My Android, part two
People seemed inordinately focused on his turning fourteen, Toby thought. His mom acted a little odd. She wasn’t concerned about paying extra fares to get them to the Mayo Clinic. At each juncture, she took the fastest and usually the most expensive Tele-portal connection to Minneapolis.
Toby felt self-conscious about this because it was out of the ordinary and not a typical practice in their household to be anything other than extremely frugal.
As arranged, Toby and his mom met with the attorney in a private chamber at the hospital. Not only was the hovercraft driver provided, but there was also a greeter who met their craft. Dr. Troy and Toby could see the glistening glass towers of the clinic as they raced nearer the entrance. Parts of Ohio were still covered in corn crops but the hospital was embedded in the Ohio Dome. Everyone they saw as they approached seemed to be hurrying from one place to another. They saw doctors in lab coats and other people who might have been patients heading for the entrance.
“Dr. Troy and Toby Troy?” the android greeter asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes,” they both said in unison.
“Please follow me and I’ll take you to a private meeting chamber, where Mr. Rollins waits for you,” he said.
“Thanks, we appreciate it,” Toby’s mom said, dominating the conversation like a doting mother hen.
Once inside the glass walls, Toby was struck by how sterile it felt in the hospital. Although the passageway was wide and modern, he still felt closed in. Something about hospitals smelled of antiseptic and peroxide and gave him a chill. In spite of a couple of school years in the Boston Dome, Toby’s frame of reference would forever be the Territories. He didn’t like feeling contained. He felt trapped. And, in fact, Dr. Hoover was trapped inside, never to emerge alive again. That thought loomed over Toby in contrast with the positive dream of Hawk coming home with them.
En route to the conference room, they whisked by color photos of famous scientists in medical settings. Under other circumstances, Toby imagined that his mom might have enjoyed strolling past and reading the captions. Instead, they were using fast-moving people movers to hurry along the hallways.
As they entered the cramped conference room, Mr. Rollins rose to meet them. He looked much older than Toby’s mom, perhaps eighty-five or ninety. He was at least as old as Herbert Sr., but not that old by modern standards and the advancements in modern medicine.
Mr. Rollins had pale, pasty white skin, which resembled the look of flour mixed with water then used to build three dimensional, geographical maps of planets in grade school. He didn’t appear to be someone who might have had the patience or inclination to get plastic surgery and resurfacing to correct those signs of age. Mr. Rollins had a head-full of white hair and a matching white mustache, and was wearing dark-rimmed, Coke-bottle-type glasses that suggested he needed a lot of correction. Also, he appeared a little portly, with a belly he seemed to be trying to disguise under an old-style three-piece suit. Like Toby’s mom, he looked harried, like a man who rarely sat still and who was probably thinking about more to race around and do.
The room was austere. Toby didn’t see any paintings or photographs of any kind. He wondered if patients entered the hospital full of hope but were hopeless by the time they ended up in little private conference rooms to discuss final wishes. The walls were painted a bland, beige color, with a little round meeting table, barely large enough for the three of them. The floor had linoleum tiles, which were about the same boring shade of beige as the walls. Even the blinds in the windows were beige.
“Dr. Troy? It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he began. “And you, son, must be Toby Troy. Dr. Hoover has spoken highly of you and is so happy you’ll be taking Stephen. Actually, it’s a big relief for him.”
“Mr. Rollins,” Toby’s mom said, extending her hand and shaking his firmly, “we’re grateful you could put your other cases on hold to see us here. I imagine being an advocate of people’s estates keeps you busy. But today’s an important day for Toby,” she emphasized again.
Toby tried his best just to smile. “Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing Herbert Sr. and Hawk again,” he said. Then, realizing that just because he and many of his friends called Stephen Hawking “Hawk” didn’t mean that Mr. Rollins would know that nickname, he thought this might be perceived as rude. “Excuse me, I meant to say, Dr. Hoover’s Stephen Hawking, of course.”
“Mr. Rollins, I need to understand the legalities involved with this transfer. As you’re well aware, Toby needs to acquire Stephen Hawking today because he will turn fourteen tomorrow. However, Herbert Hoover Sr. cannot give him away until his death. Is that correct?” Toby’s mom asked. “Can he designate instructions about Stephen Hawking’s disposal in his will? Doesn’t the law prohibit the transfer until Dr. Hoover passes from this Earth?”
Toby’s mom asked good questions, and Toby marveled at these complexities. Toby didn’t remember any of his friends going through anything like this. Perhaps he knew it was a big deal that he wanted an ancient model rather than a brand new machine, like many of his classmates. Plus, there were problems having to do with the legalities of Dr. Hoover’s health and what would take place upon his death.
His schoolmates selected their new models from available inventory. Virtual online displays and websites did a great job demonstrating the range, functionality, and benefits of various Personal Assistants. However, it seemed that acquiring a “used” one carried some inherent complications. Most of the kids who purchased used models met challenges. They tried to have their androids’ memories erased, something like cleaning an old computer disk drive, but it didn’t always work. Then they dealt with androids having memory fragments or even mixed memories. It was a problem.
“At the risk of sounding morbid, are we just waiting for Dr. Herbert’s demise?” Toby’s mom asked point-blank.
“Yes and no,” Mr. Rollins replied. “The accurate response is, ‘It depends.’ Whether or not Herbert Sr. has passed away, he is incapacitated, and I have his power of attorney. As such, we have a clause that allows me to block Recyclers from taking Hawk away, and ensuring safe transfer to you and Toby. But, it could get ugly. If the Recyclers show up and fight with hospital staff to take Stephen and you don’t yet have ownership, then it could create legal entanglements. We need to oversee the smooth, uninterrupted transfer. I’d rather you have everything completed so that nothing can be contested.
“In a way, what you imply is true,” he continued. “We did petition the state for merciful euthanasia. We have been waiting two months for a reply. In that sense, we have been waiting for his death. But the law provides for mental incapacities such as this. He has become incapacitated during the past few days. Therefore, even if he doesn’t receive a response about his euthanasia petition or dies of natural causes, we still have a strong mechanism to cover this transfer,” he said definitively.
“Can you compel an answer from the state sooner, under the circumstances?” Toby’s mom asked.
“Yes, I can try, but the committee’s timing is out of my control,” Mr. Rollins said. “I can call them again and plead on Dr. Herbert’s behalf. I can indicate that he’s still suffering a great deal and that he has made his wishes clear in his will. He wished for Toby to inherit Stephen Hawking, since his own sons already have their PAs. I’ll also argue that because he’s lost consciousness, it is inhumane to leave him like this.”
“Do you think you can get them to respond today?” Toby’s mom asked.
Obviously, Toby’s mom was worried about the impending deadlines. With Toby’s dad’s death, she’d experienced some issues and found the state less than accommodating. The state didn’t do an honorable job of providing benefits to deceased veterans’ families—loophole after loophole that excused the state from paying money for funeral expenses, coroner’s bills, and pension payments. It was a nightmare that Toby knew she didn’t want to go through again. Unpleasant memories flooded back to him.
“I’ll call them now, Dr. Troy. Let’s visit Herbert Sr.’s bedside and let them see his condition on a public monitor,” he continued. “In my experience, witnessing the condition of the patient and the anguish of the family members can influence the state’s decisions—at least sometimes. Let’s go to Dr. Hoover’s hospital room, where all the parties can participate. Unfortunately, we’ll be staging a drama, but it may produce the results we need. We’ll do the best we can under the circumstances,” Mr. Rollins said.
After this exchange, Mr. Rollins, Toby, and his mom walked down the hall. Unlike the welcoming hallway with escalator floor belts and fancy pictures of medical scientists, this long hallway was cold and stark. No pictures hung on the walls. The hallway felt narrow, as though they were cattle being shuttered into holding pens. No distractions of art or outside light could be seen. Toby wondered if anyone else reacted as he did to this environment. Patients in this ward appeared gravely ill. Visitors evinced grim expressions with turned-down mouths and sagging heads.
As they marched along the brightly lit hall, Toby saw his friend, Herbie, who was hurrying by. Herbie looked upset with a worried, furrowed brow and a downcast head. He appeared to have just exited his father’s room, because that was the room into which they were headed.
“Herbie, we’re going to see your father and Hawk,” Toby said with a lilt in his voice, trying to act cheerful or at least hopeful. But Herbie looked so sad that Toby immediately stopped cajoling him.
“I can’t watch any longer,” Herbie said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’ve been here for days. It feels endless, Toby. I need a break. Excuse me, please. I’ll be in the cafeteria, if you need me.”
Before Toby could reach out to touch Herbie’s shoulder, Herbie rushed down the hall with full-blown tears running down his face. Herbie looked forlorn, and they could hear convulsive sobbing sounds as he ran away. Herbie epitomized the kind of anguish that Mr. Rollins had been describing.
Toby stared after him, feeling as though he had said the worst possible thing. He had only meant to help. Toby had felt similar anguish only four short years ago when his dad passed away. A wave of sadness enveloped him.
“Toby,” his mom said. “We need to go.”
Toby nodded, knowing she was right. There was so little time.
As Toby entered the hospital room, the air felt sterile, cold, and creepy. He shivered from it and all that it portended. He wished he’d brought a sweater or a jacket. It felt like they were walking into a meat locker. The antiseptic smell in the hospital room overwhelmed him more there than in the hallways. Artificial lights loomed overhead, casting a fluorescent haze. Everything in the room seemed oppressively stark, even more so than in the adjacent conference room, since the furniture was all made of metal instead of wood. Even the privacy curtain that’d been pulled back to the side was a gray metal-colored mesh material. Everything appeared shiny and cold, including the metal trays, attached skin probes, pulse monitoring machines, and other instruments beside the bed. Poor Dr. Hoover appeared plugged into life support from almost every part of his frail body exposed from the waist up. He no longer resembled the dignified, brilliant computer scientist that Toby remembered.
Immediately Toby saw that they wouldn’t be talking with Herbert Sr. Looking comatose, he’d become ashen and pale, and he didn’t recognize anyone in the room. Only his shell remained; his mind had already gone. It was horrible to see, and Toby understood why Herbie had fled. It looked as if Dr. Hoover’s mind had scurried off to heaven or some database in the sky, perhaps to find some peace.
Someone had tried hard to provide homey comfort by adding a small bud vase, but there was no hiding the motorized bed and the artificial machines that were recording his heartbeats, his temperature, and his oxygen levels. The obtrusive beeps and chirps of equipment tracking all his bodily functions detracted from whatever humanity remained.
An android nurse greeted them. “Are you family members?”
“No, but I’m Dr. Hoover’s attorney, Mr. Rollins,” the attorney said authoritatively. “I have control over his advance health care directive. He provided permission for me to see him whenever necessary. You’ll find my name on the chart. If you need to check my credentials, I also have that documentation with me.”
“Let me see some identification, please,” shouted Nurse Ratched, a female android. She looked angry with a scowl on her face and lines on her brow. She was stout and exuded unpleasantness. She threw around her weight and authority by moving too closely into Mr. Rollins’ face. Perhaps she thought she’d command more respect with her demeanor. Instead, it only served to make her appear insecure, like one of the lower-level, less-advanced android classes. Her face looked flustered and red when she spoke.
Toby didn’t recognize the name on her tag. It read “Nurse Ratched.” If he had known the meaning, he might have thought it was some designer’s idea of a joke or something. Oddly, her artificial manner seemed to match her mean namesake.
“Of course, here you go,” Mr. Rollins offered her, by putting a tablet screen full of credentials in her face. “Here’s my License to Practice Law in the Western Hemisphere. You’ll also find my driver’s license with photo ID, and biomarkers, so you can verify who I am and run whatever other checks the hospital requires. I assure you that I’m in your database. I visited here just last week.”
“All right, but please be brief. He won’t be able to hear you. He lost consciousness a couple of days ago. I don’t expect he will be breathing much longer,” she reported. She had a gaze that carefully scanned Mr. Rollins from top to bottom. “Are you here about estate matters?”
“That, Nurse Ratched, is between my client and me,” he replied, scowling back at her and not looking amused in the least. “It’s called attorney-client privilege. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”
At this point Stephen Hawking approached Mr. Rollins from the corner of the room, near the window.
“Hello, Mr. Rollins. Do you have any news?” he asked, with a steady, concerned gaze. The last few weeks had taken a toll on Hawk too, who appeared haggard, even though androids don’t really get tired. His look suggested despair. Toby was reminded that Hawk was one of the most empathetic androids he’d ever met.
“Hello, Stephen,” Mr. Rollins said. “We’ve come to place another video call—a direct appeal—to the medical board and to complete the paperwork for your transfer. Unfortunately, this decision about the requested euthanasia has been pending longer than sixty days, inhumane in and of itself. If the board had decided sooner, it would have been more merciful. The state doesn’t understand that,” Mr. Rollins reflected, looking away from Hawk and back toward Dr. Troy and Toby.
“Yes, I agree. Herbert’s body has been in stark decline the past couple of weeks. His mind drifted away a couple of days ago. He might have been given some relief sooner from the pain,” Hawk said with a painful expression on his face. Then, Hawk turned again to face a window to the outdoors, as if he couldn’t bear any more of this charade, either.
Hawk was an Alpha-class android. He had a state-of-the-art empathy chip, upgraded by Herbert Sr. over the years. He was keenly observant and sensitized to all human emotions, especially those of people he cared about. There was no doubt that he loved Herbert Sr. like a father figure.
“Shall we all call and see if we can convince the Panel to render its decision?” Mr. Rollins asked.
At that point, Toby inserted himself. It was an awkward time, but Toby realized that Hawk had never met his mom. He stepped toward Hawk in the corner and said in as somber a tone as possible, “Hawk, I’m sorry to pull you away because I want to respect your need to grieve. But you haven’t met my mom before.”
“Yes, of course, Toby,” Hawk responded and walked over to greet Toby’s mom with a smile and a firm handshake. “Hello, Dr. Troy. I’ve heard such wonderful things about you from Toby. It’s a pleasure to meet you, although it’s unfortunate to do so under these circumstances.”
“That’s kind of you,” Toby’s mom replied. “I know this is a difficult time for everyone. We just want to make sure the legal documentation is completely in order. You know, Toby turns fourteen tomorrow.”
“Yes, that’s right, isn’t it?” Hawk said. “It’ll be his birthday tomorrow. I’m afraid I’ve been preoccupied and have almost lost my sense of time.”
“Dr. Troy, shall we call and see if we can convince the medical panel to render its decision? I’d like you to be visible on the screen with Toby and Dr. Hoover in the background,” Mr. Rollins said, interrupting the exchange, as if to choreograph the morbid scene.
Hawk returned to his window.
A guitar sounded, strum, strum, as the screen flashed to attention. Everyone turned to the screen.
“Hello, this is 3409-4410 of the State Department of Health and Welfare, Medical Determinations Office,” the android clerk on the other side of the viewer said. “May I help you?”
“Hello. I am Mr. Rollins, Esquire. As you may recall, I represent Dr. Herbert Hoover Sr. What’s the status of our petition under consideration by the Review Panel? Have they made a decision?” he asked.
“Do you have a case number, Sir?” the android clerk asked.
“Yes, I do. It’s case number 13561421, filed in May 2124,” Mr. Rollins answered.
Toby was appalled with this tedious detail. It felt like the state had no heart or mercy, and as if it liked to hide behind bureaucracy.
“Is the petitioner available, in case the specialist wishes to speak with him?” the clerk asked.
“He is present, but, unfortunately, as you can see behind me, Dr. Hoover became unconscious and non-responsive about a couple of days ago. His relatives have been waiting. His Personal Assistant has been camped by his beside for the past three months. I’ve been designated with his power of attorney for medical decisions, and I’m the family’s estate attorney as well. I have all the documents with electronic biomarker-signatures here,” Mr. Rollins said.
“Let me find the case worker for you,” the clerk replied.
The android nodded at Mr. Rollins. “Yes, I remember you.” This was the closest they got to a sign of sympathy from the state. There seemed to be a sense of recognition from the clerk, who didn’t ask for a full summary of the case or to see other credentials from Mr. Rollins. This was probably because Mr. Rollins and his associate android had called the State Health and Welfare Office many times during the past two months.
How long was it reasonable to ask a dying man to wait for an answer to end his pain and suffering? Toby found himself wondering whether the modern ability to keep people alive was a blessing or a curse. In some cases, the state prolonged life against citizens’ wishes, and in other cases, it oversaw euthanasia as a part of its global population balancing efforts. It made no sense to him.
As Toby pondered life’s big questions and the clerk looked for the case worker, the room erupted into a circus of activity.
Read the opening of the story here.
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.