I crossed to the desk with a dozen eyes fixed on my back, or so it seemed. I am, at the best of times, certain that the word “crazy” is written in giant glowing letters across my back just as it is in the scars on my wrists or the faint burns on my temples. This was not the best of times. I gave my identification number to the receptionist, Cyber, I’m pretty sure, and found a seat at least one empty chair away from anyone else. My sleeves had worked their way up my arms. I pulled them down until the rough fabric brushed against my knuckles, and tried to take the deep, cleansing breaths that Doctor Alyce had said would help. They didn’t.
The waiting room was pristine, immaculately decorated, so very different from East, from any of the state run and funded facilities to which I’d become accustomed. Those smell like piss and bleach and are decorated with flaking paint and whatever the last out of control patient had smeared all over the walls. Here everything was cool blues and off-white, with a SimWall depicting a beach or, at least, what a beach used to be. There is a beach down the road from my flat in
. It does not look like that. Still the crashing of the waves was nice.
Soothing. In and out. Back and forth. In
and out. I looked down, surprised to find I was scrubbing my wrists back and
forth on my thighs, and rocking in time with the water. How long had I been doing that? Apparently a while. The skin was red and the
other people waiting to be seen were pointedly not looking at me. Fek.
For some strange reason I thought of Tawny, her dark eyes wide in the
dim light while angry footsteps pounded up and down the halls. “You picked a bad time to go loco, ese,” she
had said. She had been right. That time was bad, this one was worse. Flower
I should just get out of here. They’re not going to pick me anyway, I don’t know why I’m even trying. As of right now I’d be out nothing but the hoverbus fare and maybe, just maybe, I could cling to whatever chip of dignity I had left. If there’s any at this point. Sometimes I wonder. Of course, Dr. Alyce would be disappointed. It’s not like that’s new. I’ve been disappointing Dr. Alyce for ten years or more, and he’s just one on a long, long list, besides he gets paid to be disappointed anyway. My heart started thumping in my chest. I can’t do this. I can’t not do this. Stay and people will see. They will see what I am. And, worst of all, they will actually, and this is hilarious, decide that I’m not broken enough or too broken or who knows what. What if I actually fail at being sick? Go home though and there’s no hope. None. Besides, they’ll all be sitting here knowing I couldn’t make it and laugh and talk amongst themselves about the stupid lazy wanna be patient and how I was probably hungover or strung out and couldn’t find my way. I found my way fine, thank you. Better than they could if we took them out of their oh so pretty world. God, I’m just so damn tired. I looked again at the SimWall, where a brightly-colored bird was entering from one side. Okay, let the bird decide. If it flew through, just a tourist, so too would I be on my way. If it stayed, so would I. It soared across the blue sky, banking so that it looked like it was flying away, then curved and came closer, settling on the branch of the tree. All right. I folded my hands in my lap and gave what I hoped was a pleasant smile to the woman across the aisle, and did my best impression of someone who was actually sane.
“Charlotte,” another woman identical to the receptionist was waiting at a door that I hadn’t even noticed. So, there’s one question answered, Cyber for sure. She guided me through a tangle of rooms and hallways, her high patent heels clicking on the tiles. One thing this place did have in common with East, it was a maze. She stopped, finally, and pushed a door open on silent hinges. “Thanks,” I said, forgetting that you don’t have to thank a Cyber. She gave me a programmed smile, flashing her flawless white teeth, and clicked back the way she had come. The office behind the door, like the rest of this place, was spotless, beautiful, with real wood furniture and soft fabrics. There were framed awards everywhere. It is obvious that they are used to people who educated, rich. People not like me. I’m surprised that they even let me in there, probably had a cleaning bot already programmed to sanitize the place after I left. I don’t belong here. If they didn’t need someone desperate to use as a guinea pig, a place like this wouldn’t even answer my waves. Still, Dr. Alyce was waiting, along with two people I had never met. They were all looking at me. I wished that I had left when I had the chance.
Dr. Alyce stepped forward. “
Charlotte,” he said, clasping my hands in
his, “I’m glad you could come, let me introduce you to our hosts.” He turned, first, to the woman on his right,
a dark skinned woman with startling hazel eyes and a white coat like his own. “This is Doctor Stevens,” he said and,
turning to his left his elbow brushed the elbow of the man next to him and
passed right through, leaving a bluish glow behind. The other stranger must have holo’d in for
the occasion. The kid, I swear he looked
about a decade younger than me, was introduced as Cybernetic Specialist Nu. He wore a dark blue blazer embroidered with
the stylized pigeon of the . A scientist of some sort, then. That explained the holo. I’d heard that most scientists thought
themselves hesitant to leave their labs, afraid that in the time it took for
them to visit the latrines, someone would beat them to the next best
thing. I’d seen the T.A. emblem before,
of course. Once, on the leg of a drunk, homeless
man that we were helping get cleaned up.
Mostly, in the hospitals, though.
The electroshock machine had T.A. engraved on it, in fact. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I bowed briefly to each, my right hand
crossed across my chest, tapping my closed fist on my left shoulder in the true
Benevolencia fashion. In other words, the fashion I hadn’t used since we
learned it in Primary. “Thank you for
considering me,” I said. Tesla
They bowed in return, perfunctory flicks of the head, and the C.S. motioned to a seat. I sat, aught myself scrubbing at my thighs with my wrists and forced my hands to fold themselves once again. Dr. Stevens made a note in my chart. I felt my gorge start to rise and swallowed several times. Dr Alyce nodded encouragingly and launched into his prepared speech. We had gone over it together in his office so that I would know what to expect.
“Dr. Stevens, C.S. Nu, This is Patient 3245931B, Charlotte. I have had the pleasure of working with
Charlotte for well over a
decade. While her condition is indeed
chonic, and I have reason to believe, progressive, I have found Charlotte to be a willing
participant in her recovery. That last
phrase I’d heard before, at least a hundred times. I had heard it at each of my Patient Release
Meetings. There, it meant that I was
going to make it to my appointments, take my meds, and at least try to not to
kill myself. I heard it as a joke among
the patients at East, our meager attempts at gallows humor. “Now, now, we’d say” when someone sat at the
toilet, vomiting their way through the DTs, or the times that someone would
descend for a moment into absolute insanity, turning over tables or screaming
about spiders that weren’t there, “is that a good way to participate in your
recovery?” Once, I heard it from three
male nurses as the reason that they beat the hell out of Denae, a schizophrenic
drag queen and one of my best friends at East.
I guess that sounded better than the truth, which is that they got mad
when she refused to blow them in the iso room.
Those nurses didn’t last long, at least.
Even the Doctors loved Denae.
I came back to now with a start and everyone was staring at me. I must have missed something. Fekegalo.
“I apologize,” I said, “I believe I missed the question.” Dr. Stevens scribbled again. A crease had appeared between her eyes. “I asked why you feel that you would be a good candidate for our trial.” Ah. Dr. A had prepared me for this. I launched into our rehearsed speech.
“My disorder reduces my ability to live a normal life. I have a great desire to become a contributing member of society and feel that this procedure would grant me an opportunity to do so. If chosen I – The C.S. stifled a small cough. What did that mean? Was it some sort of code? It happened just as I said ‘If chosen.” I lost my place in the speech. Suddenly, the room no longer seemed to have enough air. Harsh, metallic sunbursts started to explode at the edge of my vision, leaving dark negatives in their wake. My field of vision was shrinking, and I could feel this straw that I’d been grasping so hard for so long start to slip out of my sweaty grasp.
“I just – “my voice quavered, “I just don’t want to feel like this anymore. You don’t understand it’s,” I tried to choke out the words, words that would explain the constant fear and perpetual loneliness, that could somehow show the pain of stitches and pumped stomachs, of failed relationships and lost jobs, and the constant exhaustion of clamoring and scrabbling at the edge of the pit only to have your fingernails tear off and dirt clods fall in your face but never, ever getting out. I couldn’t. “Please,” I said at last. “Please help me. I will do whatever you ask. I will follow any plan. I will work hard. Just please. I don’t want to live like this anymore.” Hot, thick tears built up and overflowed my lower lids. Dr. Stevens was scribbling furiously, though took a moment to wordlessly hand me the box of tissues. C.S. Nu looked studiously at his feet, obviously embarrassed, probably disgusted, at my outbreak. “Thank you,” Dr. Stevens said, “That will be all.” The Cyber met me in the hallway, and I expected to be escorted out of the building. If I were lucky, they would have a cab that would take me home. Once there, what? I had been, I knew, at the top of a short list of candidates for this trial. If I had thrown this chance away, like I had so many others, what? I would have to figure out something, but first I thought I would sleep. I was, suddenly, unbearably exhausted. However, when we got to the lobby, the Cyber took me through a door on the other side. There was the feared cab, and in it Dr. Alyce, and together we went to the Facility where the surgery will be performed to give me a new brain and, if they are right, a new life.