The campus grounds were deserted in the vicinity of Weaver Hall, the only outward sign of habitation was a lighted window on the third floor. Egon and Peter broke through the trees bordering the building, stopping as if by mutual consent to stare at that single, suddenly ominous telltale.

"I was right," Egon gasped, winded by the jog. "Ray did come back to the lab." A shadowy figure briefly blocked the light, and Egon cast Peter a suspicious look from the corner of one eye. "That is Ray, isn't it?"

Peter took a long, deep breath, expanding his chest to the full before releasing it. "I hope not," he said sincerely. "Kid might be in for a nasty surprise if it is."

Egon's suspicious look deepened. He made to speak, the words aborted by the brilliant flash that appeared briefly in the window, limning the darker manshape even against the fluorescents. Moments later thick smoke billowed upward, filling the room within seconds, the backlighting coloring it a dusky gray. It obscured the unidentified figure immediately; another moment and the room dissolved into darkness.

Peter stared, an expression of frozen horror twisting his face into a rictus. "The lights," he breathed. "Sandy was right!"

"Sandy? Sandy who?" Egon demanded, imitating Peter's instant rush toward the building. He reached the front door just in time to catch Peter, who had bounced off the heavy security metal like a toy.

"Got your key?" Peter called, pulling out of Egon's arms. He patted his light slacks apologetically. "No room."

Egon nodded and searched his suit jacket, first one pocket and then the next until locating the neat bunch he carried. He fumbled with the lock in the dark, an eternity of seconds passing while he tried to locate the correct key.

"Hurry!" Peter hissed, clenching his teeth against the screech of metal on metal.

"I am hurrying," Egon snapped back, trying another key. "Sandy who? What's going on up there?"

Peter slammed a fist into the door, the loud bang startling Egon into dropping his ring. He cursed and they both bent to retrieve them, the dark hindering the search.

"Found 'em," Peter said, pressing the keys back into Egon's hand. "Hurry."

"I am hurrying," Egon repeated, again applying himself to the lock. "What am I walking into?"

"Smoke bomb," Peter ground out, this time clenching his fist rather than using it. "It's attached to the EDG."

Egon stopped his work and turned to shoot Peter a reproachful look. "Timed to go off during my demonstration tomorrow, no doubt. Not nice, Peter."

Venkman slapped him on the arm. "Keys!" Egon hesitated then returned to his task, a low clanking adequate testimony to his haste. Peter tapped his foot impatiently. "Sandy Monroe. Remember her?"

"The blonde who claimed esper abilities?"

Peter nodded invisibly in the darkness. "She dreamed about smoke - said it hurt. And with Ray up there...."

"Could be trouble," Spengler agreed grimly. Spurred on to greater speed, he inserted the last key and twisted it. "It's open!" But Peter was already ahead of him, dashing down the hall and then up the staircase three at a time, Egon's longer legs closing the distance between them by the time they'd hit the top.

They reached the third floor and turned down the well-remembered corridor, Egon slapping the first wall switch he came in contact with. A single bulb lit behind them, none in front. "Circuit breakers must have tripped on this side of the building," he yelled. He clapped a hand across his mouth, nearly slamming into Peter's back as the psychologist stopped abruptly. "What is that stench?"

By then they'd reached the lab, the gilt 14 barely visible in the gloom. "Door's still closed," Peter said, ignoring Spengler's question; his pale face and white shirt made him resemble some type of specter hovering in the shadow. "Ray must still be in there." He threw open the door, unintentionally reeling backward away from the cloud of noxious, stinging vapor that gushed forth, enveloping both himself and Egon instantly. "Stuff's worse than I thought," he gagged, Egon doing likewise in the rear.

Hesitating long enough to draw in a lungfull of relatively pure air, Peter plunged into the murky lab. Egon, only a step behind, pulled his white handkerchief out of his breast pocket, slapping it across his nose and mouth. "Still no power," he reported, poking vainly at the wall switch before dropping into a crouch.

Peter did not wait - by memory alone he found his way through the shrouded room, snagging his desk chair as he went by. One hand stretched out straight before him, he reached the far side without happenstance, and located the closed window he'd watched from outside.

Forced by this time to take a breath, he doubled over with the first in a series of harsh coughs; a sound of retching came from close behind, half mingled with Egon's, "The smell is nauseating."

Peter straightened and grasped the chair firmly. "Stay clear!" he yelled Egon's way, then he brought the chair up and around in a powerful two- handed swing that parted the thick cloud like molasses. Chair impacted window with enough kinetic potential to shatter the glass, sending it in a great sparkling arc outwards to the soft grass below.

The combination of air exiting the window and draught from the open labdoor began to work its magic on the atmosphere; the smoke lightened instantly, though being heavier than air it did not entirely dissipate, and this despite the fact that the bomb continued to pump additional poisons from its unseen bed. Peter drew a shallow breath and croaked, "Did you find him?"

"No," came the equally choked reply. Egon continued his crawling search, scrambling around furniture and across paraphernalia until his grasping fingers encountered something warm and infinitely familiar. "Wait! Here he is." He trailed up the still body until he could touch the slack features and closed eyes. "He's unconscious. Help me, Peter."

Venkman followed the sound of the deep bass, working his way through the still-thick cloud. Eyes streaming, it was several seconds before he located his target and that only when he'd tripped over Ray's sprawled leg. He dropped to his knees, groping blindly until he'd found Egon's hand. He gave it a squeeze, then slid his own hands under Ray's shoulders. "Let's get him out of here," he said, lifting. "There's no oxygen."

Spengler wrapped his arms around both of Ray's jeans-clad legs and the two lifted in unison, carrying him swiftly toward the now barely seen door. Not stopping once they'd exited the room, they continued on toward that single burning bulb at the end of the hall, two moths seeking the devouring flame.

"Put him down," Egon gasped once they'd reached its glowing halo. He waited until Peter had nodded, then carefully deposited Ray's legs on the floor. Peter, rather than releasing Ray entirely, simply allowed his own legs to collapse under him and sank to the ground, supporting Ray half-on, half-off of his lap. "Is he-is he alive?" he gasped, real fear widening his green eyes.

Ray's face was dark smudged from the smoke; beneath that veneer his skin was chalk. Egon faltered a single second before pressing two fingers against the boy's throat. "I have a pulse," he reported in a hushed voice. "It's weak and I don't think he's breathing."

Peter shook the limp form roughly, letting it drape back over his knee until he was cradling Ray's lolling head in one hand. "You'd better breathe," he snarled, giving Ray's cheek a sharp slap. "Blast you, kid, wake up!"

Egon took Ray's face in both hands, passing his thumb across Ray's mouth. "I'd better breathe for him," he said. He bent lower then straightened, resting one hand lightly on the black cotton shirt. "Wait a minute; I thought I heard...."

Ray uttered a little sigh then, a soft barely audible sound that brought both Egon and Peter erect. "You did hear...." Peter began, face lighting with hope. The sigh was followed by a weak cough, then another, Ray's chest expanding slightly under Egon's hand. "Come on, kid," Peter urged, unconsciously holding his own breath. "You can do it."

As if he'd heard the admonition, Ray's coughing grew harsher, his lungs striving desperately to rid themselves of the fumes. Raspy choking breaths tore at the young man, and Peter allowed him to roll on his side, pillowing the auburn head on his knee. "Take it easy, buddy," he soothed, patting Ray's back awkwardly. "You're gonna be fine."

Egon, face tight with anger, released Ray, using one hand to smooth back the sweat dampened auburn hair from his young friend's face. After a long, tense silence, he looked up, eyes flashing sapphire fire behind his lenses. "He will be fine," he growled, shooting Peter a reproachful glare. "Fortunately for you. If we'd arrived only seconds later...."

Peter dropped his eyes guiltily, his reply arrested when Ray lifted his head from Peter's knee to peer around blearily. "What-what happened?".

Egon's glare faded at once. He essayed a calm smile, allowing his hand to continue resting lightly on the back of Ray's neck. "Lie still, Raymond, everything is all right now."

Ray twisted slightly, dazed eyes taking in his surroundings in a long, slow scan. Then he shook his head wearily, dropping it back to Peter's knee as if it were too heavy on his shoulders. "I did ... something wrong," he panted, squeezing his lids shut. "The ... EDG...."

A scowl creased Peter's brow at that. "Don't worry about the EDG," he said comfortingly. "It's fine. It's you we were worried about. We were afraid we were gonna lose you."

"Couldn't breathe," Ray mumbled, his already ashen face turning a shade whiter. "Smoke...."

"Yes, the smoke," Egon repeated, turning a speculative look on a suddenly squirming Peter. "Apparently, that smoke combined with the ... whatever it was, was heavy enough to deplete the oxygen, inducing suffocation."

"It wasn't supposed to work that way!" Peter defended himself rather more vehemently than he'd intended and immediately quieted his tone. "I figured any fool would leave the room once he got a whiff of the stink." Reminded, his nostrils flared as he took a deeper breath, gagging slightly at the odor rising from his, Egon's and Ray's clothes. "Oh, yuck. That stuff really is rancid." He tapped Ray's head with one hand, bending a little closer to the boy's ear. "Why didn't you get out, Ray?" he asked more gently. "You could have died in there. And blast Jefferson anyway," he added beneath his breath.

Stantz struggled to sit and Peter helped him up, supporting him with an arm around his shoulders. Coughing again, Ray raised his head, blearily seeking Egon's face then turning away, ashamed. "The ... I wanted to save the ... EDG. Tried to unplug it." He lifted his right hand, turning it over; a long red welt creased the palm, livid even in the dim light. "Something burned."

"Must have been a short," Egon said thoughtfully, lifting Ray's hand and examining it closely. "That's what tripped the breakers. You probably took quite a jolt if the wires were exposed."

Ray reclaimed his hand, cradling it in his lap. He stared at it intently, refusing to meet his companions' inquiring gazes at all. "I'm sorry. I think I ruined...." He choked off again, unable to continue.

Egon patted him kindly. "The only thing that matters is that you're all right, Raymond. That stunt could have been fatal." He turned to Peter, his face taut with renewed anger but there was something else there, too - a look of deep hurt. "It wasn't supposed to be Ray who got caught in there, was it?" he said quietly. "It was supposed to be me. Do you ... could you really hate me badly enough to want to kill me?"

Flustered, and sagging himself with reaction, Peter nevertheless looked up directly into those tearing, crystal blue, betrayed eyes. "It wasn't meant to be dangerous at all," he explained in a subdued tone. "All it was supposed to do was to stink the room up."

"In front of Dr. Stubbs and Dr. Wittington," Egon growled, understanding blossoming in his face. "They ... that could have ruined my professional reputation completely!"

"Like you nearly did mine!" Peter snapped back. "If that article on Janice Smithers had published, I'd've been SOL with the psychological community permanently."

Egon looked abashed at the possibility. He dipped his head, conceding the point. "It looks like we both allowed ourselves to be carried away with this competition," he admitted sadly. "I'm sorry."

Ray, still not having achieved a point where he comprehended his comrades' dialogue, tugged at Egon's sleeve, his expression so disconsolate as to make Peter automatically pull him closer. "I'm sorry," he repeated between renewed coughs. "I don't know what I did...."

It was Peter who answered, regret shining in his reddened eyes. "You didn't do anything at all, Ray," he said, brushing the knuckles of his left hand against Ray's jaw. "There's nothing wrong with the EDG. It was all a joke - my joke on Egon."

Ray blinked, comprehension slowly working its way through his befuddled brain. "A joke?" he repeated stupidly. "That was a joke?"

Peter nodded sadly. "Not a very good one, kid. I'm sorry you got caught in it."

"The EDG is okay?" Peter nodded again and Ray dredged up a feeble but highly relieved smile. He shut his eyes, leaning sideways against Peter's chest. "'S'okay, then" he mumbled weakly. "No harm done."

"This time," Egon muttered severely, not in as forgiving a mood as his young assistant.

Peter grew quiet for a long moment, his stare riveted on Ray's streaked face. Then he looked up, meeting Egon's expectant countenance frankly. "I don't hate you, Spengs," he said and it was plain what the confession cost him in the heightened color in his cheeks. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

The look of betrayal slowly left Egon's blue eyes, the merest touch of warmth replacing it. "I know that," he returned sincerely. "And I'm glad. But don't think this means you're off the hook, Venkman. I will have my revenge."

Peter relaxed, a smile gracing the very corners of his lips. "I wouldn't have it any other way." He turned back to Ray, still encircled in one arm. "Hey, kid, we got ta' get you to the hospital. Think you can walk?"

Brown eyes snapped open at once. "I don't need a hospital," he protested, his voice little better than a low rasp. "I'm okay. Really." He straightened manfully but the effect was spoiled by another round of coughing though less harsh than before.

Peter waited until the spell had passed, then slid his arms around Ray's chest and with Egon's help pulled the boy to his feet. "I think you're okay, too, but there's no sense taking any chances. We'll have you checked out ... or I will." He shot a questioning glance Egon's way. "If you want to get back to Brigette...?"

Egon smiled in return and shook his head. "Another hour at the bar and Brigette won't remember I was even there." He frowned suspiciously in Peter's direction. "I assume you set me up with her to prevent my being able to check the EDG before the test time; what I haven't been able to figure out is how you thought she could accomplish this. I'm assuming she was being truthful when she said she doesn't take drugs?"

"Of course Brigette doesn't take drugs," Peter returned piously, sticking his tongue in his cheek. "Not a one. Of course, getting her stoned is the only way she'd let you near her right about now. Hate to tell you this, old buddy, but you're pretty rank."

Egon sniffed himself then wrinkled his nose, the action dislodging his glasses slightly. He pushed them back up with a forefinger, sighing loudly. "I hope Holly sees that she gets home safely."

"Holly's been doing that for years." Peter slipped one of Ray's arms over his shoulder, Egon doing likewise on the other side. "Ready to go, kid?" he asked.

Ray nodded blankly and took a deep breath, then sneezed. "What is it that smells so bad?" he muttered, taking another sniff.

Peter exchanged a chagrined look with Spengler, then chuckled. "'Fraid that's us, pal. Don't worry though - it wears off. Eventually."

"Eventually." Egon sighed. "And I do have that demonstration to perform tomorrow. I really owe you for this one, Mr. Venkman."

"And I've a feeling you'll be paying me off, Dr. Spengler," Peter sighed, letting the door close behind them, "for a long time to come."

***

Venkman cradled the telephone to his left ear and fumbled in his wallet for a card. "... I said Monroe. M-o-n-r-o-e. Uh-huh. Yeah, I've got a Visa right here."

He was reading off a series of numerals when Egon Spengler entered. A stale aroma followed the big blond into the room, not entirely attributable to the sacks of food he carried in both arms. It mingled unpleasantly with the like odor already permeating the lab, only barely diluted by the gusts of air wafting through the plastic-covered window.

"No," Peter went on, nodding benignly as Egon deposited two of the sacks in front of him, reserving the remaining two for himself. "One dozen is cool. ... Yeah, so long." He hung up the receiver and pulled the white bags closer, opening the tops and breathing deeply. "Ahhh, McDonalds. Nothing like it." He grimaced and rubbed his abdomen, adding, "And I do mean nothing, Lord love my stomach lining."

"Roses?" Egon hazarded, gesturing vaguely to the telephone with an unopened straw. "For Sandy?"

Peter, giving up on inhaling his food, dumped the contents of one bag out onto his desk, sorting through a Big Mac and assorted french fries. He opened one of the sandwiches and sat regarding it distrustfully before tearing open the second bag and pulling out a soda. "Just greasing the way for next semester." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "One heck of a body on that chick."

Not having a dispute to find with that remark, Egon carefully pushed aside a slender, typed report and opened his own food. He took a bite of his fish fillet then had to snatch for a napkin when tartar sauce dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. "Nonetheless," he went on, chewing, "you do believe her warning last night was a legitimate psionic episode? A warning of impending disaster?"

Peter snorted at the melodramatic phrasing, the effect spoiled by the coke he was trying to swallow. He spent some few minutes sputtering before he could breathe again. "Lemme tell you, Spengs," he said, abandoning the coke for his sandwich. "People walking around in clouds is probably one of the most common nocturnal manifestations in existence. The odds against Sandy having that particular dream last evening are really not that extreme. And she has been known to dream about me ..." Egon cleared his throat delicately, and Peter grinned. "... rather more often than not. Put that all together and we come up leaning more toward a really drastic coincidence than paranatural whatever."

"But it doesn't rule out the paranatural," Egon pointed out, popping a french fry in his mouth. "Mathematically, coincidence is a rarer occurrence than most people assume. And the fact that coincidence is possible doesn't mean it's the only explanation available to us."

Venkman shrugged, offering both hands palms up and nearly dropping his sandwich for his trouble. "Tell you the truth, man, it doesn't really matter to me either way. Psionics or sheer, erotic fantasy, Sandy's warning saved a life last night. That's why the flowers."

"She saved Ray's life last night," Egon added quietly, studying his fingernails.

Peter shuddered, an uneasy expression touching his lean features before vanishing. "If anything had happened to that kid...."

"It didn't." Spengler's deep voice was firm, comforting by its very surity. "Nothing happened to Ray. The hospital only wanted to keep him overnight for observation. He's fine."

"Thanks to Sandy." Peter stared at his wooden desktop for long seconds. "Coincidence," he muttered. "But what if...?"

"What if?" Egon removed his glasses, exposing twinkling blue eyes. "That's the question that has driven me on for years, Peter. I've asked myself that a hundred times, and each time I do it drives me back to the laboratory and my studies." He replaced his glasses though his focus was still very far away. "What if there are other realities - an entire multiverse - standing parallel to our own? What if the aliens inhabiting those realities have the capacity to cross over the dimensional nexus, to visit us or affect us in some way? What if fables and legend are nothing more than the ancient peoples' way of explaining such visits as best they could?"

"Legends like ghosts and the Boogyman?" Peter inquired with mild derision.

The physicist nodded, a curious tenseness crossing his face at the reference. "Those and a myriad other incidents. That is my theory, yes."

Peter paused, the sounds of mastication narrowing down to Egon's square jaw. "Speaking of ghosties," he asked innocently, "how did your demonstration go this morning?"

That won him a sharp, disgusted look. Egon raised his arm, sniffing delicately at his pink sleeve. "About as you might have expected," he snapped. "Professor Wittington nearly threw up when he walked into the room. How long is this stench going to persist? I've taken four showers since last night."

"Couple days," the brunette said, biting back a smile. "We just got'ta live with it 'til Wednesday or Thursday."

"Nuts."

Peter waited but as that distinctly unilluminating statement was all that was forthcoming for some minutes, he finally cleared his throat and took the plunge. "And your doohickey?" he asked with more courage than good sense.

The blond's disgust transmuted into a glare, downshifting instantly into a resigned grimace. "See for yourself," he grumbled, jerking his head toward the pile of half-melted plastic and metal occupying the space where the EDG had stood twenty-four hours earlier. "The circuits went critical twenty seconds after being activated. Meltdown took place...." He stopped, his technical recitation ending with, "Blasted thing didn't register our three dimensions much less the next. Looks like I start again from scratch."

"Too bad, pal." The psychologist stuffed the last of his Big Mac into his mouth while staring at the twisted mass of the former EDG meditatively. "Wonder if the human brain is constrained by our three dimensions?" he wondered allowed. "If it operates outside our normal reality, then the time-space altering effects of those extra dimensions you're studying could have something to do with esper abilities ... alleged esper abilities," he amended with an embarrassed look at the blond, "like precognition and telepathy."

Spengler froze, dawning revelation in his face. "You're implying that the mind could be operating on or through some form of extra-dimensional conduit?" Peter shrugged and Egon scratched at his cheek absently. "Interesting hypothesis. If there is a connection, then any psycho-kinetic energies the brain emits could be similar to if not identical with those put forth by extra-terrain entities. By finding out how to measure the former, we could theoretically deduce the latter as well." He nodded slowly. "Very interesting. At least we'd have some form of study material - espers may not be common, but they're not unknown, either. One connection could explain so many of the old legends!"

Peter tossed his head. "I don't know about that part. I'm reasonably certain that all of your legends and sightings can be explained by using normal psychological procedure." He ticked off several points on his catsup-stained fingers. "Mass hysteria, hypnosis, drug use, the effect of natural phenomena on the primitive mind...."

"You have no proof of that." A bell clanged in the hall, obviously the signal, judging by the thunderous rush that ensued, for a buffalo stampede. Egon waited for it to pass before continuing. "All you have at this point is conjecture and speculation that such sightings can be explained away."

"Conjecture is all you have," the psychologist volleyed immediately, "that they can't be."

Egon inclined his head, acknowledging the hit. "Touche. However, I'm striving to prove my conjecture. You could do the same?" He raised one brow inquiringly, but Peter immediately waved it away.

"Too much strain, not enough return," he said. "Three dimensions or a thousand, it's not going to affect my work one bit." He broke off, again staring abstractedly at the desk. "However...."

"However?" Spengler prodded, wiping his hands on a napkin and sipping his soda.

Peter squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable. "Every now and then I'll pick up one of those parapsychology textbooks you keep laying around...."

"No!" Egon exclaimed with a barely perceptible smile.

Peter nodded, rubbing his knuckles absently on his white tank top. "Just once in awhile. And I have to admit that a few of the possibilities got me thinking - those dealing with delineating the boundaries of the human will. Precognition, telepathy ..."

"Telekinetics," Egon chanted in response, "pyrokinetics, mental dominance...." He straightened his back, animation fair glowing in his features. "Just think of it, Peter! For all we know, any limits on the human mind could well be self-imposed! That opens up infinite possibilities for study!"

Green eyes met smiling blue and a spark flashed between them. "Interesting possibilities, a few of them even worth exploring on some level. Of course Janice...."

Spengler scowled at that. "Janice," he interrupted firmly, "was a mistake. Sandy Monroe is the genuine article."

"May be the genuine article," Peter refuted, gathering greasy wrappings and dumping them in the trashcan. "However, there's no real way to find out."

Egon returned to his meal, finishing his fillet in two bites then securing the remains in the white paper bag. He studied the oblivious Venkman surreptiously, open speculation flaring in the depths of his sapphire eyes. Finally, he nodded as though in decision and picked up the sheaf of papers he's pushed aside earlier. "Perhaps there is a way to find out," he said at long last.

Peter, having long since buried himself in the morning's New York Times, looked up blankly, having already forgotten the proceeding conversation. "Find out what?"

"Whether or not Sandy is the genuine article." He raised the papers to eye level, turning them until Venkman could see the heading. "Professor Stubbs didn't attend this morning exclusively to witness the initial testing of the EDG. He also wanted to discuss this."

"I can't read the title," Peter said, squinting.

Spengler replaced the papers on his desk, patting them neatly into a stack. "This is a rough outline of a new research endeavor the professor will be undertaking - a planned program investigating any possible connections between human will and our 3-D reality plane. It will be part and parcel of a larger project that will be running for several concurrent years."

Peter goggled. "A major study on ESP?"

"Not necessarily ESP." The blond rose, the dark material of his trousers rustling as he paced the room in short strides. "What Professor Stubbs proposes is to begin a grassroots study on all the effects of the human will upon that human's immediate environment. It will, of course, include ESP, but also bio-electrical energy discharges, the dominance of reason over fantasy - he's even speaking to a creative mathematician, who will factor in the possibilities of the actual establishment of reality. It will be a major undertaking on all levels."

"Creating the universe in six days was a major undertaking," Peter remarked with only mild sarcasm. "What you're talking about is hard-core heavy."

"Very heavy," the other acknowledged, ceasing his pacing six inches from Peter's desk. "But it should provide grist for the research mills for decades to come."

Venkman leaned back in his chair and hiked up the knees of his jeans, then propped his feet on an open drawer. "What exactly are you getting at?" he asked carefully. "Are you inviting me in on this?"

Wood creaked ever so faintly as Egon leaned his palms flat on the desk. "Professor Stubbs has already agreed that my department will handle the study of psycho-kinetic potential - those fields of energy emitted by the brain that do not fall into our normal neural-bio-electrical ranges." He bent forward until he could peer directly into stunned green eyes. "It's not a one-man study, Peter - the grant allows for two researchers, three if necessary, and Professor McKenna has already granted his approval. Are you interested?"

Peter blinked, only now realizing that that last was not a rhetorical question. He dropped his feet, the legs of his chair hitting the floor with a dull thud. "You might want to reconsider before you make that offer," he warned. "Do you really want to go into a major project with a skeptic for a partner? Because ..." He raised a hand, forestalling the physicist's automatic avowal. "... I'll tell you right now, Spengs, I haven't completely dismissed the possibilities of ESP actually existing, but it's not high on my list of things to bet my paycheck on, if you know what I mean. I'll be in as much to disprove its existence as to prove it."

Spengler straightened, nodding his satisfaction with Peter's answer. "That's precisely why I came to you. I'm willing to confess myself quite prejudiced in the direction of belief. More, I know I will be able to prove my theories someday. What I need is something akin to balance - an unbiased approach to the subject. Besides," he went on, waving one long- fingered hand negligently, "paraphysics rather than parapsychology is my main field of study - I shall be feeling my way through much of the psychological ramifications of the project. I believe your expertise on the subject would be useful. Unless you have other plans for the summer?"

Peter ducked his head, dark lashes veiling his eyes. He tapped the desk with his forefinger, breathing deeply. Egon waited patiently until the dark head rose to face him again. "I don't have any plans for the summer," Peter said at last, emphasizing the last word firmly. "Perhaps I'd be interested in looking into the project for the next couple of months."

"After that?" Egon prodded gently.

Peter shrugged. "I'm not looking to abandon Professor McKenna's sleep project come fall. My main field is research psychology. That's what I'll have my doctorate in, in a couple of years."

"A couple of years is a long time," Egon pointed out with a smile. "Quite enough to indulge yourself in more than one interest, Peter. This will at least give you a taste of the other side of the coin. And several college credits, as well."

"Lets me go on working with Sandy, too!" Peter grinned happily. He noticed Egon's doubtful expression, and frowned. "Won't I?"

"I've been meaning to tell you this." The blond returned to his own desk, throwing his lanky form into his seat. "I mentioned Sandy's involvement last night to Professor Stubbs. He's going to sign her with his own lab for further testing."

"Yeah, I just bet he's going to test her," Peter grumbled sourly. "The old lech." He made to say more but broke off when the door opened to admit Ray Stantz, eyes bright, fresh-scrubbed face glowing with health. "Yo, guy! Good to see you at last!"

"Hello, Raymond," Spenger greeted amiably.

"Hi, Peter! Hi, Egon!" Breathless, Ray acknowledged his companions with a hasty nod, then came to stand in front of Egon's desk. "I'm sorry I'm late. The hospital wouldn't let me go any sooner."

Egon examined Ray from head to foot, paying particular attention to the stark white bandage wrapped around his right hand. "How are you feeling?" he asked kindly. "Any aftereffects from the smoke?"

Peter drew a deep breath, the memories of the previous evening rife in the look he turned on the younger man. "Yeah, kid, I'm ... uh ... really sorry about last night. I didn't think anyone was gonna end up hurt."

Ray met that apologetic gaze with a warm smile. "I'm okay, Peter. I wasn't hurt at all." He crinkled his snub nose disgustedly. "I'm just glad I managed to get rid of that awful smell! It stank like the devil all night."

Peter and Egon sat bolt upright, both fixing Stantz with disbelief. "You got rid of the smell?" Egon asked appealingly. "The one from last night?"

Ray nodded puzzled. "Well ... sure. I took a bath in tomato juice this morning. It's what we used to use on skunk back at the farm."

"Tomato juice," Peter caroled, good mood restored.

Egon threw back his head, relieved. "Skunks," he rumbled in harmony. "What else?"

Ray stared but there was obviously more on his mind than his companions' neglected hygiene. He shrugged and turned, wasting no time in crossing the room to the dysfunctional EDG. "How did the.... Oh." He stopped, staring at the remains of the unit with almost comical dismay. "It didn't work, did it," he said, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets. "Gosh."

"That's what I've always liked about you, Ray," Peter offered grandly. "Your magnificent grasp of the obvious. Unless that gizmo was supposed to melt all over the table? In that case it worked fine."

"Flaw in the design," Egon admitted candidly, meeting Ray's inquiring look with a rueful shrug. "I shall be attempting a different tack next time. Possibly, one Peter suggested."

"One Peter suggested?" Ray echoed, switching his gaze to the preening psychologist. "Peter Venkman?"

"Whass'a matter, kid?" Peter growled, rising from his chair and advancing menacingly. "You think I ain't got no smarts, 'er something?"

Ray grinned, recognizing the playfulness for what it was. "Sure, Pete, I just figured you'd be using your smarts for the more important things, like sleeping or Sandy...."

"I'll show you important!" Peter howled, leaping. He caught Ray in his rush, grappling the boy into a light head lock and tangling his fingers in the black tee shirt Ray wore. Ray, not unprepared, elbowed Peter firmly in the ribs, thus winning his own release. Peter retreated in defeat.

"I'll have you know, Mr. Boy Genius," Peter said with great dignity, "that Albert Einstein there ..." He jerked his thumb in a grinning Egon's direction. "... and I are going to be collaborating on a project this summer. Under Professor Snooty-Assed Stubbs, I might add."

Surprise creased Ray's round face. He turned from one man to the other, seeking confirmation. "Professor Stubbs invited both of you in on one of his projects? Which one?"

Spengler proffered the outline, his grin transforming itself into a satisfied smirk. "Actually, Professor Stubbs invited me in on the project. I was the one who asked Peter."

"Didn't know you cared," Peter murmured, batting his eyes.

Ray flash scanned the first page, a long, low whistle escaping when he was through. "Wow! This is great! And look at the size of the funding - it's nearly twice what you're pulling from the college!"

"Enough to pay my lab assistant better than I've been able to all year," Egon said meaningfully.

Ray gulped, a timidly hopeful gleam lighting his amber eyes. "You mean ... maybe ... me?"

"I can't think of anyone I'd rather have working for me," the blond returned magnanimously. "If you're interested?"

"Wow!"

Taking both the mild expletive and brilliant smile as acceptance, Egon regarded his two compatriots contentedly, Ray's insuppressible enthusiasm and intuition, and Peter's unpredictable, hard-edged flare; they sang as fitting counterpoint to his own more structured, analytical reason. "Looks like we've got quite a team," he rumbled genially.

He was right.

***