The First-Day-Of-School-Talk, Conspiracy Version
My name is Jeffrey Bentler, and I grew up in a conspiracy. My native conspiracy was of the save-the-planet rather than the take-over-the-planet variety, but it still used the standard morally ambiguous tools of secrecy, lies, manipulation and so forth to protect itself long enough to accomplish its goal. And as ours was an intergenerational conspiracy, parents were required to train us in its ways starting from when we were quite young children. And as my siblings and I all attended what American Earth people call public school, the requirements of being in a conspiracy led to some rather interesting pre-school talks with Mom and Dad.
We got the standard talks about buddy systems and not helping strange adults look for “lost pets,” but we got some extras too. One of the most interesting and important ones was the “lightning rod talk.” Here's how I remember that one:
Dad told me that whenever I talked to anyone about what he did, I would have to use the word “rebel” and never ever ever ever ever use the word “lightning rod.” He started telling me this about half-a-year before I started school. (I've heard that it takes about 20 repetitions for information to permanently lodge itself in the brain, and I think Dad doubled this number because I was already, as a 6-year-old, showing signs of considerable Fluffreyness)
Being me, and also because I'd spent all my life hearing Dad referred to as a lightning rod without censorship, I of course had to know and ask, “Why?”
Dad was ready for my “Why?” (I was, after all, his 5th child) He drew a tall rectangle on a piece of paper, conveniently already beneath his hand, along with a grey crayon. He drew a few windows so I would know it was a building. He made a thin grey spike protrude lengthily upwards from the roof of the grey building.
He explained that the job of the lightning rod was to protect the building from harm.
He explained that the building was the conspiracy. The building, the conspiracy, was full of very important people doing very important things with computers and stuff. Things that would eventually save the planet, if they could only keep doing it long enough.
He explained that this particular building, the conspiracy, was invisible. Now that was very interesting to me. The conspiracy was an invisible building full of very important people who were also invisible because the building was invisible.
He explained that saying the word “lightning rod,” out there in the wide world, would make the building become visible. The Borrynzians would be able to see the building if they heard me say the word “lightning rod.”
He explained that if the Borrynzians saw the building, even a little bit, all the people inside it could get into trouble. Really big trouble. Such big trouble that they wouldn't be able to help Cory anymore. They wouldn't be able to save Cory. And I already knew we were Cory's only hope of being saved.
Dad continued to check in with me every so often until I started school, to make sure I understood why I couldn't call him a “lightning rod” out in the world. Then the big day rolled in, and Dad sent me off to school with big brother Terrence, a kiss, a hair ruffling, my Skycat lunch box, my yellow-and-blue backpack full of brand-new school supplies, and I'm sure a whole lot of nervousness in his heart.
Rebel. Rebel. Rebel. My dad is a rebel. Dad is a rebel. My dad is a rebel. I practiced saying “rebel” and never ever ever ever ever said the word “lightning rod” in public, ever. I eventually got the nuances of the rule, realizing that it was all right to say “lightning rod” at my dad's friend Gordan's house, for instance, or at Grandma's. But I remembered the stories I'd heard about Coryan children who needed me, and I kept the conspiracy invisible with my words.
And there you have one example of how a conspiracy childhood occasionally differed from a “normal” one . . .