Author: Mark Wallace

Peter was on edge as he walked down the corridor to his apartment. It had been a routine day at work in the Public Communications Office, but on the walk home his nose had started to feel a little stuffy, and a sense of foreboding filled him.

His apartment door swung gently open as Peter approached. He paused in the red light that filled his doorway as the obligatory daily Notifiable Diseases Test was conducted. A new flu, Crescent Virus J, had just been declared notifiable. The light flashed green and he gave a sigh of relief and entered.
“Good evening, Peter,” came a disembodied voice, clear, clipped, and female.
“Evening, Ariel,” said Peter, flopping down on the sofa.
After a few seconds, the voice of Arial returned: “Would you like me to put on dinner?”
“No thanks, Ariel. I’m not hungry. Ask me again in an hour.”
“Sure, Peter.”
After a few more seconds of silence, Ariel spoke again: “Peter.”
“Your blood pressure is a little high. Is everything ok?”
“Yes. Just a tough day at work.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“No, it’s fine. I just need some rest.”
“If you need to talk, I’m here. You know that everything you tell me will be in the strictest confidentiality. Nothing you tell me will ever be repeated, except to the proper authorities and then only when such disclosure is in the interests of the common good.”
“I know, Ariel, but I don’t need to talk about it. I just need to rest.”
“Sure, Peter.”

Peter closed his eyes and lay in silence for a few seconds, trying to calm himself and control his breathing. Then Ariel spoke: “Your heart rate is 15 bpm higher than normal at this time of evening.”
“Thanks, Ariel.”
“Would you like to take any action?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I recommend the administration of SigmaGluc12 in this situation.”
“What is that?”
“It is a compound designed to work both on the bloodstream and in the neurons. It decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and the type of neuronal activity that has been shown to often contribute to these symptoms. If you like, I can show you a presentation from Dr. Cynthia Twisler of the National University on the workings of SigmaGluc12. She is the leading expert in the field.”
“No, thanks. I think I’ll leave it. Give it a few minutes.”
“Ok, Peter,” said Ariel.

In the silence, Peter began to shift uneasily. After a few minutes, he said: “Ariel, did you send a report?”
“What report are you referring to?”
“About my heart rate or blood pressure. Just now.”
“All instances of uncharacteristically elevated hr and bp where the subject does not accept the prescription must be reported to the Ministry of the Common Good. Purely a standard measure.”
“What happens then?”
“The report is sent through the relevant channels in the Ministry.”
“Which channels?”
“If you like I can read you the relevant section of the Prevention of Harm Act which deals with this measure.”
“No, it’s ok,” said Peter. He knew that that long and impenetrable Act would not give an answer. He had edited part of it.

He didn’t know how much Ariel knew, or where her report had gone. His Notifiables Test had been green, but had it really? He fell into silence, and an uneasy sleep haunted by dreams of approaching sirens and knocks at the door. He remained dimly, troublingly conscious of slight nasal stuffiness.