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´╗┐Title: Sordman the Protector
Author: Purdom, Tom
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 "Sordman the Protector" ***

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                         SORDMAN THE PROTECTOR

                             BY TOM PURDOM

                          Illustrated by WOOD

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine August 1960.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



              He was the most powerful man in the world.
              He could make anybody do anything--and yet
              he was the slave of a mad criminal's mind!


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."

"Thank you."

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."

Silence.

"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....

Here!

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.

"Monster! Freak!"

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."

"Go away!"

"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."

There were just a few people in the coffee house. Sordman ordered and
told them what he had learned.

"I wish you could probe everyone in the building," George said. "All we
get is gossip."

"The husband of this Raven English has a motive," Lee said. "Why don't
we visit her?"

"I think we should." Sordman drank his coffee. "Citizen English
herself might have killed them."

"I doubt it," George said.

"It all sounds like a lot of talk," Sordman said. "But we have to
follow it up. This business is nothing but wearing out your legs
running after every lead. If your legs are strong, you can run anybody
down."

They finished their coffee and cigarettes and trudged out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Raven English, one-year wife of Leonard Smith, did not meet them at the
door with gracious bows. Instead, a wall panel by the door shot back.
They stared at a square of one way glass.

"Who are you?" a girl's voice said.

"I'm Andrew Sordman, your Protector. I come on lawful business. May we
enter?"

"No."

"Why not?" Lee asked.

"Because I don't like witches. Keep out."

"We're hunting the killer," Sordman said. "We're on your side. I've
taken no drugs and made no preparations. You don't have to be afraid."

"I'm not afraid. I just don't want you in my home."

"You have to let us in," Lee said. "Our warrant gives us entry into
every room in this hotel. If we have to break the door down, we can."

"I hope we don't have to break the door down."

"You're getting fat," George said. "You need the exercise."

"You won't break in," the girl said.

Sordman crossed the hall to get a good start. "I'm about to, Mylady."
His shoulder filled the doorway behind him. This looks like fun, he
thought. He liked to feel his body working.

The door opened. A dark-haired, slender girl stood in the doorway. Her
skin was brown and her lips were pink, unpainted flesh. She wore a red
kimono.

"All right. Come in."

"Gladly," Sordman said.

It was a three-room apartment, with the kitchen tucked into one wall of
the parlor. A painting stood on an easel by the window. The window was
a shoulder-high slit and from it, here on the hundred and forty-first
floor, he could see across the park to the beach and the rolling
Atlantic.

God grant me self-control, he thought. If this is the killer, grant me
self-control. He made his savage thoughts lie down and purred at the
world.

"I'm sorry we have to force our way in," he said. "And I'm sorry you
don't approve of Talent. But please remember two men have died and a
little girl may die, too. There are lots of panicky people in the Mark
Twain. We've got to find the killer soon and you can help us."

"Why bother me?" the girl said.

"This is awkward," Lee said. She stood erect but looked past the girl.
She felt embarrassed. "Someone told us you and Bedler were seeing each
other."

"Oh, quit being prudish," George said. "These things happen all the
time." He turned to the girl. "We were told you and Joe Bedler were
making plans to get married when your present contract ends."

"That's a lie!"

Sordman laughed in his belly. No matter what the rules were, few women
publicly admitted they had broken them. By the standards of the period
from 1800 to 1990, the whole marriage system of the Twenty-First
Century was immoral; but there were still prudes. And women still
preserved the conventions.

"Who told you that?" Raven English said. She frowned. "Was it that
Jackie Baker?"

"Why her?" George asked.

"Because she's a logical person for you to talk to and because it's the
kind of thing she'd say."

"Yes," Sordman said.

"She ought to see a psycher! And that's why you came?"

"We're not accusing you," Sordman said. "But we've got to follow every
lead."

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl swore. "Why would I kill Joe? Why are you all suspicious?
That's why I hate Talents! All you've done is make everyone
suspicious. Everybody's afraid of everybody else."

"Are you an artist?" Sordman asked.

"What?"

"Are you an artist?"

"What's that got to do with it? No, I'm not. My husband paints."

He felt her stall and evade. She would grab at any subject to distract
them. He decided he would let his mind probe at random.

"Is he a professional painter?" Lee asked.

"No, he's an engineer. They wouldn't let him go to art school. He's
trying to teach himself." She shrugged and ogled the ceiling.

Her emotions said, Men are like that.

"What does your husband think of Talent?" Sordman asked. "Does he share
your prejudice?"

"Didn't you meet Len?"

"Where?" He stroked his beard. "Is he the Len downstairs in the beer
hall?"

"Of course!"

"I'm afraid I didn't make the connection."

He felt two other minds run like hounds down the same trail.

Lee studied the painting. "Why does your husband hate Talent?"

"Is this a survey?"

Lee grinned. "I'm the lobbyist for the Guggenheim Foundation. Asking
that kind of question is a reflex."

The girl walked around the room. She looked out the window and
stretched. Sordman bellowed lust at her flanks and the long curve of
her hips.

"Why do men do anything?" Raven yawned. "When he was in Voc school some
kid took him in the back room and showed him some tricks. Maybe that
did it. Is there a psycher in the house?"

"There is," George said. "Is Citizen Smith an astronautical engineer?"

"You could say so. He works on instruments for space labs."

"That's funny." George stared at the sun flashing on the far-off ocean.
"I remember I felt bitter once because I couldn't be a space engineer.
I wanted to build rockets and ride to the planets. But the Voc people
told me I was too weak in math. So I became a healer of the psyche and
I learned my love for rockets was a hunger for power. But still I love
the brutes and now I'm an old man I still sometimes wish I'd been an
engineer."

"That's too bad," the girl said politely.

"Yes. I suppose your husband feels that way about art?"

"He gets drunk about it sometimes."

"Double motive!" Sordman said.

"One conscious," George said, "plain jealousy. The other
half-conscious--resentment. Nobody kills at random. There's always a
reason why he took these lives instead of others."

"Plus a lot of self-pity," Lee said, "and I think his wife despises
him."

"What are you talking about?" Raven said. "What did you say about me?"

"We think we've got a suspect," Sordman said.

"I didn't do it!"

"I'm going to probe your husband."

"My husband hates Talent."

"We have to hurry," Sordman said. "If your husband's innocent, I'm
sorry. We're not saying he's guilty. But I have to examine him."

At the door he paused and thought, God of Infinite Compassion.... The
girl sat down and stared at the wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Many drugs activate the psi powers. The commonest, available in any
drug store, is a pill of codeine and half a dried peyote bean. Leonard
Smith had both in his pocket when he ran out the side door of the beer
hall.

Sordman swore wildly. The girl screamed. The men, the hunters of
witches and killers, either froze or shouted and ran to the door. Only
John Dyer and two others ran shouting down the hall.

Sordman ran to the door and saw Smith leap into the elevator. He
grabbed a wall phone and dialed the Manager's office.

"We've got the killer," he shouted. "His name's Leonard Smith. He's
a young man, dark, wiry, good looking, and he's on the elevator going
down."

"We'll get him!"

"Leave him alone! I saw him swallow something as he left. I think he's
drugged. Clear the lobby but watch him from hiding. I'll get him before
he goes far."

John Dyer trudged back to the beer hall. "Give me your rifle," he told
an armed man. Before the man could say anything Dyer snatched the rifle
from him.

"All right," Dyer said. "Who's going with me?"

"Hold on," Sordman said. "Where are you going?"

"After Smith."

"I'm going after him. Let him go and I'll have him out cold before an
hour's up."

"There isn't anything a rifle can't stop."

Sordman understood. These men were afraid of Talent. But some, like
Dyer, had to fight that fear. They had to prove that intelligence
and the technical power organized society gives individual men were
superior to Talent.

"I can't stop you," Sordman said. "But listen to me. Smith has to be
captured alive. The man is insane. He's no more a villain than you or
me. He just tampered with a force he couldn't control. You might stop
him with a bullet but you'll have to kill him to do it."

"He killed two of us," a man said.

"He's drugged. He can hide and kill you from a distance."

"So can we," Dyer said. "That's what we do with rifles."

Sordman ran his fingers through his hair. "Stay under cover then. And
if I get him pacified, let him live."

       *       *       *       *       *

The wall phone buzzed.

"Sordman."

"This is the Manager. He stole a hatchet in the leisure store. He's out
in the park."

"Did anybody try to stop him?"

"I cleared the place out."

"Some of your tenants are going after him. Don't let anybody else join
them. I wish myself they wouldn't go."

After he hung up the three of them went up a floor and rang the buzzer
of a one-tenant apartment. As politely as they could, Lee and George
bundled the occupant out.

"I wish you'd let the state police capture him," George said.

"I've got to get to him before they kill him," Sordman said.

"Andy, there are limits to what you can take! Smith has gone berserk.
You connect with an insane man and you may shatter all over the place."

Sordman stroked his beard.

"Let him go," Lee said. "Can't you feel he has to do this?"

"Yes, but I won't admit it. I trained you, Andy. You're my life's
work. I don't want you to wreck yourself."

Sordman nodded soberly. "I know, George. I'll take care of myself." He
thought tender thoughts and tried to make them feel how much he loved
them.

"Let's go," Lee mumbled. "Come on, George."

He closed the door gently. The window of the apartment overlooked the
park. He stared at the thick trees and wondered where Smith was running
under that green roof. Then he turned to the picture phone and punched
out a number.

The screen lit. It was in full color, praise God.

"_Andy!_"

His wife smiled when she saw him. She was a big girl with long breasts
and full thighs. She wore a dark kimono.

She bowed. "Good afternoon, Husband."

"Good afternoon, Wife." He pressed his palms together and returned the
bow.

"Why are you calling, Andy?"

"Because I love you. And I want to ask you a favor, Tina."

"What, Husband?"

"Will you undress for me now?"

"Andy! My, my, my."

He explained the situation to her. "Be careful," she said. "I love you."

"I'll be careful. But I've got to be aware of myself as a physical
being. You understand."

She smiled. "May I take my time?"

"Not too long."

She was an uninhibited girl and took great pleasure in displaying
herself. Her skin was pure white and her stomach smooth and softly
rounded. He could feel the weight of her breasts on his palm.

"God is good," he said.

"Thank you."

His glands flooded his body. His body ached to stroke, squeeze, kiss,
penetrate.

"You'd better go," he said. "Before I break the screen down."

She bowed. "Live with God, Husband."

"Live with God, Wife."

       *       *       *       *       *

The screen faded. He put on his robe and jabbed the hypodermic into his
wrist. Then he knelt to pray.

He did not pray for power. Intelligence and hard work could give him
that. He prayed for mercy, compassion, recognition of his own flawed
nature. He prayed for courage and the end of fear.

The balls danced between his hands. He sang the Song of Praise, the
love song to the world. _Gloria mundi._ Glory in the world, glory in
the flesh, glory in the flow of life. Creation is a flow and man a
bubble bouncing on the flow. Bubble that will burst but bubble that
is. Bubble that feels, strives, blends with other bubbles.

Bubble that can fill Creation!

He roared at the walls of existence. His mind yawned and stretched and
came awake. He prowled across the woods and parks. Gigantic, he gazed
at the mortals who stumbled through the shaded tunnels of the world.
These are such as me. These share my doomed existence.

And that one? That one lying in the brush with an axe? That one,
preparing to kill, clawing since he was a baby at a world that torments
him?

That also is me.

Smith rose to his knees and swung the axe. John Dyer crumpled with
a severed spine. The axe swung twice and two men fell. The hunters
dropped to their bellies. Rifles cracked. Bullets sang in the grass.

Now they knew they had to kill Smith or die. Now they felt no mercy.

Sordman hovered over them. What he feels, I will feel. His hate will be
my hate. His anger mine. His hate must be absorbed in great compassion,
in tenderness and rationality. _Or I will be destroyed with him._

In the room the balls spun and whirled. He lay prostrate on the floor,
the yellow bomb-burst on his back. He was afraid. His weakness was
naked. He had always known he would someday meet a personality he
could not forgive. When that day came he would shatter and flee, like
Smith, to any refuge he could make.

"Show your heads! Show your heads and I'll kill you!"

A bullet smashed into Smith's leg. He screamed and flailed the axe.
Shouting curses and threats, he crawled through the brush. The hunters
crawled after him.

Sordman located Smith. He shuddered as malice bit the edges of his
mind. He sang a long note of praise to life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he opened his mind.

Listen, Smith. I'm your friend. I am Sordman, the Protector of all, of
the hunters and the hunted. I come in love. I am Sordman, small brother
of the Lord, bubble in the Fountain of Creation....

Once men had thought a Talent would fell his opponents with a blast
of mental energy. It wasn't that easy. Sordman had to find the cause
of Smith's hate. He was no rifleman, hurling a blast of energy, but a
surgeon probing for the source of a disease.

Two minds tangled. Sordman bore the light of himself into darkness.

--I'll kill you, too. Get out of me. Get out!

Snarl, growl, slash. Two minds linked as one. Sordman fighting Sordman,
Smith fighting Smith.

_Aaaaaaaah!_

He doubled up on the floor and hugged his knees. The Protector wept and
sobbed. Hate! How he hated hate. How he wanted to kill the haters. They
clawed his brain, they tortured every moment, and yet he had to love
them. _Love them!_

God, grant your servant strength. Be merciful....

He had lost his contact but he had to go back. Weak man or not, he had
to return or Smith would die.

--I'll kill them all.

He saw the hunters creeping after him. He felt his body's dirty sweat
and the blood draining on his leg. Run, said his belly. A hunter fired.
He saw a blue morning coat in the bush and felt the gun pointed at his
head. Kill!

The axe swung back in his hand. He remembered the swift stroke, the
hard resistance of the spine, the joy of having struck and won. I
never got to win. They always held me back. My hands wouldn't paint
what I told them, my mind wouldn't reach where I wanted to go. When I
loved Raven she didn't let me out, she denied me, she made me hold my
feelings back. But now I strike! Now I swing an unfettered arm.

Sordman knew what he was joined with now. Smith was what the psycher
Talents called an unopened personality. A mind totally absorbed in
what things meant to itself. A mind which had not learned to feel the
pain and joy of other minds.

Smith's arm had stretched all the way back. He had to act now or
someone else would die. He was Sordman the Protector, one of the four
best Talents in the world and his powers were running like a river at
flood. All he had to do was make the right move.

He linked Smith's mind with the mind of the rifleman.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man in the blue morning coat was forty-three years old. He worked
in New York City, the assistant manager of a transportation line's
local office. His second wife had grown pregnant by accident, which
under law meant they were automatically married for life. They had
been married for fifteen years and still didn't know each other. His
two sons thought he was a spineless old fool who slept all the time
and couldn't give them what they needed. He didn't like his job but he
knew it was all he would ever do, an exact definition of his limits.
Alone in his house, imprisoned by his work, he smoked and slept and ate
without appetite.

But now he aimed his rifle and thought, I'll kill the witch. That will
be something. I'll know I did that.

The two minds were one. Each knew the other's pain, the other's fear.
If one died, the other felt his death.

Each recognized the other man's hunger, his frustration, his
imprisonment within his body and the limits of his life.

Sordman felt the weight of their lives. He gathered in the strength he
called a gift. His voice and mind, his total self, sang the Liturgy of
Joy. He gave his feelings and thoughts.

The axe dropped.

The finger squeezed the trigger and the bullet cut the bark from a tree.

His thoughts became a lullaby, a drowsy murmuring of peace and healing
sleep.

George and Lee ran from the woods.

"Andy! Don't shoot them. Andy!"

"Where?"

--Here.

He wiggled the leaves and branches of the brush.

--Here!

They stood over the unconscious men. The hunters crept from their
hiding spots and joined them.

"We'll bring him in," George said. "A psycher team is on the way."

--Good.

Lee said, "You feel tired, Andy."

--I think they get harder. They take more out of me. Lee?

"What, Andy?"

--It'll never end, will it?

He was a young man speaking to an older person. He had seen much of
humanity, but there were things only years could tell.

"Probably not. Is it too much?"

--No.





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