“I make technical drawings based on precision measurements,” said Mr. Jin. “I am presented with an item, measure it, prepare technical drawings, and then hand them over for fabrication.”

Colonel Li nodded. “Precision measurements of items of foreign manufacture, is that right?”

Mr. Jin bristled slightly. “Yes, but not whole products. My company makes cheap replacement parts. Battery doors, hinges, plastic cases. Things Americans can use to repair their items but that they cannot purchase due to their system’s inefficiency. We fill a need.”

“Of course, of course,” said Colonel Li. “I did not mean to suggest you were behaving inappropriately. Your factory found a need and filled it very skillfully, and your performance reviews have been…stellar.”

“I take pride in my work, Colonel Li.”

“Which is why I am here,” said Li. “But first, please understand that what I am about to tell you is a state secret. Discussing it with others, even your family, can only result in the strictest penalties.”

“I am a loyal citizen,” Mr. Jin said. “Though I wonder what use the state could have for one such as me, beyond my taxes.”

“You come highly recommended,” the colonel said. “And most importantly, your brother is a Party member. The local party secretary, in fact. You have the precise combination of skill, anonymity, and political reliability that we are looking for.”

“To do what, exactly?”

Li leaned forward. “To repair an American stealth bomber, of course.

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Wey Lee could speak perfect Mandarin and perfect English; he had Anglicized the spelling of his name but refused to take on a appellation more palatable to flabby Western tongues, as had many of the Josephs and Sallys and such that Zhang Min had met on the campus. Compared to the twinkies that seemed to overrun the campus, the young man was a fresh breath of sharp fall air.

She had made turning pages and scanning them for Dr. Li such an automatic process that when Wey dropped by (as he often did, seemingly living in the library) she was able to engage him in bright and bubbly Mandarin even as she digitized books written by Americans on Tiananmen Square. Most of all, Zhang Min appreciated Wey’s sense of decorum: he was careful to meet her in a crowded place and in such a way (when she had her turn at the scanning terminal) that no one would suspect them of an illicit liaison.

They spoke of many things, of their shared memories of hot South China summers, of the terrible slop that passed for Chinese food in Hopewell, of how full of themselves the local Cantonese speakers seemed to be in comparison to the down-to-earth Mandarin speakers like themselves, and a shared passion for the admittedly cheesy soap operas and patriotic dance displays on mainland television. It made the tedium of scanning more bearable, and the ominous glares of that suspicious librarian less heart-pounding.

But Dr. Lin’s words could not be misinterpreted: “Do not think for a moment that you are here on a pleasure trip. Do not allow yourself to be distracted, as distraction leads to poor quality scans and lack of useful patriotic effort. Remember: if you cannot do as you are asked, there are ten girls in line to replace you.”

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Zhang Min’s bag groaned with books on American history, the fall of the Soviet Union, and declassified State Department documents. The Southern Michigan University library had a robust collection in those areas to support its School of Security and Intelligence Studies, and it fell to Zhang and her roommates to retrieve the books and scan their contents using the public high-resolution scanners throughout campus. At any given time, a complex rotation schedule meant that one girl was scanning, another retrieving, and another in class.

The girls shared a single unit in the Hopewell student ghetto; the lease was in the name of their live-in handler, Dr. Li Xiu Ying. Dr. Li was ostensibly a junior faculty member in the Southern Michigan University Department of Physics, but her scholarship was quietly provided for her from back home; she was a member of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department. The girls were there at her pleasure, their expenses paid for out of her purse, and she ran a tight ship by minimizing frivolous socializing and keeping a sharp watch on her girls.

Dr. Li’s main interest wasn’t classified information; far from it, in fact. Classified information was too easy to trace, too hard to acquire. An entirely separate branch of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department handled that, and they were welcome to it. No, Dr. Li’s raison d’etre was qingbao, information that was publicly and freely available. “People are cheap,” she was fond of saying, “and information is expensive.”

Zhang Min had once heard another girl ask Dr. Li why they were bothering to acquire such “useless” information. Li, as was her wont, had responded with a backhand and a lecture. “Every piece of information we acquire is a bullet in the chamber,” Li had snapped, “making our nation stronger. Only a fool lets others take stones from their property, for over time those same stones can be used to build a fortress against them.”

What Li had meant, as near as Zhang Min could tell, was that the information they were sending back by the terabyte was gone over by professionals, indexed and categorized. Anything of value was added to the PLA database, where it could be useful for everything from rooting out traitors at home to predicting enemy moves in the event of a conflict. One could do a lot worse, she supposed, than to have the same books on one’s shelf as one’s enemies.

And if, as in Li’s diatribe to the weeping girl on the floor, the information had been carelessly put out for the taking by the foolish Americans…well, wasn’t it the duty of every patriot to gather those stones up that they might be turned into fortresses?

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She walked along the darkened street, wary of patrols, darting from pool to pool of lamplight. Her handler was camped out in the darkest and dingiest exurb of Berlin by necessity; the information that was being passed through him was sensitive enough to change the course of their mutual struggle, and explosive enough that the police weren’t the only concern.

If she or her handler were caught, they’d never make it to the secret police interrogation cell. The citizens of Berlin would tear them to pieces with their bare hands.

“You’re late.” Her handler was standing in the doorjamb of a hovel, a lit cigarette drooping from his lip.

She scowled. “I’m absolutely on time. Stop trying to throw me off balance for your own amusement. And put out your cigarette; you’ll attract attention.”

“Always so fiery,” the handler chuckled. “I hope your information is just as incendiary.”

She handed over a slip of paper. “Straight from the lion’s mouth. Heinrich’s complete itinerary, including public appearances, maneuvers, and training exercises.”

The handler eagerly took up the paper. “You’re sure there will be no changes to it?”

“It is the final draft.”

“And what of security? Guards?”

The woman held out a second slip. “The complete security schedule as well. Surprisingly slight for a figure of national importance, one so vital to the Germans.”

“You realize that if it becomes known that you have passed this information on to the British-”

“I believe in what we’re doing,” she replied, cutting him off. “And I expect to be well-paid for my espionage.”

“Oh, you certainly, certainly will.” The handler was gleefully rubbing his hands together. “And in the meantime, we’ll arrange an ambush for Heinrich. Sudden and brutal, as befits someone who’s taken down so many of our boys in the field.”

And, sure enough, the attack went forward as planned. The morning after, the major American papers across the ocean trumpeted the events: GERMAN NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM MEMBER TOBIAS HEINRICH ATTACKED, LEG SHATTERED; UK STANDS TO WIN WORLD CUP ON NEWS OF BEST GERMAN PLAYER’S INJURY.

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