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Tema: Philip Kindred Dick ~ Filip Kindred Dik  (Pročitano 63218 puta)
Capo di tutti capi

Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s

   Next day both Norm Schein and Tod Morris spent the early hours with him, teaching him the knack of operating the bulldozers and dredges and scoops which had fallen into various stages of ruin; most of the equipment, like old tomcats, could be coaxed into one more effort. But the results did not amount to much; they had been discarded for too long.
   By noon he was exhausted. So he treated himself to a break, resting in the shade of a mammoth, rusty tractor, eating a cold-rations lunch and drinking tepid tea from a thermos which Fran Schein had been kind enough to bring up to him.
   Below, in the hovel, the others did whatever it was they customarily did; he didn’t care.
   On all sides of him their abandoned, decaying gardens could be seen and he wondered if soon he would forget his, too. Maybe each new colonist had started out this way, in an agony of effort. And then the torpor, the hopelessness, claimed them. And yet, was it so hopeless? Not really.
   It’s an attitude, he decided. And we—all of us who comprised P. P. Layouts—contributed willingly to it. We gave them an out, something painless and easy. And now Palmer Eldritch has arrived to put the finish on the process. We laid the path for him, myself included, and so what now? Is there any way that I can, as Faine put it, atone?
   Approaching him, Helen Morris called cheerfully, “How’s the farming coming?” She dropped down beside him and opened a fat seed catalog with the UN stamp plainly marked throughout. “Observe what they’ll provide free; every seed known to thrive here, including turnips.” Resting against him, she turned the pages. “However, there’s a little mouselike burrowing mammal that shows up on the surface late at night; be prepared for that. It eats everything. You’ll have to set out a few self-propelling traps.”
   “Okay,” Barney said.
   “It’s quite some sight, one of those homeostatic traps taking off across the sand in pursuit of a marsle-mouse. God, they go fast. Both the mouse and the trap. You can make it more interesting by placing a bet. I usually bet on the trap. I admire them.”
   “I think I’d probably bet on the trap, too.” I’ve got a great respect for traps, he reflected. In other words a situation in which none of the doors lead out. No matter how they happen to be marked.
   Helen said, “Also the UN will supply two robots free of charge for your use. For a period not to exceed six months. So better plan ahead wisely as to how you want to employ them. The best is to set them to work constructing irrigation ditches. Ours is mostly no good now. Sometimes the ditches have to run two hundred miles, even more. Or you can hatch out a deal—”
   “No deals,” Barney said.
   “But these are good deals; find someone nearby in one of the other hovels who’s started his own irrigation system and then abandoned it: buy it from him and tap it. Is your girl at Flax Back Spit going to come over here and join you?” She eyed him.
   He did not answer; he watched, in the black Martian sky with its noontime stars, a circling ship. The Chew-Z man? The time, then, had come for him to poison himself so that an economic monopoly could be kept alive, a sprawling, interplan empire from which he now derived nothing.
   Amazing, he thought, how strong the self-destructive drive can be.
   Helen Morris, straining to see, said, “Visitors! It’s not a UN ship, either.” She started toward the hovel at once. “I’ll go tell them.”
   With his left hand he reached into his coat and touched the tube deep in the interior pocket, thinking to himself, Can I actually do this? It didn’t seem possible; there was nothing in his makeup historically which would explain it. Maybe, he thought, it’s from despair at having lost everything. But he didn’t think so; it was something else.
   As the ship landed on the flat desert not far off he thought, Maybe it’s to reveal something to Anne about Chew-Z. Even if the demonstration is faked. Because, he thought, if I accept the toxin into my system she won’t try Chew-Z. He had a strong intuition of that. And it was enough.
   From the ship stepped Palmer Eldritch.
   No one could fail to identify him; since his crash on Pluto the homeopapes had printed one pic after another. Of course the pics were ten years out of date, but this was still the man. Gray and bony, well over six feet tall, with swinging arms and a peculiarly rapid gait. And his face. It had a ravaged quality, eaten away; as if, Barney conjectured, the fat-layer had been consumed, as if Eldritch at some time or other had fed off himself, devoured perhaps with gusto the superfluous portions of his own body. He had enormous steel teeth, these having been installed prior to his trip to Prox by Czech dental surgeons; they were welded to his jaws, were permanent: he would die with them. And—his right arm was artificial. Twenty years ago in a hunting accident on Callisto he had lost the original; this one of course was superior in that it provided a specialized variety of interchangeable hands. At the moment Eldritch made use of the five-finger humanoid manual extremity; except for its metallic shine it might have been organic.
   And he was blind. At least from the standpoint of the natural-born body. But replacements had been made – at the prices which Eldritch could and would pay; that had been done just prior to his Prox voyage by Brazilian oculists. They had done a superb job. The replacements, fitted into the bone sockets, had no pupils, nor did any ball move by muscular action. Instead a panoramic vision was supplied by a wide-angle lens, a permanent horizontal slot running from edge to edge. The accident to his original eyes had been no accident; it had occurred in Chicago, a deliberate acid-throwing attack by persons unknown, for equally unknown reasons… at least as far as the public was concerned. Eldritch probably knew. He had, however, said nothing, filed no complaint; instead he had gone straight to his team of Brazilian oculists. His horizontally slotted artificial eyes seemed to please him; almost at once he had appeared at the dedication ceremonies of the new St. George opera house in Utah, and had mixed with his near-peers without embarrassment. Even now, a decade later, the operation was rare and it was the first time Barney had ever seen the Jensen wide-angle, luxvid eyes; this, and the artificial arm with its enormously variable manual repertory, impressed him more than he would have expected… or was there something else about Eldritch?
   “Mr. Mayerson,” Palmer Eldritch said, and smiled; the steel teeth glinted in the weak, cold Martian sunlight. He extended his hand and automatically Barney did the same.
   Your voice, Barney thought. It originates somewhere other than—he blinked. The entire figure was insubstantial; dimly, through it, the landscape showed. It was a figment of some sort, artificially produced, and the irony came to him: so much of the man was artificial already, and now even the flesh and blood portions were, too. Is this what arrived home from Prox? Barney wondered. If so, Hepburn-Gilbert has been deceived; this is no human being. In no sense whatsoever.
   “I’m still in the ship,” Palmer Eldritch said; his voice boomed from a loudspeaker mounted on the ship’s hull. “A precaution, in as much as you’re an employee of Leo Bulero.” The figment-hand touched Barney’s; he experienced a pervasive coldness slop over to him, obviously a purely psychological aversion-reaction since nothing was there to produce the sensation.
   “An ex-employee,” Barney said.
   Behind him, now, the others of the hovel emerged, the Scheins and Morrises and Regans; they approached like wary children as one by one they identified the nebulous man confronting Barney.
   “What’s going on?” Norm Schein said uneasily. “This is a simulacrum; I don’t like it.” Standing beside Barney he said, “We’re living on the desert, Mayerson; we get mirages all the time, ships and visitors and unnatural life forms. That’s what this is; this guy isn’t really here and neither is that ship parked there.”
   Tod Morris added, “They’re probably six hundred miles away; it’s an optical phenomenon. You get used to it.”
   “But you can hear me,” Palmer Eldritch pointed out; the speaker boomed and echoed. “I’m here, all right, to do business with you. Who’s your hovel team-captain?”
   “I am,” Norm Schein said.
   “My card.” Eldritch held out a small white card and reflexively Norm Schein reached for it. The card fluttered through his fingers and came to rest on the sand. At that Eldritch smiled. It was a cold, hollow smile, an implosion, as if it had drawn back into the man everything nearby, even the thin air itself. “Look down at it,” Eldritch suggested. Norm Schein bent, and studied the card. “That’s right,” Eldritch said. “I’m here to sign a contract with your group. To deliver to you—”
   “Spare us the speech about your delivering what God only promises,” Norm Schein said. “Just tell us the price.”
   “About one-tenth that of the competitor’s product. And much more effective; you don’t even require a layout.” Eldritch seemed to be talking directly to Barney; his gaze, however, could not be plotted because of the structure of the lens apertures. “Are you enjoying it here on Mars, Mr. Mayerson?”
   “It’s great fun,” Barney said.
   Eldritch said, “Last night when Allen Faine descended from his dull little satellite to meet with you… what did you discuss?”
   Rigidly, Barney said, “Business.” He thought quickly, but not quite quickly enough; the next question was already blaring from the speaker.
   “So you do still work for Leo. In fact it was deliberately arranged to send you here to Mars in advance of our first distribution of Chew-Z. Why? Have you some idea of blocking it? There was no propaganda in your luggage, no leaflets or other printed matter beyond ordinary books. A rumor, perhaps. Word of mouth. Chew-Z is—what, Mr. Mayerson? Dangerous to the habitual user?”
   “I don’t know. I’m waiting to try some of it. And see.”
   “We’re all waiting,” Fran Schein said; she carried in her arms a load of truffle skins, clearly for immediate payment. “Can you make a delivery right now, or do we have to keep on waiting?”
   “I can deliver your first allocation,” Eldritch said.
   A port of the ship snapped open. From it popped a small jet-tractor; it sped toward them. A yard away it halted and ejected a carton wrapped in familiar plain brown paper; the carton lay at their feet and then at last Norm Schein bent and picked it up. It was not a phantasm. Cautiously Norm tore the wrappings off.
   “Chew-Z,” Mary Regan said breathlessly. “Oh, what a lot! How much, Mr. Eldritch?”
   “In toto,” Eldritch said, “five skins.” The tractor extended a small drawer, then, precisely the size to receive the skins.
   After an interval of haggling the hovelists came to an arrangement; the five skins were deposited in the drawer—at once it was withdrawn and the tractor swiveled and zipped back to the mother ship. Palmer Eldritch, insubstantial and gray and large, remained. He appeared to be enjoying himself, Barney decided. It did not bother him to know that Leo Bulero had something up his sleeve; Eldritch thrived on this.
   The realization depressed him and he walked, alone, to the meager cleared place which was eventually to be his garden. His back to the hovelists and Eldritch, he activated an autonomic unit; it began to wheeze and hum; sand disappeared into it as it sucked noisily, having difficulty. He wondered how long it would continue functioning. And what one did here on Mars to obtain repairs. Perhaps one gave up; maybe there were no repairs.
   From behind Barney, Palmer Eldritch’s voice came. “Now, Mr. Mayerson, you can begin to chew away for the rest of your life.”
   He turned, involuntarily, because this was not a phantasm; the man had finally come forth. “That’s right,” he said. “And nothing could delight me more.” He continued, then, tinkering with the autonomic scoop. “Where do you go to get equipment fixed on Mars?” he asked Eldritch. “Does the UN take care of that?”
   Eldritch said, “How would I know?”
   A portion of the autonomic scoop broke loose in Barney’s hands; he held it, weighed it. The piece, shaped like a tire iron, was heavy and he thought, I could kill him with this. Right here, in this spot. Wouldn’t that solve it? No toxin to produce grand mal seizures, no litigation… but there’d be retaliation from them. I’d outlive Eldritch by only a few hours.
   But—isn’t it still worth it?
   He turned. And then it happened so swiftly that he had no valid concept of it, not even an accurate perception. From the parked ship a laser beam reached forth and he felt the intense impact as it touched the metal section in his hands. At the same time Palmer Eldritch danced back, lithely, bounding upward in the slight Martian gravity; like a balloon—Barney stared but did not believe—he floated off, grinning with his huge steel teeth, waggling his artificial arm, his lank body slowly rotating. Then, as if reeled in by a transparent line, he progressed in a jerky sine-wave motion toward the ship. All at once he was gone. The nose of the ship clamped shut after him; Eldritch was inside. Safe.
   “Why’d he do that?” Norm Schein said, eaten with curiosity, where he and the other hovelists stood. “What in God’s name went on, there?”
   Barney said nothing; shakily he set the remains of the metal piece down. They were ashlike remnants only, brittle and dry; they crumbled away as they touched the ground.
   “They got into a hassle,” Tod Morris said. “Mayerson and Eldritch; they didn’t hit it off, not one bit.”
   “Anyhow,” Norm said, “we got the Chew-Z. Mayerson, you better stay away from Eldritch in the future; let me handle the transaction. If I had known that because you were an employee of Leo Bulero—”
   “Former,” Barney said reflexively, and resumed his tinkering with the defective autonomic scoop. He had failed in his first try at killing Palmer Eldritch. Would he ever have a chance again?
   Had he really had a chance just now?
   The answer to both, he decided, was no.

   Late that afternoon the hovelists of Chicken Pox Prospects gathered to chew. The mood was one of tension and solemnity; scarcely anything was said as the bindles of Chew-Z, one by one, were unwrapped and passed around.
   “Ugh,” Fran Schein said, making a face. “It tastes awful.”
   “Taste, schmnaste,” Norm said impatiently. He chewed, then. “Like a decayed mushroom; you sure are right.” Stoically, he swallowed, and continued chewing. “Gak,” he said, and retched.
   “To be doing this without a layout—” Helen Morris said. “Where will we go, just anywhere? I’m scared,” she said all at once. “Will we be together? Are you positive of that, Norm?”
   “Who cares,” Sam Regan said, chewing.
   “Watch me,” Barney Mayerson said.
   They glanced at him with curiosity; something in his tone made them do as he said.
   “I put the Chew-Z in my mouth,” Barney said, and did so. “You see me doing it. Right?” He chewed. “Now I’m chewing it.” His heart labored. God, he thought. Can I go through with this?
   “Yeah, we see you,” Tod Morris agreed, nodding. “So what? I mean, are you going to blow up or float off like Eldritch or something?” He, too, began on his bindle, then. They were all chewing, all seven of them, Barney realized. He shut his eyes.
   The next he knew, his wife was bending over him.
   “I said,” she said, “do you want a second Manhattan or not? Because if you do I have to request the refrig for more cracked ice.”
   “Emily,” he said.
   “Yes, dear,” she said tartly. “Whenever you say my name like that I know you’re about to launch in on one of your lectures. What is it this time?” She seated herself on the arm of the couch opposite him, smoothing her skirt; it was the striking blue-and-white hand-printed Mexican wraparound that he had gotten her at Christmas. “I’m ready,” she said.
   “No—lecture,” he said. Am I really that way? he asked himself. Always delivering tirades? Groggily, he rose to his feet; he felt dizzy and he steadied himself by holding onto the nearby pole lamp.
   Eying him, Emily said, “You’re blammed.”
   Blammed. He hadn’t heard that term since college; it was long out of style, and naturally Emily still used it. “The word,” he said as distinctly as possible, “is now fnugled. Can you remember that? Fnugled.” He walked unsteadily to the sideboard in the kitchen where the liquor was.
   “Fnugled,” Emily said and sighed. She looked sad; he noticed that and wondered why. “Barney,” she said, then, “don’t drink so much, okay? Call it blammed or fnugled or anything you want, it’s still the same. I guess it’s my fault; you drink so much because I’m so inadequate.” She wiped briefly with her knuckle at her right eye, an annoying, familiar, ticlike motion.
   “It’s not that you’re so inadequate,” he said. “It’s just that I have high standards.” I was taught to expect a lot from others, he said to himself. To expect they’d be as reputable and stable as I am, and not sloppily emotional all the time, not in control of themselves.
   But an artist, he realized. Or rather so-called artist. Bohemian. That’s closer to it. The artistic life without the talent. He began fixing himself a fresh drink, this one bourbon and water, without ice; he poured directly from the bottle of Old Crow, ignoring the shot glass.
   “When you pour that way,” Emily said, “I know you’re angry and we’re in for it. And I just hate it.”
   “So then leave,” he said.
   “Goddamn you,” Emily said. “I don’t want to leave! Couldn’t you just—” She gestured with hopeless futility. “Be a little nicer, more charitable or something? Learn to overlook…” Her voice sank; almost inaudibly she said, “My shortcomings.”
   “But,” he said, “they can’t be overlooked. I’d like to. You think I want to live with someone who can’t finish anything they start or accomplish anything socially? For instance when—aw, the hell with it.” What was the use? Emily couldn’t be reformed; she was purely and simply a slob. Her idea of a well-spent day was to wallow and putter and fool with a mess of greasy, excretion-like paints or bury her arms for hours on end in a great crock of wet gray clay. And meanwhile—.
   Time was escaping from them. And all the world, including all of Mr. Bulero’s employees, especially his Pre-Fash consultants, grew and augmented themselves, bloomed into maturity. I’ll never be the New York Pre-Fash consultant, he said to himself. I’ll always be stuck here in Detroit where nothing, absolutely nothing new originates.
   If he could snare the position of New York Pre-Fash consultant—my life would mean something, he realized. I’d be happy because I’d be doing a job that made full use of my ability. What the hell else would I need? Nothing else; that’s all I ask.
   “I’m going out,” he said to Emily and set down his glass; going to the closet, he got his coat.
   “Will you be back before I go to bed?” Mournfully, she followed him to the door of the conapt, here in building 11139584—counting outward from downtown New York—where they had lived two years, now.
   “We’ll see,” he said, and opened the door.
   In the hallway stood a figure, a tall gray man with bulging steel teeth, dead pupiless eyes, and a gleaming artificial hand extended from his right sleeve. The man said, “Hello, Mayerson.” He smiled; the steel teeth shone.
   “Palmer Eldritch,” Barney said. He turned to Emily. “You’ve seen his pics in the homeopapes; he’s that incredibly famous big industrialist.” Naturally he had recognized Eldritch, and at once. “Did you want to see me?” he asked hesitantly; it all had a mysterious quality to it, as if it had all somehow happened before but in another way.
   “Let me talk to your husband a moment,” Eldritch said to Emily in a peculiarly gentle voice; he motioned and Barney stepped out into the hail. The door shut behind him; Emily had closed it obediently. Now Eldritch seemed grim; no longer gentle or smiling he said, “Mayerson, you’re using your time badly. You’re doing nothing but repeating the past. What’s the use of my selling you Chew-Z? You’re perverse; I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll give you ten more minutes and then I’m bringing you back to Chicken Pox Prospects where you belong. So you better figure out very damn fast what you want and if you understand anything finally.”
   “What the hell,” Barney said, “is Chew-Z?”
   The artificial hand lifted; with enormous force Palmer Eldritch shoved him and he toppled.
   “Hey,” Barney said weakly, trying to fight back, to nullify the pressure of the man’s immense strength. “What—”
   And then he was flat on his back. His head rang, ached; with difficulty he managed to open his eyes and focus on the room around him. He was waking up; he had on, he discovered, his pajamas, but they were unfamiliar: he had never seen them before. Was he in someone else’s conapt, wearing their clothes? Some other man…
   In panic he examined the bed, the covers. Beside him—
   He saw an unfamiliar girl who slept on, breathing lightly through her mouth, her hair a tumble of cottonlike white, shoulders bare and smooth.
   “I’m late,” he said, and his voice came out distorted and husky, almost unrecognizable.
   “No you’re not,” the girl murmured, eyes still shut. “Relax. We can get in to work from here in—” She yawned and opened her eyes. “Fifteen minutes.” She smiled at him; his discomfort amused her. “You always say that, every morning. Go see about coffee. I’ve got to have coffee.”
   “Sure,” he said, and scrambled out of bed.
   “Mr. Rabbit,” the girl said mockingly. “You’re so scared. Scared about me, about your job—and always running.”
   “My God,” he said. “I’ve turned my back on everything.”
   “What everything?”
   “Emily.” He stared at the girl, Roni Something-or-other, at her bedroom. “Now I’ve got nothing,” he said.
   “Oh fine,” Roni said with embittered sarcasm. “Now maybe I can say some nice things to you, to make you feel good.”
   He said, “And I did it just now. Not years ago. Just before Palmer Eldritch came in.”
   “How could Palmer Eldritch ‘come in’? He’s in a hospital bed out in the Jupiter or Saturn area; the UN took him there after they pried him from the wreck of his ship.” Her tone was scornful, and yet there was a note of curiosity in it.
   “Palmer Eldritch appeared to me just now,” he said, doggedly. He thought, I have to get back to Emily. Sliding, stooping, he grabbed up his clothes, stumbled with them to the bathroom, and slammed the door behind him. Rapidly he shaved, changed, emerged, and said to the girl, who still lay in bed, “I have to go. Don’t be sore at me; I have to do it.”
   A moment later, without having had breakfast, he was descending to the ground-level floor and after that he stood under the antithermal shield, searching up and down for a cab.
   The cab, a fine, shiny new model, whipped him in almost no time to Emily’s conapt building; in a blur he paid it, hurried inside, and in a matter of seconds was ascending. It seemed as if no time had passed, as if time had ceased and everything waited, frozen, for him; he was in a world of fixed objects, the sole moving thing.
   At her door he rang the buzzer.
   The door opened and a man stood there. “Yes?” The man was dark, reasonably good-looking, with heavy eyebrows and carefully combed, somewhat curly hair; he held the morning ‘pape in one hand—behind him Barney saw a table of breakfast dishes.
   Barney said, “You’re—Richard Hnatt.”
   “Yes.” Puzzled, he regarded Barney intently. “Do I know you?”
   Emily appeared, wearing a gray turtle-neck sweater and stained jeans. “Good heavens. It’s Barney,” she said to Hnatt. “My former. Come in.” She held the door wide open for him and he entered the apt. She seemed pleased to see him.
   “Glad to meet you,” Hnatt said in a neutral tone, starting to extend his hand and then changing his mind. “Coffee?”
   “Thanks.” Barney seated himself at the breakfast table at an unset place. “Listen,” he said to Emily; he couldn’t wait: it had to be said now even with Hnatt present. “I made a mistake in divorcing you. I’d like to remarry you. Go back on the old basis.”
   Emily, in a way which he remembered, laughed with delight; she was overcome and she went off to get him a cup and saucer, unable to answer. He wondered if she would ever answer; it was easier for her—it appealed to the lazy slob in her—just to laugh. Christ, he thought and stared straight ahead, fixedly.
   Across from him Hnatt seated himself and said, “We’re married. Did you suppose we were just living together?” His face was dark but he seemed in control of himself.
   Barney said, speaking to Emily and not to Hnatt, “Marriages can be broken. Will you remarry me?” He rose and took a few hesitant steps in her direction; at that moment she turned and, calmly, handed him his cup and saucer.
   “Oh no,” she said, still smiling; her eyes poured over with light, that of compassion. She understood how he felt, that this was not an impulse only. But the answer was still no, and, he knew, it would always be; her mind was not even made up—there was, to her, simply no reality to which he was referring. He thought, I cut her down, once, cut her off, lopped her, with thorough knowledge of what I was doing, and this is the result; I am seeing the bread as they say which was cast on the water drifting back to choke me, water-soaked bread that will lodge in my throat, never to be swallowed or disgorged, either one. It’s precisely what I deserve, he said to himself; I made this situation.
   Returning to the kitchen table he numbly seated himself, sat as she filled his cup; he stared at her hands. Once these were my wife’s, he said to himself. And I gave it up. Self-destruction; I wanted to see myself die. That’s the only possible satisfactory explanation. Or was I that stupid? No; stupidity wouldn’t encompass such an enormity, so complete a willful—
   Emily said, “How are things, Barney?”
   “Oh hell, just plain great.” His voice shook.
   “I hear you’re living with a very pretty little redhead,” Emily said. She seated herself at her own place, and resumed her meal.
   “That’s over,” Barney said. “Forgotten.”
   “Who, then?” Her tone was conversational. Passing the time of day with me as if I were an old pal or perhaps a neighbor from another apt in this building, he thought. Madness! How can she—can she—feel like this? Impossible. It’s an act, burying something deeper.
   Aloud he said, “You’re afraid that if you get mixed up with me again I’ll—toss you out again. Once burned, twice warned. But I won’t; I’ll never do anything like that again.”
   In her placid, conversational voice Emily said, “I’m sorry you feel so bad, Barney. Aren’t you seeing an analyst? Somebody said they saw you carrying a psychiatric suitcase around with you.”
   “Dr. Smile,” he said, remembering. Probably he had left him at Roni Fugate’s apt. “I need help,” he said to Emily. “Isn’t there any way—” He broke off. Can’t the past be altered? he asked himself. Evidently not. Cause and effect work in only one direction, and change is real. So what’s gone is gone and I might as well get out of here. He rose to his feet. “I must be out of my mind,” he said to both her and Richard Hnatt. “I’m sorry; I’m only half awake—this morning I’m disoriented. It started when I woke up.”
   “Drink your coffee, why don’t you?” Hnatt suggested. “How about some bear’s claw to go with it?” The darkness had left his face; he, like Emily, was now tranquil, uninvolved.
   Barney said, “I don’t understand it. Palmer Eldritch said to come here.” Or had he? Something like that; he was certain of it. “This was supposed to work out, I thought,” he said, helplessly.
   Hnatt and Emily glanced at each other.
   “Eldritch is in a hospital somewhere—” Emily began.
   “Something’s gone wrong,” Barney said. “Eldritch must have lost control. I better find him; he can explain it to me.” And he felt panic, mercury-swift, fluid, pervasive panic; it filled him to his fingertips. “Goodbye,” he managed to say, and started toward the door, groping for escape.
   From behind him Richard Hnatt said, “Wait.”
   Barney turned. At the breakfast table Emily sat with a fixed, faint smile on her face, sipping her coffee, and across from her Hnatt sat facing Barney. Hnatt had one artificial hand, with which he held his fork, and when he lifted a bite of egg to his mouth Barney saw huge, jutting stainless steel teeth. And Hnatt was gray, hollowed out, with dead eyes, and much larger than before; he seemed to fill the room with his presence. But it was still Hnatt. I don’t get it, Barney said, and stood at the door, not leaving the apt and not returning; he did as Hnatt suggested: he waited. Isn’t this something like Palmer Eldritch? he asked himself. In pics… he has an artificial limb and steel teeth and Jensen eyes, but this was not Eldritch.
   “It’s only fair to tell you,” Hnatt said matter-of-factly, “that Emily is a lot fonder of you than what she says suggests. I know because she’s told me. Many times.” He glanced at Emily, then. “You’re a duty type. You feel it’s the moral thing to do at this point, to suppress your emotions toward Barney; it’s what you’ve been doing all along anyhow. But forget your duty. You can’t build a marriage on it; there has to be spontaneity there. Even if you feel it’s wrong to—” He made a gesture. “Well, let’s say deny me… still, you should face your feelings honestly and not cover them with a self-sacrificing façade. That’s what you did with Barney here; you let him kick you out because you thought it was your duty not to interfere with his career.” He added, “You’re still behaving that way and it’s still a mistake. Be true to yourself.” And, all at once, he grinned at Barney, grinned—and one dead eye flicked off, as if in a mechanical wink.
   It was Palmer Eldritch now. Completely.
   Emily, however, did not appear to notice; her smile had faded and she looked confused, upset, and increasingly furious. “You make me so damn angry,” she said to her husband. “I said how I feel and I’m not a hypocrite. And I don’t like to be accused of being one.”
   Across from her the seated man said, “You have only one life. If you want to live it with Barney instead of me—”
   “I don’t.” She glared at him.
   “I’m going,” Barney said; he opened the hall door. It was hopeless.
   “Wait.” Palmer Eldritch rose, and sauntered after him. “I’ll walk downstairs with you.”
   Together the two of them trudged down the hall toward the steps.
   “Don’t give up,” Eldritch said. “Remember: this is only the initial time you’ve made use of Chew-Z; you’ll have other times later. You can keep chipping away until eventually you get it.”
   Barney said, “What the hell is Chew-Z?”

   From close beside him a girl’s voice was repeating, “Barney Mayerson. Come on.” He was being shaken; he blinked, squinted. Kneeling, her hand on his shoulder, was Anne Hawthorne. “What was it like? I stopped by and I couldn’t find anyone around; then I ran across all of you here in a circle, completely passed out. What if I had been a UN official?”
   “You woke me,” he said to Anne, realizing what she had done; he felt massive, resentful disappointment. However, the translation for the time being was over and that was that. But he experienced the craving within him, the yearning. To do it again, and as soon as possible. Everything else was unimportant, even the girl beside him and his inert very quiet fellow-hovelists slumped here and there.
   “It was that good?” Anne said perceptively. She touched her coat. “He visited our hovel, too; I bought. That man with the strange teeth and eyes, that gray, big man.”
   “Eldritch. Or a simulacrum of him.” His joints ached, as if he had been sitting doubled up for hours, and yet, examining his watch, he saw that only a few seconds, a minute at the most, had passed. “Eldritch is everywhere,” he said to Anne. “Give me your Chew-Z,” he said to her.
   He shrugged, concealing his disappointment, the acute, physical impact of deprivation. Well, Palmer Eldritch would be returning; he surely knew the effects of his product. Possibly even later today.
   “Tell me about it,” Anne said.
   Barney said, “It’s an illusory world in which Eldritch holds the key positions as god; he gives you a chance to do what you can’t really ever do—reconstruct the past as it ought to have been. But even for him it’s hard. Takes time.” He was silent, then; he sat rubbing his aching forehead.
   “You mean he can’t—and you can’t—just wave your arms and get what you want? As you can in a dream?”
   “It’s absolutely not like a dream.” It was worse, he realized. More like being in hell, he thought. Yes, that’s the way hell must be: recurrent and unyielding. But Eldritch thought in time, with sufficient patience and effort, it could be changed.
   “If you go back—” Anne began.
   “‘If.” He stared at her. “I’ve got to go back. I wasn’t able to accomplish anything this time.” Hundreds of times, he thought. It might take that. “Listen. For God’s sake give me that Chew-Z bindle you’ve got there. I know I can convince her. I’ve got Eldritch himself on my side, plugging away. Right now she’s mad, and I took her by surprise—” He became silent; he stared at Anne Hawthorne. There’s something wrong, he thought. Because—
   Anne had one artificial arm and hand; the plastic and metal fingers were only inches from him and he could discern them clearly. And when he looked up into her face he saw the hollowness, the emptiness as vast as the intersystem space out of which Eldritch had emerged. The dead eyes, filled with space beyond the known, visited worlds.
   “You can have more later,” Anne said calmly. “One session a day is enough.” She smiled. “Otherwise you’d run out of skins; you wouldn’t be able to afford any more, and then what the hell would you do?”
   Her smile glinted, the shiny opulence of stainless steel.

   The other hovelists, on all sides of him, groaned into wakefulness, recovering by slow, anguished stages; they sat up, mumbled, and tried to orient themselves. Anne had gone somewhere. By himself he managed to get to his feet. Coffee, he thought. I’ll bet she’s fixing coffee.
   “Wow,” Norm Schein said.
   “Where’d you go?” Tod Morris demanded, thick-tongued; blearily he too stood, then assisted his wife Helen. “I was back in my teens, in high school, when I was on my first complete date—first, you get me, successful one, you follow?” He glanced nervously at Helen, then.
   Mary Regan said, “It’s much better than Can-D. Infinitely. Oh, if I could tell you what I was doing—” She giggled self-consciously. “I just can’t, though.” Her face shone hot and red.
   Going off to his own compartment Barney Mayerson locked the door, and got out the tube of toxin that Allen Faine had given him; he held it in his hand, thinking, Now is the time. But—are we back? Did I see nothing more than a residual view of Eldritch, superimposed on Anne? Or perhaps it had been genuine insight, perception of the actual, of their unqualified situation; not just his but all of theirs together.
   If so it was not the time to receive the toxin. Instinct offered him that point of observation.
   Nevertheless he unscrewed the lid of the tube.
   A tiny, frail voice, emanating from the opened tube, piped, “You’re being watched, Mayerson. And if you’re up to some kind of tactic we’ll be required to step in. You will be severely restricted. Sorry.”
   He put the lid back on the tube, and screwed it tight with shaking fingers. And the tube had been—empty!
   “What is it?” Anne said, appearing; she had been in the kitchen of his compartment; she wore an apron which she had discovered somewhere. “What’s that?” she asked, seeing the tube in his hand.
   “Escape,” he grated. “From this.”
   “From exactly what?” Her normal appearance had reasserted itself; nothing now was amiss. “You look positively sick, Barney; you really do. Is it an after-effect of the Chew-Z?”
   “A hangover.” Is Palmer Eldritch actually inside this? he wondered, examining the closed tube; he revolved it in the palm of his hand. “Is there any way to contact the Faines’ satellite?”
   “Oh, I imagine so. You probably just put in a vidcall or whatever their means of—”
   “Go ask Norm Schein to make the contact for me,” he said.
   Obligingly, Anne departed; the compartment door shut after her.
   At once he dug the code book which Faine had presented him from its hiding place beneath the kitchen stove. This would have to be encoded.
   The pages of the code book were blank.
   Then it won’t go in code, he said to himself, and that’s that. I’ll have to do the best I can and let it go, however unsatisfactory.
   The door swung open; Anne appeared and said, “Mr. Schein is placing the call for you. They request particular tunes all the time, he says.”
   He followed her down the corridor and into a cramped little room where Norm sat at a transmitter; as Barney entered he turned his head and said, “I’ve got Charlotte—will that do?”
   “Allen,” Barney said.
   “Okay.” Presently Norm said, “Now I’ve got Ol’ Eggplant Al. Here.” He handed the microphone to Barney. On the tiny screen Allen Faine’s face, jovial and professional, appeared. “A new citizen to talk to you,” Norm explained, reclutching the microphone briefly. “Barney Mayerson, meet half of the team that keeps us alive and sane here on Mars.” To himself he muttered, “God, have I got a headache. Excuse me.” He vacated the chair at the transmitter and disappeared totteringly down the hall.
   “Mr. Faine,” Barney said carefully, “I was speaking with Mr. Palmer Elditch earlier today. He mentioned the conversation that you and I had. He was aware of it so as far as I can see there’s no—”
   Coldly, Allen Faine said, “What conversation?”
   For an interval Barney was silent. “Evidently they had an infrared camera going,” he continued at last. “Probably in a satellite that was making its pass. However, the contents of our conversation, it would appear, is still not—”
   “You’re a nut,” Faine said. “I don’t know you; I never had any conversation with you. Well, man, have you a request or not?” His face was impassive, oblique with detachment, and it did not seem simulated.
   “You don’t know who I am?” Barney said, unbelievingly.
   Faine cut the connection at his end and the tiny vidscreen fused over, now showing only emptiness, the void. Barney shut off the transmitter. He felt nothing. Apathy. He walked past Anne and out into the corridor; there he halted, got out his package—was it the last?–of Terran cigarettes, and lit up, thinking, What Eldritch did to Leo on Luna or Sigma 14-B or wherever he’s done to me, too. And eventually he’ll snare us all. Just like this. Isolated. The communal world is gone. At least for me; he began with me.
   And, he thought, I’m supposed to fight back with an empty tube that once may or may not have contained a rare, expensive, brain-disorganizing toxin—but which now contains only Palmer Eldritch, and not even all of him. Just his voice.
   The match burned his fingers. He ignored it.
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   Referring to his bundle of notes Felix Blau stated, “Fifteen hours ago a UN-approved Chew-Z-owned ship landed on Mars and distributed its initial bindles to the hovels in the Fineburg Crescent.”
   Leo Bulero leaned toward the screen, folded his hands, and said, “Including Chicken Pox Prospects?”
   Briefly, Felix nodded.
   “By now,” Leo said, “he should have consumed the dose of that brain-rotting filth and we should have heard from him via the satellite system.”
   “I fully realize that.”
   “William C. Clarke is still standing by?” Clarke was P. P. Layout’s top legal man on Mars.
   “Yes,” Felix said, “but Mayerson hasn’t contacted him either; he hasn’t contacted anybody.” He shoved his documents aside. “That is all, absolutely all, I have at this point.”
   “Maybe he died,” Leo said. He felt morose; the whole thing depressed him. “Maybe he had such a severe convulsion that—”
   “But then we’d have heard, because one of the three UN hospitals on Mars would have been notified.”
   “Where is Palmer Eldritch?”
   “No one in my organization knows,” Felix said. “He left Luna and disappeared. We simply lost him.”
   “I’d give my right arm,” Leo said, “to know what’s going on down in that hovel, that Chicken Pox Prospects where Barney is.”
   “Go to Mars yourself.”
   “Oh no,” Leo said at once. “I’m not leaving P. P. Layouts, not after what happened to me on Luna. Can’t you get a man in there from your organization who can report directly to us?”
   “We have that girl, that Anne Hawthorne. But she hasn’t checked in either. Maybe I’ll go to Mars. If you’re not.”
   “I’m not,” Leo repeated.
   Felix Blau said, “It’ll cost you.”
   “Sure,” Leo said. “And I’ll pay. But at least we’ll have some sort of chance; I mean, as it stands we’ve got nothing.” And we’re finished, he said to himself. “Just bill me,” he said.
   “But do you have any idea what it would cost you if I died, if they got me there on Mars? My organization would—”
   “Please,” Leo said. “I don’t want to talk about that; what is Mars, a graveyard that Eldritch is digging? Eldritch probably ate Barney Mayerson. Okay, you go; you show up at Chicken Pox Prospects.” He rang off.
   Behind him Roni Fugate, his acting New York Pre-Fash consultant, sat intently listening. Taking it all in, Leo said to himself.
   “Did you get a good earful?” he demanded roughly.
   Roni said, “You’re doing the same thing to him that he did to you.”
   “Who? What?”
   “Barney was afraid to follow you when you disappeared on Luna. Now you’re afraid—”
   “It’s just not wise. All right,” he said. “I’m too goddam scared of Palmer to set foot outside this building; of course I’m not going to Mars and what you say is absolutely true.”
   “But no one,” Roni said softly, “is going to fire you. The way you did Barney.”
   “I’m firing myself. Inside. It hurts.”
   “But not enough to make you go to Mars.”
   “All right!” Savagely he snapped the vidset back on again and dialed Felix Blau. “Blau, I take it all back. I’m going myself. Although it’s insane.”
   “Frankly,” Felix Blau said, “in my opinion you’re doing exactly what Palmer Eldritch wants. All questions of bravery versus—”
   “Eldritch’s power works through that drug,” Leo said. “As long as he can’t administer any to me I’m fine. I’ll take a few company guards along to watch that I’m not slipped an injection like last time. Hey, Blau. You still come along; okay?” He swung to face Roni. “Is that all right?”
   “Yes.” She nodded.
   “See? She says it’s okay. So will you come along with me to Mars and you know, hold my hand?”
   “Sure, Leo,” Felix Blau said. “And if you faint I’ll fan you back to consciousness. I’ll meet you at your office in—” He examined his wristwatch. “Two hours. We’ll map out details. Have a fast ship ready. And I’ll bring a couple of men along I have confidence in, too.”
   “That’s it,” Leo said to Roni as he broke the connection. “Look what you got me to do. You seized Barney’s job and if I don’t get back from Mars maybe you can nail down my job, too.” He glared at her. Women can get a man to do anything, he realized. Mother, wife, even employee; they twist us like hot little bits of thermoplastic.
   Roni said, “Is that really why I said it, Mr. Bulero? Do you really believe that?”
   He took a good, long, hard look at her. “Yes. Because you’re insatiably ambitious. I really believe that.”
   “You’re wrong.”
   “If I don’t come back from Mars will you come after me?” He waited but she did not answer; he saw hesitation on her face, and at that he loudly laughed. “Of course not,” he said.
   Stonily, Roni Fugate said, “I must get back to my office; I have new flatware to judge. Modern patterns from Capetown.” Rising, she departed; he watched her go, thinking, She’s the real one. Not Palmer Eldritch. If I do get back I’ve got to find some method of quietly dumping her. I don’t like to be manipulated.
   Palmer Eldritch, he thought suddenly, appeared in the form of a small girl, a little child—not to mention later on when he was that dog. Maybe there is no Roni Fugate; maybe it’s Eldritch.
   The thought chilled him.
   What we have here, he realized, is not an invasion of Earth by Proxmen, beings from another system. Not an invasion by the legions of a pseudo human race. No. It’s Palmer Eldritch who’s everywhere, growing and growing like a mad weed. Is there a point where he’ll burst, grow too much? All the manifestations of Eldritch, all over Terra and Luna and Mars, Palmer puffing up and bursting—pop, pop, POP! Like Shakespeare says, some damn thing about sticking a mere pin in through the armor, and goodbye king.
   But, he thought, what in this case is the pin? And is there an open spot into which we can thrust it? I don’t know and Felix doesn’t know and Barney; I’ll make book that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of how to cope with Eldritch. Kidnap Zoe, the man’s elderly, ugly daughter? Palmer wouldn’t care. Unless Palmer is also Zoe; maybe there is no Zoe, independent of him. And that’s the way we’ll all wind up unless we figure out how to destroy him, he realized. Replicas, extensions of the man, inhabiting three planets and six moons. The man’s a protoplasm, spreading and reproducing and dividing, and all through that damn lichen-derived non-Terran drug, that horrible, miserable Chew-Z.
   Once more at the vidset he dialed Allen Faine’s satellite. Presently, a trifle insubstantial and weak but nevertheless there, the face of his prime disc jockey appeared. “Yes, Mr. Bulero.”
   “You’re positive Mayerson hasn’t contacted you? He’s got the code book, hasn’t he?”
   “Got the book, but still nothing from him. We’ve been monitoring every transmission from Chicken Pox Prospects. We saw Eldritch’s ship land near the hovel—that was hours ago—and we saw Eldritch get out and go up to the hovelists, and although our cameras didn’t pick this up I’m sure the transaction was consummated at that instant.” Faine added, “And Barney Mayerson was one of the hovelists who met Eldritch at the surface.”
   “I believe I know what happened,” Leo said. “Okay, thanks, Al.” He rang off. Barney went below with the Chew-Z, he realized. And right away they all sat down and chewed; that was the end, just as it was for me on Luna. Our tactics required that Barney chew away, Leo realized, and so we played right into Palmer’s dirty, semimechanical hands; once he had the drug in Barney’s system we were through. Because Eldritch somehow controls each of the hallucinatory worlds induced by the drug; I know it—know it!–that the skunk is in all of them.
   The fantasy world that Chew-Z induces, he thought, are in Palmer Eldritch’s head. As I found out personally.
   And the trouble is, he thought, that once you get into one of them you can’t quite scramble back out; it stays with you, even when you think you’re free. It’s a one-way gate, and for all I know I’m still in it now.
   However that did not seem likely. And yet, he thought, it shows how afraid I am—as Roni Fugate pointed out. Afraid enough to (I’ll admit it) abandon Barney there like he abandoned me. And Barney was using his precog ability, so he had foresight, almost to the point where it was like what I have now, like hindsight. He knew in advance what I had to learn by experience. No wonder he balked.
   Who gets sacrificed? Leo asked himself. Me, Barney, Felix Blau—which of us gets melted down for Palmer to guzzle? Because that’s what we are potentially for him: food to be consumed. It’s an oral thing that arrived back from the Prox system, a great mouth, open to receive us.
   But Palmer’s not a cannibal. Because I know he’s not human; that’s not a man there in that Palmer Eldritch skin.
   But what it was he had no concept at all. So much could happen in the vast expanses between Sol and Proxima, either going or coming. Maybe it happened, he thought, when Palmer was going; maybe he ate the Proxmen during those ten years, cleaned the plate there, and so then came back to us. Ugh. He shivered.
   Well, he thought, two more hours of independent life, plus the time it takes to travel to Mars. Maybe ten hours of private existence, and then—swallowed. And all over Mars that hideous drug is being distributed; think, picture, the numbers confined to Palmer’s illusory worlds, his nets that he casts. What do those Buddhists in the UN like Hepburn-Gilbert call it? Maya. The veil of illusion. Sheoot, he thought dismally, and reached to snap on his intercom in order to requisition a fast ship for the flight. And I want a good pilot, he remembered; too many autonomic landings of late have been failures: I don’t intend to be splattered all over the countryside—especially that countryside.
   To Miss Gleason he said, “Who’s the best interplan pilot we have?”
   “Don Davis,” Miss Gleason said promptly. “He has a perfect record in—you know. His flights from Venus.” She did not refer explicitly to their Can-D enterprise; even the intercom might be tapped.
   Ten minutes later the travel arrangements had all been made.
   Leo Bulero leaned back in his chair, lit a large green Havana-leaf claro cigar which had been housed in a helium-filled humidor, probably for years… the cigar, as he bit the end off, seemed dry and brittle; it cracked under the pressure of his teeth and he felt disappointment. It had appeared so good, so perfectly preserved in its coffin. Well, you never know, he informed himself. Until you get right to it.
   His office door opened. Miss Gleason, the ship-requisition papers in her hands, entered.
   The hand which held the papers was artificial; he made out the glint of undisguised metal and at once he raised his head to scrutinize her face, the rest of her. Neanderthal teeth, he thought; that’s what those giant stainless steel molars look like. Reversion, two hundred thousand years back; revolting. And the luxvid or vidlux or whatever they were eyes, without pupils, only slits. Jensen Labs of Chicago’s product, anyhow.
   “Goddamn you, Eldritch,” he said.
   “I’m your pilot, too,” Palmer Eldritch, from within the shape of Miss Gleason, said. “And I was thinking of greeting you when you land. But that’s too much, too soon.”
   “Give me the papers to sign,” Leo said, reaching out.
   Surprised, Palmer Eldritch said, “You still intend to make the trip to Mars?” He looked decidedly taken aback.
   “Yes,” Leo said, and waited patiently for the requisition papers.

   Once you’ve taken Chew-Z you’re delivered over. At least that’s how dogmatic, devout, fanatical Anne Hawthorne would phrase it. Like sin, Barney Mayerson thought; it’s the condition of slavery. Like the Fall. And the temptation is similar.
   But what’s missing here is a way by which we can be freed. Would we have to go to Prox to find it? Even there it may not exist. Not in the universe anywhere.
   Anne Hawthorne appeared at the door of the hovel’s transmitter room. “Are you all right?”
   “Sure,” Barney said. “You know, we got ourselves into this. No one made us chew Chew-Z.” He dropped his cigarette to the floor and erased its life with the toe of his boot. “And you won’t give me your bindle,” he said. But it was not Anne denying it to him. It was Palmer Eldritch, operating through her, holding back.
   Even so, I can take it from her, he realized.
   “Stop,” she said. Or rather it said.
   “Hey,” Norm Schein yelled from the transmitter room, jumping to his feet, amazed. “What are you doing, Mayerson? Let her—”
   The strong artificial arm struck him; the metal fingers clawed and it was almost enough; they pried at his neck, knowingly, alert to the spot where death could most effectively be administered. But he had the bindle and that was it; he let the creature go.
   “Don’t take it, Barney,” she said quietly. “It’s just too soon after the first dose. Please.”
   Without answering he started off, toward his own compartment.
   “Will you do one thing for me?” she called after him. “Divide it in half, let me take it with you. So I can be along.”
   “Why?” he said.
   “Maybe I can help you by being there.”
   Barney said, “I can make it on my own.” If I can reach Emily before the divorce, before Richard Hnatt shows up—as I first did, he thought. That’s the only place I have any real chance. Again and again, he thought. Try! Until I’m successful.
   He locked the door.
   As he devoured the Chew-Z he thought about Leo Bulero. You got away. Probably because Palmer Eldritch was weaker than you. Is that it? Or was Eldritch simply playing out the line, letting you dangle? You could come here and stop me; now, though, there’s no stopping. Even Eldritch warned me, speaking through Anne Hawthorne; it was too much even for him, and now what? Have I gone so far that I’ve plunged to the bottom out of even his sight? Where even Palmer Eldritch can’t go, where nothing exists.
   And of course, he thought, I can’t get back up.
   His head ached and he shut his eyes involuntarily. It was as if his brain, alive and frightened, had physically stirred; he felt it tremble. Altered metabolism, he realized. Shock. I’m sorry, he said to himself, apologizing to his somatic part. Okay?
   “Help,” he said, aloud.
   “Aw, help—my ass,” a man’s voice grated. “What do you want me to do, hold your hand? Open your eyes or get out of here. That period you spent on Mars, it ruined you and I’m fed up. Come on!”
   “Shut up,” Barney said. “I’m sick; I went too far. You mean all you can do is bawl me out?” He opened his eyes, and faced Leo Bulero, who sat at his big, littered oak desk. “Listen,” Barney said. “I’m on Chew-Z; I can’t stop it. If you can’t help me then I’m finished.” His legs bent as if melting as he made his way to a nearby chair and seated himself.
   Regarding him thoughtfully, smoking a cigar, Leo said, “You’re on Chew-Z now?” He scowled. “As of two years ago—”
   “It’s banned?”
   “Yeah. Banned. My God. I don’t know if it’s worth my talking to you; what are you, some kind of phantasm from the past?”
   “You heard what I said; I said I’m on it.” He clenched his fists.
   “Okay, okay.” Leo puffed masses of heavy gray smoke, agitatedly. “Don’t get excited. Hell, I went ahead and saw the future, too, and it didn’t kill me. And anyhow, for chrissakes, you’re a precog—you ought to be used to it. Anyhow—” He leaned back in his chair, swiveled about, then crossed his legs. “I saw this monument, see? Guess to who. To me.” He eyed Barney, then shrugged.
   Barney said, “I have nothing to gain, nothing at all, from this time period. I want my wife back. I want Emily.” He felt enraged, upsurging bitterness. The bile of disappointment.
   “Emily.” Leo Bulero nodded. Then, into his intercom, he said, “Miss Gleason, please don’t let anything bother us for a while.” He again turned his attention to Barney, surveying him acutely. “That fellow Hnatt—is that his name?—got hauled in by the UN police along with the rest of the Eldritch organization; see, Hnatt had this contract that he signed with Eldritch’s business agent. Well, they gave him the choice of a prison sentence—okay, I admit it’s unfair, but don’t blame me—or emigrating. He emigrated.”
   “What about her?”
   “With that pot business of hers? How the hell could she conduct it from a hovel underneath the Martian desert? Naturally she dumped the dumb jerk. Well so see if you had waited—”
   Barney said, “Are you really Leo Bulero? Or are you Palmer Eldritch? And this is to make me feel even worse—is that it?”
   Raising an eyebrow, Leo said, “Palmer Eldritch is dead.”
   “But this isn’t real; this is a drug-induced fantasy. Translation.”
   “The hell it isn’t real.” Leo glared at him. “What does that make me, then? Listen.” He pointed his finger angrily at Barney. “There’s nothing unreal about me; you’re the one who’s a goddamn phantasm, like you said, out of the past. I mean, you’ve got the situation completely backward. You hear this?” He banged on the surface of his desk with all the strength in his hands. “The sound reality makes. And I say that your ex-wife and Hnatt are divorced; I know because she sells her pots to us for minning. In fact she was in Roni Fugate’s office last Thursday.” Grumpily, he smoked his cigar, still glaring at Barney.
   “Then all I have to do,” Barney said, “is look her up.” It was as simple as that.
   “Oh yeah,” Leo agreed, nodding. “But just one thing. What are you going to do with Roni Fugate? You’re living with her in this world that you seem to like to imagine as unreal.”
   Astounded, Barney said, “After two years?”
   “And Emily knows it because since she’s been selling her pots to us through Roni the two of them have become buddies; they tell each other their secrets. Look at it from Emily’s viewpoint. If she lets you come back to her Roni’ll probably stop accepting her pots for minning. It’s a risk, and I bet Em won’t want to take it. I mean, we give Roni absolute say-so, like you had in your time.”
   Barney said, “Emily would never put her career ahead of her own life.”
   “You did. Maybe Em learned from you, got the message. And anyhow, even without that Hnatt guy, why would Emily want to go back to you? She’s leading a very successful life, with her career; she’s planet-famous and she’s got skin after skin salted away… you want the truth? She’s got all the men she wants. Any darn time. Em doesn’t need you; face it, Barney. Anyhow, what’s lacking about Roni? Frankly I wouldn’t mind—”
   “I think you’re Palmer Eldritch”, Barney said.
   “Me?” Leo tapped his chest. “Barney, I killed Eldritch; that’s why they put up that monument to me.” His voice was low and quiet but he had flushed deep red. “Do I have stainless steel teeth? Do I have an artificial arm?” Leo lifted up both his hands. “Well? And my eyes—”
   Barney moved toward the door of the office.
   “Where are you going?” Leo demanded.
   “I know,” Barney said as he opened the door, “that if I can see Emily even for just a few minutes—”
   “No you can’t, fella,” Leo said. He shook his head, firmly.
   Waiting in the corridor for the elevator Barney thought, Maybe it really was Leo. And maybe it’s true.
   So I can’t succeed without Palmer Eldritch.
   Anne was right; I should have given half the bindle back to her and then we could have tried this together. Anne, Palmer… it’s all the same, it’s all him, the creator. That’s who and what he is, he realized. The owner of these worlds. The rest of us just inhabit them and when he wants to he can inhabit them, too. Can kick over the scenery, manifest himself, push things in any direction he chooses. Even be any of us he cares to. All of us, in fact, if he desires. Eternal, outside of time and spliced-together segments of all other dimensions… he can even enter a world in which he’s dead.
   Palmer Eldritch had gone to Prox a man and returned a god.
   Aloud, as he stood waiting for the elevator, Barney said, “Palmer Eldritch, help me. Get my wife back for me.” He looked around; no one was present to overhear him.
   The elevator arrived. The doors slid aside. Inside the elevator waited four men and two women, silently.
   All of them were Palmer Eldritch. Men and women alike: artificial arm, stainless steel teeth… the gaunt, hollowed-out gray face with Jensen eyes.
   Virtually in unison, but not quite, as if competing with each other for first chance to utter it, the six people said, “You’re not going to be able to get back to your own world from here, Mayerson; you’ve gone too far, this time, taken a massive overdose. As I warned .you when you snatched it away from me at Chicken Pox Prospects.”
   “Can’t you help me?” Barney said. “I’ve got to get her back.”
   “You don’t understand,” the Palmer Eldritches all said, collectively shaking their heads; it was the same motion that Leo had just now made, and the same firm no. “As was pointed out to you: since this is your future you’re already established here. So there’s no place for you; that’s a matter of simple logic. Who’m I supposed to snare Emily for? You? Or the legitimate Barney Mayerson who lived naturally up to this time? And don’t think he hasn’t tried to get Emily back. Don’t you suppose—and obviously you haven’t—that as the Hnatts split up he made his move? I did what I could for him, then; it was quite a few months ago, just after Richard Hnatt was shipped to Mars, kicking and protesting the whole way. Personally I don’t blame Hnatt; it was a dirty deal, all engineered by Leo, of course. And look at yourself.” The six Palmer Eldritches gestured contemptuously. “You’re a phantasm, as Leo said; I can see through you, literally. I’ll tell you in more accurate terminology what you are.” From the six the calm, dispassionate statement came, then. “You’re a ghost.”
   Barney stared at them and they stared back placidly, unmoved.
   “Try building your life on that premise,” the Eldritches continued. “Well, you got what St. Paul promises, as Anne Hawthorne was blabbing about; you’re no longer clothed in a perishable, fleshly body—you’ve put on an ethereal body in its place. How do you like it, Mayerson?” Their tone was mocking, but compassion showed on the six faces; it showed in the weird, slitted mechanical eyes of each of them. “You can’t die; you don’t eat or drink or breathe air… you can, if you wish, pass directly through walls, in fact through any material object you care to. You’ll learn that, in time. Evidently on the road to Damascus Paul experienced a vision relating to this phenomenon. That and a lot more besides.” The Eldritches added, “I’m inclined, as you can see, to be somewhat sympathetic to the Early– and Neo-Christian point of view, such as Anne holds. It assists in explaining a great deal.”
   Barney said, “What about you, Eldritch? You’re dead, killed two years ago by Leo.” And I know, he thought, that you’re suffering what I am; the same process must have overtaken you, somewhere along the route. You gave yourself an overdose of Chew-Z and now for you there’s no return to your own time and world, either.
   “That monument,” the six Eldritches said, murmuring together like a rattling, far-off wind, “is highly inaccurate. A ship of mine had a running gun-battle with one of Leo’s, just off Venus; I was aboard, or supposed to be aboard, ours. Leo was aboard his. He and I had just held a conference together with Hepburn-Gilbert on Venus and on the way back to Terra Leo took the opportunity to jump our ship. It’s on that premise that the monument was erected—due to Leo’s astute economic pressure, applied in all the proper political bodies. He got himself into the history books once and for all.”
   Two persons, a well-dressed executive-type young man and a girl who was possibly a secretary, strolled down the hall; they glanced curiously at Barney and then at the six creatures within the elevator.
   The creatures ceased to be Palmer Eldritch; the change took place before him. All at once they were six individual, ordinary men and women. Utterly heterogeneous.
   Barney walked away from the elevator. For a measureless interval he roamed the corridors and then, by ramp, descended to ground level where the P. P. Layouts directory was situated. There, reading it, he located his own name and office number. Ironically—and this bordered on being just too much—he held the title he had tried to pry by force out of Leo not so long ago; he was listed as Pre-Fash Supervisor, clearly outranking every individual consultant. So again, if he had only waited—
   Beyond doubt Leo had managed to bring him back from Mars. Rescued him from the world of the hovel. And this implied a great deal.
   The planned litigation—or some substitute tactic—had succeeded. Would, rather. And perhaps soon.
   The mist of hallucination cast up by Palmer Eldritch, the fisherman of human souls, was enormously effective, but not perfect. Not in the long run. So had he stopped consuming Chew-Z after the initial dose—
   Perhaps Anne Hawthorne’s possession of a bindle had been deliberate. A means of maneuvering him into taking it once again and very quickly. If so, her protests had been spurious; she had intended that he seize it, and, like a beast in a superior maze, he had scrambled for the glimpsed way out. Manipulated by Palmer Eldritch through every inch of the way.
   And there was no path back.
   If he was to believe Eldritch, speaking through Leo. Through his congregation everywhere. But that was the key word, if.
   By elevator he ascended to the floor of his own office.
   When he opened the office door the man seated at the desk raised his head and said, “Close that thing. We don’t have a lot of time.” The man, and it was himself, rose; Barney scrutinized him and then, reflexively, shut the door as instructed. “Thanks,” his future self said, icily. “And stop worrying about getting back to your own time; you will. Most of what Eldritch did—or does, if you prefer to regard it that way—consists of manufacturing surface changes: he makes things appear the way he wants, but that doesn’t mean they are. Follow me?”
   “I’ll—take your word for it.”
   His future self said, “I realize that’s easy for me to say, now; Eldritch still shows up from time to time, sometimes even publicly, but I know and everyone else right down to the most ignorant readers of the lowest level of ‘papes know that it’s nothing but a phantasm; the actual man is in a grave on Sigma 14-B and that’s verified. You’re in a different spot. For you the actual Palmer Eldritch could enter at any minute; what would be actual for you would be a phantasm for me, and the same is going to be true when you get back to Mars. You’ll be encountering a genuine living Palmer Eldritch and I don’t frankly envy you.”
   Barney said, “Just tell me how to get back.”
   “You don’t care about Emily any more?”
   “I’m scared.” And he felt his own gaze, the perception and comprehension of the future, sear him. “Okay,” he blurted, “what am I supposed to do, pretend otherwise to impress you? Anyhow you’d know.”
   “Where Eldritch has the advantage over everyone and anyone who’s consumed Chew-Z is that recovery from the drug is excessively retarded and gradual; it’s a series of levels, each progressively less an induced illusion and more compounded of authentic reality. Sometimes the process takes years. This is why the UN belatedly banned it and turned against Eldritch; Hepburn-Gilbert initially approved it because he honestly believed that it aided the user to penetrate to concrete reality, and then it became obvious to everyone who used it or witnessed it being used that it did exactly the—”
   “Then I never recovered from my first dose.”
   “Right; you never got back to clear-cut reality. As you would have if you had abstained another twenty-four hours. Those phantasms of Eldritch, imposed on normal matter, would have faded away entirely; you would have been free. But Eldritch got you to accept that second, stronger dose; he knew you had been sent to Mars to operate against him, although he didn’t have any idea in what way. He was afraid of you.”
   It sounded strange to hear that; it did not ring right. Eldritch, with all he had done and could do—but Eldritch had seen the monument of the future; he knew that somehow, in some manner, they were going to kill him after all.
   The door of the office abruptly opened.
   Roni Fugate looked in and saw the two of them; she said nothing—she simply stared, open-mouthed. And then at last murmured, “A phantasm. I think it’s the one standing, the one nearest me.” Shakily, she entered the office, shutting the door after her.
   “That’s right,” his future self said, scrutinizing her sharply. “You can test it out by putting your hand into it.”
   She did so; Barney Mayerson saw her hand pass into his body and disappear. “I’ve seen phantasms before,” she said, withdrawing her hand; now she was more composed. “But never of you, dear. Everyone who consumed that abomination became a phantasm at one time or another, but recently they’ve become less frequent to us. At one time, about a year ago, you saw them everytime you turned around.” She added, “Hepburn-Gilbert finally saw one of himself; just what he deserved.”
   “You realize,” his future self said to Roni, “that he’s under the domination of Eldritch, even though to us the man is dead. So we have to work cautiously. Eldritch can begin to affect his perception at any time, and when that happens he’ll have no choice but to react accordingly.”
   Speaking to Barney, Roni said, “What can we do for you?”
   “He wants to get back to Mars,” his future self said. “They’ve got an enormously complicated scheme screwed together to destroy Eldritch via the interplan courts; it involves him taking an Ionian epilepsygenic, KY-7. Or can’t you remember back to that?”
   “But it never got into the courts,” Roni said. “Eldritch settled. They dropped litigation.”
   “We can transport you to Mars,” his future self said to Barney, “in a P. P. Layouts ship. But that won’t accomplish anything because Eldritch will not only follow you and be with you on the trip; he’ll be there to greet you– a favorite outdoor sport of his. Never forget that a phantasm can go anywhere; it’s not bounded by time or space. That’s what makes it a phantasm, that and the fact that it has no metabolism, at least not as we understand the word. Oddly, however, it is affected by gravity. There have been a number of studies lately on the subject; anyhow not much is yet known.” Meaningfully he finished, “Especially on the subtopic, How does one return a phantasm to its own space and time–exorcise it.”
   Barney said, “You’re anxious to get rid of me?” He felt cold.
   “That’s right,” his future self said calmly. “Just as anxious as you are to get back; you know now you made a mistake, you know that—” He glanced at Roni and immediately ceased. He did not intend to refer to the topic of Emily in front of her.
   “They’ve made some attempts with high-voltage, low-amperage electroshock,” Roni said. “And with magnetic fields. Columbia University has—”
   “The best work so far,” his future self said, “is in the physics department at Cal, out on the West Coast. The phantasm is bombarded by Beta particles which disintegrate the essential protein basis for—”
   “Okay,” Barney said. “I’ll leave you alone. I’ll go to the physics department at Cal and see what they can do.” He felt utterly defeated; he had been abandoned even by himself, the ultimate, he thought with impotent, wild fury. Christ!
   “That’s strange,” Roni said.
   “What’s strange?” his future self said, tipping his chair back, folding his arms and regarding her.
   “Your saying that about Cal,” Roni said. “As far as I know they’ve never done any work with phantasms out there.” To Barney she said quietly, “Ask to see both his hands.”
   Barney said, “Your hands.” But already the creeping alteration in the seated man had begun, in the jaw especially, the idiosyncratic bulge which he recognized so easily. “Forget it,” he said thickly; he felt dizzy.
   His future self said mockingly, “God helps those who help themselves, Mayerson. Do you really think it’s going to do any good to go knocking all around trying to dream up someone to take pity on you? Hell, I pity you; I told you not to consume that second bindle. I’d release you from this if I knew how, and I know more about the drug than anyone else alive.”
   “What’s going to happen to him?” Roni asked his future self, which was no longer his future self; the metamorphosis was complete and Palmer Eldritch sat tilted back at the desk, tall and gray, rocking slightly in the wheeled chair, a great mass of timeless cobwebs shaped, almost as a cavalier gesture, in quasi-human form. “My good God, is he just going to wander around here forever?”
   “Good question,” Palmer Eldritch said gravely. “I wish I knew; for myself as well as him. I’m in it a lot deeper than he, remember.” Addressing Barney he said, “You grasp the point, don’t you, that it isn’t necessary for you to assume your normal Gestalt; you can be a stone or a tree or a jet-hopper or a section of antithermal roofing. I’ve been all those things and a lot more. If you become inanimate, an old log for instance, you’re no longer conscious of the passage of time. It’s an interesting possible solution for someone who wants to escape his phantasmic existence. I don’t.” His voice was low. “Because for me, returning to my own space and time means death, at Leo Bulero’s instigation. On the contrary; I can live on only in this state. But with you—” He gestured, smiling faintly. “Be a rock, Mayerson. Last it out, however long it is before the drug wears off. Ten years, a century. A million years. Or be an old fossil bone in a museum.” His gaze was gentle.
   After a time Roni said, “Maybe he’s right, Barney.”
   Barney walked to the desk, picked up a glass paperweight, and then set it down.
   “We can’t touch him,” Roni said, “but he can—”
   “The ability of phantasms to manipulate material objects,” Palmer Eldritch said, “makes it clear that they are present and not merely projections. Remember the poltergeist phenomenon… they were capable of hurling objects all around the house, but they were incorporeal, too.”
   Mounted on the wall of the office gleamed a plaque; it was an award which Emily had received, three years before his own time, for ceramics she had entered in a show. Here it was; he still kept it.
   “I want to be that plaque,” Barney decided. It was made of hardwood, probably mahogany, and brass; it would endure a long time and in addition he knew that his future self would never abandon it. He walked toward the plaque, wondering how he ceased being a man and became an object of brass and wood mounted on an office wall.
   Palmer Eldritch said, “You want my help, Mayerson?”
   “Yes,” he said.
   Something swept him up; he put out his arms to steady himself and then he was diving, descending an endless tunnel that narrowed—he felt it squeeze around him, and he knew that he had misjudged. Palmer Eldritch had once more thought rings around him, demonstrated his power over everyone who used Chew-Z; Eldritch had done something and he could not even tell what, but anyhow it was not what he had said. Not what had been promised.
   “Goddamn you, Eldritch,” Barney said, not hearing his voice, hearing nothing; he descended on and on, weightless, not even a phantasm any longer; gravity had ceased to affect him, so even that was gone, too.
   Leave me something, Palmer, he thought to himself. Please. A prayer, he realized, which had already been turned down; Palmer Eldritch had long ago acted—it was too late and it always had been. Then I’ll go ahead with the litigation, Barney said to himself; I’ll find my way back to Mars somehow, take the toxin, spend the rest of my life in the interplan courts fighting you—and winning. Not for Leo and P. P. Layouts but for me.
   He heard, then, a laugh. It was Palmer Eldritch’s laugh but it was emerging from—
   Looking down at his hands, he distinguished the left one, pink, pale, made of flesh, covered with skin and tiny, almost invisible hair, and then the right one, bright, glowing, spotless in its mechanical perfection, a hand infinitely superior to the original one, long since gone.
   Now he knew what had been done to him. A great translation—from his standpoint, anyhow—had been accomplished, and possibly everything up to now had worked with this end in mind.
   It will be me, he realized, that Leo Bulero will kill. Me the monument will present a narration of.
   Now I am Palmer Eldritch.
   In that case, he thought after a while as the environment surrounding him seemed to solidify and clear, I wonder how he is making out with Emily.
   I hope pretty badly.
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   With vast trailing arms he extended from the Proxima Centaurus system to Terra itself, and he was not human; this was not a man who had returned. And he had great power. He could overcome death.
   But he was not happy. For the simple reason that he was alone. So he at once tried to make up for this; he went to a lot of trouble to draw others along the route he had followed.
   One of them was Barney Mayerson.
   “Mayerson,” he said, conversationally, “what the hell have you got to lose? Figure it out for yourself; you’re washed up as it stands—no woman you love, a past you regret. You realize you took a decisively wrong course in your life and nobody made you do it. And it can’t be repaired. Even if the future lasts for a million years it can’t restore what you lost by, so to speak, your own hand. You grasp my reasoning?”
   No answer.
   “And you forget one thing,” he continued, after waiting. “She’s devolved, from that miserable evolution therapy that ex-Nazi-type German doctor runs in those clinics. Sure, she—actually her husband—was smart enough to discontinue the treatments right away, and she can still turn out pots that sell; she didn’t devolve that much. But—you wouldn’t like her. You’d know; she’d be just a little more shallow, a shade sillier. It would not be like the past, even if you got her back; it’d be changed.”
   Again he waited. This time there was an answer. “All right!”
   “Where would you like to go?” he continued, then. “Mars? I’ll bet. Okay, then back to Terra.”
   Barney Mayerson, not himself, said, “No. I left voluntarily; I was through; the end had come.”
   “Okay. Not Terra. Let’s see. Hmm.” He pondered. “Prox,” he said. “You’ve never seen the Prox system and the Proxers. I’m a bridge, you know. Between the two systems. They can come here to the Sol system through me any time they want—and I allow them. But I haven’t allowed them. But how they are eager.” He chuckled. “They’re practically lined up. Like the kiddies’ Saturday afternoon movie matinee.”
   “Make me into a stone.”
   Barney Mayerson said, “So I can’t feel. There’s nothing for me anywhere.”
   “You don’t even like being translated into one homogeneous organism with me?”
   No answer.
   “You can share my ambitions. I’ve got plenty of them, big ones—they make Leo’s look like dirt.” Of course, he thought, Leo will kill me not long from now. At least as time is reckoned outside of translation. “I’ll acquaint you with one. A minor one. Maybe it’ll fire you up.”
   “I doubt it,” Barney said.
   “I’m going to become a planet.”
   Barney laughed.
   “You think that’s funny?” He felt furious.
   “I think you’re nuts. Whether you’re a man or a thing from intersystem space; you’re still out of your mind.”
   “I haven’t explained,” he said with dignity, “precisely what I meant when I said that. What I mean is, I’m going to be everyone on the planet. You know what planet I’m talking about.”
   “Hell no. Mars.”
   “Why Mars?”
   “It’s—” He groped for the words. “New. Undeveloped. Full of potential. I’m going to be all the colonists as they arrive and begin to live there. I’ll guide their civilization; I’ll be their civilization!”
   No answer.
   “Come on. Say something.”
   Barney said, “How come, if you can be so much, including a whole planet, I can’t be even that plaque on the wall of my office at P. P. Layouts?”
   “Um,” he said, disconcerted. “Okay, okay. You can be that plaque; what the hell do I care? Be anything you want—you took the drug; you’re entitled to be translated into whatever pleases you. It’s not real, of course. That’s the truth. I’m letting you in on the innermost secret; it’s an hallucination. What makes it seem real is that certain prophetic aspects get into the experience, exactly as with dreams. I’ve walked into and out of a million of them, these so-called ‘translation’ worlds; I’ve seen them all. And you know what they are? They’re nothing. Like a captive white rat feeding electric impulses again and again to specific areas of his brain—its disgusting.”
   “I see,” Barney Mayerson said.
   “You want to wind up in one of them, knowing this?”
   After a time Barney said, “Sure.”
   “Okay! I’ll make you a stone, put you by a seashore; you can lie there and listen to the waves for a couple of million years. That ought to satisfy you.” You dumb jerk, he thought savagely. A stone! Christ!
   “Am I softened or something?” Barney asked, then; in his voice were for the first time strong overtones of doubt. “Is this what the Proxers wanted? Is this why you were sent?”
   “I wasn’t sent. I showed up here on my own. It beats living out in dead space between hot stars.” He chuckled. “Certainly you’re soft—and you want to be a stone. Listen, Mayerson; being a stone isn’t what you really want. What you want is death.”
   “You mean you didn’t know?” He was incredulous. “Aw, come on!”
   “No. I didn’t know.”
   “It’s very simple, Mayerson; I’ll give you a translation world in which you’re a rotting corpse of a run-over dog in some ditch—think of it: what a goddamn relief it’ll be. You’re going to be me; you are me, and Leo Bulero is going to kill you. That’s the dead dog, Mayerson; that’s the corpse in the ditch.” And I’ll live on, he said to himself. That’s my gift to you, and remember: in German Gift means poison. I’ll let you die in my place a few months from now and that monument on Sigma 14-B will be erected but I’ll go on, in your living body. When you come back from Mars to work at P. P. Layouts again you’ll be me. And so I avoid my fate.
   It was so simple.
   “Okay, Mayerson,” he concluded, weary of the colloquy. “Up and at ‘em, as they say. Consider yourself dumped off; we’re not a single organism any more. We’ve got distinct, separate destinies again, and that’s the way you wanted it. You’re in a ship of Conner Freeman’s leaving Venus and I’m down in Chicken Pox Prospects; I’ve got a thriving vegetable garden up top, and I get to shack up with Anne Hawthorne any time I want—it’s a good life, as far as I’m concerned. I hope you like yours equally well.” And, at that instant, he emerged.
   He stood in the kitchen of his compartment at Chicken Pox Prospects; he was frying himself a panful of local mushrooms… the air smelled of butter and spices and, in the living room, his portable tape recorder played a Haydn symphony. Peaceful, he thought with pleasure. Exactly what I want; a little peace and quiet. After all, I was used to that, out in intersystern space. He yawned, stretched with luxury, and said, “I did it.”
   Seated in the living room, reading a homeopape taken from the news-service emanating from one of the UN satellites, Anne Hawthorne glanced up and said, “You did what, Barney?”
   “Got just the right amount of seasoning in this,” he said, still exulting. I am Palmer Eldritch and I’m here, not there. I’ll survive Leo’s attack and I know how to enjoy, use, this life, here, as Barney didn’t or wouldn’t.
   Let’s see how he prefers it when Leo’s fighter guns his merchant ship into particles. And he sees the last of a life bitterly regretted.

   In the glare of the overhead light Barney Mayerson blinked. He realized after a second that he was on a ship; the room appeared ordinary, a combination bedroom and parlor, but he recognized it by the bolted-down condition of the furniture. And the gravity was all wrong; artificially produced, it failed to duplicate Earth’s.
   And there was a view out. Limited, no larger in fact than a comb of bees’ wax. But still the thick plastic revealed the emptiness beyond, and he went over to fixedly peer. Sol, blinding, filled a portion of the panorama and he reflexively reached up to click the black filter into use. And, as he did so, he perceived his hand. His artificial, metallic, superbly efficient mechanical hand.
   At once he stalked from the cabin and down the corridor until he reached the locked control booth; he rapped on it with his steel knuckles and after an interval the heavy reinforced bulkhead door opened.
   “Yes, Mr. Eldritch.” The young blond-haired pilot, nodding with respect.
   He said, “Send out a message.”
   The pilot produced a pen and poised it over his notepad mounted at the rim of the instrument board. “Who to, sir?”
   “To Mr. Leo Bulero.”
   “To Leo… Bulero.” The pilot wrote rapidly. “Is this to be relayed to Terra, sir? If so—”
   “No. Leo is near us in his own ship. Tell him—” He pondered rapidly.
   “You want to talk with him, sir?”
   “I don’t want him to kill me,” he answered. “That’s what I’m trying to say. And you with me. And whoever else is on this slow transport, this idiotically huge target.” But it’s hopeless, he realized, Somebody in Felix Blau’s organization, carefully planted on Venus, saw me board this ship; Leo knows I’m here and that’s it.
   “You mean business competition is that tough?” the pilot said, taken by surprise; he blanched.
   Zoe Eldritch, his daughter in dirndl and fur slippers, appeared. “What is it?”
   He said, “Leo’s nearby. He’s got an armed ship, by UN permission; we were lured into a trap. We never should have gone to Venus. Hepburn-Gilbert was in on it.” To the pilot he said, “Just keep trying to reach him. I’m going back to my cabin.” There’s nothing I can do here, he said to himself, and started out.
   “Hell,” the pilot said, “you talk to him; it’s you he’s after.” He slid from his seat, leaving it pointedly vacant.
   Sighing, Barney Mayerson seated himself and clicked on the ship’s transmitter; he set it to the emergency frequency, lifted the microphone, and said into it, “You bastard, Leo. You’ve got me; you coaxed me out where you could get at me. You and that damn fleet of yours, already set up and operating before I got back from Prox– you had the head start.” He felt more angry than frightened, now. “We’ve got nothing on this ship. Absolutely nothing to protect ourselves with—you’re shooting down an unarmed target. This is a cargo carrier.” He paused, trying to think what else to say. Tell him, he thought, that I’m Barney Mayerson and that Eldritch will never be caught and killed because he’ll translate himself from life to life forever? And that in actuality you’re killing someone you know and love?
   Zoe said, “Say something.”
   “Leo,” he said into the microphone, “let me go back to Prox. Please.” He waited, listening to the static from the receiver’s speaker. “Okay,” he said, then. “I take it back. I’ll never leave the Sol system and you can never kill me, even with Hepburn-Gilbert’s help, or whoever it is in the UN you’re operating in conjunction with.” To Zoe he said, “How’s that? You like that?” He dropped the microphone with a clatter. “I’m through.”
   The first bolt of laser energy nearly cut the ship in half.
   Barney Mayerson lay on the floor of the control booth, listening to the racket of the emergency air pumps wheezing into shrill, clacking life. I got what I wanted, he realized. Or at least what Palmer said I wanted. I’m getting death.
   Beyond his ship Leo Bulero’s UN-model trim fighter maneuvered for the placing of a second, final bolt. He could see, on the pilot’s view-screen, the flash of its exhausts. It was very close indeed.
   Lying there he waited to die.
   And then Leo Bulero walked across the central room of his compartment toward him.
   Interested, Anne Hawthorne rose from her chair, said, “So you’re Leo Bulero. There’re a number of questions, all pertaining to your product Can-D—”
   “I don’t produce Can-D,” Leo said. “I emphatically deny that rumor. None of my commercial enterprises are in any way illegal. Listen, Barney; did you or did you not consume that—” He lowered his voice; bending over Barney Mayerson, he whispered hoarsely. “You know.”
   “I’ll step outside,” Anne said, perceptively.
   “No,” Leo grunted. He turned to Felix Blau, who nodded. “We realize you’re one of Blau’s people,” Leo said to her. Again he prodded Barney Mayerson, irritably. I don’t think he took it,” he said, half to himself. “I’ll search him.” He began to rummage in Barney’s coat pockets and then in his inside shirt. “Here it is.” He fished out the tube containing the brain-metabolism toxin. Unscrewing the cap he peered in. “Unconsumed,” he said to Blau, with massive disgust. “So naturally Faine heard nothing from him. He backed out.”
   Barney said, “I didn’t back out.” I’ve been a long way, he said to himself. Can’t you tell? “Chew-Z,” he said. “Very far.”
   “Yeah, you’ve been out about two minutes,” Leo said with contempt. “We got here just as you locked yourself in; some fella—Norm something—let us in with his master key; he’s in charge of this hovel, I guess.”
   “But remember,” Anne said, “the subjective experience with Chew-Z is disconnected to our time-rate; to him it may have been hours or even days.” She looked sympathetically in Barney’s direction. “True?”
   “I died,” Barney said. He sat up, nauseated. “You killed me.”
   There was a remarkable, nonplused silence.
   “You mean me?” Felix Blau asked at last.
   “No,” Barney said. It didn’t matter. At least not until the next time he took the drug. Once that happened the finish would arrive; Palmer Eldritch would be successful, would achieve survival. And that was the unbearable part; not his own death—which eventually would arrive anyhow—but Palmer Eldritch’s putting on immortality. Grave, he thought; where’s your victory over this—thing?
   “I feel insulted,” Felix Blau complained. “I mean, what’s this about someone killing you, Mayerson? Hell, we roused you out of your coma. And it was a long, difficult trip here and for Mr. Bulero—my client—in my opinion a risky one; this is the region where Eldritch operates.” He glanced about apprehensively. “Get him to take that toxic substance,” he said to Leo, “and then let’s get back to Terra before something terrible happens. I can feel it.” He started toward the door of the compartment.
   Leo said, “Will you take it, Barney?”
   “No,” he said.
   “Why not?” Weariness. Even patience.
   “My life means too much to me.” I’ve decided to halt in my atoning, he thought. At last.
   “What happened to you while you were translated?”
   He rose to his feet; he barely made it.
   “He’s not going to say,” Felix Blau said, at the doorway.
   Leo said, “Barney, it’s all we’ve come up with. I’ll get you off Mars; you know that. And Q-type epilepsy isn’t the end of—”
   “You’re wasting your time,” Felix said, and disappeared out into the hail. He gave Barney one final envenomed glance. “What a mistake you made, pinning your hopes on this guy.”
   Barney said, “He’s right, Leo.”
   “You’ll never get off Mars,” Leo said. “I’ll never wangle a passage back to Terra for you. No matter what happens from here on out.”
   “I know it.”
   “But you don’t care. You’re going to spend the rest of your life taking that drug.” Leo glared at him, baffled.
   “Never again,” Barney said.
   “Then what?”
   Barney said, “I’ll live here. As a colonist. I’ll work on my garden up top and whatever else they do. Build irrigation systems and like that.” He felt tired and the nausea had not left him. “Sorry,” he said.
   “So am I,” Leo said. “And I don’t understand it.” He glanced at Anne Hawthorne, saw no answer there either, shrugged, then walked to the door. There he started to say something more but gave up; with Felix Blau he departed. Barney listened to the sound of them clanking up the steps to the mouth of the hovel and then finally the sound died away and there was silence. He went to the sink and got himself a glass of water.
   After a time Anne said, “I understand it.”
   “Do you?” The water tasted good; it washed away the last traces of Chew-Z.
   “Part of you has become Palmer Eldritch,” she said. “And part of him became you. Neither of you can ever become completely separated again; you’ll always be—”
   “You’re out of your mind,” he said, leaning with exhaustion against the sink, steadying himself; his legs were too weak, still.
   “Eldritch got what he wanted out of you,” Anne said.
   “No,” he said. “Because I came back too soon. I would have had to be there another five or ten minutes. When Leo fires his second shot it’ll be Palmer Eldritch there in that ship, not me.” And that’s why there is no need for me to derange my brain metabolism in a hasty, crackpot scheme concocted out of desperation, he said to himself. The man will be dead soon enough… or rather it will be.
   “I see,” Anne said. “And you’re sure this glimpse of the future that you had during translation—”
   “It’s valid.” Because he was not dependent on what had been available to him during his experience with the drug.
   In addition he had his own precog ability.
   “And Palmer Eldritch knows it’s valid, too,” he said. “He’ll do, is doing, everything possible to get out of it. But he won’t. Can’t.” Or at least, he realized, it’s probable that he can’t. But here was the essence of the future: interlaced possibilities. And long ago he had accepted this, learned how to deal with it; he intuitively knew which time-line to choose. By that he had held his job with Leo.
   “But because of this Leo won’t pull strings for you,” Anne said. “He really won’t get you back to Earth; he meant it. Don’t you comprehend the seriousness of that? I could tell by the expression on his face; as long as he lives he’ll never—”
   “Earth,” Barney said, “I’ve had.” He too had meant what he had said, his anticipations for his own life which lay ahead here on Mars.
   If it was good enough for Palmer Eldritch it was good enough for him. Because Eldritch had lived many lives; there had been a vast, reliable wisdom contained within the substance of the man or creature, whatever it was. The fusion of himself with Eldritch during translation had left a mark on him, a brand for perpetuity: it was a form of absolute awareness. He wondered, then, if Eldritch had gotten anything back from him in exchange. Did I have something worth his knowing? he asked himself. Insights?Moods or memories or values?
   Good question. The answer, he decided, was no. Our opponent, something admittedly ugly and foreign that entered one of our race like an ailment during the long voyage between Terra and Prox… and yet it knew much more than I did about the meaning of our finite lives, here; it saw in perspective. From its centuries of vacant drifting as it waited for some kind of life form to pass by which it could grab and become… maybe that’s the source of its knowledge: not experience but unending solitary brooding. And in comparison I knew—had done—nothing.
   At the door of the compartment Norm and Fran Schein appeared. “Hey, Mayerson; how was it? What’d you think of Chew-Z the second time around?” They entered, expectantly awaiting his answer.
   Barney said, “It’ll never sell.”
   Disappointed, Norm said, “That wasn’t my reaction; I liked it, and a lot better than Can-D. Except—” He hesitated, frowned, and glanced at his wife with a worried expression. “There was a creepy presence though, where I was; it sort of marred things.” He explained, “Naturally I was back—”
   Fran interrupted, “Mr. Mayerson looks tired. You can give him the rest of the details later.”
   Eying Barney, Norm Schein said, “You’re a strange bird, Barney. You came out of it the first time and snatched this girl’s bindle, here, this Miss Hawthorne, and ran off and locked yourself in your compartment so you could take it, and now you say—” He shrugged philosophically. “Well, maybe you just got too much in your craw all at once. You weren’t moderate, man. Me, I intend to try it again. Carefully, of course. Not like you.” Reassuring himself he said loudly, “I mean it; I liked the stuff.”
   “Except,” Barney said, “for the presence that was there with you.”
   “I felt it, too,” Fran said quietly. “I’m not going to try it again. I’m—afraid of it. Whatever it was.” She shivered and moved closer to her husband; automatically, from long habit, he put his arm around her waist.
   Barney said, “Don’t be afraid of it. It’s just trying to live, like the rest of us are.”
   “But it was so—” Fran began.
   “Anything that old,” Barney said, “would have to seem unpleasant to us. We have no conception of age to that dimension. That enormity.”
   “You talk like you know what it was,” Norm said.
   I know, Barney thought. Because as Anne said, part of it’s here inside me. And it will, until it dies a few months from now, retain its portion of me incorporated within its own structure. So when Leo kills it, he realized, it will be a bad instant for me. I wonder how it will feel. .
   “That thing,” he said, speaking to them all, especially to Norm Schein and his wife, “has a name which you’d recognize if I told it to you. Although it would never call itself that. We’re the ones who’ve titled it. From experience, at a distance, over thousands of years. But sooner or later we were bound to be confronted by it. Without the distance. Or the years.”
   Anne Hawthorne said, “You mean God.”
   It did not seem to him necessary to answer, beyond a slight nod.
   “But—evil?” Fran Schein whispered.
   “An aspect,” Barney said. “Our experience of it. Nothing more.” Or didn’t I make you see that already? he asked himself. Should I tell you how it tried to help me, in its own way? And yet—how fettered it was, too, by the forces of fate, which seem to transcend all that live, including it as much as ourselves.
   “Gee whiz,” Norm said, the corners of his mouth turning down in almost tearful disappointment; he looked, for a moment, like a cheated small boy.
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   Later, when his legs had ceased collapsing under him, he took Anne Hawthorne to the surface and showed her the beginnings of his garden.
   “You know,” Anne said, “it takes courage to let people down.”
   “You mean Leo?” He knew what she meant; there was no dispute about what he had just now done to Leo and to Felix Blau and the whole P. P. Layouts and Can-D organization. “Leo’s a grown man,” he pointed out. “He’ll get over it. He’ll recognize that he has to handle Eldritch himself and he will.” And, he thought, the litigation against Eldritch would not have accomplished that much; my precog ability tells me that, too.
   “Beets,” Anne said. She had seated herself on the fender of an autonomic tractor and was examining packages of seeds. “I hate beets. So please don’t plant any, even mutant ones that are green, tall, and skinny and taste like last year’s plastic doorknob.”
   “Were you thinking,” he said, “of coming here to live?”
   “No.” Furtively, she inspected the homeostatic control box of the tractor, and picked at the frayed, partially incinerated insulation of one of its power cables. “But I expect to have dinner with your group every once in a while; you’re the closest neighbor we have. Such as you are.”
   “Listen,” he said, “that decayed ruin that you inhabit—” He broke off. Identity, he thought; I’m already acquiring it in terms of this substandard communal dwelling that could use fifty years of constant, detailed repair work by experts. “My hovel,” he said to her, “can lick your hovel. Any day of the week.”
   “What about Sunday? Can you do it twice, then?”
   “Sunday,” he said, “we’re not allowed to. We read the Scriptures.”
   “Don’t joke about it,” Anne said quietly.
   “I wasn’t.” And he hadn’t been, not at all.
   “What you said earlier about Palmer Eldritch—”
   Barney said, “I only wanted to tell you one thing. Maybe two at the most. First, that he—you know what I refer to—really exists, really is there. Although not like we’ve thought and not like we’ve experienced him up to now—not like we’ll perhaps ever be able to. And second—” He hesitated.
   “Say it.”
   “He can’t help us very much,” Barney said. “Some, maybe. But he stands with empty, open hands; he understands, he wants to help. He tries, but… it’s just not that simple. Don’t ask me why. Maybe even he doesn’t know. Maybe it puzzles him, too. Even after all the time he’s had to mull over it.” And all the time he’ll have later on, Barney thought, if he gets away from Leo Bulero. Human, one-of-us Leo. Does Leo know what he’s up against? And if he did… would he try anyhow, keep on with his schemes?
   Leo would. A precog can see something that’s foreordained.
   Anne said, “What met Eldritch and entered him, what we’re confronting, is a being superior to ourselves and as you say we can’t judge it or make sense out of what it does or wants; it’s mysterious and beyond us. But I know you’re wrong, Barney. Something which stands with empty, open hands is not God. It’s a creature fashioned by something higher than itself, as we were; God wasn’t fashioned and He isn’t puzzled.”
   “I felt,” Barney said, “about him a presence of the deity. It was there.” Especially in that one moment, he thought, when Eldritch shoved me, tried to make me try.
   “Of course,” Anne agreed. “I thought you understood about that; He’s here inside each of us and in a higher life form such as we’re talking about He would certainly be even more manifest. But—let me tell you my cat joke. It’s very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she’s got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room—has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak—and it’s gone. And there’s the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing its face.”
   “The cat got the steak,” Barney said.
   “Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all five pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. ‘Weigh the cat,’ someone says. They’ve had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weigh the cat on the scales. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and one guest says, ‘Okay, that’s it. There’s the steak.’ They’re satisfied that they know what happened, now; they’ve got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, ‘But where’s the cat?’”
   “I heard that joke before,” Barney said. “And anyhow I don’t see its application.”
   Anne said, “That joke poses the finest distillation of the problem of ontology ever invented. If you ponder it long enough—”
   “Hell,” he said angrily, “it’s five pounds of cat; it’s nonsense—there’s no steak if the scale shows five pounds.”
   “Remember the wine and the wafer,” Anne said quietly.
   He stared at her. The idea, for a moment, seemed to come through.
   “Yes,” she said. “The cat was not the steak. But—the cat might be a manifestation which the steak was taking at that moment. The key word happens to be is. Don’t tell us, Barney, that whatever entered Palmer Eldritch is God, because you don’t know that much about Him; no one can. But that living entity from intersystem space may, like us, be shaped in His image. A way He selected of showing Himself to us. If the map is not the territory, the pot is not the potter. So don’t talk ontology, Barney; don’t say is.” She smiled at him hopefully, to see if he understood.
   “Someday,” Barney said, “we may worship at that monument.” Not the deed by Leo Bulero, he thought; as admirable as it was—will be, more accurately—that won’t be our object. No, we’ll all of us, as a culture, do as I already am tending toward: we’ll invest it wanly, pitifully, with our conception of infinite powers. And we’ll be right in a sense because those powers are there. But as Anne says, as to its actual nature—
   “I can see you want to be alone with your garden,” Anne said. “I think I’ll start back to my hovel. Good luck. And, Barney—” She reached out, took him by the hand, and held onto him earnestly. “Never grovel. God, or whatever superior being it is we’ve encountered—it wouldn’t want that and even if it did you shouldn’t do it.” She leaned forward, kissed him, and then started off.
   “You think I’m right?” Barney called after her. “Is there any point in trying to start a garden here?” Or will we go the familiar way, too…
   “Don’t ask me. I’m no authority.”
   “You just care about your spiritual salvation,” he said savagely.
   “I don’t even care about that any more,” Anne said. “I’m terribly, terribly confused and everything upsets me, here. Listen.” She walked back to him, her eyes dark and shaded, without light. “When you grabbed me, to take that bindle of Chew-Z; you know what I saw? I mean actually saw, not just believed.”
   “An artificial hand. And a distortion of my jaw. And my eyes—”
   “Yes,” she said tightly. “The mechanical, slitted eyes. What did it mean?”
   Barney said, “It meant that you were seeing into absolute reality. The essence beyond the mere appearance.” In your terminology, he thought, what you saw is called—stigmata.
   For an interval she regarded him. “That’s the way you really are?” she said, then, and drew away from him, with aversion manifest on her face. “Why aren’t you what you seem? You’re not like that now. I don’t understand.” She added, tremulously, “I wish I hadn’t told that cat joke.”
   He said, “I saw the same thing in you, dear. At that instant. You fought me off with fingers decidedly not those you were born with.” And it could so easily slip into place again. The Presence abides with us, potentially if not actually.
   “Is it a curse?” Anne asked. “I mean, we have the account of an original curse of God; is it like that all over again?”
   “You ought to be the one who knows; you remember what you saw. All three stigmata—the dead, artificial hand, the Jensen eyes, and the radically deranged jaw.” Symbols of its inhabitation, he thought. In our midst. But not asked for. Not intentionally summoned. And—we have no mediating sacraments through which to protect ourselves; we can’t compel it, by our careful, time-honored, clever, painstaking rituals, to confine itself to specific elements such as bread and water or bread and wine. It is out in the open, ranging in every direction. It looks into our eyes; and it looks out of our eyes.
   “It’s a price,” Anne decided. “That we must pay. For our desire to undergo that drug experience with that Chew-Z. Like the apple originally.” Her tone was shockingly bitter.
   “Yes,” he agreed, “but I think I already paid it.” Or came within a hair of paying it, he decided. That thing, which we know only in its Terran body, wanted to substitute me at the instant of its destruction; instead of God dying for man, as we once had, we faced—for a moment– a superior—the superior power asking us to perish for it.
   Does that make it evil? he wondered. Do I believe the argument I gave Norm Schein? Well, it certainly makes it inferior to what came two thousand years before. It seems to be nothing more or less than the desire of, as Anne puts it, an out-of-dust created organism to perpetuate itself; we all have it, we all would like to see a goat or a lamb cut to pieces and incinerated instead of ourselves. Oblations have to be made. And we don’t care to be them. In fact our entire lives are dedicated to that one principle. And so is its.
   “Goodbye,” Anne said. “I’ll leave you alone; you can sit in the cab of that dredge and dig away to your heart’s content. Maybe when I next see you, there’ll be a completed water-system installed here.” She smiled once more at him, briefly, and then hiked off in the direction of her own hovel.
   After a time he climbed the steps to the cab of the dredge which he had been using and started the creaky, sand-impregnated mechanism. It howled mournfully in protest. Happier, he decided, to remain asleep; this, for the machine, was the ear-splitting summons of the last trumpet, and the dredge was not yet ready.

   He had scooped perhaps a half mile of irregular ditch, as yet void of water, when he discovered that an indigenous life form, a Martian something, was stalking him. At once he halted the dredge and peered into the glare of the cold Martian sun to make it out.
   It looked a little like a lean, famished old grandmother on all fours and he realized that this was probably the jackal-creature which he had been warned repeatedly about. In any case, whatever it was, it obviously hadn’t fed in days; it eyed him ravenously, while keeping its distance—and then, projected telepathically, its thoughts reached him. So he was right. This was it.
   “May I eat you?” it asked. And panted, avidly slackjawed.
   “Christ no,” Barney said. He fumbled about in the cab of the dredge for something to use as a weapon; his hands closed over a heavy wrench and he displayed it to the Martian predator, letting it speak for him; there lay a great message in the wrench and the way he gripped it.
   “Get down off that contraption,” the Martian predator thought, in a mixture of hope and need. “I can’t reach you up there.” The last was intended, certainly, to be a private thought, retained in camera, but somehow it had gotten projected, too. The creature had no finesse. “I’ll wait,” it decided. “He has to get down eventually.”
   Barney swung the dredge around and started it back in the direction of Chicken Pox Prospects. Groaning, it clanked at a maddeningly slow rate; it appeared to be failing with each yard. He had the intuition that it was not going to make it. Maybe the creature’s right, he said to himself; it is possible I’ll have to step down and face it.
   Spared, he thought bitterly, by the enormously higher life form that entered Palmer Eldritch that showed up in our system from out there—and then eaten by this stunted beast. The termination of a long flight, he thought. A final arrival that even five minutes ago, despite my precog talent, I didn’t anticipate. Maybe I didn’t want to… as Dr. Smile, if he were here, would triumphantly bleat.
   The dredge wheezed, bucked violently, and then, painfully contracting itself, curled up; its life flickered a moment and then it died to a stop.
   For a time Barney sat in silence. Placed directly ahead of him the old-grandmother jackal Martian flesh-eater watched, never taking its eyes from him.
   “All right,” Barney said. “Here I come.” He hopped from the cab of the dredge, flailing with the wrench.
   The creature dashed at him.
   Almost to him, five feet away, it suddenly squealed, veered, and ran past, not touching him. He spun, and watched it go. “Unclean,” it thought to itself; it halted at a safe distance and fearfully regarded him, tongue lolling. “You’re an unclean thing,” it informed him dismally.
   Unclean, Barney thought. How? Why?
   “You just are,” the predator answered. “Look at yourself. I can’t eat you; I’d be sick.” It remained where it was, drooping with disappointment and—aversion. He had horrified it.
   “Maybe we’re all unclean to you,” he said. “All of us from Earth, alien to this world. Unfamiliar.”
   “Just you,” it told him flatly. “Look at—ugh!–your right arm, your hand. There’s something intolerably wrong with you. How can you live with yourself? Can’t you cleanse yourself some way?”
   He did not bother to look at his arm and hand; it was unnecessary.
   Calmly, with all the dignity that he could manage, he walked on, over the loosely packed sand, toward his hovel.

   That night, as he prepared to go to bed in the cramped bunk provided by his compartment at Chicken Pox Prospects, someone rapped on his closed door. “Hey, Mayerson. Open up.”
   Putting on his robe he opened the door.
   “That trading ship is back,” Norm Schein, excited, grabbing him by the lapel of his robe, declared. “You know, from the Chew-Z people. You got any skins left? If so—”
   “If they want to see me,” Barney said, disengaging Norm Schein’s grip from his robe, “they’ll have to come down here. You tell them that.” He shut the door, then.
   Norm loudly departed.
   He seated himself at the table on which he ate his meals, got a pack—his last—of Terran cigarettes from the drawer, and lit up; he sat smoking and meditating, hearing above and around his compartment the scampering noises of his fellow hovelists. Large-scale mice, he thought. Who have scented the bait.
   The door to his compartment opened. He did not look up; he continued to stare down at the table surface, at the ashtray and matches and pack of Camels.
   “Mr. Mayerson.”
   Barney said, “I know what you’re going to say.”
   Entering the compartment, Palmer Eldritch shut the door, seated himself across from Barney, and said, “Correct, my friend. I let you go just before it happened, before Leo fired the second time. It was my carefully considered decision. And I’ve had a long time to dwell on the matter; a little over three centuries. I won’t tell you why.”
   “I don’t care why,” Barney said. He continued to stare down.
   “Can’t you look at me?” Palmer Eldritch said.
   “I’m unclean,” Barney informed him.
   “An animal out in the desert. And it had never seen me before; it knew it just by coming close to me.” While still five feet away, he thought to himself. Which is fairly far.
   “Hmm. Maybe its motive—”
   “It had no goddam motive. In fact just the opposite– it was half-dead from hunger and yearning to eat me. So it must be true.”
   “To the primitive mind,” Eldritch said, “the unclean and the holy are confused. Merged merely as taboo. The ritual for them, the—”
   “Aw hell,” he said bitterly. “It’s true and you know it. I’m alive, I won’t die on that ship, but I’m defiled.”
   “By me?”
   Barney said, “Make your own guess.”
   After a pause Eldritch shrugged and said, “All right. I was cast out from a star system—I won’t identify it because to you it wouldn’t matter—and I took up residence where that wild, get-rich-quick operator from your system encountered me. And some of that has been passed on to you. But not much. You’ll gradually, over the years, recover; it’ll diminish until it’s gone. Your fellow colonists won’t notice because it’s touched them, too; it began as soon as they participated in the chewing of what we sold them.”
   “I’d like to know,” Barney said, “what you were trying to do when you introduced Chew-Z to our people.”
   “Perpetuate myself,” the creature opposite him said quietly.
   He glanced up, then. “A form of reproduction?”
   “Yes, the only way I can.”
   With overwhelming aversion Barney said, “My God. We would all have become your children.”
   “Don’t fret about that now, Mr. Mayerson,” it said, and laughed in a humanlike, jovial way. “Just tend your little garden up top, get your water system going. Frankly I long for death; I’ll be glad when Leo Bulero does what he’s already contemplating… he’s begun to hatch it, now that you’ve refused to take the brain-metabolism toxin. Anyhow, I wish you luck here on Mars; I would have enjoyed it, myself, but things didn’t work out and that’s that.” Eldritch rose to his feet, then.
   “You could revert,” Barney said. “Resume the form you were in when Palmer encountered you. You don’t have to be there, inhabiting that body, when Leo opens fire on your ship.”
   “Could I?” Its tone was mocking. “Maybe something worse is waiting for me if I fail to show up there. But you wouldn’t know about that; you’re an entity whose lifespan is relatively short, and in a short span there’s a lot less—” It paused, thinking.
   “Don’t tell me,” Barney said. “I don’t want to know.”
   The next time he looked up, Palmer Eldritch was gone.
   He lit another cigarette. What a mess, he thought. This is how we act when finally we do contact at long last another sentient race within the galaxy. And how it behaves, badly as us and in some respects much worse. And there’s nothing to redeem the situation. Not now.
   And Leo thought that by going out to confront Eldritch with that tube of toxin we had a chance. Ironic.
   And here I am, without having even consummated the miserable act for the courts’ benefit, physically, basically, unclean.
   Maybe Anne can do something for me, he thought suddenly. Maybe there are methods to restore one to the original condition—dimly remembered, such as it was—before the late and more acute contamination set in. He tried to remember but he knew so little about Neo-Christianity. Anyhow it was worth a try; it suggested there might be hope, and he was going to need that in the years ahead.
   After all, the creature residing in deep space which had taken the form of Palmer Eldritch bore some relationship to God; if it was not God, as he himself had decided, then at least it was a portion of God’s Creation. So some of the responsibility lay on Him. And, it seemed to Barney, He was probably mature enough to recognize this.
   Getting Him to admit it, though. That might be something else again.
   However, it was still worth talking to Anne Hawthorne; she might know of techniques for accomplishing even that.
   But he somehow doubted it. Because he held a terrifying insight, simple, easy to think and utter, which perhaps applied to himself and those around him, to this situation.
   There was such a thing as salvation. But—
   Not for everyone.

   On the trip back to Terra from their unsuccessful mission to Mars, Leo Bulero endlessly nitpicked and conferred with his colleague, Felix Blau. It was now obvious to both of them what they would have to do.
   “He’s all the time traveling between a master-satellite around Venus and the other planets, plus his demesne on Luna,” Felix pointed out in summation. “And we all recognize how vulnerable a ship in space is; even a small puncture can—” He gestured graphically.
   “We’d need the UN’s cooperation,” Leo said gloomily. Because all he and his organization were allowed to possess were side arms. Nothing that could be used by one ship against another.
   “I’ve got what may be some interesting data on that,” Felix said, rummaging in his briefcase. “Our people in the UN reach into Hepburn-Gilbert’s office, as you may or may not know. We can’t compel him to do anything, but we can at least discuss it.” He produced a document. “Our Secretary-General is worried about the consistent appearance of Palmer Eldritch in every one of the so-called ‘reincarnations’ that users of Chew-Z experience. He’s smart enough to correctly interpret what that implies. So if it keeps happening undoubtedly we can get more cooperation from him, at least on a sub rosa basis; for instance—”
   Leo broke in, “Felix, let me ask you something. How long have you had an artificial arm?”
   Glancing down, Felix grunted in surprise. And then, staring at Leo Bulero, he said, “So do you, too. And there’s something the matter with your teeth; open your mouth and let’s see.”
   Without answering, Leo got to his feet and went into the men’s room of the ship to survey himself in the floorlength mirror.
   There was no doubt of it. Even the eyes, too. Resignedly he returned to his seat beside Felix Blau. Neither of them said anything for a while; Felix rattled his documents mechanically—oh God, Leo thought; literally mechanically!—and Leo alternated between watching him and dully staring out the window at the blackness and stars of interplan space.
   Finally Felix said, “Sort of throws you at first, doesn’t it?”
   “It does,” Leo agreed hoarsely. “I mean, hey Felix– what do we do?”
   “We accept it,” Felix said. He was gazing with fixed intensity down the aisle at the people in the other seats. Leo looked and saw, too. The same deformity of the jaw. The same brilliant, unfleshly right hand, one holding a homeopape, another a book, a third its fingers restlessly tapping. On and on and on until the termination of the aisle and the beginning of the pilot’s cabin. In there, too, he realized. It’s all of us.
   “But I just don’t quite get what it means,” Leo complained helplessly. “Are we in—you know. Translated by that foul drug and this is—” He gestured. “We’re both out of our minds, is that it?”
   Felix Blau said, “Have you taken Chew-Z?”
   “No. Not since that one intravenous injection on Luna.”
   “Neither have I,” Felix said. “Ever. So it’s spread. Without the use of the drug. He’s everywhere, or rather it’s everywhere. But this is good; this’ll decidedly cause Hepburn-Gilbert to reconsider the UN’s stand. He’ll have to face exactly what this thing amounts to. I think Palmer Eldritch made a mistake; he went too far.”
   “Maybe it couldn’t help it,” Leo said. Maybe the damn organism was like a protoplasm; it had to ingest and grow—instinctively it spread out farther and farther. Until it’s destroyed at the source, Leo thought. And we’re the ones to do it, because I’m personally Homo sapiens evolvens: I’m the human of the future right here sitting in this seat now. If we can get the UN’s help.
   I’m the Protector, he said to himself, of our race.
   He wondered if this blight had reached Terra, yet. A civilization of Palmer Eldritches, gray and hollow and stooped and immensely tall, each with his artificial arm and eccentric teeth and mechanical, slitted eyes. It would not be pleasant. He, the Protector, shrank from the envisioning of it. And suppose it reaches our minds? he asked himself. Not just the anatomy of the thing but the mentality as well… what would happen to our plans to kill the thing?
   Say, I bet this still isn’t real, Leo said to himself. I know I’m right and Felix isn’t; I’m still under the influence of that one dose; I never came back out—that’s what’s the matter. Thinking this he felt relief, because there was still a real Terra untouched; it was only himself that was affected. No matter how genuine Felix beside him and the ship and the memory of his visit to Mars to see about Barney Mayerson seemed.
   “Hey, Felix,” he said, nudging him. “You’re a figment. Get it? This is a private world of mine. I can’t prove it, naturally, but—”
   “Sorry,” Felix said laconically. “You’re wrong.”
   “Aw, come on! Eventually I’m going to wake up or whatever it is you finally do when that miserable staff is out of your system. I’m going to keep drinking a lot of liquids, you know, flush it out of my veins.” He waved. “Stewardess.” He beckoned to her urgently. “Bring us our drinks now. Bourbon and water for me.” He glanced inquiringly at Felix.
   “The same,” Felix murmured. “Except I want a little ice. But not too much because that way when it melts the drink is no good.”
   The stewardess presently approached, tray extended. “Yours is with ice?” she asked Felix; she was blonde and pretty, with green eyes the texture of good polished stones, and when she bent forward her articulated, spherical breasts were partially exposed. Leo noticed that, liked that; however, the distortion of her jaw ruined the total impression and he felt disappointed, cheated. And now, he saw, the lovely long-lashed eyes had vanished. Been replaced. He looked away, disgruntled and depressed, until she had gone. It was going to be especially hard, he realized, regarding women; he did not for instance anticipate with any pleasure the first sight of Roni Fugate.
   “You saw?” Felix said as he drank his drink.
   “Yes, and it proves how quickly we’ve got to act,” Leo said. “As soon as we land in New York we look up that wily, no-good nitwit Hepburn-Gilbert.”
   “What for?” Felix Blau asked.
   Leo stared at him, then pointed at Felix’s artificial, shiny fingers holding his glass.
   “I rather like them now,” Felix said meditatively.
   That’s what I thought, Leo thought. That’s exactly what I was expecting. But I still have faith I can get at the thing, if not this week then next. If not this month then sometime. I know it; I know myself now and what I can do. It’s all up to me. Which is just fine. I saw enough in the future not to ever give up, even if I’m the only one who doesn’t succumb, who’s still keeping the old way alive, the pre-Palmer Eldritch way. It’s nothing more than faith in powers implanted in me from the start which I can—in the end—draw on and beat him with. So in a sense it isn’t me; it’s something in me that even that thing Palmer Eldritch can’t reach and consume because since it’s not me it’s not mine to lose. I feel it growing. Withstanding the external, nonessential alterations, the arm, the eyes, the teeth—it’s not touched by any of these three, the evil, negative trinity of alienation, blurred reality, and despair that Eldritch brought back with him from Proxima. Or rather from the space in between.
   He thought, We have lived thousands of years under one old-time plague already that’s partly spoiled and destroyed our holiness, and that from a source higher than Eldritch. And if that can’t completely obliterate our spirit, how can this? Is it maybe going to finish the job? If it thinks so—if Palmer Eldritch believes that’s what he arrived here for—he’s wrong. Because that power in me that was implanted without my knowledge—it wasn’t even reached by the original ancient blight. How about that?
   My evolved mind tells me all these things, he thought. Those E Therapy sessions weren’t in vain… I may not have lived as long as Eldritch in one sense, but in another sense I have; I’ve lived a hundred thousand years, that of my accelerated evolution, and out of it I’ve become very wise; I got my money’s worth. Nothing could be clearer to me now. And down in the resorts of Antarctica I’ll join the others like myself; we’ll be a guild of Protectors. Saving the rest.
   “Hey Blau,” he said, poking with his non-artificial elbow the semi-thing beside him. “I’m your descendant. Elditch showed up from another space but I came from another time. Got it?”
   “Um,” Felix Blau murmured.
   “Look at my double-dome, my big forehead; I’m a bubblehead, right? And this rind; it’s not just on top, it’s all over. So in my case the therapy really took. So don’t give up yet. Believe in me.”
   “Okay, Leo.”
   “Stick around for a while. There’ll be action. I may be looking out at you through a couple of Jensen luxvid artificial-type eyes but it’s still me inside here. Okay?”
   “Okay,” Felix Blau said. “Anything you say, Leo.”
   “‘Leo’? How come you keep calling me ‘Leo’?”
   Sitting rigidly upright in his chair, supporting himself with both hands, Felix Blau regarded him imploringly. “Think, Leo. For chrissakes think.”
   “Oh yeah.” Sobered, he nodded; he felt chastened. “Sorry. It was just a temporary slip. I know what you’re referring to; I know what you’re afraid of. But it didn’t mean anything.” He added, “I’ll keep thinking, like you say. I won’t forget again.” He nodded solemnly, promising.
   The ship rushed on, nearer and nearer Earth.
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We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

Philip Kindred Dick

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”
by Philip K. Dick

   He awoke—and wanted Mars. The valleys, he thought. What would it be like to trudge among them? Great and greater yet: the dream grew as he became fully conscious, the dream and the yearning. He could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world, which only Government agents and high officials had seen. A clerk like himself? Not likely.
   “Are you getting up or not?” his wife Kirsten asked drowsily, with her usual hint of fierce crossness. “If you are, push the hot coffee button on the darn stove.”
   “Okay,” Douglas Quail said, and made his way barefoot from the bedroom of their conapt to the kitchen. There, having dutifully pressed the hot coffee button, he seated himself at the kitchen table, brought out a yellow, small tin of fine Dean Swift snuff. He inhaled briskly, and the Beau Nash mixture stung his nose, burned the roof of his mouth. But still he inhaled; it woke him up and allowed his dreams, his nocturnal desires and random wishes, to condense into a semblance of rationality.
   I will go, he said to himself. Before I die I’ll see Mars.
   It was, of course, impossible, and he knew this even as he dreamed. But the daylight, the mundane noise of his wife now brushing her hair before the bedroom mirror—everything conspired to remind him of what he was. A miserable little salaried employee, he said to himself with bitterness. Kirsten reminded him of this at least once a day and he did not blame her; it was a wife’s job to bring her husband down to Earth. Down to Earth, he thought, and laughed. The figure of speech in this was literally apt.
   “What are you sniggering about?” his wife asked as she swept into the kitchen, her long busy-pink robe wagging after her. “A dream, I bet. You’re always full of them.”
   “Yes,” he said, and gazed out the kitchen window at the hovercars and traffic runnels, and all the little energetic people hurrying to work. In a little while he would be among them. As always.
   “I’ll bet it has to do with some woman,” Kirsten said witheringly.
   “No,” he said. “A god. The god of war. He has wonderful craters with every kind of plant-life growing deep down in them.”
   “Listen.” Kirsten crouched down beside him and spoke earnestly, the harsh quality momentarily gone from her voice. “The bottom of the ocean—our ocean is much more, an infinity of times more beautiful. You know that; everyone knows that. Rent an artificial gill-outfit for both of us, take a week off from work, and we can descend and live down there at one of those year-round aquatic resorts. And in addition,” She broke off. “You’re not listening. You should be. Here is something a lot better than that compulsion, that obsession you have about Mars, and you don’t even listen!” Her voice rose piercingly. “God in heaven, you’re doomed, Doug! What’s going to become of you?”
   “I’m going to work,” he said, rising to his feet, his breakfast forgotten. “That’s what’s going to become of me.”
   She eyed him. “You’re getting worse. More fanatical every day. Where’s it going to lead?”
   “To Mars,” he said, and opened the door to the closet to get down a fresh shirt to wear to work.

   Having descended from the taxi Douglas Quail slowly walked across three densely-populated foot runnels and to the modern, attractively inviting doorway. There he halted, impeding mid-morning traffic, and with caution read the shifting-color neon sign. He had, in the past, scrutinized this sign before… but never had he come so close. This was very different; what he did now was something else. Something which sooner or later had to happen.

Rekal, Incorporated

   Was this the answer? After all, an illusion, no matter how convincing, remained nothing more than an illusion. At least objectively. But subjectively—quite the opposite entirely.
   And anyhow he had an appointment. Within the next five minutes.
   Taking a deep breath of mildly smog-infested Chicago air, he walked through the dazzling poly-chromatic shimmer of the doorway and up to the receptionist’s counter. The nicely-articulated blonde at the counter, bare-bosomed and tidy, said pleasantly, “Good morning, Mr. Quail.”
   “Yes,” he said. “I’m here to see about a Rekal course. As I guess you know.”
   “Not ‘rekal’ but recall,” the receptionist corrected him. She picked up the receiver of the vidphone by her smooth elbow and said into it, “Mr. Douglas Quail is here, Mr. McClane. May he come inside, now? Or is it too soon?”
   “Giz wetwa wum-wum wamp,” the phone mumbled.
   “Yes, Mr. Quail,” she said. “You may go on in; Mr. McClane is expecting you.” As he started off uncertainly she called after him, “Room D, Mr. Quail. To your right.”
   After a frustrating but brief moment of being lost he found the proper room. The door hung open and inside, at a big genuine walnut desk, sat a genial-looking man, middle-aged, wearing the latest Martian frog-pelt gray suit; his attire alone would have told Quail that he had come to the right person.
   “Sit down, Douglas,” McClane said, waving his plump hand toward a chair which faced the desk. “So you want to have gone to Mars. Very good.”
   Quail seated himself, feeling tense. “I’m not so sure this is worth the fee,” he said. “It costs a lot and as far as I can see I really get nothing.” Costs almost as much as going, he thought.
   “You get tangible proof of your trip,” McClane disagreed emphatically. “All the proof you’ll need. Here; I’ll show you.” He dug within a drawer of his impressive desk. “Ticket stub.” Reaching into a manila folder he produced a small square of embossed cardboard. “It proves you went—and returned. Postcards.” He laid out four franked picture 3-D full-color postcards in a neatly-arranged row on the desk for Quail to see. “Film. Shots you took of local sights on Mars with a rented movie camera.” To Quail he displayed those, too. “Plus the names of people you met, two hundred poscreds worth of souvenirs, which will arrive—from Mars—within the following month. And passport, certificates listing the shots you received. And more.” He glanced up keenly at Quail. “You’ll know you went, all right,” he said. “You won’t remember us, won’t remember me or ever having been here. It’ll be a real trip in your mind; we guarantee that. A full two weeks of recall; every last piddling detail. Remember this: if at any time you doubt that you really took an extensive trip to Mars you can return here and get a full refund. You see?”
   “But I didn’t go,” Quail said. “I won’t have gone, no matter what proofs you provide me with.” He took a deep, unsteady breath. “And I never was a secret agent with Interplan.” It seemed impossible to him that Rekal, Incorporated’s extra-factual memory implant would do its job—despite what he had heard people say.
   “Mr. Quail,” McClane said patiently. “As you explained in your letter to us, you have no chance, no possibility in the slightest, of ever actually getting to Mars; you can’t afford it, and what is much more important, you could never qualify as an undercover agent for Interplan or anybody else. This is the only way you can achieve your, ahem, life-long dream; am I not correct, sir? You can’t be this; you can’t actually do this.” He chuckled. “But you can have been and have done. We see to that. And our fee is reasonable; no hidden charges.” He smiled encouragingly.
   “Is an extra-factual memory that convincing?” Quail asked.
   “More than the real thing, sir. Had you really gone to Mars as an Interplan agent, you would by now have forgotten a great deal; our analysis of true-mem systems—authentic recollections of major events in a person’s life—shows that a variety of details are very quickly lost to the person. Forever. Part of the package we offer you is such deep implantation of recall that nothing is forgotten. The packet which is fed to you while you’re comatose is the creation of trained experts, men who have spent years on Mars; in every case we verify details down to the last iota. And you’ve picked a rather easy extra-factual system; had you picked Pluto or wanted to be Emperor of the Inner Planet Alliance we’d have much more difficulty… and the charges would be considerably greater.”
   Reaching into his coat for his wallet, Quail said, “Okay. It’s been my life-long ambition and I can see I’ll never really do it. So I guess I’ll have to settle for this.”
   “Don’t think of it that way,” McClane said severely. “You’re not accepting second-best. The actual memory, with all its vagueness, omissions and ellipses, not to say distortions—that’s second-best.” He accepted the money and pressed a button on his desk. “All right, Mr. Quail,” he said, as the door of his office opened and two burly men swiftly entered. “You’re on your way to Mars as a secret agent.” He rose, came over to shake Quail’s nervous, moist hand. “Or rather, you have been on your way. This afternoon at four-thirty you will, urn, arrive back here on Terra; a cab will leave you off at your conapt and as I say you will never remember seeing me or coming here; you won’t, in fact, even remember having heard of our existence.”
   His mouth dry with nervousness, Quail followed the two technicians from the office; what happened next depended on them.
   Will I actually believe I’ve been on Mars? he wondered. That I managed to fulfill my lifetime ambition? He had a strange, lingering intuition that something would go wrong. But just what—he did not know.
   He would have to wait to find out.

   The intercom on McClane’s desk, which connected him with the work area of the firm, buzzed and a voice said, “Mr. Quail is under sedation now, sir. Do you want to supervise this one, or shall we go ahead?”
   “It’s routine,” McClane observed. “You may go ahead, Lowe; I don’t think you’ll run into any trouble.” Programming an artificial memory of a trip to another planet—with or without the added fillip of being a secret agent—showed up on the firm’s work-schedule with monotonous regularity. In one month, he calculated wryly, we must do twenty of these… ersatz interplanetary travel has become our bread and butter.
   “Whatever you say, Mr. McClane,” Lowe’s voice came, and thereupon the intercom shut off.
   Going to the vault section in the chamber behind his office, McClane searched about for a Three packet—trip to Mars—and a Sixty-two packet: secret Interplan spy. Finding the two packets, he returned with them to his desk, seated himself comfortably, poured out the contents—merchandise which would be planted in Quail’s conapt while the lab technicians busied themselves installing the false memory.
   A one-poscred sneaky-pete side arm, McClane reflected; that’s the largest item. Sets us back financially the most. Then a pellet-sized transmitter, which could be swallowed if the agent were caught. Code book that astonishingly resembled the real thing… the firm’s models were highly accurate: based, whenever possible, on actual U.S. military issue. Odd bits which made no intrinsic sense but which would be woven into the warp and woof of Quail’s imaginary trip, would coincide with his memory: half an ancient silver fifty cent piece, several quotations from John Donne’s sermons written incorrectly, each on a separate piece of transparent tissue-thin paper, several match folders from bars on Mars, a stainless steel spoon engraved PROPERTY OF DOME-MARS NATIONAL KIBBUZIM, a wire tapping coil which—
   The intercom buzzed. “Mr. McClane, I’m sorry to bother you but something rather ominous has come up. Maybe it would be better if you were in here after all. Quail is already under sedation; he reacted well to the narkidrine; he’s completely unconscious and receptive. But—”
   “I’ll be in.” Sensing trouble, McClane left his office; a moment later he emerged in the work area.
   On a hygienic bed lay Douglas Quail, breathing slowly and regularly, his eyes virtually shut; he seemed dimly—but only dimly—aware of the two technicians and now McClane himself.
   “There’s no space to insert false memory-patterns?” McClane felt irritation. “Merely drop out two work weeks; he’s employed as a clerk at the West Coast Emigration Bureau, which is a government agency, so he undoubtedly has or had two weeks vacation within the last year. That ought to do it.” Petty details annoyed him. And always would.
   “Our problem,” Lowe said sharply, “is something quite different.” He bent over the bed, said to Quail, “Tell Mr. McClane what you told us.” To McClane he said, “Listen closely.”
   The gray-green eyes of the man lying supine in the bed focused on McClane’s face. The eyes, he observed uneasily, had become hard; they had a polished, inorganic quality, like semi-precious tumbled stones. He was not sure that he liked what he saw; the brilliance was too cold. “What do you want now?” Quail said harshly. “You’ve broken my cover. Get out of here before I take you all apart.” He studied McClane. “Especially you,” he continued. “You’re in charge of this counter-operation.”
   Lowe said, “How long were you on Mars?”
   “One month,” Quail said gratingly.
   “And your purpose there?” Lowe demanded.
   The meager lips twisted; Quail eyed him and did not speak. At last, drawling the words out so that they dripped with hostility, he said, “Agent for Interplan. As I already told you. Don’t you record everything that’s said? Play your vid-aud tape back for your boss and leave me alone.” He shut his eyes, then; the hard brilliance ceased. McClane felt, instantly, a rushing splurge of relief.
   Lowe said quietly, “This is a tough man, Mr. McClane.”
   “He won’t be,” McClane said, “after we arrange for him to lose his memory-chain again. He’ll be as meek as before.” To Quail he said, “So this is why you wanted to go to Mars so terribly bad.”
   Without opening his eyes Quail said, “I never wanted to go to Mars. I was assigned it—they handed it to me and there I was: stuck. Oh yeah, I admit I was curious about it; who wouldn’t be?” Again he opened his eyes and surveyed the three of them, McClane in particular. “Quite a truth drug you’ve got here; it brought up things I had absolutely no memory of.” He pondered. “I wonder about Kirsten,” he said, half to himself. “Could she be in on it? An Interplan contact keeping an eye on me… to be certain I didn’t regain my memory? No wonder she’s been so derisive about my wanting to go there.” Faintly, he smiled; the smile—one of understanding—disappeared almost at once.
   McClane said, “Please believe me, Mr. Quail; we stumbled onto this entirely by accident. In the work we do—”
   “I believe you,” Quail said. He seemed tired, now; the drug was continuing to pull him under, deeper and deeper. “Where did I say I’d been?” he murmured. “Mars? Hard to remember—I know I’d like to see it; so would everybody else. But me—” His voice trailed off. “Just a clerk, a nothing clerk.”
   Straightening up, Lowe said to his superior, “He wants a false memory implanted that corresponds to a trip he actually took. And a false reason which is the real reason. He’s telling the truth; he’s a long way down in the narkidrine. The trip is very vivid in his mind—at least under sedation. But apparently he doesn’t recall it otherwise. Someone, probably at a government military-sciences lab, erased his conscious memories; all he knew was that going to Mars meant something special to him, and so did being a secret agent. They couldn’t erase that; it’s not a memory but a desire, undoubtedly the same one that motivated him to volunteer for the assignment in the first place.”
   The other technician, Keeler, said to McClane, “What do we do? Graft a false memory-pattern over the real memory? There’s no telling what the results would be; he might remember some of the genuine trip, and the confusion might bring on a psychotic interlude. He’d have to hold two opposite premises in his mind simultaneously: that he went to Mars and that he didn’t. That he’s a genuine agent for Interplan and he’s not, that it’s spurious. I think we ought to revive him without any false memory implantation and send him out of here; this is hot.”
   “Agreed,” McClane said. A thought came to him. “Can you predict what he’ll remember when he comes out of sedation?”
   “Impossible to tell,” Lowe said. “He probably will have some dim, diffuse memory of his actual trip, now. And he’d probably be in grave doubt as to its validity; he’d probably decide our programming slipped a gear-tooth. And he’d remember coming here; that wouldn’t be erased—unless you want it erased.”
   “The less we mess with this man,” McClane said, “the better I like it. This is nothing for us to fool around with; we’ve been foolish enough to—or unlucky enough to—uncover a genuine Interplan spy who has a cover so perfect that up to now even he didn’t know what he was—or rather is.” The sooner they washed their hands of the man calling himself Douglas Quail the better.
   “Are you going to plant packets Three and Sixty-two in his conapt?” Lowe said.
   “No,” McClane said. “And we’re going to return half his fee.”
   “Half! Why half?”
   McClane said lamely, “It seems to be a good compromise.”

   As the cab carried him back to his conapt at the residential end of Chicago, Douglas Quail said to himself, It’s sure good to be back on Terra.
   Already the month-long period on Mars had begun to waver in his memory; he had only an image of profound gaping craters, an ever-present ancient erosion of hills, of vitality, of motion itself. A world of dust where little happened, where a good part of the day was spent checking and rechecking one’s portable oxygen source. And then the life forms, the unassuming and modest gray-brown cacti and maw-worms.
   As a matter of fact he had brought back several moribund examples of Martian fauna; he had smuggled them through customs. After all, they posed no menace; they couldn’t survive in Earth’s heavy atmosphere.
   Reaching into his coat pocket he rummaged for the container of Martian maw-worms—
   And found an envelope instead.
   Lifting it out he discovered, to his perplexity, that it contained five hundred and seventy poscreds, in ’cred bills of low denomination.
   Where’d I get this? he asked himself. Didn’t I spend every ’cred I had on my trip?
   With the money came a slip of paper marked: one-half fee ret’d. By McClane. And then the date. Today’s date.
   “Recall,” he said aloud.
   “Recall what, sir or madam?” the robot driver of the cab inquired respectfully.
   “Do you have a phone book?” Quail demanded. “Certainly, sir or madam.”
   A slot opened; from it slid a microtape phone book for Cook County.
   “It’s spelled oddly,” Quail said as he leafed through the pages of the yellow section. He felt fear, then; abiding fear. “Here it is,” he said. “Take me there, to Rekal, Incorporated. I’ve changed my mind; I don’t want to go home.”
   “Yes sir, or madam, as the case may be,” the driver said. A moment later the cab was zipping back in the opposite direction.
   “May I make use of your phone?” he asked.
   “Be my guest,” the robot driver said. And presented a shiny new emperor 3-D color phone to him.
   He dialed his own conapt. And after a pause found himself confronted by a miniature but chillingly realistic image of Kirsten on the small screen. “I’ve been to Mars,” he said to her.
   “You’re drunk.” Her lips writhed scornfully. “Or worse.”
   “ ’S god’s truth.”
   “When?” she demanded.
   “I don’t know.” He felt confused. “A simulated trip, I think. By means of one of those artificial or extra-factual or whatever it is memory places. It didn’t take.”
   Kirsten said witheringly, “You are drunk.” And broke the connection at her end. He hung up, then, feeling his face flush. Always the same tone, he said hotly to himself. Always the retort, as if she knows everything and I know nothing. What a marriage. Keerist, he thought dismally.
   A moment later the cab stopped at the curb before a modern, very attractive little pink building, over which a shifting, polychromatic neon sign read:
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
Rekal, Incorporated

   The receptionist, chic and bare from the waist up, started in surprise, then gained masterful control of herself. “Oh hello Mr. Quail,” she said nervously. “H-how are you? Did you forget something?”
   “The rest of my fee back,” he said.
   More composed now the receptionist said, “Fee? I think you are mistaken, Mr. Quail. You were here discussing the feasibility of an extra-factual trip for you, but—” She shrugged her smooth pale shoulders. “As I understand it, no trip was taken.”
   Quail said, “I remember everything, miss. My letter to Rekal, Incorporated, which started this whole business off. I remember my arrival here, my visit with Mr. McClane. Then the two lab technicians taking me in tow and administering a drug to put me out.” No wonder the firm had returned half his fee. The false memory of his “trip to Mars” hadn’t taken—at least not entirely, not as he had been assured.
   “Mr. Quail,” the girl said, “although you are a minor clerk you are a good-looking man and it spoils your features to become angry. If it would make you feel any better, I might, ahem, let you take me out…”
   He felt furious, then. “I remember you,” he said savagely. “For instance the fact that your breasts are sprayed blue; that stuck in my mind. And I remember Mr. McClane’s promise that if I remembered my visit to Rekal, Incorporated I’d receive my money back in full. Where is Mr. McClane?”
   After a delay—probably as long as they could manage—he found himself once more seated facing the imposing walnut desk, exactly as he had been an hour or so earlier in the day.
   “Some technique you have,” Quail said sardonically. His disappointment—and resentment—were enormous, by now. “My so-called ‘memory’ of a trip to Mars as an undercover agent for Interplan is hazy and vague and shot full of contradictions. And I clearly remember my dealings here with you people. I ought to take this to the Better Business Bureau.” He was burning angry, at this point; his sense of being cheated had overwhelmed him, had destroyed his customary aversion to participating in a public squabble.
   Looking morose, as well as cautious, McClane said, “We capitulate. Quail. We’ll refund the balance of your fee. I fully concede the fact that we did absolutely nothing for you.” His tone was resigned.
   Quail said accusingly, “You didn’t even provide me with the various artifacts that you claimed would ‘prove’ to me I had been on Mars. All that song-and-dance you went into—it hasn’t materialized into a damn thing. Not even a ticket stub. Nor postcards. Nor passport. Nor proof of immunization shots. Nor—”
   “Listen, Quail,” McClane said. “Suppose I told you—” He broke off. “Let it go.” He pressed a button on his intercom. “Shirley, will you disburse five hundred and seventy more ’creds in the form of a cashier’s check made out to Douglas Quail? Thank you.” He released the button, then glared at Quail.
   Presently the check appeared; the receptionist placed it before McClane and once more vanished out of sight, leaving the two men alone, still facing each other across the surface of the massive walnut desk.
   “Let me give you a word of advice,” McClane said as he signed the check and passed it over, “Don’t discuss your, ahem, recent trip to Mars with anyone.”
   “What trip?”
   “Well, that’s the thing.” Doggedly, McClane said, “The trip you partially remember. Act as if you don’t remember; pretend it never took place. Don’t ask me why; just take my advice: it’ll be better for all of us.” He had begun to perspire. Freely. “Now, Mr. Quail, I have other business, other clients to see.” He rose, showed Quail to the door.
   Quail said, as he opened the door, “A firm that turns out such bad work shouldn’t have any clients at all.” He shut the door behind him.
   On the way home in the cab Quail pondered the wording of his letter of complaint to the Better Business Bureau, Terra Division. As soon as he could get to his typewriter he’d get started; it was clearly his duty to warn other people away from Rekal, Incorporated.
   When he got back to his conapt he seated himself before his Hermes Rocket portable, opened the drawers and rummaged for carbon paper—and noticed a small, familiar box. A box which he had carefully filled on Mars with Martian fauna and later smuggled through customs.
   Opening the box he saw, to his disbelief, six dead maw-worms and several varieties of the unicellular life on which the Martian worms fed. The protozoa were dried-up, dusty, but he recognized them; it had taken him an entire day picking among the vast dark alien boulders to find them. A wonderful, illuminated journey of discovery.
   But I didn’t go to Mars, he realized.
   Yet on the other hand—
   Kirsten appeared at the doorway to the room, an armload of pale brown groceries gripped. “Why are you home in the middle of the day?” Her voice, in an eternity of sameness, was accusing.
   “Did I go to Mars?” he asked her. “You would know.”
   “No, of course you didn’t go to Mars; you would know that, I would think. Aren’t you always bleating about going?”
   He said, “By God, I think I went.” After a pause he added, “And simultaneously I think I didn’t go.”
   “Make up your mind.”
   “How can I?” He gestured. “I have both memory-tracks grafted inside my head; one is real and one isn’t but I can’t tell which is which. Why can’t I rely on you? They haven’t tinkered with you.” She could do this much for him at least even if she never did anything else.
   Kirsten said in a level, controlled voice, “Doug, if you don’t pull yourself together, we’re through. I’m going to leave you.”
   “I’m in trouble.” His voice came out husky and coarse. And shaking. “Probably I’m heading into a psychotic episode; I hope not, but—maybe that’s it. It would explain everything, anyhow.”
   Setting down the bag of groceries, Kirsten stalked to the closet. “I was not kidding,” she said to him quietly. She brought out a coat, got it on, walked back to the door of the conapt. “I’ll phone you one of these days soon,” she said tonelessly. “This is goodbye, Doug. I hope you pull out of this eventually; I really pray you do. For your sake.”
   “Wait,” he said desperately. “Just tell me and make it absolute; I did go or I didn’t—tell me which one.” But they may have altered your memory-track also, he realized.
   The door closed. His wife had left. Finally!
   A voice behind him said, “Well, that’s that. Now put up your hands, Quail. And also please turn around and face this way.”
   He turned, instinctively, without raising his hands.
   The man who faced him wore the plum uniform of the Interplan Police Agency, and his gun appeared to be UN issue. And, for some odd reason, he seemed familiar to Quail; familiar in a blurred, distorted fashion which he could not pin down. So, jerkily, he raised his hands.
   “You remember,” the policeman said, “your trip to Mars. We know all your actions today and all your thoughts—in particular your very important thoughts on the trip home from Rekal, Incorporated.” He explained, “We have a telep-transmitter wired within your skull; it keeps us constantly informed.”
   A telepathic transmitter; use of a living plasma that had been discovered on Luna. He shuddered with self-aversion. The thing lived inside him, within his own brain, feeding, listening, feeding. But the Interplan police used them; that had come out even in the homeopapes. So this was probably true, dismal as it was.
   “Why me?” Quail said huskily. What had he done—or thought? And what did this have to do with Rekal, Incorporated?
   “Fundamentally,” the Interplan cop said, “this has nothing to do with Rekal; it’s between you and us.” He tapped his right ear. “I’m still picking up your mentational processes by way of your cephalic transmitter.” In the man’s ear Quail saw a small white-plastic plug. “So I have to warn you: anything you think may be held against you.” He smiled. “Not that it matters now; you’ve already thought and spoken yourself into oblivion. What’s annoying is the fact that under narkidrine at Rekal, Incorporated you told them, their technicians and the owner, Mr. McClane, about your trip—where you went, for whom, some of what you did. They’re very frightened. They wish they had never laid eyes on you.” He added reflectively, “They’re right.”
   Quail said, “I never made any trip. It’s a false memory-chain improperly planted in me by McClane’s technicians.” But then he thought of the box, in his desk drawer, containing the Martian life forms. And the trouble and hardship he had had gathering them. The memory seemed real. And the box of life forms; that certainly was real. Unless McClane had planted it. Perhaps this was one of the “proofs” which McClane had talked glibly about.
   The memory of my trip to Mars, he thought, doesn’t convince me—but unfortunately it has convinced the Interplan Police Agency. They think I really went to Mars and they think I at least partially realize it.
   “We not only know you went to Mars,” the Interplan cop agreed, in answer to his thoughts, “but we know that you now remember enough to be difficult for us. And there’s no use expunging your conscious memory of all this, because if we do you’ll simply show up at Rekal, Incorporated again and start over. And we can’t do anything about McClane and his operation because we have no jurisdiction over anyone except our own people. Anyhow, McClane hasn’t committed any crime.” He eyed Quail. “Nor, technically, have you. You didn’t go to Rekal, Incorporated with the idea of regaining your memory; you went, as we realize, for the usual reason people go there—a love by plain, dull people for adventure.” He added, “Unfortunately you’re not plain, not dull, and you’ve already had too much excitement; the last thing in the universe you needed was a course from Rekal, Incorporated. Nothing could have been more lethal for you or for us. And, for that matter, for McClane.”
   Quail said. “Why is it ‘difficult’ for you if I remember my trip—my alleged trip—and what I did there?”
   “Because,” the Interplan harness bull said, “what you did is not in accord with our great white all-protecting father public image. You did, for us, what we never do. As you’ll presently remember—thanks to narkidrme. That box of dead worms and algae has been sitting in your desk drawer for six months, ever since you got back. And at no time have you shown the slightest curiosity about it. We didn’t even know you had it until you remembered it on your way home from Rekal; then we came here on the double to look for it.” He added, unnecessarily, “Without any luck; there wasn’t enough time.”

   A second Interplan cop joined the first one; the two briefly conferred. Meanwhile, Quail thought rapidly. He did remember more, now; the cop had been right about narkidrine. They—Interplan—probably used it themselves. Probably? He knew darn well they did; he had seen them putting a prisoner on it. Where would that be? Somewhere on Terra? More likely Luna, he decided, viewing the image rising from his highly defective—but rapidly less so—memory.
   And he remembered something else. Their reason for sending him to Mars; the job he had done.
   No wonder they had expunged his memory.
   “Oh god,” the first of the two Interplan cops said, breaking off his conversation with his companion. Obviously, he had picked up Quail’s thoughts. “Well, this is a far worse problem, now; as bad as it can get.” He walked toward Quail, again covering him with his gun. “We’ve got to kill you,” he said. “And right away.”
   Nervously, his fellow officer said, “Why right away? Can’t we simply cart him off to Interplan New York and let them—”
   “He knows why it has to be right away,” the first cop said; he too looked nervous, now, but Quail realized that it was for an entirely different reason. His memory had been brought back almost entirely, now. And he fully understood the officer’s tension.
   “On Mars,” Quail said hoarsely, “I killed a man. After getting past fifteen bodyguards. Some armed with sneaky-pete guns, the way you are.” He had been trained, by Interplan, over a five year period to be an assassin. A professional killer. He knew ways to take out armed adversaries… such as these two officers; and the one with the ear-receiver knew it, too.
   If he moved swiftly enough—
   The gun fired. But he had already moved to one side, and at the same time he chopped down the gun-carrying officer. In an instant he had possession of the gun and was covering the other, confused, officer.
   “Picked my thoughts up,” Quail said, panting for breath. “He knew what I was going to do, but I did it anyhow.”
   Half sitting up, the injured officer grated, “He won’t use that gun on you, Sam; I pick that up, too. He knows he’s finished, and he knows we know it, too. Come on, Quail.” Laboriously, grouting with pain, he got shakily to his feet. He held out his hand. “The gun,” he said to Quail. “You can’t use it, and if you turn it over to me I’ll guarantee not to kill you; you’ll be given a hearing, and someone higher up in Interplan will decide, not me. Maybe they can erase your memory once more; I don’t know. But you know the thing I was going to kill you for; I couldn’t keep you from remembering it. So my reason for wanting to kill you is in a sense past.”
   Quail, clutching the gun, bolted from the conapt, sprinted for the elevator. If you follow me, he thought, I’ll kill you. So don’t. He jabbed at the elevator button and, a moment later, the doors slid back.
   The police hadn’t followed him. Obviously they had picked up his terse, tense thoughts and had decided not to take the chance.
   With him inside the elevator descended. He had gotten away—for a time. But what next? Where could he go?
   The elevator reached the ground floor; a moment later Quail had joined the mob of peds hurrying along the runnels. His head ached and he felt sick. But at least he had evaded death; they had come very close to shooting him on the spot, back in his own conapt.
   And they probably will again, he decided. When they find me. And with this transmitter inside me, that won’t take too long.
   Ironically, he had gotten exactly what he had asked Rekal, Incorporated for. Adventure, peril, Interplan police at work, a secret and dangerous trip to Mars in which his life was at stake—everything he had wanted as a false memory.
   The advantages of it being a memory—and nothing more—could now be appreciated.
   On a park beach, alone, he sat dully watching a flock of perts, a semi-bird imported from Mars’ two moons, capable of soaring flight, even against Earth’s huge gravity.
   Maybe I can find my way back to Mars, he pondered. But then what? It would be worse on Mars; the political Organization whose leader he had assassinated would spot him the moment he stepped from the ship; he would have Interplan and them after him, there.
   Can you hear me thinking? he wondered. Easy avenue to paranoia; sitting here alone he felt them tuning in on him, monitoring, recording, discussing… he shivered, rose to his feet, walked aimlessly, his hands deep in his pockets. No matter where I go, he realized. You’ll always be with me. As long as I have this device inside my head.
   I’ll make a deal with you, he thought to himself—and to them. Can’t you imprint a false-memory template on me again, as you did before, that I lived an average, routine life, never went to Mars? Never saw an Interplan uniform up close and never handled a gun?
   A voice inside his brain answered, “As has been carefully explained to you: that would not be enough.”
   Astonished, he halted.
   “We formerly communicated with you in this manner,” the voice continued. “When you were operating in the field, on Mars. It’s been months since we’ve done it; we assumed, in fact, that we’d never have to do so again. Where are you?”
   “Walking,” Quail said, “to my death.” By your officers’ guns, he added as an afterthought. “How can you be sure it wouldn’t be enough?” he demanded. “Don’t the Rekal techniques work?”
   “As we said. If you’re given a set of standard, average memories you get—restless. You’d inevitably seek out Rekal or one of its competitors again. We can’t go through this a second time.”
   “Suppose,” Quail said, “once my authentic memories have been cancelled, something more vital than standard memories are implanted. Something which would act to satisfy my craving,” he said. “That’s been proved; that’s probably why you initially hired me. But you ought to be able to come up with something else—something equal. I was the richest man on Terra but I finally gave all my money to educational foundations. Or I was a famous deep-space explorer. Anything of that sort; wouldn’t one of those do?”
   “Try it,” he said desperately. “Get some of your top-notch military psychiatrists; explore my mind. Find out what my most expansive daydream is.” He tried to think. “Women,” he said. “Thousands of them, like Don Juan had. An interplanetary playboy—a mistress in every city on Earth, Luna and Mars. Only I gave that up, out of exhaustion. Please,” he begged. “Try it.”
   “You’d voluntarily surrender, then?” the voice inside his head asked. “If we agreed to arrange such a solution? If it’s possible?”
   After an interval of hesitation he said, “Yes.” I’ll take the risk, he said to himself, that you don’t simply kill me.
   “You make the first move,” the voice said presently. “Turn yourself over to us. And we’ll investigate that line of possibility. If we can’t do it, however, if your authentic memories begin to crop up again as they’ve done at this time, then—” There was silence and then the voice finished, “We’ll have to destroy you. As you must understand. Well, Quail, you still want to try?”
   “Yes,” he said. Because the alternative was death now—and for certain. At least this way he had a chance, slim as it was.
   “You present yourself at our main barracks in New York,” the voice of the Interplan cop resumed. “At 580 Fifth Avenue, floor twelve. Once you’ve surrendered yourself we’ll have our psychiatrists begin on you; we’ll have personality-profile tests made. We’ll attempt to determine your absolute, ultimate fantasy wish—and then we’ll bring you back to Rekal, Incorporated, here; get them in on it, fulfilling that wish in vicarious surrogate retrospection. And—good luck. We do owe you something; you acted as a capable instrument for us.” The voice lacked malice; if anything, they—the organization—felt sympathy toward him.
   “Thanks,” Quail said. And began searching for a robot cab.

   “Mr. Quail,” the stern-faced, elderly Interplan psychiatrist said, “you possess a most interesting wish-fulfillment dream fantasy. Probably nothing such as you consciously entertain or suppose. This is commonly the way; I hope it won’t upset you too much to hear about it.”
   The senior ranking Interplan officer present said briskly, “He better not be too much upset to hear about it, not if he expects not to get shot.”
   “Unlike the fantasy of wanting to be an Interplan undercover agent.” the psychiatrist continued, “which, being relatively speaking a product of maturity, had a certain plausibility to it, this production is a grotesque dream of your childhood; it is no wonder you fail to recall it. Your fantasy is this: you are nine years old, walking alone down a rustic lane. An unfamiliar variety of space vessel from another star system lands directly in front of you. No one on Earth but you, Mr. Quail, sees it. The creatures within are very small and helpless, somewhat on the order of field mice, although they are attempting to invade Earth; tens of thousands of other such ships will soon be on their way, when this advance party gives the go-ahead signal.”
   “And I suppose I stop them,” Quail said, experiencing a mixture of amusement and disgust. “Single-handed I wipe them out. Probably by stepping on them with my foot.”
   “No,” the psychiatrist said patiently. “You halt the invasion, but not by destroying them. Instead, you show them kindness and mercy, even though by telepathy—their mode of communication—you know why they have come. They have never seen such humane traits exhibited by any sentient organism, and to show their appreciation they make a covenant with you.”
   Quail said, “They won’t invade Earth as long as I’m alive.”
   “Exactly.” To the Interplan officer the psychiatrist said, “You can see it does fit his personality, despite his feigned scorn.”
   “So by merely existing,” Quail said, feeling a growing pleasure, “by simply being alive, I keep Earth safe from alien rule. I’m in effect, then, the most important person on Terra. Without lifting a finger.”
   “Yes indeed, sir,” the psychiatrist said. “And this is bedrock in your psyche; this is a life-long childhood fantasy. Which, without depth and drug therapy, you never would have recalled. But it has always existed in you; it went underneath, but never ceased.”
   To McClane, who sat intently listening, the senior police official said, “Can you implant an extra-factual memory pattern that extreme in him?”
   “We get handed every possible type of wish-fantasy there is,” McClane said. “Frankly, I’ve heard a lot worse than this. Certainly we can handle it. Twenty-four hours from now he won’t just wish he’d saved Earth; he’ll devoutly believe it really happened.”
   The senior police official said, “You can start the job, then. In preparation we’ve already once again erased the memory in him of his trip to Mars.”
   Quail said, “What trip to Mars?”
   No one answered him, so, reluctantly, he shelved the question. And anyhow a police vehicle had now put in its appearance; he, McClane, and the senior police officer crowded into it, and presently they were on their way to Chicago and Rekal, Incorporated.
   “You had better make no errors this time,” the police officer said to heavy-set, nervous-looking McClane.
   “I can’t see what could go wrong,” McClane mumbled, perspiring. “This has nothing to do with Mars or Interplan. Single-handedly stopping an invasion of Earth from another star-system.” He shook his head at that. “Wow, what a kid dreams up. And by pious virtue, too; not by force. It’s sort of quaint.” He dabbed at his forehead with a large linen pocket handkerchief.
   Nobody said anything.
   “In fact,” McClane said, “it’s touching.”
   “But arrogant,” the police official said starkly. “Inasmuch as when he dies the invasion will resume. No wonder he doesn’t recall it; it’s the most grandiose fantasy I ever ran across.” He eyed Quail with disapproval. “And to think we put this man on our payroll.”
   When they reached Rekal, Incorporated the receptionist, Shirley, met them breathlessly in the outer office. “Welcome back, Mr. Quail,” she fluttered, her melon-shaped breasts—today painted an incandescent orange—bobbing with agitation. “I’m sorry everything worked out so badly before; I’m sure this time it’ll go better.”
   Still repeatedly dabbing at his shiny forehead with his neatly-folded Irish linen handkerchief, McClane said, “It better.” Moving with rapidity he rounded up Lowe and Keeler, escorted them and Douglas Quail to the work area, and then, with Shirley and the senior police officer, returned to his familiar office. To wait. “Do we have a packet made up for this, Mr. McClane?” Shirley asked, bumping against him in her agitation, then coloring modestly.
   “I think we do.” He tried to recall; then gave up and consulted the formal chart. “A combination,” he decided aloud, “of packets Eighty-one, Twenty, and Six.” From the vault section of the chamber behind his desk he fished out the appropriate packets, carried them to his desk for inspection. “From Eighty-one,” he explained, “a magic healing rod given him—the client in question, this time Mr. Quail—by the race of beings from another system. A token of their gratitude.”
   “Does it work?” the police officer asked curiously.
   “It did once,” McClane explained. “But he, ahem, you see, used it up years ago, healing right and left. Now it’s only a memento. But he remembers it working spectacularly.” He chuckled, then opened packet Twenty. “Document from the UN Secretary General thanking him for saving Earth; this isn’t precisely appropriate, because part of Quail’s fantasy is that no one knows of the invasion except himself, but for the sake of verisimilitude we’ll throw it in.” He inspected packet Six, then. What came from this? He couldn’t recall; frowning, he dug into the plastic bag as Shirley and the Interplan police officer watched intently.
   “Writing,” Shirley said. “In a funny language.”
   “This tells who they were,” McClane said, “and where they came from. Including a detailed star map logging their flight here and the system of origin. Of course it’s in their script, so he can’t read it. But he remembers them reading it to him in his own tongue.” He placed the three artifacts in the center of the desk. “These should be taken to Quail’s conapt,” he said to the police officer. “So that when he gets home he’ll find them. And it’ll confirm his fantasy. SOP—standard operating procedure.” He chuckled apprehensively, wondering how matters were going with Lowe and Keeler.
   The intercom buzzed. “Mr. McClane, I’m sorry to bother you.” It was Lowe’s voice; he froze as he recognized it, froze and became mute. “But something’s come up. Maybe it would be better if you came in here and supervised. Like before, Quail reacted well to the narkidrine; he’s unconscious, relaxed and receptive. But—”
   McClane sprinted for the work area.
   On a hygienic bed Douglas Quail lay breathing slowly and regularly, eyes half-shut, dimly conscious of those around him.
   “We started interrogating him,” Lowe said, white-faced. “To find out exactly when to place the fantasy-memory of him single-handedly having saved Earth. And strangely enough—”
   “They told me not to tell,” Douglas Quail mumbled in a dull drug-saturated voice. “That was the agreement. I wasn’t even supposed to remember. But how could I forget an event like that?”
   I guess it would be hard, McClane reflected. But you did—until now.
   “They even gave me a scroll,” Quail mumbled, “of gratitude. I have it hidden in my conapt; I’ll show it to you.”
   To the Interplan officer who had followed after him, McClane said, “Well, I offer the suggestion that you better not kill him. If you do they’ll return.”
   “They also gave me a magic invisible destroying rod,” Quail mumbled, eyes totally shut, now. “That’s how I killed that man on Mars you sent me to take out. It’s in my drawer along with the box of Martian maw-worms and dried-up plant life.” Wordlessly, the Interplan officer turned and stalked from the work area.
   I might as well put those packets of proof-artifacts away, McClane said to himself resignedly. He walked, step by step, back to his office. Including the citation from the UN Secretary General. After all–
   The real one probably would not be long in coming.
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