Jul. 11th, 2011

"They're an almost perfect match." Doctor Truong held up Denali's brainwave scan up alongside the xenomorph's. The peaks and valleys were noted with a felt-tip pen. The patterns did look very similar.

Doctor Truong smiled. "Congratulations, Ms. Kray," he said. "Your daughter's been accepted as a correspondence candidate. I know she's going to love this experience."

Simone Kray looked through the window at her daughter, still lying on the gurney and chatting with the imaging technicians. Denali was so small and her body was so crooked, but she gabbed away so brightly. Simone couldn't hear what they were saying, but the technicians were chuckling. She suddenly felt very much afraid for her daughter. Her life was so difficult already.

"Will it hurt?" she asked. "This… this…"

"Somnostat," supplied Doctor Truong. "No, installing it is an entirely non-surgical procedure. It just snaps into place around her neck. And none of the correspondence candidates have ever complained of any type of pain resulting from the device." He sensed Simone's anxiety and put a hand on her shoulder.

"This is going to be a grand adventure," he said. "Denali will be one of only one hundred and forty nine people ever to do this. And I think I know your daughter well enough to feel certain that she's going to be wonderful at it."

"I know," said Simone softly. She thought of the years of corrective operations that had been performed – heart repair, liver resection, two procedures to support her one functional lung so she could breathe. It was all nothing compared to the tumor removal scheduled in a month. She wasn't supposed to think of the odds of Denali's survival, but she did anyway.

"Just think, Simone," said Doctor Truong. "Tonight when Denali dreams, she'll be sharing her dream with a being from another planet."

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The whole summer had been a scorcher, even by local standards, and a guy can get powerfully thirsty just driving around and running errands. It was therefore perfectly understandable that I found myself in my favorite time-travelling dive The Stopped Clock on a Friday, in the portion of the afternoon that we shall charitably call 'evening', drinking large amounts of Hordo on tap.

Hordo is not what I would call a good beer, precisely, but it is plentiful and cheap. I understand it was named after comet Hordo 18546 which was apparently going to hit Mongolia in the year 3661. The comet, as it happened, had picked up just enough interstellar bugs for fermentation to act upon its organic components, so the entire thing was basically a big beersicle. Time travelers opted to divert the comet by tapping it from the inside and routing the beer to certain watering holes, where if it were to be drunk in sufficient quantity, humanity in my far future could be saved. It's rare when you have an opportunity to drink beer and save the world at the same time, and when such a situation arises I believe one has a duty to seize the day.

I was playing a drinking game with Retro Retro, which apparently involved him drinking my beer and me paying him for the privilege, when I happened to look down the bar at TIME-ASSAYER-3400. He was slumped over a gin and tonic, sitting all by himself, the communication screen that served as his face angled to look into his drink.

I pointed. "Does he ever drink that thing?" I asked.

Retro gave me a look he usually reserved for idiots and cheapskates. "Of course not," he said. "He's an android."

"Then why does he have a drink in the first place?" I pressed.

"Because he's depressed," said Retro Retro. "Shit, boy; you really don't understand this bar business, do you?"

"All right," I said. "I'm dying to know. Why's he depressed?"

"He's always depressed," said Bobby Saturday, sliding into the stool on the other side of Retro Retro. "Hey, want to play three-handed?"

Retro Retro's eyes narrowed. "Okay," he said, "but we should trade stools."

"Deal," said Bobby Saturday, and they swapped seats. I didn't know why they'd done it, but they looked very satisfied.

"What," I asked doggedly, "makes an android chronically depressed?"

"Did he say 'chronologically depressed?'" whispered Bobby Saturday.

"No, and you owe me your beer," Retro Retro whispered back. He turned to me with Bobby's drink in his hand.

"That's a very sad story," he said, foam covering his upper lip. "It has to do with the downfall of an entire culture – a group of people who were thriving and industrious right up until the dawn of time travel. And then, by a series of tragedies outside their control, they perished."

"Wow," I said. "What are we talking about? One of the great civilizations of history? Or maybe an entire race lost to our knowledge?"

"Something even bigger than that," said Retro Retro solemnly. "I'm talking about the insurance industry."

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