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'Crowd Control,' part 9: The shot heard around the multiverse

In this installment of CNET's groundbreaking crowdsourced sci-fi novel, a spy from a parallel universe co-opts a convenient body and then derails a talk show appearance to foment an uprising in our world.


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

Chapter 7, continued

Excerpted from "Meta: The Life of a Diplomat."

Boston, Massachusetts, Earth-EB-2 April 19, 2051

Cindy's father had arranged for Josephina's appearance on Marker Stacy's talk show "Like Lightning." The producers felt it best to fit her in before an appearance by still-teen pop sensation Zed-17 for an episode with the theme of nanobiotics and other technologies for the masses.

Cindy sat in an audience full of reporters and a few religious activists the producers had allowed in for the appearance of balance in the face of growing tensions between Transhumanist party supporters and opponents of all different stripes. Besides those who objected on religious grounds to the transhumanist movement, there were also a growing number suspicious of the party's motives after recent revelations about the Kurzweil Machine.

The audience was glowing all sorts of fiery shades that only Cindy could see. Her father's auras had been shifting since she and her mother had returned to the Washington -- he seemed to be projecting a bubbly elation, but Cindy could see it was clearly masking a deeper sadness or anxiety, or perhaps, just...doubt? Cindy couldn't be sure but something seemed off with him, while her mother had no glow around her at all. This was not completely unheard of, as her mother tended to be the more level-headed and calm parent, but it was odd that Cindy had not been able to get a read on her mother at all since she had returned. She assumed it had something to do with her mom being weak and still recovering from her unprecedented journey.

The studio lights were hot and harsh and the tension in the studio was heavy. After what seemed like an eternity of adjusting lights and makeup, music played and Marker Stacy welcomed the audience in the studio and on the other side of the large transmitting screens before introducing Cindy's parents.

Eric Mack/CNET

"So, Dr. Parker and Dr. Parker, you're here to tell us about a new breakthrough you've been able to make and we're very excited to have you announce it here first exclusively, because I understand it could completely change the way we view the universe?"

"Yes, thank you, Marker," Cindy's father jumped at the question, nervously. "It's not just the universe we're talking about here, but the multiverse, actually."

The host leaned forward to interrupt.

"That's the hypothesis that there are multiple universes, like what our grandparents might have called alternate realities or parallel dimensions, right?"

"That's right, although today I believe we're able to say confidently for the first time that this is not just an educated guess anymore. We have evidence that the multiverse is real, because we've been able to send information across the universal divide and have it return to us."

"I'm not quite sure I understand, Dr. Parker. Perhaps your wife can shed some light on this. What type of information are we talking about? And how can you be so sure this data that you're talking about had actually visited another universe?"

Cindy noticed that her mother was finally beginning to glow, but the colors were blending together and difficult to read.

"Well," Josephina paused and a mischievous smile arched its way across her face. She seemed to be soaking up the silence, bathing in the anticipation. "Because that data we're talking about was me."

"You? I, I'm sorry. I don't understand. You mean..."

"My consciousness, Marker. My soul. I went to the other side and I came back."

Cindy leaned forward from her front-row seat. This was not something she had overheard her father talking about the night before as he insisted he and her mother rehearse every possible response to every question they might receive on the show.

"I think what my wife is trying to say here is that information at the particle level is capable of..." Alex seemed as though he was desperate to regain control of the direction of the conversation.

"Wait, I'm sorry, Dr. Parker, I want to follow up with what your wife is saying here."

Whispers and rumblings were starting in the audience. Marker's fans were not exactly the most scientifically sophisticated group interested in particle-level data transfer, even Cindy was aware of this much.

"What I'm talking about Marker, is Paradise, Heaven, Tian, the land of the white light..."

"I think we're getting confused here," Alex cut in again, this time with a nervous laugh.

"No, I'm sorry. But there's no confusion here, and I'm not interested in doing what I'm told doing what the Transhumanist Party thinks we should all do. After what I've seen and where I've been, I answer to a higher power now. Despite what the party may think, there is such a thing."

A cheer went up from the back of the crowd where some of the activists opposing the Transhumanist government were sitting. The whispers and rumbles and shouts and jeers started to drown out all other sound and Cindy began to get nervous, but her eyes remained drawn to her mother at the center of the stage.

Cindy watched as the glow around her mother became almost iridescent, unlike any she had ever observed before. Something seemed to be very wrong.

"All right, everyone! Please, let's settle down a bit so we can hear out Dr. Parker and understand what she's trying to tell us here," the host pleaded with the crowd, which managed to settle down some. Marker took a second to compose herself and began to phrase her questions slowly and deliberately.

"So, you're telling us you know God? You're saying you've spoken to God, essentially?"


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

Sam Falconer

"Sure, I know God very well," Josephina said. She was glowing so brightly she looked to Cindy as if she were speaking from inside a diamond. She turned toward the audience and grinned in an odd sort of expression that Cindy could never recall seeing on her mother's face.

"I mean, it doesn't actually call itself God, but I can assure you it is the Creator we talk about when we talk about God, or Allah or Brahma or Yahweh. Many names, same intelligent designer of everything."

Cindy's father seemed frozen in shock on the stage. He pulled out a screen from his jacket pocket and began scribbling something with a finger, but few people in the studio seemed to take notice. All eyes remained fixed on her mother, who was nearly blinding Cindy.

"And, they were able to communicate with this, uh...Creator via the Kurzweil Machine?"

"That's right." Cindy's mother smiled. She felt as though she were seeing a completely new side of her mother. Something had clearly happened to her on the other side, no matter what name she gave to it.

"You know, some people are obviously going to find this hard to believe, not just because you're claiming to have a direct line to God, but because there's, you know...widespread suspicion to say the least about the purpose and capabilities of the Kurzweil Machine since its existence was leaked last year."

"Well, once I tell you what God, The Creator, whatever it is it's called...Once you hear the one request it shared with me...God's one request, Yahweh's sole demand, Allah's lone directive...once you hear the next important step that we, that all of us must take...then I think you will cease to be suspicious of that machine. It's the much smaller machines inside all of you that we need to be concerned with."

"And what did God say?"

She turned and began directly addressing the audience. "Stop using nanobiotics. It's unnatural and against God's plan, and anyone using that technology will close the door of Heaven forever."

An earlier draft of this scene, as seen here in the open, crowdsourced Google Doc, was originally quite different. With apologies to Cher. (Click to enlarge)

Eric Mack/CNET

The audience gasped. Religion had become less popular, but superstition still prevailed and people were always open to other possibilities. Especially when told by a modern-day Lazarus.

Marker sat back on her seat, taken aback. "We will now cut--" She stopped abruptly as a loud rumble thundered around the studio. A spot of red blossomed from her chest, dripping down her glittery dress. She crumpled onto the wooden floor of the stage, blood spreading from her shaking body.

"Death to Transhumans!" A crazed man cried out in the audience, still holding his gun. Security tried to tackle him, as the rest of the audience tried to escape. It was panic. People ran in every direction, but Cindy could only hear one screaming voice, "You're doing Satan's work! Die and go to hell!"

Editor's note: Back to Earth EB-2 being a bit of a mess around this time period. The civilization's many problems at the moment were complex and impossible to trace to a single or even a handful of causes. However, the central tension in the society was between nanobiotech supporters and users, and those who were more suspicious of the technology and/or the huge nanobiotech corporations with their unprecedented profits and levels of global influence.

Those without nanobiotics installed were increasingly marginalized by governments, most of them controlled by the Global Transhumanist Party, itself reliant on the support of Nanotopia and other huge biotech corporations. Life was made difficult for those who refused to install nanobiotics or to have them uninstalled. Costs of conventional health care skyrocketed, and the job market for "the uninstalled" became impossibly competitive. To live without nanobiotics was to be reduced to the lowest caste of the citizenry.

And if you've read much other history, you may know that revolutions are formed from such groups. An underground of uninstallers had been loosely assembling itself around the world in the late 2040s, but the sudden emergence of Dr. Josephina Parker as a quasi-religious figure and mouthpiece for the movement had galvanized it. Her drawing a connection, no matter how immaterial, between Kurzweil Machine fears and the issue of nanobiotic discrimination only brought new supporters to the idea of an uprising against their perceived oppressors. To use a 21st-century phrase: Things were about to get very real.

Next time, a teacher is over living forever and plans to go out with a bang.

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