Author : Brian Armitage

The field sputtered light, a cloud of particles flashing in waves and sparkles. Edward was surprised, and a little disturbed, at how bright and colorful it was. He looked over at Sandra, the company liaison, with her carefully neutral expression. “How, uh, long does it usually…” And his breath stopped when Joan’s face appeared in the glittering fog.

She stumbled forward as though shoved from behind, and looked around slowly, dazedly. Edward still wasn’t breathing when her eyes settled on his feet, and crawled up his body to meet his stunned gaze.

Joan glittered softly, the back wall of the particle chamber just visible through her transparent form. Her features, her entire body was hazy. But the eyes. When they settled into his, he knew. It was her.

He looked mutely to the woman in the suit, but she had already slipped out of the viewing chamber, supposedly to give him privacy. What he could not forget, however, was the company’s policy of monitoring all visitations, ostensibly for the purpose of security. They would hear all of it.

Edward looked back to Joan, and the words leapt out of him. “I married Rachel.”

She stared at him, her eyes clear. Her mouth moved. “You married Rachel.” Her voice projected from the speakers, a harsh digital transmission.

Edward could not suppress a shudder. He had too look away from those eyes, and turned his gaze to where her legs dissolved into mist, then immediately to the ridge where the two-inch pane of glass separated the two chambers. Still, he felt vulnerable. “I never meant to-”

“You brought me back,” Joan said, stalking toward the edge of the energy field, “to tell me you married my sister.”

“Joan, I-”

She waved her left hand in front of her, exactly as he had before. “No, just… no.” Her eyes scrunched shut in in frustration, and she covered her face.

“I’m sorry.”

Joan’s hands swept away from her face, sending waves of charged particles scattering through the chambers, and looked at him. He knew that cold, blank expression. When he had pushed her too far. “Go to hell, Ed.” She looked over her shoulder. “Turn it off.”

“Joan!” He cast about desperately, looking for a technician. “Please, no! Don’t!”

“We’re sorry, Mr. Eisenberg,” the liaison’s voice said, with a touch of sadness, “we must honor the deceased’s wishes.”

The particles flashed and began to dim, and Joan with them. Edward ran to the glass, pressing against it. She shook her head as she faded from view, and tossed up her hands. “You thought I didn’t know?” she shouted. It was barely loud enough to hear on the laboratory speakers. Her eyes disappeared last, and with them, the light was gone.

Sandra looked sideways at her intern, who stood next to her, watching the monitor as Edward Eisenberg collapsed. “You asked why we make them pay in advance.”

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