Author: Samantha Kelly
Jac entered the cafeteria, tapping her ID bracelet against the sensor. She waited for the machine to calculate an ideally nutritious meal. Once it arrived, Jac took her tray and sat at the end of one of the tables. The other paramedics were in the middle of conversation and Jac knew it’d be a few more months on the job before she developed the same easy rapport. Instead she just listened as the conversation turned to the gala the night before, to celebrate ten years of MediCorp going public.
“The old man just loves the sound of his own voice.” Hector Serrano said, rolling his eyes. “Good champagne though, I’ll give him that.”
Jac possessed none of the same cynicism as her colleague. Quite the contrary, she had found Mr Nazari’s speech inspiring. That the rates of abuse to paramedics had decreased over 300%, thanks to the mech program? It was amazing news. But before she could say anything, the bell sounded to call the paramedics back to work.
Jac’s final patient of the night was Marie Taylor – a smoker and heavy drinker. She had enhancements, but older models, not well maintained. Currently in the latter stages of heart failure. Jac started chest compressions with hands that would never tire. Hands that were not her own, but that she controlled down to the twitch of a finger. She’d never had trouble with the mech, in the way other paramedics did. Piloting came naturally to her. But compressions weren’t going to be enough. Marie Taylor’s heart needed to be shocked. Jac pulled up the interface and switched the mech to its defibrillation mode. And nothing happened.
Normally, the toughened casing of the mech’s hands would light up an electric blue, to signify that the device was working. But there was no colour change. Jac pressed the hands to Marie Taylor’s chest, hoping it was just a problem with the indicator. Lightly at first, and then with increased pressure. Still nothing. Jac brought up a diagnostic menu, but everything seemed to be working correctly. Until a note came up on the assessment. ‘Insurance discontinued – untreatable.’ And then Jac could only watch until Marie Taylor was gone.
Her office appeared as Jac ripped the headset off, allowing it to fall to her desk with a thud. She focused her gaze on the potted geraniums her parents had given her to celebrate her first day, while breathing in and out for counts of four. And then Jac brought up the recording of her call on the monitor. She watched it over and over, hoping it would show something different. Marie Taylor had been in a dark zone when Jac was called, which meant the only light came from the reds and blues of the ambulance. It made things difficult to see, but not impossible. And what she saw was that nothing appeared to be amiss. Apart from the obvious, horrifying fact that she could not provide any treatment to the woman in front of her until she died, and that seemed to be intentional.
A search confirmed Jac’s worst fears. Marie Taylor was not the only patient deemed ‘untreatable.’ In the ten years since the mech program launched, thousands of patients had died due to lack of insurance. And where a human might be moved to treat them anyway, a mech could be programmed against that sort of sentimentality. Suddenly, Mr Nazari’s speech didn’t seem quite so inspirational. It sounded more like a cover up, Jac thought as she sat in her office in silence, allowing her next call to ring out.
It’s my hope that more automation can continue to bring costs down so that it can be cheaper to have a safety net for the poor. I appreciate all the short stories showing a dystopian future where it’s still important to continue the best of humanity – including compassion and questioning authority.