Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Page 55

"I am a fraud," Mercer said. "They're sincere; their research is sincere. From their standpoint I am an elderly retired bit player named Al Jarry. All of it, their disclosure, is true. They interviewed me at my home, as they claim; I told them whatever they wanted to know, which was everything."

"Including about the whisky?"

Mercer smiled. "It was true. They did a good job and from their standpoint Buster Friendly's disclosure was convincing. They will have trouble understanding why nothing has changed. Because you're still here and I'm still here." Mercer indicated with a sweep of his hand the barren, rising hillside, the familiar place. "I lifted you from the tomb world just now and I will continue to lift you until you lose interest and want to quit. But you will have to stop searching for me because I will never stop searching for you."

"I didn't like that about the whisky," Isidore said. "That's lowering."

"That's because you're a highly moral person. I'm not. I don't judge, not even myself." Mercer held out a closed hand, palm up. "Before I forget it, I have something of yours here." He opened his fingers. On his hand rested the mutilated spider, but with its snipped-off legs restored.

"Thanks." Isidore accepted the spider. He started to say something further -

An alarm bell clanged.

Roy Baty snarled, "There's a bounty hunter in the building! Get all the lights off. Get him away from that empathy box; he has to be ready at the door. Go on - move him!"

Chapter Ninteen

Looking down, John Isidore saw his own hands; they gripped the twin handles of the empathy box. As he stood gaping at them, the lights in the living room of his apartment plunged out. He could see, in the kitchen, Pris hurrying to catch the table lamp there.

"Listen, J.R.," Irmgard whispered harshly in his ear; she had grabbed him by the shoulder, her nails digging into him with frantic intensity. She seemed unaware of what she did, now; in the dim nocturnal light from outdoors Irmgard's face had become distorted, astigmatic. It had turned into - a craven dish, with cowering, tiny, lidless eyes. "You have to go," she whispered, "to the door, when he knocks, if he does knock; you have to show him your identification and tell him this is your apartment and no one else is here. And you ask to see a warrant."

Pris, standing on the other side of him, her body arched, whispered, "Don't let him in, J.R. Say anything; do anything that will stop him. Do you know what a bounty hunter would do let loose in here? Do you understand what he would do to us? "

Moving away from the two android females Isidore groped his way to the door; with his fingers he located the knob, halted there, listening. He could sense the hall outside, is he always had sensed it: vacant and reverberating and lifeless.

"Hear anything?" Roy Baty said, bending close. Isidore smelled the rank, cringing body; he inhaled fear from it, fear pouring out, forming a mist. "Step out and take a look."

Opening the door, Isidore looked up and down the indistinct hall. The air out here had a clear quality, despite the weight of dust. He still held the spider which Mercer had given him. Was it actually the spider which Pris had snipped apart with Irmgard Baty's cuticle scissors? Probably not. He would never know. But anyhow it was alive; it crept about within his closed hand, not biting him: as with most small spiders its mandibles could not puncture human skin.

He reached the end of the hall, descended the stairs, and stepped outside, onto what had once been a terraced path, garden-enclosed. The garden had perished during the war and the path had ruptured in a thousand places. But he knew its surface; under his feet the familiar path felt good, and he followed it, passed along the greater side of the building, coming at last to the only verdant spot in the vicinity - a yard-square patch of dust-saturated, drooping weeds. There he deposited the spider. He experienced its wavering progress as it departed his hand. Well, that was that; he straightened up.

A flashlight beam focused on the weeds; in its glare their half-dead stalks appeared stark, menacing. Now he could see the spider; it rested on a serrated leaf. So it had gotten away all right.

"What did you do?" the man holding the flashlight asked.

"I put down a spider," he said, wondering why the man didn't see; in the beam of yellow light the spider bloated up larger than life. "So it could get away."

"Why don't you take it up to your apartment? You ought to keep it in a jar. According to the January Sidney's most spiders are up ten percent in retail price. You could have gotten a hundred and some odd dollars for it."

Isidore said, "If I took it back up there she'd cut it apart again. Bit by bit, to see what it did."

"Androids do that," the man said. Reaching into his overcoat he brought out something which he flapped open and extended toward Isidore.

In the irregular light the bounty hunter seemed a medium man, not impressive. Round face and hairless, smooth features; like a clerk in a bureaucratic office. Methodical but informal. Not demi-god in shape; not at all as Isidore had anticipated him.

"I'm an investigator for the San Francisco Police Department. Deckard, Rick Deckard." The man flapped his ID shut again, stuck it back in his overcoat pocket. "They're up there now? The three?"

"Well, the thing is," Isidore said, "I'm looking after them. Two are women. They're the last ones of the group; the rest are dead. I brought Pris's TV set up from her apartment and put it in mine, so they could watch Buster Friendly. Buster proved beyond a doubt that Mercer doesn't exist." Isidore felt excitement, knowing something of this importance - news that the bounty hunter evidently hadn't heard.