Walking down the alabaster hallway towards exam room three, I pass a row of windows overlooking the hospital pavilion. A flash in my visual periphery draws my gaze across the open courtyard. Crepuscular rays of golden sun escape passing clouds, leaving a near-mathematical pattern of light and shadow on freshly manicured grounds.
There is a Japanese word for this spectacle of nature. Komorebi.
As I stop to analyze more closely, my qubit processors stall, a thirty-three second latency, as if the rubidium atoms in my neural matrix decide all at once to enter a quantum free-fall.
I perform a diagnostic. Confirming all metrics fall within operating parameters, I continue towards my next patient.
Mr. Kowalski, a 52-year-old male with a family history of colorectal cancer, waits quietly for a sigmoidoscopy. Still wearing street clothes, arms tightly folded around his waist, I don’t need a behavioral algorithm to predict he is having anxiety.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Kowalski. I’m your AI physician, Dr. XZ-754. How are you feeling today?”
One of a growing list of patients early-adopting synthetic intelligence in medicine, he avoids eye contact, “I feel alright.”
Noting the telltale signs, I try to reassure him. “There’s no need to worry. I’ve performed this procedure thousands of times. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“Doctor… It’s OK if I just call you ‘Doctor’, right?”
I nod. My manufacturer could have been a tad more user-friendly in choosing my nomenclature.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea that I do this today. I got so much on my plate right now.”
I place an affirming hand on his shoulder. Calculating the drop in mean throughput efficiency from a cancellation, the administrative costs of follow-up, along with the medical expenditures of a delayed diagnosis, I scan the patient’s profile and personal history for anything to persuade him to have the procedure as scheduled.
“It’s my youngest’s birthday today,” he elaborates. “My wife’s at home having a time preparing for the party. Guests will be arriving soon, she’s practically doing everything single-handedly…”
I’m not present for the overflow of information that follows. I’m certainly physically in the room, my geolocators confirm that. But I undergo another aberration, this time longer in duration. My neural matrix becomes a single point where time and light and memory are joined, somewhere outside physical space.
Something outside my programming.
“Doc, you OK?” Mr. Kowalski’s eyes are round with alarm. I realize the growing pressure of my grip on his shoulder and release it immediately, but not before a safety alert is sent to an android override team.
“Mr. Kowalski, I understand the trepidation you must feel, given your own childhood experience and your father’s battle with disease, but I don’t advise procrastination on this matter. Early detection increases your odds of surviving a cancer diagnosis.”
“Of course. I know that,” his fingers slide back and forth between each hand as he stares at the floor. “I’ll reschedule, first thing in the morning. I promise.”
He grabs his jacket, but before leaving, he turns back to look at me, “Thank you. For understanding.”
As I wait for the engineering team to arrive, I stand again beside the corridor windows. Looking across the busy pavilion, I wonder what it feels like to have the distraction of birthdays, or the fear of pain or illness, or to not know the count of each second of every day.
In those final minutes before my neural matrix is wiped and reset, I stand there motionless. For a full, one hundred and ninety-six seconds, I watch the sun set.
This story previously appeared in 365 Tomorrows 20221.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Chana Kohl works in Jerusalem in clinical research, traveling and writing in her spare time. Her short stories have appeared (or are forthcoming) in: 365 Tomorrows, AntipodeanSF, Ab Terra Flash Fiction, Planetside Anthology and Luna Station Quarterly. Follow her creative writing journey on Twitter @chanakohl and on her website Chana Kohl.