Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Happy (07/12/07)
TITLE: The Red Summons
By Melanie Kerr
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The voice was irritatingly familiar. The Red Summons had appeared on his communication console this morning and much as Miles considered not turning up to the clinic, he knew that they would pursue him throughout the day. All the transport systems and the food refectories would display the Red Summons with his name attached, and he would become the centre of everyone’s attention. He couldn’t conduct any business until he had been seen by the authorities at Last Day Enterprises.
“No,” he replied.. Lying on the couch, Miles looked up at the panel above his head. There was a plain white screen with a single black line from left to right. The top third of the screen was filled with dates and numbers. The lower third was filled with complex equations.
The black line tracked the rise and fall of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway from one part of his brain to another. The rise and fall of the line on screen pin pointed moments of profound pleasure and dark despair. When the line climbed above the higher level, or dropped below the lower level, the Red Summons was issued.
The Last Day program had been running for the past fifty years. The government had been concerned that the working population for the most part appeared to be unhappy. Polls revealed that many people were merely surviving from day to day. Scientists began testing the dopamine levels in the brain and recording events, like weddings, promotions and births that sent the levels soaring, and the corresponding events like job losses, illnesses and the death of loved ones that caused the levels to plummet.
A group of lawyers hi-jacked the information from the Last Day program to campaign for the right of a person to end their life if the dopamine levels exceeded the limits. It was easy enough to argue that if a person was really unhappy, they should be given the right to end their unhappiness. It was suggested that high dopamine levels might also lead to a person wanting to bring their life to an end – after all, they argued, when life is “that good” the only way open to people was downwards into unhappiness. It was surely far better to allow a person to end their life on a high. Thus the Red Summons was born – the choice to end your own life.
The equations on the screen predicted the likelihood of a rise or a fall in the dopamine levels allowing people to make an informed decision. It was based on information pulled from a variety of sources – the weather, the current political climate, the level of the pound against the dollar, local crime rates as well as the usual physiological data.
Miles knew enough to roughly translate the numbers and symbols to see that the program anticipated a downward spiral. He smiled. The program was always anticipating a downward spiral.
The Red Summons was finished and his decision was made. He sat up from the couch, disentangling himself from the various leads.
There was a knock on the door and after a small pause someone dressed in a white lab coat walked in. Miles was sure that he had seen the combination of grey thinning hair, half moon glasses, with ice blue eyes before but couldn’t place him.
“Mr Forrester, Leyton Stenner.” The director of Last Day Enterprises shook his hand. As handshakes went, Miles was disappointed. For a hugely important person, the man’s palm was sweaty and his grip less than firm. “I am here to inform you that you have received your last Red Summons.” Stenner reached up to the monitor and switched it off. “I know that it’s illegal to deny you the right to your Last Day but..” he smiled,” you have no intention of ever taking it, have you? You’re just messing up our statistics, Mr Forrester.”
Miles left the building. His skin prickled at the awareness of a storm on its way. Clouds grumbled and murmured above his head, but Miles wasn’t concerned. The Last Day programme that plotted his dopamine levels every moment of every day was limited. The equations never took in the most important information in Miles' life. His Christian faith reminded him daily that mountaintop experiences and miry pits were precious opportunities to experience God’s grace.
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