Isidore stood holding the two handles, experiencing himself as encompassing every other living thing, and then, reluctantly, he let go. It had to end, as always, and anyhow his arm ached and bled where the rock had struck it.
Releasing the handles he examined his arm, then made his way unsteadily to the bathroom of his apartment to wash the cut off was not the first wound he had received while in fusion with Mercer and it probably would not be the last. People, especially elderly ones, had died, particularly later on at the top of the hill alien the torment began in earnest. I wonder if I can go through that part again, he said to himself as he swabbed the injury. Chance of cardiac arrest; he better, he reflected, if I lived in town where those buildings have a doctor standing by with those electro-spark machines. Here, alone in this place, it's too risky.
But he knew he'd take the risk. He always had before. As did most people, even oldsters who were physically fragile.
Using a Kleenex he dried his damaged arm.
And heard, muffled and far off, a TV set.
It's someone else in this building, he thought wildly, unable to believe it. Not my TV; that's off, and I can feel the floor resonance. It's below, on another level entirely!
I'm not alone here any more, he realized. Another resident has moved in, taken one of the abandoned apartments, and close enough for me to hear him. Must be level two or level three, certainly no deeper. Let's see, he thought rapidly. What do you do when a new resident moves in? Drop by and borrow something, is that how it's done? He could not remember; this had never happened to him before, here or anywhere else: people moved out, people emigrated, but nobody ever moved in. You take them something, he decided. Like a cup of water or rather milk; yes, it's milk or flour or maybe an egg - or, specifically, their ersatz substitutes.
Looking in his refrigerator - the compressor had long since ceased working - he found a dubious cube of margarine. And, with it, set off excitedly, his heart laboring, for the level below. I have to keep calm, he realized. Not let him know I'm a chickenhead. If he finds out I'm a cliickenhead he won't talk to me; that's always the way it is for some reason. I wonder why?
He hurried down the hall.
On his way to work Rick Deckard, as lord knew how many other people, stopped briefly to skulk about in front of one of San Francisco's larger pet shops, along animal row. In the center of the block-long display window an ostrich, in a heated clear-plastic cage, returned his stare. The bird, according to the info plaque attached to the cage, had just arrived from a zoo in Cleveland. It was the only ostrich on the West Coast. After staring at it, Rick spent a few more minutes staring grimly at the price tag. He then continued on to the Hall of justice on Lombard Street and found himself a quarter of an hour late to work.
As he unlocked his office door his superior Police Inspector Harry Bryant, jug-eared and redheaded, sloppily dressed but wise-eyed and conscious of nearly everything of any importance, hailed him. "Meet me at nine-thirty in Dave Holden's office." Inspector Bryant, as he spoke, flicked briefly through a clipboard of onionskin typed sheets. "Holden," he continued as he started off, "is in Mount Zion Hospital with a laser track through his spine. He'll be there for a month at least. Until they can get one of those new organic plastic spinal sections to take hold."
"What happened?" Rick asked, chilled. The department's chief bounty hunter had been all right yesterday; at the end of the day he had as usual zipped off in his hovercar to his apartment in the crowded high-prestige Nob Hill area of the City.
Bryant muttered over his shoulder something about nine-thirty in Dave's office and departed, leaving Rick standing alone.
As he entered his own office Rick heard the voice of his secretary, Ann Marsten, behind him. "Mr. Deckard, you know what happened to Mr. Holden? He got shot." She followed after him into the stuffy, closed-up office and set the air-filtering unit into motion.
"Yeah," he responded absently.
"It must have been one of those new, extra-clever andys the Rosen Association is turning out," Miss Marsten said. "Did you read over the company's brochure and the spec sheets? The Nexus-6 brain unit they're using now is capable of selecting within a field of two trillion constituents, or ten million separate neural pathways." She lowered her voice. "You missed the vidcall this morning. Miss Wild told me; it came through the switchboard exactly at nine."
"A call in?" Rick asked.
Miss Marsten said, "A call out by Mr. Bryant to the W.P.O. in Russia. Asking them if they would be willing to file a formal written complaint with the Rosen Association's factory representative East."
"Harry still wants the Nexus-6 brain unit withdrawn from the market?" He felt no surprise. Since the initial release of its specifications and performance charts back in August of 1991 most police agencies which dealt with escaped andys had been protesting. "The Soviet police can't do any more than we can," he said. Legally, the manufacturers of the Nexus-6 brain unit operated under colonial law, their parent auto-factory being on Mars. "We had better just accept the new unit as a fact of life," he said. "It's always been this way, with every improved brain unit that's come along. I remember the howls of pain when the Sudermann people showed their old T-14 back in '89. Every police agency in the Western Hemisphere clamored that no test would detect its presence, in an instance of illegal entry here. As a matter of fact, for a while they were right." Over fifty of the T-14 android as he recalled had made their way by one means or another to Earth, and had not been detected for a period in some cases up to an entire year. But then the Voigt Empathy Test had been devised by the Pavlov Institute working in the Soviet Union. And no T-14 android - insofar, at least, as was known - had managed to pass that particular test.