Short Story: The Babel Problem

Some things, you can never really expect; car accidents, terminal disease, mental collapse. Usually, too, the most innocuous offenses have the greatest effect; Little Timmy Traydor’s flu, disguised as seasonal allergies, spreads. A week later, coroners are rolling Grannie Hestor down the driveway in a vinyl bag, dead at 83 from pneumococcal complications.

Again, some things, you can’t expect. You can, however, anticipate others. Sometimes. If you’re careful. Most aren’t. Not enough time, really.

However, no-one ever expects or anticipates a radically-public return from the dead.

Even the corps knew that feat was unattainable, reserved for Heroes of myth, religious icons, soaps with revolving writers and no budget.

But she came back. And it changed everything.

Few wars had the effect of this one. The 20th century had shown Humanity war could be profitable. Only decades later did they learn the terrible truth; only true war could be profitable. And true war couldn’t be manufactured.

World War II had spurred Humanity toward a global golden-age for nearly a half-century before its momentum thoroughly exhausted. Therein were born profiteers of every booming sect of society and economics. Some unions, their politics. Some military arms.Others, medicines or technology.Most saw no connection between any of the afore- or un-mentioned.

Then again, how could they? History’d proven itself repetitious, why would that change? History, after all, was a force. As unstopped and inviolable as Nature. Right?

Wrong. She came back and it rallied a part of every. Living. Human. Not just Corp or Reb, or Aug. And not just a few, but every. one; Corp-execs, loyalist jack-boots, the lowest boot-licks— and obviously everyone else. They all had some stake in her side’s fairing, because she’d done the impossible and come back.

Admissible or not, every Human knew it; through those first hints of collective-conscience forming. Like any social group in need of leadership, its source required rigid morality, lest group survival fail. But what could be that source? Politics were a joke.Peace-keepers corruptible. Courts slap-dash, ancient systems from more-ancient eras. Its descended system and components, too,were relics; museum pieces long before even the pre-digital world existed.

Humanity was now living post-digital though. Everything a 0 or 1 within layered levels of parameters and reference. The only differences were subject, context. Even if mostly-blind to it, Humans recognized their need for decentralized guidance.

Like everything of that time, it formed of collective will and need, through sentinels. Guardians physical and digital.Neither doers nor teachers, players nor coaches, but referees and watchers. The same side-liners never bothering to de-bench but still wishing to contribute.

So, they became the ones drawing and tracking lines and rules. Rather than consciously though, it occurred randomly via the same happenstance as all life’s attributes; Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. All parameters and references, layered or not. In the end, their system was what mattered; systems were malleable. Allowing the watchers to be fed simply ensured the systems continued functioning and improving.

It just so happened, most of those watchers– the Guardians, also happened to be Au-teurs. Creative-visionary, post-humans specializing in thoughts, ideas, and treading the footsteps of Verne, Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky; their descendants Asimov, Van Gogh, and Zappa; so-on, until webs of influence formed from their own immersion and intimacy withing their worlds.

They were stop-bits. All of them, each a facet of Human culture or the apex of a generation’s feelings on a matter. Bird was the word and it stopped with them;filtered from the insanity of the postdigital age into footnotes, referential layers,choices; 0s and 1s.

When she came back though, every watcher– every stop-bit flipped to 1. Together.

Every Human to ever live was with them.

That moment was immortality; fleeting as it seemed, it was. A moment outside time so powerful it would reverberate forever. It was a moment of adaptation that made for Humanity’s first, true evolution since its origination; its first and last. From Human to post-Human. A shift that would remain ’til the end of existence, because the species in question had beaten back something always existing before.

Her return broke new ground in reality,existence. Without so deep and primal a fearas death,even the most meager existence could become enlightenment. Her return, that moment, made it possible. Immortality,resurrection, radically shifted human existence.

Even if more tech and chrome than not, she remained Human. Especially after the Incident, that was important. While no-one saw it that way then, as they too busy fleeing for cover, it was no less accurate. The war that came with her was Brutal. Atavistic. Devastating. Though Few died relatively speaking, each was felt intimately; the resulting turmoil, total.

Every Human alive felt each death stronger simply for being alive. The truth appeared then:

Humanity was experiencing a total mental-awakening amid a self-inflicted violence so shameful and harmful, a counter-balance was not only impossible to avoid, but inevitable and necessary. What that came to be was an idea, simple yet immeasurable in its effect; competition for resources was no longer necessary for survival.

Resources were finite, certainly, but properly divided were more than enough. It was time to stop, think, then act; all the while recognizing that what set us apart from animals wasn’t clothing, organization, or even intelligence. Rather, it was the grasping and manifestation of concepts so abstract they could only arise from one source; imagination.

An animal knew only it’s immediate point in space-time. It could be conditioned through binary emotion– warm or cold feelings– to react as per instinct and reflex. Ultimately though, it could not think long-term, nor plan its future beyond a few, select moments.

But Humans were different now.

For the first time, they were forced to pause and engage what they’d created via collective will. In that came the obviousness that the struggles underlining society were pointless, because they were solvable. Certain parties simply weren’t doing there part to solve them.Her return, the war that came with it, made one thing clear: it was time for that to end.

Far bigger concerns existed. Thus, so could things to fulfill even the wildest dreams of the most wild dreamers. Humanity simply required a slight extension of patience, one considered unobtainable from life’s demands.

But that belief was dictated by elderly ideas and systems of even older ideas. Ones formed with hope of a so-called “perfect” world.However, the world needn’t be perfect, only that Humans have a goal to keep them striving, reaching, and staving off stagnation.

Pre-digital gave way to postdigital, the actual digital age merely the transition between; a Human process of realization, that of not only their place, but perfection’s. The latter as an abstract construct meant as a guide-wire to be always expanding, growing. In effect, an info-virus seeking to rectify a Babel problem that wasn’t a problem, but a consequence of nature and human existence.

If allowed and harnessed, that same consequence was its own force to be reckoned with.

She returned, and everything changed. The stop-bits flipped. Alarms went up. And all hell broke loose. The rest is history. The resurrection. The second coming. It was there, but only because Humanity willed it. It– she was salvation, because Humanity needed one, willed it possible. She just happened to be convenient.

On one level or another, people suddenly agreed with her revolution; all people.Immortality was a living being’s concern, and she’d defied it. In doing so, she sealed the Corporations’ fall.

No-one wanted ’em anymore. They weren’t good enough, purpose aside. They were the first, rough-draft systems of a newly foresighted species; learning-software output of child-students of the universe learning to multitask any goal, aligned or otherwise.

It was only after things truly began for Humanity, its progeny, their affected. Now that they knew how to do it right, it could be magnificent. And it was.

Short Story: The Princess and the Brain-Hack

The children gathered round in a crescent as he sat before a dingy, concrete wall, twice as ancient as him. His steel-grayed hair and piercing, ice-blues were accentuated by sagging cheeks and creases. Like him, the room was drab, with a sort of accumulated dust that could only come from having lived history.

Whether he’d played a major role in that history, or would still, was just one of the fascinations the younger children speculated on. The curious, old-man before them was no mystery to the older children. They knew the truth of course, but the others were too young to learn it. They had to be protected from grisly realities to ensure they didn’t become cold humans that made them.

The old man’s eyes pulled tight. His mouth drew a smile, “You wish to hear a story, no?”

A curious, Nordic accent mingled with his French. The children’s heads nodded, as they chorused “Oui” in a collective sing-song. He chuckled to himself.

“I know only one,” he said firmly to quiet them down. “But I shall tell it as though I lived it.”

He made small gestures with his hands and the bright LEDs overhead dimmed until only one remained above, at half-power.

“It begins with a princess in a tower, toiling away at tedious work,” he said. The children readied themselves in anticipation. “The most beautiful princess in the tower worked day after day, slaving for masters in fine silks. These masters were wealthy beyond any in the land, past or present. Yet despite all their wealth, they enslaved everyone in the land to do their bidding, increasing it each day, each moment; the princess included.

“Allowed as she was to return home each night, the Princess was forced to return each day, toiling as before, lest her masters grow angry and imprison her.

“So night after night, the Princess returned home, unaware of her masters’ wicked plans for her and others like her. She was a beautiful tool, they said, to be used for evils when needed, and discarded like after. She and all others like her were regarded this way; some were so wholly faithful to their masters, they felt the same. Thus day after day they toiled, enslaved, only to believe themselves safe from the treatment during the night.

“Then one night, the Princess’ wicked masters cast a veil of confusion about her mind. In her state, she knew not who she was, and her masters took advantage of this. They sent her out to do evil only to have her return the next morning, none the wiser of her actions. So powerful was the confusion, they were able to continue the madness months before she could begin to suspect it.

“But before then, her masters had found her capacity for evil was beyond any other’s. For, in truth she was a Princess, and princesses have their own power. With her, they brought destruction to many of their enemies. Through them, the Princess stole, deceived, even murdered under her wicked masters’ veil of confusion. Yet each morning she awoke, utterly unawares of her wickedness.”

The old man’s face sank into sadness, his voice with it. It seemed as if a thousand, terrible memories befell him all at once. Even to their young hearts, it was a cutting pain to see someone of such renown feeling such dread.

“Then came a night when the beautiful Princess could no longer sleep. Her masters watched her carefully, but allowed her not to do evil. Then another night passed similarly. She twisted and writhed in sleepless agony. More time passed. The Princess worsened. Each night she suffered amid more nightmares than before. It was then that the Princess’ family began to take notice.

“Where, by day she had always risen and worked with promptness, now she slogged on, too tired from the sleepless nights. Indeed, everyone whom joined the Princess each day in the tower saw the same change.

“It was, the Princess said, nothing to be concerned for.

“But her younger sister, just as beautiful and even more stubborn and less-mannered, insisted she visit an enchantress to put her mind at ease. There, the sister said, she would be put into a deep sleep of living dreams, and forced to face the ills haunting her dreamworld and keeping her from sleep.

“The sister however, also kept secret her own fears; fears seeded by rumors of others whom had shown the same, worsening symptoms as the Princess, and were said to have been subjected to a great confusion then used for evil in the night. Suspecting the Princess was also a victim, the sister kept quiet for fear that the Princess’ masters might strike them both down before they could learn the truth.”

The old man’s tone turned empty, unfeeling, yet it infected his story with more life; “So thus the Princess was taken to see the enchantress. There, she was put to the deep sleep, and for a long while, did not stir. Then, under the careful guidance of the Enchantress’ words, she soon began to navigate the dreamworld.

“It felt hollow, the Princess remarked, filled with memories that appeared her own, but which broke her heart and tortured her good nature. She watched as bits and pieces of past nights began to return. One upon the other, wickedness and evils stacked and fitted back in place as though a shattering mirror played in reverse.”

He took a deep breath to warm himself against terrible emotions, memories. No doubt he’d drummed them up to better instill the tale’s importance. He steeled his nerves with an encompassing glimpse of his audience; they were captivated, thirsting for the tale to continue.

“When the Enchantress’ deep sleep broke, the Princess awoke shaken. The veil of great confusion her masters had imbued broke too. She found her memory filled with all the evils she’d done unknowingly in her masters’ names.”

The otherwise indifferent face became embedded with a deep frown. “So the sister began to tell of the evil and wickedness by the Princess in her masters’ names. By doing so, she sought justice against those who’d stolen her sister’s mind, tarnished her innocence. All the while, the Princess grew more distraught, fearful of what she’d done; that her masters might use her again in such a way.

“Alas, the masters had other plans. They commissioned an conjurer to kill the Princess to protect themselves, fearing her story might rile the peasants of their kingdom on whose complacence they relied on for their wealth.

“So, under cover of night, the masters schemed. The conjurer-assassin went quickly to lay a trap for the Princess. Upon rising, he planned, she would once more make to toil away in her masters’ tower. Instead, he would spring a trap, swallowing the Princess in a great ball of fire. Sure enough, when the Princess rose again, she stepped outside only to be instantly swallowed by the great fire. It then disappeared with her, never to be seen again.”

He watched the children carefully. Some faces ebbed on tears. Others were still enthralled, sensing the story wasn’t over. A few children though, were the most captivated, yet least affected. They had, he knew, something more special about them; a type of imagination distinguishable by the very look on their face. Indeed, these children were unknowingly the group’s greatest thinkers.

The old man continued, “With the Princess’ death, her masters’ kingdom was up-heaved. Peasants rebelled against in outrage at the Princess’ death. All over the kingdom they wreaked havoc on the lands and possessions of the masters.

“But alas, this too was not meant to last. The masters set loose great, fire-breathing dragons whom smote the land wherever the peasants rose. For fourteen days and fourteen nights, upheaval passed, then the fire-breathers came and quelled the chaos. The Dragons appearance may have subdued the people, but their thirst for justice remained. Indeed, none so boldly ruling by fear can hope to forever contain such deep unrest.

“Through two years of toil and worsening wickedness from her old masters, the world mourned the Princess’ loss. During that time, small groups worked in secret to exact revenge on her masters in her memory. By ways sabotage and subterfuge, the avengers destroyed and thwarted, or deceived and cajoled against them in the Princess’ name. It was not enough, for the land remained in the darkness of the tower’s great, looming shadow.

“Even today that shadow persists, but something unknown to the Masters in the tower is that the Princess yet lives! For two whole years, a great sorcerer worked in secret with her sister to resurrect the dead Princess to lead the people against her old masters.”

Faces around the room seemed in disbelief, or indeed astonishment, but the old man could see the few he’d mentally noted before working something out. He suppressed a smile to ensure he finished appropriately.

“Upon returning from the dead, she immediately began to lead the people in hopes of one day liberating those still toiling as she once did. It is said, even now, she trains avengers in growing numbers. As well, it is said she slept so long in death, she trains and plots day and night without interruption. Such is her will.”

His head gave a small, slight bow, “And that is all there is to tell… for now.”

The children clapped excitedly, already wishing to hear it again. Only those few he’d mentally noted seemed satisfied, having obviously worked out something the others hadn’t. The children disappeared soon afterward.

A middle-aged woman approached, her body gleaming with battle-scarred black and chrome, bionic limbs in place of natural ones. Renee Lemaire was every bit as beautiful as the story told, however wisely worded for children’s ears. She was tall, well-muscled where not augmented, and had a wily cunning from years of fighting Corporate “masters.” She had the look of a warrior Goddess and loving mother.

She approached, “You have the list?”

“Oui.” He handed over a touchscreen data-tablet. Across it were a few names, “Those are the only I saw in this group. Perhaps one day we’ll have more effective means of pinpointing them.”

She eyed the list, “You’ve never been wrong before, Sven. Not once. I trust you to find them better than any other method.”

“Perhaps,” he replied, leaning tiredly on a table to look at her. “But I am an old man, Renee. And none of us can escape death forever. Not even you.”

She gave a bittersweet smile, “You know what they call it, the older ones?”

“The story?”

She gave a nod. “They call it the Princess and the Brain-Hack. Eventually all of them call it that. They don’t get it at first, but at some point, it always gets around that it’s a true story. My story.”

Sven thought carefully. “Are they aware it is a test?”

She shook her head, “A few, but critical thinkers are too precious to let that secret slip.”

He softened severely, then a throaty laugh emanated from him. She sensed its cause and laughed with him. The Princess and the Brain-Hack. She had to admit, it had a certain ring. Maybe one day it would even have an ending; after she finished burning the Corps to the ground. Until then, she didn’t mind being a beautiful Princess with a cause so powerful death couldn’t keep her from it.

She smiled. After all, she was Renee Lemaire; myth, legend, formerly brain-hacked princess, and evermore a rebel.