"In other words," Buster Friendly broke in, "Wilbur Mercer is not suffering at all."
The research chief said, "We've at last managed, Mr. Friendly, to track down a former Hollywood special-effects man, a Mr. Wade Cortot, who flatly states, from his years of ex-perience, that the figure of 'Mercer' could well be merely some bit player marching across a sound stage. Cortot has gone so far as to declare that he recognizes the stage as one used by a now out-of-business minor moviemaker with whom Cortot had various dealings several decades ago."
"So according to Cortot," Buster Friendly said, "there can be virtually no doubt."
Pris had now cut three legs from the spider, which crept about miserably on the kitchen table, seeking a way out, a path to freedom. It found none.
"Quite frankly we believed Cortot," the research chief said in his dry, pedantic voice, "and we spent a good deal of time examining publicity pictures of bit players once employed by the now defunct Hollywood movie industry."
"And you found - "
"Listen to this," Roy Baty said. Irmgard gazed fixedly at the TV screen and Pris had ceased her mutilation of the spider.
"We located, by means of thousands upon thousands of photographs, a very old man now, named Al Jarry, who played a number of bit parts in pre-war films. From our lab we sent a team to Jarry's home in East Harmony, Indiana. I'll let one of the members of that team describe what he found." Silence, then a new voice, equally pedestrian. "The house on Lark Avenue in East Harmony is tottering and shabby and at the edge of town, where no one, except Al Jarry, still lives. Invited amiably in, and seated in the stale-smelling, moldering, kipple-filled living room, I scanned by telepathic means the blurred, debris-cluttered, and hazy mind of Al Jarry seated across from me."
"Listen," Roy Baty said, on the edge of his seat, poised as if to pounce.
"I found," the technician continued, "that the old man did in actuality make a series of short fifteen minute video films, for an employer whom he never met. And, as we had theorized, the 'rocks' did consist of rubber-like plastic. The 'blood' shed was catsup, and " - the technician chuckled - the only suffering Mr. Jarry underwent was having to go an entire day without a shot of whisky."
"Al Jarry," Buster Friendly said, his face returning to the screen. "Well, well. An old man who even in his prime never amounted to anything which either he or ourselves could respect. Al Jarry made a repetitious and dull film, a series of them in fact, for whom he knew not - and does not to this day. It has often been said by adherents of the experience of Mercerism that Wilbur Mercer is not a human being, that he is in fact an archetypal superior entity perhaps from another star. Well, in a sense this contention has proven correct. Wilbur Mercer is not human, does not in fact exist. The world in which he climbs is a cheap, Hollywood, commonplace sound stage which vanished into kipple years ago. And who, then, has spawned this hoax on the Sol System? Think about that for a time, folks."
"We may never know," Irmgard murmured.
Buster Friendly said, "We may never know. Nor can we fathom the peculiar purpose behind this swindle. Yes, folks, swindle. Mercerism is a swindle!"
"I think we know," Roy Baty said. "It's obvious. Mercerism came into existence - "
"But ponder this," Buster Friendly continued. "Ask yourselves what is it that Mercerism does. Well, if we're to be1ieve its many practitioners, the experience fuses - "
It's that empathy that humans have," Irmgard said " - men and women throughout the Sol System into a single entity. But an entity which is manageable by the so called telepathic voice of 'Mercer.' Mark that. An ambitious politically minded would-be Hitler could - "
"No, it's that empathy," Irmgard said vigorously. Fists clenched, she roved into the kitchen, up to Isidore. "Isn't it a way of proving that humans can do something we can't do? Because without the Mercer experience we just have your word that you feel this empathy business, this shared, group thing. How's the spider?" She bent over Pris's shoulder.
With the scissors Pris snipped off another of the spider's legs. "Four now," she said. She nudged the spider. "He won't go. But he can."
Roy Baty appeared at the doorway, inhaling deeply an expression of accomplishment on his face. "It's done. Buster said it out loud, and nearly every human in the system heard him say it. 'Mercerism is a swindle.' The whole experience of empathy is a swindle." He came over to look curiously at the spider.
"It won't try to walk," Irmgard said.
"I can make it walk." Roy Baty got out a book of matches, lit a match; he held it near the spider, closer and closer, until at last it crept feebly away.
"I was right," Irmgard said. "Didn't I say it could walk with only four legs?" She peered up expectantly at Isidore. "What's the matter?" Touching his arm she said, "You didn't lose anything; we'll pay you what that - what's it called?- that Sidney's catalogue says. Don't look so grim. Isn't that something about Mercer, what they discovered? All that research? Hey, answer." She prodded him anxiously.
"He's upset," Pris said. "Because he has an empathy box. In the other room. Do you use it, J.R.?" she asked Isidore. Roy Baty said, "Of course he uses it. They - all do - or did. Maybe now they'll start wondering."
"I don't think this will end the cult of Mercer," Pris said. "But right this minute there're a lot of unhappy human beings." To Isidore she said, "We've waited for months; we all knew it was coming, this pitch of Buster's." She hesitated and then said, "Well, why not. Buster is one of us."