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Betty leaps, and for just a moment the whole world is bright. She can feel herself beginning to diffuse into something bigger than her body, but— no. That isn't the right word, because she isn’t watered down at all. She’s expanding, finally understanding

And then she’s sucked back, cut off so suddenly it hurts.

The world reforms into a series of recognizable shapes: four walls, a chair and a desk. Or at least their outlines. Everything is slightly insubstantial, too many corners showing at once. But the room is still unmistakably an office. The afterlife is just another government bureau, it seems. Or mostly. She notices that there are no lights. The whole world is still lit from within. You can put a candle under a bushel but apparently snuffing it is a little harder.

The only fully realized figure is the man behind the desk, and he looks like he’d prefer to still be one with the furniture. Apparently she'll have to take the initiative. Maybe just remind him how human conversation typically works. “Am I here to see you?”

His dishwater-bland face settles into lines of deep disapproval. “You aren’t supposed to be here at all, Miss Rhomer.”

Betty puts on her best new-neighbor smile and shrugs. He seems unsettled by the lack of contrition, but unfortunately not charmed or disarmed. When she doesn’t explain herself any further he retaliates by launching into a longer litany of sins, depressingly familiar. This wasn’t her gateway. She’s not ready for what comes next. There’s an order, a time and a place. Nothing that she hasn't heard before, and from people far more likely to make an impression.

It is important information though. He’s telling her this because they have no idea what to do about her.

“Bitten pencap.” She says, cutting the man off mid-sentence.

He goggles like a fish. “Excuse me. What?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I like to keep track of people, you know? I mean, presumably you do, since it turns out that consciousness is—” She lets her eyes flick around the office, weighing her options. Making it clear that if this is the full force of humanity’s combined souls she’s not too impressed. Even if the words she finally settles on are perfectly polite and descriptive. “—a collective. Anyway, there’s a certain kind of man who bites his pencaps. Not a pencil-pusher. That’s a type too, boring as hell. But pencap biters? They’re just smart enough to know that they’re doing spit with their lives. But they’re too afraid to change anything. So all their energy and all that potential they have just comes out in pointless— nervous— actions. I think that’s even sadder, really.”

She's not sitting anymore, leaning further across the desk with every word and enjoying the way the the man’s eyes widen in worried recognition. “But you? You’re not even a pen-biter, honey. You’ve been here so long you’re just the cap. And I’m not sticking around to find out what’s been eating at you.”

She turns, ignoring the choked noises behind her, and opens the office door.

The light rushes back in.