As we debate Internet privacy, revenge porn, the NSA, and Edward Snowden, cameras get smaller, faster, and more numerous. Has Orwell’s Big Brother finally come to pass? Or have we become a global society of thousands of Little Brothers—watching, judging, and reporting on one another?
Noted author and futurist David Brin presents Chasing Shadows, a collection of short stories and essays by other science fiction luminaries—available January 10th from Tor Books. Partnering with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Brin and scholar Stephen Potts have compiled works from writers such as Robert J. Sawyer, James Morrow, William Gibson, Damon Knight, Jack McDevitt, and many others to examine the benefits and pitfalls of technologic transparency in all its permutations.
Below, we’re pleased to share James Gunn’s introduction to the collection as well as Vylar Kaftan’s short story, “FeastWar.” Will tech-empowerment bring the ultimate in citizenship?
by James Gunn
We look upon the current debate between privacy and the various forms of technology-driven surveillance as a contemporary issue, but it seems to be central to the human condition.
Among our hunter/gatherer ancestors privacy must have been a rare commodity, if it was possible at all. In a small group dependent upon every member for mutual survival, secrets are not only hard to protect, they may be dangerous. Once agriculture was introduced and life became more stable, predictable, and attached to a particular place, the issue of privacy—surely a central condition of self-consciousness and the growing possibilities of individualism—could take root along with the grains humans were beginning to plant.
Commerce and the development of early technologies led to larger communities and then to cities, where rural families, attracted to new opportunities, would migrate, leaving behind their social ties and intimacies for the anonymity of urban life. As a personal example, my wife grew up in a rural town of two thousand (which she always remembered as a golden time), and I was astonished by the familiarity she displayed, without considering it unusual, with the details of everybody’s life and situation. I, on the other hand, grew up in a city where I knew only the people who lived on the same block, and even then only a few and nothing at all about those who lived across the street. My mother knew more and sometimes enlightened me, so my lack of social knowledge may have been the tunnel vision of youth, but even later, in neighborhoods where my own family was established, personal information was sheltered, and bits of insight came as revelations.
A consequence of urban anonymity was the attempt to replace common small-community intimacy with substitutes that could at least provide the illusion of familiarity: gossip, informal and formal groupings like clubs and organizations, and media, beginning with town criers and progressing to newspapers, radio, television, and finally the return to the self-revelations of today’s social media. To be sure, each of these had other purposes—clubs and organizations got people of similar interests together to further social goals, while news-gathering-and-dispensing innovations had public information functions—but they also served the basic human need for connection and even the desire for insights into everyone else’s personal histories. How else can we explain the enduring popularity of interviews, feature stories, agony columns, talk shows, and confessionals? Even, perhaps, the autobiography?
So, it seems to me, these two human attributes—the protection from public scrutiny of our inner selves and even of our personal activities that we call privacy, and the desire for intimate knowledge of others and the impulse toward self-revelation that is subsumed under surveillance—have been in conflict from the beginning. It is only in current circumstances, with the society-wide availability of electronic communication devices, that the conflict has come to a head.
We Saw It Coming
Science fiction isn’t a predictive medium. It is a speculative genre, invested in creating plausible scenarios extrapolated from current developments. John W. Campbell once wrote that it exists between the laboratory and the marketplace, between possibility and availability. But every now and then—like a stopped clock that is right twice a day—perceptive authors come up with scenarios that match future realities. Surveillance was one of them. Shortly after the Second World War, George Orwell began work on his magnum opus, 1984, which would terrify tens of millions into a lifelong dread of one-way, top-down, universal observation, the most potent tool of any would-be Big Brother.
Orwell wasn’t alone. Others were already pondering the notion of transparency—a world not of surveillance, but omniveillance. For example, Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio”—published in the May 17, 1947 issue of The New Yorker—takes place in the New York apartment of Cheever’s favorite characters, Jim and Irene Westcott, only this time the Westcotts enter a sci-fi warp. (The story would be adapted for The Twilight Zone.) As described by critic David Truesdale:
Irene is distraught when their radio quits. Jim buys an expensive new one, which they soon discover has some… unusual qualities. This radio picks up the most unusual conversations from their neighbors, and shows that beneath the surface displayed to the public, people argue and fight, showing their true selves and lesser natures behind closed doors. It becomes such a distraction and troubles Irene to the point of depression that she convinces Jim to get rid of the damned machine. Whereupon, several strange twists occur in their own relationship.
Several stories in Chasing Shadows take on this theme, portraying potential effects of transparency on relationships—isn’t it said that the truth can cleanse, but it can also hurt?
Continuing our scan of classic, transparency-related science fiction, T. L. Sherred’s “E for Effort” showed that a device for filming the past could also spy on everyone’s secrets, anticipating dozens of paranoia-inducing films. Not many years after Orwell and Cheever, in a 1962 issue of Analog, “The Circuit Riders” by R. C. Fitzpatrick envisioned a future when a kind of radar can detect individual emotions at long range—at least those that involve anger, verging on violence. Police use triangulation to zero in and detain potential murderers, in a manner not too dissimilar to Philip K. Dick’s later “Minority Report” (still later filmed by Steven Spielberg). Fitzpatrick foregoes the absurd exaggerations of Dick and Spielberg, making clear that such detentions can only be precautionary and nonpunitive—a matter of brief triage and observation and warning—and hence the state’s use of this method is portrayed as benign. Though the reader can extrapolate in either direction. Might this paternalistic power coalesce into something Orwellian, if it stays a state monopoly?
Or else, suppose that everyone gets access to such emotional radar? That is the notion explored by several stories in this volume.
An Internet search for “surveillance in science fiction” turned up a long list featuring “aerostat monitors” (Neal Stephenson) to “zed-rays” (Ray Cummings in 1936) and including “Invisible Watchers” (Edmond Hamilton, 1938), “Watchbird” (Robert Sheckley) and “Surveillance” (John Brunner, 1975). One of the earliest, surely, was Russia’s Yevgeny Zamiatin’s We. Two of the most recent are David Brin’s Earth and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, although the last was more reactions to present realities than anticipation.
One of my favorites is “Private Eye” by “Lewis Padgett” (the writing team of Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) in their 1949 speculation in Analog, 1949, which offered the ultimate surveillance system in the ability to recover images from the imprint of light rays on everyday walls. In the story it is used as a crime-fighting device and a way to prove intent, but it is a remarkable anticipation of the kind of universal surveillance that street, shop and home cameras aim at and toward which, perhaps, the trend is heading. Moreover, it offers an aspect to technological developments that I will return to later—the ability of people to adjust their behavior to accommodate new conditions. In “Private Eye,” it is the ability of a single clever criminal to conceal intent (the story is more concerned with psychological issues than privacy invasions) just as, in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the lower levels of society develop their own methods (“street smarts”) for surviving, and even eventually prevailing over, seemingly overwhelming technological difficulties—thus earning the “punk” part of “cyberpunk.”
Oh, but even such meticulous care will be for naught, if we get the ultimate-transparency future portrayed by Damon Knight in his classic 1972 story “I See You” (included in this volume). When neither law, nor technology nor cleverness can prevent everyone from seeing absolutely everything, human adaptability might mean changing every assumption that our ancestors held. This possibility is also explored thirty years later by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter in their novel The Light of Other Days, wherein a “WormCam” allows anyone to observe anything through tiny wormholes, even using the technology to link minds.
Again and again, the real question is not whether new technologies will keep expanding humans’ ability to see. The core dilemma is who will get these powers? Even if they are widely shared—thus preventing Big Brother—will that lead to wise citizenship? Or the opposite?
* * *
It is this bold tradition of thought-experimentation that Chasing Shadows carries forward, exploring possible consequences of what David Brin has called a “tsunami of light.” Some authors react to this onrush of new sensory power with dread or loathing, as in Scott Sigler’s “Public Domain,” Jack McDevitt’s “Your Lying Eyes,” or Robert Silverberg’s classic “To See the Invisible Man” (included in this volume), which contrasts in interesting ways to David Brin’s story “Insistence of Vision.”
Others take up the point made in Brin’s The Transparent Society, that freedom and safety and even compassion may augment, if we all share the ability to look back, especially at power—a theme struck in this volume by James Morrow, Nancy Fulda, Brenda Cooper and Vylar Kaftan. Meanwhile, affecting stories by David Ramirez and Cat Rambo stand on a middle ground—aware of benefits, while noting too a poignant sense of passage.
Technology’s Dance with Science Fiction
Do these stories reveal where we’re all heading? The recent development of the smart phone comes at the end of a long line of communication devices intended to lessen the distance—or even the isolation—of people separated by other technological improvements such as roads, railroads, ships and other forms of getting people from one place to another in accessible and affordable ways. First came the handwritten message, the daily mail, the telegraph and eventually the telephone. The fact that these were instruments of basic human intercourse was underscored by a numbered series of standard messages used by families of service personnel during World War II to save the wires for official use. One such message was “I am pregnant,” which led one congressman to suggest that a companion message ought to be “I am not pregnant.”
The development of the telephone fostered a culture of self-revelation. What was difficult to say face-to-face became easier to talk about into a receiver in the sanctity of one’s own home. But it also meant that strangers could intrude into your own private space, and even friends and family members might be induced by this deceptive new device to blurt out unwelcome “truths.” In the film Inherit the Wind, Spencer Tracy as defense lawyer Clarence Darrow sums up to the jury the way in which technology changes the world, “Sure you can have the telephone—but you’ll give up your privacy.” Protocols for using such technologies were immediately adopted and then evolved.
So it was with the computer. When I got my first computer, probably about 1980, it was only a machine for creating documents, an upgrade from the electric typewriter, which was itself an upgrade from the standard typewriter, which was itself an upgrade over the portable Smith-Corona with which I started my literary life. My first computer printer was really just a glorified electric typewriter. But then the computer was connected to the Internet, and it became a device that allowed me to communicate with people anywhere, particularly in distant places. And the messages that once took days or even weeks to reach foreign friends and potential students and colleagues now were virtually instantaneous.
I speculated then that the generation that grew up with the world at their fingertips would experience a different concept of distance. People in far-off places would no longer be aliens; they would be as close as the people you see every day. Surely, I thought, violent conflicts between people of different races and different political beliefs would no longer be possible when potential enemies could no longer be dehumanized. I’m not sure it has worked out that way. Maybe the older generation, with all of its misconceptions, is still in charge. Or maybe the younger generation still has time to shape a new world.
Certainly the smart phone, with its unrelenting communication, its textual temptations, and its ability to photograph or film anything, any time, any where, has raised the stakes. The concept of the world as a place you can reach out to if you wish is now something that you carry around with you. In fact, for many, it is something they cannot do without. I see students on campus every day walking to their classes with phones held to their ears, oblivious to the scenery or their fellow students or even the traffic, which halts obligingly for them to cross. Not every place is so forgiving. Many years ago I wrote a story about the development of a silencer that shut out noise by broadcasting a wave 180 degrees out of phase. One side effect was that people got struck down by cars they didn’t hear. Horace Gold thought it was ridiculous that people would abandon the habits of a lifetime and rejected it. But that’s what has happened to the phone-addicted generation—and it will get both worse and better, as they start to wear augmented reality glasses that overlay artificiality upon the real world, complete with noise-canceling earbuds and overlays that cover up whatever they do not wish to see.
Protocols have developed for smart phones as well, though they are still in flux. It turns out that people using smart phones while driving, particularly texting, are distracted. They have accidents and kill other people and themselves. So first we have campaigns urging people to stop, and then we get laws. Eventually, people learn how to live with it rather than die by it. But they’ll get the right to text at the wheel back soon, when cars are driving themselves. Meanwhile, those selfsame phones will tap into satellite views of traffic, just ahead, or whether your luncheon date is still waiting for you, by the public fountain. And yes, this too will call on us to adapt.
That brings me to my final point. With every new technological development, there are a series of reactions that vary from individual to individual and from group to group, ranging from joyous acceptance to disdainful rejection. But if the new technology has benefits, if it makes life—for a sufficient number—more efficient or more interesting, it gets adopted and its use becomes broadspread enough to change the nature of society itself.
The rise of social media may not have been as predictable. The ways in which people can interact—orally, textually, and visually—proliferate, and it is difficult to see at this point in the evolution of digital devices and methods of aggregating communications where the advancements will end. Perhaps never as long as there is money—or, at least, the prospect of profits—to be made from providing platforms and as long as there is a hunger, particularly among the young, for intimate interactions at a distance.
All of this has coincided with, or been precipitated by, a growing fascination among the young for self-revelation and a consequent contraction of the need for, or perhaps even the expectation of, privacy. Combine this with the possible anonymity of the Internet and growing political uprisings across the world and the potential for social revolution is high and rising. Protocols for resolving such conflicts are still debated. On one side are the forces of tradition and government, both of which want to set limits and monitor transgressions; on the other, the dynamism of technologies, voiced by spokespeople within science fiction such as Cory Doctorow and preempted by political revolutionary groups like ISIS. Where it will all come out is still, at this time, in doubt.
One outcome is certain, however: technologies will win. The genie is out of the bottle. Hardly ever in the history of invention (with the possible exception, so far, of the thermonuclear bomb) has a powerful technology been invented and not implemented. It is useful to remind ourselves, however, of Isaac Asimov’s musings about “futuristics,” which ended with his comment that it isn’t the prediction that is difficult but the side effect, the unanticipated consequence: not the automobile, he wrote, but the traffic jam; not radio but the soap opera; not the income tax but the expense account.
And a comment that Horace Gold once wrote to me when he was laying out instructions about writing stories for Galaxy: “The truest thing that humanity has learned is that you can’t fight city hall.” So it is with whatever state of affairs science, technology and politics may bring about. Humanity will learn how to live with it. We will learn how to balance our desire for interaction and intimacy against our need to preserve our inner selves against exposure.
That’s what science fiction has taught us.
by Vylar Kaftan
The Spritely War Chamber, Fiefdom of Westhalia [Oakland, USA], Kingdom of Pangourmet
Scheherazade: Hey Pixies! Did you see the battle maneuver from the Orcs? They ate lamb kebabs in Baghdad and Tehran. Organic and local for extra points. Simultaneous, so they got the timezone bonus.
MarcoYOLO: Dammit. Lamb from actual sheep? Stupid meat.
MarcoYOLO: Sushi. Tasty but not meat according to game rules. *shoots tiny bow and arrow*
Scheherazade: @MarcoYOLO Sorry. At least our team gets major kill points for salads. We’ve taken out whole armies that way. At one point we controlled the entire west coast of Pangourmet.
hygge: Taking out Dragons is so easy. Seriously, aren’t they always in last place?
Scheherazade: They’ve got it rough. They have the most diverse digestive profiles of any team. And the highest percent of allergies. Aside from some HLA genetics and sensitive microbiomes, they don’t share much. That’s why they’re allowed some foodie-weapons no other team gets.
hygge: Oh. Like the Fireblast thing that keeps disrupting our front line? Sorry, I’m still a noob.
Scheherazade: @hygge Yeah, game balance. They launched a Fireblast in the Midwest last week. Every ingredient in their feast was locally sourced, humanely killed, and organic. 10x multiplier for that one. The Midwest is all scaly. You can feel it on your phone. Pet the map, it’s silky-scratchy.
NeedleStack: midwest should be pixie soft and glittery lol
Scheherazade: Attacking there would be fun, but doesn’t suit our worldwide battle plan: 1) Focus on simultaneous Pixie-safe meals in US West Coast cities to generate Gold Dust. 2) Organize a feastday for pescatarians in Japan and the West Coast, to open mana linking privileges. 3) Attack Yosae (that’s Korea and area) with Japanese Pixie archers, enhanced by our Gold Dust. 4) Run a simul-paired 5K at dawn in Tokyo and dusk here to recover mana.
MarcoYOLO: Salads Are Strength! *waves Pixie banner*
hygge: Game question. Say I scan my dinner with my phone, and score points for organic, but not locally-sourced: can I send it back to the kitchen and swap ingredients, then post a new pic?
MarcoYOLO: @hygge No, once you attack, that’s check-in for that timeslot. Spends your metabolic mana. So look before you scan. Check for nonlocal and hothouse ingredients (cucumbers and tomatoes are two big offenders). Use tricorder mode to check for top 40 no-no chems and organic/not before you attack. Helps to research the restaurant first. Check healthyeating. wrld for restaurant scores.
Scheherazade: Once you advance to places like cooperative farms or remote tribal cooking and whatnot, we’ll help. Focus on choosing the right restaurants. For now, Pixie strategy involves more seafood, so eat sustainable sushi!
hygge: Got it, thanks.
MarcoYOLO: So Schehea,,.// sorry, cat. Emily, are we still crushing the Orcs this weekend?
Scheherazade: Yep! Big raid planned with our Dragon allies, since we expect a meat-based battle.
NeedleStack: no one wants to partner with icky orcs anyway
Scheherazade: Haha. We’re going to claim restaurants all the way up the West Coast and make the Sierra Nevadas our front line. The Dragons will handle the protein side. We’ve got the soy-based stuff and of course salads for everyone.
***redNikki231*** has joined the chamber
redNikki231: BUY SECRETS HERE at http://324.FeastWarPowerUps.game use code NJT21G for discounts
***redNikki231*** has left the chamber
Scheherazade: Ugh, spambot. Blocked it. Anyway, we don’t expect trouble from Elves or Phoenixes. Dwarves might try to block us, but they used all their Spiked Warhammers last week on the Elves.
MarcoYOLO: Dragons are sharp. We’re working with DropTheMike? “Devourer of Spices and Cultivator of Doom”? :)
Scheherazade: Yep. He’s captain for this skirmish.
NeedleStack: dragons never do much anyway
Scheherazade: You’d be surprised. They get creative because they have to.
MarcoYOLO: So do we! Small arrows hit hard! *flexes Pixie muscles*
NeedleStack: by the way people. there’s some nasty bug going round. my girlfriend got it.
hygge: Uh oh. My wife started sneezing yesterday…
NeedleStack: no, worse. she basically moved into the bathroom. three people out at my dayjob.
Scheherazade: @everyone Wash your hands. Feast on!
MarcoYOLO: Feast on! *invents magical germ shield*
MarcoYOLO: Holy shit, @Needle. You weren’t kidding about people getting sick.
Scheherazade: How are we doing locally, Pixies? Everyone okay? And your families?
MarcoYOLO: ch33zer’s kid is in the hospital on a respirator.
NeedleStack: oh shit
Scheherazade: WanderingTheDessert is really sick. I went by with miso soup and sashimi. pinkoranges says her husband just got it.
NeedleStack: pinkoranges organized the food drive right? that pixies won?
Scheherazade: Yep. She’s amazing. Kim and her husband Jason (he’s a Dragon). They’ve both been unemployed so long—this is the last thing they needed. :(I hope he’s okay…
MarcoYOLO: People call it the Over&Under flu. For obvious and gross reasons. *covers eyes*
hygge: It’s not a flu, says za-news. It’s a virus and really horrible and the CDC doesn’t know what the deal is.
MarcoYOLO: So wtf is up with the battle?
Scheherazade: We’re canceling for now. Most of the Dragons got the Over&Under.
hygge: Well shoot.
Scheherazade: Orcs are rampaging all over the West Coast. I don’t know what’s going on. Elves usually hold them in check. Maybe they’ve all got this too. Oh! Did I tell you guys where I’m heading next weekend? Helicopter to Alaska. Fresh grilled salmon and local blackberry sauce. I’ll catch the fish myself for a 100x multiplier.
MarcoYOLO: Cool! And hike I assume?
Scheherazade: Of course. I’m really close to my Elite levels in Scouting and Inner Power. If I can improve my metabolism another 2%, and eat in three new fiefdoms, I’ll be level 20. Legendary Gourmet Warrior!
MarcoYOLO: *drools* They gotta get us taste-power on phones. I want salmon and blackberries! Sigh. Settling for browsing your pics.
hygge: Another noob question. Why are the War Chambers all text-chat anyway? What is this, 2010?
Scheherazade: @hygge Everyone asks that! 1) Text-chat is better for asynchronous conversation. 2) Since FeastWar is an augmented reality game, you’re often playing in restaurants. Audio annoys other patrons, and it’s not as secure. Anyone could eavesdrop.
MarcoYOLO: and 3) It’s rude to talk with your mouth full.
Scheherazade: Haha. Yeah, that too. For multiregion attacks we use phonelink, V-PlayMem, and the new haptics. But text is perfect during a meal. Feels retro, doesn’t it?
Scheherazade: Speaking of retro… @Needle, I found an old 2-inch crystal stripe from the 20’s. Want it?
NeedleStack: nah, i got three already.
Scheherazade: I should’ve guessed. :) Wow, check the scores. The Dragons have less than 3k. They were close to 2 million a month ago.
MarcoYOLO: Wham! Magic plague attacks Dragons!
Scheherazade: Seriously. I hope everyone is okay. DropTheMike is fine at least.
MarcoYOLO: No, guys, really. Where are all the Dragons? I usually see points from WizOfIz at Leaf Me Alone, she orders Chinese chicken salad. Hasn’t attacked in two weeks. I’m worried. Pinged her, no answer.
Scheherazade: I don’t know her. :(You know, it does seem like Dragons are getting this way worse than Pixies.
NeedleStack: oh dragons. sadness. no not really, more points for pixies!
Scheherazade: Speaking of which… @Everyone, Pixie Magic Dinner tomorrow at Katana Sushi. Wear your t-shirts and wings! Look for me in the back (I’ve got blue glitter on my cheeks). Set phones to “shared meal”. I’ve got e-cards to sign for WanderingTheDessert and pinkoranges’s husband. Let’s make some Gold Dust. And wash your damn hands! :)
MarcoYOLO: Shit guys, this is scary.
Scheherazade: They just shut the airport in Reykjavik. Only two major airports still open in Europe. :(Also haven’t been able to reach WanderingTheDessert or pinkoranges, which is scary.
hygge: I’m not leaving my house. Seriously. We were ready for the zombie apocalypse and now I’m staying in. My wife and I have canned food and water (earthquake planning).
MarcoYOLO: Toilet paper?
hygge: Tmi but we have a bidet. :) If water keeps running.
Scheherazade: Utilities should be okay, but on drought rations. Good robots, nice robots, keep it flowing. I’m coding in my pajamas. Thank science for working from home. I feel bad for people who can’t, and also can’t miss paychecks.
MarcoYOLO: No kidding.
Scheherazade: @Everyone, if you need fresh vegetables, Kevin (Klaymate) is working with the Orcs at North Hill Farm to ferry extras down here in his scooter. Ping me for details. He’ll prioritize people who are caretaking for someone sick, and you can pay with scancard, FeastWar gear, or just owe him later. (He wants people to get fed, whatever it takes.)
MarcoYOLO: OMG. Glad for my garden. I’ll ping neighbors, see if anyone needs zucchini. Someone offered me a goat leg. So desperate for protein I might.
Scheherazade: Do what you have to do. Your body will adapt, even if you aren’t eating your perfect horoscope. Evolution’s good like that. (Thanks, ancestors.)
hygge: Glad I don’t need much meat. My wife is suffering worse. Also she forgot to fill her antidepressant and I’m worried.
Scheherazade: @Needle, you there? How’s your girlfriend?
NeedleStack: she’s ok, still weak. hasn’t had a real meal in two weeks. feeding her broth and crackers. she doesn’t play but her body wants elf food. maybe i can find her some lembas bread, lol
Scheherazade: I hope she feels better soon!
MarcoYOLO: Thermal cameras in the airports were supposed to catch people w/ fever. What’s the point with forced reporting of everyone’s travel? Nothing?
Scheherazade: People are contagious before they show symptoms. Mike told me the Dragons actually tracked their members, both when they got sick and how sick they are. Everyone’s self-reporting data and Mike is compiling it. Mike plus the other Dragon leadership, and whoever else isn’t sick. And me too, and some Elves and an Orc and a Phoenix. A bunch of leaders around the country.
MarcoYOLO: You’re like a world leader. *bows*
Scheherazade: Haha. Well, we’re gathering data in the FWOP chat (FeastWarOnPlague). Generals from several armies, mostly science people. Over&Under must have something to do with digestive profiles, because of uneven distribution through FeastWar players. Mike is barely sleeping, just linking data.
hygge: That’s cool. Maybe we’ll find something the CDC can’t.
Scheherazade: Mike’s smart. You guys may not know, but he’s a former genetic analyst, now a working food critic. Big techie with all the great GPS stuff. Remote satellite linking, SS amps, BGAN 4.0—you name it, he’s got it. His wife makes tons of money in software.
NeedleStack: how is a dragon working as a food critic?
Scheherazade: He’s not allergic, just prone to allergies and didn’t develop any. Lucky childhood exposures. Anyway, he totally knows his science. And Marco was right about the Dragons getting flattened.
MarcoYOLO: Score is so lopsided. Plague wrecks Pangourmet!
Scheherazade: We should get in touch with someone at the CDC, but I can’t figure out who’d listen to gamers.
hygge: My sister works in big pharma. She used to work with a guy who left for the CDC. They’re still in touch.
Scheherazade: Whoa, seriously? Do you think she’d help?
hygge: She owes me for me not telling Mom about her petty crimes in high school. :) (she went clean later). I’ll ask, and ping you later.
Scheherazade: Great! I love the people you meet through this game. Never thought I’d be friends with a professional antiselfie photographer!
hygge: At your service! heehee.
Scheherazade: Anyway, Mike asked me to do some stat analysis because his people are short-handed (poor Dragons!) Ugh, I’m worried.
MarcoYOLO: Me too. See if they need me? I write one hell of a persuasive note. Text shows my rugged good looks. :)
***pinkoranges*** has joined the chamber
Scheherazade: Whoa! Kim! I was looking for you.
pinkoranges: guys ths is so fucked up
Scheherazade: Are you okay? How’s Jason?
pinkoranges: so dehydrated and I shoudl take him to ER but Im scared are no beds and they turn him away
Scheherazade: Oh no!
pinkoranges: no church because scared to leave him and ono one els ewent so I prayed alone
Scheherazade: Take him in anyway, if he’s this bad.
pinkoranges: we are oout of soap and the dryer b=roke and so we can’t wash the bedshettts and the smell is so bad and he just lies here leaking all over
Scheherazade: Seriously, you have to take him in. Call an autocab.
MarcoYOLO: If his eyes are sunken go NOW.
Scheherazade: Screw the autocab. I’ll come pick you both up? I’ll bring broth and soap and take you to the ER.
pinkoranges: scared youll be sick
Scheherazade: I’ve been volunteering at the low-income clinic. If I were going to get this, I would’ve by now.
pinkoranges: just hear dhim must go
***pinkoranges*** has left the chamber
Scheherazade: Augh. I’ll go over and videochat her from my car. Maybe I can convince her once I’m sitting outside.
hygge: You’re really brave. Thank you.
Scheherazade: Oh, well, someone’s got to be! If I don’t, I feel all helpless.
MarcoYOLO: When do you have time?? Volunteering _and_ data analysis?
Scheherazade: I’m not really coding. Shh, don’t tell my boss. Besides, this is more important. And there’s two hundred people numbercrunching in FWOP. I can’t even follow the whole conversation, it scrolls like crazy.
NeedleStack: be careful, carjackings at the hospital
MarcoYOLO: Yeah. Panicked people = inattentive :(
Scheherazade: I know. I will. Thanks.
Scheherazade: Pixies give a shout-out! How are you and your loved ones?
NeedleStack: my gf is eating bread and soft tofu now
hygge: Wife & I are okay.
Scheherazade: Good news, WanderingTheDessert is going to be okay! He’s past the worst.
MarcoYOLO: So glad. Thanks. pinkoranges & hubby?
Scheherazade: pinkoranges’s husband is critical. :(I convinced her to let me drive them… some crooks had blockaded the street to the nearest hospital and were forcing people to scan $400 tolls to pass. Cops were trying to stop it, but there weren’t enough of them, and… ugh.
MarcoYOLO: Don’t they know everything’s seen & recorded? Big trouble later, after the crisis.
hygge: Maybe they think there won’t be an “after”. :(
Scheherazade: Total mess. I drove them out to Walnut Creek. Kim was screaming at me to drive faster, and punching the dashboard. She called me some nasty shit. Poor woman was crazy with terror. :(
MarcoYOLO: Wtf. You were helping!!
Scheherazade: It hurt. But I got him there, and I feel better about his chances. They admitted him right away. I think they gave Kim some meds too. @Everyone, please stay safe.
hygge: CDC says the plague’s engineered. They want help catching the bastard who did this.
MarcoYOLO: What! Some terrorist group??
hygge: Yah. Prolly some angry military thing.
Scheherazade: In FWOP, we think it’s a lone wolf. Fits the pattern: strikes primarily in well-populated parts of the world, hardly hits remote areas—but not sparing any one nation, or group. So probably not political unless someone hates everyone. Which they might.
hygge: But it’s worse in America, Europe, places like that.
MarcoYOLO: It’s hitting Dragons.
Scheherazade: And Japan and Korea and every advanced nation. For once, the disadvantaged people of the world aren’t getting it as bad. Though some are dying of lesser symptoms because they lack basic treatment and sanitation… ugh. I saw Namibia in the early 20’s when I was out of college (Peace Corps) and it was so sad what they didn’t have. And it’s not much better now, which is disgusting.
hygge: I’m picturing you in the 20’s. Did you wear a big floppy hat and GreenLock hiking boots everywhere? :)
Scheherazade: Snort. Okay, I admit I had the hat.
MarcoYOLO: I tell you. Dragon Plague. Flattening Dragons like nobody’s business.
Scheherazade: Yeah, so the CDC has narrowed the source to the upper East Coast. FWOP is analyzing longitudinal data through FeastWar. We’re looking for sharp drops in Dragon battle victories. CDC doesn’t have that data because they don’t play the game. :) And also the stricter HIPAA-G laws passed two years ago. We can get info that’s behind their red tape.
Scheherazade: Mike and I pieced it together. We noticed that the few healthy Dragons mostly have digestive immunity subtype KASmir-VII (not common, but Mike has it) or people who were reasonably isolated, like telecommuting engineers in Chinese villages. So something about isolation protected them—because some of those people came to the cities to care for the sick, and very few of them got the plague. Something predisposes certain people towards worse illness, probably something genetic. Maybe a viral vector.
MarcoYOLO: What’s that?
Scheherazade: A virus that alters a person’s body in some way, making it vulnerable to another virus. Like Hep D, which needs Hep B already in place to infect someone.
NeedleStack: oh shit there’s a second plague coming??
Scheherazade: No, this _is_ the second one. A viral vector was planted… sometime. Maybe. If true, it helps explain why isolated areas are seeing less plague. So FWOP is examining Dragon data back about five years, looking for patterns. We think it’s colds or something subtle, because the CDC is pretty smart and would have seen something else. We’re also getting data on OTC cold product sales on the East Coast. Looking for correlation with Dragon health and battle performance.
hygge: Can I ask a game question? Even with all this stuff going down?
Scheherazade: @hygge Of course! I like helping people level. Oh! And thanks for the contact at the CDC. It worked.
hygge: Glad of that! My question: I have a friend who wants to play, but he got his intestinal bacteria optimized to match his genes and they make him an Orc. Won’t that put him opposite us Pixies on the dietary wheel?
Scheherazade: Orcs do get another minion, and this is a numbers game. But if you recruit he owes you five annihilation points. Worth it. Besides, we just want more players. It’s more fun.
hygge: Okay, thanks.
MarcoYOLO: My coworker Zane—draws the space anime thing I showed you? He’d be a Dragon if he played. (poor guy has a peanut allergy and we can’t even bring them in the office) He’s in the hospital. :(Stabilized but his guts are ravaged. Might need an ostomy bag. Really fast, like 3 days to near-death.
Scheherazade: Whoa. Poor guy. I hope he recovers with time. My brother’s best friend died yesterday. :(So awful. I throw myself into the numbers because it feels like hope. How are all your loved ones?
MarcoYOLO: My whole family is okay. Three sisters & two brothers & parents, we’re all okay. All Pixie types. Buncha lactose-intolerant fish-thriving salad-eaters.
Scheherazade: Whoa, I had no idea you had so many siblings.
MarcoYOLO: Tell Mike about my family.
Scheherazade: I will. Ugh, this is horrible. Understatement of the year. We all know a Dragon who died, or came close. Did you ever see avocadoglory attack here? He’s gone. :(So are Harmstar and XYZZY from Sacramento. And gligga, who’s an Orc but died anyway. She had a seizure problem and the plague triggered it.
MarcoYOLO: Shit. :(
NeedleStack: so i was looking at tsc data and figured something out.
Scheherazade: TSC software is against the rules of FeastWar. It’s third-party software and it accesses their proprietary code. If you use it, don’t admit it.
NeedleStack: this is important. i tracked the genetic profiles of the dragons over time against location, then corrected for attacks from other armies. so i could see where dragons fell apart on their own. i also took data about pixies because pixies rule and also because we are the least sick of any army. so we were contrast.
Scheherazade: Actually, the Orcs are the least sick.
NeedleStack: whatever. and remember epicurtainous? the food photography game from like ten years ago?
Scheherazade: Sure. Basic motivationware, with feedback loops to get people moving. Exercising. If it’s fun, people will play. Kind of led to FeastWar.
NeedleStack: i was a curator and had data from my team network. they went on to become dragons and pixies and things in feastwar. but i still have all that data showing where they were eating and their photo upload patterns. ten years worth. 900 people in my oakland network alone.
Scheherazade: You’re kidding.
NeedleStack: i wrote a program to overlay the data with known scheduled feasts and removed the impromptu feasts. check out the extensions of their curves back through the years. look here.
Scheherazade: These inflection points… Wow, you’re right! When you graph the data that way, the epicenter’s in Pennsylvania. People were sick there (and worse) before anywhere else. These graphs could show early precursors.… But in the last month, Pennsylvania’s had fewer deaths. How is this working?
hygge: I was reading about the Spanish flu in 1918 and how the second wave was the worst of the three. Something about how a virus mutates as it works through the population. And earliest victims had better care; nurses weren’t sick yet. So they survived more.
Scheherazade: Good point! Same thing now, with the human staff dropping like flies. Thank science for our minimally skilled robo-help. Good robots. Nice robots.
NeedleStack: you should focus on philly
Scheherazade: We will, thanks! That was amazing! We tried an analysis like this, but couldn’t go back far enough. You’ve got the data, and your code does a great job eliminating noise from signal.
NeedleStack: im pretty awesome when bored. :)
hygge: Help. Should I break into the pharmacy down the street?
hygge: It’s locked for quarantine but I know their cameras aren’t working. I used to shop there and I found out because my bike got stolen.
MarcoYOLO: Why ask us?
NeedleStack: never put that in writing. just do it. or don’t. but there’s always cams. assume that.
hygge: I need advice. My wife won’t die without her antidepressant. She’s just very sick and can’t get out of bed. :(
Scheherazade: This is that famous moral question about stealing bread for your starving family. :(
hygge: If she’d die, I’d do it no question. I’d get it overnight from somewhere but mail’s so unreliable right now.
Scheherazade: Which drug?
MarcoYOLO: Kind of cold but… Is she suicidal?
hygge: oh god. I don’t think so? Not yet?
Scheherazade: Ugh. Internet says this is one you shouldn’t go off cold turkey.
hygge: No kidding. You think? :P
Scheherazade: Sorry. I don’t know what to do. :(I think there’ll be millions of cases like this getting scrutiny later. You have a good reason…
hygge: I’m scared.
Scheherazade: I’ll ask FWOP if anyone local has some extras.
hygge: It’s not common. No one will have it, but thanks. :(Bye, going idle…
Scheherazade: Ugh. :(Oh hey, Kim says her husband has stabilized (yay) and she apologized to me, while crying.
MarcoYOLO: Better’n nothing.
Scheherazade: It’s okay. I just want them safe. Also, I passed NeedleStack’s analysis to Mike and it was perfect. We need more data. (Mike, uh, doesn’t use TSC either, wink wink.)
NeedleStack: yay. want more?
MarcoYOLO: What are you guys doing now?
Scheherazade: Tracking the guy down from his own targeted plague. We’re assuming he wouldn’t target himself. @Everyone: do you trust me?
MarcoYOLO: Of course.
Scheherazade: This is important or I wouldn’t do it.
***MikeTheDrop*** has joined the chamber
Scheherazade: I know. Just listen.
MikeTheDrop: Hi guys. Sorry to intrude. I promise not to read your files or look at battle plans.
Scheherazade: Mike is here for data. To crosscheck the timeline of plague waves against genetic profiles registered with FeastWar.
MikeTheDrop: This was Emily’s idea, but it’s important.
Scheherazade: The TSC data (which remember Mike doesn’t use, wink) requires him to access as a Pixie. So, this is DropTheMike’s… little brother. I gave him Pixie admin access to our membership and history. I want to be open that he’s here. I trust him more than anyone.
NeedleStack: two accounts!! naughty. how did you bypass the genetic crosscheck?
MikeTheDrop: I’m sorry, the person who would know that doesn’t want me answering…
MarcoYOLO: You’re here as a Pixie? Accessing tons of people’s genetic data without their permission??
Scheherazade: Only what any admin can see, and it’s an emergency. This is the fastest way to get what he needs and aggregate it.
NeedleStack: he’ll see where we’re planning stuff. this is crap.
MikeTheDrop: I promise I won’t use anything here against you.
NeedleStack: why pixies??
Scheherazade: Because you used us as the control group. If you’d used Orcs, he would’ve gone to them.
MikeTheDrop: I need to correlate your data with some genetic markers, and compare to optimized intestinal bacteria profiles for Dragons and Pixies.
MarcoYOLO: @Emily why worry about FeastWar’s stupid 3rd-party software rules when you’re doing shit like this? :P
Scheherazade: If we get banned, it’d take hours… days to sort out. Time we don’t have. :P
MarcoYOLO: I guess…
NeedleStack: i guess but i don’t like it. i don’t want my data shared all over.
Scheherazade: It’s already being shared like crazy. And look at what we’re up against. We’ve got to fight.
MarcoYOLO: @MikeTheDrop you owe us all sushi. :P
MikeTheDrop: I promise I’ll scan Emily enough money to buy you dinner. I’ll even ship her some mana.
NeedleStack: oh fine. as long as dragons are our mana slaves.
Scheherazade: Come on. We’ve ALL got more important problems right now.
NeedleStack: i know. really. :(
MarcoYOLO: For once, the world has MORE drama than FeastWar chat…
MarcoYOLO: We have a name. We have a manifesto. James Barrow… Guy on the news looks like a real bastard. *shudder* @Emily this is FeastWar’s doing, yeah?
Scheherazade: FWOP got a team from all over—Chicago, Tokyo, Lima, Paris… And one amazing girl in Maryland.
MikeTheDrop: We inferred that the guy didn’t live in Philly but had easy access to it. So we looked at areas within a few hours of travel.
NeedleStack: i said philly dammit!!
Scheherazade: SmallAnnoyingTree (she’s 14!) did an epidemiological survey of her hometown, knocking on doors and talking to people. Mapped the plague’s spread in a real location.
hygge: Wow. Brave.
Scheherazade: @hygge! How is your wife? I’ve been worried!
NeedleStack: don’t tell us if you did it.
hygge: We found an old bottle in the cabinet. Lower dose, but she’s on it. She’ll be okay now I think.
Scheherazade: Thank science. I’m so glad.
MarcoYOLO: Good! @Emily—about Barrow.
Scheherazade: Yeah, we were right about the viral vector! Apparently Barrow is _very_ patient. He’s been planting his vector for decades, mixed in with the common cold. He made so many that scientists thought they were just a subclass of rhinovirus, and didn’t realize they were engineered.
MikeTheDrop: His rhinovirus combined with susceptible people’s DNA to prime them for the real thing: the plague he released a month ago. If you had a cold in the last thirty years… you probably encountered one of his little creations.
hygge: Ewwww. He needs a hobby. Or kittens.
NeedleStack: he’d eat them.
Scheherazade: That’s why the virus was dominant in populated areas. Remote Brazilian tribes don’t get many colds—and even if a visiting anthropologist brought them the viral vector, they weren’t likely to get re-exposed.
MikeTheDrop: He designed it that way. He was trying to kill people who couldn’t survive in the climate-changed future.
MarcoYOLO: WHAT. I didn’t hear this. Wtf.
Scheherazade: Yeah! Didn’t you read the manifesto?
MarcoYOLO: No, was reading about relief efforts.
Scheherazade: Check this quote: “The population is 9 billion and growing. A population correction is inevitable. Rather than suffer the indiscriminate destruction of the human genome through riots, we should cull the weak so the strong can thrive.”
NeedleStack: my new warrior name will be barrowsucks
hygge: Augh. :P
MarcoYOLO: FBI’ll be on that like a cat on a heat vent.
Scheherazade: Oh yeah. They’re hunting.
MarcoYOLO: This I gotta see. *toasts nori snacks* *makes popcorn for Mike if he can have it?*
MikeTheDrop: Truly a special part of humanity. If we can call him that.
Scheherazade: There’s some crap about how he’s dedicated his life to analyzing the data—he calls himself genius, of course—and then this: “I assigned everyone a Survival Index (SI) based on multiple factors. The primary factor was of course the compatibility between their primary and sub-immune systems (popularly called ‘digestive immunity’).”
MarcoYOLO: No, I heard all that, but what do you mean about climate-changed future?
MikeTheDrop: People who could adapt better to low-water conditions and digest anything they found, including carrion.
MarcoYOLO: No way. Orcs??
NeedleStack: oh god, orcs are our future? im outta here, the kingdom is lost
hygge: Seriously. Are we sure this guy _isn’t_ a new recruit for the Orcs?
Scheherazade: I’m having fun looking through this nonsense. It’s pretty much gazing into the abyss. Wait, this is the best quote: “The media will compare me to Hitler, which is ridiculous. Let’s not get caught up in nonsense about the Final Solution; that was racist bullshit. This is pure science.” HAHAHAHHA idiot. He even named his master race. _Homo aptatus_. That’s it, people, we’re evolving! Out of the way!
MarcoYOLO: UGH. I’m getting Over&Under just reading that.
NeedleStack: heil barrow
hygge: Where’s that pic of the chihuahua smashing its face into the glass door over and over? Yeah. That.
MikeTheDrop: NSA is working on retrieving his notes so we can develop a targeted antiviral. He must have filed them somewhere… and if he ever typed a note or used a computer to design his virus (likely) there’s a chance we can retrieve information.
Scheherazade: Most people don’t know how to delete their data completely. I’m sure I couldn’t. Welcome to our brave new world.
MikeTheDrop: FWOP has our white hats and sketchy-gray hats and “others” working on the same thing. FeastWar attracts a lot of computer specialists…
Scheherazade: We think he’s in Baltimore.
MarcoYOLO: So how do we actually catch him?
MikeTheDrop: The Orcs in Baltimore have a plan.
Scheherazade: Rest assured, everyone, that we are _on this_. Our scouts will find him. If you want something done right? Ask gamers!
Scheherazade: I just hope it works. Come on, Orcs!
NeedleStack: are we really cheering for orcs in the pixie warchamber? while a dragon watches? thats it, im deposing you.
NeedleStack: see the news? we caught the fucker!
MikeTheDrop: And we got his notes! The antiviral should be available within 24 hours. All the pharmas are devoting nonstop production hours to it.
Scheherazade: YES! Thank science! We win, and FeastWar did it!
NeedleStack: no way, the pixies did it all!!! ok, the others helped.
Scheherazade: Oh, come on. FWOP was in full data analysis mode 24/7 around the world this week. Give us some credit.
MarcoYOLO: @Emily you know everything. :) What happened? What’s up with Barrow dying in custody? Getting one thing from news, another from FeastWar forums. *plops in armchair* *waits for juicy story*
Scheherazade: Baltimore Orcs were heroes! They sent all their people out. Feet on the ground, anywhere they might find him getting food—a few restaurants that are still open, delis, grocery store meat sections. Phones scanning the crowd, looking for him. And they found him! At a farmers’ market in Woodbine. :) A whole squad of Orcs. Snapped photos, alerted the FBI, got him arrested, everything!
hygge: I hope they chased him down with giant foam warhammers. And maybe some turkey legs. Looking for pics now…
MarcoYOLO: But he’s dead. What happened?
MikeTheDrop: It’s all in Orc photos. He took poison as he ran. The FBI was on him fast, and he died while being arrested.
Scheherazade: Expect mashup videos soon.
MikeTheDrop: CDC estimates our actions may have saved 200 million lives. We can deploy the antiviral before the plague hits full potency.
Scheherazade: Yeah, the feet on the street did it. Go FeastWar!
NeedleStack: orcs did something useful for once!
Scheherazade: We caught him by surprise. He had final words drafted on his phone. Listen, and I quote: “As a token of my sincerity, I will soon remove myself from the population. I’ve improved our chances for surviving 22ndcentury Earth. Since we idiotically didn’t focus on the space program to escape the planet, we’re stuck here. Maybe the next wave of humanity will figure it out.”
NeedleStack: lol. aliens will rescue us.
MarcoYOLO: Sincerity? *snort* He killed himself to avoid getting caught!
Scheherazade: Oh wait, this is excellent: “My sperm is frozen at Riverside Cryobank, should anyone choose to use it for my intellect. I possess a solid genome, offering my descendants a better chance of survival.”
MarcoYOLO: @Emily we’ve found you a date!
Scheherazade: HAHAHA. Can’t hit you hard enough from here. Why don’t you go gay for him?
MarcoYOLO: You’re right. I need his sperm. Barrow, darling, take me!
MikeTheDrop: Oh dear.
Scheherazade: Also he recorded this long boring rant about privacy before he splatted himself. He doesn’t mention FeastWar specifically, but it’s basically us. “Foolish people who waive privacy for instant gratification and fake rewards.”
NeedleStack: he has no idea what i do for instant gratification
MarcoYOLO: Fake rewards, huh? Like those virtual banners feastwar.game tried to give us? God, those were so stupid.
Scheherazade: That’s all we do here, sell our souls for pleasure… clearly spoken by someone who’s never coordinated simultaneous feasts over two months. In six timezones. I HAVE.
hygge: Whatever. No one _has_ to play. We choose to.
Scheherazade: Working with the CDC showed me how much info they could get despite red tape—once they knew where to look. Creepy.
MikeTheDrop: Some of us theorize that Barrow accessed data similar to FeastWar’s records, allowing him to track the plague’s progress. Insufficient evidence yet… but knowing what our white hat friends did to find him? Who knows what Barrow could do?
MarcoYOLO: *shivers* You think so?
Scheherazade: By “some of us,” Mike means about three people. I don’t think Barrow had any data like that. He couldn’t even delete his notes properly. Not smarter than we are, except maybe in virology.
MikeTheDrop: I hope you’re right…
Scheherazade: And the world is paying a _lot_ of attention to FeastWar now. Yesterday Congress started a bill that will require all “social media games” to proactively file their data with the CDC and Department of Health. If it passes…
MarcoYOLO: Seriously? Data we willingly gave to FeastWar.game under promise of privacy could be dropped to the feds?? People will quit over that.
Scheherazade: People already have. Even without the bill.
hygge: What could they do with the fact that I order seaweed salad and spider rolls for lunch? :P
MikeTheDrop: Ping me if you really want to know…
Scheherazade: Look what _we_ did with it.
MarcoYOLO: We caught a bioterrorist!
Scheherazade: Mind-blowing. And it happened because the Dragons were sick of losing. :)
MikeTheDrop: Good to know our rankings were low for years because we all had colds. Not because we played poorly.
NeedleStack: no, it’s because you suck. :) (teasing. mostly.)
NeedleStack: ok, i’ll give some credit to the dragons. but no orcs.
Scheherazade: Oh come on, people are dead. Everything’s a wreck. :(That matters more than a game.
MarcoYOLO: At least we stopped him. We, meaning FeastWarriors. Feast on!
hygge: Yeah. FeastWar wins! When’s our next feast?
Scheherazade: Hoping for next week if some businesses recover and open. There’ll be a lot of fallout from this. It’s not over.
MarcoYOLO: Yeah. :(
MikeTheDrop: Hey guys, I’ll let you get back to your Pixie glitter dances or whatever you do in here. Thanks for sharing your space with me. You’re heroes. Dragon out.
***MikeTheDrop*** has left the chamber
NeedleStack: whew. much better
MarcoYOLO: Smells less lizardy in here. *sprays room with rosewater*
Scheherazade: @Everyone, FeastWar.game is organizing an assistance drive for families of players who died. Donate if you can! Warriors, share your strength!
hygge: Less important which army you’re in, and more important to play the game.
MarcoYOLO: Now let’s go crush some Orcs!!
Scheherazade: And stop bioterrorists. Like we do. :)
NeedleStack: next terrorist is all mine guys lol
“FeastWar” © Vylar Kaftan, 2017
Reprinted from Chasing Shadows