“I am -”. No “I make -”. No “This is what I do best…”. Terrible. “I have a gift that-“. Even more terrible.
He would have laughed out loud if it hadn’t been all so damn absurd. His life was on the line, he had less than 2hrs to come up with a successful LifeGrant for the upcoming solar year or he would be terminated (aka killed) on the spot… and what he could come up with? Sheer garbage, that was what. Complete and utter rubbish. Vile prose that wouldn’t have saved a blind dog, much less a LifeGrant writer with one of the best reputations in the Sol2-System, and a couple of others too. Heck, he had a success rate in excess of 85% in the last 5 years!
Except, it seemed, when it came to writing for himself. He now understood why LG writers, the shorthand he preferred to use, were strongly discouraged from writing their own grants. He got that all right, now. Sadly, he had no choice – the two colleagues he had used for this in the past had both died very recently (it was murmured that one did because he didn’t manage to submit a successful self LifeGrant in time – how ironic would that be?) and there was no one else available. Either he did it himself or he asked the first man in the street to help him write a way to prolong his life for a year, and he didn’t like his chances.
But boy, it was nearly impossible. He would have been thoroughly ashamed if one of his clients had seen him now – undecided, frustrated, with deep circles under his eyes and a floor covered in half-cancelled drafts.
Ok, he said to himself. How difficult can this be? I know the guidelines better than any other:
the shorter (1 page max) the better.
Stick to the facts and not to wishful thinking.
Remember you are covering just one year and not your entire life.
And for God’s sake and all that’s holy, please pay a professional LG writer to do this for you.
He knew it all on the tip of his fingertips – then why oh why couldn’t he come up with something half-decent for himself? He remembered the words of his writing teachers, many decades before: “If you have a writer’s block, congratulations –you are normal! Everyone has one every now and then, beware of those who say they never do – they are just liars. As to how to overcome one, don’t fight it – do something else and come back to it after a while”. Just great. Except he didn’t have a while. He didn’t have even 2 hours, in fact – just 1hr56min32sec and counting. Down. These could well be the final two hours of his life if he didn’t get a grip and churn out something sensible fast.
Back to business, he said to himself. He surveyed the room – papers and broken screens littering the floor, half-eaten food containers on every surface, a vague smell of smoke hanging in the air (yes, he still had not fully overcome his tobacco addiction, especially in stressful times, and it was costing him a bomb – not that he would have to worry about it in a couple of hours, if he didn’t manage to solve his most pressing problem first).
What is it that I do that makes me valuable? I am a middle-aged, single man in a far outpost colony that is still struggling for survival. I am not the ideal pioneer, the preferred type of man out here – complete with large family. I don’t have the drive to plow fields or flatten mountains. I am not business-oriented and can’t sell or trade to save my life. I just… write. For others.
And then it clicked. “I am the only professional LifeGrant writer in this system and the best one for a few light-years around. If I go, productivity in my world and those around will plummet badly as people will have to worry about their LG, get another writer, fret that the quality is good enough, etc. If I remain here doing my job, the entire colony will benefit”.
He sent this to the Assessment System before he had time to think it through – he sensed that either that hit the nail on the head or nothing would. He knew the system would take about 10min for a reply, so he decided to use that time to smoke what could have well been his last ever Cuban cigar. While he smoked, he mused on the System – requiring every citizen past the age of 30 to justify their existence in writing each year, so that only ‘productive elements’ were retained. He knew that the assessment was fair and transparent, with people from all walks of life drafted in to assess every year. He understood and approved the rationale behind it.
It just all seemed so… remote now. As if his own life didn’t depend on a few words being read and, hopefully, liked by some strangers. He had never been this close to being a System’s victim and yet, strangely, he couldn’t work himself up to be terrified. His breathing and heart rate slowed down. He sat back and waited.
10 minutes later, his cigar was still going strong, the heady smoke filling his lungs – he looked at his fingers holding it speculatively, as if they belonged to someone else. It’s deeply ironic, he thought: no one will ever win a LG because they smoke cigars, yet it’s one of the things that make winning a LG worthwhile.
His main screen pinged. “Incoming message”. He opened it with trembling fingers. “Approved. Welcome to year 2341, Sir”.
Feature image via Cleveland Museum of Art collecionts