Writer – Revealed

I’ve gone and stuck my writerly neck out. Just waiting for the blade in the guillotine to fall. I’ve published an opinion piece that might be a bit controversial. People might even violently disagree with me. It’s here.

I feel conspicuous. Vulnerable. Like the kid who’s broken the unattractive pink porcelain poodle that’s been passed down for generations, which Mom actually hates. But it happened while I was doing something I was told not to, like cartwheels in the living-room, when no one was home. I cleaned up the fragments, buried them in the green bin, rearranged the shelf so it wasn’t obvious the poodle’s gone, and made it through the first 24 hours without anyone saying anything.

Ok, so this scenario isn’t quite the right metaphor, because I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong by stating my opinion. But I’m concerned others will think I’ve transgressed into the realm of the capitalists. That isn’t where my allegiances lie, but I’m as apprehensive as the cartwheeling kid about the potential consequences of what I’ve done.

Sign. We live in a richly diverse, networked world. It’s my opinion, based on my knowledge and life experiences, that GMO*s have the potential to be of benefit to people. But I know lots of people believe otherwise. (If you have any doubts, read the comments on this CBC news article.) My opinion is based on years spent as a research scientist and observing the biotechnology industry.

I could raise niceties about how healthy debate is and the value of differing perspectives, but that’s not my message today. I’m coming from a raw, emotional state like I’m standing naked on an iceberg, and the experience is nibbling at my comfort levels like a woodpecker drilling into a tree.

My nature is to find consensus, harmony, not disturb anyone else’s equilibrium. Not that I don’t love a good debate, as long as we all agree in advance its an intellectual sparing match. And not personal.

My fear, perhaps irrational, is that I personally will be condemned for my opinion.

When I write fiction, it’s my characters who have controversial opinions, attitudes and actions. In my opinion piece, I’m not hiding behind my characters. I’m me, Ann, with the outlying opinions.

I fret about my publication. Later I go to the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium and hear many sage individuals talk about writing and speculative fiction. And I learned.

Art is intensely personal says Nnedi Okorafor. What she says about creativity and stories coming from deep within our being resonates with me. If this is true, there’s a good chance my fiction has my opinions buried in it too, perhaps like eggs in the cake. Eggs in the batter don’t make the cake taste eggy but do keep the cake from disintegrating when it’s sliced into portions. The next speaker at the SpecFic colloquium, Simon McNeil, put out his definition of political: any form of speech to organize, or prevent, change. I liked it. It has the right generality to cover how we use the word ‘political’ currently.

Taking these two things together – the acknowledgement that my fiction must be a homogenate of many things, including my opinions on GMOs, and that if I write about controversial things, it is a political stance – then all that I write it, fiction or opinion, has me imbedded in it and reflects my political views.

I accept. I have lots of options. Public opinions. I think GMOs are not universal evil. They are a technology with potential to do many things. We should not condemn them as a group but consider each individual for its risks, safety and benefits.

Wow. I’ve said it. Perhaps I can hide some more, in the anonymity of the web. After all, how often does one voice change something?

Far more often than silence.

———

* Genetically Modified Organisms

Photo: Me reading at the Station Gallery in Whitby at the launch of the Renaissance anthology in Oct. 2014

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Short Story: On a Wednesday Afternoon

I was recently gifted with a writing prompt from The Writing Fairy. I was to ‘write a letter from God to me’. Not wanting to decline a gift from a fairy, here is what happened:

Dear. Ann.

The words reverberated in my head like the footfalls of a staggering cave troll. Nothing in my kitchen, from the china plates stacked in the sink to the crystal snowflake dangling in the window, moved. The cat’s grey-ticked ear twitched, but he didn’t rouse from his afternoon slumber.

Weird.

Not. Really. I always sound this way.

“Technically, you aren’t making any sound.” I said it out loud – making some kind of intuitive reality check. “Sound requires the vibration of air molecules and I don’t see any evidence of that.”

So glad you chose to be a scientist. It’s what we had hoped for.

As though someone had pinched my cheek, doting grandma-style, my right upper lip curled.

Seriously, did whoever-exactly-this-was know I wasn’t a practicing scientist?

We are omniscient. Of course we know.

“Do you have to read my thoughts?”

Part of the job description. What do you mean not a practicing scientist?

All knowing? Ha!

In the old days, that kind of scepticism would get you smote with plague. Err, plagued with lightening. Hurrum. Never was very good with discipline.

“Did you contact me for a specific reason?” I felt okay, so it didn’t seem like meet-your-maker time. Outside, the sun was shining and I could see a school bus letting kids off at the corner, which happened most days around this time. Life continued.

Ah, yes. I’m sending the annual holiday letter around.

“Bit late, isn’t it?”

We try to be inclusive and take the average of all the holiday observances. Gives us a bit of extra time too. Something that sounded like a booming chortle followed. It warmed the inside of my eyelids.

“I don’t remember this from any previous year.”

New marketing plan. We are trying to be more accessible with frequent communications, in formats that are familiar to you. It seems that our former methods are not getting our message across.

I rolled my eyes and stared at the ceiling, trying to not think of what I really thought of that. “Okay, let’s hear it.”

?

“Your letter. What’s the trinity been up to this past year?” The cat raised his head, yawned and rested his chin on a front paw. “Been on any exotic vacations? Won little league tournaments? Grew roses?”

Yes. I particularly like growing roses. Green ones.

?

But that’s not what I’m here to tell you.

“I’m sure you have more important things to deal with.” I said, guilty about making light of this visit. Considering that I thought I was being clever, I wasn’t able to steer the conversation. Then a thought hit me like a wall of frigid slush sprayed by a passing bus in February. “I’m not pregnant, am I?”

Wrong department. The angels handle that.

Phew. “Is it someone else? My yoga instructor? I can’t believe how positive she is about everything.”

I promised my son not to make him come to earth again. As he says ‘Been there. Done that.’ The non-existent voice changed, took on a more… down to earth tone. Did I really think that? No, I wasn’t in control.

Yes, yes you are. We created you, each of you. Gave you the tools and environment you need to succeed. We don’t want to watch every one of you, all the time.

That would be creepy.

Something that felt like supreme giggling made my nose tingle. I decided to try arching my eyebrows in disbelief, to see how perceptive the divine presence was.

The tingling stopped.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

This I share with you.

Relax.

Stop fretting the little stuff.

We expect you to do good, And You will.

Fear not. You will find peace. All of you together.

Then, as clearly as you know the power has gone out, because of the absence of noise, I knew He was gone.

The hanging crystal in the window rotated slightly, catching the sun, and glinted through the colour spectrum.

As though from a great distance, I heard: MARKETING.

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An App Fairy Tale: in honour of Tell A Fairy Tale Day

Once upon a time, well, actually, pretty much every Thursday at 4 pm, a handsome witch, an evil prince and a calculating maiden go to a pub. The three worked at a company that provides web chat services for a variety of clients, primarily small companies that could not afford their own support staff.

It was the prince’s turn to buy the first round, so he waited at the bar, watching liquid with the colour and frothy appearance of amber tumble down the side of the pint glass. He passed a note to the barman and said, “Keep the change, I brought in two new clients today.”

“Nice try Bob,” the barman said, “three pints have been more than that for the past decade.” He smirked, knowing the enchanted ale he served would keep his customers coming back for more.

The witch, who worked in HR, stared into her half-full drink. “We lost another two junior customer care reps. I’m baffled by the turnover. We need another company wide team-building day.”

“What do I have to do to get off the front line?” the maiden asked. “What made Gates, Jobs, and other heros of the digital era so successful?”

“You are very good at what you do, my dear,” the witch said. “I’ve never seen anyone keep so many conversations straight at once. Let me buy the next round to celebrate everyone’s special abilities.”

She ordered shots of scotch. Even the bartender was unaware that he poured from a bottle that had been mixed with a potion, left over from Feb. 14, that would cause whoever drank it to fall in love with the next person who walked through the door. This concoction was the work of a temporary waitress with a compulsion for cleaning who didn’t know the meaning of the term ‘single malt’.

Seconds after the three drank the health of smart phone makers everywhere, their IT support guy scuffled into the room and disappeared into the pub’s back office.

After a great deal of thwarted (by Josh, the IT guy) wooing (by the witch and maiden, who decided to tag team their efforts)1, the women2 determined that the object of their desires suffered from a severe lack of confidence due to chronic flame wars with complete strangers on social media. The sorry state of his ego prevented him from accepting their amorous advances.

“What can we do for this poor man?” the witch asked.

“I’ve got it,” the maiden said. “He needs a better experience with social media.”

Thus, she created a new app to make all tweets, posts and other communications delivered over social media appear kindly and sweet to the reader.

And we all lived happily ever after.

1 which no one has the patience or fortitude to read about

2 The prince wasn’t paying attention when the IT guy came through the door and instead sat at a table with the company gossip, professing his undying love for her, but she isn’t buying it.

 

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Short story: Limited Artificial Intelligence in Buzzy Mag

This post is to announce the publication of my short story in Buzzy Mag. Limited Artificial Intelligence is a science fiction piece about a man grappling with his limitations in a world full of appliances engineered to have limited artificial intelligence.

First, let me say I am thrilled to have a story published by Buzzy Mag. They have been great to work with and the sage editorial advice of Laura Anne Gilman strengthened my work. I’m honoured to be associated with the other writers who have their work published by Buzzy Mag.

I’ve been fretting over what approach to take for this blog entry.

Should I talk about what inspired the story? I was wondering what male menopause was like. It also struck me that we will  be having more and more inane conversations in the future as machines with artificial intelligence become more prevalent.

Perhaps I’ll detail the journey to find the right market to publish Limited Artificial Intelligence. It was long and required persistence, but I don’t think it was different than most writers travel.

Or, discuss the how short stories differ from novels, although I’m not sure I know at a conscious level. I have ideas that come out as short stories. I have other ideas that come out as novels. Stuff happens.

I could expand on why I think Buzzy Mag has a great business model (reading is free and there’s plenty of variety in the content) but maybe some other time to do it justice.

In the end, I am just plain really happy, thrilled, that my story has been published and my friends, family and colleagues have been so supportive and said such kind things about it. SQUEEEE!

 

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Short Story: Hardware

This is a short story I wrote after being prompted to write something I had seen in an old house. It’s in the Hallowe’en spirit.

Hardware

“A psychic once told me I was protected by a spirit named Fred.” Theresa said, waving her dessert fork over the stiffly white table cloth. “But I don’t believe in all that occult nonsense.”

“That looks good. What did you order?” Beth said.

Theresa’s dessert huddled like an uninhabited island in the corner of an oceanic plate. “Heritage-apple compote over cedar-baked brie.” After the rude surprise from the cayenne pepper jam drizzled like jellyfish across the expanse of unused plate, she hesitated over the next bite. “I’ve never known anyone named Fred, let alone someone dead who would watch over me.”

She nibbled some cheese, letting it coat her teeth, then sucked the flavour in with a forkful of fruit. It tasted okay, but a slice of pie with cheddar would have suited her better.

Beth dabbed at her lips then lay her napkin across her empty dish.

Theresa felt bad, lingering over lunch when she knew her friend was keen to get back to shopping. But she longed to go home and repair the latch on the attic door.

“When we visited the ghost hunter, you mentioned the presence in your attic,” Beth said.

Startled by her friend’s reference, she nearly snorted compote up her nose.”I know, but that was more for the sake of conversation than anything else,” she said, realizing Beth was still on the psychic topic.

“You waited in line for 20 minutes to talk to him.”

“Well,” she paused while the waiter took Beth’s empty dish and they ordered the bill. “Apparently the man who built my house was a blacksmith.”

“The ghost hunter said it was possible to have a foul-smelling ghost, just like the aura you experience on the third floor stairs.”

“It’s only body odour, could be my running shoes.”

“You run regularly. Where do you keep your runners?”

“By the front door.” She frowned at her empty water glass. “The hardware in my house is unique so they have no idea how to help at the big-box stores. They want to sell me replacement stuff, starting with the door, including the frame, hardware, surrounding wall sconces and a mat with a cute saying. I only need a small spring, not a solution that will fill a cubic metre of landfill.”

“I’ll give you the name of my contractor.”

Theresa trailed behind Beth as she strode from the restaurant into the street, taking a wide birth around the dirt-crusted man shambling towards the bus shelter. She bee-lined for the newest store on the block, offering organic footwear.

Not long ago, it had been a traditional hardware store. The man that owned the place listened to his customers and found the twenty-nine cent solution to their problems if he could.

Theresa paused in front and watched Beth disappear into the racks of footwear in the depths of the shop. She turned to face the sun, absorbing its warmth. Almost like someone whispered in her ear, it came to her. The place that sold craft supplies, just down the street, had what she needed to fix her latch.

Pausing with her hand on the door to the craft emporium, she watched a bus plow into the window of the shoe store, slamming through the spot where she stood not a minute before. It bobbed to a stop, nose buried less than a foot into the store front. She rushed forward, trying to recall everything she ever knew about first aid, but saw no one hurt either on the bus or beyond the shattered window.

As relief flushed through her, she wondered if the man who owned the hardware store, the one told her the history of her house, was named Fred.

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New Story to appear in Amprosia Anthology

I am pleased as can be that I have a short story, What Ails You, in the Amprosia Anthology and honored to be in great company with the other writers in this volume.

This anthology is an annual competition hosted by the Writers Community of Durham Region, of which I am a member. I think this group, like much in Durham Region, hits a sweet spot of having enough of a population base to make it a vibrant organization, to provide diversity in its membership, but also to feel like a community because you encounter the people you know at various events. The WCDR has a great variety of events, services and activities to support all kinds of writers.

AMPROSIA BOOK COVER

The official launch for the  Amprosia Anthology is on Thursday May 23. Copies can be obtained here.

My story is about a mature woman who wants to remain forever young, but finds the cost is high. It’s also about the side effects of messing with biology, animal instincts and the foibles of the medical care system. The inspiration for this story came from a minor character in a novel I am working on. The protagonist in What Ails You, Matilda, is the mother of one of the main characters in For Fish Sake. I wanted to flesh her, understand her motivations better, so I wrote a story about her.

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Short Story – Country Life part 2

Country Nights

We are under aerial attack. Again.

     Whap. Whap.

My shoulders shudder at each impact.

      Wham. Whamp. Wham.

Body jerks. I fight instincts. Instincts that bid me dive under the coffee table in the centre of the room. Or better, turn over the couch and lie on the plush carpet beneath cushions that would form a V overhead. Shelter until morning brings safety once more.

Sprong. A direct hit to the window screen.

My gut shouts, ‘flee’, while my brain argues that I am safe.

Each night, they come. Hurling themselves with wild abandon at our homes, targeting the windows of rooms where we sit, relaxing in the security of our homes.

They ram our barriers, weaken our defenses, rattle our safety zones.

They are reckless. Senseless. Sneer at death. Yesterday morning, I ventured out at dawn, to find their carcasses strewn around the periphery of my house.

How can we fight them? What logic would work against mindless determination? Perfect devotion to whatever it is engages them?

What do they want of us? Have we wronged them? Damaged, insulted, maligned, brought pestilence or otherwise pissed them off? Or are we merely bystanders? Casualties of a war we can’t comprehend?

        Whap. Wham.

I shutter, pull my collar up around my ears and sip deeply of my evening scotch.

***

       Ready Stevo?

               Andreo?

              All right guys.

              Let’s go.

We rise together from the lawn. Glinting copper brown, reflecting shards of light from the street lamps. The first maneuver, a sloppy back flip through the air, shakes off the evening dew collected as we crawled from the grass.

Side by side, we zip a window length. Feels good. Like the weight of the world is off our feet. Now we’re aerodynamic. Ready to fly and have some fun.

I shoot straight up, my casing chattering in the air. Screech to a hover when I hear Stevo call, ‘Hey dude, wait for us’. The others join me. From this height, the grass looks grainy and grey. It’s a good night for air. Thick as a mud puddle and clear, all the way to the stars.

We goof around for a while. Play chicken. Fly straight at each other, then veer off at the last microsecond. The guys assume a close parallel formation but don’t take it seriously. Everybody hip-checks the next guy to try to set him off-course and create a mid-air traffic jam.

“Hey, there’s Dave and his buddies across the field,” Andreo says. “As usual, Tyler and the gang aren’t too far away.”

We buzz over.

“Hey, man. You hurtin’ from last night?” Dave asks.

“Naw. I didn’t hit that hard.”

“What about you? I thought you were a goner when you hit that window. I heard the ‘whap‘.”

“I’ve done this before. You gotta ease up just before you hit. That’s how you get good bounce.”

We all lived for It. For good bounce. We weren’t sure who really got It. Some guys faked It. Some guys tried and never got up again. Or maybe the ones who never got up again just Finished. We knew we would Finish after mating. But once our duty was done, eggs fertilized, we were free to enjoy ourselves for a short time. The reward at the end of the tunnel. A few weeks of pure, unadulterated Woo-hooo. Could life get any better?

I head-butt Dave. He bounces back a foot. A couple of his lads hone in on me and dive bomb from either side. I drop three feet, laughing, as they collide.

Andreo calls, “Hey Tyler, what was with the sprong I heard last night when you went in?”

One of Tyler’s buddies laughs. “He’s got screen face.”

“Can’t get good bounce off a screen.”

“Too much damping.”

“Gotta go for glass.”

A rectangle of light pops into the night below us. The old farmhouse.

All banter ceases, as though we each catch our breath at the same time. Then it starts again in a clamour.

“Nice glass.”

“My baby.”

“I am gonna bounce tonight.”

“In-coming.”

Buzzz. Whirr. Twenty seven of us drop and zoom at the window. Hurtling towards it as fast as wind resistance will allow. Mid-air, Andreo starts to free fall. Tumbles off on a current of air. Guess he Finished. It was his time.

We arrive.

        Whamp.

       Whamp.

               Wham. Whack

       Wham.

My head collides with the glass. It’s shoved back into my thorax. I feel massive deceleration, like I’ve flown into a giant balloon. The ‘Dong‘ resounds through my body, setting up vibrations that stimulate a weird combination of nerves and make my brain and everything else jitter. It’s very pleasant. Woo-hooo.

I lie on my side in the slick grass. And laugh. Ok, I’m giggling. How did I get here? More giggles.

Good bounce. I got IT.

Darkness descends over my eyes. Woo-hoo… Darkness. I… Finish.

***

Sometime in late June, just when you think you will cross the boundary over to insanity at the next wham that shatters the quietude while you sit in your cushy chair, feet up and sipping scotch, it stops. The nightly barrage of projectiles on glass finishes. No more pelleting of windows the moment a light is switched on.

You wonder where the June bugs have gone. And hope they’re ok.

junebug

www.canstockphoto.com

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Short Story – Country Life part 1

This is part one of a two related stories that were inspired by the prompt to write something related to the month of June.

Country Days

Six o’clock this morning, there was a crow emergency. Enough squawking, baulking and cawing to wake volunteer fireman three towns away. It was right outside my bedroom window.

How could I tell it was a crow crisis that rudely awaken me? It was different from the every day, constant yelling I expect from the local crows. Members of a family array themselves amongst the treetops of a neighborhood, then call across to one another. Pumping their bodies like bellows to project their voices over claimed turf – a few blocks of our tiny town.

What might they discuss? Could it be:

“The price of oil is up another $3 a barrel.”

“Did you tell the kids they could have garbage for breakfast? We discussed this before and you know how I feel about it.”

This morning was different.

More intense. Over a dozen black birds gathered in close proximity.

They squawked over top of each other. None of the usual lilting, poetic wail across the distance, answered by a kindred spirit from afar. Nope. This was the bird equivalent of snarling and growling at close quarters over a prized possession whose possession is in dispute.

And on it went, and on, and on.

And on. There was swooping too. I could hear it. Crows swoop well. It’s their size. And the blackness. Sleek, well-feathered. As carrion eaters, they are naturally intimidating.

For all their bravado, I am concerned about them. Are we destroying their natural habitat? Seems like the silliest thing in the world to worry about for scavengers. But I do. Recently, the town bylaws were amended to keep ‘animals’ out of the garbage. The only animals I’ve ever seen eating my garbage are crows. If we make the garbage less accessible, will they go hungry?

The nerve of us humans. Mucking about with the ecosystem again. Poor things.

***

Emilia plucked a non-existent louse from the joint between her wing and breast. She preened a little more, but knew every blue-black feather was in its place. As she did, she listened to the idyl banter that drifted across the treetops.

“The humans.” That was Darryl. He was inquisitive.

“Who?” Sara. Her youngest. Not too bright, but would probably breed a good clutch when she matured. Good egg-laying hips.

“The animals that don’t have any fur and walk on two feet,” Darryl said.

“Like birds?” Phoebe, Sara’s older sister. Should be mating this year.

“Yes, but they haven’t got any feathers or wings.” Aunt Bea.

“Poor things. No fur or feathers or wings? How do they live?” John, always the bleeding heart.

“Aren’t they the ones that come in boxes?” asked Sara.

“They’re the ones with the stinky machines.” Cranky Grand-dad.

Fred swooped in. He did like theatrics, but I wouldn’t share my nest with another male. “They’re surrounded themselves with things that they think are going to protect them. I’m worried. They think they have control over their environment. But we all know where that gets you, don’t we? You can’t control it. It controls you. Any species that can’t go with the flow and live in harmony with their world is doomed. Those poor humans. Don’t they know what they’re are doing isn’t sustainable?”

“Poor things. They just aren’t as adaptable as they should be.” I had to get involved.

“I like the big black and white animals. What are they called again?” Jane, from the adjoining family. She was such a busybody.

“Cows.” Darryl.

“Yeah. That’s it. They have it made. Get the humans to put up fences around their territory and bring them all the food they want. Grow big and fat and useful. Make a whole bunch of valuable contributions to the food chain.”

“They are quite cute but don’t need our help. The cows will be fine,” I said. “It’s the humans that are in trouble.”

“We should set up a fund.” Jane’s sister.

“Start a program.” Jane.

“Where’s Angela? She’s great for getting things going.” Aunt Bea.

“Especially for lost causes.” Cranky Grand-dad.

“We need a new organization. How about: Help our humans.” Sara.

“Like we saved the bacteria. Antibiotics almost made them extinct, but we managed to educate them about drug resistance just in time,” Fred said, thrusting his beak in the air. “Genetic integrity indeed. That kind of conservative thinking can get you competed out of the ecosystem.”

“Yes. But let’s not rest on our laurels.” Jane’s sister.

“Where are those again?” Sara.

“Err. I’m not sure birds actually have them. But that’s not the point. I think the humans really need our help.” Our next cause. “Let’s get together Saturday morning to work out what we are going to do. We’ll start early so the meeting is over in time for the morning garbage run at Mac’s diner. Does 6 am work for everyone?” A number of caws of assent. “Excellent. Let’s meet in the tree beside the brown house on Maple St.”

***

Whatever the emergency, it was solved by the following morning. Nothing but random calls across the treetops. Answered from a few blocks away.

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Short Story – Patrimony

She rested in the shadows, the damp retaining wall at her back, and ran her tongue from one to the other of her overdeveloped canine teeth. The taste of blood lingered.

Though her hunger had been sated, her mind still reeled from what had just transpired.

Her intentions were shrouded in conflict when she had decided to visit her father this evening.

Would she always resent his attitude ? His attitude towards her kind?

Why did she answer him at all?

After a year of silence, he had called.

 Dutifully, she answered.

 Too many times she had tried to convince him of the advantages. Youth. Immortality. Mystery.

 To exist forever at the fringe of humanity, almost a part, never wholly revealed. But a member of an elite, other community.

“You convince me of nothing.” His words slashed into her core. His bite sharper than any other’s. She, defenceless against his attacks.

 Tonight, the circumstances had been different.

 He was conciliatory. He asked careful questions. Thoughtful. Interested. Not the usual combative tone.

 In the end, she understood. He was dying.

 Did he glamour her? He hadn’t asked, yet she felt compelled to act.

 Tonight, she had turned her father.

 Was it a desperate act of self-preservation he made?  Or an act of contrition, born of love and achieved by personal sacrifice?

 She knew that if she asked him this question, she could never be sure if his answer was true.

 Just as she knew she could not answer herself. Was it her love for him that made her want to save him? Or did she act in triumph, gaining the ultimate proof that she was right?

 It both disturbed and comforted her that they were so similar.

 She believed she acted with the single-mindedness of her own freewill.

 But every action of hers turned out to be a mere reflection of him, of his mirky motives and desires.

 Patrimony superseded all.

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