Authors: Philip K. Dick
I mean, after all; you have to consider we’re only made out of dust. That’s admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn’t forget that. But even considering, I mean it’s a sort of bad beginning, we’re not doing too bad. So I personally have faith that even in this lousy situation we’re faced with we can make it. You get me?
From an interoffice audio-memo circulated to
Pre-Fash level consultants at Perky Pat
Layouts, Inc., dictated by Leo Bulero
immediately on his return from Mars.
His head unnaturally aching, Barney Mayerson woke to find himself in an unfamiliar bedroom in an unfamiliar conapt building. Beside him, the covers up to her bare, smooth shoulders, an unfamiliar girl slept on, breathing lightly through her mouth, her hair a tumble of cottonlike white.
I’ll bet I’m late for work, he said to himself, slid from the bed, and tottered to a standing position with eyes shut, keeping himself from being sick. For all he knew he was several hours’ drive from his office; perhaps he was not even in the United States. However he
on Earth; the gravity that made him sway was familiar and normal.
And there in the next room by the sofa a familiar suitcase, that of his psychiatrist Dr. Smile.
Barefoot, he padded into the living room, and seated himself by the suitcase; he opened it, clicked switches, and turned on Dr. Smile. Meters began to register and the mechanism hummed. “Where am I?” Barney asked it. “And how far am I from New York?” That was the main point. He saw now a clock on the wall of the apt’s kitchen; the time was 7:30
. Not late at all.
The mechanism which was the portable extension of Dr. Smile, connected by micro-relay to the computer itself in the basement level of Barney’s own conapt building in New York, the Renown 33, tinnily declared, “Ah, Mr. Bayerson.”
“Mayerson,” Barney corrected, smoothing his hair with fingers that shook. “What do you remember about last night?” Now he saw, with intense physical aversion, half-empty bottles of bourbon and sparkling water, lemons, bitters, and ice cube trays on the sideboard in the kitchen. “Who is this girl?”
Dr. Smile said, “This girl in the bed is Miss Rondinella Fugate. Roni, as she asked you to call her.”
It sounded vaguely familiar, and oddly, in some manner, tied up with his job. “Listen,” he said to the suitcase, but then in the bedroom the girl began to stir; at once he shut off Dr. Smile and stood up, feeling humble and awkward in only his underpants.
“Are you up?” the girl asked sleepily. She thrashed about, and sat facing him; quite pretty, he decided, with lovely, large eyes. “What time is it and did you put on the coffee pot?”
He tramped into the kitchen and punched the stove into life; it began to heat water for coffee. Meanwhile he heard the shutting of a door; she had gone into the bathroom. Water ran. Roni was taking a shower.
Again in the living room he switched Dr. Smile back on. “What’s she got to do with P. P. Layouts?” he asked.
“Miss Fugate is your new assistant; she arrived yesterday from People’s China where she worked for P. P. Layouts as their Pre-Fash consultant for that region. However, Miss Fugate, although talented, is highly inexperienced, and Mr. Bulero decided that a short period as your assistant, I would say ‘under you,’ but that might be misconstrued, considering—”
“Great,” Barney said. He entered the bedroom, found his clothes—they had been deposited, no doubt by him, in a heap on the floor—and began with care to dress; he still felt terrible, and it remained an effort not to give up and be violently sick. “That’s right,” he said to Dr. Smile as he came back to the living room buttoning his shirt. “I remember the memo from Friday about Miss Fugate. She’s erratic in her talent. Picked wrong on that U.S. Civil War Picture Window item…if you can imagine it, she thought it’d be a smash hit in People’s China.” He laughed.
The bathroom door opened a crack; he caught a glimpse of Roni, pink and rubbery and clean, drying herself. “Did you call me, dear?”
“No,” he said. “I was talking to my doctor.”
“Everyone makes errors,” Dr. Smile said, a trifle vacuously.
Barney said, “How’d she and I happen to—” He gestured toward the bedroom. “After so short a time.”
“Chemistry,” Dr. Smile said.
“Well, you’re both precogs. You previewed that you’d eventually hit it off, become erotically involved. So you both decided—after a few drinks—that why should you wait? ‘Life is short, art is—’ ” The suitcase ceased speaking, because Roni Fugate had appeared from the bathroom, naked, to pad past it and Barney back once more into the bedroom. She had a narrow, erect body, a truly superb carriage, Barney noted, and small, up-jutting breasts with nipples no larger than matched pink peas. Or rather matched pink pearls, he corrected himself.
Roni Fugate said, “I meant to ask you last night—why are you consulting a psychiatrist? And my lord, you carry it around everywhere with you; not once did you set it down—and you had it turned on right up until—” She raised an eyebrow and glanced at him searchingly.
“At least I did turn it off then,” Barney pointed out.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” Rising on her toes she all at once stretched, reached above her head, then, to his amazement, began to do a brisk series of exercises, hopping and leaping, her breasts bobbing.
“I certainly do,” he murmured, taken aback.
“I’d weigh a ton,” Roni Fugate panted, “if I didn’t do these UN Weapons Wing exercises every morning. Go pour the coffee, will you, dear?”
Barney said, “Are you really my new assistant at P. P. Layouts?”
“Yes, of course; you mean you don’t remember? But I guess you’re like a lot of really topnotch precogs: you see the future so well that you have only a hazy recollection of the past. Exactly what do you recall about last night?” She paused in her exercises, gasping for breath.
“Oh,” he said vaguely, “I guess everything.”
“Listen. The only reason why you’d be carrying a psychiatrist around with you is that you must have gotten your draft notice. Right?”
After a pause he nodded.
he remembered. The familiar elongated blue-green envelope had arrived one week ago; next Wednesday he would be taking his mental at the UN military hospital in the Bronx.
“Has it helped? Has he—” She gestured at the suitcase. “—Made you sick enough?”
Turning to the portable extension of Dr. Smile, Barney said, “Have you?”
The suitcase answered, “Unfortunately you’re still quite viable, Mr. Mayerson; you can handle ten Freuds of stress. Sorry. But we still have several days; we’ve just begun.”
Going into the bedroom, Roni Fugate picked up her underwear, and began to step into it. “Just think,” she said reflectively. “If you’re drafted, Mr. Mayerson, and you’re sent to the colonies…maybe I’ll find myself with your job.” She smiled, showing superb, even teeth.
It was a gloomy possibility and his precog ability did not assist him: the outcome hung nicely, at perfect balance on the scales of cause-and-effect to be.
“You can’t handle my job,” he said. “You couldn’t even handle it in People’s China and that’s a relatively simple situation in terms of factoring out pre-elements.” But someday she could; without difficulty he foresaw that. She was young and overflowing with innate talent: all she required to equal him—and he was the best in the trade—was a few years’ experience. Now he became fully awake as awareness of his situation filtered back to him. He stood a good chance of being drafted, and even if he was not, Roni Fugate might well snatch his fine, desirable job from him, a job up to which he had worked by slow stages over a thirteen-year period.
A peculiar solution to the grimness of the situation, this going to bed with her; he wondered how he had arrived at it.
Bending over the suitcase, he said in a low voice to Dr. Smile, “I wish you’d tell me why the hell with everything so dire I decided to—”
“I can answer that,” Roni Fugate called from the bedroom; she had now put on a somewhat tight pale green sweater and was buttoning it before the mirror of her vanity table. “You informed me last night, after your fifth bourbon and water. You said—” She paused, eyes sparkling. “It’s inelegant. What you said was this. ‘If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.’ Only the verb you used, I regret to say, wasn’t ‘join.’ ”
“Hmm,” Barney said, and went into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. Anyhow, he was not far from New York; obviously if Miss Fugate was a fellow employee at P. P. Layouts he was within commute distance of his job. They could ride in together. Charming. He wondered if their employer Leo Bulero would approve of this if he knew. Was there an official company policy about employees sleeping together? There was about almost everything else…although how a man who spent all his time at the resort beaches of Antarctica or in German E Therapy clinics could find time to devise dogma on every topic eluded him.
Someday, he said to himself, I’ll live like Leo Bulero; instead of being stuck in New York City in 180 degree heat—
Beneath him now a throbbing began; the floor shook. The building’s cooling system had come on. Day had begun.
Outside the kitchen window the hot, hostile sun took shape beyond the other conapt buildings visible to him; he shut his eyes against it. Going to be another scorcher, all right, probably up to the twenty Wagner mark. He did not need to be a precog to foresee this.
In the miserably high-number conapt building 492 on the outskirts of Marilyn Monroe, New Jersey, Richard Hnatt ate breakfast indifferently while, with something greater than indifference, he glanced over the morning homeopape’s weather-syndrome readings of the previous day.
The key glacier, Ol’ Skintop, had retreated 4.62 Grables during the last twenty-four-hour period. And the temperature, at noon in New York, had exceeded the previous day’s by 1.46 Wagners. In addition the humidity, as the oceans evaporated, had increased by 16 Selkirks. So things were hotter and wetter; the great procession of nature clanked on, and toward what? Hnatt pushed the ’pape away, and picked up the mail which had been delivered before dawn…it had been some time since mailmen had crept out in daylight hours.
The first bill which caught his eye was the apt’s cooling pro-rated swindle; he owed Conapt 492 exactly ten and a half skins for the last month—a rise of three-fourths of a skin over April. Someday, he said to himself, it’ll be so hot that
will keep this place from melting; he recalled the day his 1-p record collection had fused together in a lump, back around ’04, due to a momentary failure of the building’s cooling network. Now he owned iron oxide tapes; they did not melt. And at the same moment every parakeet and Venusian ming bird in the building had dropped dead. And his neighbor’s turtle had been boiled dry. Of course this had been during the day and everyone—at least the men—had been at work. The wives, however, had huddled at the lowest subsurface level, thinking (he remembered Emily telling him this) that the fatal moment had at last arrived. And not a century from now but
. The Caltech predictions had been wrong…only of course they hadn’t been; it had just been a broken power-lead from the N.Y. utility people. Robot workmen had quickly shown up and repaired it.
In the living room his wife sat in her blue smock, painstakingly painting an unfired ceramic piece with glaze; her tongue protruded and her eyes glowed…the brush moved expertly and he could see already that this was going to be a good one. The sight of Emily at work recalled to him the task that lay before him, today: one which he did not relish.
He said, peevishly, “Maybe we ought to wait before we approach him.”
Without looking up, Emily said, “We’ll never have a better display to present to him than we have now.”
“What if he says no?”
“We’ll go on. What did you expect, that we’d give up just because my onetime husband can’t foresee—or won’t foresee—how successful these new pieces will eventually be in terms of the market?”
Richard Hnatt said, “You know him; I don’t. He’s not vengeful, is he? He wouldn’t carry a grudge?” And anyhow what sort of grudge could Emily’s former husband be carrying? No one had done him any harm; if anything it had gone the other way, or so he understood from what Emily had related.
It was strange, hearing about Barney Mayerson all the time and never having met him, never having direct contact with the man. Now that would end, because he had an appointment to see Mayerson at nine this morning in the man’s office at P. P. Layouts. Mayerson of course would hold the whip hand; he could take one brief glance at the display of ceramics and decline ad hoc. No, he would say, P. P. Layouts is not interested in a min of this. Believe my precog ability, my Pre-Fash marketing talent and skill. And—out would go Richard Hnatt, the collection of pots under his arm, with absolutely no other place to go.
Looking out the window he saw with aversion that already it had become too hot for human endurance; the footer runnels were abruptly empty as everyone ducked for cover. The time was eight-thirty and he now had to leave; rising, he went to the hall closet to get his pith helmet and his mandatory cooling-unit; by law one had to be strapped to every commuter’s back until nightfall.
“Goodbye,” he said to his wife, pausing at the front door.
“Goodbye and lots of luck.” She had become even more involved in her elaborate glazing and he realized all at once that this showed how vast her tension was; she could not afford to pause even a moment. He opened the door and stepped out into the hall, feeling the cool wind of the portable unit as it chugged from behind him. “Oh,” Emily said, as he began to shut the door; now she raised her head, brushing her long brown hair back from her eyes. “Vid me as soon as you’re out of Barney’s office, as soon as you know one way or another.”
“Okay,” he said, and shut the door behind him.
Downramp, at the building’s bank, he unlocked their safety deposit box and carried it to a privacy room; there he lifted out the display case containing the spread of ceramic ware which he was to show Mayerson.
Shortly, he was aboard a thermosealed interbuilding commute car, on his way to downtown New York City and P. P. Layouts, the great pale synthetic-cement building from which Perky Pat and all the units of her miniature world originated. The doll, he reflected, which had conquered man as man at the same time had conquered the planets of the Sol system. Perky Pat, the obsession of the colonists. What a commentary on colonial life…what more did one need to know about those unfortunates who, under the selective service laws of the UN, had been kicked off Earth, required to begin new, alien lives on Mars or Venus or Ganymede or wherever else the UN bureaucrats happened to imagine they could be deposited…and after a fashion survive.