Excerpt from A Past Outside of Time The Choice of the Swordholder: Ten Minutes Between Existence and Annihilation
The first dark forest deterrence system consisted of more than three thousand nuclear bombs wrapped in an oil film substance deployed in orbit around the sun. After detonation, the film would cause the sun to flicker and broadcast the location of Trisolaris to the universe. Although the system was grand, it was extremely unstable. After the droplets stopped blockading electromagnetic radiation from the sun, a transmission system based on using the sun as a superantenna was immediately put in place to supplement the nuclear bomb deterrence system.
Both of these systems relied on electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, as the broadcast medium. We now know that this is the most primitive technique for interstellar communication, equivalent to smoke signals in space. Since electromagnetic waves decay and become distorted rapidly, the broadcast range is limited.
At the time of the founding of deterrence, humankind already had a basic grasp of the technology for detecting gravitational waves and neutrinos, but they lacked the ability to modulate and transmit. These were the very first technologies humans demanded from Trisolaris. Compared to quantum communications, these technologies were still primitive, since both gravitational waves and neutrinos were limited by the speed of light, but they were a whole level above electromagnetic waves.
Both of these means of transmission decayed relatively slowly and had very long broadcast ranges. Neutrinos, in particular, interacted with almost nothing else. Theoretically, a modulated beam of neutrinos could transmit information to the other end of the universe, and the accompanying decay and distortion would not affect the decoding of the information. But while neutrinos must be focused in a particular direction, gravitational waves were omnidirectional, thus gravitational waves became the main method of establishing dark forest deterrence.
The fundamental principle of gravitational wave transmission relied on the vibration of a long string of extremely dense matter. The ideal transmission antenna would involve a large number of black holes connected together to form a chain that generated gravitational waves as it vibrated. But even Trisolaris didn’t possess such a level of technology, and humankind had to resort to constructing the vibrating string out of degenerate matter. The extremely dense degenerate matter packed an enormous mass into strings mere nanometers in diameter. A single string took up only a minuscule portion of the giant antenna, the bulk of which consisted of support and protection for the ultra-dense string. Thus, the total mass of the antenna wasn’t
The degenerate matter forming the vibrating string was naturally found in white dwarves and neutron stars. Under typical conditions, this substance naturally decayed and turned into regular matter over time. Man- made vibrating strings typically had a half-life of around fifty years, beyond which the antennas lost their effectiveness. Thus, every half century, the antennas needed to be refreshed with new ones.
During the earliest stage of gravitational wave deterrence, the main strategic concern was with ensuring deterrence power. Plans were made to build a hundred broadcasting stations scattered around the continents. But gravitational wave communication suffered from a flaw: The transmission equipment could not be miniaturized. The complex, gigantic antennas were extremely costly to manufacture, and in the end only twenty-three gravitational transmitters were built. But the focus on ensuring deterrence finally faded, due to another event.
During the Deterrence Era, the ETO gradually disappeared, but another kind of extremist organization sprang up. They believed in the cause of human supremacy, and advocated for the complete annihilation of Trisolaris. The “Sons of the Earth” was one of the largest of these organizations. In Year 6 of the Deterrence Era, more than three hundred “Sons of the Earth” attacked a gravitational wave broadcasting station located on Antarctica with the aim of seizing the transmitter. Equipped with advanced weapons such as mini- infrasonic nuclear bombs, and aided by members who had infiltrated the broadcasting station ahead of time, the attackers nearly succeeded. If the defending troops stationed at the site hadn’t destroyed the antenna in time, the consequences would have been disastrous.
This incident terrified both worlds. People began to realize the great danger posed by gravitational wave transmitters. Simultaneously, Trisolaris pressured Earth until gravitational wave transmission technology was strictly controlled, and the twenty-three broadcasting stations were cut down to four. Three of the stations were terrestrial, located in Asia, North America, and Europe, and the last one was the spaceship Gravity.
All the transmitters relied on an active trigger, because the dead hand trigger technique used in the circumsolar nuclear bomb system was no longer necessary. Luo Ji had established deterrence by himself, but now, if the Swordholder were killed, others would be able to take over.
Initially, the gigantic gravitational wave antennas had to be built on the surface. As technology advanced, in Year 12 of the Deterrence Era, the three terrestrial antennas and their support systems moved deep underground. Everyone understood, however, that burying the transmitters and the control center beneath the Earth’s surface primarily guarded against a threat originating from humankind itself, but was meaningless against an attack by Trisolaris. For droplets constructed from strong-interaction material, tens of kilometers of rock were not much different from mere liquid, barely able to impede their progress.
After Earth established deterrence, the Trisolar invasion fleet veered away, as verified through observation. With that threat diminished, most people turned their focus to the whereabouts of the ten droplets that had already reached the Solar System. Trisolaris insisted that four of the droplets remain in the Solar System, justifying the decision by arguing that the gravitational wave transmitters could be seized by extremist factions within humankind, and Trisolaris should have the power to take steps to protect both worlds in the event of such an occurrence. Reluctantly, the Earth agreed, but required the four droplets to stay beyond the Kuiper Belt. Moreover, each droplet had to be accompanied by a human probe, so that the droplets’ locations and
orbits were known at all times. Thus, in the event of a droplet attack, the Earth would have about fifty hours of advance warning. Of these four droplets, two eventually followed Gravity to hunt Blue Space, and only two remained in the vicinity of the Kuiper Belt.
No one knew where the other six droplets had gone.
Trisolaris claimed that the six droplets had left the Solar System to rejoin the Trisolaran Fleet, but no one on Earth believed this.
Trisolarans were no longer creatures of transparent thought. During the past two centuries, they had learned a great deal about strategic thinking—lies, ruses, and tricks. This was perhaps the greatest benefit they gained from studying human culture.
Most people were convinced that the six droplets were hidden somewhere in the Solar System. But because the droplets were tiny, fast, and invisible to radar, they were extremely difficult to locate and track. Even by spreading oil films or using other advanced detection techniques, humans could only reliably detect droplets if they approached within 1/10 AU of the Earth, or fifteen million kilometers. Outside this sphere, the droplets were free to roam undetected.
At maximum speed, a droplet could cross fifteen million kilometers in ten minutes.
This was all the time the Swordholder would have to make a decision if dark forest deterrence broke down.
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