Tuesday at a Space Port Bar

Okay, so three people walk into a bar and recognize the bartender. “Here, I know you!”, says one of them. “You’re this joke! I’m your biggest fan!” This Joke is humbled and mumbles something about how nice it is to meet fans and then regales the three people with stories from when This Joke waited tables at the Last Supper because that’s how old it is.

So I’m filling in the blank… but in a different way.

Tuesday night, according to the chronometer; no point in trying to determine night or day in the endless dark of space through which the Kennedy Space Port twirled around New California in geostationary orbit.

Kennedy Verhoeven, who had heard absolutely every joke concerning both her first name and her work place, was tending the bar, wearing a pair of hologram glasses that made her look like Harra Lawrence in Gone Days because when she had woken up for work that day she had found herself disenchanted with both her wardrobe and her face. Not that anyone would have thought she actually was Harra Lawrence, because acclaimed 4D movie stars wouldn’t be caught dead mixing drinks in a third rate space port bar. Kennedy was also not exactly ecstatic about the prospect of sharing the shift with Jessa, who was a nice enough girl and an okay waitress but who had the annoying habit of relating boring pieces of celebrity gossip every time she returned to the bar for orders, as if she had to bargain for her customer’s drinks offering Cynthia Zottegem’s pregnancy rumours in exchange.

The crowd was normal sized for a weekday, two or three early drunks, a couple Earth soldiers breaking curfew (which meant that at any minute now a higher-up from the army might come barging in to verbally cut them back down to size, and Kennedy had already readied her microcam to record it for her blog), a few business people, haggard-looking, waiting for their next flight to be ready for boarding, the rest station workers come in for after work drinks that somehow always got prolonged. There were a couple shady figures floating around or seated in the corners, but that was to be expected.

Three newcomers approached the bar, two guys and a girl, none of them could be even in their mid-twenties yet. So much for tips, she thought as she sauntered over.

“Well, that didn’t work,” she overheard one of the guys say. Then the other one piped up.

“Hey, Harra Lawrence! What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?”

“Say please, for once,” Kennedy shot back.

“Shut up, Drew, Christ, can’t take you anywhere,” the other guy said, evidently the older one of the two. “What’ll twenty credits buy us?”

“Andalusian beer,” Kennedy said and meant it.

“Andalusia on Earth or Andalusia the moon?”

“Moon.”

“Damn. Guess it’ll have to do. Two Andalusian beers, please.”

The young man named Drew meanwhile was busy harassing the girl they had come in with, who was busy checking something on her computer screen. “C’mon, Marnie, you can’t let us drink alone. What’ll you have? D’you have any money left?”, he added hopefully.

“Go away, Drew, busy,” the young woman said, typing something.

“This guy bothering you?”, Kennedy asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, since birth. His birth that is.” She slipped her computer inside her coat pocket and tapped the bar twice for the drinks menu to light up. “Art, Drew, you guys get a table or something, I’ll be a while.”

Kennedy brought their beers, received no tip, and watched them disappear to a table near the stairs. “What’ll it be?”, she asked the girl, idly giving the bar a quick sweep and wondering why the young brunette was hanging out with two idiots like that.

The girl, Marnie, looked around quickly, then back to the menu as if indecisive. “I got a hundred.” She slipped a credit chip out of her pocket.

“Coma’s not on the menu.”

“Is enlightenment?”

Kennedy started polishing a glass as if she wasn’t even talking to the other woman. “Maybe. What d’you want?”

“Know anyone in here interested in some merchandise? Tax-free, y’know.”

Kennedy glanced to the side. “Leather jacket at the other end of the bar.”

“What’s their drink? Can you send them one from me?”

Under the dish towel Kennedy rubbed her thumb and forefinger together in the international sign for ‘motivate me’.

“Christ. Twenty.”

“Seventy.”

“Fifty.”

“Done,” Kennedy said, pocketing the credit chips.

Kennedy knew the drinker with the leather jacket, came in here most nights, nursed her gin for an hour at least, tipped regularly if not exactly generously, but you didn’t work in a bar like this without picking up on some things. She put a fresh glass of gin in front of leather jacketed arms. “Greetings from the brunette,” she said briefly, cocking her head in Marnie’s direction.

Leather Jacket looked at the bartender, then at the girl at at far side of the bar, with a face so nondescript and common it might have been the result of hologram glasses because this level of average could just not be real. “I’m a married woman,” she said, sounding just the slightest bit sarcastic.

“Not that kinda drink,” Kennedy whispered before walking away to the shelves and pretending to be busy with the order screen. She could hear Marnie move over to Leather Jacket and some snippets of quiet conversation between the two business women. She decided that this had probably been the highlight of her shift and it wasn’t even halfway through.

Business was picking up at the bar. A shuttle arrived outside, bringing in a dozen or so passengers waiting for their connection flight, followed by a throng of late-shifters from the docks. Jessa barely managed to get a sentence in about Ron Fischer’s new hair cut which even holo glasses couldn’t fix.

Kennedy spent a good ten minutes trying to divine the order of an attaché to the Andalusian ambassador, but they managed, communicating mainly through the use of gesture, two arms on one side of the bar and five on the other. Jessa chimed in with news about Esla Chang and her plans to adopt all the poodles on Mars according to The Star, a newspaper which wasn’t what anyone with a functioning brain would call a reliable source and which Jessa read religiously.

The crowd thinned again with the next ship announcement. It left in its wake a the regular scattering of people. A small man in a suit was leaning against the bar on one elbow and started to snore; the army boys were still at their table and disappointingly no one came to rouse them and drag them back to their barracks ship; a woman with a briefcase and black tie was drinking like the world was going to end without showing any sign of the effects of alcohol.

“You sure you want another?”, Kennedy asked cautiously.

“Yeah, one for every idiot I had to meet today,” Black Tie said, sounding so sober it was scary.

“Riiight.” Kennedy delivered the drink and fled to the other end of the bar where Jessa nattered on about the many love affairs of New Punk idol Jimmy Phan. Kennedy nodded absently; that just wasn’t right, being sober after six whiskeys. Did this woman have the implant or something?

At this point, Marnie’s brothers came trudging back to the bar and joined the girl; Leather Jacket had apparently left. “… that’s how you do it, you idiots. I swear, if we didn’t share genetics…” Kennedy heard her say, with the tone of someone who knew all too well that they were the one who inherited the family’s supply of brains.

The chronometer chimed to let Kennedy and Jessa know to get their tails out of the place and clock out because the boss would rather get bitten by an Andalusian than pay overtime. Parvati, Jo, and Luke arrived on time to take over and after some polite small talk Kennedy was out on the halls, pursued by Jessa.

“What says we drive into town tomorrow?”, she twittered cheerfully. “Do a real girls’ day! Brunch and all.”

“Sure,” Kennedy said, knowing she would regret it, while planning out her next Confessions from the Space Port blog entry in her head. “Your sister coming, too?”

“I’ll message her. Y’know, you should really upload Yvette Coa on your glasses, she’d suit you.”

“Uh-huh.” Maybe a good way to spend some of her new hundred-and-fifty.

Advertisements

Long Live Evadne Pauley

The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

Mom says Mrs Pauley had always lived here. She says always like it’s an actual eternity, but the records say forty years. Mom also says I’m not supposed to dig around the Altersgate Community records, but it’s not my fault they don’t have decent ICE around them.

I’ve seen Mrs Pauley for as long as I can remember and she was always pretty annoying, bustling around at baking sales, harassing people to join the community crafting circle, babysitting pretty much every child in the neighbourhood, never being quiet in the library, because her hearing was going and she didn’t have the money for implants, and generally she was just there, so much I thought she didn’t have a home at first, and then I thought she didn’t want to go home because she was just never in there. She was there like the trees along main road, just sort of there like Henrik’s Waffles, you don’t notice until they’re not there anymore.

But I’ve only ever really met her twice, once when I was seven and she patted me on the head and called me a “strange little thing”, and three months ago when mom and dad dragged me along to give our condolences. I had only known Mr Pauley as the slightly grumpy old man smoking like it was the last of days every time you saw him. Mom told me to keep away from him. Because of the smoke, she always said, smoking’s bad. Apparently, he didn’t trust the new cancer meds and then it was too late. So he died. Kind of like grandpa, only Mr Pauley was cremated. I think he would have liked that, old Mr Pauley.

They’ve been standing there arguing for a good ten minutes now and it’s getting heated. Mom always says not to shout when I’m angry. You shout, you lose. Adults shout all the time. They’re probably going to shout all weekend long.

Mom and dad pass me on the steps and tell me to go inside, they’ll see what they can do. They always try to see what they can do, sometimes I think they need glasses. I hurry upstairs because I can get a better look from the hallway window anyway. I hear the front door lock automatically. Mom and dad do that sometimes because they’re afraid I’ll run off and do something stupid. That’s what they say, anyway. So I just watch. The landlord is red in the face, a face like beetroot. I snap a picture. His face is funny. The police officer is just sort of standing there, like he doesn’t want to drag a little old lady into his car, hovering by the sidewalk. Mrs Pauley is really kinda small, about as tall as I am now. Her hair is all grey, like she has no time to dye it like Mom. I see mom and dad getting nearer now. The police officer seems very relieved somehow. The landlord is going to explode.

I sleep in the living room today so Mrs Pauley can sleep in my room. I knew mom and dad would do this. I already took my computer and a spare blanket downstairs before they even came in. Mrs Pauley is in the kitchen sobbing into her tea. I hear mom shushing the teamaker because it’s asking if the tea is really that bad. Mom is trying to comfort Mrs Pauley. Dad is pacing, asking a million questions. What about her boys, he asks. Isn’t there anyone she can ask for help? Why is she not eligible for benefits anyway? She should at the very least be receiving a widow’s pension. There must be something wrong with the automatic system, he says. He’s going to call the bureau in the morning, he says.

Mrs Pauley doesn’t know. All addresses are in her computer and she doesn’t know how to use it, it has a password, her husband used to do all the computer stuff, and now she can’t get in her house anyway and it’s in there. A grown woman who can’t use a computer, I think, sighing. They teach us that since preschool. But Mrs Pauley really is old. Mom says when she was my age her computer only had about 8 GB RAM, and Mrs Pauley is even older.

I’m in the living room doing the maths exercises mom uploaded to my laptop before she went to make tea. Sometimes I wonder if mom thinks I’m stupid. Like the exercises somehow stop me from hearing. Like she doesn’t want me to hear. Like she thinks I don’t understand, but I’m not a child anymore, I’ve had my period last fall, I’m practically grown up. What I don’t understand is why no one does anything useful. Adults just don’t think right.

They all trudge to bed, finally. They don’t know I’m still up, and I don’t want them to. I throw the blankets off and reach for the laptop. Audio mute, going around the security protocols mom and dad had installed. They still run this child safety program on my laptop like I’m five, no access after 9 pm, no access to adult content websites, no this, no that. Any idiot can disable it, and I’m not half an idiot despite what Mr Hodgins, our computer science teacher, thinks. I just don’t want to let him know what I can do because he’ll go blabbing and then they won’t let me do anything.

Getting into the city records is so easy they should be sued. Mrs Pauley actually has a first name, it’s Evadne, and she had a lot of children, six of them, all boys. I don’t know how she could stand that. The youngest is twenty-four, twice as old as I am. I find him first because he moved last. Two of them are still in the city, the other four moved across the country. I can find four of them. That’s enough, I guess. They stopped all contact with their parents when they moved out. I’m guessing it was because of Mr Pauley. Mr Pauley wasn’t very nice, and not just because of the smoking. Not sure I can convince the boys to contact their mother again, but I’ll try anyway.

Four mails later, all with the picture of the semi-exploding landlord in front of Mrs Pauley’s house, I go to sleep. It’s up to the adults now. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

We’re having lunch with Mrs Pauley when the door announces we have unidentified visitors. Mom goes to see. Mrs Pauley hears their voices and rushes out. Dad follows. I give it a few seconds, stealing some of dad’s lasagne, then go to see.

It’s two of them, and both are hugging their mom. They came by magnetic rail as soon as they got the message. Mrs Pauley cries, people do that a lot when they’re happy, it’s really kind of confusing. Mom starts hugging me, because mom gets emotional like that. Dad is baffled, but that’s his usual state. How did they know, he asks, he was trying to find their numbers. One of them shrugs. This is the slightly-not-so-youngest, I think, he looks like late twenties. The youngest son looks at him, then at me. He looks almost exactly like Corey Nover in Lost in Time, all sparkly eyes and wild hair, just missing the spacesuit. He has three days worth of hair on his face and looks at dad and says, the community board e-mailed them. Then he looks at me again and winks. At least I think he winks. I blush. Why am I blushing? He was probably just blinking. I don’t think he knows, I hid the IP trace. It should have looked like the community board. My face is burning.

The adults go to the kitchen, the situation is under control, and I can probably have my room back tonight or tomorrow. I trail behind. They’re doing conversation now, dad is prepping more lasagne and mom does the usual so-what-do-you-do with Mrs Pauley’s sons. The Corey Nover clone looks at me for a split second before he says applied informatics. He winks, this time he definitely winks.

I excuse myself smoothly and run upstairs and hide in the bathroom. My face is red as beetroot. I can never leave this room again. Not even to see how these idiot grown-ups are going to sort out Mrs Pauley’s housing problem. I’ll just stay in here until my face goes back to normal, which is never, so I’ll just stay in here until I die.

Mom knocks and says to stop being rude and come downstairs again. I leave the bathroom but my face is still glowing like a traffic light. Mom asks what’s the matter with me like she doesn’t know.

I pass the rest of the day in silence, which mom comments on and I hate her for it. They boys are going to look for a hotel and come back in the morning to help Mrs Pauley with the bureaucracy stuff, they say. They thank my parents about a thousand times, and so does Mrs Pauley.

I sleep on the sofa again. When mom and dad finally leave, I switch on my computer. I’m sure I did a good job on the IP erasure. No way Mrs Pauley’s Corey Nover could have known. There’s one new mail in my inbox. Probably Kate from English class, she always asks me a million stupid things because she can’t get any assignments right. But it’s not Kate. It’s a mail telling me in detail where I went wrong and how to completely mask an e-mail. He covered the trace for me and won’t tell anyone I hacked myself into the community board but next time I’m on my own, he writes. I should consider computer science when I’m done with school, he writes. There’s no name, but I know it’s Informatics Corey Nover. I already hate him, thinking he’s so smart with his computer science degrees and his eyes twinkling like stars and his gorgeous hair.

I switch the computer off and hide under the blanket. I’ll just stay under here until I die.

Life After the Ganham Act – Point Of View for Writing101

Cass Phan squeezed her brother’s hand, trying to get him to focus again. She could feel it when his attention dwindled. “You okay?”

Mavic blinked a few times, looked at her, brown eyes locked on brown eyes, then he nodded. “Yeah, sorry. Background noise. You know how it is.”

“Nope. Not really.”

“Yeah.” He ran a hand through his dark hair in frustration. Maybe it wasn’t a good day after all.

Cass glanced at him sideways, worried. She always worried about him, even though given their age difference it should have been the other way around. Mavic was almost three years older than her but didn’t look it. In fact the siblings looked so much alike people often thought they were twins, the only way of telling them apart being the hair, because while Cass kept hers short and sleek, Mavic had grown his out so long it covered his shoulders. He usually wore it in a bun.

Maybe she shouldn’t have believed him when he had told her he was alright to go out. Then again, he had to train somewhere, he couldn’t spend the rest of his days in his room. Cass silently cursed the Academy. You’d think they would at least have been able to teach him that. Ever since the Ganham Act passed last year and Mavic had finally been allowed to come home again he had been doing terribly, somehow worse than before. It might have had something to do with the partial mindwipe he had agreed to, to speed up the mental healing process. Which wouldn’t have even been necessary if they had just left him alone in the first place. Damn that teep police!

Cass tried to close those thoughts away and dragged her brother further along the path of the park, but she knew it was too late by the semi-amused look he gave her and the tiny laugh she heard at the back of her head. “I can hear you, you know.”

Mavic had been trying his hardest to concentrate on his surroundings when his sister’s worry and anger crossed his mind, coming off her in waves. He had been trying to focus on the park, and to ignore the people in it. It was a perfect night for a walk in the park, the temperature was still warm, still sweater weather. The fluorescent trees were in full bloom, not yet programmed for autumn when their tiny neon leaves would blow in the wind and vanish before they hit the ground. At least the trees didn’t have thoughts; people were full of them and he found it hard to block them out. The teachings of the Academy – which had been more of a juvenile prison, he thought so more and more – had apparently done close to nothing to teach him how to control it, his talent was too strong; Mavic ranked very high on the telepathic scale. That was also one of the reasons he could never fully block out Cass. She was always there, his entire family in fact, he could always in a way feel them. It had never seemed strange to him. He thought it made him more perceptive of their needs, easier to help them when they needed help, comfort them when they needed to be comforted. He remembered, when he was very young, asking mother to make Cass some hot cocoa because she was having a bad day at preschool, a whole ten minutes before Cass walked in the door.

It had felt natural to him, but of course that was before the Academy. Mother had always warned him not to show his talent.

“You want to go back?”, Cass asked.

“M’fine.”

“You sure?”

“Have to get used to it, don’t I?” He gave her a wry little smile and reached out to her. Cass felt his thoughts brush over her own, his mind as distinct and familiar as his face, comforting her, telling her he was alright. She often wished she was more talented in this just so she could do that, too.

Cass tugged on his arm. “Come on, then.”

“No, that way. There’s more people, I wanna try something.”

There really were more people here, walking, running, cluttering the benches along the way. Mavic walked on with slow, careful steps, building up the mental wall brick by tiny brick. The noise of millions of thoughts grew faint, still audible but not overwhelming. Finally some progress. He looked around, happy to be able to look at people without automatically reading them. A boy ran past him on a scooter and Mavic could feel nothing but the draft. A teenage girl was chatting away into a wrist phone and he could hear nothing but her voice. Two old women were sitting on a bench, one of them reading on a tablet, her huge white afro in stark contrast with her shiny dark skin, the other one, pale and frail looking, was knitting, an old-fashioned pastime that, like many others, had been making it’s comeback this year after stitching had gone out of style.

They were about to pass the two women when Mavic noticed the red synthetic wool in the knitter’s hands, slowly taking on the distinct shape of a pullover, and the wall shattered into pieces. Mavic could hear his sister cry his name, many times, but she seemed so far away, lost in the sea of voices. He could feel tears on his face, looking at the red pullover.

A red pullover. He had worn a red pullover once, no, many times. On the few outings that had been permitted at the Academy the students had been made to wear red pullovers, clasps over the sleeves that made it impossible to take them off outside the dorm rooms, their identification code and that of the school program stitched into the fabric. Even a superficial security scan was able to detect it. It was a precaution, just in case someone got it in their mind to try and make a run for it. Mavic had never tried to run, not even when they came into his school for a routine check for telepathy, he had just done what his mother had said and imagined building a wall, not to let them find him, but it was too late, they had come by their apartment anyway, three of them, one teep and two pieces of hired muscle, and all Mavic could do was to make sure they only took him, took him away before they found out about Cass and their mom, they were low-level but in the days of the rogue teep panic everyone could be carted off, so he just started sending, masking their talent with his own…. He shouldn’t even be remembering this. Something about the mindwipe had gone very, very wrong. His memories started to mix with the thoughts around him and Mavic felt as if he was drowning.

“Now listen to me, young man,” a voice, strong, firm, came into his mind. “You will concentrate on me. Follow me. Imagine me as a thread and follow. Block everything else. There are thick concrete walls all around us, there is only you and me.”

The clamour around him ceased gradually, and Mavic found his way back to the here and now. He was leaning against Cass, thinking he must be quite a sight, a grown man crying in front of two old ladies.

“That’s better,” the firm voice sounded again and he realised it came from the knitting woman, her electric needles now laying forgotten on her lap. The woman with the afro was giving him a concerned look. He could hear her now, too.

“You’re quite a strong one, aren’t you? I see they did a mindwipe on you, must’ve done a rotten job.”

“Mavic? Mavic, you okay?”, Cass asked. “They’re telepaths too, aren’t they? Can you even hear me?”

The knitting woman took a look at her wife when the boy in front of her didn’t answer. After a short conversation she shrugged. “Your brother is not doing well,” she said to Cass. “What happened to him?”

“Academy,” the girl said curtly, still holding the young man upright.

The knitter raised her eyebrows in honest concern. The poor boy. She had heard about the things that happened there before the Ganham Act shut the whole organisation down, had almost ended up at a similar place herself. “I see.” She reached out to Mavic again, his young mind flitting here and there, like a firework going off inside his brain. “Can you still hear us?”

“Yes,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Can you hear anyone else?”

“No.”

“Very good. Hello. I’m Doro, this is my wife Karyn. And you are?”

“Mavic Phan.”

“Nice to meet you, young man,” Doro said, looking at him with a sort of grandmotherly sympathy. “Now listen, what really helps is daily meditation. You need to work on the wall until it becomes more of a screen door you can open and close at will.”

“You’re telepaths, too.”

“Ain’t you a smart one,” the woman with the tablet, Karyn, said. “I told you, honey, they ain’t teaching them nothing useful at this damned place, might have shut it down sooner.”

“I know, dear, but that’s hardly his fault, now is it?”, Doro said, patting her wife’s hand.

“You’ve been slacking with your exercise,” Karyn continued, addressing Mavic. “You need four hours every day until you get better.”

Mavic could think of nothing to say, still recovering from the onslaught of thought turmoil from earlier, so he just said, “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“An’ stop feelin’ sorry for yourself,” Karyn added, her arms now crossed. “When we were your age they just locked people like us up in asylums, told ’em they were crazy, ain’t no such thing as telepathy.”

“Yeah? How d’you get out?”, Mavic asked, mental voice dripping with sarcasm.

Karyn was grinning now and Doro could tell the boys was rising in her wife’s opinion. “Not so stupid after all, the boy.”

“Now get yourself home and have some rest. You feel like you had enough excitement for the day,” Doro said.

“An’ work on yourself,” Karyn added.

Mavic started to limp away in the direction they had come from, Cass walking next to him, puzzled to no end; she hadn’t heard anything. “What is it? What did they say?”

“Told me to meditate,” Mavic said, grinning slightly. All he wanted to do right now was to go home and lie down for an hour or ten.

“Is this telepath stuff I don’t understand?”

He stroked her hand gently. “Who knows. You might.”

On the bench Doro and Karyn continued their talk, their lips never moving, as their eyes followed the two young people. Karyn eventually went back to the article on her tablet. “I should write a book, I should.”

“On what, dear? ‘How to be a better telepath in twelve easy steps’?”

“That’s a good title, I need to write that down somewhere. Told you they ain’t learning anything at these places, waste of time the whole thing, waste of tax money, I always said that.”

“You did, dear,” Doro said non-committally, as always when her wife dived into the topic of politics. She took up her electric needles again. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”

Karyn shrugged. “He’ll get through it, we all did,” she said shortly.

“Of course, dear.”

——-

Sooo? How did I do? Is it really obvious that English isn’t my first language because I think it is.

It Builds Character, They Said, or A Study in Steel

Considering this year is only four months old, I can’t say I’ve had much chance to get to know anyone new, much less anyone interesting. I don’t have a new partner, certainly not a new child, and definitely not a friendly barista because a) I’m too broke for fancy ass lattes and b) everyone in this rotten city is rude as all hell and I don’t even want to know what happened there.

Sooo it looks like we have to do fiction. How about something with robots. Do you like robots? I like robots.

——-

The clock above the giant white double doors struck seven and exactly one second later Dr. Cassian entered the surgical ward. Jay had been expecting her, as he did every day. Today her black hair was tied back tightly and the automatic scanner on his utility belt indicated increased heart rate as she came towards him with long strides, her work computer tucked firmly under one arm, green medical scrubs crinkled around her boxy frame as if she had put them on in a hurry. “Morning, Jay,” she said, her tone trying for nonchalance and failing.

“Good morning, Dr. Cassian. You are stressed.”

Jay was not easily fooled, he was an excellent observer. She didn’t even know why she kept trying. The faked nonchalance made room for sarcasm. “Tell me something I don’t know. Full scan.”

Jay nodded obediently, tapping on the flat screen of his report card. “You are fit to work, however I must remind you of the importance of sleep.”

“Yeah, then I’ll remind you we’re understaffed.” She cocked her dark head to the side, indicating he should follow her. Dr. Cassian walked over to the medical dispenser machine, inserting her work ID and pressing buttons on the small screen at the side. “Anything from the night shift?”

“No unusual occurrences. Patient Vallius Sbornak in room 203 complained about pain in his new hip. He was given non-morphine based medication. He did not seem happy about that.”

Dr. Cassian sighed. She had had a feeling this patient would try to get high during his stay here, there was always at least one. She half listened to Jay rattling off details about her other patients, all of them doing very well, as she was becoming more and more annoyed with the medical dispenser; the machine kept refusing her order.

“Your schedule for today has been sent to your personal computer. Would you like to go over it?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said absently, still punching in numbers. Was there something wrong with her ID card? “Work, you stupid thing,” she murmured.

Jay watched her for a few polite seconds while continuing with his report, observing the features of her sun-tanned face growing ever crosser, the bone structure beneath suggesting Easter European ancestry. “You have already reached the tolerance limit for jumpstart this week, Dr. Cassian.”

“What? That’s not even possible!”, she exclaimed, her thin dark eyebrows raised so high they nearly vanished into her hairline.

“I can send the report to your computer,” Jay offered helpfully.

“No, thanks.” Dr. Cassian massaged the bridge of her long nose. “What about a boost shot?”

“Not with your family history of cardiac arrest.”

“Condensed caffeine?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Coffee? Is coffee still okay? Please tell me coffee is okay.”

“Coffee is perfectly fine.”

It was going to be a long day and it would feel even longer without enhancers, but coffee was better than nothing. “Great, in that case get me the biggest cup they have in the cafeteria and have them send it to my position, I’m going to do my rounds now. See you later, Jay.”

Jay opened another window on his report card and tapped in her order. “I suggest I write you down for a day off tomorrow.”

“Understaffed!”, she shouted over her shoulder.

“I have forwarded the suggestion to management. The average waiting time for a reply on a non-urgent issue is currently set at six hours.”

Sometimes she felt like yelling at him. How could he keep his manner so calm even as he was deciding things over her head? He was infuriating sometimes. Dr. Cassian took a deep breath. She shouldn’t take it out on him. He meant well. At least she assumed that he did. After all, that was what he was here for. It was probably for the best that he didn’t look human, or else she wouldn’t have been able to hold back. Yelling at humans was easy. Yelling at robotic hospital assistants was futile at best, and his svelte metal frame and rectangular digital eyes were a good reminder of this. It saved her energy and by god, she needed that energy today.

She booted her work computer and went over her schedule. Oh yes. It was going to be a very long day.

Jay meanwhile was greeting head nurse Royce, coming in uncharacteristically late. He made the mistake of commenting on it.

“Don’t you give me any of that, J3. Full scan,” Dr. Cassian heard her say before she rounded the corner.

——

Yeah, I’m really not one for description. Any thoughts?