By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: They stole her child, but it wasn’t long before they brought it back…
On the third morning after the kidnapping, anxiety skittered across Lydia Halstead’s heart as she did the dishes. Where had they taken Adam? Would they treat him well? What would happen now?
Was it possible they would let Adam come home in time?
The doorbell rang, and Lydia fought with the dish gloves for a moment. She hadn’t known the gloves would be such a tight fit when she bought them. Her entire focus on that day had been on Adam, on the fact that he’d spoken to her for the first time. Their first full conversation as mother and son. Lydia had gotten the wrong size dish gloves and bought cilantro instead of parsley that day, she was so excited.
Now the gloves seemed to trap her.
The bell rang again, a double ring this time. Someone clearly wanted her to answer the door. With a grunt Lydia yanked the gloves off and threw them into the sink. She jogged across the open space between kitchen, great room and the foyer, the hardwood floor creaking in spots as her feet made contact with it.
Lydia got to the door just as the doorbell rang for the fifth time. She looked through the peephole and gasped. Fumbling with the lock, she tried to open the deadbolt and had to steady her hand before she could make the half-moon turn.
“Adam!” she cried. She threw her arms wide as she stepped outside and dropped to one knee on the front stoop.
Her little boy came running to her from the end of the front walk, his gait slightly off balance as the leg braces made him check every other step. Lydia engulfed him with her arms and looked up just in time to see a beat up Ford truck screeching into reverse. The man driving didn’t stop to talk to her, but she could see it clearly on his face: fear.
She wanted to laugh at him, wanted to flick him off, wanted to shake a fist in his face. Instead she just returned his look with one she knew would reflect the joy and relief she felt. She’d been reasonably sure Adam would be returned, but she couldn’t know a hundred percent until it happened.
“My baby!” she said, clutching Adam tighter. “Did they hurt you? Did they do anything bad to you, my darling?”
Adam shook his head, his hair brushing roughly against her cheek. “Not at all, Mother. They simply kept me in a room.”
A nod. “By myself. They offered food, but I did not take it per your input.”
She pulled back and looked at him in the face. His eyes blinked, and the solemn look on his face made her pause. Then she grinned, and he grinned back.
“Do you feel depleted, Adam?”
“Some. I leached some of the reserve power and allowed it to trip my main power source after nightfall to conserve energy.”
Lydia did a double take. She’d never considered that an option, but it didn’t surprise her that her son had created a solution. He’d done that more than once since coming into her life, challenging everything anyone had ever told her about this kind of parenting. Not that they really knew what this kind of parenting was like. No one did, really.
“Come, my sweet boy,” she said, standing and reaching for his hand. “Let’s get you to your room.”
“All right, Mother. I would like that.”
His voice modulated a little, dipping in tone and then coming back to its normal sound. She wondered what had compelled the kidnappers to bring him back. Was it the changing voice? Would it have been Adam’s refusal of standard foods? Maybe his acute observations would’ve unnerved them. In the beginning they certainly made Lydia pause once or twice, and she’d created him for god’s sake.
She looked down at the blonde little boy as he walked beside her. The leg braces had been the most recent addition. She’d created a synthetic pituitary gland for him and inserted it only weeks before the kidnapping. The gland had caused Adam’s legs to stretch at a rate faster than what she’d anticipated, and the braces had been meant as only a temporary measure so she could take him out in public and not have too many questions about sudden spurts of growth while they walked through the mall or sat in a restaurant.
The braces acted as a cover up, but clearly they hadn’t deterred the kidnappers from taking their chances. Lydia figured her prominence in the community would tempt some people, but she didn’t know Adam would be their target. Granted, she’d created him to be that target. Just…not so soon.
He looked up at her, her beautiful six-year-old son, and his hazel eyes blinked once, twice, and then did a double-blink and a rapid succession of blinks. Then his eyes began to flutter, so quickly that she could hear the whirring of the super strong silicone used to form his eyelids.
Lydia clicked her tongue. “You are depleted, Adam. Come, let’s get you into bed.”
She pushed open the door to the first-floor lab Adam used and held the door open so he could scoot past her. Even with depleted resources, she expected him to move as much on his own as he could. He knew that, and she breathed a sigh of relief that the kidnapping hadn’t deprogrammed the most basic commands.
She walked to the edge of the table that served as Adam’s bed. “Up you go.”
He hopped up on the table and swung his legs as Lydia went around the table to lift up the back of his shirt. The leg swinging continued as she felt for the seam in his back and pressed her fingers just to the right of it. An outline of her thumb and first two fingers glowed, and the panel in Adam’s back popped open. She reached under the table, pulled out the power cord, and plugged it into the socket in his back.
“There you are, my dear,” she said. “All ready for bed.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Adam said, his voice losing its human-like quality and becoming more mechanical. He drew his legs onto the table and lay down as if for a nap.
Artificial intelligence, Lydia had discovered, had its limitations and its frightening possibilities. Contrary to what many believed, it had been possible for Adam to unlearn some of the commands she’d first programmed into him. While she had been the one to put him in an irresistible position to be kidnapped, it still bothered her that he could come home to her changed. Different. Not hers.
She went to the sleek desktop computer on the table across the room and sat down. After double-clicking the spacebar, she waited for the program she’d designed to correspond to Adam’s creation to boot up. When the home screen welcomed her, she smiled.
Her boy was home. Now it was time to extract the research from him and get the results.