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This short story (basically a monologue) won a short-story competition in 'Arc' science fiction magazine, years ago. I still like it, especially the fact that it's based on an intriguing scientific discovery that if we make an expression, we will feel the corresponding emotion. For example, if we make ourselves smile, we will feel happier. 'The Lost Emotion' expands on that idea, with a twist. Seasoned readers probably won't be surprised that it has a dystopian element but hey, I do try to make my stories at least a little realistic. ;-)
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"Somebody, anybody, help me! Please, listen to this message and get me out of this stinking hippy dump! I don’t want to be here in this colony any more! I don’t care about that emotion any more, I’ve forgotten it, truly I have!"

"I’ve tried phoning friends to get them to help me but no one even understands ‘phoning’ any more. Yeah, I know, like what? I tried; I sneaked into the local flea-pit village last night. I found a call-box and eventually worked out what the strange mechanical device inside did. You talk into one end of its heavy, headpiece and it turns the sounds into electric signals, analogue ones. No, I have no idea why. Anyway, I 'dialled' Migzy, and tried to talk to him. It was so weird, communicating with him just via audio with no video at all, no automatic visual pop-ups and pleasurable artificial sigils, just a voice coming out of nothing. It was like chatting to someone down a well or getting an ethereal message in a seance. It was nuts but I was desperate. It was hopeless anyway; before I could even explain what I needed, he screamed that there was an invisible, rasping, bodiless thing moaning in his virtual space and he cut the connection."

"I listened to the headset’s dead tone in despair. I’d become a ghost, a phantom, cursed to forever the zero-tech Netherworld, a dimension bordering reality that’s invisible to real people, but, if this commune is anything to go by, is chock-full of chick peas. The only people who exist in this wood-and-straw place think cassette tapes are pretty nifty! Yeah, I know, the toilet roll dispensers of data storage! Oh, it’s hopeless. All I’ve got now, to create a message with, is pencil and paper. Who’s going to read that? Who’s going to stare at lines and lines of symbols scratched with coal extract on to mushed wood; an archaeologist?"
"Whoever’s out there, you need to know that I’ve suffered. I used to have everything, my own virtual world, powerful tech that made me superhuman and now that’s all gone and I’m here in the Valley of Incense and Mung Beans, hugging hippies! I hate it! The oh-so spontaneous grasping at random moments. Single hugs, group hugs, ongoing hugs where someone fixes themselves to your back like they’re an enormous hessian leech and lets you drag them half way across the encampment until it’s their time to meditate. What does hugging do? It does nothing! It’s shared bodily warmth, mingling of sweat, an experiment in mixing body odour! It’s someone else’s trouser buttons pressing painfully into your hip bone. Stop doing it, you sandalled-freaks!"

"My life in the real world was so much better. I want my electric guitar back. It helped me with all my solos and it was burnt with exactly the same lighter fluid that Jimi Hendrix used and it was beautiful. In this place, all I’ve got to play with are crosses between a musical instrument and chopped wood. I don’t want ethnic, I want mains power! I tried to play that wooden thing they gave me yesterday. I’d have been better off suffering gastric food poisoning! The quality of the sounds would have been the same and at least with food poisoning, it’d be over in a few days."
"Oh God, the rest of the commune will be back soon, those hemp-wrapped chanters. They’ll circle me and smile and sit down with a Speaking Stick and tell me that I’m coming together but I’m not together! I was together, back in the city, and now half of me’s gone! I used to have bone implants and muscle augmentation and a time-share on an exoskeleton. In that exotic-metal suit, on every other Sunday, I could lift up a car and throw it across the street! I could juggle sheds! That was me, that titanium, hydraulic armour wrapped around a body that was a soup of performance-drugs and gene-viruses mixed with young adult flesh with enough sub-dermal chips to control a space mission; that was myself. Now I’m here, in a place so primitive, flint’s making a comeback! I'm now just the basic, shop-model of me, the womb version, an ordinary, fatty brain in an ordinary, saggy body who spends his afternoons squatting, bored out of his mind, on a reed-mat washed with urine, deliberately! Even my dreams are now rubbish. After my EEG chip got pulled, my R.E.M. sleep has been like switching to seventies public access television after watching Avatar. I want my implants back!"

"I'm so desperate for tech. Yesterday, I stripped a dead laptop I found abandoned, took all the chips out of it and stuck them to my body with tree resin, hoping for something to happen. For a moment I thought there was a glimmer of beta-wave genies at the edge of my vision - those classic N-topology ones with fractal resolution - then I realised I was just getting an incense induced migraine!"
"Maybe you’re listening. I won’t say your name. I’m not stupid. I know you can listen to anything, to everything. If you are listening, I promise, I’ve forgotten what he showed me! I have! I didn’t even want it! I only took part in his stinking project for some spare cash! Look, please, I’ll explain you what happened again; okay? Will that help? From beginning to end. You’ll see it was nothing to do with me, nothing at all."

"It was all about emotions, back then. Emotions were so important to the corporations. They were big money. For years, the corporations had wanted to associate good feelings with their products. You know, feelings of happiness, the belief that positive acts can change the world, the joy of skipping through puddles and hugging your friends, stuff like that. But, being commercial entities, they wanted sole rights to these emotions. They were fed up with investing millions, associating the feeling ‘hope for a better world’ with one of their cars, only to find a competitor had gone and associated that same emotion with a toothbrush. It pissed them off! They changed tack. To gain sole control of an emotion, they began patenting them. Zircon Corp was the biggest player. They got sole control of ‘heady excitement at a friend’s success’, ‘lingering eye contact’ and ‘smouldering attraction’, among others. They hoovered them up, but the gold rush didn’t last long. All the usual emotions got picked up pretty quickly."
"That’s when Finn entered the story. He got a job at Zircon doing the next logical step, the cutting edge of the field; the discovery of new emotional states. With all the popular, straightforward emotions bought up, the big money was in hunting for more obscure ones. They paid Finn to visit remote tribes and find new emotions that those tribesmen felt, emotions that the civilised world was completely unaware of. Finn had to find those emotions and make sure they were associated with legally-identifiable facial movements; no facial response, no money."

"A year into the job, Finn got lucky with the Kaluli tribe in Papua New Guinea. They had an emotion, ‘pride at collective support’, that he could prove caused our face's levator labii superioris muscle to flex. It was a huge coup for him, an even greater one when Zircon successfully proved no one had seen such an emotion in most of the western world for centuries. The company showered him with rewards. He became Zircon’s employee of the year. He told me it was the crowning moment of his life, standing in that hall at the awards' ceremony, watching everyone clapping him, cheering. He saw the looks of collective pride on that audience’s faces, and he knew, deep down, that his company owned those expressions outright. It was his big win."
"After that, he told me, he went freelance, because the indigenous emotions field was drying up. All the low hanging fruit had been picked. He went looking for something new on his own, something really fresh. He data-mined the net for months. One morning, he stumbled upon a piece of exciting research. It reported a weird fact; that if someone physically performed, on their face, an expression associated with a particular emotion, that would summon up that emotion in their brain. In other words, if someone made an angry face, they got angry.

Finn realised that such a process might un-tap new emotions, emotions mankind had never used or emotions that were lost to us, emotions we’d used in our distant past but had forgotten. He constructed his own machine for stimulating the muscles of the face. The kit worked fine but he soon realised that he couldn’t do the tests himself. He needed someone to test the machine on. He’d operate the machine; they’d do the expressions."

"That’s where I came in. I was the test subject, his guinea-pig. My job was to sit in a chair in his basement lab while he stuck an EEG cap on my skull to measure my emotional responses. He then stuck an electrode-riddled, muscle-stimulating mask to my face. That was a freaky piece of kit, an intricate mesh of probes that could stimulate all my facial muscles in any combination. Finn was full of confidence. He was sure that if he stimulated my face in exotic ways, he could force me to make novel expressions that would then trigger entirely new emotions, or at least revive ones long lost to humanity."
"The tests began. I sat for hours, for days in his basement lab having my ugly-mug twitched while he explored what he called my ‘facial expression space’. It was strange; familiar emotions came and went in my mind as my face was electrically contorted; disgust, despair, euphoria, hope, elation, disappointment. It was like being a football fan without the football. He pored over the results, examining the video footage of my facial expressions, along with the dopamine and serotonin spikes and the brainwaves recorded by the EEG machine. Jesus, it was boring, but he paid well."

It was at the end of one long, late-night session when he inputted one particular, crucial, stimulation pattern. The electrodes twitched my face and I felt it, I felt that emotion. I still don’t have a name for it. Maybe there never was a name? I don’t know. My face just performed that expression and the connected emotion welled up in my brain. It shocked me, it shocked him. He ran the setting again… and back came that emotion. I pleaded with him not to repeat it. That emotion was too unnerving. It scared me. We shut everything down. I went home, still feeling the muscles in my face aching."
"The next day, when I woke up, that emotion was gone. I couldn’t summon it up. I couldn’t even make the related facial expression. I didn’t understand why. Something that strong, that transforming, how could it just wink out? I told him the news. He was seriously pissed off. He wanted it back. We went down to his lab, summoned up the settings and stimulated my face again. It was back, same as before. This time, it didn’t freak me out. Familiarity, I guess. He told me he wanted to study how long it would last. He asked me to go out and walk around, take in the usual sights."

"I did what he said and that’s when the real shock hit me. Reality wasn’t normal any more to me, it was transformed. The city, the streets, the malls. I don’t know how to describe this but nothing out there in that glittering city was important to me any more. Those shiny offers, rankings, teasers, bargains, the chances, prizes, selections, memberships, trends, fashions, profiles, they were all irrelevant. I didn’t care if I was in or out, on or off, up or down, left, right, straight or bent! While I had that emotion in my mind, I was flying above the world like a bird."

"Then the emotion flicked off. It was gone, cut out, like someone had flicked a switch. I don’t know how. I don’t want to know, okay? It went and everything flooded back, the needs, the desires, the attractions. I was normal again, back to being a person that has a desperate need to be in, to be new, on, right, to belong. I had fallen out of the sky and I was down in that old cavern of desperation again, you know, the place where the jewels are just out of reach and always too high, where you constantly strive for them, to get your hands on them before they slip away and leave you in the shadows."
"I told Finn. He was scared. He rushed me back to the lab to stimulate my face again but someone had got there first. Wow, they’d moved fast. No mess, no nastiness, just no data. What was worse, if he tried to use his kit, it stalled, locked up, froze if he pushed it in certain directions, novel directions. He was livid. He raged that he’d lost something worth millions, something that blitzed anything else he’d ever discovered, that anyone had ever discovered. This was his pot of gold!"

"I got out of there. I left him to his anger. I was still rattled by the emotion. It scared me. It was something else, something alien. It had made me feel so strange. I didn’t want things any more when I felt that way. It wasn’t pleasurable, like any of the drugs I’ve tried or stimulations I’ve bought; it was somehow more powerful. For that moment, when I had it, I was above everything. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But it meant I was alone! For pity’s sake, I don’t want to be an angel! It’s cold and lonely up there!"
"I tried to carry on without that emotion, live a normal life and ignore it, ignore that it had ever happened. I tried do normal stuff, you know, the usual full-immersion-world activities. I got the normal emotions like lust, disgust, fear, pride, the buzz of ownership, that sort of thing. It worked, sort of, but I was still a mess, a wreck. I was flailing."

"I didn’t see Finn for weeks. Then, one evening he turned up at my digs, unshaven, ragged, his eyes everywhere. He ranted at me, talking in fast bursts while his hands shook. He said he’d worked it out. He said they’d erased that emotion from the planet, snuffed it out years ago, eradicated it. They knew that if we all stopped expressing that emotion, we’d eventually forget it ever existed. We'd even forget how to make it. That emotion would be extinct and without the emotion, we’d lose an entire perception of the world. He said that wasn’t the only emotion they’d killed off. He said all the emotions we have now, all the expressions we perform are the ones they want. They actively support those emotions, constantly stimulating them through subliminal marketing strategies, unconscious flashes in hi-res video advertisements, subtle expressions in the faces of the avatars that fill our world. He said he’d told his colleagues about this but they’d looked at him like he was mad. He'd watched their faces, betraying fear, confusion and ‘awareness of collapsing tribal unity’. Well, that’s what he said anyway. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t want to believe him. He was nuts."
"Two days later, I saw the video feed of his arrest. He’d been spotted in a shopping centre, trying to destroy an advertising hologram that had been persuading people to buy insurance by showing them future family tragedies that had come about by poor third-party cover. Before the security staff could grab him, Finn had smashed the holo-ad into a thousand pieces, then stared at a thousand new advertising holograms emerging out of the ad’s splinters, all of them earnestly trying to sell him everything under the sun from psychological counselling vouchers to bandages for glass injuries. He passed out. The security bods dragged his limb body away, pushing the crowd aside that had come to gawp at so many interesting offers."

"Two days later, they pulled me in. I was put on a charge of collaboration with him, of causing his insanity, of being insane by association with him. Next thing I know, I’m here; in the Valley of Mung Beans, chip-stripped and declared unstable. They say I need tactile, low-tech rehabilitation. They told me that I’m strung out, burnt out, washed up, feeling down, basically all over the place. That’s why I have to be the newest member of the Shining Smile herbal commune. What trash! I‘m their loose end, tied up."

"Oh, I know it isn’t a prison here, I’ll admit that much. These hippies have welcomed me with open arms, given hospitality to a refugee from retina displays, a lost soul come to be healed. God, I can still remember my arrival. They made me the centre of a large group hug that smelt of pachouli oil, old sweat and onions. The hug went on for ages. I worried that we were never going to separate, that their uncombed hair and ragged beards would eventually stick to each others’ hemp-clothing like velcro and we’d become one big useless tumbleweed ball, stuck together forever."

"What am I saying? I am stuck here forever! I am just one more useless, furry lump of agricultural weed. Please, I’m pleading with you, I don’t have that emotion any more! I’m not a threat! I don't want it! I can’t spread it even if I wanted to! I’m not mentally ill any more, I like buying pointless things!"

"Help me!!"