Exploring about in his coat pockets, Rick found his creased, much-studied copy of Sidney's Animal & Fowl Catalogue January supplement. He looked in the index, found colts (vide horses, offsp.) and presently had the prevailing national price. "I can buy a Percheron colt from Sidney's for five thousand dollars," he said aloud.
"No you can't," Barbour said. "Look at the listing again; it's in italics. That means they don't have any in stock, but that would be the price if they did have."
"Suppose," Rick said, "I pay you five hundred dollars a month for ten months. Full catalogue value."
Pityingly, Barbour said, "Deckard, you don't understand about horses; there's a reason why Sidney's doesn't have any Percheron colts in stock. Percheron colts just don't change hands - at catalogue value, even. They're too scarce, even relatively inferior ones." He leaned across their common fence, gesticulating. "I've had Judy for three years and not in all that time have I seen a Percheron mare of her quality. To acquire her I had to fly to Canada, and I personally drove her back here myself to make sure she wasn't stolen. You bring an animal like this anywhere around Colorado or Wyoming and they'll knock you off to get hold of it. You know why? Because back before W.W.T. there existed literally hundreds - "
"But," Rick interrupted, "for you to have two horses and me none, that violates the whole basic theological and moral structure of Mercerism."
"You have your sheep; hell, you can follow the Ascent in your individual life, and when you grasp the two handles of empathy you approach honorably. Now if you didn't have that old sheep, there, I'd see some logic in your position. Sure, if I had two animals and you didn't have any, I'd be helping deprive you of true fusion with Mercer. But every family in this building - let's see; around fifty: one to every three apts, as I compute it - every one of us has an animal of some sort. Graveson has that chicken over there." He gestured north. "Oakes and his wife have that big red dog that barks in the night." He pondered. "I think Ed Smith has a cat down in his apt; - at least he says so, but no one's ever seen it. Possibly he's just pretending."
Going over to his sheep, Rick bent down, searching in the thick white wool - the fleece at least was genuine - until he found what he was looking for: the concealed control panel of the mechanism. As Barbour watched he snapped open the panel covering, revealing it. "See?" he said to Barbour. "You understand now why I want your colt so badly?"
After an interval Barbour said, "You poor guy. Has it always been this way?"
"No," Rick said, once again closing the panel covering of his electric sheep; he straightened up, turned, and faced his neighbor. "I had a real sheep, originally. My wife's father gave it to us outright when he emigrated. Then, about a year ago, remember that time I took it to the vet - you were up here that morning when I came out and found it lying on its side and it couldn't get up."
"You got it to its feet," Barbour said, remembering and nodding. "Yeah, you managed to lift it up but then after a minute or two of walking around it fell over again."
Rick said, "Sheep get strange diseases. Or put another way, sheep get a lot of diseases but the symptoms are always the same; the sheep can't get up and there's no way to tell how serious it is, whether it's a sprained leg or the animal's dying of tetanus. That's what mine died of; tetanus."
"Up here?" Barbour said. "On the roof?"
"The hay," Rick explained. "That one time I didn't get all the wire off the bale; I left a piece and Groucho - that's what I called him, then - got a scratch and in that way contracted tetanus. I took him to the vet's and he died, and I thought about it, and finally I called one of those shops that manufacture artificial animals and I showed them a photograph of Groucho. They made this." He indicated the reclining ersatz animal, which continued to ruminate attentively, still watching alertly for any indication of oats. "It's a premium job. And I've put as much time and attention into caring for it as I did when it was real. But - " He shrugged.
"It's not the same," Barbour finished.
"But almost. You feel the same doing it; you have to keep your eye on it exactly as you did when it was really alive. Because they break down and then everyone in the building knows. I've had it at the repair shop six times, mostly little malfunctions, but if anyone saw them - for instance one time the voice tape broke or anyhow got fouled and it wouldn't stop baaing - they'd recognize it as a mechanical breakdown." He added, "The repair outfit's truck is of course marked 'animal hospital something.' And the driver dresses like a vet, completely in white." He glanced suddenly at his watch, remembering the time. "I have to get to work," he said to Barbour. "I'll see you this evening."
As he started toward his car Barbour called after him hurriedly, "Um, I won't say anything to anybody here in the building."
Pausing, Rick started to say thanks. But then something of the despair that Iran had been talking about tapped him on the shoulder and he said, "I don't know; maybe it doesn't make any difference."
"But they'll look down on you. Not all of them, but some. You know how people are about not taking care of an animal; they consider it immoral and anti-empathic. I mean, technically it's not a crime like it was right after W.W.T. but the feeling's still there."
"God," Rick said futilely, and gestured empty-handed. "I want to have an animal; I keep trying to buy one. But on my salary, on what a city employee makes - " If, he thought, I could get lucky in my work again. As I did two years ago when I managed to bag four andys during one month. If I had known then, he thought, that Groucho was going to die . . . but that had been before the tetanus. Before the two-inch piece of broken, hypodermic-like baling wire.