The Wallfacers Ninth parts
When he saw the oblong slab of iron ore for a second time, his first instinct was to dash himself into it headfirst and put an end to everything. Instead he lay down on the stone’s smooth surface, whose coolness drained off some of the irritation from his mind. With his body, he felt the hardness of the ore and, weirdly, thought of a problem put forth by his high school physics teacher: How can you make a marble bed as soft as a Simmons mattress? The answer: Dig out a depression in that marble the exact size and shape of a human body. Then when you lie in that depression, the pressure will be evenly distributed and it would feel incredibly soft. He closed his eyes and imagined that the warmth of his body was melting the iron ore beneath him and forming that kind of depression.… Gradually, this calmed him. After a time, he opened his eyes and looked up at the bare ceiling.
The Meditation Room had been designed by Dag Hammarskjöld, second secretary general of the UN, who believed that the UN ought to have a place for meditation removed from the history-making decisions of the General Assembly Hall. Luo Ji didn’t know whether any head of state or ambassador to the UN had actually meditated here, but surely when Hammarskjöld died in 1961 he never imagined that a Wallfacer like himself would be daydreaming here.
Luo Ji felt himself getting snared once again in a logical trap, and once again was convinced that he could not extricate himself.
So he turned his attention to the power in his hands. The least of all the Wallfacers, Say had said, but he would certainly be able to make use of a terrifying amount of resources. Most importantly, he didn’t have to justify his use of them to anyone. In fact, an important part of his mandate was to act in such a way as to keep others guessing, and furthermore, to do as much as possible to engender misunderstandings. Never in human history had there been such a thing! Maybe the absolute monarchs of old had been able to do whatever they wished, but even they ultimately had to account for their actions.
If all I’m left with is this peculiar power, why not make use of it? Luo Ji thought to himself, and sat up. After a short time thinking it over, he decided what his next step would be.
He got off the hard bed of stone, opened the door, and asked to see the chair of the PDC.
The incumbent chair, a Russian named Garanin, was a burly, white-bearded old man. The chair’s office was one floor below the secretary general’s. He was sending off a few visitors, half of them in uniform, when Luo Ji entered.
“Oh, Dr. Luo. I heard you had some minor problems, so I wasn’t in a hurry to get in touch with you.” “What are the other three Wallfacers doing?”
“They’re busy setting up general staff departments, a task I’d advise you to get on with immediately. I’ll send some advisors to assist you in the initial stages.”
“I don’t need a general staff department.”
“Oh? If you think it would be better that way.… If you do have the need, one can be set up at any time.”
“May I have a pen and paper?” “Of course.”
Looking at the paper, Luo Ji asked, “Mr. Chair, have you ever had a dream?” “What sort?”
“For instance, have you ever dreamt of living in some perfect place?”
Garanin shook his head with a wry smile. “I just flew in from London yesterday. I worked the entire trip, and when I arrived I slept less than two hours before I had to rush to work. When today’s regular PDC meeting finishes, I’ll have to fly overnight to Tokyo.… My whole life is rushing around, and I’m at home no more than three months out of the year. What’s the point of that kind of dream for me?”
“In my dreams, I’ve got lots of those places. I’ve chosen the most beautiful.” Luo Ji picked up the pencil and began sketching on the paper. “This isn’t colored, so you’ve got to imagine it. See these snowcapped mountains here? They’re steep like the swords of the gods or the tusks of the earth, and they shine a satiny silver against the blue sky. Utterly dazzling…”
“Ah,” Garanin said, watching with careful attention. “That’s a very cold place.”
“Wrong! The land beneath the snowcaps must not be cold. It’s a subtropical climate. This is important! In front of the mountains there’s a broad lake, and the water is even bluer than the sky, as blue as your wife’s eyes.…”
“My wife’s eyes are black.”
“Well, the lake water is a blue so deep it looks black. That’s even better. Surrounding the lake are swaths of forest and grasslands, but remember that there have to be both, not just one of the two. This is the place: snow peaks, a lake, forests, and grasslands. And everything is in its untouched, primeval state. When you see the place, you would imagine that man had never set foot on the Earth. Here, on the grass beside the lake, build a house. It doesn’t need to be large, but it should be fully equipped for modern living. The style can be either classical or modern, but it should complement its natural surroundings. And the necessary facilities—fountains, a swimming pool—should be provided so that its master can live the comfortable life of the aristocracy.”
“And who will its master be?” “Myself.”
“What are you going to do there?” “Live out my days in peace.”
Luo Ji waited for Garanin to say something rude, but the chair simply nodded gravely, and said, “After an audit by the commission, we will carry this out at once.”
“You and your commission won’t raise any questions about my motivation?”
Garanin shrugged. “The commission can question the Wallfacers in two areas: use of resources exceeding the set scope, and harm caused to human lives. Apart from these, all questions are in violation of the spirit of the Wallfacer Project. And truth be told, Tyler, Rey Diaz, and Hines have left me disappointed. Looking at their strategizing over the past two days, you can tell immediately what they are up to with their grand strategic plans. You’re different from them. Your behavior is baffling. That’s what a Wallfacer should be like.”
“Do you really believe the place I described exists?”
Garanin smiled, winked, and made an “okay” sign. “The world is big enough to have a place like that.
Besides, to tell you the truth, I’ve seen it before.”
“That’s wonderful, truly. And make sure that I can live a comfortable aristocrat’s life. This is part of the Wallfacer Project.”
Garanin nodded gravely.
“Oh, and one other thing. When you find a suitable place, never tell me where it is.”
No, you can’t say where it is! Once I know where I am, then the world becomes as narrow as a map.
When I don’t know, the world feels unlimited.
Garanin nodded again, seemingly pleased this time. “Dr. Luo, you’ve got another trait that satisfies my notion of being a Wallfacer: Your project requires the smallest investment of the four, at least for the time being.”
“If that’s the case, then mine will never have the largest investment.”
“Then you’ll be a blessing to all my successors. Money is a real headache.… The specific departments in charge of executing this may consult with you on some details. The house, in particular, I think.”
“Oh, the house,” Luo Ji said. “I forgot one very important detail.” “Go on.”
Luo Ji imitated Garanin’s wink and smile. “It needs a fireplace.”
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