PART III THE DARK FOREST Year 205, Crisis Era
Novel：The dark forestauthor： pubdate：2019-03-03 17:44
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Distance of the Trisolaran Fleet from the Solar System: 2 .10 l ight- years
Darkness. Before the darkness there was nothing but nothingness, and the nothingness was without color. Nothing was in the nothingness. Darkness at least meant that there was space. Soon, disturbances appeared in the darkness of space, penetrating everything like a gentle breeze. It was the sensation of time passing, for the nothingness was without time, but now time took shape in a glacial thaw. Only much later was there light, at first as a shapeless blob of brightness, and then, after another long wait, the shape of the world gradually emerged. The newly resurrected consciousness struggled to make sense of it, at first managing to work out a few thin, transparent tubes, then a human face behind them, which quickly disappeared, exposing the creamy- white light of the ceiling.
Luo Ji awoke from hibernation.
The face reappeared. It belonged to a man with a gentle expression who looked at Luo Ji and said, “Welcome to our era.” As he spoke, a field of vibrant roses flashed on his white lab coat, then gradually faded and disappeared. As he continued speaking, the coat displayed a continuous assortment of delightful images that matched his expressions and emotions: seas, sunsets, and woods in the drizzle. He told Luo Ji that his illness had been cured during hibernation, and that his reawakening had gone smoothly. Recovery would take just three days or so, and then he would completely regain normal bodily functions.…
Luo Ji’s mind, still sluggish and only partially awake, caught just one piece of information out of everything the doctor said: This was year 205 of the Crisis Era, and he had been in hibernation for 185 years.
He found the doctor’s accent peculiar at first, but he soon discovered that although the sounds of standard Mandarin hadn’t changed much, it had been stuffed with a large quantity of English words. As the doctor spoke, the text of what he said was displayed on the ceiling, apparently through voice recognition. Perhaps to help the newly awakened better understand, the English words were replaced with Chinese characters.
At last the doctor said that Luo Ji could be transferred from the revival room to the general ward. His coat showed an evening scene in which a setting sun rapidly turned into a starry sky to say farewell. As this was going on, Luo Ji felt his bed begin to move. Just out the door, he heard the doctor call out, “Next.” Twisting his head back to look, he saw another bed enter the revival room bearing someone who had obviously just been taken out of the hibernation chamber. The bed was quickly wheeled to a bank of monitors, and the doctor, his coat now a pure white, tapped on the wall with a finger, causing one-third of it to display complex curves and data that he began to manipulate intensely.
Luo Ji realized that his own reawakening was probably not a major event at all, but rather just a part of day-
to-day work here. The doctor was friendly, but in his eyes Luo Ji was nothing more than an ordinary hibernator.
Like the revival room, the hallway had no lamps. The walls themselves emitted light, and although it was soft, Luo Ji still had to squint. But as he did so, the walls in the section of corridor he was in dimmed, and the dimmed segment followed him as his bed moved. Once his eyes grew accustomed to the light, he opened them again, at which point the hallway brightened again, remaining in his comfort zone. Evidently the hallway’s brightness adjustment system was able to monitor the changes in his pupils.
Judging by that, he had to be in a personalized age. This far exceeded his expectations.
As the walls passed slowly by, he saw lots of activated displays of different sizes randomly distributed on them. Some of them were moving images that he didn’t have the time to look at clearly, and might have been left behind by users who forgot to turn them off.
Sometimes, his automatic bed crossed paths with people walking down the hallway. He noticed that both the soles of their feet and the bed’s wheels made luminous, watery waves of pressure where they contacted the ground, like what used to happen when you pressed a finger onto an LCD in his own time. The long corridor gave him an intense sense of cleanliness, as clean as a 3-D computer animation, although he knew all of it was real. He moved through it with a sense of tranquility and comfort he had never known before.
But what impressed him most about the people he saw was that everyone—doctors, nurses, and nonstaff alike—appeared clean and elegant, and smiled warmly at him or waved when they approached. Their clothes displayed gorgeous images, a different style for each person, some abstract, others concrete. He was won over by their expressions, because he knew that the eyes of ordinary people were the best reflection of the level of civilization in a time and place. He had once seen a set of photos taken by European photographers in the late Qing Dynasty, and his deepest impression had been of the dull expressions of the people in the photographs. Officials and commoners alike had eyes that revealed only numbness and stupidity, lacking the slightest shred of vitality. When the people of this new era looked at Luo Ji’s eyes, they might be having the same feeling about him. The gazes that crossed his own were full of a vigorous wisdom, and a sincerity, understanding, and love that he had rarely perceived in his own age. But what impressed him most was the confidence in their expressions. The sunny confidence that filled every pair of eyes had evidently become the spiritual backdrop for the people of this new era.
This did not seem to be an age of despair, and that was another unexpected surprise.
Luo Ji’s bed moved soundlessly into the general ward, which held two more reawakened hibernators. One of them was lying on a bed. The other, next to the door, was packing his things with a nurse’s help and seemed about ready to leave. From the look in their eyes, Luo Ji knew that both of them were from his own era. Their eyes were like the windows of time, and through them he had another glance of that gray era he had come from.
“How can they be that way? I’m their great-grandfather!” Luo Ji heard the hibernator who was about to leave complaining.
“You can’t pull seniority in front of them. It’s the law: Hibernation doesn’t count as age, so in the presence of the elderly, you’re the younger generation.… Let’s go. They’ve waited in the reception room long
enough,” the nurse said. Although she tried to avoid English words, sometimes she stumbled over Chinese words, as if speaking an ancient tongue, and was forced to use the modern language. Then the wall would display a translation into Chinese.
“I can’t even understand it when they talk. All that bird-speak mixed in!” the hibernator said, as he and the nurse each picked up a bag and went out the door.
“In this age, you’ve got to keep learning. Otherwise, you’ll just have to go live up top,” Luo Ji heard the nurse say. By now he could understand the modern language without difficulty, but he was still unclear what the nurse meant by her last sentence.
“Hello. Did you hibernate due to illness?” the hibernator in the bed beside Luo Ji asked. He was young, and looked to be in his early twenties.
Luo Ji opened his mouth but no sound came out. The young man smiled at him encouragingly. “You can speak. Try harder!”
“Hello,” Luo Ji managed hoarsely.
The young man nodded. “The one who just left did. I didn’t. I came here to escape from reality. Oh, and my name’s Xiong Wen.”
“Here … how is it?” Luo Ji asked, much more easily this time.
“I don’t really know. I’ve only been here five days. Still, it’s definitely a good era. But for us, it’s bound to be difficult to integrate into society. Mostly because we woke up too soon. A few years later would have been better.”
“A few years later? Wouldn’t that be even harder?”
“No. It’s still a state of war now, so society can’t take care of us. In a few decades, after the peace talks, there’ll be peace and prosperity.”
“Peace talks? With whom?!” “Trisolaris, of course.”
Shaken by Xiong Wen’s final statement, Luo Ji strove to sit up. A nurse entered and helped him up to a half-sitting position in bed.
“They said they want peace talks?” he asked anxiously.
“Not yet. But they’ll have no other choice,” Xiong Wen said, nimbly getting out of his bed and coming over to sit down on Luo Ji’s. He had clearly been anticipating the pleasure of introducing someone newly awakened to this era. “Don’t you know? Humanity is amazing now. Simply amazing!”
“Our spacecraft are incredibly powerful. Far more powerful than Trisolaran ships!” “How is that possible?”
“Why wouldn’t it be? Put the superweapons aside and look purely at speed. They can reach fifteen percent of the speed of light! Tons faster than the Trisolarans!”
When Luo Ji turned a skeptical eye toward the nurse, he noticed that she was exceptionally pretty.
Everyone in this age seemed to be attractive. She nodded with a smile. “It’s true.”
Xiong Wen went on, “And do you know how many ships there are in the space fleet? I’ll tell you: two thousand! Twice as many as the Trisolarans! And the number’s still growing!”
Luo Ji glanced again at the nurse, who nodded.
“You know how badly off the Trisolaran Fleet is now? In two centuries they’ve passed through the, ah, the space dust they call the snow patch three times. I heard someone say that the most recent time was four years ago, and the telescope observed that their formation has become sparser. They’re not holding together. More than half of the ships stopped accelerating long ago, and they decelerated considerably when they crossed the dust. They’re crawling now, and they won’t reach the Solar System for more than eight hundred years. They might already be broken hulks. Projecting from their current speed, no more than three hundred ships will arrive on time two centuries from now. However, one Trisolaran probe will reach the Solar System soon. This year. The other nine are following afterward and will get here three years later.”
“The probe … What’s that?” Luo Ji asked in confusion.
The nurse said, “We don’t encourage the exchange of practical information. When the previous reawakened hibernator learned about these things, it took him many days to calm down. It’s not conducive to recovery.”
“It makes me happy, so what’s it to you?” Xiong Wen said with a shrug. Then he returned to his own bed to lie down. As he lay watching the soft light emitted by the ceiling, he sighed, “The kids are all right. They’re really all right.”
“Who’s a kid?” the nurse sniffed. “Hibernation doesn’t count as age. You’re the kid.” To Luo Ji’s eyes, she actually looked younger than Xiong Wen, although he knew that his appearance-based judgment of age might not be accurate in this era.
The nurse said to him, “The people from your time are all pretty despairing. But things aren’t really all that serious.”
To Luo Ji, this was the voice of an angel. He felt like he had turned into a child who had just awakened from a nightmare, and all the frightening things he had experienced were taken care of by a smile from an adult. When she spoke, her nurse’s uniform shone a fast-rising sun, and under its golden light, the dry yellow earth turned green, and flowers bloomed in wild abandon.…
When the nurse had gone, Luo Ji asked Xiong Wen, “What about the Wallfacer Project?” Xiong Wen shook his head in confusion. “Wallfacer…? Never heard of it.”
Luo Ji asked when Xiong Wen had entered hibernation. It had been before the Wallfacer Project had started, when hibernation was very expensive. His family must have had money. But if he hadn’t heard anything about the Wallfacer Project in the five days he had been awake, that meant that even if the program hadn’t been forgotten in this era, it was no longer important.
Next, Luo Ji personally experienced the level of technology of this new age in two trivial areas.
Soon after he entered the ward, the nurse carried in his first meal after reawakening, a very small quantity of milk and bread and jam, because his stomach functions were still recovering. He took a bite of bread and felt like he was chewing sawdust.
“Your sense of taste is still recovering, too,” the nurse said.
“It’ll taste even worse once you’ve recovered,” Xiong Wen said.
The nurse laughed. “Of course, it’s not as good as the food grown on the surface in your era.” “Then where does this come from?” Luo Ji asked, through his full mouth.
“It’s produced in a factory.” “You’re able to synthesize grain?”
Xiong Wen answered for the nurse. “There’s no other option but to synthesize it. The land won’t grow any crops anymore.”
Luo Ji felt sorry for Xiong Wen. There had been people in his era who had become immune to technology and were indifferent to any sort of technological wonder, and Xiong Wen was apparently one of them. He was unable to properly appreciate this new age.
The next discovery was an incredible shock to Luo Ji, although the thing itself was still quite plain. The nurse pointed to the cup of milk and told him that it had been put into a heating cup especially for hibernators, because the people of this era generally did not drink hot liquids. Even coffee was taken cold. If he wasn’t used to drinking cold milk, he could heat it up simply by moving a slider near the bottom of the cup to the desired temperature. When he finished drinking, he inspected the cup. It looked like an ordinary glass cup apart from a thick, opaque base which must contain the heat source. But no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find any controls but the slider, and when he tried to twist the base, he found it was integrated with the rest of the cup.
“Don’t mess around with the supplies. You don’t understand them yet. It’s dangerous,” the nurse said after watching Luo Ji’s efforts.
“I’d like to know where it gets recharged.”
“Re … charged?” The nurse awkwardly repeated the word, evidently hearing it for the first time. “Charge. Recharge,” Luo Ji said in English, but the nurse just shook her head in confusion. “What happens when the batteries run out?”
“Batteries,” he said in English. “You don’t have batteries anymore?” When the nurse shook her head again, he said, “Then where does the electricity in the cup come from?”
“Electricity? There’s electricity everywhere,” the nurse said disapprovingly. “The electricity in the cup won’t run out?”
“It won’t run out.” “It’s inexhaustible?!”
“Inexhaustible. How could electricity run out?”
When the nurse left, Luo Ji still was unable to let go of the cup. He ignored Xiong Wen’s ridicule, for his surging emotions told him that he was holding a sacred object, the age-old dream of humanity: a perpetual motion machine. If humanity had really achieved inexhaustible energy, then they could achieve practically everything. Now he believed the words of the pretty nurse: Things might not be so serious.
When the doctor came into the ward for a routine checkup, Luo Ji asked him about the Wallfacer Project. “I know of it. It’s an ancient joke,” the doctor replied off handedly.
“What happened to the Wallfacers?”
“I think one of them committed suicide, and another was stoned to death.… It all happened in the project’s early days, and it’s been nearly two centuries since then.”
“And the other two?”
“I don’t know. They’re probably still in hibernation.”
“One of them was Chinese. Do you remember him?” Luo Ji ventured, staring nervously at the doctor. “You mean the one who cast a spell on a star? I think he was mentioned in premodern history class,” the
“Right. And now he’s…” Luo Ji said.
“I don’t know. I think he’s still in hibernation. I don’t pay much attention to that stuff,” the doctor said absently.
“And the star? The one he cursed, the star with a planet? What happened to it?” he asked, his heart tensing up.
“What do you think happened? It’s probably still there. That spell? What a joke!” “So nothing at all happened to that star?”
“Nothing I’ve heard, at any rate. You?” he asked the nurse.
“Me neither,” she said, shaking her head. “The world was scared to death back then and lots of silly things happened.”
“And then?” Luo Ji said with a sigh.
“Then there was the Great Ravine,” the doctor said. “The Great Ravine? What was that?”
“You’ll find out later. For now, rest up,” the doctor said with a gentle sigh. “But it’s probably better that you don’t know about it.” As he turned to leave, his white coat displayed billowing dark clouds, and the nurse’s uniform displayed lots of pairs of eyes, some of them frightened, some brimming with tears.
When the doctor had left, Luo Ji sat motionless on his bed for a long while, mumbling to himself, “A joke. An ancient joke.” Then he began laughing, silently at first, and then in great guffaws, trembling on his bed and frightening Xiong Wen, who wanted to call the doctor.
“I’m fine. Go to sleep,” Luo Ji told him. Then he lay down and soon fell asleep for the first time since his reawakening.
He dreamed of Zhuang Yan and the child. As before, Zhuang Yan walked through the snow, the child asleep in her arms.
When he awoke, the nurse walked in and said good morning to him. Her voice was soft so as not to wake the still-sleeping Xiong Wen.
“Is it morning? Why aren’t there any windows in this room?” Luo Ji asked, looking around.
“Any place on the wall can turn transparent. But the doctors feel that you aren’t ready to look outside. It’s too unfamiliar, and it will distract you and affect your rest.”
“I’ve been revived for a while now, but I still don’t know what the outside world is like. This affects my rest.” Luo Ji pointed at Xiong Wen, and said, “I’m not that kind of person.”
The nurse laughed. “That’s okay. I’m about to go off shift. Shall I take you out for a look around? You can have breakfast after you get back.”
Excitedly, Luo Ji followed the nurse to the on-call room. Looking it over, he could guess what about half of the furnishings were, but he had no idea what the rest were for. There was no computer or similar equipment, but because a display could be activated anywhere on the walls, this was to be expected. Three umbrellas
lined up outside the door caught his attention. They were in different styles, but from their shape, they were definitely umbrellas. What surprised him was their bulk. Weren’t there folding umbrellas in this age?
The nurse came out of the changing room dressed in her own clothes. Aside from the flashing movies on the fabric, changes to women’s fashion in this age were well within the scope of Luo Ji’s imagination. Compared to his own era, the major difference was their conspicuous asymmetry. He was pleased that after 185 years had passed, he could still find beauty in women’s clothing. The nurse picked up one of the umbrellas, which must have been fairly heavy, because she had to carry it over her shoulder.
“Is it raining out?”
She shook her head. “You think I’m carrying an … umbrella?” she said, unfamiliar with the last word.
“If it’s not an umbrella, then what is it?” Luo Ji pointed to the device on her shoulder, imagining that she would say some peculiar name for it.
But she didn’t. “It’s my bicycle,” she said.
When they arrived in the corridor, Luo Ji asked, “Is your home far from here?”
“If you’re talking about where I live, it’s not far. Ten or twenty minutes biking,” she said. Then, standing still and fixing him with her charming eyes, she said something that shocked him: “There are no homes now. No one has them. Marriage, family, they went away after the Great Ravine. That will be the first thing you’ll have to get used to.”
“That first thing is something I won’t be able to get used to.”
“Oh, I don’t know. In history class I learned that marriage and family had already begun to disintegrate in your own time. Lots of people didn’t want to be tied down. They wanted free lives.” This was the second time she had mentioned history class.
I was like that once, but then … Luo Ji said to himself. From the moment he’d reawakened, Zhuang Yan and the child had never really left his mind. They were the desktop wallpaper of his consciousness, perpetually on display. But no one here recognized him, and with the situation so uncertain, he couldn’t just rashly ask about their whereabouts, even though he was tormented by longing.
They walked a ways down the corridor. Then, after they’d passed through an automatic door, Luo Ji’s eyes lit up as he saw a narrow platform extending into the distance and felt fresh air blowing toward him. He sensed that he was now outside.
“What a blue sky!” was the first thing he shouted to the outside world. “Really? It can’t compare to the blue skies of your era.”
Definitely bluer. Much bluer. Luo Ji didn’t say that out loud, just reveled in the boundless blue embrace and let his soul melt. Then he had a flash of doubt: Was this heaven? In his memory, he had only ever seen such a pure blue sky during the five years he had spent apart from the world, secluded in his Garden of Eden. But this blue sky had fewer white clouds, just a couple of pale wisps in the western sky, like someone had unintentionally left a smudge. The sun that had just risen in the east shone like crystal in the entirely transparent air, with its edge rimmed in dew.
Luo Ji turned his eyes downward and immediately became dizzy. From high up, it took him a long moment to realize that what he saw from here was the city. At first he thought he was looking at a giant forest, the slender tree trunks stretching straight up toward the sky, each one sprouting perpendicular branches of varying
lengths. The city’s buildings were the leaves hanging off these branches. The layout of the city looked random, and different trees had different densities of leaves. The Hibernation and Reawakening Center formed a part of one of those large trees, and the leaf that contained his bed hung from the narrow platform that now extended out in front of him.
Looking back, the tree trunk his branch was connected to extended so far upward that it disappeared out of view. The branch they were on was located in the middle to upper section of the tree, and above and below them he could see other branches, and the structural leaves that hung on them. On closer inspection, the branches formed an intricate network of bridges in space, bridges with one end left floating in midair.
“What is this place?” Luo Ji asked. “Beijing.”
He looked at the nurse, even prettier now in the morning sun. Looking back at the place she called Beijing, he asked, “Where’s the city center?”
“In that direction. We’re outside the West Fourth Ring, in Tree 179, Branch 23, Leaf 18, so you’re almost able to see the entire city.”
Luo Ji looked for a bit into the distance where she pointed, and then exclaimed, “Impossible! How is there nothing left?”
“What would be left? In your day, there was absolutely nothing here!”
“Nothing? The Imperial Palace? Jingshan Park? Tiananmen? The China World Trade Center? It hasn’t even been two hundred years. It can’t all have been torn down.”
“All those things are still there.” “Where?”
“On the surface.”
Seeing Luo Ji’s terrified look, she burst out laughing so hard that she had to lean on the railing for support. “Ah, ha-ha. I forgot. I’m really sorry. I’ve forgotten so many times. Look, we’re underground here. A thousand meters beneath the surface … If I ever get to time travel to your time, you can get back at me and forget to tell me that the city’s on the surface, and I’ll be as terrified as you are now. Ha ha ha…”
“But … this…” He held up his hands.
“The sky is fake. The sun is fake, too,” the woman said, trying to suppress a smile. “Of course, saying it’s fake isn’t right, either, because it’s an image taken from an altitude of ten thousand meters and displayed down here, so maybe it counts as real, too.”
“Why build the city below ground? And a thousand meters—that’s really deep.”
“For the war, of course. Think about it. When the Doomsday Battle comes, won’t the surface be an ocean of fire? Yeah, that battle is another outdated idea now, but when the Great Ravine ended, all the world’s cities developed underground.”
“So all the cites in the world are underground now?” “The majority of them.”
Luo Ji took stock of the world again. Now he understood that the trunks of the great trees were the pillars supporting the vault of the underground world, and also served as the columns from which the city’s buildings were suspended.
“You won’t be claustrophobic. Look at how broad the sky is! Up on the surface, the sky’s not nearly this wonderful.”
Luo Ji looked again at the blue sky, or rather the projection of the blue sky. He now noticed a few small objects—just some scattered bits, at first, but once his eyes got used to looking, he saw that there were so many that they covered the entire sky. Strangely, the objects in the sky reminded him of someplace completely unrelated, the showcase of a jewelry store. Before he became a Wallfacer, back when he had fallen in love with the Zhuang Yan of his imagination, he had once been so obsessed that he wanted to buy his imaginary angel a present. He went to the jewelry store and looked at all the platinum pendants in the showcase, every one of them exquisite, lying there on the black velvet and twinkling under the spotlights. If the black velvet had been blue, then it would have been just like the sky he saw today.
“Is that the space fleet?” he asked excitedly.
“No. The fleet isn’t visible from here. It’s beyond the asteroid belt. Those, well, they’re everything. The ones with a visible shape are space cities, and the points of light are civilian spacecraft. But sometimes there are warships in orbit, too. Their engines are very bright, so you can’t stare at them.… Okay, I’ve got to get going. You should head back soon. It gets windy here.”
Luo Ji turned around to say good-bye, but was so surprised he couldn’t speak. The woman had her umbrella
—or, rather, her bicycle—positioned on her back like a backpack, and then it stood up in back of her and opened overhead to form two coaxial propellers that started up silently, turning in opposition to offset rotational torque. Then she lifted slowly up into the air and hopped over the railing beside her into the abyss that had so dazzled him.
Suspended there, she called to him: “You can see how this is a pretty decent age. Think of your past as a dream. See you tomorrow!”
She flew gracefully, the small propellers churning the sunlight, until she turned into a tiny dragonfly between two giant trees in the distance. Swarms of these dragonflies flew between the giant trees of the city. More notable still were the streams of flying cars like schools of fish navigating endlessly among the plants on the ocean floor. The rising sun shone onto the city and was cut into shafts of light by the trees, coating the traffic with a layer of gold.
Tears streamed down Luo Ji’s face at the sight of this brave new world, and the sensation of newborn life permeated his every cell. The past really was a dream.
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