Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
“… and so I'll see you again next week.” Evelynne looked up as the door to the doctor's office opened and the psychiatrist ushered out a nervous-looking bald man. “And remember, Will, keep away from those strip bars.” The doctor wagged a scolding finger at him, although her smile robbed the admonition of any heat.
The man blushed and scratched his stubbly cheek in embarassment. “Thanks, Doc. Blurt that out in the middle of your waiting room, why don't ya? Next week, then. Later, Irene.” He waved to the receptionist, who waved back.
Once he was gone, the doctor turned to her secretary and quirked an eyebrow.
“Ms. Doherty is next,” the woman said, handing over a file.
The doctor looked quizzically at Evelynne, and her double take as she realised just who she was looking at was very well concealed. “Thanks, Irene. Ms. Doherty, if you'd like to come in.”
“Thank you,” Evelynne said. She smiled at the receptionist and allowed the doctor to wave her into the office. Once there she looked around, taking in the room's soft, muted décor. Several comfortable chairs and a long couch provided places to sit, and a number of attractive but unassuming paintings hung on the walls. Over the large desk near one wall, a framed diploma affirmed that Doctor Wilhelmina Young was indeed a graduate of York University.
After closing the door firmly behind her, Dr. Young turned to her latest client. “Hello, ah, Your Highness,” she said awkwardly. “Ah, should I curtsey or something?”
Evelynne smiled and shook her head. “No. And please, call me Sophia.”
“Of course.” Waving Evelynne to a seat, Dr. Young sat down across from her. “If you'd like, please call me Willa. So you prefer Sophia?”
“Not really. I've just been using it for a while now, and it's less well-known than my… other name.”
“I understand. You're not the only one of my clients to use a different name in this office. I mean no offence, but in your case it is probably even more appropriate. Although I must say your current appearance is quite different from how you used to look.” Evelynne's hand automatically went to her spiky platinum blonde hair. “In this room we can simply be Willa and Sophia, without any, ah, other issues interfering. Assuming you don't mind, that is.”
“Not at all. And ‘other issues' have not been a direct concern for some time.”
“I understand.” Opening the file she was holding, Dr. Young glanced at it briefly. “I asked you to come in primarily so that we could discuss Alleandre's case, but you should know that I am also available for you personally if you feel the need. Anything you tell me stays between us, unless you specifically instruct me otherwise. Likewise, Ally's sessions are between her and myself, unless she tells me otherwise.”
“Of course,” Evelynne said, but she winced. There had been a time when Ally would have told her anything, and she felt the now-familiar hurt and sorrow that it was no longer the case.
“Having said that, Ally has asked me to share almost everything with you.” Now Evelynne was surprised. “I should tell you that she desperately wants to tell you herself, but her current condition makes it almost impossible. I'll get to that in a moment. First, though, I'd like you to tell me as much as you can about what happened in Pennsylvania, and what you think made her this way.”
“Ally hasn't told you herself?”
“Oh, she has, but I'd really like to get another viewpoint on the incident. Her own thoughts are coloured by her perceptions, and I'd like at least one other witness.”
“Oh. All right.” Evelynne took a deep breath and was silent for a moment. “Well, I was working in this bar…”
After almost an hour, she finished. Her voice was hoarse despite the water that Dr. Young had provided, due to talking and the several bouts of crying she had experienced. Wiping her eyes with a tissue, she concluded. “And since then she's been so… so… I don't know. Distant. Cold. Like she isn't even really there.”
Dr. Young smiled at her reassuringly and passed her another tissue. “I understand. And it's true. Ally isn't there, in quite a real sense. She is currently in the depths of a very severe depression, one with a number of additional complications.”
“I know she's depressed,” Evelynne said. “And I've tried everything I can think of to cheer her up. We all have. But she doesn't respond to anything I do.”
“I know you've tried,” Dr. Young agreed. “But unfortunately you're operating under several misconceptions. Don't blame yourself. Few people truly understand.
“First, you are underestimating the severity of Alleandre's depression. Most people use ‘depressed' frequently. ‘I didn't get the promotion and I'm so depressed.' ‘I have to pay for a new transmission and I'm depressed about it.'” She smiled wryly. “Even, ‘The characters in my favourite TV show are breaking up and it's so depressing.' They equate depression with unhappiness, disappointment. Now in a purely semantic sense they're right, but in a psychiatric or medical sense they're only scratching the surface. Real depression is a mental disorder, as potentially severe and destructive in its own way as schizophrenia or other psychoses, based on neurochemical imbalances in the brain.”
“You mean it's like a disease?”
“Precisely. Neurochemical levels change, and secondary symptoms can resemble other ‘real' illnesses. Changes in sleeping patterns and eating habits, asocial tendencies, and general disinterest are common tendencies.”
“Well, Ally's been sleeping a lot. And she hasn't been eating as much as she used to.”
“I know. Of course, the opposite is also possible. Sleeplessness and overeating are common. People eating when they're depressed is so common that we tend to ignore it. There are a lot of symptoms, any of which on its own is not necessarily cause for concern. So people tend to dismiss the individual signs until the condition is quite severe.”
“Oh.” Evelynne was quiet for some time. “So, how did Ally get like this? I know what hit her was terrible, but she's always been so… so aware of herself. She always seems to be aware of what her own mind is doing. She definitely must be intelligent enough to realise what's happening.”
Dr. Young shook her head. “Intelligence has little to do with it. One effect of severe depression is an aversion to personal introspection. Regardless of how intelligent a person is, thinking about why one is depressed brings up all the negative emotions related to it, so the avoidance mechanism is natural and inevitable. Instead the sufferer can throw herself into activities that offer both immediate pleasure and little in the way of introspection: food, sleep, sex, games, escapist reading. In Ally's case I believe she has certain other ways she's been spending her time.”
Evelynne's face brightened in understanding. “Her, ah, extracurricular activities. She's been going out a lot lately.”
“Exactly. While those particular activities are unique to Ally's case, they do fit the pattern.”
“But I don't understand. Why is she like this now? I know that what happened was terrible, but I've been trying to help her since then. Why doesn't she let me help?” Evelynne pleaded.
Dr. Young sighed. “I admit it is a very complex case. In addition to the depression, I believe there are other anomalies that are directly related to her special qualities. As for exactly how she got as bad as she is…” She paused for a moment, considering. “I don't think you truly understand what a blow to her psyche the incident in Pennsylvania was. Again, you're not to blame. It's taken over three weeks of almost daily sessions for me to come to any kind of understanding, and I'm a professional.” She leaned forward. “Simply put, I don't think you could design a more destructive series of events for her mind and emotions. I've tried, and while I can think of a few that are more physically traumatising, I don't think any could cause more mental damage. Frankly, I'm amazed she's survived this long, and I think you and your friends are the only reason she has.”
Evelynne gasped, and a bolt of fear shot through her at the doctor's serious tone. “You mean she might…” She couldn't bring herself to say the words.
“It's possible. I know she's been tempted on a few occasions. However, she's resisted both through your actions and her own sense of self, and I think as long as she has both she will continue to do so.”
“Well I'm not going anywhere,” Evelynne said firmly. “And neither are Claire or Mrs. Chen.”
“Good. She'll need all of you.”
“We'll be there. Always.” Evelynne tried to control her racing heart rate. “So, why was this so destructive? I just can't see it.”
“I believe it all comes down to the nature of the attack itself. And it was an attack; never think it wasn't. One of the cores of Ally's being is control. Not control of other people, or of her environment, or events around her, but control over herself. Over her own mind, her own abilities. In fact, those abilities are probably the source of her desire for control. She has confessed a fear over exactly how her talents are developing and how much control she will have over them in the future.”
“She's said that to me also. It's why she's always practicing and testing herself.”
“Exactly. And until now, she's always had ultimate command over her abilities and her own mind. Not perfect, any more than any of our skills are perfect, but any mistakes she's made have been just that: mistakes. She has used them to learn and increase her skill. However, in that bar, she was given an external substance, a drug, that completely stripped away her control. She was utterly unable to control herself. Now, if the memories of that event had been suppressed, as they would have been with someone with a more conventional mental structure, the results, while unpleasant, would have been much less destructive. However, her mnemonic abilities are not conventional.”
“Her eidetic memory,” Evelynne breathed. “She remembered the whole event.”
“Yes. And, if she had remembered like you or I remember, the effect would also have been less. We remember things at a remove, forgetting many of the details, and using imagination and speculation to fill them in later. However, she did not remember as we do. When she remembered, she was thrust into the memory. She was a disembodied mind behind her own eyes, seeing everything she saw before, and feeling and knowing everything she had been thinking while under the drug's influence. In a normal person there are mental safeguards that would have buffered the experience: denial, avoidance, repression. All of these were stripped away for Ally. She was forced to watch and feel while her own body and mind acted in ways that she would never have while sober. Ways that her conscience and higher thinking would have vetoed. She had to participate in an act that was morally repellent to her, with absolutely no control, even when, panicking, she tried to stop herself, an attempt destined to fail, since it was only a memory. In a sense, what happened to her was rape, but with a key difference: she was unable to fight back. In some rape cases, the victim, while still unfairly blaming herself, eventually realises that she did fight back. Perhaps not successfully, but she can eventually accept that it was not something she accepted or chose. With Ally, however, there was no fighting back. While under the influence, she wanted to have sex with that woman, and she is having enormous difficulty realising that it was something she did not rationally choose. She knows, for a fact, that she wanted to, and she did. Her previous lack of experience with loss of control means that she cannot fully comprehend losing that control. She still thinks she should have been able to resist what happened.
“Now if, for example, it had been you that she had engaged with sexually, she would likely be better than she is right now. Fear of lack of control is part of what is fuelling her depression. I believe the other major component is guilt. She is someone who holds sex to be a near-sacred act. And, to extend the metaphor, you are her goddess. She is utterly devoted to you, and until this happened, the idea of cheating on you was unthinkable.” Dr. Young started to say something else, and then paused. Making a decision, she continued, “Oh, she's told me about your mutual ongoing appreciation of other women, which is quite healthy and normal, but I know it's never been a serious matter. However, this time she did cheat on you, with absolutely no remorse or hesitation at the time. Which means that after the fact, that guilt and self-hatred is returning a hundred-fold.” Dr. Young paused and looked with compassion at Evelynne, who was sitting rigidly and breathing shallowly, a stricken expression on her face. “And she doesn't think you've forgiven her.”
“What?! Of course I have! She has to know that. I know it was the drug that made her do what she did. I—“
“I believe you when you say that you have. However, have you ever told her that you forgive her? I can tell you that Ally knows you've never said the words. I think you've probably said things like, ‘It wasn't your fault,' but I don't believe you've ever said, ‘I forgive you.' And there is a difference.”
“But there's nothing to forgive! Whatever happened, it wasn't her fault. I don't blame her for it!”
The doctor shook her head. “I don't think you understand. Harsh as it may sound, it doesn't matter what you think. What's important is what Ally perceives. And she feels that she has sinned against you. Until you forgive her, truly and honestly, so that she believes you, she will never forgive herself. By telling her that it's not her fault, you are effectively dismissing her concerns and her pain. You are telling her subconscious that they are irrelevant; that they don't matter to you. Now I know that is not how you feel,” Dr. Young continued, forestalling Evelynne's protest, “but that is how she perceives it. Maybe not consciously, but the unconscious pain is continuing to fuel her guilt and depression.”
“Oh,” Evelynne said in a very small voice, looking down at her hands. When she looked up her eyes were wet. “I messed up, didn't I?”
“Yes,” agreed Dr. Young, but she smiled reassuringly. “But I know you did not intend to. And you can begin to fix things. How much I don't know. Ally has told me about the link you two share, and also of your own abilities as a telepath. Can I ask why you haven't, ah, touched minds with her since that night?”
“What? I did just afterwards when she was in the hospital. She was stuck in that memory, and I tried talking to her to help her out.” Evelynne shivered at the memory. “She—she kicked me out of her mind. There was so much pain, and anger, and fear, and she… It was like sticking my arm into a blender. And it hurt her, too. She kept yelling for me to get out of her head. And since then I haven't wanted to hurt her like that again.”
“And I suspect you were also afraid of hurting yourself again. No, I'm not blaming you. It's understandable, especially after that blender analogy. However, one of the things Ally prized most about your relationship before was the way she always knew you loved her, how all she ever had to do was reach out slightly and she could feel you there. When you closed your mind to her, you also closed off that link. And that tells her that you no longer truly love her.”
“But I do! I love her so much it hurts. She's a part of my soul!”
“Yes, but again, it doesn't matter what you think. What matters is what she believes.”
“Oh.” Evelynne was silent for several more minutes, tears running down her cheeks. Finally she looked up. “So what do I do? How do I make her—us—better?”
“I have several ideas. The first is obviously to show her that you still love her. However, be careful! Her mental state is very fragile, and anything too sudden or intense could shake her severely. I'd recommend extreme caution about reconnecting with her psychically. I suspect that what happened—the drug, her memory, your psychic link, and her depression—has combined to cause some actual psychic or neural damage. And frankly I have only the slightest idea of how to proceed in that case. Psychogenic surgery really isn't taught in med school. If it was just depression I could probably treat it successfully with therapy and drugs. However, given her unique mental and neural physiology, I'm afraid drugs might do more harm than good.”
“So what do you suggest? I'm willing to do anything. And I mean anything.”
“Nothing quite so extreme as what you might be considering. While Western psychiatric science is only barely able to scratch the surface of problems related to talents like Ally's, there are other options. I happen to know a man who lives in the interior who specialises in some more unconventional therapies. He's Native Canadian, and he has had some success in merging modern psychiatric practices with traditional Native ones. My brother went to him when he had issues relating to his own talents.” Dr. Young smiled at Evelynne's jerk of surprise. “Ally didn't tell you? My brother's also a mind-reader. In any case, Dr. Crow produced excellent results in my brother's case, and I have a feeling that wasn't the only unconventional treatment he's tried.”
Evelynne wiped her eyes firmly. “All right,” she said. “When can we meet him?”
The sky was clear when Oliver Marchant cautiously stepped out onto the roof, closing the access door behind him. Somewhere else the stars would have been visible, but here in the heart of the city the lights of a million people's worth of civilisation drowned them out, leaving only the brightest to show through.
The Western Trade Building that he was standing on was one of the tallest in Vancouver, and convincing its management to allow him access to the roof had not been easy. Fortunately his police credentials had finally sufficed to grant him passage. Given how much trouble he had experienced, he wasn't sure how his contact was going to get through, but then he didn't know whether she would bother with the stairs in the first place.
Receiving the phone call that had led to this meeting had come as a shock. The call had come in on his personal line in the department, and the highly distorted voice had called him by name and given terse instructions for the time and place for this rendezvous. Somehow he had instinctively known who was speaking, and wondering how she had acquired knowledge of his phone number had occupied many hours. It bespoke of either impressive intelligence sources in the police itself, or other, more esoteric sources. Marchant wasn't sure which option bothered him more.
The caller had specified no other company and no surveillance, but Marchant had been a cop too long to completely repress his instincts, which was why a small but sensitive voice recorder was hidden in an inside pocket. He didn't quite know what he would do with the recording once he had it, but having proof of this meeting would give at least himself peace of mind.
Walking out onto the roof, gravel crunching under his feet, Marchant tapped his watch. The backlit display showed that it was still a few minutes midnight, so he was still a little early. Looking around, he wondered how this contact would arrive. The door he had arrived through had locked automatically behind him, blocking that access, but he had no idea if doors were necessary to beings capable of leaping over thirty feet straight up in a single jump. He walked over to the brick railing around the edge of the roof and peered down, wondering if there was any easy way up the side of the building.
“Looking for something?”
Marchant almost jumped over the edge of the roof.
Stumbling back, he whipped around to see a dark cloaked and hooded figure crouched like a gargoyle not more than two metres away on the ledge. Despite the deep hood completely concealing its features, he was almost certain he could detect a hint of amusement in its bearing.
“Jesus Christ!” he half-shouted. “What the fuck—?” Briefly he wondered how the being had crossed the gravel on the roof without a sound betraying its presence.
The figure ignored his exclamation. “You came alone?” it asked.
Its voice was odd, distorted, and Marchant recognised the effects of a voice mask, easily available at any good spy store. The knowledge gave him a chance to regain his equilibrium; anything that used something as mundane as a voice mask could not be completely supernatural.
“Yeah.” Marchant saw the intense gaze being directed at him, even from under the hood, and shivered briefly. “That's what you said.”
“And we are not being watched?”
Marchant thought momentarily of the recorder in his pocket. “No, nobody's watching.”
The figure stared at him for another disconcertingly long moment, and he shifted uncomfortably despite his years of experience. “Very well,” it intoned finally. “You are Sergeant Oliver Marchant.”
Marchant nodded. “Yeah. And you are…?”
“Who should I be?”
He hesitated. “Well, around the department we call you the Lady in the Shadows. Assuming you're who I think you are.”
“The Lady in the Shadows,” the being mused, speculation in its distorted voice. “A fair enough name. Somewhat dramatic, though, don't you think?”
“Well, considering…” Marchant gestured at the figure and its bearing.
The Lady in the Shadows looked down at herself and chuckled, the eerie voice sending shivers down Marchant's spine. “You have a point.” She shifted slightly on the ledge.
The thought of that drop made Marchant's feet itch. “Do you mind if we move back a bit?”
“Why? Are you afraid of heights?”
“Up this high? Aren't you?”
“Oddly, no.” Standing unconcernedly on the ledge, the Lady in the Shadows easily hopped down onto the rooftop. In the brief flare of her cloak, Marchant could confirm that she was in fact female, her slim body apparent in the almost form-fitting outfit she wore underneath. She was tall, too, he realised, topping his own five- foot, ten-inch frame by at least a couple of inches.
“So. You realise there's a fair amount of speculation about you,” he said finally. He briefly thought he saw the Lady in the Shadows tense under the cloak, but couldn't be sure.
“Oh?” she said simply.
“Yeah. Of course, nobody's ever seen you. To most of us you're just a voice on a phone, if that. You've sent a lot of business our way.” She remained silent. “That was you, right? The drug shipment three weeks ago? You called it in, right? And then you showed up during it.”
“Mm. And then up until about two years ago or so. You gave us a lot of information then, too.”
Marchant nodded. “You made some money off it, didn't you? All those rewards from Crimestoppers. I checked, and I think you made somewhere on the order of twenty or thirty grand.”
The shoulders under the cloak shrugged. “I am not an altruist, Sergeant Marchant. I had expenses then.”
Somehow, that reassured Marchant. Altruists tended to be fanatics, and the last thing he wanted was a vigilante of some kind on his hands. “I understand that. Vocal masks don't come cheap, do they?”
Marchant nodded again. “I've done some digging. I think I can trace you back about six years until you left two years ago. I wondered about that, wondering what keeps someone in a city for four years, with oddly timed lulls for four months each summer. And then I realised. Four years is a university degree. You were going to university at the time, and then graduated. It narrows it down. Some thirty thousand people graduated from colleges and universities in this area that year. About half of them were women. I now know your approximate height and build. I'm sure I could narrow it down again to a few thousand. If I really wanted to I could check into their tuition and bank records and try to match them up with the rewards given by Crimestoppers during that time. I would need a court order, but there are ways. I'm fairly sure that I could find out exactly who you are if I wanted to.” Now Marchant could feel the tension practically thrumming through the figure before him, even under the cloak. “I could, but I won't.”
The tension did not dissipate. “Why not?”
“Because it would likely cause far more problems than it would solve. To the best of my knowledge, you have broken no major laws. For the most part you have simply provided information to the police and let us do our job. On the few occasions I've been able to identify when you have acted more directly, you have shown remarkable restraint, given what I can guess of your abilities. You have always been very careful to avoid damage to civilian bystanders. Simply put, you have been discreet. If you were truly taking the law into your own hands I would be the first to hunt you down.”
There was silence for several long moments. “I appreciate that,” the Lady in the Shadows said finally. “I admit to being somewhat surprised.”
“Listen,” Marchant said, “if you were a more conventional informant, the police and the Crown Prosecutor's office would be offering you immunity or witness protection in exchange for the information you've provided. I am simply choosing to do away with the red tape, shall we say. Every detective on the force has unofficial informants. Most of whom are not nearly as clean as you are. Yes, I will hold you to a higher standard, given your power. But so far you have met that standard.”
“I can live with that,” the Lady in the Shadows murmured. She paused. “So what do you think about my power? You seem remarkably accepting.”
Marchant shook his head. “I have seen things on the streets that would probably make even your head turn. I've seen a drug addict on a bad high put no less than five policemen in hospital. I've seen a desperate mother reach into a burning car and pull out her kid, without even a soot mark. I have seen a father track his kidnapped daughter across two provincial boundaries without a single physical clue to her whereabouts. I've seen a blind witness identify her assailant by the sound his jeans made when he walked and the smell of his breath. Compared to that, someone who dodges bullets and can jump thirty feet is practically mundane.”
“Mundane,” the Lady in the Shadows mused. “It's been a while since I've felt that way.”
“I'm treating you as I would any other informant with a gun, or lots of money or street power. As long as you give me no reason otherwise, I will only hope that we can help each other.”
The Lady in the Shadows sighed, and visibly relaxed almost wearily, and Marchant noted the very human reaction. Whatever her appearance, or the demeanour she strove to project, she was obviously just as human as anyone else. On the one hand, it allowed him to gauge her responses normally, but on the other, that much power in human hands was potentially very dangerous.
“I will help as I can. I will be… away for a while, however.” Marchant quirked a questioning eyebrow at her. “I have some personal business to attend to.”
“Perry White needs you to hand in your story, does he?”
There was the impression of a smile from the hood. “Something like that. I will not be around for at least several weeks.”
“Okay. No cop's informants are a hundred per cent reliable. Even the superhero ones.”
The Lady in the Shadows cocked her head as though listening to something. “Ah, but I am mundane, remember?”
With a final nod, she crouched, leapt into the air… and kept going.
Marchant gaped at the sky, and the dark shadow that was quickly lost from view. “Jesus Christ. And I called her mundane…”
Much later, when he thought to check, he wasn't completely surprised to find that his recorder had stopped recording after less than a minute.
Continued in Chapter 22
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