It is always cold on this island. I wonder sometimes why Helmholtz would have chosen such an inhospitable place, although when I allow myself to think about it rationally and calmly - as he would have done - I am able to grasp his reasoning. I know that it is largely because of a reaction to the comforts of London, and that he is attempting to find his inspiration in discomfort. I know that I have said similar things myself.
Still... it is easy to say such things while lounging on a couch in my own apartments, or while safely strapped into a comfortable, climate-controlled helicopter. Not here, where the climate control in the compartment that we share is less than standard, and while I sit at night on the chair wrapped in a blanket of surprisingly durable wool and wonder how long the night will be. If only it could be a bit warmer.
I have tried, through my own keeping of notes, to keep track of the days since I have come here. One of the things that I disliked the most about life in London was that each day was largely interchangeable with each other, an endless stream of the same pleasures, bordering on banality. But it has been difficult, largely because I had no reason to do so before, and now doing so seems strange and alien to me. My attempt at keeping this journal have been fragmentary, little more than a few jotted sentences every couple of days or so, many of them not dated.
I am not dating this entry, and nor will I be dating the subsequent ones. Perhaps then I will be able to keep track of this a bit better.
So. What is there to say? There is much, I suppose... but I am not the one to say it. This is Helmholtz's gift, I think, the ability to write about these things, to say them in a way that isn't purely informational. His gift, and not so much mine. My writing was in scientific journals, strictly informative, strictly to the point. But here I am not an authority on human behavior; I do not answer to the authorities of the Conditioning Centres and I do not share this journal with anyone who insists on accurate and complete information. My writing is for my purposes only, and why shouldn't I write as it suits me? Why should I worry about whether or not it fits some arbitrary standard of usefulness or attractiveness?
But I digress. The purpose of this journal was to keep a record of my experiences here, not of my thoughts. Although when I mention such things to Helmholtz, in the hours that we share this place - for he and I are not working in the same facility, and therefore we do not see each other every day - he laughs at my misgivings. "Why not?" he asks, chuckling as he sits bent over his paper, pen in hand. "Why not keep a record of your feelings as well?"
"It wasn't the purpose of this," I say, looking over at him with some annoyance. "I can remember my feelings well enough."
"You can remember what happened from day to day well enough as well, Bernard," he answers - or some similar thing, the gist is always similar. "The purpose of that journal is to keep a record of yourself and your own thoughts, not some other thing. You said yourself the other day that you were tired of following their restrictions, were you not?"
"I suppose," I admitted. Did I say such a thing to him? I suppose that I must have.
"So do not restrict yourself! Write what you wish. You'll regret it if you do not."
Now that I record that conversation, I think that perhaps Helmholtz may have a valid point. Why not record my thoughts on what has happened as well as the actual events? Am I not still trying to live up to those standards even as I claim that I am not?
Either way, I think that I will move on to other subjects as I consider this. I have not written for some time, and there is much to say.
As I have said before, the first months in this place passed in a blur of activity. There had been others here, of course - although even as I say that I must confess, I was shocked at the number of malcontents that live in this society, at the number who chose to come to this place and not, say, some pleasant place in a warm sea. But they welcomed us warmly enough, and gave us a place to live and a means to earn said place - which Helmholtz was rather pleased about. "Look," he said, "this is exactly what John had in mind, isn't it? Labor to earn a place, not a place given to us in accordance to who we are." Then he sighed. "Although I do wish he was here."
"So do I," I said, although at that time I still was more envious of him than I felt free to admit. Why should he stay behind in London while we were exiled? If the World Controller was going to allow him to stay behind, why not the two of us? It seemed unfair, especially since the experiment that he was continuing had been MY idea, and yet I had been exiled before seeing its conclusion. "I do hope he's well."
"He'll do what he believes he must," Helmholtz said, but his face was troubled and he would not elaborate on his statement.
The two of us were given jobs from a pool of jobs that were necessary, for the lottery had already taken place. So the young man who met with us in the Office of Everyday Affairs told us. I say lottery because with a few exceptions - usually men and women who had been in this society for a long period of time and who had shown a particular aptitude for a specific task, or tasks which required advanced and specialized training - jobs were chosen by lot, so that each individual had as much chance at an advanced position as they did a menial job. It was, the man had said, the best way that they had found to ensure that the Cyprus fiasco would not repeat itself.
Helmholtz was given a position of labor, assisting in one of the factories which treated water and ensured sanitation would be adequate. I, on the other hand, was also given labor, but nearly so hard as his. I was told to report to the Mending Offices at once, and that Margaret - who I received the impression was the leader of that facility - would tell me what needed to be done.
I was puzzling as I took the walkway to the Mending Office, mostly at the name of the place. I supposed then that resources were at something of a premium in this place - a supposition that would later be proven accurate. The industrial base that we took for granted simply did not exist here, and with little help from the mainland they were left to their own devices. Which meant that they had rejected the idea that mending was an antisocial behavior. But to have an entire facility devoted to it felt very strange, although I suppose that the vast majority of it was simply my own conditioning. I have liked to pretend that I am immune to such things, but the truth is that I was susceptible to a large part of it, and so I still have difficulties.
The facility itself is a strange mixture of workshop and factory, a place where both small and large-scale repairs are made on a daily basis. Many of the more complicated repairs are made with the help of heavy machinery, but a great deal is also done by hand. I, having no training with machinery but having often been complimented on my manual dexterity, have largely been training for repairing items by hand. I have spent many an hour stitching up holes in wool blankets and affixing replacement buttons to flaxen shirts - none of the flimsy fabrics which I was so used to. They would not have held up to such treatment as they experienced on this island. My fingers still ache from the job as I speak of it, but I have started to grow used to it. Sadly, the next lottery is a mere fortnight away, and I must leave this job, at least for a time. An unfortunate thing, but I have not been here near long enough to ask for exceptions.
The facility is a comfortable one, clean and well-kept. The Director, a woman named Margaret, is a venerable presence in the offices, although I still find it difficult to look upon her - she would be an attractive woman if not for the glaring black eyepatch that she wears on her face. One cannot see the missing eye - caused by an accident which could not be rectified in time, she says, and which set about the events that led to her own exile. She does not elaborate, but her face is always twisted in pain when she speaks of it, no doubt remembering the sense of rejection that she felt when every man and woman around her began to shun her. I cannot help but feel a great deal of empathy for her.
She, and one other employee, are the only two classified as permanent employees of this place. The other startled me when I first saw her. I had not expected to see anyone who was not as tall as I. Almost everyone that I had met in this place so far would have been Alphas and Betas in mainstream society, tall and only lightly restricted by their conception and upbringing. But this young, dark-skinned woman was a different case, and both her height and the green sash that she still wore around her waist - for she did not feel comfortable without wearing something in that particular shade of green, she told me later - informed me immediately of her former caste. She had been delighted to see me as well, had run to me with a cry and embraced me, going on about how happy she was to see someone else like her; it had been with a keen feeling of guilt that I had informed her that I had not been a Gamma myself, despite my stature - the first time I have felt anything but indignation at that necessity.
"I feel somewhat responsible for her," Margaret told me once, after work had ended, when I had haltingly broached the subject. "So I let her stay here, and do her work with me. She enjoys it, and she's quite clever about fixing things."
"Is that so?" I had asked, unsure of what to say.
"She's a clever girl. Especially for a Gamma-Minus." Margaret chuckled. "That's why she's here, you see. She was part of a group that worked in a factory that I oversaw, but she became very bored with the work that she did. It was a one-in-a-million chance, you see - her mind developed more fully than those of her sisters. She was tired of Gamma work, and so she tried to do something about it. Got her hands on one of the Beta training manuals and tried to sneak into their classes to learn how to do their work. She did very well, and so I allowed her to stay, indulged her." She sighed slightly. "Of course, once the Controllers learned of that, she was already marked. And then there was my accident," she continued, running one hand over her face thoughtfully. "So we were exiled together."
I think that the story suffers somewhat in my telling of it. I rather wish that I could ask Rowena to put it in her own words, but she - like so many of the other people here - dislikes speaking of her former life, and indeed, does not care to keep any connection to it at all... although I have heard rumors of a source that sends information to the island on occasion, particularly relevant news, scientific reports that had been rejected by the mainstream but that seemed to be of particular interest to someone here, and other interesting bits of information.
I have yet to receive anything from the source, and neither has Helmholtz, but its very existence has piqued my curiosity. "Who do you suppose this source is?" I remember asking Helmholtz one day, as the two of us were returning to our residences - neighboring rooms that shared a common area, a kitchen and bath facility with full amenities, but cold, always too cold.
"I don't know," he said. "A few possibilities occur to me, but..." he shrugged. "Whoever it is seems to have reason to remain anonymous. I doubt that we will ever know."
Helmholtz, for his part, seems to be adapting well to life here, better than I did initially, despite his position of hard labor. He takes his work and his aches and pains with cheerful good humor, and even tries to use them in a constructive way, writing verses about the feelings of soreness or the way that the chill bites through his clothes and numbs his hands. He has not let me read many of them, however, although I have asked to see them.
When I asked him why, on one occasion, he merely shook his head. "They simply aren't adequate," he said sadly, shaking his head.
"But you shared them with us in London."
"That was different," he said quickly. "There... they felt like the best attempt that I could make. Here I feel that I might be capable of so much more."
"You always told me that words have little power before they are heard," I pointed out. "So allow me to hear them, and then you will know what they are capable of."
"Someday," he said, shaking his head again.
The island has not been as terrible place as I had feared, on the whole, although I must say that the most difficult part of living here has been the terrible loneliness. I had thought that I was ready to be lonely, that I was fully prepared for the difficulty that it would entail... but here, where there are days when my only contact is with other workers and when Helmholtz is often withdrawn and seems less inclined to speak, I find that I was not nearly so ready as I had expected. There is opportunity to socialize, but not so much as in London; the attitude towards sex, in particular, would seem very queer to most, as those who are new to the islands are encouraged not to seek out or participate in sexual liaisons, so as to grow accustomed to the idea that this is a new society, not the one that we came from. I have spent many days alone, feeling rather put-out, wishing that company was only a few steps away, as it had been before... of course, then I typically remember the loathing and anger that I felt in most social situations, the despair at how they so often treated me. Sometimes it seems that I cannot win.
The society here... I've spoken little of that, I believe. In the end, I must admit that it is not entirely unlike London. We have many of the same amenities, but on a much smaller scale, and not as well maintained due to the lack of a solid industrial base. The economy here is fragile and largely self-sufficient. We do not live like savages - there are cars, even a few helicopters, although their use is restricted. There is, however, no soma stored here, or so we are told. I am too cynical not to wonder if perhaps a few grammes have found their way here, and are occasionally consumed in secret. Likewise, despite the rebellious nature of many of the residents, there is not a single parent among them; no one has taken a step in that direction. There are practically no children here, born or decanted, for children are almost never exiled; they are seen as salvageable, and I have found that sadly, they generally are.
The society is hardly idyllic. There are fights, there are conflicts, and there are no divine voices with pre-conditioned responses to break them up, only other men and women whose response to conflicts are sadly limited. There is the tendency to shirk labor, and to take paths of least resistance. There are a host of other things, which occasionally disrupt life, and yet so far none of the crises that I have seen have broken the spirits of the people here. They genuinely care about this place. They wish to make of it a true society, not another broken place that the World Controllers can point to as an example of their superiority.
I must say that despite my misgivings, I find their enthusiasm most infectious.
I wish that I could say that today was not unique among days, but I fear that I cannot. I fear that I must speak of this as a dark day, darker than even the day that I was sent to this cold place.
I had woken up that morning after a series of easy dreams. It would have been a comfort, but in truth I would have preferred the nightmares; waking to my new life after a hellish dream of war and disaster seemed a relief in comparison. Waking after a dream of comfort in London, of the nights when John was with me, when life was easy and - dare I say it? - something that resembled the norm was horror, and I wanted nothing more than to sink back into sleep and dream. Alas, however, it was time to wake up, and I was already on uneasy footing with my new life; if I was to grow accustomed to it, I would need to follow its customs as well as I could manage, and so I got out of bed.
I walked into the dining area to see Helmholtz sitting at the table. He looked up when I arrived, and I could see worry on his face, mingled with something like pain and trepidation. "Bernard," he said, his face pale and his eyes shadowed. "Did you sleep well?"
"Too well, I'm afraid." I sat down beside him, unable to suppress my concern. "What in the world has gotten into you?"
"News," he said simply. "From London. I have it here, but if you wish to prepare yourself -"
I snatched it from his hand, feeling the subtle sting in my pride. Unintentional, of course - I know very well that Helmholtz means only the best when he says such things - but tangible and real, all the same.
I stared at the paper, reading it over and over again and yet not quite managing to comprehend what I was seeing. Massive Orgy of Atonement in Surrey Causes National Sensation, said one headline. Local Re-Training Facilities Overwhelmed by Participants. Rights For Event Hotly Contested By Six Feelie Directors.
And then, of course, the line that I know that Helmholtz was speaking of: John, Savage of London, Found Dead In Aftermath.
I felt the gorge rise in my stomach, although I had not yet taken breakfast, and read on.
It was a straightforward article. Most of what it had to say were merely elaborations of the headlines, and relevant quotes from various officials who seemed to have a stake in the area's well-being - although I remember, in my dazed sort of way, being somewhat surprised that the World Controller had not spoken. The article bemoaned the fact that so many men and women seemed to have lost their minds during the strange and highly unorthodox orgy, which had involved a great deal of pain - I shuddered involuntarily - in addition to the usual sexual congress. Many of the participants had been sent forthwith to the Reconditioning Centres and were being treated for their injuries, as well as for "mental trauma of the worst variety," as the article said. Lenina Crowe was one of them, I saw, and the one who had been most badly beaten, her body marked by lash marks, not merely by blows from hands and feet. I admit that it should have pained me more than it did at the time, but by that point in my reading I was so shocked and so numb that it did not immediately register, and merely floated on the surface, a film over the sea of my shock that would only be rocked by the report of John's death.
John. Dear, handsome, savage John... dead, his face a mask of shame as he hung from the rafters of his little house, his neck distended, the blood pooling and turning him shades of color that should not have been. His body also marked by lash wounds, and as the examiners would determine, the sort of lash wounds that had most likely been inflicted by the man himself, his own lash turned in on himself. The reporter who had written the article had, along with a number of others, found him hanging from that rafter the morning after, but he had of course been long dead by then. There was no way they could have saved him. He had long been doomed - doomed since the day I brought him to London, or perhaps since the day that the young Beta-Plus named Linda had fallen and become lost in the Savage Reservation with a lover's child in her womb that she had simultaneously loved and hated.
At the very bottom of the newsprint I saw a handwritten note. My greatest condolences for your loss, it said simply, in neat cursive script, and was signed only with the letter M. It was clear then who our benefactor was, and why he had gone to such pains to keep his name a secret, but even that did not affect me the way that it should have. The nausea was growing worse and worse as tears came to my eyes. I knew that it would reach a head very soon.
"We should have insisted that he come with us," I choked past the rising lump in my throat.
Helmholtz was calm, but his voice was strained. "He would not have agreed to it. You must know that. He had made up his mind."
"I suppose," I began, but a final wave of nausea struck me with such force that it was all that I could do to run into the common sanitary facilities before the heaving started. There was nothing for my body to purge, but it made the attempt anyway, so carefully conditioned from its very earliest years to associate sadness with sickness and crying with nausea. A deterrent, of course, something far more primal than the slogans. Crying was considered antisocial to the extreme, and so they attempted to eliminate it at a young age, or at least encourage us to do something about it as quickly as we could - enter the hypnopaedic urging to take Soma, once the developing body was old enough to properly metabolize it.
After a while I became conscious of a hand on my shoulder, and looked up to see my friend's concerned face. "I did the same," he said gently, "when I first saw the news."
I nodded, feeling somewhat better, knowing that I was not alone. I could not completely banish the feeling of anger and shame at my actions, but knowing that someone else had done the same did at least alleviate it somewhat. "Thank you," I said, still choked, my throat still painfully tight.
Anytime that a child - especially a boy, although girls certainly were not immune to this - looked as though he was about to shed tears for reasons that did not involve some form of strange physiological quirk, but was genuinely upset, that child was immediately coddled, treated as well as possible, in the hopes that the crying would not occur. When the child cried anyway, as children do sometimes do - I myself have seen it many times, in Alphas and Betas who wished to rebel against their world in some small way, and at times I envy them - they are treated more harshly. Whatever the reason, and whatever the price, children are not allowed to cry, because crying is one of the most antisocial things imaginable.
There is a reason, although I cannot say it is a good reason, that hardly anyone ever cries, even here. We all remember what happened to us when we attempted to do so last, and even if our minds cannot hold the memory, our bodies do. We all feel the same vague distaste of tears, and for some of us that distaste becomes discomfort or even illness. I think that perhaps those of us who have worse symptoms were the ones who cried more, who rebelled more than the others and who were given more severe attempts at conditioning.
At least I would like to believe that, because it would mean that I was one of the most rebellious children in London.
Helmholtz left me alone, then, as I did my best to weep.
Two days have passed since the news of John's death. We have not been required to work; employees are given days of their own to rest, which we typically had spent acclimating ourselves to the island. I fear that I have done little of that, however, and have mostly sat in my own rooms, despairing and silent.
I specify my rooms, not the common room, because I was very much annoyed with my old friend, although at the time I was finding it difficult to articulate why. He had spent hours sitting with his face devoid of grief, staring at his notebook with pen in hand. Occasionally he would scratch a few words onto the notepad, then frown and cross them out, shaking his head. I would hear him mutter things to himself from time to time - "Rubbish" seemed to be a comment ejaculation, as was "Utter trash."
"Helmholtz, what the blazes are you doing?" I finally asked when it all became too much. I had been making an attempt at cooking, having finally settled enough to try to eat, and it was going poorly, which added to my irritation.
"Attempting a memorial," he said, with a sigh. "But the words simply are not coming. I wonder if perhaps I am missing something?"
I turned off the fire and stared at him. He seemed oblivious to my growing irritation, however, and simply did not look up from his notepad, kept scratching away. "Perhaps they would come to you if you felt anything at all," I finally snapped, losing my temper entirely.
"I beg your pardon?" he asked, looking up and looking hard at me. And yes, that sort of gaze would have made me lose my nerve before, but I was not going to be pushed around at that moment. I still felt that raw sort of ache that I'd been feeling since I'd heard of John's death, and somehow that ache gave me the power to resist the hardness of my old friend's stare.
"You've said nothing about his death in the past two days," I began, feeling the color rise in my cheeks. "You've done nothing but sit at the table and attempt to write about it! Is that all that his death was to you, an excuse for your precious poetry?"
"You overstep yourself, Bernard," he said, and for a moment I thought that he was going to snap, that he was genuinely angry... but then he seemed to notice something, or perhaps remember something, and looked away.
"Overstep! Me! What in the world do you mean? How can you say things like that? I've lost a dear friend -"
"Was he always a friend to you? I seem to recall the true reason that you brought him to London."
"That has nothing to do with it," I sputtered, but I knew that he was right, and I could feel the shame twisting in my gut.
"No... no, I should not have said such a thing. Forgive me." He shook his head. "But do try to understand. I must put different words to this grief than the sort that I can simply say, or else I will be unable to express it. Do you see?"
"I don't know," I managed. Then I turned tail and fled, unable to think to do anything else. I could not have stood there and bore his calm, his gentle demeanor, his attempts at kindness and understanding. Not while I was so irritated at him and his ways. I knew in the back of my mind that it would be best to allow such things to fade from my mind, but I find myself unable to trust such urges. Are they mine, I would always wonder, or did they belong to the society that placed them there by its pervasive means? What thoughts are mine? Are these thoughts my own?
I must hope that, because they are the sorts of thoughts that society would have quashed on its own, they are truly my own and not the result of some strange and subtle conditioning that has taken hold on my mind. I must hope, for the alternative is to live in fear.
I must have stood outside for an hour in the cold and the wind, wrapping my coat around me - it was growing a bit threadbare, and while I knew rationally that I needed to take it to the Mending Office, I somehow couldn't bring myself to do so, in my pride. Nor could I bring myself to turn around and walk back into the warmth of my compartment, knowing that I would have to face Helmholtz again... but I did not want to leave, either. It was a strange and conflicting feeling, and I was ill-equipped to handle such things at that moment, when my emotions were already bruised and raw from the news of John's death.
Fortunately, Helmholtz came outside to join me and spared me the decision, for which I am grateful. He did not immediately speak, but the sympathy and concern on his face spoke for him, as did his actions. Wordlessly he handed me a fleece blanket, which I gratefully and silently accepted and wrapped around my shoulders. He, who was more warmly dressed and likely would have been quite comfortable in less with his muscular and robust frame, stood close to me and watched the clouds as the sky roiled above us. It was, I had to admit, a fascinating sight, and I could understand why he had chosen to come here. It reminded me of a lifetime ago, flying with Lenina in my helicopter, watching the sky and the waves and wondering what sorts of feelings that the two of us could have conceived of, if only we had been allowed to do so.
Poor, poor Lenina. I had tried to spare her a thought before, but my sorrow at the loss of John had overshadowed everything. But the sky above me was a powerful reminder, and I closed my eyes and bowed my head, thinking of her. She had been lovely, very lovely. If only she had not been such a good citizen, if only she had wanted to be... someone else, someone that could have understood... I had a vision then of Lenina in her lovely green outfit, standing terrified on the shores of the island, and I repented. No, I said silently to myself. She would not have belonged here. John might have lived here, might have found a place. Lenina had belonged in London, in Society. She was a product of it. She had no desire and no drive to be anything else, not like John or Helmholtz or myself...
I would have preferred her to be happy, however, even if happiness for her meant living in what had been madness for me. Why hadn't she done the acceptable thing and let John go, when she had always done the acceptable thing before? Was I the one who had brought this madness upon us all?
Helmholtz must have gleaned some insight from my manner, as I felt his hand on my shoulder. "Do not let the guilt consume you, old fellow," he said quietly. "If you had a hand in their deaths, then so did I. And so did both of them."
"That doesn't mean I didn't have a hand it it," I said, somewhat sulkily.
"No, but it means you needn't bear all of its weight." He sighed. "I am... finding it difficult to speak of this. I do miss John. His death was truly tragic. I merely wished to... to immortalize it, to let it be remembered in a more meaningful way. Otherwise, his death is merely a footnote, and that would be as tragic as the death itself."
I nodded slightly. "I... I begin to understand," I said, and believed it to be true.
My work in the Mending Offices the next day was thankfully light - a few books that had worn apart and needed restitching and gluing, and a few small devices which needed replacements for worn-out parts. Fortunately, I was able to separate myself and concentrate on the work, which I could scarcely believe had seemed so alien to me before. It was meditative, and I found myself wishing that I had had such things to work on in London; it would have calmed my mind to be able to lose myself in activity that was not so mindless as Obstacle Golf.
No one spoke of the news. I suspect that Helmholtz and I were the only ones truly privy to it. There was no talk of it, and indeed no talk of anything, although Rowena did ask me if there was something wrong. "You seem lost," she said to me, as we both stopped to take our meals. "You're not lost, are you?"
I smiled slightly. "No more than any of us are here," I said. I sounded like Helmholtz at that moment, I thought, except for the one important detail. Helmholtz would have managed to laugh at such a statement; he seemed to thrive on being lost, while I foundered in darkness and unsure footing. It is fortunate that he is willing to allow me to follow him.
"Okay," she said. "I was just..." she frowned a little. "I was a little worried."
"Don't be. I'll be fine, don't worry."
She smiled then, patted my shoulder - something that I would never have known a Gamma-Minus to do in London, even to me - and walked away with her glass of water.
It was late in the workday, when I had finished my own assigned mendings and was assisting Margaret with her last task of the day. I had noticed that she had seemed very distant, almost as if she had her own ill news to contemplate. I wanted to ask her what it was, if only as a show of solidarity, but I hesitated to do so. What if I offended her? What if she had some great and private concern, and my words would only bring her more pain? I did not want to make Margaret angry, you must understand. It was difficult - and I must admit to feeling ashamed of this - it was difficult to even look her in the face, with that great black patch covering what I knew was an old injury.
I considered asking her for most of the day, and in the end it was she that broached the subject, shortly after we completed her project and while she was sweeping the floor - still a strange sight, but I was rapidly growing accustomed. "Bernard," she said as I wiped down a table. "May I ask you a question about your life before you came here?"
"Of course," I said automatically.
My puzzlement must have been obvious, because she chuckled. "Some of us don't enjoy being reminded of it," she said. Her hand moved to brush her forehead, just above her wounded eye, and I shuddered and looked away. "I was speaking to Helmholtz a few nights ago, and he had mentioned that you were an expert in the field of hypnopaedia. Is that true?"
A few months before, I might have puffed myself up and haughtily said that I was one of the foremost experts on hypnopaedia, and that my work in London had broken ground in the field and its application. But it seemed a ridiculous reaction here, where the chill always seemed to hang in the air. "It is," I said instead, calmly and simply.
She nodded. "There's something that I've been considering for a very long time," Margaret began, her brow furrowed. "I don't know if it's a very good idea, you see. I never had much opportunity or need to study the process... it was never relevant. I knew the results from the groups that I oversaw, but... well."
She sighed slightly. I could read... yes, I could see it. She was nervous about something, about whatever it was she had to say. "What on Earth is it?" I asked, starting to feel a bit out of sorts myself.
"I wanted your professional opinion," she began. "Everyone on this island - everyone on any island - has experienced the process, and the other conditioning processes. We might not all agree with what we've learned, but we all spent a great deal of time learning it, and..." She stopped, smiled ruefully. "Sometimes I ask myself what I'm doing in this place, you understand? I look at my work and ask myself why I'm spending the time to mend a torn dress or a worn-out shoe, why I cannot just go and buy something new. Something better."
I nodded thoughtfully. It was one of the most basic hypnopaedic precepts, one of the ones shared across all of the castes. Still, I had to admit that I was puzzled. "You've managed to overcome most of those prejudices, obviously."
"Yes, but it takes a great deal of willpower. I've seen others who can't throw them off entirely; it makes them terribly unhappy. And I can't imagine how much worse it must be on the more hospitable island settlements." She shook her head. "It just makes me wonder if there might be an easier way."
I could feel the certainty of what she was about to say like a stone in my stomach. Margaret was not the sort to dance around subjects, but she was certainly dancing around this one. "Such as?"
"I had wondered if we could make a hypnopaedia facility of our own," she said, finally looking me straight in the eye. I did my best to meet her gaze, difficult as it was. "If we could recondition ourselves using the same means that we were conditioned -"
"No," I said sharply, cutting her off, surprising myself with the vehemence of my statement. No, that wouldn't do. "No," I said, more quietly - too quietly, just above a whisper. "That won't do. That won't do at all."
"I thought you would say that," she said, shaking her head. "But consider it, at least. Why shouldn't we use the State's weapon against it? We are all at a severe disadvantage because of it, and if we could recondition ourselves -"
"We can recondition ourselves. We are reconditioning ourselves. But using such means to carry it out..." I paused, took a breath. I could hear John's voice in my mind, again, could hear him saying those same condemnations. It seemed fitting, saying his words in response to Margaret's ideas. "It would come at too cheap a price," I continued. "We attempt to educate each other through actions and through less invasive means, not through the same easy means as we are accustomed to, and I for one believe that we are doing the right thing. We are not giving in to the path of least resistance, and so we will grow stronger as we proceed. Don't you agree?"
The bell had rung a few minutes ago - the other employees were filing out of the facility. Only Margaret and I remained, or so I had thought - until I heard clapping behind me. I turned, startled, and saw Helmholtz, leaning only a bit against the wall, smiling. "Well said, dear fellow," he said as I stared at him in surprise. "Well said."
"You think so?" I answered, still somewhat startled. "I hardly have your gift with words -"
"No, but you have captured it perfectly. Using hypnopaedia to educate us would be a step towards what we were sent here to be free of. Dear old John would applaud you as well, if only he were here."
"Thank you," I said softly, but I could feel my throat constricting as he spoke of John.
Margaret sighed somewhat behind me. "I can see your argument, Mr. Marx. Although I do wonder if it is the best thing."
"Perhaps not," I answered, "but I do think it might be the most fitting thing."
"The higher ground," Helmholtz agreed, approaching me somewhat stiffly. He had, I noted with alarm, had a difficult day. "I came to meet you. I had no intention of eavesdropping, but I must admit that I'm pleased to have done so."
"It's quite all right," I said, "although I must hope that now that you have heard my words, you will share your own with me again."
"I will," he said, smiling slightly. "When they are ready."
The two of us said farewell to Margaret, who wished us well with the same thoughtful look in her good eye, and left for our own rooms. The weather was fair, for this place, and I could not deny feeling some peace, although I still suffered somewhat from the thought of John's death.
I hope that Helmholtz was right and that John would in fact be pleased with my words. It would mean that at least some part of him would still live on.