I was in Pagoda Ward, in Queen Mary’s University Hospital, in Roehampton. I had had a number of admissions in this place so by now there was nothing new about it for me. The routine never changed. I was sitting in the room where they do the ward-round. The consultant was talking to me, asking me questions so the rest of the team could hear what I had to say. He already knew my story. He wasn’t a bad guy, this doctor. His name was Jim. There was something about Jim I liked – he had a curious type of gentleness or softness to him which was rare here. There was more to Jim than the others, who appeared to me to be completely shut down, completely blank in themselves. Malignantly so, in some cases. I wouldn’t talk to the other doctors at all. Sometimes I got the sense that Jim might even understand the odd thing that I said, and this was perhaps why I bothered to go through the gratingly tiresome rigmarole of answering all these formulaic questions. Though probably I was mistaken in this.
Jim was asking me where I came from, and asking me to explain what sort of problems I might be experiencing at the moment. I answered him willingly enough, as always. I always said the same thing. It was like this business of coming out with name, rank and serial number when you are captured by the enemy. I came out with my story, even though I had no expectation of being believed, or even understood. I told the doctor, whose name as I have said was Jim, that my spaceship had crash-landed on this planet, and that I was from a far-away star-system – a star-system too distant to be seen with the naked eye. I told him that the drive in the spaceship had been too severely damaged for us to repair, and that myself and my fellow crew members had been obliged to leave our craft to see if we could obtain the elements that we needed to replace in the damaged star-drive. I explained that although this planet appeared hospitable, it soon became clear that there was some kind of anaesthetic gas present in the atmosphere, the effect of which caused us to lose our memories of who we were and where we came from.This gas was both irresistible and irreversible in its operation.
I had seen with my own eyes the other four crew members become convinced, within a matter of a few days, that they had always been on this planet, and that they were native terrestrial humans, like every one else here. In addition to this amnesia, I had observed my friends develop a great interest in all the activities and pastimes beloved of the natives of this world, despite the infinitely trivial nature of these pursuits. Somehow – to my very great dismay – my crew-mates had become convinced that there was something extraordinarily valuable to be gained by engaging whole-hardheartedly in these empty activities and had devoted themselves to them accordingly. They had given themselves over to time-wasting as a result of the corruption that had entered into them. I could not even begin to reason with them, for their powers of attention had dwindled to the extent that they could understand nothing of what I was saying to them. Their attention span was too short for anything other than the trivial, the banal, the inconsequential. This I found abhorrent in the extreme, as I knew well the true capacities of my fellow Starfarers, and could not bear to see that they had come to this. I was silent then, as sorrow had overcome me.
After a few moments, the consultant psychiatrist Jim spoke: “And why do you think you have not succumbed to the gas, as your friends have done?” His imperturbable grey eyes met mine and their quizzical look echoed the question on his lips. “My Gift is different to that of the others,” I replied, as I always did. My response was always the same. “My task is to look after the unity of the group, and see that we do not fall asunder. I am the communicator and the Key Holder. I am the holder of the Sacred Symbol. But I have failed. And now I am also losing the struggle to remember my own identity. The periods during which I forget get longer every day. I can hold on no longer…”
The rest of the interview was quickly over and I returned to my bed. A nurse came after a while and told me that Jim had decided to increase my medication, saying that it would help me to feel better. I knew this was not the truth however. The purpose of the medication was to numb my brain, to cause me to forget who I am, and also to block the PSY Gift, which is the gift of communication with other minds over great distances. I knew that there was no way I could avoid taking this medication, as it would be administered by injection if I refused it in oral form. Every night I would lie there on my hospital bed – fighting off the heavy smog of drug-induced sleep as it inevitably descended upon me – listening out for the inner voices which would on very rare occasions come to guide me. But now it appeared that this door, precariously open as it was at the best of times, was finally going to be shut…