Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Skull

Philip K. Dick

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  _Conger agreed to kill a stranger he had never seen. But he would make no mistakes because he had the stranger's skull under his arm._


  By Philip K. Dick

  "What is this opportunity?" Conger asked. "Go on. I'm interested."

  The room was silent; all faces were fixed on Conger--still in the drabprison uniform. The Speaker leaned forward slowly.

  "Before you went to prison your trading business was paying well--allillegal--all very profitable. Now you have nothing, except the prospectof another six years in a cell."

  Conger scowled.

  "There is a certain situation, very important to this Council, thatrequires your peculiar abilities. Also, it is a situation you might findinteresting. You were a hunter, were you not? You've done a great dealof trapping, hiding in the bushes, waiting at night for the game? Iimagine hunting must be a source of satisfaction to you, the chase, thestalking--"

  Conger sighed. His lips twisted. "All right," he said. "Leave that out.Get to the point. Who do you want me to kill?"

  The Speaker smiled. "All in proper sequence," he said softly.

  * * * * *

  The car slid to a stop. It was night; there was no light anywhere alongthe street. Conger looked out. "Where are we? What is this place?"

  The hand of the guard pressed into his arm. "Come. Through that door."

  Conger stepped down, onto the damp sidewalk. The guard came swiftlyafter him, and then the Speaker. Conger took a deep breath of the coldair. He studied the dim outline of the building rising up before them.

  "I know this place. I've seen it before." He squinted, his eyes growingaccustomed to the dark. Suddenly he became alert. "This is--"

  "Yes. The First Church." The Speaker walked toward the steps. "We'reexpected."

  "Expected? _Here?_"

  "Yes." The Speaker mounted the stairs. "You know we're not allowed intheir Churches, especially with guns!" He stopped. Two armed soldiersloomed up ahead, one on each side.

  "All right?" The Speaker looked up at them. They nodded. The door of theChurch was open. Conger could see other soldiers inside, standing about,young soldiers with large eyes, gazing at the ikons and holy images.

  "I see," he said.

  "It was necessary," the Speaker said. "As you know, we have beensingularly unfortunate in the past in our relations with the FirstChurch."

  "This won't help."

  "But it's worth it. You will see."

  * * * * *

  They passed through the hall and into the main chamber where the altarpiece was, and the kneeling places. The Speaker scarcely glanced at thealtar as they passed by. He pushed open a small side door and beckonedConger through.

  "In here. We have to hurry. The faithful will be flocking in soon."

  Conger entered, blinking. They were in a small chamber, low-ceilinged,with dark panels of old wood. There was a smell of ashes and smolderingspices in the room. He sniffed. "What's that? The smell."

  "Cups on the wall. I don't know." The Speaker crossed impatiently to thefar side. "According to our information, it is hidden here by this--"

  Conger looked around the room. He saw books and papers, holy signs andimages. A strange low shiver went through him.

  "Does my job involve anyone of the Church? If it does--"

  The Speaker turned, astonished. "Can it be that you believe in theFounder? Is it possible, a hunter, a killer--"

  "No. Of course not. All their business about resignation to death,non-violence--"

  "What is it, then?"

  Conger shrugged. "I've been taught not to mix with such as these. Theyhave strange abilities. And you can't reason with them."

  The Speaker studied Conger thoughtfully. "You have the wrong idea. It isno one here that we have in mind. We've found that killing them onlytends to increase their numbers."

  "Then why come here? Let's leave."

  "No. We came for something important. Something you will need toidentify your man. Without it you won't be able to find him." A traceof a smile crossed the Speaker's face. "We don't want you to kill thewrong person. It's too important."

  "I don't make mistakes." Conger's chest rose. "Listen, Speaker--"

  "This is an unusual situation," the Speaker said. "You see, the personyou are after--the person that we are sending you to find--is known onlyby certain objects here. They are the only traces, the only means ofidentification. Without them--"

  "What are they?"

  He came toward the Speaker. The Speaker moved to one side. "Look," hesaid. He drew a sliding wall away, showing a dark square hole. "Inthere."

  Conger squatted down, staring in. He frowned. "A skull! A skeleton!"

  "The man you are after has been dead for two centuries," the Speakersaid. "This is all that remains of him. And this is all you have withwhich to find him."

  For a long time Conger said nothing. He stared down at the bones, dimlyvisible in the recess of the wall. How could a man dead centuries bekilled? How could he be stalked, brought down?

  Conger was a hunter, a man who had lived as he pleased, where hepleased. He had kept himself alive by trading, bringing furs and peltsin from the Provinces on his own ship, riding at high speed, slippingthrough the customs line around Earth.

  He had hunted in the great mountains of the moon. He had stalked throughempty Martian cities. He had explored--

  The Speaker said, "Soldier, take these objects and have them carried tothe car. Don't lose any part of them."

  The soldier went into the cupboard, reaching gingerly, squatting on hisheels.

  "It is my hope," the Speaker continued softly, to Conger, "that you willdemonstrate your loyalty to us, now. There are always ways for citizensto restore themselves, to show their devotion to their society. For youI think this would be a very good chance. I seriously doubt that abetter one will come. And for your efforts there will be quite arestitution, of course."

  The two men looked at each other; Conger, thin, unkempt, the Speakerimmaculate in his uniform.

  "I understand you," Conger said. "I mean, I understand this part, aboutthe chance. But how can a man who has been dead two centuries be--"

  "I'll explain later," the Speaker said. "Right now we have to hurry!"The soldier had gone out with the bones, wrapped in a blanket heldcarefully in his arms. The Speaker walked to the door. "Come. They'vealready discovered that we've broken in here, and they'll be coming atany moment."

  They hurried down the damp steps to the waiting car. A second later thedriver lifted the car up into the air, above the house-tops.

  * * * * *

  The Speaker settled back in the seat.

  "The First Church has an interesting past," he said. "I suppose you arefamiliar with it, but I'd like to speak of a few points that are ofrelevancy to us.

  "It was in the twentieth century that the Movement began--during one ofthe periodic wars. The Movement developed rapidly, feeding on thegeneral sense of futility, the realization that each war was breedinggreater war, with no end in sight. The Movement posed a simple answer tothe problem: Without military preparations--weapons--there could be nowar. And without machinery and complex scientific technocracy therecould be no weapons.

  "The Movement preached that you couldn't stop war by planning for it.They preached that man was losing to his machinery and science, that itwas getting away from him, pushing him into greater and greater wars.Down with society, they shouted. Down with factories and science! A fewmore wars and there wouldn't be much left of the world.

  "The Founder was an obscure person from a sm
all town in the AmericanMiddle West. We don't even know his name. All we know is that one day heappeared, preaching a doctrine of non-violence, non-resistance; nofighting, no paying taxes for guns, no research except for medicine.Live out your life quietly, tending your garden, staying out of publicaffairs; mind your own business. Be obscure, unknown, poor. Give awaymost of your possessions, leave the city. At least that was whatdeveloped from what he told the people."

  The car dropped down and landed on a roof.

  "The Founder preached this doctrine, or the germ of it; there's notelling how much the faithful have added