THE SPELL 3
Luo Ji found himself in an ominous dream. He dreamt he was walking the halls of the Louvre. It was a dream he had never had before, because the past five years of bliss had given him no cause to dream of previous joys. In this dream, he was alone with the loneliness that had been absent for five years. His every footstep reverberated through the palace halls, and something seemed to leave him with every reverberation, until at last he dared not take another step. In front of him was the Mona Lisa. She no longer smiled, but looked on him with compassion in her eyes. When his footsteps stopped, the sound of the outdoor fountains trickled in and gradually grew louder, at which point he awoke to find that the sound was coming from the real world. It was raining.
Luo Ji reached out to hold his beloved’s hand, and discovered that his dream had become a reality. Zhuang Yan was gone.
He rolled out of bed and entered the nursery, where a lamp was softly glowing, but Xia Xia wasn’t there. On the little bed, tidily made up, was one of Zhuang Yan’s paintings, a favorite of both of theirs. It was practically blank, and from a distance it looked like a sheet of paper. Closer in, you could see fine reeds in the lower left, and in the upper right the traces of a vanishing goose. In the blank center were two infinitesimally tiny people. But now, a graceful line of text had been added to it:
My love, we’re waiting for you at doomsday.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Could such a dream life last forever? It was bound to happen, so don’t worry. You’re mentally prepared for it, Luo Ji told himself, but a wave of dizziness came over him. As he picked up the painting and went toward the living room, his legs quavered and he felt as if he was floating.
The living room was empty, but the embers in the fireplace glowed a hazy red that made everything look like melting ice. The rain continued outside. It was to the same sound of rain that she had walked out of his dreams five years ago, and now she had returned to them, taking their child with her.
He picked up the phone to call Kent, but then he heard soft footsteps outside. A woman’s footsteps, but not Zhuang Yan’s. Even so, he tossed the phone down and went outside.
Luo Ji immediately recognized the slender figure standing on the porch in the rain, even though he could only see a silhouette.
“Hello, Dr. Luo,” Secretary General Say said. “Hello … Where are my wife and child?”
“They’re waiting for you at doomsday,” she said, repeating the words in the painting. “Why?”
“This is a PDC resolution, to let you work and fulfill your Wallfacer responsibilities. No harm will come to them, and children are better suited to hibernation than adults.”
“You’ve kidnapped them! That’s criminal!” “We did not kidnap anyone.”
Luo Ji’s heart quaked at the implications of Say’s statement, and he pushed them out of his mind rather than face that reality. “I said that having them here was part of the plan!”
“But after a thorough investigation, the PDC decided that it was not part of the plan, and so took steps to prompt you to get to work.”
“Even if it’s not kidnapping, you took away my child without my consent, and that’s against the law.” When he realized who he was including in “you,” his heart quaked again and he leaned back feebly against the pillar behind him.
“True, but it is well within acceptability. Do not forget, Dr. Luo, that this and all of the resources you have tapped do not fall under existing legal frameworks, so the UN’s actions in the present time of crisis can be justified under the law.”
“Are you still working on behalf of the UN?” “Yes.”
“You were reelected?” “Yes.”
He wanted to change the subject to avoid facing the cold facts, but he failed. What will I do without them? What will I do without them? his heart asked over and over. Finally it slipped out of his mouth as he slid down the pillar to the ground. It felt like everything was collapsing around him, turning to magma from the top down, except that this time the magma was burning and pooled inside his heart.
“They’re still here, Dr. Luo. They’re waiting for you safe and sound in the future. You’ve always been a sober person, and you must become even more sober now. If not for all humanity, then for your family.” Say looked down at the ground, where Luo Ji sat beside the column on the brink of a breakdown.
Then a gust of wind blew rain onto the porch. Its refreshing chill and Say’s words managed to cool the fire raging in Luo Ji’s heart to an extent.
“This was your plan from the beginning, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but this step was taken only when there was no other choice.”
“So she was … When she came, was she really a woman who did traditional painting?” “Yes.”
“From the Central Academy of Fine Arts?” “Yes.”
“Then was she…”
“Everything you saw was the real her. Everything you knew about her was true. Everything that made her her: Her past life, her family, her personality, and her mind.”
“You mean she really was that kind of woman?”
“Yes. Do you really think she could have faked it for five years? That’s how she really was. Innocent and gentle, like an angel. She didn’t fake anything, including her love for you, which was very real.”
“Then how could she carry out such a cruel deception? To never let anything slip for five years?”
“How do you know she never let anything slip? Her soul was shrouded in melancholy from the first time you saw her on that rainy night five years ago. She didn’t hide it. That melancholy stayed with her for five years like an ever-present background music that never stopped the whole time, and that’s why you didn’t notice.”
Now he understood. When he first saw her, what had it been that had touched the softest place in his heart? That made him feel like the entire world was an injury to her? That made him willing to protect her with his life? It was that gentle sadness concealed within her clear, innocent eyes—a sadness that, like the light in the fireplace, shone gently through her beauty. It was indeed an imperceptible background music that had quietly permeated his subconscious and pulled him step by step into the abyss of love.
“I can’t find them, can I?” he asked.
“That’s right. Like I said, this is a PDC resolution.” “Then I’ll go with them to doomsday.”
Luo Ji had imagined he would be turned down, but—just as when he had given up his Wallfacer status— there was practically no space between his statement and Say’s reply. He knew that things weren’t as easy as that. He asked, “Is there a problem?”
“No. This time it really is fine. You know, since the birth of the Wallfacer Project there has always been dissent within the international community. Out of their own interests, most countries have supported some of the Wallfacers while opposing others, so there was always going to be a side that wants to be rid of you. Now that the first Wallbreaker is out and Tyler has failed, forces opposed to the project have grown more powerful and have driven its supporters to a stalemate. If at this point you proposed going directly to doomsday, it would be a compromise plan acceptable to both sides. But, Dr. Luo, are you truly willing to do that while humanity is fighting for survival?”
“You politicians sound off about humanity at the drop of a hat, but I can’t see humanity. I can only see individuals. I’m just one individual, an ordinary person, and I can’t take on the responsibility of saving all of humanity. I just want to live my own life.”
“Very well. But Zhuang Yan and Xia Xia are two of those individuals. Don’t you want to fulfill your
responsibility to them? Even if she hurt you, I can see you still love her. And there’s the child, too. From the moment Hubble II finally confirmed the Trisolaran invasion, one thing has been certain: Humanity will fight to the end. When your beloved and your child awaken in four centuries, doomsday and the flames of war will be upon them, but by that time you’ll have lost your Wallfacer status and will be powerless to protect them. They will only be able to share a hellish existence with you while you await the final annihilation of the world. Is that what you want? Is that the life you want to give your wife and child?”
Luo Ji said nothing.
“If you won’t think of anything else, then just imagine that Doomsday Battle four centuries from now, and the look in their eyes when they see you! What sort of a person will they see? A man who abandoned the woman he loves most, together with all of humanity? A man unwilling to save all of the world’s children? A man who wouldn’t even save his own child? Are you, as a man, capable of withstanding their gaze?”
Luo Ji bent his head in silence. The sound of the nighttime rain falling on grass and lake was like myriad entreaties from another time and space.
“Do you really believe that I can change all of that?” Luo Ji asked, raising his head.
“Why not try? Of all the Wallfacers, you may have the greatest hope of success. I’ve come today to tell you that.”
“Go on, then. Why?”
“Because out of all of humanity, you are the only person that Trisolaris wants dead.” Leaning against the pillar, Luo Ji stared at Say, but saw nothing. He struggled to remember. Say went on. “That car crash was meant for you. It just accidentally hit your girlfriend.”
“But that really was an accident. That car changed direction because two other cars collided.” “They had been planning that for a long time.”
“But I was just an ordinary person back then, with no special protection. It would’ve been simple to kill me. Why go to such lengths?”
“To make the murder look like an accident, so as not to attract any attention. They almost succeeded. There were fifty-one traffic accidents that killed five people in the city that day. But a scout hidden within the ETO provided an intelligence report confirming that the ETO had orchestrated the attempt on your life. And what’s most frightening is this: The order came from Trisolaris itself, conveyed to Evans through the sophons. To this date, that is the only assassination they’ve ever ordered.”
“Me? Trisolaris wants to kill me? For what reason?” Again, Luo Ji felt displaced from himself.
“I don’t know. No one knows, now. Evans may have known, but he’s dead. He was evidently the one who added the requirement to the assassination order that it not attract attention. That only reinforces your importance.”
“Importance?” Luo Ji shook his head with a wry smile. “Look at me. Do I really look like someone with superpowers?”
“You don’t have superpowers, so don’t let your thoughts go in that direction. It’ll only lead you astray,” Say said, gesturing emphatically. “You had no special powers in your prior research, be they supernatural abilities or extraordinary technical skills within the known laws of nature. Or, at least, none that we have been able to discover. That Evans required that the assassination not attract attention demonstrates this point as well,
because it proves that your ability can be acquired by others.” “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We were afraid of influencing whatever it is you have. Too many unknowns. We felt it best to let things ride.”
“I’d once had a notion to work on cosmic sociology, because…” Then a small voice deep within him said, You’re a Wallfacer! This was the first time he had heard that voice. He also heard another nonexistent sound: the buzzing of the sophons as they flew about him. He even thought he saw a few blurry, firefly-like points of light. So for the first time, he acted like a Wallfacer and swallowed his words, saying only, “Is that relevant?”
Say shook her head. “Probably not. As far as we are aware, that’s just the topic of a research application that never actually went forward, much less obtained any results. Besides, even if you had done the research, we wouldn’t expect you to come up with results any more valuable than any other researcher.”
“And why is that?”
“Dr. Luo, we’re speaking frankly here. As I understand it, you’re a failure of a scholar. You perform research not out of any thirst for exploration, nor out of a sense of duty and mission, but simply as a way to make a living.”
“Isn’t that the way things are these days?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but you exhibit all kinds of behaviors unbecoming a serious and dedicated scholar. Your research is utilitarian, your techniques opportunistic, you seek out sensationalism, and you have a history of embezzling funding. Character-wise, you’re cynical and irresponsible, and you harbor a mocking attitude toward a scholar’s vocation.… We’re actually well aware of the fact that you don’t care about the fate of the human race.”
“And that’s why you would stoop to such despicable means to coerce me. You’ve despised me all along, haven’t you?”
“Under normal circumstances, a man like you would never be tasked with such an important duty, but there is this one overriding detail: Trisolaris is afraid of you. Be your own Wallbreaker. Find out why.”
When Say finished, she stepped off the porch, got into the waiting car, and disappeared into the rainy mist.
Standing there, Luo Ji lost his sense of time. Gradually, the rain stopped and the wind picked up, blowing the night sky free of clouds, revealing the snow peaks, and letting the bright round moon bathe the world in silvery light.
Before going back inside, Luo Ji took one last look at the silver Garden of Eden, and his heart said to Zhuang Yan and Xia Xia, My love, wait for me at doomsday.
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