I walked into the room 30 minutes early. Everyone involved in the trial was already there making final checks. Jake was there too. Beneath the front of professionalism, I could sense a mix of sympathy, ambivalence, and mostly frustration from my colleagues. Jake was right. People were unhappy. People wanted to move on to other patients. I could not blame them. We were like the nurse bees in the hive; only potential queen bees came to our team of neuroscientists, psychologists, doctors, and interpreters. We selected and nursed the best cases to be high-performing queen bees. With my mother’s case taking up 8 months of our time, we had lost many potential queen bees.
My mother was seated on one of the two chairs with a blanket over her. Her face was wrinkled and lifeless. I kneeled by her side, and for the first time in 13 years, I held both her hands.
“Ma, I know you are in there. Listen, you have to tell me everything you know about the red orb. You know, the time you used the V-Skin GX and created a red orb in the metaverse. I was 22 then. You told me how amazing the experience was and that the people loved it. But I was so angry with you, so angry at your betrayal of not keeping your promise. Why did you fixate on the red orb, the ‘flaming pearl’ as you called it…”
“Ma. Please tell me everything about the flaming pearl when we put on the V-Skin later. I want to hear it this time. Tell me all those stories like you always did when I was growing up, about all those adventures you had when you were traveling the world. I want to hear it! I really do. If you don’t, you are going to…”
At that moment, I could feel Jake’s eyes on me. I did not disclose everything I knew about the red orb to him after all.
I had nothing more to say. I walked to my seat and downed a glass of water. I grabbed the lightweight headwear with the words “V-Skin GX” printed on its side. I switched it on and placed it on my head. Instantly, emptiness enshrouded my senses while gradually, white light grew with a soft hum and a brewed coffee smell.
An angelic voice spoke, “Hi Professor Chang, welcome back to Blackbox 61 of Sosi Labs. Shall we pick off from where we left?”
I replied, “Log in a new case file, please. Name it ‘Oki Times.'”
“New case file, ‘Oki Times,’ created.”
And then, I imagined my childhood home, the olive green walls, the white wooden stairs, and the warm orange furniture. The colorful carpets and rugs and the smell of fresh tropical spices hanging in the kitchen. The background jazz music, and my tall and lean father who was always contented and easy-going. He was making tea, as always. On this day, a sudden and ceaseless storm appeared. These thoughts, my imagination, came to life in the metaverse. I took my seat on the well-worn orange sofa. With a thought, I transformed my avatar-self into a nine-year-old me and waited patiently for my mother to come home.