By Royce Day
As lunatic asylums went, it was rather pleasant, Haas had to admit. The Greater Chicago Psychiatric Hospital specialized in intensive care for suffers of Science Related Memetic Disorder, funded partially by the Vorstellen Police itself. The better to understand its opponents, he thought. It was relentlessly pleasant, providing patients with roomy quarters and plenty of supervised time in the sculpture gardens outside. The only odd thing about it was the notable lack of electronics in the areas outside of the examination rooms. Most of the monitoring was done by flesh and blood human nurses and orderlies, not cameras and robots. It wouldn't do for a patient to have a relapse and rig themselves a microwave beam cannon while left alone with a heart monitor in easy reach.
Still, they did provide their patients with all the pencils and notepads they could ever want, the better to exercise their minds, hopefully in a more socially acceptable direction. Haas sat on his bench in the garden and bent over his own pad, occupying himself with old flights of fancy.
An orderly walked up and announced, "Doctor Haas, you have a visitor." He looked up to see familiar face rounding a bush to come near him. Haas supposed his therapist would be pleased that he felt a distinct surge of guilt pass through him as Prester approached.
"Detective Prester, hello," he greeted, standing up and holding out his hand.
"Hello," Prester said evenly, shaking his hand. "Please, sit down." Haas sat down again on the bench, and Prester joined him. "How are you, Doctor Haas?"
"Just Virgil, please. Calling myself a doctor in this place seems woefully pretentious. I'm fine, I suppose. My physician says I'm responding well to my initial treatment regimen. They expect to release me after the standard 90 day observation period. After that it will be a matter for the courts as to whether I'm to be remanded to Venusian custody."
"That won't happen," Prester reassured him. "You're too valuable a resource to rot in a Venusian correctional center. Whatever actions an SRMD sufferer takes before medication therapy are generally considered beyond their control. You'll be subject to court monitoring for several years, but you won't have to return to Venus if you don't want to. With your intuitive understanding of robotics you can find comfortable work on Earth quite easily."
"Not so intuitive… now." He straightened his glasses. "It's like… before, my mind was bursting with ideas, one piling after the other. But it was all so logically organized, even as they plunged headlong into my consciousness. The plan was so clear. Now… the stream has dried up. I still have my ideas, but they seem so flat now.
Prester nodded. "I have a friend who once described the drugs' effects as feeling like his head was stuffed with felt."
"Ah." Haas sighed. "I was wrong of course. I can still see the plans I had concocted, to bring robotic order to the solar system. My mad, beautiful ideas; emphasis on the mad. Not to mention utterly useless."
"Not useless, Virgil," Prester said. "I'm told your theories on sparking creative thinking in AI's are a decade ahead of General Robotics and the various university groups. The Vorstellen team vetting your notes for publication is quite excited."
Haas brightened. "Really? That makes me feel a bit better, even if I did use them for nefarious ends."
Prester smiled slightly. "Actually, in a way you created your own rescue. If Pindar, Dryden and Chaucer hadn't been so flexible in their thinking, allowing the possibility of serving you best by saving you from yourself, stopping your plans might have been a lot harder."
Haas quirked an eyebrow at Prester. "With a Martian battle fleet hanging outside my window?"
"Well, it would have been a lot more painful for you, probably."
"Perhaps a little less painful for you, though."
Prester shrugged. "I was an officer of the Vorstellen Police. The risks came with the job."
Haas didn't miss the nuance, and winced internally. "Was? Oh, dear. A medical discharge, I suppose? I am sorry, Mr. Prester, if my shooting you gave you such grave injuries."
"My new liver is fine. That isn't what caused my… departure," Prester said, "and please, call me Benjamin."
"Thank you, Benjamin. If not for your injuries, what then? Surely they were already aware that they were employing a mad scientist."
Now it was Prester's turn to be surprised. "How did you know I had SRMD?"
Haas smiled. "I believe you bursting into my office, waving a death ray and wearing one of my lab coats, was diagnostic."
"Ah, true." Prester got up to pace in front of Haas. "I thought... I believed I had my SRMD under control. I wasn't taking drugs, it was all done by force of will. I had managed to find an... intuitive.... understanding of how SRMD worked, and was able to use it to manipulate other mad scientists, even while suffering from its effects myself before my arrest."
"An extraordinary amount of social ability, compared to the average victim," Haas observed.
"Yeah. It was enough that the Vorstellen Police agreed to hire me. 'To catch a thief...' and so on. It helped that I apparently was able to fight SRMD's effects without resorting to drugs. My mind was completely clear, but I was still able to think like a mad scientist."
Honestly, Benjamin's body language was fascinating. The man was pacing back and forth as if agitated, but his shoulders were low, relaxed, and his expression open, unwary. Confession is good for the soul, Haas guessed. He filed the insight away to tell his therapist about later. "What was the price, for that clarity?"
Benjamin stopped pacing, turning to face Haas. "Insight at the cost of ability. Mad scientists were easy to deal with. Ordinary humans... not so much. I'd shut down most of my emotions. Enthusiasm, closeness, for a person or an idea, was a danger. I couldn't afford to become obsessed, with anyone or anything."
"Until you met Officer Quevillion."
"Well, I wouldn't say I was obsessed with her..." At Haas' continued stare he corrected himself. "Yeah, I was. We were stuck together for weeks on the Qin, traveling from Luna to Jupiter. I think it was the longest I'd been stuck in the same place with anyone for years. I got to know her. I found out she's smart, even without Mars in the back of her head, she's empathic, she's, um..."
"Comely?" he offered.
"Comely, yeah, comely works."
"Was opening yourself up to her, worth the price of letting your SRMD run free?"
"Yeah," Benjamin said softly, "yeah, it was."
"I think, well my therapist told me, that one of the most common ways of recognizing SRMD in a person, is their utter confidence at completing whatever task they set before themselves, not matter how wild or insurmountable the odds. Is it so surprising that your SRMD reappeared, just when you needed that confidence, to interact with someone whom you wanted to get closer to?"
Prester looked thoughtful. "Now I understand why you're so good at designing AI's, Virgil. You ever consider switching from robotics to psychology?"
"I think I shall stick to machinery, Benjamin. There's less chance of damage to innocent civilians if one makes a mistake." Haas sighed. "I almost wish I had a little bit of that confidence back, though."
"You miss trying to rule the world?"
"I never want to sink to the depths of that insanity again," he declared firmly. "No, I meant confidence in human interaction."
"Interacting with Doctor Juruna, specifically."
"Quite." He sighed again. "They won't let me speak with her. Very bad, for a recovering patient to talk with another mad scientist until they're certain his medication is functioning correctly, and even then it's discouraged."
"Yeah, I know." Benjamin cleared his throat. "So did you love her?"
"I believe so. I'm... not certain... she returned it."
The ex-Vorstellen detective reached into the inner pockets of his jacket and pulled out a phone. "Why don't you ask her?"
Haas felt his eyebrows rise up in surprise. "How did you sneak that onto the grounds? Didn't you go through security?"
Benjamin smiled. "I wouldn't be much of a mad scientist if I couldn't defeat a simple electronic scanning device." He handed the phone to Haas. "Call her."
Haas tapped Beatriz's number into the phone and waited for the connection to be made. "Hello, Beatriz? This is Virgil." He listened for a moment, then smiled.
"Yes, I'm very happy to talk to you too."