art by Seth Alan Bareiss
Three Parts Shell
by Gemma Elizabeth Noon
***Editor's Note: Adult language
She manifests about three feet away from him, a moment of static and then a perfectly formed human being. She is a blend of his favorite aunt, his primary school teacher, and the barista in his local coffee bar. She is pretty, in a nonsexual kind of way. She is as bland and nonthreatening as the plain white room they are standing in, and he knows instinctively this whole staging point is designed to put him at his ease.
"Hi Jack, I'm Avi," she says with a wide smile.
He looks her up and down. "Weird. I thought my therapist was a fifty-year-old guy called Marcus."
She laughs. It sounds genuine. "Well yes, Marcus is of course monitoring our conversation, but the program thought that I would be a less threatening presence during the simulation."
"Let me guess; the guys who wrote the program don't have any combat experience."
Her eyes flick up and to the right for a moment. "None of the programmers have served on the front line," she confirms. "Marcus would like to know why you feel this is relevant."
"Because you're just as likely to be a combatant as a six-foot tattooed bloke named Smasher," he replies, shaking his head. "There's no such thing as a nonthreatening person. Even kids have been trained to kill for centuries. Everyone is a potential threat."
Avi's eyes flick up again. "Would it help if I wasn't human?"
Jack sighs. "You aren't human. Isn't that the entire point of this?"