“It’s OK. You don’t have to be a tough guy all the time,” his mother spoke softly.
“I tried to take care of it,” Jax sighed.
“No one can change these things, and I can’t believe you kept this secret for so long.”
“Didn’t want to worry you, Mom.”
He knew this day was coming, but never expected it to be so soon. Sleep eluded him over the past several weeks as he waited with growing fearfulness. He could think of nothing else. His mind struggled to clear his now clouded thoughts. It just wasn’t working.
Yet, here he was, and there was no way for him to escape his fate, rushing to consume him. His mother, looking as if the world were ending, drove him to the court. He rather wished to be alone in his misery. She blamed herself , and that guilt suffocated him, like a heavy blanket shrouding his face. Her silence now echoed in his ears, like a dark scream filling his mind.
The traffic inched forward mimicking a powerless tram, beneath the cloudless gray morning sky. He barely perceived the horns blaring around them. Once they arrived at the district legal complex, his mother parked in the ages old garage behind the looming, ancient courthouse. As she scampered out of the driver’s seat into the bitter air, she struck the adjacent red, electric car with her over-sized brown satchel bag that she carried with her everywhere. He often asked what she lugged around inside. She always told him files, but he could not imagine anything that would not fit on their electronic databases provided them courtesy of their government. And sunflower seeds. She was never without her favorite snack. Oddly, it reminded him of her personality; always bright and looking at the sunny side of things. Now, however, her usual cheerfulness dimmed, and he could feel her shivers of fear.
Many people marveled at the capabilities of the electronic devices issued to each one of them when they turned twelve. It was mandated that each person keep their own device on their being at all times. They all knew it remotely collected data from the transcutaneous microchips implanted into their back at birth.
Most no longer cared as long as it didn’t affect them.
Jax did care , and it did affect him. He tried to hide his lung dysfunction from the world, or at least his own elected officials. However, one day in gym class, when he had been in high school, his sensor picked up a drop in the forced vital capacity in his lungs and they knew. His own doctor who was assigned to him at birth didn’t act very concerned. Yet, he was added to the chronic disease registry and forced to comply with the protocol.
He avoided the court call for several years but, unfortunately, an allergy to his neighbor’s dog sent him into a major asthma attack. The medics came, and he felt better after the nebulizers, but not before the authorities were made aware by an automatic transmission sent by his implanted transmitter. He was required to have one since his decreased lung capacity was detected.
That was his only asthma attack. He never had one before or one since. Yet, it was enough. Being excluded from pursuing a college education was bad enough. While many others didn’t think it fair that he wasn’t allowed a higher education just based on a predisposition to asthma, the government thought it too risky to cover the costs of any scholarly pursuits. And everyone remained silent because college was now free for all, unless the government excluded you based on one of their seemingly gazillion restrictions.
According to his overall governmental health score, he was allowed to work at a public library in town. Because all books were now electronic, his job consisted mostly of helping little kids do searches on how to find electronic sources for free downloads. Truth was most kids already knew how to do this, so his job was essentially non-essential. And that is where he was allowed, because a person who may need sick days was not permitted an essential vocation. Although he didn’t choose this career, he always enjoyed learning new things and loved helping others do the same. He seemed to have a knack for finding obscure information quickly.
When he was little, he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. His mother told him he could be anything he wanted, but the real world disagreed with that little boy’s dreams. According to the new authority, he could be anything the government told him he could be. Some people said the state sold out its principles to the highest bidders. Many citizens held onto the belief that they still lived in a democratic country because they voted for their elected officials. What those same politicians did afterwards was another story entirely.
Decades ago, the government seized ownership of the population’s medical data when the entire economy collapsed due to healthcare costs. Over the last several years, the current politicians evolved into an autocratic cartel, seizing ownership of all data on each entire person, not for the sake of the individual, but rather as a cost-benefit analysis to their society. Rumors leaked out that they were now monitoring everyone’s communications and that there were listening devices everywhere, both in physical locations as well as in the digital world. However, many speculated that it was just the conjecture of conspiracy theorists and their paranoia. Others believed it was real and paranoia no longer existed because it came to life. The fact that the government owned each person’s life, death and health was established, and the leaders actually congratulated themselves for this and their policies fixing the previous healthcare infrastructure.
Jax slowly followed his mother’s fleeing form into the courthouse. She was rushing into the building as if she was being chased by demons, and perhaps she was. While she was anxious to get this ordeal finished, Jax wanted to procrastinate it into oblivion. However, reality called him to task. He wiped the sweat off his brow, and willed himself inside the dim foyer.
After passing through the security check point, and having his microchip and sensor analyzed, he landed in the waiting room with all the rest of the “patients.” Some looked scared but most appeared dejected, already surrendered to whatever judgement was coming for them. He guessed they must have been through this trial before. He hoped his name would be the last one called for his appearance, and maybe it would even be delayed until the next day, and the next and the next. Truth was that he had no idea what to expect.
He tried to pull up any game on his electronic database but wasn’t really paying attention. He looked up and saw a young girl with long, blond hair of perhaps eleven or twelve years of age watching him. He waved, and she smiled back, looking completely carefree. He wondered why she was there. She looked healthy enough.
The clock on the wall chimed 9 AM with a heavy metallic voice, and the heavy oak doors of the courtroom swung open. A portly man wearing a gray security uniform motioned them into the courtroom where the judge was already seated on his chair.
Jax was surprised when he saw how young the judge was. He was expecting an older, wiser looking man rather than someone who looked like a high school quarterback. When the baby-faced judge smiled and nodded at those entering his lair, Jax thought maybe the horror stories he heard about him were exaggerated. He sat high above the rest of the room, like a king sitting on a throne.
“Please be seated, everyone,” the court official called out. “Judge Watson is presiding, under the authority of the grand Premier Ethan Russell. He will start hearing cases once we’re in order.”
The patients quietly took seats on the hard pew-like benches. Only patients were allowed inside during the trials, leaving loved ones and witnesses behind in the waiting area. Jax glanced over at the young girl sitting alone on the front bench. Just as he made up his mind to go sit next to her, an older woman sat next to her and whispered in her ear.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the Judge looked down at everyone from his perch. “The court is now in session. You’ve all been called here because you’ve been diagnosed with some chronic illness or infirmity. The court is assigned to make judgements of whether your condition warrants medical treatment and, if so, if the benefits outweigh the costs. If this seems to be the case, you will be assigned a tier of medical benefits and sent an electronic package explaining what your fund package is allocated to include. Under no circumstances will you use these funds for any service not covered under your tier plan. If your doctor thinks you need a treatment that is not on your tier plan, you must reappear in court. If you use these funds without prior approval, you will forfeit all future funds , and this restriction is for life. If the costs are judged too high, either you will be denied treatment , and let nature run its course or you will be marked for liquidation if it’s deemed your condition may accidentally use non-allocated funds from yourself or others. We’ve seen this in the past with heart patients who went into cardiac arrest in public , and medical units were mobilized to help, without looking into their court-assigned benefits. Let’s get started.”
A young black-haired woman walked up to the judge’s chair , and handed him an electronic docket. All the information about each of the cases had been previously downloaded and authenticated.
“Blair Connor, can you please step up to the patient kiosk?” the judge called out.
Jax saw the same girl he’d been watching before take a deep breath as she stood. She walked over to the kiosk with her head bowed and her small black shoes barely leaving the ground. She was scanned, and all her vital information transmitted from the sensor. The young raven-haired woman reviewed the data , and seeming satisfied, then transmitted it to the judge’s docket.
As she was instructed to take the witness chair, Jax was sure he saw her hands tremble. She looked so tiny in front of the court. He could palpate her fear , and it only jacked up his own.
“Blair, I have your records here , and you were diagnosed with anemia last month. According to your doctor, he thinks it’s because you haven’t been eating well. Can you tell us about this?”
Tears started flowing down her reddened cheeks. “Daddy died, and I always used to eat with him. I miss him and don’t want to eat without him.”
“How old are you?”
“I just turned thirteen.” “What grade are you in?”
“I’m in my last year of secondary school. They advanced me a few grades because of my scores on the standardized tests.”
“And what professional track did that place you in?”
“Medicine, Sir. I scored the highest in science , and my personality profile determined I’m to be a healer.” “What symptoms are you having?”
“Just feel tired, that’s all. I’m still getting good grades.”
The judge gave her a stern look. “Well, Blair, this seems like it’s something simple to clear up, but you have to eat, whether you want to or not. I’m authorizing tier one benefits for three months. If the anemia continues, you may fall under the education exclusion clause. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
“And one more thing. I’m assigning a state nanny to monitor you for the next month. Seems your mother must not be doing a good job with your meals. We’ll see you back in a month to oversee your progress.”
“Sir, is a month long enough for the anemia to resolve? I thought it took…”
“SILENCE!” the judge roared while bringing his gavel down unto the desk in front of him.
Blair bowed her head and looked at her hands folded in front of her. When it was apparent that the judge would say nothing else, the court legal aid downloaded the court proceedings into her database at the kiosk. As Blair was escorted out of the room, she turned and beamed her easy smile at Jax. He wondered why she was being so friendly , and as he was turning back to look at the judge, he caught her darting through the courtroom doors as if on a mission.
“Jacksman Reid,” the judge called out. His heart dropped to the floor and he walked as if to his executioner.