Drunk on his own brew and half asleep at his office desk, the most honored man in the world cries. He cries the tears of one whose sadness is his greatest gift and his greatest curse simultaneously. Rheb Larsden, founder of Sadventures Incorporated, who specialize in reconstructing negative emotions for people who have never known them, clutches the little pills in his hand as he works up the courage. Today is a good day to die.
Eight years ago Rheb somehow stepped out of the 21st century into wherever he is now. In eight years he still has no idea how he got here or where he is. It could be the future or an alternate universe or even hell, so far as he knows. A hell in which everyone was happy but him, and where he was made the most powerful man simply by offering them a glimpse of his sadness.
When he was taken out of the world he was born into he was running through the woods clutching an epi-pen, racing to save the life of the woman he would marry in just a few weeks. He and Mareva had gone for a short walk from their camp when the bee stung her. As he raced back to her after retrieving the life-saving device, he was snatched from his existence and dumped willy-nilly wherever he was now.
Not a day goes by when he doesn’t set the table to eat himself inside-out emotionally over the ordeal. He knows he could handle it if he had just been taken from her, but that she almost certainly died because he could not reach her, he can never find comfort or peace. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to. Maybe we fall in love with our pain so we never have to be completely alone.
Still clutching those pills, those little distillates of poisons he had extracted himself for this very purpose, Rheb stumbles from his chair into a simulation room.
“Computer, run program Romeo & Juliet,” he says to flashing lights on the wall. A door opens and he walks inside the brightly lit room that quickly fades into shapes and colors and objects and faces and voices. This simulation was his first, before he added olfactory elements to further enrich the experience. It was a crude a clunky program, but it was his first and he had wanted to preserve it in all of it’s glorious clumsiness.
Rheb left the 21st century knowing almost nothing about the works of Shakespeare, a bard who had lived far before the time and place he was born in. His reconstruction of Romeo and Juliet was, he knew, so laughably inadequate that anybody from his original home would have called shenanigans. But even if it was only a shadow of the original tale, supplemented with Shakespearean tropes that probably weren’t even in Romeo and Juliet, the people here had loved it. For most, it had been their first real immersive experience in sadness and despair.
“Chose role,” a computer voice prompted him.
Wherever he was, wherever this was, this maddening utopia he had been delivered to by unknown forces, it was not a place for him. Everyone here was happy, perfectly and flawlessly happy. They paid him great money to experience the sadness he brought here with him. They rode his angst like a roller coaster through simulations he had programmed from his own experiences and memories of a world where everyone was far from perfectly happy. A world he missed more than imaginable.
When he arrived he found himself running down a street, still clutching the epi-pen meant to save Mareva’s life. Everything was pristine and beautiful, and his confusion and anguish were so out of place he became an instant spectacle. He scanned around. He screamed her name. He ran in circles. He jumped up and down and fell into a pile of confusion, fear and frustrated rage.
“What game is this, brother, and can I play with you?” asked a stranger standing over him.
Rheb looked up to notice that he was surrounded. All around him there were maniacally smiling faces, looking at him like he was the most fascinating thing they had ever seen.
“Play,” he responded. “PLAY?”
The man who had asked stood over him, grinning ethereally, without a care or concern in the world.
“You think this is some kind of fucking game? Who the fuck are you? Where am I? Where is Mareva?”
His face turned red then purple. His fist balled up and he began to shake.
“Where is Mareva?”
The man and the crowd still just smiled, waiting to see where this game was going. Rheb coiled up and struck out in a flash, punching the man square in the jaw. For a moment his smile was gone, not replaced by anger or pain, just curious confusion. Then he smiled again.
“What do you call this game, brother? What am I supposed to do?”
Rheb wound up for another, but before he could throw his punch he deflated and crumpled to the ground and curled up in the fetal position and began to wail. After a few minutes of total absorption in his own confused misery he heard dozens of other voices wailing. He sat up and looked around and all around him people were lying in the fetal position throwing mock tantrums of their own.
His anger flared. He jumped to his feet and was about to lash out in violence when he noticed that all eyes were on him. Not in mockery or contempt, but awe and wonder. They were following his lead, not ridiculing it. They gazed on him like some kind of glorious freak or a god. So he did the only thing that made any sense and blacked out.
Over the next few weeks he learned that wherever he was, sadness no longer existed. It was a world which had solved all of its basic problems, freeing its people the existential angst of their vestigial evolutionary quirks. Negative emotions had no bearing on these people, because the situations which gave rise to them had all basically been solved. From resource scarcity to reproductive patterns, everything that caused disharmony had been weeded out through careful innovation of all aspects of life.
Romance and love still existed, but without expectation or urgency. Love spread itself out so that everyone generally loved everyone else. Romance was something that happened in brief spurts, usually over a day or two, as two fascinated people explored one another before moving on to explore someone or something else. A life of total leisure had reduced the passion of love from a burning desire to playful curiosity.
Reproduction became a matter of community planning. Whenever somebody died a new human was created from the genetic framework of that person and the person who had died before them. They maintained population equilibrium this way while still preventing genetic bottle-necking. Babies were raised by volunteers for the first few years, but as they began to gain more independence they were given more opportunities to make choices for themselves while still be tended to by other members of the community. However in this world you were unlikely to meet a five year old who wasn’t as capable of self-sufficiency as most adults had been where Rheb came from.
An absence of fear and multitudes of trust tended to point everyone in healthier directions. It all began to make sense to him over time but there was one thing he could never explain. Even babies did not cry. Was this the same human being stock he had been bred from, or was it an entirely alien species? Was the difference in their basic structure, or just that they had eliminated sour emotions from their species for enough successive generations that they had been entirely bred out?
These people did not even fear death. It was every bit as accepted and even exciting as births were. Every individual even spent their lives composing a death song, a tune which would be sung by others for the first time after death, and would be used to memorialize them joyously. Festivals were regularly had in which songs for the dead were sang while people took ‘enhancers’ and danced and laughed and told stories. Of course the songs came and went over time. Few songs existed from even four or five generations back. The best way to be remembered was to write a great song, but nobody seemed much too concerned with being remembered and just tried to write a song they liked.
It was the perfect world and Rheb was the most beloved man in it, and yet he still resented it with every bit of his being. It had taken him away from Mareva, and it had prevented him from saving her life. He was trapped here alone with his sorrows and she was gone forever, not even a song to be sang to remember her.
A character spoke to him, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” It handed him a simulation of the poison which Romeo takes in the scene lying beside his sleeping lover Juliet whom he believes to be dead.
Rheb will be taking his own very real poison this time. Laying next to Juliet, who he had programmed to look like Mareva, he will swallow his mercy for once and for all. The simulation moves him ever closer to that moment and his heart swells with relief. He is not afraid.
The people of this world, this future, this hell, this godforsaken whatever, had long forgotten sadness when Rheb arrived. They lived peacefully and blissfully. To all outward appearances they were perfectly adjusted. But through their constant smiles and enthusiasm there was something else. It had taken awhile to see it, but it was there.
Where once had been sadness, pain and all of those negative emotions there was now a hole. A great emptiness that longed to be filled. Although they could not verbalize it directly it became obvious that everyone carried around a sense of incompleteness. And his sadness, an experience which was absolutely alien to them, had become a fast, cheap fix. Through reliving the misery he was able to relate to them, they temporarily were able to fill this gap. However it never lasted and they were always hungry for more. Until finally the gnashing of the teeth of these emotional vampires, demanding his anguish so they could feed from it, became too much for him to bear.
The saddest man could never be given any peace in the happiest of worlds.
As the poison took hold he began to lose consciousness. Suddenly he was back in the woods, running towards Mareva. He cried out, “Don’t worry baby, you are gonna be okay. Everything is going to be okay.”
When his body was found in the simulation room a memory tube was found in his pocket which contained his death song. Within hours it had spread over the entire world and was being sung by every person alive. For the first time they shed tears and felt the sadness that Rheb could only give them a small taste of in life. But by his death and by his song, the currency of pain was made real by the guilt of what they had done. They had driven their savior to oblivion in their hunger for his knowledge. They had caused the fruit which shall not be eaten to eat itself.
I am an ark upon an endless sea
Built from pain and misery
Surrounded by waters of endless glee
That jump the bough to ride in me
How can a boat so small and frail
Hold an entire sea it was meant to sail
Surely such a thing must fail
Why must I sink to tell my tale
As all things must come to pass
To amuse the cosmic ass
Into the void where I belong
Feast your fangs on my life’s song