#fridayflash: post-op

This is a sequel to the story from two weeks ago.

The way the hospital was designed, it was difficult and confusing for patients to find the waiting room again after a procedure. No-one in staff uniforms seemed inclined to help him, so Dan followed the signs as best he could. After what felt like at least three too many left turns he found the room where Nora said she would wait for him.

He found Nora slumped on a hard plastic chair, holding a paper cup of what was probably waiting-room coffee. She was so locked away in her thoughts that he had to call her name four times before she looked up. She brightened, but it was the brightness of sunlight hitting a glass wind chime.

"I'm declared healthy," he said. "They did find something, but they did a procedure right away and I'm all right now."

"Procedure? What procedure?"

He held out his hand. "Want to get breakfast?"

She shrugged and stood up. "If you think you're up to it."

"I'm starving. Let's go."

They walked out of the hospital. Nora led him down the street where they had spotted a promising-looking diner earlier.

"I parked the truck in front of it. They had a few spots behind the hospital, but it was so abandoned-feeling, and the chargers didn't work anymore. It didn't feel safe." She paused. "They have a sign saying the chargers are part of the 'authentic nostalgia'. But they still work."

"Of course," said Dan. "They wouldn't be authentic otherwise."

Nora laughed with a sincerity that pleased him.

The diner did evoke a kind of authentic nostalgia as they walked in and found an empty booth. The seats were upholstered in something much like the vinyl Dan remembered from his childhood. The menus displayed on the table's surface took the gloss of the touch screen into account, the better to emulate the plastic-laminated paper of old.

Dan immediately tapped an order for the special, adding a bottle of water as an afterthought. Nora flipped through the whole menu and then wound up ordering the special anyhow.

"Do you think these are real vinyl?" said Nora, rubbing the seat cushion.

"My guess is vat-grown leather. They can get it awfully close to plastic these days." Dan stared out window at their truck, as if he expected it to drive away on its own.

"So you had a procedure," Nora prompted.

Dan's gaze shifted towards where the hospital stood. "Dr. Zavic was right. But," he added, wagging a finger at Nora's stricken face, "the procedure got rid of it."

"Rid of it," Nora said.

"Yeah. I had cancer this morning, and now I don't."

"Just like that? What about follow-up visits?"

"They said I had to drink lots of water for a week and follow this healthy living plan they were going to e-mail me..." Dan fished his device out of his coat pocket and glanced at it. "I got something... yeah, that's it. If you don't mind driving back, I can read it in the truck maybe."

"I don't mind." Dan glanced up as he tucked his device away again. Nora still looked troubled. "What did they do? You were away for less than an hour."

The server — an authentic human being, not the robots like most diners had — arrived with their coffees and Dan's water. "They teleport you. First she scanned me as if she was going to teleport me, but didn't. That let them look for the cancer. Then they teleport you for real, but they just put you back in the same place, minus the cancer part."

"Right, my brother had his appendix out that way two years ago," the server said, setting the drinks on the table. "That's still a pretty new use of the technology."

"But you must have an incision or, or something?" said Nora.

"No. I can kind of feel something's different, but that's it."

"It's really cool," said the server. "My brother's appendix burst on the way to the operating room, and they were still able to fix him up without cutting him open. By the way, is that your truck outside?"

Nora confirmed it was.

"Thought I saw you parking it earlier," the server said to Nora. "You two didn't want to teleport to the hospital?"

Dan shrugged. "Nearest 'port is almost all the way here. By the time we reached it, it made more sense to just keep driving."

"You're farmers?"

"Sixth generation. We were independent, then we worked for Agrisanto. Now they're tanked we own the land and we're independent again."

"I guess that's why you need a truck." A chime sounded from the kitchen area. "That'll be your meals. I'll be right back."

"You'd think these townies had never seen a truck before," said Dan.

"I haven't seen any except for ours," said Nora. "Some bicycles, but no trucks or cars. I guess they're weird now."

Dan grimaced and added milk to his coffee. He stirred the milk in slowly, concentrating on the task.

"You're not telling me something," said Nora. "Did they find something else in the scan?"

"What?" said Dan. "Oh, no, nothing like that." He set the spoon down with exaggerated care on the saucer. "I was just thinking... they can convert a human being to data and then convert them back again, minus whatever they don't want. What can they do with other stuff?"

"Like what?"

"Anything. Remember those spaceships in those old films my grandfather liked? Space Trek or something?"

"Star Trek, wasn't it?"

"Maybe. But their food just came out of those little oven things..."

"Here you go. Two specials." The server set their plates in front of them. "Condiments on the side there. Enjoy. Let me know if you need anything else." The server gave a professional smile and returned to the kitchen.

"Looks good." Nora picked up her fork and glanced at Dan's plate. Then she frowned and set the fork down again.

"What's wrong?"

"Look..." Nora turned her plate so the food was oriented the same way as Dan's.

The food on the two plates was identical in every way.