Crossover Point

“Crossover Point”

by Cheryl Barkauskas

     The angels were falling from the sky. They were beautiful at dawn, when out of darkness they fractured the first cold morning sunbeams into millions of tiny rainbows: crystal pinwheels spinning through the air. But as the sun rose, the light shifted and the rainbows died. In the bright day, the angels were no longer breathtaking, merely glinting translucent objects swirling in wind eddies like the seeds of an alien dandelion. Dawn was a smaller transition in this transitional period of their lives.

Lauren had seen enough crossovers that the first wonder was gone. During an angelfall she could focus on the new arrivals to Atlantis, the postdocs and the photographers and the ecotourists. Today she had already resolved a dispute over dinner seating; soothed a spoiled couple ruffled over the inadequate facilities; assured a serious young geologist that it was all right for her to watch the angels with the tourists before she took up her duties in the science station; and reassured a nervous elderly lady that the polycarbonate Lighthouse canopy was strong enough to withstand the falling angels. Now all arguments were forgotten as the visitors clustered on the observation deck to witness this most dramatic lifestage of the transmuti.

“Another lot already?” said a voice. Mark moved up to her with easy athletic grace, drawing his hand lightly up her back and ending with an arm draped around her shoulders.

“Word must be getting around,” Lauren said. “It’ll help funding for the station. Maybe we’ll even get raises.”

“What good is money on Atlantis?” Mark waved at the lonely seascape around them. “Unless you want to buy a volcanic island, or a nice little plot of seawater.”

Two mantas glided far above, trailing their flock, their shadows skimming the sea. Another shower of angels fell from their hides. The clamor of tones as the angels struck the Lighthouse canopy–from the tinkle of the mothlike youngsters to the resonant chimes of the albatross-sized giants–melded in an eerie unity like wind chimes. As the angels careened away from the canopy, the music reverberated.

Lauren let it die away before she spoke again. “Maybe we could do a little traveling ourselves.”

Mark glanced at her in surprise. “Do you want to?”

“Maybe. I haven’t been off-planet for years. It might be nice to see how things have changed.”

Mark pursed his lips. “Can’t think of anything I want to see that badly. And I’m not sure I could leave off managing the hotel for that long.” He considered. “We could both try to take unpaid leave, but we’d have to give Gresham enough time to find temp replacements. Then they’d need travel time to get here…”

“Yes…I guess it’d be too much of a hassle.” Lauren stretched up on tiptoe to kiss him. “Forget it.”

“We could do something around here,” Mark offered. “Take one of those mountain-climbing expeditions they offer on the adventure tours, or go parasailing.”

Lauren grimaced. She had gone on several adventure tours already with Mark, who had unlimited enthusiasm for seeing new rocks. “You’d like that more than I would. I want to go places and meet people.”

“Then you’re in luck, because this is the best place on the planet to meet people.” He grinned at her. “What do you know, you’re already where you want to be.”

“Yeah. Sure sounds like it.” Lauren eyed the people milling on the deck. None of this lot had been to Atlantis before, but somehow they all looked familiar. Tourists were fungible in a way. She rubbed her temples and moved to the deck’s edge, away from the crowd, and gazed across the water.

From the Lighthouse, rising from the crest of a rocky ridge, she could see miles out to sea in every direction. The slick obsidian rocks below had turned an opaque gray as the transmuti piled up. Many shattered in the fall, but their remains cushioned the landing for later arrivals. Here and there in the pile were glints of orange: tracking tags that the biologists had managed to attach to some of the creatures. Lauren blocked out the murmur of voices and pretended for a moment that she was alone on the deck, alone on the island, the only human for hundreds of miles. If she kept her eyes on the horizon, she could even pretend that she was hovering in midair, with nothing but water around her.

“Ooh, look!” A girl about twelve years old with a mop of black braids had climbed on the railing protecting the deck and pointed excitedly at the rocks below. Lauren hurried over.

“Everyone, come over here!” she called. “You’ll get an excellent view of a joining.” Focusing her binoculars, she studied the merging angels. “It’s a big one. At least six. And you, come down from there, sweetheart,” she added to the girl, who made a face but slid down from her perch.

The tourists made awed noises and aimed cameras. The serious young geologist hung back from the railing, as if embarrassed to admit her interest, but she peeked over the side when she thought no one was watching her.

“How many can join at once?” the girl asked.

“We’ve seen as many as nine, but it’s much more common to form prisms of two or three,” Lauren said. “Ah–you’ll notice some of our station scientists observing from close-up.”

Two people had emerged from the shadow of the Lighthouse and picked their way through the heaps of transmuti toward the joining. Sunlight glinted from unidentifiable equipment. A surge of jealousy nauseated Lauren. She would have given anything to be one of those scientists, and she had tried–six years of her life spent in graduate studies, first aiming for the coveted research positions here on Atlantis, then setting her sights lower on more well-studied planets, then simply trying to finish at all. In the end her research never progressed, she was denied grants for further study, and she faced the prospect of leaving the field entirely when her ex-advisor passed along the job opening as hostess of the Lighthouse.

“It’s as good as you could hope for,” he’d said. “You actually like people, and you have enough training to pass off as a scientist.”

“Would you take it?” Lauren had asked.

“Me? Not a chance.” He had taken a breath, then visibly changed his mind. “But I’m people-retarded. It might be a great opportunity for you. It’s your call.”

Four years later, it had proved to be merely an opportunity. The work was congenial, and Mark had kept her from being lonely, but it was always the same with no prospect of improvement. Her half-formed ideas of making herself indispensable to the station scientists and being rewarded with a research position hadn’t panned out; they all knew her history and her limits. She had come at last to the place she’d always dreamed of, only to learn there were no shortcuts to dreams.

The tourist girl was studying her information packet. “How do joinings work?” she asked.

“Good question. Let me show you.” Lauren walked to a small glass display case, unlocked it, and carefully drew out the preserved body of an angel. It was a young one, nearly weightless, that fit comfortably in the palm of her hand. “Here’s an up-close view,” Lauren said.

The tourists crowded around. The angel looked like an asymmetrical four-winged seed with a toothy eel-like mouth. The wings were stiff and serrated. Lauren ran her thumb gently along the edge to flex the tiny triangles. “The wings are mostly silicate, but they have some flexibility. When the angels attempt to form prisms, they stretch and shift their wings to make a match. Finding a second to match is hard enough; finding six is truly special.” The biologists would break out the champagne tonight. She handed the angel to Mark, who carried it around to show the people in the back.

On the rocks below, the six angels had been shifting around each other like color shifts over a pool of oil. Now they froze in place, interlocking like a jigsaw. The crowd gasped, and even Lauren was thrilled. “It’s holding!” she said. “We have a sixer!”

The crowd cheered, and the serious young geologist put down her tablet to applaud. The new prism rocked and settled. Around it, solitary angels scuttled like crabs, searching for mates of their own.

Another tourist, a good-looking man with dark wavy hair, leaned forward. “Do joinings always form prisms?” he asked her.

“Not always. The bigger ones are more likely to fall apart. They’re more complicated and more fragile.”

“Just like real life.” He smiled at her, his blue eyes crinkling. He was wearing too much cologne; it clashed in Lauren’s nostrils with Atlantis’ acrid backdrop of salt water, sea debris, and sulfur. “Who named the transmuti life stages? Angels, prisms…”

“I don’t know,” Lauren said, surprised that she had never wondered herself. “It was probably Dr. Gresham; he pioneered the study of the transmuti. You’ll meet him if you go to the general talk on Monday.”

“Sounds like he’s a closet poet.”

“Maybe you have to be, to be a xenobiologist. Poetry has a kind of…alternate view, an ability to see things in ways they’ve never been seen.” Maybe that was what she had been missing.

Mark took her hand. “It’s a matter of observation,” he said. “There’s nothing special about it. Scientists don’t have to look at things differently. They see what’s there. There’s beauty enough in that.”

His tone was neutral, but Lauren smiled apologetically in case anyone had been offended. The blue-eyed tourist shrugged and moved down the railing.

“Excuse me,” said a voice. A nervous young man tugged Lauren’s sleeve. “I was wondering if you could help me with something…”

“Of course. What did you want?” Lauren let him draw her away from the group.

“It’s our first trip abroad, and…” He glanced at a quiet woman standing to one side, cleared his throat, and continued in a lower voice. “I wanted to propose with an Atlantian pearl, but I don’t really know anything about it. I noticed your jewelry and thought you could maybe help me pick something out?”

Lauren’s hand went to the pearls at her throat. The blue pearls were native to Atlantis and never exported for sale. Mark had bought her a brooch and earrings, and she had overpaid to add the necklace. Although she loved it, often trickling the blue pearls through her fingers to watch the swimming iridescence, she had confessed once to Mark that she wasn’t sure she should have bought it. He had asked what else she would have wanted the money for, and she had no answer. Still, it bothered her at odd times.

She forced a smile. “Of course,” she said. “Let’s go see the selection together.”

She led him inside through the glass deck doors, through the dining hall, and down the main corridor to the tastefully opulent gift shop at the end. Her eyes traveled over the goods: cheap pens and shirts and postcards, finer-quality shawls and formalwear sold at an usurious markup, racks of paper and holos and videos, and jewelry in the glass display cases along the back wall. Light jazz floated in the air.

The cashier looked up at their entrance, but Lauren passed to the back of the shop, where a stout man on a stool wielded a soldering iron on a silver filigree with delicate precision. He looked up as they approached.

“Lauren! Good afternoon. And a guest, I see.” His smile deepened the genial grooves on his face.

“Hello, Vinod,” Lauren said. “This young man would like to buy an engagement ring.” She winced hearing herself say “young man.”

Vinod turned his beam on the tourist, who grinned awkwardly. “Ah, this is a pleasure.” He laid down the filigree and iron and turned to the jewelry cases. “A pearl solitaire, you want?”

“Yes, please,” said the young man.

Vinod plucked one from the case and held it out to the young man. “How about this? One of the largest pearls I have ever had the pleasure to set.”

The young man started to speak, but Lauren cut in. “I don’t think that would suit her. What about something more subtle?” And with a lower markup, her eyes told Vinod.

He shrugged and exchanged the solitaire for another, a smaller pearl set in gold worked to resemble a wave. “Perhaps this?”

The young man turned it uncertainly in his hand and looked at Lauren. She nodded reassuringly. “It’s a fine piece, but it’s your call.” As she watched him hesitate on the brink of decision, she felt inexplicably depressed.

His hand closed over the ring. “All right. I’ll take it.”

Vinod pressed his palms together and bowed his head to the tourist. “May you be eternally happy.” He glanced at Lauren. “Practicing, eh? I suppose you will shop for yourself soon.”

“Oh, maybe.” Lauren clamped her mouth shut on an inexplicable surge of panic.

Vinod looked puzzled. A light on the wall blinked red. Lauren leaped backward as if she had been shocked, and words poured out of her.

“Thank you, hope she likes the ring, there’s a vent coming, I should get back to the group.”

She bolted from the shop and hurried back to the deck. On the wall map, the southern spur of the island had lit up. She wiped her sweaty palms on her pants, smoothed her hair behind her ears, and assumed an expression of calm competence.

“What’s going on? Is there an emergency?” an elderly lady was asking.

“Not at all,” Lauren said. “Our station geologists have just alerted us that a geyser is expected to vent any moment.” The young geologist became alert. “Now you’ll see the next step in the transmuti lifecycle: your second crossover of the day.”

Mark came over to her. “Everything okay? You seem stressed.”

“No, I’m fine, I’m sorry. Someone wanted help picking out a ring. Thanks for covering.”

“No problem.” Mark pointed upward. “See our visitor yet?”

A lone manta circled above them, nearly low enough to land on the Lighthouse. It cried out with a two-toned shriek that reminded Lauren of recordings she’d heard of wolves.

She whistled. “Looks like they’ll get their money’s worth.”

Mark grinned. “Them? How about us? They’ll overspend at the gift shop and drink themselves senseless.”

“I hope not too senseless. We have to clean it up.”

Wisps of yellowish vapor wafted up from the crack in the rocks. The mass of angels shifted toward the vent, sensing the heat. The new prism wobbled and managed to roll itself closer. The angels arched and locked their wings, and they waited.

The geyser exploded. A white plume of water vapor and rocks shot into the sky. All the transmuti near the vent, angels and prisms, were blown into the air. The manta folded its wings and dove, corkscrewing through the cloud, oblivious to the superheated vapor. Many of the angels bounced off, but several dug their serrated wings into the manta’s hide and clung like barnacles. The manta extended its wings, pulled out of its dive, and glided away across the ocean, its hide encrusted with a fresh layer of angels.

The unattached angels, knocked out of the updraft, floated down again. With an experienced eye, Lauren scanned the glittering cloud until she picked out the prism, batted far out to sea, and flipped a switch on her binoculars to flash red gridlines across the image. “The prism is at four-twenty, sixty-four-eleven, ten-zero,” she announced. The tourists fiddled inexpertly with their binoculars, and Lauren helped the couple next to her adjust theirs.

“A lot of them didn’t stick,” the blue-eyed tourist observed.

“That’s normal,” Lauren said. “If they land safely again, they can ride the next vent and hope to catch another manta. It’s a mutualistic relationship: the angels feed on the parasites on the mantas’ hides and may provide some protection from radiation, and the mantas carry them between the islands like a bee carries pollen.”

A loud clang overhead made several of the crowd duck. An angel with a four-foot wingspan had bounced off the canopy and spun away toward the ground. Lauren aimed her binoculars and loaded the identifying information from its tag.

“Some of them go through the cycle multiple times, riding the vents and dropping back off the mantas, before they enter the prism stage. That fellow who just went by is an old-timer–he’s ridden at least twelve eruptions that we’ve tracked. He doesn’t seem to want to form a prism–he’s probably too inflexible to make one now anyway–and he never moves on to another location. He’s happy just going up and down.”

“Sounds like a man who knows what he likes,” the blue-eyed tourist said.

“Doesn’t he get bored?” the girl said.

“Riding volcanic explosions and gliding back down from a thousand feet?” Mark said. “Sure, sounds awfully boring to me.” He grinned at the girl, and several people laughed.

Far out to sea, the sixer prism settled on the heaving black waves, floated for a moment, then sank. “And there goes our prism,” Lauren said. “Safely underwater, and far enough out that the waves won’t smash it against the shore.”

“What happens next?” the girl asked.

“That’s an area of active research,” Lauren said. “It’s hard to study them underwater, and dangerous. Lone angels that fall into the water can’t fend off marine predators. The prisms are better suited to survive. They undergo at least one more metamorphosis, into frankly a rather strange phase. They turn soft and jellylike, and they feed on aquatic carrion.”

“Ew,” said the girl in a pleased tone.

“Just as in the angel phase, some transmuti stop here, but others recombine again. What they do this for we don’t know; we’ve never seen a live creature at this stage. But it must succeed sometimes, or they wouldn’t do it.” She glanced at her tablet. “There’s nothing on the schedule for another hour, so you’re free to sit out here and observe or go inside as you like.”

Some of the tourists moved toward the deck doors, while others milled around to take the vacated places at the railing.

“The blue does bring out your eyes,” said a voice quietly. The blue-eyed tourist had maneuvered next to Lauren again and was leaning into her personal space. “It’s a stunning effect.”

“Thank you,” Lauren said. She had hazel eyes and wondered if he’d even looked at them before he used his line. “There are many other fine pieces on sale at the gift shop,” she added, feeling silly.

“Surely none are as nice as this. Although I might be biased by its setting.” He smiled again.

She glanced around and saw Mark appear at the door with two filled wineglasses in hand. “You’re very flattering,” she said. “But I assure you they’ll be just as beautiful on your own partner. Excuse me, but I need to talk to Mark.” She moved away without waiting for a response.

“Need any help?” Mark murmured as she came up to him.

“Nah, he’s harmless. He took the hint, I hope.”

“Well, if he starts mooning around you with a bouquet of seaweed, I reserve the right to throw him off the balcony.”

“That’s the Mark I know. Always subtle.”

He laughed and handed her one of the wineglasses. “It’s my best quality. To subtlety.” They clinked glasses and drank.

Lauren’s eyebrows went up and she gave her glass a second glance. “Is this the reserve cab?”

“Good nose. It’s a special day.”

Lauren quickly ran through dates in her mind: holiday, anniversary, birthday… “I guess I have to ask.”

“I ran some numbers earlier. This is the one thousandth group of visitors you’ve welcomed as hostess of the Lighthouse.”

“Really,” Lauren said. “That many.”

“Hard to believe, isn’t it? Feels like you just got here. I wonder what the traditional thousandth anniversary present is.”

“Canopic jars.”

Mark laughed. “We’re a little short on mummies in these parts. You’ll have to settle for a manta skeleton or something. Anyway, come on in and start mingling with the guests so I don’t have to.”

He moved inside. Lauren drained her glass in a single pull.

Late that night, Lauren emerged onto the deck to chase any lingering watchers inside. The temperature was dropping rapidly; Lauren’s breath fogged and swirled away in the wind. Atlantis’ two moons were small and faint, and the observation deck lamps had been dimmed to blue nighttime lighting. Above her a blaze of stars spattered the sky, with the Milky Way a soft hazy sweep like a painter’s afterthought.

Only the tourist girl was on deck. She was wrapped against the cold in one of the sky-blue-and-aqua shawls from the gift shop. Her head was craned back to watch the sky, and her face had a precocious intentness.

Lauren walked up and touched her shoulder. “You won’t see any transmuti at night.”

The girl jumped at the touch. “Oh! Can’t I stay out and watch the stars?” She looked startled but not intimidated at talking to a strange adult. Lauren wondered what it was like to be so fearless.

“Not tonight. There’s a chance of hailstorms.” The girl frowned at the cloudless sky, and Lauren added, “They can crop up in a blink, with wind like this.”

“All right.” The girl sighed. “It’s amazing here. You’re so lucky you can see this every day.”

Lauren smiled involuntarily at the bliss in her voice, but something inside her curled up at the thought of being lucky. “It’s been a busy day. What was your favorite part?”

“This.” The girl pointed at the sky.

Lauren frowned. “You can see stars anywhere.”

The girl nodded emphatically, her braids swishing. “That’s just it. Everything today was so weird–great, I mean, no offense, but really strange, yeah? It was so beautiful I…I don’t know. I felt like it had to be fake, like a really good holo. But now I’m looking up at the stars, and they’re the same stars I see at home, only the constellations are all a little off. And I just really realized right now–the stars made me realize–that this is the same world I live in. It’s all completely real. And it’s amazing.”

Lauren looked up at the sky and felt a chill. “I hadn’t ever thought about it that way.”

The girl looked down shyly. “I guess most people think the transmuti are more interesting. I thought they would be too, until tonight.” She gazed out into the night, and her eyes gleamed. “I’m thinking of doing xeno, so my parents said this is my big present for the year and don’t expect anything else. But I’ve always liked astronomy too, and xeno’s never made me feel so …I don’t know. Connected. I don’t know which I’d like better now. God, there’s so much to decide.” She chewed her lip, then noticed Lauren watching her, and she swept her hands through her hair and smiled awkwardly.

“Sorry. I’ll go in now. It is cold, isn’t it?”

She let her gaze linger on the sky a moment before she sighed and stepped through the sliding door. Lauren sank into one of the deck chairs and stared upward. She had been that age once, and just as enthusiastic, back when all paths were still possible. Somewhere along the way, the possible had yielded to the certain: welcome the guests, explain the crossovers, make everyone happy, say goodbye, greet the next set. There were the stars above her, the same ones that as a child she had studied with a telescope from her bedroom window, the same ones she had sworn to visit one day. The world was the same. What had happened to her?

“There you are!” She turned her head and saw Mark striding toward her. “I didn’t know where you went, and I was worried. It’s freezing out here.”

“I was just making sure everyone was inside.”

Mark swept his arm to indicate the empty deck. “Looks like they are.”

“Yes, of course.” Lauren turned her face back toward the sky.

Mark dropped into a chair. “Is something wrong? Or do you just have a sudden passion for stargazing?”

On another day she would have fallen in with his joke, but tonight she was unsettled, and his sarcasm scraped her. “Look, what is wrong with my being out here? I was talking to that girl who climbed on the railing and I stayed here to think after she went in. That’s all.”

Mark’s eyebrows rose at her tone. “All right, Miss Snippy. What were you thinking about?”

“Just…wondering if this is all I’m ever going to have. One of those look-at-your-life moments.”

“Restless spirit, huh?”

“Maybe a little.”

Mark rubbed his chin. “It’s a good life to have, though. We don’t need anything, we’re good at our work. A lot of people would love to have our problems.”

Lauren looked down at her hands and saw they were clasped so tightly the nails had dug into the skin. Deliberately she unwound her fingers and laid her hands palm-upward on the table. “Remember how we were talking about traveling earlier?”

“Yes…”

“I think I need to go after all.”

“Um, all right. I’ll see if I can get leave—”

“I mean on my own.”

There was silence between them. Invisible waves crashed far below.

“Why?” Mark said finally.

“I–I need some space.”

“Are you…you mean you’re ending it?” Mark said. “You and me?”

“I don’t—no, that’s not what I mean. I just need to do this.”

“Do what? Go back to school?”

“No, that’s over with. I don’t know what I’ll do. I need to, to start over. It’s nothing to do with you…” She trailed off, seeing Mark’s expression.

“If you left the planet you’d be gone for months. If you want to get away that badly, would you even come back? Why would you?”

Lauren started to deny it, but she realized he was right. Once she was free–that was the word that came to mind, free—she wouldn’t return. Without proximity and their shared job, they had little in common.

“I don’t know if you can understand. I’m just…too close here. The job I would die for is close enough to touch–” she pointed down at the station, invisible in the darkness “–but that last hundred feet is a killer.”

“You’ve been fine with being close to it for four years. Suddenly today everything’s changed?”

“No, just me. Not even me, I’m who I’ve always been. I’ve just stopped pretending.”

Mark’s face was rigid. “It’s that man, isn’t it? That flirty, reeking–I saw how he was watching you.”

Lauren stared. “I don’t even–him? It’s nothing to do with him. I don’t even know his name.”

“Yeah. You could get to know him a little better, couldn’t you.”

Lauren caught her breath as if he had kicked her in the stomach. “Mark, that’s not fair.”

“Now you’re talking fair? You just spring this on me with no chance to fix anything, and you say there’s nothing I can do about it. How is that fair?”

“I’m not doing anything wrong. And I’m not doing this to you. I’m doing this for myself. If you don’t know the difference, that’s your problem, not mine.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

“I said it’s your problem.”

Mark folded his arms. “I’m not going to waste my time pining. Tell me straight: do I wait for you, or no?”

It hurt, but there was only one answer. “No,” she said.

Mark’s face was expressionless. “All right,” he said quietly. “I guess that’s all there is to say.”

She stood so abruptly that her chair toppled backward onto the deck. She stormed inside and tried to slam the sliding door behind her, but the power assist caught it and closed it with a soft whoosh. She waited for Mark to call her back, to run after her to continue the argument, to start crying, to throw something. She heard nothing.

The dining area and bar were deserted; no dancers or drinkers among this bunch. She stood alone in the center of the darkened room, trying to slow her breathing. Her jaw ached from clenching it. Hot bewildered tears pricked her eyes; she scrubbed them away with a sweep of a hand and strode down the corridor to the gift shop.

The shop was closed to customers, but Vinod was still working on his filigree. The light jazz had been replaced by an upbeat Bollywood soundtrack.

Vinod looked up in surprise at her entrance. “Lauren!” he said. “It’s late.”

“Hi, Vinod. It feels funny to ask this, but…do you take returns?” She touched her necklace.

Vinod frowned. “Is it defective?”

“No, nothing’s wrong with it.” She tried to smile normally. “I just don’t want it anymore.”

“I see, I see. Well…normally we do not take…” Vinod bit his lip and studied her. “…but for you I make an exception. It was forty-five hundred?”

“That sounds right.” Lauren unclasped it and handed it over, and he tapped at the register.

“Do you, uh, need cash now?” Vinod said.

“Just credit my account.”

“All right.” Vinod was clearly picking his words. “You know,” he said, “if anything troubles you, you can talk to me. About anything.”

Lauren’s shock and anger were already fading. More than anything else, to her surprise, she felt relieved. “You’re sweet, but everything is fine,” she said. “I mean it. I’m just going to travel on my own for a while.”

“Oh.” Vinod blinked. “Then I am happy for you. It is good to see the world. All the worlds there are.”

He swept out his arms with a grand encompassing gesture, but his eyes were kind. Maybe he did understand. Her smile became genuine. “Thank you, Vinod.”

A ship was returning to the shuttleport at noon. She would book passage and leave a note for Mark for when he had cooled off. Maybe he would believe it was a rendezvous with the blue-eyed tourist, but she couldn’t help that. It would have crippled him as a scientist, that he believed he could see the entire truth. No one ever could.

She walked out of the gift shop and down the silent hall to her office, too keyed up to sleep. She sat at her tiny desk, removed her brooch and earrings, and laid them down neatly. Then she opened a new document for writing. _Dear Dr. Gresham,_ she wrote. _It may surprise you to read this, but I have come to a difficult and deeply personal decision…._ The words came fluidly, although the decision hadn’t, as if deep down she had been composing it all along. She typed without pause. Outside the sky was lightening to gray.

_______________

Cheryl Barkauskas is a transplanted Midwesterner living on the East Coast, and aside from the lack of cows she think’s it’s a good place to be. Her work has previously appeared in Sybil’s Garage and Aurora Wolf.

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