Il descend, reveille, l’autre cote du reve.
It was only three o’clock, and he should have gone back to his office in the Parks Department and finished up the plans for southeast suburban play areas; but he didn’t. He gave it one thought and dismissed it. Although his memory assured him that he had held that position for five years now, he disbelieved his memory; the job had no reality to him. It was not work he had to do. It was not his job.
He was aware that in thus relegating to irreality a major portion of the only reality, the only existence, that he in fact did have, he was running exactly the same risk the insane mind runs: the loss of the sense of free will. He knew that in so far as one denies what is, one is possessed by what is not, the compulsions, the fantasies, the terrors that flock to fill the void. But the void was there. This life lacked realness; it was hollow; the dream, creating where there was no necessity to create, had worn thin and sleazy. If this was being, perhaps the void was better. He would accept the monsters and the necessities beyond reason. He would go home, and take no drugs, but sleep, and dream what dreams might come.
He got off the funicular downtown, but instead of taking the trolley he set out walking toward his own district; he had always liked to walk.
Along past Lovejoy Park a piece of the old freeway was still standing, a huge ramp, probably dating from the last frenetic convulsions of highway-mania in the seventies; it must have led up to the Marquam Bridge, once, but now ended abruptly in mid-air thirty feet above Front Avenue. It had not been destroyed when the city was cleaned up and rebuilt after the Plague Years, perhaps because it was so large, so useless, and so ugly as to be, to the American eye, invisible. There it stood, and a few bushes had taken root up on the roadway, while underneath it a huddle of buildings had grown up, like swallows’ nests in a cliff. In this rather dowdy and noncommittal bit of the city there were still small shops, independent markets, unappetizing little restaurants, and so on, struggling along despite the stringencies of total Consumer Product Equity-Rationing and the overwhelming competition of the great WPC Marts and Outlets, through which 90 per cent of world trade was now channeled.
One of these shops under the ramp was a secondhand store; the sign above the windows said ANTIQUES and a poorly lettered, peeling sign painted on the glass said JUNQUE. There was some squat handmade pottery in one window, an old rocker with a motheaten paisley shawl draped over it in the other, and, scattered around these main displays, all kinds of cultural litter: a horseshoe, a hand-wound clock, something enigmatic from a dairy, a framed photograph of President Eisenhower, a slightly chipped glass globe containing three Ecuadorian coins, a plastic toilet-seat cover decorated with baby crabs and seaweed, a well-thumbed rosary, and a stack of old hi-fi 45 rpm records, marked “Gd Cond,” but obviously scratched. Just the sort of place, Orr thought, where Heather’s mother might have worked for a while. Moved by the impulse, he went in.
It was cool and rather dark inside. A leg of the ramp formed one wall, a high blank dark expanse of concrete, like the wall of an undersea cave. From the receding prospect of shadows, bulky furniture, decrepit acres of Action Paintings and fake-antique spinning wheels now becoming genuinely antique though still useless, from these tenebrous reaches of no-man’s-things, a huge form emerged, seeming to float forward slowly, silent and reptilian: The proprietor was an Alien.
It raised its crooked left elbow and said, “Good day. Do you wish an object?”
“Thanks, I was just looking.”
“Please continue this activity,” the proprietor said. It withdrew a little way into the shadows and stood quite motionless. Orr looked at the light play on some ratty old peacock feathers, observed a 1950 home-movie projector, a blue and white saki set, a heap of Mad magazines, priced quite high. He hefted a solid steel hammer and admired its balance; it was a well-made tool, a good thing. “Is this your own choice?” he asked the proprietor, wondering what the Aliens themselves might prize from all this flotsam of the affluent years of America.
“What comes is acceptable,” the Alien replied.
A congenial point of view. “I wonder if you’d tell me something. In your language, what is the meaning of the word iahklu’?”
The proprietor came slowly forward again, edging the broad, shell-like armor carefully among fragile objects.
“Incommunicable. Language used for communication with individual-persons will not contain other forms of relationship. Jor Jor.” The right hand, a great, greenish, flipperlike extremity, came forward in a slow and perhaps tentative fashion. “Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe.”
Orr shook hands with it. It stood immobile, apparently regarding him, though no eyes were visible inside the dark-tinted, vapor-filled headpiece. If it was a headpiece. Was there in fact any substantial form within that green carapace, that mighty armor? He didn’t know. He felt, however, completely at ease with Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe.
“I don’t suppose,” he said, on impulse again, “that you ever knew anyone named Lelache?”
“Lelache. No. Do you seek Lelache.”
“I have lost Lelache.”
“Crossings in mist,” the Alien observed.
“That’s about it,” Orr said. He picked up from the crowded table before him a white bust of Franz Schubert about two inches high, probably a piano-teacher’s prize to a pupil. On the base the pupil had written, “What, Me Worry?” Schubert’s face was mild and impassive, a tiny bespectacled Buddha. “How much is this?” Orr asked.
“Five New Cents,” replied Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe.
Orr produced a Fed-peep nickel.
“‘Is there any way to control iahklu’, to make it go the way it... ought to go?”
The Alien took the nickel and sidled majestically over to a chrome-plated cash register which Orr had assumed was for sale as an antique. It rang up the sale on the register and stood still a while.
“One swallow does not make a summer,” it said. “Many hands make light work.” It stopped again, apparently not satisfied with this effort at bridging the communication gap. It stood still for half a minute, then went to the front window and with precise, stiff, careful movements picked out one of the antique disk-records displayed there, and brought it to Orr. It was a Beatles record: “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
“Gift,” it said. “Is it acceptable?”
“Yes,” Orr said, and took the record. “Thank you— thanks very much. It’s very kind of you. I am grateful.”
“Pleasure,” said the Alien. Though the mechanically produced voice was toneless and the armor impassive, Orr was sure that Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe was in fact pleased; he himself was moved.
“I can play this on my landlord’s machine, he has an old disk-phonograph,” he said. “Thank you very much.” They shook hands again, and he left.
After all, he thought as he walked on toward Corbett Avenue, it’s not surprising that the Aliens are on my side. In a sense, I invented them. I have no idea in what sense, of course. But they definitely weren’t around until I dreamed they were, until I let them be. So that there is—there always was—a connection between us.
Of course (his thoughts proceeded, also at a walking pace), it that’s true, then the whole world as it now is should be on my side; because I dreamed a lot of it up, too. Well, after all, it is on my side. That is, I’m a part of it. Not separate from it. I walk on the ground and the ground’s walked on by me, I breathe the air and change it, I am entirely interconnected with the world.
Only Haber’s different, and more different with each dream. He’s against me: my connection with him is negative. And that aspect of the world which he’s responsible for, which he ordered me to dream, that’s what I feel alienated from, powerless against....
It’s not that he’s evil. He’s right, one ought to try to help other people. But that analogy with snakebite serum was false. He was talking about one person meeting another person in pain. That’s different. Perhaps what I did, what I did in April four years ago... was justified. ... (But his thoughts shied away, as always, from the burned place.) You have to help another person. But it’s not right to play God with masses of people. To be God you have to know what you’re doing. And to do any good at all, just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough. You have to... be in touch. He isn’t in touch. No one else, no thing even, has an existence of its own for him; he sees the world only as a means to his end. It doesn’t make any difference if his end is good; means are all we’ve got.... He can’t accept, he can’t let be, he can’t let go. He is insane.... He could take us all with him, out of touch, if he did manage to dream as I do. What am I to do?
He reached the old house on Corbett as he reached that question.
He stopped off in the basement to borrow the old-fashioned phonograph from Mannie Ahrens, the manager. This involved sharing a pot of tea. Mannie always brewed it for Orr, since Orr had never smoked and couldn’t inhale without coughing. They discussed world affairs a little. Mannie hated the Sports Shows; he stayed home and watched the WPC educational shows for pre-Child Center children every afternoon. “The alligator puppet, Dooby Doo, he’s a real cool cat,” he said. There were long gaps in the conversation, reflections of the large holes in the fabric of Mannie’s mind, worn thin by the application of innumerable chemicals over the years. But there was peace and privacy in his grubby basement, and weak cannabis tea had a mildly relaxing effect on Orr. At last he lugged the phonograph upstairs, and plugged it into a wall-socket in his bare living room. He put the record on, and then held the needle-arm suspended over the turning disk. What did he want?
He didn’t know. Help, he supposed. Well, what came would be acceptable, as Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe had said.
He set the needle carefully on the outer groove, and lay down beside the phonograph on the dusty floor.
Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love.
The machine was automatic; when it had played the record it grumbled softly a moment, clicked its innards, and returned the needle to the first groove.
I get by, with a little help,
With a little help from my friends.
During the eleventh replay Orr fell sound asleep.
Awakening in the high, bare, twilit room, Heather was disconcerted. Where on earth?
She had been asleep. Gone to sleep sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out and her back against the piano. Marijuana always made her sleepy, and stupid, too, but you couldn’t hurt Mannie’s feelings and refuse it, the poor old pothead. George lay flat as a skinned cat on the floor, right by the phonograph, which was slowly eating its way through “With a Little Help” right down to the turntable. She cut the volume down slowly, then stopped the machine. George never stirred; his lips were slightly parted, his eyes firmly closed. How funny that they had both gone to sleep listening to the music. She got up off her knees and went out to the kitchen to see what was for dinner.
Oh for Christsake, pig liver. It was nourishing and the best value you could get for three meat-ration stamps by weight. She had picked it up at the Mart yesterday. Well, cut real thin, and fried with salt pork and onions...yecchh. Oh well, she was hungry enough to eat pig liver, and George wasn’t a picky man. If it was decent food he ate and enjoyed it and if it was lousy pig liver he ate it. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, including good-natured men.
As she set the kitchen table and put two potatoes and half a cabbage on to cook, she paused from time to time: she did feel odd. Disoriented. From the damn pot, and going to sleep on the floor at all hours, no doubt.
George came in, disheveled and dusty-shirted. He stared at her. She said, “Well. Good morning!”
He stood looking at her and smiling, a broad radiant smile of pure joy. She had never received so great a compliment in her life; she was abashed by that joy, which she had caused. “My dear wife,” he said, taking her hands. He looked at them, palms and backs, and put them up against his face. “You should be brown,” he said, and to her dismay she saw tears in his eyes. For a moment, just that moment, she had a notion of what was going on; she recalled being brown, and remembered the silence in the cabin at night, and the sound of the creek, and many other things, all in a flash. But George was a more urgent consideration. She was holding him, as he held her. “You’re worn out,” she said, “you’re upset, you fell asleep on the floor. It’s that bastard Haber. Don’t go back to him. Just don’t. I don’t care what he does, we’ll take it to court, we’ll appeal it, even if he slaps a Constraint injunction on you and sticks you in Linnton we’ll get you a different shrink and get you out again. You can’t go on with him, he’s destroying you.”
“Nobody can destroy me,” he said, and laughed a little, deep in his chest, almost a sob, “not so long as I have a little help from my friends. I’ll go back, it’s not going to last much longer. It’s not me I’m worried about, any more. But don’t worry....” They hung on to each other, in touch at all available surfaces, absolutely unified, while the liver and onions sizzled in the pan. “I fell asleep too,” she said into his neck, “I got so groggy typing up old Rutti’s dumb letters. But that’s a good record you bought. I loved the Beatles when I was a kid but the Government stations never play them any more.”
“It was a present,” George said, but the liver popped in the pan, and she had to disengage herself and see to it. At dinner George watched her; she watched him a good bit, too. They had been married seven months. They said nothing of any importance. They washed up the dishes and went to bed. In bed, they made love. Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each other’s arms, holding love, asleep. In her sleep Heather heard the roaring of a creek full of the voices of unborn children singing.
In his sleep George saw the depths of the open sea.
Heather was the secretary of an aged and otiose legal partnership, Ponder and Rutti. When she got off work at four-thirty the next day. Friday, she didn’t take the monorail and trolley home, but rode the funicular up to Washington Park. She had told George she might come meet him at HURAD, since his therapy session wasn’t till five, and after it they might go back downtown together and eat at one of the WPC restaurants on the International Mall. “It’ll be all right,” he told her, understanding her motive and meaning that he would be all right. She replied, “I know. But it would be fun to eat out, and I saved some stamps. We haven’t tried the Casa Boliviana yet.”
She got to the HURAD tower early, and waited on the vast marble steps. He came on the next car. She saw him get off, with others whom she did not see. A short, neatly made man, very self-contained, with an amiable expression. He moved well, though he stooped a little like most desk workers. When he saw her his eyes, which were clear and light, seemed to grow lighter, and he smiled: again that heartbreaking smile of unmitigated joy. She loved him violently. If Haber hurt him again she would go in there and tear Haber into little bits. Violent feelings were foreign to her, usually, but not where George was concerned. And anyhow, today for some reason she felt different from usual. She felt bolder, harder. She had said “shit” aloud, twice, at work, making old Mr. Rutti flinch. She had hardly ever said “shit” before aloud, and she hadn’t intended to do so either time, and yet she had done it, as if it were a habit too old to break....
“Hello, George,” she said.
“Hello,” he said, taking her hands. “You are beautiful, beautiful.”
How could anybody think this man was sick? All right, so he had funny dreams. That was better than being plain mean and hateful, like about one quarter of the people she had ever met.
“It’s five already,” she said. “I’ll wait down here. If it rains, I’ll be in the lobby. It’s like Napoleon’s Tomb in there, all that black marble and stuff. It’s nice out here, though. You can hear the lions roaring down in the Zoo.”
“Come on up with me,” he said. “It’s raining already.” In fact it was, the endless warm drizzle of spring—the ice of Antarctica, falling softly on the heads of the children of those responsible for melting it. “He’s got a nice waiting room. You’ll probably be sharing it with a mess of Fed-peep bigwigs and three or four Chiefs of State. All dancing attendance on the Director of HURAD. And I have to go crawling through and get shown in ahead of them, every damn time. Dr. Haber’s tame psycho. His exhibition. His token patient....” He was steering her through the big lobby under the Pantheon dome, onto moving walkways, up an incredible, apparently endless, spiral escalator. “HURAD really runs the world, as is,” he said. “I can’t help wondering why Haber needs any other form of power. He’s got enough, God knows. Why can’t he stop here? I suppose it’s like Alexander the Great, needing new worlds to conquer. I never did understand that. How was work today?”
He was tense, that’s why he was talking so much; but he didn’t seem depressed or distressed, as he had for weeks. Something had restored his natural equanimity. She had never really believed that he could lose it for long, lose his way, get out of touch; yet he had been wretched, increasingly so. Now he was not, and the change was so sudden and complete that she wondered what, in fact, had worked it All she could date it from was their sitting down in the still-unfurnished living room to listen to that nutty and subtle Beatles song last evening, and both falling asleep. From then on, he had been himself again.
Nobody was in Haber’s big, sleek waiting room. George said his name to a desklike thing by the door, an auto-receptionist, he explained to Heather. She was making a nervous funny about did they have autoeroticists, too, when a door opened, and Haber stood in the doorway.
She had met him only once, and briefly, when he first took George as a patient. She had forgotten what a big man he was, how big a beard he had, how drastically impressive he looked. “Come on in, George!” he thundered. She was awed. She cowered. He noticed her. “Mrs. Orr—glad to see you! Glad you came! You come on in, too.”
“Oh no. I just—”
“Oh yes. D’you realize that this is probably George’s last session here? Did he tell you? Tonight we wind it up. You certainly ought to be present. Come on. I’ve let my staff out early. Expect you saw the stampede on the Down escalator. Felt like having the place to myself tonight That’s it, sit down there.” He went on; there was no need to say anything meaningful in reply. She was fascinated by Haber’s demeanor, the kind of exultation he exuded; she hadn’t remembered what a masterful, genial person he was, larger than life-size. It was unbelievable, really, that such a man, a world leader and a great scientist, should have spent all these weeks of personal therapy on George, who wasn’t anybody. But, of course, George’s case was very important, researchwise.
“One last session,” he was saying, while adjusting something in a computerish-looking thing in the wall at the head of the couch. “One last controlled dream, and then, I think, we’ve got the problem licked. You game, George?”
He used her husband’s name often. She remembered George’s saying a couple of weeks ago, “He keeps calling me by my name; I think it’s to remind himself that there’s someone else present.”
“Sure, I’m game,” George said, and sat down on the couch, lifting his face a little; he glanced once at Heather and smiled. Haber at once started attaching the little things on wires to his head, parting the thick hair to do so. Heather remembered that process from her own brain-printing, part of the battery of tests and records made on every Fed-peep citizen. It made her uneasy to see it done to her husband. As if the electrode things were little suction cups that would drain the thoughts out of George’s head and turn them into scribbles on a piece of paper, the meaningless writing of the mad. George’s face now wore a look of extreme concentration. What was he thinking?
Haber put his hand on George’s throat suddenly as if about to throttle him, and reaching out with the other hand, started a tape which spoke the hypnotist’s spiel in his own voice: “You are entering the hypnotic state....” Within a few seconds he stopped it and tested for hypnosis. George was under.
“O.K.,” Huber said, and paused, evidently pondering. Huge, like a grizzly bear reared up on its hind legs, he stood there between her and the slight, passive figure on the couch.
“Now listen carefully, George, and remember what I say. You are deeply hypnotized and will follow explicitly all instructions I give you. You’re going to go to sleep when I tell you to, and you’ll dream. You’ll have an effective dream. You’ll dream that you are completely normal—that you are like everybody else. You’ll dream that you once had, or thought you had, a capacity for effective dreaming, but that this is no longer true. Your dreams from henceforth will be just like everybody else’s, meaningful to you alone, having no effect on outward reality. You’ll dream all this; whatever symbolism you use to express the dream, its effective content will be that you can no longer dream effectively. It will be a pleasant dream, and you’ll wake up when I say your name three times, feeling alert and well. After this dream you will never dream effectively again. Now, lie back. Get comfortable. You’re going to sleep. You’re asleep. Antwerp!”
As he said this last word, George’s lips moved and he said something in the faint, remote voice of the sleep-talker. Heather could not hear what he said, but she thought at once of last night; she had been nearly asleep, curled up next to him, when he had said something aloud: air per annum, it sounded like. “What?” she had said, and he had said nothing, he was asleep. As he was now.
Her heart contracted within her as she watched him lying there, his hands quiet at his sides, vulnerable.
Haber had risen, and now pressed a white button on the side of the machine at the head of the couch; some of the electrode wires went to it, and some to the EEG machine, which she recognized. The thing in the wall must be the Augmentor, the thing all the research was about.
Haber came over to her, where she sat sunk deep in a huge leather armchair. Real leather, she had forgotten what real leather felt like. It was like the vinyleathers, but more interesting to the fingers. She was frightened. She did not understand what was going on. She looked up askance at the big man standing before her, the bear-shaman-god.
“This is the culmination, Mrs. Orr,” he was saying in a lowered voice, “of a long series of suggested dreams. We’ve been building toward this session—this dream—for weeks now. I’m glad you came, I didn’t think to ask you, but your presence is an added boon in making him feel completely secure and trustful. He knows I can’t pull any tricks with you around! Right? Actually I’m pretty confident of success. It’ll do the trick. The dependency on sleeping drugs will be quite broken, once the obsessive fear of dreaming is erased. It’s purely a matter of conditioning. ... I’ve got to keep an eye on that EEG, he’ll be dreaming now.” Quick and massive, he moved across the room. She sat still, watching George’s calm face, from which the expression of concentration, all expression, was gone. So he might look in death.
Dr. Haber was busy with his machines, restlessly busy, bowing over them, adjusting them, watching them. He paid no heed at all to George.
“There,” he said softly—not to her, Heather thought; he was his own audience. “That’s it. Now. Now a little break, second-stage sleep for a bit, between dreams.” He did something to the equipment in the wall. “Then we’ll run a little test....” He came over to her again; she wished he would really ignore her instead of pretending to talk to her. He seemed not to know the uses of silence. “Your husband has been of inestimable service to our research here, Mrs. Orr. A unique patient. What we’ve learned about the nature of dreaming, and the employment of dreams in both positive and negative conditioning therapy, will be of literally inestimable value in every walk of life. You know what HURAD stands for. Human Utility: Research and Development. Well, what we’ve learned from this case will be of immense, literally immense, human utility. An amazing thing to develop out of what appeared to be a routine case of minor drug abuse! The most amazing thing about it is that the hacks down at the Med School had the wits to notice anything special in the case and refer it up to me. You seldom get so much acuteness in academic clinical psychologists.” His eye had been on his watch all along, and he now said, “Well, back to Baby,” and swiftly recrossed the room. He diddled with the Augmentor thing again and said aloud, “George. You’re still asleep, but you can hear me. You can hear and understand me perfectly. Nod a little if you hear me.”
The calm face did not change, but the head nodded once. Like the head of a puppet on a string.
“Good. Now, listen carefully. You’re going to have another vivid dream. You’ll dream that... that there’s a mural photograph on the wall, here in my office. A big picture of Mount Hood, all covered with snow. You’ll dream that you see the mural there on the wall behind the desk, right here in my office. All right. Now you’re going to sleep, and dream.... Antwerp.”
He bustled and bowed at his machinery again. “There,” he whispered under his breath. “There .. . O.K. . . right.” The machines were still. George lay still. Even Haber ceased to move and mutter. There was no sound in the big, softly lit room, with its wall of glass looking out into the rain. Haber stood by the EEG, his head turned to the wall behind the desk. Nothing happened.
Heather moved the fingers of her left hand in a tiny circle on the resilient, grainy surface of the armchair, the stuff that had once been the skin of a living animal, the intermediate surface between a cow and the universe. The tune of the old record they had played yesterday came into her head and wouldn’t get out again.
What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine....
She wouldn’t have thought that Haber could hold still, keep silent, for so long. Only once, his fingers flicked out to a dial. Then he stood immobile again, watching the blank wall.
George sighed, raised a hand sleepily, relaxed again, and woke. He blinked and sat up. His eyes went at once to Heather, as if to make sure she was there.
Haber frowned, and with a jumpy, startled movement pushed the lower button of the Augmentor. “What the hell!” he said. He stared at the EEG screen, still jigging with lively little traces. “The Augmentor was feeding you d-state patterns, how the hell did you wake up?”
“I don’t know.” George yawned. “I just did. Didn’t you instruct me to wake soon?”
“I generally do. On the signal. But how the hell did you override the pattern stimulation from the Augmentor.... I’ll have to increase the power; obviously been going at this too tentatively.” He was now talking to the Augmentor itself, there was no doubt of it. When that conversation was done he turned abruptly on George and said, “All right. What was the dream?”
“Dreamed there was a picture of Mount Hood on the wall there, behind my wife.”
Haber’s eyes flicked to the bare redwood-paneled wall, and back to George.
“Anything else? An earlier dream—any recall of it?”
“I think so. Wait a minute... I guess I dreamed that I was dreaming, or something. It was confused. I was in a store. That’s it—I was in Meier and Frank’s buying a new suit, it had to have a blue tunic, because I was going to have a new job, or something. I can’t remember. But anyhow, they had a guide sheet that told you what you ought to weigh if you’re so tall, and vice versa. And I was right in the middle of both the height scale and the weight scale for average-build men.”
“Normal, in other words,” Haber said, and suddenly laughed. He had a huge laugh. It startled Heather badly, after the tension and the silence.
“That’s fine, George. That’s just fine.” He clapped George on the shoulder, and began taking the electrodes off his head. “We have made it. We have arrived. You’re in the clear! Do you know it?”
“I believe so,” George replied mildly. “The big load’s off your shoulders. Right?”
“And onto yours?’
“And onto mine. Right!” Again the big, gusty laugh, a little overprolonged. Heather wondered if Haber was always like this, or was in a state of extreme excitement.
“Dr. Haber,” her husband said, “have you ever talked to an Alien about dreaming?”
“An Aldebaranian, you mean? No. Forde in Washington tried out a couple of our tests on some of ‘em, along with a whole series of psychological tests, but the results were meaningless. We simply haven’t licked the communications problem there. They’re intelligent but Irchevsky, our best xenobiologist, thinks they may not be rational at all, and that what looks like socially integrative behavior among humans is nothing but a kind of instinctual adaptive mimicry. No telling for sure. Can’t get an EEG on ‘em and as a matter of fact we can’t even find out whether they sleep or not, let alone dream!”
“Do you know the term iahklu’?”
Haber paused momentarily. “Heard it. It’s untranslatable. You’ve decided it means ‘dream,’ eh?”
George shook his head. “I don’t know what it means. I don’t pretend to have any knowledge you haven’t got, but I do think that before you go on with the, with the application of the new technique, Dr. Haber, before you dream, you ought to talk with one of the Aliens.”
“Which one?” The flick of irony was clear.
“Any one. It doesn’t matter.”
Haber laughed. “Talk about what, George?”
Heather saw her husband’s light eyes flash as he looked up at the bigger man. “About me. About dreaming. About iahklu’. It doesn’t matter. So long as you listen. They’ll know what you’re getting at, they’re a lot more experienced than we are at all this.”
“At dreaming—at what dreaming is an aspect of. They’ve done it for a long time. For always, I guess. They are of the dream time. I don’t understand it, I can’t say it in words. Everything dreams. The play of form, of being, is the dreaming of substance. Rocks have their dreams, and the earth changes.... But when the mind becomes conscious, when the rate of evolution speeds up, then you have to be careful. Careful of the world. You must learn the way. You must learn the skills, the art, the limits. A conscious mind must be part of the whole, intentionally and carefully—as the rock is part of the whole unconsciously. Do you see? Does it mean anything to you?”
“It’s not new to me, if that’s what you mean. World soul and so on. Prescientific synthesis. Mysticism is one approach to the nature of dreaming, or of reality, though it’s not acceptable to those willing to use reason, and able to.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” George said without the least resentment, though he was very earnest. “But just out of scientific curiosity, then, at least try this: before testing the Augmentor on yourself, before you turn it on, when you’re starting your autosuggestion, say this: Er’ perrehnne. Aloud or in your mind. Once. Clearly. Try it.”
“Because it works.”
“You get a little help from your friends,” George said. He stood up. Heather stared at him in terror. What he had been saying sounded crazy—Haber’s cure had driven him insane, she had known it would. But Haber was not responding—was he?—as he would to incoherent or psychotic talk.
“Iahklu’is too much for one person to handle alone,” George was saying, “it gets out of hand. They know what’s involved in controlling it. Or, not exactly controlling it, that’s not the right word; but keeping it where it belongs, going the right way.... I don’t understand it. Maybe you will. Ask their help. Say Er’ perrehnne before you... before you press the ON button.”
“You may have something there,” Haber said. “Might be worth investigating. I’ll get onto it, George. I’ll have one of the Aldebaranians from the Culture Center up and see if I can get some information on this.... All Greek to you, eh, Mrs. Orr? This husband of yours should have gone into the shrink game, the research end of it; he’s wasted as a draftsman.” Why did he say that? George was a parks-and-playgrounds designer. “He’s got the flair, he’s a natural. Never thought of hooking the Aldebaranians in on this, but he might just have a real idea there. But maybe you’re just as glad he’s not a shrink, eh? Awful to have your spouse analyzing your unconscious desires across the dinner table, eh?” He boomed and thundered, showing them out. Heather was bewildered, nearly in tears.
“I hate him,” she said fiercely, on the descending spiral of the escalator. “He’s a horrible man. False. A big fake!” George took her arm. He said nothing. “Are you through? Really through? You won’t need drugs any more, and you’re all through these awful sessions?”
“I think so. He’ll file my papers, and in six weeks I should get a notice of clearance. If I behave myself.” He smiled, a little tiredly. “This was tough on you, honey, but it wasn’t on me. Not this time. I’m hungry, though. Where’ll we go for dinner? The Casa Boliviana?”
“Chinatown,” she said, and then caught herself. “Ha-ha,” she added. The old Chinese district had been cleared away along with the rest of downtown, at least ten years ago. For some reason she had completely forgotten that for a moment. “I mean Ruby Loo’s,” she said, confused. George held her arm a little closer. “Fine,” he said. It was easy to get to; the funicular line stopped across the river in the old Lloyd Center, once the biggest shopping center in the world, back before the Crash. Nowadays the vast multilevel parking lots were gone along with the dinosaurs, and many of the shops and stores along the two-level mall were empty, boarded up. The ice rink had not been filled in twenty years. No water ran in the bizarre, romantic fountains of twisted metal. Small ornamental trees had grown up towering; their roots cracked the walkways for yards around their cylindrical planters. Voices and footsteps rang overclearly, a little hollowly, before and behind one, walking those long, half-lit, half-derelict arcades.
Ruby Loo’s was on the upper level. The branches of a horse chestnut almost hid the glass facade. Overhead, the sky was an intense delicate green, that color seen briefly on spring evenings when there is a clearing after rain. Heather looked up into that jade heaven, remote, improbable, serene; her heart lifted, she felt anxiety begin to slip off her like a shed skin. But it did not last. There was a curious reversal, a shifting. Something seemed to catch at her, to hold her. She almost stopped walking, and looked down from the sky of jade into the empty, heavy-shadowed walks before her. This was a strange place. “It’s spooky up here,” she said.
George shrugged; but his face looked tense and rather grim.
A wind had come up, too warm for the Aprils of the old days, a wet, hot wind moving the great green-fingered branches of the chestnut, stirring litter far down the long, deserted turnings. The red neon sign behind the moving branches seemed to dim and waver with the wind, to change shape; it didn’t say Ruby Loo’s, it didn’t say anything any more; Nothing said anything. Nothing had meaning. The wind blew hollow in the hollow courts. Heather turned away from George and went off toward the nearest wall; she was in tears. In pain her instinct was to hide, to get in a corner of a wall and hide.
“What is it, honey. .. . It’s all right. Hang on, it’ll be all right.”
I am going insane, she thought; it wasn’t George, it wasn’t George all along, it was me.
“It’ll be all right,” he whispered once more, but she heard in his voice that he did not believe it. She felt in his hands that he did not believe it.
“What’s wrong,” she cried despairing. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” he said, almost inattentively. He had lifted his head and turned a little from her, though he still held her to him to stop her crying fit. He seemed to be watching, to be listening. She felt the heart beat hard and steady in his chest.
“Heather, listen. I’m going to have to go back.”
“Go back where? What is it that’s wrong?” Her voice was thin and high.
“To Haber. I have to go. Now. Wait for me—in the restaurant. Wait for me, Heather. Don’t follow me.” He was off. She had to follow. He went, not looking back, fast, down the long stairs, under the arcades, past the dry fountains, out to the funicular station. A car was waiting, there at the end of the line; he hopped in. She scrambled on, her breath hurting in her chest, just as the car began to pull out. “What the hell, George!”
“I’m sorry.” He was panting, too. “I have to get there. I didn’t want to take you into it.”
“Into what?” She detested him. They sat on facing seats, puffing at each other. “What is this crazy performance? What are you going back there for?”
“Haber is—” George’s voice went dry for a moment. “He is dreaming,” he said. A deep mindless terror crawled inside Heather; she ignored it.
“Dreaming what? So what?”
“Look out the window.”
She had looked only at him, while they ran and since they had got onto the car. The funicular was crossing the river now, high above the water. But there was no water. The river had run dry. The bed of it lay cracked and oozing in the lights of the bridges, foul, full of grease and bones and lost tools and dying fish. The great ships lay careened and ruined by the towering, slimy docks.
The buildings of downtown Portland, the Capital of the World, the high, new, handsome cubes of stone and glass interspersed with measured doses of green, the fortresses of Government—Research and Development, Communications, Industry, Economic Planning, Environmental Control—were melting. They were getting soggy and shaky, like jello left out in the sun. The corners had already run down the sides, leaving great creamy smears.
The funicular was going very fast and not stopping at stations: something must be wrong with the cable, Heather thought without personal involvement. They swung rapidly over the dissolving city, low enough to hear the rumbling and the cries.
As the car ran up higher, Mount Hood came into view, behind George’s head as he sat facing her. He saw the lurid light reflected on her face or in her eyes, perhaps, for he turned at once to look, to see the vast inverted cone of fire.
The car swung wild in the abyss, between the unforming city and the formless sky.
“Nothing seems to go quite right today,” said a woman farther back in the car, in a loud, quivering voice.
The light of the eruption was terrible and gorgeous. Its huge, material, geological vigor was reassuring, compared to the hollow area that now lay ahead of the car, at the upper end of the line.
The presentiment which had seized Heather as she looked down from the jade sky was now a presence. It was there. It was an area, or perhaps a time-period, of a sort of emptiness. It was the presence of absence: an unquantifiable entity without qualities, into which all things fell and from which nothing came forth. It was horrible, and it was nothing. It was the wrong way.
Into this, as the funicular car stopped at its terminus, George went. He looked back at her as he went, crying out, “Wait for me, Heather! Don’t follow me, don’t come!”
But though she tried to obey him, it came to her. It was growing out from the center rapidly. She found that all things were gone and that she was lost in the panic dark, crying out her husband’s name with no voice, desolate, until she sank down in a ball curled about the center of her own being, and fell forever through the dry abyss.
By the power of will, which is indeed great when exercised in the right way at the right time, George Orr found beneath his feet the hard marble of the steps up to the HURAD Tower. He walked forward, while his eyes informed him that he walked on mist, on mud, on decayed corpses, on innumerable tiny toads. It was very cold, yet there was a smell of hot metal and burning hair or flesh. He crossed the lobby; gold letters from the aphorism around the dome leapt about him momentarily, MAN MANKIND M N A A A. The A’s tried to trip his feet. He stepped onto a moving walkway though it was not visible to him; he stepped onto the helical escalator and rode it up into nothing, supporting it continually by the firmness of his will. He did not even shut his eyes.
Up on the top story, the floor was ice. It was about a finger’s width thick, and quite clear. Through it could be seen the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Orr stepped out onto it and all the stars rang loud and false, like cracked bells. The foul smell was much worse, making him gag. He went forward, holding out his hand. The panel of the door of Haber’s outer office was there to meet it; he could not see it but he touched it. A wolf howled. The lava moved toward the city.
He went on and came to the last door. He pushed it open. On the other side of it there was nothing.
“Help me,” he said aloud, for the void drew him, pulled at him. He had not the strength all by himself to get through nothingness and out the other side.
There was a sort of dull rousing in his mind; he thought of Tiua’k Ennbe Ennbe, and of the bust of Schubert, and of Heather’s voice saying furiously, “What the hell, George!” This seemed to be all he had to cross nothingness on. He went forward. He knew as he went that he would lose all he had.
He entered the eye of the nightmare.
It was a cold, vaguely moving, rotating darkness made of fear, that pulled him aside, pulled him apart. He knew where the Augmentor stood. He put out his mortal hand along the way things go. He touched it; felt for the lower button, and pushed it once.
He crouched down then, covering his eyes and cowering, for the fear had taken his mind. When he raised his head and looked, the world re-existed. It was not in good condition, but it was there.
They weren’t in the HURAD Tower, but in some dingier, commoner office which he had never seen before. Haber lay sprawled on the couch, massive, his beard jutting up. Red-brown beard again, whitish skin, no longer gray. The eyes were half open and saw nothing.
Orr pulled away the electrodes whose wires ran like threadworms between Haber’s skull and the Augmentor. He looked at the machine, its cabinets all standing open; it should be destroyed, he thought. But he had no idea how to do it, nor any will to try. Destruction was not his line; and a machine is more blameless, more sinless even than any animal. It has no intentions whatsoever but our own.
“Dr. Haber,” he said, shaking the big, heavy shoulders a little. “Haber! Wake up!”
After a while the big body moved, and presently sat up. It was all slack and loose. The massive, handsome head hung between the shoulders. The mouth was loose. The eyes looked straight forward into the dark, into the void, into the unbeing at the center of William Haber; they were no longer opaque, they were empty.
Orr became afraid of him physically, and backed away from him.
I’ve got to get help, he thought, I can’t handle this alone.... He left the office, went out through an unfamiliar waiting room, ran down the stairs. He had never been in this building and had no idea what it was, or where. When he came out into the street, he knew that it was a Portland street, but that was all. It was nowhere near Washington Park, or the west hills. It was no street he had ever walked on.
The emptiness of Haber’s being, the effective nightmare, radiating outward from the dreaming brain, had undone connections. The continuity which had always held between the worlds or timelines of Orr’s dreaming had now been broken. Chaos had entered in. He had few and incoherent memories of this existence he was now in; almost all he knew came from the other memories, the other dreamtimes.
Other people, less aware than he, might be better equipped for this shift of existence: but they would be more frightened by it, having no explanation. They would be finding the world radically, senselessly, suddenly changed, with no possible rational cause of change. There would be much death and terror following Dr. Haber’s dream.
And loss. And loss.
He knew he had lost her; had known it since he stepped out, with her help, into the panic void surrounding the dreamer. She was lost along with the world of the gray people and the huge, fake building into which he had run, leaving her alone in the ruin and dissolution of the nightmare. She was gone.
He did not try to get help for Haber. There was no help for Haber. Nor for himself. He had done all he would ever do. He walked on along the distracted streets. He saw from streetsigns that he was in the northeast part of Portland, an area he had never known much of. The houses were low, and at corners there was sometimes a view of the mountain. He saw that the eruption had ceased; had never, in fact, begun. Mount Hood rose dun-violet into the darkening April sky, dormant. The mountain slept.
Orr walked without goal, following one street and then another; he was exhausted, so that he sometimes wanted to lie down there on the pavement and rest for a while, yet he kept going. He was approaching a business section now, coming closer to the river. The city, half wrecked and half transformed, a jumble and mess of grandiose plans and incomplete memories, swarmed like Bedlam; fires and insanities ran from house to house. And yet people went about their business as always: there were two men looting a jewelry shop, and past them came a woman who held her bawling, red-faced baby in her arms and walked purposefully home.
Wherever home was.