One afternoon a few weeks ago, Vassal and I were sitting cross-legged on the floor of our living room with twenty Bigheads. They prefer sitting on the floor to hopping on and off chairs or the sofa. They arrange themselves in a loose circle, so that everyone faces each other.
Vassal and I sit there with them, to be sociable. They are so short that even I tower over them. The first time I sat with them, years ago, I thought the scene resembled a childcare center. That impression passed quickly. Though childlike, they are fearsomely adult, even the older children. They manage every topic and situation for pleasure, and like their friend Vassal they radiate good humor. They are always eager to say something funny and break into laughter, or to gallop around the room like toddlers and spread their joy. At the same time, however, they are mature, knowledgeable, hardworking, and competent. Vassal cherishes their company and friendship, and is grateful for their practical support.
“They have the skills to handle anything,” he says. “Their rational powers could cut diamonds. But they also give their irrational powers free rein. They’re so good at both that they always have fun. What they’ve done to help me turn loose my invention has been incredible. I couldn’t have done it without them, and wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.”
That afternoon we were all working on tonight’s release, communicating with delivery services in various parts of the world. We pecked and swiped at our laptops and mobile devices. The room resounded with our discussions and phone calls, punctuated by the soft percussion of our keystrokes and tapping fingers.
A few hours in, Vassal stopped what he was doing, stood up, and stepped to the center of the room.
“Could I have everyone’s attention?”
For him to stand to speak to them was unusual. Everyone wrapped up their phone calls and messaging, ended their discussions, and sat looking at him. They looked at his knees, actually, since to look up to his face they would have had to crane their necks awkwardly or lie on their backs.
“Thanks for letting me interrupt,” he said. “I’ll be brief. I don’t have much to say to you brave soldiers. I just want to acknowledge what we all know: that all of us here are indeed brave soldiers, and that our assault on human civilization is about to begin.”
The Bigheads whooped, clapped their hands, and cried out.
“Go get ’em, Vassal!”
Vassal’s face was stern. He was playing the general addressing his troops on the eve of battle.
Then he smiled.
“It’s not really an assault, of course, though some people will think it is. You’re familiar with why I’m doing this: for no reason, which includes any reason anyone can think of. I’m sure some people will complain that whatever my reasons are or aren’t, it’s definitely an assault and not a welcome one. It’s okay with me if that’s what they think. They’ll be as right as anyone; and right for themselves, we may hope.”
Several Bigheads clapped their hands again.
“Bless ’em,” said one.
“But what anyone thinks won’t make much difference by then, because, assault or not, my invention will be everywhere. I think that’s great. I owe all of you thanks for that. This was your idea to begin with, and I’m glad you stayed with it. Ever since I first told you about my invention, years ago, you have wanted me to turn it loose like we’re about to do. Until recently, I had no interest in doing that. You were persistent about it, but polite and patient with me. You allowed me to come around to it at my own speed, in my own way. I appreciate that. Now, what you’ve wanted is about to happen. I’m glad I’ve finally taken your advice.”
General applause and a few shouts of approval: “Yeah! Yay! Yip yip!”
He continued: “I’ve always told you that I have no reason for doing what we’re doing, and that’s true. But as you know, that hasn’t stopped me from coming up with reasons for doing it. Sometimes I like to think what those might be if I had any. Just today, I’ve come up with another one. It’s one I haven’t thought of before, not in so many words. I want to tell you what it is.”
“It’s this: I’m giving my invention away in order to free the slaves.”
He paused again. No one responded.
“By that, I mean all the slaves, which in my view means everybody, including all of us and everybody else. Each of us is enslaved in some respects, mostly by ourselves; or entirely by ourselves, depending on how you look at it. So, I think I’ll intend my little bug to create Heaven on Earth, to set everyone as free as can be. I might as well, don’t you think? People can bring that about using my invention, can’t they—bring Heaven to Earth? I’m sure they’ll try, and no doubt succeed. And like I say, you’ll deserve some of the credit.”
He nodded to the group.
“That’s what I wanted to say. Thank you for your attention.”
He stood up straight, snapped his heels together, and saluted.
* * *
Before he could sit down, the Bigheads began asking him questions and speaking to each other in quick phrases. It was repartee typical of them. They spoke from different parts of the circle; their questions and remarks zigzagged around and across the room. They paused only to listen to Vassal’s replies. He remained standing, like a tree over a waving field of grass.
“Vassal, you’ve said many times that your invention won’t really help anyone,” one said. “We agree. So, how can it free any slaves?”
“It can’t,” said Vassal. “I just figured that would be a good reason for giving it to everyone. It would be a nice thing for me to say, nice for people to think about; an attractive justification, like things politicians say to get votes, or salespeople to make sales, or anyone trying to be upbeat. Not that I have to explain what I’m doing, or persuade anyone that what I’m doing is okay.
“My invention won’t make any of us any more free than we already are. We’re all as free as we’re ever going to get. Being enslaved is part of us, part of our freedom. Not that it does us any good to think that. It doesn’t matter whether we do or not. Most people don’t consider themselves slaves, and don’t think their freedoms are as illusory as I’m saying. And they won’t think so after they start using my invention, either.
“No matter what anybody else thinks, though, from the standpoint I’m talking about we are slaves and will keep being slaves. Whether or not we know it, we are in chains now and always have been. And thanks to you and me, we’re about to get a new set of chains that’ll be pretty much the same as the old set. And you know what? We’ll get used to them in no time. Nothing will have changed.
“It won’t matter if anyone thinks any of that. That’s just a perspective that people may or may not arrive at, depending on how they’re inclined. We’re all inclined however we’re inclined, no inclination better or worse than any other.”
“Well put, big guy,” one Bighead said, starting to applaud.
“No, it’s not,” said another. “He’s saying we’re predetermined.”
“And you disagree?” said the first. “You’ve determined that we’re not predetermined? How did you do that?”
“Ha!” said someone.
“Vassal is joking, you know.”
“What a bad boy he is. Shall we give him a whoopee cushion to sit on and teach him a lesson?”
“Yeah, then shackle him to a ball and chain, leave him like that for a week or two, then see how he’s inclined; see what kind of slave he thinks he is after that.”
Murmurs: “Sure. Good idea. Why not? Could be interesting. We’d be doing him a favor.”
“Wait a minute,” said one of the women. “Let me get this straight. What Vassal is doing is no good, right? It’s mean of him, actually, since it looks like it could do good but it won’t. But that’s also why it’s good, since he’s honest about how in his opinion it won’t do any good, how even if it seems to do some good it won’t really. Is that it?”
“Right,” said someone. “It’s mean of him and it’s not mean of him. It would be a lot meaner if he believed that freeing all us slaves is actually possible, and if then he said that to everyone. But he doesn’t believe that or say that. That would be naïve and sentimental of him.”
“Or it would be delusional and ambitious, like sweet talkers in politics, business, and everywhere else. If he believed that and said so, he’d stir up people’s hopes for his invention way too much.”
“That would be cruel of him.”
“Yes, it would.”
“Yes, it would make things worse if he really had a purpose for releasing his invention. It’s great that he doesn’t. This way, like he says, what will matter is that it will be everywhere and people will live with it. It won’t matter why or how they live with it, or what they think about it. The bottom line is that they’ll live with it, we all will, same as we live with everything else. It’ll be a reality like any other.”
“But some people aren’t going to like it. They’ll be mad. Tell us, Vassal, do you think you’ll get arrested for what you’re doing?”
“Yeah, for littering, at least. You’re putting truckloads, planeloads, and boatloads of those things out there, along with their boxes, tags, and pages of friendly directions. That’s a lot of clutter.”
“You’re a litterbug!”
“Scandalous! I can’t believe we’ve been helping you make such a mess.”
Several Bigheads giggled.
“Well,” Vassal said, “if it’s a mess, as much as possible we’ve left it on public property: sidewalks, public squares, parks, and so on. That shouldn’t be any worse than putting anything else there: empty beer cans, plastic bags, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, ATM receipts. It’s not much of a crime. Also, of course, many people will want what we’re putting there. Maybe everyone will. That will improve their opinion of the clutter.
“As you say, though, I could get arrested. The people who have helped me could, too. That includes you. Some judge or jury might believe you’re my co-conspirators, and accessories to my crimes. I could get prosecuted for more serious things than littering, too, like violating secrecy acts and undermining national security. All of you might get charged with aiding and abetting that.”
“Oooh! No!” said several, a chorus of mock dismay.
“Say it ain’t so, Vassal!”
“We’re committing treason?”
Vassal continued: “And we’re violating privacy laws, too.”
“Think so?” said a Bighead. “Does your thing do that? Really?”
“No, not much,” said Vassal.
“Don’t forget my underlying crime. It isn’t actually a crime; it’s worse than that. Namely, I’ll be upsetting the powers-that-be, threatening the social order that works to their advantage. That offense underlies all offenses that reach our courts of law. It motivates prosecutors to bring charges, judges to act tough, and juries to go along. It motivates legislators, lobbyists, and the so-called experts who devise the many laws that justify and defend how things are. All those folks have drunk the Kool-Aid. They’re conformists, working for the owners. They pay each other off, scratch each others’ backs, and make sure the status quo stays pretty much the way it is.
“Not that I believe that. I used to. It may be true, or not. Both, probably. Anyway, it’s one way to look at what we’re doing, and it makes a good story. Also, plenty of people in positions of authority may indeed want to see me put away for messing with their arrangement. The law is the law. I could end up in jail for years, or at least get put on trial. Not that I would blame anyone who tries to do that to me.
“If that happens, by the way, I’m sure all of you will help me come up with funny lines to say in court. If they’ll let you, that is; if you don’t get locked up yourselves.
“If possible, though, you should come to the courtroom and treat it like the circus tent it will be. You and I should have as much fun with it as we can get away with. That might be a lot, because the really funny thing is that no matter what those people do, the basis of their authority will be vanishing beneath them like beach sand into a rip tide. We should dance on that as it pours away. They’ll be dancing, too, doing their best to stay on their feet.”
“It’ll be a great party, Vassal!”
“A beach party!”
“Don’t fall in, anyone!”
“But everyone will fall in. That’s the beauty of it.”
“We may all get swept away.”
“To our doom!”
“Ya-hoo! Bye, everyone, been nice knowing you!”
“Let’s swim to the moon!”
“We’ll swim in the flood / dance with the waves / sing from our watery graves.”
It was Jimmy came up with that last doggerel. He warbled it with a big smile on his round face.
“Or maybe someone will break out life rafts and save us!”
“The ultimate party favor!”
“What fun either way! Hooooeee!”
“Yes, fun for sure,” said Vassal. “But there’s a good chance none of that will happen. By the time those officials come after me, it’ll be too late for them to undo what we’ve done. All they’ll be able to do is slap me upside the head or across the butt for having done my part, and I don’t think they’ll do that. By the time they know what’s happening, the laws they can throw at me will have become irrelevant. Everyone will know that, even them.
“Also, most of the supposed offenses will be committed not just by me or you but by all the people we’re giving my invention to. Everyone everywhere will be the ones breaking those obsolete laws about privacy, security, and so on. And those people will be kids, old people, and all ages in between, including the authorities themselves, and their families, friends, and neighbors. If anyone feels they have to enforce those laws, they’ll have to prosecute everyone, including themselves. That’s not likely.
“On top of which, if they do come after me, I’ll just be a guy who invented something and gave it away. That’s no big deal to begin with, and in the new climate it will hard—maybe impossible—to make that illegal. The authorities will be smart enough to recognize that. They’ll avoid wasting their time and energy. They’ll see that notwithstanding their power, they’re beholden to the communities they serve. They’ll figure out how to be for what everyone wants rather than against. It’ll be ‘hello to the future’ for them, same as for the rest of us.”
The Bigheads clapped. One stuck a couple of fingers in his mouth and whistled. The sound pierced everyone’s ears. Standing above the others, Vassal winced.
“I think you’re right, Vassal,” Jimmy said. “The authorities probably won’t bother you much, if at all. Except right at the start, nobody is going to care much why you’re doing it. And they won’t care what it might add up to, either—what it all may mean. Those will be questions for idle moments, and people won’t have those moments for quite a while. Your whizzy little thing will be out, and everybody will be flying around in it. There’ll be a whole new world out there that everyone will be exploring. There’ll be lots for everyone to do, never a dull moment. For a while, maybe a long while, maybe forever, the party will rage on.”
As if on cue, all the Bigheads broke into what for them is a familiar chant: “Par-ty! Par-ty! Par-ty!”
Still seated on the floor, they swayed as one and clapped their hands. Two of them jumped up, hooked arms, pranced into the circle, and swung each other around and around. Vassal stood over them all, grinning, nodding, and clapping along.
After several minutes, the chant faded and the two dancers plopped back down. Vassal, too, sat down. The Bigheads were buzzing again. They leaned into each other, bumped shoulders, giggled, whispered, chatted, and gestured. Adding rhythm to all the activity, several snapped their fingers and clapped their hands together in flurries, like flamenco dancers: Ba-ba-BAP! Ba-ba-ba-BAP!
“Hey,” shouted someone, “let’s tell Vassal things we’re planning to do when we get our bugs!”
“Yes, let’s!” said one of the younger men. “I’ll go first.”
Everyone quieted down to listen.
“It’ll be the White House for me,” the young man said. “I’ve always wanted to see the bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, family dining rooms—the private parts.”
“Also, of course, the Oval Office and other offices and conference rooms,” he continued. “I’ll go to Cabinet meetings, and hang around the Chief of Staff, the Press Secretary, the National Security Advisor, all the staff people. I bet every day is a beehive around there.”
“Your snooping wouldn’t be one of those violations of privacy we’ve talked about, would it?” someone asked, joking.
“It would be now, but it won’t be then,” said the young man.
General laughter, then the whistler whistled again.
“Ouch!” said one of the women. “Do you have to do that?”
* * *
“I can’t wait to get my bug,” someone else said. “I’ve got more exciting private parts in mind—more exciting to me, anyway. The reproductive urge is a biggie everywhere, as we all know. What I want to do is see how You-Know-Who and his or her partner or partners get along behind closed doors, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t matter who You-Know-Who is, as long as I find that person sexy, which to me most people are.
“When I get bored, I’ll go find someone else. It could be someone different every day or hour. It’ll be fun. There are plenty of prospects out there. They’ll know someone is watching them, of course. The mating game is everywhere, and almost everyone plays it, so anyone who is at all famous or good-looking will expect to be spied upon. Maybe it’ll be a turn-on for them, same as for those of us who watch them.”
“Do you think so?” somebody asked. “It’s a turn-on when people watch you do it? Have you experienced that?”
“You won’t be the only person watching the You-Know-Whos of the world do it,” said someone else. “You’ll have lots of company. Just as when videos, cable TV, and the Internet came out, watching people have sex with each other on our electronic screens will be the most popular use of Vassal’s invention, hands down.”
“Yeah, hands down, hands on, and loins afire,” said someone. “It’s one of life’s great pleasures. Which it should be, since it helps keep our species going.”
* * *
“Speaking of what will no longer be private parts,” said one of the women, “you know how some of us like to hang round with nothing on. Innocently, usually. Well, I plan to go around taking pictures of naked people: babies getting their diapers changed or getting washed; little children running around their homes or splashing in the tub; adults of all ages taking showers and baths, getting physicals at their doctors’ offices, getting prepped for operations at hospitals, having sex with their partners like you were talking about, and skinny-dipping, hanging around clothing-optional resorts—anything.
“There’ll be balls, penises, tits, asses, and vulvas on view, as well as less controversial parts of our anatomy. But once your bug gets around, Vassal, attitudes about seeing those will change. Nudity will no longer be what it is now. These days, especially in this country, there are some prudish taboos around it. Those won’t last, and I intend to help them go away. People who don’t want to look won’t have to, but I’m sure that most people will look. Why not, y’know?”
“Even at pictures of short people like us?”
“Yup,” said the woman. “There’s no reason to leave us out. There should be more pictures of us like that around, and of all kinds of other people.”
“Maybe there’ll be pinups of us in auto repair shops, construction site trailers, the back rooms of hardware stores, and so on.”
“That’d be nice.”
“How about pictures of dead naked bodies at hospitals, morgues, funeral homes, and crematoria?”
“Sure,” said the woman. “It’s part of the show.”
“Ick!” said one of the teenage girls. “I think it will be a while before any of those photos make it into pinups.”
* * *
“I’m not sure I’ll want to see pictures of dead people, either, ” said one of the young mothers, “but I’ll want to see the other pictures. As for what I plan to do with a bug, I’m going to town and snoop around the work and school sides of people’s lives. There’s always plenty happening there—more than we know.
“I’ll visit are the general store, the gas station, the town office, the fire station and police department, the community center, the churches, the transfer station, the highway department, and the historical society. And at the top of my list, I’ll go to our kids’ schools and watch what’s happening in their classrooms and on the playground. Other moms and dads will be doing the same thing, I’m sure. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles, too. Who could resist?”
“Wow,” said someone. “Imagine all the stay-at-home moms and dads watching their kids in school, keeping that on their screens all day. That’ll be something for teachers and school administrators to get used to, won’t it? And for the kids, and of course for the parents themselves. I wonder how crazy that’ll get.”
“Crazy enough,” said another young mother. “Parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings will acquire new dimensions. But I want to see how moms and dads deal with other kid-raising issues, too, like how they treat them at home, how they teach them things, and how they balance their work and home lives. There are so many aspects.”
“We’ll learn from people’s examples,” said an older woman. “Lots of people all over the world are going to be interested in things like that. And there are other issues that parents deal with, not just raising children and balancing work and family. There are gender roles around the house, maintaining love and respect in the family, having a sex life, managing money, taking care of elderly parents—all kinds of things. People will watch how other people handle those. We’ll watch everyone from our friends and neighbors to famous people far away.”
* * *
“I’ll be watching couples and families with a different purpose,” said another woman. “I want to use Vassal’s bugs to observe and capture all kinds of physical and psychological abuse; not only domestic abuse, in people’s homes, but also abuse in other contexts, like the military, the police, government, workplaces, and anywhere else. When everyone can see all that, it might create interesting pressures. We’ll start a forum, and see where that leads.”
“I’m sure I’ll tune in,” someone said.
“Probably we all will,” said someone else.
* * *
“There are so many interesting things to do with your bug,” said Jimmy, “even just hang out with people and see what comes up; watch them in ordinary situations and see how their lives are. I sometimes wonder if we’ll see more empathy toward other people, more good deeds and other easing of people’s burdens. Like you, I don’t expect that, not beyond a certain point. There’ll be some speechifying about that, and sermonizing, and stories in the media—the usual. I agree with you that human nature can’t change much. But as you also say, we can’t help but hope, which is where the speechifying and so on come from.”
Another of the older women spoke up.
“Count me among the hopeful, Vassal. I want to see what good your invention can bring about. I don’t disagree that it will amount to no improvement in the fundamental ways you’ve spoken of, but it may help in other ways.
“An issue that gets my attention is poverty. It’s underreported and under-acknowledged. I’d like to see if people would do more about it if they knew more about it. Other basic quality-of-life issues, too. Plenty of people everywhere need more and better food, water, housing, and medical care; and help looking after old people and raising children; and better educational systems, jobs and job training, and so on.
“I think the rest of us can do more to provide those things, and that many of us want to. We’ll take your invention to where the problems are. We’ll interview experts, too, including people in the field giving assistance. We’ll generate support at every level, from Congress on down to the neighborhoods. And we’ll look for people willing to give money to pay for it. I expect we’ll have no trouble finding them.”
“Maybe we could interest some of the nice billionaires who have paid to spread Vassal’s invention around,” said someone.
“What about the dignity of the people you’re trying to help?” someone asked the woman. “If you’re going to snoop around unfortunate people’s lives—“
“We’ll be careful about that,” she said. “We want to protect people’s dignity. Some may be so adjusted to how things are for them now that they won’t want help. Look at the indifference and resistance Peace Corps and other well-meaning projects run into when they try to help people. We won’t broadcast people’s lives everywhere without their knowing it and approving. But if they get more relaxed about putting aspects of their lives on public display, which I think they might, well, we’ll see what develops then.”
* * *
“Nothing that activist and sociopolitical for me,” said one of the men, “at least not in the way you’re talking about. I’m a serious art lover, as you all know. Who was it, Thurber, who said art doesn’t rush to the barricades. And when it does, it tends to be pretty hollow.
“I plan to look into whatever artists, museum directors, curators, gallery owners, collectors, and others in the art business are doing, whether it’s activist, commercial, art-for-art’s sake, or whatever. I’ll go to Berlin, where there are studios and galleries I want to visit. Then I want to go overland to the Hermitage, which will be a great place to be a fly on the wall.”
“Yeah, or on a picture frame.”
“Then I’ll sniff around Moscow, where many interesting artists are tucked away. And China, for sure. And behind the scenes at the Met, MoMA, the Morgan, the Smithsonians, the Getty, the MFA, the British Museum, the Tates, the Louvre, the Prado, the Uffizi, the Vatican Museum—so many great museums. And art schools. Those and more, to see how they manage.”
* * *
“I’ll be going to China, too,” said another man. “Once your bug arrives, Vassal, people in many countries will want to see what develops there—with the leaders, military, businesses, criminal organizations, and other powerful groups; and with the dissidents, journalists, intellectuals, and citizens. I’ll spend a few months watching that. I’ll use translation software, so I’ll know what people are saying. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of that available, since there are so many languages in the world. The Chinese government is so dependent on informers and enforcers, I bet it will flip out. Then, after I watch that ruckus for a while, I’ll go see what similar countries are doing—Russia, North Korea, various African countries, and dozens of others. For a while, as they adjust, there’ll be a lot of drama, a lot of furious scurrying around, keeping things as together as they can. It should be a good show.”
* * *
“I’m going to do something like that, but mostly with intelligence agencies. I’ll start at the CIA, NSA, and the FBI; also the Pentagon, especially CYBERCOM (U.S. Cyber Command); and the various White House connections. I’ll also nose around in our foreign embassies and some of the private companies we farm out intelligence work to. I’ve wondered exactly what goes on in all those organizations. Plenty about them has made it into the media, but much more hasn’t. They have big budgets, lots of personnel and cutting-edge technology, and they work amid lots of secrecy. I’m sure other people will feel the same as I do, and snoop around them with me. We’ll go to their planning and operations centers, listen to their communications with operatives in the field, and so on. We’ll visit equivalent places in other countries, too, especially countries that have important secrets to keep. All of which will become public knowledge. That will be quite a change. I’ve done my homework about all this. I’m ready to go.”
* * *
“One of the teenage boys spoke up.
“Politically I’m radical, as you all know. You’ve heard me spout off about all kinds of things. I’m like you were when you were younger, Vassal, and like many of you other older folks. That’s not unusual for people my age, of course—the idealism of youth, and all that. Maybe I’ll outgrow it. But a lot of you haven’t, so maybe I won’t, either. Anyway, for the time being I’m loving it.
“I intend to see whether this country is as fucked up as I think it is. To me, the president, Congress, and courts, along with our press, teachers, entertainers, and other big shots, good and decent though most of them are, are like the leaders and leading citizens in the Soviet Union during the Communist era. I think there’s a lot of the same kind of dogma, mythmaking, demagoguery, and willful self-delusion here, and conformity. And the public here buys into it, same as citizens did over there. That’s what I’ll be looking into. Maybe what I find will change my mind, but I doubt it.”
* * *
“You’re a rude boy,” said one of the women, smiling. “Not really. What you’re planning sounds great. It takes me back to my youth. I’m not that serious any more about things like that. I’ve become a sports nut—a different kind of seriousness, but not very serious. I’ll be snooping around all my favorites: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, track and field, cycling, skiing, rugby, golf, the Olympics, and so on; even curling, badminton, ping pong, auto racing, horse racing. There’s so much—so many forms of human contest.
“I plan to send my bug onto playing fields and floors; to benches on the sidelines; and into dugouts, bullpens, locker rooms, gyms and training facilities, front offices—everywhere. I want to see how the athletes, coaches, and owners do what they do; and sportswriters and commentators, too. After the bug comes out, sports fans like me will be all over those people and places.
“There’s one thing I want to look into that’s a bit radical: athletes’ use of performance-enhancing substances. Everyone knows there’s a lot of that going on, but it’s all very hush-hush and hypocritical. I’d like to get a better understanding of where the line is between athletes’ abilities and what those substances enable. I’m sure other sports lovers will want to learn that, too. We’ll watch all the pill-popping, drug-injecting, slathering of creams and oils, eating and drinking of magic potions, and so on, and see how players’ performances improve or not.
“Not that anything about that will change much, or should. Fans, players, managers and coaches, team owners, everybody, will just relax about it. These days, fans, sportswriters, and congresspeople talk as if they disapprove of athletes using those substances. But they don’t really. They pretend that it tarnishes our sports and sports heroes, but they support sketchy rules and laws banning it, and half-hearted, intermittent, behind-the-times testing to ferret it out. Meanwhile, they ignore the evidence that it’s everywhere. Their hypocrisy is pretty funny.
“I’m sure that once people like me look into the matter using your bugs, people still won’t do much about it. And that’ll be okay; it’s part of the entertainment, part of the games. There’s no stopping athletes using stuff like that, any more than we can or should stop musicians, artists, writers, chefs, and other creative people from using substances that work for them; or stop soldiers and pilots from using those things on missions; or stop politicians, businesspeople, and millions of others from lubricating their work, social, and sex lives with alcohol and other recreational drugs; or stop all the people who jack up themselves and their children on performance, mood, and self-esteem enhancers.
“In sports, it’s just athletes making the most of their potential—extending their careers, supporting their families, and giving us fans the performances we want. The results are impressive, and exciting. Anyone who wants to know the extent to which those results are juice-induced should know that, and soon will. They’ll factor that in to their enjoyment however they wish. If they don’t want to know, that’ll be fine, too. But I expect that soon there will be less phony outrage, fewer toothless regulations, and so on. Not that any of that makes much difference either way.”
“Sure, juice ’em up,” said one of the others. “Why not? Thrill the fans. Break all the records.”
“Higher, faster, farther!”
“Stronger, quicker, more heroics!”
“Rah, rah! Go, team, go!”
The group tittered. Then, a lull.
* * *
This was another of the older women.
“In some respects, money makes the world go ‘round. I want to look at that more closely. It’s not as sexy as what some of you will be doing, but in some ways it is. I’m going to visit the financial sector. I’ll fly my little bug into the offices and conference rooms of big banks and megacorporations, major investment firms, stock exchanges, legislatures and regulatory agencies, high-powered lobbyists, certain think tanks and campuses, business schools—places like that. The work they do is complex. They cope with a tangled web, which they also help to weave. Should be interesting.
“I also want to look at how money works at the Main Street level: in small businesses, state and local government, and in neighborhoods and families and among friends. At both those levels, I want to see how people use their money to influence things; how they give gifts and bribes, grant special privileges, cut deals, make self-interested donations, and otherwise curry favor and seek advantages. As everyone knows, that happens on every scale, large and small. It’s common in politics, medicine, business, and every other kind of enterprise. Some of it is anticompetitive and protectionist, but some of it is fair, appropriate, and necessary. Maybe all of it is. Maybe that’s how things have to work. With your bugs around, Vassal, anyone who wants to will be able to see all that, and judge for themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how those activities change, if they change at all.”
* * *
“As you all know, I’m a photographer, too,” said a young woman. “In a way, we’ll all be photographers once the bugs get out, taking pictures of all kinds of things. I plan to really go at it.
“I have a particular project in mind. I took a picture once of a urinal in Mexico. That got me to thinking. The look of urinals fascinates me. They’re white, of course, usually, with minimalist designs, easy to clean. And there’s a flushing mechanism, and drains where the pee goes. And sometimes deodorizing disks and devices in the drains. And that’s all there is to them—simple function, simple form.
“Being a woman, I haven’t seen many urinals. That time in Mexico was when a male friend told me I should see it, then stood guard while I went in and took a look. But with your bug, Vassal, I won’t have any problem going into any men’s room anywhere.
“Plus, I’ll get to look at a lot of penises. I’m thinking of taking pictures that include those. And women’s nether parts, too, in women’s bathrooms. I’m thinking that I’ll get up on guys’ heads and shoulders and take photos looking down the way a guy does when he’s peeing, or between the legs of girls and women while they’re sitting the way we do. There’s such a variety of people’s skin, pubic hair, circumcisions, thighs, belt buckles, pants, skirts, stockings, shoes, and so on, not to mention the bathrooms themselves: the walls and tile floors, the mirrors, the sinks, the soap and paper towel dispensers, the lighting, and so on. And people’s behavior in there. There’s much to photograph. Like any of the things we’re talking about, I won’t be the only person doing it, either. There’ll probably be special clubs devoted to it, and exhibitions. Some people will buy photos like those to hang in their bathrooms.”
* * *
“That’s good stuff,” said a teenage boy. “While you’re there, you might want to do something with video, too, not just still pictures. To capture that behavior you mentioned, for instance. Also, when I’m peeing in those places, I like to watch the piss fly and hit the back of the urinal. Sometimes it bounces down to the drain in a stream of tiny yellow balls. How about some super-closeup, slow motion video of that? Or when you’re a guy peeing outside, there’s the way you can hose the ground or the trunk of a tree or a patch of dirt or snow. Or hit targets: a leaf, a bug, a twig. It’s fun doing those things. You could get some really interesting visuals.
“I’ll leave that to you, though. With my bug, I’m going to look at airplanes, especially advanced military ones. I’m going to get on board manned and unmanned space flights, too, for the views, and to see what it’s like out there. I’ll also get in the control towers of airports, and the bridges of aircraft carriers, and anywhere in the world where pilots are flying drones and spying on people and killing them.
“I expect I can stomach visiting war zones at ground level, too. I’ll be most interested in the ones in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, but I’ll look all over. There are so many: drug wars, terrorists attacks, coups in the works, revolutionaries acting up, plus the usual activities of mainstream armies, navies, air forces, and marines.
“Also, as one of you said earlier, I’d like to see whatever military planning is underway in our country and others, preparing for conflicts that might happen. I want to see the latest in nuclear weapons R&D, manufacturing, and deployment; chemical, biological, and cyber weapons, too. I’m sure every armed force everywhere will be looking at those things, too, and stealing each other’s secrets. It’ll be quite a situation.”
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