Beyond Bedlam

by Wyman Guin

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: However fantastic it may seem, the society so elaborately described in this story has its seeds in ours. Just check the data....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The opening afternoon class for Mary Walden’s ego-shift was almost over, and Mary was practically certain the teacher would not call on her to recite her assignment, when Carl Blair got it into his mind to try to pass her a dirty note. Mary knew it would be a screamingly funny Ego-Shifting Room limerick and was about to reach for the note when Mrs. Harris’s voice crackled through the room.

“Carl Blair! I believe you have an important message. Surely you will want the whole class to hear it. Come forward, please.”

As he made his way before the class, the boy’s blush-covered freckles reappeared against his growing pallor. Haltingly and in an agonized monotone, he recited from the note:

“There was a young hyper named Phil,
Who kept a third head for a thrill.
Said he, ‘It’s all right, I enjoy my plight.
I shift my third out when it’s chill.’”

The class didn’t dare laugh. Their eyes burned down at their laps in shame. Mary managed to throw Carl Blair a compassionate glance as he returned to his seat, but she instantly regretted ever having been kind to him.

“Mary Walden, you seemed uncommonly interested in reading something just now. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind reading your assignment to the class.”

There it was, and just when the class was almost over. Mary could have scratched Carl Blair. She clutched her paper grimly and strode to the front.

“Today’s assignment in Pharmacy History is, ‘Schizophrenia since the Ancient Pre-pharmacy days.’” Mary took enough breath to get into the first paragraph.

“Schizophrenia is where two or more personalities live in the same brain. The ancients of the 20th Century actually looked upon schizophrenia as a disease! Everyone felt it was very shameful to have a schizophrenic person in the family, and, since children lived right with the same parents who had borne them, it was very bad. If you were a schizophrenic child in the 20th Century, you would be locked up behind bars and people would call you--”

Mary blushed and stumbled over the daring word--”crazy.” “The ancients locked up strong ego groups right along with weak ones. Today we would lock up those ancient people.”

The class agreed silently.

“But there were more and more schizophrenics to lock up. By 1950 the prisons and hospitals were so full of schizophrenic people that the ancients did not have room left to lock up any more. They were beginning to see that soon everyone would be schizophrenic.

“Of course, in the 20th Century, the schizophrenic people were almost as helpless and ‘crazy’ as the ancient Modern men. Naturally they did not fight wars and lead the silly life of the Moderns, but without proper drugs they couldn’t control their Ego-shiftability. The personalities in a brain would always be fighting each other. One personality would cut the body or hurt it or make it filthy, so that when the other personality took over the body, it would have to suffer. No, the schizophrenic people of the 20th Century were almost as ‘crazy’ as the ancient Moderns.

“But then the drugs were invented one by one and the schizophrenic people of the 20th Century were freed of their troubles. With the drugs the personalities of each body were able to live side by side in harmony at last. It turned out that many schizophrenic people, called overendowed personalities, simply had so many talents and viewpoints that it took two or more personalities to handle everything.

“The drugs worked so well that the ancients had to let millions of schizophrenic people out from behind the bars of ‘crazy’ houses. That was the Great Emancipation of the 1990s. From then on, schizophrenic people had trouble only when they criminally didn’t take their drugs. Usually, there are two egos in a schizophrenic person--the hyperalter, or prime ego, and the hypoalter, the alternate ego. There often were more than two, but the Medicorps makes us take our drugs so that won’t happen to us.

“At last someone realized that if everyone took the new drugs, the great wars would stop. At the World Congress of 1997, laws were passed to make everyone take the drugs. There were many fights over this because some people wanted to stay Modern and fight wars. The Medicorps was organized and told to kill anyone who wouldn’t take their drugs as prescribed. Now the laws are enforced and everybody takes the drugs and the hyperalter and hypoalter are each allowed to have the body for an ego-shift of five days...”

Mary Walden faltered. She looked up at the faces of her classmates, started to turn to Mrs. Harris and felt the sickness growing in her head. Six great waves of crescendo silence washed through her. The silence swept away everything but the terror, which stood in her frail body like a shrieking rock.

Mary heard Mrs. Harris hurry to the shining dispensary along one wall of the classroom and return to stand before her with a swab of antiseptic and a disposable syringe.

Mrs. Harris helped her to a chair. A few minutes after the expert injection, Mary’s mind struggled back from its core of silence.

“Mary, dear, I’m sorry. I haven’t been watching you closely enough.”

“Oh, Mrs. Harris...” Mary’s chin trembled. “I hope it never happens again.”

“Now, child, we all have to go through these things when we’re young. You’re just a little slower than the others in acclimatizing to the drugs. You’ll be fourteen soon and the medicop assures me you’ll be over this sort of thing just as the others are.”

Mrs. Harris dismissed the class and when they had all filed from the room, she turned to Mary.

“I think, dear, we should visit the clinic together, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Harris.” Mary was not frightened now. She was just ashamed to be such a difficult child and so slow to acclimatize to the drugs.

As she and the teacher walked down the long corridor to the clinic, Mary made up her mind to tell the medicop what she thought was wrong. It was not herself. It was her hypoalter, that nasty little Susan Shorrs. Sometimes, when Susan had the body, the things Susan was doing and thinking came to Mary like what the ancients had called dreams, and Mary had never liked this secondary ego whom she could never really know. Whatever was wrong, it was Susan’s doing. The filthy creature never took care of her hair, it was always so messy when Susan shifted the body to her.

Mrs. Harris waited while Mary went into the clinic.

Mary was glad to find Captain Thiel, the nice medicop, on duty. But she was silent while the X-rays were being taken, and, of course, while he got the blood samples, she concentrated on being brave.

Later, while Captain Thiel looked in her eyes with the bright little light, Mary said calmly, “Do you know my hypoalter, Susan Shorrs?”

The medicop drew back and made some notes on a pad before answering. “Why, yes. She’s in here quite often too.”

“Does she look like me?”

“Not much. She’s a very nice little girl...” He hesitated, visibly fumbling.

Mary blurted, “Tell me truly, what’s she like?”

Captain Thiel gave her his nice smile. “Well, I’ll tell you a secret if you keep it to yourself.”

“Oh, I promise.”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear and she liked the clean odor of him. “She’s not nearly as pretty as you are.”

Mary wanted very badly to put her arms around him and hug him. Instead, wondering if Mrs. Harris, waiting outside, had heard, she drew back self-consciously and said, “Susan is the cause of all this trouble, the nasty little thing.”

“Oh now!” the medicop exclaimed. “I don’t think so, Mary. She’s in trouble, too, you know.”

“She still eats sauerkraut.” Mary was defiant.

“But what’s wrong with that?”

“You told her not to last year because it makes me sick on my shift. But it agrees in buckets with a little pig like her.”

The medicop took this seriously. He made a note on the pad. “Mary, you should have complained sooner.”

“Do you think my father might not like me because Susan Shorrs is my hypoalter?” she asked abruptly.

“I hardly think so, Mary. After all, he doesn’t even know her. He’s never on her Ego shift.”

“A little bit,” Mary said, and was immediately frightened.

Captain Thiel glanced at her sharply. “What do you mean by that, child?”

“Oh, nothing,” Mary said hastily. “I just thought maybe he was.”

“Let me see your pharmacase,” he said rather severely.

Mary slipped the pharmacase off the belt at her waist and handed it to him. Captain Thiel extracted the prescription card from the back and threw it away. He slipped a new card in the taping machine on his desk and punched out a new prescription, which he reinserted in the pharmacase. In the space on the front, he wrote directions for Mary to take the drugs numbered from left to right.

Mary watched his serious face and remembered that he had complimented her about being prettier than Susan. “Captain Thiel, is your hypoalter as handsome as you are?”

The young medicop emptied the remains of the old prescription from the pharmacase and took it to the dispensary in the corner, where he slid it into the filling slot. He seemed unmoved by her question and simply muttered, “Much handsomer.”

The machine automatically filled the case from the punched card on its back and he returned it to Mary. “Are you taking your drugs exactly as prescribed? You know there are very strict laws about that, and as soon as you are fourteen, you will be held to them.”

Mary nodded solemnly. Great straitjackets, who didn’t know there were laws about taking your drugs?

There was a long pause and Mary knew she was supposed to leave. She wanted, though, to stay with Captain Thiel and talk with him. She wondered how it would be if he were appointed her father.

Mary was not hurt that her shy compliment to him had gone unnoticed. She had only wanted something to talk about. Finally she said desperately, “Captain Thiel, how is it possible for a body to change as much from one Ego shift to another as it does between Susan and me?”

“There isn’t all the change you imagine,” he said. “Have you had your first physiology?”

“Yes. I was very good...” Mary saw from his smile that her inadvertent little conceit had trapped her.

“Then, Miss Mary Walden, how do you think it is possible?”

Why did teachers and medicops have to be this way? When all you wanted was to have them talk to you, they turned everything around and made you think.

She quoted unhappily from her schoolbook, “The main things in an ego shift are the two vegetative nervous systems that translate the conditions of either personality to the blood and other organs right from the brain. The vegetative nervous systems change the rate at which the liver burns or stores sugar and the rate at which the kidneys excrete...”

Through the closed door to the other room, Mrs. Harris’s voice raised at the visiophone said distinctly, “But, Mr. Walden...

“Reabsorb,” corrected Captain Thiel.

“What?” She didn’t know what to listen to--the medicop or the distant voice of Mrs. Harris.

“It’s better to think of the kidneys as reabsorbing salts and nutrients from the filtrated blood.”


But, Mr. Walden, we can overdo a good thing. The proper amount of neglect is definitely required for full development of some personality types and Mary certainly is one of those...

“What about the pituitary gland that’s attached to the brain and controls all the other glands during the shift of egos?” pressed Captain Thiel distractingly.

But, Mr. Walden, too much neglect at this critical point may cause another personality to split off and we can’t have that. Adequate personalities are congenital. A new one now would only rob the present personalities. You are the appointed parent of this child and the Board of Education will enforce your compliance with our diagnosis...

Mary’s mind leaped to a page in one of her childhood storybooks. It was an illustration of a little girl resting beneath a great tree that overhung a brook. There were friendly little wild animals about. Mary could see the page clearly and she thought about it very hard instead of crying.

“Aren’t you interested any more, Mary?” Captain Thiel was looking at her strangely.

The agitation in her voice was a surprise. “I have to get home. I have a lot of things to do.”

Outside, when Mrs. Harris seemed suddenly to realize that something was wrong, and delicately probed to find out whether her angry voice had been overheard, Mary said calmly and as if it didn’t matter, “Was my father home when you called him before?”

“Why--yes, Mary. But you mustn’t pay any attention to conversations like that, darling.”

You can’t force him to like me, she thought to herself, and she was angry with Mrs. Harris because now her father would only dislike her more.

Neither her father nor her mother was home when Mary walked into the evening-darkened apartment. It was the first day of the family shift, and on that day, for many periods now, they had not been home until late.

Mary walked through the empty rooms, turning on lights. She passed up the electrically heated dinner her father had set out for her. Presently she found herself at the storage room door. She opened it slowly.

After hesitating a while she went in and began an exhausting search for the old storybook with the picture in it.

Finally she knew she could not find it. She stood in the middle of the junk-filled room and began to cry.

The day which ended for Mary Walden in lonely weeping should have been, for Conrad Manz, a pleasant rest day with an hour of rocket racing in the middle of it. Instead, he awakened with a shock to hear his wife actually talking while she was asleep.

He stood over her bed and made certain that she was asleep. It was as though her mind thought it was somewhere else, doing something else. Vaguely he remembered that the ancients did something called dreaming while they slept and the thought made him shiver.

Clara Manz was saying, “Oh, Bill, they’ll catch us. We can’t pretend any more unless we have drugs. Haven’t we any drugs, Bill?”

Then she was silent and lay still. Her breathing was shallow and even in the dawn light her cheeks were deeply flushed against the blonde hair.

Having just awakened, Conrad was on a very low drug level and the incident was unpleasantly disturbing. He picked up his pharmacase from beside his bed and made his way to the bathroom. He took his hypothalamic block and the integration enzymes and returned to the bedroom. Clara was still sleeping.

She had been behaving oddly for some time, but there had never been anything as disturbing as this. He felt that he should call a medicop, but, of course, he didn’t want to do anything that extreme. It was probably something with a simple explanation. Clara was a little scatterbrained at times. Maybe she had forgotten to take her sleeping compound and that was what caused dreaming. The very word made his powerful body chill. But if she was neglecting to take any of her drugs and he called in a medicop, it would be serious.

Conrad went into the library and found the Family Pharmacy. He switched on a light in the dawn-shrunken room and let his heavy frame into a chair. A Guide to Better Understanding of your Family Prescriptions. Official Edition, 2831. The book was mostly Medicorps propaganda and almost never gave a practical suggestion. If something went wrong, you called a medicop.

Conrad hunted through the book for the section on sleeping compound. It was funny, too, about that name Bill. Conrad went over all the men of their acquaintance with whom Clara had occasional affairs or with whom she was friendly and he couldn’t remember a single Bill. In fact, the only man with that name whom he could think of was his own hyperalter, Bill Walden. But that was naturally impossible.

Maybe dreaming was always about imaginary people.

SLEEPING COMPOUND: An official mixture of soporific and

hypnotic alkaloids and synthetics. A critical drug; an essential

feature in every prescription. Slight deviations in following

prescription are unallowable because of the subtle manner in which

behavior may be altered over months or years. The first sleeping

compound was announced by Thomas Marshall in 1986. The formula has

been modified only twice since then.

There followed a tightly packed description of the chemistry and pharmacology of the various ingredients. Conrad skipped through this.

The importance of Sleeping Compound in the life of every individual

and to society is best appreciated when we recall Marshall’s words

announcing its initial development:

“It is during so-called normal sleep that the vicious unconscious

mind responsible for wars and other symptoms of unhappiness

develops its resources and its hold on our conscious lives.

“In this normal sleep the critical faculties of the cortex are

paralyzed. Meanwhile, the infantile unconscious mind expands

misinterpreted experience into the toxic patterns of neurosis and

psychosis. The conscious mind takes over at morning, unaware that

these infantile motivations have been cleverly woven into its very


“Sleeping Compound will stop this. There is no unconscious activity

after taking this harmless drug. We believe the Medicorps should at

once initiate measures to acclimatize every child to its use. In

these children, as the years go by, infantile patterns unable to

work during sleep will fight a losing battle during waking hours

with conscious patterns accumulating in the direction of


That was all there was--mostly the Medicorps patting its own back for saving humanity. But if you were in trouble and called a medicop, you’d risk getting into real trouble.

Conrad became aware of Clara standing in the doorway. The flush of her disturbed emotions and the pallor of her fatigue mixed in ragged banners on her cheeks.

Conrad waved the Family Pharmacy with a foolish gesture of embarrassment.

“Young lady, have you been neglecting to take your sleeping compound?”

Clara turned utterly pale. “I--I don’t understand.”

“You were talking in your sleep.”


She came forward so unsteadily that he helped her to a seat. She stared at him. He asked jovially, “Who is this ‘Bill’ you were so desperately involved with? Have you been having an affair I don’t know about? Aren’t my friends good enough for you?”

The result of this banter was that she alarmingly began to cry, clutching her robe about her and dropping her blonde head on her knees and sobbing.

Children cried before they were acclimatized to the drugs, but Conrad Manz had never in his life seen an adult cry. Though he had taken his morning drugs and certain disrupting emotions were already impossible, nevertheless this sight was completely unnerving.

In gasps between her sobs, Clara was saying, “Oh, I can’t go back to taking them? But I can’t keep this up! I just can’t!”

“Clara, darling, I don’t know what to say or do. I think we ought to call the Medicorps.”

Intensely frightened, she rose and clung to him, begging, “Oh, no, Conrad, that isn’t necessary! It isn’t necessary at all. I’ve only neglected to take my sleeping compound and it won’t happen again. All I need is a sleeping compound. Please get my pharmacase for me and it will be all right.”

She was so desperate to convince him that Conrad got the pharmacase and a glass of water for her only to appease the white face of fright.

Within a few minutes of taking the sleeping compound, she was calm. As he put her back to bed, she laughed with a lazy indolence.

“Oh, Conrad, you take it so seriously. I only needed a sleeping compound very badly and now I feel fine. I’ll sleep all day. It’s a rest day, isn’t it? Now go race a rocket and stop worrying and thinking about calling the medicops.”

But Conrad did not go rocket racing as he had planned. Clara had been asleep only a few minutes when there was a call on the visiophone; they wanted him at the office. The city of Santa Fe would be completely out of balance within twelve shifts if revised plans were not put into operation immediately. They were to start during the next five days while he would be out of shift. In order to carry on the first day of their next shift, he and the other three traffic managers he worked with would have to come down today and familiarize themselves with the new operations.

There was no getting out of it. His rest day was spoiled. Conrad resented it all the more because Santa Fe was clear out on the edge of their traffic district and could have been revised out of the Mexican offices just as well. But those boys down there rested all five days of their shift.

Conrad looked in on Clara before he left and found her asleep in the total suspension of proper drug level. The unpleasant memory of her behavior made him squirm, but now that the episode was over, it no longer worried him. It was typical of him that, things having been set straight in the proper manner, he did not think of her again until late in the afternoon.

As early as 1950, the pioneer communications engineer Norbert Wiener had pointed out that there might be a close parallel between disassociation of personalities and the disruption of a communication system. Wiener referred back specifically to the first clear description, by Morton Prince, of multiple personalities existing, together in the same human body. Prince had described only individual cases and his observations were not altogether acceptable in Wiener’s time. Nevertheless, in the schizophrenic society of the 29th Century, a major managerial problem was that of balancing the communicating and non-communicating populations in a city.

As far as Conrad and the other traffic men present at the conference were concerned, Santa Fe was a resort and retirement area of 100,000 human bodies, alive and consuming more than they produced every day of the year. Whatever the representatives of the Medicorps and Communications Board worked out, it would mean only slight changes in the types of foodstuffs, entertainment and so forth moving into Santa Fe, and Conrad could have grasped the entire traffic change in ten minutes after the real problem had been settled. But, as usual, he and the other traffic men had to sit through two hours while small wheels from the Medicorps and Communications acted big about rebalancing a city.

For them, Conrad had to admit, Santa Fe was a great deal more complex than 100,000 consuming, moderately producing human bodies. It was 200,000 human personalities, two to each body. Conrad wondered sometimes what they would have done if the three and four personality cases so common back in the 20th and 21st Centuries had been allowed to reproduce. The 200,000 personalities in Santa Fe were difficult enough.

Like all cities, Santa Fe operated in five shifts, A, B, C, D, and E.

Just as it was supposed to be for Conrad in his city, today was rest day for the 20,000 hypoalters on D-shift in Santa Fe. Tonight at around 6:00 P.M. they would all go to shifting rooms and be replaced by their hyperalters, who had different tastes in food and pleasure and took different drugs.

Tomorrow would be rest day for the hyperalters on E-shift and in the evening they would turn things over to their hyperalters.

The next day it would be rest for the A-shift hyperalters and three days after that the D-shift hyperalters, including Bill Walden, would rest till evening, when Conrad and the D-shift hypoalters everywhere would again have their five day use of their bodies.

Right now the trouble with Santa Fe’s retired population, which worked only for its own maintenance, was that too many elderly people on the D-shift and E-shift had been dying off. This point was brought out by a dapper young department head from Communications.

Conrad groaned when, as he knew would happen, a Medicorps officer promptly set out on an exhaustive demonstration that Medicorps predictions of deaths for Santa Fe had indicated clearly that Communications should have been moving people from D-shift and E-shift into the area.

Actually, it appeared that someone from Communications had blundered and had overloaded the quota of people on A-shift and B-shift moving to Santa Fe. Thus on one rest day there weren’t enough people working to keep things going, and later in the week there were so many available workers that they were clogging the city.

None of this was heated exchange or in any way emotional. It was just interminably, exhaustively logical and boring. Conrad fidgeted through two hours of it, seeing his chance for a rocket race dissolving. When at last the problem of balanced shift-populations for Santa Fe was worked out, it took him and the other traffic men only a few minutes to apply their tables and reschedule traffic to coordinate with the population changes.

Disgusted, Conrad walked over to the Tennis Club and had lunch.

There were still two hours of his rest day left when Conrad Manz realized that Bill Walden was again forcing an early shift. Conrad was in the middle of a volley-tennis game and he didn’t like having the shift forced so soon. People generally shifted at their appointed regular hour every five days, and a hyperalter was not supposed to use his power to force shift. It was such an unthinkable thing nowadays that there was occasional talk of abolishing the terms hyperalter and hypoalter because they were somewhat disparaging to the hypoalter, and really designated only the antisocial power of the hyperalter to force the shift.

Bill Walden had been cheating two to four hours on Conrad every shift for several periods back. Conrad could have reported it to the Medicorps, but he himself was guilty of a constant misdemeanor about which Bill had not yet complained. Unlike the sedentary Walden, Conrad Manz enjoyed exercise. He overindulged in violent sports and put off sleep, letting Bill Walden make up the fatigue on his shift. That was undoubtedly why the poor old sucker had started cheating a few hours on Conrad’s rest day.

Conrad laughed to himself, remembering the time Bill Walden had registered a long list of sports which he wished Conrad to be restrained from--rocket racing, deepsea exploration, jet-skiing. It had only given Conrad some ideas he hadn’t had before. The Medicorps had refused to enforce the list on the basis that danger and violent exercise were a necessary outlet for Conrad’s constitution. Then poor old Bill had written Conrad a note threatening to sue him for any injury resulting from such sports. As if he had a chance against the Medicorps ruling!

Conrad knew it was no use trying to finish the volley-tennis game. He lost interest and couldn’t concentrate on what he was doing when Bill started forcing the shift. Conrad shot the ball back at his opponent in a blistering curve impossible to intercept.

“So long,” he yelled at the man. “I’ve got some things to do before my shift ends.”

He lounged into the locker rooms and showered, put his clothes and belongings, including his pharmacase, in a shipping carton, addressed them to his own home and dropped them in the mail chute.

He stepped with languid nakedness across the hall, pressed his identifying wristband to a lock-face and dialed his clothing sizes.

In this way he procured a neatly wrapped, clean shifting costume from the slot. He put it on without bothering to return to his shower room.

He shouted a loud good-bye to no one in particular among the several men and women in the baths and stepped out onto the street.

Conrad felt too good even to be sorry that his shift was over. After all, nothing happened except you came to, five days later, on your next shift. The important thing was the rest day. He had always said the last day of the shift should be a work day; then you would be glad it was over. He guessed the idea was to rest the body before another personality took over. Well, poor old Bill Walden never got a rested body. He probably slept off the first twelve hours.

Walking unhurriedly through the street crowds, Conrad entered a public shifting station and found an empty room. As he started to open the door, a girl came out of the adjoining booth and Conrad hastily averted his glance. She was still rearranging her hair. There were so many rude people nowadays who didn’t seem to care at all about the etiquette of shifting, women particularly. They were always redoing their hair or makeup where a person couldn’t help seeing them.

Conrad pressed his identifying wristband to the lock and entered the booth he had picked. The act automatically sent the time and his shift number to Medicorps Headquarters.

Once inside the shifting room, Conrad went to the lavatory and turned on the faucet of makeup solvent. In spite of losing two hours of his rest day, he decided to be decent to old Bill, though he was half tempted to leave his makeup on. It was a pretty foul joke, of course, especially on a humorless fellow like poor Walden.

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