When the Great Way is lost, we get benevolence and righteousness.
Smiling, William Haber strode up the steps of the Oregon Oneirological Institute and through the high, polarized-glass doors into the dry cool of the air conditioning. It was only March 24, and already like a sauna-bath outside; but within all was cool, clean, serene. Marble floor, discreet furniture, reception desk of brushed chrome, well-enameled receptionist: “Good morning, Dr. Haber!”
In the hall Atwood passed him, coming from the research wards, red-eyed and tousled from a night of monitoring sleepers’ EEC’s; the computers did a lot of that now, but there were still tunes an unprogrammed mind was needed. “Morning, Chief,” Atwood mumbled.
And from Miss Crouch in his own office, “Good morning, Doctor!” He was glad he’d brought Penny Crouch with him when he moved to the office of Director of the Institute last year. She was loyal and clever, and a man at the head of a big and complex research institution needs a loyal and clever woman in his outer office.
He strode on into the inner sanctum.
Dropping briefcase and file folders on the couch, he stretched his arms, and then went over, as he always did when he first entered his office, to the window. It was a large corner window, looking out east and north over a great sweep of world: the curve of the much-bridged Willamette close in beneath the hills; the city’s countless towers high and milky in the spring mist, on either side of the river; the suburbs receding out of sight till from their remote outbacks the foothills rose; and the mountains. Hood, immense yet withdrawn, breeding clouds about her head; going northward, the distant Adams, like a molar tooth; and then the pure cone of St. Helens, from whose long gray sweep of slope still farther northward a little bald dome stuck out, like a baby looking round its mother’s skirt: Mount Rainier.
It was an inspiring view. It never failed to inspire Dr. Haber. Besides, after a week’s solid rain, barometric pressure was up and the sun was out again, above the river mist. Well aware from a thousand EEG readings of the links between the pressure of the atmosphere and the heaviness of the mind, he could almost feel his psycho-soma being buoyed up by that bright, drying wind. Have to keep that up, keep the climate improving, he thought rapidly, almost surreptitously. There were several chains of thought formed or forming in his mind simultaneously, and this mental note was not part of any of them. It was quickly made and as quickly filed away in memory, even as he snapped on his desk recorder and began to dictate one of the many letters that the running of a Government-connected science research institute entailed. It was hackwork, of course, but it had to be done, and he was the man to do it. He did not resent it, though it cut drastically into his own research time. He was in the labs only for five or six hours a week now, usually, and had only one patient of his own, though of course he was supervising the therapy of several others.
One patient, however, he did keep. He was a psychiatrist, after all. He had gone into sleep research and oneirology in the first place to find therapeutic applications. He was not interested in detached knowledge, science for science’ sake: there was no use learning anything if it was of no use. Relevance was his touchstone. He would always keep one patient of his own, to remind him of that fundamental commitment, to keep him in contact with the human reality of his research in terms of the disturbed personality structure of individual people. For there is nothing important except people. A person is defined solely by the extent of his influence over other people, by the sphere of his interrelationships; and morality is an utterly meaningless term unless defined as the good one does to others, the fulfilling of one’s function in the sociopolitical whole.
His current patient, Orr, was coming in at four this afternoon, for they had given up the attempt at night sessions; and, as Miss Crouch reminded him at lunch tune, an HEW inspector was going to observe today’s session, making sure there was nothing illegal, immoral, unsafe, unkind, unetc., about the operation of the Augmentor. God damn Government prying.
That was the trouble with success, and its concomitants of publicity, public curiosity, professional envy, peer-group rivalry. If he’d still been a private researcher, plugging along in the sleep lab at P.S.U. and a second-rate office in Willamette East Tower, chances were that nobody would have taken any notice of his Augmentor until he decided it was ready to market, and he would have been let alone to refine and perfect the device and its applications. Now here he was doing the most private and delicate part of his business, psychotherapy with a disturbed patient, so the Government had to send a lawyer barging in not understanding half of what went on and misunderstanding the rest.
The lawyer arrived at 3:45, and Haber came striding into the outer office to greet him—her, it turned out— and to get a friendly warm impression established right away. It went better if they saw you were unafraid, cooperative, and personally cordial. A lot of doctors let their resentment show when they had an HEW inspector; and those doctors did not get many Government grants.
It was not altogether easy to be cordial and warm with this lawyer. She snapped and clicked. Heavy brass snap catch on handbag, heavy copper and brass jewelry that clattered, clump-heel shoes, and a huge silver ring with a horribly ugly African mask design, frowning eyebrows, hard voice: clack, clash, snap.... In the second ten seconds, Haber suspected that the whole affair was indeed a mask, as the ring said: a lot of sound and fury signifying timidity. That, however, was none of his business. He would never know the woman behind the mask, and she did not matter, so long as he could make the right impression on Miss Lelache the lawyer.
If it didn’t go cordially, at least it didn’t go badly; she was competent, had done this kind of thing before, and had done her homework for this particular job. She knew what to ask and how to listen.
“This patient, George Orr,” she said, “he’s not an addict, correct? Is he diagnosed as psychotic or disturbed, after three weeks’ therapy?”
“Disturbed, as the Health Office defines the word. Deeply disturbed and with artificial reality-orientations, but improving under current therapy.”
She had a pocket recorder and was taking all this down: every five seconds, as the law required, the thing went teep.
“Will you describe the therapy you’re employing please, teep and explain the role this device plays in it? Don’t tell me how it teep works, that’s in your report, but what it does. Teep for instance, how does its use differ from the Elektroson or the trancap?”
“Well, those devices, as you know, generate various low-frequency pulses which stimulate nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. Those signals are what you might call generalized; their effect on the brain is obtained in a manner basically similar to that of strobe lights at a critical rhythm, or an aural stimulus like a drumbeat. The Augmentor delivers a specific signal which can be picked up by a specific area. For instance, a subject can be trained to produce alpha rhythm at will, as you know; but the Augmentor can induce it without any training, and even when he’s in a condition not normally conducive to the alpha rhythm. It feeds a 9-cycle alpha rhythm through appropriately placed electrodes, and within seconds the brain can accept that rhythm and begin producing alpha waves as steadily as a Zen Buddhist in trance. Similarly, and more usefully, any stage of sleep can be induced, with its typical cycles and regional activities.”
“Will it stimulate the pleasure center, or the speech center?”
Oh, the moralistic gleam in an ACLU eye, whenever that pleasure-center bit came up! Haber concealed all irony and irritation, and answered with friendly sincerity, “No. It’s not like ESB, you see. It’s not like electrical stimulation, or chemical stimulation, of any center; it involves no intrusion on special areas of the brain. It simply induces the entire brain activity to change, to shift into another of its own, natural states. It’s a bit like a catchy tune that sets your feet tapping. So the brain enters and maintains the condition desired for study or therapy, as long as need be I called it the Augmentor to point up its noncreative function. Nothing is imposed from outside. Sleep induced by the Augmentor is precisely, literally, the kind and quality of sleep normal to that particular brain. The difference between it and the electrosleep machines is like a personal tailor compared to mass-produced suits. The difference between it and electrode implantation is—oh, hell—a scalpel to a sledgehammer!”
“But how do you make up the stimuli you use? Do you teep record an alpha rhythm, for instance, from one subject to use on another teep?”
He had been evading this point. He did not intend to lie, of course, but there was simply no use talking about uncompleted research till it was done and tested; it might give a quite wrong impression to a nonspecialist. He launched into an answer easily, glad to hear his own voice instead of her snapping and bangle-clattering and teeping; it was curious how he only heard the annoying little sound when she was talking. “At first I used a generalized set of stimuli, averaged out from records of many subjects. The depressive patient mentioned in the report was treated successfully thus. But I felt the effects were more random and erratic than I liked. I began to experiment. On animals, of course. Cats. We sleep researchers like cats, you know; they sleep a lot! Well, with animal subjects I found that the most promising line was to use rhythms previously recorded from the subject’s own brain. A kind of auto-stimulation via recordings. Specificity is what I’m after, you see. A brain will respond to its own alpha rhythm at once, and spontaneously. Now of course there are therapeutic vistas opened up along the other line of research. It might be possible to impose a slightly different pattern gradually upon the patient’s own: a healthier or completer pattern. One recorded previously from that subject, possibly, or from a different subject. This could prove tremendously helpful in cases of brain damage, lesion, trauma; it might aid a damaged brain to re-establish its old habits in new channels—something which the brain struggles long and hard to do by itself. It might be used to ‘teach’ an abnormally functioning brain new habits, and so forth. However, that’s all speculative, at this point, and if and when I return to research on that line I will of course reregister with HEW.” That was quite true. There was no need to mention that he was doing research along that line, since so far it was quite inconclusive and would merely be misunderstood. “The form of autostimulation by recording that I’m using in this therapy may be described as having no effect on the patient beyond that exerted during the period of the machine’s functioning: five to ten minutes.” He knew more of any HEW lawyer’s specialty than she knew of his; he saw her nodding slightly at that last sentence, it was right down her alley.
But then she said, “What does it do, then?” “Yes, I was coming to that,” Haber said, and quickly readjusted his tone, since the irritation was showing through. “What we have in this case is a subject who is afraid to dream: an oneirophobe. My treatment is basically a simple conditioning treatment in the classic tradition of modern psychology. The patient is induced to dream here, under controlled conditions; dream content and emotional affect are manipulated by hypnotic suggestion. The subject is being taught that he can dream safely, pleasantly, et cetera, a positive conditioning which will leave him free of his phobia. The Augmentor is an ideal instrument for this purpose. It ensures that he will dream, by instigating and then reinforcing his own typical d-state activity. It might take a subject up to an hour and a half to go through the various stages of s-sleep and reach the d-state on his own, an impractical length for daytime therapy sessions, and moreover during deep sleep the force of hypnotic suggestions concerning dream content might be partly lost. This is undesirable; while he’s in conditioning, it’s essential that he have no bad dreams, no nightmares. Therefore the Augmentor provides me with both a time-saving device and a safety factor. The therapy could be achieved without it; but it would probably take months; with it, I except to take a few weeks. It may prove to be as great a timesaver, in appropriate cases, as hypnosis itself has proved to be in psychoanalysis and in conditioning therapy.”
Teep,said the lawyer’s recorder, and Bong said his own desk communicator in a soft, rich, authoritative voice. Thank God. “Here’s our patient now. Now I suggest, Miss Lelache, that you meet him, and we may chat a bit if you like; then perhaps you can fade off to that leather chair in the corner, right? Your presence shouldn’t make any real difference to the patient, but if he’s constantly reminded of it, it could slow things down badly. He’s a person in a fairly severe anxiety state, you see, with a tendency to interpret events as personally threatening, and a set of protective delusions built up—as you’ll see. Oh yes, and the recorder off, that’s right, a therapy session’s not for the record. Right? O.K., good. Yes, hello, George, come on in! This is Miss Lelache, the participant from HEW. She’s here to see the Augmentor in use.” The two were shaking hands in the most ridiculously stiff way. Crash clank! went the lawyer’s bracelets. The contrast amused Haber: the harsh fierce woman, the meek characterless man. They had nothing in common at all.
“Now,” he said, enjoying running the show, “I suggest that we get on with business, unless there’s anything special on your mind, George, that you want to talk about first?” He was, by his own apparently unassertive movements, sorting them out: the Lelache to the chair in the far corner, Orr to the couch. “O.K., then, good. Let’s run off a dream. Which will incidentally constitute a record for HEW of the fact that the Augmentor doesn’t loosen your toenails, or harden your arteries, or blow your mind, or indeed have any side effects whatsoever except perhaps a slight compensatory decrease in dreaming sleep tonight.” As he finished the sentence he reached out and placed his right hand on Orr’s throat, almost casually.
Orr flinched from the contact as if he had never been hypnotized.
Then he apologized. “Sorry. You come at me so suddenly.”
It was necessary to rehypnotize him completely, employing the v-c induction method, which was perfectly legal of course but rather more dramatic than Haber liked to use in front of an observer from HEW; he was furious with Orr, in whom he had sensed growing resistance for the last five or six sessions. Once he had the man under, he put on a tape he had cut himself, of all the boring repetition of deepening trance and posthypnotic suggestion for rehypnotizing: “You are comfortable and relaxed now. You are sinking deeper into trance,” and so on and so on. While it played he went back to his desk and sorted through papers with a calm, serious face, ignoring the Lelache. She kept still, knowing the hypnotic routine must not be interrupted; she was looking out the window at the view, the towers of the city.
At last Haber stopped the tape and put the trancap on Orr’s head. “Now, while I’m hooking you up let’s talk about what kind of dream you’re going to dream, George. You feel like talking about that, don’t you?”
Slow nod from the patient.
“Last time you were here we were talking about some things that worry you. You said you like your work, but you don’t like riding the subway to work. You keep feeling crowded in on, you said—squeezed, pressed together. You feel as if you had no elbow room, as if you weren’t free.”
He paused, and the patient, who was always taciturn in hypnosis, at last responded merely: “Overpopulation.”
“Mhm, that was the word you used. That’s your word, your metaphor, for this feeling of unfreedom. Well, now, let’s discuss that word. You know that back in the eighteenth century Malthus was pressing the panic button about population growth; and there was another fit of panic about it thirty, forty years ago. And sure enough population has gone up; but all the horrors they predicted just haven’t come to pass. It’s just not as bad as they said it would be. We all get by just fine here in America, and if our living standard has had to lower in some ways it’s even higher in others than it was a generation ago. Now perhaps an excessive dread of overpopulation—overcrowding—reflects not an outward reality, but an inward state of mind. If you feel overcrowded when you’re not, what does that mean? Maybe that you’re afraid of human contact—of being close to people, of being touched. So you’ve found a kind of excuse for keeping reality at a distance.” The EEG was running, and as he talked he made the connections to the Augmentor. “Now, George, we’ll be talking a little longer and then when I say the key word ‘Antwerp’ you’ll drop off to sleep; when you wake up you’ll feel refreshed and alert. You won’t recall what I’m saying now, but you will recall your dream. It’ll be a vivid dream, vivid and pleasant, an effective dream. You’ll dream about this thing that worries you, overpopulation: you’ll have a dream where you find out that it isn’t really that that worries you. People can’t live alone, after all; to be put in solitary is the worst kind of confinement! We need people around us. To help us, to give help to, to compete with, to sharpen our wits against” And so on and so on. The lawyer’s presence cramped his style badly; he had to put it all in abstract terms, instead of just telling Orr what to dream. Of course, he wasn’t falsifying his method in order to deceive the observer; his method simply wasn’t yet invariable. He varied it from session to session, seeking for the sure way to suggest the precise dream he wanted, and always coming up against the resistance that seemed to him sometimes to be the overliteralness of primary-process thinking, and sometimes to be a positive balkiness in Orr’s mind. Whatever prevented it, the dream almost never came out the way Haber had intended; and this vague, abstract kind of suggestion might work as well as any. Perhaps it would rouse less unconscious resistance in Orr.
He gestured to the lawyer to come over and watch the EEG screen, at which she had been peering from her corner, and went on: “You’re going to have a dream in which you feel uncrowded, unsqueezed. You’ll dream about all the elbow room there is in the world, all the freedom you have to move around.” And at last he said, “Antwerp!”—and pointed to the EEG traces so that the Lelache would see the almost instantaneous change. “Watch the slowing down all across the graph,” he murmured. “There’s a high-voltage peak, see, there’s another.... Sleep spindles. He’s already going into the second stage of orthodox sleep, s-sleep, whichever term you’ve run into, the kind of sleep without vivid dreams that occurs in between the d-states all night. But I’m not letting him go on down into deep fourth-stage, since he’s here to dream. I’m turning on the Augmentor. Keep your eye on those traces. Do you see?”
“Looks like he was waking up again,” she murmured doubtfully.
“Right! But it’s not waking. Look at him.” Orr lay supine, his head fallen back a little so that his short, fair beard jutted up; he was sound asleep, but there was a tension about his mouth; he sighed deeply.
“See his eyes move, under the lids? That’s how they first caught this whole phenomenon of dreaming sleep, back in the 1930’s; they called it rapid-eye-movement sleep, REM, for years. Ifs a hell of a lot more than that, though. It’s a third state of being. His whole autonomic system is as fully mobilized as it might be in an exciting moment of waking life; but his muscle tone is nil, the large muscles are relaxed more deeply than in s-sleep. Cortical, subcortical, hippocampal, and midbrain areas all as active as in waking, whereas they’re inactive in s-sleep. His respiration and blood pressure are up to waking levels or higher. Here, feel the pulse.” He put her fingers against Orr’s lax wrist. “Eighty or eighty-five, he’s going. He’s having a humdinger, whatever it is....”
“You mean he’s dreaming?” She looked awed.
“Are all these reactions normal?”
“Absolutely. We all go through this performance every night, four or five times, for at least ten minutes at a time. This is a quite normal d-state EEG on the screen. The only anomaly or peculiarity about it that you might be able to catch is an occasional high peaking right through the traces, a kind of brainstorm effect I’ve never seen in a d-state EEG before. Its pattern seems to resemble an effect that’s been observed in electroencephalograms of men hard at work of a certain sort: creative or artistic work, painting, writing verse, even reading Shakespeare. What this brain is doing at those moments, I don’t yet know. But the Augmentor gives me the opportunity to observe them systematically, and so eventually to analyze them out.”
“There’s no chance that the machine is causing this effect?”
“No.” As a matter of fact, he had tried stimulating Orr’s brain with a playback of one of these peak traces, but the dream resulting from that experiment had been incoherent, a mishmash of the previous dream, during which the Augmentor had recorded the peak, and the present one. No need to mention inconclusive experiments. “Now that he’s well into this dream, in fact, I’ll cut the Augmentor out. Watch, see if you can tell when I cut off the input.” She couldn’t “He may produce a brainstorm for us anyhow; keep an eye on those traces. You may catch it first in the theta rhythm, there, from the hippocampus. It occurs in other brains, undoubtedly. Nothing’s new. If I can find out what other brains, in what state, I may be able to specify much more exactly what this subject’s trouble is; there may be a psychological or neurophysiological type to which he belongs. You see the research possibilities of the Augmentor? No effect on the patient except that of temporarily putting his brain into whichever of its own normal states the physician wants to observe. Look there!” She missed the peak, of course; EEG-reading on a moving screen took practice. “Blew his fuse. Still in the dream now.... He’ll tell us about it presently.” He could not go on talking. His mouth had gone dry. He felt it: the shift, the arrival, the change.
The woman felt it too. She looked frightened. Holding the heavy brass necklace up close to her throat like a talisman, she was staring in dismay, shock, terror, out the window at the view.
He had not expected that. He had thought that only he could be aware of the change.
But she had heard him tell Orr what to dream; she had stood beside the dreamer; she was there at the center, like him. And like him had turned to look out the window at the vanishing towers fade like a dream, leave not a wrack behind, the insubstantial miles of suburb dissolving like smoke on the wind, the city of Portland, which had had a population of a million people before the Plague Years but had only about a hundred thousand these days of the Recovery, a mess and jumble like all American cities, but unified by its hills and its misty, seven-bridged river, the old forty-story First National Bank building dominating the downtown skyline, and far beyond, above it all, the serene and pale mountains....
She saw it happen. And he realized that he had never once thought that the HEW observer might see it happen. It hadn’t been a possibility, he hadn’t given it a thought. And this implied that he himself had not believed in the change, in what Orr’s dreams did. Though he had felt it, seen it, with bewilderment, fear, and exultation, a dozen times now; though he had watched the horse become a mountain (if you can watch the overlap of one reality with another), though he had been testing, and using, the effective power of Orr’s dreams for nearly a month now, yet he had not believed in what was happening.
This whole day, from his arrival at work on, he had not given one thought to the fact that, a week ago, he had not been the Director of the Oregon Oneirological Institute, because there had been no Institue. Ever since last Friday, there had been an Institute for the last eighteen months. And he had been its founder and director. And this being the way it was—for him, for everyone on the staff, and his colleagues at the Medical School, and the Government that funded it—he had accepted it totally, just as they did, as the only reality. He had suppressed his memory of the fact that, until last Friday, this had not been the way it was.
That had been Orr’s most successful dream by far. It had begun in the old office across the river, under that damned mural photograph of Mount Hood, and had ended in this office... and he had been there, had seen the walls change around him, had known the world was being remade, and had forgotten it. He had forgotten it so completely that he had never even wondered if a stranger, a third person, might have the same experience.
What would it do to the woman? Would she understand, would she go mad, what would she do? Would she keep both memories, as he did, the true one and the new one, the old one and the true one?
She must not. She would interfere, bring in other observers, spoil the experiment completely, wreck his plans.
He would stop her at any cost. He turned to her, ready for violence, his hands clenched.
She was just standing there. Her brown skin had gone livid, her mouth was open. She was dazed. She could not believe what she had seen out that window. She could not and did not.
Haber’s extreme physical tension relaxed a little. He was fairly sure, looking at her, that she was so confused and traumatized as to be harmless. But he must move quickly, all the same.
“He’ll sleep for a while now,” he said; his voice sounded almost normal, though hoarsened by the tightness of his throat muscles. He had no idea what he was going to say, but plunged ahead; anything to break the spell. “I’ll let him have a short s-sleep period now. Not too long, or his dream recall will be poor. It’s a nice view, isn’t it? These easterly winds we’ve been having, they’re godsend. In fall and whiter I don’t see the mountains for months at a go. But when the clouds clear off, there they are. It’s a great place, Oregon. Most unspoiled state in the Union. Wasn’t exploited much before the Crash. Portland was just beginning to get big in the late seventies. Are you a native Oregonian?”
After a minute she nodded groggily. The matter-of-fact tone of his voice, if nothing else, was getting through to her.
“I’m from New Jersey originally. It was terrible there when I was a kid, the environmental deterioration. The amount of tearing down and cleaning up the East Coast had to do after the Crash, and is still doing, is unbelievable. Out here, the real damage of overpopulation and environmental mismanagement hadn’t yet been done, except in California. The Oregon ecosystem was still intact.” It was dangerous, this talking right on the critical subject, but he could not think of anything else: he was as if compelled. His head was too full, holding the two sets of memories, two full systems of information: one of the real (no longer) world with a human population of nearly seven billion and increasing geometrically, and one of the real (now) world with a population of less than one billion and still not stabilized.
My God, he thought, what has Orr done?
Six billion people.
Where are they?
But the lawyer must not realize. Must not. “Ever been East, Miss Lelache?”
She looked at him vaguely and said, “No.”
“Well, why bother. New York’s doomed in any case, and Boston; and anyhow the future of this country is out here. This is the. growing edge. This is where it’s at, as they used to say when I as a kid! I wonder, by the way, if you know Dewey Furth, at the HEW office here.”
“Yes,” she said, still punch-drunk, but beginning to respond, to act as if nothing had happened. A spasm of relief went through Haber’s body. He wanted to sit down suddenly, to breathe hard. The danger was past. She was rejecting the incredible experience. She was asking herself now, what’s wrong with me? Why on earth did I look out the window expecting to see a city of three million? Am I having some sort of crazy spell?
Of course, Haber thought, a man who saw a miracle would reject his eyes’ witness, if those with him saw nothing.
“It’s stuffy in here,” he said with a touch of solicitude in his voice, and went to the thermostat on the wall. “I keep it warm; old sleep-researcher’s habit; body temperature falls during sleep, and you don’t want a lot of subjects or patients with nose colds. But this electric heat’s too efficient, it gets too warm, makes me feel groggy. ... He should be waking soon.” But he did not want Orr to recall his dream clearly, to recount it, to confirm the miracle. “I think I’ll let him go a bit longer, I don’t care about the recall on this dream, and he’s right down in third-stage sleep now. Let him stay there while we finish talking. Was there anything else you wanted to ask about?”
“No. No, I don’t think so.” Her bangles clashed uncertainly. She blinked, trying to pull herself together. “If you’ll send in the full description of your machine there, and its operation, and the current uses you’re putting it to, and the results, all that, you know, to Mr. Furth’s office, that should be the end of it. ... Have you taken out a patent on the device?”
“Applied for one.”
She nodded. “Might be worth while.” She had wandered, clashing and clattering faintly, over toward the sleeping man, and now stood looking at him with an odd expression on her thin, brown face.
“You have a queer profession,” she said abruptly. “Dreams; watching people’s brains work; telling them what to dream. ... I suppose you do a lot of your research at night?”
“Used to. The Augmentor may save us some of that; we’ll be able to get sleep whenever we want, of the kind we want to study, using it. But a few years ago there was a period when I never went to bed before 6 A.M. for thirteen months.” He laughed. “I boast about that now. My record. These days I let my staff carry most of the graveyard-shift load. Compensations of middle age!”
“Sleeping people are so remote,” she said, still looking at Orr. “Where are they?...”
“Right here,” Haber said, and tapped the EEG screen. “Right here, but out of communication. That’s what strikes humans as uncanny about sleep. Its utter privacy. The sleeper turns his back on everyone. ‘The mystery of the individual is strongest in sleep,’ a writer in my field said. But of course a mystery is merely a problem we haven’t solved yet!... He’s due to wake now. George... George... Wake up, George.”
And he woke as he generally did, fast, shifting from one state to the other without groans, stares, and relapses. He sat up and looked first at Miss Lelache, then at Haber, who had just removed the trancap from his head. He got up, stretching a little, and went over to the window. He stood looking out.
There was a singular poise, almost a monumentally, in the stance of his slight figure: he was completely still, still as the center of something. Caught, neither Haber nor the woman spoke.
Orr turned around and looked at Haber.
“Where are they?” he said. “Where did they all go?”
Haber saw the woman’s eyes open wide, saw the tension rise in her, and knew his peril. Talk, he must talk! “I’d judge from the EEG,” he said, and heard his voice come out deep and warm, just as he wanted it, “that you had a highly charged dream just now, George. It was disagreeable; it was in fact very nearly a nightmare. The first ‘bad’ dream you’ve had here. Right?”
“I dreamed about the Plague,” Orr said; and he shivered from head to foot, as if he were going to be sick.
Haber nodded. He sat down behind his desk. With his peculiar docility, his way of doing the habitual and acceptable thing, Orr came and sat down opposite in the big leather chair placed for interviewees and patients.
“You had a real hump to get over, and the getting over it wasn’t easy. Right? This was the first time, George, that I’ve had you handle a real anxiety in a dream. This time, under my direction as suggested to you in hypnosis, you approached one of the deeper elements in your psychic malaise. The approach was not easy, or pleasant In fact, that dream was a heller, wasn’t it?”
“Do you remember the Plague Years?” Orr inquired, not aggressively, but with a tinge of something unusual in his voice: sarcasm? And he looked round at the Lelache, who had retired to her chair in the corner.
“Yes, I do. I was already a grown man when the first epidemic struck. I was twenty-two when that first announcement was made in Russia, that chemical pollutants in the atmosphere were combining to form virulent carcinogens. The next night they released the hospital statistics from Mexico City. Then they figured out the incubation period, and everybody began counting. Waiting. And there were the riots, and the fuck-ins, and the Doomsday Band, and the Vigilantes. And my parents died that year. My wife the next year. My two sisters and their children after that. Everyone I knew.” Haber spread out his hands. “Yes, I remember those years,” he said heavily. “When I must.”
“They took care of the overpopulation problem, didn’t they?” said Orr, and this time the edge was clear. “We really did it.”
“Yes. They did. There is no overpopulation now. Was there any other solution, besides nuclear war? There is now no perpetual famine in South America, Africa, and Asia. When transport channels are fully restored, there won’t be even the pockets of hunger that are still left. They say a third of humanity still goes to bed hungry at night; but in 1980 it was 92 per cent. There are no floods now in the Ganges caused by the piling up of corpses of people dead of starvation. There’s no protein deprivation and rickets among the working-class children of Portland, Oregon. As there was—before the Crash.”
“The Plague,” Orr said.
Haber leaned forward across the big desk. “George. Tell me this. Is the world overpopulated?”
“No,” the man said. Haber thought he was laughing, and drew back a little apprehensively; then he realized that it was tears that gave Orr’s eyes that queer shine. He was near cracking. All the better. If he went to pieces, the lawyer would be still less inclined to believe anything he said that fitted with whatever she might recall.
“But half an hour ago, George, you were profoundly worried, anxious, because you believed that overpopulation was a present threat to civilization, to the whole Terran ecosystem. Now I don’t expect that anxiety to be gone, far from it. But I believe its quality has changed, since your living through it in the dream. You are aware, now, that it had no basis in reality. The anxiety still exists, but with this difference: you know now that it is irrational—that it conforms to an inward desire, rather than to outward reality. Now that’s a beginning. A good beginning. A damn lot to have accomplished in one session, with one dream! Do you realize that? You’ve got a handle, now, to come at this whole thing with. You’ve got on top of something that’s been on top of you, crushing you, making you feel pressed down and squeezed in. It’s going to be a faker fight from now on, because you’re a freer man. Don’t you feel that? Don’t you feel, right now, already, just a little less crowded?”
Orr looked at him, then at the lawyer again. He said nothing.
There was a long pause.
“You look beat,” Haber said, a verbal pat on the shoulder. He wanted to calm Orr down, to get him back into his normal self-effacing state, in which he would lack the courage to say anything about his dream powers in front of the third person; or else to get him to break right down, to behave with obvious abnormality. But he wouldn’t do either. “If there wasn’t an HEW observer lurking in the corner, I’d offer you a shot of whisky. But we’d better not turn a therapy session into a wing-ding, eh?”
“Don’t you want to hear the dream?”
“If you want.”
“I was burying them. In one of the big ditches ... I did work in the Interment Corps, when I was sixteen, after my parents got it. ... Only in the dream the people were all naked and looked like they’d died of starvation. Hills of them. I had to bury them all. I kept looking for you, but you weren’t there.”
“No,” Haber said reassuringly, “I haven’t figured in your dreams yet, George.”
“Oh, yes. With Kennedy. And as a horse.” “Yes; very early in the therapy,” Haber said, dismissing it. “This dream then did use some actual recall material from your experience—”
“No. I never buried anybody. Nobody died of the Plague. There wasn’t any Plague. It’s all in my imagination. I dreamed it.”
Damn the stupid little bastard! He had got out of control. Haber cocked his head and maintained a tolerant, noninterfering silence; it was all he could do, for a stronger move might make the lawyer suspicious.
“You said you remembered the Plague; but don’t you also remember that there wasn’t any Plague, that nobody died of pollutant cancer, that the population just kept on getting bigger and bigger? No? You don’t remember that? What about you, Miss Lelache—do you remember it both ways?”
But at this Haber stood up: “Sorry, George, but I can’t let Miss Lelache be drawn into this. She’s not qualified. It would be improper for her to answer you. This is a psychiatric session. She’s here to observe the Augmentor, and nothing further. I must insist on this.”
Orr was quite white; the cheekbones stood out in his face. He sat staring up at Haber. He said nothing.
“We’ve got a problem here, and there’s only one way to lick it, I’m afraid. Cut the Gordian knot. No offense, Miss Lelache, but as you can see, you’re the problem. We’re simply at a stage where our dialogue can’t support a third member, even a nonparticipant. Best thing to do is just call it off. Right now. Start again tomorrow at four. O.K., George?”
Orr stood up, but didn’t head for the door. “Did you ever happen to think, Dr. Haber,” he said, quietly enough but stuttering a little, “that there, there might be other people who dream the way I do? That reality’s being changed out from under us, replaced, renewed, all the tune—only we don’t know it? Only the dreamer knows it, and those who know his dream. If that’s true, I guess we’re lucky not knowing it. This is confusing enough.”
Genial, noncommittal, reassuring, Haber talked him to the door, and out of it.
“You hit a crisis session,” he said to Lelache, shutting the door behind him. He wiped his forehead, let weariness and worry appear in his face and tone. “Whew! What a day to have an observer present!”
“It was extremely interesting,” she said, and her bracelets chattered a little.
“He’s not hopeless,” Haber said. “A session like this one gives even me a pretty discouraging impression. But he has a chance, a real chance, of working out of this delusion pattern he’s caught in, this terrific dread of dreaming. The trouble is, it’s a complex pattern, and a not unintelligent mind caught in it; he’s all too quick at weaving new nets to trap himself in. ... If only he’d been sent for therapy ten years ago, when he was in his teens; but of course the Recovery had barely got underway ten years ago. Or even a year ago, before he started deteriorating his whole reality-orientation with drugs. But he tries, and keeps trying; and he may yet win through to a sound reality-adjustment.”
“But he’s not psychotic, you said,” Lelache remarked, a little dubiously.
“Correct. I said, disturbed. If he cracks, of course, he’ll crack completely; probably in the catatonic schizophrenic line. A disturbed person isn’t less liable to psychosis than a normal one.” He could not talk any more, the words were drying up on his tongue, turning to dry shreds of nonsense. It seemed to him that he had been spewing out a deluge of meaningless speech for hours and now he had no more control over it at all. Fortunately Miss Lelache had had enough, too, evidently; she clashed, snapped, shook hands, left.
Haber went first to the tape recorder concealed in a wall panel near the couch, on which he recorded all therapy sessions: nonsignaling recorders were a special privilege of psychotherapists and the Office of Intelligence. He erased the record of the past hour.
He sat down in his chair behind the big oak desk, opened the bottom drawer, removed glass and bottle, and poured a hefty slug of bourbon. My God, there hadn’t been any bourbon half an hour ago—not for twenty years! Grain had been far too precious, with seven billion mouths to feed, to go for spirits. There had been nothing but pseudobeer, or (for a doctor) absolute alcohol; that’s what the bottle in his desk had been, half an hour ago.
He drank off half the shot in a gulp, then paused. He looked over at the window. After a while he got up and stood in front of the window looking out over the roofs and trees. One hundred thousand souls. Evening was beginning to dim the quiet river, but the mountains stood immense and clear, remote, in the level sunlight of the heights.
“To a better world!” Dr. Haber said, raising his glass to his creation, and finished his whisky in a lingering, savoring swallow.