project. In total, this first phase will take approximately five years.”

One of the journalists bolted to his feet. “How is this any different than the robotic construction modules that the American and Japanese space programs are using to develop the Moon?”

Ah, I see that you have studied. Yes, the United States and Japan are using automated modules as we speak. I understand that the European Space agency has their own version, and the Indian space program is working on one as well. There is a critical difference between these efforts and Wukong-1.” Wan Baoyu pointed toward the screen behind him, which flashed a heavily redacted image of a schematic. “We call this, simply, a 'seed.' It is a compact, pre-programmed first-generation terraforming module. Wukong-1 carries five such 'seeds' which will alter the environment around the facility to make it habitable for terrestrial life. You see, the facilities constructed by other governments on the Moon or Mars must be supplied and maintained externally. Ours, on the other hand, will be able to operate indefinitely.” With a satisfied grin, Wan Baoyu returned to the podium. “Are there any other questions before we continue?”

Yeah.” Another reporter stuck up his hand. “There's been speculation that this is cover for a military program.”

Is that the case?” said Wan Baoyu, playing coy for the moment.

The Chinese government has been getting increasingly hostile to the West. Isn't it just possible that this 'good will' project of yours is an attempt to seize control of interplanetary shipping lines?”

Wan Baoyu chuckled to himself, letting just enough out to pick up in the microphone. “Such a colorful theory! No, sir, this is not a military project. I have no expertise in weapons or in war. We approach Mars as that first trembling step toward a greater galactic civilization. It is an endeavor that demands peace, not war, that need cooperation, not competition. We hope only that one day we can open our arms and embrace the world in this great endeavor. Now, if there are no further questions, I shall briefly touch upon the specifics of Wukong-1...”

February 2021

Wan Baoyu had developed a strongly mixed relationship with Yang Xiulan, his immediate superior. Her intellectual talents were beyond question, though it was her deep ties into the Party that proved most immediately useful to the mission. On a personal level, she was as a tigress in a tiny cage, watching those outside the bars with numbing suspicion. The thick and colorful plastic frames she sported on the first day of the project proved to be an anomalous youthful affectation that scarcely masked her coolly business-like demeanor. But given the endeavor before them, Wan Baoyu was not prepared to let anything as petty as personal irritation interfere with the job.

No signal yet from Wukong-1.” Yang Xiulan adjusted her glasses, massaging the hinge as she considered the bank of monitors arranged before her. “Seven days overdue. What's our margin of error for this phase?”

It's not a formal problem yet,” said Wan Baoyu. “The programmers allowed for flexibility based on the progress of the automatons. We have allowances for up to ten days before the initial broadcast.”

What is your point?” point is that it's premature to worry. We have three days. More, really, because there are other factors that could delay our receipt of the signal.”

You're not worried, then? Or is this just saving face?”

Wan Baoyu's will withered beneath his superior's stare. “...Merely stating a fact, Yang Nüshi. In truth, I've slept little this past week waiting for that signal.”

Then your attitude is wholly appropriate.”

Yang Xiulan gingerly turned back to the rest of the team, a simple act made complicated by the crowded conditions. Wan Baoyu had found the monitoring room tiny when he'd first seen it, but the rapid inflow of new researchers and technicians had further strained their capacity. Between the human bodies and the clunky monitoring stations, there was scarcely room to draw a hot breath – not that there was ever time for such a luxury.

Does anyone here have a recent risk analysis?” said Yang Xiulan.

I do, Yang Nüshi.” The response was from Jiang Lusong, the closest thing Wan Baoyu had found to a friend at the project center. Jiang was actually a few years older than Wan, but he had the soft and dewy features of a boy of twelve and possessed an overeager clumsiness to match. “Initial projection was that a failure to signal meant a 5% chance of catastrophic, meaning that we'd miscalculated somewhere along the line and the rocket had smashed into Mars or collided with some extraplanetary object.”

Five percent...” Yang Xiulan audibly ground her teeth.

Yes, but...but! A 90% chance that it was a simple fault in the broadcasting equipment itself.” Jiang Lusong grinned nervously. “And this would be troubling but not critical.”

And the remaining five percent?” said Yang Xiulan.

Various possible events of very low probability, including a fault in the receiving equipment – which we've already checked – an unanticipated solar event, an undetectable Martian storm, interference from another nation, uh...” Jiang Lusong cleared his throat. “...and interference from extraterrestrial life.”

The possibility of alien intrigue set most of the room to laughing, but Yang Xiulan shrugged it off. “Is the supplemental launch on schedule?”

Absolutely,” said Wan Baoyu. “We're T-minus forty-five days.”

There will be a slight delay,” said Yang Xiulan. “We're going to add a transmitter and a diagnostic unit to the launch, plus automatons programmed to affix them to the existing complex. Wan Xiansheng, I expect you'll deliver the news to cybernetics.”

Of course,” said Wan Baoyu. “It won't take more than a day to put together a report and requisition, and I can't imagine that cybernetics will need more than a week to assemble the unit. I'll get right on it.”

Don't start yet.” Yang Xiulan edged through the room to the door. “There's something we need to discuss in private before the next phase can begin.”

Wan Baoyu followed his superior out into the narrow connecting hallway. “Is there something I need to know, Yang Nüshi?”

Something that concerns Wukong-2. There is a reason the launch will be delayed, and as the public face of this project, it's something you'll need to know.”

I haven't received any official notification.”

This is information best delivered through less official channels.” Yang Xiulan paused to scrutinize the hall, looking for any unwanted listeners. “The supplemental launch has been delayed while we attach a new module with some basic defense measures.”

Defense?” Wan Baoyu clapped his hand over his mouth to contain the scream. “You mean weapons?” he muttered through his fingers.

No offensive measures,” said Yang Xiulan. “These are experimental defensive devices originally designed to repel asteroids and space debris.”

I promised the world that this wasn't an effort to control interplanetary space!” moaned Wan Baoyu.

And it isn't.” Yang Xiulan sighed. “You probably don't follow politics, and I know you're not privy to inside information, but even so you must realize that this is becoming an unsafe world. Our data gathering operations have revealed that the Russian government doubts the humanitarian and scientific purposes of Wukong-1 and they are seeking countermeasures – military countermeasures. They aren't alone – everyone is suspicious. We've been developing space-based weapons of our own, we have to assume that our rivals are doing the same. This is a 20 billion yuan investment, we must protect it.”

Then announce the new measures,” said Wan Baoyu. “Hiding this will only make them more suspicious.”

You are so naïve yet,” said Yang Xiulan. “In fifty years, we will let the world know. Until then, we must deny everything. Wukong-1 is too vital to sacrifice it in the name of politics. We do this in the name of the country and the species.”

Wan Baoyu felt his head spin but kept to his feet. “...Very well, I'll do it. I'll lie to the public in the name of progress, but only for progress. Not for dominance. If I ever find an atom of doubt in this story, I will not keep my mouth shut.”

Don't trouble yourself,” said Yang Xiulan. “If it turns out that this was a lie, I'll cut the Party to pieces myself.”

September 2022

Most of Wan Baoyu's media training was aimed not at the art of deception but on the much more subtle skill of avoiding signs of deception. Western reporters, he was told, fancied themselves natural lie detectors, adept at sensing deceit through posture and expression. They were wrong, but it didn't matter. The secret was to studiously avoid doing anything that might convince one of them that a statement was a lie. Never look down or scan the room with your eyes. Keep your hands under control. Don't grasp the podium – they might think you're trying to avoid fidgeting. It is bad to hesitate before answering, but it is even worse to answer immediately. Don't swallow, don't drink anything, try not to sweat.

Wan Baoyu remembered every tell and had mastered a suite of techniques to hide them, but it seldom mattered. Many of the reporters clearly viewed him as a Party shill, just a mouthpiece regurgitating the talking points that had been fed to them. They didn't need to call him a liar to put the point across that they didn't trust him.

Mr. Wan, a question.” This reporter looked familiar, though after enough press conferences Wan Baoyu found that the faces were just a noisy blur. “There's an unconfirmed report that the director of the Wukong project has either stepped down or been dismissed. Can you confirm this?”

Yang Xiulan was reassigned to a parallel project, also within the purview of the space program.” Wan Baoyu eased his grip on the podium – it was the one tic he couldn't quite conquer. “We were more than pleased with her administration and were certainly sad to see her go, but with the recent growth in extraterrestrial research and applied science, we know that shifts in personnel are inevitable. Huang Wei has taken over in her stead and he has proved more than capable. Next question.”

Mr. Wan!” An angry-looking man pushed aside the other hands to make himself seen. “Your government has stepped up its cyberwarfare campaign in the last year. We have proof of attacks on power plants, on the stock exchange, breaches of a number of state offices that have been traced to known activities of computer crime in mainland China-”

Sir, this is well beyond my purview,” said Wan Baoyu. “I am not involved in intelligence or in the military in any sense. Please, I can only take questions on the space program and on Wukong in particular.”

It's directly related to this project,” snarled the journalist. “There are rumors that this station of yours is a staging ground for future electronic warfare, physically remote to prevent-”

This is an absurd allegation!” Wan Baoyu's right hand balled into a fist which he quickly tucked behind his back. “The logistics of interplanetary cyberwarfare alone render that allegation entirely-”

Then why haven't you released the preliminary results like you promised at the outset?”

The information will be made public at the conclusion of the project, and no sooner. If there are no more relevant questions, then I would like to return to my work.”

Storming off stage was certainly contrary to Wan Baoyu's training, but then again no one had prepared him for the ever-increasing absurdity of the Western press. He didn't stop for anyone, not for the miscellaneous low-tier officials or monitors looking to debrief him or even his fellow researchers waiting in the wings. He could only make out a single phrase in the buzz of speech: “It seems we will have to start screening these reporters.”

You'd damn well better, thought Wan Baoyu, but he didn't have the gumption to force the words out of his mouth. He simply weaved and pushed his way through the mass of people on his way to someplace – anyplace – where he wouldn't have to hear voices.

June 2024

Every Party hack's office looked the same, or at least that's what Wan Baoyu found to be true in his limited experience with the political machine. They all had the same pricey but extremely ill-kept furnishings, the same stale and smoky pall that endured even on those rare occasions that no cigarettes were lit, the same grill-covered windows pointing out onto nothing in particular. And Guo Yong, the man seated before him, was the truest archetype of the Party monitor he'd ever seen, fitting the model so perfectly that for a moment he wondered if it were some manner of joke. He had the expected paunch, the hair trimmed into a short mane of merry bristles, and that damned smile – a bully's smile, one showing not joy but rather serving as a prelude to a cheap dominance play.

Make yourself comfortable, Wan Xiansheng.” Guo Yang offered Wan Baoyu a pack of cigarettes, an expensive brand he rarely saw. “Care for one?”

No thanks, Guo Xiansheng.”

Guo Yang balanced a cigarette in his thin lips and touched a lit match to the end. “Coffee? I understand researchers have a taste for it, so I always keep some on hand.”

That's all right, I'm fine.”

You're eager to reach the point. Very well.” Guo Yang leaned forward over his desk. “I've been reading the results of Wukong-1 and 2. The men upstairs are disappointed, you know.”

Wan Baoyu suppressed a cough as the first wave of smoke hit him dead in the face. “I can understand that, but I don't know why I was summoned. I'm not the director. We...don't really have one at the moment.”

Yes, and damn these personnel shifts for putting you in that situation, but in defense of the men upstairs, the results of this reordering have been exceptional.” Guo Yang rested on his elbow, gesturing with his cigarette. “Yang Xiulan has been a tremendous asset in high-altitude armaments. The prototype of our new suborbital bomber had its first successful test run, you know. The first fleet will be airborne in 2027. We're less than three years from rendering the carrier group obsolete.”


Now, progress in battlefield depopulation hasn't been quite as good, but Huang Wei has done a fantastic job in knocking rust off the gears. That autonomous assault vehicle they've been promising us? The proof-of-concept should be ready some time next year.”

I'm pleased to hear that, but...” Wan Baoyu rubbed the back of his neck. “...I don't understand how this involves me.”

Well, Wan Baoyu...” Guo Yong chuckled. “Quite a literary name you have there. Your parents must have expected big things.”

Just a coincidence,” said Wan Baoyu. “Actually, my parents weren't all that educated.”

You say that as though you were ashamed! There's no dishonor in being a peasant. Some of them are wiser than scholars in my experience.” Guo Yong took a long drag. “Sorry for the divergence. We were discussing the performance of Wukong-1 and 2. Specifically, that they have failed to signal their progress in any way. It seems that you don't even know if the robots are functioning, let alone how far along they are in their mission.”

We're actually addressing this.” Wan Baoyu hoped that his surge of enthusiasm wouldn't come across as desperation. “We planned on a series of probes to gather images of the colony in progress. The first one's already on its way.”

That's good,” said Guo Yong. “Because you know, despite the setbacks, this is our most important project.”

Little arcs of cold dread raced through Wan Baoyu's brain. “But, uh...but Guo Xiansheng, I was always promised that this wasn't a military project.”

It's not. That's why it's so important. We don't seek war, Wan Xiansheng. These weapons are strictly tactical. We make them to showcase our strength, that we won't have to deal with the instabilities that our old rivals are now facing. But now it seems that our strength merely slows the advance of anarchy, it does not halt it. The time will come with the Chinese people need a new refuge, far from this planet.”

But I never...we never intended this to be solely for the Chinese.”

Of course, and I don't mean to insert nationalism into this, but we only take those we can trust – and who is there to trust?” Guo Yong took a long drag and crushed out the cigarette on his desk. “Russia no longer threatens us directly, but this...cult, for lack of a better term, that runs the nation now is nothing we wish to embrace. The Indians have their guns trained on the border. The DPRK...well, they've always been belligerent, so the only question is which of our old friends is pushing them to turn their aimless wrath on us. Brazil is in crisis – can't rely on them. The Africans are unifying against the world. And the Americans...well, all they have left is their military. Beyond that, the nation is hollow. What's that saying of theirs...'If you have only a hammer, all problems look like nails.' Well, all they have now is a revolver. They're going to shoot someone. Maybe us.”

Wan Baoyu took a deep breath. “I'm pleased that we have this degree of support, but there are still limitations. Wukong is just the first step in a 25-year project.”

You haven't heard? Of course, it's not public yet. It's now a 15-year project. They're already recruiting and training the first group of astronauts, holding lotteries for the first civilian colonists. There is no other project this critical.” Guo Yong tapped the cigarette pack on the desk and chuckled. “And it's important that we have a director who understands that.” you mean me?” Wan Baoyu shook his head. “I mean, it would be a tremendous honor, but surely there are others more qualified?”

Perhaps, but none as enthused. Not that this is a promise.” Guo Yong smiled, a funny little smirk that Wan Baoyu couldn't quite interpret. “Uneducated parents, huh? I always figured you must have been brought up in a more literary household to come up with a name like 'Wukong' for this endeavor.”

There's nothing unusual about naming scientific projects after mythical or fictional figures.”

True, but it does make one wonder...” Guo Yong smiled broadly now, showing off a row of uneven teeth. “Perhaps you picked that name because you wished to escape the Buddha's palm, but you knew that you'd fail?”

Wan Baoyu reached for a response but found nothing that he'd dare say to his man. “I hadn't considered that, sir.”

Of course not.” Guo Yang reclined in his chair. “You can return to your work, little monkey.”

November 2026

Dammit, send a signal. Show me what we've built.

Wan Baoyu plastered his parched eyes to the monitor with the sort of faithful enthusiasm seldom seen except in the youngest of children. His trembling hand rested on a coffee cup that was down to the cooling dregs – the remnant of a pot made hours ago. He didn't dare move to make a new one, or even to summon someone to brew a fresh pot for him. That would mean stepping away from the monitor. It would mean taking a risk of missing something that would save the project.

Not again. We didn't lose another one, this one has to work.

He wanted to scream at the monitor, scream at the probe and at Wukong-1 and at those vultures not willing to wait for his project to die before they cleaned its bones. But a scream would be a distraction, and he couldn't afford that.

But there was nothing, nothing to see from the ill-fated launch. He waited until there was no hope of seeing anything, and for an hour and a half after that, before he finally surrendered. He reclined across two seats in the monitoring room – not the most comfortable position, though after enough nights spent sleeping sleeping with his shoulders and feet in office chairs he'd developed some appreciating for it. The ground was much more stable but the chairs didn't insult his neck quite as much.

Excuse me, sir?”

Wan Baoyu opened one bloodshot eye. “There's no need to call me that, Jiang.”

Sorry, Wan Xiansheng,” said Jiang Lusong.

None of that, either. It's fine in front of the staff, but we've worked together for over six years.”

Fair enough.” Jiang Lusong slipped into the monitoring room and shut the door behind him. “You don't need to do this yourself. Assign a technician or two to do it.”

Can't afford to move anyone,” said Wan Baoyu, struggling back to a sitting position. “Anyway, there's no point now.”

No signal from the last probe?”

It must have been destroyed, same as the others.” Wan Baoyu lifted the coffee cup to his lips, noticed the dregs he'd been forcing himself to drink, then shoved the cup away with a gag. “I don't understand what's happening to these things. How could we have such bad luck three times in a row?”

I didn't want to suggest this, but maybe...maybe we could fabricate proof of a signal. It wouldn't be so hard and it would get things back on track. We could get our staff back, more funding...even if it was eventually exposed, it would excite the public so much that maybe no one would care.”

More funding?” Wan Baoyu let out a powerful but distinctly weary laugh. “And where would we obtain this funding? Pull back from one of a dozen petty little wars? Get it from our allies? Who? The Southwest African Federation is still upset for things the government did to its member states a decade ago. Brazil? They're putting out a hundred fires, fighting a hundred fights from inside and out. Our friends can't help us anymore.”

Then it's over?” said Jiang Lusong. “This is how it ends?”

You should move on,” said Wan Baoyu. “I'll sit in this monitoring room until they carry me out, but you aren't tainted by association. Maybe the Australians will take you in.”

It's not so easy,” said Jiang Lusong. “No, I'll stay too.”

Then the monitoring room sprang to life, vibrant lights and symbols dancing across the monitors. It was coming in so fast that Wan Baoyu could hardly track it all, let alone make sense of the rush of information.

It's finally happening!” shouted Wan Baoyu.

The probe?” said Jiang Lusong, eyeballing the monitors. “It's still active?”

No, it's...I think it's coming from Wukong-1! It finally started broadcasting!” Wan Baoyu scrambled for a pad and pen. “Hurry, bring in some staff. As many as you can get.”

But I thought it was just supposed to signal that everything was functioning,” said Jiang Lusong.

No, there's more. It's more complex. Hurry, bring in the others. Five or six if you can get them.”

Jiang Lusong sprinted for help as Wan Baoyu scrawled out notes as fast as his pen could move.

January 2027

Enough stalling, you cheap Commie stooge! Answer the question!”

Wan Baoyu leaned listlessly over his podium, not bothering to conceal his derisive smirk. “I do not know if our government killed any of the people on that list, but I am very certain that we did not launch any of their bodies into space. Wukong-1 and 2 carried only small robots, construction materials, and a small number of terraforming modules.”

Go ahead and act like this doesn't matter. When we break your country open, we'll figure out all of your secrets.” The reporter (or at least that's what he called himself) charged out of the room, flailing and striking several other journalists.

Are there any additional questions?” said Wan Baoyu.

A reporter at the rear raised her hand. “Now that Wukong has been discontinued, could you tell us what happened to the initial launch? In other words, did it land and malfunction, did it crash, was there some design flaw – why end the project?”

I am not in a position to answer this exact question. I can only say that given recent events, there was a decision that there were other projects that were a better use of resources, that were more likely to bear fruit. We're not personally pleased but we all accept it.” Wan Baoyu stepped back from the podium. “Thank you.”

No one in the press room was happy, but Wan Baoyu was leagues beyond any concern over outside opinions. Days with little sleep had filled his head with a sticky haze that muted the grumblings of the press, the other researchers, even his Party superiors. In time he would pay for his intemperance, but fear of reprisal was not a concern.

Wan Baoyu spotted a small group of technicians waiting in the hall – his inner circle, the few employees who heeded the call in the waning days of the project. Jiang Lusong, still as excitable as he was on the day Wan Baoyu met him, emerged from the group. “Why didn't you tell them what we saw?”

To what end?” said Wan Baoyu. “The last Five-Year Plan already de-emphasized space. The money won't come back.”

To inform the public, then,” said Jiang Lusong. “They're mocking you in the streets, in the press. Surely you'd want to redeem your own legacy?”

I suppose I no longer care about such things,” said Wan Baoyu. “I'd like a few minutes to myself. After that, we can all go out for drinks and toast the death of a great endeavor.”

One more thing,” said Jiang Lusong. “Did you determine the meaning of the message.”

Yes, but I'm not prepared to tell you, you or anyone else.”

Why not?”

Wan Baoyu smiled sagely. “The time isn't right. Wait five years. It's not long, not in the planet's reckoning. Wait five years and if there's still life on this planet, I'll tell everyone.”

Why five years?”

Because I think that in five years, we'll all be ready to escape from the Buddha's palm.”

Wan Baoyu slipped away from the group and found his way to his private office. He'd found little use for it, detached as it was from the researchers and technicians who were striving to extend the reach of humanity. It was almost a monk's cell, a place for contemplation, a place of silence. It would be gone soon, but in those last few hours before he was cast back down to Earth it would serve as a place to plan those next five years.

He slid a piece of paper out of his pocket and slowly unfolded it on the desk. Perhaps, he thought, he should have waited to study it after a night or two of good, deep sleep, Perhaps his interpretation was an artifact of exhaustion and excitement. But as he studied the words, the ones he had scrawled in an unsteady hand as he translated the final missive:


The Industry Responds!

"I did find the setting and storytelling inttriguing. However, the "you're not ready" ending struck me as cliche and didn't tie in well enough with the rest of the story. There was a lot of inter-departmental and international intrigue, but it didn't seem to go anywhere." -StarShipSofa

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