PHILIP K. DICK IN HALF-LIFE
by Paul Rydeen
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I stopped, rubbed my hands together for warmth in the cold Alpine air, and squinted into the Swiss sun. I took a small container of Prince Albert snuff from my jacket pocket. "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" we used to joke as children, when anybody remembered what a can was. This can had cost me 95 poscreds on the black market, and I was sure it wasnt really Prince Albert. They had stopped making it years ago. I took a pinch of the high-grade snuff, replaced the container, and walked into the Beloved Brethren Moratorium.
"I wonder if Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang still runs this place," I said aloud, assuming no one else was listening.
"Oh no sir," said the pert young secretary at the reception desk, overhearing my remark. Her firm, small breasts heaved slightly in greeting beneath her sweater. "Herr Schoenheit von Vogelsang is in a better place now cryo-crypt 324156-A. Hes available for consultation in case of absolute emergency, and for a nominal fee. He left strict instructions, you understand, only to be awakened once every hundred years. His son, Herbert Junior, will be along shortly to assist you."
"Thank you," I replied. "Do you have Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang in a can?" I mused silently. I sat down on the plush chair in the family waiting room and waited for the owner. Dog-eared copies of Cold-pac News were strewn about on the coffee table. I let them sit where they were, not caring which celebrity was stored in which moratorium. I had seen the ads. "Talk to Michael Jackson!" they promised, at 500 poscreds a pop. It seemed like every moratorium had a celebrity or two, like the Bonnie and Clyde Death Cars at the old sideshows. I had my doubts. The younger Vogelsang was along shortly.
"Happy Resurrection Day, mein Herr," said Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang II as he entered the crushed velvet waiting room of the Beloved Brethren Moratorium. "And what can I do for you today, Herr..."
"Rydeen," I said. "Im Paul Rydeen from the States. I understand you have my uncle here. His name is Richard Philips."
"Do you have your ticket, Herr Rydeen?" Vogelsang asked.
"Uh, no, I seem to have left it at home. If its not too much trouble, could you do a name search and find my uncle for me? Ive come all this way, and it is Resurrection Day and all."
"Herr Rydeen, its not our policy to allow visitors without an identifying ticket. Half-life is limited, you understand. And very expensive. But since youve come so far, I wont be the one to disappoint you. Ill have one of our assistants find your dear uncle for you. Walk this way, please. Itll be the last office on the left. Please be quiet as we go past these other rooms. Theyre for the Lutherans. They think theyre the only ones here."
As I waited in room 2-A, I recalled the events of the past few days. I knew about cryonics from my contact with groups like ALCOR, but I hadnt realized how advanced it had become. Most people thought of Walt Disney wrapped in tinfoil when they thought of cryonics. Even in the early 1980s, when Philip K. Dick "deanimated," it was a lot further along than I had thought. What a stroke of luck it had been to find the Beloved Brethren Moratorium right where Phil had said it was in the Swiss Alps. He must have had it all planned out, he and Hubbard and Heinlein. All the clues were there. "Richard Philips," I thought. That was a pen-name he had used once or twice, back when he was writing short stories for pulp magazines with what Spinrad called "peeled-eyeball covers," and getting a penny a word. I wondered if anybody remembered what a penny was, or whose picture had been on it.
"All ready, mein Herr," Vogelsang said as he returned a few minutes later. "Merely press the button on the left to begin. Your microphone is voice-activated, so you may speak freely. Please notify myself or any of our helpful staff if you experience any problems at all. Have a nice day." He left the room.
I put the headset on, and pressed the button Vogelsang had indicated. Faint static, then, "...and when I showed him my mathematical proof for the existence of God, he got all flustered and left. That chick just smiled..." It was Phils voice, alright. I recognized it from the Philip K. Dick Society interview tape.
"Uh, Phil," I interrupted. "Philip K. Dick? Im Paul Rydeen. Im a fan of yours."
"Paul who?" Phils voice creaked from the speaker. "Williams? Wheres Jeter and Powers? They havent been here to see me in ages."
"No, Phil, Paul Rydeen. You dont know me, but Ive read all your books. How are you doing, Phil? Is half-life treating you OK?"
"Yeah, OK, I guess," Phil replied noncommittally. I was just at the greatest party, and about to put the moves on this gorgeous chick when you arrived. See, this stuffy old longhair was moving in, so I scribbled this little diagram on a cocktail napkin and kept insisting he look at my mathematical proof for the existence of God. He was a theology professor, see?" Phil chuckled to himself, there in cold storage. "Drove him nuts, it did. He left the chick and me alone. Man, she was hot."
"Thats a great gag, Phil," I said. "Ill have to try it sometime. Mind if I ask you a few questions? Im preparing an anthology of essays and fiction about your many weird experiences. An interview with the late Philip K. Dick would be a scoop."
"Well, if you think life is weird, you ought to try half-life sometime," was Phils reply.
"Im sure I will, Phil, soon enough. Any crusty old satellites from alien worlds in there, beaming you the answers to your sixth-grade math tests and setting you up with cute girls?"
"No," Phil answered, "no such luck. Its some kind of small town here, a lot like the one where Ragel Gumm lived. Its got a red-light district too, kind of odd for a quaint midwestern town of a few thousand people. I havent been there yet, but its so appealing. This one place has this amazing chick that everybody keeps talking about..."
"Watch out for the red light, Phil," I warned. "Go look for a church or something. Now about this interview. Mind if I ask you a few things?"
"Uh, no, go right ahead. You said your name was Paul who?"
"Its not important. Say, theres something Ive been meaning to ask you, kind of like Kevin and his dead cat. I thought Id have to wait, but here we are. How come youre more prolific in half-life than you ever were in life?"
"Ah, theres the beauty of it," Phil said. "Schoenheit, as the Germans say, like the owner of this moratorium. Hes here, you know. Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang. Hes here in half-life with the rest of us Glen Runciter and the rest. You know."
"Hows Elvis," I quipped, then thought better of it.
"Hes teaching me German," Phil continued, seemingly unaware of my remark. "Ive just discovered this wonderful German poem from the middle ages. Its in an obscure dialect no longer spoken, but Vogelsang seems to have a pretty good handle on it. Want to hear it?"
"Some other time, Phil. Now about these so-called posthumous books of yours."
"Yes," he said. "Just before my stroke, I had recovered a lot of money from my old paperback publisher. I just marched in there one day with my agent and his lawyer and accountant. We made them show us their books. You wouldnt believe how many crappy little paperbacks I had sold. They shelled out a bundle without even going to court. Enough, in fact, to have me placed in cold-pac. Which is exactly what they did when I had the stroke. I never really died, not all the way, not yet."
"But Phil, how does that explain all those novels that came out during the decade or so after your death, er, half-life?" I asked, puzzled.
"Dont you see? I didnt write any of those books not in the 50s, not now. We had it all planned out. I always wanted to write mainstream, you know. Even though science fiction seemed to be my strength. Such writers block, versteh?"
"What about Crap Artist?" I asked. "That one was pretty good."
"Sure," Phil said, "but who read it? A handful of trolls? It wasnt even published until 15 years after I wrote it, and then only by Paul Williams. A few hundred copies, and thats it. I wanted more.
"After they put me in here, Williams and Jeter and Powers started coming around to see if I had any story ideas. I gave them plenty. To help them get started with their own writing careers, I let them use my name on the books. They were, after all, my ideas. This was my big break. I would dictate, and they would write. At last the public would read my mainstream work. I was elated."
"But Phil," I objected, "you had to die to get there. Was it worth it?"
"Maybe so, maybe not. Hey, Jims here, sometimes. Jim Pike. We were just talking the other day about his sacred mushroom theory. I think its crazy, but he sure knows a lot about the Dead Sea scrolls. And youll never believe how he really died. I had it all wrong in Archer. All wrong..."
The connection started to fade, and then a different voice came on. "Mister? Will you talk to me? Im lonely in here mister, and no one ever comes to talk to me. My names Jory."
Disgusted, I slammed down the headset and went to look for Vogelsang. I hadnt come all this way and spent all those poscreds to talk to somebody elses dead relative. I wanted Phil back.
As I stormed down the hall, I spotted Vogelsang talking to a familiar looking man with long hair and a funny hat. "Uh-oh. Thats Paul Williams," I thought. "Time to split." As I headed for the back door, I heard Williams say, "But Phil wasnt anybodys uncle. His only sister died an infant."
I hailed a flapple in the alley behind the Beloved Brethren Moratorium. "Destination, sir?" the flapple asked as I got in.
"Texas, please, and step on it."
"Certainly sir. Please deposit 25 poscreds so I may proceed."
I pulled out the poscreds from my billfold and stopped. They didnt look quite right to me, not right at all. The picture wasnt the familiar one. It looked unlike anyone I knew. Beneath the portrait was a name. It said, "Joe Chip."