Aegri Somnia

By Rik van Gorp
The relationship between brothers Aron and Cor, is difficult. In order to connect they are completely dependent on a new, complex technology. An unexpected change in this  suspenseful story shows how strongly we humans need each other.

Rik van Gorp, winner TU/e Story Contest 2020

‘France is in me, but I am is not in France.’ As the haze is slowly fading, Aron’s eyes start to focus on a black cat which harmonically balances herself on the edge of the fountain of Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. Behind her, the French terraces are completely filled. A swift-handed waitress zigzags her way through the packed round tables with on her fingertips a platter of fromages and in her other hand a bottle of Bordeaux.

  • ‘No social distancing pour les Français têtus.’ Aron thinks to himself.

And who would blame them? Above all, the blue, Mediterranean sky exposes itself as a receptive friend. The gentle, pleasant Mistral wind finds its way through the narrow streets. Suddenly, a deep voice rips Aron out of his thoughts.

  •  ‘Aron, over here!’

There he is. The chinos, the sunglasses, and the summer shirt cause him to blend in well with the surroundings. His smile holds a deep mystery. Adrenaline rushes through Aron’s body.

  • ‘Cor!’

Aron thinks back to that fatal day in April 2023. The panic, the hurry to the hospital, his coughing brother on the isolated hospital bed… Luckily, nothing of that had had an effect on his brother in this new, serene environment. They start walking away from the turbulence of the terrace, into the labyrinth of the French, narrow streets. Meanwhile, Aron’s thoughts are chaotic. He knows that his words matter. Time matters.

  • ‘Do you remember our holiday when dad and mom brought us here?’ Aron asks.
  • ‘Of course I do! Our trip with dad to the caves of Lascaux inspired me to start painting, you know that Aron.’ Cor answers.

Of course Aron knew. That was not the point, but asking the question allows him to establish the control over their connection. Yet, the increased pressure in his head tells him that he has to hurry up, in the next step he had to try to stabilize Cor’s emotions.

  • ‘Ah, our old man. He would have been so proud if he could see us here together.’
  • ‘He would… I miss him every day.’

Ok. The emotional connection has been set-up. Now, the difficult part begins - he has to let his brother know what is going on.

  • ‘Cor, have you ever thought about coming back?’

Directly after seeing Cor’s frowning eyebrows, he knew that he failed. Aron’s head started to explode.

  •  ‘I think our time together is over, Aron. Thank you for coming’

And with those last four words, the air changed. The gentle summer breeze had grown into a violent storm. The windows of the picturesque, French houses started to rattle and a big dust cloud started to limit Aron’s vision again.

  • ‘no, no… please… ’ Aron screamed.
  • ‘… Brother, I lov…’ The lightning struck him.

A lonely soul rocks back and forth on the cold, surgical green floor of the state hospital.  Next to him, a motionless man lies flat on his belly, while his mechanical lungs fill the room with a suffocating sound. A thin electrical wire connects the left ear of both men with a grey desktop computer.

The last few years, all technologies had been tested. After the initial shock of the virus, humankind had fought back with vaccines… However, the virus had evolved and the vaccines turned out to be a delusion of medical grandeur. After that, more drastic technologies had been developed to fight the minuscule hooks that destroyed the lungs of nearly a quarter of the worlds population. Nanobots, pulsed laser treatments, neutron therapy – yet the virus had won.

After five years of battling the virus, the world had come into a new state of surrealism. The luckiest patients had been put in a coma, waiting to be saved by a future medicine. While waiting for a working medicine, a team of engineers had come up with a new product, aimed at virtual reintegration. The idea was simple – leveraging mutual memories, a sinusoidal wavefunction could be excited in the patient’s brain. This allowed the construction of a shared virtual environment, where people could meet again with their loved ones. Yet in practice, this had never led to a stable connection for more than five minutes.

Aron rips the thin electrical wire out of his ear. A shiver goes down his spine while he stares at the motionless body of his brother.