From the window of the station Tony could just make out the outline of South America. With a nearby ding he remembered where he was standing, grabbed two coffees from the vending machine and turned around to see Lynn waving him over to talk with one of the doctors. He quickly crossed the waiting room toward his haggard wife and the well-kept Dr. Zionkowski.
As he bridged the distance, his wife motioned to the doctor. “She says she has news.”
Tony handed one of the coffees to Lynn, who just held the warm cup. He said, “How is she?”
Dr. Zionkowski lifted up the tablet to double-check her charts and then sighed deeply. “I wish I could give you better news, be more gentle. But it’s not looking good.”
Lynn mumbled, “Oh no.”
Dr. Zionkowski continued, “She…she isn’t responsive, not to sound, not to light or vibration. I fear you have only a few hours to make a decision.”
Tony, wide eyed, said, “You have to save her.”
“It’s…it’s simply not possible. I wish we could, but her problem…there isn’t a cure, not yet. We…cognition hazards are not well understood. But right now…her brain is glitching. Think of a computer overwriting every byte with junk data.”
The trio stood silently for a second, letting the weight settle before Lynn spoke up. “Well, what’s the decision? You said we have a few hours to make a decision, what’s the decision?”
“We could upload her to a shell. But you’d have to do so quickly. Before she fades too far.”
Lynn took a step forward. “Do it. Please, do it. How is this a question. Upload her, please. Save my girl.”
“It’s not that simple. A peculiarity with these kinds of accidents is that her data will begin to corrupt inside the shell as soon as she’s uploaded. She’ll be cognizant the whole time, and it’ll be slower, but the process will continue.”
Tony put down the coffee on a table and crossed his arms. “You-you have to be kidding me! This is the best option we’ve got? A ticking clock?”
“Shut up, Tony.” Lynn turned back to the doctor. “How much? How much would it cost to give her a shell?”
“Well, a shell bricked by a basilisk-level cognition hazard can’t exactly be recommissioned due to the damage to the processor. It is not cheap.”
“Tell me how much it costs.”
Dr. Zionkowski exhaled, pulled up a document on her tablet and showed the price for the procedure to the couple. 8 million lun.
Tony shouted, “You’re kidding me! There is no way we could afford that. No one in this district could.”
“Tony, I need you to sit down and shut up. Okay? If we stop paying for crèche, work some three extra shifts a week, each, and halve our food bills, and just. Is there a payment plan? We could survive on noodles for a few months, Tony.”
“Lynn, honey, we can’t. That’s more than three times what we’ve saved.”
Lynn turned to Tony, tears streaming down her cheeks. “What is the goddamn point in saving money if not for something like this? She’s our child!”
“We have Sara and Kat. They both need to eat. Full real meals, not prepackaged noodles. We can’t do this to them.”
“Then we take it on ourselves. Are you joking? This is our goddamn daughter. It’s worth it just to say goodbye.”
Tony took a step back and raised both of his hands. “I can’t agree to this. We simply can’t do this.”
“I…please, please just let me say goodbye.” Lynn fell into a chair sobbing, refusing to look up. “I just need to say goodbye.”
Dr. Zionkowski took the tablet, closed the listing for the procedure, wrote something down and sent a message to the nurses’ table. “I’m having the nurses prep the room. Just…just give us a minute and a nurse will come get you.”
Tony was crouching next to his wife, gently rubbing her hand as he turned to look up at the doctor. “We don’t have the money though.”
“I know. We…we can’t do the upload for you… but you’ll be able to say goodbye.”
Tony stood up. “She won’t…you said she can’t he…”
Dr. Zionkowski raised her hand and interrupted the husband. “Just to say goodbye.”
Lynn and Tony walked into the sterile white room to see their little girl lying, unresponsive, on the pale white bed, the only color the monitors along the wall. From underneath the sheet ran several wires and tubes toward the monitors, which displayed complex diagrams and inscrutable yet ever-shifting numbers.
Tony stopped at the door and waited there as Lynn walked in and crouched next to the little girl’s bed. She reached under the covers and pulled out one of the girl’s hands, and rubbed it gently. “I love you, my little Olive Tree.”
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