Adult Science Fiction, with the supernatural making complete sense.
The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome had returned to Earth—with all their awesome powers intact, and Earth was transformed almost overnight. War on any scale was outlawed, along with boom-and-bust economic cycles, and prudery—no change was more startling than the face of New York, where, for instance, the Empire State Building became the Tower of Zeus!
In this totally altered world, William Forrester was an acolyte of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and therefore a teacher, in this case of a totally altered history—and Maya Wilson, girl student, evidently had a totally altered way of grading in mind—but what else would a worshipper of Venus, Goddess of Love, have in mind?
This was just the first of the many Trials of Forrester, every bit as mighty and perilous as the Labors of Hercules. In love with Gerda Symes, like him a devotee of Athena, like him a frequenter of the great Temple of Pallas Athena (formerly known as the 42nd Street Library)—dedicated, in short, to the pleasures of the mind—Forrester was under the soft, compelling pressure of soft, compelling devotees of Venus, Bacchus and the like, and in need of all the strength that he and his Goddess, the beautiful and intellectual Athena, could muster to save him from the endless temptations of this new Earth.
And into this sensuous strife strode Temple Myrmidons—religious cops sworn to obey orders without question or hesitation—with a pickup order for William Forrester.
Where he was taken, what happened to him, the truly fantastic discoveries he made about himself and the Gods and Goddesses—here are the ingredients that make up this science fiction novel of suspense, intrigue, mystery and danger. For science fiction it is, with the supernatural making complete sense, and fun too, despite the Sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over Forrester's head!
by Randall Garrett and Larry M. Harris
P a g a n
P a s s i o n s
A GALAXY Selected Novel For BEACON BOOKS
P a g a n
P a s s i o n s
By Randall Garrett and Larry M. Harris
Published by Galaxy Publishing Corp. New York 14, New York
ALL CHARACTERS IN THIS WORK ARE WHOLLY FICTITIOUS AND ANY RESEMBLANCE TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL
Copyright 1959 by Galaxy Publishing Corp.
Galaxy Novels are sturdy, inexpensive editions of choice works of imaginative suspense, both original and reprint, selected by the editors of Galaxy Magazine for Beacon Books.
THIS IS BEACON BOOK NO. 263
Cover by Robert Stanley
Printed in the U.S.A. by THE GUINN COMPANY INC. New York 14, N. Y.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.
The girl came toward him across the silent room. She was young. She was beautiful. Her red hair curled like a flame round her eager, heart-shaped face. Her arms reached for him. Her hands touched him. Her eyes were alive with the light of pure love. I am yours, the eyes kept saying. Do with me as you will.
Forrester watched the eyes with a kind of fascination.
Now the girl's mouth opened, the lips parted slightly, and her husky voice murmured softly: "Take me. Take me."
Forrester blinked and stepped back.
"My God," he said. "This is ridiculous."
The girl pressed herself against him. The sensation was, Forrester thought with a kind of awe, undeniably pleasant. He tried to remember the girl's name, and couldn't. She wriggled slightly and her arms went up around him. Her hands clasped at the back of his neck and her mouth moved, close to his ear.
"Please," she whispered. "I want you...."
Forrester felt his head swimming. He opened his mouth but nothing whatever came out. He shut his mouth and tried to think what to do with his hands. They were hanging foolishly at his sides. The girl came even closer, something Forrester would have thought impossible.
Time stopped. Forrester swam in a pink haze of sensations. Only one small corner of his brain refused to lose itself in the magnificence of the moment. In that corner, Forrester felt feverishly uncomfortable. He tried again to remember the girl's name, and failed again. Of course, there was really no reason why he should have known the name. It was, after all, only the first day of class.
"Please," he said valiantly. "Miss—"
"I'm Maya Wilson," the girl said in his ear. "I'm in your class, Mr. Forrester. Introductory World History." She bit his ear gently. Forrester jumped.
None of the textbooks of propriety he had ever seen seemed to cover the situation he found himself in. What did one do when assaulted (pleasantly, to be sure, but assault was assault) by a lovely girl who happened to be one of your freshman students? She had called him Mr. Forrester. That was right and proper, even if it was a little silly. But what should he call her? Miss Wilson?
That didn't sound right at all. But, for other reasons, Maya sounded even worse.
The girl said: "Please," and added to the force of the word with another little wriggle against Forrester. It solved his problems. There was now only one thing to do, and he did it.
He broke away, found himself on the other side of his desk, looking across at an eager, wet-lipped freshman student.
"Well," he said. There was a lone little bead of sweat trickling down his forehead, across his frontal ridge and down one cheek. He ignored it bravely, trying to think what to do next. "Well," he repeated at last, in what he hoped was a gentle and fatherly tone. "Well, well, well, well, well." It didn't seem to have any effect. Perhaps, he thought, an attempt to put things back on the teacher-student level might have better results. "You wanted me to see you?" he said in a grave, scholarly tone. Then, gulping briefly, he amended it in a voice that had suddenly grown an octave: "You wanted to see me? I mean, you—"
"Oh," Maya Wilson said. "Oh, my goodness, yes, Mr. Forrester!"
She made a sudden sensuous motion that looked to Forrester as if she had suddenly abolished bones. But it wasn't unpleasant. Far from it. Quite the contrary.
Forrester licked his lips, which were suddenly very dry. "Well," he said. "What about, Miss—uh—Miss Wilson?"
"Please call me Maya, Mr. Forrester. And I'll call you—" There was a second of hesitation. "Mr. Forrester," Maya said plaintively, "what is your first name?"
"First name?" Forrester tried to think of his first name. "You want to know my first name?"
"Well," Maya said, "I want to call you something. Because after all—" She looked as if she were going to leap over the desk.
"You may call me," Forrester said, grasping at his sanity, "Mr. Forrester."
Maya sidled around the desk quietly. "Mr. Forrester," she said, reaching for him, "I wanted to talk to you about the Introductory World History course."
Forrester shivered as if someone had thrown cold water on his rising aspirations.
"Oh," he said.
"That's right," Maya whispered. Her mouth was close to his ear again. Other parts of her were close to other parts of him once more. Forrester found it difficult to concentrate.
"I've got to pass the course, Mr. Forrester," Maya whispered. "I've just got to."
Somehow, Forrester retained just enough control of his faculties to remember the standard answer to protestations like that one. "Well, I'm sure you will," he said in what he hoped was a calm, hearty, hopeful voice. He was reasonably sure it wasn't any of those, and even surer that it wasn't all three. "You seem like a—like a fairly intelligent young lady," he finished lamely.
"Oh, no," she said. "I'm sure I won't be able to remember all those old-fashioned dates and things. Never. Never." Suddenly she pressed herself wildly against him, throwing him slightly off balance. Locked together, the couple reeled against the desk. Forrester felt it digging into the small of his back. "I'll do anything to pass the course, Mr. Forrester!" she vowed. "Anything!"
The insistent pressure of the desk top robbed the moment of some of its natural splendor. Forrester disengaged himself gently and slid a little out of the way. "Now, now," he said, moving rapidly across the room toward a blank wall. "This sort of thing isn't usually done, Maya. I mean, Miss Wilson. I mean—"
"People just don't do such things," Forrester said sternly. He thought of escaping through the door, but the picture that arose immediately in his mind dissuaded him. He saw Maya pursuing him passionately through the halls while admiring students and faculty stared after them. "Anyhow," he added as an afterthought, "not at the beginning of the semester."
"Oh," Maya said. She was advancing on him slowly. "You mean, I ought to see if I can pass the course on my own first, and then—"
"Not at all," Forrester cut in.
Maya sniffed sadly. "Oh, you just don't understand," she said. "You're an Athenian, aren't you?"
"Athenan," Forrester said automatically. It was a correction he found himself called upon to make ten or twelve times a week. "An Athenian is a resident of Athens, while an Athenan is a worshipper of the Goddess Athena. We—"
"I understand," Maya said. "I suppose it's like us. We don't like to be called Aphrodisiacs, you know. We prefer Venerans."
She was leaning across the desk. Forrester, though he supposed some people might be fussy about it, could see no objection whatever to the term Aphrodisiacs. A wild thought dealing with Spheres of Influence strayed into his mind, and he suppressed it firmly.
The girl was a Veneran. A worshipper of Venus, Goddess of Love.
Her choice of religion, he thought, was unusually appropriate.
And as for his....
It was hard to believe that, only an hour or so before, he had been peaceful and calm, entirely occupied with his duties in the great Temple of Pallas Athena. His mind gave a sudden, panic-stricken leap and he was back there again, standing at the rear of the vast room and focusing all of his strained attention on it.
The glowing embers in the golden incense tripods were dying now, but the heavy clouds of frankincense, still tingled with the sweet aroma of balsam and clove, hung heavily in the quiet air over the main altar. In the flickering illumination of the gas sconces around the walls, the figures on the great tapestries seemed to move with a subtle life of their own.
Even though the great brazen gong had sounded for the last time twenty minutes before, marking the end of the service, there were still a few worshippers in the pews, seated with heads bowed in prayer to the Goddess. Forrester considered them carefully: average-looking people, a sprinkling of youngsters, and in the far corner a girl who looked just a little like ...
Forrester peered more closely. It wasn't just a slight resemblance; the girl really seemed to be Gerda Symes. Her long blonde hair shone in the dimness. Forrester couldn't see her very clearly, but his imagination was working overtime. Her magnificently curved figure, her wonderful face, her fiery personality were as much a part of his dreams as the bed he slept on.
If not for her brother ...
Forrester sighed and forced himself to return his attention to his duties. His hands remained clasped reverently at his breast. Whatever battle went on in his mind, the remaining few people in the great room would see nothing but what was fitting. At any rate, he told himself, he made rather an imposing sight in his robes, and, with a stirring of vanity which he prayed Athena to chasten, he was rather proud of it.
He was a fairly tall man, just a shade under six feet, but his slight paunch made him seem shorter than he was. His face was round and smooth and pleasant, and that made him look younger than he was: twenty-one instead of twenty-seven. As befitted an acolyte of the Goddess of Wisdom, his dark, curly hair was cut rather long. When he bowed to a departing worshipper, lowering his head in graceful acknowledgment of their deferential nods, he felt that he made a striking and commanding picture.
Though, of course, the worshippers weren't doing him any honor. That bow was not for him, but directed toward the Owl, the symbol of the Goddess embroidered on the breast of the white tunic. As an acolyte, after all, he rated just barely above a layman; he had no powers whatever.
Athena knew that, naturally. But somehow it was a little difficult to get it through his own doubtless too-thick skull. He'd often dreamed of power. Being a priest or a priestess, for instance—now that meant something. At least people paid attention to you if you were a member of the hierarchy, favored of the Gods. But, Forrester knew, there was no chance of that any more. Either you were picked before you were twenty-one, or you weren't picked at all, and that was all there was to it. In spite of his looks, Forrester was six years past the limit.
And so he'd become an acolyte. Sometimes he wondered how much of that had been an honest desire to serve Athena, and how much a sop to his worldly vanity. Certainly a college history instructor had enough to do, without adding the unpaid religious services of an acolyte to his work.
But these were thoughts unworthy of his position. They reminded him of his own childhood, when he had dreamed of becoming one of the Lesser Gods, or even Zeus himself! Zeus had provided the best answer to those dreams, Forrester knew. "Now I am a man," Zeus had said, "and I put away childish things."
Well, Forrester considered, it behooved him to put away childish things, too. A mere vanity, a mere love of spectacle, was unworthy of the Goddess he served. And his costume and bearing certainly hadn't got him very far with Gerda.
He tore his eyes away from her again, and sighed.
Before he could bring his mind back to Athena, there was an interruption.
Another white-clad acolyte moved out of the shadows to his right and came softly toward him. "Forrester?" he whispered.
Forrester turned, recognizing young Bates, a chinless boy of perhaps twenty-two, with the wide, innocent eyes of the born fanatic. But it didn't become a servant of Athena to think ill of her other servants, Forrester reminded himself. Brushing the possibility of a rude reply from his mind, Forrester said simply: "Yes? What is it?"
"There's a couple of Temple Myrmidons to see you outside," Bates whispered. "I'll take over your post."
Forrester responded with no more than a simple nod, as if the occurrence were one that happened every day. But it was not only the thought of leaving Gerda that moved him. As he turned and strode to the small door that led to the side room off the main auditorium, he was thinking furiously under his calm exterior.
Temple Myrmidons! What could they want with him? As an acolyte, he was at least immune to arrest by the civil police, and even the Temple Myrmidons had no right to take him into custody without a warrant from the Pontifex himself.
But such a warrant was a serious affair. What had he done wrong?
He tried to think of some cause for an arrest. Blasphemy? Sacrilege? But he found nothing except his interior thoughts. And those, he told himself with a blaze of anger fierce enough to surprise him, were nobody's business but his own and Athena's. Authorities either less personal or more temporal had no business dealing with thoughts.
Beyond those, there wasn't a thing. No irreverence toward any of the Gods, in his private life, his religious functions or his teaching position, at least as far as he could recall. The Gods knew that unorthodoxy in an Introductory History course, for instance, was not only unwise but damned difficult.
Of course, he was aware of the real position of the Gods. They weren't omnipotent. Their place in the scheme of things was high, but they were certainly not equal with the One who had created the Universe and the Gods themselves in the first place. Possibly, Forrester had always thought, they could be equated with the indefinite "angels" of the religions that had been popular during his grandfather's time, sixty years ago, before the return of the Gods. But that was an uncertain theological notion, and Forrester was quite ready to abandon it in the face of good argument to the contrary.
Whatever they were, the Gods were certainly the Gods of Earth now.
The Omnipotent Creator had evidently left it for them to run, while he went about his own mysterious business, far from the understanding or the lives of men. The Gods, omnipotent or not, ran the world and everything in it.
And if, like Forrester, you knew that omnipotence wasn't their strong point, you just didn't mention it. It would have been impolite to have done so—like talking about sight to a blind man. And "impolite" was not the only word that covered the case. The Gods had enough power, as everyone knew, to avenge any blasphemies against them. And careless mention of limitations on their power would surely be construed as blasphemy, true or not.
Forrester had never even thought of doing such a thing.
So what, he thought, did the Temple Myrmidons want with him?
He came to the anteroom and went in, seeing the two of them at once. They were big, burly chaps with hard faces, and the pistols that were holstered at their sides looked completely unnecessary. Forrester took a deep breath and went a step forward. There he stopped, staring.
The Myrmidons were strangers to him—and now he understood why. Neither was wearing the shoulder-patch Owl of Minerva/Athena. Both proudly sported the Thunderbolt of Zeus/Jupiter, the All-Father himself.
Whatever it is, Forrester told himself with a sinking sensation, it's serious.
One of the Myrmidons looked him up and down in a casual, half-contemptuous way. "You're William Forrester?"
"That's right," Forrester said, knowing that he looked quite calm, and wondering, at the same time, whether or not he would live out the next few minutes. The Myrmidons of Zeus/Jupiter didn't come around to other temples on unimportant errands. "May I help you?" he went on, feeling foolish.
"Let's see your ID card, please," the Myrmidon said in the same tone as before. That puzzled Forrester. He doubted whether examination of credentials was a part of the routine preceding arrest—or execution, for that matter. The usual procedure was, and probably always had been, to act first and apologize later, if at all.
Maybe whatever he'd done had been so important they couldn't afford to make mistakes.
But did the Myrmidon really think that an imposter could parade around in an acolyte's tunic in the very Temple of Pallas Athena without being caught by one of the Athenan Myrmidons, or some other acolyte or priest?
Maybe a thing like that could happen in one of the other Temples, Forrester thought. But here at Pallas Athena people took the Goddess's attribute of wisdom seriously. What the Dionysians might do, he reflected, was impossible to say. Or, for that matter, the Venerans.
But he produced his identity card and handed it to the Myrmidon. It was compared with a card the Myrmidon dug out of his pouch, and the thumbprints on both cards were examined side by side.
After a while, Forrester got his card back.
The Myrmidon said: "We—" and began to cough.
His companion came over to slap him on the back with bone-crushing blows. Forrester watched without changing expression.
Some seconds passed.
Then the Myrmidon choked, swallowed, straightened and said, his face purple: "All this incense. Not like what we've got over at the All-Father's Temple. Enough to choke a man to death."
Forrester murmured politely.
"Back to business—right?" He favored Forrester with a rather savage-looking smile, and Forrester allowed his own lips to curve gently and respectfully upward.
It didn't look as if he were going to be killed, after all.
"Important instructions for you," the Myrmidon said. "From the Pontifex Maximus. And not to be repeated to any mortal—understand?"
"And that means any mortal," the Myrmidon said. "Girl friend, wife—or don't you Athenans go in for that sort of thing? Now, up at the All-Father's Temple, we—"
His companion gave him a sharp dig in the ribs.
"Oh," the Myrmidon said. "Sure. Well. Instructions not to be repeated. Right?"
"Right," Forrester said.
Instructions? From the Pontifex Maximus? Secret instructions?
Forrester's mind spun dizzily. This was no arrest. This was something very special and unique. He tried once more to imagine what it was going to be, and gave it up in wonder.
The Myrmidon produced another card from his pouch. There was nothing on it but the golden Thunderbolt of the All-Father—but that was quite enough.
Forrester accepted the card dumbly.
"You will report to the Tower of Zeus at eighteen hundred hours exactly," the Myrmidon said. "Got that?"
"You mean today?" Forrester said, and cursed himself for sounding stupid. But the Myrmidon appeared not to have noticed.
"Today, sure," he said. "Eighteen hundred. Just present this card."
He stepped back, obviously getting ready to leave. Forrester watched him for one long second, and then burst out: "What do I do after that?"
"Just be a good boy. Do what you're told. Ask no questions. It's better that way."
Forrester thought of six separate replies and settled on a seventh. "All right," he said.
"And remember," the Myrmidon said, at the outside door, "don't mention this to anyone. Not anyone!"
The door banged shut.
Forrester found himself staring at the card he held. He put it away in his case, alongside the ID card. Then, dazed, he went on back to the acolyte's sacristy, took off his white tunic and put on his street clothes.
What did they want with him at the Tower of Zeus? It didn't really sound like an arrest. If it had been that, the Myrmidons themselves would have taken him.
So what did the Pontifex Maximus want with William Forrester?
He spent some time considering it, and then, taking a deep breath, he forced it out of his mind. He would know at eighteen hundred, and such were the ways of the Gods that he would not know one second before.
So there was no point in worrying about it, he told himself. He almost made himself believe it.
But wiping speculation out of his mind left an unwelcome and uneasy vacancy. Forrester replaced it with thought of the morning's service in the Temple. Such devotion was probably valuable, anyhow, in a spiritual sense. It brought him closer to the Gods....
The Gods he wanted desperately to be like.
That, he told himself sharply, was foolishness of the most senseless kind.
He blinked it away.
The Goddess Athena had appeared herself at the service—sufficient reason for thinking of it now. The statuesquely beautiful Goddess with her severely swept-back blonde hair and her deep gray eyes was the embodiment of the wisdom and strength for which her worshippers especially prayed. Her beauty was almost unworldly, impossible of existence in a world which contained mortals.
She reminded Forrester, ever so slightly (and, of course, in a reverent way), of Gerda Symes.
There seemed to be a great many forbidden thoughts floating around this day. Resolutely, Forrester went back to thinking about the morning's service.
The Goddess had appeared only long enough to impart her blessing, but her calm, beautifully controlled contralto voice had brought a sense of peace to everyone in the auditorium. To be doggedly practical, there was no way of knowing whether the Goddess's presence was an appearance—in person, or an "appearance" by Divine Vision. But that really didn't matter. The effect was always just the same.
Forrester went on out the front portals of the Temple of Wisdom and down the long, wide steps onto Fifth Avenue. He paid homage with a passing glance to the great Owls flanking the entrance. Symbolic of Athena, they had replaced the stone lions which had formerly stood there.
The street was busy with hurrying crowds, enlivened here and there by Temple Myrmidons—from the All-Father, from Bacchus, from Venus—even one from Pallas Athena herself, a broad-beamed swaggerer whom Forrester knew and disliked. The man came striding up the steps, greeted Forrester with a bare nod, and disappeared at top speed into the Temple.
Forrester sighed and glanced south, down toward 34th Street, where the huge Tower of Zeus, a hundred and four stories high, loomed over all the other buildings in the city.
At eighteen hundred he would be in that tower—for what purpose, he had no idea.
Well, that was in the future, and he ...
A voice said: "Well! Hello, Bill!"
Forrester turned, knowing exactly what to expect, and disliking it in advance. The bluff over-heartiness of the voice was matched by the gross and hairy figure that confronted him. In some disarray, and managing to look as if he needed simultaneously a bath, a shave, a disinfecting and a purgative, the figure approached Forrester with a rolling walk that was too flat-footed for anything except an elephant.
"How's the Owl-boy today?" said the voice, and the body stuck out a flabby, hairy white hand.
Forrester winced. "I'm fine," he said evenly. "And how's the winebibber?"
"Good for you," the figure said. "A little wine for your Stomach's sake, as good old Bacchus always says. Only we make it a lot, eh?" He winked and nudged Forrester in the ribs.
"Sure, sure," Forrester said. He wished desperately that he could take the gross fool and tear him into tastefully arranged pieces. But there was always Gerda. And since this particular idiot happened to be her younger brother, Ed Symes, anything in the nature of violence was unthinkable.
Gerda's opinion of her brother was touching, reverent, and—Forrester thought savagely—not in the least borne out by any discoverable facts.
And a worshipper of Bacchus! Not that Forrester had anything against the orgiastic rites indulged in by the Dionysians, the Panites, the Apollones or even the worst and wildest of them all, the Venerans. If that was how the Gods wanted to be worshipped, then that was how they should be worshipped.
And, as a matter of fact, it sounded like fun—if, Forrester considered, entirely too public for his taste.
If he preferred the quieter rites of Athena, or of Juno, Diana or Ceres—and even Ceresians became a little wild during the spring fertility rites, especially in the country, where the farmers depended on her for successful crops—well, that was no more than a personal preference.
But the idea of Ed Symes involved in a Bacchic orgy was just a little too much for the normal mind, or the normal stomach.
"Hey," Ed said suddenly. "Where's Gerda? Still in the Temple?"
"I didn't see her," Forrester said. There had been a woman who'd looked like her. But that hadn't been Gerda. She'd have waited for him here.
"Funny," Ed said.
"Why?" Forrester said. "I didn't see her. I don't think she attended the service this morning, that's all."
He wanted very badly to hit Symes. Just once. But he knew he couldn't.
First of all, there was Gerda. And then, as an acolyte, he was proscribed by law from brawling. No one would hit an acolyte; and if the acolyte were built like Forrester, striking another man might be the equivalent of murder. One good blow from Forrester's fist might break the average man's jaw.
That was, he discovered, a surprisingly pleasant thought. But he made himself keep still as the fat fool went on.
"Funny she didn't attend," Symes said. "But maybe she's gotten wise to herself. There was a celebration up at the Temple of Pan in Central Park, starting at midnight, and going on through the morning. Spring Rites. Maybe she went there."
"I doubt it," Forrester said instantly. "That's hardly her type of worship."
"Isn't it?" Symes said.
"It doesn't fit her. That kind of—"
"I know. Gerda's like you. A little stuffy."
"It's not being stuffy," Forrester started to explain. "It's—"
"Sure," Symes said. "Only she's not as much of a prude as you are. I couldn't stand her if she were."
"On the other hand, she's not a—"
"Not an Owl-boy of Owl-boys like you."
"Not a drunken blockhead," Forrester finished triumphantly. "At least she's got a decent respect for wisdom and learning."
Symes stepped back, a movement for which Forrester felt grateful. No matter how far away Ed Symes was, he was still too close.
"Who you calling a blockhead, buster?" Symes said. His eyes narrowed to piggish little slits.
Forrester took a deep breath and reminded himself not to hit the other man. "You," he said, almost mildly. "If brains were radium, you couldn't make a flicker on a scintillation counter."
It was just a little doubtful that Symes understood the insult. But he obviously knew it had been one. His face changed color to a kind of grayish purple, and his hands clenched slowly at his sides. Forrester stood watching him quietly.
Symes made a sound like Rrr and took a breath. "If you weren't an acolyte, I'd take a poke at you just to see you bounce."
"Sure you would," Forrester agreed politely.
Symes went Rrr again and there was a longer silence. Then he said: "Not that I'd hit you anyhow, buster. It'd go against my grain. Not the acolyte business—if you didn't look so much like Bacchus, I'd take the chance."
Forrester's jaw ached. In a second he realized why; he was clenching his teeth tightly. Perhaps it was true that he did look a little like Bacchus, but not enough for Ed Symes to kid about it.
Symes grinned at him. Symes undoubtedly thought the grin gave him a pleasant and carefree expression. It didn't. "Suppose I go have a look for Gerda myself," he said casually, heading up the stairs toward the temple entrance. "After all, you're so busy looking at books, you might have missed her."
And what, Forrester asked himself, was the answer to that—except a punch in the mouth?
It really didn't matter, anyhow. Symes was on his way into the temple, and Forrester could just ignore him.
But, damn it, why did he let the young idiot get his goat that way? Didn't he have enough self-control just to ignore Symes and his oafish insults?
Forrester supposed sadly that he didn't. Oh, well, it just made another quality he had to pray to Athena for.
Then he glanced at his wristwatch and stopped thinking about Symes entirely.
It was twelve-forty-five. He had to be at work at thirteen hundred.
Still angry, underneath the sudden need for speed, he turned and sprinted toward the subway.
* * * * *
"And thus," Forrester said tiredly, "having attempted to make himself the equal of the Gods, Man was given a punishment befitting such arrogance." He paused and took a breath, surveying the twenty-odd students in the classroom (and some, he told himself wryly, very odd) with a sort of benign boredom.
History I, Introductory Survey of World History, was a simple enough course to teach, but its very simplicity was its undoing, Forrester thought. The deadly dullness of the day-after-day routine was enough to wear out the strongest soul.
Freshmen, too, seemed to get stupider every year. Certainly, when he'd been seventeen, he'd been different altogether. Studious, earnest, questioning ...
Then he stopped himself and grinned. He'd probably seemed even worse to his own instructors.
Where had he been? Slowly, he picked up the thread. There was a young blonde girl watching him eagerly from a front seat. What was her name? Forrester tried to recall it and couldn't. Well, this was only the first day of term. He'd get to know them all soon enough—well enough, anyhow, to dislike most of them.
But the eager expression on the girl's face unnerved him a little. The rest of the class wasn't paying anything like such strict attention. As a matter of fact, Forrester suspected two young boys in the back of being in a trance.
Well, he could stop that. But ...
She was really quite attractive, Forrester told himself. Of course, she was nothing but a fresh, pretty, eager seventeen-year-old, with a figure that ...
She was, Forrester reminded himself sternly, a student.
And he was supposed to be an instructor.
He cleared his throat. "Man went hog-wild with his new-found freedom from divine guidance," he said. "Woman did, too, as a matter of fact."
Now what unholy devil had made him say that? It wasn't a part of the normal lecture for first day of the new term. It was—well, it was just a little risque for students. Some of their parents might complain, and ...
But the girl in the front row was smiling appreciatively. I wonder what she's doing in an Introductory course, Forrester thought, leaping with no evidence at all to the conclusion that the girl's mind was much too fine and educated to be subjected to the general run of classes. Private tutoring ... he began, and then cut himself off sharply, found his place in the lecture again and went on:
"When the Gods decided to sit back and observe for a few thousand years, they allowed Man to go his merry way, just to teach him a lesson."
The boys in the back of the room were definitely in a trance.
Forrester sighed. "And the inevitable happened," he said. "From the eighth century B.C., Old Style, until the year 1971 A.D., Old Style, Man's lot went from bad to worse. Without the Gods to guide him he bred bigger and bigger wars and greater and greater empires—beginning with the conquests of the mad Alexander of Macedonia and culminating in the opposing Soviet and American Spheres of Influence during the last century."
Spheres of Influence....
Forrester's gaze fell on the blonde girl again. She certainly had a well-developed figure. And she did seem so eager and attentive. He smiled at her tentatively. She smiled back.
"Urg ..." he said aloud.
The class didn't seem to notice. That, Forrester told himself sourly, was probably because they weren't listening.
He swallowed, wrenched his gaze from the girl, and said: "The Soviet-American standoff—for that is what it was—would most probably have resulted in the destruction of the human race." It had no effect on the class. The destruction of the human race interested nobody. "However," Forrester said gamely, "this form of insanity was too much for the Gods to allow. They therefore—"
The bell rang, signifying the end of the period. Forrester didn't know whether to feel relieved or annoyed.
"All right," he said. "That's all for today. Your first assignment will be to read and carefully study Chapters One and Two of the textbook."
Silence gave way to a clatter of noise as the students began to file out. Forrester saw the front-row blonde rise slowly and gracefully. Any doubts he might have entertained (that is, he told himself wryly, any entertaining doubts) about her figure were resolved magnificently. He felt a little sweat on the palm of his hands, told himself that he was being silly, and then answered himself that the hell he was.
The blonde gave him a slow, sweet smile. The smile promised a good deal more than Forrester thought likely of fulfillment.
He smiled back.
It would have been impolite, he assured himself, not to have done so.
The girl left the room, and a remaining crowd of students hurried out after her. The crowd included two blinking boys, awakened by the bell from what had certainly been a trance. Forrester made a mental note to inquire after their records and to speak with the boys himself when he got the chance.
No sense in disturbing a whole class to discipline them.
He stacked his papers carefully, taking a good long time about it in order to relax himself and let his palms dry. His mind drifted back to the blonde, and he reined it in with an effort and let it go exploring again on safer ground. The class itself ... actually, he thought, he rather liked teaching. In spite of the petty irritations that came from driving necessary knowledge into the heads of stubbornly unwilling students, it was a satisfying and important job. And, of course, it was an honor to hold the position he did. Ever since it had been revealed that the goddess Columbia was another manifestation of Pallas Athena herself, the University had grown tremendously in stature.
And after all ...
Whistling faintly behind his teeth, Forrester zipped up his filled briefcase and went out into the hall. He ignored the masses of students swirling back and forth in the corridors, and, finding a stairway, went up to his second-floor office.
He fumbled for his key, found it, and opened the ground-glass door.
Then, stepping in, he came to a full stop.
The girl had been waiting for him—Maya Wilson.
* * * * *
And now here she was, talking about the Goddess of Love. Forrester gulped.
"Anyhow," he said at random, "I'm an Athenan." He remembered that he had already said that. Did it matter? "But what does all this have to do with your passing, or not passing, the course?" he went on.
"Oh," Maya said. "Well, I prayed to Aphrodite for help in passing the course. And the Temple Priestess told me I'd have to make a sacrifice to the Goddess. In a way."
"A sacrifice?" Forrester gulped. "You mean—"
"Not the First Sacrifice," she laughed. "That was done with solemn ceremonies when I was seventeen."
"Now, wait a minute—"
"Please," Maya said. "Won't you listen to me?"
Forrester looked at her limpid blue eyes and her lovely face. "Sure. Sorry."
"Well, then, it's like this. If a person loves a subject, it's that much easier to understand it. And the Goddess has promised me that if I love the instructor, I'll love the subject. It's like sympathetic magic—see?"
Her explanation was so brisk and simple that Forrester recoiled. "Hold on," he said. "Just hold your horses. Do you mean you're in love with me?"
Maya smiled. "I think so," she said, and very suddenly she was on Forrester's side of the desk, pressing up against him. Her hand caressed the back of his neck and her fingers tangled in his hair. "Kiss me and let's find out."
Resistance, such as it was, crumbled in a hurry. Forrester complied with fervor. An endless time went by, punctuated only by short breaths between the kisses. Forrester's hands began to rove.
So did Maya's.
She began to unbutton his shirt.
Not to be outdone, his own fingers got busy with buttons, zippers, hooks and the other temporary fastenings with which female clothing is encumbered. He was swimming in a red sea of passion and the Egyptians were nowhere in sight. Absently, he got an arm out of his shirt, and at the same time somehow managed to undo the final button of a series. Maya's blouse fell free.
Forrester felt like stout Cortez.
He pulled the girl to him, feeling the surprisingly cool touch of her flesh against his. Under the blouse and skirt, he was discovering, she wore very little, and that was just as well; nagging thoughts about the doubtful privacy of his office were beginning to assail him.
Nevertheless, he persevered. Maya was as eager as he had ever dreamed of being, and their embrace reached a height of passion and began to climb and climb to hitherto unknown peaks of sensation.
Forrester was busy for some time discovering things he had never known, and a lot of things he had known before, but never so well. Every motion was met with a reaction that was more than equal and opposite, every sensation unlocked the doors to whole galleries of new sensations. Higher and higher went his emotional thermometer, higher and higher and higher and higher and ...
Very suddenly, he discovered how to breathe again, and it was over.
"My goodness," Maya said after a brief resting spell. "I suppose I must love you for sure. My goodness!"
"Sure," Forrester said. "And now—if you'll pardon the indelicacy and hand me my pants—" he found he was still puffing a little and paused until he could go on—"I've got an appointment I simply can't afford to miss."
"Oh, all right," Maya said. "But Mr. Forrester—"
He rolled over and looked at her while he began dressing. "I suppose it would be all right if you called me Bill," he said carefully.
"In class, too?"
Forrester shook his head. "No," he said. "Not in class."
"But what I wanted to ask—"
"Yes?" Forrester said.
"Mr.—Bill—do you think I'll pass Introductory World History?"
Forrester considered that question. There was certainly a wide variety of answers he could construct. When he had finished buttoning his shirt he had decided on one.
"I don't see why not," he said, "so long as you complete your assignments regularly."
* * * * *
Nearly two hours later, feeling somewhat light-headed but otherwise in perfectly magnificent fettle, Forrester found himself on the downtown subway. He'd showered and changed and he was whistling a gay little tune as he checked his watch.
The time was five minutes to five. He had just over an hour before he was due to appear at the Tower of Zeus All-Father, but it was better to be a few minutes early than even a single second late.
The train ride was a little bumpy, but Forrester didn't really mind. He was pretty well past being irritated by anything. Nevertheless, he was speculating with just a faint unease as to what the Pontifex Maximus wanted with him. What was in store for him at the strange appointment?
And why all the secrecy?
His brooding was interrupted right away. At 100th Street, a bearded old man got on and sat down next to him. He nudged Forrester in the ribs and muttered: "Look at that now, Daddy-O. Look at that."
"What?" Forrester said, constrained into conversation.
"Damn subways, that's what," the old man said. "Worse every year. Bumpier and slower and worse. Just look around, Daddy-O. Look around."
"I wouldn't quite say—" Forrester began, but the old man gave him another dig in the ribs and cut in:
"Wouldn't say, wouldn't say," he muttered. "Listen, man, there ain't been an improvement in years. You realize that?"
"No progress, man, not in more than half a century. Listen, when I was a teen king—War Councilor for the Boppers, I was, and let me tell you that was big time, Daddy-O—when I was a teen king, we were going places. Going places for real. Mars. Venus. We were going to have spaceships, man."
Forrester smiled spasmically at the old man. "I'm sure you—"
"But what happened?" the old man interrupted. "Tell you what happened, man. We never got to Mars and Venus. Mars and Venus came to us instead. Right along with Jupiter and Neptune and Pluto and all the rest of the Gods. And we had no progress ever since that day, Daddy-O, no progress at all and you can believe it."
He dug Forrester in the ribs one final time and sat back with melancholy satisfaction.
"Well," Forrester said mildly, "what good is progress?" The old man, he assured himself after a moment's reflection, wasn't actually saying anything blasphemous. After all, the Gods didn't expect their worshippers to be mindless slaves.
Somehow the notion made him feel happier. He'd have hated reporting the old man. Something in the outdated slang made him feel—almost patriotic. The old man was a part of America, a respected and important part.
The respected part of America made itself felt again in Forrester's ribs. "Progress?" the old man said. "What good's progress? Listen, Daddy-O—how can the human race get anywhere without progress? Answer me that, will you, man? Because it's for-sure real we're not going any place now. No place at all."
"Now look," Forrester said patiently, "progress is an outmoded idea. We've got to be in step with the times. We've got to ask ourselves what progress ever did for us. How did we stand when the Gods returned?" For a brief flash he was back in his history class, but he went on: "Half the world ready to fight the other half with weapons that would have wiped both halves out. You ought to be grateful the Gods returned when they did."
"But we're getting into Nowheresville, man," the old man complained. "We're not in orbit. We can't progress."
Forrester sighed. Why was he talking to the old man, anyway? The answer came to him as soon as he'd asked the question. He wanted to keep his mind off the Tower of Zeus and his own unknown fate there. It was an unpleasant answer; Forrester blanked it out.
"Now, friend," he said. "What have you got? Just what mankind's been looking for all these centuries. Security. You've got security. Nobody's going to blow you to pieces tomorrow. Your job isn't going to vanish overnight. I mean, if you—"
"I got a job," the old man said.
"Really?" Forrester said politely. "What is it?"
"Retired. And it's a tough job, too."
"Oh," Forrester said.
"And anyhow," the old man went on, "what's all this got to do with progress?"
Forrester thought. "Well—"
"Well, nothing," the old man said. "Listen to me, man. I say nothing against the Gods—right? Nothing at all. Wouldn't want to do anything like that. But at the same time, it looks to me like we ought to be able to—reap the fruits of our labors. I read that some place."
"In the three thousand years the Gods were gone, we weren't a total loss, man. Not anything like. We discovered a lot. About nature and science and like that. We invented science all by ourselves. So how come the Gods don't let us use it?" The old man dug his elbow once more into Forrester's rib. "How come?"
"The Gods haven't taken anything away from us," Forrester said.
"Haven't they?" the old man demanded. "How about television? Want to answer that one, Daddy-O? Years ago, everybody had a television set. Color and 3-D. The most. The end. Now there's no television at all. Why not? What happened to it?"
"Well," Forrester said reasonably, "what good is television?"
"What good?" Once more Forrester's rib felt the old man's elbow. "Let me tell you—"
"No," Forrester interrupted, suddenly irritated with the whole conversation. "Let me tell you. The trouble with your generation was that all they wanted to do was sit around on their glutei maximi and be entertained. Like a bunch of hypnotized geese. They didn't want to do anything for themselves. Half of them couldn't even read. And now you want to tell me that—"
"Hold it, Daddy-O," the old man said. "You're telling me that the Gods took away television just because we were a bunch of hypnotized geese. That it?"
"Okay," the old man said. "So tell me—what are we now? With the Gods and everything. I mean, man, really—what are we?"
"Now?" Forrester said. "Now you're retired. You're a bunch of retired hypnotized geese."
The doors of the train slid creakily open and Forrester got out onto the 34th Street platform, walking angrily toward a stairway without looking back.
True enough, the old man hadn't committed blasphemy, but it had certainly come close enough there at the end. And if pokes with the elbow weren't declared blasphemous, or at least equivalent to malicious mischief, he thought, there was no justice in the world.
The real trouble was that the man had had no respect for the Gods. There were a good many of the older generation like him. They seemed to feel that humanity had been better off when the Gods had been away. Forrester couldn't see it, and felt vaguely uncomfortable in the presence of someone who believed it. After all, mankind had been on the verge of mass suicide, and the Gods had mercifully come back from their self-imposed exile and taken care of things. The exile had been designed to prove, in the drastic laboratory of three thousand years, that Man by himself headed like a lemming for self-destruction. And, for Forrester, the point had been proven.
Yet now that the human race had been saved, there were still men who griped about the Gods and their return. Forrester silently wished the pack of them in Hades, enjoying the company of Pluto and his ilk.
At the corner of 34th and Broadway, as he came out of the subway tunnels, he bought a copy of the News and glanced quickly through the headlines. But, as always, there was little sensational news. Mars was doing pretty well for himself, of course: there were two wars going on in Asia, one in Europe and three revolutions in South and Central America. That last did seem to be overdoing things a bit, but not seriously. Forrester shrugged, wondering vaguely when the United States was going to have its turn.
But he couldn't concentrate on the paper and, after a little while, he got rid of it and took a look at his watch.
Twenty to six. Forrester decided he could use a drink to brace himself and steady his nerves.
On Sixth Avenue, near 34th Street, there was a bar called, for some obscure reason, the Boat House. Forrester headed for it, went inside and leaned against the bar. The bartender, a tall man with crew-cut reddish hair, raised his eyebrows in a questioning fashion.
"What'll it be, friend?"
"Vodka and ginger ale," Forrester said. "A double."
It was still, he told himself uneasily, just one drink. And that was all he was going to have.
The bartender brought it and Forrester sipped at it, watching his reflection in the mirror and wishing he felt easier in his mind about the whole Tower of Zeus affair. Then, very suddenly, he noticed that the man next to him was looking at him oddly. Forrester didn't like the look or, for that matter, the man himself, a raw-boned giant with deep-set eyes and a shock of dead-black hair, but so long as nobody bothered him, Forrester wasn't going to start anything.
Unfortunately, somebody bothered him. The tall man leaned over and said loudly: "What's the matter with you, bud? An infidel or something?"
Forrester hesitated. The accusation that he didn't believe in the practices ordained by the Gods themselves was an irritating one. But he could see the other side of the question, too. The tall man was undoubtedly a Dionysian; and, more than that, a member of a small sect inside the general corpus of Bacchus/Dionysus worshippers. He held that it was wrong to distill grape or grain products "too far," until there was nothing left but the alcohol.
That meant disapproval of gin and vodka on the grounds that, unlike whiskey or brandy, they'd had the "life" distilled out of them.
Forrester, however, was not really fond of brandy and whiskey. He decided to explain this to the tall man, but at the same time he began to develop the sinking feeling that it wasn't going to do any good.
Oh, well, there was still room for patience. "Don't fire," as Mars had said somewhere, "until you see the whites of their eyes."
"No, I'm no infidel," Forrester said politely. "You see, I'm—"
"No infidel?" the tall man roared. "Then I tell you what you do. You pour that slop out and drink a proper drink." He made a grab for Forrester's glass.
Forrester jerked it back, sloshing it a little in the process—and a few drops splattered on the other's hand.
"Now look here," Forrester said in a reasonable tone of voice. "I—"
"You spilling that stuff on me? What the blazes are you doing that for? I got a good mind to—"
Another man stepped into the altercation. This was a square-built, bullet-headed man with an air that was both truculent and eager. "What's the matter, Herb?" he asked the tall man. "This guy giving you trouble or something?" He favored Forrester with a fierce scowl. Forrester smiled pleasantly back, a little unsure as to how to proceed.
"This guy?" Herb said. "Trouble? Sam, he's an infidel!"
Forrester said: "I—"
"He drinks vodka," Herb said. "And I guess he drinks gin too."
"Great Bacchus," Sam said in a tone of wonder. "You run into them everywhere these days. Can't get away from the sons of—"
"Now—" Forrester started.
"And not only that," Herb said, "but he spills the stuff on me. Just because I ask him to have a regular drink like a man."
"Spills it on you?" Sam said.
Herb said: "Look," and extended his arm. On the sleeve of his jacket a few spots were slowly drying.
"Well, that's too much," Sam said heavily. "Just too damn much." He scowled at Forrester again. "You know, buddy, somebody ought to teach guys like you a lesson."
Forrester took a swallow of his drink and set the glass down unhurriedly. If either Herb or Sam attacked him, he knew his oath would permit his fighting back. And after the day he'd had, he rather looked forward to the chance. But he had to do his part to hold off an actual fight. "Now look here, friend—"
"Friend?" Sam said. "Don't call me your friend, buddy. I make no friends with infidels."
And, at that point, Forrester realized that he wasn't going to have a fight with Herb or Sam. He was going to have a fight with Herb and Sam—and with the third gentleman, a shaggy, beefy man who needed a shave, who stepped up behind them and asked: "Trouble?" in a voice that indicated that trouble was exactly what he was looking for.
"Maybe it is trouble, at that," Herb said tightly, without turning around. "This infidel here's been committing blasphemy."
Three against one wasn't as happy a thought as an even fight had been, but it was too late to back out now. "That's a lie!" Forrester snapped.
"Call me a liar?" Sam roared. He stepped forward and swung a hamlike fist at Forrester's head.
Forrester ducked. The heavy fist swished by his ear harmlessly, and he felt a strange new mixture of elation and fright. He grabbed his vodka-and-ginger from the bar and swung it in a single sweeping arc before him. Liquid rained on the faces of the three men.
Sam was still a little off balance. Forrester slammed the edge of his right hand into his side, and Sam stumbled to the floor. In the same motion, Forrester let fly with the now-empty glass. The shaggy man stood directly in his path. The glass conked him on the forehead and bounced to the floor, where it shattered unnoticed. The shaggy man blinked and Forrester, moving forward, discovered that he had no time to follow matters up in that direction.
Herb was snarling inarticulately, wiping vodka-and-ginger from his eyes. He blocked Forrester's advance toward the shaggy man. Forrester smiled gently and put a hard fist into Herb's solar plexus. The tall man doubled up in completely silent agony.
Forrester took a breath and started forward again. The shaggy man was shaking his head, trying to clear it.
Then Forrester's head became unclear. Something had banged against his right temple and the room was suddenly filled with pain and small, hard stars. Sam, Forrester discovered, had managed to get to his feet. The something had been a small brass ashtray that Sam had thrown at him.
Somehow, he stayed on his feet. The stars were still swirling around him, but he began to be able to see through them, and peered at the figure of the shaggy man, coming at him again. He let his knees bend a little, as if he were going to pass out. The shaggy man seemed to gain confidence from this, and stepped in carefully to kick Forrester in the stomach.
Forrester stepped back, grabbed the upcoming foot, and stood straight, lifting the foot and levering it into the air.
The shaggy man, surprise written all over his shaveless face, went over backward with great abruptness. His head hit the floor with an audible and satisfying whack, and then his limbs settled and he remained there, sprawled out and very quiet.
Forrester, meanwhile, was whirling to meet Sam, who was coming in like a bear, his arms outspread and a glaze of hatred in his eyes. Forrester, expressionless, ducked under the man's flailing arms and slammed a fist into his midsection. It was a harder midsection than he'd expected; unlike Herb, Sam had good muscles, and hitting them was like hitting thick rubber. The blow didn't put Sam down. It only made him gasp once.
That was enough. Forrester doubled his right fist and let Sam have one more blow, this one into the face. Sam's mouth opened as his eyes closed. His left arm pawed the air aimlessly for a tenth of a second.
Then he dropped like an empty overcoat.
There was a second of absolute silence. Then Forrester heard a noise behind him and whirled.
But it was only Herb, doubled up on the floor and very quietly retching.
Catching his breath, Forrester looked around him. The fight had attracted a lot of attention from the other customers in the bar, but none of them seemed to want to prolong it by joining in.
They were all trying to look as if they were minding their own business, while the bartender ...
Forrester stared. The bartender was at the other end of the bar, far away from the scene of action.
He was, as Forrester saw him, just hanging up the telephone.
Forrester put a bill on the bar, turned and walked out into the street. He had absolutely no desire to get mixed up with the secular police.
After all, he had an appointment to keep. And now—after a quiet drink that had turned into a three-against-one battle royal—he had to go and keep it.
It wasn't a very long walk from the Boat House to the Tower of Zeus, but it was long enough. By the time Forrester got to the Tower, he was feeling a lot worse than he'd felt when he left the bar. Being perfectly frank with himself, he admitted that he felt terrible.
The blow from the brass ashtray wasn't a sharp pain any longer. It had developed into a nice, dependable ache that had spread all over the side of his head. And his right eye was beginning to swell, probably from the same cause. He'd skinned the knuckles of his right hand, too, probably on Sam's face, and they set up their own smarting.
True, it wasn't a bad list of injuries to result from the odds he'd faced. But that wasn't the point.
You just didn't go up to the Tower of Zeus looking like a back-street brawler.
However, there was no help for it. He straightened his jacket and went in through the Fifth Avenue entrance of the Tower, heading for the first bank of elevators.
Zeus All-Father would know everything about his fight, and would know that it hadn't been his fault. (Hadn't it, though? Forrester asked himself. He remembered the joy he'd felt at the prospect of battle. How far would it count against him?) Zeus All-Father, through his priests, would make what allowances should be made.
Forrester hoped that the Godhead was feeling in a kind and merciful mood.
He reached the bank of elevators, and the burly Myrmidon who stood there, wearing the lightning-bolt shoulder patch of the All-Father. Ahead of him was a chattering crowd of five: mother, father, two daughters and a small son, all obviously out-of-towners. The Tower of Zeus was always a big tourist attraction. The Myrmidon directed them to the stairway that led to the second-floor Arcade, the main attraction for most visitors to the Tower. The Temple of Sacrifice was located up there, while the ground floor was filled with glass-fronted offices of the secretaries of various dignitaries.
Chattering gaily, and looking around them in a kind of happy awe, the family group moved off and Forrester stepped up to the Myrmidon, who said: "Stairway's right over there to your—"
"No," Forrester said. He reached into his jacket pocket, feeling his muscles ache as he did so. He drew out his wallet and managed to extract the simple card he'd been given in the Temple of Pallas Athena, the card which carried nothing but a lightning bolt.
He handed it to the Myrmidon, who looked down at it, frowned, and then looked up.
"What's this for?" he said.
"Well—" Forrester began, and then caught himself. He'd been told not to explain about the card to any mortal. And the Myrmidon was certainly just as mortal as Forrester himself, or any other hireling of the Gods. True, there was always the consideration that he might be Zeus All-Father himself, in disguise.
But that was a consideration that bore no weight at present. Even if the Myrmidon turned out to be a God in disguise, Forrester wouldn't be excused if he said anything about the card. You had to go by appearances; that was the principle on which everything rested, and a very good principle too.
Not that there weren't a few unprincipled young men around who pretended to be Gods in disguise in order to seduce various local and ingenuous maidens. But Zeus always found out about them. And ...
Forrester recognized that his thoughts were beginning to veer once more. Without changing his expression, he said evenly: "You're supposed to know," and waited.
The Myrmidon studied him for what seemed about three days. At last he nodded, looked down at the card intently, raised his head and nodded again. "Okay," he said. "Take Car One."
Forrester moved off. Car One was not the first elevator car. As a matter of fact, it was in the middle bank, identified only by a small placard. It took him almost five minutes to find it, and by the time he stepped toward it clocks were ticking urgently in his head.
It would do him absolutely no good to be late.
But another Myrmidon was standing beside the closed doors of the elevator car. Forrester hissed in his breath with impatience—none of which showed on his face—and then caught himself. Certainly Zeus All-Father knew what he was doing, and if Zeus had thrown these delays in his path, it was not for him to complain.
The thought was soothing. Nevertheless, Forrester showed his card to the Myrmidon with an abrupt action very like impatience. This Myrmidon merely glanced at it in a bored fashion and pushed a button on the wall behind him. The elevator doors opened, Forrester stepped inside, and the doors closed.
Forrester was alone in a small bronzed cubicle which began at once to rise rapidly. Just how rapidly, he was unable to tell. There were no indicators at all on the elevator, and the opaque doors made it impossible to see floors flit by. But his ears rang with the speed, and when the car finally stopped, it did so with a slight jerk that threw Forrester, stiff and worried, off balance. He almost fell out of the car as the door opened, and clutched at something for support.
The something was the arm of a Myrmidon. Forrester gaped and looked around. He was in a plain hallway of polished marble. There was no way to tell how many stories above the street he was.
The Myrmidon seemed a more friendly sort than his compatriots downstairs, and wore in addition to the usual lightning-bolt patch the two silver ants of a Captain on the shoulders of his uniform. He nearly smiled at Forrester—but not quite.
"You're William Forrester?" he said.
Forrester nodded. He produced the ID card and handed it with the special card to the Myrmidon.
"Right," the Myrmidon said.
Forrester turned right.
The Myrmidon stared at him. "No," he said. "I mean it's all right. You're all right."
"Thank you," Forrester said.
"Oh—" The Myrmidon looked at him, then shrugged his shoulders. "You're expected," he said at last in a flat voice. "Come with me."
He started down the hallway. Forrester followed him around a corner to an ornate bronzed door, covered with bas-reliefs depicting the actions of the Gods among themselves, and among men. The Myrmidon seemed unimpressed by the magnificence of the thing; he pushed it open and bowed low to, as far as Forrester could see, nobody in particular.
Taking no chances, Forrester copied his bow. He was still bent when the Myrmidon announced: "Forrester is here, Your Concupiscence," in a reverent tone of voice, and backed off a step, narrowly missing Forrester himself in the process.
He waved a hand and Forrester went in.
The door shut halfway behind him.
The room was perfectly unbelievable. Its rich hangings were purple velvet, draping a large window that looked out on ...
Forrester gulped. It was impossible to be this high. New York was spread out below like a toy city.
He jerked his eyes away from the window and back to the rest of the room. It was furnished mainly with couches: big couches, little couches, puffy ones, spare ones, in felt, velvet, fur, and every other material Forrester could think of. The rooms were flocked in a pale pink, and on the floor was a deep-purple rug of a richer pile than Forrester had ever seen.
And on one of the couches, the largest and the softest, she reclined.
She was clad only in the diaphanous robes of her calling, and she was stacked. Beside her, little Maya Wilson would have looked about eight years old. Her hair was as red as the inside of a blast furnace, and had about the same effect on Forrester's pulse rate. Her face was a slightly rounded oval, her body a series of mathematically indescribable curves.
Forrester did the only thing he could do.
He bowed again, even lower than before.
"Come in, William Forrester," said the High Priestess of Venus/Aphrodite, the veritable Primate of Venus for New York herself, in a voice that managed to be all at once regal, pleasant and seductive.
Forrester, already in, could think of nothing to say. The gaze of Her Concupiscence fell on the half-open door. "You may retire, Captain," she said to the waiting Myrmidon. "And allow no one to enter here until I give notice."
"Very well, Your Concupiscence," the Myrmidon said.
The door shut.
Forrester snapped erect from his bow, and then realized that he could do nothing but stand there until he had more information. What was the High Priestess of Aphrodite doing in the Tower of Zeus All-Father anyway? And—always supposing she had the right to be there, as of course she must have had—what did she want with William Forrester?
He heaved a great sigh. This was turning into an extremely puzzling day. First there had been the message and the card admitting him to the Tower. Then there had been (the sigh changed in character) Maya Wilson. And then (the sigh changed again, into a faint echo of a groan) the fight in the Boat House.
Now he was having an audience with the Primate of Venus for New York.
The High Priestess's smile gave him no hint. She raised herself to a sitting position and patted the couch. "Sit over here," she said. "Next to me." Then she changed her mind. "No," she added. "First just walk over here, stand up and turn around. Slowly."
Forrester's brain was whirling like a top, but his face was, as usual, expressionless. He did as she had bid him, wondering frantically what was going on, and why?
After he had turned completely around and stood facing her again, the High Priestess simply sat and studied him for almost a full minute, looking him up and down with eyes that were totally unreadable. Forrester waited.
Finally she nodded her head slowly. "You'll do," she said, in a reflective tone, and nodded her head again. "Yes, you'll do."
Forrester couldn't restrain his questions any longer. "Do?" he burst out. "I mean," he continued, more quietly, "what will I do for, Your Concupiscence?"
"Oh, for whatever honor it is that our beloved Goddess has in mind for you," the High Priestess said offhandedly. "I can certainly see that you will do. A little pudgy around the middle, but that's a trifle and hardly matters. The important things are there. You're obviously strong and quick."
At that point Forrester caught up with the first sentence of her explanation. "The—the Goddess?" he said faintly.
"Certainly," the High Priestess said. "Else why would I give you audience? I am not promiscuous in my dealings with the lay world."
"I'm sure," Forrester said respectfully.
The High Priestess looked at him sardonically. "Of course you are," she said. "However, the important thing is that our beloved Aphrodite has selected you, William Forrester, for some high honor."
Forrester caught her word for the Goddess, and remembered, thanking his lucky stars he hadn't had a chance to slip, that here in the Tower it was protocol to refer to the Gods and Goddesses by their Greek names alone.
"I don't suppose," he said tentatively, "that you have any idea just what this—high honor is?"
"You, William Forrester," the High Priestess began, in some rage, "dare to question—" Her tone changed. "Oh, well, I suppose I shouldn't become angry with ... No." She shrugged, but her tone carried a little pique. "Frankly, I don't know what the honor is."
"Well, then," Forrester said, his bearing perfectly calm, even though he could feel his stomach sinking to ground level, "how do you know it's an honor?" The thought that had crossed his mind was almost too horrible to retain, but he had to say it. "Perhaps," he went on, "I've offended the Gods in some unusual way—some way very offensive to them."
"Perhaps you have."
"And perhaps," Forrester said, "they've decided on some exquisite method of punishing me. Something like the punishment they gave Tantalus when he—"
"I know the ways of the Gods quite well, thank you," the High Priestess said coolly. "And I can tell you that your fears have no justification."
"Please," the High Priestess said, raising a hand. "If the Gods were to punish you, they would simply have sent out a squad of Myrmidons to pick you up, and that would have been the end of it."
"Perhaps not," Forrester said, in a voice that didn't sound at all like his own to him. It sounded much too unconcerned. "Perhaps I have offended only the Goddess herself." The idea sounded more plausible the more he thought about it. "Certainly the All-Father would back up his favorite Daughter in punishing a mortal."
"Certainly he would. There is no doubt of that. And still the Myrmidons would have—"
"Not necessarily. You're well aware of the occasional arguments and quarrels between the Gods."
"I am," the High Priestess said, not without irony. "And it does not appear seemly that an ordinary mortal should mention—"
"I teach History," Forrester said. "I know of such quarrels. Especially between Athena and Aphrodite."
"It's obvious. Since I'm an acolyte of Athena, it may be that Aphrodite wished to keep my arrest secret."
"I doubt it," the High Priestess said.
Forrester wished he could believe her. But his own theory looked uncomfortably plausible. "It certainly looks as if I'm right."
"Well—" For a second the High Priestess paled visibly, the freckles that went with her red hair standing out clearly on her face and giving her the disturbing appearance of an eleven-year-old. No eleven-year-old, however, Forrester reminded himself, had ever been built like the High Priestess.
Then she regained her color and laughed, all in an instant. "For a minute," she said in a light tone, "you almost convinced me of your forebodings. But there's nothing in them. There couldn't be."
Forrester opened his mouth, and Why not? was on his lips. But he never got a chance to say the words. The High Priestess blinked and peered more closely at his face, and before he had a chance to speak she asked him: "What happened to you?"
"A small accident," Forrester said quickly. It was a lie, but he thought a pardonable one. The truth was just too complicated to spin out; he had no real intent to deceive.
But the High Priestess shook her head. "No," she said. "Not an accident. A fight. Your hands are skinned and bruised."
"Very well," Forrester said. "It was a fight. But I was attacked, and entitled to defend myself."
"I'm sure," the High Priestess said. "Yet I have a question for you. Who won?"
"Won? I did. Naturally."
It sounded boastful, he reflected, but it wasn't. He had won, and it had been natural to him to do so. His build and strength, as well as his speed, had made any other outcome unlikely.
And the High Priestess didn't seem to take offense. She said only: "I thought so. Just a moment." Then she walked over to a telephone. It was a simple act but Forrester watched it fervently. First she stood up, and then she took a step, and then another step ... and her whole body moved. And moved.
It was marvelous. He watched her bend down to pick up the phone without any clear idea of the meaning of the motions. The motions themselves were enough. Every curve and jiggle and bounce was engraved forever on his mind.
The High Priestess dialed a number, waited and said: "Aphrodite's compliments to Hermes the Healer."
An indistinguishable voice answered her from the receiver.
"Aphrodite thanks you," the High Priestess said, "and asks if Hermes might send one of his priests around for a few minor ministrations."
The receiver said something else.
"No," the High Priestess said. "Nothing like that. Don't you think we have other interests—such as they are?"
Again the receiver.
"Just a black eye and some skin lacerations," the High Priestess said. "Nothing serious."
And the receiver replied once more.
"Very well," the High Priestess said. "Aphrodite wishes you well." She hung up.
She came back to the couch, Forrester's eyes following her every inch of the way. She sat down, looked up and said: "What's the matter? Do I bore you?"
"Bore me?" Forrester all but cried.
"It's just—well, nothing, I suppose," the High Priestess said. "Your expression."
"Training," Forrester explained. "An acolyte does well not to express his emotions too clearly."
The High Priestess nodded casually and patted the couch at her side. "Sit down here, next to me."
Forrester did so, gingerly.
A moment of silence ensued.
Then Forrester, gathering courage, said: "Thank you for getting a Healer. But I'd like to ask you—"
"How do you know I'm not under some sort of carefully concealed arrest? After all, you said before that you were sure—"
"And I am sure," the High Priestess said. "Aphrodite herself has ordered a sacrifice in her favor. A sacrifice from you. And Aphrodite does not accept—much less order—a sacrifice from those standing in her disfavor."
"I'm sure," the High Priestess said.
"Oh," Forrester said. "Good." The world was not quite as black as it could have been. And still, it was not exactly shining white. A sacrifice? And outside the door, Forrester could hear a disturbance.
What did that mean?
Her Concupiscence didn't seem to hear it at first. "We will perform the rite together and—" The noise grew louder. "What's that?" she said.
It was the sound of argument. Forrester realized what had happened. "It's the priest from Hermes," he said. "The Healer. You forgot to tell the Captain of Myrmidons to let him in."
"My goodness!" the High Priestess said. "So I did! It slipped my mind entirely." She touched Forrester's cheek affectionately. "Of course, I imagine it's only natural to be a bit forgetful when—" She got up and went to the door.
The Captain and a small, fat priest in a golden-edged tunic were tangled confusedly outside. The High Priestess looked away from them in disdain and said regally: "You may permit the Healer to enter, Captain." The tangle came untied and the little priest scooted in. To him, as the door closed again, the High Priestess whispered: "Sorry. I didn't expect you quite so soon."
"No more did I!" The priest waved his caduceus furiously, so that it seemed as if the twin snakes twined round it were moving, the two wings above them beating, and the ball surmounting all, on top of the staff, traced uneasy designs in the air. "Myrmidons!" he said.
"I certainly regret—"
"If you boiled down their brains for the fat content, one alone would supply the Temple with candles for a year! Just beef and nothing more! Beef! Beef!"
Then, with a start, he seemed to see the High Priestess for the first time, and his tone changed. "Oh," he said. "Good evening, Your Concupiscence."
"Good evening," the High Priestess said in an indulgent tone.
"Well, well, well," the priest said. "What seems to be the trouble? My goodness. It must be important, sure enough—certainly important." His little round red eager face seemed to shine as he went on. "Hermes himself transported me here just as soon as you called!"
"Oh, my, yes," the priest said. "Just as soon as ever. Yes. Hm. And you can believe me when I tell you—believe me, Your Concupiscence—take my word when I tell you—"
"Hermes," the priest said. "Hermes doesn't often take such an interest—I may say such a personal interest—in a mortal, I'll tell you. And you can believe me when I do tell you that. I do."
"I'm sure," the High Priestess said.
"Yes," the priest said, waving his caduceus gently. He blinked. "Where's the patient? The mortal?"
"He's over here," the High Priestess said, motioning to Forrester sitting awestruck on the couch. Priests of Hermes were common enough sights—but a priest like this was something new and strange in his experience.
"Ah," the priest said, twinkling at him. "So there you are, eh? Over there? You are sitting over there, aren't you?"
"That's right," Forrester said blankly.
"Now listen to me carefully," the High Priestess said. "You're not to ask his name, or mention anything about this visit to anyone—understand?"
The priest blinked. "Oh, certainly. Absolutely. Without doubt. I've already been told that, you might say. Already. Certainly. Wouldn't think of such a thing." He moved over and stood near Forrester, peering down at him. "My goodness," he said. "Let me see that eye, young man."
Forrester turned his head wordlessly.
"Oh, my, yes," the priest said. "Black indeed. Very black. A fight. My, yes. An altercation, disagreement, discussion, battle—"
"Yes," Forrester cut in.
"Certainly you have," the priest said. "And what'd the other fellow look like, eh? Beaten, I'll bet. You look a strong type."
Forrester relaxed. It was the only thing to do while the priest babbled on, touching his wounds gently as he did so with various parts of his caduceus. The pain vanished with a touch of the left wingtip, and the lacerations healed instantly as they were caressed with first one and then another of the various coils of the snakes.
But Forrester now was free to worry. Arrest was out of the question. As the High Priestess had said, on the evidence it was clear that Aphrodite intended to honor him in some way. And there was nothing at all, he thought, wrong with an honor from the Goddess of Love.
But another sacrifice? After the sacrifice to Aphrodite he'd made earlier, and the fight he'd gotten into, he just didn't quite feel up to it. It wouldn't do to refuse, but ...
"Well," the priest said, stepping back. "Well, well. You ought to be all right now, young fellow—right as rain."
Forrester said: "Thanks."
"Might feel a little soreness—tenderness, you might say—for a day or so. Only a day or so, tenderness," the priest said. "After that, right as rain. Right as you'll ever be. All right, as a matter of fact: all right."
Forrester said: "Thanks."
The priest went to the door, turned, and said to the High Priestess: "Hermes' blessing on you both, as a matter of fact, as they say. Blessings from Hermes on you both."
The High Priestess nodded regally.
"And," the priest said, "merely by the way, as it might be, without meaning harm, if you would ask a blessing for me—Aphrodite's blessing? Easy for you. Of course, it would be nice curing—curing, as they say—stupidity, plain dumbness, as they call such things—curing stupidity as easily as I can cure small ills. Nice."
"Indeed," the High Priestess said.
"But there," the priest went on. "Only the Gods can cure that. Only the Gods and no one else. Yes. Hm. And not often. They don't do anything like that in the—ah—regular course of things. As a matter of fact, you might say, I've never heard of—never heard of such a case. Never. Not one. Yet ..." He opened the door, spat: "Myrmidons!" and disappeared into the hallway.
The door banged shut.
Forrester sighed heavily. The High Priestess turned to him.
"Feel better?" she asked.
"Much," Forrester said, dreading the ordeal to come.
The High Priestess came over to the couch and sat down next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder. "Shall we prepare for the—sacrifice?"
Forrester sighed again. "Sure," he said. "Naturally."
* * * * *
When she was locked in his arms, it was as if time had started all over again. Forrester responded to the eagerness of the woman as he'd never dreamed he could respond; all his tiredness dropped away as if it had never been, and he was a new man. He touched her bare flesh and felt the heat of her through his fingers and hands; with his arms around her nakedness he rolled, locked to her, feeling the friction of skin against skin and the magnificence of her.
The sacrifice went on ... and on ... and on into endless time and endless space. Forrester thrust and gasped at the woman and her head went back, her mouth pulled open as she shivered and responded to him....
Until finally they lay, panting, in the magnificent room. Forrester rose first, vaguely surprised at himself. He found a towel in a closet at the far end of the room and wiped his damp forehead slowly.
"Well," he said. "That was quite a sacrifice. What next?"
The High Priestess raised herself on one elbow and stared across the room at him. "There is no need for such familiarity, Forrester," she said. "Not from a lay acolyte."
Forrester tossed the towel onto a couch. "My apologies, Your Concupiscence. I'm a little—light-headed. But what happens next?"
The High Priestess reached into the diaphanous pile of her clothing and came up with a small diamond-encrusted watch she wore, usually, on her wrist. "Our timing was almost perfect," she said. "It is now twenty-hundred hours. The Goddess expects you at twenty-oh-one exactly."
A hurried half-minute passed. Then, fully dressed, Forrester went with the High Priestess to a golden door half-hidden in the hangings at the side of the room. She made a series of mystical signs: the circle, the serpent and others Forrester couldn't quite follow.
She opened the door, genuflecting as she did so, and Forrester dropped to one knee behind her, looking at the doorway.
It was filled with a pale blue haze that looked like the clear summer sky on a hot day. Except that it wasn't sky, but a curtain that wavered and shimmered before his eyes. Beyond it, he could see nothing.
The High Priestess rose from her genuflection and Forrester followed suit. There was a sole second of silence.
Then the High Priestess said: "You are to step through the Veil of Heaven, William Forrester."
Forrester said: "Me? Through the Veil of Heaven?"
"Don't be afraid," she said. "And don't try to touch the Veil. Just walk through as if nothing at all were there."
Forrester filled his lungs as though he were going to take a very high dive. He thought: Here goes nothing. That was all; there wasn't time for anything else.
He stepped into the blue haze, and had a sudden sensation of falling.
There was a tingle like a mild electric shock. Forrester opened his mouth and then closed it again as the tingle stopped, and the sense of falling simply died away. He had closed his eyes on the way into the curtain, and now he opened them again.
He closed them very quickly, counted to ten, and took a deep breath. Then he opened them to look at the room he was in.
It was unlike any room he had ever seen before. It didn't have the opulence of the High Priestess's rooms. I am a room, it seemed to say, and a room is what I was meant to be. I don't have to draw attention to myself like my poorer sisters. I am content merely to exist as the room of rooms, the very type and image of the Ideal Enclosure.
The floors and walk of the place seemed to blend into each other at odd angles. Forrester's eyes couldn't quite follow them or understand them, and judging the size of the room was out of the question. There was a golden wash of light filling the room, though it didn't seem to come from anywhere in particular. It was, in fact, as if the room itself were shining. Forrester blinked and rubbed his eyes. The light, or whatever it was, was changing color.
Gradually, he realized that it went on doing that. He wasn't sure that he liked it, but it was certainly different. The colors went from gold to pale rose to violet to blue, and so on, back to gold again, while little eddies and swirls of light sparkled into rainbows here and there.
Forrester began to feel dizzy again.
There were various objects standing around here and there in the room, but Forrester couldn't quite tell what they were. Even their sizes were difficult to judge, because of the shifting light and shape of the room itself. There was only one thing that seemed reasonably certain.
He was alone in the room.
Set in one wall was a square of light that didn't change color quite as much as everything else. Forrester judged it to be a window and headed for it. With his first step, he discovered something else about the place.
The carpeting was completely unique. Instead of fiber, the floor seemed to have been covered a foot deep with foam rubber. Forrester didn't exactly walk to the window; he bounced there. The sensation was almost enjoyable, he thought, when you got used to it. He wondered just how long it took to get used to it and settled on eighty years as a good first guess.
He stood in front of the window. He looked out.
He saw nothing but clouds and sky.
It took a long while for him to decide what to do next, and when he finally did come to a decision, it was the wrong one.
He looked down.
Below him there were tumbled rocks, ledges of ice and snow, clouds and—far, far below—the flat land of the Earth. He wanted to shut his eyes, but he couldn't. The whole vast stomach-churning panorama spread out beneath him endlessly. The people below, if there were any, weren't even big enough to be ants. They were completely invisible. Forrester took a deep breath and gripped the side ledges of the window.
And a voice behind him said: "Welcome, Mortal."
Forrester almost went through the window. But he managed to regain his balance and turn around, saying angrily: "Don't do that!" As the last of the words left his lips, he became aware of the smiling figure facing him.
She was standing in a spotlight, Forrester thought at first. Then he saw that the light was coming from the woman herself—or from her clothing. The dress she wore was a satinlike sheath that glowed with an aura even brighter than the room. Her blonde hair picked up the radiance and glowed, too, illuminating a face that was at once regal, inviting and passionate. It was, Forrester thought, a hell of a disturbing combination.
The cloth of the dress clung to her figure as if it wanted to. Forrester didn't blame it a bit; the dress showed off a figure that was not only beyond his wildest dreams, but a long way beyond what he had hitherto regarded as the bounds of possibility. From shoulder to toe, she was perfection.
This was also true of the woman from shoulder to crown.
Forrester gulped and, automatically, went on one knee.
"Please," he murmured. "Pardon me. I didn't mean—"
"Quite all right," the Goddess murmured. "I understand perfectly."
"Never mind all that now," Venus said, with just a hint of impatience. "Rise, William Forrester—or you who were William Forrester."
Forrester rose. Sweat was pouring down his face. He made no effort to wipe it away. "Were?" he asked, dazed. "But that's my name!"