Friends, this is clean-up time and we’re discounting all our silent, electric Ubiks by this much money. Yes, we’re throwing away the blue-book. And remember: every Ubik on our lot has been used only as directed.
At three-thirty A.M. on the night of June 5, 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map in the offices of Runciter Associates in New York City. That started vid-phones ringing. The Runciter organization had lost track of too many of Hollis’ psis during the last two months; this added disappearance wouldn’t do.
“Mr. Runciter? Sorry to bother you.” The technician in charge of the night shift at the map room coughed nervously as the massive, sloppy head of Glen Runciter swam up to fill the vidscreen. “We got this news from one of our inertials. Let me look.” He fiddled with a disarranged stack of tapes from the recorder which monitored incoming messages. “Our Miss Dorn reported it; as you may recall she had followed him to Green River, Utah, where-”
Sleepily, Runciter grated, “Who? I can’t keep in mind at all times which inertials are following what teep or precog.” With his hand he smoothed down his ruffled gray mass of wirelike hair. “Skip the rest and tell me which of Hollis’ people is missing now.”
“S. Dole Melipone,” the technician said.
“What? Melipone’s gone? You kid me.”
“I not kid you,” the technician assured him. “Edie Dorn and two other inertials followed him to a motel named the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience, a sixty-unit sub-surface structure catering to businessmen and their hookers who don’t want to be entertained. Edie and her colleagues didn’t think he was active, but just to be on the safe side we had one of our own telepaths, Mr. G. G. Ashwood, go in and read him. Ashwood found a scramble pattern surrounding Melipone’s mind, so he couldn’t do anything; he therefore went back to Topeka, Kansas, where he’s currently scouting a new possibility.”
Runciter, more awake now, had lit a cigarette; chin in hand, he sat propped up somberly, smoke drifting across the scanner of his end of the bichannel circuit. “You’re sure the teep was Melipone? Nobody seems to know what he looks like; he must use a different physiognomic template every month. What about his field?”
“We asked Joe Chip to go in there and run tests on the magnitude and minitude of the field being generated there at the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience Motel. Chip says it registered, at its height, 68.2 blr units of telepathic aura, which only Melipone, among all the known telepaths, can produce.” The technician finished, “So that’s where we stuck Melipone’s identflag on the map. And now he – it – is gone.”
“Did you look on the floor? Behind the map?”
“It’s gone electronically. The man it represents is no longer on Earth or, as far as we can make out, on a colony world either.”
Runciter said, “I’ll consult my dead wife.”
“It’s the middle of the night. The moratoriums are closed now.”
“Not in Switzerland,” Runciter said, with a grimacing smile, as if some repellent midnight fluid had crept up into his aged throat. “Goodeve.” Runciter hung up.
As owner of the Beloved Brethren Moratorium, Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang, of course, perpetually came to work before his employees. At this moment, with the chilly, echoing building just beginning to stir, a worried-looking clerical individual with nearly opaque glasses and wearing a tabby-fur blazer and pointed yellow shoes waited at the reception counter, a claim-check stub in his hand. Obviously, he had shown up to holiday-greet a relative. Resurrection Day – the holiday on which the half-lifers were publicly honored – lay just around the corner; the rush would soon be beginning.
“Yes, sir,” Herbert said to him with an affable smile. “I’ll take your stub personally.”
“It’s an elderly lady,” the customer said. “About eighty, very small and wizened. My grandmother.”
“Twill only be a moment.” Herbert made his way back to the cold-pac bins to search out number 3054039-B.
When he located the correct party he scrutinized the lading report attached. It gave only fifteen days of half-life remaining. Not very much, he reflected; automatically he pressed a portable protophason amplifier into the transparent plastic hull of the casket, tuned it, listened at the proper frequency for indication of cephalic activity.
Faintly from the speaker a voice said, “…and then Tillie sprained her ankle and we never thought it’d heal; she was so foolish about it, wanting to start walking immediately…”
Satisfied, he unplugged the amplifier and located a union man to perform the actual task of carting 3054039-B to the consultation lounge, where the customer would be put in touch with the old lady.
“You checked her out, did you?” the customer asked as he paid the poscreds due.
“Personally,” Herbert answered. “Functioning perfectly.” He kicked a series of switches, then stepped back. “Happy Resurrection Day, sir.”
“Thank you.” The customer seated himself facing the casket, which steamed in its envelope of cold-pac; he pressed an earphone against the side of his head and spoke firmly into the microphone. “Flora, dear, can you hear me? I think I can hear you already. Flora?”
When I pass, Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang said to himself, I think I’ll will my heirs to revive me one day a century. That way I can observe the fate of all mankind. But that meant a rather high maintenance cost to the heirs – and he knew what that meant. Sooner or later they would rebel, have his body taken out of cold-pac and – god forbid – buried.
“Burial is barbaric,” Herbert muttered aloud. “Remnant of the primitive origins of our culture.”
“Yes, sir,” his secretary agreed, at her typewriter.
In the consultation lounge several customers now communed with their half-lifer relations, in rapt quiet, distributed at intervals each with his separate casket. It was a tranquil sight, these faithfuls, coming as they did so regularly to pay homage. They brought messages, news of what took place in the outside world; they cheered the gloomy half-lifers in these intervals of cerebral activity. And – they paid Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang. It was a profitable business, operating a moratorium.
“My dad seems a little frail,” a young man said, catching Herbert’s attention. “I wonder if you could take a moment of your time to check him over. I’d really appreciate it,”
“Certainly,” Herbert said, accompanying the customer across the lounge to his deceased relative. The lading for this one showed only a few days remaining; that explained the vitiated quality of cerebration. But still… he turned up the gain of the protophason amplifier, and the voice from the half-lifer became a trifle stronger in the earphone. He’s almost at an end, Herbert thought. It seemed obvious to him that the son did not want to see the lading, did not actually care to know that contact with his dad was diminishing, finally. So Herbert said nothing; he merely walked off, leaving the son to commune. Why tell him that this was probably the last time he would come here? He would find out soon enough in any case.
A truck had now appeared at the loading platform at the rear of the moratorium; two men hopped down from it, wearing familiar pale-blue uniforms. Atlas Interplan Van and Storage, Herbert perceived. Delivering another half-lifer who had just now passed, or here to pick up one which had expired. Leisurely, he started in that direction, to supervise; at that moment, however, his secretary called to him. “Herr Schoenheit von Vogelsang; sorry to break into your meditation, but a customer wishes you to assist in revving up his relative.” Her voice took on special coloration as she said, “The customer is Mr. Glen Runciter, all the way here from the North American Confederation.”
A tall, elderly man, with large hands and a quick, sprightly stride, came toward him. He wore a varicolored Dacron wash-and-wear suit, knit cummerbund and dip-dyed cheese-cloth cravat. His head, massive like a tomcat’s, thrust forward as he peered through slightly protruding, round and warm and highly alert eyes. Runciter kept, on his face, a professional expression of greeting, a fast attentiveness which fixed on Herbert, then almost at once strayed past him, as if Runciter had already fastened onto future matters. “How is Ella?” Runciter boomed, sounding as if he possessed a voice electronically augmented. “Ready to be cranked up for a talk? She’s only twenty; she ought to be in better shape than you or me.” He chuckled, but it had an abstract quality; he always smiled and he always chuckled, his voice always boomed, but inside he did not notice anyone, did not care; it was his body which smiled, nodded and shook hands. Nothing touched his mind, which remained remote; aloof, but amiable, he propelled Herbert along with him, sweeping his way in great strides back into the chilled bins where the half-lifers, including his wife, lay.