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“I have never seen [its] theme handled with greater technical dexterity or given more psychological meaning.”—Fantasy and Science Fiction
When a routine tour of a particle accelerator goes awry, Jack Hamilton and the rest of his tour group find themselves in a world ruled by Old Testament morality, where the smallest infraction can bring about a plague of locusts. Escape from that world is not the end, though, as they plunge into a Communist ...
“I have never seen [its] theme handled with greater technical dexterity or given more psychological meaning.”—Fantasy and Science Fiction
When a routine tour of a particle accelerator goes awry, Jack Hamilton and the rest of his tour group find themselves in a world ruled by Old Testament morality, where the smallest infraction can bring about a plague of locusts. Escape from that world is not the end, though, as they plunge into a Communist dystopia and a world where everything is an enemy.
Philip K. Dick was aggressively individualistic and no worldview is safe from his acerbic and hilarious take downs. Eye in the Sky blends the thrills and the jokes to craft a startling morality lesson hidden inside a comedy.
When a telescope's particle beam tears loose from its restraining guides and slices across the paths of the observatory's eight visitors, their innermost hopes, terrifying fears, and exultant dreams are exposed. The films Blade Runner and Total Recall were based on Dick's award-winning science fiction.
Jack Hamilton talked about their plight for the first time. "All eight of us dropped into the proton beam of the Bevatron. During the interval there was only one consciousness, one frame of reference for the eight of us. Silvester never lost consciousness." "Then," Laws said, "we're not really here." "Physically, we're stretched out on the floor of the Bevatron. But mentally, we're here. The free energy of the beam turned Silvester's personal world into a public universe. We're subject to the logic of a religious crank. We're in the man's head." He gestured. "This landscape. This terrain. The convolutions of a brain; the hills and valleys of Silvester's mind." "Oh, dear," Miss Reiss whispered, "We're in his power. He's trying to destroy us." "I doubt he's aware of what's happened. That's the irony of it. Silvester probably sees nothing odd about this world. Why should he? It's the private fantasy-world he's lived in all his life." And unless they could escape, the fantasy-world in which they'd all die...
The proton beam deflector of the Belmont Bevatron betrayed its inventors at four o'clock in the afternoon of October 2, 1959. What happened next happened instantly. No longer adequately deflected--and therefore no longer under control--the six billion volt beam radiated upward toward the roof of the chamber, incinerating, along its way, an observation platform overlooking the doughnut-shaped magnet.
There were eight people standing on the platform at the time: a group of sightseers and their guide. Deprived of their platform, the eight persons fell to the floor of the Bevatron chamber and lay in a state of injury and shock until the magnetic field had been drained and the hard radiation partially neutralized.
Of the eight, four required hospitalization. Two, less severely burned, remained for indefinite observation. The remaining two were examined, treated, and then released. Local newspapers in San Francisco and Oakland reported the event. Lawyers for the victims drew up the beginnings of lawsuits. Several officials connected with the Bevatron landed on the scrap heap, along with the Wilcox-Jones Deflection System and its enthusiastic inventors. Workmen appeared and began repairing the physical damage.
The incident had taken only a few moments. At 4:00 the faulty deflection had begun, and at 4:02 eight people had plunged sixty feet through the fantastically charged proton beam as it radiated from the circular internal chamber of the magnet. The guide, a young Negro, fell first and was the first to strike the floor of the chamber. The last to fall was a young technician from the nearby guided missile plant. As the group had been led out onto the platform he had brokenaway from his companions, turned back toward the hallway and fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes.
Probably if he hadn't leaped forward to grab for his wife, he wouldn't have gone with the rest. That was the last clear memory: dropping his cigarettes and groping futilely to catch hold of Marsha's fluttering, drifting coat sleeve. . . .
All morning Hamilton sat in the missile research labs, doing nothing but sharpening pencils and sweating worry. Around him his staff continued their work; the corporation went on. At noon Marsha showed up, radiant and lovely, as sleekly dressed as one of the tame ducks in Golden Gate Park. Momentarily, he was roused from his brooding lethargy by the sweet-smelling and very expensive little creature he had managed to snare, a possession even more appreciated than his hi-fi rig and his collection of good whiskey.
"What's the matter?" Marsha asked, perching briefly on the end of his gray metal desk, gloved fingers pressed together, slim legs restlessly twinkling. "Let's hurry and eat so we can get over there. This is the first day they have that deflector working, that part you wanted to see. Had you forgotten? Are you ready?"
"I'm ready for the gas chamber," Hamilton told her bluntly. "And it's about ready for me."
Marsha's brown eyes grew large; her animation took on a dramatic, serious tone. "What is it? More secret stuff you can't talk about? Darling, you didn't tell me something important was happening today. At breakfast you were kidding and frisking around like a puppy.
"I didn't know at breakfast." Examining his wristwatch, Hamilton got gloomily to his feet. "Let's make it a good meal; it may be my last." He added, "And this may be the last sight-seeing trip I'll ever take."
But he didn't reach the exit ramp of the California Maintenance Labs, let alone the restaurant down the road beyond the patrolled area of buildings and installations. A uniformed messenger stopped him, a tab of white paper folded neatly and extended. "Mr. Hamilton, this is for you. Colonel T. E. Edwards asked me to give it to you."
Shakily, Hamilton unraveled it. "Well," he said mildly to his wife, "this is it. Go sit in the lounge. If I'm not out in an hour or so, go on home and open a can of pork and beans."
"But--" She gestured helplessly. "You sound so--so dire. Do you know what it is?"
He knew what it was. Leaning forward, he kissed her briefly on her red, moist and rather frightened lips. Then, striding rapidly down the corridor after the messenger, he headed for Colonel Edwards's suite of offices, the high-level conference rooms where the big brass of the corporation were sitting in solemn session.
As he seated himself, the thick, opaque presence of middle-aged businessmen billowed up around him: a compound of cigar smoke, deodorant, and black shoe polish. A constant mutter drifted around the long steel conference table. At one end sat old T. E. himself, fortified by a mighty heap of forms and reports. To some degree, each official had his mound of protective papers, opened briefcase, ashtray, glass of tepid water. Across from Colonel Edwards sat the squat, uniformed figure of Charley McFeyffe, captain of the security cops who prowled around the missile plant, screening out Russian agents.
"There you are," Colonel T. E. Edwards murmured, glancing sternly over his glasses at Hamilton. "This won't take long, Jack. There's just this one item on the conference agenda; you won't have to sit through anything else."
Hamilton said nothing. Tautly, with a strained expression, he sat waiting.
"This is about your wife," Edwards began, licking his fat thumb and leafing through a report. "Now, I understand that since Sutherland resigned, you've been in full charge of our research labs. Right?"
Hamilton nodded. On the table, his hands had visibly faded to a stark, bloodless white. As if he were already dead, he thought wryly. As if he were already hanging by the neck, squeezed out from all life and sunshine. Hanging, like one of Hormel's hams, in the dark sanctity of the abattoir.
"Your wife," Edwards rumbled ponderously on, his liver-spotted wrists rising and falling as he flipped pages, "has been classified as a plant security risk. I have the report here." He nodded toward the silent captain of the plant police. "McFeyffe brought it to me. I should add, reluctantly."
"Reluctantly as hell," McFeyffe put in, directly to Hamilton. His gray, hard eyes begged to apologize. Stonily, Hamilton ignored him.
"You, of course," Edwards rambled on, "are familiar with the security setup here. We're a private concern, but our customer is the government. Nobody buys missiles but Uncle Sam. So we have to watch ourselves. I'm bringing this to your attention so you can handle it in your own way. Primarily, it's your concern. It's only important to us in that you head our research labs. That makes it our business." He eyed Hamilton as if he had never set eyes on him before--in spite of the fact that he had originally hired him in 1949, ten solid years ago, when Hamilton was a young, bright, eager electronics engineer, just bursting out of MIT.
"Does this mean," Hamilton asked huskily, watching his two hands clench and unclench convulsively, "that Marsha is barred from the plant?"
"No," Edwards answered, "it means you will be denied access to classified material until the situation alters."
"But that means . . ." Hamilton heard his voice fade off into astonished silence. "That means all the material I work with."
Nobody answered. The roomful of company officials sat fortified by their briefcases and mounds of forms. Off in a corner, the air conditioner struggled tinnily.
"I'll be goddammed," Hamilton said suddenly, in a very loud, clear voice. A few forms rattled in surprise. Edwards regarded him sideways, with curiosity. Charley McFeyffe lit a cigar and nervously ran a heavy hand through his thinning hair. He looked, in his plain brown uniform, like a potbellied highway patrolman.
"Give him the charges," McFeyffe said. "Give him a chance to fight back, T. E. He's got some rights."
For an interval Colonel Edwards fought it out with the massed data of the security report. Then, his face darkening with exasperation, he shoved the whole affair across the table to McFeyffe. "Your department drew it up," he muttered, washing his hands of the matter. "You tell him."
"You mean you're going to read it here?" Hamilton protested. "In front of thirty people? In the presence of every official of the company?"
"They've all seen the report," Edwards said, not unkindly. "It was drawn up a month or so ago and it's been circulating since then. After all, my boy, you're an important man here. We wouldn't take up this matter lightly."
"First," McFeyffe said, obviously embarrassed, "we have this business from the FBI. It was forwarded to us."
"You requested it?" Hamilton inquired acidly. "Or did it just happen to be circulating back and forth across the country?"
McFeyffe colored. "Well, we sort of asked for it. As a routine inquiry. My God, Jack, there's a file on me--there's even a file on President Nixon."
"You don't have to read all that junk," Hamilton said, his voice shaking. "Marsha joined the Progressive Party back in '48 when she was a freshman in college. She contributed money to the Spanish Refugee Appeals Committee. She subscribed to In Fact. I've heard all that stuff before."
"Read the current material," Edwards instructed.
Picking his way carefully through the report, McFeyffe found the current material. "Mrs. Hamilton left the Progressive Party in 1950. In Fact is no longer published. In 1952 she attended meetings of the California Arts, Sciences, and Professions, a front organization with pro-Communist leanings. She signed the Stockholm Peace Proposal. She joined the Civil Liberties Union, described by some as pro-left."
"What," Hamilton demanded, "does pro-left mean?"
"It means sympathetic to groups or persons sympathetic with Communism." Laboriously, McFeyffe continued. "On May 8, 1953, Mrs. Hamilton wrote a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle protesting the barring of Charlie Chaplin from the United States--a notorious fellow-traveler. She signed the Save the Rosenbergs Appeal: convicted traitors. In 1954 she spoke at the Alameda League of Women Voters in favor of admitting Red China to the UN--a Communist country. In 1955 she joined the Oakland branch of the International Coexistence or Death Organization, with branches in Iron Curtain Countries. And in 1956 she contributed money to the Society for the Advancement of Colored People." He translated the figure. "Forty-eight dollars and fifty-five cents."
There was silence.
"That's it?" Hamilton demanded.
"That's the relevant material, yes."
"Does it also mention," Hamilton said, trying to keep his voice steady, "that Marsha subscribed to the Chicago Tribune? That she campaigned for Adlai Stevenson in 1952? That in 1953 she contributed money to the Humane Society for the advancement of dogs and cats?"
"I don't see what relevance these have," Edwards said impatiently.
"They complete the picture! Sure, Marsha subscribed to In Fact--she also subscribed to the New Yorker. She left the Progressive Party when Wallace did--she joined the Young Democrats. Does it mention that? Sure, she was curious about Communism; does that make her a Communist? All you're saying is that Marsha reads left-wing journals and listens to left-wing speakers--it doesn't prove she endorses Communism or is under Party discipline or advocates the overthrow of the government or--"
"We're not saying your wife is a Communist," McFeyffe said. "We're saying she's a security risk. The possibility that Marsha is a Communist exists."
"Good God," Hamilton said futilely, "then I'm supposed to prove she isn't? Is that it?"
"The possibility is there," Edwards repeated. "Jack, try to be rational; don't get upset and start bellowing. Maybe Marsha is a Red; maybe not. That isn't the issue. What we have here is material showing your wife is interested in politics-- radical politics, at that. And that isn't a good thing."
"Marsha is interested in everything. She's an intelligent, educated person. She has all day to find out about things. Is she supposed to sit home and just"--Hamilton groped for words--"and dust off the mantel? Fix dinner and sew and cook?"
"We have a pattern, here," McFeyffe said. "Admittedly, none of these items in itself is indicative. But when you add them up, when you get the statistical average . . . it's simply too damn high, Jack. Your wife is mixed up in too many pro-left movements."
"Guilt by association. She's curious; she's interested. Does her being there prove she agrees with what they're saying?"
"We can't look into her mind--and neither can you. All we can judge is what she does: the groups she joins, the petitions she signs, the money she contributes. That's the only evidence we have--we've got to go on that. You say she goes to these meetings but she doesn't agree with the sentiments expressed. Well, let's suppose the police break up a lewd show and arrest the girls and the management. But the audience gets off by saying it didn't enjoy the show." McFeyffe spread his hands. "Would they be there if they didn't enjoy the show? One show, maybe. For curiosity. But not one after another, all down the line.
"Your wife has been mixed up in left-wing groups for ten years, since she was eighteen. She's had plenty of time to make up her mind about Communism. But she still goes to these things; she still turns up when some Commie group organizes to protest a lynching in the South or to squall about the latest armament budget. It seems to me the fact that Marsha also reads the Chicago Tribune is no more relevant than the fact that the man watching the lewd show goes to church. It proves he has many facets, maybe even contradictory facets . . . but the fact remains that one of those facets includes enjoying smut. He isn't booked because he goes to church; he's booked because he likes smut and because he goes to see smut.
"Ninety-nine percent of your wife may be average red-blooded American--she may cook well, drive carefully, pay her income tax, give money to charity, bake cakes for church raffles. But the remaining one percent may be tied into the Communist Party. And that's it."
After a moment Hamilton admitted begrudgingly, "You put your case pretty well."
"I believe in my case. I've known you and Marsha as long as you've worked here. I like both of you--and so does Edwards. Everybody does. That's not the issue, though. Until we have telepathy and can get into people's minds, we're going to have to depend on this statistical stuff. No, we can't prove Marsha is an agent of a foreign power. And you can't prove she isn't. In abeyance, we'll have to resolve the doubt against her. We simply can't afford to do otherwise." Rubbing his heavy lower lip, McFeyffe asked, "Has it ever occurred to you to wonder if she is a Communist?"
It hadn't. Perspiring, Hamilton sat gazing mutely down at the gleaming surface of the table. He had always assumed Marsha was telling the truth, that she was merely curious about Communism. For the first time, a miserable, unhappy suspicion was beginning to grow. Statistically, it was possible.Copyright© 2003 by Philip K. Dick
Posted November 1, 2009
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Posted March 20, 2010
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