When she finally did reach her house, Min immediately dove onto her bed, buried her face in her pillow, grabbed two fistfuls of blanket, and cried: loud, jagged sobs that shook her whole body. Minerva left nothing inside: her pain at being laughed at, her anger at Az for being a liar, her hatred of Maddy, but mostly, her frustration with herself. What Az had said was true, after all. She cried until there were no more tears left. Eventually, she fell asleep.

She was awakened by a ping. The sun was streaming through her window, so she must have been out for a while. Min ignored the ping, but then another came, and another…so she took her interface ring off and muted it.

About half an hour later, her doorbell rang, but Min was so spent of physical and mental energy that she couldn't even make herself get up. Soon, whoever it was could be heard banging on the door, and eventually kicking it. If they kept this up, her house would automatically send an emergency ping.

It eventually stopped, but then a loud thunk bounced off of Min's window. She could hear a voice screaming outside: "Min! Minerva! MINERVA CABLE! I know you're in there! Open up before I call the wardens!"

It was Max. Maybe she had managed to think her way around the lesions, too. A normal pretty would never have been that persistent. Min told her ring to let Max in. She heard Max's footsteps hurrying up the stairs, but when she got to the doorway, Max stood still with shock. "My goodness!" she said. "Minerva Cable, just look at you!"

Min was lying on top of her neatly made bed, in rumpled party clothes. Even her shoes were still on, and there were dirty tissues everywhere. Max found a hand mirror on Min's dresser, and held it up to her. Pretties were unable to get puffy eyes or a red nose, but Min's party makeup was all smeared, making her look like a complete wreck.

"I wanted to come over and give you a proper congratulations, but when you didn't answer any of my pings, I got nervous," Max said. "And now I see I had a reason to be! What's wrong, Min?" Max asked quietly, and she came over and sat on the bed, taking both of Min's hands in her own. Min sat up and immediately started weeping again, burying her face in Max's shoulder. Max wrapped her arms around Min and held her tightly, rocking her gently and stroking her hair. "Shhh, it's okay, Min," she was whispering. "Tell me, what's happened?"

Minerva wanted Max to never let go. She breathed in her scent, savoring her touch. Max wasn't pushing too much, but gradually, between sobs, Min managed to get out what had happened last night.

Max didn't say anything for a while, but it was Min who started talking after the long silence. "What's wrong with me, Max?" she gasped. "Why can't I do it with him?"

It wasn't something that Minerva expected Maxamilla Feaster to understand, of course. Max was officially married now, according to the city interface, and had settled in with her longtime boyfriend, a guy they had known since ugly days.

"I thought he was the one," Min continued. "If I couldn't with him, than who?" Minerva couldn't even bring herself to utter Az's name. Max didn't really have anything to say; she just let Min cry. "What's wrong with me?" Min sobbed again.

The truth of the matter was, Min had never really been attracted to anyone, in her entire life; and as a surgeon, she had seen her fair share of naked people.

Max pulled away, and took Min by the shoulders. "Well, one way or another, you definitely cannot wear this anymore," she said, and reached to unclasp the locket from Min's neck. That only started another round of sobbing. Max's simple gesture just made it seem all the more real. Min loved the locket. It complemented the sliver flecks in her eyes perfectly, and she had worn it for years, all through medical school and beyond. She would certainly feel its loss.

"No!" Min screamed as Max was about to toss it into the recycler. Max gave her an odd look.

"Well, at least let me do this," she said, and Max opened the locket and picked out Az's picture with her fingernails. She opened Min's window, and let the harsh winter wind carry it away. Max closed the window back up, turned around, and threw the little heart deep into Min's closet.


After Max left, Minerva only deteriorated further. For days, she did nothing but lie on her bed, crying. She never even bothered to change out of her last outfit. She ignored all of her pings, calls, and visitors, and set her house to maximum security. It was pretty much a flashback of what had happened when she lost the world championship match. No matter how hard any of the doctors tried, they would probably never be able to cure her depressive disorder.

Except this time, instead of being numb, Min spent her days in exile reflecting on her pitiful life. Her glorious soccer career had ultimately concluded in defeat, with her failing the entire team and city. For someone so smart, to which everything had always come so easily, Min just couldn't fully get over that.

Az had made up for it, though, something good to pull her through the darkness of that time. Min's relationship with him had been special. It was different from what she had with Max, or her other friend, Dr. Valen, even if it wasn't quite what they had been hoping for.

But now Az was gone, having left Min for the person she hated most in the world. And it really was her fault, her strange unwillingness that had ultimately ruined the relationship. Min had secured her dream job, but now she would have to face that person every day, never escaping the torture. It was like someone had magically granted her wish, but then cursed her forever as a price for it.

What kind of cruel, sick joke was life?

It certainly wasn't one that Minerva wanted to be a part of anymore.

She had failed at it once before, but this time, she wouldn't. All of the walls in her rowhome were smart, able to alert the emergency services if something went wrong. Easy, then: she wouldn't do it inside.

Min took all of her bedsheets and tied them together in a long chain, as tightly as she could (her muscles were still quite strong from soccer). She opened her window and climbed out onto the sill, slamming the window shut on one end of her chain. The other end, she looped around her neck.

The wind was bitingly cold, and Minerva took a minute to reflect on how this would probably be the last sensation she ever felt. Her last sight, the generic carbon-dioxide-sucking trees that surrounded her.

She threw herself off of the ledge.

Almost immediately, the rope snapped tight. Minerva instinctively tried to take a breath, but her throat was closed. And then…

The tension was suddenly released, and Min fell hard onto the grass below, face up. As she looked up at the white sheets blowing from the window, she realized that one of her knots had simply come undone.

So Min lay there, hurting, unable to move. The pain was too great, and her vision was turning black around the edges…


And so Minerva was institutionalized for the second time in her life.

She wondered if this was, ironically, the same cell she had been confined in as a new pretty (she was technically a middle now). She was here because some lovely neighbors, out of the kindness of their hearts, had found her passed out and broken on the ground. She was picked up by the ambulance, and, seeing as she wasn't quite dead yet, operated on and then sent here to take care of her deeper wounds, as the doctor was explaining to her now.

Min felt a pinching sensation on the inside of her left elbow, and she turned her head to see some tubes stuck in her, probably pumping her full of the most powerful mind-numbing meds they could find, seeing as the pills really hadn't worked out last time. At least her breakdown wasn't highly publicized now, Min's fame having diminished with her soccer career.

During the weeks she spent in the hospital bed, Max came to visit her sometimes, faithful as always. Her parents came, as well. Min had never been attached to them, but now, with her new knowledge, she felt sorry for them because she had learned how genetics worked. Since Min herself was so highly intelligent, her parents must have had some kind of ability at one point, too.

This time in the hospital was different from her last because this time, Min had to see a "counselor" as part of her "treatment." She didn't actually open herself up to this person, of course, with her eerie smile and creepily calm "therapist" voice. But the sessions really did get Min thinking, on her own.

Last time, she had been able to pull herself out of the depression because she had remembered the reasons in her life that she had to still live. She had looked forward to being with Az (that wouldn't help anymore), and she had hopes of becoming a surgeon (Min wasn't really psyched to go back to work anymore, either). This time, she had nothing.


Ever since that failed shot so many years ago, Minerva had become obsessed with the idea of body modification: improving her weak and pathetic self, so that her abilities would never fall short again. She had done some research, and had discovered that certain wardens and firefighters had enhanced muscles, speed, and reflexes. Minerva was convinced that they could do more. When she presented this idea for her independent research, however, her superiors at the hospital had quickly shot it down, calling her ridiculous and impractical. But it wasn't impractical! Couldn't they see all the uses for such beings? And besides, Minerva was on the Pretty Committee now. She had surpassed all the other doctors in the hospital, and didn't have to listen to them anymore. They were most likely only afraid.

The idea consumed her like a fire. The doctors monitoring her quickly saw Min's previous listlessness replaced with determination and energy, and eventually released her.

As soon as she got back home, Min fired up her workscreen and began developing her plan. It was perfect. And Minerva was willing to give her life to its cause.



Wow, sorry for the dark nature of this story. But it is what it is. She is supposed to be somewhat psychotic, after all. You probably know what's coming next: the "plan" will be discussed in more detail, in what will probably be a relatively short chapter, and then….. stay tuned!