“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.