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91 Terms of Exchange

 "General Huo, don't be an alarmist." Deputy Minister Xu of the Secret Service was displeased. "I told you, we're watching them like a hawk. As soon as they enter the country and pick up the weapons, they're as good as dead. Yes, innocent lives may be lost in the process, but this is for the good of the country. Their sacrifice will not be in vain."

"For the good of the country? Wow, I did not expect to hear that from you, Deputy Minister Xu." Huo Shaoheng sneered as he let go of Deputy Minister Wu's frail neck. Deputy Minister Wu immediately lapsed into a coughing fit, but Huo Shaoheng pointedly ignored him. He wiped his hands disdainfully with a paper towel. "Enlighten me, Deputy Minister Xu, if you please - what do you consider to be in the interest of the country'?"

Deputy Minister Xu opened his mouth to remind Huo Shaoheng of the Chinese lady's immense wealth, as well as the blueprints in her possession. However, he saw the bone-chilling looks on both Chairman Long and General Ji, and stopped cold. The words died in his throat.

He had seen nothing wrong with his plans; now, all of a sudden, his actions seemed unreasonably selfish.

Huo Shaoheng pulled out a chair and seated himself. He threw Deputy Minister Xu and Deputy Minister Wu a frigid sideways look. "Let me get this straight: Deputy Minister Xu and Deputy Minister Wu, the both of you are perfectly willing to allow mercenaries into the country - using the lives of your own countrymen as bait - in order to help rid a foreign millionaire of her enemies. You claim that this is in the best interests of the country. It seems to me, however, that the two of you are coordinating with outside forces to undermine the Empire, and may even be foreign spies sent to infiltrate our government. A situation like this calls for intervention from the Sixth Military Region, no?"


"Lies and slander!"

Deputy Minister Xu and Deputy Minister Wu jumped to their feet at the same time, elbowing each other as they jostled to declare that they were innocent: they had not wronged the country or their fellow men in any way.

"No? Really?" Huo Shaoheng had received a list of the military munitions that had been smuggled in from Zhao Liangze; he now tossed the list onto the conference table. "Here's a list of the smuggled weapons, have a look for yourselves. If these powerful guns ended up in the hands of the mercenaries, all hell would break loose in C City. What would happen to the citizens then?"

"...But we promised Miss Gu we'd help eradicate the mercenaries." Deputy Minister Wu ignored the list of weapons. "We promised a friend, so we're going to pull it off, no matter what. We have to show the world that we deserve our reputation as a global leader - we must be charitable and altruistic!"

"Charitable my ass!" Huo Shaoheng could not help swearing. "What sh*tty 'friend' are you talking about, and how is their friendship more valuable than the lives of our own people?!"

"General Huo, please refrain from swearing. Miss Gu may be young and unknown within the Empire, but she has something our Empire desperately needs, and she has agreed to give it to us free of charge. However, she is currently in some trouble and wants our help - we cannot stand idly by." Deputy Minister Xu of the Secret Service looked at General Ji. "We have to help her. I will send a copy of the exact terms of exchange to the military, as soon as possible, for your perusal and review."

General Ji brows were knitted together. "You're absolutely set on doing this?"

"You seem to have forgotten, so here's a friendly reminder: these foreign mercenaries are formidable, highly-skilled army veterans. We don't even know if the soldiers in our regular army are able to deal with them, let alone men from your Secret Service. In other words, the Secret Service messed up. No one is under any obligation to wipe your ass for you." Huo Shaoheng tapped out a cigarette, lit it with his lighter, and inhaled. He toyed with the lighter in his hand, the anger on his face gradually subsiding.

"But we have to help her - we have to, if we want the blueprints for the A4 miniaturized nuclear-powered engine!" Deputy Minister Xu finally blurted out the truth.

"She has the blueprints for the A4 miniaturized nuclear-powered engine?!" General Ji was visibly shaken. "Are you sure?"

"Our experts have seen half of the blueprints. They're legitimate." Deputy Minister Xu relaxed once he saw that General Ji was on his side. He wiped the sweat on his forehead, and glared at Huo Shaoheng resentfully. "...But it's too late. The mercenaries have probably heard about the raid in C City. They may not take the bait now..."

"So it all boils down to this: she'll only give us the blueprints once the mercenaries have been eliminated." Chairman Long lowered his head and scribbled a note on his tablet notebook. He looked up, and peered at Deputy Minister Xu over his reading glasses. "Are you able to guarantee this?"

Deputy Minister Xu of the Secret Service thumped his chest. "Deputy Minister Wu and I are both confident in this deal."

"Give the order, and I'll take care of the mercenaries." Huo Shaoheng knew that the Empire was desperate to obtain miniaturized nuclear-powered engines.

He was never one to refuse a deal if his country would benefit from it, but he had to have full control over how the deal was carried out.

"Take care of them, you say? How? They probably won't come to us now, no thanks to you." Deputy Minister Wu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rolled his eyes and sneered. "Too late for regrets. You underestimated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Secret Service - I hope you understand now that there is a reason and method behind how we do things."

"Method? You used the lives of your fellow countrymen as bait. Is that what you mean by method? How shameless can you get?" Huo Shaoheng did not even look at him; instead, he toyed with the lighter in his hand in a manner that conveyed his irritation and disdain.

"So what do you want us to do? You don't like our method, fine. Why don't you show us how it's done?" Deputy Minister Wu was sure he had dealt a fatal blow to Huo Shaoheng's argument. He could barely keep himself from rubbing more salt into the wound.

Huo Shaoheng looked up, a cool, unperturbed smile on his face. His finger tapped on the table as he breathed out a lungful of pale white smoke. "I told you. Give the official order, and hand over everything you have on the mercenaries. We don't have to wait for them to come. We'll eliminate them outside of the country. This will ensure the safety of our people."

"Outside of the country? General Huo, there are rules to follow." Deputy Minister Wu of Foreign Affairs was alarmed by his suggestion. "We are a global leader, we cannot behave irresponsibly. You disapprove of endangering the lives and property of our imperial citizens - but think it would be okay to inflict harm on the lives and property of everyone else? I object to this!"

"Deputy Minister Wu, do you hear what you're saying? Are you working for the Huaxia Empire, or aren't you? You seem to be more concerned about the interests of foreign parties." Huo Shaoheng put his lighter away, and stubbed out his cigarette before tossing it into the ashtray. His every move suggested that he was ending the conversation.

Deputy Minister Wu was livid. He stepped in front of Huo Shaoheng and shook his fist angrily at him. "General Huo! Are you saying that we should be selfish, and look away when those beyond our borders are in need? What is our foreign policy for, then? And our soldiers - are you suggesting that they should only care about the lives and safety of their fellow men, and to hell with everyone else?!"

"I see. Deputy Minister Wu is of the opinion that our foreign policy should exist to serve the interests of other countries, and that our soldiers should place the safety of those beyond our borders before that of our own countrymen. That's what you're saying, isn't it?!" Huo Shaoheng looked scornfully down his nose at the frail, sorry-looking man that was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. "You're delusional. I'm surprised you don't lie awake at night, wondering if you're actually a spy. If you were one of my soldiers, I would have shot you myself long ago and saved everyone from your embarrassing behavior."

Deputy Minister Wu was beside himself with rage. He no longer cared to be civil. "How can you be so petty?! The Huaxia Empire is a global leader, we..."

General Ji interrupted him before he could finish his sentence. His tone was cold and contemptuous. "Deputy Minister Wu. There is a treasonous saying, from a few hundred years ago: "give whatever the Empire has to her enemies, if it will keep them happy." I never imagined I would hear the same argument resurface in my lifetime. The army has a name for diplomats like you - traitor."

General Ji was the top-ranking general of the Imperial Army. His words were a devastating blow to Deputy Minister Wu; they cut deeper than anything Huo Shaoheng had said so far.

The color immediately drained from Deputy Minister Wu's red, indignant face. His legs threatened to give out on him. His stammered, his face ghostly white: "I... I... That's not what I meant."