[Comic: 695]

   "...and since recent market conditions have pointed to a resurgence in the online market, now’s the time we should shift our attention to a seller’s market, in turn."

   Kath was doing well. She’d been doing well at a lot of these business presentations lately. Her superior, Carson Russell, was looking on appreciatively, her colleagues were silent, and only one of the six of them was fidgeting. That was an "A minus" as far as she was concerned. But she would give anything to know what they were actually thinking.

   "This company makes computers. Computers make websites. In the upcoming year, we should stress how easy our computers make it for our clients to express themselves online. Computers are becoming like cars or houses: people look to them as an extension of their identity. And we all want the best identity we can buy."

   It was so much easier to do well, she thought idly, when she wasn’t splitting her concentration. She’d put so much of herself into the Science Fiction Club for so long. Now that she was easing out of the group, she was amazed at how much energy she’d gotten back.

   And like a gypsy curse, that train of thought’s conclusion actually seemed to set her Club cell phone off.

   "Excuse me one moment, ladies and gentlemen," she said, smiling with her teeth slightly clenched. "This is my private line. For emergencies."

   She walked out evenly and calmly, not even giving Russell a backward glance. Even to a superior, you should betray no sign of weakness. Her composure lasted until she was a good half-dozen paces out of the office.

   "Okay, Will, speak," she said, pressing the "SEND" button. "What is it? What? What? Well! I knew she was attracted to him, but I never thought they’d... oh. Oh, you mean... their minds... okay. Gotcha.

   "So what do you expect me to do about this, Will? I mean... I think you know that I do not do well with mind science... People skills? Well, Will, what can I do in terms of people skills that Tim or Shanna can’t?

   "Are you still breathing, Will? It was a joke. I was joking, okay? I’ll be there in an hour. Just try to keep their clothes on until then."

   "That was what you thought I would say?" Rumy fumed. "This is who you think I am??"

   "I’m sorry," said Rikk, in a tone of voice that actually sounded very like Rumy’s. He shrank back into the chair he’d been seated in before, which was easy to do in Rumy’s tiny frame. "I’m sorry."

   Will leaned against the wall, knowing what would happen if he got into the middle of this one but still feeling like a jellyfish for staying out of it.

Not much progress had been made in the last hour. Rikk had turned command duties over to Will, citing disorientation and fatigue. Will had carried the unconscious Fitz back up to street level while Rikk had called an ambulance, and the F.I.B., to take him off their hands.

   Tim had slipped in about fifteen minutes ago, taken in Rikk and Rumy’s situation, pronounced it "too easy," and had let them off without a single dirty joke. Now he was trying to fathom Fitz’s mechanical design sense, which seemed to be inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Seymour Chwast. But he did listen in to the conversation just often enough to reflect that Rikk was getting a taste of what it was like to be Tim, too.

   "Stop saying sorry! I haven’t forgiven you yet!" Rumy paced unevenly on Rikk’s tall, gawky legs. His body still felt like walking on stilts. "I believe in your American Dream. I believed I would come here and be accepted as myself, for myself, not as some Japlish-speaking schoolgirl stereotype! I thought you, of all people, did see me as more than that! But you opened your mouth as me and an American 1943 propaganda poster fell out! How could you?"

   "Geez," murmured Will, much too quietly for anyone to hear, "it’s like you two actually are boyfriend and girlfriend."

   "EH?" said Rumy.

   "I said," Will grinned depserately, "that you shouldn’t be so hard on the guy, R... Rum’. He was trying to save my life AND get over wearing a bra and panties for the first time in his life."

   "S--," said Rikk, cutting himself off before he could get out the word "second."


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