Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Page 37

"Like love of country," Rick said. "Love of music."

"If it's love toward a woman or an android imitation, it's sex. Wake up and face yourself, Deckard. You wanted to go to bed with a female type of android - nothing more, nothing less. I felt that way, on one occasion. When I had just started bounty hunting. Don't let it get you down; you'll heal. What's happened is that you've got your order reversed. Don't kill her - or be present when she's killed - and then feel physically attracted. Do it the other way."

Rick stared at him. "Go to bed with her first - "

" - and then kill her," Phil Resch said succinctly. His grainy, hardened smile remained.

You're a good bounty hunter, Rick realized. Your attitude proves it. But am I?

Suddenly, for the first time in his life, he had begun to wonder.

Chapter Thirteen

Like an arc of pure fire, John R. Isidore soared across the late-afternoon sky on his way home from his job. I wonder if she's still there, he said to himself. Down in that kipple-infested old apt, watching Buster Friendly on her TV set and quaking with fear every time she imagines someone coming down the hall. Including, I suppose, me.

He had already stopped off at a blackmarket grocery store. On the seat beside him a bag of such delicacies as bean curd, ripe peaches, good soft evil-smelling cheese rocked back and forth as he alternately speeded up and slowed down his car; being tense, tonight, he drove somewhat erratically. And his allegedly repaired car coughed and floundered, as it had been doing for months prior to overhaul. Rats, Isidore said to himself.

The smell of peaches and cheese eddied about the car, filling his nose with pleasure. All rarities, for which he had squandered two weeks' salary-borrowed in advance from Mr. Sloat. And, in addition, under the car seat where it could not roll and break, a bottle of Chablis wine knocked back and forth: the greatest rarity of all. He had been keeping it in a safety deposit box at the Bank of America, hanging onto it and not selling it no matter how much they offered, in case at some long, late, last moment a girl appeared. That had not happened, not until now.

The rubbish-littered, lifeless roof of his apartment building as always depressed him. Passing from his car to the elevator door he damped down his peripheral vision; he concentrated on the valuable bag and bottle which he carried, making certain that he tripped over no trash and took no ignominious pratfall to economic doom. When the elevator creakily arrived he rode it - not to his own floor - but to the lower level on which the new tenant, Pris Stratton, now lived. Presently he stood in front of her door, rapping with the edge of the wine bottle, his heart going to pieces inside his chest.

"Who's there?" Her voice, muffled by the door and yet clear. A frightened, but blade-sharp tone.

"This is J. R. Isidore speaking," he said briskly, adopting the new authority which he had so recently acquired via Mr. Sloat's vidphone. "I have a few desirable items here and I think we can put together a more than reasonable dinner."

The door, to a limited extent, opened; Pris, no lights on in the room behind her, peered out into the dim hall. "You sound different," she said. "More grown up."

"I had a few routine matters to deal with during business hours today. The usual. If you c-c-could let me in - "

"You'd talk about them." However, she held the door open wide enough for him to enter. And then, seeing what he carried, she exclaimed; her face ignited with elfin, exuberant glee. But almost at once, without warning, a lethal bitterness crossed her features, set concrete-like in place. The glee had gone.

"What is it?" he said; he carried the packages and bottle to the kitchen, set them down and hurried back.

Tonelessly, Pris said, "They're wasted on me."

"Why?"

"Oh. She shrugged, walking aimlessly away, her hands in the pockets of her heavy, rather old-fashioned skirt. "Sometime I'll tell you." She raised her eyes, then. "It was nice of you anyhow. Now I wish you'd leave. I don't feel like seeing anyone." In a vague fashion she moved toward the door to the hall; her steps dragged and she seemed depleted, her store of energy fading almost out.

"I know what's the matter with you," he said.

"Oh?" Her voice, as she reopened the hall door, dropped even further into uselessness, listless and barren.

"You don't have any friends. You're a lot worse than when I saw you this morning; it's because - "

"I have friends." Sudden authority stiffened her voice; she palpably regained vigor. "Or I had. Seven of them. That was to start with but now the bounty hunters have had time to get to work. So some of them - maybe all of them - are dead." She wandered toward the window, gazed out at the blackness and the few lights here and there. "I may be the only one of the eight of us left. So maybe you're right."

"What's a bounty hunter?"

"That's right. You people aren't supposed to know. A bounty hunter is a professional murderer who's given a list of those he's supposed to kill. He's paid a sum - a thousand dollars is the going rate, I understand - for each he gets. Usually he has a contract with a city so he draws a salary as well. But they keep that low so he'll have incentive."

"Are you sure?" Isidore asked.

"Yes." She nodded. "You mean am I sure he has incentive? Yes, he has incentive. He enjoys it."

"I think," Isidore said, "You're mistaken." Never in his life had he heard of such a thing. Buster Friendly, for instance, had never mentioned it. "It's not in accord with present-day Mercerian ethics," he pointed out. "All life is one; 'no man is an island,' as Shakespeare said in olden times."

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