Maximised Total Happiness
Michelle smiled, exhausted, as her baby’s cry filled the hospital room. The lights above her were harsh and cold, and the sheets beneath her were tangled and scratchy, soaked in her sweat and stinking of iodine, but none of that mattered against such a beautiful sound. She heard it so rarely—just once a year.
“Congratulations, Mrs Bergeron,” said the midwife. “It’s a girl.”
“Oh, thank you so much! I’m ecstatic!” She looked over at Nathan, cradling baby Danielle face down in his strong arms. A Happiness Moderator stood by them, uniformed with the usual black suit and easy smile; he lined up a large needle at the base of Danielle’s skull and implanted the HappyChip with a swift movement. Danielle’s cries quieted, then turned to a happy giggle.
“You should be very proud,” said the midwife, smiling. “What number is she?”
“Well, congratulations again. I look forward to seeing you next year for number 23.”
Highest Possible Mode
Raj stepped into the kitchen and the welcoming arms of Alejandro. The air was heavy with spice and the sizzle of frying pork, the promise of a celebratory dinner as only Ali could prepare.
“I knew you could do it,” whispered Ali, embracing him. “Team manager!”
This, more than the promotion, was what made Raj happy: that he had made Ali proud. Falling in love with him had made everything click for Raj, and he understood, at last, what it meant to call someone your other half: not just a casual joke, but an honest statement that I am not me without them. Seeing Ali’s pride made him swell. It meant more than anything.
A firm knock sounded at the door, and Raj all but floated down the hallway to open it.
Pain flared in his toes. Raj crumpled, grasping at his right foot. He looked up; a Happiness Moderator stood in the doorway, already filling out his worksheet on a tablet. The Moderator had stamped on Raj’s foot as soon as the door had opened, breaking two, maybe three toes by the feel of it.
“Why?” gasped Raj.
The Moderator didn’t look up from his monitoring tablet. “Your level of happiness had risen to be equal to a large number of other citizens, but was nonetheless lower than the current societal mode. As such, your happiness threatened to establish a lower level as the new mode, undermining government targets.”
“Couldn’t you have given me some flowers or something? Made me even happier and lifted me above the others?”
“Sorry sir,” said the Moderator. “Pain is easier to invoke, and longer lasting. Have a happy day!
Highest Possible Mean
Roger cackled as he switched the traffic lights to red again, having let only three cars through the intersection. He was watching the drivers on an array of video monitors that glowed in the dim control room, displaying an orchestra of impatience rendered in drumming fingers and revving engines.
“Sir,” said a Happiness Moderator, stepping up to the desk. “Please be careful not to cause too much irritation. As soon as their combined frustration outweighs your delight…”
Roger looked up, a manic, almost hysterical grin on his face. He hadn’t had this much fun in years! Lights go green… lights go red! Pedestrians cross now… and again… and again! But not for too long—got to make them run once they’re halfway across! He laughed uproariously.
“Never mind, sir,” said the Moderator, stepping away.
Smallest Possible Standard Deviation
Cecile clicked the plastic lid onto the latte and passed it across the counter with a smile. The businesswoman smiled back with the same easy contentment and stepped away into the chatter of the airport, merging seamlessly into the efficient flow of foot traffic.
A cry went up from the arrivals line: Delphine! Oh Delphine! Two silver-haired women ran towards each other and embraced, clinging to each other with a frantic longing, their shoulders shaking as they sobbed on each other’s shoulder.
Cecile’s eyes welled up. She suddenly missed Nicole desperately, a huge hollow of longing opening up beneath her heart. It had been two months now, and Cecile still had no idea when the Venezuelan dig would be completed and Nicole would be home again, curled up on the sofa with Cecile under blankets and cushions and Henri the cat purring between them, a shared bottle of merlot by candlelight…
Happiness trickled across Cecile’s body like warm water, flowing out from the base of her skull, dampening her sadness and leaving it as an academic awareness of loneliness to be acknowledged with a smile. The two women in arrivals broke apart, arms dropping to their sides and broad grins smoothing down to gentle smiles. The same gentle smile as Cecile. The same gentle smile as everyone. Easily-maintained, easily-controlled, for everyone everywhere, always.
Highest Possible Median
Moderator Laidlow looked up from her monitoring tablet into the crying man’s puffy eyes. He stood in his doorway, dressed in a grey, ratty dressing gown, his hair unkempt and face unshaven. His bottom lip wobbled as he explained.
“Honestly, I’ll be fine again in a couple of hours. It’s just—my cat died overnight, and I might be a little down now, but I’m getting over it, I promise!”
He danced a sad little jig in the sour morning light as if to demonstrate, but he only made it four beats before sagging in defeat.
It wouldn’t have mattered. The tablet had already confirmed his status: he was the saddest person in the local area, with the least chance of improving above the median before the end of the day, judging by his current emotional trajectory.
She nodded at Moderator Rence, who reluctantly drew his HappyTaser. Laidlow had noticed his increasing reticence through their recent duties, though she struggled to understand it. She took great pride and satisfaction in her work; in knowing that she was improving society. Rence’s mood was completely at odds with her own approach to the work.
Without ceremony, he pressed the HappyTaser to the man’s forehead and executed him. He stood for a moment as the body crumpled, jerking slightly with the electric discharge, then slowly lifted the Taser and examined it.
“Do you ever wonder,” he said, “if what we do actually helps? Does it fix anything, or are we just papering over cracks? Does our work merely hide society’s ills behind an artificially inflated number, not only doing nothing to help directly but actively preventing greater self-examination of the true causes of our problems? Does the work not, in fact, burrow under your skin and eat away at you in the cold hours of the night, leaving you filled only with doubts and a raw, jagged uncertainty? Having walked out of the darkness of ignorance and come to find the truth beneath the façade, I do not know as I will ever be truly happy again.”
Laidlow said nothing. She swiped about on her monitoring tablet, looking for the next unhappiest person in the vicinity now that this job had been completed.
Moderator David Rence said the display.
She raised her HappyTaser to his temple and executed him.
Well! she thought, smiling. That was efficient! What an excellent day!
© 2019 by Matt Dovey
Author’s Note: I can’t recall precisely what triggered the combination of utilitarianism and statistics in my mind—just the general everyday mush that is my brain, one supposes—but I never expected anyone else to find it funny. There’s not much more to be said for it than that, perhaps, except perhaps it shows the absurdity of taking any system to its logical extreme without constraint. I wonder if that will ever occur to the free market adherents selling off all the public infrastructure in Britain. Special thanks must go to Ric Crossman (@SquidFromSpace) for his statistical consultancy, in particular pointing out a far more efficient method for maintaining the optimum median value, an idea that will surely make him a hero come the revolution.
Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He once got too happy after finding a packet of Golden Crunch Creams at the back of the cupboard, and has a scar on his arm where the Moderators intervened. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer he still hasn’t found the right words to fully express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement. His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Flash Fiction Online and Daily SF. You can keep up with it all at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Twitter and Facebook both as @mattdoveywriter.
If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the other story offerings.