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Conan’s waiting for me when I get home. Like always. He opens the door, takes my briefcase, and hands me a cold, damp cloth.
I press it to my sweat-dampened neck and forehead. Though it’s just mid-February, the weather is already summerlike—hot and humid. If my only job opportunities weren’t here in DC, I’d live in Nome or maybe Valdivostok. Someplace where global warming hasn’t all but eliminated the seasons.
I hand the cloth back to Conan.
“How was your day?” he asks, pressing a cool, dry kiss on my cheek.
“Okay,” I reply. It hadn’t really been that okay, but Conan can’t help me resolve unresolvable equations, so I stuff the thought and step further into the house. I catch a whiff of something savory emanating from the kitchen, and my stomach growls.
He hears it. “Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes. Would you like a glass of wine while you wait?”
I shake my head. Hungry as I am, I’ll just get wasted if I drink the real stuff, and the non-alcoholic synth wine tastes like mouthwash. I’m about to collapse onto the couch and kick off my shoes when a blinking red light on the vidcomm panel in the corner catches my eye. What the hell? All my messages are routed to my handheld when I’m not home.
I frown, and my forehead pinches between my eyebrows. “You should have mentioned it when I came in.”
His expression is blank. “It’s never happened before.”
I sigh, half exasperated, half amused, and cross to the panel. When I touch my hand to the screen, the interface springs to life. “Sera Marline Belova, you have a private, encrypted message from Central Authority. Would you like to view it now?”
I plop down on the chair in front of the vidcomm, my knees suddenly weak. This cannot be good. Private messages from the government never are.