His time was almost up, and Jake felt himself tighten up as he tried to turn away. It always made him uneasy, and he hated it. From his console, Jake could see the contents of Charles’ simulation, and thanks to recent technological developments, the augmented nature of his mind. On a plush upholstered chair, Charles sat reading, and from time to time he would glance at the clock on the stand beside him in an almost indifferent way. Jake wondered if it was true indifference, and if Charles (and himself for that matter) had been able to make peace with the situation.
A chime indicated the final two minutes of the simulation, and as there was no dilation factor (or rather, it was unity), it was two minutes from both Charles’ and Jake’s perspective. Charles looked up from his book.
“Yes, I’m here.” Jake stifled the crack in his voice.
“Jake, this has better be here when I come back.” Charles held it up and gave it a few shakes approvingly.
“I thought you’d like it.”
Charles took a sip of his simulated lemonade and nodded approvingly. “I did indeed.”
“I’m sorry Charles,” Jake found himself say in a somewhat unexpected manner.
Charles paused and gestured with his eyebrows in a sad but disarming way.
“We find ourselves in a set of circumstances Jake, and we make the best of them.”
Jake felt the tears welling up in his eyes. “I’ll find more like it for next time. When you come back, there’ll be a whole library full.”
“I would enjoy that.”
“And maybe…” Jake couldn’t maintain the equanimity in his voice.
“Jake,” Charles said with a sigh, “we all have to leave sometime, no matter where we are.” He looked up toward the ceiling. The ten-second warning sounded. “Thank you.”
Charles shuffled into the hallway, having forgotten to button some of the buttons on his shirt, as usual. Jake struggled to meet his glance. “Alright Charles, that’ll be $30.”
Charles gritted his teeth as he grabbed bills from his pockets and tried to arrange them on the table. After about 30 seconds his caretaker stepped in to help. He took the bills she placed in his hand and shoved them at Jake.
“Thank you Jake. He enjoys these sessions.” Jake mustered a small smile, still trying not to meet Charles’ gaze.
“Next time I…I’ll work even harder. You’ll see. I…I’ll get even more money. And I’ll have even more knowing!”
Jake watched as Charles was led back to the van bound for their group home. It wasn’t too infrequent that Jake came across an older person who’d had a stroke and wanted to walk or talk or think clearly again. But something about Charles’ innocence, maybe because he was young or because he could never think well to begin with, tugged strongly on his heart strings.
Jake turned away. Maybe someday, he really never would have to leave.