9

I think I read this story in an issue of Analog from sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s. English language. I don't think I recognized the author's name from any books I had read at the time, but I don't recall any more than that (not even whether the author seemed to be male or female). I have no idea what the title was. But I think I remember the general plot pretty well, so here goes!

Plot Points

  1. The setting appears to be the "near future" -- which, at that time, probably meant some time in the 21st Century. The protagonist is a hard-working young woman. She has just inherited a very large house from her late uncle. And, I believe, at least some money to go with it. She is pleased by this legacy, because she constantly has actuarial statistics running through her head regarding how one circumstance or another (usually things beyond her effective control) is likely to chop so many hours, days, months, and/or years off her probable life expectancy. I think calculating such things may have been part of her day job, or it may just have been that most people in this future society were constantly aware of those statistics and adjusted their behavior accordingly. I'm not sure to what extent she was a "typical citizen" in that regard.

  2. As I recall, a man greets her at the entrance to the mansion, starts showing her around -- and is stunned when, after he opens some doors to the large indoor swimming pool, she takes one horrified glimpse at all that water, panics, and runs away from that room. She runs because the figures going through her head from years of practice (she may have worked for a government statistics office, or an insurance company, or something similar) instantly tell her that a sudden unexpected encounter with so much deep water is likely to knock off, let's say, 25 years (or whatever the "official statistic" may have been) from her life expectancy. She glumly reflects that she'll be lucky if the calculated positive benefits from this windfall of an inheritance are enough to cancel out the sudden negative impact of coming so close to so much deep water. (By this time, I was pretty sure that some or all of those scary numbers constantly running through her head had been grossly miscalculated by whomever was supposed to be issuing those official statistics.)

  3. However, I believe the protagonist agrees -- after she calms down -- to spend the night in a bedroom in that house. (Residing in it for a time may have been one of the terms of the inheritance; I'm not sure.) Sometime during the night, I believe she awakens (or had failed to fall asleep), begins moving quietly through the house, and sees, and/or hears, two or more men talking to each other in conspiratorial tones. I don't recall precisely what they say, but it quickly becomes clear they are deliberately keeping something secret from her . . . for the time being . . . because it would terribly upset her if she knew all about it, right now. That discovery is enough to arouse her worst fears.

  4. Somehow they become aware of her eavesdropping. She runs for it, zipping right past the aforementioned pool, and at one point she shoves a man into the pool, with relevant numbers running through her head. Probably something to the effect that being struck by unexpected violence, plus falling into water while wearing a full set of clothes to weight you down, plus the water being deeper than you are tall, etc., ought to take at least a thousand years off a person's life expectancy! (I'm pretty sure that was the approximate figure.)

Note: My "willing suspension of disbelief" was throwing in the towel at this point. How could being shoved into a swimming pool possibly knock a thousand years off a man's probable life expectancy unless he was, y'know, already expected to live at least that long in the first place? Which didn't seem to be the case in the apparently near-future setting of this story. Nor did our female protagonist appear to think anybody she knew was likely to live that long. (Her wealthy old uncle was not stated or implied to have lived for several centuries before he recently dropped dead.)

  1. Someone manages to catch up with her and physically restrain her before she can drive away from the house. (Not sure if she even made it into her car.) The protagonist is very surprised when the guy she pushed into the water turns up again, soaking wet but looking perfectly healthy. The conspirators swear that they mean her no harm; they just weren't sure how to start breaking the news to her about what her uncle had been heavily involved in. During the subsequent discussion which is forced upon her, I think the wet guy says something like this: "You thought I was dead, didn't you?" The protagonist thinks it over, then agrees that yes, that was her basic assumption after their little fracas, because how could he possibly continue to be a threat to her after having a millennium knocked off his life expectancy in the blink of an eye?

  2. As you might guess, the "conspiracy" has something to do with a plan to find a way to persuade the common people that all this nonsense about "playing this vigorous sport will take several years off your life expectancy, guaranteed!" and so on and so forth, is wildly inaccurate and only adds disgusting amounts of unnecessary stress to people's lives. (The protagonist's own constantly-stressed-out condition being a prime example.) I think there may have been a supercomputer (or something high-tech) in the uncle's house which was meant to be used for that purpose, but the details of their plan to change social attitudes completely elude my recollection at this late date. By the end of the story, however, the protagonist has been persuaded to try to help continue her uncle's efforts.

I now find myself mildly curious about the author's identity, and what else he or she may have written since then. (In all fairness to that author, I also wonder if I've forgotten, or failed to notice at the time, some subtlety which would cause that thousand-year figure to make a little more sense.) Does anyone recognize this story?

8

Extra Ellies by Julia Ecklar. Google book snippets:

Ina Kohill manually landed her mover where the transit tube widened at late Uncle Trenner's private node.

[...]

As she realized they were pushing her toward the dim blue entry to the swimming area, her mind could only focus on the fact that there was something very, very wrong here. (kidnapping: 90% galaxy-wide end in death; negative 2,734.67 years)

[...]

You lose nearly 1 ,000 years of life expectancy every time you have an encounter with a swimming pool.

  • Excellent answer. Can I ask how you found it? – FuzzyBoots Feb 7 at 11:28
  • 1
    @FuzzyBoots thank you. Yes, of course: searching for "swimming pool" life expectancy subject:"science fiction" in Google Books brought up that third snippet, searching inside the book I found character's name was Ina Kohill, and searching for that brought up author's name and then I looked at the list of her works on isfdb.org. – Ayshe Feb 7 at 12:57
  • @Ayshe Thank you; I do believe you found it. Funny thing is that I remember trying a very similar search before I went to the trouble of typing out that plot summary from memory, and I somehow failed to get a red-hot lead on the story. (A key difference could be that I didn't specifically focus the search in Google Books.) ISFDB indicates the story has never been reprinted in book form, which means I won't be able to reread it unless I run across a copy of that magazine issue again. – Lorendiac Feb 8 at 0:09

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