The Real Connect by Ananth Aravamudan

Sitting half a country away, staring as earnestly as I could at my laptop’s screen, there was little I could say that would make her feel better about her break up. But …  ‘Would you…’ I said hesitantly ‘like to share?’ Nikki stopped mid-sentence and stared at me. ‘No way!’ she exclaimed. ‘Tomorrow is a big day for you. Why would I want to mess up your mind at a time like this?’ I gave her a wry smile. ‘You know it takes a lot more than this to mess up my mind,’ I said, ‘or what’s left of it’. Nikki gave me a half-smile, the first one I had seen in the last one hour. ‘True’ she said, ‘not much left. But still…’ ‘Come, come, no second thoughts’, I told her. ‘It’s going to make you feel a lot better’.


I picked up my headring and gently placed it on my head, making sure that all the nodes were making contact with my scalp. I checked the wire connecting it with my laptop, it was neatly in place. I could see Nikki doing the same. When she was ready, she looked at me, hesitantly at first and then a little more confidently when she saw my firm nod. She reached to her screen and touched ‘Go’.


I tried to keep my face expressionless as I watched the action starting on my screen. It buzzed with activity, icons and progress indicators popping in and out for almost five minutes. Finally the ‘Start’ button came alive, glistening and red, asking for my touch. My finger hovered over the touchscreen for a moment, and then I hit it.


I must have done this a thousand times now, but each time was like the first. Her emotions hit me like a rampaging flood. My mind was temporarily stunned and I all but blacked out. With all the focus I could bring to muster, I forced my mind to sift out meaningful information. From the chaos, individual emotions slowly started to emerge. Sadness was the strongest, not grief, but sadness – like a dull ache that would not go away. Anger was there of course, and fury, passionate and spiteful, which made me clench my fists and grit my teeth. Envy – there was another woman, after all – was like a vice squeezing my heart. And … was I imagining it? No, it was there very clearly – relief! Relief that the inevitable had happened, in a manner that the other was to blame. There was a small, barely discernible tingle of anticipation, adventure, of starting something new.


I tore off the headring and looked at my screen. ‘Nikki’, I said firmly, ‘you’re going to be ok. I know it, I can feel it.’ Nikki took off hers too, and she was already looking much better. ‘Thanks dude’, she said. ‘This really means a lot to me.’

What we had just shared was worth a year of talking. As we waved goodbye, I was sure the same thought was running in both our minds. Why was something as powerful as this denied to most people in the world? I went to my bedroom to get some rest, but as Nikki had predicted, my mind was messed up now. Old memories whirled around, like clothes in a washing machine.


HERT – that’s what we called it when we announced our breakthrough. Human Emotion Relay Technology. The way I explain HERT has changed over the years, almost as much as I have. I no longer go into the intricate details of the science behind. People don’t want to know how it works; only what it can do. In simple terms, HERT can capture all the emotions and feelings swimming about in person A’s head, encode them, and send them right into person B’s head. When this happens, person B feels everything that A is feeling; in a very raw and direct way, with no words or images to act as feeble intermediaries. The experience can be joyful, painful or mind-breaking, depending on the mental makeup of the receiver.


The human mind is about the most complex thing you can find on the planet. There’s no predicting exactly what it will do when hit with a bundle of someone else’s emotions. Not that there is ambiguity in recognising or interpreting the emotions, mind you. HERT is perfect in that sense, and every mind behaves identically in this respect. It is the filtering that’s different. Confronted with the same set of emotions, my mind may hone in on joy for example, and yours may pick up sorrow or anger. It is rare that two minds filter in the same way, but if they do, then in all likelihood the persons they belong to will get along very well. The old idiom of two people being on the same wavelength is really true. Like Nikki and me, and perhaps my whole research team …


We were a young and idealistic, working on a small budget. When we realised the magnitude of our discovery, we briefly dreamed up visions of immense wealth, but quickly readjusted our goals. This could change the course of humankind, we argued, and should be made easily available to every human on the planet. We announced our discovery to the world, and simultaneously released the technology to everyone who wanted to use it.


In a matter of weeks, HERT was on fire. You had lovers growing closer, sharing their feelings, squabbling couples seeing eye to eye, political opponents appreciating their rivals’ perspective…. I call this the ‘Garden of Eden’ days, a brief state of paradise where people used HERT the way we imagined they could. The sender of emotions benefited as much as the receiver, deriving comfort from the fact that he or she was now perfectly understood.


Then the other kind of stories started trickling in – initially titillating, then nauseating and finally downright horrible. People snickered about HERTgasms, grabbing someone else’s feelings as they climaxed. There were a few stray cases of corrupted data as feelings moved from one mind to the other, which essentially wiped out consciousness and reduced the receiver to a vegetative state. These issues were quickly fixed, but not without a huge ruckus about the technology. Then, terror groups started using HERT as their primary recruitment tool, transmitting the hate from their leaders’ minds into young weak-willed foot soldiers. One heard of ‘snuff’ exchanges, where perverts hired contract killers to bump off someone, just to experience what killing a person actually felt like.


The government started watching us closely. They had intelligence cells poring over data, analysing news and gradually making a case for clamping down on HERT technology.


Their chance came with the rise of the HERT junkies. You see, if HERT allowed transmission of emotions, it also enabled them to be recorded. You soon had easily accessible libraries of ‘emotifiles’ on the internet, which when plugged into your brain could run you through any kind of emotional roller coaster. You wanted a wild sexual experience, you could have it. A cocaine high? Just a click away. The pleasure of stretching out on a hammock in a warm seaside resort, played in loop inside your head? You got it! There were growing numbers of junkies who dropped everything else and stayed plugged into their HERT headrings all day long, numbing their minds in the process.


Within a year of HERT being released, the government clamped down. HERT was placed in the same category as drugs, nuclear weapons or genetically modified animals: highly dangerous, highly classified. A well-orchestrated smear campaign ensured that even the public were rabidly anti-HERT. From the popular ‘HERT to HERT’ movement, one saw the rise of the ‘Don’t HERT yourself’ wave. We were in danger of being arrested and held in some undisclosed location. Two things saved us.


First, in some moment of incredible foresight, we had retained an element of control on HERT technology by ensuring that all transmissions and decryptions passed through the servers in our lab. When the government declared HERT to be illegal, it was fairly simple for us to disable all further use of HERT systems. Thanks to this quick turn off, we stayed in the good books of the government. More importantly, HERT was now a critical weapon of the government, and we were its expert handlers. We were needed and, for the moment at least, useful. By working with emotion exchange for so long, some of us had become expert interpreters. Remember how I could identify tiny fleeting emotions in Nikki’s thoughts? That comes only with years of practice.


To use HERT, you now needed a license that was cleared by the highest echelons of the Defence Ministry. There were less than a hundred people with this license. Some of us from the founding team were allowed one, while most of the other holders worked for Defence or Intelligence. I was often called upon for interrogations, extracting emotions out of ‘enemies of the state’ against their will and analysing them. I did this partly because I held on to the faint hope that HERT would be unshackled one day, and mostly because I really had no other choice.


Just when things looked bleaker than ever, a small ray of hope emerged. As always, it was the act of one human being which set off a tide of events. We had a new regime, perhaps marginally more liberal than the last. Alongside there were a few influential voices, who were advocating the cautious reintroduction of HERT into society. Our prime minister, all powerful because of her party’s majority, had a daughter who was in her late teens and had enough problems to keep a battery of counsellors busy. Drugs, expulsion from college, violence … the PM dealt with them by enforcing stricter discipline. Finally, one of her close advisors suggested a HERT session between mother and daughter and their lives changed course.


This episode led to the creation of a committee, headed by the PM herself, to look into the phased reintroduction of HERT to society. Many stakeholders were invited to present their opinions, perhaps the most important of which would be the team that created it. And, by virtue of being the most experienced user and eloquent spokesperson for HERT, I was the chosen to represent the team at the committee hearing. ‘What are you going to say?’ asked my boss, as the hearing approached. ‘I’ll think of something before D-Day’, I said with a smile. D-Day was tomorrow, the big day as Nikki put it. I knew what I had to say, but I still didn’t know whether it would sink in the way I wanted it to. The last vestiges of Nikki’s emotions kept me tossing and turning for the next three hours.




The grand council hall, a legacy from our colonial days, had never looked more intimidating. This part of the committee hearing was public, and there were a dozen TV cameras focussing on what I was about to say. The PM prompted, ‘Do you think it is safe to let HERT get back into society?’


‘Madam, my sincere opinion is that HERT is redundant and has no long-term role in our society’. There was a collective gasp of breath, and a rising murmur from a shocked audience who expected me to be the technology’s strongest supporter. I continued after a pause, ‘Redundant, but necessary in the short term. For HERT does not help us do anything new, it just helps us discover what was always inside us.’


I looked around at the audience. ‘I believe we started off as part of a whole, and we were tuned in to the feelings of everything around us. Like elephants: or monkeys; when one individual is in pain, they all feel it; if a calamity approaches, they sense it just by being connected to their surroundings. But humans have became more and more individual, buried deep in their own small worlds, and we’ve lost this sense. And by losing this, we lose our connection to the whole. The real value of HERT is that it helps us jog our inner memories, remember and relearn that lost sense of collective consciousness.’


I remembered the moment when that realisation had dawned on me. I sat in front of a terror suspect, a young boy from across the border, desperately trying to get my system working to meet the interrogation deadline. In frustration I threw up my hands and looked at the boy. As he looked back at me, no HERT, no headring, just the two of us in the room, I was feeling his feelings. Desperation, frustration, love for family, hope, sadness. And he knew that I knew. Since then when I meet someone face to face, I’ve never really needed my headring, except as a prop perhaps, to listen to their feelings.


I looked around the room, searching for feelings of understanding. I could sense a lot of hostility and ridicule. But in a few places, there was openness, receptivity. When I turned to look at the head of the commission, her expression was impassive as ever. But there was absolutely no doubt. My words had got through to her. We were on the same wavelength. And she knew that I knew.



Ananth Aravamudan is an engineer who spends his work days getting renewable energy into rural communities. Outside of work, Ananth is a doting dad, gardener, nature lover and dreamer. He dreams about a world like Gaia, described by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation series, where the entire planet has a collective consciousness and every living being can feel what another is feeling. He believes that if Earth and humankind can evolve in this direction, most of its problems will go away. But until then, he is determined to chip away at the problems that fester, and write stories about what could be.