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He was a conspicuous figure in his indigo robe and monkish hood. People stared at him as though he had some supernatural power. They did not look closely enough to see that he was only an acolyte, and, though many of them were Vorsters themselves, they never managed to understand that the Brotherhood had no truck with the supernatural. Mondschein did not have a high regard for the intelligence of laymen.

He stepped aboard the slidewalk. The city loomed around him, towers of travertine that took on a greasy cast in the dying reddish glow of a March afternoon. New York City had spread up the Hudson like a plague, and skyscrapers were marching across the Adirondacks; Nyack, here, had long since been engulfed by the metropolis. The air was cool. There was a smoky tang in it; probably a fire raging in a forest preserve, thought Mondschein darkly. He saw death on all sides.

His modest apartment was five blocks from the chapel. He lived alone. Acolytes needed a waiver to marry and were forbidden to have transient liaisons. Celibacy did not weigh heavily on Mondschein yet, though he had hoped to shed it when he was transferred to Santa Fe. There was talk of lovely, willing young female acolytes at Santa Fe. Surely not all the breeding experiments were done through artificial insemination, Mondschein hoped.

No matter now. He could forget Santa Fe. His impulsive letter to Supervisor Kirby had smashed everything.

Now he was trapped forever on the lower rungs of the Vorster ladder. In due course they would take him into the Brotherhood, and he would wear a slightly different robe and grow a beard, perhaps, and preside over services, and minister to the needs of his congregation.

Fine. The Brotherhood was the fastest-growing religious movement on Earth, and surely it was a noble work to serve in the cause. But a man without a religious vocation would not be happy presiding over a chapel, and Mondschein had no calling at all. He had sought to fulfill his own ends by enrolling as an acolyte, and now he saw the error of that ambition.

He was caught. Just another Vorster Brother now. There were thousands of chapels all over the world. Membership in the Brotherhood was something like five hundred million today. Not bad in a single generation. The older religions were suffering. The Vorsters had something to offer that the others did not: the comforts of science, the assurance that beyond the spiritual ministry there was another that served the Oneness by probing into the deepest mysteries. A dollar contributed to your local Vorster chapel might help pay for the development of a method to assure immortality, personal immortality. That was the pitch, and it worked well. Oh, there were imitators, lesser cults, some of them rather successful in their small way. There was even a Vorster heresy now, the Harmonists, the peddlers of the Transcendent Harmony, an offshoot of the parent cult. Mondschein had chosen the Vorsters, and he had a lingering loyalty to them, for he had been raised as a worshiper of the Blue Fire. But—

"Sorry. Million pardons."

Someone jostled him on the slidewalk. Mondschein felt a hand slap against his back, dealing him a hard jolt that almost knocked him down. Staggering a bit, he recovered and saw a broad-shouldered man in a simple blue business tunic moving swiftly away. Clumsy idiot, Mondschein thought. There's room for everyone on the walk. What's his hellish hurry?

Mondschein adjusted his robes and his dignity. A soft voice said, "Don't go into your apartment, Mondschein. Just keep moving. There's a quickboat waiting for you at the Tarry town station."

No one was near him. "Who said that?" he demanded tensely.

"Please relax and cooperate. You aren't going to be harmed. This is for your benefit, Mondschein."

He looked around. The nearest person was an elderly woman, fifty feet behind him on the slidewalk, who quickly threw him a simpering smile as though asking for a blessing. Who had spoken? For one wild moment Mondschein thought that he had turned into a telepath, some latent power breaking through in a delayed maturity. But no, it had been a voice, not a thought-message. Mondschein understood. The stumbling man must have planted a two-way Ear on him with that slap on the back. A tiny metallic transponding plaque, perhaps half a dozen molecules thick, some miracle of improbable subminiaturization—Mondschein did not bother to search for it.

He said, "Who are you?"

"Never mind that. Just go to the station and you'll be met."

"I'm in my robes."

"We'll handle that, too," came the calm response.

Mondschein nibbled his hp. He was not supposed to leave the immediate vicinity of his chapel without permission from a superior, but there was no time for that now, and in any event he had no intention of bucking the bureaucracy so soon after his rebuke. He would take his chances.

The slidewalk sped him ahead.

Soon the Tarrytown station drew near. Mondschein's stomach roiled with tension. He could smell the acrid fumes of quickboat fuel. The chill wind cut through his robes, so that his shivering was not entirely from uneasiness. He stepped from the slidewalk and entered the station, a gleaming yellowish-green dome with lambent plastic walls. It was not particularly crowded. The commuters from downtown had not yet begun to arrive, and the outward-bound rush would come later in the day, at the dinner hour.

Figures approached him. The voice coming from the device on his back said, "Don't stare at them, but just follow behind them casually."

Mondschein obeyed. There were three of them, two men and a slim, angular-faced woman. They led him on a sauntering stroll past the chattering newsfax booth, past the bootblack stands, past the row of storage lockers. One of the men, short and square-headed, with thick, stubby yellow hair, slapped his palm against a locker to open it. He drew out a bulky package and tucked it under one arm. As he cut diagonally across the station toward the men's washroom, the voice said to Mondschein, "Wait thirty seconds and follow him."

The acolyte pretended to study the newsfax ticker. He did not feel enthusiastic about his present predicament, but he sensed that it would be useless and possibly harmful to resist. When the thirty seconds were up, he moved toward the washroom. The scanner decided that he was suitably male, and the ADMIT sign flashed. Mondschein entered.

"Third booth," the voice murmured.

The blond man was not in sight. Mondschein entered the booth and found the package from the locker propped against the seat. On an order, he picked it up and opened the clasps. The wrapper fell away. Mondschein found himself holding the green robe of a Harmonist Brother.

The heretics? What in the world—

"Put it on, Mondschein."

"I can't. If I'm seen in it—"

"You won't be. Put it on. We'll guard your own robe until you get back."

He felt like a puppet. He shrugged out of his robe, put it on a hook, and donned the unfamiliar uniform. It fitted well. There was something clipped to the inner surface: a thermoplastic mask, Mondschein realized. He was grateful for that. Unfolding it, he pressed it to his face and held it there until it took hold. The mask would disguise his features just enough so that he need not fear recognition.

Carefully Mondschein put his own robe within the wrapper and sealed it.

"Leave it on the seat," he was told.

"I don't dare. If it's lost, how will I ever explain?"

"It will not be lost, Mondschein. Hurry now. The quickboat's about to leave."

Unhappily, Mondschein stepped from the booth. He viewed himself in the mirror. His face, normally plump, now looked gross: bulging cheeks, stubbly jowls, moist and thickened lips. Unnatural dark circles rimmed his eyes as though he had caroused for a week. The green robe was strange, too. Wearing the outfit of heresy made him feel closer to his own organization than ever before.

The slim woman came forward as he emerged into the waiting room. Her cheekbones were like hatchet blades, and her eyelids had been surgically replaced by shutters, of fine platinum foil. It was an outmoded fashion of the previous generation; Mondschein could remember his mother coming from the cosmetic surgeon's office with her face transformed into a grotesque mask. No one did that any more. This woman had to be at least forty, Mondschein thought, though she looked much younger.

"Eternal harmony, Brother," she said huskily.

Mondschein fumbled for the proper Harmonist response. Improvising, he said, "May the Oneness smile upon you."

"I'm grateful for your blessing. Your ticket's in order, Brother. Will you come with me?"

She was his guide, he realized. He had shed the Ear with his own robe. Queasily, he hoped he would get to see that garment again before long. He followed the slim woman to the loading platform. They might be taking him anywhere—Chicago, Honolulu, Montreal—

The quickboat sparkled in the floodlit station, graceful, elegant, its skin a burnished bluish-green. As they filed aboard, Mondschein asked the woman, "Where are we going?"

"Rome," she said.

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