"Thanks," Rick said. He followed after Iran, in the direction of the elevator. "Does this cure your depression?" he asked her. "It cures mine."
Iran said, "It certainly does cure my depression. Now we can admit to everybody that the sheep's false."
"No need to do that," he said cautiously.
"But we can," Iran persisted. "See, now we have nothing to hide; what we've always wanted has come true. It's a dream!" Once more she stood on tiptoe, leaning and nimbly kissing him; her breath, eager and erratic, tickled his neck. She reached, then, to stab at the elevator button.
Something warned him. Something made him say, "Let's not go down to the apartment yet. Let's stay up here with the goat. Let's just sit and look at her and maybe feed the goat something. They gave me a bag of oats to start us out. And we can read the manual on goat maintenance; they included that, too, at no extra charge. We can call her Euphemia." The elevator, however, had come and already Iran was trotting inside. "Iran, wait," he said.
"It would be immoral not to fuse with Mercer in gratitude," Iran said. "I had hold of the handles of the box today and it overcame my depression a little - just a little, not like this. But anyhow I got hit by a rock, here." She held up her wrist; on it he made out a small dark bruise. "And I remember thinking how much better we are, how much better off, when we're with Mercer. Despite the pain. Physical pain but spiritually together; I felt everyone else, all over the world, all who had fused at the same time." She held the elevator door from sliding shut. "Get in, Rick. This'll be just for a moment. You hardly ever undergo fusion; I want you to transmit the mood you're in now to everyone else; you owe it to them. It would be immoral to keep it for ourselves."
She, was, of course, right. So he entered the elevator and once again descended.
In their living room, at the empathy box, Iran swiftly snapped the switch, her face animated with growing gladness; it lit her up like a rising new crescent of moon. "I want everyone to know," she told him. "Once that happened to me; I fused and picked up someone who had just acquired an animal. And then one day - " Her features momentarily darkened; the pleasure fled. "One day I found myself receiving from someone whose animal had died. But others of us shared our different joys with them - I didn't have any, as you might know - and that cheered the person up. We might even reach a potential suicide; what we have, what we're feeling, might - "
"They'll have our joy," Rick said, "but we'll lose. We'll exchange what we feel for what they feel. Our joy will be lost."
The screen of the empathy box now showed rushing streams of bright formless color; taking a breath his wife hung on tightly to the two handles. "We won't really lose what we feel, not if we keep it clearly in mind. You never really have gotten the hang of fusion, have you, Rick?"
"Guess not," he said. But now he had begun to sense, for the first time, the value that people such as Iran obtained from Mercerism. Possibly his experience with the bounty hunter Phil Resch had altered some minute synapsis in him, had closed one neurological switch and opened another. And this perhaps had started a chain reaction. "Iran," he said urgently; he drew her away from the empathy box. "Listen; I want to talk about what happened to me today." He led her over to the couch, sat her down facing him. "I met another bounty hunter," he said. "One I never saw before. A predatory one who seemed to like to destroy them. For the first time, after being with him, I looked at them differently. I mean, in my own way I had been viewing them as he did."
"Won't this wait?" Iran said.
Rick said, "I took a test, one question, and verified it; I've begun to empathize with androids, and look what that means. You said it this morning yourself. 'Those poor andys.' So you know what I'm talking about. That's why I bought the goat. I never felt like that before. Maybe it could be a depression, like you get. I can understand now how you suffer when you're depressed; I always thought you liked it and I thought you could have snapped yourself out any time, if not alone then by means of the mood organ. But when you get that depressed you don't care. Apathy, because you've lost a sense of worth. It doesn't matter whether you feet better because if you have no worth - "
"What about your job?" Her tone jabbed at him; he blinked. "Your job," Iran repeated. "What are the monthly payments on the goat?" She held out her hand; reflexively he got out the contract which he had signed, passed it to her.
"That much," she said in a thin voice. "The interest; good god - the interest alone. And you did this because you were depressed. Not as a surprise for me, as you originally said." She handed the contract back to him. "Well, it doesn't matter. I'm still glad you got the goat; I love the goat. But it's such an economic burden." She looked gray.
Rick said, "I can get switched to some other desk. The department does ten or eleven separate jobs. Animal theft; I could transfer to that."
"But the bounty money. We need it or they'll repossess the goat! "
"I'll get the contract extended from thirty-six months to forty-eight." He whipped out a ball-point pen, scribbled rapidly on the back of the contract. "That way it'll be fifty-two fifty less a month."
The vidphone rang.
"If we hadn't come back down here," Rick said, "if we'd stayed up on the roof, with the goat, we wouldn't have gotten this call."
Going to the vidphone, Iran said, "Why are you afraid? They're not repossessing the goat, not yet." She started to lift the receiver.