© 2010 by Walter D. Reimer
Nanking was bordered on the northwest, north, and
northeast by a bend of the Yangtze, and the rest of the walled city was
bounded by a network of outlying villages and mountains. One of
the mountains overlooking the city to the southeast held the tomb of
the father of Nationalist China, Sun Yat-sen.
Hao couldn’t have cared less about the history of
the place. To him, the city contained the relatives his father
had told him were waiting for him. Getting them out was his first
priority, and he had thought that out.
He would get them to Hefei somehow, then use the Air
Force uniform he wore and the papers Father had given to him to get
them aboard a plane to Canton.
The closer he was to Hong Kong and Xiu, he thought,
the better off he would be.
The population of the city had swollen with the
influx of troops and refugees from the east. Panicked reports of
massacres, sacked cities and burned villages in the wake of the
Japanese advance circulated among rumors that General Chiang would not
defend his capital, but instead declare it an open city and order its
The sun was setting as Hao stepped from the boat to
the dock, waved at the boatman and noted that an American gunboat was
moored a short distance away with a pair of uniformed sailors stationed
at the gangway. Hao looked for a moment at the trimly utilitarian
ship with its large American flag hanging limply from its mainmast
before heading into the city through one of the massive gates.
There were troops there, and when they saw the rank
bars on his sleeve they saluted. He returned their salutes and
asked the detail’s officer, “Excuse me, I’m looking for the Finance
The wolf blinked at him. “You’d better hurry,”
and after giving Hao the address and some directions added, “General
Tang’s given orders for the government to clear off to Wuhan before too
Inwardly, Hao cursed. He hadn’t foreseen
“Thank you, sir,” and saluted him before moving on
into the city.
Most of the people seemed to look a bit desperate,
with some looking doubtfully up at the sky. Hao took advantage of
their distraction to replenish his dwindling supply of money at their
expense. He was tired, hungry and still a bit rattled from his
crash, but there was nothing wrong with either his fingers or his
With more money in his pockets than he arrived with,
Hao ate a filling dinner before finding a hotel and getting a
The following morning Hao caught up on the
news. Most of what he read in the paper was grim enough, and he
resolved to get the hell out of Nanking as soon as possible.
General Tang, the commander of the city garrison,
had declared that the Nationalist Army would fight to the death to
defend the city. Judging from the soldiers he had seen so far,
Hao was doubtful about that. Rumor had it that the government
would be leaving soon despite the General’s soothing words, and the
city’s actual government would be given over to a group of Westerners.
Hao snorted. As if barbarians could do
anything right in China. After reading the paper and eating
breakfast, Hao sought the Finance Ministry building.
“Excuse me,” he said to the clerk inside the
building’s entrance, “I am looking for Mr. Kung Tse-tao, please.”
“Mr. Kung? Upstairs, Room 35,” the
bored-looking canine replied with hardly a glance in the red panda’s
Good; he hadn’t left the city yet.
Hao took the stairs two at a time and paused at the
landing to straighten his uniform and smooth back his headfur. He
went up to the door and knocked.
Kung Tse-tao looked up as a young red panda dressed
in a slightly rumpled and dirty uniform stepped into the small
room. Traces of grime soiled the usual white fur in his
ears. The young man closed the door behind him. “Good
afternoon. What can I do for you?” Kung asked.
The younger man smiled. “You’re Kung Tse-tao?”
“Yes, I am.”
“My name is Ni Hao. I was told you would be
As Kung sat there, blinking up at him, Hao had time
to look the older red panda over. Maybe fifty, going gray around
the muzzle and a bit stout around the belly, dressed in a cheap gray
suit. There was a family resemblance, true, but this man had
never lived on Krupmark, and had never had to do what he had to survive.
He may have looked a bit like Father, but he was
“Ah. I was told that you’d be coming,” Kung
said evenly. “Can you identify yourself?”
Hao smiled, and dug into his uniform tunic. “I
have this,” and he flashed a Kuo Han passport that bore Kung’s
photograph. The older man’s eyes bugged out as Hao eased a file
folder aside and traced a design in the dust on the desktop. “You
were told to look for that as well.”
Kung looked at the passport, then at the design, a
mixture of Red Talon and Black Dragon sigils. He moved the file
folder back. “I take it, then, that you are not really in the Air
“No, you’re not,” Kung said, peering myopically up
at him. “You are a spy for Kuo Han, or something else?”
“Nope. I’m here to get you out, because you’re
part of my family.”
Kung nodded. “You do favor my brother when he
“There’s more than just you and your family here in
Nanking?” Hao asked with a frown. “I only – “
“No, they live well to the south of here,” the older
man replied. “Out of the way of the Japanese, one may
hope.” He looked at the passport again, flipped the small booklet
closed and gave it back to Hao. “I will leave the office for
lunch,” he said, “and you will come with me to meet the rest of the
“But – “
“I can’t come and go as I please,” Kung said
flatly. “At least, not until the Ministry gets the word to leave.”
Hao jammed his paws into his trouser pockets.
This old man even sounded a bit like Ni Hei.
Kung looked up at him, then smiled and stood up.
“Pleased to meet you, Nephew,” and he extended a paw.
Hao kept to his hotel room. The Army was
press-ganging anyone it could get its paws on in order to shore up the
city’s defenses. A young Air Force officer would be easy prey, so
he changed back into civilian clothes and stayed out of sight until it
was time for him to meet with the Kungs. Only after making sure
there were no soldiers visible did he step out into the street.
He was still having some trouble realizing that he
“There you are,” Kung said as he rounded a
corner. The older man had been waiting out in front of the
Ministry building. “Come with me. As a member of the
Government I can avoid ending up working on the walls, and you’ll be
Hao nodded and fell in beside Kung as he headed up
the crowded street. Passers-by didn’t really notice two more red
pandas, but would have seen the younger of the two constantly moving
his head and eyes, looking for any possible threat.
They walked past a pile of tumbled and blasted
masonry, still streaked with soot from a fire. “What’s that all
about?” Hao asked.
“Air raid, two weeks ago,” Kung replied, picking his
way around a beggar on the curb. “This was a school.”
“Seems a stupid waste of a bomb.”
“They might have been aiming at something else,” the
older fur conceded, “but the Japanese are wild animals – they think
nothing of killing anything in their paths. You should have read
the accounts coming from Shanghai.”
Hao shrugged. “I haven’t been paying
“Well, you should. You’re Chinese, too.
I heard a rumor that two Japanese officers were having a competition
while they were on the march from Shanghai. They even got
mentioned in the Japanese newspapers.”
“I guess it wasn’t baseball.”
Kung glared at him. “The competition was to
see how many Chinese heads they could lop off with their swords.”
Hao nodded and said nothing. He might have
actually put some money on that.
The Kungs lived on the second floor of an apartment
building on the south side of the city. Mr. Kung unlocked and
opened the door and Hao’s ears perked at the sound of children’s
laughter. “Mei! I’m home!” He smiled at Hao.
“And I’ve brought company!”
There was a pause, and a woman came into view,
wiping her paws on the apron tied around her waist. She came up
short when she caught sight of Hao and she put a paw to her
mouth. “Tse-tao . . . “
“Didn’t I tell you? Isn’t he the spit and
image of my brother?”
She looked at Hao closely, and he felt himself
blushing a bit. Other members of the family came forward, drawn
by curiosity to see what their mother and father were talking about.
were correct, Hao thought. The Kung Family consisted of
the parents, two daughters and two sons. The sons were twins,
under ten years old. They looked up at him, and he felt his
breath catch in his throat.
A memory hit him: Father talking to Inspector
Stagg, saying “There but for the
grace of God . . . “
He swallowed and tore his gaze away from the two
boys and looked around. There was only one girl-child in
evidence. “Isn’t there another daughter, Mr. Kung?”
“Oh yes. This is my daughter Li, and my sons
Ji-tsao and Ji-shan. Is she here, Mei?”
“She was getting ready to go to work,” Mrs. Kung
said. She said to Hao, “She’s a nurse, you know, at the
hospital.” Her ears perked at footsteps. “Here she comes.”
The young woman was older than he was, and about an
inch taller. The black fur on her arms and throat was actually
closer to a dark brown, while the red fur on her face was a vivid
red. Her headfur was done up in some kind of high style that kept
it up off her collar, and she was wearing a stiffly starched white
The startling thing was her eyes.
They were a bright green-blue.
“Hao, this is my oldest daughter, Kung Fei-cui,” the
older fur said.
“If this is another husband you’re trying to marry
me off to, Father, I’m not impressed,” Fei-cui said tartly before Hao
could open his mouth.
Despite her odd fur color, her voice reminded him of
Shin’s. She had the same snide twist to her voice.
“Fei-cui,” the elder Kung said patiently, “this is
the young man I told you all about – “
Hao recovered his poise. “’Kingfisher-feather,’
name? Matches your eyes.” He offered a paw. “I’m Ni
Hao. My father’s offered to get you all out of Nanking – “
“I’m not going,” she said, ignoring his outstretched
paw. “I’m needed at the hospital. There’s a lot of wounded
furs there, and more on the way if the Japanese get any closer.”
“Fei-cui,” Mei said, “We’ve been over this before.”
“Yes, Mei, we have.”
Hao lowered his voice and whispered to Kung, “She
doesn’t much look like your other children.”
“First marriage. Shan died giving birth to
Hao nodded. Kung was older than he’d thought,
“Look here,” and he raised his voice to interrupt
the woman and her stepmother, “whether you want to stay or not is
immaterial. You’re going.”
“Hah! Who’s going to make me, you little
runt?” Fei-cui scoffed, and moved to slap him.
Before she could react Hao grabbed her wrist,
twisting the arm and bending the wrist hard enough to make her cry out,
while at the same time placing two fingers at the cleft of her
collarbone. He pressed down and inward, and Fei-cui was driven
backwards by the pressure point until Hao maneuvered her into a
chair. The younger children giggled to see their stepsister
treated that way.
Hao twisted her arm a bit further as he brought his
muzzle to her ear. “Listen, moron – I’m getting you and your
family the hell out of here. You can either come along or come
along with your arm in a cast, your choice – but you are coming.” He released her
then, and she grimaced as she rubbed her abused shoulder and wrist.
“No choice, eh?” she growled.
“Nope. None at all.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Hao smiled, the small tight smile that usually
presaged mayhem. “Yes, won’t we?”
Fei-cui stood up and straightened her nursing
uniform, put her nose in the air and walked out. Her tail swatted
Hao across the back of his head as she stormed past him. She
sidestepped her father and slammed the door closed behind her.
Hao brushed at his headfur as Kung said, “Please
forgive my daughter, Hao.”
“It’s no problem, Mr. Kung,” Hao said. “She
needs to realize that family comes first in circumstances like this.”
“That’s an interesting attitude.”
“It’s kept my family alive and in one piece for
The older fur put a finger to his muzzle and gazed
at Hao speculatively. “Yes, you need to tell us about that – over
dinner. Mei, do you have enough for our guest?”
While Mei busied herself with final preparations for
dinner, the youngest daughter took the twin boys in paw and made sure
they were cleaned up. Hao took a seat at the dinner table,
feeling rather ill at ease.
The dinner meal itself was not bad, given a shortage
of most foodstuffs. Deliveries to the city from outlying farms
and villages, it seemed, were either delayed or nonexistent.
“It’s the Army,” Mei said sadly as she ate.
“They’re taking everything in order to feed the soldiers.”
“Do you think we can stop the Japanese?” Mei’s
daughter Li asked Hao as he sipped at his tea.
What’s this ‘we’
business? Hao asked himself. Do you have a cricket in your
pocket? Aloud he replied, “It’s possible. I’m not a
soldier or military expert. I’m just here to get you out of
“Yes, about that,” Kung said, and after the table
was cleared and the children sent off to play Mei and her mate spread a
map out for Hao. He traced the line of the river as Kung asked
him, “How do you want to do this?”
Hao lit a cigarette and took a few drags before
saying, “I think the best idea is to wait until you get the word to
leave for – Wuhan, was it? Wuhan – and when that order comes,
we’ll move. I have forged papers for all of you, and hopefully
they’ll respect diplomatic immunity.”
“Diplomatic immunity?” Kung asked.
“Yes. You’re a member of Kuo Han’s trade
delegation, traveling with your family,” Hao said with a grin.
“Clever, huh? Anyway, I think we’ll avoid crossing the river
until we reach here,” and he pointed at the village of Taiping, on the
south bank of the Yangtze. “From there we’ll head for Hefei.”
“Hefei?” Mei asked. “That’s a long way.”
“I know, but it puts you out of the reach of the
Japanese.” I hope.
“From there we’ll head south for Canton and Hong Kong.”
“It sounds like a good plan,” Kung said. “Now,
tell us about your family, Hao. I’m very interested in learning
how your branch of the family has fared.”
“Not much to say, really,” Hao replied, studying the
lit end of his cigarette. “I was eleven in ’29 when Father took
us to Spontoon for holiday . . . “
The Kungs sat and listened as Hao told them a bit
about the family’s history since the day they had learned that the clan
had been wiped out in Tientsin by the warlord Won Lung Ho. He
deliberately glossed over a lot of what had happened, but what he did
tell was still enough to appall his audience.
“Fallen on hard times,” Kung said. The look in
Mei’s eyes showed that she now thought very differently of Hao.
Almost like prey may think of a predator.
“Yes,” Hao said. “But we’re back on our feet,
and Father never really gave up hoping that there were members of the
clan still alive.”
Kung nodded, and glanced at the clock. “It’s
getting late. Go back to your hotel, and we’ll wait for the
signal. Meet here with you when it’s time to go?”
“Yes. Pack very light.”
Hao woke up as a heavy fist pounded on his hotel
room door, and his paw was on his pistol before he really thought about
it. Concealing the weapon he cleared his throat and called out,
“What is it?”
“Yes, that’s me,” he replied, recalling the
masquerade he was playing.
He rolled off the bed and landed in a seated
position on the floor as the door splintered and flew open, revealing
several soldiers pointing rifles at him. Hao immediately raised
his paws, his gun hidden between his legs as his tail covered his
crotch. “Hey! Don’t shoot!”
The soldiers kept him covered as a tall sambar deer
wearing the same rank he was affecting stepped gingerly into the
room. “You’re Lieutenant Won, right?”
“Air force,” he remarked, glancing at the rank
badges on the uniform tunic draped over a chair. “But an officer,
“You realize, Won, we’re at war.”
“I got shot down two days ago,” Hao said. “I’m
not the brightest guy, but I sort of guessed at that point.”
The buck grinned. “Good. You look
healthy enough, despite being shot down. We need healthy officers
to lead the forces defending this city.”
Hao quelled the urge to spit. The odds were
much against him, and even if he managed to shoot a few of the soldiers
the chances were good he’d die in the attempt. Most of the furs
covering him looked nervous enough to shoot him by accident.
“Who says I’m not doing my part?” he countered,
trying to brazen it out.
“Well,” the sambar said, propping a hoof on the seat
of the chair and running a paw over Hao’s uniform, “you were seen
coming in here, and leaving a while later dressed in civilian
clothes. The uninformed might think you weren’t displaying proper
zeal in defending your country against the invaders.”
“Yes, they are uninformed. I pulled myself out
of my plane and swore that I’d kill every Jap I could lay my paws on.”
“Good man!” the deer applauded. “So, you
wouldn’t mind demonstrating that zeal by putting on this uniform and
helping us, would you?” He scooped the tunic off the back of the
chair and tossed it to Hao, who caught it. “Well?”
“And suppose I should say no?”
The sambar’s smile grew a bit wider. “As I
say, you can either come with us – or be shot right here and now for
The sambar deer had given Hao a group of conscripts
with two members of the Military Police to make sure the red panda
didn’t desert. The conscripts, a total of twenty, were largely
refugees from the debacle west of Shanghai and were not likely to be
much good in a fight. They were dressed in ragged uniforms,
footsore and tired. About a third spoke only Mandarin, while the
others spoke only Cantonese. Fortunately Hao spoke both dialects,
which made giving orders much easier.
After learning what his orders were, Hao didn’t care
either about his watchdogs or the state of the troops he’d been given.
General Tang had ordered a one-mile zone around the
city rendered barren and uninhabitable, determined to deprive the
advancing Japanese anything they could use to support their
forces. Homes, stores, factories, a police training school and
other facilities were stripped, looted and put to the torch.
Hao particularly enjoyed setting fire to the police
Maintaining discipline within the ranks of his small
unit were problematic until he had an idea. He hired and paid his
crews on Krupmark largely by catering to their vices, so he adopted the
same strategy and paid his men with cigarettes, alcohol and even drugs
filched from buildings that were already slated for demolition.
The conscripts were suitably grateful, and one even
carried messages for him to the Kungs, reassuring them that he hadn’t
abandoned them and that he would help them to leave Nanking.
He just wasn’t certain when he could get free.
The soldiers assigned to guard him were watching him like feral wolves
watch an errant sheep. The sambar (why did he always have to have
trouble with cervines, he wondered) obviously didn’t trust him as far
as he could throw him. The red panda had noticed, however, that
the two guards had greedy looks on their faces when Hao paid his troops
at the end of the first day.
the tourists said on Casino Island.
By the first of December the military policefurs
worked for him, and not the sambar buck.
And all the while they worked they could hear a
soft, distant rumble, like a looming storm just over the horizon.
“Artillery,” one sergeant muttered, and the others
On December 2, the
cultural and artistic treasures of the Palace Museum were evacuated
from the city.
Hao saluted as soon as he entered the room at the
forward headquarters, aides bustling about and telephones
ringing. “Lt. Won reporting, sir.” As the captain returned
the salute absently and returned to his reports the red panda glanced
around, his gaze lighting on a map tacked to the wall.
Most of the symbols were completely meaningless to
him, but the intent was crystal clear. The Japanese were getting
ready to encircle Nanking. Hao had seen the state of the
defenders firstpaw, and what he saw convinced him.
It was time to go.
“You have finished your assignment, Lieutenant?” the
captain asked, the feline’s fingers stained yellow from tobacco and his
fur ungroomed. At Hao’s nod he coughed and said, “Good. You
and your men will report to the Guanghuamen,” and he pointed at another
map showing the city’s gates, “and help defend that point.”
The red panda saluted again and left the room.
He unbuttoned his uniform tunic (the weather was
getting cooler, but he had felt hot) as he walked over to where his men
were waiting for him. The sergeant who had identified the sound
of approaching artillery asked, “Where we going, sir?”
“Guanghuamen,” Hao replied. “We’re making a
Once they reached the strong point, Hao made the
excuse that he had to report to Air Force Headquarters for further
orders. The colonel in command at the gate merely nodded, and Hao
But not to where he said he was going.
When he was escorted from the hotel, he had left his
satchel in the hotel safe, paying extra to ensure that it would be
secure until he returned for it.
So he went straight to the hotel.
The hotel manager went pale under his feathers, and
the duck started to stammer as Hao entered the office and closed the
door behind him. “Wh-what do you want?” he asked.
“Oh, didn’t expect to see me so soon, eh?” Hao said
with a smile. “You have something of mine. I want it
back.” He sat on the edge of the desk and leaned over the
He followed the manager as that worthy headed for
the safe and opened it, then offered the satchel with a trembling
paw. Hao carefully went through the contents until he was certain
that everything was there.
He looked up. “One of the passports is
missing. Where is it?”
“Um, that is, ah – “
“Tell me.” Hao flexed his paws.
The duck slowly opened his desk drawer and took out
one of the Kuo Han passports. Hao took it and noticed that there
were some scars along the edges of the photograph. He grinned at
the avian and waggled a finger. “Naughty, naughty. Don’t
you know that forged documents are illegal?” He chuckled, and the
manager started to relax.
He relaxed further as Hao placed some money on the
desk, closed the satchel, and extended a paw.
The manager took it.
Hao yanked at the paw savagely, pulling the manager
across the desk as he twisted to the right, his free paw coming down
hard against the base of the duck’s skull as the head extended out over
the edge of the desk.
There was a sickening crunch of breaking bone.
“That settles our unfinished business,” Hao remarked
in a soft tone as the man, paralyzed, wheezed out his life. The
red panda made sure he was dead before going through his pockets for
the office key.
When he left, he took care to close the door
quietly, lock it and slip the key into his pocket.
He took the money, too.
Hao was well away, the office key tossed into a
sewer, before the hotel staff broke down the door and found the corpse.
“Well, well!” Fei-cui said as she opened the door
and sneered at the grimy red panda in his dirty uniform. “I
didn’t think you’d hang around. I figured you were a coward.”
“Not in the mood, Fei-cui. Where’s your
“Out,” she said, with a slight toss of her
headfur. “I’m looking after the children right now. When
Father and Mei get back, I’m off to the hospital. You going to
sell them another set of lies?”
“I wasn’t then, and I’m not now,” Hao replied.
“Unusual for me.”
“I’ll bet. I heard from Mei about what you
told them, and I asked one of the doctors at the hospital about
“You’re not taking us there.”
“No. My instructions were to get you and your
family the hell out of here, and to safety. Right now, that’s
Hao shed his uniform tunic and lit a
cigarette. “Don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m likely to be
shot for desertion if I’m seen, so I’m staying here for a couple days
until they stop looking.”
A speculative look came to her green-blue eyes.
Hao matched her gaze, his own dark eyes growing
cold. “Don’t even think about it.”
“I’ve already killed one fur today,” he said
blandly, and the nonchalant tone of his voice brought her up
short. “Killing another won’t matter one way or the other.”
“But . . . we’re family, aren’t we?” Her voice
had an odd quaver to it as she realized he was serious. “You
wouldn’t – wouldn’t dare.”
Hao smiled, the expression stopping short of his
steady gaze. “If I must, I will. We may be cousins, Fei-cui
– in fact, you sound like my sister Shin - but threaten me again and
I’ll kill you with my bare paws.”
She gulped and said, “Are you that certain you can?”
“Yes. I can tell from the way you move that
you’ve never been taught to fight.” An ear flicked.
“Someone’s coming to the door.”
The door opened just then, and Kung stepped
in. “Hao! Where have you been?”
“You got my note, didn’t you?” The sudden
shift in tone from threatening to businesslike made Fei-cui shake her
head in bewilderment for a moment. This strange young man was
certainly nothing she had expected.
“Yes, of course,” her father was saying.
“Well, I had to get an opportunity to get
away. I need to lie low here for a couple days until it’s safe
for me to move, and we go then.”
“So soon?” the older man asked.
Hao nodded. “I may not be able to read all of
a military map, but I can tell when I’m about to get trapped.”
Kung’s nosepad went pale. “Trapped?”
“You heard me right,” Hao assured him. “If we
don’t leave, we’re stuck here – and you yourself told me what the
Japanese have been doing since Shanghai.”
Hao was teaching his younger cousins Revolution
Rummy (Shin had taught him the game, and he liked its point of abusing
the authority figures represented by the face cards) when the sirens
started. It was a fur-raising sound as it slowly rose and fell,
and underneath the wailing was a soft thunder.
“Air raid,” one of the twin boys said. The
ten-year-old looked at the visitor and asked, “Are you all right, Hao?”
“Huh?” he asked. He had been staring at the
ceiling, his banded tail fluffing out at the sounds.
“Are you all right?”
“Oh! Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” He studied his
cards in an attempt to cover his discomfiture.
He’d been getting jumpier lately.
When he had been outside, he and his small unit had
come upon the remains of buildings damaged or destroyed in the air
raids that had started back in August. Several of the buildings
hadn’t been fully cleared away, and the sickly-sweet stench of unburied
bodies had made him feel a bit weak in the stomach.
Which was odd – he rarely, if ever, felt queasy when
faced with the same things in Fort Bob.
The drone of plane engines slowly grew louder,
providing a new theme to the strident wail of the sirens and the thud
and crump of bombs.
Hao felt his mouth go dry as his palms started to
get damp from sweat, and he shook himself. What was happening to
him, he wondered as he drew a card from the deck and placed the face
card in his tumbrel. The twins, apparently satisfied that nothing
was wrong, resumed play as well.
He still felt a certain discomfort when looking at
the twins. Based on the family resemblance, it was possible that
he had looked like that when he was ten.
Nine years can certainly change a fur.
Eventually Hao lost the game and grinned as he
flipped his cards over. “Not so much in the tumbrel, I’m
afraid. Just jacks and tens.” The lowest card in his
revolutionary tribunal was a five.
Shin would have laughed at him.
One of the twins, Ji-shan, giggled. “I got two
kings and two queens.” His brother Ji-tsao pouted.
The building shook and the lights flickered.
“Hao,” Mei called out, “you and the twins come here, please.”
“Coming. Right, you two, let’s go.”
“But I want to watch the bombing!” Ji-shan
protested, gesturing at the blackout curtains on the window.
“No, and you listen to what your mother tells you,”
Hao said. He gathered up the cards and started shepherding the
twins out of the room.
There was a high, shrill note, rapidly descending.
The edges of the blackout curtains were briefly
edged in stark white light, then they flew off their rods as the
concussion from the exploding bomb shattered the window and all the
lights went out. Hao grabbed both boys into a tight hug and
flattened himself against the floor as the noise of the blast pushed
through them. The door slammed shut from the force of the blast,
almost splintering against the jamb.
Hao had his mouth open, but the pressure wave still
made his ears pop. As soon as bits of plaster and bits of curtain
stopped falling around him he shook his head and flinched as a largish
piece of plaster landed on his back.
The droning of the planes died away, as did the
sound of the falling bombs.
His ears were ringing as he slowly got to his feet
and shook his cousins. “You two okay?” he asked the twins.
Both of them were crying, but otherwise
uninjured. He blinked dust from his eyes and tried the door, then
yanked hard on it until it finally creaked open. “Get out!” he
shouted, and the two scampered to the safety of their mother as he
squeezed out of the room after them.
“Hao! Are you all right?” Kung asked. He
hurriedly lit several candles before saying, “Let me brush you
down. You’re covered in dust.”
Hao caught a look of himself in a mirror, now
hanging askew and cracked, and he had to start laughing. “I – I
look sort of old and gray,” he chuckled, feeling a rising hysteria and
trying valiantly to keep it down. “I think we should leave
tomorrow night – no matter what. These planes are getting a bit
too close.” He tried to keep the shaking out of his voice.
“We might still have some trouble with Fei-cui,” Mei
said, hugging her twin sons to her as her daughter helped clean the
dust off of them. “She refuses to leave her post at the hospital.”
“We can’t leave her behind,” Kung said, giving Hao a
The younger red panda finished brushing dust from
his headfur and clothes and glared at his relative. “She’ll come
with us, or I’ll break her leg and drag her along.”
“You don’t mean that!” Mei protested.
The young man managed a smile. “No, I don’t
mean it. I’ll see to you getting away safely, and come back for
her.” He closed his eyes briefly and shuddered as the all-clear
sounded. “I’ll be in my room,” and he walked out.
“We’re leaving tonight,” Hao said to Fei-cui the
next morning as she came home from her shift at the hospital. He
looked haggard from lack of sleep as he lit one of his dwindling supply
of cigarettes. “I figure this will be the best possible chance we
have to get out.”
“I’m sure,” she said with a smirk. “I’ve heard
that the Japanese will never take Nanking. The Army will hold
them off.” She shed her overcoat and her tail shivered.
“It’s chilly out there,” she remarked as she gave Hao the coat and she
headed for the kitchen to brew some tea. Hao tossed the coat onto
the sofa and followed her.
There was a long pause as she filled the kettle and
lit the gas stove. Despite the bombing, their building at least
still had some running water and its gas supply (although service was
prone to interruptions).
“If you’re wrong, Fei-cui, I might not be able to
get you out.”
“Look, even if the Army pulls out, whoever’s in
charge will only declare Nanking an open city, right?” she asked
reasonably. “I think Father’s wrong – the Japanese can’t be the
monsters he says they are.”
Hao grimaced as he looked at her. His ears had
rung most of the night from the effects of the bombing the previous
night, and he still had a splitting headache. “I’ll tell you
what, Fei-cui: I’m going to get your parents, sister and brothers the
hell out of here. Tonight. If I have to come back for you
you’re not going to like it.”
The red panda femme greeted this with an airy wave
of one paw while the other lifted the boiling kettle clear of the
stove. Pouring hot water for her tea she said, “Do what you have
to. I still say nothing’s going to happen.”
“I still can’t believe she’s not coming with us,”
Mei said as she finished putting Ji-tsao’s coat on him. Once she
was certain that the youngest children were bundled up, she put her own
coat on. “Keep your coats on,” she admonished. “It’s going
to be chilly.”
Kung asked Hao, who was now dressed in his civilian
suit and a coat, “We’re only traveling at night?”
“Right. Darkness is our only friend right
now,” Hao replied. “I want you all to trust me. I’ve worked
in the dark for a long time now, and I know where we’re headed on the
map. I figure if we keep to the south bank of the river we’ll get
“It’s about twelve miles,” Kung said.
“I know, but we have about twelve hours of
darkness,” Hao said as he blew out a candle, plunging the room into
shadows. “So it evens out.”
“That’s going to be a hard pace for the children,”
“If we can get hold of a vehicle, sure, we’ll take
“What if they won’t give it to us?”
His reply sent a chill down the older woman’s
spine. “Leave that to me.” Hao patted his pockets; in
addition to his pistol he had several other items secreted in his
clothing – a kitchen knife and several long pieces of framing wire
taken from pictures around the apartment. He had braided the
pieces into a serviceable garrote.
Apart from their clothes they were traveling light,
carrying only a few essentials. Hao was carrying his satchel with
the forged passports, and they joined a stream of people who had
obviously had the same idea. There were hundreds on the road
headed west along the south bank of the Yangtze.
Hao set an easy pace, walking slower than he usually
did so that the Kungs could keep up with him. The masses of
people moving steadily told him that this road, at least, was still
clear and pointed the way to safety.
He was still angry that Fei-cui was being so mulish,
despite her not being equine. It must run in the family, as Shin
was much the same way.
Thinking of his sister brought a smile to the young
red panda’s face. He caught himself looking forward to being back
on Spontoon. Shin was fond of relating her school adventures, and
now he’d be able to share one of his own.
There was a brief mutter from the crowd as a flash
and roll of thunder to their left told them that someone was firing
artillery. It was still well south of them as they walked along
silent streets lined with abandoned and destroyed houses and
More thunder followed, and a few people
paused. Mei looked back and gasped.
“What?” Hao asked.
“Look,” she said, pointing. “The Purple
The Purple Mountain was part of the range that
protected Nanking on the east and south, and as they watched there were
explosions and the flicker of fires as shells found their mark and the
Chinese fired back at the invaders.
Mei’s voice was curiously subdued as she said
quietly, “There’s an old legend – if the Purple Mountain burns, Nanking
will fall.” Others in the crowd heard her, and muttered their
agreement. A few crossed themselves, and a few others prayed
aloud while others merely shouldered their burdens and trudged on.
Hao looked at the flashes of artillery and bursting
shells, brief lightning illuminating the darkness.
He urged his cousins along as he said, “I don’t need
an old legend to tell me that, Mei.”
They spent part of the day sheltered in an abandoned
building on the riverbank, a ramshackle affair that reeked of fish and
wet rot. As the sun went down they ate hurriedly and rejoined the
mass of refugees making their way out of the city.
As they neared a village on the way to the town of
Taiping the next day, Hao turned to Kung. “Here we are. You
and your family try to find a place to hide. I’ll head back into
the city to get Fei-cui.”
“Please don’t hurt her,” Mei pleaded.
“I won’t,” he assured her.
At least, not much
he thought as he headed back toward Nanking.
The same day,
Japanese planes again flew over Nanking, strewing leaflets pledging
fair treatment if the city surrendered. A small party of Imperial
Army officers under flag of truce also presented themselves at one of
the gates, waiting for negotiations to start.
General Tang refused the offer of parley, and tore
up the leaflet he’d been given.
Retracing his steps to Nanking seemed harder than
leaving the city. It took a bit longer, too.
It took him a while to figure out why.
Leaving Nanking was something he wanted to do.
He was going back to fetch Fei-cui because he had to, and he didn’t
like the idea.
As a result, he wasn’t liking her much either.
It was also taking longer to breast the tide of
people fleeing the area.
The artillery seemed to be louder and closer than it
had been, and several times he had to seek cover as Chinese Army
patrols passed by. As soon as he was sure the way was clear, he
kept going into the beleaguered city.
Things seemed fairly stirred up, the remaining
civilians scrambling to find cover. Hao went to the hospital
where he knew Fei-cui had been working.
To his surprise, it had taken some damage from
either bombs or artillery over the past day or so, and there were a few
Westerners gathered at the front steps. A much larger group of
Chinese were clustered around the Euros, looking apprehensive.
“It’s positively criminal!”
This statement came from one of the Westerners, a
canine dressed in a gray suit and sporting a small Nazi swastika badge
on his lapel. Hao recognized the symbol from Spontoon, and was
surprised to hear that the man’s Chinese was nearly flawless. He
paused to listen as the man continued.
“The Japanese swore they wouldn’t attack any more
hospitals!” the man fumed. “Bad enough that General Tang’s left
the city government in our laps – he could at least have helped us
defend the Safety Zone.”
“Calm down, John,” another Euro, this one with an
American accent, said. “We only have a few things left to get
“Yes, yes we do. Come inside and we’ll make
some plans, but we have to move quickly,” and the group of Westerners
entered the hospital. Before the doors closed he could be heard
saying, “There is a question of morality here . . . “
Hao stepped in behind a feline in a doctor’s white
coat and brushed his sleeve with a paw. “Excuse me,” he said in
“Hmm? What can I do for you?”
“Do you know a nurse here, named Kung Fei-cui?”
The man thought for a moment, then said, “I believe
she survived the attack. She works night shift here; you might
find her at home.”
Hao nodded. “Thank you.” He left the
hospital, stopped at a noodle shop, and was eating lunch when he heard
a noise and his ears pricked up.
Above the scattered crowd noises was a new and
uglier sound, composed of a large number of voices raised in either
anger or fear. There were also scattered gunshots and Hao slipped
his paw into his jacket as he moved into an alleyway.
He reached out and waved to a man who ran
past. “What’s going on?”
The goat’s eyes rolled as he caught his breath,
panting. “Haven’t . . . haven’t you heard the news?”
“Some of the soldiers have deserted their posts,”
the caprine replied. “There’s been talk of looting. Now,
let me go! I have to get my wife and kids and get out of
here!” He stepped back from Hao and took off down the
street. Hao watched him go, realizing that things were getting a
lot less safe.
“I hope to hell she’s all right,” he grumbled.
“Because I’m going to kill her.”
He looked out of the alleyway and headed off toward
the Kung’s apartment building.
Being on the south side of the city, he had to seek
cover more than a few times as Japanese artillery raked the city’s
defenses. More than once he had to seek refuge in a convenient
doorway, but he was starting to get used to the fall of the
shells. Hearing a sound like the world’s biggest piece of linen
being ripped, he ducked into a building around the corner from the
Kung’s and covered his ears as the explosion echoed down the street.
As he straightened up, he heard a noise behind him.
And everything seemed to explode in a bright flash,
followed by darkness.
He took a breath, and sneezed. Sneezing made
him wince as his head pounded in sympathy.
He felt cold.
Slowly the red panda rolled over and pulled himself
into a sitting position, holding his head in his paws and feeling for
any injuries. He blinked, looked around, and started swearing.
No wonder he felt cold – whoever had knocked him out
had taken his clothes. There was a Chinese uniform and equipment
lying nearby, and he fought through the throbbing pain in his head as
he tried to think.
The conclusion he drew was that he had been hit from
behind by a deserter, who had stolen his clothing and was now trying to
find his way out of the war zone. It seemed only sensible, and he
would have done the same. His treasured Colt .45 was gone, but
not the kitchen knife he had taken from the apartment. A moment’s
inspection revealed that he still had the wire garrote hidden under his
Slowly the throbbing ebbed, replaced by a dull
headache, and Hao realized that he’d been out for several hours, at
least. The sun was starting to go down.
He had to find Fei-cui and get out of the city.
But he needed clothes first, so he staggered to his
feet (damn, the guy had even taken his shoes) and started to explore
The first place he looked was a ground-floor
apartment that had been looted rather haphazardly. The family
that had lived there had been practically peasants from the quilted
jackets in the closet. Most of the clothes were women’s, the male
clothing having been picked through and largely gone.
Well, he’d done it before . . .
So it was that a short woman in a peasant’s coat and
a large, floppy hat made her way down the debris-strewn road.
When he got to the apartment he found that the door
was locked, so he hid in the shadows of a stairwell for her. He
reasoned that since she worked the night shift, he would either catch
her as she came down the stairs, or intercept her in the morning.
The building had taken a bit of a beating, but was
He bundled himself up in his overly-large coat and
settled down to get a bit of sleep. His head had started hurting
He wasn’t sure how long it’d been since he closed
his eyes (the soldier had also lifted his watch) but he heard footsteps.
Below him, but coming up fast.
Several sets of footsteps.
Followed by a woman’s scream, and sounds of a
Hao got to his feet and drew the knife he carried,
keeping the blade edge-on so it would not reflect a stray gleam.
He pressed himself further back into the shadows until he could see
what was going on.
The footsteps resumed, scrabbling against the stairs
along with sobbing. His ears laid back as she screamed “Help! Somebody help me, please!”
It was Fei-cui.
She went running past him, headed for the Kung’s
apartment, and hard on her heels were three men, all canine with bushy,
curled tails. He couldn’t see what color uniforms they were
wearing, but from their voices he knew who they were.
It seemed that at least part of the defenses of
Nanking had already fallen, and he’d slept through it.
There was a scuffle on the landing above, followed
by another scream, quickly muffled as if a paw had covered her
muzzle. A crash as the door was kicked in, and more sounds.
Japanese voices, male and hoarse with lust.
A woman’s whimpers.
And the sound of tearing cloth.
Hao kept to the shadows as he listened to the
struggle going on. A cold feeling sat itself in his
He had to admit that he’d witnessed rapes before, on
Krupmark and on Kuo Han.
Hell, he’d even participated in a few.
But Fei-cui was family, so something had to be done.
The red panda crept up the stairs, moving very
gingerly to avoid loose treads that could creak and give him
away. He slipped the knife back into his coat and released the
loop of framing wire from its hiding place around the root of his tail.
He had reinforced each end with strips of cloth, and
he paused to study what was going on before acting.
One of the Akitas was at the door, watching the
action in the room beyond. His paws were occupied, his rifle and
kit set against the railing. Sounds of a struggle and cries came
from inside the apartment. The other two soldiers had apparently
been unwilling to wait until they reached the bedroom with her.
The living room floor would have to suffice, it
He crept up behind the soldier at the door, and in a
single swift movement he swept a loop of the garrote around the
canine’s neck, pulling it taut and dragging him out of sight of the
other two. The man gasped and gurgled as Hao strangled him, then
he gave a sighing groan as he died.
One of the soldiers in the apartment said something,
and the other laughed.
It sounded to Hao as if the joke was on the dead
canine, who he gently lowered to the floor before drawing his
knife. He spied the haft of a bayonet among the kit on the floor,
so he drew that as well.
Fei-cui was in the middle of the living room floor,
her coat pulled aside and her white nurse’s uniform torn to rags.
One soldier was holding her arms down at the wrists while the other,
his pants already down around his ankles, knelt between her legs.
He hadn’t started yet.
Clearly exhausted by her struggle, his cousin was
breathing hard, panting and repeatedly whimpering “No . . . “
The soldier poised over her laughed, reached for her
– and paused, looking surprised.
His surprise turned to a grimace of pain and a
wide-eyed look of terror as the tip of a fifteen-inch Arisaka bayonet
erupted from his chest.
A figure in a Chinese peasant’s coat loomed up
A dark-furred paw jerked the Akita’s muzzle up as
another paw drew a knife savagely across the soldier’s throat.
Blood and other fluids spurted, flying from the hole
in his chest and the slash across his throat. Droplets sprayed
out over Fei-cui and even in the third soldier’s face.
The man blinked, gasping as he recoiled.
Hao flung the dying soldier aside and slashed with
the kitchen knife, catching the remaining soldier across one eye as he
flinched. The canine howled and scrabbled at his face as Hao
stepped over Fei-cui.
Hao had the scent of blood in his nose and the taste
of it in his mouth.
He’d been right, after all. Japanese were easy
The kitchen knife sank into the Akita’s belly,
dragged across, then turned and pulled up toward his breastbone.
The man screamed again, one paw still pressing against his damaged eye
and the other now trying desperately to keep his entrails from spilling
out of the gaping wound in his abdomen.
Hao said in his stilted Japanese. “I save you trouble of doing hara-kiri
yourself.” The other soldier was already dead, wheezing
his last breath in a puddle of bloody pink bubbles from his
throat. A whimper made him look down.
Fei-cui was a mess now, spattered with blood and her
tail growing soaked in gore (it was lying in the spreading pool of
blood from the solder at her feet). He had to admit she was very
Had this been anywhere else, and she hadn’t been a
relative . . . well.
Hao stooped over her and grabbed her shoulders, then
shook her. “Fei-cui!”
She babbled something, incoherent, then looked up at
Then she screamed and started fighting him.
Hao growled, catching her wrists in one of his
paws. “We don’t have time for this, Fei-cui. Snap out of
it!” He started to slap her, open-pawed, across her face.
Three slaps later and he found himself enjoying
slapping her. After all, she deserved it for making him come back
Finally she stopped screaming and yelping and
started yelling “Stop!”
He obliged and said, “Welcome back. You all
“Huh? What? Hao! Hao, is that – “
she squinted at him in the darkness, taking in his face and what he was
And she started to laugh.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he growled as he released her
wrists and stood up. “I got attacked by a deserter, so I grabbed
what I could. It’s cold outside.”
Realization came back to her in a rush and she
squealed, sitting up and gathering up what bits of her clothes as she
could to cover herself. Hao smirked at her frantic actions and
said, “Relax. I’ve seen better.”
Her anger suddenly blazed at him. “Like hell
“If we live through this, I’ll introduce you to
her,” he said in a mild tone he guessed would needle her further.
“Right now, though, we have to get out of here.”
“My clothes – “
“Well, yes. You’re also covered in
blood.” She gasped and retched as she felt her drenched tail and
scrambled to her feet. The red panda femme bolted out of the
room, a paw pressed to her muzzle, and a liquid splat sound told Hao
that she’d failed to reach either a sink or the toilet.
“Do yourself a favor,” he called out, “and dress in
He waited, taking a moment to further mutilate the
second Akita he’d killed.
Amusing himself as the sounds of running water could
The third soldier died slowly, whining and gibbering.
After a while she came out into the living room,
fully dressed. As he had suggested, she wore dark colors.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He had pulled down the curtains and arranged some
rugs to soak up most of the pooled blood. “No sense in walking
through it on our way out,” Hao said. “Here,” and he gave her a
sheathed bayonet. “I took a moment to look after our guests.”
“And?” She felt her gorge rise as she saw that
the one who had been about to rape her now had his severed genitals in
his mouth. Fei-cui controlled herself with an effort, gripping
the bayonet like a drowning fur would cling to a lifeline. She
hadn’t always believed that Hao was as bad as he implied he was.
Now she was convinced.
Hao grinned in the shadows. “The guy about to
take you was an officer,” and he hefted a Nambu automatic. “It’s
not my Colt,” he said, “but there’s more ammunition. Now,” he
said as he buckled the gun belt on under his peasant coat, “are you
still wanting to wait around here and see what happens? Or do you
want to see your family?”
“Yes! I want out of here, Hao,” she said
firmly. “I’m sorry – but I thought, I thought – “
“You thought it wouldn’t be so bad,” Hao finished
for her. “You guessed wrong. But you’re still alive to
learn from your mistakes. Now, we get some food and start getting
out of here.” He stopped her as she tried to walk past him.
She gulped and he could see that she was watching
Good. The fear in her eyes made him feel
“You have a bayonet in your paws. You’re a
nurse, right?” She nodded. “You know how to use one of
those little knife things, right?”
“A scalpel. Yes.”
“This is bigger. You use it to defend
yourself. Aim at the eyes, throat or belly,” he said
tersely. “We travel at night, so we’re going now. We travel
only at night, got it?”
“Good. Let’s get out of here.”
It was sometime after midnight, Hao guessed from the
stars. The constellations didn’t change much.
The artillery had started firing again, the Japanese
firing regularly, the Chinese batteries answering erratically.
The flashes lit up the sky like summer lightning. The only
difference was the thunder that accompanied the flashes.
They had joined another stream of refugees leaving
the city. Fei-cui still looked shaky despite having cleaned
up. Hao allowed himself a moment or two of sympathy for
her. Of course, when she showed signs of slowing down and sobbing
as the trauma caught up with her, his sympathy extended to kicking her
under her tail to spur her on.
“I hate you!” she yelled at him at one point, tears
edging her voice.
That suited him fine.
So long as she kept moving and didn’t dwell on what
had nearly happened to her. That could come later, once she was
reunited with the rest of her family. Right now he didn’t need
her freezing up.
It was cold enough already.
“Get moving,” he urged, swatting her across the rear
with the sheathed bayonet he carried, and she whirled to face him.
“Will – you – STOP – doing – that?” she grated at
“I will, if you keep moving,” he said. “Gods,
you’d think you’d never done it with a guy before.”
Her breath caught in her throat. “I – I never
did,” she said, sounding like a little girl.
“Never?” Hao was incredulous. “You’re
older than me!”
“I’m saving myself for marriage.”
“Uh huh. So, that guy I killed – “
“You got there just in time.” She
chuckled. “My cousin, the hero.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t get any silly ideas,” he
grumbled. Her words did tickle his pride a bit, though, and like
most young men he had a lot of that.
They were following the route he had taken when he
had helped the Kungs leave the city, hugging the river. A chill
mist rose from the banks and Fei-cui shivered. The artillery
flashes continued though.
There was another ripping sound, and Hao shouted,
“Get down!” He grabbed her and the two fell flat on their faces
as the shell exploded in the water not thirty yards away. More
shells began to fall women in the throng screamed and men began
Hao grasped Fei-cui’s shoulder and yelled, “Get
going! If you see soldiers, hide and don’t be afraid to use that
knife! If we get separated, you know where your folks are!”