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Crazy   1519.09.06  
Creators: Ellen Million (Writer), Mike Hebel (Patron)
Denel and Oranaan meet a cultural schools student while investigating the madness caused by anomalies.
Posted: 04/19/11      [3 Comments] ~ 1417 words.

The madhouse of Affamarg was a stone building in the city outskirts, unremarkable from the outside, except for the fact that only the offices on the top level had any windows. That, coupled with the thick brick wall that marched around it, made it look a little like a large ship in a very small pool that had been drained. It was attached, loosely, to the cultural schools building that squatted two blocks to the north, offering the students hands-on examples of the ways that mental faculty could break down. It also gave the professors a wealth of unpleasant tasks to assign to students who fell out of favor, cleaning up after those who had lost the grasp of normal bladder and bowel behavior, or feeding the unfortunates who had lost that ability.

Gliiveran was one of the few undergraduates who was there by choice, fascinated by the examples of ways that the brain could go wrong, and more fascinated by the myriad of reactions that the wardens and other students had to the poor creatures.

At some point, he had gotten used to the smell, even in the lower levels where the more violent inhabitants were kept caged and cleaning was sometime deferred for safety reasons.

Visitors did not have that advantage, and Gliiveran could hear the distaste in their voices even before he turned to observe them. A girl in scientist robes and an unexpectedly young man for the indigo science master robes he was wearing were being led by one of the stone-faced wardens to a cage that held one of the newest and most interesting inhabitants.

"A cage?" the girl said, frowning. "Is the cage really necessary? He's bound and sedated!" It did make the man look like an animal - something he needed no additional help with. Dried blood filled the scratches tracing down his face, and he twitched and blinked heavy eyes.

Gliiveran chuckled a little to himself, even as the warden gravely assured her, "Oh, yes, oses. The sedation wears off remarkably quickly, and the subject is a danger to anyone they can reach."

"With any limb," Gliiveran added. He'd gotten kicked during a wild flail, observing the man the day prior, and the bruise on his shin had come in almost yellow. "You'd be surprised how fast he can still move."

The warden moved off down the hall with a nod. "Knock at the door when you're ready to leave."

"If they don't sedate them, you know, they will struggle until they dislocate their joints," Gliiveran said. "And if they aren't bound, they'll kill themselves clawing at their faces and necks until they bleed to death." This was the third of his type that had come in since Gliiveran had first started haunting the sanitarium. None of them lived more than a week.

The girl - she was a young woman, Gliiveran realized, just short of stature and innocent-looking - shivered. She didn't look comfortable here, in the unsavory bowels of the madhouse, and no wonder. "I'm Denel," she introduced herself, clearly seeking distraction from the less savory subject. She had straight brown hair over her shoulders and Gliiveran immediately noticed her shyness and the way she flinched when someone down the hall from them screamed. The man beside her, staring at the bound creature in fascination, was familiar. Oranaan was considered one of the most brilliant rising scientists in engineering and time theory studies, and his face was frequently illustrated on the cover pages of the rags - legitimate and gray alike. His inspired modifications to the Ibabesh power mills had made almost as much splash as his gambling exploits. One of Gliiveran's classmates had done a paper on the pressure of genius, and used Oranaan as one of his examples.

"I'm Gliiveran," he offered in return, and Oranaan gave an unaffected wave, still staring through the bars into the tiny enclosure where the insane man lay on a padded blanket. "What brings you to these depths?"

Denel immediately glanced at Oranaan, an interesting gesture of automatic subservience, with just a hint of irritation.

Oranaan cheerfully explained, "We're trying to figure out what's going on at the City of Lights."

The City of Lights was supposed to be a herald of the greatness of the Empire. Instead, it had turned into a political disaster, with unexplained acts of destruction that the scientists were scrambling to understand. Usually, everyone at the site of what they were calling 'anomalies' was killed, but occasionally, there were survivors. Even more occasionally, they lived through the violent madness that immediately took them and could be restrained before they killed themselves... or someone else. No glimmer of the man that this patient had been remained in the drawn features, though his file documented him as a jolly, well-adjusted laborclass worker. Gliiveran handed a copy of that file to Denel.

"I'm not sure what we'll learn here," Denel said, almost apologetically, taking it and flipping through.

"The anomalies cause this madness," Oranaan said. "Maybe there's some clue we can get from the people who survive." He was already pulling tools out of a leather case, and putting a strange metal contraption with wires and braces together.

"What's that?"

"Magnetic resonance detector," Oranaan said. "I designed it myself. I want to see if there is a disruption in the magnetic field around him, causing his madness."

"You might want to stand back a little," Denel said wryly, taking several steps away. "He's very good at making things blow up."

"There's nothing explosive here," Oranaan said, defensive.

"You've said that before," Denel said with the patience of experience. "What brings you here?"

The last was to Gliiveran, who took an exaggerated long step back to join her. "I'm a cultural schools student," he explained. "Assistant," he added, because he wasn't wearing his robes. "I've got a proposal in to my mentor to do a thesis on audience reactions to scripted mental disabilities." He watched Oranaan with interest -- in contrast to the young man's careless slump and wild hair, his fingers were very nimble and precise on the little device he was putting together, and his tight focus was fascinating. Gliiveran felt a bit of a thrill, being able to observe the famous young Science Master at this range.

Denel raised an eyebrow at him, dissecting his sentence. "You plan to act crazy to see what people do?"

Gliiveran gave her a second look. There was a glimmer of intelligence to her eyes, easy to miss behind her deference.

"I came from a family of actors," he said. "It seemed like an interesting thesis topic."

"You want to prove you can act despite not being an actor like the rest of your family?" Oranaan guessed, not looking up from his fiddling.

Denel made a noise of disapproval, and when Gliiveran glanced at her, gave him a subtle shrug of apology, rolling her eyes.

Oranaan snapped the last piece into place and spun up a moving cylinder using a hand crank, waving the little machine around in the air in front of the barred room. A needle attached to a dial bobbed about a little, and he made an adjustment, then pointed the machine at the empty hallway, then at the two of them, fiddling with knobs.

Denel held her ground without hesitation, so Gliiveran did, too, taking the opportunity to watch Oranaan's animated face; he had more expressions in a few moments than most actors mastered in a career. He clearly didn't find what he was looking for, and went a few paces to the next cage, where a naked girl was rocking in a corner muttering to herself. He tried a handful of other subjects, and a light fixture, and a plumbing junction, before giving up in dejection.

He dismantled the machine in fewer moments than it took to assemble, muttering about sensitivities and field strengths. Denel picked up a part that he dropped, and pressed it back into the case delicately.

"This really ought to work," Oranaan insisted. "I think I just have to adjust a few... oh, maybe it's... what time is it?"

Without waiting for an answer, he crammed the half-packed case together and dashed down the hall.

"It was nice to meet you," Denel said politely, picking up a tool that Oranaan had dropped. She laughed unexpectedly, eyes dancing, before hurrying away after the science master. "And if you ever need to observe crazy, I'm sure you could drop Oranaan a card."

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Characters Featured:
Oranaan, Denel,

Story collections:
It's Not Magic, It's Science!
The Invisible Menace
The Experiment
A High, Strange Home
All Empire Stories and Art
Smoke in the Wind

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