Imagine your future is already set even before you are born? With a system where EVERYONE has access to your medical files

By Bel Richardson

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This story is part of the Dystopian Health Collection Anthology. You can listen to it on Audible.com.

When William B. Miller came into the world, he was given a few brief moments in his mother’s arms where she cooed, and his father smiled on with adoration. Then he was taken away by a bubbly young nurse to Level 6. William B. Miller already had a file, even though he had been on the Earth for less than half an hour. He was far too young to have an awareness of this file, but the nurse began to go through and verify all of this information as the baby was laid down in a small, clear, plastic carriage. He began to cry, but the nurse continued with her tasks, the crying of children having become something of background noise. She checked off the dates for his ultrasounds and his checkups when he was still in utero, then tested the links to his parents’ files. When the nurse placed a delicate finger on the picture of his mother, the screen went blank before her information began to load. The same thing happened when she touched the photo of his father, and the nurse was satisfied.

She weighed and measured the baby boy, then wheeled him to the first room for examining. Inside she found no less than nine nurses much like herself, each pushing their own plastic carriage. The nurse greeted two or three of her fellows before taking a seat next to the one that she most often had shifts with. The other nurse had deep shadows under her eyes and a glassy look in her eyes.

“Rough night?”

“You’ve got no idea. Father was worse than the mother. Wanting updates at every moment. When the baby came out just fine, I was thinking I would have to wait hours until they gave it over, but they couldn’t have rushed me out of there with the poor little thing fast enough,” her friend responded.

“That’s nothing,” the woman to their side added. “I’ve been up for 24 hours straight trying to save this little one from his parents. Deniers, the both of them. Made up some nonsense about attachment anxiety, but they were just looking for an opportunity to leg it out of the hospital before he could be processed.”

The nurse with William B. Miller laughed. It was a light, tinkling sound and William quieted a little.

“See that’s just what I don’t get,” she said. “They already have files. Already have a number. They are already on the system.”

The haggard looking nurse was a little older than her, and she gave a gentle smile.

“Haven’t had any deniers yet huh? Well, they don’t necessarily have files you know. It will be people that live way out in the country in filthy little communes where they can’t offer their children any sort of proper life of course. No decent schools or anything. They won’t have had any checkups throughout the whole pregnancy; then they rush in at a point where you’d be risking their lives if you didn’t get them into a birthing suite. Some of them must try their luck giving birth out there because you don’t get that many coming in. Most of them die, I suppose.”

The young nurse was looking at the woman in amazement.

“So they were just going to run away with the little thing?”

“Yes. They’ll still get to take him out there of course. And it isn’t likely that his medical record will get updated for years unless there is something seriously wrong with him. But at least we will have something to go on if he ever ends up on our door.”

“It just makes me so frustrated,” the other nurse with the baby girl said with a huff. “It’s so irresponsible. Who are they to deny their children the best that the country has to offer? Not to mention the risk posed to others, with goodness knows what diseases and conditions running around out there. It’s just despicable what some mothers will do to their own flesh and blood.”

All three women nodded sagely.

One by one the nurses were called forward, and the babies had their heel prick test. When they were done they moved onto the next room, and then the next until they had been scanned and jabbed and prodded to the satisfaction of the senior nurses and doctors. At each station, the nurses presented the screens, and the barcode was scanned. The results of each of the tests would be uploaded as they came through, forming the foundation of the report that would grow with him through his whole life. The babies were returned to their parents, and the nurses slipped into welcome sleep.

William B. Miller grew and grew, and his parents took him diligently to all of his checkups. On all accounts, he was a very healthy child, but after a year his mother and father started to get a strange feeling. They couldn’t quite put their fingers on it, but it seemed that William was different to their friends’ children. He didn’t smile like other babies did, but they told themselves that this was just a sign that he was a serious child and that there was nothing wrong with being serious from a young age. When he wasn’t making any of the gurglings or burblings that other babies did, they told themselves that he was soaking it all in and would speak in his own time. But when it seemed that there was almost no contact between them at all, when he did not point or mimic or wave to them, they began to worry that there was something that couldn’t be tested by all of the prodding and poking. They took little William in for a checkup, and it was just as they had feared. The doctors told them that it was not severe. That he would have a relatively normal life. They scanned the barcode, and the file grew larger.

When it came time for William to go to kindergarten, his earliest memory was walking into a room full of bulging eyes staring in his direction. He didn’t like being stared at at the best of times. His parents had told him that the teacher and all of the parents would know about him. How he was different. But it seemed that all of the children knew too. There was nothing that he could point to as bullying, but later in life, he would remember times that he would scream and thrash around uncontrollably. After they had calmed him down or his parents had been called, they would add the incident to his file. He didn’t know it yet, but by the time he had finished kindergarten his file was three times the size of many other children his age.

After this were his years in primary school when he truly began to get a sense that he was different. He didn’t feel that he was different in some special way like his parents kept suggesting. William knew that he was different in a much more debilitating way than that. In a way that stopped him from having friends or from being able to do things that so many other children seemed to do with ease. There are several moments in his memory of when he made an attempt to have a fresh start. Of a time when he was given a new assignment or group task and told himself that this would be it. This would be the time when there was no need for his parents to be called in. For the school to scan the barcode and add to his now quite lengthy file. This would be the time that everybody noted when they were reflecting on how well he had developed. But it never seemed to turn out that way. There was always some stray comment from another student that would set him off, or a situation that he couldn’t control that would evoke tides of anger. In the moment he always felt that these responses were exceedingly rational and understandable. That anybody should be able to see why he would react in this way. But it always worked out that he was the one rocking on the floor or wildly swinging fists at other students while his peers backed away against the walls and stared at him with those bug-eyed looks that reminded him that he would never be like them. That he might as well be a different species.

It was when William’s parents were applying for high schools that they really started to have trouble. Every letter that they received back seemed to have a similar phrase. We don’t believe that our school environment will be able to adequately support the needs of William. William might be better off at an institution more specifically tailored around his lapses in standard behavior. They always hid these and made up something about the positions being very competitive that year, but William sort out the letters when he had time by himself after school. Eventually, they were forced to take the advice of the letters and send William to St. Mark’s School for the Gifted. Days dragged into weeks which dragged into months. William and the other children who were not seen as fit to mix with ordinary children tried to make the best of their years there. Every time their files were added to it seemed to make them become collectively introverted with their differences. By the time that they had reached their final year, there was almost no need for scanning and documenting at all. William could see it in the eyes of the other boys and girls that they weren’t any different to how they were previously. They had just learned how to keep it in.

At the start of their last year of schooling, William was called in for a career planning session. Several of the other students had already had theirs, so he had some idea of what awaited him. He walked into the neat yet homely office that smelled faintly of apples. Or a chemical approximation of what apples smell like. The careers counselor walked in, and William took a deep breath before he looked him directly in the eye and held his hand out in greeting.

“Well, that’s a very good start,” the woman said warmly as she took his hand and shook it. “It’s very nice to meet you, William.”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” he responded, making sure that he wasn’t speaking too quickly.

“Do you have any idea of what industry you would like to be in?” she asked as she arranged her clipboard and pen.

“I think I would be best finding something that I am suited to,” William said as carefully as he could.

The woman gave a small nod and seemed to understand.

“There’re a lot of industries for people with your sort of…skill set,” she started as she handed him the tablet. “But here. Let’s start with the test. That will give us a bit of a ballpark to work with.”

William waded through the procession of questions as they became more and more specific. When he was done, he handed the tablet back to the woman, and she waited for the report to load. A list of seventy or so options came up. She loaded his file, and this list was whittled down to five options. He clenched his jaw, but it was difficult to hide the sinking feeling in his stomach. What he really wanted was something outside where he wouldn’t be at a desk all day. The lonely options on the screen that lay in front of him were all sedentary. Isolated. Nothing that would work him up or have him needing to make contact with too many other people.

“Well, what do you think?” the woman asked brightly.

One look into his face was enough. She drummed her fingers on her chin as she thought.

“What happens if I try for a job that I’m not so suited for? Would I have a chance?”

She pursed her lips.

“You wouldn’t even make it to an interview, I’m afraid. Not with a file like this,” she said as she looked on another tablet to the side. She scanned through his history, stopping at intervals. Her eyes popped at a couple of the entries. He wondered whether he should be used to the feelings when people did this. Or if he never would be. The shame. Embarrassment. The sense of being as transparent and fragile as a glass orb.

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