Fitzwilliam dropped Darcy in front of the office with a wry smile and a shrug. He didn’t have to say that Redcap had demanded this.
Darcy stood at arm’s length from the door, leaned over and knocked. “It is I, Illiterate Darcy, Literate Redcap, come to report.”
The door snapped open so fast it nearly skinned his knuckles. “Enter.”
Oh, I really don’t want to be in there where you can shock me. There was no choice. He stepped in and found a chair waiting for him. Oh, dear.
“Are you damaged?” Was the first question as he sat down.
“A little... nothing that a shower and some first-aid salve won’t fix. Perhaps we should have some of that in everyone’s kit—“
“Noted.” Redcap cut him off. “Place this on your head patches.” The wall popped open and a tray slid out, with a neuralizer on it.
Darcy nearly fainted. “Literate Redcap, I... no... I...” He was very close to losing his bladder control. The last thing he wanted to do was give his report under the Bludgeon.
“Place it on your head or I shall shock you still and do it for you. It will be much less comfortable that way.”
Darcy couldn’t swallow, his mouth was so dry. He reached for the thing on the tray and picked it up as though it were a venomous spider. It was closed up, but the legs sprang open as he lifted it, shuddering. He set it on the small bare patch on the crown of his head, suddenly nauseated and sweating cold. It set its feet around the top of his head and dug in slightly, stinging.
“I am pleased that you survived.” Redcap said and suddenly all Darcy’s fear and nausea vanished, floating on the blissful wave of approval from the neural inducer. Then it went away and he could have wept. He wanted it. He wanted it so badly he was shaking again. “I am less pleased that you required retrieval.” The wave of despair was as strong as the pleasure had been and he did begin to weep.
“Report on how you survived.”
Darcy struggled to force words out, but he was sobbing too hard and then the artificial despair eased enough for him to speak. “I pulled a fold of broken row cover over the stone that the honourable Literate Redcap placed to hold the material in place until it could be retrieved... Illiterate Fitzwilliam succeeded in hauling both the broken horse and the cover back with me.” The despair eased further and he was able to wipe his face with his sleeve. The wall tray slid out once more with wipes on it so he could blow his nose. “Thank you,” he said without thinking and froze. Redcap could take anything he said wrong. Nothing happened but the despair went away entirely.
Darcy sat in the chair, clutching the arms, waiting, dreading, longing for the next tweak of emotions from the machine on his head. A chime sounded and Redcap said “Please wait”, leaving him balanced on the knife edge that was the neural controller. I hate this. I love this. I hate this. Sweet Page stop this. He had an erection that was almost painful. No wonder the Illiterates called this thing a Bludgeon. Once it’s on your head... and they almost always make you put it on yourself... it can rule what you feel. Evil thing. I heard rumours it can make you fight crazy ‘zerk. Not much good against bombs or lasers or grey ooze shot. He knotted his fingers together, twisting them together like demented, tripping spiders, listening to the repeated ‘please wait’ chime.
“Illiterate Darcy. Remove the Neuralizer and see to your repair and maintenance. I am receiving data from Xanadu.”
The legs retracted out of his scalp and he made himself take the Bludgeon out of his hair. How... how nice of Redcap to inform me why I’m done so quick. He found himself hating the machine behind the wall, and the neural controller in his hand and the whole office. He hated ever part of it, from the painting of Prime to the delicate blue paint and dark blue tile. He managed to set the Bludgeon down and make his fingers let go. Only the First Class had the power to control them because of the Pleasure Strike, hundreds of years ago, when a whole village of Illiterates had gotten a shipment of Bludgeons and had locked themselves in the barns and died of thirst, in ecstasy, before the Stewards had realized what was going on.
“Excuse me, please, Literate Redcap,” he managed to stammer and got out of the hated office as fast as he could. Why me? Why me? And why in all the inky heavens do I have to report to the machine? I’m always staggering out of here like I’m injured or drunk.