Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Frost

So: she came.

Hu Tao, the dissident’s daughter.

In reality she didn’t have much choice. If the city’s Magnate sends you an invitation to his New Year party, you need a good reason to refuse it. Though I suppose mourning may suffice.

I mix her drink. I measure the powder carefully: she is slight.

Her hands tremble as she takes the glass. I smile. The shy ones are the best.

The glass slips and shatters on the marble floor. I curse inwardly, but etiquette demands I hand her mine.

Ah-Mei cleans up, then discreetly withdraws. Simple servant-girls: what treasures!

“I’m so sorry!” Hu Tao blushes. “Please, let me get you another.”

I watch her go to the buffet and mix bitters. She stands erect in straight silk – high-collared, floor-length: a classic. She brings the glass – bows as she hands it me. I notice she has removed her long jewelled hair-pin. One frost-white hair gleams among the otherwise perfect raven black. I believe that is my doing.

She raises her drink to mine:

“Drain the glass dry!”

I taste exquisite bitters: the rim of the glass frosted with a circle of salt.

She smiles. “A true Revolutionary can endure bitterness.” It is her challenge. I run my finger slowly round the rim and lick the salt with pleasure.

She hides her disgust well.

***

It is late. She has declined my offer and departed: in mourning. A good line, but it will not last forever. The wait will make the conquest all the sweeter.

My neck – my face – grate tired and stiff as I climb into bed.

I am woken by pain shooting across my shoulders. My back aches; I shudder. My teeth grit. This is not good.

I ring for Ah-Mei.

“Fetch the doctor.”

She stays put.

“Half the city’s in lock-down. Explosion at the Laboratory: a spark, from the New Year fireworks. Doctors are treating hundreds who inhaled the fumes.”

Her voice is frost.

“I know who cut safety costs on his newly-acquired asset: my son’s workplace.”

The shock sets the convulsions off anew. I am racked with pain.

“Hu Tao wishes you peaceful ‘Year of the Dog.’ She asked me to prepare your suicide note. I have practiced your signature and borrowed your seal. You will die with your reputation in mud, where it belongs.”

***

She bows before her father’s portrait. She places the letter in the metal stand between the two smoking joss-sticks and lights the paper.

“Dear father,

You have been vindicated: your concerns for the Laboratory’s safety justified.

Thank you for teaching me the preparation of Strychnine crystals. I have put the knowledge to good use: he is gone.

Now at last we can bring you home. Home, from the bitter Northern mines where they sent you for speaking out: voicing your fears. Where they told me they couldn’t even bury you, in that earth gripped year-round in frost.”

She turns: bows to the tiny, white-haired figure beside her.

Her mother smiles as Hu Tao hands back the glittering, hollow hairpin.

A bit about the author:

C. L. Spillard was born just in time to endure the U.K.’s coldest winter of last century. Until recently a physicist by profession, she now writes science fiction, fantasy and satire, sometimes all at once. She lives in York with her Russian husband, two almost-bilingual children, one allotment and nine solar panels. Visit author page