9. Postmortem

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Where had the morning gone? No matter how early Lily set her alarm, she always seemed to be running late for work. It was time to leave, and she hadn't had a chance to even think about breakfast. The night before, her fiance Ted had cooked and packed away some leftovers, so that was covered at least. Lasagne. Not bad. It certainly beat the cafeteria at Livetrac headquarters.

Lily threw the leftovers into an old grocery bag with a granola bar and a jumbo can of herbal energy drink. As she shut the fridge, a shadowy figure caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She was gripped by an unreasoning dread, which momentarily raised a lump in her throat and stopped her breathing. Then in an instant, the figure revealed itself to be only a shadow across the floor—but a moving shadow, a writhing, seething mass of... ants?

"Ted!" she called out. "We've got ants in the kitchen."

"Ugh, again?" Ted stumbled down the hall in nothing but boxer shorts, rubbing his forehead with one palm. "All right, I'll— I'll figure it out." He ran both hands back through an unruly mane of loose curls and flyaways. Even his sideburns stuck out in all directions. At least he didn't have a beard. That would have been scary.

"Don't you have an interview today?" Lily asked.

Ted seemed to think about it. "Yeah. Yeah, that's at eleven."

"Hm," Lily replied, giving in to her critical side. "Is there enough time to squeeze in a haircut?"

"I thought you wanted me to deal with these ants," Ted shot back. "No, no extra time. Or money."

"We definitely have enough money for you to get a haircut. It's an investment. At least get rid of those giant Elvis sideburns."

"But they make me look like Elvis!" Ted whined jokingly, brushing them down with his fingertips.

Lily opened the apartment door, edging out even as she spoke. "Not the version of Elvis you're thinking."

Ted ran at her like a mad bull, and for just a moment, Lily was actually afraid. He was twice her size and not particularly graceful. But then he stopped just short of her, squeezed her up in a bear hug, and gave her a solid kiss, apparently unashamed to be outside in his underwear. "I'll miss you," he said, releasing her back into the world.

"Same," she replied. "Good luck today."

"Thanks. You too."

Lily's drive downtown started like every other morning, but once she hit the freeway, the other cars took on a terrifying new aspect. They seemed to crawl past her—but not in the sense that they were slow, not at all. Their movements were purposeful, organic, just the slightest bit unsteady. It was as if instead of rubber tires their wheels comprised thousands of tiny insectoid limbs, all black and chitinous with cruel hooked claws for feet.

Lily could picture the flow of traffic all around her. From above, she watched the cars move along in back-and-forth streams like all those ants on her kitchen floor. What had they been after anyway? A crumb here, a speck of sugar there? The vast stockpiles of food in the pantry and fridge remained untouched. For that matter, what kept all these cars returning to the city day after day? A little money, a little entertainment? Surface operations like Livetrac kept the ants fighting over crumbs while the obscene fortunes of an unseen few were counted not in dollars but in human lives.

The thought was nothing new, of course. It was common knowledge, though commonly ignored. Lily was only able to comfortably acknowledge this axiomatic truth now because she was... what? Woolgathering? Daydreaming? No, something much deeper than that. How was she able to view the scene from above? She could see all the vehicles so clearly now, even the eighteen-wheeler that was currently pushing her own economy coupe into the guardrail of an overpass. And there it went breaking through, falling... Her car tumbled sidelong into the stream of traffic below. It was this second collision that took her life.

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