It was a world of Utopian dreams and industrial strife — buffeted by the winds of human unreason. But Hal Talbot was a man apart.
"You always see the other person's side," said Laura. "Even the boss's, especially when he fires you."
She swept the compact into her purse and stood up. "Now see if you can understand my point of view." With a withering contempt in her eyes she swung the purse to her shoulder and walked rapidly away.
Hal Talbot stared morosely at his drink. The worst of it was — he knew exactly how she felt. In spite of what everyone professed to believe empathy was a dreadful handicap. He had more than his share of it, and he couldn't even hold down a simple lousy job.
He raised the glass and saw through it a man — a total stranger — standing beside the booth in amused expectation. The hell with him, Talbot thought. He drank the beer and set the glass down.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" the stranger asked.
Talbot looked him over carefully. He was well-dressed — too well-dressed — and he conformed in virtually every other respect to the popular conception of the executive, suave and so completely sure of himself. Therefore — he probably wasn't.
"Suit yourself," grunted Talbot
The man sat down and ordered for both of them. It was all right with Talbot He could have paid for the drinks, but he was keenly aware that his dwindling resources wouldn't last long.
"I couldn't help overhearing the conversation," said the man.
"We have all our fights in public," said Talbot, with embittered irony. "It makes things more final."
The stranger stared at him steadily for an instant, his brows contracted. Then he asked: "Are you sure this is final?"
"You heard what she said. I can't hold a job."
"That's precisely what I mean. You seem capable enough. I'm curious as to the reason."
Talbot looked at the other more intently. He was a man of much the same general build as Talbot, but he appeared to be five or six years older.
"I mean no offense," said the man. He fumbled in his pocket and held out a card.
Talbot took it. There was a single word in bold black letters on one side: TRANSPORTATION. The crosses on the Ts were spaceships. On the other side was a name: EVAN SOLERI, vice-president in charge of research. Talbot curled his fingers around the card.
The man smiled. "Just call me Evan."
"All right, Evan. You're going to offer me a job." Talbot settled back comfortably. Things were falling into the routine pattern again.