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I sat at my desk and rewound the simulation again. We’d beaten Alzheimer’s and AIDS and more, but SIDS was as dangerous as ever. Frustrated the hell out of me. The instrumented crib had all the data I could want on the poor infant’s last three hours. Moving back and forth let me find the moment breathing became irregular. I silenced my blood pressure alarm again.

The baby’s other systems were behaving even while breathing was slightly off. I stepped slowly through the data. There had to be something causing the breathing trouble to intensify.

An alarm popped up in my head-up display. I’d ruptured a blood vessel. Choroidal artery. Too big a breach for the nanobots to seal. The HUD displayed a request to call emergency services. I nodded toward the bright green ‘yes.’ It updated with an eleven minute response estimate.

My shoulder twinged as the floor smashed into it. I tried to twist into a more comfortable position. Couldn’t move. I pulled up a status display of my brain to assess the damage. That artery hadn’t needed reinforcing when I had my last scan.

As I looked over the pressure diagram it was obvious. Reinforcing other arteries kept them from yielding, pushing pressure upstream like dikes containing a flood. Then the HUD went blurry and faded.

I don’t know how long I waited. I felt cool, hard hands on my arm and neck, sitting me up.

“Come on, doc. Let’s take a look at you,” said the first responder.

“Thanks,” I said. “I guess this is a sign I should retire and take that Pacific Islands trip I always promised my wife.”

“I know what you mean. I have a long list of things I want to do when I retire.”

“Yeah, it’s — dammit. It’s too ironic for me to have a stroke after all the work I’ve done preventing it.”

The first responder chuckled. “Doc, you’ve racked up a hundred and fourteen years of research in trauma treatment and degeneration prevention. The only non-ironic way for you to go is a bear attack.”

“You know my research?”

“I’m a big fan. You’ve made my job a lot easier. Let’s get you on your feet now.”

I didn’t think I could stand, but with some steady pressure on my arm I was on my feet in a moment.

Then I looked down and saw my body crumpled on the floor, not breathing. I looked at the figure next to me. “You’re not a paramedic.”

“No. I’m sorry. A paramedic couldn’t help you.”

“You — I’ve spent my whole life fighting you.”

“No, you weren’t fighting me. I’ve been cheering you on.”

“But I’m trying to put you out of a job.”

“It’s a dirty, ugly job I’ve wanted to retire from since before you can imagine. You’ve brought that retirement closer than anyone else. Thank you.”

“Oh.”

“Time to go.”


Karl K. Gallagher is a systems engineer, currently performing data analysis for a major aerospace company. In the past he calculated trajectories for a commercial launch rocket start-up, operated satellites as a US Air Force officer, and selected orbits for government and commercial satellites. Karl lives in Saginaw, TX with his family. His hard SF series Torchship is available on Amazon and Audible.