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Feel Me

Rich Larson was born in Galmi, Niger, has lived in Spain and Czech Republic, and currently writes from Grande Prairie, Canada. He is the author of the novels Ymir and Annex, as well as the collection Tomorrow Factory. His fiction has appeared in over a dozen languages, including Polish, Italian, Romanian, and Japanese, and his translated collection La Fabrique des lendemains won the Grand Prix de L'Imaginaire. His short story "Ice" was recently adapted into an Emmy-winning episode of LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Find free reads and support his work at patron/com/richlarson..

Ten more seconds allotted for happiness.
Aster blinks. Grits her teeth. She hadn't realized she was happy--she'd been staring at the dandelion field, the first thing to pop up on her feed, without a single thought in her head. But the swaying yellow-green sea is beautiful, and the algorithm is right. She should be enjoying it.
She tries to concentrate on the interplay of petals and shoots, the balletic swirls as a breeze moves through them.
Allotment ending.
The dandelions dissolve, and now Aster sees a migrant boat sinking beneath the waves, drone footage of drowning innocents.
Emotions available:
Anger
Sadness
She selects sadness, which comes more naturally to her. She feels the constriction in her throat, the throb in her chest, the empathic ache.
Allotment ending.
But the feed doesn't change.
Emotions available:
Anger
The feed often plays this trick. If she'd selected Anger first, she'd likely be doing Sadness now. She focuses on the injustice, the callousness and inhumanity that created these conditions. She clenches her fists and jaw.
Not enough.
You have the right to be angry, Aster.
And the right is a duty, so she yanks one wired ear pod from its place, and the physical sensation helps kindle the right chemicals. She feels a jet of fury and directs it toward a cowardly government and uncaring oligarchs.
Allotment ending.
The ocean dissolves to a nascent sex scandal, and the carousel continues. Aster works her way into a rhythm, raging and grieving and laughing, forcing snarls or smiles across her face for better biofeedback.
She uses a momentary break in the feed to look at her overview, all the color-coded emotions portioned and contained. She scrolls through subcategories of Despair and Disgust. The alphabetical space nestled beside Anger is blacked out; she is not permitted Apathy until much later in the day.
Aster searches for Exhaustion, on a whim, and finds nothing. Maybe it's too basic to require a label and allotment.
The feed presents her a baby pangolin. She claps her hands in an empty room.
It is 7:38 in the morning.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 7th, 2022
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