Published at 4th of November 2018 08:00:40 PM
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Chapter 39

Chapter 39: I’ll weave this dream once more

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I am currently on my way to see the Head of the History Department to hand in the application for my Master’s degree . Truthfully, everything has already been finalized, me handing in the form is just a mere formality .

I can hear voices coming from the window as I near the boss’ office . Looks like he has a guest . I hesitate, wondering if I should go in or not .

The History Department is the poorest department in this university . The Department’s building is quite old, having been built in the 1970’s, so the walls are not very soundproof . Although I don’t intend to eavesdrop, the voices from the office still travel to my ears .

“Old Ji, all the other volunteers have failed, that’s why I have no other choice but to ask you . Until now, only she has successfully crossed, not once but twice . ”

Why does this voice sound so familiar?

“Stop trying to persuade me, I won’t agree to this . She’s still young, what if she loses her life because of this experiment?”

That’s my boss’ voice, but why does it sound so weary!

“Losing her life, you’re making it sound so serious . We have improved the machine-”

“Can you improve it to the point where you can guarantee that she will not suffer even the tiniest injury? The results of her last crossing, you all have seen it . Fortunately you guys still have a bit of a conscience in you and hired the best doctors in this country to salvage her arm . ”

My heart skips a beat . So boss is really talking about me . I lean in closer to listen .

“Old Ji, it was our fault for not considering the effects of irradiation . If it wasn’t for her injury, we thought it’d be safe . But if she’s more careful this time and not get any injuries, then it should not be a problem-”

I finally recognize that voice . It’s Professor Li’s, the head of the research team for the time-travel project!

“Who said there won’t be any problems?” Boss interrupted Professor Li with a raised voice, “Every time she uses that machine, she gets affected by radiation . The time travel watch, even the anti-radiation jacket she wore, all of those are sources of irradiation that are constantly damaging her body . ”

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“If she doesn’t stay too long then there’ll be no issues,” Professor Li quickly clarified, “We won’t ask her to stay too long this time, as she’ll only be testing to see if our newly-invented time and geo-positioning locator works . We promise to offer her the best medical treatment available upon her return . ”

“You have tested that function many times and it has always encountered problems before the jump can even occur . ”

“We have learned from our previous failures, it’ll definitely be successful this time . Old Ji, you are also a historian . Think about it . The fact that we can travel to any place in any time period in history, perhaps to witness Qin Shihuang’s unification of China, to see the events of the Xuanwu Gate Incident unfold leading up to Li Shimin becoming Emperor [Taizong of Tang], or even to attend the founding day of this country and meet Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou, can’t you see how amazing any of that would be?” Professor Li’s voice has taken on a zealous tone .

“Old Ji, we just need one tester…”

“No, it’s too dangerous, there are too many unknown variables, I cannot-”

“I accept . ”

I push the door open and calmly look at the two surprised scholars .

“But I must be able to choose the time and place,” I add on .

“Sure, no problem,” Professor Li nods in excitement, “As long as you promise to participate in the test, it’ll be up to you where you want to go . ”

“With my current health, how long can I last there?”

Professor Li is a bit stunned by my sudden question: “It’s hard to say conclusively since we don’t have enough data . But if you return quickly-”

I interrupt him with a decisive voice: “I want to go to Kucha in 384 CE . ”

At this, Professor Ji [Boss] jerks his head up and looks at me with a complicated gaze .

Back at the all-too-familiar research base, I find myself busy with all the different tests, with exercising and having to consume drugs that enhance my immune system . The research team takes notes of my health data every day, examining every number and calculation down to the last decimal . Early August is when my fifth time jump will begin .

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Whenever I get any free time, I would spend it by reading every record I can get my hands on about Rajiva and the Sixteen Kingdoms Period [304 CE to 439 CE] . I try to memorize everything, believing that it’ll come handy later on .

But there is too much material and the more I read, the more confused I get . Records about Rajiva especially are usually too short, ambiguous and even contradictory at times .

Case in point: His year of birth and death .

There are two accounts on the time of Rajiva’s death . The “Biographies of Eminent Monks” (Gāosēng Zhuàn) of the Southern Liang Dynasty by Hui Jiao [circa 530 CE] wrote the following: “Kumarajiva died in Chang’an on the 20th day of the 8th month in the 11th year of Hongshi in Later Qin, which is also the 5th year of Yixi in Eastern Jin” . So that would be September 15, 409 . * But Kumarajiva’s section in the Biographies of Translators in “Collected Records on the Making of the Tripitaka” (Chu Sanzang jiji), Sengyou (445–518 CE) had written that “Kumarajiva passed away in a large temple on the 13th day of the 4th month of Guiyou, at the age of 70 . ” Guiyou is the 15th year of Hongshi, so that would be May 28, 413 .
* [T/N: Dates back then use a combination of lunar calendar, regnal year and ganzhi . Hence why I wrote “8th month” and not August, which is Gregorian . What regnal year means: The year was calculated (and renumbered) at the start of each emperor’s reign (aka niánhào or “era names”) and some emperors may have several era names . “Hongshi” was the second era name for Emperor Yao Xing of Later Qin, corresponding to the years 399–416 CE . Yixi was the third era name of Emperor An of Jin, corresponding to 405–418 CE . Ganzhi (or Stems-and-Branches) is a cycle of sixty terms formed by Ten Heavenly Stems and Twelve Earthly Branches (the Branches’ names correspond to Chinese zodiac) . “Guiyou” is the 50th term . Confused yet?]

If we follow Sengyou’s account, then Kumarajiva’s year of birth and death would be 344 and 413 CE, respectively (if he had indeed live to be 70 years old) . But if we follow Hui Jiao’s account, who believed that the translator monk lived to the age of 60, then the years would be 350-409 CE . Most academics today have come to accept Sengyou’s account due to his claim about having been in the company of someone who was a disciple of Kumarajiva for over ten years, and this disciple passed away only a year after Kumarajiva, so the room for error was pretty low . That is why, during the 5thChinese-Japanese Buddhism Academic Exchange Conference, academics from both countries had openly discussed Kumarajiva’s date of birth and death and concluded them to be 344-413 CE .

Personally, I think Hui Jiao’s account makes more sense . Lu Guang forcing Rajiva to break his precepts—this happened in 384 CE, which is the year I requested the research team to get me to—was when Rajiva was 35 years old . The prophecy spoken by that old monk when Rajiva was young [see Ch . 5] was surprisingly accurate . Looks like even Rajiva cannot escape the invisible hand of fate .

The Book of Jin wrote: “Lu Guang knows Rajiva is a man of immeasurable intelligence, but citing the monk’s young age, decides to force him to marry a Kuchan princess . ” Which means that Lu Guang found Rajiva to be young, hence the arranged marriage . If at that time, Rajiva was already forty-one years old [following Sengyou’s account], that wouldn’t be considered ‘young’ according to the era . If he was thirty-five, it’d make more sense . But was it only Rajiva’s young age that made Lu Guang decide to force him break his precepts? What is the hidden story behind those few words in the Book of Jin? What kind of situation will I find myself in when I time jump?

All of these thoughts swirl around inside my head constantly, making me sick with worry . Ever since I returned to the research base, not a night has gone by where I could sleep well . Part of me just wants to do the time jump as soon as possible so I can meet him again, but other part of me is afraid of what I would stumble upon when I do return . How much would have changed in the eleven years since I’m gone? How many people can stay steadfast to a love from eleven years ago? If this isn’t the last chance for me to time travel, I would have definitely chosen to return to the moment when Rajiva rushed back to Kucha to see me one last time [see Ch . 37] . If the probability of two lovers being able to wait for each other is 80%, then the probability of them being to live together is 80×80 = 64% . My heart feels heavy at the thought . However, even if the probability is only 1%, I’d still go . Because if I choose to stay here, I’d be living on as if I have no soul, for my heart has already left this place .

I phone my parents . They have no clue about me being part of this time travel project . I just want to let them know that I am well, but that I’m also about to travel to a secret location for a special research project, which could take a couple years or more to complete, and that I will not be able to call them during this time . I tell them to not worry too much, for I will be safe and fine while I carry out this project .

But despite my assurances, I can still hear their worry over the phone . I try to keep my voice light and relaxed the whole time, but as soon as I hang up, tears start to roll down . I am their only child, and yet I cannot fulfill my filial duties . I am truly not a good daughter…

The night before my time jump, Boss comes looking for me . The two of us sit down on the grass in front of the research base and converse .

“It’s because of Kumarajiva, isn’t it?”

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I become flustered at the Boss’ sudden question .

“Did you think I wouldn’t be able to guess it?” He lets out a long sigh, “In both of your previous time jumps, you met Kumarajiva right at the time of his prime as a youth and as a young adult . I have read about him in the historical records and know well what an outstanding man he is, let alone you . And for a young woman like you to meet such a man in person, well . ”

I can only bow my head in silence .

“I’ve always thought of you as a sensible and intelligent girl . Did love make you lose all your wits?”

“Professor, you have experienced what it was like to be young and in love, right?”

I lift my head, but everything in front my eyes have become a wet blurry .

“Because I believed myself to be a sensible girl who respects history, I had chosen to let him go . But I now regret that decision very much . Ever since I returned here, not a day has gone by where I don’t find myself steeped in regrets, wishing I was more selfish back then . So I made up my mind to go find him again . This time, I don’t want to think about following history or anything else…”

“But what do think you can change with this trip?” Boss sounds rather defeated . “You already know what happened in this year you’re going to . Kumarajiva will be marrying a Kuchan princess . ”

“I know . ”

Tears silently roll down my cheeks before falling onto the grass below .

“This is the year where he will experience a major turning point . And I want to be there for him during this most difficult period in his life . I have this feeling that he is still waiting for me, still hoping for my return . If things are as the historical records say, then he would already have someone by his side . If that’s the case, then I will give him my blessings from afar and return back to this era and continue on with my life here . ”

Boss lets out another long sigh .

“Even if I ask you to not change history, I don’t think you will listen to me . ”

I bite my lips and answer with difficulty: “Professor Ji, you have always cautioned me to not change history, but what if my presence proves to be the very thing that pushes history forward?”

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Boss stays silent for a while, before he says: “Zhang Xi called me . ”

That surprises me . As soon as I learned that I could return to Rajiva’s side once again, I had broken up with the upperclassman from my school . Truthfully speaking, we have barely met ever since I agreed to go out with him . Every time he asked me to have a meal with him or to go see the movies, I always found some excuse to decline him . Me breaking up with him was merely formalities . We hardly acted like a couple in love, so I am surprised to hear that he had called Boss .

“He had called asking me to pass on this message,that he is willing to wait until you wake up . ”

I smile ruefully . Boss must have told him the real reason why I chose to participate in this experiment again . And yet he said he will wait for me? Waiting for a person who does not even love him, exactly who would do such a thing in this modern era?

“What if I don’t want to wake up?”

“You foolish girl, don’t forget, no matter how compatible you and him seem to be, it’s all nothing but a pipe dream of a girl in love . Your true home is here in this era . It is where you ought to live your life like a normal person . ”

His tone then takes a sterner note: “Every time you time jump, you will suffer irradiation that will gradually destroy your immune system, so you must return to get treatment as soon as possible . Don’t think that this is a free pass for you to do whatever . I know girls in love tend not to act sensibly, but there’s nothing great about a love that makes you lose your life in exchange . ”

He pauses for a second before continuing, “The greatest love is the kind that makes you want to keep on living . ”

“I have asked the researchers to develop a battery with the longest life yet, so you have maximum two years to return . Although bringing the time travel watch and anti-radiation jacket along when you cross will damage your health, you must still keep them well . During such a turbulent time in history, those items may be able to save your life . ”

I nod and watch the night sky in silence . It’s a summer night and yet I cannot find a single star in the sky . There really is too much pollution in this era .

I lie on the experiment table alone . Everyone has left the room and is getting ready to seal it, when Boss suddenly comes near me and whispers into my ears:

“Remember, don’t do anything stupid . Technology is constantly improving . As long as you come back, there will be another chance to meet him . ”

He then grasps my hand and squeezes: “Be careful and don’t get hurt . ”

Boss looks at me one last time before walking out of the room . My eyes tear up looking at his retreating back, where signs of old age have started to show .

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