Today's Reading

Rosalyn was the last to be called in.

The waiting room outside Josh Girdy's office teemed with the kind of comforts and style missing from the rest of the station. A few large fronds arched over the sofa where Rosalyn waited, and the coffee table near her feet was a long, low modern affair that gleamed like a polished tooth. A holographic display beamed down from the ceiling, a smiling white woman repeating the company's mission statement and policies with a hardwired smile.

Rosalyn tried not to sink down on the couch, but she was exhausted. She bounced her foot, impatient, feeling in her guts that these meetings were taking just a little too long. Griz had gone first, then Owen. Her fingernails would be bloody stubs by the time it was over. It wouldn't have bothered her so much if it didn't remind her of waiting outside her father's office to tell him she was quitting. The meeting had never happened. Rosalyn lost her nerve and left, deciding her sudden absence would send a louder message.

Her VIT monitor dinged with another message from her mother. Rosalyn checked the display, choosing the text version. It was hard still to hear her mother's voice, to detect the rising panic, and then the obvious despair.

'I've gone back to Chennai with the relief team. Oh, Rosie, you wouldn't believe the flooding. You could join me. I know you would be good at this and we would be together. Your father...'

Rosalyn tore her eyes away from the display and told herself the tears gathering behind her eyes were from the harsh lighting. Ever since leaving her previous job and Earth, she had existed in the razor- thin margin between screaming constantly and weeping constantly.

She blamed the need for a drink. The impending stress of this HR meeting. She had never seen her mother's home, never gone back to India...Maybe it wasn't too late.

"Ms. Devar?"

The door had opened, Owen scuttling out. He wouldn't make eye contact with her. Rosalyn stared, willing him to look at her, but he refused. Owen never did anything very quickly, but now he all but sprinted for the door behind and to her left.

Standing, she mimicked the frozen smile on the holographic woman's face and stepped into the cool, silver space of Josh Girdy's office. It wasn't nearly as lively as the lobby. A single fake succulent plant sat on his otherwise empty desk. Rosalyn sat and bounced her leg again, smoothing down a company uniform hopelessly rumpled from her long day of work.

"Sorry for the wait," Josh Girdy said, rounding his desk and dropping into his chair, flinging out his tie to keep it from sticking into his trousers. "I know you're probably tired, so I'll try to keep this brief."

His lower lip stiffened, and he tented his fingers, bouncing them just like Rosalyn's leg. He was lying, and not with much skill. Just like Owen, he hesitated to meet her eye.

"So," he said, puffing out an exasperated breath. "Why don't you give me a reason to keep you on this team, Ms. Devar."

She froze. "Sorry? I thought this was a debriefing..."

"It is. Well, it was. But to be frank, there's no point in debriefing you if you're going to be let go."

Rosalyn flinched. 'Let go'. Passive language. Cowardly language. "Fired. Don't look so shocked, we both know you've been struggling."

Aggressive language. Somehow she didn't like that either, even if it was more to the point.

"None of my performance reviews have been poor," Rosalyn said slowly, feeling as if she had been dropped into a deep and icy pool. Her throat felt tight. Her leg bounced faster. "I know I have two absences but that's well within my allowed time off."

One, admittedly, was for a hangover. 'Sick leave.' One lie hardly warranted all of this.

Girdy leaned forward, still tenting his fingers, and placed his wrists on the desk. Studying her, he blindly reached for a panel under the table, and a gently glowing holographic display like the one out in the lobby scrolled up from the smooth white surface of the desk. He flicked his eyes toward it and cleared his throat.

"Both of your cohorts on this assignment reported that you were drinking alcohol on the job. That you were..." He paused, squinting to find a direct quote. "Distracted, disoriented and unfocused. And this isn't the first time, Ms. Devar. I was hoping you would turn it around on your own but you haven't, so here we are. You've only been with us six months. That's a lot of screwups for six months. This job is hard on everyone, but if you're having trouble this early, then maybe it just isn't for you."

Rosalyn shook her head, then blinked down at her knees. Owen and Griz. She couldn't believe them. Had she really been so bad? Maybe it was worse—'she' was worse—than just what she could see. But she had tried to be discreet, maybe less so once she was off the clock, but that was her right. Still...that word, 'discreet', bothered her. If she had to be that way, then maybe it really was as bad as Owen and Griz said.

This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, March 9th, we begin the book THE VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez.
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