Originally submitted to this writing prompt.
The waiting room is no different than any other time of the year: full of people of all ages wearing a stoic look of anticipation upon their faces. The only smiles anybody bears are those of children who are too young to fully grasp what’s going on. Most are accompanied by lawyers dressed in suits, briefcases in hand. Each case full of supporting documents to convince the judges of the Oracle that their lives are worth living. A television fills the silence. A daytime soap is playing on it yet nobody is really watching. We hear the low volume conversation between a woman, her ex-lover and her evil twin, but I have no idea what’s really going on in the scene. I do notice something is different though. Last year when I was in this room, back before the writers decided to break the woman and her ex-lover apart, back before the evil twin’s reveal became known, the face of her lover was different. A changeling of a man. Which only meant one thing: the previous actor hadn’t survived his annual evaluation. Such a shame.
A young woman dressed in a white robe emerges from the evaluation chambers.
“Roland Thomas?” She asked.
A man dressed in a sports-coat and white t-shirt stands up. Nobody looks. It’s not polite to gaze upon a potential corpse. His lawyer, a middle aged woman in a navy blue suit, joins him and they follow the woman in white past the doors. The doors click shut and small murmurs break out between people. I listen to the two people next to me.
“Is that the founder of Grab Bag?” I hear somebody say.
“I think so,” another answers.
“Do you think he’ll pass?”
“Doubt it. Did you hear the story about the chef who could use their services to smuggle narcotics?”
“That was the chef. Thomas had nothing to with it.”
“That didn’t stop the Oracle from sentencing Mariana House to death after it was discovered that her next app could be used to organize protests.”
“The Oracle doesn’t sentence, the judges do.”
“You know what I mean.”
Silence took the room not long after the conversation between me ended. They weren’t wrong though, about the Oracle. The Oracle does nothing but looks into the future of each subject and assigns probabilities. Those probabilities are then ran through a second system which then weighs and assigns a moralistic score to each potential action. Through a series of complex algorithms hidden away within a black box a receipt is printed out and presented before a judge who’s job is to interpret the data, who decided on the spot whether to let the subject live another year or be sent to the chair immediately. A system once designed thirty-three years ago by a curious professor and his grad-students as means of predicting the potential recidivism of convicts eligible for parole had been twisted and turned into the so called arbiter of truth that hung over all our lives. Not many people knew that part of the Oracle’s past, about it being nothing more than a curious project built by one professor and his team of grad-students. But I do. I was one of his students after all.
Half an hour passed and Roland Thomas returned to the waiting room. He wore a smile of relief across his face. He walked through the room and out the double doors, his lawyer right behind him. Once the doors closed behind them we all returned to our somber silence.
Women and men in white robes called many people in. Most returned and walked through those double doors with a smile across their face. A few never returned, only their lawyers would walk through the double doors with apathetic expressions across their faces. For many of us this annual ordeal was the most important day of our lives, for the lawyers it was just another Tuesday. Of course their time to be judged will come. Our time before the Oracle was inevitable.
When the room dwindled down to nothing but a few people and the soap opera had faded away to afternoon gameshows did my name finally get called upon.
“Francis Belton?” A man in a white robe asked. I rose, and my lawyer next to me, a young man in his early thirties, followed.
The evaluation hadn’t changed in the past twenty-seven years. We walked into a white room with only a chair, a control panel, and a white blister bulging from the wall. The Seer. The Seer was a white semi-sphere two meters in diameter mounted to a wall. Only a black dot the size of a saucer sat in its center gazing upon me with an empty blank stare. The technician in the white robe started up the machine while my lawyer stood outside the blue tape on the floor to not interfere with the intake. The Seer hummed to life and I gazed upon the deep void of its dark pupil, until it felt that there was nothing left in the room but me and the abyss within it. My focus broke when the technician’s control panel chimed, returning me to the pristine white room.
The Seers acted as nodes for the Oracle. Taking in all the information on their subject and reporting it to the central hub of the Oracle. When that chime rang it meant that the Oracle had determined a list of probably futures. Soon after the chime a slot on the wall printed out a long skinny list of my probably futures and the weighted morality of each one on receipt like paper. The technician took it and folded it up carefully before leading us down the hallway to be judged.
The judge sat upon a high bench baring the seal of the state upon it. He wore a black robe with red accents at the seems. I recognized this one, he had spared me thrice before in the past. Which have me a little hope. The usually don’t let a judge review the same candidate more than three times, as a means to keep a sense of objectivity in their rulings. But I suppose the rumors were true, that were a shortage of able judges right now. Many reasons were suspected, but the one that I believed to be true was that the past judges had ruled too harshly in the past, thus cutting into the supply side of things. Empty benches left vacant due to too many overzealous judges ready to send somebody to the chair for even the smallest potential of social disruption in their future.
There was a time though, the first five years after the system had become a part of the public’s annual routine, like annual physicals or driver’s license renewals, when people were given the chance to rehabilitate instead of death. But soon the prisons and social services programs became overburdened and it became cheaper and more efficient to get it over with and end their lives there on the spot. Now only those with a good enough lawyer could plead for a spot in those systems. Which is why everybody had one at their side when dealing with the Oracle, on the off chance that they could be spared and put into the system.
The judge read through my long list of potential futures and I sat there in silence. My past as a researcher on the initial Oracle project would come to haunt me soon enough, it always did.
“It says here that you have a six percent chance of showing contempt to the Oracle system,” the judge says. “How do you plead?”
“No intent,” I say. As with routine every time we reached this part of process. Six percent though, that’s two points higher than last year. I didn’t feel as if my feeling for it had changed that much.
“Why is that?”
I nodded my lawyer who began presenting on my behalf. He went through my past as a researcher on the project. Brought up receipts from past judgements that showed that the system had always shown that and that every one of my former colleagues had also had the same results. To which the judge protested saying that four of my six former colleagues, including the professor himself, had been sent to the chair in protest for possible protest of their invention. They went back and forth and I stood on the sidelines hoping that my assigned attorney had been as sharp as he said he was.
“We have sentenced people for lower probabilities for this same crime,” the judge finally said. “Why should we spare you?” He turned to me.
I took a deep breath and gulped. I didn’t like being on the spot, especially when my life was on the line. “I have nothing but respect for the system I helped create,” I lied. “I have seen our nation grow from the once meager one it was to a bustling economy with global influence. My contributions have done nothing but aide the land that I am proud to call my home.”
“Then can you explain to me why you have a six percent chance or protesting the system you built?”
“Because,” I said searching for the words within my head. “Because I love my country.” That was true at least. I let the silence fill the gap between the judge and I.
“Very well,” the judge said. “We will send you on probation starting the moment you leave these doors. If any slip ups are reported then that’s that. Understood?”
I nodded. “Thank you your honor.”
The technician led up through the doors and into the lobby where I would meat my parole officer. At least I got away with my life.