Human Values – A short story

While it may stray a little, this story was sparked by the post ‘Generosity’ by Nikki Manson and our brief comment exchange, so thank you Nikki. The character is named by way of an apology for getting someones name wrong! You know who you are (even if I don’t!!).

HUMAN VALUES

“Firstday is the worst day”. At least that’s how the saying went for Jenny. Some would “Thirst for Firstday”. The lucky ones.

No matter how short it was this was always the longest queue in the world. Jenny waited in line, looking intently at the scuffed brown leather of her shoes, turning the silvery band of her IDlet round and round her wrist.

Three people to go.

Suddenly conscious of the light on her IDlet, Jenny slid her sleeve back down to cover it. She was so stupid, so easily distracted, and now she looked about her, trying to see if anyone would have spotted the IDlet light. The red light.

Pointless really. Only Lowers wore long sleeves, except for that brief fashion craze the Uppers went through of Valuing-down – ‘Crap-chic’ as it was called. That didn’t last. It created too much confusion as it enabled Lowers to sneak themselves into Upper groups and circles.

Two people to go.

Last FirstDay had been almost too much shame to bear. Fifty-eight Value points. She had never been below 100 Value points, never. Damn her appendicitis. Damn her parents. If they had been Middlers she could have had her appendix spliced out, but her parents could only afford natural conception.

For a whole month she had been virtually in hiding. Arriving at work early, working shifts until she could not stand and then going straight home. After sleeping for an hour or two she would switch on her Pad and trade what she could on the Tellers; her habits, purchasing history, diet, blood and hair samples. Information was Value.

Then she would try and up-skill through the Pad teaching net. Jenny had managed to learn Web50 Fly marketing, the Psychology of Visual Persuasion and Advanced Economics. If she could add two modules there was a chance of becoming an advertising programmer. That would practically  guarantee her Middle life.

Another hour of sleep and back to work.

All that month she played a dangerous game, pushing herself to a fraction before the point of collapse. After all, she couldn’t afford to go back to hospital again. Now she waited in line with the dark-eyed look of a Lower, unable to stop fidgeting.

She was next.

Nobody could know early. The reasoning was that if you knew your Value too early, you’d stop working so hard. Productivity was everything. Only the Uppers could afford holidays without the fear that they would drop Value bands. They could check their Value on their Pads whenever they wanted. Once you were an Upper you were even permitted to transfer Value, and on rare occasions Uppers actually kept each other up with loans. Very rare occasions, but it was security of a sort.

Apart from working the only way up was through the Highest. If you could learn enough, know enough, be interesting enough, if you were a genetic match or pretty enough, you might get sponsorship.

Jenny was certainly smart. By twenty-first century standards she was also beautiful. Chestnut haired and gentle curves, her full lips complimented deep green eyes and full cheek-bones to complete a natural, English Rose beauty. By today’s standards she was plain at best. Fashion dictated thin bodies and demanded modifications, slimmed noses, perfect teeth, enhanced bone-structure and elaborate Web50 uplink implants ostentatiously displayed with surface tattoos or bonded jewels.

Jenny was a natural baby and had never been able to afford surgery, let alone bio-tech Web links. It was all she could do to maintain her Middle status.

Someone nudged her in the back and Jenny stumbled forward. She had almost fallen asleep on her feet, despite her nerves. It was her turn. She moved to the VP and, arm trembling, pushed her hand into the cylinder. There was a faint snick as her bracelet docked with the interface.

No she did not have time for it, she could not afford it, but she could not stop it either. Jenny sat on her bed and cried. On her wrist the bracelet continued to glow red.

She was still a lower. Ninety-four Value Points, just six away, but it may as well have been light-years.

After a month there was some chance she might catch up with old friends. Now, another month at least before she could raise her Value, they would have moved too far beyond her. She had refused to go to Lower places, determined not to make friends there, to focus completely on getting her Middle life back. She was not going to be a Lower, not a dirty, ignorant Lower, even unmodified she was better than that. Some Lowers actually had deformities, they were actually fat or had missing teeth, greasy hair. It was disgusting.

Now she was stuck for another month. Friendless. She really was a Lower.

Maybe if she worked just as hard this month she could make it back, even if she had to make new friends. But she was so tired. She missed the friends, the shops, the clothes, the food. When had she last eaten real food? But she was so tired.

An alarm woke her. She must have cried herself to sleep. A sense of panic rose in her that had nothing to do with the alarm. How much time had she lost? How many work hours? It took her a minute to register the alarm at all. It wasn’t her clock, or a fire or the phone. It was her Teller.

Why was the Teller sounding? Jenny had never had a Teller alarm before, she wasn’t even sure what to do with it.

She rolled off the bed and picked up the Pad. On the screen was a simple message which changed her life completely and forever. It read, “You have been selected for sponsorship – Please confirm.”

Sponsorship! Why? Who had sponsored her. Jenny had been sponsored. She had sponsorship!

Her head hummed with frantic excitement. People like Jenny only ever heard of, only ever dreamed of sponsorship. It could take her to Upper, to enhancement and modification, to real food, a minimum hours job, it could take her anywhere!

She touched the screen and barely read the subsequent message. ‘Confirm’ she pressed, and ‘yes’, and ‘yes’, not even caring what the questions said, hardly noticing them, not really believing them, this, anything. She was there. She had made it, somehow. If her parents were alive they would be proud, so proud of her now.

“We’ve found a match sir,” intoned the orderly without ceremony.

“Excellent,” said Highest Arbiter Mortenson, “that was quicker than I expected.”

“Yes, sir. It’s a girl called Jennifer Sanders. She’s lost Value and I doubt anyone will miss her.”

“Good. And what are we telling her?”

“She believes she has scored highly on a Web50 competence scale sir.”

“Right, good, and how close a match?”

“Ninety-nine percent sir, a remarkable congruence for transplant. It’s unlikely that vat-grown lungs would be any closer and they would certainly cost more.”

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