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The Feel Good Factor

"Commissioner Stevenson!" said Major Armano, bursting through the door, "I have to demand council intervention!" The door swung against the wall as Armano marched up to the desk.

Commissioner Stevenson glanced away from the vidscreen, his smile changing from beaming to brilliant as he did so. He flicked off the vidlink and stared intently at Armano. "Major, how pleasant to meet with you again. And what can I do for you?"

Armano stood before the desk, arms crossed behind him in a textbook military at-ease position. He was neither a young nor a slim man, and if seen from behind in his military uniform, might have conveyed the impression of a small green moon. But his face wore determination with many years' practice and his eyes remained sharp and intent. He stared back at the Commissioner.

"Demands are being placed upon me which I cannot match," said Armano. "There is a travesty taking place in our streets and I demand that action is taken against it."

"A travesty, Major? I assume you're referring to Emote?" said Stevenson.

Armano nodded. "That's correct. Have you been down to street level recently? Emote is rife. Every street corner has some kid injecting the stuff. They don't even try to be discreet anymore."

The Commissioner's smile faded several notches, but clung to his face as an enthusiastic grin. He got up and went to the door, closing it quietly. As he returned he said, "As it so happens, I make a point of visiting street level at least once a month. I can assure you Emote has not escaped my attention. In fact, here in Administration we're very aware of it."

"So what do you plan to do about it?"

Stevenson dropped into his chair, leaning back and steepling his fingers. He regarded Major Armano carefully but with some pleasure. "Let me describe a scenario for you, Major. Suppose Emote-Happy became the number one seller on the streets. Suppose Emote-Pleasure came in second, and so on down through Emote-Smug, Emote-Anger, Emote-Desire and twenty other emotions before you finally reached the likes of cocaine and heroin. What if hard drugs became so unpopular as to be unprofitable? That's the situation we're reaching, Major. People favour fake emotions over hard drugs. Administration unofficially considers this a blessing."

Armano twitched his moustache and stepped over to the window. He looked down through the thin clouds to the streets far below. The fading sun was casting an orange glow across the town. The colour of Emote, he thought bitterly. Without looking round, he said, "I don't consider replacing one drug with another to be any kind of blessing. But the rise and fall of cocaine dealers doesn't interest me. It's Emote I have a problem with."

Stevenson laughed briskly, but stopped when he saw dark clouds forming in Armano's expression. "Compared to the effects of other drugs, we're getting off quite lightly. The council commissioned its own research into the topic and found Emote to be quite harmless."

"Harmless!" Armano's head snapped around, his face a poster of incredulity.

Stevenson continued, unfazed. "It's non-addictive, non-lethal even in large amounts, and its very openness has brought with it a certain social responsibility. You can't tell me this isn't an improvement, Major. Of course, we'd all prefer a society that didn't rely on such things, but in the circumstances..." Stevenson trailed off as Armano frowned.

Armano turned back to the window. One hand started reflexively clenching and unclenching, leaving red marks on his opposite wrist. His moustache twitched again as he said, quietly but firmly, "External research suggests that repeated use of Emote might actually remove the drug user's ability to feel any emotions at all. They become dependent on the drug to make any sort of emotional response."

"Yes, I've heard that," said Stevenson, his smile drooping into something that might have been a smirk if he had more to be pleased about. He drummed his fingers on the table impatiently.

Armano finally lost control and shouted, "Well that might as well be addictive!" His face flushed red and he struggled to regain his composure. "The Emote users are killing their own emotions and turning to Emote to give them back. It's a vicious cycle. Soon they become weak-willed automatons."

Stevenson struggled towards a scowl, but fell short and lapsed into mild cheeriness. "To be fair, Major, I don't think your assessment represents an accurate picture. Far from being weak-willed automatons, the Emote users actually become untroubled, clear-thinking individuals. From my own contact with them, I would have to say they were perfectly capable of leading a productive life this way, with the added benefit of being in complete control of their emotions. They can reason about the world clearly, but know when to apply emotions, via Emote, to a situation to gain a different perspective. And," added Stevenson, raising a hand to hold off Armano's interruption, "the recreational use of Emote might be considered a reasonable part of their lives, given the lack of harmful side effects."

Armano's jaw dropped open momentarily, then he pulled himself together. "Don't you care what this is doing to people? This harmless drug is creating a race of zombies. We might as well be rocks and trees for all the life we'll have."

"This is only life as you measure it, Major. For Administration, this is potentially a very positive step. Since Emote became prevalent, we've seen only good things. Crime is actually down thirteen percent, violent crime in particular is down twenty nine percent. People can get Emote-Anger but almost no-one uses it when Emote-Happy makes them feel so much better. The ban on drugs in the workplace has caused a shift towards a non-emotive work force, leading to increased economic productivity in the last quarter. And while it may be frowned upon in some quarters, schools are reporting that since Emote was discovered in small amounts in the playground, pupils are learning faster and devoting more of their time to educational and productive activities." Stevenson shrugged. "Is there a problem here, Major? I'm really not seeing it."

"You can't see the problem?" said Armano. He returned to standing in front of the desk, towering over Stevenson. "Here's the problem, Commissioner. We are still at war with China. Every day I lose one hundred soldiers. Every day! And I am being demanded to push the front further forward, to take the war back into our enemies' countries."

Finally Stevenson's smile twitched downwards at the edges. "This is very regrettable, Major, but hardly a matter for council intervention."

"I disagree. We can't sustain these losses without pushing more and more troops through boot camp. We have conscription, but that gives us more people, not more recruits."

"I'm not following. Military training is your department..."

Armano interjected. "I know. But the people we're getting are no use to us. At least half are Emote dependent. They feel nothing on their own. They have no aggression. They have no passion for the cause. They're worthless and weak on the battlefield."

Stevenson nodded. "I see. But soldiers are still a military concern. Have you considered shipping Emote out with them?"

Armano growled. "I can't maintain an army on combat readiness knowing that at any moment they might lose the drive to fight. Besides, the effects are too inflexible and lead to a logistics nightmare."

Stevenson shrugged again. "I fail to see how I can help."

Armano leaned in towards the Commissioner's desk. "Emote is covered by civil law, not military. I need you to clear up Emote. Wipe it off the streets. Arrest the dealers and the users. Shoot them, lock them up, whatever. Just make an example of them. We need the people to stop. I need Emote to go out of fashion right now. While there's still time to rescue tomorrow's army."

"And you believe that'll help?"

"We can work with the recruits we've got but only if they, and their successors, don't get any worse."

Commissioner Stevenson stood up. "I'm sorry, Major, but my hands are tied. I'm far from being one to make populist decisions, but if I ban Emote now it would be universally badly received. I can hardly be seen to encourage an action that would lead to an increase in violent crime, now, can I?" Stevenson put on his best smile, but couldn't stop it from looking forced, as if composed of the dregs of the previous day's smiles. "No, Major, I can't do that. If you wish to make the army selective for only non-Emote users, I will of course support you. But that's the best I can do."

Armano thumped his fist on the desk. "Damn you! Don't you see what you're doing?"

"I see what my choices are. The war with the Chinese will have to play its course. Now if you'll excuse me, Major..." Stevenson gestured towards the door.

Armano scowled. "This isn't the last of this. There are members in the council who will back me in a stand against you." He spun on his heel then and stormed out. The door slammed shut behind him.

Stevenson dropped back into his chair, his smile finally falling from his face. His good-natured cheeriness faded with it. Damn stuff ran out, he thought. He started rummaging through a drawer as he keyed access codes into the vidscreen.

A Chinese face appeared on the screen. "Ah, Minister Mao Ling. So good to see you again." The Minister, face frozen in a beaming smile, bowed respectfully.

"The Chinese people were much impressed by your country's last shipment of Emote," said Mao Ling in faltering English. "We have confidence that your second shipment will allow us to reach a mutually agreeable resolution to the terrible conflict of our two countries."

Stevenson nodded as his hands closed on two ampules of liquid. He pulled them out of the drawer but kept them out of sight of the vidscreen. "Very good, Minister. I'll see to it that the shipment reaches you very soon. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you at the ambassador's ball."

Mao Ling nodded and the picture blinked out.

Stevenson looked blank. He twirled one ampule in his left hand. Orange-yellow Emote-Happy glowed out at him. It's been a good day, he thought, Everything's going according to plan. He looked at the ampule, considering how he had every reason to feel happy. Except...

He fumbled the second ampule into an injector and pressed it to his arm as he dialled out again. The vidscreen flared into life as Emote-Anger rushed around his body.

"Williams," said Stevenson, "package E-H-2 is intended for Minister Mao Ling. See that he gets it in full discretion." The face on the vidscreen nodded as Stevenson added, "And Major Armano. See that you appropriately arrange for his elimination." Stevenson cut the vidlink quickly.

It was harsh, thought Stevenson in the abstract. He wondered idly if the fat oaf had a family. But then Stevenson shrugged and turned his attention back to business. It didn't matter either way, he thought, twirling the orange ampule. He knew he'd feel good about it later.

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