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“Hot cycle,” she told it. “Full treatment. All the regular defaults.”

It bleeped brightly to show it understood. The door’s lock clicked. Outer-ear plugs were inserted. The sprayers got to work. They blasted her skin with hot, soapy water, making her hair fly around like it was caught in a hurricane. It stung her face. She clamped her mouth around the breathing tube and shut her eyes, to protect them. The water’s roar dominated what little hearing she had left.

She’d always wondered what it would sound like to be surrounded by water without plugs.

The sprayers even got her scalp. After one minute of hot, soapy water, it switched to hot, clean water, and she was rinsed off. Another minute, then scented air--still heated--to dry her off. Finally the door unlocked and Aerope, completely dry and very clean, dragged herself back into the world, looking a bit like a mouse that had gotten rained on and then dried with a hairdryer. (She, of course, had never been rained on.) She walked past the giant mirror that covered the left wall. No sense in looking at yourself without any clothes on. You’d never get off the treadmill that way.

She didn’t hear the front door open and close.

As she approached the clothing chute, a notification popped up. “‘Meeting with the girls, seven PM’ in four hours.” She dismissed it. “Cancel?” No. “Remind again in three hours?” Sure. “Reminder set.” Yippee.

She would have loved to put the dress from Dexios back on, but it wasn’t practical. She didn’t need Eryx asking why she was wearing the same thing--or asking his father when he came home. Instead she opted for simple blacks and greys in a pair of mock-denim tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Sleeves, so she wouldn’t have to change later. She never left the house without covered arms, and she didn’t want to have to charge another shirt before going out at seven. (The dress didn’t have sleeves; it was the only aspect of it that made her uncomfortable.) She threw on a pair of sensible wedges for comfort. Four inches the taller, she left the bedroom to find her son.

But someone had found him first.

Submitted: February 16, 2013

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