110 - A Worthy Opponent

Intelligence analyst Lee Yan sat calmly in the chair. Beside her were three people. Another woman, a captured acolyte of the young Achilles Chin. A man, Lee’s senior officer in the service. And a Chinese telepath - one of the most valuable, sought-after, and controlled human assets in the country.

The telepath was feeding the acolyte’s memories and biographical details into Lee’s mind. For a mission this critical, nothing less would do than a perfect impersonation. Lee understood the importance to the government. This firebrand, Dr. Achilles Chin, once one of their most promising scientists, had gone rogue and started his own techno-cult. Several Academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences had followed him in his departure. This represented both a lost of prestige and a threat to the country’s scientific and technical progress. But Chin was also an “enlightened person”, an Academician with the gift of hyper-genius, and thus someone not to be trifled with. He’d seen through two attempts at infiltration already.

This time had to work. The Ministry of State Security would spare no expense. They were sure the acolyte they’d captured had never met Chin. They would do more than create a cover story - they would replace one woman with another. Their replacement would be one of their best. Lee Yan was a promising analyst, already working for the Ministry, able to adapt to rapidly changing situations. She wasn’t trained for field work, but the telepathy would make that unnecessary.

胡慧心, Hu Huixin, was her name now. She remembered Lee Yan, but another life lay next to that in her mind, waiting to be called forth.

Now she stood before Achilles Chin, along with several other subordinates who’d been selected for possible promotion.

The Doctor himself, with his commanding face and stern lips, head full of night-dark hair, eyes full of flashing fire, studied each of them. One by one he questioned them.

Hu Huixin stood waiting, but Lee Yan listened. She knew her fellows by now, thanks to three months of working undercover on the Doctor’s behalf. She could hear Chin’s words molding their emotions, changing to match their natures. Even the tone of his voice took on new rhythms.

He was a masterful speaker, able to wield his words like a spear and thrust it between the plates of armor someone might wear. And now he wielded that spear to reveal weaknesses or falsehoods that each person might wish to conceal.

He stood before her, and smiled.

“Hu Huixin. What brought you into my sphere?”

“Yes, Doctor Chin! Your impassioned refusal to participate with the Well-Oiled Cog Plan inspired me. I felt that we were being asked to use science for corrupt ends.”

Chin nodded. “And what do you know of the Well-Oiled Cog?”

Hu’s memories came readily, as fast as her own - any delay, even one caused by her studying this woman’s biography third hand, might have been fatal here. “In the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, the MSS asked the Academy’s senior officials in confidence to investigate a chemical means of removing memory. You denounced this as counter-revolutionary and an affront to human dignity.”

More memories came tumbling forth, as Hu spoke through Yan. “Doctor Chin, the greatness of our country is our people. The greatness of our people is fostered by their long memory of the past. Tiāncháo lives on in our hearts. Everything we are is here.” She touched her temple with two fingers. “How can we betray that?”

Chin listened without a flicker of emotion, but at the end of the speech he broke into a wide smile. “Hu Huixin. Your passion is exemplary.”

As the Doctor moved on to the next candidate, Lee Yan was no longer listening, but remembering.

Did they do that? Would they really do that?

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Checking in with @Dave who can probably tell where this is going. Before it finishes, I want to get your blessing. If it just doesn’t work for you, I have alternatives.

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I won’t claim it as my own headcanon, but this looks really good for this tale.

Part of what I love about this is that Achilles Chin is, from particular angles (certainly his own, but not solely) a hero. Opposing a PRC mind-control plot, esp. with this justification, is heroic. Breaking with them, to his own personal danger, ditto. That he was willing to do so many other awful things, consequent to this, makes it all the more piquant that being a simple raving mad scientist.

As I assume this is going the direction I think you’ve laid the groundwork for, it has my approval. I always pictured Alycia is a meld of both Chinese and Eastern European in my physical description of her, but it wasn’t a huge point of order. Carry on!


The complex was an abandoned agricultural research station in the mountains. Chin would bring his most loyal followers here, train them to become part of his headquarters staff, and put them to work on his assorted projects. Because of the precarious nature of his work - stand independently against a powerful government - loyalty was not only important, but vitally necessary.

As a result, the people that would make it this far were intensely dedicated to him, sometimes to the point of veneration. In their breaks between work, they’d trade gossip and speculation about their patron. Lee Yan found the cult of personality professionally alarming. Still, it was a potential source of intelligence about the man.

First was his name, Achilles Chin. It wasn’t his birth name. His family name, 金, was sometimes Anglicized as “Jīn” or “Chin”. The name itself harkened back to the son of the Yellow Emperor, whose ascension to the throne was supposedly commemorated by a Phoenix.

One senior scientist gravely advised the juniors over lunch that the man himself had told her the story about his personal name. “Like the Greek heroes and gods, Achilles had many appellations. One was Pyrisous, ‘saved from the fire’.” As the story went, in 1972, Lithuanian citizen Romas Kalanta immolated himself in protest of the Soviet regime. Chin’s Lithuanian mother and Chinese father agreed to send their child to China during the resulting unrest.

Over time, a picture emerged of what happened next. The young Achilles fell in love with his new home. China’s long history and refined culture appealed to his grandiose romanticism. Its regimented social order satisfied his youthful intellectualism. He became enamored of China as an idea, a loving mother welcoming its prodigal son. When it came time to pursue higher education, he was able to find a place in prestigious institutes of learning through sheer dominating competence, despite the peculiarities and irregularities of his life story. He was placed at the Academy, and quickly promoted.

As an analyst, Lee Yan was deeply critical of everything she heard. Too much of it could be assumption, mythologizing, or deliberate disinformation. But it was necessary to learn more about the man. His schedule at the research station was seemingly random. He’d disappear unexpectedly, stay away for days at a time, then return just as abruptly. Nobody was told where he went or why. He’d leave detailed instructions behind, of course. But without the ability to pinpoint his location reliably, there was no way to coordinate a raid on the station. Capturing him alive was vital. He must be tried, exposed, denounced, in ways that made it clear to his fellow Academicians that he was wrong and the state was right.

There was no alternative. She would have to get closer to him.

She saw her opportunity in a brief exchange between Achilles Chin and two subordinates, a man and a woman who’d recently begun a relationship. They’d come to him for counseling, and his words gave them hope and reassurance. They left his presence excitedly.

It was what happened just then that drew Lee’s attention. In an unguarded moment, she saw a particular smile on his face, a lighting up of his features. She recognized the reaction from Hu Huixin’s borrowed memories, when she’d charmed a young man into doing a favor for her. It had been an inconsequential thing, but Huixin’s reaction had been the same as a child with a beloved toy.

I have power over the lives of others. I can make them do what I want.

It wasn’t a malicious or cruel feeling, not at first. But unchecked, it would lead to the exaltation of self before society. And it was a vulnerability she could exploit.


“Dr. Chin?”

His purposeful stride halted. He turned, and smiled warmly. “Hu Huixin. What can I do for you?”

The key here was vulnerability. Thanks to the implanted memories, she could project that authentically. “Well, sir, I know you’re busy, but… I just wondered if you could give me some… personal advice?”

Achilles nodded. “If I can, of course. What is it?”

She explained the problem. Hu had a sister who was sick, and although the Great Mission to restore Chinese virtues was important, would it be permissible to visit her?

“You understand that secrecy is paramount to our operation, and that since you disappeared, the authorities will be searching for you?”

“Yes, sir.” She bowed her head in seeming disappointment.

“However, it would be remiss of us to neglect family in the pursuit of a virtuous society which values family. As long as you understand the danger, and return promptly before you’re discovered, I see no reason why you can’t attend to your sister.”

This was unexpected. She brightened up and smiled her best smile. “Thank you, sir!”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Words came unbidden in the rush of feeling. “I promise I understand the danger, sir. My family is from Vladivostok. They survived Stalin’s purges. I–”

She halted herself. She’d never told anyone about this. Certainly nobody at the MSS, though she suspected her superiors knew. This wasn’t something from Hu’s memories. This was from Lee Yan’s own life.

But Achilles was still smiling. “Of course. You’ve taken many risks to be here already. Your bravery is to be commended.”

Lee Yan’s phone call at the start of the trip, made for the benefit of any listening devices or spies that Achilles Chin had sent to trail her, was to an MSS call center. By the time she arrived at the rural farmhouse, Hu Huixin’s sister had been quietly replaced with an agent.

The two women shared seemingly personal anecdotes, all secretly a code. Information about Chin’s base, its personnel and their disposition, and supposition about Achilles Chin himself. New orders came in turn: stay in character, continue observation.

Exposure to the dissidents left her with unasked questions. For example, what had happened to the sick sister? Huixin was a dissident, to be sure, but her sister was blameless. Was she being cared for? How could she possibly be returned to her home? Would she be?

She didn’t like the conclusions she drew.

She avoided the MSS agents on the prowl in the nearby village, sent to complete the illusion for any of Chin’s own spies, and made her way back to the research station.

The society Achilles Chin envisioned would necessarily be nomadic, avoiding government crackdown while seeding both doubt and new ideas wherever it went. The goal of those at the research station was to develop self-sufficient farming and living practices, from mobile grow racks inside freight containers to scientifically investigating traditional herbal remedies in place of modern Western pharmacology. This would address the fundamental problems of feeding a core population until it could build the critical mass needed for social revolution.

Chin’s hypergenius was, of course, critical to this program. He was hardest on himself after every failure. Lee Yan, in her attempts to get into his trusted inner circle, went out of her way to be supportive and encouraging during such moments.

Two weeks after her return from the farm, another researcher left. Chin gathered people together for a meeting.

“Dr. Gāo will no longer be working with us. He’s had a change of heart. I know that several of you were close to him. Lín Li has volunteered to collect correspondence if anyone wishes to write him. He provided a postal address, and a note. He told me…” Chin’s voice wavered. “He said he didn’t want to have any second thoughts.”

Lee Yan found him in the hall later, muttering to himself. Instinctively, she put a hand on his arm. Shocked, he almost jumped at the touch. As he looked at her, she could only see his haunted eyes.

While she stared at him, struggling for words, some kind of comfort for a man she’d been tasked to hunt, he leaned close and kissed her.

She found herself in his bed the next morning. She remembered everything that had happened, but didn’t remember intending any of it. She’d been swept up by emotion, confusion, and conflicting impulses.

Her clothing was piled on the floor. As she dressed, she took stock of the room. Regional maps with seemingly innocuous locations circled. Charts. Calendars. Half-glimpsed photographs tucked into manila folders.

This was an intelligence gold mine. Of course, she couldn’t disrupt any of it. But she could look, and infer from what she saw.

She finished pulling her top on, and in tugging it down realized that she had to address what she’d done, and how she felt about it.

This was certainly as close as she could expect to get. And everything here would be useful to her. But maintaining access to it would mean entering into a relationship with this man, as honestly as she could.

Would that be so bad? part of her asked.

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We’re seeing a younger, less-monomaniacal Chin here, so this feeling out of character for him isn’t necessarily meaningful. It still seems to all happen very quickly.

And that said, I suspect that how this will all end pays a part in what Chin eventually becomes.


She discovered the complications of her choice quickly. The same loyal personalities who’d fed her information about Dr. Achilles Chin were also quick to pick up on her relationship with their leading light. They became sensitive to any perceived slight, and prickly in their interactions. It was easier to focus on doing the work.

Thanks to the transfer of memories, she could actually do the work she’d been summoned here to do. During those times, Hu Huixin’s memories and hence her personality tended to come to the fore, making it difficult for Lee Yan to concentrate on her intelligence tasks. Hu Huixin’s specialty was mycology - the study of fungi. They were sources of Vitamin D and cyclosporin, and had a role in traditional folk medicines. But they were also cultivated apart from the other plants, keeping her isolated from her coworkers. This was good emotionally, but bad for her assignment.

The combined stress from two jobs made her miss the early signs - headaches, fatigue, nausea. It wasn’t until she missed her second period that she realized another consequence of her relationship with Achilles Chin.

Should she tell him?

A loyal acolyte of the revolutionary Doctor Achilles Chin wouldn’t hold back anything as important as this, lest it interfere with the Mission. A lover would confide the truth. An expectant mother would want security for her child.

She searched her memories for other hints on how to behave, and found the lack of guiding impulses concerning. Hu Huixin had always put her work first, despite attracting the attention of male colleagues in the past.

Just who was it that initiated this, then - Hu, or Yan?

In spite of her distractions, she had much actionable intelligence. She knew that this was not Chin’s sole headquarters, but only one of many. She couldn’t predict when he’d leave one to visit another, but she knew where he’d go when he did leave. She had a rough estimate of the number of people at each location. None of them seemed to be fortified - Chin relied on secrecy rather than firepower.

A good sister would want to share the news with family.

She could tell Chin, then ask his blessing to visit her “sick sister” again. She could dump her findings onto her handler, get pulled back in from this fraught field assignment, and let them round up Dr. Chin. Once he was apprehended, there’d be no more worries.

She found him in a corridor, alone, and told him the news. She felt profound relief at his beaming smile.

Then she asked for leave to inform her sister.

“Aren’t we past that deception by now?” he asked innocently.

The world fell out beneath her.

“What do you mean, sir?”

Chin sighed, patiently, like a teacher explaining a problem. “You’re not Hu Huixin. You are a very competent scientist, and your work has been exemplary. But you’re not her.”

Lee Yan searched for words, but Chin held up a hand. “Don’t embarrass yourself with an excuse. You’re thinking, how did he know? For your peace of mind, I’ll tell you. I want you at my side, and you deserve the truth.”

He pulled her into a side room, to avoid an accidental interruption from other scientists walking the halls.

“Hu Huixin came down with candidiasis some time ago, as a result of her work with fungi. She still carries the scars.”

Hu’s own memories prompt Lee Yan to speak. “Thrush.”

I’d never thought of that.

She realized why. She lacked the scars. Seeing them would have prompted Hu to feel embarrassed. But the lack of stimulus never triggered the memories.

“I obtained her medical records,” Chin explained, as though it were the simplest matter in the world. “I have records on everyone who comes here, for both scientific and security reasons. Having this seed of suspicion, I ordered my people to obtain family photos. Neither you or the woman you visited as your sister matched the pictures. It wasn’t difficult to conclude that you were feeding information to the authorities, using her as a pipeline.”

“What will you do now?” Lee Yan asked, in a voice as still as the grave.

Chin hopped up on a heavy office desk in the side room, and kicked his feet lazily. “I’m still thinking about that. But I’ll tell you what I want, and you can tell me if that’ll work out. Okay?”

Against all of her self-preserving instinct, she took a seat.

“I want to tell you about how I see China,” Chin began. “Have I told you about the lion dance?”

He had not. She shook her head.

“You’ve seen them, of course.”

She had.

“After I came to China, I saw a street performance. I couldn’t get close. At first I thought it was puppetry. How could there be people under there? Surely it wasn’t safe. Later, I saw the performers train, and realized the truth.”

A half-smile adorned his face as he spoke. Lee Yan studied it, and his voice, and his eyes. Everything for her depended on where this went.

“It wasn’t the only thing that crystallized my vision of China - but it’s an easy example to explain. People, working together under a single mask of unity. Trusting each other, cooperating with each other, enacting an ancient tradition to amaze the modern world.”

“An admirable ideal,” Lee Yan answered. It was the most noncommittal thing she could think to say. Her mind was furiously looking for some way out of this situation.

“This brings us to you,” Chin smiled. He hopped off the desk and began pacing around it instead, like an agitated cat. “You’re brilliant. Flawless, in fact. I still don’t know who you really are, which is saying something. Even my contacts at the Ministry of State Security have no idea.”

This drew the slightest of breaths from her. Has he really infiltrated the Ministry too? But his story about the Well-Oiled Cog…

It was possible that was a lie. Or, she reflected, he may have found sympathetic souls in the security branch too.

Chin formed excited fists and shook them briefly. “You’re everything I would want. Your intelligence, your dedication, your discipline, your training - everything. Be my partner. Work with me.”

He laced his fingers together in an X shape. “The unification of science and security. The new society will need to be kept safe. And, of course, our child will inherit the work we do here.”

Lee Yan drew a long breath. “This is what you offer me?”

Chin nodded, and looked expectantly at her.

There was only one way forward, one way that would open the window to her escape. She smiled hesitantly. “I always admired your dream. If you’re really going to make a better China, how could I say no?”

Chin’s eyes fell, and his mouth turned down in disapproval. “Don’t lie to me. Just tell me you won’t try to escape, at least until you’ve sincerely thought about it. I still know where Dr. Gāo can be found. I will know where to find you too.”

She felt exposed by those eyes, denied even the shield of a lie he’d wanted to hear. Real sincerity filled her voice. “I won’t make any immediate escape attempts. I will think about what you’ve said.”

Chin nodded. “Excellent. Now, it’s probably time we return to our tasks. I’ll make sure to obtain extra supplies and food you’ll need for the first trimester, and adjust your work schedule as well. Stay physically active, but don’t overdo it, okay?”

She saw that smile again, and realized with cold certainty that it hadn’t been Hu Huixin or Lee Yan who’d initiated this seemingly spontaneous romance. It had been Achilles Chin.

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So there’s one level where I’m, “Achilles seems too effusive, too casual, to quick to enthusiasm over the news, even/esp. with a woman he knows is disloyal.”

Then we hit that last paragraph, and it’s, “Is the child the primary goal of all this, an heir to his molding, and turning Yan loyal a secondary one? Is he that ruthless, that twelve-moves-ahead about all this?”

Well, of course he is.

I’m not sure if that’s the implication you’re going after, but that’s where I’m at right now.

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I’ll just refer you to the Loki series, and how He Who Remains reacted to visitors at his home.

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She couldn’t out-think a hypergenius. He’d clearly prepared for this scenario, probably more thoroughly than she could even hope to anticipate. Even the intelligence she’d gathered was suspect. But it was all she had.

No. She had one advantage he didn’t seem to know about yet. She could switch perspectives between Yan and Hu. When one woman faltered, the other could step up. To the best of her knowledge, neither Achilles Chin nor anyone else were a genius at emotion. But how to use it?

She could keep her promise - no escapes until she’d thought about his offer - and perhaps gather more information, in the form of questions. If he thought she was being receptive to his offer, would he be truthful?

If it was genuine, he’d want a subordinate - no, a partner - to be well informed. Probably not perfectly informed. But actively lied to? She remembered what he’d said about Dr. Gāo. “I know where he can be found”. The implication was that even people who left his inner circle at this point wouldn’t simply be killed. Or was that more misdirection?

She clutched her head in frustration and stared down at the table. Normally, coffee would be waiting for her. Right now it was fruit juice, and would be for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t what she was used to. But it had been grown right here at the station, by people she knew. She savored that brief taste of human connection, and restarted her thought processes.

It was a truism that truth held together better than lies when pressed. The web of a single spider, however cunning, would fall to persistent probing. She decided that even if he would answer her individual questions with lies, the pattern they created might expose some truth.

Her time came one evening, when Chin had brought out the telescope and had a stargazing party with a few interested folks. As the others wandered back to their business, she subtly signaled him, and he waited with a smile.

“I’m not the first agent who’s tried to get into your inner circle,” she said, without preamble or preparation. In other circumstances, such a blunt admission would have been shocking.

“You want to know what happened to them?” he asked, and she nodded after appearing to think about it for a moment.

“I saw through them, of course.” He shrugged, as though such a thing were like swatting an irritating insect. “Of course, neither gave up so easily. One man tailed one of my security teams to their base, and was shot. The other actually found his way to one of my bunkers, and ran afoul of the perimeter security systems.”

She was a little surprised he didn’t present color photographs for inspection, and wryly realized she was granting him more credit than the considerable amount he’d earned.

Chin tilted his head slightly. “My turn. What happened to Hu Huixin and her sister?”

“I don’t know.” The dread of honesty filled her voice. Did he suspect this was one of her nagging doubts about the work?

“Care to speculate?”

She didn’t. But she made a go of it anyway, perhaps to reassure herself. “Huixin was an acolyte of yours. But her sister… she’s not what the Ministry would consider a dissident.”

“And the Ministry of State Security makes such distinctions in the case of family?” Chin asked knowingly.

Dammit. “No. Not always.” She hated admitting it, hated giving him another emotional weapon against her.

Perhaps Chin sensed her discomfort, in spite of her attempts to hide it. The topic of Hu’s sister didn’t sit well with either Hu or Yan. Perhaps what he said next was more manipulation. Or perhaps not.

“Let’s stop the sparring for tonight. Let’s not try to parse each others’ lies. Let’s just talk as citizens of our country.”

Lee Yan forced herself to smile. Unable to not suspect another trap, but interested at the very idea of having a casual chat with someone she’d been tasked to stop, she decided to go along with it. “Neither of us natural-born citizens, mind you.”

“That is what I find interesting,” Chin declared. “Children’s formative years are birth to eight years old, give or take. For both of us, that was a time of transition. Lithuania and Russia to China. So our vision of China was fundamentally as someplace new, and it took adjustment to think of it as home. What did that adjustment do to us?”

“I think… it made me want to find a place for myself here,” Lee answered slowly. “I remember feeling nervous, all the time. The Chinese community in Vladivostok was a quarter of the city at one time, before the dark times. And I have Russian blood in me. Would I fit in here? I chose to find a way to fit in, no matter what.”

Chin nodded in recognition. “I felt something like that too. When I was very young, I attended Catholic services with my parents. They were a channel for anti-Soviet propaganda. Of course, I didn’t understand that at the time. But it felt so dry, so confining. The priests were like ghosts, re-enacting dead rites of old. China’s past was alive, and in the present, we could do even greater things. But was I worthy of being part of that ‘we’? So I joined the Academy.”

Lee’s smile was almost invisible. “And I the Ministry.”

“Because that’s where we saw ourselves contributing to our country. Or perhaps it was the place we went to fill the biggest gaps in our souls. For you, a sense of security. For me, a place to understand and contribute.”

Lee reclined in her chair. “That may be. But you had your hypergenius. In the West, they have heroes and villains with that sort of power, people who aren’t working for the state like they do here. They pursue their own agendas. And you’ve set yourself up, not just as a dissident, but a leader like that. You have a cult of personality. Don’t you feel like you lack security too, and all of this–” She waved a hand and gestured at the research station around them. “Isn’t this your way of holding onto something that feels like a home?”

“You may have something there,” Chin responded with a small smile of his own. “Am I doing this to preserve the vision of China I constructed for myself as a boy, before my eyes were opened to the way of things now? The harsh realities of surviving against the West and the Soviet Union?”

He folded his fingers together. “I respect what the Ministry has to do. I don’t respect how they’re going about it. But I can’t say that I have all the answers either. I think dealing with human beings is complicated. Economies of scale, specialization, industrial processes, everything we’ve learned about manufacturing and research - even the idea of transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian one - teaches us that the greatest accomplishments come from people contributing their individual skills to a larger project. From the Unequal Treaties to the Second Five Year Plan, we have seen that men can also destroy a world when they work together, or when the people at the top aren’t equal to the task. Honestly, machines are easier.”

Lee Yan wasn’t sure how to respond to all this. A lifetime of secrecy and service had shaped her ability to speak her mind. But if not now, when? “To achieve the greatness you seek, you need to mobilize a billion people. They must understand what they are to do, and you yourself must be able to direct them. Even if you have that much power and vision, even if the task didn’t break you, everything people have achieved today will be upheaved. There’s so much chaos in the world already.”

Chin leaned forward in his own seat, elbows on knees. “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right way. So much of what I’m doing is exploring the scientific possibilities. Is it possible to create communes that produce food, water, metal? Can we take the technical knowledge and condense it in a way the country peasant of the earlier decades could have understood, then reproduce it widely enough for everyone to benefit? And if I could teach them, would they care?”

“You mentioned the Catholic Church. I assume you evaluated and rejected religion as an approach.”

"I can’t build a system around belief. You said I have a cult of personality here. I don’t want that. I want people loyal to the mission I want to undertake - not to me. And if I can’t demonstrate the rightness of that mission - through empirical reasoning, rather than charismatic conviction - then I will make the same mistakes as other leaders. And the worst mistake I could make… " Chin let out a long sigh. “I could give people hopes to hold, and dreams to have, that lesser men will then deny them. My China deserves better.”

“Men who are denied dreams will rebel,” Lee Yan said softly.

Chin glanced at the telescope the group had been using for stargazing, then back at her. “Yes, I suppose we will.” He smiled and rose. “I’ll pack up the telescope. Go get some rest. I want to talk to you in the morning about the mycology work.”

She found a strange man waiting in her quarters. Before she could scream or react, her eyes saw the paper he was holding. On it was written a series of characters - the pass-word of the Ministry of State Security.

And before she could even think of questions to voice, he reached out and touched her arm. In the next moment, the two of them were gone.

The Ministry had sent a teleporter to retrieve her. It had taken them weeks to find a vantage point on the research station that wasn’t under surveillance, and then to plan a way for him to get inside. But she had been exfiltrated from Achilles Chin’s compound.

The first order of business for her handler was to debrief her.

Hours of answering questions stretched into days. They’d repeat questions, or explore previously covered topics. She recognized it for what it was. They were testing her loyalty, probing her story for lies, the way she’d thought to grill Chin.

She answered honestly, until her handler asked her a simple-sounding question. “Do you think Achilles Chin is worth following?”


“He’s powerful, charismatic, magnetic. He has mastered neurolinguistic manipulation techniques. I think it would be dangerous for me to self-evaluate such a question.”

It was a good, neutral way out. Her handler seemingly accepted it as such.

She was granted a year’s leave of absence, in recognition of her service to the state.

There were other ways to keep her out of the business to come with Achilles Chin, but this was a merciful one.


I like this a lot.

Well, no. They might have their memories and intellects drained into a computer system, there to serve, zombie-like, until the hardware upgrades weren’t worth it. Or, more prosaically, he knows Dr Gao could be found … under 12 feet of concrete, northwest corner, under the sub-basement furnace, in the New East Wind Living Center … (always keep track of the bodies – one might need a DNA sample).

This is something that clearly (to me) erodes over time. La mission, c’est moi. Even a hypergenius couldn’t maintain that separate perspective.


She hadn’t told the Ministry everything.

She went to a village, far away. She changed her hair, her clothes, and her name. She taught classes in good farming and agriculture technique, particularly mushrooms and edible fungi. The money was enough to keep her fed. The little extra she earned was enough to buy books, formula, and other necessities.

The delivery was painful, but uncomplicated. The country doctor was a gray-haired woman with facial scars, and a soothing voice. The nurses held her hands while the doctor coached her through the process. The doctor’s own children watched the process through another room, enthusiastically cheering their mother in turn.

A few hours later, an exhausted Lee Yan looked down at her newly born girl and whispered her name to her. “慧心. Huixin.”

A month after her baby was born, she came home to find Achilles Chin waiting. He was accompanied by three hard-eyed people with rifles slung at their backs. Little Huixin was cradled in his arms.

“It wasn’t easy to find you, Lee Yan,” he said in a cold, level voice.

“Give me back my daughter,” she replied, just as levelly.

“Our daughter.”

Lee took a step forward. The men reached for their rifles, but Chin’s hand shot up to forestall further escalation.

“You realize what the Ministry of State Security will do to this child if they find out she has my genes. My power. She will be safer with me,” he said at last.

“So you will mold her in your image, to stop them from doing the same?” Lee countered.

“Yes!” he shouted, and took a step forward on his own. “And why not? You broke your promise. She will stay with me in your place. Your potential will live on in her.”

“I am her mother!”

“You are a spy on the run. You hid from your own employers because you fear what they’ll do with this child. They’ll train her. Turn her into a weapon to hold onto their power.”

They would. But I can save her from that.

His eyes narrowed. “I thought I was reaching you. I thought you’d be willing to come over to my side. I thought you’d understand.”

She wanted to tell him she’d been taken out of the compound. She wanted to explain the situation.

Duty stopped her. Or was it complicity in what the Ministry had already done? What it would do?

“She deserves to live her own life. To grow up, make her own choices. Decide how to use her gifts - the way you made your decision.”

“Or spend her days in mediocrity and secrecy, hiding in peasant villages.”

The baby began crying.

Both Lee Yan and Achilles Chin reacted immediately. They looked down to the child instinctively, then to each other in recognition of the parental instinct at play.

Grudgingly Chin extended the child slightly - but kept a clear hold on her. Lee drew closer and began cooing and soothing. The crying became fussing, and soon gave way to calm.

“I cannot afford to let her waste her potential, or become a tool for the Ministry,” Chin said at last.

“She’ll be just another toy for you to play with. Like you did with me,” Lee retorted.

“They killed everyone at the research station,” Chin said in a whisper.

“More manipulation. You want me to feel guilty.”

She said it, but lacked conviction enough to really mean it. She could picture the faces of her dissident coworkers, people she’d known for months, and the idea of soldiers opening fire–

But Chin was talking. “I’m done caring what you think about me. You were a worthy opponent, Lee Yan. I leave you with this promise. I will love our daughter. Truly, genuinely. But I will prepare her to survive the world your masters have created.”

Achilles Chin was past convincing. The men with guns prevented a more physical response. She could only watch and weep as a daughter she would never know was carried off into the night.

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And that’s the end of that. What do we think?

It’s better to me that the good doctor’s fate be unspecified. Achilles Chin is adept at creating his own realities to deceive people - including himself. Perhaps we’ll never know the truth, because of how he warps truth around him.

Of course. After all, there’s nobody who’s a genius at emotion, including their own.


And he was absolutely sincere in what he said, and absolutely sincere in what he intended. And, in a sense (that he would never acknowledge, never could acknowledge as the hyper-genius instability slowly eroded his own moral foundation), he did prepare her to survive. So far, least.

Especially their own. That’s what makes a story.

Bravo. It wasn’t the story I would have written, but I’m happy it was, finally, written. For this instance of the Menagerieverse, at least. :clap: :+1: :smiling_face_with_tear:


I admit some concern about the hedging here :sweat_smile:

Are there things about this that didn’t sit right, or other versions of events that you were imagining but just haven’t written?

For what it’s worth, here’s how I got started on all of this.

  • We have a season-long plot line for Alycia where she’ll be meeting a fusion, representing “the Quill-Chin conflict”, aka Pyrrhus
  • We’ll need some backstory for this, including the identity of her mother
  • We need someone with reason to be with Dr. Chin, as well as to leave him (one way or another)

I went back to the original “Fu Manchu” stories, and thought, “what if the hero character, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, fell in love with the Fu Manchu character?” So I assembled a detective character from bits of Columbo, Charlie Chan, and other archetypes, and gave her plenty of build-up, so we could hopefully empathize with her once her history was revealed.

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For what it’s worth, I think you succeeded.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Lee Yan back when she was introduced (Checks… 214? That was a while ago.) early on in Phase 2: new antagonist, possible ally, maybe a bit of both? As I thought I expressed at the time, but don’t see in the thread proper, I was very curious about why Lee was involving herself with the Agents in the Hidden Fortress seemingly out of nowhere*. This story definitely explained almost everything I could want to know about her, which makes me curious of what she’s going to do with the information she’s discovered in that story.

If this story taught me anything, Lee does not want to sit on the sidelines.

*EDIT for clarification: When I say seemingly out of nowhere, I think I was being a bit misleading. What I intended to say was that from how she had been presented before, I expected when she finally caught up with our heroes, she would be doing some arresting and our heroes would either need to convince her to let them go or escape captivity, but instead she did something I hadn’t expected.


Honestly, to the extent that I’ve poked at that plot element, my vision of Alycia’s mother has been much more of a victim than what you presented, someone Chin loved but was, ultimately, a distraction/weakness that endangered the mission and had to be abandoned. I think here she is a worthy, um, adversary / complication / challenge for Achilles, with a doomed and inevitable defeat, but a worthy run of her own…

I don’t recall if this came up earlier in the general discussion, but Alycia, having not gotten a straight answer from Achilles about her mother, has pushed aside and compartmentalized that whole topic. Parent(s) = Evil Domineering Force to be Defied, Ignored, Set Firmly Aside. How she would react to a hypothetical encounter with Lee Yan is uncertain, but it would probably not be pleasant for either of them, and would almost certainly not end with a tearful reunion. Alycia would likely be very aggressive and hurtful in pushing Lee Yan away, largely out of internal unwillingness to deal with such an emotional challenge. If Jason were there, he’d likely be appalled.

But, again, that’s my headcanon, such as it is.

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That is so wrong and so right of an image. Salute.