Artificial Absolutes by Mary Fan
Jane Colt is just another recent college grad working as an Interstellar Confederation office drone—until the day she witnesses her best friend, Adam, kidnapped by a mysterious criminal. An extensive cover-up thwarts her efforts to report the crime, shaking her trust in the authorities. Only her older brother, Devin, believes her account.
Devin hopes to leave behind his violent past and find peace in a marriage to the woman he loves. That hope shatters when he discovers a shocking secret that causes him to be framed for murder.
With little more than a cocky attitude, Jane leaves everything she knows to flee with Devin, racing through the most lawless corners of the galaxy as she searches for Adam and proof of her brother’s innocence. Her journey uncovers truths about both of them, leading her to wonder just how much she doesn’t know about the people she loves.
Chapter 1: All the More Perfect
What the hell am I doing?
The thought crossed Devin’s mind for the hundredth time. But asking was the only way to quiet the chaos in his mind. Besides, he fit the criteria for a good husband—good family, promising future…
What kind of blockhead randomly decides to propose and rushes to ask immediately? Sarah deserved better. She deserved something thoughtful, something that had taken effort.
Devin took the ring box out of his pocket and opened it, then looked around the apartment. How she kept everything so pristine was beyond him. Other than the digimech she’d left on, everything was where it ought to be. Sarah was like that in every aspect, flawless except for some quirk that made her all the more perfect in his eyes. Every hair in place, except for the one lock falling beside her face. Always precisely four minutes late. Her apartment decorated so crisply it might have been done by a computer but for a bizarre painting that appeared to represent some form of bird.
There was nothing out of which he could fashion a romantic scene. Sarah had professed many times that, in spite of the cynicism of modern times, she was still an idealistic dreamer who loved the sweet formulae of yesteryear. So what the hell was he doing with nothing but a ring and a question?
I should leave. Go home and plan something that spoke to how well he knew her. Write a speech about why she was the One and ask her properly. All right, I’m leaving.
The elevator dinged outside, followed by the precise clackity-clack of high-heeled shoes approaching.
Devin stood, devoid of any semblance of a clue, as the bolts of Sarah’s computerized door retracted. The door slid open. Upon seeing her, he instinctively did exactly what he’d come to do. “Sarah DeHaven, will you marry me?”
He expected shock. He expected mockery, or horror, or even disgust, but nothing could have prepared him for what she did.
Sarah stood halfway through the door, her hand inches from the security scanner, motionless.
“Sarah!” Devin rushed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “C’mon, baby. I’m sorry I scared you.”
Sarah didn’t move. She was cold, stone cold. She didn’t even blink when he looked into the voids of her eyes.
Devin probably had about as much medical knowledge as a repair bot, but even he knew people weren’t supposed to seize up like that. He grabbed his slate and pressed the emergency icon.
After a second that seemed to stretch into hours, a response: “Kydera City Emergency Response Center.”
A willowy arm reached around him and took the slate from his hand. “I’m sorry. There is no emergency. It was a false alarm.”
Devin whirled. Sarah stood beside him, calmly folding his slate.
“Sarah! Are you all right?”
Sarah reached into his pocket and dropped the slate, standing close enough that he could feel her breath. “Of course I am. I’m ecstatic. You proposed.” She picked up the ring, which had fallen out of its box when he’d dropped it in alarm. “It’s beautiful, Devin.”
Devin opened his mouth, but couldn’t respond. The anguish of waiting followed by the horror of seeing the love of his life seize up robbed him of the ability to communicate.
Sarah knit her mildly arched eyebrows. “Baby, why do you look so scared?”
Devin tried again to speak. “I-I thought you were… you seized up. I thought—”
Sarah laughed. Something about that once-mellifluous sound chilled him. “I was shocked. That’s all. The apartment was supposed to be empty. We never talked about the future. I didn’t think you were the marrying kind. Baby, your proposal was the most unexpected, irrational act of randomness. Can you blame me for being surprised?”
“You were cold. That’s not… I’m calling the hospital.” Devin reached for his slate.
Sarah put her hand on his arm. Her grip was somehow light and firm and utterly unyielding. “No.”
“Sarah, please, I—”
“I said no.” Sarah’s grip hardened.
Devin dropped the slate back into his pocket. He couldn’t force her. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Sarah’s expression softened. “There’s no reason for concern. A different girl might have screamed or fainted. The fact that I froze should come as no great surprise. It was only for a few seconds. I understand why you panicked, but I assure you, I’m fine.” She put her arms around his neck, leaned in, and kissed him. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
Devin’s mind reeled. He couldn’t forget how stiff she’d been, how empty her eyes.
Sarah put her hand on his face. “I love you, Devin. I said I would marry you. Doesn’t that make you happy?”
She held up the ring. Devin automatically took it and placed it on the hand she gave him.
Sarah regarded it and looked up with a warm smile. Her eyes had regained their usual vivacity, glimmering like the twin onyxes he knew so well. The woman of his dreams, the love of his life, agreed to marry him. Everything was perfect, so why the hell was he so edgy?
Devin attempted a smile. “I’m sorry. I was worried about you.”
“That’s sweet.” Sarah wrapped her arms around him in a close embrace and whispered, “We’re going to be so happy.”
Devin wanted to believe it. Moments before, he would have. Disquiet lingered within him. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he felt she’d changed. The words that once would have sounded melodious seemed deliberate, the smiles calculated.
Meanwhile, her demo track looped. Sarah kissed him again as the song approached its third verse:
“Games of fate and games of choice
“Twisted, tangled, intertwined,
“Who is right, and what is real?
“All shall fade within a mind.”
Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil. And what stories she has! Currently, she has three series in progress: her well-received Jane Colt sci-fi novels (Red Adept Publishing, released 2013), her upcoming Flynn Nightsider YA dystopian fantasies (Glass House Press, 2015), and her recently contracted YA fairytales, Fated Stars (Glass House Press, 2015). Mary would like to think that there are many other novels in her bag, and hopes to prove that to the world as well. And though she’s well on her way, she can’t help dreaming of more.
Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.
Website – http://www.maryfan.com
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/astralcolt
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/mfanwriter
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/astralcolt
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