Oh Lord

It took me a while to realise anything was wrong.

At first I thought my perception of time was a bit off; it wouldn’t have been the first time. I started feeling hungry, but I thought I was just getting hungry early. It had happened before, and the Foundation was usually so punctual.

I was getting a bit confused, but I decided to finish one of the books they’d given me. It was about someone getting stranded on another planet, and having to survive there. Very on the nose. I liked the protagonist well enough; he was quite creative and it got him out of multiple near-death situations.

I finished it a while later, and nobody came to juice me. It wasn’t a short book, either. I was getting really tired; it was probably hours past my bedtime. This struck me as odd, because they were usually very punctual, so I stood up and went up to the observation window. The connected room was empty, not even a guard keeping an eye on me. That was absolutely not normal.

It was getting hard to keep my eyes open, so I decided to sleep and think about it more once I woke up. They were probably just busy, right? I was probably going to be woken up in an hour or two to get juiced. No big deal. So I lay down on my mattress and went to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of something sliding on linoleum. I sat up and found that my room was still empty; it sounded like the noise was coming from outside my room. I pressed my ear to the door to see if I could pick up on anything else, and heard footsteps - a lot of them. But it didn’t sound quite right, like they were all limping or stumbling. It was hard to tell how many of them there were, but I estimated something like six or seven bipedal entities.

I raised my fist to knock on the door to get their attention when I heard an awful groaning sound come from the other side of it.

“Shh! Haven’t I told you to be quiet?” someone whispered. The voice was eerie and echoed as if someone were speaking into a metal tube. It reminded me of something I’d heard before, but that couldn’t be right.

Many things were wrong here. I elected to back away from the door and sit down. I glanced at the pile of books beside my bed; I’d read most of them at least once, but it seemed like a good time to ignore what was going on in the hall and try out a new author.

After two chapters, I went back to the door and listened. It was silent. I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved; I now had proof that there were still people in this building, but from what I could hear, nothing was… human. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be alone in the monotony of my cell and know what to expect – mostly, the way I behave surprises me sometimes – or have company and be in potential danger. Both were bad options.

For then, I decided to stay in the apparent safety of my room. Maybe I couldn’t get out, but nothing could get in, right? I’d seen the locks they use on the doors.

I picked up my book again and continued reading it. I would figure out what to do later; right now, I was going to read about robots.

I was at the part where the humans got trapped on a control-less spaceship when I heard a loud thunk - the maglocks on my door had disengaged. I rapidly made a mental note of the page and put the book down. This meant someone was here to get me, right? That was the only thing this could mean. Nobody else had access to whatever they’d used to unlock these doors.

I heard footsteps; heavy, either booted or heeled— it was hard to tell, but it was definitely not Foundation footwear— quickly moving away from the door. These weren’t the limping footsteps from earlier, they were sharp and calculated. I stood tentatively and was hit with a bout of lightheadedness. My vision went almost black and my head felt fuzzy. I swayed on my feet and bumped into a wall; I used it to slide down into a sitting position.

Oh shit. Maybe I should work on getting food.

Once I could see again, I slowly stood up and leaned against the wall until I felt steady enough to get to the door. I pushed on it, and it swung open into the hallway. A chemical smell hit me, with some hints of… herbs? Probably some Earth variant of the flora from my planet. It was an odd juxtaposition.

The hallway was empty, as far as I could see. Whoever unlocked the door didn’t appear to be waiting for me. So they weren’t here to get me; then why had they unlocked the door?

Part of me wanted to know who it was, part of me wanted to run the opposite direction, and part of me wanted to stay in my room for, well, forever. But the latter wasn’t an option; I didn’t want my body to cannibalise itself trying to keep me alive. What I needed to do was find the hospital, because chances were that they’d still have some of my juice in that room they kept me in.

I took one last long look at my room, completely empty save books in a neat stack next to my mattress on the floor. This would be the first time I left any of my rooms voluntarily. I realised that once the door closed, I probably wouldn’t be able to get back in. That terrified me; I hated my room, but it was the only semi-familiar thing in this entire place. It constantly sucked, but what mattered is that it was constant. I knew what to expect. Beyond that? Nothing.

I made myself continue into the hallway. It was the only way I would survive whatever the hell was going on. The door swung shut with a thunk. A huge spike of anxiety surfaced knowing that I no longer had access to my room, but I balled my hands into fists and forced myself to breathe.

It was time to pick a direction. According to my memory, the hospital was to the right. That was also the direction the footsteps went. I considered going to the left and looping around to the hospital from a different side, but then it occurred to me how bad of an idea that was; I had no clue what the layout of the building was, or if it would even loop around in the first place. The only sensible way to go was the path they’d taken me before.

So, despite not really wanting to run into the mystery person, I went to the right.

A surprising number of doors were unlocked. I had almost no problems taking the route I remembered, until I encountered a locked door that didn’t appear to have any alternate unlocked routes. I ended up wandering for some time, and got completely lost along the way. So, that was really bad.

I was about to turn around again when an acrid smell hit me. It was similar to the chemical one from before in the hall, but more acidic, and it burned to breathe in. Then I felt as if my hairs were standing on end; a deep sense of dread washed over me. The smell got stronger, and I had the feeling of being watched.

An excruciating headache began to blossom inside my skull. The dread intensified. Someone’s eyes were burning into me. Slowly, I turned around.

A humanoid was standing not 10 meters down the hall. The second my eyes met their face, whispers took over my brain, urging, begging me to come closer.

I took a step. Their face was a pale grey, gleaming in the light. Black tears streaked down their cheeks. I took a step. Their head and chest were soaked in the same black. Their hands weren’t much more than mangled stubs. I took a step. Flesh hung in chunks from their neck. I could see sections of bones and glistening, blackened organs peeking out from their front. I took a step. The whispering was getting louder. I was only five meters away but it was far too much. I took a step. I needed to be closer. I took a step. They looked happy, amused, laughing. I took a step. Their face was handsome, perfect, unmarred by the dark fluid dripping out of the eyes and mouth. I took a step. I wanted to hold it. I took a step. I needed to hold it. I took a step. I needed to put it on my face. I took a step. I was right next to the humanoid. I reached out to touch the beautiful mask.

Pain hammered through my brain and my legs wobbled underneath me. Searing agony exploded in my hands as I dug my fingers into the degrading flesh to pry the piece of art out of its muddy grasp.

Thoughts swirled in my head, none of them mine. It was completely inundating and my tunnel vision darkened by the second. I freed the gorgeous visage, and the humanoid collapsed on top of me. I fell, and the grey beauty tumbled from my hands, sliding across the floor, out of my reach. The degrading carcass pinned me to the ground and I found myself unable to breathe as the burning from my hands suddenly spread to my front. The mask screamed at me to put it on, put it on, put it on, and I extended my arm as far as I could in its direction but the searing had my consciousness in a chokehold and I slowly faded away.

I became vaguely aware that I was awake. It felt like my brain had been scraped out of my skull and mashed back in.

I managed to open my eyes. I found that I was laying down in a familiar room, and it took me a minute to place it, but I realised that this was the hospital room I had been trying to reach.

What happened?

There was that mask… the mask I had to put on… why did I have to put it on?

I looked down. I was in a bed, wearing a hospital gown with a blanket over me. I wriggled my arms out from under the blanket; my hands were wrapped in bandages, and I was pretty sure so was my chest. I tried to sit up, but pain electrified my nerves and I blacked out.

When I regained consciousness, I noticed an IV drip hanging by the bed and I had that leaking feeling in my chest that meant it was pumping fluid into me. The blanket was tucked back in, but this time my hands were free. I noticed a chair next to the bed, positioned as if someone had sat in it to watch me.

I realised with newfound lucidity that someone was actively keeping tabs on me. The same person from the hallway? That was unlikely. Especially if it was who I thought it was… but, no, that would be too much of a coincidence.

That thing with the mask was… strange. I’d never felt a compulsion like that before. It was like my life was going to end if I didn’t put it on. That was so unlike me.

The black substance all over it was also unlike anything I'd ever seen. It looked like it was turning the humanoid to goop, breaking it down. Would that have happened to me if I had put the mask on? Why didn’t I think about that? Why had I touched the mask in the first place?

I stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of my actions. It felt like something else had completely taken over my mind, which was rather absurd. The more I thought about it, the more distressed I grew, and I began to try to remove my blankets so that I could get up.

Much to my alarm, I couldn't grasp anything, as my hands had been bandaged into closed fists. I fumbled around like an idiot before something warm touched my shoulders, then began to slide down my arms.

"Shh, it's alright. You're safe now," a voice murmured somewhere behind and above me.

Dark hands pulled the blankets back on top of me, then went back to my shoulders. Their thumbs gently stroked the gown covering my skin, and I let out the breath I was holding.

Once the panic had worn off, fatigue hit me hard. I wanted to stay awake, but every blink got heavier and heavier, until I finally didn’t blink again and I drifted back under.

I woke with a start to a raw, stinging feeling all over my chest. My eyes shot open, and I saw someone leaning over me. Alarmed, I bolted upright, which made the stinging even worse. The person placed their hands on my shoulders and lowered me back onto the bed.

“Easy now. You’re okay,” they said in a voice that I had most definitely heard before.

“Wh-what- I don’t- who-” I stammered, trying to make out their face. I could tell it wasn’t human from the elongated, aquiline shape.

“I’m changing your bandages. I apologise for the discomfort.”

My eyes focused and I realised with shock that, yes, that was indeed him.

Holy shit, what the fuck is going on?

“How- What? You’re…” my mouth tried and failed to catch up with my brain.

“I understand that you may have many questions. I can try to answer them, in time. Right now, you must rest.”

I tried to sit up again and he gently pushed me back down.

“Lie down. I am not done changing your bandages.”

The scent of blood and alcohol set off urgent signals in my pattern-seeking brain. Through bleary eyes, I looked down and saw my chest was raw, shiny with blood; it looked like something had eaten at the skin. A touch of panic set in; my hearts began to race, and I took quick breaths, tense.

The Doctor shifted away from me, and my chest felt cold, then my body became heavy. My head felt fuzzy, but calm, and I relaxed against the bed.

“Do not be afraid,” he said, “I am helping you.”

I nodded. He started wrapping fresh bandages around my chest; the light touches and slight constricting made my skin prickle, and I had a sudden urge to move. He removed the encasing bandages on my hands, revealing thinner ones underneath that were tinged blue and glistening slightly. As if of their own accord, my hands drifted up to the Doctor, reaching for his beaklike appendage. I wanted to feel the texture of it– I just wanted to touch something.

My fingertips made brief contact with his face and he grasped my wrists, pulling them back down. I left small streaks of blood, but I wasn’t worried. I was rather ecstatic, if anything.

“I didn’t think I would see you again,” I said, eyes unfocused.

“These are unfortunate circumstances, but I am glad to see you again.” Glad to see me? I smiled. I couldn’t remember a single time someone had been glad to see me, he was so nice!

“What happened to me?” It was hard to get my mouth to do things; all of the moving parts were fuzzy.

The Doctor inhaled and exhaled slowly, then started carefully, “Dỳo has a disgusting sense of humour. He is sadistic, and devoid of morals.”

That didn’t answer my question, but I wasn't in a mood to care all that much. “You know each other?” It occurred to me that it was rude to ask, but I wasn’t controlling my mouth.

“Regrettably.” He paused. “He’s cruel, and you’ve had enough cruelty.”

I thought that was pretty kind of him to say.

“Everything is alright now, though, I'll be sure to keep that horrible person far away from you.” The Doctor patted my arms, and a happy noise left my throat. I reached up and touched his forearms with their long exam gloves, the healing skin tearing at my knuckles as I tried to grasp what my hand wouldn't fit around.

He slid our palms together and laced his fingers through mine. "Just… let me take care of you for now, alright?"

“Okay.” I believed him, for some reason. A faraway thought was trying to tell me how weird that was, but everything was weird. Even my stomach felt weird… oh wait, I didn’t have a stomach. But I felt woozy… “What happened to the Foundation?” I slurred.

“Ah, yes. You probably have a great deal of confusion about that. How should I explain it? Well, a few days ago, something descended upon mankind. A great Curing, I surmise. One moment, these halls were wracked with the stench of human life. The next, a mere whisper remained. I was lucky enough to have a spare keycard tucked away, and I was therefore able to vacate my room to search the halls. There were corpses strewn about the corridors, with no apparent cause of death. I… I gravitated towards you. Cleaned up— uh, cured— the bodies around your cell.” He looked away solemnly. “Human bodies tend to get ugly when they decompose, that’s all.”

It was too many words, too fast, but I caught the part about getting rid of bodies. So that I wouldn’t have to see them! Woow.

“So that was you, back in the hall?”

“I need to reapply bandages to your hands.”

He withdrew his hands from mine, then started to undo the bandages from one of my wrists. The stinging feeling was back, and I made a face as he removed the cotton cloth from the rather unsightly wounds.

“That kinda hurts,” I mumbled.

“Ah, ne t’inquiètes pas.” The Doctor reached for a table that I didn’t realise was beside us. It had a pile of blue-soaked bandages and a black bag. He reached into the latter, procuring a blunt syringe and a vial. The syringe was attached to a needleless T connector on the IV line, and he pressed down on the piston. I felt that cold feeling again– had he injected something before? I was so tipsy, I couldn’t remember.

He continued working on the bandages, and before he was done, my hands had stopped hurting. Which was good, because I really wanted to touch things. But he kept holding my wrists!

“Why did you unlock my door?”

“Well, I…” He paused. “I wanted to give you the choice to leave.” The Foundation certainly never gave me that choice. Immediate bonus points for him.

“Thanks.” I realised I was feeling really tired– fighting-to-keep-my-eyelids-up kind of tired. As I drifted back into unconsciousness, the Doctor pulled the blankets up over me. If it wasn’t impossible, I would have sworn he was smiling.

The good thing about my memories returning: it helped me make sense of the world, and how my life had come to be how it was.

The bad thing about my memories returning: there was a reason I lost them. There was a reason my brain made me forget.

I woke up with an unreasonable amount of adrenaline after a particularly bad nightmare. It was blurry, like I was drowning in my own mind; loud, like wind screaming through my ears; terrifying, like I was being swallowed whole. I found myself gasping for air, unable to tell up from down, dizzy and shaking all over.

Once I came back down to Earth, I ripped out my IV and slid off of the bed. Standing was an arduous task, but I made my way to the door anyway. Opening it was hard – it was heavy, and being in this planet’s weak gravity had made my muscles atrophy some. (Reversely, I had very painfully gotten shorter. Or at least, had since I first came into the Foundation's custody. I suspected it was because I had decompressed in space, so being in gravity again compacted my bones more or something.) I stumbled out into the hall and started walking. I didn’t know where I was going – I just needed to move.

I felt gross, like I had a layer of grime caked on me. A shower sounded good, really good. I had no clue where I would find one, however, because the Foundation was… oh. There was a floor plan on the wall that I hadn’t seen. My head still felt like a fishbowl.

Navigating to the bathing facility was sort of hard. I repeat: fishbowl head. I had a migraine, an ache in my temples, and was still dizzy. Eventually I got there, and entered the small room. It was tiled from floor to ceiling, all white, sterile, and empty save for a few informational signs.

I closed the door and started to take off the hospital gown, immediately struggling with the special closure. There were snaps, which was (a) the utmost superior form of gown; it actually closed at the back instead of having those horrible gaps, and also lay flat instead of getting weirdly bunched, and (b) extremely difficult to get out of as the person wearing it. I was pretty sure the difficulty was intentional design, in case there was a loose cannon that was strongly opposed to keeping their gown on. Still, I was easily frustrated, and it took a lot of awkward arm angles to undo all of the snaps.

The fabric slid down my shoulders, revealing ample bandages around my upper body. Presumably that was where the acidic corpse’s head had fallen, and where the majority of the ooze had gotten onto me.

I took off the bandage clips, then undid the bandages. There was a kind of salve spread over the wounds, which had appeared to heal at a much faster rate than was typical for me. They had gone from completely raw to being scabbed, with some new skin forming around the edges. To be fair, I also didn’t know how long I had been out, but it couldn’t have been weeks. Probably.

My arms came out of the sleeves of the gown, and it dropped to the floor, pooling around my feet. I realised the socks I was wearing were different from the ones that were part of my Foundation uniform (white jumpsuit, white socks). They were the ones from the hospital, which made sense, but I was embarrassed that the Doctor had seen my gross alien feet. It was just another thing that made me different from the inhabitants of this planet. Although, the lack of organs, blue blood, extra heart, and weirdly patterned irises might have given it away.

I took off the socks, as well as my underwear, and stepped towards the part of the room with a drain and shower head. There was simply a button, no settings to adjust the water– I pressed it, and cold water came out. I clenched my jaw and stepped under it, feeling the temperature of my body slowly decrease. It cleared my head, though, forcing me to wake up and focus on what was happening right now, instead of what had happened to me in the past. What my dream was about.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

To focus on present matters, it occurred to me that I had been acting very strangely the last time I was conscious. Like, what the hell? I was acting like humans did under certain types of intoxicants. I was certainly much more… social than usual. All of a sudden, I had really liked the Doctor, which was confusing. I didn’t really like anyone. Maybe I had a head injury. A really, really bad one.

I wanted to actually get clean, like with soap, but my hands stung from just touching the water; I didn’t want to aggravate the wounds. A bout of lightheadedness struck me – that was bad. I needed to get back to my normal temperature as fast as possible.

I stepped out of the water, and it ran for a few more seconds before shutting off. There were a few towels in one of the corners, so I took one and started drying my skin off while keeping from tearing my hands and chest up. Once dry enough, I put my socks and underwear back on, then stepped back into the hospital gown. Quite pathetically, I struggled to close the snaps.

My muscles kept clenching and shaking. It was really annoying, and had only started occurring once I came to Earth. I was in the middle of wondering if I was dying when the door opened. Shit, I’d forgotten to lock it. Did it even lock?

The Doctor entered. “There you are. I’ve been trying to find you. Why did you—" He paused. "Are you cold?"

He outstretched his arms to me, and I looked at him blankly in confusion.

"Come here,” he instructed, but my feet were almost literally frozen to the ground. I stayed static.

He sighed and stepped towards me, wrapping his arms around me and rubbing his hands against my back and shoulders to make heat via friction. It felt weird. Really, really weird. From previous experience, I would have expected the twist of a knife in my back by now. I told myself to just focus on warming up, but he was really quite warm, and it was comfortable, which made me uncomfortable.

I didn’t like being touched normally, but it was nice for some reason? I wanted to simultaneously push him away and rip all of my skin off, and just melt into the ground. I compromised by doing nothing, or rather, standing rigidly and trying to control my nervous tics.

“Oh, you’re shivering…" he noted in a rather soft tone. "I know these showers are frigid.”

Shivering? That’s what that was? Huh. From what I knew about humans, that was pretty normal. It was a peripheral way they regulated their body temperature, second to burning fuel to achieve homeostasis. I was pretty sure. Was that how they did it? I couldn’t keep human biology straight.

I guessed that I had just never been exposed to cold enough temperatures on my home planet to warrant shivering. But still, even if it didn’t mean I was dying, it was fucking annoying. Way to go, body, broadcasting to everyone within visual range that you’re feeling a little chilly.

The Doctor allowed me to absorb his body heat until I stopped shivering. My lightheadedness had dissipated, which was good, because that meant that my blood was transporting oxygen normally again. I honestly felt… better. Still weirded out, though.

He walked behind me, and was about to do up the back of the gown when he paused.

“Where are your bandages?”

I felt scared all of a sudden, scared that he was going to be angry with me. “I… took them off,” I mumbled.

“Were they bothering you?”

“No… I just… I-I wanted to take a shower.”

“Next time, let me know, alright? I need to at the very least know where you are.“

I nodded.

“Is that why you got out of bed?”

“Um…” I felt a little agitated. I wanted to tell him but didn’t at the same time. On one hand, I desperately needed to confide in someone about the nightmares. They were consuming me, tugging at my consciousness even in waking. Mauling my brain, my whole body. On the other, I didn’t know how honest to be. It was something deeply personal, what was going on in my head, and why it was going on. I didn’t know how much I could trust the Doctor, what his motives were, or anything along those lines.

My first impression of him was good… too good? And for no particular reason, not that I could think of. He had made me happy, but that was when I was acting weird. But he wasn’t making me unhappy right now, and I was pretty sure that I was acting normally? One could argue that the social awkwardness, involuntary muscle spasms, and inability to get two words out without stammering wasn’t normal, but for me it was painfully on brand.

And a part of me didn’t want to tell him. Yes, there was another person, another being, another consciousness, right there and waiting for more information. And that was all I’d ever wanted, right? But now that it actually existed, I was petrified to open my mouth. I knew that if I said anything, if I actually shared what was going on, I wouldn’t be able to take it back. That’s how words worked.

Ah, well, what’s the harm in lying?

“…I wasn’t tired anymore, so I decided to get up.”

“You should be resting, even if you are not feeling tired.”

“I’m a full-sized person that can make my own decisions.” Every part of that sentence was a lie.

“You don’t look full-sized.” Burnt to a crisp. Demolished. “And right now, you are my patient, therefore I am the one making the decisions.” He closed the gown for me, thank fuck. “Please return to your room with me.”

The Doctor opened the door and we reentered the hallway. Once we reached my room, he motioned to the bed and went to one of the cabinets. He retrieved a metal tray, and placed upon it various implements and bandages. I sat down on the bed, and he put the tray down on a moving table, then wheeled that and a chair over.

He undid my gown and pulled it down to my waist, then did some doctorly sanitisation of everything and opened a small container.

The contents smelled strongly of chemicals, mixed with pungent flora. It was a dark, balmy substance on the Doctor’s blue exam glove, but as he spread it across my chest, I saw that it was more green in hue. It made my wounds feel slightly warm with an edge, how I'd heard humans describe the consumption of alcohol.

He then wrapped it with the same large cotton bandages as before. The bandage ended at my back, and he went to add bandage clips. I could feel his breath on my neck, coming from who knows where; the small slits near the top of his beak were a good contender. He didn’t appear to be a bird, but we were all a little funky, us anomalies.

He moved onto my hands, which were mostly only damaged on the palms now. There was surprisingly negligible scarring on my fingers, probably due to the mystery goop. The Doctor applied some of it on my palms, then wrapped them with bandages as well. I flexed my hands as he put my gown back on.

“Alright, get into bed.” I swung my legs up onto the mattress, and his hands hovered by the blanket. I pulled it up around myself before he could; I’d received enough touching for today. My nervous system was already confused at the amount of physical contact that didn’t involve getting slapped, shot, or otherwise injured.

The Doctor clasped his hands behind his back. “Rest now. I will be attending to my work, but I implore you to come and find me if you need anything.”

My head started nodding on its own, but I didn’t want him to leave. I did, but I didn’t. It would be easier if he left, because (1) I was feeling confused, and wanted to be alone, and (2) that way I would have fewer chances to look like a puny, pathetic piece of shit. But man, I really wanted to just… talk to someone. Exist with someone. I wanted to know more about him, that much I knew. I wanted to hear how he ended up here, at the very least. But I couldn’t get my head to stop nodding, and he turned to leave.

I bit the inside of my cheek, focusing on the pain to tamp down my flailing fear of imagined abandonment. He was just leaving to mess with dead bodies, or something, I didn’t know, but he wasn’t leaving forever.

It just felt like it, as the door shut behind him and I was left to go down the anxiety death spiral.

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