John Isidore returns from his work with a three year old bottle of Chablis champagne that he had been saving in a safety deposit box for years just in case he ever met another person to share it with. He is taking it home, along with some groceries, to make dinner for Pris Stratton.
When he gets to his apartment building, Pris cautiously lets him into her apartment but then tells him to leave and that she can’t have the champagne. When John asks why she can’t have it, she tells him that it would be “wasted on me” and that sometime she would tell him why. He begins to make dinner anyway and tells Pris that the reason she is so scared and depressed is because she doesn’t have any friends. Pris tells him that she does in fact have friends but that they are probably all dead at the hands of bounty hunters.
John does not know what a bounty hunter is because their existence is hidden from the general population. Pris explains bounty hunters, how they are paid to kill people, but John doesn’t necessarily believe her because Buster Friendly had never said anything about them. John says that they can’t exist because they violate the principle of Mercerism that “no man is an island.”
Pris tells John that she had come to earth from Mars with a group of eight others. Roy and Irmgard Baty had been her best friends, but now the bounty hunters were killing all of them. She tells him that Roy and Irmgard had owned a drugstore and that she had regularly gotten a painkilling drug from them, though she doesn’t explain why. They emigrated because Mars is an awful place - old and desolate - and “because nobody should have to live there.”
Pris then begins to explain how, on Mars, “pre-colonial fiction” fetched a high price on the black market. This fiction contained stories of space travel and galactic colonization, all written before such things existed. Though the writers always glamorized space travel, the fiction was popular because it foresaw a world of colonization that was much more utopian than how the colonies actually turned out.
There is a knock as the door and Pris freezes up, afraid that the bounty hunters have finally found her. She sends John to the door and John finds that her guests are Roy and Irmgard Baty, her best friends from Mars. Pris is relieved and excited to see them and they enter her apartment.
Roy, Irmgard, and Pris talk quietly for a few minutes before Pris introduces them to John. She tells them, sarcastically, that he “is taking care of me.” Roy and Imrgard tell Pris that the bounty hunters had killed Polokov, Garland, and now Luft. Pris is upset at the news, but Roy insists that they had all caused their own demise by insisting on living public lives and that the rest of them must be careful to not make the same mistakes.
Roy and Irmgard tell her that the bounty hunters will act very fast to come get them and that they have decided to move into this same old apartment building in order to stay close and be able to warn each other when they arrive. They suggest that Pris move in and live with John as this might offer some kind of protection. Pris angrily asks why she has to live with “a chickenhead,” but Roy and Irmgard quickly remind her that he could also call her a name that she doesn’t like.
John is excited by the prospect of Pris living with him and he tells her that he will take care of her. The thought briefly enters his mind that these people must have done something wrong if someone is after them to kill them. He dismisses this thought, though, and decides that they must have left Mars illegally. When John offers for all of them to move in with him, Irmgard tells him that he is the first friend any of them had had on earth.
John takes Pris to his apartment. She begins to tell him that they are all crazy, escaped from a mental institution and not from Mars. He tells her that it wouldn’t make sense that someone would be after them, then, because all life is sacred. Roy Baty interrupts their conversation by bringing in an alarm unit. He explains that it works by detecting other life and that it will then emanate mood waves that will cause extreme panic in any person in close proximity. Pris asks if it will affect John and Roy answers, “so what?”
Roy makes a verbal slip and tells Pris that the alarm will only work when another “human” enters the building. Isidore suddenly realizes that they are all androids, but he insists that he doesn’t care. He tells them that other people don’t treat him very well either. Irmgard enters and says that she herself trusts John, that he would sacrifice for them. Pris and Roy both have a hard time believing it and decide to vote on whether to stay with John.
The vote is taken by the three androids: Imgard votes to stay with John Isidore; Roy Baty votes that they kill John and hide somewhere else; with the deciding vote, Pris elects to stay with Isidore, explaining that his “value to us outweighs his danger....” She tells them that this is their only alternative because the plans by the rest of their android comrades had all failed. Roy is angry at the decision, but John feels that this is the “culmination” of his entire life and he promises to help.
After getting his bounty for the three androids he retired, $3,000, Rick goes immediately to the row of animal stores to shop for a real animal. The salesman there talks him into buying a goat - an expensive purchase - and he puts $3,000 as a downpayment and agrees to take on onerous monthly payments. But this makes Rick very happy and he immediately goes home to tell Iran about the purchase.
He leads Iran up to the roof of their apartment where the goat is in a cage. She is both shocked and excited over the purchase. She knows the goat costs too much for their meager income, but she is proud of the social status the animal gives them. She quotes an old song by Josef Strauss - “‘My life is love and pleasure.’” Bill Barbour congratulates them on purchasing the goats and offers to trade his colt for the goat’s kids if they ever breed her.
Iran insists that they return to the apartment in order to enter into fusion with Mercer as a thanks for his good will towards them. Rick is hesitant, but follows anyway. She implores him to fuse with Mercer, explaining that it is essential for him to “transmit the mood you’re in now to everyone else; you owe it to them.” She tells him about an earlier experience in which she fused with someone whose animal had just died. Some shared their joys with her and it made her feel better. Others traded their sorrows for hers. Rick understands that when he fuses with Mercer in gratitude for his goat, “They’ll have our joy...but we’ll lose. We’ll exchange what we feel for what they feel. Our joy will be lost.” He now understands what Iran gets from Mercerism because he had felt the same exchange of emotions with Phil Resch. He tells her about Phil and about how he realizes that he is different from his predatory ways. He feels empathy towards androids and he knows this has changed him in some fundamental way. He feels Iran’s depression over his duty to retire androids.
Iran’s immediate reaction is to fear for Rick’s job and to worry that they would no longer be able to make the monthly payments on the goat. At that moment, the vidphone rings. It’s Inspector Bryant. He tells Rick that the department knows where the three remaining Nexus 6 androids are located and that he should go there immediately. Rick knows they will be expecting him. When Bryant hangs up, Rick goes to the empathy box and, looking into it, enters into fusion with Mercer. He is transported into a “landscape of weeds...a desolation.” Mercer stands in front of him and tells him that he is his friend, but that Rick must “go on as if I did not exist.” He tells Rick that there is no salvation to be found because “How can I save you...if I can’t save myself?” Rick demands to know what Mercerism is for if it cannot give salvation. Mercer tells him that the point is to show others that they are not alone. A rock hits Rick in the head, a sign of the fused suffering, and Rick exits the empathy box, bleeding from his ear where the rock hit him.
Rick goes up to his hovercraft and knows that if he goes to retire the androids that he will be killed. He decides to call Rachael Rosen and when he reaches her he asks for her help. She tells him that she cannot come down from Seattle at the moment and he tells her that she must, that he has to retire the remaining androids tonight. He tells her that, instead, she should come down and rent a hotel room, insinuating a sexual relationship with her. She decides to come to San Francisco and meet Rick at the St. Francis Hotel.
The relationship between John Isidore and Pris Stratton evolves and is meant to evoke the blurred lines between what is real and what is unreal. John, being a simple “chickenhead,” represents pure human altruism. He is willing to give up everything he has to help Pris, even when he realizes that she is an android and not a human. Pris begins to open up to John, suggesting that part of her is becoming more human as she gets closer to a true altruistic spirit. Dick is offering the idea that what makes someone a human, or real, is when that person comes into contact with the noble values in life.
Dick makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own genre of science fiction in Chapter 13 as well. Pris describes how “pre-colonial” science fiction novels and stories fetched a high price on Mars. This is meant to be ironic humor as in Dick’s time, science fiction was largely ignored by the larger reading public and Dick was never able to make much money from his writing. Dick suggests that only when the degradation of society that he describes has actually occurred, will people be able to look back on science fiction novels as making profound literary statements about the plight of humanity and the human condition.
The characters of Roy and Irmgaard Baty can be seen as contrasting characters to Rick and Iran Deckard. Roy Baty represents Rick’s doppelganger: he is cold and crude and willing to sacrifice or kill anything that might pose a threat to his own self interest. Irmgaard, like Iran, is able to care and feel more deeply. Thus, she can see the benefit of a close relationship with John Isidore and comes to see his value as a friend.
The android’s predicament on Mars is a further critique of the use of human capital for economic gain. Androids are created with the sole purpose of being servants or slaves to humans in the new Martian colony. Yet, the very fact that androids despise this relationship and seek to escape it at risk to their own existence seems to suggest that the machines have a great deal more empathy than the humans that own them. Androids are even depicted as becoming addicted to drugs as a way to escape the pain and difficulty of their lives. These consumer and capitalist relationships between human and android, Dick suggests, blur the lines between what is real and unreal, human and inhuman.
In a broader sense, the novel can be seen as a look at the results of relationships between those that use and those that are used. This is seen in the relationship between Pris, the Baty’s, and John Isidore. The tables are turned here; John is the human that is now being used by the androids and in proceeding chapters the reader sees how this relationship becomes abusive. This creates a new kind of power dynamic and the androids in fact begin to act much in the same way that their human owners did back on Mars.
Rick’s character transformation continues in Chapter 15. Rick visits the pet store and purchases a very expensive goat. While part of the reasoning for this is surely so that he can impress his neighbors, the reader also senses that Rick has gained a new appreciation for the meaningfulness of life, and so his purchase of the expensive goat is as much about his ability to care for and to support this animal as it is about his selfish needs.
Rick expresses this new empathy to Iran when he tells her that he feels he can no longer kill androids. He tells her that he has now become empathetic towards them and cannot live with himself if he continues in this job. The understanding of the value of all sentient life also gives him an insight into Mercerism. Because he now knows what true empathy is, he can understand why his wife would want to fuse with Mercer and why she insists on going into a deep depression. Such acts are displays of her own empathy - her own ability to be human. The validity of Mercerism is called into question by Mercer himself when he tells Rick that he can offer no salvation. Dick seems to be suggesting that what religion offers is not what most believe believe it is. Mercer does not save people. Instead, he brings people together so that they can understand each other’s humanness.
Mercer’s blessing to go and kill the androids is actually an acknowledgement that Rick has been able to retain his humanness. One of the key questions that Dick’s novel seeks to ask is how can a human try to destroy a murderous android without becoming like the android he seeks to destroy. By finding that he does have the essential spark of empathy, Rick is now allowed to kill the androids and retain his own realness. Yet, the paradox is that the risk still remains that his merciless killing will now take his life.