by John R. Plunkett


"Just one more, and... there, that's go it." Dr. Pierce closed the access panel and dusted off his hands. "So what'cha gonna got in mind, Doc? A little interior decorating? Something to pretty up the place a bit?" He leered knowingly, describing an hourglass figure with his hands.

Doktor Catlove's smile never wavered, though an observer might have said it looked a strained. Which was, as it turned out, exactly the case. Doktor Catlove despised Dr. Pierce with a passion whose intensity rivalled that of the noonday sun in the depths of the Sahara. But he also needed Dr. Pierce, at least for now. "Very good," he said mildly. His exceptionally thick Austrian accent turned the final word into 'gut.' "I can hardly wait to see how you intend to demonstrate the equipment's functionality."

"Demonstrate?" Dr. Pierce's eyes narrowed, his brow furrowing slightly.

"Of course," Doktor Catlove replied, utterly unfazed by Dr. Pierce's sudden change in mood. "I wouldn't dream of depriving you of the opportunity to show off your prowess with this amazing and terribly expensive hardware."

The two men locked gazes. Doktor Catlove's eyes lay hidden behind the pale red lenses of the bulky goggles he habitually wore. Dr. Pierce affected tinted spectacles, but they didn't completely obscure what lay behind them. Doktor Catlove gained a further advantage in standing nearly a head taller than his colleague. On the other hand, he didn't overlook the hardness in Dr. Pierce's partially visisble eyes. It reminded Doktor Catlove of the crust on the floor of a volcanic caldera, below which molten lava seethed. Dr. Pierce had a volatile temper; it might make him more easily manipulated but one had to move very, very carefully, like defusing a bomb. One had to apply just the right amount of pressure, neither too little nor too much-

Suddenly Dr. Pierce grinned. "Sure thing," he said easily. "All I need is a little sample."

"Of what?" Doktor Catlove inquired. It didn't escape his notice that while Dr. Pierce's face relaxed, his eyes didn't.

"Who," Dr. Pierce corrected. From inside his lab coat he drew a magazine. He opened it and held it sideways, turned toward Doktor Catlove. The gatefold fell open.

Doktor Catlove studied the picture, with absolutely no indication that he saw the image as anything but abstract data. From a nearby workbench he picked up a surgical clamp and a pair of scissors. Gripping the edge of the page with the clamp he carefully snipped out a tiny bit of paper and held it up for Dr. Pierce to see.

Dr. Pierce stared. His cheek twitched. Then he burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he ended up doubled over, slapping his thigh, with tears streaming down his face. After straightening up he shook his head in wonder. "And here everyone says you don't have a sense of humor, Doc." In a flash he turned serious. "You know what I meant."

"I have no interest in, as you say, 'interior decorating.'" Doktor Catlove crossed his arms and allowed a hint of displeasure to creep into his voice. In the realm of genetics Dr. Pierce was without equal, which is why Dr. Catlove had chosen to tolerate his presence. But he also had, in Dr. Catlove's opinion, a tendancy to waste his talents on shockingly childish and hedonistic puruits.

"Of course you don't," Dr. Pierce agreed, soothingly. "Anyone can create sex toys. You want to see that your shiny new genetics lab is capable of truly useful things."

To Be Continued

SCA #05: Catch a Falling Star