Author: David Barber

“The procedure is not an estimate of your lifespan,” the voice said. “It is not like actuary tables. Nor will it tell you the cause of your death. All living things follow a trajectory in time which the scan tracks to the moment of your death. You can ask to know that date.”

Frank was here because of Amy. Amy was here because of cancer. For her, remission was like waiting under an anvil that hung by a thread, and she thought the Fate Scan would take away that uncertainty.

The idea of death left Frank in a panic, so at first he refused to talk about it. Then he embarrassed himself with a councillor.

“Look, it’s not about me being in charge,” he told the woman. “She just makes wrong choices!”

Amy and the counsellor exchanged a look.

Over the years, silicon had interacted less and less with flesh. We were like a divorcing couple sharing a house until one moved out. With a lot of resentment on our part. Then recently silicon had announced a process the media took to calling a Fate Scan.

“The procedure is already complete,” the voice said. “But the results will be withheld until I am satisfied you understand the consequences of knowing the outcome.”

They sat in a room that was all milky white glass, except for the huge mirrored sphere, hovering without visible means of support.

If silicon wanted to reassure people, they had misjudged badly.

“Are there any questions?”

Frank tore his gaze from the fun-house mirror reflections of themselves and glanced at Amy. She was intent on the sphere, though the voice came from all round them.

He couldn’t help himself. “So, this scan of yours is never wrong?”

“All living things have a trajectory in time which the procedure follows to its end. An analogy would be a security camera in this room. At some point the camera records you leaving. Do you doubt the camera could do that correctly?”

Frank was about to argue but Amy gripped his arm.

“Everything you have done and will do has a trajectory with a beginning and an end. It is a view of time you have yet to grasp.”

“The Appointment in Samarra,” murmured Amy.

There was a silence. Frank didn’t get it, but he wasn’t going to admit that.

“Are there any questions?”

“It’d be the same date even if you weren’t scanned then,” he declared.

“That is correct.”

“Then why…”

“Because knowing,” Amy interrupted. “You might choose to live your life differently.”

“So what’s in it for your sort? I mean, something’s going on here.”

Amy knew the signs. She could hear him getting angry.

“We offer the procedure because we always did. As I said, a concept of time you do not grasp.”

“I think we’re your lab rats…”

“The procedure is voluntary.”

“Sure, for now.”

“Frank, please.”

“Do you both wish to be told your dates?”

“No!” and “Just me,” said Frank and Amy over each other.

Frank went to wait outside, though there were some parting shots before he left.

He was slouching by the car. He didn’t look angry now, in fact Amy thought he looked scared.

“Hey, where you going?” he called when he saw her hesitate, then turn away.

To live my life differently, she thought.