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If Acolyte Third Level Christopher Mondschein had a weakness, it was that he wanted very badly to live forever. The yearning for everlasting life was a common enough human desire, and not really reprehensible. But Acolyte Mondschein carried it a little too far.

"After all," one of his superiors found it necessary to remind him, "your function in the Brotherhood is to look after the well-being of others. Not to feather your own nest, Acolyte Mondschein. Do I make that clear?"

"Perfectly clear, Brother," said Mondschein tautly. He felt ready to explode with shame, guilt, and anger. "I see my error. I ask forgiveness."

"It isn't a matter of forgiveness, Acolyte Mondschein," the older man replied. "It's a matter of understanding. I don't give a damn for forgiveness. What are your goals, Mondschein? What are you after?"

The acolyte hesitated a moment before answering—both because it was always good policy to weigh one's words before saying anything to a higher member of the Brotherhood, and because he knew he was on very thin ice. He tugged nervously at the pleats of his robe and let his eyes wander through the Gothic magnificence of the chapel.

They stood on the balcony, looking down at the nave. No service was in progress, but a few worshipers occupied the pews anyway, kneeling before the blue radiance of the small cobalt reactor on the front dais. It was the Nyack chapel of the Brotherhood of the Immanent Radiance, third largest in the New York area, and Mondschein had joined it six months before, the day he turned twenty-two. He had hoped, at the time, that it was genuine religious feeling that had impelled him to pledge his fortunes to the Vorsters. Now he was not so sure.

He grasped the balcony rail and said in a low voice, "I want to help people, Brother. People in general and people in particular. I want to help them find the way. And I want mankind to realize its larger goals. As Vorst says—"

"Spare me the scriptures, Mondschein."

"I'm only trying to show you—"

"I know. Look, don't you understand that you've got to move upward in orderly stages? You can't go leapfrogging over your superiors, Mondschein, no matter how impatient you are to get to the top. Come into my office a moment."

"Yes, Brother Langholt. Whatever you say."

Mondschein followed the older man along the balcony and into the administrative wing of the chapel. The building was fairly new and strikingly handsome—a far cry from the shabby slum-area storefronts of the first Vorster chapels a quarter of a century before. Langholt touched a bony hand to the stud, and the door of his office irised quickly. They stepped through.

It was a small, austere room, dark and somber, its ceiling groined in good Gothic manner. Bookshelves lined the side walls. The desk was a polished ebony slab on which there glowed a miniature blue light, the Brotherhood's symbol. Mondschein saw something else on the desk: the letter he had written to District Supervisor Kirby, requesting a transfer to the Brotherhood's genetic center at Santa Fe.

Mondschein reddened. He reddened easily; his cheeks were plump and given to blushing. He was a man of slightly more than medium height, a little on the fleshy side, with dark coarse hair and close-set, earnest features. Mondschein felt absurdly immature by comparison with the gaunt, ascetic-looking man more than twice his age who was giving him this dressing-down.

Langholt said, "As you see, we've got your letter to Supervisor Kirby."

"Sir, that letter was confidential. I—"

"There are no confidential letters in this order, Mondschein! It happens that Supervisor Kirby turned this letter over to me himself. As you can see, he's added a memorandum."

Mondschein took the letter. A brief note had been scrawled across its upper left-hand corner: "He's awfully in a hurry, isn't he? Take him down a couple of pegs. R.K."

The acolyte put the letter down and waited for the withering blast of scorn. Instead, he found the older man smiling gently.

"Why did you want to go to Santa Fe, Mondschein?"

"To take part in the research there. And the—the breeding program."

"You're not an esper."

"Perhaps I've got latent genes, though. Or at least maybe some manipulation could be managed so my genes would be important to the pool. Sir, you've got to understand that I wasn't being purely selfish about this. I want to contribute to the larger effort."

"You can contribute, Mondschein, by doing your maintenance work, by prayer, by seeking converts. If it's in the cards for you to be called to Santa Fe, you'll be called in due time. Don't you think there are others much older than you who'd like to go there? Myself? Brother Ashton? Supervisor Kirby himself? You walk in off the street, so to speak, and after a few months you want a ticket to Utopia. Sorry. You can't have one that easily, Acolyte Mondschein."

"What shall I do now?"

"Purify yourself. Rid yourself of pride and ambition. Get down and pray. Do your daily work. Don't look for rapid preferment. It's the best way not to get what you want."

"Perhaps if I applied for missionary service," Mondschein suggested. "To join the group going to Venus—"

Langholt sighed. "There you go again! Curb your ambition, Mondschein!"

"I meant it as a penance."

"Of course. You imagine that those missionaries are likely to become martyrs. You also imagine that if by some fluke you go to Venus and don't get skinned alive, you'll come back here as a man of great influence in the Brotherhood, who'll be sent to Santa Fe like a warrior going to Valhalla. Mondschein, Mondschein, you're so transparent! You're verging on heresy, Mondschein, when you refuse to accept your lot."

"Sir, I've never had any traffic with the heretics. I—"

"I'm not accusing you of anything," Langholt said heavily. "I'm simply warning you that you're heading in an unhealthy direction. I fear for you. Look—" He thrust the incriminating letter to Kirby into a disposal unit, where it flamed and was gone instantly. "I'll forget that this whole episode ever happened. But don't you forget it. Walk more humbly, Mondschein. Walk more humbly, I say. Now go and pray. Dismissed."

"Thank you, Brother," Mondschein muttered.

His knees felt a little shaky as he made his way from the room and took the spiral slideshaft downward into the chapel proper. All things considered, he knew he had got off lightly. There could have been a public reprimand. There could have been a transfer to some not very desirable place, like Patagonia or the Aleutians. They might even have separated him from the Brotherhood entirely.

It had been a massive mistake to go over Langholt's head, Mondschein agreed. But how could a man help it? To die a little every day, while in Santa Fe they were choosing the ones who would live forever—it was intolerable to be on the outside. Mondschein's spirit sank at the awareness that now he had almost certainly cut himself off from Santa Fe for good.

He slipped into a rear pew and stared solemnly toward the cobalt-60 cube on the altar.

Let the Blue Fire engulf me, he begged. Let me rise purified and cleansed.

Sometimes, kneeling before the altar, Mondschein had felt the ghostly flicker of a spiritual experience. That was the most he ever felt, for, though he was an acolyte of the Brotherhood of the Immanent Radiance, and was a second-generation member of the cult, at that, Mondschein was not a religious man. Let others have ecstasies before the altar, he thought. Mondschein knew the cult for what it was: a front operation masking an elaborate program of genetic research. Or so it seemed to him, though there were times when he had his doubts which was the front and which the underlying reality. So many others appeared to derive spiritual benefits from the Brotherhood—while he had no proof that the laboratories at Santa Fe were accomplishing anything at all.

He closed his eyes. His head sank forward on his breast. He visualized electrons spinning in their orbits. He silently repeated the Electromagnetic Litany, calling off the stations of the spectrum.

He thought of Christopher Mondschein living through the ages. A stab of yearning sliced into him while he was still telling off the middling frequencies. Long before he got to the softer X rays, he was in a sweat of frustration, sick with the fear of dying. Sixty, seventy more years and his number was up, while at Santa Fe—

Help me. Help me. Help me.

Somebody help me. I don't want to die!

Mondschein looked to the altar. The Blue Fire flickered as though to mock him by going out altogether. Oppressed by the Gothic gloom, Mondschein sprang to his feet and rushed out into the open air.

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