Laverne was seated by herself – well, her and the couple dozen Jornissian infants clinging to her body – on a bench seat along a very human table. The mess hall kitchen hadn’t had a good workout in weeks, and to those of a gastronomical persuasion, that was a travesty. Laverne knew better than to argue with someone who was putting out food – not only was it incredibly rude to do so, but you also had to acknowledge and admire the hours, and sometimes days of work that went into each dish.
And admire she did as the serving-robots made their way out from the kitchen’s double-doors, placing plates of piled-high Arepas, Plantanos, Tequenos, Paella – the good kind, with the bottom-crust from the pan, Taquitos de Pollo Dorado, Tacos al Pastor – fresh, mind you, fist-thick Tortas de Carne Asada, Arroz Morado (apparently someone had fun with the new rice cooker), hand-pressed and simple Tacos de Queso (with queso blanco made on-farm that day, of course), Jicama con limon y chile, dulce de tamarindo and two 5-gallon pitchers of agua fresca de mango and cinnamon horchata.
All in all, it was roughly 1,800,000 calories. Hot, fresh, and of course there were second helpings still in the kitchen.
Isabella took her time sitting down across from the visitor and her charges, smiling softly once she had settled into a semi-permanent sitting posture. “Please! It was nothing.” Isabella lied, the quality and quantity of the food spread before her visitors speaking to this effort being anything but little. Laverne smiled, and the Jornissian infants, out of youthful exuberance, dove head-first into whatever was within body’s reach. Mouths attempted to swallow tortas in one go, Tacos de Queso were pulled apart and put back together with rapt attention, and at least one infant surfaced out of the Paella like the great Shai-Hulud, may his passing cleanse the world… or barring that, may he at least make a happy plate.
“And you too!” Isabella said, nodding at the still-suited Laverne. “It’s not good for you to go so long without something to eat.”
“Oh, ah.” Laverne smiled, shaking her head, as the tet a tet began. “I’m ok, thank you.”
“You’re among family! You helped my little Juan Esteban to come back home safe and sound – though the boy apparently lost the harness on the flight back – so that means you’re family to us! Eat as much as you like.” Isabella countered, undeterred.
Laverne shook her head. “No, no, I’m fine-”
“Ah! If it’s about your ninos, don’t worry.” Isabella laughed, smiling at the overeager Jornissian children burrowing through the plates before them. “We have more in the back, and I can make you what you want. Please!”
Laverne braced herself mentally; just like it would be rude to not admire the food, it would be doubly so to not eat. However, time was of the essence, and she really really couldn’t afford the delay. “I’m fine, I ate already-”
“Ah, but you haven’t eaten since you left, and that had to be many hours ago. Come, the food is waiting-” Isabella juked, the master of hospitality-judo unerring in her strikes.
“I’m going to have to say no.” Laverne said, the pitcher of horchata being chugged by a hydrating hydra. “I uh, can’t take off this suit. There’s a pandemic going on, which is one of the reasons why I was sent out to your farm. Your grandson is the first person who was cured of this awful disease-”
“Feh! I’ve seen worse – we had cholera break out in my mother’s time! Now that was a problem, let me tell you.” Isabella stated, matter-of-factly. “I think this is just giving you ninos something to fret over, more than anything else. Now, please?”
Laverne frowned. “No.”
Isabella frowned in return. “Audaz de usted a asumir que estaba pidiendo.”
“Wait how did that not translate-”
“Doesn’t matter~!” Isabella crowed, voice cracking as she grinned. “You came here to check up on my little one, and that means you’re welcome to stay as long-”
‘Oh. Oh no.’ Laverne thought, summoning the immense will to ignore decades of cultural etiquette be as rude as she possibly could without actually being mean. “I can’t stay more than a few more minutes; really I’m in need of your grandson, because I think he’s the key to what we’re facing.”
“And just how would he be helping? We have a farm to run!” Isabella demanded, sitting up as tall as her curved spine would let her, the game between them – the jabs and feints of kindness and denial – being cast aside so bluntly.
Laverne pursed her lips. “I can’t say. That falls under doctor-patient confidentiality-”
“I’m his grandmother.” Isabella said flatly. “You can tell me.”
“No, I really cant. I appr-” Laverne raised her de-Jornissian’d gloved hand up to cut off Isabella gently. “-I appreciate the insistence, but if I tell you I could lose my job. I know you’re family, so I understand your concern, but this is something that I can’t share with you or with anyone else.”
Isabella pouted for a moment, grumbling something that Laverne’s translator couldn’t quite make out. “-children. Fine. Juanes~!” Isabella called out in that mother-needs-you-here tone, and was quickly answered with a non-articulate “Ayuh?” from somewhere down the hall.
“Come here, bebe!”
“Abuela, I’m not bebe!” Juan Esteban said as he walked into the room, wearing a well-worn smile as this particular interaction played out before guests as it had before family a thousand times over. He paused near Isabella to plant a gentle kiss on the top of her head, and was rewarded with a few gentle pats on his cheek. “Not bebe.”
“Always bebe, until you’re older than me! Now. Why is our guest here?” Isabella, the abuela, asked quite innocently.
“Ah. Did she not tell you – did you?” Juan said, brow furrowing.
Laverne sighed. “I’m not allowed to due to doctor patient confi-”
“Juanes.” Isabella simply stated, and her grandson deflated slightly in real-time.
“Yes Abuela.” Juan Esteban replied back, not so much as a question as it is an acknowledgment of taking whatever order was going to be given.
“What is this woman talking about?”
“Apparently the Dust infection – that gray cough – is very bad, and I’m the only one who’s been cured. I think they want to take me back to the hospital and run some tests on me to figure out how I survived-”
Isabella did not mean to interrupt her grandson; it was just that the realization she had hit her then and there, causing a smile to turn into a chuckle to turn into uproarious laughter. The Jornissian infants were fascinated by the sound, pausing in mid-bite or gulp to figure out what was going on. The effect was quite stunning; as Isabella regained control of herself she had the rapt attention of everyone at the table.
“Oh! Oho, I’m sorry! Perdon – I just. Oh my.” She cackled, smacking the table a couple of times. “The old ways are still the best ways!”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. Can you tell me wha-” Laverne began, before the sound of double doors being kicked open startled the group. In poured Wiggles and Tipo carrying James and Than mo, who they themselves were carrying a couple dozen Karnakian chicks and Dorarizin pups. Where the oversized bucket, roll of blue tarp, bag of fertilizer, simple headstone and treasure map came from, no one at the table knew.
Why they were being chased by 20 angry chickens is also another story for another time.
“-one eyed Willy buried his treasure RIGHT HERE.” James yelled triumphantly, before the entire group stopped under the withering glare of a centenarian who saw you not introduce her to literal bushels of infants and track in dirt on her new clean floors.
“[Er, um. Hello Mrs. Aleman, uh. You remember Tipo, right?]” Wiggles said, smiling a disarmingly sweet saurian smile. The Dorarizin perked up and gave a little wave, the bucketful of pups swinging heavy under his arm.
“Uh. I guess… this is the rest of your group, Mrs. Roberts?” Juan deadpanned, fighting a losing battle against a wry smile. “Tipo, it’s good to see you again… we really should catch up.”
“Well it’s settled. You all are staying here, and you all are eating.” Isabella demanded, locking eyes across the table with Laverne. “Or are you going to have these children leave my table hungry after making a mess?”
“I. Yeah. Sure.” Laverne sighed, defeated. There was a shuffling as the human guests were all sat next to each other, their chaperons working to supply new food to the guests and themselves, stop any escapees, continue polite conversation with the matron and stack the bodies of the infants who ended up getting the itis into a nice, neat, comfortable pile.
“[So, not to… change the subject.]” Tipo said, helping one of his pups chain tequenos into it’s bottomless stomach like some kind of food wood-chipper. “[But I’m surprised to see you up and about.]”
“Bah! I am not yet two hundred!” Isabella said, pride in her voice. “So I’m not yet old! And as you can see, I still can help run the farm.”
Tipo smiled, placing his hand on Laverne’s back as gentle reassurance. “[Oh, no, I didn’t mean that. I meant more, we came here because we thought Juan was going to be the only human still around, but you’re as young and spry as my pups!]”
“Oh! Hahaha! I forgot, caramba, I just got lost in these little ones~” Isabella cooed, gently patting a splooting karnakian chick who had attempted to burrow into the plantanos pyramid but found himself half in the guacamole. “Yes, the old ways are the best, and one doesn’t have to stray far to stay in good health. That’s how I got you back on your feet, bebe.” Isabella nodded at Juan, who hummed around his second helping of Tacos al Pastor. “So that’s it? All your learning and fancy machines and you can’t defeat a simple cold, eh?”
The elder beamed across the table, and everyone agreed it was just easier to let her have her moment than take that thunder away.
“Yes ma’am. It’s one of the things that’s got us all stumped.” Than mo replied, with the proper amount of humility in his voice to let Isabella ride this high for the rest of her life. “And we would be quite honored if you could tell us how you nursed your grandson back to health.”
Isabella closed her eyes, savoring the moment. “Lord you can take me, I’m ready.”
“[Ma’am?]” Wiggles said, slightly concerned.
“Ah. Nothing. So! All in all, it is very very simple…”
And so over piles of hot, fresh, delicious food, Isabella Fransisco […] y Aleman started to tell the assembled medical professionals about her ‘home cure technique’.
And every single one of the humans’ faces fell in disbelief.
= = = = = =
168 hours without sleep was supposed to have no side effects.
This was, of course, from the manufacturer of the MED-I-BOT, and was basically bullshit.
“[Dr. Robot-Nick, you know for a fact that the state paid for these-]” The Karnakian doctor yelled as he stood on the low-wheeled table, feathers out in a threat display.
The Doctor formerly known as a human and currently demanding to be known as an avatar of the Omnissiah’s will let out a feedback shriek that rattled the windows, mecha-dendrites flailing angrily in the direction of the apex predator. “THESE ARE MY MACHINES. MINE.” The being shrieked, cradling the life vests in his claws as he etched into their white plastic binary nursery rhymes with his metal talons to care for the ‘nascent machine spirits’. “MINE. THEY NEED HOSTS.”
“[Eeeeeasy now.]” Nurse Stringbean said, trying to approach from a blind spot that wasn’t there. “[Easy. We’re not trying to take them from you, we’re just trying to recharge them for the next round of patients-]”
“THEY ARE FUELED BY THE SOULS THAT WE GIVE THEM.” Rumbled Dr. Robot-Nick, eyes glowing a deep crimson red as the sound of incomprehensible whispering was suddenly made manifest as static in his speakers. “AND YOU WILL LOOK FOR MY RISING ON THE-”
*Bwoop ip boop. Be doop.*
“Oh hold on I have a skype call coming in.” Dr. Robot-Nick suddenly and very humanly said, any and all metallic edge taken from his voice as he put the slightly-damaged-but-very-loved Life Vests back into their case to be charged. With the speed of thought he answered the skype call, very obviously deciding not to answer with video.
“Good afternoon! How goes the hunt?” Dr. Robot-Nick said disarmingly cheerfully as the xenos hospital staff started to evacuate everything away from his metallic reach.
Jame’s worried, haggard face lit up his side of the call, and he sighed. “It, uh. Goes.”
“Well that’s statistically uncharacteristic of you, James. I’m assuming this means bad news.” Dr. Robot-Nick said, matter-of-factly.
“No, no. Just.” There was a thunk as James tried to press his hand into his eyes and was stopped by his visor. He looked up, groaned, and screwed his eyes shut. “Just. The answer is dealing actual psychic damage to me, and I don’t… I don’t like this. It is going to be a gigantic problem.”
“CHUNGUS is already a gigantic problem, James.” Dr. Robot-Nick said with warmth, and if he still had a head that could move from side to side he would have shook it. “We don’t have many options. Now, what’s the treatment schedule? What happened – is our patient still alive? How was he treated? In fact, let me just override some things and-”
With a cascade of pings everyone from SEELE to the CDC were forcibly ejected from whatever conference calls they were in, and added to this unsecured VOIP communication.
“We’re now live.” Dr. Robot-Nick boomed, silencing all objection from the hastily-assembled peanut gallery.
“I uh. Alright, I just… I honestly don’t care anymore.” James said, dejectedly. “So the first thing first – we don’t really know what to call this method, but we’re shorthanding it as PINGAS: Percussive intrapleural nasopharyngeal guttate absorption system.”
“Fair enough.” Dr. Robot-Nick said, taking mental notes. “PINGAS can dissolve CHUNGUS?”
“Yeah. So you’ll… want to get yourself a quartz crystal.” James started, looking at some notes that were sucking the soul right out of his body. And as James began to go into detail on how the method worked, what needed to be done to prep the patient, possible LD50 of some of the items and how they are applied, Dr. Robot-Nick actually broke down.
Not in an emotional way, though there was plenty of emotion. No, this was more in the way of centuries of medical science crying out in pain and being suddenly silenced – it involved a lot of screaming, the sound of metal being wrenched free, concerning metallic knocking noises and the power to the entire hospital flickering in and out as lights burst randomly.
This was going to cause so many fucking problems.