Nottingham, England: 16 February/8 March 2090
Ross Nunn was unsure what to do, which was an unusual state for him to be in. He knew this patient was important, though he had no idea who the man was or what he done to achieve that importance. The only thing he knew for certain was that his patient was dying and that there was nothing he could do to prevent this.
However, that fact was true for all the patients here.
Ross sat beside the bed talking to the old man, trying to comfort him in his last few days or hours. It was hard, though. Unlike most of those he was employed to comfort, the scant information he had on the man gave little with which to connect with him. He had heard one of the doctors refer to him as "the Professor" but, other than that, the man was a blank sheet.
The ever present robot nurses took readings, occasionally turned patients in order to prevent bedsores and did all the things they and their controlling AI systems told them to do. Ross was so used to them that he could ignore them most of the time. However, in the five days since the Professor had been admitted, the robots seemed to avoid the old man, sometimes requiring an order multiple times before they would perform a task connected with him. Twice, the engineers had been called, but no error had been detected. Still, that hadn't prevented the robotic nurses from treating him as if he wasn't really there.
Ross had been instructed to make the man a priority which, given the lack of detail, bordered on impossibility. He tried to make light, one-sided conversation, discussing the weather, asking how the man felt, whether or not there was any family who might be visiting soon. In reply, the old man said nothing, acknowledged nothing, and either stared at nothing or slept. In either state he responded to neither touch nor sound.
The evening grew long and the time neared for Ross to complete his shift. He was looking forward to returning home to Amelia. He chatted to a few of the terminal patients, as if he had known them all his life. Many were glad of the attention, though a few were less enamoured or even immune to his natural charm and likeability. From those, though, he did at least get the occasional brief smile or nod of the head. From the Professor, he received naught.
On his way to the ward door he waved to one of the more articulate patients, Joseph. He was, as usual, cheery and totally accepting of his fate knowing there was nothing that could be done to prevent the breakdowns his body was experiencing. He had, perhaps, another month or two – these things were never certain. Ross felt an affinity to Joseph and knew he would be affected even more than usual when he finally passed away.
With the Professor, though, there was no such connection. It had been established that he was definitely not in a vegetative state, and that his brain still appeared to be responding to external stimuli – but that response never reached the exterior world.
Ross started to push the ward door open when he stopped. He hadn't intended to. He turned around and looked back at the patients, they looked as they usually did and he was about to continue out the door when his eyes locked on those of the Professor. The old man was staring directly at him.
Ross swallowed, feeling nervous and conscious of the sweat that was suddenly present, dotting his forehead. He wasn't even hot.
Compelled to return, he sat down in the chair next to the Professor's bed, unable to unlock his gaze from that of the old man.
"It will have to be you," the Professor said. "No one else here will do. I'm sorry – this won't be easy."
Ross felt the urge to scream and run from the ward, but something held him in place, clamping him to the chair.
And then it hit him.
When he came to it was he that was in bed and the bed was not one of those in the terminal ward. He was conscious of someone close by – seated on the chair beside the bed was his wife. But she was different, only she wasn't. He was conscious that he was perceiving her in a different manner, as if he was finally seeing her properly for the first time in his life.
"Oh, Ross. Thank God you're back," Amelia said. There were tears on her cheeks.
"How long was I..."
"Three weeks," she interrupted. "They thought at first you'd had a brain aneurysm."
"No," he said, unable to determine how he could be so certain. "It was nothing of the sort. It was something far more important."
He looked at and then into his wife. She had always been the more intuitive one, he had been the empathic one but now he could see that was no longer true. He was far more than he had been and, he could also see, she also had the potential to be far more.
He was still weak but, in other ways, he was far stronger. There was also something else. It was almost as if there was someone else sharing the inside of his head, helping and guiding him. He frowned for a moment, and then nodded and whispered, "Professor Rayburn."
"Who?" Amelia asked.
"A new future," he replied, a smile forming on his lips. "I have a feeling it will definitely be interesting. Very interesting."
Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.
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