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She could also smell her neighbors—dinners prepared in the style of at least four continents, plus the hazy contribution of the hipster stoner who had moved in a few weeks before.

The trash compactor room took all the communal smells, then fermented and magnified them. She held her breath as she entered the small room, used her sleeve to open the bacteria-covered trap door to the chute, and dropped in the remains of her egg foo yung. Her phone vibrated in her pocket and, in a flash of irritation, Ledi considered tossing it in, too. That would be a temporary solution to her annoying spammer problem, however, and she'd worked much too hard for the phone to consider it disposable.

She'd lucked into a rent-controlled apartment right out of high school, and her part-time job at the Institute's upscale dining hall paid a great hourly wage for waitressing work, but the phone had still been a big chunk of her budget. A chunk that could have gone toward paying off the remainder of her undergrad loans, or at least some of the interest. She'd had a good rate locked in, but then her loan had been sold to some random company intent on fleecing every sucker who hadn't been able to pay for their college education on the spot. The thought of all the money she owed and would owe to various government entities made her want to put the phone safely down and jump into the compactor chute herself.

And who would really notice if you did, except for bill collectors? And Portia?

She headed back to her apartment, scrubbed her hands in the sink of her tiny bathroom, and then collapsed onto her futon.

She winced. I really need to get some memory foam in my life.

She had enough money saved to make the futon upgrade, but her brain rejected the expenditure, placing it on a pedestal as something the future Ledi, who had enough money to make such purchases without triple-checking her bank account balance before-hand, could buy. Ledi didn't know how much money would be enough, but she was sure she was nowhere near that goal.

She stretched and closed her eyes against thoughts of money and her uncertain future. Her body ached from hours on her feet waitressing at the Institute, and her brain was mush from studying and trying not to worry about her practicum.

She'd told herself not to get too excited when Kreillig had offered her the summer internship because excitement was just another name for expectation, and expectations were the fastest route to disappointment. But then she'd read a blog post on girlswithglasses.com about minimizing your accomplishments. It had asked readers to leave their latest accomplishment in the comments, and under the guise of web community semi-anonymity, she'd posted 'I GOT A FUCKING AWESOME INTERNSHIP!!' She'd reveled in the likes and encouragement from fellow commenters, but now she felt like she was paying for it with the torture of waiting for Kreillig's response.

And then there was the spammer who thought Ledi was delusional enough to believe she was princess material...

Frustrated squeaking from the corner of her apartment broke through her daze, and she sprang out of bed, spurred by the quick, sharp guilt of disappointing someone—or something—dependent on her for survival.

"Sorry! Shit, you must be starving!" She hurried to the small cage near the room's sole window, which provided a spectacular view of the brick wall of the adjacent building. It wasn't much to look at, but Gram-P and Gram-N had once been destined to become slides under some researcher's microscope, so she was pretty certain they appreciated it.

The two white lab mice hopped up excitedly, their small pink hands pressing against the glass as she approached. It was a Friday, which meant she'd brought them some high-fat chow from the lab.

"Yup. It's the good stuff," she said, grabbing the sandwich bag from her backpack and dropping the pellets through the mesh at the top of the cage. They squeaked appreciatively and ran to gather their meal. "What do you guys think?" she asked, leaning on the wall beside the windowsill.

Two sets of beady pink eyes looked up at her. Gram-P stopped chewing the pellet he held in his paws, as if waiting for her to go on.

"Do I look like princess material to you?"

Gram-N turned his back to hunt for more chow, and Ledi had to agree with him.

She didn't know why the Thesoloian scammers had decided to target her, of all people. She looked around her tiny apartment. Clean but obviously secondhand furniture she'd acquired from Goodwill stores and curbs on garbage night. Postcards and cheap prints she'd framed to give some personality to her living area, and one really nice painting that had been a gift from Portia. Like most of her life, her interior decoration had been borne of other people's scraps. The scammers obviously needed to refine their search criteria.

Or maybe they were right on target.

The selfishness of your parents... She hadn't thought about her parents in so long, but the emails from this Likotsi had made her start to wonder again. She'd almost replied, almost, then reminded herself that this was how they lured people in. Maybe there was some database of kids who had aged out of foster care without being adopted or reunited with family members that these assholes were trawling for victims.


This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
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