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The Secret Mathematic
A novel-in-progress from Cheeseburger Brown
The Secret Mathematic, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 26

There comes a great flash of light.

(It glimmers, but too rapidly to know; it throbs and fades, its pulse speaking volumes about the aether.)

And then, with a dwindling hum, the generators cycle down. Detectors click over and then trigger the all clear signal to buzz. The ventilators gear up to a roar, cooling the apparatus and blowing roiling rivers of steam out into the sky while the intake pumps thrum, drawing in cold water from the twin lakes.

The gauges go green. The locks bang as they release.

Drago pushes his goggles up onto his perspiration-slick forehead. "Status, yes?"

A dozen graduate students pore over a dozen glowing displays crawling with dense blocks of text. Computers beep. The video array grinds and chuckles as it encodes the high-speed picture stream for playback. The lead shields on the capture boxes are folded back and cables are jammed into their ports. Geiger counters tick. Papers rustle.

Vikram Margasahayam turns in his wheeled chair, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Zoran," he says somberly. "We bottomed out at ninety-eight percent. The pattern failed to cohere again."

Drago sighs, running a hand through his bramble of black hair. "I don't understand..." he mutters. "It should be working now. What do we miss?"

"I'm isolating a resonance cascade at positive T two two six four eight," reports Vikram, swivelling back to face his displays. His long, cocoa fingers ply the keyboard. "We'll boil the data until we've nailed the source, sir."

Drago nods vaguely, patting Vikram on the shoulder as he wanders to the front of the control booth and lets himself out onto the experiment floor. The floor is painted as a giant chessboard. He steps over thick cables and around towering stacks of machines. The isolation doors groan open and he rushes inside toward the tank. Dr. Felix frowns after him. "Where the hell is he going?"

Vikram shrugs. "Beats me, Dr. Felix sir. Inspecting the apparatus, I suppose."

"There's not a damn thing he can tell just by looking at it."

Vikram shrugs again. "You know Dr. Zoran, sir. He has his own way."

Dr. Felix rolls his eyes. "Doesn't he just," he agrees darkly, then frowns again and pushes out the door after Drago. He nearly runs into him as Drago comes running back toward the booth.

"John!" he cries.

Dr. Felix holds up his hands. "Let's clear the floor, Drago, and give the crew a chance to reset the system. Maybe we can squeeze in another trial before --"

He stops abruply as Drago leaps at him and slaps a sweaty hand over his eyes. "Keep your eyes closed, John!"

"What? Stop it this instant!" growls Dr. Felix, tilting his head away from Drago's hand.

Drago keeps his hand insistently pressed over Dr. Felix's eyes, swooping to follow as Dr. Felix ducks and struggles. They spend a moment engaged in this push and pull ballet while the baffled students look on from the control booth. "John," breathes Drago fiercely, "you must answer a question for me! An important question!"

"I don't like having things on my face," sputters Dr. Felix, trying to twist out of Drago's headlock. "I can't breathe properly!"

"You don't breathe through your eyes, John. Close them. Listen to me."

Dr. Felix becomes still, his features curled into a grimace. "Fine, then. Quickly. What is it, Drago?" he shoots, face buried against Drago's T-shirt.

Drago nods and leans in close to his ear. He whispers, "What colour is the painting on the primary containment tank?"

"What? What does that have to do with anything, my boy?"

"Just to answer me. Please, John."

Dr. Felix expels a frustrated breath, still having difficulty not squirming in Drago's embrace. "The tank is green, of course. Now can we stop playing this intolerable game?"

Drago withdraws his hand and releases his mentor. He nods, the surrounding arc lamps winking in the glass of the goggles on his forehead. "That's how I was remembering it, yes. Green."

"Whatever are you on about?"

Drago gestures toward the isolation doors. "See for yourself, John."

"Something's happened to the paint? It's reacted somehow?"

Drago tilts his head oddly. "Just go look; tell me what you see. I'll do my waiting here."

Dr. Felix casts him a worried look, but obediently ducks under a whistling ventilation shaft and disappears between the heavy metal isolation doors. Vikram and Geoff Donner stand up at their consoles in the booth to see over their displays, peering curiously through the glass. Drago waves.

Dr. Felix returns. Drago spins. "So?"

"So what? The tank is orange, the same as it's always been. Now do you want to explain to me what all this is about, my boy?"

Drago doesn't reply. Instead he bolts back to the booth, throwing open the door and jumping to the video array. "Show me the playback!" Geoff slides his chair over and taps at a keyboard. An instant later the monitor illuminates with a time-stamped image of the apparatus. The colours are rich; the visible edges of the containment tank shine in freshly painted orange.

"Orange..." says Drago quietly, his brow knitted.

Dr. Felix jogs up beside him. "Well, of course it's orange, just as I said."

Vikram and Geoff exchange a confused look. The other students shift uncomfortably, their eyes sliding away from their work.

Drago closes his eyes and massages his temples, settling back into a chair. The chair squeaks cheerfully. Dr. Felix walks closer and touches Drago's shoulder. Drago's eyes snap open. "Dragana says it's green," he declares, eyes locked on the video image.

"Now, Drago, listen to me --" begins Dr. Felix, but as he speaks Drago leaps out of the chair.

"The raw datas!" he cries, spinning to face Geoff. "Where are they?"

"Uh, we spool it out to the archive servers while we encode, to keep the array defragged."

Drago nods. "Get the server room on the line." Vikram punches in a code and hands him a telephone. "Hello Zoran? Christina, Christina yes -- you see the data dump from this trial?" He pauses, listening. "I want you to look at a frame. Any frame, I'm not care. The uncompressed stream. Yes." He pauses again. "Listen careful, Christina: what colour is the tank?"

"Honestly, Drago --" starts Dr. Felix again, but Drago holds up a hand to silence him.

"Thank you, Christina," says Drago, hanging up the receiver. He crosses his arms and turns to Dr. Felix. "She says the tank is green."

"So the video system is miscalibrated?" guesses Dr. Felix.

"I don't think so," replies Drago cryptically, scratching his head and defocusing his eyes.

The telephone rings, startling them all. Vikram picks it up, then cocks his head as he listens. He hangs it up again. "That was Christina," he reports. "She says she made a mistake. She says the tank is clearly orange. She doesn't know why she said green before."

Drago's eyes widen, then he sprints out of the booth.

Geoff clears his throat awkwardly. "Uh, Dr. Felix...? Don't take this the wrong way, but is Dr. Zoran losing his shit?"

Dr. Felix doesn't answer. He grabs his sport jacket from the back of his chair and takes off after Drago. His shoes chirp on the grimy tiled floor. He questions everyone he passes until he's pointed to the maintenance shed outside the south building of the geology station. He jogs inside and then leans against the doorframe to catch his breath. "...Drago?"

Drago and Mitchell Sapin, the caretaker, wander out of the walk-in supply cabinet. "John," says Drago urgently, "Mitchell painted the tank green. He's showed me the cans -- cans of only green paint."

"Youse said youse didn't care what colour I did," says Mitchell, hooking his thumbs into his belt. "Is there a problem or something, gents?"

"But -- the tank is orange," insists Dr. Felix, blinking.

"Look to the cans for yourself," says Drago, pointing.

Dr. Felix does so. He emerges from the supply cabinet more bewildered than ever. "I don't know what to say," he says, looking back and forth between the two men. Mitchell's weathered face is crinkled in concern; Drago's expression is rapt, sweat dripping from his brow. Dr. Felix coughs. "There's nothing on the shelf but three cans of orange paint."

Drago pushes past him and returns a second later. "He's right," he says. "The cans are now orange."

"Well now," says Mitchell, hitching up his pants. "That makes sense, Dr. Zoran. You told me yourself I could paint that thing any colour that suited, and there was a special on orange so that's what I bought off Jenny at the depot."

Drago nods slowly. "Yes..." he mutters. "I'm not certain why I was mixing up."

Dr. Felix blows out a long breath and pulls his damp shirt away from his chest. "How was it that it seemed to you we had green paint, my boy?"

Drago rubs his temples again in slow circles. "Did I say that?" he asks, his face a study in childish innocence. He closes his eyes and frowns, then shakes his head. His eyes open. "Green, green, green. Dragana says green. The tank is green."

"Green?" echoes Dr. Felix. "You want to repaint the containment system?"

"No..." whispers Drago. "It was green. Before the trial."

Mitchell casts Dr. Felix an inquiring look. "With all respect, Dr. Zoran, I'm the one that did the painting and I painted the whole kit-kaboodle orange from the get-go, like I been saying. There wasn't any other colour underneath. It's never been no other colour but the orange from the depot."

Drago mouths, "The depot!" and then scrambles out. Dr. Felix watches him pelt across the yellow lawn through the window. With an exasperated sigh he turns and follows him.

He catches up in the garage. Drago is sitting in one of the dented geology station trucks, flooring the accelerator while the transmission is in neutral. The truck wobbles and rages but stays stuck in place. "It won't go!" he cries as he spots Dr. Felix.

Dr. Felix opens the cab door and gestures at Drago to slide over. "Really, my boy," he says in a tired voice, "you simply must learn to drive one of these days."

"Make it go to the depot!" urges Drago, clicking his seatbelt into place and then drumming on the dusty dashboard. "Hurry!"

Dr. Felix presses his lips together grimly, shifts gears, and lets the pickup amble over the threshold of the garage and onto the rude gravel road that winds down to the shore of the southern lake where the planes come in. Over the grumbling engine and the sound of pebbles ringing on the truck's sides conversation is next to impossible. Drago is practically bouncing in his seat, and the instant the small, tin-roofed sundries depot is in view he opens his door and hits the ground running, stumbling but regaining his footing as Dr. Felix stops the truck and jams it into park.

"Miss Jenny!" calls Drago urgently. "Miss Jenny!"

Jenny saunters out to the stoop, a cigarette dangling out the corner of her wide, gap-toothed mouth. She squints at Drago. "What's the panic, Professor?"

Drago slides to a halt in front of her and she coughs as she's washed over by dust. He throws his forearm across his own eyes as he shouts, "What colour paint is on special?"

"Are you in some kind of desperate paint situation?" she asks, tossing her cigarette away. "I mean, Jesus."

"What colour?" bellows Drago, arm still thrown over his face. Dr. Felix walks up behind him. Drago spins. "Cover your eyes! Don't look at her! Don't touch her!"

Dr. Felix rears back, startled. Jenny stares at both of them, her face slack. Then she glances over her shoulder and looks back. Slowly she says, "I got overshipped on green. I got lots of green, if that'll do ya, Professor."

Still muffled behind his arm, Drago asks, "You sell this green to Mitchell, yes?"

"Yup. Sold Mitch six gallons of green on Monday."

"Ah-ha!" croons Drago victoriously, dancing around in place with his arm still over his eyes. He hits the edge of the stoop and sprawls to the ground.

Jenny and Dr. Felix look at one another. Dr. Felix shrugs apologetically. Jenny makes a face, then leans over and helps Drago to his feet. Drago gasps, staring down at Jenny's hand on his arm. "Now what's the matter, Professor?" she asks him.

He only gapes at her, eyes darting around.

She straightens and crosses her tattooed arms. "You still want me to go round back and scare up some of that orange paint?"

Dr. Felix does a double-take. "Wasn't it green paint we were discussing?"

She frowns and shakes her head. "Couldn't be, Doc, sorry. I haven't got no green right yet, but I got a buttload of orange if you're not fussy. I got too much, matter of fact. It's on special. Sold six gallons to your Mitch just a few days ago."

A shiver of gooseflesh shimmies up Dr. Felix's spine.

A quarter hour later he has parked the truck on a rocky outcropping overlooking the southern Lac a l'Eau Claire. He kills the engine, then shifts in his seat. He looks at Drago guiltily, then slips a worn pack of cigarettes from inside his jacket. He lights one. It is very stale. "I think these date from my last divorce," he says with forced jocularity, then drags on it and coughs explosively.

"Smoking will kill you," says Drago, eyes out over the water.

Dr. Felix nods as he drags again. "Life kills you," he muses, then turns to face Drago. "So," he says, "what the devil is going on here? Honestly, my boy."

Drago doesn't look at him. "The trial wasn't a failure."

Dr. Felix snorts, then coughs. "The objective was to create a proper electron from scratch. That objective wasn't realized."

"It was the wrong objective," says Drago forcefully. "We've missed the point entirely."

"What is then point, then, as you see it?"

Drago turns to him seriously. "We altered reality, John."

"What?"

Drago tugs on the goggles still on his forehead and wrings his hands together excitedly. "Three days ago Mitchell painted the containment tank green. It was green right up until the trial, and then it was orange. It didn't turn orange, it became always orange. It was as if it had never even been green."

"I don't know how to break it to you, Drago, but it never was green."

Drago shakes his head, scoffing. "I remembered it as green until a moment after I saw it with my own eyes, and it was orange. My memories, it was changed."

Dr. Felix makes a sour face at his stale cigarette, but then drags on it anyway. "How would one know one's memory had been changed? What other reference have you?"

"There was a lag, John. I remembered it green until I saw it orange, and then I remembered it orange. You told me yourself it was green until you went to look."

"I certainly did not."

"You did. And now your memories is changed, too. Christina checked the frame, John -- she said it was green."

"She made a mistake."

"No, the change caught up with her. We interacted with her. We propelled it along to her. The processed video showed orange, but the raw datas showed green until Christina interacted with it. The further we got from the apparatus, the longer the delay before the old reality and new reality reconciled. Jenny had green paint on the special until she touches me, and then some connection to the apparatus is made, and suddenly it's orange paint on the special. You were there, John. You heard her."

"She was just confused. Flustered by your mania, I'd wager."

"No. No, no, no."

Dr. Felix cranks down the window and tosses away his cigarette. "You're worrying me, Drago. How could you pretend to know what you remembered before your memories themselves were altered?"

"Dragana," hisses Drago, eyes narrowed. "Dragana, she is somehow insulated. Dragana's mind never changed. Even now, looking through her eyes, I can see the remembered tank is green."

"Memory is notoriously unreliable, my boy -- and it should go without saying the memories of an imaginary dead sister living inside your fantasies are geometrically more so."

"No," insists Drago again. "John, you miss it. We may not have knitten the electron, but our attempt did have an effect -- and that effect rippled backward in time at a finite pace. In less than twenty minutes it changed which colour of paint Jenny had too much of, and -- who knows? -- this very moment the change is spreading from there, touching the man who flies in her supplies, changing his inventory, bleeding all the way back to the paint factory." He looks Dr. Felix squarely in the eye. "John, we have altered reality."

Dr. Felix's eyes flit as he tracks a falcon swooping down low over the lake. He shrugs indulgently. "We could check. We could make some calls..."

Drago shakes his head again. "The moment we call we build a more direct connection between ourselves and them, accelerating the change. We confirm the new reality the more we are interacting with it."

"Then our wondrous discovery will remain forever unprovable, lost even to those who perform the experiment. You have to ask yourself, my boy -- if this effect were to be considered 'real' in any meaningful sense, how much reality is there to an effect that leaves no record in the world?"

"But there is a record: Dragana knows."

"Drago, Dragana is not real."

Drago turns away abruptly, his pinched expression a pallid reflection in the mud-spattered glass. He watches the waves on the lake reflecting the sun with fractal regularity.

"I think you should talk to someone," says John gently. Drago says nothing. John shifts in his seat again. "I think things would be better for everyone if you were able to sort some things out. I've...I've spoken with your mother about it."

Drago twists to face him. "What do you mean?"

"I didn't know where else to turn. She knows you; she loves you. We're both of the opinion that this obsession over your sister is hindering your career, and your life." He pauses, swallows. "I'd like you to think very seriously about seeing a professional."

"A professional what?"

"A doctor, Drago." He coughs. "A psychiatrist."

Drago's face darkens. Very softly, looking straight ahead, he says, "This is a day when, for the first time, mens have touched the fabric of the universe and seen it react. This is a day in history." He takes a breath. "And yet all your concern is because you think I'm crazy."

"I don't think you're crazy --"

"Delusional, yes? Disconnected from the world, yes? Obsessive, compulsive, irrational, yes?" demands Drago, voice rising with each question. "Why do you work with me if you think I'm mad, John? Why?"

"It isn't quite like that, my --"

"Do not call me your boy," hisses Drago. "My father -- he believed in me. That's whose boy I am, John. Not yours."

Dr. Felix nods quietly. "It's never something I would force on you. But the people who care about you are worried. Just promise me you'll give the matter some thought. Won't you?"

Drago says nothing for a few minutes. A gull lands on the hood, looks at the men, and then flaps away. "Okay," says Drago.

"You'll think about it?"

"I'll do it. If it means restoring your confidence, John, I'll do it. Make your arrangements. Book me a flying." He looks at his friend and mentor. "But you must to promise me one thing."

"Anything, Drago."

"When the doctor says I am not crazy, you have to believe it, and never doubt Dragana again. Are we agreed?" He offers out his slim hand.

Dr. Felix shakes it. "We are, my friend."

On Friday Drago rides a pondskipper down south to Lac St. Jean, then changes planes and flies into Montreal. His mother meets him at the airport, though she's confused at first to be accosted by a man with a bushy auburn moustache and a pony-tail of fair hair. "Mama, it's me -- it's your Drago."

Danica's mouth quivers. "But...your hair?"

"I'm in disguise," he says with a quick look around the terminal. "I'm keeping low profiled."

She hugs him. "I came as soon as I heard."

"Heard what?"

"That you were having troubles. Your John is a very good man, Drago. He's concerned for you. He wants nothing more than for you to be well. That's what we all want."

"You've travelled all the way here from Paris just to escort me to the doctor's office?" asks Drago, shouldering his bag and bumping around vaguely until his mother takes his arm and begins leading him toward the exit.

"I was coming to see you anyway," explains Danica as the automatic doors part before them. "John's call came at the perfect moment."

Drago squints against the sun. "Why? What's going on?"

She pauses, them beams. "I've met a gentleman, Drago. His name is Vassily, and he truly does love our family. I'll tell you just how much: he's been working with me to establish a memorial for our Dragana."

"A memorial?"

"A statue," she says, nodding. "And a garden. It's to be built in les Bois de Boulogne -- dedicated to victims of cancer. Vassily has made it his personal mission to make it happen. He's made all the arrangements, contacted the charities, coordinated the funding." She checks her fake Rolex. "We should go. I'll tell you the rest when you've finished your appointment."

Blinking and bewildered at this enthusiastic outpouring of news, he follows her meekly to the curb to hire a taxi. "You're going to marry him, this man?" he ventures.

Danica beams again as she holds up her hand to present a glittering ring. "It's already happened, Drago. When the memorial is done, we'll be moving in together at his estate outside Petersburg. You'll visit, of course. It's wonderful."

Drago frowns as he climbs into the back of a taxi. "You had a wedding without inviting me?"

"You have your important work, Drago," she says coolly, squeezing in beside him. "Besides, it all happened so very fast."

Drago hands the driver a slip of paper. The car gets underway. Drago strips off his false moustache and wig, stowing them in his shoulder bag. He feels very strange, his heart prickled by what he's heard. He begins to feel even stranger, however, when she continues.

"Vassily understands presentation, Drago," she tells him, watching the view outside scroll by. "He understands how to frame an issue to get the desired results. It's an art, and he's a master."

"What is his line of work, Mama?"

"Oh, he does all sorts of things. To win the memorial funding, he's taught me how to present myself. He says, 'It's the story that sells, not the person.' In our story, I have had a very tragic life. My husband a drunk fool, my home destroyed by war, my talented daughter taken from me. Do you understand, Drago?"

"I think so, Mama."

"The perfect finish, of course, is that my poor son is in the care of Canadian doctors. You can see how, for the Danica in the story, this very sad. It is just one more thing that hasn't gone according to her prayers."

Drago's face tightens. "Because your son is mad."

"A troubled genius," she corrects, "burdened by the emotional scars suffered when his beloved sister was torn away from their lives." She puts her arm around him and squeezes his bony shoulders. "I think spending some time with the doctors will be very good for you, Drago. And the best part is that it could be very good for our Dragana, too. It completes the story, and the timing couldn't be better -- the committee in Paris meets next week to decide it all."

"You want...you want me to stay with the doctors until next week."

She nods and squeezes him again. "Yes, Drago. You will do this for Dragana, won't you? Stay on a few extra days? Allow the doctors to send a letter to Paris, telling them so?"

She takes his hand in hers and looks him in the eye.

Drago blinks, then nods. "Yes, Mama," he says. "I will do this for you."

"Not for me, silly boy," she cooes. "For her."

Their shoes squawk on the polished floor of the hospital. At the check-in desk she takes the forms from him and fills them in herself, then pulls a wrapped pastry from her purse and makes him eat it. She waves and smiles as a nurse leads him to a small office to meet with a doctor.

The doctor's name is Dr. Gershwin. He has a round, friendly face framed inside a wooly brown beard. He's losing his hair. He sits opposite Drago with an unadorned desk between them, and opens a small notebook beside a dossier containing the forms Danica filled in. "I understand you're going to be staying with us for a spell," says Dr. Gershwin pleasantly as he clicks his pen.

"Yes," concedes Drago. "For my mother."

Dr. Gershwin makes a note. "Not for yourself?"

"Also for John, my colleague. No, not for myself."

"You're feeling quite well, then?"

"Yes."

"How is your appetite?"

"It's fine."

"Do you sleep well at night?"

"Yes. I don't need much. The night is sometimes a good time for figuring a thing out, when everyone else is quiet."

"Do you feel stifled by the presence of others?"

"I don't know what 'stifled' is to mean."

"Smothered?"

"No, peoples are always very nice to me."

"Why don't you tell me a little bit about your work. What do you do, Drago?"

"I've been trying to create a new electron."

"Aren't you a mathematician? That sounds like physics to me."

"In my field the line between the two is blurry."

"What field is that?"

"It doesn't have a name yet. When my work is complete it will have one. The world will name it."

"Your work is quite significant?"

"To me, or to the world?"

"Answer however you'd care to."

"To me, it is everything. To the world, I believe it may be too. That's why I am so closely watched."

Dr. Gershwin makes another note, raising a brow as he writes. "Who watches you, Drago?"

"The blue pants people. I don't know what they're called. They can control the streetlights."

Dr. Gershwin pauses in his note-taking almost imperceptibly, then continues jotting. His lips silently mouth, "Blue...pants...people."

"And the Jews," adds Drago as an afterthought. "The ones with the big hats."

Dr. Gershwin looks up. "I'm a Jew, Drago. Do you think I've been watching you?"

"You're not wearing a big hat."

"I have a very little one -- a kippah." He turns his head to present the little black cap on the crown of his thinning hair. "See?"

"No," replies Drago. "I don't think you watch me. Your job is to be the doctor. I'm talking about the Jews whose job is to steal my science. They have long coats, long beards, curly hairs from their ears. They stand on the streetcorners and watch me go by. They whisper about me."

"Can you hear what they say?"

"No, it's whispers. Too quiet to hear."

"What do you think they're saying?"

"How should I know?"

"Why do you think they're interested in your work?"

"Because they watch me."

Dr. Gershwin finishes off a note with a flourish, then turns to a fresh page. "Would you like to tell me about your sister?"

"What do you want to know?"

"How do you feel when you think of her?"

"I love her," says Drago quickly.

Dr. Gershwin glances over at the open dossier. "She passed away several years ago, is that right?"

Drago shrugs. "That is mostly true."

"But not entirely?"

"No. Her ghost lives inside my mind."

Dr. Gershwin stops writing and looks up at Drago again. "Would you describe yourself as possessed by her spirit?"

"No. She's too soft to hold anything. I do the possessing. She has only her thoughts and her feelings."

"Does she speak to you?"

"Yes."

"What does she say?"

"I'd have difficulty to translate."

"She speaks to you in Serbo-Croatian?"

"No, she speaks in chess."

"What does she talk to you about?"

"Patterns."

"Patterns in what?"

"Patterns are independent of medium, Dr. Gershwin. They are of the information, not substance."

"What sorts of patterns does she talk about?"

"Fundamental patterns. The patterns at the heart of all patterns. The weave of the world, the geometry of events. The kind of counting the universe itself counts with, the kind that makes the laws of physics inevitable."

"She was a mathematics enthusiast?"

"Well, she is now. She never used to be. She was a photograph model."

"Did she enjoy being a model?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"It makes me uncomfortable to say. It's private."

"Her privacy or yours?"

"What's the difference?"

"For one thing, her sense of privacy is a matter of the past while your own is a matter in the present, in the here and now."

"You're making her feel funny. She wants you to stop asking about that."

"Talking about the past makes you uncomfortable?"

"No, it makes Dragana uncomfortable. She says the past is the present, and if you can't understand that neither us should bother saying another word."

"Drago, are you hearing this right now? In your head? Are you hearing Dragana?"

"Not hearing, no. Knowing." He crosses his legs and blushes. "You'll have to excuse. Dragana always gives me the hard penis. She is very beautiful."

Dr. Gershwin clicks off his pen and closes his notebook, gathering it together with the dossier as he pushes back his chair to stand. "I think I have enough for now, Drago, to put together a preliminary assessment. Thank you very much."

Drago shifts in his seat. "What's to happen next for me?"

"I'll consult with my colleagues to decide how best to work with your issues. We'll start first thing tomorrow. In the meantime, a nurse will be along to bring you some pajamas and show you to your room." He smiles. "All you have to do is relax, and try to bear in mind that you're going to leave us feeling a lot more settled than when you came in. That sounds good, doesn't it?"

Drago nods. "Okay."

They shake hands. Dr. Gershwin turns to leave. Drago stands. "Doctor?" Dr. Gershwin hesitates at the jamb, looking back over his shoulder. Drago swallows. "Do you think I'm a crazy man?"

Dr. Gershwin smiles again. "We don't think in those terms here, Drago."

"Oh."

The doctor leaves. The door sighs shut against a pneumatic stopper. While he waits for the nurse Drago notices for the first time that the tiny window on the far wall has bars running across it behind a tight screen of thick wire mesh. Thin strips of metal along the edges of the sill announce the presence of a security alarm.

Somewhere, on a floor above, someone howls.


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