Cold Storage


“Joe Chip on a
fifty-cent piece?”
—Philip K. Dick, Ubik

“I don’t get it.”

“What don’t you get?”

“The way Ubik ends.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, Runciter’s remark at the end of the novel. When he sees Joe Chip on the 50-cent piece.”

“You mean the Joe Chip money thing?’

“Yeah, the coin. And probably all the bills in his billfold too. He gets this ‘chilling intuition’ thing.”

“About what?”

“That that was just the beginning.”

“Yeah, that was kinda strange.”

“To me it meant like Runciter was dead—in cold storage like everybody else.”

“How so?”

“Well, up until then it was Joe Chip doing the weird ‘kipple’ thing—weird money, time going backwards, things decaying & falling apart. The whole fuckin kipple nightmare thing.”

“So you’re saying Runciter is dead too?”

“Aw c’mon, don’t be such a dumb fuck.”

“Oh, don’t mind me. Just playing the Devil’s advocate.”

“Well, yeah—Runciter’s dead like all the rest of them. Instead of being the only survivor from the Hollis moon setup. He’s like hallucinating funny money like Joe Chip at the end of the novel too.”

“Hmmm. I know—weird isn’t it?”

“And Ubik? The spray can thing? Reverses things?”

“Well, maybe not reverses it. More like making Joe Chip finally realize he was actually dead like the rest of them—he didn’t survive the Lunar explosion either.”

“Joe Chip didn’t know? I thought he was a smart telepath on top of things? Runciter’s best man?”

“I dunno. Maybe teeps, precogs, para-kineticists, ressurrectionists and animators are too smart? Maybe psionic powers down in cold storage can deceive telepaths into thinking they’re still alive?”

“All of them?”

“Well, maybe for awhile. And then they each sort of fade away from Joe Chip—for one reason or another. Creepy isn’t it?”

“Well, Runciter ran a business. They were a team of big time Psi activists—and Psi is like a mosaic. It takes different specialists. It’s like a personnel department, I guess—it has to be balanced out. It takes time to work out an anti-Psi program thing.”

“You mean like corporate espionage? Yeah, I suppose so—anti-Psi tricks to protect trade secrets and research and intellectual property rights & all that.”

“A cut-throat business in the future. And you know that’s probably already happening. It sounds like sci-fi to us—but it’s just SSDD business as usual for the big guys.”

“So they’re all dead—Runciter and his whole team of Psi-specialists tricked by his Psi-competitor Hollis’ Lunar set-up explosion to get rid of them?”

“Yeah. They’re all in cold storage in Switzerland—in the Beloved Brethren Moratorium. Weird, huh?”

“Dick keeps you fooled to the very last page.”

“Yeah, well, I guess Ella Runciter has been there for quite awhile. Runciter visits her & they discuss telepathically the business. She gives him advice. She’s waiting for her next reincarnation to kick in.”

“Pretty expensive though. Keeping a loved one in cold-pac storage that way. In a state of half-life suspended animation. The remaining time left to her pulse phasing out & ebbing away. Then the rest of them showing up.”

“So you’re sayin all these anti-telepath employees of Runciter’s were still communicating telepathically with each other while in deep freeze?”

“Well, yeah, maybe. Kinda like a cold storage chat group…”

“And Joe Chip’s whole adventure getting to Runciter’s supposed funeral in Des Moines—it was all just an illusion? Death, dreary & non-being creeping into his half-life fantasies? In deep-freeze?”

“Well, yeah. I suppose. That’s why everything is regressing. Decaying. Falling apart. The cars, plane, time itself. Kipple in cold-pac makes everything turn to shit, reverse itself to nothing.”

“A kind of entropy thing?”

“The telepaths & Joe Chip & Runciter—fading away like Ella Runciter, propped up in her cold-pac coffin there in Switzerland. Dreaming her Bardo Thodol thing—doing her Tibetan Book of the Dead Swan Song like all dead people go through…”

"I gotta go now." I said goodbye—turning off my cellphone. I wasn't feeling so hot...

I emptied my pockets and billfold on the desk. I looked at the coins and bills with a certain amount of aggrieved sullenness. My face was on a $100 bill.

Hmmm. It figures. Like it didn’t even surprise me…

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