THE SPELL 12
Time is the one thing that can’t be stopped. Like a sharp blade, it silently cuts through hard and soft, constantly advancing. Nothing is capable of jolting it even the slightest bit, but it changes everything.
The same year as the Mercury test, Chang Weisi retired. In his final media appearance, he frankly acknowledged that he himself had no confidence in victory, but this did not affect history’s high opinion of the work of the space force’s first commander. Working for so many years in a state of anxiety had damaged his health, and he died at the age of sixty-eight. The general was lucid on his deathbed and mentioned Zhang Beihai’s name many times.
After leaving her second term in office, Secretary General Say launched the Human Memorial Project, whose goal was the comprehensive collection of data and commemorative artifacts of human civilization that would ultimately be sent out into the cosmos on unmanned spacecraft. The project’s most influential component was called the Human Diary, a Web site that was set up to allow as many people as possible to record their lifetimes in the form of text and images from their everyday lives, to become part of the data of civilization. The Human Diary Web site eventually grew to have more than two billion users and formed the largest-ever body of information on the Internet. Later, the PDC, believing that the Human Memorial Project contributed to defeatism, passed a resolution stopping its further development, and even equated it with Escapism. But Say continued to pour her individual efforts into the project until she passed away at the age of eighty-four.
After retirement, Garanin and Kent made the same choice: to seclude themselves in that Garden of Eden in northern Europe where Luo Ji had lived for five years. They were never again seen by the outside world, and no one even knew the exact date they died. But one thing was certain: They lived a long time. Some said that the two of them reached the century mark before dying a natural death.
Just as Keiko Yamasuki had predicted, Wu Yue spent the remainder of his life in depression and confusion. He worked for more than a decade on the Human Memorial Project but was unable to find any solace in it, and he passed away in loneliness at the age of seventy-seven. Like Chang Weisi, Wu Yue had Zhang Beihai’s name on his lips in his final moments. They pinned their shared hopes for the future on the stalwart warrior now hibernating through time.
Dr. Albert Ringier and General Fitzroy both lived into their eighties and saw the completion of the hundred-meter Hubble III Space Telescope, which they used to look at the planet Trisolaris. But they never again saw the Trisolaran Fleet or the probes now flying ahead of it. They did not live long enough for them to cross the third patch of snow.
The lives of ordinary people continued and ended as well. Out of the three old Beijing neighbors, Miao Fuquan was the first to depart, passing away at the age of seventy-five. He really did have his son bury him two hundred meters down an abandoned mine, and his son obeyed his last wishes to blow up the mine wall and erect a tombstone to remember him. According to his father’s will, the last generation before the Doomsday Battle was supposed to clear out the tombstone, and if humanity won, then it could be restored to its original location. But, in fact, less than half a century after his death, the area over the mine shaft became a desert. The tombstone disappeared, the mine’s location was lost, and the Miao family’s descendants couldn’t be bothered to look for it.
Zhang Yuanchao died of illness like an ordinary person at the age of eighty, and, like an ordinary person, he
was cremated. His ashes were laid in an ordinary rectangular slot on a long rack in a public cemetery.
Yang Jinwen lived till ninety-two, and the alloy vessel containing his remains headed out of the Solar System and into the vast cosmos at the third cosmic velocity. This consumed all of his savings.
But Ding Yi lived on. After the breakthrough in controlled fusion technology, he turned his attention to theoretical physics, looking for ways to escape sophon interference in high-energy particle physics experiments. He had no success. When he reached his seventies, he had, like other physicists, abandoned all hope of the possibility of a breakthrough. He entered hibernation and planned to wake at the Doomsday Battle. His sole desire was to be able to see with his own eyes the superior technology of Trisolaris.
In the century following the start of the Trisolar Crisis, everyone who had lived through the Golden Age passed away. It was an era that was constantly recalled, and the old folks who had lived through those grand times chewed over their memories of it like ruminants, savoring the flavors. They always closed with one line: “Ah, if only we knew how to cherish things back then.” Young people would listen to their stories with a mixture of envy and skepticism. That fabled peace, prosperity, and happiness, that ideal utopia free from care: Did it ever really exist?
As the elderly passed away, the departed Golden Shore vanished into the smoke of history. The ship of human civilization floated alone in the vast ocean, surrounded on all sides by endless, sinister waves, and no one knew if there even was an opposite shore.
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