by Ann Carol Ulrich
© 1988 (all rights reserved)
NARCOTIC OF THE MIND
Johanna stood and wiggled her wet toes as she held the telephone receiver to her ear. The gray slippers were soaked from the snow. She trembled as she heard the rattling buzz of the phone ringing on the other end of the line. "Please be home, Manley," she prayed.
It rang six times before Johanna heard the click of someone picking up the line. She sighed with relief. "Leegash brisilch myen schorfg." It was Doris' voice.
Johanna panicked. It was just her luck to get Doris on the line. She didn't know what to do, so she said nothing.
"Premjaquib horp zilgug vimyecktar," Doris said into the phone.
Johanna let out a sob. She licked her dry, chapped lips, then said, "Doris? Is... is Manley there?"
Doris cried out in alarm. Johanna hoped her sister-in-law would at least recognize that it was her. If she did, she could summon Manley to the phone, and somehow perhaps...
"Dwopneef oogruc destpeesh mubzool brenhuljiv weensh crooblik!"
"Doris, please... it's me, Johanna. Please get Manley. I need to speak to him. It's urgent!"
A young businessman in a beige suitcoat stood next to Johanna, apparently waiting to use the telephone. He eyed her suspiciously. Doris flung a torrent of gibberish at her. In the background Johanna thought she heard Manley's voice calling out. Before she could try to convey anything further, Doris hung up.
"Oh no... no!" Johanna whined as she stared at the receiver in her hand. The stupid woman! The connection was broken, and Johanna had no more coins. Even if Manley did figure out she had called, he would have no way of knowing from where she had called. "Damn you, Doris!" Johanna slammed the phone down and spun around.
The businessman took a step backward as his eyes swept her unkempt figure.
Sniffing, Johanna stepped away from the phone booth. There was nothing left to do but go back into the dining room. Perhaps after a decent meal she could think of something. She would walk to Manley's house, or die trying.
For the first time in her life, Johanna hated her sister-in-law with a passion. How could Doris do such a thing? She had to have known it was Johanna on the line, and that she needed to talk to Manley. She took her seat and found a tossed salad at her place. Johanna ate the salad and thought back about the resentment she and Doris had felt toward each other over the past couple of years.
When Manley started taking Doris out, Johanna thought the relationship between the two would pass. Manley dated few girls and then only sparingly. He had never been serious about any of them. When he announced to Johanna that he and Doris were getting married, Johanna had been more than a little surprised. Doris did not seem to be Manley's type. She was obese, dumpy, and lackadaisical about her appearance. What Manley saw in Doris had puzzled Johanna from the beginning, until she found out that Doris had money.
Johanna doubted that Manley truly loved Doris. From the beginning, she knew he was only interested in her money. Manley, on the other hand, was on the obese side himself, over forty, losing his hair. He realized he had better latch on to a good thing while he still had a fighting chance. So he had married Doris.
And ever since, there had been the developing tension between Johanna and her sister-in-law. Doris accused Manley of paying too much attention to his sister. "It's not healthy," she had once spit out in one of their three-way quarrels. "Your love for your sister goes beyond the normal scheme of things," Doris had told Manley. "Too bad there are laws about such matters. I think you prefer Johanna over me!"
Johanna sighed as she leaned her head on her hand. She left some tomatoes in the bottom of the dish. The lettuce liner looked wilted or she might have eaten that. Now that she thought about it, Doris had a point. Manley had been her protector throughout her life. He was always there when she needed him. In fact, he worshipped her.
During her concert career, when she had been on tour, Manley had always managed to come along when he could. He escorted her everywhere. If some dashing young admirer had wanted to approach her, there was no opportunity because Manley stepped in. He felt it was his duty, yet his duty, Johanna realized, had gone beyond the normal scheme of things, as Doris had stated.
But she hadn't minded. Not then. It was what she was used to. It had become very convenient to have a brother who took charge of her life for her. Losing their parents at such an early age as they had, Manley had taken over as father, friend and escort. And when he had married Doris, things did not change that much. He was still there for her.
Johanna's stomach growled with hunger. She looked around. Where was her main dish? She was starved. Oh Manley, she thought to herself, what is this mess I've gotten myself into? How did it come about? And what part do Serassan and his sneaky-sounding friend Thorden play in it? Am I going to be able to speak and understand only Estronian the rest of my life?
She stared into her glass of water as she remembered the conversation she had overheard in the doctors' lounge. Just when she had been starting to like Serassan -- like him a lot -- now to find out his intentions were not in her favor. He and Thorden said they were planning to meet the mother ship in a day. They were going to transport the cargo. Were Piedmont, Radya and herself the cargo Serassan was intending to transport?
A flurry of movement caught Johanna's attention. There was a scuffle at the entrance of the dining room. Then she saw her waitress, carrying an empty tray. The waitress pointed in Johanna's direction. Suddenly two police officers barged into the room. Other diners grew silent as the men in blue uniforms rushed toward Johanna's table.
Johanna did not resist arrest. There was no point. As they handcuffed her, she heard so much jargon that her head swam. No doubt her appearance had betrayed her. That or the man standing next to her at the phone booth had alerted somebody as to her speech.
"Manley..." Johanna waited as the police led her out to a waiting squad car.
Johanna sulked in her hospital room the rest of the afternoon. She knew they weren't going to let her out, so she could forget about speaking to Piedmont and Radya. To her surprise, while she was eating her supper, Manley came to see her.
As hungry as she had been, she abandoned the meal and embraced her brother. He held her for a long moment, then drew back and stared at her helplessly. He looked even more worried now than he had the times before.
"Manley, I wish you wouldn't look at me that way," Johanna told him. "You look at me like I'm crazy. I'm really not, you know. I just don't know how to get through to you."
When she spoke to him, he never said anything anymore. He just stared in pity. At least he listened.
"It's a plot, you see," Johanna tried to explain. Gestures did little to put across her meaning, but she used them just the same. "It's like Piedmont said, a conspiracy. I'm not really sure what it's all about yet, but..." She sniffed as tears seeped into her eyes. "But I have a feeling... oh Manley... I have a feeling I'm never going to see you again." The sobs broke loose, and she fell into his arms again. "I don't want to be away from you, dear brother. Just hold me. Hold me one last time."
Johanna looked up and found Dr. Wetzel tapping Manley's shoulder. The woman doctor spoke to Manley sternly, and reluctantly he left. She stared at her brother longingly before he went. "Goodbye, Manley. Take care of yourself, no matter what."
He shrugged, wiped a tear from his eye, then went out the door.
"Dr. Wetzel? Please... do you have a minute?"
Barbara Wetzel regarded the heavyset man with the receding hairline. "What is it, Mr. Dobbs? Someone is waiting for me down in the lobby."
"What's going on with my sister? What caused her to run away today? I thought you said she was getting better."
Barbara beckoned him over to some seats next to the elevator. Her date would have to wait five minutes longer. "Apparently Johanna panicked about something."
"What? She tried so hard to tell me what was troubling her. Doctor, I think I understand why she tried to get away. I feel terrible that Johanna has to be kept in this awful place."
Barbara's eyebrows lifted. What did this man think this was -- a dungeon? She was proud of the conditions here at Reeve Memorial. "Mr. Dobbs, all I can tell you is this. I believe another patient was the cause of your sister's panic today. You see, we have this elderly woman who has attacked Johanna in the past. She's..."
"Attacked her?" Manley's face wore a look of horror.
Barbara went on. "It's not what you think. We removed the woman a couple of days ago, and she is being given heavy medication. She can't hurt Johanna now. We're doing everything possible to..."
"What have I done?" Manley stood up, the blood rising in his temples. "That does it. I'm getting my sister out of here."
Barbara grabbed his arm before he could get away. "Mr. Dobbs, wait a minute. You can't."
"I thought this was the solution," he raged. "I only wanted Johanna to get better. I thought by sending her here, you people could defeat whatever devil is inside of her." His voice cracked as sobs choked him. "God!"
Barbara felt pity for him, but she felt her own hopelessness as well. She was no closer to finding the answer than before, yet how could she admit this? "Please... Mr. Dobbs..."
Manley buried his face in one of his fat white hands. "I only want Johanna to get better and come back and live as my sister again. It's... it's just no good without her." He sobbed again.
"Well..." Barbara sighed. She was afraid he might carry out his threat and have his sister released. "Maybe there's something you should know," she said. "We are removing Johanna from this hospital tomorrow. She is being transferred to a facility with some patients who have similar symptoms."
Manley stared at Dr. Wetzel. "You're... what? Who said you could take my sister anywhere?"
"It's only temporary... for a day or so. It's... it's experimental therapy." Barbara forced a smile to reassure him. "If you want to discuss it, I suggest you speak to Dr. Serassan. He is organizing the effort. Don't worry, Mr. Dobbs. Your sister will be back here before Wednesday, and I am confident that a breakthrough is about to occur in her case."
It was late that same night. The lights were out, but Johanna could not sleep. She tossed in her bed and thought over the day's events. They seemed astronomical after so many boring days in this ward. Mostly, she worried about what tomorrow would bring.
The door opened slowly, and Johanna waited. She listened as Serassan entered her room. Her heart began to pound as she closed her eyes to feign sleep. Maybe when he realized she was asleep he would go away.
For several moments Johanna waited. She heard the soft squeak of his shoes on the floor as he approached the bed. She even heard his breathing. It frightened her. He was not of this Earth, after all. Beneath the covers her body quivered. She couldn't help it. She prayed her would not notice it.
Suddenly Johanna felt hot air against her cheek. He must be crouching beside her bed. Still she pretended to be unaware. She didn't want to give Serassan the satisfaction of acknowledging his alien presence. How dare he abduct her and cause her to suffer all she had these last weeks?
"Ahh... awaken, sweet one." The voice was not Serassan's.
Johanna opened her eyes. Before her was a squarish head. She couldn't see well enough to make out the details of his face in the dark. She gave a cry of alarm and jerked up from the sheets.
"Be quiet," he said in a husky voice that Johanna recognized as the voice of Thorden from the lounge. A loathing toward the alien filled her as she fought to move away. For some reason she felt paralyzed and couldn't even turn her eyes away.
"What do you want?" The words came from her, but her lips did not move. She only heard her own voice in her head.
Thorden laughed sardonically as he bent ever closer. "You, Earth woman," he crooned in a tone that sent shivers up Johanna's spine.
"No! Don't touch me!" her mind's voice cried out.
The door to her room swung open just then. Light from the hallway flooded in. "Thorden!" a voice thundered from across the room.
Suddenly Johanna was free and dropped back onto her bed. Serassan stood in the room. His tall dark form came into full view in the dim light.
The other man stood up straight and faced Serassan. He had narrow eyes and a large, crooked nose. His hair was short and light in color. "Serassan, what are you doing here?" he muttered in a low voice.
Johanna could feel the rumble of rage that seemed to emanate from Serassan as he stared fixedly at his opponent. "Leave here," he commanded.
Thorden threw his arms out at his sides. A playful smile stretched across his face. "Anything you say. I was just making my acquaintance with the musician."
"I said leave." Serassan's voice remained calm, but it held the same note of firmness that commanded his colleague to depart.
Without hesitation Thorden left. Johanna sat up in bed and reached over to turn on her bedside lamp. In the brightness, her squinting eyes met the piercing look in Serassan's as he approached her side.
"Did he harm you, Johanna?"
She placed a hand over her chest. Her heart was still beating fast. "I don't think so." She averted her eyes.
"I'll deal with him later." Serassan reached for her hand and held it in his warm palm. The calming sensation of energy immediately soothed her. she couldn't help but relax, but her mind still rebelled. She remembered the conversation she had overheard.
"You know of Thorden already," Serassan told her as he looked deeply into her eyes. "Yes, I can see it now. What you heard. You are frightened, but you need not be."
Johanna sensed he was probing her mind.
"Why did you try to escape today?" asked Serassan.
The soothing sensation continued. Johanna swallowed, but she was still confused. How could she trust this alien?
"Please tell me, Johanna. Where did you think you could go?" Although the question demanded an answer, his tone was gentle. He looked on her with compassion as he continued to stroke her fingers.
"I don't want to be a prisoner," Johanna blurted out. "I was going to find my brother Manley. He would have helped me."
"Helped you? Like he did when he left you here?"
Johanna shook her head stubbornly. "Piedmont said..."
"You've been listening to Piedmont again, I see." Serassan smiled slightly. "Well, rest assured, Piedmont may be intelligent for a Terran, but he does not yet fully comprehend our plan."
Johanna dared to look him in the eye. "Serassan, what is your plan? Why have you done this to us?"
"You mean, to you, Piedmont, and Radya?"
"Yes. And the others."
"You spoke of others. Thorden said there were others to be gathered and taken to some launch point."
"Of course there are others, Johanna. Others like yourself, Piedmont, and Radya, gathered from all over your planet. In a short time you will all be embarking on a journey."
"What kind of journey? Where are you taking us?"
"Is it important that you know this now?" Serassan looked grieved.
"You've kept us in the dark too long," Johanna told him. "I need to know for the sake of my own sanity! Where are we going?"
He patted her hand and withdrew from her side. "To Karos." He stood up. "Now get up, Johanna. We have some place to go."
He pulled her to her feet. She found her robe on the foot of the bed and Serassan helped her put it on. "I must hear you play one more time," he told her. "This could be your final chance until we reach the mother ship."
Johanna stuck her toes into her slippers, then followed Serassan to the door. He peeked out to make sure the hall was empty, then together they made their way down to the recreation room.
This time there was a night nurse at the station. She watched them, but Serassan said something to her. Johanna glanced over and saw that he had put the nurse into some kind of a trance. How powerful was this man, she wondered, who had come to her room and rescued her from that malicious Thorden!
She felt strangely secure at Serassan's side. As much as she knew she was his prisoner, she couldn't help feeling safe and even comfortable next to him. He understood more than anyone else in this hospital her need to play the piano.
When they reached the rec hall, it was the same as the night before. Serassan switched on the lights, closed the door, and listened intently as she played many pieces from memory. Her frustrations, fears, even her temporary happiness at being with this unusual man came out in her released emotions as she made the music in her head and heart come alive for him. She played until she had exhausted herself. It had, after all, been a trying day both physically and mentally. She finally leaned over on the keyboard and moaned as sweat dripped down her back.
Serassan lifted her slender frame from the bench and drew her to him. "Incredible," he murmured in her ear. "Johanna, promise me... you must promise you'll never leave me."
Even in her lassitude, Johanna glanced up at him. His deep blue eyes had a glassy appearance. His mouth hung open and his shoulder heaved, as if he, too, had been exhausted by her efforts.
"Never leave me," he pleaded. "I could not bear it."
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