"Overtoasted" Part 5

“No doubt about it, it was the shock that killed her,” he cackled.

Julian was a good friend of mine—and by good friend, I mean I thought he was positively loony. He once told me that it had been his dream since elementary school to be a mortician. But it’s a good fit. He’s very good, and there are always people around him to talk to, and they never interrupt him.

“Look along here,” he said, pointing to a scorch mark. “Any decent physician could tell that the current went through her left shoe and left hand. It hits her heart and BANG (accompanied with a pounding fist), she’s dead.”

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense; at least, half of it. She died when she picked up the phone, and she did that with her right hand.” I’m usually a step ahead of others, but Julian could be one ahead of me. Smart man, and coupled with a knowledge of biology that I lacked, he could even beat me.

He scoffed at this comment. “Well, who am I, as a physician, to be mistaken about where the current went and how she died?” I hated it became indignant. “What did she have in her left hand, then?”

Right hand, phone. Left hand, purse. Purse, toaster part.

I shuffled in my pocket and pulled it out. Julian laughed triumphantly.

“It’s simple, then. The toaster part was triggered by the frequency of the dial tone. It had a latent current, and it looked for a way out. Currents naturally seek grounding, which was quickest through her left foot, and straight through her heart.” He clapped in glee. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone so happy about the way someone else died. He suddenly stopped, and gazed at me. I knew I had it coming. “But of cooourse… I’m just a physician. What would I know?” He roughly pulled the sheet back over her body and began to roll the cart away. I knew I would regret what would happen next. I knew I would never hear the end of it.

“Wait!” I called out. “I need your help on this case!” I heard James mutter a prayer under his breath.

Julian stopped, and I bet he smiled, too. Without turning around, he began, “Why, I’m only a physician. I’m no detective. That is clearly out of my knowledge to help you with the case.” Even so, he didn’t move, and waited for me to catch up to him.

I quickly briefed him on everything I had learned so far.

“What do you think?” James interjected as soon as I finished. “About the machines taking over, that is, about them being alive?”

“Why, it’s perfectly plausible,” he enthusiastically responded. “I think your friend may have even understated it. I believe that they could be fully sentient, not just some poor actors.” He looked as though he were thinking about it, rubbing his bald spot. Well, actually it was less of a spot and more of an all-over thing. Kind of lightbulb-like, actually, with the shine and smoothness.

“But of course, I wouldn’t expect you to understand, without the training of a physician.”

“Oh no, please,” James begged. He seemed awfully ready to listen to Julian. For the best. I could get whole story without degrading myself. “Please make us understand.”

“Well, I’ll only say it once,” he said over a chuckle. “See, if you were to look at the human body, it’s all machinery, of a sort. Your muscles? Opposing levers. Your heart? A pump. Your brain and soul? Just the same. No reason to believe otherwise.

“Now think about it the other way. If the human body is complex machinery, complex machinery could basically be human. A union of appliances? It’s possible. Each one is a part of the giant intelligence that suddenly springs from all of them. Now isn’t that an entertaining thought?” He smiled smugly to himself again, then turned and pushed the cart. “Now, I’ve wasted enough of my time and intelligence on you. Good luck, of course.”

“Wait!” I called out. Julian had a way of leaving me wanting more. I guess that’s how he keeps his business. “If it could be sentient, could I really convict it?”

And he was good at it. He just kept pushing his cart, whistling, reveling in my desperation.

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