As medical technology advances, and becomes ever more intimate and perhaps even invasive, where will we draw the line—and why? Today's inventive work of speculative fiction, from the brain of Terraform regular (and Daily Beast tech reporter) Blake Montgomery, digs under the skin of the matter. Enjoy. -the ed.
“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting on May 9, 2288. God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”
Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union: Your honor, we move to introduce Plaintiff’s Exhibit 55, Massachusetts vs. Abraham.
Justice: Any objections from the opposing counsel?
Attorney for the state of New York: Yes, your Honor. The evidence is immaterial. The ACLU is grasping at moral authority by introducing a lurid story of murder into the proceedings. It’s a naked attempt to shore up weak legal reasoning.
Justice: Your response?
ACLU: The precedent set in Massachusetts vs. Abraham buttresses our case that the state is arguing for an unconstitutional regulation of religion that impinges on the First Amendment. Convicting my client of a crime for his refusal on religious grounds to participate in state-mandated medical trials will erode religious liberty. Dr. Luke Abraham was convicted of a crime and imprisoned for a religious practice, and his church collapsed in his absence. Likewise, my client has declined to undergo a nanomachine enhancement experiment conducted by his government, and he has a constitutional right to do so. Citizens are not lab rats, no matter how great the greater good may be.
Justice: The nature of Abraham’s crime makes it difficult to see his conviction as anything more meaningful than the redress of a heinous act, but I’ll allow you the chance to demonstrate the connection, counselor. Proceed.
State of Massachusetts, Plaintiff
Dr. Luke Abraham, Defendant
On the charge of Murder in the First Degree
Jury Trial, Day 7
Date: July 19, 2267
Location: Essex County Superior Courthouse
Before: Hon. Deborah Tola, circuit court judge, referred to herein as The Court
The Court: The court now calls Massachusetts vs. Abraham. Will all parties state their appearances for the record?
Attorney Ives: The State appears via Essex County District Attorney Uriel Ives.
Attorney Jacobs: Dr. Luke Abraham is here in person. Attorney Martha Jacobs on his behalf.
The Court: While we are outside the presence of the jury, it is the court’s understanding that the prosecution wishes to continue calling witnesses today.
Attorney Ives: That’s correct, your Honor.
The Court: Any objections or motions from the defense?
Attorney Jacobs: None, your Honor.
The Court: Understood. Bailiff, bring in the jury.
(The jury entered and was seated.)
The Court: Members of the jury, welcome back. Did anyone attempt to speak to you about this case since yesterday?
(Jury members answered in the negative.)
The Court: Very good. With that, we are ready to proceed.
Attorney Ives: The State calls Sarah Lazarus to the stand.
(The witness entered the courtroom.)
The Clerk: Please raise your right hand.
(Sarah Lazarus, called as a witness herein, having been first duly sworn, was examined by Attorney Ives and testified as follows:)
Q: Mrs. Lazarus, could you tell the jury how old you are and where you live?
A: I’m 39, and I live in an apartment in Salem.
Q: Have you always lived in Salem?
A: No. Until recently I lived on a farm an hour outside the city by hover car.
Q: What was the nature of your accommodations there?
A: I lived in a house that was part of a 500-acre compound owned and operated by the Church of Christ the Physician.
Q: Did you live with any family?
A: My husband passed away several years ago, so my son and I lived together in a small house on the edge of the farm. The church allots living space based on how many people are in your family. We were in that house until, um, my son, I, uh, until we…we…Could I please have some tissues? I’m sorry.
Q: Of course. That’s all right. Take your time.
A: I’m sorry. I’m ready.
Q: Are you yourself a member of the Church of Christ the Physician?
A: I was for most of my life. I left last year.
Q: How did you come to join the church?
A: I was born into it.
Q: Did you choose to leave as a result of the actions of the defendant?
Q: Is it more common for members to be born into the church than to convert?
Q: Why is that?
A: Most people outside the church are injected with medical nanomachines very early in their lives, but the church believes that procedure taints the body with sin and won’t allow it. We—um, sorry— they sometimes call the machines “Satan’s blood cells” or “blood pests.” You can’t get into heaven if they’re inside you, and you have to remove them to convert. That process is very painful and possibly deadly. It requires losing a lot of blood and quickly replacing it with transfusions that don’t have any bots. I’ve seen it. It’s horrible. When people learn about it, most of them get scared off.
Q: In your understanding, why are most people outside the church injected with nanomachines?
A: To fight against diseases and heal wounds better than a normal human body could.
Q: For what reasons do people follow through with conversion?
A: Our biggest group of initiates who weren’t church members’ children were Rejectors.
Q: Could you tell the jury what Rejectors are?
Attorney Jacobs: Objection, your Honor, to the witness’ competence. Mrs. Lazarus has received no scientific training and therefore cannot accurately describe the biology of a Rejector.
The Court: Ms. Jacobs, please. The nature of Rejectors is common knowledge taught in the first grade. Go on, Mr. Ives.
Q: Thank you, your Honor. Mrs. Lazarus?
A: Rejectors are people whose bodies can’t accept any nanomachines. The technology can cause severe side effects for a small number of people. The founders of the church were Rejectors.
Q: And why would these people seek out the Church?
A: They typically don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re not allowed to live in most cities or even visit. If a child can’t accept nanomachines, it’s taken away from the parents who can, and vice versa. Some states tried to establish Rejector settlements, but no doctors would go there. Everyone died.
Q: Do you have nanomachines in your blood?
A: I do, yes, as of recently.
Q: The state moves to introduce Exhibit 47, your Honor: “Nanomachine Prevalence in the United States Population and its Effects,” a Harvard University study.
The Court: Any objections, counsel?
Attorney Jacobs: Yes, your Honor. Competence, again. Mrs. Lazarus is not, I will repeat, a trained scientist. She is unqualified to interpret results of such experiments.
The Court: I’m inclined to agree this time. Mr. Ives?
Attorney Ives: The study demonstrates how widespread healing nanomachines are among the people of the United States, which establishes the contrast between medical norms and the uncommon practices of the Church of Christ the Physician. The state will ask Mrs. Lazarus only to read text from the study, not to provide her opinion of it.
The Court: I see. Objection overruled.
Q: Could you read the highlighted words here, Mrs. Lazarus?
A: “We extrapolate from a representative survey and blood tests of 20,000 US citizens that 94% of the US population maintains a functioning level of bloodstream nanomachines as of 2265. Survey respondents reported becoming sick 72% less than the control group of citizens living with no nanomachines at all or too few to observe any healing function. Analysis of blood tests in conjunction with medical records indicated that recuperation from a five common illnesses accelerated 38% among the study group versus the control.”
Q: Thank you, Mrs. Lazarus. So people with nanomachines in their blood recover more quickly from most ailments and fall ill less often than those without. In the absence of these machines, where do church members find healthcare?
A: We train our own doctors, who study current medical treatments and determine what’s acceptable under church doctrine. They go by a code: “The body of Man was made in His image. We will neither harm nor corrupt it.” We call them “Lukes” instead of “doctors,” because when each one graduates from church medical school, he legally changes his first name to Luke after the patron saint of physicians. It’s our—oh, uh— their highest honor and most respected job. No one else in the church bears that first name, and each head of the church, who’s always a doctor, adopts the full name Luke Abraham to signify that he’s the caretaker of the whole congregation. That’s a lifelong position.
Q: Is the current head of the church, Luke Abraham, sitting in this room?
Q: Could you point him out for the jury?
(The witness identified the defendant as Luke Abraham.)
Q: What is the penalty within the church for injecting nanomachines?
A: A purification rite. It’s seen as treason against your body, God’s ultimate creation, so the injected person is taken to the cathedral for a Letting.
Q: And what is a Letting?
A: When the Lukes discover that someone in the church has been injected with nanomachines, they’ll cleanse him the same way they do converts. They strap the sinner to a steel surgical table, make incisions in his body, and let his blood run. Sometimes they make transfusions. Sometimes they don’t. Father Abraham takes a cup of the sinner’s blood and pours it into a sacred fire. Boiling nanomachines make a squealing sound like lobsters.
Q: That sounds like a brutal procedure. Did people die?
A: Yes. Often.
Q: Did you ever see anyone try to stop them from happening?
A: No. We were too afraid of Father Abraham.
Q: Did law enforcement ever intervene?
A: The police sniffed around a few times about rumors people went missing, but for us there was a lot of shame in talking to outsiders. I don’t think anyone beyond our walls knew about the conversion process or Lettings, even though everyone in the church had seen both many times. If anyone out there—here, I suppose—did know, they didn’t care. Outsiders thought we were freaks regardless of what we did. They would’ve been happy to hear we were killing each other.
Q: Where did Lettings take place?
A: In a dark chamber attached to the central cathedral called the Cleansing Chapel. The walls, the floor, and even the vaulted ceiling are this disgusting faded red. Father Abraham and the other Lukes stand on a circular stone platform, high off the ground, in the center of things. There are scenes of Christ healing people engraved in its sides. The same ones are carved into the Lukes’ ceremonial scalpels.
Q: Your son Isaac, was he injected with nanomachines when he was an infant?
Q: Did you want him to be?
A: No. I believed at the time that would be sacrilege.
Q: What did you do when he got sick as a young child?
A: I put him in the Lukes’ care, always to good results.
Q: Was there ever a time when your son didn’t recover while in the Lukes’ care?
A: Last year, when he was 13, he got sick with something I’d never seen before.
Q: Could you describe it for the jury?
A: Um, he had a high fever for weeks. His lymph nodes were so swollen that they formed lumps all over his body. He tossed and turned all night. He would hallucinate during the day or have these appalling nightmares, always of a giant bull with wings. Eating and swallowing anything was painful for him.
Q: Did the Lukes attempt to treat him?
A: They did. They tried several different remedies, but after three weeks, they told me they were done, that they were at their wits’ end.
Q: What did you do?
A: The night they said they couldn’t do anything—basically saying Isaac would die—I had a tantrum in the hospital. I trashed the office of the Luke in charge of his case. Later I went to another Luke I knew well, Luke Silver. He was on the younger side. I had taught him math in the church’s school when he was a child, and he had taken care of Isaac as a baby. I asked him to, um, to…
Q: To do what?
A: …to inject Isaac with nanomachines. Oh, God, I just couldn’t think of anything else to do!
(The witness began weeping heavily.)
A: (unintelligible) die. I’m his mother, for (unintelligible) I loved him so much, and I (unintelligible) I’m so sorry, Isaac. I’m sorry!
The Court: Mrs. Lazarus, I understand that this is a difficult subject, but I must ask you to control the volume of your voice.
A: Ok, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…um, oh, Luke Silver. He hesitated initially, but he did it. I’m convinced he wanted to save Isaac as much as I did.
Q: Did the infusion alleviate Isaac’s illness?
A: It did. He recovered in two weeks. It was hailed as a miracle. Father Abraham preached about it at a Wednesday evening service, about how someone could be “far beyond the hands of Man but still within the grasp of God.” He claimed he and the Lord had healed my son, even though that obviously wasn’t true.
Defendant: You dare question my communion with—
The Court: Dr. Abraham!
Attorney Jacobs: Sit down right now, Luke.
The Court: See that doesn’t happen again, Dr. Abraham. Go on, Mr. Ives.
Q: Could you describe what happened to you and your son in the Cleansing Chapel after he recovered?
A: Yes. Give me one minute so I don’t cry again.
Q: Of course.
(The witness did not speak for several minutes.)
A: Thank you. Ok. Three Lukes dragged me from my house to the cathedral by my arms and hair. I was so scared. The Chapel already smelled like rotting blood and smoke when we arrived. They tied me to a chair in front of the carving in the stage that shows Jesus with Lazarus, which felt like a terrible joke. If they were planning to kill me, I think they would have put me on the platform itself. It seemed like Father Abraham didn’t know I had asked Luke Silver to inject my son.
Q: Was Dr. Silver present?
A: No. I remember thinking he must already be dead.
Attorney Jacobs: Objection—lacks foundation. The witness is guessing at Dr. Silver’s whereabouts without direct knowledge of them.
Attorney Ives: It is the witness’ opinion that it was possible Dr. Silver had been killed.
The Court: Objection sustained. The jury will disregard that answer. Please describe only what you saw, Mrs. Lazarus.
Q: What happened next?
A: The ceremony started after they bound and gagged me. Father Abraham walked Isaac up to the stage. Isaac seemed calm, even though he had seen Lettings before. He was wearing the thin white robe everyone in the church wears for baptisms, Lettings, and burials. Two Lukes were waiting. They strapped him to the steel table. I tried to scream at him to run, but I had a lot of cloth in my mouth. Father Abraham began making incisions him. First the short and shallow cuts in his biceps and calves. I could see his blood start to run off the table. Then he, he…
Q: How did Isaac react?
Q: Mrs. Lazarus?
(The witness screamed.)
The Court: Mrs. Lazarus!
Q: Sarah, please calm down. Please. We’re almost through.
A: Ok. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. This is so much harder than I thought it would be. Isaac’s eyes had been half-closed, but once Father Abraham started cutting longer and deeper, closer to his heart, they opened wider than I had ever seen. He looked right at me and started shrieking for my help. He was writhing on the table and splashing in his own blood. Isaac was hurting so much. I wanted more than anything to tell him it was my fault, to say I was…
Q: Did Father Abraham say anything during the attack?
Attorney Jacobs: Objection—counsel is leading the witness by calling the defendant’s actions an “attack.”
The Court: Sustained. Rephrase your question, counsel.
Q: Did Dr. Abraham say anything to Isaac on the stage?
A: During a Letting, the entire church watches, even young children, and congregants chant. Father Abraham said the words along with everyone for a while: “I am Abraham. I am Isaac. I am Abraham. I am Isaac. This is my body. This is my blood. This is my body. This is my blood.” Isaac’s blood was dripping off his face as he shouted Bible verses about healing.
Q: Thank you, Mrs. Lazarus. I know this is tough, and I appreciate you being here this morning.
A: Oh, and he also grabbed Isaac’s chin. He would turn Isaac’s head so that they were looking into each other’s eyes as he dug the scalpel in.
Q: How long did the ceremony last?
A: I don’t know. It felt like my whole life. I wanted to close my eyes more than anything, but Isaac kept turning to me. His blood was leaking into his eyes.
Q: Did Isaac die during the Letting?
Q: How did you know?
A: Father Abraham announced it. He raised his red hands and said, “We have lost our sinful brother to the blood pests. Pray he makes his own journey to a more peaceful place, for he is beyond our help now.” Isaac’s head lolled towards me, but his eyes weren’t moving. They didn’t even seem blue any more, just blank. The whites were red. There must have been a dozen cuts on his face…I’m sorry, I can’t.
Q: I understand. One last question: did Luke Abraham kill your son?
(The witness did not answer immediately.)
Q: Mrs. Lazarus?
A: Yes. He bled my son to death.
Q: Nothing further, your Honor.
The Court: Do you wish to cross-examine the witness, Ms. Jacobs?
Attorney Jacobs: No, your Honor.
The Court: You are excused, Mrs. Lazarus. Thank you for your testimony.
(The witness exited the courtroom.)
ACLU: After Luke Abraham was convicted, he was imprisoned for life. Massachusetts filed a slew of subsequent lawsuits that eventually brought the Church of Christ the Physician to bankruptcy, and the church crumbled without its leader. We argue that the conviction of Abraham coupled with the pattern of legal harassment amounts to an intentional dismantling of the Church of Christ the Physician by the state. To wit, the state pursued a de facto legislation of and infringement on religious activity, an unconstitutional act, much like what it has done to my client.
Justice: Thank you, counsel, but you have not proven your point. A jury is asked to consider only the facts of the case, not to weigh a verdict’s aftershocks. The law cannot predict the future. The objection is sustained. Massachusetts vs. Abraham will not be entered into evidence.
ACLU: What? Your Honor! After I read all that to the court?
Justice: Ritual murder committed out of zealotry is not a religiously exempted medical procedure. I agree with the state’s argument that you are making an emotional appeal more so than a logical one.
New York: Thank you, your Honor.
Justice: What happened to Sarah Lazarus after that case? You said the church collapsed after several years, but what of her?
ACLU: She became a leader of the movement against the church.
New York: Somewhat reluctantly, you must admit. She preferred her private life as a teacher in Salem, even with the prejudice against her as a former church member. But the sensation that followed every turn of her case thrust her into an unavoidable spotlight. She said in interviews that she had made an individual decision, not a categorical one, and felt sympathy toward the remaining members of the church. She died of natural causes many years later.
Justice: As natural as they can be, with these machines in our blood.
New York: Yes, your Honor.