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Author: Madeleine Roux
Publisher: Ace Books, 2021

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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The Ganymede facility is a fresh start. At least that's what Senna tells herself when she arrives to take part in a cutting-edge scientific treatment in which participants have traumatic memories erased.

And Senna has reasons for wanting to escape her past.

But almost as soon as the treatment begins, Senna finds more than just her traumatic memories disappearing. She hardly recognizes her new life or herself. Even though the cure might justify the side effects of the process, Senna knows that something isn't right. As the side effects worsen, she will need to band together with the other participants to unravel the mystery of her present and save her future.



More than anything else Senna remembered the bitter silence. At some point during the night, everyone around her on the ship stopped breathing. The soft, human sounds of sleep had mixed with the reverberation of space outside the passenger craft, a lullaby of organic white noise that helped her drift to sleep, but once it was gone, the absence was far louder. Unmistakable.

It was like how she imagined the dead of winter, still and adrift, though Senna had never experienced a true winter herself. Her entire life had been lived in outer space and, more than that, in almost total confinement.

She had taken a pill and gone to sleep surrounded by life, then woke among the dead. Senna had rolled over, tossing restlessly, and felt her hand brush something cold and almost rubbery on the sleeping mat next to hers. Startled by the sensation, she jerked awake, and under the reddish glow of the emergency lights above, she found herself staring down into the open, glazed eyes of her best friend, Mina. The blood trickling from between Mina's full lips was as crimson as the emergency lights blinking overhead.

Senna gasped, and it was the only sound in the entire ship.

Oh my God. They're all dead.

"You can't leave me," she whispered to Mina. The fear made her tremble; the shock made her grab Mina by the shoulders and shake. Her bones were thin and birdlike, and her head swiveled back and forth as Senna tried to rouse her. Nothing.

A door opened across the room, and Senna whirled to face it, torn between the sudden knowledge that she was alone and now the worse fear that she wasn't, that whoever was responsible for all this death was still alive and with her. That she was next.

"Senna," she heard him say. "I didn't know you were awake."

Why was she the only one left alive? And why wasn't he surprised by it? She didn't know what to say. What could she say?

They're all dead, every last one of them, except for you and me.

"Hello? Lady? Earth to blondie."

She blinked, hard, gazing around not at the interior of a doomed passenger craft, but at an impatient barista glaring down into her face. Grabbing her chest, Senna nodded and waved at him, but the memory took its time fading away. One year ago. It still felt like she was living inside that moment, crushed on all sides by it.

I didn't know you were awake, Preece had said. To her, it still felt like she was deep, deep asleep. Dragged under.

"S-Sorry," Senna stammered. She hadn't been outside Marin's apartment in weeks. The neon haze of Tokyo Bliss Station hurt her eyes. A halo lingered around the barista's head, the self-driving coffee cart lit with an amber glow. "How much is it?"

"Ten for the drink," the barista replied. He was tall and thin, tattooed from the collar of his shirt and apron to his mouth. A series of scrollwork arrows pointed to the ring glinting in his lip. "Three for the cup."

Senna frowned up at him. "Three? Really?"

Rolling his eyes, he shrugged and handed her the mottled brown cup, frothy yellow liquid steaming inside. "Fine, no charge for the cup. Bring something reusable next time, okay? Anything else I can get you?"

Senna stared down into the drink, the familiar color and smell threatening to bring another wave of painful nostalgia.

Anything else, she mused. A new brain? A tranquilizer?

"No," Senna told the young man. "No, I'm... That's all."

"Just remember the cup thing," he muttered, tapping the scanner on the coffee cart counter, waiting for Senna to hold up her wrist and flash the VIT monitor that ought to be there. But Senna still didn't have one. The barista noticed, the specter of his shaved-off brows looming low over his eyes.

"She will." Marin to the rescue. "She'll remember for next time. And I'll take a sweet drip."

The barista sighed. "Line jumpers pay double for their cups."


Marin, petite and dressed in pristine white patent leather, with a glossy black curtain of hair, leaned across Senna and swiped her own wrist monitor across the scanner. The machine dinged cheerfully, transaction complete. She glared at the thing toiling away behind the barista. AI Servitors, working husks of robots skinned with a kind of human latex mask over a carbon skeleton, were ubiquitous laborers across the stations, on the colonies and on science vessels.

"You know SecDiv is going to roll out lifelike versions of those things soon? With human fucking faces and skin and everything? I guess the regular peacekeeping bots aren't intimidating enough or something," said Marin in a disgusted undertone. She shuddered. "So creepy."

"Will we be able to tell the difference?" Senna asked, more amazed than afraid.

"I've seen this dystopian vid, and the answer is no."

As soon as the coffee arrived, Marin tugged Senna away from the cart quickly, back toward the carbon-black folding chairs and tables clustered on the promenade. The glitzier upper levels of the station rotated above them, rings that rose to impossible heights-financial districts and fashion houses, arcade blocks, cosmetic surgery clinics, augmented-reality parlors and universities... Down on their level, close to the bottom of the station and Hydroponica, nothing could be done to control the heat. The food and water operations needed the cooling systems, not the impoverished districts hovering just above them.

So Senna drank her haldi ka doodh in the swelter, accustomed to it. The hot turmeric milk almost scorched her mouth as she took a sip.

"I don't know how you can drink that stuff," Marin murmured.

"It's good," said Senna, shrugging.

"Blegh. Anyway, sorry I'm late."

Senna sat across from her at one of the empty tables. The lunch rush crowd swarmed around them in the plaza, drawn to the coffee cart for their midday blast of caffeine. Behind them, six lanes of self-driving cars and a passenger tram funneled workers back toward the main bank of elevators at the center of the district, elevators that ran the full height of the station.

"Don't worry about it," Senna said, waving off her apology while swatting at the vapor rising from her milk. She liked the slightly grassy taste of the drink. It made her wonder if it was the kind of earthy smell one experienced during a real Earth summer.

"I do worry," Marin replied, drinking her coffee. Her nose wrinkled. "Shit. They forgot my Zucros."

"I can wait."

"No, I shouldn't leave you alone again."

Senna ran her thumb lightly around the softening edge of her disposable cup. She felt stupid and small and unmanageable when Marin said things like that. But Senna also knew she had earned being babied.

"I shouldn't have been late. It's too dangerous for you out here. Anyone could... well." Marin trailed off and glanced around in every direction, which, Senna didn't point out, only made them look more conspicuous.

"Anyone could recognize me, yeah." Senna nodded. She wasn't stupid, whatever anyone thought. With a tired smirk, she gestured back toward the coffee cart, the Servitor, and the tattooed, eyebrow-less man inside it. "It already happened, Marin. Why do you think he refused to charge me for the cup?"

"Then maybe I should get you back to the apartment." Marin tucked one strand of silky black hair behind her ear, chewing her lower lip. "This was a dumb idea anyway."

"No." Senna clutched her cup and took another sip, even if it burned. "I've locked myself up in your place for a year. I told you-today I'm going to do one normal person thing. And this is it. So we're staying and we're going to do it."

Marin sat very still, probably shocked to hear a single word of dissent from the usually pliable Senna.

"God, that sounded ungrateful," Senna hurried on. "I don't mean to be like that. You've done so much for me. Without the apartment, without you... Thank you, Marin. I mean it, thank you. And thank you for meeting me here. It's nice! You know, being out."

She almost smiled, but then Marin looked at her VIT monitor. Everyone-on Earth and in space-owned one. Craved one. They were ubiquitous, holding a person's bank access, entertainment, contacts, maps, everything. Most people couldn't remember their own middle names without one, not just convenient tech but a lifeline. The small, flat screen wasn't just hooked up to the wireless but to the owner themselves, jacked into the small implant at the base of the skull; it fed users augmented-reality advertisements curated by their interests, displaying emojis and images that danced in front of stores, enticing passersby to enter. In fact, Marin could probably see any number of specials and sales promoted by the coffee cart spinning around her head just then.

Crime on the station continued to be almost nonexistent-hard to commit a crime when your own convenient method of finding out, well, anything and everything would also show exactly where you were at all times. It controlled where citizens could go on the station, what levels they could access. It managed a person completely. The station's security even monitored bio data, predicting a stroke or a heart attack before anyone even called for help.

Sometimes Senna longed for the convenience of it all, but she had been controlled by outside forces for most of her life. It was time to make her own decisions. She had never gotten the implant. Nobody in the compound had, or if they came there with one, Preece removed it. She glanced up from her drink, realizing Marin had gone silent for too long. And she wasn't lost in thought, but staring at her VIT, scrolling fast.

"Is something wrong?" Senna asked softly. Her pulse started to race. Managing anxiety wasn't exactly her strong suit. That was why Marin's apartment felt so soothing, so safe. Nothing surprising ever happened there.

"Just Jonathan, he's always in a shit mood lately." Marin's eyes flashed back and forth as she responded to her boyfriend's messages, the VIT reading her ocular input through the implant. "Hours slashed again. His division at MSC is a mess. I'll be shocked if they don't sack him before the end of this quarter. Then his mood will really be something." She took a quick, sloppy sip from her cup, spilling coffee down her pristine white blazer. "Goddamn it."

"I'll get something for that," Senna offered, jumping up.

"Forget it. Shit." Marin wiped blindly at the stain, still trying to message Jonathan. She only managed to rub the dark smudge deeper into the fabric. "I swear to God, between the two of you, sometimes I feel like a babysitter..."

Senna went still, the tea souring in her stomach.

Finally, Marin glanced up, wincing. "That was harsh, Senn. Jonathan will not get off my ass about everything. His job, his mother, his goddamn squash tournament, you... It's just a lot some days, you know? Everything is so much."

Senna wanted to say, I understand, but she didn't, because she couldn't. Nobody asked her about anything, not while she was in hiding. While she lived with Marin and Jonathan, she kept to herself, trying to be the smallest possible nuisance. Not small enough, apparently. Her eyes drifted to the holographic screen suspended above the plaza. It wrapped all the way around like a digital ribbon, news chyrons and station alerts adding noise to the already vividly noisy lights and sounds of Tokyo Bliss. Sector 7, where they had met for coffee, was particularly packed, food cart on top of food cart, plazas encroaching on one another, the swarm of commuters breaking for lunch filling the sector with a constant hum of conversation, laughter, shouting...

A daily talk show broadcast flickered across the plaza screen. Daily Bliss. Senna knew the show well, watched it almost every day. It was just the kind of predictable, cheerful pap that helped her zone out. The hosts, perpetually elated, wore pastel suits and sat between leafy fake ferns, interviewing chefs, writers, actors and the occasional palatable station politician. The hosts, Hali Teng and Zaid Forrester, sat on identical stools, clown-big smiles at the ready, their skin glowing with makeup. That day, a striking woman preened between them, her black skin perfect and lustrous, and seemingly makeup-free. Hali and Zaid chatted and giggled, the barista behind them screamed something at a woman on her VIT, the lunch crowd peaked, bodies crushing against their table while Senna clung to her teacup.

It was so much to take in, she hadn't even noticed Marin was still talking.

"...It's become this whole thing. I wouldn't even bring it up to you, you know I said you can stay as long as you want. That stands, Senn, I want you to know that. I would never kick you out."

Senna inserted the silent but, and she was right.

"Jonathan wants a baby. You'd think he was the one with the uterus the way he won't shut up about it. Baby fever. I told him: Let's just get a puppy first, I don't even know if there's a maternal cell in my body! But of course he's allergic to everything..."

She found herself nodding along, half listening, but more intent on the Daily Bliss broadcast. The model's name rolled across the bottom of the screen. Just one word, no surname. Zurri. She was there to advertise a new skin cream, one she almost certainly didn't need. Her big, wide eyes were so dark, almost black, impossible to look away from. The beautiful nakedness of her skin and simple, chic slip dress only made Hali and Zaid look more ridiculous-too airbrushed, too injected, too bleached.

"Isn't she gorgeous?" Zaid fawned, flashing his boxy teeth. "Just perfection."

Perfection. Senna put down her cup, realizing her hands were hurting from the heat radiating through it. Someone bumped into her chair without apologizing. Her heart raced faster. She was trapped. Crushed. Just breathe slowly, in through the nose, out through the mouth.

"And even fish are stupidly expensive now. He doesn't want to pay the bio tax, which is understandable, but it will be a lot higher for an actual human child. He doesn't want to hear it." Marin finished, following Senna's line of sight toward the broadcast. "Ugh. Zurri. I would kill for her skin. Jonathan says her new line is too pricey, but whatever, if we can afford a fucking baby, we can afford some moisturizer."

"She's perfect," Senna agreed. And speaking of... She didn't know if she had the strength to bring it up, but she had to try. Closing her eyes, she pictured the monitor open on the guest room table. Then she remembered the message, the header in bold and black, unforgettable.

Copyright © 2021 by Madeleine Roux


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