position:homepage > The dark forest > >> THE DARK FOREST 4


Novel:The dark forestauthor: pubdate:2019-03-03 17:49

Luo Ji and Shi Qiang walked through the underground city shaded by the tree-shaped structures as streams of cars flew through the gaps in the sky above them. Because the buildings were “leaves” hanging in the air, the ground was wide open, and the widely spaced trunks of the giant trees meant there was no sense of streets, just a rolling plaza dotted with tree trunks. The environment was wonderful: The wide swaths of grasses, forests of actual trees, and fresh air all made it look at first glance like beautiful countryside. Pedestrians passed through in shining clothes like glowing ants. Luo Ji was impressed to no end by the urban design that elevated modern noise and crowdedness into the air and let the ground return to nature. Here, there was no shadow of the war,
only human comforts and pleasures.
Before they had gotten far, he heard a woman’s gentle voice. “Is that Mr. Luo Ji?” He looked around and found that the voice was coming from a billboard on the grass at the side of the road. An attractive woman dressed in a uniform was looking at him from the moving image.
“I am,” he said with a nod.
“Hello. I am Financial Counselor 8065 of the General Banking System. Welcome to our era. I will now inform you of your current financial situation.” As she spoke, a table of data appeared beside her. “These are your financial records for Year 9 of the Crisis Era, including deposits at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the China Construction Bank. There are investments in quoted securities as well, but those items may have been partially lost during the Great Ravine.”
“How does she know I’m here?” he whispered.
Shi Qiang said, “A chip’s been implanted in your left arm. Don’t worry, these days everyone’s got one. It’s like an ID card. All billboards can recognize you. Ads are all personalized now, so no matter where you go, everything on the billboards is showing just for you.”
Apparently hearing Shi Qiang’s words, the counselor said, “Sir, this isn’t an advertisement. It’s a service from the General Banking System.”
“How much do I have on deposit?” Luo Ji asked.
A highly complicated chart appeared next to the counselor. “This is the status of all your interest-bearing accounts since Year 9 of the Crisis Era. It’s fairly complicated, but you can access it in your personal information area from now on.” Another, simpler chart popped up. “This is your current financial situation in all of the various subsystems of the General Banking System.”
Luo Ji had no concept of what those figures meant, and asked blankly, “That’s … how much?”
“My boy, you’re a rich man!” Shi Qiang said, slapping him vigorously. “I may not have as much as you, but I’ve still got money. Heh, two centuries of interest—it’s a real long-term investment. Pauper to tycoon. I only regret not saving a little more.”
“Well … are you sure there’s nothing wrong?” Luo Ji asked, skeptically. “Hmm?” The big eyes of the counselor looked at Luo Ji quizzically.
“It’s been more than one hundred eighty years. Wasn’t there any inflation? Did the finance system really just continue on smoothly?”
“You’re overthinking it,” Shi Qiang said, taking a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Luo Ji knew then that tobacco was still around. But when Shi Qiang took one out, he was able to puff out clouds of smoke without lighting it.
The counselor replied, “There were many rounds of inflation during the Great Ravine, and the finance and credit systems came close to collapse. But according to current laws, interest on the deposits of hibernators is calculated according to a special formula that excludes the Great Ravine, and instead transfers the deposit amount over to the financial level of the post-Ravine period and resumes calculating interest from there.”
“Wow, that’s some preferential treatment!” Luo Ji exclaimed.
“My boy, these are good times,” Shi Qiang said, blowing out smoke. Then, raising his still-burning cigarette, he said, “Except the cigarettes are terrible.”
“Mr. Luo Ji, this is just an opportunity for us to get acquainted. When it’s convenient for you, we can discuss your personal financial arrangements and investment plan. If there’s nothing else, then I’ll say good- bye.” The counselor smiled and waved good-bye.
“I’ve got one question,” he said quickly. He didn’t know what to call young women in this era, and didn’t want to risk making a mistake by addressing her improperly. So he simply said, “I’m not too familiar with this era, so please forgive me if my question is offensive to you.”
The counselor smiled, and said, “Not a problem. Our responsibility is to help you get acquainted with this era as quickly as possible.”
“Are you a real person or a robot? Or are you a program?”
The question didn’t faze the counselor. She replied, “Of course I’m a real person. Could a computer handle services as complicated as this?”
After the woman on the billboard disappeared, Luo Ji said to Shi Qiang, “Da Shi, there are some things I find hard to understand. This is an age that has invented perpetual motion and can synthesize grain, but computer technology doesn’t seem to have advanced at all. Artificial intelligence can’t even handle personal finance.”
“What perpetual motion? You mean a perpetual motion machine?” Shi Qiang said. “Yeah. It signifies unlimited energy.”
Shi Qiang looked around him. “Where?”
Luo Ji pointed up to the stream of traffic. “Those flying cars. Do they consume oil or batteries?”
Shi Qiang shook his head. “Neither. Earth’s oil was pumped dry. Those cars can fly forever without batteries and they’ll never run out of power. They’re pretty awesome. I’m thinking of getting one myself.”
“How can you be so unmoved by a technological miracle? Unlimited power for humanity. This is as big an event as when Pangu created the heavens and the Earth! Don’t you realize what a magnificent age this is?”
Shi Qiang tossed aside the cigarette butt; then, thinking better of it, reached down and retrieved it from the grass and threw it into a nearby garbage can. “I’m unmoved? You’re an intellectual whose imagination has gotten away from him. The technology is something we actually had in our era.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I don’t understand most tech, but I do know a bit about this one thing in particular because, as it happens, I once had occasion to use a police bug that had no batteries but never ran out of power. You know how it worked? It was powered remotely by microwaves. That’s what electricity is today, although the methods are a little different from our day.”
Luo Ji stopped and stared at Shi Qiang for a long while, then up at the flying cars in the air. He thought about the heating glass, and finally understood: It was just a wireless power supply. The power source emitted electricity in the form of microwaves or other EM radiation to form an electric field over a certain space, allowing any equipment within it to draw power through an antenna or resonant coil. Like Shi Qiang had said, even two centuries ago, this technology was entirely ordinary. The only reason it hadn’t been commonplace was because the power loss was too great. Only a small portion of the power emitted into a space could be used, but the majority was lost. In this era, however, mature controlled fusion technology meant that energy sources had been greatly enriched, to the point that losses from wireless power supplies were acceptable.
“And the synthetic grain? Can’t they synthesize grain?” Luo Ji asked.
“I’m not really sure about that. Grain is still grown from seed, it’s just that it’s grown in factories in those cultivation tank things. Crops are all genetically modified, and I’ve heard that wheat grows just an ear, with no stalk. And it grows pretty quickly because of the strong artificial sunlight, and other things like intense, growth-inducing radiation. A season of wheat and rice can be harvested in a week, so from the outside it looks just like it’s produced on a production line.”
“Oh—” Luo Ji punctuated his thought with an extended sigh as the gorgeous bubbles before his eyes burst to reveal the true face of the world, and he knew that in this great new era, sophons still floated everywhere and human science was still deadlocked. Existing technology could never cross the line set down by the sophons.
“And the spacecraft that can reach fifteen percent of light speed?”
“Well, that’s true. When those warships mobilize, it’s like a tiny sun in the sky. And their space weapons— the day before yesterday I saw a news report on TV about an Asian Fleet exercise. A laser cannon swept a target ship as big as a carrier. Half of that iron guy evaporated like a chunk of ice, and the other half exploded like fireworks in a shower of sparkling molten steel. And there are railguns that can fire a hundred iron spheres a second, each the size of a football, at tens of kilometers per second. In a few minutes they can flatten a mountain on Mars.… So even though there isn’t any of your perpetual motion, with these technologies, humanity is more than capable of putting down the Trisolaran Fleet.”
Shi Qiang handed Luo Ji a cigarette and taught him how to twist the filter tip to light it. They smoked and watched the snow-white swirls drift upward. “Anyway, my boy, these are good times.”
“Yes. Good times.”
Luo Ji had hardly finished speaking when Shi Qiang pounced on him and the two of them tumbled onto the grass a few meters away, hearing a loud noise at their heels as a flying car smashed into the spot where they had just been standing. Luo Ji felt the impact of the blast, and metal debris whizzed overhead, taking out half the billboard and sending the transparent glass tubes of the display crashing to the ground. While he was still on the ground with a dizzy head and a black eye, Shi Qiang leapt up and ran over to the flying car. Its disc-shaped body was entirely broken and deformed, but due to the lack of onboard fuel, it hadn’t caught fire. There was only the sound of sparks crackling in the twisted metal.
“There’s no one in the car,” Shi Qiang said to Luo Ji, who was limping over.
“Da Shi, you saved my life again,” Luo Ji said, leaning on his shoulder and massaging his injured leg.
“I don’t know how many times I’ll have to. You really ought to grow some sense, and a few more eyes.” He pointed to the totaled flying car. “Remind you of anything?”
Luo Ji thought about that occasion two centuries before and shivered involuntarily.
Lots of pedestrians crowded round, the scenes of terror on their clothing flashing as one. Two police cars landed, sirens blaring, and several officers got out to form a line around the broken car. Their uniforms flashed like the police light, drowning out the crowd’s clothing with their brightness. The one officer who came over to Shi Qiang and Luo Ji had clothing so bright they had to shut their eyes.
“You were right here when the car fell. You aren’t hurt, are you?” he said with concern. He evidently could see that the two of them were hibernators, because he made an effort to speak “ancient Chinese.”
Before Luo Ji could answer, Shi Qiang pulled the officer who had asked the question across the tape and out of the crowd. Once they had gotten away, the officer’s uniform stopped flashing.
“You need to check up on this. It might be an assassination attempt,” he said. The officer laughed. “Really? It’s just a traffic accident.”
“We want to report it.” “Are you sure?”
“Of course. We’re reporting it.”
“You’re making a big deal out of it. You may have been startled, but it really was a traffic accident.
However, according to the law, if you insist on reporting it…” “We insist.”
The officer pressed a display area on his sleeve. It popped up an information window, which he looked over, and then said, “It’s been reported. For the next forty-eight hours, the police will track you, but this requires your agreement.”
“We agree. We might still be in danger.”
The officer laughed again. “It’s really a common occurrence.”
“A common occurrence? Let me ask you: On average, how many traffic accidents of this kind take place in this city every month?”
“There were six or seven all of last year!”
“I’ll have you know, officer: In our time, this city had more than that every day.”
“Cars all ran on the ground in your day. I can’t even imagine how dangerous that was. Well, you’re now in the police surveillance system. You’ll be notified of any progress on your case, but, please believe me, this is an ordinary traffic accident. Whether or not you filed a report, you would still receive compensation.”
After they left the police and the scene of the accident behind, Shi Qiang said to Luo Ji, “We’d better get back to my place. I don’t feel at ease when I’m outside. It’s not far. We probably should walk back. Taxis are unmanned, so it’s not safe.”
“But hasn’t the ETO been destroyed?” Luo Ji asked, looking about him. Off in the distance, the fallen car had been lifted up by a larger flying car. The crowd had dispersed, and the police car had left. A municipal works vehicle had landed, and several workmen had gotten out to gather scattered debris and begin repairs to the ground, which had been damaged by the crash. Following the small commotion, the city had returned to its normal, pleasing calm.
“Perhaps it has. But you’ve got to trust my intuition, my boy.” “I’m no longer a Wallfacer.”
“That car didn’t seem to think so.… While we’re walking, pay attention to the cars above you.”
They kept to the “shade” of the treelike buildings as much as possible, and crossed any open spaces they reached at a run. Soon they arrived at a broad plaza, and Shi Qiang said, “My place is just opposite. It’s too far to go around, so we’ll have to make a run for it.”
“Isn’t that being a little paranoid? Maybe it was just a traffic accident.”
“That’s a ‘maybe,’ though. There’s nothing wrong with being careful.… See that sculpture in the center of the plaza? If anything happens, we can hide there.”
There was a square sandy area in the center of the plaza, like a miniature desert. The sculpture that Shi Qiang mentioned, located right in the center of the sand, was a group of black pillar-like objects, each two or three meters tall. From a distance, it looked like a grove of withered black trees.
Luo Ji ran across the plaza behind Shi Qiang. When they neared the sandy area, he heard Shi Qiang call, “Hurry. Get in there!” and he was dragged skidding across the sand and then headlong into the withered grove. Lying on the grove’s warm sand, he looked up between the black pillars at the sky and saw a flying car zoom down and buzz the grove before pulling up and accelerating away. The gust of wind it left in its wake blew a burst of sand into the air, which hit the pillars with a whoosh.
“Maybe it wasn’t headed for us.”
“Hmm. Maybe,” Shi Qiang said, as he sat up and dumped the sand out of his shoes. “Will they laugh at us for this?”
“Don’t be afraid of that crap. Who’s going to recognize you? Besides, we’re from two centuries ago, so even if we’re entirely normal, people are still gonna laugh. My boy, nothing’s lost by being careful. What if the thing really was headed for you?”
Only then did Luo Ji turn his attention to the sculpture they were inside. He noticed that the pillars weren’t withered trees, but arms extending out of the desert. The skinny arms were just skin and bones, so at first glance they looked like dead tree trunks. The hands atop them made a variety of distorted gestures to the sky and seemed to express a kind of endless pain.
“What kind of sculpture is this?” Within this group of struggling arms, Luo Ji felt a chill, even though he was still sweating from the run. At the sculpture’s edge, he saw a solemn obelisk, on which was carved a line of large golden characters: MAKE TIME FOR CIVILIZATION, FOR CIVILIZATION WON’T MAKE TIME.
“The Great Ravine Memorial,” Shi Qiang said. He did not seem interested in explaining further, but led Luo Ji out of the sculpture and across the other half of the plaza at a fast clip. “Okay, my boy. This tree’s where I live,” Shi Qiang said, pointing to the massive architectural tree in front of them.
Luo Ji looked around him as he walked. All of a sudden he heard the floor creak, and then the ground fell away under his feet and he plummeted downward. Shi Qiang grabbed hold of him when his chest was already at ground level and struggled to haul him up. After he had his footing, the two of them stared at the hole in the ground. It was the mouth of a sewer, and its cover had slid aside just as Luo Ji was about to step on it.
“My god! Are you all right, sir? That’s really dangerous!” said a voice issuing from a small billboard next to them. The billboard was attached to a small pavilion containing a machine selling drinks and such, and the speaker was a young man dressed in a blue uniform. His face was pale, and he seemed even more frightened than Luo Ji. “I’m with the Office of Evacuation and Drainage at the Third Municipal Administration Company. That cover opened automatically. It might be a software failure.”
“Does this happen often?” Shi Qiang asked.
“Oh, no, no. At least, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it.”
Shi Qiang picked up a small round stone from the grass next to the road and tossed it down the hole. It was quite some time before they heard any sound. “Damn. How deep is it?” he asked the man in the billboard.
“Around thirty meters. So, like I said, it’s really dangerous! I’ve inspected the surface drainage system. The sewers in your day were all pretty shallow. This accident has been recorded. You…” He glanced at his sleeve
as he spoke. “Ah, Mr. Luo. You can go to the TMAC to be compensated.”
At last they reached the lobby leading to Shi Qiang’s tree, #1863. He said that he lived on branch 106, near the top, and advised Luo Ji to eat down below before going up. They went into a restaurant on one side of the lobby. Aside from being as clean as a 3D rendering, one characteristic of this age was even more obvious here than when he first saw it in the reawakening center: Dynamic information windows were everywhere, on the walls, tabletops, chairs, the floor and ceiling, and even on small objects like the glasses and napkin holders on the table. Everything had an interface and display with scrolling text or moving images. It was as if the entire restaurant was a giant computer display showing off a diverse and glittering splendor.
Not many people were dining. They chose a table by the window and sat down. Shi Qiang tapped the tabletop to activate an interface and then ordered a few dishes. “I can’t read the foreign writing, so I’ve only ordered Chinese ones.”
“The world seems like it’s built using bricks made from displays,” Luo Ji sighed.
“That’s right. Anything smooth can light up.” As Shi Qiang spoke he took out a pack of cigarettes and passed it to Luo Ji. “Look at this. Just a pack of cheap cigarettes.” As soon as Luo Ji held the pack in his hands, it started displaying an animated image of several miniature pictures that seemed like an options menu.
“This … it’s just a film that can display images,” Luo Ji said as he looked at the pack.
“A film? You can go online with this gadget!” Shi Qiang reached over and tapped the pack, and one of the miniature pictures sank in like a button. Then the advertisement he selected took over the entire pack.
In the picture, Luo Ji saw a family with one child sitting in a living room. The picture obviously came from the past, and a shrill voice sounded from the pack: “Mr. Luo, this is the era you used to live in. We know that in that age, owning a house in the capital was the grand dream of every person. Now, the Greenleaf Group can help you achieve that dream. As you can see, this is a wonderful age. Houses have turned into leaves on a tree, and the Greenleaf Group can provide you with every kind of leaf.” Here the picture showed a scene of leaves being added to a tree branch, and then a dazzling variety of hanging homes, one of which was even completely transparent, with furnishings inside that seemed suspended in midair. “Of course, we can also build you a traditional home on the surface to return you to the warmth of the  Golden Age,  and build you  a  warm … family…” A lawn and detached home, perhaps another old photo, appeared onscreen. The voice artist in the ad spoke in fluent “ancient Chinese,” but paused momentarily before the word “family,” then said it with particular emphasis. After all, it was something the speaker didn’t have, something that belonged to the past.
Shi Qiang took the cigarette pack out of Luo Ji’s hands, withdrew the last two cigarettes, passed one to him, and then crumpled the empty pack into a ball and tossed it onto the table. On the crumpled ball, the images still flashed, but the sound had disappeared. “Whenever I go anywhere, the first thing I do is to turn off every screen that’s around me. They’re so annoying,” Shi Qiang said, turning off the tabletop and floor displays with his hands and feet. “But the people here can’t be away from them.” He pointed around them. “There aren’t any computers anymore. Anyone who wants to go online or something can just tap any smooth surface. Clothing and shoes can be used as computers, too. Believe it or not, I’ve even seen toilet paper that you can go online with.”
Luo Ji pulled out a napkin. It was just ordinary, non-wired paper, but the paper box activated, and the
pretty woman on it hawked bandages to Luo Ji, evidently aware of today’s experiences and guessing that his arms and legs might have gotten scraped up.
“God,” Luo Ji sighed, and stuffed the napkin back in the box.
“This is the information age. Our times were pretty damn primitive,” Shi Qiang said with a laugh.
While they waited for their food, Luo Ji asked Shi Qiang about his life. He felt a little guilty for only asking now, but looking back on how the day had gone, he had been something of a clockwork machine ticking relentlessly forward. Only now did he have a bit of free time.
“They had me retire. It’s not a bad deal,” Shi Qiang said simply.
“Was it the Public Security Bureau, or the unit you were at later? Are they still around?”
“They’re around. And the PSB is still the PSB. But even before hibernation I wasn’t connected to it anymore. The unit I was with later now belongs to the Asian Fleet. You know, the fleet is like a big country, so I’m a foreigner now.” Saying this, he exhaled a long cloud of smoke. He watched the cloud ascend, as if he was trying hard to unravel a mystery.
“Countries don’t have the significance they used to.… The world’s changed. It’s confusing. Fortunately, Da Shi, you and I are the kind of indifferent people who can live, and live well, no matter what happens.”
“Luo, my boy, to tell you the truth, I’m not as open-minded as you in certain things. I’m not as uninvolved.
If I’d been through everything you have, I’d have fallen apart long ago.”
Luo Ji picked up the crumpled cigarette pack from the table, opening it to reveal the image that was still showing, with only a little discoloration. It was playing the Greenleaf Group advert. He said, “Whether as messiah, or as refugee, I can always use what resources I have to try and live a happy life. You might think I’m selfish, but to be honest, this is the only thing I respect about myself. Da Shi, let me say something about you. You look like a careless person, but deep in your bones you’re someone who prizes responsibility. Leave that responsibility completely behind now. Look at this age. Who needs us? Carpe diem is our most sacred duty.”
“Sure, but if I gave up all responsibility, you wouldn’t have much of an appetite at all right now.” Shi Qiang tossed his cigarette into the ashtray, activating a cigarette advert.
Luo Ji realized he had misspoken. “Oh, no, Da Shi, you’ve still got to carry out your responsibility to me.
I’ll die if I leave you. Already today you’ve saved me one, two, three times. Or at least two and a half!”
“I can’t just leave someone to die, you mean? That’s the life I’ve got, a life of saving yours,” Shi Qiang said disapprovingly as he cast his eyes about him, probably looking for someplace selling cigarettes. Then he looked back, leaned in to Luo Ji, and whispered, “But you really were a messiah for a little while, my boy.”
“It’s impossible for anyone in that position to be of sound mind. Fortunately, I’m now back to normal.” “How did you come up with the idea of putting a spell on that star?”
“I was seriously paranoid back then. I don’t want to think about it. Believe it or not, Da Shi, I’m certain that while I was asleep, they not only cured my illness, but also conducted psychiatric treatment. Really, I’m not the same person now that I was back then. How could I have been so stupid as to have that kind of idea? That sort of delusion?”
“What delusion? Let me hear it.”
“It’s difficult to explain briefly. Besides, there’s no point. In your work, you must have run into delusional patients, people who were always thinking someone wanted to kill them. Is there any point to listening to
those people talk?” Luo Ji methodically tore the cigarette pack into pieces. This time the display was destroyed, but the scraps still flashed in a grotesquely colored heap.
“Okay. We’ll talk about something happy. My son is still alive.” “What?” Luo Ji asked, practically jumping up in his surprise.
“I just learned about it two days ago. He looked me up. We haven’t met, just spoken by phone.” “He’s not…”
“I don’t know how long he spent in prison, but afterward he went into hibernation. He said it was to come to the future to see me. Who knows where the kid got the money. Now he’s on the surface, and he’s arranged to come over tomorrow.”
Luo Ji stood up excitedly, sweeping flashing scraps of paper to the floor. “Oh, Da Shi, that’s just … We’ve got to drink to that.”
“A drink, then. The alcohol in this age tastes awful, but it’s still the same strength.”
Then the food came. Luo Ji didn’t recognize anything, and Shi Qiang said, “Nothing’s good. There are restaurants supplied by traditional farms, but those are all high-end places. We’ll eat at one when Xiaoming comes.”
But Luo Ji’s attention had shifted to the server. Her face and body were unrealistically beautiful, and he saw that the other servers sliding between the tables had the same angelic appearance.
“Hey, don’t stare like an idiot. They’re fake,” Shi Qiang said, without looking up.
“Robots?” Luo Ji asked. At last the future had something he had seen in one of his childhood science fiction stories.
“Sort of.”
“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”
Shi Qiang pointed to a robot server and said, “This silly girl only knows how to serve food. They travel fixed paths. How stupid is that? Once I saw a table that had been temporarily moved, but they kept bringing dishes to the original location, so everything crashed to the ground.”
When the robot server had laid out the food, it smiled sweetly and wished them a good meal. Its voice did not sound robotic, but was incredibly lovely. Then, it extended a slender hand and picked up the dinner knife in front of Shi Qiang.…
Like lightning, Shi Qiang’s eyes shot from the knife in the server’s hands to Luo Ji across the table from him. He leapt up, vaulted the table, and pulled Luo Ji violently off his chair to the floor. Almost simultaneously, the robot stabbed the knife right where Luo Ji’s heart would have been. The knife went through the back of the chair, activating its information interface. The robot retracted the knife and stood beside the table with a serving tray in its other hand, still with the sweet smile on its unrealistically beautiful face. Panicked, Luo Ji struggled to stand up, then hid behind Shi Qiang. But Shi Qiang just waved his hand, saying, “Don’t worry. It’s not that agile.”
The robot stood motionless, holding the knife and smiling, and once again wished them a good meal in its gentle voice.
The startled diners had clustered around them looking at the scene in amazement. Then the duty manager came rushing over. When she heard Shi Qiang accusing the restaurant’s robot of attempted murder, she shook
her head. “Sir, that’s impossible! Their eyes don’t see people. They only see the sensors on the tables and chairs!”
“I’ll testify that it picked up a dinner knife and tried to kill that man. We saw it with our own eyes!” one man said in a loud voice. The other onlookers added their proof.
While the duty manager was considering how to rebut this, the robot stabbed the knife at the chair a second time, putting it precisely through the hole punctured the first time and eliciting a few screams.
“Have a pleasant meal,” it said with a smile.
A number of other people arrived, including the restaurant’s engineer. When he pressed the back of the robot’s head, the smile left her face and she said, “Forced shutdown. Breakpoint data backed up.” Then she froze in place.
“It’s probably a software failure,” the engineer said, wiping away cold sweat. “Does this happen often?” Shi Qiang said with a sarcastic smile.
“No, no. I swear, I’ve never even heard of anything like this,” the engineer said, then directed two assistants to haul the robot out.
The duty manager energetically explained to the customers that until the cause of the failure was identified, the restaurant would use real human servers, but about half of the customers left anyway.
“You both reacted pretty fast,” one bystander said admiringly.
“Hibernators. In their era, people had experience with this kind of sudden incident,” someone else said.
His clothing displayed a swordsman.
The duty manager said to Luo Ji and Shi Qiang, “Sirs, this was truly … Anyway, I guarantee that you’ll receive compensation.”
“Good. Now let’s eat.” Shi Qiang beckoned Luo Ji to retake his seat, and a human server brought over new dishes to replace those that had spilled.
Sitting there, his shock not yet abated, Luo Ji felt the uncomfortable hole in the chair back. “Da Shi, it seems the whole world is against me. I used to have a favorable impression of it.”
Shi Qiang considered one of the dishes in front of him, then said, “I’ve got some ideas about this.” He looked up and poured Luo Ji a drink. “Ignore it for now. I’ll tell you in detail later.”
“Here: to carpe diem, to living one day at a time. One hour at a time, even,” Luo Ji said as he raised his glass. “Here’s to your still-living son.”
“Are you really okay?” Shi Qiang said, shooting him a smile.
“I’ve been a messiah. Nothing scares me.” He shrugged, then drained his glass. The taste of the alcohol made him wince. “This is like rocket fuel.”
“You kill me, my boy. That attitude of yours has always killed me,” Shi Qiang said, sticking up a thumb.
The leaf where Shi Qiang lived was at the top of the tree. It was a spacious house, and was fully equipped with facilities for comfortable living. It had a gym, and even an indoor garden with a fountain.
He said, “The fleet gave me these temporary living quarters. They said I can buy a better leaf with my retirement money.”
“Does everyone have so much space to live in these days?”
“Probably. This kind of structure is the best use of space. A big leaf is equivalent to an entire building from


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