Authors: Brandon Sanderson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General
by Brandon Sanderson
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My name is
Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.
The gunshots coming from J.C.’s room popped like firecrackers. Grumbling to myself, I grabbed the earmuffs hanging outside his door—I’d learned to keep them there—and pushed my way in. J.C. wore his own earmuffs, his handgun raised in two hands, sighting at a picture of Osama bin Laden on the wall.
Beethoven was playing. Very loudly.
“I was trying to have a conversation!” I yelled.
J.C. didn’t hear me. He emptied a clip into bin Laden’s face, punching an assortment of holes through the wall in the process. I didn’t dare get close. He might accidentally shoot me if I surprised him.
I didn’t know what would happen if one of my hallucinations shot me. How would my mind interpret that? Undoubtedly, there were a dozen psychologists who’d want to write a paper on it. I wasn’t inclined to give them the opportunity.
“J.C.!” I screamed as he stopped to reload.
He glanced toward me, then grinned, taking off his earmuffs. Any grin from J.C. looks half like a scowl, but I’d long ago learned to stop being intimidated by him.
“Eh, skinny,” he said, holding up the handgun. “Care to fire off a mag or two? You could use the practice.”
I took the gun from him. “We had a shooting range installed in the mansion for a purpose, J.C.
“Terrorists don’t usually find me in a shooting range. Well, it did happen that once. Pure coincidence.”
I sighed, taking the remote from the end table, then turning down the music. J.C. reached out, pointing the tip of the gun up in the air, then moving my finger off the trigger. “Safety first, kid.”
“It’s an imaginary gun anyway,” I said, handing it back to him.
J.C. doesn’t believe that he’s a hallucination, which is unusual. Most of them accept it, to one extent or another. Not J.C. Big without being bulky, square-faced but not distinctive, he had the eyes of a killer. Or so he claimed. Perhaps he kept them in his pocket.
He slapped a new clip into the gun, then eyed the picture of bin Laden.
“Don’t,” I warned.
“He’s dead anyway. They got him ages ago.”
“That’s a story we told the public, skinny.” J.C. holstered the gun. “I’d explain, but you don’t have clearance.”
“Stephen?” a voice came from the doorway.
I turned. Tobias is another hallucination—or “aspect,” as I sometimes call them. Lanky and ebony-skinned, he had dark freckles on his age-wrinkled cheeks. He kept his greying hair very short, and wore a loose, informal business suit with no necktie.
“I was merely wondering,” Tobias said, “how long you intend to keep that poor man waiting.”
“Until he leaves,” I said, joining Tobias in the hallway. The two of us began walking away from J.C.’s room.
“He was very polite, Stephen,” Tobias said.
Behind us, J.C. started shooting again. I groaned.
“I’ll go speak to J.C.,” Tobias said in a soothing voice. “He’s just trying to keep up his skills. He wants to be of use to you.”
“Fine, whatever.” I left Tobias and rounded a corner in the lush mansion. I had forty-seven rooms. They were nearly all filled. At the end of the hallway, I entered a small room decorated with a Persian rug and wood panels. I threw myself down on the black leather couch in the center.
Ivy sat at her chair beside the couch. “You intend to continue through
?” she asked over the sound of the gunshots.
“Tobias is going to speak to him.”
“I see,” Ivy said, making a notation on her notepad. She wore a dark business suit, with slacks and a jacket. Her blonde hair was up in a bun. She was in her early forties, and was one of the aspects I’d had the longest.
“How does it make you feel,” she said, “that your projections are beginning to disobey you?”
“Most do obey me,” I said defensively. “J.C. has
paid attention to what I tell him. That hasn’t changed.”
“You deny that it’s getting worse?”
I didn’t say anything.
She made a notation.
“You turned away another petitioner, didn’t you?” Ivy asked. “They come to you for help.”
“Doing what? Listening to gunshots? Going more mad?”
going more mad,” I said. “I’ve stabilized. I’m practically normal. Even my non-hallucinatory psychiatrist acknowledges that.”
Ivy said nothing. In the distance, the gunshots finally stopped, and I sighed in relief, raising my fingers to my temples. “The formal definition of insanity,” I said, “is actually quite fluid. Two people can have the exact same condition, with the exact same severity, but one can be considered
by the official standards while the other is considered
. You cross the line into insanity when your mental state stops you from being able to function, from being able to have a normal life. By those standards, I’m not the least bit insane.”
“You call this a normal life?” she asked.
“It works well enough.” I glanced to the side. Ivy had covered up the wastebasket with a clipboard, as usual.
Tobias entered a few moments later. “That petitioner is still there, Stephen.”
“What?” Ivy said, giving me a glare. “You’re making the poor man wait? It’s been
“All right, fine!” I leaped off the couch. “I’ll send him away.” I strode out of the room and down the steps to the ground floor, into the grand entryway.
Wilson, my butler—who is a real person, not a hallucination—stood outside the closed door to the sitting room. He looked over his bifocals at me.
“You too?” I asked.
“Four hours, master?”
“I had to get myself under control, Wilson.”
“You like to use that excuse, Master Leeds. One wonders if moments like this are a matter of laziness more than control.”
“You’re not paid to wonder things like that,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow, and I felt ashamed. Wilson didn’t deserve snappishness; he was an excellent servant, and an excellent person. It wasn’t easy to find house staff willing to put up with my . . . particularities.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve been feeling a little worn down lately.”
“I will fetch you some lemonade, Master Leeds,” he said. “For . . .”
“Three of us,” I said, nodding to Tobias and Ivy—who, of course, Wilson couldn’t see. “Plus the petitioner.”
“No ice in mine, please,” Tobias said.
“I’ll have a glass of water instead,” Ivy added.
“No ice for Tobias,” I said, absently pushing open the door. “Water for Ivy.”
Wilson nodded, off to do as requested. He
a good butler. Without him, I think I’d go insane.
A young man in a polo shirt and slacks waited in the sitting room. He leaped up from one of the chairs. “Master Legion?”
I winced at the nickname. That had been chosen by a particularly gifted psychologist. Gifted in dramatics, that is. Not really so much in the psychology department.
“Call me Stephen,” I said, holding the door for Ivy and Tobias. “What can we do for you?”
“We?” the boy asked.
“Figure of speech,” I said, walking into the room and taking one of the chairs across from the young man.
“I . . . uh . . . I hear you help people, when nobody else will.” The boy swallowed. “I brought two thousand. Cash.” He tossed an envelope with my name and address on it onto the table.
“That’ll buy you a consultation,” I said, opening it and doing a quick count.
Tobias gave me a look. He hates it when I charge people, but you don’t get a mansion with enough rooms to hold all your hallucinations by working for free. Besides, judging from his clothing, this kid could afford it.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“My fiancée,” the young man said, taking something out of his pocket. “She’s been cheating on me.”
“My condolences,” I said. “But we’re
private investigators. We don’t do surveillance.”
Ivy walked through the room, not sitting down. She strolled around the young man’s chair, inspecting him.
“I know,” the boy said quickly. “I just . . . well, she’s vanished, you see.”
Tobias perked up. He likes a good mystery.
“He’s not telling us everything,” Ivy said, arms folded, one finger tapping her other arm.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” the boy said, assuming I’d spoken to him. “She’s gone, though she did leave this note.” He unfolded it and set it on the table. “The really strange thing is, I think there might be some kind of cipher to it. Look at these words. They don’t make sense.”
I picked up the paper, scanning the words he indicated. They were on the back of the sheet, scrawled quickly, like a list of notes. The same paper had later been used as a farewell letter from the fiancée. I showed it to Tobias.
“That’s Plato,” he said, pointing to the notes on the back. “Each is a quote from the
. Ah, Plato. Remarkable man, you know. Few people are aware that he was actually a
at one point, sold on the market by a tyrant who disagreed with his politics—that and the turning of the tyrant’s brother into a disciple. Fortunately, Plato was purchased by someone familiar with his work, an admirer you might say, who freed him. It does pay to have loving fans, even in ancient Greece . . .”
Tobias continued on. He had a deep, comforting voice, which I liked to listen to. I examined the note, then looked up at Ivy, who shrugged.
The door opened, and Wilson entered with the lemonade and Ivy’s water. I noticed J.C. standing outside, his gun out as he peeked into the room and inspected the young man. J.C.’s eyes narrowed.
“Wilson,” I said, taking my lemonade, “would you kindly send for Audrey?”
“Certainly, master,” the butler said. I knew, somewhere deep within, that he had not
brought cups for Ivy and Tobias, though he made an act of handing something to the empty chairs. My mind filled in the rest, imagining drinks, imagining Ivy strolling over to pluck hers from Wilson’s hand as he tried to give it to where he thought she was sitting. She smiled at him fondly.
“Well?” the young man asked. “Can you—”
He cut off as I held up a finger. Wilson couldn’t see my projections, but he knew their rooms. We had to hope that Audrey was in. She had a habit of visiting her sister in Springfield.
Fortunately, she walked into the room a few minutes later. She was, however, wearing a bathrobe. “I assume this is important,” she said, drying her hair with a towel.
I held up the note, then the envelope with the money. Audrey leaned down. She was a dark-haired woman, a little on the chunky side. She’d joined us a few years back, when I’d been working on a counterfeiting case.
She mumbled to herself for a minute or two, taking out a magnifying glass—I was amused that she kept one in her bathrobe, but that was Audrey for you—and looking from the note to the envelope and back. One had supposedly been written by the fiancée, the other by the young man.
Audrey nodded. “Definitely the same hand.”
“It’s not a very big sample,” I said.
“It’s what?” the boy asked.
“It’s enough in this case,” Audrey said. “The envelope has your full name and address. Line slant, word spacing, letter formation . . . all give the same answer. He also has a very distinctive
. If we use the longer sample as the exemplar, the envelope sample can be determined as authentic—in my estimation—at over a ninety percent reliability.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I could use a new dog,” she said, strolling away.
imagining you a puppy, Audrey. J.C. creates enough racket! I don’t want a dog running around here barking.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, turning at the doorway. “I’ll feed it fake food and give it fake water and take it on fake walks. Everything a fake puppy could want.”
“Out with you,” I said, though I was smiling. She was teasing. It was nice to have some aspects who didn’t mind being hallucinations. The young man regarded me with a baffled expression.
“You can drop the act,” I said to him.
“The act that you’re surprised by how ‘strange’ I am. This was a fairly amateur attempt. You’re a grad student, I assume?”
He got a panicked look in his eyes.
“Next time, have a roommate write the note for you,” I said, tossing it back to him. “Damn it, I don’t have time for this.” I stood up.
“You could give him an interview,” Tobias said.
“After he lied to me?” I snapped.
“Please,” the boy said, standing. “My girlfriend . . .”
“You called her a fiancée before,” I said, turning. “You’re here to try to get me to take on a ‘case,’ during which you will lead me around by the nose while you secretly take notes about my condition. Your real purpose is to write a dissertation or something.”
His face fell. Ivy stood behind him, shaking her head in disdain.
“You think you’re the first one to think of this?” I asked.