We were both watching the projection of the fire on the wall when the pump signal failed. Teddy looked over at me with a crooked smile.
"Was that..." he said.
"I don't know," I said. "Maybe we should sit down."
We sat on our white leather sofa. The project fire kept flickering and burning.
"I think it is," said Teddy after a moment. "We should call somebody."
"I'm not sure, it's just--"
"But we both felt it. That twinge. Do you remember when the system went down in Singapore two years ago?"
"It was just an hour."
"I know. The devastation."
"It won't happen here, not like that. It'll be up soon."
"What do we do in the mean time?" asked Teddy. "Should we just sit here?"
"I guess we could get back to work," I said. "After all humans got along just fine for hundreds of thousands of years without the aid of an emotion pump."
"Yes, but they led short, brutish, violent lives. Humans can't control their emotions naturally. At least enough to be properly civilized. I'm not sure I want to experience that."
"True, but it can't be that debilitating to just let our brains take control of how neurotransmitters are handled, especially if we don't do anything to provoke the balances."
"Your logic is sound," said Teddy. "Still, I think, if this doesn't take long to pass, we should just stay here. I uh..."
"I don't feel well," he said, slumping a bit.
"You look a little flushed," I said. "Perhaps you should lie down."
Teddy covered his mouth suddenly and lurched forward. He clutched the coffee table for support.
"Are you alright?" I asked. I put my hand on his back, and felt something inside me--a hollowness. I assume it was an emotion, but I didn't know what to call it. Teddy nodded that he was okay but I wasn't convinced. "What is it?"
"An overwhelming sensation. When I look at you."
"Really? I make you sick? Goodness."
"No, not sick. I don't know what it is. I think maybe the feeling has been suppressed for a long time. Masked. I can't not acknowledge it now."
"Oh." I was confused.
"I'm not sure we're fit to be work mates," said Teddy, rubbing his stomach. He straightened up, then suddenly stood, not looking at me. He went in the room for food preparation and opened a drawer, staring at the contents.
"What are you doing?" I followed him into the room.
"I don't want the pump in me anymore," he said quietly.
"It's illegal to--"
Teddy withdrew a slender knife and before I could stop him, he plunged it into his abdomen. He screamed and I ran to him.
"What are you doing?" I implored.
He dug with the knife, screaming with each turn and press. I tried to grab his wrists but he batted me away. My face was wet. He pulled out his pump, a gray device with two clear tubes. It buzzed in his hand. He threw it in a spatter of blood onto the countertop.
"No!" I exclaimed.
"It's done," he said. "Help me dress the wound."
The hollowness in me deepened. I went into the bathroom and grabbed a clean towel and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I felt my feet shuffle across the carpet, and the lights in the hallway there and back to the food preparation room were a blur. I helped him clean the wound and blotted the blood with the towel. He glued the gash closed and then we bound it with antibiotic gauze. Since removal of a pump was cause for immediate imprisonment, he wouldn't be able to go to the hospital to have it properly sewn up.
"What have you done?" I asked quietly. The pump system still wasn't back up, and I was beginning to feel sick too, but not to the extent that it had affected Teddy.
"I found my freedom," said Teddy. "I feel alive."
"But you are already alive," I said.
Teddy smiled at me.
"I wish you would--"
"I'm not doing that to myself! Are you kidding?" I was shocked with the sudden violence of my own words. I ran back into the living room, and leaned my head against the wall with the projected fire. I felt like my insides were burning and my cheeks were hot. What was this? How did people deal with all these strange sensations back before the days of the pump?
Teddy walked up behind me. He leaned in close, then wrapped his hands around my waist. The burning intensified, and changed somehow, and then my fingertips were cool. I felt something like pins and needles in the center of me.
"When the system comes back on, remember this," he said. He pressed his face into my shoulder. I turned to him, and wrapped my arms around him. He squeezed me hard, and it felt, I don't know, as if that's how I should spend the rest of my life, standing against the wall, my arms entwined with Teddy's and not doing anything useful.
"I will," I said.