The saleswoman with the short skirt and bob said, “Yes, medical advancements were the emphasis during the 20th century. Next came the focus on well-being. Now, in the 22nd century, we are moving to enhancement theory and practice.”
I nodded; her sales patter was well-honed. She was young, she was cute, and I was a sucker for a pretty face and nice legs.
“You probably won’t believe me,” she added, “but I’m actually forty-six!”
“No way, you don’t look a day over twenty-one!”
“Not too far wrong,” she conceded. “I purchased Enhancacine and dropped twenty-three years overnight.”
“My God. For real?”
“Yes,” she beamed, “Success guaranteed. Anyone aged between twenty-five and sixty can take a pill and halve their age within twelve hours.”
“No way, it’s got to be a con.”
“No, it’s been scientifically developed, clinically trialled, and proven. It’s now authorised for public use by the Societal Authority in the sixteen different Preferences. May I scan you?”
She clipped the scanner off her belt, which tucked in her waist so tight I wondered how she could breathe. It beeped after a few seconds.
“A strong reading; ah, I thought so. You’re an INFJ. Okay, let me check the specifications. Yes, here we are; the Societal Authority for INFJ encourages Enhancacine to prolong your influence on those around you. You have some unique talents and skills, sir. May I ask how old you are?”
“Your scanner will tell you that, surely.”
“Yes, but how will we develop any meaningful dialogue and understanding if we don’t communicate? I know you are a thinker and deep relationships are important to you.”
I smiled; she was obviously using the latest psychometric salesforce tool. “I’m forty-six as well.”
She returned my smile. “Well, imagine how much more you could achieve if you could do it all again.”
I nodded. “Let me think about it.”
“Of course, as I said before, I know you’re a deep thinker, and unlike most of the turbo kickers here, I know you will actually think about it. I’m here for the rest of the trade show. We pack out at De Borda Two tomorrow.”
“You guys operate on decimal time, then?”
“The whole trade show does. As I said, it’s all about enhancement.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, stepping away, “there’s no guarantee I’ll buy anything, but let me think about it. I’ll come back and let you know before De Borda Two tomorrow.”
I walked to the nearest well-being space, took the last reclinator by the holographic waterfall. I ordered refreshments.
After quaffing mung bean wafers with a caramelised spinach topping, I inhaled some vapourised synthetic coffee. Natural coffee was twice the price, organic coffee thrice. Then, I sat and pondered.
I was forty-six, tomorrow I could be twenty-three! WTF! It couldn’t be that simple. The saleswoman hadn’t mentioned price, but that was immaterial. Currency was no barrier. She hadn’t mentioned side effects either, although she seemed in the prime of health.
But, digital carillons were beeping, chiming in my head. Ethics! That’s what it was. They were sticking out like the historical big toe. I marched back to the Enhancacine stall.
The saleswoman smiled as she saw me approach. “That didn’t take long,” she purred.
“Ah, sorry, I haven’t even really started the thought process. I need some information about ethics first.”
“Of course, sir, I would have been surprised if you hadn’t asked. We have a robust ethical process. We do this through an interactive questionnaire.”
“It’s not done independently?”
“No, no, why would it be? Enhancacine is not a treatment or a therapy. The enhancement versus therapy debate is well and truly over. Thank goodness!”
“The decision is completely autonomous, then?”
“Exactly, no regulation; so long as there is informed consent, there is complete freedom and personal choice.”
“The world has changed,” I sighed. “It was only a few hundred years ago that morality would have been a key factor and consideration.”
“Oh, I see, sir. I am not too young to remember; we are the same age in reality. But I do choose to forget. The discovery of the Single Entity, the quarter meson from which we all originate and will one day return, has made life a lot easier, has it not? Regardless of our actions, regardless of our accomplishments or misdeeds, we now know we end up in the same place. Has this not made life easier? Free from sin, free from guilt, the right to choose without judgement and shame.
“I respect your right to live the life you choose. I respect your right to question. However, science has well and truly proven the existence of the Single Entity. I see no reason to believe in a historical custom designed to wield power and control.”
“So, it comes down to personal responsibility then?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. Enhancacine is not for everyone, but we leave that choice to the individual.”
“Children, parents, parenting, spouses, the entire family construct? I imagine Enhancacine plays havoc with that dynamic?”
“Personal choice, sir. It simply adds weight to a very old-fashioned term, now coming back into vogue—family planning.”
“Relationships, delayed wealth transfer?”
“Personal choice, sir.”
“Oh my. Oh my. Sorry, this is a bit of a mind flip. It’s hard to get my head around it. If I took Enhancacine tonight, I would wake up tomorrow and only be three years older than my daughter! I would be married to a woman not too far from menopause, yet I would be in my sexual prime. It’s a minefield!”
“Yes, that’s right, sir. But with all due respect, you’re only focussing on negative things. Let’s say you or a loved one were diagnosed with a terminal illness; wouldn’t you want a reset? Go back to the earliest possible moment to give the scientists more time to re-configure the affected DNA? Let’s say you were so madly in love with your partner, you both decided to take Enhancacine on the day before your sixtieth birthday. That way, you’re guaranteed to get at least another thirty years together!”
“Yes, of course,” I interrupted. “May I ask you a personal question? You don’t have to answer.”
“Ask away. If it’s too personal, I will tell you and then call security,” the saleswoman giggled.
“You’re clearly a smart woman, an incredibly attractive one too. And, as good as you are at your job, I don’t imagine you took Enhancacine to peddle enhancement theory and products. Why did you take Enhancacine?”
She brought her right index finger to her lips, raised her eyes toward the sterile white ceiling. It took her a minute to gather her thoughts.
I waited; silence had never scared me.
“You are perceptive, and your question is not too personal. I am trying to find the best way to frame my answer.
“Imagine,” she started, “that the woman you love started making eyes at every handsome young man on every single street corner. That she sighed and smiled at every pretty young thing that walked by. That you could tell every time she looked at you, all she saw was disappointment and disillusionment. Imagine that!”
“That would be gut-wrenching and difficult,” I sighed.
“Yes,” she smiled, “so I decided to do something about it. I had had enough of the sighing and eye-rolling, I decided to get into the game; take Enhancacine, and have some fun.”
I coughed; the conversation had suddenly taken a major deviation. “Your partner . . . ?” I asked timidly.
“Couldn’t get rid of him quick enough! I’d done my time, raised two kids, attended to all his needs, supported his career, supported his stunted emotional needs, which were on par with a two-year-old. It was time for me to have some fun! Me time! My libido is back, and sex is so much better when you are experienced and comfortable in your body.”
“Thank you for being so honest,” I replied, somewhat embarrassed. “I will return before pack out tomorrow and let you know.”
She smiled. “I know. Bye.”
I arrived home with a frown on my face and hedonism in my thoughts.
“Are you okay, dear?”
I looked at my long-suffering wife, then turned on the memory dispenser.
“I’m fine,” I answered. “I went to the latest trade show.”
“You see anything interesting?” she asked, poking her head out of the kitchen, hair up, apron on, steam rising in the background.
I scrolled through the memory index, selected the files from our wedding day. Holograms instantly filled our living room. The sounds of people laughing, glasses clinking, conversation, and elevator music filled the room.
“It’s been a while since you played those,” Trina called.
“Gosh, you were so beautiful. I can’t believe you said yes,” I replied.
“Well, you weren’t so bad yourself, you know. In fact, you were quite a catch. I was the happiest woman in the world that day.”
“You’re just saying that!”
“No, it’s true.”
“Hey Trina, can you come here? Sit with me?”
“I’m busy reconstituting eggs.”
“They can wait, come sit with me. I need to ask you something.”
Trina walked through a holograph image of herself. She was not the same woman; the woman in the holograph was excited, optimistic; there was life in her eyes, a fire in her belly. The woman who sat beside me was content; she was comfortable, her fire had been reset to glow.
I reflected in my own hologram that the hungry eyes, the gnawing feeling in my gut, that the idea, enough was not good enough, was still there. There was nothing wrong with me, with us. I was just seeing things differently after learning about Enhancacine.
“Are you happy?” I asked.
“Yes, you know I am.”
“Have you achieved all that you want to achieve, though?”
“I have two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, a lovely apartment, the latest sky chariot, and currency is not a problem. I’d say I’ve achieved what I wanted. I also have a sweet husband who has started to ask some very strange questions. What’s up, darling?”
“If you could, would you go back and do it all again?”
“Turn the years back, become young again?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m happy. I’m an ESFJ; we’re a contented bunch! Where’s this question coming from?”
“Well, at the trade show, a woman was selling a pill that could halve your age. I could take one tonight and wake up tomorrow aged twenty-three!”
“I know. Pretty wacked out, isn’t it? But it appeared kosher.”
“Was she blond and young?”
“Haha, I see. Remember the time you purchased that fission-powered stair treader? Oh, and the Paint Robot, remember that?”
“How can I forget?” I laughed.
“Well, if my memory serves me correctly, on both of those occasions, the salesperson was a cute young woman.”
“What can I say—I’m a man!”
There was silence as Trina and I watched ourselves exchanging our vows.
Sickness and health, till death do us part.
“Do you still believe in our vows?” she asked, looking me in the eyes. “I sense you are troubled.”
“You know me better than anyone.”
“Well, then, do you?”
“Yes . . . but—”
“I knew it,” she laughed, slapping me gently on my thigh. “C’mon then, spill the beans; what’s up?”
“Forgive me, Trina, but it’s my goddamn hormones. The way I’m wired, the way all men are wired I guess, it means there’s a sexual mismatch between us. I love you with all my heart. I honestly do. But the testosterone coursing through my system means I want to jump every young woman I spy.”
“You silly dirty old man,” she scolded, “those women see you as an unattractive, overweight blob with hypertension and skin tags. You’re as attractive and useful to them as a wimple on a space cap. But for me, well, I still see you as the young man in the hologram. And like wine essence, you age very well.
“Do I not make you happy?” she asked softly, returning to the kitchen. She didn’t wait for my response and was soon lost in her egg reconstitution.
Neither of us slept well that night.
“What are you doing today?” Trina asked as she passed the coffee infuser over breakfast.
“Going back to the trade show. I said I would let the saleswoman know what I intend to do about Enhancacine.”
“I may be happy, darling, but I want you to be happy too! I will support whatever you decide.”
Instantly my brain filled with puddles. Pools of dirty, cold water, dampening me down, flooding my thoughts, sloshing about, making clarity an impossibility.
“Okay,” was the best response I could come up with. “See you later.”
The woman’s skirt was shorter, her bob straighter. I could see she was wearing more makeup, not that she needed to, with her near-perfect skin. Her lashes were as long and dark as hairy spiders’ legs.
“Good morning,” she welcomed me in a vibrant half sing-songy way. “Nice to see you again.”
“And you,” I replied sheepishly.
Silence fell between us; she stood there expectantly, refusing to concede the space.
“I’ve decided to take the interactive ethics questionnaire,” I said eventually. “Is it possible to do this before I finally commit?”
“Yes, of course, especially in your case, as I know you are value-driven and conscientious.”
The questionnaire took forty-five minutes and involved pushing buttons on a pre-programmed preference bot.
“You passed with flying colours, as I knew you would,” the saleswoman cooed. “No problem areas identified. So, what do you say? Will you proceed to purchase?”
“How much is it?” I asked.
“Fifty thousand currency, which is nothing when you think how it will change your life!”
“That’s more than I earn in three years!”
“Life-changing, though. I know you are a man who is focused on the future. And the future for you is unwritten. You can influence it, take control of your destiny. So, what do you say?”
I looked skyward this time; the ceiling had not changed. I exhaled a breath, creased my brow.
“Okay then, go on,” I said.
I got home just after lunch.
“How did you get on?” Trina asked as I walked through the door.
“Not sure,” I said.
“What do you mean not sure? Did you buy it or not?”
“Yeah, I bought it, but we need to talk.”
“I’m all ears,” she said.
“No, I mean really talk. Can you come here, sit beside me?”
“If I must,” she said, feigning petulance.
“This pill,” I said as she settled next to me. “This pill can be taken any time, but it’s best taken in the evening with a glass of water. We will need to tell the kids, so we need to work out what to tell them.”
“Are you taking it tonight?” Trina asked.
I laughed, “Sorry, Trina, I’m not taking it. You are!”