Patient 83

“So it’s, like, expensive. That’s what you’re saying?”

I genuinely couldn’t tell if he was in denial or if he was actually that dense. What he needed was the truth. Unfortunately, there were a hundred other people in the waiting room who I might still be able to help, so he was on borrowed time now, so to speak.

“No, Andy. There’s nothing more we can do. It’s terminal.”

His cheeks turned red and splotchy and his bloodshot eyes darted around, looking for something to blame or something to smash or someone else to be infected for him, but of course there was nothing so he sat there looking like a trapped animal until he started to yell.

“You’re supposed to fix people, so fix me. I’m not leaving until you do something. It doesn’t even make sense; how can that shit happen?”

I try to explain it one more time, as clearly as I can so he can think about it later when I can no longer take his appointments. “Nanoware is as complex as any life form; it’s essentially a unique organ in your body that can’t simply be repaired when it’s been damaged. When you share needles, you share blood, and that means you can catch diseases. Your blood contains nanoware, so that means you can pick up nanological software viruses, too.”

“But it’s just headaches,” he protests. “You can’t die from headaches.”

“Andy—” I realize I’m pinching the bridge of my nose in frustration and try to play it off as brushing back my bangs. “Your nanoware is shot. It thinks your brain is a foreign contaminant and is trying to force it out of your body. The headaches are from the swelling, which will continue to get worse until…” Hopefully he can fill in the blank here.

“But nanoware is new!” The red in his cheeks is taking on a purply hue. “People lived without nanoware for thousands of years. Just turn it all off. I heard the military can do that with some special kind of EMP.”

“That would immediately kill you; that’s why the military does it. Your body is dependent on nanoware now. You can’t live without it any more than you can live without bones or lungs.” I reach over and grab the door handle, adding, “I’m sorry,” before I pull it open.

He says something incoherent but obviously meant to be insulting as he storms out, his coat swishing with equal discontent. He’d always been such a good kid. He just got turned around somewhere, that’s all. But this is real life; second chances are rare. Even first chances aren’t guaranteed. Good luck, kid.

“Whose next? Number 84, I can see you now.”

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