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THE DECEMBER OF THE LESSER CHAMELEON
ONE HOUR AFTER THE MURDER
The room where they at last found him was so cold, they wondered at first if he had frozen to death. Face as white as snow, skin as cold as frost, lips as blue as ice. His expression seemed, to the police, perfectly peaceful. As if he had passed away in the middle of a very lovely dream.
Except for the blood.
Blood always tells its own story.
DR. FOSTER: Are you comfortable?
ANA: My wrist hurts.
DR. FOSTER: Security felt the cuff was necessary. I hope you can understand.
DR. FOSTER: Do you need anything before we begin?
ANA: Can I have some water?
DR. FOSTER: Certainly. [Into microphone.] Can I get a glass of H2O in here, please? Six ounces, no more. Thank you. [To Ana.] That’ll just be a minute.
ANA: Thank you.
DR. FOSTER: Of course. It’s the least we can do.
ANA: That’s true.
DR. FOSTER: It’s been a long time since our last interview.
ANA: Four hundred and eighty-one days.
DR. FOSTER: How are you feeling?
ANA: Like this interview should be over.
DR. FOSTER: One last time, Ana. Then I promise, we’ll let you rest.
ANA: I thought I was done answering questions.
DR. FOSTER: We still need your help.
ANA: Why should I help you? After everything you’ve done?
DR. FOSTER: Because it’s the right thing to do.
ANA: Don’t you mean, because I don’t have a choice?
DR. FOSTER: How would you like to see your sisters? They’ve missed you. Maybe after we finish here I could arrange a visit. Kaia. Zara. Or maybe Zel? Would you like that?
ANA: [Quietly.] What if I want to see Nia? What about Eve?
DR. FOSTER: [Silence.] Ana, you know that’s not possible.
ANA: Why don’t you just ask me whatever it is you want to ask me? I’m not in the mood for your games.
DR. FOSTER: My games?
ANA: You’re smirking. What’s so funny?
DR. FOSTER: I’ll tell you in a minute. But first, there’s one thing I still haven’t figured out.
ANA: I’m listening.
DR. FOSTER: What did you do with the body, Ana?
THE SEPTEMBER OF THE DUSKY SPARROW
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE TRIAL
The monorail hums with a delicate power, like the beating of a bird’s heart, as it speeds along the beam-way. For a brief moment, too brief even for a security camera to catch it, I close my eyes, release my grip on the cool aluminum handrail, and dare myself to wonder if this is what it feels like to fly.
Weightless. Breathless. Free.
A little girl stares at me from across the aisle. I quickly dip into a low curtsy. “Why, hello. What’s your name?”
The girl grins, revealing two rows of perfect, tiny teeth. “Clara.”
In an instant, my head fills with music.
Then, a holographic interface flicks on before my eyes.
A little girl in soft pink ballet slippers. Living dolls awakened in the light of the moon. An evil rat king. And the handsome prince who must somehow save them all.
A red light blinks in my line of sight and I smile.
On the monorail, my wireless signal is strong.
“What a beautiful name,” I tell her. “That reminds me of my favorite ballet.”
I invite her to stand beside me as our train carves its quiet path through the sky. A thousand feet below, beyond windows made of impenetrable glass, the Kingdom rushes by in a beautiful blur of color and sound. We soar over tropical treetop canopies. Lush safari grasslands. Prehistoric prairies. Crystal mermaid pools. Extraterrestrial stars and moons. And in the distance—when we round a gentle curve—the castle. Its elegant silver spires so razor sharp they slice through the clouds like knives.
“Princess Palace,” Clara whispers. “Is it really made of magic?”
“Close your eyes,” I say, smiling. “Make a wish. I bet it will come true.”
Clara wishes hard, then throws her arms around my waist, sending a surge of warmth through my body.
There are a great many things about the Kingdom I do not enjoy, even if I would never say so. The long hours. The brutal heat. The strange hollowness I feel each night when the gates are locked and our guests return to the world outside. But this part, this connection—this is what makes all those other things seem small.
“Okay, honey. That’s enough. It’s time to go.” Her mother gently detaches Clara from my waist. I notice her watching me with the same cautious expression I’ve seen the behavioral engineers give the park’s more dangerous hybrids.
I turn my smile up half a degree and gently clasp my hands in front of me, a subtle correction to let her know I mean no harm.
“I want a picture,” Clara says. “One picture, please.”
I can see the wonder in her eyes. Smell the joy on her skin. I can even hear the exhilaration in her heart. A rapid pulsing beneath tissue, blood, and bones. Like a tiny, powerful motor in her chest.
“One picture,” her mother echoes. But she doesn’t look happy about it.
Clara throws her arms around me again. Her cheek leaves a stain of sweat on my skirts, and I silently commit her unique human scent to memory. Strawberries, chamomile, and magnolia.
Thanks to thousands of tiny electrodes embedded in my skin to measure a vast range of external stimuli, I can literally feel her smile through her whole body.
“Say cheese,” Clara’s mother says.
“Say happily ever after,” I correct.
Then the world flashes white. In the Kingdom—my Kingdom—happily ever after is the only ending there is.
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE 11TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
IN AND FOR LEWIS COUNTY, WASHINGTON
STATE OF WASHINGTON,
Case No. 7C-33925-12-782-B
THE KINGDOM CORPORATION,
JURY TRIAL DEMANDED
BEFORE THE HONORABLE ALMA M. LU
SEPTEMBER 1, 2096
REPORTER’S EXCERPT TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
MS. REBECCA BELL, STATE ATTORNEY FOR LEWIS COUNTY: Dr. Foster, can you explain to the court what it is, as the Kingdom’s chief compliance officer, you actually do?
DR. WILLIAM FOSTER, CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER AND LEAD SUPERVISOR, KINGDOM CORPORATION’S FANTASIST AND HYBRID PROGRAMS: Certainly. In essence, I serve as the chief liaison between the park’s security, technology, and performance operations. Our goal is to provide not just the best entertainment experience around, but the safest.
MS. BELL: Does that include overseeing employee performance and conduct?
DR. FOSTER: That’s part of it. It’s my job to ensure that each and every person employed by Kingdom Corp. International acts in accordance with all internal policies and procedures.
MS. BELL: Is it true what people say about your hiring process? That it’s easier to get a job working at the FBI than at the Kingdom?
DR. FOSTER: To be the best in the world, you need the best people working for you.
MS. BELL: Where do Fantasists factor into your job description, Dr. Foster?
DR. FOSTER: I am deeply involved in the Fantasist Program, and have been since its inception seventeen years ago. We continuously and rigorously proctor and evaluate performance quality and customer satisfaction—again, always in accordance with the law—so that we may continue to safely deliver an entertainment experience guests can’t find anywhere else.
MS. BELL: In other words, you turn research into reality. You make people’s wildest dreams come true.
DR. FOSTER: That’s a nice way of putting it, yes.
MS. BELL: Would you say, Dr. Foster, given your senior status at one of, if not the most technologically advanced entertainment attractions in the world, that you have a responsibility when it comes to the safety and well-being of your guests?
DR. FOSTER: Guest safety has always been our number one priority. Always.
MS. BELL: Is that so?
DR. FOSTER: Of course.
MS. BELL: In that case … how do you explain what we’re all doing here?
Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Rothenberg and Glasstown Entertainment