The Risks of Empathy, A Novella
Harry sat in his car reading the paper. The street was damp; a sheen of oil covered everything. The air was typically heavy with smog; the sun was a dull spot just visible between a row of tall gray concrete skyscrapers. Across the street a man sat in a doorway; he seemed to be dozing. Few people came and went into the building, probably because it was mid day and most people were either working or plugged into their TEs.
Harry noticed a small article in the business section about the decline in suicides in the city. He had noticed himself that there seemed to be fewer jumpers than usual. The article suggested that suicide rates had always risen and fallen throughout history. Harry figured it had something to do with the fact that people were not quite as bored as they had been. Even he had found the new TEs to be alluring and time consuming. And consuming time was an important consideration these days.
A man in a black sweatshirt and a young girl, who to Harry’s practiced eye seemed to be resisting the arm around her shoulders, walked up he steps and spoke briefly to the man in the doorway. The three of them went into the building.
Harry radioed the station that he required back up, gave the building address, and quickly got out of the car and followed the three into the dark building. The elevator was out of order, of course, and Harry could hear them walking in the stairwell. He followed quietly and made sure he kept against the wall so as not to be seen from above.
They pushed open the door and left the stairs on the fourth floor. Harry hurried to catch up and just as he made it to the door and looked out, he saw a door close down the dank hallway. Harry quickly and very quietly hurried to the room, put his ear against the dented graffiti-covered door and listened for a moment. Satisfied, he hurried back to the stairs and radioed once again with the floor and room number.
Satisfied that help was on the way, Harry was quickly back in place outside the room and listening through the door. He heard a sound from the girl that seemed to suggest that he didn’t have much time to waste. Without hesitation, and with many years of practice, Harry pulled his pistol and made short work of the doorjamb and doorknob. He pushed his way through the door and was greeted by the surprised faces of the two men. One reached for his own gun and Harry shot him in the head. The other man was wearing an experience recorder and was seated in a chair next to the table where the girl was tied down and also wearing a recorder. The second man seemed to have the good sense not to move.
Suddenly, they were joined by four uniformed officers. One of them was handcuffing the man wearing the recorder, another was helping the young girl who was obviously in shock and another knelt beside the man with the hole through his brain.
“Not much hope for this guy.”
“Nope,” answered Harry. “Modern medicine still can’t rebuild a brain demolished by a 45 at close range. That’s too bad.”
“Looks like a torture-murder gig,” one of the officers said.
On the table next to the girl was a pair of pliers, a razor, a bottle of alcohol, and a cigarette lighter.
“Yep. We've been watching this guy for some time. We've confiscated some of the TEs he’s been black-marketing.”
“These people are really sick.”
“Yep. Last month we found eight different illegal TEs. Rapes, murders, torture executions, really horrible things being sold in a dozen different locations. It seems to be a growing fad. Get this scum down to the station, and take the girl to County Med. I’ll initial your reports when I get back to the station. Make sure no one messes with the recorders.”
Stan and Earnie had reaped a handsome sum from their invention of the cerebral transmitter that was now so widely known as the Selling Total Experience. They had taken the money and retired for a while to a Mexican beach. Though lovely and warm, it wasn’t long before the lush tropical luxury began to tire them both. They had always been most excited by discovery and invention. Without much discussion, they pooled their resources and bought a new laboratory replete with the best electronics money could buy.
Back to work, they had decided to pursue their original investigations into the transmission of thoughts and perceptions. They decided to see whether they could look into the mind of another species.
Ted was Stan’s large mixed breed dog. He seemed to have some shepherd and collie ancestry, but there seemed to be some hound in the woodpile as well. He was dark, had long ears, longish hair, and was always with Stan. Earnie joked occasionally that if Stan had to choose between him and Ted, that Ted would win out. Stan never contradicted Earnie's claim.
Ted was good-natured and seemed not to mind the hat Stan was having him wear every now and then. The hat was, of course, an experience recorder modified to fit the dog.
Stan sat with a net on his own head while both he and Earnie worked at their own computer consoles.
“Look at the spikes in Ted’s alpha and epsilon waves,” said Stan. “I think we have to modify the input to coincide with the third band in the recorder.”
“Right,” answered Earnie, and he modified an algorithm in the program. “What are you getting?”
“Not too much. Something.”
“Maybe Ted’s just not too aware of his environment,” joked Earnie. “Hum. How ‘bout this?’ And he fiddled with another parameter. “What now?”
“What now?” he repeated. “Hey Stan! Are you getting anything more?”
Earnie looked up from his computer and over at his friend. Stan seemed to be having some sort of mild seizure. His eyes seemed unfocused and his shoulders were twitching slightly. A bit of drool ran from the corner of his mouth. The slight smile on his face kept Earnie from pulling the plug on Stan’s head net. He sat twitching and drooling for maybe five minutes while Earnie watched the computer monitors in fascination.
Finally, Stan moved his hand slowly to the computer keyboard and stopped the experiment himself. He went over and sat down next to the large dog and put his arms around his neck and began to make a noise that seemed to Earnie to be a mix between a quiet laugh and a shaking sob.