The barber’s book
Yuri Lishkat was executed yesterday in the morning. After the execution, he was cremated. He, and his life’s work, became ashes.
Lishkat wrote full books in prison, without pen, without paper, without a computer. He was blind but he understood many languages. He wrote stories in his hair and beard. He formed symbols and words with his hair strands by making simple, double and triple knots, with variable spaces in between them, which served as punctuation and sometimes to change the meaning of a phrase or word. He could read very quickly with his fingers. The knots represented consonants. The vowels weren’t necessary because the words would get their meaning from context. Sometimes one symbol represented a whole word, or even a full sentence.
Lishkat shared his cell for more than a year with the barber Raul Navade (who was executed last year) and wrote down several stories that Navade told him about the wars with the machines. He called this book “The Barber’s Book” (which is a sentence that can be written in the language of Lishkat’s hair strands as two identical sequences, separated by a triple knot. This is probably the largest book written by Lishkat, and probably the only one that could be read. Older stories are lost because hairs get tangled, break or fall.
Lishkat had a library in his body hairs. His hair and beard looked like a sculpture. From more than 23 thousand written hairs, only 37 were preserved, which had fallen and were recovered more than two years ago. They contain fragments, paragraphs from different stories. Another 517 were documented during a rare authorised visit six months ago. These hairs, which contained one of the 36 chapters of Navade’s book, were photographed by two psychologists and translated by me. During that visit, we issued an official requirement asking that his hairs be preserved, and reiterated that request when we knew about his execution, but unfortunately we did not receive a reply. Later we learned that he was cremated, so the loss is irreparable.
I wrote two dictionaries for Lishkat’s hair language. The first, and simplest one, is the beard dictionary (LBN), which describes words and letters written in Lishkat’s beard. It’s actually a very simple table associating knot sequences to letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Nineteen strands of beard hairs were preserved. The second dictionary is more complex and can be used for most of the recent stories written in the hairs from his head (LBH). It can be used to translate the other 18 strands and the photographed ones. Lishkat evolved his knot language making it more efficient, so now letters that occur more frequently require less knots, letters that can end a word or phrase end in triple knots, and several words and phrases can be represented by a one to three-knot sequence. Less knots also reduce tangling and breaking, making the stories last longer. The grammatical structure was also altered making the language less redundant. There are no articles or prepositions, no verb conjugations (they all represent the past), and no spaces between words. Sentences just have a longer space between them (but there are no separators - sequences of four or more knots - like in the beard language.) There are also several words which are unique to the language.
I will summarise here two stories from Raul Navade’s book, reported on the hair strands that were photographed and translated six months ago:
The first story is missing some details, mostly technical data due to broken knots, but the essence of the story was preserved. It’s about the astronaut Nikolai Sanchez, who was forgotten in space by the satellite maintenance system (SSM). When it is necessary to cut costs, an optimisation procedure, which is usually safe, is carried out by the System. The optimisation algorithm which was used was, according to the System, the HCRA-33, written by a human programmer. During the execution of the process, the information that Sanchez was outside the capsule disappeared. Actually, for the computers, Sanchez hadn’t even left the Earth. After the incident there was an information conflict, but, in the end, it was decided to officially forget that had Sanchez participated in the mission. The records were updated to record that the mission had been unmanned, and that Sanchez had died of a heart-attack. The alteration was not complete, since the news broadcast was not done only using controlled media. People dream about astronauts which are forgotten in space and don’t know why. Navade, who at the time worked as a barber in the Forgetfulness Department, knew the reason. He hadn’t participated in the process directly, but due to his high rank, he didn’t have to submit himself to the selective forgetting process.
The second story is incomplete. It lacks the beginning and some sentences in the middle, but all the technical data and access codes were preserved. Perhaps some strands were lost or broken. We initially thought it consisted of hair from another book which got tangled together, since it mentions an event which is not related to the System, but it’s also part of Navade’s story. It starts mentioning a Russian writer called Daniil Kharms, who in 1942 was imprisoned in a hospital or jail, during the siege of Leningrad. The team that watched and cared for him had to leave and the task was delegated to two others, who forgot to feed him. He died of hunger in prison. Navade thought that it was some work of fiction, but Lishkat told him that Kharms actually did exist, although he wasn’t sure about the circumstances of his death. But the thing is that for some unknown reason, this story showed up in the System, and the machines replicated it. Adamastor Belinguin, the engineer that was responsible for the AI processes was able to interrupt the replication and initiate a recursive purge to keep the mobile jailers from developing the algorithm. This instability led Belinguin’s department to erroneously identify him as an agressor, and he ended up being killed during his capture. Luckily the reversion process he initiated had worked, avoiding a larger tragedy.
These two stories are told in 498 strands. Other 19 strands contain separate sentences from stories which were not recovered, and a table of contents of 36 chapters, which apparently contain dozens of other reports, including some which I believe to be the most important ones of all, which would expose the details of how the machines tried to extinguish the biosphere. It’s extremely valuable information, because, although we have won twice, we don’t know exactly how. Navade knew how, and Lishkat’s hairs may have attempted to save these answers, but now, unfortunately, they are forgotten forever.
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