Nurse Anastasia Roika adjusted her patient's IV. The beeping of the heart monitor was slowing. It wouldn't be long now before Betty Smith slipped away for good. The best Anastasia could do was make the old woman comfortable.
If she was in a movie, Anastasia knew that the nurse character would be having some sort of deep philosophical epiphany around Betty's passing. But the truth was Betty had been brought from the retirement home unconscious, and Anastasia had never talked with her. Other than the vitals on her chart and the lack of any family, Anastasia didn't know anything about Betty and she didn't want to. She had watched a lot of people leave this world during her twenty years working on the ICU ward, and run out of tears and broken hearts a long time ago.
Someone cleared his throat. A General with a chest full of ribbons and medals and a bristling, salt and pepper mustache stood on the other side of the bed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in," Anastasia said.
"That's quite alright. How is Betty?"
"Are you family?" Anastasia asked.
"After a fashion."
Anastasia had witnessed too many death bed reconciliations to push harder.
"She'll be passing soon," Anastasia said. "I'm sorry," she added.
The General nodded. "So, this is how the world ends, an old woman, alone in the hospital."
The General smiled ruefully, the scar at the corner of his mouth growing pink as it pulled tight. "The world is a computer simulation, existing only for Betty's benefit. When she is gone, it will end."
Anastasia sighed inwardly. People always went a little loopy when a loved one slipped away. "It will be fine, General. Death is just a part of life."
"Oh? Prove it." Replied the General.
"My parents passed a long time ago. I was sad, but life goes on."
"Prove they existed," the General said.
"I don't understand. I remember them. I have pictures."
"No, you think you remember them. You think you have pictures. Perhaps think is an overstatement. You are programmed to believe you have those things."
"Are you certain you are related to Betty?" It suddenly occurred to Anastasia that the General may actually have slipped away from the fifth floor. It had happened before."Why don't I call for an orderly."
"It's okay, It's difficult to grasp. Have you ever played a video game, where the computer plays the role of multiple characters, like a racing game?"
"Yes." Mario Kart was her son Ben's favorite game. Now that he was a tween, it was one of the few activities they could still do together without triggering a mammoth argument.
"In those games, only one of the computer components can win. One is granted omniscience, the others are given only limited visibility into what is transpiring."
So, he was from the fifth floor, thought Anastasia."Why don't I call a doctor," she said.
"She has less than a minute, wait and keep me company," said the General.
But the ensuing silence made Anastasia uncomfortable, and she felt the urge to speak. "If this is a simulation, what is the purpose? Why does it all revolve around Betty? What makes her so special?"
The General shrugged. "I don't know."
Anastasia laughed. "But I thought you were the omniscient character," she said, then immediately regretted speaking. Some patients would get violent when their delusions were challenged.
"Do you think the characters in the racing games understand that their purpose is to entertain?"
"Works for actors and actresses."
The General laughed, then grew deathly serious. "Here it comes."
The heart monitor beeping slowed.
"It'll be okay," Anastasia touched the General's arm, comforting him.
The General placed his hand over hers. The beeping stopped, replaced by the piercing warning tone of a flat line.
The General said, "Farewe-"
Copyright 2012 John Lance