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Copyright © 2017 by Poul Anderson
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
SHE WAS TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD, fresh out of college, full of life and hope, and all set to conquer the world. Colin Fraser happened to be on vacation on Cape Cod, where she was playing summer stock, and went to more shows than he had planned. It wasn’t hard to get an introduction, and before long he and Judy Sanders were seeing a lot of each other.
“Of course,” she told him one afternoon on the beach, “my real name is Harkness.”
He raised his arm, letting the sand run through his fingers. The beach was big and dazzling white around them, the sea galloped in with a steady roar, and a gull rode the breeze overhead. “What was wrong with it?” he asked. “For a professional monicker, I mean.”
She laughed and shook the long hair back over her shoulders. “I wanted to live under the name of Sanders,” she explained.
“Oh—oh, yes, of course. Winnie the Pooh.” He grinned. “Soulmates, that’s what we are.” It was about then that he decided he’d been a bachelor long enough.
In the fall she went to New York to begin the upward grind—understudy, walk-on parts, shoestring-theaters, and roles in outright turkeys. Fraser returned to Boston for awhile, but his work suffered, he had to keep dashing off to see her.
By spring she was beginning to get places; she had talent and everybody enjoys looking at a brown-eyed blonde. His weekly proposals were also beginning to show some real progress, and he thought that a month or two of steady siege might finish the campaign. So he took leave from his job and went down to New York himself. He’d saved up enough money, and was good enough in his work, to afford it; anyway, he was his own boss—consulting engineer, specializing in mathematical analysis.
He got a furnished room in Brooklyn, and filled in his leisure time—as he thought of it—with some special math courses at Columbia. And he had a lot of friends in town, in a curious variety of professions. Next to Judy, he saw most of the physicist Sworsky, who was an entertaining companion though most of his work was too top-secret even to be mentioned. It was a happy period.
There is always a jarring note, to be sure. In this case, it was the fact that Fraser had plenty of competition. He wasn’t good-looking himself—a tall gaunt man of twenty-eight, with a dark hatchet face and perpetually-rumpled clothes. But still, Judy saw more of him than of anyone else, and admitted she was seriously considering his proposal and no other.
He called her up once for a date. “Sorry,” she answered. “I’d love to, Colin, but I’ve already promised tonight. Just so you won’t worry, it’s Matthew Snyder.”
“Uh-huh. He asked me in such a way it was hard to refuse. But I don’t think you have to be jealous, honey. ‘Bye now.”
Fraser lit his pipe with a certain smugness. Snyder was several times a millionaire, but he was close to sixty, a widower of notably dull conversation. Judy wasn’t—Well, no worries, as she’d said. He dropped over to Sworsky’s apartment for an evening of chess and bull-shooting.
IT WAS early in May, when the world was turning green again, that Judy called Fraser up. “Hi,” she said breathlessly. “Busy tonight?”
“Well, I was hoping I’d be, if you get what I mean,” he said.
“Look, I want to take you out for a change. Just got some unexpected money and dammit, I want to feel rich for one evening.”
“Hmmm—” He scowled into the phone. “I dunno—”
“Oh, get off it, Galahad. I’ll meet you in the Dixie lobby at seven. Okay?” She blew him a kiss over the wires, and hung up before he could argue further. He sighed and shrugged. Why not, if she wanted to?
They were in a little Hungarian restaurant, with a couple of Tzigani strolling about playing for them alone, it seemed, when he asked for details. “Did you get a bonus, or what?”
“No.” She laughed at him over her drink. “I’ve turned guinea pig.”
“I hope you quit that job before we’re married!”
“It’s a funny deal,” she said thoughtfully. “It’d interest you. I’ve been out a couple of times with this Snyder, you know, and if anything was needed to drive me into your arms, Colin, it’s his political lectures.”
“Well, bless the Republican Party!” He laid his hand over hers, she didn’t withdraw it, but she frowned just a little.
“Colin, you know I want to get somewhere before I marry—see a bit of the world, the theatrical world, before turning hausfrau. Don’t be so—Oh, never mind. I like you anyway.”
Sipping her drink and setting it down again: “Well, to carry on with the story. I finally gave Comrade Snyder the complete brush-off, and I must say he took it very nicely. But today, this morning, he called asking me to have lunch with him, and I did after he explained. It seems he’s got a psychiatrist friend doing research, measuring brain storms or something, and—Do I mean storms? Waves, I guess. Anyway, he wants to measure as many different kinds of people as possible, and Snyder had suggested me. I was supposed to come in for three afternoons running—about two hours each time—and I’d get a hundred dollars per session.”
“Hm,” said Fraser. “I didn’t know psych research was that well-heeled. Who is this mad scientist?”