"Fortunately, Mr. Watson, we caught it relatively early." My doctor was Sally's kid, Joseph.
"So what do we do?"
"I'll get a requisition in for antibiotics. Expect that to take a couple weeks to get the prescription filled--but right now, if you can, get a dehumidifier--the drier the air, the better off you'll be. I can also give you a list of herbal remedies which ought to help."
Herbal remedies, I thought. "Well, if that's the best we can do."
He shrugged. "The medical system is still recovering from the Big Blackout. It's hard to get antibiotics."
"It'd be easier if the government wasn't in control of the whole thing," I grumped.
"I'm not allowed to express my opinions about the medical system," he said with a wry smile, "but I don't disagree with you."
The federal government had clamped down in the wake of the Big Blackout, I recalled as I saw him out. Everything had been rationed, of course, and during the initial few years things had been hard to come by. As it was, I supposed it was fortunate I got TB now rather than then, because it--and other diseases--had killed a lot of people, even in America.
Now that things were starting to get back to normal--whatever could pass for "normal", anyway--the feds were not relinquishing control. Why should they? They controlled every aspect of our lives, which made it a lot easier for them to make sure people stayed in line. It wasn't quite 1984 but it would not have taken much to get us there. Still, at least the Bill of Rights was still worth the paper it was printed on; the government was not in the news business and people still had freedom of assembly.
But medicine, transportation, agriculture, utilities--most industries were socialized, and had been for decades. It was little different in other countries, and the world economy had not even begun to recover, really--too few people coupled with the high taxes and massive inefficiencies of socialism combined to keep the economy in permanent stagnation.
I hobbled back to my recliner and sat, and then had a coughing fit, which brought Alyssa out of her room.
"Are you all right?" She asked nervously.
"Doc said it was TB," I said, spitting bloody mucus into a tissue. "They might get me some antibiotics in a couple of weeks."
"That's no good. Don't you need them now?"
"Technically, yes. But what's one old geezer to the Federal Department of Medicine?"
"I wish I had done a better job of setting your legs," she said.
"They work. I can walk."
"You could walk better if you had received proper medical attention."
I snorted. "I went to a doctor, remember? He did what he could, which wasn't much of anything." I sighed disgustedly. "If he could have just taken an old-fashioned film X-ray of my legs--but they stopped using film decades before the Big Blackout, so I might as well wish for a pony."
"But because of that, you are now classified as someone who is physically challenged," she said, "and your priority for medical treatment is lower than someone who is both younger and healthier."
"Well, that's true. Goddamned rationing. Look, is there any point to you reminding me of all this?" I asked brusquely.
She regarded me for a moment, the way she always had, with no expression on her face. Finally she said, "I suppose I have developed the capacity for guilt."
I handed her the doctor's list of "herbal remedies". "See what you can make of this. Guess we might as well try it."
<* * *>
As autumn deepened into winter, though, my illness got worse. The antibiotics were hardly working; Joseph came back and started me on intravenous antibiotics, which almost worked--but by Christmas it was obvious that only immediate hospitalization would have any chance of saving my life.
"I'm working on it," he told me. "The bureaucracy is so goddamned slow...."
"Be careful," I wheezed. "You're not supposed to be critical of 'em."
Sighing, he checked the IV and closed his black bag, then disconnected the line from my arm. "I'll be back tomorrow morning with the next dose. Try to get some sleep."
"That's all I can do these days."
He left, and I heard his car whir to life outside. Alyssa came in then, with my wheelchair.
"Where--what?" I managed.
"I need to take you out to the workshop," she said to me. "I need you to make a couple of adjustments."
"But...," I said, but she wasn't listening to me. Shortly she had me bundled up, all but my left hand, where the IV shunt was. She turned away for a moment, and I started to pull my sleeve down, but she turned back. She deftly thrust a hypodermic needle into the IV shunt.
"What--?" I asked, feeling the world go wonky around me. The last thing I saw was her mauve eyes, gazing steadily at me, her face completely expressionless as the world went away.
<* * *>
"--decode," Alyssa said, and I opened my eyes.
"What did you give me?" I demanded.
"A simple sedative. Relax, Dan, please." She turned to the--the computer, it was one of the new ones--and typed something, watching as information slowly scrolled onto the green screen. "This unit doesn't have the computing power needed to do a proper diagnostic," she said at last. "Encode. Perform low-level diagnostic procedure. Decode."
I started to reply, but found myself closing my eyes and examining--feeling?--every part of my body, the way you did when you take stock of yourself after a car accident. Finally I opened my eyes and said, "Diagnostic complete; all systems nominal." Then I blinked and said, "What the fuck did you do to me?"
About then I realized that my voice was wrong, and that was when she showed me my reflection.
I suppose I should have fainted, but I was no longer capable of such reactions: I was Cassandra.
#247: Singularity, part...uhh... XIII!
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