Panel 350 is our foray into flash fiction — a new story every week, each 350 words or less. This week’s Panel 350 is written by yours truly, and was my entry into the New Scientist Flash Fiction contest for 2010. Enjoy!
Be Not Proud
Javier Sharif opened his eyes, straining against the sterile light.
A bank of Vitality-monitors greeted him. The sparse room, decorated with all the flair of a surgical ward, had been his residence at the Meadowbrook Life Extension Hospice for the past two years.
Ever since his 137th birthday.
Ever since they had tracked him down at his campsite by the Caspian Sea.
“When my time is near, don’t come looking for me if I just disappear one day,” he had instructed his family. They, in turn, had dismissed this as another of his eccentricities. Why wouldn’t he want the best care offered by modern medicine?
But Mina understood. She was the only one of his children who ever did.
“Hi dad, I brought you something.”
Mina’s voice was a pleasant surprise. The smile upon his brittle lips welcomed her, even as his voice failed him in the task.
She was holding a large, heavy, leather-bound tome. “It’s a collection of all your favorites. I hired an artisan in Sumatra to make it just for you,” Mina beamed. He had always preferred the archaic elegance of the printed word over the barren glow of a Vid-Screen.
Summoning a Helper-Bot, Mina instructed it to hold the book for reading. “Enjoy,” she said, kissing him on the forehead before turning to leave. “I love you.”
He read the entirety of the book, his bio-silica lenses never tiring, having long replaced the real ones he had lost to cataract. And on the last page, as he read the closing lines of his favorite poem, he smiled again.
“…One short sleep past, we wake eternally…”
The Helper-Bots possessed only the most basic AI, lacking the redundant patient safety algorithms of Med-Bots. He instructed his to lay the book upon his chest before dismissing it.
As the weight of the tome bore down on him, he felt his lungs gasp for air. But there was no panic, no regret. Instead, he was overcome with a feeling of warmth, of bliss, of finality.
Javier Sharif shut his eyes, welcoming the peaceful darkness.