DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2//EN"> Counterweight

"What brings you to see me, Professor Champion?" asked Doctor Datura.

"Given my dimensions and the epithet 'BARIATRICIAN' lettered on your office door, we hardly need ask the tenant of 221B, Baker Street, to winkle out my motive in consulting you," Professor Charles Champion said.

"Weight loss. Is that what you're looking for?"

"Elementary, my dear Doctor."

"You are quite large," the attending nurse observed.

"So I've been informed," Professor Champion said. "Doctor, I am a lonely and a single man; and my avoirdupois is a fearsome handicap in what you Americans name The Dating Game."

"You have my sympathy," Doctor Datura said. "I can offer several alternative modalities toward the weight loss you desire. There's hypnosis. Or I could prescribe an exercise program paired with an austere diet. I could open you up and constrain your stomach with a gastric band."

"None of those proposals inspires enthusiasm," Professor Champion said.

"Do you know Susy?" the Doctor asked.

"No, Doctor. I am unacquainted with the lady."

"No lady, Professor. The nickname for the physical theory of supersymmetry."

"Not my line of country. I teach Victorian Romantic Literature."

"To be brief, my dear Professor Champion, every fundamental particle has a twin anti-particle, or sparticle. In lay terms, I have identified and captured the sparticle twin of Professor Peter Higgs' celebrated boson."

"I have read of the Higgs boson," Charles said. "The impious, I believe, referred to it as 'The God Particle'."

"Precisely. The Higgs boson is the mediator of mass. The anti-Higgs, the sparticle I've discovered, negates mass." Doctor Datura opened a cabinet, took out a plastic vial of red capsules. "Hold out your hand, Professor."

Charles complied.

The nurse handed him a beaker of water.

"Are you sure this is safe?" he asked.

"Safe as houses. Swallow, please, Professor," the Doctor said.

Charles sluiced down one capsule.

"Nurse will prepare your bill and set your next appointment," Doctor Datura said.

Three days later, mentally reviewing his morning's lecture ("Buried Alive in King Solomon's Mine"), Charles stepped onto, then off, his bathroom scales.

"Hello," the scales-lady said. A pause. "It's ready."

Charles stepped back on. "Two hundred ninety-nine pounds, three ounces," the scales-lady said.

"Twenty-one stone, five pounds. Already down a bit. Much obliged, Professor Peter Higgs," said Professor Charles Champion. He stepped off the scales.

"Goodbye," said the scales-lady.

"Goodbye," the Professor said. "And thank you."

Two weeks later ("The Tales of Three Trollopes") the scales-lady announced, "Two hundred pounds."

"Just a tad over fourteen stone," Charles calculated. "That red capsule was every bit as palatable as a grapefruit luncheon," he mused. "Much nicer than being fileted like a kipper and having my giblets girdled by plastic." A month later, walking to class where he was to address "The Incredible Adventures of H.G. Wells," Charles was lifted by a puff of wind and thrown from the sidewalk to slam against the trunk of a burr oak tree.

The morning after (the day's lecture was "Kipling's Kim Bowls a Googly in the Great Game"), Charles, the pattern of burr-oak bark embossed on his frontal curvatures, interrogated his bathroom scales.

"Nineteen pounds," she said.

"One stone, five," Charles translated the weight to British. Before pulling on his jacket he snapped around his belly an exercise belt, its pouches filled with lead shot. "My rude cummerbund," he observed.

At his ninety-day checkup ("We Meet the World's First Consulting Detective"), Charles staggered and was forced to grab a chair for balance.

"Are you all right, Professor Champion?" Doctor Datura asked.

"Tickity-boo." Charles retired behind a screen to drop the shot-loaded belt, take off the shoes with their lead insteps, strip, and slip into an examination gown. He bounced onto the doctor's digital scales.

The dial of the scales did not acknowledge his existence.

"Get the postal scales," Doctor Datura ordered.

Her nurse set the postal scales on the floor. Charles planted his right foot on its pan and rose into a flamingo-perch, left foot extended behind him, arms held horizontal for balance.

The nurse squatted to read the dial. "Twelve ounces," she reported.

"That's his gown," the doctor said. "This is a triumph. I am ready to publish, to send the Datura Particle out into a waiting world."

"Not another word!"

In the doorway stood a Nordic fellow with cropped wheat-colored hair and a lanky African-American man wearing black leather gloves and matching bomber jacket. This gentleman addressed Charles. "You, there! Fat man! Anything you say could violate Title Fifty of the United States Code."

Charles stepped down off the postal scales. "But I don't know anything."

"Good. What you don't know, the Chinese can't squeeze out of you," "said the crew-cut agent.

"What Chinese?" Charles asked.

"Their taikonauts," the blond man said.

"That's a Slope word," his companion said. "Like they can't pronounce 'Astronaut'."

"Who are you fellows?" Doctor Datura demanded.

"It is we who will pose the questions,' said the man in leather. He walked over to poke a leathered index finger into Charles' belly. "Mister, are you an American citizen?"

"I am a loyal subject of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second," Charles said. He braced to attention in his gown tied with a bow in the back. "Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us. I am an Englishman," he added.

The blond agent consulted his clipboard. "UK is OK, Chief," he reported.

The senior agent addressed Doctor Datura and her nurse. "I trust you both have signed security clearances?"

"Heavens, no," the doctor said. "I am a simple bariatric physician."

"And I am a registered nurse," said the registered nurse.

"Go. We'll debrief you later," said the senior agent.

"I protest," said Doctor Datura.

"Protest al fresco, Doc." The leather finger indicated the door, through which the doctor and her nurse exited.

"What do you want with me?" Charles demanded.

The lead agent pulled over two chairs. "Take a load off."

Charles floated down to the seat of his chair.

The lead agent leaned close. "We have learned that you, Professor Charles Champion, have achieved an amazing attenuation of avoirdupois."

"I've lost a lot of weight," Charles said.

"He's still awful fat," the blond agent said.

"Not our problem," said his companion. "Charles Champion, you are the first human to have become weightless while stationary at the surface of the earth."

"That's becoming a bit tedious, if you must know." Charles confided. "Weight belts and lead insteps."

"To throw an astronaut into Low Earth Orbit costs us fifty grand a kilo," the agent said. "If you weighed what you look like, Professor, it would cost NASA a cool seven million to loft you. The way you are now, we can bop you up into LEO for pocket change. That advantage will get you and the U S of A to Mars before the Chinks set up woks on Olympus Mons."

"I have a heavy teaching load," Charles said.

"Why only Teach adventure?" the junior officer chimed in. "You could maybe meet a Mars-girl like Dejah Thoris." The agent closed his eyes and recited from fragrant memory:

"She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure."

"For an American, Edgar Rice Burroughs penned pretty potent prose," Charles mused. "John Carter, Prince of Helium and all. And his lady. Still, I'm not sure I'm up for barreling off to Barsoom."

"If you can make freshmen spell, you can master celestial mechanics," the lead agent said. "It is your duty as a patriotic American to join us."

"I must remind you, gentlemen, that I hail from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. I can present my passport."

"Whatever," the leather-clad agent said. "We all have got to do our bit to keep the solar system from becoming a Chinatown,"

"Your call to adventure tempts me, but I really don't think I have time to challenge the Yellow Peril in outer space," Charles said.

The senior agent took a glass vial from the pocket of his black leather jacket. He opened it to display a dozen red capsules. "We've impounded Doctor Datura's weight-loss pharmacopoeia," he said. "We will see that you have companions when you fly up to plant the Stars and Stripes on the Red Planet."

"If I am doing that planting, the banner will be the UK Union Flag," Charles vowed.

"We can buy two flags," the blond agent said.

"Any questions?" asked his boss.

"Yes. Do you suppose that Deja Thoris and John Carter might have had granddaughters I could meet?"





Last year the Science Fiction Writers of America renewed my membership on the basis of stories published when I was practically a boy.

My stories back in the 50s, 60s and 70s came out in all the fragrant s-f and mystery pulps of those years. Many were anthologized: Speculations, '73; Purr-fect Crime, '89,Analog II, '63, Hitchcock's A Brief Darkness '87 and the 1971 Mystery Writers of America anthology, Murder Most Foul.

Recently a dozen of my one-act plays have been produced by amateur groups and rejected by professional companies.

My dreadful s-f novel, Wild and Outside, Chilton Press, appeared and disappeared in 1969. My most recent sale (last week) was to Mystery Weekly Magazine, a short story, Acid Test.