The image is from an Ardella Cosplay
When I started kindergarten, my teachers (including an assistant) suggested to my mother that I be advanced to the third grade. That was neither the first, nor the last time someone remarked about my intelligence. When I was a kid, I thought that was some sort of great thing because so many people spoke as if it was a wonderful thing to be a genius. As I’ve grown older, I haven’t been so sure. Studies have shown that geniuses are often less financially successful, less socially adept, and sometimes … well … less happy. Nevertheless, popular perception is that higher levels of intelligence are very desirable and intelligence enhancing drugs have hit the media numerous times. So, a year ago, I wrote a short story exploring what it really means to be smart. It’s called:
THE GLORY OF INTELLIGENCE
Hands shaking, Yushin held the bottle tighter than necessary. He swirled the dull metallic liquid that reminded him of fancy coffee. It cost more than a schoolmate’s home. Somehow, it didn’t seem right to swallow something so expensive. It seemed unfair. He summoned resolve to down the bottle like the doctor instructed but he couldn’t. He froze.
“It’s the elixir of the gods,” his father had told him, “the gift of intelligence.” In his hands, Yushin held the key to life’s greatest advantages. He would be a high genius or highest genius. But would he feel different? Would he be the same person? Would he prefer to be that new person or would he rather be the ordinary kid he was right now? What if all he really wanted in life was to juggle in the park, to hang out with friends, and to enjoy birds flying by? Why couldn’t life just be simple?
Yushin wiped sweat off his brow. Sweltering temperatures in Brazil were exhausting. Humidity levels were unbearable. While his parents spared no expense to give him every advantage, their budget wasn’t limitless. So there he stood, holding someone’s home in his hands for the sole purpose of swallowing it while suffering inhuman, oppressive heat. He kicked the A/C unit. It didn’t work and fussing with its nobs and buttons wasn’t going to change that. He wiped more sweat off his brow and analyzed the texture of this godlike elixir. At twelve years old, it was difficult to summon courage to swallow strange, almost magical liquid. Add to that being alone in a strange country, sensing you might pass out from the heat, and feeling nervous about your future and the decision seemed impossible.
Sure, he knew he should be grateful. His friends were jealous. Doctors told him it would make him happy; so did his teachers. Everyone believed they’d be happier if they were smarter. Probably, he was an idiot for not wanting to drink it. Perhaps that alone should convince him to swallow. That was why he was here wasn’t it? Because he was dumb? His hands still shook. He promised his parents to drink it the moment it arrived – and here it was, fresh from arrival. Two pills encapsulated in foil wrappers came with the bottle. He barely remembered instructions about those pills. He was too nervous to remember anything well. If I were smarter, I would remember, he chided himself.
Permanent brain enhancers weren’t banned here in Brazil – unlike his home country. His parents had scrimped for years to send him here, to ingest this fancy drink. He couldn’t ignore that and dishonor them out of fear. And what was there to fear? He didn’t know exactly. Yushin unscrewed the cap, removed the protective covering, plugged his nose (that was the nurse’s suggestion), and swallowed hard. Nasty! It tasted like moldy chalk, worse than anybody had warned. Of course, had he known … His hands shook harder now – as if they knew they’d done something wrong and wanted to take it back. Yushin struggled to read instructions on the label he hadn’t noticed earlier: Take two tablets with water before drinking. He cursed. Should’ve read that before. Duh. He hoped he hadn’t screwed everything up as he raced to the sink, poured himself a small glass of water, and poked the tablets out of their package. He threw them into his mouth, pressed the glass to his lips, and swallowed.
Yushin sat in a cushioned chair next to his bed for several minutes reviewing what he’d done. He didn’t feel any different. He was still hot, still shaking a little. He didn’t feel any smarter and he still wished he was back home with his friends, juggling in the park. He pulled out a contact juggling ball to pass the time but it was hard to do many tricks when his hands were sweaty. He wiped his hands and kept trying.
Yushin rolled the ball back and forth between his hands, hands that barely remembered how to juggle. He looked at the calendar. It had been thirty years. Thirty years of academic success. Thirty years of accolades, publications, and ridiculously large grants. Thirty years of technological breakthroughs. Thirty years of misery. He scowled at the crystal sphere as he thought upon his childhood obsession with juggling. He’d forgotten how to be happy like that. He didn’t even know if he could do it anymore – be happy. He knew how to smile at cameras and to feel satisfied with his accomplishments. He knew how to down a few drinks at a party after publication announcements. And he thought he’d been a little happy when he’d first replicated chimp cognition in bio-free robots without any interface between the software and the host. But twenty years of marital unhappiness, thirty years of intense pressure, and a lifetime of expectations to live up to had dragged him far beyond any semblance of happiness. He barely remembered smiling when his only child had been born. She was on her own now … and rarely spoke with him. Yushin couldn’t blame her. He’d all but ignored her growing up. He’d been too busy. Of course she wouldn’t want to spend time with him now.
Yushin’s secretary smiled at him through his office window. He barely spoke to Jenny outside of giving her instructions and yet, she still liked working with him. She had a simple mind. She was happy to be part of a team, part of whatever great accomplishment Yushin might envision. She knew how to be happy. He estimated her IQ: 110-112 depending on the day, her alertness. Sometimes, he had to explain instructions three times. She was annoying that way. But she usually got the job done and she habitually returned with a smile. He’d left carefully thought out instructions for her this time. He’d prepared his estate documents, his financial portfolios, the passing of his intellectual property rights. He’d taken the precaution of speaking with high profile lawyers and doctors who would vouch for his sanity and intellectual stability.
Yushin pulled a vial out of his drawer. He’d developed the liquid himself, patented the product and the process. Few would want to duplicate it but he needed to leave a perfect paper trail of his intentions. He had to appear methodical and sane. Estate documents promised generous licensing of the “elixir of dummies” to anyone who wanted to produce it so long as the final product was affordable to the average genius.
Yushin pulled a binder out of his top right drawer and thumbed through twenty some tabs. Everything seemed in order. His attorneys and doctors each had a copy. He carefully placed it in the middle of his immaculately clean desk. Jenny had been shocked. She’d never seen it tidy before, let alone clean. It had a glossy sheen to it now, a shoddy disguise covering years of wear and tear.
He took a deep breath and swirled the chalky looking fluid in its vial. Naturally orange, he’d added coloring so it would appear like the original drink he’d taken as a boy. Nanotechnology allowed for better options to administer the medicine but Yushin was sentimental about this moment. He wanted to savor it. He wanted everything to be like it had been thirty years before – only this time, he wouldn’t end up smart. He’d be dense at best. Since enhanced intelligence formulas had become mainstream, many IQs hovered at 145. Only the poor had IQs sagging below 120. That made him feel badly for Jenny. He wondered if she minded being poor. No matter. Yushin plugged his nose and tossed his head back as he drank the chalky substance. He grabbed two placebos and swallowed them with untreated tap water. They didn’t do anything. They were for memory’s sake. The “elixir of the gods” had made Yushin sick for weeks. This elixir could have had the same effect but Yushin prepared it to be relatively benign. Sentiment had its limits. He wanted to be happy, not pathetic.
Yushin repeatedly pinched the ball between his ever moving fingers, keeping the ball still and making it appear to hover. He smiled as he rotated his hand around the ball, making it appear to hover again. It looked magical.
Yushin laughed when another child gasped in surprise as Yushin transitioned to another trick. Eventually, he stopped, tired and worn, and sat on a bench. Sometimes he spent his entire day here. Last night, he’d slept here. He’d won the home in the divorce but he didn’t like to sleep there. It was lonely. There were always people in the park. Sometimes, Jenny visited. He thought she might visit today. She said she would didn’t she? He couldn’t remember for sure but he smiled to think of it. She made him happy.