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The day I became suspicious was the day the cop pulled me over.
I could see his frown as I rolled down my tinted windows, and I allowed myself an eye-roll before he could see my face. I had been doing – what, five miles an hour over the speed limit? I was probably the most lawful driver on the road. Cars were passing me on both sides before I heard the sirens – in fact, I looked around for several moments before another bleep of the siren made it clear to me that yes, the cop meant me.
It's probably because my windows are tinted, I thought. They don't trust privacy. Come to think of it, they don't really trust carefulness either, because they assume you're trying to cover up something sneaky by being lawful. So privacy and carefulness together … why was I surprised they pulled me over?
The cop was studying his feet when I put my window down, a big sign of weakness in cop-world. When he finally looked up, I met his eye. I expected him to go into some tirade about my crime, real or imaginary. Maybe even tase me, if he felt like it.
But the emotion that registered was surprise, then a big grin broke out on his face.
“Oh,” he said, beginning to laugh. “It's you!”
Nonplussed, I replied, “What, officer?” I had never seen the man before in my life.
But the cop just said, “Oh, nothing.” Then, still chuckling, he told me my tail light was out and that he'd let me off with a warning this time, just because it was me.
“I really don't know what you mean, officer. How do you know me?”
The same amiable “Oh, nothing.”
“But, officer –”
The smile slid off his face so quickly I might have missed it if I blinked. “Are you arguing with me, citizen?” he asked menacingly.
Then, just as suddenly, the smile was back. “Buh-bye, then.” And he was gone.
I sat in my car on the shoulder, completely bamboozled by what had just happened. The cop had been gone for maybe ten whole minutes before I realized I should get moving before another cop showed up and wrote me up for vehicular loitering.
I decided to concentrate on my driving the rest of the way home; the scene was too weird to contemplate. But as soon as I got home and gave the doorman my mandatory DNA sample and mugshot, I flopped onto the couch and began to think.
I racked my brains for any memory of the cop, but there was none. So he could not have met me in person, let alone gotten to like me because of some good or interesting quality I had. He must have seen me somewhere, maybe on one of the cameras hidden throughout town. I must have done something unusual or he wouldn't have remembered me.
But why should he? Ever since the Presumption Act I had gone to great lengths to make myself invisible. I had kept my hair just so, so I wouldn't seem the slightest bit out of the ordinary. I always walked at a normal pace with my head level and my expression soft. I always smiled at people and said hello, but never more than was normal. I had no interest in being noticed, because noticed people are tracked. And though I did nothing illegal, guilt was presumed. The prudent citizen should avoid being presumed at all costs.
Even at home, which is technically private, I kept up my guard. I knew I was being watched in every room except my bedroom, which was equipped with bug-disablers; the things that make people presumed tend to happen in private.
So what was that incident all about? What could I have done?
It could have been something I did before the Presumption Act, when the cameras were there but still illegal. I was a bit looser then, but still law-abiding because I believed in law, not because I was afraid of being presumed. I wasn't the kind of person to do a stupid or wacky or self-incriminating thing.
So what was going on?
The cop had looked at me like I was the star of some viral video, some Internet sensation that people like to laugh at because they got caught singing badly or sending stupid messages or –
Or doing a stupid dance.
No. That had only been once, in the only place in the world where I was guaranteed privacy, where I could let down my guard and dance away my bad energy. My bug-disabling equipment was state-of-the-art; I had paid an arm and a leg for it on the black market, the only unlawful thing I had done.
“How do I know this works?” I had asked when I bought it.
“If the cops don't come banging down your door for illegal trading in the morning,” the vendor had replied, “you know it works.”
They hadn't. And so I put my full trust in the machines, which ran on solar power and which I regularly checked.
I jumped off the couch and began tearing apart my bedroom, searching for bugs. I got no sleep that night. I spent every second scouring the walls, in some cases tearing them apart, searching for a camera or a microphone. I had been taught and had picked up bug-searching techniques.
By the time the sun rose and I had to go to work, I had found nothing. But they could have developed a bug so small it was microscopic, or that retreated into the foundations of a building when searched for. My safe place was no longer safe. The cop had seen my dance; I was sure of it. I no longer had privacy. And if that was true, then I was probably already presumed, because I had torn apart my room, which was not a normal thing to do.
I almost called in sick to work, but that too would be considered out of the ordinary.
Over the next several weeks my fear of the cameras mounted. I tried to calm myself with rational thoughts. I had done some pretty out-of-the-ordinary things in my room. If my room was bugged, then they had seen them all. So why wasn't I presumed already?
Maybe, I thought with some degree of relief, everybody does weird and out-of-the-ordinary things when they think they're not watched.
One morning I swung into my parking spot a little too widely, nearly hitting the car next to me. I got out as nonchalantly as possible, trying not to look worried. Normal people didn't worry about being too close to other cars as long as they didn't hit them.
I went through my normal routine that day, but I felt more watched than normal. What if there were cameras in my desk, watching me while I crunched numbers for some wealthy family's superlow taxes? What if they were in the filing cabinet? The fibers of the carpet? What if every angle of my body was being watched, analyzed, picked over by people in a dark room, because I was now presumed?
I realized that if they had seen my dance, I probably was.
Stop it, I told myself. Paranoia is out of the ordinary.
Still, I let myself shake a little bit as I exited the building for my lunch break. I jumped a little when I saw the cop car parked along the curb, its lights off but still spinning a little. There was a figure inside. Move, I told myself. Everything normal. Everything exactly the same.
Then the figure exited the vehicle. It was the same cop who had pulled me over. Without seeing me and my dropped jaw, he crossed the street and went into a building. “Gym,” the sign said, but everyone knew it was a nudie bar.
And then, without even thinking, without even considering how extraordinary my actions were and how unlawful and how I would be incarcerated and presumed almost immediately, I bounded across the street and got into the cop car.
I had never been inside a cop car before, but it was essentially the same as in pre-Presumption movies. Caged back seat, front seat with a scanner and a small computer. Again without thinking, I touched the screen.
It asked me for a password.
After a moment of thought, a chill passed over me. “Oh, it's you!” the cop had said, and laughed as if it was the luckiest thing in the world that he had pulled me over.
I typed my name, and the computer let me in.
The screen was formatted like your standard touch-screen cell phone, with square applications dotting the desktop. Scanner, one said. News and weather, said another. Basic surveillance. Street cameras. Home cameras. Extra surveillance. Police manual. Chief statements. Public relations assist. Miranda warning.
Super surveillance. I pressed that.
Immediately a menu popped up, with basic things like Setup, Most Recent, and Favorites. I felt another chill and pressed Favorites rather hesitantly. Sure enough, my name popped up. I pressed it.
There were videos of my ordinary haunts. My work. My ride home. The interior of my car. My bedroom. But the curious thing was that my face was not in any of them. There were some shots of my hands as I fast-forwarded through the soundless videos, some of my feet and of my elbow. There was even one of my reflection in a mirror, but not my face itself. How were they getting these angles?
Had they somehow embedded cameras in my hair? My skin? My very being?
I saw another button that said Photos. There were thousands of them, maybe hundreds of thousands, many of the same places. It was as if the pictures were taken every second or so. Then I saw another button. Current. I clicked it.
And there was the inside of the cop car, the computer screen. So the cameras were on me. How had they gotten there? The realization intrigued rather than frightened me, and I blinked in surprise.
The screen flashed, and a new picture, though really the same, popped up.
A knot formed in my stomach.
I blinked again. Another picture. Again. Another.
I looked at the back of the vehicle and blinked. When I turned back there was a picture of the back of the vehicle on the computer screen.
“Ha,” I said out loud, my voice weak. “They've embedded cameras into our eyelids.”
And suddenly molten panic spread over me.
This was how they knew. This was how the cop knew me. Somewhere in that database was a video of my hands and feet moving to an unheard beat and the sound of me humming along to the music in my head, an action so funny that some cop had saved it and sent it to his friends. They were watching me, watching me when they didn't need to. I was presumed, but not in the way I thought. They watched everyone periodically, I realized. Everyone is presumed all the time.
I lay my head on the passenger seat. How had they gotten the cameras into my eyelids, anyway? It had probably happened during a routine doctor's visit, because, of course, the health community was in on it. Anyone who was paid by the government was in on it. They helped those who watched. They were watching me. Watching me …
Watching me now.
The panic became greater. They knew. They knew I was in the car; they knew I had figured it out. They had seen my test with the back seat. All they hadn't seen was the look of shock on my face, because I would bet Presumption that cop cars had no cameras in them because cops were privileged.
But wait, I thought, looking back at the screen and trying not to blink. Maybe they didn't. They didn't – couldn't – watch everybody all the time. Odds were nobody was watching the treachery going on right now. If I could just delete the evidence …
There was a garbage can on the bottom left corner of the screen.
Quickly, blinking as little as possible, I deleted every picture and video that had been recorded since I walked out of my building. As I did, I decided a couple of things: I was no longer going to sit back and let them watch me. I would not destroy myself obsessing over my public or private actions. I would not be their pawn or slave.
Finally, the last picture deleted and my eyes closed, I rolled out of the car and placed myself on the public bench next to it. When the cop came back a few minutes later I turned my head, pretending to be on the phone. He never gave me a glance as he got in his car and drove away.
That night, I called the vendor of a bug-disabler. “I want to go underground,” I told him.
No questions, no asking why. “Okay. We'll send someone over as soon as possible to do the kidnapping.”
Then: “What are you going to do for our movement?”
“Send out a chain e-mail.”
“With what contents?”
“I'm thinking, ‘Attention: Your government is drowning in deceit …'”
“That's punishable by death, you know. Very dangerous. No one's done that in years.”
“I don't really care. And also, the cameras are in our eyelids.”
“I figured something to that effect. I'll send over a surgeon as well.”
The vendor hung up. I stood by the phone for a while, contemplating my new existence. Then, as I climbed the stairs to my room, I whispered, “And to whoever's listening … screw you.”