Mental Disturbances in the Sombrero Galaxy

12 Mar

Dr. Toa Peln had earned her way up to become Psychiatric Chief of the roaming hospital called the Hygea. It was an extremely important and responsible position that she held. The large vacuumship that carried her and the medical staff that she headed visited the dozens of scattered human colonies located on planets found in the Sombrero Galaxy. The latter was about 30% of the size of the Milky Way, original home of the human species. An elliptical galaxy shaped like a hat, it was 28 million Light Years from Earth and contained around a hundred billion stars. The Sombrero stretched 50,000 Light Years across. It was an enormous area of space for Toa to take care of.

Second in command of the Hygea was Dr. Klet Zor, in charge of navigation and ship management. He met constantly with Dr. Peln to discuss the routing plans for the mobile hospital that contained several thousand compartments holding mental patients.

“We are now headed for the planet of Tachyon, the closest settlement to the Black Hole of the central core,” explained Klet. “Our time of arrival with ultra-wave speed will take us there within several weeks time, it is calculated.”

Toa, sitting behind a plastoid desk, frowned with concern. “I am worried because the Hygea has never traveled so near the hub. It is impossible to foresee what situation we may have to contend with in there. Do we have the readiness for what we will have to face?”

The other grinned with confidence. “I have no doubts about the ability of our staff to cope with this recent expansion of cases on Tachyon. There has been a lot of experience with sudden spikes in case loads. We are well equipped to deal with whatever lies there.”

“I hope you are right, Klet,” sighed the Chief. “We shall soon have opportunity to see this outbreak of a psychiatric crisis.”

The vacuumship hospital reached Tacyon within a month and entered an orbit about its equator. Dr. Peln flew down to the planet’s surface in a small galley in order to confer with the Minister of Health, Dr. Bar Muh. The visitor was taken by grounder to the Central Psychiatric Shelter, where the official was waiting to show him examples of the maladies breaking out on the planet.

Toa sat across from Minister Muh in a tiny conference room reserved for the two of them.

“I refer to what we are at present suffering as a plague or epidemic of the mind and personality,” began the tall, gaunt Tacyonite. “Traditional psychiatry has proven itself unable to deal with the inundation of bipolar, depressive, and schizoid cases that have descended upon us. What were we to do? Our government decided to call for help and that is why your hospital ship was summoned.”

“Our staff of therapists has experienced many kinds of disorders on dozens of planets in various systems of the Sombrero Galaxy. We have dealt with and discovered different remedies for a wide rainbow of mental pathologies. I can assure you that we can apply many methods to the current situation here on Tachyon.”

Bar Muh seemed suddenly far away. “I have had great difficulty trying to understand what is going on with our planet’s population. The statistics have shot up to incredible levels of illness and disorder.”

“Are there any new, unprecedented types of illness involved in the present flood of suffering patients?” inquired Toa with curiosity.

Bar thought a few seconds, then answered. “Yes, I would say that there has been a surprising increase in the number of complete nervous exhaustion, to the point of inactivation and indifference to the outside. I call the condition one of emotional isolation, escape from the reality of the social world and other human beings. These patients come close to the condition of becoming catatonic. It is an extreme psychological escape from one’s previous life.”

“I am fascinated by the problem here on Tachyon,” confessed Toa. “But my greatest need right now is to have direct access to some typical patients who are suffering the kind of mental debilitation that you have described to me. Would it be possible for me to examine several of these cases myself? That can help me a great deal in reaching some judgments on what should be done.”

“Certainly,” replied Bar. “I will take you immediately to the building where we house our most severely exhausted patients.”

Toa was touched upon hearing men and women tell her in slow, halting statements how they felt.

“I am like a frozen bit of flesh, not a living human being at all. I might as well be dead, for every spark of life has left me and I can’t do or think or say a single thing. I have never before felt this low or this bad.”

“Some kind of cloud holds me in its grip and will never let go of me. I can never again be a free person, that is for sure. All my energy and free will has gone, evaporated into the air.”

“I don’t remember my name or who I am if I try to think too hard. So I let my brain and my memory go off on their own. It is impossible for me to choose or decide anything at all. I feel numb in my body and my mind, as if I have never even been alive. I have given up on everything that I did or was interested in before.”

On and on went the statements that Toa was able to obtain from the victims of the strange, undefined illness affecting large numbers of hospital patients on Tachyon.

After arranging for a large contingent of the most seriously ill recent patients to be transported up to the Hygea for analysis and treatment, Toa took the galley back to the hospital vacuumship that was orbiting Tachyon.

She met with Klet Zor in her office to discuss the difficult situation they faced.

“The illness down there on the planet is an extremely serious one unlike anything we have observed or dealt with anywhere else in the Sombrero Galaxy,” she moaned. “It will take all our knowledge, plus a lot of simple luck, to overcome what appears to be almost a spreading plague of mental inertia and immobility on the surface of the unfortunate planet.”

“You sound as if victory on our part is a hopeless quest,” noted the executive officer.

“I can conceive of no rational explanation for such a strange outbreak on a massive scale like what I myself witnessed,” she said with a painful expression on her face. “How can we deal with this problem if we have no idea what lies behind it? There is nothing in the psychological literature that ties into this mental condition that deactivates so much of a mind. It is a baffling riddle, that’s what we face on Tachyon, Klet.”

The latter spoke after several seconds of hesitation. “I have for a long time held a vague, unformulated and unproven theory that the human mind and its malfunctions are oftentimes influenced by the position and contours of space. That where a person happens to be situated in terms of stars and galaxies is an important factor shaping the health of consciousness and personality.

“I cannot assemble any proof for such a conclusion, but it has always echoed through my personal thoughts as our vessel has roamed through the Sombrero Galaxy. The idea seems so logical and natural that it almost is obvious.

“Ever since Tachyon was chosen to be our immediate destination, I started to wonder whether its proximity to the supermassive Black Hole might be an important force on the human mind in this region of space. I read all that was available in books and on ribbons about the galactic nucleus and the prominent dust lane that is full of molecular gases such as hydrogen. I focused my attention on the high velocity emissions from the area of the Black Hole, wondering how much of that energy was reaching Tachyon.

“Unfortunately, such questions have never been studied by astro-physicists or other space scientists. It appears to be a completely unknown subject, though it cries out for serious attention. Especially in terms of the health and safety of any nearby world such as Tachyon.”

He looked at Toa as if seeking an answer of some sort from her.

“My best advice to you, Klet, is to keep looking. Is there a connection between unknown emissions coming from the galactic center and what we are seeing on Tachyon?

“It would be very helpful to know for sure. Until then, we must do our best for the many patients who will be flying up here to the Hygea.”

After eight hours of sleep in her cabin, Toa woke up with an unusual, indescribable feeling she was unfamiliar with.

She attempted to supervise the arrival of the transfer galley from the planet hospital to the vacuumship, but found herself unable to proceed beyond the first two loads of patients.

“I am going back to my rooms for a little bit of rest,” she told Klet. “I have been doing too much and it is starting to get me down.”

The Chief of Psychiatry slept an unusually long time and awakened with a sense of emptiness and being somehow lost. “There is something bothering me,” she confessed to several associates when she visited the executive dining room near her own cabin. “I think that I had better report to the first aid dispensary and have some testing completed on me.”

Three separate examinations by clinicians resulted in a single diagnosis: the head of the hospital vessel was in the initial stage of the widespread ailment that was demobilizing so many persons on Tachyon. She was beginning to suffer the catatonic deactivation of mind of the newly arrived patients from Tachyon.

Klet Zor took immediate charge of her care and treatment.

Toa slept for long, abnormal periods. A foggy consciousness when awake made her nearly a different person. Worst of all, she grew unaware of what was happening to her.

Klet discovered that she was turning increasingly inward, away from the outside world and other people. It was difficult for Toa to concentrate on any topic for very long.

I must maintain and preserve a way of communicating with her, he said to himself as the number of patients transferred from the planet below grew to over four hundred.

As second in command of the Hygea, Klet was compelled to take over the details of managing the operation of the space hospital.

He would give Toa a daily briefing of information about how the treatment of the inert patients from Tachyon was going. “We have had little success with any of the therapies attempted,” he was forced to admit, uncertain whether she understood what he was reporting to her.

What could he do to treat or cure the Chief of the Hygea? Klet asked himself. He had a single practical alternative: to continue hunting for the causal factor involved in the strange illness that affected Toa and the multitude of sufferers down on the planet of Tachyon.

As Toa slept and dozed in deepening passivity, Klet devoted his waking hours in pursuing the nature of the mental morass that Toa was engulfed in.

In the research chamber where the dust lane of molecular gasses was monitored, he concentrated attention upon submillimeter emissions from the supermassive Black Hole at the center of the Sombrero Galaxy. What were certain almost hidden, unidentified particles being hurled out into space? he pondered. Narrowing his focus, he concentrated all his attention on what astro-physicists had labelled synchrotrons. What was the nature and the possible effects of this peculiar type of Black Hole emission?

I have to find out, he realized. I have to know what these synchrotrons are up to.

Klet had news to relate to the catatonic Chief of Psychiatry, uncertain whether she was able to understand what he was about to tell her. He sat down next to her bed and took her hand in his.

She gazed at him in a semi-conscious fog.

“I have something to explain to you, Toa. Whether you comprehend or not, this is what I am ordering: I am ordering the Hygea to leave its present orbit and hurry away toward the outer reaches of the galaxy. We must get this ship far away from the Black Hole and its dangerous radiation. That is the only solution to the malady that you and multitudes of others are suffering.

“It is a special particle emission called the synchrotron that is changing mental operations. That is the only possible alternative that is left.

“Tachyon is just too near the Black Hole, in the direct coursing of these demonic-seeming synchrotrons. That is the conclusion that I am compelled to accept and operate on.

“The Hygea shall take you and our four hundred and more present patients out of this zone of danger to health. I intend to warn Dr. Muh and the authorities on Tachyon about what has been happening on their planet. It is their decision what they then do.”

He smiled at Toa, holding her hand with steady strength.

All of a sudden, she returned his smile as if she understood what he had been saying to her.

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