Back when I was in Newschool, there were twenty-six kids in my class. Thirteen boys and thirteen girls, one student for each letter of the alphabet. The girls' names were light and delicate, two syllables long, ending in a or e or y like mine. Boys' names were even shorter, their single syllables pounding like tiny hammers in my ears. Brad. Zach. Joe. Dan. It was easier for kids and teachers alike if our names were short and easy to remember. Less confusing that way.
There were twenty-six of us, but I felt like I was the only one left. Where had the rest gone?
My head was heavy, and my eyelids, too, like lead window-shades. I didn't want to wake up.
I did, though, once I heard the voice. It wasn't shouting or yelling (ah, bliss!)—, but just calm.
"Yery. Yery?" A man's voice, and one that matched his kind and grandfatherly looks.
I suddenly remembered where I was and decided to use some slang-y oldspeak back-talk.
"That's my name. Don't wear it out." I grinned a half-grin and soundlessly laughed a little.
The man's eyebrows furrowed to a point, white and bushy, but then he thought better of it and his face quickly relaxed. "Where did you get that name? Were you born before the Revolution?"
I thought of saying Duh, but his voice had turned kinder, so, like him, I tried a little kindness.
I nodded. "My mother was a greencardbride from what we call Eurasia, but what used to be known as Russia. She named me after the weirdest letter of their alphabet, called the yery, or this—" I made one quick sound that was really a combination of three: ih, uh, ee. Hard to do.
The old man shook his head sadly. "There is no such letter, my dear. There never has been. You pre-Rev kids have had a pretty hard time of it, learning Newspeak, but I would have thought someone like you would have done better. Don't worry, though. There's still time to save you."
"Save me from what?" I asked, but then the answer instantly came to me. "Myself?"
"Not just yourself, but all of the oldways and oldthink that have poisoned many young people your age and led them to eventual thoughtcrime. Not just yourself, you see, but society as a whole. Through your redemption and love of BIG BROTHER, thousands more will be saved."
"I don't love BIG BROTHER," I said and added quickly, "I thought it was best not to lie."
"Good." The old man smiled. "I can tell when you lie, so I'm glad you did not. As for loving BIG BROTHER, you shall, and then all of this will simply fade. You won't even remember it."
I doubted that.
"You're in the Ministry of Love," said the old man, "which concerns itself with Torture. That is the nature of doublespeak and doublethink. Do you believe you understand these concepts?"
I shook my head. "No. I've tried and tried, because everybody else does it, but I can't."
"Humbling yourself is necessary for you to do so. I'll now turn you over to Keira. She's my daughter, and she can help you better than I. With her will be Dr. R., who'll be conducting a concurrent part of your session. You have nothing to fear, as long as you don't lie or try to."
He stepped over and touched my hand. I was shackled in a metal chair, and I believed him.
Deep down, I knew I shouldn't have, but his voice and touch were so kind, so soft…
Keira appeared, wearing a long robe that made her look more like a priestess than a punisher.
"Yerischa! I've heard so much about you. You're the most plusgood prolit writer under forty in the Ficdep, or Fiction Department." She looked worried. "Why are you here, in the Miniluv?"
My voice chilled. Her acting surprised didn't fool me. "If you're going to torture me, do it."
All of a sudden, I almost felt sorry for Keira. Her eyes had gone blank for a second, a split second that made me think maybe she really didn't know what was going on. In another split second, however, her eyes filled with knowledge, and she nodded calmly and turned to Dr. R.
Dr. R. turned a dial on a machine attached to my chair, and I jumped in fright and pain.
"That was twenty-five," said Dr. R. "You wouldn't want to get much above that."
"What did I do wrong?" I cried. "That I asked to be tortured?!"
Keira nodded, but her nod was slight, and there was admiration in her gaze. "Yes. It was brave of you, but wholly foolish. The dial will be turned only if people are stupid on purpose, or if they lie. You are neither, but I wanted to give you a taste of what you'll feel if you do." She touched my arm, and her hot hand upon my tingling flesh somehow made me feel better than if it had been cool or cold. "Shh. Don't worry. Dr. R. won't do it again if you only come as you are."
She meant be honest. Funny. That was a Christian oldsong, right? "Come As You Are"?
The newsongs compared Christ to BIG BROTHER and vice versa, one and the same.
I wondered if Keira knew the history of the last four words she'd said. Of course, if newsongs had always existed and oldsongs hadn't, or were fast dying or fading out, then how would she?
You were born before me, I wanted to say, before the Revolution. Can't we talk about this?
"You're thinking," said Keira, "you'd like to talk with me about the oldlife. Very well." She smiled, not unkindly, and her smile was real. "I was born when there was a Russia, when there was a yery — your name. An America, too, come to think of it. All countries thought themselves to be the whole of humanity, and in a sense, they were right. In the movement towards Ingsoc, towards truth, there became fewer and fewer names to talk about more and more countries. Nations, rather, since a country is a geographical place on a map." We still had maps nowadays.
"Right now, when we talk about nations, we use the terms Eurasia, Eastasia, Oceania, and Mideast to talk about places and people in the broadest of terms. It's easier, because Newspeak is the essence of ease." A pause. "Not for us, at least, or not for you, because you're still young."
"I'm thirty-five," I said. "Not so young anymore." How old was Keira? Fifty? Fifty-five?
"In the oldlife, I was no one, the child of a man who couldn't hold a job to save his life. 'Layoffs', 'downsizing', and 'outsourcing' were the terms of his day. However, he was no victim. His attitude, mainly that the economic system outside of himself was the cause of his troubles, was to blame. It is better to let those in need fight their own battles at times than to help them. I wish someone would have helped my father, however, because we were one step from living in the gutter. In the newlife, post-Revolution, I was humbly reborn as a goodteacher that serves the Miniluv. I'd never go back to whom or where I was. Then, I was blind. Now I see."
"I don't think you do," I said. "BIG BROTHER is" — what? — "doubleplusungood."
Newspeak. I hated Newspeak, because I'd been born and raised before it had almost replaced Standard English as the official language of Oceania. Newspeak was ugly and dull, brutish and sometimes even silly, sounding like the grunting of a pig or the quacking of a duck. Yet here I was, using words like greencardbride and doubleplusungood. Yet the thing was, I had no other real words to describe BIG BROTHER or how I felt about him. As a prolit writer, I had to use mostly Newspeak in the simple and trashy fiction I wrote for the proles. I made a good living.
"You definitely went to Newschool," said Keira, "its educational system having been put into place in the 1990's, but somehow you haven't quite caught on to life in Oceania nowadays. You don't use a songfeed or a braincellphone, for example, or have any sort of a truechip implant."
I shrugged my shoulders slightly, momentarily forgetting that my hands were shackled to the chair and could not be used in that familiar gesture. "All those things are expensive," I said. "Even though I write prolit and earn a more-than-decent wage for doing so, there are other things that make me happy. Like movies, and my two-year-old cinescreen. And books, and my cat." I would have mentioned my parents, who were now sixty-four, or my sister or friends at work, but such things were dangerous. If I mentioned them, they might become suspects and criminals.
Keira nodded. "Both wise and naïve at the same time. You know that the more people buy and spend, the more Oceania grows. Are you sure you can't afford the most basictruechip?"
Yery. Don't lie. "I could if I wanted to, but I don't. As I said, I hate BIG BROTHER."
A humming from the machine wired to my chair, and a gentle electric current ran through me. It hurt and it didn't hurt. It itched, and yet filled me with warmth. I saw the dial was set at ten.
"Any higher, and you'll hurt," said Keira. "You're doing well so far."
"How?" I cried, wanting to laugh out loud. "I already said the worst thing that could be said."
"Not really. The worst people are the thoughtcriminals who lie and try to hide it. You, though you are unrepentantly insane right now, have a chance at life. Those who prevaricate never do."
My head throbbed with a dull ache, but only for about ten seconds. I sagged into the chair.
"What do you want?" I asked wearily. "Do you want me to tell you why I hate him?"
"I already know," said Keira. "You think BIG BROTHER is a threat to you and those around you, that he keeps people from being free. BIG BROTHER watches and waits to punish you for any slip of a thought that comes into your mind. He is a monster, a murderer. He sends people to war for no real reason, whether it be with Eurasia, Eastasia, or Mideast. He has no heart and no conscience. He desires nothing but more power and more profit. Is that what you believe, Yery?"
Struck with a sense of helplessness and hope all at once, I nodded furtively. The dial again?
Surprisingly, Dr. R. made no move. He just stood there calmly, like a statue in the prolepark.
"I believed that, too," said Keira, "before I was cured. Not even by my own father, but by the sage of all sages, a man once called by a common name but now revered asLittle Brother."
Little Brother. Vague stirrings of memory, a name mentioned by my parents, but no more.
"Who is he?" I asked. "Little Brother? I've barely even heard of him," I sheepishly confessed.
"Few have," said Keira, "unless they're interested in the leaders and history of the Party. You'll meet him after we've finished our session." She smiled and held up the fingers of her right hand, with the thumb hidden in the crook of her palm. "How many fingers am I holding up?" Her smile said, Please, tell me, but in the blink of an eye, her eyes said I hate this part.
I silently counted Keira's extended fingers. One, two, three, four. "Four," I said.
"What if the Party says there are not four, but five? Then how many fingers am I extending?"
"Four." How could I deny what was in front of my own eyes? I wasn't supposed to lie anyway.
Aagh! I glanced pleadingly at Dr. R. He had twisted the dial up to twenty-five, his face blank.
Sweating a little, I told Keira, "Five! I meant five. Don't do that to me again. Please."
"Very well." Her gaze was unapologetic. "The Party says I'm holding up five fingers. How many?" There were four, unmistakably four. I definitely hurt, but I could still think and count.
"Five," I said, but then I writhed in the chair, trapped in another web of electric-shock pain.
"You just lied." Keira's eyes were sad. "You still see four fingers, and your eyes give you away. You and I both know I'm trying to help you, but you just don't see." She went over to my chair and gently touched my hand. "Little Brother would have done far worse to you. Relax."
I kept staring at Keira, trying to beg with my look. She must have seen the panic in my soul.
"I just want to talk," she said. "Do you know what the Party believes, and what it practices?"
"I have a theory. Do you promise Dr. R. won't do that if I explain it to you?" Keira nodded.
"BIG BROTHER and the Party believe in Charles Darwin's philosophy," I said, "survival of the fittest". However, they don't realize that what Darwin meant by fittest was thewisest and most insightful, not merely the strongest or smartest or fastest. The Party wants people to buy stuff" — there I went again with a word that wasn't Newspeak but almost could have been — "so that they'll be happy, but things can't make people happy. Only relationships can, and love. There's not much love in a lot of people nowadays, except for themselves and BIG BROTHER. On the other hand, maybe the love has been crushed out of them—either by torture or despair."
"Despair is one step," Keira said, "one of the first toward loving the BROTHER you hate."
My muscles were still tingling. I looked at Keira. "You see the despair in me now?" A nod.
"You don't think there's any hope, but there's always hope." Her voice was soft. "Continue."
"As for the people the Party likes," I said, "there's one word for them — the rich. Not just the people who make a lot of money playing sports or running businesses or something like that, but especially those who were born into money through their families. It's like a regression toward the old medieval days, except we have all this modern technology. If you're poor in Oceania, it's your own fault, and you struggle and save, or try to, but nothing happens. As for the poor, or even the middle class, they're always kept one emergency away from bankruptcy. It's strange—back in the 1950's or so, when there was no Party, we used to make fun of it and call it 'Communist'. Nowadays, the Party is the Party—same name but totally opposite philosophy."
Dr. R. blinked. He made a move to twist the dial, but Keira gave him a murderous glare.
"The Party has always been the Party," said Keira, "and its philosophy has never changed. What you - what we — used to call 'communism' and 'capitalism' are but two sides of the same coin. The Party has existed and will as long as the world exists, immutable and unchangeable."
"Unless it gets overthrown."
Keira smiled. "By whom? The proles? To be sure, they're the only group with the sheer numbers to potentially overthrow the Party. However, they're not conscious of their own strength, and in all honesty, I don't think they care. They're too absorbed in their daily lives to learn what's going on or how the Party works, either to their small advantage or large detriment. You care, but you are not one of the proles anymore since you graduated into the Outer Party."
I had a sudden dark epiphany, a realization that scared me. "Is that why you're torturing me?"
"There is a Party slogan: 'Proles and animals are free'. Since you are a member of the Outer Party and beholden to its credo, there is no way someone like yourself can remain uncured and still work for it. Still exist, even. You have committed thoughtcrime, but we are not going to kill you. There are fates worse than death, and one of them is to be spent, to work for someone or something you used to hate, but now love, until you breathe your last breath of natural causes."
"You're evil," I said. There was no other way to put it.
Instead of trying to deny it or excuse herself, Keira, with those sad eyes, whispered, "I know."
Somehow, that scared me more than if she'd denied it. Why? I had to find out before I caved.
"Back to my fingers." She held up four. "How many am I holding up? The Party says five."
"Four." I gritted my teeth against the shock, measured by a dial that was now set at forty.
"How many?" Still four. I saw that Keira was crying, and her lips moved. Yery. Please.
"I still see four, and no matter how many times you do that, I'll see four." I was crying, too.
"Do you want to see them?" asked Keira through the tears she tried to hide. "Really see?"
I nodded. "Anything to stop the pain. Anything to get out of here!" I sucked in my breath.
Surprisingly, Keira walked over to my chair and held me. I was grateful for the long hug.
"Brace yourself," she said. "This was a part of my cure as well." She looked at Dr. R.
"Eighty?", he asked, meaning the number on the dial, but then Keira shook her head.
Dr. R. twisted the dial up to an unknown value, and then I felt myself burning inside. My skin burned, my bones burned, my muscles burned, my blood burned — and as I squinted my eyes shut in utter fullpain, as the Newspeak word went, an exotic word flashed in my mind: shest'desyat.
Sixty. Not bad, I thought through the burn, but then I thought, Whom on Earth am I kidding?!
"Open your eyes if you can," said Keira, "and look at my fingers. How many do you see?"
I opened my eyes, but just a little so that they were slits. Squinting seemed my sole protection against the pain, the blinding pain. Keira was holding up several fingers, but through the watery haze of my vision, I couldn't tell how many. They were blurry flesh-colored shapes, no more.
"I don't know! Three? Four? Five? In all honesty, I don't know!" I soldered my eyes shut.
"Better," said Keira softly, and in my mind I heard luchshe. Strange word, but same meaning.
The pain stopped, the tears came, and I started bawling uncontrollably. Ah! Stupid me. I was always taught not to cry — especially by my classmates at school and my teachers. I'd cried in class twice, from what I could remember. I couldn't remember much of anything anymore.
What was this healing, icy warmth? Soft hands were rubbing a topical analgesic on my arms. Please, my legs as well, and my whole body!, I wanted to say, but all that came out of my mouth were sobs. Keira seemed not to mind. At least I think it was Keira. I felt a slender frame stand next to mine, slender arms hold me, and a whispering female voice. Just like my mother, Anya…
"Sleep now," said the voice, close to my head as an arm became its cradle. "We're done."
I sank deep into the chair like a rag doll, welcoming the offer of a pillow for my sweaty face.
When I woke up, I found that I was lying in a real bed, with a white mattress and white handmade blanket, like my grandmother had when she lived in her old house. Not a VICTORY MANSION, but a real house with two towering stories. The Revolution hadn't even been born.
To my right was a man sitting in a chair, white-haired and ancient. Older than Keira's father.
"Good morning," he said. "My name was O'Brien once, but now I am called Little Brother."
Even though I lay snug and cozy in the bed, supine, a shiver tingled in my tailbone. So this was he, the "sage of all sages," as Keira had said. What saving wisdom would he have for me?
"Are you going to torture me?" I asked. "That's what I think is going to happen."
"You're wrong." O'Brien's — Little Brother's — smile was warm, like an early summer sun. "I merely wish to know what turned you to thoughtcrime, what made you insane. You make a good living as a prolit writer, so I'm surprised to find you here in the Ministry of Love." He leaned forward slightly, as a reporter would in the old days when about to ask a probing question. "Why are you so anti-wealth? For instance, in your short story 'Money', you seem to imply that those with money are greedy, while theproles, who struggle to get more, somehow have purer souls."
"It's only a story," I said, "and before I joined the Outer Party, I was a proleteacher's child."
"I see," said O'Brien. "Experience is a good thing, except when it's false, running counter to the eternal truth of the Party. In your story 'The Lottery', to prove my point further, you imply that not only is the Lottery slanted in favor of the rich, but that it's rigged so that the largest prizes are awarded to persons who, in reality, do not exist." His eyes were dark, shining seas.
"A theory of mine," I replied. "That doesn't mean it's true. As I said, it's only a story."
"A dangerous one that could incite the proles to believe it. You've only started writing this sort of crimefic in the past couple of weeks, and it's a wonder we didn't catch on to it sooner. You do know that such actions could earn you twenty years in a labor camp, at least?" Should.
I nodded. "All my best friends were proles in Newschool, even though there were only two. I look around me, and I see that the prolelife before my eyes doesn't match what the goodnews is telling me every night on the cinescreen." Gah! More Newspeak! Get out of my head! "As for being anti-wealth, I'm not. Money is a good thing. I just wish that more people had more of it."
"Money is earned and deserved, not given like a free gift from the blue," said O'Brien.
"I understand, but how is it that some earn and deserve so insurmountably more than others?"
"Because they do more work, or better work. Work is the key." I felt stupid then. I couldn't understand. Most proles worked and worked until they dropped dead of a heart attack at eighty; therefore, shouldn't they be the millionaires and billionaires? I personally knew none of these. I only read about them in the goodnews, and the number ofmulti-aires seemed to be increasing.
"You don't understand, do you? Fear not, Yery; you will, in time." O'Brien folded his hands.
"As I will also come to love BIG BROTHER?"
I sincerely doubted it, but I didn't laugh or scoff at O'Brien. That would have been arrogant, and after being taught in the shocklesson, the burning pain and warmth caused by that dialed machine, I knew I had no right to be. If I had resisted the torture, if I had withstood the pain, being arrogant would have been possible, but something had been stripped from me like clothing from my body before a hot bath. I lay still, suddenly afraid, but of what exactly, I knew not.
"You spoke of your friends earlier, the ones you had in Newschool who were all the children of proles. Would you like to know what happened to them? I know, because I am the right hand of BIG BROTHER himself, who knows all." I nodded solemnly, and O'Brien launched into a tuneless parody of the "ABC" song that we had all learned as children. It was at once comforting and hideous: "Ashley, Brad, Courtney, Dan, Emma, Frank, Gina, Hal, Ilse, John, Katie, Lance, Mindy, Nate, Olive, Pete, Quincy, Ron, Sarah, Troy, Uma (as in Thurman, a famous oldstar,) Vince, and Zach are all goodproles now. Not one graduated to the Outer Party, but it's for the best. Science has not gifted everyone with an intellect like yours, however misused it may be. They all have wives, husbands, children and jobs, none of them particularly high-paying. Most of them are in food service, although a few of them are doing clerical, factory, and janitorial work."
"Are any of them in prison?" I asked, "or even here, in another section of the Miniluv?"
O'Brien shook his head. "We've been good to you, Yery," he said, "meaning the Party. Our private hospitals and doctors saved your life when you had the umbilical cord wrapped around your neck in the womb. You were turning blue and fading fast. After you were born, our orthopedic technicians gave you crutches for your legs and therapy for your plusungood balance and coordination. We gave you jobs in the summer to help you pay for Newcollege, which you failed twice. Why have you chosen to fail us, Yery? Why have you betrayed BIG BROTHER?"
"I tried not to," I said sadly, and O'Brien gave me a sympathetic nod that said I know. "However, the more I grew and found out, the more I realized that BIG BROTHER is, at his core, unjust. He promotes some and leaves others to starve, and the reasons why are beyond my highest understanding. He promotes braincellphones and songfeedsand telescreens as the best things that Oceania has to offer and the solution to every problem, but I know there's more to life than this kind of existence. Unlife, I call it, a kind of walking daze where you're oblivious to everyone and everything. Except work, of course, and the daily cares that keep you from caring."
"I understand perfectly," said O'Brien, "yet I also understand that the beliefs you cling to are insanity. It is not the songfeeds and braincellphones you must accept, but the doctrine that the Party is infallible and in no way unjust. BIG BROTHER is watching you and waiting, Yery."
"That's another thing," I said. "The spying. You've probably been watching me all my life"—and here O'Brien gave a nod—"and yet when did you decide I was dangerous? When I was born? When I was three years old, diagnosed with a disability, and not then institutionalized?"
"Yes," said the man known as Little Brother. "When your proleteacher parents chose to keep you at home, that was the moment we knew we had to keep an eye on you and keep you safe."
"For a while, I was doing fine—learning reading, writing, and arithmetic—and then I failed."
O'Brien's patrician lips tightened. "Not strictly in an academic sense, Yery, no matter how many classes in Newcollege you didn't pass, but rather in obedience. In your heart, you betrayed BIG BROTHER as soon as you began to wonder, to think. You thought nothing of it at the time, in your child's play and teenage dreams, but as soon as you turned from a child to a woman, you knew the time would come for you to pay for your betrayals. That time approaches, little one."
Oddly, though he had called me that, his tone held no patronizing whine, no cadence of condescension. I couldn't read the hard glint in his eyes, though, so I asked, "Do you hate me?"
"Say that again."
I took a deep breath and swallowed hard, tasting precious little saliva. "Do you hate me?"
O'Brien stood up and stroked the soft fringe of hair near my forehead. "You are beautiful to me, Yery, a blind spot in the eye of the Party where, for the moment, BIG BROTHER'S will can be overlooked, missed, and denied. However, it will not last long. Before this session's through, you will weep as you did before" — Egads, he'd seen that! — "in penitence and remorse. You will yield to us, and you'll break. It is inevitable, but for you, it need not be deadly. You see, almost no one who comes into the Ministry of Love as a prisoner ever comes out. Rarely do we let traitors go, except to hard labor camps or their old jobs in a much-diminished and meaningless capacity. Mostly, we terminate them as terrorists or potential terrorists, enemies of the Party."
"Then what makes me any different?" I asked. "Why won't I be killed, or 'terminated'?"
"Even the Party prefers servants to corpses," O'Brien said. "We always need slaves to do our work, and when you have been broken, you'll serve us with a bowed head and grateful heart. That is what's so lovely about you. Even after you've been snapped in two by our final questioning techniques, you will have an unearthly glow about you, a sweet mystery rarely seen in those we interrogate. Those at hard labor are the living dead, all but you. You'll love the work, but most of all, you will love BIG BROTHER as you would have a future husband, or child."
"Hah!" This time I had to scoff. "What makes you think that will happen, other than your certainty that the Party breaks everyone and is always right?" I sat up and waited for his answer.
O'Brien didn't reply for a long while. Then he simply said: "Everyone is washed clean."
For me, that gentle statement was as final as God is love or two and two make four.
I didn't shiver, as I expected to, or cringe. I sighed inaudibly and then lay down again. O'Brien, to my surprise and shamefully grateful twitch of pleasure, tucked the blanket around me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Just like my father, or my grandfather when I'd known him. Before I drifted off to sleep for what seemed the thousandth time, I mumbled, "Still, I hate him."
I also heard O'Brien softly order, presumably to someone else, "After this, Room 202."
What was Room 202? No matter. Oblivion called me, and it would give me future strength.
When I woke up, I found myself shackled in the same chair I'd sat in before, except it must have been moved. This room was dark, completely dark, and I'd heard some of my co-workers in the Ficdep call the Ministry of Love "the place with no darkness." Why was it different here?
"Yery. Can you hear me?" O'Brien's voice — Little Brother's. "You are now in Room 202."
"I hear you," I said, "but why is it so dark in here? I thought the lights were always to be on."
"In this place," said O'Brien, "there can be darkness, for it represents your mind right now."
Ah. Heavy-handed metaphor. I'd soon escape, or outwit Little Brother and his many tortures.
"When you are cured at last, when your mind and your soul are washed clean, then and only then will the lights be turned on. In oldthink Christian theology, darkness was associated with the condition of sin and separation from God. In this case, perhaps this remnant of what used to be might prove useful after all." A pause. "You cannot see what's happening to you, but you will."
"Little Brother?" I said. "Why can't I die here? Why won't you kill me? You want me dead!"
"I do not. Neither does the Party. As I said, we prefer servants to corpses." A dim humming made my muscles turn to jelly; thus, I shook all over. My metal chair was being "warmed up".
"Keira has two chief fears," said O'Brien, "heights and tight spaces. Now she'll face them."
"Keira?!" I cried, getting more scared by the second. "What does she have to do with this?"
"As Dr. R. and I have witnessed during her session with you, she is not completely cured. Your life and hers are intertwined, bonded in a sweet symbiosis of friendship. In the past, people stood trial alone, and they surrendered alone. With some prisoners, that still works, for what we have to do to break them is to get them to betray the one person they love the most. You do not love Keira in a sense that you would love your mother or a friend. In fact, at times you hated her when she assisted in your re-education and shocklesson. However, there exists a love that goes beyond feelings of love, and a friendship that has nothing to do with 'friend' in its traditional meaning.Comradeship, in the word's truest sense, is what you share, a sort of primitive loyalty."
"So all I must do to save myself is break it?" I asked. "Very well. Whatever you're planning to do to me, do it to Keira instead. I mean it. She tortured me, so why shouldn't I want revenge?"
O'Brien laughed for five seconds straight. His laugh was cold and hollow, merry and dark.
"Keira said that, too," he replied once his commanding tone returned. "However, even if you both said it like you really meant it, screaming and begging for us to switch your trials around, it wouldn't work. In both of your cases, that sort of betrayal is a moot point, because there is no love between you like there was between a man I cured named Winston Smith, for instance, and his lover, Julia. That is the kind of love we can trap and truly use against either party involved.
"Your re-education, and Keira's, will be symbiotic and done together. That is why this very room is called Room 202 instead of 101. Simply for your own information, Room 101 still exists, for those thoughtcriminals who would be more efficiently cured by methods done in isolation upon themselves alone. Keira is able to hear my own voice as well, though not yours.
"She is locked in a small glass elevator, barely wide enough for the space of her body. The elevator has light bulbs in it, which will allow you to see her as she struggles to escape, pounding on the walls and screaming soundlessly, for the booth is fully insulated against any noise. The elevator shall slowly take her up to the thirtieth floor of the Ministry of Love, at which point the cable shall be snapped and the booth shall plummet. When it does and hits the bottom floor, the soundproof glass will shatter, killing Keira and ending not only her rebellion, but her unlife.
"The electricity for such an elevator and its lighting shall come from your body, shackled as you are by metal to metal. Don't worry; the dial shall not be set above any value which will prevent you from thinking and reasoning as I speak. I shall reveal to you the methods of the Party as well as the motives behind it. I will strip all illusions away from your eyes and your mind. Keira knows all of what I am about to tell you, incidentally, but she refuses to accept it."
"She won't," I said. "Not if you kill her." How could O'Brien not have seen this great flaw?
A soft, oppressive silence weighed on me. All O'Brien said after a bit was: "We shall see."
I heard the machine of a thousand curses hum again, and an itchy tingle ran through my body.
"The dial is at ten," said Little Brother, "which is the lowest level to make the elevator rise."
I heard a deep creaking and groaning from the far wall of Room 202. Glancing toward it, I saw a lighted elevator, still with incandescent bulbs instead of "eco-friendly" LCD ones. Keira slowly began to rise toward eternity, her ascent a cruel mockery of the one to heaven. Her body stood stiff as a board, her hands pressed against the glass in the position of a street mime's who was pretending to be trapped by an invisible wall. In a way, this unseen wall trapped us both.
"Yery?" asked Little Brother. "Do you believe that you can save Keira, or yourself?"
"I do," I answered firmly, "because I have to. If I don't, then we'll both die, or Keira will."
"What if Keira dies? What will be your impression of her, and the world's if it finds out?"
"Keira will be a martyr," I said, "just like the true Christ was, and thousands of other people."
"No!" I felt the tingling itch in my body turn into slight pain, and I wanted to seethe instead of scratch. The elevator started to rise a bit faster. How long would it take it to get to the thirtieth floor, at this rate? "Understand, Yery, that in this place, there are no martyrs. We do not create them. The reason that the Spanish Inquisition failed, and the Nazis, and the Russian Communists, is that the leaders killed their prisoners while the prisoners still hated them. The heretics were still heretics when they died. So were the Jews and political prisoners in the Nazi camps, and the hard laborers toiling away in the gulag. None of them believed their executions to be just, and they went to the stake and the ovens unrepentant of their crimes. You shall repent of yours, even though we will not kill you. If Keira dies, or even if she does not, she will not become a martyr. She'll be just as penitent as you will, just as willing to come to us and serve us out of true love. We never kill our prisoners before they turn, before we reshape their minds in a way we choose."
Despite the sweat forming on my body and the hot electrical pain in my veins, I shivered.
"As for you, Yery, and Keira as well, once you are both completely cured, no record of you will exist again. You will be sent to a labor camp in the mountains of Alaska, but a special one that caters to my personal headquarters and summer home. Your name will be erased from all records, whether financial, historical, or otherwise. Even your birth certificate will be destroyed. Your Social Security number, once you are cured, will be given to an illegal immigrant picking fruit or working as an undocumented nanny. It will be as if we turned you into oxygen and poured you into the air. You will be invisible, unknown, a permanent x or y in life's equation."
"If you're going to wipe us out of existence," I said, "then why bother doing this to us?"
"Part of your mystery, Yery, the one that I spoke of earlier, is that you are an anomaly. You prove to us that we are not yet perfect in our beliefs or our methods of inculcating them in the minds of men. You went wrong when you should've done right, by both yourself and the Party. It is through this final trial that we wish to discover your secret and then cleanse it from you."
"My secret is no secret," I said. "My secret is that I believe BIG BROTHER to be a tyrant. I was the daughter of one of the proles, as you know, a proleteacher and yet one of the struggling members of the middle class. I saw the lies behind the pretty pictures the Party painted of life in Oceania. Behind the gadgets and the cars and the conspicuous consumption, I saw the hollow depths of my friends' eyes and the loneliness in their voices. I saw a lack of purpose in myself, an absence of a destiny beyond working, possibly breeding, and dying. I never thought I'd become one of the Outer Party, and when I did, I thought I'd only moved to a gilded cage." Fearing the dial and yet aching to say the words, I blurted out, "It's all BIG BROTHER's fault."
More pain. In my estimation, the darkened dial was now poised at either thirty or thirty-five.
"Keira is now on the tenth floor," said Little Brother, "one-third of the way to her death. Do not imagine your words can save her now. They're hollow." I shivered again, my stomach liquid.
"Is there anything I can do to stop the elevator?" I asked, my breathing harder and heavier.
"Try your hardest, Yery, and see what your theories on how to save that one will bring you."
"Do it to me!" I said. "I hate heights and closed spaces, too, and falling from heights as well."
"Try again," said Little Brother. "That won't work, as I've said. Self-sacrifice is pointless."
"Do it to my parents, my sister, my friends, anyone! Anyone but her, here, right now!"
Little Brother laughed. "They're all goodproles. Why would I give them your punishment?"
The elevator kept creaking, onward and upward. For the moment, I was fresh out of ideas.
"You're thinking," said my captor, "that you have no strategies, no plans. You're wrong. You will still try to escape your fate, free Keira, and elude us up until the final moment. It is certain."
I shook my head in the dark, my head thrashing itself in four disgusted reflex movements.
"I revolt you," mused Little Brother, "and yet, Yery, you'll yield to me and BIG BROTHER."
An insidious silence, relieved by nothing but the groaning of the elevator. Keira, I suspected, was beginning to panic. I couldn't see her face now from where I was sitting, as I had before.
He had more questions, and more answers. His voice was at once chilling and passionate. "Now. You know how we keep men in submission, whether they be of the Inner Party, Outer Party, or the proles. We spy on them through the telescreens and the wiretaps and the novelty braincellphones and the truechip implants. You know about the Thought Police — not necessarily who they are at any given time, but what they do. The helicopters and patrols, the arrests and subsequent beatings when one of its members loses his cool for a moment—you know of these. My question to you is, why do we do these things? What is the Party's goal, its prime objective?"
"To control men, as you said," I replied softly, "because doing so brings the Party power."
"Very good. The laws of the physical world are irrelevant, and power over things is as well. What does it matter if I can make a machine work or not, or soar through the heavens or not? These are but parlor tricks, and besides, most of Nature is under our control anyway. We can make crops grow through irrigation, or we can make them wither through drought and water shortages. We know where faultlines are to cause earthquakes, what air masses we must move to cause a hurricane. The Earth is natural, and through our science, we have conquered Nature.
"So, the only power that matters is power over men. Nature already serves us in every way, but the mind of Man remains inviolate. You still have the spirit of Man within you, and perhaps this is the very essence of your secret. The spirit of Man hates tyranny and injustice, hates the concepts of hierarchy and exploitation. No man, of his own free will when he is but a little child, chooses to hurt, enslave or control others unless he is somehow influenced to do so. That is what we teach the members of the Party to do, and yet somehow, we have failed to do it to you."
"I was born before the Revolution," I snarled, "before the Party, no matter what you say."
Fullpain! In my mind's red eye, I saw the black dial reach sixty and then drop to fifteen.
"That has cost Keira two floors," said Little Brother. "She is banging upon the glass now."
"Wait a minute!" I gasped hastily as my insides turned to water. "If Man hates hierarchy, how come I still believe in God and that God loves me? I don't think that God exploits me, either."
"That is because you are perfectly willing to serve him. You're willing to let God be your master, when many others have chosen to let BIG BROTHER be theirs. Man may at first be his own master, and yet he is a slave to his own desires and passions. What a paradox the frail human is! As for the power we seek over men, why do you suppose that we want it?" Silence.
"You think we're too weak to rule ourselves," I said, "that you're doing this for our good—!"
Another burst of higher pain. "That was foolish of you, Yery, utterly foolish!" O'Brien cried. "We have no such illusions, or rather delusions, about ourselves. We of the Party seek power for its own sake. Do you think we want wealth, or long life, or every possession on the face of the Earth? Such things pass away, and they rust and fade. Power is immortal. Power is the only thing that lasts. You say you believe in God, but do you know what God's essence is, besides love?"
"Power," I said, and for a moment, a blessed moment of pure happiness, the elevator stopped.
"Very good. There is a Party slogan: GOD IS POWER. Not one person in a thousand has come to realize its true meaning without reading the book, Goldstein's book, and you have not. Some have come to a theoretical knowledge of this simple fact, but you know it in your heart. For this, I'll reward you. BIG BROTHER is now the power that was once a great, mythical God.
"When you are saved, you shall serve him, BIG BROTHER himself, and not me. He lives in Alaska as well, but his labor camp is one of the hardest and the best. I suspect that once he sees you for whom you are and whom you were, he shall take you as his mistress — a great fortune."
I bit my lower lip, utterly terrified to say anything for fear the elevator might start again.
"You realize why we, meaning the Party, want power," said O'Brien, "but I do not think that you fully grasp what this sort of power involves. Not yet. Once you do, however, the second stage of your re-education—understanding—will be complete. We say we want power for its own sake, but what does this power mean? What does it look like in daily life? Hazard a guess."
"It looks like the Thought Police," I said. "It looks like all the devices you use to spy upon people without their knowing. It looks like Oceania going to war for reasons I don't understand. It looks like this torture you're performing upon me and Keira. Most of all, it looks like betrayal, in the looks of my former classmates' eyes that were both utterly empty and utterly afraid."
"Exactly," said O'Brien. "It also looks, in here, like intentional darkness and hidden truth."
After a very brief pause, I heard more creaking from the far wall. Oh, no. No. No!
"Keira is on the twentieth floor," came that voice that made my skin crawl. "It will end soon."
Not if I can help it. O'Brien continued, "The world and future we envision, once we fully gain the power that we seek, will be even bleaker than the one you live in and imagine. No man will trust any other one again on a deep level, but only on a superficial kind that keeps them together in places of employment, in family homes, in the antediluvian structures we shall abolish in spirit if not in outward appearance. We have to keep our productivity high, our families intact, et cetera, but at the slightest sign that anyone has betrayed the Party, the truly hollow nature of these institutions such as 'home,' 'church,' and 'workplace' will show itself for a brief moment.
"No one will trust anyone, no one will love anyone, no one will call anyone 'friend' except the Party and BIG BROTHER. The words friend and even comrade, for example, will vanish once our language is made perfect. The only two forms of address for one man to another will be ty and vy, or the familiar and respectful forms of the word 'you', along with their given names. The sexual act will become no more than an emotionless formality, like renewing a work permit. Our neurologists have almost found a way to eliminate the orgasm and its subsequent sensations. Don't worry. Sex has always been a necessary evil, but we have almost driven the evil from it."
"The evil is the pleasure," I said, weeping, "the pleasure, and the love. That's what you hate."
"You're wrong!" O'Brien cried, increasing my pain. "We adore this font of unbridled strast, or passion, as you call it in the language that you're not supposed to know a single word of. We prefer it to be used in the service of the Party, as it should be, and not in the service of base lust. Without this fervor, who would fight our wars or even participate in the Two Minutes' Hate? It would all be meaningless, and the Party and BIG BROTHER shall be the only two things with any meaning after we have truly conquered. To do this, of course, we must first conquer you."
"Why me?" I sobbed. "Because I'm an ungood peon in the Outer Party? There are others."
"There will always be others," said O'Brien, "and the espionage, arrests, betrayals, tortures—and worse—shall continue. I have chosen to have mercy on you, as has BIG BROTHER. I love you, but he loves you more. This is just one more reason why you will come to love him in turn."
"I won't!" I cried, almost screaming. "Nikogda! Never! Why aren't you satisfied with my obedience before and in the future? I do what BIG BROTHER says, even though I hate him."
"It is not enough to obey BIG BROTHER," said his right-hand man. "You must love him."
"Why?!" The electricity was surging through my body, and I smelled heat and cooking flesh.
"Ah. Not even Winston Smith asked that. Why is love for BIG BROTHER required? The answer is this." O'Brien, to my immense relief, turned the dial not down, but all the way off.
"Love, far more than being just a feeling or something you show through performing acts of altruism or public service, is an act of the will. If you love someone, your heart turns toward him or her, and you do what he or she says because of your love. Obedience is not true and full obedience if your inner heart does not love the person that you are obeying. False obedience is hypocrisy, and there shall be no hypocrisy in the world that we will soon put into place. That is why you must love BIG BROTHER, Yery. Your mind, body, heart and soul—all must be his."
I was crying and shivering, shaking my head, and I'd wet myself. "That'll never happen."
Instead of saying something arrogant, like It will, he said, "Would you like to hear Keira?"
"Keira?" I nodded, and O'Brien flipped a switch to let me hear the prisoner in the elevator.
Silence, silence, and more silence. I couldn't have been more scared had Keira screamed.
"She's not dead," said Little Brother. "On the contrary, she's quite alive, though shaken."
Shaken. With my last ounce of will, I prayed for courage. After that, I took a long moment to "listen to the Force," as a Star Wars video game I once played had posited. I listened to Keira's silence, and it was full of quiet despair. It said nothing at first, and then three words: Let me die.
"Twenty-eight," said Little Brother, meaning the floor she was on. He restarted the elevator.
"You can't do this," I said quickly through the resurge of electricity. "You'll self-destruct."
"Shall we? The rule of the Party is forever, and so is the will of BIG BROTHER. It stands."
"Someday the proles will revolt, and then they'll tear you to pieces! They'll execute you!"
"As long as we keep the proles ignorant and crushed by debt and despair, they never will."
So this was the meaning of the Party slogan IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. I shook my head.
"If not, then someone, maybe from the Outer Party, will find out all of our wars are spurious."
"How else can we use up the products of prolelabor and the Outer Party without increasing the amount of wealth and essential goods for all? WAR IS PEACE. It keeps our society intact."
"You'll never take my freedom," I said. "I'll always stand against you, even if I stand alone."
"What is freedom? FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. Standing alone against any system, any Party, any doctrine, any God, one person will always be defeated. True freedom, like true power, is collective. If you stand alone against us, you are thus isolated, and your isolation is your bondage. If you submit to us, to the Party and BIG BROTHER, you will be free because you will not be alone or oppressed any longer. We will let you do as you please, think as you please, love as you please, for your thoughts and your freedom will be that of the Party. Can't you see it?"
I did. For all intents and the most ultimate of purposes, I did. However, I made one last stand.
"I see it," I murmured, "and I understand everything, but that doesn't mean I'll accept it."
"That is the third stage of your cure," said O'Brien, "which you've entered. Twenty-nine."
I had to think fast. Think. Think, think, think! I wept. I didn't know what to think or do.
Suddenly, I had the answer, or thought I did. I screamed, "Kill me! Kill me, not Keira!"
"Yery," said O'Brien, his voice full of infinite sadness. "You're always so willing to die..."
I heard a heavy, metallic snap, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the elevator plunge.
"Sdavayu!" I cried abruptly, leaning forward in the chair as far as I could. "I yield!"
There was a whump and then the unmistakable crash of glass shattering into a million shards.
I closed my eyes and wept, even though it was darker than dark in the room that held us both.
I felt a touch upon my shoulder, soft and gentle. Keira? At that moment, the lights came on.
As soon as I'd said my last fateful words, Little Brother had flipped a switch to release her from the elevator that would soon crash. She had tumbled out, I reckoned through my tears, and landed like a stuntwoman on a large blue inflated mat, which I'd never been able to see before.
She held me in her arms, and to his eternal credit, Little Brother allowed us to embrace at last.
* * * * *
Alaska! The biting cold of the fresh air invigorated me as I worked in the late summer in BIG BROTHER's personal labor camp. Unlike most of the other convicts, whether male or female, I did not cut down trees for logging, cast metal, build endless additions upon additions to the camp complex, or work in the Inner Party's agricultural gardens. Soap (the fresh kind, which did not cause damage to one's hands) and water (chlorinated and purified, not the muddy slop) were the instruments of my trade, and prisoners' clean undergarments (untattered) were the final goods. This was BIG BROTHER's world. Even his slaves would have the best, since they were lucky.
Unlike most of the other prisoners, I sang as I laundered the most untouchable of sweaty clothing. I was even allowed to use Russian if I wanted to, including the yery, which was dead. Most of my songs were not only cheerful, but full of joy, soaring up to the sky like eagles. They were long, humble ballads, their lyrics reflective of my happiness in doing such penitential labor. During the day, the prisoners sang with me (albeit in Newspeak) as they worked near my wash-pot, and at night, when I was permitted to lodge in BIG BROTHER's clean servants' quarters, I could hear them chant, "B—B! B—B! B—B!", a slow and tribal rhythm that lulled me to sleep.
Only once did I ever see Keira again. She was on a different work schedule than I was, and while I mostly worked outdoors, she worked indoors as a cook for BIG BROTHER and all the members of the Inner Party that worked at or lived in his personal complex. Her food was good, I heard, although one of her lower underlings was the person that cooked for us pyatykhi — fifth-class people, prisoners at hard labor. We saw each other at lunchtime, and I leaned forward to give her a hug and two kisses, one on either cheek. I asked her what work she'd been assigned.
"All day long, I cook, cook, and cook," she said, her face blank. "I stay in the kitchen."
With my arms round her in a half-embrace, I whispered, "Miy tovarischa." We are comrades.
"Konyechno, miy tovarischa," she whispered back. "Of course, we are comrades". A smile.
I saw a light in my mind's eye, bright and beautiful and suffusing everything around me. There was only a vanishing trace of the darkness I had once known, the cold blackness of Room 202. A soft voice was calling to me, male, loud and not loud in its confident and comforting tone. It was full of love, and my heart seemed to swell larger and larger with a responsive love in return. Nothing could harm me, nothing could break me, and I felt the longed-for kiss upon my lips for which I'd prayed ever since I was twelve years old. He was mine, and I was at last his.
My wedding was on New Year's Eve in the year 2019, on the dawn of 2020. BIG BROTHER had taken me on as his servant a short time after my last conversation with Keira, and I had felt no greater happiness, no higher destiny, since then. We were married under the stars, and as I looked up, I could see the graceful W of the constellation Cassiopeia above me, winking brilliantly in soft congratulation. She had been a beautiful, haughty queen mercifully spared by the gods and placed high in the heavens, and yet forced to spend half of the time in the sky with her head downward, in a position of humility. I still worked as a laundress, a slave, to keep me humbled during the day, yet at night I was reminded of the true place I occupied in the universe.
Her story used to haunt me, but now it comforts me, the moral that I live out every day.
I saw streaks of red and white begin to form in the sky, the first stages of the aurora borealis.
My husband gave me a kiss, and my heart rejoiced. In exile, it was now finally at peace.
"Ya libliu tebya, Bol'she Brät," I whispered. "I love you, BIG BROTHER."