‘Henry. You can tell a lot from someone’s footwear,’ his mother had been fond of saying.
He stared at his feet, lost in thought about his parents’ prenatal decision to enhance him, the embryonic Henry, for a life of fully fledged privilege. A high-performing human.
His shoes were scuffed, dirty and fraying where the plastic upper was coming loose from the sole. His whole body sagged with despair. Although, looking along the neatly lined-up feet of the bus queue, his were no worse than anyone else’s; public transport and poverty must be symbiotic, each dependent on the other.
In contrast, a pair of hand-made soft leather shoes stood a few feet away in the gutter. Nice trousers too, but why the hi-vis jacket and protective gloves? Aha, a streetcleaner. An extremely rich streetcleaner if he was willing to work in such expensive shoes. They lived in an effortocracy and no matter what Henry did or said would change that.
What a fucked up world.
Despondent, Henry continued to wait passively in the queue which he suspected was almost entirely made up of the morning’s appointments at the same assessment centre that he was being forced to attend. This poor struggling batch of humanity would be cajoled into behaving properly, to fulfil their potential. Made to acknowledge that they’d let themselves and everyone else down.
As the streetcleaner got closer, Henry activated his thumb-ring which interpreted the signals from the performance monitoring chips implanted inside everyone’s heads. For him, in his job as a surgeon, this wonderfully illegal present from his wealthy Uncle William was incredibly useful. Informing him of how much brain capacity people were using it helped him gauge the ability of his patients to understand what he was telling them. Henry was actually a very good surgeon, but this gave him an effort-free edge that made his diagnoses superior to those of his contemporaries.
The ring confirmed what he already knew from the streetcleaner’s shoes – the guy was fully utilising his potential to do his job, every single drop of it.
The bus pulled up to the pavement disturbing a puddle of rainwater which in turn drenched those oh so perfect shoes. Henry grinned. Poetic justice for being so crassly ostentatious.
Inside the assessment centre he joined another down-at-heel queue moving with the deliberate plod that’s characteristic of the unwilling heading towards the inevitable. A smartly dressed young nurse was waiting at the entrance to a cubicle. ‘Good afternoon Henry,’ she said.
He hated the familiarity they adopted as if it was theirs as a birth-right.
‘Step inside please. We want to scan you for illnesses that might be causing your particular problem.’
Illness? What a joke. Boredom? Maybe. A huge dose of “can’t be arsed” for certain. But, illness?
She opened the door. Sitting around the edge of the cubicle were three men and three women, all smiling. ‘Please, step inside,’ said the nurse, ‘between them they can sniff any illness at three metres so don’t worry we’ll soon see if you’ve a problem.’
What was the name of that bloody woman, the one they’d discovered could smell Parkinson’s disease on someone before the medical tests could diagnose it? Joy Milne. That was it. It’d taken them a while to work out how to reproduce her gift, but once they’d cracked it men and women had flocked to be medically engineered. With the capability to smell disease, they’d snapped-up the jobs that came with the enhancement.
The six sniffers twitched their noses for a while and then shook their heads. ‘All clear,’ said the nurse. She touched his elbow and pointed. ‘Down there and left at the end.’
There were two assessors. The one who had some spare brain capacity would be the preferable of the two so he veered towards the scruffy one, hoping he’d guessed correctly. Annoyingly, the smartly dressed one beckoned him forward.
There it was again. That impertinence. Using his first name as if they were best buddies.
‘Please… take a seat. My name is Mr Clarke.’
Mr Clarke was busy stroking his screen. ‘I see your genes were altered before you were born. All those inconvenient errors corrected,’ he said without looking up.
‘Yes. And your point is?’ replied Henry.
‘Well,’ said Mr Clarke, ‘judging by your performance results, I’d say it was a complete waste of money. You don’t use anywhere near your full potential in your work.’
‘I do a good job.’
‘True. And, you could do an amazing job if you could be bothered.’
‘You pay me accordingly, so what’s the problem. Being poor is my choice not yours.’
‘We want to help you make the most of yourself and if you don’t we will keep reducing your pay until you see the error of your ways. Unless…’ Mr Clarke swiped his screen again. ‘Are you suffering from depression? We can test you.’
‘My family doesn’t do depression.’
Henry wished he’d got the other assessor. This guy was only just coping, pushed firmly against the ceiling of his capabilities. No chance of a conversation with this one.
‘In that case, Henry, I have no option but to apply another sanction. A further five percent cut in your wages. Effective immediately.’
Henry stood up. There was no point in arguing or trying to make this guy see sense. If only he could perk himself up a bit when he was at work and stretch himself a little. Why bother though. He did a good enough job and it left him plenty of energy for other more pleasurable things.
Outside, the grey clouds drifted aimlessly across the sky.
He had an idea. In his original damaged state his potential was less. An un-enhanced Henry might have been able to find the effort required to earn a high salary. His only hope was undoing those embryonic alterations.
Reversing repairs was costly, but Uncle William might help. He had a substantial income from the old family investments. And he was a decent chap.
Yes. Uncle William was certainly worth a visit; undoing those genetic fixes might be just the ticket Henry was looking for.