A dream of wessex, p.22
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       A Dream of Wessex, p.22
 

          
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  Julia stared up at her in horror. ‘What on earth has happened?’

  ‘No one knows. You’re probably the only one who can tell us.’ She looked at Marilyn, thinking of David inside the projector.

  ‘Is David out yet, David Harkman?’

  ‘I don’t think so ... wait a minute, I’ll check.’

  Marilyn went over to Dr Trowbridge and spoke briefly to him. ‘No, he’s still in the projection,’ she said when she returned. ‘Marilyn, help me down. I’ve got to speak to John Eliot.’

  She put an arm round the other girl’s neck, and lowered her feet to the floor. She stood up, supporting her weight on

  Marilyn, but after a few seconds of uncertainty found that she could manage on her own. She leant against the metal wall of the nearest cabinet, clutching the blanket around her.

  ‘Who else is still in the projection, Marilyn?’

  ‘Just one other ... Paul Mason.’

  Julia remembered the brightly lit hall, a future analogue of this one. She remembered Paul’s mania and his threats ... and she thought of David alone with Paul, in Wessex.

  She shook her head weakly, not knowing whether she wanted David to stay there with him ... or return to this. He had now been inside the projection for more than two years; what the physiological effects would be on him when he returned were too horrid to contemplate, and never mind the amnesia Marilyn had spoken of. Brain-damage, strokes ... did these await him on his return?

  She felt an almost uncontrollable urge to climb back on her drawer, to pull herself inside the cabinet ... to return to the future.

  ‘Are you all right, Julia?’

  She opened her eyes, saw Marilyn standing beside her.

  ‘Yes ... I’m just a little cold.’

  ‘Let’s see if we can find your clothes.’

  ‘A surgical gown will do. I must talk to Eliot.’

  They walked together through the hall, then had to stand to one side as another trolley was wheeled out. As it passed, Julia tried to see who was on it, but an oxygen-mask was being held over the person’s face. Knowing it was one of the participants, a sharer of her private world, Julia felt a sense of close identification. She wanted to know who it was, but she couldn’t even see whether it was a man or a woman. She turned away, looked at the wall until the trolley had passed out of sight.

  As they reached the main corridor, Eliot appeared from one of the rooms.

  ‘Julia!’ he said. ‘Have you been examined?’

  ‘Yes, I’m all right.’

  ‘Thank God for that! You do have total recall?’

  ‘To the last detail,’ she said, thinking of the grim ironies of those details.

  ‘Come to my office as soon as you’ve dressed. We must find out what went wrong.’

  ‘Paul Mason went wrong,’ she said, but it was to herself. She and Marilyn went to the cubicle she used for changing in. The clothes she had been wearing were still there, but a feeling of transience that she wished to preserve turned her away from them. A considerable part of herself was still in Wessex, still with David. Until he was back safely she wouldn’t feel safe or permanent in the present.

  There was a surgical gown folded up in the cupboard, and she put this on.

  They went to Eliot’s office immediately, because Julia was anxious for news of what had been happening ... but all Eliot told her was what she had already heard. The participants had been returning for the last two hours; all, except her, had suffered chronic mental or nervous disturbance. She was the last to return so far.

  ‘Of course, this must mean the end of the projection,’ Eliot said. ‘I cannot imagine any circumstances under which it could be revived now.’

  ‘But what about David?’ Julia said at once.

  ‘The projector will have to be kept in operation, of course. At least until he and Mason are retrieved.’

  ‘Is there any attempt being made to get them out?’

  Eliot shook his head. ‘I can’t allow anyone inside now.’

  He told her that three of the trustees would be arriving in Dorchester the next day, to take over the supervision of the projector.

  Julia, listening to this, was experiencing the uncanny overlap of realities that always followed a retrieval. Nothing had changed: there were still trustees, and there was still a Foundation. Outside the Castle there was the twentieth century and the world she knew, and it awaited her inevitable return.

  But this world was no longer hers. She had ceased to be an organic part of the real world from the day she had first entered the projection. She belonged to the future; life could never again be stable except in the Wessex of her mind.

  She could never accept that the future had ceased to be, for it was real to her. Wessex was a world of timeless safety, of certain stability, of unconscious harmony.

  These were the qualities of the real Wessex, not the nightmare perversion that Paul’s malign consciousness had created.

  ‘Julia,’ Eliot said, ‘what happened to the program? Why did everyone return?’

  ‘Because of Mason,’ she said, thinking of Paul, thinking of David. ‘Because it was what he wanted, what he intended.’ Remembering the evening on the heath with David, which was the exact moment when she had rejoined the projection, she began to speak of the changes Mason had made to Wessex, either consciously or unconsciously. Reliving those few days in the future she experienced again, this time with the perspective of whole awareness, the sense of growing confusion that the protean world had evoked in her. The destruction of Dorchester as a tourist resort; the appearance of the refinery and the oil-wells; the pollution and filth; the countless tiny changes in scenery and populace; the disappearance of the village at the Castle, and of most of the auxiliary egos.

  All these ... and the major change. The madness in Mason. ‘While I was back before - a week ago - Paul Mason told me that the trustees had authorized him to change the projection. He didn’t say how, not directly. But now I’ve seen it. He set up a second projection, using the Ridpath equipment that exists in Wessex. I can’t imagine what he hoped - ’

  ‘You didn’t report this to me or the others,’ Eliot said. ‘You had every opportunity.’

  Julia fingered her throat, felt the swelling that was still there from Paul’s attempt to rape her.

  ‘I couldn’t ... not then.’ She remembered the guilt and confusion Paul had caused in her; the internal conflicts, the long struggle towards self-control and a sense of her own identity. ‘He was, well ... blackmailing me. We used to live together, years ago. It lasted two years, and in the end I ran away from him. He’s never forgiven me.’

  ‘Julia, it was your duty to tell me this. You know the rule about - ’

  ‘It wouldn’t have made any difference, John. He had the trustees behind him. Anyway, he turned the rule against me when he found out about it. He made me believe that if I revealed this to you, then it would be me and not him who would be excluded, because of his status with the trustees. I couldn’t risk that ... Wessex is too real to me...’

  Then she started to cry, reliving the agonies of the dilemma that Paul’s reappearance in her life had produced. All that she had feared had come to pass: Paul had once again destroyed everything she possessed.

  Eliot waited in embarrassed silence while she cried, and Marilyn comforted her and found her a tissue.

  ‘You see, this is what Paul has done. It was because of me!’ Julia held the tissue in her fingers, compressing it and feeling it shape itself wetly into a ball. ‘He had an unconscious will to change what I had in Wessex. He offered some sort of plan to the trustees, but that wasn’t his real intention, because he didn’t recognize it himself! He’s unstable and neurotically inadequate. I’ve always known it! ‘

  Calming herself, she told Eliot about the project that Paul had constructed in Wessex. The other participants had been drawn in, unable to change his will. Most of them had had no idea that someone new had joined the projection; the sudden presence of a strong p
ersonality, obsessed with itself, had overpowered any resistance they might otherwise have put up. So, drawn into his mania, they’d worked with him to create a new projection ... one that was based on their buried memories of the real world.

  ‘Paul was directing this! Not only consciously, because he cast himself as project director, but at the same time he was unconsciously diverting everyone else towards an obsession with the present. We all went along with him, because his influence was so powerful.’

  She paused then, remembering the charismatic personality that Paul’s projection of himself had possessed. He had seemed so likeable, so genuine, so strong.

  The memory was deeply offensive to her, as if someone had importuned her sexually. In those few days of Wessex - in Paul’s version of Wessex - she had seen Paul’s unconscious image of himself, and it was one that in her real life she had hated him for.

  ‘Julia, you can’t believe that one man could bring all this about.’

  ‘I saw it, felt it.’

  Eliot had never fully understood the real subtleties of a projection. No one who had not been to Wessex could. As she tried to describe what she had experienced, she could hear her own words as if objectively, and she knew they sounded paranoiac. Eliot was being gentle, and trying to understand, but he would never know until he had felt it for himself how one personality could so insidiously influence another.

  ‘You seem to have resisted him yourself,’ he said. Why is it that you alone have retained your memory?’

  Julia knew: it was too strong to ignore. ‘Because of David Harkman.’

  ‘You know Harkman is still in the projection?’

  ‘Yes, of course.’

  ‘And did he become involved in this second projection?’

  ‘No ...’ Julia tried to find the way to explain, a way that would be true to herself.

  Then she chose a half-truth to express a whole truth: ‘John, my alter ego has fallen in love with David Harkman.’

  Half the truth, because her alter ego did love him ... but so did she.

  She went on: ‘In the projection Paul was trying to possess me, but because of David he couldn’t reach me. He overloaded the minds of the others, but he couldn’t touch me and he couldn’t touch David. He was unconsciously trying to close the projection by returning the others, but he always intended that I should stay in Wessex, alone with him. He said something like, “I planned this for the two of us”. But he didn’t really understand about David.’

  ‘Why not, Julia?’

  ‘Because I never told him ... I never told anyone. Paul didn’t realize what David had become for me ...’

  Just then, the telephone on Eliot’s desk rang, and he picked up the receiver. ‘Yes? Ah, Mr Bonner.’

  Julia remembered the name: the trustees’ legal adviser. Marilyn, who had been sitting quietly to one side through all this, said: ‘Do you need another tissue, Julia?’

  ‘No thanks.’ But she realized that tears were still trickling down her cheeks, and she took the second tissue from her.

  Marilyn said: ‘Do you know why all the others have lost their memories?’

  ‘I suppose it was too much for them to cope with.’

  Even to herself it didn’t sound convincing; the human brain wasn’t like an electrical appliance that could blow a fuse.

  She tried to listen to Eliot, but he had turned away from them and was talking quietly into the telephone, answering questions,-listening to Bonner.

  The loss of memory was like the loss they all experienced inside the projection: a total severance from their real lives, and an assumption of a new identity. After two years of experience she had come to terms with it, but on her first retrieval Julia had been frightened by the awareness: the memory of the amnesia, so to speak.

  Paul’s alter ego had warned them of it. One day, as they planned their projection, Paul had said: ‘On emergence in the future’ - he had meant the present - ‘you will lose your present identities and take on new ones.’

  He had understood that much of the working of the projector, at least. And it was as he had said: the participants had returned without their memories.

  But why? They had all returned from the projection before ... and they had had total recall then. Julia tried to think why this time it should be different.

  The young men with their mirrors, the hypnotic triggers.

  That was it. Other retrievals were achieved through hypnotic suggestions placed in the present, in the real world. This retrieval had been achieved in an altogether different way. The projector had been fully functional, used as it was in the present. Even the two retrievers had programmed themselves to take part; Julia remembered seeing Steve inside his drawer, projecting with the others.

  No mirrors had been used, except those inside the cabinets.

  In the world of Wessex, projected from the present, the participants had created a second projection. They imagined themselves into the past. They had become projections of themselves!

  Julia recoiled away from the idea.

  This was the real world, was it not? This was not a projection?

  She looked at Marilyn sitting a few feet away from her ... and at Eliot, talking on the telephone. They were the real world, of the twentieth century ... they were not figments of the imagination.

  But they had been in Wessex for a time, inside the projection!

  Paul, or one of the others, had imagined them into existence as auxiliary egos! Julia remembered Eliot at the conferences, remembered borrowing a raincoat from Marilyn.

  Marilyn said: ‘Are you feeling all right, Julia?’

  She reached out and touched Marilyn’s arm. It was solid, real. She jumped, and snatched away her hand.

  ‘What is it, Julia?’

  She stood up, and pushed back her chair. Suddenly she wanted to see the outside world, to see the Frome Valley and the inland town of Dorchester, and the white trails of overhead jets, and the railway-line that passed the Castle, and the roads and the traffic...

  Was the world as it was? Was it still there?

  She ran out of Eliot’s office and into the cool, earth-smelling tunnel. At the far end were the iron gates of the elevator: the way to the outside. She ran towards them, fulfilling a terror of the unconscious.

  The days inside the projector had weakened her, and she staggered as she ran, and when she reached the elevator gates she leaned against them, gasping for breath.

  Her resolution failed as her body had weakened, and she went no further.

  The world would be as it was. It would still be there.

  It would be real, or real-seeming. It made no difference. It would be as it was, or as she expected it to be ... and it therefore was of no importance.

  She leaned against the gates, trying to recover her breath.

  Marilyn had left Eliot’s office, and was walking down the tunnel towards her. ‘Julia, what are you doing?’

  ‘It’s all right. I’m OK now. I just wanted some fresh air ... but I changed my mind.’

  ‘Let’s go back and wait in the office.’

  Still out of breath from her dash down the corridor, Julia looked again at Marilyn. She realized that even if she were to spend the rest of her life in the company of the other girl, and saw and spoke to her every minute of every day, she would never again be convinced of her true existence.

  If she turned her back, would Marilyn vanish? Would she reappear as soon as she looked again?

  ‘Is David Harkman out of the projector yet?’ she said, trying to make her voice sound normal, unexcited.

  ‘Let’s talk to John Eliot again. He’ll know.’

  ‘All right, Marilyn.’

  They walked back together towards the office, but as Marilyn opened the door, Julia ran again. She ran down the tunnel, further into the heart of the Castle. She heard Marilyn shout her name, then call urgently to Dr Eliot.

  Julia turned the corner, past the conference room, and ran into the projection hall.

 
; Calm and order had been restored, and Julia was brought up short by the quietness and emptiness. The emergency seemed to be over.

  Two more trolleys were standing by, and two teams of orderlies were waiting beside them. Oxygen bottles and blankets were ready near by, and drugs had been set out on a tray. Dr Trowbridge was standing near the orderlies.

  As she walked in, he turned towards her.

  ‘Have you seen Dr Eliot?’ he said.

  ‘Yes,’ Julia said. ‘I’m passed as fit.’

  She was fit because she wanted to be. Imagine herself ill, and she would become ill.

  ‘You should be resting,’ said Dr Trowbridge.

  ‘I’ve got to wait here ... for John Eliot.’

  Trowbridge turned away, and Julia walked slowly - and with contrived idleness of purpose - down the length of the row of cabinets. Now that most of the drawers were opened, it looked as if some mammoth burglary had taken place, with the contents of the drawers rifled indiscriminately. Two drawers were still closed, their precious living contents hidden away from the world.

  She tried to imagine what the minds of the two men would be making. It was a projected world of two personalities, and one that would reflect an intense conflict that would be expressed in every way, from the unconscious id, to the conscious mind, to the physical body. She remembered Paul’s violence as he attacked David, she remembered his madness.

  Julia went to the nearer of the two drawers, the one that David was inside. She saw his name, printed in small black capitals on a white card affixed to the front.

  Dr Trowbridge had his back turned towards her, and he was talking to two of the orderlies. Julia put her hands on the handle of David’s drawer, but immediately she snatched them away.

  She wanted to see him again ... but dreaded doing so.

  The emotion that had welled up when she was talking to Eliot flowed again, and she let out an involuntary sob, which she choked back by swallowing. She pretended a cough ... but Trowbridge, still talking, took no notice.

  She took hold of the handle again, but this time pulled it as strongly as she could manage. The drawer resisted for a moment, then it slid smoothly out.

 
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