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Mr. Spaceship

Philip K. Dick

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Barbara Tozier and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  This etext was produced from Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  A human brain-controlled spacecraft would mean mechanical perfection. This was accomplished, and something unforeseen: a strange entity called--

  Mr. Spaceship


  _Philip K. Dick_

  Kramer leaned back. "You can see the situation. How can we deal with afactor like this? The perfect variable."

  "Perfect? Prediction should still be possible. A living thing stillacts from necessity, the same as inanimate material. But thecause-effect chain is more subtle; there are more factors to beconsidered. The difference is quantitative, I think. The reaction ofthe living organism parallels natural causation, but with greatercomplexity."

  Gross and Kramer looked up at the board plates, suspended on the wall,still dripping, the images hardening into place. Kramer traced a linewith his pencil.

  "See that? It's a pseudopodium. They're alive, and so far, a weapon wecan't beat. No mechanical system can compete with that, simple orintricate. We'll have to scrap the Johnson Control and find somethingelse."

  "Meanwhile the war continues as it is. Stalemate. Checkmate. Theycan't get to us, and we can't get through their living minefield."

  Kramer nodded. "It's a perfect defense, for them. But there stillmight be one answer."

  "What's that?"

  "Wait a minute." Kramer turned to his rocket expert, sitting with thecharts and files. "The heavy cruiser that returned this week. Itdidn't actually touch, did it? It came close but there was nocontact."

  "Correct." The expert nodded. "The mine was twenty miles off. Thecruiser was in space-drive, moving directly toward Proxima,line-straight, using the Johnson Control, of course. It had deflecteda quarter of an hour earlier for reasons unknown. Later it resumed itscourse. That was when they got it."

  "It shifted," Kramer said. "But not enough. The mine was coming alongafter it, trailing it. It's the same old story, but I wonder about thecontact."

  "Here's our theory," the expert said. "We keep looking for contact, atrigger in the pseudopodium. But more likely we're witnessing apsychological phenomena, a decision without any physical correlative.We're watching for something that isn't there. The mine _decides_ toblow up. It sees our ship, approaches, and then decides."

  "Thanks." Kramer turned to Gross. "Well, that confirms what I'msaying. How can a ship guided by automatic relays escape a mine thatdecides to explode? The whole theory of mine penetration is that youmust avoid tripping the trigger. But here the trigger is a state ofmind in a complicated, developed life-form."

  "The belt is fifty thousand miles deep," Gross added. "It solvesanother problem for them, repair and maintenance. The damn thingsreproduce, fill up the spaces by spawning into them. I wonder whatthey feed on?"

  "Probably the remains of our first-line. The big cruisers must be adelicacy. It's a game of wits, between a living creature and a shippiloted by automatic relays. The ship always loses." Kramer opened afolder. "I'll tell you what I suggest."

  "Go on," Gross said. "I've already heard ten solutions today. What'syours?"

  "Mine is very simple. These creatures are superior to any mechanicalsystem, but only because they're alive. Almost any other life-formcould compete with them, any higher life-form. If the yuks can put outliving mines to protect their planets, we ought to be able to harnesssome of our own life-forms in a similar way. Let's make use of thesame weapon ourselves."

  "Which life-form do you propose to use?"

  "I think the human brain is the most agile of known living forms. Doyou know of any better?"

  "But no human being can withstand outspace travel. A human pilot wouldbe dead of heart failure long before the ship got anywhere nearProxima."

  "But we don't need the whole body," Kramer said. "We need only thebrain."


  "The problem is to find a person of high intelligence who wouldcontribute, in the same manner that eyes and arms are volunteered."

  "But a brain...."

  "Technically, it could be done. Brains have been transferred severaltimes, when body destruction made it necessary. Of course, to aspaceship, to a heavy outspace cruiser, instead of an artificial body,that's new."

  The room was silent.

  "It's quite an idea," Gross said slowly. His heavy square facetwisted. "But even supposing it might work, the big question is_whose_ brain?"

  * * * * *

  It was all very confusing, the reasons for the war, the nature of theenemy. The Yucconae had been contacted on one of the outlying planetsof Proxima Centauri. At the approach of the Terran ship, a host ofdark slim pencils had lifted abruptly and shot off into the distance.The first real encounter came between three of the yuk pencils and asingle exploration ship from Terra. No Terrans survived. After that itwas all out war, with no holds barred.

  Both sides feverishly constructed defense rings around their systems.Of the two, the Yucconae belt was the better. The ring around Proximawas a living ring, superior to anything Terra could throw against it.The standard equipment by which Terran ships were guided in outspace,the Johnson Control, was not adequate. Something more was needed.Automatic relays were not good enough.

  --Not good at all, Kramer thought to himself, as he stood looking downthe hillside at the work going on below him. A warm wind blew alongthe hill, rustling the weeds and grass. At the bottom, in the valley,the mechanics had almost finished; the last elements of the reflexsystem had been removed from the ship and crated up.

  All that was needed now was the new core, the new central key thatwould take the place of the mechanical system. A human brain, thebrain of an intelligent, wary human being. But would the human beingpart with it? That was the problem.

  Kramer turned. Two people were approaching him along the road, a manand a woman. The man was Gross, expressionless, heavy-set, walkingwith dignity. The woman was--He stared in surprise and growingannoyance. It was Dolores, his wife. Since they'd separated he hadseen little of her....

  "Kramer," Gross said. "Look who I ran into. Come back down with us.We're going into town."

  "Hello, Phil," Dolores said. "Well, aren't you glad to see me?"

  He nodded. "How have you been? You're looking fine." She was stillpretty and slender in her uniform, the blue-grey of Internal Security,Gross' organization.

  "Thanks." She smiled. "You seem to be doing all right, too. CommanderGross tells me that you're responsible for this project, OperationHead, as they call it. Whose head have you decided on?"

  "That's the problem." Kramer lit a cigarette. "This ship is to beequipped with a human brain instead of the Johnson system. We'veconstructed special draining baths for the brain, electronic relays tocatch the impulses and magnify them, a continual feeding duct thatsupplies the living cells with everything they need. But--"

  "But we still haven't got the brain itself," Gross finished. Theybegan to walk back toward the car. "If we can get that we'll be readyfor the tests."

  "Will the brain remain alive?" Dolores asked. "Is it actually going tolive as part of the ship?"

  "It will be alive, but not conscious. Very little life is actuallyconscious. Animals, trees, insects are quick in their responses, butthey aren't conscious. In this process of ours the individualpersonality, the ego, will cease. We only need the response ability,nothing more."

  Dolores shuddered. "How terrible!"

  "In time of war everything must be tried," Kramer said absently. "Ifone life sacrificed will end the war it's worth
it. This ship mightget through. A couple more like it and there wouldn't be any morewar."

  * * * * *

  They got into the car. As they drove down the road, Gross said, "Haveyou thought of anyone yet?"

  Kramer shook his head. "That's out of my line."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I'm an engineer. It's not in my department."

  "But all this was your idea."

  "My work ends there."

  Gross was staring at him oddly.