Chapter 32 Trisolaris: The Listener
Novel：The Three-Bodyauthor：Cinxin Liu pubdate：2019-02-14 15:08
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Chapter 32 Trisolaris: The Listener
The Trisolaran data contained no descriptions of the biological appearance of Trisolarans. Since humans would not lay eyes on actual Trisolarans until more than four hundred years later, Ye could only envision the Trisolarans as humanoid as she read the messages. She filled in the blanks between the lines with her imagination.
Listening Post 1379 had already been in existence for more than a thousand years. There were several thousand posts like it on Trisolaris, all of them dedicating their efforts to detecting possible signs of intelligent life in the universe.
Initially, each listening post had several hundred listeners, but as technology advanced, there was only one person on duty. Being a listener was a humble career. Though they lived in listening posts that were kept at a constant temperature, with support systems that guaranteed their survival without requiring them to dehydrate during Chaotic Eras, they also had to live their lives within the narrow confines of these tiny spaces. The amount of joy they got from Stable Eras was far less than others got.
The listener at Post 1379 looked through the tiny window at the world of Trisolaris outside. This was a Chaotic Era night. The giant moon had not yet risen, and most people remained in dehydrated hibernation. Even plants had instinctively dehydrated and turned into lifeless bundles of dry fiber lying against the ground. Under the star-light, the ground looked like a giant sheet of cold metal.
This was the loneliest time. In the deep silence of midnight, the universe revealed itself to its listeners as a vast desolation. What the listener of Post 1379 disliked the most was seeing the waves that slowly crawled across the display, a visual record of the meaningless noise the listening post picked up from space. He felt this interminable wave was an abstract view of the universe: one end connected to the endless past, the other to the endless future, and in the middle only the ups and downs of random chance—without life, without pattern, the peaks and valleys at different heights like uneven grains of sand, the whole curve like a one-dimensional desert made of all the grains of sand lined up in a row: lonely, desolate, so long that it was intolerable. You could follow it and go forward or backward as long as you liked, but you'd never find the end.
On this day, however, the listener saw something odd when he glanced at the waveform display. Even experts had a hard time telling with the naked eye whether a waveform carried information. But the listener was so familiar with the noise of the universe that he could tell that the wave that now moved in front of his eyes had something extra. The thin curve, rising and falling, seemed to possess a soul. He was certain that the radio signal before him had been modulated by intelligence.
He rushed in front of another terminal and checked the computer's rating of the signal's recognizability: a Red 10. Before this, no radio signal received by the listening post had ever garnered a recognizability rating above a Blue 2. A Red rating meant the likelihood that the transmission contained intelligent information was greater than 90 percent. A rating of Red 10 meant the received transmission contained a self-interpreting coding system! The deciphering computer worked at full power.
Still caught up by the dizzying excitement and confusion, the listener stared at the waveform display. Information continued to stream from the universe into the antenna. Because of the self-interpreting code, the computer was able to perform real-time translation, and the message began to show up immediately.
The listener opened the resulting document, and, for the first time, a Trisolaran read a message from another world.
With the best of intentions, we look forward to establishing contact with other civilized societies in the universe. We look forward to working together with you to build a better life in this vast universe.
During the next two Trisolaran hours, the listener learned of the existence of Earth, learned of the world that had only one sun and remained always in a Stable Era, learned of the human civilization that had been born in a paradise where the climate was eternally mild.
The transmission from the solar system ended. The deciphering computer now ran uselessly. The post was once again only hearing the noise of the universe.
But the listener was certain that what he had just experienced was not a dream. He knew as well that the several thousand listening posts spread across Trisolaris had also received this message, which Trisolaran civilization had awaited for eons. Two hundred cycles of civilization had been crawling through a dark tunnel, and there was finally a glimmer of light before them.
The listener read over the message from the Earth again. His thoughts drifted over the blue ocean that never froze and the green forests and fields, enjoying the warm sunlight and the caress of a cool breeze. What a beautiful world! The paradise we imagined really exists!
The thrill and excitement cooled, and all that remained was a sense of loss and desolation. During the long loneliness of the past, the listener had asked himself more than once: Even if one day a message from an extra-Trisolaran civilization were to arrive, what would that have to do with me? His own lonely and humble life would not change one iota because of it.
But I can at least possess it in my dream... And the listener drifted off to sleep. In their harsh environment, the Trisolarans had evolved the ability to switch sleep on and off. A Trisolaran could put himself to sleep in seconds.
But he did not get the dream that he wanted. The blue Earth did appear in his dream, but under the bombardment of an enormous interstellar fleet, the beautiful continents of Earth were burning, the deep blue oceans were boiling and evaporating...
The listener woke up from his nightmare and saw the giant moon, just risen, casting a thin ray of cold light through the small window. He looked at the frozen ground outside the window and reviewed his lonely life. By now, he had lived six hundred thousand Trisolaran hours. The life expectancy of Trisolarans ranged between seven hundred to eight hundred thousand Trisolaran hours. Most people, of course, would have lost the ability to work productively long before then. They would have been forcibly dehydrated, and the resulting dry fibers cast to the flames. Trisolaris did not keep the idle around.
But now the listener saw another possibility. It was inaccurate to say that the receipt of the extra-Trisolaran message had no influence on his life. After confirmation, Trisolaris would surely reduce the number of listening posts. And posts like this one, behind the times, would be among the first to be cut. Then he would be unemployed. A listener's skills were very specialized, consisting only of some routine operations and maintenance. It would be very difficult to find another job. If he couldn't find another job within five thousand Trisolaran hours, he would be forcibly dehydrated and then burnt.
The only way to escape this fate was to mate with a member of the opposite sex. When that happened, the organic material making up their bodies would meld into one. Two-thirds of the material would then become fuel to power the biochemical reaction that would completely renew the cells in the remaining one-third and create a new body. Then this body would divide into three to five tiny new lives:
their children. They would inherit some of the memories of their parents, continue their lives, and begin the cycle of life anew. But given the listeners low social position, lonely and enclosed workspace, and advanced age, what member of the opposite sex would be interested in him?
In the last few years, the listener had asked himself millions of times: Is this all there is to my life? And millions of times he had answered himself: Yes, this is all there is. All that you have in this life is the endless loneliness in the tiny space of this listening post.
He couldn't lose that paradise, even if it was only in a dream.
The listener knew that at the scale of the universe, due to the lack of a sufficiently long measurement baseline, it was impossible to determine the distance of a source of low-frequency radio transmission from space, only the direction. The source could be high-powered but far away, or low-powered but close by. In that direction were billions of stars, each shining against a sea of other stars at different distances. Without knowing how far away the source was, it was impossible to ascertain its exact coordinates.
Distance, the key was distance.
Indeed, there was an easy way to ascertain the distance of the transmission source. Just respond to the message, and if the other party replies quickly to the response, the Trisolarans could determine the distance based on the round-trip time and the speed of light. Or maybe they would take a really long time to reply and cause the Trisolarans to be unable to determine how long the message was en route.
But the question was: Would the other party reply? Since this source had actively sent out a call into the universe, it was very likely that they would reply after getting a response from Trisolaris. And the listener was sure that the Trisolaran government had already given the order to send a message to that distant world to lure them to respond. Maybe the message had already been sent, but maybe not. If the latter was true, then the listener had a singular chance to make his own humble life glow.
The listener dashed in front of the operations screen and composed a short, simple message on the computer. He directed the computer to translate the message into the same language as the message received from the Earth. Then, he pointed the listening post's antenna in the direction the message from Earth had come from.
The Transmit button was a red rectangle. The listener's fingers hovered above it.
The fate of Trisolaran civilization was now tied to these slender fingers.
Without hesitation, the listener pressed the button. A high-powered radio wave carried that short message, a message that could save another civilization, into the darkness of space.
Do not answer! Do not answer!! Do not answer!!!
We don't know what the official residence of the princeps of Trisolaris looked like, but we can be sure that thick walls separated him from the outside so as to protect him against the extreme weather. The pyramid from the Three Body game was one guess about what it could look like. That they built the residence deep underground is another.
Five Trisolaran hours earlier, the princeps received the report of the extra-Trisolaran communication. Two Trisolaran hours earlier, he received another report: Listening Post 1379 had sent out a warning message in the direction of the transmission.
The first report did not cause him to leap up in ecstasy, and the second report did not cause him to sink into depression. He wasn't even angry or resentful. All of these emotions—and other emotions, such as fear, sorrow, happiness, and appreciation of beauty—were things that the Trisolaran civilization strove to avoid and eliminate. Such emotions caused the individual and society to be weak spiritually and did not help with survival in the harsh environment of this world. The mental states that Trisolarans needed were calmness and numbness. The history of the past two hundred-some cycles of civilization proved that civilizations that relied on these two states as their spiritual core were the most capable of survival.
"Why did you do this?" the princeps asked the listener from Post 1379.
"So that my life isn't wasted," the listener answered calmly.
"The warning you sent out may have cost Trisolaran civilization the chance at survival."
"But it gave Earth civilization such a chance. Princeps, Trisolaran civilization's desire to possess living space is like the desire of a man who has been starving for a long time for food, and it is similarly boundless. We cannot share the Earth with the people of that world. We could only destroy Earth civilization and completely take over that solar system. . . . Am I right?"
"Yes. But there is another reason for destroying Earth civilization. They're also a warlike race. Very dangerous. If we try to coexist with them on the same planet, they will shortly learn our technology. Continuing in that state would allow neither civilization to thrive. Let me ask you: You wish to be the savior of the Earth, but do you not feel any sense of responsibility for your own race?"
"I am tired of Trisolaris. We have nothing in our lives and spirit except the fight for survival."
"What's wrong with that?"
"There's nothing wrong, of course. Existence is the premise for everything else. But, Princeps, please examine our lives: Everything is devoted to survival. To permit the survival of the civilization as a whole, there is almost no respect for the individual. Someone who can no longer work is put to death. Trisolaran society exists under a state of extreme authoritarianism. The law has only two outcomes: The guilty are put to death, and the not guilty are released. For me, the most intolerable aspects are the spiritual monotony and desiccation. Anything that can lead to spiritual weakness is declared evil. We have no literature, no art, no pursuit of beauty and enjoyment. We cannot even speak of love.... Princeps, is there meaning to such a life?"
"The kind of civilization you yearn for once existed on Trisolaris, too. They had free, democratic societies, and they left behind rich cultural legacies. You know barely anything about them. Most details have been sealed away and forbidden from view. But in all the cycles of Trisolaran civilization, this type of civilization was the weakest and most short-lived. A modest Chaotic Era disaster was enough to extinguish them. Look again at the Earth civilization that you wish to save. A society born and bred in the eternal spring of a beautiful hothouse would not be able to survive even a million Trisolaran hours if it were transplanted here."
"That flower may be delicate, but it possesses peerless splendor. She enjoys freedom and beauty in the ease of paradise."
"If Trisolaran civilization ultimately possesses that world, we can also create such lives for ourselves."
"Princeps, I'm doubtful. The metallic Trisolaran spirit has infiltrated each of our cells and solidified. You really believe it can melt again? I'm an ordinary man living at the bottom of society. No one would pay any attention to me. My life is spent alone, without wealth, without status, without love, and without hope. If I can save a distant, beautiful world that I have fallen in love with, then my life has not been wasted. Of course, Princeps, this also gave me a chance to see you. If I had not done this, a man like me could only ever hope to admire you on TV. So permit me to express myself as honored."
"You're guilty beyond doubt. You're the greatest criminal in all the cycles of Trisolaran civilization. But now we make an exception in Trisolaran law: You're free to go."
"For you, dehydration followed by burning is not even remotely adequate as punishment. You're old, and you will not live to see the final destruction of Earth civilization. But I will at least make sure that you know that you cannot save her. I want to let you live until the day she loses all hope.
"All right. You may leave."
After the listener from Post 1379 left, the princeps called in the consul responsible for the monitoring system. The princeps also avoided being angry at him. He dealt with it as a routine matter. "How could you allow such a weak and evil man into the monitoring system?"
"Princeps, the monitoring system employs hundreds of thousands. To screen them all strictly is very difficult. After all, the man managed to perform his duties at Listening Post 1379 without error for most of his life. Of course, this most serious mistake is my responsibility."
"How many others bear some responsibility for this failure in the Trisolaran Space Monitoring System?"
"My preliminary investigation shows about six thousand, accounting for all levels."
"They're all guilty."
"Dehydrate all six thousand and burn them together in the square in the middle of the capital. As for you, you can be the kindling." "Thank you, Princeps. This will at least calm our consciences a little."
"Before carrying out this punishment, let me ask you: How far can that warning message travel?"
"Listening Post 1379 is a small facility without high transmission power. The maximum range may be twelve million light-hours, about twelve hundred light-years."
"That's far enough. Do you have any suggestions for what Trisolaran civilization should do next?"
"How about transmitting a carefully composed message to that world to lure them to respond?"
"No. That might make matters worse. At least the warning message is very short. We can only hope that they ignore it, or misunderstand its contents . . .All right. You may leave."
After the consul left, the princeps summoned the commander of the Trisolaran Fleet.
"How long would it take to complete the preparations for the first wave of the fleet?"
"Princeps, the fleet is still in the last phase of construction. At least sixty thousand more hours are needed before the ships are spaceworthy."
"I will soon present my plan for approval by the Joint Session of Consuls. After construction is complete, the fleet should set sail in that direction at once."
"Princeps, given the frequency of the transmission, even the direction of the source cannot be ascertained with great accuracy. The fleet is only capable of cruising at one-hundredth the speed of light. Also, it only has enough power in reserve to perform one deceleration, making it impossible to conduct a wide-area search in that direction. If the distance to the target is unclear, the fleet will ultimately fall into the abyss of space."
"But look at the three suns around us. At any moment, the plasma outer layer of one of them may begin to expand and swallow its last planet, our world. We have no other choice. We must make this gamble."
Chapter 32 Vocabulary Note
hibernation - when an animal sleeps for the whole winter
garner - to take or collect something, especially information
glimmer - a light that is not very bright; a gleam
iota - not even a small amount; bit
bombardment - a continuous attack on a place by big guns and bombs
en route - on the way
princeps - the head of state; president of a country who may also be the head of government
boundless - having no limit or end
desiccation - the process of becoming completely dry
peerless - better than any other; incomparable
splendor - impressive beauty
consul - a government official (responsible for the monitoring system in the case)
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