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art by Richard Gagnon

The Whisper

Douglas Sterling lives in Northern California. He's written all his life, but only recently began releasing his work for public consumption. Two other stories from an in-progress, thematically-linked collection entitled The Obsolescing can be found in [untitled] issue five, as well as The Hidden Chapter.

Uncertainty is an eye shifting a fraction of an inch. It's a word that comes a second too late. Uncertainty is blood in the water; linger too long and out come the sharks. When voters look into your eyes and they see uncertainty you fill them with conviction. They become certain that you are weak, certain you are vulnerable, certain they're not giving you their vote.
Your finger is suspended over the key, held at bay by three little words.
Are. You. Sure?
Are you sure, Senator? Sure you want this enough? Sure you're willing to do what it takes? Or are you a hesitant, hamstrung, hobbled mouse, crippled by uncertainty?
If you do this, if you confirm this purchase, there's no turning back--you will storm the halls of destiny. This is the first step down the road that takes you all the way to the Oval Office.
Your advisers have told you what they think; they've told you that this is what needs to be done. Buying influence has never been this easy. You'd be the first politician to take advantage of The Whisper. One click and you change the conversation; the damning phrase goes from your fingers, to the database, into circulation, metastasizing around the world in an instant. The wound you inflict will be mortal. Your opponent will stumble and fall.
"Have you heard about the underage mistress?"
The bloggers, the search engines, the man on the street…
"Have you heard about the underage mistress?"
Seven hundred thousand installations, most of them in the coveted eighteen-to-twenty five-year-old demographic, and growing. Everyone's getting The Installation. A slit behind the ear, a two-minute procedure, it's quick, it's easy, it's free. If you don't have The Installation, you can't hear The Whisper.
You don't know where the sale will be.
You don't know when the tickets go on sale.
You don't know when the flash mob converges on Central Park.
By the time you've heard, the sale is over, the concert is sold out, the flash mob has dispersed and faded away. The Whisper will tell you if she's single, if she's looking. The Whisper will tell you her favorite band. People who hear The Whisper are in the know, people without it walk around, asking their friends what it is The Whisper said today.
"Seven hundred thousand people? Is that enough?"
"That isn't the number we're interested in, Senator. You're not seeing the big picture. Think about it. Seven hundred thousand mouths, seven hundred thousand people repeating the talking point. An instant street team, seven hundred thousand people strong with tens of millions more by the end of the campaign. The Whisper is the key, and we've got the first crack at it. Exclusive rights."
"What do they want?"
"They want us to make them a deal. Tax breaks. Guarantees. They want to stick around."
That's the thing. That's the thing people don't know about The Whisper. Sometimes it tells you things you don't remember hearing. It whispers in a voice that's so soft it seeps right into your subconscious. You mistake the subliminal for the sublime. You find yourself saying things, making declarations, things like, "Have you heard about the underage mistress?" Poisonous things; things that make some, and things that break others. You're certain they're true, but you aren't quite sure why.
So you go ahead and do it, because one thing you're certain of is that if you don't, the other guy will, and who would you rather have in control? After all, he's not as principled as you are.
So you did it.
It's done.
The purchase is complete.
And you're proud that you did it because now the future is certain, and you've started down the road, and your destiny is clear.
Just in time.
Your daughter taps at your office door, the sound of her knuckles against the mahogany as unique as the sound of her voice, as singular as the freckles that decorate her eyes. Thirteen years old, pure and true, unique and untouched--the best decision you ever made. She's like you, except delicate and unspoiled, before the rooms full of nicotine pollution and cynical tactics. She's like you when you didn't know the exact price of influence right down to the penny. She's the perfect, uncontaminated, exemplary you.
"Daddy?" she says, and you notice the gauze peeking out from behind her ear. "Have you heard, daddy?"
"Have I heard what, Mikala?"
"Have you heard about the underage mistress?"
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 17th, 2012

Author Comments

Over the course of a workday, three of my friends repeated a talking point from the echo chamber verbatim. An eerie feeling came over me. I started obsessing about the indiscriminate way we absorb propaganda in the age of connectivity and information. I ran home, and this story came rumbling out of my fingers in about half an hour, as is. I chose second person, hoping that it would make the moral dilemma palpable.

- Douglas Sterling
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