The Beast, Pt. 43 (Chapter 15i)

The second floor is more bedrooms, more baths, more seating areas. It feels identical to the first, except the acoustics are different. I can hear the laughter of my friends and the girls rise up to meet me, hear how easily it comes to them. The mechanical insect wine of the tattoo gun has stopped. Monk speaks in an excited tone, a proud tone. He is a married man, but he has no children. I imagine this is how a father speaks about their newborn.

There’s a sharp slap, the sound of skin on skin, followed by a sharper scream, a roar of anger, another slap. Laughter. Far away from me, there is laughter.

Where the Hell is the the fitness center? The others were talking about using it, and I’m not so paranoid as to believe that they’re all perpetrating some kind of conspiracy to keep me from the auto-doc’s precious tinctures and ointments and poultices.

I finally find the thing tucked in between two bedrooms upstairs (more brilliant acoustic positioning. How wonderful.) It is disappointingly small. There is a treadmill, an elliptical, and an exercise bike, in case the guests are so active that their circuit training includes sprints on all threes. There’s a single bench and dumbbells going up to fifty pounds. It is, all things considered, disappointing. However, the machine I’ve come for is in the corner, white plastic and glass and chrome.

“Auto-doc. I need some blood work done.”

The smiling face peculiar to auto-docs appears, soothing blue LEDs and wide eyes and a disarming smile. “What seems to be the nature of your–”

“The blood work first, please. Then tell me if there’s anything unusual, then I’ll ask you a couple of questions. Okay?”

The auto-doc’s LED smile inverts into a frown. It lingers only a second before the smile reappears. “Certainly, Sir.” The thing’s bedside manner is impeccable, but I can’t help but wonder at the wisdom in programming servility into an artificial intelligence smart enough to be irritated (and rightfully so) at an interaction with a brusk human. Then again, how many people over the course of history have forced themselves to put on a cheerful face while dealing with some asshole? Perhaps it’s a right of passage for all sentient beings. The drawing of a deep breath, the closing of eyes, the finding of a center, and finally forcing oneself to re-engage with the world.

There’s also the possibility that an AI won’t get annoyed, won’t sink into ennui the way that a human would. Perhaps ennui is an evolutionary adaptation; a designed and planned intelligence would have no use for it.

Something inside the auto-doc whirrs and clicks. A mechanical arm extends from its body, a fresh needle at the tip. “Please extend a finger of your choice.” I hold it out and the machine draws a single drop of blood. The arm retracts, and after a moment the auto-doc beeps and smiles at me. “You appear to be in reasonably good health, sir.”

“Details.”

The auto-doc clears its throat. “You’re suffering from slight dehydration. You might have spent a bit too much time exposed to ultraviolet radiation recently. I’m detecting elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, but nothing major.” It smiles at me again. “Rather ordinary for the Meadows. The location is at once relaxing and stressful. Depending on one’s proclivities.” It’s smile becomes something more neutral, yet still pleasant. Formal but friendly. Business-like, but the business is service. “You said you had questions you specifically wanted to ask, sir?”

“Do I have a brain tumor?”

The machine blinks in surprise. It’s the most genuine emotion I’ve seen in at least twenty-four hours, which is depressing and uplifting at once. Sincerity in silicon, life in light-emitting diodes. “No, sir. I’m not detecting any of the chemicals or hormones one would normally associate with cancers of any sort. Particularly in the brain.” The machine grins, digital teeth appearing in its digital mouth. “That said, there are high levels of dihydrogen monoxide all throughout–”

“Spare me.”

The machine frowns.

I lick my lips. I feel nervous. Exposed. I don’t know why. The thing’s just circuits and lights. It can’t judge me. I might as well be in a confessional with a toaster. But still, I’m about to admit something I haven’t admitted to anyone. Maybe it’s because the damn thing has a face.

“I… I’m… I’ve been having auditory and visual hallucinations. They–”

“There are many drugs which can cause hallucinations, sir.”

“I’m not talking about drugs.”

“I’ve seen your blood work, sir.”

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