IT WAS THE TIME FOR BRUSHIES AFTER ALL.
Moth, the great and honorable and good terrorbeast rocked his body from side to side in a rough approximation of a happy dance, the day’s dust and soot and dirt and branches and ceiling tile dust and roof shingles shaking off of him as his grab made admonishing noises. They weren’t the bad noises; Bench knew these noises and they were …playful. So he would play. And they did play! Granted, Bench may have been to enthusiastic in taking to the skies with his grab once more, but it had been so long and the sky was clear and those rooftops came out of nowhere-
“?f!ukcnstiikbug!?” His grab said, patting Bench’s side with the long bristlebrush before working down his abdomen. Bench stopped wiggling and lifted his back two legs as routine told him to, every so often a wiggle of joy would roll through his frame, causing his grab to make more noises.
They were good noises. This was a good day.
= = =
“You fucking stickbug!” Juan Esteban Aleman laughed, coughing slightly as he bapped his wiggling Moth with the long brush. He’d only been up and out of bed for a couple days now, but farm life left no time for leisure, especially when you were this far behind. Most of the livestock was turned out to pasture, the fence was never finished on the second field, the roofing on barn #5 had only been half-completed – whomever stopped that job was going to get a talking to – and the list went on. Juan knew that Dust was a bit of a problem, sure, but that was only for Humans as far as he could reckon. Why the rest of his decidedly non-human staff decided to fuck off and mothball the farm…
Bench stopped wobbling from side to side, and Juan got to work. Post-ride routines were just as important as pre-ride checks; you need to make sure to get all the debris out of the wings, joints and folds of the animal, check for any damage – be it a borb parasite that happened to latch on or a wind-damage cut – patch and rest the muscles, check and file the foot prongs and then provide food, water and shelter. The last thing anyone wanted was to plummet to earth when you tugged on your harness to go right and it caught on a broken twig that pushed into the soft underbelly of your steed and it thought it was under attack.
Juan saw that happen exactly once and never wanted it to happen to him.
There was a loud pip and Juan looked down at his smartwatch, sighing. With a dismissive hand gesture he pushed the notification from the Hospital – if it was important they’d leave a message, but it was probably something to do with aftercare and post-checkup checkups and a whole bunch of things he didn’t have time for. It was nice of them to let him have home care, and the life vest they stuck him in made him feel like a million creds, so he’d just swing by once he got in front of all this work that he had to do…
He sighed, and Bench lowered his legs. What was supposed to be a simple survey of the farm turned into an impromptu obstacle course, but what he did see…
…he needed to make some calls.
= = =
The Analyst who sat in The Pit in CENTRAL realized two things:
(1) Guilt tripping that Karnakian from earlier will probably be the high point of his day
(2) Immediately pull and review all MEDIBOTs in the field, because he was 100% certain their eyes shouldn’t glow that red. Or hum. Or have purity seals on their body.
“So… Doctor… Robotnick.” Billy – that was his name now – said, slowly and carefully as he stared into his terminal screen with not a little bit of confusion and fear. “How are things with, uh, you?”
“I NO LONGER CRAVE THE CERTAINTY OF STEEL; I HAVE IT.”
“So…good? Feeling good?”
“FINE.” Dr. RobotNick beeped, his tone of… tone brooking no argument.
“That doesn’t sound fine-” Billy started, before a loud burst of static interrupted him.
“I apologize, that was a cough.” Dr. RobotNick stated, before tilting forward and back in a …nod? “Point being, I have urgent news and am in need of a PDF detachment under my command.”
“Doctor, there are about two dozen reasons why I am absolutely against that idea.” Billy replied, narrowing his eyes at the screen. “Least of all being the fact that we’re under an XK-class pandemic and all our resources are 100% taken.”
“I need this detachment to escort a former patient of mine back to the hospital for dissection-”
Billy’s pen tapped against the screen. “For what-”
“-discussion.” Dr. RobotNick said, matter-of-factly. “One of our nurse trainees received a message from him earlier today, thanking us for our hard work in curing him from his Dust infection.”
“OKAY, alright, what the fuck did you use, send me everything. I’m going to get a shadow warrant for all your records, so don’t worry about that, and this line is recorded-” Billy rambled, his fingers a blur as he began sending off various messages to adjacent departments, trying to get everyone on the horn that needed to be on the horn. “-we’ll need dosages, methodologies, whatever the hell you used. Did you tap into our fabri- nevermind, I’ll grab that too. So tell-”
“Yes. We’re recording.” Billy said, as two dozen indicators popped onto his screen of everyone from the CDC to the SEELE council keyed in.
“Billy, we did not cure him of Dust.” Dr. RobotNick said, again, matter-of-factly, and he seemed to react to the two dozen people hanging up. “. . . This is why I am in need of a PDF contingent-”
“No, wait. What the fuck, Doc?”
Dr. RobotNick sighed – as much as he could, which just sounded like another burst of static. “You meatbags never let me finish. I said we did not cure him, but he is, as far as we can tell, cured. We were winding him down for cryostasis prep when he left the hospital. A few days later, one of his friends, an associate nurse of ours, received a voice message thanking our team for our hard work. All attempts to call him back and get him on the line have failed, and we’re a bit busy with our workload so we can’t leave.”
Billy sat there, brow furrowed in thought, as Dr. RobotNick made his case.
“This is why I’d need a PDF contingent. We need to go out to his home and work addresses, check for him or his body, and bring him back to-”
“Wait.” Billy said, tapping the screen once more. “Wait. If he was being prepared for cryostasis, how did he leave?”
Dr. RobotNick and Billy stared at each other for a few moments, the uncomfortable silence stretching between them.
“Bullshit.” Billy said, rapping his knuckles against his desk. “What the fuck happened, Doc? And you have Bright security clearance, so I’m going to be level with you if you’re level with me.”
“. . . Swamp Ga-”
“FINE. A wild Moth broke into the hospital, signed the guest register, unhooked our patient from all ICU machines, kidnapped our patient and flew off with him into the sunset. This same moth slammed into me, giving me my current fatal Dust infection and my internment into the golden thr- the MEDIBOT unit you see before you.”
Billy’s eyebrows were raised so high there was a chance they’d clear his forehead and get lost in his slightly-receding hairline. “And you want us to… grab a group of PDF. To… search way out in the boonies for someone who was kidnapped by a wild animal and then miraculously recovered. And the only – the only – proof of life you have of this miracle is a single voice mail on one of his friend’s communication device, and he’s not responded to a single call you’ve placed since.”
“And you don’t know where he is.” Billy said, counting on his fingers.
“And you don’t know if he’s alive or dead.” Billy counted to two.
“And you don’t know if this is a verified message or a fake.” Billy counted to three.
“Yes. This is why-”
“This is why,” Billy said, lifting up his hand to show his ability to count, “I’m not about to do any of that. Fuck’s sake, Doc, we’re closing up shop left and right and that takes time and personnel. When I said I didn’t have the people I literally meant, I don’t have the people.”
There was another pause, and then a beep – from the good Doctor, and his eyes glowed a glow that Billy decided he very much did not like.
“Very well. Then do I have permission to send out a team myself?” Dr. RobotNick asked with a surprising amount of human inflection.
“What, on some starry-eyed crusade for the grail?” Billy panned, sighing. “Besides, I thought your team was working to the bone to handle your case load…”
“We are, but I can pick up the slack. I have learned how to shut off parts of my brain to sleep while waking, so I can pick up their shifts.” Dr. RobotNick replied happily, much to the concern of everyone ever.
“That’s efficient.” Dr. RobotNick corrected, doing that half-body nod once more. “And it would not be a starry-eyed crusade, more like… a crusade for the cure for dust. A starry dust crusade.”
“That’s a terrible name.” Billy said, leaning back. “Besides, how will you move your team outside? It’s not safe.”
“The suits you provided will be enough.”
“And the rest of the Hospital staff? I’m assuming you put up privacy walls, you’re having Humans use separate terminals disconnected from the main hospital mainframe? We’ve had a lot of success with our other remote medical teams doing that, so I’m assuming-”
“We have a better way, yes.” Dr. RobotNick said, grippy-arm spinning in the space between them. “Would you like to see?”
“Honestly, yes – we’re probably going to have to evac South-Central Medical soon, and-”
Billy’s comment died in his throat as Dr. RobotNick leaned back from his personal terminal camera to show his entire spacious livingroom and the roughly 4 dozen xenos medical professionals that were crammed into the camera’s blindspot, sitting with rapt attention. The good Doctor turned to face them, and in a booming voice echoed out a single order:
“Oh goddamnit.” Billy said, groaning as the mental weight of the paperwork he was going to have to fill out hit him all at once.
= = = =
“So let me get this straight, Doctor.” Laverne said, Jornissian toddlers looping around her body to make her seem like a human-shaped oroboros. “You want us to leave the safety of the Hospital to track down our mothnapped patient because he supposedly called Tipo and told us he was ok.”
“And – to just jump in here – you want us to go on this excursion to find a potential cure, against the wishes of CENTRAL, while you remain as the only human advisor during a pandemic.” Than mo stated, dozens of eyes staring intently at what he looked at, moving almost as one being.
“This is also Correct.” Dr. RobotNick confirmed, rotating his grippy-hands in an extra correct way. “Think of this as a noble adventure, or even a crusade!”
“Can we please not say the J-word?!” James said, fluffy body cheering as he slowly floated back down on-screen. “And this isn’t an adventure, this is unpaid overtime.”
“Yes!” Dr. RobotNick said, raising his hands in affirmation. “It is all of these things! The unpaid stardust crusade overtime-adventuretime!”
The three humans in the nurseries tried to share a look between them, before collectively sighing.
“I knew it was gonna be some bullshit.” Laverne said, her Jornissian shoulders shrugging for her. “So, how do we… uh. Go about doing this?”
“I’ve made some observations using both the hospital external cameras and the security grid for our block.” Dr. RobotNick said, ignoring the incredibly concerned looks he was getting from his xenos counterparts. “And before you ask, yes, that may not be totally legal. Point being, anything that looks vaguely human-shaped is… well.”
Dr. RobotNick popped a couple small videos on the screen, playing one after the other – a scarecrow was brought into frame from a wild Moth before landing in a pond, floating about for a couple hours before it dissolved and the Moth took to the skies once more. Another scene saw a human walking his dog, until he very suddenly wasn’t, and the dog was left running around in confusion. The scene played over and over again, new people, new Moths, same conclusion.
“It seems anything human-like is taken.” Dr. RobotNick said, clicking something internally. “Which means…”
“Which means we have to have some of our xenos partners go out in our stead in order to-” Than mo said, nodding to himself.
“Which means you must go out clothed in your xenos partners, greater than the sum of your parts.” Dr. RobotNick said, nodding to himself.
There was a few second pause, before everyone erupted in accusations, confusion, declarations and a few yeetings of James off-screen.
“ENOUGH.” Dr. RobotNick said, cutting through the conversation with robotic ease. “There is no other way – I need human eyes on the patient to determine what the hell happened, if anything happened. I need it to be documented and hopefully replicated in the field, and no one else outside of my human staff can do that. If I go, you all will be overwhelmed with your physical needs. If I stay, I can manage the flow of patients for the few days it should take for them to either slow down or for you to find a cure. It is already decided, for there is no other way.”
“. . . Besides, this will be classified as a field trip.”
There was a cheer from the three nurseries, accompanied by hugs and happy wiggles… and another off-screen yeet.