‘Go down,’ it said, ‘go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go…’

The liftman slammed the gates, touched a button and instantly dropped back into the droning twilight of the well, the twilight of his own habitual stupor.

It was warm and bright on the roof. The summer afternoon was drowsy with the hum of passing helicopters; and the deeper drone of the rocket-planes hastening, invisible, through the bright sky five or six miles overhead was like a caress on the soft air. Bernard Marx drew a deep breath. He looked up into the sky and round the blue horizon and finally down into Lenina’s face.

‘Isn’t it beautiful!’ His voice trembled a little.

She smiled at him with an expression of the most sympathetic understanding. ‘Simply perfect for Obstacle Golf,’ she answered rapturously. ‘And now I must fly, Bernard. Henry gets cross if I keep him waiting. Let me know in good time about the date.’ And waving her hand, she ran away across the wide flat roof towards the hangars. Bernard stood watching the retreating twinkle of the white stockings, the sunburnt knees vivaciously bending and unbending, again, again, and the softer rolling of those well-fitted corduroy shorts beneath the bottle-green jacket. His face wore an expression of pain.

‘I should say she was pretty,’ said a loud and cheery voice just behind him.

Bernard started, and looked round. The chubby red face of Benito Hoover was beaming down at him—beaming with manifest cordiality. Benito was notoriously good-natured. People said of him that he could have got through life without ever touching soma. The malice and bad tempers from which other people had to take holidays never afflicted him. Reality for Benito was always sunny.

‘Pneumatic too. And how!’ Then, in another tone, ‘But, I say,’ he went on, ‘you do look glum! What you need is a gramme of soma.’ Diving into his right-hand trouser-pocket, Benito produced a phial. ‘One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy… But, I say!’

Bernard had suddenly turned and rushed away.

Benito stared after him. ‘What can be the matter with the fellow?’ he wondered, and, shaking his head, decided that the story about the alcohol having been put into the poor chap’s blood-surrogate must be true. ‘Touched his brain, I suppose.’

He put away the soma bottle, and taking out a packet of sex-hormone chewing-gum, stuffed a plug into his cheek and walked slowly away towards the hangars, ruminating.

Henry Foster had had his machine wheeled out of its lock-up and, when Lenina arrived, was already seated in the cockpit, waiting.

‘Four minutes late,’ was all his comment, as she climbed in beside him. He started the engines and threw the helicopter screws into gear. The machine shot vertically into the air. Henry accelerated; the humming of the propeller shrilled from hornet to wasp, from wasp to mosquito; the speedometer showed that they were rising at the best part of two kilometres a minute. London diminished beneath them. The huge table-topped buildings were no more, in a few seconds, than a bed of geometrical mushrooms sprouting from the green of park and garden. In the midst of them, thin-stalked, a taller, slenderer fungus, the Charing-T Tower lifted towards the sky a disk of shining concrete.

Like the vague torsos of fabulous athletes, huge fleshy clouds lolled on the blue air above their heads. Out of one of them suddenly dropped a small scarlet insect, buzzing as it fell.

‘There’s the Red Rocket,’ said Henry, ‘just come in from New York.’ Looking at his watch, ‘Seven minutes behind time,’ he added, and shook his head. ‘These Atlantic services—they’re really scandalously unpunctual.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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