Dr. Derek Singh is sure that one of planet Victoria’s millions of venomous insects holds the key to destroying cancerous tumors–and jumpstarting his stalled career.
Unfortunately, the traps he sets each night capture nothing but dust, and his competitive colleagues don’t share the venom they’ve collected. The clock is running down on his two-year grant and he’s making no progress.
When his young neighbor–one of the few native-born children–finds out he studies “bugs,” she is happy to bring him all the specimens he needs. Derek worries she’ll be bitten or stung, but soon discovers Mia is in danger from a far larger predator–the corporation that funds him.
The next afternoon, the front desk security guard popped onto my screen, his face bemused. “Mia Julian is here to see you.”
Ah, shit. I expected she’d hand over whatever she found when I saw her later on the balcony.
Anton glanced up. “That’s the kid that was here yesterday?”
I was surprised he remembered. “Yeah. I told her she could collect the traps I set last night,” I lied. I’d have to tell her not to come around during business hours.
I hurried to the lobby. Mia smiled broadly when she saw me. “I got a good one! A big one! You’re really gonna like it!” She held the trap out.
Thoughts of berating her for disturbing me vanished. “Jesus, Mia!” The hissing, snapping creature inside resembled a small lobster more than a scorpion and was like nothing I’d seen on the sample wall or anywhere else. “Where the f…” I stopped myself just in time. “Where did you find that?”
She grinned. “They’re all over the place. They live in between rocks. You can’t catch them with light or smells or those stupid pellets. They only eat…Pallus pilosus.” She spoke the unfamiliar words slowly and carefully.
I gaped. She wasn’t wearing glasses.
“Did I say that wrong? I didn’t know the real name until I saw one on your bug wall yesterday.”
There were over 6000 specimens on that wall. Why had that name stood out and stuck with her?
“You said it right.” I took the trap and gazed down at the angry, shiny black arthropod. A thin stream of yellow liquid trickled down from the spot where its back stinger struck the trap wall repeatedly. I was taken aback, not just by this amazing sample, but by Mia’s ability to recognize and name its favorite prey.
She looked at me expectantly. I collected myself.
“Great work Mia, thank you!”
“I need more traps. I could have brought you a whole bunch of bugs, but I didn’t want to put them all together in there.”
“That would have been messy,” I agreed.
“I can help. I want to be your assistant.”
I was about to explain why this was impossible, then reconsidered. She probably knew more about the wildlife in this area than I ever would. Nothing prevented me from hiring more staff except lack of funds and I didn’t think there was anything in the regulations about age as a requirement for employment.
“Let me think about it. I’m not sure it’s allowed, but I’ll check and let you know tonight back at the apartment, okay?”
“Okay!” She tapped the trap and the black tail swung around to strike the thin barrier again. “He hates the light. Bye Derek!”
She ran out the door, the gravity no burden at all to her young bones.
Coming Soon! Six, Book 1
No crime, no pollution, no poverty–no privacy. Life is good on newly-colonized planet Victoria–if you don’t mind the intrusive surveillance. Mia claims she doesn’t, but a lifetime of hiding a valuable talent from the cameras has condemned her to shallow relationships and dependence on recreational drugs. When she loses her high-paying job and takes a temporary position at a small security firm, evidence quickly mounts that Victoria isn’t as perfect it claims to be. And neither is she.
Excerpt from Chapter One:
The pod dropped me off in front of my building and I hurried inside, relieved that none of my neighbors were in the lobby. The box in my arms begged unwanted questions.
I dropped my belongings on the kitchen table, then stood in the center of my uncluttered living room. This seemed like the right time to cry or rage, but all I felt was a breathless, high-altitude confusion. What just happened?
A low tone sounded and a message appeared on the living room wall.
The auto-payment account for the rental of this apartment has been closed. Which account would you like to use instead?
I took a deep breath. Erika was dismantling my life so quickly. “Use personal account nickname SFF.”
Another message popped up. Account valid, thank you. The text faded and my art nouveau wallpaper pattern returned.
Once I started my job at Han, my only worry about credits was how to spend them. I expected to be employed for life. I had only a small savings account for an imagined vacation I never had time to take. It wouldn’t last long. The dispassionate part of my personality–the one that took over late at night when I was exhausted and still had tons of work to do–kicked in.
“Show my monthly expenses,” I commanded, and a sickeningly long list appeared on top of the swirling floral pattern. I ran my hand down the cool wall, dizzy at the thought of losing access to everything that made my life tolerable, and horrified by the realization that if I didn’t cancel most of these services right now I’d be out of credits in less than a month.
Half an hour of slicing my finger through hair appointments, gym memberships, premium data access channels, spa treatments, VIP club passes, bar memberships, recreational drug deliveries and many other essentials, and I’d pared down my expenses enough to allow me to pay rent for four months.
My wallpaper disappeared. I’d forgotten it was part of the 20th century art and design data pack I’d just unsubscribed from. The whiteness was overwhelming.
I went to the bathroom, opened the drug drawer and dug my hand into the confetti of colorful foils and packages. I pulled some Baby Janes from the mess, popped one pill out of the silver six pack and swallowed it with tepid tap water.
I waited for the drug to kick in on the lounge chair on the balcony. The quality of the view from my high-floor apartment varied with the light and now, at noon, the mountains beyond the city were flat and featureless. A distorted reflection of Han tower zigzagged down the windows of the building across the street. I’d trained my glasses to automatically erase this eyesore, but I wasn’t wearing them.
The Baby Jane eased its way into my system slowly, an I.V. of warm honey. I sank into the soft cushions and shut my eyes. My panic receded and my spinning mind slowed. I couldn’t worry about my future now even if I wanted to, and I didn’t.