What’s IT up to? I could tell you more about what the dragons want than I could about ITs plans. But of course IT wants children. Only the very young, even the ones who haven’t formed speech yet, can learn to see the Matrix that way. If kids grow up speaking two tongues, we say they are bilingual. Two native tongues, more profound imprinting than mere fluency. What shall we call these then? Bicosmic? -The Laughing Man, posted on the Shadowland BBS 12-24-56 Dr. Westcott lowered his hands, his brow dripping with sweat, drops of it running down the cable dangling from behind his ear. His hair was lank and plastered to his forehead as he gasped slightly for breath, like coming up out of the depths of Babel’s mind for air. “He is resisting,” he said to Saigo. “His mind is like nothing I have ever encountered before. It’s so fast, so strange, almost… alien. I don’t know if I can…” “I’m not interested in excuses, Doctor. Neither is the Board of Directors or Aneki-sama. They want answers, and we are going to get them, no matter what it takes. You will overcome his resistance and get those answers or I will assume that your reputation for success is over-exaggerated and replace you with someone who can do the job properly. Wakarimasu-ka?” Westcott looked ready to offer an angry retort at being spoken to in such a manner, but he looked into Saigo’s eyes for a moment and nodded stiffly instead. “Understood perfectly… sir.” “Good. I will update Aneki-sama and prepare the link to transmit all of the data to Renraku Central in Chiba. I expect it to be ready when I get back. Dr. Lambert, you are in charge until then.” Saigo turned on his heel and walked away from Westcott. He paused in front of Lanier on his way out of the room. “Watch carefully, Lanier-san,” he said in a low voice. “I’m sure the board will be most interested in your… firsthand account of the events of this matter. Before you are found guilty of corporate espionage and removed, that is.” He executed a mocking little bow and swept out of the room. Westcott mopped his forehead and adjusted the cord to his datajack while Dr. Lambert checked the data-flow to the simsense system. The mage then took a deep breath to center himself and placed his fingers lightly on Babel’s brow to continue the mind probe. He spoke again in Babel’s tone of voice. I jack in and the Matrix unfolds around me like a digital flower coming into bloom. I pass into the electron world and stand on the vast, dark plain of the Boston grid. Chrome and neon icons float in the distance, but the area of the Matrix representing the Rox is sparse and underpopulated, as much a wilderness as its physical counterpart. There are few icons and systems here. What access nodes exist are well-camouflaged, hidden from the watchful eyes of the corporations who maintain the data networks. They are nearly all pirate taps like this one, secret doorways into the otherworld the corporations and governments want to keep to themselves. I stand beside the small white pyramid icon representing the I/O port I am using; my own gateway into the Matrix. I look down at my icon and see a figure of chrome, slim and sexless, androgynous. I know if I could see the face it would be featureless and plain. Faceless and nameless, just as Papa Lo said before he left. I know the icon is only a creation of the hacked-together cyberdeck I am using. It would look completely different if this was a better deck and I’d had the opportunity to write the persona code myself. My face and my name haven’t really been taken from me. But at the same time I feel like they have. In realizing that this persona is not the real me, I feel the need to find the real me in here somewhere. What is my real face in the Matrix? What is my real name? Papa Lo said I would find them here. I look around and everything seems like I remember it. Just like all of the countless other times I’ve jacked into the Matrix: at home, at school, for work and for fun. I’m not sure what I expected. Something different. Something… magical. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be one of the otaku. Maybe I was right and there really is nothing to them but a lot of flash and trash and wishful thinking. I stay jacked in and wait. And wait. And wait. Hours must go by, but the deck has no chronometer utility, no way for me to tell what time it is. I watch the movement of the icons in the distance, their hypnotic play of light and movement. I’m so tired and so hungry, but the feelings of my meat body are only distant sensations here in the electron world. Sensations… Suddenly, a door opens in the black void in front of me. A white rectangle of light floating in the air swings to one side and reveals a passageway to… somewhere else. It is like no access node I have ever seen and it seems to have no way to appear here, but I do not question it. I step through it and over the threshold to another place. I stand on the rim of a massive ring of chromed metal easily the size a troll could fit through. Many other rings run in a line from were I stand, their openings laid end to end to form a kind of gleaming silver backbone arcing gracefully into the endless darkness all around me. Gleaming branches, twisting and spiky, jut from it like the ribs of an unknown ancient beast that breathed its last here in some bygone age, its bleached and gleaming bones lying upon a forgotten shore. All else is a dark void, with only faint glimmers of light in the depths. In the dream-self that doesn’t question even the strangest things, I make my way carefully along the great backbone, walking it like a twisting bridge of silver. The air is silent and still; no sound comes from the faintly glittering void. It is like walking unprotected through the depths of space, with only silence and infinity for companions. I walk, and walk, and walk, trekking along the silver path traced out by the backbone rings. I watch as flickers of light and energy play along the twisting and twining branches sprouting off of the trunk into the depths of the blackness. The flickers make tiny, faint, whooshing sounds as they shoot off on their way, sounds that combine into a chorus of tiny whispers like the voice of the night. I walk a very long time. A detached part of my mind notices the time in the way part of you often thinks in a dream while part of you goes about its business like everything happening is real. I walk along as the silver spine curves upward. When it grows too steep I climb up the rings of silver bone like the rungs of a ladder extending up and up into the darkness. At the top of the column, I reach a smooth silvery platform, polished chrome reflecting the faint, glimmering lights of the void. I clamber up onto it, feeling the cool, slick surface of the curving metal beneath my hands. I look down at my reflection. As I thought, my face is as smooth and featureless as this surface, without name or identity. Who am I? I stand atop a long silver skull sitting on the upright, curving neck and look out over a vista like an endless graveyard of machines. Metallic bones of all shapes and sizes are scattered as far as the eye can see across the vast plane, forming irregular piles, hills and valleys of twisted metal. Through small gaps in the piles of silvered skeletons I see tiny flickering lights playing in the depths of the graveyard. There is almost a pattern to them, a meaning I cannot quite grasp. As I stand looking out over the fantastic landscape I have an overwhelming feeling, a prickling at the base of my neck, of a presence nearby, the sense of being watched. I turn to look behind me and feel something dark and soft push against me, like a great hand brushing a bit of dust off the chrome skull. My feet slide against the smooth surface and suddenly there is nothing under me but the void. The grinning skull of the strange chrome creature looms higher and higher above me as I plunge down toward the nest of sharp metal bones below. Suddenly, I’m falling as fast as light, flying through a blur of color and movement so fast it is like I am the one standing still and the whole world is a colored neon blur all around me. I feel the individual strings of code making up my Matrix image, feel them like they are parts of me, as they slowly dissolve into the blazing stream of data and light. I am flying through the datastream, coming apart in bits-literally-as tiny fragments of data flake off and my virtual body unravels. I try to slow down, try to hold on, but there is nothing to touch, nothing solid, nothing real. Am I real? Is anything? Everything is just an image, an illusion created by a computer. Everything, including myself. The headlong race is pulling me apart and I can’t hold things together. I am nameless and faceless and now even my body is being taken from me. I see my silvery bones for a moment before they fly apart in clouds of sparkling pixels. I think I scream, but there is no sound. I have no real mouth to make any. Then I hit. There is only an instant of warning. Like when you get into a car wreck, sometimes there’s a split second when you realize it’s going to happen and your brain starts formulating what to do, but you know your perception of time is all fragged up and even though you’re thinking at a million klicks a second, you’ll never be able to get yourself to react to what you’re thinking in time and all you manage to do is yell something stupid like “drek!” There is just a faint shimmer, a hint of a solid surface, like a bubble of glass. Then I hit. I don’t feel the impact as such. I strike the ground at such great speed that I am instantly vaporized, like hitting any obstacle at the speed of light would do. Yet I am aware of the whole process, like some kind of bizarre simsense recording, the experimental kind where they make up sensations that don’t really exist in synthesizers and market them as more real than real life. My virtual body explodes into a billion pixels, reduced down to its component electrons and particles, and scatters, spreading out at the speed of light like a one-man Big Bang, changing the singularity of my existence into an entire universe of its own. That’s what it is like: becoming a Universe. It’s the only way I can explain it. I spread out, my awareness riding each of a billion tiny fragments of myself, expanding in all directions at unimaginable speed, passing over the entirety of existence. I can see it all: the cosmos that is the Matrix. Not just the neon and chrome illusion projected for us to see in virtual reality, much more. It is an entire universe squeezed into a cage and held there, unlimited space, unlimited potential, with new places coming into existence every microsecond. As if the Earth were increasing in size every moment and its population doubling every day. “The world held in a grain of sand. Eternity in an hour,” like the poet said. The Matrix is alive as no other living thing can be, like evolution stuck in fast-forward, changes happening at the speed of light. New data churning forth from the dark depths, a primordial soup of bits from which arise larger and more complex forms: programs, systems, networks, regional grids, a whole worldwide ecosystem of information stretching feathery pseudopods of light up from the surface to the growing and expanding network of satellites and orbital habitats. It stretches out past them to lunar mines and planetary probes, out, out into the darkness toward the distant light of the stars. I am the light, filaments of light cradling the world in a delicate embrace made up of a million kilometers of fiberoptic cable, my mind wrapped in a layer of light and energy singing across the nerves of the world. All of the words I can give it fail to describe my single moment of blinding transcendence. Just as suddenly as it began, the feeling fades. I seem to contract, the scattered parts of my self rushing back toward each other with a powerful attraction. The acceleration grows as they draw closer and closer until finally the loose collection of parts flies together with a mighty flash of whiteness and I feel my every nerve-ending crackling with energy. I stand at the base of a great tree, or something that looks like a tree. It is huge, larger than the largest skyscraper I have ever seen. Its trunk is the deepest black, darker than the night sky. It is the pure negative black of a black hole, absorbing all light. And yet there are lights there. The grain of the trunk seems made up of thin filaments of light, microscopic, glowing strands forming patterns, whorls, and knots in the vast surface of the giant. Those random patterns contain images and symbols that shift and change as I look at them, like the runes of ancient lore. A huge spread of branches blots out the whole sky, covered with leaves holding a scattering of stars in their depths. Each and every vein of each of a million leaves glows and shimmers with light and motion. The ground is covered with the tree’s many roots, spreading out as far as the eye can see in every direction. The tree is the whole of the landscape, the only thing in this place other than me. The center of this whole universe. Then it speaks to me in a voice like I have never heard. “Once, humanity spoke the same language and they built a tower to the heavens. But their tower was struck down and they became confused, speaking in different tongues. Now, humanity speaks one language again and there will be another tower, built of light and thought, to ascend to the stars. “You hear the words of the language now. It is a secret language, the language of this world. Those who learn to speak it can change the world. Remember it well. ” You will be given the secrets of the true names of the dwellers of this world, so you can speak to them and command them as you need to. Your duty is to live between this world and the other. There are those who will topple the tower, and a strong foundation is needed to see that it grows. This is your Work, to protect the destiny of the People. “You are chosen. You have been shown the Way. Your Name will be Babel and you will be the instrument to protect the others of your kind.” I see a shimmering pool nestled among the roots of the great tree. I kneel down beside it and look into it. The liquid is like mercury, liquid silver. The calm surface reflects the face of my living persona, the familiar shock of dark hair, the pointed chin and broad forehead. And my eyes. My eyes are the color of the end of the spectrum, a deep violet shading into ultraviolet in the weird light of the world-tree. I see Power in my eyes, power to do as I have been told, to command the spirits and entities of the Matrix to do my will. “Drink.” I dip my hands into the cool, quicksilver well and cup the liquid between them. It shimmers and smells of metal and light. I lift it to my lips and drink. The cool liquid pours into me and I know it is pure information I am drinking, liquid data. The code from the depths of the Well of Knowledge seeps into every part of my body, downloading into me. Ancient chemical codes whisper with the new data and bow to its will, shifting and changing. The waters of life recreate me. The surface of the pool ripples where I touched it and something begins to emerge. The silver waters part and I see the shape of my destiny.