Danchekker stood in a room in the upper level of PAC, hands clasping his
lapels, speaking in a confidently genial tone.
"There have been times, I admit, Vic, when I have been guilty of
displaying less of an open-minded disposition than should be expected from a
scientific professional," he told Hunt, who was leaning on the wall, arms
folded, while Shilohin listened from behind an oversize Ganymean desk. "But
you know yourself the difficulty of abandoning a notion that appears to make
sense once it has taken root." The professor released one lapel briefly
to make a dismissive gesture in the air. "In the present case, my conviction
up until now has been that no hypothesis beyond misplaced Thurien generosity,
coupled with their inability to understand the human capacity for self-deceit
and wishful thinking, was necessary to account for the general Jevlenese condition
that we observe today."
"Yes, Chris, but there's something" Hunt began.
Danchekker merely nodded that he understood and continued. "In particular,
I disagreed with the suggestion that there might exist a discrete, external
cause of their widespread aberration, and specifically that such a source might
be associated with JEVEX."
"I'm not saying that it's a general Jevlenese condition anymore,"
Hunt said. "It only applies to"
But Danchekker raised a hand, as if preparing Hunt for a revelation. "I
am able to inform you, now, that I have seen fit to reverse that opinion. Sandy
and Gina have persuaded me that JEVEX might indeed turn out to have been the
culprit." He turned momentarily to survey an imaginary chalkboard. "The
neurally coupled Thurien information-transfer system is able to generate a compete
sensory experience of any real, sensor-equipped location; or alternatively,
of what can be totally illusory circumstances and events, fabricated withing
the processing environment itself. Now, we already know that JEVEX didn't incorporate
the same precautions and restraints as VISAR, the system upon which it was modeled.
Also, VISAR was developed in the first instance to accommodate to Ganymean
psychology, which is vastly different from human.
"The point that escaped me until my attention was drawn to it is
the ability of this alien technology to access directly and interact with the
inner processes of the ming. In brief, it can create utterly compelling artificial
realities shaped by the conscious and subconscious wishes of the subject."
Danchekker stared pointedly at Hunt. "Imagine what that could mean. We've
been asking what could divert a whole population from rationality and disrupt
their mental equilibrium to the point where they are unable to sustain a coherent
distinction between illusion and reality. Now, I think, we have the answer.
Escape into JEVEX-created fantasy became a universal narcotic: perhaps the ultimate
analgesic against all pain and worry, disappointment and boredom. The Ganymean
psyche, by its nature, enjoyed an inbuilt resilience against overindulging;
the human one, unfortunately, did not."
Danchekker bared his teeth to show of the new amity and understanding
that existed between them now that he had reformed. He turned toward Shilohin.
"Garuth described the symptoms as being like a 'plague.' And, indeed, we
see that is precisely what it was: a plague of and addiction that operates directly
on the mind. The historical record shows that the symptoms first began long
ago, but not until JEVEX had been in operation for some time. Again, the facts
are explained. And today, all of the cults and movements across Jevlen, despite
their other disagreements, are unanimous in demanding that JEVEX be restored."
"But that's not it, Chris," Hunt managed to get in at last.
"I don't think that what we're looking for has got anything to do with
fantasies in people's heads. I think it's something very real."
Oblivious, Danchekker sailed on. j"And the social disruption that
we see shows precisely the kind of effects that one would expect from a powerful
narcotic. In the course of its development, the brain has evolved a chemical
reward system which motivates the organism by producing sensations of pleasure
that become associated through learning with beneficial, survival-oriented behavior
patterns. What makes narcotics so pernicious is their ability to short-circuit
the process by triggering the reward mechanism directly, without anything beneficial
having to be done at all. And in the case of a narcotic such as the one we have
here where the effects are" He stopped and jerked his head back to
look at Hunt abruptly. "What was that? What did you say?"
"Yes, headworlding and the Thurien interstellar welfare program are
what have made the Jevlenese defenseless against the plague. But those things
aren't the virus," Hunt said. "There is a source, and it's a very
strange oneas strange as anything that might be extracted from the most
psychotic subconscious. But I don't think it's a product of anything like that.
I think that the source exists somewhere tangiblethat it's real."
Danchekker blinked. "But that's what I've just said, isn't it?"
"Not quite. You s"
"You tried telling me it was JEVEX, and I disagreed. Now I'm accepting
that it was." Danchekker's color deepened a shade. "Dammit, Vic, ever
since we met you've been telling me that I should be more flexible. Now I've
conceded to reverse my view on something which, quite frankly, still strikes
me as more than a little farfetched, and you're saying it's not good enough.
Well, what in God's name do you want?"
Hunt remained unruffled. "You're accepting JEVEX as the cause that
detached them from reality," he said. "But I'm saying it only dissolved
the glue. What pulled them away was a particular kind of Jevlenese who weren't
out of touch with realityor maybe whose reality was very peculiar."
"Aren't we splitting rather fine hairs?" Danchekker objected.
"I don't think so," Shilohin commented, looking at Hunt curiously.
Danchekker snorted. "Very well. Supposing we accept this contention
of yours for the time being. What are your grounds for proposing it?"
Now that he had Danchekker's attention, Hunt unfolded himself from the
wall and perched on the arm of one of the chairs of the conference area that
formed one side of the office.
"First, we need to distinguish between two kinds of Jevlenese,"
he said. "On the one hand there's the common or garden-variety, who waves
banners in the parades, gets his philosophy from the Dear Aunt Mary column,
and probably thinks that Jevlen is carried on the back of a giant turtle."
Hunt nodded in Danchekker's direction. "That's the kind you're talking
about, Chris. And yes, I agree, given something like JEVEX, they could get so
addictively immersed that they wouldn't know whether they were in it or out
of it. They're the ones I'd call genuinely crazy; and I'd say they make up most
of the population. That's why we've got such a mess outside."
"Which was more or less our conclusion also," Shilohin threw
in. "Our rationale in shutting JEVEX down was that it would compel
them to face reality."
Hunt nodded. "I know. But it hasn't worked the way you hoped, has
it? And I think I know why. You assumed, as Chris did, that it was something
inherent in the actual exposure to JEVEX that was sending them off the rails.
But all JEVEX did was condition them to be highly suggestibleto
any influence, inside JEVEX or out of it. And that damage had already
been done over many years; switching JEVEX off wasn't going to undo it."
Shilohin sat back in her chair as the gist of what Hunt was getting at
became clearer. "You mean the influence that's unhinging them is still
out there," she checked.
"The ayatollahs," Hunt replied simply. " You didn't switch
"But they're just as much Jevlenese too," Danchekker protested.
"Merely coining a word for the extreme cases doesn't endow them with any
qualitative difference that matters." He showed his teeth again and thrust
out his jaw challengingly. "And besides, you're simply moving the question
to another place, not answering it. If you're postulating them as the cause,
then what, may I ask, deranged them? What caused the cause?"
"That's where the difference lies," Hunt said. "They're
not simply an extreme case of what's wrong with the Jevlenese in general. Their
problem isn't the same. They're defensive and disoriented by something they've
experienced, and it drives some of them over the edge, yes. But they're not
exhibiting the same uncritical gullibility that you see in the typical Jevlenesein
fact, some of them have managed to retain an amazingly strong grip on themselves.
Their difficulty isn't telling what's real from what isn't; it's with knowing
how to interpret what they accept as real."
"Are you saying that their ability to interpret their perceptions
has been disrupted somehow?" Shilohin asked.
Hunt shook his head. "Not exactly. The ability is still there, but
it's confused. It's as if what it's being asked to interpret is suddenly unfamiliar."
Shilohin looked puzzled. "That sounds like the inverse of a paradigm
shift. The paradigm stays the same, but reality no longer fits it."
"Not a bad way to put it," Hunt agreed.
"Is this the business of being 'possessed' that they talk about?"
"I'm pretty sure that it is."
"You mean they suddenly perceive a different reality? Their conceptual
framework stays intact, but what they're experiencing doesn't relate to it anymore?"
"More than that," Hunt said. "If different individuals
tried to fit different models, I'd agree with Chrisit would be because
something had affected them subjectively. But that isn't the case. Their conceptual
paradigms are essentially the same"--Hunt glance at Danchekker"which
suggests that we're dealing with something objective, Chris, something real."
Danchekker stared at Hunt with a pained expression for a few seconds;
he turned his head toward Shilohin as if for support, then back to Hunt again.
"You're being logically absurd. Either these are externally induced psychotic
delusions, or they are not. If they are, then their nature will vary from individual
to individual. Any similarity that you see is a fabrication of your own prejudices,
Vic, not a property of the world outside. If they are not delusions, then reality
must have changed in an identical way for one group of people, but at the same
time stayed the same for the rest of us. How could that be? The idea is preposterous."
"Unless they transferred, somehow, from an alternative shared paradigm
that was equally valid," Hunt pointed out.
"And where is this alternative reality supposed to be? In the fourth
dimension?" Danchekker scoffed. "You've been talking to too many Jevlenese."
"I don't know where, for Christ's sake! Maybe that's what
we should be looking for. All I'm saying is the facts point that way. You're
saying the facts can't exist because they don't point the way you think they
"What facts?" Danchekker retorted. "All I've heard is pure
conjectureand rather fanciful at that, if I may say so. When you urged
being more open-minded, you didn't say anything about trips to fairyland."
"Why don't you try talking to a few ayatollahs?" Hunt suggested.
"I have. It achieves nothing. They're quite impermeable to logic
or reason," Danchekker replied.
"We have tried getting some of them to cooperate," Shilohin
put in. "But acute insecurity and suspicion of everybody is one characteristic
that they do seem to share. They've reacted to every experimental environment
that we've tried to ser up as hostile and threatening."
Hunt looked at her with a curious expression for a moment, and then redirected
it at Danchekker. "Well, maybe I can introduce you to one who won't,"
he told them.