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John Isidore watches television in his apartment; shows that serve as propaganda attempting to convince earth dwellers to move to the Mars colony. Isidore has “distorted genes” and had failed to pass a “minimum mental faculties test.” This makes him a “chickenhead.” He has a simple job driving a delivery truck and while his life is not much, he is grateful that he is accepted by those he works with. He begins to prepare himself for his job and after turning the television off, he is met with a powerful sound of silence.
Overwhelmed by the void created by the silence, John goes to his “empathy box” and grasps its handles. The empathy box creates a visual image that fuses John’s consciousness with that of Wilbur Mercer, a kind of transcendental figure. John sees Mercer ascending a hill, and the box allows him to “cross over” and to gain a “mental and spiritual identification” with Mercer. Each day John climbs higher on the hill with Mercer, but the higher he climbs the more resistance he faces from the “antagonists.” The antagonists throw a rock at John which hits him on the arm. The wound is manifested in his real physical life as well and he leaves the box to wash the wound. Though he knows climbing higher with Mercer will only cause him more pain, he is compelled to climb anyway.