John Isidore is now alone in his apartment—Pris Stratton has just left. He goes to his hovercar and drives to work, where he spends the day delivering animals. He goes to a so-called pet hospital, which is really designed to care for electric animals. John listens to the “moans” of sick animals as he drives them to the hospital—in reality, these are just electronic sounds designed to resemble cries of pain. John thinks that he’s been given this job because of his low IQ. And yet he’s sympathetic to the sounds of the fake animals, in a way that his boss, Hannibal Sloat, is not.
John’s low IQ is both a problem and an asset in this world. On one hand, he’s incapable of leaving the planet, meaning that he’s going to die of radiation poisoning before too long. And yet John’s lack of intelligence also seems to give him a higher emotional intelligence—he still responds to the emotional cues of the electric animals, even though they’re technically fake. This further suggests that the rest of John’s society has lost all real empathy, and instead is just clinging to a version of empathy that can be bought and sold.
As he goes through his day, John listens to a radio show hosted by Buster Friendly, a famous and ubiquitous media personality. Friendly satirizes Mercerism on his show, and he plans to reveal an “exposé” of the religion soon. John is hurt by Friendly’s jokes about Mercerism. He wonders if Friendly might be competing with Mercer for control of people’s minds.
John can’t see the forest for all the trees. He recognizes that TV is a crass medium, on which different personalities compete for attention, and yet he refuses to understand that Wilbur Mercer is just another one of those personalities—a man who tries to control millions of followers by giving them fixed emotional cues.
John crosses paths with his boss, Hannibal Sloat. He tells Hannibal his theory about Friendly competing with Mercer for psychic control of the population. Hannibal snorts and says that the two men are essentially the same. John insists that Mercer is a great man: Mercer believes that life is cyclical, even for animals. Hannibal ignores John and calls him a “chickenhead.” John, hurt, tells Hannibal that they’re not so different: they’ve both been harmed, physically and mentally, by the dust and radiation in the atmosphere.
Even if Hannibal is right, strictly speaking, his knowledge doesn’t seem to give him much happiness. This makes us wonder if there isn’t something admirable in john’s naïve trust for Wilbur Mercer. Even if Mercer himself is a fraud, perhaps there’s something worth imitating in Mercerism’s emphasis on empathy.
John goes to meet with Mrs. Pilsen, the woman whose fake cat got sick, and explains that the cat is about to “die.” Mrs. Pilsen frets that her husband will be angry with her if he finds out about their cat’s pain. She asks if it’s possible to replace the cat with another electronic cat. John and his colleague tell Mrs. Pilsen that they can have a replacement cat ready in ten days.
John’s customers don’t seem different from many middle- and upper-class Americans in the present—customers fret over their possessions and products, and how they will be perceived by others based on what they own.