Chris Dean

(pen name: Chris Dean) Chris Dean is a retired laborer residing in Iowa.

Watchers

The car took him to therapy before work, never a good sign. He called in from the waiting room. Jann didn’t like it of course, but what could Rick do? If you wanted health care you followed the rules and that included emergency therapy. He just wished he’d known. Rick had skipped breakfast and now he was sitting there hungry. You didn’t dare ask the receptionist how much longer. They scrutinized you constantly and even a twitch meant something. He tried to look happy. That’s what they wanted to see.

The android behind the counter called his name. The bald face mimicked a human persona remarkably. “Andrea will take you back, Mr. Dalton.”

He followed the tall, platinum-haired woman in the pleated black dress to a therapy room. Once he settled into the waterlounger, she went after his tea. “Mint, hot?” she asked from the alcove.

He had this. Rick drank mint iced except in the morning, except during emergency therapy when he always asked for it cold. “If you don’t mind, I’d like iced.”

“Of course. Doctor has a note. You’re to take this.”

A small square section of the table rose. In the center dimple sat a little gel cap. He sighed as he picked it up. “Thank you.”

She was there with his beverage. “Doctor will be with you presently.”

“Thank you.” He watched her leave, careful to look away appropriately. He swallowed the gel cap, sipped, and glanced at the Monet. Studied the ballerinas a bit, because he was sure they knew he liked it. Then back to the tea.

The space behind the desk shimmered as Dr. Kim’s hologram appeared. “Hello, Rick.”

“Hello, Dr. Kim.”

Dr. Kim’s image flickered and then the sharp eyes were back. “Rick, we had a spike in your routine I wanted to discuss.”

He felt a chill. How serious was it? Not reevaluation, please not that. They would pick him apart for a week. He remembered to interact: “I’m sorry if I let myself down.” Straight out of the therapeutic handbook.

“Two areas we need to cover—meds and diet.” Dr. Kim waited.

“My medications—Dr. Plummer gave me permission to-to use Diatholyn . . . Only when I need it.”

The hologram stared. “And your Reatox?”

“It makes me nauseous sometimes. You said you were going to see about trying something else.”

Amusement, like a snake eyeing a mouse, slid over the doctor’s face. “You do realize that willful withholding of prescribed medication is a crime, Rick.”

“Doctor—”

“Let’s move on. Diet.”

“I’m eating normally.”

“Breakfast? This morning?”

“No. I skipped it. I was running late and—” That was a verifiable lie and he had to retract. “I wasn’t actually late but I didn’t want to be late and so I was in a hurry. I have been trying to lose a pound or so.”

“A mini-diet, then?”

“Yes.”

“Then you weren’t planning on visiting the vending machine for a strawberry crunch before work, I suppose.”

He admitted, “I was.” No sense making this worse.

“Rick, according to what I have here, your predilection for snacks has increased your caloric intake well over six thousand calories in the past few weeks. This explains your gain of one-point-eight pounds. Okay. We’re finished.”

“What?”

“I’m recommending reevaluation.”

“Doctor, please.” Rick tried to control his voice but he was upset.

“Rick, you’ve displayed independent behavior and you have lied about it to your therapist.”

He wanted to scream back the truth. That the pills took away his spirit and replaced it with a lie. But that would only earn him a session under the laser. He remembered to respond. “I’ve been foolish and irresponsible, Dr. Kim.”

“Therapeutic medication is the foundation of our society. Try and remember that.”

“I will.”

“After reevaluation, I’m certain you’ll do fine.”

“Is that necessary? I promise—I’ll take whatever you prescribe from here on out.”

“I don’t know. There’s also your eating disorder. It’s just a mess, Rick.”

“No more breaking the rules, Dr. Kim, I promise.” Rick’s voice had a touch of huskiness; he almost believed it himself.

“Wait.” The hologram froze.

Wait? Now Rick was going nuts. The escort androids could burst in at any time. He sighed. He hated reevaluation.

Dr. Kim’s image reanimated. “Rick, I may be able to help you. If you’re willing to cooperate.”

“Certainly.”

“There’s someone from NSA. Wilson. Once I receive a confirmation from him that you’ve cooperated fully, I’ll consider this entire matter closed.”

“No reevaluation?”

“No. Just stick to your prescriptions, and your diet, and you’ll be fine.”

“Thank you.”

“We’re finished.”