Arts & Entertainment

Something Else

For your summer adult reading pleasure, this is the final part of a short story by well-known science fiction writer Ted White, who is a long-time resident of the City of Falls Church. — Editor

Slaughter realized he’d fallen backward on the office couch, and was now lying down, Dr. Savage looming over him. An oddly dusty odor filled his nostrils. He stared up at the androgyn’s face. They locked eyes.

“I’ve brought you here for a conversation,” Dr. Savage said, gesturing at the greensward. Slaughter looked around and realized the vast park looked familiar. Where was the little girl who had been looking for her cat?  

Savage’s eyes bored into him, even as he realized Savage and the woman who had come to his office were one and the same…alien. Each had created the same hallucination for him. Could he make any use of this?

“A conversation?” he asked.

Savage chuckled. “Not a therapeutic conversation. I need to get full access to your mind. This is a nice secluded spot for it.”

“It’s not all that secluded,” Slaughter said. “Look — here’s someone’s family cat.” He pointed at the large male tabby that was rubbing against his legs affectionately. “And I know a girl is looking for him.”

Savage frowned. “That cat doesn’t belong here. Neither does she.”

“You found the family cat!” exclaimed the small girl, flashing Slaughter a smile of gratitude. She unceremoniously picked up the cat as if picking up a rag doll, slinging it over her shoulder. The cat surprised Slaughter by not resisting this treatment.

“Stick around,” Slaughter told her. He found her presence comforting, oddly reassuring. He glanced at Savage to see how the androgyn-slash-alien was taking this exchange, and when he looked back the small girl and her cat were gone.

Savage gave him a cold smile. “That didn’t work, did it?”

Slaughter looked around. The lawn-like greensward extended in every direction for meters, maybe kilometers, unobstructed by any plant or man-made feature until it reached the distant treeline.  It was empty of animals or people, except for the two of them.

There was no sign of the girl or her cat. Overhead, the sky was improbably blue — Slaughter had never seen a blue sky, although he’d heard of them — and cloudless. Everything was sunlit, but there was no visible sun in the sky.

“It’s all a construct, isn’t it?” Slaughter said. “You assembled the units — grass, sky — but you forgot the sun. Kinda sloppy, huh?”

“Does it matter? It’s a nice, quiet place where we won’t be interrupted.”

“I’m not so sure of that. How about her?” Slaughter gestured at an approaching figure. It was Callie. He was proud of himself for accomplishing this. The construct might be Savage’s, but they were inside his, Jack Slaughter’s, head and this gave him some measure of control.

“Hey,” Callie said, lifting her hand in greeting. “Doc Slaughter,” she nodded at him, “and the alien. Thought I’d killed you.”

Savage glowered at her. “You did. Fortunately, I can exist simultaneously in more than one form, or body. You can kill one of my bodies, but not me.”

“Huh,” Callie said. “Just like pimples. Squash one and another pops up.”

“I don’t care for your comparison,” Savage said.

“Well, you wouldn’t, would you?” Callie said. “But you’re worse than a pimple, aren’t you? You’re evil. You’re an alien.”

“Is that one a them aliens?” “Typhoon” Johnny asked, pointing a stubby finger at Savage.  

Slaughter felt a surge of exultation. “Yes,” he said. “Do you recognize him?”

“Nah. I tole ya, they looks all different ev’ry time.”

“But you recognize Johnny, don’t you?” Slaughter asked Savage. “You being all the same alien, I mean.”

Savage looked distinctly uncomfortable. He was outnumbered now, three to one.

“You’re being very difficult,” he said to Slaughter. “This is so unnecessary.”

Slaughter glanced at Callie and Johnny. Johnny was eyeing Callie’s bare breasts with obvious approval, and Callie was backing away from him. Slaughter looked back at Savage, whose face was now relaxed and confident, and realized what the alien was doing.

Flexing mental muscles he’d never known he had, Slaughter fought back. Johnny turned away from Callie and glowered at Savage. “Why’d you want me to spread disease?” he asked. Slaughter realized he’d cleaned up Johnny’s syntax, but it didn’t concern him. The point was to return Johnny’s focus to Savage.  

“It was just an experiment,” Savage said, his tone conciliatory. “There was no disease in those bottles. I just wanted to improve the smell of your neighborhood.”

Experiment?” Johnny exploded. “You experimentin’ on me?” That was good — Slaughter hadn’t had to make him say that.

“And he messes with your mind!” Callie interjected, confronting Savage.

Slaughter looked up and the sky turned from blue to gray. Black clouds scudded overhead. Yes! He could do this!  

Savage had noticed the change in the light. He was staring intently at Slaughter. Those eyes! Slaughter knew he had to act immediately. There would be no second chance.

The air around them turned white and there was an immediate concussive blast.  

The bolt of lightning struck where Savage had been standing. Slaughter’s last view of the alien was of an irregular globule with writhing tentacles that seemed to shed sparks before disintegrating.

Slaughter sat up. He was once again on the couch in Savage’s office. There was no sign of Dr. Savage. Nor of Callie or Johnny — but he hadn’t expected to see them here.  His concern was Savage. Had what happened in his mindscape been real enough to affect the real Savage? Or had it all been metaphorical, like a dream?

He walked to the office window. The view was mostly of similar tall towers, little sky visible. But what sky he could see was reassuringly a milky pale yellow.

He poked around Savage’s office, but found nothing of importance. It was like a generic office, containing only the usual office items — a sealer, some bit-batteries — and, perhaps significantly, no handi except his own.

#

“Just thought you’d like to know,” Sheanokia told Slaughter the next afternoon as she stopped to lounge against his office door frame. “Security has dismissed all charges against that California woman. So she’ll be your client again.”

He glanced at his handi and saw Callie was back on his schedule.

“What about the other one? ‘Typhoon’ Johnny?” There was no sign of the man on his schedule.

“Moved downstate to Reagan. Seriously nuts. Been off his meds too long.”

Slaughter sighed. He’d been looking forward to seeing the man again.

“And there’s a new client for you. She’ll be added to your schedule tomorrow. Name’s Avarice Jones — pretty name, don’t you think?”

Slaughter stared at her. “Avarice means a greed for riches. I have no idea why anyone would name their child that.”

“Maybe they just thought it was pretty,” Sheanokia said, shaking her head as if brushing his comment off. “You know, a pretty name for a pretty girl.”

“Is she?”

“Who? Avarice Jones? I don’t know. I haven’t seen her. But all babies are pretty.”

Slaughter did not agree with her, but chose not to tell her that and she left.

Alone, his office door now closed and locked, Slaughter consulted his handi.

Where was Dr. Kenneth Savage?

Not available. Gone from his practice. Not found at his aptower. Missing from his favorite off-hours watering holes. He’d left behind a Dr. Kenneth Savage-sized hole, a vacuum.

What did that mean? Well, it meant Slaughter had gotten a good night’s sleep, that’s what it meant. He wasn’t delusional. He wasn’t hallucinating. He could almost shut the door on the previous day’s bizarre events. Almost. Dr. Savage remained inexplicably missing. That much was not a delusion. And what did that mean?

There was a tentative knock on his door. He pressed the release and it opened. A man in a service uniform stood there with a cleaning machine. Slaughter realized that it had gotten late, his windows darkly mirroring the small office. 

“Working late, huh?” the man said, wheeling his machine in.

“Yeah,” Slaughter said. “Usually I’m out of here by now, but this week has been something else.”  

It was later than he usually took the tube home but it seemed just as crowded. No one returned his searching gaze and the ride was uneventful. So was the rest of his evening, and he climbed into his pneumatic cradle with relief to be done with the day and quickly fell asleep.

But in dreams he would not remember on waking, he stood again in the middle of that vast greensward, confronted by a rather diminished and bedraggled-looking Kenneth Savage, who insisted again and again that he needed full access to Slaughter’s mind — his thoughts and memories. Slaughter resisted Savage throughout the night as they verbally dueled on the greensward. But at the end Savage told him, “I am relentless.  I will return every night. Sooner or later you will tire of your resistance. Sooner or later I will win.”

“No,” Slaughter said, “you will not. This is my dream and I’m in control.”

Savage laughed mockingly and Slaughter woke up, feeling less refreshed by his night’s sleep than he’d expected. But at least no space aliens had kept him awake all night.