Escape Pod 635: After Midnight at the ZapStop

Show Notes

This story references a concept called “mirror neurons,” that’s subject to some controversy in the scientific community. Escape Pod’s current Assistant Editor happens to be a neuroscientist who shared some thoughts on the topic: http://benjaminckinney.com/mirror-neurons/


After Midnight at the Zap Stop

By Matthew Claxton

When the guy with the horns came in, I knew it wouldn’t be a good shift.

He scowled when the ZapStop’s doors refused to slide open for him. Ignoring the late-hours doorbell, he pounded one meaty fist on the shatterproof polycarbonate. The young woman beside him, hands tucked into the pouch of her hoodie, shifted uncomfortably.

I considered leaving them standing in the parking lot, but much as I’d like to have the ten p.m.-to-six a.m. shifts uninterrupted by customers, they were kind of the point. I hit the door release and let them in.

Under the bright store LEDs, I could see the forehead ornaments were new. Big, curling ram’s horns, straight out of a Rocky Mountain wildlife doc, joined across his forehead to give him a perpetual frown. Faint pink lines traced the graft below his hairline and just above his eyebrows where the whole mess had been slapped into place.

Typical frat boy, in other words. At least horns were less awkward than last year’s fashion for antlers. We’d lost a few ceiling tiles to those.

“Help you with anything?” I said.
Horns stared at me. His face cycled through expressions: confused, scared, angry. He kept looking at my name tag. No dumb frat boy in history has ever acknowledged a ZapStop drone with more than a grunt, and maybe a bashful nod when buying a particularly exotic brand of marital aid.

“Where’s Joey?” he said.

The ZapStop sits almost exactly at the midpoint between the campus and the so-called bad part of town. Our regulars are the local joe jobbers, tempers, and pensioners who inhabit the area of lower property values to the east. Evenings, students from the west side drift through, on their way to or from getting into trouble.

Couples are pretty typical, even after two in the morning. They usually want condoms, or to print a sex toy in our ZapPrint station. Or they already need some meds from the ZapPharm dispenser to deal with whatever intoxication or gastrointestinal distress they’ve self-induced.

They buy their shit, they pay, and if I’m lucky they don’t throw up by the dairy fridge.

Sometimes I get angry drunks, and I have to reach for the Chapstick-sized canister of Liquid Shillelagh under the counter. The label features a club-wielding cartoon leprechaun. It’ll take the fight out of anyone, horns or no.

But no one asks for a ZapStop employee by name. We’re interchangeable meat units, like the hot dogs under the warming lights.

“Joey’s in the hospital,” I said. “He went out for a smoke and got into the blind spot of the garbage truck. It rolled over his foot. I had to take his shift.”

I’d foolishly watched the security footage of Joey’s mishap. I’d forgotten there was sound. I’d winced as the small bones in Joey’s foot had burst one-two-three, like popcorn in the microwave.

The woman put a hand on Horns’ elbow. “We should go,” she said. He shook his head, almost catching her in the forehead with one tip of his new facial accessory.

“We gotta stick to the schedule,” he said.

She shrugged, and I got a good look at her for the first time.

Shit. I knew her. I hate it when I know them.

Gaby. We’d been lab partners for a semester, been in a couple of the same classes before and after that. Smart as hell. Wide brown eyes, starburst of freckles across her nose and cheekbones, black hair that she’d kept short, glossy as though she’d stepped out of a high end shampoo commercial.

Yeah, I may have had a crush on her.

But she’d had a boyfriend, and I’m not the kind of asshole who circles other people’s relationships like a vulture. I met someone else, I didn’t have classes with Gaby for a semester, and then I was out. Out of money, out of credit for loans, and out of school.

“Andre?” she said. “Hey, how’ve you been?”

I think I concealed my wince. It wasn’t the years-gone feelings I’d had for her. It was being on the other side of the counter, wearing ZapStop red and gold.

But Gaby didn’t have the look of poorly-concealed pity I usually got. She looked like the cavalry had arrived.

“Hey, can you help us out? Joey was going to give us a hand with a project.”

Gaby pulled off her hood (her hair was longer now) and I saw something move at the back of her neck.

“I swear, it won’t take long,” she said.

Gaby gently extracted the thing from the folds of her hoodie and cupped it in both hands, like it was heirloom crystal.

“What is that?” I said.

It looked like a sea slug, and maybe had been before gene editing.

The body was soft and fuzzy, like a velvet worm, lavender shading to porcelain-doll white on its underside. The pale belly was a blur of feathery tendrils, undulating softly.

Gaby passed it to me.

When it settled into my hands, those tendrils found the fissures in my palm prints and gripped hard. It tingled. I could feel the care and craft in the thing. The way Gaby bit her lip and leaned forward on her toes while I held her critter told me how much time she’d invested in this handful of synthlife.

“Not that I’m agreeing to anything, but what exactly is the plan?” I said.

Their grand criminal conspiracy consisted of me disabling a few of the safety locks on our most exotic printer, the biofabricator, a.k.a. the ZapGro.

Your typical ZapStop does not have a biofab. Most people drifting through want the basics — caffeine, nicotine, sucrose and lipids or reasonable facsimiles thereof, scratch tickets, phones, maybe one of our patented curry dogs. But ZapStop also carved out its niche among your Circle Ks and 7-Elevens by installing 3D printers. In the summer, we get a lot of kids making custom water guns and action figures.

I’ve helped people print entire sets of chairs from the big sucker that can handle wood pulp.

And when you’re on the edges of campus housing in the middle of the CRISPR Triangle, you get profs and students coming in who need to print up slabs of tissue or organs. Garlands of mouse hearts, beating away on little printed circulatory systems. Glands making exotic new hormones.

You can make a whole organism, if you’re patient. Jellyfish are popular with the locals. Quiet pets. Don’t eat much.

The thing Gaby was holding out to me was clearly more complicated than a jellyfish. It was trying to do something to my hand.

I was struck with a sudden horror. “It’s not excreting any chemicals is it? Corporate gives us random drug tests . . . ” I pictured myself high off my ass on modified yagé, like the street-corner prophets who spent their days communing with imaginary serpent gods.

Gaby shook her head. “No, it’s trying to interface with your nervous system.”

That was less than reassuring. I passed it back to her and she gently peeled it free, settling it back on her neck.

“I’ll give you the quick demo,” she said. “You do coin tricks, right?”

Everybody remembers that I can do a couple of magic tricks. It’s why I stopped doing them.

“Yeah.”

“Show me one.”

I glanced at Horns, but he just grunted, then glanced out at the parking lot.

So I pulled a dollar coin from my pocket and did one of the simplest palms I knew, making it disappear.

“One more time,” Gaby said. “Show me how it works.” So I did it again, a little slower this time, with my palms facing her.

She held out her hand, and I passed her the coin, and damned if she didn’t do it just as well as I did.

And I mean, just as well. I’m no professional magician. I learned everything I know watching online tutorials, and when I practiced in the mirror avidly at age thirteen, I had always been a little clumsy on the pass from first to middle finger. A slight hesitancy I’d never managed to overcome.

Gaby had that same hesitation. Exactly.

“You didn’t know how to do that before, did you?” I said.

She shook her head.

“How?”

“He doesn’t need to know . . . ” Horns tried, but Gaby was already talking.

“Fires signals up the spine, stimulating a particular set of mirror neurons, learning regions in the brain,” she said. “Enhances physical mimicry. Neat, huh?”

I was torn between wonder and jealousy. This was the kind of thing I’d always imagined creating. Until the money ran out.

For the first year after I’d dropped out of school, I’d kept reading. Followed the syllabus using bootleg textbooks, posted question after question on the gene hacker forums. I’d tried to keep up. I wanted to be fresh for when I saved enough, paid off enough loans that I could go back to school.

Two years later, I wasn’t deeper in debt. Much. But I was treading water. And I was starting to think that maybe red and gold polyester and double shifts were all I deserved. All I was fit for.

I had some ideas of how you’d make something like Gaby’s critter. But I could also feel the gaps in my knowledge. Two years spent stocking shelves and making change instead of putting in lab time were taking up valuable brain-space.

“You made this?”

Gaby nodded.

“And you want to make a copy.”

“A couple of copies, for more study. And . . . a variant.”

“I’m guessing this little guy is university property.”

Her shoulders got tight, her teeth clenched a little. “It’s the charter. Either the school winds up owning all the intellectual property, or your faculty advisor does. You know what happens to most grads? They wind up spending ten years grinding away in some corporate lab, cleaning test tubes and changing filters on someone else’s project. I’ve been working on this for two years, Andre! It’s almost ready to go commercial now. I give it up to the university, I get an A and a pat on the head and . . . ”

“You don’t want to see your potential go to waste?” I said.

There was a sting in my words, one I immediately regretted. It wasn’t her fault she’d made it one step further than me. She looked away for a second. But when she met my eyes again, all I saw was steel.

“That’s right,” she said. “I want to build wonders, Andre. Will you help me?”

I should have said no. Joey had jumped into the scheme, but he was too dumb to outsmart a robot garbage truck. Gaby wasn’t anything to me, and never really had been. I may not have loved working at the ZapStop, but it was a lot better than eating government nutrient paste three meals a day. Or whatever they serve patent violators in prison.

But that critter waved at me blindly from the folds of Gaby’s hood. Beckoning me.

I was in.

“Is he your new lab partner?” I said, nodding at Horns.

“Business partner,” Gaby said. “Derek’s getting his MBA. He can get us startup capital. So we can get going right out of the gate! But we need to have something to show our investors.”

“Sooner rather than later,” snarked Derek. He was still watching the door, paranoid about some guy coming in for smokes and stealing his intellectual property, I guessed. I hit the button that switched the sign outside to CLOSED.

“This critter is the only one of its kind, right?” I said. “The university would notice if it went missing.”

Gaby nodded. “The profs barely know what it does. We need to make a dumbed down version too, and slip that back in before I get graded.”

It was smart. She’d graduate based on a basic version of her critter, one that met course requirements and got her a degree. Then she’d suddenly turn up with the new version, all its key features allegedly created outside of the confines of the university, the intellectual property hers to keep, free and clear.

“They’re small enough we can do all of them at once in the big ZapGro, but it’ll take a few hours at least,” I said, jerking a thumb at the rank of printers.

“Then we’d better get started.”

I almost moved towards the biofab right then. But I paused.

“What was Joey getting paid?” I said.

Twenty minutes later, I’d used the store code override to change several settings on the ZapGro. Gaby had slammed her memory card into the slot and started the process, the cubic-foot tank filling with a cloud of thick yellow liquid. In half an hour, the specialized nerves would be formed from the stock of stem cells, programmed by swarms of base-editing enzymes. In the meantime, parts of the organisms’ basic anatomy would be slapped together from feedstock — heavily modified lab mouse cells.

More important, my bank account had absorbed the equivalent of three months rent from a numbered company that was owned by a string of shells that were ultimately owned by a golfing buddy of Derek’s father.

“It says two hours,” I said. “You’ll be done before my shift changes.”

“If nothing goes wrong,” Derek said. He seemed tense, though some of that might have been the fact that he didn’t yet have enough muscle mass in his neck and shoulders to comfortably hold the weight of his expanded skull.

“It’ll be fine,” Gaby said. “Andre knows his way around a biofabricator.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Derek said, not looking at me. Gaby’s lips formed a thin line.

“You know a lot about synthetic biology, Derek?” I said. “They cover that in Econ 101?”

He leaned over the counter and jabbed one meaty finger towards my face. “I know that a lot is riding on this. I don’t think you could even imagine how important tonight is.”

I hated him then. I’d seen a hundred Dereks in my two years at the college, kids who’d grown up with indoor pools and private school blazers in rows in their closets. If this deal went south, if he and Gaby were found out, he might be disciplined or expelled. But he’d be back on his feet soon in spite of himself.

I didn’t throw him out, with or without a dose of Liquid Shillelagh to the eyes. Because I did know what was on the line.

Getting my foot in the door with Gaby and her company could mean the money to get back into school again. It could mean a job without a plastic name tag or vomit mopping by the liquor fridge.

So I was going to be cautious, more cautious than Derek had thought to be.

I popped the memory card that recorded the store’s security feed and pointedly tossed it to Gaby. She pocketed it as I bought another one from the spinner rack, using cash, and slotted it in. “There. Another layer of security,” I said.

Derek glared, obviously angry he hadn’t thought of the cameras first.

“Do you want to try it out?” Gaby said.

Peacemaking, distracting us. But also eager to show off the fruits of her labors. She’d been working in secret for months, and I doubted Derek was very appreciative of the straight-up goddamn genius of this little thing.

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“It caused mild discomfort in our animal models after twelve hours,” she said. “Skin rashes, that kind of thing. You also might use up more potassium and sodium than usual. Eat a banana and have a Gatorade if you keep it on for more than an hour, okay?”

Gaby handed me the thing, and again it glommed onto my hand. This time I lifted it to the back of my neck, and gently placed those feathery suckers against my spine. I shivered, and then had a brief moment of synesthesia — the off-white LEDs tasted like mandarin oranges, the black and white linoleum floor rang like a gong.

Then nothing.

“It takes a few minutes,” Gaby said.

“So how do I know it’s working?”

She reached into her messenger bag and tore a piece of paper off a legal pad. She folded it into quarters, bending the paper back and forth, then tore it into smaller pieces along the lines. She passed me two.

“Here, I’ll show you once before it really takes effect.”

She made a crane, her fingers moving swiftly, bending wings and neck and beak.

“Now you try.”

I’d been watching intently, and I managed the first few folds. I did pretty well, but after a minute, I was stumped.

We waited a couple minutes.

Things changed.

I want to say there was a halo around Gaby and Derek, but there was no glow, no light. It was just that their movements became intensely interesting. Every twitch of fingers or eyebrow gained an almost religious significance. I couldn’t look away, the ZapStop around me fading like an old photo found in the bottom of a chest of drawers.

“Okay,” I said, and Gaby showed me again.

I made my crane flawlessly, a perfect twin of hers.

“How long will I remember how to do this?” I said.

“As long as you normally would,” she said. “If you practice, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, it’ll fade.” She pulled a dollar coin from her pocket and made it vanish again.

“What are the limitations?”

“Gaby,” Derek protested. She ignored him. Her words rushed out, powered by long pent up pride.

“You can’t use it to teach calculus or history or anything abstract. Right now, it only stimulates the parts of the brain involved in mimicking and learning physical actions. But within that—martial arts training, typing, crafting, that kind of thing.”

“Impressive.”

“We hope we can speed up all kinds of learning . . . ”

I glanced at Derek, who had turned away.

No.

Not turned away. With the thing on my neck, pumping my brain full of intense interest in every action, I could tell that he was looking for someone. Waiting. Someone was supposed to come here, and judging by the subtle tension around Derek’s jaw, his eyes, his clenched fists, either they were late, or he was intensely nervous about their imminent arrival.

“Who else are you meeting here?” I said.

“No one,” said Gaby. She looked at me, glanced at Derek.

Even silent, he was a bad liar.

“Derek?” she said.

“An investor,” he said. “He wanted to see it. Tonight, off campus. I said we’d show him the prototype.”

“We haven’t talked about this.” Her voice could have liquefied nitrogen. “Who is it?”

“Someone with the capital we need,” Derek said. “We need money now, Gaby. You just don’t understand where our finances are, there’ve been expenses on your end, and in making contacts . . . ”

He was interrupted by the soft crunch of tires on asphalt, and the sweep of powerful halogen headlights. A glossy black SUV swept into the lot and double-parked across both wheelchair stalls.

Derek waved a hand. “C’mon. And remember to smile, for Christ sakes.”

Gaby glanced back at the ZapGro, which was humming, its screen filled with happy green indicators.

“I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know if anything goes wrong,” I said. I gently peeled the critter off the back of my neck and handed it over.

Gaby let it cling to her hand and followed Derek into the parking lot.

I flicked on the outdoor microphones, routing them to the little speaker just under the counter.

First out of the SUV was a woman, short, slim, blond hair down to her jawline, mirror shades. She wore loose-fitting drawstring pants and her hands were tucked in the pockets of a green Army surplus jacket. She stood with her legs spread a little, scoping out the scene, in a way that said she was the muscle.

Never get into a deal where someone can be described as “the muscle.” I was kicking myself for being anywhere near Derek and Gaby, for what had wandered into my quiet ten-to-six shift.

The guy who got out of the driver’s side was… well, TV has conditioned me to expect slick guys with saturnine facial hair, Italian suits, dark shirts and ties.

This guy wore a baggy Florida Gators jersey, jean shorts, and a pair of puffy, laceless sneakers that were impossibly white. They looked wrong on a guy who was well into middle age, and would have been working on a paunch and a bald spot but for the benefits of metabolic controls and scalp grafts.

It was a pretty shitty scalp graft, for what it’s worth. I could see the seams between new and old hair on the monitors.

Derek rushed forward to shake hands with Mr. Midlife Crisis. Gaby hung back. From the way she held her arms and shoulders, she was wishing she was anywhere else.

“Hi!” said the investor. “You’re Derek, right? We texted! And you must be Gaby! Awesome!”

“And you are?” Gaby said.

The investor shook his head. “Nah, we’re not at the name stage yet. Can I see it?”

“I think we’d better go over the deal, first,” Gaby said. Her voice didn’t shake, even as the woman in mirror shades stared at her. “My partner here hasn’t really briefed me on this meeting.”

The investor chuckled and rocked back and forth on his feet. “Sure! It’s eight-hundred-K now, for ten percent common stock, and seventy percent preferred. At least, that’s what we discussed.”

“It’s a starting point,” said Derek, his hands raised as if to ward off Gaby’s death glare. “It’s not set in stone!”

“I like to think of it as a baseline,” said the investor. “The money could go up, maybe. If that little thing does what Derek here says it can. May I?”

He reached out his hand. Gaby said something, but I couldn’t hear it. A low mechanical whine was rising, affecting the microphones aimed at the parking lot. Gaby didn’t immediately hand over the critter, and the investor’s smile was tight as he stood there with his hand still out. Derek was cajoling, on the verge of shouting. And the muscle . . .

She wasn’t looking anywhere now. She had the flat expression of someone watching a feed through display glasses.

I put it together a second too late.

Gaby gave in and handed over the critter to the investor. He cooed and stroked its fuzzy lavender back. The whine intensified, and Gaby and Derek looked up, searching for the sound’s source.

Everything went wrong, all at once.

The investor tried to throw the critter straight up in the air. He was aiming for the drone. The one the muscle had been guiding in, via controls tucked into her pockets, watching through displays on the insides of those mirror shades. It should have been a simple snatch—zoom down and net the critter, take off with it and have it reverse engineered in a lab. Beat Gaby and Derek to market.

But the investor flung his arm up, and nothing happened. He started shaking his whole arm like he was fighting off a bee. The critter had glommed onto his hand, just like it had mine.

Gaby lunged for the investor, grabbing for his arm and her critter. He backed away.

The muscle, meanwhile, got between Derek and her boss. Derek literally snorted like a bull—heard it clear as day through the speakers. He put his head down and charged. A pair of pointy vat-printed keratin horns were aimed right at the muscle.

She never flinched.

The woman took her hands from her pockets and do-si-doed around Derek. She grabbed him at the scruff of his neck and belt and gave him a helpful push.

His head slammed into the SUV so hard it rocked on its tires. A door panel rang like a bell. Derek staggered back, then dropped to the gum-flecked asphalt. He moaned and lay still.

The investor was still playing keep-away with the critter. Gaby grabbed for it, circled, grabbed again. The investor swung his arm wide, and there was a wet crunch as the back of his hand smacked into his SUV.

He and Gaby and the muscle all stared at the wet mess on his hand. Bye-bye, prototype.

That’s when the door dinged as I ran outside. Bad timing, as usual.

The muscle’s head snapped around and those blanked-out eyes locked onto me.

A gun materialized in her hand. The barrel was a black hole that swallowed all light. I threw up both hands in the classic surrender gesture, showing I was unarmed.

“I just . . . take the cash if you want, there isn’t much in the till!”

She smiled with one side of her mouth.

The drone fell from the sky and exploded into shards three feet behind her. She twitched and the gun barrel wandered away from my face.

I shifted the palmed Liquid Shillelagh back where I could use it and gave her a full dose from four feet away. She dropped the gun and reeled back. She howled and clawed with both hands at her burning nose and mouth. I grabbed the pistol and tossed it backhanded onto the roof. Then I finally did the first smart thing I’d done all night—I ran.

I grabbed for Gaby’s hand, but she didn’t need any encouragement. We sprinted right back inside and I hit the door lock.

Outside, the muscle was on her feet again. I don’t think it took her too long to come up with a plan.

She picked up Derek one-handed, dragged him over to the front doors. Claws extended from her fingers and pressed against the big veins in his neck. He groaned. His whole face was on its way to being a bruise.

“Open the door,” the investor said.

Gaby and I exchanged a glance.

I opened the doors. I’m not that callous.

Muscle marched in, still holding Derek in front of her like a shield. The investor followed, whistling, hands in his pockets, jangling his keys.
“I really wanted that prototype,” he said. “But I’ll settle for the data.”

He glanced at the back, where the ZapGro was still humming away.

“Hah! You’re making another one here? Next to the slushee machine? Scrappy, aren’t you?”

He turned to me, cocked his head.

“He doesn’t know anything about this,” Gaby said. “He’s not involved. Don’t hurt him.”

“No one’s getting hurt,” said the investor. He nodded to the muscle, who dropped Derek by the ghost pepper chips (two for one, this week only) and grabbed me.

The points of her claws pressed against my throat, the pressure about one percent less than that necessary to pierce human flesh.

“Miss?” said the investor. “If you’ll get the memory card out?”

Gaby glanced at me.

I couldn’t nod. I couldn’t say anything. But my eyes flickered to the ZapGro, then to her coat pocket.

If she still had a bit of the critter’s effect flaring in her brain, maybe it would be enough.

Gaby hit the switch to pop the card, triggering about a dozen error messages and angry beeps. She turned and held it out to the investor. She looked desolate. Exactly like someone handing over two years’ worth of hard-won discoveries.

The investor leaned over and peered into the little window on the ZapGro. He hit the Flush and Cycle button, and then tapped at the controls, setting it to format its memory.

“Okay,” he said. “I think that could have gone smoother, but it’s over now. Just remember that, everyone, it’s over. And, uh, Andre?” Reading it off my name tag. I hate when people do that. “I’ll need the memory card from the security cameras, too.”

The muscle maneuvered me behind the till, and I handed it over. That was the moment that I most feared I’d get my throat ripped out.

But the investor just snapped the card in two and tucked the pieces into his pocket. He didn’t even look at it.

He stepped over Derek, and he and muscle boarded his SUV and sped off.

“Are you okay?” I said.

“Scared,” Gaby said. “Freaked out, pissed off. But things could be worse.”

She flashed a crooked grin.

“So you did it,” I said.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the memory card she’d popped into the ZapGro just a few hours before. The one she’d palmed and switched for the old security feed card. All her data, safe and sound.

When Derek’s investor checked the card he’d taken, he’d find hours and hours and hours of footage of people buying smokes and beer and emulsified sugar. Along with some high-quality video and audio of Joey getting the small bones in his right foot turned to powder.

I’d been worried he’d notice that both memory cards he’d taken were the same ZapStop store brand. Apparently not.

“I told you, I worked really hard on this project,” Gaby said. “It works pretty well.” She closed her hand around the card, then with a flourish held up an empty palm.

I called an ambulance for Derek, who probably had a concussion. Gaby had a brief discussion with him while the paramedics loaded him into the back. I didn’t need the critter’s effects to tell that it was the equivalent of “You’re out.”

Then I locked the doors, muted the bell, and pulled a four pack of beers from the fridge at the back. Gaby and I slumped to the floor in front of the liquor case, our backs to the cool glass.

“So, what now?” I said. “You want to take another crack at making your dumbed-down version?”

“Not here, no offense,” she said. “I’m going to lay low for a bit. Go to class, make sure the backups of my research are secure.”

“That guy might try to grab your work again,” I said.

“I know. So I could use a new partner. Someone to watch my back, help figure out ways to keep us secure. Someone who can think on his feet.”

I thought about it. My heart was pounding. There was a gun on the roof of the ZapStop. The acrid odor of Liquid Shillelagh still hung in the air.

“I’m in,” I said. “For a while, at least. Until you get your company up and running. A year, two at most.”

“Already planning your exit?”

“More like . . . reentry,” I said. “Gotta be careful not to burn up, or burn out. I need to go back to school. Finish what I started.”

Gaby nodded.

“If I’ve got a company when you graduate, there’ll be a place for you in it,” she said.

“By ‘a place’ I hope you mean a big, shiny lab complete with a fat research budget,” I said. She laughed.

We shook on the deal.

Gaby ordered a ZapCar to take her back to her place, and I keyed in the employee discount number for her.

Then I took a notebook from under the counter. I used the first page to write my letter of resignation. The rest I pulled free, folded, and tore into squares.

When my relief got there at dawn, I’d covered the counter with paper cranes.

About the Author

Matthew Claxton

Matthew Claxton spends his days working as a newspaper reporter in the damp and verdant suburbs beyond Vancouver, British Columbia. His short stories have appeared in Mothership Zeta, Podcastle, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection.

Find more by Matthew Claxton

Elsewhere

About the Narrator

Eric Luke

Eric Luke is the screenwriter of the Joe Dante film EXPLORERS, which is currently in development as a remake, the comic books GHOST and WONDER WOMAN, and wrote and directed the NOT QUITE HUMAN films for Disney TV.  His current project INTERFERENCE, a meta horror audiobook about an audiobook… that kills, is a best seller on Audible.com.

Find more by Eric Luke

Elsewhere