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Irena stands over their bodies, dumbfounded. How did I kill three wary soldiers? Maybe years. Then she realizes: this has all taken perhaps ninety seconds in their time. Nobody knows yet. She flings open the door to see a dank prison lobby in dreary bureaucrat beige, plastic bucket seats and buzzing fluorescent lights and a battered front desk. A receptionist sits at the desk — not a soldier, a local boy in an American uniform, looking strangely out of place. He glances up, surprised, from a phone call. He points down a hallway with trembling fingers. She presses the gun barrel to his temple, whispers in his ear:.

She hears a wet dribble on the tile as he pees himself. The prisoners see the young girl with the gun walking through the halls.


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They rise, bruised and bleeding, begging her to save them. Their words are canned. They will say the exact same thing whenever she returns. She ignores them. The prisoners cheer as she fires. And there, bunched in with ten other sweaty, beaten men, is Sammi. No wonder she has to rescue him. She motions the other prisoners aside, presses her face against the rusted bars. He registers the voice, not the words, jumping up with the same boyish thrill he gets whenever he beats a final boss.

His eyes well with tears of relief. She unlocks the cell door. But listen. Bakri is dead.

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How many iterations did it take to get in? A thousand? Two thousand? You must have improvements. Tell me how to exit the loop. It makes an untrained girl into an unstoppable killer. He squeezes her in triumph. She lets him ride his moment of absolute perfection, judging when her brother is happiest. Then she jams the gun against the base of his neck and pulls the trigger.

Should she be sorrier? She probes her numbness and feels nothing. She shrugs, starts the walk back to The Save Point to shut it down and dismantle it.

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From under the desk she can hear the muffled sobbing of the receptionist. He must have hid when the prisoners escaped. She stops long enough to tug him out, struggling, from the desk, then embraces him tightly. He shivers, a frightened bird, as she nuzzles him, wetting his shoulder with tears. The world felt raw, sore, and new. Under my back, my butt, my fingertips, I could feel every thread in the sheets beneath me.

The blanket over my stomach scratched. Padded straps crossed my arms.

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In the dim light of the room I could only see the ceiling. Continue Reading…. She spotted the body lying under a creosote bush, maybe ten yards from the road, and she hit the brakes. A dust devil twirled a silent ballet off to the southeast, but hers was the only man-made dust trail in evidence for miles. She raised her hand to cover the sun and squinted into the bleached, cloudless sky—no vultures yet, which was good, since vultures attract attention.

Minimal risk, she decided. Carmela swung out of the dune buggy and jogged over to check out the body. It was tall but skinny, with the not-yet-filled-out look of a teenager. Pale skin, a tint of sunburn, brown hair cropped at chin-length. The girl was lying face down in the dust, so Carmela rolled the body over and checked her front pockets for anything of interest. My Da had sent me off to Muddy York when Ma died of the consumption.

The burned ones are often the hardest to read, inscrutable beneath their scars. Angry or scared, burned and hobbling or swaggering and full of beans, the first thing he does when new meat turns up on his doorstep is tenderize it a little. It is sunset.

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The sky is splendid through the panes of my bedroom window; billowing layers of cumulous blazing with refracted oranges and reds. They do not know I am listening. In the oppressive heat of the evening, I hear the quiet Zzzapof his shoulder laser as it targets mosquitoes. The device is not as effective as it was two years ago: the mosquitoes are getting faster. Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger. Burgundy Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell was a rare one. Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking , but still rare.

A bus roared up, spitting black smoke. It was the seven bus—the Linden Court bus, not his. Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop. All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year. He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came. Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more.


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  8. What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by? Or make the school day except for lunch and recess pass in an eyeblink? Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along. Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours?

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    That would be sparkling fine. Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper. It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball. The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long.

    Pushing over a dead tree and seeing it sitting there under the root? Once Beep started persecuting her, she began counting down the remaining days of the run as if she were a prisoner. For example, there was crud duty. With a twisting push Mariska sailed into the command module, caught herself on a handrail, and launched toward the starboard wall.

    Sure enough, she could see new smears of mold growing from the crack where the nav screen fit into the wall. He kept the humidity jacked up in Command, said that dry air gave him nosebleeds. Also Beep liked to sip his coffee from a cup instead sucking it out of a bag, even though he slopped all the time.

    Fungi loved the sugary spatters. She sniffed one particularly vile looking smear of mold. It smelled faintly like the worms she used to grow back home on the Moon. She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her jersey and reached to the holster on her belt for her sponge. As she scrubbed, the bitter vinegar tang of disinfectant gel filled the mod.

    Not for the first time, she told herself that this job stunk. She felt the tingle of Richard FiveFord offering a mindfeed and opened her head. His feed made a pleasant fizz behind her eyes, distracting her. Archive for Best-Of August 25, April 5, This is death, she thinks. It takes an effort to speak.