Deep within a mountain, an archeologist discovers the remains of a Tower that once touched the sky, housing the central communication servers for an ancient Babylonian civilization. As she enters a nearly spotless room, she discovers the millennia-old computers are still on, and is shocked when a disembodied voice recounts the fall of a global empire that had lasted nearly five thousand years.
Broken Tongues is a speculative retelling of the fall of Babel in a world where Hammurabi had a daughter, and their joint scientific and political leadership shaped a Babylon that survived drought, climate change, and political turmoil to become the Eternal Empire of Alu-Belium.
As the tale begins, the empire has bound the whole world under a single Language, communicated with thought rather than speech via centipede-like neural interfaces. However, the costs of empire are mounting.
In the heart of the Empire, a nonbinary teenager named Alaki runs away after failing out of school due to an interface-related learning disability and discovers an illegal speakeasy where people escape the silent oppression of the regime through spoken words and poetry. Inspired, Alaki seeks a new path investigating how interfaces subtly control language and quash dissidence — a journey that will reshape speech, thought, and the world.
On this journey, Alaki is joined by Bassat, a farm girl who dreams of the stars; Ninat, a neurolinguistic researcher who, along with her partner Tia, adopts the teenager; Dalu, Alaki’s estranged father, as they slowly build a new relationship; and a mysterious emergent consciousness that bears witness as the story unfolds. Their pursuit of deeper human connections and knowledge will ultimately shatter the empire and sow the seeds of new civilizations, which arise amidst rapid climate change and political disintegration.
As the ghostly narrator’s tale ends, the archeologist shares with them myths she’s spent her life collecting — myths she now realizes chronicle the lives of these extraordinary people.
Image: The Tower of Babel Alexander Mikhalchyk, CC-BY-SA-4.0