And then the hallucination, if it was that, happened. He saw the personnel manager in a new light. The man was dead.
He saw, through the man’s skin, his skeleton. It had been wired together, the bones connected with fine copper wire. The organs, which had withered away, were replaced by artificial components, kidney, heart, lungs—everything was made of plastic and stainless steel, all working in unison but entirely without authentic life. The man’s voice issued from a tape, through an amplifier and speaker system.
Possibly at some time in the past the man had been real and alive, but that was over, and the stealthy replacement had taken place, inch by inch, progressing insidiously from one organ to the next, and the entire structure was there to deceive others. To deceive him, Jack Bohlen, in fact. He was alone in this office; there was no personnel manager. No one spoke to him, and when he himself talked, no one heard; it was entirely a lifeless, mechanical room in which he stood.
He was not sure what to do; he tried not to stare too hard at the manlike structure before him. He tried to talk calmly, naturally, about his job and even his personal problems. The structure was probing; it wanted to learn something from him. Naturally, he told it as little as possible. And all the time, as he gazed down at the carpet, he saw its pipes and valves and working parts functioning away; he could not keep from seeing.
All he wanted to do was get away as soon as possible. He began to sweat; he was dripping with sweat and trembling, and his heart pounded louder and louder.
“Bohlen,” the structure said, “are you sick?”
“Yes,” he said. “Can I go back down to my bench now?” He turned and started toward the door.
“Just a moment,” the structure said from behind him.
That was when panic overtook him, and he ran; he pulled the door open and ran out into the hall.
An hour or so later he found himself wandering along an unfamiliar street in Burlingame. He did not remember the intervening time and he did not know how he had gotten where he was. His legs ached. Evidently he had walked, mile after mile.
His head was much clearer. I’m schizophrenic, he said to himself. I know it. Everyone knows the Symptoms; it’s catatonic excitement with paranoid coloring: the mental health people drill it into us, even into the school kids. I’m another one of those. That was what the personnel manager was probing.
I need medical help.
From Philip K. Dick’s 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip, which I’m really digging.