notes on her own system. He even knew her password. He could easily have retrieved them if he'd wanted to, even confiscated her computer so she wouldn't have access to the information. He was purposely allowing her to keep her files, to have continued access. She laid the crystal in his callused palm.
"I think I should cancel my vacation. I don't feel right about going away now."
The wrinkles around his eyes deepened.
"Your vacation. I completely forgot about it. You know what a great people person I am."
This was an old joke, about a criticism she'd written on a teacher evaluation years and years ago.
"I don't think I should leave now."
He took her hand.
"Yes, you should. That's exactly what you should do. Give things some time to cool off here. Get away from all this craziness. When you come back... we'll see what happens."
He released her hand. She knew he was holding a lot back, that he was under pressures she could only guess about. But she trusted his advice. She nodded.
"I'll see you in three weeks."
He opened the hall door.
"Get some rest."
"I hope not."
At his hesitation, she wished she hadn't said that. After Chang had left, Anna gathered together her belongings. She closed up her computer and slid it into her carryall. On her desk, neatly centered in the space where her computer had sat, was a long, flat, shriveled piece of mouse. She picked it up and whispered,
"Thank you, Chang."
Although the edges were crusty and dried, the center remained soft and elastic. There was a slight dampness on the underside, and she turned it over to find a black, tarry substance. Stealing a glance out into the hall, Anna found a small container for the fragment and packed it quickly into her carryall. She wished her vacation