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"Alice, I just heard the most incredible story."

Alice's mama was giggly tonight. She must have been hitting the wine a little too hard. She had just come in from a dinner party, in a burst of cold night air, and had flopped down on the living room couch, next to her daughter. Alice was watching a documentary on Algeria for class. It was muted.

Marie Boucher appeared not to notice. "I was sitting next to Doctor Louis tonight, and he told me a story about an American paleontologist--at least, I think he was American--who had found a man, one of those prehistoric men, in the jungles of Africa, on top of a pile of animal bones, with a weapon, and with the bones of a leopard beside him. The man of course assumed--since everyone did in those days--that the prehistoric old cluck had killed the leopard. So that was the story for a while. But now they've examined the skull and there are bite marks on the neck, and it seems like the man was actually the leopard's prey. So all these paleontologists are revising their theories like mad, and now it seems like humans, spears or no, were hunted in those prehistoric jungles for quite a while. So we're built to be, not predators like everyone thought, but prey."

Mama had recently become loudly environmental, and Alice hoped it was, like her father said, just a phase. The story seemed like an artifact of this trend, and Alice found the entire tale both misanthropic and mildly disturbing. She searched for a way to convey that to her mother without sounding rude.

Finally she settled on "Why do you like that story, Mama? It sounds terrible."

Alice's mother looked down. Her post-party giddiness was starting to fade, and a headache was blooming. But she wouldn't leave, Alice knew--she wouldn't leave until she answered her daughter's question.

Finally she answered, her nail digging into the end-table. "For a long while--even before I started hitting the environmental books, so you won't patronize me like your father does--for a long while I've rather wished humans had predators. Of course I'd hate it if we actually did, so here I am, a bloody hypocrite. But as a species we're so--so institutionally arrogant, so unkillable, and more and more, so bankrupt. I've always wanted something to inspire a little reverence in us, like I imagine it was when everyone believed in gods or some nonsense. Something to scare us, rationally, that wasn't, ultimately, ourselves."

She flicked a chip-polished nail towards the television screen. "Now there are only human monsters. And we revere them and fear them the way we used to fear predators and gods. And we sacrifice our lives to them, in highway murders and pointless wars."

Marie picked up the remote. "Doctor Louis now thinks that the practice of human sacrifice might have come from our fear of predators. Leave one behind to save the others. Even warfare, murder, might have been built up as an instinct to save ourselves from something bigger than us." Her finger searched for the button. "Then we turned on ourselves of course."

She clicked the sound back onto the television, and there was a smash of screaming troops, bleeding Frenchmen and Algerians, and a narrator's voice listing approximate casualty statistics. "Now we've all turned on ourselves, of course."


Alice hadn't thought of that day since, until now, until here, with Brock Mason in front of her, and the only feeling welling up in her being cold relief. Now I have my sacrifice. She was not the human but the prey, shivering on the island of human monsters. And she saw, starkly, her own situation, how she would struggle to find more sacrifices for Sarah, her predator, her god.

And then what?

And then she would be prey, finally. What she was doing wasn't sustainable. But Alice didn't want to think about that. I'll run away first. Once I'm not so scared.

But she was scared now, and Brock Mason was here, and he was a suitable sacrifice. And Alice held her whip curled in her hand, knowing she could lash it out at a moment's notice, if Mason ran or if Mason charged, and trip him, and keep him here with Sarah.

"…or Alice wouldn't be hanging out with me. Right Alice?"

That was her cue. Alice hadn't the foggiest how intelligent Mason was, but she wasn't going to risk ham-handing it here. People expected her to be prickly and French, so she played the part, raising her eyebrows derisively at Sarah, will this girl stop talking? and then smiling slightly, sharply, like she liked the American anyway. Lies, all lies. But he wouldn't know.

And Sarah tossed him a bottle of water, and Alice gave her a skeptical look, a perfect skeptical look, as though they really were low on water (with two of them? Really?) and wondered if Sarah really was cracked, up to the point of not knowing how to murder, because giving Mason a bottle of water certainly wasn't going to contribute to the cause. Nor was it going to make them look very much more trustworthy. She might better have given him the enormous sniper rifle.

Alice wondered if she would have to step in.

Alice Boucher was a liar.
Liz Polanski played with fire.

And who the hell is Radio Asuka?
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Heartbeat Symphony · The Mine