The Beast, Pt. 44 (Chapter 15j)

Yeah, but it’s not drugs.”

“That seems extremely unlikely, sir.”

“I think I would know if it was drugs.”

The LED eyes roll. Despite myself, I find my lips pursing into a frown. The auto-doc is a machine that exists only to serve me, and yet I feel judged by the thing. Harshly so. I wonder if this is the mindset that keeps men from tending to their medical issues. Not fear, but irritation. We know what is wrong with us. We know which of the actions we talk prolong our lives, and we know which ones shorten them. We know, too, that enrichment can fall into either category. The things that kill us can make us feel alive. There is a kind of immortality in that. We survive in the telling of the tale, even if we die in the action of the play.

Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles.

I shall fulfill that purpose, prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead hall.

“Spare me the commentary,” I growl. I have no idea why I’m trying to intimidate the auto-doc, this inanimate box, but here I am. “Just tell me what’s wrong with me.”

The auto-doc just smiles at me. “I didn’t say anything, sir.”

“I could see it in your damn expression.”

The auto-doc’s disarming smile, its “lips,” press into a thin smirk. Its round eyes flatten at the top, its whole appearance suddenly cold and smug. “Are you sure about that? Or, let me put this another way. I have no doubt that you saw my expression change to mock you. But does that mean it really did?”

My eyes go wide. Fear, actual genuine fear, fills me. And then the goddamn auto-doc laughs. “I’m just teasing you, sir. Here, let me prepare you an IV of Ringer’s Lactate. It should help to take the edge off of your condition.”

“I don’t feel bad.”

The auto-doc smiles at me warmly. “Then you should feel even better.” I hesitate for a moment, and the auto-doc sighs, smiles a little wilder after. “There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be attributed to overindulgence. Sir.”

I fold my arms, wince, growl in the affirmative. “Fine. But this needs to be quick.”

“It will be as quick as possible, sir.”

I grumble and reach for the bench, drag it across the room, slide it against the wall and the next to auto-doc. It makes an ungodly amount of noise, and I can’t help but feel justified in my earlier misgivings about the room’s acoustic failings. Meanwhile, the auto-doc’s mechanical arm lowers again, this time with a flexible hose, actuators pushing it into the perfect shape for a gravity-assisted drip. I hold out my arm, prop it up on the auto-doc’s main body, and watch as the needle finds its home in the crook of my elbow.

“What about the hallucinations?”

“You’ll have to alter your chemical intake on your own, sir. I can’t do that for you.”

I sigh. “I’m telling you, it’s not the drugs. I’ve tried controlling those variables, and nothing I did changed anything.”

“Sounds scientifically rigorous.”

“I’m not a trained doctor. Or a statistician. Or a fucking robot.”

“Touche.” We sit in silence for a moment before the auto-doc lets out a digitized sigh. “Extreme stress could cause hallucinations. Anxiety. Have you experienced any stress or anxiety in your life recently?”

I grunt in response. The auto-doc says nothing. The solution is cold as it enters my veins, but my blood warms it quickly. Or rather, it steals the warmth from my body.

“Do you think you could diagnose me if I told you what the hallucinations were?”

“Clinical behavior analysis is outside the scope of my programming, sir.”

“Is it really?” I ask, staring blankly ahead. I wonder what the others are doing. I wonder how long I’ve been gone at this point. There’s a clicking sound next to me, a soft buzz. I glance over my shoulder to see a grinning blue face mere inches away from my own.

I jump, the IV tugging on my veins. It doesn’t feel pleasant. On its screen, which is evidently on another swiveling mechanical arm and can detach from the main body of the machine, the auto-doc smiles at me. “It is, sir! Really truly!”


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