She turned in the opposite direction and headed for the nearest express lift upTower.
* * *
It was Sunday, so the plastisurge department of the Vensonn-Seyun Hospital on floor 890 wasn’t all that crowded.
“Hey, Eris. He’s in his office,” Slaite, the department’s receptionist, offered as she walked up. Eris barely nodded, already hurrying onward.
She passed the experimental center, where various DNA forms were being recombined in tiny petri dishes, and the nerve farm, where spinal cords were grown in enormous translucent tanks, heading toward her dad’s office at the end of the hall.
EVERETT RADSON, MD, DIRECTOR OF COSMETIC PROCEDURES AND MODIFICATIONS, read the printed nameplate above the door. Eris took a breath and stepped inside.
He was slumped at his desk, wearing a half-zip golf sweater and blue scrubs pants, one hand wrapped around a mostly empty handle of Scotch. The unflattering hospital light caught the strands of gray in his hair, and there were new worry lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. He looked, for the first time in her life, like an old man.
“Eris.” He sighed, his hand gripped tight around the Scotch. There was something funny about the way he pronounced her name, like his mouth was having trouble forming the sounds.
She opened her mouth, uncertain what she should say now that she was actually here. “I kept waiting for you to ping me,” she began, knowing it sounded accusatory.
“I’m sorry,” her father said. “I just needed to get away, for a little while.”
Neither of them spoke.
Eris glanced around the office, from the 3-D screens in the corner to the closet with the real human skeleton, which she used to come look at sometimes in elementary school, fascinated, until Avery had told her it was morbid and weird. But Eris hadn’t been afraid of the skeleton. She’d never feared much of anything, she realized, until now.
Her eyes drifted back to her dad. He was holding something in his hand, staring at it in bewilderment, as if uncertain what it was. It was his gold wedding ring.
All the words she’d planned on saying were wiped from her mind. “What’s going to happen with you and Mom?”
“I don’t know.” Her dad sighed and placed the ring on his desk, then finally glanced up at Eris. “You look so much like her,” he added, and his voice was laced with sadness.
Eris had never before hated how much she resembled her mom. It was probably all her father saw now, when he looked at her—she was the living proof of her mom’s betrayal. Nothing connected her to him anymore, she realized with a jolt, except that they’d both spent the past eighteen years being lied to by the same person.
“I’m sorry,” Eris whispered.
“Me too.” He started to pick up the Scotch, then stopped, as if remembering she was there.
“I’m sorry, Eris, but I need some time,” he interrupted. His voice was shaking. “I’m just … struggling here.”
Eris bit her lip. She’d come to the hospital hoping her dad would fix everything the way he always did, and yet he seemed even more broken than she was. “I miss you,” she said helplessly.
“I miss the way things were,” he said in answer, and Eris’s heart sank. Part of her wanted to shake him, scream at him—Look at me, she wanted to say, I’m hurting too. I don’t want to lose you! Tears welled in her specially surged amber eyes. But the old familiar pride held them back, stuck the words in her throat.
“I’m sorry. I just need time,” Everett said again. “Please.”
Eris nodded, feeling as though she were falling a great distance. She didn’t know what would happen to her parents; she didn’t know when—or even if—her father would be ready to see her again.
She started back out toward the crowded elevator. But even pressed into the crushing sea of people, Eris had never felt more acutely alone.
HERE GOES NOTHING, Rylin thought, and stepped up to Cord Anderton’s door for the second time in three days. Hard to believe that after everything that happened, she was back again—and by her own design no less.
The previous morning, when her communals hangover had finally dissipated and her anger cooled a bit, Rylin had opened her tablet to find herself 250 nanodollars richer. She wondered if the extra fifty was a standard Cord Anderton tip, or an attempt to make up for his late-night behavior.
She’d wavered between paying rent and the bank—the bank, she decided, seeing how impossibly high that debt had grown. Besides, she could always fend off their landlord when it came down to it. He tended to cut Rylin and Chrissa a little slack, because he’d known their mom.
Hey, Fenton, Rylin had written, sending him a quick message. Just wanted to let you know that this month’s rent will be coming to you a few weeks from now. They were behind on last month’s too, Rylin had remembered with a sudden twinge of discomfort, but it was too late; she’d already sent in the bank deposit. I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again, she went on, hoping he was in a good mood today.
Then, swallowing her pride, she had called Cord.
He’d answered on the fifth ring. She jumped in, trying to sound normal. “Hey, it’s Rylin. Myers,” she added clumsily, after a moment of silence.