The Wallfacers Eleventh parts
For the first time, Luo Ji felt that a dream had come true. He had imagined that Garanin was only boasting—of course he could find a stunning, untouched place, but it was certain to be quite different from the place in his imagination. But when he got off the helicopter, it was like he had stepped into a dream world: the distant snow peaks, the lake in front of him, the grassy plain and forest beside the lake, all of it laid out exactly as he had sketched it for Garanin. And he hadn’t dared permit himself to imagine such an immaculate environment. Everything seemed to have sprung out of a fairy tale. There was a slight sweetness to the fresh air, and even the sun seemed to be cautious, sending the softest and most exquisite part of its glow into this place. The most incredible thing was the small estate beside the lake and the villa at its heart. Kent, who was traveling with him, said the house was built in the mid-nineteenth century, but it looked older, and the passage of time had made it blend in with its environment.
“Don’t be surprised. Sometimes people dream of places that really exist,” Kent said. “Does anyone live here?” Luo Ji asked.
“No one in a five-kilometer radius. Beyond that there are a few small villages.” Luo Ji guessed that the place might be in northern Europe, but he didn’t ask.
Kent led him into the house. With his first glance at the spacious European-style living room, Luo Ji saw a fireplace, with fruitwood stacked neatly next to it that gave off a fresh fragrance.
“The former master of the house bids you welcome. He is proud to have a Wallfacer living here.” Kent went on to tell him that the estate contained more than just the facilities he had requested: stables with ten horses, because the best way to get to the mountains was by walking and riding; a tennis court and a golf course; a wine cellar; and, on the lake, a motorboat and a few sailboats. Beneath its old exterior, the house had been fully modernized. Every room was equipped with a computer, broadband, and satellite television, and there was a digital projection room as well. In addition to all of this, Luo Ji had noticed a helipad when he arrived. It was clearly not built at the last minute.
“The man’s got money.”
“Not just money. He doesn’t want to disclose his identity, but you would probably recognize his name if I told you. He donated the land to the UN, a far larger gift than Rockefeller’s. Just so you’re clear, the land and all of the real estate on it belong to the UN. You only have right of residence. But you’re not getting nothing. When the owner left, he said that he had taken away all of his personal belongings and that whatever is left is yours. These paintings alone must be worth quite a bit.”
Kent took Luo Ji on a tour of every room in the house. He noticed that the original owner had good taste and had furnished every room with a sense of elegant tranquility. A considerable portion of the books in the library were old Latin editions. The paintings were mostly in the modernist style, but they did not seem out of place in rooms with a rich classical atmosphere. One thing in particular that struck him was the total absence of landscapes, the mark of a mature aesthetic sensibility: hanging landscape paintings in a house situated in the Garden of Eden would be as pointless as pouring a bucket of water into the ocean.
Returning to the living room, Luo Ji sat down on the deliciously comfortable chair in front of the fireplace. He stretched out his hand and brushed against an object, which he then picked up and inspected. A churchwarden pipe, the kind with a long, thin stem, used indoors by the leisure class. He looked toward the wall and its empty shelves and imagined what had been taken down.
Then Kent came in and introduced a few people: the housekeeper, cook, driver, groom, and boat master, all of whom had been in the previous owner’s service. When they had gone, Kent introduced him to a lieutenant colonel in civvies, who was responsible for security. After he left, Luo Ji asked Kent where Shi Qiang was.
“He’s handed over your security detail and has probably returned home.” “Let him take the place of that guy just now. I think he’ll do a better job.”
“I feel the same way, but he doesn’t speak English. It would be hard for him to do his job.” “Then bring in Chinese guards to replace the ones here.”
Kent agreed and left to make the call. Luo Ji also left the room and walked across the manicured lawn onto a pier leading out into the middle of the lake. He held the railing at the end and gazed at the reflection of the snowcaps in the lake’s mirror surface. Surrounded by sweet air and sunshine, he said to himself, “Compared to life today, what does the world four centuries from now matter?”
Screw the Wallfacer Project.
* * *
“How did that bastard get in?” the researcher at the terminal said softly. “Wallfacers are naturally free to enter,” his neighbor answered quietly.
“It’s pretty dull, isn’t it? I expect you’re disappointed, Mr. President,” Dr. Allen, director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said to Rey Diaz as he led him past the rows of computer terminals.
“I’m no longer president,” Rey Diaz said severely, as he surveyed his surroundings.
“This is our nuclear weapons simulation center. Los Alamos has four of these centers, and Lawrence Livermore has three.”
Two objects caught Rey Diaz’s eye as being not entirely dull. They looked new, with large displays and
consoles with lots of fine knobs. He headed over to take a closer look, but Allen pulled him back. “That’s a game machine. The terminals here aren’t for gaming, so we brought in two machines for relaxation.”
Rey Diaz noticed another two not-entirely-dull objects. Transparent and structurally complicated, they contained a bubbling liquid. Again, he started over to take a look, and this time Allen shook his head with a smile and did not stop him. “That one’s a humidifier. The climate is dry in New Mexico. The other one’s just a coffee machine. Mike, pour Mr. Rey Diaz a cup of coffee.… No, wait, not from that. I’ll brew you a cup of top-shelf roast in my office.”
The only thing left for Rey Diaz to do was to examine the blown-up black-and-white photographs hanging on the wall. He recognized the skinny man wearing a hat and smoking a pipe as Oppenheimer, then Allen directed his attention back to the bland terminals.
“These displays are obsolete,” Rey Diaz said.
“But behind them is the most powerful computer in the world, operating at thirty petaFLOPS.” An engineer came up to Allen. “Doctor, the AD4453OG is operational.”
The engineer lowered his voice. “We’ve suspended the output module,” he said, and glanced at Rey Diaz. “Run it,” Allen said, then turned to Rey Diaz: “See, we’ve got nothing to hide from the Wallfacers.”
Then Rey Diaz heard tearing sounds and saw the people at the terminals ripping paper apart. Assuming that they were destroying documents, he muttered, “Don’t you even have a shredder?” But then he noticed that they were tearing up blank copy paper. Then someone shouted, “Over!” and everyone cheered and tossed the shredded paper into the air, making the cluttered floor even more like a garbage dump.
“This is a simulation center tradition. When the first atom bomb was exploded, Dr. Fermi tossed torn paper into the air, and according to the distance the pieces drifted in the shock wave, he was able to accurately compute the yield of the bomb. Now we do the same thing for every simulation we run.”
Rey Diaz brushed the paper from his head and shoulders, and said, “You run nuclear tests every day, but to you it’s as easy as playing a video game. It’s not like that for us. We don’t have supercomputers. We’ve got to do real tests.… We do the same things, but the poor always end up being the nuisance.”
“Mr. Rey Diaz, no one here is interested in politics.”
Rey Diaz leaned in to take a closer look at the terminals, but saw only scrolling data and shifting curves. When he finally did locate some graphics, they were so abstract he couldn’t make anything out. When he leaned toward another terminal, the physicist seated in front of it looked up and said, “Mr. President, if you’re looking for a mushroom cloud, it’s not there.”
“I’m not the president,” Rey Diaz repeated, as he accepted the coffee Allen handed him. Allen said, “Then we ought to talk about what we can do for you.”
“Design a nuclear bomb.”
“Of course. Los Alamos may be a multidisciplinary institution, but I suspected you wouldn’t be here for any other reason. Can you give me any specifics? What type? What yield?”
“The PDC will send you the completed technical requirements before long, so I’ll just brief you on the key points. Large yield, the largest possible. As large as you can make it. Two hundred megatons at an absolute minimum.”
Allen stared at him for a moment, and then bent his head in thought. “That will require some time.” “Don’t you have mathematical models?”
“Of course we do. We have models for everything from five-hundred-ton shells to large twenty-megaton bombs, from neutron bombs to EMP bombs, but the explosive yield you’re asking for is far too large. It’s more than ten times the world’s largest thermonuclear device. It would have to have a totally different trigger and staging from a conventional nuclear weapon, and it might even require an entirely new structure. We don’t have a model that fits.”
They spoke some more about the general planning of various research projects, and when it came time to leave, Allen said, “Mr. Rey Diaz, I know you have the best physicists on your staff at the PDC. I assume they’ve told you about the applications of nuclear weapons to space warfare?”
“You’re permitted to be redundant.”
“Very well. In space warfare, nuclear bombs may be low-efficiency weapons, since nuclear explosions produce no shock wave in the vacuum of space and only negligible pressure from the light they generate, so they don’t produce the mechanical impact found in explosions in the atmosphere. All their energy is released in the form of radiation and electromagnetic pulses, and, at least for humans, radiation and EM shielding on spacecraft is a fairly mature technology.”
“And if the target is directly hit?”
“That’s a different thing altogether. In that case, heat will be a decisive factor, and the target may be melted or even vaporized. But one bomb of a few hundred million tons will probably be as big as a building, so I’m afraid it won’t be easy to score a direct hit.… In fact, the mechanical impact of nuclear weapons doesn’t measure up to kinetic weapons, their radiation is less intense than particle beam weapons, and their thermal destruction can’t compare to gamma-ray lasers.”
“But those weapons aren’t combat ready. Nuclear bombs are humanity’s most powerful mature weapons. And as for the performance issues you mention in space combat, ways can be found to improve them. Adding a medium to create a shock wave, for example, like putting ball bearings in a grenade.”
“That’s an intriguing idea. Your STEM background shows through.”
“My studies were in nuclear energy, which is why I like nuclear bombs. I’ve got a good feeling about them.”
Allen laughed. “I almost forgot: It’s ridiculous to discuss issues like this with a Wallfacer.”
The two men laughed, but Rey Diaz quickly grew serious and said, “Dr. Allen, like everyone else, you’re treating the Wallfacer strategy as something mysterious. The most powerful combat-ready weapon available to mankind right now is the hydrogen bomb. Focusing on that is only natural, isn’t it? I believe my approach is the correct one.”
The two men stopped on the quiet path through the woods they had been walking along. Allen said, “Fermi and Oppenheimer walked down this road countless times. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of the architects of the first generation of nuclear weapons spent the rest of their lives mired in depression. They would be gratified if they knew the mission that humanity’s nuclear weapons are now facing.”
“No matter how frightening they might be, weapons are a good thing.… Just to let you know, the next time I come, I hope I won’t see you throwing scrap paper around. We should make a tidy impression on the
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