MINDJACKER


PRE-EMPTIVE


PLUGHEAD


THE HOSPITAL


POST-HUMAN


LEFTIE-RIGHTIE

THE HOSPITAL

He could have killed Resnikov then and there, poised over Resnikov’s white coated figure, the syringe in his hand, with the medicines and elixirs strewn about on the cold whitewashed floor. He could have brought that long silver needle down into Resnikov’s heart, silenced that man’s droning voice forever, washing away those shining spectacles which always reflected the light so as to obscure the eyes that quavered behind that calm fašade, behind a calm red wave of blood. Resnikov was at his mercy, caught there, crouched belly-up like a newborn kitten, between his feet. He could have spilled that man’s blood, washed that cold, shiny floor clean with it, and ended forever that “I-am-better-than-thou” smirk which always seemed to be reappearing at Resnikov’s cheek. But then, right on cue, the Matron had come in with two of her silent, neutered, robotic Orderlies and put him in Isol for thirty long days. How had he kept his sanity? By planning Resnikov’s demise, of course. Forty thousand deaths ran through his mind in the period which he was in Isol. That kept his mind focused while he wandered in that all-consuming sensory deprivation chamber.

He had been in Isol before. You could say that he was even used to being dragged screaming and hollering his lungs out down that long, silent corridor, his voice ringing back to him on cold, deaf walls of white. But no number of times could wash away that borderline animal instinct which caused even the sanest men to break into sobs and screams. No repetition could possibly arm a person against the terrors felt when they placed the neuralyser “halo” around one’s temples and that mute horror experienced when one’s senses were suddenly destroyed. Many men went into Isol, but few had come out sane. At times, he wondered if he was sane.

He lay in bed, now, on his side, staring with glassy eyes at the whitewashed wall, continually going from the walls, to the shiny ceramic tiled black and white floor, and back again. The bell on the door to his room rang and the great metal slab rolled silently to the side. A nurse came in, bearing a white tray with a small paper cup and two dull, chalklike pills.

“Time for your medicine, Number 32336,” she said in a merry voice.

“I don’t recognize you.”

“Number 84252? Oh she’s been reassigned. I’m Number 1275221, your new nurse.”

“Leave the tray,” he said, not turning, face still staring at the blank wall.

“Now, now, Number 32336,” she said in a sing-song voice, “Turn around and take your medicine. I won’t leave you here to drown yourself on this water. What kind of a nurse would I be if I did?”

“A good one, now leave!” he said, turning around to wave his arm at the nurse and swat her away – a tactic that had always worked on his previous nurse. He felt his arm swing through thin air and slowly turned his eyes up to look at her. What he saw before him was quite possibly the most beautiful person he had ever seen in his life. Number 1275221 was a tall, shapely maiden whose dark brown hair was mostly hidden under an opaque latex cap. A graceful nose over thin, pursed lips, and large brown eyes.

His mouth was agape in awe at the beautiful nymph standing akimbo before him, yet her face was of horror and fascination. Number 32336 felt his face with a cold-cracked claw of a hand. He had a thin beard, and a thin red moustache. His face was lined and wrinkled, the skin leathery. A wild fringe of red-brown hair framed his head in an insane halo. Without a word he accepted the cup of water and the two pills of medicine. Usually he crushed them to powder under the bed and left them there to be washed away the next morning. Though common sense, or whatever was left of it, would dictate that the pills had the medicine, Number 32336 suspected that they were only a ruse to conceal the fact that the real medicine was in the water. He had many suspicions like that, about Hospital life.

One hour later, after a sleep which had suddenly befallen him (it was the water! He could have sworn it!), where he had tossed and turned, fretted by dark and kaleidoscopic images, they woke him. The men in white coats. Of course, he expected their coats to be white. Everything was white and pure, polished and antiseptic. Black and white, light and dark. Yet there was a fundamental difference: the people who had white coats and those who didn’t. Number 32336 could have sworn that he was a white coat once, a long time ago, but then again all of those who didn’t wear white coats swore that they were once white-coats.

“Number 32336? The Doctor wants to see you.”

Then a syringe came out, a clear, watery liquid inside. The Man tapped some bubbles out and injected it into Number 32336’s arm. Suddenly a numbness came over him, and he felt a curious apathy befall his mind. He was at peace, and he smiled dumbly as they walked him down a long corridor, lit by softly glowing white panels, his feet silent on the smooth tiled floor, while Theirs, a soft tapping that echoed down the corridor. He passed the Waiting Room, a vast rectangular area with a high ceiling, held aloft by large, whitewashed columns. Patients like him, dressed in white, starched tunics and soft linen pants, milled about aimlessly, sitting on couches or quietly playing some computer puzzle games. They were here to wait, always waiting. For what he did not know, yet they waited, perhaps for the end to come?

It was hushed, with only the sounds of quiet muttering from the gamers, and the gentle music that was piped in through unseen loudspeakers. The Matron was here, too. She was everywhere, nearly every public corridor and certainly every bathroom had her ever present Eye glowing deep blue somewhere, usually in the highest places of the room where it could not be reached and it could command a wide view of the entire area. The Matron was everywhere and anywhere, she could not be escaped.

It seemed to Number 32336 that the Matron, at times, even knew what he was thinking or at least, planning on doing or planning on thinking. When a Patient was about to break the rules, her Eye would glow bright blue and cast an aura of pale blue light on whoever it was, and he soft, impersonal voice – always calm and self-assured - would ring out and recite a rule. The Matron never referred to them by name, only by a soft intonation of her rules would she point them out. For example, if the Matron caught you masturbating in the bathrooms, she’d glow blue and her voice would echo through the entire Hospital, “Masturbation is strictly against the rules”, and you’d turn red with embarrassment and pull up your pants. The white-coats led him past seemingly endless rows of seats and tables – all empty save for a few idle patients. One patient caught his attention and Number 32336 turned his head. It was balding and had thick glasses so its eyes were inscrutable. As he passed, the Patient turned and smiled at him. It couldn’t have been Resnikov; Resnikov was a white-coat – he always was. Yet it looked like Resnikov, only it wore the tunic and pants that Patients wore. It couldn’t have been Resnikov. It couldn’t! Could it?

They brought him into a room, so much like the other rooms. It was in the North Wing. They made him sit down on a flat mattress, firm and unrelenting. Then a doctor came in, wearing a white lab coat. The doctor looked a lot like Resnikov, only this new doctor had no glasses and crooked teeth (which was odd because they fixed crooked teeth, good teeth were part of the hospital, intimately wedded to it – the teeth and the institution).

“Hello Number 32336. How are we today?”

“Who are you? Where’s Resnikov?”

“Resnikov has been transferred to East Wing. As for me, you may call me Vergel Nothgow.”

“Nothgow? I’ve never heard of you. And since I never heard of you, and I’ve heard of everyone in the Hospital, you must not exist.”

“Ah, but see me you do.”

“I’ve had some surprisingly realistic dreams before. And the Virtualator can make anything seem real. Maybe I’m lying on my bed, drugged up, with the Hypnogogue tied to my head. I can’t trust my senses.”

“Does it matter? By all accounts, I’m still here, whether you are dreaming or not, so what does my existing really matter in the great scheme of things?”

A silent pause. Nothgow took out a manila folder and began flipping through the contents.

“At any rate, I’m not here to discuss philosophy with you. I’m here to cure you.”

“Of what?” Number 32336 spat.

“Of insanity, of course,” Nothgow smiled strangely at him, “They tell me that you’ve tried to kill Resnikov several times before, have you not? And planned his death – ah – about forty thousand times, yes? Care to explain?”

“He gets on my nerves. Plus, it’s just something I have to do. I have to kill Resnikov. He’s crazy, you know?”

“Ah, but aren’t we all a little crazy?” Nothgow grinned, a smiling death’s head leaning forward, “After all, we’re only human. To be human is to experience emotions and if we lose our emotions, we’re not human anymore. Either way, we’re still crazy.”

“So what’s the point of trying to cure us?” Number 32336 asked cynically.

“To make you a little less crazy, obviously!”

Number32336 conceded and began to tell the details of his life, like he did with Resnikov and the others before him. It was standard procedure.

He was born in the West Wing, the obstetrics and gerontology wing. It was rather morbidly appropriate, really; Birth and Death both in the same place. He lived there for a while, until they moved him to the East Wing when he was twelve. The East Wing was a strange and frightening place for him, yet the Matron helped him there. He remembered wearing that little white cap on his head, dressed in little white pants and tunic (they fit him perfectly), and holding on to the warm, soft hand of the robotic Orderly. Its silver, oval face looked down at him with that gentle, constant smile that was built into every Orderly. Its voice came from within its chest, a soft mezzo soprano female voice. The Orderly had no ocular sensors in its face, leaving it a shiny mercury blank face. It spoke to him as the electromagnetic-levitation train came, silently humming.

“Good-bye Number 32336. Be a good boy for me!”

He boarded the maglev train, tears brimming in his eyes as the doors shut. The Orderly waved to him as the train hopped up and zoomed out.

The Orderlies in the East Wing were different from those in the West. They were just as silver, yet they seemed stranger and less gentle. They did not have pointed chests like the West Wing Orderlies. Instead they were several inches taller and much straighter, more “male”. Whether or not it was the Orderlies, or the different beds, or the way that the Patients no longer seemed happy anymore, Number 32336 knew one thing, and that was that it was in the East wing that he went insane.

“Is that it?” asked Nothgow.

“As far as I can remember, yes.”

“Hmm. Well I’ll see you tomorrow. Now stay still,” and with that Nothgow’s face was crossed with a predatory look and Number 32336 felt a sharp needle jab into his arm. From there he remembered no more.

He woke up in his bed the following morning with a splitting headache and two little chalk-lime pills sitting on the nightstand, a glass of clear water next to them. He ate the pills, but regarded the glass with suspicion. The pills were fine, probably just sugar and chalk - placebos. But the water, now that was dangerous. It was clear, you never knew what lay hidden in clear water. There was a rattle at the door. Number 32336 lay on his side, facing the opposite wall, yet even so, he imagined the handle turning and an intricate series of locks, gears, and interlocking levers click and turn, disengaging. A peculiar smell entered the room, the smell of the Women's Ward, two levels upwards. It was an odd smell, not better or worse, simply different.

"We're not crazy, you know," he said to Number 1275221, the pretty nurse.

"What do you mean?" she said to the white linen back and pants that lay facing away from her in a great rumpled heap on the bed.

"Do you think you're crazy?"

"Well… no. Well, maybe - but - well… no. Well I don't know!"

"Not knowing is the first step. The surest sign that you're absolutely sane is if you think you're crazy but everyone else is sane."

"I'm not sure what you mean," she said, stepping closer cautiously, holding the tray of white nutrient porridge. She leaned down and set the tray on the small table next to the bed. In seconds a long, lean arm shot out and grabbed her by the neck, forcing her down. He was on her, bending over the small of her back, her wide-eyed screaming muffled by the pillow, which covered her mouth. Number 32336 bent down close, whispering into her ear.

"Stop screaming. You're not crazy. I'm not crazy, but I feel that this place is driving me crazy. Now if you'll help me, we can get out of here."

Number 1275221 convulsed on the bed and made a funny sound in her throat. She shook her head.

"Have you seen the Chronics? Look at what they did to them! Mindless zombies! Do you want to be like that?"

The nurse shook her head, long brown hair cascading from her white cap.

"Then you'll help me. Speak of this to no-one! Understand? Promise me," he said, twisting her arm and pressing down on her back.

Furiously she shook her head in agreement, not daring to scream.

"I am going to release you now. Promise me you will not scream? Promise…" he began decreasing pressure. The nurse was silent. He released her. She stood up immediately, retreating with frightened, haunted eyes into the back corner of the room, along the wall.

"Why hasn't the Matron called the Orderlies?" she asked, voice trembling.

"Simple. If we have good enough behaviour they allow us 'pleasure therapy'. I simply had you assigned to me every third day for an hour of it. In that time the Matron," he pointed up to a lightless black camera dome, "is blind. They say privacy is essential for pleasure therapy. When she's not monitoring, I can tell you what to do."

"You truly are crazy!"

"That depends," he said, regarding her from the bed, his chin resting atop his knees, "When you've lived your life amongst crazy people, insanity becomes the norm. What they try to cure you of is sanity. Now, our hour is nearly up. Go."

She turned, visibly shaking, pushing the tray table out of the room.

**

"You know, I've been wondering," he said, lying on a couch, his eyes focused on a white ceiling tile, "This hospital is huge. How many patients?"

"Billions worldwide."

"Right. How do you get all the supplies?"

"Robots of course! Robots that build robots that build factories, mine ore, plant fields of alcoho-wheat for polyfiber sheets and plastics. It's the only way we were able to make hospitals like this able to serve everyone at no cost! Soon people discovered that it was easier to live and be provided for by the hospital, and we discovered that life was generally easier if we lived it for them."

"So basically people were getting a bed, meal, and healthcare for free?"

"Well, no. You have to realize that at the end of the twenty first century, when the first hospitals began to appear, we believe that around ninety percent of society was crazy. Someone had to be there to take care of the mentally ill, otherwise civilization would fall into insanity and anarchy."

"And the last ten percent?"

"They worked in the hospitals, taking care of the mentally ill."

"I see. But I heard that those who spent enough time around crazy people eventually become crazy themselves. Is that true?"

"Of course! But in that time the purpose of the hospital workers was to train a new generation of hospital workers, to ensure the continuation of society. When the old staff eventually went crazy, there were always enough of those patients sane enough to take over in their absence. And that they did, for they loved the power with which they could exact over others. So the society runs in cycles, each generation replacing each other, insane and sane, fluctuating and shifting positions."

Nothgow looked at his watch reset his spectacles on his nose.

"Hmm. Well session's over. You may leave."

Number 32336 sat up and mechanically put forth his wrists, awaiting the handcuffs.

"Oh no. Your behaviour in the past weeks has been exemplary. I've arranged for a routine change. You may walk without Orderlies or the cuffs. Just stay in view of the Matron or it's back to Isol. Here, take this badge."

Nothgow produced a small, shiny rectangle of metal and plastic. Number 32336 got up and went out the door, the badge pinned to his chest. An Orderly passed by him, heavy mechanical feet resounding on the polished white tile floor. A thrill of fear ran up his spine. The Orderly turned its faceless silver head and stared for a moment at the badge on his chest. It resumed its stiff, android gait.

Number 32336 walked down the corridor in the opposite direction, towards one of the recreational halls. There it was - the Resnikov-thing. It sat, leaning forward on a chair, staring into space and mumbling. Number 32336 approached it and sat down on the white armchair in front of it. Pleather squeaked as he sat. Slowly, carefully, he extended an arm and tapped it on the shoulder. It looked up at him. The face that stared at him was round, bald, with a great beak of a nose, pursed lips and thick glasses. Yet it was not Resnikov. It smiled at him and began mumbling once more, rocking back and forth.

"… Fourteen floors north-northeast. Eight corridors to the left. Magnet-train tube runs crosswise and diagonally through the main processing room. Twenty five floors down, one hall, main corridor leads to southwest elevator…"

Number 32336 sat back and ran a pair of fingers through his hair. Nothing. A Mumbler. It was not so different - he had seen many Mumblers before.

"Eighteen shafts traverse the height of facility, shaft one leads to south west, bottom and top wings. Primary sub-basement connected by mag-lifts to other levels, only access route through laundry shaft. Air vents - unmapped. One route to primary control - unmonitored…"

Of course! Here was the way out! Schematics in the Resnikov-thing's head. He would need only to listen and hear the answer. But he could not stay here forever, waiting for hours to hear only a certain piece. He would have to get this information. Somehow. Number 32336 got up and walked back to his cell. He smiled and looked up to the Matron, gazing into those great glass computer eyes on the wall, endless rows of them, stretching forever down the whitewashed corridor. It was the third day.

**

"There are two things which we need that are vital to our escape. Firstly is that I cannot venture far, dressed as I am, I would be instantly recognized and brought back here. So I will need a doctor's uniform," said Number 32336 to Number 1275221 as they sat together, in the corner under the darkened eye of the Matron.

"I have access to the laundry rooms. I could find a doctor's shift there. It wouldn't be too hard for me to smuggle it in for you inside a cart."

"Good, good. Secondly we have no idea of how to get out. I know of someone who has the data - the patient designated as Number 424556. It is all in his mind, the trouble is to get the relevant information out of him. Now they have little machines which they put on our heads when interrogating us. They record our memories and doctors can use them to replay any select memory they wish to. I need to get a hold of one of those."

"Oh you mean the haloes?"

"Is that what they are called?"

"Yes. I know where to get them but it is far too distant from the Women's Ward where I am. I might get caught if I went for them."

"It is far closer to me. Let me try to sneak one of them out of the storage."

They parted. Number 32336 lay quiet in his cell, as if resting, and got up some minutes later. The sound of the nurse's trolley receded, its metallic rumbling echoing down the softly lit, antiseptic hallway. He looked around. A patrol of Orderlies walked by, followed by a stately procession of white coated doctors and nurses in their translucent white caps. The Matron saw him, he could feel those rows of glowing eyes probing him, feeling him, touching him without coming into contact with his person.

"Careful," he thought to himself. They watch for signs of tension. Act cool, quiet. Carefree. He casually walked down the hall opposite the direction of the procession, his badge perhaps showing somewhat more than normal. He passed by many rows of the Matron's eyes before reaching a strange locker. He made a movement towards it and stopped. Obviously it was guarded. Perhaps not locked - they wouldn't have thought that patients would be brave enough to even approach the locker - but watched nonetheless. He entered the large cafeteria hall to his right. It was empty, devoid of life save for old 21298 who sat quietly rocking to and fro, looking out of the frosted glass windows. They were large - three stories of uninterrupted opaque glass that stretched from one end of the cafeteria to another - covering an entire wall. It let outside light in very well, yet no objects could be distinguished. Many patients enjoyed the cafeteria, as one could determine whether it was day or night - other places in the Hospital were constantly lit with the same monochromatic efflorescence. The old patient sat in the middle of the great white expanse and looked numbly outwards, as if watching the world even though his eyes could distinguish nothing.

Number 32336 looked up at the clock over the doorway, scratching at his burgundy moustache. It was about time for lunch. Then came the voice of the Matron from a great Eye overlooking the cafeteria.

"Attention. It is time for lunch. Please proceed to the nearest cafeteria to you."

An eager rush of voices and the pitter-patter of soft-soled feet came echoing down the corridor, and Number 32336 knew that it was his chance. He stepped out of the cafeteria and met with a rush of bald heads, white tunics, and linen pants. Their moving mass concealed the locker from the endless blue gaze of the Matron. Carefully, watching for built-in alarms, Number 32336 began easing the door open. There were all sorts of paraphernalia in the bin.

Here a stack of white capsules in pill-containers, each carefully labeled. There a neat pile of boxes containing various medical tools. He began looking through the boxes. A container of unused syringes and hypodermic needles still in their packages was hastily pushed aside and put back. Boxes of tissue paper flew over to one corner. Very likely they'd notice his skin and hair all over the thing and he'd be back to Isol, but he didn't care. And here they were! He grabbed a halo and folded it, carefully putting it into a pocket. It retained its collapsed shape and he walked into the cafeteria with the rest.

There were great numbers of tables in the cafeteria, and it was divided neatly into two groups. On one side were the patients like him, and on the other were set the vegetative and comatose patients. A significant portion was missing - those who were physically ill and had to be fed intravenously - otherwise the cafeteria would be packed with bodies. Not all of them were crazy, at least, not the physically ill ones, or so thought Number 32336.

He smiled as he spooned wet gobs of warm oatmeal into his mouth. They had flavoured it somewhat, instead of the usual bland paste that they usually served. Life was getting better. He began to think about the world Outside. In his isolation he had much time to imagine things, and in his daydreams he met with a vision of the Outside world. Fresh air, air that smelt cleaner, more natural, and didn't reek of medicine and detergent. Like the air that he had caught a whiff of when passing by a broken window one day. He pictured wide open spaces, no confined corridors, no constant echo, and no Matron with her White-Coats always looking down at people. Yet he didn't picture grasslands and hills - such things he had no contact with - rather he imagined a great plain of whiteness (it was always white - everything was supposed to be white) with a blue sky and a funny pinpoint light shining over it. In his dream he could stretch out his arms and run, a wind blowing in his hair, free and happy. And in this outside world, he'd be alone, with no-one to bother him and break his peace, and-

"What are you staring at?" growled a patient whose beetle brows were knit in smouldering suspicion. His bloodshot eyes glowed with fury, "You're looking at me, aren't you?"

"I was just-"

"I'll tell you what! I think you were looking at me! Looking at my face, huh? Well I won't stand for it!" he stood up, puffing with anger, and sweating profusely from his armpits, "Every time they look at me I can hear them. The voices, the mouths, laughing at me! At me!"

There was a giggle. A gaunt looking patient whose habit of laughing at things gave him the nickname of "Giggler".

"You're laughing at me! You're laughing at me! I'll kill you!"

With a lunge the man threw all his pudgy strength at Giggler and began clawing, biting, and kicking madly. Giggler's giggle turned into a hysterical laugh as the man tore skin from his arm with his bare fingernails, and sank teeth into Giggler's neck, drawing blood.

"Stop laughing at me! Stop it! Stop!" roared the man.

Number 32336 eased away from the man, around which a crowd of jeering faces gathered, urging him on. Two psychotics, one whom evidently thought he was an animal of some sort, and the other whose searching teeth were gnawing on anything he could reach, jumped up and tried to separate Giggler and the fat man. He charged at them and the cafeteria burst into a pandemonium of violence and shouting. Number 32336 chucked his oatmeal and ran. He gave some patients an idea with that action and they began to throw oatmeal as well. Number 32336 knew that he'd only have a small amount of time before-

The Orderlies clanged it. Out of ventilation grilles came a strange white gas and immediately the patients began collapsing into a catatonic stupor. Number 32336 was already down the hall.

**

The little trolley wheeled in just on time, neither early nor late, and the door closed. The Matron closed her Eye and they were alone.

"I have the clothes for you, have you the halo?"

"Yes. Give the clothes to me. We'll find 424556 and put it on him."

"Don't you think it might be noticed?"

"No. The doctors can do nearly anything to their patients, any deviation is considered beneficial. The more abnormal and crazy you are, the better the doctor."

"But must I come with you?"

"Yes, they always appear with their nurses when haloing patients. Now, let us wait and at this time tomorrow we move, agreed?"

"Agreed - oh yes! You'll need these," she handed him a razor and a cup. A pair of scissors appeared, "Doctors are clean-shaven for the most part. You'll be much less noticeable."

Number 32336 walked beside the nurse, his face clean shaven of its ragged red-brown fringe of hair. He felt very different - somehow lighter or freer - and he looked at himself as he passed by a mirrored window. A stranger stared back at him, with a thin, angular face and a sharp, pointed chin. He shook his head and walked straight.

They soon reached the sitting hall where the Resnikov-thing stayed. Number 32336 took out the halo - it gave an electric whine as he activated it. The halo fit neatly over Resnikov's bald head and Number 1275221 flicked the small button marked "record". As if struck by a blow to the forehead, Resnikov snapped back and lay prone on the back of the chair. The halo went silent and Number 32336 took the machine. He removed the glittering blue chip and stuck it to his temple, muttering "replay". The memories scrolled past his eyes as he walked with Number 1275221 at his side. He filtered through them - it was a simple process, almost familiar - until he found the memories he needed.

"Come, we must go down this corridor."

They walked quickly now. First a turn, then down another corridor. It was getting tiring. They were far, far from where they used to live, but it was not unfamiliar. Just endless white corridors. No-one noticed them yet, not yet. Nobody had ever done such a thing. Granted, there were escape attempts in the past, but never to such a degree. The twisting halls and long, solemn corridors were all alike. The same Orderlies with their blue suits and silvery, mercury blank faces. White-Coats and nurses, all alike in dress and style of talking. Patients in white clothes sitting, reading, mumbling, thinking. A scream as one was put into an Isol chamber. A momentary struggle, then relaxation as the opiates flooded in from hypodermic needles. And the Matron, everywhere; her eyes watched everything.

Now down a lift. Floors passed by, lit with white in stark contrast to the darkness of the lift shaft. They stepped out of the elevator and into a bare floor. A vast hall that stretched endlessly onward into infinity, lit from high above with pale white light. Suddenly a doctor came up to them and asked, "Where are you going?"

"Um…"

"Number 1274221 spoke up, "Ward 227A, Patient number 824709. We're designated for his therapeutic session."

She handed him a data-pad with the form. The doctor frowned, looking at it.

"Alright, proceed."

As they passed the doctor, Number 32336 looked at her, incredulous.

"Where did you get that?"

"Places. A nurse can be privy to such things."

Now down another corridor, to the left, then to the right, then straight again. Number 32336 was beginning to doubt these schematics. It seemed as if they were merely heading down an endless series of twisting corridors and lifts. Until…

They stood alone before a pair of double doors. The windows were tinted. Above them was one of the Matron's Eyes. The high metal door seemed ominous, a vast heavy expanse of gunmetal grey, and its borders were pained in a yellow-black strip. High above it was a red warning sign that glared the message, "Restricted area." Number 32336 was about to propose a plan to get access when the nurse walked over to the doors and pressed a button. Silently, the great doors swung outwards, creaking only when they finally finished rotation and locked to the sides of the walls. Ahead of them was a long corridor, painted the uniform white, but was oddly decorated - adorned ornately in marble and limestone.

Number 32336 and Number 1275221 walked in awed silence, glancing at the gathered calcium white splendour that was arranged before them. At the end of the gleaming corridor was a white light that shone through a glass door. Number 32336 grabbed Number 1275221's hand and together they walked down the corridor, now picking up their pace. Faster and faster they walked until it became a jog, then a light run, then a moderate run, then a sprint to the finish, and-

Bursting through the glass doors, they ran into the light. They stood on the white marble steps of the Hospital, which reared up into the grey clouds above like a towering Colossus. Number 32336 rubbed his eyes and looked into the distance.

"The sky - it's -" said Number 1275221.

"Just as white as everything else."

"And there, in the distance."

The nurse pointed and Number 32336 squinted. Beyond the confines of the giant hospital reared a precipitous wall of chalk-coloured stone, with a million windows, and this block of stone reared infinitely into the grey and white sky. It stood next to another, and another, and another; endless white giants looming both ways into infinity. And Number 32336 laughed.

"It's just the hospital."

"Why are you laughing?"

"Why? Because it's all hospital. It never ends. And even though we might end, or try to run away - where can we run? There is nothing but the hospital - the hospital is forever."

Then a blue light cast a glow over all the area, and the voice of the Matron spoke like the thunderous roar of a god. Spotlight after blue spotlight turned itself upon the huddled pair, as if every one of those hospitals had suddenly turned their eyes upon them.

"You are correct. There is nothing but the Hospital."

"There is no escape," said Number 1275221.

"There is no escape," said Number 32336.

"There is no escape," agreed the voice of the Matron.

The nurse turned to the patient and gazed into his eyes. Brown met green in one last dance of flickering light.

"We will never see each other again, will we?" she asked.

"Probably not. And if we do, we won't remember each other."

"Hold me," they both cried.

And they held each other.

**

John Robert Sirrach - Dr. Sirrach - turned to his patient, running his fingers through thin red hair. He reset a pair of spectacles on his nose and took out a note pad, regarding his patient with a cool glance, carefully positioned so as to make the lights reflect off of them.

"Don't I remember you?" asked the patient - Number 427138.

"I do not think so."

"You - you're Number 32336, aren't you?"

"Assuredly not. Number 32336 was released - cured - not long ago."

"But you look and sound just like him."

"Yet I am not him."

"No, you aren't," there was a pause, "Remind me again, why I am here."

"Because you are insane! And everyone knows that, since the world is the way it is today, that crazy people must be cured - not only for their sake, or for the sake of their families, but for the perpetuation of society itself!"

"And how, pray tell, does that happen?"

"Well you know that it is impossible to work at a mental hospital without being similarly affected by the patients. Thus it is the duty of the hospital staff to see to it that a new generation of doctors replaces them once they can no longer function. It is rule of the sane, Vergel Nothgow."

"Who? Who is that?"

"I do not know… who is it?"

"Perhaps a doctor who was transferred sometime ago - honestly I do not remember. But no matter, this is fascinating, Dr. Sirrach, do continue."

"As I was saying, it is the sane that must see to it that the next generation of staff are cured from the overwhelming patient majority. Not for their sake, but for the mere continuation of society, for without the sane to lead, the world necessarily slips into chaos and anarchy as it did in the early 21st century. Insane leader fought insane leader and brought carnage to the earth. People sat for large amounts of time in clumsy vehicles, belching pollution, in order to massively go into large, dirty cities that they did not want to go into in the first place. A significant portion of the world's population was insane, and there was general fear about the end of civilization."

"Until?"

"Until the tiny minority of truly sane peoples, foolishly and callously regarded as lunatics and thrown into mental asylums, until these people saw the insanity of society and rose to reform it. And thus, it became what we have today - a perfect, sane world, ruled by the minority that has true wisdom."

Sirrach looked at his watch.

"Well, session's over."

Number 427138 extended his hands, awaiting the handcuffs and injections that inevitably followed every session of therapy.

"Oh, no. Your behaviour in the past weeks has been exemplary. I've arranged for a routine change. You may walk without the Orderlies, or the cuffs. Just stay in view of the Matron or it's back to Isol. Here, take this badge."

The patient took it and pinned it to his shirt proudly, walking out of the room. As the door closed Number 32336 began to laugh, deep inside. A smile crossed his face as he stared unblinkingly at the Matron's Eye up in the left corner of the ceiling. They were right all along.

It was perfect.


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