Under the Moons of Eden
by Christopher Leeson
*The sly slow hours shall not determinate
The dateless limit of thy dear exile.*
KING RICHARD II
Our outfit, the 54th Battle Group Earth Alliance, was in transit to Cathara when an Asymmetric search-and-destroy mission intercepted us off Ophir. Since our light escorts had no firepower to match theirs, they did a good job of turning our fleet into slag before the escort commander broadcast the general order for a cold jump.
A cold jump for hyperspace! You have to be suicidal to try that, but our ships were going out like Christmas lights on the day after New Years and there wasn't any other way out. Against every rule in the book the surviving fighters and freighters flooded their unprepared converters with antimatter and pushed the button. We watched the beleaguered ships blink out of this spatial continuum -- in some cases permanently -- but ours wasn't going anywhere; a disabling shot had fused our Morrison stabilator and made us the last sitting duck in a pond of sharks.
The Asymmetrics -- or Assies as we usually called them -- knew that our systems were down and so didn't circle back with torpedoes blazing. Our colonel, lieutenant colonel, and two senior majors had gone down with their own ships or jumped away -- a circumstance which left me senior officer. Unconditional surrender was my introduction to independent command.
We knew that the Assies took prisoners; the kicker was that we didn't know what the enemy did with their prisoners. There had been no POW exchanges between belligerents, and not even the most routine sort of communication. Capitulation was a hard call, but I made it understanding that the enemy would gain little from capturing the personnel and basic equipment on board.
The Assies -- odd-looking critters -- boarded us to shut down our cannons, confiscate our infantry weapons, and lock our transport in a tractor beam. A few days of towing through hyperspace brought us to their intended destination, a new planet in Assie-space. It didn't look bad from high orbit: clouds, oceans, and plenty of green-tinged land. In fact, it seemed like a prime piece of stellar real estate.
This blue-and-green planet had never been on any Earther's chart, so it had no name and the Assies didn't volunteer one. Our captors didn't talk at all, except to have us pack our gear into the pods and prepare for a drop. That prospect was better than a blaster in the back of the head, but the Assies weren't wasting time with ceremonial send-offs. We were shoved into the planet's upper atmosphere, and that was it. The aliens, for all we could tell, jumped away and forgot about us.
We were abandoned, marooned with no instructions, no special equipment, nothing. Our prison walls were the .9G gravity of a nameless planet. We supposed that we had been deposited on an Assie POW world and were expected to live or die on our own. We definitely preferred choice number two, and so got to work setting up. It wasn't too long before the rank and file called our new home "Klink!" Well, why not? With everything going wrong, a low joke sometimes helps. Had we been able to see into the future, we might have started out calling it something much less polite.
Klink was an earth-type world with an ecology of chlorophyll plants, furry animals and flyers that, if you didn't look too closely, could pass for Terran birds. It has always amazed me the degree which alien evolution can parallel Earth's; of course, some people say that all the worlds originally came off the palette of the same Artist. Metaphysics was never my strong suit.
The first temperature reading we took was 18 degrees Centigrade. That was disappointingly chilly, but one of the fleet techs corralled with us calculated that we had set down during the winter season in the northern hemisphere. He estimated from the axial tilt and the latitude that the climate might be something like that of the Upper South in the USA. In other words, we could expect a long warm-to-hot summer, a short, mild spring and autumn, and a winter of intermediate length in which the temperature would occasionally drop below freezing -- which, under the circumstances, didn't sound too bad.
Klink was orbited by two moons and, as we learned, they periodically went into conjunction and looked like they were about to collide. To plot the conjunctions, the fleet techs advised, one had to take into account the immense complexities of dual orbits and apparent retrograde motion. For the life of me I saw no reason to bother.
How little we knew then.
Anyway, we called our heavenly bodies Big Boob and Little Boob because we were a bunch of sex-obsessed SOB's. Who could blame us? Women hadn't served in combat units for a hundred years, and so did not exist in our corner of the galaxy. The chances for sexual recreation aside, we were well off. As Captain Montgomery Ames put it in those early days, "We've got everything we need for a party, except dames."
As I said, there were no Assie guards to bother us, no camp administration breathing down our necks, no rules imposed from above. Weapons-wise, we had only bayonets, knives, and hatchets, but though we occasionally found the tracks of large animals, and even sighted them from a distance, the wildlife seemed to be shy of our human scent and gave us wide berth. As far as we knew, Klink had no intelligent life, and therefore the lack of hardware did not add up to any immediate problem.
More than the confiscated arms, we missed the communicators. Without them we held no hope for easy contact with other humans on Klink -- assuming that we were not the only prisoners. The planet seemed fertile and the climate mild. We wondered why the Assies hadn't developed Klink for themselves instead of "infesting" it with enemy aliens. Assies and humans liked the same worlds -- a fact which had resulted in a decade-long border war. Now it seemed damnably strange that the Assies would invade human space and take large losses in material and life when they had an unused high-order T-type world in their own back yard. I sometimes wondered whether there was a serpent hidden in this Eden waiting for the chance to bite.
A soldier wastes his time trying to understand alien psychology. The welfare of our exiled fraction of the 54th Battle Group Earth Alliance was the first order of business. Defeat is an unmanning thing, and so we had to keep our troops busy to maintain morale. Many of them had families back home, wives and children. The idea of permanent separation from loved ones is a bitter pill for a family man, and it's pure poison if you let him wallow in his loss. For that reason, I had my five captains and ten lieutenants drive the men hard during those first few weeks -- exploring, cutting timber, constructing shelters and latrines, and foraging for a food supply.
We were out of the war, probably for good, but our outfit was first-rate and I intended to keep it that way. Few of the rank and file were career men, and consequently didn't like the idea of living the army way for the rest of their days. I sympathized, but discipline had to be preserved. It was better to live in a well-ordered organization than degenerate into a pack of bewhiskered, self-pitying bums on a camp-out.
Our survey selected a campsite a couple miles from our original landing. It was on a slight rise overlooking a fast-running creek which analyzed pure and would supply our needs for water. That allowed the Group to get to work in earnest.
But a man can't lose himself in work all the time. Though our men were kept hard at it, the private soldier on a detail can at least put his shovel down when the sergeant or lieutenant is out of sight and gripe to his buddies for a few minutes. Even officers were able to talk things over with those who shared their rank. But I was the commanding officer and had to keep my doubts and anxieties to myself. I knew capture had badly shaken the ranks and so it was up to me to keep everyone steady. I had to preserve the impression -- the illusion -- that someone was in control. That meant acting like I knew the answers. The trouble was, I didn't know the half of them.
Pressure -- and loneliness -- will buckle a man if he doesn't have a friend with whom he can be honest and up-front. The closest thing I had to a buddy on Klink was Dr. Sebastian Lowry, the only surgeon who had been aboard when the Assies took us. Unlike most of my officers, Lowry was not a careerist, but had been drafted as warrant officer for the medical corps. Dr. Lowry had run a civilian practice, but even after a year in a military-medicine academy no career soldier would ever mistake him for one of their kind. I think that fact made it easier to achieve a rapport with him. Anyway, Sebastian was a clear-thinker, had brains and not brass in his head, and was always game for a round of poker.
Our encampment of 537 men and officers was hardly up and running before IT happened for the first time.
Klink's moons were beginning their next conjunction, pairing like the women's boobs they were named after, when Pvt. Rick Halder disappeared. The man had been standing in front of the members of his squad when, at 14:07, he turned into a silhouette of white light and faded from view -- without even leaving a sooty spot behind. We knew of no weapon that acted on human flesh that way.
As soon as I received the report, I put the battle group on alert and sent every available man out searching for enemy snipers. Because of the confusion, we only realized later that a second man, Pvt. Lionel Olson, was also missing. No one had seen him "go," but it seemed likely that he had vanished in the same bizarre fashion.
There was no follow-up attack and a search failed to identify anything unusual in the vicinity. At sunset, I ordered the perimeter heavily patrolled, although I knew men armed with knives could do little against a technologically superior attacker. Our pickets were not disturbed during the night and we resumed the search at sunup. The morning patrols soon turned up a new mystery.
Two women were discovered not far from camp, side by side, unconscious but apparently unhurt. Each was nineteen or twenty -- a dark-honey blonde and a brunette. Each wore uniforms like ours -- exactly like ours and much too large for them.
Our men reacted as if they had found treasure. "Isn't this an answer to our prayers, Major Breen!" crowed Sgt. Gold as we followed the females to camp borne on makeshift stretchers. "I only hope there's plenty more sleeping beauties where these two came from."
I followed the stretchers into the hospital where Dr. Lowry, assisted by his young medic, Alan Drew, transferred the women to the cots. The doctor observed that they appeared to be anesthetized, not comatose.
I thought back on Gold's excitement. Once Lowry brought the girls around, I could foresee all kinds of discipline problems. We had five hundred men starved for female companionship, and only two of the latter. The visitors would have to be sent home as soon as possible for their own good -- and ours.
"Why don't they wake up?" I asked the doc. "They're not brain-damaged, are they?"
"When I find out, you'll be the first one I'll tell, Rupe."
"They must be colonists from an earlier prisoner drop --" I conjectured, knowing that the aliens had captured several Terran outposts over the last ten years, and evacuated the settlers.
Lowry opened the brunette's shirt and read the tag around her neck. "What the -- ?!"
"What is it?" I asked.
"The tag says 'Richard Halder!'" Lowry replied slowly, his face a mask of bewilderment.
I read the tag for myself; it actually was Halder's. "How in hell did this girl get it?! It should have been vaporized with Halder, but here it is. Does this mean that Halder's alive?"
Lowry had no answer, but then Drew began searching the blonde and found a similar I.D. tag. It said "Lionel Olson!"
"You've got to bring them around, Doc," I urged. "We've got to know what we're up against."
"Then give me working space, Rupe! I mean it! -- Get out of here!"
In the infirmary a doctor was god, so I contained my impatience and left the medics to their work. There was not much I could do except wait. Because of the crisis I had suspended even the construction teams. Every day we had been packing away more of our modular shelters as more permanent barracks replaced them. Now I wondered whether we'd ever live long enough to need them.
We faced, I guessed, alien kidnappers using matter-to-energy-to-matter technology. BEM's who had such advanced capabilities would be tough customers.
Through it all I remained preoccupied by the mystery of the women. That first day a strange thought occurred to me: Was this bizarre affair an exchange, a trade, a couple of "their" people for a couple of ours? Who would do such a thing, and why? It wasn't human thinking -- it was a trade rat's! It was the expression of a very alien type of intelligence.
I had not been in my quarters long before Dr. Lowry came to my hut and started jabbering a report that made me think he had been breathing chemical vapors. More to confirm that diagnosis than to credit his report, I followed the good doctor to the infirmary on the double-quick.
I saw that both females were awake; one, the brunette, was sitting up, trembling, suffering from shock -- head bent, fists clenched, shoulders quaking. The other was in a fetal position and seemed even farther gone. I addressed the brunette:
"Excuse me, Miss --" I began, but stopped myself. What if what Lowry said was true? I realized that I didn't know how to address the patient, and so I softened my tone as not to frighten her.
"Can you -- can you tell me your name?" I queried.
Because the girl didn't raise her head I lifted her chin with my fingertips. Men who had been gut-shot sometimes had expressions like hers. "What is your name?!"
Frantic, she was trying to speak, but the words wouldn't come.
"That's all right," I coaxed. "Take all the time you need."
"P-Private Halder, sir!" she finally answered. "D-Don't you kn-know me, sir --?! Christ, don't you know me?!"
I fought the idea until the facts could no longer be denied, questioning the young woman who claimed to be Halder intensely, since the blonde remained unfit for interrogation. I tried hard to doubt the brunette's stated identity, but she was desperate to convince me. I went away, believing in my head, but not in my stomach.
Two more men disappeared that afternoon and two more girls were found the next morning. As we feared, once able to speak, they identified themselves as the missing soldiers. Yet, for some strange reason, none of these transformed men remembered anything of their time away. Fear settled over the camp as every day the number of affected personnel grew.
In their strange new female incarnations, the metamorphosed soldiers usually looked eighteen to twenty, regardless of their original ages. Dr. Lowry observed that the transformed men -- the "transformees," as we soon began calling them -- had all come back in very good physical condition, with scars and physical defects removed -- including the last phalanx of the little finger that Sergeant Pitts had lost on Regis and now apparently had regrown.
Psychologically, all the transformees were suffering. Lowry suspected that the trauma was a side-effect, since normal trauma should not have come on well-balanced men so quickly -- at least not until they had time to appreciate the full meaning of their situation. Possibly, though, the effect could be rooted in terror, experienced during captivity and effecting the transformees now, even though the conscious memory of it had been erased or blotted out. The fear they had presumably undergone might be lurking as a nightmare just below the surface.
But Lowry emphasized that it was the speed of the trauma, not the fact of it, which was surprising. It was the nature of males, especially men accustomed to the military life, to be repulsed by any idea of effeminacy and everything was done to screen out weak material during recruitment and boot camp, and then beat into hard steel the ones who were left. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" had gone the way of female-tailored battle fatigues, and even earlier.
A female transformation was consequently a terrible shock for the soldiers. It was as though the patients' minds were interpreting what had happened to them as a profound physical violation. They were exhibiting what the doctor thought was very like post-rape trauma in women. Unfortunately, Lowry had no treatment, not even a theory of treatment for any aspect of the metamorphosis.
Sometimes the transformees' reaction to their condition was so violent or hysterical that restraint had to be called for. After the first few days, there was no space for them in the infirmary, requiring Sebastian to farm out his patients to the huts. After all, their problems were mental and emotional, not physical. All the doctor could do was prescribe rest and call on the affected soldiers each day to monitor their progress.
In the meantime, we were trying to discover the agent responsible. Over the next couple weeks we sent search parties as far as a hundred kilometers out looking primarily for aliens. They discovered nothing whatsoever -- nothing, except the information that when a group went beyond a certain vague range from our main body, the same unseen powers acted, abducting and transforming searchers as if they were a separate group requiring separate attention from the planet Klink.
The men's anxiety grew daily as the transformation count rose. Since dispersion only increased our problems, I decided to keep our men close together. Whatever lay behind our predicament, it didn't respect rank; Captain Ames vanished two weeks after the first incident, only to reappear the next morning as a hard-bodied, angel-faced female with a halo of fluffy blonde hair. Ironically, it had been Ames who had remarked, "We have everything we need for a party, except the dames!" Now we had more "dames" than we wanted -- and were getting more every day.
At first, none of the stricken soldiers were fit for work. They spent much of their time in bed suffering from deep depression and huddling out of sight, ashamed to be seen, but sometimes they wandered the camp like somnambulists -- when not breaking into fits of whimpering or screaming.
None of the rest of us knew how to react and morale plummeted. That was the worst of it -- the fear. Rare friends came through for their transformed comrades, but to the majority, the transformees were pariahs.
I saw groups dissolve without a word when a woman, perhaps not looking where she was going or desperate for companionship, came near. Fear makes the human animal cruel, alas. The 54th had been a cohesive outfit; its members looked out for one another. They were not able to act that way now and were deeply ashamed of themselves. All our men, both the transformed and the others, took a heavy emotional beating and we had no clue where it was leading.
Then something ghastly happened. Lionel Olson, one of the first two transformees, had been lodged with Halder in a hut of their own. Olson never became rational and, a couple days after leaving the infirmary, she opened one of her own arteries with a utility knife and bled to death before we found her in the morning.
Olson's death hit us like a laser cannon. We had been idiots! We should have anticipated the possibility of suicide. I cursed myself for an incompetent, unthinking fool. But neither had the danger occurred to the mystified and harried Dr. Lowry.
Despite our regrets, it was too late to help Olson. All we could do was lay her into a grave and put a board over it explaining that Lionel Olson had died "a good soldier, a beloved comrade."
After that ordeal, we knew what we were up against and every new transformee was placed under a suicide-watch. This was intended to continue until Lowry felt confident that the soldier's -- the woman's -- emotional state was no longer life-threatening. This need tied up many people -- more each day, and the work on our camp slowed drastically.
Everyone's nerves frayed. How long did we have before there was an explosion?
* * * *
*But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.*
KING HENRY IV, Part II
I visited Ames in -- her? -- hut.
We often found ourselves guiltily referring to our miserable comrades as "hers" and "shes." We did it unconsciously, unable to help ourselves until it became too commonplace to notice. Sadly, that instinctive choice of pronoun reeked of unintentional insult. It was like telling these unfortunate soldiers that they were out of the club, that they didn't fit in anymore, that they had become different and apart.
Ames shared a hut with her friend and suicide-watcher, Capt. Philbrick. I found the transformed officer sprawled lifelessly on her cot and staring at the ceiling with an expression of torment. She didn't even glance my way, just lay there murmuring a many-times repeated one-word question: "Why?"
"Captain Ames," I addressed the traumatized woman carefully.
She blinked, then slowly looked my way, her eyes full of pain -- a real pain, but not of the physical kind. I thought that I had come prepared, but nonetheless found myself pitying what was left of a once personable and jocular officer.
Everything I had come prepared to say now sounded hollow and foolish; I stood there with nothing to offer beyond the blandest inquiry after her health. What could I say or do to give comfort under such circumstances? I was no psychologist, no clergyman. I feared a misstatement that might do harm. Should I lie, tell her -- him -- what he -- she -- wanted to hear -- that she -- he -- would soon be all right, that Lowry was working on a way to reverse the metamorphosis?
Ames would have had to be pretty far gone to believe such rot. She knew as well as I did that Dr. Lowry believed the transformations to be genetic, not surgical. How could we then, with our limited means and resources, ever hope to unscramble a human being's chromosomes? Of course, given a major medical facility, a good deal could be done cosmetically by transplanting, by applying hormone therapy, but Lowry possessed neither the equipment, the pharmaceuticals, nor the training to attempt any such thing.
Unless we managed to capture the people or the equipment responsible and make it or them reverse the process, the transformees were almost certainly doomed to remain physiological females for -- well if not for life, for as long as our unknown enemy wanted to keep them that way.
I excused myself after a few minutes but kept thinking about what Ames had said. The captain had not been the first transformee who had asked that damnable question, "Why?" I would have supposed that their burning question should have instead been, "How?"
I tried to visit my transformed officers and NCO's regularly, all in much the same state as Capt. Ames -- able to shake their heads despondently to insistent questions, but seldom spontaneous or conversational. For that reason, my visits to Ames and the others degraded into a personal ordeal. How could I help them? How should another human being relate to one of these unhappy creatures, either as a commander or a comrade?
Fortunately, over the weeks, Lowry confirmed what common sense had been telling us all along. The transformees responded best if not treated differently, if accepted as the men they had been -- men who were impaired by stress neuroses and/or bearing physical wounds. Regard and respect, not pity, seemed to be the best tonic for our unfortunate mates.
Our command staff kept working on the theory of alien hostility. One idea we floated was that the Assies were subjecting us to psychological torture to break our spirit. But why? We were already their prisoners. If they wanted to break us, they had a thousand simpler methods to go about it. In fact, they had given no sign that they were interested in us at all. Or had they brought us here to test a new weapon? Not likely. A "sex-change ray" seemed like a damned fool weapon for a military campaign. Even if the enemy had such a thing, what was the strategic gain? Why not kill humans in the tried-and-true fashion?
At one staff meeting, Lieutenant Hawk wondered whether the transformation was an alien method of counting coup, a practice which existed among his Amerind ancestors in frontier days. Others argued that we weren't in battle. Our attackers were "counting coup" in a jail cell, the act of a coward, not a hero.
There was another idea offered -- that we were being progressively changed into a population intended to serve a yet-unknown purpose of the hidden master race. They desired slaves, perhaps. As women -- demoralized and physically weaker -- we'd presumably be easier to handle. It wasn't long before even more unsavory speculations were made along those lines. It sounded like sci-fi porn to me and if the Assies or some indigenous race of Klink intended to reduce us to slavery, why return the future "slave girls" to their friends instead of putting them to work immediately?
An even more repulsive theory postulated that the Assies or another alien race was female-poor and needed breeding stock -- a theory that Lowry firmly nixed. It was too far-fetched for his taste. Moreover, none of the women had returned pregnant.
Even so, his examinations turned up something strange -- a tiny anomalous particle buried in the medulla of each transformee's brain. What could this tiny bead-in-the-brain mean? I demanded. Lowry had no clue and, with his limited equipment and inadequate staff, he was not going to perform brain surgery on physically healthy soldiers.
The only good news in those first few weeks was that Private First Class Mark Hitchcock, an early transformee, seemed to be pulling out of her traumatic phase. Undoubtedly, we had to thank Pvt. Harold Roberts for her rapid progress. Roberts stayed by Hitchcock's side night and day through many bad episodes, and eventually the transformee began to respond to TLC. Lowry was impressed with Roberts' results and made recommendations to other suicide-watchers to try similar methods.
While I knew she was recovering, Pvt. Hitchcock appeared at my hut asking for a duty assignment much sooner than I expected. She still looked somewhat out of sorts, but Lowry advised me that a return to a semi-normal routine might be the best thing to bring her up to snuff. A person functions best, he thought, when feeling useful and a member of a team. I couldn't argue with that logic and it was my hope that the women could soon be reintegrated into the life of the camp. If it didn't happen, we would swiftly become a large, paralyzed mental ward.
How strange it was to sit there, taking stock of a soldier familiar to me, but whom I could not recognize by appearance and hardly by mannerism. To the eye, Mark Hitchcock was a red-haired girl wearing a uniform ludicrously large for her. I anticipated that clothing would become yet another problem. Pvt. Hitchcock had been a big, barrel-chested male. Now he -- she -- was only some sixty kilos in weight and about l60-l70 centimeters in height, her sleeves and pantslegs needing to be rolled up to keep them out of the way. She also needed to bore a new notch in the middle of her belt to secure her pants, even given the added purchase of her transmogrified hips.
I intended to put Hitchcock to work at something light. K.P. seemed a logical choice, but Lowry advised me against imposing anything that smacked of "housekeeping." He worried that the transformees might react negatively to anything that smelled of "women's work." Instead, I decided to attach the recovering Hitchcock to a foraging detail, which would give her a good deal of exercise in the open air but yet require little heavy exertion. On second thought I added Roberts to the same group. We didn't know how the men would react working side by side to a transformee and having Roberts on hand to look after his friend's interests made sense. Hitchcock seemed satisfied with my decision and I dismissed her.
Watching her go, I remembered that it was Hitchcock who had led Lowry into a disturbing new theory. The transformee insisted that she recognized her face -- her present female face -- in the mirror.
That seemed impossible. Hitchcock looked nothing like her former self, a thirtyish, prematurely bald, black-bearded man. As with most of the transformees, there was not even a family resemblance between her old shape and her new. Lowry accepted the premise as worth investigating and encouraged Hitchcock to remember everything she could. Finally the soldier was able to say that she had often seen her present face in her daydreams when she had been a man. Mark Hitchcock was telling us, in essence, that he had been changed into "his" own fantasy girl!
At first, Lowry could not put much credence in such a bizarre notion. He and young Drew nonetheless tested the theory, going around to other transformees equipped with mirrors and carefully-crafted questions. Many women had never looked carefully at their own reflection and had to be carefully coaxed before they would do so. To Lowry's and Drew's surprise, many transformees reacted like Hitchcock, claiming that their faces looked familiar. But one, an Arab-American named Ulad Jami, was even more specific. She had, to her consternation, found herself looking into the face of a fantasy belly dancer whose undulating image she -- as a he -- had been assiduously masturbating to since high school.
Dr. Lowry thought that he was on to something, so he worked out a theory and ran it by me.
The mind of every heterosexual man, the doctor alleged, harbors the immensely strong image of a particular woman. This image may be known to him only as a masturbation fantasy or daydream lover, but she actually represents the deeply-buried feminine aspect of his own psychology. She is his intuitive, emotional side, his "inner woman," so to speak. Psychologists have long been aware of her theoretical existence and have referred to her as the "anima."
In a healthy, integrated male personality, this anima, as counterpoised to the animus, the inner man, provided the emotional depth and dimension that a male needed for achieving and maintaining friendships, for appreciating and loving his mate, and for enjoying his children. In the same way, women possessed an unconscious animus as a guiding principle in her need to persevere against odds, in approaching the world logically, and in striving for long-range goals. The anima in man and the animus in woman gave the two sexes some much-needed common ground, a capacity for sympathy and understanding that prevented the sexes from reacting to one another as two alien races.
In most Earth cultures, masculine logic and feminine emotion remained in eternal conflict. The more masculine a man was, or sought to be, the more he instinctively repressed and denied his anima. By young adulthood, a man usually accomplishes this to a great degree. That may be why women seem able to make new friends easily over their entire lifetime, while males were most usually capable of doing so only in childhood and youth. True friends were carried along from his early days, until they were inevitably attritioned away and he was left alone at the end. The adult male, though he might acquire what was called chums, buddies, comrades, and pals, rarely achieved deep camaraderie after the days of his youth. Topics of discussion regarding hopes, fears, or expectations, normally remained out-of-bounds.
Women, for their part, had their own hard battles with their animus, but there were fewer social sanctions against a woman behaving in a masculine manner, hence her overall reduced psychological tension. In fact, during the short-lived feminist era, some women had given unbridled reign to their harshest animus-inspired qualities without suffering social sanction. Although the feminists celebrated what should have been seen as a problem, they failed to make it a virtue. An animus-worship that trumped, even trampled upon, feminine instinct was ultimately seen as dysfunction with sometimes-severe consequences. Psychologists differed in their recommendations but, within reasonable limits, it seemed that a little repression was actually healthy for both men and women.
Lowry had drifted, but now he returned to his main point. He contended that a man's anima was held prisoner and engaged in an eternal struggle for its free expression. As clever and seductive as a flesh-and-blood female, the wily anima early on discovered the one escape open to her -- the route of a man's libido. By nature, the male welcomed, even sought, the image of Woman, and into this needful void the anima cunningly flowed. Doing so, she attained a kind of freedom, but by entering into a man's libido the anima was forced to blend into the territory -- lest she be discovered and expelled.
The inner woman, therefore, generally incarnated herself as a desirable fantasy image. She usually took the form of a young and sexually-alluring temptress or sweetheart. In fact, this image was so powerful that males seeking a mate in the real world instinctively measured the women they met not, as once commonly believed, against the standards of their mothers, but of their own anima. Basically, they were seeking certain qualities housed within themselves in the guise of another person.
I managed to follow Lowry's theory for a short distance. It was well known that a man possessed a side which, unfortunately, got in the way of his being a good soldier. One aim of basic training is, as I have said, to burn off that aspect of his personality, and so a young recruit was put through hell-on-earth. Drill deliberately sought to drive him past the imaginary boundaries set by his inner weakness, to require him to be "all that he could be." Whenever a soldier flagged, accepted any personal limit, a bawling drill sergeant, his surrogate father figure, was johnny-on-the-spot to call him a "girl," a "pussy," a "faggot," or a "woman!" That kind of treatment inspired the recruit to redouble his efforts to be a man. But Lowry suggested that, despite this conditioning, the "inner woman" was never killed off. She was locked away in the human unconscious -- except for her libido image, which only intensified in compensation.
In the cauldron of the ultra-masculine military psyche, more than in the man on the street, the anima was transformed from what might have been a well-rounded persona into a 200-proof distillation of pure, ferocious, feline sexuality. In this form, the anima was always in front of a man's psyche, compelling him to seek her in the real world -- to find her in women of immediate and obvious allure: strippers, hookers, b-girls.
But while Nature allowed the anima to be transformed, it was very rarely killed. In fact, according to Lowry, to actually kill her, or hermetically seal her away without a means of expression, would deal a fatal blow to a man's mental health. The loss of his emotional resources had to produce a troubled individual, madman -- possibly a dangerous one.
I had always taken Lowry's ideas seriously, but I couldn't credit him in this case. That my men were trained, hardened fighters could be taken for granted. They had seen slaughter and been the agents of it; they'd felt friends die in their arms and taken life with their own hands. Tough and disciplined though they were, none of them were without feeling. Men had a full complement of emotion, I knew, but it was men's emotion. A male might have sex fantasies, but that didn't mean that he harbored a full-blown female persona inside himself. In fact, it probably meant the opposite.
After Lowry said his piece, I asked, "What are you driving at, Doc?"
As expected, Sebastian didn't have a worked-out theory, just a wild guess: "If you assume sufficiently advanced genetics, it's not hard to make a female from a male. You take away his Y chromosomes and clone his X chromosomes to replace them, or leave his Y's, but somehow mutate them to an X status."
I shook my head; it seemed that the good doctor had crawled out on the long limb of pure fantasy. There was much I could have said to set him right, but preferred not to be harsh; he was under as great a strain as I. "Surely there's more going on than genetic alteration," I suggested with a mild tone.
"That's true," affirmed Lowry, not picking up on my skepticism. "There's also morphing going on. My theory is this: Aliens don't know what human females look like, so they look for a pattern to follow. If these aliens telepathically tap into a male's mind, they'll readily isolate a powerful image of a healthy young female. This is the subject's central sex fantasy, or rather his anima acting as one."
I advised Lowry to keep his theory to himself. If word got out that our respected healer believed that the soldiers of the 54th would transform into masturbation fantasies, the morale of the bravest would break like dry spaghetti.
The role call of transformees grew steadily -- two a day, every day. Fortunately, another early transformee, Marduke, gave signs of recovery. I put her in Hitchcock's detail, hoping they might provide one another with sympathy and morale.
The worst blow was the loss of Dr. Lowry. The morning after his disappearance, the stretcher-bearers brought him back in the shape of a fine-featured, dark-haired woman who appeared to be in her mid- to late-twenties.
I studied Lowry's altered face with consternation as she lay unconscious in the infirmary. She looked like the sort of woman that I'd have expected Sebastian to conjure, assuming his fantasy theory was true -- not a "dame," not a "babe," not the hormonal show girl and sex-sim types who were gradually making our camp look like a girlie revue. Sebastian Lowry looked like a lady.
"Anything I can do?" I asked Alan Drew.
"You're needed everywhere, Major Breen," came his slow, heavy reply. "I'll take care of -- of Dr. Lowry. -- But if you could, sir --"
"I don't know the sergeant's friends and we're going to need to find a suicide-watcher for him -- for her, I mean."
I nodded sympathetically and looked at Sgt. Gold on the other cot. I recalled that it had been the sergeant who had said something about sleeping beauties. But my concern for Gold had to take second place to that for our doctor. For my friend.
The truth to tell, no transformation up to that morning shocked me more than Lowry's. Perhaps I'd assumed that our physician would be immune, or at least be the last to succumb. It hadn't happened that way, and now I realized, on not just an intellectual level anymore, that there was going to be no one who could resist it.
I took stock. Olson's suicide left us with five hundred and thirty-six men -- persons. In about two months, almost a quarter of our command had been transformed. In another six months -- what?
I refused to look that far ahead.
While I considered our ongoing dilemma, another disaster struck. Herb Woolenska, a demolitions specialist, left his comrades without a word shortly after Dr. Lowry's fate became known. He had climbed the steep hill overlooking our camp and then, from its highest cliff, jumped to his death.
Again I felt what I felt when Olson died, but what bothered me most was that this time part of me understood Herb Woolenska.
We buried Woolenska the next day, and that night I did my best to block out the image of his simple grave plot. I had lost men in combat before, but suicides bespoke a fundamental failure on my part. I wished that I could talk about my troubles to someone, to let out what was eating on me, but that had never been possible except, to a small degree, with Sebastian Lowry. Now, he was gone.
Emotionally, I equated Lowry's transformation with his death. I visited his -- or, as I might as well put it -- her bedside several times each day, a generosity with my time which I never extended to any of the others. Though she recovered consciousness quickly, Sebastian suffered a trauma like the others. Somehow I had expected -- or, at least, hoped -- that the same doctor who had so carefully studied the phenomenon of trauma would prove more resilient than anyone else -- that is, a little less human.
In the dark of night, I found myself trying not to think of transformees, of women, and especially not of Woman. Woman with a capital W, I mean. From an ideal of beauty and pleasure, to most men on Klink Woman had become the image of terror and loathing. She was the witch, the evil goddess, the Medusa. She was Circe. She was Scylla reaching out to rend; she was Charybdis swallowing entire crews. She was every image of fear and degradation that Mankind had every conceived in female guise. Forgotten was Mother, Sister, Wife, Daughter. I could almost wish there were no such thing as Woman in the entire universe.
Each night the phantasms of my unconscious mind invariably transformed into amazing shapes -- and too often into the shape of a woman. Not Scylla, not Charybdis, but Another. I didn't know her name for she existed nowhere except in my own mind and, despite our close association over the years, I had never named her. Or, more honestly, I had given her a thousand names, but none that were a part of her; they were like the names that a script-writer might give to a character. -- Which was appropriate, since the Nameless Woman had many starring roles in my fantasies: the sexpot saloon gal in the bustier, the show girl in feathers, the apache dancer with the slit skirt, the barbarian slave with the steel collar around her neck, awaiting the touch of her master -- the latter role gratefully filled by me.
She was lovely, this Nameless One. Lithe, light of complexion, hers were breasts that a man longed to knead with eager fingers. Her slenderness filled out into bewitching hips and her black hair was a'jiggle with springy ringlets. At times she seemed to come so close to me that I could see my reflection in those gleaming aquamarine eyes. She was my personal Woman, she of the capital W. If she had been a vehicle, her motor would have raced, if a space ship, she would have jumped to warp. But she was not a machine, but every woman I had ever desired. She could transform effortlessly into a bikinied beauty on a beach, and then to a sultry lover in a mountain chalet, waiting on her man with a champagne glass balanced in each hand, her lips lifted for a kiss, her breath and her flesh as fragrant as the scented logs on the hearth. . . .
"Damn it!" I muttered and, with an effort, drove the Nameless One away -- and kept her away by determinedly counting mathematical tables -- until I dropped into a fitful sleep.
I awoke with a headache, but felt disinclined to seek relief in my bottle of ILW tablets. I could work even as my head throbbed and we had to go easy on our medical supplies; the truly sick might be in dire need of them someday.
Crossing the camp after breakfast, a delegation -- a mob, really -- engulfed me. I demanded to know what was on their minds and it became clear that Lowry's transformation had shocked them out of their wits. They had abandoned hope of defeating the phenomenon and demanded leave to abandon the camp, to escape from whatever had us in its sights.
I tacitly reminded them that our detached parties had suffered separate transformations and going a hundred kilometers hadn't helped the situation one iota. I speculated that it might be a planet-wide phenomenon.
"Maybe not!" shouted a ring leader. "We can go out a thousand kilometers! Two thousand! You can stay behind with the women if you want!"
Their faces were like strangers.' Terror could turn otherwise sensible men violent, and so I maneuvered them, bleeding off a little pressure before it caused a blow-up.
"You may be right, soldier," I admitted impatiently. "I'll consider your proposal. If there's really a consensus for this, we should make it the first order of business at the next staff meeting. Just remember that detachment is a major undertaking, and it may have ramifications you men haven't considered. We can't approach such a serious matter slap-dash."
They didn't trust me, but they were as yet unwilling to call me a liar. Now that the situation had calmed, I pushed my way through the crowd, even yet half-expecting a blow from behind. But the men hadn't worked themselves up to outright mutiny as yet. Even so, that ugly outcome lay around the corner and, unless I played my bad cards very carefully, we were in for trouble. It wasn't lost on me that this was the first serious challenge to my authority and knuckling under to it would go a long way toward ending my ability to command.
Moreover, I firmly believed that flight would be counter-productive. When men were transformed along the trail of flight, what would the panicky mob of refugees do? Flee and leave the poor devils behind, to wake alone, traumatized and lost? Transformees needed watching, tending. Had we fallen so low? Was it dog eat dog now? Devil take the hindmost? Where was the esprit de corps of the proud 54th? How could our band of brothers turn against one another even in these bad straits?
Given my headache and gloomy state, I was much less than my best when Dr. Lowry paid me a visit.
I had not been expecting this call. It had only been three days since her transformation, much too soon for a transformee to throw off her trauma. While Sebastian lay asleep on her cot, her face had been serene and my sympathy had gone out to her; now those same features were tense and hard.
"How are you, Doc?" I inquired evenly. It was strange calling this woman "Doc." Despite everything my mind knew to be true, my instincts read her as a stranger.
"I'm fine," Lowry informed me tonelessly. "This shape will take getting used to, naturally, but I've got work to do and I can't worry about it."
"You've been through hell, Doc," I said. "You don't have to do anything before you're ready."
"Don't fuss, Major!" she fired back.. "A man, a woman. What of it? Two arms, two legs, a head. There's not that much difference. The breasts get in the way, of course, and it's inconvenient having to drop one's pants to piss, but half the human race gets along that way, so I can, too."
I wasn't so sure. I thought that the doctor was repressing and psychology warned that repression isn't good. Then again, I was no psych. Was it possible that Lowry was showing the very resilience that I had hoped for? I doubted that -- I even doubted that my caller was really Sebastian. She might still be a competent doctor -- in fact I prayed that she was -- but I could not convince myself that this edgy woman had anything to do with the cool, phlegmatic man of warmth and humor whom I had known for several months and only just begun to know well.
"If you really want to go back to work, you may," I told her. "But remember, doctors make the worst patients. If the going gets too hard, don't push. Knock off and let Drew take over. The company needs its doctor at h--, uh, his best."
Her chin jutted up. "You can't hurt me with pronouns, Major. I'll be fine."
Would she? Stress lines were clearly written into her cover girl features and I detected a neurotic tremble in her eyelids. The strain bottled inside the physician was betrayed at the corners of her grimly-set mouth.
With misgivings, I consented to her request and my visitor let herself out. Watching Lowry go, stepping along awkwardly in her huge shoes and baggy, over-long trousers, I was bothered that my former friend had only addressed me by rank during her visit and not by name. It had put distance between us and distance hurt. But her distance was merely a reflection of my own. Lowry was tormented, anyone could see that, and I doubted that she could be productive. Then again, work might be the best therapy -- just as it had been for Hitchcock and Marduke.
I had to talk to Drew. There was no one else close enough to Sebastian to give me worthwhile advice.
* * * *
*Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.*
AS YOU LIKE IT
The medic, Alan Drew, had had Dr. Lowry's confidence for at least as long as I'd known him. Drew also impressed me as sharp and competent. We threshed out the subject of Dr. Lowry, though the private would only reluctantly discuss his superior.
"I'm worried," he admitted. "She's pretending that she's all right, but she's -- not."
"Of course Lowry's not all right," I said. "But can't she work through this better than -- than most of the others? She's a doctor after all."
He shook his head. "She's not that different from the rest of us. What is it that you want me to do, sir?"
"Keep an eye on her. If she becomes a danger to herself or starts committing unacceptable medical blunders, you're the man best able to judge."
"If she suspects that I'm spying, it will poison our working relationship."
"It's not spying; it's evaluation and observation. For now, I want you to watch her, listen to what she says. If she needs moral support, be there for her. You're good with -- these people. I've seen it."
"Thank you, Major, but it's no trick handling transformees. People have to remember that they're human and respond best when treated that way." He paused then, but his face told me he had something else to say.
"Yes, private?" I urged.
He sent me a sober glance and plunged: "I had an idea that I wanted to share with Dr. Lowry, but in her present state of mind, I don't know when I'll be able to broach it with her."
"What is it?"
"I'm thinking of a support group."
"A support group? For the transformees? Who'd be in it?"
"There's about a hundred and thirty transformees now. Some seem to be settling down and facing up to what's happened to them. I think the time has come when they can start helping one another."
His proposal made sense. In fact, that had been my idea when I put Hitchcock and Marduke together. "You may be right, Drew," I said. "Any specific recommendations?"
"Why don't we put the most recovered transformees together in a work group of their own and have them barrack together, too. They couldn't help but start talking and working through their problems."
"We should take this idea to Lowry," I suggested. "This sort of thing has to be her call and unless I relieve her, we can't go over her head. But if she agrees, we'll put the recovering transformees with Marduke and Hitchcock, and transfer them to some sort of useful detail."
Working together, we listed a dozen women who had ceased to be basket cases, including Halder and Capt. Ames.
"Ames is still having a rough time," I said, "and Hitchcock and Marduke would be hard-put to deal with her if she flew off the handle and started pulling rank. We'll have to give our unit leaders the medical authority to keep her in line."
"I agree, sir."
I regarded Drew with some annoyance, unsure whether to reprimand him or not for his chirpy reply. I wasn't used to having privates sign off on my recommendations, but neither did I want to wear the proverbial chip and reprimand him on insufficient grounds. Drew was irreplaceable, and dressing him down wouldn't be a good way to kick off our new project. My head aching, I let the matter go.
Drew and I did present the project to Lowry a little later -- and a surreal experience that turned out to be! She either didn't understand or didn't care what we were talking about. Since it was clear that I wanted it, however, the doctor simply shrugged and delegated the implementation to Drew. That was the best we could get under the circumstances and so I started issuing orders.
The women on our list formed a furniture-making detail, since all the huts were in grave need of bunks, tables, and chairs. My greatest misgivings concerned Ames; the captain would be expected to work like an enlisted man supervised by privates. That couldn't sit well with her but, as it turned out, it never came to that.
The matter of the unrest was too important to ignore any longer. My staff meeting later that day considered suppressing the panicky men by force, but nobody was too keen on that. It would be like putting bottled explosives on the shelf. If the malcontents weren't allowed to leave by daylight, they'd probably decamp at night; we had no means to hold so many troopers determined to go AWOL. We hadn't even built a brig yet and it would be a bad idea to turn so many workers into imprisoned drones even if it were possible. It had to be better to lance the boil early and therefore I was willing to detach the restive men, thinking that once they realized that they couldn't escape the transformation plague by flight, they'd have no recourse but to return more tractable.
I placed my senior captain, Ted Crawford, in charge and appointed Lt. Morrow to assist him. The officer's orders were to discover whether any geographical limit to the phenomenon existed and, if not, to persuade the detachees to return.
I assembled the entire muster the next day and recounted the situation as I saw it, reiterating my doubts and my concern for the soldiers who would be transformed along the march. I assured the assembled men that if every reasonable precaution were taken to humanely care for casualties, I would not oppose the division of the unit.
In conclusion I said, "This is the only detachment we will be making. If you stay, it will be because you are committed to stick it out and obey your officers! If that isn't your intention, I recommend that you go with the others." Then, drawing a bayonet, I drew a line in the dirt. "Anyone who wants to join the detachment, step across this line."
The soldiers were looking at one another, muttering between themselves. Finally, fifty-three of them, a tenth of our number, crossed over. This included a disproportionate number of fleet techs, which was to be expected -- the new men had not as yet melded properly into our battle group. It bothered me that there were so many who were willing to go; it made me feel like a failed William B. Travis. It hurt that a handful of dirt-poor Texas sod-busters had shown more backbone in the hour of danger than dozens of former fire-eaters from the 54th. But the men of the Alamo faced only annihilation, not womanhood, and so I suppose that fact made all the difference.
"All right," I said, "now we'll need additional personnel to accompany the detachment as orderlies. It will be the duty of such soldiers to care for any transformees along the way and, as long as it remains feasible, return them to us here."
There was a good turnout of volunteers for this duty, including Hitchcock, Marduke, and several of the women whom Drew and I had been considering for our detail. The truth is, I couldn't accept as many willing people as offered themselves. In all, seventy-six men -- soldiers -- were detached. At my request, Private Drew led the auxiliaries and would remain with the detachment for as long as possible -- just a few days, we thought. The camp needed him too much to permit a longer absence, since Dr. Lowry remained an uncertain commodity.
Through the next day, Crawford and Morrow worked hard organizing and equipping their detachment. We hoped that the separation would be temporary but, in the meantime, the camp would be well rid of the panicky element.
We continued to lose our usual complement of men -- including Lipkin, who, ironically, was to be one of the detachees, and also -- in a heavy blow to our command structure, Captain Tritcher.
Interestingly, Tritcher, who had been black, returned to us as a very fine-boned and pale-skinned elfin blonde. If it were not for their dog tags, I wouldn't have known which soldier was which. As this was the first occasion of a race change accompanying a sex change, I asked Lowry for an opinion, but she proved to be uninterested and unhelpful. To my mind, though, Tritcher seemed to be the exception that proved the rule -- what was happening depended on a man's psychology, not his physiology.
Lowry had been dismayingly perfunctory in her examination of the latest transformees. Maybe this routine was becoming old stuff to her -- or maybe, more disturbingly, it amounted to further evidence of her distressed state. I offered a careful nudge to remind her of her duty:
"You've been through this, Sebastian," I remarked. "Can't you give these men advice to help them along?"
"I don't have advice for anyone, Major," she shrugged.
So blunt, so cold. I missed the old Lowry a great deal just then.
As I started to leave, I caught sight of a book of Shakespeare's plays lying on the table. "Your book, Doctor?"
I picked it up. In high school and college, I'd read most of Shakespeare's plays. Unfortunately, during my army career, I had been much more likely to peruse Clausewitz or Fuller. I opened the volume to a random page and glanced at a line spoken by Petruccio in "The Taming of the Shrew:
"I am peremptory as she proud-minded;
And where two raging fires meet together
They do consume the thing that feeds their fury:
Though little fire grows great with little wind,
Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all:
So I to her and so she yields to me;
For I am rough and woo not like a babe."
"Say!" I exclaimed. "Couldn't we put on a play for the camp? It might be therapeutic."
"Therapy is my department, Major," Lowry informed me, nervelessly, like a machine. "-- And that reminds me. When you sent away my medic, you doubled my workload."
"I thought they needed him out there. Besides, he'll be back in a few days."
"Will he? Or will I have another useless, traumatized woman for a patient?"
I put down the book and left the infirmary without another word.
Daily, I noted the names of the vanished men and new transformees in my log. Every day more names; we were like a flock of sheep with the farmer coming for two of us each day with the gelding knife. I had never felt so helpless. We were fighting men with nothing to fight. We couldn't understand this assault; we couldn't run from it -- though we were still, futilely, trying to fight, understand, and run simultaneously.
The departure of the detachment left a need for considerable reorganization, especially in reshuffling the squads and work details. After a light supper, feeling restless, I went outside to pace around the perimeter under the light of Klink's twin moons, working off my depressed state.
The planet was beautiful, especially on nights like this one -- moonlight, the aroma of the vegetation, the trilling calls of the night-flyers, the wind in the trees, and a hundred little pipes, croaks, and squawks -- most of whose makers we still had not identified. At first, we had been too busy to care, and then too preoccupied to think about our surroundings. Would we ever have the presence of mind to enjoy the simple things? Maybe when we were all --
I forced that thought out of my mind.
I continued my walk, my ears alert to the tranquilizing evening sounds. Suddenly, I heard a sound that didn't fit -- it was coming from the infirmary, which fact set me on special alert. I drifted in that direction and the sound resolved itself into sobbing. At first, I assumed it was either Tritcher or Lipkin, but then remembered that both had been moved out and placed under their respective suicide-watches. Who was still in the infirmary crying as if in deep pain? I poked my head inside and realized that the weeping came from Lowry's room. Crossing to it, I put my ear to the door.
Yes, it was Lowry's sobbing. I heard her mutter a few distinct words, "God", "Please," and "Why?"
There was that damnable question again -- "Why?"
Sebastian, emotionally at least, was in distress. I nearly knocked, but something stopped me. I didn't want to get involved in something so personal. I hadn't been asked to help and I was no psychologist, no clergyman, and not good at consolation even as a layman. In fact, my attempts to support Sebastian over the last few days had been rebuffed harshly. What should I do? Try to hold hands with my old poker buddy? Have her cry on my shoulder? She'd throw me out in a second!
But there was more to it than the fear of rebuff. To give proper solace, the comforter has to be at peace himself and, at that moment, I was empty; I had nothing to offer. Worse, I couldn't shake the idea that it wasn't really Lowry behind that door, but someone different, a stranger, with whom I had never felt any connection.
I don't remember making a decision to go but, the next thing I knew, my legs were carrying me away, stepping so softly that my boots couldn't be heard over my friend's subdued sobbing.
I dreamed of Olson's grave again that night, but this time a new name and epitaph was cut into her marker. It read, "Sebastian Lowry, physician. A good man and a good friend."
I awoke in a cold sweat. What had I done? Had I been insane? The doctor was in no condition to be left alone! I thrust my legs into my trousers, ran bare-footed to the infirmary, and, not pausing to knock, shoved open Lowry's door.
She lay there curled up on the bed, still fully clothed. On the floor nearby lay a syringe; I stared at it, then at her. Sebastian didn't move, didn't seem to be breathing. I plunged forward and turned her over.
Startled, the woman's eyes opened. "Rupe?!" she gasped," -- Wha?"
"Are you all right, Doc? I thought --"
What relief! I had thought for an instant that she was dead, and didn't dare explain.
Lowry said nothing for a moment, just rested on her side, her eyes closed. Then she whispered, "It started coming out last night."
"The grief, the fear -- the loss of identity. The impossibility of facing this alone."
"I'm sorry," I said, my mouth dry, without daring to say exactly why I was sorry.
She shook her head. "I thought I was fine, but I wasn't. I was numb. When the shock wore off, the pain almost killed me."
I glanced at the hypodermic on the floor. "I almost killed myself," she whispered.
"W-What's in that thing?"
"Dicorahylaminophen. Instant death."
Her head fell back upon the pillow. "I felt useless. I couldn't help anyone, I couldn't even help myself!" She let out a short, bitter laugh. "And, I wasn't all that keen on being a girl for the rest of my life."
She kept laughing, skirting the edge of hysteria, then began reciting, "There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead... when she was good... when she was good...!" Sebastian closed her eyes.
I took her hand between mine and pressed it reassuringly. Lowry blinked at me and whispered, "Rupe, I was alone last night, more alone than I've ever been. I desperately needed to talk to someone; there was nobody, and I guess I went kind of crazy."
I glanced away. I almost asked her why she hadn't talked to me, but I didn't have the right.
"I nearly went to see you," she whispered, "but I had my pride, I guess. I'd been treating you so badly that I couldn't stand to eat crow. That left me with no one to talk to except myself and the room. They both agreed I should kill myself. But I suddenly realized that I was talking to God, too. I told Him that this was too much for me -- that if He couldn't bring me back, he had to take away the misery and the pain, because if He didn't, it was going to kill me and -- and -- well -- I didn't really want to die!" She glanced at the hypodermic on the floor and winced.
I squeezed her hand. "God or no God, you made it through, Doc. You're a strong SOB and you're going to be fine after this."
"I don't know. I hope so."
"I'll get Mason to stay with you, or somebody else if you don't like him -- until you're yourself again. It won't be hard to get someone to stay with you. You've made a lot of friends."
She squeezed my fingers. "If I have, you're the best of them."
I sat there, suddenly unable to look into her face.
"There was a voice," Lowry went on.
"An audio hallucination?"