The talent was stored in glass vials, a class A controlled substance. The FDA regulated it heavily, fining doctors for excessive prescriptions and keeping the drug company on a short promotional leash. This was not to be available to the general populace; in fact, this was not to be known of by the general populace. Talent must be a rare thing. If too many people are talented, talent becomes commonplace and the prescription must be increased. It’s a slippery slope, said the ethics committee. They likened it to heroin, suggesting that an entire society could develop a tolerance for the substance.

There were slight variations in the chemical makeup of the talent serums. The qualities that make a good singer are not the qualities that make a good writer, and the enhancements reflected that. Some raised reasoning, allowing for quicker logic associations. Others weakened the neurological scripts that bound ideas together, easing the creation of symbolic connections for artists. Bodily coordination was enhanced, the capacity for language was enhanced. The serums were not offered to those without promise; they were offered to those who had already demonstrated natural aptitude.

The child’s fingers were light on the piano keys, filling the room with watery music. His rendition was criticized for its rhythm, the hesitancy with which the notes followed one another and merged, slightly off, like unsteady footsteps in soft sand that were licked away by the indifferent sea. This was never a piece about triumph, he told the reporter after the recital. The media criticized him for his unpopular interpretation, but the doctors rejected him for choosing the piece itself. A true artist would have created his own sonata, rather than recycling the ideas of a long-dead composer. It showed a lack of initiative, a lack of creativity. He was not a good candidate for talent.

Everything that can be accomplished has been accomplished already, the pharmaceutical company’s internal memo said. We’ve reached the limits of our natural skill, and true innovation is no longer feasible. In the first-year anniversary of the serum’s release, the company held an internal dinner. The CEO shook the hand of each member of the development team, smiling broadly, proudly. “Congratulations,” he said. “You may be the best artists of the century.”