Random flip through the writing prompts book landed on “What was your first kiss like?” I don’t like writing romance, so I twisted it through the lens of speculative fiction, but still ended up in the middle of a love story. I let it sit for a few weeks on my hard drive, unattended, unloved (take that, romance story!). But tonight I’m going to a speculative fiction open mic and I wanted to have a story completed for that, so last night I threw on some headphones and made it happen. Still not sure if I’m in love with my romance, but the story has been told.
Michael smiled when he saw him. Jim was everything he could want for his first conshare. They say the melding of minds can’t be described – that it has to be experienced – but Michael had spent countless hours imagining what it would be like when he would finally take Jim into his arms. There would be no awkwardness or hesitation, just a soft kiss that would deepen until they began to fall into each other’s thoughts and dreams. He wondered how far he and Jim would allow each other to go. Jim usually displayed a cheerful optimism, but Michael sensed a sadness in him, a complexity that would paint their conshare with a rich velvet undertone that could stay with him for days afterward. Or perhaps longer.
Jim glanced up from his book and saw Michael looking in his direction. Michael’s gaze went off into the distance – soft and filled with emotion. Jim shared a 200-level Dark Matter Manipulation class with Michael on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Jim had been meaning to ask if he’d like to pair up on their upcoming assignment. Jim smiled and waved, startling Michael out of his reverie. Michael haltingly waved back, blushed and flashed a pained smiled, and began to gather his books into his backpack. With one last glance at Jim, Michael hauled his bag over one shoulder, then turned and walked quickly from the university study hall.
Consharing is still relatively new to humanity. It had been discovered by Dr. Rary Mayhardt during her work with neuronal and synaptic mapping. She had found that when two people standing in contact with each other were exposed to a low-level electromagnetic field, the subjects reported being able to “see each other’s thoughts.” About ten years after being laughed out of her career, particle physicists would confirm a new type of energy that they called the consciousness particle. Pop science journalists quickly named the energy “psywaves” for its use in helping to establish psychic links between people, which a hungry public gleefully adopted. Venture capitalists wasted no time seeding companies designed to produce psywaves. Regulatory agencies cautioned slow adoption of the new tech, but there was nothing to suggest that psywaves had any sort of adverse physical effect on living organisms. There was new data coming in from functional MRI, but changes in brain activity appeared to be transient; as soon as the psywave was stopped, subjects’ brains returned to baseline. Effects of long term exposure were still being measured, but to the public that felt like a formality.
Psywaves have been in use for 28 years – and so far, so good. They have research applications in nearly every field of study – physics, biology, psychology, medicine, disaster relief, national security – you name it. There are hundreds of patents coming in from commercial and government interests every year, but the most popular application has been in consciousness sharing consoles – conshares for short. The consoles emit a psywave field, and when two or more people stand, sit or lay within range of the field, they share emotions and thoughts – well, impressions of thoughts is perhaps more accurate. The experience is described as extremely moving and intimate. Conshare has been adopted by family therapists as a tool help build empathy between family members – between partners, between parents and children, between siblings.
Of course, consciousness sharing has also revolutionized sex. And to the delight of those early venture capitalists, conshare consoles have started to find their way into more and more private homes, expanding beyond the labs and offices from where they had begun.
Michael was walking his Uses of Sonic Resonance in Sustaining Architecture lecture when he bumped into something. The something cursed and Michael saw a tablet falling to the ground. He dropped to one knee and caught the device seconds before it impacted. Impressed with himself, he smiled cockily and looked up to the owner with an arched eyebrow. His smile faltered and Michael pushed down upswelling panic and arousal as he met Jim’s eyes. Jim blushed and smoothed the blatant relief from his face.
“Thanks for saving that. I didn’t really want to have to buy a new one right now.”
A second went by before Michael realized that he was still kneeling on the floor. At Jim’s feet. His mind raced as he tried to figure out the best way to recover, when Jim held his hand down to him.
Michael gulped and reached to take Jim’s hand. Their fingers touched…
…and the world twisted. The hallway shimmered, lost reality and turned to hot chaos and passion and perfect numbers and lines that raced all about him. Michael was nauseated. He tried to look around, but emotions and images – not his own – danced across his vision, and he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stand on his feet or his feet or on his head. A young man was nearby – he looked like Jim?, but he was full of squiggles and shading and glowing. The man stood next to an upside down tree made of laughter and rainclouds. The man held a hand out towards Michael. Michael gathered himself and started drifting toward the tree. He reached out to the man, who started to seem more and more like Jim than Jim ever had. Their fingers intertwined and silence fell around them. The numbers slowed in the air, the raincloud laughter tree held its breath, and the two men stepped closer together. They leaned in towards each other…
…and the world twisted again.
They were back in the school hallway!
Jim jumped away from Michael, who was still on the floor. Michael crashed onto his other knee, but caught himself before he fell completely flat on the ground. Jim snapped his head back and forth, looking wildly around. Several others in the hallway had similar looks of confusion or anger. A moment later a professor ran out from the mental physics lab, took in the shocked silence in the hallway and groaned.
“Shit.” A pause. “Everyone! May I have your attention? I’m afraid that we’ve had a small incident with one of the psywave consoles. I’m so sorry for any of you who experience unintended consharing. The instrument has been deactivated.” No one moved. He sighed. “Alright. For those of you who would like to file a complaint please follow me down to Health and Safety. We’ll log the incidents and discuss…”
Michael and Jim tuned the professor out and measured each other up. Michael gulped and looked away first. Jim coughed and slapped a hand over his mouth to hold in nervous laughter. They watched each other in silence for a moment. Finally, Jim took a deep breath, held his hand out and said,
“If you’d like…I’d like to maybe try that again sometime. You know…on purpose.”
Michael hesitated. He thought of how he had held the dream Jim’s hand. He looked at the hand reached out to him now. And after a moment he grinned widely and said. “Oh yes. I’d definitely like that.”