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[personal profile] joshwriting
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, partially as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Elizabeth Margareta Griffith.

Emphasis Mine

In the following story, concepts are expressed in a way familiar to some cultures on Earth. This is done to permit an understanding of what is going on, but the real items in question do not, in fact, resemble the Earth artifacts that are used to symbolize them in this recreation of the foreign history.

For centuries, perhaps millennia, their people had worked to eliminate emotions from their daily lives, feeling it was a burden too great to bear. They blamed emotions for all the conflict between peoples, from minor domestic squabbles to intercontinental warfare. By purging themselves of emotions, they would be free, at last, to grow as a people and rise to the heights they so deeply desired.

And there was the rub.

The depth of their desire to rise was the first thing to go. It had been the most powerful of their racial urges, far stronger than the imperative to procreate. As the government officials and scientists began to notice that effect, there was some heated discussion concerning blame, but that fell rapidly by the wayside, too. No room for blame where there was no room for emotions. What would be the point?

The first efforts were through personal discipline and meditation. They were quite effective for day-to-day emotional situations, but did not prove to be sufficient to overcome either the most intense of conflicts or personal weaknesses. The greedy, the power-hungry, and the narcissistic were quite good at feigning adherence to the cultural norms and training programs, while not actually buying into the approach at all. They assumed, rightly as it turned out, that there would be others resisting as well, and they were not about to give up what was “rightfully theirs” to folks who would not obey the law!

After reclaiming the government from the malcontents, the people turned to their physical scientists to help them – the biologists and geneticists, and the chemists and the endocrinologists. Their goal was to get at the biological/physical roots of emotions and find a way to turn them off at the source. The work captured the imagination of the planet as well as its resources. The progress was slow, but progress there was. Through personality tests, the government determined the best test subjects for the new bio-chemical approach: the greedy, the power-hungry, and the narcissistic.

It worked. It was initially stunning. The populous was ebullient. Celebrations in the street, grand award ceremonies for the discoverers, and increased action at the betting parlors over when the people would at last be free of their burdensome feelings. There was debate, but not a lot, on how best to ensure that no country had the advantage of pure reason first. A two-fold approach was necessary. Wiping out the body's enzymes that triggered emotions was easy enough, but that did nothing for the newborns, who arrived with their sentiments loudly and clearly expressed. The stumbling block that had finally been discovered was a teratogenic mixture that would wipe out the genes that produced those enzymes for both the immediate person and any offspring.

Production and distribution of the chemical took place without incident, barring a few rather drunk celebrants who were not quite up to their jobs. The day before was filled with partying and parades. The day after was quiet, calm, and smooth. The collected wisdom was that they seemed to have done the right thing – but it was a matter of fact conclusion, accompanied by no smugness or gloating by those responsible.

The year that followed was remarkable, or it would have been had there been anybody inclined to exclamations. Where there had been war, there was a dogged effort to clean up the mess left behind because landmines and unexploded bombs are messy and dangerous. Where there had been starvation, supplies were shipped in and distributed. No rancor, no rushes of the trucks, and no pilfering of the materials by either thieves or controlling warlords. An external observer would have wondered if they were on the same planet.

The first real hint of a problem came early the next year. A major earthquake hit one of the population centers. The emergency crews wandered over to see what they could do. The news broadcasts showed images of destruction and the homeless and wounded people. But unlike years past, there was no urgency to the efforts of the fire departments or the ambulance crews. They got there when they got there, with nobody upset with them and no real motivation to hurry. Some people sent in money or spare supplies, but really there was no reason for most people to, as there was no pity for the suffering, no guilt for not doing more, and no impetus to solve the problem.

For the most part, people kept working because it was convenient as was having money. The demand on the courts was pretty low, though, so some folks got laid off. The efforts of some workers remained high because there was no reason for them to do less well, but for others the drive to work hard had been based on either pride in their efforts or fear of losing their jobs and without those emotions to drive their efforts, both quantity and quality slacked off.

None of this was lost on the government or on the scientists. There was a general agreement that something might need to be done about it. While one faction felt that it should be studied longer and another felt that probably something should be done sooner rather than later, neither felt passionate enough about their argument to push very hard nor even to work on it quickly.

Years passed without something being done beyond studying what was happening. The infrastructure deteriorated because there were not enough folks with a personal work ethic to keep things going, nor a societal structure that could ensure that things would get fixed. But when a scientist approached the government, requesting resources for finding a cure for the emotionless society, they had no real reason to turn her down and sufficient assets to allow them to say yes. So they did.

Even curiosity is an emotion, unfortunately for the world, so the number of folks for whom new ideas served as an attraction was pretty small. Why this particular woman found this particular problem to be the thing she chose to tackle is hard to say. Whim, perhaps, but is even that feasible? For whatever reason, though, this was the path she chose.

It was only natural for her to have access to the research that had led to the miracle. There were no quick answers to be found, partially because she wasn’t working at a feverish pitch and partially because it was a challenging problem and would have been under any circumstances. She kept at it out of habit – she had no external motivation nor, really, any internal one, but equally no motivation to stop, so she didn’t.

More years passed. Imagine, if you wish, societal decay with no hue and cry about it. Imagine, too, a woman plodding along, sometimes with help and sometimes without, examining bodies and systems and elements. While the stories could fill many chapters, they would all be largely the same.

About 15 years after her request for resources, 25 years after the change, she had an idea of what might help. It was a somewhat difficult solution, though it would have been easy pre-change. A distant mountain range had a mineral that she thought would do the job, but air travel had been stopped because the maintenance was no longer sufficient to make flying safe. She traveled slowly across the country, about 1500 miles, sometimes by car and sometimes on foot. When she got where she was going, she had to find help – digging into a mountain was not something she had the skill to do on her own. She managed to find a working excavator and somebody willing to run it for her.

Over the next few months, they drilled and dug. While they did not push as hard as one might have wished for, they did keep at it, and finally they got to the level she was after – a seldom used substance that simultaneously boosted the effect of sodium while reducing magnesium levels in the body. They pulled out enough of the ore to allow her to run copious experiments without a need to ration it carefully, and she returned to the capital city.

It was difficult to find volunteers within the general population – it was not that people were afraid of the side effects, but they saw no particular reason to try it. Finally, she turned to the government, where a few officials were willing to serve as experimental subjects. The pace of her work continued to be deliberate, with no increase of excitement at her proximity to a possible alleviation of the symptoms of emotionlessness, but when she had seen enough to know that her current mixture would not have lasting or dire consequences on an individual who took the blend, she prepared a dose and took it herself, with no concern.

The next day, she went to the government council and requested to be heard. Their secretary asked “Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” she replied, “But it is important that they see me today!” A small bit of inflection added to her sentence was more than enough to gain the secretary’s acquiescence.

When she appeared before them, she simply told them, “You must allow me to give you each a dose of this! And then we have to go back to the mountain to synthesize more of the antidote and we have to do it before we lose the ability to do it at all!”

And so it was.


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February 2017


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