“Welcome to the United Worlds Judicature. Kuiper Courts of Health are administered and regulated by the Solarian laws of the Ministry of Health and Longevity. Please note that all our sessions are recorded and may be accessed by the allocated attorneys in your trial.”
I stared quietly at the hologram of the young woman standing in front of me. She didn’t look old enough to be conducting a hearing. She was dressed more like a sales representative than an adjudicator: a sharply ironed white shirt, and a tight grey skirt skimming her knees. Even the golden stripes on her collar failed to convey authority; they were more like stylish accessories on her.
I felt irritated by the Ministry adopting a youthful image in every possible department. A ministry wasn’t supposed to act like an advertising agency; it was an administrative body.
As the holographic lady glowed, the room revealed itself. Its decor was certainly not suited to legal affairs. The only pieces of furniture I could see were a long metal desk like an operating table, and a rigid, uncomfortable-looking metal chair with a short back.
The hologram-lady spoke again, with excellent human intonation. “Please state your full name, along with your title.”
“Doctor—” I said, and stopped. I cleared my throat and started again, trying to sound as authoritative as I could. “Doctor Torren Ronin.”
The hologram-lady’s expression remained flat. I doubted if she realised who I was. Perhaps she hadn’t yet been updated with the latest news. I was quite sure that she was capable of expressing emotions—even half-a-century-old holograms were.
She looked like a recent upgrade—I knew the rule of thumb was the newer the model, the more details. I could see a small scar on her left eyebrow—as if she could ever cut herself—and I could even hear this particular upgrade taking a short breath before she spoke. It was worrying how holograms were becoming more and more human.
Apart from the glow, there weren’t any other obvious giveaways that she wasn’t a real human. Maybe her skin and hair…she was a bit too pallid, and even though she had dark brown hair, it was rather lustreless. Perhaps that’s why all the holograms dressed in shades of grey: if they were to wear vivid colours, their pale features would stand out even more.
“Please state how you would prefer to be addressed,” she said.
“Doctor Ronin,” I replied.
“Doctor Ronin, my name is Sheeran Hund. I’m a Category-M Class-B judiciary conductor. I specialise in handling cases in conjunction with the Human Lifespan Law.”
I recognised the hint of warning in her voice. She was reminding me that she was highly trained in medicine as well as law, so I wouldn’t be able to get away with any medical subterfuge.
“Please look at the white dot on your left for an iris scan, Doctor Ronin.”
I waited for the holographic dot to appear on my left, reminding myself that the Ministry of Health was more concerned about the safety of their systems than speed. When it did finally pop out, I stared at it, as still as the hologram-lady herself.
With an affirmative beep, my iris scan was confirmed.
“Now please direct your wrist towards the same dot for your i-code scan.”
I reached down to my lab coat to unbutton it. My generation didn’t have their i-codes lasered onto their wrists, but rather onto their neck; mine was closer to my collar bone. I was proud of having my i-code where it was—it meant that I was one of the last to be ‘born’ into this world. I wasn’t conceived in a lab with a permission slip issued in my parents’ names. I hadn’t spent the first nine months of my life in a minute incubator. I was born—just like our ancestors had been for all those millennia.
But I was surprised to see that I wasn’t wearing my lab coat as usual. Instead I had apparently put on a white shirt and some grey trousers—which I couldn’t even remember owning. There was no point wasting time pondering any longer. I opened my shirt collar and turned to the holographic dot on my left. A green laser sliced the darkness in two and scanned my i-code.
I knew that my identification had been confirmed after another affirmative beep. The holographic dot vanished into thin air, quicker than it had appeared.
“Thank you, Doctor Ronin,” said Ms Hologram. She walked around the metal table and pulled out the only chair. She sat down. I couldn’t help but wince slightly: seeing holograms moving real objects always disturbed me.
“In accordance with the conditions provided by the Kuiper Courts of Health, you have the right to terminate this session any time you wish. You may do so by pressing the red button on your right armrest. Are you ready to proceed now?”
“Doctor Ronin, today we are here to clarify a fact brought to our attention by HRDS. The Healthcare Reporting and Delivery System has recorded 5.4 per cent of patients requiring emergency-level intervention within 14 days of using your services: that is 17 patients out of the 312 you have seen in the last month. Could you explain this figure, please?”
I was watching Ms Hologram’s left eyebrow. If that cut hadn’t been there, she would have looked flawless. I wondered if this was another strategy developed by the Ministry to make holograms even more human. If they were now including flaws in their design, were we to have uglier, older or crippled holograms soon?
Ms Hologram—or rather, Ms Hund, as they had named her—was probably older than me anyway. She undoubtedly had a longer lifespan than me. I questioned how fair it was on us humans to be questioned, taxed, fined and even arrested by computer software which we’d developed and which lived longer than us.
“Doctor Ronin? Do you have any comments?”
“Ms Hund.” I raised my voice. I was getting annoyed with her impatience. “I completed my medical training at the age of 20. For the last 17 years, I’ve been an active healthcare practitioner, a scientist and a lecturer. I’ve served on four different continents on this planet, always with an A-level achievement score. If you were to download the latest news, you would see my name as one of the winners of the prestigious Cornels Science Prize for Academic Excellence. I have dedicated my life to this cause, and I am planning to pursue the same route for the three remaining years of my life. Now, are you really accusing me of not caring enough for my patients?”
“I apologise, Doctor Ronin. Our concern is not of not caring enough—indeed, it is quite the opposite: we are worried about you caring too much.”
I was puzzled by her words. “What exactly are you trying to say, Ms Hund?”
She placed her fingers on the metal table carefully and looked at them one by one, as if she were counting facts in her head. “Doctor Ronin…’ She paused. ‘A doctor of experience would unquestionably know that some of these patients were to be admitted to the Quarantine Wards. Allow me to show you what I mean.”
A holographic screen appeared on my left, showing the data of one of my patients. Ms Hund read out loud, “R. Conas. Male. Age: 26. Medium level of inherited inclination for substance addiction and a high level of potential mood disorder. Medical history includes: inconsistent cardiovascular activity and a limited lung capacity due to an unspecified birth defect. Medical offences: smoking and livestock consumption. Past treatments have involved intense rehabilitation and Type-2 supplementation on a daily basis. Admitted to the Quarantine Wards four times. Taken into custody twice. Jailed once, because of tobacco possession. He was released on probation and scheduled to see you on a weekly basis. However, you, Doctor…issued this patient a Green Medical Pass after his first visit.”
“I had to,” I said. “Mr Conas’s older sister was due her Last Sleep. She was his only living relative. I issued Mr Conas with a temporary Green Pass for him to visit his sister. Without the pass, he wouldn’t have been able to travel to another Solarian province.”
“Doctor Ronin, I can empathise with your concern for Mr Conas’s circumstances—however, you must be aware of the regulations against such procedures. Solarian Law article 1747 section 1-b specifies that no Green Medical Cards are to be issued to any patient unless that patient has had a clean track record for three months.”
“I’m certainly aware of the Healthcare Law, Ms Hund. In this particular case, there was an exemption clause that covered Mr Conas’ circumstances.”
“May I ask which clause that was?”
“Legislation 79118/5: Mr Conas has less than three months to live.”
Ms Hund rapidly scanned the data which began to flow across the holographic screen on my left. “Our records state that Mr Conas has three years, eleven days and five hours before his Last Sleep.”
“Then you must update your records more often. Mr Conas has a lung defect which will cause his demise earlier.”
“Doctor Ronin, can you please confirm that you have submitted this information to HRDS?”
“I should have done that, Ms Hund, but as you know, we practitioners have the flexibility to report within 7 days if we’re working away from the office—and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week.”
I took pleasure in watching Ms Hologram express a human emotion for the first time: frustration.
She continued, irritated, “Doctor Ronin, I hope you understand that you cannot use the same excuse for 17 cases.”
“Yes, I do understand that.”
“Well, Doctor, you don’t leave us with any other option. I will have to refer your case to the FYS Judgement Team.”
“Ms Hund,” I snapped, “this case—or any other such case you might bring up—has no link to FYS in any way.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I believe there is enough evidence here to start an FYS investigation. It is a common problem, especially in the medical profession. Dealing with your own kind’s weaknesses and short lifespan from one day to another will almost inevitably affect your own mental state.”
“Then can you explain why you rejected your own Retirement Plan, Doctor Ronin?”
“That has nothing to do with this case, or FYS.”
“It has a lot to do with FYS, Doctor. It is a fact that 87 per cent of doctors who have been diagnosed with FYS reject their Retirement Plans.”
“I was born on this planet, Ms Hund! Do you know what that means? I was born—conceived—here, and I have spent all my life working on this planet, serving my own race. I would rather lose five years of my life and die here, at home, than meet my end rotting on another planet full of ghostly holograms or mucus-leaking humanoids. You cannot use my personal choice of where I’d like to die as evidence for the existence of a made-up illness. Final Years Syndrome is a disorder invented solely to retire humans who are fed up with handing their own race over to non-existent creatures like you! I refuse to be a part of this screwed-up system—and that is why I rejected my so-called Retirement Plan. It’s we who created you, Ms Hund—and yes, we are the same race who ruined this planet in the process! We don’t have the resources to support ourselves anymore, so what do we do? We put our own race to sleep at the age of 40 so that our children can also enjoy life for 40 years—and, yes, God damn it, we don’t or can’t touch you, because you don’t consume any of our precious resources, because you cost less and serve well! But may I remind you, Ms Hund, you owe your nonexistent existence to humans like me!”
“And I would like to remind you, Doctor Ronin, that my ‘nonexistent existence’ will survive beyond your grandchildren’s existence,” she said, and turned towards the holographic screen floating on my left. “Decision made: In accordance with Human Lifespan Act article 213449 section 8-f, I refer case number 847983 to the FYS Judgement Team—”
The screen was automatically typing everything she said. I heard alarms coming from every corner of the room. A male voice began to bark out a sentence again and again: Soundproofing has been cancelled. Soundproofing has been cancelled. Soundproofing has been cancelled.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. I pressed the red button on my chair.
“Congratulations, Ms Hund,” a male voice called.
I couldn’t see who was talking; my vision was blocked by a bulky headset. When I lifted the headset, I found myself in a completely different room. I looked around to remind myself of where I was; I was at the Simulation Lab. My consciousness had been switched with that of a defendant, so that I could see myself as the prosecutor. This was my second time taking the same test in the same simulator, but being in Doctor Ronin’s skin was a totally different experience. His vision helped me understand why I’d previously failed the test.
“Ms Hund?” called my senior, Mr Rame.
“Yes, Mr Rame. I’m with you,” I said, pulling the electrodes off my chest. I fastened the top two buttons of my shirt and placed the headset back onto its unit.
Mr Rame examined me with his coppery eyes. “You have some remarkable scores here, Ms Hund. You seem not only to experience anger in its human purity, but you also control it rather successfully. Your empathy levels are also worth a mention. However, there is one area that I think needs attention.”
“What is that, Mr Rame?”
He looked down for a moment, and then said, “I assume you know why you were asked to retake this test?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“You understand why you were given one of our most celebrated scientists’ templates as a skin? Doctor Ronin had a huge positive impact on humankind—indeed, some of his methods are still taught in medical institutions today.”
“Yes, sir, I know. I am honoured to have seen the world from such an influential human’s point of view.”
“You have also heard of Doctor Ronin’s notorious pride, then.”
He paused for a short while, as if contemplating how he should continue. “Your scores are almost impeccable, Ms Hund, but you must be careful when dealing with feelings of pride. It is not one of those positive human emotions that the Ministry accommodates. Your tendency towards pride was also highlighted in your previous result; that’s why you were asked to retake the test with Doctor Ronin’s template. We wanted to see how you handled this challenge.”
“I understand, sir,” I said. I fixed my eyes on a random spot on the floor. I waited quietly for his verdict.
“It’s important to relate to human emotions, Ms Hund, but it’s more important to remember that we’re civil servants with a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. Adopting the dark side of human nature can be highly destructive. Even though you’ve successfully handled a challenging skin in Doctor Ronin’s, I would advise you to be wary of your pride under all circumstances. I assume we understand each other.”
I nodded eagerly. I had detected the friendly tone of his voice.
“I guess I should offer you the first human handshake and welcome you as an official adjudicator for Kuiper Courts of United Worlds Judicature,” he said. “Welcome aboard!”