'Crowd Control,' part 21: What comes after the zombie apocalypse

In the penultimate installment of CNET's crowdsourced sci-fi novel, the resurrection war on Earth resolves and humanity turns to the true threat.

Eric Mack and contributors
CNET contributor and lead "Crowd Control" writer Eric Mack asked readers to help him write a science fiction novel, and hundreds from around the world -- more than 120 who shared their names and many more anonymous -- collaborated via a single Google Doc, working under a Creative Commons license to shape the rough draft of a story. From that draft, CNET created the novel you're reading now.
Eric Mack and contributors
8 min read

This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers from around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.


Click on the book cover to read past installments of "Crowd Control."

Sam Falconer

Editor's note: The second half of the Earth-year 2051 saw a rapid winding down of the war between the Transhumanists and the Uninstaller rebels. Images of the seemingly invincible soldiers being resurrected over and over again were baffling to the midcentury Earth EB-2 mind.

A multitude of interpretations for the sudden change in events spread across the planet's primitive media and messaging platforms. The most widespread belief was that the anti-nano rebels, in a desperate and hypocritical move to stem their own massacre at the hands of government forces, had some sort of secret military-grade supersoldier nanobiotics installed.

Many others, most notably the most ardent supporters of the uninstallation cause, credited the turn of events to the hand of God.

At first, Rebecca Danish appeared dubiously silent on the state of the war, having dropped out of the public eye and managed to go underground again, this time from the rebellion she had led that was once underground itself.

Chapter 20

Compiled by Escobar MacNamara, curator of the Museum of the Uninstallation, San Jose, State of Jefferson, 2067.

Karnataka state, India, Earth, August 6, 2051

Charles' return, even in the body of a woman Rebecca Danish had once devoted herself to in a much different way, left her feeling physically weaker than ever. The reunion was one of the more joyous moments she could recall. It reminded her of the day of Khloe's birth, when her life's priorities had been instantly reordered in a single day. Her will to fight for the cause she was willing to kill and die for that morning was replaced with the comfortable presence of her partner. She was able to relax, breathe and reflect on the past. It made her suddenly conscious of the physical consequences of uninstalling her nanobiotics. Her body was giving out.

The couple had boarded the first MagLev out of Delhi bound for the southern beaches. The war had spread to Goa, so they kept on south into Karnataka state and a little-known beach south of Gokarna that remained accessible only by foot, even as India's population had swollen past 2 billion. For weeks they lazed in the sun, content to live out her remaining days on Earth in a hidden paradise amid a collapsing world.

But their permanent vacation was disturbed by Charles' yearning to track down Khloe and by the encroachment of the war, which was sucking up all resources in the area and scaring off the locals. One morning, the couple found themselves waking up on an abandoned beach with little food or clean water to offer.

Enlarge Image

Click the screen capture to see a deleted scene from the crowdsourced draft.

Eric Mack/CNET

They began hiking inland and eventually hitched a ride headed toward Goa from the first vehicle that passed by. The driver had looked a bit bewildered when he first stopped the


"Goa?" Rebecca asked, pointing to the north.

The dark-skinned man with graying hair and mustache was dressed in ratty worker's clothes. He rattled off a few sentences in Kannada that the couple could not discern. Seeing their lack of comprehension, he took a different tack.


war," he said, repeating the phrasing over and over slowly. " war. war."

"Yes, yes. We know about the war. If you're headed there, please take this

to the war, we don't mind," Charles said, his characteristic rough but charming smile shining through Josephina's more elegant facial features.

The driver continued repeating the phrase "

war" over and over as the pair ushered themselves into the rear of the vehicle while parroting "war" back to him.

A little over an hour later, Rebecca laughed out loud as the driver passed the gate for the town of Karwar, just south of the border with Goa. The driver pulled out a screen and began voice-messaging someone in rapid-fire Kannada.

The town was decorated with bright flowers and lights for what seemed to be some sort of festival. Posters of the Hindu god Shiva depicted with five heads hung everywhere. But below the festive trappings, the streets were lined with what seemed to be wounded soldiers. Many of them were begging, while others shuffled around aimlessly or looked on. Almost all seemed to be missing at least one limb. It was a bizarre juxtaposition of celebration and misery.

"No Goa. Karwar," the driver said, smiling into his rear-view mirror as he parked the

in front of a small apartment building in the center of town and beckoned the pair to follow him in the building and up two flights of stairs.

The driver knocked on a door and it was immediately opened by a pale young man with blond hair, blue eyes and flawless skin that was the calling card of nanobiotic installation. When the younger man's eyes saw the faces of Rebecca and Josephina, he dropped to his knees right in the hallway.


The many faces of Shiva.

Dat7/Public domain

"I did not believe my father was telling the truth. He said he recognized your faces from the posters, but I told him he was being a foolish old man. This is an unparalleled honor to have you here at my home Dr. Parker, Commander Danish."

The man stood and welcomed them into the apartment, where rebel propaganda posters from some of Rebecca's own campaigns hung on the walls. The couple remained silent, unsure what exactly they were walking into.

"Oh, I haven't introduced myself. I'm very sorry, I'm just a little nervous. I am Fravash. Until the, uh, confusions began, I was serving as assistant commander for the sub-continent."

Rebecca interrupted. "Wait, you expect me to believe you're with the rebels? And that this guy is your father? You look like you just graduated from the Transhumanist officers' academy, kid."

"Yes, of course. I am a... surely you know about the confusions? Lord Shiva and the God that Dr. Parker speaks with have shown that our cause is just by resurrecting our soldiers and resurrecting officers like myself in the bodies of our enemies. God has gifted me this body to show that we are right and soon I will purge it of its impurities. This is our path to victory, is it not? Soon the war will be over, right?"

Rebecca and Charles both stood speechless, unsure how to process or react to the seemingly insane rant from a man who looked the part of a Transhumanist soldier but spoke like a clear devotee of Rebecca's own branding.

Suddenly a disembodied voice filled the heads of the couple.

"Well if it isn't the happy couple," the voice of Josephina Parker echoed through their minds. "We need to catch up on some things just as soon as you can get to a place that's secure to communicate. It's time to bring all this insanity to an end."

"Yes, yes indeed," Charles said out loud.

Fravash smiled, unaware Josephina was not speaking to him or that Josephina was not actually Josephina.

Editor's note: As Escobar MacNamara's historical research has revealed, the Danishes made an effort to reach out to the administration of Transhumanist President Istvan during the period that followed, with assistance from Josephina Parker acting covertly on Terra Superioris. Who wouldn't want to keep tabs on the current occupant of her former body, really?

Dr. Parker was in communication with both her family and Rebecca and Charles whenever possible from T.S. without arousing the suspicions of The Committee that she was in contact with Earth EB-2.

Alex Parker had managed to maintain the ear of the Transhumanist government despite his wife apparently experiencing a mental break on live media and fomenting a revolution. This was probably due to his own awkward role in that broadcast and subsequent submission to a rigorous and humiliating investigation of all his activities going back decades. The investigation produced little more than evidence of an obsessive and brilliant scientist who was rather subpar in his interpersonal relationships, but reliably loyal to his work and to any government that would support it.

The investigation also served to confirm Alex Parker's many pleadings with the Istvan government to focus more on the possible advances and threats that lay beyond the only universe they had ever known. A pivotal moment came when Alex managed, with much help from his friend Matt and colleagues at CORP, to smuggle two early leaders of the Uninstallation movement onto The Washington for a secret meeting with the president.

The meeting was attended by Alex and Cindy Parker; the Transhumanist president; Rebecca Danish; her husband Charles occupying the body of one-time messiah (while occupied by Diplomat Meta Nahuat) Josephina Parker; and the disembodied voice of Josephina herself communicating from Terra Superioris in secret. What exactly was said at the meeting was never transcribed, but it is believed to have laid the foundation for a truce between the warring factions on Earth and a shift to a focus on human unification in preparation for the inevitable announcement of the realities of the multiverse.

Rebecca and Charles, in Josephina's body, emerged from the shadows to make their first public statement in many months, declaring victory for the Uninstaller rebels in much the same terms as Fravash had explained it weeks earlier, but at the same time declaring that God now demanded a truce and forgiveness of all enemies. Within days fighting ceased and rebuilding, relocation and reintegration of the resurrected began.

Meanwhile, on Terra Superioris, tensions were also easing thanks to the world war on Earth coming to a close. Migration rates began to return to normal, all Ring portals returned to typical operating capacity and the program to return migrants to Earth was shuttered. Migrants who had been boomeranged back and forth between the fighting on Earth and T.S. repeatedly appeared to suffer damage to their consciousness data when it was loaded into their permanent bioengineered bodies. Most were assigned "retirement roles" in Superioran society akin to a permanent beach vacation as a sort of compensation, thanks largely to the migrant advocacy efforts of one Dr. Josephina Parker.

By the time things had more or less returned to normal on T.S., The Committee and everyone else who was ever aware of the case of a missing migrant by the name of Charles Danish had pretty much forgotten about it. Well, almost everyone.

Up next: In our final installment, everything wraps up quite nicely and they all live happily ever after in multiversal peace. Or not.

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