THE DARK FOREST 2
When he saw the European man in the reception room, Luo Ji got the feeling that there was something different about him. Later, he realized that it was because the formal suit he wore didn’t flash or display any image, but resembled the clothing of a bygone era. Perhaps this was an expression of solemnity.
After Luo Ji shook his hand, the visitor introduced himself. “I’m Special Commissioner Ben Jonathan from the Solar Fleet Joint Conference. I arranged your reawakening at the committee’s behest, and now, we’re going to attend the final hearing of the Wallfacer Project. Oh, can you understand me? English has changed quite a bit.”
Luo Ji could understand what Jonathan said, but listening to him speak, the sense of Western cultural
invasion that Luo Ji had felt over the past few days because of the changes to modern Chinese disappeared, because Jonathan’s English was peppered with Chinese vocabulary. He said “Wallfacer Project” in Chinese, for example. English, formerly the most widely used language, and Chinese, spoken by the largest population, had blended with each other without distinction to become the world’s most powerful language. Luo Ji learned later that the other languages of the world were undergoing the same fusion.
The past isn’t a dream, Luo Ji thought. The past catches up with you. Then he recalled that Jonathan had said the word “final” and wondered if there was hope of a quick resolution after all.
Jonathan looked back, as if to make sure the door had been closed, and then walked over to the wall and activated an interface. He gave a few simple taps on the surface, and then all four walls and the ceiling disappeared into a holographic display.
Now Luo Ji found himself in an auditorium. Although everything was greatly changed, and the walls and table glowed softly, the designers had clearly tried to replicate the style of the old era. Everything from the great circular table and the rostrum to the overall layout embodied a nostalgia that allowed him to know at once where he was. The auditorium was empty but for two staffers laying out documents on the tables. Luo Ji was astonished to see that paper documents were still being used. Just like Jonathan’s clothes, this seemed to be an expression of solemnity.
“Remote meetings are a common practice now. Taking part in this way won’t affect the meeting’s importance or seriousness,” Jonathan said. “There’s still some time before the hearing begins, and you look like you don’t know much about the outside world. Do you need me to tell you a bit about the basics?”
Luo Ji nodded. “Of course. Thank you.”
Jonathan pointed to the auditorium and said, “I’ll be brief. First, the countries. Europe is a single country, called the European Commonwealth, and it includes both eastern and western Europe, but not Russia. Russia and Belarus unified into a country still called the Russian Federation. Canada’s French-speaking and English- speaking areas split into two countries. There have been some changes in other regions, too, but these are the major ones.”
Luo Ji was shocked. “Those are the only changes? It’s been nearly two centuries. I’d have thought the changes would have made the world unrecognizable.”
Jonathan turned back from the auditorium and nodded solemnly at Luo Ji. “Unrecognizable, Dr. Luo. The world is indeed unrecognizable.”
“No, there were early signs of those changes in our era.”
“But there’s one thing you never anticipated: There are no longer any great powers. All countries have declined in political power.”
“All the countries? Then who rose up?” “A suprastate entity: the space fleet.”
Luo Ji thought this over for a while before realizing what Jonathan meant. “You mean the space fleet is independent?”
“Yes. The fleets do not belong to any country. They form independent political and economic entities that, like countries, are members of the UN. Right now, there are three major fleets in the Solar System: the Asian Fleet, the European Fleet, and the North American Fleet. Their names refer only to their primary region of
origin, but the fleets themselves are no longer subordinate to those regions. They are entirely independent. Each one possesses the political and economic might of a superpower of your era.”
“My god,” Luo Ji exclaimed.
“But please don’t misunderstand. Earth is not ruled by a military government. The territory and sovereignty of the space fleets is in space, and they rarely interfere with the internal affairs of terrestrial society. This is stipulated by the UN charter. So right now the human world is divided into two international spheres: the traditional Earth International, and the newly emerged Fleet International. The three fleets of Fleet International—the Asian, European, and North American—make up the Solar Fleet, and the former Planetary Defense Council evolved into the Solar Fleet Joint Conference, nominally the highest command body in the Solar Fleet. However, as with the UN, it has a coordinating function, but no real power. In fact, it’s a Solar Fleet in name only. The actual power of humanity’s space-based armed forces lies in the hands of the supreme command of the three major fleets.
“Well, then, you now know enough to take part in today’s hearing. It was convened by the SFJC, which inherited the Wallfacer Project.”
Then a window opened up on the holographic display, and an image of Bill Hines and Keiko Yamasuki appeared in it. They looked unchanged. Hines greeted Luo Ji with a smile, but Yamasuki sat impassively next to him, giving only a slight nod of acknowledgement at Luo Ji’s greeting.
Hines said, “I just woke up, Dr. Luo. I was quite sorry to learn that that planet you cursed is still orbiting its star fifty light-years away.”
“Heh. A joke. An ancient joke,” Luo Ji said self-mockingly, with a wave of his hand. “But compared to Tyler and Rey Diaz, you’re pretty lucky.”
“You appear to be the only successful Wallfacer. Perhaps your strategy really has elevated human intelligence.”
Hines displayed the same self-mocking smile that Luo Ji had just exhibited, and he shook his head. “No, it really hasn’t. I know now that after we entered hibernation, research into the human mind quickly encountered an insurmountable obstacle. Going forward meant approaching the quantum level of the brain’s thought mechanisms. But at that point, like all other science, they hit the impassible sophon barrier. We didn’t elevate human intelligence. If I did anything at all, it was just to increase some people’s confidence.”
When Luo Ji entered hibernation, the mental seal had not yet been developed, so he didn’t really understand the last thing Hines said. But he noticed that when he said it, a mysterious smile flashed across Keiko Yamasuki’s frosty face.
The window vanished, and then Luo Ji realized that the auditorium was full of people. Most of them were dressed in military uniforms whose styles hadn’t changed all that much. None of the attendees had pictures decorating their clothing, but their lapel pins and epaulets all glowed.
The SFJC still used a rotating chair system. It was currently held by a civilian officer. As Luo Ji looked at him, he was reminded of Garanin. The thought struck him that he was an ancient man from two centuries ago, but he was at least fortunate compared to those of his own age who had been annihilated by the river of time.
Once the meeting opened, the chair spoke. “Representatives, at this hearing, we will hold the final vote on
Proposition 649, put forth by the North American Fleet and the European Fleet at the forty-seventh Joint Conference this year. First, let me read the proposition.
“In the second year of the Trisolar Crisis, the UN’s Planetary Defense Council established the Wallfacer Project. It was adopted unanimously by the permanent members of the UN and was implemented the following year. At its core, the Wallfacer Project attempted to develop hidden strategies for resisting the Trisolaran invasion by tasking four Wallfacers nominated by permanent member states with formulating and executing strategic plans in the seclusion of their own minds, out of reach of the sophons’ omnipresent surveillance. The UN promulgated the Wallfacer Act to guarantee privileges to the Wallfacers for formulating and executing their plans.
“The Wallfacer Project has been going on for two hundred five years to date, a time frame that has included more than a century’s hiatus. During this time, leadership of the project passed from the former PDC to the present SFJC.
“The Wallfacer Project arose out of a unique historical background. The Trisolar Crisis had just begun, and in the face of a devastating crisis unheard of in human history, the international community had descended to unprecedented levels of fear and despair. This was the climate into which the Wallfacer Project was born. It was not a rational choice, but a struggle of desperation.
“The facts of history have proven that, as a strategic plan, the Wallfacer Project was a complete and utter failure. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the most naïve and foolish action that human society as a whole has ever taken. The Wallfacers were granted unprecedented power without any legal oversight, and even possessed the freedom to deceive the international community. This violated the basic moral and legal norms of human society.
“During the execution of the Wallfacer Project, enormous quantities of strategic resources were exhausted for no reason. Wallfacer Frederick Tyler’s mosquito swarm was proven to have no strategic significance, while Wallfacer Manuel Rey Diaz’s Mercury-chain-reaction plan was unrealizable, even given humanity’s present capabilities. Moreover, both of those plans were criminal. Tyler sought to attack and wipe out Earth’s fleet, while Rey Diaz’s even more sinister goal was to hold every life on the planet hostage.
“The other two Wallfacers were similarly disappointing. The true strategic intent of Wallfacer Hines’s mental upgrade plan has not yet been revealed, but the use in the space forces of its preliminary result, the mental seal, is also a crime. It is a serious violation of freedom of thought, which is the foundation of the survival and further progress of human civilization. As for Wallfacer Luo Ji, he first irresponsibly squandered public funds on his own hedonistic lifestyle and then played to the crowds with ridiculous mysticism.
“We believe that given the decisive growth in humanity’s strength and its seizure of the initiative in the war, the Wallfacer Project no longer has any meaning. The time has come to bring the problem that history has passed down to us to an end. We propose that the SFJC immediately terminate the Wallfacer Project and abolish the UN Wallfacer Act.
“Here ends the proposition.”
The chair slowly set down the proposal document, and, glancing around the auditorium, said, “We will commence the vote on SFJC Proposition 649. All in favor?”
All of the representatives raised their hands.
Voting in this era was still done by primitive methods. Staffers walked through the auditorium solemnly verifying the number of votes, and when they reported the result to the chair, he announced, “Proposition 649 has passed unanimously and is effective immediately.” The chair raised his head. Luo Ji didn’t know whether he was looking at Hines or himself, because, like at the first remote hearing he had attended 185 years before, he still didn’t know where in the auditorium his and Hines’s images were displayed. “Now that the Wallfacer Project is terminated, the Wallfacer Act is abolished as well. On behalf of the SFJC, I hereby notify Wallfacers Bill Hines and Luo Ji that your Wallfacer status has been revoked. All associated rights granted you by the Wallfacer Act, as well as the corresponding legal immunity, are no longer in effect. You have recovered your identity as ordinary citizens of your respective countries.”
The chair declared the hearing adjourned. Jonathan stood up and switched off the holographic image, switching off Luo Ji’s two-century-long nightmare in the process.
“Dr. Luo, as far as I am aware, this is the outcome you were hoping for,” Jonathan said to him with a smile. “Yes. It’s just what I wanted. Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. And I thank the SFJC for restoring my
ordinary status,” Luo Ji said, from the depths of his heart.
“The hearing was simple. Just a vote on a proposition. I’ve been empowered to discuss matters with you in more detail. You may start with your biggest concern.”
“What about my wife and child?” Luo Ji asked, unable to hold back the question that had been tormenting him since reawakening. It was a question he had wanted to ask when he first met Jonathan, before the start of the meeting.
“Don’t worry. They’re both fine. They’re still in hibernation. I can give you their files, and you can apply to reawaken them whenever you’d like.”
“Thank you. Thank you.” Luo Ji’s eyes grew moist, and once again he had that feeling of arriving in heaven.
“However, Dr. Luo, I have a small piece of advice,” Jonathan said as he slid closer to Luo Ji on the couch. “It’s not easy for a hibernator to get used to life in this age. I advise you to stabilize your own life first before you wake them up. The UN funds are enough to keep them in hibernation for another two hundred thirty years.”
“Well, how am I supposed to live out there?”
The commissioner laughed off his question. “Don’t worry about that. You might not be used to the times, but living won’t be an issue. In this age, social welfare is excellent, and a person can enjoy a comfortable life even if they don’t do anything at all. The university you used to work at is still there, right in this city. They said they would consider the question of your work, and they’ll contact you later on.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Luo Ji, and it nearly made him shudder. “What about my security when I go out? The ETO wants to kill me!”
“The ETO?!” Jonathan burst into laughter. “The Earth-Trisolaris Organization was completely wiped out a century ago. There’s no social foundation for them to exist in the world anymore. Of course, there are still people who have those ideological tendencies, but they aren’t able to organize. You’ll be absolutely safe outside.”
As he was about to leave, Jonathan dropped his official attitude, and his suit started shining with an
exaggerated, distorted image of the sky. He smiled and said to Luo Ji, “Doctor, out of all the historical figures I’ve seen, you’ve got the greatest sense of humor. A spell. A spell on a star. Ha ha ha…”
Luo Ji stood alone in the reception room, ruminating in silence over the reality before him. After two centuries as a messiah, he was once again an ordinary person. A new life was waiting before him.
“You’re a commoner, my boy,” a gruff voice loudly intruded on Luo Ji’s thoughts. When he looked back toward the door, he saw Shi Qiang coming in. “Heh. I heard it from the guy who just left.”
It was a happy reunion. They traded experiences, and Luo Ji learned that Shi Qiang had reawakened two months before. His leukemia had been cured. The doctors had also discovered that he was at high risk of liver disease, probably due to drinking, so they had taken care of that, too. To the two of them, it didn’t really feel like they had been apart for very long. No more than four or five years, since there was no sense of time in hibernation. But meeting in a new era two centuries in the future added a deeper level to their friendship.
“I’ve come to pick you up when you’re discharged. There’s no reason to stay here,” Shi Qiang said as he took a set of clothes out of his backpack and had Luo Ji put them on.
“Isn’t it … a little big?” Luo Ji asked, opening up the jacket.
“Look at you. Two months late waking up, and you’re a yahoo next to me. Try it on.”
Shi Qiang pointed out an object on the front of the shirt and told him that he could use it to adjust the sizing. When Luo Ji put on the clothes, he heard a hissing sound, and the clothing slowly shrank to fit the dimensions of his body. It was the same with the trousers.
“Hey, you’re not wearing that same set of clothes you wore two centuries ago, are you?” Luo Ji asked, looking at Shi Qiang. He remembered quite clearly that the leather jacket Shi Qiang was wearing now was the same one he had on the last time he saw him.
“Most of my belongings got lost in the Great Ravine, but my family did keep that set of clothes for me. But it wasn’t wearable. You’ve got some things left over from that era too, and when you’re settled down you can go pick them up. I tell you, my boy, when you see how that stuff has changed, that’s when you’ll really know that nearly two hundred years isn’t a short length of time.” As he spoke, Shi Qiang pressed something somewhere on his jacket and his outfit turned entirely white. The leather texture had just been an image. “I like it like the past.”
“Can mine do that too? Can it put up images like theirs?” Luo Ji asked, looking at his own clothes. “They can, but it’s a little hard to get it set up. Let’s go.”
Luo Ji and Shi Qiang took the elevator in the trunk down to the ground floor, passed through the tree’s large foyer, and out into the new world.
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