Science fiction by Jack Bragen
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he group of 25 or so mentally disabled people sat at a table in the lunchroom and ate pizza with great ardor. Some of them, probably without realizing it, grunted while eating. It was a Friday, and in another hour or so, during “talk therapy,” half of the “clients” would doze off.
The lunchroom had childlike arts and crafts pinned to the walls, and on the long table was a large jug of water with orange slices — one of the counselors had decided to get fancy.
Jonathan Smith hated the therapy venue. He was an intelligent man and believed he was being treated as an idiot. And today was Jonathan’s day for individual therapy. John had only a poor memory of the talk sessions and suspected he was being hypnotized.
Today, John’s therapist probed more intently. The psychoanalyst had an agenda. Jonathan had been found to be too intelligent. Janice Williams, the therapist, had been told to use an intelligence bobbing unit during the session. Janice’s commander, who went by a number and not a name — Alpha Centauri aliens didn’t use names — had ordered John’s intelligence reduced.
Jonathan lived with his elderly mother, and when he got home that day, she knew something was amiss.
“Why are you acting like a simpleton?” she asked. “You’re supposed to be smart.”
“My therapist did something to me.” John’s reply oddly didn’t carry any emotion. And his manner was uncharacteristically zombie-like.
Jonathan’s mother, Melissa, put an upright index finger in front of Jonathan’s face. “Keep your eyes on this.” She moved her finger back and forth, up and down, and in circles. Soon, her son was in hypnosis. “Do you remember who you are?” she asked him.
“I’m a mentally ill idiot, like the rest.” He paused. He was perplexed. “Why am I an idiot now?”
“It is as I had feared. Your mental health specialists have an ulterior agenda.” She sat back in her hard-backed chair in front of John, who was on the living room sofa. “I’m going to try to reactivate your higher functions, but now your intelligence must be kept hidden. Your life may depend on it.”
Jonathan’s deceased father had been an astronomer, and had passed away under mysterious circumstances. Since then, Melissa had been an avid reader on the subject of alien intelligence. At some point, she had abruptly stopped the activity and could not be made to talk about it.
Melissa said, “Tomorrow when you go back, keep that mouth shut. If they discover that your faculties have been restored, they will probably try something more drastic.”
Jonathan sat in the waiting room of the mental health clinic. The wall had a poster with a picture of a teddy bear wearing a clown hat. The caption read, “I just want to be taken seriously.” Jonathan was offended every time he sat in the waiting room and saw the poster.
He picked up a magazine. At that point, Jonathan realized that the surveillance camera in the waiting room had swiveled to point at him.
The mental health building was a renovated, Victorian-era, two-story house. Cameras and microphones had been installed in all parts of it. Presumably, someone in an observation room somewhere was looking at all of the images from the cameras.
Jonathan tried to be nonchalant, and started reading an article in the magazine he held. He wondered why his psychiatrist hadn’t yet called him in for his appointment. And then, the therapist, Janice Williams, stepped into the waiting room, flanked by two beefy male subordinates.
“Are you reading that article?” she asked.
Jonathan worried. He had shown intelligence by the mere act of reading a magazine. He replied, “I was just looking at the pictures.” Jonathan put a finger up his nose and then showed Janice a space illustration in the magazine. He managed to grin stupidly.
Miss Williams spoke under her breath to her subordinates. “False alarm, you can go back.” Janice and her two thugs exited the room.
Invaders from Alpha Centauri were smaller-framed than most humans, and wore suits that disguised them as human beings. They periodically needed to get out of their suits, as it was quite tedious to wear them, and their skin needed to be aired out. The mental health clinic had a basement, which had been built in the 1950s as a fallout shelter by the previous owners of the building. Mental health consumers were not permitted into the room.
Janice Williams was assistant director of Red Bird Mental Health Clinic. She also wasn’t born on Planet Earth. When she shed herself of the suit intended to make her look like an earthling, she became a bony, grotesque, scaly creature who would be considered repulsive by a human, but to an Alpha Centauri resident would seem quite attractive.
Janice was oddly obsessed with Jonathan. She was determined that he not be successful in life, as it would set a bad precedent and it would affect her reputation as a great spoiler.
Janice sat in her office, a cramped room at the very top of the remodeled Victorian house. She cradled a cup of tea, which was universally appealing even while wearing the awkward suit that made her look like an earthling. Across from her sat Jonathan, and he seemed to be staring at her, studying her. Of course, he could not know.
“Tell me about your father,” Janice said. It was a session of psychoanalysis, and it was useful for reducing intelligence. The areas of the brain that were activated when Jonathan worked to answer a question could be pinpointed and targeted with the equipment.
“My father is none of your business,” Jonathan replied.
“It was merely a question. Are you being compliant with your medication?”
Jonathan began to escalate. “How dare you use intimidation as a part of psychotherapy?”
It was going well. In another few minutes, Janice would be justified in summoning a couple of her thugs to subdue the unruly mental health client.
But then Janice’s pager made a sound. This particular pager could only receive messages sent by off-planet beings. She retrieved it from her waist and looked at the display. Law enforcement officials from Sirius were contacting her.
Janice said, “I have to take this call. We will have to continue tomorrow.”
Jonathan replied, “Gladly. And can I get contact information of your supervisor?”
I’m tired of this smart-ass human beast, she thought. “I’ll get that to you in our next meeting. This call is urgent. You can go home.”
“Bye. I’ll be looking for a lawyer.” Jonathan stormed out of the office and walked out to his car. John looked at his wristwatch. It was five-thirty and the parking lot of the mental health clinic was vacant except for his vehicle.
When he was about to pull onto the street, a car whizzed past him at a good clip, and Jonathan barely hit his brakes on time. The vehicle blasted an extra loud horn. Jonathan turned his head and saw that the vehicle was turning around and was soon to be headed back toward him.
Without time to think, Jonathan pulled out of the driveway and onto the street. He steered in the direction of the oncoming car, expecting to pass it on the right. The driver of that vehicle decided to play “chicken” and got in a direct path toward Jonathan. In a rush of rage, Jonathan punched his accelerator, realizing also that his vehicle was bigger, for a moment not caring that this action would probably put him in legal jeopardy.
Jonathan floored the gas pedal and accelerated toward the harassing vehicle.
The oncoming car, at the last moment, swerved, barely missing Jonathan, and it collided with a telephone pole. Jonathan briskly proceeded home, and didn’t bother to phone police about the incident. He assumed that his attackers would not want police attention, either.
The following day at the mental health treatment center, Jonathan waited an extra long time in the parking lot, with his car idling, so that he could park his car where it would be visible through the large glass front window of the clinic. John was in a more alerted mode, one that had the potential of snowballing into full paranoia.
There were no police coming to get Jonathan. He concluded that his would-be attackers of the previous day were not going to try filing a false report. The telephone pole that had been hit had a moderate-sized chunk of wood missing, and now stood with a bit of a slant.
Janice did not immediately call Jonathan into her office. The interstellar law enforcement aliens from Sirius had issued her a warning. She put in a phone call to cancel usage of the thugs whom she had sent after Jonathan. She hoped the aliens from Sirius would not find her actions too improper.
Jonathan was unsure of whether he would get more hard-knuckle handling from staff, but felt that he needed to prove that he wasn’t trying to evade treatment. Mental health law as well as the structure of the mental health system took a dim view on “noncompliance.”
He hadn’t yet looked for a lawyer but intended to do so. The day was oddly uneventful, and Jonathan relaxed a little bit.
Janice had a meeting with the representative from Sirius, and it had to be done on an invisible spacecraft in orbit. Sirius aliens, due to their form being radically different from earthlings, could not be disguised as human. The conversation went like this:
“My understanding is that Earth resources and Earth beasts were categorized as permissible to harvest,” said Janice, the Alpha Centauri alien. “The Jonathan beast is creating too much inconvenience. We should be allowed to bob his intelligence like the rest.”
The representative from Sirius said, “We’ve looked at the data from Jonathan, and we think he might be usable to us instead. He appears to have a good mind, and we might want to put that to our usage, or at least breed him.”
Janice replied, “We could take a sperm sample.” She paused. “Isn’t he more of a threat than he is worth?”
The Sirius representative said, “If too much docility is bred into the species you stand the risk of creatures that won’t be able to pick up a spoon to even feed themselves.”
“That still doesn’t eliminate getting a sperm sample and being rid of him.”
“Doing that would be illegal if you take the circumstances into account. Policy dictates that someone of Jonathan’s characteristics must be allowed to continue.”
The Alpha Centaurian said, “Do not repeat this to anyone: I intend to deal with this man.” Janice’s tone was quite threatening, and it implied possible retaliation through the one avenue of hostilities that Alpha Centauri still had available.
“I wasn’t here,” said the Sirius creature.
Jonathan sat again in the living room and was hypnotized by his mother.
“Young man, we must take action to deal with these extraterrestrials. They have begun to infiltrate more organizations and probably are planning to take over the government. This will require bravery…” And she repeated: “You are fearless.”
Janice summoned Jonathan into her office on the top floor of the clinic, the converted Victorian house. She intended to put John “in his place” once and for all. Another type of intelligence-bobbing device was on Janice’s desk, disguised as a pencil sharpener. It relied on microwaves to produce brain damage, and it had a large, obtrusive button on top, which did not look like a normal part of a pencil sharpener.
Jonathan sat next to Janice’s desk and said, “I know your secret.”
“Are you having delusions about extraterrestrials again? It hasn’t been in your chart for a few years.” Janice was flipping through the pages of Jonathan’s four-inch thick treatment chart, and paused on the last page to make some notes.
“How did you get such a good disguise?” said Jonathan.
Janice froze. If Jonathan could convince anyone of Janice’s off-planet origin, it would spell big trouble for her and the rest of the Alpha Centaurians. Janice, because she wasn’t from Earth, didn’t realize that no normal human being would ordinarily consider the possibility that Jonathan could be correct and non-delusional.
Janice was about to hit the button on the brain-damaging device. It baffled her that she was hesitating. Did she feel bad for the young human?
Jonathan moved lightning fast, and produced a large pocketknife and made a large slash in Janice’s arm before she could react to defend herself. Instead of blood gushing from the wound, green scaly skin was visible. Janice sat in her chair, apparently immobilized; this was not a reaction that a human being would have. The arm of Janice’s costume dangled below, separated from her actual reptilian arm. Janice sat in her chair, trembled, and wailed. John was baffled that this “thing” took no action.
Suppressing an urge to retch, John reached around Janice’s desk to press her panic button, which would summon security people who presumably were human.
“The jig is up,” said Jonathan. Loud footsteps were audible from the nearby staircase. Soon, human beings would realize that they had been infiltrated by Alpha Centauri creatures, and this discovery would bring the possibility of interstellar war.