Today's Reading

In 2044, with more than ten murders behind her, she moved east of Raleigh. She had kept her distance from her neighbors and made friends only with the night volunteers at the local animal shelter. She shopped online or late at night in twenty-four-hour grocery stores. She tried to avoid groups of people at all costs.

And she was so, so goddamn lonely.

"When I asked to live aboard, the station promised me sanctuary," she told Adrian, crossing her arms. "What am I supposed to do now?"

"I suppose you will have to run away again," he said. "Let me show you the door to get you started."

Mallory bristled. "Run away? Is that what you think I do?"

He nodded matter-of-factly and held up his hand to count off his fingers. "That 'is' what you do. You left home after a murder, you left college after a murder, you moved after a murder, you changed jobs after a murder. You told me you were never in an apartment longer than a year—"

Her cheeks flamed as he laid out her past in stark, embarrassing detail. "I'm never having a drink with you again if you're just storing up shit to use against me!" She put aside all plans to throw him off balance to get information. Now she just wanted out.

Now I just want to run away.

Adrian continued, "—and then you got a chance to run away from the entire planet and you couldn't escape fast enough. You are always running. So, you've found out that humans are coming to the station—something you knew would happen because I told you that was my goal—and the next logical step is for you to decide where to run to next." He took a meaningful step toward the door, extending his arm as if it were a favor to guide her the hell out of his space.

"We didn't think you would actually succeed," she muttered, looking at the carpet.

"What was that?" he asked, voice tight and alert.

She cleared her throat and raised her head. "I didn't think you would succeed. The station made it clear they didn't want a lot of humans here at once, and let's face it, Adrian: you're not great at this diplomacy thing. I knew more about the humans coming than you did, and that was your one job!"

"Get out," he said. He had taken on that perfectly still pose again, reminding her of a snake.

She relented and walked to the door. "And I am not trying to run. I am trying to keep the humans away from me to keep them from dying. That's hard to do if they're going to follow me."
"Sounds like running to me," he said.

"I can't believe you're my Earth representative when clearly you don't give a shit about my situation here."

"I'm not here for you, Mallory!" he shouted.

She flinched.

"I don't care about your paranoia; I don't care about your fears. I'm not here to represent you right now; there's supposed to be only one human on the station to negotiate for Earth. Not one ambassador and one societal leech. And even if you're right, even if you do have some weird murder virus that causes people to fall on each other like wild animals, that's a small price to pay for galactic-level diplomacy. The space program has killed a lot more people than you have, and that didn't stop NASA. The universe is bigger than you."

Mallory balled her fists. She wasn't self-centered. People refused to acknowledge that she tried legitimately to help. She tried to stomp out the door, but Adrian's plush carpeting softened her steps, denying her even that. She paused at the open door and turned to face him. "That's the problem. Everyone talks about acceptable losses until they are the ones doing the losing. You're cool with people dying so you can do your job, but you never even considered that you might be the one who dies. Are you cool with it then?"

He gave her a little shove, getting her fully into the hall. "You know, the more I get to know you, the more I wonder if people around you killed themselves just to get free of your drama."

The door slid closed before she could hit him.

The loneliness threatened to cover her with its shroud again, but she took a deep breath and straightened her back. Adrian was not the only person she knew on the station. She could find help elsewhere.

She trudged back to her rooms, well down the hall from the diplomatic wing. She had to get cleaned up and dressed for an appointment, but after that she had to break the news of the humans' arrival to the other person on the station this would directly affect.

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.

Monday, December 12th, we begin the book Fault Tolerance by Valerie Valdes.

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