by Andrew Johnston
Maria was faintly in awe as she stepped into the main chamber of the local Destiny, Inc. branch office. There was no waiting room and no offices, just one endless corridor stretching for what looked like miles in each direction with a desk every few yards. In lieu of a reception aide, a series of lights embedded into the floor guided the newest arrival to his or her Destiny, Inc. representative. Maria’s path was already lighting up as she entered the building, and for the moment she entertained the possibility that they actually could see the future. After a brisk walk, she found herself at a desk opposite a middle-aged woman with an impossibly broad smile on her face. “Hi! I’m Representative #029A!” read the nameplate on her desk.
“Good afternoon! I’m your Destiny, Inc. representative!” she chirped.
“My name is Maria…”
“Maria Kay, correct? One moment, please!” The preternaturally chipper woman hastily tapped at her keyboard. “What’s the nature of your problem, ma’am?”
“Well, it started when I lost my job about six months ago. I’ve been shut out of every opening, my friends won’t visit me, and my boyfriend left me. And apparently, it’s all because I have a low Destiny Score. But that has to be a mistake.”
“Are you asking for a simple score check or do you wish to make an adjustment appeal?”
“We’ll start with the score check.” The representative glanced at her screen, then back at Maria. “Your Destiny Score is less than ideal, I’m afraid. It’s about twenty points below what most employers would look for. A little low for most life partners too, I’m afraid.”
Maria shifted in her seat. “Well, I don’t understand that. What is it exactly that I did that brought my score down?”
“It’s not necessarily anything you did, ma’am. The Destiny Score is based on numerous factors: credit score, work record, hereditary, demographic factors, probability analysis and our own special algorithmic formula.”
“Look, I don’t understand how any of this works,” said Maria. “Could you explain the system to me?”
“Sorry! Can’t do that!” Her upbeat attitude was beginning to wear on Maria’s nerves. “The Destiny Formula is proprietary. We can’t just let anyone see it! But, I can tell you some factors that may have contributed to your Score. How’s that sound?”
Maria held back a groan lest she offend this person. “All right, I’ll live with that.”
The representative typed furiously for half a minute while Maria sat in silence. “Okay, here’s what I’m seeing. Ooh—it says here that based on your family structure and education, your predicted lifetime earnings are 12 percent below the national median. You are 19 percent more likely to die young, and…ooh, 67 percent more likely to develop a substance abuse problem! That explains the Score right there.”
“Substance abuse?” Maria shot to her feet. “I don’t drink, and I’ve never used a drug in my life. My whole family’s that way!”
“Please stay in your seat, ma’am. This will go easier if you’re calm.” Maria complied, and the representative turned back to the screen. “While the Destiny Formula is mathematically perfect, there is a technically non-zero chance that an error was made in the tabulation. You know how it is—a computer runs a little hot, and next thing you know, those ones are coming out zeros instead!” She laughed to herself.
“Okay, so there’s a problem in the Score. You can fix that, right?”
“Sorry! Representatives of Destiny, Inc. are not allowed to adjust an individual’s score. Adjustments require the client to file an adjustment appeal.”
Maria leaned forward. “How can appeal to change my score if you won’t tell me about the formula?”
“Well, ma’am, Destiny, Inc. has affiliates that will give you the tools to track your Destiny Score. And once you find a mistake, you can tell us about it and fix it up right away! And the fees are very reasonable.”
“I don’t understand. You…you want me to pay to fix your mistakes?”
“Oh, that’s a very negative way to put it, ma’am.”
“Negative?” Maria stood up, knocking her chair aside. “This is insane. Who gave you the right to dictate our futures? By whose authority do you get to put a number on me and declare me unfit?”
The representative thought for a moment. “Why, Destiny, Inc. gives us that authority, ma’am!”
It took every ounce of willpower for Maria to tear herself away and leave without striking the representative. God forbid that she would lower her score further.
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Andrew Johnston is a former ESL teacher who, on some days, wishes he was still in the PRC. He has written a number of obscure novels, the most recent of which can be sampled at burningoasis.wordpress.com.