UNITED ATLANTIC FEDERATION,
Three months earlier
Sometimes it seemed to Amanda Capelo that she had the best life of any of her friends at Sauler Academy. Her father loved her and her sister a lot more than her friends’ fathers did. Everybody saw that. Plus, her father was famous. And her stepmother Carol was a nice person—she might have gotten somebody awful, like Thekla Carter had when Thekla’s father remarried. But Carol was great. Plus, Amanda’s grades were good, and her friends were the best, and even at fourteen she knew she was pretty and might even have a chance at being beautiful someday. She would go to college and become a scientist, like her father, although not a physicist because she didn’t have the math sense. A biologist, maybe. Meanwhile she had a nice home and the right clothes and a vacation every year on Mars visiting Aunt Kristen and Uncle Martin. A good position on the spacetime continuum, Daddy said, and Amanda agreed.
Other times it seemed to her she had been afraid her whole life, ever since her mother died. Afraid that the war with the Fallers would come to the Solar System. Afraid that something would happen to Daddy or Sudie or her aunt and uncle. Afraid that somehow Daddy would lose his money and they’d have to live in the terrible parts of cities that she saw on TV. But then Amanda discovered that, until the night the men took her father way, she hadn’t known what fear was at all. Not at all.
The evening had started badly, with another fight with her father. Before she turned thirteen, they’d never fought, but for the last year and half it seemed they couldn’t stop. She loved him more than anybody on Earth, but why couldn’t he stop virusing her program? Other fathers weren’t like him. Thekla’s father let her go alone to the holos, and Juliana’s father let her free-fall, and Yaeko’s father would talk with her about absolutely anything that Yaeko wanted. There were so many things Tom Capelo would never talk about.
Amanda pondered all these things as she crept into her father’s bedroom. She wasn’t supposed to be there. But he was downstairs in his study doing physics, and when he did that he grew oblivious to everything else. Including her, Amanada thought with sudden resentment. No, that wasn’t true. Her father loved her. But he either smothered her or ignored her. Why couldn’t he just be normal?
Quietly she closed the bedroom door, and just as quietly pulled the box from under her father’s bed. A meter square and fifteen centimeters high, it was made of a strong opaque plastic intended for long-term storage under adverse conditions. It had an e-lock, to which Amanda had figured out the code. It hadn’t been hard; the code was the digits of her mother’s birthday. You’d think a world-famous mathematician would have more imagination.
Or maybe not.
Amanda’s throat tightened, the way it always did when she opened the box. Pushing several data cubes and two smaller boxes to the side, she lifted out the dress. Her heart started a slow thumping dance. This time, she wasn’t going to just look at the dress. She was going to put it on.
On Coronus, brides marry in yellow, the color of the sun. Her father had told her that years ago, the one time he’d shown her the dress. Amanda suspected he’d been drunk, very unusual for him. Later she learned it was the anniversary of her mother’s death. He never mentioned any of her mother’s possessions again. Yet he had kept them, even after he married Carol.
Pushing the box back under the bed, Amanda stripped off her shoes, tunic, and shorts. She slipped the dress over her head and studied herself in Carol’s full-length mirror.
During the last year, her body had bloomed into curves that still startled her, although secretly she was pleased by them. Yaeko still didn’t have hardly any breasts at all, and Thekla’s waist was getting too thick. Amanda wished she had Thekkie’s eyes, though. Still, she looked nice in the dress and, thanks to being so tall, older than she really was. The yellow fabric that clung on top and flowed into a swirly skirt wasn’t too big for her. Karen Capelo had been a small woman, like her husband and younger daughter Sudie. Amanda took after her aunt Kristen. Although with her long straight fair hair and gray eyes, she looked a lot like Mommy, too. Unlike Sudie, Amanda remembered her mother. She’d been almost eight when Karen Capelo was killed in an enemy raid on a peaceful planet.
Was she prettier than her mother? No, not really. Her mother’s face had been really lovely. Amanda’s nose was too long, and her forehead was sort of squinchy, and there was something wrong with her chin…If only her parents hadn’t been such dinosaurs about having her and Sudie engineered! Not everybody was so archaic. Thekla had the most gorgeous green-blue eyes engineered for color and size and—
Her father was coming up the stairs!
Amanda’s stomach clenched. She wasn’t even supposed to be home. She was supposed to be at swimming, but she’d skipped it and taken the bus home alone, which was forbidden. Her plan had been to avoid her father until the time when Yaeko’s bodyguard was supposed to drop Amanda off at home, and then act like she’d just arrived. Her father would be furious. Swiftly she kicked the crumpled pile of her discarded clothes under the bed, opened the closet door, and slipped inside. She didn’t dare click the door closed, her father was already coming into the bedroom, but she pulled it so that only a tiny crack remained.
It wasn’t her father. For a frozen moment Amanda thought the man in her father’s bedroom was Dieter Gruber: huge and blond and genemod. But Dieter had been left behind on World, at the other end of the galaxy, over two years ago, and anyway Dieter was always clumping and noisy. This man moved quietly as a cat.
He looked around the bedroom, closed the door again, and went down the hall.
Amanda squeezed her eyes shut tight. Who was he? What was happening? What should she do?
Softly she opened the closet, slid out, and pulled back one corner of the bedroom curtain. Another man stood outside beside a car. The rest of the street was quiet and dark in the April night, behind the lacy bare trees that were her father’s reason for choosing this neighborhood in a quiet suburb three miles from Cambridge. “I may have to work with those dolts at Harvard,” he’d said, “but I don’t have to live with them.”
Her father came out of the house with a third man. To Amanda’s eyes, Daddy wasn’t walking right. Too quiet, too calm, nothing jiggling or twitching. He never walked like that. She watched him get into the car with the two men, and then the man who’d been upstairs came out and got in, too. The car drove away.
Maybe it was a college meeting. Maybe her father left a note. Amanda tore downstairs to see. But even before she reached the kitchen table, where he always left her notes, she knew it hadn’t been a college meeting. That big blond man had come upstairs in her house, and her father had walked like someone had done something to him. Drugs, maybe.
She should call the police.
“Bumbling incompetents with the intelligence of chairs, seventy percent of them,” her father always said about cops, “and of the other thirty percent, half are in league with the criminals.” What if she called the police and got one in league with whoever took her father? Or even one of the chair ones, who wouldn’t know what to do? Her father would say that fifteen percent was a low probability of success.
Amanda stood very still. “Think,” her father always said. “Reason it out. That’s what you have a brain for.” All right, she would reason what to do.
She couldn’t call the police. They might be part of this thing. Even at school some girls talked in whispers about how the government was breaking down and an uncle or a cousin had disappeared. Of course, they were talking about the big government on Mars, not the little ones on Earth. On Mars everything about the war was worse than on Earth. But even so…government people couldn’t be trusted. Who could?
Aunt Kristen, of course, in Lowell City. But if she called Mars, the men who took her father would know. Calls could be traced, especially ones to the capital of Mars, and even if the calls were encrypted, tracers could still tell if a call had been made, even if they didn’t know what was said. Everybody knew that, from holo shows. Also, House would have recorded everything that happened by the front door and the first-story windows. The bad people would certainly pierce House’s firewalls (Amanda herself could pierce them) and destroy the evidence of their kidnapping. When they did, they’d know that Amanda had come home early, had been in the house. Then they might come to get her, too.
Maybe they were already on the way!
She had to leave, now, right away. But she couldn’t go to Carol’s sister, where Carol and Sudie were visiting, because the bad people would surely know where Carol and Sudie were. Then they’d get Amanda. And she couldn’t let that happen because she was the only one who had actually seen her father get taken away. She was an eyewitness. She had to get help for her father, and it had to be somebody she could absolutely trust, and it had to be somebody the bad people wouldn’t suspect she’d go to, and it had to be somebody rich and powerful enough to help. Amanda knew that, too, from holo shows.
Marbet Grant. On Luna.
All the breath went out of Amanda and she almost cried with relief. Marbet was perfect. No one would think of looking for Amanda on Luna. And Marbet was the nicest, smartest, best person Amanda knew. Secretly Amanda had hoped her father would marry Marbet. Although Carol was nice, too, and maybe Carol was better for her father because Marbet was a Sensitive and her father was too ornery to want somebody guessing with such high probability what he was thinking all the time.
Now that the decision was made, Amanda turned efficient. She ran to her room, put on shoes, and crammed her dance bag with a few clean clothes and toiletries. All the time, she was thinking furiously. Her father had given her the code to the safe. She made House open it and pulled out her passport—but if she used it, couldn’t she be traced? She took it anyway, plus all the money chips. Then she added the small blue plastic pouch with the stones from the vug.
The vug. A sparkling cave on the planet World, like Aladdin’s cave in the story. Her father and Dieter Gruber had taken her and Sudie there, just once, when her father was making his important physics discoveries on World. Dieter had let Amanda and Sudie take double handfuls of the diamonds and gold nuggets on the cave floor and walls. Sudie had only wanted to play with them, but Amanda had been interested in how the gems got there. “Once this was the caldera of a volcano, right here,” Dieter had said. “The gold precipitates out from circulating water heated by magma.” It seemed so long ago. She’d been such a child.
Amanda put the bag of gems into her pocket, which was the first time she realized she was still wearing her mother’s dress. Well, good. It would make her look older. Wait…yes! Quickly she ran back to her father’s room, grabbed a handful of Carol’s makeup from her drawer, and shoved it in the dance bag.
She turned off House’s surveillance and left by the kitchen door. Quickly she disappeared into the dark woods behind the house. She and her friends played in these woods all the time; Amanda knew them well. “Manicured woods,” her father always called them, “suburban Trianons with low probability of actual wildlife.” Well, so what.
The woods smelled of spring earth, rich and fresh. It was cold under the trees, and Amanda shivered as she hurried, surefooted, along the moonlit paths. She’d forgotten her jacket.
Fifteen minutes later, she emerged on the other side of the woods, several blocks from home. She walked to the corner and caught a maglev to Cambridge. No one questioned her; the bus was full of kids just a little older than she was. (And her father said she was too young to ride the train alone at night!) Amanda sat in the last seat, propped Carol’s hand mirror on her knees, and applied Carol’s makeup, pursing her lips critically.
Now she looked much older. Maybe even sixteen.
What if the kidnappers killed her father?
They wouldn’t kill him. Low probability! He was a famous physicist, and that was the only reason to kidnap him, so they probably wanted him alive to do physics for them. Yes. She had to stop thinking about what might happen to him and concentrate all her brain on how to help him. “Think. Reason it out. That’s what you have a brain for.”
At the Cambridge station, she studied all the signs until she figured out how to buy a ticket for the train to Walton Spaceport, halfway across the state. She used money chips at the ticket machine; they couldn’t be traced. There were no kids on this train, but nobody bothered Amanda. She sat up straight in her seat, looking as old as she could, trying not to appear upset that her father had been kidnapped and she was afraid for her life and his life and nothing was the same as it had been two hours ago, when all she had wanted to do was find out that she looked pretty in her dead mother’s yellow dress.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Kress