“How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t need no-damn nanosurgery!”

Retired colonel Joseph Shaheen had begun conjoining “no” and “damn” as a result of repeating heated commands to his grunts during the United Korean War. Now, his son’s gaze pinned him to the nanosurgerical chair beneath a MedBot bristling with medical weaponry.

He wondered if Custer felt this helpless at Little Bighorn.

A slot glowed in the MedBot’s chassis. “Insert insurance card, please.” The MedBot’s voice was as sterile as the rest of Dr. Tanaguchi’s office.

Joe crossed his arms and studied the LED poster on the wall: a woman with Cleopatra eyes spread her arms out in a welcoming gesture, and the words ‘Gnosis’ and ‘Isis’ scrolled out from her hands. She brought her hands together, merging both words into a single name—GnIsis.

Zeke popped up from his chair and held his hand out for the insurance card. “I don’t know why you’re in a huff, Dad. It’s nanosurgery. You know, nano, as in really, really tiny?”

“Like your brain?” Joe choked off a laugh—the boy’s mother would’ve been hurt by the jab more than Zeke, if she were still alive to hear it. “It’s an invasion of my body.”

“Invasion? They aren’t soldiers. Think of them as Doctors Without Borders. Now give me your insurance card already.”

“Nope.”

Zeke waved his tablet computer in the air.

Yes, yes, Joe didn’t need to see the forms, or his signature that had granted Zeke power of attorney over his health. The boy had quoted it like a Baptist minister armed with a Bible at Sunday Service the whole ride to the hospital. The only things missing from Zeke’s sermon were the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’.

Joe grumbled as he took out his wallet and fumbled for the card but, the stroke had ruined his fine motor skills. He flung his wallet at Zeke. “Behind the photo of your mother.”

Zeke took the card and fed it to the MedBot, which chimed. “Welcome to the Drexler Institute for Nanomedical Technologies, Mister Shaheen.”

It bent forward and spit the insurance card into Zeke’s hand. “Dr. Tanaguchi will see you at five twenty-nine PM, plus or minus eight minutes. Would you care to play a game of Mahjong, Crossword Maven, or FarmLife?”

“Hell no.” Joe missed real assistants. Especially the female kind. “Zeke, you wanna play patty-cake with this overgrown microwave over here?”

“No time for games, Dad. I’ve got a script to edit. This whole ordeal means we might have to delay Patagonia Sunrise’s production schedule.”

Emblazoned across Zeke’s black sweatshirt were the words ‘Theatre is Bettre’. The way the words were misspelled irked Joe more than the words themselves. Why did his son have to be so artsy-fartsy?

He scowled at the MedBot’s pixilated smile as it flashed on its flat-screen face. “If I’d known machines would take over half the labor force and everyone would become a damned ‘artiste’ for lack of real work, I’d have thought twice about fighting for my country.”

“I’d have thought the army would’ve been first to use robots.” Zeke smirked. “I guess multi-million-dollar machines are less expendable than people.”

“The Air Force replaced fighter jocks with algorithms. Wasn’t much of a change when they’re dropping bombs from 30,000 feet. Machines can’t tell between civilians and combatants. You learn the value of life when you’re faced with the decision to take one. You think that MedBot cares whether a patient lives or dies?”

“Uh oh, lecture incoming.” Zeke hunched over his tablet as if taking cover from enemy fire.

“Someone kicks the bucket and that MedBot probably just flips a switch in its hardware from one to zero. No frown, no ‘he was a good man’, no no-damn nothing. Not like Dr. Bianchi—you’d get a sore throat and she’d send you home with antibiotics, peanut butter ice-cream and a pat on the knee.”

Zeke rubbed his throat and winced. “So what?”

“So, she had a bedside manner.” Joe glanced at the MedBot. “You can’t program that. I’ll be damned if I’ll let that thing slice me open and implant thousands of its little spawn in my body.”

“They’re not spawn, they’re nanites, and the MedBot isn’t going to slice you open. You’ll get a painless injection supervised by Dr. Tanaguchi. He’s flesh and blood, last time I checked.”

The MedBot chimed. “Dr. Tanaguchi has arrived.”

Neither Dr. Tanaguchi’s steel-rimmed glasses nor the gray strands of hair that framed his face could hide the bags under his eyes. “Mister Shaheen. Nice to meet you. I understand—”

“Colonel.”

“Excuse me?”

“Call me Colonel Shaheen if you want me to call you Dr. Tanaguchi.” Joe stuck his hand out. The doctor blinked.

“It’s called a handshake.”

The doctor shook his head, then Joe’s hand. “I’m sorry, Colonel, it’s been a long day.”

“It’s about to get longer.” Joe glanced at Zeke. “Doc, I don’t want a bunch of invisible machines crawling through my old carcass, but my offspring here is twisting my arm with this damn power of attorney.”

Zeke stepped forward and handed his tablet to Dr. Tanaguchi. “He scared me half to death when he had his stroke.

“Only half?” Joe mumbled under his breath.

“At least now he knows to stick to his Vasopril. And if he doesn’t, the nanites will tell us.”

“Yes, GnIsis would have notified a physician long before your condition worsened.” The doctor’s fingers swiped across Zeke’s tablet. “I’m afraid the terms of the power of attorney require me to administer the procedure, but I think you’ll change your mind once you understand how it will help you.”

“Give it your best shot.”

“MedBot, bring up the patient’s medical file.” Dr. Tanaguchi returned the tablet to Zeke. The MedBot’s smile winked out and the robot turned to face the doctor, who made ‘mmm’ noises as he studied the screen. “You suffered several fainting spells before your diabetes was diagnosed.”

Joe gnashed his teeth. It wasn’t enough that a decorated veteran of the United Korean War had fainted in front of his wife and army friends. Now Zeke—who’d been kept in the dark about the episode—knew about it, courtesy of loose-lips Tanaguchi.

To continue reading, use the link below to buy Shaheen’s Last Stand from Amazon.

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