Georgie wasn't at work that Monday, so Helen was on soldering. She wasn't used to it, but she did know how to do it, and there wasn't much point in complaining. The pieces were simple, at least. It was all practically automatic, the solder and the gun and drawing a line.

"They say they still use lead in the solder here, because it's cheaper." murmured a girl named Terri from the next table. "Be careful."

"They say a lot of things, but I don't believe all of them," said Helen sharply. Terri pulled back and concentrated on her own work, and Helen inspected her piece briefly and moved on to the next one.

"Do you know where Georgie is?" an older woman named Augusta asked.

Helen wasn't sure Augusta was talking to her, but she shook her head anyway. "I thought she was just sick today," she said. But they didn't call in sick too often; the bosses could report you to the Bureau for that.

"Wouldn't she have told you?" Augusta persisted. "I thought she was your friend."

"I know her," said Helen, carefully keeping her eyes on the molten metal. Didn't these women know any better than to talk?

Helen dipped the next piece in solution, wondering about Georgie. Maybe they were friends. She was one of the only people here who knew anything about Jean and Grace, Helen's kids. Every day she would ask "How's Grace?" and Helen would say she was fine, whether she was or not.

The Bureau had told Helen a month ago that she couldn't keep Grace at home anymore. They wouldn't fund the treatments and the visiting nurses. Helen was already doing most of it on her own, the tube feedings and changing the dressings. And she had trained her mother to take care of Grace while she was at work. Jean was almost old enough to help, too.

But that wasn't good enough. Even the little help they were getting was too much, and Grace was going to have to move into the Bureau hospital. They had even offered Helen a tour, as if she had a choice.

They acted like the place wasn't a horror show just because it wasn't filthy and it had a nursing staff. But there was nothing for the children to do but sit and stare, as they had stared at Helen and her guide. They looked unkempt and pale, thin and neglected.

The nurses wouldn't sing to Grace like Helen did, wouldn't braid her hair with flowers in it, wouldn't try to coax out her few words or take her for walks in the park. If she was lucky, the Bureau would keep enough staff in the place to give Grace her feedings and keep her clean. If not, the patients were the last priority for the Bureau.

The place was too far to visit much, too. Helen would have to take the bus for hours and that took special permission and extra money. Maybe Grace would forget her, living there. Maybe Grace wouldn't even survive.

But Helen hadn't told all that to Georgie. She had just said something about Grace's condition, how she was improving slightly since all the problems when she was born. And Georgie had cared, had kept asking, until Helen had just started covering up. "Strangers shouldn't know your business," her mother always said. She had grown up under the Bureau too, and she knew.

Georgie was a good person, Helen thought. Most of the women at the factory were. But the bosses watched everything.

"I hope she's all right," said Augusta finally.

"I'm sure she is," Helen replied.

Augusta bent her head to her own work as a supervisor passed their tables, then said quietly, "Well, I guess the meeting will have to be canceled."

Helen nodded, and Terri whispered something to the girl on the other side of her. Soon the news would be all over the factory, just as the plans had spread in the first place. It has been foolish, really, to think it could be a secret.

And what would have been the point, really? A meeting would lead to other meetings, another anti-Bureau brigade would start, and at best another failed rebellion would ensue. Even if someday the opposition succeeded, did they really know how to run the country? What would happen to places like the factory if there were no Bureau? By the time they figured out a new employment system the place could shut down. And what would happen to people like Grace if the health system fell apart?

"We need a new leader," Terri murmured, and this time everyone who heard shook their heads. Some things you didn't say out loud even among friends.

Finally the alarm sounded for their brief lunch. Helen sat in the break room and ate her sandwich. She could hear the murmurs around her, full of Georgie's name, but no one would wonder why Helen was eating alone and staying silent.

Joanne, the factory head, passed through the room and nodded to Helen. She continued chewing her sandwich with her head down. No one had to know about Friday. Joanne had promised.

No one would ever understand, but it hadn't been easy. Joanne hadn't bothered dancing around the subject. She had known everything, all about Grace, and had promised she would have at least five more years at home. In five years things could change, Grace could be better and they might have a chance for her to avoid the hospital.

And all Joanne had wanted was one name. Helen had taken hours to decide, but after work she had done what she had to.

She refused to think about what had happened to Georgie. Of course Joanne had mentioned "re-education" and "a new town" but even Helen didn't trust that. She had heard the rumors. But she tried to remember Joanne's words when she thought of Georgie's kindness and her innocent eyes. Maybe Georgie was worth something to the Bureau and would be working in another factory next year.

"You look after your own," her mother had told her. "That's all you can do." The Bureau would crush who they wanted to, and Helen couldn't have stop them, could she? The opposition and its dreams would pass; they always had.

The final whistle sounded and Helen spoke to no one as she made her way home. Grace needed her and that was all that Helen could cling to.