Philip K. Dick
The Zap Gun
Being that Most Excellent Account of Travails and Contayning Many Pretie Hystories By Him Set Foorth in Comely Colours and Most Delightfully Discoursed Upon as Beautified and Well Furnished Divers Good and Commendable in the Gesiht of Men of That Most Lamentable Wepens Fasoun Designer Lars Powderdry and What Nearly Became of Him Due to Certain Most Dreadful Forces.
The guidance-system of weapons-item 207, which consists of six hundred miniaturized electronic components, can best be plowshared as a lacquered ceramic owl which appears to the unenlightened only as an ornament; the informed knowing, however, that the owl's head, when removed, reveals a hollow body in which cigars or pencils can be stored.
Official report of the UN-W Natsec Board of Wes-bloc, October 5, 2003, by Concomody A (true identity for security reasons not to be given out; vide Board rulings XV 4-5-6-7-8).1
"Mr. Lars, sir."
"I'm afraid I only have a moment to talk to your viewers. Sorry." He started on, but the autonomic TV interviewer, camera in its hand, blocked his path. The metal smile of the creature glittered confidently.
"You feel a trance coming on, sir?" the autonomic interviewer inquired hopefully, as if perhaps such could take place before one of the multifax alternate lens-systems of its portable camera.
Lars Powderdry sighed. From where he stood on the footers' runnel he could see his New York office. See, but not reach it. Too many people—the pursaps!—were interested in him, not his work. And the work of course was all that mattered.
He said wearily, "The time factor. Don't you understand? In the world of weapons fashions—"
"Yes, we hear you're receiving something really spectacular," the autonomic interviewer gushed, picking up the thread of discourse without even salutationary attention to Lars' own meaning. "Four trances in one week. And it's almost come all the way through! Correct, Mr. Lars, sir?"
The autonomic construct was an idiot. Patiently he tried to make it understand. He did not bother to address himself to the legion of pursaps, mostly ladies, who viewed this early-morning show—Lucky Bagman Greets You, or whatever it was called. Lord knew he didn't know. He had no time in his workday for such witless diversions as this. "Look," he said, this time gently, as if the autonomic interviewer were really alive and not merely an arbitrarily endowed sentient concoction of the ingenuity of Wes-bloc technology of 2004 A.D. Ingenuity, he reflected, wasted in this direction... although, on a closer thought, was this so much more an abomination than his own field? A reflection unpleasant to consider.
He repressed it from his mind and said, "In weapons fashions an item must arise at a certain time. Tomorrow, next week or next month is too late."
Tell us what it is," the interviewer said, and hung with bated avidity on the anticipated answer. How could anyone, even Mr. Lars of New York and Paris, disappoint all the millions of viewers throughout Wes-bloc, in a dozen countries? To let them down would be to serve the interests of Peep-East, or so the autonomic interviewer wished to convey. But it was failing.
Lars said, "It's frankly none of your business." And stalked past the small bunch of footers who had assembled to gawk, stalked away from the warm glow of instant-exposure before public observation and to the uptrack of Mr. Lars, Incorporated, the single-story structure arranged as if by intention among high-rise offices whose size alone announced the essential nature of their function.
Physical size, Lars reflected as he reached the outer, public lobby of Mr. Lars, Incorporated, was a false criterion. Even the autonomic interviewer wasn't fooled; it was Lars Powderdry that it wished to expose to its audience, not the industrial entities within easy reach. However much the entities would have delighted in seeing their akprop—acquisition-propaganda—experts thundering into the attentive ears of its audience.
The doors of Mr. Lars, Incorporated, shut, tuned as they were to his own cephalic pattern. He sealed off, safe from the gaping multitude whose attention had been jazzed up by professionals. On their own the pursaps would have been reasonable about it; that is, they would be apathetic.
"Yes, Miss Bedouin." He halted. "I know. The drafting department can't make head or tail of sketch 285." To that he was resigned. Having seen it himself, after Friday's trance, he knew how muddied it was.
"Well, they said—" She hesitated, young and small, ill-equipped temperamentally to carry the grievances of others around in her possession as their spokesman.
"I'll talk to them direct," he said to her humanely. "Frankly, to me it looked like a self-programming eggbeater mounted on triangular wheels." And what can you destroy, he reflected, with that?
"Oh, they seem to feel it's a fine weapon," Miss Bedouin said, her natural, hormone-enriched breasts moving in synchronicity with his notice of them. "I believe they just can't make out the power source. You know, the erg structure. Before you go to 286—"
"They want me," he said, "to take a better look at 285. Okay." It did not bother him. He felt amiably inclined, because this was a pleasant April day and Miss Bedouin (or, if you liked to think about it that way, Miss Bed) was pretty enough to restore any man's sanguineness. Even a fashion designer—a weapons fashion designer.
Even, he thought, the best and only weapons fashion designer in all Wes-bloc.
To turn up his equal—and even this was in doubt, as far as he was concerned—one would have to approach that other hemisphere, Peep-East. The Sino-Soviet bloc owned or employed or however they handled it—in any case had available to them—services of a medium like himself.
He had often wondered about her. Her name was Miss Topchev, the planet-wide private police agency KACH had informed him. Lilo Topchev. With only one office, and that at Bulganingrad rather than New Moscow.
She sounded reclusive to him, but KACH did not orate on subjective aspects of its scrutiny-targets. Perhaps, he thought, Miss Topchev knitted her weapons sketches... or made them up, while still in the trance-state, in the form of gaily colored ceramic tile. Anyhow something artistic. Whether her client—or more accurately employer—the Peep-East governing body SeRKeb, that grim, uncolored and unadorned holistic academy of cogs, against which his own hemisphere had for so many decades now pitted every resource within itself, liked it or not.
Because of course a weapons fashion designer had to be catered to. In his own career he had managed to establish that.
After all, he could not be compelled to enter his five-days-a-week trance. And probably neither could Lilo Topchev.
Leaving Miss Bedouin, he entered his own office, removing his outer cape, cap and slippers, and extended these discarded items of street-wear to the handicloset.
Already his medical team, Dr. Todt and nurse Elvira Funt, had sighted him. They rose and approached respectfully, and with them his near-psionically gifted quasi-subordinate, Henry Morris. One never knew—he thought, constructing their reasoning on the basis of their alert, alarmed manner—when a trance might come on. Nurse Funt had her intravenous machinery tagging hummingly behind her and Dr. Todt, a first-class product of the superior West German medical world, stood ready to whip out delicate devices for two distinct purposes: first, that no cardiac arrest during the trance-state occur, no infarcts to the lungs or excessive suppression of the vagus nerve, causing cessation of breathing and hence suffocation, and second—and without this there was no point to it all—that mentation during the trance-state be established in a permanent record, obtainable after the state had ended.
Dr. Todt was, therefore, essential in the business at Mr. Lars, Incorporated. At the Paris office a similar, equally skilled crew awaited on stand-by. Because it often happened that Lars Powderdry got a more powerful emanation at that locus than he did in hectic New York.
And in addition his mistress Maren Faine lived and worked there.
It was a weakness—or, as he preferred supposing, a strength of weapons fashion designers, in contrast to their miserable counterparts in the world of clothing—that they liked women. His predecessor, Wade, had been heterosexual, too—had in fact killed himself over a little coloratura of the Dresden Festival ensemble. Mr. Wade had suffered auricular fibrillation at an ignoble time: while in bed at the girl's Vienna condominium apartment at two in the morning, long after The Marriage of Figaro had dropped curtain, and Rita Grandi had discarded the silk hose, blouse, etc., for—as the alert homeopape pics had disclosed—nothing.
So, at forty-three years of age, Mr. Wade, the previous weapons fashion designer for Wes-bloc, had left the scene—and left vacant his essential post. But there were others ready to emerge and replace him.
Perhaps that had hurried Mr. Wade. The job itself was taxing—medical science did not precisely know to what degree or how. And there was, Lars Powderdry reflected, nothing quite so disorienting as knowing that not only are you indispensable but that simultaneously you can be replaced. It was the sort of paradox that no one enjoyed, except of course UN-W Natsec, the governing Board of Wes-bloc, who had contrived to keep a replacement always visible in the wings.
He thought, And they've probably got another one waiting right now.
They like me, he thought. They've been good to me and I to them: the system functions.
But ultimate authorities, in charge of the lives of billions of pursaps, don't take risks. They do not cross against the DON'T WALK signs of cog life.
Not that the pursaps would relieve them of their posts... hardly. Removal would descend, from General George McFarlane Nitz, the C. in C. on Natsec's Board. Nitz could remove anyone. In fact if the necessity (or perhaps merely the opportunity) arose to remove himself—imagine the satisfaction of disarming his own person, stripping himself of the brain-pan i.d. unit that caused him to smell right to the autonomic sentries which guarded Festung Washington!
And frankly, considering the cop-like aura of General Nitz, the Supreme Hatchet-man implications of his—
"Your blood-pressure, Mr. Lars." Narrow, priest-like, somber Dr. Todt advanced, machinery in tow. "Please, Lars."
Beyond Dr. Todt and nurse Elvira Funt a slim, bald, pale-as-straw but highly professional-looking young man in peasoup green rose, a folio under his arm. Lars Powderdry at once beckoned to him. Blood-pressure readings could wait. This was the fella from KACH, and he had something with him.
"May we go into your private office, Mr. Lars?" the KACH-man asked.
Leading the way Lars said, "Photos."
"Yes, "sir." The KACH-man shut the office door carefully after them. "Of her sketches of—" he opened the folio, examined a Xeroxed document—"last Wednesday. Their codex AA-335." Finding a vacant spot on Lars' desk he began spreading out the stereo pics. "Plus one blurred shot of a mockup at the Rostok Academy assembly-lab... of—" Again he consulted his poop sheet—"SeRKeb codex AA-330." He stood aside so that Lars could inspect.
Seating himself Lars lit a Cuesta Rey astoria and did not inspect. He felt his wits become turgid, and the cigar did not help. He did not enjoy snooping dog-like over spy-obtained pics of the output of his Peep-East equivalent, Miss Topchev. Let UN-W Natsec do the analysis! He had so much as said this to General Nitz on several occasions, once at a meeting of the total Board, with everyone present sunk within his most dignified and stately presgarms—his prestige capes, miter, boots, gloves... probably spider-silk underwear with ominous slogans and ukases, stitched in multicolored thread.
There, in that solemn environment, with the burden of Atlas on the backs of even the concomodies—those six drafted, involuntary fools—in formal session, Lars had mildly asked that for chrissakes couldn't they do the analysis of the enemy's weapons?
No. And without debate. Because (listen closely, Mr. Lars) these are not Peep-East's weapons. These are his plans for weapons. We will evaluate them when they've passed from prototype to autofac production, General Nitz had intoned. But as regards this initial stage... he had eyed Lars meaningfully.