Highly Rated

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The time period of this story is: the not too distant future.

1

Lucy has an approval rating of 4.2. And she constantly checks this, on her phone, while she’s out on her early-morning jog. Lucy is in her early 20s and she has gorgeous, long, red hair, and curves in the right places. She is, by no means, thin, however she is super-fit and exactly the right weight for her very feminine body-type. A lovely young woman, full of vitality. The sun is just rising as she pounds the tarmac of her middle-class neighbourhood. The backlighting on her hair, which is tied back in a pig-tail, makes her look pretty as a picture, as she momentarily stops in the middle of the road to check her phone. She is wearing a light-blue zip-up sports top, and darker blue jogging leggings. 

A group of wholesome-looking joggers pass by Lucy on other side of the road, moving in the opposite direction. She smiles at them, they wave and smile back. She points her phone at the group and up-rates them. She then gets a confirmation ping in her earpiece. The team-leader of the passing joggers points his phone back at Lucy and reciprocates. A thumbs-up appears on her phone and she gets a nice, sparkly, ping in her ear. Smiles all round. Lucy is uplifted by this and she speeds off with an extra spring in her step. Her long hair - lit by the early morning light - glows brightly, as it swishes from side to side as she speeds along.

When she finishes her run, Lucy does some cool-down stretching exercises in front of her apartment. Squatting down, she takes the opportunity to check her phone. She swipes through some profiles. "Jen" got 5 Stars for her latest, glamorous, picture of herself; Chloe Lateen has a 4.1 general approval rating, and she has just got 5 stars for a recent uploaded picture of her dog which is now on display; Johnny James has an approval rating of 3.8 and his latest uploaded picture of him and Jackie, his partner, both smiling away, has been rated at 5 stars.

2

When Lucy goes back inside she heads for the bathroom and takes a shower. Once out, she wraps herself in a big thick white bath-towel and stands in front of the bathroom mirror. She starts to practice the ranges of smiles, and friendly social reactions, that she has in her repertoire.

Lucy has invested in a rating scanner which has been surgically implanted inside her right eye. This allows her to see people’s scores without needing to point her phone at them. When she looks at a person, an oval outline locks onto their face, and she gets an instant read-out of their current status, as well as other key data about the person, such as age, preferences, marital status, and friendship circle.

Standing in front of the mirror Lucy laughs warmly, then cackles, then she puts on a more serious face. Each time she does this, the value of the ‘social transaction’ is scored and displayed in her eye. She keeps adjusting, and fine-tuning her reactions and responses, to see what will give her a higher score.

Now dressed in a beige lightweight frock, with her straight red hair tied back, Lucy briskly walks, with a sense of purpose, through the apartment to the lounge area. The accommodation is modern, stylish, and minimalistic. The plain furniture is smooth and shiny and pastel in colour, and so is the general décor. There is a permanently-fixed white ladder, to the side, which leads up to an overhang; a greyish, modern-looking, stand-up floor-lamp sits in the corner. There is a hologram fish-tank glowing away on a sleek table, and not much, in the way of pictures, on the walls.

3

There is a man, with short dark-brown wavy hair, who looks about twenty-five, sitting on the sofa. He has a thin dark-blue T-shirt on, and patterned cotton shorts. His legs are stretched out in front of him, resting on a sofa support, making him upright in his posture, leaning forward slightly. He is clutching a small hand-held gaming control-pad in both hands and there is a black Virtual Reality headset attached to his head, covering his eyes, and making him oblivious to Lucy entering the room. He appears to be looking into the mid-distance. His mouth is hanging open because he is concentrating on the game he is playing in his mind. It is not a flattering look.

The lounge lighting is quite dim because the horizontal blinds are closed over the window, blocking out the early-morning daylight. There are some discarded take-out packets and containers spread out on a small table. The remains of a meal.

""Brian," she calls. No response. "Brian!" this time louder and higher in pitch. He doesn’t answer as he is still deeply engrossed in the world of his headset. Lucy picks up a cushion and skillfully throws it at him. He takes a full hit in the crotch area.

"Arghh!" Brian cries out. "I was holding the ball!" he shouts back at her as she quickly walks out of the lounge. He still has his virtual head-set on. He then composes himself and says "Sorry guys" in a conciliatory tone to his ‘team mates’ in the game inside the head-set.

Lucy is floating about, in a busy manner, in the kitchen area, preparing some liquid food.

"They’re sending buyers over today, so … put your trousers on" she says in an advisory tone. There is a big surfboard leaning on the wall behind her. It looks brand new.

Brian heads up the ladder, climbing the rungs with ease and agility.

"Maybe if I don’t, it will scare them off and we can stay here," he says as he flips into the overhang area which contains his bed. He sits on the mattress and begins to pull his jeans on.

"It’s not an option Brian, the lease is up in four weeks," she draws out the word "weeks" in a higher pitch, for emphasis. 

Brian climbs up the ladder, with ease and agility, into the overhang area which contains his bed. He sits on the mattress and begins to pull his jeans on.

"It’s not an option Brian, the lease is up in four weeks," she draws out the word "weeks" in a higher pitch, for emphasis. 

"I’m thinking of you," Brian says, from up in the overhang, while Lucy is still in the kitchen. "I’ve got somewhere to go. My mate, Ned, took that job, and so he is moving away. I get his place." Lucy looks slightly taken aback. She hadn’t accounted for Brian being covered for somewhere to stay. He leans over the overhang, and speaks to her directly, with his face upside down. "Now who’s the slow-coach, eh?"

"I’m … seeing some places over lunch" Lucy replies with slight hesitance in her voice. "Catch you later." She heads out the door, with purpose in her step.

Once the outside door shuts, Brian plunges down from the overhang, onto the sofa, and puts his VR headset back on.


"Catch you later." Lucy heads out the door.

Brian dives down from the overhang, onto the sofa, and puts his VR headset back on. "Sorry," he says, as he rejoins the game, "that was my sister. Yeah, I bet you would," he says to one of his team-mates.

4

It’s a sunny day, and later on, Lucy is waiting near the outside counter for her coffee to be prepared. A few others are also standing around, swiping their phones. Everybody around is dressed in pastel blue or pink. Lucy swipes through some profiles while she is waiting. "Sam" has uploaded a picture of an elaborate cake. Lucy rates it 5. Keith Jackson (4.2) has a new video of his kid playing outside with a garden hose, with a fireman hat on, spraying water about and laughing. She gives the video a "5" with a thumb-swipe.

"Your coffee ma’am," the barista puts a frothy cup down on the counter. She looks up from her phone. Jack (3.8) asks her if she wants a cookie. "It’s on the house" he says, with a smile.

"Awesome" Lucy responds with a wide smile, and a happy giggle. She swipes "5" on Jack’s profile. With huge tongs Jack delicately places a tiny biscuit on the edge of the saucer. He then pings his phone at Lucy to rate her.

"See you tomorrow," she says.

"See you, Lucy," Jack replies, with a warm smile.

"Bye Jack, see you tomorrow," she says to the barista.

"See you, Lucy," Jack replies, with a warm smile.

As she walks away, Lucy sees Keith Jackson confidently approaching. Walking towards her, he has a wide smile on his face. An oval outline appears around his head in Lucy’s vision. She gets a 4.2 readout from Keith’s face.

"Oh, I saw your boy in the fire-hat just there, he’s sooo cute" Lucy says to him, referring to the video on her phone.

"Yeah, he’s really something," replies Keith, proudly. Keith is dressed in smart light-blue shorts, and a neat pink shirt, with big checks on it.  They both coyly "ping" each other with their phones and apply good ratings. Lucy then looks around the cafeteria area. The sun is shining brightly as various diners drink, eat and chat. Ovals appear around everyone’s head.

John is sitting at a white table with two good-looking young women. He is wearing a neat pastel-blue blazer and white chinos. He’s gazing down at his phone, while the young ladies look at their’s. The oval says John is 4.0, while Katie is a 4.2.  Steph is 4.1.  A guy walking by, Sean, has a 3.8 read-out. A grey-haired, older man, Charlie, has a 4.2 oval on his head as he walks away. Chris and Jen are sitting at a white table on white chairs. He is 4.2 and his friend, Jen, a black-skinned woman has a 4.8 reading. Sam has a 3.9, his mate opposite him, Andy, is a 4.7. A sophisticated-looking woman, wearing a straw hat, gets a 4.8. Her male partner, Karl, who looks important, also has a 4.8 stamped on him visually.

Lucy sits at a small, square, white table, with her coffee. She picks up her round cookie. It has a smiley face embossed on it. Lucy giggles. She carefully, and gently, bites into the biscuit while cupping her hand underneath, so as not to spill any crumbs on the table. The surface of her coffee has a pretty fern-pattern on it. She giggles at this and puts her cookie back onto the saucer with a perfect crescent bitten out of it. She picks up her phone, frames the cup, and clicks to photograph her coffee. She is happy with the picture and so she types in a title "Brushed Suede Cookie Heaven" and swipes. "Upload successful" the message confirms. She then puts her pink phone down on the table and picks up her tiny coffee-cup and has a sip. A slight grimace, momentarily, crosses her face. Her coffee doesn’t taste that good. Her phone then pings.

"You’ve been rated" the message says. A list of about ten ratings then display in a slide show from various people, and all of them are around 4.2. Lucy’s lights up at this. A beaming smile appears on her face. 

5

The recent slide-show of good ratings, from various people, has put Lucy into a mild state of euphoria. She is now standing on the ground floor of the tall building that she works at, in front of the lift doors. A sophisticated lady is standing in front of her. The door swishes open and they both walk, from the pastel pink lobby, into the lift. The interior of the elevator has light-blue soft lighting. Lucy’s eyes are still dilated from the buzz she got from her ratings. She recognises the cultured lady standing next to her. Her eye-scanner reads that Bethany is currently a 4.6.

Bethany is immaculately dressed in a tailored blue jacket and skirt over a light pink top which has a wide frilly white collar. She is one inch taller than Lucy and stands with poise, with her pink handbag around her arm. Her light brown hair is neatly tied back in a bun. This classy lady has a confident and wide grin on her face. She looks around 40 years of age and is very well maintained.

"Beth, it’s good to see you," Lucy says in a high-pitched voice of enthusiasm.

"You too," Beth replies, with a wide grin, and a more subdued tone.

Lucy then giggles, and then they look away from each other. Lucy looks down at her phone which she has in her right hand, at waste level. Using her thumb she searches Bethany’s profile while trying not to be noticed. Lucy gets a confirmation that Bethany Jones is rated at 4.614. The first screen on her profile shows a montage of pictures of her ginger-coloured pet cat "Pancake" actually licking real pancakes on a plate. The next screen is another montage of Bethany holding the cat up to the camera while feeding it cream. The caption says "He likes sweet things". Down the right-hand side of the screen Bethany’s friends have been awarding the picture 4 or 5 stars.

Knowing that Bethany is a 4.6, Lucy tries to engage more with her. She adopts the same posture as "Beth" in the way she is standing and holding her handbag.

"How’s Pancake?" Lucy asks Beth, with a stupidly ingratiating facial expression.  

"He’s just the best," answers Beth, with a cringingly sentimental tone and expression. "He’s such a funny cat."  Lucy titters away at this. They are both now looking straight ahead and not making eye-contact. Lucy is busy swiping her phone with her thumb.

"You’re still at Hattan-Simpson?" Beth states as a question, while keeping her eyes straight ahead.

"Yeah," Lucy replies, "it’s going pretty great." she looks over, but Beth does not meet her eyes. 

"Good to hear," Beth says, while looking at the lift door.

"So … what brings you here?" Lucy asks.

Beth does not give Lucy time to finish her sentence, "I start a new job today," Beth says, "with Blackford-Harper." this time she turns her head to meet Lucy’s eyes directly.

"Wow" Lucy says, looking impressed. "Top floor?"

"Right," says Beth, looking superior. Lucy’s face falls a bit. "It’s great you’re still happy at Hattan Simpson" Beth says, not looking at Lucy.

"Well, maybe not forever …"

"It’s ok, but not forever?" Beth suggests.

"Not forever, but it’s great for now" replies Lucy, with a head-nod to emphasise the word "great".

6

Lucy sits at her desk in the open-plan office. Each work-space is part of an overall grid-system. The work-stations are separated by a partition and two people share a double-length work surface. Lucy sits next to another young woman who looks a lot like her, but she is wearing a pink frock, rather than beige, and her colleague has a hair band. The colour of the office-carpet is light mauve, and the partitions and walls are a slightly darker purple, but not too dark. The big screen on her desk shows pastel pie-charts and graphs and she is typing on a pink keyboard. Lucy has a nice clear glass of water sitting on her desk to the right of the screen and, off to the back of her desk, nearly out of view, lies a small, threadbare, teddy-bear. Lucy is allowed that personal item. She gently taps away on her keyboard with a vacant look on her face. Her phone is right next to her, sitting on a small pad. And this gives her comfort.

Her phone gently rings, in a subdued tone. Lucy’s eyes widen. She picks it up and, with her thumb, transfers her profile to the big desk-screen. The pie-charts and graphs disappear and her own personal profile displays on her monitor. The main picture is one of a cup of coffee; the photograph that she had taken earlier at the café.

On the top-left of the screen is says: Lucy Rado (4.267) - currently working at Hattan-Simpson (this is in smaller type, underneath her name). And then there is a smiling picture of the lady herself.  Below that is the headline: "Brushed Suede w/Cookie Heaven!" and the photo of her cup of coffee. Below the picture are the Featured Comments, from Brian her brother (one of those "drop the bomb" mornings), and Bethany Jones (feeling blessed with life today!!). 

Three people have ‘liked’ Brian’s comment, and seven people have ‘liked’ Bethany’s comment. There are other comments running down the right-hand side of her screen but they are not the ‘Top’ ones. Eleven people have rated her picture of the biscuit and cup so far. Nearly all are giving it five stars, and this pleases Lucy. Holly Stephens says "I love the little bite!  x"

Jayne Blanford gives Lucy’s photo a respectable four stars but, the down-marking, causes Lucy to pause and click on her profile. Jayne’s profile now fills the big screen. The profile heading is: Jayne Naomi Blanford (4.8). There is a video of an attractive blonde-haired young woman, about Lucy’s age, holding a big rabbit in her arms. Sara Blanford says: "Is this ball of fluff yours?!!!". Megan Edwards comments: "OMG!!! Sooooo cute…". Twenty-three others have rated the video. 
Jayne’s profile is full of glamorous pictures of herself, and shots of her performing yoga on the beach, and exercising in the gym, and horse-riding and the like. This makes Lucy feel a bit inadequate and so she reaches out for her teddy-bear and gives it a squeeze. She looks up from her screen and there is a young black guy standing there (Chester - rating: 3.1) with a tray full of blended drinks in large pink cups, each with two straws. He has an expectant look on his face.

"Lucy," Chester says, with a warm grin, "I’ve got you a smoothie. I’ve got one for everybody actually. There’s still a bunch of them for grabs." Lucy looks slightly wary at the offer because she has seen he is currently 3.1. Chester’s face falls a little in disappointment at her look. His expression gets slightly pleading. "They’re from the organic stall at the farmer’s market." he tries to ‘sell’ them better as he has a full tray.

"Sure, ok," Lucy says. But she doesn’t sound sure. And then she takes a smoothie from the tray. She glances over her partition. There are many eyes staring at her in disapproval. Lucy holds the smoothie but pauses. She is in tension at what to. She can’t last out and starts to drink through the straws while keeping eye-contact with Chester so as not to make him feel bad. "Mmmmm," she says. Others in the office have serious expressions on. Chester waits. "Oops," Lucy says, then picks up her phone and rates Chester by pointing her phone at him. There is relief on his face. "Thank you," he says, gratefully. "Thank you," he says again.

Lucy sips her smoothie but feel unsettled because of the looks she has received. She glances around to see if anybody is noticing. She hears a whispering voice. A young, chunky-set guy, with thick, short, black hair is leaning over the aisle from a desk opposite her. He has a light-purple shirt on, buttoned right up to the neck.

"We’re kinda not talkin’ to Chess," he says, in a quiet voice.

"Three point one? What happened?" Lucy whispers, in a conspiratorial tone, while leaning her head forward as far as she can.

"Him and Gordon split up."

"Awww" she sighs, "poor Chess" she looks over to Chester who is still peddling his smoothies to other staff but they are giving him the cold shoulder.

"No, no, no, we are all on Gordon’s side." he says firmly.

"Sure," Lucy says, doubtfully. "Obviously."

"Chess is an ass, and he’s trying to scrape himself back. Of course if he drops below 2.5 then it’s bye bye…" he points his phone at Chester, who has his back to him, in the distance, and down-rates him, with a mean look on his face. Chester hears the ping on his phone. He gets it out of his pocket and looks hurt. He looks down the aisle to see who pinged him. They both dive for cover behind their partitions.

7

Brian calls his sister Lucy to inform her that the landlord has leased their current place to a couple. And so she will have to find new accommodation soon. He’s already covered, of course. She finishes work early and takes a driverless taxi to a posh estate to meet up with a sales agent.

Lucy gets out of the cab, just outside the property to view. The neighbourhood looks really lovely and all the white houses appear perfect. She pings the car with her phone to make payment and then the pink-coloured cab whirrs away, following the road like a toy car. Even the smooth surface of the tarmac looks like it has been buffed and then painted black. All the gardens are pretty, and full of colourful flowers, and there does not seem to be a blade of grass out of place. Hedges are perfectly trimmed. Everything looks bright and fresh and wholesome.

"Soooo …. now we move into the Light Space area…" says a very attractive young women, with immaculately-groomed dark-brown hair, wearing a light purple dress that perfectly contours around her hour-glass figure. The agent elegantly walks into the house, with Lucy following along behind her.

Lucy is bedazzled by the expansive porch-like room, just off the patio, which serves as an entrance to the main house. This area has huge windows from ceiling to floor and contains a big glass table, surrounded with pastel chairs, and a modern sofa with lots of cushions. All the furniture colours are very light pinks or pastel blues. There are stylish glass ornaments, sitting on thin shelves, and on the main table surface. The lady agent has a beaming smile on her face giving her film-star looks. Lucy is a pretty women, and is well turned out, but she is almost looking a little dowdy in this environment.

"The Light Space area is ideal for special times, loved ones, great food, company …" the attractive agent walks around, gesturing elegantly with her arms. Lucy giggles with delight like a child in a candy store. They both pass through two huge support pillars into the kitchen area. Just off to the right is a fully-equipped gym, complete with all sorts of fancy equipment and exercise bicycles.

As they move into the kitchen the sales agent, in the gorgeous purple dress, holds up a remote control box and pings it. A hologram of Lucy, herself, appears behind the elongated kitchen work-surface. It looks pretty solid but is partially translucent. "Wow!" Lucy laughs out loud.

"We sampled your photo-stream to create her," say the lady sales-agent.

Looking at her hologram, now preparing a meal in the kitchen, grinning away like a TV commercial, Lucy says, "Wow, great hair."

"Styled, free of charge, at the members’ salon" says the agent, charmingly.

Next up, a three-dimensional hologram of a super-fit-looking, muscular, young black man, in white shorts, and no top, casually walks down the stairs and into the kitchen. Lucy giggles nervously and with excitement. The Lucy-hologram beams a smile at this man. The hologram man smiles back warmly, and stands behind the Lucy-hologram, and gently caresses her, holding his strong arms around her waste. The man-hologram gently kisses the neck of the Lucy-hologram.

"Ahhh, you like him?" says the agent.

"He’s ok …" Lucy’s wide-eyes betray her muted tone. She giggles.

At the kitchen work-surface, the man-hologram gently kisses the neck of the Lucy-hologram.

"Ahhh, you like him?" says the agent.

"He’s ok …" Lucy’s wide eyes betray her. She giggles coquettishly.

"He doesn’t come with the apartment. But there is a restaurant, on site, with an unparalleled match-making matrix for tenants only." the agent says, with a wry smile.

The hologram of Lucy and the Fit Guy are becoming more intimate as the real Lucy and the agent speak. Lucy’s holographic wooden spoon is becoming limp in her hand as her resistance is melting away. The real Lucy stares, transfixed, by the projected image of herself in the kitchen being caressed by her holographic lover.

They are both now sitting at a polished-glass table in the Light-Space area. "I’ve gotta say, these places are going fast," says the agent. "So don’t delay, if you are interested."

"Oh, I’m more than interested" says Lucy, with a serious face, and tone.

The agent has a sleek pink tablet-computer in her hands and she is tapping away on the screen. "Ok, a Standard Occupancy, on a minimum six months contract, we’re talking … this much." The agent swings around her tablet to show Lucy the rental figures. Lucy’s face falls.

"Eh, how often are the payments?" Lucy asks, with sadness in her tone.

"Weekly."

"Ok," Lucy says, with a nervous laugh, and a recovered smile.

"A little more than expected?" says the agent.

"Yes," Lucy sighs. Her face shows her disappointment.

"There’s options," says the agent, brightly. "You know our Prime Influencers Programme?"

"Do I qualify for that? Lucy says, hopefully.

"No," the agent says, abruptly. "No you don’t. We’d need you around a 4.5."

Lucy looks at the agent with incredulity. "A 4.5?"

"We give a 20 per cent discount for a 4.5."

Lucy stairs into the distance, considering this. She then leaves the agent and goes outside. As she walks along the perfect tarmac, she passes a billboard advert which says Limited Edition Living. On the billboard is a huge picture of Lucy and the Young Man from the Kitchen. They are both sitting a table having a romantic meal. The table has wine glasses and flowers on it. In the picture they are both gazing into each other’s eyes. Lucy stops on the street and gazes, longingly, at the image, and then she lets out a big sigh. As she walks away the Lucy part of the picture disappears to leave the space for someone else. What remains is just the man at the table.

8

In the evening, Lucy is eating some spaghetti at her kitchen table, skillfully using chopsticks. She has her pink tablet on a stand and she’s looking at Jayne Blanford’s profile.  The profile heading is: Jayne Naomi Blanford (4.841) Prime User. This is the attractive blonde-haired young woman, about Lucy’s age, who was holding a big rabbit in her arms in her video.

Jayne’s latest uploads show her flying in a helicopter, playing golf, and one entitled: "Beautiful Sunset" where she is kissing a guy called Paul Matheson on a beach. In all her uploads Jayne is always smiling and laughing. She looks at Paul’s profile and he is a 4.8. Lucy lets out a sigh.

Next to Lucy is a perfect-bound printed booklet-brochure for the Limited Edition Living Estate she had visited earlier. Her brother, Brian, walks over, and grabs it off the kitchen surface. He flips through it with scorn. "What is this?" he says, sarcastically, "a eugenics programme?" Lucy tries to grab it back off of him but he moves out of her reach.

"It’s a lifestyle community," Lucy says, a bit defensively, with slight embarrassment on her face. As she looks at Brian, an oval appears over his head giving hime a rating of 3.7. Meanwhile Brian is looking at cheesy pictures in the brochure, of glamorous people with beaming smiles.

"No one is this happy," he points at the photographs. "A two-year-old with a f*cking balloon isn’t this happy," he asserts, crudely.

Lucy stands up, and puts her hands on her hips. "It’s actually a pretty cool place." she says, with mild defiance. Brian has a smirk on his smug face.

It’s actually a pretty cool place," Lucy says.

With a smirk, Brian replies, "Like you’d even qualify."

Lucy decides to book an appointment with a Reputation-analyst. The next day she enters the building of RepuScore. As she is walking down the corridor there is a couple walking quickly past her, towards the exit, with the lady in tears, and the man looking inconsolable. Trailing the distressed couple is a man with a clipboard who is pleading with them, and shouting that "there is nothing I can do about it, I’m sorry."

9

"Well, it’s not hopeless, you are clearly a triumph," says the analyst. They are in a small square room with a thin carpet and thick, padded, walls. They are sitting face-to-face on comfortable swivel chairs. The analyst is crossed-legged and looks relaxed. He is neatly dressed and is wearing a tie. He has a clip-board on his knee. Lucy is sitting upright in her chair. Beside her is a small round table with a glass of water on it. To the side is a huge monitor which takes up most of the wall. Underneath the screen is a large air-conditioning vent. On the centre of the big screen is a smiling picture of Lucy and her rating of 4.269.

In a confident and refined voice, the analyst says to Lucy, "If we drill down into the numbers you have a solid popularity arc." On the screen Lucy’s face moves up to the top-left corner and the whole screen fills up with a graph that appears to be steadily rising upwards. "You have a strong overall trajectory" he says, "let’s just look at the last 24 hours…" He controls the graphics by just slightly waving his hand. "At 8.45am you’re working hard on your socials." He refers to a spike on the graph. "A great little uptake there." Lucy looks pleased. "There’s a couple of minor dings there," as he swipes into later in the day, maybe you cut somebody off in traffic?"

Lucy looks a bit apologetic, no it was just a … eh … workplace thing." He gives her a reassuring grin.

"Let’s have a look at your Sphere of Influence, let me just zoom out here." A whole load of bubbles, with faces in them, appear on the screen. "Great peripherals," he says. "Strangers like you, that’s a plus. You have a healthy inner circle. That’s good."

"Thank you." Lucy has a very warm smile on her face after all this positive stroking.

"You have great peripherals in your sphere of influence and a healthy inner circle too. You’ve got a bit to go, but 4.5 is certainly achievable," the analyst says, with a smile.

"How long do you think?" asks Lucy.

"Well, barring a major set-back, a public-disgrace kinda deal, I’d say, eighteen months or so." he answers, with honesty.

"Oh, I need more short term, like … much more." Lucy laughs, nervously.

"Then you’ll need a boost," he wisely informs her.

Lucy’s voice goes up a notch in pitch. "What kind of a boost?" There is query in her face.

"Well, most of your interactions are confined to your inner circle …" The analyst zooms out the bubbles on the screen by waving his hand. "… and they are, pardon the term, mid to low-range people. Same as your outer circle. You’ve got a ton of reciprocal five stars from service-industry workers, but not much else. At least, as far as I can see." Lucy’s face shows that these statistics are sinking in and this is making her think about who she should be associating with. "And so, in terms of quality," he continues, "… you could use a punch-up, right there. Ideally, that’s up-votes, from quality people."

"Quality people?" she affirms.

"Yes, high fours. Gain velocity on your arc, and there’s your boost."

10

The next morning …

Lucy is out for her early-morning run. She has a pale blue jogging-suit on. As she pounds the tarmac, puffing away with the effort, she has her phone out in front of her and she’s swiping through profiles. A short while later she is at the café, looking bright and cheerful. She exchanges friendly smiles, and positive ratings, with Jack, the barista and various acquaintances in the cafeteria area. She is wearing a light mauve blouse and a pink skirt. She walks with a spring in her step. Her deep red hair wisps around her in the breeze. She passes a man who sitting at a table.

"You look great today Lucy," he says.

Lucy turns her head around, and thanks the man, and then she pings him five stars. As she turns back around she almost bumps into a tall black man, in a pale blue suit. It is Chester, and he has no tie on, over a buttoned-up white shirt. He has a worried look on his face.

"The door won’t open," Chester says, clutching his phone. "I’m on 2.4."

"Sorry, Chess, I’m late," Lucy replies, and rushes by him to the building entrance-doors.

Chess tries to follow Lucy through the glass door. "I just need some stars, please!" he shouts after her. The automatic doors close on his face. He cannot get into the building where he works. He stands outside, with a desperate look on his face, and tears in his eyes.

Outside, Chester is looking in at Lucy, through the glass, while she is standing inside the building, by the lift doors. While waiting, Lucy is scrolling through profiles on her phone. The lift doors open.

Bethany Jones (4.6) is standing inside the elevator, immaculately dressed in a tailored blue jacket and skirt. Beth is thumbing through her phone. Her light brown hair is neatly tied back in a bun. They great each other with exaggerated, and insincere "Hi, it’s good to see you," and then they both stare ahead.

Lucy tries to engage more with her. "How’s it going at Hattan-Simpson?"

"Just great," Beth answers while keeping her eyes straight ahead.

There follows an awkward silence as they both say nothing and look straight ahead. Lucy breaks the silence by holding up a paper bag to Beth.

"Would you like a croissant?" she says to Beth. "They gave me an extra at the coffee place."

"No, I … eh …" Beth doesn’t finish her sentence but just dismisses the gesture with a wave of her hand. It becomes silent again and they both look straight ahead. And then the doors open at level 8. Lucy walks out into the hallway, while Beth remains, to go up to the top level. They both put on grins and ping each other with their phones. When the doors close, Lucy checks the rating she has been given from Beth and her face looks surprised, and disappointed. Beth has only given her 3 Stars.