Two Different Worlds
Chapter 1: Memories
Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Mult, Consensual, Romantic, Heterosexual, Science Fiction, Interracial, Black Female, White Male, White Female, Slow,
Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1: Memories - The first novel in my 'Portals' series, telling the story of Jewel Daniels and her adventures in a world of another dimensional universe. This story also introduces Neal marten and Amy, who will appear in most of these stories.
Jennifer whistled a few bars of a classic jazz melody under her breath as she unlocked the door to Laboratory Seven, brushing a shower of water droplets from the new silvergray raincoat she'd pulled out of her closet this morning to wear over her stretch jeans and turquoise ribknit sweater. She had found it on sale at Nordstrom's and hadn't been able to resist purchasing it, knowing that its silver and jet trim highlighted her ebony complexion.
She ignored the fine mist of droplets that sparkled in her conservatively styled afro as she hung coat and purse in her locker. The conditioned air of the labs would soon have them dry. She'd been listening to jazz station KMHD as she drove to work, her favorite from among Portland's FM stations. An old Louis Armstrong melody had gotten tangled amongst her synapses and was playing itself over and over inside her head.
She glanced about almost smugly, shrugging into a white jacket with the 'Marten Research Laboratories' logo neatly embroidered in bright red over mint green on its breast pocket. She took deep breaths of the conditioned air, subconsciously noting the difference between its electronically scrubbed taste and the rainwashed freshness outside. Located on the crest of a ridge of low hills between Portland and Beaverton, it was far enough from the heart of the city to get away from the worst of the smog, but there was no escaping it entirely anywhere between the CoastRange and the Cascade Mountains.
The lab was still deserted, but then she hadn't expected either Jake or Tony, her assistants, to be here yet. Even after stopping in the parking lot outside the lab building for a quick cigaret, she usually arrived before they did. It wouldn't be eight o'clock for another two minutes and twenty seconds, by her quartz watch.
Most of the lab's employees made a game of it, being very careful not to actually enter their labs until exactly on the tick of eight AM. After getting here early to avoid the crush of traffic along the Sunset Highway and I217 they would spend every second they could over their morning cups of coffee in the tiny cafeteria, dawdling until they had to hurry to reach their labs exactly on time. There was no way that Neal Marten was going to get any of their precious morning minutes for free. Not if they could help it, he wasn't!
She smiled at the thought of their gameplaying, but she enjoyed these moments here by herself too much to join them in their harmless fun. There were no time clocks here, and nobody worried about hanging around a halfhour or so after quitting time if they were in the midst of an interesting project. Or two hours, or three or four, when projects fell behind schedule and the pressure was on. Saturdays and Sundays spent in the labs were no rarities, either. In return, Neal Marten was more than generous with unscheduled time off when things slowed down. He never questioned the occasional order of quickdelivery pizza or Chinese food that showed up on expense accounts after such sessions either, and there were always pots of strong black coffee brewing in the halls outside the labs.
She prowled about the room, her softsoled shoes squeaking faintly against the freshlywaxed vinyl floor. She fairly revelled in the lab's clean, new paint and modern electronic equipment. The building might be old, a converted mansion built nearly a hundred years ago when lumber was king, but everything in it was the newest and the best. Not that the building was in bad condition; though over the years it had been everything from a hotel to a girls' school to a convent to a convalescent home. Best of all, this lab was hers, all hers. She might still be working on her Doctorate, but she was Jennifer R. Daniels, MS. It said so in bold Gothic letters on her diploma from PortlandStateUniversity, hanging right there in a plain black frame on the wall over her desk.
No matter that she was young, and Black, and a woman. That had nothing to do one way or the other with her being promoted at twentyfive over the heads of a dozen older employees after only six months on the job. There was no discrimination at Marten Laboratories, reverse or otherwise. Certainly, Neal Marten himself had never indicated that he thought of her as anything but another employee, she reflected almost ruefully. It was solely because of her own skills that she had so quickly achieved the title of Research Technician Grade Two, with its more than adequate salary, and she felt that most of her fellow employees would admit it if pressed for their opinion. For a full two weeks now she had been in charge of this project in Lab 7, with two assistant technicians working under her sole direction. So far to come, in only a few months...
She was studying the randomlooking scramble of electronic components on a workbench breadboard when the lab door opened, so deep in her own thoughts that it was several moments before she really noticed the arrival of her two helpers. Her attention was fized on the plasticencased object that was at the center of the array. About the length of the last joint of her little finger, it was a misshapen mass of translucent gray crystal, vaguely Lshaped within its shrinkwrap housing.
"Morning, Miss Daniels." Jake Mullins was middleaged, a smiling, stocky redheaded exjock whose muscular physique had succumbed over the years to the effects of large quantities of pizza and beer. He was closely followed through the door by curlyhaired Tony Parrish, who was only two or three inches taller than her own fiveeight and almost skinny. He was closer to her own age than most of her coworkers; not long out of college. He boasted curly black hair, worn a bit long, and a suntanned olive complexion. His Mediterranean good looks sometimes reminded her of pictures she'd seen of Frank Sinatra, back when he'd first started his singing career.
Both of her assistants were good, careful workers, but that was all they were. Neither of them had shown even the slightest trace of that bright spark of initiative and imagination that marks off the born researcher from the merely adequate technician. Still, given a set of clear directions, they could almost always be relied on to follow them to the letter.
"Good morning, Jake, Tony. Did you check out these circuits before you went home Friday?" She smiled a welcome as they hung up their coats and donned jackets like her own. She privately thought that Jake looked just a bit hungover, while a tiny patch of white clinging to Tony's lower lip spoke of a slip of his safety razor. The younger man seemed on edge about something, his eyes darting about the room nervously. She almost asked what was bothering him, then decided that it was none of her business. He'd probably just quarrelled with one of the endless procession of girl friends he liked to boast about on his coffee breaks.
"We sure did," Jake answered in his gravelly voice, pulling his jacket tight in front to fasten the lower buttons. He smiled wryly at her. "Everything tested out right on the mark. You mean it isn't working the way it should?"
She flashed a quick grin back at him. This had quickly become a standing joke among the three of them. The device, referred to in the project title as an 'electronic inducer', had been a total washout so far. It was supposed to project simulated emotions to TV viewers, according to the writeup they'd been given. She suspicioned that it was an offshoot of the work being done by some of the big companies on neuroelectronic interfacing, but she hadn't read any reports of similar circuits in the professional journals she subscribed to. So far it had done nothing but burn out components, using up large quantities of the company's time, materials and electricity.
"Oh, it's working the way it should all right," she answered. She turned on a recorder, then clipped a test probe to an exposed terminal and used the resulting flat line to calibrate her oscilloscope. "It's doing precisely what it's designed to do, which is absolutely nothing! Just watch, and I'll prove it one more time. You are sure that you checked those connections?" She spoke into the lab bench's builtin cassette recorder, giving the date and exact time. "8:04 AM. Project Seven dash ThirtyThree, variation seventyfive. Test number one hundred and twentyseven. Voltage increased to 4.375 across leads Alpha and Delta."
She flipped the switch that fed power into the exposed circuitry, and everything happened at once. A tiny strand of wire, fallen away from the blob of solder that should have held it in place, crossed two other threads of silvery metal. The surging current welded it into its new position, sending power through components that weren't designed for the abrupt overload.
It was like seeing the sound of a multitoned chime as it reflected endlessly through the corridors of her mind, smelling the touch of purple velvet running across her fingertips, tasting a laugh that was filled with sorrow; Jennifer felt a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar emotions, then heard a 'snap' that seemed to come from beyond some distant horizon. She had no idea of what was happening; she only felt a wave of dizziness, striking like a blow from a giant fist. She lashed out blindly toward an alarm button, not even realizing that Tony and Jake were already falling like puppets whose strings had been cut. She didn't even feel herself hit the floor as everything went dark.
Pulses of strange radiation bathed the small laboratory, reflecting back and forth from the shielded walls. Some ten microseconds after the test began, a protective relay acted to break the circuit.
It kicked out at least nine microseconds too late.
"Miss Daniels! Are you all right? Where's that doctor!"
She opened her brown eyes, looking dazedly at the strange surroundings and the unfamiliar people standing over her. A pair of blue eyes in a tanned face studied her anxiously.
"I want my mommy," was her whimpered plea, but then she slipped back into the welcoming darkness even as she felt a warm wetness spreading from between her legs.
She was in a real nice room, she thought sleepily, but it wasn't one she'd ever seen before. It sure wasn't anything like the tiny attic room she shared with her two big sisters. It was too light, too bright, too clean. It even smelled clean, with smoothpainted walls and a high ceiling, and there wasn't nothing nowhere that looked worn out or beat up.
She was lying flat on her back in a hard, narrow bed with white siderails. She'd never liked sleeping on her back, but right now she was too tired to move, to turn on her side. Hey, she was too old for a crib. Wasn't she? Yeah, sure she was! Lots too old. The room had a high narrow window in one whitepainted wall, and a shiny white bedside table. Everything around her was white! There was a faint smell of disinfectant. Was she in some kind of a hospital?
The nicelooking Whitey sitting on a straight chair by the side of her bed seemed kind of familiar, almost like she knew him from someplace, but he sure wasn't from her neighborhood. Anyhow, he wasn't a doctor, that she was somehow sure of. He was wearing slacks and an opencollared sport shirt, and a dark stubble of beard spread across his chin like he hadn't shaved this morning. Why did she think of him wearing a suit and tie? His blue eyes were worried, tired looking, but the lines around them relaxed when he saw that she was awake.
"How are you feeling, Jennifer?"
"Arright." She smiled trustingly. "What's your name, Mister Man?"
"I'm Neal Marten." He straightened up and caught his breath. He seemed startled by her words, almost as if he was scared by them. "Don't you remember me at all?"
"Nuhuh. Anyhow, I don't think so. My frens call me Jewel. That's 'cause my middle name's Ruby. Should I 'member you? You look awful nice."
"You've been working for me for the last six months, Jen... I mean, Jewel." He turned his chair to face her more directly, leaning forward to study her reactions.
"Working? I have? I don't 'member doing that!" She wrinkled her nose at him perplexedly. "Why don't I? Remember things, I mean?"
"There was an accident in your laboratory, and it must have made you forget some things for a little while. Just what all do you remember?"
"Just being a little girl." She pondered, trying to gather in the stray wisps of memory that seemed to swirl about inside her head like a flock of seagulls she'd seen once around a fishing pier, coming nearer, circling farther away, leaving bright splatters of themselves behind but never seeming to land anywhere. "But it seems like such a long time ago. I'm big now, ain't I?"
"Yes, you're quite grown up." He forced a chuckle, though she could tell that he was still upset, and handed her a small mirror from the nearby table. "Here, you can see for yourself."
She gripped the handle of the mirror tightly in one hand, poking at her hair with the other while studying her reflection with mingled fear and fascination. The face that peered back at her did look kind of familiar, yet was all the stranger for that. Her first thought was that it looked a lot like pictures of how Mommy had looked a long time ago, when she'd first met the Daddy who'd gone off and left them right after she'd been born. The Daddy that Jewel only knew from those same old pictures.
The luminous darkbrown eyes that looked back at her were fringed with curling lashes that seemed far longer and thicker than any that she remembered having. She'd always been kind of pudgy, and hated it, but grownups always said she was pretty anyhow. Now her face was less round, the bridge of her nose higher and thinner, reminding her of pictures she'd seen in a book of longago people who lived in pyramids. Almost like a queen out of one of those picture books, cold and royal except for her full, almost pouting lips. Her dark eyes and white teeth were highlighted by a smooth complexion that was almost as black as ebony. She threw back the covers on the narrow bed, studying the slimly rounded body and long legs that were almost completely revealed by her scanty hospital gown.
"I sure am grown up," she breathed at last, running her hands over her body and down her legs to convince herself that this was really her. "And I'm pretty, too."
"Yes, you're very pretty," Neal agreed wryly, and she thought that his breathing quickened. "Do you remember anything else?"
"A... A little bit. I useta play baseball in the vacant lot across the street from our house with the other kids. The street wasn't all that busy, but Mommy allus worried about me getting hit by a car and landing in the hospital 'cause I'd run back and forth so much. She wants... wanted me to go to college when I grew up. Did I? Go to college, I mean?"
"You sure did, graduating right here at good old PortlandStateUniversity. You got very good grades in almost all of your classes." He leaned back in his chair, relaxing as he talked.
"Was that when I came to work for you?" She continued to study herself in the mirror as they talked, turning her head this way and that.
"Well, not right away. You see, when you graduated the electronics industry was in the middle of what they called a 'rolling readjustment'. Still is more or less, for that matter," he added with a wry twist of his lips. "There haven't been very many jobs open lately anywhere in the country for the kind of work you're trained for. I was looking for someone with your kind of skills when I heard about you from a friend of mine, one of your college professors. He was quite upset that one of his best students had to earn her living by dancing in a night club chorus line."
"I remember doing that!" She sat up straighter, leaning forward from the supporting pillows and dropping the mirror to clap her hands together. "I had pretty clothes on, only not very many of them. Why, you were there! We sat at a little bitty table, and you gave me a whole bunch of money. Why did you do that? Give me money, I mean?"
"Because I wanted you to come to work for me, and you didn't know whether you could trust me or not. You needed the money so that you could afford to pay your back rent, move up here and buy some different clothes."
"That was silly of me, not to trust you." She smiled sunnily up at him. "You're nice."
"Not everyone had been nice to you, the last few years. Do you remember going to school at all?"
She lowered the rail to swing her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, stretching, unconcerned that her short hospital gown was only loosely held together down the back by a couple of flimsy ties. "I don't think so. Were you there?"
"Here, what's this?" The gruff voice came from the doorway. "Is my newest patient up and around already?"
Jewel dove back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin, gazing with wide, frightened eyes at the doctor.
"Oh, Mark. Come on in. Our patient seems to be having some trouble remembering things. She was just telling me about it. Apparently the accident has wiped out or blurred most of her recent memories. Jewel, this is Doctor Worth." Since she just watched with tightly closed lips, Neal went on to give the doctor a concise summary of what she had told him.
"And just what else do you remember, Miss Daniels?"
"I... I don't know." She smiled timidly up at him. "I was just telling Neal that I didn't remember going to school, or nothing like that."
"But you did remember meeting him. Let's see what else you can tell us. Don't be afraid, just relax and say the first thing that comes into your head. First, what's your name?"
"Jewel. I mean, Jennifer. Jennifer Ruby Daniels. I don't really like to be called Jennifer, though. I'm named after my Aunt Jennifer, and I don't like her a whole lot. She's got a screechy voice, an' she's always after me to do things I don't wanna do, like wear dresses 'stead of jeans, an' play with dolls and things when I'd rather go outside and play baseball with Freddie an' Tommie, and Jamal from acrost the street. No, not Jamal. He's dead. He was a Crip, and the Bloods got him."
"Where do you live, Jennifer?"
"Eightyeight Eleven Sixteenth Avenue Southwest, here in Seattle. That's by the corner of Trenton Street, right close to White Center. No, we moved a while back, so that ain't... isn't right. Now we live at... at... I don't know where I live!" She reached out a trusting hand to Neal as a forlorn tear trickled down her cheek. "I don't know where I live, or nothing."
"That's all right," the doctor soothed. "We'll take care of you. You're doing just fine. How old are you?"
"Five. I was five, my last birthday... No, that's not right. I'm twennyfive." She caught her breath at the realization. "Am I really that old?"
"You're really twentyfive, child, but it certainly doesn't seem all that old, not to someone my age, anyway. Just relax for a bit, I want to try something." He left the room for a few minutes, and they waited for him in silence until he returned carrying a couple of books. He took one of them and handed it to her. "Can you read this?"
"I guess so, I don't know." She opened it at random. "Oh, sure. '... And singing she came through the darkling wood, her hair of gold like a lamp unto the gloom.' That's pretty!"
"And how about this?" He took the book from her, handing her a smaller one. "Does it mean anything to you?"
"'... Multiplied by the cosine of the phase angle, is inversely pro... proportional to the transverse... ' That's awfully hard, and it makes my head all spinney. I don't want to read any more!" She slammed the book shut, letting it drop from her fingers and slide to the floor as she leaned back pouting against her pillow.
"You don't have to, Jennifer," Doctor Worth soothed, handing her a tiny white pill and a glass of water. "Here's something that will help you to rest. Perhaps by morning your memories will all have come back."
She put the pill in her mouth and swallowed, first glancing at Neal to make sure that it was all right.
"Arright, Doctor. 'Bye, Neal. Come back an' see me again real soon, pretty please?"
"I will, Jewel." His fingers touched her cheek, and she shut her eyes real quick to hide her feelings. She knew somehow that she shouldn't let him see how she felt about him. Feelings she didn't understand herself, yet. "That's right, close your eyes. Try to rest for a while."
The door clicked shut behind them, but she could still hear the voices that came faintly through the solid wood and metal.
"What do you think, Mark?" That was Neal's voice, warm and rich and somehow comforting. He seemed awful nice. If she was really twentyfive, maybe he wasn't all that much older than she was, after all. How old was he, anyhow? "Will she be all right?"
"It's one for the books, all right. No, don't worry. I'm not about to publish my notes on this one, not as long as her memories do come back. Nobody'd believe me, for one thing. I'll keep a close eye on her, to make sure that there's no permanent memory loss. If there is any permanent damage, in any way, this will still have to be reported to the State Industrial Accident Commission as soon as we're sure of what did happen."
"God, no, don't do that! At least not until we know more about just what caused her to lose her memory. I don't want the government to get any more interested in this place than they already are. They would probably come up with the idea that this effect could be turned into some kind of a superweapon, and they'd be all over us like flies on a dead horse before we knew what was happening."
"You're right about that! Instant electronic amnesia. Something that can knock people out, and maybe cause even a temporary loss of memory, would certainly interest some people we know. Imagine setting off something like that in the middle of a battlefield, or a riot, or in the lobby of a foreign consulate. Or in any government building or corporate headquarters, anywhere in the world. If her memory returns in the next couple of days, I'll just report it as an accidental electrical shock case, with complications from a blow to her head when she fell. Nobody will take very much interest in that kind of report."
"But what about Jewel... Miss Daniels?"
"She certainly isn't the same young lady I examined when she was hired. That one was nervous, brittle, and on guard against the whole world. Especially, against anyone white. Smoking too much for her own good, too. She's let down her guard some in the last few months, making a few friends here among her fellow workers, but not letting anyone get too close. Now, she's impulsive, emotionally open, and trusts at least one person. She seems to have a slight block against remembering anything concerned with schools and science, yet she does remember meeting you."
"That's right, and while she had no trouble reading that first book, the second one bothered her no end."
"Yes, I thought that it might. That's why I gave it to her. It indicates to me that although the amnesia was caused by the shock to her nervous system, it could well be complicated by psychosomatic factors. I also noticed something else. Did you read what was learned a few years back, by psychologists studying the phenomenon they called imprinting?"
"Yes, I seem to remember an article in an old Scientific American, from about a dozen or so years ago, where newly hatched chicks accepted the first moving thing they saw as their mother. Ohoh, I see what you mean. You think that something of the sort could have happened with Jewel?"
"It's entirely too possible. You're the first person she saw after the accident, and then on top of that you were with her when she awoke here in the infirmary. You saw how she reacted when I came into the room, as though I might pose some kind of a threat to her, yet she had no apparent fear of you at all. We'll just have to hope that it isn't a strong enough bonding to interfere with her recovery."
"I would certainly hope it isn't. It probably won't last, once her memories start to come back. Anyway, I guess that I'm not too old to adopt a daughter for a few weeks." Neal laughed, his low chuckle sending delicious shivers down Jewel's spine. "Keep me posted on how she's doing, will you? She'll be better off staying here until she's ready to face the world again. Get a night nurse from the agency to stay with her for the next few nights. In the meantime, I've got another idea. I'll get her keys from her purse, and have some of her clothes and things moved here from her apartment downtown until she's ready to be on her own again. This old building still has plenty of unused rooms. Part of the west wing is already being made over into additional labs, and it will be no problem to convert one of those rooms into an apartment, instead. I'll have the carpenters get started on it first thing in the morning, and if they rush it a bit they can have it ready by the day after tomorrow. I should have had something of the kind done a long time ago, anyway. It'll give me somewhere to put up outoftown customers who drop in unexpectedly, and also give me a place to stay when I'm working late on something and want to grab a little sleep here instead of having to drive clear back to Tigard. A real bed will certainly be better for me to sleep on than that couch in my office."
"Yes, that sounds like it might be a good idea. She's certainly in no condition to be out on her own right now. Probably won't be for at least another week or two. Are you sure that you want to do this, though? The way you've been piling it on, what you need is a vacation, not an additional load of responsibilities."
"Come on, Mark, I'll be all right. Don't be such an old fussbudget. Sure, things have been busy lately, but they should get better in the next couple of months. Maybe this will get my mind off some of my troubles for a bit."
"Sure it will, I don't think. That's about like trying to forget about having a toothache by hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer. Oh, well. If you can't make yourself slow down, at least try to get a good night's sleep two or three times a week. What you really need is a vacation. You've been driving yourself too hard, for far too long. You need to get more sleep, and the Bcomplex shots I've been giving you can only do so much to ward off the effects of stress. As for the nurse, I'll give my sister a call. Leona claims that she's getting tired of just going out on occasional jobs for an agency, but she still isn't ready to be tied down to a full time job at one of Portland's big hospitals. She'll be glad to make a few extra bucks by coming in and staying with our patient for a few days. I want you to keep one thing in mind, Neal. This whole thing isn't going to be anywhere near as simple as you make it sound. Miss Daniels may think and act like a little girl right now, but that isn't going to last long. My snap prognosis is that she's going to be doing a lot of growing up in the next few days..."
The voices slowly faded away as the two men walked off down the corridor. By now she was half asleep, drowsing under the influence of Doctor Worth's little white pill. As she relaxed, her thoughts turned back to her one clear memory from recent times. It was almost as though she was actually reliving that sweltering August night in San Diego...
She'd been dancing. At least, that was what they'd called it in the ad she'd answered to get this job, and on the posters outside the club. One of five nearnaked 'girls' who twisted and stepped mechanically to blaring music. 'Tyson's Topless Revue!' That was how they'd been billed. 'Fresh from Vegas!' Sure they were, she didn't think. None of them had ever been much farther from the Pacific Ocean than San Diego, and certainly neither Trudy nor Ginger was what you'd really call fresh, not in any sense of the word...
She could stand it, though. She had to, she didn't have any choice. Wouldn't have, for another year or more. Beyond the colored spotlights, the audience was just a dim blur, not really people at all. Marks, that was what Ginger called them. Faces, light and dark. Business suits, or sailor suits, or blue jeans and cowboy boots. Most of the time, she could almost pretend that they weren't even there. Most of the time, except when...
"Hey, Jennie!" Tyson's coarse voice caught at the ragged edge of her nerves as he pushed open the door to their dressing room. She was sitting before a mirror, repairing the damage to her heavy body paint and stage makeup from the ravages of sweat and her own gyrations. "Look alive. Guy out front wants to buy you a drink."
"Tell him to go find himself another dollie," she snapped, frostily. She went through this routine with Tyson almost every night, and she was getting plenty tired of it. The first few times, not knowing any better, she had gone along with it like the other girls did. Tyson had told her that it was 'public relations'. She would join some flashy salesman at his table for a watered drink or two, but she detested the pawing hands, the probing eyes that seemed to strip away what few scraps of costume she wore. "It's been a long day, and I'm too tired to hold off some jerk who thinks that just because he can see it, it's up for grabs."
"Aw c'mon, Jennie. This guy ain't like that, at all. I mean, he's got real class." Tyson's beefy face twisted in what was meant to be an ingratiating smile. "Be a good girl, and just talk to him for a few minutes. There's a twenty in it for you, if you will. No? Then, how about twentyfive?"
"Thirtyfive, and you've got yourself a deal. All right, thirty, then." She squirmed away from the meaty hand that rested on her bare shoulder, but Tyson didn't seem to notice. He acted that way with all of his girls, especially with Trudy and Ginger. The customer must have slipped Tyson at least a fifty. Maybe even a hundred, if he was willing to pass a whole thirty of it along to her.
The money was what always changed her mind, she reluctantly admitted to herself. She was still working at paying off the massive student loan she'd had to take out. Mom hadn't had the money to keep her in school, having all she could do to keep Jennifer's sisters and their children in food and clothing. It had taken every bit of that loan to put her through the last half year of study. A halfyear of study that had earned for her the asyet useless EE Master's Degree after the grants had been cut off, and every dollar she earned above the little she needed to live was earmarked to pay off that debt.
"Thirty bucks it is, so get your cute little tush on out there. He's waiting at table three."
"I'll be right out," she promised with a withering look that left him unmoved. "But if he gets too free with his hot little hands, I swear that I'm going to cream him!"
Tossing a thin wrap over her bare torso, she made her way across the crowded floor to the customer's table. She'd won her usual little bet with herself; he was white. Most of them were. Usually thinking that because she was the only Black in the chorus line, she'd be easy...
"Miss Daniels?" He stood up as she approached, and she looked him over as he pulled out a chair for her. Tall, lightly tanned, he wasn't too bad looking. Not quite your usual tired businessman, out for a night on the town without his wife trailing along. Not a playboy, either, though he looked like he could be OK if he ever decided to relax and have a little fun. Too old for her, though. Must be at least fortyfive or fifty, about six feet tall and kind of skinny for his height. Straight dark hair getting a little thin on top and gray around the edges, but he looked like he took pretty good care of himself, and his clothes spoke softly of money spent in the right places. "I'm Neal Marten, of Marten Research Laboratories. Professor Blakely asked me to look you up."
"And how is the dear professor?" She relaxed slightly at the familiar name, lifting her finger to the cocktail waitress for her version of a 'house special'; ginger ale on the rocks, with a twist of lime in a tall glass. "Still telling the undergrads about the wonders of a career in pure science, smoking too much, and patting all of the coeds' fannies he can reach?"
"I'm afraid so." He grinned fleetingly at her wickedly accurate characterization, confirming her guess that at least some of the fine wrinkles at the outer corners of his eyes were echoes of past laughter. "Jim was quite upset that one of his prize students couldn't find the right sort of job."
"Instead of 'exposing herself to the public gaze'?" She laughed, a throaty chuckle. "I'm afraid that the dear professor has very little notion of how things are run in the real world outside of his classroom. Especially in the world of solidstate electronics, right now. 'So you've a Master's Degree in Physical Science'," she mimicked, lighting a cigaret and taking a couple of nervous puffs at it before laying it in the ashtray. "'How quaint, for a N... a Black girl. Yes, we do have an opening for a lab assistant. One seventyfive a week, and you can even eat breakfast and lunch for free in the company cafeteria.' I can earn a lot more than that dancing, even with a crummy act like this one."
"But you would take the right kind of a job, if it came along?" His gaze was intent, as though measuring what he saw of her against what he'd already been told.
"That depends on the job," she answered bluntly. "What is it, and how much does it pay?"
"Most of our work has to do with original research in a new branch of solidstate electronics. Your lack of practical experience could even be an advantage, rather than a handicap, especially since your dissertation shows that you have a strong, though wellcontrolled imagination. As to the work you'll be doing, much of it would still be considered theoretically impossible by most experts in the field. It is highly confidential, since most of our discoveries can't be patented, coming under the classification of 'trade secrets' rather than inventions. We also have a number of conventional research projects going for private companies, and the money from them is what pays a good share of the tab for the rest of our work. You would start as a research assistant while you learn your way around our labs. The pay is only twentyseven fifty a month to start, but raises should be frequent. Marten Laboratories is located in Beaverton, Oregon, in the hills just to the west of Portland."
"And just what all would I have to do to earn that kind of money? Beside sweeping the floors and making coffee for the men, that is." She stubbed out her cigaret, trying to hide the sudden gleam of interest in her eyes, but she knew from his expression that it was there for him to see.
"Just your job." His answer was as blunt as her question. He looked her over with a pretense of disinterest, but she was sure she detected a glint of amusement in his bluehazel eyes. She had a sudden, uncharacteristic urge to brush back the lock of hair that trailed down over his forehead, to smooth the tired wrinkles from around the corners of his eyes. "I'm hiring you for your knowledge and ability. Not because you are Black, or a woman. Not even because you know how to make good coffee, though that's always a scarce and valuable talent in any lab I've ever been in. We don't have to worry about hiring quotas at Marten Labs, since none of our financing comes from the public trough. How you live, or who you choose to sleep with, are your own concerns as long as they don't interfere with your work." He reached for his wallet. "You will also receive a fifteenhundred dollar relocation bonus to help you with your moving costs..."
The thread of memory faded into darkness as Doctor Worth's little pill finally sent her off to sleep. If any dreams came her way, they were pleasant ones.