BSGX430

8.45am GMT, Thursday 11th September 2130

"There isn't much time," indicated Dorothea, leader of the girls' study group, as they sat around in the usual RCR circle. "We're due in class in ten minutes. Are we going to try to run it today?"

They all knew that Jocelyn had the precious offering from BSGX301; but of course it could only be run, experienced, felt - what was the right word? - in the RCC, and just as with the boys' group, this was something that had to happen in their concealed space behind the tutorial process.

"Let's run it," said Maria, the most practical one of the group, a Russian girl. "Then afterwards let's get back together like this and talk about it, instead of shopping."

They had planned a visit to downtown, splitting up into several sub-groups, to refresh their virtual wardrobes ahead of a disco that evening where they would meet some of the boys from BSGX301 as well as lots of other friends, male and female. The regular crowd numbered about 150, perhaps not very different from how it would have been in fizz. Even with the extra cognitive resources of RCRs, the human brain is not very comfortable taking on concurrent relationships with more than 150 or so people. And it's not necessary in terms of the types of social learning and behaviour that teens need to engage in.

"Yia ne protif," said Jocelyn in Russian. 'I am not against.' Often they played with real words, especially in foreign languages, so easy when you had a Babelfish chip. There were nuances of meaning sometimes because of literary allusions which might not be picked up by purely qualia-based communication. All eight of them were well able to hold a conversation in any of the group's five native languages, English, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Mandarin.

"Soglasen," said Maria, not sensing any resistance. 'Agreed.'

How to describe the experience of the boys' offering? Just to attend to it was hard enough, with the tutorial going on in the foreground of the RCC, without betraying a lapse of attention which might alert the tutor or the guardian to the existence of a secret part of the process. Then, they had no experience of the depth of attention that would be required, of how to handle a group perception of a group presentation. Did you have to work at it? Did you have to make some sort of conscious effort to be a group? Would it cut through such trivialities and appeal directly to their group psyche? Did they have a group psyche?

When the RCRs reconvened after the RCC tutorial there was silence; the wrong word, as usual, there was an absence of contrived expression, there was indeed a shared sense of transcendent wonder. Not joy, or love, or energy, or ambition, or fear, or any one of the dozens of emotional states they were presumably capable of experiencing jointly. Something else. The experience of another group, by them as a group, not separable into its component parts. Not good, not bad; these words were wrong. Such a strong flavour and presence of that other group, of its joint characteristics.

As the overwhelming tide of feeling began to fade, to recede out of consciousness into memory, some of them began to want to describe the experience, comment even.

"It's male," said Maria. "Not in a threatening way; but male, the way a football team is male. But the maleness is controlled, as if they're laughing at it, and laughing at us for noticing it."

Lucy from Hong Kong was more critical: "The superiority gets to me; it's as if they're simply swarming over every difficulty all the time, they know more than anyone, nothing can stop them."

"But it's very lightly done," corrected Jocelyn, "they are apologetic about it. It's not our fault if we're omnipotent, they're saying. Are they nice though? I thought so, they are open, they are like a trusting animal, inquisitive, ready for whatever comes next. Not opinionated."

"Did you feel the hunger?" asked Dorothea. "The hunger for experience, for knowledge, to mix with us, with anyone on their level. That felt almost desperate; they are lonely; they are reaching out in the darkness towards the light. Are we the light for them? Some sort of light."

"And there was beauty of expression, wasn't there?" enquired Paulina, an earnest, artistic girl from Bologna. "Nothing crude, always an undercurrent of such carefully crafted images and music, heightening the message or the feeling. I like them. What do I mean? I felt as if my group liked them; it wasn't me doing it."

That it has been a group experience none of them doubted. And they had to respond.

"But first," said Jocelyn, "they know. My Dad said something this morning. I'm sure of it. How could we be so stupid? Of course they know. We need to think about what is going to happen. I don't want to spend the rest of my life teaching snotty little kids about nerve endings. We have to have a plan."

"I'm not surprised," said Dorothea, echoing a general sense of inevitability. "I suppose we all knew they would find out. Slavica, what can we do?"

Slavica Wallendorf, Jocelyn's second cousin, and a humungously talented IT specialist, was in charge of the RCC mechanism which allowed them to work covertly behind a screen, and had been looking into how they might be able to create their own RCC environment within which to experiment.

"I just don't think it can be done," she admitted lamely. "I can clone an RCC, that's not the problem. In effect we've done that already, to be able to run our own RCC within theirs. The problem is the apps. There are more than seventy thousand separate apps in a working RCC, all in the cloud. As long as they are being called by the master RCC it's OK, even if it's us that uses them behind the screen. It's a genuine RCC, and it's fully entitled to call whatever apps it wants. But the moment a non-authorized RCC calls an app, all the alarm bells ring. I can't clone the apps; that's the whole point of having them in the cloud, from the guardians' perspective. You can download the app and use it, but you're not getting the code, you're just getting the functionality. And don't ask me to re-invent 70,000 apps that have taken sixty years to develop. It's billions of lines of code, and it's changing all the time anyway. Do you have any idea how many people work on the functionality of RCCs?"

"What can we do, then, Slava?" they all wondered anxiously.

"There's only one thing I can think of, and that's to create a kind of counter movement. A standard set of hidden RCC functionality which runs all the time in as many tutorial RCCs as we can get in touch with. If we could populate a majority of the BSGs we would be safe? Even if they knew, they can't blow out a whole generation of students. We're a lot safer if there's even a hundred of us than if it's just a few."

"Scary," said Jocelyn. "Shall we go shopping now? And get back to this tomorrow? When shall we make up a reply to the boys? We can have some fun with them tonight, though!"

"OK," said Dorothea with authority. "Not too much gin and tonic tonight then. I want you all here before breakfast tomorrow to write our Shakespeare sonnet!"


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