Author : Philip Berry
From the couch, engineer Stanislaw Hast looked past the grey-suited, female psychiatrist and through the broad window. The star, a long dying sub-giant, threw a dusk of burnt ochre over the orbiting city, its rays painting the sunward face of tall buildings into perpendicular fire blocks.
“I’ll make it easy for you doctor. I know what I’ve got,” said Stanislaw, snapping back.
“Tell me.” Her words were smooth, professional, complacent.
“Fregoli’s. I looked it up. I see them in crowded rooms, in the metro, in the hanging parks. In many forms, disguised as men and women. But when I ask – how do I know you, where did we meet, why are you following me? – they look blank.”
“Fregoli’s refers to the belief that the same person is disguising him or herself in many forms. He was an actor on Earth, famous for his quick changes of costume. But you see many pretenders, not one. It is different.”
“No! I see common features in each face… they trigger memories, places, times… enough to convince me that I knew them once. I did know them. I am convinced.”
“But not the same person Mr Hast. And you have insight. You cannot be truly deluded.”
“They are playing with me. Pushing me to the edge of sanity. It is very real.”
The psychiatrist rose from her seat, stood by the couch and looked down at him. Stanislaw shifted uncomfortably.
“Mr Hast. There is only one constant in this… experience.”
“You, of course.”
“Then you do think I am mad.”
“That is not a word we use. No, like many of your generation, you are just…tired.”
“Generation? I’m young. I feel good, physically.”
“But your sensorium… is tired. Do you even know how old you are?”
“No Dr Hast. You are eight hundred and twenty-two. You came here when the city was established. You are a founder.”
Stanislaw tried to swing a leg off the couch, but the psychiatrist held him with a casually extended hand.
“No. Stay. Listen to me.”
“You are the mad one!”
“I have the sad duty of holding your long and excellent life up for you to see. I am the mirror you have never glimpsed. Some of us believe you have been selfish. I disagree. I understand your motive. It is love, for the city you made. You wished to see it through, to ensure its safety.”
The flashes of history, the ancient odours, the familiar angles of light and shadow on old steel. All the deja-vu moments. He had been everywhere, seen everything. She spoke truth.
“But how have I lived… physically?”
“That’s the selfish part. You have moved into – possessed, essentially – a long series of innocents. The software you and your colleagues developed was sophisticated… it melded the two identities, maintaining the recipients’ sanity but preserving your essence. Time after time.”
“Who oversaw this?”
“Me and my type. There was a legal… arrangement. Unbreakable, until such time as…”
“…I began to break down, to taste the delusion. Why is it ending now?”
“You have wandered the towers, tunnels, tracks and skyways of this great city for almost a millennium. You have known every family from its establishment. You have grown with them, seen it all. When you recognize people, you are recognizing their ancestors, recalling ancient meetings, historic conversations in buildings that have been subsumed. Your memory is full. You who are the shape changer. You are Fregoli.”
“And now it ends?”
“Yes. We can let you go now.”