They came home with their hired cult deprogrammer to a locked and silent house. The pool was newly and heavily chlorinated. The recycling bin was full of washed lemonade, soda water and ginger ale bottles. The non-recycling bin was full. The house was cleaner than they’d left it and there was more toilet paper than when they’d gone out. Their daughter was gone.
“She’ll have to go on medication,” her mother said harshly, “It’s the only way to control her if she won’t obey the court’s instructions.”
“I agree,” her father surveyed her empty room. “We’ve been far too lenient. She obviously has no concern for the consequences of her actions.”
“I think you should come and read this.” It was the deprogrammer in the dining room. He was gazing at a handwritten note and two envelopes lying on the highly polished table.
The note read:
Mum and Dad,
1. I’ve already apologised to the neighbours.
2. Read the contents of the two envelopes under leaf, copies have gone to your solicitors.
3. You know the ugly monstrosity Great-Aunt Maureen gave you for your wedding that no-one likes? Get it valued. Tomorrow. Seriously.
4. Get some professional help for your need to infantilise me.
It was signed with a semi-illegible scrawl.
“She used to have such nice handwriting,” her mother sighed, “Now look at it.”
Her father opened the envelopes. “She’s gotten the confinement order overturned by a superior court.” He threw the paper down on the table. “How’d she afford the legal work for that? What’s this other one?” He exploded. “A restraining order? Against us? How dare she!?”
“Excuse me,” the deprogrammer held the discarded paper in his hand. “This has psychiatric evidence rebutted by physical medical evidence. What’s her cult reinforced delusion again?”
“She says she has a chip in her brain,” her mother sighed, “Totally ridiculous of course.”
“What sort of chip?” The deprogrammer had gone very still.
“She’s very precise about it,” her husband was still muttering indignation in the background, “She calls it a radlin data collection and analysis chip. She has all these details she’s made up to support this delusion. At least she doesn’t go around wrapping her head in foil –she says she escaped before they could implant the downloader.”
“Both of you sit down and listen to me very carefully,” said the deprogrammer and waited until they were both seated and looking at him. “Radlin chips are real. I’ve dealt with them before. That physical evidence to the court will be a scan showing one in place. If your daughter’s alive and doesn’t want to kill herself, she’s one of the lucky ones.”
“You’re as bad as she is,” her father snorted, “I expected someone sane when I asked to be referred to a deprogrammer.”
The deprogrammer rolled up his sleeve. His forearm was a mess of tiny, faded cross-shaped scars. “I got these when armed men came after a patient of mine whose parents thought he was self mutilating as part of a cult he was supposedly involved in. He’d actually cut his downloader out so they’d come after him to take him back,” he gestured vaguely, “Wherever the things were put into him. He jumped in front of me when they tried to get rid of witnesses. He’d told me that he wanted to die to stop them using him but that the only thing the chip could make you do was not kill yourself. I didn’t believe him.” He paused. “I can’t help you or your daughter, I’m sorry. I’ll send your money back of course. And be careful, very careful.”
Her parents, still semi-disbelieving, saw him out of the house in silence.
Out on the edge of territorial waters the engines thrummed, pushing propellers through the air. She took off her headphones, spoke to the pilot and to the loadmaster, then walked the length of the transport bay to click into her place in the jump stick. The ready lights came on and they all stood, then the lights were go and they were jumping into the night, their target the only light below. She knew no-one could hear her but she said it anyway. “Right, let’s go burn a chip maker.”