Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Home Again

When I woke up this morning, I had a lot of things to sort through. I needed to decide whether or not to tell my parents I was alive. Whether or not to tell the authorities I was alive. I needed to decide whether I could trust Daniel, and how much I should distrust Norm. I had a lot to sort through. But the one think I couldn't stop thinking about was how Oberon's invisible armor must work. I tried to drown out the question, but I couldn't.
I remembered Oberon's advice. To stop fighting my M.A.D.N.E.S.S. To embrace it.
I had never done that before. Even before being committed, I had still what I was doing was dangerous. Never once had I tried to think. Never once had I attempted to use the full capacity of my superhuman brain. I was curious. What could I accomplish? Would I finally be able to answer the thousands of questions which I couldn't get out of my mind?
I couldn't risk it. What if I abandoned my inhibitions and couldn't get them back? What if I stopped being me? What if I hurt someone? What if I hurt hundreds of people?
I needed to focus on the moment. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that I was a fugitive. I couldn't give up. I couldn't turn myself in. Because if I did, I would be turning in Norm and Daniel. And as unappreciative they would be, the person I really didn't want to disappoint was Oberon. I doubted he would take kindly to me undoing his hard work. And I couldn't risk him paying my family a visit to express his disapproval.
So I'm a free woman. At least for the time being. I decided that my first order of business would be acquiring clothes. I was still wearing a hospital gown. And an explosion, a four mile walk through the woods, and twenty-six hours of continuous use had not improved their condition.
I glanced at my companions. Daniel seemed to be asleep. Norm seemed to be envisioning his next murder.
I inventoried my possessions. I had the contents of my backpack: this journal, some light reading, a picture of my family, and some fantasy books. I had three wallets, courtesy of the good people of Spencer, New York. I had a total of sixty-three dollars twenty-two cents remaining. I left the hotel room, and hailed a cab. The driver gave me a strange look. "Late Halloween party," I explained. Best I could come up with on November 4th.
He drove me to a thrift shop. I crossed the street and ate breakfast at McDonalds. Not gourmet, but I'd been eating hospital food for years. I visited the bathroom, and changed into my new wardrobe.
My next order of business would be visiting my family. During the cab ride, I thought about how you would design a car engine to run on butane. For the record, its a bad idea.
I had the cab drop me off a mile or so from where my parents and brother lived, in the suburb of Brookline.
I walked toward my parents' house. I had grown up in that neighborhood. In my years in confinement, I had frequently traversed it in my mind. It was somewhat jarring to see what had changed in two years. Every detail stuck out painfully. That tire swing was new. So was that fire hydrant. And what happened to the ugly fence between those two houses? Did the Cohen's and the Hurwitz's stop fighting?
As I got closer to my family's house, I began to worry about a neighbor recognizing me. There were only about five people in the neighborhood who I expected would remember my face. Only two would likely be present at eleven o'clock on a Wednesday. As I turned onto my family's street, I glanced at their houses. Nobody home.
I rang what was once my doorbell. I waited. After eighty-three seconds, Gabe answered. He gave me the once over. He gave me the twice over. Just to be sure, he gave me the three times over. Then, he grinned.
He dragged me inside and closed the door. "Mom," he shouted. "Dad. Get down here." My parents trekked down the stairs. They were, as expected, surprised that I was alive. My mom rushed to hug me. My dad just stood there.
"What happened," Gabe asked. "You didn't break out. Somebody else must have sprung you. Another inmate? No. Oberon. Jackson Romero? Xingxi Yu?"
"Oberon. He faked my death. Eight people died, but he let the three MADs go."
"So Norm Baxter and David O'Connor survived as well?"
"What is your plan now? Are you going to stay with us?"
"No. Our parents are already secretly harboring a MAD. They shouldn't harbor two."

Well. That was embarrassing. I thought that it was fairly obvious that Gabe was a MAD. I assumed the reason they had never mentioned it to me was that they knew our talks were monitored.
The same went for you, diary. I didn't tell you earlier because I was worried a psychologist might read this. Wouldn't that be an embarrassing for my brother to be discovered?

"Mom? Dad? You knew about this, right?"
"Are you saying..."
"Yes. I'm saying that Gabe is MAD."
"That's not possible," Gabe said. "I'm perfectly sane. I mean, no offense to you Allegra, but-"
"You know as well as I that there's a spectrum. With any luck, you won't move any further down it."
"How long have you known," my mother asked.
"About two months. It started when you began quoting specific passages from the Ortega Protocols. They're like two thousand pages. Not something you would have memorized a year ago. Unless your memory was enhanced."
"Okay. So maybe my memory is a little better. Maybe I've started taking my classes more seriously. That doesn't prove anything. I'm teenager. My personality changes all the time."
"What were you doing before I rang the doorbell? You were on the computer. Looking at footage of the wreckage, right. Trying to figure out how exactly I died?"
"How... how did you know?"
"You pupils were dilated when you opened the door."
"No. This isn't possible. I don't do things like you. I'm not like you.  I'm not." Gabe stormed away.
I didn't know what to say. I had just come back to life, and already I was bringing trouble. The last thing I wanted was to bring more. "I should leave."
"What is your plan," my dad asked. "Are you going back?"
"I can't. If I do, I'll be telling them that Norm and Daniel are alive as well. They would not appreciate it. Even if neither of them gets a chance to hurt you, I can't risk what Oberon would do."
"That doesn't sound like the real reason. I'm flattered you care about us that much, it just doesn't seem like the outside chance of retribution from a superintelligent serial killer justifies a decision of this magnitude."
"Allegra," my mom said. "You know we love you. But surely you realize how dangerous you are. You need help."
"I had two years of their help. It didn't help. It was never really supposed to help. The entire system was just to keep me out of the wild where I might hurt someone."
"That's a worthwhile goal," my father said.
He had a point. He had more than a point. He was right. I was a menace. And as fun as it was for me to walk the streets and pretend to be normal, I was endangering lives. Every time I saw someone on their phone, I thought of all the the scientific advances that must have happened in the last two years. I had to fight the urge to grab it, read everything I could, and then try to make it in a basement. I couldn't fight that urge for my entire life. But I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in confinement. And yes, I knew it would be the rest of my life. No MAD had ever been rehabilitated. Maybe, just maybe, they would invent some drug, some surgery, but... no, I couldn't think about that. I had to stop thinking about that. Think about something normal. Talk to your parents!
"I... I just..."
"Spend the rest of the day here," my mom offered. "Spend the night. We haven't seen nearly enough of you these past two years. We'll decide what to do in the morning." I knew my presence presented a slight danger to my parents. But how could I refuse an offer like that?
"We never repainted your room," my dad said.
Twenty-eight months ago, I had covered the walls in calculations trying to determine the structure of a protein.
"I can sleep on the couch."
I spent the day talking to them. Really talking, not those rushed snippets I was allowed at J. S. Greenberg. We talked about trivial things. We talked about important things.  We talked about the Red Socks. We talked about the Patriots. We talked about Walsh's chance of actually winning the election. "Frankly, most people agree with him on the economy. But they think he's too soft on MADs. Especially after Clydesdale."
"Clydesdale," I asked. "Never mind. I doubt I want to know."
"You probably don't," my dad agreed.
My mother cooked a tremendous dinner. "Cooking for four again," she giggled. I tried to help, but mom made me stop after she caught me trying to measure the viscosity of the eggs.
I spoke briefly with Gabe. He didn't want to talk, except to assure me that he wasn't MAD. "I want to make it clear. I don't think there is anything wrong with MADs. I just happen not to be one." I didn't have the heart to tell him he was wrong on both counts.                

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