I woke up and wished that I didn't.

I blinked my bleary eyes and felt my phone fall from my lap with a clatter, yanking out my earbuds on the way down.


"Watch your mouth!" My mother said, more reflex than anything.

"What? Why?" I shot back as I reached down. "If I don't, are you gonna have me arrested?"

Mother glared at me from the passenger seat, the night shadows sinking into every line of her face. Forget when the men in suits came knocking on our door and proceeded to dig through everything on our property, or when they took Dad away. This was the most stressful time for her.

This is when she's upset enough to look her age.
But whether it's the late hour or the trials we can feel coming ahead, she seems tired enough to leave it at that, because she simply sighed and went back to facing front.

Any other time Mom would have either threatened to slap me in the face, or wordlessly adjusted the seat while winding back her arm.
Even with Auntie on the driver's side.
I don't get my aggression from Dad.

"Honey...just do it, for my sake."

Why do you never say things like 'honey' except when you want something?

But I kept quiet. I was being snappy at her for dumb reasons neither of us could help anyway.

My eyes caught on the soft light of a random department store sign as it passed by. Wyatt's General.

Even at night you could see it was covered in bird shit, like revenge for the spikes they used to make sure the birds couldn't nest there anymore. I stifled a laugh.

I would totally do that if I were a bird.

I would fly around, taking giant shits on everybody and everything at fault for taking away my home.

I'd shit on the drones, the police, the bribed witnesses, the CEO for BIONIX LC, the callers, the stockholders, the news outlets and their reporters and their fancy All-Cars; I would unload that runny black and white paint onto every fucking one of them.

I mean, I'd rather be a ghostly seadevil if I could be any animal

—which of course more people should! I mean come on, it lives in the deep sea where no one can bother you, and its name is awesome on top of that—but a bird living on land would be fine if I could get that little bit of payback.

But it's not possible. We just have to sit here and accept that we can never live the way we used to, where we used to, even if Father's getting out on a suspended sentence and I hate it.
I hate our new reality.

I felt something tap my hand and realized it was my brother reaching out. Mark didn't just grab my hand, he kept his to the side and waited.

Oh. Am I shaking?

Slowly I unclenched my fist—I didn't even know I was making one—and he took it, shooting me a concerned look.
I nod my head slightly, breathing out before I managed a tired half smile.

Without a word I told him: Yeah, I'm fine.

He gave my hand a gentle squeeze before letting go.

Without a word, I lied.

Whatever. It would be the truth.

We were going to get Dad back, after all.

I went back to looking out of the car window, my heart pounding as I saw the road signs telling us how close we were.

It's just five turns away.

Auntie glanced at all of us, didn't say a word.

I looked at Mom chattering away nervously and wondered if she absorbed all the talkativeness from us.

One turn away.


The final bump in the road, and then the car parked itself.

I gulped, my mouth suddenly dry, as we all got out on the asphalt.
A loud blare jolted us.


The sphere came at us fast, cracking its metallic shell open to look us over with a single red eye.


We all held our right hands up, palms out. The security drone quickly ran its scanner over them, gave an approving beep, and sped away.

I looked up at the stark gray slab of a building, where he was waiting.

There was a bag by Dad's feet. His face was impassive and very thin as he looked off into nothing. Absolutely no light in his eyes.
My heart sank as I just stood there, staring. What had they done to my vivacious madman of a father? How did they make him capable of standing so still? Where was all his fat?
I knew not to expect he would come out looking the same—I would be very stupid otherwise—but not that he could look so utterly drained of life. Defeated. Empty. Not even being married to Mother accomplished that.

So what did they fucking do?

Mark nudged me, but I still didn't move. My mind was racing. Did we come all the way out here just to pick up his empty husk? What have they done to one of the few people I was sure actually cared about me?

Then he caught sight of us.

Daddy smiled and it reached his eyes. It was strained and small, but it was enough.

It was still him. We would not be leaving with a total stranger.

Without thinking, I broke into a sprint.

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