Site Map

THE PHILIP K. DICK READER

THE CHROMIUM FENCE

EARTH TILTED toward six o'clock, the work-day almost over. Commute discs rose in dense swarms and billowed away from the industrial zone toward the surrounding residential rings. Like nocturnal moths, the thick clouds of discs darkened the evening sky. Silent, weightless, they whisked their passengers toward home and waiting families, hot meals and bed.

Don Walsh was the third man on his disc; he completed the load. As he dropped the coin in the slot the carpet rose impatiently. Walsh settled gratefully against the invisible safety-rail and unrolled the evening newspaper. Across from him the other two commuters were doing the same.

HORNEY AMENDMENT STIRS UP FIGHT

Walsh reflected on the significance of the headline. He lowered the paper from the steady wind currents and perused the next column.

HUGE TURNOUT EXPECTED MONDAY
ENTIRE PLANET TO GO TO POLLS

On the back of the single sheet was the day's scandal.

WIFE MURDERS HUSBAND OVER POLITICAL TIFF

And an item that made strange chills up and down his spine. He had seen it crop up repeatedly, but it always made him feel uncomfortable.

PURIST MOB LYNCHES NATURALIST IN BOSTON
WINDOWS SMASHED -- GREAT DAMAGE DONE

And in the next column:

NATURALIST MOB LYNCHES PURIST IN CHICAGO
BUILDINGS BURNED -- GREAT DAMAGE DONE

Across from Walsh, one of his companions was beginning to mumble aloud. He was a big heavy-set man, middle-aged, with red hair and beer-swollen features. Suddenly he wadded up his newspaper and hurled it from the disc. "They'll never pass it!" he shouted. "They won't get away with it!"

Walsh buried his nose in his paper and desperately ignored the man. It was happening again, the thing he dreaded every hour of the day. A political argument. The other commuter had lowered his newspaper; briefly, he eyed the red-haired man and then continued reading.

The red-haired man addressed Walsh. "You signed the Butte Petition?" He yanked a mental foil tablet from his pocket and pushed it in Walsh's face. "Don't be afraid to put down your name for liberty."

Walsh clutched his newspaper and peered frantically over the side of the disc. The Detroit residential units were spinning by; he was almost home. "Sorry," he muttered. "Thanks, no thanks."

"Leave him alone," the other commuter said to the red-haired man. "Can't you see he doesn't want to sign it?"

"Mind your own business." The red-haired man moved close to Walsh, the tablet extended belligerently. "Look, friend. You know what it'll mean to you and yours if this thing gets passed? You think you'll be safe? Wake up, friend. When the Horney Amendment comes in, freedom and liberty go out."

The other commuter quietly put his newspaper away. He was slim, well-dressed, a gray-haired cosmopolitan. He removed his glasses and said, "You smell like a Naturalist, to me."

The red-haired man studied his opponent. He noticed the wide plutonium ring on the slender man's hand; a jaw-breaking band of heavy metal. "What are you?" the red-haired man muttered, "a sissy-kissing Purist? Agh." He made a disgusting spitting motion and returned to Walsh. "Look, friend, you know what these Purists are after. They want to make us degenerates. They'll turn us into a race of women. If God made the universe the way it is, it's good enough for me. They're going against God when they go against nature. This planet was built up by red-blooded men, who were proud of their bodies, proud of the way they looked and smelled." He tapped his own heavy chest. "By God, I'm proud of the way I smell!"

Walsh stalled desperately. "I --" he muttered. "No, I can't sign it."

"You already signed?"

"No."

Suspicion settled over the red-haired man's beefy features. "You mean you're for the Horney Amendment?" His thick voice rose wrathfully. "You want to see an end to the natural order of --"

"This is where I get off," Walsh interrupted; he hurriedly yanked the stop-cord of the disc. It swept down toward the magnetic grapple at the end of his unit-section, a row of white squares set across the green and brown hillside.

"Wait a minute, friend." The red-haired man reached ominously for Walsh's sleeve, as the disc slid to a halt on the flat surface of the grapple. Surface cars were parked in rows; wives waiting to cart their husbands home. "I don't like your attitude. You afraid to stand up and be counted? You ashamed to be a part of your race? By God, if you're not man enough to --"

The lean, gray-haired man smashed him with his plutonium ring, and the grip on Walsh's sleeve loosened. The petition clattered to the ground and the two of them fought furiously, silently.

Walsh pushed aside the safety-rail and jumped from the disc, down the three steps of the grapple and onto the ashes and cinders of the parking lot. In the gloom of early evening he could make out his wife's car; Betty sat watching the dashboard tv, oblivious of him and the silent struggle between the red-haired Naturalist and the gray-haired Purist.

"Beast," the gray-haired man gasped, as he straightened up. "Stinking animal!"

The red-haired man lay semi-conscious against the safety-rail. "God damn-lily!" he grunted.

The gray-haired man pressed the release, and the disc rose above Walsh and on its way. Walsh waved gratefully. "Thanks," he called up. "I appreciate that."

"Not at all," the gray-haired man answered, cheerfully examining a broken tooth. His voice dwindled, as the disc gained altitude. "Always glad to help out a fellow ... " The final words came drifting to Walsh's ears. " ... A fellow Purist."

"I'm not!" Walsh shouted futilely. "I'm not a Purist and I'm not a Naturalist! You hear me?"

Nobody heard him.

***

"I'm not," Walsh repeated monotonously, as he sat at the dinner table spooning up creamed corn, potatoes, and rib steak. "I'm not a Purist and I'm not a Naturalist. Why do I have to be one or the other? Isn't there any place for a man who has his own opinion?"

"Eat your food, dear," Betty murmured.

Through the thin walls of the bright little dining room came the echoing clink of other families eating, other conversations in progress. The tinny blare of tv sets. The purr of stoves and freezers and air conditioners and wall-heaters. Across from Walsh his brother-in-law Carl was gulping down a second plateful of steaming food. Beside him, Walsh's fifteen year old son Jimmy was scanning a paper-bound edition of Finnegans Wake he had bought in the downramp store that supplied the self-contained housing unit.

"Don't read at the table," Walsh said angrily to his son.

Jimmy glanced up. "Don't kid me. I know the unit rules; that one sure as hell isn't listed. And anyhow, I have to get this read before I leave."

"Where are you going tonight, dear?" Betty asked.

"Official party business," Jimmy answered obliquely. "I can't tell you any more than that."

Walsh concentrated on his food and tried to brake the tirade of thoughts screaming through his mind. "On the way home from work," he said, "there was a fight."

Jimmy was interested. "Who won?"

"The Purist."

A glow of pride slowly covered the boy's face; he was a sergeant in the Purist Youth League. "Dad, you ought to get moving. Sign up now and you'll be eligible to vote next Monday."

"I'm going to vote."

"Not unless you're a member of one of the two parties."

It was true. Walsh gazed unhappily past his son, into the days that lay ahead. He saw himself involved in endless wretched situations like the one today; sometimes it would be Naturalists who attacked him, and other times (like last week) it would be enraged Purists.

"You know," his brother-in-law said, "you're helping the Purists by just sitting around here doing nothing." He belched contentedly and pushed his empty plate away. "You're what we class as unconsciously pro-Purist." He glared at Jimmy. "You little squirt! If you were legal age I'd take you out and whale the tar out of you."

"Please," Betty sighed. "No quarreling about politics at the table. Let's have peace and quiet, for a change. I'll certainly be glad when the election is over."

Carl and Jimmy glared at each other and continued eating warily. "You should eat in the kitchen --"Jimmy said to him. "Under the stove. That's where you belong. Look at you -- there's sweat all over you." A nasty sneer interrupted his eating. "When we get the Amendment passed, you better get rid of that, if you don't want to get hauled off to jail."

Carl flushed. "You creeps won't get it passed." But his gruff voice lacked conviction. The Naturalists were scared; Purists had control of the Federal Council. If the election moved in their favor it was really possible the legislation to compel forced observation of the five-point Purist code might get on the books. "Nobody is going to remove my sweat glands," Carl muttered. "Nobody is going to make me submit to breath-control and teeth-whitening and hair-restorer. It's part of life to get dirty and bald and fat and old."

"Is it true?" Betty asked her husband. "Are you really unconsciously pro-Purist?"

Don Walsh savagely speared a remnant of rib steak. "Because I don't join either party I'm called unconsciously pro-Purist and unconsciously pro-Naturalist. I claim they balance. If I'm everybody's enemy then I'm nobody's enemy." He added, "Or friend."

"You Naturalists have nothing to offer the future," Jimmy said to Carl. "What can you give the youth of the planet -- like me? Caves and raw meat and a bestial existence. You're anti-civilization."

"Slogans," Carl retorted.

"You want to carry us back to a primitive existence, away from social integration." Jimmy waved an excited skinny finger in his uncle's face. "You're thalamically oriented!"

"I'll break your head," Carl snarled, half out of his chair. "You Purist squirts have no respect for your elders."

Jimmy giggled shrilly. "I'd like to see you try. It's five years in prison for striking a minor. Go ahead -- hit me."

Don Walsh got heavily to his feet and left the dining room.

"Where are you going?" Betty called peevishly after him. "You're not through eating."

"The future belongs to youth," Jimmy was informing Carl. "And the youth of the planet is firmly Purist. You don't have a chance; the Purist revolution is coming."

Don Walsh left the apartment and wandered down the common corridor toward the ramp. Closed doors extended in rows on both sides of him. Noise and light and activity radiated around him, the close presence of families and domestic interaction. He pushed past a boy and girl making love in the dark shadows and reached the ramp. For a moment he halted, then abruptly he moved forward and descended to the lowest level of the unit.

The level was deserted and cool and slightly moist. Above him the sounds of people had faded to dull echoes against the concrete ceiling. Conscious of his sudden plunge into isolation and silence he advanced thoughtfully between the dark grocery and dry goods stores, past the beauty shop and the liquor store, past the laundry and medical supply store, past the dentist and physical doctor, to the ante-room of the unit analyst.

He could see the analyst within the inner chamber. It sat immobile and silent, in the dark shadows of evening. Nobody was consulting it; the analyst was turned off. Walsh hesitated, then crossed the check-frame of the anteroom and knocked on the transparent inner door. The presence of his body closed relays and switches; abruptly the lights of the inner office winked on and the analyst itself sat up, smiled and half-rose to its feet.

"Don," it called heartily. "Come on in and sit down."

He entered and wearily seated .himself. "I thought maybe I could talk to you, Charley," he said.

"Sure, Don." The robot leaned forward to see the clock on its wide mahogany desk. "But, isn't it dinner time?"

"Yes," Walsh admitted. "I'm not hungry. Charley, you know what we were talking about last time ... you remember what I was saying. You remember what's been bothering me."

"Sure, Don." The robot settled back in its swivel chair, rested its almost-convincing elbows on the desk, and regarded its patient kindly. "How's it been going, the last couple of days?"

"Not so good. Charley, I've go to do something. You can help me; you're not biased." He appealed to the quasi-human face of metal and plastic. "You can see this undistorted, Charley. How can I join one of the parties? All their slogans and propaganda, it seems so damn -- silly. How the hell can I get excited about clean teeth and underarm odor? People kill each other over these trifles ... it doesn't make sense. There's going to be suicidal civil war, if that Amendment passes, and I'm supposed to join one side or the other."

Charley nodded. "I have the picture, Don."

"Am I supposed to go out and knock some fellow over the head because he does or doesn't smell? Some man I never saw before? I won't do it. I refuse. Why can't they let me alone? Why can't I have my own opinions? Why do I have to get in on this -- insanity?"

The analyst smiled tolerantly. "That's a little harsh, Don. You're out of phase with your society, you know. So the cultural climate and mores seem a trifle unconvincing to you. But this is your society; you have to live in it. You can't withdraw."

Walsh forced his hands to relax. "Here's what I think. Any man who wants to smell should be allowed to smell. Any man who doesn't want to smell should go and get his glands removed. What's the matter with that?"

"Don, you're avoiding the issue." The robot's voice was calm, dispassionate. "What you're saying is that neither side is right. And that's foolish, isn't it? One side must be right."

"Why?'

"Because the two sides exhaust the practical possibilities. Your position isn't really a position ... it's a sort of description. You see, Don, you have a psychological inability to come to grips with an issue. You don't want to commit yourself for fear you'll lose your freedom and individuality. You're sort of an intellectual virgin; you want to stay pure."

Walsh reflected. "I want," he said, "to keep my integrity."

"You're not an isolated individual, Don. You're a part of society ... ideas don't exist in a vacuum."

"I have a right to hold my own ideas."

"No, Don," the robot answered gently. "They're not your ideas; you didn't create them. You can't turn them on and off when you feel like it. They operate through you ... they're conditionings deposited by your environment. What you believe is a reflection of certain social forces and pressures. In your case the two mutually-exclusive social trends have produced a sort of stalemate. You're at war with yourself ... you can't decide which side to join because elements of both exist in you." The robot nodded wisely. "But you've got to make a decision. You've got to resolve this conflict and act. You can't remain a spectator ... you've got to be a participant. Nobody can be a spectator to life ... and this is life."

"You mean there's no other world but this business about sweat and teeth and hair?"

"Logically, there are other societies. But this is the one you were born into. This is your society ... the only one you will ever have. You either live in it, or you don't live."

Walsh got to his feet. "In other words, I have to make the adjustment. Something has to give, and it's got to be me."

''Afraid so, Don. It would be silly to expect everybody else to adjust to you, wouldn't it? Three and a half billion people would have to change just to please Don Walsh. You see, Don, you're not quite out of your infantile-selfish stage. You haven't quite got to the point of facing reality." The robot smiled. "But you will."

Walsh started moodily from the office. "I'll think it over."

"It's for your own good, Don."

At the door, Walsh turned to say something more. But the robot had clicked off; it was fading into darkness and silence, elbows still resting on the desk. The dimming overhead lights caught something he hadn't noticed before. The powercord that was the robot's umbilicus had a white-plastic tag wired to it. In the semi-gloom he could make out the printed words.

PROPERTY OF THE FEDERAL COUNCIL
FOR PUBLIC USE ONLY

The robot, like everything else in the multi-family unit, was supplied by the controlling institutions of society. The analyst was a creature of the state, a bureaucrat with a desk and job. Its function was to equate people like Don Walsh with the world as it was.

But if he didn't listen to the unit analyst, who was he supposed to listen to? Where else could he go?

***

Three days later the election took place. The glaring headline told him nothing he didn't already know; his office had buzzed with the news all day. He put the paper away in his coat pocket and didn't examine it until he got home.

PURISTS WIN BY LANDSLIDE
HORNEY AMENDMENT CERTAIN TO PASS

Walsh lay back wearily in his chair. In the kitchen Betty was briskly preparing dinner. The pleasant clink of dishes and the warm odor of cooking food drifted through the bright little apartment.

"The Purists won," Walsh said, when Betty appeared with an armload of  silver and cups. "It's all over."

"Jimmy will be happy," Betty answered vaguely. "I wonder if Carl will be home in time for dinner." She calculated silently. "Maybe I ought to run downramp for some more coffee."

"Don't you understand?" Walsh demanded. "It's happened! The Purists have complete power!"

"I understand," Betty answered peevishly. "You don't have to shout. Did you sign that petition thing? That Butte Petition the Naturalists have been circulating?"

"No."

"Thank God. I didn't think so; you never sign anything anybody brings around." She lingered at the kitchen door. "I hope Carl has sense enough to do something. I never did like him sitting around guzzling beer and smelling like a pig in summer."

The door of the apartment opened and Carl hurried in, flushed and scowling. "Don't fix dinner for me, Betty. I'll be at an emergency meeting." He glanced briefly at Walsh. "Now are you satisfied? If you'd put your back to the wheel, maybe this wouldn't have happened."

"How soon will they get the Amendment passed?" Walsh asked.

Carl bellowed with nervous laughter. "They've already passed it." He grabbed up an armload of papers from his desk and stuffed them in a waste-disposal slot. "We've got informants at Purist headquarters. As soon as the new councilmen were sworn in they rammed the Amendment through. They want to catch us unawares." He grinned starkly. "But they won't."

The door slammed and Carl's hurried footsteps diminished down the public hall.

"I've never seen him move so fast," Betty remarked wonderingly.

Horror rose in Don Walsh as he listened to the rapid, lumbering footsteps of his brother-in-law. Outside the unit, Carl was climbing quickly into his surface car. The motor gunned, and Carl drove off. "He's afraid," Walsh said. "He's in danger."

"I guess he can take care of himself. He's pretty big."

Walsh shakily lit a cigarette. "Even your brother isn't that big. It doesn't seem possible they really mean this. Putting over an Amendment like this, forcing everybody to conform to their idea of what's right. But it's been in the cards for years ... this is the last step on a large road."

"I wish they'd get it over with, once and for all," Betty complained. "Was it always this way? I don't remember always hearing about politics when I was a child."

"They didn't call it politics, back in those days. The industrialists hammered away at the people to buy and consume. It centered around this hair-sweat-teeth purity; the city people got it and developed an ideology around it."

***

Betty set the table and brought in the dishes of food. "You mean the Purist political movement was deliberately started?"

"They didn't realize what a hold it was getting on them. They didn't know their children were growing up to take such things as underarm perspiration and white teeth and nice-looking hair as the most important things in the world. Things worth fighting and dying for. Things important enough to kill those who didn't agree."

"The Naturalists were country people?"

"People who lived outside the cities and weren't conditioned by the stimuli." Walsh shook his head irritably. "Incredible, that one man will kill another over trivialities. All through history men murdering each other over verbal nonsense, meaningless slogans instilled in them by somebody else who sits back and benefits."

"It isn't meaningless if they believe in it."

"It's meaningless to kill another man because he has halitosis! It's meaningless to beat up somebody because he hasn't had his sweat glands removed and artificial waste-excretion tubes installed. There's going to be senseless warfare; the Naturalists have weapons stored up at party headquarters. Men'll be just as dead as if they died for something real."

"Time to eat, dear," Betty said, indicating the table.

"I'm not hungry."

"Stop sulking and eat. Or you'll have indigestion, and you know what that means."

He knew what it meant, all right. It meant his life was in danger. One belch in the presence of a Purist and it was a life and death struggle. There was no room in the same world for men who belched and men who wouldn't tolerate men who belched. Something had to give ... and it had already given. The Amendment had been passed: the Naturalists' days were numbered.

"Jimmy will be late tonight," Betty said, as she helped herself to lamb chops, green peas, and creamed corn. "There's some sort of Purist celebration. Speeches, parades, torch-light rallies." She added wistfully, "I guess we can't go down and watch, can we? It'll be pretty, all the lights and voices, and marching."

"Go ahead." Listlessly, Walsh spooned up his food. He ate without tasting. "Enjoy yourself."

They were still eating, when the door burst open and Carl entered briskly. ''Anything left for me?" he demanded.

Betty half-rose, astonished. "Carl! You don't -- smell any more?'

Carl seated himself and grabbed for the plate of lamb chops. Then he recollected, and daintily selected a small one, and a tiny portion of peas. "I'm hungry," he admitted, "but not too hungry." He ate carefully, quietly.

Walsh gazed at him dumbfounded. "What the hell happened?" he demanded. "Your hair -- and your teeth and breath. What did you do?"

Without looking up, Carl answered, "Party tactics. We're beating a strategical retreat. In the face of this Amendment, there's no point in doing something foolhardy. Hell, we don't intend to get slaughtered." He sipped some lukewarm coffee. "As a matter of fact, we've gone underground."

Walsh slowly lowered his fork. "You mean you're not going to fight?"

"Hell, no. It's suicide." Carl glanced furtively around. "Now listen to me. I'm completely in conformity with the provisions of the Horney Amendment; nobody can pin a thing on me. When the cops come snooping around, keep your mouths shut. The Amendment gives the right to recant, and that's technically what we've done. We're clean; they can't touch us. But let's just not say anything." He displayed a small blue card. "A Purist membership card. Backdated; we planned for any eventuality."

"Oh, Carl!" Betty cried delightedly. "I'm so glad. You look just -- wonderful!"

Walsh said nothing.

"What's the matter?" Betty demanded. "Isn't this what you wanted? You didn't want them to fight and kill each other --" Her voice rose shrilly. "Won't anything satisfy you? This is what you wanted and you're still dissatisfied. What on earth more do you want?"

There was noise below the unit. Carl sat up straight, and for an instant color left his face. He would have begun sweating if it were still possible. "That's the conformity police," he said thickly. "Just sit tight; they'll make a routine check and keep on going."

"Oh, dear," Betty gasped. "I hope they don't break anything. Maybe I better go and freshen up."

"Just sit still," Carl grated. "There's no reason for them to suspect anything."

When the door opened, Jimmy stood dwarfed by the green-tinted conformity police.

"There he is'" Jimmy shrilled, indicating Carl. "He's a Naturalist official! Smell him!"

The police spread efficiently into the room. Standing around the immobile Carl, they examined him briefly, then moved away. "No body odor," the police sergeant disagreed. "No halitosis. Hair thick and well-groomed." He signaled, and Carl obediently opened his mouth. "Teeth white, totally brushed. Nothing nonacceptable. No, this man is all right."

Jimmy glared furiously at Carl. "Pretty smart."

Carl picked stoically at his plate of food and ignored the boy and the police.

"Apparently we've broken the core of Naturalist resistance," the sergeant said into his neck-phone. "At lease in this area there's no organized opposition."

"Good," the phone answered. "Your area was a stronghold. We'll go ahead and set up the compulsory purification machinery, though. It should be implemented as soon as possible."

One of the cops turned his attention to Don Walsh. His nostrils twitched and then a harsh, oblique expression settled over his face. "What's your name?" he demanded.

Walsh gave his name.

The police came cautiously around him. "Body odor," one noted. "But hair fully restored and groomed. Open your mouth."

Walsh opened his mouth.

"Teeth clean and white. But --" The cop sniffed. "Faint halitosis stomach variety. I don't get it. Is he a Naturalist or isn't he?'

"He's not a Purist," the sergeant said. "No Purist would have body odor. So he must be a Naturalist."

Jimmy pushed forward. "This man," he explained, "is only a fellow hiker. He's not a party member."

"You know him?"

"He's -- related to me," Jimmy admitted.

The police took notes. "He's been playing around with Naturalists, but he hasn't gone the whole way?"

"He's on the fence," Jimmy agreed. "A quasi-Naturalist. He can be salvaged; this shouldn't be a criminal case."

"Remedial action," the sergeant noted. "All right, Walsh," he addressed Walsh. "Get your things and let's go. The Amendment provides compulsory purification for your type of person; let's not waste time."

Walsh hit the sergeant in the jaw.

The sergeant sprawled foolishly, arms flapping, dazed with disbelief. The cops drew their guns hysterically and milled around the room shouting and knocking into each other. Betty began to scream wildly. Jimmy's shrill voice was lost in the general uproar.

Walsh grabbed up a table lamp and smashed it over a cop's head. The lights in the apartment flickered and died out; the room was a chaos of yelling blackness. Walsh encountered a body; he kicked with his knee and with a groan of pain the body settled down. For a moment he was lost in the seething din; then his fingers found the door. He pried it open and scrambled out into the public corridor.

One shape followed, as Walsh reached the descent lift. "Why?" Jimmy wailed unhappily. "I had it all fixed -- you didn't have to worry!"

His thin, metallic voice faded as the lift plunged down the well to the ground floor. Behind Walsh, the police were coming cautiously out into the hall; the sound of their boots echoed dismally after him.

He examined his watch. Probably, he had fifteen or twenty minutes. They'd get him, then; it was inevitable. Taking a deep breath, he stepped from the lift and as calmly as possible walked down the dark, deserted commercial corridor, between the rows of black store entrances.

***

Charley was lit up and animate, when Walsh entered the ante-chamber. Two men were waiting, and a third was being interviewed. But at the sight of the expression on Walsh's face the robot waved him instantly in.

"What is it, Don?" it asked seriously, indicating a chair. "Sit down and tell me what's on your mind."

Walsh told it.

When he was finished, the analyst sat back and gave a low, soundless whistle. "That's a felony, Don. They'll freeze you for that; it's a provision of the new Amendment."

"I know," Walsh agreed. He felt no emotion. For the first time in years the ceaseless swirl of feelings and thoughts had been purged from his mind. He was a little tired and that was all.

The robot shook its head. "Well, Don, you're finally off the fence. That's something, at least; you're finally moving." It reached thoughtfully into the top drawer of its desk and got out a pad. "Is the police pick-up van here, yet?"

"I heard sirens as I came in the ante-room. It's on its way."

The robot's metal fingers drummed restlessly on the surface of the big mahogany desk. "Your sudden release of inhibition marks the moment of  psychological integration. You're not undecided anymore, are you?"

"No," Walsh said.

"Good. Well, it had to come sooner or later. I'm sorry it had to come this way, though."

"I'm not," Walsh said. "This was the only way possible. It's clear to me, now. Being undecided isn't necessarily a negative thing. Not seeing anything in slogans and organized parties and beliefs and dying can be a belief worth dying for, in itself. I thought I was without a creed ... now I realize I have a very strong creed."

The robot wasn't listening. It scribbled something on its pad, signed it, and then expertly tore it off. "Here." It handed the paper briskly to Walsh.

"What's this?" Walsh demanded.

"I don't want anything to interfere with your therapy. You're finally coming around -- and we want to keep moving." The robot got quickly to its feet. "Good luck, Don. Show that to the police; if there's any trouble have them call me."

The slip was a voucher from the Federal Psychiatric Board. Walsh turned it over numbly. "You mean this'll get me off?"

"You were acting compulsively; you weren't responsible. There'll be a cursory examination, of course, but nothing to worry about." The robot slapped him good-naturedly on the back. "It was your final neurotic act ... now you're free. That was the pent-up stuff; strictly a symbolic assertion of  libido -- with no political significance."

"I see," Walsh said.

The robot propelled him firmly toward the external exit. "Now go on out there and give the slip to them?" From its metal chest the robot popped a small bottle. "And take one of these capsules before you go to sleep. Nothing serious, just a mild sedative to quiet your nerves. Everything will be all right; I'll expect to see you again, soon. And keep this in mind: we're finally making some real progress."

Walsh found himself outside in the night darkness. A police van was pulled up at the entrance of the unit, a vast ominous black shape against the dead sky. A crowd of curious people had collected at a safe distance, trying to make out what was going on.

Walsh automatically put the bottle of pills away in his coat pocket. He stood for a time breathing the chill night air, the cold clear smell of darkness and evening. Above his head a few bright pale stars glittered remotely.

"Hey," one of the policemen shouted. He flashed his light suspiciously in  Walsh's face. "Come over here?'

"That looks like him," another said. "Come on, buddy. Make it snappy."

Walsh brought out the voucher Charley had given him. "I'm coming," he answered. As he walked up to the policeman he carefully tore the paper to shreds and tossed the shreds to the night wind. The wind picked the shreds up and scattered them away.

"What the hell did you do?" one of the cops demanded.

"Nothing," Walsh answered. "I just threw away some waste paper. Something I won't be needing."

"What a strange one this one is,'' a cop muttered, as they froze Walsh with their cold beams. "He gives me the creeps."

"Be glad we don't get more like him," another said. "Except for a few guys like this, everything's going fine."

Walsh's inert body was tossed in the van and the doors slammed shut. Disposal machinery immediately began consuming his body and reducing it to basic mineral elements. A moment later, the van was on its way to the next call.

Go to Next Page