Chapter II.

31 May

Cam Bingen woke up early, determined to arrive for his appointment with Director Halsing with time to spare.

Getting out of the vertical to cross the hotel lobby, he noticed a familiar face.

“Good morning, Miss Vipur. How are you today?” he said, stopping in front of the singer.

“Fine. I didn’t have to work last night. This evening I’ll be starting in the late show after the setting of the daystar. Don’t forget that our daytime lasts nineteen hours during the summer. But we make up for that profusion of light in winter, when the daystar falls below the horizon for over nineteen hours.”

“Yes, I’ll have to get used to all these time changes and conditions,” laughed Cam.

“I hope to see you in my audience, Doctor,” she said, smiling brightly.

“Call me Cam, please.”

“If you will use Sunda,” she said with a ring in her voice. “I must be going because I have an appointment.”

The two parted, Bingen going to the hotel’s snack counter for a cup of willow tea and a baked cruller.

When he was finished, he walked to the sheltered portal where sleehacks were available. The vehicle coordinator assigned him a small cab carrying no other passenger.

“Are you sick or only visiting the Clinic?” asked the nosy driver once they were sliding along the ice street.

“Neither. I’m going to work on the staff there.”

“Oh!” said the surprised hackie, impressed and overwhelmed.

The Photonic Clinic was at the western end of Bifrost City, past the algoid processing plants. Only a few scattered quonsets surrounded the round, column-shaped silicon building. The cab entered the warmed vehicle shelter in front of it and stopped before the main entrance.

Cam made arrangements to be picked up again late that afternoon, then made his way on foot into the circular hospital.

A receptionist announced him over a connector line. “Director Halsing will be here in a jiffy to meet you, sir,” she told him with a pleasant grin.

Out of a door behind her came an imposing male figure, large, strong, and fleshy. Oily smooth black hair offset bright orange pupils the color of tangerines. Jutting nose and jaw reflected self-assurance and dominance.

“Dr. Bingen,” he called out as he approached. “So glad that you are here.”

The two men shook hands, Halsing with tangible force.

“Let us go into my office and talk about our plans for you here at the Clinic.”

When the pair were seated and comfortable, the Director began in an intimate tone.

“My people are on the frontier of the previously unexplored. Nowhere on the entire Continent is anyone even near us in psychiatric applications of actinotherapy and light treatment. Yes, many medical centers use bioholography in surgery. Somatic therapy can even include some photoactinic technology in some countries. But no one has conceived of the idea of direct neurological contact with radiated energy within the brain itself through the human eye. That is what is new here in Bifrost City.

“Light within the mind! Nothing can be as accurate and exact as the photon ray. So precise and measured, just below the atomic scale. It gives us true medical nanotechnology. The effects of such treatment are often startling. We become able to affect the operations of the mind itself and deal with conflicts and complexes.

“I am heartily elated over the prospects for optical psychiatry. You can detect that from the way I talk about the great opportunities ahead of us,” he said with a light laugh.

He paused to collect his thoughts and place them in order.

“We are at the birth of a new method of curative treatment. You shall all your life be happy for having joined our project here, Dr. Bingen.

“Now, I want to have you provided a general orientation to what is being done here. Dr. Knax, the Chief of Psychiatry, will take charge of your introductory initiation. Are you ready to start?”

“Certainly,” he declared. The name of his new mentor set off a bell in his brain. He was familiar with articles she had written and published.

“Good. My secretary will take you to the office of Dr. Knax.”

Hecla Knax was a squat, thickset towhead with a square head and solid trunk. Her hazel eyes, flecked with red and yellow, held a certain power within them. She impressed everyone as extremely serious and focused.

“Please have a seat,” she told Cam as he took the large hand she offered.

Once in her chair again, the head psychiatrist began what soon turned into an interrogation.

“Why have you traveled south such a long distance, Dr. Bingen?” she coldly asked him.

He swallowed hard. “I wish to be involved in the advancements going on here. They are still in their incipient stage, but already promise to turn our field upside down. Similar innovations happen only a few times in medical history, especially in psychiatry. My ambition is to take an active part in them. In other words, I wish to become a pioneer in your new type of therapy. That, I believe, is my main reason.”

The face of Knax remained impassive. “Your records show considerable experience in biotherapy,” she slowly drawled.

“In Landia, the main treatments for all forms of psychopathy are chemical compounds and serums. It all boils down to psychobiology and very little beyond that. I became profoundly dissatisfied with the limitations of those conventional methods. They were insufficient and inadequate, I came to conclude.”

“How did you come to know about what we are trying to do here at the Clinic?”

“I picked up hints and rumors at various psychiatric conventions,” he noted.

She pursed her pale lips. “No articles have yet been published about this activity. The light methods are still in early development. Most of the patients in our hospital have suffered physical ailments and injuries and are here for photonic treatment of specific somatic illnesses. But there are a large number of psychiatric cases that enter, especially when the arctic seasons change. As you know, extremely long or short daylight has severe depressing effects upon the personalities of the emotionally ill. Many people have trouble coping with these conditions.”

Bingen suddenly grinned. “I have myself studied the influence of weather by using photonic scanners on many of my Landian patients.”

“Yes, I understand that you have solid grounding in photonics,” she acknowledged. “But our work at the Clinic goes far beyond brain-mapping analysis. We deal directly with the memory part of the brain, making delicate erasures and entries from outside. No one anywhere else has attempted such radical use of enhanced light rays in therapy of the mind.”

“The technological and engineering problems must be enormous,” sighed Cam. “I have studied the holography of brain sections with electronic reckoners and recognize the vast complexities that are involved.”

“You are familiar, then, with traditional optical medicine,” she concluded.

“Yes,” he answered. “I have had practical training and experience with all sorts of photonic scanners.”

“You must meet with our light engineer, Jyl Skager, at once.” Dr. Knax rose from her chair. “I see a patient shortly, so you will have to find him on your own. It is easy to locate his photonic workshop in the rear of this building.” She then proceeded to outline the route he should take. “Return here at noon, Dr. Bingen. We can have luncheon with the Director at that time. I am sure you will have some questions to ask.”

Realizing this was a dismissal, Cam rose and backed out of her office.

Closing the door, he turned about to face someone approaching him in the narrow corridor.

A step to one side placed him outside the path of a tall, slim female he instantly recognized.

Cam searched his mind for what to say, but failed to find anything appropriate.

It was Sunda Vipur who now seized the lead and spoke to him.

“You see me again,” she said unsmilingly. “Dr. Knax is my personal therapist. No use attempting to conceal the truth. I am here to deal with certain unpleasant memories that go back quite a way in my life. She is treating me for what bothers me.”

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about,” he attempted to assure her. “The first step forward is to recognize that help I needed. That is often the earliest sign of recovery, to ask for professional aid. Photonic treatment can bring wonderful results. I have traveled here to acquire more knowledge on the subject.”

Her reddish brown eyes started to darken. “I wish to forget, not recall what once was.” She became silent, sensing that too much had already passed her lips.

“Excuse me,” apologized Sunda.

The singer moved to the door, opened it, and disappeared inside without another look at him.

Cam stood thinking a moment or two, then began searching for the photonic workshop.

A research assistant in a green smock pointed the newcomer toward his superior’s office. Bingen’s mind continued to dwell on its image of the brunette from Urth. He felt a pang of irrational guilt. Why had he spoken of mental illness to a person in some sort of painful suffering? Why had he told her of the beneficial effects of photonic clinical treatment? It might have been better for him to have said nothing at all on the subject. He had made a horrible mistake. Silence on his part would have been best.

But it had been impossible to pass her without some exchange of words, and it was plain at once what she had come to Dr. Knax for. Treatment pointed to pathology of some sort. There was no other reason for her to be in this place.

Cam entered the tiny office of the photonic engineer.

A pudgy body rose from a swivel chair and approached him. Long auburn hair hung about his head like a red turban. A little goatee pointed outward like a hostile spike.

Cam gave his name.

“Jyl Skager,” announced the engineer, offering a small, soft hand which the other took and shook. “Come in and make yourself comfortable, Doctor.”

Once both of them were seated, the technical chief fixed russet eyes on the stranger who had come from Landia.

“I am to show you about the laboratory and the workshop,” began Skager. “But first, do you have any immediate questions that I can answer for you?”

The beautiful singer he had just seen had taken hold of Cam’s thinking and continued to dwell there.

“Am I correct in concluding that patients have been receiving some photonic radiation as part of their psychiatric treatment?”

The redhead nodded. “I am the one who operates the optical beamer. The doctors tell me where and what to concentrate on, then I target the light rays there.”

“There was a patient who just went to see Dr. Knax,” ventured Bingen. “A young woman, tall and brunette.”

“I remember her. She suffers a strange malady called abnormal nostalgia.”

“Nostomania?” asked the psychiatrist with excitement.

“Yes, that’s it. I never heard of it before and know nothing about what it might mean. Have you ever treated such a patient, Doctor?”

“No, it is extremely rare. A sort of hiding in the past, a refuge from a painful present in what was once but is no more.”

“Too many memories, then?” asked Skager with an ironic grin. “That is what afflicts many of them here, too many things to remember. But now there is a means of unloading that burden off of them. The solution lies in photonic treatment.

“I could show you how my newest beamer is constructed, sir,” said the engineer, springing from the swivel chair with surprising agility.

As Cam followed the redhead from the office, his mind was focused on Sunda Vipur. He resolved to ask Dr. Knax about the therapy she was undergoing.

Can a fixation from out of the past be broken through optical means? Can formulated and modulated photic rays affect thought and personality?

He had to find out more, Cam told himself.

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