The interview

"You'll feel a little scratch. Won't hurt a bit," the man in uniform lies, placing Betty's right index finger on the biodat.

A sharp pain in the flesh of Betty's finger as the machine draws her blood to link her to her confession. She winces, more out of habit than need. It isn't the worst pain she's felt.

The uniform checks over the readings, seems happy, mumbles something into the radio on his shoulder, and goes to stand in the corner. His job done, he stares at the wall, ignoring her.

It isn't an invitation to run, Betty knows. It just means that they don't see her as particularly dangerous, despite what she did. She rubs her thumb against her index finger, smearing away the tiny pinpricks of blood until she's clean again. Satisfied, her hands return to the silk scarf in her lap, folding the material in soft loops, caressing her skin.

A creak as the door opens and a big man walks in, all shoulders and neck. There is something inescapably human about him, in his size, in the gunk in the corner of his left eye, his beard, the yellow nicotine stains on his teeth. Messy. They've sent a messy, fleshy man to interview her.

Betty's hands tighten on the scarf, a tight cord forming in the space between her fists.

"Elizabeth Bannek? My name's John," the man says, walking around her to the other side of the interview desk. "I need to have a few words with you. But I suspect you know that?"

"Yes," Betty says, dry and distant. Her body is in the room, but her voice is not. Her voice is tangled up, like the scarf, but somewhere else. Perhaps it's still in the cafeteria? She can remember screaming... Had that been her?

"Good," John says, dropping onto the chair opposite. He turns to the infostrip next to the biodat, stabbing at the delicate little pads with his gorilla fingers, each covered with coarse black hair, until a file springs into life in front of him.

Betty can't read it. The file's hologramatic, but one way: for John's eyes only. On Betty's side of the table the holofile is opaque, on the other side it's clear and full of key little insights into her life. She knows what is says, anyway. The interview is a formality. Her grip relaxes on the scarf. It occurs to her how strange it is they let her keep it. She smooths it out across her lap and sits her hands neatly, palms flat, atop it.

"So, Elizabeth, let's get started. It says here you met..." John stumbles to a halt, he eyes narrowed on the holofile. "I can never pronounce these names..."

"Lauren," Betty says before the uniform can answer. "Her name was Lauren."

John's eyes widen at this, but he doesn't say anything. Good gorilla, but not quite well trained enough to hide his shock, just to not voice it.

He doesn't correct Betty on the name.

"I met Lauren four years ago, at work. She came to an away day with the VP," Betty continued. "We had to do some team building games, and she sat at our table. She was friendly. Sweet."

Betty brushes her thumb over the scarf, the silk soft and cool. She wishes she wasn't here. But it's good to see the little flashes of shock in the gorilla's stupid, meaty face every time she drops the pronoun. And what's the point of pretending?

They knew she'd done it – everyone knew.

"I didn't see her much then", she says. "Occasionally, when the VP would visit our department. And then, a year ago, I headed up a project and she was assigned to help me."

"Must have been a hell of a project, if the VP's, ah, assistant was given to it."

Betty smiles. "It was, yes. Big account, big money for the company. If it went off. We worked hard, late nights, early mornings. We got to know each other. I... I'd had feelings for her for a while."

She glances at the uniform, to see if he reacts. Nothing. Why couldn't he be the one interviewing her? Why does she have to have this dumb lump who blinks and sweats and breathes so heavily? Whose eyes narrowed when she mentioned her feelings for Lauren, as if she's done something unthinkable?

"So what happened next?" John asks, bringing Betty back into the room.

"Nothing."

"With respect, Elizabeth, you're not here for 'nothing'. We have video footage of the event in the cafeteria. We have witness. We have -" he stops. Coughs. Runs his hands through his greasy black hair. "We have evidence, Elizabeth. Please, tell me what happened. Explain to me how you got here."

Sighing, Betty shifts her gaze to the biodat. The little green light blinks every three seconds to show it's working. Clean lines, right angled corners, white plastic veneer. Pretty. And the silk scarf under her hands, the one Lauren was wearing around her neck in the cafeteria.

"What do you want to know?"

"Tell me more about Lauren."

"She's five six, brunette, brown eyes -"

"We know all that. Tell me how you felt about her."

"She's... friendly. Funny. I'd catch her eye during meetings. We laughed at lot."

"Go on."

"We sent each other little messages, via the intra. Nothing... compromising. Nothing HR would complain about. Just jokes. Silly pictures. Stuff like that. But I... I fell in love with her."

Another quick glance at the uniform. He's still staring fixedly at the wall, expression perfectly blank, as if he isn't even listening. Lauren never looked like that, not when they were together. 

A movement distracts her. John leaning back in his chair, the buttons on his shirt straining. Disgusting.

The room's too hot. Stomach churning. She needs to get away from this gorilla and the impassive, uniformed man. Needs to be somewhere quiet, by herself.

"I fell in love with her. I knew she didn't love me. That nothing would ever happen between us. But I thought we had something unique, anyway. I forgot... And then I saw her with Justina."

"Justina Berroux, the VP?"

"Yes. She just seemed so far away, and Lauren and I were so close. And then one day I saw them together. Justina was eating and Lauren was... she was laughing. Chatting. Smiling at Justina the way she smiled at me. And I realised what a lie it all was."

"Go on."

"I realised how ridiculous I'd been. What an idiot I'd made out of myself... How everyone must know that I'd fallen for a – for Lauren. And for what? I wasn't special. If anything, Lauren was just treating me that way to get me to work harder on the project... To put in all those extra hours. Justina had no doubt told her to."

"Elizabeth, Justina didn't tell Lauren to do anything. You do know that, don't you?"

Betty glares at John, gripping the scarf, twisting it around her hands until the skin underneath goes white. "Yes. Of course I know that. I'm not stupid."

"Then why...?"

"Because I wanted it to be real! I wanted it to be real! I wanted her to love me, to like me... to think I was interesting." Betty swallows, the anger disappearing as quickly as it had risen. Just like in the cafeteria. A moment of madness. "I'd liked her for so long. I forgot what she was."

Silence, expect for the sound of Betty and the gorilla breathing.

"This kind of thing isn't uncommon," John finally says. For the first time since sitting down, he glances at the uniformed man. "Lots of people... make that mistake."

"Not many go mad and kill one in the middle of the cafeteria, though."

"Elizabeth... you didn't kill Lauren."

"She's alive?"

"I... No. I just meant you didn't kill her." He nods his head at the uniform. "You can't kill them, Elizabeth. You do know that, don't you?"

She drops her eyes, staring at the blue silk scarf. The one that Lauren wore around her neck. A little spot of darker blue appears, and then another. She's crying.

"I love her."

"It was a business model. Designed to make people at their ease, to build team work, competitive advantage. Even its name... Lauren... Its serial number was L000RA3N33N. Did you know that?"

"I love her. I didn't mean to hurt her. I was just so... so... angry."

"You didn't hurt it, Elizabeth. You can't hurt them. But they can hurt us. You're not the first one to forget what they are. It isn't uncommon. That's why I'm here. That's why you're here."

"You're not going to send me to prison?"

John shakes his head, no. "For what? Property damage? Your company has insurance against this kind of thing. All the big ones do."

"What?"

"Like I said, it's not uncommon. You're not going to prison, Elizabeth. But it is my professional opinion you should stay with us for a while. Just a few weeks, while you come to terms with what happened. The orderly will take you to your room."

At the mention of its title, the uniformed orderly wakes, smiles at Elizabeth, offers her its hand. Clean, hairless skin, no lines, no imperfections.

Pausing to tie Lauren's scarf around her neck, Betty stands and takes the orderly's hand.


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