Read Galactic Pot-Healer Online
Authors: Philip K. Dick
PHILIP K. DICK
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 and lived most of his life in California. He briefly attended the University of California, but dropped out before completing any classes. In 1952, he began writing professionally and proceeded to write thirty-six novels and five short-story collections. He won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1962 for
The Man in the High Castle
and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year in 1974 for
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
. Philip K. Dick died on March 2, 1982, in Santa Ana, California, of heart failure following a stroke.
Books by Philip K. Dick
available from Vintage Books
Confessions of a Crap Artist
The Divine Invasion
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
The Game-Players of Titan
The Man in the High Castle
A Maze of Death
Now Wait for Last Year
A Scanner Darkly
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
We Can Build You
The World Jones Made
For Cynthia Goldstone
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
D. H. Lawrence
His father had been a pot-healer before him. And so he, too, healed pots, in fact any kind of ceramic ware left over from the Old Days, before the war, when objects had not always been made out of plastic. A ceramic pot was a wonderful thing, and each that he healed became an object which he loved, which he never forgot; the shape of it, the texture of it and its glaze, remained with him on and on.
However, almost no one needed his work, his services. Too few ceramic pieces remained, and those persons who owned them took great care to see that they did not break.
I am Joe Fernwright, he said to himself. I am the best pot-healer on Earth. I, Joe Fernwright, am not like other men.
Around in his office, cartons—empty—lay piled. Steel cartons, within which to return the healed pot. But on the incoming side—almost nothing. For seven months his bench had been bare.
During those months he had thought many things. He had thought that he ought to give up and take some other line of work onto himself—any line of work, so that he could go
off the war veterans’ dole. He had thought,
My work isn’t good enough; I have virtually no clients because they are sending their broken pots to other firms to fix
. He had thought of suicide. Once, he had thought of a major crime, of killing someone high up in the hierarchy of the Peaceful International World Senate. But what good would that do? And anyhow life wasn’t absolutely worth nothing, because there was one good thing which remained, even though everything else had evaded or ignored him. The Game.
On the roof of his rooming house, Joe Fernwright waited, lunch pail in hand, for the rapid-transit hover blimp to arrive. The cold morning air nipped and touched him; he shivered. It’ll show up any time now, Joe informed himself. Except that it’ll be full. And so it won’t stop; it’ll blipple on by, crammed to the brim. Well, he thought, I can always walk.
He had become accustomed to walking. As in every other field the government had failed miserably in the matter of public transportation. Damn them, Joe said to himself. Or rather, he thought, damn us. After all, he, too, was a part of the planet wide Party apparatus, the network of tendrils which had penetrated and then in loving convulsion clasped them in a hug of death as great as the entire world.
“I give up,” the man next to him said with an irritable twitch of shaved and perfumed jowls. “I’m going to slide down the slide to ground level and walk. Lots of luck.” The man pushed his way through the throng of those waiting for the hover blimp; the throng flowed together once more, behind him, and he was gone from sight.
Me, too, Joe decided. He headed for the slide, and so did several other grumpy commuters.
At street level he straddled a cracked and unrepaired sidewalk, took a deep angry breath, and then, via his personal legs, started north.
A police cruiser soared down to linger a little above Joe’s head. “You’re walking too slow,” the uniformed officer informed
him, and pointed a Walters & Jones laser pistol at him. “Pick up speed or I’ll book you.”
“I swear to god,” Joe said, “that I’ll hurry. Just give me time to pick up my pace; I just now started.” He speeded up, phased himself with the other swiftly striding peds—those others lucky enough, like himself, to have jobs, to have somewhere to go on this dingy Thursday morning in early April 2046, in the city of Cleveland in the Communal North American Citizens’ Republic. Or, he thought, at least to have something that
like a job anyhow. A place, a talent, experience, and, one day soon, an order to fill.
His office and workroom—a cubicle, really—contained a bench, tools, the piles of empty metal boxes, a small desk, and his ancient chair, a leather-covered rocking chair which had belonged to his grandfather and then, at last, his father. And now he himself sat on that chair—sat day in, day out, month in, month out. He had, also, a single ceramic vase, short and portly, finished in a free-dripping dull blue glaze over the white biscuit; he had found it years ago and recognized it as seventeenth-century Japanese. He loved it. And it had never been broken, not even during the war.
He seated himself now in this chair and felt it give here and there as it adjusted itself to a familiar body. The chair knew him as well as he knew the chair; it had known him all his life. Then he reached to press the button which would bring the morning’s mail sliding down the tube to his desk—reached, but then waited. What if there’s nothing? he asked himself. There never is. But this could be different; it’s like a batter: when he hasn’t hit for a long time you say, “He’s due any time now,” and so he is. Joe pressed the button.
Three bills slid out.
And, with them, the dingy gray packet containing today’s government money, his daily dole. Government paper money, in the form of odd and ornate and nearly worthless inflationary trading stamps. Each day, when he received his
gray packet of newly printed notes, he hiked as rapidly as possible to GUB, the nearest all-purpose supershopping-redemptioncenter, and transacted hasty business: he swapped the notes, while they still had any worth, for food, magazines, pills, a new shirt—
, in fact, tangible. Everyone did it. Everyone had to; holding onto government notes for even twenty-four hours was a self-imposed disaster, a kind of mortal suicide. Roughly, in two days government money dropped eighty percent in its redemptive power.
The man in the cubicle next to his called, “To the President’s healthful longevity.” A routine greeting.
“Yeah,” Joe answered reflexively. Other cubicles, lots of them, level upon level. Suddenly a thought came to him. Exactly how many cubicles were there in the building? A thousand? Two or two-point-five thousand? I can do that today, he said to himself; I can investigate and find out how many other cubicles there are in addition to mine. Then I’ll know how many people are with me here in this building…excluding those who are off sick or have died.
But first, a cigarette. He got out a package of tobacco cigarettes—highly illegal, due to the health hazard and the addictive nature of the plant in question—and started to light up.
At that moment his gaze fell, as always, on the smoke sensor mounted on the wall across from him. One puff, ten poscreds, he said to himself. Therefore he returned, then, the cigarettes to his pocket, rubbed his forehead ruthlessly, trying to fathom the craving lodged deep within him, the need which had caused him to break that law several times. What do I really yearn for? he asked himself. That for which oral gratification is a surrogate. Something vast, he decided; he felt the primordial hunger gape, huge-jawed, as if to cannibalize everything around him. To place what was outside inside.
Thus he played; this had created, for him, The Game.
Pressing the red button he lifted the receiver and waited
while the creaking, slow relay machinery fed his phone an outside line.
“Squeeg,” the phone said. Its screen displayed nonobjective colors and segments. Electronic crosstalk made blurrily visible.
From memory he dialed. Twelve numbers, starting with the three which connected him with Moscow.
“Vice-Commissioner Saxton Gordon’s staff calling,” he said to the Russian switchboard officer whose face glowered at him from the miniature screen. “More games, I suppose,” the operator said.
Joe said, “A humanoid biped cannot maintain metabolic processes by means of plankton flour merely.”
After a glare of puritanical disapproval, the officer connected him with Gauk. The lean, bored face of the minor Soviet official confronted him. Boredom at once gave way to interest. “A preslávni vityaz,” Gauk intoned. “Dostoini konovód tolpi byezmózgloi, prestóopnaya—”
“Don’t make a speech,” Joe interrupted, feeling impatient. As well as surly. This was his customary morning mood.
“Prostitye,” Gauk apologized.
“Do you have a title for me?” Joe asked; he held his pen ready.
“The Tokyo translating computer has been tied up all morning,” Gauk answered. “So I put it through the smaller one at Kobe. In some respects Kobe is more—how shall I put it?—quaint than Tokyo.” He paused, consulting a slip of paper; his office, like Joe’s, consisted of a cubicle, containing only a desk, a phone, a straight-backed chair made of plastic and a note pad. “Ready?”
“Ready.” Joe made a random scratch-mark with his pen.
Gauk cleared his throat and read from his slip of paper, a taut grin on his face; it was a sleek expression, as if he were certain of himself on this one. “This originated in your language,” Gauk explained, honoring one of the rules which
all of them together had made up, the bunch of them scattered here and there across the map of Earth, in little offices, in puny positions, with nothing to do, no tasks or sorrows or difficult problems. Nothing but the harsh vacuity of their collective society, which each in his own way objected to, which all of them, in collaboration, circumvented by means of The Game. “Book title,” Gauk continued. “That’s the only clue I’ll give you.”
“Is it well known?” Joe asked.
Ignoring his question, Gauk read from the slip of paper. “‘The Lattice-work Gun-stinging Insect.’”
“Gun-slinging?” Joe asked.
“‘Lattice-work,’” Joe said, pondering. “Network. ‘Stinging Insect.’ Wasp?” He scratched with his pen, stumped. “And you got this from the translation computer at Kobe? Bee,” he decided. “‘Gun,’ so Gun-bee. Heater-bee. Laser-bee. Rod-bee.
.” He swiftly wrote that down. “Gat-wasp, gat-bee. Gatsby. ‘Lattice-work.’ That would be a grating. Grate.” He had it now. “The
, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.” He tossed down his pen in triumph.
“Ten points for you,” Gauk said. He made a tally. “That puts you even with Hirshmeyer in Berlin and slightly ahead of Smith in New York. You want to try another?”
Joe said, “I have one.” From his pocket he got out a folded sheet; spreading it out on his desk he read from it, “‘The Male Offspring in Addition Gets Out of Bed.’” He eyed Gauk then, feeling the warmth of knowledge that he had gotten a good one—this, from the larger language-translating computer in downtown Tokyo.
“A phononym,” Gauk said effortlessly. “Son, sun.
The Sun Also Rises
. Ten points for me.” He made a note of that.
Angrily, Joe said, “Those for Which the Male Homosexual Exacts Transit Tax.”
“Another by Serious Constricting-path,” Gauk said, with a wide smile.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
“‘Serious Constricting-path’?” Joe echoed wonderingly.
“I give up,” Joe said. He felt weary; Gauk, as usual, was far ahead of him in their mutual game of retranslating computer translations back into the original tongue.