Lisa’s voice nearly broke from pent-up rage and disappointment. She looked again at the slip from the supermarket.
"211. How could you possibly spend 211 points on…on…" – she groped for the word – "…nothing."
Andrew looked down. He mumbled an indistinct answer, then lifted his head and looked her in the eye defiantly. "Sometimes you’ve got to feel that you are alive."
"Alive! Now that we’re close to the limit of the 15,000 points, and what with Maggie and the…" Lisa went to the dresser and opened the top drawer.
Still in her overcoat she started to rummage with short shoveling movements through the slips with this month’s points lying unsorted in the drawer. She found the pink sheet with the figures for the past month and moved her finger through the items until she found the projected balance.
"Accumulated estimated consumption per 30 June: 14,500 points. If the consumption exceeds 15,000 points your forfeit the right to any medicare that includes hospitalization."
Lisa sank to the edge of a chair and stared emptily in front of her. Andrew rose to his feet, went into the kitchen and took a glass from the cupboard. He hesitated a little, looked at the small box of chocolate and the bottle of wine, then turned and poured himself a glass of vitawater from the refrigerator.
When Andrew and Lisa were married, they quickly agreed that their greatest wish and first priority in life was a child. "If only we’re careful and don’t get used to any certain standard, we may be able to save a few points every month and get a child," Andrew had whispered softly into Lisa’s hair, and she had given his arm a little squeeze in return. None of them were smokers, a head start, and Andrew only took a glass occasionally with his friends. Lisa had no weaknesses, she had always only drunk skimmed milk, and she cooked their meals without any use of fat or oil. The few "harmful substances" they had enjoyed in limited amounts soon disappeared from their household, and in the course of fewer years than they had imagined, they had saved up a "minus spending" which made room for a baby.
In the first decades of the millennium technology, especially gene technology, had developed to such a degree that everything seemed to be within reach. Organ donation, which in the first decade had been the big issue, had suddenly been abandoned: the great public resistance to illegal import of organs from the Third World grew to such measures that the international medical companies shifted their focus to the manufacturing of unused and fully operational, 100 percent adaptable organs produced in buildings which drab facades were a long shot from the expected look of a business that was literally the very heart of the future.
But the fact that everything was possible didn‘t mean that every possible move was implemented. The number of needy was simply too great, and there was a limit to what society could afford. As a result limitations were introduced, and patients were discerned between and grouped in worthy recipients and possibles. At first politicians didn’t dare discard altogether drug addicts, smokers, and drunks, but it didn’t last long before there was sufficient public support behind the view that "what goes around comes around", and voluntary abusers should not expect any help from society.
The next step was that also recidivist criminals were put further back, then motorists with more than three speeding tickets. Race drivers, mountain climbers, bungy-jumpers and hand gliders were next, but since not all of these activities were equally dangerous to one’s health, the idea of a graduated assessment of the danger was suggested: if a system of points was allotted to each activity, every citizen could feel assured that he would get a fair treatment.
In spite of the general agreement that drug abusers of any kind need not have too high hopes of any public care, it took rather long for nutrition advisers to convince the public of the damage they willfully induced on their bodies by eating meat and fat – old habits die hard. But after the election in 2021 the "Purity Party" introduced measures to quantify the contents of non-substantial items in food products, and a consumption of too many "non-essential" substances might disqualify a citizen from "societal aid that involves medical treatment".
Road pricing was another obvious possibility to let the culprits pay for their own foolishness; indeed, they did take others with them in the fall, but they were themselves the first to suffer from the pollution they caused.
But the system didn’t really work until all consumption was registered: food and all household articles, gas and means of transport, vacations – everything was classified and quantified, and every time a member of a family bought a product the societal value of the product was calculated and accumulated into a system of points.
Prior to this it had been thoroughly debated whether there was to be a registration for every citizen, but eventually the view that the consumption of a family should be registered collectively gained a footing. "To keep the family together" had been the argument, and it was indeed practical that each member of the family didn’t have to shop separately, but could share in the family’s shopping.
Before long society had such a handle on the consumption of the citizens that a fair distribution of the societal goods could be administered and assured. The big bonus in the system was "free replacement of organs" as well as "a guarantee for prompt treatment in case of any dysfunction." But even if it was both easier and cheaper and above all safer to produce children in the hatcheries, many people still nourished a great wish to beget their own offspring, a seemingly very stubborn emotional relic from the "time of the individual".
In the first years people had been endowed with a spirit of the future: optimism was great because of scientific progress, and the new measures meant that the general health improved considerably, and the waiting lists were soon eliminated. At the same time most people thought that it was only fair that each citizen was made responsible for his own happiness. If a person wanted to share in the common good and societal services, he would have to adapt in time.
But during the following decade problems began to show. First as small ripples on the surface – random outbursts of suicidal actions among the ousted who had taken up a habit of seeking shelter together to support each other – later accompanied by a more elaborate protest from commentators who warned against a loss of individual rights.
In the beginning the general capitalization of not only goods and services but also organs meant that debts could be paid in organs, first and foremost kidneys and corneae, but also other parts such as sinews and ligaments. People without a future might find a temporary relief by selling out of organs that weren’t essential for one’s life. Even debts to society could be paid back in this way, a hopeless tax debt could be converted into the loss of an organ.
The result was that many of the already deprived and ousted were afflicted even more with injuries that together meant that their lives were not proper lives but sooner waiting rooms to the graveyard.
The most interesting fact was, however, that people didn’t dissociate themselves from this development. "Everybody is responsible for his own future" was the feeling, and "he who will not hear must be made to feel".
Later – after cloning had superseded organ transplantation – this development was no longer relevant; to the few surviving multi-handicapped it was only a question of time before the problems they represented would die with them.
But what had been imagined as the ultimate improvement of life turned out to be connected with certain consequences that nobody had thought of. All the sources of government revenue regarding taxation of "luxury" such as tobacco, alcohol, gas and huge guzzlers dried out as people started to live healthy lives. Originally these sources of income had been bigger than the expenses to the social services, but that argument had been ignored when Puritan politicians started their crusade toward clean living. Most social workers became redundant, so did many in the hospital sector, but worst of all: the prolonged period of life expectancy meant an increase in old age pensions that far exceeded the savings the social sector had enjoyed in the first decades of the century, and eventually old age pensions were dropped which in turn meant that people had to save up for their pensions. Those who couldn’t became in increasing burden to society. At the same time the increase in monitoring the citizens’ consumption cost nearly as much as was originally saved.
The biggest surprise, however, was probably the number of senile elderly whose brains had gone blank long before their healthy bodies began to shrink. About to in three of the elderly were now in homes and more than filled the hospitals that the authorities had hoped to close.
As a natural result of this the classification and registration of points on general consumption was tightened to such a degree that even the extra bonus (minus) points earlier allotted to mothers (more calories per day during pregnancy and after giving birth) were first reduced and later annulled. Children became a private matter; if a couple wanted children, they must themselves defray all costs – a point of view first put forward in the previous century by the "People’s Party".
The day Lisa had her pregnancy confirmed, they had accumulated a balance in spare life points big enough to account for the extra consumption of vitamins, proteins and calories necessary to foster a child. And as a result of an unmeditated, spontaneous joy and a sudden impulse to mark this event in their lives by throwing a bit of extravaganza they bought a bottle of nearly antique wine and a small box of chocolate. Andrew persuaded Lisa to take a glass with him, and the sweet intoxication had been overwhelmingly beautiful for both of them. In the ensuing years they had commemorated this day with a bottle of wine, but as the cutbacks set in, not only the high price of alcohol but also the difficult access to it became too much for them, and now it was many years since they had last celebrated this their first day of family happiness.
When Andrew returned to the living room, Lisa was still in her overcoat, all gone in thought.
"I just thought that we should try and find some of the old feeling," he said in a low voice.
"What," said Lisa monotonously as if still far from him.
"Well, it is ’our day’ today."
" ’Our’ day. As if we can afford thinking of ourselves." She rose and started to take off her overcoat. The SmartShopper with Super-Health basis nutrition was still beside the chair where she’d put it, and tired she gestured toward it. "Lemons and oranges were points-free today, so I though we were going to have…" Her voice trailed off.
"But then we’ve got room for a little extra." Andrew stepped forward.
"No, because you don’t know what’s happening."
Andrew stepped nearer to Lisa. "What’s happening?" he said and tried to pull her closer. But she tore herself loose and went into the kitchen. Soon Andrew heard her bustling with the utensils.
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