"Do you believe her, then?"
"Sssh. She's blind, not deaf, you know ..."
"No problem. She's fast asleep now. Aren't you, Lucy? Luce? See. Not a flicker. And not surprising, either, after what she's been through."
"But what has she been through? I take it didn't you swallow any of that stuff about flying saucers and execution platforms and naked Queens of old Barsoom ..."
"She did explain all that. The doctored air-tank."
"Well, yes, but if you believe that you'll believe anything. How could the hallucinations go on for days?"
"A long involved dream can happen in a flash."
"I know that. I also know that some girls whip themselves, cut lines on their wrists, have active fantasy lives ..."
"And that's your explanation for the signs of torture? The lash-marks, all the lacerations?"
"In a word: yes. She might have been playing some rough games with her boyfriends, for all we know. She's clearly sexually active. She told us that herself."
"And all the other stuff? The conspiracy, the spy next door?"
"Well, her mother has gone missing, that much is true. No doubt about that. As for the identity of their neighbour (if there ever was a neighbour -- don't forget there's no clear evidence of that) ... who knows? He could be anyone."
"Like a member of the security services?"
"Well, it's not entirely impossible, I'll admit. But there's no reason to assume it. The bottom line is that we found her alone, in a cave outside the dome, on the point of death: no heaps of bodies, no gibbets covered with naked women, no miraculous saucers or pyramids ..."
"And no oasis?"
"No Loch Ness monster, either."
"So it was all an hallucination, from start to finish. There never was a Club D, a paranoid conspiracy. And the woman Pat?"
"Gone like the mother. Maybe the two ran off together. Who can say? It's not that hard to change your face and name these days ... and the responsibility of raising a teenage girl, especially one as sassy as this one, could wear you down."
"How do we treat her, then?"
"Now you're talking. That's really the only question, the one you should have started with. We humour her, of course. Encourage her to talk about it, bu focus firmly on getting her better physically and mentally."
"Not unless she resists. I suspect our little Madam has taken a few too many of those already, with all those friends she wouldn't tell us about. Maybe some of the clubs she's been to supplied parts of the fantasy ..."
"Not for a while. It was useful to get the whole story out of her, but all it can do now is confirm that she'd been living in a fantasy world for quite some time, and that parts of it at least still seem quite real to her."
"Observe and treat accordingly, then?"
"You've got it. I was like you once, you know. Keen to take up the cudgels for each new patient - believing their stories, hunting down the corrupt officials and cops who'd victimised them. It doesn't make you any friends, for one thing. Nor does it really help your patients, longterm. The trouble is their stories just aren't plausible, in the final analysis. Either you believe we live on a kinfe-edge of sanity in a world of seething bestial indulgence and mass-murder, or you accept that a few wounded souls have difficulties with the stress of modern life ..."
"I take your point."
"And that's why you'll make a good consultant someday. For the moment, though, observe. Just watch and learn."
Watch and learn. That's going to be my motto from now on. I fingered my eyes under the bandages. Not that hard to fake blindness when you see how useful it can be. How does the saying go? See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil. The three wise monkeys.
That older doctor was probably one of them. The younger one, the woman, still just a potential recruit. He can't have got them all in the explosion. Just the ones directly in the blast-zone. I survived it, after all. And someone must have been left to go back and tidy up.
Dad's been in a few times to see me already, but they haven't told him much of my story. I wouldn't have told it myself if it weren't for being too weak to resist the hypnosist. I have to assume I told them everything, though I don't remember anything about the telling.
Which is why I've got to do it all over again here. Just like those secret posts our next-door neighbour talked about, the P.I. the agent, whatever or whoever he was. He may have screwed us, but he was on the level. I'm sure of that. That's how I see it, anyway. At any rate he gave his life for me, for us.
You see, I saw it too - at the last minute (I hope I didn't tell them that, but have to assume I did. La Sphinx des glaces: sphinx of the snow. Just like that final bit in Arthur Gordon Pym:
... And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.
My mother, Phil. I guess she married him.