Authors: Philip K. Dick
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Politics, #Fantasy
The young couple, black-haired, dark-skinned, probably Mexican or Puerto Rican, stood nervously at Herb Lackmore’s counter and the boy, the husband, said in a low voice, ‘Sir, we want to be put to sleep. We want to become bibs.’
Rising from his desk, Lackmore walked to the counter and although he did not like Cols—there seemed to be more of them every month, coming into his Oakland branch office of the U.S. Department on Special Public Welfare—he said in a pleasant tone of voice designed to reassure the two of them, ‘Have you thought it over carefully, folks? It’s a big step. You might be out for, say, a few hundred years. Have you shopped for any professional advice about this?’
The boy, glancing at his wife, swallowed and murmured, ‘No, sir. We just decided between us. Neither of us can get a job and we’re about to be evicted from our dorm. We don’t even own a wheel, and what can you do without a wheel? You can’t go anywhere. You can’t even look for work.’ He was not a bad-looking boy, Lackmore noticed. Possibly eighteen, he still wore the coat and trousers which were army-separation issue. The girl had long hair; she was quite small, with black, bright eyes and a delicately-formed almost doll-like face. She never ceased watching her husband.
‘I’m going to have a baby,’ the girl blurted.
‘Aw, the heck with both of you,’ Lackmore said in disgust, drawing his breath in sharply. ‘You both get right out of here.’
Ducking their heads guiltily the boy and his wife turned and started from Lackmore’s office, back outside onto the busy downtown early-morning Oakland, California street.
‘Go see an abort-consultant!’ Lackmore called after them irritably. He resented having to help them, but obviously someone had to; look at the spot they had gotten themselves into. Because no doubt they were living on a government military pension, and if the girl was pregnant the pension would automatically be withdrawn.
Plucking hesitantly at the sleeve of his wrinkled coat the Col boy said, ‘Sir, how do we find an abort-consultant?’
The ignorance of the dark-skinned strata, despite the government’s ceaseless educational campaigns. No wonder their women were often preg. ‘Look in the phone book,’ Lackmore said. ‘Under abortionists, therapeutic. Then the subsection advisors. Got it?’
‘Yes, sir. Thank you.’ The boy nodded rapidly.
‘Can you read?’
‘Yes. I stayed in school until I was thirteen.’ On the boy’s face fierce pride showed; his black eyes gleamed.
Lackmore returned to reading his homeopape; he did not have any more time to offer gratis. No wonder they wanted to become bibs. Preserved, unchanged, in a government warehouse, year after year, until—would the labor market ever improve? Lackmore personally doubted it, and he had been around a long time; he was ninety-five years old, a jerry. In his time he had put to sleep thousands of people, almost all of them, like this couple, young. And—dark.
The door of the office shut. The young couple had gone again as quietly as they had come.
Sighing, Lackmore began to read once more the pape’s article on the divorce trial of Lurton D. Sands, Jr, the most sensational event now taking place; as always, he read every word of it avidly.
This day began for Darius Pethel with vidphone calls from irate customers wanting to know why their Jiffi-scuttlers hadn’t been fixed. Any time now, he told them soothingly, and hoped that Erickson was already at work in the service department of Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service.
As soon as he was off the vidphone Pethel searched among the litter on his desk for the day’s copy of U.S. Business Report; he of course kept abreast of all the economic developments on the planet. This alone set him above his employees; this, his wealth, and his advanced age.
‘What’s it say?’ his salesman, Stu Hadley, asked, standing in the office doorway, robant magnetic broom in hand, pausing in his activity.
Silently, Pethel read the major headline.
EFFECTS ON THE NATION’S BUSINESS
COMMUNITY OF A NEGRO PRESIDENT
And there, in 3-D, animated, was a pic of James Briskin; the pic came to life, Candidate Briskin smiled in miniature, as Pethel pressed the tab beneath it. The Negro’s mustache-obscured lips moved and above his head a balloon appeared, filled with the words he was saying.
My first task will be to find an equitable disposition of the tens of millions of sleeping.
‘And dump every last bib back on the labor market,’ Pethel murmured, releasing the word tab. ‘If this guy gets in, the nation’s ruined.’ But it was inevitable. Sooner or later, there would be a Negro president; after all, since the Event of 1993 there had been more Cols than Caucs.
Gloomily, he turned to page two for the latest on the Lurton Sands scandal; maybe that would cheer him up, the political news being so bad. The famous org-trans surgeon had become involved in a sensational contested divorce suit with his equally famous wife Myra, the abort-consultant. All sorts of juicy details were beginning to filter out, charges on both sides. Dr Sands, according to the homeopapes, had a mistress; that was why Myra had stomped out, and rightly so. Not like the old days, Pethel thought, recalling his youth in the late decades of the twentieth century. Now it was 2080 and public—and private—morality had worsened.
Why would Dr Sands want a mistress anyhow, Pethel wondered, when there’s that Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite passing overhead every day? They say there’re five thousand girls to choose from.
He, himself, had never visited Thisbe Olt’s satellite; he did not approve of it, nor did very many jerries—it was too radical a solution to the overpopulation problem, and seniors, by letter and telegram, had fought its passage in Congress back in ‘72. But the bill had gone through anyhow . . . probably, he reflected, because most Congressmen had the idea of taking a jet’ab up there themselves. And no doubt regularly did, now.
‘If we whites stick together—’ Hadley began.
‘Listen,’ Pethel said, ‘that time has passed. If Briskin can dispose of the bibs, more power to him; personally, it keeps me awake at night, thinking of all those people, most of them just kids, lying in those gov warehouses year after year. Look at the talent going to waste. It’s—bureaucratic! Only a swollen socialist government would have dreamed up a solution like that.’ He eyed his salesman harshly. ‘If you hadn’t gotten this job with me, even you might—’
Hadley interrupted quietly, ‘But I’m white.’
Reading on further, Pethel saw that Thisbe Olt’s satellite had grossed a billion U.S. dollars in 2079. Wow, he said to himself. That’s big business. Before him was a pic of Thisbe; with cadmium-white hair and little high conical breasts she was a superb sight, an aesthetic as well as a sexual treat. The pic showed her serving male guests of her satellite a tequila sour—an added fillip because tequila, being derived from the mescal plant, had long been illegal on Earth proper.
Pethel touched the word tab of Thisbe’s pic and at once Thisbe’s eyes sparkled, her head turned, her stable, dense breasts vibrated subtly, and in the balloon above her head the proper words formed.
Embarrassing personal urgency, Mr American businessman? Do as many doctors recommend: visit my Golden Door!
It was an ad, Pethel discovered. Not an informative article.
‘Excuse me.’ A customer had entered the store and Hadley moved in his direction.
Oh lord, Darius Pethel thought as he recognized the customer. Don’t we have his ‘scuttler fixed yet? He rose to his feet, knowing that he would be personally needed to appease the man; this was Dr Lurton Sands, and because of his recent domestic troubles he had become, of late, demanding and hot-tempered.
‘Yes, Doctor,’ Pethel said, walking toward him. ‘What can I do for you today?’ As if he didn’t know. Trying to fight off Myra as well as keep his mistress, Cally Vale, Dr Sands had enough problems; he really needed the use of his Jiffi-scuttler. Unlike other customers it was not going to be possible to put this man off.
Plucking by reflex at his great handlebar mustache, presitial candidate Jim Briskin said tentatively, ‘We’re in a rut, Sal. I ought to fire you. You’re trying to make me out the epitome of the Cols and yet you know I’ve spent twenty years playing up to the white power structure. Frankly, I think we’d have better luck trying to get the white vote, not the dark. I’m used to them; I can appeal to them.’
‘You’re wrong,’ his campaign manager, Salisbury Heim, said. ‘Your appeal-listen and understand this, Jim—is to the dark kid and his wife scared to death their only prospect is winding up bibs in some gov warehouse. "Bottled in bond," as they say. In you these people see . . .’
‘But I feel guilty.’
‘Why?’ Sal Heim demanded.
‘Because I’m a fake. I can’t close the Dept of SPW warehouses; you know that. You got me to promise, and ever since I’ve been sweating my life away trying to conceive how it could be done. And there isn’t any way.’ He examined his wristwatch; one quarter-hour remained before he had to give his speech. ‘Have you read the speech Phil Danville wrote for me?’ He reached into his disorganized, lumpy coat-pouch.
‘Danville!’ Heim’s face convulsed. ‘I thought you got rid of him; give me that.’ He grabbed the folded sheets and began going over them. ‘Danville is a nut. Look.’ He waved the first sheet in Jim Briskin’s face. ‘According to him, you’re going to ban traffic from the U.S. to Thisbe’s satellite. That’s insane! If the Golden Door is closed, the birth rate will jump back up again where it was—what then? How does Danville manage to counter that?’
After a pause Briskin said, ‘The Golden Door is immoral.’
Spluttering, Heim said, ‘Sure. And animals should wear pants.’
‘There’s just got to be a better solution than that satellite.’
Heim lapsed into silence as he read further into the speech. ‘And he has you advocate this outmoded, thoroughly discredited planet-wetting technique of Bruno Mini.’ He tossed the papers into Jim Briskin’s lap. ‘So what do you wind up with? You back a planetary colonization scheme tried twenty years ago and abandoned; you advocate closing the Golden Door satellite—you’ll be popular, Jim, after tonight. But popular with whom, though? Just answer me; who is this aimed at?’ He waited.
There was silence.
‘You know what I think?’ Heim said presently. ‘I think this is your elaborate way of giving up. Of saying to hell with the whole thing. It’s how you shed responsibility; I saw you start to do the same thing at the convention in that crazy doomsday speech you gave, that morbid curiosity which still has everyone baffled. But fortunately you’d already been nominated. It was too late for the convention to repudiate you.’
Briskin said, ‘I expressed my real convictions in that speech.’
‘What, that civilization is now doomed because of this overpopulation biz? Some convictions for the first Col President to have.’ Heim got to his feet and walked to the window; he stood looking out at downtown Philadelphia, at the jet-copters landing, the runnels of autocars and ramps of footers coming and going, into and out of every high-rise building in sight. ‘I once in a while think,’ Heim said in a low voice, ‘that you feel it’s doomed because it’s nominated a Negro and may elect him; it’s a way of putting yourself down.’
‘No,’ Briskin said, with calm; his long face remained unruffled.
‘I’ll tell you what to say in your speech for tonight,’ Heim said, his back to Briskin. ‘First, you once more describe your relationship with Frank Woodbine, because people go for space explorers; Woodbine is a hero, much more so than you or what’s-his-name. You know; the man you’re running against. The SRCD incumbent.’
Heim nodded exaggeratedly. ‘Yes, you’re right. Then after you gas about Woodbine—and we show a few shots of you and him standing together on various planets—then you make a joke about Dr Sands.’
‘No,’ Briskin said.
‘Why not? Is Sands a sacred cow? You can’t touch him?’
Jim Briskin said slowly, painstakingly, ‘Because Sands is a great doctor and shouldn’t be ridiculed in the media the way he is right now.’
‘He saved your brother’s life. By finding him a wet new liver just in the nick of time. Or he saved your mother just when . . .’
‘Sands has preserved hundreds, thousands, of people. Including plenty of Cols. Whether they were able to pay or not.’ Briskin was silent a moment and then he added, ‘Also I met his wife Myra and I didn’t like her. Years ago I went to her; I had made a girl preg and we wanted abort advice.’
‘Good!’ Heim said violently. ‘We can use that. You made a girl pregnant—that, when Nonovulid is free for the asking; that shows you’re a provident type, Jim.’ He tapped his forehead. ‘You think ahead.’
‘I now have five minutes,’ Briskin said woodenly. He gathered up the pages of Phil Danville’s speech and returned them to his inside coat pouch; he still wore a formal dark suit even in hot weather. That, and a flaming red wig, had been his trademark back in the days when he had telecast as a TV newsclown.
‘Give that speech,’ Heim said, ‘and you’re politically dead. And if you’re . . .’ He broke off. The door to the room had opened and his wife Patricia stood there.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ Pat said. ‘But everyone out here can hear you yelling.’ Heim caught a glimpse, then, of the big outside room full of teen-age Briskinettes, uniformed young volunteers who had come from all over the country to help elect the Republican Liberal candidate.
‘Sorry,’ Heim murmured.
Pat entered the room and shut the door after her. ‘I think Jim’s right, Sal.’ Small, gracefully-built—she had once been a dancer—Pat lithely seated herself and lit a cigar. ‘The more naive Jim appears, the better.’ She blew gray smoke from between her luminous, pale lips. ‘He still has a lingering reputation for being cynical. Whereas he should be another Wendell Wilkie.’
‘Wilkie lost,’ Heim pointed out.
‘And Jim may lose,’ Pat said; she tossed her head, brushing back her long hair from her eyes. ‘But if he does, he can run again and win next time. The important thing is for him to appear sensitive and innocent, a sweet person who takes the world’s suffering on his own shoulders because he’s made that way. He can’t help it; he has to suffer. You see?’