Post-Deterrence Era, Year 2 Australia
Cheng Xin stood in front of Elder Fraisse’s house and surveyed the Great Victoria Desert shimmering in the heat. Simple, just-completed shelter-houses were packed densely, as far as the eye could see. Under the noonday sun, the plywood and sheet-metal constructions seemed both brand-new and fragile, like origami toys scattered across the sand.
When James Cook had discovered Australia five centuries ago, he could never have imagined that, one day, all of humanity would be gathered on this empty, vast continent.
Cheng Xin and 艾 AA had come to Australia with the earliest wave of forced migrants. Cheng Xin could have gone to a big city like Canberra or Sydney for a relatively comfortable life, but she had insisted on living as an ordinary migrant and gone to the interior resettlement zone in the deserts near Warburton, where conditions were the roughest. She was touched that AA, who could also have gone to a big city, insisted on accompanying her.
Life in the resettlement zone was difficult. Near the beginning, when few people were there, it was still tolerable. The harassment by other people was far harder to bear than the material deprivations. At first, Cheng Xin and AA had a shelter-house all to themselves. But as additional migrants came, more people were packed into the shelter-house, until eight women in total shared it. The other six women had all been born during the paradise-like Deterrence Era. Here, for the first time in their lives, they encountered rationing of water and food, dead walls that did not come alive with information, rooms with no air-conditioning, public toilets and showers, bunk beds.… This was a society of absolute equality: Money had no use here, and everyone received exactly the same ration. They had only ever seen such austerity in historical films, and life in the resettlement zones felt like hell. Naturally, Cheng Xin became the target of their fury. Unprovoked, they would curse at her and accuse her of being a waste of space—after all, she had not been able to deter Trisolaris. Her worst sin had been giving up as soon as she received the warning: Had she activated the gravitational wave broadcast, the Trisolarans would have run away in terror, and at least humanity would enjoy a few more decades of happiness. Even if the broadcast led to the immediate destruction of the Earth, it would be better than the current conditions.
At the beginning, the abuse was merely verbal, but it soon turned physical, and they began to snatch Cheng Xin’s rations away from her. AA did all she could to protect her friend. She fought the other women, sometimes several times a day. Once, she grabbed the meanest one by the hair and slammed her head against a bedpost until blood covered her face. Thereafter, they left her and Cheng Xin alone.
But the enmity directed at Cheng Xin wasn’t limited to their roommates: The migrants in the shelter- houses nearby also came to harass her. Sometimes they threw stones at Cheng Xin’s shelter-house; sometimes a mob surrounded the shelter-house and shouted curses at her.
Cheng Xin bore all the abuse with equanimity. Indeed, the abuse even comforted her. As the failed Swordholder, she felt she deserved worse.
This persisted until an old man named Fraisse came and invited her and AA to move into his place. Fraisse was an Aboriginal man, over eighty years of age but still hale and hearty, with a white beard on his black face. As a native, he had been temporarily allowed to keep his own house. During the Common Era, he had been in charge of an organization for Aboriginal cultural preservation, and he had gone into hibernation at the beginning of the Crisis Era in order to continue his task in the future. When he awoke, he saw that his prediction had come true: The Australian Aboriginals and their culture were close to disappearing.
Fraisse’s house, built back in the twenty-first century, was old but solid and had a nice copse of trees nearby. Once they moved there, Cheng Xin and AA’s lives became much more stable. More importantly, the old man provided them with spiritual tranquility. He did not share the popular searing anger and bone-deep hatred toward the Trisolarans; indeed, he rarely talked about the crisis at all. All he said was, “Whatever people do, the gods remember.”
True. Even people still remembered whatever people did. Five centuries ago, civilized men of Earth— most of whom had actually been criminals in Europe—stepped onto this continent and shot the Aboriginal peoples in the woods for sport. Later, even when they recognized that their quarries were men and women, not beasts, the slaughter continued. The Aboriginal peoples had lived in this vast land for tens of thousands of years. By the time the white men arrived, the native population was more than a half million, but that number soon diminished to thirty thousand refugees who had to escape to the desolate western deserts to survive.…
When Sophon proclaimed the establishment of “reservations,” people paid attention. It brought to mind the tragic fate of the native peoples of North America, another faraway continent where the arrival of civilized men of Earth brought sorrow.
When she first arrived at Fraisse’s, AA was curious about everything in the old house. It resembled a museum of Aboriginal culture. Everywhere there were rock and bark paintings, musical instruments made of wooden slats and hollow logs, woven grass skirts, boomerangs, spears, and other such objects. AA was most interested in a few pots of paint made of white clay and red and yellow ocher. She knew right away what they were for, and, dipping a finger into the pots, started to paint her own face. Then she began dancing in imitation of tribal dancers she had seen somewhere, making fearsome noises as she danced.
“This would have terrified those bitches living with us,” she said.
Fraisse laughed and shook his head. He explained that AA wasn’t imitating the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, but the Māori of New Zealand. Outsiders sometimes confused the two, but the Aboriginal peoples of Australia were gentle, while the Māori were fierce warriors. And, even so, she wasn’t imitating the Māori dance correctly, and had failed to capture their spirit. Fraisse then painted his own face into an impressive mask and took off his shirt, revealing a dark chest and powerful muscles that seemed incongruous with his advanced age. He picked up a taiaha from the corner of the house and began to dance a real war haka.
Cheng Xin and AA were mesmerized. Fraisse’s kind everyday demeanor disappeared, and he transformed
into a threatening, awe-inspiring demon. His whole body seemed suffused with magnificent force. Every cry and foot stomp made the glass window panes quake in their frames, and the two women trembled. But it was his eyes that shocked them the most: Murderous chill and searing rage spewed from those wide-open orbs, combining the forces of typhoons and thunder in Oceania. His powerful gaze seemed to project earth- shattering shouts: “Do not run away! I will kill you! I will eat you!”
The haka over, Fraisse went back to his usual kind self. “For a Māori warrior, the key is to hold the enemy’s gaze. He must defeat the enemy first with his eyes, then kill him with the taiaha.” He came back and stood in front of Cheng Xin. “Child, you failed to hold the enemy’s gaze.” Then he patted her gently on the shoulder. “But, it’s not your fault. Really not your fault.”
* * *
The next day, Cheng Xin did something that surprised even herself: She went to see Wade.
Wade was sealing up the windows of a shelter-house with composite boards so that it could be used as a warehouse. One of his sleeves was empty. In this age, it would have been easy for him to acquire a prosthesis indistinguishable from the real thing, but for some reason, he had refused.
Two other prisoners—clearly also Common Era men—whistled at Cheng Xin. But once they realized who Cheng Xin had come to see, they shut up and went back to their work without looking up.
As Cheng Xin approached Wade, she was a bit surprised to see that while he was serving his sentence in harsh conditions, he looked much better groomed than the last time they met. He was clean-shaven and his hair was combed neatly. Prisoners in this age no longer wore uniforms, but his white shirt was the cleanest here, even more so than the shirts worn by the guards. Holding a few nails between his lips, he took them out one at a time with his left hand and pounded them into the composite boards with precise, forceful blows from the hammer. He glanced at Cheng Xin without changing his indifferent expression and went on working.
Cheng Xin knew right away that he had not given up. His ambitions, ideals, treachery, and whatever else was hidden in his heart, unknown to her—he had given up none of it.
Cheng Xin extended a hand to Wade. He glanced at her again, put down the hammer, spat out the nails, and deposited them in her hand. Then she handed him the nails one by one as he pounded them in, until they were all gone.
“Leave,” he said. He grabbed another handful of nails from the tool chest. He didn’t hand them over to Cheng Xin and didn’t put them in his mouth. Instead, he placed them on the ground next to his feet.
“I … I just…” Cheng Xin didn’t know what to say.
“I’m telling you to leave Australia.” Wade’s lips barely moved as he whispered. His gaze remained on the composite board. Anyone a little distance away would think he was concentrating on his work. “Hurry, before the resettlement is complete.”
Like he had many times three centuries ago, Wade had managed to stun Cheng Xin with a single sentence. Each time it was as if he had tossed her a knotted ball of string that she must untangle layer by layer before she could understand the complex meaning hidden within. But this time, Wade’s words made her shiver. She didn’t even have the courage to begin to untangle his riddle.
“Go.” Wade didn’t give her a chance to ask questions. Then he turned to her and once again revealed his
special smirk, like a crack in a frozen-over pond. “Now I’m telling you to get out of this house.”
On the way back to Warburton, Cheng Xin saw the densely packed shelter-houses stretching to the horizon, saw the busy crowd laboring in the cracks between the shelter-houses. Suddenly, she felt her vision shift, as though she were watching everything from somewhere outside the world, and everything she saw turned into a writhing nest of ants. A nameless terror gripped her and the bright Australian sunlight seemed as cold as rain in winter.
* * *
Three months after the start of the Great Resettlement, more than a billion people had been relocated to Australia. Simultaneously, the governments of the nations of the world began to relocate to large Australian cities. The UN moved its headquarters to Sydney. Each government directed the resettlement of its own citizens, with the UN Resettlement Commission coordinating the efforts. In their new land, the migrants gathered into districts based on their nation of origin, and Australia became a miniature replica of the whole Earth. Other than the names of the largest cities, old place names were abandoned. Now “New York,” “Tokyo,” and “Shanghai” were nothing more than refugee camps full of basic shelter-houses.
No one had any experience in dealing with resettlement at such a large scale, either in the national governments or the UN, and many difficulties and dangers soon surfaced.
First, there was the problem of shelter. Leaders soon realized that even if all the construction materials in the world were shipped to Australia, and per capita space were limited to the dimensions of a bed, not even one-fifth of the final total population would have a roof over their heads. By the time five hundred million migrants were in Australia, there was no more material for building shelter-houses. They had to resort to erecting large tents, each of which was the size of a stadium and capable of housing more than ten thousand. But under such poor living and sanitation conditions, epidemics were a constant threat.
There was also the shortage of food. The agricultural factories in Australia were far from sufficient to satisfy the needs of the population, and it was necessary to transport food from across the world. As the population on the continent increased, the distribution of food became more complex and subject to more delays.
But the greatest danger was the prospect of loss of social order. In the resettlement zones, the hyper- information society disappeared. Newcomers poked the walls, bedside stands, or even their own clothes until they realized that everything was dead, un-networked. Even basic communications could not be guaranteed. People could obtain news about the world only through very limited channels. For a population used to a super-networked world full of information, it was as if they had all gone blind. Modern governments lost all their techniques for mass communication and leadership, and were ignorant of how to maintain order in a massively overcrowded society.
* * *
Simultaneously, resettlement was also proceeding in space.
At the end of the Deterrence Era, about 1.5 million people were living in space. About half a million spacers belonged to Earth International, living in space stations and space cities orbiting the Earth and bases on the moon. The rest belonged to the Solar System Fleet and were distributed between bases on Mars and
around Jupiter, as well as warships patrolling the Solar System.
The spacers who belonged to Earth International mostly lived below the orbit of the moon. They had no choice but to return to the Earth and migrate to Australia.
The rest moved to the Martian base, which Trisolaris had designated as the second human reservation.
After the Doomsday Battle, the Solar System Fleet had never returned to its former size. Even at the end of the Deterrence Era, the fleet had barely more than one hundred stellar-class warships. Though technology had continued to improve, the maximum speed of the ships never increased, as fusion propulsion had already been pushed to the limit. The overwhelming advantage the Trisolar ships held was not only their ability to reach lightspeed, but, more terrifyingly, their ability to leap into lightspeed without a prolonged process of acceleration. In order to reach even 15 percent of lightspeed, human ships had to accelerate for a year, taking into account fuel consumption rates and the need to reserve fuel for the return voyage. Compared to Trisolaran ships, Earth ships were slow as snails.
When deterrence was dismantled, the stellar-class warships of the Solar System Fleet had a chance to escape into deep space. If the hundred-plus ships had sped away from the Solar System in different directions at maximum power, the eight droplets in the Solar System could not have caught them all. But not a single ship chose to do so; all obeyed Sophon and returned to Mars orbit. The reason for their obedience was simple: Resettlement on Mars was not like settling in Australia on Earth. Within the sealed habitat of the Martian base, a population of one million could maintain a comfortable, civilized existence. The base had been designed to accommodate the long-term needs of such a population. This was, without a doubt, superior to wandering deep space for the rest of their lives.
Trisolaris remained very wary of the humans on Mars. The two droplets recalled from the Kuiper Belt spent most of their time patrolling the space above the Martian city. Unlike the resettlement process on the surface of the Earth, although the Solar System Fleet had essentially been disarmed, people living on Mars still had access to modern technology—required for maintaining the habitability of the city. But the people living on Mars dared not engage in any adventures such as building a gravitational wave transmitter. The sophons certainly would have detected a large-scale venture like that, and people hadn’t forgotten the terror of the Doomsday Battle. The Martian base was as fragile as an eggshell, and the depressurization caused by a single droplet impact would have meant complete disaster.
The space resettlement process was completed in three months. Other than the Martian base, there was no more human presence in space in the Solar System, save for empty cities and ships drifting in orbit around the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and through the asteroid belt. They seemed to form a silent, metallic graveyard, where humankind’s glory and dreams were buried.
* * *
From the safety of Fraisse’s house, Cheng Xin could only find out the situation in the larger world through TV. One day, she saw a live broadcast from a food distribution center. The holographic broadcast made her feel as if she were right there. The technology required ultra-broadband connections and was reserved for extremely important news these days. Most news was broadcast via simple 2-D.
The distribution center was located in Carnegie, on the edge of the desert. A gigantic tent appeared in the
holographic display, like a broken half of an egg dropped in the desert with people spilling out of it like albumen. The crowd was rushing out because a new shipment of food had just arrived. Two flying transports, small but powerful, dangled a huge cube of packed food in nets.
After the first transport gently set down its cargo, the crowd surged like a flood from a burst dam and quickly overwhelmed the food pile. The security barrier formed by a few dozen soldiers collapsed at once, and the few food distribution workers climbed back into the hovering transport in terror. The pile of food disappeared into the crowd like a snowball thrown into muddy waters.
The lens zoomed in. People were now snatching food from those who had grabbed it from the pile. The bags of food, like rice grains in a swarm of ants, were quickly torn apart, and the mob fought over whatever tumbled out. The second transport deposited another pile in an empty space a bit farther away. This time, there were no soldiers to provide security at all, and the distribution workers didn’t dare get out of the plane. The crowd swarmed this new pile like iron shavings toward a magnet and quickly covered it.
A figure in green, slender and supple, leapt out of the transport and gracefully landed on the food pile about a dozen meters below. The crowd stopped. They saw that the figure standing atop it was Sophon. She was still dressed in camouflage, and the black scarf around her neck flapped in the hot wind, highlighting her pale face.
“Form a line!” Sophon shouted.
The lens zoomed in again. Sophon’s beautiful eyes glared at the crowd. Her voice was very loud and could be heard over the rumbling of the transport engines. But the crowd below only paused briefly before resuming their agitated motion. Those closest to the pile began to cut through the netting to get at the food bags inside. The crowd became more frenzied, and a few daring ones began to climb up the pile, ignoring Sophon.
“You useless things! Why aren’t you out here keeping order?” Sophon lifted her face and shouted at the transport. In the open door of the transport stood a few shocked officials from the UN Resettlement Commission. “Where are your armies? Your police? What about the weapons we allowed you to bring here? Where is your responsibility?”
The chair of the Resettlement Commission stood at the door of the transport. He held on to the doorframe with one hand for support, and waved his other hand at Sophon, shaking his head helplessly.
Sophon unsheathed her katana. Moving faster than the eye could see, she swung it three times and sliced three of the men climbing up the pile into six pieces. The three killing strokes were exactly the same: beginning at the left shoulder and ending at the right hip. The six pieces fell, and the viscera spilled out midair to land with a shower of blood among the rest of the people. Amidst screams of terror, she leapt from the pile and landed with her sword swinging, quickly killing more than a dozen individuals around her. The refugees shied away from her as though a drop of detergent had been deposited into the oil film over a dirty bowl, quickly clearing out a space around her. The bodies left behind in that empty space were also split from the left shoulder to the right hip, a method that guaranteed the maximum spilling of organs and blood.
Faced with so much gore and blood, many fainted. As Sophon walked forward, people hurried to back away. An invisible force field seemed to surround her, repelling the mob and keeping the space around her clear. She stopped after a few steps and the crowd froze.
“Form a line,” Sophon said. Her voice was soft.
The chaotic mob quickly organized itself into a long, winding line, as though the people were enacting an
array-sorting algorithm. The line extended to the gigantic tent and wound around it.
Sophon jumped back onto the pile and pointed at the line with her bloody katana. “The era for humanity’s degenerate freedom is over. If you want to survive here, you must relearn collectivism and retrieve the dignity of your race!”
* * *
Cheng Xin couldn’t sleep that night. Noiselessly, she stepped out of her room.
The hour was late, and she could see a flickering light on the steps of the porch: Fraisse was smoking. On his knees lay a didgeridoo, an Aboriginal instrument made from a thick, hollowed-out branch about a meter long. Every night, he played it for a while. The sound made by the didgeridoo was a deep, rich, rumbling whine, not like music, but more akin to the snores of the ground itself. Every night, AA and Cheng Xin fell asleep listening to it.
Cheng Xin sat down next to Fraisse. She liked being with the old man. His transcendence in the face of a miserable reality soothed the pain of her broken heart. He never watched TV and seemed to pay no attention to the events of the outside world. At night, he rarely returned to his room, but fell asleep leaning against the doorframe, waking up when the rising sun warmed his body. He did so even on stormy nights, saying that it was more comfortable than sleeping in a bed. Once, he said that if the government bastards ever came to take away his house, he would not move to the resettlement zones; instead, he would go into the woods and build himself a shelter out of woven grass. AA said that with his advanced age, such a plan was not realistic, but he countered that if his ancestors could live that way, then so could he. As early as the fourth ice age, his ancestors had crossed the Pacific from Asia in canoes. That had been forty thousand years ago, when Greece and Egypt didn’t even exist as ideas. Back in the twenty-first century, he had been a wealthy doctor, with his own clinic in Melbourne. After emerging from hibernation in the Deterrence Era, he had also lived the comfortable life of a modern man. But when the Great Resettlement began, something in his body seemed to awaken. He felt himself becoming a creature of the earth and the forest and realized that very few things were truly necessary for life. Sleeping in the open was fine—very comfortable, in fact.
Fraisse said he didn’t know what kind of portent this was.
Cheng Xin gazed at the resettlement zone in the distance. This late at night, the lights were sparse, and the endless rows of shelter-houses gave off a rarely-seen tranquility. A strange feeling seized her, as though she were seeing another age of immigration, the Australia of five centuries ago. The people sleeping in those houses were rough cowboys and ranchers, and she could even smell the fragrance of hay and the odor of horse excrement. Cheng Xin told Fraisse of the odd sensation.
“It wasn’t so crowded back then,” said Fraisse. “They say that if a white man wanted to buy land from another white man, he needed only to pay the price of a box of whiskey, and then he would ride out with the sunrise and return at sunset. The area he circumnavigated would belong to him.”
Cheng Xin’s past impressions of Australia had come from that old film of the same name. In the film, the hero and heroine crossed the spectacular landscape of north Australia on a cattle drive. However, the film wasn’t set during Australia’s age of immigration, but during the Second World War—still the recent past when she was a young woman, but now ancient history. She felt a pang of sorrow as she realized that Hugh Jackman
and Nicole Kidman had both been dead for probably over two centuries. Then she thought about how Wade had resembled the movie’s hero as he labored in the shelter-house.
Thinking of Wade, she repeated to Fraisse what the man had told her. She had been meaning to tell him, but had worried about disturbing his transcendent state of mind.
“I know the man,” Fraisse said. “Child, I can tell you that you should listen to him. But leaving Australia is impossible. Don’t worry about it. It’s useless to ponder what cannot be done.”
It was true. Leaving Australia now would be very difficult. Not only did the droplets keep watch, but Sophon had recruited her own naval force of humans. Any aircraft or surface ship leaving Australia that was found to harbor resettled individuals would be attacked immediately. In addition, as Sophon’s deadline approached, few wanted to attempt to return to their home countries. Though conditions in Australia were harsh, staying here was better than going back to certain death. A few cases of small-scale smuggling happened here and there, but Cheng Xin was a public figure, and such a path was closed to her.
Cheng Xin did not concern herself with these details. No matter what happened, she wasn’t going to leave. Fraisse seemed to want to change the topic, but Cheng Xin’s silence in the darkness demanded more from him. “I’m an orthopedist. You probably know that when a bone is broken, it heals stronger because a knot forms around the fracture. The body, when given an opportunity to make up for an absence, may do so excessively, and recover to the point where it has more of that quality than those who had never suffered such inadequacy.” He pointed up at the sky. “Compared to humans, the Trisolarans once lacked something. Do
you think they also overcompensated? To what extent? No one knows.”
Cheng Xin was stunned by the idea. But Fraisse was not interested in continuing the discussion. He looked up at the star-studded sky and began reciting poetry in a low voice. The poems spoke of dreams of long ago, of broken trust and shattered weapons, of the deaths of peoples and ways of life.
Cheng Xin was moved the same way she had been when Fraisse played the didgeridoo. “That’s the work of Jack Davis, an Aboriginal poet of the twentieth century.”
The elder leaned against the doorframe and, after a few minutes, began to snore. Cheng Xin remained sitting under the stars—which did not deviate one whit from their usual course despite the upheaval in the world below—until dawn arrived in the east.
* * *
Six months after the commencement of the Great Resettlement, half of the world’s population, or 2.1 billion people, had moved to Australia.
Buried crises began to come to the forefront. The Canberra Massacre, seven months after the commencement of resettlement, was just the beginning of a string of nightmares.
Sophon had demanded that humans resettle “naked.” During the Deterrence Era, hardliners on Earth had also proposed a similar policy to deal with the eventual migration of Trisolarans to the Solar System. Other than construction materials and parts needed to build new agricultural factories, as well as medical equipment and other life necessities, the resettled population was not permitted to bring any heavy equipment for military or civilian use. The military forces dispatched by the various nations to the resettlement zones were only allowed the light weapons needed to maintain order. Humankind was to be completely disarmed.
But the Australian government was exempt—it was allowed to keep everything, including all the hardware for its army, navy, and air force. Thus, this country that had been on the periphery of international affairs since its birth became the hegemon of the world.
No one could find fault with the behavior of the Australian government near the beginning of the process. The government and all Australians made every effort to help with the influx of migrants. But as the flood of refugees from around the world poured into Australia, attitudes in this country—which was once the only state to possess an entire continent—changed. Native Australians complained bitterly, and they elected a new government that took a hard-line position against the newcomers. Those in the new government quickly discovered that their advantage over the rest of the world was comparable to the advantage Trisolaris held over the Earth. Late-arriving migrants were resettled in the desolate interior, whereas rich, desirable locations such as coastal New South Wales were “reserved territories” for Australians only. Canberra and Sydney were classified as “reserved cities,” where immigration was similarly prohibited. The only large city in which migrants were permitted to settle was Melbourne. The Australian government also turned dictatorial toward the rest of the world, treating itself as superior to the UN and other national governments.
Although newcomers were not allowed to settle in New South Wales, it was impossible to prevent them from going there as tourists. Many migrants swarmed to Sydney in order to assuage their intense longing for city life—even if they couldn’t stay, wandering the streets of Sydney homeless felt better than living in the resettlement zones. Here, at least, they felt they were still in civilized society. Sydney soon became overcrowded, and the Australian government decided to forcibly remove all migrants and bar them from visiting there. The police and army clashed with refugees who tarried in the city, and there were casualties.
The Sydney Incident set off the pent-up rage of the resettled population against the Australian government, and more than one hundred million people entered New South Wales, heading for Sydney. Facing a sea of rioting humanity, the Australian Army abandoned their positions. Tens of millions flooded Sydney and looted it in the same manner a swarm of ants devours a fresh corpse, leaving behind only a bare skeleton. Sydney was left in flames and lawless, transformed into a forest of terror. Life there, for those who remained, became worse than in the resettlement zones.
Thereafter, the mob of refugees shifted their target to Canberra, about two hundred kilometers away. Since Canberra was the Australian capital, about half of the world’s national governments had relocated there as well. Even the UN had just moved there from Sydney. To keep these governments safe, the army had no choice but to fire on the mob. More than half a million people were killed, most of whom didn’t die at the hands of the Australian Army, but due to hunger, thirst, and the panicked stampede of a hundred million people. During the chaos that lasted more than ten days, tens of millions were completely cut off from food and potable water.
The society of resettled populations transformed in profound ways. People realized that, on this crowded, hungry continent, democracy was more terrifying than despotism. Everyone yearned for order and a strong government. The existing social order broke down. All the people cared about was that the government would bring them food, water, and enough space for a bed; nothing else mattered. Gradually, the society of the resettled succumbed to the seduction of totalitarianism, like the surface of a lake caught in a cold spell. Sophon’s words after she killed those people at the food distribution center—“The era for humanity’s
degenerate freedom is over”—became a common slogan, and discarded dregs from the history of ideas, including fascism, crawled out of their tombs to the surface and became mainstream. The power of religions also recovered, and people gathered into different faiths and churches. Thus, theocracy, a zombie even more ancient than totalitarianism, reanimated itself.
War was the inevitable result of totalitarian politics. Conflicts between nations became more frequent. At first, the conflicts were over food and water, but they soon evolved to planned contests over living space. After the Canberra Massacre, the Australian armed forces became a powerful deterrent force within Resettlement International. At the request of the UN, the Australian Army began to maintain international order by force. Without them, an intra-Australia version of a world war would have erupted—and just as someone had predicted during the twentieth century, this one would be fought with sticks and stones. By this time, the armies of the various nations—Australia excepted—couldn’t even manage to equip their personnel with mêlée weapons. The most common weapons were sticks made out of metal frames used for construction, and even ancient swords from museums were put into service again.
In those dark days, countless people woke up in the mornings incredulous that this was their reality. Within half a year, human society had regressed so far that one foot was already in the Middle Ages.
The only thing that prevented individuals and society as a whole from total collapse was the approaching Second Trisolaran Fleet. By now, the fleet had crossed the Kuiper Belt. On clear nights, it was even sometimes possible to see the flames of the decelerating ships with the naked eye. Upon those 415 dim lights now hung the hope of all of humanity. All recalled Sophon’s promise and dreamed that the arrival of the fleet would bring a comfortable, serene life for everyone on this continent. A demon of the past transformed into an angel of salvation, and their only spiritual support. People prayed for their advent.
As the resettlement process continued, cities on continents outside of Australia fell dark one by one, turning into empty, silent shells. It was like a luxurious restaurant turning out the lights after the last diner had left.
By the ninth month of the Great Resettlement, 3.4 billion people lived in Australia. As living conditions continued to deteriorate, the resettlement process had to be halted temporarily. The droplets again attacked cities outside of Australia, and Sophon renewed her threat: Upon the expiration of the one-year period, the extermination of all humans outside of the reservations would begin immediately. Australia now resembled a prison cart heading down a road to a place it would never return from: The cage was already close to bursting from the number of captives aboard, but seven hundred million more still had to be packed in.
Sophon gave some thought to the difficulties posed by further immigration and proposed a solution: New Zealand and other nearby islands could be used as a buffer zone. Her suggestion worked, and during the next two and a half months, 630 million more refugees were moved into Australia via the buffer zone.
Finally, three days before the expiration of the deadline, the last three million refugees left New Zealand on boats and planes and headed for Australia.
The Great Resettlement was complete.
* * *
At this point, Australia held the vast majority of the human population: 4.16 billion people. Outside of Australia, there were about eight million more individuals. These were divided into three parts: one million
on the Martian base, five million in the Earth Security Force, and about two million in the Earth Resistance Movement. A small number of individuals who couldn’t be resettled for various reasons were scattered around the world, but their exact number was unknown.
Sophon had recruited the Earth Security Force to monitor the resettlement process. She promised those who joined that they would not have to migrate to Australia and could eventually live freely in the Trisolaris- conquered territories of the Earth. Many volunteered eagerly, and, according to the final tally, more than a billion people applied online. Of these, twenty million were offered interviews, and, in the end, five million were accepted into the ESF. These fortunate few paid no attention to the spittle and looks of disdain thrown their way by other humans—they knew that many of those who spat at them had submitted applications as well.
Some compared the Earth Security Force to the Earth-Trisolaris Organization from three centuries ago, but the two organizations were fundamentally different. The ETO was formed by warriors of faith, but the ESF recruits merely wanted to avoid resettlement and live in comfort.
The ESF was divided into three corps: Asian, European, and North American. They inherited all the military hardware the national armies were forced to leave behind during the resettlement. At the beginning of the process, the ESF behaved with some restraint, only following Sophon’s orders to supervise the progress of emigration in various countries and protect the basic infrastructure in cities and regions from looting and sabotage. But as difficulties in Australia intensified, the resettlement failed to progress at a rate satisfactory to Sophon. Due to her constant demands and threats, the ESF became more crazed, and resorted to large-scale violence to enforce the resettlement. During this time, the ESF killed almost a million people. Finally, after the clock ran out on the resettlement period, Sophon gave the order to exterminate all humans outside of the reservations. The ESF now turned into demons. Riding flying cars and armed with laser sniper rifles, they soared over empty cities and fields like falcons and swooped down to kill anyone they saw.
In contrast, the Earth Resistance Movement represented the best of humanity, refined from the furnace of this disaster. This movement consisted of so many loose local branches that the exact number couldn’t be verified. In total, an estimated one and a half to two million individuals participated. Hidden in remote mountains and deep tunnels beneath the cities, they waged guerrilla war against the ESF and waited for a chance to fight the final war against the Trisolaran invaders after their anticipated arrival in four years. Compared to all other resistance movements in human history, the Earth Resistance Movement doubtless made the greatest sacrifice. Because Sophon and the droplets assisted the ESF, every mission by the Earth Resistance Movement was akin to suicide. The conditions under which they fought also prevented them from pooling their forces, which made it possible for the ESF to eliminate them one cell at a time.
The composition of the Earth Resistance Movement was complex, and included individuals from all strata of society. A large portion were people from the Common Era. The six other candidates for the Swordholder position were all commanders in the resistance. At the end of the resettlement period, three of them had died in action: only Bi Yunfeng, the particle accelerator engineer, Cao Bing, the physicist, and Ivan Antonov, the former Russian vice-admiral, were left.
Every member of the resistance understood that they were engaged in a hopeless war. The moment the Second Trisolaran Fleet arrived would mark their complete annihilation. Hungry, dressed in rags, and hidden
in caves in the mountains and sewers beneath cities, these warriors fought for the human race’s final shred of dignity. Their existence was the only bright spot in this, the darkest period of humankind’s history.
* * *
A series of booming rumbles awoke Cheng Xin at dawn. She hadn’t slept well during the night due to the constant noise of newly arrived refugees outside. But she realized that it was no longer thunderstorm season, and, after the rumblings it grew quiet outside. She shivered, rolled out of bed, threw on her clothes, and came outside. She almost tripped over the sleeping figure of Fraisse at the door. He glanced up at her with sleepy eyes and then leaned back against the doorframe to continue his interrupted slumber.
It was barely light outside. Many people stood around anxiously looking toward the east and muttering amongst themselves. Cheng Xin followed the direction of their eyes and saw a thick column of black smoke on the horizon, as though the pale dawn had been ripped apart.
Cheng Xin eventually managed to learn from the others that, about an hour ago, the ESF had begun a series of aerial raids in Australia. Their main targets seemed to be electrical systems, harbors, and large-scale transportation equipment. The column of smoke came from a destroyed nuclear fusion power plant about five kilometers away. People looked up in fear and saw five white contrails extending across the blue-black sky: ESF bombers.
Cheng Xin went back into the house. AA was up as well and turned on the TV. But Cheng Xin didn’t watch—she didn’t need any more information. For almost a year now, she had been constantly praying that this moment would never come. Her nerves had turned extremely sensitive, and the slightest hint would lead her to the right conclusion. Even as she had been awakened by the rumbling noises, she already knew what had happened.
Wade was right, again.
Cheng Xin found that she was prepared for this moment. Without thinking, she knew what she had to do. Telling AA that she needed to visit the city government, she took a bike—the most convenient mode of transportation in the resettlement zones. She also brought some food and water, knowing that she very likely would not be able to accomplish her task and would have to be on the road for a long time.
She wound through the crowded streets, heading for the city government. The various nations had transplanted their own administrative systems to the resettlement zones, and Cheng Xin’s zone was composed of people resettled from a midsized city in northwestern China. The city government was located in a large tent about two kilometers away, and she could see the tent’s white tip.
A large number of refugees had flooded in during the last two weeks in the final push of the resettlement process. There was no time to distribute them to zones that corresponded to their origins, so they were stashed wherever there was room. Cheng Xin’s zone was thus filled with people from other cities, regions, provinces, and even non-Chinese. The seven hundred million refugees shoved into Australia during the last two months made the already-crowded resettlement zones even more unbearable.
On both sides of the road, possessions were piled everywhere. The new arrivals had nowhere to live and slept in the open. The earlier explosions had awakened them, and now they looked anxiously in the direction of the column of smoke. The dawn light cast a dim blue glow over everything, making the faces around her
even paler. Once again, Cheng Xin experienced the eerie feeling of looking down upon an ant colony. As she pressed between the pale faces, her subconscious mind despaired that the sun would never rise again.
A wave of nausea and weakness seized her. She squeezed the brakes, stopped by the side of the road, and retched, bringing tears to her eyes. She dry heaved until her stomach settled. She heard a child crying nearby, and looking up, saw a mother huddled in a bunch of rags hugging her baby. Haggard, hair disheveled, she didn’t move as the child clutched at her, but continued to gaze woodenly toward the east. The dawn lit her eyes, which reflected only loss and numbness.
Cheng Xin thought of another mother, pretty, healthy, and full of life, handing her baby to Cheng Xin in front of the UN building … where were she and her child now?
As she approached the tent housing the city government, Cheng Xin was forced to get off her bike and squeeze through the dense crowd. This place was always crowded, but now, even more people had gathered to find out what had happened. Cheng Xin had to explain who she was to the sentry line blocking the entrance before being allowed through. The officer didn’t know her and had to scan her ID card. When he confirmed her identity, his stare seared itself into Cheng Xin’s memory.
Why did we pick you back then?
The inside of the city government tent brought back memories of the hyper-information age. Numerous holographic windows floated around the vast space, hovering over various officials and clerks. Many of them had apparently been up all night and looked exhausted, but they were still very busy. A large number of departments were packed in and jostled for space, reminding Cheng Xin of the trading floor on Wall Street back in the Common Era. The workers tapped or wrote inside the windows hovering in front of them, and then the windows automatically floated over to the next worker in the process. These glowing windows were like ghosts of an age that had just ended, and here was their final gathering place.
In a tiny office formed from composite partitions, Cheng Xin saw the mayor. He was very young, and his feminized, handsome face looked as exhausted as the others. He also looked a bit dazed and adrift, as though the load he had been given was beyond the ability of his fragile generation to bear. A very large information window appeared on one of the walls, showing an image of some city. Most of the buildings in the window looked old and conventional, with only a few tree-buildings sprinkled among them—evidently this was a midsized city. Cheng Xin noticed that the image wasn’t static: Flying cars crossed the air from time to time, and it seemed to also be early morning there. Cheng Xin realized that the display simulated the view out of an office window, so perhaps this was where the mayor had once lived and worked before the Great Resettlement.
He looked at Cheng Xin, and his eyes also seemed to say Why did we pick you? Still, he remained polite, and asked Cheng Xin how he could help her.
“I need to contact Sophon,” she said.
The mayor shook his head, but her unexpected request had chased away some of his exhaustion. He looked serious. “That’s not possible. First, this department is too low level to directly establish contact with her. Even the provincial government doesn’t have such authority. No one knows where on Earth she is now. Also, communication with the outside world is extremely difficult now. We’ve just been cut off from the provincial government, and we’re about to lose electricity here.”
“Can you send me to Canberra?”
“I can’t provide an aircraft, but I can dispatch a ground vehicle. However, that may end up being even slower than walking. Ms. Cheng, I strongly urge you to stay put. There’s chaos everywhere right now, and it’s very dangerous. The cities are being bombed—believe it or not, it’s relatively peaceful here.”
Since there was no wireless power system, flying cars were not usable in the resettlement zones. Only self- powered aircraft and ground vehicles were available, but the roads had become impassable.
* * *
As soon as Cheng Xin left the city government, she heard another explosion. A new column of smoke rose in another direction, and the crowd turned from merely anxious to genuinely agitated. She pushed her way through and found her bike. She would have to ride more than fifty kilometers to reach the provincial government and try to contact Sophon from there. If that didn’t work, she’d try to get to Canberra.
No matter what, she would not give up.
The crowd quieted as an immense information window appeared over the city government, almost as wide as the tent itself. This was used only when the government needed to broadcast extremely important news. Since the electric voltage wasn’t stable, the window flickered, but against the dim sky of early dawn, it showed images very clearly.
In the window was Canberra’s Parliament House. Though it was completed in 1988, people still referred to it as the “new” Parliament House. From a distance, the building appeared as a bunker nestled against a hill, and on top of it was possibly the world’s tallest flag mast. The mast, over eighty meters in height, was further elevated by four gigantic steel beams. They were meant to symbolize stability, but they now resembled the frame of a large tent. The UN flag flew from the building: The UN had moved its headquarters here after the Sydney Riots.
Cheng Xin felt a giant fist close around her heart. She knew that the day of the Last Judgment had arrived. The view shifted to inside the House of Representatives, which was filled by all the leaders of Earth
International and Fleet International. Sophon had called for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly.
Sophon stood at the dispatch box, still dressed in camouflage and a black scarf, but without the katana. There was no trace on her face of the glamorous cruelty that everyone had grown used to in the past year; instead, she appeared radiant in her beauty. She bowed to the assembled leaders of humanity, and Cheng Xin saw again the gentle hostess practicing the Way of Tea whom she had met two years ago.
“The Great Resettlement is over!” Sophon bowed again. “Thank you! I’m grateful to all of you. This is a tremendous accomplishment, comparable to the walk out of Africa by your ancestors tens of thousands of years ago. A new era for our two civilizations has begun!”
Everyone in the House of Representatives turned their head anxiously as something exploded outside. The four lighting beams hanging from the ceiling swayed, and all the shadows along with them, as though the building was about to collapse. But Sophon continued speaking: “Before the magnificent Trisolaran Fleet arrives to bring you a happy new life, everyone must endure a difficult period lasting three months. I hope humanity will perform as well as it did during the Great Resettlement.
“I proclaim now the complete severance of the Australian Reservation from the outside world. Seven strong-interaction space probes and the Earth Security Force will enforce an absolute blockade. Anyone attempting to leave Australia will be treated as an invader of Trisolaris and be exterminated without mercy!
“The defanging of Earth must proceed. During the next three months, the reservation must be kept in a state of subsistence agriculture. The use of any modern technology, including electricity, is strictly prohibited. As everyone present can see, the Earth Security Force is in the process of systematically eliminating all electricity-generating equipment in Australia.”
People around Cheng Xin looked at each other in disbelief, hoping that someone else could help explain what Sophon had just said.
“This is genocide!” someone in the House of Representatives cried out. The shadows continued to sway, like corpses dangling from nooses.
It was indeed genocide.
The prospect of keeping 4.2 billion people alive in Australia was difficult, but not unimaginable. Even after the Great Resettlement, the population density in Australia was only fifty people per square kilometer, lower than the population density of pre-Resettlement Japan.
But the plan had been premised on highly efficient agricultural factories. During the resettlement process, large numbers of agricultural factories had been relocated to Australia, and many of them had been reassembled and put in operation. In these factories, genetically modified crops grew at rates orders of magnitude above traditional crops, but natural lighting was insufficient to power such growth, so ultrabright artificial lights had to be used. This required massive amounts of electricity.
Without electricity, the crops in the growth tanks of the factories, dependent on ultraviolet or X-ray light for photosynthesis, would rot in a couple of days.
The existing food reserve was enough to maintain 4.2 billion people only for one month.
“I don’t understand your reaction,” Sophon said to the man who had yelled genocide. Her confusion appeared genuine.
“What about food? Where are we going to get food?” someone else shouted. They were no longer terrified of Sophon. All that was left was despair.
Sophon scanned the hall, meeting the eyes of everyone present. “Food? Everyone, look around: You are surrounded by food, living food.”
Her tone was serene, as though reminding humanity of a storehouse they had forgotten.
No one said anything. The long-planned process of annihilation had reached its final step. It was too late for words.
Sophon continued. “The coming struggle for survival will eliminate most of humanity. By the time the fleet arrives in three months, there should be about thirty to fifty million people left on this continent. These final victors will begin a free and civilized life in the reservation. The fire of Earth civilization will not go out, but it will continue in a reduced form, like the eternal flame at a tomb.”
The Australian House of Representatives was modeled on the British House of Commons. The high seats of the public galleries were to the sides, and the benches for the Members of Parliament—where the leaders of the world now sat—were down in the pit in the middle. Those sitting there now felt as if they were in a tomb
that was about to be filled in.
“Mere existence is already the result of incredible luck. Such was the case on Earth in the past, and such has always been the case in this cruel universe. But at some point, humanity began to develop the illusion that they’re entitled to life, that life can be taken for granted. This is the fundamental reason for your defeat. The flag of evolution will be raised once again on this world, and you will now fight for your survival. I hope everyone present will be among the fifty million survivors at the end. I hope that you will eat food, and not be eaten by food.”
“Ahhhhhhh—” A woman in the crowd near Cheng Xin screamed, slicing apart the silence like a sharp blade. But a deathlike hush immediately swallowed her scream.
Cheng Xin felt the sky and earth tumble around her. She didn’t realize she had fallen down. All she saw was the sky pushing the government tent and the holographic window away, filling her entire field of view, then the ground touched her back, as though it had stood up behind her. The dawn sky appeared as a dim ocean, and the crimson clouds, lit by the rising sun, floated over it in bloody patches. Then a black spot appeared in her vision, spreading quickly, like a sheet of paper set aflame by the candle underneath, until murky shadows covered everything.
She recovered from the loss of consciousness quickly. Her hands found the ground—soft sand—and, pushing off it, she sat up. She grabbed her left arm with her right hand to be sure that she was okay. But the world had disappeared. All was enveloped in gloom. Cheng Xin opened her eyes wide, but she could see nothing but more darkness. She had gone blind.
Noises assaulted her; she could not tell which were real and which were illusions: footsteps like a tide, screams, sobs, and indistinct, eerie cries like a gale passing through a dead forest.
Someone running crashed into her, and she fell. She struggled to sit up. Darkness, only darkness remained before her eyes, thick as pitch. She turned to face what she thought of as the east, but even in her mind she couldn’t see the rising sun. What rose there instead was a gigantic dark wheel, scattering black light across the world.
In this endless obscurity she seemed to see a pair of eyes. The black eyes melted into the murk, but she could feel their presence, could feel their gaze. Were these the eyes of Yun Tianming? She had fallen into the abyss, where she ought to meet him. She heard Tianming call her name. She tried to push the hallucinatory voice out of her mind, but it persisted. Finally, she was certain that the voice came from reality, as it was a feminized male voice that could only be from this era.
“Are you Dr. Cheng Xin?”
She nodded. Or, rather, felt herself nod. Her body seemed to move on its own. “What happened to your eyes? Can you not see?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the commander of a special team in the Earth Security Force. Sophon sent us to retrieve you from Australia.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Anywhere you want. She’ll take care of you. Of course, she said that you have to be willing to go.”
Cheng Xin noticed another sound. She thought it was another hallucination at first: the rumbling of a
helicopter. Although humanity had learned anti-gravity technology, it consumed too much energy for practical use. Aircraft still mostly relied on traditional propellers. She felt gusts of wind, proof that a helicopter was hovering nearby.
“Can I talk to Sophon?”
An object was pushed into her hand—a mobile phone. She put the phone next to her ear and heard Sophon’s voice.
“Hello, Swordholder.” “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Why? Do you still think of yourself as the savior of the world?”
Cheng Xin shook her head slowly. “No. I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just want to save two people. Please?”
“艾 AA and Fraisse.”
“Ah, your chattering friend and that old Aboriginal? You wanted to find me just for this?” Cheng Xin was surprised. Sophon had met AA, but how did she know who Fraisse was? “Yes. Have the people you sent bring them away from Australia so that they can live freely.” “That’s easy. What about you?”
“You don’t need to be concerned about me.” “Can’t you see what’s happening?”
“I can’t. I can’t see a thing.”
“You mean you’ve gone blind? Haven’t you been eating properly?”
Cheng Xin, AA, and Fraisse had always been provided adequate rations during the last year, and Fraisse’s house had never been taken away by the government. And once she and AA had moved in, no one had harassed her. Cheng Xin had always thought it was because the local government was protecting her, but now she realized that it was because Sophon had kept watch over her.
Cheng Xin understood that it was a group of aliens that controlled Sophon from four light-years away, but she, like other humans, always thought of Sophon as an individual, a woman. This woman, who was in the process of slaughtering 4.2 billion people, cared about her welfare.
“If you remain there, you’ll be eaten by the others.” “I know.” Cheng Xin’s voice was calm.
Is that a sigh? “All right. A sophon will stay near you. If you change your mind or need some help, just speak. I’ll hear you.”
Cheng Xin said nothing. Not even thank you.
Someone grabbed her by the arm—the Earth Security Force commander. “I’ve been given the order to retrieve those two. It’s best that you leave with us, Dr. Cheng. This place will turn into hell on Earth in no time.”
Cheng Xin shook her head. “You know where they are? Good. Please go. Thank you.”
She listened for the helicopter. The blindness seemed to make her hearing especially acute, like a third eye. She heard the helicopter take off and then land about two kilometers away. A few minutes later, it lifted off
again, and gradually flew away.
Cheng Xin closed her eyes, satisfied. Whether she kept them open or not, there was only darkness. Finally, her broken heart had found some peace, bathed in a pool of blood. The impenetrable shadows now became a kind of protection. Outside the darkness was more terror. What had manifested there made even coldness itself shiver, even darkness itself stumble.
The frenzy around her intensified: sounds of running, clashing, guns firing, cursing, screaming, dying, crying … Have they already started to eat people? It shouldn’t happen so fast. Cheng Xin believed that even in a month, when there would be no more food, most people would still refuse to eat other people.
That’s why most people will die.
It was not important whether the fifty million that survived would still be considered human, or become something else. As a concept, “humanity” would disappear.
A single line could now encompass all of human history: We walked out of Africa; we walked for seventy thousand years; we came into Australia.
In Australia, humanity returned to its origin. But there would be no new voyage. This was the end.
A baby cried nearby. Cheng Xin wanted to wrap her arms around that new life. She recalled the baby she had held in front of the UN building: soft, warm, such a sweet smile. Maternal instinct broke Cheng Xin’s heart. She was afraid that the baby would go hungry.
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