There was a knock at the door.
'Come in,' she called. The door opened, and into the small office stepped a man wearing a three-piece suit, a tie and well-buffed shoes. A red visitor's badge with the initials H.M.P.S. printed on it was clipped to his lapel, somewhat marring his otherwise perfectly-maintained appearance.
'Mr Carrington, I presume?'
Carrington nodded and offered his hand. Landsmann shook it.
'Did you get through security okay?' Landsmann asked. Again, Carrington nodded. 'It tends to take a while, I'm afraid; even for men of your standing.'
'Best to err on the side of caution,' said Carrington.
'Most definitely. It's an unfortunate downside of working on such a ground-breaking project; they always attract the most controversy.'
'Look at stem-cell research,' Carrington suggested. 'It might have been better for everyone if that had been kept away from the public until the results were available.' Landsmann nodded distractedly, gathering up a stack of documents and attaching them to a clipboard.
'Can I get you any coffee before we start the tour?'
'No, thank you,' Carrington replied. With her back to him, Landsmann stirred three heaped plastic spoons of sugar into her own beverage and allowed herself to frown. Hearing a person turn down coffee had a curiously irritating effect on her; it implied that they didn't work hard enough.
'After you,' she said, motioning towards the door with her forehead because her hands were taken up by paperwork and her steaming polystyrene cup. Carrington held it open and allowed Dr Landsmann to go past him.
'So,' Landsmann started, as she led the government inspector down the maze of corridors, 'I suppose the first question I should ask you is this: Are you aware of what we do here?'
'You rehabilitate prisoners; specifically those convicted of violent or sexual offences,' Carrington replied, as if from a cue-card. The research scientist smiled at him.
'Okay; perhaps that one was a touch obvious. What I meant to ask was, are you aware of how we do what we do?'
'To a certain extent. I've read some research papers published by your colleagues. I even managed to understand a paragraph or two.' He glanced at Landsmann to see if she'd laughed at his little joke. It did not appear that she had. 'It might be better if I heard it from the horse's mouth, so to speak.'
'The simplest way of explaining our procedure is that we wipe away the test subject's old, criminal personality - delete it, I suppose you could say - and replace it with a new, law-abiding one.'
Carrington raised his eyebrows. Landsmann continued:
'You see, the human mind works by taking a vast array of experience derived from the senses and abstracting it into a series of general rules about how the external universe operates. On Earth, we observe that all objects fall downwards, and we gain an intuitive understanding of gravity. Though as very young children we may have believed that objects grew larger as we approached them and smaller as they moved away from us, repeated experience brought us to an understanding of perspective. So it is with everything. As a mind matures, these abstractions blend together to form things like memories, prejudices, morals, belief systems. These things, in turn, combine to form what we would call a "personality", or a "self". Everyone is subject to this process, and we cannot choose which experiences play a part in the creation of our inner selves. And, as with everything in life, some people are luckier than others.'
The pair came to a heavy steel door, which had the words Sector A: Isolation Chambers 1-14 stamped on it. Underneath, a laminated chart was attached, showing which test subjects were currently housed inside. Landsmann tossed her empty cup into a bin, but she didn't lead Carrington through the door just yet. Instead, she softly rapped on the steel with the knuckle of her index finger.
'The people you are about to see are victims, Mr Carrington. Factors over which they had no control made them into what they are; or rather what they were, before they came to this facility.'
'And what were they?' inquired her companion, somewhat contemptuously.
'Rapists. Murderers. People willing to hurt others for their own personal gain, and who have shown no desire to change.' Once more, the doctor allowed herself to smile. 'But don't hold it against them. I mean, it's their circumstances that made them commit their crimes; every person in the penal system was born as sweet and innocent as a cartoon princess.'
'So they never had any choice?' Carrington asked, leaning against the wall, staring at Dr Landsmann. At that moment, the bolt beside them clanked open, and the heavy door swung forwards. A heavy-set man in a white lab coat squeezed himself through the narrow opening.
'Hey, Barney,' said Landsmann, with a cheerful grin. The man did not acknowledge the greeting for a few seconds. He kept his shoulder to her, and held the suited man with a lingering gaze. It was only when the doctor told him not to worry about closing the door behind him that he turned and gave her a little smile in return. He quickly went on his way.
'So they never had any choice?' asked Carrington.
'We're not saying they never had any choice,' replied Landsmann, with a hint of condescension. 'What we're saying is that circumstances tend to swing the odds in one direction or the other. To take an example; could you, in all honesty, pretend that you would be in the position you're in today if you had grown up in poverty, or been a victim of domestic abuse, or neglect, or indoctrination?'
The man in the three-piece suit opened his mouth, and then closed it again.
'It doesn't even have to be something quite so blatant,' Landsmann continued. 'A few years ago I was working as a prison psychiatrist, and I'd been treating this man who was doing a twelve-year sentence for attempted murder. After a few months of interviews, it turned out that a lot of his anger had stemmed from the fact that he was a foot shorter than all his friends at secondary school.'
'It's very rarely a single cause like that, though,' she interrupted. 'Traditional rehabilitation is a very inexact science, Mr Carrington. Before this project, people like me were given the unenviable task of untangling all of a patient's beliefs, their convictions, even their unconscious desires - all of which had been built up through years upon years of experience - and then trying to build something better from whatever we had left. What we have been developing in this facility is a method of rehabilitation that first strips away all of the subject's previous experiences, in their entirety. We're left with what Locke might have called the "blank slate", onto which we may then project experiences of our own creation, and build a character which can return, safely, into society.'
'And what is this method?' asked Carrington.
'That,' answered Landsmann, 'is better seen than heard.' With these words she broke eye contact with Carrington and turned to look through the open doorframe, into Sector A. The government inspector followed her implied order, and began to walk in the direction from which Barney had just come.
Carrington suddenly jumped as he passed the first observation window, flattening himself against the opposite wall. Landsmann walked after him, but she didn't increase her pace, and neither did she seem particularly concerned about her visitor's well-being.
'Sorry about that,' she said, as a bead of sweat trickled down the side of Carrington's head. 'They like to stand facing the walls; it's just bad luck that this one's set up shop in front of the observation window.'
'Can he see us?' Carrington asked, inching closer the glass and peering into the blank eyes of the boy who was standing, stock-still, behind it. His cell was painted completely white, including the floor, and there did not seem to even be a bed for him to sleep on.
'No,' Landsmann replied. 'The process wouldn't work if our subjects were allowed any kind of sensory input. He's completely in the dark; it's only thanks to the twin wonders of science and technology that we can see him in there, whilst keeping the room completely black from his own perspective.' She said this with a kind of pride, as though she herself had taken a part in developing the technology of which she spoke.
'Without any raw data with which to form new memories, the subject's old ones quickly begin to fall away. Scarily quickly, if we provide assistance.'
'What kind of assistance?'
Landsmann tilted her head, and stared dreamily into the uppermost corner of the room.
'I once interviewed a woman who had lived through famine during her childhood...'
Carrington stamped his foot.
'I'd like a straight answer, Ms. Landsmann, if that's quite alright,' he ordered brusquely. The doctor ignored him.
'...She told me that she would wake up in the morning, hoping her sister had died during the night, so there would be one less person she would have to share her food with. Hard to imagine, isn't it? As an adult, she broke off all contact with her family, because of the shame she felt at having wished for such a terrible thing. Before the famine, the pair had been as close as two sisters could be, give or take, but at that moment, in her hunger, her desperation, she had not just ignored, but forgotten all of her old memories, her old love. All she saw her sister as was an obstacle to her own survival.'
Carrington seemed to understand; either that or he didn't want to know any more. He looked back at the pale, deathly thin child who stood behind the viewing window, gazing out into nothing.
'What's his name?' he asked.
'He doesn't have one; at least as far as he knows.' Landsmann paused for a moment. 'As far as I know, either, now I come to think of it. I just call him Subject 53M.'
'I'd like to know his name.' Carrington's words came out with icy, deliberate restraint.
'I'm afraid you'll have to ask Barney; he's the one who tends to get attached to the subjects.'
As if on cue, the pair heard Barney's heavy footsteps clunking down the corridor which led to the isolation room. They stood silently as he approached. Landsmann tapped her foot.
'Doctor!' Carrington called, as Barney squeezed through the door. Barney eyed him warily, but chose not to reply. 'I'd like to know a few things about this patient's history, if you would be so kind.' The heavy-set man glared at Carrington, but obliged all the same. Loping over, he took the briefest of glances through the observation window, and then, nervously turning to face the obviously important man who stood before him, began to recite a series of facts about Subject 53M:
'His name was Danny Arlington. His birthday's July the eighteenth, so that would make him...twenty-seven, almost twenty-eight now.'
'Almost twenty-eight,' Barney corrected. 'And I suppose that would mean he's been in isolation for...three months, three-and-a-half?' He asked the question to no-one in particular. 'Sorry I can't be more specific; I seem to have left my chart in the break-room.'
'Just because we're scientists doesn't mean our memories are much good, Mr Carrington. I can't even remember what I was doing last week without having my notes beside me,' Landsmann chuckled, but it was now her turn to be ignored by Carrington.
'What did he do?' he asked, staring intently at Barney.
'I think he was unemployed,' Barney replied thoughtfully.
'Not his job; what did he do?' Carrington retorted, his calm starting to fade. 'What was his crime?'
'Oh - er - that. Well, Danny Arlington tried to blow up this facility.'
'Really?' Landsmann said, raising her eyebrows. 'Wow; I should've known that.'
'It was before you came to work here,' said Barney, really beginning to sweat under the inspector's gaze now. 'They killed three people.'
'Him and his wife. Poppy. Poppy, I think her name was.'
'Doesn't ring any bells,' said Landsmann airily. 'I must not have paid much attention when it happened. I suppose it was all covered up, though, wasn't it; what with this place being involved?'
'How did they even know about this project?' asked Carrington.
'They wouldn't have had much more than rumour and hearsay to go on.'
Barney nodded in agreement. 'For all they knew, they might've been bombing a children's hospital.'
'Such is the nature of religious conviction,' his colleague lamented.
'What made you think they were religious?' Carrington asked.
'We can discuss it on the way to the rehabilitation centre,' Landsmann replied, turning on her heel and leaving the other two behind. 'I'd quite like to get some work done this afternoon, if that's quite alright with you.'
Wheezing slightly as he went, Carrington hurried to catch up with the doctor. She, however, had already launched into a monologue about the second part of the rehabilitation process, and he was unable to pursue his line of enquiry any further.
'With the huge quantity of theory and experiment we had behind us, we were reasonably confident that a sustained period of total sensory deprivation would have the envisaged effect; disassociation of the subject's basic bodily and cognitive faculties from its identity. It was, after all, on the basis of that research that this facility received its funding, and - as you of all people should know, Mr Carrington - our government does not finance the wilful mistreatment of its citizens, even prisoners, unless it is sure there will be some profit to come out of it. However:' Here, Dr Landmann's pace slowed somewhat. 'Since the length of isolation we needed to inflict on our subjects had never been attempted before, the later stages of the deconstruction process were very much a case of the blind leading the blind. Quite literally, I'm sorry to say. ' She stopped, and turned to face Carrington, who until that point had been trailing behind, watching her ponytail whip to and fro as she pressed forward. 'Do, you have any children, Mr Carrington?' she asked, her nose no more than two inches from his face.
He was taken aback.
'Err... Yes. Yes I do; two girls,' he stammered. 'Why do you ask?'
'Three weeks in that isolation chamber, and you wouldn't remember either of their faces. Six, and you wouldn't remember either of their names. Two months, and you would barely recall their existence.'
Carrington's brow furrowed at the insinuation, but Landsmann still pressed on:
'Don't think that you could withstand this process by mere force of will, Mr Carrington. Don't think that your English stiff-upper-lip or your Oxbridge education would allow you to overcome the laws of physics. You're no stronger than that man we saw back in the isolation chamber.' Her own lip curled, mockingly, as she said it. 'If we left you in there for too long, you would no longer comprehend language enough to hear your daughters' names as anything more than the howling of an animal, and if they stood in front of you, you would no longer recognise them as members of your own species, let alone your own family.' The lip fell into a grimace as she added: 'Sadly, these claims are not just idle speculation, but the recorded observations from our earliest attempts to empty out the vessel. As it turns out, we vastly overestimated the resilience of the human mind.'
'What happened to them? The first ones?' Carrington demanded.
'We pushed them too far,' Landsmann replied solemnly. 'They were put beyond the point of recovery.'
'No. Worse, I'm afraid. Try to imagine a human being, stripped of everything that makes them human, and you'll still not even be half way there.'
Carrington gave a look that said he didn't want to imagine. Instead, he asked:
'Where are they now?'
'Mental institutions. Their relationship with this facility has been obscured, of course.'
'I'd like to meet some of them, before I submit my report.'
For the first time, a crack appeared in Landsmann's sheen of scholarly detachment.
'Meet?' she snapped. 'Have you not been listening to a word I just said? There's no-one left in there to meet!'
Carrington was silent. When Landsmann had regained some of her lofty composure, she continued:
'The second part of the process, refilling the vessel, required the same use of trial and error. No-one had ever broken down the human mind to the degree that we had before; no practical experiments had ever been possible, so all we had to guide us was mere conjecture, along with a willingness to fail. It was like trying to perform brain surgery armed only with a copy of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. And, like I say, we had to be prepared to fail; because we did. Many times.' Landsmann stared at her shoes; all of a sudden, she had the look of a sheepish child. 'We lost a lot of subjects,' she said, turning away from Carrington. 'We lost a lot of people.'
'Then why didn't you stop, for God's sake!' Carrington barked.
'For God's sake? We don't get a lot that, here.'
'I'm not surprised!'
'Are you a religious man, Mr Carrington?'
'Why does that matter?'
'It never seems to be the suffering that we inflict on our patients that the God-fearing people care about. It's the fact that we're, hem, "taking people's souls."'
'I can understand why people would see it that way.'
'And what about my soul?'
'What about it?' Carrington replied, contemptuously.
'I'm under no illusions, Mr Carrington. If I'm not the devil himself, then I sold my soul to him every time I put my face to the observation window and looked through the eyes of that poor bastard back there. But I'd do it again tomorrow - I will do it again tomorrow - for the sake of the same man I've spent the last four months driving halfway to insanity, because if people like you had the courage to give this project the funding it deserves, he would be given a second chance, rather than being sent to rot in prison for the rest of his Goddamn life. He could go on to live a better life, a useful life, instead of being thrown back in that chamber so we can perform more tests on him, just to appease the concerns of people like you. He could be free by now.'
'Free, to be whatever you people would turn him into,' Carrington retorted.
'As opposed to what he was made into, when he was too young to know what was happening? Unlike some, Carrington, we never try to program our own prejudices into our subjects; we just give them the means to choose their beliefs for themselves. The man that Subject 53M becomes could go out and bomb somewhere else; there would be nothing to stop him making that choice again, but thanks to us, there would be no more chance of that than with any random person off the street. Perhaps even less, because he'd leave this facility with a far better education than the average person on the street.'
Again, there was silence. The pair entered into the next chamber, which had Rehabilitation Area stamped on the door. Carrington barged through ahead of Landsmann. The doctor eyed him suspiciously as she followed.
'I should've been able to show you the later stages of the rehabilitation process now,' she explained. 'It takes around two months, with each of our six teams only focusing on one subject at a time, but due to circumstances beyond my control, for the last two months my team has been without a rehab patient. However, I'd be happy to take you through the equipment,' she added, the word "happy" coming out with a twinge of sarcasm, 'and give you an overview of how the process works; how we re-implant the most basic of human thought patterns first, using a mixture of specialised pharmaceuticals and targeted nerve stimulation-'
'I don't much care how it works,' Carrington interrupted. 'I'm sure it's every bit as barbaric as what I've already seen. I've been sent here to find out if it works.'
'All our tests thus far have indicated success,' Landsmann returned.
'And what's to say that Appleton back there won't start to remember his old life within a year of getting out? What's to say that nothing is going to suddenly trigger the dormant memories in his brain? What's to say that he won't end up like those other people you've already sent off to the lunatic asylum?'
'It's impossible to know for now. Understandably, we haven't discovered any means of conducting tests inside the lab that provide quite the, erm, rigour of real life. However, our research suggests-'
Carrington waved a hand; a triumphant smirk suddenly crept up one side of his face.
'Thank you, doctor. That will be all. Now, if you don't mind, I have a meeting with your superior, Dr Reinhardt, to get to. Would you please show me to his office?'
'By all means,' Landsmann replied, trying to rearrange her gritted teeth into something approaching a smile.
'You slipped up there, you know; telling me about your inability to find a barometer of your success,' Carrington called from behind the doctor as she led him, as quickly as possible, to Dr Reinhardt's office. 'Or your failure, as the case may be.'
'I'm a scientist, Carrington. We tend to prefer the truth to fiction,' she grunted back, not breaking her stride. They walked the rest of the way in silence.
Landsmann knocked at the door.
'Yes, Dr Reinhardt, it's me. I've got Mr Carrington here.'
'Then by all means, come in.'
Reinhardt sat behind a large walnut desk. The carpet, walls and lighting in his office combined to give the whole room an amber glow, in stark contrast to the sterile atmosphere of the laboratory. Without waiting for an invitation, Carrington took his place in one of the chairs opposite him. Landsmann made to leave.
'Actually, Doctor, if you wouldn't mind joining us,' Reinhardt said. Landsmann tutted, but she obeyed the command and slumped down on the seat next to the inspector.
'Good afternoon, Mr Carrington. It's a pleasure to finally meet you.' Reinhardt held out his hand, and the inspector shook it. He did not, however, repay the compliment. Reinhardt did not seem fazed.
'How did you find Ms Landsmann?' he asked.
'Quite detestable, to be frank.' Carrington had found his confidence again, now that he was out of the lab and back onto his own turf; the meeting room. Landsmann rolled her eyes, making sure that Dr Reinhardt saw her do it. 'But she did provide me with one interesting piece of information,' the government inspector added.
'And what was that?'
'That you people have no idea whether this macabre spectacle even works! As far as I can see, this place is nothing more than a torture chamber! And that, Dr Reinhardt, is precisely the report which I plan to deliver to the cabinet ministers tomorrow. This place will be shut down within two months.' In the face of Carrington's animated performance, Reinhardt stayed placid.
'Actually, Mr Carrington, I think you'll find you're mistaken in that respect.'
'In what respect?' the inspector stammered, casting a wary eye at the two large men behind him. He recognised one of them as Barney. He stood quickly up from his chair.
'If you would calm down for a moment, I shall explain,' said Reinhardt. 'You are mistaken in your claim that we do not have the evidence to confirm this process' efficacy. In fact, we conducted an experiment this very afternoon which demonstrates that our subjects, even straight out of rehabilitation, are firmly entrenched in their new identities and are resistant enough that even the most blatant triggers will not cause a subject to relapse into their old self.'
Landsmann, who until that moment had been looking rather bored, suddenly sat up in her chair.
'You figured out a test? What did you do?'
Reinhardt smiled at her.
'The goals of the experiment were twofold. Firstly, we had to prove that an uninformed observer would not be able to spot any residual signs of the conditioning process in a subject who was clear of rehabilitation. Secondly, we needed to prove that presenting the subject with stimuli from their old life would not trigger any latent recall; essentially, we needed to prove that the old memories had been removed, not replaced.'
Carrington gave a snort of laughter.
'So, what; you've got one of them a fast-food job?'
Reinhardt didn't laugh.
He removed a photograph from his inside jacket pocket and placed it on the table, facing Carrington and Landsmann. Looking up at them was a fresh-faced, smiling man, somewhere in his twenties. A hand was resting on his shoulder.
'53M?' said Landmann, in a confused voice. 'But he's not even out of isolation yet.'
'His name is Appleton,' Carrington hissed.
'It was Arlington, actually,' corrected Reinhardt. 'But you're quite right, Dr Landsmann; it was not 53M that took part in this experiment.' He tapped his finger on the hand wrapped around Arlington's shoulders. 'It was his wife; 12F. Poppy Arlington.'
'I wasn't aware that we had any female subjects in the facility at the moment,' replied Landsmann, creases appearing on her brow. Reinhardt gave Carrington a meaningful glance, and the inspector suddenly understood. Reinhardt's words played over in his head:
...even the most blatant triggers will not cause a subject to relapse into their old self.
Reinhardt seemed to read Carrington's mind. He reached into his suit jacket again and removed another photo.
'Even irrefutable evidence will not cause a subject to relapse,' he said.
He placed the next photograph on the table, so that it lined up with the first one. Dr Landsmann stared at herself for a moment, standing, smiling, with her arm around Danny Arlington's shoulders. Suddenly she erupted, jerking to her feet with such force her chair was sent tipping backwards.
'What is this?' she demanded from no-one in particular. Barney closed in behind her.
'Greta, please be calm...' he said, slowly.
'That's right! Greta! Greta Landsmann! Doctor Greta Landsmann!'
Reinhardt didn't react. He spoke to Carrington, continuing to affix him with a pregnant gaze.
'Precisely. Poppy Arlington no longer exists. The body that once belonged to her now belongs to Dr Landsmann.'
Landsmann leaned on the table and bellowed:
'Are you this desperate for funding? That you'd try set me up with some tenth-rate bit of photo manipulation? We've worked together for three years, Eric!'
Reinhardt closed his eyes.
'Less than a week. I know it's painful to hear, Greta, but it's true. Believe me; I wouldn't have put you through this if there was any other way to show the ministers the value of the research we are conducting. You said it yourself; we've been forced to do terrible things, but by doing them we can give people like Poppy Arlington a second chance. A second life.'
'There is no Poppy Arlington! There never was! There's only me!' Landsmann shrieked. She lunged for the pen on Reinhardt's desk, but Barney quickly restrained her. Carrington, who had fled to the opposite side of the room, decided to join in the shouting match.
'That's enough, Reinhardt! Get her out of here, now!'
The man behind the desk opened his eyes once again.
'Very well. Gentlemen, please escort the doctor to the isolation chambers.'
'NO!' Landsmann yelped. Barney mouthed the words along with her.
'I'm afraid I must insist, Barney,' Reinhardt replied in a very deliberate tone. Landsmann turned, wild-eyed, towards Carrington.
'Please! You can't do this to me! I'm not her! I'm not her!' Carrington could still hear those same three words screaming through the corridors of the facility, long after Landsmann was dragged out of the office.
I'm not her! I'm not her! I'm not-
Then, suddenly, silence. Carrington watched as Reinhardt carefully pulled a handkerchief from inside his jacket and dabbed his forehead with it.
'Goodbye, Greta,' he muttered under his breath. He gazed at the floor for just a moment, then turned his eyes back towards Carrington. 'By the by,' he said, 'we can provide you with plenty of evidence which disproves Dr Landsmann's claims of sabotage.'
'I'm sure you can.'
They sat in silence for a minute.
'So, Mr Carrington, I suppose there's little else for you to see. Before you leave, though, I must ask you one last thing: Will you still be trying to convince the ministers to abandon our project?'
They sat in silence for a minute more.
'Forgive my curiosity. I'm a scientist; it tends to get the better of us,' Reinhardt explained.
'It's not up to me whether you receive the funding. If the project is showing signs of success, the ministers will vote to continue with it,' Carrington finally replied, in a defeated voice.
'Very well,' Reinhardt replied. 'I look forward to receiving a copy of your report. Barney will show you back through security when he returns.' With that, he got up from his chair and walked around the desk, towards the door.
'Wait!' Carrington suddenly burst out. Reinhardt remained inside the room, but he didn't turn around.
'Before I leave, I have to ask you something.'
'What's to say that, one day, you won't be called into a meeting with your superior, and you won't find out that they've done the same thing to you as you've done to that Arlington girl?'
'Nothing, Mr Carrington,' Reinhardt replied. 'Nothing is to say that.'