Broadcast Era, Year 7 Cheng Xin
After the dust settled, humanity turned its attention from the universal broadcast to reflecting on the end of the Deterrence Era. A veritable flood of accusations and denunciations against the Swordholder began to appear. If Cheng Xin had activated the broadcast at the start of the droplet attack, then, at a minimum, the disaster of the Great Resettlement could have been avoided. Most of the negative public opinion, however, was concentrated on the process of choosing the Swordholder.
The election had been a complicated process—public opinion had turned into political pressure exerted on the UN and Fleet International. The public vigorously debated who was ultimately responsible, but almost no one suggested that it was the result dictated by the herd mentality of all involved. Public opinion was relatively forgiving to Cheng Xin herself. Her positive public image provided some measure of protection, and her suffering as an ordinary person during the Great Resettlement gained her some sympathy. Most people tended to think she was also a victim.
Overall, the Swordholder’s decision to capitulate made history take a long detour, but didn’t change its overall direction. In the end, the universal broadcast had been initiated, and so the debate over that period of history eventually subsided. Cheng Xin gradually faded from the public consciousness. After all, the most important thing was to enjoy life.
But for Cheng Xin, life had turned into an endless torture. Although her eyes could see again, her heart remained in darkness, sunken in a sea of depression. Although her internal pain was no longer searing and heart-rending, there also was no end in sight. Suffering and depression seemed to suffuse every cell in her body, and she could no longer recall the presence of sunlight in her life. She spoke to no one, did not seek out news about the outside world, and paid no attention even to her growing company. Although AA cared about Cheng Xin, she was busy and could spend little time with Cheng Xin. Fraisse was the only one who provided the support Cheng Xin needed.
During the dark period at the end of the Great Resettlement, Fraisse and AA had been taken out of Australia together. He lived in Shanghai for a while but didn’t wait for the evacuation to complete before returning to his house near Warburton. After Australia returned to normalcy, he donated his house to the government to be used as an Aboriginal cultural museum. He, on the other hand, went into the woods and built a small tent, and really took up the primitive life of his ancestors. Though he lived in the open, his physical health seemed to improve. The only modern convenience he possessed was a mobile phone, which he used to call Cheng Xin a few times a day.
These conversations consisted of a few simple sentences:
“Child, the sun is rising here.” “Child, the sunset is lovely here.”
“Child, I spent the day picking up debris from the shelter-houses. I’d like to see the desert return to how it was before.”
“Child, it’s raining. Do you remember the smell of humid air in the desert?”
There was a two-hour time difference between Australia and China, and gradually, Cheng Xin grew used to the daily rhythms of Fraisse’s life. Every time she heard the old man’s voice, she imagined herself also living in that distant forest surrounded by desert, sheltered under a tranquility that kept the rest of the world at bay.
* * *
One night, the telephone roused Cheng Xin from her slumber. She saw that the caller was Fraisse. It was 1:14
A.M. in China, and 3:14 in Australia. Fraisse knew that Cheng Xin suffered from severe insomnia, and without a sleep-aid machine, she could only manage two to three hours of rest a night. Unless it was an emergency, he would never be disturbing her at a time like this.
He sounded anxious. “Child, go out and look up in the sky.”
Cheng Xin could already tell something unusual was happening. In her uneasy sleep, she had been gripped by a nightmare. The dream was a familiar one: A gigantic tomb stood in the middle of a plain covered by the darkness of night. A bluish glow spilled from within the tomb and illuminated the ground nearby.…
Just that kind of blue light could be seen outside.
She went onto the balcony and saw a blue star in the sky, brighter than all the other stars. Its fixed position distinguished it from the man-made structures orbiting in near-Earth orbit. It was a star outside the Solar System. Its brightness was still intensifying, and even overpowered the lights of the city around her, casting shadows against the ground. About two minutes later, the brightness reached a peak and was brighter even than a full moon. It was no longer possible to look at it directly, and the color of the light shifted to a harsh white, illuminating the city as though it were daytime.
Cheng Xin recognized the star. For almost three centuries, humans had looked at it more than at any other spot in the heavens.
Someone screamed in the leaf-building nearby, and there was the sound of something crashing to the floor.
The star now began to fade. From white it gradually dimmed to red, and about half an hour later, it went out.
Cheng Xin hadn’t brought the phone with her, but the floating communication window had followed her. She could still hear Fraisse’s voice, which had recovered its usual serenity and transcendence. “Child, don’t be afraid. What will happen, will happen.”
A lovely dream had ended: Dark forest theory had received its final confirmation with the annihilation of Trisolaris.
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