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Professor Angela Mira shifted uncomfortably in her lab coat -- not because the coat was uncomfortable (to the contrary, she found it to be the most comfortable, and comforting, article of clothing in her possession) -- but because the topic of discussion was going to be.

"Tenure, Professor Farrington. I am due for it -- what more must I do to obtain it? My classes are well populated, my publications--"

"....have been first rate," the wizened older professor responded, "Angela, your work on the impact of colour reception on sensory attitudinal factors has been groundbreaking. I'm all for your tenure application, but the committee is split, and the stumbling block is Professor Hingsby." Farrington's voice dropped subtly, "he holds considerable sway in the committee, and he remains.... unconvinced.... of the value of your investigations." Farrington quickly cut off a note of objection, "you need not convince me of the value of your work. Why, the prospect of treating rage or depression through exposure to colour sequences is by itself a remarkable proposition. And your success with test subject formulations has exceeded all reasonable expectations. But," he cocked his head to the side with a wry shrug, "not everybody's expectations are reasonable."

"Then what am I to do? My fellowship is ending, if I'm not granted tenure all that I've built here--"

"....will be lost." Farrington completed the thought. "Angelina, you are not thinking clearly. You must think of this as a problem to be solved, and apply yourself to solving it -- as you would any psychosociological problem. You have a subject population of one: Professor Hingsby. He is presented with a decision, to support or not support your tenure application. You must determine what factors will positively influence the outcome of his decision-making process." Farrington glanced at a wall calendar. "We have the convention in Montreal next Saturday. Then the faculty reception the Thursday after, and then the tenure committee meeting on Friday. Two weeks."

Professor Angela Mira furrowed her brow, and nodded slightly. Naturally, the problem to be solved was not simply a problem of fulfilling her career desire, but one of the correct application of the correct stimuli to the correct receptors. A direct appeal would be interpreted as a threat display, counterintuitively triggering the implementation of automatic psychological defenses. A deeper level of psychosocial manipulation was what was called for here. She began to formulate a hypothesis.

----

Professor Angela Mira was late, uncharacteristically so. Farrington was concerned for a moment that she would simply not show up at all, the faculty reception being well underway in the grand old hall of the Pendleton House, with its elegant appointments, ornamented tables and leather couches. But then there she was. Unmistakeably.

The dress was red, but not just any red. Some other faculty members in that very room wore red dresses, but when Professor Angela Mira walked through the door, hers might as well have been the only red dress on Earth. A trick of the eye, perhaps of the material, but this dress was luminously iridescent, seemingly shifting from scarlet to burgundy with each scintillating step. The hem came modestly below her knee, but a slit ran dangerously up the side, revealing the most tempting glimpses of porcelain skin with every step. The plummeting neckline was even more dangerous, upwardly bounded by a necklace of modestly blue sapphires, matching her earrings and her eyes. All eyes were captured. The professors from the art department must have thought that a painting had escaped the confines of the canvas. Those from the physics department doubtlessly wondered what principles of matter kept the article so neatly adhered to her body. Mira began making her way around the room, greeting colleagues, receiving compliments, calculatedly pretending to be utterly oblivious to the poorly concealed attentions of the male professors (and more than one of the female professors).

Her movement, from group to group within the confines of the hall was, from a long view, a dance from point to point, circling the periphery and then spiraling inward, but never quite passing into the orbit of Professor Hingsby and his coterie of social psychologists. Presently, she came upon a rather bemused Professor Farrington, having tea at the corner of a couch. As she sat down beside him and crossed her legs, the slit alongside the dress revealed a hint of smooth thigh, running all the way up to her waist.

"Angela...." Farrington began. "That dress!!"

She positively beamed. "I conducted psychospectrometric tests on forty-seven subjects -- too small a sample for statistical validity, I know, but I hadn't the time to do more. But compilation of results allowed me to calculate an effective spectral range to impart the intended attitudinal modification."

"Well that explains the colour -- but, er, what about the, ahem, cut of the dress?"

"Oh this?" she asked, innocently pushing her breasts together to accentuate the depth of the curvature between them. Farrington nearly choked on his tea, as she continued, "well as you know, body fat ratio is a key indicator of health for childrearing purposes, which is a driving consideration for reproductive desirability, which is in turn a subconscious cue for males to desire maintaining the presence of a female for potential mating purposes -- I discovered substantial informal literature on this in a magazine called 'Cosmo' -- strange name for a journal relating to fashion and design, I would have thought it to be an astronomy publication," she shrugged, then returned to her explanation. "so I employed a simple statistical regression analysis of dresses rated by designers based on their perceived attractiveness to calculate the optimal window of mammary exposure." She leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially, "it's thirty-six percent; any more than that and the observer's estimation of the intellect of the displaying subject drops quite precipitously."

The explanation had given Farrington time to regain his professorly composure. "But you're not playing a mating game with Hingsby," he pointed out in a low voice.

"Naturally," she replied, "I applied a monocodal adjustment based on the hypothesis that apparent fitness for childrearing translates to apparent fitness for instructing students. But the primary effect will derive from the shifting color range inherent in this material."

Farrington again nodded in wonderment. Noting the lateness of the hour, he wondered, "so how are you going to approach him?"

She leaned ever so slightly forward. "I'm not. I concluded from my brief psychosocial profile of the subject that direct engagement would yield a high probability of diminishing the effect of the stimulus. So, rather than attempting such an engagement, I'll simply go around him and engage with every social grouping in his vicinity except his. He'll be mesmerized like a lab rat in a maze." And then she was off, the shimmer of her dress as it clung to her body all but concealed by stodgy suits as she came to the center of a group of history professors.

----

Some weeks later, Mira again stopped by to visit Farrington in his office -- the first opportunity that she'd had to really take a moment to settle down and relax since they had spoken at the reception. In her hand was a galley of an article, laid out for publication. "I'm a bit disappointed," she conceded, "that they took out almost the entire explanation of the regression analysis. But they retained the key results."

"Well I must congratulate you nonetheless," Farrington responded, reaching out to shake her hand, "not simply for the momentous occasion of your receipt of tenure -- and not simply because you are now dating that strapping young English professor whom all the girls giggle about --" this prompted a blush and a barely repressed smile from Mira, as Farrington continued, "but as well for being the first Professor of Social Psychology in the history of this department, possibly in this entire institution, to obtain publication of a scholarly work in the Cosmopolitan Magazine." And, as Professor Angela Miro's smile broadened to fully capture the joy of her weeks of success, Farrington glanced again at the galley, noting that where a paper might typically contain a grouping of charts and graphs, there was simply a picture of a model -- not Mira, but someone with substantially the same build and features -- wearing the deceptively simple red dress which was the product of some two-hundred hours of intensive research. For only the briefest moment Farrington considered making one negative comment, but then dismissed from his mind the thought of complaining as to the unscholarliness of Cosmo's choice for the article's title.


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An entry for the Secret Santa Summer Nodeshell Challenge 2011.