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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Redemption of Time

A Three-Body Problem Novel

Remembrance of Earth's Past (Volume 4)

Baoshu, Translated by Ken Liu

Tor Books


Planet Blue Era, Year 2, our star, our world

The sky was a misty, dark gray. A familiar afternoon drizzle enveloped the lake in a gentle mist. The grass at the shore dipped and swayed in the breeze, thirstily drinking the sweet raindrops. A toy boat woven from blades of grass drifted over the water, riding farther and farther from the bank on ripples spawned by the rain.

As though it’s heading for the world’s end …

Yun Tianming sat on the shore and aimlessly tossed pebbles into the lake, watching the ripples crisscross each other. A woman sat next to him, gazing at him without speaking. The breeze lifted strands of her long hair to brush against his cheeks, the caress arousing his desire.

For a moment, Tianming experienced the illusion of being in another time and another place, as though he had returned to that college outing in the suburbs of Beijing with his classmates, returned to that happy afternoon he had spent by the side of Cheng Xin. But the lemon-colored water, the blue grass, and the varicolored pebbles around him reminded him that this was a different era in a different world, a planet three hundred light-years away and almost seven centuries later.

And a different woman.

Slanting rain, gentle breeze, no need to return home.*

Tianming didn’t know why he’d thought of a line of Classical Chinese poetry, something that his parents, who had admired classical education so much, had forced him to memorize. He could no longer imagine going home. There was no home to return to; he could only endure the cold wind and rain on this alien planet.

What a fool! Tianming castigated himself. Did I really think I was going to get another chance with Cheng Xin, my beloved, and make toy boats by a lake? Wake up! The very idea that he might reunite with the woman of his dreams seven centuries later was absurd. The fact that he was now sitting next to a female of the same species was already an incredible miracle.

But a greater miracle had once been within his grasp. After being apart for seven hundred years, he could have seen that woman if only he had gotten here a few hours—even a few minutes—earlier. He could have spent the rest of his life with the woman he had been in love with for seven centuries on the shore of this lake, never again parting from her. The woman who sat next to him now, on the other hand, would have been only his wife’s best friend and married to another man.

Even now, Cheng Xin was not so far from him, at most only a few hundred kilometers away. On clear nights, he could even see her spaceship orbiting this planet slowly. However, though he could admire her from afar, she was forever out of his reach.

He had once given her a star. But now, because of the sudden expansion of the death line, she would never be able to land on this world. She had become his star.

Tianming grimaced and glanced at the sky out of habit. Today, because of the rain and clouds, he could see nothing. But he knew that she was there, above the clouds, perhaps even drifting overhead at that moment …

Tianming pulled his gaze back and realized that her eyes were still staring at him; he pretended not to notice. A pair of arms, like vines, entwined around his neck. He was readying himself to enjoy this moment of intimacy when the arms’ owner spoke, asking a question that lovers across eons and galaxies and species and sexes had all asked: “Hey, who do you like more, me or her?”

“You, of course!”

“But in what way?” ? AA refused to give up. “You have to be specific! I thought Cheng Xin—” But her question was interrupted by a kiss. Numerous similar experiences had taught Tianming the painful lesson that there was no appropriate answer under such circumstances, nor was there any need to speak.

? AA gave in to the kiss, and once the kiss had ended, she did not pursue the previous line of questioning. Shyly, she bit Tianming’s earlobe; a moment later, as though unsatisfied, she bit his shoulder, hard.

Tianming screamed and pushed her away. Hallucinations that had long been buried in his memory erupted forth, weighing down his consciousness. He had trouble breathing and could not think. He pressed his head between his hands in pain.

“I was just playing!” Although ? AA’s immediate reaction was that he was being dramatic, when she saw the pallor in his face and the tremors that racked his body she realized that he was terrified, perhaps delirious. She had seen him going through such episodes from time to time. “Tianming, what’s wrong?” she asked with concern.

Tianming stared back at her, confused and frightened, panting heavily. After a long pause, he asked, “You … are you real?”

“What are you talking about?” Now AA was frightened. She approached him, arms open for an embrace, but Tianming backed away and gazed at her suspiciously, his body crouched defensively. He repeated his question: “Are you a real person or just a hallucination? Is this whole world a trick in my mind?”

AA grasped the seriousness of the situation. Taking a deep breath, she spoke slowly. “I am real. Tianming, look at me. I’m standing right here in front of you. Every inch of my skin, every hair on my head—they’re all real. The planet we’re on is absolutely real. This … this is our world!”

“Our … world?” Tianming asked.

“Yes! Do you remember that day when we stood here waiting for Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan? We watched as their spaceship entered orbit around Planet Blue. You laughed like a child, holding my hand and telling me that you were going to surprise her, lead her into that marvelous little universe that even you had not seen. And then, all of a sudden, the death line expanded and the sky darkened; there was no more sun, no more stars. When you figured out what had happened, you just stood there like a zombie, not crying, not screaming. I didn’t understand how much you loved her until I saw the depth of your despair.”

“I do remember,” Tianming muttered, but his expression remained far away.

“For three days and three nights, you didn’t drink or eat and barely slept. I kept on telling you that they didn’t die; they were just living in a different frame of reference, and maybe one day you would see each other again. But you didn’t seem to hear me. Finally, on the third night, you cried. At first silently, and then weeping and sobbing, and finally howling and wailing. And I … I put my arms around you. And I heard you say to me, ‘There are only the two of us on this planet! Only the two of us!’ Do you remember what I said to you next?”

“You said, ‘You are my Adam and I’m your Eve.’” Tianming closed his eyes, remembering.

“I don’t know how I found the words.” ? AA bit her lip and blushed. “Anyway … that was how you and I became a couple. We couldn’t be free of the despair, of course, but on that day at least, we let go and … it was wonderful. The next day, you told me, ‘From now on, this is our world.’ Do you remember?”

A smile appeared on Yun Tianming’s face, perhaps without him even realizing it. “Yes, of course.”

“Then how can all of that be unreal?” AA asked.

Smiling encouragingly, she took a step toward Tianming. This time, he did not back away. She picked up his hands and wrapped his arms around herself as she hugged him, pressing her ear against his chest to listen to his heartbeat. Still confused, Tianming looked into the distance, allowing her to cling to him. Gently, she kissed his face, and gradually, hesitantly, Tianming returned her embrace. His gaze warmed and he returned her kiss, which she returned with even more ardor …

Tianming received the most primitive and most authentic proof of the reality of the universe.

Copyright © 2011 by Baoshu (??)

copyright © 2016 by China Educational Publications Import & Export Corp., Ltd.