Word Bombs

Word Bombs
by Pat Cadigan

Word bombs. Word...bombs? Word bombs. What constitutes a word bomb? I tried to think about that very seriously, being part of the techno-portion of the program. Bombs are techno, after all, and I make my living with words. So...word bombs. Word. Bombs.

The word bomb must have an explosive nature. There must be shrapnel, damage--some reparable, some not. There must be a permanent change, probably some post-traumatic stress symptoms. Any kind of bomb is usually a surprise--but not always. There are some bombs you can see coming from a long way off and you know there's no way you can avoid them because you are Ground Zero wherever you are.

That would be in character for a Word Bomb. The Word Bomb is a heat-seeking-you-seeking missile. Once it has been launched/dropped/thrown, it doesn't stop until explodes just for you.

The Word Bomb is violent by nature, propelled by intent, triggered by passion. It is armed by faith, belief; the explosion is due to the collision of faith/belief with hard fact. It explodes whether you believe in the fact or not--e.g., you can insist there is no such thing as gravity and it's just that the earth sucks, but a fall from the top of the Empire State Building will still kill you.

The Word Bomb blows up meaning, and meaning can be completely destroyed in the face of fact. Good intentions, bad intentions, it's all the same in the aftermath of a Word Bomb explosion, and both line the road to hell.

Jesus died for our sins. This has always sounded to me like, Jesus died and it's your fault. I would answer, Jesus died, and if it hadn't been me, He'd have managed to find some other reason.

In the same way, bombs--all bombs--are meant to explode. They don't stop being bombs because you had a change of heart after you threw one.


So, what does a Word Bomb sound like when it goes off? I tried to think of a few Word Bombs you might hear in the course of almost any day. This list is by no means authoritative or exhaustive.

"I love you."

This one has all the Bomb characteristics--it's explosive, and it tends to bring about a permanent change in relationship conditions between or more--especially more--people when dropped, launched, or thrown by another person.

"You're under arrest."

Bummer. This is actually more like a word land-mine, in that you can step on it, or in it, without really meaning to or wanting to. No matter how virtuous you are, or might want to be, you have to be real careful of this one, as it can be the prelude to a number of other, even more-unwanted sentences.

"I'm pregnant."

This is most bomb-like when your female lover says it to you and you are either a) vasectomized, or b) also female. But even when this is a completely welcome development, it's still a bomb. And of course, no matter how things turn out, nothing will ever be the same. Salvageable? Maybe. The same? Never.

"You're positive."

It almost doesn't matter what comes after this. It's one of the worst because "positive" is, in just about every other context, meant to be something good. Whether it's you, your lover, your child, your parent, your idol, or a total stranger sitting across from you in a clinic, the explosion seems to go on and on and on, slo-mo po-mo catastropho porno.


So, what about Word Bombs of the future? We'll most likely have all the present-day ones. Sure we will. We'll just get a few more to keep them company. This list is, like the other, not meant to be exhaustive, definitive, or one-hundred percent accurate. (If the terms "exhaustive," "definitive," and "one-hundred-percent accurate" describe you, cast that first Word Stone at will, Ripley. If not, take your shoes off and relax.)

"I cloned you."

Naturally--since this is a World Bomb--the clone will be a bootleg or a counterfeit, and somehow imperfect. Your clone will be doing whatever it is the clonee wants, which will be diametrically opposed to everything you believein or stand for. You will have that umistakable sensation of having been raped and burglarized simultaneously, and the best you'll be able to prosecute for, probably, will be copyright infringement. Won't you hate when that happens?

"I cloned myself."

What happens to the relationships of the future when you can be both monogamous and non-monogamous simultaneously? consider the monogamous relationship--or its equivalent. Whatever kind of relationships you sustain, there is a certain degree of commitment in each one, to the tune of, "Yes, I will admit, at least to you, that there is some sort of connection between us, now, and for the foreseeable future."

But let's go a step further and call it some kind of established long-term love/sex relationship two--at least two, maybe more, I can go with that--people. And one of these people--not you--says, "I cloned myself." And you know the clone is just going to be handling day-job responsibilities so that the original can spend more time hanging out with you and/or the family grouping. The clone has something else going on.

It's one of those classic bombs going off in your life. Does this mean that there's always apart of your partner who always desires to be elsewhere? Who wishes there had never been anything between you? What's the clone like? Is the clone sexier, funnier, happier, sadder? And more important--do the orgiinal and the clone ever get together and switch places without telling anyone?

"I'm the clone."

Variation on a bomb. Does this make you the what-if experiment, disposable when no longer amusing or interesting?

"You're the clone."

Since when?! How many other people know this, and why weren't you told? Maybe this is a cruel practical joke. When it becomes aparent it is, however, you will become obsessed with looking up your so-called original.

"I'm your clone."

Please to meet me, hope I guess my name, first chorus. Impossible. Your clone is supposed to have its own life, what's it doing here bothering you? Can you be sure this really is your clone, nad not just some con artist trying a hustle on the basis of a vague chance resemblance? Sure doesn't look like you--your eyes aren't that small, your posture is better so that you have always appeared taller, your taste in clothing is far superior and so is your judgment about what fits right.

What could your clone want from you? What if your clone turns out to be sleazy? Ewwwww. Is that a manifestation of some characteristic present in you, the original, or does the clone really have its own discrete chracteristics?

And what if the two of you changed places,just for a day, and you try out a life that might have been yours in an alternative universe?

"I'm the original."

Pleased to meet me, hope I guess my name, chorus two. If you're dropping or launching or throwing the Word Bomb, it could be because you and your clone have traded places and, having come to appreciate and respect, if not love,the subject/object of your clone's affection, your compulsively confess. So much for any chance of trust and confidence in that relationship. You stole; you faked; you simulated. You snake! You subverted someone's reality without permission, and that person wants to know why, whose idea was it, and what do you and your equally despicable clone think is going to happen now?

Of course, reality being what it is, sometimes it just isn't what it seems to have been in the first place, and your clone's Significant Other has a Word Bomb to lob right back at you--to wit:

"I know."