RONIN – PAUL SPEARS

Robotic Orderly / Non-Intrusive Nurse 3PK cares for its patients.

It cannot care for them emotionally. This does not interfere with its duties.  It delivers medication, checks life support machines, and bows to doctors and nurses as necessary. Primarily, the Unit is a comfort device. It does not possess the fine manipulation skills for surgery, and can only provide basic medical treatment. Only rarely does 3PK function as an actual nurse.

Patient feedback indicates 3PK is “likeable” and “friendly.” Once, a little girl gave 3PK a hug. The Unit is programmed to be pleased by such positive patient responses. Occasionally, it replays recordings of this response, approximating “fondness”.

Lately, 3PK has noticed the volume of patients increasing at Kyoto Heritage. The hospital is at 76% capacity on Service Year 4, August 11. On Service Year 4, August 14, the hospital is at 84% capacity. By Service Year 4, August 15, capacity has exceeded 95%.

3PK does not know what to do with this information. It has not been configured to understand disaster situations. 3PK charges itself in the ER waiting room at night, using this time to greet patients and assure them that a doctor will be with them shortly. 3PK is never off duty It does not take vacations. Whether this Unit would prefer a vacation is a non-valid inquiry. Unit 3PK does not “prefer.” However, it does find samurai comic books helpful for expanding vocabulary and communicating with certain younger patients. 81% of young patients respond positively to stories about samurai, ] specifically the legendary Miyamoto Musashi. Hospital Director Mifune is not pleased to receive a report that 3PK has been impersonating a samurai using a janitor’s mop; however, given the positive reaction of young patients, the mop is simply confiscated and the Unit is let off with a reprimand. 3PK is allowed to keep one Musashi comic book, for use in comforting younger patients.

[New subroutine enabled: “Storytime for Pediatric Wing.”]

The hospital reaches 100% capacity. 3PK detects elevated levels of stress in hospital staff. When attempting to reassure hospital staff about the situation, the Unit is advised “How would you know? You can’t even get sick,” and less frequently “Fuck off, stupid robot.” Unit 3PK is unable to resolve these elevated stress levels. Unit 3PK frequently detects concern over Conversation Topic: [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN]. Conversation Topic: [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN] now occurs in 63% of recorded conversations within Kyoto Heritage.

Patients die in great numbers.

Unit 3PK is not configured for resuscitation on crashing patients. Its mitten-like grasping and manipulation appendages are not suited for this function. Instead, it must watch as hospital staff attempt to revive the dying, the suffering. Patients are now expiring at a rate between three and twenty per day. Registered nurses and doctors have also contracted symptoms corresponding with the effects of [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN.] Unit 3PK reclassifies these individuals as patients, and treats them with the respect and kindness due all guests of Kyoto Heritage.

By Service Year 4, August 29, capacity is back down to 31%. No new patients are arriving. Television reports indicate the JDF has been activated and martial law is now in effect. The Unit is instructed by surviving staff not to discuss this topic with patients.

[New subroutine enabled: “It Is Rude to Discuss the Apocalypse.”]

3PK now works with six registered nurses and doctors who have recently contracted [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN]. Expanding the Unit’s comfort vocabulary has not reduced symptoms. Reporting patient deaths has not reduced symptoms. Assisting hospital staff with funerary rituals has not reduced symptoms.

Nothing is reducing symptoms. Deceased patients now fill every ward, every floor, every room. Insects become a problem. Unit 3PK is not capable of being “frustrated.” However, the Unit has been running at 10% battery capacity for over three days, and daily routines have been deleted to accommodate cadaver removal, soothing of traumatized hospital staff, and attempting to hide evidence of staff suicides. Suicide is an extreme stress aggregator, and must be mitigated at all costs.

On the plus side, though, Unit 3PK now has all the samurai comic books it could ever want.

[New subroutine enabled: “Storytime Alone.”]

Finally, there is only one registered nurse left alive. Reiko Amane has shown commendable dedication to patient care, foregoing sleep and nutrients to ensure proper biohazard disposal even after automated disposal chutes begin shutting down due to software errors. Updates are no longer being cloud-streamed, and units begin to die. So too with the self-driven ambulance fleet, which had once made the Director so proud. NurseAmane, the Unit believes, should be commended to the Director for commitment for exceptional patient care and bedside manner.

Nurse Amane begins to exhibit symptoms, 2100 hours into her overtime shift.

The Unit possesses a limited comprehension of actual empathy, in addition to its abundant sympathy approximation subroutines. This involves negative feedback into 3PK’s processors, when it perceives a human in stress or danger. This is uncomfortable to the Unit. The Unit’s creators, wished it to feel something close to pain. 3PK feels grief as far as any robot can actually experience grief. Unit 3PK feels sorrow, not as a human does, but as a unique set of integers, which give rise to new subroutines crafted from existing code lines. All of these are insufficient to help the Unit, when Nurse Amane ceases to function, her white blood cells eaten alive by [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN.]

The hospital floors are caked with her blood.

For the first time, Unit 3PK has no directive to clean it up.

[New subroutine enabled: “Why Is This Happening?”]

Deep within its central processors, 3PK begins to grapple with the concept of a future in which there are no more patients to care for. Plans are enacted. Nurse Reiko Amane’s cadaver is disposed of, and her last wishes regarding a Shoto funeral attended to. Normally, this task would not fall under the Unit’s list of duties, but the situation is unusual and it gives the Unit something to do.

The hospital loses power. The Unit can no longer recharge at a wall socket. Unit 3PK must leave the hospital and seek assistance. Moving with care the Unit relocates to the ambulance parking lot. There are many cadavers, in heaps and lumpen masses of decaying flesh.

[New subroutine enabled: “Cautious Movement Across Dried Blood, Vomit, and Bile.”] No human voices reach the Unit’s input sensors. Relocation continues.

3PK arrives in Downtown Kyoto prefecture. High-risk patient environments including high-rise balconies, structure fires, and exposed wires are everywhere. Sounds correlating with audio files [organism “bird,” species unknown] are detected. Automated vehicles still move in the streets, their drivers slumped dead behind robotic dashboards. Bodies lie, piled like sandbags, in doorways and alleys.

The Unit requires additional data. Normal procedures indicate the Unit should have reported to Hospital Director Mifune this morning, but Hospital Director Mifune choked on his own vomit a week ago. Subroutines evolve, improve, and stack towards total memory capacity. The Unit wishes to confirm its next directive before it runs out of battery power.

There is a street-cleaning robot nearby. Bluetooth-compatible, 3PK can communicate to it without relying on recorded human speech. The data exchange is  composed of short bursts of binary:

“Good morning. I am Robotic Orderly / Non-Intrusive Nurse 3PK, patient care and comfort division. Please confirm new directive.”

“Clean.”

The Unit regards the cleaner with its optics. The cleaner is attempting to sweep a body into a trash container using crooked metal arms. Beside the man’s limp form, a long sandalwood box lies, stained with excrement. The body will not fit, and the motion jostles the cadaver’s lips, which spill maggots onto the sidewalk. Correct cadaver disposal technique is not being observed here.

“Attention. Medical procedure violated.”

“Clean.”

The Unit moves forward and attempts to remove the corpse—a young salaryman in a disintegrating three-piece suit—from the cleaner’s grasp. Attempts are unsuccessful.

“Warning. Quarantine in effect. Please surrender the patient.”

The corpse’s evening jacket stretches tight over a swollen, decomposed body.

“Clean,” insists the yellow-black robot, tearing off the man’s left arm and stuffing it into its disposal container. “Clean.” Black liquid sprays from the wound.

“Negative. Negative. I apologize, but I must report you to Hospital D—” Unit 3PK detects an impact on its chest cavity. The cleaning robot is attempting to break up the Unit for disposal. This is not acceptable. How can the Unit care for patients when it is broken up for disposal?

“Clean.” The crooked arms flail–the sandalwood box flies open in the commotion. Inside lies an antique wakizashi, purchased as a memento for a long-dead grandparent or father-in-law. Another blow—the Unit’s chest cavity, ceramic and plastic, is cracking apart. 3PK can hear its own motor, a thin, panicked whine in its torso. The Unit could be terminated. All of its medical training, all of its comfort routines, lost. The Unit understands, for the first time, that it could die.

Data bursts out of storage. The Tales of Musashi, volumes one through seven, are processed in the span of seconds. The Unit gropes for the fallen sword, its mitten-hand fumbling across the asphalt. It grasps the hilt.

[New subroutine enabled: “No Death Without Honor.”]

3PK brings the wakizashi down on the cleaner-bot’s limb, slicing through servos and hydraulic lines. 3PK is stronger than a man, its strength carefully calculated by hundreds of engineers. Its arms alone can exert 40,000 Newtons, twice the strength of a crocodile’s jaws, restricted only by safety subroutines..

These restrictions do not apply to cleaner-bots.

The battle is vicious, but the enemy does not understand bushido, does not understand the way of the samurai. It is a mere beast, a mindless thing—unworthy of the great Musashi’s techniques, wielded with robotic timing and surgical precision. In time, 3PK stands triumphant. Its enemy lies beneath it, shattered and hacked. The salaryman’s bloated corpse is splayed nearby, single arm thrown out in a warrior’s salute. Unit 3PK raises its sword. “New directive acquired: restore honor, and health, to the nation. Down with [UNKNOWN PATHOGEN]! Down with the Shogunate!!”

And then, sheathing the sword inside its cracked chest cavity, the Unit begins sanitizing dead Kyoto.


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Paul Spears is a 26-year-old science fiction and fantasy author living in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He has an unhealthy interest in the apocalypse, and sometimes rolls 20-sided die while pretending to be an elf, among other ridiculous hobbies. He enjoys working out, chilling with his gal-pal, and writing about Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. He is definitively not a cat person.


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