The Risks of Empathy, a Novella
The secrecy and skullduggery that had entered Rita's life thrilled her in a way lthat few other things had been able to in the past hundred and sixty some odd years. She met clandestinely - sometimes in a back booth at Jim's Lounge - with three other regulars to discuss the news they were picking up on their TEs. They felt encouraged to strike out with guerilla tactics upon learning that other people across the country were doing the exact sorts of things that they were and not getting caught. Nothing about the growing underground resistance to the outlawing of Selling, the TEs, martial law, or the implication of the animal TEs was being broadcast on any of the 687 vert view channels or on any of the government's non-Selling TE channels. If people were getting their news from the major media, they could only believe that the government had matters well in hand.
But Rita and her friends knew differently. Somehow, Selling was managing to get Total Experience recordings made and broadcast. There was no question of being manipulated or lied to when one actually became someone storming a small lab, or someone throwing a flaming Molotov cocktail through a butcher shop window. It was real, and the fervor, passion and commitment was experienced by everyone using a contraband Selling TE receiver.
Rita and her friends met secretly nearly every day in locations that changed regularly. Occasionally they would meet in a member's apartment, but they avoided meeting in the same place twice in the same week. This meant that they were always on the lookout for hidden spots in the city. On this day, they were sitting on two benches in a secluded section of a large park. Two of them, Rita and a man, were wearing their TEs and experiencing the news. The other two watched down the path and listened for voices that might signal someone's approach. They all knew that being caught with a Selling TE meant immediate prison.
Stan stood in the center of the lab sort of looking this way and that. His lips were pursing, and he seemed to chewing on his tongue. Karen looked inquisitively at Earnie.
Earnie said, "He looks goofy when he thinks."
"Why not?" announced Stan. "But one of us needs to be able to monitor everyone else. Hum, let's use Ted."
Ted's left ear perked slightly at the mention of his name.
In short order Karen, Ted, and Earnie were all wired up. "OK you guys," said Stan, "Unless I can tell that you are not all snarled in some sort of a crazy loop, I'm going to make this really short. Maybe five minutes. OK?"
Karen and Earnie nodded their agreement. Ted was lying at Stan's feet, seemingly resolved to another odd request by the humans in his life.
"Here we go," and Stan threw a switch.
Ted raised his head immediately and gave a short bark. But he didn't seem distressed. Karen raised her right arm and held it out in front of herself for a moment.
Earnie, very slowly and in measured syllables, said, "This - is - ver - y - dif - fer - ent."