As the bounty hunter nears their apartment, Irmgard Baty pulls John away from his empathy box and tells him that he must do anything he can to not let the bounty hunter inside. John, in a daze, doesn’t listen and exits the apartment, going outside to a small patch of weeds where he releases the spider that Mercer had given to him. A flashlight beam lights up in his face and Rick Deckard asks him why he put down a live creature like that. John tells him that he didn’t want its legs to be cut off by the women in his apartment and this tips Rick off to the fact that these women are androids. Rick questions John and realizes he’s a chickenhead, but John won’t tell him which apartment is his because he swore to protect the three andys. John tells him that if he kills them then he will be outside of Mercerism forever.
Rick goes into the conapt building to look for the androids himself. He uses listening gear to listen for small noises in the building and he thinks that he detects the location of the androids. He begins to move towards their location when a man comes out of the shadows of the hallway. The man tells him that he is Mercer and that he has been living in this apartment building “because of Mr. Isidore.” Rick asks if he is now outside of Mercerism, and Mercer tells him that what he is doing “has to be done.” He tells him that “the hard one” is below him and coming up the stairs in a sneak attack.
Rick turns around to see a woman coming towards him. He sees Rachael Rosen in front of him, coming at him with her arms open. He wonders why she decided to come to him, but then realizes at the last second that it is not Rachael but is, instead, an android that looks exactly like her. They are both Rachael Rosens, he thinks, “the prototype, used by the manufacturer to protect the others.” Rick fires his laser tube at the Pris Stratton/Rachael Rosen android and kills her.
Rick begins to move through the apartment building again and his detective gear picks up cephalic activity letting him know that he has found the androids apartment. He mimics John Isidore’s voice, telling the androids inside that they should let him in. They are tricked and open the door for him. Rick enters and tells them that its too late and that he does not have to give them an empathy test because they have already fired on him and initiated contact. Roy Baty fires a laser shot, but misses, and Rick tells them that now that they have fired on him he does not have to administer the Voigt-Kampf test.
Irmgard Baty is hiding a laser tube in order to ambush Rick, and Rick sees it. He fires on Irmgard and kills her instantly. Roy Baty attempts to run to another room, but cries out when he hears Irmgard being shot. “Okay, you loved her,” Rick says. “And I loved Rachael. And the special loved the other Rachael.” He shoots Roy Baty and kills him as well. After all are dead John Isidore walks into his apartment. Rick finds a phone and puts in a call to Harry Bryant.
Harry tells Rick that he will send a clean up crew to pick up the dead android bodies. John Isidore is standing in the apartment and Rick tells him to leave. He tells him that he should find a new apartment and John tells Rick that he wants to move closer into the city where there are more people. Rick tells him that there is an empty apartment in his building, but John says he doesn’t want to live anywhere near him. Rick reflects on his job and how “I am required to do wrong.” He thinks that maybe once he gets home he will feel better.
As he lands on the roof of his apartment building, Iran meets him with a look of shock on her face. She tells him that their goat has died. Rick thinks that maybe it got sick, but Iran tells him that a woman--”A small young-looking girl with dark hair and large black eyes”--had come up to the roof and pushed the goat off the roof of the apartment building. Iran can not understand who would do such a thing to a living creature, but Rick knows it is Rachael and that she did it because of “An android reason.”
Rick gets into his hovercar and flies off. He tells Iran that he will be alright, but he knows that he is lieaving to die. He flies towards the north where “no living thing would go. Not unless it felt that the end had come.”
When Rick reaches the Northern California border with Oregon, he lands his hover car in a desolate piece of land. He attempts to call Dave Holden from his car, but cannot reach him because Dave’s doctor has said he cannot receive any calls. Rick has the feeling that just talking with Dave will help bring him some peace, but he is unable to reach him. Rick feels that what he has done has made him “unnatural.”
Rick exits his hover car into the cold dusty wind. In front of him is a hill and he slowly begins to climb it. Soon, the cold air turns into heat and Rick has the sensation that a long period of time has passed as he’s been climbing. Rick thinks to himself that “I’ve been defeated in some obscure way,” but he cannot place exactly how. He thinks of how he might die out here, falling off a cliff with no one to see.
Suddenly, a rock flies through the air and hits him on the cheek. He pauses, but continues on his climb. As he climbs the hill he thinks he sees Mercer at the top, but he realizes that it’s his shadow and that he must get down off the hill. He quickly descends, sometimes running and sometimes falling, until he reaches his hover car again. He is trembling, but cannot understand at first why this experience of climbing the hill was different from the other Mercer experiences that he had had while connected with the empathy box. It suddenly occurs to him that the experiences was different because he “did it alone.”
He tries to call Inspector Bryant but cannot reach him either. Instead, he reaches Ann Marsten, Bryant’s assistant, and begins to talk with her. Marsten tells him that he is now considered the best bounty hunter the department has ever had and that Inspector Bryant is recommending him for a citation. She also tells him that his wife had called and was worried about him. Rick begins tiredly talking in a way that Ann Marsten doesn’t understand. He tells her that “Life thieves” took his goat from him and that he is no longer with the department. Ms. Marsten comments on the cut on his cheek and tells him that he looks just like Wilbur Mercer. He tells her that he is Wilbur Mercer; that he’s “permanently fused with him” and that he cannot unfuse. He says that when you use the empathy box it feels as though you’ve fused with Mercer, but that this experience was different because he felt as though he was Mercer. Ms. Marsten tells him that everyone is saying Mercer is fake, but he tells her that he is real unless “reality is a fake.”
He hangs up with Ms. Marsten and thinks about how he should have killed Rachael last night when he had the chance. Then many of these things would not have happened. He thinks that she was correct about one thing, that his experience with her did change him. “But not in the way you predicted.” He begins to feel that if he is actually Mercer then he has become immortal. Rick picks up the phone to call his wife, but suddenly freezes.
Rick freezes when he sees an animal sitting on the ground not far from his hover car. He can’t believe his eyes at first. It is a toad. All toads had become extinct after the war. The toad is also one of the animals that was most sacred to Mercer, which makes it very valuable. Rick thinks of what it is like for people that discover previously extinct species: they receive a medal from the U.N. and a large sum of money. Rick goes to pick up the toad and carefully places it in a cardboard box. He thinks to himself that he is still seeing through the eyes of Mercer and he will probably never stop.
Rick flies back to San Francisco. In their apartment, Iran is worried about Rick and debating which setting to push on the Penfield mood organ in order to make herself feel better. When Rick enters the apartment she sees that he has a cut on her face and that he is covered in dust, but she also notices that his eyes are bright and shining “like those of a little boy...as if he has been playing and now it’s time to give up and come home.”
Iran makes Rick a cup of coffee and they sit down at the table. Rick opens the box and shows Iran the toad. She is shocked at first and picks it up to handle it. She begins to poke and prod the toad and discovers a small panel that opens on the toad’s belly. It is an electric frog. Rick is at first disappointed, but then recovers and decides that he is glad to know that the toad is electric and decides to like it anyway. He thinks that the spider Mercer gave to the Isidore was probably electric too, but that this was alright because “electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are.”
Rick looks at Iran and asks if what he has done today was wrong. He tells her that she was right when she told him that he was just a “crude cop” with “crude cop hands.” She tells him that she doesn’t care anymore and that she is just glad that he is home. She tells him that it is the “curse” upon those that are left on the earth that sometimes they have to do something wrong in order for something to be right. This is what happened to Mercer. Now, all he can do is “move along with life, going where it goes, to death.”
Rick gets up and goes to bed, falling asleep quickly. After watching him sleep, Iran gets up and dials an electric animal accessories store. She orders a batch of electric flies in order to feed the toad and agrees to let the shop do regular maintenance on the animal. She tells the person on the phone that she wants the toad to “work perfectly” because “My husband is devoted to it.”
Dick’s novel plays with the idea of reality through the character of Mercer. The empathy box that John and the other characters go to is an example of the dichotomy between real and unreal. The box is portrayed as a kind of virtual reality, yet it also offers real experiences, such as having a rock thrown at you by The Killers, or when Mercer hands John Isidore a real spider. Such things are not just happening in the empathy box but have real percussions in the “real” world as well.
John Isidore’s release of the spider into a willowed patch of weeds represents the force and renewal of life amidst the decay of the world. The spider - a creature thought to be extinct - enters a dead environment of weeds. Yet, the resilience of the spider offers a glimpse of hope to both the reader and to John Isidore. The reader is left to wonder about the renewal of an earth that humanity had attempted to destroy. For John, the spider’s existence proves that the ideals of Mercerism are true - that life continues in community and empathy - even if the religion itself has turned out to be false.
Mercer’s appearance to Rick in the hallway again plays with the idea of reality/unreality. The reader is not sure if Mercer is a real spirit or simply a manifestation of Rick’s consciousness; something he has created for himself in order to keep himself going. This message is further confused by Mercer’s conflicting messages. On the one hand, Rick is told that he will forever be outside of Mercerism if he kills these androids because he will lose his sense of empathy and become like the bounty hunter Resch. On the other hand, Mercer implores him to continue in his work. The death cries of Roy Baty, screaming at his wife’s death, is the final confirmation for Rick that androids’ lives are just as emotionally tied up in the world as his own.
But the ambiguity of android empathy is again called into question in Rachael’s murder of Rick’s goat. The act is done with a surprising level of malice. Rachael, upset that she was unable to do her job in stopping Rick from killing the remaining Nexus-6’s, responds in with a vicious act of retribution. By killing the goat, Rachael has assured that Rick will not be able to regain his empathy and that both he and Iran will be left in financial ruin.
But Rick’s path does not end with his murdered goat. He goes to the wasteland of Northern California and there has a kind of spiritual experience. He experiences the fusion with Mercer that normally only occurs when one is staring into an empathy box. But Rick is physically participating in the fusion, thereby experiencing a much greater fusion than he would if he were only in the empathy box. Mercer, it seems, is keeping his promise to Rick. Mercer had encouraged Rick to kill the androids, but now he again gives Rick a form of salvation. Rick realizes that Mercerism is not just a false religion meant to pacify people into subservience. It is not the kind of religion advertised by Buster Friendly. Instead, Mercerism is a way that people are able to join in a collective suffering, through the figure of Mercer. This suffering - and the depression and sadness that accompanies it - does not impede humanity’s progress but, instead, supports it. The collective is able to overcome individual selfishness.
This tension between the collective and the individual leads some to view Electric Sheep in Marxist terms. Dick’s novel proposes that only through the suffering of all people is humanity able to overcome the obstacles and challenges that suppress the best in humanity. Rick’s consumer selfishness on the one hand, and the Rosen Association’s manipulation of power in order to turn profit on the other, are examples of the individualism and selfishness that only leads to destruction.
The mechanical toad at the end of the novel again leaves the reader with some ambiguity about Rick’s state of being. When he first sees the toad, his mind immediately returns to the selfish thoughts that he had at the beginning of the book. He desires the money and fame that finding the toad will bring him. Yet, his realization when he finds out the toad is mechanical that all things, even fake things, have their own “lives” seems to be an admission that his experiences of that day have changed the way he understands empathy forever. Dick never allows Rick Deckard to be the hero of the novel. Instead, Dick shows us how his flaws will always be a part of his character even when that character has undergone significant transformation.
It is Iran that closes the novel. Though she plays only a small role in the book, Iran becomes the symbol for the capacity of human empathy. She is one of the only developed characters to stay consistent in her empathetic responses. She begins the novel by describing her self-induced depressions over the state of the world and she ends the novel by making arrangements to care for a false animal and for her husband. It is Iran’s character, and her compassion, that offers the ray of hope in an otherwise dark fictional world.