© E.R. Anders
All Rights Reserved
"Glad you could make it, Son!"
"Yeah, me too, Dad". Brian was genuinely happy to see his father. He felt the time since their last visit almost as a physical weight. He also felt guilty for allowing the weight to grow so heavy. The "Old Man" looked good; tanned face, bright smile. His handshake was strong belying his age. His dad wore a long billed fishing cap. Over a plaid shirt he wore a khaki fishing vest with lots of pockets. He picked up his tackle box, fishing rod and reel and began walking down the path that led from the cabin to a wood plank pier that jutted out into the lake. Brian followed.
With a picnic basket and Envirofoam cooler already loaded, the two men clambered aboard the small electric powered boat tied to the pier. Brian's dad did the steering as they eased out into the lake. A briar pipe clinched tight in his teeth, the sheer joy of being out on the water radiated from the older man's face. Brian marveled. How did they do that, he wondered?
"What are you smoking, Dad?"
"Captain Kidd, Rough Cut." Brian's dad replied grinning.
The two men fished for several long minutes without catching anything but silence. The only noticeable sounds were those associated with the rhythms of their casting, reeling and casting again, accompanied by the low hum of insects and the sudden caw of a lake bird.
"What's the matter son? You look like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders?"
Brian was waiting for that question. His dad always knew when something wasn't right.
"Nothing much." Brian began. The usual bluff, then the words started to come out slowly. He talked about the job. He cast around the problem first, dragging the bait low, waited for the tap that would mean a bite. "The problem, Dad, is that I'm good at what I do. Damn good. But, I don't know for sure what that means anymore." He paused, backing up in his mind. "There was a time when everything was a challenge. I would jack-in and go like a shark, moving fast and sure. Sometimes there would be difficulties, mostly bureaucratic stuff, but I could get by it all. No real problems, I had the pump or my client could get it. Still, the challenge was there, gliding on down, adjusting to the information differentials, remembering them off the top of my head or dropping off a marker for later retrieval." Brian looked up from where he was watching his line go into the water. He glanced at his father to see if the discussion was getting too technical. His dad nodded for Brian to continue. "It's hard to explain, Dad. I really believed in what I was doing, once. Information was everything. It was power and glory and all that gnosh they teach you in school. Like, what we were doing helped people. Helped decision-makers solve problems and make things better for everyone. But..."
"Dad, it all seems the same, now." Brian pulled hard to reel the feel of it in. "I mean, it doesn't seem to make a difference, anymore. I can't tell the difference from one collect to another. Even the data all seems to be the same; just more of it, whole universes of numbers, sounds, pictures and what all." He paused and tried to gauge the effect of the words he was using. "It just doesn't mean a thing anymore." Brian stopped. After netting the words he wanted to use, he was disappointed with the catch. They seem too small to keep.
Brian's Dad said nothing for a moment.
"Funny. We used to say that in Korea."
"It don't mean a thing." The older man set his fishing rod down. He took the pipe from his mouth. Slowly and deliberately he tapped the tobacco out and tucked the pipe into one of the many pockets in his vest. "It was a leftover from another war. 'It don't mean a thing' was what we said when things sorta just happened or didn't happen the way we wanted."
"So what then? What did you do?"
"Well, we all did something different. Some of us got very, very, good at what we were doing at the time, like patrolling or calling in artillery or shields." He looked at his son steadily. "I think in some cases too good to be altogether healthy." He continued, without explaining. "Some got into mind-benders; others simply got careless and dead."
"What about you, then."
"I found your mom or rather, she found me. She saved my life, really." Brian knew the story. G. I. on leave in Tokyo meets girl from home. They fall in love and marry. The rest was history.
"I've got a girl." Brian said suddenly.
"Do you love her." Brian's Dad asked, voice low and even.
"I don't know. I guess you could say we're sort of used to each other"
"Well, that's something." The older man relaxed, retrieved two beers from the Styrofoam cooler and offered his son one. "You'll be all right". He said.
Brian took the beer. He felt the cool wetness of the can in his hand. He popped the top. The sound was reassuringly familiar. He suddenly felt relieved, like a switch inside of him had been activated. They started catching fish.
"Yes, thank you." The doctor's office was clinically white, utilitarian and efficiently cool. "I 'd like to see him, Ah you know?"
"I understand." Dr. Chu spun half around in his chair to a computer terminal and touched the screen. He'd anticipated the request. "It's a good time. Your father's scheduled for a physical therapy session right about now. Ill gladly take you to him."
The amphitheater on Level 5 was cavernous. Capsule or "Cans" as the staff called them, lined the circular enclosure, stacked five high. They'd brought his dad's capsule down to the main floor where the physical therapists were already working with several other residents. The residents, trailing coaxial, still wore data-bands around their heads like silver bandannas. Brian watched closely as they worked with his dad, moving the old man's limbs slowly, carefully and rubbing his skin.
"Some Resident Homes use robotic therapist. But, here, we still believe the touch of the human hand is important." Dr. Chu intoned, softly, almost reverently as he stood next to Brian. The amphitheater floor was separated from viewing by family members by floor to ceiling, see-through plastic windows.
"He looks so small."
Dr. Chu nodded in understand. Family members always said during after a "visit". Chu shifted uneasily on his feet. He wished he could think of something soothing to say. But, there was only just so much that modern day cyber-gerontology could do. "I assure you, he is receiving the very best care." Immediately, Dr. Chu hated himself for saying that. It always sounded so clinical and cold, no matter how softly he spoke the words.
"Thank you Doctor." Brian answered.
Dr. Chu left the young man then, to his own thoughts.
Brian touched his fingers to the window as Dr. Chu's footsteps echoed away. Brian Knew his dad was fine. They'd planned all the details of "The Cabin" cyber-habitat for a long time. The shell of the virtual environment was chosen from one of the best on-line catalogs on the Net. They'd spent hours, together, customizing everything from the three dimensional terrain to the cabin's furnishings.
And, his father could always leave. That was no problem. Brian had plenty of room in his apartment in the Valley. But, they both knew what "leaving" would mean for the old man. He was too old and frail to walk without assistance. There would be no fishing or hiking around a mountain lake. His life in actual reality would be that of a helpless invalid.
A strange, bitter-sweet sadness came over Brian as he watched the white clad figures through the glass. A sudden truth expanded in his mind. He smiled to himself in realization. His father's virtual life held more joys and attractions than anything in his, Brian's, own and very real existence. Turning away at last, for a long moment, he envied the old man.