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“Don’t you ever get tired of being sad, Steven?” said Jenny.
“Don’t you ever get tired of being happy?” said Steven.
Jenny and Steven were seated on a bench in the park section of their local pod cluster, “Hive 74t4Z,” waiting for mealtime, which was once a day at 2:00pm. Their cluster was part of a vast and intricate hive that looked as though it might have been constructed by prehistoric-sized cyborg bees. It was all built out of the most advanced space-grade titanium, impenetrable, but dull and lacking all color.
“Why would anyone get tired of being happy?” asked Jenny.
“I’d rather be sad with my own thoughts than have a chip in my brain,” he said.
“Ugh! This again,” said Jenny. “Your own thoughts? It’s just a bunch of chemicals in our brains. Your thoughts aren’t any better or real than mine, or anyone else’s. Scientists proved that a long time ago.”
“If all thoughts are equal, then why does the Cloud have to regulate them?” asked Steven.
“Because the Cloud is better at managing the chemicals in our brains!” said Jenny.
Steven looked at her with a relaxed but pensive gaze. He had a typical scuzzy LA look, only his light blue eyes had a tint of wisdom. Jenny was pretty, but in a generic way. Her cheek bones and emerald eyes looked like they belonged to a “deep fake” of the goddess Aphrodite.
Jenny continued to tout the wonders of BrainLove saying, “BrainLove is just a pace-maker for the brain. It makes us have happier and better thoughts. Who wouldn’t want to have their thoughts optimized? Now our minds are balanced, thanks to the most advanced AI system ever conceived, Delphi.”
“You don’t mind eating bugs every day?” asked Steven as he and Jenny got up and made their way down one of the many steely grey corridors that led to the same meal-time hall. “We used to be able to eat steak, potatoes, and all sorts of things. Don’t you remember?” he said.
“I don’ mind the bugs,” answered Jenny. “I think they taste fine.”
“Well, what happens if they cut the bugs off, like they did the steak?” he asked.
“They’d never do that,” laughed Jenny. “Besides, we have the most advanced AI systems to monitor everything and make sure there’s enough.”
“If we ran out of bugs, they’d probably just adjust the Cloud to make the dirt taste good anyways,” chimed Steven.
“As long as we’re happy,” she said.
William came out from one of the neighboring pods and greeted them as they made their way down the corridor towards the meal-time hall. Jenny and Steven greeted William, “Hey William!”
“Hey, what’s up guys? Are you headed to the cafeteria for some cicadas?”
“Yeah,” said Jenny. “Are you coming?”
“Sure,” said William. “I was headed there too.”
William turned to them, “Hey, what are you guys doing later? I’m going to a dancing robot party. They’re going to be playing some amazing AstroRomanianMicroHouseGothTechnoBeach rhythms.”
“That sounds awesome,” said Jenny. “I love ARMHGTB rhythms.”
They looked at Steven.
He sighed. “Fine, I’ll go.”
“Ok,” said Jenny. “So let’s all meet at Steven’s pod for 8:00pm. We can pre-drink a bit before too—just not too much—I don’t want BrainLove bugging again. All those feelings—ugh.”
“Sounds good,” said William.
“Alright, let’s go have some bugs!” Jenny said excitedly.
The three of them went to get the day’s portion of cicadas. They were served with lima beans and a light cream sauce, with green shallots.
William knocked at Steven’s pod. He could already hear Jenny and Steven going at it again.
“If it’s just chemicals, the chemicals must have been better,” said Steven. “People don’t seem the same—even compared to a few years ago,” he lamented.
“That’s because they’re happy,” insisted Jenny. “They don’t get all worked up thinking about stupid things like you do, Steven. The more thoughts people have, the more feelings they have—the more unpredictable things become. It’s not stable. People just want stable happy lives.”
Steven opened the door to William. Jenny and Steven walked out and then the three of them started making their way to the Leisure Complex, 74tlZ. Jenny and Steven continued arguing while William walked beside them, blocking out the conversation with his headphones.
“Sure, ‘stable,’ ‘happy’—one perfect blah!” said Steven. “Our pods are 5 by 10 feet. They make us eat bugs everyday! And don’t you ever wish we had more space or choice?” asked Steven.
“More space?” said Jenny. “We have the Metaverse?” You can go anywhere you want. Just yesterday I was in ancient Egypt watching them build the Pyramids, then I watched Antony and Cleopatra make love. You really need to start exploring the Metaverse. It’s perfect—unlike this world.”
William took off his head-phones. It didn’t matter than he hadn’t heard anything. He knew what they were arguing about. “Just get BrainLove, Steve! This is getting old,” William blurted out. “The bugs taste like steak with BrainLove, anyways. Sitting in the park can be a total trip. The Cloud is regularly adjusted so that we get just the right amount of feeling and experience, it’s never too much or not enough. It even regulates our body temperature.”
“If only I had BrainLove,” sighed Steven. “The bugs would taste great and the universe would be perfect.”
“Getting BrainLove was the best decision William and I ever made,” she said. “Isn’t that right, William?”
“For sure!” said William. “Now I have like 10 girlfriends in the Metavese, I can’t even keep up.”
Steven looked into Jenny’s eyes, “Don’t you miss your parents?”
“What do you mean?” asked Jenny.
“Remember when the city ran out of bugs? They gave up their cicada allotments to keep you alive? Many people died, remember?”
“No,” said Jenny. “My psychiatrist thought I was better without those memories, so the Cloud wiped them. Besides, my psychiatrist said there were too many people, so the shortage helped balance things out. Anyways, I have no bad memories. I’m really ok.”
Steven, William, and Jenny finally arrived at the leisure hall for the nightly electro rave. There were swarms of people dancing to minimalist Romanian rhythms. The robots were carbon-copies of Hollywood celebrities. There was Leonardo Di Caprio, Angelina Jolie, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Nikki Minaj, James Dean, Tom Jones, Rita Heyworth, Sophia Lauren, and even Danny DeVito. Some people were at the electro-shock bar taking PP hits.
William said, “Hey guys, I’m going to head to the electro-shock bar for some PP hits.”
“PP hits? What are those?” asked Steven.
“Pleasure-Pain hits,” he explained. “People are given an alternating set of electro-shock pulses that stimulate both the pain and pleasure centers of the brain. It’s better than any drug. In fact, because of it most drugs have disappeared. It’s great!”
“It sounds a bit too intense for me,” said Steven. “I don’t like people playing with my brain. But have fun.”
Steven didn’t stay long. He watch Jenny dancing with Sean Penn and a few other robots, then decided to head back to his pod and listen to his own music.
Steven listened to music until late. It was now close to 2am. William and Jenny were making their way back to their pods just a few rows down from Steven’s when they heard the melancholy music floating through the halls. It was sad, but the sadness seemed to make it more beautiful. Steven was listening to Brahms’ “Immer leise wird mein Schlummer.”
William turned to Jenny, “Do you ever get tired of being happy?” He made the mistake of taking his headphones off and heard strains of melancholy music enchanting the hallways and surrounding pods. Just as he and Jenny reached Steven’s door, William started weeping.
Jenny looked over. “Are you crying? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” answered William. Not knowing why he was crying seemed to make him weep even more furiously.
Jenny and William were now standing in front of Steven’s pod. They hadn’t yet knocked, but Steven could hear William crying from outside. He opened the door. “What’s going on guys?”
Just as Jenny was about to answer, a red light started flashing under the skin in the back of William’s head.
Jenny saw the flash. “Uh oh! Dammit Steven, why do you play that sad music! I think it triggered BrainLove,” she said. “Now he has to report to Hive Headquarters. He has an hour before his BrainLove gets shutoff altogether.
“How could this happen?” asked William.
“Emotions lead to thoughts; thoughts lead to emotions,” said Steven. “Sometimes music does that. It takes us places we’re not used to or reminds us of things we thought we’d forgotten.”
William looked up crying, “Ok, well guys, I guess I should report before it gets too late. I’ll just say I think the Cloud needs some adjusting.”
William sullenly walked away—his cheeks were reddened by the brine of his tears. For a moment, Jenny and Steven awkwardly stood in front of the pod without saying anything.
The silence was too much for Jenny. She turned to Steven and asked, “What’s melancholy?”
“Have you ever read Keats’ ‘Ode on Melancholy?’”
“No, what’s that?” she said.
“It’s a poem,” answered Steven. “I have a whole book of Keats’ poems. I can lend it to you, if you want.”
“You know we don’t need books anymore,” said Jenny. “We have plug-ins.”
“Do they have plug-ins for Keats?” asked Steven.
“I don’t know,” answered Jenny.
“Well, it’s a poem by the English poet Keats,” said Steven. “Melancholy is interesting because it’s neither happiness nor sadness. It’s a transcendent emotion,” he explained.
“Transcendent?” asked Jenny. “It doesn’t sound fun.”
Steven started reciting the poem’s third stanza:
“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die, And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,”
They stood there quietly. Jenny felt compelled to break the silence, again.
“I don’t get it,” said Jenny. “Is that good or bad?”
“It’s neither,” answered Steven.
“How can that be?” she said. “If I’m not sad and I’m not happy, then that’s just like blahhh?”
“No,” said Steven. “It’s everything else—a complete experience—with all of its beauty, complexity, and the richness of existence. That’s why Keats says that ‘when the melancholy fit shall fall’ we should look deep into our lover’s eyes and remember that even the things we cherish most must pass, and to discover the joy that comes from accepting our mortal nature.”
“That’s morbid,” said Jenny.
Steven laughed, but then proceeded to recite the whole second stanza:
But when the melancholy fit shall fall Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, That fosters the droop-headed flowers all, And hides the green hill in an April shroud; Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, Or on the wealth of globed peonies; Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows, Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave, And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
He looked at Jenny who was staring blankly and explained, “By letting the sadness and beauty hit us, we can appreciate everything else that comes with it—the good, the bad, the ugly—everything. It’s liberating. It makes us whole.”
“It sounds complicated,” said Jenny.
“It is,” said Steven. “But you know what’s more complicated, Jenny?”
“What?” she asked.
“You always trying to be happy. Do you know what it takes to keep the Cloud running or who’s in charge of Delphi’s programming? What would you do if the systems broke down?”
“Oh God,” she said. “I have no idea.”
“You just have to make it to the other side,” said Steven.
“Why do I have to ‘get to the other side’ if I can just be happy now?” she asked.
“You’d have to turn off BrainLove to find out,” said Steven.