THE SPELL 8 Year 20, Crisis Era
At practically the same time as Zhang Beihai was returning to Base 1, back on Earth’s Internet, a group of people hastily assembled in the wilderness of the virtual Three Body world to discuss what had just happened.
“This time, the information transmitted via sophon was very thorough, or we wouldn’t have believed he actually did it,” Qin Shi Huang said as he waved the sword about him in his uneasiness. “Look at what he did, and then look at our three attempts on Luo Ji.” He sighed. “Sometimes we’re just too nerdy. We don’t have that kind of cool competency.”
“Are we just going to sit by and let him do this?” Einstein asked.
“In accordance with the Lord’s intentions, that’s all we can do. The man is an extremely stubborn holdout and a triumphalist, and the Lord doesn’t want us to interfere unnecessarily with that type of human. Our attention must be focused on Escapism. The Lord believes that defeatism is more dangerous than triumphalism,” Newton said.
“If we are to work sincerely and seriously in the service of the Lord, we can’t wholly believe the Lord’s strategy. After all, it’s just the counsel of a child,” Mozi said.
Qin Shi Huang knocked his sword on the ground. “Nevertheless, nonintervention is correct as far as this matter is concerned. Let them turn their development in the direction of radiation drive spacecraft. With physics under sophon lockdown, that will be a technological peak that’s practically unsurpassable. Not to mention a bottomless abyss into which humanity will pour all of their time and energy and end up with nothing.”
“We are agreed on this point. But I believe this man is critical. He’s dangerous,” Von Neumann said. “Precisely!” Aristotle said, nodding repeatedly. “We used to think he was a pure soldier, but is this the
behavior of a soldier who acts in accordance with strict discipline and rules?”
“He is indeed dangerous. His faith is rock-solid, he’s farsighted and dispassionately ruthless, and he acts with calm resolve. Ordinarily he’s precise and serious, but when there’s a need he can go outside the lines and take extraordinary action,” Confucius said with a sigh. “Just like the First Emperor said, this is the sort of person we lack.”
“He won’t be hard to deal with. All we have to do is denounce his murders,” Newton said.
“It’s not that simple!” Qin Shi Huang said, flipping a sleeve at him. “It’s all your fault. You’ve been using the information you receive from the sophons to sow discord in the space force and the UN, so how did this happen? Denunciation would be an honor, or even a symbol of loyalty!”
“And we don’t have any conclusive evidence,” Mozi said. “His plans were thorough. The bullets shattered when they hit, so any autopsy would retrieve only authentic meteorites from the bodies of the dead and wounded. Everyone is going to think they died in a meteor shower. The truth is so bizarre that no one would believe it.”
“It’s a good thing he’s going to reinforce the future. At least he won’t be making trouble for us for a while.” Einstein let out a long sigh. “Gone. Everyone’s gone. Some of us should go to the future too.”
* * *
Although they said they would meet again, everyone knew in their hearts that this was a final farewell.
When the Special Contingent of Future Reinforcements headed to the hibernation center, Chang Weisi and a number of other senior space force generals came to the airport to see them off. He handed a letter to Zhang Beihai.
“This letter is for my future successor. In it, I explain your circumstances and strongly recommend you to the future Space Command. You’ll awaken no sooner than fifty years in the future, possibly longer than that, at which time you may be faced with a more challenging work environment. You’ll have to adapt to the future first, even as you preserve the spirit of the soldiers of our time. You must be cognizant of our working methods today, and know which are obsolete and which should be carried on. This may turn out to be your greatest advantage in the future.”
Zhang Beihai said, “Commander, for the first time I feel a bit of regret that I’m an atheist. Otherwise, we’d have the hope of meeting again at some other time and place.”
Chang Weisi was a little taken aback at this sentiment coming from the ordinarily sober man, and the words resonated in the hearts of everyone else. But, as soldiers, they kept the beating of their hearts deeply hidden.
“I’m gratified that we’ve been able to meet in this lifetime. Be sure to greet our future comrades for us,” Chang Weisi said.
After a final salute, the special contingent boarded the plane.
Chang Weisi’s eyes did not leave Zhang Beihai’s back for a moment. A steadfast soldier was leaving, and there might never be another like him. Where did his firm faith come from? The question had always lain hidden in the depths of his mind, and sometimes it even prompted a bit of jealousy. A soldier with faith in victory was fortunate. In the Doomsday Battle, those lucky people would be few and far between. As Zhang Beihai’s tall frame disappeared inside the cabin door, Chang Weisi had to admit that, up to the very end, he had never really understood him.
The plane took off, carrying those who would perhaps have the chance to see humanity’s final outcome, then disappeared behind thin, pale clouds. It was a bleak winter’s day. The sun that shone listlessly behind a shroud of gray clouds and the chilly wind that blew across the empty airport gave the air the feel of solidified crystal, conjuring up the sense that the springtime might never really arrive. Chang Weisi tightened the collar of his army coat. He turned fifty-four years old today, and in the dreary winter wind he saw his own end, and the end of the human race.
Year 20, Crisis Era
Distance of the Trisolaran Fleet from the Solar System: 4 .15 l ight- years
Rey Diaz and Hines were awakened from hibernation at the same time to the news that the technology they awaited had appeared.
“So soon?!” they exclaimed upon learning that just eight years had passed.
They were informed that due to unprecedented investment, technology had progressed with amazing speed over the past few years. But not everything was optimistic. Humanity was simply making a final sprint across the distance between them and the sophon barrier, so the progress they were making was purely technological. Cutting-edge physics remained stopped up like a pool of stagnant water, and the reservoir of theory was being drained. Technological progress would begin to decelerate and eventually come to a complete halt. But, for the time being at least, no one knew when the end of technology would arrive.
* * *
On feet that were still stiff from hibernation, Hines walked into a stadium-like structure whose interior was shrouded in a white fog, although it felt dry to him. He couldn’t identify what it was. A soft moonlight glow illuminated the fog, which was fairly sparse at the height of a person but grew dense enough up above that the roof was obscured. Through the fog, he saw a petite figure whom he recognized at once as his wife. When he ran to her through the fog, it was like chasing a phantom, except that in the end they came together in an embrace.
“I’m sorry, love. I’ve aged eight years,” Keiko Yamasuki said.
“Even so, you’re still a year younger than me,” he said as he looked her over. Time seemed to have left no mark on her body, but she looked pale and weak in the fog’s watery moonlight. In the fog and moonlight, she reminded him of that night in the bamboo grove in their yard in Japan. “Didn’t we agree that you would enter hibernation two years after me? Why have you waited all this time?”
“I wanted to work on preparations for our post-hibernation work, but there was too much to do, so that’s what I’ve been doing,” she said as she brushed a strand of hair from her forehead.
“Was it hard?”
“It was very hard. Six next-gen supercomputer research projects were launched not long after you went into hibernation. Three of them employed traditional architecture, one used non–Von Neumann architecture, and the other two were quantum and biomolecular computing projects. But two years later, the lead scientists of those six projects told me that the computing power we desired was impossible. The quantum computing
project was the first to be terminated, because it failed to find sufficient support in current theoretic physics: Research had run into the sophon barrier. Next, the biomolecular project was discontinued. They said it was only a fantasy. The last to end was the non–Von Neumann computer. Its architecture was actually a simulation of the human brain, but they said it was a shapeless egg that would never turn into a chicken. Only the three traditional architecture projects were still ongoing, but for a long time there was never any progress.”
“So that’s it.… I ought to have been with you the whole time.”
“It would have been no use. You only would have wasted eight years. It was only recently, during a period of time when we were totally discouraged, that we came up with the crazy idea of simulating the human brain in a practically barbaric way.”
“And what was that?”
“To put the previous software simulation into hardware by using a microprocessor to simulate one neuron, letting all the microprocessors interact, and allowing for dynamic changes to the connection model.”
Hines thought about this for a few seconds, then realized what she meant. “Do you mean manufacturing a hundred billion microprocessors?”
“That’s … that’s practically the sum total of all the microprocessors that have been manufactured in human history!”
“I didn’t run the numbers, but it’s probably more than that.”
“Even if you really had all those chips, how long would it take to connect them all together?”
Keiko Yamasuki smiled wearily. “I knew it wasn’t workable. It was just a desperate idea. But we really thought about doing it back then, and making as many as we could.” She pointed around her. “This here is one of the thirty virtual brain assembly shops we had planned. But it’s the only one that got built.”
“I really should have been here with you,” Hines repeated with more emotion.
“Fortunately we still got the computer we wanted. Its performance is ten thousand times better than when you entered hibernation.”
“Traditional architecture. A few more drops squeezed out of the lemon of Moore’s law. It astonished the computing community—but this time, my love, we’ve really come to the end.”
A peerless computer. If humanity failed, it would never be equaled, Hines thought, but did not say it out loud.
“With this computer, research on the Resolving Imager became much easier.” Then she suddenly asked, “Love, do you have any idea of what a hundred billion looks like?” When he shook his head, she smiled and stretched out her hands around her. “Look. This is a hundred billion.”
“What?” At a loss for words, Hines looked at the white fog around him.
“We’re in the middle of the supercomputer’s holographic display,” she said as she manipulated a gadget hanging at her chest. He noticed a scroll wheel on it, and thought it might be something like a mouse.
As she adjusted it, he felt a change in the surrounding fog. It thickened in what was clearly a magnification of a particular region. Then he noticed that it was made up of an uncountable number of tiny glowing particles, and these particles were emitting the moonlike illumination rather than scattering light from an
outside source. As the magnification continued, the particles became shining stars, but instead of seeing the starry sky over Earth, it was like he was situated at the heart of the Milky Way, where the stars were dense and left practically no room for darkness.
“Every star is a neuron,” she said. Their bodies were plated in silver by the ocean formed from a hundred billion stars.
As the hologram continued to enlarge, he noticed innumerable thin tentacles extending radially from every star to form intricate connections, wiping out the starfield and situating him inside an infinitely large network structure.
The image enlarged further, and every star began to exhibit a structure that was familiar to him from electron microscopy, that of brain cells and synapses.
She pressed the mouse and the image returned instantly to the white fog state. “This is a full view of the structure of the brain captured using the Resolving Imager scanning three million cross sections simultaneously. Of course, what we’re seeing now is the processed image—for the convenience of observation, the distance between neurons has been magnified by four or five orders of magnitude so it looks like we vaporized a brain. However, the topology of the connections between them has been preserved. Now, let’s take a look at a dynamic view.…”
Disturbances appeared in the fog, glittering points in the mist that looked like a pinch of gunpowder sprinkled onto a flame. Keiko Yamasuki enlarged the image until it resembled a starfield, and Hines saw the surging of startide in a brain-universe, the disturbances in the ocean of stars appearing in different forms at different locations: some like streams, others like vortexes, and others like the sweeping tides, all of it instantly mutable and giving rise to stunning pictures of self-organization within the teeming chaos. Then the image changed again to resemble a network, and he saw myriad nerve signals busily passing messages along thin synapses, like flashing pearls within the flow of an intricate network of pipes.…
“Whose brain is this?” he asked in wonder.
“Mine,” she said, looking lovingly at him. “When this thought picture was taken, I was thinking of you.”
Please note: When the l ight turns green, the s ixth batch of t es t propositions will appear. If the proposition is t rue, press the right- hand button. If the proposition is fa l s e, press the left- hand button.
Proposition 1 : Coal is black. Proposition 2 : 1 + 1 = 2 .
Proposition 3 : The t emperature in winter is lower than in summer. Proposition 4 : Men are generally shorter than women.
Proposition 5 : A s t raight l ine is the shortest distance between two points. Proposition 6 : The moon is brighter than the sun.
The statements were displayed in succession on the small screen in front of the test subject. Each proposition was displayed for four seconds, and the subject pressed the left-hand or right-hand buttons according to his own judgment. His head was encased in a metal cover that allowed the Resolving Imager to capture a holographic view of his brain, which the computer would process into a dynamic neural network model for analysis.
In this, the initial stage of Hines’s research project, the subject engaged in only the simplest of critical thinking, and the test propositions had concise and clear answers. During such simple thoughts, the operation of the cerebral neural network was relatively easy to identify and provided a starting point for a more in-depth
study of the nature of thought.
The research teams led by Hines and Keiko Yamasuki had made some progress. They discovered that critical thinking was not produced in any specific location in the cerebral neural network but used a particular mode of nerve impulse transmission, and that with the powerful computer’s assistance, this model could be retrieved and located from among the vast network of neurons using a method quite similar to the star positioning the astronomer Ringier had provided to Luo Ji. Unlike finding a particular position pattern in a starfield, in the universe of the brain the pattern was dynamic and was only identifiable by its mathematical characteristics. It was a little like looking for a small whirlpool in an expansive ocean, which meant that the computing power it required was many orders of magnitude greater than that of the starfield and was only feasible on this latest machine.
Hines and his wife strolled through the cloud map of the brain in the holographic display. Every time a point of critical thinking was identified in the subject’s brain, the computer would indicate its position on the image with a flashing red light. This was actually just a way to provide a more intuitive feast for the eyes and was not strictly required by the study. The important thing was the analysis of the internal structure of nerve impulse transmission at the point of thought, for there lay hidden the mysteries of the essence of the mind.
Just then the research team’s medical director came in and said that Subject 104 was experiencing problems.
When the Resolving Imager had just been developed, scanning such a huge quantity of cross sections generated powerful radiation that was fatal to any life being scanned, but successive improvements had brought the radiation below the danger line, and a large number of tests had demonstrated that so long as filming was kept below a set length of time, the Resolving Imager would not cause any damage to the brain.
“He seems to have caught hydrophobia,” the medical director said, as they hurried toward the medical center.
Hines and Keiko Yamasuki stopped in their tracks in surprise. Hines stared at the medical director: “Hydrophobia? Did he somehow get rabies?”
The medical director raised a hand and tried to sort out his thoughts: “Oh, I’m sorry. That wasn’t accurate. He doesn’t have any physical problems, and his brain and other organs have not been damaged at all. It’s just that he’s afraid of the water, like someone with rabies. He refuses to drink, and he won’t even eat moist food. It’s an entirely psychological effect. He just believes that water is toxic.”
“Persecutory delusion?” Keiko Yamasuki asked.
The medical director waved a hand. “No, no. He doesn’t think that anyone put poison in the water. He just believes the water itself is toxic.”
Again, Hines and his wife stopped still, and the medical director shook his head helplessly. “But psychologically, he’s completely normal in every other way.… I can’t explain it. You’ve got to see it for yourselves.”
Subject 104 was a volunteer college student who had come to earn some pocket money. Before they entered the patient’s room, the director told Hines and his wife, “He hasn’t had a drink in two days. If this continues, he’ll become severely dehydrated and we’ll have to hydrate him by force.” Standing at the door he pointed to a microwave oven, and said, “You see that? He wants bread and other food baked completely dry
before he’ll eat it.”
Hines and his wife entered the patient’s room. Subject 104 looked at them with fear in his eyes. His lips were cracked and his hair disheveled, but otherwise he looked entirely normal. He tugged at Hines’s sleeve and said in a hoarse voice, “Dr. Hines, they want to kill me. I don’t know why.” Then he pointed a finger at a glass of water sitting on the cabinet next to the head of the bed. “They want me to drink water.”
Hines looked at the glass of clear water, certain that the subject did not have rabies, because true hydrophobia would cause spasms of terror at the mere sight of it. The sound of running water would induce madness, and there might even be an intense fear response if others simply talked about it.
“From his eyes and speech, he ought to be in a normal psychological state,” Keiko Yamasuki said to Hines in Japanese. She had a degree in psychology.
“Do you really believe that water is toxic?” Hines asked.
“Is there any question? Just like the sun has light and the air has oxygen. You can’t deny this basic fact, can you?”
Hines leaned on his shoulder and said, “Young man, life was born in the water and can’t exist without it.
Your own body is seventy percent water.”
Subject 104’s eyes darkened, and he slumped back in bed, clutching his head. “That’s right. This question tortures me. It’s the most incredible thing in the universe.”
“Let me see Subject 104’s experiment record,” Hines said to the medical director after they left the patient’s room. When they reached the director’s office, Keiko Yamasuki said, “Look at the test propositions first.”
The test propositions displayed on the computer screen one by one:
Proposition 1 : Cats have a total of three legs. Proposition 2 : Rocks are not l iving.
Proposition 3 : The sun is shaped l ike a t riangle.
Proposition 4 : Iron is heavier than cotton of the s ame volume. Proposition 5 : Water is toxic.
“Stop,” Hines said, pointing to Proposition 5. “His answer was ‘false,’” the director said.
“Look at all parameters and operations following the answer to Proposition 5.”
The records indicated that once Proposition 5 was answered, the Resolving Imager increased the strength of its scan of the critical thinking point in the subject’s cerebral neural network. To improve the accuracy of the scan of this area, the intensity of the radiation and the magnetic field were increased in this small region. Hines and Keiko Yamasuki carefully examined the long list of recorded parameters on the screen.
“Has this enhanced scan been done to other subjects and on other propositions?” Hines asked.
The director said, “Because the effect of the enhanced scan was not particularly good, it was canceled after four tries due to fears of excessive localized radiation. The previous three…” He consulted the computer, and then said, “were all benign true propositions.”
“We should use the same scanning parameters and repeat the experiment for Proposition 5,” Keiko Yamasuki said.
“But … who will do it?” asked the director.
“I will,” Hines said.
Water is toxic.
Proposition 5 appeared in black text on a white background. Hines pressed the left “False” button, but he felt nothing apart from a slight sensation of heat produced by the intensive scanning at the back of his head.
He exited the Resolving Imager lab and sat down at a table, as a crowd, which included Keiko Yamasuki, watched. On the table stood a glass of clear water. He picked up the glass and slowly drew it to his lips and took a sip. His movements were relaxed and he wore an expression of quiet calm. Everyone began to sigh with relief, but then they noticed that his throat wasn’t moving to swallow the water. The muscles of his face stiffened and then twitched slightly upward, and into his eyes came the same fear Subject 104 exhibited, as if his spirit was fighting with some powerful, shapeless force. Finally he spat out all of the water in his mouth and knelt down to vomit, but nothing came out. His face turned purple. Hugging Hines to her, Keiko Yamasuki clapped him on the back with one hand.
When he had recovered his senses, he held out a hand: “Give me some paper towels,” he said. He took them and carefully wiped off the droplets of water that had splashed on his shoes.
“Do you really believe that water is toxic, love?” Yamasuki asked, tears in her eyes. Prior to the experiment she had asked him repeatedly to replace the proposition with a false one that was entirely harmless, but he had refused.
He nodded. “I do.” He looked up at the crowd, helplessness and confusion in his eyes. “I do. I really do.” “Let me repeat your words,” she said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Life was born in the water and can’t
exist without it. Your own body is seventy percent water!”
Hines bowed his head and looked at the water stains on the floor. Then he shook his head. “That’s right, dear. This question tortures me. It’s the most incredible thing in the universe.”
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