Following an attack by a strange marine organism, Lord Naro enters a profound state of delirium.

Several nurses who had been instructed to sit with me during the critical phase of my delirium found the experience too harrowing, and asked to be relieved of this duty. Patients in nearby rooms were taken to other, more distant rooms. Faced with these unprecedented symptoms, even Woya was troubled out of reason: he later confessed to me that his mind wandered towards the impure and barbarian notions of possession by evil spirits. Certainly, he had never witnessed such torment. Only Virsodanva Veka proved strong enough to undertake long sessions of vigilance beside my bed.

When the doctor recounted to me the convulsions that had shaken me then, I pitied myself, though (at the time, while speaking with him) I could not recall anything at all of those intolerable hours. Often, I cried out: almost always, I seemed to be in great fear. One peculiar effect of my disorder, which many found most troubling, was that sometimes when I shouted out it would not be in my usual voice but, as it seemed, in the voices of others.

Woya-tsa himself, for all his professional and inherent calm, admitted that he found himself questioning the nature of the world itself on encountering this unsettling phenomenon. He said his reason could not bridge the gulf that opened up between his knowledge and what he saw and heard as I lay there crying out. For not only was my normal voice distorted by terrors the nature of which he could not see, and not only was it bent by agonies the cause of which he could not ascertain, often my voice would change, grow deeper, and seem to be emitted from a hitherto unguessed region of my being. And it wasn’t merely that, in my delirium, I was impersonating other people, pretending to be a child or woman: uxo, it was worse, because there were moments when the voice that came out of my mouth appeared not to belong to me at all.

Only when I seemed to have recuperated fully – a matter of several weeks after first recovering consciousness – did Doctor Woya give me some account of what he and others had heard at my bedside. Sometimes, he said, my voice was so deep, and so contorted, it sounded inhuman, though it spoke our MidImperial tongue. Sometimes – more disconcerting still – it seemed I was communicating in my normal voice, but in no language the staff in the hospital had ever heard. And yet it was definitely a language, Woya believed: there was a fluency and an articulacy about the sounds that convinced him this was not the gibberish of a completely unravelled mind. At other times, my voice issued odd clicks and grunts and hisses and whispers, something subhuman, Woya said, reminding him of the language of insects. Any of these manifestations would have troubled all sensible witnesses, but there was yet a further variation in my distress, one which actually caused nurses to flee the room; and even Woya himself, on one occasion, said he found it unbearable, and had to leave me in the sole hands of the redoubtable Virsodanva Veka.

For not only did my voice sometimes sound like that of another man, or other men, it changed eerily and grew more strange still: it slipped from the tenor of the masculine altogether, and grew light and female.

While it was technically possible for a male voice-box to produce these different effects, the doctors agreed, not Yamgo of the Five Stars, nor Samisama, not the most brilliant actor of the Kunobun Ventriloquists’ Theatre could have commanded such an amazing range of voices. Male, female: they all sounded utterly real, as if they belonged to some individual. If you had turned your back, you would have thought a third person had entered the hospital room, and was speaking while I lay unconscious on the bed.

Woya said it was difficult to comprehend: when I was speaking as a female, there was no question that the words were coming from my mouth, but there was also no question that the voice was that of a woman, and not a man; and Woya could not put the two certainties together to form a rational whole. But most extraordinary and moving of all, he told me, were the moments when the timbre and intonation of my voice seemed to shed years, and I spoke not as a grown man, nor as a mature woman, but as a child.

This was too disturbing, Woya said. Most of the voices that spoke out of me were bearers of distress: some were angry and hostile, some were in pain, some fleeing pain; some were uttering bizarre orders; some were panicking, some grieving. Sometimes, at the height of the hallucinatory stage of my illness, different voices would chase one another out of my throat, and I would seem to be speaking in quick succession almost as if a line of beings queued inside me, wishing to communicate, and even squabbling among themselves. Then, abruptly, I would speak in my own voice, or in another voice, and utter something completely banal, a comment about the weather or the expression of a desire for a particular food for lunch, and it was precisely the ordinariness of these remarks which, juxtaposed against the chorus of other voices, highlighted the eeriness of my condition.

When the child, spoke, though, it always cried for help, and Woya found this nearly unbearable. He recounted how the child was a young boy – and to Woya, this boy was real, it seemed to me, even though the child spoke out of my mouth, and from some unaccountable region – and how the call for help was deeply affecting. Of course, there was no possibility of help being given, and so Woya felt both frightened, and concerned, and completely helpless. He said he definitely wanted to be able to give the child some reassurance, to soothe and calm it, because the fear in the child’s voice was palpable, and there is surely nothing quite as poignant as a child looking out for help. Woya-tsa felt torn and so disorientated that, as he told me, he began to worry not only about my sanity, but his own; indeed, he began to grow worried that, after his experiences by my bedside, the very notion of sanity itself was being thrown down before him, and he was entering a domain in which he was poorly equipped to survive.

Woya-tsa also told me that he had even tried to speak to the child, to call out to him. Woya-tsa attempted to learn the child’s name, but there seemed no real contact possible. Woya-tsa was unembarrassed and unashamed of his actions, even though some of his colleagues thought his behaviour eccentric: nevertheless, no other doctors called in to assist on the case remained unshaken by what they found. Most stated their opinion that what I was undergoing was a state of profound hallucination, and that the voices speaking out of me were fragments of memory or illusion, which had been chameleonised in my distress, taking on the properties of people and episodes I’d witnessed during my life. However, most also accepted that such a diagnosis was very limited, and that the case had a certain freakish fascination.

Woya-tsa described the child’s voice as not panicked, exactly, but possessing a kind of calm fear. The tone was plaintive, somehow rather distant, as if speaking out of another element, or through a distorting device. Not only was the child concerned for his own safety, but he also seemed very intent on passing on some information, or a warning.

Of all the voices that spoke out of me during those awful days, the child’s voice was, by common consent, the most alarming. “Help me,” he would say: “they are coming. They are coming. Please – help me. Why don’t you help me?”

Few of the doctors invited to give their opinion on my case believed I would ever recover. The general prognosis was that, even if something like consciousness returned to me, my wits would have been cast to the dusts, and I would never really be Lord Sokosozuin Naro again.

In this, I believe the doctors were right. And yet, finally, one evening I opened my one remaining eye, and looked out of it.

The day before, the jelly-like secretion had abruptly dried, and could be brushed off my face in a kind of powder.

The first words I said – although I don’t recall them myself – were: “They are coming. They are coming. They are coming.”


Dataslivers

Woya | Family name of the physician responsible for Lord Naro

Virsodanva Veka | The name of the captain of Lord Naro’s bodyguard

Uxo | “No”

tsa | Honorific, given to doctors and other members of a certain class

Names in Dustless | Naro, is the family name | Sokosozuin = Soko-so-zuin, Soko, son of Zuin


From Comb | Volume 8 of Dustless

Be great first…

•DUSTLESS-FIN8

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