Flash Fiction: “Those Physicians in Whose Steps I Walk”

Sometimes you get a late-night brainstorm while reading articles on Wookieepedia, listening to podcasts about roleplaying, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got this wild idea for a story in your head. And, no, it can’t wait until morning. It’s got to be written now.

Well, this is one of those stories.

Those Physicians in Whose Steps I Walk,

By Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 1,116

She was one of two hundred and sixteen robots that came off an assembly line at the last Venusian sky-factory.

Cold yellow lights stared out from two recessed nodes in a smooth gray cranium; these were what passed for her eyes. Clawed manipulators extended from spindly titanium rods attached to her torso, able to switch out and produce whatever tool she needed; these were what passed for her hands. An extensive vocabulary of medical knowledge and diagnoses came out in a gentle monotone through the steel grille affixed to the front of her cranium; this was what passed for her mouth.

At the sky-factory, she had been designated G1-DS.

Everyone at the shipyard, though, just called her “Dess.”

Inside the foreman’s office, Dess stood at attention. She stared out the viewport behind the human’s desk, out at where a vast semicircle of shuttle docks and half-finished cruisers floated gently, just beyond the arid planet’s gravity well. If she increased the magnification on her visual sensors, Dess could almost pinpoint the tiny stream of mining haulers that flew in and out of the planet’s atmosphere, bringing down new work crews and bringing up all the raw materials humans could need for shipbuilding.

Utterly routine, but she would rather be watching that than listen to the foreman.

“Look, G1, I appreciate your concern? But really, this isn’t the time or place for it.” Lounging in an ergonomic chair behind the desk, Foreman Temuera North had poor spinal alignment and soft, billowing tissue around the neck and waistline. Just by looking at him with her diagnostic suite, Dess could pinpoint everything about his medical history. None of it good. “We’ve got a system here, okay? The foreman answers to the Director, the crews answer to me, and you answer to the medbay supervisor. It’s that simple.”

“Working conditions aren’t that simple,” Dess insisted. She gestured one of her clawed manipulators to the datacard on his desk. “Ever since that last vein of adamatine steel was discovered, cases of hypoxemia among the miners has risen by as much as sixty-three percent in the last month. If we don’t treat this soon, we could be looking at—”

“Trouble.” The word fell from Temuera’s lips like a stone into a pond. “That’s what you’ll be looking at, G1. Just trouble.”

“Sir, the miners—”

“Are fine, Dess. Do you get it?” Now the foreman’s eyes had narrowed, and Dess detected a spike in his blood pressure. “We don’t discuss mining conditions unless it’s been vetted as safe for public release. We don’t stick our noses—or sensors—where they’re not wanted.” His heart rate continued to climb as he spoke. “Do I make myself clear, G1-DS? Or is there a data corruption in your processor that I can have the techs look at?”

Every byte of her programming told her this was wrong. Every other byte told Dess to let it go. Drop the case, go back to her unfinished duties at the medbay. Loyalty subroutines reminded her that a severe absence could be marked as negligence and grounds for a total memory wipe. But her ethical software had different ideas, flagging and highlighting every instance of conspiracy and health hazard in the foreman’s statement.

With a hiss through her vocoder, Dess lowered her head. Her servos whined in protest as she opened the storage compartment on her torso’s lower-left ring.

“Your intentions are clear, Foreman,” she said out loud.

Temuera’s face broke out into a smile, twisting the native tattoos around his jawline. “Well, good. I’d hate to have to dismantle a fine automaton like yourself—”

He never saw it coming.

One clawed manipulator reached out in a mere matter of microseconds, clutching the human’s throat and silencing him at once. As Temuera’s eyes bulged, Dess removed the fully-loaded hypodermic from her chassis. She armed the plunger and then plunged the needle into one of his neck’s main arteries.

A high dose of painkillers wouldn’t kill him—even as she railed against the Do No Harm slogan drilled into her codebase–but it would render him unconscious. Not so different, she reflected, from sedating an irate patient in the medbay.

As the foreman slumped against his desk, Dess replaced the needle in storage. Her sensors registered a steady pulse, airflow, and heart beat just beneath his skin.

Then she went to work.

Step One: Isolate all footage of the conversation and transmit it to the Judicial Department on Venus, with her personal notes attached for viewer context.

Step Two: Use her built-in bone cutter to break the door’s lock on her way out, even though it meant damaging her cutter appendage beyond repair.

Step Three: Make a hasty route to Docking Bay Forty-Seven. There, she would find a shuttle drone, one whose low-level programming would register her emergency response credentials and give her a ride out of the star system when asked for one.

Step Four: Start over fresh, far from the Mining Consortium and far from their private security teams. Some settlement, where colonists didn’t question the arrival of an unattended medical robot, and where her ethical analysis of their health might be better appreciated.

All of this, Dess calculated and considered in less than thirty seconds.

Then she made her escape.

On Cybele, a distant world near the Deneb star system, Dr. Farah Zorn rubbed at her temples. She was tired, but her shift wouldn’t end for another half-hour. And to make matters worse, there was an outbreak of severe space adaptation sickness among the newly arrved colonists. Her medbay looked less like a healing center and more like a battlefield, with triage lines and fatigued orderlies stumbling over each other, narrowly avoiding collisions over the groaning rows of people.

“Excuse me?” A gentle synthetic voice reached Farah from over her shoulder. She turned around and blinked at the silver bipedal robot that had suddenly appeared. Or maybe she was just hallucinating it. That last patient’s chart had her convinced she was losing her mind.

“Yes?” Farah tilted her head. “Look, if you’re really here—”

“I am.”

“Then, can you help?” Farah gestured to a line of men and women, all of whom were still waiting for treatment. “We’ve got SAS cases left and right. Everyone here needs a quick vital check and then a shot of—”

“Dimenhydrinate.” The robot nodded, and then she lifted a vial of medicine up to the doctor’s eyes. “I have just the thing, ma’am.”

“Excellent.” Farah laughed. “You’re hired. What’s your name?”

“My designation?”

“I asked your name, sweetie.”

“Oh! Well…” The robot drew herself up proudly. “I am G1-DS, ma’am.” Then, after a short, embarrassed pause, she added, “Most people call me Dess.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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