Chapter 12 Red Coast II
Novel：The Three-Bodyauthor：Cinxin Liu pubdate：2019-02-14 14:48
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Chapter 12 Red Coast II
Ye wasn't given a real job immediately after entering Red Coast Base. Under the watchful eyes of a security guard, she was only allowed to perform a few technical tasks.
Back when she was still a second-year in college, Ye had already known the professor who would end up being her thesis advisor. He had told Ye that to do astrophysics research, it was useless to excel at theory without knowledge of experimental methods and observational skills—at least, that was true in China. This was very different from her father's view, but Ye tended to agree with her professor. She had always felt that her father was too theoretical.
Her advisor was one of the pioneers of Chinese radio astronomy. Under his influence, Ye developed a great interest in radio astronomy as well. Thus, she taught herself electrical engineering and computer science, the foundation for experiments and observations in the field. During the two years when she was a graduate student, the two of them had tested China's first small-scale radio telescope and had accumulated a great deal of experience in the area.
She hadn't expected the knowledge would one day be useful at Red Coast Base.
Eventually, Ye was assigned to the Transmission Department to maintain and repair equipment. She quickly became an indispensable part of their operations.
Initially, this confused her a bit. She was the only person at the base who wasn't in a military uniform. And given her political status, everyone kept their distance. She had no way to ward off the loneliness other than devoting herself to work. However, this wasn't enough to explain why they relied on her so much. This was, after all, a key defense project. How could the technical staff here be so mediocre that she, who had not majored in engineering and who had no real working experience, easily took over their jobs?
She learned the reason soon enough. Contrary to appearances, the base's staff was composed of the best technical officers from the Second Artillery Corps. She could study all her life and have no hope of catching up to those excellent electrical and computer engineers. But the base was remote, the conditions were poor, and the main research work of the Red Coast Project was already completed. All that was left was maintenance and operation, so there was little opportunity for achieving any interesting technical results. Most people did not want to be indispensable, because they understood that in highly classified projects like this, once someone was put into a core technical position, it would be very difficult for him to be transferred out. Thus, all of them tried to deliberately hide their technical competence as they went about their jobs.
Yet, they couldn't appear too incompetent. So if the supervisor said to go east, they would work hard to move west, purposely playing the fool. Their hope was to put the following thought into the supervisor's head: This man is working hard, but he's limited in his skills. There's no point in keeping him, because he'll only get in the way. Many really did successfully obtain transfers through this method.
Under such conditions, Ye gradually became a key technician at the base. But the other reason that she could achieve this position puzzled her, and for that she could find no explanation: Red Coast Base-at least the parts that she had contact with—had no real advanced technology at all.
Over time, as Ye continued to work at the Transmission Department, the restrictions on her were gradually relaxed, and even the security guard assigned to watch her was called off. She was allowed to touch most components of Red Coast's systems, and could read the relevant technical documents. Of course, there were still areas forbidden to her. For example, she wasn't allowed near the computer control systems. However, Ye discovered that the impact of those systems on Red Coast was far smaller than she had imagined. For instance, the Transmission Department's computers consisted of three machines even more primitive than DJS130(*24). They used cumbersome magnetic core memory and paper input tape, and their longest uptime did not exceed fifteen hours. She also saw that the precision of Red Coast's targeting system was very low, probably not even on par with that of an artillery cannon.
[Translator's Note(*24): This was a Chinese 16-bit minicomputer modeled on the American Data General Nova.]
One day, Commissar Lei came to speak with Ye. By this time, Yang Weining and Lei Zhicheng had swapped places in her eyes. During those years, Yang, as the highest-ranked technical officer, did not enjoy a high political status, and outside of technical matters he had little authority. He had to be careful with his subordinates, and had to speak politely even to the sentries, lest he be deemed to have an intellectual's resistant attitude toward thought reform and collaboration with the masses. Thus, whenever he encountered difficulties in his work, Ye became his punching bag. But as Ye gained importance as a technical staff member, Commissar Lei gradually shed his initial rudeness and coldness and became kind toward her.
Commissar Lei said, "Wenjie, by now you're pretty familiar with the transmission system. This is also Red Coast's offensive component, its principal part. Can you give me your views of the system as a whole?"
They were sitting at the lip of the steep cliff on Radar Peak, the most deluded spot on the base. The cliff seemed to drop straight off into a bottomless abyss. At first, the spot had frightened Ye, but now she liked to come here by herself.
Ye wasn't sure how to answer Commissar Lei's question. She was only responsible for maintaining and repairing equipment and knew nothing about Red Coast as a whole, including its operation, targets, and so on. Indeed, she wasn't allowed to know. She wasn't even permitted to be present at the transmission. She pondered the question, began to speak, and stopped herself.
"Go ahead, speak your mind," Commissar Lei said. He ripped out a blade of grass next to him and played with it absentmindedly.
"It... is just a radio transmitter."
"That's right, just a radio transmitter." The commissar nodded, satisfied. "Do you know about microwave ovens?"
Ye shook her head.
"They are a luxury plaything of the capitalist West. Food is heated by the energy generated from absorbing microwave radiation. At my previous research station, in order to precisely test the high-temperature aging of certain components, we imported one. After work, we would use it to warm mantou bread, bake a potato, that sort of thing. It's very interesting: The inside heats up first while the outside remains cold."
Commissar Lei stood up and paced back and forth. He was so close to the edge of the cliff that it made Ye nervous.
"Red Coast is a microwave oven, and its heating targets are the enemy's space vessels. If we can apply microwave radiation at a specific power level of one-tenth of a watt to one watt per square centimeter, we'll be able to disable or destroy many electronic components of satellite communications, radar, and navigation systems."
Ye finally understood. Even though Red Coast was only a radio transmitter, that didn't mean it was conventional. The most surprising aspect was its transmission power: as high as twenty-five megawatts! This wasn't just more powerful than all communication transmissions, also all radar transmissions. Red Coast relied on a set of gigantic capacitors. Because the power requirements were so high, the transmission circuits were also different from conventional designs. Ye now under
stood the purpose of such ultrahigh power in the system, but something seemed wrong right away. "The emission from the system seems to be modulated."
"That's right. However, the modulation is unlike that used in conventional radio communications. The purpose isn't to add information, but to use shifting frequencies and amplitudes to penetrate possible shielding by the enemy Of course, those are still experimental."
Ye nodded. Many of her questions had now been answered.
"Recently, two target satellites were launched from Jiuquan. The test attacks by Red Coast were completely successful. Temperature inside the satellites reached nearly a thousand degrees, and all instruments and photographic equipment onboard were destroyed. In future wars, Red Coast can effectively strike at the enemy's communication and reconnaissance satellites, like the KH-8 spy satellites on which the American Imperialists rely, as well as the KH-9, which are about to be launched. The lower-orbit spy satellites of the Soviet Revisionists are even more vulnerable. If necessary, we even have the capacity to destroy the Salyut space station of the Soviet Revisionists and the Skylab station that American Imperialists plan on launching next year."
"Commissar! What are you telling her?" Someone spoke behind Ye. She turned and saw that it was Yang Weining, who stared at Commissar Lei severely.
"This is for work," Commissar Lei said, and then left. Yang glanced at Ye without saying anything and followed Lei. Ye was left all by herself.
He's the one who brought me here, but he still doesn't trust me, a disconsolate Ye thought. She was worried about Commissar Lei. At the base, Lei had more authority than Yang, since the commissar had the final vote on most important matters, but the way he rushed away with Yang seemed to indicate that he felt the chief engineer had caught him doing something wrong. This convinced Ye that Lei had made a personal decision to tell her about the true purpose of the Red Coast Project.
What will happen to him as a result of this decision? As she gazed at Commissar Lei's burly back, Ye felt a wave of gratitude. For her, trust was a luxury that she dared not wish for. Compared to Yang, Lei was closer to her image of a real military officer, possessing a soldier's frank and forthright manners. Yang, on the other hand, was nothing more than a typical intellectual of the period: cautious, timid, seeking only to protect himself. Even though Ye understood him, the wide gulf already between them grew wider.
The next day, Ye was transferred out of the Transmission Department and assigned to the Monitoring Department. At first, she thought this was related to the events of the day before, an attempt to move her away from the core of Red Coast. But after arriving at the Monitoring Department, she realized that this was more like the heart of Red Coast. Even though the two departments shared some resources, such as the antenna, the technology level of the Monitoring Department was far more advanced.
The Monitoring Department had a very sophisticated and sensitive radio receiver. A ruby-based traveling-wave maser(*25) amplified the signals received by the gigantic antenna, and in order to minimize interference, the core of the reception system was immersed in liquid helium at -269 degrees Celsius. Periodically, a helicopter came to replenish the supply of liquid helium. The reception system was thus capable of picking up very faint signals. Ye couldn't help but imagine how wonderful it would be to use the equipment for radio astronomy research.
[Translators Note(*25): A maser is like a laser, but for electromagnetic radiation, typically microwaves, not in the visible light range.]
The Monitoring Department's computer system was also much bigger and more complex than the one at the Transmission Department. The first time she entered the main computer room, Ye saw a row of cathode ray tube displays. She was stunned to see programming code scrolling across each of them, and the operators were free to edit and test the code using the keyboard. When she learned programming in college, the source code was always written on the grids of special programming paper, then transferred to paper tape using a typewriter - She had heard of input using a keyboard and screen, but this was the first time she had seen it.
The software available astonished her even more. She learned about something called FORTRAN, which allowed you to program using a language close to natural language. You could even type mathematical equations directly into the code! Programming in it was several times more efficient than programming in machine code. And then there was something called a database, which allowed for easy storage and manipulation of vast amounts of data.
Two days later, Commissar Lei sought Ye out for another talk. This time, they were in the main computer room of the Monitoring Department, in front of the row of green-glowing screens. Yang Weining sat close by, not part of their conversation, but also not willing to leave, which made Ye very uncomfortable.
"Wenjie," Commissar Lei began, "let me explain the work of the Monitoring Department to you. Simply put, the goal is to keep an eye on enemy activities in space, including intercepting communications between enemy space vessels and the ground, and between the space vessels themselves; collaborating with our telemetry, tracking, and command centers to determine the orbits of enemy space vessels and provide data for Red Coast's combat systems. In other words, the eyes of Red Coast are here."
Yang interrupted, "Commissar Lei, I don't think what you re doing is a good idea. There's no need to tell her these things."
Ye glanced at Yang and anxiously said, "Commissar, if it's not appropriate for me to know, then—"
"No, no, Wenjie." The commissar held up a hand to stop Ye from speaking. He turned to Yang. "Chief Yang, I' m going to tell you the same thing I did before. This is for work. For Wenjie to perform her duties better, she must be told the purpose of her work."
Yang stood up. "I will report this to our superiors."
"That is your right, of course. But do not fret, Chief Yang. I will assume responsibility for all consequences."
Yang got up and left with a bitter expression.
"Don't mind him. That's just the way Chief Yang is." Commissar Lei chuckled and shook his head. Then he stared at Ye and his tone became solemn. "Wenjie, when we first brought you to the base, the goal was simple. Red Coast's monitoring systems often had interference caused by electromagnetic radiation from solar flares and sunspots. Fortuitously, we saw your paper and realized that you had researched solar activity. Among Chinese scholars, your predictive model turned out to be the most accurate, so we wanted to ask for your help in solving this problem.
"But after you came, you showed very strong abilities, so we decided to give you more responsibilities. My thought was this: assign you first to the Transmission Department, then the Monitoring Department. This way, you'd gain a comprehensive understanding of Red Coast as a whole and we could wait and see where to assign you after that.
"Of course, as you can see, this plan has met with some resistance. But I have trust in you, Wenjie. Let me be clear: Until now, the trust placed in you has been mine, personally. I hope that you can continue to work hard and earn the trust of the organization as a whole." Commissar Lei placed a hand on Ye's shoulder. She felt the warmth and strength conveyed through it. "Wenjie, let me tell you my sincere hope: One day, I'd like to call you Comrade Ye."
Lei stood up and strode away in the confident manner of a soldier. Ye's eyes were filled with tears. Seen through them, the code on the screen became flickering flames. This was the first time she had cried since the death of her father.
As Ye familiarized herself with the work of the Monitoring Department, she discovered that she was far less successful here than at the Transmission Department. The computer science knowledge she had was outdated, and she had to learn the software techniques from scratch. Even though Commissar Lei trusted her, the restrictions on her were severe. She was allowed to view the software source code, for example but was forbidden from touching the database.
On a day-to-day basis, Ye was mainly supervised by Yang. He became even ruder to her, and would get angry at her for the smallest things.
Commissar Lei talked to him about it multiple times without effect.
It seemed that Yang became filled with a nameless anxiety as soon as he saw Ye.
Gradually, as Ye encountered more and more unexplainable matters in her work, she came to realize that the Red Coast Project was far more complex than she had imagined.
One day, the monitoring system intercepted a transmission that, after being deciphered by the computer, turned out to be a few satellite photographs. The blurry images were sent to the General Staff Department's Surveying and Mapping Bureau for interpretation. They turned out to be images of important military targets in China, including the naval harbor at Qingdao and several key factories of the Third Front program(*26). Analysis confirmed that these images came from the KH-9 American reconnaissance system.
[Translators Note(*26): The Third Front program was a secret, military-led industrialization effort during the Cultural Revolution that built factories in China's interior, where they would be less vulnerable to American and Soviet attacks.]
The first KH-9 satellite had just been launched. Although it mainly relied on recoverable film capsules for intelligence gathering, it was also being used to test out the more advanced technique of radio transmission of digital images. Due to the technology's immaturity, the satellite transmitted at a low frequency, which increased its range of reception sufficiently for it to be intercepted by Red Coast. And because it was only a test, the encryption was not very secure and could be broken.
The KH-9 was without a doubt an important monitoring target, as it presented a rare opportunity to gather more information about American satellite reconnaissance systems. Yet, after the third day, Yang Weining ordered a change in the frequency and direction of monitoring and abandoned the target. Ye found the decision incomprehensible.
Another event also shocked her. Even though she was now in the Monitoring Department, sometimes the Transmission Department still needed her. One time, she accidentally saw the frequency settings for a few upcoming transmissions. She discovered that the designated frequencies for transmissions 304, 318, and 325 were lower than microwave range and could not result in any heating effect in the target.
One day, an officer summoned Ye to the main base administrative office out of the blue. From the officer's tone and expression, Ye knew that something had gone wrong.
As she walked into the office, the scene before her seemed familiar: All the senior officers of the base were present, along with two officers she didn't know. However, she could tell at a glance that they were from higher up in the chain of command.
Everyone's icy stares focused on her, but the sensitivity she had developed over the stormy years informed her that she wasn't the one in big trouble today. She was at most a sideshow. She saw Commissar Lei sitting in a corner with a dejected look.
He's finally going to pay for trusting me, she thought. At once, she decided that she would do whatever she could to save him. She would take responsibility for everything, even lie if necessary.
But Commissar Lei was the first to speak, and what he said was completely unexpected. "Ye Wenjie, I must make it clear at the start that I do not agree with what is about to be done. The decision was made by Chief Engineer Yang after requesting instructions from our superiors. He alone will be responsible for all consequences."
Commissar Lei turned to look at Yang, who nodded solemnly. Lei continued, "In order to better utilize your skills at Red Coast Base, Chief Engineer Yang repeatedly requested permission from our superiors to abandon the cover story we've been using with you. Our comrades from the Army Political Department"—he indicated the two officers Ye didn't know—"were sent to investigate your work situation. Finally, with the approval of our superiors, we've decided to inform you of the true nature of the Red Coast Project "
Only after a long pause did Ye finally understand Commissar Lei's meaning: He had been lying to her all along.
I hope you will treasure this opportunity and work hard to redeem your sins. After this, you must behave with the utmost propriety. Any reactionary behavior will be severely punished!" Commissar Lei stared at Ye. He was a completely different person from the image Ye had formed of him. "Are we clear? Good. Now Chief Yang can explain."
The others left, leaving only Yang and Ye.
"If you don't want this, there's still time."
Ye discerned the weight behind these words. She now understood Yang's anxiety whenever he had seen her the last few weeks. To make full use of her skills, it was necessary for her to know the truth about Red Coast. However, this choice would extinguish the last ray of hope she had of ever leaving Radar Peak. Once she said yes, she really would spend the rest of her life at Red Coast Base.
"I agree," Ye said, softly, but resolutely.
Thus, on this early summer evening, as the wind howled through the giant parabolic antenna, and as the forest rustled over the Greater Khingan Mountains in the distance, Yang Weining explained to Ye Wenjie the true nature of Red Coast.
It was a fairy tale for the ages, even more incredible than the commissar's lies.
Chapter 12 Vocabulary Note
indispensable - someone or something that is indispensable is so important or useful that it is impossible to manage without them
mediocre - not very good; second rate
cumbersome - heavy and difficult to move
uptime - the period of time when a computer is working normally and is able to be used; OPP downtime
par - on a par with - to be at the same level or standard
lest - in order to make sure that something will not happen; used to show that someone is afraid or worried that a particular thing might happen
offensive - for attacking;
possess an offensive weapon / take offensive positions
lip - the edge of a hollow or deep place in the land
rip - to remove something quickly and violently, using your hands
plaything - a toy
modulate - to change the form of a radio signal so that it can be broadcast more effectively
reconnaissance - the military activity of sending soldiers and aircraft to find out about the enemy's forces
disconsolate - extremely sad and hopeless
burly - a burly man is big and strong
forthright - direct and honest - used in order to show approval; straightforward
gulf - gap; or the great difference and lack of understanding between two groups of people, especially in their beliefs, opinions, and way of life;
helium - chemical element: symbol He
replenish - to put new supplies into something or to fill something again
cathode - the negative electrode, marked (-)
grid - a pattern of straight lines that cross each other and form squares
telemetry - using automatic equipment to make measurements and transmit data from remote sources back to a receiving station by radio
fret - to worry about something, especially when there is no need
assume - to start to have responsibility
fortuitously - happening by chance, especially in a way that has a good result
reconnaissance - the military activity of sending soldiers and aircraft to find out about the enemy's forces
sideshow - an event that is much less important or serious than another one
dejected - unhappy, disappointed or sad
discern - to notice or understand something by thinking about it carefully
rustle - if leaves, papers or clothes rustle, them make a noise as they rub against each other
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