For quite a while I've been playing around with the idea of someone achieving a tipping-point in language proficiency where they can understand languages without studying them, and/or of people augmented with computational implants to use their brain's awesome language and pattern-recognition abilities to make elite code breakers. Bizarrely, it has its origins in an idea I came up with for Firefly, which I might return to because it was also interesting.
Anyway! The Rose Garden is a location slash organisation inspired by that idea. I feel like it would fit in very well into Warhammer 40,000 and other dystopian science settings. It could almost certainly be used somehow in World of Darkness and Shadowrun if I knew anything much about those setting.
The Rose Garden is a secretive foundation that gathers unusual linguistic talents, protecting and containing them. Linguistic savants are rare enough, but some individuals succumb to a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as linguapathy, becoming so focused on language that their lives suffer serious detriments.
These unfortunate individuals are known as Rosettes, after the ancient Rosetta stone; hence the foundation's unassuming name. Some immerse themselves in the wealth of natural languages and become obligate hyperpolyglots, while others are compelled to devise new languages incessantly. Their profound and wide-ranging linguistic skills are a valuable asset to the authorities, not least in cryptography. As translators, decoders, scholars, or simply research subjects, they more than compensate for the cost of their care. Frequently, their talents are boosted with special training and biomechanical enhancement: memory chips that store vast datasets, decryption modules, or high-speed processors that greatly accelerate their mental abilities.
The most serious cases may reach a kind of apotheosis, having absorbed so much linguistic knowledge that they begin to glimpse meaning in messages even when they have never studied the language. This talent leaves their sanity in serious jeopardy, as they begin to perceive not only the probable meanings of a phrase, but many simultaneous possibilities in different languages. In the final stages of their condition, the linguapath's mental filters break down entirely. With every conceivable interpretation open to them, they are overwhelmed, unable to any longer produce or comprehend language, and typically catatonic.
It is rumoured that an astronomically-small fraction of cases progress beyond this stage. Left to drown in a sea of language, some individuals learn to swim, fusing the myriad contradictory patterns into a coherent and holistic whole; an ur-tongue, an omni-language. All of language, real or imagined, human or inhuman, is within their grasp. They know no separation of thought and word; the word itself is the meaning. The capabilities of these legendary adepts are a matter of dark mutterings and ill-informed speculation.
The Rose Garden for Warhammer 40,000
In the grim darkness of Warhammer, the aforesaid dark mutterings have good cause. The omniglots' ability to parse impossible codes and decipher true meaning from alien tongues is a tool beyond price, but doing so may grant them access to all manner of terrible and sanity-shattering knowledge. There are good reasons why many secrets are so heavily encrypted, for few minds are strong enough to bear them. Writings tainted by Chaos or by inhuman lies can corrupt and corrode a mind already wrenched open by linguistic singularity. The inmates of the Rose Garden must be watched carefully, lest they fall to darkness.
The office of Gardener is a difficult and sensitive one, trusted only to resilient and quick-thinking officials. Often, a retired Inquisitor may take the role, their years of experience with strange phenomena and their knowledge of corruption aiding them to keep their charges safe and loyal. At other times, a talented administrator or arbitrator may be given command of the Rose Garden. They must be vigilant, yet lenient; allowing no trace of heresy or Warp-taint to infest this invaluable resource, yet permitting the peccadillos and quirks of the differently-sane and keeping them largely contented. The talents of linguapaths should not be lightly thrown away by undue harshness, and a pool of willing workers who delight to serve the Emperor of Mankind is worth far more than a mere slave-pit.
The Rose Garden is a guarded compound, with looming rockrete walls that might hide an asylum, quarantine hospital or a school for the scions of nobility. Within the walls, numerous buildings sit amidst neat gardens, tended by the least-afflicted of the inmates. These mild cases are permitted to socialise and even exchange their learning, though interactions are carefully monitored for signs of trouble. These small freedoms - daylight, fresh air and company - are considered to help control their condition. Much of their time is spent in routine work for the Imperium, translating ordinary materials and aiding in linguistics experiments. Those with higher security clearance reside in the walled north quarter, and work extensively on encryption and decryption of secure materials, though only those dealing with mundane matters.
Though their freedom is strictly curtailed, the Rosettes are not treated harshly. Their talents are rare and valuable, and though they are likely doomed to madness, they may serve the Emperor for many decades before their fate is sealed. The lower-grade linguapaths are permitted to live comfortably in individual dwellings, wander the grounds as they choose, and even meet with family members - albeit under observation in the Salon. Restful water-features and fishponds provide a soothing atmosphere, and extensive libraries offer a vast wealth of learning. If the request be judged reasonable by the Gardener, tutors may even be introduced to teach some rare and fascinating tongue, adding to the stores of talent within the Garden.
Neat apartments house the domestics, sentries and psysicians who also reside here, tending the Garden. All are scrupulously investigated before they are permitted to work within the grounds, and sworn to silence. Many are orphans from the Schola Progenium, more trusted than mere recruits from the local populace.
A simple chapel provides spiritual guidance for all who dwell within the Garden's walls. Those who perish here are consigned to the flames, their ashes scattered upon the soil to nourish the flowers.
More serious cases are kept in wardhouses within the grounds, and not permitted to mix with the lower grades. These Rosebuds receive daily exercise at scheduled times when the gardens are otherwise empty, and their interactions with one another are tightly controlled. Their access to any linguistic material is restricted in an attempt to control their condition, keeping them at a peak of usefulness while avoiding linguistic overload. The unique talents of each Rosebud are used with care: some translate arcane xenos tongues, while others reconstruct framented and incomplete texts. All are security screened and trusted with sensitive material; any who fail are liable to summary execution, lest their talents fall into other hands. These are the most highly-regarded of the Rosettes: largely sane and stable, but with advanced and complex talents that are of enormous use. Implants greatly enhance their innate abilities, allowing lightning-fast calculations of probable meanings, comparison with vast archives of texts, and deciphering of a bewildering array of scripts. Roses are permitted to know the general talents of other inmates, so they may collaborate on complex tasks, but care is taken not to expose them to additional languages, to avoid destabilisation.
A small minority of Rosebuds, judged to have exceptional strength of will and purity, are transferred to the Court, a well-appointed but austere place of velvet, steel and glass housed in the inner compound. These adepts are trusted to work with even heretical and blasphemous materials, and their work for the Inquisition is invaluable. Naturally, despite the screening, losses within this group are inevitable.
The third tier of inmates are the Roses, unstable linguapaths who have begun the path to singularity. The "flowering" of their condition is unpredictable; some struggle to form sentences comprehensible to any but another linguapath, or become highly poetic and abstract in their speech. Struggling with the myriad worldviews and ways of thinking demanded by their various tongues, they may appear mentally deficient. Isolation is crucial in controlling their condition, and they are kept in individual chambers within their barracks. Nevertheless, the strange insights of these individuals may be invaluable for comprehending allegorical, mystical or xenos works. Development of minor psychic talents is relatively common amongst them, and the Rose House is both warded and well-guarded, with inmates regularly screened for corruption. The correlation between their linguistic and psychic abilities is a subject of much interest to the Inquisition. Due to their condition, Roses are rarely permitted access to blasphemous materials, for fear that the call of the Warp might trigger unstable psychic episodes, or draw a vulnerable mind into heresy.
The Roses dwell in a reinforced barracks to the north, separated from the grounds by a triple wall and trenches. Though much leniency is extended to the Rosettes, so much as touching the outer wall is cause for interrogation and execution. In truth, these precautions are barely needed; the lower grades know well not to approach this place, and most view it with utmost dread. It is a looming reminder of the fate that likely awaits them.
The Blue Lodge
At the southern edge of the Rose Garden, far from the Rose Barracks, is a plain, windowless building of blue-tinged local stone. Three ranks of towering conifers wall it off from view, a kindly concession to the feelings of the Rosettes. This asylum houses the fourth and final tier: Roses whose condition has degenerated sufficiently that they are dangerously unstable and of minimal use. Some simply lie catatonic and silent, their minds endlessly parsing the reams of data in their memories. Others pace furiously, declaiming in twisted words that flow constantly from tongue to tongue, or composing mind-wrenching polyglot poetry no other could comprehend. Dedicated language-makers may withdraw entirely from common language, imprisoned within the mental pathways of their own bespoke tongues, unable to communicate. All are permitted whatever seems to soothe them; some seek silence, others read continually, rant and rave, or sit surrounded by broadcasters, drowning out the din of their minds in a wave of language. Even limited degrees of violence and self-harm are permitted.
Despite their condition, even these unfortunates may be of use to the Imperium. Some pattern or concept in their wild ramblings may provide a clue unthinkable to those of balanced mind. Occasionally an Inquisitor will call by to present one or other - chosen with utmost care - with a linguistic puzzle, hoping to see a glimmer of recognition and perhaps the hint of an answer. Some inmates may even snap briefly back to sanity, treading water long enough to decipher a riddle before their condition overwhelms them once again.
There is no fifth tier.
The Inner Compound
Within the Garden, the inner compound sits on a low hill, overlooking the grounds. Sentries on the walls keep a weather eye on the activities of Rosettes as they potter around the gardens. A beautiful door of polished bronze bears the likeness of the Most Holy Emperor upon the Golden Throne.
The Gardener's Lodge is here, a stately building offering mild luxury to a trusted servant of the Emperor. A small armoury stands nearby, offering heavier armament to the guards in case some enemy should seek to raid the Garden and slay or kidnap Rosettes.
The nearby Court is the second most secure building of the compound, and typically houses a score of inmates. Psychic wards and seals mark the walls, lest some fragment prove to carry more power than any had realised, and armoured weapon servitors guard the entrance. Here the most trusted of the Rosebuds live and work, deciphering terrible secrets and alien texts at great risk to their souls and minds. A walled garden permits them air and light, a little luxury amidst the hardship of their work, though even here warding seals dangle from silver nets overhead.
The most secure, however, lies beneath the simple control tower in the very centre of the Rose Garden, its very existence largely unknown even to the inmates and staff. An array of bio-sensors, vox-readers, locks and concealed doors blocks access to this secret bunker. This is the refuge of the fifth tier, who do not exist.
No generalisations can be made of the mere handful who emerge from singularity. Here are a selection of inmates the Deep Garden has housed. All are isolated, their chambers hundreds of metres from one another, and with no interconnections. Only the highest clearance will permit access to any, and all interactions are strictly recorded for future analysis.
Mnessutivsk is one of the most valuable assets of the Rose Garden. Nearly 200 years of age, she is gaunt and tall, exuding a kind of nobility despite the array of disfiguring implants that pockmark her skull and spine. She resides in a pleasant set of chambers far below ground, mint-scented and furnished with elegant pale wood. She is relatively lucid, able to communicate comprehensible ideas and emotions to her interrogators, although translation modules are needed to decipher the details of her commingled speech.
Emerging from singularity after nearly three decades of babbling and compulsive listening, Mnessutivsk was discovered to have unique parallel-processing capabilities, comprehending hundreds of simultaneous conversations in an array of languages. After purity tests found her untainted and essentially sane, this remarkable talent was put to immediate use in scanning suspect transmissions and decrypting multi-layer codes. Whatever secrets and plots are uncovered, she indicates to the Gardener, and thus many a cult and traitor have come to grief.
Mnessutivsk's ability comes with a heavy price; she has been classed as an obligate linguavore. Deprived of linguistic input for more than a few moments, she begins to suffer discomfort and stress, eventually turning to unbearable pain and dread. Even in sleep, four hundred and nineteen channels feed transmissions, writings and recordings to her dreaming mind.
Psychic abilities amongst the Rosettes are generally a cause for concern, but occasionally they offer great potential. Freigh is one of the most successful cases.
Freigh's domicile is ornate and untidy, after their own inclinations. The Rose prefers a stimulating atmosphere to foster their talents. Behind a jovial and welcoming face, they are entirely silent, spending most of their waking hours in ambling contemplation. Scans reveal vast and unfathomable patterns of thought racing in the marvellous brain beyond, and ecstatic dreams centred in the language regions. Such dreams are the only time they break their silence, spilling out streams of nonsense syllables that somehow hold meaning to whoever may hear them.
Such a person may seem of little use, but there is purpose in the thoughts. Freigh may not speak, but they do listen; the wishes and intentions of the Gardener will guide their thoughts. Roughly once a month, Freigh will retire to a small scriptorium, and there, with psychosensitive inks and blessed parchment, inscribe a sigil of enormous psychic potency: each one a rich and complex thought, condensed into a single unprecedented symbol. Some address directly the needs of the Gardener, others are merely passing notions. All are forgotten by their author, retrieved with great discretion, and conveyed with utmost care to the Gardener's library for investigation. They have proven of substantial value in many investigations.
Within an artificial sandy cave, a large plain of marram grass is nourished by faux-sunlight. A simple round house amidst the grass is the home of Saintblessing, mimicking his childhood home on a world now lost to Eldar depradations.
The linguapath is a large, rugged man, with a pattern of minute rubies inlaid in his cheek. He wears a near-permanent look of twinkling mischief, as of amusement at some private joke, as he mouths silent rhymes. Sound and rhythm is his passion; he is lost in a reverie of poesy, forming multilingual rhymes and patterns of staggering complexity.
Saintblessing's talent for allegory and pattern is unmatched. The most cryptic and metaphorical of messages wither before his mind, and rare indeed is the code that can lie undetected under his scrutiny; he sees the order in all communication, and the deviations therein. Yet this is not the limit of his talents, for he can sense at some trascendent level a greater order amongst the chaos of words, to discern from mere fragments what must have been said between them. Even entire lost messages can, in part, be recovered from the relationships his mind discerns amongst the web of communication.
Tragically, this very gift leaves Saintblessing isolated, for he can no longer descend to the level of mere common speech. He speaks in dense and manifold rhyme, a symphony of many languages woven into a beauteous whole. His oracular announcements are themselves a puzzle to the listener. Nevertheless, he strives to serve as best he may, marking the texts he reviews with simple symbols to highlight points of concern. Only in reconstructing texts can he speak clearly, for here the pattern of the text is strong and his own speech may flow along with it.
Rechaziel set Morrchal
At the airlocks barring entrance to this chamber, scanners search the visitor for any cogitator or calculating device; all are forbidden, for fear of Rechaziel's gift.
The room is a hollow sphere some sixty yards across; a metal mesh stands out against the rockrete, blocking any manner of electrical signal. At its centre, a small tower stands on a platform, reached only by a walkway whose last section is a drawbridge. There is little cause to think Rechaziel might seek to leave, but the risk cannot be taken.
She is a nervous-seeming woman, snub-nosed and prone to veiling her face in a mantle of green-black hair. Unlike most, she does not like to read or sing. The threads of her talent have converged like a tightening cat's-cradle, into a single knot whose threads she may tweak like a puppeteer. When no visitors come, she paints: vibrant landscapes, simple sketches of the life she once had before her passion overtook her. Only picture-books and albums line the stark shelves of her home. It is the echo of many a hiver's hab, ugly and spare, but stamped with personality.
Even the Gardener is only permitted a few minutes of speech with Rechaziel, and they submit to the scans of an apothecary before and after the visit. Often, hypnosis or other treatments are required to restore the balance of their mind after exposure, for Rechaziel's talent - or curse - is a crystallisation of language. Her words hover on the border where speech becomes thought becomes reality, and despite her efforts, she cannot but change others as she speaks. Computational devices, unprotected by any will, are the worst effected, and simple exposure to her speech is catastrophic; their very programming shifts and warps in response to her words, rendering them useless or even perilous.
Although her words are strange - indeed, they belong to no known language - the ideas they contain are somehow comprehensible, as though she speaks some primal tongue that addresses the very tissue of the brain. More than a brief exposure can be exhausting, for Rechaziel's own thoughts and self begin to infiltrate the hearer's mind. Early studies showed that those who spoke with her began to adopt her mannerisms and patterns of thought, even gaining some fraction of her linguistic knowledge. This mental imprinting is viewed with great suspicion, lest some outbreak should occur.
Despite this peril, Rechaziel's gift for holistic language is a powerful one. Presented with some passage of speech or a pile of transmissions, she can see through their superficial meanings to some greater truth within, granting insight into the mind and even soul of the author. Emotions, concerns and even biographical scraps morsels come to light under her scrutiny. Moreover, she has proven of some use in interrogations, seeing the patterns of truth between lying shrieks, and bending the wills of prisoners to the Inquisition's purpose with no other tool but words.