My Android, part three
At first, they were all startled by tweets, chirps, alarms and other mechanical beeping sounds. There was a particular ominous sound that a heart monitor made when it stopped beating. It was a series of high beeps, followed by the dreaded, familiar flatline sound. Indeed, it matched the flat line that had appeared on the monitor. Everyone’s eyes were diverted there from the screen.
Then, other sounds began. An alarm sounded when the pulse monitor no longer could sense a pulse. It starting ringing, similar to the sound of a burglar alarm that sounded when an intruder entered the house. In this case, however, the intruder was Death.
Yet another sound began from the machine that periodically took blood pressure from Dr. Hoover’s leg. The machine ballooned up on his leg band, but it failed to get a blood pressure reading. The blood pressure had dropped precipitously off the charts.
Toby felt as though the room was swirling around. First, it was one alarm, and then another. All the sounds were emanating from the equipment attached to Herbert Sr. Everything was lighting up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve but there was no cause for celebration.
What on Earth is happening? Toby wondered. Even with the dizzying number of signals blasting, it somehow felt as if the world had slowed down. In the seconds that it took for those various monitors to go off, attention had been diverted and seconds began to feel more like longer intervals of time. It was as if this one room became the center of the universe around which everything else was spinning.
As the bells had started ringing, Nurse Ratched raced wildly back into the room, hollering “Code Blue.” She ran to the doorway of the room, this time yelling “Stat.” Her auburn-colored hair was coming unraveled in the process, and she looked somewhat off-balance or disheveled, as if athleticism or moving fast weren’t part of her skill set. Her body size didn’t match the demand for speed under these pressing circumstances.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Rollins, Toby’s mom, and Toby, Nurse Ratched had been warned at her last performance review that she was not to make any life and death decisions herself. She’d been instructed to call an attending physician to address patients who were in distress, whether or not specific orders were on their charts. The already reprimanded nurse had been discombobulated, and had called out orders that she knew would cause an attendant to arrive as fast as possible. She worked in fear of being blamed for anything that transpired on her ward during her watch. She constantly worried about following standards and protocols.
Toby wasn’t sure what Nurse Ratched could do to alter the situation. It appeared that Herbert Sr.’s body had gone into abrupt decline, perhaps deciding it was time to catch up with his mind that had departed days earlier.
With great determination and force, Mr. Rollins intervened. He left no question as to who was in charge.
“Nurse Ratched, compose yourself! My client, your patient, has a legally binding Do Not Resuscitate order. He decided long ago not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation attempted in the event his heart or breathing stopped. I have witnessed that DNR, and I have a copy here,” Mr. Rollins said, thrusting into her path and in front of her face. “You see in big red letters on his chart—DNR. You may continue his fluids for sustenance, but you will not do anything else invasive, or I will personally hold you and this hospital liable for violating my client’s rights and expressed wishes. Furthermore, his DNR applies to all medical personnel in this hospital. And, as you can see, I happen to have many witnesses, including a representative from the State Health and Welfare Office on the two-way screen just now. I’m sure this video will capture everything I’ll need to take this to trial and to let it go viral if necessary. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” Rollins asked pointedly. “I’m waiting for your reply. Just to be clear, I’m prepared to have you dismantled as a malfunctioning android if you break the law or assist anyone else in doing so. I’ll call the Recyclers faster than you can repeat Code Blue. Then, I’ll happily send you to the scrap heap.”
“Yes, sir, I believe I do,” Ms. Ratched said with a solemn tone while wrenching her hands in front of her uniform. With that threat, the nurse’s demeanor changed. Instead of removing electrodes from Dr. Hoover’s body to prepare him for paddle shocks on his heart, she slowed down, and came to a halt. She brushed her untidy tendrils of hair back with her hands and began pinning them into some semblance of order and decorum. Androids hated to be threatened. They lived in constant fear of being taken apart, if they didn’t perform their jobs competently. Clients, patients, or owners could claim malfunctioning or misconduct on the part of a particular android and it would reflect badly on her record.
Other hospital workers began to run into the room, because the nurse had called a code.
As if in a dark comedy where timing was everything, the temporarily forgotten caseworker popped onto the screen. She had short, bobbed hair, appeared to be in her thirties, and projected an air of professionalism.
“Hello, Mr. Rollins? I’m Ms. Cynthia Crawley, Esquire, an attorney and caseworker with H&W,” she said. As the drama of the hospital room unfolded on her screen, her eyes began to widen. She quickly adopted a look of alarm and concern.
“Ms. Crawley, as you can plainly see and hear, I’m at the Mayo Clinic with my client Dr. Herbert Hoover Sr., his friends, and numerous health care workers. We have been waiting more than sixty days for a reply to our Petition for Legal Euthanasia for Herbert Senior. H&W hasn’t responded,” he said scornfully.
“Ironically, he now appears to be actively dying before us,” Mr. Rollins reported. “I’d like you to remain on this line in order to witness this scene, as I’m in the midst of defending my client’s legal and medical rights. He has a DNR, and I have his power of attorney. The staff here cannot initiate additional medical interventions against my client’s will, or I will prosecute them as individuals, and then sue this hospital.”
All Dr. Hoover had wanted in terms of his last wishes was a peaceful death and a smooth, non-dramatic ending. The medical professionals who appeared to be focused on emergency response didn’t know or appear to have understood his situation. Even the case worker at H&W had arrived late in the process and derailed any possibility of carrying out Dr. Hoover’s final wishes.
“Oh, my goodness!” Ms. Crawley exclaimed. Ms. Crawley’s eyes looked as though they might pop out of her head. Her originally composed manner appeared slightly shaken by the hullabaloo she was witnessing. She gestured wildly with her eyes, and pleaded for information. “Could you please explain what’s going on here? This is highly irregular.”
Her look of calm now looked worried with a frown and down-turned eyebrows. Her eyes registered astonishment with her dilated pupils. Her eyes seemed to get wider by the minute. Her shocked-looking expression indicated that she wasn’t used to witnessing people die. Unwittingly, she watched as the consequences of the state’s inaction unfolded. The scene was as if she were witnessing a collision in slow motion. She fumbled with the paperwork in front of her and temporarily looked dumbfounded or at a loss of words to address this situation adequately.
“Could you please tell me what’s going on here?” Ms. Crawley asked, as she scrambled to understand. She’d been informed by the android, who’d told her that this call would be with another attorney and just a typical attorney-to-attorney notification. Instead, it had turned into a ridiculous episode of General Hospital.
“Stand down!” Nurse Ratched shouted loudly to all hospital staff, as several doctors raced into the room. They came with an emergency team and a crash cart. A doctor had been summoned with the crew. He was carrying emergency heart-shock paddles, attached to a battery charger unit, for the patient’s heart. He looked startled by the change in scenario from the earlier Code.
Others among the medical staff also looked surprised by her last command, contradicting the Code Blue. One of them raised his eyebrows, and demanded emphatically, “Explain yourself. We don’t have much time for discussion if we’re going to save this man’s life.”
“I’ve been alerted that this patient has a DNR,” she replied calmly. “His attorney is present with a legally binding health directive. The State H&W Office’s attorney, Cynthia Crowley, is also on the viewer, watching us right now. I am not going to violate the law. What you decide to do is up to you.”
“I see,” the doctor in charge said, halting in his steps forward toward Dr. Hoover, and then turning around to view the screen. He’d been stopped in his tracks and wasn’t used to dealing directly with an attorney on the scene and the State Health and Welfare Office representative observing on the monitor.
“Mr. Rollins, would you like to call me back at another time?” Ms. Crawley offered, apparently hoping to get out of the middle of this unpleasant situation. “It looks so chaotic there, and I’m not sure it’s appropriate I remain on the viewer right now.”
“No, you need to witness how ludicrous my client’s situation is,” Mr. Rollins demanded. “Does this look like humane treatment to you? This is a circus…a farce. We’re tired of H&W’s lack of response. My client has been caught between the medical community’s need to follow orders and adhere to legal standards.”
Toby watched in horror at the situation, and he tried to understand how it happened that life and death decisions were left in the hands of the bureaucrats.
“Time of death, 11:30 p.m. Central Time zone, April 6, 2124,” the attending physician pronounced with authority, after the heart monitor had flatlined on the screen, and had continued to make an extended buzzing sound. Then he signed the patient’s chart, a death affidavit, as well as some other paperwork, and exited the room as swiftly as possible.
Toby found himself tearing up at the realization of Dr. Hoover’s death. Dr. Hoover had been kind to him and had treated him with respect. Toby didn’t always find professors as willing to accept boys from the Territories. For some, there was almost an inherent bias against people who lived outside the domes.
Ms. Crawley still looked stunned. She’d remained silent through most of the chaos, except when Mr. Rollins addressed her directly. Toby thought that she clearly wasn’t used to watching someone die. Her eyes remained wide open, having watched the drama, and she appeared to have a sniffle that required her to dig out a tissue. She appeared to be shuffling or fidgeting with one of her gadgets, perhaps entering an account into electronic records of what she’d just witnessed. In the past, she’d always dealt with these types of cases from a distance. In most cases, notification of decisions involved sending an electronic message and filing the accompanying documentation, not up close as a witness to life’s end.
Then, Ms. Crawley sat up straighter, with squared-off shoulders, almost stiffening in her chair. She sniffled one last time, and finally, looking straight ahead into the monitor, she said, “Mr. Rollins, the Panel granted permission for medically administered euthanasia yesterday.” She diverted her eyes briefly, and turned a little red. Perhaps she was embarrassed. Then she appeared to scan some notes on the tablet beside her table. “Obviously, you didn’t receive the news in a timely fashion. An android was responsible for communicating the decision, and it’s probably still sitting on that android’s desk. I’m sorry,” she sputtered, realizing her excuse was lame.
“Ms. Crawley, I’d like it noted for the record that the time of death of my client was called before you shared your news. If the panel had made its decision in a timelier fashion, you might have saved Dr. Hoover’s son and other loved ones some pain and suffering, not to mention that great pain and anguish of my client. You’ve not heard the last from me about this case,” Mr. Rollins informed her. “I’m going to sign off now, and I’ll expect to see the written rendering delivered quickly to my computer. Mr. Rollins, Esquire, signing off on behalf of the late Dr. Herbert Hoover Sr.”
“And this is Ms. Crawley from the State Health and Welfare Panel signing off,” she concluded. Then the screen went black, as if the curtain had been drawn on the last scene of a morbid stage play.
Toby couldn’t see Ms. Crawley any longer, but he wondered if she was angry. Ms. Crawley had looked shaken, and she appeared sad, too. Toby wasn’t sure if she was worried by Mr. Rollins’ threat of a potential lawsuit. Or, perhaps, she was mad by what she witnessed. He suspected it was a combination of the two.
Meanwhile he had worries of his own. He found himself pacing back and forth in the hospital room. His stomach was in knots because he wanted to make sure the transfer documentation had been completed.
Finally, Toby walked over by the window next to Hawk. Toby was feeling relieved that the ordeal of transferring ownership of Hawk had been taken care of. Now, he felt sad about Herbert Sr. However, his next thought was about Hawk. He wondered if he should give Hawk a hug or do something else to make him feel better.
Although no one else had noticed amidst the chaos, Toby saw that Hawk was still standing alone in the corner of the room. Toby thought that perhaps Hawk could use a friend. Toby paused near him, thinking of words that might comfort him. He placed his hand on Hawk’s shoulder momentarily, hoping it might calm Hawk’s palpable wave of grief.
Then he witnessed something alarming—Hawk was discreetly holding an electrical remote device. It was the controller for all the switches in the room. It was probably usually over by the patient’s bedside. Hawk then dropped it quietly to the floor. Hawk was staring straight ahead out the window, almost as if he were in a daze.
Hawk looked at Toby silently. Toby looked back at him. Time felt suspended for several long minutes, yet Toby knew that it couldn’t have been much more than a few seconds. Clearly, Hawk had turned off Herbert Sr.’s artificial breathing device. He’d caused his death.
Toby felt the significance of this act sink in. Although he knew that not all androids had programming to prevent them from injuring or murdering human beings, even Toby was surprised by Hawk’s decision. Hawk was an android with unusual sensitivity and empathy. Toby imagined that he had weighed the consequences of Herbert Sr.’s continued suffering, the pending decision by the state, and Hawk’s own need to avoid dismantlement. It was a conundrum of ethical questions. Toby wasn’t certain what he would have done, but he didn’t think he would be capable of murder.
Hawk said quietly, “Herbert Sr. wanted every assurance that this transfer would be completed today. Midnight is the deadline before your fourteenth birthday. I knew that Herbert Sr. had vanished mentally, and that he would never regain consciousness. He also knew that there might be legal claims and entanglements if the transfer didn’t take place within the standard timeframe. Honestly, I also knew that I might be taken apart by the Recyclers. They have a way of lingering around at the worst possible times.
“Look!” Hawk said, pointing out the window. Incredulously, they both saw a van with the label “Recyclers, Inc.” on it. Neither of them knew for sure if they’d come for him. There were other elderly sick people in this hospital who might not have made any arrangements for their android caregivers. As the van sped away, Toby felt relieved. He imagined Hawk was relieved, too.
Toby nodded to indicate he understood. Still, Toby felt somewhat shocked, almost dumbfounded. Toby didn’t know what else to say to him. Did Toby really want to accuse Hawk of murder? That would definitely end Hawk’s life and end Toby’s chances of adopting him. It would be the end of their potential collaboration. And, Toby would undoubtedly be assigned some random android right off an assembly line. He’d have to start from scratch, activating him.
“I couldn’t allow this to go on. I know this is what Herbert would have wanted under these circumstances. Can you forgive me, Toby?” Hawk asked. Hawk looked pitiful when he said this. He was heartbroken to lose Herbert Sr. Toby decided that Hawk must have viewed this as an act of mercy.
Toby nodded in agreement.
Then Toby said, “You did what you felt was right. You did the best you could, and we don’t need to discuss it further or tell anyone else.”
When the room cleared out, Mr. Rollins pulled Toby and his mom into a quiet corner.
He placed his hand on Toby’s shoulder, and then said, “Herbert told me many times that Hawk is not a typical android. He said, ‘He’s almost a person. He has an empathy chip, and he feels deep emotions.’ I need you to understand this because it is very important to me and to him.”
“Can my mother and I sign the paperwork now? We’d like to complete the legal paperwork and ensure Hawk’s safe transfer,” Toby asked Mr. Rollins.
“Yes, of course,” he replied, looking pulled together in spite of all the hospital room drama. Toby thought that advocates must be used to courtroom drama, and so perhaps this situation didn’t feel alien to Mr. Rollins.
They stepped outside the room and then into a nearby waiting room. Mr. Rollins had all the documents with him on a portable device. “This document transfers the care and maintenance of Stephen Hawking to you, Toby Troy, and to your mother as a co-owner and guardian until you become of legal age at eighteen,” Rollins explained.
Nodding, smiling, Toby signed. Then his mom signed, registering her thumbprint on the screen.
“Today is the day,” she said. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you for your help,” Toby said to Mr. Rollins. He knew he needed to thank Mr. Rollins to be polite. He also knew he should be feeling elated. Toby was happy, but he still felt some conflict in his latest exchange with Hawk. It was a moral dilemma, and Toby hadn’t had enough life experience to teach him how to weigh the different interests involved in this set of events.
“Herbert Sr. had one last wish. A sizable sum of money has been set aside in a trust in your and Stephen Hawking’s names. No one else can touch the trust. You will have access to it for repairs, upgrades, maintenance, and other expenses for Hawk,” Mr. Rollins continued. “I will oversee the trust until you’re of legal age. Under my oversight, you can draw sums, as necessary, for anything you need. For example, all of the furnishings in Stephen’s apartment inside Herbert Sr.’s home will be transferred with him. His considerable computer equipment and other items will need to be transferred with him to your residence. Those moving expenses will be paid for by the trust,” Rollins told them.
After the actual act of signing on the electronic screen, Toby did feel a combination of relieved and excited. Toby could hardly believe this was happening after such a harrowing, emotional day. Toby’s mom gave Toby a hug, and she shook Mr. Rollins’ hand. They walked back into the hospital room next door. In his exuberance, he gave Hawk a high five as he entered the room.
“And now, if I could ask you to take Stephen Hawking home with you, please. Herbert Sr. was clear in his wishes that he did not want to leave Stephen at home alone in his house after his death. He felt it would be too lonely for him,” Mr. Rollins said with a warm grin on his face.
“Yes, we understand,” Toby’s mom assured him. “Stephen will come with us now. Thank you for all your assistance. Can we compensate you in some way?” she asked.
“That’s been taken care of,” said Mr. Rollins. “Dr. Hoover paid me a monthly retainer to execute all these documents and oversee the disposition of his estate. You do not owe me anything.”
“All right. Should we go to the house to pick up a suitcase and whatever personal effects for Hawk?” Toby’s mom asked.
“Why don’t you ask Hawk that directly? Knowing Stephen as I do, he’s probably already packed and has anticipated this transfer.”
Meanwhile, Herbert Sr.’s family members had been called by Nurse Ratched and had begun walking in, including Herbie returning from the cafeteria. Although composed, he looked incredibly sad as he wandered to his dad’s bedside.
“Herbie, I’m so sorry about your dad,” Toby told him, as he stepped into the hallway. “If it had been left to the H&W Office, then Herbert Sr. would remain on life support, without regard to how his loved ones were feeling.”
Herbie said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here with him. At least you and Hawk were watching over him.”
“The transfer of Hawk has been completed, and Mr. Rollins has suggested that we take him home with us tonight,” Toby said.
“Yes, of course, that would be best for Hawk,” Herbie said.
In the hospital room, Hawk was still standing by the window, gazing outside. He almost appeared to be staring thoughtfully into space, in deep contemplation.
“Hawk, I’m sorry for your loss, too,” Toby told him.
Toby’s mom asked, “Would you like to come home now?”
Hawk walked over to a closet in the hospital room and picked up a suitcase. Herbie came by and hugged Hawk goodbye. Then Herbie hugged Toby goodbye, too.
“Have you visited the Territories?” Toby asked Hawk.
“No, I haven’t but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never ventured outside a dome,” Hawk said.
On their private hovercraft home to the Territories, Toby realized that Hawk’s arrival marked a new, important chapter in his life. He knew it would be a fascinating journey for them all.
This text is not in final form and may vary slightly from the printed or downloaded text in the book when it is released on September 15, 2016.