Author : Gavin Raine

When he entered the room, Olivia was sitting on the edge of her bed and looking out of the window. He allowed the door to close noisily behind him and waited to see if she would notice, but it was hopeless. She was looking at the gardens without seeing them. The corners of her mouth were damp and her jaw was working slowly, as if kneading at invisible gum. Apparently, this was not going to be one of Olivia’s good days.

He adjusted the volume and pitch of his voice to levels that suited Olivia’s ruined hearing. “Good morning Mrs Jones,” he boomed. “How are you today?”

Olivia whirled around, startled. “What are you?” she said. “Where’s my Harry?”

“It’s all right Mrs Jones. I’m Andrew, your robot care assistant. You see me every day – remember?” She looked blank, so he tried another approach. “Your husband, Harry, died almost twenty years ago. You do remember that, don’t you?”

Olivia smoothed-down her nightdress in a gesture she often used to cover her confusion. “Oh yes of course,” she said, “so where’s my boy John then?”

“Your son lives at this facility also”, said Andrew, moving forward smoothly and placing a breakfast tray on a small table. “You’ll see him in the day room later and don’t forget to wish him a happy birthday. He’s one hundred and fourteen today.”

Olivia began running her hands over her nightdress again and he made a quick exit before she could frame another question. “I’ll be back later,” he said, pulling the door closed behind him. “Drink your tea now, before it gets cold.”

Taking another breakfast tray from the trolley, Andrew moved to the next door and knocked. There was no response, so he pushed it open calling, “Good morning Mr Jackson.”

As soon as he entered the room, it was obvious that something was wrong. Mr Jackson was slumped across his bed at an unnatural angle, with his eyes open and his mouth hanging slack. Andrew checked his pulse, which was a strong as ever, and then spread his hand to place his fingertips at specific points on the man’s scalp.

A minute or more passed, while the sensors in Andrew’s fingertips monitored the electrical activity inside Mr Jackson’s skull. As he had suspected, there was nothing to detect. He sent a command to Mr Jackson’s mechanical heart, telling it to cease operation, and eased his body back into the bed, covering it with the sheet.

It was usually a brain haemorrhage that got them in the end. The doctors could cure their cancers and replace or re-grow their organs, but their brains had to last a lifetime. However, brains degenerated with age, until synapses barely fired at all, and blood vessels became as fragile as dry autumn leaves.

Andrew left the room and fired a message to the care home’s core computer: “Escapee in room 15248”. He knew the core appreciated a little gentle irony.

Then, he took another tray from the breakfast trolley and tapped on the door of room 15249.

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