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Title: Nice Girl With 5 Husbands
Author: Leiber, Fritz
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nice Girl With 5 Husbands" ***

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                       Nice Girl With 5 Husbands

                            By FRITZ LEIBER

                       Illustrated by PHIL BARD

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                  Galaxy Science Fiction April 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

                Adventure is relative to one's previous
               experience. Sometimes, in fact, you can't
             even be sure you're having or not having one!

To be given paid-up leisure and find yourself unable to create is
unpleasant for any artist. To be stranded in a cluster of desert
cabins with a dozen lonely people in the same predicament only makes
it worse. So Tom Dorset was understandably irked with himself and the
Tosker-Brown Vacation Fellowships as he climbed with the sun into the
valley of red stones. He accepted the chafing of his camera strap
against his shoulder as the nagging of conscience. He agreed with the
disparaging hisses of the grains of sand rutched by his sneakers, and
he wished that the occasional breezes, which faintly echoed the same
criticisms, could blow him into a friendlier, less jealous age.

He had no way of knowing that just as there are winds that blow through
space, so there are winds that blow through time. Such winds may be
strong or weak. The strong ones are rare and seldom blow for short
distances, or more of us would know about them. What they pick up is
almost always whirled far into the future or past.

This has happened to people. There was Ambrose Bierce, who walked
out of America and existence, and there are thousands of others who
have disappeared without a trace, though many of these may not have
been caught up by time tornadoes and I do not know if a time gale blew
across the deck of the _Marie Celeste_.

Sometimes a time wind is playful, snatching up an object, sporting
with it for a season and then returning it unharmed to its original
place. Sometimes we may be blown about by whimsical time winds without
realizing it. Memory, for example, is a tiny time breeze, so weak that
it can ripple only the mind.

A very few time winds are like the monsoon, blowing at fixed intervals,
first in one direction, then the other. Such a time wind blows near a
balancing rock in a valley of red stones in the American Southwest.
Every morning at ten o'clock, it blows a hundred years into the future;
every afternoon at two, it blows a hundred years into the past.

Quite a number of people have unwittingly seen time winds in operation.
There are misty spots on the sea's horizon and wavery patches over
desert sands. There are mirages and will o' the wisps and ice blinks.
And there are dust devils, such as Tom Dorset walked into near the
balancing rock.

It seemed to him no more than a spiteful upgust of sand, against which
he closed his eyes until the warm granules stopped peppering the lids.
He opened them to see the balancing rock had silently fallen and lay a
quarter buried--no, that couldn't be, he told himself instantly. He had
been preoccupied; he must have passed the balancing rock and held its
image in his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite this rationalization he was quite shaken. The strap of his
camera slipped slowly down his arm without his feeling it. And
just then there stepped around the giant bobbin of the rock an
extraordinarily pretty girl with hair the same pinkish copper color.

She was barefoot and wearing a pale blue playsuit rather like a Grecian
tunic. But most important, as she stood there toeing his rough shadow
in the sand, there was a complete naturalness about her, an absence of
sharp edges, as if her personality had weathered without aging, just
as the valley seemed to have taken another step toward eternity in the
space of an instant.

She must have assumed something of the same gentleness in him, for
her faint surprise faded and she asked him, as easily as if he were a
friend of five years' standing, "Tell now, do you think a woman can
love just one man? All her life? And a man just one woman?"

Tom Dorset made a dazed sound.

His mind searched wildly.

"I do," she said, looking at him as calmly as at a mountain. "I think
a man and woman can be each other's world, like Tristan and Isolde or
Frederic and Catherine. Those old authors were wise. I don't see why on
earth a girl has to spread her love around, no matter how enriching the
experiences may be."

"You know, I agree with you," Tom said, thinking he'd caught her
idea--it was impossible not to catch her casualness. "I think there's
something cheap about the way everybody's supposed to run after sex
these days."

"I don't mean that exactly. Tenderness is beautiful, but--" She pouted.
"A big family can be vastly crushing. I wanted to declare today a
holiday, but they outvoted me. Jock said it didn't chime with our mood
cycles. But I was angry with them, so I put on my clothes--"

"Put on--?"

"To make it a holiday," she explained bafflingly. "And I walked here
for a tantrum." She stepped out of Tom's shadow and hopped back. "Ow,
the sand's getting hot," she said, rubbing the grains from the pale and
uncramped toes.

"You go barefoot a lot?" Tom guessed.

"No, mostly digitals," she replied and took something shimmering from
a pocket at her hip and drew it on her foot. It was a high-ankled,
transparent moccasin with five separate toes. She zipped it shut with
the speed of a card trick, then similarly gloved the other foot. Again
the metal-edged slit down the front seemed to close itself.

"I'm behind on the fashions," Tom said, curious. They were walking side
by side now, the way she'd come and he'd been going. "How does that
zipper work?"

"Magnetic. They're on all my clothes. Very simple." She parted her
tunic to the waist, then let it zip together.

"Clever," Tom remarked with a gulp. There seemed no limits to this
girl's naturalness.

"I see you're a button man," she said. "You actually believe it's
possible for a man and woman to love just each other?"

       *       *       *       *       *

His chuckle was bitter. He was thinking of Elinore Murphy at
Tosker-Brown and a bit about cold-faced Miss Tosker herself. "I
sometimes wonder if it's possible for anyone to love anyone."

"You haven't met the right girls," she said.

"Girl," he corrected.

She grinned at him. "You'll make me think you really are a monogamist.
What group do you come from?"

"Let's not talk about that," he requested. He was willing to forego
knowing how she'd guessed he was from an art group, if he could be
spared talking about the Vacation Fellowships and those nervous little

"My group's very nice on the whole," the girl said, "but at times they
can be nefandously exasperating. Jock's the worst, quietly guiding the
rest of us like an analyst. How I loathe that man! But Larry's almost
as bad, with his shame-faced bumptiousness, as if we'd all sneaked off
on a joyride to Venus. And there's Jokichi at the opposite extreme,
forever scared he won't distribute his affection equally, dividing it
up into mean little packets like candy for jealous children who would
scream if they got one chewy less. And then there's Sasha and Ernest--"

"Who are you talking about?" Tom asked.

"My husbands." She shook her head dolefully. "To find five more
difficult men would be positively Martian."

Tom's mind backtracked frantically, searching all conversations at
Tosker-Brown for gossip about cultists in the neighborhood. It found
nothing and embarked on a wider search. There were the Mormons (was
that the word that had sounded like Martian?) but it wasn't the Mormon
husbands who were plural. And then there was Oneida (weren't husbands
and wives both plural there?) but that was 19th century New England.

"Five husbands?" he repeated. She nodded. He went on, "Do you mean to
say five men have got you alone somewhere up here?"

"To be sure not," she replied. "There are my kwives."


"Co-wives," she said more slowly. "They can be fascinerously
exasperating, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tom's mind did some more searching. "And yet you believe in monogamy?"

She smiled. "Only when I'm having tantrums. It was civilized of you to
agree with me."

"But I actually do believe in monogamy," he protested.

She gave his hand a little squeeze. "You are nice, but let's rush now.
I've finished my tantrum and I want you to meet my group. You can fresh
yourself with us."

As they hurried across the heated sands, Tom Dorset felt for the first
time a twinge of uneasiness. There was something about this girl, more
than her strange clothes and the odd words she used now and then,
something almost--though ghosts don't wear digitals--spectral.

They scrambled up a little rise, digging their footgear into the sand,
until they stood on a long flat. And there, serpentining around two
great clumps of rock, was a many-windowed adobe ranch house with a
roof like fresh soot.

"Oh, they've put on their clothes," his companion exclaimed with
pleasure. "They've decided to make it a holiday after all."

Tom spotted a beard in the group swarming out to meet them. Its cultish
look gave him a momentary feeling of superiority, followed by an
equally momentary apprehension--the five husbands were certainly husky.
Then both feelings were swallowed up in the swirl of introduction.

He told his own name, found that his companion's was Lois Wolver, then
smiling faces began to bob toward his, his hands were shaken, his
cheeks were kissed, he was even spun around like blind man's bluff, so
that he lost track of the husbands and failed to attach Mary, Rachel,
Simone and Joyce to the right owners.

He did notice that Jokichi was an Oriental with a skin as tight as
enameled china, and that Rachel was a tall slim Negro girl. Also
someone said, "Joyce isn't a Wolver, she's just visiting."

He got a much clearer impression of the clothes than the names. They
were colorful, costly-looking, and mostly Egyptian and Cretan in
inspiration. Some of them would have been quite immodest, even compared
to Miss Tosker's famous playsuits, except that the wearers didn't seem
to feel so.

"There goes the middle-morning rocket!" one of them eagerly cried.

Tom looked up with the rest, but his eyes caught the dazzling sun.
However, he heard a faint roaring that quickly sank in volume and
pitch, and it reminded him that the Army had a rocket testing range in
this area. He had little interest in science, but he hadn't known they
were on a daily schedule.

"Do you suppose it's off the track?" he asked anxiously.

"Not a chance," someone told him--the beard, he thought. The assurance
of the tones gave him a possible solution. Scientists came from all
over the world these days and might have all sorts of advanced ideas.
This could be a group working at a nearby atomic project and leading
its peculiar private life on the side.

       *       *       *       *       *

As they eddied toward the house he heard Lois remind someone, "But you
finally did declare it a holiday," and a husband who looked like a gay
pharaoh respond, "I had another see at the mood charts and I found a
subtle surge I'd missed."

Meanwhile the beard (a black one) had taken Tom in charge. Tom wasn't
sure of his name, but he had a tan skin, a green sarong, and a fiercely
jovial expression. "The swimming pool's around there, the landing
spot's on the other side," he began, then noticed Tom gazing at the
sooty roof. "Sun power cells," he explained proudly. "They store all
the current we need."

Tom felt his idea confirmed. "Wonder you don't use atomic power," he
observed lightly.

The beard nodded. "We've been asked that. Matter of esthetics. Why
waste sunlight or use hard radiations needlessly? Of course, you might
feel differently. What's your group, did you say?"

"Tosker-Brown," Tom told him, adding when the beard frowned, "the
Fellowship people, you know."

"I don't," the beard confessed. "Where are you located?"

Tom briefly described the ranch house and cabins at the other end of
the valley.

"Comic, I can't place it." The beard shrugged. "Here come the children."

A dozen naked youngsters raced around the ranch house, followed by a
woman in a vaguely African dress open down the sides.

"Yours?" Tom asked.

"Ours," the beard answered.

"C'est un homme!"

"Regardez des vêtements!"

"No need to practice, kids; this is a holiday," the beard told them.
"Tom, Helen," he said, introducing the woman with the air-conditioned
garment. "Her turn today to companion die Kinder."

One of the latter rapped on the beard's knee. "May we show the stranger
our things?" Instantly the others joined in pleading. The beard shot
an inquiring glance at Tom, who nodded. A moment later the small troupe
was hurrying him toward a spacious lean-to at the end of the ranch
house. It was chuckful of strange toys, rocks and plants, small animals
in cages and out, and the oddest model airplanes, or submarines. But
Tom was given no time to look at any one thing for long.

"See my crystals? I grew them."

"Smell my mutated gardenias. Tell now, isn't there a difference?" There
didn't seem to be, but he nodded.

"Look at my squabbits." This referred to some long-eared white
squirrels nibbling carrots and nuts.

"Here's my newest model spaceship, a DS-57-B. Notice the detail." The
oldest boy shoved one of the submarine affairs in his face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tom felt like a figure that is being tugged about in a rococo painting
by wide pink ribbons in the chubby hands of naked cherubs. Except
that these cherubs were slim and tanned, fantastically energetic, and
apparently of depressingly high IQ. (What these scientists did to
children!) He missed Lois and was grateful for the single little girl
solemnly skipping rope in a corner and paying no attention to him.

The odd lingo she repeated stuck in his mind: "Gik-lo, I-o, Rik-o,
Gis-so. Gik-lo, I-o...."

Suddenly the air was filled with soft chimes. "Lunch," the children
shouted and ran away.

Tom followed at a soberer pace along the wall of the ranch house. He
glanced in the huge windows, curious about the living and sleeping
arrangements of the Wolvers, but the panes were strangely darkened.
Then he entered the wide doorway through which the children had
scampered and his curiosity turned to wonder.

A resilient green floor that wasn't flat, but sloped up toward the
white of the far wall like a breaking wave. Chairs like giants' hands
tenderly cupped. Little tables growing like mushrooms and broad-leafed
plants out of the green floor. A vast picture window showing the red

Yet it was the wood-paneled walls that electrified his artistic
interest. They blossomed with fruits and flowers, deep and poignantly
carved in several styles. He had never seen such work.

He became aware of a silence and realized that his hosts and hostesses
were smiling at him from around a long table. Moved by a sudden
humility, he knelt and unlaced his sneakers and added them to the pile
of sandals and digitals by the door. As he rose, a soft and comic
piping started and he realized that beyond the table the children were
lined up, solemnly puffing at little wooden flutes and recorders. He
saw the empty chair at the table and went toward it, conscious for the
moment of nothing but his dusty feet.

He was disappointed that Lois wasn't sitting next to him, but the food
reminded him that he was hungry. There was a charming little steak,
striped black and brown with perfection, and all sorts of vegetables
and fruits, one or two of which he didn't recognize.

"Flown from Africa," someone explained to him.

These sly scientists, he thought, living behind their security curtain
in the most improbable world!

When they were sitting with coffee and wine, and the children had
finished their concert and were busy at another table, he asked, "How
do you manage all this?"

Jock, the gay pharaoh, shrugged. "It's not difficult."

Rachel, the slim Negro, chuckled in her throat. "We're just people,

He tried to phrase his question without mentioning money. "What do you
all do?"

"Jock's a uranium miner," Larry (the beard) answered, briskly taking
over. "Rachel's an algae farmer. I'm a rocket pilot. Lois--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Although pleased at this final confirmation of his guess, Tom couldn't
help feeling a surge of uneasiness. "Sure you should be telling me
these things?"

Larry laughed. "Why not? Lois and Jokichi have been exchange-workers in
China the last six months."

"Mostly digging ditches," Jokichi put in with a smile.

"--and Sasha's in an assembly plant. Helen's a psychiatrist. Oh, we
just do ordinary things. Now we're on grand vacation."

"Grand vacation?"

"When all of us have a vacation together," Larry explained. "What do
you do?"

"I'm an artist," Tom said, taking out a cigaret.

"But what else?" Larry asked.

Tom felt an angry embarrassment. "Just an artist," he mumbled, cigaret
in mouth, digging in his pockets for a match.

"Hold on," said Joyce beside him and pointed a silver pencil at the tip
of the cigaret. He felt a faint thrill in his lips and then started
back, coughing. The cigaret was lighted.

"Please mutate my poppy seeds, Mommy." A little girl had darted to
Joyce from the children's table.

"You're a very dirty little girl," Joyce told her without reproof.
"Hold them out." She briefly directed the silver pencil at the clay
pellets on the grimy little palm. The little girl shivered delightedly.
"I love ultrasonics, they feel so funny." She scampered off.

Tom cleared his throat. "I must say I'm tremendously impressed with the
wood carvings. I'd like to photograph them. Oh, Lord!"

"What's the matter?" Rachel asked.

"I lost my camera somewhere."

"Camera?" Jokichi showed interest. "You mean one for stills?"


"What kind?"

"A Leica," Tom told him.

Jokichi seemed impressed. "That is interesting. I've never seen one of
those old ones."

"Tom's a button man," Lois remarked by way of explanation, apparently.
"Was the camera in a brown case? You dropped it where we met. We can
get it later."

"Good, I'd really like to take those pictures," Tom said.
"Incidentally, who did the carvings?"

"We did," Jock said. "Together."

Tom was grateful that the scamper of the children out of the room saved
him from having to reply. He couldn't think of anything but a grunt of

The conversation split into a group of chats about something called a
psych machine, trips to Russia, the planet Mars, and several artists
Tom had never heard of. He wanted to talk to Lois, but she was one of
the group gabbling about Mars like children. He felt suddenly uneasy
and out of things, and neither Rachel's deprecating remarks about her
section of the wood carvings nor Joyce's interesting smiles helped
much. He was glad when they all began to get up. He wandered outside
and made his way to the children's lean-to, feeling very depressed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once again he was the center of a friendly naked cluster, except for
the same solemn-faced little girl skipping rope. A rather malicious but
not very hopeful whim prompted him to ask the youngest, "What's one and

"Ten," the shaver answered glibly. Tom felt pleased.

"It could also be two," the oldest boy remarked.

"I'll say," Tom agreed. "What's the population of the world?"

"About seven hundred million."

Tom nodded noncommittally and, grabbing at the first long word that he
thought of, turned to the eldest girl. "What's poliomyelitis?"

"Never heard of it," she said.

The solemn little girl kept droning the same ridiculous chant: "Gik-lo,
I-o, Rik-o, Gis-so."

His ego eased, Tom went outside and there was Lois.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said.

She took his hand. "Have we pushed ourselves at you too much? Has our
jabbering bothered you? We're a loud-mouthed family and I didn't think
to ask if you were loning."



"In a way," he said. They didn't speak for a moment. Then, "Are you
happy, Lois, in your life here?" he asked.

Her smile was instant. "Of course. Don't you like my group?"

He hesitated. "They make me feel rather no good," he said, and then
admitted, "but in a way I'm more attracted to them than any people I've
ever met."

"You are?" Her grip on his hand tightened. "Then why don't you stay
with us for a while? I like you. It's too early to propose anything,
but I think you have a quality our group lacks. You could see how you
fit in. And there's Joyce. She's just visiting, too. You wouldn't have
to lone unless you wanted."

Before he could think, there was a rhythmic rush of feet and the
Wolvers were around them.

"We're swimming," Simone announced.

Lois looked at Tom inquiringly. He smiled his willingness, started to
mention he didn't have trunks, then realized that wouldn't be news
here. He wondered whether he would blush.

Jock fell in beside him as they rounded the ranch house. "Larry's been
telling me about your group at the other end of the valley. It's comic,
but I've whirled down the valley a dozen times and never spotted any
sort of place there. What's it like?"

"A ranch house and several cabins."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jock frowned. "Comic I never saw it." His face cleared. "How about
whirling over there? You could point it out to me."

"It's really there," Tom said uneasily. "I'm not making it up."

"Of course," Jock assured him. "It was just an idea."

"We could pick up your camera on the way," Lois put in.

The rest of the group had turned back from the huge oval pool and the
dark blue and flashing thing beyond it, and stood gay-colored against
the pool's pale blue shimmer.

"How about it?" Jock asked them. "A whirl before we bathe?"

Two or three said yes besides Lois, and Jock led the way toward the
helicopter that Tom now saw standing beyond the pool, its beetle body
as blue as a scarab, its vanes flashing silver.

The others piled in. Tom followed as casually as he could, trying to
suppress the pounding of his heart. "Wonder you don't go by rocket," he
remarked lightly.

Jock laughed. "For such a short trip?"

The vanes began to thrum. Tom sat stiffly, gripping the sides of
the seat, then realized that the others had sunk back lazily in the
cushions. There was a moment of strain and they were falling ahead and
up. Looking out the side, Tom saw for a moment the sooty roof of the
ranch house and the blue of the pool and the pinkish umber of tanned
bodies. Then the helicopter lurched gently around. Without warning a
miserable uneasiness gripped him, a desire to cling mixed with an urge
to escape. He tried to convince himself it was fear of the height.

He heard Lois tell Jock, "That's the place, down by that rock that
looks like a wrecked spaceship."

The helicopter began to fall forward. Tom felt Lois' hand on his.

"You haven't answered my question," she said.

"What?" he asked dully.

"Whether you'll stay with us. At least for a while."

He looked at her. Her smile was a comfort. He said, "If I possibly can."

"What could possibly stop you?"

"I don't know," he answered abstractedly.

"You're strange," Lois told him. "There's a weight of sadness in you.
As if you lived in a less happy age. As if it weren't 2050."

"Twenty?" he repeated, awakening from his thoughts with a jerk. "What's
the time?" he asked anxiously.

"Two," Jock said. The word sounded like a knell.

"You need cheering," Lois announced firmly.

Amid a whoosh of air rebounding from earth, they jounced gently down.
Lois vaulted out. "Come on," she said.

Tom followed her. "Where?" he asked stupidly, looking around at the red
rocks through the settling sand cloud stirred by the vanes.

"Your camera," she told him, laughing. "Over there. Come on, I'll race

He started to run with her and then his uneasiness got beyond his
control. He ran faster and faster. He saw Lois catch her foot on a
rock and go down sprawling, but he couldn't stop. He ran desperately
around the rock and into a gust of up-whirling sand that terrified him
with its suddenness. He tried to escape from the stinging, blinding
gust, but there was the nightmarish fright that his wild strides were
carrying him nowhere.

Then the sand settled. He stopped running and looked around him. He was
standing by the balancing rock. He was gasping. At his feet the rusty
brown leather of the camera case peeped from the sand. Lois was nowhere
in sight. Neither was the helicopter. The valley seemed different,
rawer--one might almost have said younger.

Hours after dark he trailed into Tosker-Brown. Curtained lights still
glowed from a few cabins. He was footsore, bewildered, frightened. All
afternoon and through the twilight and into the moonlit evening that
turned the red rocks black, he had searched the valley. Nowhere had he
been able to find the soot-roofed ranch house of the Wolvers. He hadn't
even been able to locate the rock like a giant bobbin where he'd met

During the next days he often returned to the valley. But he never
found anything. And he never happened to be near the balancing rock
when the time winds blew at ten and two, though once or twice he did
see dust devils. Then he went away and eventually forgot.

In his casual reading he ran across popular science articles describing
the binary system of numbers used in electronic calculating machines,
where one and one make ten. He always skipped them. And more than once
he saw the four equations expressing Einstein's generalized theory of

[Illustration: Einstein's equation.]

He never connected them with the little girl's chant: "Gik-lo, I-o,
Rik-o, Gis-so."

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