The Game-Players of Titan
by Philip K. Dick
IT HAD BEEN a bad night, and when he tried to drive home he had a terrible argument with his car.
“Mr. Garden, you are in no condition to drive. Please use the auto-auto mech and recline in the rear seat.”
Pete Garden sat at the steering tiller and said as distinctly as he could manage, “Look, I can drive. One drink, in fact several make you more alert. So stop fooling around.” He punched the starter button, but nothing happened. “Start, darn it!”
The auto-auto said, “You have not inserted the key.”
“Okay,” he said, feeling humiliated. Maybe the car was right. Resignedly, he inserted the key. The engine started up but the controls were still dead. The Rushmore Effect was still taking place inside the hood, he knew; it was a losing argument. “All right, I’ll let you drive,” he said with as much dignity as possible. “Since you’re so eager. You’ll probably louse it all up anyhow, like you always do when I’m—not feeling well.”
He crawled into the back seat, threw himself down, as the car lifted from the pavement and skimmed through the night sky, its signal lights blinking. God, he felt bad. His head was killing him.
His thoughts turned, as always, back to The Game.
Why had it gone so badly? Silvanus Angst was responsible. That clown, his brother-in-law or rather former brother-in-law. That’s right, Pete said to himself; I have to remember. I’m not married to Freya any more. Freya and I lost and so our marriage was dissolved and we’re starting over again with Freya married to Clem Gaines and I’m not married to anybody yet because I haven’t managed to roll a three, yet.
I’ll roll a three tomorrow, he told himself. And when I do, they’ll have to import a wife for me; I’ve used them all up in the group.
His car hummed on, finding its way above the deserted midsection of California, the desolate lands of abandoned towns.
“Did you know that?” he asked his car. “That I’ve been married to every woman in the group now? And I haven’t had any luck, yet, so it must be me. Right?”
The car said, “It’s you.”
“Even if it were me, it wouldn’t be my fault; it’s the Red Chinese. I hate them.” He lay supine, staring up at the stars through the transparent dome of the car. “I love you, though; I’ve had you for years. You’re never going to wear out.” He felt tears rise up in his eyes. “Is that right?”
“It depends on the preventative maintenance you faithfully follow.”
“I wonder what kind of woman they’ll import for me.”
“I wonder,” the car echoed.
What other group was his group—Pretty Blue Fox—in closest contact with? Probably Straw Man Special, which met in Las Vegas and represented Bindmen from Nevada, Utah and Idaho. Shutting his eyes, he tried to remember what the women of Straw Man Special looked like.
When I get home to my apartment in Berkeley, Pete said to himself, I’ll—and then he remembered something dreadful.
He could not go home to Berkeley. Because he had lost Berkeley in The Game, tonight. Walt Remington had won it from him by calling his bluff on square thirty-six. That was what had made it such a bad night.
“Change course,” he said hoarsely to the auto-auto circuit. He still held title deed to most of Marin County; he could stay there. “We’ll go to San Rafael,” he said, sitting up and rubbing his forehead, groggily.
A male voice said, “Mrs. Gaines?”
Freya, combing her short blonde hair before the mirror, did not look around; absorbed, she thought, It sounds like that awful Bill Calumine.
“Do you want a ride home?” the voice asked, and then Freya realized that it was her new husband, Clem Gaines. “You are going home, aren’t you?” Clem Gaines, large and overstuffed, with blue eyes, she thought, like broken glass that had been glued there, and glued slightly awry, strolled across the Game room toward her. It pleased him, obviously, to be married to her.
It won’t be for long, Freya thought. Unless, she thought suddenly, we have luck.
She continued brushing her hair, paying no attention to him. For a woman one hundred and forty years old, she decided critically, I look all right. But I can’t take responsibility for it . . . none of us can.
They were preserved, all of them, by the absence of something, rather than the presence; in each of them the Hynes Gland had been removed at maturity and so for them the aging process was now imperceptible.
“I like you, Freya,” Clem said. “You’re a refreshing person; you make it obvious you don’t like me.” He did not seem bothered; oafs like Clem Gaines never were. “Let’s go somewhere, Freya, and find out right away if luckwise you and I—” He broke off, because a vug had come into the room.
Jean Blau, putting on her coat, groaned, “Look, it wants to be friendly. They always do.” She backed away from it.
Her husband, Jack Blau,, looked about for the group’s vug-stick. “I’ll poke it a couple of times and it’ll go away,” he said.
“No,” Freya protested. “It’s not doing any harm.”
“She’s right,” Silvanus Angst said; he was at the sideboard, preparing himself a last drink. “Just pour a little salt on it.” He giggled.
The vug seemed to have singled out Clem Gaines. It likes you, Freya thought. Maybe you can go somewhere with it, instead of me.
But that was not fair to Clem, because none of them consorted with their former adversaries; it was just not done, despite the efforts by the Titanians to heal the old rift of wartime dislike. They were a silicon-based life form, rather than carbon-based; their cycle was slow, and involved meth-
ane rather than oxygen as the metabolic catalyst. And they were bisexual . . . which was a rather non-B system indeed.
“Poke it,” Bill Calumine said to Jack Blau.
With the vug-stick, Jack prodded the jelly-like cytoplasm of the vug. “Go home,” he told it sharply. He grinned at Bill Calumine. “Maybe we can have some fun with it. Let’s try to draw it into conversation. Hey, vuggy. You like make talk-talk?”
At once, eagerly, the Titanian’s thoughts came to them, addressed to all the humans in the condominium apartment. “Any pregnancies reported? If so, our medical facilities are available and we urge you to—”
“Listen, vuggy,” Bill Calumine said, “if we have any luck we’ll keep it to ourselves. It’s bad luck to tell you; everybody knows that. How come you don’t know that?”
“It knows it,” Silvanus Angst said. “It just doesn’t like to think about it.”
“Well, it’s time the vugs faced reality,” Jack Blau said. “We don’t like them and that’s it. Come on,” he said to his wife. “Let’s go home.” Impatiently, he waved Jean toward him.
The various members of the group filed out of the room and down the front steps of the building to their parked cars. Freya found herself left with the vug.
“There have been no pregnancies in our group,” she told the vug, answering its question.
“Tragic,” the vug thought back in response.
“But there will be,” Freya said. “I know we’ll have luck, soon.”
“Why is your particular group so hostile to us?” the vug asked.
Freya said, “Why, we hold you responsible for our sterility; you know that.” Especially our spinner Bill Calumine does, she thought.
“But it was your military weapon,” the vug protested.
“No, not ours. The Bed Chinese.”
The vug did not grasp the distinction. “In any case we are doing all we can to—”
“I won’t want to discuss it,” Freya said. “Please.”
“Let us help,” the vug begged.
She said to it, “Go to hell.” And left the apartment, striding down the stairs to the street and her car.
The cold, dark night air of Carmel, California, revived her; she took a deep breath, glanced up at the stars, smelled the freshness, the clean new scents. To her car she said, “Open the door; I want to get in.”
“Yes, Mrs. Garden,” The car door swung open.
“I’m not Mrs. Garden any more; I’m Mrs. Gaines.” She entered, seated herself at the manual tiller. “Try to keep it straight.”
“Yes, Mrs. Gaines.” As soon as she put the key in, the motor started up.
“Has Pete Garden already left?” She scanned the gloomy street and did not see Pete’s car. “I guess he has.” She felt sad. It would have been nice to sit out here under the stars, so late at night, and chat a little. It would be as if they were still married . . . damn The Game, she thought, and its spins. Damn luck itself, bad luck; that’s all we seem to have, any more. We’re a marked race.