“Go ahead. Roll it.”
On the video screen, the woman started fidgeting in her chair. She was wearing an institutional pale blue smock, sitting at a pale blue table in a pale blue room. Her curly red hair hung in contrasting ringlets around her face.
“How do feel, Gloria?” asked a voice from off-camera. That would be Dr. Bach, the psychologist working her case.
“A little tired,” said Gloria. She smiled. “Don’t know why. Seems all I do these days is sleep.”
“How’s the food?”
She smiled wider. “Not bad. I mean, you hear about hospital food — worse than airline food, back when they served food on planes — but I had some fried chicken last night that could’ve come from my grandma’s kitchen.”
Gloria turned to face the camera.
“My compliments to the chef!” she called.
Unseen papers shuffled, probably at Bach’s end of the table. “We have some tests for you this morning…”
“I thought I was done with those when I finished college,” said Gloria. “Just so long as I don’t have to study for –”
Her eyes closed. Her head flopped forward. Bach’s chair scraped on the floor and he appeared in the frame next to her. He looked up at the camera.
“Zoom in,” he hissed and motioned the camera forward. The scene blurred as the camera zoomed, then refocused on Gloria’s face. Bach gently tipped her chin upward to face the camera.
“You getting this?” he asked.
Her eyes were closed, but light was seeping through the lids.
“There is a… luminescence… inside the subject’s eyes. Almost like… like when you were a kid and shone a flashlight in your mouth.”
A muffled voice asked a question off-screen.
“I don’t think so,” said Bach. “I don’t feel any heat or –”
“Hullo?” The voice came from Gloria, but it was not Gloria’s. The eyes opened, but they weren’t Gloria’s either. They were glowing.
Bach scampered back to his end of the table.
“Hullo? Can anyone hear me?” The voice was female and strangely accented. Not quite British, not quite German, and definitely not South African.
“We can hear you,” said Bach. He strained to keep his voice level. “Is this Lexa?”
Gloria’s face twisted in disgust.
“It’s you, isn’t it, Dr. Bach?”
“Yes, Lexa. I was hoping you could –”
“I’ve told you everything already, Dr. Bach. Our world, the invaders — all of it. But you won’t believe me.”
“Of course I believe you. But we have certain protocols that we –”
“Get me George Cash.”
“Wha — who?”
“George Cash. He’s an agent with the Division of Investigation. He knows. He believes. He knows what must be done.”
“Well, Gloria — I mean Lexa — I don’t know if we can –”
“I’m done talking to you, doctor. Get me Agent Cash, or we’re through.”
The light went from the woman’s eyes. Her lids slid down and her head slumped forward.
Gloria shook her head and looked around.
“I dozed off again, didn’t I?” she said, and sighed. “Sometime I think I just –”
The picture froze on the screen as Dr. Bach paused the playback.
“And that’s where you come in,” he said as he turned from the video monitor.
George Cash nodded thoughtfully. In his plain gray suit and plain black tie, he looked every bit an agent for the FBI — which hadn’t been called the Division of Investigation since 1935. He drummed his fingers on Bach’s desk. They were spiders, dancing, telegraphing how much he really needed a cigarette.
“Where did you find her?” he asked.
“Gloria has a history of delusions and psychotic behavior stretching back to her childhood. Her parents brought her here for testing when she was ten, and she was diagnosed with low-level schizophrenia. She was prescribed some medication and sent on her way. This was all before my time, of course. I’d like to think that I would have handled the case a little differently.
“Earlier this year, she came back when the schizophrenic episodes started coming on stronger and more regularly. They seemed to be ignoring the medication. And her eyes… No one mentioned her eyes in any of the previous reports. I don’t know of the luminescence is a recent development, or if it’s always been there, but no one wanted to report it.”
“Eight months ago?”
“You said she started getting worse earlier this year. Was it about eight months ago, around the middle of February?”
Bach flipped through paperwork in front of him. He nodded. “February 16,” he said. “Do you know Gloria?”
“No. Never met her. But Lexa… I know Lexa.”
Bach narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. He suspected he was being mocked.
“Are you suggesting that what Gloria says is true? About this… parallel world? And Lexa –”
“And Lexa is broadcasting from there to here,” interrupted Cash. “Or ‘thought-casting’ as she calls it. Sending us a warning the only way she can.”
Bach gave Cash an incredulous smile he often used on patients.
“Really, Agent Cash? If you were to accept as gospel every story from every schizophrenic –”
“No. Not every schizophrenic. Just these.”
Cash dropped a thick stack of dossiers from his briefcase onto Bach’s desk. He slid them towards the psychologist.
“Eighteen cases. Twelve of them women. All of them since February. All of them with the same ‘delusion’ — that they are receivers for Lexa Wilson, who’s thought-casting from a parallel world that’s been overrun by… invaders.”
Cash gave Bach a minute to peruse the documents. His finger-spiders resumed their cigarette dance. He resisted the urge to look at his watch.
“This is… extraordinary,” said Bach at last. “But if this is true, then the invaders…” He paled.
Cash collected his papers.
“They’re coming, Dr. Bach. And we’re running out of time.”
Cash joined Bach and Gloria in the conference room. He recognized its pale blue walls from the video. He recognized Gloria too, though she was paler now than when the video was taken. There were circles beneath her eyes. Her hair was more frizz than curl.
“I’d like you to meet Mr. Cash,” said Dr. Bach. “He’s going to be observing me today.”
“Hi, Mr. Cash,” said Gloria with a little wave. Cash waved back, but said nothing.
“We’re going to do something a little different this morning. It’s a verbal exercise, to help stimulate some of the less-used portions of the brain.”
“My brain can use all the stimulation it can get,” said Gloria. “I’m practically falling asleep here.”
Bach slid a sheet of paper towards his patient. On it were written the ten words that Cash had given him.
“Please look at this list. Concentrate for a moment on each word in turn. Think of what pictures come to mind when you read them. Can you do that?”
“I’m doing it.”
“Good. Now, read them aloud. Focus on the sounds of the words, rather than their meanings.”
Gloria read the first word quickly, the second more slowly, and the third more slowly yet. Bach realized she she was putting herself into a light trance. As she finished the last word, her eyes began to glow behind her closed lids.
“Lexa,” said Cash.
The eyes snapped open.
“Lexa, it’s me. Agent George Cash.”
“Oh, thank God. I was hoping you’d come.” There was an edge of panic to her voice.
“They’re here, George. They’re in the building, all around me. I can can feel them pressing on my mind. The others are already gone. I’m the only one left.”
“You have to come through.”
“But the receiver –”
“She’s dead anyway. You know that. And without your help, we’re all dead.”
Dr. Bach cleared his throat. “Just a moment, Agent Cash. ‘Dead already?’ What do you –”
“It’s burn-out, doc. Our minds aren’t trained for this sort of thing. That’s why we need Lexa.”
Gloria twisted in her seat. She moaned, as if in the throes of a nightmare. Her eyes fluttered and glowed.
“Agent Cash, I really must insist –”
“Sit down, doc,” said Cash. “Don’t make me pull my gun.”
But it was over. Gloria was slumped on the table, eyes slowly opening. They weren’t glowing. And they weren’t Gloria’s.
“George?” she said, looking at Cash.
“We’d better get going. We have a lot of work to, and not much time to get started.”