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THE WALLFACERS Third parts

Novel:The dark forestauthor: pubdate:2019-03-01 22:56

“Uncle Zhang, you don’t have to decide now. You’ve asked all the necessary questions, and it’s not a small amount of money, after all,” Shi Xiaoming said to Zhang Yuanchao, his face a picture of serenity.
“It’s not that. Is the plan for real? The TV says—”
“Don’t you mind what the TV says. Two weeks ago the government spokesperson said that freezing accounts was impossible, but now look what’s happened.… Think reasonably. You’re an ordinary man, and you’re thinking about the continuation of your family line. What about the president and the premier? Won’t they be thinking about the continuation of the Chinese people? And the UN about the continuation of the human race? This UN special session is actually an international cooperative plan that will formally launch the Human Escape Plan. This is a pressing matter.”
Lao Zhang slowly nodded. “It does seem that way when you think about it. But I still feel like escape is a long way off. Should I really be worrying about it?”
“Uncle Zhang, you misunderstand. Escape can’t be all that far off. Do you think the escape ships will only take off three or four hundred years from now? If that were true, then the Trisolaran Fleet could catch them easily.”
“Then when will the ships head out?” “You’re about to have a grandson, right?” “Yes.”
“Your grandson will see those ships take off.” “He’ll be aboard one?”
“No, that’s impossible. But his grandson could be.”
“That’s…” Zhang worked it out. “About seventy or eighty years.”
“It’ll be longer than that. The wartime government will tighten population controls and build delays into
 
the birth restrictions, so it’ll be forty years to a generation. The ships will take off in about one hundred twenty years.”
“That’s pretty quick. Can they be built in time?”
“Uncle Zhang, think back to what things were like one hundred twenty years ago. It was still the Qing Dynasty! It took over a month to go from Hangzhou to Beijing, and the emperor had to spend days cooped up in a sedan chair to get to his summer retreat. Now it’s less than three days from Earth to the moon. Technology develops fast, which means that the pace of development is always on the increase. If you add to that the fact that the whole world is pouring all its energy into space technology, then there’s no question at all that spaceships can be created in about one hundred twenty years.”
“Isn’t space travel pretty dangerous?”
“That’s true, but won’t Earth be dangerous then, too? Look at how things are changing now. The country’s main economic force is being used to establish a space fleet, which is not a commercial good and will not bring in one cent in profit. People’s lives will only get worse. Add to that the sheer size of our base population, and simply having enough to eat becomes a problem. And then take a look at the international situation. Developing countries don’t have the ability to escape, and developed countries have refused to socialize their technology. But the poorer and smaller countries won’t give up. Aren’t they threatening to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty? And they may take more extreme actions in the future. Who knows—in a hundred and twenty years, before the alien fleet even arrives, the world might be engulfed in the flames of war! Who knows what sort of life your great-grandson’s generation will lead. Besides, the escape ships aren’t what you imagine. Comparing them to the Shenzhou spaceship and the ISS is ridiculous. The ships will be big, each of them a small city, and a complete ecosystem to boot. Just like a tiny Earth. Humanity can live on them forever without any outside supplies. And most importantly, there will be hibernation. We can do that now, even. The passengers on board will spend most of their time in hibernation, where a century feels like no more than a day, until they reach the new world or they reach an accord with the Trisolarans to return to the Solar System. Then they’ll wake up. Isn’t that a much better life than suffering back on Earth?”
Zhang Yuanchao thought this over in silence.
Shi Xiaoming went on. “Of course, to be completely honest with you, space travel is indeed a dangerous thing. No one knows what sort of hazards they might encounter in space. I know you’re mostly doing this for the continuation of your Zhang lineage, but don’t let it worry you…”
Zhang stared at him as if he had been pricked. “How can you young people say things like that? Why wouldn’t I worry?”
“Let me finish, Uncle Zhang. I don’t mean it like that. I just mean that even if you don’t plan on sending your descendants to flee in spaceships, this fund is worth buying, guaranteed. Once it’s available for the general public to buy, the price will soar. There are lots of rich people, you know, and there aren’t many other avenues for investment, and hoarding is illegal. Besides, the more money you have, the more you think about preserving your line, wouldn’t you say?”
“Right. I know that.”
“Uncle Zhang, I’m being totally honest here. The escape fund is currently in a preliminary phase and has only a small number of special internal salespeople. It wasn’t easy for me to get in on the quota. At any rate,
 
when you’ve thought it over, give me a call, and I’ll help you fill out the paperwork.”
When Shi Xiaoming had gone, Lao Zhang stood on the balcony looking out at the sky, which hung a little hazily over the halo of the city, and said to himself, My children, will your grandpa really send you someplace where night lasts forever?
 
*    *    *
When King Wen of Zhou next set foot onto the desolation of Three Body world, a small sun was rising. Although it did not give much heat, it lit the wasteland quite clearly. The wasteland was completely empty.
“Is there anyone here? Anyone?”
Then his eyes lit up as he saw someone riding a galloping horse from the horizon. Recognizing him at a distance as Newton, he ran toward him, waving wildly. Newton soon reached his side, reined in his horse, and, after dismounting, hurriedly adjusted his wig.
“What are you shouting for? Who restarted this damned place?”
King Wen didn’t answer his question, but took his hand and said urgently, “Comrade, my comrade, listen to me. The Lord has not abandoned us. Or, rather, Its abandonment was for a reason, and It will need us in the future. It…”
“I know that,” Newton said, impatiently brushing aside King Wen’s hand. “The sophons sent me a message too.”
“So that means that the Lord sent a message to lots of us at the same time. Excellent. The organization’s contact with the Lord won’t ever be monopolized again.”
“Does the organization still exist?” Newton wiped away sweat with a handkerchief.
“Of course it exists. The Redemptionists totally collapsed after the global strike, and the Survivors split off and developed into an independent force. Only the Adventists are left in the org now.”
“The strike purified the org. This is a good thing.”
“Since you’re here, you must be an Adventist. But you seem to be out of the loop. Are you on your own?” “My only contact is with one other comrade, and he didn’t tell me anything but this Web address. I barely
escaped the awful global strike with my life.”
“Your escape instincts were ably demonstrated during the Qin Shi Huang era.” Newton looked around. “Is it safe?”
“Of course. We’re at the bottom of a multilevel maze, and it’s practically impossible to discover. Anyone who managed to storm their way in here wouldn’t be able to trace user locations. For security reasons, after the strike, the org put every branch into isolation with mutual contact kept to a minimum. We need a place to meet, and a buffer area for new members. This is more secure than the real world.”
“Have you noticed that attacks on the organization in the real world have slackened considerably?” “They’re clever. They know the org is the only means of obtaining intelligence on the Lord, as well as the
only opportunity of getting their hands on the technology that the Lord passes to us, even though there’s only a minute chance of that happening. That’s the reason they’ll let the org continue to exist to a certain extent, but I think they’ll come to regret it.”
“The Lord isn’t so clever. It doesn’t even comprehend the ability to be clever.”
 
“So It needs us. The existence of the org is valuable, and all comrades should know of this as soon as possible.”
Newton mounted his horse. “Very well. I’ve got to go. I’ll stay longer once I’ve verified that it’s really secure here.”
“I guarantee to you that it’s absolutely safe.”
“If that’s true, then there’ll be more comrades gathering here next time. Good-bye.” Saying this, Newton urged his horse off into the distance. By the time its hoofbeats had dissipated, the small sun had become a shooting star, and a cloak of darkness descended upon the world.
*    *    *
Luo Ji lay limp on the bed, watching the woman put on clothes after a shower through eyes still hazy from sleep. The sun, already high in the sky, shone through the curtains and turned her into a graceful projected silhouette, like a scene from a black-and-white movie he had forgotten the name of. But what he needed to remember now was her name. What was she called? Keep calm. First, her last name: If it was Zhang, then she would be Zhang Shan. Or was it Chen? Then, Chen Jingjing … no, those were previous women. He thought about looking at his phone, but it was still in his pocket and he had tossed his clothes on the carpet. Besides, they had only known each other for a little while and he hadn’t entered her number into his phone yet. The important thing now was not to have it be like that one time he’d asked outright—the consequences had been disastrous. So he turned to the television, which she had turned on and muted. On the screen, seated around a large round table, the UN Security Council was in session—wait, it wasn’t the Security Council anymore, but he couldn’t remember its new name. He was really out of it.
“Turn it up,” he said. His words sounded distant without a term of endearment, but he didn’t care about that now.
“You really seem to be interested.” She sat combing her hair but didn’t adjust the sound.
Luo Ji reached over to the bedside table and picked up a lighter and a cigarette and lit it as he stretched his bare feet out of his towel and wiggled his big toes in satisfaction.
“Look at you. You call yourself a scholar?” She watched his wriggling toes in the mirror.
“A young scholar,” he added, “with few accomplishments. But that’s because I don’t put in the effort. I’m actually full of inspiration. Sometimes, what other people might spend a lifetime working on, I can figure out with a moment’s thought.… Believe it or not, I was almost famous once.”
“Because of that subculture stuff?”
“No, not that. It was another thing I was working on at the same time. I established cosmic sociology.” “What?”
“It’s the sociology of aliens.”
She snickered, then tossed her comb aside and began putting on her makeup. “Don’t you know about the celebrity tendency in academia? I could’ve been a star.” “Alien researchers are a dime a dozen these days.”
“That’s only after all this new crap came out,” Luo Ji said as he pointed at the mute television, which was still showing the large table and the people seated round it. The segment was awfully long. Was it live?
 
“Academics didn’t use to study aliens. They sifted through piles of old paper and become celebrities that way. But later the public got tired of the cultural necrophilia of that old crew, and that’s when I came along.” He stretched his bare arms toward the ceiling. “Cosmic sociology, aliens, and lots of alien races. More of them than there are people on Earth, tens of billions! The producer of that Lecture Room television program talked about doing a series with me, but then it all actually happened, and then…” He swept a circle with a finger, and sighed.
She wasn’t listening too closely to him, reading the subtitles on the television instead: “‘We reserve all options in regard to Escapism…’ What does that mean?”
“Who’s talking?”
“It looks like Karnoff.”
“He’s saying that Escapism needs to be treated as harshly as the ETO, and that a guided missile needs to be dropped on anyone making a Noah’s Ark.”
“That’s kind of harsh.”
“No,” he said forcefully. “It’s the wisest strategy. I came up with it long ago. And even if it doesn’t come to that, no one’s going to fly away, anyway. You ever read a book by Liang Xiaosheng called Floating City?”
“I haven’t. It’s pretty old, isn’t it?”
“Right. I read it when I was a kid. Shanghai’s about to fall into the ocean, and a group of people go house to house seizing life preservers and then destroying them en masse, for the sole purpose of making sure that no one would live if everyone couldn’t. I remember in particular there was one little girl who took the group to the door of one house and cried out, ‘They still have one!’”
“You’re just the sort of asshole that always sees society as trash.”
“Bullshit. The fundamental axiom of economics is the human mercenary instinct. Without that assumption, the entire field would collapse. There isn’t any fundamental axiom for sociology yet, but it might be even darker than economics. The truth always picks up dust. A small number of people could fly off into space, but if we knew it would come to that, why would we have bothered in the first place?”
“Bothered with what?”
“Why would we have had the Renaissance? Why the Magna Carta? Why the French Revolution? If humanity had stayed divided into classes, kept in place by the law’s iron rule, then when the time came, the ones who needed to leave would leave, and the ones who had to stay behind would stay. If this took place in the Ming or Qing Dynasties, then I’d leave, of course, and you’d stay behind. But that’s not possible now.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you took off right now,” she said.
Which was, in fact, the truth. They had reached a mutual parting of ways. He had been able to reach this point with all of his previous lovers, never early or late. He was especially pleased with his control over the pace this time. He had known her for just one week, and the breakup proceeded smoothly, as elegantly as a rocket discarding its booster.
He backtracked to an earlier topic: “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to establish cosmic sociology, you know. Do you want to know whose it was? You’re the only one I’m going to tell, so don’t get scared.”
“Whatever. I can’t believe most of what you say anyway, apart from one thing.” “Uh … forget it. What one thing?”
 
“Come on and get up. I’m hungry.” She picked up his clothes from the carpet and threw them on the bed.
They ate breakfast in the main restaurant of the hotel. Most of the occupants of the tables around them looked serious, and at times they could catch snatches of conversation. Luo Ji didn’t want to listen, but he was like a candle on a summer night. The words, like insects crowding around the flame, kept working their way into his head: Escapism, socialized technology, ETO, transformation to a wartime economy, equatorial base, charter amendment, PDC, near-Earth primary warning and defensive perimeter, independent integrated mode …
“Our age has gotten really dull, hasn’t it?” Luo Ji said. He stopped cutting his egg and set down his fork.
She nodded. “I agree. I saw a game show question on TV yesterday that was really moronic. Hands on buzzers.” She pointed a fork at Luo Ji in imitation of the host. “One hundred and twenty years before the doomsday, your thirteenth generation will be alive. True or false?”
Luo Ji picked up his fork again and shook his head. “It’s not going to be any generation of mine.” He folded his hands as if in prayer. “My grand family line will die out with me.”
She gave a dismissive snort. “You asked me which of your lines I believe. That’s the one. You’ve said it before. That’s the sort of person you are.”
So that’s why she was leaving him? He didn’t want to ask about it for fear of complicating the issue, but she seemed to read his thoughts, and said, “I’m that sort of person too. It’s really annoying to see certain things about yourself in other people.”
“Particularly in a member of the opposite sex,” Luo Ji said, nodding. “But if you need to justify it, it’s perfectly responsible behavior.”
“What behavior? Not having kids? Of course it is.” Luo Ji pointed his fork at the people around them discussing economic transformation. “You know what sort of lives their descendants will be living? They’ll be spending their days slaving away in the shipyards—the spaceship yards—and then they’ll line up at the canteen, bellies rumbling as they hold out their lunch pails waiting for that ladle of porridge … and when they’re older, it’ll be Uncle Sam Wants … no, Earth Wants You, and it’s off to find glory in the army.”
“It’ll be better for the doomsday generation.”
“Retiring to face doomsday. How miserable. And besides, that last generation’s grandparents might not get enough to eat. Still, even that future’s not going to come to pass. Just look at how stubborn the people of Earth are. I bet they resist till the end, at which point the real mystery is how they’ll eventually die.”
They left the hotel after their meal and emerged into the warm embrace of the morning sun. The air had a sweetness that was intoxicating.
“I’ve got to learn how to live. If I can’t swing that, it’ll be a damn shame,” Luo Ji said as he watched the passing traffic.
“Neither of us is gonna learn,” she said, her eyes searching for a taxi.
“Then…” Luo Ji looked inquiringly at her. Evidently there would be no need to remember her name. “Good-bye.” She nodded in his direction, and then they shook hands and shared a quick kiss.
“Maybe we’ll meet again.” He regretted this as soon as he said it. Everything had been fine up till this point, so why risk causing trouble? But his concern was unnecessary.
“I doubt it.” She turned quickly as she spoke, sending the bag on her shoulder flying into the air, a detail
 
that Luo Ji repeatedly called to mind afterward in an attempt to determine whether or not it had been deliberate. It was a distinctive LV bag, and he had seen her send it swinging while turning around many times before. But this time the bag swung straight at his face, and when he took a step backward to dodge it, he stumbled over the fire hydrant behind him and fell flat on his back.
That fall saved his life.
Meanwhile, the following was taking place on the street in front of them: Two cars collided head on, but before the noise of the impact had subsided, a Polo swerved to avoid the crash and came hurtling toward where the two of them were standing. Luo Ji’s fall turned into a successful dodge. Only the front bumper of the Polo brushed one of his feet, the one that was still elevated, nudging his body into a ninety-degree turn on the ground so that he faced the back end of the car. He didn’t hear the heavy thud of the other impact, but then he saw the woman’s body soar over the top of the car and fall behind it on the road like a boneless rag doll. As it tumbled, the trail of blood it left behind on the ground seemed like it ought to mean something. As he stared at the bloody symbol, Luo Ji finally remembered her name.

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