Kim Ward has been rewarded by Li Yuan with his freedom and the funds to set up his own Company, in North America. Only the ‘Old Men’ want to buy his services. They want an immortality treatment. When Kim refuses, they destroy his company. But Kim will not bow to them. He would rather become a ‘commodity slave’ and sells his services for seven years to the great SimFic corporation rather than do so.
Among the Minor Families, chief supporters of the Seven, a sudden epidemic of ‘Willow Plum Sickness’ now strikes; a virulent and fast-acting form of syphilis – a brain killer that destroys its victims in days. Li Yuan, knowing he must act quickly, is utterly ruthless, killing all those that have the sickness and stamping it out. He is successful, but his actions alienate some of the Minor Family Heads and they seek out Wang Sau-leyan to become his allies. The one time solidity of the Seven has been reduced to ‘Four Against Three’.
While Ben Shepherd visits Li Yuan, we discover that Li Yuan was the father of Fei Yen’s son, Han – that he divorced her so that his son would never become T’ang and thus a ‘target’ in the way his own brother Han Ch’in had been. It is why he never confronted Tsu Ma. Because he never knew of the affair.
An attack on Marshal Tolonen almost kills the old man. He loses an arm but is saved by Haavikko, a young officer Tolonen once demoted for ‘lying’ about Hans Ebert. In the years between, Haavikko has investigated Ebert’s connections to DeVore and he now gives that evidence to him. Horrified but convinced of Hans Ebert’s guilt, the old man goes to Ebert’s father, Klaus, his childhood friend, giving him 24 hours to resolve the matter. Only things go wrong. Klaus is killed by one of his goat-servants while trying to choke his son to death, and Hans flees to Mars.
But it is Kao Chen’s experiences as a guard in a detention camp in Africa – the sheer inhumanity of it – that makes him challenge his sense of duty. He realises that there are no real solutions, only degrees of wrongness.