The Crystal Crypt by Philip K. Dick


This is another intriguing little short story from the mind of the man who brought you “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, which some may know better as the sci-fi classic movie “Bladerunner”.

The Crystal Crypt’s opening exposition is done through dialogue. We begin a ship leaving Mars, bound for Earth, or “Terra”. We learn from the conversation of the passengers on board that this is the last ship of many that have recently departed in an exodus for Earth. Tensions are rising between Earth and Mars, and some passengers talk of a potential war. The ship is being ordered to land at a Martian checkpoint for inspection. The ship’s pilot complies.

When the Martian officials (Leiter) board the ship, they announce they are looking for three saboteurs. One by one the Leiter asks the passengers if they know anything about the sabotage – the complete annihilation of an entire Martian city. As the passengers give their answers, a “truth box” – sort of a handheld lie detector – vocally reports as to whether or not the answer given is truthful.

One by one, the passengers pass the test in turn, and the Leiter narrows it down to five passengers. He steps up the intensity of the interrogation and the next two pass, leaving just three passengers that have not yet been interrogated. The Leiter concludes that these last three are the saboteurs – a family of three, including a twelve year old boy.

The Leiter asks each one in turn what they know about the sabotage, and all three reply that they know nothing about it. Each time, the truth box responds in the affirmative, that they are telling the truth.

After a few tense moments, the Leiter decides to allow the ship to proceed, but not without the warning that the saboteurs would be caught. The passengers, shaken by their experience, remain silent for some time until well into their journey, when some of the passengers relax enough to engage in small talk.

We have now come to center around two characters, a man by the name of Bob Thacher and a woman named Mara Gordon. As they socialize, they briefly meet a third person named Ralf Erickson, and a fourth person named Jan joins them. Ralf, Mara and Jan know each other. Bob is the odd man out.

Simple curiosity forces Bob to inquire about the case that Ralf is carrying. Bob deduces that Ralf is a salesman, and that must be his sample case. Ralf produces a series of small office supplies from the case, but Bob is not convinced. He doesn’t think it’s likely that Ralf finds a lot of demand for simple office supplies on Mars, so he asserts that these three are the saboteurs the Leiter was looking for. He excitedly asks how they dodged the lie detector. They don’t deny Bob’s assertion of their identity, nor do they answer his question about the lie detector.

Bob presses on with questions about the sabotage, and with a long trip to Earth ahead of them, Ralf Erickson indulges his queries with a story of how the three of them – Mara, Ralf and Jan – came to be where they are.

I will leave it to the reader to discover Mara, Jan and Ralf’s story, and how they managed to get past the Leiter’s lie detector screening.

Originally published in 1954 in the January edition of Planet Stories, the story is considered to be in the Public Domain. You can download the book for free at Feedbooks. You can hear it read by Gregg Margarite at Librivox. It takes just over half an hour to read, or the audio version takes just over 40 minutes to listen to.

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