The Beast, Pt. 79 (Chapter 19b)

My grunts and curses echo through the empty villa. I half-expect to have someone come looking to see who’s making all the noise, or at least shouting from some other room to shut the fuck up, but there’s nothing. Nothing but the sound of my own struggles. It is insufferable.

Twenty minutes pass. I push myself up, twisting my spin to reach the doorknob separating me from the fitness center and the auto-doc. It turns, the door falls inward, and I crash face first into the ground. “Auto-doc! Auto-doc!”

“Ah. Welcome back, Sir. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Everything hurts,” I gasp out. “Fix it.”

“’Fix it?’ You don’t have any suggestions for how to do so? No requests more specific than that? You aren’t going to try and tell me, an infallible targeted AI, how to do my job?”

I drag myself closer. With a click, the auto-doc’s screen detaches from the wall, swivels out. LED eyes stare at me coolly, the expression neutral. Maybe it’s judging me. Maybe it’s diagnosing me. Maybe it’s just stuck in some kind of a loop and it’s waiting for me to offer some kind of input. I look up and try to match its gaze, but somehow the whole thing is even stupider than trying to win a staring contest with a mirror. “No,” I finally say. “I’m not. Please, help me.”

The wall splits apart. The floor opens up. A padded bed lifts me up to before the auto-doc’s screen. Arms come out of the wall, one tipped with a syringe, another with a scalpel, a third with some kind of gun-looking thing that probably applies topical medication. I can’t even muster surprise at this. Just a small yelp as my body protests the sudden shift and the unfamiliar sensations as I’m lifted up and poked and prodded and inspected, a dog at a veterinarian.

“Hm. Dehydration. Contusions. Fracture on the second metacarpal of the right hand. Veisalgia. You’re sort of a mess today, friend.”

“I’m always a mess,” I mutter. “Just fix it.”

“I’m going to guess that you had an especially rough night?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. Hell, I’m sure you heard the whole thing.”

“I’m a doctor, not a spy. And I don’t have microphones situated throughout the house or anything like that. But if I had to guess, I’d wager that your Bacchanalia led to drug-related amnesia, which led to you getting into an altercation with Miss Berry’s attaché, which led to you getting your ass kicked. To use the vernacular.”

The auto-doc slips an IV needle into my vein. Something whirs and clicks behind me, then stabs me in my back. I scream. “Oh, hush. It’s just a cortisone shot to do something about the swelling and pain back there. Old injury, I’m guessing?”

All I can do is pant in response. The auto-doc grunts, perhaps annoyed that I’m not responding to its question. “I’m going to rehydrate you,” it says as something cool pours into my veins through the IV. “And we’re going to ice and anesthetize those cuts and bruises. See if we can’t do something about the pain and the swelling. A nanite flush is in order, too, to try and help out your poor liver and kidneys and brain. And finally, I’ll be giving you some calcium carbimide. I think you need a break, and this will help you be honest about sticking to it.”

“Fine,” I say. I want to close my eyes and drift back into sleep. Maybe a wave of exhaustion has hit me, or maybe the cortisone and the Ringer’s are helping. Or maybe I just don’t want to deal with anything right now. But the auto-doc titters, the bed shaking ever so slightly at its laughter, as if it were a person holding me and not just a machine.

“If I may be so bold, Sir, you entertain me. Most of the patients I get in here are predictable. They feign sickness, or they feign ignorance of their maladies. They ask me about what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. They play at having serious conditions requiring very specific medications for treatment. But you’re different. You don’t play games. You don’t lie to yourself or to me. You know exactly what’s wrong with you and how to fix it. But you don’t even bother trying to. You seek out solutions that never work, and it’s utterly fascinating to watch.

“Like watching someone try to put a new coat of paint on a house that’s burning down.”


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