In a beer hall on the eighty-first floor of the Hotel Mark Twain fourteen men held an adolescent girl prisoner.
“I’ll go up there by myself,” Sordman said.
He was a big young man with sloppy black hair and a red beard. His fashionably ornate clothes covered the body of a first class Talent. Disciplined training, plus drugs and his natural gift, had made him one of the four truly developed psionic adepts in the world. With drugs and preparation, he could command the entire range of psi powers. Without drugs, he could sense the emotions and sometimes the general thought patterns of the people near him.
“We’d better go with you,” Lee Shawn said. “There’s an awful lot of fear up there. They’ll kill you as soon as they learn you’re a Talent.”
She was a lean, handsome woman in her early forties. A lawyer-politician, she was the Guggenheim Foundation’s lobbyist. For years she had fought against laws to outlaw the development of Talent.
“Thanks, Mama, but I think I’d better go alone.”
Sordman, though he didn’t tell her, knew that symbolically Lee saw him as the tree and herself as the rain and the earth.
“Go ahead and laugh,” George Aaron said. “But you’ll need big medicine to fight that fear. Lee’s symbolic place in your psyche is important.”
“I’ve thought it over,” Sordman said. “I’ll depend on God and nothing else.”
He felt George’s mind squirm. As a psychologist, George accepted Sordman’s Zen-Christian faith because Sordman needed it to control the powers of his Talent.
But George himself was a confirmed skeptic.
The men up there were scared. Sordman knew he would die if he lost control. But Lee and George were scared, too. Even now, standing in the park in early morning, their fear battered at his mind.
He thought about swimming in the ocean. He made his skin remember salted wind. The real Atlantic, a mile away, helped the illusion.
It was the right symbol. He felt his friends calm.
“Let him go,” George said.
“He’s manipulating us,” Lee said.
“I know. But let him go.”
Sordman laughed. Lee bent and tore a clump of grass from the earth. “Take this, Andy.”
It was wet with dew. He held it to his nose and smelled the dirt and grass. Two things kept him from destruction by his own Talent. He loved the physical world and he believed in God.
“I’ll call you if I need you,” he said.
“Be careful,” George said. “Many people need you.”
“You’ve got status,” Lee said. “Use it. You’re dealing with the kind of people it impresses.”
The hotel stood three hundred stories tall. Surrounded by a five-mile-square park, connected to the major coastal cities by high speed vacuum tubes, the building was a small town. Eighty-five thousand people lived within its walls.
Sordman rode an empty elevator. Through the glass sides he studied the deserted halls and shops.
They were frightened here. Murder had been done. A Talent had destroyed two men. Lord, protect us from the malice of a witch.
The eighty-first was a commercial floor. He got off the vator and walked down the main corridor. A man watched him through the door of a bar. A girl in a blue kimono froze behind the counter of a pastry shop.
He stopped before the doors of the beer hall. He dropped to his knees and prayed.
Once the brave leader walked into a panicky group and it was enough to look calm. Now he had to be calm. It was not enough to square the shoulders, walk erect, speak in a confident tone. Sordman’s true emotions radiated from him every moment. Those within range felt them as their own.
He drove thoughts like knives into the deepest corners of his mind. He begged release from fear. He prayed his God to grant him love for the frightened men within.
He stood erect and squared his shoulders. His bulb-shouldered morning coat was grey as dawn. He thought a well loved formula, a Buddhist prayer from the Book of Universal Worship. All life is transitory. All people must suffer and die. Let us forgive one another.
He roared his name and titles at the door.
“I am Talent Andrew Sordman, Fellow for Life of the Guggenheim Foundation, by Senate Act Protector of the People! By the laws of our country, I ask the right to enter.”
“I am Talent Andrew Sordman, Fellow--”
“Go away, witch!“
Without drugs and preparation, Sordman needed visual contact to sense emotions. But he didn’t need Talent to sense the hatred in that voice.
He pictured a rough block of stone.
Using a basic skill, he kept the picture in his mind as he opened the door and planned his words.
“I have taken no drugs and made no preparation. You have nothing to fear. I’m your Protector and I’ve come to talk.”
The beer hall was large and gloomy. The butts and ashes of the night’s smoking filled its trays. Fourteen men watched him come. Half a dozen had hunting rifles.
Hunched over, weeping, a thin, dark-haired girl sat beneath an unshaded light. A shiver of anger crossed his brain.
“Kill the witch!” a young man shouted.
Lord, grant me love...
His eyes focused on the rifle bearers. One of them half-raised his gun. Then the butt clumped on the floor.
“You’re bewitched!” the young man said. “I told you not to let him in.”
“I’ve come to talk,” Sordman said. “Who’s the leader of your group?”
The young man said, “We don’t have a leader. Here we’re all equals.”
Sordman studied the young man’s emotions. He was frightened, but only a little more than the others. There was something else there, too. Something very strong. Sex frustration! The young man had an athletic body and a handsome, chiselled face. On his yellow vest he wore the emblem of a Second Class Technician. But even a young man with adequate finances could be frustrated. Keeping the stone in his mind, he undressed a certain actress.
He loved women and engaged in sex with lusty, triumphant joy. To him it was a celebration of the sacred mystery of life. He hoped some of this emotion reached its target.
He started talking without asking for a parley.
“Two men died yesterday. I’ve come to hunt out the murderer and put him away. What’s the evidence against this girl?”
“We found drugs and a divining rod in her room.”
“She’s had a reputation for a long time.”
“The school kids say she’s a daydreamer.”
Sordman understood their fear. Psi was a new and dangerous force. Its use demanded moral and intellectual discipline. Only a rare and carefully developed personality could encounter the anger, hostility and fear in other minds and still retain compassion and reasonable respect for human beings. An undisciplined person panicked and went into a mental state approaching paranoia. Sordman fought panic every day. He fought it with a total acceptance of human motivations, cultivated tenderness and compassion, and a healthy ego which could accept and enjoy its own self-love.
Those things, Sordman would have said, and also the necessary grace of God.
But the most undisciplined personality could practice psi destructively. Hostile minds roamed the world. Death could strike you in a clear field beneath an open sky while your murderer lay home in his bed. No wonder they dragged a girl from her parents and bullied her till dawn.
They talked. Sordman picked his way through fourteen minds. As always, he found what he wanted.
A fat, redheaded man sat a little apart from the group. He radiated a special kind of concern. He was concerned for the girl and for his own children. He believed the actions of the night had been necessary, but he felt the girl’s pain and he wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing.
Above all, he was a man who wanted to do the right thing--the really right thing.
“You all have children,” Sordman said. “Would you like to see them dragged out at night and treated the way you’ve treated this girl?”
“We’ve got to protect ourselves!” the young man said.
“Let him talk!” the fat man growled. He stared at the thick hands he spread on the table. “The girl has said all night she’s innocent. Maybe she is. Maybe the Protector can do what we haven’t done and find the real killer.”
“I’m a master Talent,” Sordman said. “If the killer is in the hotel, I can track him down before midnight. Will you give me that long?”
“How do we know you’ll bring in the right man?”
“If he’s the right man, he’ll make it plain enough.”
“You’ll make him confess,” the young man said. “You’ll manipulate him like a puppet.”
“What good will that do?” Sordman said. “Do you think I could control a man all the time he’s in prison and on trial? If I use my Talent more than a few hours, I collapse.”
“Can we hold the girl here?” asked the redheaded fat man.
“Feed her and treat her right,” Sordman said. “What’s your name?”
“John Dyer. My friends were about to use their belts on her.”
A rifleman shuffled uneasily. “It’s the only way. Mind killers use their Talent to tie their tongues and confuse us. Only pain can break their control.”
“That’s a fairy tale,” Sordman said. “Without drugs a Talent is helpless.”
“We’ve got the girl,” John Dyer said. “She can’t hurt us while we’re waiting.”
“He can!“ the young man screamed. “Are you a plain fool? He can go outside and kill us all.”
Sordman laughed. “Sure I could. And tomorrow I’d have to fight off an army. That I couldn’t do if I was fool enough to try. You’re frightened, boy. Use your head.”
“You are excited, Leonard,” said an armed man. He wore a blue morning coat with Manager’s stars and the emblem of a transportation company. “We can wait a day. If we’ve got the killer, then we’re safe. If we don’t, then we’ve failed and the Protector should try.”
“I’m not frightened. I just don’t like Talent.”
Most of the men frowned. They didn’t share the prejudice. A few nodded and mumbled and shot dark glances at Sordman.
He let them talk. He stood there and thought apple pies and the brotherhood of man and the time he and his second wife spent three days in bed. And the big block of stone.
He was a high-powered transmitter broadcasting joy, good will toward men and tranquility.
In the end they listened to Dyer.
“But don’t think you’ll get a minute past midnight,” said the young man.
“Technician, your Protector will remember.”
Clarke Esponito had been a hard, quick little man in his early fifties. On the day of his death, the hotel newspaper had published his picture and announced his promotion to Director of Vocational Testing for the entire Atlantic Region. He had lived with his wife and his nineteen-year-old son, and his wife had been a lifetime wife. Esponito had been a Catholic, and that faith still called short-term marriages a mortal sin.
For a moment Sordman wondered what it would be like to know only one woman your entire life. He loved the infinite variety of God’s creation and wanted to sample as much of it as he could.
“Mylady Widow, our apologies.” Lee bowed, hands before her chest, and Sordman and George Aaron bowed with her. “We intrude on you,” Lee said, “only because we have to find the real killer. Other people may be in danger.”
The Widow Esponito bowed in return.
“I understand, Politician Shawn.”
Even with her face scarred by tears she looked lovely. From the earliest years of their marriage, her husband had been high in the Civil Service and able to buy her beauty treatments.
“Mylady,” Sordman said, “I need your help for two things. We want to know who you think wanted to kill your husband. And we need your want.”
“Our want?” her son asked. He stood rigidly beside his mother’s chair. His clothes were rich and formal tweed.
“Do you want to find the killer?”
The boy nodded soberly. “The moment I heard of his murder, I promised to avenge him.”
“John!” His mother trembled. “You were raised to be a Christian!”
Sordman said, “I want to locate the image I think was used to kill him. For that I want to hook your strong desires into my thoughts. You won’t know I’m doing it. But if you’re near me, I’ll use your emotions.”
“Your husband was a very important man,” Lee said. “Would anyone gain by his death?”
“Everyone liked my husband. He was always laughing, he--” The old-young woman started crying. Her son put his arm around her shoulders.
Sordman felt her pain and winced. Death and pain were part of Creation, but he hated them and often cursed them. At times like these, he understood George’s skepticism.
The boy said, “Manager Kurt didn’t like him.”
Mylady stifled her sobs and sat up. “Manager Kurt has been our guest every month. Protector, John’s upset. He’s talking wildly.”
“Father told me. He said Manager Kurt didn’t like him.”
“Your father and the Manager were good friends.”
He felt a sudden resentment in the woman. Why? The boy didn’t feel as if he was lying. Maybe Esponito had been the kind of man who didn’t talk about his job with his wife. But his son--who would some day be a member of his father’s class--would have received a certain amount of practical advice. Perhaps Mylady resented being left out of her husband’s professional life. That was a common family pattern, after all.
George felt impatient. Sordman shot him a questioning glance. “Where does Manager Kurt live?”
“In Baltimore,” the boy said.
“Mylady, may we use your phone?”
“You don’t take John seriously?” Mylady said.
“We’ll have to ask the Baltimore police to check on the Manager. It may not mean anything, but we have to follow every lead.”
“Use the phone, Protector.”
Sordman and George stepped into the dining room.
“We’re wasting time,” George said. “They’re both upset and there seems to be a family quarrel.”
“I know. But Esponito’s murder gives us more leads than Bedler’s. Bedler didn’t even have a one-month wife when he died. Lots of people knew the Administrator and might have had a grudge against him.”
George clasped his hands behind his back. “We’ve unraveled twenty-three murders in the last four years. Judging by that experience, I’d say there are three possibilities: both victims were picked at random; both victims are in some way related; or one victim was killed to confuse the police.”
“Unless we have something entirely new.”
“That’s been the pattern so far.”
“I think we’re both coming to the same conclusion.”
“Find out if the murderer used the picture from the paper?”
“Mmm. If he did, Administrator Esponito was probably attacked on the spur of the moment. And we should be seeing who wanted to kill Bedler.”
“What about Manager Kurt?”
“Have Lee call the Baltimore police while I try to locate the murder weapon. At least they can search his home for drugs.”
George went back to the parlor and Sordman stripped to his yellow vest. From the pockets of his morning coat he removed a leather case and a tiny plastic package. Unfolded, the plastic became a thin red robe with a yellow bomb-burst on the back.
He called it his battle robe. Habit played a big part in the development of Talent. The same clothing, the same ritualized movements, helped put his mind in the proper state.
He filled a hypodermic with a pink liquid and jabbed the needle into his wrist. As the drug took effect, he knelt to pray.
“Grant me, God, the strength to bind the demons in my mind.”
He stood up. At this point many Talents danced. Sordman loved to use his body, but ritual dancing made him feel ridiculous. It had been proven, however, that the Power flowed at its freest when the body was occupied, so he took three colored balls from the case and started juggling.
The balls soared higher and faster. He mumbled a hymn. His voice grew stronger. He roared his love of life at the world.
The wall between his conscious and unconscious mind collapsed. Lightning flashed in his eyes. Colors sang in his brain. Walls, floor, table, chairs became extensions of his mind. They danced with the balls between his hands. The Universe and he flowed together like a sea of molten iron.
His hands, miles from his mind, fumbled in the case. The balls danced and bobbed in the air. He laughed and unfolded his divining rod. The furniture bounced. Mylady Esponito screamed.
All Creation is a flow. Dance, you parts of me, you living things, you atoms of my dust!
He had torn Esponito’s photo from a newspaper. Now he let the colored balls drop and stuck the picture on the end of the rod.
“This and that are one in kind. Servant rod, find me that!”
He stretched out the rod and turned on his heels. He sang and blanked his mind and listened to the tremors in his hands.
Stop. Back right. Now the left. Too far. Down. Correct left...
He pressed a button on the rod. A tripod sprang out. A pair of sights flipped up. Carefully he sighted down the rod, out through the window-wall beside the table, to a grove of trees in the park.
Creation roaring in his open head, divining rod in hand, he stormed out the door and down the hall. Lee and George hurried after him. The presence of their well known minds pleased him. There was George’s unexpressed belief that he had “mastered” and guided the Power he feared. There was Lee’s worry for him and her keen awareness of human realities. And there, too, were self-discipline, intelligence, affection, and a richness of experience and thought he expected to draw on for another forty years.
And filling the world, pounding on the walls of existence, the Power. His power. He, the master of the world! He who could uproot the trees, spin the earth, make the ground shake and change the colors of the sky.
He felt George’s clear-eyed, good-humored tolerance. A hypnotic command triggered in his mind. He saw a Roman Caesar ride in triumph and the slave behind him said, “Caesar, remember you are mortal.”
My power? It is a gift from the Fountain of Creation. Mine to use with the wisdom and restraint implanted by my teachers. Or else I’ll be destroyed by my power.
He laughed and rolled into a cannon ball and hurled his body through the wood.
“Andy! Andy, you’re losing us!”
He picked them up and towed them with him. The girl in the beer hall cried in his heart. The fox is many hills away and the hound grows impatient.
They landed in a heap.
George said, “Andy, what the hell are you doing?”
“I brought you down in a soft spot.”
“You felt like an elephant running amok! Boy, you’ve got to be careful. Since you were a little boy I’ve taught you to watch every move. For a moment I don’t think you knew how you felt.”
“You’re right,” Sordman mumbled. “That was close.”
“Let’s find the picture,” Lee said. “Has the drug worn off?”
“Just about. The picture’s over by that tree. It feels like it’s rumpled up.”
After a minute’s hunt, they found it. It had been rolled into a ball and tossed away.
“We’re dealing with an amateur,” Lee said. “A Talent who was even half-developed would have burned this.”
Unrolled, the picture fell in half. It had been sliced with a blade.
“Let’s walk back,” Sordman said. “Let’s talk.”
They crossed a log bridge. He ran his hands along the rough bark and smelled the cool water of the stream. Most of the big park was wilderness, but here and there were pavilions, an outdoor theatre, open playing fields and beautifully planned gardens. A man could have a home surrounded by the shops and pleasures of civilized living and yet only be a ten-minute elevator ride from God’s bounty.
“The fact the killer used the newspaper picture doesn’t prove Bedler was the real victim,” George said. “But it indicates it.”
“Let’s assume it’s true,” Sordman said, “and see where it leads us.”
“Bedler was married,” Lee said. “I remember that from our briefing.”
Sordman rabbit-punched a tree as he passed it. “It was a one-year contract, and it ended two weeks ago.”
“I smell jealousy,” Lee said.
“The world is filled with it,” George said. “I favor short-term marriages. They’re the only way a person can practice a difficult art and make mistakes without committing himself for life. But about half the mental breakdowns I used to get were due to the insecurities caused by a temporary contract. One party almost always hopes the marriage will somehow become permanent.”
“Let’s talk to Bedler’s ex-wife,” Sordman said.
Her name was Jackie Baker. She was just over five feet tall and blonde. She wore glasses with green frames.
Sordman liked big women but he had to admit this little creature made him feel like swatting and rubbing.
She wore a sea-green kimono and bowed gracefully at the door.
“Citizen Baker, I’m Protector Andrew Sordman. May we talk to you?”
“Certainly, Protector. Welcome.”
They entered and he introduced Lee and George. After they exchanged bows, the girl offered them some wine. She took a bottle of clear Rhine wine from the cooler and asked George to open it. There were several journals on a throw table.
“Are you a doctor, Citizen?” Lee asked.
“No, Politician. A medical technician.”
They drank the first glass of wine.
“Technician,” George said, “we have to ask you some questions. We’ll try not to upset you.”
The girl closed her eyes. “I’ll try not to be upset. I hope you find whoever killed him. I’d like to find her.”
The girl felt lonely. She ached with unsatisfied needs. I’d like to lie with you and comfort you, Sordman thought. I’d like to hold you in my arms and drain all the tears you’re holding back. But he couldn’t. His contract with his wife had six months to run and no one committed adultery any more. “When the rules are carefully tailored to human needs,” Lee often said, “there’s no excuse for breaking them.”
“Why ‘her’?” Lee asked. “Why ‘her’ instead of ‘him’?”
The girl looked at Sordman. “Can’t you just probe my mind? Do I have to answer questions?”
“I’m afraid so,” Sordman said. “My Talent has its limits. I can’t deep-probe everybody’s mind, any more than a baseball pitcher can pitch all day.”
Lee said, “Even if he could, our warrant says we can’t probe more than four suspects.”
“Now can you tell us why you think the killer is a woman?” George asked.
The girl held out her glass and George filled it. “Because he was the kind of man who made you want to kill him. He was understanding and loving. He made me feel like a princess all the time I lived with him. But he can’t keep to one girl.” She gulped down the whole glass. “He told me so himself. He was so wonderful to live with I went insane every time he looked at another girl. I knew he was shopping for his next wife.” She wiggled in her chair. “Is that what you want to know?”
“I’m sorry,” Sordman said. “Do you know who he was interested in before he died?”
The girl had big, myopic eyes. “Our contract ended sixteen days ago.” She took a cigarette from inside her kimono. “Protector Sordman, could I just talk to you?”
“Certainly,” Sordman said.
Lee and George went to a coffee house on the next floor down.
“I want to talk to just you,” the girl said. “I feel safe with you. You make me feel right.”
“It goes with being a Talent,” Sordman said. “Either we like people and let them know it or we crack.”
“I know it’s all right to tell you things. I love Joe. I broke the rules for him. I didn’t avoid him for three months the way you’re supposed to. I went everywhere I knew he’d be. I had to see him.”
Sordman stroked his beard. Mentally, he cuddled her in his arms and murmured comfort to her.
She hunched her shoulders and wrapped her arms around her body.
“Just before our marriage ended, I found out he was seeing Raven English as much as he could. He didn’t break the rules. But when we went to dances he always danced with her once or twice. And she and her husband used to meet us in bars. After the contract expired, he couldn’t see her much because she and her husband have another six months to go. But there was a dance last week and I saw the two of them disappear into the park. Raven’s husband hunted all over for her. He looked horrible. I pitied him.”
“Who’s Raven English?”
“She’s a sadist. I know she is. She’s just the type to do this. She likes to play with men and hurt them. Her poor husband is a nervous wreck. I know she killed Joe, Protector. She hates us!”
He stood up. The girl watched him with big eyes. He put his hand on her head.
“Sleep is a joy,” he said.
Unprepared, he couldn’t have done that to many people. But she was a woman, which added to his influence, and totally exhausted.
He got off the vator and looked around for the coffee house. Dozens of people wandered the halls and the shops. As he walked down the hall, some of them looked away or got as far from him as they could. Others ignored him or found his presence reassuring or studied him curiously.
A fat woman in a black kimono walked toward him. She had one hand on her hip and her eyes were narrowed and hard. Sordman smiled. He felt her fear and distrust, and her determination not to let such emotions conquer her.
“Good afternoon, Protector.”
“Good afternoon, Citizen Mother.”
He felt her triumph and her pleasure with herself.
His fellow humans often made him gawk in wonder. Some people say we’re psychic cripples, he thought. And maybe we are. But we do our work and we enjoy ourselves. And we do dangerous things like putting bases on Venus and falling in love. Surrounded by death and danger, crippled though we are, we go on.
He swelled with feeling. People smiled and glanced at each other or hid shyly from the organ chords of his emotion.
An old man stepped in front of him.
He was thin and perfectly dressed. Sordman stopped. God of Infinite Compassion, this is my brother...
“They ought to lock you up,” the man said. “They ought to keep you away from decent people. Get out of my head! Leave me alone!”
People stared at them. A small crowd gathered. Lee appeared in the door of the coffee house.
“It’s all right,” Sordman told the people. “It’s all right.” He started to go on.
The man stepped in front of him. “Leave me alone, freak. Let me think my own thoughts!”
“Citizen, I haven’t touched your mind.”
“I felt it just then!”
“It was no more than I could help. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you.”
“I’m trying to.”
“Murderer! Mind witch!”
He was faced with a strong mind that valued its independence. Anything he did would be detected and resented.
“Citizens,” he said, “this man deserves your respect. No matter what a man does, he’s bound to offend someone. This Citizen values his privacy--which is good--and therefore I make him angry. I hope the good my Talent lets me do outweighs the bad. Forgive me, brother.”
He stepped to one side. “Leave him alone,” someone said. “Let the Protector work.”
“Leave him alone, old man.”
“I’m not an old man.“
“No, you’re not,” Sordman said. “I admire your courage.” He walked on. Behind him the old man shouted curses.
“Are you all right?” Lee said.
“Sure. Let’s go in and sit down.”