Ackley’s New Lease On Life 8: Recruitment

“Fine. I admit it. You are quite astute. I am the super genius Dr. Cruciere!”

The Doctor patted herself on the chest, and for extra authenticity she burst into laughter. Asmodeus began to bob her upper body left and right while signaling toward the doctor with her index fingers, as though they were all practicing a very stiff and strange choreography. Ackley silently beheld the spectacle, wondering if the other children had their rooms intruded upon by poorly socialized people on as regular a basis as she.

“So,” Ackley sat up on her bed, against the pillows and the backrest, “You’re the Doctor Cruciere they talk about on TV? Who fights with the Ladybird and attacks the city every so often? ”

“Do not believe any of that! That is character assassination.” Dr. Cruciere said. “Hmph! Ladybird. Pah! Ladybird is just an ignoramus who persecutes me for my political beliefs.”

“What are your political beliefs?” Ackley said.

Dr. Cruciere crossed her arms, and cocked a little grin. “I’m glad you asked. I desire to bring the entire world under a single technocratic government, fully planned according to my scientific principles, that can more efficiently create and distribute the needed resources to plan for a full mobilization of the Earth’s entire population in a war of extermination against an alien race that will invade in 2093. I came from the future to do this.”

Ackley smiled sweetly while surreptitiously reaching behind her bed, where her patient panic button was hidden against the bed’s frame. She had never required the panic button before, even against Agent Winchester and during the Rageditor siege and other such troubles. Her motto was to keep herself calm, betray no emotion, and try to outwit her often idiotic and incoherent opponents. Poorly trained Security brutes were probably just as likely to throw her out of a window as they were to remove Dr. Cruciere, but she had no other choice now. Never had Ackley faced a foe like Dr. Cruciere: the doctor was absolutely rambling insane. Ackley could not outsmart someone whose mind existed on entirely alternate dimensions than that which ordinary people inhabited. She had outwitted Fulton Handler, bombed Charles Fairway into biochemical ash, escape the wrath of the Department of Departments and gotten fast food in compensation, and declared war on Memes; but Dr. Cruciere was on a whole new level above these dangers.

In response to her cagey movements, Asmodeus lifted a pair of scissors.

“I disabled the room security while fluffing your pillows.” She said.

“You are the worst nurse! Even worse than my old Nurse!” Ackley shouted.

Asmodeus’ eyes drew wide open. She gasped with shock, and hugged herself, shaking. Though her expression only slightly changed, her whole body language indicated a deep regret and discomfort, for once betraying emotion. Ackley could almost see the good times that they shared flashing in those cold, dead-looking eyes of hers, and the sweat building on her clammy, ghost-white skin. Finally she had found an insult that cut deep.

“But that old Nurse treated you so poorly. She used you without care and betrayed the Nurse handbook so many times.” Asmodeus mumbled. “I can’t be worse– can I? I read the manual and passed the courses. The Doctor said I was a good nurse. I’m sorry, Doctor, I need a moment alone to consider this.”

Asmodeus stiffly turned around and stumbled away from them. Ackley almost felt regret, staring at the extent of the discomfiture she had wrought upon Asmodeus; but she hardened her heart. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned her cheek on Asmodeus, refusing her any ounce of pity.

Dr. Cruciere grew livid as she watched Asmodeus go, dragging herself into a corner of the room with her head against the wall, every so often giving it a swift bash on the concrete. “Asmodeus has been working so hard to become an exemplary nurse in order to pull off this scheme without suspicion. Even if she did ultimately conspire to sneak me in here, I feel like the weeks of wonderful service she gave you should be applauded!”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Asmodeus said feebly from the corner. She removed a handkerchief from one of the pockets of her nurse uniform, brushing it against her completely dry eyes to wipe her symbolic tears. There was only so much a humanoid construct made mostly of fungus could do when distraught.

Ackley buried her face in her hands with a deep sigh. When she recovered her composure, and her characteristic deadpan expression with it, she lay back in bed and tried to relax.

“So you came to kidnap me?” Ackley asked. “Why did you wait this long?”

Cruciere frowned, and avoided eye contact with the little girl. “We were waiting for Asmodeus’ first paycheck before bolting. On the probation period she only gets paid on a monthly basis.”

“Wow.” Ackley said. “That is embarrassingly petty.”

“Well, you know, in this economy you have to take money where you can get it.”

“But why did you come for me specifically? I don’t get it.” Ackley said.

“Oh ho!” Cruciere drew in close and rubbed Ackley’s chin. “It is because I am a fan of your work!”

Ackley felt a chill throughout her body. “You are what?”

Cruciere skirted the edge of the bed, and with a dramatic flourish drew Ackley’s attention to the renovated Fairway Building visible out the window. Once blown-out, its main office had now been converted into a child daycare for company workers, under the guidance of its new owner. What was her name? Ackley faintly recalled “Gilded” being the new owner’s surname, but all the hospitals and assets were still named after the late Mr. Fairway. Nonetheless, Cruciere stood in attention at the window, smiling at the building as though examining a work of art.

“You blew up that office with an improvised chemical weapon, thereby horrifically murdering some old rich man and opening up the budget for the extractor that would save your life!” Cruciere said, staring at the extractor with admiration. “You have so much initiative and drive! I can’t really stomach killing all that much – assorted maimings, maybe some lasting illness, but not killing. But you, my dear, you’re just what I need in my new world!”

Ackley tried to interject at several points in this speech to point out that she had intended to die after getting revenge on Mr. Fairway for cutting the budget down so much that she could only sit in a hospital and slowly wither away without care – she had never actually planned on surviving, and the attack was not intended to save her at all. Cruciere gushed so much that Ackley could not get a word in edgewise. In fact she almost believed herself to be a terrorist mastermind, listening to Cruciere: and not instead a small child who read hard books at 2, grew very sick at 4 and whose parents and the world began ignoring her at 6. A lot of things Ackley strove to forgot grew closer as Cruciere spoke.

Finally, Cruciere’s speech wound down. She drew in a deep breath, skipped up and down, and with her face turning red, asked, “Would you like to come live in my underground base?”

From the corner, Asmodeus quickly added, “We also have a mansion.”

Ackley made a loud noise as though she were deflating like a balloon.

“Could you please be quiet?” Ackley shouted, downcast. “Please?”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Cruciere said. “I made this weird, didn’t I?”

“Look, I’m not sure what I want to do or what I should do, okay? I made this bucket list and it’s not even partway complete. It’s literally my only goal in life right now!  Everyone’s forgotten about me, and when they remember, it is all scandals or a preoccupation toward my value as a meme. I’m really sick, this hospital is all I’ve known for years. And now everyone and their pets is marching through the door, acting crazy at me!”

Ackley shouted, loud as she could, straining her vocal cords to their limits. Her throat felt like it would burst and she was almost on the verge of tears. Her skin was flush with more color than it had boasted in years. She hated this, all of this! She would have preferred lounging in bed, doing nothing and feeling no emotion, to this sideshow going on. Cruciere took a few tentative steps back, avoiding eye contact with the furious little girl.

“I just think you are very intelligent, and I admire you, and I would like to take you out of this awful place.” Cruciere continued, growing ever more skittish. “You ill deserve this treatment!”

Ackley paused suddenly. Her pigtails rose a little as if they were antennae.

“Say that again? About me. Say what you just said to describe me.”

“I think you are very gifted. You remind me of myself!” Cruciere said.

“I’m gifted?” Ackley asked. “I’m just another kid who can’t amount to anything.”

“I don’t believe that at all.” Cruciere said. “You are a genius!” She neared Ackley once more, and delivered upon her head an alien gesture – it was a pat, a soft stroke of Cruciere’s palm over Ackley’s hair. Ackley felt lightning coursing under her skin, jolts of eerie sensation. She was being patted on the head?

“I have barely gone to school. I’ve been sick in a hospital forever. I’m not a genius.” Ackley said, scarcely able to blurt it out under the stunning, relaxing feeling of a genuine pat on the head.

“Who cares about school? I’m not going to rate your intellect on an A to F scale.'” Cruciere cheerfully said. “The amount of technical know-how and practical intellect you possess cannot be taught in schools! Especially not Ameran ones! Making a bomb out of junk might not be the noblest thing, but it shows potential!”

From the corner, Asmodeus clapped. It was not very cheerful.

For the first time in a long time, Ackley felt a great warmth spreading its way through the numb recesses of her body. Even after Dr. Cruciere had retracted her uncharacteristically kind hands from her head, Ackley could feel them playing with her hair. She lay back in bed, her eyes open wide and her mouth hanging slightly open, as she considered everything that had happened. A grown-up had praised her. An adult had patted her on the head and genuinely told her she was smart! It had even sounded kind and sweet and real! She had come to her hospital room and paid a visit, an unorthodox visit, but a visit nonetheless, and she offered praise, for her intelligence no less.

“Asmodeus, I take it back,” Ackley said, “you are a very good nurse.”

Asmodeus clapped again. It was still not very cheerful. She turned her back to the corner and walked back to the center of the room with renewed determination. She dusted off her maid uniform, adjusted her cap, and stood straight as a bolt again. “Though I am mostly unable to express it, I am elated to hear this, Ackley. I will now attempt to smile in order to prove this.” Asmodeus’ face then remained completely unchanged.

“She is a work in progress.” Dr. Cruciere said, patting Asmodeus on the head.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 7: Solipsism

While eagerly partaking of the academic essays in The Atrocities of the Ameran State, a book which could not even be found published in Amera but which Asmodeus owned a certified copy of, Ackley paused to watch her new, seemingly inhuman nurse as she hung a new schedule on the wall. Schedule papers contained a week’s worth of activities and appointments for the sick children, and helped bring order to their life in the hospital. Nurse always either forgot to put them up or did not fill any at all; Asmodeus was always prompt with them. Afterwards she gravitated toward the back table in the room, where she would ready Ackley’s doses for the week in a little blue box.

Ackley put down her book, turned slowly around, and slid herself to the edge of the bed. She wanted to read the schedule, but to do so she would have to stand up from her bed and walk.

Her feet touched the ground, and the chill of the cold, baby blue floor tiles traced its way up her legs and then across her spine. Long sleeping muscle and sinew resented the concept of feeling, and for a moment her whole body was wracked by a sharp prickling sensation. Her every movement seemed to flare up an intense stinging, like a mound’s worth of ants devouring her body. Slowly her flesh awakened and the phantom needles blunted against her skin. She nonetheless moved slowly, her lungs working hard, and dull pain settling in her lower back and across her knees.

Standing off her bed, Ackley moved slowly, shuffling her feet up to the wall. Her bedside liquid nitrogen extractor realized she was moving, and automatically began to extend the cords hooked into her lungs. Asmodeus was alerted, but Ackley silently waved her away, and focused on getting herself to the wall. One foot in front of the other, settling into a rhythm that kept her muscles from locking up or stopping, she crossed the few meters to the wall. She slumped on it, hands scratching the paint, desperate for a good grip. She caught her breath, and examined the schedule posted.

For a whole week, the schedule consisted of non-stop appointments with Dr. Ferguson.

Ackley looked it over again in disbelief, but this did nothing to alter its contents.

“Asmodeus, what is this?” She shouted, loud as her weak lungs could.

Asmodeus blinked. “It is the schedule for this week.”

“Why am I seeing Dr. Ferguson every hour of every day for a week?”

“You can ask her when she arrives in a few minutes.” Asmodeus replied.

“You mean ask him? Dr. Ferguson is a man.” Ackley said.

“It is entirely possible that he or she may or may not be one.” Asmodeus said.

“No, I’m fairly certain–”

The door slid open, and a tall, dark, elegant-looking woman entered. She had very long red hair, and she was tying it up a she went along, humming the hospital’s elevator music. When she entered the room she looked over the premises quickly and with a smug little grin on her face. Ackley had never seen the likes of her in all her very long time at the hospital. Ackley had to acquiesce that she looked more vivacious than the other doctors, to her credit. Her lab coat was clearly not hers, it was so overly large that she wore it almost like a cape over her turtleneck sweater, giving her the look of a pharmaceutical super heroine. Clipped to her flat skirt she had a variety of mysterious, sleek tools and devices. She had tied her hair in a ponytail with a very dishonest-looking pink ribbon. Her skin was a rich brown tone, and seemed all the more healthy and human after weeks of staring at the ghostly paleness of Asmodeus, and her own sickly gray-looking pallor.

“Who are you, and why do they keep letting people into my room?” Ackley said.

“I am Dr. Ferguson!” The woman declared, almost as if to herself.

“You are a liar.” Ackley said dryly. “I’ve seen Dr. Ferguson before, and you’re not him.”

Asmodeus interjected with feigned shock. “What is your basis for saying that?”

“She looks nothing like him. She is like a supermodel or something.” Ackley replied.

“Oh, you flatter me, I’m not that lovely.” Dr. Ferguson said. She hugged herself, reveling in the perfection of her own body. “I was just grown in a high quality vat with very good DNA.”

Ackley’s mind failed to comprehend what was said. All she could muster was a flat, “What.”

Asmodeus interjected again. “She is Dr. Ferguson. Drugs have affected your perception.”

Ackley scoffed. “My perception is entirely sound, Dr. Ferguson was my old doctor!”

Asmodeus nodded. “Drugs are affecting your perception right now.”

“No they aren’t, Asmodeus!” Ackley lashed out. “You’re trying to confuse me!”

“How can you say your judgment is sound? What is your basis for thinking anything is sound?” Dr. Ferguson said. With a flourish, she threw open the room curtains. “How can you say anything out there is structurally real? How do you define your own experiences with such clarity that you can definitely say that Dr. Ferguson has always been a big round man, and not a woman of impeccable breeding such as myself? How can anyone be certain of anything?”

“I’m scarcely thirteen years old!” Ackley said, her only defense at the time.

“Thirteen year olds! Hmph! Widely known for their solipsistic attitude. You will not even remember any of this when you are twenty-six. Memory is a fallible record. No use in a scientific substantiation of facts. You’ve no evidence as to whether I’m the real Dr. Ferguson, or some other Dr. Ferguson, or really Dr. Cruciere, or anything.”

“Did you just call yourself a different doctor name?” Ackley shouted.

“Can you say, with authority, that I have?” Dr. Cruciere said.

Ackley sighed deeply. “I can say with authority that I don’t care anymore.”

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 6: Chemicals

Ackley hid under her bed sheets and attempted to wait out the Rageditors, who seemed to content to lounge around her hospital room with the Nurse’s tacit approval to photograph her if she ever decided to stick her head out. People came in and out, ignoring the nurse and the strange visitors while delivering to Ackley supplies that she had requested when the Rageditor’s siege on her hospital room began. Her bed expanded from under those few blankets, with ice bags and pillows and boxes. It had grown into a powerful fortification. Not once did she allow the Rageditors to see her – that was their objective and she would deny it. She heard a cacophony of clicking and throbbing around the room as various cell phones and tablets and netbook computers delivered constant reports to Ragedit about the status of their epic meme operation. Every so often a pale little arm would extend from under the sheets and reach out to the machine next to the bed, and then reach back into the blanket fort. But that was all the satisfaction she would give them. This was a battle, and she was making preparations for a meme war of terrible proportion.

The first casualty of the siege, however, was her Nurse’s dignity.

“Ackley, the truth is,” the Nurse sighed, perhaps regretful of her hand in all of this, “the truth is, I’m a memer myself. In fact, I made some of those videos to score Ragedit karma. I’m telling you because I want to be real with you! I might even lose my job. My screen name is McNurse420. I wanted to be famous for memery!”

“You have an excruciating taste in usernames.” Ackley replied.

“Why, thank you! You see, Ackley, ever since I was a young nurse, reading Ragedit while bored on the job, I’ve dreamed of being a memetic success! I’ve been haunting Ragedit, trying to be on the ground floor of the next viral video or photo trend. But I’m just a boring average Ameran nurse, not like you! You’re special!”

“Being emotionally and physically isolated from the world is interesting, to be sure.”

“Yes, it is!” The Nurse sounded ecstatic. “I’m glad you understand.”

“I was being sarcastic.” Ackley murmured.

A drawling male voice grumbled from a corner of the room. Ackley could see its rather large outline even through the blankets of her fort. “McNurse, are we ever gonna get to see epic deadpan girl? The upvotes await! You told us we could score easy meme cred but we’ve been waiting for hours now. And all I’ve got to show for it are pictures of a really intricate pillow fort. Only 50 upvotes! I could have had thousands by now.”

“Just give me a moment, BigPony27,” the Nurse nervously said.

Ackley heard the distinctive shuffling of the Nurse’s shoes, and saw a shadow lean in.

And thus, the battle was joined.

From under one of the blankets she retrieved her secret weapon, a very cold and thick metal jug with a nozzle affixed to the top. She filled a small plastic medicine bottle with some the liquid inside the metal jug. As the hand neared, Ackley sprang from ambush, briefly extending her own arm and throwing out the bottle in retaliation. Her projectile struck the nurse on the shoulder harmlessly and bounced off to the ground. The Nurse sighed and picked it up, underestimating Ackley and believing it to be a childish act of rage. In an instant the bottle burst in the Nurse’s hand with a loud pop, giving off an awful smell and a large cloud of foul gasses. The Nurse screamed – wringing her hand in the air to relieve the pain. The snap from the bursting bottle would have hurt, but Ackley hoped it had not done much more.

“What was that? Ackley I demand to know!” The Nurse screamed. “You hurt my hand!”

“A small liquid nitrogen bomb.” Ackley replied through the shouting.

“Where did you get that?” The Nurse shouted. “Where did you get the nitrogen Ackley!”

Ackley was honestly surprised by the reaction.

“Have you been paying no attention to me at all? My disease, nurse! I produce close to half a gallon of this stuff every day just sitting around here wondering why I’m not dead yet! How could you possibly have been taking care of me for months now and you don’t even know what my disease entails?”

The Nurse grumbled loudly and ignored Ackley’s protest entirely, for the first time her demeanor turning quite foul. She stomped her way to the other side of the bed, examining the liquid nitrogen extractor hooked up to Ackley’s chest. All of the extractor was designed to keep the strange, watered-down and biologically produced liquid nitrogen from Ackley’s body cool enough to avoid danger. Special tubes drew the liquid from Ackley’s body, and pumped it through to a special container. It was currently empty, and it had been consistently emptied for the past few days. Doctors would have assumed it was the Nurse who emptied it diligently, in accordance to the hazardous medical waste disposal guidelines, but it was clear from her inspection the Nurse had no idea what the extractor was or what it really did. She poked it, and her figure crouched near it, and followed the various cables extending from it with her fingers.

“So from this, then? This is where you get that dangerous liquid?”

Her words sent a chill down Ackley’s spine.

“Don’t touch my extractor.” Ackley warned.

From under the pillow fort, Ackley withdrew a bottle, this time a glass bottle, and quickly reacted, filling it from the jug and then corking it. She hastily donned a gas mask and then raised her hand out of the fort and rolled this new bomb off her bed as gently as she could – it landed without shattering and continued to roll blindly out to the back of the room, where the congress of Rageditors was convened. In a few moments its temperature was spiraling out of control. One of the Rageditors then screamed in agony as the liquid nitrogen inside the bottle quickly expanded in a terrible explosion, sending shards of glass flying, showering his party of meme masters with debris and covering them in a cloud of the rapidly expanding gases, odorless and yet unbreathable. From under Fort Ackley it was difficult to acquire visual confirmation, but the thundering boots and the cries for help seemed indicative of the enemy’s retreat. Behind them went the Nurse, crying for them to wait and return, for the memes would be epic, epic with a “le,” if only they gave her a chance.

This was the last time Ackley saw that particular Nurse.

Regardless, Ackley felt a disturbing amount of pleasure having driven back the forces of memery, and crossed a few of the more macabre items from her bucket list, such as “Win A War” and “Unleash Hell.” New nurses came and went with the days and nights, but they were not the Nurse, and they were not a new Nurse. They tore down her pillow fort, though amicably, and removed her Liquid Nitrogen paraphernalia. Despite this they were quite preferable to the Nurse. The new nurses came and went in their little white dresses and aprons and their little white caps, ostensibly some other patients’ nurses who were taking care of necessary tasks for Ackley. They did all the things Nurse used to do, helping her change clothes, bringing her food – and they scarcely made any insensitive small talk or forgot her condition.

Ackley thought she finally had time and space to contemplate the meaning of her life, and what she really wanted out of it, if she could have a future. But she came up blank. She was an incredibly intelligent person, but the concept of a future was still very difficult for her to grasp. In many ways she was a child, and she thought that perhaps children simply, intrinsically, could not comprehend the terrible vastness involved in their future, and the planning of it. Doctors had given her a very short timetable, and she had exceeded it several times. It was difficult to construct a position in such a limited universe – the four walls and the nurses and the extractor offered her little chance of development.

Blissful as it was, this period of quiet meditation was soon over, as Ackley received a new Nurse. At first it seemed like she was just another temporary visitor, but soon she began showing up at all hours of the day. This nurse was young, younger even than Nurse, and fairly blueish and pale, with red eyes, and her very pale hair tied into a ponytail. She had introduced herself in an alarming way, which led Ackley to believe she might be another memer trying to score points.

“I am Asmodeus. I’m not really human, so forgive my mistakes.”

Ackley frowned. She sat up and tried to raise her shoulders and to cross her arms to look tough.

“My name is Ackley Hermes. I’m the enemy of Memes. I will destroy all Memes and Memers.”

This provoked no reaction from the new Nurse. Asmodeus had a blank expression similar to her own, neither frowning, nor smiling, with her eyes not too wide open and not too closed shut, and her brows in a neutral position. Ackley’s declaration of unending war on Memes passed by Asmodeus with as little reaction as if someone had merely told her the date – and as such Ackley decided Asmodeus was not a memer. She was some kind of monster.

Over the course of the next few days, Ackley scrutinized everything Asmodeus did.

She went about her tasks mechanically. Nurse had often hummed or sang crude lyrics while working, but Asmodeus did nothing of the sort, taking to her work with an eerie quiet that suggested either intense focus, or the inhuman and off-hand expertise of a construct. Asmodeus did nothing but the exact things required at a particular moment. Her day was as though plotted out entirely in her mind, down to the microseconds worth of blinking her eyes.

Ackley felt unsettled, but she could not complain. Asmodeus was perfect. Nurse sometimes ate in the room, but Ackley was not even sure Asmodeus breathed, and she certainly never ate in her presence. Asmodeus wore her nurse uniform pristinely and carried herself with precision. Her every step was perfect, as she walked along the room tiles her feet would take the same position in each successive tile. As she picked up different medicine bottles in succession, she would hold all of them at the same, exact angle while pouring their contents for Ackley to drink.

Meal time with Nurse had always been a struggle – Nurse was clumsy and slow when she attempted to feed Ackley, and sometimes even ate some of the food herself while Ackley chewed. Asmodeus was exact, delivering spoonfuls of soup and forks of crisp vegetables, waiting just enough for Ackley to eat, and never missing an opportunity to offer her a drink to wash it down before the next spoon or fork. She did not complain and she did not falter. The food always arrived hot, she made sure of it; and she always managed to acquire the rare buttered cafeteria bread buns that Nurse always forgot, and then blamed on faster nurses and the long lines and the needs of other children.

Whenever Asmodeus helped her change robes Ackley thought she felt a clammy, dead touch, but this was so utterly brief as to be an illusion – that cold touch, in the span it took to register it, would become a warm and comforting embrace that a brief graze of flesh could not possibly have imparted. Yet the endorphins still rushed, as though Asmodeus had cast an enchanting spell over her by doing nothing but briefly brushing her nape with her fingers.

Soon, however, she found she was not the only one paying close attention.

“Inquiry.”

Asmodeus often said this to broach a topic.

“Yes?” Ackley replied.

“I have now observed you for close to a week and analyzed various factors. I believe that you are missing a key component of your corporate hospital experience, which I as a true Nurse-Laborer unit working at this corporate hospital unit, and not as an infiltrator of any kind, must insure to you, customer and corporate medicine client, in order to uphold my appearance as a true Nurse-Laborer unit–”

Ackley sighed. “Yes, you are some kind of spy robot, I understand. Ask your question.”

“What do you do, for leisure?”

“I concentrate on not being in pain.” Ackley replied. “I’m on medications for pain, so it works. I also have a bucket list I fill out. I sometimes play video games. People donate video games to the Hospital a few times a year. But they’re often earmarked for kids besides me who need them more. Sometimes the Hospital doesn’t really have certain medicines, and nobody really donates that, so they give the children video games instead.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“For the last few months I have been constantly harassed by idiots.”

“Would you enjoy reading printed academic literature? I have a vast library at my storage unit.”

“Do you mean your home?” Ackley replied.

“My storage unit, yes.”

“I would be mildly interested in some foreign philosophy works.” Ackley said.

She had little hope that this would happen. After all, Nurse had promised several times to bring her child-safe, ideologically approved literature like Larry Merchant And The Chamber of Profits, but always failed to do so for one reason or another. Nonetheless she wrote a few titles and topics and left it up to Asmodeus, almost entirely forgetting the exchange, which she was sure would evaporate overnight. However, the next day Asmodeus deposited a copy of Revolutionary Ideals of the Poccnan Republics at her bedside before beginning her day’s work; once she had read this book, Asmodeus delivered an extra buttered bun and a copy of The Ultimate Downfall of Capital. Days later, at Ackley’s request, Asmodeus printed several SneakyLeaks pages and stapled them into a hand-made book of state secrets.

It was this final act that seemed to confirm all of Ackley’s suspicions.

“Are you a Communist robot?” Ackley asked. “Are you here so I can defect?”

“I’m more of a fungus.” Asmodeus replied, and ignored the latter question.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 5: Memes

Ackley had hoped for a few, perhaps final, weeks of peace after being acquitted of her terrorism charges by the Department of Departments. Instead she discovered that children’s hospitals had a domineering attitude toward the terminally ill patients housed within them, and especially so if they had been on television for a high profile investigation.

For a few days, Ackley had come close to stardom. During the investigation of Agent Winchester, various people realized her existence and had come to shine very bright uncomfortable lights on her and stick a hydra-like assortment of microphones and cables very close to her face, forcing her to button up her shirts all the way, redo her messy, long pigtails and keep herself seated upright, a titanic effort after years of slouching. There was a barrage of questions. A Hound News reporter asked her why she hated Amera, and she explained a few facts, such as the prison population as a form of neo-slavery, which were ignored. A GNN reporter wondered how sad and miserable her existence was, to which she responded with indifference. A tabloid reporter who climbed up the side of the hospital and broke through her window with a pair claws asked if Ackley’s disease was real, to which she replied that it was by screaming for help, and in this act, coughing some liquid nitrogen on his face.

“You’re a sensation Ackley!” The Nurse had gleefully told her. She had come in one day with a mischievous expression and passed her smartphone to Ackley, where she discovered various memetic Memetube videos featuring her likeness and sound bites, taken from the news. Many auto-tuned her voice and looped footage of her blank and diffident mannerisms while a plethora of flashing, colorful light filters endangered the epileptics in the audience.

“what the fuq name for a girl is Ackely,” Ackley said, reading the top comment on a video.

“Oh don’t fret, they don’t mean any harm by it.” The Nurse had said.

“Is this what it feels like, to be ‘trolled’.” Ackley asked.

“I suppose so. I have never been trolled. But I am young still, so there will be time.” The Nurse gazed admiringly into space, as though relishing the thought of being trolled, on the internet.

Ackley on the other hand felt very little in the way of stimuli, negative or positive, as she read the various Ragedit threads where she’d been lovingly rendered in Rage comics. It was difficult to feel things when her lungs, and a few other organs, might be freezing over soon. Or at least, that was her perspective on it. However, in her limited emotional range Ackley did manage to hold a bit of contempt for the memetic process, and tried her best to ignore it. Surely, she was not becoming a sensation. Just the source of a few laughs, for a few reprobates. She resolved to pursue her bucket list in peace.

However, over the next few weeks, The Nurse grew ever more motherly toward Ackley.

“Ackley, I fear that you may be growing antisocial.”

The Nurse hovered over Ackley’s bed with a look of most grievous concern.

“That is fine. I’m not altogether sure I like society.” Ackley replied.

“That is exactly what I feared. Our little shining star needs to cheer up.”

Ackley shuddered. “To whom do you refer by ‘our’, and to what do you refer to by ‘star’?”

“Well, the children’s hospital has received a lot of donations and attention from people concerned about you. I believe that it is my duty as your Nurse, and the hospital’s duty to the donors who love and cherish you, to insure you have a fulfilling life here. It would not do for Epic D– I mean, you, Ackley, to be miserable here.”

“What were you about to say there?” Ackley asked sharply.

“Nothing!” The Nurse waved her hands. “Are you sad, Ackley? You are always so blank and pale. I’ve never seen you frown, but I’ve also never seen you smile. You’re always so deadpan.”

“I don’t feel anything right now other than mild annoyance.”

“Do you think maybe some antidepressants would cheer you up?” The Nurse pulled out a tube from her pocket and shook it like a maraca in front of Ackley’s face, smiling pleasantly at the offered temptations. Inside the tube were bright, colored bubblegum orbs laced with children’s antidepressants. “They come in yummy flavors!”

“I have the best antidepressant already, Nurse. Your presence.” Ackley said.

The Nurse’s face turned very red, and she shied away from Ackley. “Oh, Ackley!”

Ackley produced her bucket list from under her pillow and marked off an item.

“That was sarcasm.” She then declared. But the Nurse was too lost in her own elation.

The world seemed to grow ever more interested in her. A Child Psychologist on staff came and asked her questions, such as whether she loved Amera and whether it was okay for this information to be divulged to the Department of Departments. Ackley attempted to explain the failure of austerity politics and the growth of privatization of services as a means to syphon wealth and benefits from lower-income persons to the rich, but the Psychologist told her she was silly and did not have a college degree, so she should not speak about such things. After his departure, a Child Biochemist wandered in the next day and examined the machine cycling the nitrogen out of her body. He drew a sample from its nitrogen pack, examined it, and tasted it, and collapsed, screaming and thrashing, bleeding from his nose, and prompting more staff to invade the room and rush the man to an adult hospital before his throat froze. A Child Calendar Photographer then appeared and took various images of Ackley for a fundraising calendar. Then Ackley hid permanently under her blankets.

“Ackley, you’re being unreasonable now.” The Nurse said.

“I’m not coming out.” Ackley said, covered in her blankets like a ghost. “I can’t even imagine who is next. A Child Economist from the staff will come debate me about my austerity comments? A Child Zoologist will burst from the aether and declare me a new species of homynid before eating some of my pocket lint and dying? I’m done with you all.”

“I apologize about the photographer.” The Nurse said. “I thought that was a little creepy.”

“Your capacity to undertake social analysis is simply monumental.”

“Why, thank you!”

Ackley grit her teeth and clenched her fists. “That, too, was sarcasm.”

“I have some visitors for you, however! They’re friends of mine from the website Ragedit!”

“Oh, please no.”

From inside her blanket and pillow armor, Ackley heard the tramping of boots, and the shifting of body mass into the cramped doorway, and clicking of smartphone cameras. She heard belabored breathing and strange, alien chuckling, barely contained.

“Is that her? Is that Le Epic Deadpan Girl?” They asked.

“Please don’t call her that.” The Nurse pleaded. “Call her Ackley Hermes.”

“I’m issuing a vote of no confidence in you, Nurse.” Ackley said, bundling herself tighter.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 4: Arc Cards

John Winchester’s earplugs had proven very useful for the next few days as the authorities converged on Ackley’s hospital room, and all of the powers at be tried to understand what had gone wrong with John Winchester, whose Quipper, username “Killa Kop 420,” had gone under much scrutiny in the days to follow. Media reports disagreed on the true extent of his daddy issues and why he would make it such a personal mission to scare a little sick girl who may or may have not built a chemical weapon and killed a very very rich man; which was a serious thing to do, and they did not disagree that it was very serious, but not worth scaring a sick little girl – except Hound News, who thought it was quite worth it and should become policy.

Through all this, Ackley laid on her bed and ignored everything.

“You’ve got mail, Ackley!”

The Nurse danced into the hospital room holding a shimmering silver envelope in her hands, skipping her feet and spinning like a ballerina before depositing the note on Ackley’s bedside. She knelt over the bed, blinking her eyes expectantly, eagerly waiting for the little gray girl to pick up the letter and rip it open from the side. It was official postage from the Department of Departments, with the official sigil, a golden, pyramidical eye. The Nurse nodded her head and clapped her hands to cheer her on, and Ackley read the letter as loud as her small, liquid nitrogen-filled lungs allowed her to–

Esteemed Citizen Ackley Hermes,

The Department of Departments regrets the unfortunate harassment you received from Agent John Winchester. He has since been disciplined in accordance with state agent reeducation policies, and will be sending you a personal letter of apology when he awakens from his coma.

The Department of Departments’ “Grievous Miscarriage of Justice” department has sentenced Fulton Handler for the crimes of lying to authorities, failing to report a terrorist action and failing to supervise a child using weapons of mass destruction, and all charges against you have been dropped. All charges against the Ladybird were also dropped, by Presidential request. We thank you for your patience in this matter.

As a token of our sincere apology, included is a McDowell’s Arc Card worth 10 amero. The Department of Departments recommends the Shrapnel Shake and the McManhood Burger.

–Leidela Aristotle Sixtus, Department of Departments GMJ Department

Ackley removed the tiny blue and silver gift card from the envelope and stared at it wanly.

“I can’t eat McDowell’s food.” Ackley said matter-of-factly.

The Nurse nodded. “It would be very bad for your health.”

She put her hands on her hips and struck a disapproving pose, then snatched the card out of Ackley’s hands.

“I will have to confiscate this then, for your health of course. Sorry, Ackley.”

The Nurse patted Ackley’s head half-heartedly and marched sternly away, stiff and straight like a soldier. When the automatic door to the room closed behind her, Ackley could still see her through the small square window on the door; the Nurse was jumping up and down, dancing, swinging the card overhead to show off her prize, and shaking her hips.

Passing nurses and doctors looked on with jealousy or disdain or embarrassment, Ackley could not tell. Instead, she reached behind her pillow for her bucket list and pen, and flipped the pages to find a particular list item, Be Preyed Upon By The System.

She checked the box next to it, and then laid down to nap.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 3: Homeland Temerity

An awkward silence befell Ackley’s hospital room. Without the putrescent sounds of the Shaggs turning their minds to jelly, everything settled around Ackley’s bed once again. Agent Winchester sat by her bedside, while the Nurse spoke with a policeman outside about pressing charges against him for assault. With the impending lawsuit and the pressure of his current mission, the agent looked worse for wear. His hair was a mess, his suit had been stained orange, white and green down the front and was still wet with foam, and his pants had ripped down between the buttocks from twitching so violently on the floor. He stared over his shoulder anxiously, and when the Nurse was facing his way, he’d stare back to Ackley. In the process of doing this he’d sometimes raise his hands as though to throttle her neck.

“Go away.” Ackley said, staring sharply at him. “You’re mean and gross.”

“Miss Hermes,” Agent Winchester withdrew a handkerchief and pressed it against his chest, and it wetted through with foam and excretions and stuck to his chest like a black patch, “I know you were the architect of the explosion that killed Mr. Fairway. I have witnesses, Miss Hermes, and Fairway was a man with a lot of money, and we can’t let little children just go around and kill men who have lots of money, that is not how Amera works.”

“I have the right to remain silent.” Ackley said.

“Homeland Security is aware that you used your Wish-A-Wish Foundation Wish to trick the Ladybird into helping you build a rocket, Miss Hermes. We know Ladybird broke into ASAN to steal a rocket for you. We tried to arrest her but she can punch through walls and cough acid. You can’t, so I’m gonna arrest you.”

“I have the right to remain silent.” Ackley said. A lot of interrogation tricks preyed on one’s silence and the inherent desire to respond to the belligerence of the interrogator, even to assert innocence. They attempted to extract even a simple tidbit out of one’s anxious and hasty words. Instead, Ackley kept repeating the same thing, her right to remain silent. This staved off the temptation to speak words which might have been more incriminating.

Agent Winchester bared and grit his teeth. “While the Ladybird and the Nurse present at the time are both refusing to testify and their statement is that they saw nothing, Mr. Handler has stepped forward to testify against you. While there are conflicts of interest due to his monetary ties with Mr. Fairway–”

Ackley smiled and interrupted. “I have the right to remain silent.”

Agent Winchester bolted to a stand and threw back his chair.

“No you don’t Ackley!” He shouted, stomping his feet. “You don’t have any right but to go in a cell forever, god damn it, look at this badge,” he ripped open his puke-stained suit and withdrew a puke-stained bronze badge with an eagle on it, “look at this cool badge. It means you’re going to jail forever you little brat!”

“I’m medically unfit to stand trail.” Ackley said. “You’d be convicting a middle schooler who can’t stand up from her bed because her lungs are full of liquid nitrogen. I might die on the stand.”

She pointed to the machine by her bedside, collecting all of the liquid nitrogen in her lungs.

“That’s impossible!” Agent Winchester said. “That’s not a real disease Ackley! You’re a liar and a terrorist. You’re a liarrist! I’m going to get you convicted of medical fraud as well!”

Ackley shifted a little on her bed and pulled aside her pillows. Under them was a little brown manila folder. She handed this to Agent Winchester. Though he looked as though he wanted to rip it up dramatically, his agent training was inescapable – the sanctity of little brown manila folders had to be respected. If an Agent could not respect a little brown manila folder and its contents, then the system would break down entirely; he grit his teeth, and he read. He looked over the pages, and the x-rays. Between pages that were particularly bizarre he would raise his head to stare at the little gray-looking girl. She would wave politely at him, and he would reread the same pages. He handed back the folder.

“So. It appears you are medically unfit to stand trial.” Agent Winchester said.

“I am.” Ackley replied.

“So. So. I can’t– So.” The left side of his face started to stretch up, and his eyes twitched.

“You can leave now. You lost. And you’re still gross.” Ackley said.

Agent Winchester’s legs shook out from under him, and he fell to the ground writhing and thrashing.

“No dad!” He shouted, holding his head in his hands and bitting savagely at his own tongue while beating his face against the floor. “I’m not a failure! I’m not a failure! I’ve got a cool badge dad, I’m a cool agent man dad! This is way better than being some pansy software engineer dad. FUCK YOU DAD. AAAAAAAH!”

Ackley covered her ears, Agent Winchester’s disturbing shrieks reverberating in her head. Her hands quickly proved an inadequate shield as his shrieking and bashing grew more violent. The screaming and crying, the crunching of bone and splashing of blood was growing intolerably loud. She cast eyes around the room desperately and finally picked up the earplugs still sitting on her bedside drawer. She applied them and savored the blessed silence.