by Laurence M. Janifer
“I would not repeat myself if it were not for the urgency of this matter.” Dr. Haenlingen’s voice hardly echoed in the square small room. She stood staring out at the forests below, the coiling gray-green trees, the plants and rough growth. A small woman whose carriage was always, publicly, stiff and erect, whose iron-gray eyes seemed as solid as ice, she might years before have trained her voice to sound improbably flat and formal. Now the formality was dissolving in anger. “As you know, the mass of citizens throughout the Confederation are a potential source of explosive difficulty, and our only safety against such an explosion lies in complete and continuing silence.” Abruptly, she turned away from the window. “Have you got that, Norma?”
Norma Fredericks nodded, her trace poised over the waiting pad. “Yes, Dr. Haenlingen. Of course.”
Dr. Haenlingen’s laugh was a dry rustle. “Good Lord, girl,” she said. “Are you afraid of me, too?”
Norma shook her head instantly, then stopped and almost smiled. “I suppose I am, Doctor,” she said. “I don’t quite know why—”
“Authority figure, parent-surrogate, phi factor—there’s no mystery about the why, Norma. If you’re content with jargon, and we know all the jargon, don’t we?” Now instead of a laugh it was a smile, surprisingly warm but very brief. “We ought to, after all; we ladle it out often enough.”
Norma said: “There’s certainly no real reason for fear. I don’t want you to think—”
“I don’t think,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “I never think. I reason when I must, react when I can.” She paused. “Sometimes, Norma, it strikes me that the Psychological Division hasn’t really kept track of its own occupational syndromes.”
“Yes?” Norma waited, a study in polite attention. The trace fell slowly in her hand to the pad on her knees and rested there.
“I ask you if you’re afraid of me and I get the beginnings of a self-analysis,” Dr. Haenlingen said. She walked three steps to the desk and sat down behind it, her hands clasped on the surface, her eyes staring at the younger woman. “If I’d let you go on I suppose you could have given me a yard and a half of assorted psychiatric jargon, complete with suggestions for a change in your pattern.”
“You only reacted the way a good Psychological Division worker is supposed to react, I imagine.” The eyes closed for a second, opened again. “You know, Norma, I could have dictated this to a tape and had it sent out automatically. Did you stop to think why I wanted to talk it out to you?”
“It’s a message to the Confederation,” Norma said slowly. “I suppose it’s important, and you wanted—”
“Importance demands accuracy,” Dr. Haenlingen broke in. “Do you think you can be more accurate than a tape record?”
A second of silence went by. “I don’t know, then,” Norma said at last.
“I wanted reaction,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “I wanted somebody’s reaction. But I can’t get yours. As far as I can see you’re the white hope of the Psychological Division—but even you are afraid of me, even you are masking any reaction you might have for fear the terrifying Dr. Anna Haenlingen won’t like it.” She paused. “Good Lord, girl, I’ve got to know if I’m getting through!”
Norma took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I’ll try to give you what you want—”
“There you go again.” Dr. Haenlingen shoved back her chair and stood up, marched to the window and stared out at the forest again. Below, the vegetation glowed in the daylight. She shook her head slowly. “How can you give me what I want when I don’t know what I want? I need to know what you think, how you react. I’m not going to bite your head off if you do something wrong: there’s nothing wrong that you can do. Except not react at all.”
“I’m sorry,” Norma said again.
Dr. Haenlingen’s shoulders moved, up and down. It might have been a sigh. “Of course you are,” she said in a gentler voice. “I’m sorry, too. It’s just that matters aren’t getting any better—and one false move could crack us wide open.”
“I know,” Norma said. “You’d think people would understand—”
“People,” Dr. Haenlingen said, “understand very little. That’s what we’re here for, Norma: to make them understand a little more. To make them understand, in fact, what we want them to understand.”
“The truth,” Norma said.
“Of course,” Dr. Haenlingen said, almost absently. “The truth.”
This time there was a longer pause.
“Shall we get on with it, then?” Dr. Haenlingen said.
“I’m ready,” Norma said. “‘Complete and continuing silence.'”
Dr. Haenlingen paused. “What?… Oh. It should be perfectly obvious that the average Confederation citizen, regardless of his training or information, would not understand the project under development here no matter how carefully it was explained to him. The very concepts of freedom, justice, equality under the law, which form the cornerstone of Confederation law and, more importantly, Confederation societal patterns, will prevent him from judging with any real degree of objectivity our actions on Fruyling’s World, or our motives.”
“Actions,” Norma muttered. “Motives.” The trace flew busily over the pad, leaving its shorthand trail.
“It was agreed in the original formation of our project here that silence and secrecy were essential to the project’s continuance. Now, in the third generation of that project, the wall of silence has been breached and I have received repeated reports of rumors regarding our relationship with the natives. The very fact that such rumors exist is indication enough that an explosive situation is developing. It is possible for the Confederation to be forced to the wall on this issue, and this issue alone: I cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that such a possibility exists. Therefore—”
“Doctor,” Norma said.
The dictation stopped. Dr. Haenlingen turned slowly. “Yes?”
“You wanted reactions, didn’t you?” Norma said.
“Well?” The word was not unfriendly.
Norma hesitated for a second. Then she burst out: “But they’re so far away! I mean—there isn’t any reason why they should really care. They’re busy with their own lives, and I don’t really see why whatever’s done here should occupy them—”
“Because you’re not seeing them,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “Because you’re thinking of the Confederation, not the people who compose the Confederation, all of the people on Mars, and Venus, the moons and Earth. The Confederation itself—the government—really doesn’t care. Why should it? But the people do—or would.”
“Oh,” Norma said, and then: “Oh. Of course.”
“That’s right,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “They hear about freedom, and all the rest, as soon as they’re old enough to hear about anything. It’s part of every subject they study in school, it’s part of the world they live in, it’s like the air they breathe. They can’t question it: they can’t even think about it.”
“And, of course, if they hear about Fruyling’s World—”
“There won’t be any way to disguise the fact,” Dr. Haenlingen said. “In the long run, there never is. And the fact will shock them into action. As long as they continue to live in that air of freedom and justice and equality under the law, they’ll want to stop what we’re doing here. They’ll have to.”
“I see,” Nonna said. “Of course.”
Dr. Haenlingen, still looking out at the world below, smiled faintly. “Slavery,” she said, “is such an ugly word.”