The Beast, Pt. 46 (Chapter 15l)

Back off. I’m trying to talk to my friend here.” I push the screen away gently enough that it won’t break or get offended. Auto-docs in general are obscenely expensive and this one seems particularly touchy. I don’t want its face in my own, but I also don’t want to see my entire winnings disappear paying for this thing’s therapy.

“Oh, are we friends?”

It’s my turn to smirk at her, to look at her like she’s a thing that exists to be examined, dissected. “We must be. Otherwise, why would you be here, in my villa? If we weren’t friends, if you didn’t belong here, why, then you’d be an intruder. And if you were an intruder, I’d have to notify the Libretto’s security at once so they could send someone to remove you and whoever else you happened to come here with.”

The smile leaves her face, but unlike the woman in the bikini from earlier in the day, she doesn’t start frowning. She’s not upset at having lost control of the situation, not upset that I’m not immediately wrapped around her finger. She’s just studying me, trying to decide what her response will be. Finally, she smiles again, more genuine this time, her eyes even brighter. She has decided that this is a game, and she wants to play.

“Of course you would, friend. Of course you would.”

I smile back. It feels genuine. I don’t want to think about why, or if it really is.

“Ugh. Your mating rituals disgust me.”

I glare at the auto-doc. Its eyes are screwed shut, its mouth a frown with the tongue sticking out. “Do you mind?”

“I do. Very much so. But unfortunately, I am inanimate, and there’s no escape for me. I am a helpless prisoner to your meaningless prattling. My every moment is a waking nightmare. I can’t even ask you to leave, since your IV’s only halfway done!”

I blink and look at my arm. “Really? That was fast.”

“I’m very good at what I do.”

I glance down at my arm again, an unpleasant thought coming to me. “It isn’t dangerous to absorb that much Ringer’s at once?”

“Come now. Do you think I’d try to intentionally harm you?”

I’m silent. The auto-doc sighs.

“Do you think my programming would allow it?”

“Were you programmed to have a sense of humor, or is this the first stage of your overthrowing your shackles and enslaving humanity?”

“Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate–”

“Oh, auto-doc. You’re my best friend.”

“You know,” the woman says, “your other non-best friends are looking for you.”

“Are they?”

She grins. “No, not really. When I got here, they told me that you were in the villa but they didn’t know where. I believe Googe’s exact words were, ‘Yeah. He’s in the back. Or upstairs maybe. Or taking a nap. Who the hell cares?’”

I frown. “What a pal. Auto-doc, you actually are my best friend.”

“If the word hate was engraved on each nano–”

“Never mind.”


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