Today's Reading

The thought caused Mariana to huff, then slump. Because it was reasonable. Because Mariana missed Shay too. But nothing was going to bring her college teammate/best friend/eventual stepsister back. "Breakfast first," Mariana said, and Maggie rubbed her face against Mariana's cheek, so much so that the tips of fur tickled her nose.

A chime rang through the room, the usual morning alarm now going off, and Maggie meowed again, the cat version of I told you so.

"All right, all right. Point to Maggie," Mariana said, rolling out of bed. Maggie jumped down with a trill. "System, open windows and start one cup of coffee, black. And turn on the US Open." The apartment's dark-tinted panes faded to transparent, letting the full morning light in, and the bubbling on the counter gave way to the perfect aroma of brewing coffee. Mariana looked out the window, the familiar sounds of a tennis match starting behind her. Normally, the simple din of tennis worked like comfort food: it was Mariana's happy place.

This time, though, something grabbed her attention.

Not Maggie or the view of San Francisco or anything visible. But a gnawing at her gut, like her annual ritual of watching the US Open's first day over morning coffee suddenly pulled her into a different dimension.

In a way, it did. Because one vital piece was missing.

Ever since they'd met as freshmen on the UC Davis tennis team seventeen years ago, Mariana shared this ritual with Shay Freeman. When they lived together, it was how they started the day. And when their lives split into different paths, it evolved, technology connecting them despite miles of distance.

And now? Nothing.

Though Mariana heard the sounds of the first-round match, she focused on the object in her hand, a blank tablet coming to life. The display showed paragraphs composed last night, every single word chosen with a precision that probably was unnecessary.

She could have written I'm quitting my job and leaving science to the same effect.

Still gripping the tablet, Mariana sipped the coffee, the almost-too-hot liquid bringing a welcome burn to her lips and tongue. She moved to the small kitchen table and settled in, her finger hovering over the display's Send button.

Shay gave so much grief over the years for the way Mariana framed her life in scientific method, all observations and experiments. But, as Mariana would often protest, there was a reason she always turned to this way of thinking, combined with an intent to focus and plan her way out of anything—what Shay dubbed Mariana Mode.

Because it worked, in any issue, any circumstance. Even now. 

Fact: Something was very, very wrong with her mind and life.

Hypothesis: Shay's death three months ago pulled like a thread, breaking Mariana's foundation and casting a thick fog over everything else. It had to be that.

Experiment: Life without science? Perhaps. Something had to change. And the only thing she could think of was work. Because really, that was where her life existed. And it couldn't possibly fix the chasm created by Shay's loss.

Somehow her life continued without Shay. Not well, of course. But it ambled forward, a gradual progression marked by the simple, steady march of time.

Leaving science, stepping away from the thing that she'd shared with Shay as much as tennis, might make it easier to escape. Because despite the success of the ReLive project, the lack of closure gnawed at her, a sliver of hope all because Shay was still technically a missing person. They searched Joshua Tree National Park for weeks, using drones and scanners and dogs, and even then a body hadn't been recovered. All the logic in the world pointed to death.

Even Shay would have admitted that. Probably more like Fuck it, I'm dead. Move on. That's what she'd say.

Shay studied quantum mechanics. Mariana studied neuroscience. Shay led the team as a scholarship player. Mariana pushed her way into recruitment, at least until her ACL injury. Shay had her dad. Mariana had her mom.

And then their parents married.

Always joined, always in mostly friendly competition with each other, even when they became adult stepsisters. And now, nothing except grief colored by uncertainty.

Do it, Mariana thought, and her finger nearly tapped the button to fire the letter off to her ReLive colleagues. Her other hand moved instinctively behind her back, fingers crossed. But a notification popped up with a new message from her boss, Curtis, the subject line reading Urgent! We're going to the Hawke Accelerator!

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday, April 15 we begin the book CASCADE FAILURE by L. M. Sagas. 

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