In the early 2010's carbon nanotubes opened up a new chapter in materials research which stood to rewrite the books on engineering and what feats of construction were possible. One of the most ambitious projects, and one considered necessary to the long term survival of our species was the space elevator.
It was well into the 2040's before many of the central technologies came to a maturity to be implemented on the industrial scale which would be required for a space elevator. By 2050 the groundwork had begun near Manokwari, Indonesia. Almost immediately, the problems caused by a snarled and convoluted language barrier dragged the project to a near halt. There were some thirty languages local to Manokwari, and another dozen tongues imported by the various engineers and scientists from around the globe. It was rare that more than two or three people on a work team could understand each other.
To overcome this obstacle, a system was developed that could interpret the desired meaning of a speaker and then transmit that data to the listener to be translated into the listener's own language. It was not a perfect system, as some idioms and other abstractions used in language did not translate very well. However, for the simple giving and receiving of instructions, the system saved the project. Soon those equipped with the devices changed their speech patterns to purge out any of the untranslatable phrases and concepts.
Within twenty years, progress on the project moved forward at a fantastic pace and the entire region had been equipped with the translation system from the age of four. There were some, however, who despised the loss of culture from language and were fearful of the results of a critical failure in the space elevator system. They started with protests and eventually there was violence.
Fifty years into the project and the space elevator was well into its final stages. Around its base had grown an international community of people who had three or four generations living together inside a militarized exclusion zone to protect the project from terrorist attacks. Due to political pressures and their estrangement from their native peoples, Indonesia was forced to declare the new city to be an autonomous protectorate in order to ensure continued benefits from the project.
The feared terrorist attack finally came, but was aimed at an unforeseen target not within the city. The corporation that had been administering the translation system was the target. A swarm of economic, physical, and electronic attacks crippled the company and finally a virus pushed a forced update to the firmware of every single implant. The virus scrambled the translation system into undecipherable gibberish.
The population had become so dependent upon the system that every single person had their own dialect of what was once a common language among their people. As there was no need to correct the linguistic errors of children equipped with the system, nobody ever had. Everyone assumed that their children were speaking as they were, but instead, each individual spoke in a severely mutated form of their mother tongue. The terrorist attacks destroyed the equipment already implanted and lacking the specifications for the system, it was nearly impossible to replicate without the research documentation that was destroyed by the attacks on the defunct corporation.
With the breakdown of communication, so too came the break down of logistics, people went hungry, many starved. Riots broke out, and gangs formed from people who could somewhat understand one another in order to protect themselves and secure vital resources for their families.
The security forces in the autonomous zone were some of the absolute best trained and equipped in the world since there was so much at stake in the project. They refused to allow any international intervention into the situation as they feared to lose their stake in the profits of the completed elevator. Not only were they fully ready to defend the autonomous zone, they also held the world economy hostage with the fate of the space elevator. Were the project to fall into catastrophe, the quadrillions of dollars, yen, yuan, rubles, and euros that had been invested would vanish overnight, bankrupting every single first world country, which would then cascade across the globe.
Intelligence agencies and mercenaries from around the world began flocking to the area in order to cash in and protect the interests of their home nations. The stakes are the world and the future of mankind. In the autonomous zone, life has lost its value and bitter turf wars are fought without media coverage on the streets every night. The problem has spilled out from the autonomous zone with the fires of war and insurrection being lit across the planet. Civil order has decayed due to the uncertainty over the project which has already started to send world markets into a sharp decline.
The cynics laugh bitterly at the hubris of those who named this project. It is called Babel.