Speaking With Your Demons
14: Taking a Stand
Every man must decide for himself whether he shall master
his world or be mastered by it.
James Cash Penny
Phil went to bed but had trouble falling asleep, unable to put the day’s worries aside. Just when he was about to get up to watch something insipid on TV, he slid unexpectedly to sleep.
Only, it was no ordinary dream. He found himself back in that familiar Philadelphia park. It was once again a bright, warm, sunshiny day, only there wasn’t another soul there, no outside noises, no traffic sounds or jet contrails. Phil was instantly on guard.
Glancing up into the heavens, he opened his arms.
“Hello? Anyone there?”
“Good evening, Phil,” came an answer, quiet as a whisper but seemingly coming from everywhere at once.
“Okay, for someone in the midst of their own dark ages, you’ve relearned what you’ve lost damn rapidly.” Phil looked around, pausing as he found a comfortable spot on the grass and stretched out, staring back at the sky, confident the sun wouldn’t fry his eyes. After all, this was only a dream, wasn’t it? “The last time we talked, you barely made sense.”
“We’ve learned much, but then, we’ve had excellent tutors.”
“I’ll say. Your technology is also markedly better. However, not so much you could check in every now and then. You promised me you’d monitor my progress. I’ve got a thousand questions.”
“Patience. It’s a ... virtue, isn’t it?”
“That’s the saying,” Phil confirmed, creating an imitation airplane with his hand and flying it among the clouds—something he’s never do in an actual park where someone might see him behaving as a child. When he’d tried it when his kids were younger, they stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. He’d never allowed himself the luxury again.
“We have been observing you and are incredibly pleased with your results. You have already accomplished things we never dared dream possible. It never occurred to us to recruit the other species. We merely hoped, if you killed enough of each, they would rethink their approach, returning to their ancient teachings.”
“I’m sorry, but there’s no way you can learn that much English in so little time without someone teaching you, especially not learning the modern idioms, pacing and our American accent. What gives?”
“As we said, we had a wonderful tutor. Following your lead, we reached out to the fairies to guide us. The Fairy Queen herself deigned to assist us, and we’ve been ... apt pupils?”
‘Again, you’ve got it perfectly. In fact, you speak English better than I do. If you hung around more, you could teach me the finer points. But seriously, what about how I’m doing? What am I getting wrong? How can I convince the berserkers to join us?”
“We never intervened, because you have done everything perfectly. We ... honestly ... could not tell you any better.”
“Not quite, but your language skills are damn close to perfect.”
“Thank you, we’ll tell the Queen you think so.”
“But seriously, you’ve got no otherworldly wisdom? No insights? Couldn’t you just zap in and watch what the other species are doing? Find out what they’re thinking? Give me an update on how successful my message is on their homeworlds?”
“So far, you are more connected with each species than we could ever hope to be. We do not understand them ourselves. Their worlds are in an utterly chaotic state. It would not do you any good to know just how fractious they are.”
“Except the fairies?” Phil countered.
“Except the fairies, but even there, we only knew to reach out after watching you and learning how to approach them. The Queen was already aware of you, so was ... almost ready when we finally reached out to her.”
“Stop,” he said, waving their praise off as if he was talking with friends and not an alien race capable of creating entire worlds and populating them with creatures of their own design. “You’re going to give me a swelled head!”
“You deserve one. You understand each species better than we could. We picked the ideal candidate. You not only relate to the mentally ill on your world, despite never suffering from it yourself, but you understand their positions, quickly adapting to how they think, figuring out how to best communicate with them.”
“Stop it. You’ll convince me I can walk on water.”
Suddenly, Phil was upright, standing on an expansive watery world, not a vessel or fish to be seen, literally standing—if not actually walking—on the surface of an ocean at least miles deep.
“Okay, you’ve convinced me, you’ve developed a sense of humor. There’s hope for you yet.” he danced a short jig of only a few steps before turning serious again. “Seriously, at least tell me what the fairy queen said.”
With that simple statement, he suddenly rediscovered gravity, plunging into the vast ocean, quickly sucked under as he watched the sunlight from the surface grow more distant. The cold of the water braced his skin, the salt water stung his eyes, his hair floating around, obstructing his vision, and his hair dye slowly bled into the seas enveloping him. And then, just as suddenly, Phil found himself back in the park, in exactly the same position in the grass as before, his hand still flying an imaginary plane, only his hair was wet, and just behind his hand, an actual plane—a large jumbo jetliner—imitated each of his motions as he made it. Unnerved, he was careful not to cause it to crash by making any drastic movements. He was no longer sure this was ‘simply’ a dream. It no longer seemed safe teasing gods!
“Could you take over flying the airplane for me? I’m convinced. You certainly act with the sense of humor I’d expect from a race of gods, as well as the same lack of compassion and understanding.”
“Which is why we choose not to intervene. You have a better feel for the situation, while we made assumptions about each species’ worth and which actions seem appropriate. You are not quite so ... hand-sandwich fisted?”
Phil chuckled, but didn’t bother correcting them. He figured they could always ask the Queen what their mistake was.
“She is ... excited at your success, and wishes you the best ... lucks?”
“Close, and it’s still nice seeing you trip every now and then, although now I’m having second thoughts about pointing it out.”
“You understand just what to say, even to an alien race. You have skills we don’t. As for the Queen, she has been busy, dreaming for weeks, though she wishes to ... aid. She is prepared to instruct each new fairy about your techniques, so they be ready to assist you.”
“Okay, you’ve proven your point. You’re not qualified to speak with anyone. You’ve seriously kept her asleep that long? What do her subjects think? Isn’t their world in a panic by now?”
“She insisted we allow her wake and tell her people why she sleeps,” they explained. “Now they wait by her side, doing anything they can for her—though we take care of her bodily needs during sleep.”
“Damn, we need exercise. We have to escape from one environment so we can filter our thoughts, figure out just how much we know. If you don’t give her a break, a chance to explain what she’s learned to others so she can understand it, she’ll be beyond useless after this much time.”
“We told you,” it/they pouted like a young child.
“Yeah, I get it. You’re right. You’re hand-sandwich fisted, all right.” Phil thought a moment before saying anything else, letting what they’d said sink in.
“How much do her people know, about me at least?”
“They know you were punishing other species. They also know you are now reaching out. Each fairy who returns, they question about you. Limrick tell them all she knew.”
“Okay, they accept they want to work with me. There’s no sense telling them too much, otherwise they’ll start getting their humans too excited. Still, it would be handy to communicate with the newer trainees arriving.”
“You could ... give us your ... number ... so they can call you?”
“No! Absolutely not! If you did, I’d get a million phone calls. If they all happened at once, it would cripple our telecommunication infrastructure. That would alert everyone in the world just what a danger I represent, and they’d come after me with everything they’ve got.”
“Tell us then. How should we ... proceed?”
“Wait until I’m ready to reveal my secrets. Then you can give any new arrivals my number. Hopefully there won’t be too many, especially if you limit it geographically, not alerting anyone too far away. That way, when the newbies arrive, I can instruct them on how to communicate with their humans. I’ll need to set up someone to teach them all, though. We’re still talking about some incredible numbers, yet spreading the knowledge around will benefit everyone. I’ll figure out the details. This would be easier if I spoke to the Queen directly, but this will work as it is. Just knowing I’m here, with a new way of working is enough of a jump-start. Once a few contact me, they’ll distribute the message without my having to teach them individually. As word spreads, their humans can communicate the ideas as they’ve done for thousands of years.”
“Hundreds of thousands,” he was corrected.
Phil chuckled. “I’ve always wondered about that. Okay, just as a show of faith, how about you tell me just who you are and let me see what you look like. That way I can at least convince everyone I’ve really spoken to you.”
“They not know. What difference it make?”
“It does, believe me. They can see it in my attitude, in how I respond. In the timber of my voice and my enthusiasm; in how much detail I regal them with, and which details I obsess over.”
A tall, thin creature with long plaited hair stood before him, its eyes twinkling with an otherworldly humor, its finger twitching with nervous anticipation, as if edgy about being judged lacking by an admitted inferior species. Strangely, that frailty made them seem almost ... human.
“We are Tzoxhols. If you say the name, they will recognize it. They still speak of us in ... revered tones. It will give you greater prestige, more clout, additional veracity.”
“Okay, you’ve proven you’ve been studying a thesaurus. Tell the Queen I’m impressed with her expertise.”
“As gift for work, we add new vocabulary to memory, though only common phrases. You must practice each many times before sleep. Otherwise your brain will erase the excess data and you will forget. Pick what you most need so you ... retain it.”
“Sounds like a deal, and thanks. I feel honored. I know precisely how I’ll review them. Trust me, I’ll make sure I burn them into my memory so millions of others can also share the knowledge in time.” Phil climbed to his feet and stood, reaching out to shake hands. The Tzoxhols stared at the offered appendage for a moment before it too reached out. Just as their hands met, Phil jerked awake in his bed, his mind running a million miles an hour, covered in sweat. He was shaking and exhausted. Clearly, communicating with gods was more difficult than he’d guessed.
He collapsed back in the bed, closing his eyes again as he tried to piece together all he’d learned, reviewing the new language skills he acquired before he lost them forever.
“We got here as soon as we could,” Abe said as Phil opened his door. “What’s the rush? I figure you either had a bad dream or saw a ghost.”
Phil made a vague motion, leading them into the room. “A little of both, but I had something specific I wanted to discuss with you that’s essential for your creatures’ wellbeing.” He turned, facing them while motioning for them to sit. “I suggested that Toni research the few species doing things the right way, largely by accident. She targeted PTSD victims who show benefits, despite suffering from severe symptoms. However, they reported the situation on their homeworlds is drastic. They advise that none of the berserkers tell what they’ve learned here when they return. Instead, they need to toe the official party line; otherwise they’ll be railroaded, killed outright or cast as insane dupes. They cautiously repeat exactly what the elders expect to hear, while preaching our gospel to whoever seems receptive, spreading our message on a berserker-to-berserker level.
“Their elders employ a heavy indoctrination, ensuring that everyone thinks the same way. Anyone who doesn’t, pays the price for their non-conformity. But there is an independence movement, only they are afraid to speak up, so their lessons aren’t being passed on consistently. Few are receptive to new approaches and treat the suggestions as heresy.
“So far, this appears to be restricted to the berserkers, but we need to establish whether something similar is occurring on the other worlds too. Even if only to a lesser degree, we should couch our language to fit into their world views, while cautioning those following our advice not to challenge their elders.”
“Hold on,” Abe cautioned. “Before you fly into a panic, what do your creatures think?”
“Lutin refused to believe anything Toni said, suspecting a set-up. He finally tested her, asking something only a native of their homeworld would know. She passed with flying colors.”
Meg got a funny expression on her face. “Uh, what did he ask?”
“Since Vasput won’t be likely to ask, I’ll have Lutin repeat the story himself.” With that, Lutin flew to his companion and they conversed quietly. To say he was shocked was an understatement. When he finally returned to Meg, she sat bolt upright.
“He says you’re right on each count.”
“I get different accounts from the other species. The dragons report that they have an aggressive culture of intimidation, with power going to whoever intimidates the others. If they can’t cower someone, a fight ensues, where the winner takes all. As a result, there’s a focus on ‘go along to get along’ unless you want to end up bleeding in the street with everyone spitting on you as they pass. However, beyond this ‘top dog’ mentality, there’s no enforcement of group think involved.
“The demons and devils both have a similar situation, where others have the right to object and voice their own opinion. They’ll likely be derided, but as long as they don’t violate orders they won’t be punished for it. In fact, the more followers you have backing you, the stronger your position, so opinions shift over time. It’s a dynamic power balance.”
Phil didn’t mention his ace-in-the-hole. Since he hadn’t admitted he’d spoken with the creators, he didn’t detail how he now knew who they were. What’s more, his impression during his dream sequence was that the name was not only reverential, but influential. A sort of ‘the name which shall not be spoken’, rather than one similar to where Orthodox Jews refuse to spell the full name of God for fear of diminishing him. While he could use it when needed, he decided it was better not throwing it around willy-nilly. If the name possessed such power, using it casually would only weaken its influence, while employing it surgically and deploying it at the proper moment would make it more effective. He’d bide his time before testing his supposition.
Abe brushed his hands theatrically, standing. “Okay, everyone knows what not to say to new volunteers. Are we done? It’s still early and we haven’t had breakfast.”
“You can grab something; I still have a few things to do.” Phil took out his phone and dialed a number from memory. Since the others didn’t know what he was up to, Abe sat back down and waited. Phil pointed to a small pot in the corner with hot coffee already brewed.
“Commissioner Malcolm’s office.”
“Hello, this is Phil Walker, and I’d like to speak to the Commissioner.”
“Give me a second to notify him. He’s pretty busy,” the receptionist cautioned. However, several moments later the phone was answered.
“Phil, delighted to hear from you again. I’m sorry about the little dust up between you and KTVK news. I did my part in putting it to bed, but it’s apparently a light sleeper.”
“You did your best, and played it perfectly. You didn’t admit anything you shouldn’t have, while also tapping down expectations without denying the claims. However, Mr. Tobias doesn’t seem to care about facts, he’s after sensational headlines; controversy sells ad time and increasers viewership numbers.”
“Well, I’ve got to say, the changes in the department are significant. Morale is improved, productivity is up, everyone has more energy and there’s less conflict between my cops. What’s more, the officers you met with are noticeably more stable and enthusiastic. Of course, it’s only been a day, but I’m hoping this will have a lasting influence.”
“That’s wonderful to hear, but something has come up and we need to discuss it. Since this involves the same group, I’d like to meet with them again and alert them to a potential problem.”
“That doesn’t sound good, I’ll have to reschedule people, but I’m sure they’re interested in attending. We just need to work out the details.”
“I’m afraid this is important, sir, and I won’t be available until later.”
“What does it entail, just so I know what we’re dealing with?”
“It’s a problem with one area of your group,” Phil hedged, hoping Taylor could read between the lines. “Those associated with officer Viegleman are still on the loose, as was the instigator, and I suspect they’re plotting something. You need to be aware of potential actions against those officers. I’d like to warn them concerning what they might be facing.”
“Yeah, that sounds problematic. I’ll pull them from their duty roster. It’s better avoiding trouble, even if we have to move bodies around. What time can you meet?”
“One o’clock will give everyone time to grab lunch.”
“How about noon? If it’s that vital, I’d rather not risk the extra hour for something to spin out of control. I’ll order lunch in.”
“I’ll see you then,” Phil said before ending the call.
“What’s that about?” Abe asked.
“Same issue, given this new information about the berserkers, I’m no longer confident the others will return. It’s been too long and there’s no sign of them. They’re up to something, planning some type of action which doesn’t bode well for us.”
Phil dialed another number as Meg and Abe waited again.
“Max, this is Phil. Any indication of your lost berserkers?”
“Not as far as I can tell.”
“I’m pretty sure you’d know if they were back. I just scheduled another meeting with the commissioner, but I wanted to check in before then. I suspect you’ve been granted a reprieve, because they’re planning something against me, though I’m unsure what.”
“If so, maybe they’ll follow me in?”
“I’d see them if they did, but if you feel yourself getting angry, or having an outsized emotional response, you should warn me. Just on the off-chance they’re keeping quiet to orchestrate a trap, hold the phone to your ear so they can’t hear. I’ll whisper a safe word. If you suspect they’re trying to goad you into action, use it when you arrive at the meeting and I’ll be prepared.”
“Okay, they’re unlikely to hear anything now.”
“The keyword is ‘Brooklyn’, though I doubt you’ll need to use it.”
“Still, it’s nice to have plans. Also, it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the one with the problems this time. It’s easier to control if I know my issues are being triggered by outsiders. It’s simpler redirecting my anger against them, rather than focusing it inward or taking it out on strangers.”
“That’s part of the design in exposing the information. The more people know, the better they can handle it. Anyway, I’ve got to go. I have a few more calls to make.”
“Sound like you’re a busy man, trying to cure everyone on your own.”
“Believe me, it’s no longer just me.”
After he ended the call, Abe finally questioned his actions.
“You seem to have something specific planned. What’s up, and besides the news about the berserkers’ homeworld, what’s changed?”
“I’m not sure, but I suspect we’re building up to something. I’d rather not be caught flat footed if something explodes.”
Phil placed a third call, so Abe poured himself a cup of coffee, tossing Meg an orange juice and a leftover muffin from the day before.
“Seattle Times, Leslie Sharpton speaking.”
“Leslie, this is Phil Walker. Are you still interested in an interview? If you are, I’m ready to sit down, though I won’t have much time. I’m busy until after ten and I’ve got a noon meeting with the Commissioner.”
“I’m definitely intrigued. You didn’t give me much information before. I’m sure our readers will eat up whatever you provide. My brief report gained a lot of views. People are curious what’s happening between you and Tobias.”
“I can give you a more complete story, but we’ll have to work out a time.”
“Where will you be? Maybe I can meet you?”
Phil hesitated but decided to bite the bullet. “I’ll be at the University of Washington Psychology department. Afterwards, I’ll be heading for Police Headquarters downtown.”
“I’ll hire a car. That way we can sit in the back and I’ll interview you on the way. I can also provide lunch if it helps. For an exclusive, I can expense it. You’re a hot ticket at the moment, and you’re not known for offering personal interviews.”