FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED. APRIL 11, 2119:
“ANOTHER LIVING BODY”
By Arlene Morris
When the info-cube landed in Sydney, the whole world was watching. The Japanese picked it up on their long-range sensors, then the Koreans, then the United States, then everybody else. We knew it was coming, and we knew where it was going to land. What we did not know was how it would change the world we lived in forever.
But this isn’t about the info-cube -- that craft the size of a warehouse, geometrically perfect in every way we could measure. This isn’t about the wonders of technology that were gifted unto the human race when it’s east wall lowered, bathing Sydney harbor in blue light, inviting any and all to share in the previously unknown knowledge of the universe. This isn’t about the quantum enlightenment that spread around the globe at a pace we could barely keep up with. We had cured much of what ailed our planet. Hunger, poverty, pestilence -- all forgotten by now. The cube brought with it a sense of giddy wonder at first, shared by yours truly, but that wonder faded once we had unlocked its knowledge-drive and begun to build the teleportation hubs that would eventually allow us to be anywhere, anytime. No, instead, this is about one man and the complicated choice he made leading up to January 19th, 2119. As the world watched the info-cube close its east wall and float away through the sky, we all wondered who had given themselves to that empty center chamber. More importantly -- we all wondered why?
His name was Dahab Jayjan, and he was the third born son of a poor Sudanese farmer. His mother and two sisters were taken as slaves shortly after his birth by a local Muslim warlord, known only as Hassan. Hassan had taken to calling himself king of the Warab province, and when the cube landed he used its gifts to further his nefarious agenda. Hassan inflamed his favor for murder and rape, and devised twisted techniques using much of the tehnology coming from the cube. It was Dahab Jayjan, he called himself simply Jay, who opposed Hassan in the region. In his thought-blog, which has since been deleted, but which The New York Times obtained an archived copy of from a source that whishes to remain anonymous -- Jay clearly saw how he could use the gifts of the info-cube to dethrone Hassan, thereby improving the war-torn region.
“[Hassan] was killing our women and our children, and he was doing it still after the coobe (sic) landed here. While other governments were taking the knowledge and making good with it, Afrika was still suffering.”
Jay was right. Other militants in the Congo had adopted some of the cube’s technology, but they were using the gravity rods and Kleiner-spheres to exert pressure on an already oppressed populace. Hassan was a warlord nefarious for using child soldiers, and he made headlines again when his child army murdered a Russian tourist, and obtained a teleportation rod he was carrying. Hassan wielded the weapon like a veritable staff of Moses, banishing men who opposed him to the top of Everest, or the bottom of the sea. Jay makes reference to the idea in his thought blog, dated two years after the info-cube landed: “[Hassan] thinks he can use the coobe’s gifts to stay in power, but he has given me a grand idea which I will not post hear because I don’t want anybody to no about it.”
At some point during the summer of 2114, Jay used his resources within the community to illegally (according to Hassan’s laws) obtain another teleporter. Some evidence suggests that he picked it up on a trip to Cairo. In either case, he never showed it to anyone. He did make a cryptic reference to his cousin, Abit, who spoke to The New York Times on post-cube day +18, saying “Dahab had taken to standing guard outside his hut for two weeks before the incident, which I thought was strange.”
It was clear what drove Jay to assassinate Hassan during the Ramadan fast which lasted through June of that year. He wanted freedom for his sisters, after he got word that his mother, who he hadn’t seen since his birth, had been murdered within the confines of Hassan’s palace. Hassan’s people were starving, so the irony of Ramadan coming during the hottest month of the year was not lost on Jay. Hassan had erected gravity rods around his compound to keep the riffraff out. Yet, every day he made an appearance on the rear patio to pray with his advisors. Jay used this short window of opportunity to teleport onto the roof of the compound. Security footage shows everything rather clearly; one second Hassan is kneeling in Salah, and the next his space is empty. What Jay had managed to do was, at the time, perhaps the first successful teleportation from the surface of the planet into deep space. Without proper gear, Hassan was killed instantly. Jay instantly vanished from the compound, but the teleporter he used tells us exactly where he went next.
Dahab Jayjan had always been a curious boy, Abit told a local reporter after Hassan’s assassination. So it was with an open-mind that he traveled to Sydney to see the info-cube for himself. After the technology it had brought was used against his people, Jay quickly learned that it could be used for great things, like the British had done to end the salt famine.
At this point the info-cube was open to the public and there was no sign of the riots to come, or the security measures that Jay would eventually have to get around in order to return to it. We were still six months before world currency became obsolete, so Jay still paid inflated prices for his motel room nearby and probably walked -- as so many had before him -- right through the open east wall. He saw the black, smooth surfaces, upon which you could place your hand and connect directly to the cube’s knowledge drive, surf it’s cosmic encyclopedia, and explore the universe here on earth.
Jay toured the menageries of deceased extraterrestrials. Encased in their individual opaque sarcophaguses, a natural history museum of the beings and planets that the cube had previously visited. Who built the cube? What did its knowledge mean to these thousands upon thousands of species? These are questions I wondered myself, and I can only imagine Jay had dozens more to ask -- only the frustrating nature of the cube prevented us both from doing so. There was no pilot, there was no crew. It was a monolith that brought with it answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. That, undeniably, was it’s purpose. Traveling the universe, searching for signs of intelligent life, upon which it would impart its vast schooling.
And, of course, the chamber at the center of the cube and the panel beside it where, if your palm was placed there -- the instructions for how to send the cube on its way, to spread more information to other distant and far-off worlds, would play through your mind:
“In exchange for this gift you have received -- we require only another living body to power this vessel and continue its mission of enlightenment.”
The thought of prospering here on earth, of living in a world that the info-cube had improved, was certainly more attractive to me (and to the millions of others who were given the chance to experience this message) than the idea offorfeiting a life lived for an eternity spent in the mausoleum with those other foreign bodies. World leaders, and shopkeepers had all dodged the question of “Would you step on that pedastal?” Jayjan, on the other hand, ruminated on it for the duration of the rest of his time on earth.
From Jay’s thought-blog, dated September, 9, 2115: “I have seen the inside of the cube and I have seen how to continue.” That short, cryptic entry informs us when we seek motivation to Jay’s actions in the coming years.
He immediately returned to his village in the Sudan, where Hassan had merely been replaced by one of his underlings in what had amounted to a bloody struggle for power. Jay vanquished them in much the same manor as he had Hassan, however he did it with a flourish nobody expected -- the entire executive mansion, teleported to the surface of Mars. He rescued his sisters and made them his advisors.
Jay built a new compound, open to all members of the community. He used insta-bricks to forge a small city where once stood straw huts. Crops grew in previously stony soil, Jay erected a medical tent where disease was eradicated one neo-scan at a time.
Four years passed, and the Warab province became an Eden from which Jay’s edicts spread through the region, and eventually the world. His thought-blog was read by technicians in Antarctica, working on closing the hole in the ozone. “The info-cube has given rise to the goodness of humans,” an entry from March of 2118 read. “And if we can all find that goodness within, we will be a testament to the untold species still out there on untold planets -- because we have the capability to spread goodness.” This edict would be tested when Jay’s youngest sister came to him, cradling her still-borne baby in her arms, begging him to find a way to bring it back to life.
During those four years of prosperity, the situation surrounding the info-cube had deteriorated. Various world leaders stepped in, and a terrible technology was applied to protect it from the hordes of people waiting to find salvation inside. After curing the world’s troubles on the surface, the cube became like a splinter in the world’s mind. Much like Jay’s sister, seeking immortality, several factions of perfected people now had questions the cube could not provide the answers to. In reality, the cube had overstayed its welcome. Jay knew this.
The Australian government put into effect a shield, an invisible dome that covered the cube. It was an escalation that eventually set off the riots around the world when teleportation dampers were applied in a fifty mile radius, effectively rendering the cube inaccessible. It is Abit’s belief that Jay did not solve the problem of the dampers, as well as the dome shield, because he sought answers like the rest. “When his sister brought in the dead baby, Jayjan -- he stormed out of the room. I asked him what he was going to do about it, because I too was under the impression that the answer was there, we just didn’t have a way to ask the right question. But Jay said nothing, which I knew was a bad sign.” Jay retreated to his private compound. He worked night and day on the technology which Australia still holds in contempt of seven local laws. And on the morning of January 19th, the night after the beginning of that year’s Ramadan celebration, Abit arrived at Jay’s compound, only to find it empty.
Using a quantum listening device during his research on the dome and the dampers, Jay made a startling discovery about what the Australian’s had planned for the cube. He posted this entry to his thought-blog the night before vanishing: “Australians plan disassembly of info-cube within the week. I have heard their communiques.” Jay could not allow it.
It’s clear that Jay had constructed a suit of some kind, which not only incorporated the teleportation rod, but also the technology which allowed him to disable the dampers, and literally walk through the force shield and into the cube. This much, we have from surveilance. What I am more interested in, however, is not what we know. I am more interested in the moment Dahab Jayjan gave himself to the info-cube. Did he feel pain as his body was converted into kinetic energy? Did he feel a sense of accomplishment as the east wall closed up? Was he, as many have speculated, actually granted the knowledge his sister was seeking -- the answer to immortality -- in that very moment? As the cube floated into the sky, and Jay was surely boxed up, and added to the menagerie, we wept. Not for him -- for Jayjan, we shouted curses to the heavens. We wept because suddenly there was no more knowledge for us to conquer.
I remember gazing upon those boxes of untold species for the first time, mere months after the info-cube had landed. For me, there was a feeling of reverence. On each planet the cube had visited, there was one individual, one voice, willing to sacrifice itself to further this mission of quantum enlightenment. Greedy as we seemed then, the true power of the cube could be seen all around the planet. It was when we perfected ourselves that we became reluctant to let this power go. Even after money was deemed useless, we remained avaricious. It must be in our very nature, then.
But Dahab Jayjan left one last thought-blog entry, only recently discovered by The New York Times. It said, elegantly, “I did it so that, when the next species receives the same gift, we will be remembered as good.”
Arlene Morris is an author of technical manuals. She is currently working on a book about nano space travel.