PART II THE SPELL Year 8, Crisis Era
Distance of the Trisolaran Fleet from the Solar System: 4 .20 l ight- years
Tyler had been jumpy lately. Despite the setbacks, the mosquito swarm plan eventually won PDC approval. Development of the space fighters began, but progress was slow due to a lack of advanced technologies. Humanity continued to improve on the technology of its stone age axes and clubs, inventing chemically propelled rockets. Tyler’s supplemental project, the study of Europa, Ceres, and various comets, was odd enough that some people suspected that he had come up with it purely to add a sense of mystery to the overly direct main plan. However, since it could be incorporated into the mainstream defense program, he was allowed to start working on that as well.
So Tyler had to wait. He went home and, for the first time in his five years as a Wallfacer, led the life of a normal person.
The Wallfacers were subject to increasing scrutiny from the community. Whether they had asked for the role or not, they had been set up in the eyes of the masses as messiah figures. Accordingly, a Wallfacer cult sprang up. No matter how many explanations the UN and PDC issued, legends of their supernatural abilities circulated widely and grew increasingly fanciful. In science fiction movies, they were shown as superheroes, and, in the eyes of many, they were the sole hope for humanity. This gave the Wallfacers an enormous amount of popular and political capital that guaranteed things would go smoothly when they tapped huge amounts of resources.
Luo Ji was the exception. He remained in seclusion, never showing his face. No one knew where he was or what he was doing.
One day, Tyler had a visitor. Like the other Wallfacers, his home was under heavy guard, and all visitors had to pass stringent background checks. But when he first saw the visitor in the living room, he knew that the man would pass through easily, because it was obvious at a glance that he posed no threat to anyone. On this hot day he wore a wrinkled suit, a similarly wrinkled tie, and, more annoyingly, the sort of bowler hat no one wore anymore. He evidently wanted to present a more formal appearance for his visit, since he had probably never attended a formal occasion before. Pale and emaciated, he looked malnourished. His glasses sat heavily on his skinny, pale face, his neck hardly seemed able to support the weight of his head, and his suit looked practically empty, as if it was hanging on a rack. As a politician, Tyler saw at a glance that he belonged to one of those mean social classes whose poverty was more spiritual than material, like Gogol’s petty bureaucrats who, despite their lowly social station, still worry about preserving that status and spend their whole lives engaged in uncreative, exhausting random tasks that they carry out exactingly. In everything they do, they fear
making mistakes; with everyone they meet, they fear causing displeasure; and they dare not take the slightest glance through the glass ceiling to a higher plane of society. Tyler detested those people. They were utterly dispensable, and when he thought about how they made up the majority of the world that he wanted to save, it left a bad taste in his mouth.
The man walked gingerly through the living room door, but did not dare venture further. He seemed afraid of marking the carpet with the dirty soles of his shoes. He took off his hat and looked at the master of the house through his thick glasses as he bowed repeatedly. Tyler made up his mind to send him off as soon as he spoke his first sentence, for even if what the man had to say was important to him, to Tyler it was meaningless.
In a frail voice, the pitiful man uttered his first sentence. It struck Tyler like a bolt of lightning and so dazed him that he practically sat down on the ground. Every word was like a thunderclap.
“Wallfacer Frederick Tyler, I am your Wallbreaker.”
* * *
“Who would have thought we’d one day be facing a battle map like this,” Chang Weisi exclaimed as he looked at a one-to-one-trillion-scale chart of the Solar System displayed on a monitor large enough to be a movie screen. It was almost entirely dark, except for the tiny spot of yellow in the center that was the sun. The chart radius reached the middle of the Kuiper Belt. When it was displayed in its entirety, it was like looking down on the Solar System from a distance of fifty AU above the ecliptic plane. The chart accurately marked the orbits of planets and satellites, as well as the conditions of known asteroids, and it could display a precise sectional layout of the Solar System for any point in the next millennium. Now that positional markings for celestial bodies had been turned off, the chart display was bright enough that you could make out Jupiter if you looked closely enough. It was just an indistinct, tiny bright spot, but from this distance the other seven major planets were invisible.
“Yes, we are facing major changes,” Zhang Beihai said. The military had just completed a meeting to assess its first space map, and now only the two of them remained in the spacious war room.
“Commander, I wonder if you noticed the eyes of our comrades when they saw this map,” he said.
“Of course I noticed. It’s understandable. They would have imagined a space map to be like what you find in popular science books. A couple of colored billiard balls rotating around a fireball. It’s only when they’re faced with one drawn to an accurate scale that they come to an appreciation of the vastness of the Solar System. And, whether they’re air force or navy, the furthest their air and water craft can go doesn’t even amount to one pixel on the big screen.”
“It seems that looking at the battlefield of the future did not inspire a stitch of confidence or passion for battle in our comrades.”
“And now we’re back to defeatism.”
“Commander, I don’t want to talk about the reality of defeatism today. That’s a subject for a formal meeting. What I’d like to discuss is … well…” He faltered, and smiled, a rare thing for someone who was usually so outspoken.
Chang Weisi turned away from the map and smiled back at him. “Seems you’ve got something highly unorthodox to say.”
“Yes. Or something unprecedented, at least. I’m making a recommendation.”
“Proceed. Get right down to the topic. Of course, you don’t need encouragement for that.”
“Yes, Commander. Over the past five years, little progress has been made in basic planetary defense and space travel research. The preliminary technology in those two programs—controlled nuclear fusion and the space elevator—are still at square one, with no hope in sight, and there are all kinds of problems with higher- thrust chemical rockets. If things continue in this vein, then I fear a space fleet, even at the low-tech level, will remain science fiction forever.”
“You chose high-tech, Comrade Beihai. You ought to be well aware of the rules of scientific research.” “Of course I’m aware of them. Research is a process of leaping forward, and qualitative change is only
produced by long-term quantitative accumulation. Breakthroughs in theory and technology are mostly achieved in concentrated bursts.… Still, Commander, how many people understand the problem like I do? It’s very likely that in ten or twenty or fifty years, or even a century, we still won’t have any major breakthroughs in any scientific or technical field, and at that point, how far will defeatist thinking have developed? What spiritual and mental state will have taken hold in the space force? Commander, am I really taking this too far?”
“Beihai, what I most admire about you is that you always keep the long term in mind as you work. It’s a rare thing among political cadres in this military. Please go on.”
“Well, I can only speak from the scope of my own work. Working under the above assumptions, what sort of difficulties and pressures will be faced by our future comrades engaged in political and ideological work in the space force?”
“A grimmer question is, how many ideologically qualified political cadres will be left in the forces?” added Chang Weisi. “To contain defeatism, we first need to have a firm faith in victory ourselves. But this is certain to be more difficult in your hypothetical future.”
“That’s where my worry lies, Commander. When that time comes, political work in the space force won’t be up to the task.”
“Your recommendation?” “Send reinforcements!”
Chang Weisi looked at Zhang Beihai for a few seconds, then turned back to the big screen. He moved the cursor and enlarged the sun until their epaulets reflected the sunlight.
“Commander, what I mean is…”
He raised a hand. “I know what you mean.” Then he pulled back until the entire map was displayed, plunging the war room back into gloom, and then brought the sun forward again … and again and again as he thought, until at last he said, “Has it ever occurred to you that if political and ideological work in the space force is a complex and difficult task right now, it will considerably weaken today’s work to hibernate the most outstanding political officers and send them to the future?”
“I realize that, Commander. I’m just voicing a personal suggestion. Big-picture thinking is, of course, up to my superiors.”
Chang Weisi stood up and turned on the lights, illuminating the war room. “No, Comrade Beihai, this is a job for you now. Drop everything else. Starting tomorrow, you will focus on the Space Force Political
Department, do some research into the other branches, and draft a preliminary report for the Central Military Commission as soon as possible.”
* * *
The sun was setting behind the mountains when Tyler arrived. Exiting the car, he faced a vision of paradise: the softest light of the day shining on the snow peaks, the lake, and the forest, and Luo Ji and his family enjoying the otherworldly evening in the grass on the lakeshore. What first caught his eye was the mother, so young-looking, like an older sister to the one-year-old child. From a distance it was hard to make her out, but as he drew closer, his attention shifted to the child. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed that such an adorable little being actually existed. Like a stem cell of beauty, the embryonic state of all that is beautiful. Mother and child were drawing on a large sheet of white paper as Luo Ji stood off to one side watching with interest as he had in the Louvre, gazing from a distance at his beloved, now a mother. Moving closer still, Tyler saw in his eyes an infinite bliss, a happiness that seemed to permeate everything between mountain and lake in this Garden of Eden.…
Having just arrived from the grim outside world made the scene before his eyes feel unreal. He had been married twice but was now single, and the joys of family had meant little to him in his pursuit of a man’s glory. Now, for the first time ever, he felt he had lived an empty life.
Luo Ji, captivated by his wife and child, only noticed Tyler when he had gotten quite close. Due to the psychological barriers erected by their common situation, there had been no personal contact between Wallfacers up to this point. But having spoken with him on the phone, Luo Ji showed no surprise at Tyler’s arrival, and met him with polite warmth.
“Madam, please excuse the interruption,” Tyler said with a slight bow to Zhuang Yan, who had come over with the child.
“Welcome, Mr. Tyler. We seldom have guests, so we are pleased that you could come.” Her English was strained, but her voice retained a childlike softness and she still had that cool spring of a smile, which stroked his weary soul like an angel’s hands. “This is our daughter, Xia Xia.”
He wanted to hug the child, but was afraid of losing control of his feelings, so he simply said, “Seeing you two angels is worth the trip.”
“We’ll let you talk. I’ll go and prepare dinner,” she said as she smiled at the two men.
“No, that’s not necessary. I just want to have a brief chat with Dr. Luo. I won’t take up too much time.” Zhuang Yan warmly insisted that he stay for dinner, then left with the child.
Luo Ji motioned for Tyler to sit on a white chair in the grass. When he sat down, his whole body went limp, as if his tendons had been removed. He was a traveler who had at last reached his destination after a long voyage. “Doctor, it seems like you’ve been lost to the world for the past two years,” Tyler said.
“Yes.” Luo Ji remained standing. He swept a hand about him. “This is my everything.”
“You are truly a smart man, and at least from one perspective, a more responsible man than me.” “What do you mean by that?” Luo Ji asked, with a puzzled smile.
“At least you haven’t wasted resources.… So she doesn’t watch TV either? I mean, your angel.” “Her? I don’t know. She’s always with Xia Xia these days, so I don’t think she watches much.”
“Then you really don’t know what’s happened out there over the past few days?” “What happened? You don’t look well. Are you tired? What can I get you to drink?”
“Anything,” Tyler said, watching the last golden rays of the setting sun on the lake dazedly. “Four days ago, my Wallbreaker appeared.”
Luo Ji stopped pouring the wine, and after a moment’s silence, said, “So soon?” Tyler nodded heavily. “That’s the first thing I said to him, too.”
* * *
“So soon?” Tyler said to the Wallbreaker. He tried to keep his voice calm but it ended up sounding feeble. “I’d liked to have come sooner, but I thought I’d collect more comprehensive evidence, so I’m late. I am
sorry,” the Wallbreaker said. He stood behind Tyler like a servant and spoke slowly, with a servant’s humility. His final sentence even contained a meticulousness and thoughtfulness, the understanding that an executioner shows to his victim.
Then a suffocating silence took hold. At last Tyler screwed up the courage to look at the Wallbreaker, who then asked respectfully, “Sir, shall I go on?”
Tyler nodded but averted his gaze. He sat down on the sofa and did his best to calm down.
“Thank you, sir.” The Wallbreaker bowed again, his hat still in hand. “First, I’ll briefly describe the plan you’ve shown to the outside world: Using a fleet of nimble space fighters carrying hundred-megaton-class superbombs, your fighters will assist Earth’s fleet by executing a suicide strike on the Trisolaris Fleet. Perhaps I’ve oversimplified, but that’s basically it, right?”
“There’s no point in discussing this with you,” Tyler said. He had been considering whether to terminate the conversation. The moment the Wallbreaker revealed himself, Tyler’s intuition as a politician and strategist informed him that the other man was the victor, but at this point he would be lucky if his mind had not been laid entirely bare.
“If that’s the case, sir, then I don’t have to go on, and you can arrest me. But you surely must know that regardless of what happens, your true strategy, and all of the evidence used to prove my hypothesis, will make the news across the world tomorrow, or maybe even tonight. At the cost of the rest of my life I stand before you today, and I hope that you will value my sacrifice.”
“You may continue,” Tyler said with a wave of his hand.
“Thank you, sir. I am truly honored, and I will not use up too much time.” The Wallbreaker bowed again. A humble respect so rarely seen among modern people seemed to be in his blood, able to manifest at any time, like a noose gradually tightening around Tyler’s neck. “Then, sir, was my rendition of your strategy just now correct?”
“It was not,” the Wallbreaker said. “Sir, pardon my saying it, but it was not correct.” “Why?”
“Given humanity’s technological capabilities, the most powerful weapons we are likely to possess in the future are super hydrogen bombs. In a space-battle environment, the bombs must be detonated in direct contact with their target to be capable of destroying enemy ships. Space fighters are nimble and can be
deployed in large numbers, so sending the fighter fleet in for swarmlike suicide strikes is undoubtedly the best option. Your plan is eminently reasonable. All of your behavior, including trips to Japan, China, and even the mountains of Afghanistan in search of space kamikaze pilots with a spirit of self-sacrifice, and your plan to put the mosquito fleet under your direct control once that search failed, was also entirely reasonable.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Tyler asked, sitting up on the sofa.
“Nothing’s wrong with that. But that’s just the strategy you presented to the outside.” The Wallbreaker bent down, drew near to Tyler’s ear, and continued speaking in a soft voice. “Your true strategy had small alterations. For quite a long time, you had me stumped. It was agonizing for me, and I nearly gave up.”
Tyler realized that he had a death grip on a sofa handle, and tried to relax.
“But then you gave me the key to unlock the whole puzzle. It was such a good fit that for a moment I doubted my good fortune. You know what I’m referring to: Your study of several bodies in the solar system, Europa, Ceres, and the comets. What do they have in common? Water. They all possess water, and in large quantities! On their own, Europa and Ceres have more water than in all of the oceans on Earth.…
“Rabies sufferers fear the water and can go into spasms at the mere mention of the word. I imagine you have similar feelings right now.”
The Wallbreaker drew close to Tyler and spoke directly into his ear. His breath was not the least bit warm, but felt like a ghostly wind flavored with the grave. “Water,” he whispered, as if talking in his sleep. “Water…”
Tyler remained silent, his face like a statue’s.
“Is there any need for me to continue?” the Wallbreaker asked, standing up. “No,” Tyler said in a low voice.
“But I’ll continue anyway,” the Wallbreaker said, almost gleefully. “I’ll leave historians with a complete record, even if history won’t endure for much longer. And an explanation for the Lord as well, of course. Not everyone has the keen intellect of the two of us, able to grasp the whole from the merest part. Particularly the Lord, who may not even understand a complete explanation.” He raised up a hand, as if acknowledge the Trisolaran listeners, and laughed. “Forgive me.”
Tyler’s features slackened, and then his bones seemed to melt. He slumped into the sofa. He was finished, and his spirit no longer inhabited his body.
“Now then. Setting aside the water, let’s talk about the mosquito swarm. Its first attack target will not be the Trisolaran invaders, but Earth’s own space force. This hypothesis is a bit of a reach based on the barest of signs, but I maintain that it is correct. You went around the world seeking to establish a kamikaze force for humanity, but your efforts failed. You anticipated this, but from this failure you were able to obtain two things you desired. One was total despair in humanity—this, you have achieved fully. The second I’ll discuss in a moment.”
The blade fell.
“After traveling the world you became utterly disillusioned with modern humanity’s dedication. You also became convinced that Earth’s space force did not stand a chance of defeating Trisolaris via standard combat. You therefore hatched a strategy even more extreme. In my opinion, this is a very faint hope, and an immense risk. Nevertheless, the principles of the Wallfacer Project dictate that in this war, the safest bet is to take a
“Of course, this was only the beginning. Your betrayal of humanity would be a long process, but you had time on your side. In the following months and years, you were prepared to engineer events that would add to the wall you erected between yourself and the human race. Your despair would gradually grow and your sorrow intensify, and you would leave the human world further and further behind, growing closer and closer to the ETO and Trisolaris. In fact, you took your first steps on this road when you urged mercy for the ETO at the PDC hearing not long ago. That wasn’t just for show, though. You truly need them to endure. You need members of the ETO to pilot your space fighters in the Doomsday Battle. It is a matter of time and patience, but you would succeed, because the ETO also needs you. It needs your assistance, and the resources you possess. It wouldn’t be difficult to turn over the mosquito fleet to the ETO, so long as it was kept a secret from the outside world. And if it were discovered, you could claim that it was all part of the plan.”
Tyler did not seem to be listening to the Wallbreaker. He sat on his sofa with his eyes half-closed, looking fatigued, as if he had already given up and was beginning to relax.
“Very well. Let’s talk about the water now. In the Doomsday Battle, the ETO-controlled mosquito fleet would likely launch a sneak attack on Earth’s fleet and then flee to the Lord’s fleet. Because they had just demonstrated their disloyalty to earth, Trisolaris might be willing to let them join the fleet, but the Lord would not be so fast to accept the turncoat army. A sufficiently meaningful gift would be required to win them over. What would the Lord need that the Solar System possesses? Water. On their four-century voyage, most of the water in the Trisolaran Fleet would be used up. As they approached the Solar System, dehydrated Trisolarans on board would need to be rehydrated. Since the water used for this would become part of their bodies, clean water would certainly be preferred to the stale water that had been recycled innumerable times on the ship. The mosquito fleet would offer the Lord an iceberg formed out of huge quantities of water obtained from Europa, Ceres, and the comets. I’m not certain of the specifics—I expect you don’t know right now either—but let’s say tens of thousands of tons.
“This giant chunk of ice would be propelled by the mosquito group. The mosquito fleet would likely draw very close to the Lord’s fleet when presenting the gift, at which point the second consequence of the failure of your attempt to build a kamikaze force would be put to use. That failure prompted your very logical request for independent control of the entire mosquito fleet. When Earth’s fleet draws close to the Lord’s fleet, you would take over control of the fighters from the ETO pilots and switch them to drone mode, ordering the fighters to strike their chosen targets. The superbombs would be detonated at point-blank range, annihilating all of the Lord’s ships.
The Wallbreaker straightened up and, leaving Tyler’s side, approached the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the garden. The hellish wind he had blown into Tyler’s ear dissipated, but not before the chill had penetrated his body.
“An outstanding plan. That’s not a lie. But certain oversights are inexplicable. Why were you so eager to pursue the study of water-bearing heavenly bodies? The technology to extract and transport water in quantity does not exist right now, and engineering-side R&D could take years or even decades. Even if you felt you had to start right away, why not toss in a few targets that don’t contain water—the moons of Mars, for instance? If you had done so, although it wouldn’t have prevented me from eventually exposing your plan, it
would have vastly increased the difficulty. How could a great strategist such as yourself overlook such simple tricks? On the other hand, I do recognize the pressure you are under.”
The Wallbreaker placed a gentle hand on Tyler’s shoulder, and Tyler felt a flash of tenderness, as of an executioner for his victim. He was even a little moved.
“Don’t beat yourself up. You did well enough, really. I hope history remembers you.” The Wallbreaker removed his land, a flush of restored energy on his formerly wan and sickly face. He stretched out his arms. “Well, Mr. Tyler, I’m done. Call your people.”
Tyler, his eyes still shut, said without energy, “You may leave.”
When the Wallbreaker opened the door, Tyler croaked out a final question: “If what you say is true, so what?”
The Wallbreaker turned back toward him. “So nothing. Mr. Tyler, regardless of whether or not I’ve broken your plan, the Lord does not care.”
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