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When I met him last year, I was already engaged. He saw Wu Wen come to pick me up once, and he asked me if he was my father. It was just too embarrassing. Lao Dao waited a while. All I care about is that you take the letter. I do like him, really. I feel very conflicted. Qin Tian thought I was an intern, like him, and I admit that was my fault for not telling him the truth. I never thought he would be serious. She had been sent to the UN for training, and was helping out at the symposium.
She worked only half days and took a half—time salary. The rest of the day was hers to do with as she pleased, and she liked learning new things and meeting new people. She really had enjoyed the months she spent training at the UN. She told Lao Dao that there were many wives like her who worked half—time. She told Lao Dao that though she had not told Qin Tian the truth, her heart was honest. Please… give me a chance to explain to him myself. He was very hungry, but he felt that he could not eat this food.
Yi Yan opened her purse, took out her wallet, and retrieved five 10,—yuan bills. She pushed them across the table toward Lao Dao. He had never seen bills with such large denominations or needed to use them.
Almost subconsciously, he stood up, angry. The way Yi Yan had taken out the money seemed to suggest that she had been anticipating an attempt from him to blackmail her, and he could not accept that. This is what they think of Third Spacers.
He felt that if he took her money, he would be selling Qin Tian out. Lao Dao wanted to grab the bills, throw them on the ground, and walk away.
He looked at the money again: The five thin notes were spread on the table like a broken fan. He could sense the power they had on him.
They were baby blue in color, distinct from the brown 1,—yuan note and the red —yuan note. These bills looked deeper, most distant somehow, like a kind of seduction. She continued to rummage through her purse, taking everything out, until she finally found another fifty thousand yuan from an inner pocket and placed them together with the other bills.
Please take it and help me. Her voice was hesitant, belying her words. Thus, she wanted to keep alive the possibility so that she could feel better about herself. Lao Dao could see that she was lying to herself, but he wanted to lie to himself, too. He told himself, I have no duty to Qin Tian. The money on the table now represents a new commission, a commitment to keep a secret. Besides, I need to think about Tangtang.
He felt calmer. He realized that his fingers were already touching the money. She ripped out a page and began to write. Her handwriting looked like a string of slanted gourds. As Lao Dao left the restaurant, he glanced back. Yi Yan was sitting in the booth, gazing up at a painting on the wall.
She looked so elegant and refined, as though she was never going to leave. He squeezed the bills in his pocket. He despised himself, but he wanted to hold on to the money. Lao Dao left Xidan and returned the way he had come. He felt exhausted. The pedestrian lane was lined with a row of weeping willows on one side and a row of Chinese parasol trees on the other side. It was late spring, and everything was a lush green. The afternoon sun warmed his stiff face, and brightened his empty heart.
He was back at the park from this morning. There were many people in the park now, and the two rows of gingkoes looked stately and luscious. Black cars entered the park from time to time, and most of the people in the park wore either well—fitted western suits made of quality fabric or dark—colored stylish Chinese suits, but everyone gave off a haughty air.
There were also some foreigners. Some of the people conversed in small groups; others greeted each other at a distance, and then laughed as they got close enough to shake hands and walk together. Lao Dao hesitated, trying to decide where to go.
But he would look out of place in any public area. He wanted to go back into the park, get close to the fissure, and hide in some corner to take a nap. He felt very sleepy, but he dared not sleep on the street. Only when he was close to the park gate did he notice that two robots were patrolling the area. While cars and other pedestrians passed their sentry line with no problems, the robots beeped as soon as Lao Dao approached and turned on their wheels to head for him.
In the tranquil afternoon, the noise they made seemed especially loud. The eyes of everyone nearby turned to him. He panicked, uncertain if it was his shabby clothes that alerted the robots. He tried to whisper to the robots, claiming that his suit was left inside the park, but the robots ignored him while they continued to beep and to flash the red lights over their heads.
People strolling inside the park stopped and looked at him as though looking at a thief or eccentric person. Soon, three men emerged from a nearby building and ran over. He wanted to run, but it was too late. The man in the front was in his thirties.
He looked at Lao Dao suspiciously, as though trying to pry open his shell with a can opener. The two robots silently dashed ahead of him and grabbed onto his legs. Their arms were cuffs and locked easily about his ankles. He tripped and almost fell, but the robots held him up. His arms swung through the air helplessly. His tone was now severe. The two robots lifted Lao Dao by the legs and deposited his feet onto platforms next to their wheels.
Then they drove toward the nearest building in parallel, carrying Lao Dao. Their movements were so steady, so smooth, so synchronized, that from a distance, it appeared as if Lao Dao was skating along on a pair of rollerblades, like Nezha riding on his Wind Fire Wheels.
Lao Dao felt utterly helpless. He was angry with himself for being so careless. How could he think such a crowded place would be without security measures? He berated himself for being so drowsy that he could commit such a stupid mistake. The robots followed a narrow path and reached the backdoor of the building, where they stopped. The three men followed behind. Then he grabbed him by the arm and took him upstairs.
Lao Dao sighed. He resigned himself to his fate. The man brought him into a room. The room was decorated in a dark shade of golden brown, with a king—sized bed in the middle.
The wall at the head of the bed showed abstract patterns of shifting colors. Translucent, white curtains covered the French window, and in front of the window sat a small circular table and two comfortable chairs. Lao Dao was anxious, unsure of who the older man was and what he wanted. This brand is only sold in Third Space; I remember my mother buying them for my father when I was little.
How old are you? Lao Ge took off his jacket and moved his arms about to stretch out the stiff muscles. Then he filled a glass with hot water from a spigot in the wall and handed it to Lao Dao. He had a long face, and the corners of his eyes, the ends of his eyebrows, and his cheeks drooped.
Even his glasses seemed about to fall off the end of his nose. His hair was naturally a bit curly and piled loosely on top of his head.
As he spoke, his eyebrows bounced up and down comically. He made some tea for himself and asked Lao Dao if he wanted any. Lao Dao shook his head.
He simply told Lao Ge that he had successfully delivered the message and was just waiting for the Change to head home. Lao Ge also shared his own story with Lao Dao.
He had grown up in Third Space, and his parents had worked as deliverymen. When he was fifteen, he entered a military school, and then joined the army. He worked as a radar technician in the army, and because he worked hard, demonstrated good technical skills, and had some good opportunities, he was eventually promoted to an administrative position in the radar department with the rank of brigadier general.
He then retired from the army and joined an agency in First Space responsible for logistical support for government enterprises, organizing meetings, arranging travel, and coordinating various social events. The job was blue collar in nature, but since his work involved government officials and he had to coordinate and manage, he was allowed to live in First Space.
There were a considerable number of people in First Space like him—chefs, doctors, secretaries, housekeepers—skilled blue—collar workers needed to support the lifestyle of First Space. His agency had run many important social events and functions, and Lao Ge was its director.
Even a chef here was likely a master of his art. Lao Ge must be very talented to have risen here from Third Space after a technical career in the army. When he woke up, it was dark outside. Lao Ge was combing his hair in front of the mirror. He showed Lao Dao a suit lying on the sofa and told him to change. The large open lobby downstairs was crowded. Some kind of presentation seemed to have just finished, and attendees conversed in small groups.
At one end of the lobby were the open doors leading to the banquet hall; the thick doors were lined with burgundy leather. The lobby was filled with small standing tables. Each table was covered by a white tablecloth tied around the bottom with a golden bow, and the vase in the middle of each table held a lily. Crackers and dried fruits were set out next to the vases for snacking, and a long table to the side offered wine and coffee. Guests mingled and conversed among the tables while small robots holding serving trays shuttled between their legs, collecting empty glasses.
Forcing himself to be calm, Lao Dao followed Lao Ge and walked through the convivial scene into the banquet hall. He saw a large hanging banner: The Folding City at Fifty. I want you to check the table signs one more time. The scene seemed unreal to him. He stood in a corner and gazed up at the giant chandelier as though some dazzling reality was hanging over him, and he was but an insignificant presence at its periphery.
There was a lectern set up on the dais at the front, and, behind it, the background was an ever—shifting series of images of Beijing. The photographs were perhaps taken from an airplane and captured the entirety of the city: The soft light of dawn and dusk; the dark purple and deep blue sky; clouds racing across the sky; the moon rising from a corner; the sun setting behind a roof. And then there were shots of the city as a whole, shots that included both faces of the city during the Change: The earth flipping, revealing the other side studded with skyscrapers with sharp, straight contours; men and women energetically rushing to work; neon signs lighting up the night, blotting out the stars; towering apartment buildings, cinemas, nightclubs full of beautiful people.
But there were no shots of where Lao Dao worked. He stared at the screen intently, uncertain if they might show pictures during the construction of the folding city. He had seen that picture so many times that he thought he was sick of it, and yet, at this moment, he hoped to see a scene of workers laying bricks, even if for just a few seconds. He was lost in his thoughts. This was also the first time he had seen what the Change looked like from a distance.
The service economy is dependent on population size and density. Currently, the service industry of our city is responsible for more than 85 percent of our GDP, in line with the general characteristics of world—class metropolises. The other important sectors are the green economy and the recycling economy. He looked closer at the speaker on the dais: An old man with silvery hair, though he appeared hale and energetic.
The technopark was just acres and acres of industrial buildings, and he heard that all the plants over there were very similar: The machines pretty much ran on their own, and there were very few workers.
At night, when the workers got together, they felt like the last survivors of some dwindling tribe in a desolate wilderness. He drifted off again. Only the wild applause at the end of the speech pulled him out of his chaotic thoughts and back to reality.
He watched the speaker descend the dais and return to his place of honor at the head table. Wu Wen was at the table next to the head table. The old man got up and walked with Wu Wen out of the banquet hall. Almost subconsciously, a curious Lao Dao also got up and followed them. Robots emerged to serve the dishes for the banquet. Lao Dao emerged from the banquet hall and was back in the reception lobby. He eavesdropped on the other two from a distance and only caught snippets of conversation.
The old man with the silvery hair had a complex expression. No toxic pollution? The old man shook his head, staring at Wu Wen. Wu Wen remained in place, stunned. Employment is the number one concern.
Do you really think no one has suggested similar technology in the past? Lao Dao suddenly felt some sympathy for him: He had his moments of weakness, as well. The secretary suddenly noticed Lao Dao. Lao Dao was startled. He pointed to the badge on his lapel, as though hoping the badge would speak or otherwise help him out. But the badge displayed nothing.
His palms sweated. The secretary stared at him, his look growing more suspicious by the second. He grabbed Lao Dao with one hand and punched the keys on his communicator with the other hand. Smiling, he greeted the secretary and bowed deeply. He explained that he was shorthanded for the occasion and had to ask for a colleague from another department to help out tonight. The secretary seemed to believe Lao Ge and returned to the banquet hall.
Lao Ge brought Lao Dao back to his own room to avoid any further risks. He replayed the conversation between Wu Wen and the old man in his head. Automatic waste processing. What would that look like? Would that be a good thing or bad? The next time he woke up, he smelled something delicious. Lao Ge had set out a few dishes on the small circular table, and was taking the last plate out of the warming oven on the wall. Lao Ge also brought over a half bottle of baijiu and filled two glasses.
I brought some back. These look wonderful! They must be very expensive, right? If I had to guess, maybe ten thousand, twenty thousand? A couple might cost thirty, forty thousand. Not more than that. He was used to skipping meals, and sometimes he could last a whole day without eating. His body would shake uncontrollably then, but he had learned to endure it. But now, the hunger was overwhelming. Lao Ge ate leisurely, and smiled as he watched Lao Dao eat.
He seemed a bit familiar. You have to understand why they went with manual processing in the first place. Back then, the situation here was similar to Europe at the end of the twentieth century. The economy was growing, but so was unemployment.
The economy refused to obey the Phillips curve. With the increase in productivity, the GDP goes up, but so does unemployment. What do you do? Enact policies to protect the workers? Better welfare? The more you try to protect workers, the more you increase the cost of labor and make it less attractive for employers to hire people.
This kind of automation is absolutely necessary if you want to grow your economy—that was how we caught up to Europe and America, remember? But this saps the vitality of the economy, you understand? Do you get it? Right, shove them into the night.
Those who can get loans and afford the interest spend all the money you print. The GDP goes up, but the cost of basic necessities does not. Not too much. But after so many years, you grow a bit numb. Both became a bit drunk. They began to reminisce about the past: The foods they ate as children, schoolyard fights. Lao Ge had loved hot and sour rice noodles and stinky tofu.
These were not available in First Space, and he missed them dearly. Lao Ge talked about his parents, who still lived in Third Space. He mentioned that there were some officially sanctioned ways to go between Third Space and First Space, and a few select people did make the trip often. He hoped that Lao Dao could bring a few things back to his parents because he felt regret and sorrow over his inability to be by their side and care for them.
Lao Dao talked about his lonely childhood. In the dim lamplight, he recalled his childhood spent alone wandering at the edge of the landfill. It was now late night. Lao Ge had to go check up on the event downstairs, and he took Lao Dao with him. The dance party downstairs was about to be over, and tired—looking men and women emerged in twos and threes.
Lao Ge said that entrepreneurs seemed to have the most energy, and often danced until the morning. The deserted banquet hall after the party looked messy and grubby, like a woman who took off her makeup after a long, tiring day.
Lao Ge watched the robots trying to clean up the mess and laughed. The silver—haired speaker returned to his office after the banquet to deal with some paperwork, and then got on a video call with Europe. At midnight, he felt tired. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
It was finally time to go home. He worked till midnight on most days. The phone rang. He picked up. It was his secretary. The research group for the conference had reported something troubling. Someone had discovered an error with one of the figures used in the pre—printed conference declaration, and the research group wanted to know if they should re—print the declaration.
The old man immediately approved the request. This was very important, and they had to get it right. He asked who was responsible for this, and the secretary told him that it was Director Wu Wen. The old man sat down on his sofa and took a nap. Around four in the morning, the phone rang again. The printing was going a bit slower than expected, and they estimated it would take another hour. He got up and looked outside the window. All was silent.
The stars of Orion were reflected in the mirror—like surface of the lake. Lao Dao was sitting on the shore of the lake, waiting for the Change.
He gazed at the park at night, realizing that this was perhaps the last time he would see a sight such as this. This was a beautiful, peaceful place, but it had nothing to do with him.
He just wanted to remember this experience. There were few lights at night here, nothing like the flashing neon that turned the streets of Third Space bright as day. The buildings of the city seemed to be asleep, breathing evenly and calmly.
At five in the morning, the secretary called again to say that the declaration had been re—printed and bound, but the documents were still in the print shop, and they wanted to know if they should delay the scheduled Change. The old man made the decision right away. Of course they had to delay it. At forty minutes past the hour, the printed declarations were brought to the conference site, but they still had to be stuffed into about three thousand individual folders.
Lao Dao saw the faint light of dawn. He was prepared. He looked at his phone: only a couple more minutes until six. But strangely, there were no signs of the Change. Maybe in First Space, even the Change happens more smoothly and steadily. At ten after six, the last copy of the declaration was stuffed into its folder. The old man let out a held breath. He gave the order to initiate the Change. Lao Dao noticed that the earth was finally moving.
He stood up and shook the numbness out of his limbs. Carefully, he stepped up to the edge of the widening fissure. As the earth on both sides of the crack lifted up, he clambered over the edge, tested for purchase with his feet, and climbed down. The ground began to turn. At twenty after six, the secretary called again with an emergency. Director Wu Wen had carelessly left a data key with important documents behind at the banquet hall.
He was worried that the cleaning robots might remove it, and he had to go retrieve it right away. The old man was annoyed, but he gave the order to stop the Change and reverse course.
Lao Dao was climbing slowly over the cross section of the earth when everything stopped with a jolt. After a moment, the earth started moving again, but now in reverse. The fissure was closing up. Terrified, he climbed up as fast as he dared. Scrabbling over the soil with hands and feet, he had to be careful with his movements. The seam closed faster than he had expected. Just as he reached the top, the two sides of the crack came together.
One of his lower legs was caught. Sweat beaded on his forehead from terror and pain. Has he been discovered? Lao Dao lay prostrate on the ground, listening. He seemed to hear steps hurrying toward him. He imagined that soon the police would arrive and catch him. They might cut off his leg and toss him in jail with the stump. As he lay on the grass, he felt the chill of morning dew.
The damp air seeped through collar and cuffs, keeping him alert and making him shiver.
He silently counted the seconds, hoping against hope that this was but a technical malfunction. He tried to plan for what to say if he was caught. Maybe he should mention how honestly and diligently he had toiled for twenty—eight years and try to buy a bit of sympathy. Fate loomed before his eyes. Fate now pressed into his chest. Of everything he had experienced during the last forty—eight hours, the episode that had made the deepest impression was the conversation with Lao Ge at dinner.
He felt that he had approached some aspect of truth, and perhaps that was why he could catch a glimpse of the outline of fate. But the outline was too distant, too cold, too out of reach. If he could see some things clearly but was still powerless to change them, what good did that do? Fate was like a cloud that momentarily took on some recognizable shape, and by the time he tried to get a closer look, the shape was gone.
He knew that he was nothing more than a figure. He was but an ordinary person, one out of 51,, others just like him. He grabbed onto the grass. At six thirty, Wu Wen retrieved his data key. At six forty, Wu Wen was back in his home. At six forty—five, the white—haired old man finally lay down on the small bed in his office, exhausted.
The order had been issued, and the wheels of the world began to turn slowly. Transparent covers extended over the coffee table and the desk, securing everything in place.
The bed released a cloud of soporific gas and extended rails on all sides; then it rose into the air. As the ground and everything on the ground turned, the bed would remain level, like a floating cradle. The Change had started again. After thirty minutes spent in despair, Lao Dao saw a trace of hope again.
The ground was moving. He pulled his leg out as soon as the fissure opened, and then returned to the arduous climb over the cross—section as soon as the opening was wide enough. He moved with even more care than before. As circulation returned to his numb leg, his calf itched and ached as though he was being bitten by thousands of ants. Several times, he almost fell.
The pain was intolerable, and he had to bite his fist to stop from screaming. He fell; he got up; he fell again; he got up again. He struggled with all his strength and skill to maintain his footing over the rotating earth. He only remembered fainting as soon as Qin Tian opened the door to his apartment. Lao Dao slept for ten hours in Second Space. Qin Tian found a classmate in medical school to help dress his wound. He suffered massive damage to his muscles and soft tissue, but luckily, no bones were broken.
However, he was going to have some difficulty walking for a while.
He watched as Qin Tian read the letter, his face filling up with happiness as well as loss. He said nothing. He knew that Qin Tian would be immersed in this remote hope for a long time. Returning to Third Space, Lao Dao felt as though he had been traveling for a month.
The city was waking up slowly. Most of the residents had slept soundly, and now they picked up their lives from where they had left off the previous cycle. No one would notice that Lao Dao had been away. As soon as the vendors along the pedestrian lane opened shop, he sat down at a plastic table and ordered a bowl of chow mein.
For the first time in his life, Lao Dao asked for shredded pork to be added to the noodles. Just one time, he thought. A reward. The two elders were no longer mobile, and a young woman with a dull demeanor lived with them as a caretaker. Limping, he slowly returned to his own rental unit. The hallway was noisy and chaotic, filled with the commotion of a typical morning: brushing teeth, flushing toilets, arguing families.
All around him were disheveled hair and half—dressed bodies. He had to wait a while for the elevator. As soon as he got off at his floor he heard loud arguing noises. It was the two girls who lived next door, Lan Lan and Ah Bei, arguing with the old lady who collected rent. All the units in the building were public housing, but the residential district had an agent who collected rent, and each building, even each floor, had a subagent. The old lady was a long—term resident. She was thin, shriveled, and lived by herself—her son had left and nobody knew where he was.
Lan Lan and Ah Bei had moved in recently, and they worked at a clothing store. Ah Bei was shouting while Lan Lan was trying to hold her back. Do you understand what a lease is?
Do you think we were born yesterday? Every day, when we get home after work, the place is cold as an ice cellar. Lao Dao looked at Ah Bei, at her young, determined, angry face, and thought she was very beautiful. He wanted Ah Bei to stop shouting, to forget these trivial things and stop arguing. He wanted to tell her that a girl should sit elegantly and quietly, cover her knees with her skirt, and smile so that her pretty teeth showed.
That was how you got others to love you.
But he knew that that was not what Ah Bei and Lan Lan needed. He took out a 10,—yuan bill from his inner pocket and handed it to the old lady. His hand trembled from weakness. The old lady was stunned, and so were Ah Bei and Lan Lan. He waved at them and returned to his home. Tangtang was just waking up in her crib, and she rubbed her sleepy eyes. He remembered how he had found Tangtang at first in front of the waste processing station, and her dirty, tear—stained face.
He had never regretted picking her up that day. She laughed, and smacked her lips. He thought that he was fortunate. He checked the time. It was time to go to work. The liquidation of the American News Company, then the primary distributor of pulp magazines, has sometimes been taken as marking the end of the "pulp era"; by that date, many of the famous pulps of the previous generation, including Black Mask, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Weird Tales, were defunct.
Almost all of the few remaining pulp magazines are science fiction or mystery magazines now in formats similar to "digest size", such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The format is still in use for some lengthy serials, like the German science fiction weekly Perry Rhodan.
Over the course of their evolution, there were a huge number of pulp magazine titles; Harry Steeger of Popular Publications claimed that his company alone had published over , and at their peak they were publishing 42 titles per month. Many titles of course survived only briefly. While the most popular titles were monthly, many were bimonthly and some were quarterly. The collapse of the pulp industry changed the landscape of publishing because pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories.
Combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, writers attempting to support themselves by creating fiction switched to novels and book-length anthologies of shorter pieces. Pulp covers were printed in color on higher-quality slick paper. They were famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, usually awaiting a rescuing hero. Cover art played a major part in the marketing of pulp magazines. The early pulp magazines could boast covers by some distinguished American artists; The Popular Magazine had covers by N.
Later, many artists specialized in creating covers mainly for the pulps; a number of the most successful cover artists became as popular as the authors featured on the interior pages.
Among the most famous pulp artists were Walter Baumhofer, Earle K. Covers were important enough to sales that sometimes they would be designed first; authors would then be shown the cover art and asked to write a story to match. Later pulps began to feature interior illustrations, depicting elements of the stories.
The drawings were printed in black ink on the same cream-colored paper used for the text, and had to use specific techniques to avoid blotting on the coarse texture of the cheap pulp. Thus, fine lines and heavy detail were usually not an option.
Shading was by crosshatching or pointillism, and even that had to be limited and coarse. Usually the art was black lines on the paper's background, but Finlay and a few others did some work that was primarily white lines against large dark areas. Another way pulps kept costs down was by paying authors less than other markets; thus many eminent authors started out in the pulps before they were successful enough to sell to better-paying markets, and similarly, well-known authors whose careers were slumping or who wanted a few quick dollars could bolster their income with sales to pulps.
Additionally, some of the earlier pulps solicited stories from amateurs who were quite happy to see their words in print and could thus be paid token amounts. There were also career pulp writers, capable of turning out huge amounts of prose on a steady basis, often with the aid of dictation to stenographers, machines or typists. Before he became a novelist, Upton Sinclair was turning out at least 8, words per day seven days a week for the pulps, keeping two stenographers fully employed.
Pulps would often have their authors use multiple pen names so that they could use multiple stories by the same person in one issue, or use a given author's stories in three or more successive issues, while still appearing to have varied content. One advantage pulps provided to authors was that they paid upon acceptance for material instead of on publication; since a story might be accepted months or even years before publication, to a working writer this was a crucial difference in cash flow.
Some pulp editors became known for cultivating good fiction and interesting features in their magazines.