No Way Back – Chapter 3 – Updated 30DEC2009

And now, for Chapter 3!  Ugh, I’s gettin’ sleepy…

Chapter 3

BZZT! BZZT! BZZT!

I reached over and slammed my hand down on my alarm clock. I had set it about an hour early so I could get my homework punched out, but now, laying in bed, looking at my clock, its display now showing 5:01 in the morning, I wonder if I can even get started, let alone consider doing my homework. I sigh, then throw the blankets off of my body. It’s chilly in my room, like it always is. I keep asking dad to fix that vent, and always get the same non-answer that he has for just about everything minor, “When we have the money.” He had the money when he bought that old Challenger to restore, he had the money to make it great, but didn’t have the money to replace a section of ducting. I grumble as I flip my light on, pull my clothes together, get myself dressed, and hop into my shoes. I look at my backpack, knowing what’s waiting for me inside. I got lucky, at least it’s my algebra. I’m good at math. Science, too. I’d already done half of it at school while I was waiting, so it would be a breeze.

That’s what I had anticipated, anyway. I sat down at my desk, pulled my books out, and found myself thinking about Allessa and that game. She is so lovely, so sweet, but when she sits at that desk, it’s like someone flips a switch. She becomes cold, ruthless, almost scary. Isn’t that what makes a good leader, I muse, gnawing on my eraser. And that game… It was impossibly realistic, in every way better than the original. We had spent several hours on it when mom called, asking her to send me home. During that entire time, she commanded that imaginary battlefield in her armor, calling out commands, positions, and tactical data. How she does it, I’ll never know. I’d heard rumors about some kind of commanding officer package, that allows a person to deploy sensors and get satellite readouts, but my ChromeBot didn’t have it. With her help, I’d managed to work my way into a medium-duty ‘Bot, one of many. I had opted to set mine up as a short-to-medium range assault unit. It left me vulnerable to longer-range attacks, but made me far more formidable once in the thick of battle.

A half-hour had passed and I had only gotten through three equations. I forced the thoughts of the girl and her game from my mind, and pushed myself to finish out the assignment. As my concentration gathered, they just got easier, and I managed to finish up in time to hear my father’s typically heavy footsteps land outside my door and hear him pound the door once, twice, then a pause, and a third time. Always the same.

“I’m up, dad.” I called out, knowing he’d hear me.

“Good. Now, put your homework away and come on downstairs. Mom and I have something to show you.”

“How’d you know?” I yelled, genuinely surprised.

The door opened, and he looked in. “I’m your father, that’s how.” He stepped in, half-closing the door. “Besides, your alarm woke me up, and you mom said that you hadn’t done your homework last night. I just put two and two together.” His smile was huge, and he winked. “But I won’t tell. I know why you were over there last night.”

I felt my face get warm, and I looked down at my finished work, closing it into its book. “Yeah, well, one of these days, I’ll tell her.”

He laughed, then started out the door. “Hurry up.”

I threw everything back into my backpack, then slung it over my shoulder as I headed out of the room. I turned down the hall and hopped down the steps, dropping my backpack at the front door. I made my way through the living room to the kitchen, thinking they were waiting for me there.

No one was there.

“Mom? Dad?” I passed through the kitchen and dining room, and into the back room. That’s where they were waiting, smiling. “Uh, what’s going on?” I asked nervously.

“Well, we know that you’ve been doing well in school, even if you don’t do your homework,” mom started. “And you’ve been bugging us about getting a one, so…” They separated, and there was a new computer system already set up and booted. They’d gone all-out, even getting the control scheme I’d been drooling over for weeks, similar to what was set up next door, but its basic black coloring.

I blinked in awe of the system for a moment, no words forming. After a brief moment, I managed to stutter, “But, I thought we didn’t have the money!”

“Well, that was true, but the office gave me a promotion and a big hefty bonus! Since we already had a newer system, we thought it was time to update yours!” came dad’s response. “I’ve even put in to replace that duct to your room, finally. They’ll be in to do it after you get home from school, so make sure to get home right away.”

“Oh my gosh! Thanks mom! Dad!” I was finally able to move again, and rushed forward, hugging them both. We all laughed for a moment and shared the hug.

“But,” mom started again after the group hug had subsided, “We’ve had this system specially done. See that?” She pointed to a small round socket on the front of the computer. “Your grades slip, and that thing won’t start up. We can do that.”

“I got it mom…” I sighed.

Dad’s laugh made the thought end quickly. “We also talked to Allessa about what to have in it. She made sure we got the right thing. Oh, one more thing…” He grabbed a box from the desk and thumped it into my chest. “You’re gonna need this later. Now, I’m sorry, but I have to run to work. I love you both!” he said as he kissed mom quickly, then quickly took off towards the front door.

I looked at the box. He’d wrapped it in brown paper. As mom followed dad out of the room, I tore into the paper. “ChromeBot 2” in chrome on a black background. They’d gotten the new game! I guess they do listen to me, I thought, as I started to sit at the computer. It was waiting for its initial programming and setup. I looked at the clock, realizing I only had about fifteen minutes before I would have to be out the door, and turned around heading out to grab something to eat and catch the bus.

I charged out the door to get to the bus stop after quickly eating a plate of pancakes. When I say quickly, I mean I can’t tell you what they tasted like. Jumping down the steps, I bolted forward, cutting across the street and to the bus stop. Allessa was waiting there, along with a half-dozen other students. Those hypnotic eyes of hers lit up behind a smile when she saw me.

“So, anything interesting this morning?” she asked, her voice telling me she already knew.

“Dad says you helped them pick it, so… Thanks…” I smile, noticing the other students laughing in my direction. I looked over my clothing quickly, thinking I might have spilled something. Nothing. Then, as I turned, I saw it in the reflection of the glass. My hair was sticking straight up! I’d forgotten to comb it! I turn to run back to the house when I hear the bus crest the hill. Too late! All I can do is climb up and be ready for the day of tortured harassment.

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