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Authors: Philip K. Dick

Galactic Pot-Healer (5 page)

BOOK: Galactic Pot-Healer
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“What do you think you are?” the other cop said to him, as the cruiser followed after him, holding its position directly above his head. “Some sort of privately endowed philanthropic organization?”

Saying nothing, Joe continued on.

“You’re required by law to answer me,” the cop said.

Reaching into his asbestos cloth sack, Joe got out a quarter. He handed it up toward the nearer of the two cops. And, at the same time, saw with amazement that only a few quarters remained.

My coins, he realized, are gone! So there is only one door
open to me—the mail tube and what it has brought in the last two days. Whether I like it or not—by what I’ve done just now it’s been decided.

“Why did you hand me this coin?” the cop asked.

“As a tip,” Joe said. And, at the same time, felt his head burst as the laser beam, on stun, hit him directly between his eyes.

At the police station the swank young police official, blond-haired, blue-eyed, slim, in his swank clean uniform, said, “We’re not going to book you, Mr. Fernwright, although technically you’re guilty of a crime against the people.”

“The state,” Joe said; he sat hunched over, rubbing his forehead, trying to make the pain stop. “Not the people,” he managed to say. He shut his eyes and the pain flooded over him, radiating out from the spot where the beam had touched him.

“What you’re saying,” the young police official said, “constitutes in itself a felony and we could book you on that, too. We could even turn you over to the Political Control Bureau as an enemy of the working class, engaged in a conspiracy to advocate agitation against the people and the servants of the people, such as ourselves. But your record heretofore—” He studied Joe with professional intensity. “A sane man doesn’t start handing coins out to total strangers.” The police official examined a document which had come unreeling itself out of a slot of his desk. “Obviously you acted without deliberation.”

“Yes,” Joe said. “Without deliberation.” He felt nothing in the way of emotions; he experienced only bodily discomfort, acute and still growing. It had preempted any feeling, any mental activity.

“However, we’re going to impound your remaining coins. For the present at least. And you’ll be on probation for a year, during which time you will report here, once a week, and give us an account, a full account, of your activities.”

“Without a trial?” Joe said.

“Do you want to be tried?” the police official eyed him keenly.

“No,” Joe said. He went on rubbing his head. The QCA material apparently hasn’t been fed to their computers yet, he decided. But eventually it’ll all be combined. They’ll put it all together, my tipping the cop, my finding notes in the water closet of my toilet. I’m a nut, he said to himself. I’ve gone mad from inactivity; the last seven months have destroyed me. And now, when I made my move, when I took my coins to Mr. Job—I
couldn’t do it

“Wait a minute,” another cop said. “Here’s something on him from OCA. It just rolled down the circuit from their computer bank central.”

Turning, Joe ran toward the door of the police station. Toward the mass of people outside. As if to bury himself among them; to cease to be a finite part.

Two cops appeared ahead of him and they lunged toward him as he ran; they came closer unnaturally rapidly, as if on video tape speeded up. And then, suddenly, they were under water; they, like slender silver fish, gaped at him and rhythmically maneuvered themselves among—good god! coral and seaweed. And yet he himself felt nothing, no water; but here was a tank of water, instead of the police station, all the furniture like sunken wrecks, half-buried in sand. And the police twisted and streaked by him, lovely in their glittering gliding movements. But they could not touch him, because he, although standing in the center, was not in the tank. And he heard no sound. Their mouths moved, but only silence reached him.

Bobbing and undulating, a squid swept past him; it was, he thought, like the soul of the sea. The squid all at once ejected clouds of darkness, as if meant to efface everything. He saw no police officers, now; the darkness propagated itself until it filled up the panorama and then it became more intense, as if it were not opaque enough before. But I can
breathe, Joe said. “Hey,” he said aloud—and heard his own voice. I’m just not in the water, he realized, like they are. I can identify myself; I’m split off, a separate entity. But why?

What if I try to move? he wondered. He took one step, another, and then clunk; he rebounded off a wall-like surface. Another way, he said; he turned and took a step to his right. Clunk. In panic he thought, I’m in a box like a coffin! Did they kill me? he asked himself. When I tried to run for the door. He reached his arms out, into the darkness, groping…and something was placed in his right hand. Small, square. With two disklike knobs.

A transistor radio.

He turned it on.

“Hi there, folks!” a happy, tinny voice sounded in the darkness. “This is Cavorting Cary Karns here with six phones sitting in front of me and twenty switchboard circuits going, so that I can hear you all, all of you good people who want to discuss something, anything. The number is 394-950-911111, so call in, folks, about anything at all, whatever’s on your mind, good, bad, indifferent, interesting, or dull—just call Cavorting Cary Karns at 394-950-911111 and the whole radio audience out there will hear you and what you have to say, your opinion, a fact that you know that you think everyone else should know—” From the speaker of the transistor radio came the sound of a phone ringing. “Hello—we’ve got a caller already!” Cavorting Cary Karns declared. “Yes sir. Yes ma’am, I mean.”

“Mr. Karns,” a shrill female voice said, “there ought to be a stop sign placed at the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Clover, where all the little schoolchildren, and I see them every day—”

Something hard, some dense object, bumped Joe’s left hand. He took hold of it. A phone.

Sitting down, he placed the phone and the transistor radio in front of him and then he got out his cigarette lighter and zipped the butane flame on. It illuminated a meager circle,
but within the circle he could make out the phone and the transistor radio. A Zenith transistor radio, he noted. Evidently a good one, from the size of it.

“Okay, folks out there,” Cavorting Cary Karns merrily prattled. “The number is 394-950-911111; that’s where you’ll reach me and through me the whole world of—”

Joe dialed. At last he had painstakingly dialed the whole number. He held the receiver to his ear, listened to a busy signal for a moment, and then heard, from both the receiver and the radio, the voice of Cavorting Cary Karns. “Yes sir, or is it ma’am?” Karns asked.

“Where am I?” Joe said into the phone.

“Hey there!” Karns said. “We’ve got somebody out there, some poor soul, who’s lost. Your name is, sir?”

“Joseph Fernwright,” Joe said.

“Well, Mr. Fernwright, it’s a downright pleasure to talk to you. Your question is, Where are you? Does anybody know where Mr. Joseph Fernwright of Cleveland—you are in Cleveland, aren’t you, Mr. Fernwright?—does anybody out there know where he is, at this moment? I think this is a valid question on Mr. Fernwright’s part; I’d like to hold the lines open for anyone who can call in and give us some idea, at least a general idea, of the vicinity in which Mr. Fernwright is currently. So you other people, who don’t know where Mr. Fernwright is, could you not call in until we’ve located Mr. Fernwright? Mr. Fernwright, it shouldn’t be long; we’ve got a ten million audience and a fifty-thousand-watt transmitter going and—wait! A call.” Tinny sound of a phone ringing. “Yes sir or ma’am. Sir. Your name, sir?”

A male voice, from the radio and from Joe’s phone, said, “My name is Dwight L. Glimmung of 301 Pleasant Hill Road, and I know where Mr. Fernwright is. He’s in my basement. Slightly to the right and a little behind my furnace. He’s in a wooden packing crate that came with an air-conditioning unit that I ordered from People’s Sears, last year.”

“You hear that, Mr. Fernwright?” Cavorting Cary Karns
whooped. “You’re in a packing crate in Mr. Dwight L.—what was the rest of your name, sir?”


“Mr. Dwight L. Glimmung’s basement of 301 Pleasant Hill Road. So all your troubles are over, Mr. Fernwright. Simply get out of the packing crate and you’ll be just fine!”

“I don’t want him to bust the crate, though,” Dwight L. Glimmung said. “Maybe I better go down there into that basement and pry a few boards loose and let him out.”

“Mr. Fernwright,” Karns said, “just for the edification of our radio audience, how did you happen to get into an empty packing crate in the basement of Mr. Dwight L. Glimmung of 301 Pleasant Hill Road? I’m sure our audience would like to know.”

“I don’t know,” Joe said.

“Well, perhaps then Mr. Glimmung—Mr. Glimmung? He seems to have rung off. Evidently he’s on his way down into the basement to let you out, Mr. Fernwright. What a lucky thing for you it was, sir, that Mr. Glimmung happened to be listening to this show! Otherwise you probably would be in that crate until doomsday. And now let’s turn to another listener; hello?” The phone clicked in Joe’s ear. The circuit had been broken.

Sounds. From around him. A creaking noise and something wide bent back; light flooded into the box wherein Joe Fernwright sat with his cigarette lighter, his phone, and his transistor radio.

“I got you out of the police barracks the best way I could,” a male voice—the same that Joe had heard on the radio—said.

“A strange way,” Joe said.

“To you strange. Strange to me have been a number of things you’ve done since the time I first became aware of you.”

Joe said, “Like giving away my coins.”

“No, I understood that. What strikes me as odd is your
having sat for all those months in your work cubicle, waiting.” A second slat slid away; more light flooded in at Joe and he blinked. He tried to see Glimmung, but he still could not. “Why didn’t you go to a nearby museum and break a number of their pots anonymously…and you would have got their business. And the pots would be healed as new. Nothing would have been lost and you would have been active and productive over these days.” The last slat fell away, and Joe Fernwright saw, up in the full light, the creature from Sirius five, the life-form which the encyclopedia had described as being senile and penniless.

He saw a great hoop of water spinning on a horizonal axis, and, within it, on a vertical axis, a transversal hoop of fire. Hanging over and behind the two elemental hoops a curtain draped and floated, a billowing fabric which he saw, with amazement, was Paisley.

And—one more aspect: an image embedded at the nucleus of the revolving hoops of fire and water. The pleasant, pretty face of a brown-haired teen-age girl. It hung suspended, and it smiled at him … an ordinary face, easily forgotten but always encountered. It was, he thought, a composite mask, as if drawn on a blank sidewalk with colored chalk. A temporary and not very impressive visage, through which Glimmung apparently meant to encounter him. But the hoop of water, he thought. The basis of the universe. As was the hoop of fire. And they revolved on and on, at a perfectly regulated speed. A superb and eternal self-perpetuating mechanism, he thought, except for the flimsy Paisley shawl and the immature female face. He felt bewildered. Did what he see add up to strength? Certainly it gave no aura of senility, and yet he had the impression that, despite the jejune face, it was very old. As to its financial status, he could make no estimate at this time. That would have to come later, if at all.

“I bought this house seven years ago,” Glimmung—or at least a voice—said. “When there was a buyers’ market.”

Joe, looking for the source of the voice, distinguished an
oddity which twitched his blood and made him cold, as if ice and fire had mixed together in him, a pale analog of Glimmung.

The voice. It came from an ancient wind-up Victrola, on which a record played at a peculiar high speed. Glimmung’s voice was on the record.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Joe said. “Seven years ago was a good time to buy. You do your recruiting from here?”

“I work here,” Glimmung’s voice—from the ancient wind-up Victrola—answered. “I work many other places as well … in many star systems. Now let me tell you where you stand, Joe Fernwright. To the police you simply turned and walked out of the building, and for some reason they seemed unable, at the time, to stop you. But an APB has been sent out regarding you, so you can’t go back to your rooming house or your work cubicle.”

“Without being caught by the police,” Joe said.

“Do you want that?”

“Maybe it has to be,” Joe said stoically.

“Nonsense. Your police are feral and malicious. I want you to see Heldscalla, as it was before it sank. Youuuuuuuuu,” and the phonograph ran down. Joe, via the handcrank, wound it up again, feeling a mixture of feelings, each of which he would probably, if asked, be unable to describe. “You will find a viewing instrument on the table to your right,” Glimmung said, the record now playing at its proper speed. “A depth-perception mechanism originating here on your own planet.”

Joe searched—and found an antique stereoscope viewer, circa 1900, with a set of black-and-white cards to be put into it. “Couldn’t you do better than this?” he demanded. “A film sequence, or stereo video tape. Why, this thing was invented before the automobile.” It came to him, then. “You are broke,” he said. “Smith was right.”

“That’s a calumny,” Glimmung said. “I am merely parsimonious. It is an inherited characteristic of my order. As a
product of your socialistic society you are used to great waste. I, however, am still on the free enterprise plan. ‘A penny saved—’”

“Oh Christ,” Joe groaned.

“If you want me to quit,” Glimmung said, “merely lift the mica-disk playback head-and-needle assembly from the record.”

“What happens when the record comes to an end?” Joe said.

“It will never do so.”

“Then it’s not a real record.”

“It’s a real record. The grooves form a loop.”

“What do you really look like?” Joe said.

Glimmung said, “What do
really look like?”

BOOK: Galactic Pot-Healer
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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