For a Wendig flash fiction challenge. I have been reading a lot of Borges recently, which might have influenced this piece somewhat. As always, let me know what you think, whether good or bad.
The Tower of Babel
4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
– Genesis 11:4-9
I have renounced my name out of grief and shame. You may call me Nimrod, for it was I who oversaw the second fall of humanity from its pinnacle of pride and greatness.
By the time humanity had left the cradle of Earth and reached out to touch the stars, we had also grown prideful and confident in our own ability, and old lessons of humility were buried and forgotten. And thus, we set about constructing a monument to our own accomplishments: A space station, kilometres in length, that would be the centrepiece of human presence in space, tying together the thousandfold dispersed worlds, colonies and outposts.
In an act of what in hindsight seems like inexcusable hubris, we named it The Tower of Babel, for it was meant to undo the ancient dispersal of the peoples and confusion of tongues and bring humanity together as one again; a single people which – so we were convinced – would fulfill humanity’s ancient destiny to conquer the heavens and make ourselves the undisputed masters of nature.
After decades of work, effort and investments that claimed the resources of a thousand worlds, the Tower was completed, orbiting a planetless star at the centre of human space. It was a constructed wonder of ingenuity and technology, a centre of trade, culture and politics.
The Ultracosmologist sect of Plautijnius 6 came there to negotiate mining rights with the executives of SempaCorp. The peace treaty between the Empire of Achenar and the Hierocrats of Tau Orionis was signed here, and the declaration of war by the Harvesters of the icy moons of Delta Draconis on the anarcho-collectivist states in 18 Scorpionis issued. It was on the Tower that the neo-Druidic Church of Nebulas’ Salvation declared the excommunication of the Thirteenth Prophet, and it was here that the polyartist Li Wenming exhibited his first thirteen-dimensional holo-painting, which shattered all conventions of art and culture forever. For a while, the advances of humanity seemed unstoppable.
But it was not to last, as we soon discovered. The orbit of the station became unstable and started to decay, each revolution inching it closer and closer to the star. Engineers and scientists searched in vain for causes. Had the mass of the star increased? Had we underestimated the resistance of the local interplanetary matter? Or had we discovered some previously unknown natural law which could cause gravity itself to change?
No one knew the answers, and no one had solutions. The stationkeeping engines were insufficient to counteract the unknown forces that acted on the Tower. And moving it further away only increased the pull of the star, further exacerbating the problem. Out of the hundreds of proposed solutions, nothing was able to halt the inexorable migration towards annihilation.
In the end, it was decided to abandon the station. As the both first and last Administrator-General of the Tower of Babel, I was the last to leave. I spent my last hour on the Tower wandering through the halls and corridors that had resounded day and night with the voices of millions of beings speaking a thousand languages. I visited the grand markets on the sixty-first deck, where resources, goods and services worth enough to ransom a thousand kings ten times over had been bought and sold every single day. And finally, my walkabout ended in the hangars to find my shuttle, a tiny mosquito in the now empty cavernous halls where once gigantic starships from every corner of known space had docked to load and unload cargo of every imaginable description.
As I boarded the shuttle, the overworked engines on the Tower were deactivated, and the thrummings of the power plants which had provided a dissonant accompaniment to it all put down their instruments for the final time. The whole station had fallen quiet as an empty mausoleum where not even the dead remain to sigh a quiet, mournful choir, the terrible silence ringing in my ears as the final impression of my doomed masterpiece.
With the engines turned off, the station dropped towards the star like a rock, within hours grazing the corona and entering the last minutes of its life. From a command bridge that was not my own, on a starship on which I had no position or authority, I who had commanded the greatest creation in known space, witnessed the final moments of the second Tower of Babel – of my life’s work.
In the end, even the dignity of an appropriate burial was denied me. The demise of the Tower was celebrated by no fanfares, no fireworks, no mighty explosions to light up the skies of future distant worlds and tell their inhabitants: This was humanity’s greatest moment. As a final insult, the Tower was gone in a second, the final impact barely visible on its surface of the star, never leaving behind the slightest mark of its existence in the vast, uncaring silence of space. I turned away my face and wept.
With the Tower of Babel gone, humanity once more learned humility, but we lost our ambition in the bargain. Nothing approaching the grandeur of the Tower was ever attempted again, and humanity stagnated. We had reached too far and were struck down from our lofty heights, whether by a jealous god or by a nature that would not be tamed.
And so, I have become as like a second Nimrod, for I am convinced that it was my hubris that brought judgement upon humanity. I first proposed the construction of the Tower; I suggested the name; and I wasted no efforts to become its first Administrator-General, thus to enter my name in the annals of history with indelible ink. This last I have accomplished, and for that reason I have renounced my name forever. Behold the works of humanity, ye mighty, and despair.