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The robot who ran the sniffer palace was of no help.

"Where'd he go?" Kirby demanded.

"He left," came the rusty reply. "Eighteen dollars sixty cents. We will bill your Central."

"Did he say where he was going?"

"We did not converse. He left. Awwwrk! We did not converse. I will bill your Central. Awwwrk!"

Sputtering a curse, Kirby rushed out into the street. He glanced involuntarily at the sky. Against the darkness he saw the lemon-colored letters of the timeglow streaming in the firmament, irregularly splotched with red:




Two hours to midnight. Plenty of time for that lunatic colonial to get himself in trouble. The last thing Kirby wanted was to have a drunken, perhaps hallucinated Weiner rampaging around in New York. This assignment hadn't entirely been one of rendering hospitality. Part of Kirby's job was to keep an eye on Weiner. Martians had come to Earth before. The libertarian society was a heady wine for them.

Where had he gone?

One place to look was the Vorster hall. Maybe Weiner had gone back to raise some more hell over there. With sweat bursting from every pore, Kirby sprinted across the street, dodging the rocketing teardrops as they turbined past, and rushed into the shabby cultist chapel. The service was still going on. It didn't seem as though Weiner were there, though. Everyone obediently knelt in his pew, and there were no shouts, no screams of boozy laughter. Kirby silently loped down the aisle, checking every bench. No Weiner. The girl with the surgical face was still there, and she smiled and stretched a hand toward him. For one bizarre moment Kirby was catapulted back into his sniffer hallucination, and his flesh crawled. Then he recovered himself. He managed a faint smile to be polite and got out of the Vorster place as fast as he could.

He caught the slidewalk and let it carry him three blocks in a random direction. No Weiner. Kirby got off and found himself in front of a public Nothing Chamber place, where for twenty bucks an hour you could get wafted off to luscious oblivion. Perhaps Weiner had wandered in there, eager to toy every mind-sapping diversion the city had to offer. Kirby went in.

Robots weren't in charge here. A genuine flesh-and-blood entrepreneur came forward, a four-hundred-pounder, opulent with chins. Small eyes buried in fat regarded Kirby doubtfully.

"Want an hour of rest, friend?"

"I'm looking for a Martian," Kirby blurted. "About so high, big shoulders, sharp cheekbones."

"Haven't seen him."

"Look, maybe he's in one of your tanks. This is important. It's U.N. business."

"I don't care if it's the business of God Almighty. I haven't seen him." The fat man glanced only briefly at Kirby's identification plaque. "What do you want me to do—open my tanks for you? He didn't come in here."

"If he does, don't let him rent a chamber," Kirby begged. "Stall him and phone U,N. Security right away."

"I got to rent him if he wants. We run a public hall here, buddy. You want to get me in trouble? Look, you're all worked up. Why don't you climb into a tank for a little while? It'll do wonders for you. You'll feel like—"

Kirby wheeled and ran out There was nausea in the pit of his stomach, perhaps induced by the hallucinogen. There was also fright and a goodly jolt of anger. He visualized Weiner clubbed in some dark alley, his stocky body expertly vivisected for the bootleg organ banks. A worthy fate, perhaps, but it would raise hob with Kirby's reliability rating. More likely was it that Weiner, bashing around like a Chinese bull—was that the right simile, Kirby wondered?—would stir up some kind of mess that would be blasphemously difficult to clean up.

Kirby had no idea where to look. A communibooth presented itself on the corner of the next street, and he jumped in, opaquing the screens. He rammed his identification plaque into the slot and punched for U.N. Security.

The cloudy little screen grew clear. The pudgy, bearded face of Lloyd Ridblom appeared.

"Night squad," Ridblom said. "Hello, Ron. Where's your Martian?"

"Lost him. He gave me the slip in a sniffer palace."

Ridblom became instantly animated. "Want me to slap a televector on him?"

"Not yet," Kirby said. "I'd rather he didn't know we were upset about his disappearance. Put the vector on me, instead, and keep contact. And open up a routine net for him. If he shows, notify me right away. I'll call back in an hour to change the instructions if nothing's happened by then."

"Maybe he's been kidnapped by Vorsters," Ridblom suggested. "They're draining his blood for altar wine."

"Go to hell," Kirby said. He stepped out of the booth and put his thumbs briefly to his eyeballs. Slowly, purposelessly, he strolled toward the slidewalk and let it take him back to the Vorster hall. A few people were coming out of it now. There was the girl with the iridescent earshells; she wasn't content to haunt his hallucinations—she had to keep intersecting his path in real life, too.

"Hello," she said. Her voice was gentle, at least. "I'm Vanna Marshak. Where'd your friend go?"

"I'm wondering that myself. He vanished a little while ago."

"Are you supposed to be in charge of him?"

"I'm supposed to be watching him, anyhow. He's a Martian, you know."

"I didn't. He's certainly hostile to the Brotherhood, isn't he? That was sad, the way he erupted during the service. He must be terribly ill."

"Terribly drunk," Kirby said. "It happens to all the Martians who come here. The iron bars are lifted for them, and they think anything goes. Can I buy you a drink?" he added mechanically.

"I don't drink, thanks. But I'll accompany you if you want one."

"I don't want one. I need one."

"You haven't told me your name."

"Ron Kirby. I'm with the U.N. I'm a minor bureaucrat. No, I'll correct that: a major bureaucrat who gets paid like a minor one. We can go in here."

He nudged the doorstud of a bar on the corner. The sphincter whickered open and admitted them. She smiled warmly. She was about thirty, Kirby guessed. Not easy to tell, with all that hardware where her face used to be.

"Filtered rum," he said.

Vanna Marshak leaned close to him. She wore some subtle and unfamiliar perfume. "Why did you bring him to the Brotherhood house?" she asked.

He downed his drink as though it were fruit juice. "He wanted to see what the Vorsters were like. So I took him."

"I take it you're unsympathetic personally?"

"I don't have any real opinion. I've been too busy to pay much attention."

"That's not true," she said easily. "You think it's a nut-cult, don't you?"

Kirby ordered a second drink. "All right," he admitted. "I do. It's a shallow opinion based on no real information at all."

"You haven't read Vorst's book?"


"If I give you a copy, will you read it?"

"Imagine," he said. "A proselyte with a heart of gold." He laughed. He was feeling drunk again.

"That isn't really very funny," she said. "You're hostile to surgical alterations, too, aren't you?"

"My wife had a complete face job done. While she was still my wife. I got so angry about it that she left me. Three years ago. She's dead now. She and her lover went down in a rocket crash off New Zealand."

"I'm terribly sorry," Vanna Marshak said. "But I wouldn't have had this done to myself if I had known about Vorst then. I was uncertain. Insecure. Today I know where I'm heading—but it's too late to have my real face back. It's rather attractive, I think, anyway."

"Lovely," Kirby said. "Tell me about Vorst."

"It's very simple. He wants to restore spiritual values in the world. He wants us all to become aware of our common nature and our higher goals."

"Which we can express by watching Cerenkov radiation in rundown lofts," Kirby said.

"The Blue Fire's just trimming. It's the inner message that counts. Vorst wants to see mankind go to the stars. He wants us to get out of our muddle and confusion and begin to mine our real talents. He wants to save the espers who are going insane every day, harness them, put them together to work for the next great step in human progress."

"I see," said Kirby gravely. "Which is?"

"I told you. Going to the stars. You think we can stop with Mars and Venus? There are millions of planets out there. Waiting for man to find a way to reach them. Vorst thinks he knows that way. But it calls for a union of mental energies, a blending, a—oh, I know this sounds mystical. But he's got something. And it heals the troubled soul, too. That's the short-range purpose: the communion, the binding-up of wounds. And the long-range goal is getting to the stars. Of course, we've got to overcome the frictions between the planets—get the Martians to be more tolerant, and then somehow reestablish contact with the people on Venus, if there's anything human still left in them—do you see that there are possibilities here, that it isn't mumbo jumbo and fraud?"

Kirby didn't see anything of the kind. It sounded hazy and incoherent to him. Vanna Marshak had a soft, persuasive voice, and there was an earnestness about her that made her appealing. He could even forgive her for what she had let the knife-wielders do to her face. But when it came to Vorst—

The communicator in his pocket bleeped. It was a signal from Ridblom, and it meant call the office right away. Kirby got to his feet.

"Excuse me a minute," he said. "Something important to tend to—"

He lurched across the barroom, caught himself, took a deep breath and got into the booth. Into the slot went the plaque; trembling fingers punched out the number.

Ridblom appeared on the screen again.

"We've found your boy," the pudgy Security man announced blandly.

"Dead or alive?"

"Alive, unfortunately. He's in Chicago. He stopped off at the Martian Consulate, borrowed a thousand dollars from the consul's wife, and tried to rape her in the bargain. She got rid of him and called the police, and they called me. We have a five-man tracer on him now. He's heading for a Vorster cell on Michigan Boulevard, and he's drank as a lord. Should we intercept him?"

Kirby bit his lip in anguish. "No. No. He's got immunity, anyway. Let me handle this. Is there a chopper in the U.N. port I can borrow?"

"Sure. But it'll take you at least forty minutes to get to Chi, and—"

"That's plenty of time. Here's what I want you to do: get hold of the prettiest esper you can find in Chicago, maybe an empath, some sexy kid, Oriental if possible, something like that one who had the burnout in Kyoto last week. Plunk her down between Weiner and that Vorster place and turn her loose on him. Have her charm him into submission. Have her stall him in any way possible until I can get there, and if she has to part with her honor in the process, tell her we'll give her a good price for it. If you can't find an esper, get hold of a persuasive policewoman, or something."

"I don't see why this is really necessary," Ridblom said. "The Vorsters can look out for themselves. I understand they've got some mysterious way of knocking a troublemaker out so that he doesn't—"

"I know, Lloyd. But Weiner's already been knocked out once this evening. For all I know, a second jolt of the same stuff tonight might kill him. That would be very awkward all around. Just head him off."

Ridblom shrugged. "Thy will be done."

Kirby left the booth. He was cold sober again. Vanna Marshak was sitting at the bar where he had left her. At this distance and in this light there was something almost pretty about her artificial disfigurements.

She smiled. "Well?"

"They found him. He got to Chicago somehow, and he's about to raise some hell in the Vorster chapel there. I've got to go and lasso him."

"Be gentle with him, Ron. He's a troubled man. He needs help."

"Don't we all?" Kirby blinked suddenly. The thought of making the trip to Chicago alone struck him abruptly as being nasty. "Vanna?" he asked.


"Are you going to be busy for the next couple of hours?"

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