Author: Carmen Condon

‘It was one of them …’

‘One of the robots?’

‘Yes! They think a robot smothered him …’

Variations on this theme drifted between the deceased’s relatives; their eyes averted from the aged care automatons whirring gently down the aisle.

Verity was the exception to the rule. She resolutely focused on the carers, her tear-shiny eyes meeting the optical input devices of her favourites as they slid past. At sixteen, they were the only nursing staff she’d known within her great-grandfather’s facility.

Although humanoid in every respect from the torso up, the illusion was ruined by the presence of large rubber treads, only partially obscured by embroidered hooped skirts. It was well known their creators had struggled with the design. While the engineers had traded heavily on a maternal stereotype, wheels were so efficient as to have been deemed an essential design feature. No-one had been happy with the final aesthetic.

It had been ten years since the legislation to fully automate aged care facilities was enacted. Despite lengthy ethical debates and moralising; it had inevitably been seen as the only humane solution. After all, it was more dignified to have a robot attend to your personal needs: backside wiping and the like.

Verity had been GG-Pa’s most frequent visitor. This was due to his facility being co-located within her school compound. The city planners had combined the education and aged care facilities to give the older residents their best chances of human contact. After her next eldest cousin had graduated the previous year, Verity had become GG-Pa’s only visitor.

Her own graduation would take place this year. As the months had passed, she’d become increasingly conscious of her significance as GG-Pa’s youngest great-grandchild. After graduation, her studies would take her across the country; it weighed heavily on her that she would likely be his last visitor.

At one hundred and twenty-two, GG-Pa had outlived his own children and it had been too hard for his grandchildren, her mother and aunts, to visit him. Verity felt no resentment as she took in their bent profiles sobbing into folded hands.

To her, GG-Pa had been a kooky old man. One whom, in his moments of clarity, told amusing stories and refused to believe she wasn’t an advanced android prototype. But to her mother’s generation, he’d still been their kindly eighty-year-old grandfather accompanying the self-driving vehicle to and from school.

It broke their hearts when he no longer recognised them. Verity understood.

What she didn’t understand was the whispered accusations. If her family truly believed the carers capable of such a thing then why the hushed tones? Shouldn’t this ‘crime’ be shouted from the rooftops to save the vulnerable within their community from this impersonal and apparently lethal care?

Verity was not blinded by her fondness for her great-grandfather’s carers when she defended them, assuring her family they weren’t capable of life ending actions. It was only in the early hours of the morning that memories of her last visit came back to her. If he had struggled … things might have been different; but he had gone peacefully and she had no regrets.

Matron cut the tracker from GG-Pa’s leg – the final requirement of the facility’s care contract – slipped it into her brightly coloured pocket and closed the casket lid.

As the aged care staff reversed back down the aisle, each one patted Verity’s shoulder before smoothly exiting the building.

It was time to leave the living to their grief.