The gun report blasted through Kally Berenson’s nerves, the murdered man’s brains and blood splattering across her mashed potatoes.
The fork she’d almost put to her lips dropped from her numbed fingers, a spec of gore mixed with the meat on its tip. The digital display on the computer pad she’d been studying between mouthfuls was spattered with blood. Her respiratory muscles began working again as blood pounded through her temples. Her lungs slowly inflated, just in time for her to catch the acrid odor of burnt plasma from Jeff Murphy’s gun. Amid the irritated guffaws and swears from the other miners in the cafeteria, Murphy smiled and raised the smoking gun. He cleared the chamber as the spent shell casing dropped to the metallic floor tiles with a hollow clang. "Thank you, thank you," the hulking blonde oaf said jokingly, with mock bows. He reminded Kally of an adolescent boy who’d just pulled a wedgie on some poor little nerd in a school cafeteria. "No need to applaud, but you can, if you like."
" Jesus and Buddha, you are one crazy S.O.B., Murph," Horgan, the guy from Ore Processing called over from one of the other tables, taking a mouthful of food into his smiling, fat face. Kally forced herself to look down at the body of Kevin Toliver. He’d been a pleasant enough guy, with a nice smile and a bit of a lisp. She’d worked beside him and talked with him often enough. Not a close friend really, but as welcome an acquaintance as she’d made on this hellish rock of a planet since her tour began.
She’d known he was a temp, of course; everyone had. The memory of that last conversation she’d had with him went through her mind like a bullet. He’d asked her if she needed that production report by next shift. She’d stood there and awkwardly stared at him for what had seemed like several seconds, trying to find some way to answer him, unable to tell him there wouldn’t be any next shift for him. He’d stood there staring at her with those big, stupid eyes until she’d put him off and walked away. She’d shaken off the momentary guilt and given it no more thought. What was left of his curly black hair was now sopping in a thick crimson puddle spreading around the shattered mass of gray and red mulch that seconds before had been Kevin’s head. His food tray was under him, what would have been his last meal splattered all over the front of his dark blue miner’s coverall. His hand was stretched out just a few centimeters from the seat Murphy had pretended to save for him before stepping up behind him and pulling the trigger.
Chuckling and nodding to himself, Murphy stepped over the body and sat down in that seat, just behind Kally. He set the gun down on the table beside his tray and began to shovel in his chow. He glanced up and caught Kally staring at him. He smiled and winked at her. "How’s it goin’, Kal?" That smile sent a chill through her. Anger soon welled up at the sight of that smug, ugly face. It quickly turned to hatred. She felt like throwing her tray into his face, but restrained herself. She couldn’t risk getting into trouble for disorderly conduct, she grudgingly reminded herself. If Murphy filed a complaint, she could be fined, and this tour barely covered her back taxes. She turned away from the swine, clenched her fists and pushed her now inedible lunch away from her.
"You okay," Karl Drummond asked, reaching across the table and taking her hand in his, comfortingly. She took a deep breath and tried to relax, Karl’s calloused thumb stroking her index finger. She looked up and managed to return his gentle smile. She looked him over, taking in his reddish-blonde hair and gray eyes. A familiar hint of a predatory grin slipped into his smile, informing her they’d be making love before the next shift. A pleasant warmth began to rise inside her. She tried to remember again how they’d first gotten together, but her memory blurred. At the moment, all she wanted was to get out of that damned place.
"Will somebody get maintenance in here and clean that damned mess up," someone called out over the din and clatter of a few dozen spoons striking steel trays.
"‘Bastard scared the crap outta me," she grumbled, picking her clothes off the floor of Karl’s quarters and folding them on a chair. "I can’t believe there’s no reg against what Murphy did. I mean, right there, in the caf, in front of everyone. I could have had a friggin’ heart attack!"
Karl lay back in bed, his arms folded behind his head and sighed, his eyes glancing absently around the room in the dim light. "You know the company line, K," he muttered in a tired, gravelly voice. "The last psych study said this kind of ‘aggressive release therapy’ is essential for maintaining morale and minimizing emotional deterioration during long off-Earth tours. Pretty much anything goes as long as it’s not criminally actionable, and doesn’t slow production."
"I can’t smelt ore or formulate production ratios if I’m in restraint with a friggin’ nervous break-down!" She knocked the chair over, and Karl sat up. "That shot could have ricocheted, and killed someone. Someone permanent, I mean. Or, punctured the pressure dome. They should take that gun away from Murphy! It’s dangerous."
"Hey, now…watch what you say…trying to abrogate a man’s sacred right to bear arms can get you in deep shit!" He chuckled, apparently trying to put her at ease with humor as he always did. It got annoying at times. In fact, as she came to think of it, more and more about him seemed to annoy her. Looking over his lean, pale body, her eyes pausing on every flaw and pimple…she tried to remember what she’d first seen in him. He was no Adonis, to be sure, and his personality was nothing terribly memorable. Still, he was great in bed! Or, used to be, at least. Her memories of their passion were still strong and brought a smile to her face. "C’mere," he beckoned softly. She complied, curling up on the bed beside him, his arms cradling her as she slipped under the covers with him. She giggled slightly as he kissed her on the neck and gently nibbled at her ear lobe.
"I’m sorry to be taking this out on you. I don’t mean to be such a downer. It’s just…It seems so damned cruel sometimes, you know? The way we treat the temps."
He groaned, sounding impatient. "Look…Murphy’s an ass. Don’t let him get to you. I know how you feel, babe. I’m the one who found Kev Toliver…the real one… after the radiation leak in tunnel-4, remember? The sight of his face…I still can’t get it out of my head. But, just keep telling yourself: the real Kevin Toliver is safe and sound in cryo suspension in med-lab. We’ll see him again, next shift. That thing Murphy shot was just a shadow, a copy. Its memories will be downloaded into the original Kev…minus that crap in the caf, of course… and he’ll be good as new for his next shift. It’s nothing."
She tried to tell herself that, but it didn’t help. "Not to the temp, it’s not nothing. They’re human beings, Karl, temporary or not. They feel the pain when they die. We could at least be humane about it when their time comes. I mean…" She sat up, a thought digging deeper and deeper into her brain as the numbness of the past few hours wore off. "It’s murder. It is. A death happens. A person is killed. They feel it. I mean…I stood there talking to him the day before, and he asked me…" She felt herself beginning to cry. "I could have warned him, Karl. I could have told him what he was."
He sat up quickly and clutched her shoulder, squeezing hard. "Don’t ever talk like that. I mean it." His voice was hard. Cold. She looked at him and his face was set, his eyes penetrating. She’d never seen him like that before, and it frightened her. "I’d like to get some damned sleep before the next shift, okay? I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Get to sleep, will you?"
He laid down, faced away from her. She stroked her shoulder where he’d grabbed her, and trembled a bit. "Karl?"
"I don’t want to fight, okay? I am just sick and friggin’ tired of this damned rock we’re on."
"What do you want me to do about it?"
"Just help me stay sane, hon, that’s all. I can’t even remember how long I’ve been on this crap-hole of a planet! I’ve lost track of time. Do you even remember when the next Earth-side rotation is? Are we on the same schedule? Hey, don’t worry. I’m not trying to lock you into anything here, but…are we heading back to Earth together? Karl?"
He didn’t move. In the dim gray light, she glanced at the reflection of his face in a glass storage panel. It wore the same pitying, awkward expression she’d worn the other day when she’d last spoken to the Toliver temp. Her blood ran cold as liquid nitrogen in her veins. Was this a nightmare? Was she finally slipping, or…no. Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. Don’t be ridiculous. He cared about her. He wouldn’t…no normal person would do something that sick.
Next meal break, after the mine shift, she saw Kevin Toliver sitting at a table in the caf, smiling and joking with the other miners, stuffing fried potatoes into this mouth like nothing had happened the day before. Her eyes involuntarily drifted to the spot of dried blood on the floor where she’d seen the temp of him killed, and she couldn’t help feeling guilty. She forced herself to go over to where the original Toliver sat. "Hey, Kal," Jeff Murphy jeered at her with a big smile as she passed his seat. "‘Lookin’ good," he joked, pinching her ass.
She slapped his hand aside. "Do that again, Murphy, and I’ll file a complaint!"
"Ooooo…why don’t you just do that," he jeered, winking at her. He lowered his head over his tray and stifled a chuckle, spit dribbling over his chow, as though he were enjoying a private joke.
Her anger turning to fear, she stiffly walked over to Toliver. "Hey, Kev. ‘Good to see you up and around, again. You gave us all a pretty damn’ good scare. ‘Feeling okay?"
"Oh, sure," he said matter-of-factly, swallowing another bit of potato. "The neural re-gen drugs still make me feel a little sick sometimes, but the doc says that’ll pass. Occupational hazards, huh? I should file for double workman’s comp for this one!" He smiled as he nudged the guy beside him with his elbow. "I’ll be damned glad when this tour’s over!"
"Yeah, no kidding!" She smiled, trying to hide her nervousness. "You know, I was saying to Karl just last shift…it’s easy to lose track of time here. Say, off hand…do you remember if I’m on the next rotation home?" She felt herself sweating for interminable seconds as he stared at her. When that familiar, awkward, pitying, evasive look crossed his face, she thought her knees would collapse under her. A few half-stifled guffaws and snickers from the other miners seated beside Toliver sent chills through her like knives through her ribs. She turned stiffly and walked out of the caf with agonizing slowness, her feet like ice against the floor.
"‘Lookin’ gooooo-od," Murphy’s voice trailed after her, sending a cold shiver up her spine.
Her mind had been aswhirl with a dozen and one alternative explanations as she took inventory in the storage room. Her nerves had been so jangled she hadn’t been aware of Murphy until he’d grabbed her from behind, his fingers digging into her throat. She tried to scream, hitting him with a clip board. He swore and hit her a back-handed blow across the face, knocking her into a storage rack. His broad face grotesquely warped in animal delight, he pinned her against the rack, his hand at her throat as his free hand ripped open her coverall. She kneed him in the groin and pushed past him, smashing in his nose with her elbow. Stumbling out into the half-darkened corridor, she staggered along, her head spinning, trying to catch enough breath to scream.
People passed her in the corridor and seemed to take no notice, except for a few curious glances. She reached out her hands, straining her strangled throat as she begged for help, but they shrugged and walked on by, as though ignoring a street beggar. She came upon Joe Prescott, the security officer. She half-collapsed against his wide, brawny frame as she struggled to find her voice. "He…he…Murphy…" she gasped, glancing fearfully down the corridor behind her. "He tried to rape me! He tried to kill me!" She touched her split lip and winced, her finger coming away smeared with blood. Prescott’s wide black face remained immobile, his large brown eyes regarding her with apparent indifference. "For God’s sake, Joe, arrest him!" He just sighed and stood there, shaking his large, shaved head.
And, then she knew. She collapsed against the metal paneling behind her, sank to a seated position on the floor and cried. She felt more terrified and alone than she’d ever felt before. Before? Before? The sickening humor of it filled her as she laughed hysterically, drumming the back of her head against the paneling. How long had she…this version of her…been alive? A few days? A week? How much of what she remembered was even real, and not just some electro-chemical splicing of memory engrams designed for the convenience or pleasure of the miners who had to work with her? How much longer until the real Kally Berenson recovered from whatever mishap or ailment had made necessary the creation of this temporary copy of her? She sobbed and looked up through her tears. Prescott just sighed absently and walked away. She didn’t have much time left, that was clear. She was now expendable. Fair game for Murphy.
She trembled as she picked up the magnetic spanner from the tool box. She forced herself to keep steady as she bounded over the few critical strides that separated her from her goal. The garage mechanic looked up from the surface rover he was servicing a split second before she brought the spanner down on the back of his skull. She felt an odd rush of welcome vengeance as the man’s body crumpled to the floor. She didn’t know if he was alive or dead, and she didn’t care. She was now a race of one, and the rest of humanity was her enemy.
Donning a pressure suit she found in a storage locker, she grabbed the tool box and climbed into the nearest operable rover. Her gloved hands trembling, she tripped the air-lock remote and drove the rover up the ramp through the surface hatch. Her breath was rapid, fogging the faceplate of her oxygen helmet as the rover’s treads ground through the gray dust of the planet surface. Even the filthy mines and stinking smelting furnaces below disgusted her less than the surface. A flat expanse of gray desert under a black sky filled with burning stellar gas and black nebular fire. The red giant star about which the planet orbited filled half the sky. The star’s surface was being bled away, as by some cosmic leech. A river of sickly red fire snaked away from the star and spiraled into a grotesque black/red whirlpool forming around a black hole. The cascade of gamma and x-ray bursts emanating from the stellar whirlpool saturated the planet surface through the thin, mainly CO2 atmosphere. The radiation level was lethal within seconds of direct exposure. The bottom of an active volcano couldn’t be less hospitable to life.
The medicomplex dome was about ten klicks from the main dome. She’d crossed about half the distance when she saw the mobile drill rig closing in on her in the rear-view monitor. The metal behemoth was belching black smoke as its treads roared through the sand. Someone was determined to catch her. Murphy. He was skilled with that rig, and it could easily catch a rover. She slammed her fist against the instrument panel and swore. She sobbed and ground her teeth in fear and rage. "Think, dammit, think." Forming a plan, she changed direction and steered for the refueling and maintenance station about 2 klicks to the west. She checked the rear-view and saw the drill rig change direction to follow.
Jeff Murphy smiled and licked his lips, his heart pounding as he closed in on his prey. He watched gleefully as the rover turned into the narrow, canyon-like metal passageway of the r&m station. He chuckled in amusement. The stupid little bitch had obviously stolen a defective rover. He had her now. The r&m dock was a cul-de-sac. Did she really think she could fuel and repair that rover, then back it out again before he reached the dock and blocked her escape? He glanced down at the pearl-handled butcher knife lying on the seat beside him. Noticing the dried blood still encrusted on the blade, he salivated with joyful memories of what he’d done to the last Kally Berenson temp. "I hope they never rotate me back to Earth," he silently mused. "Where but in a place like this can a man live out every fantasy he’s ever had and get away with it?"
He pulled the rig up to the r&m ramp and ground its great treads to a halt. The passage was too narrow for the drill rig; it was designed for a rover. But, he could afford to leave the protection of the lead-lined cab for a minute or two, anyway; his suit would protect him from the radiation that long. Adjusting the air hose on his pressure suit, he sealed the connection and turned on his oxygen unit. Releasing the hatch, he climbed out and made his way past the fuel tanks to the maintenance dock itself. There was the rover, half off the ground, impacted into the damaged machinery, its treads grinding uselessly against warped metal. He laughed out loud. The bitch had been so scared, she’d steered the rover straight into the automated repair unit, smashing it. The robot arms of the maintenance unit hung immobile above the rover.
Hot blood racing through his veins in anticipation of the sweet revenge to come, he quickened his pace, running toward the disabled rover. He couldn’t wait to see the look of fear on her face. He remembered the look in those big green eyes of hers from last time. Just before he’d slashed her throat. He grabbed the rover’s hatch and pulled it open. The cab was empty. His heart sank in bitter-cold disappointment. He slammed the door, disappointment turning to flaming anger. His eyes swept the repair dock, wondering if she were hiding behind one of the fuel tanks. That’s when something clicked in his brain, and he looked up at the robot arms. He realized what she’d done. She’d rammed the unit deliberately, then climbed on top of the rover and used the now rigid robot arms as climbing bars to reach the top of the over-looking methane cycling units.
When he looked at where he was standing, anger turned to ice-cold fear. "Oh, shit."
Kally forced her hands to keep steady as she screwed the methane hose into the spare oxygen cylinder she’d taken from the rover. Locking the valve, she opened the methane flow regulator and let the combustible gas flow into the small cylinder. She crawled around the processing tanks and looked down into the maintenance dock where Murphy was pulling open the hatch of the crashed rover. She waited until the pressure inside the cylinder had built up just beyond the cylinder’s capacity, then swung it over the tank and pointed it at the rover’s fuel pod. Praying it wouldn’t explode in her face, she cut through the gas valve with a laser torch, releasing all the pressure in one blast and igniting the escaping gas at the same time.
The white-hot flash momentarily blinded her, the deafening crack nearly splitting her ear-drums as it passed through the audio receptors in her helmet. The recoil impact of her make-shift missile knocked her backwards with the force of a sledge-hammer to her chest. The last thing she saw was the cylinder jetting through the air, propelled by a trailing jet of blue-white fire, crashing into the rover and taking it and Murphy up in a column of raging fire. The heat of the flames washed over her as she rolled down the dusty hillside. Red-hot metal fragments rained down around her as the fuel tanks exploded and the whole maintenance dock went up in a roaring inferno.
She lay faced-down in the dust, the fire-light playing over her. She couldn’t believe she was alive. Her numbness passed slowly, her hearing returning even more gradually. She could hear the sound of her own raspy breathing. The flames gasping in the thin air. And, something else. A faint hissing sound. She glanced down and saw the red light flashing on her respirator unit. Damn! Her suit was damaged. She was losing air. Struggling shakily to her feet, she made her way with desperate speed along the edge of the flaming ruin she’d created to Murphy’s drill rig. She grew short of breath as she neared it, the oxygen nearly gone from the tank on her back. She grew light-headed, the rig nearly invisible through the fog on her face-plate. She felt on the verge of blacking out. "Not now, dammit! You won’t beat me now, you bastard!" Her fingers touched the metal of the hatch. She groped wildly for the catch.
She pulled, and the cab door swung open.
Pulling herself up into the driver’s seat, she slammed the hatch, locking it. Unsealing her now-useless helmet, she pulled it off and inhaled, filling her aching lungs with freshly-recycled air. Gasping, she nearly fainted, pulling off her gloves and mopping torrents of sweat from her face. "Oh, God…" she muttered as she slumped back against the padded seat cushions. A part of her felt like laughing. Another part desperately wanted to cry. But, her reason emerged, forcing her to remember she still hadn’t accomplished what she’d come out here to do. Time was short, she realized. The fire would bring the others running. But, to the wrong place, she mused, clearing her head and putting the immense drill rig into gear. She’d never handled one of these monsters before, but she had to learn fast if she wanted to live. And, she did.
Breaking into the medicomplex dome through a maintenance tunnel, she found only one med tech on duty. A petite, dark-skinned young woman. The girl didn’t see her until she’d grabbed her from behind, clamping her hand over her mouth and putting the butcher knife she’d found in the drill rig to her soft, warm throat. "Shut it," she whispered with trembling anger in her voice. "Try anything to stop me, and I’ll kill you. You understand?" The woman’s large, terrified dark eyes, like a dear caught in the headlights, told Kally she understood.
Getting the information she needed from the young med tech, Kally locked her in a storage cabinet, and got to work. Finding the refrigeration unit housing Jeff Murphy’s genetic sample, she entered his recog code into the computer and released the security lock. The silver-metallic cylinder containing the only existing sample of his DNA rose out of the icy refrigerant mists. Pulling on a pair of protective work gloves, she extracted the cylinder, cut through its hermetically sealed cap with a laser torch, and let its contents spill out onto the floor. Smiling with delight, she hacked into the computer mainframe and erased Murphy’s memory engrams; everything uploaded through the com-sat network from Murphy’s brain implant up to the moment of his death ceased to exist. There’d be no coming back now, for him, not even in some robotic form. He was gone forever, she realized with enormous relief. It occurred to her that what she was doing technically amounted to first degree murder. But, if everything worked out as she expected, it wouldn’t matter.
She made her way to the cryo-suspension unit where Kevin Toliver had recently been stored, during his recuperation. She hesitated for a moment, almost afraid to look at what she knew had to be there. She took a deep breath, steeled herself and went in. Sure enough, there she lay. The ‘real’ her; the original Kally Berenson, lay in a cryogenic suspension pod, like a corpse in a glass sarcophagus. The sight of her own unconscious face made her tremble uncontrollably. She gagged in disgust at the burns covering half her body. The bits of bone and muscle still exposed at her side, shoulder and neck. The countless thin plastic tubes pumping regenerative fluids into her. It had been an explosion in the smelting furnaces, no question. She’d always feared, sooner or later, it would happen. She looked around and nearly vomited at the sight of the two other back-up temps of her; half-formed clones hanging in six-foot cylindrical amniotic tanks of greenish fluid, like giant fetuses, feeding through tubes. She could see networks of tiny nerves and arteries running through their shiny gray, translucent flesh.
She felt sick as she disconnected the life support mechanism to the cryo-pod. As the unnerving whine of the emergency alarm kicked in, her original self began convulsing, gasping and struggling for life. Kally turned away and began to cry, covering her ears so she couldn’t hear her other self’s finger nails clawing against the glass of her own coffin. Kally fell to her knees and prayed until the scratching noises finally subsided, and the alarm signal abruptly stopped. Slowly, she stood, sniffling and wiping away her tears. She took a few deep breaths. It was becoming easier. Finding a good, heavy pry-bar, she finished the job. She screamed in a joyous rage as she swung the steel bar and smashed the amniotic tanks. Sickly green liquid soaked her coverall as the other two copies of her slumped to the floor in dead heaps of mushy flesh and soft, pulpy bone.
She dropped the pry bar, hearing it fall to the floor with a loud clang. Stepping out of the cryo unit, she took a deep, cleansing breath, and felt all the fear and guilt drain out of her. It was over. What had passed before was now just a half-remembered nightmare. She was now the one and only Kally Berenson. No longer expendable, no longer disposable. As a genetically unique individual, with all the legal rights accorded a true original, she couldn’t be ‘retroactively prosecuted’ for crimes committed minutes ago, when she’d still had the legal status of a temp.
She smiled. She was now a real person.
Karl Drummond sat on the nearby chair, looking very nervous. He regarded her naked form, which he’d seen many times before, with a strange new respect. "I, uh…I hope there are no hard f…" he stopped, wincing at the stupidity of that opening line. She couldn’t help laughing. "Look…" he bowed his head, gesturing weakly with his up-turned hand. His face was barely visible in the dim light. "I know this must look like I took advantage of you. But, try to look at it from my side. As far as I knew, you weren’t going to exist afterwards, so what was the harm? I mean, the original ‘you’ would never have known. The memories you and I made would have been erased from her engrams before she was revived."
"Did you and she ever really get it on?" She smiled, repressing a giggle.
"No," he muttered, clenching a fist.
"Did she ever let you even touch her? Were you even friends?" The look on his face as he got up and turned his back on her was answer enough. He was clearly humiliated, and it delighted her.
"Look, I knew it was wrong," he said with soft, penitent eyes as he half-turned to face her. "But…consider it a compliment. I never meant any harm."
"Where did the memories that made me think we were lovers actually come from?"
"Oh, well…I guess those emotional mems were about some guy your original knew on Earth, or wherever. The sensory residuals were there, so I…bribed a med tech to splice them together with your memories of me. Just a matter of reshuffling a few associative links, that’s all." He smiled weakly as he rubbed his palms together. "Perfectly harmless. And, hey…like it or not, you still remember me as ‘Mr. Hot.’ You were designed to remember me that way, so…hey, why not continue, right? It has to be as good for you as it’s been for me, babe! And, we can rotate back to Earth together, just like we talked about, and I can give you a good life. It can be just like I always wanted it to be. Only, now it’s better, ‘cause…it’s permanent." He looked at her with pleading eyes, like a little boy.
She smiled as she playfully beckoned him toward her bed. A wide, beaming smile spread across his face as he approached her. He trembled and salivated as he leaned over her and she stroked his face. He didn’t notice her free hand pulling the industrial power drill from under the bed. The look of horror in his eyes, though brief, delighted her as she activated the drill and drove its whirring tip through the roof of his mouth and into his brain.
Pushing his corpse off her and playfully anointing herself in his blood, she lay back in bed and savored the pleasure of the kill. This one had played out even better than the last three Karl Drummond temps she’d killed. She laughed. She never tired of his apologies. The authorities couldn’t touch her, even if they did find out it was she who sabotaged the atmosphere unit in Drummond’s surface rover. She’d still been a temp then, after all. She twirled a lock of her hair around a bloodied index finger. She was sure the med tech she was bribing would oblige her by splicing the memory of every delicious murder into the mind of the original Drummond once he was revived from cryo. For the rest of his life, he would remember every sadistic death she could devise. She rolled over onto her side, her finger tracing a trail of blood across Karl’s back. This was costing her a lot of money, but the fortune in damages she was collecting from the company for carelessly allowing her original to be destroyed would still leave her rich. And, this was worth delaying her return to Earth a while longer.
As she stepped into the shower cubicle and washed Karl’s blood from her body, she contemplated her future. Watching the bloodied water spiral down the drain, she wondered who she was. A few refitted memories stolen from a dead woman. She examined her body. Real. Flesh and blood. But, who was she? She felt a cold chill, feeling alone again. But, she shrugged it off. There was no answer to that question that anyone else could give her, she realized. She had to make her own answer. She smiled, holding her face up to the jetting streams of warm, cleansing water. Who she was would be who she chose to be. Who else could boast of that gift?
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.
Return to the Aphelion main page.