It is still early when the first notes of the March of the Volunteers ring out in Times Square: "Stand up, people who no longer want to be slaves...". Jason, Chinese name Junfeng, raises his head to one of the giant screens that dominate the square. On July 1, the party's anniversary, the image of the CCTV's star presenter appears in enormous size above the passers-by. Behind him, the bright rooftops of the Forbidden City with a flight of white doves and the words in gold letters: "Party day is the day of world peace."
Beneath his mask of synthetic fabric, Jason suppresses a giggle. He's racked up a lot of good points for social behaviour in recent months, and to make fun of the slogan of China's Communist Party, even one as meek as this one, would be the last thing he'd do. Facial recognition cameras are everywhere. They can detect a smothered insult behind a mask, a moment of annoyance, an air of grief. On your smartphone, you soon receive a notification from a chatbot on the Central Control System: How are you today? Are you upset? Did you dislike this slogan? Nothing bad in itself, but it's best to avoid these kinds of conversations, because you never know where they might lead.
Jason/Junfeng is rushing the pace. Getting to the no-go zone in lower Manhattan has become a challenge since rising water levels drowned out the subway lines south of 25th Street. This slow cataclysm is not over yet, as the sea that rises continually pushes the city's inhabitable limit northward, nibbling the avenues, gnawing away at the foundations of buildings and dotting New York with useless monuments.
From Time Square, Jason walks past the cyclopean block of Grand Central, which has become a ghost since the sea drowned the rail tunnels leading to Long Island. As he crosses Fifth Avenue, in the string of skyscrapers leading north, he sees the black and golden reflections of the Trump Tower. Empty too, weakened by the water seeping underground, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a fine gesture, granted by Beijing at the request of the Trump family.
Like all New Yorkers, Jason knows the cursed legend that surrounds this pretentious and old-fashioned building. As a child, he heard his parents talk about the first Trump president, Donald. An evil buffoon, at least that's how they described him. His chaotic re-election in 2020 had paved the way for the interminable period of unrest that had condemned America to decline. Ironically, Trump had been re-elected on the basis of his anti-Chinese slogans - while Beijing had secretly supported him, first him, then his children Ivanka and Barron, thus installing a dynasty in the White House that was as incompetent as it was docile.
The Trump era had also coincided with the appearance of the virus. Since then, Covid-19 and its successors had been around the world several times, mutating continuously without anyone understanding why, undermining the economy like a debilitating disease. When the dollar, the old American currency, lost its value due to ineffective stimulus policies, China took advantage of the opportunity to establish its supremacy, building highways in Africa, covering bankrupt Saudi Arabia with solar panels, saving Venice from the waves by erecting a gigantic wall.
The vassalization had gone smoothly, like an invisible hand controlling governments and nations with a planetary surveillance apparatus that had become almost perfect. Resulting from the tracing "apps" designed to fight the virus, the System made it possible to regiment the masses to face the climatic catastrophe. It awards good points to those who adopt the frugal and disciplined values of the New Sinitude.
After half an hour of walking and brooding over these thoughts, Jason finally emerges at 25th Street. This is where the water begins to emerge into open air, coming out of the manholes and then flowing back to the rhythm of the tides. Beyond this shifting border, the city has been evacuated, access to the perimeter is controlled, the passage ritual is well established. At the dam, guarded by men in blue and white decontamination suits, Jason presents his Smartapp to the scanner, which describes him as "virus-free". He goes to a decrepit building that serves as a locker room, puts on his protective suit and boots. On his belt, he hangs his bat nets and rat traps, his hypodermic gun, and a taser to protect himself from possible tramps.
Even today, he will still enter the halls of half-collapsed skyscrapers, use a flashlight to inspect their mouldy vaults, and hunt in the crevices for the wild animals that thrive in the half-drowned subterranean passages of the abandoned city. A dangerous, arduous job, but one that gives it a social utility, a raison d'être. Tonight, he will bring back the captured animals and collect mucus from their tiny throats. The samples will leave the same night for the laboratories of the Chinese Health Valley. There, scientists are searching for unknown viruses to develop new vaccines to protect the world.
In the time he's been doing this job, Jason/Junfeng has heard these rumours that people are whispering to each other, these conspiracy theories being exchanged on the Darkweb. They claim that these labs are constantly spreading new viruses to keep the world in an eternal cycle of fear and control. But Jason knows this isn't true. Of course, it can't be true.