"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.
IMAGINE THE WORST DAY OF YOUR LIFE. NOW IMAGINE IT NEVER HAPPENED AT ALL.
Just thinking about those words stole her breath away again.
"Maybe this is the right time for me to go," Senna heard herself say. She hadn't even opened her eyes yet.
Somehow, she expected Marin to at least mildly protest, but she didn't. Instead she tossed her head side to side lightly, saying, "You know, Senn, my shrink says I'm re-creating a toxic cycle with you, that I'm fixing you instead of fixing myself, because it's easier to take on your damage than to deal with my own."
I'm not broken, she wanted to say, but she couldn't. She didn't know if she was broken or not, and if she was, if it was fixable. The cracks splintering through her heart were so wide, the gulfs there so deep, they felt permanent. Impassable.
"Do you agree?" Senna asked.
"Shit, I don't know. He's right a lot but he's wrong plenty, too."
When Marin didn't offer more, Senna took a deep breath, realizing it was her opening. "There's this study that reached out to me. They want me to apply, and if I got in, then I would need to move out anyway. Maybe it's time."
Marin's black, thin brows rose to her hairline. "What kind of study? Are you sure it's not a scam? If they want you to buy something to start, then it's a scam."
"I would hope it's not a scam," she said with a dry laugh. "Paxton Dunn is running it."
Her eyebrows somehow went higher. "No shit?"
They were never allowed to swear on the compound. "They want applicants who have experienced serious trauma, they want to safely erase the bad memories. I've overstayed my welcome, Marin, I know I have, and if this program could help me, then I think I need to jump on it. This could . . . this could really change everything for me. It could free me."
Marin's shoulders slumped. Her VIT buzzed with more messages, undoubtedly Jonathan, but she ignored it. "This is serious stuff. Serious medical stuff. Are you sure you want to take the risk? What about Dr. Fentner?"
"I like him fine, but it's not enough, Marin." She didn't know if anything would ever be enough. "I need more than therapy. I need a fresh start. And it sounds like you guys need one, too. You need your space. And your baby."
"Jonathan's baby." Marin smirked. "But I hear you. You know you're still welcome to stay, Senn. I would never kick you out. Mina would . . . well, she would want me to take care of you. You can take some time to think this over."
"No, I've thought it over," Senna said. Just now. Her heart grew heavier at even the mention of Mina. "And I want to apply."
She could leave the station, escape the noise and lights, go somewhere peaceful and isolated, and come back someone brand new. Someone who wouldn't start to gasp and drown in a crowd, someone who wouldn't wake every three hours from nightmares, someone who could receive a hug or a touch without wanting to crawl out of her skin.