"I can't stop thinking about them, Doctor," I said. I was prey to a strange tension, tossing and turning on the very lightweight couch, sensing the presence of my counterpart, my listener, inside of me like a brightness or a beam that was probing, mildly aching, but also inquisitive, tenacious.
"Do you recognize them?" asked the doctor. The doctor's voice sounded clear, indistinct and cordial, forging the possibility of a remedy, hope.
"No," I replied. "As soon as I wake up, I lose them. It's impossible for me to describe them, but the sensation they convey remains indelible: cruelty, doctor, a primordial, irrational, unrepentant cruelty."
"Unrepentant?" said the doctor, his voice indicating surprise.
"Yes," I insisted. "It renews itself without stopping, without interruption. It's as if its poison, that poison, is always flowing from an enormous fountain."
I sensed the doctor's skeptical look.
"They're just ... your feelings," he remarked, indifferent.
"Could be," I replied. "But you know they can also be reality."
"You're right, nothing is ruled out," the doctor agreed. "Rest. We won't explore this any further for today."
I didn't protest. After all, he was the expert and I ... was his patient. It was obvious that the exploration was now focused on a kind of transition among contradictory stages of one's conscience. One of those stages was precisely the dream stage: only there—at least according to my accumulated treatment leading up to the most recent session—could I recognize, seem to recognize the cause of my suffering, of this hallucination. Only there could I recognize it, and the result was, time and time again, this dark terror, this terrible fear and, at the same time, anger, this suppressed rage.
"I have felt angry," I remember saying clearly during my first visit.
Alarmed, the doctor wrote down his observation: "Feeling angry isn't common in a society in which the balance between respect for others and freedom is destroyed and is incessantly reconstructed in the soul of each individual. The society doesn't have anything to regulate in this regard. It is in the bosom of the society through the free interaction of individuals, where that balance is fully realized."
The other stage was the stage of consciousness during which I had ill-defined visions and feelings and suffered the consequences. I felt an increasing sense of dissociation, of the disintegration of my personality.
"Perhaps it's better that way," said the doctor, before saying good-bye. "Reunifying both stages through the use of a similar or equivalent examination of what can clearly be understood only in one of the stages during the transition phase can be fatal. It would mean interchanging the horror only recognized in the dream with the terrain of complete lucidity, and doing that could simply cause the illness to become irreversible."
It seemed logical. The unbearable logic of doctors, foreign to the patient, pain, and despair. According to the plan of the doctor—cold, rational, antiseptic, neutral, everything that one could want, but unappealing—the process should follow its intrinsic course: one would have to allow the feelings—my feelings—to weaken in light of the magnitude of their horror, and only in the end, when it would be thought that I could bear the truth, would the process of authorizing the reunification of all the perceptions onto one single level—the conscience—proceed. A psychological safety mechanism had been activated, thus preventing me from temporarily splitting into two people: one who in the dream stage grasps the truth of what has happened to him, and the other, the conscious being, who doesn't remember anything. The mechanism seemed to become activated to secure my lucidity and preserve the possibility of a cure. But the despair in my soul was like leprosy, a woodworm that was devouring me.
I entered an anti-gravitational taxi and crossed the city. During the low-altitude, dizzying flight, emerging in front of me were the golden domes, the hanging gardens, the even surface of the crystal pyramids, built not to exclude us from the natural environment, but to unite us with it, in an incessant game, in a dialectic interaction, eternally dialectic between our aesthetic and nonfigurative forms—created in the interior of the human psyche—and those forms who oppose us or could oppose vegetation, the landscape, the climate, the weather, all of that, which on the other hand, in my city, usually achieves an amazing magnificence. Everything seemed dark to me. In some way—I intuited—the world was dark. As soon as someone, even though quite dear, remains outside of our view, he nevertheless sinks into that radical darkness inherent during our entire existence and becomes difficult for us to recognize, reconstruct with the clarity, evidence and sensuality of when he was among us. Agonized, I thought, this is something that our civilization has not learned to do: explore the nature of that darkness and how to surmount or control it.
And, yet—I thought once again, despairingly—what tormented me, and what I couldn't discern while I was awake, was vivid there, transcending the darkness, supplanting the characteristic vagueness of the memories, in a manner I would say was ominous, almost unnatural.
I connected my communications unit to the bibliotech central library. Then, I maneuvered the electro-searcher toward a specific subject area: Expedition #3, of which I had been a member.
Little by little, a certain apprehension started to encroach upon me without allowing me to clearly determine the causes. What I found was a disturbing parallel: the relevant data, which, thanks to the magic of the electro-searcher, could be extracted from the entire report, seemed to follow a pattern similar to my secret fears. I felt that in a rather fortuitous, unexpected way, I had come close to the truth. Or, more specifically, a suspicion.
I planned to relay my presumptions to the doctor. Deep down, my duality had become more noticeable. The terror, which up until then had only become evident in my dreams, in nontransferable levels of dreams, threatened to affect my reality, my consciousness. And I perhaps wasn't capable of confronting it yet.
That night I had no desire to share in the precious delight of dining with my clan: my spouse, my substitute spouse, my children, and my guests. Out of thin air, the nutritional food replication unit had created the most appealing nourishments, recognizable and pleasant in form, texture, coloration, taste, and their psychical and savory quality; but I had no appetite or energy. I felt afraid. It was as if an invisible mutation had begun inside of me, separating me from my dearest beings.
The next day, I made an urgent appointment with the doctor. He did not want me to come to his office, so our session was conducted holographically. The perception of absence and the certainty of camouflage, of an invalid or intangible presence, characteristic of the holograph, induced fear, or at least discomfort. But I had an urgent need and the doctor couldn't deny me.
To my amazement, the doctor seemed to have accessed the same subject area of the central library. The crystal memory card that he extracted from the communications unit in his office preserved the Expedition #3 report in its entirety.
"It's obvious," the doctor said, "something there is generating that torment, that imbalance."
He remained silent for a number of minutes. Then, he once again inserted the card into the slot in the unit, extended his hand through the liquid screen, and finally said:
"All right. You win. Starting with the next session we're going to concentrate on Expedition #3. Yes, it could be, but I still have my doubts...."
The holographic session ended, but my retina retained the doubting, skeptical image of the doctor for a long time. The durability of the image deepened my suspicion, and reproduced in me the feeling that deep inside, another vision was struggling to become intelligible, recognizable, and I, terrified, was rejecting and nullifying it. This was precisely where the doctor had to begin his incision, psychologically of course, or perhaps, physically.
The days that followed were marked by a series of sessions in the doctor's office. As soon as I inserted the thin card into the visual memory reproduction unit, the magnificent landscapes videotaped by the technicians of Expedition #3 appeared on the monitor.
Emerging nearly at the end was what I feared, what my mind postponed and hid, terrified and ill at ease. And arriving at the unimpaired territory of consciousness was what would degrade and stigmatize it. It was the insurmountable evidence of the existence of that race, and it was their faces, their grimaces that had pursued me in the depths of my dreams, those which seemed so vivid, inescapable, threatening. The doctor himself was affected by the impact. But a catharsis was necessary; a confrontation with the truth, however vile and wicked it might be.
First, there were the spectroscopic tests of the species.
"A high level of norepinephrine," verified the odiously antiseptic doctor, "a hormone found in carbon atoms that excessively heightens fear, especially, if the serotonin, an anti-depression and counter-aggressive agent, decreases to unacceptable concentrations."
"I see that all of that combines with accelerated levels of cortisol, one of the adrenal hormones," indicated the doctor. "The result is potentially explosive, more than dangerous."
Soon afterward we looked at the images. Their content: an uninterrupted sequence of violence, of limitless fury. When I say limitless, I'm alluding to the unreasonable. It's difficult to imagine these beings as rational, while at the same time they're capable of arriving at such an atrocious level of cruelty, of irreverence, I would say. And there was something that really captured the doctor's attention, a pattern that seemed to repeat itself mathematically: its level of civilization progresses accordingly, it intensifies, systematizes, and refines its sense of cruelty and death. Inexplicably, the forms of social organizations seemed to integrate and perfect themselves, not for happiness, but for its exact opposite: pain, indifference, repression, terror, and crime. From a clinical point of view, its social evolution, the family, religious, civil, and military institutions, all have a bearing on a critical point: precisely the increase of norepinephrine, cortisol and other substances of death.
The doctor and the patient—me—could both see the dark succession of images that mark that sinister history, until such point that, tangible and recognizable, I saw, horrified, what I had seen only in my nightmares: their cruel faces, bewitched by ungodliness, by a passion that I could only describe as deadly, ferocious, merciless; faces that swell into a startling, threatening and convulsing grimace when they laugh.
"In the middle of so much beauty ... that race," said the doctor, almost indignant.
It was true: we were looking at oceans of opals, the blinding deserts, the exultant plotting of the vegetation. And in the middle: ravaging, violating and encroaching upon this—them, their cities, and their machines.
I became frightened, but the catharsis, the sudden emergence of the truth during my desolate consciousness, and its recognition, worked decisively toward a possible cure. Even now, I still see them, increasingly more tenuous, while in a dark obsession I continue to repeat to myself what attempts to accurately define them: "beings with cruel faces, I see beings with cruel faces," a perverse, irreverent sentence. Then, when their appearance becomes more focused and threatening, I direct my eyes toward the magnificent city: its beauty, serenity, and balance works on me like a sedative. And I'm happy to be here, to have returned.
Still parading by on the screen were the savage faces of the inhabitants from that strange planet, an astro that only recently has been accurately reclassified with certainty on our interstellar maps. I think that it's all been a coincidence, or perhaps certain relevant data has gone astray: no one can explain the reason for our presence on that planet months ago, during the course of Expedition #3 to the galaxy. Nevertheless, the truth is that all of us who descended to the planet's blue surface suffered from similar symptoms of imbalance and distress for a time. And somehow, we'll continue to suffer for the rest of our lives. Especially when, like an inevitable syndrome, we direct our eyes time and time again toward the exact spot on the map where that planet is located, where I wish those cruel, violent inhabitants—humans—did not exist, on the edge of the galaxy, at a distance of forty-five light-years away from the galactic plane: the third planet of the solar system, which we humans call Earth.
Translation of "Seres de Rostro Cruel" from Historias del Pais Fingido (Quito: Colección Cuarto Creciente, Campaña Nacional Eugenio Espejo Por El Libro y La Lectura, 2004). By arrangement with Francisco Proaño Arandi. Translation copyright 2008 by Harry Morales. All rights reserved.