Excerpt: The truth about Anne Penn’s mother

Lauren Carr photo

Image courtesy Lauren Carr.

In chapter 18 of Carbon Run, Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel of the Bureau of Environmental Security visits the Penn Ranch, which is next to a wildlife refuge destroyed by a fire. Kilel believes Anne Penn’s father, Bill, sparked the blaze caused the extinction of an endangered bird. But her suspect has escaped, and Kilel hopes Anne will help her locate the suspect. But Anne is hostile, as is her friend, Gary Schmidt. During her visit, Kilel picks through belongings Anne salvaged from the fire, which also destroyed Anne’s home.

Kilel studied the holo-pic. The image was familiar. But it was faded and grainy. “Who is this?”

Anne cooled down. “My mother.”

Kilel tried to place the woman’s face. “What’s her name?”

“Molly. She died when I was very young.”

Molly! “She’s dead?”

“Yes! Why are you asking me about her?”

“What was her name?”

“Molly Penn.” Anne said the name as if Kilel were dense as stone.

“No, her maiden name.”


A shock went up Kilel’s spine. She had to check against something objective. She called up the BES database in her minds-eye and the answer came back almost before she finished composing the query. The photo in the database wasn’t the same as the holo-pic. But it was an image of the same person taken a few years later. Kilel addressed Anne. “Your mother is Molly Bain.”

“That’s what I said. What are you getting at?”

“Molly Bain is an environmental criminal. She was convicted of crimes related to the Spike. She escaped disidentification by turning state’s evidence against Martin Scribb.”

Anne looked as if Kilel had told the young woman that her mother was alive. “You’re wrong!” Anne said. “She died after the Spike! Because of the Spike. That’s what my dad told me. It was a flood or something.”

“Molly Bain, formerly Mrs. William Penn, with one child, Anne Penn, was an AI researcher who programmed the drilling robots that failed on all the Algid Project methyl hydrate sites, causing a massive release of methane. The release started a cascading failure of the entire methyl hydrate bed in the Barents Sea, releasing millions of metric tons into the atmosphere, doubling its capacity to retain atmospheric heat for nearly a decade. Your mother killed 20 percent of the wild species on the planet. Your mother caused the worst mass extinction in 65 million years.”

“Stop it!” Mike stepped in front of Anne, blocking her from Kilel’s view.

The inspector shook with anger. She looked away from Anne and Mike, fearful she might lash out with her fist. A primal part of her wanted to strike Anne for the part of Molly Bain in the young woman, even if it was only a strand of DNA. She wanted to visit punishment on Anne for the sins of the mother for her environmental genocide.

“Stop it!” Mike repeated. “Anne was a baby. She had nothing to do with the Spike or what her mother did.”

Kilel breathed in and closed her eyes, fighting to regain control of herself. “You’re correct, Mr. Schmidt. Anne had nothing to do with the Spike or her mother’s crimes. And unlike her father, she’s not responsible for the fire that wiped out a species. But she is her mother’s daughter, and her father’s daughter.” Kilel glanced at the snag with the magpie nest. “That much is clear.”

Kilel turned on her heel and returned to the car. I can’t be here. I can’t control myself when I think of what that family represents. Sweat trickled down her neck and back, soaking the blouse under her tunic. She punched in the unlock code and the car came on. A blast of hot air blew out of the vent, before the artificial breeze cooled it to an office-like temperature. She ordered the car back to the highway and it kicked up dust from the unpaved driveway, leaving a cloud that obscured Kilel’s view of Anne Penn and Mike Schmidt in the rear view monitor.

Read more excerpts from Carbon Run. What do you think?

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