Solar Power

Crowley and Aziraphale from Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens

Norbert Parkinson’s childhood was not outwardly exceptional, but his early experiences must have influenced his later maladaptive development; there are hints that he was shy, reclusive, and prone to reading too much. It was in early adolescence that his illness first became apparent to the trained observer, and this coincided with his taking up the intensive playing of so-called “role-playing games”. Recently, his psychosis has become manifest and he lives in a world occupied by elves, goblins, dragons, evil wizards and diverse other fantasy figures…

Dr. Daniel Feizenbaum read through the case notes again. A sad story; an academically promising young man, with the promise of possible brilliance. Perhaps, he thought, I should look at some of these role-playing games to give me some common ground for psychotherapy with him. He checked his crowded diary and decided to settle for the liquid cosh instead. At that moment his staff nurse — Scottish, red-headed, very attractive, and exotically obsessional — stuck her head round the door of his office after giving the usual reverential knock.

“There’s a Mister Basil something to see you, doctor.” Upon learning that Mister Basil something had an appointment, the doctor imperiously waved an invitation to send him in. The nondescript little man in the shabby Burberry coat shuffled in and sat down. The nurse went back to preparing depot injections for the patients.

“Mr…? I don’t think I caught your name.” He smiled with the professional unctuousness characteristic of the more liberally inclined psychiatrist.

“Baazerath, actually. Do you mind if I unpolymorph myself?” Feizenbaum casually looked down at the hypos and bottles of major tranquilisers. This was no ordinary fruitcake. When he looked up again, the chair opposite was occupied by a figure some 12 feet tall, with leathery wings, nasty-looking fangs and big talons, gently exuding wisps of smoke and a pungent sulphurous odour. Feizenbaum considered using a hypo on himself at this point.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that. Long-term use causes brain damage, you know; burns out your mesocortico-limbic circuits. Permanent Feeblemind job. Not recommended.” The devil took a box of cigars from a stout pouch at its belt, lit one with a delicate fiery snort, sat back and inhaled deeply.

“I am not seeing this.”

“Of course you are — don’t be silly. In case you don’t know, I am a Pit Fiend, and I have what at this stage we may call a request to make”. There was a strong undercurrent of threat in the voice. Feizenbaum reached for his desk telephone, but the clawed hand swept it away from him, on to the floor. The claws then unleashed a single horny digit, pointing directly at him.

“I said a request. It will be much better for you if you co-operate.” The devil gazed at the sagging figure opposite, who sat sadly repeating “this is a hallucination” over and over, rocking slightly to and fro. Baazerath took another drag on his Havana and thought for a moment.

“This is a shock for you, I see. Perhaps I can… ah… soften the blow a little; it might make you feel a little less disturbed about things”, the devil said considerately. Feizenbaum broke off mumbling and stared at him. “Perhaps”, the devil continued, “a little epistemology might comfort you.”

“You think I’m a hallucination. Well, that depends on how you look at things. There are, more or less, three ways of understanding what’s going on in the world. The problem with people like you is that you’re one of the first type: people who believe that there is a real world which can be discovered as it really is through science and experiments and all that crap. Technically, this philosophical posture is known as naive realism but in the infernal regions we refer to such people as idiots. You know the sort; computer scientists, physicists, the type you treat for the chronic neuroses which arise from their sordid little emotional repressions. Boring aren’t they?” Feizenbaum nodded mute agreement, but felt mounting disbelief at being lectured on philosophy by a hallucination.

“Sorry, disbelief only works against illusions and I’m not one of them. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the second lot. Well, they’re the florid mutters who believe that material reality is an illusion, true reality is spiritual, the world as Maya and all that nonsense. They’re the fantasists. Of course, you give them the really heavy pharmacological arsenal whereas the idiots only get the minor tranks. Pity, really, because the fantasists are at least more amusing and less dangerous — they weren’t the ones who invented biological and chemical warfare, atomic weapons, and all that stuff. On the other hand, at least the idiots don’t force dead flowers and luridly coloured books containing the half-wilted writings of émigré Indian gurus on people at airports.” Baazerath looked with mild displeasure at the rapidly diminishing cigar. “The quality’s gone down since they ousted Battista, you know. Ah well, that’s the Prime Material for you.”

“Now”, suddenly leaning forward and with a definite edge to his voice, “things get interesting. The third lot are epistemological interactionists. That’s a hell of a long term — no pun intended there — so we can call these people the wise guys. Some of the wise guys consider there is a real world of sorts, but it’s not directly knowable, and its nature is in some manner influenced by the construction of it made by the human mind. With me so far?” Another mute nod. “So, in some way, major changes in dominant theories of the nature of the world actually alter the world — or reality, if you prefer that dubious term. And they’re right, of course. Which brings me to my request. Norbert Parkinson.”

“Norbert Parkinson?”

“Yes. Strange as it may seem, Norbert Parkinson is a Reality Mutant.”

“What the hell is a Reality Mutant?”

“Droll little joke, doctor, but a trifle redundant to my previous usage. Well, Reality Mutants are people capable of producing major changes in dominant theories of reality and thus affecting it over a period of time. Newton was one — the idiots got him — then Einstein, obviously, and Freud to a lesser extent. Now, after Tom Cruise, there’s young Norbert”.

“Tom Cruise?” A shriek of disbelief.

“Oh, yes indeed. Perhaps you do not realise that for every 100 hours of watching the… ah… entertainment he appears in the viewer permanently loses one IQ point. The cumulative effects of this on consensually perceived reality may be quite impressive eventually. Of course, it’s not his fault directly; perhaps we can refer to that fine fellow as an Indirect Catalysing Reality Mutant.” Feizenbaum was completely slumped in his chair by now, glazed eyes staring vacantly at his desk. The devil continued its remorseless attack.

“But Norbert Parkinson – now he is a major Reality Mutant. In fact, he’s the most powerful Reality Mutant your world will ever know. Norbert has an unparalleled knowledge of role-playing games and he will invent a game so utterly and completely compelling that the nature of reality will shift, because the game structure and the currently perceived structure of reality overlap so insidiously that after a while nobody will be able to tell the difference. Get the picture?”

“I… I think so.” Feizenbaum was still in a state of shock. “But — aren’t you a thing from a game?”

The devil smiled happily. “Yes, that’s what most people think. The process has already begun, but Norbert Parkinson is the only person who can complete it. You must release him. You have 24 hours to consider my request. If, after that time, Norbert Parkinson has not been released, I’m afraid I shall have to put a Wall Of Fire under your chair, and since you’re only a second-level shrink, that’ll be the end of you. Make an appointment for me for the same time tomorrow, will you? I must teleport off now.”

The devil vanished, leaving behind only the smell of fire and brimstone, singe marks on the chair, and the stub of a Havana cigar smouldering in Feizenbaum’s ashtray. The psychiatrist cancelled his appointments for the rest of the day, went home, and consumed a generous quantity of Polish raw spirit.

“A Mr. Sharashta to see you, doctor.” Feizenbaum nodded vaguely; his head still hurt badly from the 140° liquor the night before and he still had to face the fact that his hallucinated devil had left some disturbingly tangible evidence of its visit. He hardly noticed the handsome young man in the Games Workshop T-shirt slip into his office.

“Ah, Dr. Feizenbaum. If I may use a motoring simile here, I think your brain is still in neutral. Try engaging it into bottom gear. Do you mind if I unpolymorph myself?”

Feizenbaum was beginning to get the hang of this by now. “No, of course not”, he replied with a trace of hysterical grandiosity. “This is about Norbert Parkinson, isn’t it?”

“Uh-huh”, replied the angelic creature opposite, comfortably folding his wings around the back of the chair.

“You’re a planetar?”

“Been reading the game books I see. No,” this with displeasure and a trace of tetchiness, “I’m a solar, actually. The point of my visit is that Norbert Parkinson must not be released. He is too powerful a Reality Mutant. Your world couldn’t handle it; you’re mostly evil and almost without exception chaotic and there’s no doubt the other side would gain the advantage. The devils would like it because they could rule a chaotic world with little trouble and the demons would make lots of converts too. So we in Elysium consider that Norbert should stay here in the bin.”

“I can’t do that. He’s not dangerous; he’s here as a voluntary patient.”

“Like hell he is.” said the solar sarcastically, “Come on, doc, I’m a supra-genius — don’t waste my time. He’s here as a voluntary patient because you’ve told him that it’s either that or a sectioning job under the Mental Health Act. Like most people, Norbert doesn’t know the legal limits on your powers and you certainly don’t tell him. So he can be a ‘voluntary patient’ for some time… I mean, we don’t want him to suffer. Lay off the electro-convulsive stuff and the drugs and the psychosurgery — although I gather that the lobotomies aren’t so easy for you to get away with these days.” The solar broke off to inhale from a tastefully gold-handed menthol cigarette it had lit. In desperation, Feizenbaum tried to change the subject.

“You shouldn’t do that. Think of the health risks!”

The solar looked contemptuously back at him.

“Don’t be dumb. What’s that to me when I’ve got a Wish every day? Smoking’s one of the fringe benefits of being on this miserable plane. That and the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Definite deficiencies of that sort of thing in Elysium.”

“But… aren’t you Lawful Good? Isn’t that out of line?”

“Not at all. Fertility deity, very into intoxications and passions and all that sort of business; by the way, do you mind if I date your nurse tonight? I could only get tickets for U2, but it’s better than nothing and these Prime Material girls really go for a guy with a 24 Charisma. Oh, and it’s Neutral Good actually. You didn’t read carefully enough. Well, I’m glad you’ll be keeping Norbert here. I must be off now.”

“What am I going to do when the devil turns up? He’s going to incinerate me. There’s no saving throw. He’ll kill me.”

“No he won’t.”

“Yes he will.”

“Oh no he won’t.”

“Oh yes he will.”

“Look, doc, this is not a Punch and Judy show. Baazerath had a minor accident on the way home last night and he won’t be leaving his home plane for 666 years. You’ll be quite safe. But if you really feel it will make you better, I will cast a wish to protect you. But I was rather hoping to keep that for your nurse…”

“You foul chauvinist! How can it be right to coerce someone with such magic?”

“Well actually there won’t be any coercion. I have the psionic ability of precognition, so I know that. Don’t lecture me on ethics, Feizenbaum. Oh, and don’t drink so much either. That’s a health risk too and you don’t have wishes. Bye now.”

The freckle-faced girl smiled back at the handsome young man as he weaved his way to their table with two colourful cocktails in his hands. They sipped them appreciatively as they relaxed in the soft leather chairs.

“I didn’t enjoy presenting myself as a Pit Fiend first time round, I must say. Still, all’s well that ends well. Feizenbaum won’t he any worry now.”

Feizenbaum? But — Norbert Parkinson…?” The girl looked very surprised.

“Oh, Norbert was just the instigating problem. Feizenbaum might have taken him into psychotherapy and after a while Norbert’s stories just might have altered Feizenbaum’s thinking. Feizenbaum was the Reality Mutant: he was the danger. Although he has not yet taken up role-playing games, it has crossed his mind to do so. But now, while he currently believes that devils and angels are real, he is so utterly confused that he will be incapable of effecting any major Reality Shift by constructing that dangerous reality altering game he had inside his mind in latent form. And after a while he will come to believe that it was all just a hallucination: idiots always do.” He sipped at the potent cocktail again, relishing the mixed flavours of the 13 alcoholic ingredients. “I must get the recipe for this to take home.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Oh Yes. I didn’t explain in detail the key fact — that gating into this plane would be a lot easier, so far as this world goes, if that Reality Shift we were worried about took place, and he never asked. He may have inferred it, but I don’t think so. But keep an eye on him. Can you arrange to get Parkinson transferred to another ward?”

“No problem — I can get him transferred to another hospital next week.”

“Fine. Feizenbaum’s going to spend the rest of this week in an alcoholic stupor so that deals with everything perfectly.”

“So can we go and see U2 now?”

“If we must. You owe me twenty quid for the ticket.” The girl protested. “Come on, these are the liberated teens. I’m a bit short until Friday. Anyway, look,” continued the solar, checking his digital wristwatch, “the concert starts at 9 but U2 won’t be on until 10 — 10.12, to be precise. Arsenal kick off at 7.30 and I’d rather like to see the first goal for Manchester for real — you never do get the fine-grain detail with precognitions. And the second-half brawl is a beauty. I can teleport us to the Wembley in time to see U2. The support band are awful anyway.”

“It’s a deal if you treat me to the concert”. The redhead looked big-eyed and persuasive.

“Oh, alright, let’s go.” The solar got up disconsolately, and walked off into the night with the 16th level cleric on his arm.

“So I was right to Gate you?”

“Oh, sure, the problem needed looking at. Anyway, visiting the Prime Material has its good points”, the solar said, cuddling her close.

“Beast. But what about poor Norbert?” He’s quite cute and completely harmless.”

“Oh, no problem. He’ll be released in 14 days; no harm done. Actually, his hospital experiences will have shocked him so much that he’ll give up role-playing games for good. He’ll end up as a chartered accountant.”

“Poor little sod.”

The solar and the cleric meandered off towards the river, secure in the knowledge that the vast majority of humanity remained totally ignorant of extraplanar reality.

This story contains numerous Very Long Words and a helpful glossary is provided.

  • Consensually Perceived Reality: What gets published in the tabloids.
  • Drugs, Brain-damaging: See major tranquilizers (qv).
  • Electro-convulsive Stuff: The technique of passing electrical current through the brain in the hope of putting it right when it isn’t working properly (well, more or less). Cf the time-honoured practice of kicking the television when it doesn’t work.
  • Epistemology: (1) Theories of knowledge acquisition. (2) The study of people affected by polish raw spirit (qv).
  • Hallucination: A veridical perception other people are too stupid, stubborn or unobservant to notice.
  • Liquid Cosh: See major tranquilizers (qv).
  • Major Tranquilizers: Chemicals of the phenothiazine class (but also newer substituted benzamides, thioxanthenes, etc). Used in the ‘treatment’ of persons with Serious Problems usually involving Hallucinations (qv) and failure to observe Consensually Perceived Reality (qv).
  • Meso-cortico-limbic Circuits: Interesting and complicated bits of the brain which connect the frontal bits to the bits in the middle, usually linked with emotion, perception, cognition and other Impressive Terms ending in ‘ion’.
  • Pharmacological Arsenal: See drugs, brain damaging (qv).
  • Polish Raw Spirit: See drugs, brain-damaging (qv).
  • Prime Material Girl: Madonna in the best of health.
  • Psychosurgery: Lopping bits off the brain in the hope that this will put it right when it isn’t working properly (cf Electro-convulsive Stuff (qv)).
  • Psychotherapy: The practice of extracting large sums of money from people in return for mystifying conversation. Pioneered by the famous Viennese Sigmund MacLaren, known for his summary formula ‘Pounds from Platitudes’.
  • U2: A rock band liked by people taking major tranquilizers (qv).

This article is a blatant plagerisation of an article by Gary Holland that appeared in White Dwarf Magazine #78, June 1986, and it as been used without even considering asking for permission (but with many thanks).

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