instead of ours, and there was this big fight. You’ve heard about the fight, just not the real reason why.”

She’d assumed the fight was over her parents’ drug use and poverty and their neglect of her. She tried to relax her shoulders.

After a long gulp of expensive fake coffee, he continued. “That’s when we cut off all communications, and your momma was so mad that she didn’t want to remember what they did, not one thing. So she began to say you were adopted, and I didn’t want to argue because she was right about what shits her parents were. You gotta admit, adoption was a pretty believable story. You don’t look like us at all.”

No, she didn’t, blond next to their dark hair, for starters. She took a slow breath. The air smelled of pizza, but the scent wasn’t real, not at this putzy chain. It was just food-scented air freshener. Fake, the smell. Fake, her birth story. She’d never been able to trust her parents. This was a big—betrayal? Yes, yet another one. How surprised should she be, really?

Stay calm. Drink some water. That was what the AI counselor would have said.

“You can check your birth certificate,” he said. “I know, it sounds stupid now.”

“So … it was one of those donor eggs?”

“I don’t know,” Papa said. “Her parents set up everything.”

“So maybe it was like, when a couple has leftover eggs after a fertility treatment, they donate them.” I might be a leftover.

“Yeah, maybe. Hey, then there’d be someone exactly like you. You’d be like sisters, secret sisters.” His tone of voice shifted: free-associating for a monologue. “You gotta find her. We can make a video. Two sisters meet for the first time. And you get into a fight, not really, it would be in the script, but it would be right up to the line. People would love it.”

Berenike didn’t think she’d love it. She wasn’t loving much about this lunch, either.

As he chattered on about squabbling families, she tried to breathe slow and deep and to examine her feelings like the AI had taught her. This news wouldn’t change things much. In fact, her parents had told her a lot that hadn’t turned out to be true. And she had never known exactly why they were estranged from Momma’s parents, only how viciously. Now she did. Maybe.

Perhaps Momma hadn’t picked her up at an adoption agency, she’d given birth to her. But Momma hadn’t provided the genetic material. Neither had Papa.

Maybe she did have an in vitro sister, and that girl had parents who were very different from her own. Momma and Papa’s girl? No. When she’d believed she’d been adopted, she had long ago surrendered her heart to the mysterious man and woman who, she’d imagined, had given her up as a newborn to what they hoped was a better home and more loving arms. They hadn’t known those arms would spend a lot of time waving around in senseless anger and ugly arguments.

But if Papa was telling the truth, those loving birth parents were a total fantasy. Instead, perhaps, they’d given away a bit of themselves to anyone who wanted it, carelessly, keeping one beloved girl for themselves. Maybe she had no wonderful parents, real or imaginary.

The pizza wasn’t sitting well.

“Life is full of surprises, you know?” Papa was saying—the man known as Papa. “Families grow and change, right? It’s just you and me now, Nike. Better for me, better for you.”

She was going to need some time to process this. “Yes, it is.”

She needed to find those wannabe grandparents and hear their story as soon as she could. Maybe they’d be what she’d hoped for. Maybe. Question and verify.

Irene stood and watched the woolly mammoth shuffle aimlessly. His yard-long shaggy hair gleamed rust brown in the afternoon light. For all his huge magnificence, Nimkii looked desolate, pitiful, even out of place, although ten thousand years ago his kind had dominated North America’s grasslands. He stopped dead in his bare pen and rocked back and forth, a sign of forlorn boredom if not an aching mental health crisis.

He looked at Irene and rumbled. He recognized her—as a source of food but perhaps not as the person who cherished him more than anyone else did. She got back to work and shoved a bale of grassy hay into the chains that hung from the sling of the crane alongside the pen. The bale weighed half of what she did. Every day, he’d eat seven bales along with fruit, fresh-cut long grass and alfalfa, a pail of elephant chow pellets, vegetables, and more.

A quarter ton of fodder in all, every day. Irene’s armpits dripped with sweat. Summer heat and humidity wouldn’t end until late October.

She switched on the motorized winch to lift up the bale, and directed the crane’s arm to swing over the outer fence, marshy moat, and interior fence, then drop the hay. She reversed the motor immediately to reel up the chains as Nimkii rushed for them, jerking his trunk in the air, grabbing at them. He could move gracefully when he wanted, but now he was unhappy. He had reason to be unhappy. So did Irene.

Alan, head of the family that owned the farm, was leaving the house. Is he coming to help me? Not likely. Nimkii gave up on the chains, roared, and ripped apart the hay bale. A crow cawed on a fence post next to the pen, oblivious to the grassy funk of mammoth droppings. The pen desperately needed to be cleaned.

Alan approached, grinning in a way she didn’t like. He stood tall, a middle-aged man, his weather-creased face always flushed. Next to him, Irene felt small and fragile and pale, her hair bleached blonder in the sunshine and held in place by a University of Wisconsin baseball cap.

“We’re getting sort of a tour group today,” Alan announced. “A shelter home for dupes is coming to visit.” He laughed.

Irene had long ago learned to hide her cringe at

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