Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jennifer Egan / Black Box

Illustration by Brendan Monroe.

Black Box
by Jennifer Egan

People rarely look the way you expect them
to, even when you’ve seen pictures.
The first thirty seconds in a person’s
presence are the most important.
If you’re having trouble perceiving and
projecting, focus on projecting.
Necessary ingredients for a successful
projection: giggles; bare legs; shyness.
The goal is to be both irresistible and
When you succeed, a certain sharpness
will go out of his eyes.

Some powerful men actually call their
beauties “Beauty.”
Counter to reputation, there is a deep
camaraderie among beauties.
If your Designated Mate is widely feared,
the beauties at the house party where
you’ve gone undercover to meet him will
be especially kind.
Kindness feels good, even when it’s based
on a false notion of your identity and
Posing as a beauty means not reading
what you would like to read on a rocky
shore in the South of France.
Sunlight on bare skin can be as nourishing
as food.
Even a powerful man will be briefly
self-conscious when he first disrobes to his
bathing suit.
It is technically impossible for a man to
look better in a Speedo than in swim
If you love someone with dark skin, white
skin looks drained of something vital.
When you know that a person is violent
and ruthless, you will see violent
ruthlessness in such basic things as his
swim stroke.
“What are you doing?” from your
Designated Mate amid choppy waves after
he has followed you into the sea may or
may not betray suspicion.
Your reply—“Swimming”—may or may not
be perceived as sarcasm.
“Shall we swim together toward those
rocks?” may or may not be a question.
“All that way?” will, if spoken correctly,
sound ingenuous.
“We’ll have privacy there” may sound
unexpectedly ominous.
A hundred feet of blue-black
Mediterranean will allow you ample time
to deliver a strong self-lecture.
At such moments, it may be useful to
explicitly recall your training:
“You will be infiltrating the lives of criminals.
“You will be in constant danger.
“Some of you will not survive, but those
who do will be heroes.
“A few of you will save lives and even
change the course of history.
“We ask of you an impossible combination
of traits: ironclad scruples and a willingness
to violate them;
“An abiding love for your country and a
willingness to consort with individuals who
are working actively to destroy it;
“The instincts and intuition of experts, and
the blank records and true freshness of
“You will each perform this service only
once, after which you will return to your
“We cannot promise that your lives will be
exactly the same when you go back to
Eagerness and pliability can be expressed
even in the way you climb from the sea
onto chalky yellow rocks.
“You’re a very fast swimmer,” uttered by a
man who is still submerged, may not be
intended as praise.
Giggling is sometimes better than
“You are a lovely girl” may be meant
Ditto “I want to fuck you now.”
“Well? What do you think about that?”
suggests a preference for direct verbal
responses over giggling.
“I like it” must be uttered with enough
gusto to compensate for a lack of
declarative color.
“You don’t sound sure” indicates
insufficient gusto.
“I’m not sure” is acceptable only when
followed, coyly, with “You’ll have to
convince me.”
Throwing back your head and closing your
eyes allows you to give the appearance of
sexual readiness while concealing
Being alone with a violent and ruthless
man, surrounded by water, can make the
shore seem very far away.
You may feel solidarity, at such a time,
with the beauties just visible there in
their bright bikinis.
You may appreciate, at such a time, why
you aren’t being paid for this work.
Your voluntary service is the highest
form of patriotism.
Remind yourself that you aren’t being
paid when he climbs out of the water
and lumbers toward you.
Remind yourself that you aren’t
being paid when he leads you behind
a boulder and pulls you onto
his lap.
The Dissociation Technique is like a
parachute—you must pull the cord at the
correct time.
Too soon, and you may hinder your
ability to function at a crucial moment;
Too late, and you will be lodged
too deeply inside the action to wriggle
You will be tempted to pull the cord
when he surrounds you with arms whose
bulky strength reminds you, fleetingly, of
your husband’s.
You will be tempted to pull it when you
feel him start to move against you from
You will be tempted to pull it when his
smell envelops you: metallic, like a warm
hand clutching pennies.
The directive “Relax” suggests that your
discomfort is palpable.
“No one can see us” suggests that your
discomfort has been understood as fear
of physical exposure.
“Relax, relax,” uttered in rhythmic,
throaty tones, suggests that your
discomfort is not unwelcome.
Begin the Dissociation Technique only
when physical violation is imminent.
Close your eyes and slowly count
backward from ten.
With each number, imagine yourself rising
out of your body and moving one step
farther away from it.
By eight, you should be hovering
just outside your skin.
By five, you should be floating a foot or
two above your body, feeling only vague
anxiety over what is about to happen to it.
By three, you should feel fully detached
from your physical self.
By two, your body should be able to act
and react without your participation.
By one, your mind should drift so free that
you lose track of what is happening below.
White clouds spin and curl.
A blue sky is as depthless as the sea.
The sound of waves against rocks existed
millennia before there were creatures who
could hear it.
Spurs and gashes of stone narrate a
violence that the earth itself has long
Your mind will rejoin your body when it is
safe to do so.
Return to your body carefully, as if you
were reëntering your home after a
Resist the impulse to reconstruct what
has just happened.
Focus instead on gauging your
Designated Mate’s reaction to the new
intimacy between you.
In some men, intimacy will prompt a
more callous, indifferent attitude.
In others, intimacy may awaken
problematic curiosity about you.
“Where did you learn to swim like
that?,” uttered lazily, while supine, with
two fingers in your hair, indicates
Tell the truth without precision.
“I grew up near a lake” is both true and
“Where was the lake?” conveys
dissatisfaction with your vagueness.
“Columbia County, New York” suggests
precision while avoiding it.
“Manhattan?” betrays unfamiliarity with
the geography of New York State.
Never contradict your Designated Mate.
“Where did you grow up?,” asked of a man
who has just asked you the same thing, is
known as “mirroring.”
Mirror your Designated Mate’s attitudes,
interests, desires, and tastes.
Your goal is to become part of his
atmosphere: a source of comfort and ease.
Only then will he drop his guard when you
are near.
Only then will he have significant
conversations within your earshot.
Only then will he leave his possessions in a
porous and unattended state.
Only then can you begin to gather
information systematically.
“Come. Let’s go back,” uttered brusquely,
suggests that your Designated Mate has
no more wish to talk about himself than
you do.
Avoid the temptation to analyze his moods
and whims.
Salt water has a cleansing effect.
You will see knowledge of your new
intimacy with your Designated Mate in the
eyes of every beauty on shore.
“We saved lunch for you” may or may not be
an allusion to the reason for your absence.
Cold fish is unappealing, even when
served in a good lemon sauce.
Be friendly to other beauties, but not
When you are in conversation with a
beauty, it is essential that you be
perceived as no more or less than she is.
Be truthful about every aspect of your life
except marriage (if any).
If married, say that you and your spouse
have divorced, to give an impression of
unfettered freedom.
“Oh, that’s sad!” suggests that the beauty
you’re chatting with would like to marry.
If your Designated Mate abruptly veers
toward the villa, follow him.
Taking his hand and smiling congenially
can create a sense of low-key accompaniment.
An abstracted smile in return, as if he’d
forgotten who you are, may be a sign of
pressing concerns.
The concerns of your Designated Mate are
your concerns.
The room assigned to a powerful man will
be more lavish than the one you slept in
while awaiting his arrival.
Never look for hidden cameras: the fact
that you’re looking will give you away.
Determine whether your Designated Mate
seeks physical intimacy; if not, feign the
wish for a nap.
Your pretense of sleep will allow him to
feel that he is alone.
Curling up under bedclothes, even those
belonging to an enemy subject, may be
You’re more likely to hear his handset
vibrate if your eyes are closed.
A door sliding open signals his wish to take
the call on the balcony.
Your Designated Mate’s important
conversations will take place
If you are within earshot of his
conversation, record it.
Since beauties carry neither pocketbooks
nor timepieces, you cannot credibly
transport recording devices.
A microphone has been implanted just
beyond the first turn of your right ear
Activate the microphone by pressing the
triangle of cartilage across your ear
You will hear a faint whine as recording
In extreme quiet, or to a person whose
head is adjacent to yours, this whine may
be audible.
Should the whine be detected, swat
your ear as if to deflect a mosquito,
hitting the on/off cartilage to deactivate
the mike.
You need not identify or comprehend the
language your subject is using.
Your job is proximity; if you are near your
Designated Mate, recording his private
speech, you are succeeding.
Profanity sounds the same in every
An angry subject will guard his words less
If your subject is angry, you may leave
your camouflage position and move as
close to him as possible to improve
recording quality.
You may feel afraid as you do this.
Your pounding heartbeat will not be
If your Designated Mate is standing on a
balcony, hover in the doorway just
behind him.
If he pivots and discovers you,
pretend that you were on the verge
of approaching him.
Anger usually trumps suspicion.
If your subject brushes past you
and storms out of the room, slamming
the door, you have eluded
If your Designated Mate leaves your
company a second time, don’t follow him
Deactivate your ear mike and resume
your “nap.”
A moment of repose may be a good time
to reassure your loved ones.
Nuanced communication is too easily
monitored by the enemy.
Your Subcutaneous Pulse System issues
pings so generic that detection would
reveal neither source nor intent.
A button is embedded behind the inside
ligament of your right knee (if right-
Depress twice to indicate to loved ones
that you are well and thinking of them.
You may send this signal only once each
A continuous depression of the button
indicates an emergency.
You will debate, each day, the best time
to send your signal.
You will reflect on the fact that your
husband, coming from a culture of tribal
allegiance, understands and applauds
your patriotism.
You will reflect on the enclosed and
joyful life that the two of you have shared
since graduate school.
You will reflect on the fact that America
is your husband’s chosen country, and
that he loves it.
You will reflect on the fact that your
husband’s rise to prominence would have
been unimaginable in any other nation.
You will reflect on your joint conviction
that your service had to be undertaken
before you had children.
You will reflect on the fact that you are
thirty-three, and have spent your
professional life fomenting musical
You will reflect on the fact that you must
return home the same person you were
when you left.
You will reflect on the fact that you’ve been
guaranteed you will not be the same person.
You will reflect on the fact that you had
stopped being that person even before
You will reflect on the fact that too much
reflection is pointless.
You will reflect on the fact that these
“instructions” are becoming less and less
Your Field Instructions, stored in a chip
beneath your hairline, will serve as both a
mission log and a guide for others
undertaking this work.
Pressing your left thumb (if right-handed)
against your left middle fingertip begins
For clearest results, mentally speak the
thought, as if talking to yourself.
Always filter your observations and
experience through the lens of their
didactic value.
Your training is ongoing; you must learn
from each step you take.
When your mission is complete, you may
view the results of the download before
adding your Field Instructions to your
mission file.
Where stray or personal thoughts have
intruded, you may delete them.
Pretend sleep can lead to actual sleep.
Sleep is restorative in almost every
The sound of showering likely indicates
the return of your Designated Mate.
As a beauty, you will be expected to
return to your room and change clothes
often; a fresh appearance at mealtimes is
The goal is to be a lovely, innocuous,
evolving surprise.
A crisp white sundress against tanned skin
is widely viewed as attractive.
Avoid overbright colors; they are
attention-seeking and hinder camouflage.
White is not, technically speaking, a bright
White is, nevertheless, bright.
Gold spike-heeled sandals may
compromise your ability to run or jump,
but they look good on tanned feet.
Thirty-three is still young enough to
register as “young.”
Registering as “young” is especially
welcome to those who may not register as
“young” much longer.
If your Designated Mate leads you to
dinner with an arm at your waist, assume
that your attire change was successful.
When men begin serious talk, beauties are
left to themselves.
“How long have you been divorced?”
suggests the wish to resume a prior
“A few months,” when untrue, should be
uttered without eye contact.
“What was he like, your husband?” may be
answered honestly.
“From Africa. Kenya” will satisfy your wish
to talk about your husband.
“Black?,” with eyebrows raised, may
indicate racism.
“Yes. Black,” in measured tones, should
deliver a gentle reprimand.
“How black?” suggests that it did not.
“Very black” is somewhat less gentle,
especially when accompanied by a
pointed stare.
“Nice” hints at personal experience.
“Yes. It is nice” contradicts one’s alleged
divorce. “Was nice” is a reasonable correction.
“But not nice enough?,” with laughter,
indicates friendly intimacy. Especially when
followed by “Or too nice!”
House-party hosts are universally eager
to make guests eat.
For most beauties, the lure of food is a
hazard; as a beauty of limited tenure, you
may eat what you want.
Squab can be consumed by ripping the
bird apart with your hands and sucking the
meat from the bones.
A stunned expression reveals that your
host expected the use of utensils.
A host who caters to violent guests will
understand implicitly the need for
The adjacency of your host’s chair to your
own may presage a confidence.
If your job is to appear simpleminded, a
confidence may mean that you have failed.
Everyone should brush his teeth before
Turning your ear toward your host’s mouth
will prevent you from having to smell the
breath coming from it.
Ears must be kept clean at all times.
If your host warns you that your
Designated Mate may pose an immediate
danger to you, assume that your
Designated Mate has left the room.
Going to the rest room is the most
efficient means of self-jettisoning.
Never betray urgency, not even in an
empty hallway.
If you have no idea in which direction your
Designated Mate has gone, hold still.
If you find yourself hovering beside a pair
of glass doors, you may open them and
step outside.
Nights in the South of France are a
strange, dark, piercing blue.
A bright moon can astonish, no matter
how many times you have seen it.
If you were a child who loved the moon,
looking at the moon will forever remind
you of childhood.
Fatherless girls may invest the moon with a
certain paternal promise.
Everyone has a father.
A vague story like “Your father died before
you were born” may satisfy a curious child
for an unlikely number of years.
The truth of your paternity, discovered in
adulthood, will make the lie seem
retroactively ludicrous.
Publicists occasionally have flings with
their movie-star clients.
Discovering that you are a movie star’s
daughter is not necessarily a comfort.
It is especially not a comfort when the star
in question has seven other children from
three different marriages.
Discovering that you are a movie star’s
daughter may prompt you to watch
upward of sixty movies, dating from the
beginning of his career.
You may think, watching said movies, You
don’t know about me, but I am here.
You may think, watching said movies, I’m
invisible to you, but I am here.
A sudden reconfiguration of your past can
change the fit and feel of your adulthood.
It may cleave you, irreparably, from the
mother whose single goal has been your
If your husband has transformed greatly in
his own life, he will understand your
Avoid excessive self-reflection; your job is
to look out, not in.
“There you are,” whispered from behind
by your Designated Mate, suggests that
he has been looking for you.
Holding still can sometimes prove more
effective than actively searching.
“Come,” uttered softly, may
communicate a renewed wish for
intimate contact.
The moon’s calm face can make you feel,
in advance, that you are understood and
The sea is audible against the rocks well
before you see it.
Even at night, the Mediterranean is more
blue than black.
If you wish to avoid physical intimacy, the
sight of a speedboat will bring relief, despite
the myriad new problems it presents.
If no words are exchanged between your
Designated Mate and the speedboat’s
captain, their meeting was likely
A man known for his cruelty may still show
great care in guiding his beauty into a
rocking speedboat.
He may interpret her hesitation to board
as a fear of falling in.
Resist the impulse to ask where you are
Try, when anxious, to summon up a goofy
Locate your Personal Calming Source and
use it.
If your Personal Calming Source is the
moon, be grateful that it is dark and that
the moon is especially bright.
Reflect on the many reasons you can’t yet
You need to see your husband.
You need to have children.
You need to tell the movie star that he has
an eighth child, and that she is a hero.
The moon may appear to move, but really
it is you who are moving.
At high velocity, a speedboat slams
along the tops of waves.
Fear and excitement are sometimes
When the captain of a boat adjusts his
course in response to commands from
your Designated Mate, he may not know
where he is taking you.
If your Designated Mate keeps looking up,
he’s probably using the stars for
The Mediterranean is vast enough to have
once seemed infinite.
A beauty should require no more context
than the presence of her Designated
A beauty must appear to enjoy any journey
he initiates.
Simulate said enjoyment by putting an
affectionate arm around him and nestling
your head close to his.
A beauty whose head is aligned with her
Designated Mate’s can share in his
navigation and thus calculate the route.
At night, far from shore, stars pulse with a
strength that is impossible to conceive of
in the proximity of light.
Your whereabouts will never be a mystery;
you will be visible at all times as a dot of
light on the screens of those watching
over you.
You are one of hundreds, each a potential
Technology has afforded ordinary people
a chance to glow in the cosmos of human
Your lack of espionage and language
training is what makes your record clean
and neutral.
You are an ordinary person undertaking an
extraordinary task.
You need not be remarkable for your
credentials or skill sets, only for your
bravery and equilibrium.
Knowing that you are one of hundreds
shouldn’t feel belittling.
In the new heroism, the goal is to merge
with something larger than yourself.
In the new heroism, the goal is to throw off
generations of self-involvement.
In the new heroism, the goal is to renounce
the American fixation with being seen and
In the new heroism, the goal is to dig
beneath your shiny persona.
You’ll be surprised by what lies under it: a
rich, deep crawl space of possibilities.
Some liken this discovery to a dream in
which a familiar home acquires new wings
and rooms.
The power of individual magnetism is
nothing against the power of combined
selfless effort.
You may accomplish astonishing personal
feats, but citizen agents rarely seek
individual credit.
They liken the need for personal glory to
cigarette addiction: a habit that feels
life-sustaining even as it kills you.
Childish attention-seeking is usually
satisfied at the expense of real power.
An enemy of the state could not have
connived a better way to declaw and
distract us.
Now our notorious narcissism is our
After a juddering ride of several hours,
you may not notice at first that the boat is
approaching a shore.
A single lighted structure stands out
strongly on a deserted coastline.
Silence after a roaring motor is a sound of
its own.
The speedboat’s immediate departure
signals that you won’t be making a return
trip anytime soon.
Knowing your latitude and longitude is not
the same as knowing where you are.
A new remote and unfamiliar place can
make the prior remote and unfamiliar
place seem like home.
Imagining yourself as a dot of light on a
screen is oddly reassuring.
Because your husband is a visionary in the
realm of national security, he occasionally
has access to that screen.
If it calms you to imagine your husband
tracking your dot of light, then imagine it.
Do not, however, close your eyes while
ascending a rocky path in darkness.
At Latitude X, Longitude Y, the flora is dry
and crumbles under your feet.
A voice overhead suggests that your
arrival was expected and observed.
An empty shore is not necessarily
The best patrols are imperceptible.
A formal handshake between your new
host and your Designated Mate implies
that this is their first meeting.
A formal handshake followed by a complex
and stylized hand gesture implies a shared
So does the immediate use of a language
you don’t recognize.
In certain rich, powerful men, physical
slightness will seem a source of strength.
The failure of your new host to
acknowledge you may indicate that
women do not register in his field of vision.
Being invisible means that you won’t be
closely watched.
Your job is to be forgotten yet still present.
A white, sparkling villa amid so much
scrabbly darkness will appear miragelike.
A man to whom women are invisible may
still have many beauties in his domain.
These neglected beauties will vie for his
scant attention.
Among neglected beauties, there is often
an alpha beauty who assumes leadership.
As you enter the house, her cool
scrutiny will ripple through the other
beauties and surround you.
The sensation will remind you of going as a
child with your mother to visit families with
two parents and multiple children.
At first, the knot of unfamiliar kids would
seem impenetrable.
You would wish, keenly, that you had a
sibling who could be your ally.
Feeling at the mercy of those around you
prompted a seismic internal response.
The will to dominate was deeper than
You were never childish, even as a child.
Your unchildishness is something your
husband has always loved in you.
Once the new children were under your
control, it was crushing to leave their
A small table and chairs carved into a
spindly clifftop promontory are doubtless
designed for private conversation.
If your Designated Mate brings you with
him to this place, it may mean that he feels
less than perfectly at ease with your new
When your new host dismisses his own
alpha beauty, important business may be
under way.
An alpha beauty will not tolerate her own
exclusion if another beauty is included.
If your new host makes a motion of
dismissal at you, look to your Designated
Take orders from no one but your
Designated Mate.
If your Designated Mate keeps an arm
around you in the face of your new host’s
dismissal, you have become the object of
a power play.
If your new host moves close to your face
and speaks directly into it, he is likely
testing your ignorance of his language.
If your Designated Mate stiffens beside
you, your new host’s words are
probably offensive.
When you become an object of
contention, try to neutralize the conflict.
A giggle and a look of incomprehension
are a beauty’s most reliable tools.
If the men relax into their chairs,
neutralization has been successful.
Your new host has insulted you and, by
extension, your Designated Mate.
Your Designated Mate has prevailed in his
claim that you’re too harmless to bother
sending away.
Congratulate yourself on preserving your
adjacency and activate your ear mike.
In the presence of business conversation,
project an utter lack of interest or curiosity.
Notice where you are at all times.
On a high, narrow promontory at Latitude
X, Longitude Y, the ocean and heavens
shimmer in all directions.
There will be moments in your mission,
perhaps very few, when you’ll sense the
imminence of critical information.
It may come in the form of a rush of joy.
This joy may arise from your discovery that
the moon, hard and radiant, is still aloft.
It may arise from the knowledge that,
when your task is complete, you will return
to the husband you adore.
It may arise from the extremity of the
natural beauty around you, and the
recognition that you are alive in this
It may arise from your knowledge that you
have accomplished every goal you’ve set
for yourself since childhood.
It may arise from the knowledge that at
long last you’ve found a goal worthy of
your considerable energies.
It may arise from the knowledge that, by
accomplishing this goal, you’ll have helped
to perpetuate American life as you know it.
A wave of joy can make it difficult to sit still.
Beware of internal states—positive or
negative—that obscure what is happening
around you.
When two subjects begin making
sketches, concrete planning may have
The camera implanted in your left eye is
operated by pressing your left tear duct.
In poor light, a flash may be activated by
pressing the outside tip of your left
When using the flash, always cover
your non-camera eye to shield it from temporary
blindness occasioned by the flash.
Never deploy flash photography in the
presence of other people.
Springing from your seat with a gasp
and peering toward the house will focus
the attention of others in that direction.
Having heard something inaudible to
others puts you in an immediate position
of authority.
“What? What did you hear?,” uttered
close to your face by your Designated
Mate, means that your diversion was
Wait until their eagerness to know
verges on anger, evidenced by the
shaking of your shoulders.
Then tell them, faintly, “I heard
Men with a history of violence live in
fear of retribution.
Your new host will be the first to depart
in the direction of alleged screaming.
Your Designated Mate’s glance toward
the dock, far below, may reveal that his
interests are not fully aligned with your
new host’s.
His attention to his handset may
portend that your diversion has run
amok, undermining the transaction you
meant to capture.
Among the violent, there is always a
plan for escape.
It is reasonable to hope that a backlit
screen will distract its user from a camera
flash at some slight distance.
Move close to the sketches you wish to
photograph, allowing them to fill your field
of vision.
Hold very still.
A flash is far more dramatic in total
An epithet in another language, followed
by “What the fuck was that?,” means you
overestimated your Designated Mate’s
handset absorption.
A bright, throbbing total blindness means
that you neglected to cover your
non-camera eye.
Distance yourself from agency in the flash
by crying out, truthfully, “I can’t see!”
It is hard to safely navigate a clifftop
promontory at high speed while blind.
It is hard to defer said navigation when
your Designated Mate is forcefully yanking
your hand.
A distant buzz presages an approaching
Cooler air and a downward slope indicate
that you are now below the cliff’s edge.
Trying to negotiate a crumbling wooded
path in a state of blindness (and heels) will
soon lead to tripping and collapsing.
Receding downhill footfalls indicate that
you’ve overtaxed your limited value to
your Designated Mate.
A sense of helpless disorientation may
prevent you from doing much more than
sitting there in the dirt.
Variegation in the textures around you is a
first sign that your temporary blindness
has begun to fade.
Temporary blindness sharpens one’s
appreciation for not being blind.
In the aftermath of blindness, the
accretion of objects around you may
have an almost sensual quality.
A boat departing at high speed will send a
vibration trembling up through the soil.
The knowledge that you are alone, without
your Designated Mate, will settle upon you
slowly and coldly.
Each new phase of aloneness reveals that
you were previously less alone than you
This more profound isolation may register,
at first, as paralysis.
If it soothes you to lie back in the dirt, then
lie back.
The moon shines everywhere.
The moon can seem as expressive as a face.
Human beings are fiercely, primordially
In uneasy times, draw on the resilience you
carry inside you.
Recall that the mythical feats you loved to
read about as a child are puny beside the
accomplishments of human beings on
The presence of another person can be
sensed, even when not directly perceived.
The discovery of another person at close
range, when you thought you were alone,
may occasion fear.
Leaping from a supine into a standing
posture will induce a head rush.
“I see you. Come out” must be uttered
calmly, from the Readiness Position.
If you show fear, make sure that it isn’t the
fear you actually feel.
When you’ve expected a man, the
appearance of a woman may be shocking.
Despite all that you know and are, you may
experience that shock as a relief.
“Why are you here?,” uttered by your new
host’s alpha beauty, is likely hostile.
Respond to abstract questions on the
most literal level: “He left without me.” 
“Bastard,” muttered bitterly, suggests
familiarity with the phenomenon of being
left behind.
Sympathy from an unexpected source can
prompt a swell of emotion.
Measure the potential liability of shedding
tears before you let them fall.
The perfumed arm of a beauty may pour
strength and hope directly into your skin.
A lavish clifftop villa may look even more
miragelike on a second approach.
Sustaining an atmosphere of luxury in a
remote place requires an enormous
amount of money.
So does coördinated violence.
Your job is to follow money to its source.
A powerful man whose associate has fled
the premises after a false alarm is unlikely
to be cheerful.
The reappearance of the vanished
associate’s stranded beauty will likely
startle him.
Astonishment is satisfying to witness on
any face.
“Where the fuck did he go?” is
remarkably easy to decipher, even
in a language you don’t recognize.
A shrug is comprehensible to everyone.
An alpha beauty’s complete indifference
to the consternation of her mate may
mean that he’s easily moved to
It may also mean that he’s not her mate.
As a beauty, you will sometimes be
expected to change hands.
Generally, you will pass from the hands of
a less powerful man to those of a more
powerful man.
Greater proximity to the source of money
and control is progress.
Your job is identical regardless of whose
hands you are in.
If your vulnerability and helplessness have
drawn the interest of an enemy subject,
accentuate them.
Scraped and dirty legs may accentuate
your vulnerability to the point of disgust.
They might get you a hot shower, though.
Homes of the violent rich have excellent
first-aid cabinets.
If, after tending to your scrapes, you are
shown to a bathing area with a stone-
encrusted waterfall, assume you won’t be
alone for long.
The fact that a man has ignored and then
insulted you does not mean that he won’t
want to fuck you.
Slim, powerful men often move with
catlike swiftness.
Begin your countdown early—as he lowers
himself into the tub.
By the time he seizes your arm, you should
be at five.
By the time your forehead is jammed
against a rock, you should perceive your
body only vaguely, from above.
If you feel, on returning to your body,
that much time has passed, don’t dwell
on how much.
If your limbs are sore and your
forehead scraped and raw, don’t
dwell on why.
When you emerge from a warm,
churning bath where you’ve spent an
indeterminate period of time, expect
to feel shaky and weak.
Remind yourself that you are receiving no
payment, in currency or kind, for this or
any act you have engaged in.
These acts are forms of sacrifice.
An abundance of diaphanous bathrobes
suggests that the occupants of this
bathroom are often female.
A soiled and tattered white sundress can
seem oddly precious when it’s all you have.
Keep with you the things that matter—you
won’t come back for them later.
The stationing of a male attendant
outside the bathroom means that you
haven’t been forgotten.
If he shows you to a tiny room containing
a very large bed, your utility to your new
host may not have been exhausted.
A tray containing a meat pie, grapes, and
a pitcher of water suggests that visits
such as yours are routine.
At times, you may wish to avoid the moon.
At times, the moon may appear like a
surveillance device, tracking your
The ability to sleep in stressful conditions
is essential to this work.
Sleep whenever you can safely do so.
Your abrupt awakening may feel like a
reaction to a sound.
In moments of extreme solitude, you may
believe you’ve heard your name.
We reassure ourselves by summoning, in
our dreams, those we love and miss.
Having awakened to find them absent, we
may be left with a sense of having spoken
with them.
Even the most secure houses achieve, in
deep night, a state of relative
A beauty in a diaphanous lavender
bathrobe can go anywhere, as
long as she appears to be delivering
herself to someone.
A universal principle of home construction
makes it possible to guess which door will
lead to the master bedroom.
Linen closets, with doors closed, can
resemble master bedrooms.
So can bathrooms.
Bare feet are virtually soundless on a stone
Even a slim, catlike man may snore.
When trespassing in a sleeping man’s
bedroom, go straight to his bed, as if you
were seeking him out.
An alpha beauty who has appeared to
have no tie to your new host may turn out
to be his intimate, after all.
Their sleeping entanglement may
contradict everything you have witnessed
between them.
A small crib near the bed may indicate the
presence of a baby.
Avoid indulging your own amazement; it
wastes time.
Master bedrooms in lavish homes often
divide into “his” and “hers” areas.
A beauty’s closet is unmistakable, like a
quiver of bright arrows.
The closet of a slight, catlike man will
usually be compact.
Having penetrated a man’s personal space,
immediately seek out his Sweet Spot.
The Sweet Spot is where he empties his
pockets at the end of the day and stores
the essentials he needs to begin the next.
The Sweet Spot of a secretive, catlike man
will most often be inside a cupboard or a
When you find it, consider using a Data
Surge to capture the contents of his
A Data Surge must be deployed with
extreme caution, and only if you feel
confident of an exceptional yield.
The quantity of information captured will
require an enormous amount of manpower
to tease apart.
Its transmission will register on any
monitoring device.
We can guarantee its effectiveness
only once.
Reach between your right fourth and
pinky toes (if right-handed) and remove
the Data Plug from your Universal Port.
Attached to the plug is a cable with a
connection pin at one end for insertion
into the handset’s data port.
Sit on the floor, away from sharp surfaces,
and brace your back against a wall.
A red ribbon has been tucked inside your
Universal Port; enclose this in one of your
Spread apart your toes and gently reinsert
the plug, now fused to your subject’s
handset, into your Universal Port.
You will feel the surge as the data flood
your body.
The surge may contain feeling, memory,
heat, cold, longing, pain, even joy.
Although the data are alien, the memories
dislodged will be your own:
Peeling an orange for your husband in
bed on a Sunday, sunlight splashing the
The smoky earthen smell of the fur of your
childhood cat;
The flavor of the peppermints your
mother kept for you inside her desk.
The impact of a Data Surge may prompt
unconsciousness or short-term memory
The purpose of the red ribbon is to orient
you; if you awaken to find yourself
clutching one, look to your foot.
When your body is quiet, unplug the
handset and return it to its original location.
A Data Surge leaves a ringing in your ears
that may obscure the sound of another
person’s arrival.
A face that brought you relief once may
trigger relief a second time.
When an alpha beauty accosts you at high
volume in an unfamiliar language, it may
mean she’s too sleepy to remember who
you are.
It may also mean she’s calling someone
Beauty status will not excuse, for another
beauty, your appearance where you are
not supposed to be.
Should you be perceived as an enemy,
prepare to defend yourself at the first sign
of physical encroachment.
Your new host lunging at you, shouting,
“What the fuck are you doing?,”
constitutes physical encroachment.
Thrust your elbow upward into the tender
socket underneath his jaw, sending him
backward onto the floor.
The wails of a newborn will lure its mother
away from almost anything, including the
physical travails of her mate.
A man disabled by an elbow blow will have
little reaction to infant cries.
At the revelation of martial-arts expertise,
a man who has perceived you as merely a
beauty will recalculate your identity and
Watch his eyes: he’ll be measuring the
distance to his nearest firearm.
An immediate exit is advisable.
A slim, catlike man may well rebound
before a hasty exit can be made.
Obstructing the path of a violent man to
his firearm will nearly always result in
another encroachment.
Kicking him in the foreneck, even barefoot,
will temporarily occlude his windpipe.
The alpha beauty of a violent man will
know where his firearm is kept, and how to
use it.
A woman holding a gun and a baby no
longer qualifies as a beauty.
No beauty is really a beauty.
Disabling a gun holder is likely to hurt the
baby she is holding, too.
When self-preservation requires that you
harm the innocent, we can provide no
more than guidelines.
As Americans, we value human rights
above all else and cannot sanction their
When someone threatens our human
rights, however, a wider leeway becomes
Follow your instincts while bearing in mind
that we must, and will, hew to our
A woman holding a thrashing baby in one
arm may have trouble aiming a firearm
with the other.
Bullets do actually whistle in an enclosed
If a person has shot at you and missed,
incapacitate her before she can fire again.
We are most reluctant to hurt those who
remind us of ourselves.
A lag time exists between getting shot and
knowing that you have been shot.
Assuming there is no artery involvement,
wounds to the upper limbs are preferable.
Bony, tendony body parts bleed less, but
are harder to reconstruct if shattered.
The right shoulder is a bony, tendony part.
When shots have been fired in a powerful
man’s home, you have minutes, if not
seconds, before the arrival of security.
Your physical person is our Black Box;
without it, we have no record of what has
happened on your mission.
It is imperative that you remove yourself
from enemy possession.
When you find yourself cornered and
outnumbered, you may unleash, as a last
resort, your Primal Roar.
The Primal Roar is the human equivalent of
an explosion, a sound that combines
screaming, shrieking, and howling.
The Roar must be accompanied by facial
contortions and frenetic body movement,
suggesting a feral, unhinged state.
The Primal Roar must transform you from a
beauty into a monster.
The goal is to horrify your opponent, the
way trusted figures, turned evil, are
horrifying in movies and in nightmares.
Deploy your camera flash repeatedly while
When approached by a howling,
spasmodic, flashing monster, most women
holding newborns will step aside.
Discontinue Roaring the instant you’re free
from immediate danger.
Those stampeding to the aid of a powerful
man will barely notice a dishevelled beauty
they pass in a hallway.
If you’re lucky, this will buy you time to flee
his house.
Resume your beauty role while running:
smooth your hair and cover your bleeding
wound with the sundress scrunched in
your pocket.
The fact that you can’t hear alarms doesn’t
mean you haven’t set them off.
After violence in a closed room,
cool night air will have a clarifying
Get to the bottom of a hill any way you
can, including sliding and rolling.
In residences of the violent rich, there will
be at least one guard at each port of egress.
In deep night, if you are extremely lucky
(and quiet), that guard will be asleep.
Assume, as well as you can, the air of a
beauty larkishly gambolling.
If running barefoot onto a dock transports
you back to your childhood, pain may be
making you hallucinate.
Lying with girlfriends on a still-warm dock
in upstate New York, watching shooting
stars, is a sensation you remember after
many years.
Hindsight creates the illusion that your life
has led you inevitably to the present
It’s easier to believe in a foregone
conclusion than to accept that our lives
are governed by chance.
Showing up for a robotics course by
accident, because of a classroom mixup, is
Finding an empty seat beside a boy with
very dark skin and beautiful hands is
When someone has become essential to
you, you will marvel that you could have
lain on a warm dock and not have known
him yet.
Expect reimmersion in your old life to be
Experience leaves a mark, regardless of
the reasons and principles behind it.
What our citizen agents most often
require is simply for time to pass.
Our counsellors are available around the
clock for the first two weeks of your
reimmersion and during business hours
We ask that you allow our Therapeutic
Agents, rather than those in the general
population, to address your needs.
Secrecy is the basis of what we do, and we
require your extreme discretion.
Even preternatural swimming strength
cannot propel you across a blue-black sea.
Staring with yearning ferocity from the
end of a dock cannot propel you across a
blue-black sea.
When your body has been granted
exceptional powers, it is jarring to
encounter a gulf between your desires
and your abilities.
For millennia, engineers have empowered
human beings to accomplish mythical
Your husband is an engineer.
Children raised among wild animals learn
to detect irregular movements in their
That particular awareness, coupled with
scientific genius, has made your husband a
national-security hero.
Intimacy with another human can allow
you to scrutinize your surroundings as he
Along a rocky, moonlit shore, the irregular
movement is the one that is lurching in
time with the water beneath an overhang
of brush.
A speedboat has most likely been hidden
by your new host as a means of emergency
The key will be inside it.
Slither between branches and board the
boat; untie it and lower its motor into the
Be grateful for the lakes in upstate New
York where you learned to pilot
Fluff up your hair with your functional arm
and essay a wide, carefree smile.
A smile is like a shield; it freezes your face
into a mask of muscle that you can hide
A smile is like a door that is both open and
Turn the key and gun the motor once
before aiming into the blue-black sea and
jamming the accelerator.
Wave and giggle loudly at the stunned,
sleepy guard.
Steer in a zigzag motion until you are out
of gunshot range.
The exultation of escape will be
followed almost immediately by a
crushing onslaught of pain.
The house, its occupants, even the
gunshots will seem like phantoms
beside this clanging immediacy.
If the pain makes thought impossible,
concentrate solely on navigation.
Only in specific Geographic Hotspots
can we intervene.
While navigating toward a Hotspot,
indicate an emergency by pressing the
button behind your knee for sixty
continuous seconds.
You must remain conscious.
If it helps, imagine yourself in the arms
of your husband.
If it helps, imagine yourself in your
apartment, where his grandfather’s
hunting knife is displayed inside a
Plexiglas box.
If it helps, imagine harvesting the small
tomatoes you grow on your fire escape
in summer.
If it helps, imagine that the contents of
the Data Surge will help thwart an
attack in which thousands of American
lives would have been lost.
Even without enhancements, you
can pilot a boat in a semi-conscious
Human beings are superhuman.
Let the moon and the stars direct you.
When you reach the approximate location
of a Hotspot, cut the engine.
You will be in total darkness, in total
If you wish, you may lie down at the
bottom of the boat.
The fact that you feel like you’re dying
doesn’t mean that you will die.
Remember that, should you die, your body
will yield a crucial trove of information.
Remember that, should you die, your Field
Instructions will provide a record of your
mission and lessons for those who follow.
Remember that, should you die, you will
have triumphed merely by delivering your
physical person into our hands.
The boat’s movement on the sea will
remind you of a cradle.
You’ll recall your mother rocking you in her
arms when you were a baby.
You’ll recall that she has always loved you
fiercely and entirely.
You’ll discover that you have forgiven her.
You’ll understand that she concealed your
paternity out of faith that her own
inexhaustible love would be enough.
The wish to tell your mother that you
forgive her is yet another reason you must
make it home alive.
You will not be able to wait, but you will
have to wait.
We can’t tell you in advance what direction
relief will come from.
We can only reassure you that we have
never yet failed to recover a citizen agent,
dead or alive, who managed to reach a
Hotspots are not hot.
Even a warm night turns frigid at the
bottom of a wet boat.
The stars are always there, scattered and
Looking up at the sky from below can feel
like floating, suspended, and looking down.
The universe will seem to hang beneath
you in its milky glittering mystery.
Only when you notice a woman like yourself,
crumpled and bleeding at the bottom of a
boat, will you realize what has happened.
You’ve deployed the Dissociation
Technique without meaning to.
There is no harm in this.
Released from pain, you can waft free in
the night sky.
Released from pain, you can enact the
fantasy of flying that you nurtured as a
Keep your body in view at all times; if your
mind loses track of your body, it may be
hard—even impossible—to reunite the two.
As you waft free in the night sky, you may
notice a steady rhythmic churning in the
gusting wind.
Helicopter noise is inherently menacing.
A helicopter without lights is like a mixture
of bat, bird, and monstrous insect.
Resist the urge to flee this apparition; it
has come to save you.
Know that in returning to your body you
are consenting to be racked, once again,
by physical pain.
Know that in returning to your body you
are consenting to undertake a jarring
reimmersion into an altered life.
Some citizen agents have chosen not to
They have left their bodies behind, and
now they shimmer sublimely in the
In the new heroism, the goal is to
transcend individual life, with its petty
pains and loves, in favor of the dazzling
You may picture the pulsing stars as the
heroic spirits of former agent beauties.
You may imagine Heaven as a vast screen
crowded with their dots of light.
If you wish to return to your body, it is
essential that you reach it before the
helicopter does.
If it helps, count backward.
By eight, you should be close enough to
see your bare and dirty feet.
By five, you should be close enough to see
the bloody dress wrapped around your
By three, you should be close enough to
see the dimples you were praised for as a
By two, you should hear the shallow
bleating of your breath.
Having returned to your body, witness the
chopper’s slow, throbbing descent.
It may appear to be the instrument of a
purely mechanical realm.
It may look as if it had come to wipe you out.
It may be hard to believe that there are human beings inside it.
You won’t know for sure until you see them
crouching above you, their faces taut with
hope, ready to jump.

The New Yorker
2 July, 2012

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