Earth was still again. The awful shaking was over. The terror of thick, thundering darkness was evaporating into the clear night air. Dr. Shin Sun stood high above the city, contemplating the skyline from the terrace of his high-rise. He could see for miles. He seemed almost serene as he looked out upon the wreckage.
All around was chaos: piles of broken concrete and glass crushed like eggshells, not more than a handful of buildings still standing amid the debris. Clouds of dust moved across the ruined landscape. Plumes of smokes rode the air aloft.
Several streets ahead, Shin could see a nine-story apartment building that had completely collapsed upon itself. He thought of the people inside, people he knew, and felt numb. God, it finally happened. After twenty years, the prophecy came true. In the blink of an eye, the great quake had hit L.A.
The stillness was eerie. Where was everyone? Somewhere in the darkness, a dog was howling. Then it stopped. Shin continued to study the scene. He saw fallen power lines and semaphores. Freeway overpasses had fallen, and surface streets were cut off or buried under rubble. Sidewalks lay in fragments. The beautiful grid logic of the metropolis had become an incoherent jumble, modern man's creation jolted out of alignment.
For years, seismologists studying the terrain of California had predicted a quake powerful enough to fold the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles together. "God, were the alarmists right?" Shin wondered, shaking his head.
Then his eye caught something. Astonishment froze his features. There, barely visible through the dust, at the base of a low hill where part of old Chinatown had once stood, was an enormous, gaping crack in the surface. Deep inside the fissure was a streak of gold, the unmistakable glint of ore lit by moonlight. An enormous vein of gold had been exposed by the temblor. "It can't be," he said to himself.
A strange feeling came over Shin. He started to remember something that happened to him the night before. Last night he began like any other night. He brushed his teeth, got himself ready for bed the way he always did. He read awhile, got tired, put down his book, and dropped off. He remembered that he was in the middle of a particularly vivid nightmare when he awoke to find that he had actually fallen out of bed onto the floor. The dream was still playing in his head. It seemed so real.
"This is senseless," he thought. "I felt as if I was being pulled through the surface of some gigantic glass. And I was coughing. I remember I couldn't stop coughing."
There was a mine from which a crystal had been extracted- the Tài-Yǐ crystal. His great grandfather had given that crystal to him years ago. The location of the crystal gold mine became legend because it was buried by an explosion and has never been found since. It was an extraordinary formation; he had never seen anything like it. It had unusual properties. With his colleague's cooperation, Shin had been able to harness some of its power for use in a prototype of the "Smart Computer".
There was a problem with the design, though. The crystal was developing the system; even his colleagues sensed it's not his design. The next one will be perfect, but the crystal was unique- impossible to replicate. Shin had been able to make only one machine with it. But now his mind was racing toward something: "Great grandpa's crazy gold mine story- I always tried to get him to tell me where it was and he wouldn't. If that mine was real, and this is it, and if I could get more of those crystals…" Shin felt a little dizzy at the prospect of creating a network of intelligent computers.
Shin was losing himself in his thoughts when a voice startled him.
"Sun-ZhÌ-Sheng." His Chinese name was called correctly with the family name 'Sun' being the first.
The voice was unlike any he had ever heard. It was exquisite, unearthly, and the sound of it brought him sharply back to the moment. He turned to see the person to whom it belonged. It was a woman, preternaturally beautiful and luminous, dressed in Taoist attire. She stood suspended in space, hovering weightlessly, as heedless of gravity as a goddess resting on air. "Shin Sun," she said, "the earthquake has revealed to you the hiding place of the great golden lode."
Shin hardly dared to breathe. He was studying how his ethereal visitor standing on air, and answering nothing about the crystal. "Who are you?" he questioned.
"I am Princess Iron Fan," she answered."
Shin looked at her carefully. He noticed that she was cradling an infant dressed in purple in her arms. The Princess went on, "I knew your great grandfather. It was he who found the crystal in the days he worked for the railroad. Shin Sun, I know your desire," she added unexpectedly. "I will help you to obtain more crystals, but you must deliver my baby to his father for me."
Shin's overworked brain was spinning out now. Princess Iron Fan? But she’s a character from ancient myth. The situation was growing more fantastic by the moment. Shin tried to recollect the details of a book he had read in his youth. Journey to the West was the epic of Monk Táng who went in search of wisdom during the Táng Dynasty around 600 A.D. To further his quest, he enlisted the help of a hero known as the Monkey King and formed a fellowship. Shin recalled that the fellowship included other characters called White Dragon, Pigsy, and Friar Sand.
"This is nuts," he thought. "That was a story, a fiction written over a thousand years ago!" Shin stared at his airborne messenger and thought: "Impossible. She's got to be some kind of hallucination or psychic glitch induced by the trauma of natural disaster."
Princess Iron-Fan went on with her tale: "Monk Xúan-Zhùang and his fellows traveled to the Mountain of Flame. In order to pass through it, they fought with me. They wrested my palm-leaf fan and used it to quench the mountain's fire." The princess paused briefly for effect. "One of them overcame me and fathered this child. Now, with a mother's sorrow, I must tell you that I can no longer keep my child."
"I can't believe this," Shin thought. "She's running on about a ‘Mountain of Flame’ and the birth of a baby that was supposed to have taken place in the year one thousand something like it was yesterday and this is twenty......"
"This is the year two thousand twelve," Princess Iron-Fan interrupted.
"My God, she's finishing my thoughts for me. Is she actually reading my mind? " Shin formed the questions mentally. "Where are Monk Táng and the fellowship now? Weren't they supposed to have finished their journey to the west one thousand years ago?"
The princess didn't miss a beat.
"After they left the Mountain of Flame, they came forward in time to this place, America, through the crystal mirror of the future. Xúan-Zhùang is now in Chicago; Monkey King is in New York. Friar Sand is on his way to the White House. Pigsy has gone to Las Vegas, and White Dragon is in Hollywood."
"This is starting to get more than a little creepy," thought Shin. He was remembering the mirror in his nightmare. He was beginning to wonder if he weren't still stuck in his nightmare. First, he survives a gigantic earthquake that must have taken out eighty per cent of L.A., but he doesn't hear or see a single person moving about in the aftermath. And now he is having a wordless conversation with a thousand year-old fantasy woman floating in mid-air. "I must be dreaming." He glanced up at the Princess to see her nodding in agreement. Shin broke out in a cold sweat.
The princess hesitated. She hadn't the heart to tell him the thing he would want to know next. But Shin's mind was not even forming the question. Shin was looking intently at the sleeping baby wrapped in purple. He was beautiful. Shin even thought he could see clusters of lights surrounding its little body.
His tone softened: "Who is the father? Which one of the fellowship was he?" Shin wondered silently.
"Is he in The White Dragon?" Shin recalled that in the ancient story the young White Dragon was an unholy terror. He once ignited the fire of an undersea volcano and burned the West Sea palace to the ground. The fabled luminous pearls housed inside were all destroyed. For this he was sentenced to join the West Journey fellowship. In rebellion, White Dragon ate Xúan-Zhùang's horse. As punishment, the gods transformed him into a horse and compelled him to serve the Monk. "No, it couldn't be White Dragon," Shin concluded. Princess Iron-Fan was still following his thoughts, but said nothing.
"What about Pigsy? Shin ventured. "He wasn't always a buffoon with the face of a pig." Once he was marshal of all the water gods living in the Milky Way. There had been a grand party given, the Fairy Peach Cotillion. At that party, Pigsy got drunk and dared to mock the Goddess of the Moon herself. For this outrage he was cast down to earth, changed into a pig, and forced to join the quest. Later, in the course of the journey, Pigsy contrived a scheme to marry a beautiful maiden he had met, but the Monkey King thwarted his plans. Shin decided he had to rule out Pigsy too.
By this time, he had become completely absorbed by the problem of the father's identity. The princess said nothing.
"What about Friar Sand?" He was a man of the cloth- more devout even than Monk Táng, and a former general in the Celestial Army. He too was hurled to earth and he was condemned to guard the River of Quick Sand, because of his unruliness at the Fairy Peach Cotillion. Friar Sand's crime was that he shattered the exquisite Tài-Yǐ crystal ceiling of the pavilion where the festivities were being held. Shin remembered that in the old story certain of the shards from that ceiling dropped all the way to earth and formed mineral deposits of unbelievable richness.
As guardian of the river, Friar Sand showed no mercy to passersby. Nine different monks tried to cross and were drowned in quick sand. Friar Sand wore their tiny skulls on a necklace he made. Monk Táng, however, was more fortunate than they. He had the help of the fellowship. "No, Friar Sand cannot be the father," thought Shin.
"But then if not him, who? And why am I- " Shin aimed his thought directly at Princess Iron Fan. "Why am I the one to deliver your baby to its father?" The Princess’ answer was more a riddle than an answer: "My son will not wake until he is delivered into his father's hands, when his eyes open again, everyone will know who his father is."
Bewildered, Shin spoke aloud, "Princess, you are immortal. You have extraordinary powers. Why can't you deliver the baby yourself?"
"If I could do that, I would keep him and rear him," she replied with a trace of bitterness. Then the Princess made a swift gesture toward Shin with one arm extending, fingers together. She held the child in the other. The night air began to stir. Shin shivered. He watched in amazement as a shaft of silver-blue light sprang from the tips of the Princess’ fingers.
The light rushed toward him, like the shaft of an immense sword, stopping only a few feet from the railing of his terrace. Then individual rays began to fan out in both directions like the fin of some great luminous fish. Its surface appeared to be molten metal, white-hot and icy all at once. It sprayed itself into the pleated form of a giant palm branch, the ragged ends of its rays, like silver threads, fluttering in the breeze.
Princess Iron-Fan relaxed her arm. The palm-leaf became solid metal, thin as foil, no longer glowing with light but reflecting the sky all around it. Like the Princess, it floated in mid-air just above Shin's terrace. The Princess motioned for the doctor to approach. Shin moved to the railing and started to climb over it. Instantly the palm leaf fan came toward him. It startled him. He hesitated. Looking down, he remembered that he was seventeen stories above the pavement.
Still straddling the rail, Shin was paralyzed with fear. The Princess was growing impatient. With one great sudden wafting motion, the iron palm fan blew Shin off the railing into the air and drew him back into its wake. Effortlessly it caught the doctor, but Shin's landing was surprisingly hard. "That really hurt, even if I am dreaming. This is no soft magic carpet," he complained.
The Princess laughed a little at Shin's clumsiness. "The Iron-Fan will accompany you until you understand why it is that you were chosen." She looked down at her child and leaned forward to place a kiss upon its cheek. Then she unfolded her arms and allowed him to float gently toward Shin. Shin Sun still had a hundred questions for the princess, but somehow the moment for questioning was past. Shin reached out and embraced the baby, still in deep sleep.
Underneath them both, Shin felt the fan moving away from the terrace. Then, all of a sudden, the fan set out on its own course, speeding away with the two of them on top. Shin cried out in surprise as the fan carried them higher and higher above the wasted city. Dark wind whistled by them as they flew. Shin had the compulsion to crouch down close to the fan's surface to avoid being blown off. There was nothing to hold onto, and he had the child besides. Soon he realized that his feet gripped the palm fan's metal surface as if they were magnetic. He couldn't fall off if he wanted. He had no choice now but to relax and enjoy the ride since the Princess and her palm fan seemed to have everything tightly in control.
Off they flew, high above the destruction, high above the ground where everyone lay dead. Perhaps they weren't really dead but lost, like Shin, in a vast, unending dream.
The princess kept her eyes on the fan until it vanished into the horizon. Time was running out. It was almost dawn. Princess Iron-Fan sighed and began her long, slow descent to the ground.
Downward she sank, passing floor after floor of the high-rise. As an afterthought, she looked up at Shin's building. "Didn't it seem odd to Shin that his was the only building left standing in the immediate vicinity, the only one to escape the quake without any damage?" she wondered. Now the illusion was no longer necessary. Without surprise, she watched as its solid walls melted into thin air until there was nothing. On the spot where an impressive tower of glass, metal, and concrete had stood there was now a large mound of rubble.
The princess halted just above it. In deference to her person, chunks of rock and steel moved out of her path and rearranged themselves around her, forming a kind of circular wall, like the shaft of an enormous well. She continued her descent. When her feet touched the bottom of the circle she spotted the thing she was looking for. It was the Tài-Yǐ crystal glowing faintly in the dark. She walked gravely toward it. At her approach, the glow from the crystal flared up to reveal the rumpled form of something nearby. There next to the crystal laid the mangled body of Shin Sun, who had been buried under the rubble.
The princess stopped to retrieve the crystal. Then turning to Dr. Sun, she knelt gently beside him, took his hand, and wrapped his dead fingers around the stone. A moment later the body began to regenerate. Broken bones straightened and healed. Wounds closed and abrasions faded.
The princess took the crystal out of his hand and inserted it under Shin's tongue. Color returned to Shin's face: "Shin, you thought this small piece was just a left-over? You were wrong, this is the crystal root, it come out by itself when you tried to cut it."
Unexpectedly, a cellular phone began to ring.
The princess hesitated and kept listening, a baby crying in her back, she raised her fingers and twirling to aim to her back, a crying baby girl dressed in pink appeared from her back and fallen into her arms, she was waken by the cell phone ring.
Holding and hushing the baby girl wrapped in pink, guided by the sound of a cell phone preset musical tone; the princess found it tucked into Shin's breast pocket.
She took it out and looked at it curiously. It continued to ring. Perplexed, she held it away from herself and circled her finger around the case.
She frowned and knitted her brows, the electromagnetism waves are so harmful and all fill full of the air! Nowhere to escape!
Long strands of luminescent numerals and characters unfilled. These arranged themselves in front of her, creating a kind of cryptograph written on thin air, which the princess seemed to be able to decipher. Satisfied, she waved the whole thing away with one hand and brought up the sound with another. She listened carefully to find among millions of voices in simultaneous conversations the right one:
" Shin, this is Debra. Hello, Shin? Are you there? We heard the news about the quake early this morning. Did it hit your building? Are you all right? Robert and I wondering if you're o.k."
"Debra" answered the princess, hoarsely mimicking Shin Sun's baritone. "Wait, please." Princess Iron-Fan then sprayed herself over Dr. Sun's lifeless body, first touching her forehead to his, and then merging her entire body into his. Shin's eyes opened, immediately holds up the baby girl into his arms. He sat up reaching for the cell phone. It flew immediately to his palm. Now he understood its operation. "Debra," he said, this time in Shin's authentic voice, "this is Hermit."
"Who?" The voices in the air switched into cell phone, became clearer.
Sun looked at cell phone in highly praise: "It is Hermit Sun. Shin's twin brother. He must have told you about me. Listen; can you put Robert on the phone? I got a message from Shin." The doctor waited briefly. Then a voice came on the line.
"This is Robert."
"Hi, I'm Shin's brother, Hermit. There's a hell of a lot that's happened around here, but promised Shin I'd get his message to you. He's out on an urgent delivery right now."
"What is it?"
"He wanted me to tell you he struck gold! The Veluriyam crystal.
The Deep Wide gold mine and the Titanium-Yttrium Crystal were unearthed by the quake..."
"Thanks." They hung up.
The baby girl stopped crying and started gouging, watching Sun's face to smell him. The princess holding her baby girl looked into the far, far place of the Los Angeles. The sunlight seems to start gathering and coming back for the new day。
"Shin Sun", the princess was speaking to the sky, the direction of the flying Iron-Fan, she wanted to talk very carefully, because she only want Shin's sky soul to be hearing, not his person soul," In case of you can not make yourself return in time for your seventh day, don't fret, I'll go to Miami for your 7th day's appointment."