DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP
In the early morning light the land below him extended seemingly forever, gray and refuse-littered. Pebbles the size of houses had rolled to a stop next to one another and he thought, It's like a shipping room when all the merchandise has left. Only fragments of crates remain, the containers which signify nothing in themselves. Once, he thought, crops grew here and animals grazed. What a remarkable thought, that anything could have cropped grass here.
What a strange place he thought for all of that to die.
He brought the hovercar down, coasted above the surface for a time. What would Dave Holden say about me now? he asked himself. In one sense I'm now the greatest bounty hunter who ever lived; no one ever retired six Nexus-6 types in one twenty-four-hour span and no one probably ever will again. I ought to call him, he said to himself.
A cluttered hillside swooped up at him; be lifted the hovercar as the world came close. Fatigue, he thought; I shouldn't be driving still. He clicked off the ignition, glided for an interval, and then set the bovercar down. It tumbled and bounced across the hillside, scattering rocks; headed upward, it came at last to a grinding, skittering stop.
Picking up the receiver of the car's phone he dialed the operator at San Francisco. "Give me Mount Zion Hospital," he told her.
Presently he had another operator on the vidscreen. "Mount Zion Hospital."
"You have a patient named Dave Holden," he said. "Would it be possible to talk to him? Is he well enough?"
"Just a moment and I'll check on that, sir." The screen temporarily blanked out. Time passed. Rick took a pinch of Dr. Johnson Snuff and shivered; without the car's heater the temperature had begun to plunge. "Dr. Costa says that Mr. Holden is not receiving calls," the operator told him, reappearing.
"This is police business," be said; be held his flat pack of ID up to the screen.
"Just a moment." Again the operator vanished. Again Rick inhaled a pinch of Dr. Johnson Snuff; the menthol in it tasted foul, so early in the morning. He rolled down the car window and tossed the little yellow tin out into the rubble. "No, sir," the operator said, once more on his screen. "Dr. Costa does not feel Mr. Holden's condition will permit him to take any calls, no matter how urgent, for at least --"
"Okay," Rick said. He hung up.
The air, too, had a foul quality; be rolled up the window again. Dave is really out, he reflected. I wonder why they didn't get me. Because I moved too fast, he decided. All in one day; they couldn't have expected it. Harry Bryant was right.
The car had become too cold, now, so be opened the door and stepped out. A noxious, unexpected wind filtered through his clothes and he began to walk, rubbing his hands together.
It would have been rewarding to talk to Dave, be decided. Dave would have approved what I did. But also be would have understood the other part, which I don't think even Mercer comprehends. For Mercer everything is easy, be thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self.
He walked on, up the hillside, and with each step the weight on him grew. Too tired, he thought, to climb. Stopping, be wiped stinging sweat from his eyes, salt tears produced by his skin, his whole aching body. Then, angry at himself, he spat -- spat with wrath and contempt, for himself, with utter hate, onto the barren ground. Thereupon he resumed his trudge up the slope, the lonely and unfamiliar terrain, remote from everything; nothing lived here except himself.
The heat. It had become hot, now; evidently time had passed. And he felt hunger. He had not eaten for god knew how long. The hunger and heat combined, a poisonous taste resembling defeat; yes, he thought, that's what it is: I've been defeated in some obscure way. By having killed the androids? By Rachael's murder of my goat? He did not know, but as he plodded along a vague and almost hallucinatory pall hazed over his mind; he found himself at one point, with no notion of how it could be, a step from an almost certainly fatal cliffside fall -- falling humiliatingly and helplessly, he thought; on and on, with no one even to witness it. Here there existed no one to record his or anyone else's degradation, and any courage or pride which might manifest itself here at the end would go unmarked: the dead stones, the dust-stricken weeds dry and dying, perceived nothing, recollected nothing, about him or themselves.
At that moment the first rock -- and it was not rubber or soft foam plastic -- struck him in the inguinal region. And the pain, the first knowledge of absolute isolation and suffering, touched him throughout in its undisguised actual form.
He halted. And then, goaded on -- the goad invisible but real, not to be challenged -- he resumed his climb. Rolling upward, he thought, like the stones; I am doing what stones do, without volition. Without it meaning anything.
"Mercer," he said, panting; he stopped, stood still. In front of him he distinguished a shadowy figure, motionless. "Wilbur Mercer! Is that you? My god, he realized; it's my shadow. I have to get out of here, down off this hill!
He scrambled back down. Once, he fell; clouds of dust obscured everything, and he ran from the dust -- he hurried faster, sliding and tumbling on the loose pebbles. Ahead be saw his parked car. I'm back down, he said to himself. I'm off the hill. He plucked open the car door, squeezed inside. Who threw the stone at me? he asked himself. No one. But why does it bother me? I've undergone it before, during fusion. While using my empathy box, like everyone else. This isn't new. But it was. Because, he thought, I did it alone.
Trembling, he got a fresh new tin of snuff from the glove compartment of the car; pulling off the protective band of tape he took a massive pinch, rested, sitting half in the car and half out, his feet on the arid, dusty soil. This was the last place to go to, he realized. I shouldn't have flown here. And now be found himself too tired to fly back out.
If I could just talk to Dave, he thought, I'd be all right; I could get away from here, go home and go to bed. I still have my electric sheep and I still have my job. There'll be more andys to retire; my career isn't over; I haven't retired the last andy in existence. Maybe that's what it is, he thought. I'm afraid there aren't any more.
He looked at his watch. Nine-thirty.
Picking up the vidphone receiver he dialed the Hall of Justice on Lombard. "Let me speak to Inspector Bryant," he said to the police switchboard operator Miss Wild.
"Inspector Bryant is not in his office, Mr. Deckard; he's out in his car, but I don't get any answer. He must have temporarily left his car."
"Did he say where he intended to go?"
"Something about the androids you retired last night."
"Let me talk to my secretary," he said.
A moment later the orange, triangular face of Ann Marsten appeared on the screen. "Oh, Mr. Deckard -- Inspector Bryant has been trying to get hold of you. I think he's turning your name over to Chief Cutter for a citation. Because you retired those six --"
"I know what I did," he said.
"That's never happened before. Oh, and Mr. Deckard; your wife phoned. She wants to know if you're all right. Are you all right?"
He said nothing.
"Anyhow," Miss Marsten said, "maybe you should call her and tell her. She left word she'll be home, waiting to hear from you."
"Did you hear about my goat?" he said.
"No, I didn't even know you had a goat."
Rick said, "They took my goat."
"Who did, Mr. Deckard? Animal thieves? We just got a report on a huge new gang of them, probably teenagers, operating in --"
"Life thieves," he said.
"I don't understand you, Mr. Deckard." Miss Marsten peered at him intently. "Mr. Deckard, you look awful. So tired. And god, your cheek is bleeding."
Putting his hand up he felt the blood. From a rock, probably. More than one, evidently, had struck him.
"You look," Miss Marsten said, "like Wilbur Mercer."
"I am," he said. "I'm Wilbur Mercer; I've permanently fused with him. And I can't unfuse. I'm sitting here waiting to unfuse. Somewhere near the Oregon border."
"Shall we send someone out? A department car to pick you up?"
"No," he said. "I'm no longer with the department."
"Obviously you did too much yesterday, Mr. Deckard," she said chidingly. "What you need now is bed rest. Mr. Deckard, you're our best bounty hunter, the best we've ever had. I'll tell Inspector Bryant when he comes in; you go on home and go to bed. Call your wife right away, Mr. Deckard, because she's terribly, terribly worried. I could tell. You're both in dreadful shape."
"It's because of my goat," he said. "Not the androids; Rachael was wrong -- I didn't have any trouble retiring them. And the special was wrong, too, about my not being able to fuse with Mercer again. The only one who was right is Mercer."
"You better get back here to the Bay Area, Mr. Deckard. Where there're people. There isn't anything living up there near Oregon; isn't that right? Aren't you alone?"
"It's strange," Rick said. "I had the absolute, utter, completely real illusion that I had become Mercer and people were lobbing rocks at me. But not the way you experience it when you hold the handles of an empathy box. When you use an empathy box you feel you're with Mercer. The difference is I wasn't with anyone; I was alone."
"They're saying now that Mercer is a fake."
"Mercer isn't a fake," he said. "Unless reality is a fake." This hill, he thought. This dust and these many stones, each one different from all the others. "I'm afraid," he said, "that I can't stop being Mercer. Once you start it's too late to back off." Will I have to climb the hill again? he wondered. Forever, as Mercer does trapped by eternity. "Good-by," he said, and started to ring off.
"You'll call your wife? You promise?"
"Yes." He nodded. "Thanks, Ann." He hung up. Bed rest, he thought. The last time I hit bed was with Rachael. A violation of a statute. Copulation with an android; absolutely against the law, here and on the colony worlds as well. She must be back in Seattle now. With the other Rosens, real and humanoid. I wish I could do to you what you did to me, he wished. But it can't be done to an android because they don't care. If I had killed you last night my goat would be alive now. There's where I made the wrong decision. Yes, he thought; it can all be traced back to that and to my going to bed with you. Anyhow you were correct about one thing; it did change me. But not in the way you predicted.
A much worse way, he decided.
And yet I don't really care. Not any longer. Not, he thought, after what happened to me up there, toward the top of the hill. I wonder what would have come next, if I had gone on climbing and reached the top. Because that's where Mercer appears to die. That's where Mercer's triumph manifests itself, there at the end of the great sidereal cycle.
But if I'm Mercer, he thought, I can never die, not in ten thousand years. Mercer is immortal.
Once more he picked up the phone receiver, to call his wife.