THE DARK FOREST 9
Natural Selection accelerated in silence to one-hundredth the speed of light, the point of no return for its
fusion fuel consumption. Now unable to return to the Solar System under its own power, it had become a lonely boat bound to forever wander in outer space.
The commander of the Asian Fleet gazed at the stars trying unsuccessfully to find one in particular, for all there was in that direction was the faint light of the pursuers’ fusion engines. A report soon came in: Natural Selection had stopped accelerating. A while later, Natural Selection restored communication with the fleet. Then the following communication took place, with delays of more than ten seconds between transmissions due to the fact that the ship was now over five million kilometers away:
NATURAL SELECTION: Natural Selection calling Asian Fleet! Natural Selection calling Asian Fleet!
ASIAN FLEET: Natural Selection, Asian Fleet reads you. Report your status.
NATURAL SELECTION: This is acting captain Zhang Beihai. I’ll speak directly to the fleet commander.
FLEET COMMANDER: I’m listening.
ZHANG BEIHAI: I take full responsibility for Natural Selection’s breakaway voyage.
FLEET COMMANDER: Is anyone else responsible?
ZHANG BEIHAI: No. Responsibility is mine alone. The situation has nothing at all to do with anyone else aboard Natural Selection.
FLEET COMMANDER: I want to talk to Captain Dongfang Yanxu.
ZHANG BEIHAI: Not now.
FLEET COMMANDER: What is the ship’s current status?
ZHANG BEIHAI: All is good. Every crew member is still in deep-sea state, apart from me. Power systems and life support are operating normally.
FLEET COMMANDER: And your reasons for this treason? ZHANG BEIHAI: I may have deserted, but I am no traitor. FLEET COMMANDER: Your reasons?
ZHANG BEIHAI: Humanity is certain to lose on the battlefield. I only want to save one of Earth’s stellar-class spaceships to preserve a seed of human civilization in the universe, a scrap of hope.
FLEET COMMANDER: That makes you an Escapist.
ZHANG BEIHAI: I’m just a soldier fulfilling his duty.
FLEET COMMANDER: Have you received the mental seal?
ZHANG BEIHAI: You know that’s not possible. That technology wasn’t around when I went into hibernation.
FLEET COMMANDER: Then your unusually resolute defeatist beliefs are baffling.
ZHANG BEIHAI: I don’t need the mental seal. I am the master of my beliefs. My faith is resolute because it doesn’t come from my own intelligence. At the beginning of the Trisolar Crisis, my father and I began to seriously consider the most basic questions about this war. Gradually, a group of deep-thinking scholars, including scientists, politicians, and military strategists, gathered around him. They called themselves the Future Historians.
FLEET COMMANDER: Was it a secret organization?
ZHANG BEIHAI: No. They studied very basic questions, and their discussions were always conducted in the open. The government and military even came forward and held several academic conferences on Future
History. And it was from their research that I arrived at the mind-set that humanity is doomed.
FLEET COMMANDER: But the theories of Future History have since been proven incorrect.
ZHANG BEIHAI: Sir, you underestimate them. They not only predicted the Great Ravine but the Second Enlightenment and Second Renaissance as well. What they predicted for today’s era of prosperity is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. And, finally, they predicted that humanity would be totally defeated, wiped out in the Doomsday Battle.
FLEET COMMANDER: Have you forgotten that you’re on a spaceship capable of traveling at fifteen percent of the speed of light?
ZHANG BEIHAI: Genghis Khan’s cavalry attacked with the speed of twentieth-century armored units. The mounted crossbow of the Song Dynasty had a range of up to fifteen hundred meters, comparable to twentieth-century assault rifles. But it’s impossible for ancient cavalry and crossbows to compete with modern forces. Fundamental theory determines everything. The Future Historians clearly saw this point. You, on the other hand, have been blinded by the dying radiance of low-level technology and are luxuriating in the nursery of modern civilization, without any mental preparation whatsoever for the coming ultimate battle that will determine the fate of humanity.
FLEET COMMANDER: You come from a great army, one that was victorious over an enemy with far more advanced equipment. It won victory in one of the largest land wars in the world, relying solely on seized weapons. Your behavior is a disgrace to that army.
ZHANG BEIHAI: My dear commander, I’m more qualified than you to speak of that army. Three generations of my family served in it. During the Korean War, my grandfather attacked a Pershing tank armed with a grenade. The grenade hit the tank and slid off before exploding. The target was barely scratched, but my grandfather was hit by machine-gun fire from the tank, had both legs broken under its treads, and spent the rest of his life an invalid. But compared to two of his comrades, who were crushed to a pulp, he was lucky.… It’s that army’s history that so clearly taught us the significance of a technological gap during wartime. The glory you know is what you’ve read in the history books, but our trauma was cemented by the blood of our fathers and grandfathers. We know more than you do what war means.
FLEET COMMANDER: When did you conceive of your treasonous plan?
ZHANG BEIHAI: I repeat: I may have deserted, but I am not a traitor. I conceived of the plan the last time I saw my father. I saw in his eyes what I needed to do, and it took me two centuries to realize my plan.
FLEET COMMANDER: And to do this you disguised yourself as a triumphalist. A very successful disguise.
ZHANG BEIHAI: General Chang Weisi almost saw through me.
FLEET COMMANDER: Yes. He was keenly aware that he had never worked out the foundation of your triumphalist faith, and his suspicions were only aggravated by your unusual enthusiasm for radiation propulsion systems capable of interstellar travel. He had always been opposed to you joining the Special Contingent of Future Reinforcements, but he couldn’t breach his superiors’ orders. He warned us in the letter he sent, but did so in your era’s subtle way, and we overlooked it.
ZHANG BEIHAI: In order to obtain a spacecraft capable of fleeing into space, I killed three people.
FLEET COMMANDER: We did not know that. Maybe no one did. But one thing is certain: The research direction chosen at that time was crucial for the subsequent development of spaceflight technology.
ZHANG BEIHAI: Thank you for saying so.
FLEET COMMANDER: I will also say that your plan will fail.
ZHANG BEIHAI: Perhaps. But it hasn’t yet.
FLEET COMMANDER: Natural Selection’s fusion fuel is only at one-fifth capacity.
ZHANG BEIHAI: But I had to act immediately. There would be no other opportunity.
FLEET COMMANDER: What it means is that you’re only able to accelerate to one percent of light speed now. You can’t consume excess fuel, because the spaceship’s life-support systems still need power to maintain operations for a timespan that could be as short as a few decades or as long as a few centuries. But at that speed, the pursuing force will catch up to you quite soon.
ZHANG BEIHAI: I still control Natural Selection.
FLEET COMMANDER: True. And of course you know our concern: that pursuit will drive you to continue accelerating, expending fuel until life support fails and Natural Selection becomes a dead ship at near- absolute zero. That’s why the pursuit force won’t draw near Natural Selection for the time being. We have confidence that the commander and soldiers aboard will solve their own warship’s problems.
ZHANG BEIHAI: I’m also convinced that all problems will be resolved. I will shoulder my responsibility, but I still firmly believe that Natural Selection is headed in the right direction.
* * *
When Luo Ji jerked awake, he recognized something else that had endured from the past: firecrackers. It was dawn, and through the window the desert glowed white in the early light, illuminated by bursts of firecrackers and fireworks. Then came an urgent knock at the door. Without waiting for it to be answered, Shi Xiaoming opened it up and charged in, his face red with excitement as he urged Luo Ji to watch the news.
Luo Ji watched television only rarely. Since arriving in New Life Village #5, he had returned to a life in the past. After the post-awakening impact of the new era, this was a precious feeling for him, and, for the time being, he didn’t want to be disturbed by information about the present day. He spent most of his time immersed in memories of Zhuang Yan and Xia Xia. All of the paperwork had been filed for their reawakening, but government controls on hibernators meant that it would not happen for two months.
The television news broadcast the following: Five hours ago, the Ringier-Fitzroy Telescope observed the Trisolaran Fleet cross yet again into an interstellar dust cloud. This was the seventh time since its launch two centuries ago that the fleet had revealed itself by passing through a dust cloud. The fleet had lost its rigorous formation, so that the brush shape it had formed on passing through the first cloud was now altered beyond all recognition. But just as in its second crossing, a bristle was observed extending out in front. What was different this time, however, was that the shape of the track indicated that the bristle was not a probe, but a warship of the fleet. Having completed the acceleration and cruising legs of their journey to the Solar System, some of the ships in the Trisolaran Fleet had been observed decelerating as early as fifteen years ago. Ten years ago, the majority of them had begun to slow down. It was clear now that this particular ship had never reduced speed. In fact, judging from its path through the dust cloud, it was still accelerating. At its current rate of acceleration, it would arrive in the Solar System half a century before the rest of the fleet.
A lone ship charging into Solar System territory and in range of Earth’s powerful fleet would be suicide, if it
was an invasion. This left just one possible conclusion: It was coming to negotiate. Observations of the Trisolaran Fleet over the course of two centuries had determined the maximum acceleration of every ship, and projections indicated that this advance ship would be unable to decelerate sufficiently, so it would pass right through the Solar System in 150 years. That meant just two possibilities. The first was that the Trisolarans wanted Earth to assist in deceleration. More likely was that, before the ship passed out of the Solar System, it would drop a smaller craft that could decelerate more easily, a ship that would be carrying the Trisolaran negotiation delegation.
“But if they desired to negotiate, wouldn’t they notify humanity by sophon?” Luo Ji asked.
“That’s easy to explain!” Shi Xiaoming said excitedly. “It’s a different way of thinking. The Trisolarans have totally transparent minds, so they imagine that we already know what they’re thinking!”
Even though the explanation was unconvincing, Luo Ji shared Shi Xiaoming’s feeling, like the sun outside was rising early.
When the sun rose for real, the revelry reached a climax. This was just a small corner of the world, and the center of the activity was in the underground cities, where people left their trees and crowded into the streets and plazas, their clothing turned up to maximum brightness to form a glowing sea of light. Virtual fireworks blossomed in the vaults overhead, and at times a colorful burst covered the entire sky, its brilliant light a match for the sun.
News continued to arrive. The government was cautious at first, and its spokespersons stated repeatedly that there was no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that Trisolaris had the intent to negotiate. But, at the same time, the UN and the SFJC convened an emergency summit to formulate strategies for negotiation procedures and terms.…
In New Life Village #5, a short interlude paused the revelry: A city legislator came to make a speech. He was a fanatical supporter of what was called Project Sunshine and was taking this opportunity to win the support of the hibernator community.
Project Sunshine was a UN proposal whose main thrust was that, in the event of a human victory in the Doomsday Battle, defeated Trisolarans ought to be provided with space in the Solar System. There were various versions of the project. The Weak Survival Plan set up Pluto, Charon, and the moons of Neptune as Trisolaran reservations that would grant admission only to those aboard the defeated Trisolaris ships. The living conditions on these reservations would be very poor, and they would rely on fusion energy and the support of human society to sustain themselves. The Strong Survival Plan would use Mars for the Trisolaran sojourn and would eventually admit all Trisolaran immigrants, in addition to members of the fleet. This plan would provide Trisolaran civilization with the Solar System’s best living conditions apart from Earth. The other versions were more or less situated between these two, but there were also a few more extreme ideas, such as accepting Trisolarans into Earth society. Project Sunshine had won broad support from Earth International and Fleet International, and preliminary studies and planning had already begun, with many nongovernmental forces in both Internationals pushing for it. Yet it had encountered fierce resistance from the community of hibernators, who had even coined a name for supporters of the project: “Dongguo,” after the soft-hearted scholar in the fable who saved a wolf’s life.21
As soon as the legislator’s speech began, he was met with strong pushback from the audience, which tossed
tomatoes at him. Ducking, he said, “I’d like to remind you that we’re in a humanitarian age following the Second Renaissance. The life and civilization of every race are accorded the greatest respect. You are bathed in the light of this age, are you not? Hibernators in modern society enjoy citizenship in complete equality and suffer no discrimination. This principle is recognized in the constitution and in the law, but more importantly, it exists in everyone’s heart. I trust you can appreciate this. Trisolaris, too, is a great civilization. Human society must acknowledge its right to exist. Project Sunshine is not a charity. It is an acknowledgement and an expression of humanity’s own value! If we … Hey, jerks. Focus on your work!”
The legislator’s final line was addressed to his team, who were busily gathering up the tomatoes that had fallen to the ground—they were quite expensive underground, after all. When the hibernators saw this, they began tossing cucumbers and potatoes onto the stage as well, and thus the minor confrontation was resolved in mutual merriment.
At noon, every household feasted. On the grass, a sumptuous meal of unadulterated agricultural products was laid out for the city folk who had come to join in the fun, including Mr. Dongguo the legislator and his entourage. The festivities continued tipsily through the afternoon and until sunset, which was exceptionally beautiful that evening. The sandy plains outside the neighborhood looked creamily soft and delicate under the red-orange sun, and the rolling dunes looked like the bodies of sleeping women.…
By nighttime, one news item pushed their flagging spirits to new heights of excitement: the Fleet International had made the decision to combine the stellar-class warships of the Asian Fleet, the European Fleet, and the North American Fleet into a single fleet of 2,015 ships to sally forth in unison and intercept the Trisolaran probe as it crossed the orbit of Neptune!
The news propelled the revelry to a renewed climax, and fireworks filled the night sky. But it also elicited some disdain and mockery.
“Mobilizing two thousand warships for a tiny probe?”
“It’s like using two thousand butcher knives to kill a chicken!”
“That’s right! Two thousand cannons to hit a mosquito! It’s not that tough!”
“Hey, everyone, we should be more understanding of the Fleet International. You know, it might be the only chance they’ll get to fight Trisolaris.”
“Right. If this can be called fighting.”
“It’s okay. Just think of it as a military parade for humanity. Let’s see what this superfleet’s got. It’ll scare the Trisolarans to death! They’ll be so frightened they won’t be able to pee. If they even have pee.”
Close to midnight, more news came: The combined fleet had set off from Jupiter base! Viewers were informed that in the southern sky, the fleet could be seen with the naked eye. At this, the revelers quieted down for the first time and searched the sky for Jupiter. It wasn’t easy, but under the guidance of the expert on the television, they soon located the planet in the southwest. At this point, the light of the combined fleet was moving in Earth’s direction from a distance of five AU. Forty-five minutes later, the brightness of Jupiter suddenly increased, soon surpassing Sirius to become the brightest object in the night sky. Then a brilliant shining star separated from Jupiter, like a soul leaving a body. The planet returned to its original brightness as the star moved slowly away from it. That was the launch of the combined fleet.
At practically the same time, live images of Jupiter base reached Earth. On the television, people saw the sudden appearance of two thousand suns in the blackness of space. Standing out awesomely in the eternal night of space, their clean rectangular formation put one thought in everyone’s mind: God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Under the light of those two thousand suns, Jupiter and its moons seemed to have caught fire. The planet’s atmosphere, ionized by the radiation, produced lightning that filled the entire fleet-facing hemisphere and covered it in a giant blanket of electric light. The fleet accelerated with no disruption to its formation, its huge wall blocking out the sun, and then made a stately advance into space with the force of a thundercloud, declaring to the universe the dignity and invincibility of the human race. The human spirit that had been repressed since the first appearance of the Trisolaran Fleet two centuries ago had finally found total liberation. At this moment, all the stars in the galaxy silently held back their light, and Human and God stepped out proudly into the universe as one.
The people wept and cheered, and many of them were moved to loud wails. Never before in history had there been such a moment, in which every single person felt fortunate and proud to be a member of the human race.
But there were some who kept their heads. Luo Ji was one of them. Surveying the crowd, he noticed that someone else was calm: Shi Qiang was off by himself, leaning against one side of the giant holographic television, smoking a cigarette and watching the revelers indifferently.
Luo Ji went over and asked, “What are you…”
“Ah, hello my boy. I’ve got a duty to fulfill.” He indicated the ebullient crowd. “Extreme joy easily turns to grief, and now’s the best time for something to happen. Like when Mr. Dongguo lectured this morning. If I hadn’t come up with the tomatoes and such in a timely fashion, they would have used stones.”
Shi Qiang had recently been appointed chief of police for New Life Village #5. To the hibernators, the fact that someone belonging to the Asian Fleet, someone who no longer was a Chinese citizen, had been given an official post in the national government was a little strange. However, his work had been universally acclaimed among the villagers.
“Besides, I’m not the type to get carried away,” he continued, clapping Luo Ji across the shoulders. “Neither are you, my boy.”
“No, I’m not.” Luo Ji nodded. “I was always out for instant gratification. The future had nothing to do with me, even though for a while there I was forced to become a messiah. Maybe my present state is a sort of compensation for the harm from that. I’m going to bed. Believe it or not, Da Shi, I’ll actually be able to get to sleep tonight.”
“Go and see your colleague. He just arrived. Humanity’s victory might not be a good thing for him.”
Luo Ji was slightly taken aback by this remark. Looking at the man Shi Qiang pointed to, he realized with surprise that it was the old Wallfacer Bill Hines. His face was ashen and he seemed to be in a trance. He had been standing not far off from Shi Qiang and had only just now noticed Luo Ji. When they hugged each other in greeting, Luo Ji felt that Hines’s body seemed to tremble with weakness.
“I came looking for you,” he said to Luo Ji. “Only the two of us, history’s rubbish, understand each other.
But now, I’m afraid even you don’t understand me.” “What about Keiko Yamasuki?”
“Remember the Meditation Room in the UN Assembly Building?” Hines said. “It was always deserted. Tourists only visited occasionally.… Do you remember the chunk of iron ore? She committed seppuku on top of it.”
“Before she died, she cursed me, saying that my life would be worse than death, since I’m marked with the mental seal of defeatism even as humanity is victorious. She was right. I’m in real pain right now. Of course I’m happy for the victory, but it’s impossible for me to believe any of it. It’s like there are two gladiators fighting in my mind. You know, it’s far harder than trying to believe that water is drinkable.”
After he and Shi Qiang had gotten Hines set up with a room, Luo Ji returned to his own room and soon fell asleep. Once again he dreamed of Zhuang Yan and the child. When he woke, the sun was shining through the window and the revelries were still going on outside.
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