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September 2002
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Doc Smith Fashion
by
Sea Wasp

Long ago, in a newsgroup far, far away, Jordan Bassior and Sherman Lee exchanged this bit of banter about merging E. E. Smith, Phd., and Jane Austen.

Jordan Bassior:
Conway Costigan, on the other hand, is a top Triplanetary agent, and as such has been extensively trained to deal with improbable and dangerous circumstances. It's not that he's fantastically smarter than her: I'm sure that when E. E. "Doc" Smith temporarily merges his soul with Jane Austen to produce a witty novel of manners about the society of the era, we'll see that Clio's far better at maneuvering her way through dinner-party intrigues than is her husband. :-)

Sherman Lee:
Actually, that would happen, too.

A Lensman is both a military officer and a diplomat, especially the 'generalist' Lensmen. (There were lawyer-Lensmen and the like specialists, but even they might suddenly find themselves faced with situations out of their specialty, since there were never enough Lensmen to fulfill the Patrol's needs).

I suspect that a very funny half-spoof, half-serious novella could have been written about Roderick Kinnison's first State Dinner as President of North America, or the first time Conway Costigan had to infiltrate upper crust society while tracking down a zwilnick connection or a traitor. Note that in this early stage, they wouldn't know all the tricks to hide a Lens, so odds are a lot of the time they'd be effectively psi-blind...

Jordan Bassior:
I would enjoy reading such a book. Sort of a Doc Smithian version of A Civil Campaign ... :-)

Sea Wasp took this as a challenge, and, in his palmiest style, produced the following synthesis.


Clio stared. It was starkly, utterly unbelievable, but Miss Kendron -- she of the (probably) artificially golden hair and (possibly) enhanced figure -- was wearing the *precise same outfit* as Clio herself. And the brazen hussy was headed RIGHT FOR CONWAY!

Her eyes narrowed. All right, she thought. Bribed my dressmaker, did you? We'll see what you've got. Not for nothing had she been raised in the whirl of society, learning the arts of verbal thrust and counter-thrust, mastering the tilt of the head that could bring strong men to their knees. Her mother had well known what dangers lurked in the glittering, deceptive beauty of corporate social life, and her daughter's eyes narrowed before opening once more into the limpid pools of innocence that concealed the lethal combatant within.

"Why, Kendra Kendron, dear! What an ASTONISHING coincidence!" she sang out as she came in range. "The same dress! That was commissioned as a unique original from Pierre DuPaul, I might add!"

Kendra's eyes sparkled back with the same guileless look in their azure depths. "My goodness!" she twittered. "It's so... embarrassing for you, dear!"

The two locked gazes for a moment. Conway Costigan did not know -- then or ever -- what titanic forces were unleashed at that moment. He could not see -- nor could any whose fashion sense was below the third level of stress -- beyond the empty, light greetings, through the innocent and harmless guise each wore. To him, the entire meeting was an almost inconsequential encounter, albeit with a girl whose beauty and charm had momentarily (and only momentarily, he was sure) distracted him from Clio.

But to Clio and Kendra -- each well aware of the other's skills -- the glances instantly penetrated the disguse, showing the other as a warrior of emotional combat fully their own equal. The razor-sharp intellect, the immense and almost inconceivably vast knowledge of fashion in a dozen countries, the casual tone of voice that could devastate an opponent or lift up an ally -- all these and more were in their arsenals. Kendra knew, in that moment, that Clio was willing to risk her own destruction -- even to the point of utter humiliation in all else -- in order to keep Conway from her. And Clio knew, with equal certainty, that Kendra was here to make sure that this never came to pass; she had been instructed to capture Costigan's heart, and she was cold and ruthless as Gray Roger himself; no ordinary force stood a chance of stopping her.

For the most infinitesmal fraction of a second Clio was uncertain. Kendra's force of fashion was more absolutely formidable than she could have imagined. Should she tell one of the others? No, impossible. Jill might -- probably would -- believe her. But Jill was not available. None of Conway's friends would even understand. In fact, even to ask would weaken her position. She would certainly fail.

Even as the thought occured to her, she dismissed it. In that instant, Clio became fully what she had only before had the potential for being, and for one moment the crystal-clear gaze hardened. Costigan could not have seen it from his taller position, nor, had he seen it, could he have understood what he saw.

But the force of that gaze struck Kendra like a blow; never had she faced such an opponent -- why, even a few weeks ago Clio herself couldn't have done this! Well it was for Civilization that Clio's mother had raised her so well! Well indeed it was that Clio had learned those lessons, and that she had been hardened to society conflict in a thousand salons across the System! Kendra hesitated, and Clio bored in, keeping the gaze locked, and turning ever so slightly. Kendra realized what her intent was, and made her counter move -- just that fractional second too late. Conway's gaze shifted, from Kendra to Clio, and Clio's eyes, now once more as innocent and warm as the regard of a child, captured his own.

To Conway, Kendra's sniff and goodbye barely registered, but to Clio it was the sound of victory.

And on distant Arisia, Mentor gave a mental nod. "You were concerned, Eukonidor. Yet our Visualization was sound. Though such emotionally-fraught events are no longer something we of Arisia participate in, still our Visualizations include them. It is true that it was possible, though barely so, that Gharlane, having now some concept of Arisia and our capacities, could have directly or through one of his intermediaries intervened; yet he was already aware that we were watching, and it was extremely unlikely he would choose to risk himself when we could have equally simply energized our own forms of flesh to counter his interference."


This page was last updated September 11, 2002.

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