If this were a normal clinical session, Dr. Obermeyer would say Anna’s time was done, set a date for their next session, and then shoo everyone out of her office. But this wasn’t an ordinary session. Mindy, Anna, and Juan Carlos were emotionally drained by the search for Anna’s past, and so everyone slouched in their seat around the séance table and didn’t utter a word.
The candle burned down until it guttered out. When Mindy finally did shoo everyone out of her office, they found Roxie Montero still in the waiting room, still sitting in the middle of the sofa, never having moved a muscle. The rebel girl glared at the trio as they emerged from Obermeyer’s office.
“Roxie!” Anna said, happy to see her comrade again despite the scowl on her face. Anna had so much to tell her.
“How long did you intend to keep me waiting out here for my friend?” Roxie said while a marquee of hatchets and handguns marched across the animated mood tattoo on her neck.
Anna smiled because Roxie called her a friend, but she was confused by her question. The séance felt like days to the participants, but it had actually transpired in little more than an hour.
“Roxie, you know that’s not really the issue, don’t you?” Mindy said.
If keeping Roxie waiting wasn’t the issue, thought Anna, then what was?
Mindy looked like she wasn’t in the mood to be trifled with. Anna noted that this was the first time she had seen Prof. Obermeyer betray her emotions, which was an indication of how tired she must be. Mindy sat down on a chair at a right angle to the sofa where Roxie sat. A side table separated the two pieces of furniture.
“Anna,” Mindy said, “would you sit down at the end of the couch between me and Roxie and lay your hand with the medi-pak on the side table?”
Anna did as Mindy requested without giving it a thought, much less a debate. There was something about having participated in a séance and sharing long forgotten memories that had forged an unspoken bond between Anna and her cohorts. Anna sat down and stretched out her hand so that the face of her medi-pak wristband faced upward.
Mindy pulled her digital pad from her caftan pocket and manipulated the images that appeared on the device’s surface. “Hold on just a second while I get authorization,” she said. When the image of a button changed from red to green, Mindy pressed it and the circular face of Anna’s medi-pak spiraled open like the iris diaphragm of an old fashioned camera lens. A cylindrical platform and retaining bracket popped above the surface of the wristband and exposed a small, transparent, clear disk.
“Juan Carlos,” Mindy said as she fished around in a pocket of her caftan, “when did you first meet Roxie Montero?” Finally finding what she was looking for, Mindy pulled out a square, sealed packet marked with a stylishly designed brand name, usage instructions, and long serial number. Mindy rubbed the packet’s brand name three times between her thumb and forefinger, and the packet made a soft crinkling sound as it opened like a flower blossom in time-lapse.
“I met Roxie during my freshman semester, three years ago,” said Juan Carlos. Anna did the simple math in her head, but thought she must be too exhausted to calculate correctly. The number came out wrong. Roxie said she was a freshman this year.
Inside the flower blossom packet was a transparent green disk that contained hundreds of hypodermic injectors, each finer than the down on a baby’s cheek. Conceptually, the injectors were like a bundle of poison darts dipped in curare. But instead of toxins, the injectors contained a micro-pharmacy of concentrated, life-saving and life-enhancing drugs.
“Roxie is a powerful psychic who is drawn to other powerful psychics⎯” Mindy said to Anna, pausing for emphasis. “⎯Psychics like you.” Then she added with a smile, “And I also think she likes you.”
Mindy continued explaining while she worked. “You and Mr. Daimler have a lot in common. Juan Carlos risked his reputation with the deans by standing up for you and asking them to give you another chance. You risked guaranteeing expulsion by standing up for Roxie and claiming sole responsibility for breaking into the Infirmary. Roxie admires that sort of selflessness.”
Mindy snapped the clear cassette from its retaining bracket in Anna’s medi-pak and tossed it into her caftan pocket. Then she plucked the transparent, green cassette from the flower blossom packet and popped it into the medi-pak’s retaining bracket. She pressed the platform down with her forefinger and watched it slide back into the medi-pak until the iris diaphragm spiraled shut.
“People know about using psilene from popular media,” Mindy said, “but they have little idea how much training is required to use the drug both safely and well. Roxie knew using psilene could be a transcendent, almost religious, experience; but she didn’t want to spend time learning how to use it. She was determined and resourceful, and made up her mind to get the drug by hook or by crook. Which is exactly what she did.
“She didn’t acquire the drug from the Academy⎯if I recall correctly she got it from some back alley dealer in Seattle⎯but anyway, she used it while on campus. Montero was right in one respect though: she was already a powerful psychic and pro-psilene amplified her Talent. The only problem is, if a psychic uses too much psilene, or doesn’t wait long enough for their body to fully metabolize the drug, then that person can become lost in their own psychic vision and be unable to find their way back to reality.
“Roxie Montero took a massive dose of pro-psilene while on campus and imprinted a vivid memory of herself on the very walls of this school. Her imprint has lasted years after she got lost in her vision and was found babbling madly, wandering down the Yellow Brick Road.”
Anna turned and flashed Roxie a plaintive look, perhaps to get a denial of Mindy’s story, or perhaps to hear an explanation that would erase the implications of her story. But Roxie didn’t say anything. Instead, she sat fuming like a sizzling firecracker threatening to blow up.
“Roxie’s not a problem for most students,” Mindy said, “but you and Mr. Daimler are not like most students. Your minds are more powerful. And I mean no offense when I say it, Anna, but you are also a troubled young woman whose temperament complements Roxie’s own. She’s drawn to you, and you to her. But now’s the time for Ms. Montero to let you go.”
A typical First Year student’s medi-pak is loaded with low-strength doses of pro- and contra-psilene and a prophylactic prescription. But the typical dosage wasn’t nearly enough to tame Anna’s raging Talent. Without Anna even being aware that she was doing it, and ever since she was a child hosting tea parties for her ‘imaginary’ friends, Anna had seen ghosts.
Mindy tapped a control on her digital pad to activate the new prescription she had written and the high-strength psilene cassette she had installed in Anna’s wristband. Instantly, a dose of contra-psilene shot through Anna’s skin and diffused into her bloodstream. Anna felt the warmth of the drug suffuse through her arm, her chest, and her brain. She thought it felt⎯it felt⎯it…felt…indescribable.
Anna was joyous. She remembered that Roxie told her that psilene felt amazing, and now she turned to tell Roxie that she finally understood what the rebel girl had meant. In the first moment, Roxie was sitting there, solid flesh and bone. In the next moment, Roxie’s visage flickered like the candle flame on Mindy’s séance table. In the final moment, Roxie was gone as if the candle had been blown out by a gust of wind. Not even the scent of brimstone was left in the air.
“I’m certain Roxie is still here, haunting you as she has many students before you,” Mindy said, “but your Talent has been dampened too much for you to sense her. The first time you were around Roxie, no one else could see her until the chief security guard, who is also an interlocutor, rebroadcast your vision to everyone else. The next time you were around Roxie, I was there to rebroadcast your vision.”
“Roxie seemed real to you,” said Juan Carlos, “because not only could you see and hear her, but so could everyone else you met. It was only by accident that you happened to encounter two interlocutors one after the other, otherwise you would have realized what was occurring.”
“There’s a name for the relationship that you and Roxie have,” Mindy said. “When two people are drawn to each other, it’s called a ‘friendship’. When a psychic and a ghost are drawn to each, it’s called an affinity.”
“A medium who is lucky enough to have an affinity with a knowledgeable ghost,” said Juan Carlos, “is more likely to discover a consistent narrative of past events.” Daimler had already achieved recognition from professional archaeologists for his undergraduate excursions to the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. When he graduated from the Academy next year, he would go to a prestigious college, such as the University of Chicago, where he could combine his Talent with his graduate archaeology studies.
Anna’s expression was an admixture of confusion and concern. “That was a ghost? That Roxie was a ghost?” Anna’s face was stricken with horror. “You mean the real Roxie is…?”
“No, no,” Mindy said, dismissing the obvious conclusion, “Ms. Montero is still alive, although her ghost continues to haunt this campus and cause trouble. The Parapsychological Institute is still working on a cure for Ms. Montero, as well as others who suffer the same affliction, and I hear that a new treatment shows promise. The last I heard, Roxie was being cared for at the Institute’s Buenos Aires research hospital. Nevertheless, the point is that you must be cautious when you use psilene.”
Mindy put away her digital pad and straightened her caftan. “Go to bed, Anna,” she said, sounding exhausted herself. “Get a good night’s sleep. Wear your medi-pak at all times, even in the shower, and it will automatically administer contra-psilene to protect you from unexpected hauntings.
“The psilene should also relieve any anxiety resulting from you wearing your necklace, although I recommend that you put it away somewhere. Perhaps a jewelry box made of silver and iron. Maybe you can understand now how disastrous it was for you, an untrained psychic, to always wear a necklace laden with such intense personal emotions. That necklace is probably what damaged your original clinical treatment. If you wish, we can try to repair the damage. That will take a lot of work, but don’t worry about it now,” she said.
Mindy stretched, but then quickly stifled a yawn. “Get some rest. And tomorrow, don’t forget to watch the recording of the Convocation ceremony. After the formal introductions and faculty awards, they play it for laughs. It’s always a hoot. Your classmates will be talking about it for weeks to come.”
It was not by accident that Mindy put the idea in Anna’s head that she would remain in school and have classmates for friends. Mindy was being slightly devious, but if Anna voluntarily came back for therapy, the deception would be for a good cause and Mindy would admit what she had done. For her part, Anna was exhausted but in better spirits than she had been anytime during the last two years.
“I’m going home,” Mindy said, not worrying much about sharing too much personal information, “have dinner, kiss my partner, and sleep like the….” She paused in deference to Anna’s feelings, then said, “…well, like a very tired person who deserves a rest.” Mindy realized that she was already thinking of Anna as an ongoing client instead of a student whom she might never speak to again.
“Juan Carlos Daimler, you get some rest too,” Mindy added. “You did a phenomenal job today.” Juan Carlos humbly nodded as he accepted Obermeyer’s compliment. He was appreciative, but looked as if he had just been through a war.
“Juan Carlos, isn’t Anna in the dormitory that you proctor? Why don’t you escort her home?”
Daimler and Ivlis left the faculty wing and slowly trudged along the Yellow Brick Road toward the First Year student dormitories. As they walked, Anna’s curiosity kept nagging her until she finally had to say, “You’ve known Ms. Obermeyer for a long time, right?”
Juan Carlos was too tired to do more than grunt in the affirmative. He had stretched his mind all the way to a distant moon circling a gas giant planet, gone two years into the past, uncovered the most tragic moment in a young woman’s life, supported her in her time of need, and then got her and her physician’s minds safely back to Earth and the present. He was spent.
Anna said, “She usually calls you ‘Juan Carlos’; two names; it’s kind of formal. Why not call you just ‘Juan’ or ‘Johnny’ or ‘J. C.’ or some other familiar name?”
They walked a little farther on the golden footpath through the flying campus. At last, Daimler said, “Only my friends and family call me ‘Juan Carlos’.”
The pair strode in silence for a while. The avenue was empty and the only sound they heard was the rush of wind off the Pacific Ocean and the click of their heels on the pavement. To the East, the full moon was slicing through a cloud bank and painting it lavender blue. The air smelled of rain.
Daimler’s eyelids were drooping and he was already dreaming of diving into a soft, down pillow. But considering what they had been through together, he managed to prop open his eyes and say, “You can call me ‘Juan Carlos’ too.”