Speaking With Your Demons
08: Unlikely Teachers, Unlikely Lessons
From moment to moment
we are creating our own universe, each one of us.
Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo
You talk to a man in a language he understands,
that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
“Ah, our honored guests arrive,” UW President, Nathan Kelly, announced, standing.
Phil and Meg entered his office. “We asked where we should go, and they directed us here rather than the research lab,” Phil explained, glancing around.
“That was my fault,” Nathan answered, leaning over to speak into his intercom. “Virginia, could you call Nancy and Tracy in?”
“Already done, Dr. Ellison. I called them as soon as Mr. Walker arrived. They should arrive shortly.”
“Excellent, Virginia. Thanks, as always. You always seem to anticipate my every move.”
“That’s my job, and why I deserve yet another raise,” she reminded him with a light chuckle to counter her forthrightness.
“That’s one problem with working at a leading university; everyone’s too smart for their own good.”
“It sounds like you’re doing pretty well with such well-trained and anticipatory staff,” Phil observed. “She’s not doing too badly financially either, so I’d say it’s working out.”
“I’ve heard big things about you, young lady,” Nathan said, coming forward to kneel in front of Meg. “My name is Nathan Kelly, I’m the University President. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No,” she said, daintily shaking his hand. “Phil likes surprises, so he never told us much. My name’s Meg. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Not as much as I am,” Nathan said. “So you’re the one showing off Phil’s new techniques. We’re very eager to see you operate. We have no idea what to expect.”
The other faculty members chose that moment to arrive, walking in unannounced.
“Ah, we’re so glad you’re here,” Nancy Ellison said. “We’re dying from anticipation, though I must say, you know how to prepare. We already have more than enough subjects. They just need to be evaluated, catalogued and divided into the various subject groups.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can do that just by glancing at them. That way, you can do the necessary testing and documentation later, saving everyone time.”
“Well, we brought everyone in, so you can categorize them when we get there. We’ll confirm your diagnosis at a later date, and then you can stipulate how you’d like to distribute the different subjects.”
Nodding, Phil made introductions all around—as they beamed over Meg. “As for what to expect, that’s not entirely decided yet. While these encounters are always ... questionable, as they’re a delicate negotiation between warring factions, I’ve been having qualms about slaughtering them wholesale just to document my old techniques, so we’re going to wing it in that aspect. I’m hoping to limit the damages to twenty percent off the top, to open negotiations, and then hopefully we’ll come to an understanding, which should offer additional benefits which will make comparisons more difficult.”
“That’s understandable, and we’ll abide by whatever you decide, though we can always advise you on the study’s repercussions,” Nancy said, the actual researcher not getting a word in.
“Is this what Mizo looks like?” Meg asked from Nathan’s bookcase, where she was closely examining a small plastic model.
“It is indeed,” Phil said, stepping forward and taking it from her, holding it up to the light to examine it himself. “The artist in charge did a wonderful job on these. You can tell him I’ll order one hundred myself for the Walker Institute right off the top, though I can’t take delivery until after we announce the study’s results.” He slowly turned it examining the fine details, tilting his head. “Yes, Dez, it’s not the most flattering, though let me assure you, everyone seeing it will be shaken to their core!” That seemed to please her, as he handed the sculpture back to Meg.
“Let us show you the facilities,” Nathan said, motioning them to the door. “Given how quickly you move, we had to pay last-minute workers overtime to cut a window display in the treatment room, since everyone wants to see what’s involved.”
“I hope you didn’t need to make the display area too large, as I’d prefer keeping the people watching at a reasonable level.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured Phil. “Though everyone’s curious, we’re being careful. Everyone involved is required to sign strict confidentiality statements.”
“They were hesitant to sign them,” Tracy said, since she was the one responsible for getting the signatures. “But once we mention the stipulation is to protect your privacy, they sign it immediately.”
“Not quite soon enough,” Phil groused. “Someone confronted us outside the Space Needle, surprising my daughter, who started asking questions.”
“Oh, we’re sorry for that,” Nancy said. “We try to warn them as early as we can, though with so many participants...”
“It’s not your fault,” Phil said, waving her concerns away. “It was before they ever met with you, but it illustrates the importance of keeping a tight lid on things. I handled it, but it was ... awkward for a bit. Luckily it worked out, as she came away with a whole new focus for the Philadelphia Institute.”
“I’m glad you could iron things out,” Nathan said, ushering everyone out the door. “It’s tricky enough trying to describe what we’re doing without listing who’s involved, what we’re researching, who the test subjects are or how we’re selecting them.”
“Can I have one of these?” Meg asked, holding the plastic model of Mizo up. “It helps me picture what she looks like.”
Nathan glanced at Phil for direction.
“For now, let’s keep it under wraps,” Phil suggested. “We’ll get you your own, though if you have any to spare, I may take one to keep in my room, to help explain what we’re dealing with. If nothing else, it’ll be worth a chuckle when the cleaning ladies stumble upon it.”
They weren’t exaggerating when they described making extensive last-minute changes to the treatment rooms. The actual clinic area was small, just big enough to swing a cane and dance for few steps. It was separated from the observation room by a one-way Plexiglas mirror—requiring one room to be brightly lit, and the other darkened to work. The observer section was large enough for twenty people and was fairly crowded, even though Phil, Meg and the first volunteer, Melvin, couldn’t see them.
While the university professionals were eager to see how Meg handled creatures she couldn’t see, especially given her age, this was the first test group. That meant Phil had to slaughter at least a few of these beings—though he planned to satisfy the staff’s curiosity, even before Meg needed to handle the creatures on her own.
Melvin Sandusky was still young, at twenty-eight, and suffered from severe schizophrenia. Though it was under control at the moment, he tended to have periodic flare-ups for no apparent reason. He had the traditional six demons, though they were larger than most Phil had previously faced.
Standing behind Melvin, Phil indicated he was about to begin. He waited a few moments before lashing out with his cane. When the other demons didn’t react, he took another few seconds and struck again.
“Pilt!” Meg called, every demon turning to stare at her in disbelief. Calling to them in their language was as effective as Phil had promised. “In case you didn’t notice,” she warned, “we already killed two of you. Shape up and listen if you don’t want to die!”
The remaining demons glanced at each other, seemingly coming to a common decision. They attacked her in a flurry of winged fury, to little effect. They either flew right through her or slid off, not impacting her in the least.
“Tiskso!” Phil called—which translates as “Hey, F•©kers!”—getting their attention for the first time. “I’m the one you want.” He dropped his cane on the table, producing a clatter which caused Melvin to jump. “Recognize me? Yeah, I can tell you do. Come on. Come and get me!”
This time, knowing his reputation, they turned their fury on him. He waited until they closed, then twisted, thrusting his right arm out releasing his net, ensnaring them all. Meg rushed forward, grasping the net as Phil did. Together, they lowered the seething mass to the table, the net jumping and thrashing in place.
“All right,” Phil said, giving the net an extra tug or two. “You had a chance to do this intelligently, now you listen under penalty of death. I don’t know how you know about me, but you know I’ve been quiet for close to a year. During that time, I’ve been doing research.” They had some trouble understanding him, so he had to repeat select portions a couple of times. Phil swore he needed to learn more than a few trigger phrases if he wanted to lecture them.
“If you think I’m scary, I’ve been training several like Meg.”
Reminded of her, one of the demons near her tried to strike, but its fangs and claws had no effect.
“That’s right, suckers. While I can fight you, Meg can control her phase shifting, becoming solid enough to injure you—or holding your net—yet become insubstantial whenever you attack her. Face it; you didn’t fare well against me alone. Now, you and your kind stand no chance!”
They ceased struggling and one sat up, lifting the net away from his face. “What you want?”
“This is a whole new ballgame, but I’m willing to be reasonable. I want your help.” With that, Phil lifted the net, freeing them once more. Rather than fleeing or attacking, they sat or stood, but otherwise didn’t react.
“‘Splain what mean.”
Phil gave them his standard recruiting spiel, introducing his new enticements about their increased fertility and desirability. They were convinced.
“We do,” their leader declared. “How proceed?”
Phil turned the instruction over to Meg, who carefully explained how they needed to reward their host. She told them to only punish Melvin when he did wrong—like not taking his medication or not getting enough sleep—aiming to correct Melvin’s behavior rather than punishing him. By the time she finished, they were nodding, clearly enthused and excited at the prospect.
“We’ll be watching, in case you don’t,” she warned. “With so many of us, we’ll know soon after you screw up.” She handed Melvin a business card with Phil’s name on it, as well as an attached note, detailing which claims were real and which were false. “Call us if they mess up.”
“We do. Trust. We do,” they enthused. When no one did anything more, Phil stepped in.
“Okay, Melvin. You’re finished. You aren’t completely cured, but your condition will be manageable without medication, though we’ll continue to monitor you to be sure. We’re looking forward to news of your success.” With that Phil and Meg shook his hand and watched as he collected his jacket and left.
There was a second or two of silence. Meg and Phil glanced at each other, and then the sound of applause rang out, though muffled by the Plexiglas wall.
The next session was Meg’s chance to shine, instead of taking a back seat to Phil’s performance. Rather than standing by her side, he remained with the others behind the Plexiglas, communicating with Meg via a small Bluetooth earpiece.
Meg sat before Betsy Tilman, a severely depressed elderly woman who hadn’t been able to do more than feed herself for years. She looked up at Meg hopefully, but skeptically. She was hardly an easy assignment.
“Don’t worry,” Meg said, grasping Betsy’s hand. “This won’t take long.” When Betsy nodded, Meg released her hand, sitting back.
“Silsk!” Meg shouted with little warning. Betsy jumped and her dragons froze, turning to stare at Meg. “I’m glad I got your attention. We know all about you, including all your secrets. You’re no longer safe. However, we have another option. Rather than killing you, we want to teach you a better way.”
Phil spoke into his phone. “They’re growling, the two leaders are flexing their wings in a classic power display.”