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Total Recall

Philip K. Dick

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  Total Recall

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  First Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition 2012

  Copyright © 2012 by Laura Coelho, Christopher Dick, and Isa Hackett

  All rights reserved

  For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  eISBN 978-0-544-04889-8


  This story was originally published under the title “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

  Total Recall

  He awoke—and wanted Mars. The valleys, he thought. What would it be like to trudge among them? Great and greater yet: the dream grew as he became fully conscious, the dream and the yearning. He could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world, which only Government agents and high officials had seen. A clerk like himself? Not likely.

  “Are you getting up or not?” his wife, Kirsten, asked drowsily, with her usual hint of fierce crossness. “If you are, push the hot coffee button on the darn stove.”

  “Okay,” Douglas Quail said, and made his way barefoot from the bedroom of their conapt to the kitchen. There, having dutifully pressed the hot coffee button, he seated himself at the kitchen table, brought out a yellow, small tin of fine Dean Swift snuff. He inhaled briskly, and the Beau Nash mixture stung his nose, burned the roof of his mouth. But still he inhaled; it woke him up and allowed his dreams, his nocturnal desires and random wishes, to condense into a semblance of rationality.

  I will go, he said to himself. Before I die I’ll see Mars.

  It was, of course, impossible, and he knew this even as he dreamed. But the daylight, the mundane noise of his wife now brushing her hair before the bedroom mirror—everything conspired to remind him of what he was. A miserable little salaried employee, he said to himself with bitterness. Kirsten reminded him of this at least once a day and he did not blame her; it was a wife’s job to bring her husband down to Earth. Down to Earth, he thought, and laughed. The figure of speech in this was literally apt.

  “What are you sniggering about?” his wife asked as she swept into the kitchen, her long busy-pink robe wagging after her. “A dream, I bet. You’re always full of them.”

  “Yes,” he said, and gazed out the kitchen window at the hover-cars and traffic runnels, and all the little energetic people hurrying to work. In a little while he would be among them. As always.

  “I’ll bet it had to do with some woman,” Kirsten said witheringly.

  “No,” he said. “A god. The god of war. He has wonderful craters with every kind of plant-life growing deep down in them.”

  “Listen.” Kirsten crouched down beside him and spoke earnestly, the harsh quality momentarily gone from her voice. “The bottom of the ocean—our ocean is much more, an infinity of times more beautiful. You know that; everyone knows that. Rent an artificial gill-outfit for both of us, take a week off from work, and we can descend and live down there at one of those year-round aquatic resorts. And in addition—” She broke off. “You’re not listening. You should be. Here is something a lot better than that compulsion, that obsession you have about Mars, and you don’t even listen!” Her voice rose piercingly. “God in heaven, you’re doomed, Doug! What’s going to become of you?”

  “I’m going to work,” he said, rising to his feet, his breakfast forgotten. “That’s what’s going to become of me.”

  She eyed him. “You’re getting worse. More fanatical every day. Where’s it going to lead?”

  “To Mars,” he said, and opened the door to the closet to get down a fresh shirt to wear to work.

  Having descended from the taxi Douglas Quail slowly walked across three densely populated foot runnels and to the modern, attractively inviting doorway. There he halted, impeding mid-morning traffic, and with caution read the shifting-color neon sign. He had, in the past, scrutinized this sign before . . . but never had he come so close. This was very different; what he did now was something else. Something which sooner or later had to happen.


  Was this the answer? After all, an illusion, no matter how convincing, remained nothing more than an illusion. At least objectively. But subjectively—quite the opposite entirely.

  And anyhow he had an appointment. Within the next five minutes.

  Taking a deep breath of mildly smog-infested Chicago air, he walked through the dazzling polychromatic shimmer of the doorway and up to the receptionist’s counter.

  The nicely articulated blonde at the counter, bare-bosomed and tidy, said pleasantly, “Good morning, Mr. Quail.”

  “Yes,” he said. “I’m here to see about a Rekal course. As I guess you know.”

  “Not ‘rekal’ but recall,” the receptionist corrected him. She picked up the receiver of the vidphone by her smooth elbow and said into it, “Mr. Douglas Quail is here, Mr. McClane. May he come inside, now? Or is it too soon?”

  “Giz wetwa wum-wum wamp,” the phone mumbled.

  “Yes, Mr. Quail,” she said. “You may go in; Mr. McClane is expecting you.” As he started off uncertainly she called after him, “Room D, Mr. Quail. To your right.”

  After a frustrating but brief moment of being lost he found the proper room. The door hung open and inside, at a big genuine walnut desk, sat a genial-looking man, middle-aged, wearing the latest Martian frog-pelt gray suit; his attire alone would have told Quail that he had come to the right person.

  “Sit down, Douglas,” McClane said, waving his plump hand toward a chair which faced the desk. “So you want to have gone to Mars. Very good.”

  Quail seated himself, feeling tense. “I’m not so sure this is worth the fee,” he said. “It costs a lot and as far as I can see I really get nothing.” Costs almost as much as going, he thought.

  “You get tangible proof of your trip,” McClane disagreed emphatically. “All the proof you’ll need. Here; I’ll show you.” He dug within a drawer of his impressive desk. “Ticket stub.” Reaching into a manila folder, he produced a small square of embossed cardboard. “It proves you went—and returned. Postcards.” He laid out four franked picture 3-D full-color postcards in a neatly arranged row on the desk for Quail to see. “Film. Shots you took of local sights on Mars with a rented moving camera.” To Quail he displayed those, too. “Plus the names of people you met, two hundred poscreds’ worth of souvenirs, which will arrive—from Mars—within the following month. And passport, certificates listing the shots you received. And more.” He glanced up keenly at Quail. “You’ll know you went, all right,” he said. “You won’t remember us, won’t remember me or ever having been here. It’ll be a real trip in your mind; we guarantee that. A full two weeks of recall; every last piddling detail. Remember this: if at any time you doubt that you really took an extensive trip to Mars you can return here and get a full refund. You see?”

  “But I didn’t go,” Quail said. “I won’t have gone, no matter what proofs you provide me with.” He took a deep, unsteady breath. “And I never was a secret agent with Interplan.” It seemed impossible to him that Rekal, Incorporated’s extra-factual memory implant would do its job—despite what he had heard people say.

  “Mr. Quail,” McClane said patiently. “As you explained in your letter to us, you have no chance, no possibility in the slightest, of ever actually getting to Mars; you can’t afford it, and what is much more important, you could never qualify as an undercover agent for Interplan or anybody else. This is the only way you can
achieve your, ahem, lifelong dream; am I not correct, sir? You can’t be this; you can’t actually do this.” He chuckled. “But you can have been and have done. We see to that. And our fee is reasonable; no hidden charges.” He smiled encouragingly.

  “Is an extra-factual memory that convincing?” Quail asked.

  “More than the real thing, sir. Had you really gone to Mars as an Interplan agent, you would by now have forgotten a great deal; our analysis of true-mem systems—authentic recollections of major events in a person’s life—shows that a variety of details are very quickly lost to the person. Forever. Part of the package we offer you is such deep implantation of recall that nothing is forgotten. The packet which is fed to you while you’re comatose is the creation of trained experts, men who have spent years on Mars; in every case we verify details down to the last iota. And you’ve picked a rather easy extra-factual system; had you picked Pluto or wanted to be Emperor of the Inner Planet Alliance we’d have much more difficulty . . . and the charges would be considerably greater.”

  Reaching into his coat for his wallet, Quail said, “Okay. It’s been my lifelong ambition and so I see I’ll never really do it. So I guess I’ll have to settle for this.”

  “Don’t think of it that way,” McClane said severely. “You’re not accepting second best. The actual memory, with all its vagueness, omissions, and ellipses, not to say distortions—that’s second best.” He accepted the money and pressed a button on his desk. “All right, Mr. Quail,” he said, as the door of his office opened and two burly men swiftly entered. “You’re on your way to Mars as a secret agent.” He rose, came over to shake Quail’s nervous, moist hand. “Or rather, you have been on your way. This afternoon at four-thirty you will, um, arrive back here on Terra; a cab will leave you off at your conapt and, as I say, you will never remember seeing me or coming here; you won’t, in fact, even remember having heard of our existence.”

  His mouth dry with nervousness, Quail followed the two technicians from the office; what happened next depended on them.

  Will I actually believe I’ve been on Mars? he wondered. That I managed to fulfill my lifetime ambition? He had a strange, lingering intuition that something would go wrong. But just what—he did not know.

  He would have to wait and find out.

  The intercom on McClane’s desk, which connected him with the work area of the firm, buzzed and a voice said, “Mr. Quail is under sedation now, sir. Do you want to supervise this one, or shall we go ahead?”

  “It’s routine,” McClane observed. “You may go ahead, Lowe; I don’t think you’ll run into any trouble.” Programming an artificial memory of a trip to another planet—with or without the added fillip of being a secret agent—showed up on the firm’s work schedule with monotonous regularity. In one month, he calculated wryly, we must do twenty of these . . . ersatz interplanetary travel has become our bread and butter.

  “Whatever you say, Mr. McClane,” Lowe’s voice came, and thereupon the intercom shut off.

  Going to the vault section in the chamber behind his office, McClane searched about for a Three packet—trip to Mars—and a Sixty-two packet: secret Interplan spy. Finding the two packets, he returned with them to his desk, seated himself comfortably, poured out the contents—merchandise which would be planted in Quail’s conapt while the lab technicians busied themselves installing false memory.

  A one-poscred sneaky-pete side arm, McClane reflected; that’s the largest item. Sets us back financially the most. Then a pellet-sized transmitter, which could be swallowed if the agent were caught. Code book that astonishingly resembled the real thing . . . the firm’s models were highly accurate: based, whenever possible, on actual U.S. military issue. Odd bits which made no intrinsic sense but which would be woven into the warp and woof of Quail’s imaginary trip, would coincide with his memory: half an ancient silver fifty-cent piece, several quotations from John Donne’s sermons written incorrectly, each on a separate piece of transparent tissue-thin paper, several match folders from bars on Mars, a stainless steel spoon engraved PROPERTY OF DOME-MARS NATIONAL KIBBUZIM, a wiretapping coil which—

  The intercom buzzed. “Mr. McClane, I’m sorry to bother you but something rather ominous has come up. Maybe it would be better if you were in here after all. Quail is already under sedation; he reacted well to the narkidrine; he’s completely unconscious and receptive. But—”

  “I’ll be in.” Sensing trouble, McClane left his office; a moment later he emerged in the work area.

  On a hygienic bed lay Douglas Quail, breathing slowly and regularly, his eyes virtually shut; he seemed dimly—but only dimly—aware of the two technicians and now McClane himself.

  “There’s no space to insert false memory-patterns?” McClane felt irritation. “Merely drop out two work weeks; he’s employed as a clerk at the West Coast Emigration Bureau, which is a government agency, so he undoubtedly has or had two weeks’ vacation within the last year. That ought to do it.” Petty details annoyed him. And always would.

  “Our problem,” Lowe said sharply, “is something quite different.” He bent over the bed, said to Quail, “Tell Mr. McClane what you told us.” To McClane he said, “Listen closely.”

  The gray-green eyes of the man lying supine in the bed focussed on McClane’s face. The eyes, he observed uneasily, had become hard; they had a polished, inorganic quality, like semi-precious tumbled stones. He was not sure that he liked what he saw; the brilliance was too cold. “What do you want now?” Quail said harshly. “You’ve broken my cover. Get out of here before I take you all apart.” He studied McClane. “Especially you,” he continued. “You’re in charge of this counter-operation.”

  Lowe said, “How long were you on Mars?”

  “One month,” Quail said gratingly.

  “And your purpose there?” Lowe demanded.

  The meager lips twisted; Quail eyed him and did not speak. At last, drawling the words out so that they dripped with hostility, he said, “Agent for Interplan. As I already told you. Don’t you record everything that’s said? Play your vid-aud tape back for your boss and leave me alone.” He shut his eyes, then; the hard brilliance ceased. McClane felt, instantly, a rushing splurge of relief.

  Lowe said quietly, “This is a tough man, Mr. McClane.”

  “He won’t be,” McClane said, “after we arrange for him to lose his memory-chain again. He’ll be as meek as before.” To Quail he said, “So this is why you wanted to go to Mars so terribly bad.”

  Without opening his eyes Quail said, “I never wanted to go to Mars. I was assigned it—they handed it to me and there I was: stuck. Oh yeah, I admit I was curious about it; who wouldn’t be?” Again he opened his eyes and surveyed the three of them, McClane in particular. “Quite a truth drug you’ve got here; it brought up things I had absolutely no memory of.” He pondered. “I wonder about Kirsten,” he said, half to himself. “Could she be in on it? An Interplan contact keeping an eye on me . . . to be certain I didn’t regain my memory? No wonder she’s been so derisive about my wanting to go there.” Faintly, he smiled; the smile—one of understanding—disappeared almost at once.

  McClane said, “Please believe me, Mr. Quail; we stumbled onto this entirely by accident. In the work we do—”

  “I believe you,” Quail said. He seemed tired, now; the drug was continuing to pull him under, deeper and deeper. “Where did I say I’d been?” he murmured. “Mars? Hard to remember—I know I’d like to see it; so would everybody else. But me—” His voice trailed off. “Just a clerk, a nothing clerk.”

  Straightening up, Lowe said to his superior, “He wants a false memory implanted that corresponds to a trip he actually took. And a false reason which is the real reason. He’s telling the truth; he’s a long way down in the narkidrine. The trip is very vivid in his mind—at least under sedation. But apparently he doesn’t recall it otherwise. Someone, probably at a government military-sciences lab, erased his conscious memories; all he knew was that going to Mars meant som
ething special to him, and so did being a secret agent. They couldn’t erase that; it’s not a memory but a desire, undoubtedly the same one that motivated him to volunteer for the assignment in the first place.”

  The other technician, Keeler, said to McClane, “What do we do? Graft a false memory-pattern over the real memory? There’s no telling what the results would be; he might remember some of the genuine trip, and the confusion might bring on a psychotic interlude. He’d have to hold two opposite premises in his mind simultaneously: that he went to Mars and that he didn’t. That he’s a genuine agent for Interplan and he’s not, that it’s spurious. I think we ought to revive him without any false memory implantation and send him out of here; this is hot.”

  “Agreed,” McClane said. A thought came to him. “Can you predict what he’ll remember when he comes out of sedation?”

  “Impossible to tell,” Lowe said. “He probably will have some dim, diffuse memory of his actual trip, now. And he’d probably be in grave doubt as to its validity; he’d probably decide our programming slipped a gear-tooth. And he’d remember coming here; that wouldn’t be erased—unless you want it erased.”

  “The less we mess with this man,” McClane said, “the better I like it. This is nothing for us to fool around with; we’ve been foolish enough to—or unlucky enough to—uncover a genuine Interplan spy who has a cover so perfect that up to now even he didn’t know what he was—or rather is.” The sooner they washed their hands of the man calling himself Douglas Quail the better.

  “Are you going to plant packets Three and Sixty-two in his conapt?” Lowe said.

  “No,” McClane said. “And we’re going to return half his fee.”

  “Half! Why half?”

  McClane said lamely, “It seems to be a good compromise.”