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The Vorster hall was in a shabby, almost intolerably seedy old building in central Manhattan, practically within spitting distance of the U.N. buildings. Kirby felt queasy about entering it; he had never really conquered his uneasiness about slumming, even now when most of the world was one vast teeming slum. But Nat Weiner had commanded it, and so it must be. Kirby had brought him here because it was the only Vorster place he had visited before, and so he didn't feel too sharply out of place among the worshipers.

The sign over the door said in glowing but splotchy letters:






Weiner snickered at the sign. "Look at that! Heal your hearts! How's your heart, Kirby?"

"Punctured in several places. Shall we go in?"

"You bet we shall," Weiner said.

The Martian was sloshingly drunk. He held his liquor well, Kirby had to admit. Through the long evening Kirby had not even tried to match the colonial envoy drink for drink, and yet he felt hazy and overheated. The tip of his nose prickled. He yearned to shake Weiner off and crawl back into the Nothing Chamber to get all this poison out of his system.

But Weiner wanted to kick over the traces, and it was hard to blame him for that. Mars was a rough place, where there was no time for self-indulgence. Terraforming a planet took a maximum effort. The job was nearly done now, after two generations of toil, and the air of Mars was sweet and clean, but no one was relaxing up there yet. Weiner was here to negotiate a trade agreement, but it was also his first chance to escape from the rigors of Martian life. The Sparta of space, they called it. And here he was in Athens.

They entered the Vorster hall.

It was long and narrow, an oblong box of a room. A dozen rows of unpainted wooden benches ran from wall to wall, with a narrow aisle down one side. At the rear was the altar, glowing with the inevitable blue radiance. Behind it stood a tall, skeleton-thin man, bald, bearded.

"Is that the priest?" Weiner whispered harshly.

"I don't think they're called priests," said Kirby. "But he's in charge."

"Do we take communion?"

"Let's just watch," Kirby suggested.

"Look at all these damned maniacs," the Martian said.

"This is a very popular religious movement."

"I don't get it."

"Watch. Listen."

"Down on their knees—groveling to that half-pint reactor—"

Heads were turning in their direction. Kirby sighed. He had no love for the Vorsters or their religion himself, but he was embarrassed at this boisterous desecration of their shrine. Most undiplomatically, he took Weiner's arm, guided the Martian into the nearest pew, and pulled him down into a kneeling position. Kirby knelt beside him. The Martian gave him an ugly glance. Colonists didn't like their bodies handled by strangers. A Venusian might have slashed at Kirby with his dagger for something like that. But, then, a Venusian wouldn't be here on Earth at all, let alone cutting capers in a Vorster hall.

Sullenly, Weiner grabbed the rail and leaned forward to watch the service. Kirby squinted through the near darkness at the man behind the altar.

The reactor was on and glowing—a cube of cobalt-60, shielded by water, the dangerous radiations gobbled up before they could sear through flesh. In the darkness Kirby saw a faint blue glow, rising slowly in brightness, growing more intense. Now the lattice of the tiny reactor was masked in whitish-blue light, and around it swirled a weird greenish-blue glow that seemed almost purple at its core. It was the Blue Fire, the eerie cold light of the Cerenkov radiation, spreading outward to envelop the entire room.

It was nothing mystical, Kirby knew. Electrons were surging through that tank of water, moving at a velocity greater than light in that medium, and as they moved they hurled forth a stream of photons. There were neat equations to explain the source of the Blue Fire. Give the Vorsters credit: they didn't say it was anything supernatural. But it made a useful symbolic instrument, a focus for religious emotions, more colorful than a crucifix, more dramatic than the Tables of the Law.

The Vorster up front said quietly, "There is a Oneness from which all life stems. The infinite variety of the universe we owe to the motion of the electrons. Atoms meet; their particles entwine. Electrons leap from orbit to orbit, and chemical changes are worked."

"Listen to the pious bastard," Weiner snorted. "A chemistry lecture, yet!"

Kirby bit his lip in anguish. A girl in the pew just in front of theirs turned around and said in a low, urgent voice, "Please. Please—just listen."

She was such a numbing sight that even Weiner was struck dumb for once. The Martian gasped in shock. Kirby, who had seen surgically altered women before, scarcely reacted at all. Iridescent cups covered the openings where her ears had been. An opal was mounted in the bone of her forehead. Her eyelids were of gleaming foil. The surgeons had done things to her nostrils, to her lips. Perhaps she had been in some terrible accident. More likely she had had herself maimed for cosmetic purposes. Madness. Madness.

The Vorster said, "The energy of the sun—the green life surging in plants—the bursting wonder of growth—for this we thank the electron. The enzymes of our body—the sparking synapses of our brains—the beating of our hearts—for this we thank the electron. Fuel and food, light and heat, warmth and nourishment, everything and all, rising from the Oneness, rising from the Immanent Radiance—"

It was a litany, Kirby realized. All around him people were swaying in rhythm with the half-chanted words, were nodding, even weeping. The Blue Fire swelled and reached to the sagging ceiling. The man at the altar raised his long, spidery arms in a kind of benediction.

"Come forward," he cried. "Come kneel and join in praise! Lock arms, bow heads, give thanks for the underlying unity of all things!"

The Vorsters began to shamble toward the altar. It woke memories of an Episcopalian childhood for Kirby: going forward to take communion, the wafer on the tongue, the quick sip of wine, the smell of incense, the rustle of priestly robes. He hadn't been to a service in twenty-five years. It was a long way from the vaulted magnificence of the cathedral to the dilapidated ugliness of this improvised shrine, but for a moment Kirby felt a flicker of religious feeling, felt just the faintest urge to move foward with the others and kneel before the glowing reactor.

The thought stunned and shocked him.

How had it stolen upon him? This was no religion. This was cultism, a wildfire movement, the latest fad, here today, gone tomorrow. Ten million converts overnight? What of it? Tomorrow or the next day would come the newest prophet, exhorting the faithful to plunge their, hands into a scintillation counter's sparkling bath, and the* Vorster halls would be deserted. This was no Rock. This was quicksand.

And yet there had been that momentary pull—

Kirby tightened his lips. It was the strain, he thought, of shepherding this wild Martian around all evening. He didn't give a damn for the supernal Oneness. The underlying unity of all things meant nothing to him. This was a place for the tired, the neurotic, the novelty-hungry, for the kind of person that would cheerfully pay good money to have her ears cut off and her nostrils slit. It was a measure of his own desperation that he had been almost ready to join the communicants at the altar.

He relaxed.

And in the same moment Nat Weiner burst to his feet and went careening down the aisle.

"Save me!" the Martian cried. "Heal my goddam soul! Show me the Oneness!"

"Kneel with us, Brother," the Vorster leader said smoothly.

"I'm a sinner!" Weiner howled. "I'm full of booze and corruption! I got to be saved! I embrace the electron! I yield!"

Kirby hurried after him down the aisle. Was Weiner serious? The Martians were notorious for their resistance to any and all religious movements, including the established and legitimate ones. Had he somehow succumbed to that hellish blue glow?

"Take the hands of your brethren," the leader murmured. "Bow your head and let the glow enfold you."

Weiner looked to his left. The girl with the surgical alterations knelt beside him. She held out her hand. Four fingers of flesh, one of some turquoise-hued metal.

"It's a monster!" Weiner shrieked. "Take it away! I won't let you cut me up!"

"Be calm, Brother—"

"You're a bunch of phonies! Phonies! Phonies! Phonies! Nothing but a pack of—"

Kirby got to him. He dug his fingertips into the ridged muscles of Weiner's back in a way that the Martian was likely to notice, drunk as he was.

In a low, intense voice Kirby said, "Let's go, Nat. We're getting out of here."

"Take your stinking hands off me, Earther!"

"Nat, please—this is a house of worship—"

"This is a bughouse! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy! Look at them! Down on their knees like stinking maniacs!" Weiner struggled to his feet. His booming voice seemed to batter at the walls. "I'm a free man from Mars! I dug in the desert with these hands! I watched the oceans fill! What did any of you do? You cut your eyelids off and wallowed in muck! And you—you fake priest, you take their money and love it!"

The Martian grabbed the altar rail and vaulted over it, coming perilously close to the glowing reactor. He clawed at the towering, bearded Vorster.

Calmly the cultist reached out and slipped one long arm through the pinwheeling chaos of Weiner's threshing limbs. He touched his fingertips to the Martian's throat for a fraction of a second.

Weiner fell like a dead man.

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