Following throwing practice for the match against Glenwood State, the team converged for the mid-play analysis sponsored by the Quave Corporation. They paid for the teams jerseys, energy drinks, and sometimes lifestyle enhancements, so respect must be paid back for the policies and methods of their R&D department.
“Jones, you’re up,” coach Barnam said. Clancy Jones, damp with sweat and breathing heavily, bowed his head towards the visualizer sitting on the fold out table that sunk into the soft, dewy turf.
“See, you’re still too much in control here. You need to stop focusing so much. You need to zone down for your aim,” Barnam said.
“Sorry,” Clancy said. It brought heat to his face, the kind of itchy nervous heat that was so different from the healthy sweat of physical exertion. He knew he was a control freak. Nerves and performance had always gone together for him, but these implanted brainwave monitors were forcing him to unlearn those things, as well as unravel himself to a certain extent. He couldn’t help but make connections between his in-game fears and those that had crippled those moments that made up the fabric of his happy experiences.
He knew what anyone who could throw a ball now knew, thanks to popular science sponsored by Quave Corp. Your body and your mind knew how to aim without your own personal input. It would learn more each time you threw a ball. In fact, the less you tried to speak to that secret part of yourself, the better it was able to do it’s job.
Absently, Clancy watched a blonde haired girl going for a walk across the street. His brainwave patterns on the screen changed slightly, not really reflecting how strangely he felt. It clicked that he’d seen her before, and had registered her as a Disruptor. She was one of the abnormals, who’s brain wave patterns were bizarre enough that connecting with them could disrupt another person’s personality. The occurrence was discovered shortly after the technology became widely available, although the phenomenon is still not well understood. It was understood that one could disregard any unusual psyche patterns when in the presence of an abnormal. The tone of the guys, as they conversed, sounded a bit more strained for a moment. They changed as the energy level rose and shifted. It would end as soon as she was out of their bubble, which was a clean 100 feet away.
It was safe to say that Clancy normally didn’t interact with any abnormals. They went to private schools, and the social grid was arranged to separate them. It was the new way to ensure public safety, and enhance birth rates of normal people. The abnormal ways of raising children was as much to blame for their faulty thinking patterns as their own genes. The misguided teachings they passed down from generations encouraged abuse and neglect, and were rarely able to be corrected. At least, that was the popular thinking. Clancy knew that debating such a topic wouldn’t be prudent in a public setting. He knew that some people held different views, but he never knew who he could talk to safely. He guessed that anyone else would feel the same. Still, it wasn’t hard to hate the abnormals, with the way they made others feel. Clancy was curious, though, and always had been. He thought about becoming a public servant someday, which would gain him access to their world. That job was not held in high esteem, as it was generally regarded as masochism. It was a social suicide mission. Still, Clancy thought of himself as strong and capable enough to overcome such an obstacle.
In the summer sun, he didn’t feel that he was in danger. He felt secure in his own self, and his understanding of reality. He felt that any new experience could only make the world all the more beautiful, or at least he told himself that. Surely, if there was more to his world than the track his parents set him upon, then he would need to take measures to see it for himself.
“I need to go make a phone call,” he said, to the group as a whole. They just looked at him.
“It’s my mom,” Clancy said. Two of the guys snorted, but the rest were quiet.
“Don’t laugh at him. You know we don’t allow that type of disruption. We treat each other with respect,” the coach said. The two, known for having a low social standing, were quiet. There wasn’t much lower they could sink, but causing disruption could lead to a downward spiral for any person. Negative connotations were not allowed, unless directed by someone superior.
“Go make your phone call,” the coach said, trying to sound kind, but it came off false and threatening. Clancy knew he wouldn’t have much time to break away from the group, and so he hurried over towards the road. When he knew he was out of the sphere of contact with the rest of the group, he started to relax. He saw the hair of the blonde girl, moving down the road. The flash of soft gold gave him a jolt, as he hurried to catch up to her.
She stopped in front of a store selling virtual companions. That was an acceptable activity for an abnormal. The street monitors, welded to the street signs and storefront windows, would register her activity as passive. He hoped to pass, as well. He thought about what her face would look like on those monitors. He wondered if they registered the sadness on her face, and counted it among the others. He thought briefly about her warm brown eyes, and round cheeks. The manufactured cuteness of the robotic pets was bittersweet for him. He always wanted one, more due to curiosity than loneliness. They didn’t really have consciousness, any more than a blender did when you hit the button and asked it to puree some fruit chunks. You looked at their faces, and they registered your eyes and expression. They had a wide range of responses, almost as much as a true animal, but that was all it was. Abnormals often had a hard time acquiring conscious pets, either natural or man-made, that had hearts and minds acting in tandem. Animal rights had progressed greatly in recent years, ending the barbaric times when conscious animals were sold as commodities and crammed by the dozens into the houses of abnormals. Still, sometimes kindness backfired, and prevented a good person from owning a living companion. At least, that was how Clancy felt. The blonde girl watched a little green bird, hopping around on a perch. You could buy them with or without design, depending on the level of realism you desired. Some people found the naked ones stylish, with their exposed workings and blue lights covered by clear silicone skin. The two options sat together on the perch, looking like advertisements for themselves. He felt sad for the birds, even though he knew they had no emotions. He wondered why he felt that way.
He had forgotten, as he approached, that he was entering her sphere of influence. Somehow, entering had caused him to adjust to her, and forget about the implant briefly. Maybe the girl didn’t spend much time thinking about hers. Clancy felt like it was always on his mind, even more prominent than his thoughts about the future. His desire to connect with others was addictive, and rewarding. But then, standing near that girl, it suddenly seemed confining. He pulled up the settings screen, which was telepathically linked to the visual region of his brain. He saw her thought state appear next to his own, and he noted the spikes of activity. Her brain had high activity in areas that shouldn’t have been activated. His own activity reflected the effects of empathy, immediately after he noticed this. Empathy, which caused just a little more activity in those areas of his own mind. His primitive mind was seeking to connect with her. Not only that, but it was registering her background thoughts. His own will, hidden at times from himself, was seeking to recreate her mind within his own. He never would have believed it, if he hadn’t seen it for himself. He noted that she was aware of his presence, and that she felt slightly disgusted. It offended him, until he realized that the disgust made a loop, and returned to being directed at herself. His interest in her only amplified her self-loathing.
“You like the birds?” he asked her. He decided it would be polite to make conversation. She looked at him for just a second, before lowering her eyes again. Through telepathy, she knew his true motives. Normally, it was polite to disregard this as background noise. After all, unsavory thoughts are just an accepted part of reality, and not necessarily important. As she was an abnormal, though, Clancy was not sure how she would respond.
“Yeah, they’re pretty,” she said, though she sounded sad. He felt her loneliness. Part of him shut it out, without being asked. He knew what her life was, and he didn’t want to think about it. As he watched his own monitor, he watched a strange wave of electrical activity cross his brain. It was the type that occurred during an epiphany. Actually, more accurately, during a moment of clarity. Those moment scared him, when they happened alone. He liked to disregard them.
That moment had coincided with an occurrence in the girls mind, though. It was a moment that cleared the loneliness from her mind. She felt warm, suddenly. His cheeks warmed then, as he started to think about her body. He wondered if she was attracted to him.
A blast of information from her confused him. The two of them stood there, silently, as Clancy pulled apart the ephemeral threads of her thoughts. Sure, she thought he was cute. That was a given. Clancy held onto that thought, and started to fidget. The girl, whose name began to appear as sort of an amorphous glom of letters, asked him to continue searching. She showed him the true source of her change of heart.
Some sort of large object appeared in his mind. It made no sense to him. It seemed to emanate with words and mantras that connected to emotions and experiences. The girl turned to him, and spoke.
“That’s my world. I made it for myself. It could probably heal, but everyone treats it like it’s dangerous. I could probably help you, too,” she said.
“Me?” Clancy asked.
“Yeah, but you seem like you’re all right. Just keep going. Maybe you’ll find your own,” she said. She turned to walk away. Clancy glanced back in the direction of his teammates, and found that one of his friends had come to look for him. He knew that he needed to return, to do laps around the field. He tried with all of his might to remember the monstrous thing that girl had shown him, but he found that his implant refused to save the information. He wondered where to even begin, or if he could find that within himself, again.