“Where did it come from?” Sammy asked.

“Nobody knows,” said Tilly. “Dad says some people say it was aliens. Some people say it was the government. He thinks it just evolved that way, maybe as a totally new way of things evolving, too.”

Bethany raised her hand. “Does it hurt?”

Tilly shook her head. “Nope. Maybe it you press me real hard there, but that hurts no matter what.”

Ms. Culligan nodded. “Does anyone else have a question for Tilly?” Her tone made it clear to kids used to playing “guess what teacher’s thinking” that they hadn’t yet asked the right one.

After a moment of unusual quiet in the classroom, Mikey raised his hand. “Can we catch it?” he said.

“Only if you touch it,” said Tilly, “and then put your fingers in your mouth.”

Ms. Culligan quickly got up and strode to the front of the class. “That’s only true if you’re not on the proper medication,” she said hastily. “Since Tilly is joining out classroom we will all be on the proper medicine which is 99% effective. There’s no danger of anyone else catching it whether they touch Tilly or not.”

The teacher put a hand on Tilly’s shoulder and began guideing her back to her desk. The kids, mollified but still interested, stared at their new classmate. More specifically, they stared at the azure crystalline deposits protruding like diamond freckes from about her eyes and on her upper arms. Most of them had heard of the crystophage from the news or conversation around the dinner table, but it was an affluent school and few had ever seen it.

“What happens…you know…later?” one of the kids whispered. “They get bigger, don’t they?”

“I’ll be shiny and strong,” said Tilly. “Like Dad said, a totally new way of evolving.”

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