Speaking With Your Demons
22: A Shot in the Dark
You’re taught from the day you start medical school
that you’re a God,
that you can have power over life and death.
So when your life starts to crumble,
and the highest power you see is
looking back in the mirror—
and you know that power is flawed—
it is very hard to get past that.
“I’ve been so caught up with the study, I never got a chance to ask,” Tracy said, as she accompanied Abe and the others home from the university, boarding the Link Rail. “The administration is fielding thousands of new applications for admissions, most from already established professionals with successful practices. Rather than leaving them dangling, they’re pressuring me to finish up quickly so they can let everyone know where we officially stand. So what happened since the dramatic conclusion to your war against the rogue dragons and Vikings? I mean,” she hurried to add, “I read the headlines and heard all the gory details, but I don’t know what’s happened after that.”
“Actually,” Phil said, as they found empty seats and sat down, “it’s been relatively quiet, at least here in Seattle.” The public’s reaction on the train had transitioned over the past week from stoic silence to open recognition and camaraderie, just like on campus. Now, everyone on the Link waved, teased and congratulated them as they passed. Instead of being the celebrity they all ignored, Phil was now a public hero, a quintessential Seattle figure. “The city was relieved the crisis was over, as no one knew quite what to make of it. However, nationally, as I and the mayor predicted, all bets are off. Since the medical community can’t count on anyone else taking care of me, various groups have launched nationwide criticisms of me in the media. The AMA, in particular, have taken out numerous attack ads, while multiple individuals in a variety of fields critique my claims using whatever outlets will allow them to vent. Needless to say, the media’s been fanning the flames, enjoying the controversy.”
“That sounds terrible!” Tracy cried. “How could they do that to you?”
“It’s simple, while they were reluctant to come after me earlier, afraid of negative publicity given my popularity, once it appeared I might succeed, they pulled out all stops trying to refute me. Only, they didn’t have anything except personal attacks, so it won’t count for much.
“My popularity hasn’t waned. Instead, those who’ve benefit from my work are defending me all the louder, while our opposition has grown more venomous. For them, it’s all about dollars and cents. The huge drug manufacturers stand to lose hundreds of millions if the mentally ill reduce their medications, and will fold completely if they quit taking them altogether. Before, with me effectively nullified, it didn’t pay to attack me, since belittling me didn’t gain them anything. But with their bottom line under attack, they went all out.”
“Despite how nasty it’s been, it’s been fairly humorous,” Abe added. “The nastier they got, the worse their stocks dropped. The more the experts complained, the more their companies were penalized as individual citizens abandoned their services. Once the media realized how much they stood to lose, the invitations to join in the fray dried up. Suddenly, it became a no-fire zone. The various ‘experts’ could still mouth off—in print, at least—but they realized they’d pay for it financially.”
“Then how did the pharmaceutical companies respond?”
“They continued anyway,” Phil explained, as their neighbors on the train listened in, intently focused to hear the familiar events directly from the affected participants. “Since the threat to their income hasn’t diminished, the drop in their stock value was immaterial. They’re facing the collapse of their entire business model—regardless of the price of their stocks—so they were unconcerned with how little their stocks are worth. They had to slow the hemorrhaging, which meant, they needed to shut me up. Only, I haven’t said anything for the past week. Aside from a simple, heartfelt thank you for the residents of the city, I’ve never reacted to the personal attacks, simply letting them roll off my back.”
“You never defended yourself?” Tracy asked.
Phil chuckled. “Why? The more desperate they get, the more obvious their lies grow. They can’t present any clear objections to my claims—especially since I never stated anything they could attack—so they were reduced to flinging mud.
“They attacked me personally, but anyone who knows someone with a mental illness will respond to such claims negatively. They questioned my psychological qualifications, and people would counter with ‘he never claimed any psychological expertise’. They called me delusional, and people would question their results while contrasting mine. The more they complain, the worse they look.”
“What about the renegades?” Tracy continued, accepting his conclusions. “You cornered and released Desttr—why, I’ll never comprehend—but what about his other ‘converts’?”
“That was interesting, too.” Phil indicated Abe and Meg’s shoulders, where Desttr was conversing privately with a couple of Phil’s assistants, though he never detailed what he was pointing out. “Just as I made more rapid advances working with these creatures rather than fighting them, when I sent them out hunting, it spread my message even faster, as it avoided their skepticism, since it was delivered by their own species. And for each new human convert, we had another three to six to circulate the word to their own kind, so we covered most of the city quickly. Desttr couldn’t have done me a bigger favor if he tried.”
“The rule of unintended consequences,” Abe summarized.
“Still,” Tracy said, lowering her voice, “he came close to killing you multiple times. You were only saved because of the warnings of your aides, rather than your own guile.”
“Don’t forget timing of Creators,” Sweizzr added, revealing his creatures heard even the gentlest of whispers. “No one reacts so quickly, or so consistently, without Divine assistance.”
“Modest little buggers, ain’t they?” Phil teased, addressing Tracy, though she could only guess at his meaning, which given the context of the discussion, was pretty clear.
“Our assistance is the result of the Creator’s efforts,” Zchezzlr reminded him pointedly, slapping his back with her tail.
“Ow! Damn, I wish you weren’t so adept at Earth’s slap-stick!”
Having arrived at their destination, they arose, everyone parting to give Phil preference. Phil, likewise, motioned for Meg and Tracy to precede him, much to Abe’s consternation, since he considered himself Phil’s security expert.
Exiting, Phil resumed the conversation. “In all, everything worked out, despite how close we come to complete disaster. I hate to admit it, but I’m tempted to give Sweizzr and Zchzzlr’s theory about the Creator’s divine intervention credit.”
“What about the medical and drug companies?” Tracy countered. “What if they try something else?”
Phil shrugged. “We’ll cope with it when they do, but whatever it is, they’re feckless. They’re facing the same losing battle Desttr was. No matter what they do, public opinion will favor our work. Our results speak for themselves—regardless of what the ‘experts’ say. They’re out of ideas.”
“Still, it isn’t wise to discount someone who’s desperate. You never know what they might try. It’s like purposely teasing a snake, you’ll eventually get bitten.”
“True, but like Desttr’s efforts, even if they embarrass or implicate me, the work will continue without me.”
As they neared their hotel, someone stepped away from the hotel’s outer wall, coming up behind them. Phil and the others continued talking as the man raised his hand, revealing a revolver.
“Danger!” Tristan shouted.
“Drop!” Smuttle cried, while Sweizzr and Zchezzlr emphasized his words by striking Phil with their sharp tails.
Phil, having encountered dangerous situations often enough, threw himself flat, grabbing Meg as he fell. He knew, given the warnings, that they weren’t of otherworldly origin. Three shots rang out. Schog warned Abe, who just managed to dive in time to avoid being hit. The bullets zinging over Phil’s head.
Everyone dropped. Pedestrians screamed. The hotel’s windows shattered, and those inside rushed towards whatever inner doors or other protection they could find. The dragons took wing, but faced with a lone human with a gun, were unsure how to respond.
“No!” Desttr shouted from the back of their entourage. His exclamation, delivered in the berserker’s native tongue, caused the man’s creatures to hesitate, buying him time. He flew as fast as his tiny wings would carry him. “No attack. He no die this way!”
Desttr smashed into the shooter’s berserkers—his own kind, those carrying out his own actions—bowling them over and sending them scattering. As they lost contact, their swords clattering to the ground, the man looked befuddled. He was no longer sure what he was doing, or even certain why he’d been so angry just moments before.
“You no understand!” Desttr yelled, as he pummeled his own kind, spinning to attack another. “He help. He better. He no bad as fear!”
The last two berserkers, in an attempt to defend themselves, raised their swords—which they hadn’t lost in the initial assault. As Desttr rushed them, he found himself impaled on a sword, having brushed the other aside—slicing his arm in the process. The berserkers he attacked, realizing they’d killed one of their own, instead of who they intended, lost their nerve, but by then the dragons figured out who to target. The fleeing berserkers didn’t get far. The dragons, including Sweizzr and Zchezzlr, swept in, picking them off.
Grasping the firing had ceased and his dragons were on the attack, Phil sprang up and rushed his opponent. Confronting the man waving his gun as if unaware what it was or how it got there, Phil smashed his arm with his cane. The pistol skittered across the concrete sidewalk. A whistle sounded in the distance, but he couldn’t tell whether it was his imagination, or the effect of the gunshots.
“Ow! What’d I do? What’d I do?” the man cried, cringing before Phil’s anger.
“Is anyone hurt?” Phil called, spinning, no longer concerned with the man bereft of his berserkers.
“I don’t think so,” Abe shouted, scanning their people. It was only then that the screams in the crowd took recognizable form, cries of pain separating from those of fear and surprise. “Two civilians down.”
“Take care of them, clear everyone else,” Phil ordered, still surveying the situation, not yet taking everything in.
Tracy and Meg rushed inside to help.
“Desttr!” Tristan urged by Phil’s head.
“He wasn’t involved. I knew where he was when the shots fired. What’s more, if my dragons had recognized him, he’d be ripped to shreds.”
“No, he didn’t attack. He was injured!”
Phil spun again, searching out the now scattered and no-longer visible berserkers. “He’s impervious to human bullets. Was he responsible for the assault? I’ll rip his friggin’ lungs out if he was, assuming my dragons left anything intact!”
“No,” Tristan warned, flying ahead and pointing out the solitary berserker lying on the ground, bleeding though no one besides Phil and the other creatures could see. “Desttr hurt, mortally!”
Kneeling, Phil cradled his one-time mortal enemy, lifting him, trying not to jostle the sword impaling him. “Why? Why sacrifice yourself for me?”
“You wrong ‘fore. Now ... speak for Creators. Now ... Creators back you.”
“Take it easy,” Phil urged, reaching for something to stem the blood. But even as he did, Desttr began to fade.
“No, you can’t die like this!”
Tristan lay a hand on the side of his head. “He’s not,” she cautioned. “Well, he is, but that’s not what’s happening.”
“Wha?” Phil looked at her, seeking an explanation from the tiny fairy.
“He’s returning, where he can be treated by those more technologically advanced than you.”
Phil turned, studying Desttr again, recognizing the symptoms as he continued fading. The other dragons returned. Yet none carried bloodied remains, each carrying live and mostly uninjured captures. First Zukr, then Schog, Smurttle and Sweizzr set obviously stunned berserkers down before him. And then, they all began to fade, too.
“What’s happening?” Phil demanded, glancing around, searching for an answer.
“They all return, having shown initiative, carrying your message home,” Tristan answered, though her voice sounded strangely faint.
Swiveling his head, Phil noticed that she too was fading.
“You can’t all go now! We’re so close to the end. We’re almost there!”
Before the words left his lips, four new dragons appeared, slowly solidifying, and after them, a single fairy, though not a depression fairy like Tristan.
“Do not worry,” Tristan cautioned. “I return as the Creators wanted. You now have all new assistants to guide you. Teach them well. We head home, since you’ve accomplished so much. You no longer need such experienced help. You now have time to instruct the young who can guide others when they too return.”
“What about Desttr?” Phil demanded. “He’s not being replaced.”
“I go back to tell my kind not to fear you,” he whispered. “They save me. No replacement, since I no longer have human to assist. Instead, I return to teach, helping berserkers like I who no help human. It ... poetic.” With that, he vanished, leaving a stainless tiny sword lying in Phil’s hands.
The disappearing dragons began issuing hurried instructions. The berserkers they held leapt clear, as their grasps no longer constrained them, but hovered in the air, taking in the action around them, trying to make sense of it.
Zchezzlr rushed to her companion’s side “Worry not, I train. Instruct others. As one to correct Phil, the unifier, you will have an authority no elder will, especially when you speak with the voice of the Creators. No one can dispute your authority. Wait for me there, I too, will return soon enough, once I straighten the big galoot out!”
A siren sounded, Phil only now recognizing it. His worries for his creatures assuaged, he once again focused on the human injuries.
“Two casualties, none fatally,” Tracy answered.
“I have bandages,” Meg shouted.
“I’ve got one,” Abe called, “he’s bleeding, but stable.”
“What’ve I done?” the man who started the entire thing asked, still stumbling around, unsure what to do.
Two security guards finally rushed from inside the hotel.
“Hands up! Don’t move,” they insisted, contradicting themselves.
The man slowly raised his hands. “I ... I don’t know what’s happening. I was ... angry, but ... I’m not, now.”
“He’s not responsible,” Phil assured them.
“We’ll determine who’s responsible!” The guard brandished a pair of handcuffs, which would have been worthless if he was violent, as neither was armed nor trained for tackling a dangerous opponent.
“I called the cops,” Meg said from near the hotel entrance. “I told them we had injured, so they’re sending an ambulance, too. Since it’s you, they weren’t surprised. They shouldn’t be long.”
Reassured that everything was being handled, Phil turned, one more time, to say farewell to those who’d done so much for him, even though they’d only been with him a short time.
“Goodbye, trusted companions. Sweizzr, you were the gentlest tormentor imaginable, though still the strictest. Know that your intervention succeeded, as both Toni and Jane are on their way for us to discuss our lives. Tristan, what can I say? I relied on you, and kept you here on Earth for much too long. Return and take your place among the fairy elders, instruct them well, and tell your queen, Millial, your tales. Smurttle, Schog and Zukr, you were the most junior, yet you return the most experienced and knowledgeable. Train your fellow dragons well. We’ll need thousands more with your knowledge. You have your work cut out for you.”
That was all he had time for, as all four vanished just as two police cars and an ambulance pulled up.
“Don’t say a word,” Phil cautioned the man who tried to kill him.
“Shut up!” the guard hissed. “If you don’t, we’ll arrest you too.”
“You don’t have the authority to arrest anyone.” Phil turned to confront his attacker.
“I’ve got to say something,” the man argued.”
“If you do, you’ll be locked away for years. At the moment, you’re no longer insane, so don’t say anything. If I return your berserkers, you’ll be institutionalized. If not, you’ll be found guilty with no valid defense. Your life is in my hands, now, so don’t fight me on this.”
“Who’s side are you on?” the other guard asked.
“I’m on the side of justice.” He turned back to the suspect. “Not a word to anyone until I say so.” Turning back to the two guards, Phil pointed out the gun still lying on the sidewalk seven feet from them. “I suggest you pick that up, as it’s a clear danger.” Phil knew they’d compromise the evidence, further complicating the situation.
The police leapt out of their car and the EMTs ran from their ambulance.
“The injured are there and there,” Phil argued, pointing out the people Abe and Tracy were caring for. “The suspect is here, but he’s not speaking for the moment. I was the intended victim, though he missed, striking two innocent victims.”
“Stand back,” the officer warned the two guards. “What the f•©k are you doing screwing with the evidence? Hands up, we’re taking you in for questioning too.”
“I ... I was helping!”
“Who? The shooter, his defense lawyer, or yourself?”
“Offer the nice officer your wrists, palms up,” Phil suggested. “Don’t resist, and move slowly.”
The other cop slapped cuffs on the defendant. “What’s your name and why did you shoot?”
“Sorry, but I’m not saying anything until he says I can.”
“What the... ?” He spun on Phil. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Phil Walker. I compromised his legal defense. I’ll get him to talk, but not until I reach an agreement with the DA.”
“He’ll speak now, or I’ll arrest you too!”
“I think not. I suggest you call Commissioner Malcolm. He’ll explain. I’ve got him on speed dial, if you’d like.”
“No, thank you. If you insist on speaking for this scum, you can ride with him in the back of our police car.”
“You should contact the commissioner. The longer you delay, the more complicated this gets. All I need is the DA there when we arrive, ready to cut a deal.”
“They’ll never cut a deal with a shooter we caught red-handed.”
“Joe...” his partner said, speaking quietly.
“He didn’t shoot anyone,” Abe said.
“Are you crazy?” the wounded woman beside him asked.
“It was some other guy,” Tracy said.
“Joe,” his partner said, again, speaking more forcefully, “you should—”
“You have no clue who I am, do you?” Phil asked.
“Some self-important prig!” the officer snarled.
“Joe, for Christ’s sake, this is that guy—the one who cures the insane, heals the homeless, rescues troubled officers and saved our bloody reputation.”