The door opened, letting the next patient enter Dr. Ivanov’s office. The man stumbled across the floor towards the armchair placed in front of the desk and he let himself fall on it with a sigh. He wrapped the hospital robe tighter around his skinny chest, his fingers clenching the fabric. He’d had another episode during the night.
While waiting for the patient to get comfortable, the doctor added an extra set of filters to the tinted windows. The radiation was particularly strong that afternoon.
“Hello, Christian,” said the doctor. “I understand they spoke to you again?”
The man brushed the hair off his forehead with a shaky hand. “Last night…” He trailed off.
“What did they want this time?”
“They gave me an ultimatum. They said I only have until the end of the month to decide if I want to participate in their program. They have other candidates too.”
Dr. Ivanov noted the change in the patient’s file. They must have finally gotten the right combination of drugs; he had never mentioned a possible end before that. “And what did you tell them?”
“I did like you taught me: I told them to leave me alone,” Christian said, then he added quietly to himself, “I wouldn’t be good on TV anyway, an audience makes me nervous.” He looked up. “But they insist it’s me that they want.”
“Did they say why?”
“Something about me being better at channeling the signal compared to others… I did not quite understand.”
Dr. Ivanov nodded with an approving, “Hmm.” Christian knew very little about technology, he was a simple telemarketer, so his story was consistent. But then again, all of the patient’s hallucinations oddly made sense.
“I think…” Christian hesitated. “I think they’re running out of time. They’re in a hurry to close the deal so they can take advantage of a full advertising cycle before they go live. They are dead set on broadcasting for at least six months.”
The doctor checked his notes. “Just six? I thought you said they wanted a whole year contract.”
“There isn’t a year left. Things are progressing faster than they initially estimated.”
The stylus stopped on the tablet and Dr. Ivanov noticed his hand was trembling. The activity inside the sun’s core had spiked overnight, he’d heard it on the news. Christian couldn’t have known that. Patients were kept in complete isolation inside the psychiatric ward.
Christian shrugged his shoulders. “They said something about getting to know the characters in order to fully empathize with their drama, but I think it’s all about money… or whatever profit they’re making out of this.”
“Do they make any profit?” The doctor was getting caught up in the story.
“It’s like daytime television for us. Only they work on a bigger scale. This is the seventh planetary system collapse they’re documenting. And since we haven’t mastered space travel well enough to save ourselves, they’ll get the species extinction as a bonus too. It’s supposed to be big.”
“Christian…” Dr. Ivanov gave him a stern look, displeased that the patient wasn’t following his orders.
“Yes, I know I shouldn’t talk like this,” Christian apologized, “but I can’t help it, they are very convincing. Last night… I almost gave in,” he confessed with a pitiful look. “I told them I’d do it if they saved my family.”
The doctor realized he was holding his breath. “And?”
“They said it’s too late. They can’t make it here in time.” Christian hid his head in his hands. “What am I going to do?” The words came out muffled.
Everyone was asking the same question so the doctor didn’t answer. He pressed a button and gave the patient a dose of hyperhappy serum to balance his serotonin levels. Christian’s demeanor changed, becoming instantly relaxed, and he wiped his eyes.
“Nora is coming to visit me tomorrow. The kids will ask when I’m coming home. What should I tell them, doctor?”
Dr. Ivanov signed the observation chart and signaled the patient that he was free to leave. He wasn’t dangerous, he’d requested to be committed when he’d started hearing voices, so if nothing changed by the end of the month he was going to release him. Everyone deserved to spend their last days with their families.
He sighed and looked outside the window at the distant dying sun. “If anyone’s out there, I’m willing to listen…”
Ioana Visan has always dreamed about reaching the stars, but since she can’t, she writes about them.
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