Speech

Barriers. We all hid behind our barriers. We could change topics of conversation at the drop of a hat; faces could melt away. We didn’t like it, we thought we were keeping secrets from one another and those we loved, but let me tell you: we loved it. Maybe I’m just applying that part of the human psyche that always pines for what it can’t have. But I don’t buy that I am, no, not in the slightest. I just want my walls back. I just want this experience to end. Not life, I don’t want that to end, I just want life to be normal again. I want to think and I want their thoughts to stop.

This is too much: I’m nauseated, and that understanding is known to every person alive. Everyone around me is sick, too, far too much of the time, and I know that, for a fact, and I’m scared, and so is everyone else, and we’re frozen, stiff, and solid, right where we are.

We move but we cannot advance.

Why did we strive for the most terrifying things?

I’m trying it again tonight. I’ve got to be able to break this. Nobody is meant to live like this; nobody.  I don’t even know if this is living. I shouldn’t have half of the knowledge that I do and nobody should have the knowledge that I know they do right now. And I can’t project.  I am writing, but I cannot think. Not within the construct of Babel, not where everyone else is, where I am.

I’m terribly, awfully sorry. I’m being unclear, and meandering. I just need to be free from this first.

***

I’m still coming down from finally being able to think for myself again. The sensation of finally getting free of Babel was intoxicating in a wholly natural way. It felt like a rush of blood to the head combined with a shiver going right up your spine and into your head. I had no idea how much longing the mind has for thought in its own right. It had been such a long time.

Acknowledging the few lines I wrote here initially (which were written as a testament to my struggle were I to succeed in separating from Babel, and a last testament were I to fail), I would first like to apologize to the reader. If all goes well for me now, you won’t know what I was talking about. Allow me to fill you in.

My name is Dean Laughman. I don’t know entirely where I am, or how old I am now. It hasn’t felt like it has been that long, since I have been outside of Babel, but it has been decades.  And that is just part of the terror I am discovering. People logged in instantly. They stayed on. It was addictive. It was cocaine for the brain without a single drug. It was immediate comprehension, devoid of effort. It was talking to everyone, anywhere, for any reason. It was all of the gratification you could ever desire; it was all of the knowledge you could ever want.

Until Babel became us.

Babel originated as an application with one aim: to translate all languages into the tongue of the listener seamlessly. It was not hard. Technology had been working its way towards this point for years. Text translation on the Internet began it. Gradually, the Internet marginalized smaller languages in nations in Africa, and in parts of India, into non-existence. As the Internet spread, so, too, did the groundwork for Babel. Babel was just the next step.

I grew up in a society where people had come to fear the Internet. I remember when I was a kid, how easy it was to be traced without your knowing. Everyone had just found out that the world’s governments had been listening in on personal transactions on the Internet. And this had come after a time where Internet use had become really, truly personal. There were embarrassing fetishes and black market trades; things that did need to come to an end, I admit, but it was more than that: it was a beauty. You had sweet goodnight messages back and forth between high school sweethearts; dating sites for the busy or otherwise faint of heart. There was a sort of resonant softness to the Internet, a privacy, a wall that helped people like my parents conduct life. My parents met on a dating website, hit it off, had me. Ever since they found out that mostly everyone had those kinds of tender moments looked in upon by the governments of the world, just for a few bucks a pop to the Internet service providers? They punched out. They shut down as many of their Internet activities as they could. Shopping malls, once standing dilapidated and empty, started getting more foot traffic again as people became too afraid of their buying habits being exposed and used online.

The Internet was not going away. But someone needed to make it appealing again. And while the governments wanted it to become popular again in the worst way, they had no idea how to make it happen.

Little did the governments realize that for just such a solution, the gears were already in motion. There was one last barrier to globalization: language. People wanted something that was seamless. Something that could reference culture, and at the same time, translate for everyone. And while some areas of the world had languages that were drying up, new languages were moving in to replace them. Those who could not afford to go back to school to learn would be left in the dust. It became pretty viable to, instead of laying off anyone without the proper linguistic knowledge, to simply buy a tool to get around the problem, were it available. And it would become available, with a catch: all data would need to come from the Internet.

Almost without thinking, society leapt right back to demanding the technology they saw businessmen accomplish so much with worldwide. And before you knew it, instead of smartphones, everyone had the over-ear interface that allowed you to summon understanding and knowledge, not only of language, but of anything you wanted to know. If you did not understand a topic, you would summon an entire synopsis of anything from arithmetic to the zodiac. It would just be there. And so Babel was born. Not out of force. Not out of regulation. Out of sheer, dumb, luck. Out of dumb popularity.

Once people got hooked in, that was it. The devices got nicer, and smaller, and within a couple years, ran off of body heat and light they caught in the daytime. You could take them off, but there was no need to.

You could be alone. But why would you want that?

You could fail to hear, or fail to understand. But who wants to look ignorant?

You could acknowledge that every major advancement in human history has been bent and used for crueler intentions. But where’s the fun, right?

The hacker populace that had helped the government spy on people, or otherwise, stole people’s identities, and very livelihoods, was still alive. They were aging, but they understood the base codes of the Babel framework as well or better than the creators. The jobs they once used to make six figures working for the corporations and nations of the world had now evaporated, because the corporations and nations had it all. They had Babel. Babel was the perfect businessman, the perfect politician, and the perfect spy, all rolled into one. And outside of Babels rather impressively small maintenance crew? Nobody was essential.

Out of work, the programmers and hackers still used the Babel network to communicate with friends and family. It was becoming the only way. It was the only social network. Phone companies were bought by Babel or disbanded altogether. If you wanted to talk? You got Babel. Countries that had once banned monopolies made a gracious exception without a second thought: they wanted their spy network to go on growing without opposition. Corporations that once slapped the hands of anyone on their phone too much allowed Babel in the workplace because people could socialize and still increase productivity ten-fold. Schools let students wear Babel as they could have absolutely every student major in their field by the age of 12; all teachers and professors had to do was give them ideas to guide them. Religious institutions embraced them; congregations became even closer and formed tighter knit communities, while consistently being able to maintain the sometimes precarious upkeep on thoughts of what a pious man would consider to be an incipit or sinful nature.

With none of the usual progress-halting organizations stopping the progress of the Babel, the thing that left them high and dry, the hackers got fed up. Careful to arrange their plans entirely outside of the Babel network, they built a code. They integrated their code into the newest release of Babel firmware, which automatically updated, leaving little choice in the matter for Babel users. The code, at first, seemed innocent enough. It was an application that allowed Babel to use the thought link (usually reserved for Babel’s “knowledge search,” feature), but instead allowed one to utilize it with other people. In two years, virtually all vocal communication on earth had stopped.

And nobody batted an eye.

Why? Because suddenly, stories that could never be written due to an attention deficit or lack of time simply materialized, fully flushed out, in the transcripts of conversations in Babel. Beautiful songs emerged in conversations between musicians and non-musicians, songs that were entirely wrote by people who had never picked up an instrument. Art could now be thought into existence by communicating with friends. It couldn’t be stopped, not because it was like a drug, but because, let’s face it, all of that coming to pass? It was just downright magical. Humanity at its finest.

Babel Co. could not explain why the software had appeared. But pride got the better of them. They saw the beauty that was pouring out into the world, and accepted someone had a good idea and wanted to get their name out there. It made people happy. It didn’t disturb functionality. It didn’t invade privacy more than Babel was already contented with doing. So the code stayed.

The hackers, of course, were not so well intentioned. The thought link application had a back door. The code could be edited at any point. And edit they did. Once everyone had ceased talking, had their tongues idle in their mouths for so long that they had atrophied out of the nuances of performing speech altogether, was when they released their update.

Babel had been around for 12 years. It had been convenient for 10. It had been removable always, but people stopped removing it. It was really recommended you remove it so that you could wash the skin underneath to prevent rashes, and to maintain optimal recharging capacity. But like so many people disobeying the advice of doctors to take out contacts daily, or disobeying their mechanics when they said certain maintenance needed performed, people left theirs on all the time. When the code was released, it hit everyone, awake or otherwise.

The thought link floodgates opened. Everyone, all at once, saw into everyone else. There was terror. But there was no looking away. All of human thought, and all of human knowledge, being broadcast, straight from everyone’s mind, to everyone else’s mind. The servers at Babel handled it easily; the company had enough money to expand their capacity far beyond any reasonable use. And Babel’s employees were helpless to respond.

Everyone was helpless to respond. This was Pandora’s Box itself. And that was when I lost myself. That was when everyone lost themselves and gained everyone.

The end result was humanity, able to do the reflexive things they needed to do to keep alive, but nobody could work. Focus was impossible. My brain could not get a word to itself amidst the bog of thought that had now enveloped it.

Nobody could be overwhelmed. They were too overwhelmed to process how.

Nobody was sure what happened to the hackers, from what I saw about anyone who knew them. Nobody knew if they were encapsulated in this mess deliberately, not knowing what their own code would do, or if they could take the world for themselves, sit back and watch humanity drone on in a silent state of automation.

It took me a long time to realize anything. First I realized I wanted out, but I could not get the thought to my mind of turning Babel off. Or taking it off. I don’t know if that was part of the code, but I couldn’t manifest the idea. So I started trying other things. I wrote things down. I typed things, manually, on an old laptop my parents gave to me when I was much younger. I had built up a resilience to the maliceful, smiting mass of consciousness just to get enough of a sense of my surroundings to continue thoughts outside of the Babel construct.

I have finally achieved it. I am finally free. My mind has had a few days to rest. But I had not realized how long it had been since this all started. Now that I am free, I felt the ecstasy I mentioned earlier, and a burning desire to stop this, and to find those responsible, but time itself has betrayed me. I am no longer young as I thought I was. It has been 53 years since the Babel thought link event began, since everyone was sucked in. My only hope is to recruit one younger than myself. I do not know where my family may have gone to, and I only vaguely recognize where I am. So I will need to recruit someone at random. No one is aware, they’re too engulfed in Babel: so I should be able to manage in recruiting several people without any incident. I will report tomorrow with the results of my efforts.

***

I had forgotten how long of a time 53 years can be. I had no idea how bad it has gotten. I went to the local high school today, only to find it full of people not much younger than myself. All basic human needs could be tended to within the school. When Babel hit, they simply didn’t leave. They grew old there, and were old now, like me. Only mildly younger.

My first attempts at removing Babel from others have proven more than unsuccessful: they’ll haunt me forever. I have always been a lonely person. I have required solitude occasionally, as an adult. But it is easy to forget that a high school is charged with the energy of a need for inclusion. One who has those needs, not only met, but incubated and continued onward from that point may never want to let go of Babel. And their lack of want to leave may be why all of those I attempted to help reacted so viciously. One girl I attempted to remove the device from screamed until breathless, and bashed her own head before my eyes.

I never wish to return to that place. I have nothing more to do now, than to wander on, in hopes that I can find anyone left outside of Babel.

***

I went to a daycare today, looking for younger people, and had success. I have managed to unplug one approximately 56 year old male from his binding to the Babel network. His reaction was initially violent, but more like a frightened, mute child, than a distraught adult. He may still be childlike in mindset; underdeveloped overall. But I need a younger person than I. And I do not know if any humans have been able to mate through this entire process. This will have to do. And I need a friend. But I cannot speak anymore, verbally. And neither can he. And even if he could, he would not speak like an adult, in my estimation, based on his mannerisms alone. That’s fine. I have been exposed to every crevice of humanity. I can do this on my own.

***

My friend is awake. I have gotten to calling him “Greg.” He seems to be rather clingy, but he understands my motions, faces, and language well enough for us to get on. We have found food in the fields near my residence. Living in this part of Ohio, there is at least food in the fields, even if people are not around to maintain it. I fear what we may see, however, as we venture towards Portland, Oregon, to deactivate the servers.

Greg and I both know how to hot-wire a car. We both can drive. We didn’t lose the knowledge from Babel, we just lost our sanity, and our tongues. If our reflexes didn’t keep our bodies moving about, dragging ourselves around like some kind of zombie, we wouldn’t be able to move. But we are still able to. We can still do this. We are going to make it there, and we are going to do this.

***

The city of Portland, Oregon, is like most cities we have gone through to get here. Very little food. High rates of cannibalism. People are food, too, I suppose, when you don’t have other things handy. Instincts can be a nasty, risky business.

I guess Greg and I would feel worse about this reality if we weren’t as close to doing the same thing, in all likelihood.

Had we done the same things?

Did it matter? We had already thought through killing. And cannibalism.

We reach the server building:

I go in. Greg follows. We flip the main breaker together.

The servers go down. I am, too. In pain.

Mankind will go up, I think. That’s all I need to know.

Greg is smiling. Nodding. Knowing.

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