"It's the department," he said. "Say I'm not here." He headed for the bedroom.
"Hello," Iran said, into the receiver.
Three more andys, Rick thought to himself, that I should have followed up on today, instead of coming home. On the vidscreen Harry Bryant's face had formed, so it was too late to get away. He walked, with stiff leg muscles, back toward the phone.
"Yes, he's here," Iran was saying. "We bought a goat. Come over and see it, Mr. Bryant." A pause as she listened and then she held the receiver up to Rick. "He has something he wants to say to you," she said. Going over to the empathy box she quickly seated herself and once more gripped the twin handles. She became involved almost at once. Rick stood holding the phone receiver, conscious of her mental departure. Conscious of his own aloneness.
"Hello," he said into the receiver.
"We have a tail on two of the remaining androids," Harry Bryant said. He was calling from his office; Rick saw the familiar desk, the litter of documents and papers and kipple. "Obviously they've become alerted - they've left the address Dave gave you and now they can be found at . . . wait." Bryant groped about on his desk, at last located the material he wanted.
Automatically Rick searched for his pen; he held the goat-payment contract on his knee and prepared to write.
"Conapt Building 3967-C," Inspector Bryant said. "Get over there as soon as you can. We have to assume they know about the ones you picked off, Garland and Luft and Polokov; that's why they've taken unlawful flight."
"Unlawful," Rick repeated. To save their lives.
"Iran says you bought a goat," Bryant said. "Just today? After you left work?
"On my way home."
"I'll come and look at your goat after you retire the remaining androids. By the way - I talked to Dave just now. I told him the trouble they gave you; he says congratulations and be more careful. He says the Nexus-6 types are smarter than he thought. In fact he couldn't believe you got three in one day."
"Three is enough," Rick said. "I can't do anything more. I have to rest."
"By tomorrow they'll be gone," Inspector Bryant said. "Out of our jurisdiction."
"Not that soon. They'll still be around."
Bryant said, "You get over there tonight. Before they get dug in. They won't expect you to move in so fast."
"Sure they will," Rick said. "They'll be waiting for me."
"Got the shakes? Because of what, Polokov - "
"I haven't got the shakes," Rick said.
"Then what's wrong?
"Okay," Rick said. "I'll get over there." He started to hang up the phone.
"Let me know as soon as you get results. I'll be here in my office."
Rick said, "If I get them I'm going to buy a sheep."
"You have a sheep. You've had one as long as I've known you."
"It's electric," Rick said. He hung up. A real sheep this time, he said to himself. I have to get one. In compensation.
At the black empathy box his wife crouched, her face rapt. He stood beside her for a time, his hand resting on her breast; he felt it rise and fall, the life in her, the activity. Iran did not notice him; the experience with Mercer had, as always, become complete.
On the screen the faint, old, robed figure of Mercer toiled upward, and all at once a rock sailed past him. Watching, Rick thought, My god; there's something worse about my situation than his. Mercer doesn't have to do anything alien to him. He suffers but at least he isn't required to violate his own identity.
Bending, he gently removed his wife's fingers from the twin handles. He then himself took her place. For the first time in weeks. An impulse: he hadn't planned it; all at once it had happened.
A landscape of weeds confronted him, a desolation. The air smelled of harsh blossoms; this was the desert, and there was no rain.
A man stood before him, a sorrowful light in his weary, pain-drenched eyes.
"Mercer," Rick said.
"I am your friend," the old man said. "But you must go on as if I did not exist. Can you understand that?" He spread empty hands.
"No," Rick said. "I can't understand that. I need help."
"How can I save you," the old man said, "if I can't save myself?" He smiled. "Don't you see? There is no salvation."
"Then what's this for?" Rick demanded. "What are you for?"
"To show you," Wilbur Mercer said, "that you aren't alone. I am here with you and always will be. Go and do your task, even though you know it's wrong."
"Why?" Rick said. "Why should I do it? I'll quit my job and emigrate."
The old man said, "You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe."
"That's all you can tell me?" Rick said.
A rock whizzed at him; he ducked and the rock struck him on the ear. At once he let go of the handles and again he stood in his own living room, beside his wife and the empathy box. His head ached wildly from the blow; reaching, he found fresh blood collecting, spilling in huge bright drops down the side of his face.
Iran, with a handkerchief, patted his ear. "I guess I'm glad you pried me loose. I really can't stand it, being hit. Thanks for taking the rock in my place."
"I'm going," Rick said.