Broadcast Era, Year 7 Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales
The first meeting of the Intelligence Decipherment Committee (IDC) was also conducted in a sophon-free room. Although most people now favored the view that the sophons were gone, and the Solar System and the Earth were now “clean,” they still took this precaution. Their main concern was that if the sophons were still present, they might endanger Yun Tianming.
The conversation between Tianming and Cheng Xin was publicized, but the real intelligence given by Tianming, the content of the three fairy tales, was kept in absolute secrecy. For a transparent, modern society, keeping such important information secret was a difficult task for both the UN and Fleet International. But the nations of the world soon reached consensus on this point: If the fairy tales were revealed, the world would be swept up by the enthusiasm of trying to decipher them, thereby exposing Tianming. The safety of Tianming wasn’t just important for him individually, he, to date, the only person embedded in an alien society. His position was irreplaceable for humanity’s future survival.
The secret decipherment of Tianming’s message was another sign of the UN’s authority and operational capabilities; it was another step on the way to a world government.
This sophon-free room was larger than the one Cheng Xin had used on the terminal station, though it wasn’t by any means spacious for a conference room. The force field necessary to keep sophons out could enclose only a limited volume.
About thirty people were in attendance. Other than Cheng Xin, two other Common Era individuals were also present: the particle-accelerator engineer Bi Yunfeng and the physicist Cao Bin—both former candidates for the Swordholder position.
Everyone wore high-voltage protective suits because the metallic walls of the sophon-free room were electrified. In particular, everyone was required to wear protective gloves, lest someone tap a wall out of habit, in an attempt to summon an information window. No electronics could function within the force field, thus the room had no information windows at all. To help the force field stay evenly distributed, equipment within the room was reduced to a minimum. Only chairs were provided, and there was no table. Since the protective suits were requisitioned from electrical engineers, the meeting within the metallic room resembled an ancient pre-shift gathering on a factory floor.
No one complained about the crowded, rough conditions, or the acrid smell in the air and the tingling on the skin brought about by the electrified air. After living for nearly three centuries under the constant surveillance of the sophons, being free of the alien voyeurs brought a sudden, fresh sense of relief. The ability
to shield space from sophons had been developed soon after the Great Resettlement. It was rumored that those who had entered the very first sophon-free room came down with something called “screen syndrome”: They talked incessantly as if they were drunk, and bared all their secrets to their companions. A reporter described the condition this way: “In this narrow slice of heaven, the people opened their hearts. Our gazes were no longer veiled.”
The IDC was a combined effort by Fleet International and the UN PDC to decipher Yun Tianming’s message. It oversaw the work of twenty-five working groups focusing on different subjects and areas of expertise. The attendees at this meeting were not experts or scientists, but the IDC committee members, who were also the leaders of the working groups.
The IDC chair first thanked Yun Tianming and Cheng Xin on behalf of Fleet International and the UN. He called Tianming the bravest warrior in the history of the human race. He was the first human to successfully survive in an alien world. Alone, deep in the heart of the enemy, situated in an unimaginable environment, he fought on and brought hope to an Earth in crisis. Cheng Xin, on the other hand, had successfully retrieved the intelligence from Tianming through a combination of wits and guts.
In a soft voice, Cheng Xin requested a chance to speak. She stood up and surveyed all those present. “All this is the result of the Staircase Project. This endeavor cannot be separated from a particular man. Three centuries ago, his steadfastness, decisive leadership, and peerless creativity allowed the Staircase Project to overcome multiple difficulties and become reality. The man I’m talking about is Thomas Wade, chief of the PDC Strategic Intelligence Agency. I think we should thank him as well.”
The conference room sank into silence. No one seconded Cheng Xin’s suggestion. For most people, Wade was the very symbol of the darkness in Common Era human nature, the very antithesis of the lovely woman— who had almost been killed by Wade—standing in front of them. They shivered just thinking about him.
The chair—he happened to also be the PIA’s current chief, a successor to Wade’s position, though they were divided by three centuries—said nothing in response to Cheng Xin’s proposal. He simply continued down the agenda for the meeting. “The committee has established a basic principle and hope for the decipherment process. We believe the message is unlikely to contain any concrete technical information, but will more likely point out the correct direction for research. It may contain the guide to the correct theoretical framework for unknown technologies such as lightspeed spaceflight or the cosmic safety notice. If we can get that far, it will bring tremendous hope to humanity.
“In total, we gathered two pieces of intelligence: the conversation between Dr. Cheng and Yun Tianming, and the three stories he told. Preliminary analysis points to the important information being hidden entirely within the three stories. We won’t be paying much attention to the conversation in the future, but I will summarize what we’ve gleaned from it here.
“First, we know that in order to send this message, Yun Tianming had to do a lot of preparatory work. He created over a hundred fairy tales, and mixed in three containing secret intelligence. He told these stories and published them over a long period of time to familiarize the Trisolarans with them—no easy task. If the Trisolarans hadn’t discovered the secrets contained within them during that process, they’ll likely continue to treat these stories as harmless in the future. But even so, he tried to place yet another layer of protection around the stories.”
The chair turned to Cheng Xin. “I want to ask a question. Did you really know each other as kids, as Tianming said?”
Cheng Xin shook her head. “No. We met only in college. He and I did come from the same city, but we didn’t go to the same primary or secondary schools.”
“That bastard! His lie could have killed Cheng Xin!” yelled AA, who was sitting next to Cheng Xin. The others gave her angry looks. She wasn’t a member of the IDC, and was allowed to attend only at Cheng Xin’s insistence as her assistant. AA had once been an accomplished astronomer, but because her CV wasn’t very long, the others looked down on her. They all thought Cheng Xin ought to have someone more qualified to be her technical aide, and even Cheng Xin herself sometimes forgot that AA was a scientist.
A PIA officer said, “He didn’t take a great risk with the lie. Their childhoods predated the Crisis Era, before the sophons had even arrived on the Earth. And back then they couldn’t have been targets of sophon surveillance.”
“But they could check records from the Common Era.”
“It’s not so easy to get records of two children from before the Crisis Era. Even if they somehow managed to check the household registration records or school records and found out that they hadn’t gone to the same elementary school or middle school, they still couldn’t rule out the possibility that they did know each other. And there’s something else you aren’t thinking of.” The PIA officer didn’t bother hiding his contempt for AA’s lack of professional experience. “Tianming could direct the sophons. He must have checked the records already.”
The chair continued. “The risk had to be taken. By attributing the three stories to Cheng Xin, he further convinced the enemy that these tales were innocuous. During the hour it took to tell the stories, the yellow light never came on. We also found out that by the time Tianming finished telling the last story, the deadline set by Sophon had already elapsed. The Trisolarans had, as a gesture of compassion, extended the encounter by six minutes so that Tianming could finish his story. This confirms that they really thought the stories harmless. Tianming credited her for a specific reason: to show us that the three stories contained important intelligence.
“There’s not much else that we could get out of the conversation. We do all agree that Tianming’s final words are very important.” The chair waved his right hand in the air out of habit, in an attempt to invoke an information window. After noticing that there was no response, he went on awkwardly. “‘Then let’s pick a spot to meet, somewhere other than the Earth, somewhere in the Milky Way.’ He meant two things by this: One, he was hinting that he would never be able to return to the Solar System. Two—” The chair paused, and waved his hand again, as if trying to dispel something. “It’s not important. Let’s just go on.”
The air in the room grew heavier. Everyone knew what the chair was going to say: Yun Tianming had very little faith that the Earth would survive.
A document with a blue cover was distributed to the attendees. In this age, it was very rare to see paper documents. There was only a serial number, no title.
“The document can only be read in here. Do not bring it outside this room, and do not record it in any way. For most of you, this will be your first time reading it. Let’s begin.”
The room quieted. Everyone started to read these three fairy tales that might save human civilization.
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