There was a clear distinction between my subvocal, or, silent speech, and the words the
National Security Agency laid inside my brain. I wasn’t myself anymore. That’s not a
ridiculous assumption. Now, I hate to unload my mind. I’ve managed to shut up for a
few hours- reading, listening to jazz on Spotify on my headphones, but, sooner than
later, the NSA’s words must speak. They’re in control of my lips, my voice box, my tongue, my glottal
stop, my teeth, and my palate. It’s painful and I hope it’ll go away.
If I put faith in my subvocal, silent speech, I can break the chokehold of the NSA. I
am not unlike other Americans- Americans who will not kiss the bloody flag. Digging
beneath the superficial, so many citizens have the power within them to alter the regime’s
power. Depressed and repressed for what seemed like epochs, we owe it to our sense of
decency to clobber the digital dictators. But not without a fight.
“What’s with the frown, Marty? It doesn’t do justice to your handsome self,” Pam
said. She was concerned, exactly the reason why I liked her. I hadn’t wanted her to become
embroiled in my internal affairs department–that region in the brain’s left hemisphere, the areas of
Broca’s and Wernicke’s, regions from where speech production stem.
I sealed my lips, clamped my teeth, but still, my tongue moved within. They’re
not my lips and tongue anymore, but they belong to the National Security Agency. My own words
have spieled out ever since I was two years of age. That’s what I did–I talked, and the NSA
stole my words like its agents were Hermes, the thief. I won’t bow down to
mythological hubris. Pam might have other ideas about how false my words sound,
streaming as if from a stranger- a foreign entity- You -the NSA.
But the ventriloquists wanted to snatch me from Pam, who had so far stood by my side,
who hadn’t crossed enemy lines, and who mistook them for me. I had to speak sham-speech, but it was the
enemy within who had dictated it:
“The National Security Agency has embedded words into me that are not my own, right now, as I speak, Pam. It’s an
operation to try to make random persons say they’ll commit terrorist violence.”
Pseudo-speak compelled me to say that. Pam massaged my chest. She pressed her
hand on my heart and ran her fingers up and down my legs. She kissed my lips and touched
them delicately. She imparted familiarity, and allowed her sensuality to detect my fraudulent
words. At least now she knew the difference.
“You’re talking paranoia,” she said, though speaking without condemnation, her voice strong
and sympathetic. I touched her throat, feeling the vibrations of her voice, as she uttered those three
words. Then I released my hand and watched her, a non-drinker, toss back a cup of vodka.
Her face always looked kinder among persons, though unhinged in some way, like persons
with classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. I hadn’t a serious mental condition,
but just a minor breakdown. The NSA could have engineered it, noodling around my brain. Testing,
one- two- three, we made penetration. Perhaps I was pliable, allowing a soft touch to affect my entire
life like a fontanelle- soft and porous, easy to probe, and then control.
She worked for a spell in a mental hospital, where she met me- then a patient. There was
little gap between her mode of thought and her mode of speech and that of mine. After hospitalization,
we began living together.
She played along, saying, “I thought the NSA protected us from attack by terrorists.”
“This is an experiment, I responded, “and I’m the test subject to verify whether they can terrify an
entire nation into submission. They can manipulate our minds into thinking we’re
terrorists, and not just ordinary citizens.”
I’d better stop conversational exchanges, or, out of helplessness, she might
psychiatrist to commit me to the same mental care unit as the one in which she fell
for me. That possibility could happen. If the NSA persists in making me parrot their words,
she might even leave. Every time I speak, she hears their words, and not mine, transmitted
from Fort Meade, Maryland, the location of the NSA headquarters. I cherish having freed myself from
inhibitions. Now a ventriloquists’ dummy, stuffed with words not my own, the rush
of imminent death of who-ness swept down and lodged in my mind. It was like a
sore- that, if untreated, would never heal.
Outside agitators obstructed my liberated spirit, usurping ownership of my speech.
Don’t I own the copyright for my words? I seek no wider territory except my mouth.
When I said, “stop mouthing off”, that meant you, National Security Agency. I hear you
as I brush my teeth: “We’re the floss between your teeth as you slide it back and forth.
We’re the teeth, we’re your ‘ahh’ after you finish,” I said, as Pam came out of the shower.
“What’s with the teeth talk?” she said, toweling off.
“The NSA flosses and talks to the morsels and gristle it removes,” I said. “They like
demonstrating omnipotence in mundane, psychotic ways.”
“You’re imagining that. Why not see a shrink?” Pam said.
Shrink-talk was a dirty word, but what could I do? I couldn’t place quotation marks around
these concocted words.
“Surveillance has taken over, and we’re in control,” they said angrily. I spewed a
half-digested sunflower seed out my mouth. It landed between her breasts.
“I wish I could help, but please, keep your mouth shut when we’re both in the
bathroom,” she said. Pam drew a line which I crossed. I licked the seed off and she laughed.
“I’m not paranoid”, I thought, “but wouldn’t an invasion, using my mouth as Nazi
Quislings, as their collaborating mouthpieces had during World War II, make one
approximate paranoia? You’re foreign, NSA; You have no passport or Visa; You’ve
employed high tech surveillance, and it hampered me to speak my own mind. If only
guerrillas could hit you where you’re the most vulnerable, when NSA employees are getting into their
cars after their shifts. But that’s hardware, and I’ve got to think software, I’ve got to go digital just as they
have. Catastrophes brought out opportunities, the insurgency builded like plaque on my
teeth, but not your plaque.”
I thought, “Russia lost its Soviet Republics, and you also will surrender territories you once
had. You may move lips now, but for how much longer? When you told the world that I
had violent thoughts, you were an accomplice to murder. It’s not I who had to serve time in
a Super Max, but you. Today, when I introduce a fake stutter your mouth isn’t
prepared for, you creep in through my nostrils, not unlike a prisoner force-fed by a
feeding tube, which amounts to torture.”
This morning, I gagged. I coughed. I couldn’t breathe. I had an asthma attack, and I
nearly choked to death- a morsel of food had jammed down my throat. Pam administered
the Heimlich maneuver, reaching from behind, and pulling hard on my stomach. The
obstruction flew out.
“I could’ve poisoned that drink.” Those were words from the NSA, not mine. Pam was the last person I’d want
dead. The NSA had played around with lives, and made Pam think I was psychotic. She grabbed the
bottle and poured herself another cup of vodka.
“Don’t try to be someone else.” Pam twisted her hair around her fingers, and her face
turned ugly. “What’ll happen to you if you don’t stop being somebody else?”
“I have big plans,” I said. “But I don’t know what they’ll make me say next”.
Pam’s eyes were red-rimmed. “What kind?”
“Helpers will strap explosives around my body, so I can detonate the Statue of Liberty.”
“Are you telling me the truth?” Pam asked. “Why would the NSA let you get away with murder?”
“They foment terror, they don’t stop it. In two days, ka-boom.” My subvocal words began to
be retrievable. I added, “Do you hear trucks outside? The people who will strap on the suicide
vests are getting out.” I never heard anything, just used words on point- military lingo.
“No, I don’t hear them. I hear birds, I hear wind blowing through trees, I hear you asking the
question, I hear you saying, ‘Read alternative media, even mainstream media. People will rise up
against digital totalitarianism’,” Pam said.
“Yes, Pam, I said those words.”
A small university such as this one gathers ten thousand protesters against the NSA.
I don’t hear NSA-Speak anymore, and in a speech on the speakers’ platform, I said,
“These are my words today, and not those packaged into my mind by the NSA.”
Another speaker took the mic. I gazed at the crowd, and thought, “You’d better be
certain they’re your words when you talk.”
George Sparling is a writer from Arcata, CA and can be reached at email@example.com