Resistance, such as it was, crumbled in a hurry. Forrester complied with fervor. An endless time went by, punctuated only by short breaths between the kisses. Forrester's hands began to rove.
So did Maya's.
She began to unbutton his shirt.
Not to be outdone, his own fingers got busy with buttons, zippers, hooks and the other temporary fastenings with which female clothing is encumbered. He was swimming in a red sea of passion and the Egyptians were nowhere in sight. Absently, he got an arm out of his shirt, and at the same time somehow managed to undo the final button of a series. Maya's blouse fell free.
Forrester felt like stout Cortez.
He pulled the girl to him, feeling the surprisingly cool touch of her flesh against his. Under the blouse and skirt, he was discovering, she wore very little, and that was just as well; nagging thoughts about the doubtful privacy of his office were beginning to assail him.
Nevertheless, he persevered. Maya was as eager as he had ever dreamed of being, and their embrace reached a height of passion and began to climb and climb to hitherto unknown peaks of sensation.
Forrester was busy for some time discovering things he had never known, and a lot of things he had known before, but never so well. Every motion was met with a reaction that was more than equal and opposite, every sensation unlocked the doors to whole galleries of new sensations. Higher and higher went his emotional thermometer, higher and higher and higher and higher and …
Very suddenly, he discovered how to breathe again, and it was over.
"My goodness," Maya said after a brief resting spell. "I suppose I must love you for sure. My goodness!"
"Sure," Forrester said. "And now—if you'll pardon the indelicacy and hand me my pants—" he found he was still puffing a little and paused until he could go on—"I've got an appointment I simply can't afford to miss."
"Oh, all right," Maya said. "But Mr. Forrester—"
He rolled over and looked at her while he began dressing. "I suppose it would be all right if you called me Bill," he said carefully.
"In class, too?"
Forrester shook his head. "No," he said. "Not in class."
"But what I wanted to ask—"
"Yes?" Forrester said.
"Mr.—Bill—do you think I'll pass Introductory World History?"
Forrester considered that question. There was certainly a wide variety of answers he could construct. When he had finished buttoning his shirt he had decided on one.
"I don't see why not," he said, "so long as you complete your assignments regularly."
Nearly two hours later, feeling somewhat light-headed but otherwise in perfectly magnificent fettle, Forrester found himself on the downtown subway. He'd showered and changed and he was whistling a gay little tune as he checked his watch.
The time was five minutes to five. He had just over an hour before he was due to appear at the Tower of Zeus All-Father, but it was better to be a few minutes early than even a single second late.
The train ride was a little bumpy, but Forrester didn't really mind. He was pretty well past being irritated by anything. Nevertheless, he was speculating with just a faint unease as to what the Pontifex Maximus wanted with him. What was in store for him at the strange appointment?
And why all the secrecy?
His brooding was interrupted right away. At 100th Street, a bearded old man got on and sat down next to him. He nudged Forrester in the ribs and muttered: "Look at that now, Daddy-O. Look at that."
"What?" Forrester said, constrained into conversation.
"Damn subways, that's what," the old man said. "Worse every year. Bumpier and slower and worse. Just look around, Daddy-O. Look around."
"I wouldn't quite say—" Forrester began, but the old man gave him another dig in the ribs and cut in:
"Wouldn't say, wouldn't say," he muttered. "Listen, man, there ain't been an improvement in years. You realize that?"
"No progress, man, not in more than half a century. Listen, when I was a teen king—War Councilor for the Boppers, I was, and let me tell you that was big time, Daddy-O—when I was a teen king, we were going places. Going places for real. Mars. Venus. We were going to have spaceships, man."
Forrester smiled spasmically at the old man. "I'm sure you—"
"But what happened?" the old man interrupted. "Tell you what happened, man. We never got to Mars and Venus. Mars and Venus came to us instead. Right along with Jupiter and Neptune and Pluto and all the rest of the Gods. And we had no progress ever since that day, Daddy-O, no progress at all and you can believe it."
He dug Forrester in the ribs one final time and sat back with melancholy satisfaction.
"Well," Forrester said mildly, "what good is progress?" The old man, he assured himself after a moment's reflection, wasn't actually saying anything blasphemous. After all, the Gods didn't expect their worshippers to be mindless slaves.
Somehow the notion made him feel happier. He'd have hated reporting the old man. Something in the outdated slang made him feel—almost patriotic. The old man was a part of America, a respected and important part.
The respected part of America made itself felt again in Forrester's ribs. "Progress?" the old man said. "What good's progress? Listen, Daddy-O—how can the human race get anywhere without progress? Answer me that, will you, man? Because it's for-sure real we're not going any place now. No place at all."
"Now look," Forrester said patiently, "progress is an outmoded idea. We've got to be in step with the times. We've got to ask ourselves what progress ever did for us. How did we stand when the Gods returned?" For a brief flash he was back in his history class, but he went on: "Half the world ready to fight the other half with weapons that would have wiped both halves out. You ought to be grateful the Gods returned when they did."
"But we're getting into Nowheresville, man," the old man complained. "We're not in orbit. We can't progress."
Forrester sighed. Why was he talking to the old man, anyway? The answer came to him as soon as he'd asked the question. He wanted to keep his mind off the Tower of Zeus and his own unknown fate there. It was an unpleasant answer; Forrester blanked it out.
"Now, friend," he said. "What have you got? Just what mankind's been looking for all these centuries. Security. You've got security. Nobody's going to blow you to pieces tomorrow. Your job isn't going to vanish overnight. I mean, if you—"
"I got a job," the old man said.
"Really?" Forrester said politely. "What is it?"
"Retired. And it's a tough job, too."
"Oh," Forrester said.
"And anyhow," the old man went on, "what's all this got to do with progress?"
Forrester thought. "Well—"
"Well, nothing," the old man said. "Listen to me, man. I say nothing against the Gods—right? Nothing at all. Wouldn't want to do anything like that. But at the same time, it looks to me like we ought to be able to—reap the fruits of our labors. I read that some place."
"In the three thousand years the Gods were gone, we weren't a total loss, man. Not anything like. We discovered a lot. About nature and science and like that. We invented science all by ourselves. So how come the Gods don't let us use it?" The old man dug his elbow once more into Forrester's rib. "How come?"
"The Gods haven't taken anything away from us," Forrester said.
"Haven't they?" the old man demanded. "How about television? Want to answer that one, Daddy-O? Years ago, everybody had a television set. Color and 3-D. The most. The end. Now there's no television at all. Why not? What happened to it?"
"Well," Forrester said reasonably, "what good is television?"
"What good?" Once more Forrester's rib felt the old man's elbow. "Let me tell you—"
"No," Forrester interrupted, suddenly irritated with the whole conversation. "Let me tell you. The trouble with your generation was that all they wanted to do was sit around on their glutei maximi and be entertained. Like a bunch of hypnotized geese. They didn't want to do anything for themselves. Half of them couldn't even read. And now you want to tell me that—"
"Hold it, Daddy-O," the old man said. "You're telling me that the Gods took away television just because we were a bunch of hypnotized geese. That it?"
"Okay," the old man said. "So tell me—what are we now? With the Gods and everything. I mean, man, really—what are we?"
"Now?" Forrester said. "Now you're retired. You're a bunch of retired hypnotized geese."
The doors of the train slid creakily open and Forrester got out onto the 34th Street platform, walking angrily toward a stairway without looking back.
True enough, the old man hadn't committed blasphemy, but it had certainly come close enough there at the end. And if pokes with the elbow weren't declared blasphemous, or at least equivalent to malicious mischief, he thought, there was no justice in the world.
The real trouble was that the man had had no respect for the Gods. There were a good many of the older generation like him. They seemed to feel that humanity had been better off when the Gods had been away. Forrester couldn't see it, and felt vaguely uncomfortable in the presence of someone who believed it. After all, mankind had been on the verge of mass suicide, and the Gods had mercifully come back from their self-imposed exile and taken care of things. The exile had been designed to prove, in the drastic laboratory of three thousand years, that Man by himself headed like a lemming for self-destruction. And, for Forrester, the point had been proven.
Yet now that the human race had been saved, there were still men who griped about the Gods and their return. Forrester silently wished the pack of them in Hades, enjoying the company of Pluto and his ilk.
At the corner of 34th and Broadway, as he came out of the subway tunnels, he bought a copy of the News and glanced quickly through the headlines. But, as always, there was little sensational news. Mars was doing pretty well for himself, of course: there were two wars going on in Asia, one in Europe and three revolutions in South and Central America. That last did seem to be overdoing things a bit, but not seriously. Forrester shrugged, wondering vaguely when the United States was going to have its turn.
But he couldn't concentrate on the paper and, after a little while, he got rid of it and took a look at his watch.
Twenty to six. Forrester decided he could use a drink to brace himself and steady his nerves.
On Sixth Avenue, near 34th Street, there was a bar called, for some obscure reason, the Boat House. Forrester headed for it, went inside and leaned against the bar. The bartender, a tall man with crew-cut reddish hair, raised his eyebrows in a questioning fashion.
"What'll it be, friend?"
"Vodka and ginger ale," Forrester said. "A double."
It was still, he told himself uneasily, just one drink. And that was all he was going to have.
The bartender brought it and Forrester sipped at it, watching his reflection in the mirror and wishing he felt easier in his mind about the whole Tower of Zeus affair. Then, very suddenly, he noticed that the man next to him was looking at him oddly. Forrester didn't like the look or, for that matter, the man himself, a raw-boned giant with deep-set eyes and a shock of dead-black hair, but so long as nobody bothered him, Forrester wasn't going to start anything.
Unfortunately, somebody bothered him. The tall man leaned over and said loudly: "What's the matter with you, bud? An infidel or something?"
Forrester hesitated. The accusation that he didn't believe in the practices ordained by the Gods themselves was an irritating one. But he could see the other side of the question, too. The tall man was undoubtedly a Dionysian; and, more than that, a member of a small sect inside the general corpus of Bacchus/Dionysus worshippers. He held that it was wrong to distill grape or grain products "too far," until there was nothing left but the alcohol.
That meant disapproval of gin and vodka on the grounds that, unlike whiskey or brandy, they'd had the "life" distilled out of them.
Forrester, however, was not really fond of brandy and whiskey. He decided to explain this to the tall man, but at the same time he began to develop the sinking feeling that it wasn't going to do any good.
Oh, well, there was still room for patience. "Don't fire," as Mars had said somewhere, "until you see the whites of their eyes."
"No, I'm no infidel," Forrester said politely. "You see, I'm—"
"No infidel?" the tall man roared. "Then I tell you what you do. You pour that slop out and drink a proper drink." He made a grab for Forrester's glass.
Forrester jerked it back, sloshing it a little in the process—and a few drops splattered on the other's hand.
"Now look here," Forrester said in a reasonable tone of voice. "I—"
"You spilling that stuff on me? What the blazes are you doing that for? I got a good mind to—"
Another man stepped into the altercation. This was a square-built, bullet-headed man with an air that was both truculent and eager. "What's the matter, Herb?" he asked the tall man. "This guy giving you trouble or something?" He favored Forrester with a fierce scowl. Forrester smiled pleasantly back, a little unsure as to how to proceed.
"This guy?" Herb said. "Trouble? Sam, he's an infidel!"
Forrester said: "I—"
"He drinks vodka," Herb said. "And I guess he drinks gin too."
"Great Bacchus," Sam said in a tone of wonder. "You run into them everywhere these days. Can't get away from the sons of—"
"Now—" Forrester started.
"And not only that," Herb said, "but he spills the stuff on me. Just because I ask him to have a regular drink like a man."
"Spills it on you?" Sam said.
Herb said: "Look," and extended his arm. On the sleeve of his jacket a few spots were slowly drying.
"Well, that's too much," Sam said heavily. "Just too damn much." He scowled at Forrester again. "You know, buddy, somebody ought to teach guys like you a lesson."
Forrester took a swallow of his drink and set the glass down unhurriedly. If either Herb or Sam attacked him, he knew his oath would permit his fighting back. And after the day he'd had, he rather looked forward to the chance. But he had to do his part to hold off an actual fight. "Now look here, friend—"
"Friend?" Sam said. "Don't call me your friend, buddy. I make no friends with infidels."
And, at that point, Forrester realized that he wasn't going to have a fight with Herb or Sam. He was going to have a fight with Herb and Sam—and with the third gentleman, a shaggy, beefy man who needed a shave, who stepped up behind them and asked: "Trouble?" in a voice that indicated that trouble was exactly what he was looking for.
"Maybe it is trouble, at that," Herb said tightly, without turning around. "This infidel here's been committing blasphemy."
Three against one wasn't as happy a thought as an even fight had been, but it was too late to back out now. "That's a lie!" Forrester snapped.
"Call me a liar?" Sam roared. He stepped forward and swung a hamlike fist at Forrester's head.
Forrester ducked. The heavy fist swished by his ear harmlessly, and he felt a strange new mixture of elation and fright. He grabbed his vodka-and-ginger from the bar and swung it in a single sweeping arc before him. Liquid rained on the faces of the three men.
Sam was still a little off balance. Forrester slammed the edge of his right hand into his side, and Sam stumbled to the floor. In the same motion, Forrester let fly with the now-empty glass. The shaggy man stood directly in his path. The glass conked him on the forehead and bounced to the floor, where it shattered unnoticed. The shaggy man blinked and Forrester, moving forward, discovered that he had no time to follow matters up in that direction.
Herb was snarling inarticulately, wiping vodka-and-ginger from his eyes. He blocked Forrester's advance toward the shaggy man. Forrester smiled gently and put a hard fist into Herb's solar plexus. The tall man doubled up in completely silent agony.
Forrester took a breath and started forward again. The shaggy man was shaking his head, trying to clear it.
Then Forrester's head became unclear. Something had banged against his right temple and the room was suddenly filled with pain and small, hard stars. Sam, Forrester discovered, had managed to get to his feet. The something had been a small brass ashtray that Sam had thrown at him.
Somehow, he stayed on his feet. The stars were still swirling around him, but he began to be able to see through them, and peered at the figure of the shaggy man, coming at him again. He let his knees bend a little, as if he were going to pass out. The shaggy man seemed to gain confidence from this, and stepped in carefully to kick Forrester in the stomach.
Forrester stepped back, grabbed the upcoming foot, and stood straight, lifting the foot and levering it into the air.
The shaggy man, surprise written all over his shaveless face, went over backward with great abruptness. His head hit the floor with an audible and satisfying whack, and then his limbs settled and he remained there, sprawled out and very quiet.
Forrester, meanwhile, was whirling to meet Sam, who was coming in like a bear, his arms outspread and a glaze of hatred in his eyes. Forrester, expressionless, ducked under the man's flailing arms and slammed a fist into his midsection. It was a harder midsection than he'd expected; unlike Herb, Sam had good muscles, and hitting them was like hitting thick rubber. The blow didn't put Sam down. It only made him gasp once.
That was enough. Forrester doubled his right fist and let Sam have one more blow, this one into the face. Sam's mouth opened as his eyes closed. His left arm pawed the air aimlessly for a tenth of a second.
Then he dropped like an empty overcoat.
There was a second of absolute silence. Then Forrester heard a noise behind him and whirled.
But it was only Herb, doubled up on the floor and very quietly retching.
Catching his breath, Forrester looked around him. The fight had attracted a lot of attention from the other customers in the bar, but none of them seemed to want to prolong it by joining in.
They were all trying to look as if they were minding their own business, while the bartender …
Forrester stared. The bartender was at the other end of the bar, far away from the scene of action.
He was, as Forrester saw him, just hanging up the telephone.
Forrester put a bill on the bar, turned and walked out into the street. He had absolutely no desire to get mixed up with the secular police.
After all, he had an appointment to keep. And now—after a quiet drink that had turned into a three-against-one battle royal—he had to go and keep it.