Invasion of the News

It all started innocently enough. Writing about the decisions and conflicts of the powerful and famous, printing up a ton of copies on cheap paper to circulate the information as widely as possible. Many more people were illiterate in those days, and it was much harder to transmit information over large distances. So the impact of the news was very localized, but there was a sense in which, over time, we would get better at keeping people informed through this emerging mechanism.

Little did we know that it was all an elaborate plan to slowly prepare us for global conquest.

The invaders were not susceptible to the biases that so hindered their prey, so it took them longer than it might have to understand why it was the humans seemed to defeat themselves in a hundred different ways each day. They performed various psychological experiments to get to the bottom of it, and concluded that these biases could be used to their advantage. The bias towards short term thinking in particular would come in handy, as the invader’s plan would be centuries in the making.

In the beginning, they were very directly involved. Using their finest brain manipulation technology, they implanted the idea of newspapers into the minds of numerous individuals around the world. They encouraged their subjects to write in terms that appealed to the group affiliation and confirmation biases of potential readers. To cover their bases, they made sure that multiple groups were represented.

They A/B tested different versions of the same article within towns and neighborhoods and observed the effect. In this way, they were able to refine the news into a weapon to turn people into drooling, ranting, biased idiots. Over time, the human population grew and the increasingly effective news outlets turned them into a bigger and bigger pool of potential slaves for the invaders to walk right in and conquer.

In the 20th Century they kicked things into gear, introducing more and more tools through which news could be delivered in an even more potent state. First came radio, then came TV—a tool so powerful it would not be surpassed until the 21st Century, when the world wide web came along, and smartphones made it possible for people to carry the news with them everywhere they went.

When the invaders finally came, in wave after wave of spaceships, humanity barely resisted. Democrats immediately jumped to blaming Republicans, and vice versa, and they all started arguing about it rather than mobilizing a defense. Android and iPhone users conjured up reasons that the others’ choice in smartphone OS had something to do with it.

The invaders’ plan, hundreds of years in the making, finally came to fruition.

That Which is Perfect

My name is Edward Norton. Last year, I had a car accident with a vehicle that was transporting an experimental substance for the DoD, and got covered in the stuff. As a result, trillions of devices a few nanometers in length course through my bloodstream, repairing my body, healing any injuries faster than is humanly possible. The first thing they did was coat my bones with a tiny layer of a very hard, very flexible metal alloy. The second thing they did was break down all of the muscles in my body and replace them with a dense fiber, custom designed to provide more force per square inch than the original.

In short, I’ve got superpowers. I can punch through a brick wall with very little effort and no lasting harm to myself, and I can bounce back from pretty traumatic injuries quite quickly.

I have superpowers, and it has ruined my life.

Seneca the Younger once asked, “What can be added to that which is perfect?” My life may not have been perfect, exactly, but it seemed that way to me at the time. And adding superpowers to it was definitely a loss rather than a gain.

I had a beautiful, wonderful wife, and three perfect little girls. I was a product manager for a small video advertising startup in DC. I had a good relationship with my boss, the owner of the company, formerly a coworker at a previous job who had brought me over. It was not an exciting life. We had no need for it to be.

Then the damn accident happened, and everything got screwed up.

For one thing, I am terrified to hug or grasp my daughters now. I am so strong; I haven’t really been able to get my ahead around how much stronger I really am. I’m terrified that I’m going to hurt them, or Anna.

One time, Andrew—my boss—and I were at Fast Eddie’s for happy hour after work. Some frat bro asshole started hassling us. He got a little too up close and personal, so I gave him a little love tap—and it broke his jaw. I mean, fuck. I didn’t mean to hurt the guy, I just wanted him to back off!

But that isn’t the worst of it. The people who were driving the car I crashed into were not actually part of the DoD or the government at all. They were some group that was pulling off a heist on the stuff that ended up making me what I am. And now they’re after me. They want to take me, probably want to dissect me like some lab rat.

They tried to take me directly not long after the accident, but I’m too strong for them now. Bullets hurt, but don’t kill me, and I was able to make quick work of the guys they sent after me.

So they took my family hostage.

That was the worst day of my life. I have never been so terrified.

I managed to get my family out, with some help from the Department of Homeland Security. But not before I beat the everloving shit out of some of those terrorist assholes in front of my wife and kids. The sick part is, some part of me enjoyed it. I hope the kids couldn’t tell, but I think that Anna could.

She took the kids to her parents’ place for a while after that. Almost a year went by where I only got to visit once a month or less.

But she came back, bless her. She still loves me, and she wants the girls to be with their father, and DHS is providing us with protection. I don’t know if she made the right choice, but I’m still so relieved, and grateful.

People are way too quick to take a normal, boring life for granted. They don’t know what a blessing it is to have a good job and a family that loves you. I’m holding on to those at the moment, but just barely. I can only hope that my superpowers don’t screw things up for good some day.

If you have people in your life that you love, take it from me. If you see a radioactive spider, or cosmic rays, or superpower science goo—turn the other way and run as fast as you can.

The Storyteller

There was once a boy who wanted to tell stories. These were exactly the sorts of stories you would expect a little boy to tell; they involved video game and cartoon characters that he thought were cool. They spent most of their time getting into fights that the boy would contrive some reason for. Sometimes the boy could be bothered to write these stories on paper, but most of the time he simply acted them out with an ever-growing army of action figures.

As the boy grew, he aspired to write down more of these stories, but was never very dedicated to the task. Every so often he would spend a lot of energy on an idea for a story and then drop it before he was finished. Long after he had become a man—to the extent that one could call him such a thing with a straight face—the number of completed works of fiction he had seen through in his lifetime could be counted on his hands.

However, he had been far from idle as a storyteller. At some point late in his childhood, he began to tell stories about things in the world he had heard about, and read about, and talked about, particularly the things he had talked with his father about. Current events, history, philosophy, and every sort of idea filled the thousands of stories that he told. Though he had never had a trouble writing essays for a grade, still he was quite bad at telling a good story to begin with. But he enjoyed it, and he kept at it. After more than a decade of such storytelling, he began to find that the number of stories he produced that he was proud of was beginning to exceed the ones he considered duds.

Yet the fact that he never spent any of that energy telling the kinds of stories that excited him as a boy ate at him. He thought, surely, as I have been telling stories all along, it would be a simple matter to switch over and start doing the other sort. But domain dependence turns out to be far narrower than he had thought; writing fiction was hard work, while writing nonfiction came as easily to him as breathing.

Finally he came to terms with the fact that there was no shortcut for rounding out his abilities as a storyteller. If he wanted to tell the stories he had so loved growing up, he would have to start in the same place that he had started with the stories he could now tell so effortlessly. He would have to commit to stories that he could finish, no matter how small. He would have to keep at it, rather than writing one story and then not doing another for months or years. He would have to accept that it would be a long time before he was ready to write stories that he could be proud of on a regular basis.

So, afraid that he might be setting himself for another false start, he began. He began with the simple story of how he got here, because it’s a story he already knew well and knew how to tell. And that is the story you have just finished reading.