I finished writing Benji’s Portal more than five years ago, and almost immediately began the sequel. But it got delayed by grad school…
I’m putting the finishing touches on it now, and it will be published before the end of the month. Here’s an excerpt:
“How is my sister?”
The doctor sighed.
“Unchanged, I’m afraid,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that we don’t know why she is sick.”
“How can you not know?” he asked. “Look at her! Something serious is happening to her. But you don’t know why?”
The doctor sighed again.
“Let me tell you what we do know,” he said. “Her condition stems from a problem in her brain. It’s not related to any other system. But we can’t identify why her brain is malfunctioning.”
“Why not?” Benji pressed.
“Brain chemistry is extremely complex,” the doctor explained. “And her brain chemistry, and presumably yours, differs from what we see on Parisa. Many of the chemicals are the same, but they appear to play different roles in your brain than in ours. So we don’t have the knowledge to determine what’s normal, and therefore we have no idea what’s not normal.”
“What about mine?” Benji asked. “If you checked mine, that should show you what normal is, right?”
“It would show us what is normal,” the doctor said, “for a young man who is just beginning puberty. But we don’t know how similar that would be to a young woman who has already reached biological adulthood.”
“So what do we do?” Benji asked. “You’re saying you can’t treat her?”
The doctor sighed again, his expression pained.
“That is what I’m saying,” he confirmed. “And it’s not an answer I’m happy with, but I’m afraid we just don’t have enough knowledge about her biology. I would suggest that you take her back to your home planet, where they are familiar with what normal brain chemistry looks like for someone from your planet.”
Benji felt his heart sink. On the one hand, he welcomed the chance to go back to Earth and see his parents. But on the other, he knew that his own people’s knowledge of brain chemistry was limited. His mom had often warned that psychiatrists threw medicines at a problem rather than trying to understand it. They had no ability to measure brain chemistry. Instead, they used trial and error, as if each patient was a guinea pig. Compared to Parisa, Earth was extremely primitive when it came to psychiatry.
But it didn’t look like he had much choice. Lisa needed help, and the doctors on Parisa couldn’t help her.
“Can I spend a few minutes alone with her?” Benji asked the doctor.
The doctor glanced at Tamar, and then back at Benji.
“Of course,” he replied.
Then he and Tamar left the room, closing the door behind them.
Now alone with Lisa, Benji went to her side and took her hand.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked yet again. “And what do I do about it?”
He began to cry, deep sobs that made his chest heave.
“How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?” he lamented.
Then he heard a voice, though whether it was Lisa’s or his own, or someone else’s, he wasn’t sure.
“You’re not listening,” it said.
Benji stopped in mid sob.
“Listening to what?” he wondered.
“You’re asking a question, but you’re not listening for an answer,” the voice said. It sounded very far away.
“Okay,” Benji said in his mind. He asked again: “What is wrong with you, Lisa?”
He listened hard.
At first, he heard nothing. Then, gradually, he began to hear a whisper in his mind. As it grew louder, he recognized the voice as Lisa’s. But he couldn’t understand the meaning of her words.
“Black and white, grey and red,” Lisa said. “What happened has not happened. What I saw I did not see. What I did not see I will see again. Red and grey, white and black. Backward or forward, it is all the same.”
“Lisa?” Benji called, his mind to hers. “Lisa?”
“Benji,” she replied. “Thank God. I only can hear you a little through the noise, and I can’t see you through the colors.”
“What colors?” Benji asked.
“Black and white, grey and red,” she repeated.
“I don’t understand,” Benji said.
“Neither do I,” she replied. “Can you help me?”
Benji choked back a sob.
“I’m trying, Lisa,” he assured her. “I’m trying. But I don’t know what to do.”
“Farchedan,” she replied.
That struck him as an odd expression for her to use.
Benji emerged from the room to find the doctor and Tamar conversing together telepathically. He approached them and took their hands.
“You’re right,” he told them. “If there’s nothing you can do for Lisa here, then I should take her home. Our psychiatry is primitive compared to yours, but at least they’ll be familiar with her brain chemistry. And I don’t know what else to do. Maybe my parents will have some idea. I’m sure they’ll want to be with her, even if they don’t know how to help her. So I’m going to take her back to Earth.”
“I think that’s wise,” the doctor agreed.
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