The Wallfacers Fourteenth parts
“What? The PDC needs to find him…?” Kent groped for the Chinese term. “A dream lover? The guy’s been indulged too much. I’m sorry. I can’t pass along your request.”
“Then you are in violation of the Wallfacer Project principle: No matter how incomprehensible a Wallfacer’s order is, it must be reported and executed. Any veto belongs to the PDC.”
“But we can’t use society’s resources to allow a person like him to live the life of an emperor! Mr. Shi, we haven’t been working together long, but I really respect you. You’re an experienced and insightful man, so tell me the truth. Do you really think Luo Ji is carrying out the Wallfacer Project?”
Shi Qiang shook his head. “I don’t know.” He raised a hand to stop Kent from arguing. “However, sir, that’s just my ignorance, not the opinion of our superiors. This is the biggest difference between you and me: I’m just someone who faithfully carries out orders. You, you’re someone who always has to ask why.”
“Is that wrong?”
“It’s not about right or wrong. If everyone had to be clear about why before they executed an order, then the world would have plunged into chaos long ago. Mr. Kent, you do outrank me, but when you get down to it, we’re both people who carry out orders. We ought to understand that some things aren’t for people like us to think over. It’s enough to do our duty. If you can’t do that, then I’m afraid you’ll have a rough time.”
“I’m already having a rough time! We just wasted gobs of money buying that sunken wine. I just think … look, does he look like a Wallfacer at all?”
“What should a Wallfacer look like?” Kent was speechless for a moment.
“Even if there were a template for a Wallfacer, Luo Ji is not entirely inconsistent with it.”
“What?” asked Kent, a little taken aback. “You’re not saying that you see a certain amount of quality in him?”
“That I am.”
“Well, damn it, what do you see?”
Shi Qiang clapped a hand to Kent’s shoulder. “You, for example. If the Wallfacer mantle descended upon you, you would be an opportunistic hedonist just like him.”
“I’d have broken down long before now.”
“That’s right. But Luo Ji’s carefree. Nothing bothers him. Kent, old fellow, do you think what he’s doing is easy? Open-mindedness, is what this is, and anyone who wants to do great things needs to be open-minded.
Someone like you won’t accomplish great things.”
“But he’s so … I mean … if he’s just carefree like that, how does it relate to the Wallfacer Project?”
“I’ve been explaining it all this time and you still don’t get it? I said that I don’t know. How do you know that what the guy’s doing right now isn’t part of the plan? Once again, this isn’t something for you or I to judge. Taking a step back, even if we’re correct in what we think,”—Shi Qiang drew close to Kent and lowered his voice—“some things require time.”
Kent stared at Shi Qiang for a long moment, and at last shook his head, unsure whether or not he understood that last sentence. “Fine. I’ll make the report. But can you let me see that dream lover of his first?” When he saw the woman on the screen, Kent’s old face grew gentle for an instant. He rubbed his jaw and said, “Oh … my god. I don’t believe for a moment that anyone like that exists, but I hope you find her soon.”
* * *
“Colonel, do you find it a little abrupt for me to inspect the political and ideological work of your military in my capacity?” Tyler said when he met Zhang Beihai.
“No, Mr. Tyler. There’s precedent for it. Rumsfeld once visited the Central Military Commission’s Party School when I was studying there.” Zhang Beihai lacked the curiosity, caution, and distance that Tyler had observed in the other officers. He appeared sincere, and that made the conversation easier.
“You’ve got good English. You must be from the navy.”
“That’s right. The US Space Force drew an even larger proportion from the navy than we did.”
“That venerable old branch of the services would never have imagined that its warships would be sailing into space.… I’ll be frank. When General Chang Weisi introduced you as the finest political cadre in the space force, I thought you would be army, because the army is the soul of your military.”
Zhang Beihai clearly did not agree, but he laughed graciously. “The same soul is found throughout the different branches of the military. In every country’s nascent space force, the military culture bears the imprint of its various branches.”
“I’m quite interested in your political and ideological work. I was hoping I could do some in-depth investigation.”
“Not a problem at all. My superiors have instructed me to hold nothing back, within the scope of my work.”
“Thank you!” Tyler hesitated before going on. “My purpose in this trip is to obtain an answer. I’d like to ask you first.”
“Of course. Go ahead.”
“Colonel, do you believe that we can restore the spirit of armies of the past?” “What do you mean by ‘past’?”
“A wide range of time, from perhaps ancient Greece through the Second World War. What’s key is the spiritual commonalities I mentioned: duty and honor above all, and, in time of need, to unhesitatingly lay down one’s life. You may have noticed that after the Second World War, this spirit vanished from the military in democratic and authoritarian countries alike.”
“The army is drawn from society, so it would mean that the past spirit you speak of would need to be
restored throughout society.” “Our views agree on this point.”
“But, Mr. Tyler, that is impossible.”
“Why? We have four hundred years. In the past, human society used exactly that amount of time to evolve from the era of collective heroism to one of individualism, so why can’t we use the same amount of time to evolve back?”
Zhang Beihai considered this for a moment, then said, “This is a profound question, but I think that society has grown up and can never return to its childhood. In the four hundred years that led to the formation of modern society, we see no cultural or mental preparation for this sort of crisis.”
“Then from what do you draw your confidence? As far as I’m aware, you are a committed triumphalist.
How will a space fleet brimming with defeatism face a powerful enemy?”
“Didn’t you just say we have four hundred years? If we can’t go backward, then we must move resolutely forward.”
Zhang Beihai’s answer was opaque. Tyler obtained nothing else from the ensuing conversation but a feeling that the man’s thoughts went deeper than a brief visit could reveal.
Tyler passed a sentry as he left the space force headquarters. When their eyes met, the sentry greeted him with a shy smile. It was something he hadn’t seen in other countries’ militaries, whose sentries stared intently straight ahead. Looking at the young man’s face, Tyler once again repeated that line to himself:
Mom, I’m going to be a firefly.
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