Reading List – August 2020

International writers have tended to flow swiftly past my radar. With books by British and American writers so prevalent, it’s easy to get lost in the cultures I already know the most about.

But with new translations, internationally flavored American writers, and global authors who (through colonization, I guess) have mastered English literature, that needs to change. Welcome to an international month of reading!

The Kite Rider – Khaled Hosseini

518-tcto9clThis is one of those books which do fit the modern ideas of popular. About a culture which isn’t commonly written about in Anglospheres, The Kite Rider is on my radar purely as extremely dependent on the Afghan culture and political situations. Written not too long after 9/11, I can’t imagine how tense this is going to be. I also hope it helps me learn more about the country which my own nation invaded. The history of Afghanistan is rich and far deeper than “Osama launched an attack on America.” The people – especially women – there have suffered much at the hands of the Taliban. I hope this book weaves history into it well.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

51l2b3fbhymlPart of why I haven’t read this before was the fact that it was, in original Swedish, called Men Who Hate Women. To me, a modern millennial who thinks the current incarnation of the feminist movement has a lot of good in it, that seems dangerously… against my sensibilities. I’ve openly said before that I don’t like books with senseless levels of sex or violence, and I get the distinct feeling that’s what this book is full of. I don’t actually promise to finish this book, but since I do enjoy a nice mystery every once in a while, I’m going to give this a whirl.

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

PurpleHibiscusThere’s a new trend of African literature – especially in English – that promises to kick off exciting stories and bring fresh perspectives. I’ve heard of this book before and am interested to read something part of this new movement, even if I know relatively little about the set-up.

This book also reminds me of a book I read a long time ago – middle school, I believe. I don’t remember the title, but it was about political strife in Nigeria and I enjoyed the exciting story. There’s plenty of historical material from Africa to work with.

The Leftovers: Something from YOU?

Do you have a published book and a method of purchasing it that isn’t sketch as hell?  I need indie books to read, and this year’s slots are nearly filled!  Let me know if you have something you’d like me to peruse!

See my old reviews here

American Chimera – 15.3

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A claw gripped onto my wrist. “Stacy!”

“I swear I’ll never cheat again!” I screamed. “Dani!”

And Dani, who’s so crazy strong, pulled me to her seat. The width of her body allowed and the eight legs allowed her to hold onto the seat better than I ever could. She shoved me under her, so I gripped the the metal rod under the seat and held on for dear life.

The ceiling crushed down. Broken glass churned in the spinning bus. Dani held both of us tight to her seat, the space between her and me getting ever smaller. My breath was compressed. I stopped screaming.

And then, suddenly, the bus stopped rolling and remained still on its side. I took a few moments, waiting to make sure the horrific spinning was over, then pulled myself out from under Dani. “Dani – Dani, oh my god, are you ok?”

Dani struggled, but she finally pulled a couple stuck claws out from between the bus seats and fell across the aisle toward where I had been sitting. She crumpled into herself and shivered. “What just happened!?”

“I think we rolled off a cliff!”

“I’m scared.” She felt around in her hoodie pocket and pulled out her tablet. “I’m calling Mom and Dad.”

I shook my head, now feeling a little bit of blood trickling off my nose. I noticed my head hurt, and my glove came back wet when I touched my forehead. I must have hit it against something in all the crazy twirling.

You can see the scar – right here, look – still. I have to cover that with crazy makeup, and it still gives me point deductions for symmetry. I mean, I totally beat the pants off Dani in the beauty category, but you can’t accumulate too many points. You literally can’t.

Anyway, I felt a little dizzy. I put my leg against something hard and “down,” and started crawling to the emrgency door in the back. All the running lights were off, and I smelled something burning. The lithium batteries’ casings had probably cracked. I coughed in the light smoke and put my hands against the emergency exit handle.

The door banged against its casing. The hard, composite shell of the bus had crunched and twisted such that the door was stuck. I kicked at it a couple times.

Dani crawled out of her seat. “Mr. Potter? Mr. Potter, you ok?” she shouted. I noticed her legs squirm around on the sideways chairs, pulling her up from the polymeric side of the bus.

Water from the shallow creek started seeping in through the windows. “Dani!” I shouted. “Dani – we have to get out of here! There’s water and cracked batteries!” I kicked at the door again, budging it a few centimeters.

You hear that, hag? I can use the metric system. Suck it.

Dani ripped the driver’s seat apart and manhandled the unconscious Mr. Potter out. She slung him over her thorax, held onto him with a couple of her legs, and started crawling back. “Get that door open, Stacy!”

“I’m tryin’!” I kicked again, and blood from my head dripped into my eye. At last, I kicked the window in the bottom of the door out. “I got it!”

I bent down and crawled through the opening. The cold of the morning bit into my bare hands, and the cut on my forehead stung with the temperature. The smell of lithium fire was even stronger out here.

“Stacy!” I heard behind me. “Stacy – help me get him out of here.”

Though dizzy, I turned around and took Mr. Potter’s jacket. I remember the smell of his breath, like how my parents’ breath smelled after a couple glasses of wine, but more intense.

Dani fed him out through the little hole in the door, squeezing him out like pasta from an extruder. I pulled the limp spaghetti man out from the hole. I felt crappy when his feet went into the creek, but that wasn’t a big deal – flames spurted from the bottom of the bus as more of the lithium became exposed to air.

“God, he’s heavy!” I cried as I dragged him. I could hardly see – my eyes were clouding up from loss of blood and all the exertion.

Dani pushed at the door. “Just get him away from here, Stacy! Run!”

My arms gave out after I got Mr. Potter a few yards further away. “God, Dani, help me.”

“Get out of here, Stacy!”

I stumbled a couple feet, then fell to the ground. It smelled of leaf litter and frost.

“Stacy!”

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American Chimera – 15.2

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Dani and I both lived in the upper reach of the holler. It was always us, first on the bus in the morning, last off in the evening.

This story was a ‘first on in the morning’ sort of situation. The sky was dark and cloudy like usual that deep in January. The cold of the mountain night had left the grass frosted over, and some of the leaves shimmered as if it had snowed.

Have you ever seen snow? I’ve seen it a couple times. I could move up north when I grow up – it snows there more often, and I think I’d like that. I’d have to put up with Yanks like you, though, so jury’s still out.

Anyway, Dani was sitting in the back when I got on the bus. “Mr. Potter,” I said to the driver. “You doin’ ok?”

He mumbled something under his breath. “Git in yer seat. Shut up.”

I hurried on to the back of the bus, looking over my shoulder at Mr. Potter. Something was wrong – his eyes were puffy, his hair was unkempt. Even sterilized folks like him usually kept themselves well if they wanted to do anything more than barely survive. I made my way to my seat, across the aisle from Dani, and plopped my bag in the spot next to the window.

Dani’s hand – er, claw, whatever – scratched at the seat in front of her. “You do that crap Mrs. Ellerson assigned last night? That was a dumb homework. Find all the prime numbers up to a thousand without the internet or a calculator? I was up for hours!”

I rolled my eyes. “Duh, just do the first hundred and use the internet for the rest. Do you really think Mrs. Ellerson is going to check our work? No way.”

“So you cheated?”

“Yeah. I didn’t see how I’d finish it if I played it straight.”

“Well…I guess that’s right. I didn’t finish it. Oh, man, now my scores are going to go down, and my reliability will decrease. Gah!”

I held onto the seat while we went around a curve. “It just wasn’t worth doing that assignment, you know.”

“Have you cheated on other things? I don’t want to do my homework if I don’t have to.”

“Oh hell no.” I pulled away from her and crossed my arms. “I got caught cheating off you when we were in like first grade or something. That still takes points off my scores in the End of Year evaluations, and it’s not worth the risk. I don’t cheat much at all, and this is only the second time ever -”

We both gripped our seats and screamed bloody murder.

…Ok, I might not have stopped at that point in my sentence, I get it, but just roll with me here. Just think of it as nice flavor text for your report or whatever.

Anyway, we screamed and held onto our seats. Even though I gripped tight to the fake-ass leather seat in front of me, my fingers couldn’t hold my weight when the bus rolled over.

And over.

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American Chimera – 15.1

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Stacy cleaned something out from under her nails and shifted around on the long chaise lounge. “Gah, I wish you’d stop pretending like you were a shrink. Everyone knows you’re trying to get something else out of me.”

The interrogator wrote something on her tablet. “Like what?”

“Something about Dani. That’s for sure.”

“It is. Dani is, after all, exactly what I’m here to talk about.” She put the tablet down on her lap and leaned forward earnestly. “This figment was created by you for a reason. Perhaps it was due to some sort of trauma? An event that may have precipitated the need for comfort?”

Stacy rolled her eyes. “I remember playing basketball with her in kindergarten. It’s not like anything bad had happened at that point.”

“Your memory has been vastly altered. Your mind is hiding the truth, even in what you perceive as your past. I’m here to help you dig through your thoughts and find the truth.”

“So if I just tell you something bad, you’ll stop hounding me with this bullshit?”

The interrogator sighed. “Well, since I wasn’t hired to help clean up your language, yes. After I figure out the source of your false memories, we can begin the real work. We can start the healing process.” She cleared her throat. “So, is there something you want to tell me about? It could have happened recently, it could have happened a couple years ago. Middle school, maybe?”

Stacy put her cleaned finger up to her chin. “I think I know what you’re goin’ for.”

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American Chimera – 14.4

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“Mr. Huffman?”

Brett Huffman’s face was in his hands. When he looked back up at the interrogator, the sheen of leftover tears glimmered in the overhead light. “I got off track. Just tryin’ to ’member what happened next.”

The interrogator put a hand to her chin. “I don’t see how that story proves that Dani’s a person. It doesn’t even have to be true.”

Brett’s brows furrowed. “How can you just sit there, look at me, and tell me I’m lyin’? What the hell kind of reason might I have for lyin’?” He stood from his bed and pointed to the door. “Dani’s a person ’cause she’s got feelin’s. If she’d gotten straight zeros on that test, she’d still be a person ’cause she’d have feelin’s and a way to tell us ’bout em. She has hopes and dreams and y’all just crushed ’em into tiny pieces with your stupid tests. So get out of here – let me sit here with my pants off in peace.”

The interrogator crossed her arms. “No.”

“Then what you want?!” he asked. “You rurned my life, and I mighta arreddy give yeh summat to use ’gainst me or Janie or Dani. I am pow’rless here. So you git outta here, or I’ll find some way to make yeh git out.”

“Last time I spoke with you, you told me a story about tearing down a flag.” She swallowed. “Since then, I talked with someone who told me something surprising: that flag wasn’t an American flag.”

“Git out.”

“It was a Confederate flag.”

“Heritage, not hate.”

“Is that what you taught your chimera? Did you teach your stolen weapon of war that flag wasn’t about hate?”

He gritted his teeth. “I wouldn’t ’spect you to unnerstand.”

“What, because I’m black?”

“’Cause y’er hateful! You destroyed everything and everyone I love! Git outta my cell.”

“No,” the interrogator said. “You love Dani, and it’s obvious a whole bunch of other people love her too. But Brett, she’s a spider. A freaking 200 pound spider.”

“300.”

“300 pound, then,” the interrogator said. “A 300 pound spider that you’ve obviously taught to distrust the government. I’m going to talk with her soon, and I’m…I…”

Brett sighed and sat back down on his cot. “Y’er scared.”

“No. I’m not scared.”

The room fell quiet, only the lapping of the water in the trough echoing off the walls. The lights burned bright in the ceiling, undying LED’s shimmering in concert.

“I’m leaving,” the interrogator said.

“I never taught ’er to be racist, if you were wonderin’ ’bout that.”

The interrogator didn’t wait around to listen to more. She closed the door tight behind her.

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Time’s Running Out! “If I Only Had No Heart” is Going Away SOON

If I Only had No Heart is Heading to The Vault!

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The 2016 If I Only Had No Heart was written for a National Novel Writing Month and follows one of the most unique ideas I’ve ever had. It’s a bloody sword-and-sorcery fantasy focused on an awakened machine main character. And, what’s more, it’s currently available for free on the blog.

Quick summary to tease them tastebuds:

Spirit, an acolyte of the machine goddess, performs her duties well and still yet absorbs much torment from her superiors. Thought to be a viral creation, the android is banned from speaking with the goddess until, one day, her friend Klavdiya hands her a prayer card. Spirit hopes that the prayer card will bring her peace, but the goddess has other ideas…

However, this book won’t be free for long! Next week, the Free, Downloadable PDF of If I Only Had No Heart is going away for an unspecified amount of time (maybe even forever), so you’ll need to get it NOW if you want to read it.

Why Am I Doing This?

Though I can attest that the story itself is extremely unique and follows an intriguing plot, it hasn’t been edited quite as well as something I would like to have self or traditionally published for money. In an effort to either show only my best work, I’m taking down all serially posted novels on my website. Evolution of the Predator is already a couple months into the removal process, so get into this one while you have the chance!

Don’t Let the Vault Swallow This Quietly!

Go to the If I Only Had No Heart home page and either read each post (removal dates posted on each chapter) or download the PDF while they last.

Are there any online serials you’ve enjoyed reading? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers and happy reading!

American Chimera – 14.3

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“’Cause the gov’ments filled with darned idiots,” I answered. I leaned onto the coffee table and looked into our daughter’s eyes. “This pisses me right off. So I’m just gonna tell yeh how the world works and get it over with. So siddown.”

Dani crawled onto the bed, and Janie gave a wary look at me. “What’re you doin,’ Brett?”

“What shoulda been done afore now.” I fell onto the bed, next to Dani, and smoothed out the blanket in front of me. “Now, Dani, you ’member a couple weeks ago when the war ended? How I told you I thought you was a chimera?”

She nodded her cephalothorax. That’s a fancy word, ain’t it? Cephalothorax. Learned that one from Dr. Worthington.

“Well,” I continued, scratchin my chin, “Bein’ a chimera means you’re a whole genetic soup of a whole bunch of things. It’s why you’re a ‘spider girl,’ why you hafta get those head treatments so yer brain will fit into yer exoskeleton. And you know what? Someone made you that way.”

“I knew that.”

“I ain’t talkin’ ’bout God,” I refuted, holding out a hand. “I’m talkin’ ’bout some gov’ment scientist. Some little weasel nerd in Connecticut or summat awful like that thought, ‘Hey, you know what, let’s put a little girl into a spider’s body. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.’ And so that dirty carpetbagger come up with some way to put you in that body.”

Janie held onto the bedpost. “Brett, that’s enough.”

“I ain’t finished, though,” I said. “We fount yeh, Dani, over in the holler near the blackberry bushes. Up above Miss Sarah’s cow pasture.” My lips quivered. “We fount yer egg and took yeh home. And you ’ventully hatched, and Dani, we loved you then like we love you now. And I want the best for yeh. The absolute best.”

Dani wiggled her little pedipalps. I remember seeing the fangs on her jaws. I remember at that moment wanting to just squeeze her and stop the pain she was gonna feel.

I coughed. “You’ve learnt in school how babies are made. They’ve tole yeh the end of year tests determine your phenotypical fitness, and your phenotypic fitness determines how many babies the gov’ment’s gonna let you have when you grow up.” I leaned forward. “Mama and Daddy weren’t ’lowed no babies.”

“What?” She skittered around on the bed. “None? Then…then…am I adopted?”

Janie took hold of Dani’s front leg, right round the flexible part she used as a hand. “You’ve gone too far, Brett.”

Dani’s gaze fixed on Janie. “Is it true? Did you just…just…find me down with all the other trash in the holler?”

“You’re not trash, Dani.” Janie said. “Dani, you got a two child rating. Do you know how rare that is? Don’t you realize how many other kids got ones, or zeros? Because most of them did.”

“Youns are both missin’ the point.” I pounded a fist on the bed. “The point is that the gov’ment made you real special, Dani, and your Mama and me are lucky to have you. Blessed, in fact. But the stupid gov’ment ain’t figgered out how to judge the beauty of a spider girl, ’cause they ain’t e’er gonna love you like Mama and Daddy can. The gov’ment made you, prob’ly spent a whole lotta money to do it, and they put so much time into makin’ you that they ain’t updated their test to ’count for you bein’ a spider girl. They just ’spected plain human girls and plain human boys, and that’s why their test sucks. ’Cause they’re idiots…spend all that money to make you and not give you a fair test…stupid.”

Dani shook.

Janie held her tight. “Your classmates love you. Your friend Stacy loves you.” She rubbed Dani’s head. “And yeah, you’re adopted. That’s how come you got the most rotten parents in the world.”

Dani pushed Janie away. “What? Mommy, I love you. You’re the best!”

“Am I?” Janie asked. She pulled some files out of the computer and brought an old letter, marked by its old file extension. “This paper here says I’s never fit to be a mommy. I took the same test you took, and the state told me I failed. Failed. I got a big ol’ zero, and they cut me open and took out my ovaries. I got low scores in ev’ry subject, ’cludin’ beauty. You beat me on near ’bout ever’thin, Dani. And you know what?” She reached out to take my right hand, then kept her other hand on Dani’s cephalothorax (gotta use my fancy words when I can). Janie squeezed my hand tight. “I found you, and I think my raisin’ you’s showed that test what’s what. I think I’ve been a good mommy, and I hope you agree.” She shed a tear. “I don’t know what I’d do if I had to believe my score was right.”

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American Chimera – 14.2

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Janie pointed to the holographic note. “Now, you know what we said earlier. Not gettin’ the score you want don’t mean you’re bad.”

“Yeah,” Dani said. She rubbed her claws in excitement then reared back onto four legs. I remember her cute little pink dress, the one my mother had made special for the summer. It had white polka dots and Minnie Mouse on the print.

Janie gave me our secret look. We’d been married long ’nuff that I could ’bout read her mind. She was worried.

Hell, I was ’bout to piss myself I was so worried. Janie couldn’tve been much better off.

The end of year tests. When I was in school, leastwise up ’till it mattered, the tests just determined if you passed to the next grade. I’d scoot by on the minimum and look for’ard to fishin’ in the summers. There weren’t no fat-measurin’ contests nor beauty pageants nor physical fitness tests. Janie might’ve failed the phenotypic tests just ’cause she ain’t never learned to swim. The tests were real hard back when they was first cuttin’ out people’s testicles and ovaries. Had to get rid of a slew of undesirables, ya know.

Anyway, the scores came in the mail. “Open the letter, Mama.” She hopped up and down, just shy of bein’ able to touch the hologram.

So Janie tapped the note, and the airy envelope opened. On the inside of the envelope was the scoring rubric and what the state had given for each category.

Dani tugged a claw at the bottom of the letter and pulled it to her height so she could see it. “2!” she cried out. “I got a 2!”

I looked at Janie. A two? Our daughter?

A tear came to my eyes. I couldn’t be more proud of her, couldn’t wish greater success. At the same time, my heart sank – how would getting a tentative two-child rating help a creature so clearly inhuman?

We knew she was a Chimera. The news had broke just a couple weeks afore her first exam results came in. So who was she going to breed with? How would we break her heart?

Well, of course we decided not to break her heart right then.

Janie pointed to a number. “Dani, look at this! You did so well on your physical aptitude test – that’s a very high score!”

I looked over her shoulder. “Wow…holy mackeral, sweetie, that’s perfect in every subcategory. When’d you learn to swim?”

“Basketball camp,” she answered, “And the internet.”

I whistled. “Lord have mercy, child. I’m gonna have to see that. You teach me how to swim?”

She nodded. “Yeah!”

Just so it’s clear, the swimmin’ lessons didn’t go too well. Ain’t gonna suggest learnin’ to swim from an 8-legged person to no one.

Janie shook her head incredulously. “It’s…this is amazing. Reading, writing, math, science, history are all very good! You’ve done so well, Dani!”

“I think this calls for ice cream!” I decided.

“Yes! Absolutely. You want ice cream, Dani?”

The little girl pulled the paper down and kept perusing it. Her ecstatic demeanor crashed when she pointed out a single number. “I got a zero in this one.”

I blinked and looked at what she pointed out. “Aw, that one ain’t worth jack diddly.”

She dropped the hologram and left it floating in midair.

Janie offered her a hand. “The rubric ain’t fair for you on that one, sweetie.”

Dani clutched her claw tight. “Am I ugly, Mama?”

“No!” Janie denied. “Look at this sub-rubric – ear size. Sweetcakes, your ears don’t look nothin’ like Mama’s or Daddy’s. They’re on your face, kinda like dolphin ears ’cept tuned to work in air rather than water.”

“And nose,” I said. “You say you smell with your legs. How they gonna compare your legs with my nose?”

Dani’s legs curled in. “How do I get a nose like yours? Ears?” She reached up and caressed my legs, then held tight to the pants on my outer thigh. “Do I get to grow up to be human, eventually? Is that going to happen?”

I shook my head. “No. You’re a chimera, and we love you for who you are.”

“But that makes me ugly.”

“Swetheart, no,” Janie insisted. “This is a stupid paper. See this bit?”

Dani nodded, saying that yes, she understood that Janie’s finger pointed to ‘Morality.’

Janie ran her finger down the list. “You are just. You are kind. You are smart. You are way ahead of the curve on altruism, which means niceness. This section right here says you’re gorgeous.”

“Then why is this section called ‘beauty’?”

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American Chimera – 14.1

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“What in tarnation?!”

The interrogator unfolded a canvas and aluminum chair then plopped it next to the cell door. She sat down and unfolded her tablet from its stylus. “I need information. Information I don’t have time to ready the interrogation chamber for.”

Brett hurriedly stepped into his trousers and hopped around. “Well, you could’a tole a man you were comin’ to visit afore you caught ’im with his pants down!”

“You could wear clothing instead.”

“I ain’t gonna wear pants in my own room.”

“Fine.” She cleared her throat. “I’ve seen Dani’s grades. I know she’s somehow rated for a two child future despite being a chimera. How did you swing that?”

He tightened the drawstring at the top of his jumpsuit and sat to pulling the overshirt around his shoulders. “I reckon she’s got more brains than me. Maybe more than her mama – er, Janie, you know – but I’m a bit too dull to tell. She passed them tests, all I can tell yeh.”

“You didn’t rig them?”

“No. Wouldn’t know how anyway.”

“Her teachers could have cheated for her.”

“I don’t reckon that’s what happened.”

“Then prove it. Tell me something that will assure me Dani’s…safe. Prove to me that she’s both intelligent and moral.”

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American Chimera – 13.4

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“So when you go to see Dani, you’ll notice her cephalothorax is a bit distended on one end. That’s from the injections and the extra growth of her exoskeleton.”

The interrogator chuckled. “I’d say it’s more an ‘if’ than a ‘when.'”

“You’re the only person I know of that can travel from our prisons to hers. You have to make sure it’s a when. I don’t know your Dr. Smith, but he has to be cruel if he’s used biosafety and science as an excuse to keep Dani from her friends and parents. Even if it’s only a few times, I need you to assure Dani that we’re all thinking about her.”

The interrogator let go of Dr. Worthington’s hand. “You think she’s Brett and Janie’s actual child, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s ludicrous. And why would you support that? You know what they were. You knew they were poor lunatics, the exact kind of people the government wouldn’t want raising a child.”

Dr. Worthington leaned in close to the interrogator. “I had two children. They each had two children. All of it with no oversight, no chance of involuntary sterilization. I lived a life you can’t even imagine, a life filled with sugar and beef and butter and wine.” She pointed to the door. “But I know what votes I had to cast. My generation knew that sterilization would be unpopular, but it had to happen or none of us would be here now. So hate us and hate our hypocrisy for as long as you want, but none of that will change my past. None of that will change the fact that you are suffering for choices you couldn’t have made. None of that will change the fact that Dani exists and is here now, imprisoned.”

The interrogator stood, her face dour. “I do what I have to do. If I were to treat this specimen like an accident child as you do, this country would be lost.” She crossed her arms. “So I’ll do what I have to. I’ll deal with the mess your generation left this world in.”

“Help me back down?”

The interrogator turned away from Dr. Worthington and left.

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