The last medical bill was usually around twenty grand – the cost of moving your dead body to wherever it would go after the healthcare system had been done with it. One morning J was mildly surprised when he saw on his phone the charge applied to his account. Ten minutes later a transport team moved him from his bed in the theoretically temporary hospital ward. By that point J had had too much experience with hospitals to attempt to argue or even make a Monty Python joke, and he felt too tired to care anyway.
If the hospital was wrong about him being dead it wasn’t by much.
As it turned out something in the deeper chthonic layers of healthcare’s geology of software was vaguely aware that he hasn’t died yet. Instead of being sent to a cemetery or crematorium J found himself sharing the back of a mid-sized van with four other unprofitable patients. Nobody had much curiosity about where they were going, but when they reached a small guarding station on the side of a dirty river they knew where they were even before seeing the refugee camp on the other side.
It was noon when J and the others were put on a small autonomous boat and carried to the other side of the river. One of the people who had come in the van with him had died from the early Spring heat, and J had to pull another one to the shore as the boat began to give them small electrical shocks in a monotonous crescendo, impatient to go back to safety.
None of the refugees did anything, not out of callousness but because there was plainly not much to be done. J agreed with them. Almost no-one seemed to be, like him, perched on the rare point where marginal lifelong value went to zero before brain activity did. Most had the shocked eyes of climate refugees, although violence, disease, and global warming overlapped so much it was difficult and maybe impossible to try and tell them apart.
The day passed in slow waves of thirst. More people died. Much to his surprise, J did not.
As the night fell he saw about a dozen people take off their ragged clothes and walk towards the river. He did not warn them that the robots at the guarding station saw as well in darkness as in sunlight or that their accuracy was as carefully engineered as their inability to tell or believe that anything was not a threat. They knew this much better than him — and they had even less than J did waiting for them on the other side — but they entered the black water anyway.
J took off his clothes and followed. The cheap drugs that had been all he could afford at the end had stopped working and the pain was worse than it had ever been: it was also as bad as it would ever get. He thought he had a good chance of making it to the halfway line that marked the frontier of the guards’ dominion. The rest would be easy.