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´╗┐Title: Temple Trouble
Author: Piper, H. Beam, 1904-1964
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Temple Trouble" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                         Transcriber's Note:

        This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction,
        April, 1951. Extensive research did not uncover any
        evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.


                            [Illustration]


                            TEMPLE TROUBLE



                           BY H. BEAM PIPER

       *       *       *       *       *


          Miracles to order was a fine way for the paratimers to
          get mining concessions--but Nature can sometimes pull
          counter-miracles. And so can men, for that matter....



                        Illustrated by Rogers


Through a haze of incense and altar smoke, Yat-Zar looked down from
his golden throne at the end of the dusky, many-pillared temple.
Yat-Zar was an idol, of gigantic size and extraordinarily good
workmanship; he had three eyes, made of turquoises as big as
doorknobs, and six arms. In his three right hands, from top to bottom,
he held a sword with a flame-shaped blade, a jeweled object of vaguely
phallic appearance, and, by the ears, a rabbit. In his left hands were
a bronze torch with burnished copper flames, a big goblet, and a pair
of scales with an egg in one pan balanced against a skull in the
other. He had a long bifurcate beard made of gold wire, feet like a
bird's, and other rather startling anatomical features. His throne was
set upon a stone plinth about twenty feet high, into the front of
which a doorway opened; behind him was a wooden screen, elaborately
gilded and painted.

Directly in front of the idol, Ghullam the high priest knelt on a big
blue and gold cushion. He wore a gold-fringed robe of dark blue, and a
tall conical gold miter, and a bright blue false beard, forked like
the idol's golden one: he was intoning a prayer, and holding up, in
both hands, for divine inspection and approval, a long curved knife.
Behind him, about thirty feel away, stood a square stone altar, around
which four of the lesser priests, in light blue robes with less gold
fringe and dark-blue false beards, were busy with the preliminaries to
the sacrifice. At considerable distance, about halfway down the length
of the temple, some two hundred worshipers--a few substantial citizens
in gold-fringed tunics, artisans in tunics without gold fringe,
soldiers in mail hauberks and plain steel caps, one officer in
ornately gilded armor, a number of peasants in nondescript smocks, and
women of all classes--were beginning to prostrate themselves on the
stone floor.

Ghullam rose to his feet, bowing deeply to Yat-Zar and holding the
knife extended in front of him, and backed away toward the altar. As
he did, one of the lesser priests reached into a fringed and
embroidered sack and pulled out a live rabbit, a big one, obviously of
domestic breed, holding it by the ears while one of his fellows took
it by the hind legs. A third priest caught up a silver pitcher, while
the fourth fanned the altar fire with a sheet-silver fan. As they
began chanting antiphonally, Ghullam turned and quickly whipped the
edge of his knife across the rabbit's throat. The priest with the
pitcher stepped in to catch the blood, and when the rabbit was bled,
it was laid on the fire. Ghullam and his four assistants all shouted
together, and the congregation shouted in response.

The high priest waited as long as was decently necessary and then,
holding the knife in front of him, stepped around the prayer-cushion
and went through the door under the idol into the Holy of Holies. A
boy in novice's white robes met him and took the knife, carrying it
reverently to a fountain for washing. Eight or ten under-priests,
sitting at a long table, rose and bowed, then sat down again and
resumed their eating and drinking. At another table, a half-dozen
upper priests nodded to him in casual greeting.

Crossing the room, Ghullam went to the Triple Veil in front of the
House of Yat-Zar, where only the highest of the priesthood might go,
and parted the curtains, passing through, until he came to the great
gilded door. Here he fumbled under his robe and produced a small
object like a mechanical pencil, inserting the pointed end in a tiny
hole in the door and pressing on the other end. The door opened, then
swung shut behind him, and as it locked itself, the lights came on
within. Ghullam removed his miter and his false beard, tossing them
aside on a table, then undid his sash and peeled out of his robe. His
regalia discarded, he stood for a moment in loose trousers and a soft
white shirt, with a pistollike weapon in a shoulder holster under his
left arm--no longer Ghullam the high priest of Yat-Zar, but now
Stranor Sleth, resident agent on this time-line of the Fourth Level
Proto-Aryan Sector for the Transtemporal Mining Corporation. Then he
opened a door at the other side of the anteroom and went to the
antigrav shaft, stepping over the edge and floating downward.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were temples of Yat-Zar on every time-line of the Proto-Aryan
Sector, for the worship of Yat-Zar was ancient among the Hulgun people
of that area of paratime, but there were only a few which had such
installations as this, and all of them were owned and operated by
Transtemporal Mining, which had the fissionable ores franchise for
this sector. During the ten elapsed centuries since Transtemporal had
begun operations on this sector, the process had become standardized.
A few First Level paratimers would transpose to a selected time-line
and abduct an upper-priest of Yat-Zar, preferably the high priest of
the temple at Yoldav or Zurb. He would be drugged and transposed to
the First Level, where he would receive hypnotic indoctrination and,
while unconscious, have an operation performed on his ears which would
enable him to hear sounds well above the normal audible range. He
would be able to hear the shrill sonar-cries of bats, for instance,
and, more important, he would be able to hear voices when the speaker
used a First Level audio-frequency step-up phone. He would also
receive a memory-obliteration from the moment of his abduction, and a
set of pseudo-memories of a visit to the Heaven of Yat-Zar, on the
other side of the sky. Then he would be returned to his own time-line
and left on a mountain top far from his temple, where an unknown
peasant, leading a donkey, would always find him, return him to the
temple, and then vanish inexplicably.

Then the priest would begin hearing voices, usually while serving at
the altar. They would warn of future events, which would always come
to pass exactly as foretold. Or they might bring tidings of things
happening at a distance, the news of which would not arrive by normal
means for days or even weeks. Before long, the holy man who had been
carried alive to the Heaven of Yat-Zar would acquire a most awesome
reputation as a prophet, and would speedily rise to the very top of
the priestly hierarchy.

Then he would receive two commandments from Yat-Zar. The first would
ordain that all lower priests must travel about from temple to temple,
never staying longer than a year at any one place. This would insure a
steady influx of newcomers personally unknown to the local
upper-priests, and many of them would be First Level paratimers. Then,
there would be a second commandment: A house must be built for
Yat-Zar, against the rear wall of each temple. Its dimensions were
minutely stipulated; its walls were to be of stone, without windows,
and there was to be a single door, opening into the Holy of Holies,
and before the walls were finished, the door was to be barred from
within. A triple veil of brocaded fabric was to be hung in front of
this door. Sometimes such innovations met with opposition from the
more conservative members of the hierarchy: when they did, the
principal objector would be seized with a sudden and violent illness;
he would recover if and when he withdrew his objections.

Very shortly after the House of Yat-Zar would be completed, strange
noises would be heard from behind the thick walls. Then, after a
while, one of the younger priests would announce that he had been
commanded in a vision to go behind the veil and knock upon the door.
Going behind the curtains, he would use his door-activator to let
himself in, and return by paratime-conveyer to the First Level to
enjoy a well-earned vacation. When the high priest would follow him
behind the veil, after a few hours, and find that he had vanished, it
would be announced as a miracle. A week later, an even greater miracle
would be announced. The young priest would return from behind the
Triple Veil, clad in such raiment as no man had ever seen, and bearing
in his hands a strange box. He would announce that Yat-Zar had
commanded him to build a new temple in the mountains, at a place to be
made known by the voice of the god speaking out of the box.

This time, there would be no doubts and no objections. A procession
would set out, headed by the new revelator bearing the box, and when
the clicking voice of the god spoke rapidly out of it, the site would
be marked and work would begin. No local labor would ever be employed
on such temples; the masons and woodworkers would be strangers, come
from afar and speaking a strange tongue, and when the temple was
completed, they would never be seen to leave it. Men would say that
they had been put to death by the priest and buried under the altar to
preserve the secrets of the god. And there would always be an idol to
preserve the secrets of the god. And there would always be an idol of
Yat-Zar, obviously of heavenly origin, since its workmanship was
beyond the powers of any local craftsman. The priests of such a temple
would be exempt, by divine decree, from the rule of yearly travel.

Nobody, of course, would have the least idea that there was a uranium
mine in operation under it, shipping ore to another time-line. The
Hulgun people knew nothing about uranium, and neither did they as much
as dream that there were other time-lines. The secret of paratime
transposition belonged exclusively to the First Level civilization
which had discovered it, and it was a secret that was guarded well.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stranor Sleth, dropping to the bottom of the antigrav shaft, cast a
hasty and instinctive glance to the right, where the freight conveyers
were. One was gone, taking its cargo over hundreds of thousands of
para-years to the First Level. Another had just returned, empty, and a
third was receiving its cargo from the robot mining machines far back
under the mountain. Two young men and a girl, in First Level costumes,
sat at a bank of instruments and visor-screens, handling the whole
operation, and six or seven armed guards, having inspected the
newly-arrived conveyer and finding that it had picked up nothing
inimical en route, were relaxing and lighting cigarettes. Three of
them, Stranor Sleth noticed, wore the green uniforms of the Paratime
Police.

"When did those fellows get in?" he asked the people at the control
desk, nodding toward the green-clad newcomers.

"About ten minutes ago, on the passenger conveyer," the girl told him.
"The Big Boy's here. Brannad Klav. And a Paratime Police officer.
They're in your office."

"Uh huh; I was expecting that," Stranor Sleth nodded. Then he turned
down the corridor to the left.

Two men were waiting for him, in his office. One was short and stocky,
with an angry, impatient face--Brannad Klav, Transtemporal's vice
president in charge of operations. The other was tall and slender with
handsome and entirely expressionless features; he wore a Paratime
Police officer's uniform, with the blue badge of hereditary nobility
on his breast, and carried a sigma-ray needler in a belt holster.

"Were you waiting long, gentlemen?" Stranor Sleth asked. "I was
holding Sunset Sacrifice up in the temple."

"No, we just got here," Brannad Klav said. "This is Verkan Vall,
Mavrad of Nerros, special assistant to Chief Tortha of the Paratime
Police, Stranor Sleth, our resident agent here."

Stranor Sleth touched hands with Verkan Vall.

"I've heard a lot about you, sir," he said. "Everybody working in
paratime has, of course. I'm sorry we have a situation here that calls
for your presence, but since we have, I'm glad you're here in person.
You know what our trouble is, I suppose?"

"In a general way," Verkan Vall replied. "Chief Tortha, and Brannad
Klav, have given me the main outline, but I'd like to have you fill in
the details."

"Well, I told you everything," Brannad Klav interrupted impatiently.
"It's just that Stranor's let this blasted local king, Kurchuk, get
out of control. If I--" He stopped short, catching sight of the
shoulder holster under Stranor Sleth's left arm. "Were you wearing
that needler up in the temple?" he demanded.

"You're blasted right I was!" Stranor Sleth retorted. "And any time I
can't arm myself for my own protection on this time-line, you can have
my resignation. I'm not getting into the same jam as those people at
Zurb."

"Well, never mind about that," Verkan Vall intervened. "Of course
Stranor Sleth has a right to arm himself; I wouldn't think of being
caught without a weapon on this time-line, myself. Now, Stranor,
suppose you tell me what's been happening, here, from the beginning of
this trouble."

"It started, really, about five years ago, when Kurchuk, the King of
Zurb, married this Chuldun princess, Darith, from the country over
beyond the Black Sea, and made her his queen, over the heads of about
a dozen daughters of the local nobility, whom he'd married previously.
Then he brought in this Chuldun scribe, Labdurg, and made him Overseer
of the Kingdom--roughly, prime minister. There was a lot of
dissatisfaction about that, and for a while it looked as though he was
going to have a revolution on his hands, but he brought in about five
thousand Chuldun mercenaries, all archers--these Hulguns can't shoot a
bow worth beans--so the dissatisfaction died down, and so did most of
the leaders of the disaffected group. The story I get is that this
Labdurg arranged the marriage, in the first place. It looks to me as
though the Chuldun emperor is intending to take over the Hulgun
kingdoms, starting with Zurb.

[Illustration:]

"Well, these Chulduns all worship a god called Muz-Azin. Muz-Azin is a
crocodile with wings like a bat and a lot of knife blades in his tail.
He makes this Yat-Zar look downright beautiful. So do his habits.
Muz-Azin fancies human sacrifices. The victims are strung up by the
ankles on a triangular frame and lashed to death with iron-barbed
whips. Nasty sort of a deity, but this is a nasty time-line. The
people here get a big kick out of watching these sacrifices. Much
better show than our bunny-killing. The victims are usually criminals,
or overage or incorrigible slaves, or prisoners of war.

"Of course, when the Chulduns began infiltrating the palace, they
brought in their crocodile-god, too, and a flock of priests, and King
Kurchuk let them set up a temple in the palace. Naturally, we preached
against this heathen idolatry in our temples, but religious bigotry
isn't one of the numerous imperfections of this sector. Everybody's
deity is as good as anybody else's--indifferentism, I believe, is the
theological term. Anyhow, on that basis things went along fairly well,
till two years ago, when we had this run of bad luck."

"Bad luck!" Brannad Klav snorted. "That's the standing excuse of every
incompetent!"

"Go on, Stranor; what sort of bad luck?" Verkan Vall asked.

"Well, first we had a drought, beginning in early summer, that burned
up most of the grain crop. Then, when that broke, we got heavy rains
and hailstorms and floods, and that destroyed what got through the dry
spell. When they harvested what little was left, it was obvious
there'd be a famine, so we brought in a lot of grain by conveyer and
distributed it from the temples--miraculous gift of Yat-Zar, of
course. Then the main office on First Level got scared about flooding
this time-line with a lot of unaccountable grain and were afraid we'd
make the people suspicious, and ordered it stopped.

"Then Kurchuk, and I might add that the kingdom of Zurb was the
hardest hit by the famine, ordered his army mobilized and started an
invasion of the Jumdun country, south of the Carpathians, to get
grain. He got his army chopped up, and only about a quarter of them
got back, with no grain. You ask me, I'd say that Labdurg framed it to
happen that way. He advised Kurchuk to invade, in the first place, and
I mentioned my suspicion that Chombrog, the Chuldun Emperor, is
planning to move in on the Hulgun kingdoms. Well, what would be
smarter than to get Kurchuk's army smashed in advance?"

"How did the defeat occur?" Verkan Vall asked. "Any suspicion of
treachery?"

"Nothing you could put your finger on, except that the Jumduns seemed
to have pretty good intelligence about Kurchuk's invasion route and
battle plans. It could have been nothing worse than stupid tactics on
Kurchuk's part. See, these Hulguns, and particularly the Zurb
Hulguns, are spearmen. They fight in a fairly thin line, with
heavy-armed infantry in front and light infantry with throwing-spears
behind. The nobles fight in light chariots, usually at the center of
the line, and that's where they were at this Battle of Jorm. Kurchuk
himself was at the center, with his Chuldun archers massed around him.

"The Jumduns use a lot of cavalry, with long swords and lances, and a
lot of big chariots with two javelin men and a driver. Well, instead
of ramming into Kurchuk's center, where he had his archers, they hit
the extreme left and folded it up, and then swung around behind and
hit the right from the rear. All the Chuldun archers did was stand
fast around the king and shoot anybody who came close to them: they
were left pretty much alone. But the Hulgun spearmen were cut to
pieces. The battle ended with Kurchuk and his nobles and his archers
making a fighting retreat, while the Jumdun cavalry were chasing the
spearmen every which way and cutting them down or lancing them as they
ran.

"Well, whether it was Labdurg's treachery or Kurchuk's stupidity, in
either case, it was natural for the archers to come off easiest and
the Hulgun spearmen to pay the butcher's bill. But try and tell these
knuckle-heads anything like that! Muz-Azin protected the Chulduns, and
Yat-Zar let the Hulguns down, and that was all there was to it. The
Zurb temple started losing worshipers, particularly the families of
the men who didn't make it back from Jorm.

"If that had been all there'd been to it, though, it still wouldn't
have hurt the mining operations, and we could have got by. But what
really tore it was when the rabbits started to die." Stranor Sleth
picked up a cigar from his desk and bit the end, spitting it out
disgustedly. "Tularemia, of course," he said, touching his lighter to
the tip. "When that hit, they started going over to Muz-Azin in
droves, not only at Zurb but all over the Six Kingdoms. You ought to
have seen the house we had for Sunset Sacrifice, this evening! About
two hundred, and we used to get two thousand. It used to be all two
men could do to lift the offering box at the door, afterward, and all
the money we took in tonight I could put in one pocket!" The high
priest used language that would have been considered unclerical even
among the Hulguns.

Verkan Vall nodded. Even without the quickie hypno-mech he had taken
for this sector, he knew that the rabbit was domesticated among the
Proto-Aryan Hulguns and was their chief meat animal. Hulgun rabbits
were even a minor import on the First Level, and could be had at all
the better restaurants in cities like Dhergabar. He mentioned that.

"That's not the worst of it," Stranor Sleth told him. "See, the
rabbit's sacred to Yat-Zar. Not taboo; just sacred. They have to use
a specially consecrated knife to kill them--consecrating rabbit knives
has always been an item of temple revenue--and they must say a special
prayer before eating them. We could have got around the rest of it,
even the Battle of Jorm--punishment by Yat-Zar for the sin of
apostasy--but Yat-Zar just wouldn't make rabbits sick. Yat-Zar thinks
too well of rabbits to do that, and it'd not been any use claiming he
would. So there you are."

"Well, I take the attitude that this situation is the result of your
incompetence," Brannad Klav began, in a bullyragging tone. "You're not
only the high priest of this temple, you're the acknowledged head of
the religion in all the Hulgun kingdoms. You should have had more hold
on the people than to allow anything like this to happen."

"Hold on the people!" Stranor Sleth fairly howled, appealing to Verkan
Vall. "What does he think a religion is, on this sector, anyhow? You
think these savages dreamed up that six-armed monstrosity, up there,
to express their yearning for higher things, or to symbolize their
moral ethos, or as a philosophical escape-hatch from the dilemma of
causation? They never even heard of such matters. On this sector, gods
are strictly utilitarian. As long as they take care of their
worshipers, they get their sacrifices: when they can't put out, they
have to get out. How do you suppose these Chulduns, living in the
Caucasus Mountains, got the idea of a god like a crocodile, anyhow?
Why, they got it from Homran traders, people from down in the Nile
Valley. They had a god, once, something basically like a billy goat,
but he let them get licked in a couple of battles, so out he went.
Why, all the deities on this sector have hyphenated names, because
they're combinations of several deities, worshiped in one person. Do
you know anything about the history of this sector?" he asked the
Paratime Police officer.

"Well, it develops from an alternate probability of what we call the
Nilo-Mesopotamian Basic sector-group," Verkan Vall said. "On most
Nilo-Mesopotamian sectors, like the Macedonian Empire Sector, or the
Alexandrian-Roman or Alexandrian-Punic or Indo-Turanian or
Europo-American, there was an Aryan invasion of Eastern Europe and
Asia Minor about four thousand elapsed years ago. On this sector, the
ancestors of the Aryans came in about fifteen centuries earlier, as
neolithic savages, about the time that the Sumerian and Egyptian
civilizations were first developing, and overran all southeast Europe,
Asia Minor and the Nile Valley. They developed to the bronze-age
culture of the civilizations they overthrew, and then, more slowly, to
an iron-age culture. About two thousand years ago, they were using
hardened steel and building large stone cities, just as they do now.
At that time, they reached cultural stasis. But as for their religious
beliefs, you've described them quite accurately. A god is only
worshiped as long as the people think him powerful enough to aid and
protect them; when they lose that confidence, he is discarded and the
god of some neighboring people is adopted instead." He turned to
Brannad Klav. "Didn't Stranor report this situation to you when it
first developed?" he asked. "I know he did; he speaks of receiving
shipments of grain by conveyer for temple distribution. Then why
didn't you report it to Paratime Police? That's what we have a
Paratime Police Force for."

"Well, yes, of course, but I had enough confidence in Stranor Sleth to
think that he could handle the situation himself. I didn't know he'd
gone slack--"

"Look, I can't make weather, even if my parishioners think I can,"
Stranor Sleth defended himself. "And I can't make a great military
genius out of a blockhead like Kurchuk. And I can't immunize all the
rabbits on this time-line against tularemia, even if I'd had any
reason to expect a tularemia epidemic, which I hadn't because the
disease is unknown on this sector; this is the only outbreak of it
anybody's ever heard of on any Proto-Aryan time-line."

"No, but I'll tell you what you could have done," Verkan Vall told
him. "When this Kurchuk started to apostatize, you could have gone to
him at the head of a procession of priests, all paratimers and all
armed with energy-weapons, and pointed out his spiritual duty to him,
and if he gave you any back talk, you could have pulled out that
needler and rayed him down and then cried, 'Behold the vengeance of
Yat-Zar upon the wicked king!' I'll bet any sum at any odds that his
successor would have thought twice about going over to Muz-Azin, and
none of these other kings would have even thought once about it."

"Ha, that's what I wanted to do!" Stranor Sleth exclaimed. "And who
stopped me? I'll give you just one guess."

"Well, it seems there was slackness here, but it wasn't Stranor Sleth
who was slack," Verkan Vall commented.

"Well! I must say; I never thought I'd hear an officer of the Paratime
Police criticizing me for trying to operate inside the Paratime
Transposition Code!" Brannad Klav exclaimed.

Verkan Vall, sitting on the edge of Stranor Sleth's desk, aimed his
cigarette at Brannad Klav like a blaster.

"Now, look," he began. "There is one, and only one, inflexible law
regarding outtime activities. The secret of paratime transposition
must be kept inviolate, and any activity tending to endanger it is
prohibited. That's why we don't allow the transposition of any object
of extraterrestrial origin to any time-line on which space travel has
not been developed. Such an object may be preserved, and then, after
the local population begin exploring the planet from whence it came,
there will be dangerous speculations and theories as to how it
arrived on Terra at such an early date. I came within inches,
literally, of getting myself killed, not long ago, cleaning up the
result of a violation of that regulation. For the same reason, we
don't allow the export, to outtime natives, of manufactured goods too
far in advance of their local culture. That's why, for instance, you
people have to hand-finish all those big Yat-Zar idols, to remove
traces of machine work. One of those things may be around, a few
thousand years from now, when these people develop a mechanical
civilization. But as far as raying down this Kurchuk is concerned,
these Hulguns are completely nonscientific. They wouldn't have the
least idea what happened. They'd believe that Yat-Zar struck him dead,
as gods on this plane of culture are supposed to do, and if any of
them noticed the needler at all, they'd think it was just a holy
amulet of some kind."

[Illustration:]

"But the law is the law--" Brannad Klav began.

Verkan Vall shook his head. "Brannad, as I understand, you were
promoted to your present position on the retirement of Salvan Marth,
about ten years ago; up to that time, you were in your company's
financial department. You were accustomed to working subject to the
First Level Commercial Regulation Code. Now, any law binding upon our
people at home, on the First Level, is inflexible. It has to be. We
found out, over fifty centuries ago, that laws have to be rigid and
without discretionary powers in administration in order that people
may be able to predict their effect and plan their activities
accordingly. Naturally, you became conditioned to operating in such a
climate of legal inflexibility.

"But in paratime, the situation is entirely different. There exist,
within the range of the Ghaldron-Hesthor paratemporal-field generator,
a number of time-lines of the order of ten to the hundred-thousandth
power. In effect, that many different worlds. In the past ten thousand
years, we have visited only the tiniest fraction of these, but we have
found everything from time-lines inhabited only by subhuman ape-men to
Second Level civilizations which are our own equal in every respect
but knowledge of paratemporal transposition. We even know of one
Second Level civilization which is approaching the discovery of an
interstellar hyperspatial drive, something we've never even come close
to. And in between are every degree of savagery, barbarism and
civilization. Now, it's just not possible to frame any single code of
laws applicable to conditions on all of these. The best we can do is
prohibit certain flagrantly immoral types of activity, such as
slave-trading, introduction of new types of narcotic drugs, or
out-and-out piracy and brigandage. If you're in doubt as to the
legality of anything you want to do outtime, go to the Judicial
Section of the Paratime Commission and get an opinion on it. That's
where you made your whole mistake. You didn't find out just how far it
was allowable for you to go."

He turned to Stranor Sleth again. "Well, that's the background, then.
Now tell me about what happened yesterday at Zurb."

"Well, a week ago, Kurchuk came out with this decree closing our
temple at Zurb and ordering his subjects to perform worship and make
money offerings to Muz-Azin. The Zurb temple isn't a mask for a mine:
Zurb's too far south for the uranium deposits. It's just a center for
propaganda and that sort of thing. But they have a House of Yat-Zar,
and a conveyer, and most of the upper-priests are paratimers. Well,
our man there, Tammand Drav, alias Khoram, defied the king's order, so
Kurchuk sent a company of Chuldun archers to close the temple and
arrest the priests. Tammand Drav got all his people who were in the
temple at the time into the House of Yat-Zar and transposed them back
to the First Level. He had orders"--Stranor Sleth looked meaningly at
Brannad Klav--"not to resist with energy-weapons or even ultrasonic
paralyzers. And while we're on the subject of letting the local yokels
see too much, about fifteen of the under-priests he took to the First
Level were Hulgun natives."

"Nothing wrong about that: they'll get memory-obliteration and
pseudo-memory treatment," Verkan Vall said. "But he should have been
allowed to needle about a dozen of those Chulduns. Teach the beggars
to respect Yat-Zar in the future. Now, how about the six priests who
were outside the temple at the time? All but one were paratimers.
We'll have to find out about them, and get them out of Zurb."

"That'll take some doing," Stranor Sleth said. "And it'll have to be
done before sunset tomorrow. They are all in the dungeon of the palace
citadel, and Kurchuk is going to give them to the priests of Muz-Azin
to be sacrificed tomorrow evening."

"How'd you learn that?" Verkan Vall asked.

"Oh, we have a man in Zurb, not connected with the temple," Stranor
Sleth said. "Name's Crannar Jurth; calls himself Kranjur, locally. He
has a swordmaker's shop, employs about a dozen native journeymen and
apprentices who hammer out the common blades he sells in the open
market. Then, he imports a few high-class alloy-steel blades from the
First Level, that'll cut through this local low-carbon armor like
cheese. Fits them with locally-made hilts and sells them at
unbelievable prices to the nobility. He's Swordsmith to the King;
picks up all the inside palace dope. Of course, he was among the first
to accept the New Gospel and go over to Muz-Azin. He has a secret room
under his shop, with his conveyer and a radio.

"What happened was this: These six priests were at a consecration
ceremony at a rabbit-ranch outside the city, and they didn't know
about the raid on the temple. On their way back, they were surrounded
by Chuldun archers and taken prisoner. They had no weapons but their
sacrificial knives." He threw another dirty look at Brannad Klav. "So
they're due to go up on the triangles at sunset tomorrow."

"We'll have to get them out before then," Verkan Vall stated. "They're
our people, and we can't let them down; even the native is under our
protection, whether he knows it or not. And in the second place, if
those priests are sacrificed to Muz-Azin," he told Brannad Klav, "you
can shut down everything on this time-line, pull out or disintegrate
your installations, and fill in your mine-tunnels. Yat-Zar will be
through on this time-line, and you'll be through along with him. And
considering that your fissionables franchise for this sector comes up
for renewal next year, your company will be through in this paratime
area."

"You believe that would happen?" Brannad Klav asked anxiously.

"I know it will, because I'll put through a recommendation to that
effect, if those six men are tortured to death tomorrow," Verkan Vall
replied. "And in the fifty years that I've been in the Police
Department, I've only heard of five such recommendations being ignored
by the commission. You know, Fourth Level Mineral Products Syndicate
is after your franchise. Ordinarily, they wouldn't have a chance of
getting it, but with this, maybe they will, even without my
recommendation. This was all your fault, for ignoring Stranor Sleth's
proposal and for denying those men the right to carry energy weapons."

"Well, we were only trying to stay inside the Paratime Code," Brannad
Klav pleaded. "If it isn't too late, now, you can count on me for
every co-operation." He fiddled with some papers on the desk. "What do
you want me to do to help?"

"I'll tell you that in a minute." Verkan Vall walked to the wall and
looked at the map, then returned to Stranor Sleth's desk. "How about
these dungeons?" he asked. "How are they located, and how can we get
in to them?"

"I'm afraid we can't," Stranor Sleth told him. "Not without fighting
our way in. They're under the palace citadel, a hundred feet below
ground. They're spatially co-existent with the heavy water barriers
around one of our company's plutonium piles on the First Level, and
below surface on any unoccupied time-line I know of, so we can't
transpose in to them. This palace is really a walled city inside a
city. Here, I'll show you."

Going around the desk, he sat down and, after looking in the
index-screen, punched a combination on the keyboard. A picture,
projected from the microfilm-bank, appeared on the view-screen. It was
an air-view of the city of Zurb--taken, the high priest explained, by
infrared light from an airboat over the city at night. It showed a
city of an entirely pre-mechanical civilization, with narrow streets,
lined on either side by low one and two story buildings. Although
there would be considerable snow in winter, the roofs were usually
flat, probably massive stone slabs supported by pillars within. Even
in the poorer sections, this was true except for the very meanest
houses and out-buildings, which were thatched. Here and there, some
huge pile of masonry would rear itself above its lower neighbors, and,
where the streets were wider, occasional groups of large buildings
would be surrounded by battlemented walls. Stranor Sleth indicated one
of the larger of these.

"Here's the palace," he said. "And here's the temple of Yat-Zar, about
half a mile away." He touched a large building, occupying an entire
block; between it and the palace was a block-wide park, with lawns and
trees on either side of a wide roadway connecting the two.

"Now, here's a detailed view of the palace." He punched another
combination; the view of the City was replaced by one, taken from
directly overhead, of the walled palace area. "Here's the main gate,
in front, at the end of the road from the temple," he pointed out.
"Over here, on the left, are the slaves' quarters and the stables and
workshops and store houses and so on. Over here, on the other side,
are the nobles' quarters. And this,"--he indicated a towering
structure at the rear of the walled enclosure--"is the citadel and the
royal dwelling. Audience hall on this side; harem over here on this
side. A wide stone platform, about fifteen feet high, runs completely
across the front of the citadel, from the audience hall to the harem.
Since this picture was taken, the new temple of Muz-Azin was built
right about here." He indicated that it extended out from the audience
hall into the central courtyard. "And out here on the platform,
they've put up about a dozen of these triangles, about twelve feet
high, on which the sacrificial victims are whipped to death."

"Yes. About the only way we could get down to the dungeons would be to
make an airdrop onto the citadel roof and fight our way down with
needlers and blasters, and I'm not willing to do that as long as
there's any other way," Verkan Vall said. "We'd lose men, even with
needlers against bows, and there's a chance that some of our equipment
might be lost in the melee and fall into outtime hands. You say this
sacrifice comes off tomorrow at sunset?"

"That would be about actual sunset plus or minus an hour; these people
aren't astronomers, they don't even have good sundials, and it might
be a cloudy day," Stranor Sleth said. "There will be a big idol of
Muz-Azin on a cart, set about here." He pointed. "After the sacrifice,
it is to be dragged down this road, outside, to the temple of Yat-Zar,
and set up there. The temple is now occupied by about twenty Chuldun
mercenaries and five or six priests of Muz-Azin. They haven't, of
course, got into the House of Yat-Zar; the door's of impervium steel,
about six inches thick, with a plating of collapsed nickel under the
gilding. It would take a couple of hours to cut through it with our
best atomic torch; there isn't a tool on this time-line that could
even scratch it. And the insides of the walls are lined with the same
thing."

"Do you think our people have been tortured, yet?" Verkan Vall asked.

"No." Stranor Sleth was positive. "They'll be fairly well treated,
until the sacrifice. The idea's to make them last as long as possible
on the triangles; Muz-Azin likes to see a slow killing, and so does
the mob of spectators."

"That's good. Now, here's my plan. We won't try to rescue them from
the dungeons. Instead, we'll transpose back to the Zurb temple from
the First Level, in considerable force--say a hundred or so men--and
march on the palace, to force their release. You're in constant radio
communication with all the other temples on this time-line, I
suppose?"

"Yes, certainly."

"All right. Pass this out to everybody, authority Paratime Police, in
my name, acting for Tortha Karf. I want all paratimers who can
possibly be spared to transpose to First Level immediately and
rendezvous at the First Level terminal of the Zurb temple conveyer as
soon as possible. Close down all mining operations, and turn over
temple routine to the native under-priests. You can tell them that the
upper-priests are retiring to their respective Houses of Yat-Zar to
pray for the deliverance of the priests in the hands of King Kurchuk.
And everybody is to bring back his priestly regalia to the First
Level; that will be needed." He turned to Brannad Klav. "I suppose you
keep spare regalia in stock on the First Level?"

"Yes, of course; we keep plenty of everything in stock. Robes, miters,
false beards of different shades, everything."

"And these big Yat-Zar idols: they're mass-produced on the First
Level? You have one available now? Good. I'll want some alterations
made on one. For one thing, I'll want it plated heavily, all over,
with collapsed nickel. For another, I'll want it fitted with antigrav
units and some sort of propulsion-units, and a loud-speaker, and
remote control.

[Illustration:]

"And, Stranor, you get in touch with this swordmaker, Crannar Jurth,
and alert him to co-operate with us. Tell him to start calling Zurb
temple on his radio about noon tomorrow, and keep it up till he gets
an answer. Or, better, tell him to run his conveyer to his First Level
terminal, and bring with him an extra suit of clothes appropriate to
the role of journeyman-mechanic. I'll want to talk to him, and furnish
him with special equipment. Got all that? Well, carry on with it, and
bring your own paratimers, priests and mining operators, back with you
as soon as you've taken care of everything. Brannad, you come with me,
now. We're returning to First Level immediately. We have a lot of
work to do, so let's get started."

"Anything I can do to help, just call on me for it," Brannad Klav
promised earnestly. "And, Stranor, I want to apologize. I'll admit,
now, that I ought to have followed your recommendations, when this
situation first developed."

       *       *       *       *       *

By noon of the next day, Verkan Vall had at least a hundred men
gathered in the big room at the First Level fissionables refinery at
Jarnabar, spatially co-existent with the Fourth Level temple of
Yat-Zar at Zurb. He was having a little trouble distinguishing between
them, for every man wore the fringed blue robe and golden miter of an
upper-priest, and had his face masked behind a blue false beard. It
was, he admitted to himself, a most ludicrous-looking assemblage; one
of the most ludicrous things about it was the fact that it would have
inspired only pious awe in a Hulgun of the Fourth Level Proto-Aryan
Sector. About half of them were priests from the Transtemporal Mining
Corporation's temples; the other half were members of the Paratime
Police. All of them wore, in addition to their temple knives,
holstered sigma-ray needlers. Most of them carried ultrasonic
paralyzers, eighteen-inch batonlike things with bulbous ends. Most of
the Paratime Police and a few of the priests also carried either
heat-ray pistols or neutron-disruption blasters; Verkan Vall wore one
of the latter in a left-hand belt holster.

The Paratime Police were lined up separately for inspection, and
Stranor Sleth, Tammand Drav of the Zurb temple, and several other high
priests were checking the authenticity of their disguises. A little
apart from the others, a Paratime Policeman, in high priest's robes
and beard, had a square box slung in front of him; he was fiddling
with knobs and buttons on it, practicing. A big idol of Yat-Zar, on
antigravity, was floating slowly about the room in obedience to its
remote controls, rising and lowering, turning about and pirouetting
gracefully.

"Hey, Vall!" he called to his superior. "How's this?"

The idol rose about five feet, turned slowly in a half-circle, moved
to the right a little, and then settled slowly toward the floor.

"Fine, fine, Horv," Verkan Vall told him, "but don't set it down on
anything, or turn off the antigravity. There's enough collapsed
nickel-plating on that thing to sink it a yard in soft ground."

"I don't know what the idea of that was," Brannad Klav, standing
beside him, said. "Understand, I'm not criticizing. I haven't any
right to, under the circumstances. But it seems to me that armoring
that thing in collapsed nickel was an unnecessary precaution."

"Maybe it was," Verkan Vall agreed. "I sincerely hope so. But we can't
take any chances. This operation has to be absolutely right. Ready,
Tammand? All right; first detail into the conveyer."

He turned and strode toward a big dome of fine metallic mesh, thirty
feet high and sixty in diameter, at the other end of the room. Tammand
Drav, and his ten paratimer priests, and Brannad Klav, and ten
Paratime Police, followed him in. One of the latter slid shut the door
and locked it; Verkan Vall went to the control desk, at the center of
the dome, and picked up a two-foot globe of the same fine metallic
mesh, opening it and making some adjustments inside, then attaching an
electric cord and closing it. He laid the globe on the floor near the
desk and picked up the hand battery at the other end of the attached
cord.

"Not taking any chances at all, are you?" Brannad Klav asked, watching
this operation with interest.

"I never do, unnecessarily. There are too many necessary chances that
have to be taken, in this work." Verkan Vall pressed the button on the
hand battery. The globe on the floor flashed and vanished. "Yesterday,
five paratimers were arrested. Any or all of them could have had
door-activators with them. Stranor Sleth says they were not tortured,
but that is a purely inferential statement. They may have been, and
the use of the activator may have been extorted from one of them. So I
want a look at the inside of that conveyer-chamber before we transpose
into it."

He laid the hand battery, with the loose-dangling wire that had been
left behind, on the desk, then lit a cigarette. The others gathered
around, smoking and watching, careful to avoid the place from which
the globe had vanished. Thirty minutes passed, and then, in a queer
iridescence, the globe reappeared. Verkan Vall counted ten seconds and
picked it up, taking it to the desk and opening it to remove a small
square box. This he slid into a space under the desk and flipped a
switch. Instantly, a view-screen lit up and a three-dimensional
picture appeared--the interior of a big room a hundred feet square and
some seventy in height. There was a big desk and a radio; tables,
couches, chairs and an arms-rack full of weapons, and at one end, a
remarkably clean sixty-foot circle on the concrete floor, outlined in
faintly luminous red.

"How about it?" Verkan Vall asked Tammand Drav. "Anything wrong?"

The Zurb high priest shook his head. "Just as we left it," he said.
"Nobody's been inside since we left."

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the policemen took Verkan Vall's place at the control desk and
threw the master switch, after checking the instruments. Immediately,
the paratemporal-transposition field went on with a humming sound that
mounted to a high scream, then settled to a steady drone. The mesh
dome flickered with a cold iridescence and vanished, and they were
looking into the interior of a great fissionables refinery plant,
operated by paratimers on another First Level time-line. The
structural details altered, from time-line to time-line, as they
watched. Buildings appeared and vanished. Once, for a few seconds,
they were inside a cool, insulated bubble in the midst of molten lead.
Tammand Drav jerked a thumb at it, before it vanished.

"That always bothers me," he said. "Bad place for the field to go
weak. I'm fussy as an old hen about inspection of the conveyer, on
account of that."

"Don't blame you," Verkan Vall agreed. "Probably the cooling system of
a breeder-pile."

They passed more swiftly, now, across the Second Level and the Third.
Once they were in the midst of a huge land battle, with great tanklike
vehicles spouting flame at one another. Another moment was spent in an
air bombardment. On any time-line, this section of East Europe was a
natural battleground. Once a great procession marched toward them,
carrying red banners and huge pictures of a coarse-faced man with a
black mustache--Verkan Vall recognized the environment as Fourth Level
Europo-American Sector. Finally, as the transposition-rate slowed,
they saw a clutter of miserable thatched huts, in the rear of a
granite wall of a Fourth Level Hulgun temple of Yat-Zar--a temple not
yet infiltrated by Transtemporal Mining Corporation agents. Finally,
they were at their destination. The dome around them became visible,
and an overhead green light flashed slowly on and off.

Verkan Vall opened the door and stepped outside, his needler drawn.
The House of Yat-Zar was just as he had seen it in the picture
photographed by the automatic reconnaissance-conveyer. The others
crowded outside after him. One of the regular priests pulled off his
miter and beard and went to the radio, putting on a headset. Verkan
Vall and Tammand Drav snapped on the visiscreen, getting a view of the
Holy of Holies outside.

There were six men there, seated at the upper-priests' banquet table,
drinking from golden goblets. Five of them wore the black robes with
green facings which marked them as priests of Muz-Azin; the sixth was
an officer of the Chuldun archers, in gilded mail and helmet.

"Why, those are the sacred vessels of the temple!" Tammand Drav cried,
scandalized. Then he laughed in self-ridicule. "I'm beginning to take
this stuff seriously, myself; time I put in for a long vacation. I was
actually shocked at the sacrilege!"

"Well, let's overtake the infidels in their sins," Verkan Vall said.
"Paralyzers will be good enough."

He picked up one of the bulb-headed weapons, and unlocked the door.
Tammand Drav and another of the priests of the Zurb temple following
and the others crowding behind, they passed out through the veils, and
burst into the Holy of Holies. Verkan Vall pointed the bulb of his
paralyzer at the six seated men and pressed the button; other
paralyzers came into action, and the whole sextet were knocked
senseless. The officer rolled from his chair and fell to the floor in
a clatter of armor. Two of the priests slumped forward on the table.
The others merely sank back in their chairs, dropping their goblets.

"Give each one of them another dose, to make sure," Verkan Vall
directed a couple of his own men. "Now, Tammand; any other way into
the main temple beside that door?"

"Up those steps," Tammand Drav pointed. "There's a gallery along the
side; we can cover the whole room from there."

"Take your men and go up there. I'll take a few through the door.
There'll be about twenty archers out there, and we don't want any of
them loosing any arrows before we can knock them out. Three minutes be
time enough?"

"Easily. Make it two," Tammand Drav said.

       *       *       *       *       *

He took his priests up the stairway and vanished into the gallery of
the temple. Verkan Vall waited until one minute had passed and then,
followed by Brannad Klav and a couple of Paratime Policemen, he went
under the plinth and peered out into the temple. Five or six archers,
in steel caps and sleeveless leather jackets sewn with steel rings,
were gathered around the altar, cooking something in a pot on the
fire. Most of the others, like veteran soldiers, were sprawled on the
floor, trying to catch a short nap, except half a dozen, who crouched
in a circle, playing some game with dice--another almost universal
military practice.

The two minutes were up. He aimed his paralyzer at the men around the
altar and squeezed the button, swinging it from one to another and
knocking them down with a bludgeon of inaudible sound. At the same
time, Tammand Drav and his detail were stunning the gamblers. Stepping
forward and to one side, Verkan Vall, Brannad Klav and the others took
care of the sleepers on the floor. In less than thirty seconds, every
Chuldun in the temple was incapacitated.

"All right, make sure none of them come out of it prematurely," Verkan
Vall directed. "Get their weapons, and be sure nobody has a knife or
anything hidden on him. Who has the syringe and the sleep-drug
ampoules?"

Somebody had, it developed, who was still on the First Level, to come
up with the second conveyer load. Verkan Vall swore. Something like
this always happened, on any operation involving more than half a
dozen men.

"Well, some of you stay here: patrol around, and use your paralyzers
on anybody who even twitches a muscle." Ultrasonics were nice,
effective, humane police weapons, but they were unreliable. The same
dose that would keep one man out for an hour would paralyze another
for no more than ten or fifteen minutes. "And be sure none of them are
playing 'possum."

He went back through the door under the plinth, glancing up at the
decorated wooden screen and wondering how much work it would take to
move the new Yat-Zar in from the conveyers. The five priests and the
archer-captain were still unconscious; one of the policemen was
searching them.

"Here's the sort of weapons these priests carry," he said, holding up
a short iron mace with a spiked head. "Carry them on their belts." He
tossed it on the table, and began searching another knocked-out
hierophant. "Like this--_Hey!_ Look at this, will you!"

He drew his hand from under the left side of the senseless man's robe
and held up a sigma-ray needler. Verkan Vall looked at it and nodded
grimly.

"Had it in a regular shoulder holster," the policeman said, handing
the weapon across the table. "What do you think?"

"Find anything else funny on him?"

"Wait a minute." The policeman pulled open the robe and began
stripping the priest of Muz-Azin; Verkan Vall came around the table to
help. There was nothing else of a suspicious nature.

"Could have got it from one of the prisoners, but I don't like the
familiar way he's wearing that holster," Verkan Vall said. "Has the
conveyer gone back, yet?" When the policeman nodded, he continued:
"When it returns, take him to the First Level. I hope they bring up
the sleep-drug with the next load. When you get him back, take him to
Dhergabar by strato-rocket immediately, and make sure he gets back
alive. I want him questioned under narco-hypnosis by a regular
Paratime Commission psycho-technician, in the presence of Chief Tortha
Karf and some responsible Commission official. This is going to be hot
stuff."

Within an hour, the whole force was assembled in the temple. The
wooden screen had presented no problem--it slid easily to one
side--and the big idol floated on antigravity in the middle of the
temple. Verkan Vall was looking anxiously at his watch.

"It's about two hours to sunset," he said, to Stranor Sleth. "But as
you pointed out, these Hulguns aren't astronomers, and it's a bit
cloudy. I wish Crannar Jurth would call in with something definite."

Another twenty minutes passed. Then the man at the radio came out into
the temple.

"O. K.!" he called. "The man at Crannar Jurth's called in. Crannar
Jurth contacted him with a midget radio he has up his sleeve; he's in
the palace courtyard now. They haven't brought out the victims, yet,
but Kurchuk has just been carried out on his throne to that platform
in front of the citadel. Big crowd gathering in the inner courtyard;
more in the streets outside. Palace gates are wide open."

"That's it!" Verkan Vall cried. "Form up; the parade's starting.
Brannad, you and Tammand and Stranor and I in front; about ten men
with paralyzers a little behind us. Then Yat-Zar, about ten feet off
the ground, and then the others. Forward--_ho-o!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

They emerged from the temple and started down the broad roadway toward
the palace. There was not much of a crowd, at first. Most of Zurb had
flocked to the palace earlier; the lucky ones in the courtyard and the
late comers outside. Those whom they did meet stared at them in
open-mouthed amazement, and then some, remembering their doubts and
blasphemies, began howling for forgiveness. Others--a substantial
majority--realizing that it would be upon King Kurchuk that the real
weight of Yat-Zar's six hands would fall, took to their heels, trying
to put as much distance as possible between them and the palace before
the blow fell.

As the procession approached the palace gates, the crowds were
thicker, made up of those who had been unable to squeeze themselves
inside. The panic was worse, here, too. A good many were trampled and
hurt in the rush to escape, and it became necessary to use paralyzers
to clear a way. That made it worse: everybody was sure that Yat-Zar
was striking sinners dead left and right.

Fortunately, the gates were high enough to let the god through without
losing altitude appreciably. Inside, the mob surged back, clearing a
way across the courtyard. It was only necessary to paralyze a few
here, and the levitated idol and its priestly attendants advanced
toward the stone platform, where the king sat on his throne, flanked
by court functionaries and black-robed priests of Muz-Azin. In front
of this, a rank of Chuldun archers had been drawn up.

"Horv; move Yat-Zar forward about a hundred feet and up about fifty,"
Verkan Vall directed. "Quickly!"

As the six-armed anthropomorphic idol rose and moved closer toward its
saurian rival, Verkan Vall drew his needler, scanning the assemblage
around the throne anxiously.

"_Where is the wicked King?_" a voice thundered--the voice of Stranor
Sleth, speaking into a midget radio tuned to the loud-speaker inside
the idol. "_Where is the blasphemer and desecrator, Kurchuk?_"

"There's Labdurg, in the red tunic, beside the throne," Tammand Drav
whispered. "And that's Ghromdur, the Muz-Azin high priest, beside
him."

Verkan Vall nodded, keeping his eyes on the group on the platform.
Ghromdur, the high priest of Muz-Azin, was edging backward and
reaching under his robe. At the same time, an officer shouted an
order, and the Chuldun archers drew arrows from their quivers and
fitted them to their bowstrings. Immediately, the ultrasonic
paralyzers of the advancing paratimers went into action, and the
mercenaries began dropping.

"_Lay down your weapons, fools!_" the amplified voice boomed at them.
"_Lay down your weapons or you shall surely die! Who are you,
miserable wretches, to draw bows against Me?_"

[Illustration:]

At first a few, then all of them, the Chulduns lowered or dropped
their weapons and began edging away to the sides. At the center, in
front of the throne, most of them had been knocked out. Verkan Vall
was still watching the Muz-Azin high priest intently; as Ghromdur
raised his arm, there was a flash and a puff of smoke from the front
of Yat-Zar--the paint over the collapsed nickel was burned off, but
otherwise the idol was undamaged. Verkan Vall swung up his needler and
rayed Ghromdur dead; as the man in the green-faced black robes fell, a
blaster clattered on the stone platform.

"_Is that your puny best, Muz-Azin?_" the booming voice demanded.
"_Where is your high priest now?_"

"Horv; face Yat-Zar toward Muz-Azin," Verkan Vall said over his
shoulder, drawing his blaster with his left hand. Like all First Level
people, he was ambidextrous, although, like all paratimers, he
habitually concealed the fact while outtime. As the levitated idol
swung slowly to look down upon its enemy on the built-up cart, Verkan
Vall aimed the blaster and squeezed.

[Illustration:]

In a spot less than a millimeter in diameter on the crocodile idol's
side, a certain number of neutrons in the atomic structure of the
stone from which it was carved broke apart, becoming, in effect, atoms
of hydrogen. With a flash and a bang, the idol burst and vanished.
Yat-Zar gave a dirty laugh and turned his back on the cart, which was
now burning fiercely facing King Kurchuk again.

"Get your hands up, all of you!" Verkan Vall shouted, in the First
Level language, swinging the stubby muzzle of the blaster and the
knob-tipped twin tubes of the needler to cover the group around the
throne, "Come forward, before I start blasting!"

Labdurg raised his hands and stepped forward. So did two of the
priests of Yat-Zar. They were quickly seized by Paratime Policemen who
swarmed up onto the platform and disarmed. All three were carrying
sigma-ray needlers, and Labdurg had a blaster as well.

King Kurchuk was clinging to the arms of his throne, a badly
frightened monarch trying desperately not to show it. He was a big
man, heavy-shouldered, black-bearded; under ordinary circumstances he
would probably have cut an imposing figure, in his gold-washed mail
and his golden crown. Now his face was a dirty gray, and he was biting
nervously at his lower lip. The others on the platform were in even
worse state. The Hulgun nobles were grouped together, trying to
disassociate themselves from both the king and the priests of
Muz-Azin. The latter were staring in a daze at the blazing cart from
which their idol had just been blasted. And the dozen men who were to
have done the actual work of the torture-sacrifice had all dropped
their whips and were fairly gibbering in fear.

Yat-Zar, manipulated by the robed paratimer, had taken a position
directly above the throne and was lowering slowly. Kurchuk stared up
at the massive idol descending toward him, his knuckles white as he
clung to the arms of his throne. He managed to hold out until he could
feel the weight of the idol pressing on his head. Then, with a scream,
he hurled himself from the throne and rolled forward almost to the
edge of the platform. Yat-Zar moved to one side, swung slightly and
knocked the throne toppling, and then settled down on the platform. To
Kurchuk, who was rising cautiously on his hands and knees, the big
idol seemed to be looking at him in contempt.

"_Where are my holy priests, Kurchuk?_" Stranor Sleth demanded in to
his sleeve-hidden radio. "_Let them be brought before me, alive and
unharmed, or it shall be better for you had you never been born!_"

The six priests of Yat-Zar, it seemed, were already being brought onto
the platform by one of Kurchuk's nobles. This noble, whose name was
Yorzuk, knew a miracle when he saw one, and believed in being on the
side of the god with the heaviest artillery. As soon as he had seen
Yat-Zar coming through the gate without visible means of support, he
had hastened to the dungeons with half a dozen of his personal
retainers and ordered the release of the six captives. He was now
escorting them onto the platform, assuring them that he had always
been a faithful servant of Yat-Zar and had been deeply grieved at his
sovereign's apostasy.

"_Hear my word, Kurchuk_," Stranor Sleth continued through the
loud-speaker in the idol. "_You have sinned most vilely against me,
and were I a cruel god, your fate would be such as no man has ever
before suffered. But I am a merciful god; behold, you may gain
forgiveness in my sight. For thirty days, you shall neither eat meat
nor drink wine, nor shall you wear gold nor fine raiment, and each day
shall you go to my temple and beseech me for my forgiveness. And on
the thirty-first day, you shall set out, barefoot and clad in the garb
of a slave, and journey to my temple that is in the mountains over
above Yoldav, and there will I forgive you, after you have made
sacrifice to me. I, Yat-Zar, have spoken!_"

The king started to rise, babbling thanks.

"_Rise not before me until I have forgiven you!_" Yat-Zar thundered.
"_Creep out of my sight upon your belly, wretch!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

The procession back to the temple was made quietly and sedately along
an empty roadway. Yat-Zar seemed to be in a kindly humor; the people
of Zurb had no intention of giving him any reason to change his mood.
The priests of Muz-Azin and their torturers had been flung into the
dungeon. Yorzuk, appointed regent for the duration of Kurchuk's
penance, had taken control and was employing Hulgun spearmen and
hastily-converted Chuldun archers to restore order and, incidentally,
purge a few of his personal enemies and political rivals. The priests,
with the three prisoners who had been found carrying First Level
weapons among them and Yat-Zar floating triumphantly in front, entered
the temple. A few of the devout, who sought admission after them, were
told that elaborate and secret rites were being held to cleanse the
profaned altar, and sent away.

Verkan Vall and Brannad Klav and Stranor Sleth were in the conveyer
chamber, with the Paratime Policemen and the extra priests; along with
them were the three prisoners. Verkan Vall pulled off his false beard
and turned to face these. He could see that they all recognized him.

"Now," he began, "you people are in a bad jam. You've violated the
Paratime Transposition Code, the Commercial Regulation Code, and the
First Level Criminal Code, all together. If you know what's good for
you, you'll start talking."

"I'm not saying anything till I have legal advice," the man who had
been using the local alias of Labdurg replied. "And if you're through
searching me, I'd like to have my cigarettes and lighter back."

"Smoke one of mine, for a change," Verkan Vall told him. "I don't know
what's in yours beside tobacco." He offered his case and held a light
for the prisoner before lighting his own cigarette. "I'm going to be
sure you get back to the First Level alive."

The former Overseer of the Kingdom of Zurb shrugged. "I'm still not
talking," he said.

"Well, we can get it all out of you by narco-hypnosis, anyhow," Verkan
Vall told him. "Besides, we got that man of yours who was here at the
temple when we came in. He's being given a full treatment, as a
presumed outtime native found in possession of First Level weapons. If
you talk now it'll go easier with you."

The prisoner dropped the cigarette on the floor and tramped it out.

"Anything you cops get out of me, you'll have to get the hard way," he
said. "I have friends on the First Level who'll take care of me."

"I doubt that. They'll have their hands full taking care of
themselves, after this gets out." Verkan Vall turned to the two in
the black robes. "Either of you want to say anything?" When they shook
their heads, he nodded to a group of his policemen; they were hustled
into the conveyer. "Take them to the First Level terminal and hold
them till I come in. I'll be along with the next conveyer load."

       *       *       *       *       *

The conveyer flashed and vanished. Brannad Klav stared for a moment at
the circle of concrete floor from whence it had disappeared. Then he
turned to Verkan Vall.

"I still can't believe it," he said. "Why, those fellows were First
Level paratimers. So was that priest, Ghromdur: the one you rayed."

"Yes, of course. They worked for your rivals, the Fourth Level Mineral
Products Syndicate; the outfit that was trying to get your Proto-Aryan
Sector fissionables franchise away from you. They operate on this sector
already; have the petroleum franchise for the Chuldun country, east of
the Caspian Sea. They export to some of these internal-combustion-engine
sectors, like Europo-American. You know, most of the wars they've been
fighting, lately, on the Europo-American Sector have been, at least in
part, motivated by rivalry for oil fields. But now that the
Europo-Americans have begun to release nuclear energy, fissionables have
become more important than oil. In less than a century, it's predicted
that atomic energy will replace all other forms of power. Mineral
Products Syndicate wanted to get a good source of supply for uranium,
and your Proto-Aryan Sector franchise was worth grabbing.

"I had considered something like this as a possibility when Stranor,
here, mentioned that tularemia was normally unknown in Eurasia on this
sector. That epidemic must have been started by imported germs. And I
knew that Mineral Products has agents at the court of the Chuldun
emperor, Chombrog: they have to, to protect their oil wells on his
eastern frontiers. I spent most of last night checking up on some
stuff by video-transcription from the Paratime Commission's microfilm
library at Dhergabar. I found out, for one thing, that while there is
a King Kurchuk of Zurb on every time-line for a hundred para-years on
either side of this one, this is the only time-line on which he
married a Princess Darith of Chuldun, and it's the only time-line on
which there is any trace of a Chuldun scribe named Labdurg.

"That's why I went to all the trouble of having that Yat-Zar plated
with collapsed nickel. If there were disguised paratimers among the
Muz-Azin party at Kurchuk's court, I expected one of them to try to
blast our idol when we brought it into the palace. I was watching
Ghromdur and Labdurg in particular; as soon as Ghromdur used his
blaster, I needled him. After that, it was easy."

"Was that why you insisted on sending that automatic viewer on
ahead?"

"Yes. There was a chance that they might have planted a bomb in the
House of Yat-Zar, here. I knew they'd either do that or let the place
entirely alone. I suppose they were so confident of getting away with
this that they didn't want to damage the conveyer or the conveyer
chamber. They expected to use them, themselves, after they took over
your company's franchise."

"Well, what's going to be done about it by the Commission?" Brannad
Klav wanted to know.

"Plenty. The syndicate will probably lose their paratime license; any
of its officials who had guilty knowledge of this will be dealt with
according to law. You know, this was a pretty nasty business."

"You're telling me!" Stranor Sleth exclaimed. "Did you get a look at
those whips they were going to use on our people? Pointed iron barbs a
quarter-inch long braided into them, all over the lash-ends!"

"Yes. Any punitive action you're thinking about taking on these
priests of Muz-Azin--the natives, I mean--will be ignored on the First
Level. And that reminds me: you'd better work out a line of policy,
pretty soon."

"Well, as for the priests and the torturers, I think I'll tell Yorzuk
to have them sold to the Bhunguns, to the east. They're always in the
market for galley slaves," Stranor Sleth said. He turned to Brannad
Klav. "And I'll want six gold crowns made up, as soon as possible.
Strictly Hulgun design, with Yat-Zar religious symbolism, very rich
and ornate, all slightly different. When I give Kurchuk absolution,
I'll crown him at the altar in the name of Yat-Zar. Then I'll invite
in the other five Hulgun kings, lecture them on their religious
duties, make them confess their secret doubts, forgive them, and crown
them, too. From then on, they can all style themselves as ruling by
the will of Yat-Zar."

"And from then on, you'll have all of them eating out of your hand,"
Verkan Vall concluded. "You know, this will probably go down in Hulgun
history as the Reformation of Ghullam the Holy. I've always wondered
whether the theory of the divine right of kings was invented by the
kings, to establish their authority over the people, or by the
priests, to establish _their_ authority over the kings. It works about
as well one way as the other."

"What I can't understand is this," Brannad Klav said. "It was entirely
because of my respect for the Paratime Code that I kept Stranor Sleth
from using Fourth Level weapons and other techniques to control these
people with a show of apparent miraculous powers. But this Fourth
Level Mineral Products Syndicate was operating in violation of the
Paratime Code by invading our franchise area. Why didn't they fake up
a supernatural reign of terror to intimidate these natives?"

"Ha, exactly because they _were_ operating illegally," Verkan Vall
replied. "Suppose they had started using needlers and blasters and
antigravity and nuclear-energy around here. The natives would have
thought it was the power of Muz-Azin, of course, but what would you
have thought? You'd have known, as soon as they tried it, that First
Level paratimers were working against you, and you'd have laid the
facts before the Commission, and this time-line would have been
flooded with Paratime Police. They had to conceal their operations not
only from the natives, as you do, but also from us. So they didn't
dare make public use of First Level techniques.

"Of course, when we came marching into the palace with that idol on
antigravity, they knew, at once, what was happening. I have an idea
that they only tried to blast that idol to create a diversion which
would permit them to escape--if they could have got out of the palace,
they'd have made their way, in disguise, to the nearest Mineral
Products Syndicate conveyer and transposed out of here. I realized
that they could best delay us by blasting our idol, and that's why I
had it plated with collapsed nickel. I think that where they made
their mistake was in allowing Kurchuk to have those priests arrested,
and insisting on sacrificing them to Muz-Azin. If it hadn't been for
that, the Paratime Police wouldn't have been brought into this, at
all.

"Well, Stranor, you'll want to get back to your temple, and Brannad
and I want to get back to the First Level. I'm supposed to take my
wife to a banquet in Dhergabar, tonight, and with the fastest
strato-rocket, I'll just barely make it."

[Illustration: ]

       *       *       *       *       *





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