Speaking With Your Demons
07: Toni’s New Mission

The task of the leader is to get his people
from where they are to where they have not been.

Henry Kissinger

Phil and his daughter were exiting the Space Needle, weaving around the line waiting to get inside.

“Seriously, Dad, I appreciate your interest in keeping me entertained while I’m here, but I didn’t come here to visit tourist sites. Instead, I want to reconnect with you in a more personal, intimate way over long conversations. Since we both wrestle with the same issues, and deal with the same people, it makes sense for us to address those topics, rather than avoiding them.”

“Excuse me! Aren’t you—”

As Toni turned at the interruption, Phil sighed, used to such interruptions on a regular basis.

“Shh!” he urged, holding his finger to his lips, watching those close to them.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you—everyone knows you prefer avoiding the limelight—but I just wanted to say my psychiatrist mentioned what you’re doing. I and everyone I know have volunteered. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in the control group or not, we only want to help you continue your earlier work in whatever way we can.”

Sighing, Phil placed his hand on the woman’s arm, moving her away from the main crowd of people while simultaneously positioning himself between her and Toni. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this isn’t the time or place for this discussion.”

Toni cocked her head at the interruption. “What study is this?” She turned to her father. “You never mentioned taking part in any investigation.”

“Oh,” the woman continued, never noticing Phil’s warning glare. “He’s been asking the various clinics for volunteers in a new research project. Everyone’s excited at the prospect, since he hasn’t been active in this type of thing for some time.”

“I know,” Toni said. “While he hasn’t, we at the Walker Institute in Philadelphia have, so I’m curious why this is the first time we’ve heard of it.”

The woman held her hand to her mouth. “Oh, did I say something I shouldn’t have?”

Phil continued moving the woman away from any inquisitive bystanders.

“I was trying to keep the topic out of the public discussion, as it’s only a preliminary exploration, not a full-fledged investigation,” he lied, watching Toni out of the corner of his eye. “I’m not looking for cures as much as I am searching for insights regarding possible ways forward in the future.”

“Well, given all the tremendous strides you’ve accomplished with mental health issues, you have our support in any way we can help. Even if it doesn’t have any immediate benefits, we’re excited at the prospect.”

“As are we,” Toni echoed, eyeing her father. “We’re equally eager to learn exactly what this ‘investigation’ involves.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disturb you both. I’ll leave you to your privacy again. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate your continued efforts.” The woman—who never identified herself—smiled and walked away.

“All right,” Toni said, cornering her father. “Ever since I arrived, you’ve been fending me off, avoiding direct conversations. Yet little encounters like this—or the one with your friends—keep popping up. They intimate you’re up to something. Since you did the same thing before, freezing out friends and family when you needed us most, I think it’s time we address this.”

“All right.” Phil nudged her forward, breaking into a quicker stroll, trying to extricate himself from the situation now that several people were openly staring at them. “We’ll talk about it, but not here, please. It’s hard enough for me to avoid the public’s fascination, there’s no sense airing our dirty laundry in public.”

“That’s strange,” Toni responded. “It seems you’ve been airing everything out in the open, leaving those of us back home, used to dealing with these soiled linens, out of it. If you don’t want to attract attention, it helps if you tell people what they’re not supposed to discuss!”

“Please, let’s find a quiet, isolated corner and we’ll cover it in private. Let’s just not argue about it here.”

“All right,” Phil said, finally sitting in the quiet neighborhood bar with few patrons given the early hour. “Let’s talk.”

“Hold on,” Toni said, digging in her purse. “I thought you might want to see this before we begin. I picked it up at the airport, it just came out.” She passed him a glossy magazine. “I didn’t want to show it to you before and upset you, afraid you may bolt again. However, now I trust you’re invested enough here that you won’t.”

Unfolding it, he discovered the current Time Magazine, featuring a close up of his face, from when he first appeared before a cheering crowd following his court-ordered surgery. The caption, in bold letters, announced: “The New Face of Mental Illness: Is Every Fact You’ve Ever Been Told Wrong?”

“Terrific,” he said, waving the magazine for emphasis. “Now do you see why I avoid calling attention to myself? I’m a lightning rod, attracting firefights. I wouldn’t mind if it took the focus away from you, but instead it hurts you and the Institute as much as it does me.”

“Actually more,” Toni said, leaning back and getting comfortable for a prolonged discussion. “You’ve got widespread support, largely based on your unassuming humility and avoiding the limelight whenever possible. The approach suits you, as does the fact that everyone with a mentally-ill relative backs you regardless of what you were accused of. However, as we ask companies for funds, we take a lot of heat, but won’t benefit from the same level of loyalty. Those who dislike what you represent are afraid of taking you on directly, but aren’t shy about pressuring corporations to withhold their support.”

“You’re arguing my point.”

“I recognize your issue, but our future rests on our ability to capitalize on your leads. If you’re working on something new, we need to be aware of it. Now, what’s going on?”

“Okay, as I said, I’m merely interviewing psychiatric patients, hoping to gain new insights into how to counter these creatures.”

“All right, let’s back up. I was thinking about what you said earlier. Clearly, communicating with the fairies will help, but it’s unlikely to give us much insight into the others, since they don’t exactly work together. Maybe we’re trying the wrong tack.”

“Okay, now I get the feeling that you’re leading somewhere.”

“I am. Something’s been bothering me about you interviewing psychiatric patients. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think I’ve figured it out. There is a little known phenomenon, called ‘post-traumatic growth’. It’s when soldiers who’ve experienced PTSD improve, becoming more emotionally stable, not less.”

“I’m not familiar with it. Melissa never mentioned it, and the devils didn’t either.”

“Wait, who? What devils? Did the ‘creators’ say something to you?”

“No, it’s just an expression. Something the dragons I interrogated said, which I never quite understood. Go on. I’m interested in where this is leading.”

“Well, it seems many vets, rather than retreating into themselves, develop more of an appreciation for life, seeing every moment as a gift. As a result, they live fully in every moment, spending more time with their family, friends and associates. Instead of continually checking their phones, worrying about jobs, opportunities or symptoms, they invest themselves in the present, reconnecting with family, strengthening relationships with spouses and children. As a result, they end up more satisfied.”

“I can see that. It makes sense, but where are you going with this?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but there’s something off kilter, here.”

“Considering it, this is precisely what the creators intended, which seems to be at odds with the renegade creatures’ intents.”

“Could it be there’s an underground movement with select individuals still cleaving to the old ways. They may even just go another path, not able to bring themselves to hurt those they’re assigned to torment.”

Phil seemed to pause, as if listening to silent voices.

“I’m guessing it’s more individual choice, but in either case, we need to find the individuals in each community who are doing well and focus on them. You then need to apply the same approaches I outlined for communicating with the fairies. If we can get them to communicate with us, providing insights and leads into how to achieve the same results, you’ll develop new techniques for treating the mentally ill.”

“This will change our entire approach,” Toni said, her eyes widening. “Instead of concentrating on the worst cases, we need to identify those who are the healthiest. Locating those who are coping well and living normal lives. If we can get their tormentors to communicate with us like you suggested, they can give us clues how to proceed with the worst cases.”

“Oh, it gets better than that. Currently, each species attempts to drive their hosts to commit suicide so they can return home quickly. However, it can take decades before they reach that point, which is why their tormentors are so desperate. Yet, the machinery which governs them back on their home world, allowing them to come here, also controls when they return. When they trigger improvements in their hosts’ lives, they go back immediately, while replacements are sent to learn the proper techniques from those who remain.

“What that means is, these creatures will be rewarded for doing what you suggest. As more return, the message will spread across their home world. They’ll not only have a powerful incentive to listen, but their actions are self-rewarding. The better they act, the better they’ll do and the more who’ll learn in the future.”

Toni cocked her head, studying her father again. “How do you know all this? I mean, it’s not like they’d tell you something they didn’t know themselves. Even if they wanted to, you haven’t been able to see or hear them for months. Even then, you had to go to extraordinary means to quiz them at all.”

Phil smiled a knowing grin. “It was all there in the original messages they left me with, only I didn’t know how to apply it until now. I knew the basic mechanism, but I thought it was only a dream, and later I couldn’t figure out the implications. Now we ... sorry, you have the means to do it, and train an entire new generation of psychiatrists to take over my role.”

“Do you ... really think it’s even possible?”

“Why not? We now know where to get information and how to communicate with them. We’re learning how to convince and encourage them. Plus, when they do as we ask, they’ll be rewarded by returning home to pass on our message.”

“Holy crap! This is ... phenomenal. This is something I never dared to dream. Even though you lost your ability to interact with them, you’ve shown us how to not only communicate with them, but get them to work with us. This will change everything!”

“Just don’t get your hopes up too high. This is a long process, and it’ll take a lot of effort. Your first goal is to find those who are doing well on their own—which will be difficult, since they likely won’t be noticed by psychiatrists. Secondly, you need to encourage them to reveal their techniques—and they’re unlikely to use the same processes if they are groups of random individuals. Then, you’ll need to develop an approach to treat the worst cases, convincing their demons to do as we ask. After all, it isn’t like you can threaten to smack them with a cane if they misbehave.”

“No, but our best strategy so far, is everyone sticking to their treatments because they know what’s making them sick, allowing us to reduce their medications. Now, we’ll be able to get their tormentors to work with us. What’s more, since we’re not rejecting the traditional approaches, only tempering them so they’re more efficient, we’re unlikely to face the hostility from the medical community which you did.”

Phil leaned back, grinning while holding his fingers together before him. “So, what are you waiting for?”

Toni sat back, her brow rising. “Huh? What are you talking about?”

“You need to get the wheels moving! Launch a major initiative, recruit the least noticed mentally ill patients—without alerting anyone to what’s happening. You have the resources I don’t. You can reach those I can’t.”

“But what about you? With this new approach, aren’t you going to return, masterminding the entire thing? After all, it’s your idea.”

“No, this was entirely your formulation.”

“But, you know how the mechanics work. Their creatures told you how to proceed.”

“Only, I was so blinded by my desire to eliminate them all, I couldn’t see the writing on the wall. I was told what I needed to know a long time ago, but didn’t recognize the opportunities it presented. No, this isn’t my baby to carry to fruition. It’s yours.”

“But ... don’t you want to be a part of it? Don’t you want to see your techniques bear fruit?”

“We both know I’m the lightning rod in the family. Now that I’ve lost my abilities, the medical establishment isn’t worried about me. As long as I remain here, far from what you’re doing with the Institute, they’ll leave you alone. They’ll assume you can’t do much besides encouraging people to be better patients. But just as I was forced to run from publicity, you need to guard this with your life! If the medical and pharmacological industries realize what you’re working on, they’ll fight you every step of the way, trying to block your every move.

“You’ve always been the honest one in the family, able to see through every lie I tell. Now you need to master the art of deception from your father, who was perfect for this task because he’s been lying to those around him to protect them for years. Work on your poker face and tell the reporters how little progress you’re making, while working under the radar to shake the foundations of medical science.”

“You’re starting to intimidate me. You don’t think I require some personal coaching?”

“I think if I was there, you’d rely on me too much, asking me to stand in for you. That would only work against you. You’ve watched my subterfuge for years, you’re familiar with it. Now’s the time to master it yourself.”

“I’m not sure. While I could always tell when you were hiding something I couldn’t determine what it was. Every time I’d press you, you’d switch gears, revealing one thing to cover up another, burying one thing under a mound of other details.”

“And that’s what you need to learn. Every time someone suspects what you’re up to, you distract them. Give them a cover story which satisfies their suspicions while keeping them looking in the wrong direction. Again, you’ve been observing the master your entire life, only you’ve been clinging to your good nature for too long. Now you need to embrace subterfuge for the benefit of everyone. The less people know, the more good you can do. When you’re ready to unveil the truth to the world, I’ll be standing by your side when you make the announcement.”

“You’re convincing me I can do this, even without your background and experience with these creatures. What will you do while I’m concentrating on this?”

“What I’ve always done, sit back and watch, figuring out which techniques to try and how to apply the little knowledge I do have successfully.”

Toni crossed her arms, examining him. “If we uncovered all this in only a couple conversations, we should record everything the creators told you, so we don’t lose this knowledge.”

“I’m not sure I’ll remember enough details until the right events trigger my memories. That’s why I’m better on the sidelines, avoiding scrutiny. The more I can think and apply what I observe, the more brilliant ideas I can feed you. I’ve finally found somewhere people respect my privacy. Don’t ask me to surrender that, just yet.”

“Still, what will you do, besides sitting around?”

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Aliens / Demons / Dragons /