By Princess Artemis
I Walk in Desperate Silence
Janine watched the four guys tromp down the stairs for their newest job, and the look on Egon's face just about made her blood boil. It was hardly anything overt, but to her eyes, it could not have been any more obvious. He wore that subtle yet ice-cold expression that fairly screamed stay away'. It was an outward show of passive-aggression perfected as an art and polished to its highest sheen. It made her want to kick his teeth in. She clenched her teeth and thrust the paper with the address and job information into Peter's face. "Here," she growled.
"Whoa, what's gotten into you, Janine?" Peter asked, surprised.
"Nothing, Dr. V," she snapped, her venomous stare never leaving Egon's face. She knew that look just as well as she knew that if Egon had turned it on her when they first met she would have never given him the time of day again. It was the very fact that he never did, no matter how uncomfortable he was, that encouraged her to keep after him as she did. I'm gonna kill you, Spengler, she seethed, and it would have been hard to miss the sentiment for her face so eloquently expressed it.
Peter gave her a sidelong glance, trying to size up just what had infuriated her. He stole a quick look at Egon, the apparent object to which her anger pointed, but he didn't see any reason for it there. He was just standing there examining his fingernails. Janine turned her fiery glare to the psychologist, eyes ablaze and just daring him to push his luck. Peter put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. He took the work order from Janine's clenched fingers with all the trepidation due a man dealing with the fury of a woman scorned. Ray and Winston wisely practiced the better part of valor and kept their mouths shut.
As soon as Peter took the paper, Janine turned on her heels and stalked out of the room, unwilling to stay in a certain physicist's presence any longer. She wanted very badly to perpetrate grievous violence on him, maim him maybe. She also wanted to keep her job, so as soon as she left the garage area of the firehouse, she found the nearest thing not bolted down and focused all her anger into it, hurling it across the room. It connected with several glass drinking cups, which broke with a deeply satisfying shattering sound, strewing tiny slivers of glass all across the room. After Egon's open display of affection yesterday and his sudden and complete shutout today... It was enough to drive anyone batty. Maybe she was being over-sensitive...nope, nope, that wasn't it. It was plain as day to her, an accomplished Egon-observer, that he was giving her the brush-off. It was decided. She was gonna kill him. She was just going to have to kill him.
"Yow," Dr. Stantz breathed as soon as Janine left the room. As one, Winston, Ray, and Peter cringed when they heard the glasses shatter. Egon was pointedly ignoring the whole thing.
"Oh boy, I don't even want to know what you did to get her so mad, Egon," Winston commented as the four walked to Ecto-1.
"I didn't do anything," the man in question replied quickly.
Peter shook his head. He didn't know what it was, but something had happened, he was sure of it. "Like hell you didn't. Janine doesn't usually mentally tear you limb from limb, you know." He grinned malevolently as he opened the rear passenger side door of Ecto-1. "Usually she's mentally—"
Winston smacked Peter on the head before he could finish that particular statement. Peter shot the dark-skinned man an injured look. "I wasn't gonna say anything bad," he protested.
"Right," Winston replied, a very knowing look on his face as he slipped into the shotgun seat of the vehicle. "And pigs fly."
"I've actually seen flying pigs," Ray added good-naturedly from the driver's seat. He turned the ignition and started out of the garage in his usual zero to sixty in three point one nanoseconds.
"Anyway," Peter sighed, trying to return to the subject at hand, oblivious from long practice to Ray's madman driving, "you did something to set her off, Egon." After a moment's mulling over of his previous observations, he realized what might have been the problem. It wasn't at all clear to him, but he supposed Janine would have seen it easily enough. "You were bein' kinda cool to Janine."
Egon cast the same heavily guarded look at Peter as he had given Janine. It wasn't precisely a look, as their eyes never met; it was more of a studied indifference. The total effect made Peter feel right around three inches high and meaningless to Egon. Peter blinked, somewhat taken aback. "Damn, you can be cold when you want to be." Now that the expression was aimed at him, he could easily imagine Janine's fury. He had to fight the urge to react to the expression as it deserved as well as struggle to keep in mind that Egon couldn't possibly mean in his heart what he expressed in his face.
He succeeded, but only by the narrowest margins. Even so, Peter's bearing was defensive. "So, are you gonna tell us what happened yesterday or what?"
"It won't happen again," Egon stated somewhat forcefully. Again there was that strange note of certainty in his voice. Every single nuance of his body language told Peter to back the hell off.
Peter's expression darkened considerably, but after a moment of effort, he calmed himself somewhat. He was a psychologist by training and claming up tight and raising shields like that was to his training as blood in the water was to sharks. Not that he generally compared psychologists to sharks...Lawyers are sharks, not psychologists, he thought to himself. "How do you know it won't?" he asked as carefully as possible.
Egon's lips thinned to a barely visible white line. He didn't answer for a long moment. "It won't," he restated forcefully, then turned to look out the window.
"Egon, you're gonna have to talk about it sometime. You can't pretend it didn't happen, and you can't assume it was a one-time thing. We need to get to the bottom of this."
For a long moment the blond physicist was silent. Barely perceptible even to Peter, one of his closest friends, was a faint in turning, an introspective expression on Egon's face. To the obstinately defensive look was added a faint, cool, almost calculating one. Somehow it made Peter singularly uncomfortable. When it passed, Peter was positive he didn't like the look that replaced it.
Egon turned a stony glare at the man sitting next to him. Still, their eyes never quite met. "Keep your vapid, amateurish psychobabble to yourself," he growled. "Your witless attempts to divine something behind my words are pointless. I said it would not happen again, I said I was fine, and I don't think I have to remind you which of us has the greater understanding of what is real in this world."
Peter bristled; if he had been a cat, his ears would be flattened tight against his skull. In fact he nearly growled. Ray let out a low whistle and exchanged a surprised glance with Winston. "Amateurish psychobabble?! I'm not an amateur!" Peter declared hotly, picking only one facet of Egon's harsh statement to react to. It was a rare day indeed that he felt as insulted and belittled as he did now.
Egon's voice was cool, hard as flint, and just as sharp. "The only reason you ever practiced was to shack up with vulnerable women."
Peter's jaw dropped. Now he was fuming. His hands turned to fists and he clenched his teeth. He was easily angry enough to deck Egon, and it was only by an iron will that he didn't do just that. All he wanted to do was help! And this is how his so-called best friend repaid him? "Go to hell, Egon."
All Peter got in response was a very subtle sneer. Then Egon turned to look out the window, making it abundantly clear that he would not speak anymore. The way he was acting was a complete shock, nearly unprecedented in their long relationship, and Peter had no idea what to do with it. At the moment, however, he was far too angry to care.
"Man, who pissed in his cornflakes? I don't think I've ever seen Egon that surly," Winston said under his breath, just loud enough so only Ray could hear. The two were unloading their proton packs from the rear of Ecto-1 while Peter was talking to the person who called and Egon was taking readings. "He wasn't that nasty when Walter Peck blew the containment unit, was he?"
"I don't think so, although he did try to strangle Pecker...He's definitely never been that mean to me. I have an idea; let's lay low and watch him...maybe we can puzzle out what's bothering him." Ray hefted his pack onto his back and buckled the waist strap.
Winston nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me." He didn't mention what they both knew: that laying low would give Egon no chance to flambé them verbally.
Egon watched his blinking PKE meter without really seeing it. He regretted snapping at Peter and the way he had acted to Janine. It was no way to treat people he cared about, and the justifications he made to himself were flimsy at best. But the shame and violation he felt was deep enough that he wanted to forget about it, hide it at all costs. If he acted as if it was really there, then he would have to deal with it, talk about it...feel it. Really feel it.
And then there was Reason.
So he felt he had no choice but to fend off Peter and Janine's prying (or perceptiveness). And if he needed to be on the offensive to do it, then he must offend. Even if he hated to hurt them...
Egon sighed faintly, heaviness weighing hard on him. Secrets...it was the weight of dark secrets; he had kept them before this day, but today he knew no more how to handle them than he had when he first kept the terror of the Bogeyman sealed away. That he had never learned.
Peter's voice, tight with barely suppressed anger, finally snapped Egon's reverie. "Are you gonna do your job or what, Dr. Spengler? Or is that asking too much?"
Egon wrinkled his nose and shot Peter an irritated look. Then he looked at the PKE meter beeping in his hand, seeing it this time. He jabbed a finger in the direction of the ghost they were hired to catch. "Class four," he snapped.
Peter glared at him in return then headed off in the direction Egon had indicated. Winston and Ray tried to look like they didn't notice the hostility as they followed. Egon followed as well, but slower. They were walking down a narrow hallway into what was probably a dining room. He was several steps behind the others when he heard Peter make a crack about a tacky light fixture and the distinct sound of proton fire.
Just as he was about to take in hand the business end of his particle accelerator, Egon felt the unpleasant hand of Reason on his arm. Not now...what now...?
But Reason's voice was kind. Dost thou think I would leave thee unprotected? Thou art my son and I shall always be with thee.
Egon stood very still, shaking, anticipating the worst. But it never came. He almost felt the spirit grinning behind him.
Do not fear, my son... I will not hurt thee. No, I have come to give thee thy desires...
The physicist was quiet. He didn't believe Reason's words; he was no fool...but it would be wrong to say he wasn't in the least curious. Something in the corner of his mind felt drawn to the creature, not overpoweringly so, although he now knew how dangerous it was. What would Reason think were his desires?
Just this: the chance to lay aside those unfortunate and unpleasant feelings...the ones that cause you to hurt your friends and dim your clarity...
Another part of him whispered for him to ignore the perilous beast behind him, but still Egon listened; he felt as though he had no other option...and there was still that bit of curiosity. Reason had already established its power...and without warning, the dark one demonstrated it again. Not as before: this time, the ugly sensations that Egon had been struggling to ignore and hide came bubbling up like a black ocean tide. Very keen and sharp was the violation that led to shame, the anger, rage impotent in the face of weakness...not a one induced, not one a feeling never experienced before. And it hurt, oh how it hurt...
Egon shut his eyes tightly, trying to hold back stinging tears. He couldn't ignore it anymore... He couldn't gather together enough of the tiny scraps of his usual defenses. And again, for a second, a flash, but a longer this time, his weakness cried out for the flood of hurt to be taken away.
He felt Reason grin behind him. I think you know what you must do...
He did, somehow he did. And this time it didn't seem quite so disturbing, quite so repulsive. With shaking hands, Egon reached into his pocket and withdrew the small knife he carried with him. He quickly opened it and pushed up the sleeve of his jumpsuit, revealing the bottom of his upper arm. Biting his lip and bracing himself for the pain he knew he would feel, he made a short, clean cut, leaving the tip of the sharp knife in it for a moment. No blood dripped from the small wound so long as the knife was there for that very blade drank it as thirstily as the whetstone had absorbed it.
The blade seemed to sop up the overpowering darkness of emotion as well. When that tide had receded so far that it was not even so much as a black spot on the horizon, Egon withdrew the knife and closed it. There was no need to wipe it clean, but now the cut bled more freely. He pushed his sleeve down over it; blood stained his cuff, but not in any copious amount. It would not be difficult to explain away...
Now this is my gift for thy desire. Do thus as you see fit—I will always protect thee. Shortly thereafter, the darkening presence of Reason evaporated.
For a long moment the physicist just stood there, examining the strange sensation of having his secret emotions under lock and key. For now they could not escape, and he need not try to suppress them. There was something strangely pleasant about it...yet at the same time he felt the weight had not disappeared; instead it was heavier than before. For the moment, he could barely feel the crack that now ran the length of his soul...now merely a hair's breadth, but present nevertheless.
And so it was that Egon did not quite recognize the heaviness and compromise for what it was in truth: the bite of the trap that had closed on him and sealed his fate.
"Get your butt in here and help us!" Peter fairly shouted at the lagging physicist. He was in no mood to put up with Egon's stupid games at the moment. Whatever he had found that was so fascinating would just have to wait.
"I'm coming," Egon stated with surprising calm over the sudden and sharp crackling noise of proton energy. Startled, Peter spared a glance in his direction. He had been expecting controlled anger, not unruffled composure.
Winston's proton stream traced a long, swooping arc as it followed the speedy Class Four across the ceiling. The little beast's trajectory intersected with the chain holding up the small and indescribably ugly chandelier over the dining table; the ex-soldier realized it too late. "In coming!" he shouted as the chain broke under the neutronizing fire and the fixture began to fall.
All four Ghostbusters ducked under the table and cringed as the chandelier shattered over their heads, sending hundreds of faceted glass pendants and thousands of shards in every direction. It might have been a small chandelier, but it sure made a big mess. After the impact, the four scrambled out from under the table and scanned the room for the offending spirit. Egon checked his meter and pointed in another direction. Wordlessly, the four moved out of the dining room and into the kitchen, glass crunching under their boots.
They found the ghost easily enough; like Slimer, it seemed to have a voracious appetite and was quickly cleaning out the cupboards. Ray raised a finger to his lips, indicating his desire for quiet. Then he slowly unhooked a trap from his belt and tiptoed over to a cabinet from which issued many horribly disgusting munching noises. The door was closed, but also shaking. He lifted the trap up so the doors faced the cabinet. Without opening the cabinet or making a sound, Ray pressed the trap switch against his leg, activating it. The ghost screamed in horror, caught completely unawares, as it was sucked into the container. The lid snapped shut and the full indicator light began to blink.
"Nice goin', Ray," Winston congratulated while the younger occultist flashed a thumbs up sign.
"At least we didn't trash the kitchen," Peter commented as he holstered his rifle, "I don't think the owners will be too happy with their dining room."
The four made their way out, walking gingerly over the broken glass as they passed through the dining room. They met their client at the door. Peter wrote out the bill and handed it to him.
The client looked the bill over and reached into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet. "What was that awful noise? Did the chandelier fall?"
"Uh...," Peter muttered, unsure what to say. He hadn't thought it a terrible loss; the thing was hideous, but it was just the sort of thing an owner would love. "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Oh no! It's quite all right!" the man assured him, "I've been looking for an excuse to remove that horrid thing; the missus loves it and wouldn't let me take it down. Now I can redecorate." With that, he wrote out the check and handed it to Peter with a lopsided smile. "I tacked on a little extra for services rendered."
Peter examined the check; it was for three hundred dollars over the bill amount. The dark-haired psychologist blinked and checked again, just to be sure, then broke out into a satisfied grin. "Thank you sir. Glad to be of service."
With a wave, the man walked back into his house. The four waved back and then took their leave. After stowing their proton packs, they all piled into Ecto-1, Peter making a point of riding shotgun so he didn't have to sit next to Egon. Although the extra three hundred dollars had lifted his spirits considerably, he was still pretty pissed at the blond man.
Ray was the one who received that honor. To him, the physicist seemed less prickly, much less than he had been on the ride over. The younger man watched Egon for a moment, then caught sight of the pink cuff of his jumpsuit.
"What happened? You're bleeding!" Ray cried in shock. Egon looked down at his arm and blinked, as if seeing the smallish stain for the first time. He took a closer look, pushing back the sleeve slightly.
"I must have cut myself on a piece of glass from the dining room," he said calmly. "It isn't too bad." There wasn't even a trace of his earlier surliness; he sounded perfectly normal.
Peter turned around and took a good, long look at Egon. "What's with you today, Mr. Mood-Swing? Not twenty minutes ago you snapped my head off and handed it to me on a platter! What gives?"
Egon dipped his head and said with the same calm, "I apologize for that. It was inexcusable."
Dr. Venkman blinked his green eyes a few times, unsure what to make of this strange turn. He was glad Egon wasn't in a snit anymore, but something about his new-and-improved mood just struck him wrong. "Well, ah...yeah, thanks. Maybe when we get back home you might be willing to unzip your lip for a bit?"
"Perhaps," the blond man said.
Winston stole a glance at Ray, who just raised his eyebrows. Both of them silently agreed that they would not let up on their vigilance.
It didn't take them long to return to the firehouse, and as soon as they pulled in, all four of them shot out of the Ecto-1 and were about to fly up the stairs for lunch. The stormy look on a certain redhead's face as she stood in their way like an avenging goddess was enough to stop them all in their tracks. Her fiery stare would have stopped a charging bull.
She stood with her hands on her hips, casting her gaze about until she found what she sought. Her glare settled on Egon, who was at least looking her in the eye this time. The heat of her look should have been enough to bore holes through his head, but such wasn't the case. Egon regarded her very calmly, very collected. Of course, this just made Janine angrier. Before she could read him whatever riot act she had prepared in their absence, Egon stepped over to her and looked her in the eye. His voice one of complete calm, he said, "I owe you an apology, Janine. I should not have been so distant to you this morning. It was unconscionable and I apologize for hurting you like that."
Janine sputtered for a moment. The wind fell from her sails just like that, and it irritated her immensely. "Well, ah...that's right. You do owe me an apology." She shifted her feet and tapped a toe, then dropped one hand from her waist. She was having a hard time staying mad. Why did he have to be so blasted reasonable?! No other words presented themselves, so she left it at that, stalking away.
Peter shook his head, startled again by the change in Egon's attitude. He walked over to Egon's side and searched his face, perhaps hoping he could find an answer there. Then he straightened and asked, "Mind clueing us in?"
Before Egon could answer, the telephone rang, and Janine picked it up in a huff, shouting her usual pleasant greeting of, "Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?"
Peter prepared to follow her, but stopped. Curiosity as to what was going on with Egon far outweighed any desire to find out what the call was about. Patience wearing thin, Peter said somewhat loudly, "So? Spit it out, Spengs!" Both Ray and Winston listened quietly.
Egon looked down at the shorter man and exhaled a sigh through his teeth. "I should have told you about this sooner," he began calmly. "You know it's not easy for me to talk about things like that."
"You mean when your brains decided to take a vacation?" Peter said, attempting to pin down just what Egon was talking about.
The blond man didn't respond except to pause before he continued. "It took me a while to come to deal with it. It doesn't bother me now. How I acted this morning was an inexcusable symptom of my temporary inability to come to terms with what I did...I apologize for that."
Winston rolled his eyes and exchanged a glance with Ray, who was frowning slightly. Clearly, neither one was prepared to believe what they felt was a sizable fish story. Peter puffed loudly and said, "OK, got it. Now do you feel like letting good ol' Pete know why this all happened? We know it wasn't paranormal, and I for one refuse to think it might have an organic cause. Do you know why it happened?"
Egon pushed his glasses back up his nose and continued with an almost uncanny composure, "It did have a paranormal cause. The winged pillar we found in the old subway tunnel precipitated it; however, it is certainly possible that my own psychological condition continued it. I assure you, it will not happen again. Now I must finish something I left in the lab from a few nights ago." He turned on his heel and walked up the stairs, leaving three surprised Ghostbusters in his wake.
While Ray knitted his brow in thought, Peter blinked several times then finally shut his mouth, which had dropped open sometime during Egon's explanation. All of a sudden, he grabbed his hair as if to tear it out and stomped his feet in an over-wrought display of frustration. "Argh! Gah!" he cried in hysterics.
"I'm with you, man. Homeboy's sure got a way about him sometimes," Winston said in a long-suffering tone. Ray nodded his agreement, looking up after their sometimes-strange companion retreating up the stairs.
Janine set the phone down and walked back to the three remaining men. "What's goin' on, Dr. V?"
Peter let go of his hair and jabbed a finger toward the stairs, huffing and glaring, his shoulders hunched in complete bafflement. "That man has got to be the most bizarre person to walk this Earth! He can say everything, explain nothing, and mean something else entirely!"
"Tell me something I didn't know, Dr. V."
"One way or another, we've got our work cut out for us," Ray sighed. "I'll see if I can find something at the library about those pillar things. There must be something written down about them."
Peter finally dropped his over done act and said, "Yeah...I guess I'll whip out the old Ph.D., see what's got Egon's brains in a blender. After what he just said, and how he said it, I'm even more concerned."
Janine frowned. "Much as I'd like you to shrink Egon's head, there's a job for you. The ambassador from Outer Mongolia or heaven knows where has a ghost haunting his official motorcade. The mayor said he'd have your buns in a sling if you didn't get on it pronto."
"Ah great, just great. The ambassador from Timbuktu can't wait for the troubles of us lowly peons," Peter muttered.
"You guys go on, I'll go to the library," Ray offered. "Although I can't say I believe either of those pillars were involved...they both fried our PKE meters, and we should have picked up residuals at least if one had affected Egon so strongly."
"I don't know what to think. Let's just get Egon down here and go. We can talk about it on the way," Winston insisted as he started getting into Ecto-1.
"OK, OK...duty calls," Peter sighed. To Egon he called, "Hey Spengs! His highness the mayor of New York demands our presence! Come on!"
A few minutes later three Ghostbusters were on their way to save the city's honor, while one cajoled their secretary into taking him to the library.
Stumbling under the weight of many old, dust-covered books, Ray Stantz picked his way to the polished oak table he and Janine had taken. He could barely see where he was going, but undaunted, he let his long familiarity with the library guide him. Finally reaching his objective, he unloaded the tomes onto the table with a loud thump. Several books tumbled from the top of the stack, kicking up clouds of ancient library dust. When the small literary avalanche came to a standstill and after both Janine and Ray had stopped sneezing, Ray took his seat. He leaned over and gathered up a few books that had fallen to the floor.
Wiping her nose, Janine asked, "What exactly are we looking for, Ray?"
As he opened one of the large books, he answered, "Any record of ghost sightings in the abandoned subway tunnels we visited the other day, any mention in any literature of tall pillars with wings, of a creature going by the name Reason... Instances of unexplained acute loss of cognitive ability...anything."
Janine's shoulders slumped. "Ray, we're never gonna find anything like that. It'll take forever!"
Ray shrugged a bit. "It'll be difficult...but I don't think it will be impossible. There has to be something mentioned about it. Things like that don't just happen."
"They do to Egon," Janine muttered as she opened a particularly dusty book about obscure mythology.
The redhead had something there. The truly odd, the crème de la crème of the bizarre always seemed to take a shine to Egon Spengler. Why that was had never been explained, and not through lack of trying. So many hypotheses lay dead or dying in the firehouse lab...it was frustrating in a way. Egon never complained about it, at least not that Ray heard, but he knew it must wear on the physicist. If nothing else, the insurance premiums alone could ruin a man.
"Granted," Ray said. "But...even when things do just happen to him, they have a reason...I mean, they aren't inexplicable."
Janine began turning pages in her book. "It's going to take us til Doomsday. Do we even have a place to start?"
Opening another book and leafing through the pages, Ray answered unhappily, "Just what I said. We don't have anything more specific."
After several hours pouring over books so esoteric and arcane they made Janine's head hurt, the two were no closer to a solution than when they began. There was quite literally nothing in the literature, anywhere, about a god named Reason that shaped itself like a winged pillar. There were more references than Janine or Ray could count for gods and goddesses of reason, rational thought, rational war, rational this that and the other, but no Reason.
"I'm beginning to think this...Reason'...is just a name it came up for itself," Ray said as he closed one more book.
"But there's still no winged pillars, unless you count caducei and things like that. And those were symbols, not actual beings," Janine said. "Nothing like you described."
Ray rubbed his head. "I know, I know...there has to be some explanation we just aren't seeing," he grumped. "And it's not like we can think inside the box' very often in our line of work." He slumped and shoved the book away. "Maybe it's a trickster coming up with new tricks. I guess even for an ancient trickster the old stuff must get boring."
"Like Coyote changing his fur, huh?" Janine asked. "Trading it in for feathers."
"Yeah," Ray said, not sounding entirely convinced even though it was his own idea. "That still doesn't explain the lack of PKE readings."
Janine sat back in her chair. "There's nothing you guys have come up against you couldn't read?"
"Well...yeah, there has...but nothing that blew two of our meters the first time we came across it and then didn't even blip the next time. If there even was a next time, like Egon said."
"When did he say was the next' time?"
Ray sat up suddenly. "You know, he never did! Maybe it was when our meters were off." He paused for a while, then slumped back again. "No, the next time had to have been when we were busting the poltergeists. Something with readings like Reason gave off would have shown up if it didn't toast our meters first. Unless tricksters can now make undetectable time bomb' tricks." He snorted slightly at the idea, even as it took root in a corner of his mind. "I doubt that. PKE is associated with nearly everything. Even human biorhythms are psycho-kinetically based. Still, I suppose I oughta pursue it."
Janine sat in silence as she watched Ray think. He was drumming his fingers against the table, looking away at nothing in particular. He was obviously frustrated. "I hate to say it, but it must be psychological. That's the only thing that wouldn't show up on our meters."
"What, so you guys are going to have to corner Egon and make him fess up or something?" Janine asked, mildly perturbed.
"I guess so. Something like that. That's not my field though. I suppose I could do something that is in my field. At the very least I could do a Tarot or astrological reading on him, or get someone who's better at it than I am to do one."
Janine shrugged. "Might as well try it. Obviously the history books aren't any good."
So the two left the library after returning most of the books to the restricted section and getting their collateral back, then went to one of Ray's occult contacts, after picking up a bite to eat. She usually went by the name of Raven Silverfox, but to Ray, who was a good friend, she was Jennifer. Ray didn't explain anything at first, just let Jennifer set out the cards, but as she did, Ray could tell this was going to be as blind an alley as every other one they'd gone down. He wasn't an expert reader, but once the cards were out, he didn't really need Jennifer to tell him that Egon's reading was pretty much standard fare for a man in his profession. Many contacts with the spirit world, check, continued interpersonal conundrums with the secretary, check, more exploding experiments, check. Janine frowned about the interpersonal conundrums with the secretary' bit.
Ray asked, "So there's nothing hiding in there anywhere about contacts with deities, demigods, or anything of that nature?"
Jennifer shook her head. "Not at all. Every now and again I do readings on you guys just in case I can track something big before it happens, but no, there's nothing. This is a very normal reading for Egon."
Ray rubbed his head. After a moment, he explained in fairly good detail what had been going on, and Jennifer looked quite surprised. "I can try again I guess. It might be better to try something else though." So she did—Janine, Ray, and Jennifer spent a few more hours trying just about everything in the book, and several things not in the book, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. They even tried readings for the other three Ghostbusters, but that too came up with a great big nothing. The only reading that turned up anything interesting was for Slimer, of all creatures, and that only told them what they already knew: he was terrified and convinced of the arrival of a very evil ghost. Nothing could tease out any other reference to the evil ghost scaring Slimer; in fact from the gathered evidence and further readings it looked like he was making it up. By the time they were finished, it was quite dark.
"Man, it really is like it never happened!" Ray growled in frustration. "Nothing in the books, nothing on the meters, nothing here either!"
Jennifer said, "You know, if what you said really happened...if there is a god we don't know about out there as powerful as you say, he could be mucking up my readings."
Ray's face fell. "Maybe. But I'd think if there was, we'd catch it on our meters." He shuffled his feet a little and pulled out his PKE meter. "Sorry, but I was scanning, just in case there was something messing with your magic. But it doesn't look like there was anything out of the ordinary."
"Oh. Well, don't worry about it," Jennifer said. "Sensible precaution I suppose."
"Thanks for the help," Ray said.
With that, Ray and Janine left Jennifer's house, and climbed back into Janine's car. "You know," she said, "I'm getting really tired hearing nothing'."
"I am too," Ray agreed. "It's obviously not nothing. And now I'm even more concerned. Something that can slip by science AND magic?"
Janine turned on the ignition. "Maybe it is psychological like you said. Something that hard science and magic can't ferret out. Something just good old regular human interaction can find."
Ray sighed. Even to someone as exuberant as him, trying to figure out what was up and striking out in two of his specialties was a harsh blow. That if nothing else convinced him that whatever Reason was, it had nothing to do with Egon's recent odd behavior, no matter what Egon himself said about it.
The bust involving the ambassador from Some Tiny Country Not Big Enough To Be On The Map had gone quite easily, mere routine, and afforded Winston and Peter no time to do any serious prying on Egon, nor even attend to the proper acquisition of lunch. In fact, it had taken such a short time that Peter, Winston, and Egon returned to the firehouse hours before Ray and Janine did, leaving them all with hopefully a little free time.
Winston volunteered to make lunch, thereby guaranteeing no Spengleresque culinary delights' nor something slapped together as fast as possible. Peter was too busy thinking to make anything worth eating right then.
So while Winston fixed up some subs, Peter and Egon watched the television. Carefully watching Egon out of the corner of his eye, Peter flipped through the TV Guide. "Oh, Ray'll be disappointed," he said, in actual surprise, spotting a listing.
"Why?" Egon asked.
Peter held up the TV Guide and pointed to the listing. "Hell of a time to start it, before most kids are out of school, but there's a Murray the Mantis marathon on right now." After a beat, Peter snatched the remote and changed the channel. "Well, hopefully he'll get home in time to catch the tail end of it."
Egon gave Peter a sour look. "Any particular reason you want to watch it?"
Feigning innocence, Peter said, "I thought you liked Murray the Mantis. Just trying to be nice to my fellow colleagues."
"I have no desire to watch such childish entertainment," Egon replied, with a slight hint of real anger.
Peter arched an eyebrow and changed the channel to a game show. "Didn't mean to make ya mad, Egon." This was not strictly true; Peter was actually trying to provoke his tall colleague, just a bit, to see how he would react. He was interested in how long Egon's aggravating calm would last.
Apparently, it wasn't destined to be for a great deal of time. Ruffled, Egon stated, "You need not offer anything like it again."
"Touchy, touchy," Peter mumbled, watching the game show.
"I am not touchy," Egon growled.
Peter tapped a finger against his knee. "You haven't been having any odd dreams lately, have you?" he asked conversationally, albeit well off topic.
Frowning slightly, Egon stood up and said, "If you will excuse me, Doctor Venkman, I must use the facilities." With that, Egon stalked out of the room.
Looking at his fingernails, Peter said to himself, "There's one reason not to practice on your friends. They can tell."
A moment later, Winston came in with a plate stacked full of hoagies. He set the plate down on the table and then sat himself in one of the ratty chairs. "Lunch is served," he said, grabbing a sandwich for himself.
"Thanks, man," Peter said quietly, reaching for a sub.
"What's up?" Winston asked after he finished a bite.
Peter nibbled on his sandwich and said, "His Moodiness is too quick for me."
"You were trying to sneak in a head shrinking while he wasn't looking?" Winston asked, mildly amused. "You know you can't do that with any of us."
"Yeah, yeah. But I wanted to give it a try anyway...gotta see what's got him in such a weird mood."
"Maybe you should wait until Ray and Janine come back. They mighta found something."
"Hopefully. He did say it was partly because of the things in the subway." Peter flicked the channel back to the cartoon marathon.
Winston groaned. "Why this?" He pointed at the TV with his sandwich.
"Ray would never forgive me if I didn't give him a blow-by-blow. Besides, call it Venkman-style psychology."
"I don't even wanna know."
Egon paced back and forth in the restroom, not having had any intention at all of coming there for the usual reasons. He knew Peter was trying to pry something out of him, and as the day had gone on, he found it harder and harder to contemplate telling him, or anyone, about what had happened the day before.
It did remind thee of things outside thy desire...
Egon hissed through his teeth, not feeling any strong wish to deal with Reason at the moment either.
I am right, though, aren't I. Reason set a shadowy hand on Egon's, a soft touch that felt to the man like a mockery of everything human contact should be.
He snatched his hand away, getting angrier by the moment. "Yes," he ground out. Peter's bringing up the subject of children's cartoons seemed to have inordinately upset the physicist. He was certain all three of his colleagues knew he hadn't had the happiest childhood around, and he knew Peter had only brought it up so he could ferret out some kind of answer. Unfortunately, Egon had lied in the first place—the answer was all with Reason, and not with him.
Again he felt Reason's touch, feather light. It seemed the dark god was in a gracious mood now, if the lack of an attack on Egon's mind was any indication. Is it so much to ask for thy desires? Reason asked softly.
"It's repulsive," Egon stated, quiet, but with heat. Still, he fingered the knife in his pocket. Contemplating a little blood loss to appease the dark creature was getting easier.
He felt the spirit near him shrug in resignation. If you, my son, doth not wish for my gifts, I will understand. I am not forcing the issue. The hand was withdrawn, and Egon felt Reason edge a hair's breadth away.
Suddenly fear leapt up in the pit of Egon's stomach. Although Reason had made no inner motion, not yet committed any violence upon him, Egon was afraid. It might. There was nothing stopping it, and he didn't trust the spirit. "You don't mean it. You are a liar." He braced himself for an assault that never came.
You wound me, son. I am no liar! When hath I lied to thee? All I have done is shown thee by signs that I am verily thy god. Were they lies, were those signs lies? Is it not you that hath lied?
Were they lies...violent demonstrations of power that gouged at his mind, were they lies? Egon leaned against the sink, the knife clasped hard in his hand, his eyes shut tight. The banishment on the rage, the shame, it was wearing off, but it didn't feel as though Reason were taking it away. No, the feelings were surfacing naturally. He tried his best to ignore them, and he succeeded on his own somewhat. But the question posed remained, and so the feelings the question engendered would not be held back for long. It was right though; he had lied about Reason to his friends. Slowly, near whispering, Egon said, "You have demonstrated that your power is real. That wasn't a lie. But that isn't what I meant!" He didn't answer the question regarding his own veracity.
Then what? If thou choosest to leave me, then I cannot lend thee my power for thy gifts. All that you know will occur will occur. But if that is thy wish, I will not force thee, though thou may thinkest I am forcing thee...
He wanted to shout at Reason that there was little difference between force and coercion, but he couldn't. His hate for the creature was mounting, and he was beginning to feel the stranglehold of a trap he hadn't quite realized was there. Without Reason, without reason, he felt helpless. Had he actually begun to accept Reason as his god, he wondered? Finally, the dark tide of emotion began to tug at him as it had before, and in a similar but stronger desperation to stave it off he chose Reason's path, slashing at his arm with the knife several times. "Is this what you want?" he hissed quietly, standing still, trying to suck up the pain.
At first, he felt silence, then the utter calm. Everything was again sealed away, the hate was gone, and his mind was clear. He left the knife in the last cut for several minutes, the knife absorbing every drop.
For a long moment, there was silence. Then Egon felt dark arms, or wings perhaps, come around him, and Reason held him. Next time don't wait so long, my son. Thou hast done more than what was needed in thy haste. He felt sick at the spirit's touch, and he forced his way out of its clinging grip, reaching for the toilet. He half-imagined a faint laughing as he retched... He wondered if he weren't hallucinating the chaotically lit black feathers dripping from his cuts...
Eventually he bound his arm and cleaned the tiled floor of any stray blood spatters, with no emotion at all but the weight of secret madness piling on him.
Winston finished off his sandwich and glanced over the couch. Suddenly a shiver ran down his spine. "Oo, creeps."
"What's that?" Peter asked, still watching the cartoons.
"I dunno. Just got a quick case of the willies." In the profession of Ghostbusting, a case of the jitters was something at least to think about, even more so with the humans than with Slimer.
"Hold on, I'll go get a meter," Peter said, getting up and wandering into the lab. Snatching up a PKE meter, he flicked it on and returned to the TV room. A quick scan provided nothing but Slimer's residuals. "Not a thing."
"Guess it was nothin' then."
Just then Egon came back into the room and sat down in his previous seat. Peter looked over at him, about to make some comment about how long he'd been gone, when he caught sight of something rather odd hanging off the cuff of his pink shirt. It was also a bit odd for Egon to wear his sleeves down instead of pushed up around his elbows, but it was cold out. "Uh, Spengs, you've been molting again, haven't you?"
"Molting?" Egon asked quietly, looking at himself. It was true he had been turned into a werechicken once, but he hadn't been one long enough to molt. He soon found the object in question, a small ebony feather stuck in the fabric of his shirt. Pulling it out, he said, "I suppose a bird must have become trapped in the restroom at one time." He handed the feather to Peter for his examination.
Peter took it and turned it over in his hand, then started absently running it along his cheek. "Feeling better now?"
"I'm fine," Egon replied with extraordinary calm. He set his feet on the coffee table and contentedly watched Murray the Mantis. "This is one of the better episodes. Ray will be sorry he missed it."
With mouth agape, Peter rounded on the blond physicist. "Egon Spengler, you tell me what is going on right this instant!"
Tranquilly, Egon turned towards Peter. "I'm not sure I follow?"
Winston picked up another sub and shook it at Egon. A bit of lettuce attempted an exodus. "I've never seen you so all-fired moody. Seriously man, we just want to help. If you got something bugging you, you know you can tell us, right?" After a moment, he added, "And you don't look so good...you sick or something?"
"I know, Winston. And I may be catching something," Egon said, turning back to the television.
"No, oh no, you aren't getting away that easy this time," Peter declared, tossing away the black feather. He stood and started walking out of the room, expecting Egon to follow. When he didn't, Peter reached over and grabbed Egon's arm. He let go quickly when Egon winced in pain and drew back. "Sorry, forgot that monstrosity of a chandelier got you yesterday." After a moment, he asked, "Never got it looked at though. I thought it was just a scratch...looks like it might have been deeper than that?"
Looking up, Egon stated, "It was not deep enough to warrant more concern than two butterfly bandages. It does hurt, however."
"Sorry about that. But I am serious. We need to talk, and we need to do it now."
Egon replied, "I have already told you what happened."
Peter rested his hands on the back of the couch, one on either side of Egon's shoulders, and leaned down. "Yeah, but you never did quite say why. I'm a tad curious about Murray too, ya know. I hate confrontin' you like this, but I wanna catch this quick before it gets any bigger than it already is."
Pushing up his glasses, Egon sat silently for a moment. Then, he began to speak with an unnatural calmness. "In regards to the cartoon, the initial cause of my discomfort was simply that I had never been allowed to indulge in such frivolity as a child. I used to draw pictures when I was very young, of animals and trees, I suppose it must have been the natural fare for normal children, but whenever my father saw them he would become quite disappointed and often raised his voice." The dispassion in his deep voice raised the hackles on Winston and Peter's necks. Egon turned his serene countenance toward Dr. Venkman. "That is a perfectly natural reaction to the cartoon, I'm sure you would agree. I'm fine now."
Quite stupefied, Peter went over to Winston and hauled him out of the room instead. When Peter felt they were sufficiently out of earshot, he gaped, "Did you hear that?"
Winston answered with similar incredulity. "I dunno. Did you hear it?"
Raking his hand through his dark hair, Peter shook his head. "Now me and Egon have known each other for a long time, but I've never heard him talk like that about his childhood. Hell, he even once declared he'd never even been a child. I was trying to get a rise outta him with the cartoon, but that reaction is not normal, not for him, not for anyone."
"Like he was talkin' about some character in a book or somethin'," Winston observed. "Dude can get detached sometimes, but like that? Gettin' detached from yourself is pretty serious, isn't it."
"Yes it is. And this is sudden." Peter tapped his foot for a moment, chewing a thumbnail, then looked Winston right in the eye. He started ticking off symptoms on his fingers. "We've got acute loss of cognitive ability, verbal aggression followed hard on the heels by passive-aggressive rationality, hypersensitivity, and now inappropriate affect."
Winston frowned. "Whassat mean?"
"It means reacting or feeling inappropriate emotions for a certain situation. Like thinking a funeral for a best friend is uproariously funny."
"Or talking about drawing pictures and gettin' yelled at it as a kid like it was the weather."
"Yeah, that's it exactly."
Winston nodded thoughtfully. "So what do you think's goin' on?"
Peter frowned and nibbled his bottom lip. "Feel like a round of Spengler-wrangling? I hate to think it, but I want to run some tests on him, CAT, PET, MRI, tap, whatever I can get my mitts on."
"Since when can you order tests like that?" Winston asked reasonably.
"Erm...since I'm a nurse practitioner?" Peter offered with a slight reddening of his cheeks. "I got a deal goin' with a local psychiatrist; he lets me order whatever tests I want, and in exchange I get him loads of patients gleaned from our less stable-minded clients."
Winston just shook his head, wondering how Dr. Venkman had found the time to pick up any actual medical training while studying for two Ph.D.'s and running his underwear up a flagpole while still occupying them. "What do think is going on?"
Sighing heavily, Peter said, "Worst case...some organic damage. Some kinds of organic damage start up like flicking a light-switch. Best case, some sort of minor, sudden onset personality disorder. I'm personally...considering...schizophrenia."
Winston shuddered, but agreed to help.
As it turned out, there was no possible way to Spengler-wrangle' Egon into allowing any invasive tests such as Peter had mentioned. No one could force him to consent to the exams without bypassing his legal rights, of which he reminded them in the most aggravatingly rational and logical manner possible. He simply would not allow anyone to poke him nor prod him; his reminder that a lumbar puncture would have him potentially laid up for two or three days at least deterred Peter from any further serious contemplation of that test.
"At least let me do some simple tests, Egon," Peter pleaded.
"Do you mean the sort where you ask if I know who the President is?"
Peter waved a hand, "No, not those. Why can't I just run one teensy-weensy little CAT? Pretty please? With Twinkies on top?"
"It would take too long. We don't know when or if the powerful entities we encountered in the subway might become active. We should be preparing for them, not worrying about me."
Peter was nearly at the point of tearing his hair out. "Egon, we can't be ready for that if we aren't all up to full speed, provided those things will do anything at all. They haven't yet, which I think is a very good sign. Ray and Janine will probably come home with a pile of research, and then we can worry about the sticks with wings. Right now, however, I have a friend that's gone so far out on the Mood Swing he's about to tip over the swing set."
Egon looked at Peter square in the face, cool blue eyes on worried green. "I'm fine, Peter. I don't know how many ways I can say that and have you believe it."
Winston leaned over from his seat. "M'man, you ain't fine. Did you forget what happened the day before yesterday? Do you know how you're acting?"
"I didn't forget," Egon replied with complete equanimity. "I told you what happened."
Exasperated, Peter kicked his feet in what almost looked like a child's tantrum. "And here we are back to the same question. You said, Mr. Winged Stick probably got me moody, but after that, it's my own internal screw-ups that were the cause.' Egon, that's not an explanation any of us buys for a second!" Winston seconded the sentiment with a nod. "You said it yourself, and you still haven't said why or how the pillars were involved, or what hang up had your gray matter fried! I need to know. We need to know. We need to figure this out and help you get past it, no matter if your skull is made of solid granite."
"I didn't say the pillars were involved." Egon's statement was not, technically, a lie.
Peter rubbed the bridge of his nose, growing increasingly frustrated with Egon's stonewalling. "Yes you did," he said, as if it were the most blatantly obvious thing in the universe.
"I said one was involved, not both."
Before Peter could leap up and try to strangle some answers out of Egon, Winston asked curiously, "Which one was it? I only saw the white one."
"The one on the right, the one named Reason. It was luminescent in a rather peculiar manner, as if there were a mathematical pattern to it that was just out of reach."
Peter's hands clenched. "I don't suppose that was what got you so worked up, was it? You couldn't figure out the pattern?" He was grasping at any straw he could find.
Egon shrugged. "Entirely possible."
Winston clamped a hand down on Peter's shoulder before he actually did try strangling Egon. Winston understood the sentiment; the physicist was being unbelievably tight-lipped about the whole thing...especially after his bizarre admission about the cartoons. Peter frowned deeply. "You said you would talk about it."
So calm. Egon was so calm. "I said no such thing. I admitted the possibility, nothing more."
"What do you have to hide, Egon?" Peter asked, suddenly uneasy.
"I have nothing to hide." So calm. Not a flicker of deceit. A simple statement of fact.
Nevertheless, Winston Zeddemore and Peter Venkman felt the lie slip down their spines, chilling cold, as if it were verily a creature in its own right.
Until Ray and Janine returned, no one spoke another word. Winston was truly worried and Peter chewed a nail, suddenly taken up thinking about a dream he only half remembered.
End section 2