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The Philip K. Dick Reader

Philip K. Dick

  The Philip K Dick Reader

  Philip K. Dick

  Philip K. Dick

  The Philip K Dick Reader

  Fair Game

  Professor Anthony Douglas lowered gratefully into his red-leather easy chair and sighed. A long sigh, accompanied by labored removal of his shoes and numerous grunts as he kicked them into the corner. He folded his hands across his ample middle and lay back, eyes closed.

  "Tired?" Laura Douglas asked, turning from the kitchen stove a moment, her dark eyes sympathetic.

  "You're darn right." Douglas surveyed the evening paper across from him on the couch. Was it worth it? No, not really. He felt around in his coat pocket for his cigarettes and lit up slowly, leisurely. "Yeah, I'm tired, all right. We're starting a whole new line of research. Whole flock of bright young men in from Washington today. Briefcases and slide rules."

  "Not --"

  "Oh, I'm still in charge." Professor Douglas grinned expansively. "Perish the thought." Pale gray cigarette smoke billowed around him. "It'll be another few years before they're ahead of me. They'll have to sharpen up their slide rules just a little bit more..."

  His wife smiled and continued preparing dinner. Maybe it was the atmo­sphere of the little Colorado town. The sturdy, impassive mountain peaks around them. The thin, chill air. The quiet citizens. In any case, her husband seemed utterly unbothered by the tensions and doubts that pressured other members of his profession. A lot of aggressive newcomers were swelling the ranks of nuclear physics these days. Old-timers were tottering in their posi­tions, abruptly insecure. Every college, every physics department and lab was being invaded by the new horde of skilled young men. Even here at Bryant College, so far off the beaten track.

  But if Anthony Douglas worried, he never let it show. He rested happily in his easy chair, eyes shut, a blissful smile on his face. He was tired -- but at peace. He sighed again, this time more from pleasure than fatigue.

  "It's true," he murmured lazily. "I may be old enough to be their father, but I'm still a few jumps ahead of them. Of course, I know the ropes better. And --"

  "And the wires. The ones worth pulling."

  "Those, too. In any case, I think I'll come off from this new line we're doing just about..."

  His voice trailed off.

  "What's the matter?" Laura asked.

  Douglas half rose from his chair. His face had gone suddenly white. He stared in horror, gripping the arms of his chair, his mouth opening and clos­ing.

  At the window was a great eye. An immense eye that gazed into the room intently, studying him. The eye filled the whole window.

  "Good God!" Douglas cried.

  The eye withdrew. Outside there was only the evening gloom, the dark hills and trees, the street. Douglas sank down slowly in his chair.

  "What was it?" Laura demanded sharply. "What did you see? Was some­body out there?"

  Douglas clasped and unclasped his hands. His lips twitched violently. "I'm telling you the truth, Bill. I saw it myself. It was real. I wouldn't say so, otherwise. You know that. Don't you believe me?"

  "Did anybody else see it?" Professor William Henderson asked, chewing his pencil thoughtfully. He had cleared a place on the dinner table, pushed back his plate and silver and laid out his notebook. "Did Laura see it?"

  "No. Laura had her back turned."

  "What time was it?"

  "Half an hour ago. I had just got home. About six-thirty. I had my shoes off, taking it easy." Douglas wiped his forehead with a shaking hand.

  "You say it was unattached? There was nothing else? Just the -- eye?"

  "Just the eye. One huge eye looking in at me. Taking in everything. As if..."

  "As if what?"

  "As if it was looking down a microscope."


  From across the table, Henderson's red-haired wife spoke up. "You always were a strict empiricist, Doug. You never went in for any nonsense before. But this... It's too bad nobody else saw it."

  "Of course nobody else saw it!"

  "What do you mean?"

  "The damn thing was looking at me. It was me it was studying." Douglas's voice rose hysterically. "How do you think I feel -- scrutinized by an eye as big as a piano! My God, if I weren't so well integrated, I'd be out of my mind!"

  Henderson and his wife exchanged glances. Bill, dark-haired and hand­some, ten years Douglas's junior. Vivacious Jean Henderson, lecturer in child psychology, lithe and full-bosomed in her nylon blouse and slacks.

  "What do you make of this?" Bill asked her. "This is more along your line."

  "It's your line," Douglas snapped. "Don't try to pass this off as a morbid projection. I came to you because you're head of the Biology Department."

  "You think it's an animal? A giant sloth or something?"

  "It must be an animal."

  "Maybe it's a joke," Jean suggested. "Or an advertising sign. An oculist's display. Somebody may have been carrying it past the window."

  Douglas took a firm grip on himself. "The eye was alive. It looked at me. It considered me. Then it withdrew. As if it had moved away from the lens." He shuddered. "I tell you it was studying me!"

  "You only?"

  "Me. Nobody else."

  "You seem curiously convinced it was looking down from above," Jean said.

  "Yes, down. Down at me. That's right." An odd expression flickered across Douglas's face. "You have it, Jean. As if it came from up there." He jerked his hand upward.

  "Maybe it was God," Bill said thoughtfully.

  Douglas said nothing. His face turned ash white and his teeth chattered.

  "Nonsense," Jean said. "God is a psychological transcendent symbol expressing unconscious forces."

  "Did it look at you accusingly?" asked Bill. "As if you'd done something wrong?"

  "No. With interest. With considerable interest." Douglas raised himself. "I have to get back. Laura thinks I'm having some kind of fit. I haven't told her, of course. She's not scientifically disciplined. She wouldn't be able to handle such a concept."

  "It's a little tough even for us," Bill said.

  Douglas moved nervously toward the door. "You can't think of any expla­nation? Something thought extinct that might still be roaming around these mountains?"

  "None that we know of. If I should hear of any --"

  "You said it looked down," Jean said. "Not bending down to peer in at you. Then it couldn't have been an animal or terrestrial being." She was deep in thought. "Maybe we're being observed."

  "Not you," Douglas said miserably. "Just me."

  "By another race," Bill put in. "You think --"

  "Maybe it's an eye from Mars."

  Douglas opened the front door carefully and peered out. The night was black. A faint wind moved through the trees and along the highway. His car was dimly visible, a black square against the hills. "If you think of anything, call me."

  "Take a couple of phenobarbitals before you hit the sack," Jean suggested. "Calm your nerves."

  Douglas was out on the porch. "Good idea. Thanks." He shook his head. "Maybe I'm out of my mind. Good Lord. Well, I'll see you later."

  He walked down the steps, gripping the rail tightly. "Good night!" Bill called. The door closed and the porch light clicked off.

  Douglas went cautiously toward his car. He reached out into the darkness, feeling for the door handle. One step. Two steps. It was silly. A grown man -- practically middle-aged -- in the twentieth century. Three steps.

  He found the door and opened it, sliding quickly inside and locking it after him. He breathed a silent prayer of thanks as he snapped on the motor and the headlights. Silly as hell. A giant eye. A stunt of some sort.

  He turned the thoughts over
in his mind. Students? Jokesters? Commu­nists? A plot to drive him out of his mind? He was important. Probably the most important nuclear physicist in the country. And this new project...

  He drove the car slowly forward, onto the silent highway. He watched each bush and tree as the car gained speed.

  A Communist plot. Some of the students were in a left-wing club. Some sort of Marxist study group. Maybe they had rigged up --

  In the glare of the headlights something glittered. Something at the edge of the highway.

  Douglas gazed at it, transfixed. Something square, a long block in the weeds at the side of the highway, where the great dark trees began. It glittered and shimmered. He slowed down, almost to a stop.

  A bar of gold, lying at the edge of the road.

  It was incredible. Slowly, Professor Douglas rolled down the window and peered out. Was it really gold? He laughed nervously. Probably not. He had often seen gold, of course. This looked like gold. But maybe it was lead, an ingot of lead with a gilt coating.

  But -- why?

  A joke. A prank. College kids. They must have seen his car go past toward the Hendersons' and knew he'd soon be driving back.

  Or -- or it really was gold. Maybe an armored car had gone past. Turned the corner too swiftly. The ingot had slid out and fallen into the weeds. In that case there was a little fortune lying there, in the darkness at the edge of the highway.

  But it was illegal to possess gold. He'd have to return it to the Government. But couldn't he saw off just a little piece? And if he did return it there was no doubt a reward of some kind. Probably several thousand dollars.

  A mad scheme flashed briefly through his mind. Get the ingot, crate it up, fly it to Mexico, out of the country. Eric Barnes owned a Piper Cub. He could easily get it into Mexico. Sell it. Retire. Live in comfort the rest of his life.

  Professor Douglas snorted angrily. It was his duty to return it. Call the Denver Mint, tell them about it. Or the police department. He reversed his car and backed up until he was even with the metal bar. He turned off the motor and slid out onto the dark highway. He had a job to do. As a loyal citizen -- and, God knew, fifty tests had shown he was loyal -- there was a job for him here. He leaned into the car and fumbled in the dashboard for the flashlight. If somebody had lost a bar of gold, it was up to him...

  A bar of gold. Impossible. A slow, cold chill settled over him, numbing his heart. A tiny voice in the back of his mind spoke clearly and rationally to him: Who would walk off and leave an ingot of gold?

  Something was going on.

  Fear gripped him. He stood frozen, trembling with terror. The dark, deserted highway. The silent mountains. He was alone. A perfect spot. If they wanted to get him --



  He looked quickly around. Hiding in the trees, most likely. Waiting for him. Waiting for him to cross the highway, leave the road and enter the woods. Bend down and try to pick up the ingot. One quick blow as he bent over; that would be it.

  Douglas scrambled back into his car and snapped on the motor. He raced the motor and released the brake. The car jerked forward and gained speed. His hands shaking, Douglas bore down desperately on the wheel. He had to get out. Get away before -- whoever they were got him.

  As he shifted into high he took one last look back, peering around through the open window. The ingot was still there, still glowing among the dark weeds at the edge of the highway. But there was a strange vagueness about it, an uncertain waver in the nearby atmosphere.

  Abruptly the ingot faded and disappeared. Its glow receded into darkness.

  Douglas glanced up, and gasped in horror.

  In the sky above him, something blotted out the stars. A great shape, so huge it staggered him. The shape moved, a disembodied circle of living pres­ence, directly over his head.

  A face. A gigantic, cosmic face peering down. Like some great moon, blotting out everything else. The face hung for an instant, intent on him -- on the spot he had just vacated. Then the face, like the ingot, faded and sank into darkness.

  The stars returned. He was alone.

  Douglas sank back against the seat. The car veered crazily and roared down the highway. His hands slid from the wheel and dropped at his sides. He caught the wheel again, just in time.

  There was no doubt about it. Somebody was after him. Trying to get him. But no Communists or student practical jokers. Or any beast, lingering from the dim past.

  Whatever it was, whoever they were, had nothing to do with Earth. It -- they -- were from some other world. They were out to get him.


  But -- why?

  Pete Berg listened closely. "Go on," he said when Douglas halted.

  "That's all." Douglas turned to Bill Henderson. "Don't try to tell me I'm out of my mind. I really saw it. It was looking down at me. The whole face this time, not just the eye."

  "You think this was the face that the eye belonged to?" Jean Henderson asked.

  "I know it. The face had the same expression as the eye. Studying me."

  "We've got to call the police," Laura Douglas said in a thin, clipped voice. "This can't go on. If somebody's out to get him --"

  "The police won't do any good." Bill Henderson paced back and forth. It was late, after midnight. All the lights in the Douglas house were on. In one corner old Milton Erick, head of the Math Department, sat curled up, taking everything in, his wrinkled face expressionless.

  "We can assume," Professor Erick said calmly, removing his pipe from between his yellow teeth, "they're a nonterrestrial race. Their size and their position indicate they're not Earthbound in any sense."

  "But they can't just stand in the sky!" Jean exploded. "There's nothing up there!"

  "There may be other configurations of matter not normally connected or related to our own. An endless or multiple coexistence of universe systems, lying along a plane of coordinates totally unexplainable in present terms. Due to some singular juxtaposition of tangents, we are, at this moment, in contact with one of these other configurations."

  "He means," Bill Henderson explained, "that these people after Doug don't belong to our universe. They come from a different dimension entirely."

  "The face wavered," Douglas murmured. "The gold and the face both wavered and faded out."

  "Withdrew," Erick stated. "Returned to their own universe. They have entry into ours at will, it would seem, a hole, so to speak, that they can enter through and return again."

  "It's a pity," Jean said, "they're so damn big. If they were smaller --"

  "Size is in their favor," Erick admitted. "An unfortunate circumstance."

  "All this academic wrangling!" Laura cried wildly. "We sit here working out theories and meanwhile they are after him!"

  "This might explain gods," Bill said suddenly.


  Bill nodded. "Don't you see? In the past these beings looked across the nexus at us, into our universe. Maybe even stepped down. Primitive people saw them and weren't able to explain them. They built religions around them. Worshipped them."

  "Mount Olympus," Jean said. "Of course. And Moses met God at the top of Mount Sinai. We're high up in the Rockies. Maybe contact only comes at high places. In the mountains, like this."

  "And the Tibetan monks are situated in the highest land mass in the world," Bill added. "That whole area. The highest and the oldest part of the world. All the great religions have been revealed in the mountains. Brought down by people who saw God and carried the word back."

  "What I can't understand," Laura said, "is why they want him." She spread her hands helplessly. "Why not somebody else? Why do they have to single him out?"

  Bill's face was hard. "I think that's pretty clear."

  "Explain," Erick rumbled.

  "What is Doug? About the best nuclear physicist in the world. Working on top-secret projects in nuclear fission. Advanced research. The Government is underwriting everything Bryant College is doing because Douglas is here."

  "They want him because of his ability. Because he knows things. Because of their size-relationship to this universe, they can subject our lives to as careful a scrutiny as we maintain in the biology labs of -- well, of a culture of Sarcina Pulmonum. But that doesn't mean they're culturally advanced over us."

  "Of course!" Pete Berg exclaimed. "They want Doug for his knowledge. They want to pirate him off and make use of his mind for their own cultures."

  "Parasites!" Jean gasped. "They must have always depended on us. Don't you see? Men in the past who have disappeared, spirited off by these crea­tures." She shivered. "They probably regard us as some sort of testing ground, where techniques and knowledge are painfully developed -- for their benefit."

  Douglas started to answer, but the words never escaped his mouth. He sat rigid in his chair, his head turned to one side.

  Outside, in the darkness beyond the house, someone was calling his name.

  He got up and moved toward the door. They were all staring at him in amazement.

  "What is it?" Bill demanded. "What's the matter, Doug?"

  Laura caught his arm. "What's wrong? Are you sick? Say something! Doug!"

  Professor Douglas jerked free and pulled open the front door. He stepped out onto the porch. There was a faint moon. A soft light hovered over every­thing.

  "Professor Douglas!" The voice again, sweet and fresh -- a girl's voice.

  Outlined by the moonlight, at the foot of the porch steps, stood a girl. Blonde-haired, perhaps twenty years old. In a checkered skirt, pale Angora sweater, a silk kerchief around her neck. She was waving at him anxiously, her small face pleading.

  "Professor, do you have a minute? Something terrible has gone wrong with..." Her voice trailed off as she moved nervously away from the house, into the darkness.

  "What's the matter?" he shouted.

  He could hear her voice faintly. She was moving off.

  Douglas was torn with indecision. He hesitated, then hurried impatiently down the stairs after her. The girl retreated from him, wringing her hands together, her full lips twisting wildly with despair. Under her sweater, her breasts rose and fell in an agony of terror, each quiver sharply etched by the moonlight.