Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,1968

E Munch-the_scream 1893 National Gallery, Oslo, Norwayjpg


At the opera house Rick Deckard and Phil Resch were informed that the rehearsal had ended. And Miss Luft had left.

“Did she say where she intended to go?” Phil Resch asked the stagehand, showing his police identification.

“Over to the museum.” The stagehand studied the ID card. “She said she wanted to take in the exhibit of Edvard Munch that’s there, now. It ends tomorrow.”

And Luba Luft, Rick thought to himself, ends today.

As the two of them walked down the sidewalk to the museum, Phil Resch said, “What odds will you give? She’s flown; we won’t find her at the museum.”

“Maybe,” Rick said.

They arrived at the museum building, noted on which floor the Munch exhibit could be found, and ascended. Shortly, they wandered amid paintings and woodcuts. Many people had turned out for the exhibit, including a grammar school class; the shrill voice of the teacher penetrated all the rooms comprising the exhibit, and Rick thought, That’s what you’d expect an andy to sound — and look — like. Instead of like Rachael Rosen and Luba Luft. And — the man beside him. Or rather the thing beside him.

“Did you ever hear of an andy having a pet of any sort?” Phil Resch asked him.

For some obscure reason he felt the need to be brutally honest; perhaps he had already begun preparing himself for what lay ahead. “In two cases that I know of, andys owned and cared for animals. But it’s rare. From what I’ve been able to learn, it generally fails; the andy is unable to keep the animal alive. Animals require an environment of warmth to flourish. Except for reptiles and insects.”

“Would a squirrel need that? An atmosphere of love? Because Buffy is doing fine, as
sleek as an otter. I groom and comb him every other day.” At an oil painting Phil Resch halted, gazed intently. The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like
an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl. It had covered its ears against its own sound. The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by — or despite — its outcry.

“He did a woodcut of this,” Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting.

“I think,” Phil Resch said, “that this is how an andy must feet.” He traced in the air the convolutions, visible in the picture, of the creature’s cry. “I don’t feel like that, so maybe I’m not an — ” He broke off, as several persons strolled up to inspect the picture.

“There’s Luba Luft.” Rick pointed and Phil Resch halted his somber introspection and defense; the two of them walked at a measured pace toward her, taking their time as if nothing confronted them; as always it was vital to preserve the atmosphere of the commonplace. Other humans, having no knowledge of the presence of androids among them, had to be protected at all costs — even that of losing the quarry.

Holding a printed catalogue, Luba Luft, wearing shiny tapered pants and an illuminated gold vestlike top, stood absorbed in the picture before her: a drawing of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an expression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face.

“Want me to buy it for you?” Rick said to Luba Luft; he stood beside her, holding laxly onto her upper arm, informing her by his loose grip that he knew he had possession of her — he did not have to strain in an effort to detain her. On the other side of her Phil Resch put his hand on her shoulder and Rick saw the bulge of the laser tube. Phil Resch did not intend to take chances, not after the near miss with Inspector Garland.

“It’s not for sale.” Luba Luft glanced at him idly, then violently as she recognized him; her eyes faded and the color dimmed from her face, leaving it cadaverous, as if already starting to decay. As if life had in an instant retreated to some point far inside her, leaving the body to its automatic ruin. “I thought they arrested you. Do you mean they let you go?”

“Miss Luft,” he said, “this is Mr. Resch. Phil Resch, this is the quite well-known opera singer Luba Luft.” To Luba he said, “The harness bull that arrested me is an android. So was his superior. Do you know — did you know — an Inspector Garland? He told me that you all came here in one ship as a group.”

“The police department which you called,” Phil Resch said to her, “operating out of a building on Mission, is the organizing agency by which it would appear your group keeps in touch. They even feel confident enough to hire a human bounty hunter; evidently — ”

“You?” Luba Luft said. “You’re not human. No more than I am: you’re an android, too.”

An interval of silence passed and then Phil Resch said in a low but controlled voice, “Well, we’ll deal with that at the proper time.” To Rick he said, “Let’s take her to my car.”

One of them on each side of her they prodded her in the direction of the museum elevator. Luba Luft did not come willingly, but on the other hand she did not actively resist; seemingly she had become resigned. Rick had seen that before in androids, in crucial situations. The artificial life force animating them seemed to fail if pressed too far . . . at least in some of them. But not all.

And it could flare up again furiously.

Androids, however, had as he knew an innate desire to remain inconspicuous. In the museum, with so many people roaming around, Luba Luft would tend to do nothing. The real encounter — for her probably the final one — would take place in the car, where no one else could see. Alone, with appalling abruptness, she could shed her inhibitions. He prepared himself — and did not think about Phil Resch. As Resch had said, it would be dealt with at a proper time.

At the end of the corridor near the elevators, a little store-like affair had been set up; it sold prints and art books, and Luba halted there, tarrying. “Listen,” she said to Rick. Some of the colour had returned to her face; once more she looked — at least briefly — alive. “Buy me a reproduction of that picture I was looking at when you found me. The one of the girt sitting on the bed.”

After a pause Rick said to the clerk, a heavy-jowled, middle-aged woman with netted gray hair, “Do you have a print of Munch’s Puberty?” “Only in this book of his collected work,” the clerk said, lifting down a handsome glossy volume. “Twenty-five dollars.” “I’ll take it.” He reached for his wallet.
Phil Resch said, “My departmental budget could never in a million years be stretched — ” “My own money,” Rick said; he handed the woman the bills and Luba the book. “Now let’s get started down,” he said to her and Phil Resch.
“It’s very nice of you,” Luba said as they entered the elevator. “There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that.” She glanced icily at Phil Resch. “It wouldn’t have occurred to him; as he said, never in a million years.” She continued to gaze at Resch, now with manifold hostility and aversion. “I really don’t like androids. Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I’m concerned, a superior life form.” To Phil Resch she said, “Isn’t that how it’s been with you, Resch? Trying to be — ”

“I can’t take this.” Phil Resch dug into his coat, groped.

“No,” Rick said; he grabbed at Phil Resch’s hand; Resch retreated, eluding him. “The Boneli test,” Rick said.

“It’s admitted it’s an android,” Phil Resch said. “We don’t have to wait.”

“But to retire it,” Rick said, “because it’s needling you give me that.” He struggled to pry the laser tube away from Phil Resch. The tube remained in Phil Resch’s possession; Resch circled back within the cramped elevator, evading him, his attention on Luba Luft only. “Okay,” Rick said. “Retire it; kill it now. Show it that it’s right.” He saw, then, that Resch meant to. “Wait — ”

Phil Resch fired, and at the same instant Luba Luft, in a spasm of frantic hunted fear, twisted and spun away, dropping as she did so. The beam missed its mark but, as Resch lowered it, burrowed a narrow hole, silently, into her stomach. She began to scream; she lay crouched against the wall of the elevator, screaming. Like the picture, Rick thought to himself, and, with his own laser tube, killed her. Luba Luft’s body fell forward, face down, in a heap. It did not even tremble.

With his laser tube, Rick systematically burned into blurred ash the book of pictures which he had just a few minutes ago bought Luba. He did the job thoroughly, saying nothing; Phil Resch watched without understanding, his face showing his perplexity.

“You could have kept the book yourself,” Resch said, when it had been done. “That cost you — ”

“Do you think androids have souls?” Rick interrupted.
Cocking his head on one side, Phil Resch gazed at him in even greater puzzlement.

Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,1968

Image: Edvard Munch,163-1944. Der Schrei der Natur, 1893 The Scream of Nature, ©National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

Larry Niven – The Artists, 2011

Subterranean Magazine. winter2011Unholy Colors, the latest of the Chirpsithra interstellar liners, sent down a boatful of artists and artistry to pile up around the walls of the Draco Tavern.

Some of the big stuff could stay outside, but most of it was too delicate. The work had been accumulating for two days now. Aliens in many shapes drifted among the displays, critiquing each other’s work in a score of alien languages.

The bar wasn’t selling much. The viewers were reluctant to carry drinks and the like. Spilled drinks, sparkers, foodstuffs, smoke or toxic gasses could ruin too many of these displays.

The work was generally impressive. Some of what was lined along the curved wall seemed half familiar. Paintings, sculpture, weaving. But the paintings showed odd colors, oddly matched to human eyesight. Alien graffiti wrote itself as you watched. Water above a fountain twisted into strange curves, glowing in neon colors. Some of the sculpted shapes, and some of the holograms, moved. Light sprayed in random patterns. Between a fractally twisted tree and a radio antenna that wasn’t doing anything, another tree grew taller as I watched.

It reached a limit, a cage of branches.

I went about my business, and looked again, and the tree was gone. Yet there was something there…

I stopped by the bar to pick up a palm stun. No suspicions, just a habit I’ve tried to encourage in myself. I strode casually among tall Chirpsithra, small yellow bugs, creatures armored or hairy or feathered, a water tank on tractor treads, a snake with a huge mouth and several tongues…alien artists wandering among the displays.

What I thought I’d seen was there, slumped against the blue curve of the wall. I could just make it out from two feet away: half a kiloton of octopoid bulge, its body a half-empty sack, its eight tentacles thick and muscular and bifurcated into fingerlets. Its skin glowed a wonderful sky blue, shading itself to match the holo wall. Now its eyes met mine. Then the blue darkened almost to black, and rainbow shapes like tiny octopi lifted from a seabed and swam a pattern across the creature’s bulbous torso, as if trying to write a message.

I spoke into the bead mike of my translator. “Are you participating in the Gallery Display?”

“I am.”

“I’m Rick Schumann. I run the Draco Tavern. Welcome.”

“I thank you. My name is View from the Depth.”

“Can I fetch you sustenance?” Usually a visiting ship keeps me supplied with whatever a visiting alien needs. I couldn’t remember anything unusual being delivered since Unholy Colors’ lander came down. “What’s your physiological type?”

“Tee tee hatch nex ool. May I have seawater?”

I went back to the bar. I was mildly surprised: tee tee hatch nex ool is the same code as mine, as Earth life, the air and water patterns that won’t poison, for instance, a human being. I mixed up a reasonable approximation of seawater, chilled it a little, and brought a big bowl of it to View.

“Refreshing,” View said, its eyes and beak dripping. “Do you enjoy alien art forms?”

“Some are very pretty. Talking to the artists is mostly confusing. What else can you show me?”

“My companions liked this.” View’s body changed. In dark depths colors swirled: pillars and jets of stardust brilliantly lit from offstage. Stars formed explosively. One came near, nestled in a thousand rings. The rings grew lumpy and formed planets in blasts of white light.

My score of customers were watching me and View. Conversation swirled, and I sensed amusement.

I asked View, “Where are you from?”

“I will show.” Again View’s body sac darkened at the edges, brightening in the center. I watched a planet form. The view zoomed in, and I recognized the Philippines, New Guinea, Japan rimming an arc of Indian Ocean. Now there were only islands visible: Micronesia, and an awful lot of water.

A Glig was at my elbow, a little too big and a little too close. “Do you like View from the Depth?”

It dawned on me: View was a display of genetic skill, a work of art. “Impressive. Yours?”

The artists were laughing, each in its own way. The Glig said, “No. View from the Depth was worked by Sea People.”

We should never have let the Sea People into the oceans. “View, are there more of you?”

“Two early versions. Next version will breed, but must have permission of the Chirpsithra.”

“These are our oceans,” I said.

“Tell the Chirpsithra. I do not hold copyright.”

Yerrofistch wore rank markings on her scarlet chitin chest. If I’d read them right, she was an officer of middle rank among Unholy Colors’ Chirpsithra crew. I brought a sparker to her table and struck up a conversation.

She said, “The Sea People entered your Atlantic Ocean during the year the Draco Tavern was shut down. After all, where else were they to go? Many species visited other parts of Earth during that period.”

“I know. They bred like crazy and ate up a lot of fish. Where are they now?”

“The passengers, the primary group, moved on with their ship. Their progeny are mules; they will not breed. Are you worried about their consumption of fish?”

“No, not that.” The Sea People had eaten deep into the fish population of the Indian Ocean, but they’d found a way to pay that back. They’d helped the locals build OTEC power plants, powered by the difference in temperature between the surface and the bottom of the ocean. One side effect of pumping warm water down was that warm currents rose from the depths, carrying nutrients to feed more fish. “No, it’s what they’ve been doing with the octopus, the local life forms.”

I pointed out View. Yerrofistch stood and walked over.

At that point the bar got busy. I didn’t get a chance to join them for some time, but I did watch them talking. View was creating visuals to illustrate important points.

When I joined them, Yerrofistch said, “She is intelligent.”

“I know,” I said.

“What Sea People remain number in the thousands. They were left to deal with View and her people and several other experiments. We’ll look into those. Meanwhile, these that View calls the Many Hands are a legitimately sapient species. Copyright no longer applies: they own themselves. I don’t see that they will disturb your civilization much. You don’t share territory. View and two sisters are the only models who can walk and breathe out of the ocean.”

Most of my customers now clustered around the fireplace. It had just been floated in, a pit of bricks and charcoal with an inverted funnel chimney above the flame, and it had the aliens fascinated. I was surprised. Fire’s common enough. But the centauroid artist was preening.

“I can do that,” View from the Depth said. Flames chased themselves across her torso and limbs; smoke darkened above. A human reporter, festooned with camera specs and sensors, turned to watch her.

“No heat,” I said.

“No. May I have water?”

“I’ll get it.”

“Wait. What is this I’m told? Are you shutting down the artists’ display?”

“In twenty-six days.”

“Must I return to the sea? I must visit, of course, but I find more of interest on the land.”

“I was wondering,” I said. “Could you represent your kind as an ambassador? I was thinking your people should petition for representation in the United Nations. Otherwise someone might take away their fishing grounds.”

“I do not know that I would still be considered one of them. I am so altered.”

“Where’s their choice? The UN meets on land.”

“Well, I can ask. Thank you, Rick. Is this one of the displays?”

I introduced the reporter to the octopus, and they began an interview.

Larry Niven, b. 1938.   The Artists, 2011

Published in Subterranean Press Magazine, Winter 2011