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CHAPTER NINETEEN - The world jones made by philip k. Dick ace books, inc. 1120 Avenue of the Americas New York,...

CHAPTER NINETEEN


WHEN HE pushed open the apartment door, Nina gave a shriek and ran sobbing to him Cussick caught hold of her and held her tight, his mind still swirling aimlessly.

"I'm okay," he muttered. "He's dead. It's over."

She backed away, face streaked with tears, eyes red and swimming. "You killed him?" There was only disbelief there, without comprehension. He felt the same way; her expression mirrored his own. "But how?"

"I shot him." He was still holding the pistol. They had let him walk out of the building; nobody had tried to stop him. Nobody comprehended what had happened… he had met only dazed shock, comatose figures, stricken and lifeless.

"But you couldn't have killed him," Nina repeated. "Didn't he expect it?"

"I wasn't shooting at him. He was sitting down - I shot at one of the guards." Cussick rubbed his forehead uncertainly. "It was instinctive. He was talking about you… I yanked out the gun and fired. Maybe that was it; I didn't plan to. Maybe I changed time. Maybe I somehow altered the future by acting reflexively. Maybe subrational responses can't be predicted."

Clutching at straws, he almost believed it. Almost, he had constructed a convincing rationalization. Almost, he was prepared to accept it - until he saw the small brown package on the arm of the couch.

"What's that?" he demanded.

"This?" Nina picked it up. "I haven't any idea - it came before I got here. From the organization." She held it out. "It's addressed to you. It was lying in the hall, propped against the door."

Cussick took it. The shape of the box was familiar: it was a reel of audtape. With numb fingers he tore off the paper and carried the tape to the playback equipment mounted in the wall above the coffee table.

The voice didn't surprise him. By now the pieces were falling together.

"Cussick," the thin, harried snarl began, "you had better lay low for awhile. There'll probably be a lot of commotion. I don't know; I'm just guessing. You understand? I'm just guessing. As far as you're concerned, I've lost my ability. And you realize why."

Yes, he realized why. Jones had seen everything up until the moment of his death. But that was all: nothing beyond that.

"You did a good clean job," Jones' voice continued, the harsh, metallic mutter that he had heard not half an hour ago. "Of course, you shouldn't get the credit. All you did was shoot off that gun; it was up to me to get in its way. But you did what you had to do. That was good; I knew you would. You didn't chicken out."

Cussick halted the tape. "Foxy dried-up little coot," he said savagely.

"Don't stop it!" Nina quavered; snatching his hand away, she clicked the tape-transport mechanism back into motion. "So now," Jones stated, "I'm dead. I can't tell exactly when this will reach you, but I suppose it will. What I do know is this: if and when you hear this, I'll be dead, because I've seen that much happen. And by now you've seen it happen, too. Do you grasp how I feel? For one year I've sat facing that moment, knowing it was coming. Knowing it couldn't be avoided. Suffering through that - and through what comes afterward. Now it's over. Now I can rest. You realize, of course, that what you did was what I wanted you to do. But probably you don't understand why.

"I made a mistake. I gambled, I took a chance, and I lost. I was wrong… but not in the way you think. I was more wrong than you think."

"No," Cussick said, baffled fury choking up inside him.

"In the next day or so," Jones continued, "the warships will be back home. People would see I made a mistake - they'd realize that I was fallible like everybody else. They would know I didn't have absolute knowledge." An amused mutter of triumph burst through the words, interrupting the monotonous flow. "Pretty soon the word would have started getting around: Jones was a fraud. Jones didn't have any talent. Jones played us for a sucker; he didn't have any more idea of the future than we did. But now they won't think that. They'll have this fact: today, Jones was murdered. And tomorrow, the ships start leaking back in. Jones died before defeat began - and cause always comes first."

Futilely, Cussick slammed off the flow of words. "Christ," he said bitterly.

"I don't get it," Nina whispered, stricken. "What's he mean?"

Reluctantly, Cussick again started up the tape.

"They'll say I was viciously killed," Jones observed gleefully. "They'll say you stole victory away from them when you murdered me. The legend will grow up: if Jones had lived, we would have won. It was you, the old system, Fedgov, Relativism, that robbed us. Jones didn't fail.

"My apologies to your wife. I had to say that; I had to goad you. Pearson, of course, is alive. You'll find him in one of the old police prisons; that is, if you're still -"

"You can turn it off," Nina said. "I don't have to hear any more."

He did so, instantly. "I helped him get what he wanted. He used me the way he used Pearson… we were elements of his plan."

For a time neither of them spoke.

"Well," Nina said bravely, "we don't have the civil war, now."

"No," Cussick agreed. "That was all a fake, a plant; all that stuff he told you about a last ditch stand against the mobs - that was for my benefit."

"He was quite a psychologist."

"He was everything. He understood history-he knew when to get off the stage… and how. He knew when to make his entrance and his exit. We thought we were going to be stuck with Jones for another six months… instead, we're stuck with Jones, the legend of Jones, forever."

He didn't need Jones' talent to see it. The new religion. The crucified god, slain for the glory of man. Certain to reappear, someday; a death not in vain. Temples, myths, sacred texts. Relativism wasn't coming back in, not in this world. Not after this.

"He really has us," Cussick admitted, furious, baffled, but forced to admire the cunning of the man. "He outsmarted us, all the way along the line. There'll be icons of Jones sixty feet high. He'll grow taller every year - in a century he'll be a couple of miles high." He laughed harshly. "Shrines. Holy images."

Nina began rewinding the tape. "Maybe we can use this as evidence."

"Hell," Cussick told her, "we've got plenty of evidence. We can prove Jones was wrong - prove it a million different ways. He misjudged the drifters - that's a fact. The ring was up before Jones died; the ships had already started back. And he's dead - rationally, that ought to cinch it. But it won't. He's right; he's a shrewd judge of us. Cause precedes effect. Jones died on Monday, the war was lost on Tuesday. Even I, standing here in this room, can't help being just a little convinced."

"Me, too," Nina agreed in a wretched, tiny voice. "It just sort of - feels right."

Cussick wandered over to the window, pushed aside the drapes, and gazed out helplessly at the dark sheets of rain drumming on the pavement below.

"What about you and me?" Nina asked timidly. "I guess you don't want to go to West Africa."

"You think West Africa will be far enough away? For me? I'm the man who murdered Jones - remember? A lot of people are going to be out looking for me."

"But where can we go?" Nina asked.

"Off Earth," Cussick said, brooding. "There's nowhere here for us. It'll take a day or so for them to start moving… that'll barely give us time to get Jackie and the rest of what we need. Junk - tons of it. And a good ship, one that's been recently serviced. You still have enough money and pull for such things?"

She nodded slowly. "Yes, I suppose. You sound like you've made up your mind. You've decided where we're going."

"Where we're going and what we're going to do. It isn't pleasant, but maybe it would be permanent. That's one consolation… this stuff may die down someday, and we can come back."

"I doubt it," Nina said.

"I doubt it, too. But well need something to keep us going. We're going to have a few rough times ahead." He turned away from the window. "You can stay here, you realize. You're legally not my wife; they won't necessarily connect the two of us. A little fast talking here and there, and you're a loyal organization worker again."

"I'll come along," Nina said.

"You're sure? After all, you're in on the ground floor… you can be a saint in the new church."

She smiled up sadly. "You know I want to come along. So let's stop stalling around."

"Good," Cussick agreed, a little happier. In fact, a lot happier. Bending, he kissed her on the nose. "You're right - let's get started. The sooner we get out of here, the better."
2014-07-19 18:44
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