Piper in the Woods, p.1Philip K. Dick
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PIPER IN THE WOODS
_By Philip K. Dick_
Earth maintained an important garrison on Asteroid Y-3. Now suddenly it was imperiled with a biological impossibility--men becoming plants!
"Well, Corporal Westerburg," Doctor Henry Harris said gently, "just whydo you think you're a plant?"
As he spoke, Harris glanced down again at the card on his desk. It wasfrom the Base Commander himself, made out in Cox's heavy scrawl: _Doc,this is the lad I told you about. Talk to him and try to find out how hegot this delusion. He's from the new Garrison, the new check-station onAsteroid Y-3, and we don't want anything to go wrong there. Especially asilly damn thing like this!_
Harris pushed the card aside and stared back up at the youth across thedesk from him. The young man seemed ill at ease and appeared to beavoiding answering the question Harris had put to him. Harris frowned.Westerburg was a good-looking chap, actually handsome in his Patroluniform, a shock of blond hair over one eye. He was tall, almost sixfeet, a fine healthy lad, just two years out of Training, according tothe card. Born in Detroit. Had measles when he was nine. Interested injet engines, tennis, and girls. Twenty-six years old.
"Well, Corporal Westerburg," Doctor Harris said again. "Why do you thinkyou're a plant?"
The Corporal looked up shyly. He cleared his throat. "Sir, I _am_ aplant, I don't just think so. I've been a plant for several days, now."
"I see." The Doctor nodded. "You mean that you weren't always a plant?"
"No, sir. I just became a plant recently."
"And what were you before you became a plant?"
"Well, sir, I was just like the rest of you."
There was silence. Doctor Harris took up his pen and scratched a fewlines, but nothing of importance came. A plant? And such ahealthy-looking lad! Harris removed his steel-rimmed glasses andpolished them with his handkerchief. He put them on again and leanedback in his chair. "Care for a cigarette, Corporal?"
The Doctor lit one himself, resting his arm on the edge of the chair."Corporal, you must realize that there are very few men who becomeplants, especially on such short notice. I have to admit you are thefirst person who has ever told me such a thing."
"Yes, sir, I realize it's quite rare."
"You can understand why I'm interested, then. When you say you're aplant, you mean you're not capable of mobility? Or do you mean you're avegetable, as opposed to an animal? Or just what?"
The Corporal looked away. "I can't tell you any more," he murmured. "I'msorry, sir."
"Well, would you mind telling me _how_ you became a plant?"
Corporal Westerburg hesitated. He stared down at the floor, then out thewindow at the spaceport, then at a fly on the desk. At last he stood up,getting slowly to his feet. "I can't even tell you that, sir," he said.
"You can't? Why not?"
"Because--because I promised not to."
* * * * *
The room was silent. Doctor Harris rose, too, and they both stood facingeach other. Harris frowned, rubbing his jaw. "Corporal, just _who_ didyou promise?"
"I can't even tell you that, sir. I'm sorry."
The Doctor considered this. At last he went to the door and opened it."All right, Corporal. You may go now. And thanks for your time."
"I'm sorry I'm not more helpful." The Corporal went slowly out andHarris closed the door after him. Then he went across his office to thevidphone. He rang Commander Cox's letter. A moment later the beefygood-natured face of the Base Commander appeared.
"Cox, this is Harris. I talked to him, all right. All I could get is thestatement that he's a plant. What else is there? What kind of behaviorpattern?"
"Well," Cox said, "the first thing they noticed was that he wouldn't doany work. The Garrison Chief reported that this Westerburg would wanderoff outside the Garrison and just sit, all day long. Just sit."
"In the sun?"
"Yes. Just sit in the sun. Then at nightfall he would come back in. Whenthey asked why he wasn't working in the jet repair building he told themhe had to be out in the sun. Then he said--" Cox hesitated.
"Yes? Said what?"
"He said that work was unnatural. That it was a waste of time. That theonly worthwhile thing was to sit and contemplate--outside."
"Then they asked him how he got that idea, and then he revealed to themthat he had become a plant."
"I'm going to have to talk to him again, I can see," Harris said. "Andhe's applied for a permanent discharge from the Patrol? What reason didhe give?"
"The same, that he's a plant now, and has no more interest in being aPatrolman. All he wants to do is sit in the sun. It's the damnedestthing I ever heard."
"All right. I think I'll visit him in his quarters." Harris looked athis watch. "I'll go over after dinner."
"Good luck," Cox said gloomily. "But who ever heard of a man turninginto a plant? We told him it wasn't possible, but he just smiled at us."
"I'll let you know how I make out," Harris said.
* * * * *
Harris walked slowly down the hall. It was after six; the evening mealwas over. A dim concept was coming into his mind, but it was much toosoon to be sure. He increased his pace, turning right at the end of thehall. Two nurses passed, hurrying by. Westerburg was quartered with abuddy, a man who had been injured in a jet blast and who was now almostrecovered. Harris came to the dorm wing and stopped, checking thenumbers on the doors.
"Can I help you, sir?" the robot attendant said, gliding up.
"I'm looking for Corporal Westerburg's room."
"Three doors to the right."
Harris went on. Asteroid Y-3 had only recently been garrisoned andstaffed. It had become the primary check-point to halt and examine shipsentering the system from outer space. The Garrison made sure that nodangerous bacteria, fungus, or what-not arrived to infect the system. Anice asteroid it was, warm, well-watered, with trees and lakes and lotsof sunlight. And the most modern Garrison in the nine planets. He shookhis head, coming to the third door. He stopped, raising his hand andknocking.
"Who's there?" sounded through the door.
"I want to see Corporal Westerburg."
The door opened. A bovine youth with horn-rimmed glasses looked out, abook in his hand. "Who are you?"
"I'm sorry, sir. Corporal Westerburg is asleep."
"Would he mind if I woke him up? I want very much to talk to him."Harris peered inside. He could see a neat room, with a desk, a rug andlamp, and two bunks. On one of the bunks was Westerburg, lying face up,his arms folded across his chest, his eyes tightly closed.
"Sir," the bovine youth said, "I'm afraid I can't wake him up for you,much as I'd like to."
"You can't? Why not?"
"Sir, Corporal Westerburg won't wake up, not after the sun sets. He justwon't. He can't be wakened."
"But in the morning, as soon as the sun comes up, he leaps out of bedand goes outside. Stays the whole day."
"I see," the Doctor said. "Well, thanks anyhow." He went back out intothe hall and the door shut after him. "There's more to this than Irealized," he murmured. He went on back the way he had come.
* * * * *
It was a warm sunny day. The sky was almost free of clouds and a gentlewind moved through the cedars along the bank of the stream. There was apath leading from the hospital building down the slope to the stream. Atthe stream a small bridge led over to the
It took Harris several minutes to find Westerburg. The youth was notwith the other patients, near or around the bridge. He had gone fartherdown, past the cedar trees and out onto a strip of bright meadow, wherepoppies and grass grew everywhere. He was sitting on the stream bank, ona flat grey stone, leaning back and staring up, his mouth open a little.He did not notice the Doctor until Harris was
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