We couldn’t stay in the park forever. It was only early evening so in theory we had all night, but who wants to stand around in a park all night? Apart from teenagers of course. But we were all old enough to drink in pubs and take our dodgy drugs into our own homes. It takes the appeal out of public spaces.
I’m a fan of the odd public bench, but places that are outside are, well – outside. That always means other people. I don’t really dislike other people, it’s strangers I find it difficult to get interested in. People I already know like family and friends are fine – in their defined times and places, it’s the others who appear at random when I least expect it that I’ve got an issue with. I’ve been asked before, on expressing this view of other people, how it is that anyone gets from stranger to person. I don’t have a good answer for that. Family get in by default, but can be excluded later by rudeness or distance if they aren’t up to snuff. How people become friends – I don’t know. I’m always wary of strangers and new people. Because of that it takes some persistence or resilience on their part to stick around long enough to bridge that invisible river of quasi-hostility.
I’ve never thought that ‘having something in common’ is sufficient. We’ve all got blood and not long enough to live, but that hasn’t bonded humanity yet. It’s not so much having an activity that can be shared that matters – it’s having the same reason for liking an activity that counts. The activity itself doesn’t matter, and it can hide the person behind the job or the description. Somehow though there can be that spark of similarity which gets recognised on a weird cognitive and emotional level, and before you know it someone else has slipped across the moat filled with grumpy crocodiles. Sometimes I don’t even want to acknowledge another human being, let alone a possible friend. And then they bloody helicopter in anyway, ignoring the carefully curated moat and minefield. Walls just can’t be built high enough.
Despite all of that, I’d found new reasons to have friends. One, appear magically in my home in the middle of the night and pretend to be like me. Apparently that works. My pale doppelganger stood by my side as I talked about what we had to do next with my other new friends. At least they seemed like friends – this is friend reason two: be pursued by possessed police because you also have a weird stalker who has become your friend. It looks like that’s enough to have in common. It had certainly lead to us all standing together in the woods on an unseasonably warm evening.
We had nothing but the clothes on our backs and the Watchers that we’d worn on our fronts. To the best of our knowledge we were wanted men and women, and presumably so were our Watchers. They’d each acted to defend us when they could easily have stood aside. I wasn’t sure whether we had worn them, or they had worn us. Does a rider wear a horse? The horse wears the saddle. I felt as if I were probably the saddle. Being the saddle is good, it stops the rider from falling off. It’s hand-tooled skin… Again, these analogies were not helping me at all. I still didn’t understand the relationship between me and my Watcher. We had been told that the town hall meeting was for those of us who had developed our relationships with the Visitors. The relationship’s existence was visible, since they had come to take our form and mannerisms, and we had learned to accept them without fear.
Rachael and I compared notes from our respective conversations without our Watchers. We had received similarly mystical and philosophical answers from them on the nature of their existence. It was hard to argue against a being who, when asked about his origins, just turned the question back on you. Maybe it’s because despite our understanding of the world and the universe, which if looked at without a religious lens shows that everything is without specific purpose we still believe there has to be a ‘why’ beyond assorted determinism and existential nihilism. Purpose is what you make it – we had built relationships, which according to Rachael were only strengthened further by our using them as a kind of living power armour.
“I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions – we keep asking why. If there isn’t a why, then we should be asking how and who,” stated Ellen.
Annette and Charlie slipped into their Watchers. It became easier each time. We had all taken turns to join with our Watchers while someone else asked questions. They each had their own way of responding, as if once combined they were a mixture of the human within and the Watcher without.
“Alright then – how did all the policemen know how to find us?”
“They were watching us all at the town hall. Everyone was under scrutiny. Before we separated we would have been watching,” replied Annette / Vanessa.
“We can no longer watch, but can be only be watched,” finished Charlie and his Watcher.
“Because you’ve become distinct from the blank, pre-formed Visitors, right?”
“That is correct. We have lost our homogeneity to uniqueness.”
“Before you separated, did you know what the other Watchers were doing?”
“I knew what everyone was doing, persons and un-persons. We saw everything.”
“So – the policemen are basically all the same person?” Ellen continued to unpick what we heard.
“No, they are not persons. They are the whole.”
“Yeah okay, but they are many, whereas you are one.”
Vanessa had to think about that before replying, “yes. We are outside the control of the whole.”
“Unpredictable, disorderly, undesirable.” Added the combined Charlie.
“So this is about control,” said Andy triumphantly, “their purpose – sorry guys, I know you don’t like the word, but it means something to us. Their purpose, their function is the exercising of control through omniscient surveillance. The results are instantly known by every part of the network. But these guys are off the grid – they’ve fallen out of the network by falling in with us.”
“Then the next question is – how wide is the network?”
“The network is everywhere.” Vanessa stated.
“Already – wait. You mean within its sphere of influence?” I asked.
“That sphere is currently limited – the town’s in quarantine remember. The Watcher network has filled up everything available for Watching, ” Rachael kicked the bark off a tree while she spoke, “the whole town is being Watched – that was the first thing that happened, and then there were these sections that dropped out of the network – these guys, and everyone else at the town hall. Result – action. They knew where those missing components were, so they invited us all to the meeting to confirm their suspicions. All those people taking notes as the meeting went on. I’d put money on them having ticked off those of us who were truly separate from those over whom control might still be established.”
“So, our putting our heads together afterwards was both a brilliant and a terrible idea?”
“Yes – you established that we were fully independent of the network. Useless. Expendable.” Vanessa sounded dreadfully sad.
“And then they sent out their suited and booted slaves to hunt us down. Ace.”
By becoming individuals our Watchers had removed their usefulness to the whole. Persons became of less value. Harder to predict, harder to control.
“Right – let’s get it straight. The Visitors or Watchers are used to watch – it’s what they do. They’re even better than CCTV or spy shit that reads all your email and phone calls. They are right in your home. But when they weren’t accepted, they just got taken over. That’s not sustainable – there’s no point in having control over a bunch of zombies. You might as well just kill everyone and have a ghost town with cameras that never show you anything – no dissidence, just nothing. If that’s some kind of win, some kind of end game then we’re all fucked.” Charlie had stepped out of his Watcher, whose shoulder he hugged as he spoke. “If the Watchers are always lurking, and people are always freaking out then there’s no stability possible. What’s the next step?”
Rachael and her Watcher replied simply enough: “absorption.”
Ellen elucidated, “we are absorbed through the skin of the monitored subject. We sink in as an unconscious layer of skin, unaware of ourselves, monitoring and sharing with the whole.”
“Well, that’s just fucking brilliant. Perfect, total surveillance of every individual,” Andy fumed, “everyone in town is going to wake up in a day or so and find that their Visitor has fucked off and will be grateful. We’ll forget it ever happened, apart from those of us who are outside the network.”
“You mean like the mayor and the other people on the rostrum? They didn’t have Watchers at all.” pointed out Annette.
“Unless they had already absorbed their Watchers,” I suggested.
“You don’t take control and power by giving that control and power away at the same time. No, I’d say that lot don’t have Watchers at all. They’ll be the beneficiaries of the network, not its subjects.”
The next step, as with all technology is that once you’ve done your pilot (that was us) you roll it out nationwide. Government schemes at their best. It wasn’t surprising that they had found a bug – us again – and no problem in government schemes ever gets fixed, they just roll it anyway. That left them with a bug-hunting issue. We didn’t know how many more of us there were – we couldn’t assume there were any. They might all have been grabbed, we were the lucky ones. Or unlucky. It didn’t feel unlucky though – we were special. In our own way we had so far escaped intimate surveillance. And if we were the only ones, we had a responsibility to do something about it.
No one except Charlie was especially thrilled by the idea of fighting back. We were far from a paramilitary unit. We didn’t even all have coats, let alone weapons and a gung-ho spirit. Of strategy we had none. I’d done Tae Kwan Do for a bit when I was little, Annette was in her mid-seventies and Andy’s weapon of choice was an Alienware keyboard. Despite our seemingly endless reasons for being unsuitable candidates to lead a pre-revolution revolution, there wasn’t anyone else we could call on. We couldn’t get out of the town, and there was no way to communicate with anyone either in or outside of town. By the time the quarantine came down, that would be because the roll out of Watcher surveillance was underway. That was the only part of this I felt good about – at least we weren’t trying to do public relations and press conferences. Screw that.
“Earlier I asked my Watcher where they came from, and he gave me what I thought was a stock gnomic response: ‘where do you come from?’ But you Watchers must physically originate somewhere – are you bred, born, produced…? I don’t mean that you’re not people – clearly you are, but some, the non-developed versions must be coming from somewhere. Where were you before you appeared in our homes?
“Uh, sure. The source – where is it?”
“It’s going to be under the town hall, isn’t it?” said Charlie, “of course it is – it’s bound to be. It’s dead centre. Perfect.”
“I don’t know the words to describe it. It is central within the town. Many smaller buildings are within it. We spread from there.”
“The shopping centre? Makes as much sense as the town hall. Plus there are miles of service corridors and storage areas.”
“Sounds like we have a target. Do we have long before absorption?”
“It should already have begun.”
Perfect: we had no food, no shelter, no transport (except for our Watchers) and no plan. The night wouldn’t hide us forever, and it was beginning to get cold. That was motivation enough.