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Little General

Northern Beijing, China

Saturday, January 13th, 2018, 5:00 am



      “Why are we up so early?” Oliver whined for the fortieth time.

      “Because we need to watch him,” Sarah replied. 

      By him, she meant Tong Shouman whom they had nicknamed the little general.  Shouman was one of the newest generals in the Chinese army.  He had very few under his command.  Still he was a general and had earned the respect of the majority of the soldiers who knew him and were under him. 

      Tong lived in a modest house near the Beijing Zoo on Xizhimenwai Street.  For the area, the house was fairly large.  It was part of a small planned housing community, much like the planned housing communities in the United States. 

      Sarah and Oliver were waiting across the street in a small car with tinted windows.  The car was being rented from a local rental car company.  They had discussed using the builders to make more trucks, but decided that it would be too suspicious and the foreign license plate would be a difficult issue to overcome.  Instead, they used some money they had converted to yuan.  They made copies of the yuan, but they wanted to be sure not to give any with the same serial number to a retailer.

      Sarah and Oliver had been waiting and watching for almost an hour.  Sarah spent her time watching the house while Oliver spent his time complaining.  The best information on the family indicated the general lived with his wife and two children.  It did not say their ages or the sex of the children. 

      They had no idea how long they would wait.  It was possible they would have to be there for several days.  The only reason they knew the family was even there was because the general, wearing a lavish red silk robe, had stepped out of his front door and drunk something that was steaming.  Oliver guessed it was coffee, but Sarah suspected it was tea.  When the general finished, he returned inside. 

       It was Sarah’s guess he woke early because of his military routine.  She even guessed that the children and his wife were most likely still asleep.

      They had brought a day’s worth of food to insure they would not have to leave.  Getting in and out of the car could alert the family or neighbors that people were inside the car. If anybody saw them park they would only have to wonder if the driver had left without them noticing.

      Around 7:30, the entire family got into their small car and drove off.  It turned out the eldest child was a boy, probably around twelve years old.  The younger child was a girl, who may have been seven.  The mother wore a magenta silk shirt with gold colored embroidery.  The mother was also wearing black pants and black shoes.  Her hair was long and black.

      The daughter was wearing a red cheongsam with gold embroidery.  The son was wearing red silk pants and a red silk shirt.  The shirt had silver lining around the cuffs and collar.

      The general was wearing a black silk shirt with white cuffs.  On the shirt was red embroidery.  His pants were a matching black silk with red embroidery.

      The general seemed very relaxed both in the way he ushered his family into the car and in the way he had drunk his tea, presuming it was tea.  Wherever their destination was, the family seemed indifferent to it.  They carried nothing with them.  Even the mother went without as much as a purse.  The general drove when they left.

      Before the car was even out of sight Oliver said, “Well, we ready?”

      “No,” was her stern reply.

      “But, they’re gone!”

      “Yes, and they may turn back.  What if they forgot something?  Give them time.”

      “How long do you think they’ll be gone?”

      She sighed lightly, “There’s no way to know.  They’ll be gone as long as they are gone, no longer and no sooner.”

      Oliver frowned like a pouting child missing an answer that made sense.  Sarah ignored his theatrics as she continued to look at the house and the road the car had driven over. 

      “I think they’ll be back soon,” he said.

      “Then why’d you ask me?”

      ”Well, you’re the expert here.”  He seemed to hope she would ask why he felt they would be back soon, almost to prove himself.  

      He did not need to prove himself.  He had proven himself enough for her on the flight.  What a fool, risking the whole mission on a childish prank.  Why had her husband gone along with that nonsense?  Men, they never do change after 12.  At least it was her paired up with Oliver and not her husband; she could imagine what trouble the two boys would have gotten into together.  Jared though, Jared was a play-it-safe kind of guy.  He was a wait-and-see kind of guy.  No, there was no reason to worry about them, if anything Jared would keep Aaron in line!

      Oliver broke her train of thought when he finally said, “None of them had anything.  The kids had no handheld games, the father had no briefcase or bag and the mother didn’t even have a purse.  Women always have their purse.  It’s like a little goody bag with everything from band-aids for the kids to perfume and make-up for her. Heck, my wife even carries snacks for me sometimes.”

      Still looking away, she rolled her eyes, but Oliver could not tell.  She took her gloves from the dash and put them on.  She finally turned to face him and said, “This isn’t the US. This is China.  They may be the best of allies and some traits have rubbed off, but there are thousands of year’s worth of ingrained differences between the two.”

      “But we’ve seen Chinese women here with purses.  They’re probably just going to their version of a convenience store to get some eggs.  There’s no way a woman would go longer without a purse.”

      “Look, the purse doesn’t matter.  How often do you see me with a purse?”  She let him think for a moment, but before he could say anything, she said, “Never.  I haven’t used a purse since I was in high school!”

      ”Well, you’re the rare exception.  You probably had to adapt and the purse was in the way.”

      He was right about that, so she said, “Well maybe Mrs. Little General has adapted too.  Maybe Shouman forced her to.  Or maybe it’s the part of her personality that attracted him to her.”

      ”I can't imagine she’s like you.  A soldier wants a prim and proper wife to come home too and-,” he stopped himself as if he was going to say something offensive.  “A soldier wants a simple traditional wife.”

      ”Maybe, but he’s not a soldier, he’s a general.”

      ”Yes, but to become a general he had to be a soldier.  He had to be a good soldier, and it was him as a soldier that found his wife, not him as a general.”

      ”But don’t you see: he’s always been a general.  He may have changed at points, but he was always a person who could become a general.  A soldier who stays a soldier in most cases could never be a general.”

      ”I think your logic is flawed.”

      ”Fine, then how about this?  If they were going to get some eggs, why bring the kids?  The neighborhood is safe, and the son is old enough to watch them both for the time it would take to get eggs.  Plus, the kids didn’t seem to mind going.  No kids after the age of five or so like grocery shopping.”

      He probably thought for a while of a comeback, but before he could think of anything, she got out of the car.  She quickly pulled a gym-bag from the back seat then started walking to the house.  He quickly put on his own gloves then got out and followed her. She walked briskly across the road and to the door, not so fast that she seemed to be running or ready to run, but fast enough to make it difficult for Oliver to catch up without running.  He only caught up when she was a few paces from the door.  When she got to the door, she knocked loudly.  After a minute, she knocked again.  Oliver stuck close to her.  He was annoying her how close he stood.  It was well past her comfort zone, at least her comfort zone with him. She could not say anything because his reaction would be too unpredictable to control. 

      The door was fairly similar to the doors in the US.  It was a wooden door with a brass colored doorknob. On the left side was a metal panel with a red light that had a small video monitor and camera.  She discreetly took out a small picture from her bag.  She placed the picture in front of the camera.  A green light replaced the red light on the panel, and the door made a clicking noise.  She quickly put the picture back in the bag and then moved something inside the bag.  Sarah opened the door, and they went inside, shutting it as quickly as possible.

      The picture was not a normal picture; it was a picture that, from a camera’s perspective, looked like the general’s iris.  The printer that made the image was illegal in most countries, including the United States and China.  It used special dyes and a paper that allowed for three-dimensional printing.  At the end of the printing, a chemical was sprayed on the photo to give it a realistic skin tone.  This chemical also properly reflected the effects of lighting.  Many of the iris scanners used a random light on the subject to make it tough to fake.

      Once inside Sarah began bugging rooms and placing cameras.  While Sarah placed bugging equipment, Oliver worked on the computers.  The first computer he found was a thin tower with an LCD screen.  He took a USB drive from his pocket and placed it in the computer’s USB port.  The screen turned black and in the center with red letters it said, ‘Hello, Oliver, what would you like done?’  Oliver found the microphone and said, “Copy active data files to USB drive.”

      The computer screen changed to say, ‘understood.’  It also showed a status bar that quickly filled. 

      Oliver said into the microphone, “Install e-spy.”

      Within two seconds, the computer replied in the same red font, ‘Done.’

      Oliver said, “Set e-spy to auto-run.  Set e-spy to send daily.  Set e-spy to keep data on hard-drive.  Set e-spy to delete recordings on February twentieth, 2018.  Set e-spy to uninstall on February twentieth, 2018.”

      With each sentence a new message on the screen would say, ‘Done.’

      Finally, Oliver said, “Power down.”

      The computer briefly displayed a status bar, but before it fully appeared on the LCD screen, the computer and monitor went black.  Oliver installed e-spy on two more computers before he found the general’s PC.

      The general’s PC looked like the others, except it had a thumb-pad.  Oliver stood staring at the thumb-pad for a few seconds.  As he stood, Sarah came in.  She said, “Need me to fake the thumb-pad?”

      “Nah, I’m just trying to guess how the BIOS is setup.”

      “No, don’t you dare open that thing.”  She took out a small cube that had a length and width a little larger than a thumb.  She pushed a button on one side then placed the cube on top of the thumb-pad.  Light flashed under the cube and then the cube raised itself a centimeter.  She went to turn the computer on but he stopped her with his arm.

      “I got it from here,” he said. 

      She nodded and left.  Oliver connected the USB drive and turned on the computer.  Some Chinese symbols appeared in white.  A green light appeared on the thumb pad and then the black screen appeared with red text.  Oliver quickly installed e-spy then picked up the cube.  He fumbled with it to turn it off.  When it turned off the bottom shrank to its original size.  The cube was fairly heavy, considering how small it was.  It was far too heavy to rest on only two fingers.  Even three fingers would strain at its weight.

      He looked through the rest of the house and found no more computers.  When he was done, he went to the front door where Sarah was waiting. 

      “Ready?” she asked.

      “Ready,” he replied.

      Sarah opened the door and peered out to make sure it was clear.  They both quickly got out the door and shut it.  As soon as the door shut, it locked itself, and the red light reappeared on the metal panel.

      They quickly walked to the car.  Oliver reached in the back of the car and pulled forward a small handheld computer.  He turned it on and pressed a few buttons.  The screen showed a white static-filled picture.  He turned up the sound and white noise came from the computer.

      Oliver said to Sarah, “Turn off the jammer.”

      She reached into her bag and pulled out a small black box.  She flipped a large switch on the top.  The picture immediately cleared, showing a view of the bathroom.  The white noise was replaced with silence.

      He asked, “You put a camera in the bathroom?”

      “Yep, you’d be surprised how many secrets are spoken in bathrooms.”

      “R – I – G - H – T, secrets,” he replied sarcastically.  She thought to herself, ‘I guess he won’t be mature enough to monitor that room.’

      The jammer, which Sarah had turned on when she put the picture into the bag, interfered with cameras and microphones.  Jammers were often used to prevent, disable, and sometimes detect bugs.  In this case, it was used to suppress any security monitoring system the general or the sometimes-paranoid Chinese government may have installed.  If the general had installed it and noticed the jammed signal, he might notice that his iris was recorded just before the interference.  The team hoped he did not have monitoring equipment or that if he did he would not replay the video for that day.

      Oliver’s installation software was modified to overcome the jammer.  Usually the jammer caused microphones to pick-up a higher level of white noise.  This white noise would usually be louder than all the other sounds.  The white noise, however, had an encrypted pattern.  Oliver’s software used the password to remove the white noise so that he could use voice commands.  The importance of the voice commands was not only to save time but also to limit touching the mouse or keyboard.  While it was easy to prevent leaving fingerprints, it was far harder to use a keyboard and mouse without moving them a little.  To some people the position of their mouse and keyboard went unnoticed, but to many that have eyes for details if the angle or position is even slightly off they will notice. The microphone, on the other hand, rarely gets used and is less likely to be noticed.  In addition, microphones do not usually need to be moved.

      With everything set up and working, they drove back to the hotel.  As they left, they looked for the general’s car but did not see it.

Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford

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