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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Dick Philip K.
 

«Counter Clock World», Philip Dick

1

Place there is none; we go backward and forward, and there is no place.

--St. Augustine

As he glided by the extremely small, out-of-the-way cemetery in his airborne prowl car, late at night, Officer Joseph Tinbane heard unfortunate and familiar sounds. A voice. At once he sent his prowl car up over the spiked iron poles of the badly maintained cemetery fence, descended on the far side, listened.

The voice said, muffled and faint, "My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anybody hear me?"

Officer Tinbane flashed his light. The voice came from beneath the grass. As he had expected: Mrs. Tilly M. Benton was underground.

Snapping on the microphone of his car radio Tinbane said, "I'm at Forest Knolls Cemetery--I think it's called--and I have a 1206, here. Better send an ambulance out with a digging crew; from the sound of her voice it's urgent."

"Chang," the radio said in answer. "Our digging crew will be out before morning. Can you sink a temporary emergency shaft to give her adequate air? Until our crew gets there--say nine or ten A.M."

"I'll do the best I can," Tinbane said, and sighed. It meant for him an all-night vigil. And the dim, feeble voice from below begging in its senile way for him to hurry. Begging on and on. Unceasingly.

This part of his job he liked least. The cries of the dead; he hated that sound, and he had heard them, the cries, so much, and so many times. Men and women, mostly old but some not so old, sometimes children. And it always took the digging crew so long to get there.

Again pressing his mike button, Officer Tinbane said, "I'm fed up with this. I'd like to be reassigned. I'm serious; this is a formal request."

Distantly, from beneath the ground, the impotent, ancient female voice called, "Please, somebody; I want to get out. Can you hear me? I know somebody's up there; I can hear you talking."

Leaning his head out the open window of his prowl car, Officer Tinbane yelled, "We'll be getting you out any time now, lady. Just try to be patient."

"What year is this?" the elderly voice called back. "How much time has passed? Is it still 1974? I have to know; please tell me, sir."

Tinbane said, "It's 1998."

"Oh dear." Dismay. "Well, I suppose I must get used to it."

"I guess," Tinbane said, "you'll have to." He picked a cigaret butt from the car's ashtray, lit it and pondered. Then, once again, he pressed his mike button. "I'd like permission to contact a private vitarium."

"Permission denied," his radio said. "Too late at night."

"But," he said, "one might happen along anyhow. Several of the bigger ones keep their scout-ambulances heading back and forth all through the night." He had one vitarium in particular in mind, a small one, old-fashioned. Decent in its sales methods.

"So late at night it's unlikely--"

"This man can use the business." Tinbane picked up the vidphone receiver mounted on the car's dashboard. "I want to talk to a Mr. Sebastian Hermes," he told the operator. "You find him; I'll wait. First of all try his place of business, the Flask of Hermes Vitarium; he probably has an all-night relay to his residence." If the poor guy can currently afford it, Tinbane thought. "Call me back as soon as you've located him." He hung up, then, and sat smoking his cigaret.

The Flask of Hermes Vitarium consisted primarily of Sebastian Hermes himself, with the help of a meager assortment of five employees. No one got hired at the establishment and no one got fired. As far as Sebastian was concerned these people constituted his family. He had no other, being old, heavy set, and not very likable. They, another, earlier vitarium, had dug him up only ten years ago, and he still felt on him, in the dreary part of the night, the coldness of the grave. Perhaps it was that which made him sympathetic to the plight of the old-born.

The firm occupied a small, wooden, rented building which had survived World War Three and even portions of World War Four. However, he was, at this late hour, of course home in bed, asleep in the arms of Lotta, his wife. She had such attractive clinging arms, always bare, always young arms; Lotta was much younger than he: twenty-two years by the non-Hobart Phase method of reckoning, which she went by, not having died and been reborn, as he, so much older, had.

The vidphone beside his bed clanged; he reached, by reflex of his profession, to acknowledge it.

"A call from Officer Tinbane, Mr. Hermes," his answering girl said brightly.

"Yes," he said, listening in the dark, watching the dull little gray screen.


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