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Since his untimely death in 1982, interest in Philip K. Dick's works has continued to grow, and his reputation has been enhanced by an expanding body of critical appreciation. This fifth and final volume of Dick's collected works includes 25 short stories, some previously unpublished.
The first thought Anderton had when he saw the young man was: I'm getting bald. Bald and fat and old. But he didn't say it aloud. Instead, he pushed back his chair, got to his feet, and came resolutely around the side of his desk, his right hand rigidly extended. Smiling with forced amiability, he shook hands with the young man.
"Witwer?" he asked, managing to make this query sound gracious.
"That's right," the young man said. "But the name's Ed to you, of course. That is, if you share my dislike for needless formality." The look on his blond, overly-confident face showed that he considered the matter settled. It would be Ed and John: Everything would be agreeably cooperative right from the start.
"Did you have much trouble finding the building?" Anderton asked guardedly, ignoring the too-friendly overture. Good God, he had to hold on to something. Fear touched him and he began to sweat. Witwer was moving around the office as if he already owned it—as if he were measuring it for size. Couldn't he wait a couple of days—a decent interval?
"No trouble," Witwer answered blithely, his hands in his pockets. Eagerly, he examined the voluminous files that lined the wall. "I'm not coming into your agency blind, you understand. I have quite a few ideas of my own about the way Precrime is run."
Shakily, Anderton lit his pipe. "How is it run? I should like to know."
"Not badly," Witwer said. "In fact, quite well."
Anderton regarded him steadily. "Is that your private opinion? Or is it just cant?"
Witwer met his gaze guilelessly. "Private and public. The Senate's pleased with your work. In fact, they're enthusiastic." He added, "As enthusiastic as very old men can be."
Anderton winced, but outwardly he remained impassive. It cost him an effort, though. He wondered what Witwer really thought. What was actually going on in that closecropped skull? The young man's eyes were blue, bright-and disturbingly clever. Witwer was nobody's fool. And obviously he had a great deal of ambition.
"As I understand it," Anderton said cautiously, "you're going to be my assistant until I retire."
"That's my understanding, too," the other replied, without an instant's hesitation.
"Which may be this year, or next year—or ten years from now." The pipe in Anderton's hand trembled. "I'm under no compulsion to retire. I founded Precrime and I can stay on here as long as I want. It's purely my decision."
Witwer nodded, his expression still guileless. "Of course."
With an effort, Anderton cooled down a trifle. "I merely wanted to get things straight."
"From the start," Witwer agreed. "You're the boss. What you say goes." With every evidence of sincerity, he asked: "Would you care to show me the organization? I'd like to familiarize myself with the general routine as soon as possible."
As they walked along the busy, yellow-lit tiers of offices, Anderton said: "You're acquainted with the theory of precrime, of course. I presume we can take that for granted."
"I have the information publicly available," Witwer replied. "With the aid of your precog mutants, you've boldly and successfully abolished the postcrime punitive system of jails and fines. As we all realize, punishment was never much of a deterrent, and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead."
They had come to the descent lift. As it carried them swiftly downward, Anderton said: "You've probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology. We're taking in individuals who have broken no law."
"But they surely will," Witwer affirmed with conviction.
"Happily they don't—because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence. So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. We claim they're culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they're innocent. And, in a sense, they are innocent."
The lift let them out, and they again paced down a yellow corridor. "In our society we have no major crimes," Anderton went on, "but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals."
Doors opened and closed, and they were in the analytical wing. Ahead of them rose impressive banks of equipment—the data-receptors, and the computing mechanisms that studied and restructured the incoming material. And beyond the machinery sat the three precogs, almost lost to view in the maze of wiring.
"There they are," Anderton said dryly. "What do you think of them?"
In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. They had no spiritual needs. Vegetable-like, they muttered and dozed and existed. Their minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.
But not the shadows of today. The three gibbering, fumbling creatures, with their enlarged heads and wasted bodies, were contemplating the future. The analytical machinery was recording prophecies, and as the three precog idiots talked, the machinery carefully listened.
For the first time Witwer's face lost its breezy confidence. A sick, dismayed expression crept into his eyes, a mixture of shame and moral shock. "It's not—pleasant," he murmured. "I didn't realize they were so—" He groped in his mind for the right word, gesticulating. "So—deformed."
"Deformed and retarded," Anderton instantly agreed. "Especially the girl, there. Donna is forty-five years old. But she looks about ten. The talent absorbs everything; the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal area. But what do we care? We get their prophecies. They pass on what we need. They don't understand any of it, but we do."
Subdued, Witwer crossed the room to the machinery. From a slot he collected a stack of cards. "Are these names that have come up?" he asked.
"Obviously." Frowning, Anderton took the stack from him. "I haven't had a chance to examine them," he explained, impatiently concealing his annoyance.
Fascinated, Witwer watched the machinery pop a fresh card into the now empty slot. It was followed by a second—and a third. From the whirring disks came one card after another. "The precogs must see quite far into the future," Witwer exclaimed.
"They see a quite limited span," Anderton informed him. "One week or two ahead at the very most. Much of their data is worthless to us—simply not relevant to our line. We pass it on to the appropriate agencies. And they in turn trade data with us. Every important bureau has its cellar of treasured monkeys."
"Monkeys?" Witwer stared at him uneasily. "Oh, yes, I understand. See no evil, speak no evil, et cetera. Very amusing."
"Very apt." Automatically, Anderton collected the fresh cards which had been turned up by the spinning machinery. "Some of these names will be totally discarded. And most of the remainder record petty crimes: thefts, income tax evasion, assault, extortion. As I'm sure you know, Precrime has cut down felonies by ninety-nine and decimal point eight percent. We seldom get actual murder or treason. After all, the culprit knows we'll confine him in the detention camp a week before he gets a chance to commit the crime."
"When was the last time an actual murder was committed?" Witwer asked.
"Five years ago," Anderton said, pride in his voice.
"How did it happen?"
"The criminal escaped our teams. We had his name-in fact, we had all the details of the crime, including the victim's name. We knew the exact moment, the location of the planned act of violence. But in spite of us he was able to carry it out." Anderton shrugged. "After all, we can't get all of them." He riffled the cards. "But we do get most."
"One murder in five years." Witwer's confidence was returning. "Quite an impressive record . . . something to be proud of."
Quietly Anderton said: "I am proud. Thirty years ago I worked out the theory-back in the days when the self-seekers were thinking in terms of quick raids on the stock market. I saw something legitimate ahead-something of tremendous social value."
He tossed the packet of cards to Wally Page, his subordinate in charge of the monkey block. "See which ones we want," he told him. "Use your own judgment."
As Page disappeared with the cards, Witwer said thoughtfully: "It's a big responsibility."
"Yes, it is," agreed Anderton. "If we let one criminal escape—as we did five years ago—we've got a human life on our conscience. We're solely responsible. If we slip up, somebody dies." Bitterly, he jerked three new cards from the slot. "It's a public trust."
"Are you ever tempted to—" Witwer hesitated. "I mean, some of the men you pick up must offer you plenty."
"It wouldn't do any good. A duplicate file of cards pops out at Army GHQ. It's check and balance. They can keep their eye on us as continuously as they wish." Anderton glanced briefly at the top card. "So even if we wanted to accept a—"
He broke off, his lips tightening.
"What's the matter?" Witwer asked curiously.
Carefully, Anderton folded up the top card and put it away in his pocket. "Nothing," he muttered. "Nothing at all."
The harshness in his voice brought a flush to Witwer's face. "You really don't like me," he observed.
"True," Anderton admitted. "I don't. But—"
He couldn't believe he disliked the young man that much. It didn't seem possible: it wasn't possible. Something was wrong. Dazed, he tried to steady his tumbling mind.
On the card was his name. Line one—an already accused future murderer! According to the coded punches, Precrime Commissioner John A. Anderton was going to kill a man-and within the next week.
With absolute, overwhelming conviction, he didn't believe it.
|The Mold of Yancy||53|
|The Minority Report||71|
|The Unreconstructed M||117|
|If There Were No Benny Cemoli||173|
|What the Dead Men Say||245|
|Orpheus with Clay Feet||289|
|The Days of Perky Pat||301|
|What'll We Do with Ragland Park?||339|
|Oh, to Be a Blobel!||359|
Posted April 27, 2010
No text was provided for this review.