Shell Game

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galaxy Science Fiction Sep 1954

The leaders of a settlement on Betelgeuse II believe they are a superior mutant race who crashed on that planet during a war with Terra which is now repeatedly trying to sabotage their camp. 

When they finally raise their damaged spacecraft they learn the truth that they were actually paranoid mental patients on a ship en route to a mental hospital. Or at least it seems that way. Several of the leaders question whether the attacks by Terra are truly collective hallucinations. They devise a way to test their sanity which exposes four of them as Terran spies. The rest, now convinced they aren’t crazy, commit to defeating Terra. 

“Shell Game” is a prototype of sorts for Dick’s later novel The Clans of the Alphane Moon which takes this idea of a group of isolated mental patients in a different direction. 

Cast of characters

  • O’Keefe, Fisher, Portbane, Horstokowski, Daniels, Silberman, Lanoir, Tate, Domgraf-Schwach – the nine leaders of the camp on Betelgeuse II