Broadcast Era, Year 7 Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales
As preparations for the Bunker Project got underway, Yun Tianming faded from the public consciousness. The IDC continued to work on deciphering the message, but it was only treated as one of the PDC’s many projects. The hope for retrieving important strategic intelligence from the stories diminished daily. Some members of the IDC even connected the Bunker Project with Yun Tianming’s fairy tales and came up with several interpretations that pointed to that as the right plan. For instance, the umbrella was naturally read as a hint at some defensive structure. Someone pointed out that the stone spheres at the rim of the canopy could symbolize the Jovian planets, but there were only four planets within the Solar System capable of acting as barriers. Tianming’s stories did not mention the number of ribs in the canopy, but, rationally, four ribs for an umbrella seemed rather low. Of course, not many people really believed this interpretation, but in some sense, Tianming’s stories had now acquired a status akin to the Bible. Without realizing it, people were no longer searching for real strategic intelligence, but reassurance that they were already on the right course.
Then came the unexpected breakthrough in interpreting the stories.
* * *
One day, 艾 AA came to see Cheng Xin. She had long ceased to accompany Cheng Xin to the IDC meetings, but devoted all her energy to the pursuit of involving the Halo Group in the Bunker Project. Building a new world outside the orbit of Jupiter represented a limitless opportunity for a space construction company. And wasn’t it fortuitous that the company was named the Halo Group when the “halos” of the Jovian planets would provide much of the resources for constructing the space cities?
“I want a bar of bath soap,” said AA.
Cheng Xin ignored her. Her eyes didn’t leave the e-book in front of her, and she asked AA a question about fusion physics. After her awakening, she had devoted herself to the study of modern science. Common Era spaceflight technologies had all disappeared by this point, and even a tiny shuttlecraft now relied on nuclear fusion propulsion. Cheng Xin had to begin with basic physics, but she made rapid progress. As a matter of fact, the gap of years didn’t impose too high a barrier in her studies: Most of the shifts in fundamental theory had occurred only after the start of the Deterrence Era. With some diligence, most scientists and engineers from the Common Era could once again adapt to their chosen professions.
AA turned off Cheng Xin’s book. “Give me bath soap!”
“I don’t have any. You understand that actual bath soap doesn’t have the magic of those fairy tales, right?”
What Cheng Xin really meant was for AA to stop acting so childish.
“I know. But I like bubbles. I want to take a bubble bath like the princess!”
Modern baths had nothing to do with bubbles. Soap and other similar toiletries had disappeared more than a century ago. Contemporary bathing practices involved two methods: supersonic waves and cleaning agents. Cleaning agents were nanorobots invisible to the naked eye. One could use them with or without water. They cleaned skin and other surfaces instantaneously.
Cheng Xin had to go with AA to shop for bath soap. Whenever she had been depressed in the past, AA often dragged her out like this to cheer her up.
Faced with the giant forest that was the city, they pondered their choices and decided in the end that the most likely place to find bath soap was a museum. They succeeded in their quest in a city history museum’s exhibit hall dedicated to the daily necessities of Common Era life: home appliances, clothing, furniture, etc. These objects were well preserved, and some even looked brand new. Mentally, Cheng Xin couldn’t accept that these were artifacts from centuries ago; to her, they seemed to be from just yesterday. Although so much had happened since she was first awakened, this new age still felt like a dream to her. Her spirit had stubbornly been living in the past.
The bath soap was in a display case along with other cleaning products such as laundry detergent. Cheng Xin stared at the translucent bar and saw the familiar eagle logo carved into the soap: product of the Nice Group. It was pure white, just like the soap in the story.
The museum director initially claimed that the bath soap was a precious artifact and not for sale, but then he proceeded to name an outrageous price.
“That’s enough money to build a small factory for cleaning products,” said Cheng Xin to AA.
“So? I’ve been working for you for years as the CEO. You should give me a present. And who knows?
Maybe it will appreciate in value in the future.”
And so they bought the bath soap. Cheng Xin had suggested that if AA really wanted a bubble bath, then it would be better to buy the bottle of bubble bath liquid. But AA insisted on the soap because the princess used soap. After the bar of bath soap was carefully retrieved from the display case, Cheng Xin held it and noticed that, despite the passage of more than two centuries, the soap still gave off a faint fragrance.
After returning home, AA ripped off the packaging and went into the bathroom with the soap. Then came the sound of the tub being filled.
Cheng Xin knocked on the door. “I suggest you don’t bathe with it. The soap is alkaline. Since you’ve never used it, your skin might be damaged.”
AA didn’t respond. A long time later, after the water stopped, the bathroom door opened. Cheng Xin saw that AA was still dressed. Waving a white sheet of paper at Cheng Xin, AA asked, “Do you know how to make an origami boat?”
“I suppose this is also a lost art?” asked Cheng Xin as she took the paper. “Obviously. We hardly see paper now.”
Cheng Xin sat down and began to fold. Her thoughts returned to that drizzly afternoon in college. She and Tianming sat by the reservoir and watched as the tiny paper boat she made drifted away on the water covered by mist and rain. Then she thought about the white sail at the end of Tianming’s stories.…
AA picked up the canopied paper boat and admired it. Then she indicated that Cheng Xin should follow her into the bathroom. With a pocketknife, she cut off a tiny corner from the bar of soap, poked a hole in the stern of the boat, and stuck the soap fragment into the hole. After giving Cheng Xin a mysterious smile, she deposited the boat into the calm water in the bathtub.
The boat began to move by itself, sailing from one edge of the tub to the other.
Cheng Xin understood right away. As the soap dissolved in the water, it lowered the surface tension of the water behind the boat. But as the tension in the water in front of the boat remained unchanged, it pulled the boat forward.
A bolt of lightning seemed to illuminate Cheng Xin’s thoughts. In her eyes, the serene surface of the water in the tub turned into the darkness of space, and the white paper boat sailed across this endless sea at the speed of light.…
Then Cheng Xin remembered something else: Tianming’s safety.
The string of her thought stopped vibrating immediately, as though a hand had been placed against it. Cheng Xin forced herself to look away from the boat, maintaining, as much as possible, a look of boredom and disinterest. The boat had now reached the other edge of the tub and stopped. She picked it out of the tub, shook off the water, and dropped it on the washstand. She almost tossed the boat into the toilet to flush it away, but thought that might appear excessive. She made up her mind, however, to not put the boat in water again.
Though Cheng Xin also leaned to the view that no sophons were present in the Solar System, it was better to be cautious.
Cheng Xin and AA locked gazes. They each saw in the eyes of the other the same thing: the excitement of enlightenment dancing within. Cheng Xin looked away. “I don’t have time to waste on silly games. If you want a bubble bath, go for it.” She left the bathroom.
AA followed. They poured themselves two glasses of wine and began to chat about random topics. First, they discussed the future of the Halo Group in the Bunker Project. Then they recalled their college lives in different centuries. Then they talked about life in the present. AA asked Cheng Xin why she had not found a man she liked after living in the new age for so long, and Cheng Xin replied that she couldn’t live a regular life, not yet. Then she pointed out that AA’s problem was that she dated too many men—of course she was welcome to bring her boyfriends to visit Cheng Xin, but it was best to bring only one at a time. They also discussed the fashions and tastes of the women of their respective eras, their similarities and differences.…
Language was merely the vehicle through which they expressed their excitement. They dared not stop, lest the silence rob them of their hidden joy. Finally, in a break in the meandering conversation that would not be noticed by a listener, Cheng Xin said, “Curvature—”
She finished her sentence with her eyes: propulsion? AA nodded. Her eyes said, Yes, curvature propulsion!
do you like《Death's End》? do you likeliu? like to praise