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The Doctors

Matt Castleman is a writer and stage actor from NYC, currently residing in the event horizon of the American bizarro vortex, Washington, DC. Under the name M.E. Castle he published the Clone Chronicles middle grade sci-fi series, among other works. He's performed on stages including the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, the Folger Theater, and the Washington Stage Guild. This is his second story in Daily Science Fiction. He blogs about science fiction, theater, the imagination, and whatever else comes to his weird brain at castlemantransmissions.net.
The nurse left work on time. He passed under the dim glow of the ID dome, and through the ratcheting gate that snapped to either side with a hiss and a click as the dome's radio eye found the code pricked into his skin.
Joel's mind drifted back across the day. A little girl whose adopted pet had unwittingly carried trace amounts of home-cooked attack flu from the slums. A riot policeman whose can of flash-arthritis had exploded on his belt, very nearly fusing his lower spine. A young musician with nanocancer, the swarms of atom-machines in his body cobbling together an expanding mass of bristling silicon on his chest and neck, usurping more and more of his metabolism to power their purposeless fabrication.
It was his dream to join the cloistered ranks of the Doctors like his sister before him, but he felt unease in their presence. Eyes invisible behind the tinted augment glasses they wore, eerily steady voices articulating with metronomic precision. He reached up and felt the silver Pi pendant that she'd given him, a reminder that there are certainties in the world.
The Doctors had arranged themselves on his chairs, symmetrically. He almost put his head through the ceiling when he opened his door and saw them, but his sight was arrested by the figure in the center of the room.
"Celia." His sister looked up at him with grave eyes. "What's going on?" One of the others took a step forward to answer.
"Good evening, Joel. Welcome to your preliminary trial for admittance into the medical academy." The Doctor indicated Celia with a minimal gesture. "Several days ago, Celia chose to treat outside the bounds of precaution. Her actions caused the deaths of three patients. You know what medical law prescribes. You will carry it out." The tears that had already filmed over the nurse's eyes shook loose when he spoke.
"You want me to kill my own sibling?" He glanced around for potential weapons, but the Doctors remained perfectly calm. The leader took on a look of sanctity before answering.
"Medicine in our era is not what it once was. There was a time when doctors were little more than surrogate parents, soothing and wheedling over their patients as they cured their simple ailments. You have seen the face of modern infection, and it is a human face. Bioengineered, mechanized nightmares crisscross our population. We have inherited the losing side of a constant war, and we cannot afford to be hindered by sentiment. If you allow your feelings space, they will trample you. We suppress our emotions pharmaceutically, but you must prove that you have the strength to do so unaided first." Joel stood frozen a moment.
"Let us be alone for it." The Doctor nodded, handing him two injectors. One for sleep, one for death. The Doctors left. Celia was about to speak when she felt the jab against her neck.
The nurse slid a needle into his sister's arm, gradually filtering out of her system the drugs that defined her profession. They sat together in a rusted-out building in a region of the continent that no longer had a name. There were sick people here, too, and they were in need of doctors. Celia looked over her brother's face, her own a strange cloud in the process of dispersal.
"This behavior is highly irrational."
Joel shrugged.
"Pi's irrational. It's still constant." For the first time in four years, something reminiscent of a smile creased her mouth.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 15th, 2019
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