"It's worthless, here, because here on Earth the craze never caught on. Anyhow there's plenty here, in the libraries; that's where we get all of ours - stolen from libraries here on Earth and shot by autorocket to Mars. You're out at night humbling across the open space, and all of a sudden you see a flare, and there's a rocket, cracked open, with old pre-colonial fiction magazines spilling out everywhere. A fortune. But of course you read them before you sell them." She warmed to her topic. "Of all - "
A knock sounded on the hall door.
Ashen, Pris whispered, "I can't go. Don't make any noise; just sit." She strained, listening. "I wonder if the door's locked," she said almost inaudibly. "God, I hope so." Her eyes, wild and powerful, fixed themselves beseechingly on him, as if praying to him to make it true.
A far-off voice from the hall called, "Pris, are you in there?" A man's voice. "It's Roy and Irmgard. We got your card."
Rising and going into the bedroom, Pris reappeared carrying a pen and scrap of paper; she reseated herself, scratched out a hasty message.
YOU GO TO THE DOOR.
Isidore, nervously, took the pen from her and wrote:
AND SAY WHAT?
With anger, Pris scratched out:
SEE IF IT'S REALLY THEM.
Getting up, he walked glumly into the living room. How would I know if it was them? he inquired of himself. He opened the door.
Two people stood in the dim hall, a small woman, lovely in the manner of Greta Garbo, with blue eyes and yellow-blond hair; the man larger, with intelligent eyes but flat, Mongolian features which gave him a brutal look. The woman wore a fashionable wrap, high shiny boots, and tapered pants; the man lounged in a rumpled shirt and stained trousers, giving an air of almost deliberate vulgarity. He smiled at Isidore but his bright, small eyes remained oblique.
"We're looking - " the small blond woman began, but then she saw past Isidore; her face dissolved in rapture and she whisked past him, calling. "Pris! How are you?" Isidore turned. The two women were embracing. He stepped aside, and Roy Baty entered, somber and large, smiling his crooked, tuneless smile.
Can we talk?" Roy said, indicating Isidore.
Pris, vibrant with bliss, said, "It's okay up to a point." To Isidore she said, "Excuse us." She led the Batys off to one side and muttered at them; then the three of them returned to confront J. R. Isidore, who felt uncomfortable and out of place. "This is Mr. Isidore," Pris said. "He's taking care of me." The words came out tinged with an almost malicious sarcasm; Isidore blinked. "See? He brought me some natural food."
"Food," Irmgard Baty echoed, and trotted lithely into the kitchen to see. "Peaches," she said, immediately picking up a bowl and spoon; smiling at Isidore she ate with brisk little animal bites. Her smile, different from Pris's, provided simple warmth; it had no veiled overtones.
Going after her - he felt attracted to her - Isidore said, "You're from Mars."
"Yes, we gave up." Her voice bobbed, as, with birdish acumen, her blue eyes sparkled at him. "What an awful building you live in. Nobody else lives here, do they? We didn't see any other fights."
"I live upstairs," Isidore said.
"Oh, I thought you and Pris were maybe living together." Irmgard Baty did not sound disapproving; she meant it, obviously, as merely a statement.
Dourly - but still smiling his smile - Roy Baty said, "Well, they got Polokov."
The joy which had appeared on Pris's face at seeing her friends at once melted away. "Who else?"
"They got Garland," Roy Baty said. "They got Anders and Gitchel and then just a little earlier today they got Luba." He delivered the news as if, perversely, it pleased him to be telling this. As if he derived pleasure from Pris's shock. "I didn't think they'd get Luba; remember I kept saying that during the trip?"
"So that leaves - " Pris said.
"The three of us," Irmgard said with apprehensive urgency.
"That's why we're here." Roy Baty's voice boomed out with new, unexpected warmth; the worse the situation the more he seemed to enjoy it. Isidore could not fathom him in the slightest.
"Oh god," Pris said, stricken.
"Well, they had this investigator, this bounty hunter," Irmgard said in agitation, "named Dave Holden." Her lips dripped venom at the name. "And then Polokov almost got him."
"Almost got him," Roy echoed, his smile now immense.
"So he's in this hospital, this Holden," Irmgard continued. "And evidently they gave his list to another bounty hunter, and Polokov almost got him, too. But it wound up with him retiring Polokov. And then he went after Luba; we know that because she managed to get hold of Garland and he sent out someone to capture the bounty hunter and take him to the Mission Street building. See, Luba called us after Garland's agent picked up the bounty hunter. She was sure it would be okay; she was sure that Garland would la him." She added, "But evidently something went wrong on Mission. We don't know what. Maybe we never will."
Pris asked, "Does this bounty hunter have our names?"
"Oh yes, dear, I suppose he does," Irmgard said. "But he doesn't know where we are. Roy and I aren't going back to our apartment; we have as much stuff in our car as we could cram in, and we've decided to take one of these abandoned apartments in this ratty old building."
"Is that wise?" Isidore spoke up, summoning courage. "T-t-to all be in one place?"
"Well, they got everybody else," Irmgard said, matter-of-factly; she, too, like her husband, seemed strangely resigned, despite her superficial agitation. All of them, Isidore thought; they're all strange. He sensed it without being able to finger it. As if a peculiar and malign abstractness pervaded their mental processes. Except, perhaps, for Pris; certainly she was radically frightened. Pris seemed almost right, almost natural. But -