We were both sipping orange juice after our Rejuvenant cocktails, so called but actually IVs. “ This is my second dose. The doc says that it probably won't last as long as the first one. That's OK, I got a good ride on it, better than most, I'm told. If I get half of that this time, I'll be happy.” He looked good, he'd probably had his first IV when he was around fifty, which froze his apparent age while he was in his prime.
“This is my first,” I said. “I thought about it for a while. I didn't want to end my days helpless in a nursing home, but the old neurons seem to be clicking along pretty good so I went for it. A lot of interesting stuff is happening and I want to see how it turns out.”
“I know what you mean. I test myself regularly and write down my scores . So far the numbers are holding up. When they drop off I'm not going to hang around. I'll step into the closest Light Box and see what's over the hill. The trick is knowing when to go. I don't want to drift into helplessness and find myself in a nursing home but I don't want to leave too soon.”
I nodded my agreement. They make you sit still for half an hour then it's three miles on the treadmill to get the blood well stirred up then a little more orange juice and sitting for another half hour. If you're OK, you go home.
We had just finished the treadmill and were again sipping juice. “Did you ever read anything about the history of Light Boxes,”
“No,” I said, “can't say that I have. Never thought about it, they were just something we had, but, of course, they had to have been invented by somebody. I assume, since you brought up the topic, that you've checked into it.”
“Not very deeply, but it turns out that they were invented for the “humane”, he made quotation marks with his fingers, execution of criminals. We have long since ended that practice but the Light Boxes stayed on, an example, I suppose, of a good result from a surprising source.”
“Like the Bible story,” I said, “of Samson finding honey in the carcass of a lion, or something like that if I remember correctly.”
“I wouldn't have made that connection, but yes. From earliest times, right up to the two thousands people that were thought hazardous to society were often executed. It was never really clear if execution was intended to deter criminals or if it was simply society's revenge. In any case, the practice became controversial and was regularly attacked. One of the most successful legal attacks, seldom completely effective in preventing an execution, but effective in delaying it, was to attack it as cruel and inhumane.”
“That seems obvious today,” I said, “but we've moved on a bit since then. What specific part of the execution was held to be especially inhumane?”
“They could never be sure that death was painless. There was, of course, no way to actually test a procedure and verify that it brought death instantly and painlessly.”
“Funny,” I said, “How we want to make death humane. If I remember my reading correctly, the French were motivated by the same impulse when the Guillotine was invented.”
“Yes, progress is a funny thing. We wanted to kill people but we didn't want them to suffer.
It was finally agreed that society's needs could be fully met by instantly vaporizing the criminal. That gave rise to the Light Box. The research models were tested on dead pigs, which were satisfactorily vaporized. Initially there was a faint whiff of cooked meat, that was thought to be unacceptable. Raising the energy level got rid not only of the pig but of the smell. We were now ready to test it on human cadavers. Same result. A few cadavers were shown on TV being vaporized and everybody was convinced. We were now civilized.”
“But,” I said, “we haven't executed anybody in years. How come the Light Boxes are still around?”
“We were going to get rid of them but a strange coalition of fiscal conservatives and superannuated retired people, each ordinarily opposed to anything the other supported, joined up to, not only keep them but also install more. Both camps were initially appalled to find themselves allies, but each bowed to reality and accepted their pact with the devil. The old were terrified of the prospect of years of helpless vegetation from which death was the only escape. They wanted to be able to exit on their own terms.
The conservatives argued that it was much cheaper to let the hopelessly debilitated exit by Light Box than to keep them in expensive nursing homes where they consumed quantities of expensive drugs to no benefit. So they made common cause against a number of religious organizations that strenuously argued that the time of one's death was a matter determined by God. Their arguments were largely torpedoed by the historical fact that the same organizations had vigorously supported the death penalty in earlier years. So here we are and I'm glad that a Light Box will be available when I need it.”
“Have you ever seen a Light Box actually work?” I asked
“Yes, once. A friend I'd known for some eighty years almost waited too long. By the time he decided to go, he was so frail that he wasn't sure he could make it on his own, so he asked me to help.
Fortunately, when we got there he was able to go in by himself. The procedures would have been pretty complicated if I needed to be involved. As it was, he walked in and pressed a large button on the wall. A slot opened just below the button. He placed his hand in it and the machine read his physical and emotional state and verified that he was there by choice and not under coercion, After a few seconds the door opened, revealing a small, white, brightly lit room. He waved to me, smiled and walked in. The door closed. Perhaps two or three seconds later the door swung open and the room was empty. Then the door closed.”
“Beats the hell out of the guillotine,” I said.