Virtuacare

Written by H.A.C. van Beek, 2019

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'Here we are', Bernt said as he and his mother entered a small chamber containing nothing but a sleeping pod, attached to the wall with a multitude of tubes. He continued:

'This is where you will sleep for five days, so that they can harvest the supplements. And in the next five days I can come visit you when you are out!'

'Its cold', his mother said as the automatic sliding doors close behind her with a soft 'ssshk' sound.

'That is because it is not occupied, is not heated.'

'I could do without the view', His mother said as she turned facing a glass wall separating them from the vast blackness of space.

'When well arrive in orbit the gas giant will be your view.'

His mother said nothing and Bernt tried again.

'The nurses seemed competent. And here you'll be able to live outside of the pod, with the other residents. That is nice right?', He said.

'I don't like the people in this part of the station', she answered.

Bernt sighed as he stood beside his old mother looking the starts. It was cold and it did look rather empty out there.

'Okay, well, I just wanted you to have seen it.'

'I did like the last one we went to, virtual-something?', His mother said as she went for the door, 'And it is much closer to home for you honey!'

Bernt kept silent as he followed his mother out.

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It had been five months since Bernt saw his mother. He approached a counter of ┬┤Virtuacare┬┤ where a nurse smiled as she saw him.

'She is out for 15 minuted now. She is still a little woozy but she'll be ready for you. End of the hallway door on the left.'

He walked through one of the sterile hallways the space station was covered in. His footsteps echoed as he approached the door. Through the small glass window he could see his mother. She was sitting at a table in a modestly dressed visiting room. She had connectors in her arms and hands for the harvesting of the supplements created inside of her. When the door slid open the nurse who was with her said:

'Look, there he is.'

His mother gave Bernt a glassy look. When the nurse left the room his mother looked slightly panicked. Only when Bernt sat in front of her and she had a good look at his face she seemed to recognize him.

'Oh how are you doing honey? How nice of you to drop by. I was telling Margot you would be coming along.'

'I'm doing fine mother, and how are you?'

'Lovely! I've changed all the flowers of my cabin yesterday, you should come by sometime!'

Bernt's mouth smiled but his eyes didn't. He started:

'Lisse sends her regards! She has got a promotion. Assistant lead engineer at the capital station.'

'Oh good for her!' His mother answered, though Bernt doubted if she knew he was talking about her daughter.

'You know who also got a promotion? The son of Margot! He's now manager captain', she said.

Bernt knew Margot was one of the virtual neighbors where the residents at this nursing home interacted with.

After about a half hour he saw his mother started to look pale. She sat back into her chair and was getting more and more tired. As Bernt was talking about how he and his wife were painting a room his mother interrupted him.

'Honey I- I am getting tired. I think I am in need of a nap.'

She could barely keep her eyes open. The nurse who was already waiting outside entered the room pulling a stretcher with a multitude of tubes attached. Bernt looked as the nurse moved around her plugging the tubes on the right in the sockets around her body. He saw his mother lean forward and tried very hard to connect one of the tubes in her left arm, but her hand was shaking too much. She let go of the tube and dropped back into the stretcher, exhausted. Only until the nurse had plugged all tubes in and the substances started to flow, his mother seemed to calm down again.

When he walked back through the hallway. A mechanic had removed one of the wall panels. It revealed a mass of diry tubes on a rusted back panel, corroded from years occasional leaks. It smelled terrible. When he reached the counter the nurse again smiled very friendly, and said:

'We are quite pleased with your mother here. She has one of the highest yields of our residents.'

Bernt smiled back politely.

'When do you want to make your next appointment?'

'Make it a year, please.'

The nurse nodded and smiled, but slightly less than she did before.

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END

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