Our building’s communal hall holds an audience, with chairs in narrow rows perpendicular to the long side of the room. I step in, my eyes adjusting to the gloom, and sidle up against the flaking paint of the back wall, out of sight. At least fourty-nine are in attendance, most of them as young as Lil’ Bro but not all of them familiar. Baby Sister With Neck Scar From a Feral Hound has her head resting on an apple-sized swollen fist and Dad’s detested “Molotov Twins” sit side-by-side, their ears notch-clipped for making sport of throwing stones at mile neighbors. A narrow and tall young man half my age stands tilted with a club foot. He reminds me of a boy that suffered the same, whose infection seemed hopelessly terminal when I left the compound to make the family fortune.
All eyes in attendance are on me, sitting on a stool beside a FEED hardpoint visualization suite. Me, in a pair of tightly-laced BreatheFriendlies and a plum CoNIKTo track-suit with gilded stripe, is running a PreCompEd FeedSCRIPT refresher lesson. Me, with an exaggerated bouffant hairdo and a printfac gold flat-link dangling from my scrawny neck, has just finished prepping the children for the lesson interactives. Next to me, Swayze, scrolls the Active!Time fluidity feedback graph with JOiPrompt. I, Swayze, [ready] the first scenario for reflexive EmotE: in cascade sequence a crowd of children on projection raise their hands to grab at an skyscape of dangling fresh apples which shine with in cold dew. This is a test with no incorrect response: [desire], [delight], [hunger], [hope], [instinct], [envy], [excitement], [disbelief], and primordial [fascination] from the tiniest ones. EmotE ripples through the classroom’s body language, the hardpoint scan-logging their biometrics and displaying their EmotE accuracy accordingly. I, Swayze, introduce another scenario: the hand closes its fingers around the apple in a grip [need] [satisfaction] [want] [pleasure] [anticipation] and they pass through it, the apple sinking inwards and crumbling to ash [confusion] [horror] [disappointment] which passes between the fingers as a black cloud [loss] [sadness] [despair] [desperation] and the black cloud forms a humanoid shape with one great steely eye glowing in the middle of its simple, domed head. It holds the apple within one cloudy, formless pseudopod [bad] [bad] [hate] [anger] [adversary] [adversary] [adversary]. The hand clenches into a fist [determination] [perseverance] [hope] an unfamiliar girl manages to cognitively achieve the abstract [resurgence] and now the children struggle against the shadow man for the apple. JOiPrompt reads their EmotE and their teamwork rating swells, their individual response-match readouts fill and flood over each other like spilled cups to form a pool of [unity] which glows upon their faces as their mighty projection-fist shatters shadow man into fragments of [defeat] [defeat] [defeat] [defeat] [defeat] [defeat] which melt into a stylized drain upon the floor. The apple falls into the palm and the children, involuntarily, reach skywards to hold it in their hands in an exaggeration of [triumph], which I, Swayze, inform the children is the lesson of the day.
I, the Ghost in the back with a hand on my solar plexus, press against a bulging tide of stomach acid.