by William T. Hammann
The room was small and somewhat sterile, yet well-lit and cool. Soft illumination came from lights high overhead, which hummed softly. The walls were a neutral color, almost white but not quite. A small desk was attached to the wall between two modest chairs. Each was occupied by a man facing the desk at a right angle to each other, their attention on a bright comp-monitor on the wall at eye-level.
The older man spoke first. “Good morning, Mr. Stinson. How are you feeling?” He was dressed casually and sat at ease, comfortable in his role. With a slight smile and a receding hair line, he looked grandfatherly.
The young man replied, “My head is a little fuzzy, but the technician said that’s normal.” He sat on the edge of his seat, foot tapping the lightly carpeted floor with nervous energy. He had the slim body of youth, yet was legally an adult.
“That’s quite normal, Mr. Stinson. The assessment process often has that effect on people. Nothing to worry about. May I get you something to drink?”
The young man shook his head. “No, thanks. I’d rather we got on with it.”
“As you wish, Mr. Stinson. Let me review your information briefly and then we’ll discuss results. Let’s see...” The assessor lifted his hand and made some slight movements. Information came into focus on the monitor.
“Okay, Mr. John Guy Stinson. Citizen number 09-002-8472-83. Date of birth 13 January 2094. Place of birth Lodi, California. Biological parents John Senior and Madeline Ellen. Here today for your retirement assessment. Is all that correct?”
“Yes,” the young man answered simply.
“Good. Now are you ready to learn the results of your assessment? Excited?”
“Yes, I guess.”
“Now it’s okay to be a bit nervous. I was when I got my assessment results all those years ago. It will take some time for you to adjust to what you hear today, but everything will work out. It always does.”
John looked around the plain room, foot still lightly tapping, and back to the assessor. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
“Different assessors have different styles, of course, but I prefer to give the bottom-line results up front and then allow you to ask questions from there. I’ve found over the years that it leads to a good dialogue, and you’ll feel better by being in control of the conversation and asking the questions you want to ask. Is that okay with you?”
“Okay, Mr. Stinson. Simply put, you will live to be approximately 78 years old, plus or minus 6 months. It isn’t quite the exact science that some believe it to be. Given your assessment, you will start retirement today and end it on your forty-third birthday.
“That gives you 25 years of retirement followed by about 35 years of work. The ratio is 5:7, which is actually a bit better than the average citizen’s.
“Now, where would you like our conversation to begin? We have about forty minutes remaining, so there is plenty of time for questions.”
The young man sat in the chair, mentally processing his future timeline. “I did my pre-reading about the assessment process, but now that I’m sitting here, how does it really work? I walk out after talking with you and what happens?”
“Beginning immediately, you will start receiving a monthly salary based on your assessment. In fact, if you were to access your account using your wristband, you would see a sizeable amount of credits in the account. The amount is your first month’s salary, which would have been called a pension in the old days, as well as a much, much larger amount of credits for purchasing and establishing a household.
“That second amount is your lump sum of retirement credits, what you are projected to earn from the start of your career at age forty-three to your death at, or around, the age of seventy-eight. But it’s really up to you how you choose to use your funds. Remember, it’s your retirement.”
“Anything I choose?”
“Yes, Mr. Stinson. It’s your retirement. Live your life to the fullest while you’re young and at your physical peak. Enjoy it now, as there will be time later to start a career and pay back society. Twenty-five years from today, in fact.”
“But how does the assessment work? How does it know when I’ll die and how much to pay me? When I should start working? How can it know all that about me when I’m only eighteen?”
“I don’t know the technical details, Mr. Stinson, but it’s enough to know that the assessment system has been steadily improved since its inception and implementation over three decades ago. You’ve surely heard or read the figure, but it bears repeating that the system has Six Sigma accuracy, to use a term from the last century. That’s less than four errors in a million.
“Across the approximately 900 million people in the North American Federation, approximately 13 million reach the citizenship age of eighteen each year and get assessed, so any tiny error affects less than forty citizens, on average, each year.”
“But what if I’m one of those forty people? What if you’ve assessed my life incorrectly?”
“That’s highly unlikely, Mr. Stinson, as the numbers illustrate. Admittedly, it does happen on very rare occasions, but when it does, I’m sure it works out for the best. Please believe me when I tell you that the system is amazingly accurate. True, you’re only eighteen years of age and technically the brain continues to grow until one’s mid-20’s, but the system accounts for that.”
“As I said before, Mr. Stinson, I don’t know the technical details. My role as your assessor, your transition counselor really, is to inform you of your results and answer any questions you may have to help you in this exciting step into the next stage of your life. Your DNA gives us amazing insights into your lifespan and general personality.
“The system doesn’t need to know all the little details and quirks. Its algorithms and programming and what-not use thousands of assumptions and projections to arrive at your death date. It also heavily factors in your personality to determine a general, but fairly narrow band of vocations that subsequently determine your retirement salary.”
The young man leaned forward in his seat, resting his hands on the edge of the desk and slowly shaking his head with doubt. “You mean to tell me that you already know exactly what my job will be when I’m forty-three and starting my career? A lot could happen, will happen, to me between now and then.”
“No, Mr. Stinson, not exactly. I apologize if I gave you that impression. Based on your assessment, the system has determined that you are in vocational band 43-A. Although we don’t know what the economy or job market will look like exactly twenty-five years from now when you end your retirement, we have a very close approximation of what type of work you will be best suited for.”
“And what is that? A doctor? Comp-programmer? A sanitor?”
“No, Mr. Stinson, nothing quite that specific. You’re a VB43-A, so you will likely work directly with people in a training or educational type of role. In fact, you were assigned to me because I’m also a 43-A. You could be sitting in my chair a quarter century from now. Or you could be a teacher, or one of several dozen other specific jobs.
“Believe me, the accuracy of the system also guarantees that you will be in a career that plays to your strengths and that you find enjoyable and rewarding. That is a true revolution from careers of even fifty years ago, when most people received little or no enjoyment from their work.”
John sat back in his chair, silent, obviously in thought. Then: “You’ve obviously been an assessor for quite some time. Have you enjoyed it? Any dreams of being something else?”
“Yes, everyone has dreams, don’t they? But in the big scheme of things, I believe I’ve led a satisfactory life. I enjoy being an assessor; I enjoy helping people through this transition.”
The young man, biting the corner of his lip, sat back in his chair. The assessor sat quietly with him for several minutes before gently interrupting. “What are you thinking, Mr. Stinson?”
“I’m... I’m just trying to get my head around it all. It just doesn’t seem possible when I haven’t even lived my life yet. I mean, what if I walked out of here today and got hit by a shuttle, or had some other kind of accident? Can the system account for that?”
“Yes, Mr. Stinson, but only on a macro level. It can’t specifically account for John G. Stinson, citizen number 09-002-8472-83, but accidents and other chance errors are factored in. It all works out in the end.”
“Yeah, unless you’re the one smeared across the front of a shuttle.”
The old man chuckled softly as he smoothed his thin, wrinkled sweater. “True, but one can’t enjoy his retirement while worrying about that kind of thing, Mr. Stinson.”
“Well, what if I’m enjoying my retirement, or have been working only a couple of years, and hit the lotto? Or maybe come up with some invention or new software that makes me billions of credits? Something the system didn’t account for in my specific case? What then?”
“It’s rare, but in those cases, you would be able to use your newly-acquired wealth to pay back society and essentially ‘buy out’ of a career. This is, of course, assuming the system determined that you had sufficient wealth remaining to support yourself in a second retirement. Society would not subsidize a second retirement for you.”
“What about marriage? Kids? Do I have enough credits for my retirement so that I can get married and have kids of my own? Has the system factored that in for me?”
“Of course, Mr. Stinson. It wouldn’t do to have a system supporting a society that couldn’t propagate itself. Remember, one key to retirement is that you must live within your means. Your monthly salary is based on your future work, your future contribution to society.
“Everyone can ‘afford’ to find a spouse and get married. The number of children that you and your spouse have is essentially determined by what you can afford. Using myself for example, my wife and I have two children and have lived a quite comfortable retirement. We could have had one more child by making different spending decisions with our retirement salaries, but our choice was two. Does that help you?”
“I guess. It’s just that I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, almost sixty years according to you, and it’s almost overwhelming to think about.”
“A perfectly normal reaction, Mr. Stinson, and not unlike my own so many years ago. It will likely take several weeks for you to get comfortable with everything we talk about today. If at any time you have additional questions, or simply want to talk more about it, you are free to contact me at any time over the next two months. You’ll find that I’ve sent my contact info to your band.”
The young man turned and faced the assessor. “Thanks. Do we still have time left? I have a couple more questions.”
“Yes, we have time left for a few more questions.”
“I know I probably shouldn’t worry about it since it’s so far in the future, but what happens when my retirement is over?”
“I’m glad you asked that, Mr. Stinson, as many people do not. After retirement, we will send you to several years of training, what used to be called ‘college’ in the pre-assessment days. We found that by starting a career in mid-life, you will already have real-world experience and maturity, so your training will be focused only on the technical aspects of your work. It’s quite an efficient process, actually. Now I have a question for you, Mr. Stinson.”
“There is a new option we’ve been trialing, and I expect that it will become a standard component of the assessment process before the decade is out. The system has found over the years that it’s difficult for some retirees, about 15%, to go directly from retirement into a full-time career. One option you have is a part-time transition. In your case, we could start your transition at forty-one with part-time work for two years. Would you be interested, Mr. Stinson?”
“I... I’m not sure. Do I have to give you an answer now?”
“No. You have until the end of this month, at the point where you will receive your next monthly salary, to make the decision. If you do select the part-time option, your monthly salary will be 1.38% higher due to the fact that you will start repaying society, at least in part, two years earlier.”
“I’ll think about it and let you know.”
“Smart young man, Mr. Stinson. No need to make a hasty decision today.”
The two men sat for a few moments, both turning back to the comp-monitor displaying the future timeline of the young man’s life.
“Any other questions, Mr. Stinson? We’re almost out of time.”
“Yes. What happens when I start my career? Where do I live? Do I work every day until I die? Is that how it works?”
“Heavens, no, Mr. Stinson.” The old man smiled and shifted in his chair to more directly face the young man. “Upon starting your career, you will move to a career community and live with others who are also working. You don’t have to worry about a salary anymore, as your basic needs of housing, board and health care are taken care of in return for your work. It’s all factored into the system’s economic calculations. All your needs are provided for, even a small monthly stipend for discretionary spending.”
“So that’s it? Work every day and have some small amount of credits to purchase little things?”
“Now Mr. Stinson, it’s not as bad as you make it sound. I can speak from several decades of personal experience that it’s actually quite comfortable and secure. No worries, really. And no, I don’t sit in this chair every day speaking with young, new citizens like you. I still enjoy the weekends off and see my grandchildren on occasion. I get three weeks of vacation annually.
“One even gets to select a fully-paid one-week vacation trip every other year. Nothing exotic, admittedly, but very nice local vacations nonetheless. Honestly, one should really experience the exotic and wild during retirement, while one is young and has the means to do so. Now that’s really all we have time for...”
“One last question, please. Does anyone ask to work first, and then go into retirement? My granddad told me that people did it in the pre-assessment days.”
“It is true that things were a bit backward in those days, Mr. Stinson. But just imagine the inefficiencies of the whole thing. How many people do you think retired and then simply outlived their money? How many people do you think retired with plenty of money, but were too physically worn out and feeble from work to enjoy all of the experiences they dreamt about when they were young? How many people do you think spent the first decade of their careers simply jumping from job to job, stumbling to gain experience and social maturity? It’s simply amazing that things used to be done that way. So inefficient, and simply amazing.”
“Okay.” The young man turned from the monitor and looked at the assessor. “I guess that’s all I have for now.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Stinson. I really am very excited for you, and a bit jealous, quite frankly. What I wouldn’t give to be eighteen again, with my full retirement lying ahead of me.”
The old man reached out and patted John on the shoulder. “Now if you’ll lean forward and face the monitor for a retinal scan, I’ll get you on your way.”
The young man neared the comp-monitor, but then turned and looked at the assessor again. “I know it’s considered very impolite, but how old are you? How much time does your profile say you have left?”
The old man chuckled softly. “That’s okay, Mr. Stinson, no offense taken. Not many people have asked me that question. The truth is that I have some time left, but not a lot. I’ve been doing this for many years and some day I will, in a matter of speaking, retire for good.” The assessor rose slowly from his chair, his true age becoming apparent to the young man.
“How do you feel?” There was both concern and curiosity in the young man’s voice.
“Feel?” The old man paused, as if confused by the question. “Why, I feel fine, Mr. Stinson, just fine. It’s been a long week meeting many fine young individuals like you.”
The scan complete, the young man arose from his chair and the old man guided him to the door, opening it and letting in sunlight from the window across the hall. The young man nodded slowly and shook the assessor’s outstretched hand. “Thank you for your help today. I appreciate it.”
The young man strode down the hall bathed in warm bright light, leaving the assessor behind. The old man moved slowly back into his office and stood with closed eyes, leaning heavily against his chair. Softly, to himself, he murmured, “Tired, Mr. Stinson, tired.”
Copyright © 2011 by William T. Hammann