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World of Chance

Philip K. Dick

  World of Chance

  Philip K. Dick

  Philip K. Dick

  World of Chance

  Chapter I

  There had been harbingers.

  Early in May of 2203 newsmachines were excited by a flight of white crows over Sweden. A series of un­explained fires demolished half the Oiseau-Lyre Hill, an industrial pivot of the system. Small stones fell near work-camp installations on Mars. At Batavia, the Directorate of the nine-planet Federation, a two-headed calf was born, a sign that something of incredible magni­tude was brewing.

  Everybody speculated on what the forces of Nature in­tended. Everybody guessed, consulted, and argued about the bottle—the socialized instrument of chance. Directorate fortune-tellers were booked up weeks in advance.

  But one man's harbinger is another man's event. The first reaction from Oiseau-Lyre to its limited catastrophe was to create total catastrophe for half its employees. Fealty oaths were dissolved, and a variety of research technicians were tossed out. Adrift, they became a further symptom of the approaching moment-of-importance for the system. Most of these technicians floundered and were lost among the masses. But not all.

  Ted Benteley yanked his dismissal notice from the board and as he walked to his office he tore the notice to bits. His reaction differed from that of those around him; he was glad to have his oath severed. For thirteen years he had been trying to break his fealty oath with Oiseau-Lyre.

  He locked his office door, snapped off his Inter-Plan Visual Industries Corp. screen, and did some thinking. It took only an hour to develop his plan of action.

  At noon Oiseau-Lyre's outworker department returned his power card. His one chance out of six billion in the great lottery. His fragile possibility of being twitched by the random motion of the bottle to the Number One class position. Politically speaking, he was back thirty-three years; the power-card was coded at the moment of birth.

  At two-thirty he dissolved his remaining fealty connec­tions at Oiseau-Lyre; they were mostly with himself as protector and somebody else as serf. By four o'clock he had liquidated his assets and had bought a first-class trans­port ticket. Before nightfall he was on his way out of Europe, heading for the Indonesian Empire.

  In Batavia he rented a room and unpacked his case; the rest of his possessions were still in France. Curiously, his room overlooked the main Directorate building. Like tropical flies people crept in and out of its many doors. All roads, and all space-lanes, led to Batavia.

  His funds didn't amount to much; he could stall only so long. From the Public Information Library he picked up armloads of tape and a basic scanner. As the days passed he built up information relating to all aspects of bio­chemistry, the subject on which his original classification had been won. As he scanned and crammed he kept one thought in mind: applications for positional-fealty oaths were processed only once; if he failed in the first try he was finished.

  That first try was going to be successful. He was free of the Hill system, and he wasn't going back.

  During the next five days he smoked endless cigarettes, paced his room, and finally got out the yellow section of the ipvic directory to look up the local girl agencies. His favourite agency had a nearby office; within an hour most of his psychological problems were solved. With the aid of the blonde sent by the agency and the cocktail bar down the street, he was able to last another twenty-four hours. But that was as far as he could string it out; the time to act had come.

  A cold chill lay over him as he got out of bed. With Quizmaster Verrick employment oaths were apparently handed out haphazardly. It was impossible to deduce what factor, if any, determined successful application.

  He shaved, dressed, paid Lori her wages, and sent her back to the agency.

  Loneliness hit him hard. And fear. He surrendered his room, stored his suit-case, and bought himself a second good luck charm. In a public washroom he buttoned the charm inside his shirt and dropped a coin in the phenol-barb dispenser. The sedative calmed him; he emerged and flagged down a robot taxi.

  "Main Directorate building," he told the driver, "and take your time."

  "All right, sir or madam," the MacMillan robot answered; MacMillans weren't capable of fine discrimina­tions.

  Spring air billowed into the cab as it zipped above the rooftops. Benteley wasn't interested; his eyes were fixed on the growing syndrome of buildings ahead. His written papers had been shot in the night before. He had waited about the right time; they should be appearing on the desk of the first checker in the chain of Directorate officials.

  "Here we are, sir or madam." The robot taxi settled down and grappled itself to a halt. Benteley stepped from the open door.

  On a main pedestrian artery he paused to light a cigarette. His hands weren't shaking, not really. He shoved his case under his arm as he reached the processing lounge. Perhaps by this time next month he would be under fealty to the Directorate... he touched one of the charms inside his shirt.

  "Ted," a voice came, small and urgent. "Wait!"

  He halted as Lori threaded her way through the crowd and came to him.

  "I have something for you," she said breathlessly. "I knew I'd catch you here."

  "What is it?" Benteley demanded. He knew that the Directorate's special Corps was close by; he didn't want his intimate thoughts known by eighty bored telepaths.

  Lori reached round his neck and clicked something in place. It was another good luck charm.

  Benteley examined the charm. "You think it'll do me any good?" he asked.

  "I hope so." She touched his arm briefly. "Thanks for being so nice. You hustled me off before I could tell you." She lingered plaintively. "If you get taken on you'll probably stay here in Batavia."

  Irritably, Benteley answered: "You're being observed. Verrick has observers planted all over the place."

  "I don't mind," Lori said wistfully. "Call girls have nothing to conceal."

  "I don't like it." Benteley shrugged. "But if I'm going to hook on here I'll have to get used to being watched."

  He moved towards the central desk, his identifying cards ready. A few moments later the MacMillan official accepted them.

  "All right, Ted Benteley. You may go in."

  Benteley stubbed out his cigarette and turned towards the inner offices.

  "I'll look you up," he murmured to Lori as he stepped through the door.

  He was inside: it had begun.

  A small middle-aged man with steel-rimmed glasses and a tiny waxed moustache was standing by the door watching him intently.

  "You're Benteley?"

  "That's right," Benteley answered. "I'm here to see Quizmaster Verrick."


  "I'm looking for a class 8-8 position."

  A girl pushed abruptly into the office. Ignoring Benteley, she said rapidly:

  "Well, it's over." She touched her temple. "See? Now are you satisfied?"

  "Don't blame me," the small man said. "It's the law."

  "The law!" The girl shrugged her crimson hair out of her eyes. She grabbed a packet of cigarettes from the desk and lit up with shaky fingers. "Let's get out, Peter. There's nothing of importance left."

  "You know I'm staying," the small man said.

  The girl half-turned as she noticed Benteley for the first time. Her green eyes flickered with interest.

  "Who are you?"

  "Maybe you'd better come back some other time," the small man said to Benteley. "This isn't exactly the——"

  "I didn't come this far to get chucked out," Benteley said hoarsely. "Where's Verrick?"

  The girl eyed him curiously. "You want to see Reese? What are you selling?"

  "I'm a biochemist," Benteley answered, "looking for a class 8-8 position."

Amusement twisted the girl's lips. "Is that so? Interest­ing... ." She shrugged her bare shoulders. "Swear him, Peter."

  The small man hesitated.

  "I'm Peter Wakeman," he said to Benteley. "This girl is Eleanor Stevens, Verrick's private secretary."

  It wasn't exactly what Benteley had expected. There was a silence as the three of them appraised one another.

  "The MacMillan passed him in," Wakeman said presently. "There's an open call for 8-8 people. But I think Verrick has no need for more biochemists."

  "What do you know about it?" Eleanor Stevens demanded. "You're not running personnel."

  "I'm using common sense." Very deliberately Wakeman moved between the girl and Benteley. "I'm sorry," he said to the man. "You're wasting your time here. Go to the Hill offices—they're always buying and selling bio­chemists."

  "I know," Benteley said. "I've worked for the Hill system since I was sixteen."

  "Then what do you want here?" Eleanor asked.

  "Oiseau-Lyre dropped me."

  "Go over to Soong."

  "I'm not working for any more Hills!" Benteley's voice lifted harshly. "I'm through with the Hills."

  "Why?" Wakeman asked.

  Benteley grunted.

  "The Hills are corrupt. The whole system's decaying. It's up for sale to the highest bidder... and bidding's going on."

  Wakeman pondered. "I don't see what that matters to you. You have your work; that's what you're supposed to be thinking about."

  "For my time, skill and loyalty I get money," Benteley agreed. "I have a lab and equipment that cost more to build than I'll earn in a lifetime. But what is the result of my work? Where does it go?" Benteley struggled to con­tinue. "I stood the smell of Oiseau-Lyre as long as pos­sible. The Hills are supposed to be separate, independent economic units; actually, they're sliding together into a homogeneous mass. It isn't merely a question of mis-shipments and expense padding and doctored tax returns. You know the Hill slogan: service is good and better service is best. That's a laugh! You think the Hills care about serving anybody? Instead of existing for the public good they're parasites on the public."

  "I never imagined the Hills were philanthropic organiza­tions," Wakeman said.

  Benteley moved away from them. Why did he get upset about the Hills? Nobody had complained yet. But he was complaining. Maybe it was lack of realism on his part, an anachronistic survival the child-guidance clinic hadn't been able to shake out of him. Whatever it was, he had taken as much as he could stand.

  "How do you know the Directorate is any better?" Wakeman asked. "You have a lot of illusions about it, I think."

  "Let him swear," Eleanor said indifferently.

  Wakeman shook his head. "I won't swear him."

  "I will, then," the girl answered.

  From the desk drawer Wakeman got a flask and poured himself a drink. "Anybody care to join me?"

  Benteley turned irritably. "Is this the way the Directorate is run?"

  Wakeman smiled. "Your illusions are being shattered. Stay where you are, Benteley; you don't know when you're well off."

  Eleanor slid from the desk and hurried out of the room. She returned in a moment with the customary symbol-representation of the Quizmaster. "Come over here, Benteley. I'll accept your oath." She placed the small plastic flesh-coloured bust of Reese Verrick in the centre of the desk and turned briskly to Benteley. As Benteley moved towards the desk she reached up and touched the cloth bag hanging from a string round his neck, the charm Lori had put there. "What kind of charm is that?" she asked.

  Benteley showed her the bit of magnetized steel and white powder.

  "Virgin's milk," he explained curtly.

  "That's all you carry?" Eleanor indicated the array of charms dangling on her chest. "I don't understand how people manage with only one charm." Her green eyes danced. "Maybe you don't! Maybe that's why you have bad luck."

  "I have a high positive scale," Benteley replied. "And I have two other charms. Somebody gave me this."

  She leaned close and examined it intently. "It's the kind of charm a woman would buy. Expensive, but flashy."

  "Is it true," Benteley asked her, "that Verrick doesn't carry any charms?"

  "That's right," Wakeman spoke up. "He doesn't need them. When the bottle twitched him to One he was already class six-three. Talk about luck! He's risen all the way to the top exactly as you see on the children's edutapes. Luck leaks out of his pores."

  "I've seen people touch him hoping to get some of it," Eleanor said. "I don't blame them. I've touched him myself, many times."

  "What good has it done you?" Wakeman asked quietly; he indicated the girl's discoloured temples.

  "I wasn't born at the same time and place as Reese," Eleanor answered shortly.

  "I don't hold with astro-cosmology," Wakeman said. "Luck comes in streaks." Speaking slowly and intently to Benteley, he continued: "Verrick may have it now, but that doesn't mean he'll always have it." He gestured vaguely towards the floor above, "They like to see some kind of balance." He added hastily: "I'm not a Christian or anything like that, you understand. I know it's all chance. Everybody gets his chance. And the high and the mighty always fall."

  Eleanor shot Wakeman a warning look. "Be careful!"

  Without taking his eyes from Benteley, Wakeman said slowly:

  "You're out of fealty; take advantage of that. Don't swear yourself on to Verrick. You'll be stuck to him, as one of his permanent serfs."

  Benteley was chilled. "You mean I'm supposed to take an oath directly to Verrick? Not a positional oath to the Quizmaster?"

  "That's right," Eleanor said.


  "Ican't give you information. Later on there'll be an assignment for you in terms of your class requirements; that's guaranteed."

  Benteley gripped his case and moved away. His expecta­tions had fallen apart. "I'm in?" he demanded, half-angrily. "I'm acceptable?"

  "Verrick wants all eight-eight's he can get. You can't miss."

  "Wait," Bentley said, confused and uncertain. "Give me time to decide." Then he withdrew.

  Eleanor wandered about the room. "Any more news of that fellow?" she asked Wakeman.

  "Only the initial closed-circuit warning to me," Wake­man said. "His name is Leon Cartwright. He's a member of some kind of cult. I'm curious to see what he's like."

  "I'm not." Eleanor halted at the window and gazed down at the streets below. "Maybe I made a mistake. But it's over; there's nothing I can do."

  "When you're older you'll realize how much of a mis­take," Wakeman agreed.

  Fear came to the girl's face. "I'll never leave Verrick. He'll take care of me; he always has."

  "The Corps will protect you."

  "I don't want anything to do with the Corps." Her lips drew back against her even, white teeth. "My family. My willing Uncle Peter—up for sale, like his Hills." She indicated Benteley. "And he thinks he won't find it here."

  "It's not a question of sale," Wakeman said. "It's a principle. The Corps is above any man."

  "The Corps is a fixture, like this desk. You buy all the furniture, the lights, the ipvics, the Corps." Disgust glowed in her eyes. "A Prestonite, is that it?"

  "That's it."

  "No wonder you're anxious to see him. In a morbid way I suppose I'm curious, too."

  At the desk, Benteley roused himself from his thoughts. "All right," he said aloud. "I'm ready."

  "Fine!" Eleanor slipped behind the desk, one hand raised, the other on the bust. "You know the oath?"

  Benteley knew the fealty oath by heart, but gnawing doubt slowed him almost to a halt. Wakeman stood examining his nails, looking disapproving and bored. Eleanor Stevens watched avidly, her face intense with emotions that altered each moment. With a growing con­viction that things were not right, Benteley began reciting his fealty oath to the small plastic bust.

  The doors of the office slid back and a group of men entered noisily. One towered over the rest; a huge man, lumb
ering and broad-shouldered, with a grey, weathered face and thick iron-streaked hair. Reese Verrick, sur­rounded by those of his staff in personal fealty to him, halted as he saw the procedure taking place at the desk.

  Wakeman glanced up and caught Verrick's eye. He smiled faintly but said nothing. Eleanor Stevens had become as rigid as stone. As soon as Benteley had finished she snapped into life. She carefully hurried the plastic bust out of the office and then returned, hand held out.

  "I want your power-card, Mr. Benteley. We have to have it."

  "Who's this fellow?" Verrick mumbled, with a wave to­wards Benteley.

  "An eight-eight." Eleanor nervously grabbed up her things from the desk; her good luck charms dangled and vibrated excitedly. "I'll get my coat."

  "Eight-eight? Biochemist?" Verrick eyed Benteley with interest. "Is he any good?"

  "He's all right," Wakeman said. "What I found out seemed to be top-notch."

  Eleanor slammed the cupboard door, then threw her coat over her shoulders. "He just came in, from Oiseau-Lyre." She breathlessly joined the group clustered round Verrick. "He doesn't know, yet."

  Verrick's heavy face was wrinkled with fatigue and worry, but a faint spark of amusement lit up his deep-set eyes.

  "The last crumbs, for a while. The rest goes to Cartwright, the Prestonite." He addressed Benteley. "What's your name?"

  They shook hands as Benteley replied. Verrick's massive hand crunched his bones has Benteley feebly asked: "Where are we going? I thought——"

  "Chemie Hill." Verrick and his group moved towards the exit—all but Wakeman, who remained behind to await the new Quizmaster. To Eleanor Stevens, Verrick ex­plained briefly: "We'll operate from there. The lock I put on Chemie last year was to me personally. I can still claim loyalty there, in spite of this."

  "In spite of what?" Benteley demanded, suddenly horrified. The outside doors were open; for the first time the cries of the newsmachines came loudly to his ears. As the party moved down the ramp towards the waiting intercon transports Benteley demanded hoarsely: "What's happened?"

  "Come on," Verrick grunted. "You'll know all about it before long."