“Negative?” Nancy was angry. “That’s impossible Leon, they’ve made a mistake. I’m going to insist that they re-run it.”
“Why? Because you didn’t get the result that you wanted?” Leon cautiously challenged. “Come on, Nance. You’d only be wasting Catherine’s money, I’m convinced she’s clean.”
“Then how do you explain the Time Dilation?” Nancy challenged.
“She’s a level headed girl alright, of that I’m certain. But she’s as susceptible to autosuggestion as anybody. Just as susceptible.”
“Then what are you suggesting? If it wasn’t a drug, then what…? You think she just imagined it?”
“It’s likely Ken didn’t put her on full dilation, without the hypnosis the metabolic boost from the patch alone would give her quite a shunt... quite a shunt indeed. If he tweaked the program even a little quicker, it would feel a lot-lot longer.”
There was a lot of logic in Leon’s analysis.
They were chatting as they drove from the office to the hospital. Leon parked the car and they made their way toward Catherine’s ward.
It was Tuesday evening and, thankfully, Catherine would be in much better shape; Nancy had confirmed via telephone that since Sunday night she had not experienced any further encounters. It seemed a curiously significant fact in light of Leon’s chat with Ken on Monday morning.
In addition, Catherine’s relationship with Jacky seemed on the mend.
“I don’t think that Cath will accept that theory of yours, Leon. She’s very headstrong about what she knows."
“I’ll tell her that the results aren’t in yet. There are some things I’d like to ask her if she’ll let me put her under again... interesting things.”
Catherine was somewhat rejuvenated, her old smile was cautiously sneaking back. She seemed confidant, more self-assured, and a hint of enthusiasm for a new chapter without LifeGames in it was buoying her.
“There’s no need for a treatment, Leon,” she insisted. “The problem’s resolved… I can just feel it… and I’d just as soon leave it... forget it ever happened. When can I get the hell out of this place?”
“Discharging you isn’t up to me, Cath. I can motivate for it, but it’s not my decision. If you’re truly convinced it’s over, you’d make me feel a lot more confident I’m doing you a favor if you’d give me one more shot, one more quick session... much more confident.”
“I can’t tell you how much work I have backed up... it’ll put me back in here if you don’t clear me out of here soon.”
“Come on, Cath,” Nancy cast her vote in Leon’s favor. “You’re his responsibility, please make it a little easier on him, please.”
“I see... I have a team of doctors,” she huffed then looked injured. “I’m not getting the green light until I cooperate, is that it?”
“Something like that, Cath... something like that.” Leon was nodding, “No green light I’m afraid.”
Fifteen minutes later, Catherine’s face was serene and calm as she described every excruciating detail of the cyber-sex session with matter of fact frankness.
“...I am strapped onto the gyroscope. Inside the helmet is black... Ah, now there’s a snow effect and the hiss in my ears, I can feel Ken circling me, he’s studying my body, it… it’s very uncomfortable... awkward... This is probably a bad idea... Jeez, it’s very sexy though! Come on Ken... What’s taking so long? This is ridiculous. Should I take this goddamned helmet off? I’m really starting to feel disorientated. If I don’t re-orientate myself soon, I’m going to throw-up! What’s thi...? Oh... thank God, the snow’s gone! What is this place? Good God, it’s strange... some kind of village! Wow—is that a palace... looks almost like the entrance to my house...? It’s a hell of a lot larger. Ooh...? That guy’s seen me, he’s coming over. Quite the bod too...
“All right, Catherine. The memory is over, you’re still asleep. Before I wake you... When the helmet was on... did you hear my voice at all, in your ears… hypnotizing you before the game?”
“See...!” Nancy whispered urgently.
“Hmmm... okay... Alright...”
“Convinced?” Nancy challenged.
“Almost,” Leon replied, turning back to Catherine. “Catherine, after you put the helmet on. Are you absolutely positive that you did not hear my voice or any form of hypnosis; there’s a rapping sound we tag all subjects with... like four fingers drumming on a table... sounds like a horse gallop—you should remember it, if it had run…?”
“At no time did you hear it? Nothing like it... it would sound like this…”
And Leon clattered his fingernails in a fast gallop on a tabletop; druumph, drumph, drumph.
“No,” Catherine’s eyes were lazy slits, the half exposed pupil devoid of emotion and in an unfocused stare.
“You were not hypnotized at any time?”
“How many hours of game did you experience?”
“Two sunsets, one sunrise.”
“Are you sure... absolutely certain that you didn’t experience an hour or two?”
“How many hours of real time did you use?”
“One hour and six minutes.”
“Are you sure? Only sixty six minutes?”
“If you were not hypnotized, how do you think Ken Time Dilated you?”
Catherine did not answer, confusion painted across her face.
“All right, Catherine. It’s all right. Forget that question.”
Nancy nodded, as Leon grudgingly shook his head in amazement.
“All right Catherine, I’m going to count you awake,” he began the count.
Catherine had described in minute detail everything from the moment she’d set foot on the LifeGames premises to the undressing sequence. It was a necessary and legitimate pry into her memory, imperative because Leon needed to remove every last vestige of doubt from his own mind.
That Ken had some other method beyond hypnosis to achieve Time Dilation seemed inconceivable, but the evidence was irrefutable.
During Catherine’s most intimate reminiscence, neither Nancy nor Leon could look at one another. Both blushing for her, a sneaky arousal within each of them.
Ahead of the session, knowing what was likely to be revealed and feeling the need to clear the air, Leon had declared his position; “Don’t worry Nance, I’m not going to record this,” he had held up his ancient recorder to display its static cogs, no recording tape running through the mechanism.
Nancy appreciated his commitment to integrity.
“I must thank you for your cooperation Catherine, so sorry I had to put you through it, but I had to be certain of something.”
“Sure, it was painless,” Catherine shrugged.
“I’ve got an apology to make to you,” Leon admitted, his expression serious and sincere. “Until this session I did not believe that you could have experienced Dilation. The session’s convinced me... I’m wrong, dead wrong. What you’ve disclosed makes no sense, makes no sense at all.”
“Shew... Well that’s a bit of a relief, hey... that you now believe me.” She said it sarcastically, ironically.
“I was pretty upset with him for doubting you Cath, think about it though... Leon’s alliance is worth more now precisely because he was skeptical? If he’d believed whatever was concocted, without first trying to disprove it, his opinions and loyalty wouldn’t carry the weight.”
“So it’s a drug then... in the champagne? We drank champagne before the run.”
Leon nodded, “Thank you Cath, under hypnosis you told me.”
“If it wasn’t in the champagne, then where? The patch?”
Leon was hesitant but no longer adamant.
“In the champagne? Possibly... Maybe in the patches? I’m no chemist, but that would take some very sophisticated alchemy.”
“So what? Everything LifeGames does is sophisticated. Our business is sophistication and technology,” Nancy argued.
“True... Nance... true. You know what kind of investment that would take?”
“You know what kind of dividends it would pay...? You know what dividends it is paying?” Nancy retorted.
“So where’s the R&D in the budget?”
“Oh, come on, Leon. You’re not serious?”
“Until it’s proven...” Leon insisted.
“When the two of you are done, there’s a patient who needs discharging.”
“Nothing we can do till your primary physician signs it off, I’m afraid... but I’ll put in a good word... a very good word.”
There was a momentary silence and then Nancy provoked Leon with her Ace;
“Foul balms, Leon... Very foul balms... This sure gives Roger’s words some meaning....”
“Fernando,” Leon corrected her.
“But it was Roger who said it. Fernando isn’t a proven personality.”
“Okay... point made, Nance... very good point made. I’ll tell you; fiddling with drugs would explain why Ken was so adamant to bring Craig in. His only qualification was pharmaceuticals... he really had no designation.”
“And after he joined us, we had the big breakthrough,” Nancy wore a smug look.
“Well then, I’m an outsider. Whose in on it?”
“Ken!” They sang in unison.
“And?” Leon insisted.
“Craig’s death... an accident?” Nancy pondered.
“They found drugs in his car, remember?” Leon added.
“Planted drugs,” Catherine scoffed. “I barely knew him, but wasn’t he a real family man?”
“He was, but it became a real mess when Ken got back into his life. But a family wouldn’t exclude drugs,” Nancy added, “...don’t you know the rumors...? Craig had quite the addiction and more than a bit of history with Ken.”
“The police report read ‘no foul play, accidental death—case closed’,” Leon emphasized.
“Police get bought,” Nancy observed.
“Soon as he got it right, Craig became expendable!” Catherine added.
“More than expendable. I’d say a security risk to Ken,” Nancy escalated it.
“Not necessarily, ladies, not necessarily.” Leon observed. “The timing? The same day we lost Roger to his past... and Craig died within 24 hours; if it’s a formula and the formula’s got a flaw... Ken’o would need him.”
“Unless he needed a scapegoat more," Nancy threw a new curve.
They plumbed the unknown waters, on a tangent, dowsing for a probable cause to Roger’s regression.
Every line of deduction they followed doubled back on itself, leaving them as bewildered as when they’d begun. Only one thing was clear; something sinister was going on, and Ken looked like the only one with the answers—many vested interests in keeping them secret, and the money, power, influence, cunning and lack of scruples to achieve it.
When all seemed at a dead end, Nancy recalled a detail;
“You know... Jeez... do I feel stupid! A few weeks after Craig’s death, he had me organize to have some hardware moved from a small facility I didn’t even know we had... We have so much hardware in so many properties, it’s easy for something like this to slip through. But there were some breakages in transit, and I had to put in an insurance claim. It was for laboratory equipment. I didn’t query it, but I did think it odd... especially odd that it was being delivered to an address pretty close to Ken’s house... a residential house.”
“Hmmm...” was all Leon would commit.
“When’re my blood results going to be ready? Surely they’ll show something?” Catherine queried.
“Oooh, Catherine... now that’s another apology, another apology indeed,” Leon admitted. “The tests came up negative. I was so convinced that drugging was improbable... I didn’t want you to waste money so I only had them run elementary analyses.”
Catherine was upset but pragmatic, and only gave Leon a light chewing out;
“So the jury’s still out then... it’s a definite-maybe...”
“I’m truly sorry, Catherine. Truly, truly sorry.”
Catherine blew a defeated huff; “No matter. More tests then?”
“I’ll pay... it’s the least I can do... the very least. And I’ll arrange from Roger... But I do have another angle... I want to play a recording for you, Catherine. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind, the very first thing.”
At the first strains of the sound Catherine bolted rigid and gasped, “Christ Jesus!” Her breathing ragged as if she’d sprinted up stairs.
Leon cut the recording, “What is it?” he asked.
“I... I don’t know?” She was stricken with panic, in the room with phantoms again, no longer lucid—her eyes darting, her shivers returned.
Nancy leapt to console her, “Relax honey, nothing’s wrong. It was just the recording.”
“My nightmares... they’re... it’s like they’re back.”
“Because of the sound?” Leon probed.
“It... it must be. I don’t know. Fuck... I’m suddenly jumpy.”
“All right, Catherine. I’m not going to put it on again, I know what it is now.”
The Pavlovian response had smashed Catherine to the threshold of a nightmare, a stimulated suppressed memory; evidence that ripped the last shreds of doubt from Leon’s mind—the sound was the common thread that ran through all of the madness and intrigue, triggering or accompanying specific paranormal episodes.
Each time he heard it, Leon realized it stirred something peculiar within him too.
But all of the recordings had been played to lucid victims; Leon had not yet tried it on a hypnotized subject. It was a final test he was keen to make, and he’d make it on his star patient; His Holiness, The Good Bishop of Andalusia.