Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Conversations With a Garbage Truck
by Margret A. Treiber

Freshly Brewed
by Preston Dennett

by Barton Paul Levenson

Gift of Nibelung
by Olga Godim

by Fonda Lee

Send in the Humans
by Harold R. Thompson

Rhythm of the Rain
by Samuel Van Pelt

Worms of Titan
by Brian Biswas

Shorter Stories

by C.R. Hodges

by David Steffen

Fast Time Machines at Ridgemont High
by Fred Coppersmith


Madness of the Winter Soldier
by Erin Lale

Resistance Fighters
by John McCormick



Comic Strips






By Fonda Lee


Lori raised her head. Detective Nunez stood in front of her. She had not seen him for some time, and noticed afresh his large hands, his leathery face the color of a sun-baked apricot, his steady but tired eyes. She found his bluntly unconcealed forty-something appearance so reassuringly honest that she felt the urge to reach out and take his hand. She said, “Yes?”

“Are you ready?”

Ready? Lori considered. Was she ready to confront the person who had made her life a living hell for nearly two years? Someone she had never met face to face, but was the reason why she slept with a loaded handgun in her bedside dresser, why she rarely went out or even called friends, why she sometimes, suddenly out of nowhere, felt unable to breathe, as if her lungs were being squeezed flat in the grip of an invisible vise? Was she ready?

Lori looked past Detective Nunez’s shoulder to the closed door on the other side of the room. Her voice was quiet, but steady. “What’s his name?”

“Her name,” said Detective Nunez, “is Shauna Thurlow.”

He turned and led the way to the door. There was a dry, acidic taste in Lori’s mouth and her stomach was a hard knot that might never loosen. She stood and followed.


Twenty months ago.

Even on her final day of work at Paradigm Events, Lori was the first to arrive at the meeting. She settled into a chair around the large, empty conference room table and sighed, glad for a few moments of downtime to collect her thoughts. Her desk was already packed up. Her files had been organized and stored. She’d turned in her employee ID badge and even emptied out the garbage can in her cubicle. There wasn’t really any need for her to attend this interview—she was sure Brad and Anjali could screen candidates for her vacated position just fine by themselves—but it was just like her manager, Trevor, to expect her to work all the way until the bitter end of the last day. She ought not give a shit what Trevor expected at this point, but it seemed the responsible thing to do, to at least lend two cents into finding her replacement.

The multi-way spectral projector suspended from the center of the ceiling gave off an arrival tone as one of its lenses swiveled to point at the chair next to Lori. Brad’s spectral form appeared, neatly dressed as usual in tan slacks and a pressed blue shirt, his wavy dark hair slightly tousled, as if he’d just come from the gym. He stared straight ahead, no doubt waiting for his residential SpectralWave connection to map the information from the cameras around the conference room to the projection pad in his home office. The delay only lasted a couple seconds though; his face relaxed as he focused on Lori and turned to wink at her. “What’re you still doing here? Aren’t you checked out of this place yet?”

“I figured I should stick around long enough to warn away the interviewees.” Lori’s face warmed in a smile. It was a such a shame that Brad worked remotely from his home in Wisconsin. Double shame that he married. He was so damn easy on the eyes. Smart and friendly on top of it. Okay, I’m a thirty-two-year-old woman with an unreasonable schoolgirl crush on a co-worker. So sue me. It was probably a good thing he didn’t work here physically; his spectral form was distracting enough. Brad could be her work boyfriend anytime—in her head at least.

Another arrival tone sounded and Anjali appeared on Lori’s other side. “I’m not late am I?” Her perky New Zealand accent sounded a tad groggy. She reached off to her side, lifting a ghostly coffee cup to her lips. “It’s pretty early over here.”

“Sorry,” Lori said, “this was the only time I could find before I left.”

“Oh, don’t remind me we’re losing you.” Anjali made an exaggerated pouty face.

A third arrival tone announced the interviewee’s arrival. A young woman in a dark navy skirt suit arrived, sitting at the conference table across from the three of them. She smiled, showing perfectly straight white teeth. “Hello.” She raised a hand in greeting. “I’m Michelle Esaki. Thanks for bringing me in for an interview.”

Lori said, “Hi Michelle, it’s nice to meet you. Thanks for coming.” She introduced Brad and Anjali, then looked down at the table screen, scanning Michelle’s resume. “So, tell us why you’re interested in working at Paradigm Events.”

“Of course.” Michelle leaned forward attentively, dark eyes confident and engaging. “I’m really excited about this position and I think it fits perfectly with my background. I spent five years running my own small business in physical events planning, primarily for small to mid-sized business clients. But having recently moved back to Boise to be closer to my family, I want to leverage my prior experience into managing larger transphasic events campaigns.”

Michelle gestured as she talked. She had slim, graceful fingers and manicured nails. Her long, dark hair was pulled back in a neat but stylish clasp and she had an easy, friendly smile.

Lori wondered if Michelle Esaki really looked that way in person. With the prevalence of premium spectrals and mask spectrals, she couldn’t help wondering that a lot these days—whether the images of people she saw around her were reality or artifice.

It shouldn’t matter, she reminded herself. It wasn’t important whether Michelle Esaki really looked like an attractive Asian woman in her late twenties. That was the identity with which she chose to conduct her professional life, and the important thing was her track record and experience, not the details of how she looked. Lori pulled her attention back to the interview.

Anjali was making a note on an invisible off-camera table screen in her office on the other side of the world. “After running your own business, how do you think you’ll adapt to working in a company like Paradigm?”

“I’m definitely coming in with an attitude of wanting to learn and add value to a team,” Michelle said. “Physical events are just one narrow way for people to connect these days; businesses have to think transphasic—physical, virtual, and spectral—to really engage with people in a meaningful way. I’m an adaptable person, and I’m deliberately making a shift in my career to gain experience in spectral community building, because that’s where the future of all social interaction is headed.”

Brad and Anjali nodded and made notes. Lori looked down at the screen, hiding a frown. The woman’s answer was exactly right—and it was the reason Lori was leaving her job, and why some young, enthusiastic candidate like Michelle would replace her.

The rest of the interview went quickly. Michelle was qualified, had excellent references, and came off as energetic and likable. There really wasn’t any question she would be passed onto the final interview with Trevor and his cohorts. At the end of the hour, Lori thanked her and told her to expect an answer within a few days. When the projector disconnected Michelle’s line, Lori turned to Brad and Anjali. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t interview against her for this job.”

“Oh, Lori, it’s a shame how it all shook out. But you’re on to bigger and better things now, I reckon. Take care of yourself, won’t you?” Anjali raised a hand. “Good luck.”

Lori put her hand up to the other woman’s, though all she could feel was the faint warmth of the holographic projection lights. “Thanks, Anjali. You too.”

Anjali’s spectral flicked out of existence. The light on one of the projector’s lenses went off. Lori turned to Brad. “I’m going to step outside for a minute. Want to join me?”

“Sure,” he said. “See you in a minute.” He reached across his faraway room and disconnected. His image vanished.

Lori stopped by her desk, picked up her coat and purse and half-full travel mug of coffee, and took a final look around her empty cubicle. She wasn’t going to miss this job, and she wasn’t going to miss Trevor, but it still made her a little bit melancholy, leaving the place she’d come to Monday through Friday for three years. With a sigh, she walked to the elevator and took it down eight floors to the ground level of the office building.

It wasn’t cold today, not by Washington, D.C., standards, but it was a bit blustery. Lori pulled her coat tight around herself as she went around the side of the building to get out of the wind. She looked for a flat, dry spot on the pavement, then dug the porto-projector from her purse and tapped Brad’s number into the display. She extended the small machine’s tripod legs and set it on the ground.

Brad’s spectral flickered to life beside her. The porto-projector’s mapping and transmission capacity was far less than what people had in their homes and offices, and the resolution was much lower, so Brad’s image had an indistinct, phantom-like quality to it—the edges of him were fuzzy, and instead of looking solid and three-dimensional, he appeared to be wavering and hollow, as if he might blow away on the wind.

Lori took a long sip of coffee and tapped a pack of cigarettes on her thigh.

“I thought you quit smoking,” Brad said.

“I did. A couple months ago.” Lori showed him the packet; it was empty. “But I still carry the pack around out of habit, and drink a lot more coffee instead.”

Brad looked at her silently. He wasn’t really looking at her, Lori knew, just at some composite image of her from the porto’s small camera augmented with SpectralWave’s more detailed records of her appearance. Still, he seemed to be seeing her. Really seeing her, his blurry facial expression thoughtful. Maybe even a bit bashful? He put a hand up to his ear, fiddling with it distractedly as he shifted his gaze away. Lori felt a small hitch of excitement quicken her pulse even as a breath of regret settled in her chest. They hadn’t worked together all that long—just a few months, enough time to hit it off, but not enough to become real friends.

“You never did tell me exactly how it went down with Trevor,” Brad said.

Lori frowned and opened her slightly crumpled cigarette pack, annoyed and thankful there weren’t any smokes inside. “He wasn’t happy I was putting so much time into Connect Live.”

Trevor had called her into his office and shut the door. He’d cleared his throat and licked the thin lips of his long, equine face. “We need to discuss the message you are sending to our clients through your, um, let’s call it, activist behavior outside of work.”

“What message?” She shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, Trevor’s tone raised her hackles. Defensiveness rose and pooled hot under the skin of her face.

“Don’t you think,” Trevor said, with an incredulous tilt of his chin, “it’s inappropriate for a senior account manager at Paradigm to be part of a reactionary social movement against spectral use? How do you think that reflects on you, or us?”

“I’m not against spectral use,” Lori protested.

Trevor cleared his throat again, more loudly and uncomfortably. “Excuse me, but you were just quoted in The Washington Post saying spectral interactions aren’t real.”

“I never said they’re not real. I said they weren’t entirely authentic.”

“Not authentic?” Trevor’s face had begun to tighten, and if possible, grow even longer with indignation. “What about the Be There campaign? That was all about connecting with distant family members. And what about the Spectral Stars for Leukemia tour and how much money that raised? Are you suggesting the work we’re doing here isn’t meaningful?”

“I’m not saying that at all.” Lori wished her voice came out stronger, that she could muster some of the confidence she’d used with the press against her boss.

“Look, you’re entitled to your personal beliefs outside of work,” Trevor said. “But spectral-based events are the fasting growing segment of our business. You can’t be going around discouraging people from them! You want to be a social activist, then use a mask spectral and keep your professional identity out of it.”

Lori felt the urge to laugh or hit her head against something. “That’s going completely against the whole message of the Connect Live campaign! All we’re saying is that spectrals should be used responsibly and within limits.”

Trevor cleared his throat for the third time. This time it sounded final. “You’re a good employee, Lori. Our clients seem to like you and your ratings are solid enough. But you keep up with this technophobe campaigning, or you work at Paradigm. Not both.”

Lori had clenched her tongue between her teeth. She hadn’t had the courage to make a dramatic show of walking out that day. It took her another two months to work up the guts to turn in her resignation. By then, because she’d pretty much ignored his warning about staying out of Connect Live, she figured Trevor would fire her sooner or later anyways.

It was time for a change. Time to do something new, something she really cared about. What she was doing now with Connect Live—creating the newsletter, setting up the letter writing campaign to politicians and press, speaking to people about a topic she felt strongly about—it was work that, for the first time, made her feel like she was really being herself, speaking from her heart, maybe even opening the minds of others.

“You’re being really brave,” Brad said. “Putting yourself out there like that.” But there was a note in his voice that made Lori worry that maybe she’d given him the wrong impression. His eyes lingered on some point in the distance far from where she was.

“I’m not anti-spectral,” she insisted. “I know spectral technology has changed the world for the better in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s great that you can work in D.C. and live in Wisconsin.”

Brad turned back to her. He was smiling again, and Lori felt a foolish relief. She knew having strong views on this subject meant some people would want nothing to do with her, but she didn’t want Brad to be one of those people. He said, “Maybe it’s not so great for housing prices in your neck of the woods though, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s what I really want—for my condo to stop losing value.” She shook her head and reached out to where his arm seemed to be. The light blue color of his shirt passed over her hand. “Hey. If you’re ever in D.C. let me know, okay? We could meet for real.”

“For sure. Let’s stay in touch.” Brad’s mirage touched her shoulder, then disappeared.


The bus dropped her off a block from her building. Lori walked the rest of the way home, feeling oddly glum yet lighthearted at the same time. She keyed herself into the building and took the stairs up to the second floor. Once inside her one bedroom apartment condo, she kicked off her shoes and flopped down in the chair in front of her computer.

Should she bother to check her messages? There might be something important, but she really wasn’t in the mood for any nastiness right now. Thick skin, remember? She pressed her lips together and activated the home computer system. The little progress bar on the screen filled as SpectralWave started up automatically and the room’s tracking cameras blinked on. On her desktop projection pad, a miniature version of herself appeared, sitting back in her chair.

Lori studied her own projection and crossed her arms critically. The spectral mimicked her perfectly. She frowned; her spectral frowned too, wrinkles gathering under its tiny mouth. If she were to call someone over SpectralWave right now, this is what the person on the other end would see, in full-size: her, just as she was now, as if she were visiting them in person. Her brown face, her tired expression, her overly toothy smile, her five-foot-five-in-heels height, the extra ten pounds she’d put on from stress eating ever since she’d quit smoking and then quit her job.

It wouldn’t be hard to hire a designer to shave off those extra pounds, and maybe a few years off her face, too. Premium spectrals were common these days; it wouldn’t cost all that much, not for something so simple. It wasn’t like buying a mask spectral designed from scratch—one with a different race or gender or body type. Anjali said there were even programs you could buy to make the really basic alterations yourself, if you were willing to spend a weekend learning how to do it. Making your spectral a bit taller, or its face a bit more symmetrical, wasn’t any different, she said, from wearing support pantyhose and better makeup.

Lori sighed. She couldn’t do that—what kind of hypocrite would she be? She was publicly advocating for reduced spectral dependence; if her spectral started looking different from how she looked in person, people would jump all over her, and rightly so. Life was imperfect and undesigned. People couldn’t accept you for who they were if you weren’t honest about showing yourself to them. She knew she wasn’t the only one who thought so either; hundreds of people had sent messages of agreement after she’d been quoted in the “Post”:

If you go to a big spectral event like some of the ones I’ve run, everyone there is young, attractive, and fit. But that’s not reality. Premium spectrals and mask spectrals are becoming so common now that you don’t often see basic spectrals that are old, short, overweight, or even badly dressed. I think it’s actually making us less tolerant as a society. Not only does it alienate those who can’t afford premium spectrals, but people are becoming more reluctant to leave their homes and engage with each other in person because they’d rather not be seen in their “lesser” physical forms. When we’re at home surrounded by cameras that track our movements and map them to images of what we want to be instead of what we are, we move more and more toward human interactions that aren’t truly authentic.

“I guess I’m stuck with you,” Lori said to the small mirror figure of herself. She leaned forward and made a silly face. This time her spectral’s mimicry made her smile instead of cringe. Lori tapped the table screen icon to open her message folder.

On the full-size projection pad to her right, a man appeared. A huge, burly man, his face partly obscured by the hood of his black sweatshirt. The width of his linebacker’s shoulders stretched nearly from one end of the projection area to the other. In his hands, he held a rope. It was a dirty, frayed yellow rope; it looked like the kind of rope used to tie animals in a barn. One end of the rope had been fashioned into a noose. The man swung the noose idly back and forth in one hand. His pink, fat, worm lips curled back over big yellow teeth in a menacing sneer.

“Stupid bitch.” His voice was like gravel being stirred in a can of oil. “You ought to learn to keep your fucking mouth shut. Or I’ll shut it for you.” He lunged at her.

Lori screamed. She scrambled from her chair and stumbled back, tripping over one of the chair legs and landing hard onto her tailbone as the hulking figure began to fall upon her.

The man vanished. The room was empty; Lori was alone. She pulled her knees to her chest, shaking. With a bright ping, the computer screen brought up an error message: SpectralWave has encountered problems and is shutting down. Do you want to restart your computer? Y/N


Detective Nunez, the cyber crimes specialist sent by the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., smelled of spearmint mouthwash and tobacco and was reassuringly solid, his bulk creating a depression in the center of Lori’s sofa as he sat across from her and wrote on his pocket screen. “What did the spectral look like?” he asked. “Did he resemble anyone you know?”

“He—he wasn’t anyone I recognized.” She described the man, but it seemed pointless—he’d looked like an axe murderer out of a horror movie. She was sure the perpetrator had designed or altered the spectral for maximum intimidation. “I don’t understand how this happened.” Her voice sounded tiny to her, unrecognizable, like the squeak of a mouse. She sat on her hands to keep them from trembling. “I didn’t see an incoming call, or a recorded message notification, or anything.”

The detective nodded, still jotting notes. “It was a bogeyman virus,” he explained. “Someone hacked into your computer and infected SpectralWave with an auto-run program. We’re seeing more and more cases like this recently, I’m afraid.” He put his pocket screen down on the coffee table and rubbed the inside corners of his eyes with the pads of his thumb and forefinger. “Do you have any idea who might be behind this? Is there anyone who holds a grudge against you, who might want to threaten you for some reason?”

Lori hunched her shoulders up around her ears. “I’ve been part of a social campaign called Connect Live,” she said. “I’ve gotten some hate mail over the past few weeks because of some of the things I’ve said.” She’d printed out the more vitriolic stuff; now she pushed the stack of paper toward Dectective Nunez. He flipped through it slowly. Lori watched him, nauseous at the thought of a stranger reading such terrible things about her—things that made her want to curl up and die—but Nunez’s face was impassive, merely examining evidence.

Caldwell is a narrow-minded bigot who thinks we ought to be defined only by the bodies we’re born into instead of the identities we ought to be free to choose for ourselves.

FUCK NO to people who want to regulate the freedom out of everything in our country. We don’t need people like Ms. Caldwell and the government to tell us when it’s “appropriate” to be using technology in our private lives.

As someone who was born male but identifies as female, and doesn’t have the resources to undergo gender reassignment surgery at this time, I am appalled at the judgmental attitude of the anti-spectral movement. I would’ve expect better from a black woman.

Someone ought to burn down this woman’s house and throw acid on her face.

Nunez said, “It would be a lot easier if you had a disgruntled ex-boyfriend for us to go after.” The touch of dark humor in the detective’s wan half-smile made Lori choke on a pained laugh that started up and died. He put a hand on the stack of paper. “I’ll take these. We’ll examine your computer system and your SpectralWave account history, see what we can find.”

The sockets of Lori’s eyes felt hot. Lori focused on the bulge in the detective’s breast pocket. “Can I have one of your cigarettes?”

Nunez pulled out the pack and handed it to her. He passed her a lighter. Lori tapped out a cigarette, lit it, and let the warm rush of nicotine fill her lungs. She sank into the sofa, wanting it to swallow her. “Is there any chance you’ll actually catch the person who did this? I know how these things go. Most of the time, you can’t find anyone or can’t prove anything, so there’s nothing you can do. Isn’t that right?”

The detective rubbed his large hands together. They made a dry sound like paper rustling. “Right now, we haven’t established that the person behind this intended to harm or harass you specifically. The bogeyman virus might have been sent to several people as general intimidation. We won’t know more until we look into it further.” He must have noticed Lori’s frightened glance in the direction of the disconnected projection pad because his voice softened. “I know how upsetting this must be for you, ma’am, but remember a spectral is just a holographic projection that can’t harm you. We’ll have your building under surveillance but there’s no reason to believe you’re in any real danger at this time.” The detective stowed his pack of smokes, the lighter, and his pocket screen. He reached across the coffee table and put a reassuring hand on her arm before standing to leave. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions, and be especially careful.”


She installed new locks on her front door and all her windows. After the police went through her computer, she uninstalled and reinstalled SpectralWave and contacted the company’s customer service department. She received a message stating that SpectralWave took all abuse seriously and would cooperate fully with the authorities to investigate user complaints.

Two weeks later, the man in the hooded sweatshirt reappeared. He materialized on the projection pad just as Lori was preparing to join a Pew Research Center conference call on behalf of Connect Live. Noose in hand, the spectral laughed at her: the barking sound was like nails being driven into bone. This time she had the presence of mind to pull the cord on the projection system. He vanished in mid sentence: “Dumb broad, I’m going to—”

Lori ran into her bedroom and cried. Cried until her ribs hurt and her tongue was dry. She changed her SpectralWave identification and delisted all her personal information. When she got in touch with Detective Nunez, he said, “The fact that it’s the same spectral twice in a short period of time suggests there’s an individual or group that’s singling you out. If there’s a pattern and consistency to the harassment, we’ll have a strong case to press charges once we find them.”

She didn’t want to be the kind of person who backed down from bullies. She hadn’t gotten involved in Connect Live to be popular. But angry online comments and messages were one thing; this was far worse. Worse than anything anyone else in the campaign had been subjected to, far worse than she merited. Why did she have a special bullseye on her forehead? She never tried to be inflammatory or offensive. Why were they coming after her in particular?

Lori packed a bag and went to stay with a friend in New Hampshire for a week. On her last day there, FedEx delivered a white box with a porto-projector inside it. Her heart fell down, down into her stomach. Lori got a hammer from the shed, raised it over the small machine, and turned on the porto. Her hulking spectral stalker popped up in the kitchen, next to the bowl of fruit and her friend’s stand mixer. He was just as horrible in low-resolution, like a relentlessly evil apparition. Even his usual growl was distorted. “Don’t you know, there’s nowhere you can get away from—” Lori brought the hammer down, smashing the porto-projector to pieces.


Trevor’s expression was smug, so smug that Lori nearly turned and went back out the door. Humiliation, though, was not so terrible a thing as fear. “I’ve decided to resign from Connect Live,” she said. “It ... wasn’t the right thing for me after all.”

“Oh?” said Trevor. “Sorry to hear that it didn’t work out.” He waited. His thin nostrils flared in expectant glee.

“I ... was wondering if you might have a position open.” Her voice slowed near the end, the words forced like molasses through a pipe.

Trevor pursed his lips in feigned thoughtfulness and steepled his fingers. “Well, Michelle Esaki’s just been promoted to director, so I suspect she’ll need to hire some extra help now that Brad’s transferred out and Anjali’s going on maternity leave.” He leaned back and favored her with a triumphant benevolence. “I suppose I could talk to her about you.”

Lori nodded. She needed the money, the job stability. She’d sold her condo for less than she’d bought it for and moved into an apartment with twenty-four hour security and concierge. Freelance and non-profit work wasn’t going to pay the bills now, not if she wasn’t willing to use SpectralWave to commute into meetings at client locations.

“Thank you,” Lori said. Her pride tasted like salt as it went down her throat.


“I know you’ve been waiting for a long time,” Detective Nunez said as he opened the door and escorted her down the long police station hall. Lori wasn’t sure if he was referring to the hour spent in the waiting room, the four days it had taken since his phone call for her to arrange time off work and a flight to Baltimore, or to the last twenty months in totality.

“Yes,” she said, to all of them. She supposed she ought to feel happy that an arrest had finally been made in connection to her case, but all she’d felt for the last few days was an empty emotional limbo—hope and skepticism alloyed into numbness. It was true that you got used to anything after a while. The possibility of fear no longer being a constant wasn’t something she’d processed yet. Maybe it would feel possible after today, after she saw this stranger who hated her.

“You weren’t her only victim,” Nunez said. He opened the door to a dim, narrow room with a window that must have been one-way glass. Behind the window was an interrogation room with a woman seated across from a police officer. The woman looked bored. She was slouched forward, her skinny frame shapeless underneath an overly large fleece sweater.

“From what we know, she’s somewhat of a hermit—doesn’t leave the house much and has always worked under false identities. Quite successfully, in fact. She’s used several custom designed mask spectrals over the years, for legitimate as well as illegal purposes. She has a history of mental instability and seems to target people she holds some personal grudge against.”

Lori stared at the woman. Shauna Thurlow’s face was pale, puffy, untouched by sunlight. Her long brown hair was uncombed. She kept pushing it back, fiddling with her ears. She was unattractive, in an entirely unremarkable way. “I’ve never met this woman,” Lori said. “I’ve never heard of her name or seen her face.”

Detective Nunez handed her a computer-generated photograph. “Do you remember working with a man named Brad Jamieson?” Brad’s handsome face, clear blue eyes, and easy smile started out at Lori from the photograph. He seemed, almost, to wink at her.

“The woman in there is Brad?” Her voice came out strange.

“Brad Jamieson was one of her identities for several years, yes.” Detective Nunez took the photograph back from her gently before her shaking fingers could crumple it.

The officer in the interrogation room was asking questions that Lori could not make out from behind the barrier of glass. Shauna Thurlow was giving short, monotone answers. Her face was expressionless, disinterested, eyes wandering—it seemed to be a face with no natural resting state. Detective Nunez picked up a receiver and spoke into it, then touched a button to turn on the speaker in the observation room.

The interrogator asked, “What about Lori Caldwell, the woman you worked with at Paradigm. Why did you go after her?”

Thurlow looked directly at the man across from her for the first time. “Lori?” She snorted. “She thought she was so much better than other people. Walking around all cocky, looking down on everyone else. All her be your authentic self bullshit like she was a perfect special snowflake. She deserved to get shaken up a little. Learn what it’s like to hide, the way other people do.”

Thurlow sat up straighter. She planted her feet on the ground, legs apart, elbows on the table. Her shoulders drew back and her body took on a masculine cast. Her bland face relaxed into friendly professionalism. “She had the hots for me you know. She’d practically drool when I came into the room.” Brad’s easy smile lifted her mouth. She turned her face to the mirror and winked. “What can I say? I do have that effect on people.”

Lori told Detective Nunez she was ready to leave. He escorted her back out through the waiting room and stood with her outside as she waited for a taxi, arms hugged around her body. Nunez lit a cigarette; the wind flared the tip of it as he inhaled. “You’ll be called to testify during the trial, but you can always talk to your lawyer about attending remotely if that’s better for you.”

“No,” Lori said quietly. “No, I’ll be there.”

He offered her the open cigarette pack. “You look like you could use one.”

Lori pulled out a packet of smokes from her own coat pocket and flipped open the top to show him it was empty. “Thanks, but I’m trying to quit.” END

Fonda Lee is the author of the science fiction novel, “ZEROBOXER,” and the forthcoming “EXO.” Her fiction has also appeared in “Crossed Genres” magazine. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop and an active member of the SFWA.


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