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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Dick Philip K.


For Cynthia Goldstone

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,

But even so, honoured still more

That he should seek my hospitality

From out the dark door of the secret earth.

- D. H. Lawrence


His father had been a pot-healer before him. And so he, too, healed pots, in fact any kind of ceramic ware left over from the Old Days, before the war, when objects had not always been made out of plastic. A ceramic pot was a wonderful thing, and each that he healed became an object which he loved, which he never forgot; the shape of it, the texture of it and its glaze, remained with him on and on.

However, almost no one needed his work, his services. Too few ceramic pieces remained, and those persons who owned them took great care to see that they did not break.

I am Joe Fernwright, he said to himself. I am the best pot-healer on Earth. I, Joe Fernwright, am not like other men.

Around in his office, cartons—empty—lay piled. Steel cartons, within which to return the healed pot. But on the incoming side—almost nothing. For seven months his bench had been bare.

During those months he had thought many things. He had thought that he ought to give up and take some other line of work onto himself—any line of work, so that he could go off the war veterans' dole. He had thought, My work isn't good enough; I have virtually no clients because they are sending their bro ken pots to other firms to fix. He had thought of suicide. Once, he had thought of a major crime, of killing someone high up in the hierarchy of the Peaceful International World Senate. But what good would that do? And anyhow life wasn't absolutely worth nothing, because there was one good thing which remained, even though everything else had evaded or ignored him. The Game.

On the roof of his rooming house, Joe Fernwright waited, lunch pail in hand, for the rapid-transit hover blimp to arrive. The cold morning air nipped and touched him; he shivered. It'll show up any time now, Joe informed himself. Except that it'll be full. And so it won't stop; it'll blipple on by, crammed to the brim. Well, he thought, I can always walk.

He had become accustomed to walking. As in every other field the government had failed miserably in the matter of public transportation. Damn them, Joe said to himself. Or rather, he thought, damn us. After all, he, too, was a part of the planetwide Party apparatus, the network of tendrils which had penetrated and then in loving convulsion clasped them in a hug of death as great as the entire world.

"I give up," the man next to him said with an irritable twitch of shaved and perfumed jowls. "I'm going to slide down the slide to ground level and walk. Lots of luck." The man pushed his way through the throng of those waiting for the hover blimp; the throng flowed together once more, behind him, and he was gone from sight.

Me, too, Joe decided. He headed for the slide, and so did several other grumpy commuters.

At street level he straddled a cracked and unrepaired sidewalk, took a deep angry breath, and then, via his personal legs, started north.

A police cruiser soared down to linger a little above Joe's head. "You're walking too slow," the uniformed officer informed him, and pointed a Walters & Jones laser pistol at him. "Pick up speed or I'll book you."

"I swear to god," Joe said, "that I'll hurry. Just give me time to pick up my pace; I just now started." He speeded up, phased himself with the other swiftly striding peds—those others lucky enough, like himself, to have jobs, to have somewhere to go on this dingy Thursday morning in early April 2046, in the city of Cleveland in the Communal North American Citizens' Republic. Or, he thought, at least to have something that looks like a job anyhow. A place, a talent, experience, and, one day soon, an order to fill.

His office and workroom—a cubicle, really—contained a bench, tools, the piles of empty metal boxes, a small desk, and his ancient chair, a leather-covered rocking chair which had belonged to his grandfather and then, at last, his father. And now he himself sat on that chair—sat day in, day out, month in, month out. He had, also, a single ceramic vase, short and portly, finished in a free-dripping dull blue glaze over the white biscuit; he had found it years ago and recognized it as seventeenth-century Japanese. He loved it. And it had never been broken, not even during the war.

He seated himself now in this chair and felt it give here and there as it adjusted itself to a familiar body. The chair knew him as well as he knew the chair; it had known him all his life. Then he reached to press the button which would bring the morning's mail sliding down the tube to his desk—reached, but then waited. What if there's nothing? he asked himself. There never is. But this could be different; it's like a batter: when he hasn't hit for a long time you say, "He's due any time now," and so he is. Joe pressed the button.

Three bills slid out.

And, with them, the dingy gray packet containing today's government money, his daily dole. Government paper money, in the form of odd and ornate and nearly worthless inflationary trading stamps. Each day, when he received his gray packet of newly printed notes, he hiked as rapidly as possible to GUB, the nearest all-purpose supershoppingredemptioncenter, and transacted hasty business: he swapped the notes, while they still had any worth, for food, magazines, pills, a new shirt--_anything_, in fact, tangible. Everyone did it. Everyone had to; holding onto government notes for even twenty-four hours was a self-imposed disaster, a kind of mortal suicide. Roughly, in two days government money dropped eighty percent in its redemptive power.

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