No More Mr. Nice - By Renee Roszel


“It is terrifying to care, of course, and the young man, whom I once heard say to the girl whose hand he was holding, ‘Shit. I think I love you,’ in the ominous tones of someone declaring that he was coming down with the plague, probably put the fear that accompanies loving as graphically as it can be put.”

Merle Shain

“Dammit! Hell had better freeze over soon,” growled Lucas Brand, a surge of rage washing through him. “I promise you, baby, before this month is over, Satan’s going to have one hell of a head cold.”

He’d been warned he was fighting a losing battle, but he’d refused to listen. He’d beat the odds for years and had no intention of losing this time—not with millions of dollars at stake.

But time was running out, and Lucas couldn’t remember being this tired in his life. Workdays—that had always been dawn till dusk for him—now stretched into twenty-four-hour shout-a-thons.

He sat at his spaceshiplike work station, testing his latest model of what he’d come to refer to as the Force Feedback Glove from Hell, damning it to a life of mulching gardens—all it was good for—and also damning the fact that the clock was ticking toward the deadline, every second shoving him closer to defeat. He forcefully shut out the thought.

Lucas just had to get this flawed piece of space-age junk to work. No one in the Virtual Reality software business had yet come up with a cordless, force-feedback glove. And he had only fourteen lousy days left to come up with the technology to mimic the feeling of solidity in his brilliantly programmed, streamlined, good-for-nothing glove. After all, he had assured Takahashi that his company could create a working prototype by the first of December. If he didn’t, he’d forfeit his chance at the contract of a lifetime.

Not one to give up, he reached back into cyberspace and lifted a big orange molecule, squeezing hard. The experimental glove gave him the sensation that the imaginary thing was solid—for a second—then that solidity dissipated, as it had in every test up to now, and he felt nothing—dead, empty air. It was like losing the sense of touch, mid-fondle! Damned frustrating.

“Confound you,” he bit out, flexing the gloved hand, or at least trying to. It still didn’t work right!

“Takahashi’ll love this,” he jeered. “His bioengineers are moving a molecule in an unstable compound, the glove goes dead, the molecule drops into the wrong slot, and presto—instant nuclear holocaust.” His chuckle was sharp and mirthless. “Yeah, we’ve got this contract in the bag—if global extinction is the man’s goal.”

He was hooked up to several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of computer equipment via his head-mounted display. Through the HMD he could see his Virtual Reality world, strewn with molecular structures invisible to the human eye. The goal of his VR program was, ultimately, to enable the Takahashi Pharmaceutical Company to move chemical bonds on molecules and “see” how the molecules might react.

Not exactly a walk through the tulips, this was an opportunity to make history. Still, Lucas felt that with his own expertise and that of the two other computer geniuses in his company, he had as good a chance of conquering it as anybody currently in the VR field.

The intercom buzzed. What did it take around here to get obedience—whips and chains? Didn’t everybody see he was under the gun? He needed time to think, blast it. What could be so all-fired important that his secretary would dare interrupt him?

“Hell, Debbie!” he objected over the intercom. “I told you no calls.” Jerking off his head-mounted display, he ordered, “Tell Fletch and Sol to—”

Debbie broke in with a meek clearing of her throat. “Mr. Brand, there’s a registered letter here for you. From a Mr. Roxbury. Should I—”

“Roxbury?” Lucas interrupted, his preoccupation with business troubles suddenly short-circuited by a name out of his past.

“Yes, sir. Norman V. Roxbury, Roxbury Enterprises.”

Lucas set aside his HMD and stripped off the glove. Sweeping his gaze over his office, covered with printouts and wadded, discarded notes, he muttered, “Hell! After all these years, not now…”

“Sir?” she replied with confusion.

“Bring me the letter, Debbie. And hold those calls to Fletch and Sol.”

Seconds later, Debbie, an attractive brunette, slipped through the double-doored entry to his luxurious, cluttered office. Padding across royal blue carpeting past a massive cherry desk, she halted by his VR work station, quipping, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

It was a standing joke, since the VR station looked like a scaled-down version of the