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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Et in Arcadia Superego

"In broad terms, science fiction and science have always danced around each other. Science fiction is the subconscious of science. It's what scientists would do if they could...."
—Greg Bear, interview in Locus, February 2000.
I CHECKED my schedule and winced. My next patient was Mr. Science. An exceedingly tough case. Almost made me want to retire my couch. I had never faced such an intractable subject before. Although Mr. Science was plainly suffering from a myriad of repressed neuroses and their repercussions in his life, he just couldn't seem to untangle that portion of his personality that was responsible for his troubles. I had been delving into Mr. Science's subconscious for over three years now, and still hadn't made a scintilla of progress. By all textbook standards, Mr. Science and I should have been able to achieve by now at least some forward movement toward integrating his dark side, toward defusing those submerged aspects of his personality that interfered with his life. But instead, it was as if all the attention paid to his quirky subconscious only strengthened it.

I dreaded hearing what new troubles Mr. Science's neurotic behavior had caused him since our last visit. That was the way we always began our sessions, with a recounting of the pitfalls Mr. Science had dug for himself.

Unable to delay the inevitable any longer, I buzzed Mr. S. into my office.

Mr. Science was an unprepossessing sort. Neither diminutive nor strapping, neither ugly nor handsome, neither self-effacing nor charismatic, neither introverted nor extroverted, he was just average, the type of fellow you could pass on the street and simply not register one way or another. He wore, as usual, his white, stained labcoat, having come for our twice-weekly lunch-hour session straight from the nearby university where he did his research.

We shook hands and exchanged some perfunctory greetings. Then Mr. Science stretched himself out upon the couch and launched into his newest litany of woes in a troubled voice.

"I was composing a grant request for a new project yesterday. When I came to the section regarding staffing, I found myself requesting 'six mentats.' I have no actual idea as to what a 'mentat' might be, or what they might do. But it suddenly seemed imperative that I have six of them for my project to succeed."

This was utterly typical of Mr. Science's missteps and mental self-betrayals. From some deep well of the subconscious, he would dredge up the most bizarre concepts, terms and actions. I had almost given up all hope of discovering the source of these ideations, and was now reduced to grasping at conceptual straws.

"Mr. Science, perhaps you're suffering from glossolalia. You know, speaking in tongues. Or it could be Tourette's. This strange jargon you're always spouting—it could be just a neurological glitch."

Mr. Science looked thoughtful. "No, no, it's much more than that. When I wrote down 'six mentats' I had a definite conception about their abilities and character. I can't verbalize it now, but at the time it was a solid impression."

I sought to move on. "Well, if that was the worst thing that happened since our last session—"

"Oh, but it's not." A blush spread across Mr. Science's face. "Last night, I refused to have sex with my wife. We've been trying to have a child, you see, and accordingly neither one of us was using any birth-control method. But it suddenly seemed to me that my wife was a member of a humanoid alien species, and that if she got pregnant, it would mean her death, as the carnivorous baby consumed her body for its first postparturition meal."

I said nothing for a good ten seconds. Frankly, I was stupefied. I had personally heard many sexual psychoses in my career, and knew of many more through reading, but this delusion was beyond all my experience.

"What—what did your wife say to this fear of yours?"

"Oh, I couldn't tell her in so many words. So I shifted the blame to myself by claiming that I simply wasn't in kemmer yet."

"Kemmer? What is that term?"

Mr. Science looked baffled and worried. "Did I say something odd? What was it? I'm afraid I can't now recall—"

My patience reached a sudden end, and I spoke sternly. "Mr. Science, together we have been exploring your psyche for some three years now, and I don't feel we're any closer to explicating your dysfunctional behavior than we were at the start. In fact, all my dedicated months of therapy seem to have done is to make your troubles worse. It's as if having an audience has encouraged you to act out. More and more you are capitulating to your delusions. I get the sense that you actually enjoy these counterfactual forays into the world of your unfettered imagination. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if, despite a lack of clinical signs, you are not suffering from a multiple personality disorder. I suspect that I'm reaching a buried part of you that delights in the unconventional and far-out."

Mr. Science began to weep softly. "It's true, I admit it. The life of a scientist is so boring, so methodical, so frustrating. There's nothing exciting or vibrant or colorful about it. I love the subject matter of my field, but the damn scientific method and the small incremental steps it involves are stifling my soul! Not to mention the bureaucracy, the rivalries, the teaching, the dry, tedious language of the journals. I want the allure of science without the drudgery and heartless logic. I want to revel in vast vistas of time and space, to have exotic sex with oviparous Martian princesses, to travel faster than light and read minds, to have robotic best friends and converse with intelligent dogs. But I don't know how to get any of that!"

I let Mr. Science sob himself dry before I answered. "Well, now we're finally making some progress. This is most heartening. By acknowledging these impossible desires, we've finally taken a step toward banishing them. I'm afraid our fifty minutes are up now, however, Mr. Science. But I'm confident we'll take even bigger strides toward your cure the next time we meet."

After seeing the sniffling Mr. Science out the door, I returned to my desk. I opened a lower drawer, activated the ansible communicator linking me to the Sevagram in Fomalhaut, and reported that I was almost ready to close another case.

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