The car rolled to a stop at the gate near the base of the hill. A security guard waved it through after a quick look at the occupants. Amanda couldn’t see very well through the tinted windows at night, but this was a drive she’d made many times before. The heavy atmosphere within the car was one she was all too familiar with as well.
She’d gotten into three fights in as many days in her elementary school, some private school affair with uniforms and other rich kids. In her early teens, she’d decided to use her power to go into electrical engineering. That had resulted in a rather public fight with her father outside the Academy. And once more after graduation, when she’d told him under no uncertain terms she wouldn’t work for Lock Corp.
Each and every time the drive up the hill to their house was the same. Mother avoided all eye contact, instead preferring to fuss with her makeup. Father just stared out the tinted windows with a scowl he didn’t hide nearly as well as he seemed to think. Other than him occasionally snapping at the driver to go faster, they’d said had nothing since landing at the airport an hour ago.
After the magic the doctor had worked on her earlier that evening, Father had insisted that the hospital release Amanda into his own care. His entourage of imposing men and women in dark suits had helped convince the hospital staff that it wasn’t worth the trouble arguing with him. Before Amanda knew it, she had been shepherded into the family jet and flown back to Westward City.
Amanda slouched in her seat on the far side of the car from her parents and tapped on her thigh. She pointedly looked out the window and away from them. They hadn’t given her a phone, and she hadn’t gotten the chance to get to a computer. Can’t contact anyone. They probably think I have Stockholm Syndrome or something.
The car approached the sprawling, two story house. From what Amanda could see, it was still exactly the same house she’d run away from one year ago. The grey tiled roof jutted high up into the night sky. Bright lights along the walls lit up the grounds around the house. When viewed from the air, it formed an H, with two large wings on both sides, and the front door in the central section.
The walls themselves appeared as unassuming adobe, but Amanda knew that a tank would be hard pressed to shoot through them. An executive in a notorious mercenary company, and a founding member at that, made enemies. They were part of the reason Amanda never talked about her family. Damn security team. Couldn’t slip away. Hell, even if I was healthy I couldn’t. They probably have orders to keep me away from a computer, too.
They finally reached the front door of the house. The car rolled to a smooth stop. The driver got out and opened the doors for Amanda’s family in the back.
“Welcome home, sir,” the driver said as Amanda’s father got out. Father simply strode off to the house without a word.
The driver walked over to Amanda’s side of the car, opened the door, and offered her a hand. She considered not taking it before the memory of lancing pain in her stomach convinced her otherwise. The doctor had told her to not put undue stress on her core muscles. The magic he’d done had not healed her perfectly.
She suppressed a sigh, the man was only doing his job after all. After grabbing her backpack, she let him help her get out of the car.
“Welcome back, Miss Lafitte,” he said, his face neutral.
“Thank you.” He’s just doing his job. No need to be an ass like Father. She joined her mother, who’d waited for her near the car door. Together they followed Father into house.
Father’s boots clomped on the hardwood floors of the kitchen beyond the cavernous foyer. The large chandelier overhead glinted as it illuminated the whole room.
“Welcome home, honey. Your room is just as you left it,” said her mother, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.
Just as I left it? Seriously? You two didn’t go through my things? I would have thought Father would have thrown a bunch of stuff into storage or something as punishment after he read that note.
They heard a muttered curse from Father in the kitchen. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, OK? Good night.” She released Amanda after a squeeze and followed Father into the kitchen.
Amanda stayed silent, unable to muster up the energy to reply. May as well see what my room looks like.
She ascended the staircase to the second floor and stopped at the first door on her right. The closed door loomed before her. I never thought I’d see this room again. One deep breath later, she opened the door.
The poster of Nikola Tesla still hung above her scuffed and scorched metal desk, which under the window on the far side of the room. The bookshelf at the foot of her bed was still loaded with textbooks and a few circuit boards, simple little things she’d made when she was nine and had first discovered her power.
As far as she could tell, nothing had been moved, but as she walked in she realized it hadn’t exactly been sealed for the last year. One thing that stuck out to her was the lack of dust. Her bed was neater than it had ever been before as well. Did they tell housekeeping to keep this place clean?
She opened up her closet to the left of the entrance. All my clothes are here, too. Mother wasn’t lying.
A yawn caught her by surprise. It’s probably almost midnight. Why the hell am I still awake? Wait. Pills. How could I forget? Painkillers might wear off soon. She shrugged off her backpack as she headed into the attached bathroom.
She withdrew the pills from her backpack and set the eight dark orange bottles on the counter. What were the ones I’m supposed to take at night? She consulted a slip of paper she’d written back at the hospital for this exact scenario. Pro-biotic, painkiller, and anti-coagulant? Right, yeah. These other ones are for before and after eating. At least I’m not craving morphine right now.
She took her pills, undressed, and dropped onto her old bed. I need to get out of here. History will repeat itself, no matter how nice Mother is now. Just… how? It’s not like the guards are just going to let me out the front gate. Sleep took her not long after her head hit the pillow.
A sharp spike of pain in her gut snapped Amanda awake. Her attempt at bolting straight upright in her bed only intensified it, stealing the breath she would have otherwise used to scream. She rolled out of bed instead, blanket still wrapped around her. She managed to half walk, half crawl to the bathroom.
The painkiller bottle rattled in her hand as she fumbled with the cap. She downed two pills without water and collapsed on the floor to catch her breath.
What the fuck? The pain faded, though far too slowly for her taste. What the fuck? That was… what? She pushed herself upright with her arms, back resting against the sink.
Those pills last twelve hours, right? She grabbed the bottle from where she’d left it on the ground and read the label. Yeah, two pills is twelve hours. How long was I asleep?
Once the pills did their job well enough for her to think and breathe clearly, she grabbed the counter to hoist herself to her feet. She staggered out to her room. The sun shone bright through the closed blinds. She spun the alarm clock on her desk towards her. Three in the afternoon? I slept for that long?
She sat back down on her bed. I’m not fully healed am I? Did the magic wear off? I don’t know how magic works, he could have turned me into a newt for ten minutes for all I know. Fuck, I thought I was at least a little better than this.
A minute passed. Stomach still aches a bit. Must have been magic stuff holding that off last night. She sighed. Shower. Eat. Figure out where to go from here. One long shower and a couple more pills later, Amanda found herself in front of her open closet.
I wonder if anything in here still fits. It’s only been a year. She found change of clothes, her fears of them not fitting were unfounded, and walked downstairs with a grumbling stomach. Let’s see if there’s anything I can eat. I think it’s just oatmeal for now, though. Oh, fruit smoothies. Those aren’t that bad.
She stopped halfway down the staircase. The sound of her parents talking in the kitchen drifted up to her.
“… sleeping for too long. We should at least check on her,” said Mother.
“She’s fine. She needs her rest is all,” replied Father.
A pause. “I’m just worried. She’s so angry. She barely talked to either of us the whole way here.”
“She’s young. We all do stupid things when we’re young. I can set her up with a good position in the company. If she wants to be her own woman and work her way up, then she doesn’t have to be in management or anything like that.” No, no, no. So close, but you don’t understand. You still don’t understand.
“That didn’t work last time. She’ll want to run off soon as she can.”
“She’s a smart young lady. She’ll come around,” said Father.
Amanda closed her eyes, sat down on a step, and tuned out the rest of the conversation. I want to be an engineer. I like engineering. I don’t want to join a soulless mercenary corporation. I said this to you, to both of you. Why don’t you listen?
Her stomach growled again, reminding her that she couldn’t sit on that step forever. She made her way down the rest of the staircase, turned the corner, and found herself in the kitchen.
The expansive granite topped island dominated the room. Her parents occupied two of the four bar stools on its right side, across from the kitchen proper. Sleek grey metal appliances gleamed all around. The double oven, the wide fridge, and the stove all looked spotless. Amanda headed to the fridge.
“Good morning, or afternoon, honey,” said her father.
“Did you sleep well, honey? How are you feeling?” asked her mother.
“Hi. Uh, my stomach was giving me some trouble when I woke up,” replied Amanda as she opened the fridge. Oh, I can have some stuff in here. Huh. I don’t remember them drinking smoothies before.
“We’ve hired a private doctor. She can make sure you’re healing well,” said Father.
Amanda shrugged. I’m definitely not healed yet. She leaned against the counter, facing her parents.
“We’ve been thinking that maybe you should see a counselor. We’ve already found one,” said Mother.
Amanda blinked. “For what?” she asked.
“We’re just concerned, honey,” said Mother.
“Why would you think I need counseling?” Amanda asked. Now what?
“We’re just concerned,” repeated Mother.
“We think you could use it. Nearly dying is never a fun experience, believe me,” said her father. She couldn’t argue that last point, she knew he’d served in the military and had seen action.
“I’m fine. Head space wise.”
“We still think it would be best for you to see this counselor.” Wait a minute.
“Why? Are you two still convinced I have Stockholm Syndrome?” asked Amanda, setting her drink aside on the counter behind her.
Footsteps approached, cutting off whatever her parents were about to say. “Excuse me, sir. Mr. Schrader is here,” said the man in the dark suit as he approached.
“Already? Let him in, let him in,” said Father, waving the guard away. The man spun on his heels and left at a brisk pace.
“We have a lot to talk about,” Father said to Amanda. “This will be one of them. Now, we have a guest.” The front door creaked ever so slightly as it opened.
Her parents got up. “Come on, Amanda. Don’t hide,” said her mother.
If I don’t go, they’ll just call me out anyways. And then there will be hell to pay later. Amanda sighed to herself and followed.
“Hello, Jeremy!” said Father, a wide smile on his face. He extended a hand.
The tall, thin man took Father’s hand and shook it without expression. “Hello, Mr. Lafitte,” he replied with a completely inflectionless voice.
“Ah, and this is my family. I don’t believe you’ve met them.”
“I have not.”
“This is my wife, Linda, and my daughter, Amanda,” said Father, motioning to each in turn.
Mother smiled and accepted Schrader’s handshake. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Schrader.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Amanda’s skin crawled as he faced her next.
She shook his hand in silence, not trusting herself to say a word. His skin felt like sandpaper.
“I understand you were injured recently,” said Schrader.
“Uh, yeah. Yes. Some robots shot me.”
“Yeah. I think they were Overlord drones or something. I don’t know how that street gang got hold of them, but they were there.” Please let go of my hand.
Schrader nodded and released her hand. He doesn’t blink. Why doesn’t he blink?
“How’s life been treating you?” asked Father, breaking the silence.
“Well enough. I have been busy. We have several large projects coming up very soon.”
“Of course. Business. Linda, Amanda, please excuse us. Would you like a drink, Jeremy?” her father asked as he led Schrader away towards his office.
“No thank you.”
They closed the office door behind them.
“Amanda, why don’t you go upstairs?” asked her mother.
“I think I’m just going to-”
Her mother grabbed Amanda’s arm and whispered into her ear, “You don’t understand. Stay as far away from that man as you can. Whatever it is they’re talking about in there, you don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. Please, go upstairs until he’s gone.”
“OK, OK,” said Amanda. She wrested her arm from her mother’s grip and went upstairs. Mother watched her until she reached her room.
Amanda collapsed on the chair in front of her desk. I have to get out of here. But how? I don’t have any of my tools, I don’t have the time, or a place to work without my parents knowing. She sighed. No. I am not helpless. Take stock. I’m an engineer. I can engineer my way out of this.
She’d taken a lot of her stuff with her when she’d run away, but some things she’d left behind. The boxes under her bed were good place to start. She grabbed and opened a small box from below. A couple small magnets lay at the bottom. OK, not terribly helpful.
She remembered the larger box she pulled out next. Inside was a cracked motherboard for a seven year old computer and a small flashlight. Why is this flashlight in here? She flicked the on switch. The light briefly sputtered to life before cutting out. I think I used this for looking into old computers and stuff. I could never tell what was going on with the circuit boards otherwise.
–The bulb is dead, as well as the batteries.–
OK, also not terribly helpful.She tossed the flashlight into the trashcan to the right of her desk.
The rest of the boxes were similar in that there was a reason she had left them there. She found a couple more cracked circuit boards, one with a hole melted in the middle. The only things she did find were a pair of rusty old needle nose pliers and a box of scrap metal.
She moved on. The textbooks on her bookshelf, while interesting, she’d read before. The old, simple circuits she’d made when she was a child littered the shelves. They were still usable, though for what she wasn’t quite sure. You never know. She grabbed a couple of them.
She arrayed her materials on her bed. A couple simple or broken circuit boards, some scrap metal, and a box of magnets.
Maybe I can do something with this. What else could I use these magnets for besides wiping computers? That might be useful. But I could use an EMP for that. Unless there’s a Faraday cage worked into the house. Father was using his phone though.
She separated one of the magnets from the others to examine it. The clump of the others followed. She smiled. Railguns! Yeah. I just need to put this between two long enough sheets of metal and put a current through them. Her power kicked in.
–Disregarding superpowers, energy is conserved. The kinetic energy of the railgun does not come from nowhere. You don’t have nearly enough power to make a railgun effective.–
Batteries. And even an EMP needs power. Maybe I could access and manipulate the electrical system of the house. I’m not helpless here. There were bound to be other materials around the house, batteries included. Wires in rarely used appliances, bits of metal no one would notice if they vanished, all were possibilities. Let’s see what I can do.