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Virtue is its Own Reward

Carl Walmsley grew up listening to his mum re-tell every Stephen King tale that she read--and fell in love with "those sorts of stories," right there and then. Since those halcyon days, he has written for roleplaying games and penned a number of fantasy short stories. This is his first foray into science fiction.

"For those of us living in the modern era, it's hard to imagine a time when people's crimes were judged without recourse to their former good deeds. A decent person could commit one illegal act and be condemned for it. One mistake could wipe away a lifetime of kindness and charity--as if everything that has gone before counted for nothing. Such a system fostered apathy and a disregard for the well-being of others. Thank God--we now live in an era of true justice."
Rita tugged nervously at the straps of her dress. Her new frock felt too tight across her bust, whatever her husband said. Rita didn't like formal occasions--she never had. There was something insincere about dressing up to impress people, and Rita had always hated insincerity.
Her husband, by contrast, was smiling from ear to ear. Clive's generous splashes of cologne filled the car with an acrid tang. Rita tugged at her neckline and lowered the window to let some air in.
"An exciting day!" Clive said for the third--no, the fourth--time.
Rita pursed his lips and nodded. It wasn't easy to make "Um" sound enthusiastic, but she did her best.
"We have with us tonight one of the city's truly moral citizens. She isn't a philanthropist in the popular mold--casting away millions to the poor in order to acquire Virtue Points. No, this woman has founded her life on the completion of countless good deeds--small acts of kindness that have enriched the lives of all those she has met."
"Now, I know you don't really like this sort of thing, but you deserve it. You're one of life's troopers. It's about time someone acknowledged it."
"It's fine," Rita insisted, as her husband brushed her hair away from her neck.
"Well, thirty years you've worked at that factory," continued Clive, guiding her arm through his and leading her away from the car. "Do they thank you for it? Do they give you a raise?"
Rita puffed out her cheeks but didn't bother answering. She had heard it before, many times.
"Added to that, this citizen has led a life free from even the tiniest of misdeeds. Most of us try to accrue a healthy number of virtue Points, but inevitably lose some as we carelessly toss away litter or kick the cat after a tough day at work. Not this gal. Rita Bailey hasn't lost any VP in over forty years!"
Rita and Clive edged their way through the crowd, following the security droid that strode ahead of them. It was a sunny day, the rays glinting off the polished dome and the cloud of spectator-drones that hovered above. As usual, they would be recording everything, issuing VPs for acts of kindness; and rescinding them for antisocial deeds.
The voice of the host echoed across the plaza, and Rita felt a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. She wasn't looking forward to this--but, as her husband was so fond of saying, don't put things off. Just get them over with.
"Thanks to that incredible mixture of unstinting kindness and moral behavior, Rita is closing in on one million Virtue Points!"
The crowd gathered before the platform in Celebration Square clapped and cheered.
"You all know what that means! In recognition of a life dedicated to the benefit of others--a life free from cruelty or immorality--Rita is about to receive one million credits! Now that's justice!"
More of the same.
At the foot of the stairs leading up to the platform, Clive stepped ahead of Rita. He slipped off the expensive coat he had bought for the occasion and handed it to a woman waiting there. The woman embraced him and waved to Rita. It was Annabelle--his PA from work.
"Well done, Rita!"
Annabelle. A woman half her age.
In the next instant, Rita was swept up the steps by a glamorously dressed assistant and found herself face to face with the host.
"Rita!" the man enthused, as though it was his lifelong dream to meet her. "Look at this!" He steered Rita round to gaze up at an enormous screen which floated into view. Glinting, larger than life, was the number 999,998--which the host read aloud with gusto.
"How does it feel, Rita?"
Rita gazed around in wonder. It was too much to take in. Hundreds--thousands--of people were clapping and chanting her name. At the foot of the steps, Clive beamed up at her. Annabelle, beside him, slid an arm around his waist and smiled too.
Rita hated that smile. It was a smile to hide lies behind. A smile that had won her husband's heart.
"You're about to become a very rich woman!"
It was as the host spoke these words that Rita pulled the pistol from her purse and fired. The shot took Clive square in the chest, ruining his new coat, and knocking him back into the crowd. Annabelle fell beneath him.
The crowd screamed and scattered, and overhead the spectator-drones flashed red. The number on the big screen tumbled rapidly, dropping half a million points. Rita watched it, saw it settle, and smiled to herself. The second shot took Annabelle where she lay, half covered by Clive's body.
This time, the number fell beneath zero to a big, red -2. The security droid which had escorted Rita and Clive through the crowd began to march up the stairs.
The host, his face twisted by shock and fear, staggered away from Rita towards the edge of the platform. He wasn't looking where he was going and began to lose his balance. A fall like that could be nasty.
"Careful," Rita said, reaching out a hand to steady him.
The big screen changed again, clicking round to the number 1. The security droid stopped in its tracks, reversed and walked away.
Rita watched the panic-stricken crowd for a few more moments and then set the gun down at her feet. She smiled thinly and bounded down the steps two at a time. It was a shame about Clive, but she had lost him a long time ago. Besides, she was already looking forward to the peace and quiet.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 27th, 2020

Author Comments

We are watched and monitored so much these days, I can't help but wonder how all this information might be used in the future....

- Carl Walmsley
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