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"Are you all right now?" Kirby asked, dry-throated.

Weiner stirred. "Where's that girl?"

"The one with the surgery?"

"No," he rasped. "The esper. I want her near me again."

Kirby glanced at the slender, blue-haired girl. She nodded tensely and took Weiner's hand. The Martian's face was bright with sweat, and his eyes were still wild. He lay back, head propped on pillows, cheeks hollow.

They were in a sniffer palace across the street from the Vorster hall. Kirby had had to carry the Martian out of the place himself, slung across his shoulders; the Vorsters did not let robots in. The sniffer palace seemed as good a place as any to take him.

The esper girl had come over to them as Kirby staggered into the place. She was a Vorster, too—the blue hair was the tip-off—but apparently she had finished her worship for the day and was topping things off with a quick inhalation. With instant sympathy she had bent to peer at Weiner's flushed, sweat-flecked face. She had asked Kirby if his friend had had a stroke.

"I'm not sure what happened to him," Kirby said. "He was drunk and began to make trouble in the Vorster place. The leader of the service touched his throat."

The girl smiled. She was waif-like, fragile, no more than eighteen or nineteen. Cursed with talent. She closed her eyes, took Weiner's hand, clutched the thick wrist until the Martian revived. Kirby did not know what she had done. All this was mystery to him.

Now, strength flowing back into him visibly from moment to moment, Weiner tried to sit up. He seized the girl's hand and held it. She did not attempt to break free.

He said, "What did they hit me with?"

"It was a momentary alteration of your charge," the girl told him. "He turned off your heart and brain for a thousandth of a second. There will be no permanent damage."

"How'd he do it? He just touched me with his fingers."

"There is a technique. But you'll be all right."

Weiner eyed the girl. "You an esper? You reading my mind right now?"

"I'm an esper, but I don't read minds. I'm just an empath. You're all churned up with hatred. Why don't you go back across the street? Ask him to forgive you. I know he will. Let him teach you. Have you read Vorst's book?"

"Why don't you just go to hell?" Weiner said casually. "No, don't. You're too cute. We got some cute espers on Mars, too. You want some fun tonight? My name's Nat Weiner, and this is my friend, Ron Kirby. Reynolds Kirby. He's a stuffed shirt, but we can give him the slip." The Martian's grip on the slender arm grew tighter. "What do you say?"

The girl didn't say anything. She simply frowned, and Weiner made a strange face and released her arm. Kirby, watching, had to repress a grin. Weiner was running into trouble all over the place. This was a complicated world.

"Go across the street," the girl whispered. "They'll help you there."

She turned without waiting for a reply and faded into the dimness. Weiner passed a hand over his forehead as though brushing cobwebs from his brain. He struggled to his feet, ignoring Kirby's proffered arm.

"What kind of place is this?" he asked.

"A sniffer palace."

"Will they preach to me here?"

"They'll just fog your brain a little," said Kirby. "Want f to try?"

"Sure. I told you I wanted to try everything. I don't get a chance to come to Earth every day."

Weiner grinned, but it was a somber grin. He didn't seem to have the bounce he had had an hour ago. Of course, getting knocked out by the Vorster had sobered him some. He was still game, though, ready to soak up all the sins this wicked planet had to offer.

Kirby wondered whether he was making as big a mess of this assignment as it seemed. There was no way of I knowing—not yet. Later, of course, Weiner might well protest the handling he had received, and Kirby might find himself abruptly transferred to less sensitive duties. That was not a pleasant thought. He regarded his career as an important matter, perhaps the only important matter in his life. He did not want to wreck it in a night.

They moved toward the sniffer booths.

"Tell me," Weiner said. "Do those people really believe - all that crap about the electron?"

"I really don't know. I haven't made a study of it, Nat."

"You've watched the movement appear. How many members does it have now?"

"A couple of million, I guess."

"That's plenty. We have only seven million people on all of Mars. If you've got this many joining this nutty f cult—"

"There are lots of new religious sects on Earth today," Kirby said. "It's an apocalyptic time. People are hungry for reassurance. They feel the Earth's being left behind by the stream of events. So they look for a unity, for some way out of all the confusion and fragmentation."

"Let them come to Mars if they want a unity. We got work for everybody, and no time to stew about the allness of it all." Weiner guffawed. "The hell with it. Tell me about this sniffer stuff."

"Opium's out of fashion. We inhale the more exotic mercaptans. The hallucinations are said to be entertaining."

"Said to be? Don't you know? Kirby, don't you have firsthand information about anything? You aren't even I alive. You're just a zombi. A man needs some vices, Kirby."

The U.N. man thought of the Nothing Chamber waiting for him in the lofty tower on balmy Tortola. His face was a stony mask. He said, "Some of us are too busy for vices. But this visit of yours is likely to be a great education for me, Nat. Have a sniff."

A robot rolled up to them. Kirby clapped his right thumb against the lambent yellow plate set in the robot's chest. The light brightened as Kirby's print-pattern was recorded.

"We'll bill your Central," the robot said. Its voice was absurdly deep: pitch troubles on the master tape, Kirby suspected. When the metal creature rolled away, it was listing a bit to starboard. Rusty in the gut, he figured. An even chance that he wouldn't get billed. He picked up a sniffer mask and handed it to Weiner, who sprawled out comfortably on the couch along the wall of the booth. Weiner donned the mask. Kirby took another and slipped it over his nose and mouth. He closed his eyes and settled into the webfoam cradle near the booth's entrance. A moment passed; then he tasted the gas creeping into his nasal passages. It was a revolting sour-sweet smell, a sulfuric smell.

Kirby waited for the hallucination.

There were people who spent hours each day in these i booths, he knew. The government kept raising the tax to discourage the sniffers, but they came anyway, even at ten, twenty, thirty dollars a sniff. The gas itself wasn't addictive, not in the metabolic way that heroin got to you. It was more of a psychological addiction, something you could break if you really tried, but which nobody cared to try to break: like the sex addiction, like mild alcoholism. For some it was a kind of religion. Everyone to his own, creed; this was a crowded world, harboring many beliefs.

A girl made of diamonds and emeralds was walking through Kirby's brain.

The surgeons had cut away every scrap of living flesh on her body. Her eyeballs had the cold glitter of precious gems; her breasts were globes of white onyx tipped with ruby; her lips were slabs of alabaster; her hair was fashioned from strings of yellow gold. Blue fire flickered around her, Vorster fire, crackling strangely.

She said, "You're tired, Ron. You need to get away from yourself."

"I know. I'm using the Nothing Chamber every other day now. I'm fighting off a crackup."

"You're too rigid, that's your trouble. Why don't you visit my surgeon? Have yourself changed. Get rid of all that stupid meat. For this I say, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."

"No," Kirby muttered. "It isn't so. All I need is some rest. A good swim, sunshine, decent amount of sleep. But they dumped that mad Martian on me."

The hallucination laughed shrilly, rippled her arms, performed a sinuous convolution. They had sliced away fingers and replaced them with spikes of ivory. Her fingernails were of polished copper. The mischievous tongue that flicked out from between the alabaster lips was a serpent of gaudy flexiplast. "Behold," she crooned voluptuously, "I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."

"In a moment," Kirby said. "In the twinkling of an eye. The trumpet shall sound."

"And the dead shall be raised incorruptible. Do it, Ron. You'll look so much handsomer. Maybe you can hold the next marriage together a little better, too. You miss her—admit it. You ought to see what she looks like now. Full fathom five thy loved one lies. But she's happy. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

"I'm a human being," Kirby protested. "I'm not going to turn myself into a walking museum piece like you. Or like her, for that matter. Even if it's becoming fashionable for men to have it done."

The blue glow began to pulse and throb around the vision in his brain. "You need something, though, Ron. The Nothing Chamber isn't the answer. It's—nothing. Affiliate yourself. Belong. Work isn't the answer, either. Join. Join. You won't carve yourself? All right, become a Vorster, then. Surrender to the Oneness. Let death be swallowed up in victory."

"Can't I just remain myself?" Kirby cried.

"What you are isn't enough. Not now. Not any more. These are hard times. A troubled world. The Martians make fun of us. The Venusians despise us. We need new organization, new strength. The sting of death is in sin, and the strength of sin is the law. Grave, where is thy victory?"

A riotous swirl of colors danced through Kirby's mind. The surgically altered woman pirouetted, leaped and bobbed, flaunted the jewel-bedecked flamboyance of herself in his face. Kirby quivered. He clawed fitfully at the mask. For this nightmare he had paid good money? How could people let themselves become addicts of this sort of thing—this tour through the swamps of one's own mind?

Kirby wrenched the sniffer mask away and threw it to the floor of the booth. He sucked clean air into his lungs, fluttered his eyes, returned to reality.

He was alone in the booth.

The Martian, Weiner, was gone.

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