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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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. Just stick to your prescriptions, and your diet, and you’ll be fine.”
The room went dark as the hologram vanished. Rick made his way outside. He was worried about this Wilson. What did they want with him? Was it about the job? His work was used by the authorities, Rick knew that. Half the American workforce was involved in government work these days. But why would they contact him this way?
It had to be about the job, he reassured himself—maybe Alice’s too-short skirts or that day Greg left early. What else could they want? The NSA had access to quadrillions of nanocams and he was certain they had every moment of his life recorded. What could Rick tell them that they didn’t already know?
Wilson contacted Rick on his wrist phone during the ride to work. Only audio. “Mr. Dalton, I need you to help me clarify something. On this video—” A tape began on the little screen. Holly on top of him in bed. Golden hair splashed over his face as she leaned down. The tape froze. “Ms. Fensterbush whispered something to you. Is that correct?”
“Yes.” Rick was mortified. There was no way to stop this.
“What did she whisper?”
“What?” A tightness gripped his chest. How could he tell?
“I was told you would cooperate with my inquiry. What exactly did she whisper?”
“She—” How could he do this!
“She didn’t take—”
“—her preventative.” He hated himself for saying it. But what choice did he have? If he lied and Wilson found out, the consequences would be horrible.
“You’re not registered for a baby, are you?” He could hear the wicked smile in Wilson’s voice.
“Thank you, Mr. Dalton.” Wilson ended the connection. The car parked and Rick went into the office.
Jann walked him to his cubicle. “How are you?” she asked.
He slid into his chair with a sigh. “Something came up. I won’t be seeing Holly again.”
“I know you liked her.”
“I did.” The experience had devastated him. But overreacting would only lead to inquiry. He couldn’t afford any more mistakes, not after his morning.
“You’ll just have to move on. Do you need a repressor?”
“The doctor gave me a gel.” For once Rick was grateful for the numbness the medication provided.
“There’s always Cindi. I’d be happy to—”
“No, thank you, Jann. I’ll just file for a replacement.” Dating the boss’s sister might be too close to bending a rule. He wanted to stay away from all that.
“Please yourself.” She began moving down the aisle. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thank you.” He turned on his equipment. One hundred and forty-four cam feeds popped up on the desk screen. He began taking notes. Regina Simms was viewing prohibited internet porn again and that Freeburg character in Omaha had cigarettes hidden in his basement. The Hendersons were arguing at well over seventy decibels. Rick recorded a slew of violations including one sex offender. This was John Turner’s third adultery too, in less than two years of marriage. He would be going under the laser. Too bad, but maybe Turner should stick to the rules if he wanted to get married.
Rick went close-in on a couple of feeds and found more. John and Mary Kline were whispering, pretending to watch vid while they whispered. He could not make out what they were saying. He marked it down as suspicious.
Kay McGill in San Jose was going to be in a lot of trouble. The three cams inside her apartment were all effectively blocked. A clear infraction of the Domestic Surveillance Act. Rick activated a fourth feed. He could see McGill now, hunched over a basket. A white head popped up and a long pink tongue licked her face. McGill scratched the dog’s ears. Rick could hear yips from the puppies.
Rick checked McGill’s record. She didn’t even have the mother dog registered. He could not believe his luck. The pups, the mama, the cam blocks, it was a forty pointer at least. It was turning out to be one heck of a day after all. If this kept up he might make bonus.
A black-eyed puppy wobbled into view. Its eyes shone with joy. Rick poised over the keypad, paralyzed by the image on the screen. His excitement drained away. The next move he made would send the report and end this. The black-eyed pup would disappear forever.
He found a Reatox in his desk and gulped it. The puppy’s head bobbed into view again. Rick watched it, fighting back the regret. He thought about Holly. She also had beautiful eyes that he would remember.
The medication took effect. His calm returned. Holly, he’d been thinking about Holly. He would miss her. He hoped his next partner pleased him as much. Peering at the picture on the screen, he flashed with anger. McGill was the cause of this. Those poor dogs—all because of her recklessness. Rick hoped they scraped her cerebellum clean.