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Solar Lottery

Philip K. Dick



  Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 and lived most of his life in California. He briefly attended the University of California, but dropped out before completing any classes. In 1952, he began writing professionally and proceeded to write numerous novels and short-story collections. He won the Hugo Award for the best novel in 1962 for The Man in the High Castle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year in 1974 for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Philip K. Dick died on March 2, 1982, in Santa Ana, California, of heart failure following a stroke.


  Clans of the Alphane Moon

  Confessions of a Crap Artist

  The Cosmic Puppets

  Counter-Clock World

  The Crack in Space

  Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny)

  The Divine Invasion

  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  Dr. Bloodmoney

  Dr. Futurity

  Eye in the Sky

  Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

  Galactic Pot-Healer

  The Game-Players of Titan

  The Man in the High Castle

  The Man Who Japed

  Martian Time-Slip

  A Maze of Death

  Now Wait for Last Year

  Our Friends From Frolix 8

  The Penultimate Truth

  Radio Free Albemuth

  A Scanner Darkly

  The Simulacra

  Solar Lottery

  The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

  Time Out of Joint

  The Transmigration of Timothy Archer


  The Unteleported Man


  Vulcan’s Hammer

  We Can Build You

  The World Jones Made

  The Zap Gun


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

  Everybody interpreted these signs according to his own formula; speculation on what the random forces of nature intended was a favorite pastime. Everybody guessed, consulted, and argued about the bottle—the socialized instrument of chance. Directorate fortunetellers were booked up weeks in advance.

  But one man’s harbinger is another man’s event. The first reaction from Oiseau-Lyre Hill to its limited catastrophe was to create total catastrophe for fifty percent of its classified employees. Fealty oaths were dissolved, and a variety of trained research technicians were tossed out. Cut adrift, they became a further symptom of the nearing moment-of-importance for the system. Most of the severed technicians floundered, sank down, and were lost among the unclassified masses. But not all of them.

  Ted Benteley yanked his dismissal notice from the board the moment he spotted it. As he walked down the hall to his office he quietly tore the notice to pieces and dropped the bits down a disposal slot. His reaction to dismissal was intense, overpowering, and immediate. It differed from the reaction of those around him in one significant respect: he was glad to have his oath severed. For thirteen years he had been trying every legal stratagem to break his fealty oath with Oiseau-Lyre.

  Back in his office, he locked the door, snapped off his Inter-Plan Visual Industries screen, and did some rapid thinking. It took only an hour to develop his plan of action, and that plan was refreshingly simple.

  At noon, Oiseau-Lyre’s outworker department returned his power card, obligatory when an oath was severed from above. It was odd seeing the card again after so many years. He stood holding it awkwardly a moment, before he carefully put it away in his wallet. It represented 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 p-card was coded at the moment of birth.

  At 2:30, he dissolved his remaining fealty connections at Oiseau-Lyre; they were minor and mostly with himself as protector and somebody else as serf. By 4:00 he had collected his assets, liquidated them on an emergency basis (taking a high percentage loss on the fast exchange), and bought a first-class ticket on a public transport. Before nightfall he was on his way out of Europe, heading directly toward the Indonesian Empire and its capital.

  In Batavia he rented a cheap room in a boardinghouse and unpacked his suitcase. The rest of his possessions were still back in France; if he was successful he could get them later, and if he wasn’t they wouldn’t matter. Curiously, his room overlooked the main Directorate building. Swarms of people like eager tropical flies crept in and out of its multiple entrances. All roads and all spacelanes led to Batavia.

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

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

  During the next five days he smoked endless cigarettes, paced an infinite number of times around his room, and finally got out the yellow section of the ipvic directory to look up the local bed girl agencies. His favorite agency had a nearby office; he made a grateful call, and within an hour most of his psychological problems were in the past. Between the slim blonde sent by the agency and the swank 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; it was now or never.

  A cold chill lay over him as he got out of bed that morning. Quizmaster Verrick’s hiring was integrated on the basic principle of Minimax: positional oaths were apparently passed out on a random basis. In six days Benteley hadn’t been able to plot a pattern. It was impossible to infer what factor—if any—determined successful application. He perspired, took a quick shower, and perspired again. In spite of his days of cramming he had learned nothing. He was going in blind. He shaved, dressed, paid Lori her wages, and then sent her back to the agency.

  Loneliness and fear hit him hard. He surrendered his room, stored his suitcase, and, for a better margin of safety, bought himself a second good luck charm. In a public washroom he buttoned the charm inside his shirt and dropped a dime in the phenolbarb dispenser. The sedative calmed him a trifle; 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, adding, “Whatever you say.” MacMillans weren’t capable of fine discriminations.

  Warm 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. The night before his written papers had been shot in. He had waited about the right time; they should be appearing on the desk of the first checker along the unlimited chain of Directorate officials.

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

  People hurried everywhere. The air buzzed with a constant mur
mur of excitement. The tension of the last few weeks had risen to fever pitch. Ramp hawkers were peddling “methods,” low priced sure-fire theories guaranteed to predict bottle twitches and beat the whole Minimax game. The hawkers were ignored by the hurrying throngs of people; anybody with a genuine system of prediction would be using it, not selling it.

  On a main pedestrian artery Benteley paused to light a cigarette. His hands weren’t shaking, not really. He shoved his briefcase under his arm and put his hands in his pockets as he continued slowly toward the processing lounge. The heavy check-arch passed around him and he was inside. Perhaps by this time next month he would be under fealty to the Directorate … he gazed up hopefully at the arch and touched one of the charms inside his shirt.

  “Ted,” a voice came, small and urgent. “Wait.”

  He halted. Breasts bobbing, Lori threaded her way through the tight-packed crowd and came quickly up to him. “I have something for you,” she said breathlessly. “I knew I’d catch you here.”

  “What is it?” Benteley demanded tautly. He was conscious that the Directorate’s teep Corps was close by; he didn’t particularly want his intimate thoughts in the hands of eighty bored telepaths.

  “Here.” Lori reached around his neck and clicked something in place. Passers-by grinned in sympathetic amusement; it was another good luck charm.

  Benteley examined the charm. It looked like an expensive one. “You think it’ll do me any good?” he asked her. Seeing Lori again wasn’t part of his plans.

  “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. “You think you have much of a chance? Gee, if you get taken on, you’ll probably stay here in Batavia.”

  Irritated, Benteley answered, “You’re being teeped while you stand here. Verrick has them planted all over the place.”

  “I don’t mind,” Lori said wistfully. “A bed girl has nothing to conceal.”

  Benteley wasn’t amused. “I don’t like it. I’ve never been teeped in my life.” He shrugged. “But I guess if I’m going to lock on here, I’ll have to get used to it.”

  He moved toward the central desk, his i.d. and power cards ready. The line moved rapidly. A few moments later the MacMillan official accepted them, devoured them, and then addressed him peevishly. “All right, Ted Benteley. You may go in now.”

  “Well,” Lori said wanly, “I guess I’ll be seeing you. If you get locked on here …”

  Benteley stubbed out his cigarette and turned toward the entrance of the inner offices. “I’ll look you up,” he murmured, scarcely aware of the girl. He pushed past the rows of waiting people, swept his briefcase tight against him, and stepped quickly through the door. The door snapped instantly shut behind him.

  He was inside: it had begun.

  A small middle-aged man with steel-rimmed glasses and a tiny waxed mustache was standing by the door watching him intently. “You’re Benteley, are you?”

  “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 slid up onto the desk and shrugged her tangle of crimson hair back out of her eyes. She grabbed a package of cigarettes from the desk and lit up with shaky, nervous fingers. “Let’s get the hell out of here, Peter. There’s nothing of importance left.”

  “You know I’m staying,” the small man said.

  “You’re a fool.” The girl half turned as she noticed Benteley for the first time. Her green eyes flickered with surprise and interest. “Who are you?”

  “Maybe you 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 the runaround,” 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 savagely. “I’m looking for a class 8-8 position.”

  A faint touch of amusement twisted the girl’s red lips. “Is that so? Interesting …” She shrugged her bare shoulders. “Swear him on, Peter.”

  The small man hesitated. Reluctantly, he stuck out his hand. “I’m Peter Wakeman,” he said to Benteley. “This girl is Eleanor Stevens. She’s Verrick’s private secretary.”

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

  “The MacMillan sent him on in,” Wakeman said presently. “There’s an open call for 8-8 people. But I think Verrick has no need for more biochemists; he’s got enough already.”

  “What do you know about it?” Eleanor Stevens demanded. “It’s none of your business; you’re not running personnel.”

  “I’m using common sense.” Wakeman moved very deliberately between the girl and Benteley. “I’m sorry,” he said to Benteley. “You’re wasting your time here. Go to the Hill hiring 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 angrily. “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 clean white lab and the use of equipment that costs more to build than I’ll earn in a lifetime. I get status-insurance and total protection. But I wonder what the end result of my work is. I wonder what it’s finally put to. I wonder where it goes.”

  “Where does it go?” Eleanor asked.

  “Down the rat hole! It doesn’t help anybody.”

  “Whom should it help?”

  Benteley struggled to answer. “I don’t know. Somebody, somewhere. Don’t you want your work to do some good? I stood the smell hanging around Oiseau-Lyre as long as possible. The Hills are supposed to be separate and independent economic units; actually they’re shipments and expense padding and doctored tax returns. It goes deeper than that. 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 dryly.

  Benteley moved restlessly away from the two of them; they were watching him as if he were a public entertainer. Why did he get upset about the Hills? Playing classified serf to a Hill paid off; 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 on,” Eleanor said indifferently. “If that’s what he wants, give it to him.”

  Wakeman shook his head. “I won’t swear him on.”

  “I will, then,” the girl answered.

  “You’ll pardon me,” Wakeman said. From the desk drawer he got a fifth of Scotch and poured himself a drink. “Anybody care to join me?”<
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  “No, thanks,” Eleanor said.

  Benteley turned his back irritably. “What the hell is all this? Is this the way the Directorate is run?”

  Wakeman smiled. “You see? 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 a small plastic flesh-colored bust of Reese Verrick in the center of the desk and turned briskly to Benteley. “Come on.” As Benteley moved slowly toward the desk, she reached up and touched the cloth bag hanging from a string around his neck, the charm Lori had put there. “What kind of charm is that?” she asked him. She led him over beside her. “Tell me about it.”

  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 between her bare breasts. “I don’t understand how people get by with only one charm.” Her green eyes danced. “Maybe you don’t get by. Maybe that’s why you have bad luck.”

  “I have a high positive scale,” Benteley began irritably. “And I have two other charms. Somebody gave me this.”

  “Oh?” She leaned close and examined it intently. “It looks like the kind of charm a woman would buy. Expensive, but a little too 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 6-3. Talk about luck—that man has it. 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, with shy pride. “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 discolored temples.

  “I wasn’t born at the same time and place as Reese,” Eleanor answered shortly.