Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 54
A Heart in the Hand
by Jeremy M. Gottwig
Yuletide Warrior
by Frances Silversmith
The Emperor's Gift
by Jonathan Edelstein
A Special Extra Christmas
by Eric James Stone
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
A Thing of Beauty
by Charles E. Gannon
Bonus Material
Caine's Mutiny
by Charles E. Gannon

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

A Thing of Beauty
    by Dr. Charles E. Gannon

"The children have become an unacceptably dangerous liability. Don't you agree, Director Simovic?"

"Perhaps, Ms. Hoon. But how would you propose to resolve the problem?"

"Director, it is generally company policy to . . . liquidate assets whose valuations are subpar and declining."

Elnessa Clare managed not to fumble the wet, sloppy clay she was adding to the frieze, despite being triply stunned by the calm exchange between her corporate patrons. The first of the three shocks was her immediate reaction to the topic: liquidate the children? My children? Well, they're not mine--not anymore--but, just last year, they would have been mine, when I was still the transitional foster parent for company orphans. How could anyone--even these bloodless suits--talk about "liquidating the children?"

The second shock was that these two bloodless suits were discussing this while Elnessa was in the room and only twenty feet away, at that. But then again, why be surprised? Their company, the Indi Group, was simply an extension of the megacorporate giant, CoDevCo, and evinced all its parent's tendencies toward callousness and exploitation. It also possessed the same canny ability to generate profits, often by ruthlessly factoring human losses into their spreadsheets just like any other actuarial number

The third shock was that Elnessa could hear Simovic and Hoon at all, let alone make out the words. Because of the xenovirus which had hit her shortly after arriving on Kitts--officially, Epsilon Indi 2 K--Elnessa had suffered losses in mobility and sensory acuity. But every once in a while, she experienced an equally troublesome inversion of these handicaps: unprecedented (albeit transient) sensory amplification. Six months ago, she had had to endure a hyperactive set of tastebuds. All but the blandest of foods had made her retch. And now, over the past four days, her steady hearing loss had abruptly reversed, particularly in the higher ranges. Elnessa had acquired a new-found empathy for dogs, and could now pick out conversations from uncommonly far-off, whereas only a week ago, she had been trying to learn lip-reading.

She realized she had stopped working; had, in fact, frozen motionless. And Simovic and Hoon had fallen silent, were possibly watching her, wondering if she had--impossibly--heard them. Elnessa raised her hand haltingly, then paused again, hefting the clay. Then she shook her head, plopped it back, and began rolling it to work the water out. Meanwhile, she continued to listen carefully, hoping they had believed her depiction of "distracted aesthetic uncertainty."

Simovic's voice resumed a beat later. "So, Ms. Hoon, do you have any suggestions for the most profitable method of divesting ourselves of these young--er, high-risk commodities?"

"Director, at some point, the attempt to find a profitable method of divestiture can itself become a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. Sometimes a commodity becomes so valueless that the simplest and least costly method of liquidating it is best."

Elnessa reminded herself to keep breathing. The good news was that Simovic and Hoon had believed her performance as "the Oblivious Artist," contemplating the frieze before her. The bad news was that the discussion at hand had already moved from "should we get rid of the children?" to "how do we go about doing so?"

Simovic carried the inquiry further. "So we just abandon the asset in place?"

"Director, I would suggest junking the asset at a considerable distance from the main colony, and even the outlying settlements. I suggest using an infrequently visited part of the planet. No reason we should risk being seen and reported for disposing of unwanted material off-site."

Elnessa was now acclimated enough to the horrific conversation that she could actually work and listen at the same time. She straightened, began layering in thin strips of micro-fiber pseudoclay that would hold and provide a reflective receptacle for the back-lit acrylic inserts with which she would finish the high-relief center panels of the mixed media frieze. With one eye on Simovic's and Hoon's reflections in the inert monitor of her combination laser-level and grid-plotter, Elnessa smoothed and sculpted the materials while straining her ears after every word.

Simovic chuckled: the sound was more patronizing than mirthful. "Ms. Hoon, sometimes the direct approach to seemingly low-value divestiture is not the best alternative--particularly if one has had the opportunity to plan in advance."

Hoon's shoulders squared defiantly. "What advanced planning are you referring to, sir?"

"Well, in fairness, it's nothing that you could have been aware of. Suffice it to say that with the appearance of this--ah, unregistered vessel--in main orbit, the asset in question may not be wholly valueless."

Hoon sounded skeptical. "And just why would a bunch of grey-world orphans be of interest to--to whoever it is that's hovering just outside Kitts's own orbital track?"

Elnessa watched Simovic lean far back in his absurdly over-sized chair and steeple his fingers. His smile had mutated from 'smug' through 'shrewd' and into 'predatory.' "Come now, Ms. Hoon; surely you can think of at least a dozen reasons why unrecorded corporate wards would be items of interest to any number of parties."

Hoon's defiant frown slowly evolved into a smile--at about the same pace that Elnessa felt her blood turn into ice. People, particularly kids, who were "unrecorded"--who lacked birth certificates and national identicodes--were rare, and therefore inherently valuable, black market commodities. And there wasn't a single use for such commodities that was anything less than hideously illegal and immoral.

"And why," Hoon asked in what sounded like a purr, "are you so sure that our mysterious visitors will be interested in such a trade good?"

"That," Simovic answered with a self-satisfied sigh, as expansive and deep as had he just finished a very filling meal, "will become obvious within the next twenty-four hours."

Elnessa blinked and doubled the speed at which she was putting the finishing touches on the clay components surrounding the central space she had left open for what she had silently labeled The Brazen City. She had to complete the frieze soon, and in particular, she had to finish on time today, because she needed to make an early visit to her dead-drop site.

She had to make sure that her contact Reuben came to debrief her. As early as possible.

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