CONVERSION

8am GMT, Friday 12th September 2130

Jocelyn was already sitting at the breakfast table, sipping coffee, when Ferdinand appeared, the next morning.

"Haven't you been to bed?" he asked. "Was the disco that good? You're never here first." But he knew something was afoot.

"Dad," she intimated urgently and breathlessly, "I have to talk to you about the groups. It's a crisis."

"I know," he agreed. "We had a meeting of the Educational Committee disciplinary panel yesterday. You aren't the only ones rocking the boat; there are more every day. We have to make a report direct to the Educational Committee Plenary by the end of next week, and that inevitably goes straight to the Assembly. They'll have to do something."

"What are you going to say?" queried Jocelyn.

"We're going to recommend a programme of research into collective group behaviour," said Ferdinand. "But the disciplinary panel is informal, it was a closed RCR meeting and there are just internal minutes. We can avoid making our report for a few more days. And they gave me permission to back right off and put in a kind of non-report. The danger is that someone might blab. What is it you want to tell me?"

"Are you saying you're on our side?" enquired Jocelyn.

Ferdinand sighed. He had been looking forward to a place on the Assembly; the Austrian member was very old and feeble. He would be up for replacement in less than a year and as by far the most senior Austrian official in the hierarchy Ferdinand could hardly fail to be elected to his place.

"Yes," he said fatalistically. "I'm on your side."

"We found nine groups at the disco," said Jocelyn, "just by asking some obvious people. We're going to clone our hidden RCC space into all nine of them, and try to expand it as fast as we can just by skipping from one person to the next. We want 100 groups, that would be too many for them to exterminate, wouldn't it?"

Ferdinand laughed nervously. "I don't think anyone's going to get wiped," he said. "But even 100 groups is only 0.5% of the Brain Sciences sector. It would depend on what kind of a stink you can make publicly. You have to attack them, somehow, get them on the back foot, get opinion on your side."

"On our side." He corrected himself. "If you don't mind my asking, what exactly is it that you're all doing, beyond talking about it?"

"I don't really know, even," said Jocelyn. "It's all happening so quickly. I know what we're doing - we're trying to create tangible results of group experiences with the boys; they've sent something to us, and we're going to reply with something. These aren't directed steps in a plan, they're more like expressions of the ethos, the psyche of the group. It sounded as if most of the other groups we talked to last night haven't even got that far. Most of them are talking about manifestos to demand an expansion of group research and education."

"How about an anthology?" wondered Ferdinand. "Suppose you could get together a series of your 'group expressions', it would be like an art exhibition, a demonstration of how groups can create something superior to individual expression."

"Oh Dad, that's a wonderful idea. But these things can only be experienced in the group," worried Jocelyn. "People like your Committees would never know what it's like, sitting around in their silly old RCRs."

"That's not quite fair," said Ferdinand. "We quite often work as RCCs when it's small groups. It's just the Plenary, with two hundred members that can't do it properly. Anyway, I wasn't thinking about them, I was thinking that your hundred flowers would surely spread like wildfire once they were available to all the Brain Sciences groups. By the time the G3 and the Assembly had realized what was happening it would already be too late to stop it."

"Good morning," said Aloysia, sitting herself down at the table. "What's going on? You look so serious."

"Got to rush, Mum," said Jocelyn, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Places to go, people to see. Dad, I'll do it. Catch up with you later." And she was gone.

"You know a lot of BSG Mums, don't you?" queried Ferdinand, explaining what was happening. "Shopping, tennis, PTAs. If I get you the names of the groups that are involved, could you sort of suss out how the Mums feel about it. And the Dads, for that matter. It would be important for us to know if there were any, how shall I say, negative parents. They could do a lot of damage very quickly in the early stages. Later on it wouldn't matter so much."

"I'm worried," said Aloysia. "Isn't this dangerous? I mean, what will they do? People could get hurt. Specially if Jos is sort of in the lead here."

"There are things I can do," said Ferdinand more reassuringly than he really felt, privately. "And I'm not sure we can go back now. This has to happen, it's just our bad luck it's happening now. We can't stop the children, anyway, they're going to do it pretty much regardless of what we think. They're better off with us involved; at least I can try to get the Committee on our side, that will be the best insurance policy."

"Have they ever wiped anyone?" persisted Aloysia. "I've heard stories."

"They wipe people all the time," said Ferdinand, "but only when they ask for it to happen. And there have been accidents; but perhaps they weren't accidents. Strangely enough, when the crisis comes, it might be better for the kids to be in fizz. I'll try to work out what the timing will be today and suggest some bookings. We're due a holiday anyway."

"Please be careful," pleaded Aloysia. "We don't want you getting wiped as well." She seemed almost on the edge of tears.

"Have you had anything you could call a group experience?" asked Ferdinand, partly to change the subject and partly out of genuine curiosity. "I mean, women are supposed to be more open and emotional than men after all."

"Ferdy, come on. We shop, we lunch, we play cards, we gossip. When we're in RCCs they're the same as yours, it's a career thing mostly, and we just stick to the data - research reports and so on. Sometimes I get a sense that we are upset as a group, if something has gone badly, or we can be happy and proud if the tutor gives us a compliment. But these are quite primitive emotions; all that's happening is that we all feel the same thing at once, there's nothing creative or synthetic about it. It's odd, now that I think about it. Why doesn't something else happen?"

"It's the lack of apps," said Ferdinand.

"Apps?" queried Aloysia. "What's apps?"

"The RCC is just a shared space," explained Ferdinand. "A very big one, because it has to accommodate the whole basis of the consciousness of that many people, but most stuff is called in from elsewhere in the cloud when it's needed. So when you need to look at statistics for housing units in Indonesia" (Aloysia's specialization was to study trends in fizz living patterns) "the package isn't resident in the RCC, you're calling in data and analysis tools from the application, the app, which is elsewhere in the cloud. The RCC doesn't even know where it is, is just submits a request to the cloud location centre, and down it comes. So the abilities of an RCC are limited to what there are apps for, and when RCCs were designed originally nobody gave any thought to how they might function as autonomous collective agents on an emotional level. I mean, they could have done, but there was a lot of negativity about it, everyone wanting to celebrate individuality more and more. And once the Assembly took control, they deliberately stopped anyone who wanted to expand the RCC apps set in that sort of direction. That's exactly what the kids are complaining about. Not so much that they know group experiences would be better, or worse, or nothing at all. They just want to know. Jos has gone further; her group thinks there is a whole continent to be explored, and then there is the whole question of inter-group experience. If a group is more than an individual, then just think what groups of groups could become?"

"Scary, again," mused Aloysia. "It could be like Pandora's box. You can see why the oldsters would be against it."

"But you're not against it, are you?" Ferdinand was worried, now. Suppose Aloysia wouldn't support him?

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm with you", putting her arm around his shoulder and leaning her head against his.

 

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