DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP
Like an arc of pure fire, John R. Isidore soared across the late-afternoon sky on his way home from his job. I wonder if she's still there, he said to himself. Down in that kipple-infested old apt, watching Buster Friendly on her TV set and quaking with fear every time she imagines someone coming down the hall. Including, I suppose, me.
He had already stopped off at a blackmarket grocery store. On the seat beside him a bag of such delicacies as bean curd, ripe peaches, good soft evil-smelling cheese rocked back and forth as he alternately speeded up and slowed down his car; being tense, tonight, he drove somewhat erratically. And his allegedly repaired car coughed and floundered, as it had been doing for months prior to overhaul. Rats, Isidore said to himself.
The smell of peaches and cheese eddied about the car, filling his nose with pleasure. All rarities, for which he had squandered two weeks' salary-borrowed in advance from Mr. Sloat. And, in addition, under the car seat where it could not roll and break, a bottle of Chablis wine knocked back and forth: the greatest rarity of all. He had been keeping it in a safety deposit box at the Bank of America, hanging onto it and not selling it no matter how much they offered, in case at some long, late, last moment a girl appeared. That had not happened, not until now.
The rubbish-littered, lifeless roof of his apartment building as always depressed him. Passing from his car to the elevator door he damped down his peripheral vision; he concentrated on the valuable bag and bottle which he carried, making certain that he tripped over no trash and took no ignominious pratfall to economic doom. When the elevator creakily arrived he rode it -- not to his own floor -- but to the lower level on which the new tenant, Pris Stratton, now lived. Presently he stood in front of her door, rapping with the edge of the wine bottle, his heart going to pieces inside his chest. "Who's there?" Her voice, muffled by the door and yet clear. A frightened, but blade-sharp tone.
"This is J. R. Isidore speaking," he said briskly, adopting the new authority which he had so recently acquired via Mr. Sloat's vidphone. "I have a few desirable items here and I think we can put together a more than reasonable dinner."
The door, to a limited extent, opened; Pris, no lights on in the room behind her, peered out into the dim hall. "You sound different," she said. "More grown up."
"I had a few routine matters to deal with during business hours today. The usual. If you c-c-could let me in --"
"You'd talk about them." However, she held the door open wide enough for him to enter. And then, seeing what he carried, she exclaimed; her face ignited with elfin, exuberant glee. But almost at once, without warning, a lethal bitterness crossed her features, set concrete-like in place. The glee had gone.
"What is it?" he said; he carried the packages and bottle to the kitchen, set them down and hurried back.
Tonelessly, Pris said, "They're wasted on me."
"Oh ..." She shrugged, walking aimlessly away, her hands in the pockets of her heavy, rather old-fashioned skirt. "Sometime I'll tell you." She raised her eyes, then. "It was nice of you anyhow. Now I wish you'd leave. I don't feel like seeing anyone." In a vague fashion she moved toward the door to the hall; her steps dragged and she seemed depleted, her store of energy fading almost out.
"I know what's the matter with you," he said.
"Oh?" Her voice, as she reopened the hall door, dropped even further into uselessness, listless and barren.
"You don't have any friends. You're a lot worse than when I saw you this morning; it's because --"
"I have friends." Sudden authority stiffened her voice; she palpably regained vigor. "Or I had. Seven of them. That was to start with but now the bounty hunters have had time to get to work. So some of them -- maybe all of them -- are dead." She wandered toward the window, gazed out at the blackness and the few lights here and there. "I may be the only one of the eight of us left. So maybe you're right."
"What's a bounty hunter?"
"That's right. You people aren't supposed to know. A bounty hunter is a professional murderer who's given a list of those he's supposed to kill. He's paid a sum -- a thousand dollars is the going rate, I understand -- for each he gets. Usually he has a contract with a city so he draws a salary as well. But they keep that low so he'll have incentive."
"Are you sure?" Isidore asked.
"Yes." She nodded. "You mean am I sure he has Incentive? Yes, he has incentive. He enjoys it."
"I think," Isidore said, "you're mistaken." Never in his life had he heard of such a thing. Buster Friendly, for instance, had never mentioned it. "It's not in accord with present-day Mercerian ethics," he pointed out. "All life is one; 'no man is an island,' as Shakespeare said in olden times."
Isidore gestured in agitation. "That's worse than anything I ever heard of. Can't you call the police?"
"And they're after you? They're apt to come here and kill you?" He understood, now, why the girl acted in so secretive a fashion. "No wonder you're scared and don't want to see anybody." But he thought, It must be a delusion. She must be psychotic. With delusions of persecution. Maybe from brain damage due to the dust; maybe she's a special. "I'll get them first," he said.
"With what?" Faintly, she smiled; she showed her small, even, white teeth.
"I'll get a license to carry a laser beam. It's easy to get, out here where there's hardly anybody; the police don't patrol -- you're expected to watch out for yourself."
"How about when you're at work?"
"I'll take a leave of absence!"
Pris said, "That's very nice of you, J. R. Isidore. But if bounty hunters got the others, got Max Polokov and Garland and Luba and Hasking and Roy Baty --" She broke off. "Roy and Irmgard Baty. If they're dead then it really doesn't matter. They're my best friends. Why the hell don't 1 hear from them, I wonder?" She cursed, angrily.
Making his way into the kitchen he got down dusty, long unused plates and bowls and glasses; he began washing them in the sink, running the rusty hot water until it cleared at last. Presently Pris appeared, seated herself at the table. He uncorked the bottle of Chablis, divided the peaches and the cheese and the bean curd.
"What's that white stuff? Not the cheese." She pointed.
"Made from soy bean whey. I wish I had some --" He broke off, flushing. "It used to be eaten with beef gravy."
"An android," Pris murmured. "That's the sort of slip an android makes. That's what gives it away." She came over, stood beside him, and then to his stunned surprise put her arm around his waist and for an instant pressed against him. "I'll try a slice of peach," she said, and gingerly picked out a slippery pink-orange furry slice with her long fingers. And then, as she ate the slice of peach, she began to cry. Cold tears descended her cheeks, splashed on the bosom of her dress. He did not know what to do, so he continued dividing the food. "Goddamn it," she said, furiously. "Well --" She moved away from him, paced slowly, with measured steps, about the room. "-- see, we lived on Mars. That's how come I know androids." Her voice shook but she managed to continue; obviously it meant a great deal to her to have someone to talk to.
"And the only people on Earth that you know," Isidore said, "are your fellow ex-emigrants."
"We knew each other before the trip. A settlement near New New York. Roy Baty and Irmgard ran a drugstore; he was a pharmacist and she handled the beauty aids, the creams and ointments; on Mars they use a lot of skin conditioners. I --" She hesitated. "I got various drugs from Roy -- I needed them at first because -- well, anyhow, it's an awful place. This" -- she swept in the room, the apartment, in one violent gesture -- "this is nothing. You think I'm suffering because I'm lonely. Hell, all Mars is lonely. Much worse than this."
"Don't the androids keep you company? I heard a commercial on --" Seating himself he ate, and presently she too picked up the glass of wine; she sipped expressionlessly. "I understood that the androids helped."
"The androids," she said, "are lonely, too."
"Do you like the wine?"
She set down her glass. "It's fine."
"It's the only bottle I've seen in three years."
"We came back," Pris said, "because nobody should have to live there. It wasn't conceived for habitation, at least not within the last billion years. It's so old. You feel it in the stones, the terrible old age. Anyhow, at first I got drugs from Roy; I lived for that new synthetic pain-killer, that silenizine. And then I met Horst Hartman, who at that time ran a stamp store, rare postage stamps; there's so much time on your hands that you've got to have a hobby, something you can pore over endlessly. And Horst got me interested in pre-colonial fiction."
"You mean old books?"
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before --"
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
"Based on what?"
"On imagination. A lot of times they turned out wrong. For example they wrote about Venus being a jungle paradise with huge monsters and women in breastplates that glistened." She eyed him. "Does that interest you? Big women with long braided blond hair and gleaming breastplates the size of melons?"
"No," he said.
"Irmgard is blond," Pris said. "But small. Anyhow, there's a fortune to be made in smuggling pre-colonial fiction, the old magazines and books and films, to Mars. Nothing is as exciting. To read about cities and huge industrial enterprises, and really successful colonization. You can imagine what it might have been like. What Mars ought to be like. Canals."
"Canals?" Dimly, he remembered reading about that; in the olden days they had believed in canals on Mars.
"Crisscrossing the planet," Pris said. "And beings from other stars. With infinite wisdom. And stories about Earth, set in our time and even later. Where there's no radioactive dust."
"I would think," Isidore said, "it would make you feel worse."
"It doesn't," Pris said curtly.
"Did you bring any of that pre-colonial reading material back with you?" It occurred to him that he ought to try some.
"It's worthless, here, because here on Earth the craze never caught on. Anyhow there's plenty here, in the libraries; that's where we get all of ours- -- stolen from libraries here on Earth and shot by autorocket to Mars. You're out at night bumbling across the open space, and all of a sudden you see a flare, and there's a rocket, cracked open, with old pre-colonial fiction magazines spilling out everywhere. A fortune. But of course you read them before you sell them." She warmed to her topic. "Of all --"
A knock sounded on the hall door.
Ashen, Pris whispered, "I can't go. Don't make any noise; just sit." She strained, listening. "I wonder if the door's locked," she said almost inaudibly. "God, I hope so." Her eyes, wild and powerful, fixed themselves beseechingly on him, as if praying to him to make it true.
A far-off voice from the hall called, "Pris, are you in there?" A man's voice. "It's Roy and Irmgard. We got your card."
Rising and going into the bedroom, Pris reappeared carrying a pen and scrap of paper; she reseated herself, xcratched out a hasty message.
YOU GO TO THE DOOR.
Isidore, nervously, took the pen from her and wrote:
AND SAY WHAT?
With anger, Pris scratched out:
SEE IF IT'S REALLY THEM.
Getting up, he walked glumly into the living room. How would I know if it was them? he inquired of himself. He opened the door.
Two people stood in the dim hall, a small woman, lovely in the manner of Greta Garbo, with blue eyes and yellow-blond hair; the man larger, with intelligent eyes but flat, Mongolian features which gave him a brutal look. The woman wore a fashionable wrap, high shiny boots, and tapered pants; the man lounged in a rumpled shirt and stained trousers, giving an air of almost deliberate vulgarity. He smiled at Isidore but his bright, small eyes remained oblique.
"We're looking --" the small blond woman began,
but then she saw past Isidore; her face dissolved in
rapture and she whisked past him, calling. "Pris! How
are you?" Isidore turned. The two women were embracing. He stepped aside, and Roy Baty entered, somber and large, smiling his crooked, tuneless smile.