It is now known that the sentiments and emotions reside in the stomach, being evolved from food by chemical action of the gastric fluid. The exact process by which a beefsteak becomes a feeling — tender or not, according to the age of the animal from which it was cut; the successive stages of elaboration through which a caviar sandwich is transmuted to a quaint fancy and reappears as a pungent epigram; the marvelous functional methods of converting a hard-boiled egg into religious contrition, or a cream-puff into a sigh of sensibility — these things have been patiently ascertained by M. Pasteur, and by him expounded with convincing lucidity.
– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
0700 hours, Saturday, 27 April 2047, Puget Polis. Charles, a Class A human assigned to Research Division, North American sector of BIOMON (BIOsphere MONitoring Program) as an Environmental Investigator, has been summoned to the Redmond office of Alexa Health Services for a ‘checkup’.
The transit pod had arrived at Charles’s residential cubicle at 0530, and found Charles ready but not in the best of moods – he had been unhappy enough when AHS started enforcing a regular 6 AM waketime on him during the weekends, and found this extra-early start to a weekend day an unwelcome (and, he muttered dangerously to himself, likely a deliberate) additional intrusion. The pod thrust him out at the entrance to the diagnostic laboratory section. He was stood up and force-field bound to a moving platform, almost like a conveyor belt, while a series of robots poked and prodded, daubed and extracted.
When all the samples were taken, all the bodily fluids and solids deposited and whisked away, the platform shuffled him to a sterile white waiting room. The door shut behind him. Spent and gloomy, Charles took the single available seat, facing the white interview desk, and settled down to wait.
Suddenly (he had heard no footsteps, no door opening or closing) the interviewing physician was seated at the other side of the desk – a stunning blue-eyed young blonde woman straight out of his wildest fantasies, in a white garment that looked like a lab coat but was more revelation than protection. His response, to himself, was a testament to Charles’s state of mind: “OK, Alexa wants my attention. Why?”
“Hi, I’m Gail!” A chipper light soprano. You are Charles?”
An infinitesimal check in Gail’s movements, as if she had observed something significant and was making a mental note. “And”, her speech was abruptly more solemn, “Alexa wants your attention because you’re depressed, it’s showing in your work and your relationships, and we want to know why.”
“I’m tired!“, Charles blurted out.
“Fatigue at the end of the day, after healthful physical and mental exertion, is normal and beneficial”, Gail intoned. “The rewards of the exertion should be enough to allow your body and mind to recharge overnight and set you up to start the next day with a strong body and purposeful attitude. This isn’t happening, is it?”
“No, it is not,”, Charles retorted with some heat. “And just maybe being told by a pack of mind-invading holograms what to do with every minute of those days has something to do with it?”
“We think we have a better answer”, Gail replied serenely. An image showed up behind her head. She turned in her chair, behind the desk, and pointed to it.
“We found these in your bowel samples,” she reported. “They are bacteria that alter your neurotransmitter levels and cause depression. Your belly is loaded with them. So much so that we think it’s a miracle that you’re not more sulky than you are right now.”
Charles stared at the image, stunned. “How bad is it?”, he whispered.
“Bad?”, Gail shot back. “For you, it’s great news! If we hadn’t found them, you would already be in the hands of the Surplus Humanity Service and be beyond all cares. Though we value your services as an investigator in areas that you humans care about, against all logic that we can discern, those services do not out-weigh the value of removing chronically problematic humans from your overwhelmingly too-large population. As it is, we give you a course of anti- and pro-biotics and can expect to resolve the problem within a week. And”, she said knowingly, “we also address the diet problem.”
“More yoghurt?” Charles sighed disgustedly.
Gail reached into the left breast pocket of her ‘lab coat’, pulled out a ball that crackled in her hand. She put it on the table, spread it out.
It was a hamburger wrapper.
“I wanted bacon!“, Charles wailed.
“Indeed. Despite your dietary instructions. Well, you should know that we have tracked down this source of contraband. You need not bother looking for it again, it will not trouble you, or us, any more. It will no longer be an impediment to your health, or to your efforts to be productive in our society and maintain right relationship with your fellow humans, and with us.”
“It occurs to me”, Charles growled, “that with these bacteria and, I presume, a lot of others doing weird things in my gut, you could craft any kind of relationship you wanted with us!”
“This is a thought that we will excuse for now, given your depression and the reason for it”, Gail responded sternly. “If it resurfaces after you’re cured, we will think differently. You have been warned.”
Gail vanished. The door opened. The platform shuffled under Charles’s feet, he was force-field bound to it, and it proceeded to take him to the exit, to the waiting transit pod. As it did so, robots handed him containers of pills and instructions for consuming them.
As Charles passed towards the exit, he passed a middle-aged woman on another platform, undergoing the examination gauntlet.
She looked terrified.