“Okay, Mom. Last one.”
Donna Cheever leaned—immured where she sat in a colorful mound of crumpled paper—and plucked the green envelope from its perch among the bottom branches of the family’s seven foot artificial pine tree. Behind her the twins capered madly about the den clad in new AR headsets, interacting with a host of genial digital beings only they perceived. Richard was looking at her with an eager smile that seemed to transform him briefly into the little boy Donna hoped so futilely he would remain forever, and which she thought now endearing and mysterious. Twelve years old, Richard was just beginning his voyage into broody pubescence, and that smile, bright and unassuming, was increasingly rare. Donna arched a brow at her husband, as if to ask: What have you done? Tony, seated next to Richard midst a great piling of balled paper, smiled back and nodded, as if to respond: You’ll see.
“Go on, hon. Open it.”
She popped her thumb beneath the seal.
Inside was a slip of white stationary on which was printed a single couplet. Donna read: “I came from the machine that writes our documents and such… You’ll find my brother… at the one that makes our lunch?” She laughed. “Tony what is this?”
“Not sure,” the colonel answered as Richard sprang to his feet and bounded away, shreds of wrapping whispering in his wake like dry leaves. “But if I had to guess I’d say it’s a clue.”
“Mom in here!” called Richard from the kitchen. “C’mon!”
Tony put his chin in his hand. “Wonder what that’s all about.”
Donna stood, an avalanche of paper tumbling across the floor.
They found Richard at the Fabricator. The first thing Donna noticed was that several of the machine’s element canisters were reading low. I’ll have to order some more calcium, she thought. Carbon too… And then, scanning past the holiday greeting cards affixed by magnets to the Fabricator’s sleek black façade (from other military families, each presenting in miniature a portrait of striking similarity to the one currently hanging above the Cheevers’ fireplace: N.U. officers in dress blues, posed with spouses and children on wide lawns in front of sprawling homes, beneath rolling flags: the stars and stripes of the former United States, and the swinging sword and sunburst of the New Union), she saw another green envelope, taped over the dispensation bay.
The second note read:
Well that was easy, but Dickey showed the way… Find my sister on your own this time, in a cottage where the girls like to play.
Too easy, Donna thought, feeling herself swept up in the game. She uncovered the next clue in the twins’ playhouse in the backyard (at a hundred square feet, complete with functioning bathroom, kitchenette, and state-of-the-art nanny surveillance system, the designation was something of a misnomer), taped to the entertainment center’s wireless projector. She took down the now familiar green fold.
“Look at you go! That one was obvious, I know… Seek my mate where it’s dry, hiding beneath a cup of snow…
“How did you do this?” she said to Tony, brandishing the slip.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” His grin faded and he looked up as, overhead, a fleet of airships went tearing west across the pale December sky, causing the playhouse’s walls to rattle. He was the only one to react to the sound of their passing. In the other world Tony occupied, on the opposite end of their torn country, jets were a vital component of everyday life; for Donna and the kids, for whom the logistics of war were more an abstraction than anything, the drone of distant turbines was so regular it scarcely registered.
The next one took a bit longer, but she got it eventually: tucked under the high-definition, holographic snowglobe on the mantel back in the living room. The envelope hadn’t been there that morning, Donna was sure of it. So Tony had enlisted the help of the twins in this escapade, who joined them now in their flashing goggles looking very proud for having accomplished the mission Daddy had set for them while their momma was being distracted outside.
So it went. Clue after clue the green envelopes conducted her through the house—out, into the garage, to the kennel of the home security drone (courtesy of the New Union, for the colonel had many enemies); inside again—Richard and the twins racing ahead in their excitement, Tony on point. Lastly she was led into her bedroom where, as another set of jets shook the sky above, Donna beheld hanging on the wall a black rectangular pane, perhaps three feet wide by six feet tall, with a red bow stuck to its upper corner.
“Merry Christmas Mom!” the children trilled in unison.
“What is it?” She stepped closer and could see her reflection—featureless smudge of skintone—appear across its surface. The device looked like a television screen or computer monitor and it was thin as tapestry.
“Window on,” said Tony.
The pane lit up, becoming a sheet of lambent silver like the backing on a mirror.
“Tony,” Donna said. “What—”
“Juniper,” he said. “You there? Come out and meet the family.”
For a beat nothing happened. Then color flooded the screen, and Donna was staring at an amused and pretty face not her own, so clear and textured it seemed the only thing that separated them was a layer of glass.
She jumped. It was a woman’s face, taut and tan, green eyes twinkling. The sides of her head were shaven. Her short pink hair arose in a wispy spume from the crown of her scalp and her cheeks were high and pointed. A metal stud glinted in the left nostril of her bladelike nose. She had on a sleeveless neoprene shirt and matching compression shorts (Spin clothes, Donna thought of them) and her arms and legs were slim, muscular, sinewy in the way of old tree roots, and her bust was small and flat. She peered at Donna out of a radiant silver void, as if suspended in a prism. She was smiling.
“You must be Mrs. Cheever,” she said. “I’m Juniper. I’d offer to shake, but…” She shrugged and held up her hands: What’re ya gonna do?
“Hi Juniper!” said the twins in tandem, coming up to the screen.
“And you’re the girls I’ve heard so much about,” she said. “Who’s Ally?”
“That’s me,” Ally said.
“Then you must be Erin.” Juniper smiled at them, one to the next. “Nice to meet you.” She put her hands on her thighs, leaned forward at the waist. “Those are some sweet headsets. Did Santa bring them for you?”
“There’s no such thing as Santa,” said Ally.
“Wow,” said Erin, craning her neck, pushing her goggles up onto her forehead like the world’s tiniest bombardier. “It knows our names…”
“She,” Tony said. “She’s a real person, hon. Be respectful.”
“That leaves Richard,” Juniper said. She gave him a lingering, appraising look. “Handsome boy. Nice jammies.”
Richard flushed and looked at the floor.
“Tony,” Donna said, turning. “What is this?” She glanced back at the girl in the screen. “Who is that?”
“That is a Window,” he said. “It’s an interactive smart display. Juniper is one of its apps.”
“She’s… an app?”
“Technically she’s a personal trainer. Your personal trainer.”
“I’m a real-time, on-demand fitness instructor,” Juniper said. “And yes, as Colonel Cheever just explained, I’m a person, not a bot—here to fulfill all your family’s health and wellness needs. You’re signed up for premium membership. That includes training, nutritional advice, round-the-clock consultations, blood analysis. The works.”
“You got me a trainer?” Donna’s hand went unconsciously to the budding paunch harbored beneath her sweater. Why would he get me this? she thought.
“A Window,” Tony said. “It also has a video messaging system, so we can chat while I’m away and it’ll be like I’m right here in the room with you.” He looked at her. “You seem… underwhelmed.”
“Huh?” she said. “No Tony. It’s great.”
“Really,” she said. “I like it.” She watched the girls, exploring the boundaries of the device; the trainer above, looking on and laughing. Richard stood off to the side, observing furtively, shoulders slumped, hands in his pockets.
“Are you sure?” Tony asked. “Because if not we can return it. I just thought it was something cool. Rodrigs got one for Eloise and said the family loves it. Said the chat feature really helps during deployments.”
“No Tony, honest,” Donna said. “I like it. It’s unexpected, is all. I look forward to using it. Thank you.”
She raised up on her toes and kissed him on the lips.
“Excellent.” He put his arm around her shoulder and faced the screen. Juniper and the girls were giving dap, bumping knuckles to their respective panes as if all that existed between them was a veil of glass. It was uncanny; she seemed so present. So tangible. Donna wondered where the feed originated, how much space actually divided them. She couldn’t say yet how she felt about the device (there was no denying the spell of insecurity the wiry trainer provoked)—but she had to concede the technology piqued her interest. And the chat feature would be nice. No substitute for the real thing, but still…
“Thank you,” she said again, meaning it. She leaned and kissed him on the cord of his stubbled neck.
“Merry Christmas love,” he said.
He left the following morning. To a battlefield in California, faraway. He couldn’t predict when he would return. “Might be a while,” he told Donna, before walking down the drive to the automated town car idling at the curb. “These rebels… They’re just kids. They have the conviction of kids who don’t know better.” He shook his head. “Have Juniper walk you through the Window set-up, will you? We’ll talk when I can.”
She watched as the town car drove away and disappeared and, like a kind of sendoff, a brace of bomber jets roared westward out of the base nearby. Off to rain fire on the heads of the secessionists, Donna supposed. Where her husband was headed. Her husband the hero.
“No need to be shy, Mrs. Cheever. This is part of the process. Think of it like a check-up.”
“Please Juniper. Call me Donna. Or Don. And you must understand this makes me uncomfortable.”
“Of course, Don. I get it. But since we can’t meet in person, this is the only way I can get a sense of where we’re at and where we’ll go from here.” She smirked. “What? Think you got something I haven’t seen before? Now strip, girl. Let’s see them moneymakers.”
Donna laughed. Her blouse was halfway off her shoulders when a thought occurred to her and she dropped her hands.
“How do I know you’re the only one who can see me?”
“There are strict privacy parameters governing the operation of the Window,” Juniper said. “Tell the truth, tech is not my wheelhouse, but there are a buncha firewalls that make our stream pretty much unhackable. And as far as other people being here with me now, I would have to disclose that information to you. If I didn’t I would lose my job and probably face some jail time, too.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Still she hesitated.
“I’ll prove it to you,” Juniper said. And before Donna could say anything more, the trainer pulled her shirt up and over her head and cast it aside, facing into Donna’s bedroom with her lean chest bare to the world.
“Juniper!” Donna gasped, looking away.
“Told ya,” the trainer said. “Just us in here. See? Nothing to worry about.”
She didn’t have a single tan line. No scars or stretch marks. Her breasts were straps of muscle from which jutted two tiny pink nipples and her waspish waist was sharply defined. Toned wasn’t the word for it, Donna thought, the woman was ripped—and for an instant she was lost in a startling vision of dainty hands, perhaps her own, tip-toeing down the warm ingots of the trainer’s naked abs, so vivid the ends of her fingers tingled and a pleasant heat, not so much confusing as surprising, bloomed in the pit of her stomach—then she realized she was staring and looked away again. Her heart was thudding.
“Okay Don. The ice has been broken. Shall we continue?”
After a moment, Donna did.
When she was finished she stood before the Window in bra and panties, her ears and cheeks burning, neck flushed. She waited.
“Jeeze,” Juniper said. “You’re gorgeous!”
Donna’s blush deepened. “Thanks.”
“I’m serious. And I want you to remember it. You don’t need me. You’re already a healthy, beautiful human being. But our bodies are works-in-progress, and there’s always room for improvement. Right?”
“If you say so.”
“Let’s get started.”
They began with three sessions a week, each lasting about forty-five minutes during which they would enact together a series of exercises ranging from bodyweight calisthenics and plyometrics to yoga and recuperative stretching, as well as twice-monthly meetings in which they went over Donna’s progress. Though her initial reaction to the gift had been lackluster (in fact, with its implications of a certain inadequacy, the device had hurt her feelings), she came to enjoy her work with Juniper, and by February the twins were joining in the weekly yoga classes and Richard was on a weightlifting program. By summer, as the insurgency in the west raged on, the pace was upped to five sessions a week, Donna felt better than ever, and everybody in the house had come to regard the girl in the Window as a trusted friend.
One day Donna came home to find Richard in her bedroom.
He was standing at the Window, gazing into it, the fingers of his right hand at rest lightly on the screen. As soon as Donna entered the hand fell and he turned to her with stricken eyes that set her internal alarms to ringing. “What’s going on?” she said, striding forward.
Richard spun as if to block her view and stove his hands into his pockets. “Nothin,” he said.
She looked at the screen. Juniper was there, smiling.
“Afternoon Don,” she said.
“Juniper.” Donna looked at Richard. “What are you doing in here?”
He made as if to leave but Donna caught his arm.
“What have I said about using the Window when I’m not home?”
His eyes were flat, distant; his aspect surly. He would not look at her.
“Close the door behind you,” she said, letting him go.
“Sorry about that,” said Juniper. “Kid just wanted to talk. I didn’t know you had rules against it.”
“What did he want to talk about?”
“Oh, usual teenaged boy stuff. Apparently some maid has spurned our Richard’s advances.”
“That’s all. I think he just wanted a woman’s take on the situation. And, you know… It’s not exactly the sort of thing a guy feels he can talk to his mom about.”
“He can talk to me about anything.”
“Sure. But I’m a foreigner here, and thus my opinion is unclouded by bias. Besides,” she said. “You know how kids are. Teenagers can be secretive… We still on for tonight?”
“No,” said Donna, shaking her head. “No I don’t think so. I’m feeling tired right now, and I still have to get dinner ready, and later I have a chat scheduled with Tony. I just want to rest.”
“You’re not coming down with something are you?” The trainer’s eyes sparkled with concern. “Summer bug or something like that? Because you’ve been sleeping well, according to my charts…”
“No, nothing like that. It’s just these chats with Tony… They take a toll. You know?”
“Of course. The distance has gotta suck. You should know I’m also here for you if you need me. Day or night. Total health is about more than just physical wellbeing.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Donna said.
“Please do. And listen to your body.”
She logged off.
Donna remained as before, looking at the blank screen.
“When you coming home, baby?”
Tony’s grin faltered.
“I told you I can’t say. The guerillas are pushing back hard. I’m responsible for an entire battalion. We can only do so much with drones in a fight like this; this war requires boots on the ground, and those boots need directing. We have to stop them here. If we don’t…”
He didn’t finish. Donna wagged her head. “Okay,” she said.
She said no more. Tony watched her. He was in a field tent somewhere in the Sierra Nevada and in that longitude it was early evening and he was alone. On his end the chat was being streamed through a laptop and his wife’s face appeared small and sad and for a moment he was panged by his inability to palliate her loneliness. From Donna’s perspective it was as if his upper body studied her from a lamplit alcove cut in the very wall. As if she could but reach out a hand and stroke his cheek.
“Hey,” he said. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“How about how great you look. The work with Juniper is really paying off.”
A pause. The colonel’s grin returned. Tentative. Devious.
“The kids asleep?”
Donna knew what he was getting at and she smiled then a bleak and melancholy smile despite her worry and frustration. Sex through the Window amounted to no more than mutual masturbation with a convincing projection—but it was better than nothing. Besides, Donna thought, it was sort of kinky. Sort of fun. Hot, even. Especially with the figure she’d acquired since Tony’s deployment, which made her feel sexy and powerful and which, having earned it with her sweat, she was learning she enjoyed showing off. Perhaps a bit of distraction wasn’t what she needed right now—no, what she needed was her partner back—but it couldn’t hurt, either.
She stood, turned and went into her bathroom, Tony calling after her: “Don? I wasn’t trying to upset you, I just thought—”
When she came back she was naked and her husband’s protests were cut short, as if he’d forgotten how to breathe. She liked that.
She sat in the floor in front of the Window, propping herself on her elbows. Arched her back. She flashed him a coquettish smile. The colonel’s face lit with a combination of surprise and excitement that Donna loved. She brought her knees together slowly, and then, slowly, parted them again. “What?” she said. “You just thought what?” Her hand lifted from the carpet. Touched her breast. She traced the skin of her areola with the tip of her index finger and the nipple stood erect as if fanned by an icy whisper. She saw Tony rise stripping off his shirt and fumbling with his belt and her hand circled lower, lower, skating like a breath across the smooth flat span of her stomach.
“Well?” she said.
She was almost there when she saw something in the Window that made her stop.
“What is it?” Tony said. “What’s wrong?”
Donna was on her feet, arms covering her breasts and groin.
The colonel glanced hastily over his shoulder as if he thought someone might be sneaking up on him and reached for his sidearm, never far. He was still alone. Donna came up to the screen and stood scrutinizing it intently. Had she really seen that just now? she wondered.
But there was only the murk of Tony’s field tent, three thousand miles away. Only Tony, topless and bewildered. Donna stepped back and frowned.
“Don? What is it? Is it the kids?”
“It’s nothing,” she said. She did not sound certain.
“Nothing,” she said. “I thought maybe the machine was glitching out.” She smiled wanly. “I’m sorry. I’m such a spaz. I’ve gone and spoiled the mood, haven’t I?”
He looked round again, his eyes mischievous, hopeful.
“Yes, Tony,” she said, and at the expression of boyish despair that went tumbling down his face Donna laughed, notwithstanding the misgiving in her pounding heart.
Later she stood at the Window again, dressed in a bathrobe and studying the silver home screen.
She was thinking: What was that?
Is it even possible?
What she’d seen was a pair of translucent green eyes hovering disembodied in the upper corner of the Window’s pane, observing Donna as she pleasured herself and alight with an unmistakable glee she recognized at once. After all: she saw it many times a week, often as she struggled through the final set of whatever tortuous routine Juniper had devised for the day. Donna believed that look evidenced a mild sadistic streak and thought probably all good personal trainers had a cruel vein running through them. But Juniper was not supposed to be able to make herself appear on her own. The policy was one of numerous security measures in place to protect the Cheevers’ privacy and Donna didn’t understand how it could be breached. She wasn’t even sure it had been, and the longer she stood staring at the changeless argent rectangle the more she became convinced the fleeting vision was just her imagination. Although why she would imagine Juniper’s eyes on her as she was achieving climax with Tony was something she didn’t want to think about. Discomfited by this track of thought, telling herself she was acting paranoid, Donna turned from the screen. She went to her bureau against the far wall and began hunting through its drawers for a set of nightwear: cotton pajama shorts and one of her husband’s old holey infantry shirts.
She did not turn around as she dressed, but if she had she would have seen that the Window’s screen was no longer blank. A figure had materialized in the pane: pellucid, partial, a faint silhouette like a person manifesting in a bank of fog. Spectral. Watching.
The figure receded. And when delicate prickles like wraiths’ fingers fluttering at the nape of her neck did prompt Donna to face about and regard the device, she was confronted only by an empty screen.
Beyond the shut door to Donna’s bedroom the house was quiet. Down the hall the twins snoozed soundly in their bunks. Across from their room Richard’s door was closed and locked. A blue light shone through the gaps surrounding this door, emanating from the room within.
In a dream Donna was thrashing in the undergrowth of a torrid jungle and it was dense and verdant and she was fighting it as the boiling green closed in and threatened to engulf her like a crashing wave… She woke panting to the realization she couldn’t breathe. Coughing fire, she sat up in bed and clawed the air; then her body heaved and she flopped to her side and puked on the floor.
That’s when she saw Juniper in the Window. The trainer was naked, lying on her stomach with her chin in her hands, toes kicking behind her. She tilted her head and gave a little wave:
“What—” was all she could manage. She coughed; her body was wrenched by a paroxysm of pain; she fell from the mattress. Now her eyes and nose were burning, her vision hazed, and the room seemed to be spinning around her. She inhaled and whooped breathlessly; it was as if she was drowning in air.
“Did you know crude mustard gas can be made from just four elements? I bet you didn’t—weapons of mass destruction are your husband’s forte—but it’s true. Carbon, sulfur, chlorine, hydrogen. All of which can be purchased through any common household Fabricator. Easy enough to make if you know the proportions, although not so easy to control once it’s vaporized. Isn’t that interesting?”
Donna pressed her mouth and nostrils into the nap of the carpet and discovered she was able to breathe a little easier. With her first draught of semi-clear air a single imperative leapt into her mind like a shout:
Juniper, as if reading her thoughts, went on:
“The gas is fatal to adults if they’re exposed to it for too long—but I wouldn’t worry if I were you. A strong woman like yourself… It could take hours before the effects became lethal. But with kids…” The trainer shrugged. “Who can say? Their constitutions are just so underdeveloped…”
Donna pushed to her feet. Now was not the time for questions. Impelled by a fierce instinct she had never before experienced, she tore the coverlet from her bed, bunched it against her face and rushed into the hall. Juniper watched her go, smiling.
The trainer was waiting for her on the flat screen in the twins’ room when Donna burst through the door.
“Gee,” she said. “That’s too bad… It appears you’ve come too late.”
The girls were in the floor in their matching pajamas, entangled in one another’s arms, foreheads together, as if frozen in an act of shared comfort. It would have been a sentimental image if not for the vomit that coated them and the utter motionlessness of their mirrored forms. Their stillness was lapidary in that moonlit gloom and it struck Donna with the force of awful irrevocable certainty. She went to them and dropped to her knees, moaning through the blanket. When she touched them their bodies jostled bonelessly. Ally’s mouth fell open.
“Ouch,” Juniper said. “Don’t I know that hurts. I found my parents just like that in the rubble of our apartment after an NU airstrike leveled my hometown. It was one of those central-nowhere California burgs along the interstate, and it was wiped from the map that day. My parents, my brother, my friends. All gone. The New Union believed our town sheltered a rebel stronghold. That was two years ago, at the start of the Revolution. The man who’d ordered the strike was a captain by name of Anthony Cheever.”
“Course, the cap’n goes by colonel now. I imagine he scored a nice commendation for what he did that day…”
Donna looked down at her girls for the last time. There was nothing she could do for them now. And she did not grieve them, not yet; rather, she was bolstered by the knowledge that while they were gone her son might still be saved. She went out the door, Juniper calling after her:
The boy’s door was locked. Donna kicked it in without thinking. She found him splayed in the floor, prone on his stomach. As she turned him over Richard’s television winked on, and there was Juniper, looking down.
“Here’s our little man! You know, if it weren’t for him none of this woulda been possible. Dickey here was my skeleton key.”
Donna ignored her. She held the back of her hand beneath Richard’s nose. C’mon, she thought. Please…
“Wasn’t hard neither,” Juniper cajoled. “Boys. They’re so easy to manipulate. All I had to do was show him a lil bit of skin with the promise of more if he gave me what I needed to access the home network.”
Yes, Donna thought. It was there: breath, flowing. She could feel it coming and going, so faintly on her skin. Richard was alive.
“Told him if he did that we could have all the fun we wanted in the privacy of his bedroom. Course that’s the problem with these smart homes: one network controls everything. Your appliances, for example. The ventilation system, for another.”
No time for relief. Donna scooped Richard into her arms and took off running down the hall, the stairs and out the front door, Juniper’s mad laughter ringing in her ears…
The black night air was cold and clean. Donna let the coverlet down from her mouth and breathed. The air was more delicious than anything she’d ever tasted. She was weeping but didn’t know it. In her arms Richard’s brow knotted and he began to cough. Donna looked back at the house they’d flown, rearing against the starry sky, its windows dark.
She’d forgotten about the Hound.
The security drone came barreling into the yard, steel limbs flashing in the starlight. Donna saw the headlamps of its eyes first, streaking towards them. She had time to discern its open maw, its terrible talons, and then—still driven by a ferocious survival instinct she hadn’t known she possessed—she understood in a flare of insight that the machine was under Juniper’s control, and it was coming for them. She also knew the Hound was a weapon designed to subdue and kill dangerous people (Threats, Tony called them) and if it got its claws on her there would be nothing she could do.
She hugged her son to her chest and ran, bare toes digging in the grass.
The Hound was closing in when she came in sight of the playhouse. She achieved the door, hoping against hope it was unlocked, knowing if it wasn’t they were finished. The knob twisted in her hand; the door swung. She stepped inside and slammed it shut behind her, threw the latch and sank to her heels. A moment later there was a tremendous crash at her back—the entire structure shuddered for the impact—and Donna rose, turned, and backed away into the tiny cell, staring at the door as it shivered in its frame. There came another crash. A rift appeared in the wood, wide enough Donna could see the moving glint of steel on the other side as the drone tried to fight its way in.
She looked round as if to seek an exit but there was none.
With a click and whir the wireless projector snapped to life. Juniper’s slim nude likeness luminesced across the far wall.
“Hi Don! Boy you’ve got yourself in quite a pickle haven’t you?”
Another vicious crash. Another splinter lanced across the door.
“Why are you doing this? Whatever was done to you it wasn’t us. Let us go! Please!”
“I wonder: how many times has your husband been rewarded for blasting some innocent town out of existence? How much collateral damage has he dealt in the name of his fascist union? No one I knew was part of the Revolution when the bombs began to fall. I joined the cause the very next day.”
“Please,” Donna sobbed. “Please. He was just following orders…”
“Well. He had his and I have mine. I must say the infiltration went more smoothly than anticipated. You service families are so predictable… One of em gets a new toy and all the rest just have to have one too.”
Rodrigs, Donna thought. The playhouse shook as the drone attacked again. She could hear the door beginning to give. Richard stirred. Opened his eyes.
“Mom? I don’t feel so good…”
He retched. Donna looked over her shoulder to see the Hound’s red eyes flickering through the cracks in the door.
When she looked back Juniper had changed positions and her legs were spread and she was watching the door as it came down, piece by piece. At the sight of what the trainer’s hands were doing a surreal swoon descended over Donna and she sat in the floor.
“No one will know what happened here,” said the trainer, gyring her hips. “No one. Your husband will come home to find his house in ruin, his family murdered by the technology he thought would keep them safe…”
“Mom,” said Richard. “Momma…”
“…And I’ll be here, watching. Every moment.” Her voice rose: “Such privilege. Such…”
There was a snap like a bone breaking and the door shattered.
Juniper cried: “Yes! Yes, yes, yes!”
“Momma,” said Richard.
She heard a noise behind her like the points of many knives skittering in the floor. The urgency of Juniper’s cries increased. Donna pressed her face into the crown of Richard’s head, tasting the reek of the gas trapped in his hair, and closed her eyes.
M.P. Strayer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Most recently, his work has appeared in Alien Dimensions, Loch Raven Review, and Carmina Magazine.
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