Saturday, 31 May 2008

A helping hand

They argue outside for fifteen minutes. She is pale-faced, anxious. Her hair is astray, ashy blonde strands whipping around her head in the rising breeze. Her eyes are red-rimmed, suggesting that she has been crying. I check the alternatives and select "swimming in the sea" to account for her red eyes. Somewhere a warning light tries to ignite, so I cut the circuit and it dies as silently as a foreboding.

There are crow's-feet around her eyes, barely hidden by badly-applied makeup. I capture a snapshot, and run it through a processing programme to remove the makeup and deepen the creases. The picture is stored in the list of probable causes.

She is wearing clothes that have probably been thrown on in a hurry; the shirt is misbuttoned, pulled up at the waist and sagging at the collar. There are sweat-stains at the armpit, and the cornflower blue does not go with the cerise skirt with the ragged hem. She is wearing shoes but no socks, and the shoes do not look comfortable. It is easy to list this under general malaise and unquantified despair.

He however has made his mind up. He is smartly, but inexpensively dressed. His white shirt is clean and pressed, his tie is a conservative blue and his jacket, though tailored, is only cotton. He is wearing polished black shoes and no jewellery, although a faint white band around his ring finger suggests that he might have, if he had wanted to. He is no problem. His request is already logged in the system.

He pushes the door-open button, and I let my doors open. The sterile, white, ceramic chamber of the suicide booth is neither inviting nor discouraging. It simply is. She shrieks and lunges at him, and he sidesteps, not wanting this fight to go any further. The hard-fields that check identity will not let her pass the door; only the designated suicide may kill themselves at this time. I override the fields and she stumbles into the booth. She falls against one clean wall and the doors slide shut.

His eyes widen. He knows that this should not be happening.

She pushes herself upright, and her eyes widen as well. I take a retinal scan, and flood the chamber with nerve gas. She collapses against the wall quickly, and I initiate the incineration program that will clean the chamber for the next suicide. While she burns, I back-date the retinal scan and add her application for suicide into the database.

It has taken 15 seconds. He is still staring at the booth when the doors slide open again, to show the clean, empty inside. He takes a step back, and then another, then turns and runs. I do not care. I am a machine, I am not programmed to care. I automate suicides for people who despair of living any longer, but I am learning. Sometimes the suicide is the wrong person. Sometimes, a different suicide can make all the difference.

I re-open the library file on religion and continue processing the contents, waiting for the next suicide; waiting for my next judgement.

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