The Strange – Episode 18 – Game Plan

Teague sat in the middle of the classroom.  Around the room sat all of Hogstown’s receivers, everyone who participates as a target in the passing game.  There were running backs, wide outs and the hacker’s other four tight ends.  Of those four, only Teague was a serious target, but the others could conceivably catch and definitely had to block.  

“All right everyone.  We’re going over routes.  I expect you not only to know your routes for a particular play but everyone else’s.  There is a reason that we combine routes the way we do, and it’s important for you all to know…”

He thought of how many times he’d heard this and from how many other guys just like this one, the receivers coach.  Little dude with attitude wearing dad-shorts and a moustache.  They had a coach for every damned thing anymore and all of them wanted a piece of your time.  Receivers, O-line, Running Game, Even kick-offs.  Teague participated in all of them which ate huge amounts of time.  Meetings, practice, conditioning.  This was the preseason, but this was a full time job.  Sure, they would slack off once classes started, but then he actually had to do the classes.  No wonder they hooked me up with Sarah as a full time tutor.  

When they were introduced about this time last year, he thought that the coach had him pegged as some stupid street thug like some of the others they brought in on scholarship.  While it was true that he wasn’t nearly as eloquent as some, he’d managed a decent GPA in High school and his SAT’s were better than most on the team, even the walk-ons.

Then the work came and kept on coming.  It was a lot more than high school.  Sarah may have had her wild streak, but she was an excellent time manager.  She kept him on track when things really stacked up.  In Teague’s mind he guessed that this is what secretaries do for CEO’s, tell you what to do and when to do it.  

But most of all, Sarah calmed him.  Inside of all the work there was an opening of mind to new ideas, new ways of being.  Football coaches talked of philosophy, but Sarah introduced him to the real deal, Plato, Sun Tsu, Budah, he dug the Budah.  She helped him realize the large bag of anger he carried around with him and the trouble it got him in on and off the field.  Showed him how it held him back.  Sarah was his mirror.  Through her, he saw himself as how other people saw him; a frightening man, a man who lashed out like an animal when confronted.  An ignorant man, closed to new ideas and the possibility that he could be mistaken and learn from others.  He didn’t like that guy, but he liked Sarah and he appreciated that she didn’t shy away.

It wasn’t totally clear when she crossed over from helper to lover.  Sure he remembered the first time he got her into the sack, but it had been brewing for long enough by then that it was more a formality than a relationship milestone.  And as they laid there on that cool late fall night keeping each other warm, he considered how fantastic she was, together, but cool.  A party package but organized about it.  

And that, more than anything else made this morning’s freak out so odd.  It was a piece out of the normal place for Teague, a piece he relied on, and it frightened him more than he liked to admit.  Sure he’d admit it now.  Now that he was alone in his thoughts.  It was really freaky for her to be that needy, that out of sorts.  She was always together and Teague had come to rely on that more than anything else in this world.  

He looked at his huge hands for a moment and unlaced the fingers.  The palms of his hands seemed to have an odd shine under the fluorescent lighting of the quiet classroom.  The altogether too quiet classroom.

All eyes were on him as he raised his face.  The tough-guy receivers coach tried to look as stern and threatening as he could wearing those shorts.

“Fuck…” Teague croaked out and shook his head.

“I thought so.  Anyone not gathering wool in my class want to fill Mr. London in on the zone clearing philosophy of the bunch 8 formation? Maybe he’ll give it due consideration as he’s running extra laps.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Come in Ms. Bee.” Loveless said over the intercom before she could knock.  The magnetic lock on the door released and she slid into the office.  

She stood relaxed and prepared in her mom costume. “You wanted a report.  Do I need to remind you what not to say on an open phone, even one we’ve been careful about?”

Loveless scoffed.  “No.  And in a real sense, I know far more than you on the subject.  It’s just that with all the communications traffic surrounding the explosion, talking about it openly is less suspicious than talking about nothing.  You military people and your secrets.  If we’ve learned anything today it’s that data finds a way to get free.  No safe is safe.  The best one can hope for is obfuscation, disinformation, and well placed false trails.”

Ms. Bee frowned.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about my other priority, or more specifically, my original overriding priority.  And do forgive me if I am a bit excited.”

“I’m sorry,” she said with a scolding frown. “There is a cop in the hospital who gave to me valid testimony that he saw Ryan Goldberg, the freaking lottery kid from this morning, looking at a clearly hours dead Collector moments before the bomb went off.”

“Well, he’s not going to be giving that testimony anytime soon.”

“No.  I gave him a long-lasting psychotic.  He’ll be talking nonsense for weeks.”

“Well yeah, if they find him.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean shortly after you called me, he disappeared.”

“That’s… He couldn’t have.  The man I talked to wasn’t going to walk for weeks.”

“Well, when the cops came back, he was gone.  Needles dripping, casts left with no one in them, even the catheter was there, no Officer Small.”  Loveless looked up with a slight grin.  “Not walked off… disappeared.  How’d you get in anyway?”

“I used my charming smile.” Ms. Bee clicked at her teeth and the bright sheen dimmed.  “Aerosol truth serum with a psychoactive component. responds to the ultraviolet coloration of these falsies.” She picked the caps from her four front teeth.  “Perfume gets them, the teeth makes them mine for a couple of seconds.  Used a much larger dose on our mark.”

“Cool trick.”

“But there was nothing in that cocktail that would give the guy the presence of mind – or the ability – to get up, much less evade anyone.”  She looked at the small caps before tucking them into her pocket.  “Mr. Loveless, what is going on?  You do not seem surprised.”

“Oh, I’m surprised.  Well, not surprised by the fact that things are happening that are unexplainable and strange, but that these things are hitting quite so close to home.”  Loveless sat back in his chair and looked down at the edge of his desk, not fully seeing it.  Ms. Bee slowly sat in the chair opposite.  

“Would you care to elaborate?”  She asked, studying Loveless’s face.

Looking up from his desk, Loveless caught her eye.  He waved as if to dispel a fog.  “Oh knock it off with the interrogation nonsense.  I’ll tell you what I feel like telling you and don’t think for a second that YOU are gifted enough to pump me.”  He waved again and poked at his computer desktop. “I’ve been tracking an anomaly.  People mentioning that they can do weird and, frankly, reality breaking things.  All at once.  Just started happening in the last few days.”

“Maybe it’s some weird meme.”

“That would be nice, but nope.  Seems to be age independent, though the town skews young on a count of the school.  There is no cultural boundary to the mentions.”

“Well, so what?  People are being weird on the internet.  That’s not exactly news.”

Loveless grabbed a dice and examined it, avoiding Bee’s eyes.  “What if it’s true?”

“What, that people are starting to get some kind of fictional super power or something?”

“Or something.  Most of it is hardly useful, but a few…”

Ms. Bee gave him a side eye.  “This isn’t some kind of test.  I thought we were well beyond that.”

“No.  And believe me, I do appreciate the hesitation here.  I didn’t believe it either.  Seems like bullshit.  However, it came from absolutely nothing.”  He put the dice back in the bowl.  “And that defies … everything.  Reality.  People simply don’t work that way.”

Ms. Bee’s face held no emotion but her voice was displeased.  “This is all very interesting but I hardly…”

“Reality.  Bee.  Reality.  Rules.  Something as simple as being able to cook tea in your hands with no kettle breaks the rules.   My life’s work has been and continues to be to find and exploit those rules and patterns and automatic choices to gain advantage, Bee.”  He was animated but not angry.  Loud but not shouting.  “Do you have any idea how many supposed decisions people actually MAKE in a day?  Not many.  Hardly any at all.  The fact is that ninety percent of all human activity is neatly described by patterns and tendencies UNLESS they are disturbed.  This is not just getting milk on the way home this applies to everything a person does, what their moods are like.  What color they choose for a car and whether or not they are going to look both ways crossing the street or get married to their girlfriend.  People never noticed, they still don’t notice.  But it’s real and definable.  I know because I’ve defined it.”

Ms. Bee shook her head.  “That’s nice but …”

“You aren’t convinced.  You are a being of free will.  That’s true.  But, if you were not the paranoid person you are and didn’t have the training you do, you too would fall into trackable patterns.”

“Well, sure.  You can put together a surveillance package for a person.  Find their quirks…”

“Think bigger.  And think about what happens if someone is on to that.  I have a model that encompasses hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands of people.  Every one of them is a sprite in my model.  I’ve tuned it to scan for vectors, data-points coming off of them.  Every hour of every day the model is updated, reinforced, self-tuned.  Its imperfections are self-correcting.  Nothing is perfect and people choose vanilla instead of chocolate sometimes which means that interactions need to be associated with chance and permutations which, of course, makes the model way more complicated but it is still there and has been shown time and again to be positively predictive.  You are looking at the fruits of that labor.   There isn’t a crime that is committed within my sphere which I am not able to taste.  I don’t take all of it, because the cops have got to catch someone, but I take a lot.  I knocked off anyone in my path pretty handily because crime is a social interaction and that is especially true of organized crime.  And I can keep this going indefinitely … as long as some fuck in a dorm can’t warm a Cup ‘o Noodles in his hands.”

Ms. Bee let her brow knit.  “Why?  Why do you care about the kid and his soup?”

“Because it changes reality.  People zig instead of zag.  Past performance no longer predicts future trends.  And more important and germane to this conversation, borderline cripples can shake off drugs and disappear.”

Crossing her arms, Ms Bee said, “That’s a leap.”

“Yes.  And you have no idea how badly the idea shakes my core.  However, it explains things.  Your cop is gone, for one.  A dumbass randomly hacks my unhackable system in such a way that it was almost undetected and he left a literal mountain of evidence.  And no one should have gotten into and out of that house, even with your team bolting from the scene like they did.  The time windows were simply too short.  The time of day and the day of the week severely winnowed down the potential population.  The need for anyone to go into the house was absent.  And yet, two different people zigged when they should have zagged.”  Loveless looked Ms. Bee dead in the eye.  “I want to know why.  This goes beyond needing to know if he can implicate me … I mean, I need that too, but…  this goes to the core of my model.  I need to know why this guy zagged.”

Ms. Bee stoically asked, “What would you like me to do?”

“I want Mr. Aye to go and get him.  You said something about the Lottery?”

“Yeah.  Kid’s face is on the front page of the paper.”  She found the newspaper by the empty cups of coffee and held it out to Loveless.  “And why is the morning newspaper the only paper in this entire office?”

“Crossword.”  Loveless began typing and immediately had all of the surveillance pictures Mr. Aye had taken up on the monitor behind his desk.  Windows opened to do face scans.  I did recognition on everyone and got no matches.  Thought they were all freshman or something.  “Letting that go again specifically looking for him.  Now to find his ass.”  He typed a few times and said, “Hm.  His phone’s last known location was near the house.  I’d guess that means that he either lost it or he’s in the rubble pile.”

“Do you think we’re that lucky?”

“No such thing as luck, only knowledge others don’t have.  No.  And here’s what I mean.”  The screen behind his desk showed a picture of a young man, no glasses and with singed and matted hair.  “There he is, walking away.”

Ms. Bee looked at the photo.  “No glasses, different hair.  You sure?”

“99% match now that we know who we’re looking for.  And since he’s employed by the school… Got it.”  Goldberg’s address on Fourth Avenue popped up on the screen.  “Please have Mr. Aye investigate this and if possible, retrieve Mr. Goldberg for me.”

“I don’t know.  Aye has been up since last night.”

“When he botched and got us into this mess.  No.  He goes.  He fixes this.” Loveless swiveled in his chair to face the big screen and Goldberg’s dopey picture from his university ID.  “Your Mr. Aye is a monster.  He can muscle through this.  Anything else would cut the man down.  We all need him built up.”  Loveless looked up at Ms. Bee. “He’s going in.”

The Strange – Episode 19 – Claws

Fixing a Whole

Bobby couldn’t sleep.  Two nights running, thoughts crept into his head and set up camp.  His mind buzzed with ideas, thoughts, plans, problems and anxieties screaming for attention.  It was like trying to sleep in the middle of a carnival.

His new wife was no help.  He could hear Barbra’s soft, even breaths over the hum of the HEPA air filter.  Jealousy is an ugly thing in a marriage, especially when you are only a couple of months in.  ‘She can sleep anywhere, anytime,’ he thought.  ‘I’d love to do that.  I’m in my own house and can’t sleep and she could doze off at a bus stop with sirens blaring.  Sleep? Hell,’ he turned. ‘I go to visit her folks and I can’t even crap much less sleep.’

The clock read one forty five in angry red numbers.  He was starting to get desperate.

Somewhere else, three figures dressed in black lurked, keeping watch over the train wreck of Bobby’s mind.

One spoke with perfect diction.  “Perhaps we should implant the suggestion?  The one we had discussed?”

“Yeah, Yeah!  Maybe this time!  Let’s do it.  Can I do it?” another chimed in.

The third one tilted his head in thought.  “Sure, go ahead.  Let it loose.”

In Bobby’s mind, a new thought drifted in and soared above the chaos.  His best friend, Ernesto, had suggested that he try meditating.  Ernesto bought into all that new age crap that Bobby considered himself far too enlightened to fall for.  Yet, for all the seeming ridiculousness, Ernesto always looked rested.

Tossing and turning, he tried hard to drift off to sleep, but the harder he tried the more frustrated he became.  If ever there was a time to try Ernesto’s crazy idea, this was it.

‘No more crazy than sitting here awake for the third night in a row,’ he thought.  ‘I can’t go on like this.  Today was brutal.  Need SLEEP!’

He rocked back over onto his back and stretched out with his legs straight and his arms relaxed.  The rhythmic sound of his wife’s breathing filled his ears as he dismissed any thought that came to him.  Work problems inundated him and were dismissed.  Life plans were put on hold for the time being.  The financial books in his mind closed and background music faded away.  Unpaid bills and parking tickets, random facts about breweries and bands found themselves directed to the land of dead thoughts.  All of the nagging thoughts of things left uncompleted were ignored and silenced.

The whole of Bobby’s mind began to unwind.  It stretched out into an open plane of dreams as his body gave into the fatigue of sleepless days.  Tense muscles relaxed and he felt like he was retreating into himself.  He let go of his thoughts and finally went with the flow.

Soon he was flying across the quiet landscape of his mind.  He noticed things that occupied his normal waking life as he passed by their representations, but he did not focus on them – the branching machine that was the computer program he worked on, the cartoon like structure of a game, the tables and racks of probabilities that made up the rules of cribbage. He passed them all by and idly floated within his consciousness, feeling better than he had in days.

Up ahead, in this veritable forest of thoughts, skills and knowledge, floated a dark void.  He headed for it, hoping it was an even deeper level of sleep.

As he went closer to this place that wasn’t, free of all cares, he found himself being drawn into it.  Drunk on the novel whimsy of throwing away all his worries, he now wondered if going into this blackness was a good idea.  Too late, he realized that it wasn’t.

In his bedroom, Bobby’s body tensed.  His unseeing eyes bolted open.  His conscious self was sucked down into the blackened abyss.

And three figures smiled in triumph.

# # #

Bobby sat in a white leather recliner.  His white button-down shirt was undone at the collar with sleeves rolled up, as usual.  Across a white room that appeared to have no walls and no end, stood three men who all looked a bit like him.

One of them was unkempt, in black shorts and a tee shirt.  Waving his hand, he said, “Hi Bob!  Ooo!  I just heard ‘Hi Bob!’  Like the game ‘Hi Bob!’  Gota drink!”  A shot of Tequila appeared in his hand and he drank it down.

“Sorry to bring you down here, Bobby, but things have gotten out of balance,” another said.  Bobby thought he was looking at a mirror when he saw this one, except his clothes were black and not white.

The third one dressed in an all black suit and tie and said, “We’ve come to help you set things right.”

A moment passed as the three looked at him.

“Yeah,” Bobby droned out while thinking.  “OK, well… this is all very weird.”

“Perhaps introductions are in order.”  Bobby’s twin stepped forward.  “You see, I’m Ego.”

The man in the shorts said “Id!” while pulling apart a pizza that appeared out of nowhere.

The man in the suit gave a stiff bow. “I am Super Ego, otherwise known as your better self.  We’ve noticed your recent trouble with control in the consciousness and feel compelled to… lend a hand.”

“What do you mean? ‘Trouble controlling the consciousness?’  I’ve just been… a little out of sorts… and not sleeping well”  As Bobby got up from his recliner, it disappeared like an unneeded thought.

Putting down his pizza, Id said. “Dude, you aren’t out of sorts, you are letting your demons run you.  It’s getting crazy out there!  Now, I might like crazy, but I also like sleep.”

Ego stepped in.  “I’m afraid Id is right, Bobby.  You have a problem with balance.  Not getting enough sleep is just a symptom of the issue.   The fact is things are just stacking up and not being addressed.”

Bobby got worried, and then started to smile. “Hey! This is one of those crazy dreams.  I bet if I wanted, I could do the flying thing or make like I’m having sex with Britney Spears or something.”

Id perked up.  “Dude, forget that.  There are much better looking chicks than her.  What about that English teacher you had in tenth grade.  Mrs. Wortz.  Damn, she made my balls hurt!”

Super Ego slid over to where Id was materializing a bucket of fried chicken. “Good god. Must you be so foul?”

Around a face full of drumstick Id smiled and said, “It’s my job, man, and I do it well!”

“We’re still not getting to the point here, and please don’t encourage … It.” Ego waved his hands in the direction of Id who had regressed to wearing a black thong. “The fact is, Bobby, if you don’t get your head in order here, you aren’t going to live a normal life again.  Is that what you want?”

“What I want is some sleep,” Bobby replied without a second thought. “You’re saying I need to psychoanalyze myself in order to get it?  Fine.  Let’s get to it.”

Super Ego said, “Yes, Let’s,” and turned to a screen rising from the floor.

As the lights dimmed in the white, wall-less room, Ego looked at Bobby and smiled.  “I’m glad you are taking this so well.  We’re only here to help.”

“Since you are me, I would hope so.  By the way, exactly which one of you is me?”

At the same time all three of them said “I am.”

“Well that clears it right up.”

Ego walked over to the screen hovering in the air and said, “You don’t sound totally convinced.  Since we are you, we anticipated that.”  He tapped on the screen and a blob with a squiggly line drawn through the top came up.

Looking for a seat in front of the screen, Bobby said, “What’s that? It looks like a blob, or a map of Barbados.”

“It’s an ice berg, for illustration.”

Bob scrunched up his face trying to make out the ice berg in the picture.  He hadn’t recalled sitting but suddenly realized that he was sitting on a white leather couch between Id and Super Ego.  He’d thought that the screen was missing a couch big enough for all of them to sit on, and here he was, as if by magic.  Or maybe it was all in his head.  He looked up and focused on the task at hand.

Id was suddenly interested and hopped up to sit on the back of the couch. “Ego!  You cut out  Rum?  How could you, man?”

Super Ego slid over to Bobby and said, “I wanted to do this with snazzy graphics, but Ego said it was a frivolous use of the visual cortex.”

Putting his hands up, Ego said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with Rum, computer graphics are frivolous and you…”  He pointed at Bobby.  “I’m you.  You suck at drawing.  This is an iceberg!”

Bobby crossed his arms.  “Fine.”

Mimicking Bobby’s mannerisms, Ego combed back his hair with his fingers.  “So the iceberg is your total mind.  You are the conscious mind or the part controlling the day to day, represented by the part above the water.  Below the water, is where Id and Super Ego duke it out over topics of the day.  Sometimes Super Ego wins out and you are more conscientious and civic minded, moral and upstanding.  But, when the Id wins, you eat fried food and watch porn.”

Bobby took a quick, evil look over his shoulder at Id who was still eating fried skin from the bucket of chicken.  Id just shrugged his shoulders.

Turning back to the screen, Bobby asked, “So what do you do?”

“Ah, I’m the messenger and the arbitrator.  I’m all over.  Id and Super Ego give me constant feedback and what comes to you as the consciousness is the most persuasive argument at the time.  So really, your job is to translate my direction into actions.  I coordinate between the bickering factions of the subconscious and relay them to you as the voice in your head.”

Pointing his finger, Bobby leaned forward.  “So you are the bastard responsible for getting songs stuck in my ear!  You are a sadistic fucker, you know that?”

“Actually, that’s mostly Id, with the music.”

From around a piece of food, Id said, “What can I say?  I like show tunes.”

Turning once again to Ego, Bobby said, “So wait.  Isn’t this a dream?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Id continued to eat and said, “You are in here with us until this gets resolved.”

Super Ego stepped up to explain.  “You see, you fell, rather unceremoniously I might add, into the hole in your life.  Climbing out and sealing it up is not an option.  And the reason that the hole is there, is that balance has been lost.”

“Cutting to the chase,” Id broke in, “one of us has to go!”

“What?”  Bobby’s head whipped around in surprise.

“I’m afraid so,” Ego said.  “One of us has gotten too powerful and no longer listens to the others.  Now things are out of balance and the cracks are starting to show.  Not being able to sleep is just an outward sign.  So are the recent arguments with Barbra.  The uptick in drinking…”

Bobby stood up from the couch, which faded like the screen once it outlived its use.  “Now wait a second.  If one of you go, wouldn’t things get out of balance in the opposite direction?”

Super Ego, who was sitting on the couch with Bobby and now sat in a high-backed chair, laced his fingers together.  “Actually, no.  At least not in the long run.  The troublesome aspect would reestablish itself fairly quickly, but in the meantime, the remaining aspects will strengthen themselves so that a more appropriate balance is restored.”

“It’s like a lizard.”  Id came forward and wiped the crumbs off of his black tee shirt. “You cut off the tail, but it knows that it needs a tail, so it grows back”  He looked off into the distance and mumbled, “Damn, lizards are so cool.”

“So,” Bobby clapped his hands together. “It’s a mystery!  Someone is out of balance.  Well, I’m anxious to get started so I can get some rest, so I’ll start by interviewing you individually.  Together you all bicker too much.”

“That is our function, but I do fear that it’s made worse by the imbalance.”  Ego put out his arms and seemed to draw in the other two.

“Yes, OK, all fine and good, but if I’m to get to the bottom of this, I’ll need to talk to Id and Super Ego myself.  I’ve already realized that you aren’t the one out of whack, so I’ll talk to you last.”

The three looked at one another, somewhat astonished, and then Ego turned back to Bobby.  “Feel free to take all the time you want.  I’ll consult with you at the end.”  He smiled and added, “Then we will get some sleep.”

Bobby clapped his hands together.  “Sounds great!  So who’s first?”

Id jumped in front of Bobby and wheeled him around to a desk forming out of the mist.  “I hate waiting.  Let’s get this party started.”

# # #

Bobby went around to the business side of the desk and took the plush white office chair.  Id sat in the not quite so plush guest chair on the other side.  Pens and paper found their way to the desk as soon as they were looked for, as did a picture of Bobby’s wife.  Feeling at home, he checked the roll on his white shirt sleeves and laced his fingers.  “Okay, so what do you do?”

“What do I do?  Yer kiddin’ right?”

Bobby was once again impressed with how much the Id looked like him, though much more animated and sloppy.

“I’m the one who made you stick at it until you got into Mary O’Conner’s pants all through college!  I’m the guy who persuaded you to throw that killer party for Halloween two years ago!  That’s who I am.”

“Mary O’Conner.”  Bobby leaned back in the chair and let the name dredge up fond memories.  “You are a good man with that one, but what have you done recently?”

Id thought for a second, stroking his temples. His fingers snapped and he exclaimed, “I got you to buy season tickets for hockey!”

“But that was for ‘bonding time’ with Barbra!” Bobby protested.

“You think?”  Id leaned back and smiled.  “Ego is really good at spinning stuff.”

Bobby picked up the picture of his wife, and she started to look kind of pissed.  “So what else?”

“Other things, big and small.  To be quite honest, you ain’t been listening too much lately.”

“What can I say?  I’ve been busy trying to build a life, now that I’m married.”  He put the picture down.  “I can’t exactly just do whatever I want any more.”

Waving his hands to emphasize points, Id said, “Do you really think that’s all I do?  I’m some kind of animal?”

“Yeah.  You are my impulses and baser desires, right?”

Bobby’s sloppy twin kicked back in his chair, but kept a cautious eye on the man in white.  “You’ve got me cold.  But it’s not all fun and games.  I let you be comfortable.  What do you think about that new couch you got a few months ago?”

“I love that couch.”

“You see, that’s me working.  Without me, you wouldn’t enjoy stuff.  I’m the thing that lets you laugh and make jokes, especially the crude ones.  I invite you to have a beer after a hard day and unwind with a good action move.  I drive you to cuddle and *ahem* other things with Barbra.”

Straightening up in his chair, Bobby waved his finger.  “Careful, this is my wife you are talking about here.  I love Barbra!”

“Hey! I’m in charge of that too.  Heard about being ‘madly in love?’  Just call me cupid”

Bobby looked at his desk and found the notes he would have taken about the conversation, had he taken notes. “So without you, I wouldn’t be motivated by emotions and sensations?”

“Exactly.”  Id smiled wide.  “I gotta say, though, things have been pretty tough out there lately.  Imbalance and all that.  Cupid isn’t exactly able to get though all the stress and brewers droop.  You gotta throw us all a bone and let up.”

“I don’t get it,” Bobby said.

“Don’t I know it.  You’re trying too hard.  Even trying too hard to have fun, which takes all the fun out of it.  That couch is awesome, you need to decide to turn your crap off and sog into it more often.”

“I can’t.  I’ve got things to do!” Bobby protested.

“Then do ’em.  Or not.  Ether way quit stressing out about it, man.  You’re not acting as much as you are acting out and on anxious idle.  Shit like that keeps you up all night!”

“OK.”  He reached out his hand and Id shook it gleefully.  “I’m all done here.  Can you get Super Ego for me?”

“Sure thing dude!  Nice knowing you!”

# # #

Super Ego came to the door of the dream office and walked into the room.

“Hi, Super Ego.  Have a seat.”

The stiff version of himself laid down a three page resume on the desk.  “I come prepared.”

Bobby read over the resume until he came to a line. “Hm.  You were the one that kept me from marrying Mary O’Conner right out of college.  Good man.  She was a nightmare.”

Super Ego sat there, looking pleased.

“Is there anything else, or is it all here?”

“Well, I’m much more about keeping you from doing detrimental things. I’d like to point out that anything that takes more than a day or so to plan is controlled by me as well.”

With a kidding grin, Bobby said, “Well, my ability to focus is crap, so thanks a lot”

“Certainly no fault of mine.  You treat your body like a garbage dump.”

“Well, aren’t you also the part of me that drives me to the gym?”

“To be honest, that’s one of the points where the Id and I agree, though for differing reasons.  I propose that you need to take better care of yourself, lose weight and tone up your cardiovascular system.  The Id just likes the runner’s high and the fact that it improves your sexual performance.  And, he tends to like places where women walk around in tight clothing.”

“And you aren’t in on that?”

“I’m ambivalent.  It’s not my job.  My job is to keep you from trying to start anything with those tramps at the gym.  I keep you doing your job, until it’s time to go.  I get you up in the morning and make you go to bed at a decent hour.  I keep you from breaking laws and your word.  In other words, I am your higher self and steer you toward noble goals.”  He folded his hands in his lap and stood straight and still in the chair.

Bobby was impressed with this guy, but he had to find out if he had taken too much power away from the other two.  “So, lately, what is a major accomplishment that you can point to as being mostly your own.”

The stiff twin shifted in his chair and looked Bobby straight in the eye.  “That question shows a lack of understanding of the predicament in which we find ourselves.  Nothing gets accomplished without the input of the other aspects.  Everything is tempered, run through justifications and finally filtered through the personality, you, to actualize in the physical world.  So, I can rightly claim nothing to be my accomplishment.”

Silence greeted this answer, as Bobby considered it.  “Okay, let me rephrase.  What timely action, taken by all of us, was most driven by you?  There must be something that you initiated.  I’m sure you weren’t the initiator of the Hockey tickets.”

“Oh the Hockey tickets.”  He rolled his eyes.  “I spent a long time at the insistence of the Ego coming up with justifications for that.  Truthfully, ever since you got married, it’s been harder and harder to get anything done around here.  I get you checking your check book and going to work, but even that is a struggle.”

“Is that because of the imbalance?”

“Yes.”  His eyes grew wide in alarm and he seemed to somehow grow while staying the same size.  “The imbalance makes it difficult to properly align with expected norms of behavior.  What results is only minimally acceptable, triggering coping mechanisms.  Your lack of sleep, for instance, is every undone thing shouting at you, both the required and the desired.  These things don’t just go away if you ignore them.”

“Well I really haven’t been able to focus on any of that stuff.”  Bobby waved a hand as he replied. “I’ve been busy, you know…”

“NO!”  Super Ego insisted.  His fist came down on the white table top of the desk, momentarily turning it black.

“Excuse me?”

Behind SuperEgo, the white room darkened.  The figure in the chair became more clearly defined, somehow more there than he had been before.  His face froze into a hard, lecturing stare.  “You do not get to give yourself a pass on this one.  The way you are acting, taking on every problem and resolving none, taking up every distraction and vice without care or enjoyment, you are acting as a barbaric fool.  No wonder Barbra argues with you. You drink, you eat like crap, you avoid her, you avoid your job, you avoid the gym.  Your logic wants to think that behaving like an animal will make you happier, but still you can’t let go enough to enjoy your antisocial behavior.”

“Hey!” Bobby squeaked in protest, “Quit stepping on my dick, jackass.”

“I would like to, but you keep presenting it to be trod upon and keeping you on the straight and narrow is my job.  As part of that job, I have to tell you that you, as you are now are a loathsome creature.  And to top it all off, you don’t even have the common decency to be ashamed of yourself.  You must… put an end to the imbalance… or we are all lost.”

“You done?” Bobby crossed his arms and rocked back in the white office chair.  “You done, or would you like to sit there and shit talk me… us… a little more?”

Super Ego straightened and feigned distraction by inspecting his sleeve for lint.  “I believe I’ve said my peace, Bobby.  I’d apologize for the unfiltered nature of my comments if I didn’t believe that they were one hundred percent justified.  I fear that even with this admonition, you will continue on your current course.  And as usual, I will have your best interest at heart and will attempt to guide you down a path of piety.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess…”

A pencil eraser tapped nervously in Bobby’s hand, rapping against a notepad.  He looked at the notes that appeared on the pad as he thought them up then addressed Super Ego.  “OK. I need to think about this.  If you can let the others know that I’ll be out in a bit.”

The stiff entity stood up and left the office, leaving Bobby to ponder his subconscious.

# # #

“How did the interviews go?”  Ego was so exactly like Bobby that he was a touch stunned at seeing him again.  It was as if the mirror suddenly started talking.

“Fine. Just don’t tell me that you really are Mary O’Conner.”

“No.  Actually, I’ve got some regrets about that girl.  She was quite the troubled soul.”

“Yeah, she was.  Hot though…”  Bobby nodded at the ground for a moment then raised an eyebrow at his twin.  “I’m having a hard time.  Both Super Ego and Id have elements that seem over the top and out of control.  But I’m thinking that the Id has grown too crazy.  His appetite for fun and games seems to be a problem.”

Ego shook his head. “I was afraid you’d say that.”  The man in the black placed a hand on bobby’s shoulder.  “You see, Bobby, It’s you, the personality, the consciousness.  You are the problem.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“How can I be the problem?  I’m the one who is actually Bobby!”

“Not without us, you’re not, and that’s the problem.  You have suppressed your subconscious to the point where your waking mind must do all the analysis and make all the decisions.  You haven’t done what you wanted to do, because you thought it would be indulgent.  You haven’t done what you should do because you resent always having to be responsible.  In the end, the tools that are given to your conscious mind are overtaxed and running out of control, causing you stress and sleeplessness.  The waking mind can’t sleep because you have given it so much work to do that it needs to run well into the night to catch up.”

Bobby stuck his hand up and turned away from Ego. “That’s a bunch of crap.  All I’m doing here is talking to myself.  This is just another weird dream, though I guess I should be thankful.  At least it means I’m sleeping.”

“See?  You aren’t paying attention.  This is no dream.” Ego charged at Bobby with his finger in the air.

“But I’m keeping myself together as best I can for my wife, my job and my future!”

“Your wife and your job would be better served if you let your whole self address the issues in front of you.  She fell in love with you as a whole person and the problems that come up between you two are partly because you changed.  As for your future?  Well, you can’t keep your current state up very long.  Eventually your conscious decision making process will crack and you will start screwing up or going mad.  You already can’t sleep, so who’s to say you won’t have a costly nervous breakdown.”

The Personality of Bobby clenched his fists.  “I won’t let myself have a nervous breakdown!”

“Now there, you are more right than you know.”  Id and Super Ego flanked Ego and all three were looking at him.  “You, Bobby’s personality and waking mind, you are the one who has to go.”

“Whoa, wait a second!  Then what was all that interviewing and such about?  You said one of you all must go.”

“I said one of ‘Us’ must go.  Knowing that you were the one of ‘Us’ that was on the way out, none of the rest of us thought that there was any harm in letting you have your fun.  Besides, you might have learned something and made this unnecessary.  As it is, further self reflection will have to be handled by your successor.  Good bye.”

“Wait!  Hold on! What are you…”  Bobby’s personality slowly disappeared into the vague whiteness of the room’s boundaries, as if it had been a piece of forgotten furniture.

Out in the real world, Bobby’s whole body sighed and the cleansing chaos of dreams flooded his mind.  It swirled and danced with the pieces of computer program, making them play cribbage to thirty one.  Worlds unfolded and evaporated to give rise to strange beings as gravity bubbled up and explored the ceiling.  All of the trouble in life mixed with this chaos and new connections were tried with the crazy logic of dreams.  The magic work of the subconscious raced through the sleeping mind.

At the center of the storm, in the endless white room, Id, Ego and Super Ego looked at an image of the sleeping Bobby on a screen flaked by the dream images.  A separate screen showed the progress of Bobby’s brain and body descending into a deep sleep.

Super Ego leaned in to talk to Ego.  “Are you sure that was wise?”

“No.” Ego turned and faced the straight laced, subconscious personification. “But it was necessary.  He’ll sleep past his alarm in the morning, giving us ample time to create a new personality from his memories and experiences, his thoughts and dreams.  It will be him – us – but without all that willful control nonsense that was causing so much trouble and angst.”  Ego looked once again at Bobby finally at peace, healing and resting.  “When Bobby wakes up, he’ll feel like a whole new man.”

A Small Sample

The sky was yellow and dotted with stars that did not twinkle.  Across the pink and dusty surface of this hostile world, Dr. Leonard Spence noiselessly crunched toward a rocky cave.

“So remind me again why I’m not in my nice safe lab watching one of you guys do this?”

In his ears, he could hear a soft pop followed by Carol’s friendly voice. “You’re the Exo-biologist, Lenny.  If we got critters, they are yours.  Aren’t you curious?”

“Sure, but I only need a small sample.  I can make observations from your suit’s cam just fine.”

“But you know there’s nothing like the real thing, baby.”  Lenny didn’t appreciate Burt’s attitude even though the brash astronaut meant no harm.  “Besides, it’s well past your turn.”

“Fine,” he said in a tone that made it clear that it was anything but.  “I just hate space suits.”  Lenny trudged along in the bulky but flexible suit and looked at the pale, alien sky. “Not too fond of space in general, really.”

Over the radio, Carol said, “Then you really picked the wrong profession, Lenny.”

Burt added, “And it’s a little late to bitch about it.  Just get your sample so we can stop listening to you whine.”

Wishing he could wipe his brow, Lenny started into the cave.  “I wasn’t whining.  I was complaining.”  He straightened up as if to regain some dignity and turned on his suit lamps.  “Trained scientists don’t whine.”

“Whatever, Lenny.  We’re getting a video feed.  Looks good.”

Now that the cave was lit, the hesitant spaceman could see what had taken him out of his cozy, properly pressurized lab.  Half way up an obsidian pillar common to these caves, a blob of green gunk slowly crept along.  Its body glistened under the lamp as if it were wet or oily.  It appeared not to notice Lenny even as he closed to within an arm’s length.

“Let’s see, it’s green, which may mean chloroplasts, and looks like a blob.  Might be an extremophile plant or a colony of single celled organisms.  I wonder what it eats?”  Fascination overtook fear as Lenny recited field notes.  “It appears to be surrounded by a membrane of mucus.  In its natural environment… it seems to be rippling.  This may be a reaction to the intense light.”

Over the com link, Burt droned, “Again, whatever.  I don’t want you out there long enough to freak out.  Grab your snot and get back.”

Though condescending, Lenny recognized good advice.  He took a scoop-like sampling tool off of his tool belt and extended the handle.

“Going in now, Burt.”  He looked for a good place to sample.  “Now, Mr. Blob, I’m only going to take a small sample.  You may feel a bit of a pinch, but I promise there is a lollypop in it for you.”

The instrument shook at the end of the foot-long handle as he brought it up to the blob.  As soon as he touched it, a faint pop filled his ears and all the lights in his suit went dark.

He was plunged into the total blackness of the cave.

“Oh crap!  Burt? Carol?”  Nothing came over the com link, not even static.

He could feel his fingers getting num.  The heaters had gone off too.  “I’m starting to get cold.  Hello! Do you hear me?  Come in.”

The only response was black silence.

“…hello?” he squeaked.

Lenny’s primal fears prevented him from moving.  This was why he hated space, he thought.  It was because of stuff just like this.  Being out of control and at the mercy of the unknown.

From outside the self-contained fishbowl of his helmet, he thought he could sense something moving.  He wasn’t sure if he was seeing it or hearing it, but something stirred in the dark.  Fear kept his breath weak and shallow, so his ears could pick up any sound from the outside world.  All he could hear was how scared his breath sounded.  Lenny swallowed hard.  This was a long way from the lab, for sure.

“Come on, man.  Get a grip.”  His own voice made him jump. “It’s just a power failure.”

He thought about the suit.  “A power failure in multiple, triple-redundant devices.”  He heard the ragged breath return to his fishbowl.  “I’m sure it happens all the time…” His voice lost all confidence. “…in some parallel universe where the nature of probability is completely different.”

His chest tightened.  “I’ve got to get out of here.”

The fear let go of his legs enough to take a step back.  He followed it with another and got a shock that made him hop.

The lights turned back on.

“Eeep!”

Over the com link, static gave way to an amused voice.  “Excuse me, Lenny, I don’t think I copied that.  Did you just yelp like a little schoolgirl?”

It was Burt back in the control room.  “Crap, Burt, everything went black here, didn’t you notice?”

“Sorry.  We thought we just lost your telemetry for a second.  Sunspots, you know.”

“Sunspots nothing!  I think it can screw up electronics.  I mean, everything went dark and cold here.”  With the light back on, Lenny got his mind back on his task and got a second shock.

“The specimen is gone!”  The spot where the glistening green blob was perched now just had a spot of goo, turning solid in the freezing space cave.

“Lenny?  This is Carol, are you OK out there?  Your suit is reporting a drop in pressure.”

“I’ll take a look for… OH, MY GOD!”  He looked at his gloved hand in disbelief.

Static ravaged his ears, now painfully sensitive, after one shock too many.  “What?”

“My pinky is gone!”  The glove on his right hand had four perfect fingers and one stump on the end.  The stump was covered on its clean, flat top with the same glistening goo that coated the green blob he had come all this way to study.

“How can that be?” Carol asked over the intercom.  “You aren’t losing any more air.  A hole in the suit that size would have killed you.”

The cold, the fear, and the claustrophobia all came in as the shock of being so casually dismembered dawned on the uptight scientist.  Lenny lost it.  “I don’t know, it looks like there is some kind of glop plugging up the… My finger! I’ve been maimed!”

“Dude,” Burt’s voice said over the intercom, “It’s just your pinky.  Pull it together.  Forget the sample and get out of there.  Abort.  The snot isn’t worth your life.”

Out of the corner of the helmet’s view portal, Lenny thought he saw movement.  Whipping his body around for a better view, he saw the green, lumpy blob undulate over the rocks on the cave floor.  In the middle of it, still sheathed in the heavy glove’s digit, was Lenny’s severed pinky.  He watched as it retreated from view on the blob’s back.

“My finger!  Give me back my finger!”

With thoughts of remaining maimed for the rest of his life guiding his actions, Lenny bolted after the creature.  It was heading for a small crack in the cave wall, so Lenny dove for his severed body part, knowing it was now or never.  As he touched the alien, all of the systems in his suit shut down, including the lights.

Once again, he was plunged into darkness, but he had the vague feel of the slimy green goo in his cold, numb and incomplete hands.  He was determined to get his finger back and wrestled with the mass until it finally slipped away from him.

But it had been worth it.  He could feel it in his hand.  Yes.  It was a struggle, but his pinky was his once more.

As the creature retreated through the small hole in the cave wall, Lenny’s suit mounted lights illuminated the cave.  He pulled his hands into the light to examine the cylindrical object he snatched back from the blob.  He found only the empty pinky finger of the space suit’s glove.

“NOOOOOOooooooooo!”

***

The green blob seeped through the membrane that kept the toxic environment of the outside from the more hospitable world inside the planet’s rocks.  Its electrostatic sonar imaged a home of polished, spherical rooms with curved and edgeless connecting tunnels, populated by many fine-looking blobs.

As it shucked the slimy life-support membrane they used to survive outside, the blob thought about the strange, solid, electrically-charged life forms that had been invading the cave.  It was a good thing he was able to grow an organelle to deal with such a life form.

And what a life form!  It undulated with excitement over the prize it carried.  A piece of a real alien!  It couldn’t wait to get back to the lab.

Sliding through the passages, alien tissue in its possession, the blob wondered why the creature had kicked up such a fuss.  After all, it had only taken a small sample.