The bed was jackknifed to support Roger Daly’s torso, his face serene and when he spoke, his voice gentle.
This was not the man that his comrades-in-arms would be familiar with, they knew the brooding Roger, the deadly Roger, the Roger whose voice on the rare occasions it did breach his self-imposed reclusion was gruff and monosyllabic.
Throughout his life Roger had been a man of few words and precise action. He had been trained to follow orders and not to partake in careless chatter; in his vocation there had been little need to communicate.
Leon was Roger’s alter-ego, his world was one of unceasing communication; talk, the tool of his trade. A trained communicator, Leon was quickly winning the battle against the warrior, Roger’s intense character crumbling to the superior armaments.
Leon’s unorthodox treatment had begun causing consternation in military circles; training men up to Roger’s extreme capability did not come cheap, and the military bean counters had their calculators out.
Roger increasingly looked like a write-off; he’d soon enter their balance sheet as an acceptable loss—an innocent sounding euphemism for quantifying a life through statistics.
Like any business, the military had their budgets and lives were an asset or liability; in the equation, death a less expensive option; funerals being cheaper than welfare.
A classified report on the Roger incident had been drawn; the negative outcomes weighed against the savings of field-training causalities; LifeGames training remained the preferred method; “acceptability rates for resulting mental disorders may be allowed to remain at elevated levels while the company overcomes teething challenges associated with the Time Dilation technology.”
Ken had managed to lay his hands on the report. “My kind of businessmen!” he’d chirped happily.
With his psychological analysis disqualifying him from ever retaining his former status, Roger’s file was officially closed. Roger had been no ordinary soldier drilled for marching and cannon fodder, he was an elite killing machine, a stud bull amongst the herd.
Roger knew he’d made the shift onto the debit side of the military budget; it left Leon scrambling to shore up the depressive void and collapsing self worth that the man was tumbling into;
“How are you feeling today? More chipper I see,” Leon patted Roger’s foot through the blanket.
Although no voice breached his lips, Roger offered a brief nod to confirm the question. Deep within the troubled eyes stirred the promise of a smile.
“Good old boy, good,” Leon squeezed the foot with camaraderie.
Just then Doctor Andrew entered the room, “I heard that you were in, Leon. What’s on the program for today?”
“Oh, I thought we’d put a few more historians out of business... put them out of business, yes,” Leon bantered cheerily, “How about that, Andrew, you up for it?”
The two physicians had developed a good friendship. Though Leon was officially not supposed to be in the wards, “To hell with them!” Andrew had declared when the signal had come through from Operations Headquarters.
According to the signal, Roger was to be stabilized expeditiously using only the prescribed and trusted psychological and pharmaceutical methods; “This,” According to the signal, “will affect his most hasty discharge from the armed forces.”
Official word was that Roger had become a burden that the military no longer intended to entertain.
The entire dehumanized affair had caused Andrew to respond angrily. He’d openly flouted ops authority over him;
“I don’t know quite how and it makes no sense to me, but Doctor Goldstein is achieving results which far exceed the prescribed patient recovery rate that Operations expect of me,” he’d told the hospital superintendent. “I don’t give a continental damn what they think, but on my watch Doctor Goldstein is quite welcome to proceed with the good work that he has been doing!”
The superintendent was a true military man who was more than a little cautious about crossing swords with a psychologist. He had dismissed Andrew with a clear instruction that the official line should be toed; it was clear that a blind eye would unofficially be turned.
“So be it!” Andrew had punctuated the status quo with a victory for justice.
“Defeat at last!” Leon cheered.
Andrew hadn’t intended to omit answering Leon’s question regarding his own plans for the day, his failure to answer only due to distraction in the details of the graphs and statistics that hung on a clipboard at the foot of Roger’s bed.
“Defeat!” Leon repeated.
“What was that?” Andrew inquired, puzzled.
“No time to appeal the decision, old boy... no time,” Leon enthusiastically sealed his latest victory in the tussle of their opposing philosophies.
It was a claim that Andrew’s failure to oppose him on the question of putting historians out of work through regression hypnosis. It was tantamount to Andrew’s tacit acceptance that regression hypnosis is bona fide; a silly perpetuation of the mind sparring the two had played from the moment they’d met.
“Some day I really must stretch you out on my couch for counseling old chap, you’re more senile with each passing day.”
Leon ignored Andrew’s counter offensive as he hummed a victory tune to himself while maneuvering a chair into a comfortable position to begin his session with Roger.
“Don’t listen to a word he says, Roger,” Andrew circled his own ear with his index finger, gesturing Leon’s derangement.
A hint of smile touched the corners of Roger’s mouth.
“Run along then, run along,” Leon called after Andrew as he left the ward on rounds. “Now where were we Rog, where were we?”
Over the weeks and many hypno-sessions, Leon had all but removed the character of Fernando from Roger’s conscious mind. It had been an arduous task made more difficult by Fernando speaking with a heavy Spanish accent in a 16th century English dialect.
Through long and in-depth negotiations, Fernando had accepted a retreat back into the recesses of 20th century Roger’s mind, where he dwelled with the two former personalities. Each of the three additional personalities that inhabited the mind called Roger, had their own clearly defined memories and outlooks.
Leon had dabbled into those who pre-dated Fernando. He’d discovered some promising results, yet only Fernando held the link between Ken and Craig and the terrifying prospects of Demonic dabbling that Fernando growled about.
In this regard, Leon had discovered that extracting information from Fernando was an excruciatingly slow process. Fernando was a minefield of irrational ranting; if Leon made the mistake of mentioning either Ken or LifeGames then the session had to be terminated.
Fernando would begin to work himself into a tirade that would invariably explode and then degenerate into a wild-eyed string of Latin curses and prayers; the prayers in turn would give way to ritualized chants and a climax of uncontrolled epileptic convulsions would grip the man. When that point was reached, Leon’s only option was to banish Fernando, bringing Roger back to consciousness.
The epilepsy was a key that Leon had followed—but there was much more to it;
“All right Roger.”
Leon depressed the ‘record’ button on his dictation recorder and checked to see if both spindles were turning, drawing the old mini cassette through tape through the recording device. The machine was ancient, and tapes for it obsolete; but Leon fiercely rejected moving on to digital media.
“I’m going to begin to count you down from five, okay?”
Leon took a sip of water while Roger nodded and obediently closed his eyes in readiness for Leon’s first command;
“Five... you’re becoming drowsy, very, very drowsy. Four...” Leon was at work, all hint of senility evaporated; “I’d like you to remember a time, Roger. It’s your first day of school. Can you remember your first day at school?”
“Yes, Sir,” Roger’s voice was soft and timid, unmistakably the voice of a six year-old.
“Very good boy, Roger. Let’s go even further back in time. You are just born and you are being washed by your mother...”
The man in the bed transformed into a helpless and feeble infant, his limbs flopped as if paralyzed, his toes and fingers curling, in the manner of infants. His face contorted with winds and a moan gurgled in his throat.
“Good Roger... Now, you are not yet born; you are inside your mother’s womb where it is warm and safe and you feel verrrrry peaceful.”
The face relaxed from the trauma of birth, becoming content, Roger’s thumb plugged into his mouth and his knees drew up to his chest, his eyes fluttered lazily, the lids turning them to slits.
“Very good Roger, very good... You feel very loved,” Leon re-positioned himself for the task that lay ahead.
The man-sized fetus in the bed was to all appearances asleep, the cheeks gently pulsating against the thumb.
“All right Roger, I want you to remember another time, a time that came even before you were inside of your mother. Can you remember this time?”
Roger’s thumb fell limply from his mouth and his limbs went slack, his facial expression blanked as though he were dead.
“Good! Think again, this is a different time, a life that you remember. Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
Still nothing... and then the eyes began to track behind the closed lids.
“Tell me who you are...”
The eyes opened and tracked around, looking for its interrogator.
“I humbly ask, sir... what is your name?”
The body came raring back to life, assuming a presence of great authority.
In a throaty grumble coursed by a guttural Spanish accent came the reply;
“I am Fernando Sanchez, Bishop of Andalucia and Spanish Emissary to the Holy Vatican in Rome.”
There had been an uncanny metamorphosis of Roger’s body, face and aura. So thorough had been the man’s transformation that, to the un-initiated, the scene would appear to be a disturbing possession by an invading spirit. Alternatively it could be a most professional hoax indeed, but few would be fool enough to suggest that this was Roger at all.
“What is the period in which you live, Sire?” Leon always began the session with the identical line of questioning, it was his method of verifying that his channel to the former personality was open; Fernando Sanchez’s authority demanded very specific protocols or he would refuse to answer.
“I was born in the village of Mijas during the year of our Lord Fifteen Hundred and Seventy Two. I will die in the year Sixteen Hundred and Thirty Eight.”
Leon was familiar with regressed personalities viewing themselves as current beings.
They would speak of themselves in the present tense, yet they would simultaneously have the curious habit of mentioning their date of death as matter of fact.
For them, the transition between terrestrial life and the spiritual world appeared to be no more than an academic point of departure.
“I seek the salvation of many good souls, Your Eminence,” Leon had found it an important ingredient to first make these assurances of his intent, before questioning Fernando.
“Bendito seas, my son,” the Bishop blessed Leon for his devotion.
“There is a friend who has left our world, he was known by the name of Craig Angelis.”
“I have knowledge of this soul,” Fernando folded his arms.
“He has imparted a message to yourself, Eminence?” Leon was carefully navigating the waters of heretical suspicion.
“Much evil my son, much wickedness,” his voice growled; so soon into the session and Fernando was already fierce, “Beware, for your own position is stalked by the Demons of Hell.”
Leon’s skin crawled with the sincerity in the man’s voice, “The evil takes what form, Sire?”
“The evil surrounds you in your place of work. Heed my warning!” Fernando boomed, close to the precipice that would quickly give way and slide the whole session to its premature end; “...for you are not in a position to control your destiny.”
Leon averted his eyes from the crazed stare of his patient-become-confessor, and an ironic notion passed through his head.
Here he was, a Jew, being confessed by a Catholic priest who hailed from the most oppressive time in mankind’s history.
He wondered how the intolerant Bishop would accept talking with a ‘heretic.’ Although not a practicing Jew, Leon was painfully aware of the bigoted mind. He knew all too well that in Fernando’s limited outlook, the stigma would be damning.
There was a crackling silence in the room, and slowly Leon raised his eyes to find the Bishop studying him intently, inclining his head, frowning as if seeing Leon’s thoughts; “...and do not believe that your false religion will gain your admission into the Kingdom of God.”
The Bishop’s voice crashed in Leon’s mind, bringing a new dimension to Leon’s experience. Never before in all of his vast experience had he known any subject to read a hypnotist’s mind.
It was a shaking experience for Leon as Fernando continued haranguing onward with his admonishment;
“...Your only salvation will come when you guard the thoughts of your heart against Lucifer… that Prince of Dankness creeps through the chambers of your den!”
Leon had never penetrated this far into the enigma, which Fernando’s riddles posed. Maintaining an attitude that he hoped would best convey his deepest gratitude for the Great man’s advice, Leon tried to restore calm;
“I am grateful for the advice that you offer me, Sire,”
But calm was not to be, and he watched helplessly as his words had little effect on the building momentum of the Bishop’s slipping rationality;
“The Beast is in league with your master. It uses foul balms and sweet words to recruit soldiers into the armies of the Anti-Christ! MADRE DE DIOS, PERDONA TUS PECADOS... You are as one blinded by the darkness! You bring great perils to all of mankind! Let the inquisition cleanse your sins!”
The session was over in that twinkling of an outburst, with Fernando continuing to build himself toward a crescendo of bed-rattling wroth until the tirade exploded into savage chaos, forcing Leon to assign him back to his own period, and bring the memory of Roger forward to its self-awareness.
After he had ensured that the conscious Roger was in a relaxing sleep, Leon made his way toward the exit of the hospital. The route took him past Andrew’s office.
“How did you go today, old chap?” Andrew was secretly hooked on the saga.
“Short but sweet. Too short... That’s the trouble with religious-nutters, can never get a word in edgeways. Not a word.”
Leon went on to fill Andrew in on the scant progress made, he rewound his cassette and played the interesting bits.
When done they began to consider the riddles that the session had borne.
“My guess is drugs and you, old boy!” Andrew offered triumphantly.
“What on earth do you mean by that?”
Leon was bewildered. Their constant and ongoing duel of wits extended to diagnosis, and by not reading Andrew’s cryptic clue Leon had forfeited a point in their game.
“The ‘balms...”? They’re drugs, old chap! I saw it on that fellow the moment I met him. He’s an addict if you ask me... always at his nose,” Andrew mimicked Ken’s constant fidgeting at his nose.
Whenever Andrew referred to Ken, he’d say ‘that fellow’.
Leon knew of Ken’s cocaine addiction, but it was prudent to deny Andrew’s charge;
“Not a chance of it... not a chance. With all the pressure he’s under, Ken couldn’t afford it.”
Andrew eyed him suspiciously;
“If that’s what you truly believe old fruit, then you definitely need brushing up on your diagnostic skills. I can give you pointers.”
The banter continued unabated as Andrew completed his analysis;
“And drugs of course cloud that fellow’s thinking. They make him employ the likes of you, you see... sweet words.”
“Sweet words, sweet words,” Leon repeated over his shoulder as he made for the door.
Though it had taken him another point down in their jousting game, he’d graciously accepted defeat by bowing to Andrew’s playful insult. Theirs was a subtle humor for the duration of which both men generally maintained deadpan faces.
Andrew reveled in his victory and went back to his papers.
“God be with you,” Leon closed the door and departed for his car.
As he drove, Fernando’s words looped through his mind with nagging persistence.
Andrew was correct, two phrases stood out from the entire litany, foul-balms and sweet-words.
But what was the significance?
Foul-balms for drugs? Possibly.
Sweet-words meaning hypnosis?
That, he conceded, was possible too, but the more Leon thought about it, the more he became convinced that there was a more sinister meaning lurking there.