Julia and Sybil

Published on March 24, 2024, filed under and (RSS feed for all categories).

In 2015, I started to write a dystopian–utopian novel. To this day, I’m excited about the project and haven’t given up on it—but I also haven’t worked on it since. Here’s the unedited early manuscript. (If you have feedback for me, as always I’ll be curious to learn more.)

“Where am I?” Julia woke up.

“Is it over?” She tried to move.

“Where am I?” She couldn’t.

“Everything’s okay.” A voice appeared, but Julia couldn’t tell from where.

“You’re okay.”

“Who is this?” Jula tried to move again. Where was she? What had happened? What had happened to her body?

“I’m Sybil. I’m your handler.”

“My—what?”

“It’s okay. I’ll explain. For the moment get some rest. This world is not like yours. You’ll see.”


Julia was conscious. She could neither see nor hear. Nor smell. Nor taste. She couldn’t feel anything. But she knew she was awake. She knew she was alive.

Fear overcame her. Where was she? What was this? What had happened?

The last she remembered was when the bombs had hit and the ground was shaking. The medical systems went down. She had almost panicked for it was never good when the medical systems came down. Then the information prompters came down. Her arm pulsated that it could not sync with her employer and her insurance. Things were bad.

Things had been bad for a long time. Julia knew. Everyone knew. They had all believed the stories. There were bad people. The government protected everyone. The government did all they could. Bad people. Everyone hoped they were safe.

“We all trust each other.”

“Sybil?” Julia would have sat up.

“We all trust each other even though sometimes, someone does something hurtful. It’s what we call life.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were like you. We felt pain. Much pain. We wanted to protect ourselves from the pain. We said we didn’t feel it, and then we moved on to punish who hurt us.”

“What do you mean?”

“People don’t intend to hurt. They see no way out. You cannot punish someone who is ignorant. There’s no reason to mistrust someone who violates your trust out of ignorance.”

“I don’t understand.” Julia wondered how this all worked. Maybe her transmitters were all working but the sensory channels had been overcharged by the bombing outside. She felt no pain. It must have been the sensors. Her body enhancements were all under warranty. Someone would soon come to check on her. At least there was no pain. “Sleep level?” she asked herself. No response. Where was her ghost?

“We’re still thinking and talking about this. All we know is that trusting each other has helped us. It was fundamental to our society that we focused on trust.”

“You can’t trust anyone!” Julia noticed that her response was determined. Where was her ghost? Was her anthrostatus routine broken? Everyone had said that ghosts were 100% reliable. They put the implants in, some local checks, a few remote tests, and even when you forgot to pay they would leave the ghost running. The government had ordered insurers and doctors to always track body status, base mood, and location. Too many people had died deaths that were entirely preventable, they said.

Julia didn’t want to die.

“Trust me.” Sybil said.

“Why would I trust you?”

“You can trust beauty.”

Julia laughed. Tried to. Had Sybil never had a body makeover? There were some crazy people who paid to be ugly now. Scars had been a trend. Now it was burns. Crazies. You couldn’t trust beauty. Now you couldn’t even trust ugliness.

“You can trust the beauty of ideas.”

“What do you mean?”

“A beautiful idea is trustworthy because is honest. It’s safe. It cannot be faked.”

“Couldn’t anyone just make something up?” Julia wished to cough.

“That’s what you thought, and that’s why you lost much of the power of your ideas and dreams. Pipe dreams you said. Pipe dreams are valuable.”

“But they’re not real!”

“They can be trusted, and they are real. Let me show you something.”


A sense of happiness.

A sense of happiness and a sense of fear.

A sense of happiness.

Julia heard voices. She opened her eyes. There.

A group of people ran towards her, laughing and waving.

A handful of children.

A tree on the left. They just passed a tree.

The grass. So… beautiful.

The sky! She could not get her eyes off the sky.

“Julia! Julia!”

Julia smiled.

Happiness.

The absence of worries made her happy.

Fear.

“Where am I?”

“Julia! Julia!”

“Julia??”


Sweat.

“Sybil?”

“Sybil?”

What was this, what had happened?

The other day they had said they would do everything to prevent war. The prime minister said they were prepared, they were determined, they would win the fight, the good fight he said, they would prevent war.

Some had said the prime minister was lying, the military-industrial complex was running the country, the media had been bought, the big corporations were behind all of it. These some were normally dealt with quickly. No one was allowed to spread rumors. “Rumor is terror” they sometimes said. Only proof allowed. If you had no proof you had no right to speak. You had no right to be.

Other some had joked that one would have needed to own the country to change the country. People didn’t understand. “Of course” they thought. “Crazies.”

War. Yesterday? When did it start?

She remembered the outbreak. People were getting sick. In a remote region. She always wanted to go there. But people were getting sick now. They said. Bio attacks, they said. Some said the incidents were fabricated. Rumor is terror. People were talking too much.

The outbreak, and then a bomb in the central bank. She had dropped the foil when she noticed the headline. An animation had played a scene in which policebots froze the bank lobby. They either froze everything, or they gassed. Non-lethal anti-resistance.

It came so sudden.

Julia felt fear.


Silence.

“We thought it impossible.”

White silence.

“We thought it was impossible to create a world in which everyone was free, free to create and think and feel and act as they pleased. We were afraid.”

The silence was white.

“We were afraid mostly of ourselves. We didn’t trust. We all couldn’t decide, but who could?”

“These were the days when we stood at the crossroads. The crossroads of life and death. Not those of life and death”—Julia could almost see Sybil gesture—“but those of our life and death.”

“There were those who didn’t want to change. Fear of change, we thought. We struggled. Like you, we live in a shared reality. From what we know there is no reality that is not shared—”

“What do you mean?”

“—but all of them, whether this reality or your reality, physical or psychical, perceivable or imaginary, one- or multi-dimensional, in all of them we’ve found there are several beings sharing them. We couldn’t move without going all together.”

“Some suggested that we accept our fate. If people didn’t want to change, or didn’t want change, then that was their right and we couldn’t force them—for force would have been exactly what we were trying to stop with. Others thought we should convince the influential people of our course. Many views abounded. The one we ended up choosing was investigative: We tried to understand why people opposed change, why they were fighting to improve our condition so as to establish health, prosperity, peace for all.”

“What did you find out?”

“Nothing was how we thought it was. We had expected randomness; what we found were power structures. We had expected a sense of direction; what we found were conflicts of interest. We had expected understanding for each other; what we found was dissociation and confusion.”


Julia sat up. She turned around. She wiggled her toes. She moved her hand, the right as usual, through her hair. She saw the room control light pulsate, gently. The bluish light indicated that everything was okay.

“What time is it?”

“It’s four seventeen.”

“What day is it?”

“It’s Sunday, April nineteen.”

“Prepare breakfast.”

”Breakfast will be ready in eight minutes. Do you want to have a shower first”—

[…]

“Julia. Julia.

It felt like someone pulled at her shoulder, and yet she felt nothing. She wanted to cry and yet she felt no cheeks for tears to roll on.

“Yes.” She cried.

“You were dreaming.”

“Is this not a dream? Where am I?”

“What—”

“What—”

“What we found was dissociation and confusion.”

Sybil’s voice sounded like metal.

[…]


[…]

“Am I dead, Sybil?”

Silence. Vast, white silence.

“Sybil?”

“No.”

Julia waited. She could tell Sybil was not done.

“We never die. We never die, Julia.”

Was this useful or interesting? Share (toot) this post, or maybe treat me to a coffee. Thanks!

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

With my current move to Spain, I’m open to a new remote frontend leadership position. Feel free to review and refer my CV or LinkedIn profile.

I love trying things, not only in web development, but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.