I Can Never Feel Alone


Children are warned from birth: Don’t go out on the surface alone.

I grew up in one of the oldest lava dome cities, Hongcun, near the South Pole.

My parents were also born on Earthmoon, but in Xidi, on the farside. As a kid my dad saw Earth in the sky only once. It was only when he took a vacation nearside with his parents that he actually saw the world of our ancestors for the first time.

Life here feels crowded and stale to a young girl. Hongcun became smaller as I got bigger and new places weren’t being built fast enough.

Despite the swelling population I keep seeing the same faces. And all the time I was growing up in Hongcun there was Earth on the horizon, a beautiful world full of amazing places I might never visit.

My parents have never left Earthmoon and don’t expect to. Besides, Earth has its own overcrowding and getting a visitor’s pass is a long and uncertain process.

As far as living on Earth one day? There is no hope.

So some teens rebel against limitations by daring to explore the yet-unexplored nooks of our alien home world. My secret gang has kids from many Earthmoon cities.

At 14 I conspire with several older teens to construct a private clubhouse at a site undiscovered by others.

But in order for us to carry through without drawing suspicion, it is necessary to sneak out individually and meet up at the location at odd hours.

Once our hidden clubhouse is complete, we  use it as a headquarters for further excursions into unknown corners – and a place to party without parental oversight.

From there we go on to discover an alien artifact, a lost weapon, a new system of tunnels and lava domes – and each other.

And then one of us – just one – raises the suspicion of a parent.


“Do I have the right to meet and mingle with whomever I want to?” I ask my parents at the grand inquiry.

“Of course,” Mom answers unhesitatingly. “But do you have the right to keep those mingling meetings a secret? No.”

I’m boiling. “You can see where I keep anything, where I hide anything and where I do anything. But you still have to leave me alone and let me do it! Because I can see you take anything and watch you watching anything. You can’t know me without me knowing it.”

“No one under 17 goes outside without adult supervision,” Dad emphasizes calmly. “We don’t have to leave you alone to get killed. And these incidents happen all the time.”

“More and more, lately,” Mom chimes in.

“You know I know everything!” I object. “You know I’m careful and I’m not reckless!”

“You’ve been reckless,” Mom corrects me.

Can’t I get away with anything?

Not here. Because micro-probes record the smell, sound and sight of everything humanity does here and everywhere people go. It’s a super-system of pollen-like recorders that invisibly surround us at all times, lingering in the air, hanging on vegetation, clinging to buildings, wafting through our lungs, all the while sending data about everything we do to the great data bank called Historiscope.

The Historiscope nebula surrounds us all and each can reach into it to learn anything or everything about anyone else who’s lived since this Historiscope began.

“You had a few reckless moments yourself!” I strike back, having reviewed some of my parents’ younger days, conveniently lingering about in the nebula.

“I had a couple of near death experiences, too! You want those?”

She has a comeback for everything.

“Oh my god I am so frustrated!” I scream, grabbing my head. “I want aloneness! Why can’t there ever be just me? Am I the only one who wants… am I the only person who feels like they want… they want…?”

“Privacy?” Dad suggests.

“I don’t know, what’s it mean?” I ask, fighting back tears.

OE123 Master

Dad puts on a scholarly tone. “The idea of privacy stems from democratic governing. It’s an idea that came and went as democracies reacted to new information technologies. Recording devices and media reporting changed humanity’s ideas about personal information.”

Mom disagrees, “That’s not what they taught us in school. Privacy started with locked doors. It was fences. It was fortresses. Barriers. Those things created privacy. They wanted to protect their secrets. They wanted to be a mystery to potential enemies.”

“It used to be okay for people to have secrets?”

“They used to have to wear clothes at home, for God’s sake!” Dad laughs.


Mom smiles ironically. “Where my parents came from personal modesty was a learned habit. On Earth, body shame was taught from the beginning throughout proper society. Not like nowadays. You want to judge me by the way I look? Take a look. Look at everything. Front. Back. From above. From below. Here it is…”

“Two hundred twenty-two observers presently watching me shower every morning,” brags Dad. Really? Only 222? “Do I have a choice? No. Should I care?”

Of course bodies are exposed without embarrassment, humiliation or special occasion. Sex is not mysterious. Nudity is not titillating or provocative in and of itself. Everybody knows that. That’s not my point.

“Criticize my thinking? What I read? What I watch? Who I admire? Fine. Judge me!”

“Nobody’s judging you, pumpkin…”

“You’d better leave me alone though. Get back! Give me my space, man! That’s right,” I insist exuberantly. “Yeah, you might know everything about what I do, where I go, what I buy, what I like, who I meet, who I fuck, when I shit, how I fart…”

“Young lady!”

“Well I don’t understand! Maybe it was better back when people had privacy!”

“Don’t they teach you kids anything in school?” Dad laments. “Privacy was caused by – and used for evil by – criminals and deviants. That’s why it no longer exists. Financial information and personal identification doesn’t have to be secret here. No one can successfully impersonate me when everything the impersonator has ever done is available for review.”

“But criminals still commit crimes!” I point out. “They steal stuff and nobody knows for years, but the thieves are long gone by then! So…?”

“Honey,” Mom explains impatiently, “just because we can see, hear, and in some cases even smell what happened at any given time and place doesn’t mean that our senses can’t be misdirected. Slight of hand can work in plain sight. But because so very much is available for review by so many observers, will the theft be discovered? If they’ve got zettaflop technology, probably.”

With people watching people in every state of being, humanity has divided into two major types: those who primarily watch and those who primarily perform.

It turns out that about half the population believes they are interesting enough in some capacity to entertain or educate others with their lives. The other half is content to live vicariously and can’t seem to get enough of it.

But here, anyone who wants to know badly enough knows anything about anyone, intimately. And I suppose that gives everyone a new kind of freedom, doesn’t it?

Now we are free to know how similar or different we are from anyone else. Now we can tell if the way we are is somewhat “normal” or not…

And best of all, as I try to convince my age-restricting parentoids, now it’s quite obvious that there’s no such thing as “normal” after all.