The Wallfacers Tenth parts
After his father’s funeral, Zhang Beihai went with Wu Yue one more time to the carrier dry dock, where construction on Tang had been suspended entirely. The welding sparks had vanished from the hull, and there were no signs of life anywhere on the giant ship lying in the noonday sun. The overarching impression it gave was one of the passage of time.
“It’s dead,” Zhang Beihai said.
“Your father was one of the wisest generals among the navy’s top brass. If he were still with us, I might not have gotten so thoroughly stuck,” Wu Yue said.
Zhang Beihai said, “Your defeatism is built on a rational basis, or at least it’s your own reasoning, so I don’t believe there’s anyone who can truly cheer you up. I’m not here to apologize, Wu Yue. I know you don’t hate me over this.”
“I’d like to thank you, Beihai. You got me out.”
“You can return to the navy. Working there should suit you quite well.”
Wu Yue shook his head slowly. “I’ve submitted my discharge application. What would I do if I went back? Construction on new destroyers and frigates has stopped, and I no longer have any place in the fleet. Sit in an office in Fleet Command? Forget it. Besides, I’m not a good soldier at all. A soldier who’s only willing to engage in a winnable war is unqualified to be one.”
“Victory or defeat is not for us to see.”
“But you have faith in victory, Beihai. I envy you, really, to the point of jealousy. Faith like yours is the height of happiness for a military man these days. You truly are your father’s son.”
“So do you have any plans?”
“No. I feel like my life is over.” Wu Yue pointed at Tang in the distance. “Just like that, over before it
A low rumble came from the direction of the shipyard, and Tang slowly started to move. To vacate the dock, it had to take to the water ahead of schedule and be towed to another dock for demolition. When Tang’s sharp prow split the seawater, Zhang Beihai and Wu Yue sensed a trace of anger in the massive hull. Quickly, it entered the sea, tossing up huge waves that caused the other boats in the port to rock, as if paying tribute. Tang crept slowly forward in the water, quietly enjoying the sea’s embrace. In its brief and aborted career, this giant ship had at least met the ocean once.
* * *
In the virtual Three Body world, it was the dead of night. Apart from scraps of starlight, all was immersed in an inky blackness, so that even the horizon was invisible, and the empty land and sky blended together in the dark.
“Administrator, start up a Stable Era. Can’t you see we’re holding a meeting?” shouted a voice.
The administrator’s voice seemed to come from the sky itself. “I can’t do that. The era is run randomly along the core model and can’t be set externally.”
Another voice in the darkness said, “Then increase the speed and find some stable daylight. It won’t take too long.”
The world flashed. Suns flew across the sky, and soon time returned to normal. One stable sun illuminated the world.
“Okay. I don’t know how long this will last,” the administrator said.
The sun shone in the wilderness on a group of people, some familiar faces among them: King Wen of Zhou, Newton, Von Neumann, Aristotle, Mozi, Confucius, and Einstein. Sparsely distributed, they faced Qin Shi Huang, who stood on a rock with a sword across his shoulders.
“I am not alone,” he said. “This is the core leadership of seven speaking.”
“You shouldn’t be talking about a new leadership before it’s been finalized,” someone said, and a clamor rose among the rest.
“Enough,” Qin Shi Huang said, struggling to raise the sword. “Setting aside the leadership controversy for the moment, we shall turn to more pressing matters. We all know of the launch of the Wallfacer Project, humanity’s attempt to use closed-off, private strategic thinking to resist sophon surveillance. Since the Lord’s transparent mind cannot possibly thread that labyrinth, humanity has regained its edge through this plan, and the four Wallfacers pose a threat to the Lord. In accordance with the resolution of the previous offline meeting, we must launch the Wallbreaker Project immediately.”
At those last words, silence reigned, and no one voiced any objections.
Then Qin Shi Huang said, “We will appoint a Wallbreaker for each Wallfacer. Like the Wallfacers, the Wallbreakers will be authorized to tap all of the organization’s resources, but their greatest resource will be the sophons, which will render the Wallfacers’ every action utterly exposed. The only secret will be their thoughts. The Wallbreakers’ mission, then, is to analyze the Wallfacers’ open and clandestine actions, with the help of the sophons, and decipher the true nature of their strategic aims as early as possible. The leadership will now appoint the Wallbreakers.”
Qin Shi Huang extended the sword and, as if conferring knighthood, touched it to Von Neumann’s shoulder. “You are the First Wallbreaker,” he said. “You are Frederick Tyler’s Wallbreaker.”
Von Neumann knelt down and placed his left hand to his right shoulder in a salute. “I accept the mission.” Qin Shi Huang touched the sword to Mozi’s shoulder. “You are the Second Wallbreaker. You are Manuel
Rey Diaz’s Wallbreaker.”
Mozi did not kneel, but stood straight and nodded haughtily. “I will be the first to break a wall.”
The sword touched Aristotle’s shoulder. “You are the Third Wallbreaker. You are Bill Hines’s Wallbreaker.”
Aristotle did not kneel either, but shook his robe and said thoughtfully, “Yes, I’m the only one who can break his wall.”
Qin Shi Huang returned the sword to his own shoulder and swept his gaze across the crowd. “Good. We now have Wallbreakers. You, like the Wallfacers, are the elite of the elite. The Lord be with you! Assisted by hibernation, you will start the long journey to the end of days together with the Wallfacers.”
“I don’t think hibernation is necessary,” Aristotle said. “I can complete the Wallbreaker mission before we finish our normal lifespan.”
Mozi nodded in agreement. “When I break the wall, I will face my Wallfacer in person, and I will savor how his spirit collapses in anguish and despair. Devoting the rest of my life to this is well worth it.”
The final Wallbreaker likewise stated his intent to break their Wallfacers in person. Von Neumann said, “We will unmask the last traces of every secret that humanity harbors from the sophons. This is the final thing we can do for the Lord, for afterward there will be no reason for us to exist.”
“What about Luo Ji’s Wallbreaker?” someone asked.
The question seemed to touch something in Qin Shi Huang’s mind. He planted the sword into the ground and fell deep in thought. The sun suddenly sped up its descent to the Earth, lengthening the shadows until they extended to the horizon. When it had set halfway, it abruptly changed direction and rose and fell a few times along the horizon, like the gleaming back of a whale cresting out of the black ocean, pulling the vast wilderness and the small group of people that made up this stark world back and forth between light and darkness.
“Luo Ji is his own Wallbreaker. He needs to find out what threat he poses to the Lord,” Qin Shi Huang said.
“Do we know whether or not he is a threat?” someone asked.
“I don’t know, but the Lord knows, and Evans knew. Evans taught the Lord how to keep this secret, and he’s dead. We can’t know.”
“So of all the Wallfacers, is Luo Ji the greatest threat?” someone hesitantly asked.
“We don’t know that either. Only one thing is clear,” Qin Shi Huang said, looking up at the canopy of the sky as it changed from blue to black. “Out of the four Wallfacers, he is the only one in direct contest with the Lord.”
Work meeting, Space Force Political Department
Chang Weisi stayed silent for a long while after opening the meeting, something he had never done before. He swept his eyes across the two rows of political officers at the conference table, then looked into the infinite
distance while gently tapping his pencil on the tabletop, a light tapping that seemed to mark time for his thoughts. At last, he pulled himself out of his reverie.
“Comrades, by an order announced yesterday by the Central Military Commission, I am now serving as commander of the Political Department of the Armed Forces. I accepted the appointment one week ago, but only now that we are seated together do I feel conflicted. I have suddenly realized that in front of me is the most beleaguered group of people in the space force, and now I am one of your number. I didn’t realize this before, and for this I apologize to you.” He opened the document in front of him. “This portion of the meeting will be off the record. Comrades, let us have a candid exchange of views. Let us be Trisolarans for once and open our thoughts to each other. This is crucial for our future work.”
Chang Weisi’s gaze lingered on the face of each officer for a second or two, but they remained silent. Then he stood up and paced along the table behind the row of seated officers.
“Our duty is to build in our forces the faith that we will be victorious in the future war. So, do we have that faith ourselves? Please raise your hands if you do. Remember, we are speaking our minds.”
No one raised a hand. Nearly everyone was staring at the table. But Chang Weisi noticed one man’s gaze was fixed straight ahead: Zhang Beihai.
He went on, “Do you believe that victory is possible? By possible, I mean not an accidental few tenths of a percent, but an actual, meaningful possibility.”
Zhang Beihai raised a hand. His was the only hand raised.
“First let me thank all of you for your honesty,” Chang Weisi said, and then turned to Zhang Beihai. “Excellent, Comrade Zhang. Tell us, on what do you base your confidence?”
Zhang Beihai stood up, but Chang Weisi motioned for him to sit down. “This is not a formal meeting,” he said. “It’s just a heart-to-heart chat.”
Still standing at attention, Zhang Beihai said, “Commander, I can’t answer your question sufficiently in just a few words, because building faith is a long and complicated process. First of all, I’d like to make note of the mistaken thinking among the troops at the present time. We all know that prior to the Trisolar Crisis, we had been advocating for the examination of the future of war from scientific and rational perspectives, and a powerful inertia has sustained this mentality to the present day. This is particularly the case in the present space force, where it has been exacerbated by the influx of a large number of academics and scientists. If we use this mentality to contemplate an interstellar war four centuries in the future, we’ll never be able to establish faith in a victory.”
“What Comrade Zhang Beihai says is peculiar,” a colonel said. “Is steadfast faith not built upon science and reason? No faith is solid that is not founded on objective fact.”
“Then let’s take another look at science and reason. Our own science and reason, remember. The Trisolarans’ advanced development tells us that our science is no more than a child collecting shells on the beach who hasn’t even seen the ocean of truth. The facts we see under the guidance of our science and reason may not be the true, objective facts. And since that’s the case, we need to learn how to selectively ignore them. We should see how things change as they develop, and we shouldn’t write off the future through technological determinism and mechanical materialism.”
“Excellent,” Chang Weisi said, and nodded at him to continue.
“We must establish faith in victory, a faith that is the foundation of military duty and dignity! When the Chinese military once faced a powerful enemy under extremely poor conditions, it established a firm faith in victory through a sense of responsibility to the people and the motherland. I believe that today, a sense of responsibility to the human race and to Earth civilization can encourage the same faith.”
“But how are we supposed to go about specific ideological work?” asked an officer. “The space force is made up of complicated parts, which means that its ideology is complex. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“I think that for the time being, at least, we should start with the mental condition of the troops,” Zhang Beihai said. “Big picture: Last week I visited troops from the air force and naval air force that have just been brought under our branch, and I discovered that day-to-day training for these forces is incredibly slack. Small picture: Problems with military discipline are cropping up with increasing frequency. There was supposed to be a total switch to summer uniforms, but lots of people in headquarters are still wearing their winter uniforms. This state of mind must be changed as quickly as possible. Look, the space force is turning into an academy of sciences. Of course, we can’t deny that its present mission is that of an academy of military sciences, but we ought to be conscious that we are an army, and we’re an army in a state of war!”
The conversation went on for a while longer, and then Chang Weisi returned to his seat. “Thank you. I hope that we will be able to continue having frank conversations. Now, let’s move on to the contents of the formal meeting.” As he spoke, he looked up and once again saw Zhang Beihai’s steady gaze, which revealed a determination that warmed his heart a little.
Zhang Beihai, I know you have faith. With a father like that, it would be impossible for you not to. But things are definitely not as simple as you say. I don’t know what you base your faith on, and I don’t even know what else your faith encompasses. Just like your father. I admired him, but I have to admit that in the end I couldn’t figure him out.
Chang Weisi flipped open the document in front of him. “Research on space warfare theory is in full swing at present, but one problem has already cropped up: The study of interplanetary warfare needs to be founded on a certain level of technological development, no doubt about it. But right now, basic research has only just begun, and technological breakthroughs will occur far in the future. This means our research has no support. Headquarters has revised the research plan in light of the circumstances, and has divided unified research on the theory of space warfare into three parts, to cater to the possible technological levels that the human world may reach in the future. Namely: a low-tech strategy, a mid-tech strategy, and a high-tech strategy.
“Work is currently in progress to define these three levels of technology, as well as to define a large number of index parameters in every major scientific discipline, but the core parameter will be the speed and range of a ten-kiloton-class spaceship.
“The Low-Tech Level: Spacecraft speed achieves fifty times the third cosmic velocity10, or roughly eight hundred kilometers per second. Spacecraft are not equipped with life support. Under these conditions, the craft has a combat radius limited to the inner Solar System. That is, within Neptune’s orbit, or thirty AU from the sun.
“The Mid-Tech Level: Spacecraft speed achieves three hundred times the third cosmic velocity, or forty- eight hundred kilometers per second. Spacecraft are equipped with partial life support. Under these conditions, the combat radius of the craft extends beyond the Kuiper Belt, and includes all space within one
thousand AU of the sun.
“The High-Tech Level: Spacecraft speed achieves one thousand times the third cosmic velocity, or sixteen thousand kilometers per second, which is five percent of the speed of light. Spacecraft are fully equipped with life support. Under these conditions, the combat radius extends to the Oort Cloud11, with preliminary interstellar navigation capabilities.
“Defeatism is the greatest threat to the armed forces in space, so political and ideological workers will shoulder an extremely important responsibility in the space force. Political departments in the military will participate fully in the study of space warfare theory to eradicate the stain of defeatism and guarantee the correct direction of research.
“Those of you present today will become members of a space warfare theory task force. Although there will be some overlap among members of the three branches, the research institutions are independent, and will tentatively be known as the Institute for Low-Tech Strategy, the Institute for Mid-Tech Strategy, and the Institute for High-Tech Strategy. At today’s meeting, I’d like to hear from each of you which one you would choose, as a reference for the Political Department’s next round of work appointments. Let’s share our selections.”
Of the thirty-two political officers at the meeting, twenty-four selected low-tech and seven selected mid- tech. Just one officer chose high-tech: Zhang Beihai.
“Looks like Comrade Beihai wants to get into science fiction,” someone said, to scattered laughter.
“My choice is the only hope for victory. That’s the only level of technology that gives humanity any chance of building an effective defensive system for the Earth and Solar System,” Zhang Beihai said.
“We haven’t even mastered controlled nuclear fusion. Sending a ten-thousand-ton warship to five percent of the speed of light? Ten thousand times faster than the truck-sized spacecraft humanity has today? It’s not even science fiction. It’s fantasy!”
“But don’t we have four more centuries? We’ve got to keep potential progress in mind.” “But progress in fundamental physics is impossible.”
“We haven’t even tapped one percent of the potential applications of existing theories,” Zhang Beihai said. “My feeling is that the biggest problem right now is the technology sector’s approach to research. They’re wasting too much time and money on low-end technology. In propulsion, for example, there’s no reason at all to work on the fission drive, but right now they’re not only throwing huge amounts of R&D at it, they’re even putting the same amount of effort into studying next-gen chemical propulsion! We should focus our resources on studying fusion engines, and move directly to the development of media-free fusion engines, leapfrogging media-based fusion. The same problem exists in other areas of research. Sealed ecosystems, for instance, are a necessary technology for interstellar spacecraft, one that is not particularly dependent on fundamental theory, but research in this area is very limited.”
Chang Weisi said, “Comrade Zhang Beihai has posed at least one question worthy of attention: The military and scientific communities are all busy starting their own work, but there is insufficient communication among them. Fortunately, both sides are aware of the situation and are organizing a joint conference, and the military and the scientific communities have each established special agencies to strengthen communication between the two sides and establish a fully interactive relationship between space
strategy and scientific research. The next step is to dispatch military representatives to the various research areas and to involve a large group of scientists in studying the theory of space warfare. Again, we can’t sit and wait for technological breakthroughs. We ought to form our own ideological strategy as soon as possible and then promote it in every field.
“Next, I’d like to talk about another layer of relationships: that between the space force and the Wallfacers.”
“The Wallfacers?” someone asked in wonder. “Are they going to interfere in space force work?”
“There’s no sign of that at the moment, although Tyler has proposed paying an inspection visit to the military. But we ought to realize that they do have that power, and any interference that does take place may have unanticipated effects. We need to be mentally prepared for it. When such a situation does occur, we should maintain a balance between the Wallfacer Project and mainstream defense.”
After the meeting, Chang Weisi sat alone in the empty conference room smoking a cigarette. The smoke wafted into a beam of sunlight shining through the window and seemed to catch fire.
Whatever happens, at least it’s begun, he thought to himself.
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