Kathy yawned and decided to take a break from reading. Sitting up with effort she favored a elbow that had gone to sleep. Then she stretched her legs, waving her feet in the air to restore circulation. She stood and stepped to the window of the train compartment, peeking out of the curtains at the world going by. The modern China that raced past her was an amazing, dynamic place filled with life and potential. Modern technology worked side by side with ancient tradition in an effort to move into the twenty first century.
The secret agent was a long way from Eastern Virginia, in a Chinese train making its way toward Xian in the north central China. Doctor Cruz had been right and wrong about the origin of the jade caliper. The site was now a monastery but was a castle during the Han dynasty which had been contemporary to the Mayan civilization.
They had arrived in Shanghai seven hours ago and decided the train was the logical way to get where they were going. It would be much faster than a car and was what most people used to travel. On the way from the airport she’d stopped at one or two book stalls and bought several Chinese history books to read during the twelve hour trip. Kathy was now so saturated with Chinese History she could’ve spoke Mandarin if she didn’t already know it.
Both the train and the books had been good choices. The Chinese were busy establishing a dominance in super fast trains and the trip would make an impressive report for her superiors. The passenger cabin was top of the line with two bunks, a private lavatory and even a television. Kathy had kept the tv off so John could sleep. This had also given plenty of time for reading the books. Now she turned to the top bunk and watched him snoozing peacefully, oblivious to the amazing sights racing by outside the window. She wondered if he had been to China before.
“John.” There was no response so she spoke again. “John Parker.” Wow, she thought, he sure was tired. What now? Kathy tapped his shoulder then stepped back. He opened his eyes and looked at her. Then he smiled and yawned, covering his mouth with his hand.
She smiled. “Hi, care for some dinner?”
He sat up. “Dinner?”
“Or breakfast. I’m not sure which, actually.”
Ten minutes later they were in the dining car enjoying a nice variety of Chinese cuisine. Like their compartment it was clean and neat with good service. After they decided on green tea the waitress brought noodles and some Jiao Hua Ji, also known as Beggar’s Chicken. During the meal “Andrea” took the chance to tell John about the wonders of Han China.
“The Han Dynasty would meet the criteria to …” She paused for a sip of tea. “…be in our historical and geographical picture. They actively explored the world around them. Emissaries and explorers were sent all the way west to Syria. Their ships sailed west to India from the Gulf of Tonkin.”
John swallowed his noodles and nodded. “If they went that far west…”
Kathy took a bite of noodles, then went on. “Their scientific advances went just as far.” She paused for a bite of the chicken as she realized just how long it had been since her last real meal. Then she continued talking. “They drilled hundreds of feet down for salt and built pipelines to burn the natural gas byproducts as an industrial fuel. They used steel and bronze for seed drills, gears and rudders. They even invented an odometers and a seismograph.” As she paused for another bite of noodles the journalist watched her as he started on his chicken. After Mexico he’d been afraid their relationship was in a bad place. Of course, this whole idea was dependent upon them having a relationship. John realized this was an assumption he wanted to make but couldn’t. For the moment just sitting there and talking to her was enough, though. She might catch the next flight back to D.C. and he’d never see her again. Shoot, he didn’t even know her real name. But right now sitting here watching and listening to her was enough.
She swallowed the noodles and went on. “Their mathematicians invented negative numbers, worked with pi, geometry, and were sixteen hundred years ahead of Europe in musical theory. They discovered evaporation. Their doctors used anesthesia, vitamins and they regulated health by diet.”
She paused for breath and realized she’d been rambling. John was nodding and chewing his chicken. He swallowed it and spoke. “Okay, I like what I’m hearing so far, but I’m hoping they also made big jumps in astronomy. I’m guessing they did that too.”
Kathy sipped her tea and nodded. “They did that too. Their math helped them develop an accurate astronomical calendar with a year that was 365 days long. They compiled a very impressive star catalogue and built a hydraulically powered armillary sphere.”
“A desktop planetarium, a model of their universe. They even tracked Halley’s Comet two thousand years ago.”
He chewed on his chicken and thought aloud. “That’s good. It means we may just find a connection.”
The next hour went by in a blur with Kathy telling him more about the Han Dynasty. He was impressed by her ability to grasp all this information in just ten hours. He wanted to ask about when and how she’d learned Chinese, but decided it would be imprudent while they were in China. Despite what he’d said in Cancun protecting “Andrea’s” identity had become his priority. His job was just one of thousands at papers and news networks across the country and around the world. She was an unique, valuable person with an important job that was vital to national security.
Of course there was more to it than that. John Parker readily admitted he was extremely attracted to her. She was important to him, not just because she was beautiful, but because he wanted to spend time with her. Sure, he wouldn’t mind if their relationship became more… intimate, but that didn’t matter right now. Right now he wanted to learn more about who she was. He wanted to give her the support and attention she needed.
When she walked away at the end of this assignment it didn’t matter if her clothes had stayed on the whole time. John wanted to make sure she’d had a great time and enjoyed herself. Getting her back safely was the key to that. Besides, he valued her too much to even want to think about her clothes coming off. Of course there was a certain appeal there but he didn’t want to cheapen their relationship with thoughts like that.
He forced his attention back to what she was saying. He’d missed the last sentence or two, so he asked “Andrea” to repeat herself. It was slightly embarrassing but he wanted to know what she had said.
After dinner they headed back to the compartment. John wanted to spend time talking with his companion but knew he needed sleep. They were still five hours away from Xian and he‘d have to be on his toes when they arrived. It was the site of the ancient Han city of Chang’an and home to many significant Chinese historical sites. These included the largest palace in the world — the 1200 acre Weiyang Palace —- and the famous buried Terracotta army. The city was so important that it had a million inhabitants thirteen hundred years ago. After the great meal he had no trouble falling asleep within minutes.
Kathy felt a little drowsy but had got fifteen hours of sleep on the airplane. Right now she needed to use her Mandarin Chinese to delve deeper into the twenty different books. She guessed John had spent the entire flight across the Pacific doing his homework . He’d collapsed as soon as he got to the compartment in Shanghai and was asleep again.
Now they were close to the end of their journey. To Kathy the trip was a pleasant diversion from her normal pace of life. She’d been able to sit back for over a day, put her feet up and enjoy being with John Parker. And although she was still uncomfortable admitting it she enjoyed his company very much.
She wondered if he’d stayed awake on the flight to keep on eye on her. Probably not. The leather satchel he was carrying was full of thick, obscure books it would take fifteen hours to read. But it was still a nice thought.
Kathy stretched, then leaned on the bunk watching him sleep. He was on his back on top of the cover with his hands blissfully rising and falling gently on his chest. He wasn’t snoring, although Kathy didn’t mind snoring. Too much.
She took the chance to get a good look at the man she was sharing her trip with. His shaved head and goatee lent an imposing quality to the muscular frame. John had a nice face, reflecting who he really was. And he’d changed clothes after sitting for fifteen hours in the planes. So many guys had no clue when to change clothes or socks. She remembered how Greg would wear the same shirt for several days. Ewww.
Suddenly felt a tingle of excitement ran up Kathy’s neck as she realized what would happen if he suddenly woke up. She might have some explaining to do to him. Of course she already to explain to herself why she was standing there staring at him. Aside from the fact that she could there really was no reason. Or was there.
Imagining what her mother would say Kathy sat down on the lower bunch and picked up a book about the countryside around Xian. But she was already distracted. John was a great guy she really liked, but the fact she was using him to get in and out of Mexico on him made things awkward. She’d lied to him and put his life at risk.
The woman let her thoughts drift back to Greg, a painful subject that made her eyes squeezed shut as though a needle was being pushed into her skin. When she thought of the time and devotion she’d given to the relationship it was embarrassing and sickening. When she thought of his blatant betrayal it made want to curl up in a fetal position and make the world go away. Kathy reined in her thoughts before they overwhelmed her.
Greg was the past. His money and prestige didn’t matter now and hadn‘t mattered then, come to think of it. His lust, greed and selfishness had hurt her irreparably. But even after all that Kathy still wondered if she could have done something to save the relationship. But not only didn’t it matter, it couldn’t matter.
She was still in the field and in a very dangerous position. If the Chinese discovered that a CIA agent was in their country both she and John would be at risk. Plus the packet she was transporting would be in jeopardy. Kathy could not let her private pain affect the mission. Besides that, there would be plenty of time to cry later.
Deep down she knew it wasn’t her fault. If Greg didn’t want to wait for marriage then they could’ve eloped. As consenting adults they could have gotten married, kept quiet and still had the big church wedding. And she would’ve still worn a white dress down the altar. But all that didn’t matter now. She’d been taught it was better to marry than to burn with overwhelming desire. If Greg had wanted a woman’s body that bad they could have married. It was his fault, not hers.