The Wallfacers Twelfth parts
Keiko Yamasuki woke up in the middle of the night to find herself alone, the sheets beside her cool. She got up, dressed, and went out the door. At first glance she saw her husband’s shadow in the bamboo grove in the yard, as usual. They had homes in England and in Japan, but Hines preferred his Japanese home. He said that the moonlight of the East calmed his heart. There was no moon tonight. The bamboo and his kimono-clad figure lost their dimensionality and looked like paper cuttings hung beneath the stars.
Hines heard Keiko Yamasuki’s footsteps but did not look back. Strangely, Keiko wore the same shoes in England as in Japan. Even in her hometown she never wore geta. But it was only here, never in England, that he could hear her footsteps.
“My love, you haven’t slept properly for days,” she said. Her voice was soft, but the summer insects stopped chirping and peace flooded like water over everything.
She heard her husband sigh. “Keiko, I can’t do it. I can’t think of anything. Really, I can’t come up with anything at all.”
“No one can. I say an ultimate victory plan doesn’t exist.” She took two steps forward but was still separated from Hines by a few stalks of bamboo. The grove was their place for contemplation, and the inspiration for most of their previous research had its source here. They rarely brought intimacy to this sacred place, but always addressed each other courteously, as befitted an atmosphere seemingly imbued with Eastern philosophy. “Bill, you should relax. Doing the best you can is enough.”
He turned around, but in the darkness of the grove his face was indistinct. “How is that possible? Every step I take consumes a massive amount of resources.”
“Then why not adopt this approach?” Keiko’s answer came swiftly. She had obviously been thinking about the question. “Choose a direction that, even if you’re unsuccessful, will do something beneficial while it is being carried out.”
“Keiko, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about. Here’s what I’ve decided to do: Even if I can’t come up with a plan, I can help other people think of one.”
“What other people? The other Wallfacers?”
“No, they’re not much better off than I am. I mean our descendants. Keiko, have you ever considered this fact? The outcome of natural biological evolution requires at least twenty thousand years to manifest itself, but human civilization has just five thousand years of history, and modern technological civilization just two hundred. That means that the study of modern science today is being done by the brain of primitive man.”
“You want to use technology to accelerate the brain’s evolution?”
“We’ve been doing brain research, and we ought to put more effort into expanding it to a scale that can tackle a planetary defense system. If we work hard for a century or two, we might be able to increase human intelligence and allow the science of the future to break out of the sophons’ prison.”
“Intelligence is a vague term in our field. What in particular—”
“I mean intelligence in the broadest sense of the word. Not just the traditional meaning of logical reasoning, but learning ability, imagination, and innovation as well. And also the ability to accumulate common sense and
experience while preserving intellectual vigor. And enhancing mental endurance, so that a brain can think continuously without fatigue. And we can even consider the possibility of eliminating sleep. And so forth.”
“What will it take? Do you have even a rough idea?”
“No. Not yet. Perhaps the brain can be connected directly to a computer, which can use its computing power to amplify human intelligence. Or maybe we can achieve a direct interface between human brains and blend different people’s thoughts. Or inherit memories. But whatever avenue we ultimately take to increase human intelligence, we must first begin from a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of the human brain.”
“And that’s precisely our area of interest.”
“We can continue in the same career as before. The difference will be that we can tap huge resources to do it!”
“Love, I’m truly happy. I’m ecstatic! There’s just one thing. As a Wallfacer, don’t you think this plan is a little…”
“A little indirect? Maybe. But think about it, Keiko. Human civilization ultimately comes down to humans themselves. If we start by elevating humans, doesn’t that make this a far-reaching plan? Besides, what else can I do?”
“Bill, you’re wonderful!”
“So think about this for a moment: If we turn neuroscience and thought research into a world engineering project, and can invest an inconceivably enormous amount of money in it, how long will we have to wait for success?”
“About a century, more or less.”
“Let’s be a little more pessimistic and say two centuries. Then the highly intelligent humans will still have two centuries left, and if they use one century to develop fundamental science and another to turn those theories into technology…”
“Even if it fails, we’ll have done what we wanted to do.” “Keiko, come with me to the end of days,” Hines murmured. “Yes, Bill. We certainly have the time.”
The insects in the grove seemed to have grown accustomed to their presence and resumed their musical chirping. When a soft wind blew through the bamboo and the stars in the night sky flashed through the gaps between the leaves, it was as if the insect chorus was issuing from those stars.
* * *
It was day three of the PDC’s first Wallfacer Project Hearing. Rey Diaz and Hines had spoken about the first phase of their respective projects, which were put to preliminary discussion by representatives of the PDC permanent members.
Rey Diaz and Hines had both submitted their plans at the previous hearing, but Tyler had delayed his first disclosure until this session, leaving representatives particularly eager for details.
Tyler started with a brief introduction: “I need to establish an armed force in space that will supplement Earth’s fleet but be under my command.”
Just one sentence in, the hands of the other two Wallfacers shot up.
“Mr. Hines and I have been accused of overuse of resources in our plans,” Rey Diaz broke in. “But this is absurd. Mr. Tyler wants to have his own space force!”
“I didn’t say it was a space force,” Tyler said calmly. “The intent is not to construct warships or large spaceships, but to establish a fleet of space fighters. They’ll each be roughly the size of a conventional Earth- based fighter and will carry a single pilot. They’ll be like mosquitoes in space, so I’ve dubbed this the ‘mosquito swarm plan.’ The formation needs to be at least equal to the size of the invading Trisolaran Fleet. A thousand ships.”
“You would attack a Trisolaran warship with a mosquito? That’s not even going to raise a welt,” a hearing member said dismissively.
Tyler raised a finger. “Not if each of those mosquitoes is equipped with a hundred-megaton-class hydrogen bomb. So I’m going to need the latest superbomb technology.… Don’t turn me down immediately, Mr. Rey Diaz. You can’t turn me down, in fact. According to the principles of the Wallfacer Project, that technology isn’t your proprietary property. Once it’s been developed, I have the right to requisition it.”
Rey Diaz glanced up at him. “My question is, do you intend to plagiarize my plan?” Tyler smiled sardonically. “If a Wallfacer’s plan can be copied, is he still a Wallfacer?”
“Mosquitoes can’t fly very far,” said Garanin, the PDC rotating chair. “These toy space fighters can only engage in combat within the orbit of Mars, I believe.”
“Watch out. His next request might be for a space carrier,” Hines said with a chuckle.
Tyler answered with aplomb. “That will be unnecessary. These space fighters can be networked to turn the entire squadron into a single entity, a mosquito group, that acts as a space carrier and is propelled by an external engine or by the engines of a small portion of its member fighters. At cruising speed, the group will possess the long-range space navigation capabilities of large spacecraft. Once it reaches the battlefield, the huge entity will disassemble and go into battle as a fleet of independent fighters.”
“Your mosquito group will take years to reach the defensive zone at the perimeter of the Solar System. A fighter pilot can’t spend such a long journey in a cockpit that doesn’t even permit them to stand up. Will there even be room for supplies in such a small craft?” someone asked.
“Hibernation,” Tyler said. “They’ll have to hibernate. My plan relies on the realization of two technologies: miniaturized superbombs and miniaturized hibernation units.”
“Hibernating for a few years in a metal coffin, then waking up, only to launch a suicide attack. Clearly, the job of a mosquito pilot is not one to be envied,” Hines said.
Tyler’s enthusiasm disappeared, and he remained silent for a moment. Then he nodded. “Yes. Finding pilots is the hardest part of the mosquito swarm plan.”
Details of Tyler’s plan were distributed to the members of the hearing, but there was no interest in discussion. The chair declared the hearing adjourned.
“Luo Ji still hasn’t arrived?” asked the annoyed US representative.
“He won’t be coming,” said Garanin. “He declared that his seclusion and nonparticipation in the PDC hearing is part of his plan.”
At this, the attendees whispered among themselves. Some of them seemed annoyed, while others flashed
“He’s a deadbeat, a waste!” Rey Diaz said.
“Then what are you?” Tyler asked rudely, even though his mosquito swarm plan relied on Rey Diaz’s super hydrogen bomb technology.
Hines said, “I’d rather express my regard for Dr. Luo. He knows himself and knows his own abilities, so he doesn’t want a pointless waste of resources.” He turned graciously to Rey Diaz. “I think Mr. Rey Diaz should learn something from him.”
Everyone could see that Tyler and Hines were not defending Luo Ji, but that their enmity toward Rey Diaz was far deeper by comparison.
Garanin rapped the gavel on the table. “First of all, Wallfacer Rey Diaz has spoken out of order. I remind you to show respect to the other Wallfacers. Similarly, I remind Wallfacers Hines and Tyler that your words are also inappropriate for this meeting.”
Hines said, “Mr. Chair, what Wallfacer Rey Diaz has demonstrated in his plan is nothing but the crudeness of a soldier. Following in the footsteps of Iran and North Korea, his country fell under UN sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program, and this has given him a twisted complex for the bomb. There is essentially no difference between Mr. Tyler’s mosquito swarm program and Rey Diaz’s giant hydrogen bomb plan. Both are disappointments. The two straightforward plans will have their strategic intent exposed right from the start. Neither exhibits the canniness that’s the strategic advantage of the Wallfacer Project.”
Tyler shot back, “Mr. Hines, your plan is like some sort of naïve daydream.”
When the hearing ended, the Wallfacers went to the Meditation Room, their favorite place in UN Headquarters. It now seemed to them that this room designed for silence was built especially for Wallfacers. Gathered there, they waited in silence, each of them feeling that they would never be able to exchange thoughts until the final war came. The slab of iron ore lay silently in their midst, as if absorbing and collecting their thoughts and silently bearing witness.
Hines said softly, “Have you heard about the Wallbreakers?”
Tyler nodded. “The ETO just announced it on their public Web site, and it’s been verified by the CIA.” The Wallfacers lapsed into silence again, each one conjuring in his mind an image of his own Wallbreaker.
It was an image that would appear countless times in their nightmares, for the day a Wallbreaker actually appeared would likely spell the end of that Wallfacer.
* * *
When Shi Xiaoming saw his father enter, he edged toward the corner, but Shi Qiang simply sat down quietly next to him.
“Don’t be afraid. I won’t hit you or curse at you this time. I don’t have the energy.” He brought out a pack of cigarettes, took out two, and offered one to his son. Shi Xiaoming hesitated before accepting it. They lit up and smoked for a while in silence. Then Shi Qiang said, “I’ve got a mission. I’ll be leaving the country soon.”
“What about your illness?” Shi Xiaoming looked up through the smoke and gave his father a worried look. “Let’s talk about you first.”
Shi Xiaoming’s expression turned pleading. “Dad, there’s going to be a heavy sentence for this—”
“Any other crime, and I’d be able to work it out for you, but that’s not how this is going to work. Ming, we’re both adults. We need to be responsible for our actions.”
Shi Xiaoming bowed his head in despair and took a silent draw on his cigarette.
Shi Qiang said, “I’m half to blame. I never had any concern for you when you were growing up. I came home late every night, so tired I’d just have a drink and then go to bed. I never went to a parents’ meeting at school, and I never had a good talk with you about anything.… It’s the same thing again: We have to be responsible for our own actions.”
Tears in his eyes, Shi Xiaoming ground the cigarette back and forth repeatedly on the edge of the bed, like he was extinguishing the latter half of his life.
“Prison is like a criminal training course. Forget about reform when you go in, just don’t get mixed up with the other prisoners. And learn how to protect yourself a little. Take these—” Shi Qiang placed a plastic bag on the bed. Inside were two cartons of ordinary Yun Yan cigarettes. “And if you need anything else, your mother will send it to you.”
Shi Qiang went to the door, then turned and said to his son, “Ming, you may still meet your dad again.
You’ll probably be older than me at that point, and then you’ll understand what’s in my heart right now.”
Through the small window in the door, Shi Xiaoming watched his father exit the detention center. From the back, he looked quite old.
* * *
In an era where anxiety had taken hold of everything, Luo Ji was now the world’s most laid-back man. He strolled beside the lake, took a boat out into the water, had the chef turn the mushrooms he picked and the fish he caught into tasty delicacies, browsed through the library’s rich collection, and when he tired of that, went outside and golfed with the guards. He rode on horseback through the grassland and on the forest path in the direction of the snow peak, but he never reached the foot of the mountain. Oftentimes, he would sit on a bench on the lakeside and look at the mountain’s reflection in the water, doing and thinking nothing as an entire day passed unknowingly.
He was alone during this time, with no connection to the outside world. Kent was in the manor, too, but he had his own small office and rarely bothered him. Luo Ji had only spoken once to the officer in charge of security, to ask that the security detail not trail along behind him, and if they absolutely had to, to make sure that he could not see them.
He felt like the boat in the water, floating quietly with its sail furled, ignorant of where it was moored and not caring where it floated. Now and then when he thought about his former life, he was surprised to discover that in the short space of a few days, he could no longer recognize it. This state satisfied him.
He was particularly interested in the wine cellar. He knew that the dust-covered bottles lying horizontally on the racks held nothing but the best. He drank in the living room, he drank in the library, and sometimes he drank on the boat; but never too much, just enough to keep him in that perfect, half-drunk, half-sober state, and then he would take out that long-stemmed pipe left by the previous owner and puff away.
Even when it rained and the living room grew chilly, Luo Ji never had the fireplace lit. He knew it wasn’t yet time.
He never went online here, but he sometimes watched television, skipping over the news and watching programs that had nothing to do with current events or even the present day. This sort of content was still possible to find, although it was growing increasingly rare in the last ebbs of the Golden Age.
Late one night, he got carried away by a bottle of cognac that, from the label, was thirty-five years old. Wielding the remote, he skipped past the several news stations on the high-definition television, but one English-language news item caught his eye. It concerned the salvage of a mid-seventeenth-century wreck, a clipper that had sailed from Rotterdam to Faridabad and had sunk off Cape Horn. Among the objects that divers had retrieved from the wreck was a small, sealed cask of fine wine that experts speculated was still drinkable. Not only that, but after three centuries in storage at the bottom of the ocean, its taste would be unparalleled. Luo Ji recorded most of the program, and then called for Kent.
“I want that cask. Buy it for me,” he said.
Kent went to make a call. Two hours later he told Luo Ji that the price of the cask was astonishingly high: Bidding would start at three hundred thousand euros.
“That amount is nothing to the Wallfacer Project. Buy it. It’s part of the plan.”
And thus, the Wallfacer Project produced a second idiom after the “Wallfacer smile.” Anything that was clearly absurd but which had to be done anyway was called “part of the Wallfacer plan,” or simply, “part of the plan.”
Two days later, the cask, its aged surface covered in shells, was placed in the villa’s living room. Luo Ji took out a tap with a twist drill specially made for wooden casks, which he found in the cellar, and carefully drilled it into the side to pour out the first glass. The liquid was a tempting emerald green. He sniffed it, and then put the glass to his lips.
“Doctor, is this part of the plan too?” Kent asked softly.
“That’s right. It’s part of the plan.” Luo Ji was about to drink, but seeing the people present in the room, he said, “All of you, out.”
Kent and the rest of them did not move.
“Sending you out is part of the plan too. Out!” He glared at them. Kent gently shook his head and led the others out.
Luo Ji took a sip. Although he did his utmost to convince himself that the flavor was heavenly, in the end he did not have the guts to take a second sip. But that one sip didn’t let him go unscathed. That night he was sick out both ends until he spat up bile the color of the wine and his body was so weak he couldn’t get out of bed. Later, after doctors and experts opened the cask lid, they found that it had a rather large brass label on the inside wall, as was the custom in those days. Over time there had been some sort of reaction between the normally peacefully coexisting copper and the wine, and some sort of substance had dissolved into the wine.… When the cask was carried off, Luo Ji could see the schadenfreude on Kent’s face.
Deeply exhausted, he lay in bed watching his IV drip, and an intense loneliness seized him. He knew that his recent leisure was merely the weightlessness of tumbling into the abyss of loneliness, and now he had reached the bottom. But he had anticipated this moment, and he had been prepared. He was waiting for someone, and then the next step of the plan would begin. He was waiting for Da Shi.
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