Broadcast Era, Year 7 Sophon
Although there were no clues for how to send out a true safety notice, and any serious research only confirmed the impossibility of such an endeavor, the public’s yearning for the notice could not be stopped. Although most people understood that none of the existing proposals would work, attempts to implement them never ceased.
A European NGO tried to build an extremely powerful antenna that would take advantage of the Sun’s amplification ability to broadcast their draft version of such a notice. The police stopped them in time. The six droplets in the Solar System had left six years ago, and there were no more blocks on the Sun’s amplification function, but such a transmission would have been extremely dangerous and exposed the Earth’s location even sooner.
Another organization named Green Saviors had several million members. They advocated humanity’s return to an agrarian existence, thereby proclaiming their safety to the universe. About twenty thousand of their members moved to Australia. On this sparsely populated continent where the Great Resettlement was but a memory, they planned to create a model society. The agrarian lives of these Green Saviors were continuously broadcast to the rest of the world. In this age, it was no longer possible to find traditional farming implements, and so the tools they used had to be custom-made with funds from their sponsors. There wasn’t much arable land in Australia, and all of it was devoted to high-end, expensive foods, and so the settlers had to open up new land in desolate areas designated by the government.
It took only one week before these pioneers stopped collective farming. It wasn’t because the Green Saviors were lazy—their enthusiasm alone could have sustained them through some period of diligence—rather, it was because the bodies of modern humans had changed considerably from the past. They were more flexible and agile compared to past generations, but were no longer adapted to boring, repetitious physical labor. And opening up wastelands, even in agrarian times, was an extremely physically demanding task. After the leaders of the Green Saviors suitably expressed their respect for their farming ancestors, the movement dissolved, and the idea of a model agrarian society was abandoned.
Perverted ideas about the safety notice also led to vicious acts of terrorism. Some “anti-intellect” organizations were formed to put into practice the proposal to lower human intelligence. One of these planned to add large quantities of “neural suppressors” to the water supply of New York City, which would have caused permanent brain damage. Fortunately, the plot was uncovered in time and no harm was done, though NYC’s water supply was out of commission for a few hours. Of course, without exception, these
“anti-intellect” organizations wanted to maintain the intelligence of their own members, arguing that they had the responsibility to be the last of the intelligent people so that they could complete the creation of a society of low-intelligence humans and direct its operation.
Faced with the omnipresent threat of death and the lure of a different state of existence, religion once again took center stage in social life.
Historically, the discovery of the dark forest state of the universe was a giant blow to most major religions, especially Christianity. In fact, the damage to religion was evident even early on during the Crisis Era. When Trisolaran civilization was discovered, Christians had to wrestle with the fact that the aliens were not in the Garden of Eden, and God never mentioned them in Genesis. For more than a century, churches and theologians struggled to complete a new interpretation of the Bible and of accepted doctrines—and just when they had almost succeeded in patching up the faith, the monster that was the dark forest appeared. People had to accept the knowledge that many, many intelligent civilizations existed in the universe, and if each civilization had an Adam and an Eve, then the population of Eden must have been about the same as the current population of Earth.
But during the disastrous Great Resettlement, religions revived themselves. A new belief now became popular: In the past seventy years, humanity twice came to the brink of utter annihilation, but each time, they escaped miraculously. The two miracles, the creation of dark forest deterrence and the initiation of the universal gravitational wave broadcast, shared many characteristics: They both happened under the direction of a small number of individuals; their occurrence depended on a series of improbable coincidences (such as the fact that Gravity, Blue Space, and the droplets all entered the four-dimensional fragment simultaneously) … All these were clearly signs from some deity. At the time of both crises, the faithful had engaged in mass prayer sessions in public. It was precisely such fervent demonstrations of faith that finally led to divine salvation—though just which god was responsible was a topic of endless debate.
And so the Earth turned into a giant church, a planet of prayer. Everyone prayed with unprecedented faith for another act of salvation. The Vatican led numerous globe-wide Masses, and people prayed everywhere in small groups or individually. Before meals and sleep, they all prayed for the same thing: Lord, please give us a hint; guide us to express our goodwill to the stars; let the cosmos know that we’re harmless.
A cosmopolitan space church was built in near-Earth orbit. Though it was called a church, there was no physical building other than a gigantic cross. The two beams making up the cross were twenty kilometers and forty kilometers long, respectively, and glowed so bright that the cross was visible from the Earth at night. The faithful would drift below it in space suits in worship, and as many as tens of thousands sometimes participated. Drifting along with them were countless giant candles capable of burning in vacuum, and the candles competed with the stars in brilliance. Viewed from the surface, the candles and the worshipping congregation seemed like a cloud of glowing space dust. And each night, innumerable individuals on the surface prayed to the cross among the stars.
Even Trisolaran civilization became the object of worship. Historically, Trisolaran civilization’s image changed continuously in the eyes of humankind. At the beginning of the Crisis Era, they were powerful, evil alien invaders, but were also deified by the ETO. Later, Trisolaris gradually changed from devils and gods to people. With the creation of dark forest deterrence, Trisolaris’s position in the eyes of humanity reached its
nadir, and Trisolarans became uncivilized savages living at the pleasure of humankind. After deterrence failed, the Trisolarans revealed themselves to be genocidal conquerors. However, after the universal broadcast was initiated—and especially after the destruction of Trisolaris—Trisolarans turned into victims who deserved sympathy from humans, fellow refugees in the same boat.
After finding out about the concept of a safety notice, humans initially reacted to the news unanimously: a vociferous demand that Sophon divulge the method to broadcast a safety notice accompanied by the warning that she not commit mundicide by withholding such information. Yet soon people realized that rage and denunciations were useless against a civilization that had mastered technology far beyond humanity’s knowledge and was moving farther and farther away in interstellar space. It would be far better to ask nicely, which then turned into begging. Gradually, as humans begged and begged in a cultural environment of waxing religiosity, the image of the Trisolarans transformed again. Since they possessed the secret of broadcasting the safety notice, they were angels of salvation sent by God. The only reason that humanity had not yet received such salvation was due to insufficient expression of their faith. And so the pleas directed at Sophon turned into prayers, and the Trisolarans once again became gods. Sophon’s abode became a holy place, and every day, large numbers of the faithful gathered below the giant tree. At its peak, the congregation was a group several times larger than that of pilgrims in Mecca, forming an endless sea. Sophon’s house hung in the air about four hundred meters above the crowd. From the surface it appeared tiny, hidden from time to time by the cloud it generated. Occasionally, Sophon would appear—the crowd couldn’t see any details, but they could see her kimono as a tiny flower in the cloud. These moments were few and far between, and they became sacred. Adherents of every faith in the crowd expressed their piety in various ways: some prayed more fervently, some cheered, some cried and poured out their hearts, some knelt, some threw themselves down and touched their foreheads to the ground. On these occasions, Sophon bowed slightly to the mass of humanity below and then quietly retreated into her house.
“Even if salvation were to arrive now, it would be meaningless,” said Bi Yunfeng. “We have no shred of dignity left.” He had once been one of the candidates for the Swordholder position, as well as the commander of the Earth Resistance Movement’s branch in Asia.
There were still many sensible people like him pursuing in-depth research on the safety notice in all areas of study. The explorers worked tirelessly, trying to find a method built on a solid scientific foundation. But all avenues of research seemed to lead to one inescapable conclusion: If there really were a way to release a safety notice, it would require a brand-new kind of technology. The technology must far exceed the current level of science on Earth and was unknown to humankind.
Like a moody child, human society’s attitude toward Blue Space, which had already vanished in the depths of space, transformed again. From an angel of salvation, this ship again turned into a ship of darkness, a ship of devils. It had hijacked Gravity and cast a sinful spell of destruction on two worlds. Its crimes were unforgivable. It was Satan in the flesh. Sophon’s worshippers also pleaded for the Trisolaran Fleet to find and destroy the two ships, to safeguard justice and the dignity of the Lord. As with their other prayers, Sophon did not respond.
Simultaneously, Cheng Xin’s image in the public consciousness slowly changed as well. She was no longer a Swordholder unqualified for the position; she was again a great woman. People dug up an ancient story, Ivan
Turgenev’s “Threshold,” and used it to describe her. Like the young Russian girl in that story, Cheng Xin had stepped over the threshold that no others dared to approach. Then, at the crucial moment, she had shouldered an unimaginable burden and accepted the endless humiliation that would be her lot in the days to come by refusing to send out the signal of death to the cosmos. People did not linger on the consequences of her failure to deter; instead, they focused on her love for humanity, the love that had caused so much pain that she had gone blind.
At a deeper level, the public’s feeling for Cheng Xin was a reaction to her subconscious maternal love. In this family-less age, mother’s love was a rare thing. The welfare state that seemed like heaven satiated the children’s need for the love of a mother. But now, humanity was exposed to the cruel, cold universe, where Death’s scythe may fall at a moment’s notice. The baby that was human civilization had been abandoned in a sinister, terrifying dark forest; it cried, hoping for a mother’s touch. Cheng Xin was the perfect target for this yearning, mother’s love incarnate. As the public’s feelings for Cheng Xin gradually melded with the thickening atmosphere of religiosity, her image as the Saint Mary of a new era once again gained prominence.
For Cheng Xin, this cut off the last of her will to live.
Life had long ago become a burden and torture for Cheng Xin. She had chosen to remain alive because she didn’t want to avoid what she needed to bear—her continued existence was the fairest punishment for her great error, and she accepted it. But now, she had turned into a dangerous cultural symbol. The growing cult centered on her was adding to the fog that already trapped a lost humanity. To vanish forever would be her last act of responsibility.
Cheng Xin found the decision to be easy—effortless, really. She was like someone who had long ago planned to go on a long journey: finally, she had been relieved of her daily grind, and she was ready to pack lightly and set off.
She took out a tiny bottle: the medication for short-term hibernation. There was only one capsule left inside. It was the same drug she had used to hibernate for six years, but without an external cardiopulmonary bypass system to maintain life, it was fatal.
Cheng Xin’s mind was as transparent and empty as space: there was no memory, no sensation. The surface of her consciousness was smooth as a mirror, the setting sun of her life reflected in it, as natural as any dusk.… It was right and proper. If a world could turn to dust in the snap of a finger, then the end of a person’s life should be as placid and indifferent as a dewdrop rolling off the end of a blade of grass.
Just as Cheng Xin picked up the capsule in her hand, her phone rang. It was Fraisse.
“Child, the moon is very lovely tonight. I just saw a kangaroo. I guess the refugees hadn’t eaten them all.”
Fraisse never used the video function of his phone, as though he thought his words would be more vivid than any image. Although she knew he couldn’t see her, Cheng Xin smiled. “That’s wonderful, Fraisse. Thank you.”
“Child, everything is going to get better.” Fraisse hung up.
He shouldn’t have noticed anything different. Their conversations were all this brief.
艾 AA had come that morning as well, excitedly telling Cheng Xin that her company had won the bid on another large project: building an even bigger cross in geosynchronous orbit.
Cheng Xin realized that she still had two friends. In this brief, nightmarish period of history, she had only
these two real friends. If she ended her life now, how would they feel? Her transparent, empty heart tightened and cramped up, as though squeezed by numerous hands. The placid surface of the lake in her mind shattered, and the reflected sunlight burned like fire. Seven years ago, she hadn’t been able to press that red button in front of all of humanity; now, thinking of her two friends, she could not swallow this capsule that would bring her relief. She saw again her boundless weakness. She was nothing.
A moment ago, the river in front of her had been frozen solid, and she could have easily walked to the other shore. But now, the surface had melted, and she would have to wade through the black, icy water. This was going to be a long process of torture, but she trusted herself to walk to the other shore. Perhaps she would hesitate and struggle until the next morning, but she would swallow that capsule in the end. She had no other choice.
The phone rang again. It was Sophon. She invited Cheng Xin and Luo Ji to tea again. She was going to tell them good-bye for the last time.
Slowly, Cheng Xin put the capsule back in the bottle. She would make this appointment. This meant she had enough time to wade across the river of pain.
* * *
The next morning, Cheng Xin and Luo Ji returned to Sophon’s aerial abode. They saw a gigantic crowd gathered a few hundred meters below it. Sophon had announced to the world last night that she was going to leave, and the crowd of worshippers was several times larger than typical. Instead of the usual prayers and pleas, the congregation was silent, as though waiting for something.
In front of the door to her house, Sophon welcomed them the same way.
This time, the Way of Tea was conducted in silence. They all knew that everything that needed to be said between the two worlds had already been said.
Cheng Xin and Luo Ji could both feel the presence of the people below. The expectant crowd was like a giant noise-absorbing carpet that deepened the silence in the parlor. It was almost oppressive, as if the clouds outside the window had grown more solid. But Sophon’s movements remained gentle and graceful, making no noise even when the implements came in contact with porcelain. Sophon seemed to be using her grace and elegance to counteract the heavy air. More than an hour passed, but Cheng Xin and Luo Ji did not feel the flow of time.
Sophon presented a bowl of tea to Luo Ji with both hands. “I’m leaving. I hope the two of you will take care and be well.” Then she presented Cheng Xin with her bowl. “The universe is grand, but life is grander. Perhaps fate will direct us to meet again.”
Cheng Xin sipped the tea quietly. She closed her eyes to concentrate on the taste. The clear bitterness seemed to suffuse her body, as though she had drunk cold starlight. She drank slowly, but finally, she was done.
Cheng Xin and Luo Ji got up to say farewell for the last time. Sophon accompanied them all the way up onto the branch. They saw that the white clouds generated by Sophon’s house had disappeared for the first time in memory. Below them, the sea of expectant people still waited in silence.
“Before we say good-bye, I’m going to finish my last mission. It’s a message.” Sophon bowed deeply to
both of them. Then she straightened up and looked at Cheng Xin. “Yun Tianming would like to see you.”
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