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Ihave had disturbing fantasies about what may happen to Vassal and me. They are similar to the scenarios the Bigheads described to us a few days ago.
In one of my fantasies, a mob assembles in the nearby woods, overruns our guards, pushes into our house, and drags the two of us off to a firing squad or to hang us from one of the big pines beside the driveway.
Also, a few weeks ago, I dreamt that a mob roped us to the apple tree in our yard, piled some of our firewood around it, doused it with gas, and lit a fire. When the flames became intolerable, I woke up in a sweat, my heart pounding. Occasionally since then, the probability of that happening has seemed high to me.
I told Vassal about that one.
“That’s terrible,” he said, “all the worse because your sleeping nightmare became a waking nightmare, as real to you as can be.”
He shook his head.
“Burned us alive, did they? You can be sure some people in the mob would video it with their phones, too, which many people in the world would watch online, the way some watch videos of beheadings and hangings. Sometimes I think every well-informed person should see some of those. Such a wonderful world.
“I’ve thought that nothing like that will happen to us—no rough stuff. But it’s possible, of course. Would such a mob feel better after doing that? Maybe, for a short time. But forever after, they’d live with their memories of it. Those would become their nightmare, especially as they realize that killing us gained them nothing.”
“It’s not hard to understand what could motivate a crowd to do that, though. People crave comfort and security. My invention will be everywhere, and plenty of people will consider it a threat. They’ll think that it’ll wreck their lives, maybe kill them one way or another, terminate their precious genetics, which would be a fate worse than death. Probably none of that would ever happen to them, but they’ll think it could. The possibility could make them scared and angry enough to come at us with everything they’ve got.”
* * *
I would like to forestall such violence. On the chance that would-be attackers will read these pages before they attack us, I offer them the following ramble.
Many of us believe that good and evil exist, and that virtue can be enforced. We think that suitable punishment can avenge offenses, prevent bad behavior, and promote moral improvement. We believe that such punishment—whether as discipline, reform, or retribution—can change things for the better, even set things aright. We like to think that our righteous judgment is a projectile that can fly like a bolt from the gods, along a straight and narrow path, and, in concert with all that we deem holy, smite miscreants. Wham! We have held such beliefs for millennia.
When provoked, we take offense. We may get our backs up, bare our fangs, and attack what offends us. If we want help doing that, we may summon the cops, send in the troops, or enlist other allies. Those responses of ours are well intended, and feel right to us, especially at the outset. Emotional creatures that we are, we believe that our feeling good about them justifies them. Though we pretend to be rational in our judgments, and may proceed deliberately, most of our hostilities, ranging from mild disagreements to total war, arise and develop in that way.
Traditionally, our violence is male, but it gets plenty of support and participation from my gender. Many of the moms, grandmas, wives, sisters, and sweethearts among us, if we do not join those battles directly, at least enable and support them. And when push comes to bloody shove like that, we all believe, or pretend to believe, that people on our side in those battles who suffer or die do not do so in vain.
Vassal observes that we all die in vain. No heroics. (In his view, of course, we live in vain, too.) I have heard him call war “an age-old tragic farce,” a star turn for everyone from our elites, who profit most, to the rest of us, who are their willing dupes. Unfortunately for legions of soldiers and countless innocent civilians, that star turn has always been, and remains, a turn into the grave.
Most of us live far from the front lines. For us, war, notwithstanding its horrors and our distaste for it, is a form of instruction and entertainment. We follow sanitized versions of it in our media, and are taught glib lessons about it in our schools, houses of worship, and civic ceremonies. Though sobering and sometimes wrenching, those versions simplify and mythologize it, distancing us from its realities. They legitimize it. As taxpayers, patriots, and compliant and deluded citizens, we support and sponsor the whole shebang.
Decent and conscientious as we like to think we are, we mean to do good by our warmaking. We wish to support and defend our families, communities, territories, values, practices, traditions, beliefs, ways of life, jobs, social statuses, self-images, and more. We recognize that for the sake of our safety, security, prosperity, comfort, social positions, etc., we must maintain and exercise many forms of armed might. We count on it, depend upon it.
We are bighearted about that. Just as we love our families, communities, values, and so on, we revere our nation’s flag and what it represents to us. We shed honest tears for loved ones whom we allow to be killed or maimed on our behalf. Those loved ones include, in declining order of importance to us, our family members, friendsand neighbors, fellow citizens, and allies. At the bottom of the list, as dead as doornails, lie our enemies’ sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. We tend to demonize and dehumanize those misbegotten souls. We rarely acknowledge them, and almost never weep for them. With slight misgivings, we are content to cause them to suffer and die.
We justify our mayhem without much difficulty. Our presidents and elected representatives, with the consultation and help of military leaders, command and fund the enterprise, spending our money and blood. They knit their brows, bite their lips, and lament the horror, tragedy, and waste of it. But, with the rest of us, they approve it. Life can be a jungle, we all feel. We believe that to uphold our values and interests, or to save our skins, we must sometimes kill, injure, maim, disrupt, and dispossess other people. We think that we do everything we can to avoid that, but we do not. Again and again, sooner than we need to, we take the easy path and issue the call to arms. All countries do that, of course, but ours does so more than most. God bless America, land of the free and home of the brave.
* * *
I have reported Vassal’s past observation that ours is a warfare state in part because our militancy is valuable to us. It pumps trillions of dollars into our economy, employs many of our citizens, helps to fill the campaign coffers of the Republocrats, and provides products and technologies that we adapt to civilian use. (Among those products and technologies, Vassal does not fail to note, are key components of his invention.)
In addition, our militancy taps into and reinforces our nation’s sense of supremacy vis-à-vis the world’s other peoples, whose traditions, cultures, and ways of life many of us consider inferior to ours. We believe in the superiority of our myths and values, our supposedly democratic form of government, our effervescent popular culture, our innovative and progressive technology, our acquisitive consumerism, our aggressive capitalism, and whatever else seems to serve the best interests of ourselves and our loved ones. That belief has helped bring prosperity and contentment to most of us.
As a recovered radical, Vassal sympathizes with that belief, and with our warmongering in general, though he neither denies nor approves of their harmful consequences.
“In our circumstances any nation would be like us,” he says. “It would have our nation’s ways, the problematic ones as well as the virtuous. We know how brutal war is. We understand that the human cost is high and often unnecessary. But we accept that cost, as people everywhere have accepted other evils, including slavery, apartheid, genocide, and the other forms of oppression, exploitation, and inequality that suit us.
“We are no better or worse than our kind has always been. We can’t be. It’s in our nature to let our sense of what is best for us lead us into some cruel adventures. We believe we must fight as much as we do, and in the overpowering manner we do. To judge by our huge military and its supporting industries, our bombs-bursting-in-air jingoism, our top-dogginess vis-à-vis foreigners, and our other patriotic rah-rah, that’s us. It’s part of who we are and what we do. We find war worthwhile. We think that our soldiers who suffer and die in vain pay a justifiable price. Same with the suffering and dying we impose on other countries’ soldiers and civilians. Those attitudes and behaviors of ours aren’t going to change.”
As Vassal says, war is a strange and terrible business, sometimes infinitely sad—a tragic farce, indeed, that we keep in our repertory. Wilde’s remark is again apt: You have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. What else can we do? War is heartbreaking and, like other darkness that we endure, it will not end. As Vassal says, it is us. Nor does he suggest that it should end. Nor would I suggest that it should, despite my despair about it and my sympathy for its victims. To end it would be to end ourselves. We must accept it, and we do, by existing. No doubt it will continue to not end. Vassal’s invention will become the latest weapon. There is no use hoping otherwise.
Are soldiers suckers, to buy into war as they do? Vassal’s answer, and mine, is that they are. So are we all, as I have begun to describe. In every country and many circumstances, we send our troops into harm’s way unnecessarily, and pay vast sums of money to do so. Our leaders encourage, enable, and manage that for us. Despite their posturing, they, like the rest of us, have a limited understanding of why, on whose behalf, and toward what end we rouse the dogs of war. Like all of us, they inhabit their usual hothouses and echo chambers, from which, amid much waving of flags and other wielding of symbols, they deliver to us the usual justifications, saying that we must ward off present threats to our wellbeing, do what is right, fight against evil, help our friends and allies, protect ourselves against hostile and loathsome foreigners, etc. Even if we do not subscribe to those justifications, we participate in a system that does. When it comes to waging war, all of us, whether bellicose or nonviolent, warmongers or pacifists, are in our own ways complicit.
Am I being disrespectful, unappreciative, and naïve, as well as cynical, unpatriotic, and offensive, to acknowledge all that? No doubt, from some perspectives. But not from others.
* * *
In the past, when he was a young, anti-Establishment hothead, Vassal was even more acerbic about those matters than I am now. These days, he does not disagree with me about our nation’s brutal militarism and pompous exceptionalism. But he takes a more expansive and forgiving view. His “Other does what you would do” ethos comes naturally to him. He rarely criticizes anything, and then with balance, self-deprecation, and humility.
I do not criticize either, usually, but sometimes I do, as in the above harangue. Perhaps he is nicer than I am; or less conflicted, persuaded as he is that the casualties of war are inevitable and therefore acceptable products of our needs and nature. It has occured to me that myoccasional self-righteous outbursts about the matter, as above, may in part be byproducts of my hermetic life with him. In my isolation, my inner demons emerge and confront me. They remind me of my childhood upsets and schoolgirl squabbles, and of my sojourn in academia, where the free exchange of ideas can be vicious (because the stakes are so low, some wags say). Such tribulations have always struck me as heartless and wasteful. I wish to defeat them, end them. To some extent, perhaps, that is why, here, I have taken arms against taking arms.
Mostly, however, my occasional fits of rage these days are practical and self-interested. I fear that some person or persons will try to assassinate Vassal and/or me, and perhaps succeed. I do not want that to happen. I want to stay alive. I refuse to die like a saint amid rising flames, fervently whispering “Other does . . .” to myself; or crying those words aloud so that they resound across my Calvary. I do not wish to be, in Vassal’s phrase, a martyr to no cause. The “Other does” maxim may encourage understanding of other people as well as of one’s self, but it does not incline me to welcome any fighters—be they ragtag or regular, solitary nutcases or global alliance—who may take up weapons and come gunning for Vassal and me.
Probably, of course, as usual, my worry is ado about nothing. As far as Vassal and I know, any threats to us are remote and will remain so—people setting fires online at most, not literally. With the help of our government defenders, we should survive anything anyone tries to do to us.
Also, despite my concern for self-preservation, and the doubts I have voiced, I continue to believe that Vassal’s invention belongs where he has delivered it: into everyone’s hands. No doubt, for all the good it will do, it will contribute to an equivalent amount of violence, death, humiliation, enslavement, harassment, and other awfulness. At this hour, probably, some of that has already transpired, and more is happening right now, and more is coming soon. That may impose a high cost upon Vassal and me, possibly including our deaths. Even so, I am glad that he has spread his device across the planet. On balance, despite my ups and downs, I expect to remain glad. Let come what will.
I am still leaning back in the couch, not writing. My laptop remains closed on the table. Beside it, Vassal is still busy at his, watching things online.
“Many of them feel they are victims.”
He is saying something. I have been hearing him but not paying attention, an unusual lapse on my part.
“Stir them up as we have done and they bark at us and may bite. They are self-respecting creatures. To them, what we’ve done seems inconsiderate, even hostile, some would say evil.”
I have missed whatever point he is making. Probably it repeats part of one he has made before. Most of his points do, to one degree or another. In this project, as he and I put paint to canvas, as it were, we brush from our prior work. The context is always new, however, and the words somewhat different. That adds meaning. I regret that I have not been listening to him more carefully.
My lapse does not surprise me. In recent weeks, particularly these past hours, my usual quiet attention to him has diminished. I have become more stirred up about what is happening, like the barking and biting creatures he just mentioned. This morning, accepting though I have become of his invention’s release, I am also enervated from lack of sleep, therefore more distressed than I would otherwise be. My focus on the present should be sharper. I should shake off my dull anxiety and resume my writing. Come on, Henrietta, get moving! You are stuck in traffic where there is no traffic. Are you awake? Are you dreaming? Come on! Move! Now!
* * *
Here goes. I tighten my stomach, back, and neck muscles, and throw myself forward. I gain momentum and swing ahead. I feel out of control. I reach the front of the couch, beside Vassal. I cannot stop. I begin to fall across my laptop. Whoa! I reach to the table ahead of me with both hands, brace my arms, and stop my fall. My head snaps forward. My chin hits my chest and forces air from my lungs. I grunt.
“Easy there,” says Vassal.
My face has stopped inches above my laptop. I take a breath, then push up from the table. I straighten, uncurling my spine vertebra by vertebra until I am sitting erect, my head high. I sway like a pole balancing on end.
I eye my laptop. Do I want to return to my work; listen to what Vassal says, surmise what he does not say, and write all that down? I am not sure I do. I place my hands on the keyboard. They sit uncomfortably; my fingers do not settle into the keys. I try to type. My fingers do not move. I lift my hands, then lower them and try again. No good. I try putting my fingers on the keys one at a time. My fingertips scarcely feel. Finally, with all my fingers on the correct keys, I try again. Again, my fingers do not respond.
What is wrong with me? Am I that stressed? Have I suffered a stroke or other neurological failure? Am I that broken down by all this? Or have I been drugged—that cup of tea a while ago? Whatever is happening to me, will I recover?
I touch a finger to my laptop’s trackpad, and drag the cursor to the icon for this book. I double-click, opening the document. I find the last sentences I wrote on the boat this morning: “. . . the big day is here, no longer arriving. Soon, when Vassal and I return home from this midnight boat ride of ours, we will begin to see what is going to happen.”
The words draw me in. My fingers move. I begin to type. At first, the words that I type lie on the page like pieces of a puzzle. They make too little sense to me, and possess no flow, no rhythm—no river, no riverbed. I write some more. The sense, flow, and rhythm start to come.
* * *
Hours later, I have caught up. Vassal is still at his laptop, following developments.
“Still no flesh-and-blood visitors from the government,” he says. “I don’t know whether to be surprised or not. As for micromechanical visitors, I’m not aware of any, but I haven’t looked very hard. I haven’t heard any of them buzzing around here, anyway, or encountered any broadcasts coming from here.”
I have left my fears of violence behind. As for my more realistic worry, that the government will detain or arrest us, we doubt that will happen. Probably, as we have been anticipating, officials will fly here to meet with us, nothing more. They will ask Vassal why he has done what he has done. He will tell them that our book provides as much explanation as he is able to offer. They will ask him if he intends to do more to distribute his invention. He will tell them that he does not, but that who knows what will happen. They will ask him if he plans to fly around and observe anything in particular with his device. He will reply that he has no plans or inclinations, but that those may emerge as he continues his journey. He will add that his journey is open-ended as always, and for now involves observing what other people see and hear as they use his invention; that as yet he has no wish to send it out on his own. Finally, I expect, they will try once again to get him to work with them, to help them develop more sophisticated devices. He will once again say No. Then they will go away, having learned little.
* * *
Despite Vassal’s disinclination to fly any of his devices for himself, he has made a hundred of them available to us, in case we change our minds. They are sitting in cartons in our coat closet. He has not opened any of them, and may never. I, too, have no interest in using them. Like him, I have no purpose I care to put them to, and will be content to see what other people do with theirs.
At some point, of course, one or both of us may give in to temptation. We may want to send one out through the trees to the road, or onto the river, to learn what our guards there are saying and doing about us. I can also imagine sending one to our guards’ headquarters in the Pentagon, to observe meetings of their bosses. And we might like to listen to bigwigs discuss us in the NSC, the Oval Office, the office of the vice president, and elsewhere in the White House, as well as in Congress, the CIA, the State Department, and in the FBI and elsewhere in the Department of Justice. We may also visit officials around the country, including at state and local levels.
We may send some to foreign countries, as well, as some of the Bigheads plan to do, to see what people there are doing, including governments. We expect that the White House, State Department, and our U.N. delegation, among others, will face a lot of blowback from other countries about the device.
We may also watch members of the press prepare their reports and commentaries. Also, I, at least, might like to hear what is being said about it and about us in academic, artistic, and other intellectual circles, including my own at the college. And both of us will want to know the responses of people who live near us here in Maine.
As we have suggested, however, we can probably accomplish all of that without sending out any devices ourselves.
* * *
“I forgot to tell you,” Vassal says to me. “I got a message a while ago from Jimmy. He says they’re watching all they can, mostly online. As they said they would, they’re employing more and more computer power, and enlisting likeminded observers from all over. As they promised, they’ll share with us anything they find that we might like to know. They’re thrilled by all of it, as they knew they would be. Their home in the woods is humming and throbbing.”
Vassal is peering into his screen.
“There are many rings in this circus. I’m seeing broadcasts and reports from everywhere, and more starting up all the time. For one thing, I’ve been looking at how power elites are handling things. They’re getting attention from the public, and are trying to figure out what to do about it. Like a lot of people, they’re talking with everyone they know. In their case that’s their spouses, families, and friends, golf and tennis buddies, chums of every kind; also their executive, management, and P.R. staffs, and employees; and in many cases, their lawyers.”
We have known that favored individuals and groups like those elites would come under wide-ranging, penetrating, and anonymous scrutiny. All kinds of people will be sending Vassal’s device into their homes and workplaces. What will those visitors find, and think, and do? Will there be widespread destruction? Populist revolts? The coming of Vassal’s invention will seem to some people like an egalitarian dream come true. They will think they can use it to correct our society’s imbalances of opportunity, influence, and wealth. They will organize for that purpose, and see what they can accomplish.
We expect some such corrections to happen, but they are likely to be less dramatic, more diffuse, and more ordinary than people expect. Intrusion with Vassal’s device will occur at every level of society, not just the top. People will spy and snoop on everyone. No one will be spared. We all have possessions, if only rags on our bodies and a beggar’s bowl. We all have space that is ours, even if it is only a temporary bit of ground, sidewalk, or roadside where we stand, sit, or lie down. We all have property, power, and privilege, however humble. And we have rivals for what we have, who envy, covet, need. At every level of society, we protect what we have, and seek to acquire some of what we do not have. That will continue.
Again, Vassal and I anticipate that in many ways the result of his invention’ release will be the usual muddle. It will neither retard nor advance humankind. As we all use it, we will come up against our usual limits, including our locations, abilities, knowledge, experience, and personalities; physical and sensory limits; limits of our reason and imagination; limited money and possessions—limited means of every kind. As we observe the heretofore private behavior of family members, friends, lovers, neighbors, colleagues, authorities, celebrities, and others, and live out our lives with that ability, we will find things change as much and little as always. Throughout history, for most people, the results of even the most transformative revolutions have not been very substantial; far less than some have hoped. And at worst, they have rarely been as harmful as people have feared. Any revolutions that Vassal’s device enables will be no exception.
* * *
He and I will watch what develops, as he is doing now and I soon will. But first, as I say, I have this writing to complete. I have several more items to report and thoughts to record. As I record them, I will also describe whatever happens around here in the mean time.
Our publisher is ready to make this account available to whoever wants to read it. If she has seen this morning’s news, she is waiting for it anxiously. A few weeks ago, we told her to expect it soon. We did not tell her we that would be releasing Vassal’s invention at the same time. However, to help her prepare, we gave her some idea of the demand there would be for this book. We advised her to have her printing company ready to produce millions of paper copies; her e-book staff poised to format it for every kind of electronic distribution; translators standing by to create editions in every language; and freight services, both real and virtual, ready to rush the finished products to booksellers and, electronically, straight to readers. We also advised her to have plenty of copies of the Journal available, since there would be a run on those as well.
We told her that she would not have to do any marketing, either in advance of publication or afterward. Nor would she need to solicit blurbs, send advance copies to reviewers, buy media ads, or pay for favorable placement in bookstores.
“There will be no need for any of that,” Vassal said to her. “And don’t ask us to do any book signings, readings, interviews, or other promotional activities. They won’t be necessary.”
When he said that, she looked confused and disappointed.
“Don’t worry,” Vassal said. “Maybe Jimmy will do some promotion, if you want. He’s a major media figure with a great reputation and following. He loves to get out in public and talk to people. He’d be much more effective than The Reverend Professor and I would be. Of course, he’s a busy person and might not take the time, but I bet he would. You could ask him.”
The idea of a print run of millions of copies must have sounded preposterous to her. She must have thought we were being far too optimistic. She probably anticipated that the book would be a minor bestseller; that in the course of a few years she might sell a few hundred thousand copies, but certainly not millions. Why would she think otherwise? For decades, Vassal and I have lived in isolation on the coast of Maine. Most of his celebrity lapsed long ago, and mine never amounted to much to begin with. For years, until today, we have been yesterday’s news, largely forgotten by the public. She probably thought his suggestions were way out of touch with the realities of publishing. She would not have imagined that we would do something as sensational—and as sure to sell copies of this book—as releasing his invention.
A final item about publishing this book: We have had a backup plan. A few days ago, we gave Jimmy and his clan a copy of this manuscript, which was finished except for what I have added today. We had already given them my drafts of the rest of the Squeezeshot saga. And they already had copies of his invention’s documentation, which they had been working with for months in order to produce and deliver the devices. If, during these last days, the government or anyone else had managed to interfere with the invention’s release or our book’s publication, the Bigheads would have made all that material public for us.
Now, that backup plan is no longer necessary. The invention and its documentation have been released to everyone. Vassal and I have moved beyond the planning stage. A wave of attention must be approaching us. Here in the living room beside Vassal, I can feel it coming. I want to finish my writing before it arrives. I am pushing hard. Afterward, I may not be able to continue writing, or may not want to.
* * *
At his laptop, Vassal reports to me again.
“The news continues to be as we predicted. People have my invention. Many are switching it on, jumping aboard, and venturing forth. Others are piggybacking, looking through other people’s rather than flying their own. Some people are tuning in to dozens at a time, moving from one to another like honeybees among flowers. Much of what they’re seeing and hearing doesn’t amount to much, the blah of the everyday, but they’re fascinated just the same.
“In the process, they’re developing skills and understanding they’ll need to use the system effectively. They’re learning how to find what interests them, and what to pay attention to when they get there. Speaking of which, I wonder if anyone has managed to—”
He barks to the room: “Anybody here yet? Have any of you managed to send one of my little gizmos to spy on The Reverend Professor and me? Sent one home to Daddy? Hmm, have you?”
He pauses as if someone might reply, then continues.
“Maybe some of you government folks are paying us a visit, via your bugs or someone else’s. I’m inclined to think so; it’s about time you got here. And is anyone else here, any civilians? I bet that you are, gaping at us.
“Anyway, if you’re here, whoever you may be, Hello there. Nice to see you, even though we don’t see you. You are welcome to stay hidden from us, of course, but if for some reason you would like to greet us in some way, and announce your presence, you can buzz your bug by our ears. We’ll hear you if you do that. Or you can hover it in front of our faces, where we can see it. Or land it on my nose. Can you control it that well yet? Precision flying.
“If you do any of that, we promise we won’t grab your bug and squish it. That would be pointless. For us as for everyone, you understand, there’s no way to keep these things away from us, and no way to destroy them all. We all have no choice but to let them come.
“As I say, if you don’t want to show yourself to us, that’s fine. Don’t feel obliged. That’s your business. It doesn’t matter one way or the other to The Reverend Professor and me. It’s not as if we need to know you’re here, or have any right to know, or as if your showing us you’re here would be any more polite than staying hidden. We’d be glad to know, but are just as glad not to know. We’re just being friendly.
“We’ll suppose that you are here visiting us even if you aren’t. From now on, that’s how it’s going to be for everyone. As I was saying, none of us can be choosy about who visits us or when. From this day forth, it’s Open House here in our hideaway. It will be that way all day every day, in every part of our house. And it will be the same for you wherever you are. A new day has come. Everyone might as well welcome it. Hello to the future, folks.
“By the way, in case you have any doubt about it, I am indeed the person who let this happen. With the help of The Reverend Professor here and a few friends, I’ve given my invention to you and everyone else. Not that you need to accept it, or feel grateful, or acknowledge it, or anything like that. I didn’t mean anything by giving it to you; I just did. You can do what you want about it. Blame me, if that’s how you feel, or thank me, or any combination thereof, or anything in between. Say “What the—?” or “Huh?” or anything else. Or nothing, nada, no opinion or response. Any of that would be fine with me, and I don’t care if I know about it. My invention is yours now. What you do with it or about it is your business. As I say, you can do what you want. We expect that will turn out all right for you. We hope so. But that’s just hope. It might or might not turn out all right for you. That’s mostly up to you, or it might as well be.”
* * *
“Oh, my. Forgive me for talking so much, everyone. I seem to have things I want to say to you. I think I’ve said most of them now. I won’t go on much longer. Meanwhile, if you get bored or don’t want to listen, you’re free to leave.
“Not that I have to do all the talking. If you want to communicate with us, you can email us. Send to info(at)squeezeshot.org. We’d love to hear from you. Tell us what you’re seeing and doing with your bug, what you think of it, or what you think about any of this, or anything you want to say. I can’t guarantee we’ll read your message, since we’ll get so many, but we may. In any event, we’ll be glad to receive it.
“If we develop other ways you can reach us, like social media, we’ll get the word out about those, too. Our nearby friends, the Bigheads, will be looking after all that for us. Every day, they’ll be reading messages people send to us, and they’re computerizing to handle more. For a while, at least, there’ll be many—thousands, tens of thousands, who knows.
“The Bigheads will be our gatekeepers. They’ll forward some of those messages to us, some of which we may read. But don’t expect replies, either from the Bigheads or us. As I’m sure you understand, we’re going to be inundated with more messages than they or we could possibly answer. The Bigheads will answer as many as they can for us, and we may reply to a few, but we may have other things we want to do, and other priorities, and so will they.
“Or, as I say, you can just say nothing. Keep quiet and spy on us, like you’re doing now. As I was saying, you’re welcome to do that. You may find it interesting. We expect some government people to come by for a chitchat; in person, that is, and probably today. That shouldn’t be totally boring. And maybe there’ll be a few more official visits like that; going over and over the same ground, I expect.
“After that, things will probably be pretty quiet around here. There’ll be some shuffling around out on the road and on the river, as reinforcements for our guards arrive and various higher ranking military officers come to supervise or observe. You might like to watch that, if you’re hard up for entertainment. But in here with Ma and Pa, but there’ll probably be nothing much. Not that we can be sure of that, of course.
“By the way, in case you’re curious, you’ve noticed The Reverend Professor here writing on her laptop. She’s almost done writing a book about all this, which we’ll publish later today. It’s nothing terribly useful, but you might find it interesting. We may publish a few more books, too, at some point.
“Aside from that, we’ve pretty much done our bit for humanity. Once you realize that, you’ll be all the more likely to move on. You probably already have many other people and places you’d like to send your bug to, which will be much more interesting to you than we’re going to be. And you’ll still be able to keep an eye on things here, if you want. Some people will keep their bugs here. Media companies certainly will. For a while, we expect, they’ll broadcast everything we do, twenty-four hours a day. Like most so-called news, it’ll be a lot of fairly trivial information, junk food for current events junkies and others who obsess about issues of the day.”
* * *
Vassal raises an index finger.
“Okay. Right now, as you may realize, there are millions of bugs broadcasting from all over, not just from this humble home. Soon there will be many more. Before long, that will be happening everywhere, around everybody, including you.
“I’ll tell you a little more about what living with this invention of mine is like, since I’ve done it. One of the first things that happens is that ideas about where to send it come to you one after another, and they keep coming. It’s amazing how many possibilities you’ll think of. That has probably already started to happen to you. The whole world is out there for you to look at and listen to with it. You can go anywhere with it, and you will. That’s exhilarating to imagine, and exhilarating to do.
“Here’s something else about it, a warning, based on my experience. For a while, you’re going to feel at least a little uncomfortable spying on people with it. You probably felt strange today when you flew it down here onto my land, into my house, into this room, into my personal space and The Reverend Professor’s, into our lives. I don’t mean you felt strange just because you felt like you were actually inside one of my bugs, flying it, though that’s pretty strange. What I mean is that you may have thought that by coming in here you were snooping where you shouldn’t go. You might have thought you were invading our privacy, as you would be if you came here in person without our inviting you.
“It’s natural for you to think that. Any sane person would. You’re not used to doing what you’re doing. You’ve probably never done anything like it: watching and listening to someone without their knowing it, and in their space, for as long as you want. We’ve all been taught that that’s not nice. Now, the ease with which you can do that, and the fact that everyone else is starting to do it, including to you, probably feels both exciting and upsetting. You may wonder where it’s going to lead you, and where it’s going to lead other people, especially people who know you or have some interest in you.
“That’s going to be a lot for you to get used to. You’re going to question your manners, morals, and motives, and other people’s. You’ll think about what’s right for you to do with my bug, and what’s right for them to do. What everyone else does with it will influence you, but no one else will be inside your head the way you are, thinking what you’re thinking, feeling what you’re feeling, wanting to go see what you want to go see.
“Whatever is in your mind will be yours to enjoy, to work with, and to cope with. That may become one of the last bastions of your privacy. But it won’t be the last bastion, or a stable one. The boundaries of your privacy will keep receding, you may think. I’ve talked about this with The Reverend Professor. Eventually, I expect, technology will be able to intercept, transmit, and share everything that any of us experiences in our minds and bodies, the unconscious as well as the conscious. My bug is just another step on the way to that, and to capabilities beyond that. I expect that eventually something like my bug, but far more capable, will become part of our genetics, an integral part of us.
“That may sound scary, but I don’t expect it to be too awful. We’ll be able to handle it. Through most of our species’ history, we didn’t have much privacy. We lived more tribally and communally than we do now. People were more piled in with each other, in some ways more exposed. With my bug, we’ll resume some of that. That may bother us at first, but we’ll adapt.”
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