New Babylon and the Yggdrasill
New Babylon and the Yggdrasill
Breaking one of the basic rules of literary (especially allegorical) description, the towers of New Babylon were not glimmering white spires. They were white, it’s true, and could be called spires if one appreciated a certain archaic quality of language, but they did not glimmer by any stretch of imagination. Surrounded by a constant curtain of smog, only the impossibly high peaks of these towers could be seen from a distance. As a traveler drew closer, even these enormous needle points were obscured by the oily cloud which filtered the sunlight into a pale, just visible yellow haze. Closer yet, however, and the formerly vague shapes that formed the bases of these precipices snapped sharply into view. The conical walls of the towers formed asymptotes, drawing nearer and nearer to the invisible central column which, near the top anyway, couldn’t be any thicker than a length of thread. If one had been born in the city and had never ventured to the surrounding plains, one might believe that the towers really were true asymptotes, reaching ever upward and never coming to a point and an end, but they did miles above the city. The spires were pockmarked with windows, even at the uppermost floors where no human being could go for want of floor space. Lights glinted on and off in these windows, not supernaturally but florescent and business-like – a room would be illuminated for a time before the light would click off and then on, but in another room a few windows away. Around the base of any given tower the people of the city could hear the muffled hum of an office – shuffling footsteps and innumerable murmuring voices forming that white noise only just recognizable as human. The sound, though constant, would shift and move with the lights in the windows as the unseen speakers moved from room to room, their purposes as obscured as their faces. The greatest mystery about them was the fact that none now knew the original builders, and the only ones who may have known their source were trapped inside. The windows began about thirty feet above the ground and there were no doors. None entered and none exited the buildings. Depending on the citizen, the towers were revered or reviled but no one was apathetic toward them despite the mystery of their existence and their inscrutable motivation, or perhaps because of this very mystery. They implied a vast and vital power, their dominance and their hum a symbol of the city. It was known that they had existed for at least twenty five generations and probably much more, but there was no record of a time when the city had existed without the towers. The man-made peaks were great in number but not densely packed; their relative positions were balanced and aesthetically placed – in some incomprehensible way this one precluded that one, which naturally led to another one a few blocks away.
The beginning of the upheaval went unnoticed for the most part by the population. Contrary to what is often postulated in the present day, the towers were not brought low by human sabotage. Whether what happened was divine will, pure chance, or an inevitable natural reaction to such hubris I dare not guess, but I was there and I know that no human being could bring down the towers in the way that they were. The only greater challenge to nature’s might than the towers themselves is the claim that humans could have destroyed them. It began with a few sprouts at the top of the central and greatest tower, the one from which all others flowed. The only indication of anything unusual at the ground level was an increase in chatter heard from the towers. The indiscernible voices rose to a frantic jabber, punctuated by one voice in particular (never before had individual voices been heard from the column). The voice was gruff and authoritative, and though actual words could not be made out it bespoke a furious rage and a profound disappointment. These rebukes were usually followed by a pitiful and remorseful howl, taken up first by one voice and spreading to the others, a bestial cry that shocked and frightened any passers-by. Though every citizen acknowledged the greatness and importance of the towers, whether they were in favor of them or not, this sudden change highlighted the insignificance of the spires in every day life. These angry voices continued for several weeks, but people found their employers continued to expect them on time, their families still needed food, the busses stayed on schedule and the sun shone indifferently. People commented on the change, of course, but it wasn’t until the first twig, as thick as a pencil cracked the pinnacle of the ivory precipice that a sense of unease began to spread. Though tiny, the towers were so thin at the top that this hole smaller than a penny sent the needle point crashing down, a forty foot spear whittled to almost nothing at the end. The surrounding roads were closed for a time, but when a few days passed without incident and the debris was cleared away life began as normal, and the silence that had overtaken the tower began again as before, in full force.
As they tend to do, the politicians of the city divided along two clear lines. There were those who proposed repairing the tower and there were those who claimed it was time the towers were destroyed, but both of these positions where empty rhetoric. The sylvan source of destruction remained far out of sight, and the logistics of a repair were beyond consideration, and the city’s violent past was testament to the towers indestructibility by earthly hands. There is nothing so appealing to the public psyche as a claim to great power, even a meaningless, impotent declaration.
As the weeks passed an apprehensive fear came over the city and the growth expanded; what had started as a single twig was now a finger on a black and gnarled wrist of wood, tipped with delicate but copious green leaves, which in turn eventually connected to a bigger yet limb, the size of a human waist, and more branches were appearing on all sides of the edifice regularly. It grew the wrong way around, it seemed, starting with the uppermost leafy canopy and slowly but surely working its way to the trunk. Falling debris was no longer unexpected and none ventured near the base of the tower anymore except for the construction workers assigned the ironic task of clearing the rubble to make way for the then nonexistent traffic. The reported a ghastly silence from the interior of the column, broken by noises which made the silence all the worse – cries of terror and a weird ghostly creak. Some claimed they could hear a hacking sickly cough coming from the innermost chambers, the death rattle, perhaps, of the original builders or at least their descendents. There was a change in the other towers as well – somehow the inhabitants seemed less indifferent to their surroundings. They were, if possible, more secretive than ever. Approaching any given monolith, shouting voices could be heard not unlike those heard, but if one came too close all of the lights in the windows would suddenly be extinguished and the debaters would immediately cease. Many fled the city, unable to bear the uncertainty, but most stayed, whether out of stubbornness, morbid curiosity, or the desire to see the end of the towers. They would see the end, and by this time the branches extended far enough to be viewed from the ground.
Eventually the canopy grew to be at least three hundred feet in diameter, though the trunk had not yet made much progress. That changed extraordinarily quickly one early morning – the sun was just peeking over the grassland – the city was awoken by an ear-splitting crack. Those who lived in sight of the tower saw that the fracture began at the very bottom on the northern face, the stone walls pushed apart by a sudden branch thrust out about ten feet. The crack spread up to the top of the remnants of the tower, and finally the trunk revealed itself in full, the bark expanding like a massive inhalation of breath in a tremendous explosion, the chrysalis of stone sent flying in all directions. Within minutes, the rest of the towers followed suit, and an artificial meteor shower rained down upon the plains. Revealed beneath the other towers were massive tendrils of writhing wood which briefly retained the shape of their encasements before crashing down and burrowing beneath the surface to form the roots of the tree.
The city was utterly destroyed. There were no survivors, and all that now remains of New Babylon is the tree – the World Tree, the Tree of Life, the Yggdrasill. Humanity of course survived this relatively minor chastisement, and within one hundred years people claimed that the tree had been planted after the destruction of the city in commemoration of the victims of the tragedy, not realizing that it had in fact been the very means of destruction – the Vesuvius, the fire and brimstone, the nuclear bomb. From greatness springs pride, and from pride springs death. We must not forget, however, that this is not the end of the cycle. For from death springs life, and from life springs all. This is the lesson of New Babylon and the Yggdrasill.