The Optimized Life Program
He knew she would go for it and he had a dreadful premonition about what that would mean.
This certainty came to him while they sat in the usual cafebar, counting out the pennies and reflecting
starkly on how quickly they were getting left behind.
He had his arm round behind her back, a head taller than her and able to look down over her bobbed
blond hair as she poured over the brochure on her phone. The screen shone up on her face the bright
colours of patronising public information. They had read it before, they knew all the ins and outs, the
providers and the options.
Some of the other customers noticed them using the phone and looked across with patronising pity. He
held their gaze until they backed down. They both had the implants, of course, but an outer screen was
less invasive and nicer to share.
As he looked back down across her he could tell by the way she'd set herself, slightly pushing out her
lower lip, that she'd decided she was going to though with it, with or without him.
He tapped her on the shoulder.
"You've decided?" He said. She nodded. "You're going to book it aren't you?" She nodded again. "When
Then they left. The waiter was looking like he was going to chase them out for spending so little, wanting
the space for the sharper, more lucrative customers.
The appointed day rolled around and on the appointed morning they readied themselves. It had been a
cold week between them, they'd spend much of it in separate rooms listening to each other through the
thin walls of their bungalow. The night before there had been an intense, temporary thawing at about
2AM as they clutched together in what had felt like a desperate goodbye. He could feel the taste of that
last embrace lingering in his mind and didn't want to let it die.
"You ready?" She asked.
She looked about to break but he knew she wouldn't.
"Yeah, I'm ready."
Clad in heavy winter coats it was a slight crush getting into their small car. They were silent as he drove,
almost companionable again now things were at last in motion.
The appointed location was inside a brash block building about five stories tall on the outside of town.
They parked a short distance away and walked up to the entrance.
She started to look excited. He hung back.
"There's no other way," she said, "We have to do this. We can't just let the world leave us behind like
His hands were shaking. The prospect before him felt dreadful and inevitable.
"C'mon," she said, really excited now. She kissed him, took his arm and led him through the entranceway.
They sat on plastic chairs in a municipal hallway. "Jessica Calloway? Darren Galston?" a medical,
slightly impatient voice called. The voice was coming from the face of a woman in her late forties with
bobbed brown hair, wrinkled skin and a sharp face. They both felt the familiar downturn of an optimized
person in their presence; just that extra bit of effort to stoop to their level, make allowances and
accommodate. "I am Doctor Kiriyana, follow me please." They stood up, looked eye to eye briefly and
followed her into a small windowless office with more plastic chairs.
"Now," she said, as soon as they sat down, "as you know, the optimized life program offers a set of
powerful software tools for enhancing your life experience and capabilities."
The look in her eyes dared them to not pay attention or to misunderstand.
"Installation of this software holds certain psychological risks. Your current unoptimized selves are
wallowing in a sea of bad habits, sub-optimal decision making, false compromises and lax emotional
"All of which will be eliminated."
"At risk are your relationships, your self worth and, to some extent, your sanity and your bearings on
She leaned closer, scanning them as she waited for them to process the information.
"Why risk all this? We do so because the benefit is so very huge. The enhanced clarity makes you so
much more effective.. so many more resources are brought to bear on each choice!" She was leaning
forward now, lost for a moment in the fervour of the convert. Then she caught herself.
"So," she said, tapping the edge of some papers on the desk, "You understand the risks." They nodded.
"You are aware of the trade off you are making?" They nodded again. "Great! Now let us proceed with
the treatment. Follow me please."
She led them into another dimly lit room, this one holding twin hospital beds made with paper sheeting.
They stole a last touch of hands before they lay down on the beds at her direction.
"To start the procedure we will carefully introduce the software components." She paused. "Now if you
understand and accept the risks please accept at the dialogues."
They lay back in the half dark as several scary dialogues popped up in the side areas of their vision. They
hesitated slightly then accepted.
He felt that software install as it buzzed up on the microprocessor in the back of his neck, he was
sensitized to this, everybody was, the neural intruding into affect and percept. What went in now was a
brutal sharp thing: a big wedge of invasive client code binding into system nevents and pevents and
starting what seemed like a whole host of daemons.
"Is strong stuff, isn't it?" The doctor said. "But just relax, it is all quite normal."
He tried to relax but it felt invasive. It felt like his mind was being probed, which he guessed that it was.
They posit a very slight electromagnetic backwash from sensors, it being impossible to ever measure
anything without changing something.
"This is all medically regulated software." said the Doctor, with something like reassurance. "There is no
direct effect outside the sensory regions."
The room shifted as he tilted his head up. He couldn't think and felt unable to move as his head felt full of
stuffing. He shifted around attempting to position himself so the sensation would stop.
"Close your eyes." said the doctor "Let images form. Deal with them."
He submitted, closed his eyes and shapes formed. Things like memories but sharper than normal
recollection and explicitily labelled with associations and meaning. To start with he was there with Jess
beside a car by the sea with fewer worries. Things were going well then and they looked good together
but the whole scene was shot through with the inky black mark of a sickening nothingness and an an
ancient desparation that was tagged as such. He heard dimly the Doctor say "Follow it down. There is no
alternative" so he did and it all led back to an older bungalow he entered with his latchkey on unheated
winter days after school. Times were hard and Mum worked to keep it together and sure she loved him
but left on his own he could not quell the feel of abandonment and dread so he'd just watch the television
or run around and shout and the noise was good at keeping it away. Sometimes the lonliness would win
and he'd curl up and cry and hope someone and no-one would hear. Then Mum came home in no mood
for much except cheap sweet booze and collapsing on the sofa with brash programs on hoping that
nothing worse was going to happen and shutting it all off including him. He'd sit quitely on the floor with
a toy and in a way it was nice to be there with her but he wished that he could do something that could
help because her presence and the situation were weighted with demands that he could never, ever, hope
to comprehend or even meet. He met this now in a swift confrontation in which an agonized howl of
recognisence lead to tearful relief in an unaturally short time. A lot was processed and he was shot back
forward through memories again: they were back there by the cliffs. The stain was gone.
He opened his eyes then blinked a couple of times. He felt drained but he felt great. He looked to the left,
at Jessica, where she was curled up in her own immersion and as he watched her his mind buzzed with a
whole new overlay of implications and possibilities.