Notes: This story is three-quarters (blatantly) stolen from Gene Roddenberry, or rather, I suppose, from whoever's running the Star Trek franchise these days. I got the idea for this from the last two episodes of DS9 (my favourite Trek for plots) as well as the other episode about Benny Russell. I loved that guy.

I also blame Kielle, Rossi, and Obsidian Butterfly (whom I will insist on calling Sid in my head). Kielle for starting the whole thing, Rossi for doing this first, and Obsidian for managing, with one line of narrative, to make me feel saner (or as close as I ever get...;) about this whole Writing thing than I have in a long time -- as is not well-evidenced by the story to follow. I've been in a bit of a dry spell -- I'll try not to do that again.

For a mental patient, she was surprisingly lucid, most of the time. She tended toward long, complicated sentences containing large, complicated words and ideas that belied her condition. Other doctors called it an illness, still others, an imbalance. The favourite term, however (and the irony, more likely than not, escaped the medical professionals), was fantasy.

It was an accurate enough description of someone who spent her days in a world entirely separate from the one with which most people were acquainted.

She was small in stature, and thoroughly unintimidating, for the most part. She had thick dark hair which had been waist-length at the time of her arrival but had been cropped short for the sake of convenience. She had lamented the loss of her hair by snapping two bones in the stylist's wrist. Now, her hair hung in loose curls about her face. It gave her a wild look, especially with her freckles, pale skin, and dark green eyes staring out -- eyes that, on her worse days, seemed to be empty of anything at all; even a soul. On those days, she sat in a near-catatonic state for hours on end, staring blankly into space. On those days, her expression was one of two extremes. Sometimes, it was ecstasy -- the rest, it was hopelessness.

On those days it was easy to forget why she was really here.

According to her charts, the clinical term for her condition was Advanced Exceptional Paranoid Schizophrenia. Advanced, because she had been repeatedly described as being beyond aid. Exceptional, because there were things about her condition that did not correspond with the classic symptoms of Schizophrenia.

The paranoia, at least on one count, was understandable. She feared the loss of her "work" -- her word for the collection of close-crowded scrawls that covered the walls of her sterile hospital room. She feared it because periodically, hospital orderlies would come in and attempt to paint the walls over, to cover the writing with pristine new white. The doctors felt that the writing was at the root of her psychosis, and that destroying it would be the first major step toward whatever hope she might have left for a cure.

This practice, however, had long since been discontinued (coincidentally enough, at the same time she had been pronounced incurable). Both times, she had somehow prevented it; once, by biting an orderly in the shoulder (the resulting wound had required seventeen stitches). The second time, after being removed from the room on a pretense (in the hopes that this would somehow ease the transition), she had demonstrated an uncanny form of precognition, and raced back to her room shouting before the orderly had made it inside. She'd shut the door, that second time, and refused to come out for three days.

Since then, all attempts to erase the writing on the walls had taken the form of one doctor or another standing next to her in the room, holding a paintpan and roller, and pleading with her to do it herself. During these "sessions" she, for her part, tended to ignore them -- because they took place mostly while she stood scratching out a passage on the wall with a pencil, felt-pen, or crayon, oblivious to everything but her story.

They had tried taking away her writing implements, but then she'd only use blood.

Taking all of that into consideration, however, her condition had still been classified with more than a touch of reluctance. According to the rumours passed among the orderlies, it was because the doctors didn't really know what was wrong with her, and they were only guessing.

Which really, was somewhat frightening. Especially for the doctors chosen to fill those shifts in "session" with her.

Like the young doctor whose hand was now shaking slightly under the weight of the paint and roller.

"Come on now," he said, in that gentle, but earnest tone that psychiatrists practiced so well, "just a little paint. Brighten up the room -- bring you out of this funk you've been in."

Usually, if she ignored polite requests, cajoling at least got a reaction out of her. Today, she was immovable, staring intently at the words appearing in rapid, untidy scrawl in the wake of her pencil. Only an arms-length above her head was a ten-line-long passage in rusty brown. The doctor was intentionally avoiding it with his eyes, focusing instead on her unresponsive profile.

"Come on now, Meg. Wouldn't you rather do something else? Play a game in the rec room? Take a walk in the gardens? I could take you outside. It's a very nice day."

This time, she shook her head, slowly. More annoyed than heartened by this acknowledgement, he set down the paint pan, but kept the roller in his right hand. "Why not?" he asked. "Why not stop?"

For a moment, she simply ignored him again -- then she spared him a quick glance. "It isn't finished," she said, and turned back to the wall.

"It doesn't matter, though," he said, frustrated. This was his first session with her, and though he's been warned that the going would be slow (if it "went" at all), it was difficult not to become frustrated.

She didn't answer.

"If you stop, if we cover it up, you can leave. Do you understand that?"

"No I couldn't," she murmured absently. "Not for that."

He sighed explosively. "Well, no, maybe not right away, but eventually. But only if you stop. You must know, Meg, that this behaviour isn't...healthy. You're an intelligent person. Your IQ measures at nearly one-fifty..."

"One-forty-nine," she corrected him softly. "I'm smart enough to know that your kind of health isn't the kind I want -- and that I can never leave, because they're afraid of me." He didn't ask who she meant, because it was true of everyone in the hospital.

Then she smiled to herself, as if at a private joke. "And anyway. A lot of people are smarter than they look."

Insults, now. "Scribbling on the walls isn't something a stable person does!" he insisted.

She shrugged. "You won't give me any paper."

"Because it isn't only that. Your..."story" is dangerous. Don't you understand that?"

"Of course it's dangerous." She turned her head slightly, and fixed him with a decidedly eerie look. "Words are always dangerous."

He shook himself, trying to rid himself of the chill that look had sent tingling down his spine. He strove to keep a reasonable tone. "And that's why it has to stop."

She stared at him a moment longer, and turned back to the wall. "I mustn't stop."

"Why not?"

"Because it needs me," she said. "If I stopped, there are things and people that would disappear."

That's madness, he thought, but what he said was: "It isn't real, Meg." His tone held a frantic note. When shd didn't answer, he made a decision. She'd never been this responsive before, so surely a more aggressive approach...

...he stepped forward, paint roller upraised.

He hardly saw her move -- and in the split-second he noticed it, he remembered that she had been a dancer, had been martial-arts-trained, and that he'd been warned about that -- but the roller was knocked out of his hand (splattering paint, some part of his mind noticed, everywhere but on the walls themselves), and there was a sharp pain somewhere around the base of his throat that sent him staggering backwards until his back made contact with the wall next to the door. Bright red blood welled through the fingers he clapped over the wound, staining his white coat stark crimson.

He stared at her with wide, shocked eyes, his pulse thumping against his fingers, and watched her wipe the point of her pencil clean on the hem of her shirt. Her face bore an expression of mild annoyance, but otherwise, complete, serene calm.

After a moment's inspection, he realized that she'd only just missed the jugular artery -- as evidenced mostly by the fact that he was still conscious.

He wondered, fleetingly, if she had missed on purpose.

She regarded him with an expression of unshakable patience -- like that of a parent regarding a stubborn child -- or rather, he thought, of untouchable conviction: like that of a zealot.

"It's always real," she said, and turned back to the wall. Within moments, the only sounds in the room were the scratching of her pencil on the wall, and the riot of his heart beating in his ears.