Author : Janet Shell Anderson

The sunlight’s dim, strange, blood colored. “I was framed.”

He doesn’t say “That’s what they all say.” He doesn’t know enough. He doesn’t know what I am, what he is, what it is to be horribly in love. He will.

I’m in prison on KEPPLER 442b, a Goldilocks world, and lucky to be here.

“You killed five people,” he says; his voice cracks slightly. He’s fifteen, knows nothing, has never been off this world. He’s interviewing me because he’s an aristo here and they have to do civil service from the time they’re kids, start at the bottom.

A murder conviction on homeWorld gets you death, immediately, unless you’re pregnant, then death immediately after the birth, unless you can raise the wind, get enough cash to go to KEPPLER 442b instead. I got pregnant, got the cash, took the sickening long trip to this dim world with its red dwarf sun. Kids run the prisons. They’ve got lists everywhere on every wall. Everything that’s not forbidden is required.

I’m a Temptress Level Three. I don’t work well with lists.

“How are you getting along?” he asks.

I’m homesick. Who would think?

“It’s beautiful here. I love it. The people are so kind,” I lie.

They’re idiots. Who puts their children in such danger? The place is all desperate felons, red light, deserts, waterfalls, falsepalms, fancy plumed redfish in the pools, legged snakes that sing till dawn, starry, starry nights. No walls. No fences. Where would you go? Out beyond this oasis there is nothing but red rock, red sand, death.

It’s called MUCHADO.

“Your family are beetle producers?” I ask him.

What’s his name? All the big money here in this oasis is in beetles. These people raise them, eat them, wear them, just about marry them. Name them. That bugs me. Not sure what the beetles think of the relationship. Maybe it’s mystical.

“Yes. I’m glad you like it here,” he says.

I hate it. I spent a fortune and hate it. I miss DC, the Tidal Basin, the Potomac, the White Mansion, the Lincoln Temple, the reflection pool, the Capital of Allworlds, Rock Creek, tulip trees, Meadowbrook Stables, light baths, Beech Drive, winter. I miss Loki, my seventy-five-pound, semi-domestic Norwegian Forest Cat who could talk. Mostly he said things like “Wurp” and “Wow,” but he tried. I miss my ex.

What is this boy’s name? Patrick? Philip? My ex was Cecil Howard; we married at thirteen. His family had it annulled.

“Philip,” I say, and he smiles. “How do you raise beetles?” I sit close, smile. I’m twenty going on one thousand. His pupils are wide. He likes me.

By midnight he will be horribly in love.

“Beatrice,” he says. “It’s a wonderful name.” Sure.

After the annulment, Loki and I went to a few houses of the rich, late at night, when no one was home, borrowed a few things, jewelry, whatnots, paintings, this and that, sold some of it. Nobody missed it much. Being a Temptress Level Three gets tiresome, so much changing clothes. We got caught by some frat boys from Sigma Sigma Sigma Sigma Aldebaran. They threw Loki into a high-beam light bath, and he screamed “no, no, no,” as he died. I’ve never forgotten. Five of them died after that. One ran away.

My cousin represented me. Selda McGregor. She wanted to plead down. To what? Hanging instead of being shot? I said to give me five minutes with the judge. Five minutes. She said she’d be disbarred.

Now the kid’s gone walkabout. I’m here in my “room” with my illegal pearl earrings that change perceptions, illegal face powder that’s really a drug, illegal lip rouge, a drug I actually like, my deadly and illegal scent from beetle wings, my prison uniform that I can make transparent, and my strappy shoes that cost a mint. My eyes can be any color I want, my hair the same, my body, any shape I want. The kid’s going to fall horribly in love and remember me forever; I’m going to escape and go home.

Selda will be about a thousand years old when I get back, my child almost that old. Who knows if my ex is alive? Cats have nine lives. I’ll bring Loki back.

And then cat and I will find the one that got away. How old will he be, I wonder?

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows