THE DARK FOREST 21 Year 208, Crisis Era
Distance of the Trisolaran Fleet from the Solar System: 2 .07 l ight- years
On a cold, drizzly autumn afternoon, a meeting of the New Life Village #5 Residents’ Council came to the following decision: Luo Ji would be expelled from the neighborhood on the grounds that he was affecting the normal life of the neighborhood’s residents. While the Snow Project was in progress, Luo Ji had frequently gone out to attend meetings, but the majority of his time was still spent in the area, and he kept in contact with various Snow Project entities from home. Disruptions had only worsened as his position declined, since from time to time crowds of people would gather at the foot of his building to jeer at him or throw stones at his window. Media interest in the spectacle was enough to make reporters as numerous as protestors. But the real reason for Luo Ji’s expulsion was that he was an utter disappointment to the hibernators.
When the meeting adjourned that evening, the neighborhood committee director went to Luo Ji’s home to inform him of the council’s decision. After pressing the doorbell repeatedly, she pushed open the unlatched door and practically choked on the mix of alcohol, smoke, and sweat that filled the room. She noticed that the walls had been converted into city-style information surfaces that allowed information screens to be called up anywhere with just a tap. A confusion of images filled the walls, most of them displaying complex data and curves, but the largest showing a sphere suspended in space: a stellar hydrogen bomb packed in oil film. The transparent film with the bomb clearly visible within it reminded the director of a marble, the sort of thing children liked to play with back in Luo Ji’s day. It rotated slowly. There was a small protrusion at one pole— the ion engine—and in the sphere’s smooth surface was the reflection of a tiny sun. All of those dazzling screens turned the room into a huge gaudy box. Since the lights were off, they were the only source of illumination, dissolving everything into blurry color so that it was hard at first to distinguish what was a physical presence and what was just an image.
Once the director’s eyes had adapted, she saw that the place looked like the basement of a drug addict, the floor littered with bottles and cigarette ends, the piles of clothes covered in ash like a garbage heap. She eventually managed to locate Luo Ji among the garbage. He was curled up in a corner, black against the backdrop of the images like a withered branch that had been cast aside. She thought he was asleep at first, but then noticed that his sightless gaze was fixed on the piles of garbage on the ground. His eyes were bloodshot, his face haggard, his body gaunt, and he seemed unable to support his own weight. When he heard the director he greeted her and turned toward her slowly, then just as slowly nodded at her, so that she knew he was still alive. But the two centuries of torment that had accumulated in his body had now completely overwhelmed him.
The director didn’t show the slightest bit of mercy toward this man who had been totally used up. Like other people of their era, she had always felt that, regardless of how dark the world seemed, ultimate justice was still present in some unseen place. Luo Ji had first validated that belief and then mercilessly shattered it, and her disappointment with him had turned to shame and then anger. Coldly, she announced the results of the meeting.
Luo Ji nodded slowly a second time, then forced a voice through his swollen throat. “I’ll leave tomorrow. I ought to be going. If I’ve done anything wrong, I ask for your forgiveness.”
It was only two days later that the director learned the true meaning of his final words.
In fact, Luo Ji had been planning on leaving that night. After seeing the neighborhood committee director off, he rose unsteadily to his feet and went into the bedroom in search of a travel bag, which he packed with a few items, including a short-handled shovel he had found in the storage room. The shovel’s triangular handle poked out of the travel bag. Then he retrieved a filthy jacket from the floor, put it on, slung the bag across his back, and went out. Behind him, the room’s information walls continued to flash.
The hallway was empty, but at the foot of the stairs he ran into a kid, probably just home from school, who stared at Luo Ji with a strange and unreadable expression as he left the building. Outside, he found that it was still raining, but he didn’t want to go back for an umbrella.
He didn’t go to his own car because that would attract the attention of the guards. Walking along the street, he left the neighborhood without running into anyone. Then he walked through the protective forest belt outside the neighborhood and he was in the desert, the drizzle sprinkling on his face like the light caress of a pair of cold hands. Desert and sky were hazy in the dusk, like the blank space of a traditional painting. He imagined himself added to that blank space, like the painting that Zhuang Yan had left behind.
He reached the highway, and after a few minutes was able to flag down a car carrying a family of three, who warmly welcomed him aboard. They were hibernators on their way back to the old city. The child was small and the mother young, and they were squeezed next to the father in the front seat, whispering to each other. Occasionally the child would burrow his head into his mother’s bosom, and whenever this happened the three of them burst out laughing. Luo Ji watched, spellbound, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying because music was playing in the car, old songs from the twentieth century. He listened as he rode, and after five or six songs, including “Katyusha” and “Kalinka,” he was filled with a longing to hear “Tonkaya Ryabina.” He had sung that song to his imaginary lover on that village stage two centuries ago, and later with Zhuang Yan in the Garden of Eden on the shore of the lake that reflected the snowy peaks.
Then the headlights of an oncoming car illuminated the backseat as the child was glancing backwards. He turned entirely around to stare at Luo Ji, then shouted, “Hey, he looks like the Wallfacer!” The child’s parents turned to look at him, and Luo Ji had to admit that he was.
Just then, “Tonkaya Ryabina” started playing.
The car stopped. “Get out,” the child’s father said coldly, as mother and child watched him with expressions as chilly as the autumn rain outside.
Luo Ji didn’t move. He wanted to listen to the song.
“Please get out,” the man said, and Luo Ji could read the words in their eyes: Not being able to save the world isn’t your fault, but giving the world hope only to shatter it again is an unforgiveable sin.
So he had to get out of the car. His travel bag was tossed out after him. As the car drove off, he ran after it for a few steps in the hopes of being able to listen to a little more of “Tonkaya Ryabina,” but the song disappeared into the cold, rainy night.
By now he was at the edge of the old city. The old high-rises of the past were visible in the distance, standing black in the rainy night, each building’s few scattered lights looking like lonely eyes. He came across a bus stop and sat shielded from the rain for nearly an hour before a driverless public bus finally arrived that was headed in the direction he wanted to go. It was mostly empty, and the six or seven people who were seated there looked like hibernators from the old city. No one on the bus spoke, just sat silently in the gloom of this autumn night. The journey passed smoothly until a little over an hour later, when someone else recognized him, and then everyone on the bus unanimously asked him to leave. He argued that he had paid the credits to buy a ticket, so surely he had the right to a seat, but a gray-haired old man took out two cash coins—rarely seen these days—and tossed them at him. So in the end he was forced off the bus.
As the bus started up, someone stuck their head out the window to ask, “Wallfacer, what are you doing with that shovel?”
“I’m digging my own grave,” Luo Ji said, to a burst of laughter from the bus. No one knew that he was telling the truth.
The rain was still coming down. There wouldn’t be any more cars now, but fortunately he wasn’t too far from his destination. He shouldered his backpack and headed off. After walking for about half an hour, he turned off the highway and onto a path. It got much darker away from the road lamps, so he took a flashlight out of his bag to illuminate the ground under his feet. The path grew more difficult, and his sodden shoes squished on the ground. He slipped time and again into the mud, which covered his body, and he had to resort to using the shovel from his bag as a walking stick. All he could see ahead of him was fog and rain, but he knew that he was walking in the right general direction.
After walking another hour through the rainy night, he reached the cemetery. Half of it was buried beneath the sand, while the half on slightly higher ground was still exposed. He used the flashlight to search the rows of headstones, ignoring the imposing monuments and only looking at the inscriptions on the smaller stones. Rainwater on the stones reflected the light like flashing eyes. He noticed that all of the headstones had been erected in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Those people were fortunate—in their last moments, they must have believed that the world they lived in would exist forever.
He didn’t have much hope that he would find the headstone he was looking for, but, as it turned out, he found it quickly. The odd thing was, despite the passage of two centuries, he recognized it without even looking at the inscription. Maybe it was the wash of the rain, but the headstone showed no traces of time. The inscription, GRAVE OF YANG DONG, seemed like it had been cut yesterday. Ye Wenjie’s grave sat beside her daughter’s, the two tombstones identical apart from the inscription. Ye Wenjie’s bore only her name and the dates of her birth and death, reminding him of the small tablet at the ruins of Red Coast Base, a memorial for the forgotten. The two headstones stood silently in the night rain, as if they’d been waiting for Luo Ji’s arrival.
He felt tired, so he sat down next to Ye Wenjie’s grave, but he soon began to shiver from the rain’s chill.
Grasping the shovel, he stood up and, next to the graves of mother and daughter, began digging his own.
At first, digging into the wet ground required little effort, but as he got farther down, the earth turned hard
and was littered with stones, which made him feel like he was digging into the mountain itself. He at once felt both the power and the powerlessness of time: Maybe only a thin layer of sand had been deposited over the course of two centuries, but the long geologic age when humans were not present had produced the mountain that now housed these graves. He dug with great effort, resting frequently, and the night slipped away unnoticed.
Sometime after midnight, the rain stopped, and then the clouds parted to reveal some of the starry sky. These were the brightest stars that Luo Ji had seen since arriving in this age. On that evening 210 years ago, he and Ye Wenjie had stood facing the same stars.
Now he saw only the stars and the headstones, the two greatest symbols of eternity.
Finally, he ran out of stamina and couldn’t dig any more. Looking at the pit he had dug, he saw that it was a little shallow for a grave, but it would have to do. Doing this was nothing more than a reminder to others that he wished to be buried on this spot, anyway. His most likely resting place would be the crematorium, where he would be burnt to ashes and then discarded in some unknown place. But it didn’t really matter. It was highly likely that shortly after his death, his remains would join the world in an even grander fire and be reduced to individual atoms.
Resting against Ye Wenjie’s headstone, he quickly dropped off to sleep. Perhaps it was because of the cold, but he once again dreamed of the snowy field. On it he saw Zhuang Yan holding Xia Xia, her scarf like a flame. She and the child were calling soundlessly to him. He shouted back desperately for them to leave this place because the droplet would strike right here, but his vocal cords produced no sound. It was like the entire world had gone mute, and everything stayed absolutely silent. But Zhuang Yan seemed to understand what he meant and walked far across the snowy field holding the child, leaving a string of footprints in the snow like a faint ink mark on a traditional painting. The snow was blank, and the ink mark was all that revealed the land, revealed the existence of the world. The impending destruction was all-encompassing, but it was a destruction that had nothing to do with the droplet.…
Once more, Luo Ji’s heart tore painfully and his hands clutched at the air in vain, but in the blankness of the snowy field, there was only Zhuang Yan’s distant form, now a small black dot. He looked about him, hoping to find anything else that was real in the blank world. As it turned out, he found it: two black tombstones standing side by side on the snowy ground. At first they were eye-catching in the snow, but then their surface began to change. They turned to mirrors that recalled the finish of the droplet, and their inscriptions disappeared. He bent down toward one of them, wanting to look at himself in the mirror, but what he saw in the mirror wasn’t a reflection. The snowy field in the mirror did not have the figure of Zhuang Yan, just a line of faint footprints in the snow. He whipped his head around and saw that the snowy field outside the mirror was just a blank expanse—the footprints had disappeared. When he turned back to the mirrors, they reflected the blank world and were practically invisible themselves. But his hand could still feel their cold, smooth surface.…
He awoke when it was just daybreak. The graveyard was clearer in the first light of dawn, and from his prone vantage point, the surrounding headstones made him feel like he was in a prehistoric Stonehenge. He had a high fever, and his body’s violent trembling sent his teeth chattering. His body seemed like a wick that had burnt dry and was consuming itself. He knew that the time had come.
Leaning against Ye Wenjie’s headstone, he tried to stand up, but then a small, moving black dot caught his attention. Ants ought to be fairly rare during this season, but it was indeed an ant crawling on the stone. Like its fellow ant two centuries before, it was attracted by the inscription and devoted itself to exploring the mysterious crisscrossing trenches. Luo Ji’s heart experienced a last spasm of pain as he watched it, this time for all life on Earth.
“If I’ve done anything wrong, I’m sorry,” he said to the ant.
He stood up with difficulty, trembling weakly. He had to support himself on the headstone to be able to stand. Reaching out a hand, he straightened his soaked, mud-covered clothing and wild hair, then groped in his jacket pocket for a metal tube: a fully charged pistol.
Then, facing the dawn in the east, he began a final showdown between the civilization of Earth and the civilization of Trisolaris.
* * *
“I am speaking to Trisolaris,” Luo Ji said. His voice wasn’t loud. He thought about repeating himself, but he knew that they could hear him.
Nothing changed. The headstones stood quietly in the stillness of the dawn. Puddles on the ground reflected the brightening sky like countless mirrors, giving the illusion that the Earth was a mirrored sphere with the ground and the world just a thin layer on top. The rain’s erosion had exposed small pieces of the sphere’s smooth surface.
It was a world that had not awakened yet, and didn’t know that it was now a chip placed on a cosmic gambling table.
Luo Ji raised his left hand, revealing an object on his wrist the size of a watch. “This is a vital signs monitor linked through a transmitter to a cradle system. You remember Wallfacer Rey Diaz from two centuries ago, so you certainly know about cradle systems. The signal sent from this monitor travels the links of the cradle system to the Snow Project’s 3,614 bombs deployed in solar orbit. The signal is sent once every second to maintain the bombs in a non-triggered state. If I die, the system’s maintenance signal will vanish and all of the bombs will detonate, turning the oil film surrounding the bombs into 3,614 interstellar dust clouds ringing the sun. From a distance, the sun’s visible light and other high-frequency bands will appear to flicker through the dust cloud coverage. The position of every bomb has been precisely arranged in solar orbit so that this flickering will generate a signal transmitting three simple images of the sort I sent out two centuries ago: each image an arrangement of thirty points, with one labeled, for composition into a three-dimensional coordinate diagram. But, unlike last time, the position will contain the transmission of Trisolaris relative to its surrounding twenty-nine stars. The sun will be a galactic lighthouse casting that spell, in the process, of course, also exposing the position of the sun and Earth. To receive the entire transmission at any single point in the galaxy will take more than a year, but there ought to be more than a few civilizations that have the technology to observe the sun from multiple vantage points. If that’s the case, they may only need a few days, or even a few hours, to obtain all the information they need.”
As daylight brightened, the stars went out one by one like the gradual shutting of innumerable eyes, even as the morning sky slowly opened in the east like a single giant eye. The ant continued its climb, threading the
maze of Ye Wenjie’s name on her gravestone. Its species had been living on the Earth a hundred million years before the emergence of this gambler who now leaned on the stone. Even though it had no care for what was now happening, it held a stake in the world.
Luo Ji left the gravestones and stood beside the pit he had dug for himself. He placed the tip of the pistol to his heart and said, “Now, I’m going to stop the beating of my heart. By doing so, I will be committing the greatest crime in the history of our two worlds. I express my deepest apologies to our two civilizations for the crime that I commit, but I have no regrets, because this is the only option. I know the sophons are nearby, but you have ignored humanity’s call. Silence is the greatest form of contempt, and we have put up with this contempt for two centuries. Now, if you wish, you can continue to remain silent. I will give you thirty seconds.”
He marked time according to his pulse, counting two beats to a second since his heart was beating so rapidly, but in his heightened anxiety he started off wrong and had to begin again. So he wasn’t certain how much time had passed by the time the sophons appeared. Possibly less than ten seconds in objective time, but subjectively, it took a lifetime. He saw the world before his eyes split into four parts: one part made up of the real world that surrounded him; the other three, deformed images in three spheres that appeared suddenly overhead, whose mirror surfaces were exactly like the gravestones he had seen in his last dream. He didn’t know which of the sophons’ dimensional unfoldings this was, but the three spheres were big enough to cover half the sky above him, blocking out the brightening light in the east. In the spheres’ reflection of the western sky, he could see a few lingering stars, and the bottom of the spheres reflected a deformed graveyard and his own image. What he most wanted to know was why there were three of them. His first thought was that they symbolized Trisolaris, just like the work of art that Ye Wenjie had seen at the final ETO gathering. But looking at what the spheres reflected—an uncommonly clear, albeit deformed, picture of reality—he had the sense that they were entrances to three parallel worlds, implying three possible choices.
But what he saw next negated this notion, because the three spheres flashed the same word:
“Can I discuss terms?” Luo Ji asked, looking up at the three spheres.
First put down the gun, and then we can discuss terms.
The words displayed simultaneously on the spheres in letters that glowed a striking red. He saw no deformation in the line of text. It was straight, and seemed as if it was both on the surface of and within the spheres. He reminded himself that he was looking at a projection of higher-dimensional space into a three- dimensional world.
“This is not a negotiation. These are my demands, if I am to go on living. All I wish to know is whether or not you accept.”
State your demands.
“Have the droplet, or rather the probe, cease its transmissions toward the sun.”
It has been done as you ask.
The spheres’ answer was faster than he anticipated. He had no way to verify it at the moment, but he sensed subtle changes in his surroundings, as if a background noise whose continued existence meant it had escaped notice, had disappeared. Of course, this could be an illusion, since humans don’t sense electromagnetic radiation.
“Have the nine droplets en route to the Solar System change course immediately and fly away.” This time the answer from the three spheres was delayed by a few seconds.
It has been done as you ask.
“Please give humanity the means to verify this.”
The nine probes will emit visible light. Your Ringier-Fitzroy Telescope will be able to detect them.
This was still impossible for him to verify, but he believed Trisolaris. “The final condition: the Trisolaran Fleet may not cross the Oort Cloud.”
The fleet is now under propulsion power for maximum deceleration. It is impossible for it to bring its speed relative to the sun to zero before reaching the Oort Cloud.
“Then, like the droplet group, set a course away from the Solar System.”
Changing course in any direction is death. This will cause the fleet to fly by the Solar System and into the desolation of space. The fleet’s life-support system will not last long enough to return to Trisolaris or search for another viable star system.
“Death isn’t a certainty. Perhaps human or Trisolaran ships can catch up and rescue them.”
This will require a command from the High Consul.
“If changing course is a lengthy process, get started on it now. That will give me and all the other lives a chance to live on.”
The period of silence lasted for three minutes. Then:
The fleet will begin to change course in ten Earth minutes. Two years from now, human space observation systems will be able to observe the change of heading.
“Good,” Luo Ji said, as he removed the pistol from his chest. With his other hand he leaned on the gravestone, trying not to fall. “Were you already aware that the universe is a dark forest?”
Yes. We knew about it long ago. What’s strange is that you only realized it so late.… Your state of health concerns us. This won’t unintentionally interrupt the cradle system’s maintenance signal, will it?
“No. This device is far more advanced than Rey Diaz’s. So long as I am alive, the signal won’t be interrupted.”
You really should sit down. That will help with your situation.
“Thank you,” Luo Ji said, and he sat down against the headstone. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to die.”
We are in contact with the highest levels of the two Internationals. Do you need us to call you an ambulance?
He smiled and shook his head. “No. I’m not a savior. I just want to leave here like an ordinary person and
go home. I’ll rest for a bit and then be on my way.”
Two of the three spheres disappeared. The text on the one that remained, which no longer glowed, now seemed dim and dreary.
In the end, strategy was where we failed.
Luo Ji nodded. “Blocking the sun with dust clouds to send an interstellar message wasn’t my invention. Twentieth-century astronomers had already proposed the idea. And you actually had multiple chances to see through me. During the duration of the Snow Project, for example, I was always concerned with the precise placement of the bombs in solar orbit.”
You spent two whole months in the control room remotely controlling the ion engines to make fine adjustments to their positioning. We didn’t care about that at the time because we thought you were just using the meaningless task as a way to escape reality. We never imagined what the distance between the bombs really meant.
“Another chance was when I consulted a group of physicists with questions about sophon unfoldings in space. If the ETO was still around, they would have already seen through me.”
Yes. Abandoning them was a mistake.
“Also, I requested that the Snow Project build this peculiar cradle trigger system.”
That did remind us of Rey Diaz, but we did not pursue those thoughts. Two centuries ago, Rey Diaz was not a threat to us, nor were the other two Wallfacers. We transferred our contempt for them onto you.
“Your contempt for them was unfair. Those three Wallfacers were great strategists. They saw clearly the inevitable fact of humanity’s defeat in the Doomsday Battle.”
Perhaps we can begin negotiations.
“That’s not my affair,” Luo Ji said, and let out a long sigh. He felt as relaxed and as comfortable as if he had just been born.
Yes, you’ve fulfilled the Wallfacer mission. But you’ve got to have some suggestions.
“Humanity’s negotiators will no doubt first propose that you help us build a better signal transmission system, so that we’ll have the ability to transmit a spell into space at any time. Even though the droplet has lifted its seal on the sun, the present system is too primitive.”
We can help build a neutrino transmission system.
“They may, as far as I understand things, be more inclined toward gravitational waves. After the sophons arrived, this was the area in which human physics progressed furthest. Of course, they’ll need a system whose principles they can understand.”
The antennas for gravitational waves are immense.
“That’s between you and them. It’s strange. Right now I don’t feel like a member of the human race. My greatest desire is to be rid of it all as soon as possible.”
Next they’ll ask us to lift the sophon block and teach science and technology across the board.
“This is important to you as well. The technology of Trisolaris has developed at a constant speed, and two centuries later, you still haven’t sent a faster follow-up fleet. In order to rescue the diverted Trisolaran Fleet, you have to rely on the future of humanity.”
I must go. Are you really able to go back on your own? The survival of two civilizations hinges on your life.
“No problem. I feel much better now. After I go back, I’ll immediately hand over the cradle system, and then I’ll have no more to do with all of this. Finally, I’d like to say thank you.”
“Because you let me live. Or, if you think about it a different way: You let us both live.”
The sphere vanished, returning to its eleven-dimensional microscopic state. A corner of the sun was peeking out in the east, casting gold across a world that had survived destruction.
Luo Ji slowly stood up. After taking a last look at the gravestones of Ye Wenjie and Yang Dong, he stumbled slowly back the way he came.
The ant had reached the summit of the headstone and proudly waved its feelers at the rising sun. Out of all life on Earth, it was the only witness to what had just taken place.
Five Years Later
Luo Ji and his family could see the gravitational-wave antenna in the distance, but it was still another half-hour drive away. Only when they arrived did they get a real sense of its enormous size. The antenna, a horizontal cylinder a kilometer and a half long and fifty meters in diameter, was entirely suspended about two meters off the ground. Its surface was mirror-smooth, half of it reflecting the sky and half the northern China plain. It reminded people of a few things: the giant pendulums of the Three Body world, the sophons’ lower- dimensional unfoldings, and the droplet. The mirrored object reflected a Trisolaran concept that humanity was still trying to figure out. In the words of a well-known Trisolaran saying, “Hiding the self through a faithful mapping of the universe is the only path into eternity.”
The antenna was surrounded by a big green meadow that formed a small oasis in the desert of northern China, but this meadow had not been specially planted. Once the gravitational-wave system had been completed, it began sending continuous, unmodulated emissions that were indistinguishable from the gravitational waves emitted from supernovae, neutron stars, or black holes. The density of the gravitational beam had a peculiar effect in the atmosphere: Water vapor collected above it, so that it frequently rained in the antenna’s vicinity. At times, the rain only fell within a radius of three or four kilometers, and a small, circular raincloud would hang in the air above the antenna like a giant flying saucer, leaving the brilliant sunshine in the surrounding area visible through the rain. And so this area grew lush with wild vegetation. But today, Luo Ji and his family did not witness that spectacle. Instead, they saw white clouds gather over the antenna, only to dissipate when the wind blew them away from the beam. Yet new clouds were continually forming, making the round patch of sky seem like a time wormhole to some other cloud universe. Xia Xia said that it looked like the white hair of a giant old man.
As the child ran about on the grass, Luo Ji and Zhuang Yan followed behind, until they reached the antenna. The first two gravitational-wave systems were built in Europe and North America, and employed magnetic levitation that suspended them a few centimeters from the base. But this antenna used antigravity, and could have been raised up into space if so desired. The three of them stood on the grass beneath the antenna, looking up at the huge cylinder curling up over their heads like the sky. Its large radius gave the bottom a low curvature, which meant there was no distortion in the reflected image. The setting sun now shone beneath the antenna, and, in the reflection, Luo Ji could see Zhuang Yan’s long hair and white dress fluttering in the golden sunlight like an angel looking down from the sky.
He lifted up the child and she touched the antenna’s smooth surface, pressing hard in one direction. “Can I make it turn?”
“If you push long enough, you can,” Zhuang Yan said—then, looking at Luo Ji with a smile, asked,
He nodded at her. “With enough time, she could move the Earth.”
As had occurred so many times before, their eyes met and intertwined, a continuation of that gaze they had held in front of the Mona Lisa’s smile two centuries before. They had discovered that the language of the eyes that Zhuang Yan had dreamed up was now a reality, or maybe loving humans had always possessed this language. When they looked at each other, a richness of meaning poured from their eyes just as the clouds poured from the cloud well created by the gravitational beam, endless and unceasing. But it wasn’t a language of this world. It constructed a world that gave it meaning, and only in that rosy world did the words of the language find their corresponding referents. Everyone in that world was god; all had the ability to instantaneously count and remember every grain of sand in the desert; all were able to string together stars into a crystal necklace to hang around a lover’s neck.…
Is this love?
The lines were displayed on a lower-dimensional unfolding of a sophon that appeared abruptly beside them. The mirrored sphere seemed like a droplet that had fallen off of some melted area on the cylinder above them. Luo Ji knew few Trisolarans and didn’t know who it was who was speaking to them, or whether this one was on Trisolaris or on the fleet that was growing increasingly distant from the Solar System.
“Probably.” Luo Ji nodded with a smile.
Dr. Luo, I have come in protest.
Because in last night’s speech, you said that humanity had been so late to realize the dark forest nature of the universe not because your immature state of cultural evolution caused a lack of awareness of the universe, but because humanity has love.
“Isn’t that correct?”
It’s correct, though the word “love” is a little vague in the context of scientific discourse. But what you said next was incorrect. You said that humanity is probably the only species in the universe to have love, and it’s this notion that supported you through the most difficult period of your Wallfacer mission.
“That’s only an expression, of course. Just a nonrigorous … analogy.”
I know that at least Trisolaris has love. But because it was not conducive to the civilization’s overall survival, it was suppressed when it had only just germinated. Yet the seed possesses a stubborn vitality, and will still grow in certain individuals.
“May I ask who you are?”
We’ve never met. I was the operator who transmitted the warning to Earth two and a half centuries ago.
“My god, and you’re still alive?” Zhuang Yan exclaimed.
I won’t be for much longer. I’ve been in a dehydrated state, but over the long years, even a dehydrated body will age. However, I have seen the future I hoped to see, and for this I am happy.
“Please accept our respects,” Luo Ji said.
I only wish to discuss with you one possibility: Perhaps seeds of love are present in other places in the universe. We ought to encourage them to sprout and grow.
“That’s a goal worth taking risks for.”
Yes, we can take risks.
“I have a dream that one day brilliant sunlight will illuminate the dark forest.”
The sun was setting. Now only its tip was exposed beyond the distant mountains, as if the mountaintop was inset with a dazzling gemstone. Like the grass, the child running in the distance was bathed in the golden sunset.
The sun will set soon. Isn’t your child afraid?
“Of course she’s not afraid. She knows that the sun will rise again tomorrow.”
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