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Monday, February 6, 2023

Day One at the Every: An Excerpt From Dave Eggers’ New Novel

When the world’s largest search engine and social media company, the Circle, merges with the planet’s dominant ­ecommerce site, it creates the richest and most dangerous—and, oddly enough, most beloved—monopoly ever known: the Every.

“Not too many people start this way,” Kiki said. Kiki was Delaney’s acclimator, assigned to show Delaney the campus and get her settled into her first rotation. Kiki was no more than 5 feet tall, with hair the color of Neptune and the build of a woodland fairy.

“I don’t take it for granted,” Delaney said. “I’m so grateful.” She was nauseous. Through three interviews and an orientation, Delaney still hadn’t been allowed onto the main campus. Instead she had been relegated to outer buildings and, for the orientation, the auditorium, with about a hundred other new hires.

“I like your outfit, by the way,” Kiki said, “very retro! Hi!” Delaney had the sense that Kiki was no longer talking to her. She glanced at Kiki to find she was talking to her screen strapped to her forearm.

“That is so good, honey! So good!” Kiki sang. On the screen, Delaney caught a glimpse of a small boy with a mop of black hair. They were in the shadow of the corkscrew tower that housed Algo Mas, the company’s algorithm think tank, and Delaney reached out to touch its aluminum cladding just before it began its upward revolutions. There was chatter, almost impossible to confirm, that the first wave of suicides happened here, Everyones throwing themselves from the balcony of its penthouse, called the Aviary. It had since been closed.

“Yes, you tell Ms. Jasmine how much I love that,” Kiki said.

Delaney could hear nothing of the boy’s voice coming through Kiki’s earpiece, could only watch Kiki’s eyes dart back and forth, taking in her son’s face and surroundings.

“OK, hon-hon,” Kiki said, “I’ll check back in with you in a few.” She paused. “Just a couple minutes. I know the other parents are still there.” Another pause. “I’ll be back in 10. OK. Bye-bye.”

Now Kiki refocused on Delaney, and they began walking.

“My son Nino. He’s 5. He goes to the Every Schoolhouse. Have you seen it? Probably not—you just got here! It’s on the other side of campus, near the beach. It’s really a fantastic school, the scores off the charts …” Kiki trailed off and stopped walking. She tapped her ear. “Yes,” she said. “Thank you so much, Ms. Jolene.”

And now she was back.

“They really encourage parental participation, which I love. I love it. The parents each volunteer 10 hours a week, which is pretty standard, but here they go above and beyond by inviting parents to sit in on the school day as often as they can. It gives the kids such comfort.” She focused on Delaney, then looked at the screen, then back to Delaney. “Where was I?”

In the distance, Delaney could see a wide flower-shaped expanse of buffalo grass that she felt sure was the Daisy—she’d heard of the Daisy. The grass was an incandescent green, and was dotted with a menagerie of Everyones in bright clothing, but now Kiki had stopped.

“Are you on OwnSelf?” Kiki asked.

“No, not yet. I’m on HelpMe,” Delaney said.

“Oh, I have to move you over to OwnSelf. I’m actually beta-testing a new iteration. It’s really extraordinary.”

In anticipation of coming to the Every, Delaney had been using HelpMe for a few years; it was a relatively basic app that consolidated all your reminders, calendars, birthdays, appointments, and even dietary goals into one place. Advertisers loved it. A user programmed in their desire to eat a protein salad once a day, and that desire would be sold to those selling protein salads. It was caveman-simple, worked for everyone, and was worth billions for the Every. It had been invented by two ­Manitoba teens in a weekend.

“OwnSelf is so much more comprehensive, though,” Kiki said. “I think HelpMe has, what, 25 data points?”

“Something like that,” Delaney said. Hers had 22.

“OwnSelf has 500, baseline,” Kiki said. “Mine’s got 677, and one of my goals is to get to 800 by next month. And OwnSelf will actually get me there, right?” Kiki laughed, and looked at her screen and frowned. “I mean, that’s the point. It’s all about helping you attain your own goals.” Her oval dinged. “Oh wait.”

She spent another half-minute on FaceMe with her son. Delaney stood in the shadows watching the activity on the lawn’s gently undulating topography. There seemed to be some kind of modern dance being performed—a group of figures in Lycra bodysuits.

“See,” Kiki continued, “I set my goal to FaceMe with Nino 12 times during his school day, and OwnSelf prorates the day and keeps me on track to achieve that—collating with his teachers’ own OwnSelfs. All the OwnSelfs can talk to each other, which is so key. That way there’s no excuses. If you have the time, the OwnSelfs coordinate, put whatever it is that needs to get done on your schedule, and it gets done.” Kiki squinted toward the Daisy. “I fought it for a week or two, altering the OwnSelf itineraries. But I always made it worse. The one thing humans are not good at is scheduling, right?”

“That’s just science,” Delaney said.

Kiki rolled her eyes in relieved approval.

“OwnSelf just helps you get there. It pre-divides the day, but it also allows for variances. Like this walk with you …” She looked at her screen. “It’s taken three and a half minutes longer than expected, and we haven’t even started yet. So other things will be moved around. But it’s relentlessly focused on helping you get done in a given day what you planned to get done. I can’t tell you what a difference that makes when you lay your head to sleep. I mean, total peace.”

“Right!” Delaney said.

“Speaking of which, we should walk.”

They left the shadows, and Delaney’s stomach cinched. Up ahead, she saw dozens of people in the full sun of the wide lawn. They seemed to be doing some kind of exercise, or were for some reason all in tight and colorful exercise clothes. Among so many people, she’d be discovered immediately. She was so obviously a spy.

“That’s the Duomo,” Kiki said, pointing to what seemed to be an Italian church. “Bailey went to Siena, loved this building, the stripes mainly, so he brought it here. Or made a copy of it?” She stared at the building, as if it might answer. “I think it’s actually the original and now the copy is in Siena. Does that sound right? Anyway, some of the space exploration people work there.”

They were almost at the main lawn. Delaney had to remind herself how to walk. How could she not be found out? She couldn’t remember if people move their arms. Did they move them up and down, or just swing them? Swinging seemed silly. She decided against swinging, instead moving them in small circles near her hips.

“Over there are the pods,” Kiki said. “On-campus living. There are about 5,000 Everyones living here now. Makes it so easy. No commute! Would you want to do that, do you think? Hold on.”

Kiki’s oval had dinged. She stretched her arms upward and let them drop slowly, as if swimming the length of a pool underwater.

“Have to be mindful,” she said, and lifted her arm to show Delaney her screen. “My first goal was fitness and wellness. I want to exercise, but I don’t want to decide when to do it. Or what kind is best, what day is arms day, which day is legs and abs. OwnSelf just lays it out, and shows where you are on a minute-to-minute basis. There’s no guesswork. Like right now”—she tapped her oval—“it’s showing me I’m at 3,401 steps for the day, which is 11 percent ahead of where I usually am at this time. So I can probably slack off for the next hour, right?”

Delaney had the sense Kiki might be making a joke.

“As if!” Kiki said, and laughed theatrically.

Delaney pretended to laugh too. Kiki stopped abruptly.

“You know how laughter is so good for your health?” she said. “Minimum is 22 minutes a day—Morris proved that last year—so,” she said, reading her screen again, “OwnSelf’s telling me I have a ways to go on that metric today. I’m at two and a half minutes, but they’re having an open mic tonight, so I’m thinking that should cover it.”

“Wow, you really have it down,” Delaney said.

“I know. But listen,” Kiki said, “I can hook you up with OwnSelf too. It’s …” Kiki searched for a long word. “It’s spectacular.” She looked at her wrist and smiled. “I’ve never felt more in control.”

Another ding prompted her to pull a tube from beyond her left shoulder. Up till then, Delaney had assumed that Kiki’s small burgundy backpack was decorative.

“Water,” Kiki said. “Otherwise I don’t drink enough.” She took a long pull on the tube and it retreated into the pack. They started walking toward the light again. “OK, here’s the main gathering area, if you will. Some call it the Daisy, which makes sense, because of its shape.”

>

They entered the densely populated expanse of winding walkways lined with wildflowers. Now Delaney took in Kiki’s clothing, which had come alive in full sun. She was wearing a catsuit with a camouflage pattern of green and pink sequins bisected by a single zipper, which extended from her left ankle to her right shoulder.

Next to spritely Kiki, Delaney felt lumbering and leaden. When she’d chosen her clothes that morning, jeans and a cornflower cotton blouse, she had not thought she was dressing in any consciously antiquated way. But compared to the Everyones around her, she felt like an extra in The Crucible. They were all in Lycra, and they weren’t exercising. She’d seen people dressed this way in the city, but the concentrated effect of so much Lycra in one place, every curve and bulge articulated, was new. A man overtook them, and Delaney realized he, too, was wearing leggings, which hugged and amplified his manhood. She made an involuntary sound, something between Excuse me and Oh sweet Jesus.

“Did you say something?” Kiki asked.

Delaney couldn’t elaborate. Everywhere around her were men in form-fitting bodysuits, their penises in stark relief, and this she had not expected. The third decade of the 21st century had been accompanied by a gradual but unstoppable transition to ever-tighter clothing for body celebration and the fanciful implication that the wearer might be a superhero. The last bastion of the demure was the area of male crotch, but Delaney realized that, in the spirit of equity, it had to fall away. A workplace like the Every couldn’t plausibly say breasts could be wrapped in tight Lycra but penises could not.

“No,” Delaney mumbled. Then, tragically, she looked at a section of ice plants and added, “Lots of succulents.” She was trying to form a sentence unrelated to phalluses.

“We’re encouraged to get our vitamin D when we can,” Kiki said, and pointed to the sun. “Doesn’t the campus look gorgeous on a clear day like this?” She continued to point out the buildings, the services, the eateries, the vegetable garden, the ecstatic dance studio, a large gulag-­looking building dedicated to the study of creativity—and all the while Delaney’s whole physical form was awake and tingling, her eyes darting toward and away from every curve and bulge, a riotous battle of leering and shame.

“Are these parrot tulips?” Delaney asked, desperate to focus on something wholesome. She squatted down to touch the fringe of a flower. As she held a tender petal she looked up at Kiki just as a male crotch passed her at eye level, fully and fragrantly.

“I think so,” Kiki said. “But you should know—you were the forest ranger!”

Delaney cackled idiotically and thought she’d choke. She tried to breathe.

“Almost forgot,” Kiki said, seeming alarmed. “Can you download something? I’m sending you an update for your phone.”

Delaney found the update and downloaded it. “Got it.”

“You’ve been using TruVoice, I take it?”

“Always,” Delaney said.

TruVoice had governed much of online communication since Delaney had been in high school. It started simply as a ­filter. A person would type or dictate a text, and TruVoice would scan the message for any of the Os—offensive, off-putting, outrageous, off-color, off-base, out-of-date. O-language would be excised or substituted, and the message would be sent in a manner fit for posterity. Sound like yourself, TruVoice promised, and the vast majority of its users, some 2 billion-plus in 130 languages, saw it as a godsend.

“The update just builds on that,” Kiki said, “but for verbal communication. Obviously we can’t change your words in real time, but now TruVoice analyzes what you say, gives you a summary of your word usage at the end of each day, and shows you where you can improve.”

>

“Wonderful!” Delaney said.

“It really is wonderful,” Kiki said. “I’ve learned so much about my own communication. I have a son. He’s 5. He’s at the school here. Did I already tell you that?”

Delaney had the feeling she was talking to someone on speed or cocaine. Was it really water in that burgundy backpack? She’d rarely seen this kind of mania.

“And research says kids need to hear a hundred thousand words by the time they’re 3. Something like that. So TruVoice helps me with the overall number and also word variation. I’m still at 65 percent in terms of variation and difficulty—I’m a verbal dummy, it turns out—but now I know what I need to work on.”

“Wonderful!” Delaney said again, louder than before.

“See, they’ll note that repetition at the end of the day,” Kiki said. “You won’t get penalized or anything. It’s just to help us do better.”

Delaney almost said Wonderful again, just for her own amusement. Instead she said, “Of course.”

“And it’s almost eliminated my cursing,” Kiki said, “which used to be a problem. Same with focus and length. I had a tendency to ramble, and TruVoice identifies off-track …” Kiki stopped. “What’s the word? This is so funny.”

“Verbiage? Meandering? Blather?” Delaney suggested.

“Yes, thanks,” Kiki said. “It helps me get to the point. Early on, my directness scores were in the 40s, but now they’re high 50s.”

“Kudos,” Delaney said.

“Excuse me?” Kiki said.

“Oh. I just said kudos.”

Kiki tapped her screen. “Ah. Kudos. Like ‘congratulations.’ Got it. That’s a Level-3 word, too. I’ll get extra points for that one. Kudos. Kudos. Take a look.”

Kiki showed her phone to Delaney. A man passed between them, wearing what seemed to be the outfit of an Olympic swimmer, his phallus pointing from his crotch to his left knee.

“Sorry!” Kiki said, and tapped her screen. “See, here’s my word total for the day so far: 3,691. That’s not counting every contraction and conjunction, of course. On the second line, you can see it’s broken down by level. Today I’ve spoken 2,928 Level-1 words, 678 Level-2, 67 Level-3, and nine Level-4 words. Which isn’t great, in terms of Level-4. But, that’s the basic self-­improvement part of the app. I can build on that. Growth mindset, right?”

“That’s my motto,” Delaney said.

“Good motto!” Kiki said. “Kudos!”

They shared a laugh. Delaney felt sick. She liked Kiki, felt for Kiki, wanted to save Kiki, and she was lying to Kiki. How long could she lie to this guileless, frenzied face? She pitied her own soul. Out of the corner of her eye, Delaney saw a pair of men in slalom ski outfits, decorated with faux-flames, having a conversation while squatting.

“Squatting is, like, way better than regular standing,” Kiki noted. Her phone emitted the sound of a sad trombone. “See, that’s a reminder. I’m trying to cut down on saying ‘like.’ I get the trombone when I do. And look.” Kiki pointed to a string of words and phrases on her phone. “Here are things I said that AI flagged as problematic.” She indicated a string of words in a red box: screw, nasty, Cosby, Oriental. “These are all words I’ve said today. Isn’t it funny what was flagged? My mom is Chinese, so I could apply for a Permission to Say, but the AI is just noting the word Oriental is on the O-list. So I just need to explain I was referring to a rug. Then I get those points back.”

“Wonderful,” Delaney said.

“The other aspect is HR-oriented,” Kiki continued. “So if TruVoice hears one of the Os, it makes a note. End of every week, you get a summary, and it goes to HR. It’s not a big thing, but it protects you and everyone you encounter in case you say something considered problematic. That way, if you think you’re in the right, it’s recorded. If they think you’re in error, same thing—there’s a recording to reference. So you’ll get the initial ComAnon—you’ll get them every day, they’re anonymous, they matter if they add up, but you shouldn’t worry if they don’t. Anyway, you can get them erased if you check the transcript and you’re right.”

“Super convenient,” Delaney said. “And this goes into PartiRank?”

Kiki looked taken aback. “Oh, we don’t have PartiRank! That was phased out, like, months ago.” Another sad trombone; Kiki grimaced. “A lot of people thought the rankings were a bit too competitive and stress-inducing.”

“So these numbers aren’t aggregated?”

“Well, they’re collected, of course. For your own reference. They wouldn’t be too useful if they weren’t collected!” She threw a breezy laugh over her shoulder. “And of course combined with other metrics. Like PrefCom and AnonCom. You’ll read about that in your onboarding docs. AnonCom allows coworkers to register complaints—well, not complaints, really, but suggestions for your improvement—anonymously. Those go into your folder, with all the performance measurements, participation points, smiles, ComAnons, shams, step count, sleep hours, frowns, et cetera. All your numbers are available to you and all Everyones, and then are merged to create one aggregate number, and then Everyones’ numbers are listed in ascending order.”

“But it’s not a ranking,” Delaney said.

“Definitely not,” Kiki laughed. “That’s why it’s called Everything in Order. You can see the difference between that and PartiRank, which was a lot more hierarchical.”

“Sure, sure,” Delaney said.

“The EiO number—get it? EiO? The song?”

Delaney smiled weakly. Kiki hummed a few notes and continued. “The EiO helps with the quarterly deëmployment moment. Obviously who’s subject to deëmployment is too important and subjective to have people do it, so it’s the bottom 10 percent, department by department. That way it’s fair.”

“That’s who’s let go?” Delaney asked.

“Deëmployed, yes.” Kiki smiled. “But the number of course isn’t the only determinant.”

“But there’s no human factor.”

“Well, no. Of course not. That would open it up to bias.”

A pair of men, built like dancers, walked by wearing sheer bodysuits. One wore a yellow water-carrier like Kiki’s, its tube dangling provocatively. Delaney felt light-headed.

“Is there a restroom close?” she asked. Kiki directed her to a nearby railing, just above the grass line, leading down a spiraling staircase to a single, underground bathroom. Delaney rushed down its rubbery steps and opened the door with a shush.

“Hello Delaney!” a voice said. She looked up to find a cartoon skunk on the wallscreen. Delaney’s name appeared in an animated bubble extending from the skunk’s mouth. “Let me know if I can help!”

Delaney entered the stall and locked the door and sat, clothed, on the toilet. She wanted badly to call her roommate, Wes, to try to describe what she’d just heard, and what she’d seen, all the Lycra and body parts, but she didn’t trust the bathrooms on campus, knew she shouldn’t let down her guard anywhere on the grounds. She only needed a moment to strategize, to control the movement of her irises, to think this through.

She stood up. “Are you finished?” the cartoon skunk asked. It was now on the door, looking politely away.

“No,” she said.

“Don’t let me rush you!” the skunk said, and then hid behind an animated tree.

Delaney sat down again. She had to think about how she’d speak from then on. She knew she was on camera, that she’d be on camera, multiple cameras, at all times on campus. Between this and the dicks, she didn’t think she’d make it.

“Can I sing you a song?” the skunk asked.

“No thanks,” Delaney said. She tried to slow her breathing. She closed her eyes, and all she saw were the members suffocating in shiny, stretchy fabric.

“Need more time?” the skunk asked.

“Yes please,” Delaney said.

Delaney stood and flushed the toilet. Nothing happened, but the cartoon skunk appeared on the wallscreen behind the toilet. “No deposit made. No flush necessary!” the skunk sang. A quick sparkle flashed from its breezy grin.

Delaney left the stall, pulled at the bathroom door but found it was locked.

Hold up, partner!” the skunk said, and the same words, Hold up, partner!, appeared in the cartoon dialog bubble. “Not till you wash up! Remember, 20 seconds minimum. Doctor’s orders!” On the screen, the skunk began washing too, while singing the Happy Birthday song.

Delaney stepped to the sink, minimal and rectangular and carved from obsidian. The soap dispenser dropped a dollop into her hands, and the water was briefly activated. In the mirror, a digital timer appeared and began to count down from 20. The skunk was still washing its own little hands, directly opposite, now singing the song a second time in Italian.

Delaney watched the timer. The birthday song had begun again. She still had 14 seconds of washing to do. It was interminable. Eight seconds left. Delaney thought she’d rub her skin off.

“Looks like we’re almost done!” the cartoon skunk announced, and did a backflip. After landing, the skunk dried its hands by doing a kind of woodland jazz-hands maneuver. “Go forth and stay human!” the skunk said, and when Delaney tried the door this time, it opened to the light. A corresponding ding sang from Delaney’s phone.

“All set?” Kiki asked.

Another man passed wearing a wrestler’s one-piece. This one covered half of his torso and stopped mid-thigh. His manhood was encased, it seemed, under a dome, a cup or jockstrap, Delaney didn’t know which. Codpiece? She looked away, only to find two people, a man and a woman, standing face-to-face, each wearing form-fitting black bodysuits interrupted by no pocket or stitch. The woman was chesty, the man powerfully built, the curves of his thighs yearning for the curves of hers.

“Time for the onboarding doc. Let’s head over here,” Kiki said, and brought Delaney to a small, ivy-covered building, a twin to the one where she was first interviewed.

Inside, the room was empty, and Delaney exhaled elaborately.

“Last bit of housekeeping,” Kiki said, and handed her a tablet. “The final onboarding doc, which we ask that you read carefully. Obviously the eye tracking knows what you’ve read, so …”

Kiki made for the door. “Initial every page and sign at the end. I’ll come back in 30 minutes,” she said, and left.

Delaney woke the tablet and Mae Holland’s face appeared, filling the screen. “You made it,” she said, and her eyes widened, as if she was both proud and a bit surprised. “You’re joining us, and we couldn’t be happier.” It was a recording, but still, Delaney found herself briefly star-struck. Mae still looked like a newbie herself—those bright dark eyes, that olive skin, as smooth as a river stone. “We are so grateful you chose us, and I can’t wait to see you on campus. If you see me, stop me and say hello!” She smiled, and Delaney took her in—the high cheekbones, just short of severe, that nearly lipless mouth. The lights upon her were perfect, setting her skin aglow, her eyes elated. Then she was gone, replaced by the onboarding document.

The sentences were fascinating, written with the strangely florid and willfully capitalized style common to the industry. “You are invited to bring your most Joyful Self to campus each day.” “Your personal Fulfillment is our goal.” “You are Seen Here.” “You are Valued here.” “Touching, including shaking of hands or Hugging, is de-­approved unless between signers of Mutual Contact Agreements.” “This is a plastic-­free campus.” “This is a fragrance-free campus.” “This is an almond-free campus.” “Paper is Strongly discouraged.” “Smiling is encouraged but not mandatory.” “Empathy is mandatory.” “Guests must be announced 48 hours in advance.” “Vehicles that burn fossil fuels require an Exemption.” “This is a Collaboration zone.” “This is a Sacred place.” “Everyones with children under 5 are encouraged to bring them to Raise Every Voice.” “Non-company hardware is de-­­approved.” “Downloading of non-­vetted Software is de-approved.” “All correspondence on company-provided devices is subject to screening.” “Attendance at Dream Fridays is required Because They Are Awesome.” “Attendance at Thursday Exuberant Dance is not required but urged because it is next level.” “This is a beef-free campus.” “This is a pork-free campus.” “Until further notice, this is a salmon-free campus.”

>

The second Delaney was finished, Kiki’s face appeared in the doorway. “Your medical intake!” she gasped. “You should have had it done by now. What time is it? We can get you in.”

She hustled Delaney out and into the light.

“We’re going to the Overlook?” Delaney asked. She’d read about the Overlook, and could see it, like a white spiral exoskeleton, on the hills above Treasure Island. What she’d read painted it as a mecca of tranquility—a place where Everyones could get unparalleled health care in a spa-like setting with astounding 360-degree water views.

“No, no,” Kiki said, and looked briefly up at the array of white buildings in the distance. “The Overlook is for … it’s not for basic intake, it’s for … Wait. What time is it? Hi honey!”

She was with Nino again. “I’m sorry, hon-hon, Mama’s working. And you have your own assessment today, so you stay till 4.” Kiki’s eyes welled. “This helps Jolene know how you’re doing. It helps Mama too.” She tapped her ear and turned to Delaney apologetically. “I’m assuming you had your DNA sequenced?” Kiki asked.

“For college, yes,” Delaney said. It had been required at most schools, first state then private—insurers had forced the issue.

“Good, so just have to get the vitals, blood, x-rays, things like that,” Kiki said, and they walked briskly to the clinic. Kiki’s rubbery legs carried her ahead of Delaney, and finding Delaney falling behind, periodically she stretched her hand back, her fingers open like a star, her rings twinkling in the sun.

When they stepped inside the clinic, Delaney saw no humans. There was no reception desk, there were no doctors. The medical professions had been decimated by doubt and litigation, with the vast majority of patients preferring AI diagnoses over those of humans, which they considered recklessly subjective.

“OK, it says you’re scheduled for Bay 11,” Kiki said, and took a moment to reconcile the map on her armscreen with her physical environs.

Delaney looked down the hallway and saw the numbers ascending toward 11. “I think it’s this way?” she said. Kiki looked up and, after a painfully long time examining the hall, its numbered rooms, smiled with relief. “Great. You go on, and I’ll come back when you’re done.”

Delaney walked down the hall, past the other bays, most of them containing a human lying on a medbed, the rooms dim but for the bright reflections of the patients’ interiors on the wallscreens.

When she entered Bay 11, the room was empty but the wallscreen was alive with a series of neon pictures—three-dimensional visualizations of an embryo in a womb. The detail was astonishing, far beyond anything Delaney had seen before. This must be proprietary software, she assumed, something being tested on campus. The embryo was larger than life, perhaps 3 feet high, its eyes enormous, covered with a pink vellum, its tiny watery heart fluttering like a kite in high winds. The image was left over from whomever was last here, Delaney assumed, and before she could stop herself, she was scanning the screen for the name, and the moment before the screen went dark, she found it. Maebelline Holland.

Stunned, Delaney held her breath. She listened for anyone outside the door, anyone nearby. There was no one. She stepped into the hallway, stupidly looking for Mae Holland herself. The hallway was empty, and Delaney returned to the medbed. She thought about leaving.

Seeing what she saw put her in some jeopardy, she was sure. Would she be expected to tell someone what she saw? Would the room’s many cameras already know? To reveal it was an invasion of privacy—medical information like this being still unpublic—but to not reveal it: Wasn’t that a problematic elision?

The screen came alive again. It was a recording of a woman in a white coat, a stethoscope around her neck and a clipboard pressed to her torso. “Hello Delaney,” she said. “I’m Dr. Villalobos.”

The rest of the intake was unsurprising. Because Delaney’s medical history was digitized, the Every simply had to add her data to their own database and update a few metrics. As the medbed scanned her, Delaney cycled through the possibilities. It seemed highly improbable that there was another Maebelline Holland on this campus. But it also seemed unlikely that the CEO of the Every would have used this nondescript medbed, let alone leave this most personal information onscreen for the next visitor to find. Above all, it was impossible that Mae Holland was pregnant. Her life was lived with unrivaled transparency; she was still fully Seen. To be true to those principles of the Seen, she would have broadcast her first visit to any doctor, her first knowledge of her pregnancy; anything less would breed suspicion, would perpetuate corrosive secrecy. And beyond that was the issue of carbon impact. Population growth activists had become more vocal, and their questions—must you? should you? have you any right?—were seeping into the mainstream. If anyone would debate these questions openly, and seek a kind of customer consensus about her own baby-making, it would be the face of the Every.

So she could not be pregnant. That embryo being truly inside Mae Holland was not possible. But Delaney had no way to find out. It was one of the few pieces of medical data still outside Right to Know laws. During the second pandemic, new laws were rushed through all over the world, giving all citizens the right to know who had a virus and where they likely got it. It only seemed right, and contributed to the general well-being and slowing of the spread. And what about lice and mono? HIV and herpes? No one had a right to spread these afflictions—pink eye!—and everyone had a right to know who was afflicted. Public registries became the norm, and the idea of keeping medical information private became indefensible. It put others at risk and thwarted scientific progress.

But pregnancies were still secret, or the law treated them as such. Delaney couldn’t even search “Mae Holland pregnant,” because the typer of those words would immediately be known. The second wave of the Right to Know laws had codified a person’s right to know, in real time, who was searching for them and what information they sought. The searcher, to be sure, also had the right to know who was watching their searches, creating a two-way mirror effect, which occurred a billion times a day, of a searcher searching while the searched watched the searcher searching.

“OK, all set,” Dr. Villalobos’ recorded self said.

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Delaney got dressed, and while buttoning her shirt, had a series of thoughts, none of them more rational than any other. She thought this could be a setup, a test of how she would handle such sensitive information. But if so, there was no right response. Such a private matter should have been private in the first place. This was the unnecessarily awkward position Mae herself had sought to eliminate—the keeping of secrets, the sowing of distrust and fostering of conspiracies. Delaney had no choice, really, but to wait. As unorthodox as it was, perhaps Mae was simply waiting for the right time to reveal that she was bringing another human into the world.


Dave Eggers is the author of many books, among them The Circle, The Monk of Mokha, A Hologram for the King, What Is the What, and The Museum of Rain. He is the cofounder of 826 National, a network of youth writing centers, and of Voice of Witness, an oral history book series that illuminates the stories of those impacted by human rights crises. He is the recipient of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the American Book Award. Eggers lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. This excerpt is adapted from his forthcoming novel, The Every, published by McSweeney's in a hardcover edition sold only via independent bookstores. A Vintage paperback, available anywhere, will follow

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