Heatwaves rose from the cracked runway and washed off the descending Chinese ship, the first model from the Far East’s eco fleet to touch down on Californian soil. Why come now, I wondered? The PRC had no use for us beyond our movies. And why did I have to be the envoy? Wouldn’t the Chinese find a female guide disrespectful? Was that the point? I hoped not. We needed them more than they needed us.
Mr Wu stepped out of the ship and adjusted his tie. I run over to take his bags. He kept his eyes on the distant mountains and thanked me in some hastily learned English.
I bowed and responded in the Universal Chinese Dialect. “Cadre Wu, how was your trip to Australia?”
I hoped to gleam some insight into why he was here. After all, Australia and the CR weren’t that dissimilar these days. Sure, there was a difference in the litigation. The Chinese owned the Australian-based farms whereas they merely funded our studios, but the result was the same. Western citizens in Western countries working for the benefit of the Far East.
“Smelly.” Was the only clue I got.
Wu sounded more confident in the UDC though. More assertive and authoritarian.
He turned from the mountains to me. “I would like to go direct to the studio.”
Straight to business, I noticed. A bad omen. I wasn’t an actor but think my smile fooled him.
Wu coughed inside the car, despite the fact that all the windows were up, protecting him from the unhealthy smog levels outside. He reminded me of a non-smoker crossing through that hazy threshold outside of a bar.
“Do you have a favourite star, Cadre? Perhaps I can organise for them to escort us on the tour.”
Wu ignored my question and stared out the window. I could just see his reflection, wide eyed and appalled, as his head moved from side to side.
“Lots of poverty here.” Wu remarked solemnly.
I pressed down on the gas until the tents and shanties outside blurred. I should have taken such an important visitor on a more scenic route. There was still beauty in the CR. But the thought didn’t even occur to me. Compared to the news streams from the other Fractured States, the CR was pristine. Less looting, fewer riots, minimal bloodshed.
I thought to tell Wu that ‘they’re just extras in an upcoming production,’ but bit my tongue at the last moment. Let him see the conditions most Californians endure. Let him see how desperate we are for a funding increase.
“You should see outside the Republic, Cadre. Savages…” My mind trailed off as I shook my own head. It wouldn’t be long before one of the more extreme states made a move against the CR. We needed more mercenaries, more militias, more training, but with the budget as strained as it was… “Perhaps the People’s Republic could -”
Wu didn’t turn away from the window. “The CR is still under the jurisdiction of the US military, yes?”
A joke? Or just diplomacy? It was hard to differentiate. Wu knew as well as the rest of the world that the entire US military had been rogue since the start of the decade, using whatever force necessary to secure supplies, just another faction in the warring states.
“My brother joined the military when the states were still united.” I said. “He used to send me the occasional IM until… His last message… It was a farewell…” I paused and took a deep breath, keeping my eyes focused on the road and my hands clenched around the wheel. “He said that the army was almost out of oil and had permanently relocated to the Middle East.”
“Perhaps you should lodge an appeal with the Senate.” Wu said. Definitely joking.
The Far East stopped caring about the conflicts in the Middle East as soon as they perfected their eco-tech. What threat could an ant colony in a logged forest pose to a lion presiding over its jungle?
Wu frowned at the severed head perched over the gate.
“A prop, Cadre.” My own take on a joke.
The truth was that, even though the studio was the only thing that elevated the CR out of the chaos that had engulfed the rest of the FS, it was still the prime target in riots and raids.
The guards raised the gate and I pulled up outside the production hanger. I opened Wu’s door and watched him make another effort to exaggerate his coughing. He might have been a powerful figure in the PRC but Wu would never make it in the remnants of Hollywood.
He stood up and straightened his tie. “Traveling back in time produces nausea. That’s one of the few things your movies always get correct.”
I gave him the tour. Showed him every set, greenroom and editing bay. Wu didn’t seem impressed at all and only spoke to ask: “May I see the living quarters?”
I couldn’t hide my apprehension this time. I attempted a smile but my lips quivered. I tried to nod but my neck tensed. In the end, I just shrugged and led the way.
The living hanger was almost in worse condition than the streets. Almost as vicious too. Actors, writers, directors, best boys, none of whom got along very well, all living under the one corrugated roof. The Chinese funding was all that held us together.
Every player left in Hollywood assembled before the ambassador. Wu made sure to scan the crowd as he spoke but his eyes were as lifeless as a golden-age latex mask.
“Chinese tastes are complex tastes. Ones that evolve over time. This past decade has seen a surge in native cinema and entertainment. Looking to the future as it always does, the People’s Republic has decided to drastically cut all international media funding. Effective immediately.”
Violence rippled through the crowd like the water around a tsunami. A whirlpool of of grunts, stomps and shouts washed over the hanger. I expected the mob to attack any moment but Wu just stood there, hands clasped behind his back, waiting, another day at the office.
Eventually, he cleared his throat and spoke over the mob. “Of course, nostalgia is a statistical outlier. There will always be those who enjoy your quirky foreign films, and that is why I’m here.” He pulled a stack of envelopes from his pocket. “The PRC has put together a list of those it would like to employ. This means moving to China and working with Chinese crews.”
This sentence was all it took to turn the resentful atmosphere into one of hopeful excitement. The movies the CR produced provided the only glimpse Californians got of the fabled first world. Moving there was usually as out of reach as traveling to some alternate earth where the States never fractured.
Wu found me when he finished handing out his offers.
I took no effort to hide my disdain. “Ready to abandon us, Cadre?”
He laughed and passed me an envelope. I opened it and pulled out an acting contract. Pennies on the dollar.
“Cadre, I am a writer. I have never acted a day in my life.”
Wu laughed. His jolly expression reminded me of the Santa drawings my brother and I used to make in school, before the government closed them all down.
“Blonde hair is very exotic in China. No one will be watching you for your acting ability.”
I could see that he expected an answer. Any other Californian would have accepted the offer immediately but the CR was the only home I knew. I looked up at the swirling ventilation fan, the red sun flickering through the rotors. Light. Dark. Red. Black. CR? PRC?
Wu cleared his throat. “I suggest you accept the offer. You can probably extrapolate what will happen here once the PRC pulls its funding.”
I followed the sun’s rays to the ground where the shadows of the fan’s blades spun in silence and nodded.
About The Story
China has been on the rise for what almost seems like forever now. It’s pretty much an accepted fact that they will be the world’s next superpower. With Hollywood already catering more and more films to fit Chinese audiences and the Chinese buying more and more Australian farms, we can only hope that a Chinese super state will treat us better than we currently treat them.
And if that is to happen, if the tables are to switch, China becoming the first world and the west the third, given the contemporary disparity in the United States, it is hard to see them staying united and not devolving into some sort of out-for-themselves civil war.
What do you think?
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