—Too late. I’m curious now. How do you know so much about squirrels?
—Work. Squirrels do not simply hide nuts and dig them out when they get hungry, they will check on their cache sites to make sure they have not been pillaged, and will often…reorganize their stock, rebury nuts in different locations. When a squirrel surveying its hiding sites encounters another squirrel looking for food, it will use various techniques—visiting empty sites, pretending to bury something—to deceive the predator and avoid revealing valuable nut-location information. I briefly monitored a research project hoping to mimic squirrel deceptive behavior in robots and automated drones. A robot designed to guard military supplies could, for example, alter its patrol route to lead an approaching enemy away from what it is trying to protect.
—Military squirrel applications.
—Indeed. Now, please continue with your story.
—Where was I? Oh yes, so the squirrels forget where they hid most of their nuts. One day, in a city park somewhere, a fairy shows up, and she sees this young squirrel digging aimlessly through the snow—the poor thing’s all skin and bones, starving to death, all scuffed up from fighting other squirrels—and she feels her tiny fairy heart breaking. She blows a bit of magic dust at the creature and flies away with a smile on her face.
The squirrel sneezes to get the magic dust out of its tiny nose. As it clears its head, it suddenly remembers it hid an acorn at the base of a nearby tree. Oh, and one over there! And there! And there! The fairy gave the squirrel a photographic memory so that it could find all the food it painstakingly buried in the fall.
When spring comes, the fairy, still feeling pride over her good deed, visits the park again, hoping to see her squirrel thriving. She spots a young squirrel on a park bench, but hers had a scar on its tail. Another one is climbing a tree, no that’s not the right one either. The fairy gets her hopes up about a hundred more times that day, all the while getting mad at herself for not making the squirrel pink, or something else that would make a squirrel easier to distinguish from a gazillion other squirrels. Come nightfall, the fairy’s exhausted and a bit worried. She gets her magic dust out and makes the first squirrel she sees into a talking squirrel.
“Hello, little squirrel,” she says. “Hell…Whoa! I can speak!” answers the squirrel. The fairy goes on to explain that she’s given a perfect memory to a young starving rodent and that she’s eager to find him. “You must mean Larry,” the squirrel replies, uncomfortable. “He didn’t make it.”
Eager as she was to save the sickly squirrel, the fairy didn’t think about all the other bushy-tailed gluttons in the park. Normal squirrels that they were, they had forgotten where they hid most of their loot about twenty minutes after they buried it. When hunger came a-knocking, they searched the park as best they could, digging just about everywhere to find something to eat. They found some of their own nuts, but they remembered wrong most of the time and ate a whole lot of nuts other squirrels had saved for winter, including Little Larry’s.
With his supersized memory, Larry didn’t make mistakes. He could pinpoint with perfect accuracy every tree, rock, bush, bump, trash can, and lamppost where he had buried a precious red-oak acorn. Unfortunately for Larry, the other squirrels had been digging all over the place and, knowingly or not, stole most of his reserve. Had he been as half-witted as the other animals, Larry would have found some of their nuts along the way, but Larry knew better, and he visited all the 3,683 spots where he had buried an acorn, one at a time, but the handful of nuts he recovered weren’t enough to sustain him. Larry died a few weeks later.
The fairy is crushed by the news and flies away crying, leaving behind a talking squirrel. Being the only talking squirrel in the park, he lived a wretched life, scaring the living hell out of everyone.
—Is that the end?
—Yes! What do you think?
—I…I enjoy squirrel stories and found yours very entertaining. You conveyed the desperation of Little Larry really well and I was saddened by the news of his demise. With that in mind—and I hope you will not judge me too harshly for my lack of perspicacity—what could this possibly have to do with the aliens in London?
—Oh, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with them; this one’s about you!
—I am the squirrel?
—Yes, you’re Little Larry. You see, I could tell you many things, fill your head with all sorts of information to help you come up with that “best course of action” you’re looking for. Unfortunately, it’s not you they came to see. They’re curious about mankind right now, not you. If I told you anything, you’d try real hard to control the situation, but you can’t. Inevitably, you’d fail, because you’re not the only squirrel in the park. You might be able to stall NATO or London for a few days, but that won’t last forever. People do what people do, and you’ll be miserable in the end because you’ll blame yourself for something you really have no power over. I like you. I don’t want you to be miserable.
—How could you possibly know what NATO plans to do?
—A little bird told me. There are little birds everywhere. My point is you can’t control every single person on this planet, no matter how much you’d like to.
—What would you have me do? I cannot simply sit back and do nothing.
—You’re such a control freak! You just keep on doing what you’re doing, and other people will do their thing.
—How should I know? Que sera, sera…
—You don’t seem happy with my answer.
—I am not.
—Did I mention how much I like that suit? You look dashing today.
—Very well. I give up. I would, however, like to ask for your help on another matter, one I hope you will not be as reluctant to discuss. Dr. Franklin is deeply troubled. She is obsessed with the idea that she is not herself. As much as I would like to help her understand what happened to her, I cannot explain it, nor can I fathom what she is going through.
—What do you mean, not herself? Dr. Franklin is Dr. Franklin. If she weren’t, then she would be someone else.
—Is she a clone?
—A clone? Of course not! Does she look like a ten-year-old? She would have been an infant when you found her. Do you really think I would have abandoned a newborn child on the side of the road?