Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 46

[13:39] <Hopeplo> ["The enemy fleet is withdrawing," said Sophie. "All hostile signatures gone- we've won!"-
[13:41] <Hopeplo> [The bridge crew cheered, in joy and relief- the moment of danger, and what danger it had seemed, with so many cannons pointed their way- had passed.-
[13:47] <Hopeplo> ["Good work, everyone." Said Liu Lin, smiling. "But don't let your guard down just yet. Have our Evas begin self-repair, and set the Empress on watch duty. Have her begin jamming and scanning for invisible foes."-
[13:47] <Hopeplo> ["Yes, ma'am." Said Frederic.-
[13:50] <Hopeplo> [Liu Lin gave him a nod, then walked over to Sophie's station. "Gagnier, send word to our agents on the ground- it's time."-
[13:50] <Hopeplo> ["Yes, General." Said Sophie.-
[13:52] <Hopeplo> ["Very good. Gosselin, you have the bridge." Said Lin as she made for the door.-
[13:52] <Hopeplo> ["Er, yes, General, but where will you-"-
[13:52] <Hopeplo> ["I need to present news of our victory to the president." Said Lin. "I won't be long."-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> […-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> [Lin and the Empress appeared in Bejing-2, just outside one of the entrances to the Minifront.-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> ["There." Said the Empress. "This is where you meant?"-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> ["Yes, thank you." Said Lin.-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> [The Empress nodded. "You can handle this from here. Do what you need to do, General."-
[13:54] <Hopeplo> [The Empress vanished, leaving Lin alone in the street.-
[13:57] <Hopeplo> [Beijing had been evacuated, but the rubble on the ground and the hollowed shell of buildings gave testament to the battle that had raged. Beijing had been nowhere near the front, yet it too had been struck by EVA-00's powerful weapons. In some places, buildings had been sheared in half perfectly, the top half sliding straight off before toppling onto the roads.-
[13:57] <Hopeplo> [Lin adjusted the gorget of her armour slightly, then stepped through the entrance. She took the stairs, and before long she was in the Minifront itself.-
[13:58] <Hopeplo> [Zhuge Minglei had taken command here, and now she sat in the captain's chair, staring pensively up at the main screen as Lin arrived.-
[13:58] <Hopeplo> ["Some battle," said Minglei with a whistle. "Ramming them with the drill- that's a pretty audacious move."-
[14:00] <Hopeplo> ["It's about time we got some use out of that vanity." Said Lin lightly. "Probably not the glorious welcome Wu had hoped for."-
[14:00] <Hopeplo> ["Good." Said Minglei. "You know what I'm sick of? For nearly twenty years I've had to hear about how you didn't 'really' battle Wu, but just took advantage of blah blah blah, so who knows, maybe he's better at war than you. Well those people can now eat their own asses."-
[14:00] <Hopeplo> ["Quite." Said Lin, walking over to Minglei's chair. She gently stroked the back of Minglei's neck with her right hand. "You were okay here?"-
[14:04] <Hopeplo> [Minglei leaned into the hand a little. "Mmhm. Took some structural damage to the outer armour belts, some internal damage, some people hurt, few dead. Mostly fine."-
[14:06] <Hopeplo> ["And the politicians?" Asked Lin.-
[14:07] <Hopeplo> ["All safe and sound in the deeper bunkers." Said Minglei with a snort. She tapped a few buttons on her chair console. "Sending the room assignments to you now."-
[14:10] <Hopeplo> ["Thanks." Said Lin. "I'll see you soon."-
[14:11] <Hopeplo> ["Mmmhm. Looking forward to it." Said Minglei.-
[14:11] <Hopeplo> [Lin walked away. She paused once, turning to look back at Minglei, then left- down the stairs to the lower bunker levels.-
[14:12] <Hopeplo> [The bunkers down here were a mix of bunk-bed dormitories and larger office-dorms, where those who might have to work as they did stayed. Lin marched to one of these offices now and pressed the buzzer.-
[14:13] <Hopeplo> [("Come in.") Came the voice within.-
[14:13] <Hopeplo> [Lin walked through the door. "President Zhou." Said Lin.-
[14:13] <Hopeplo> [Zhou Xunhan was sitting behind his desk- he rose as Lin entered. "General Liu? What are you doing here?" He said, his eyes widening. "What about the front?"-
[14:14] <Hopeplo> ["I've come to inform you that the battle is over." Said Lin. "Wu Yuanzhang has been decisively defeated. China is safe."-
[14:14] <Hopeplo> [Zhou leaned back in his chair and let out a long sigh. "Thank the heavens, the madman is gone."-
[14:15] <Hopeplo> [He stood and walked over to his fridge. He opened it up and took out a bottle of wine. "Care for a toast?"-
[14:16] <Hopeplo> ["Sure." Said Lin. She waited for Zhou to pour out two glasses before taking her's. "To China and the Federation."-
[14:16] <Hopeplo> [Zhou raised his own glass, and the two drank.-
[14:16] <Hopeplo> ["It seemed like a fierce battle, from all the noise." Said Zhou.-
[14:16] <Hopeplo> ["It was at that." Said Lin. "But we prevailed."-
[14:17] <Hopeplo> ["Mmm. Were you able to capture Wu?" Said Zhou.-
[14:17] <Hopeplo> ["Unfortunately not. He escaped, as did the bulk of his capital ships, but his screens have been demolished and the UN lost a Dysangelion to us- an irreplaceable loss." Said Lin. "Mary Caine will be slow to sponsor another such invasion."-
[14:18] <Hopeplo> ["Well, that's something at least." Said Zhou. "A Dysangelion, is that like an Evangelion…?"-
[14:19] <Hopeplo> ["Mmm. An Evangelion, but perverted and twisted into something even more monstrous."-
[14:20] <Hopeplo> ["Huh, scary." Said Zhou. He chuckled. "Well done, General. You've proven yourself one of China's greatest assets yet again. Between you and me, I doubt the capacity of the other leaders of the Federation to do what you did."-
[14:36] <Hopeplo> ["Each of those leaders is as talented as I am, but I thank you for your words." Said Lin quietly.-
[14:36] <Hopeplo> ["Come now, General. Don't be so humble. You should own your boldness." Said Zhou.-
[14:49] <Hopeplo> ["I'm nowhere near as bold as you are, President."-
[14:50] <Hopeplo> ["Now that's just flattery." Said Zhou lightly.-
[14:50] <Hopeplo> ["No, I mean it." Said Lin, her eyes wide. "It takes a great deal of boldness to front a public campaign raising awareness about a missing girl when you were the one responsible for her disappearance."-
[14:51] <Hopeplo> [The convivial atmosphere froze, and fell. Zhou stared at her, the colour draining from his face.-
[14:52] <Hopeplo> ["How dare you even joke about such things." Said Zhou.-
[15:00] <Hopeplo> ["Not a joke." Lin drained the rest of the glass and placed it back on the desk. "I have proof."-
[15:00] <Hopeplo> ["How-"-
[15:02] <Hopeplo> ["Prefect Han, of course." Said Lin.-
[15:02] <Hopeplo> ["You'd trust that snake?" Said Zhou.-
[15:02] <Hopeplo> ["I'd trust most people if they gave me comprehensive evidence that could be independently verified, which is exactly what he gave me." Said Lin.-
[15:02] <Hopeplo> ["What proof?"-
[15:03] <Hopeplo> ["You'll see it tomorrow, in every paper from Manchuria to Yangon." Said Lin.-
[15:03] <Hopeplo> [Zhou dropped his glass- it bounced along the ground. "No! You're going public-?!"-
[15:04] <Hopeplo> ["That's right." Said Lin. "I'm sure the presses in Sichuan and Shanxi are already hot and printing… And the rest on the east coast will have to wait for the population to settle back in, but no matter."-
[15:04] <Hopeplo> ["You'd do all this just to destroy me?!"-
[15:05] <Hopeplo> ["Not just you. Every corrupt and crooked official, bureaucrat, minister, parliamentarian and executive that you and the Eight Way Gate have spoiled into power." Said Lin. Her voice was cold and hard-edged.-
[15:06] <Hopeplo> ["What?!" Zhou faltered; he took a step back and clutched his chest. "You'll destroy us! The country…"-
[15:06] <Hopeplo> ["There'll be some chaos, true, but we have contingencies for that." Said Lin. "Sit down, Zhou. It's time for a lecture."-
[15:07] <Hopeplo> ["I'll stand." Said Zhou.-
[15:07] <Hopeplo> [Lin shrugged.-
[15:08] <Hopeplo> ["For over two thousand years, there's been a constant tug of war between meritocracy and nepotism in this country." Said Lin. "The talent rises to the top, but over time the system becomes corrupted, privilege becomes entrenched and it becomes who you know, not what you know. The country suffers, virtue is corrupted and resources are misspent."-
[15:10] <Hopeplo> ["But inevitably, systems like this put inadequate people in power." Said Lin. "And that propagates and spreads… And so you have the Eight Way Gate, a entire club of mediocrities."-
[15:14] <Hopeplo> ["You're threatening me with the destruction of my own country, because you've stopped recognising talent when you see it." Said Lin. "But we've done in months what you and your predecessors failed to do in fifteen years- find gifted replacements who'll unleash this country's potential. You'll barely be a speedtrap."-
[15:14] <Hopeplo> ["The people-" Began Zhou.-
[15:16] <Hopeplo> ["The people will support us." Said Lin. "That's why you feared Wu Yuanzhang, and that's why you now fear me. You think the people of China are ignorant? For years, they've felt the malaise that comes from incompetent leadership. At this point, hard proof of your corruption will do nothing more than confirm their suspicions and give energy to what they've dearly wanted."-
[15:16] <Hopeplo> ["You'll pay for this." Said Zhou.-
[15:16] <Hopeplo> [Lin laughed.-
[15:17] <Hopeplo> [Zhou fell silent. His eyes were popping slightly, and the hand grasping his chest periodically tightened and loosened.-
[15:18] <Hopeplo> ["If only it were mere corruption and incompetence, like your predecessor." Said Lin. "He was a waste of skin, true, but he never sank to the depths that you did."-
[15:19] <Hopeplo> ["W-What?"-
[15:20] <Hopeplo> ["The girls, Xunhan." Said Lin icily. "The ones sold into slavery whilst you turned a blind eye and took bribes for it. I expect better from even the most corrupt and facile official, and even that shred of low expectation was too generous for you and your companions."-
[15:22] <Hopeplo> ["It'll be a sight to see, when the people of China wake up tomorrow and learn that they're being led by a rapist." Said Lin. "They'll tear you limb from limb."-
[15:22] <Hopeplo> ["I'm not-"-
[15:23] <Hopeplo> ["Stop making it worse for yourself." Said Lin, silencing him with a glare. "You could've stopped it, spared those girls, fought this horror. You enabled it. That makes you responsible for each and every one of them."-
[15:27] <Hopeplo> ["Let me tell you something. Consider it a privilege to hear it." Said Lin. "Before Impact, I was an officer in the army, a woman disguised as a man. After Impact, I discarded my disguise and took power. I united the country and worked on enshrining the rights of women. Education, healthcare, fair trials, fair laws, fair pay. I didn't manage a perfect result, but I improved the situation.
[15:27] <Hopeplo> By the time I left to allow free elections, 44% of the civil service was made up of female officials."-
[15:30] <Hopeplo> ["Today that number sits at 11%." Said Lin. "Not many women in the Eight Way Gate, Xunhan. And that infuriates me. It makes me realise that my trust was misplaced- if I'd kept power like many wanted me to, this would never have happened, and China would have been a better place. There would've been no room for people like you to take office."-
[15:31] <Hopeplo> ["It wasn't deliberate-"-
[15:34] <Hopeplo> ["Perhaps you don't realise the kind of world you're living in." Said Lin. "Do you even read the news, Xunhan? Zhang Yanmei is now the most powerful person in the world. She's on the brink of forging a unified world government, one that has a hope of working. So long as humanity remembers its history, they will remember Zhang Yanmei in stories and legends for a thousand, two thousand, ten
[15:34] <Hopeplo> thousand years or more."-
[15:36] <Hopeplo> ["And there's every possibility that if she hadn't gone to Paris, you would've sold her, too." Said Lin. "China is full of women and girls who are clever and wise, brave and honest, who know how to fight, how to be generous and virtuous and kind, who know how to be fierce. For millennia, that's been ignored in favour of beauty and sex. But it's not happening anymore. I'm back, and I'm going
[15:36] <Hopeplo> to do things properly this time, Xunhan."-
[15:37] <Hopeplo> [Silence for a few long seconds. Lin poured herself another drink, whilst Zhou stood still.-
[15:37] <Hopeplo> [Eventually he spoke. "What's going to happen to me?" He squeaked.-
[15:37] <Hopeplo> [Lin drained her glass. She watched Zhou squirm as she let the very last drops fall into her mouth.-
[15:40] <Hopeplo> ["When I led the armies to reunify this country, I had laws." Said Lin. "War rape is often a problem in conflicts, and it's far worse during civil wars. It took a great deal of effort to wipe the practice out amongst my own forces. Discipline was enforced to the utmost, universally. I had special squads of investigators embedded in the military, and I employed magistrates to each town and
[15:40] <Hopeplo> village we controlled in order to collect evidence and hear allegations."-
[15:42] <Hopeplo> ["If a soldier was found to be under suspicion, or if a complaint had been brought, then I would invite the victim to talk to me or one of my trusted aides. Then, if and when found guilty, we would bring the soldier before us, kneeling in abasement, and give his victim the choice of what his punishment should be. Not a very formal system, but when the country falls apart, you have to make
[15:42] <Hopeplo> do with what you have." Said Lin with a shrug. "Do you know what the most common punishment was?"-
[15:43] <Hopeplo> ["Death?" Whispered Zhou.-
[15:46] <Hopeplo> ["No, although it was high on the list." Said Lin. "Many asked for imprisonment and heavy compensation… For various reasons. Many wanted to help their families, or try to rebuild after the war. Some had fallen pregnant. The list goes on, but I did my best to honour their requests. Execution is one thing, but there's a unique sort of shame to a soldier having to beg money off his family…
[15:46] <Hopeplo> The important thing is that we gave a bit of power back to the victim, and we cut the rate of offense to the bone."-
[15:47] <Hopeplo> ["The problem was that sometimes, the victim had died." Said Lin. "How can a dead person pass judgement?"-
[15:48] <Hopeplo> ["It was a difficult conundrum, one we never really solved." Said Lin. "Like good little bureaucrats, we simply followed the procedure as far as we could and sent the soldier to the victim as per usual."-
[15:49] <Hopeplo> [Lin put the glass back down on the desk. "I hope for your sake that your victims still live, Xunhan. Or else you, too, will be sent before them."-
[15:49] <Hopeplo> ["The next time we talk, I hope you have something useful to say."-
[15:49] <Hopeplo> [Lin tugged on the edges of her white coat, turned and left.-
[15:50] <Hopeplo> [Xunhan collapsed back into his chair, the strength bleeding out of his body.-
[15:51] <Hopeplo> [There were people waiting for her in the hall.-
[15:53] <Hopeplo> [Isidor Rurikovich and Victor Pai- two SOS lieutenants- stood there, both wearing armour, weapons ready.-
[15:53] <Hopeplo> ["General Liu." Said Isidor, his tone quiet and respectful.-
[15:54] <Hopeplo> ["Good evening, Lieutenants." Said Lin. "I take it you're here to keep the fox out of the henhouse?"-
[15:54] <Hopeplo> ["In a manner of, ma'am." Said Pai.-
[15:54] <Hopeplo> [Pai's eyes drifted toward the door behind Lin.-
[15:55] <Hopeplo> ["Don't worry, he isn't dead." Said Lin.-
[15:55] <Hopeplo> [Pai nodded slowly. "Thank you, ma'am."-
[15:56] <Hopeplo> [Lin smiled, and walked past them. "I'm not going to waste anymore time with these people, so you can come with me."-
[15:56] <Hopeplo> [Pai and Isidor glanced at each other, yet turned to follow.-
[15:57] <Hopeplo> ["Guillory was wise to worry that I might do something rash, but I wouldn't repay the Federation's kindness with such a complication." Said Lin. "My main priority was to ensure they did not escape."-
[16:01] <Hopeplo> ["Then Minglei had an idea. She made up a dozen excuses to commandeer their various toys- VTOLs, cars, escort vehicles, so on-, ensuring that their evacuation would have to be like everyone else's. A group such as these would never be satisfied with that, so Minglei gave them the special offer of hiding in the Minifront."-
[16:01] <Hopeplo> [Lin clapped her hands together. "They walked right into it of their own volition, and now they cannot get out except through a thousand armed soldiers loyal to me. It doesn't even look like a coup anymore."-
[16:03] <Hopeplo> ["Unfortunately, the work never ends." Said Lin. "Tonight I have to work on picking up the pieces of the battle. Tomorrow, I begin rebuilding the country."-
[16:03] <Hopeplo> [Lin began to climb the staircase back the way she came, toward Minglei, command, and Beijing itself.]

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