Chelsea pulled the car into the parking space and killed the engine. For a moment she paused, staring out of the front windscreen, wrestling with the idea of turning the engine back on and driving away. Every day, now, she had to force herself to unbuckle her seatbelt, climb out of the chunky Toyota, and walk away from it. Further into that abysmal hellhole otherwise known as The Kilvington High School for Girls. It was always so difficult to willingly walk under the vaulted archways and through the dark, ancient corridors, so tempting to simply run away from it all. There seemed to be no point in doing anything anymore, no reason to come to school or even leave the flat. Her life was just one mediocre, unbroken pattern of relentless boredom. She just wished something would happen, but nothing, it seemed, would break the cycle.
Until, at the start of period three, she walked into L105, one of the computer rooms. The room was empty of any other student; God forbid they should get to class on time. Chelsea shook her head, an aura of dull and untidy brown hair fluttering around her face. She sat down at the nearest desk and pressed the 'on' button in front of her. The computer, instead of the expected hum and buzz of activation, did absolutely nothing. And suddenly her arm felt really tingly; she must have knocked her funny bone on something. Chelsea ducked under the desk, looking for a cable that had come loose, or a cord kicked out of a power socket; but everything looked fine. Shrugging, she stood again and looked around the room for a computer that had been negligently left on. There – right up the back – the glow of a screen in sleep mode. She crossed over to it and tapped the keyboard. The screen flickered briefly and died. The machine gave a sort of tired whine, then fell silent completely. Chelsea sat back, surprised. No computer ever shut down that fast. It was as though all the power running the machine had been cut off, and it hadn't gone through the proper shut down routines. That must have been what turned it off so fast. But what had she done? Just touched the 'F' key, that was all. Her arm still felt really weird, a pins-and-needles feeling mainly, but different, sharper. She rubbed it absently and looked down. She almost screamed out. Dancing between her fingers were several bright electrical sparks. Chelsea looked back at the computer, gradually realizing that what had drained all the electricity was her own hand.
She rocked back in her chair, staring at the hand. Somehow, impossibly, it must have absorbed the electricity running the now-dead computer in front of her. But how? How could anything like that be possible? Hesitantly, Chelsea turned another computer on by holding the end of a pen against the 'on' button. She let the computer turn on completely before simply laying her hand against the screen. With a flicker and a slight hum, the computer died. And again she felt the sharp buzz of pins-and-needles rocketing through her arm.
"This is impossible," she choked out to the world at large. "How am – I can't be sucking out the electricity!" Terrified, she stood and backed away from the desk, knocking over the chair behind her. With a strangled sob, she snatched up her books and ran from the room.
Fumbling with the keys, Chelsea finally turned them over and tried to start the engine. It coughed briefly and choked, the familiar and gut-wrenching sound of an engine without a battery. She shifted uneasily in her seat. Now she'd drained the entire car battery. She hunched down over the wheel and cried. What the hell was happening to her? First the computers and now the car. Something about her just absorbed all the electricity it came into contact with. She wondered what would happen when she try to turn on a light switch. Probably drain that, too, like everything else she touched. Chelsea smiled ironically through the tears. Only this morning she'd been thinking about how nothing ever happened to her, how boring her entire existence was. She glanced down at her watch, wondering if it was still the morning. But of course, it was drained and dead too. For some reason, this upset her more than anything else, and she broke down completely and sobbed.
In a blacked-out van on the other side of the student car park, the man on the left bit into a large salad roll. His partner silently raised her eyes skyward and flicked a shred of lettuce out of her lap.
"For heaven's sake, Hendricks, can't you watch the target for two minutes without eating?"
"I get hungry when I watch people," he retorted through a mouthful of tomato, cheese and bread. "You know how much energy it takes out of me. Especially the infrared vision." He turned back to the occupied car about sixty feet away. "She's definitely manifested her ability."
"Are you sure?" snapped the woman. "We don't want another mistake. You really screwed up last time…"
"Yes, I'm sure. The car is completely drained. Even when turned off, the battery still generates a detectable field. And her watch has also been drained." Hendricks shook his head, spraying fragments of salad over his lap. "This girl's got more absorption capability than any other one we've tracked!"
"You're not here to admire her, Hendricks," snapped the woman icily. "You're here to bring her in. Go and get her. I'll back you up."
Leaving the half-decimated roll behind, the partners climbed out of the van and walked directly up to the target's car.
Still shaky over the realization that she absorbed every bit of electricity she came into contact with, Chelsea sat up with a shock when she heard a knocking on her window. Outside the car was a tall man with jumpy eyes, firm features and a mouth that seemed too small for his large face. Chelsea rolled down her window – thankfully it was a manual one – and addressed him.
"Who are you?"
"Oh, I just saw you crying, wondered if you were alright," he said, smiling. "I don't mean to sound like your mom or anything, but shouldn't you be in class?"
"Oh my God, am I that late?" Chelsea didn't want to go to class, but it would be better than having this stranger hanging around her. "My… my watch died, I had no idea what the time was."
"Bit past eleven," said the man, stepping back as she opened the door and rolled up the window. She locked the car with the key, rather than the electrical buttons – of course, they wouldn't work, and the car couldn't respond even if they did – and headed towards the school.
"Actually, you won't be going back to class," said a woman, stepping around from the other side of her car. Chelsea froze and glanced back to the man behind her. "We need you to come with us."
"No," Chelsea gasped, stepping away from the woman at right angles to avoid the man as well. "Leave me alone!"
"We know what you can do," said the man earnestly. "We know you're an electrical absorber. We've been watching you for a while."
"Stalking me?" Chelsea demanded, backing away even further. "Spying on me?"
"We're members of an agency that helps and protects people like you," the woman said as though she was talking to a three-year-old. "You can't control your power, can you? You just take all the electricity you touch. We can train you, teach you how to control how much electricity you take, and when. Come with us and you can be almost normal again." The woman outstretched a hand towards Chelsea.
"I'm calling the cops," Chelsea said, grabbing at her mobile and punching the keys. She looked down and swore.
"Dead, isn't it?" asked the man. "You didn't mean to take the electricity, or want to, but you did anyway. We can teach you so that won't happen anymore."
Chelsea looked up, defeated. They sounded trustworthy, and she did want to control the absorption. No, she wanted it gone, but they hadn't offered that. Even the chance that she could touch things again was worth the risk. "Ok," she said. She reached forward and took the woman's hand.
Instantly her face went blank and she dropped with a tiny gasp. Chelsea screamed and ran further away, but unable to tear her eyes from the woman now lying on the ground. Nothing seemed to have changed in her – she wasn't pale, or convulsing, or doing anything. She'd just dropped when Chelsea touched her.
In sudden horror, Chelsea looked down at the hand that had made the contact. She could feel the pins-and-needles again. She staggered aside and threw up as she realized she had just absorbed the electricity from the woman's body.
Hendricks felt desperately for a pulse at the base of his partner's neck. He kept an eye on the target, over to his left, but she didn't look like she would be going anywhere. He shook his head and closed the unseeing eyes. She was unquestionably dead. Neither of them had thought that the girl would be able to absorb the electricity in people. None of the other people with the same ability had ever been able to absorb from a person before. He looked over at the girl and shook his head. What was he going to do with her?
Chelsea wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and sat back on her heels, shaking all over. She'd just killed that poor woman – drained every spark from her body. She knew from junior year Biology that electricity controlled the brain, the nerves, and through them just about everything in the body… the heart, the muscles, the lungs… She'd just died instantly, with all brain activity simply gone when Chelsea touched her hand. It's like there's an electric black hole inside me, and it just sucks up all the electricity it can. Chelsea chewed absently on a strand of hair. How could she ever go home, or even back to school, when she would instantly kill anyone she touched? She had to disappear, run away, never contact anyone again. She felt sick and empty inside as she thought of the prospect of being separated from everyone she knew, everyone she loved. Slowly, she looked up at the man, who was standing over her, watching her. Chelsea stood, coming up to face the man.
"I'll come with you," she said. "I want to make sure… that…" She pointed a trembling hand at the corpse of the woman behind them. "That never happens again. I need to control it, need to stop doing this."
"Good," he said. "I'll get somebody to take care of her..." He pulled out his cell and called somebody, asking coolly for 'waste disposal'. Then he flung open the back doors of the van, revealing a dark grey interior. He punched at the wall and his fist bounced away.
"Rubber," he explained. "Completely insulated. We've known about you and your ability for much longer than you have."
"How?" she asked, stepping tentatively inside the van. She didn't feel the tingling up her body and assumed the insulation was working.
"That's part of what we do," he said simply, before slamming the doors shut and leaving her in darkness.
Hours later, somewhat dizzy, Chelsea stepped down out of the van, looking around. The garage they were in was huge, filled with dozens of similar vehicles marked with a corporate logo. A stern-looking man with brown hair in a sharp widow's peak and large glasses was standing in front of her, holding what looked like a gun. She instinctively drew in a breath but he reached up and shot her before she could do anything. Two darts plunged through her sweater and into her chest. She felt the pins-and-needles of the electrical absorption and stared at the object. She recognized it from TV cop shows as a Taser. She smirked to herself. It used electricity. Then the reality struck her – they'd just tried to knock her out.
She grabbed the cables dangling from the darts and tugged them out, wincing slightly at the pain as she did so. She tossed them lightly in her hand, glaring at the man holding the Taser.
"What might this be in aid of?" she asked coolly, amazed at her own decorum.
"Just making sure you were really as good as they said you were," the man said, with an unsettling kind of joking friendliness in his tone. "Let's talk about your future." He waved towards a corridor leading out of the garage, raising an eyebrow in something akin to a challenge. Chelsea swallowed and walked up to him, falling into step with his long strides.
"Where is this place?" she demanded as they left the garage and entered a green-and-white painted corridor that reminded her rather depressingly of an old hospital.
"Can't tell you that," the man said. "But I've got a choice to offer you." He jumped ahead and turned, blocking her path. Chelsea jerked back, afraid of touching him. "Let's be honest. You're dangerous. So you can either work for us, where we watch what you do, or you can spend – the rest of your life – in one of these." He opened a door and ushered her in to a dark grey corridor, dingy and poorly lit. A white '5' was painted on the wall about ten feet to her left. Straight ahead was a plate glass window leading to a tiny, almost bare cell. Chelsea turned in a fury to the man in the glasses.
"And what right do you have to lock me up?" she snapped. "I've done nothing, and you aren't the police or the army or anything. What gives you the right to decide?"
"Your ability is dangerous, you could kill people with it," he said, his voice rising as he spoke.
"But I don't want to, just because I can it doesn't mean I will! I wouldn't! Just because someone has a gun, they aren't automatically a killer!"
"You've already killed someone," he said flatly. Chelsea paused, the reality of her situation coming back and hitting her hard. She dropped down to the floor and leant back against the cold, rough wall.
"I didn't want to," she sobbed into her knees.
"And that's what gives us the right to keep you here. We're protecting everyone else out there from you." The man squatted down to eye level with her. "You can't hurt anybody from in there." He pointed into the cell opposite them. "Or we can train you to use your ability safely, by choice. But you'd have to agree to work for us."
"Work for you – how? In what capacity?" Chelsea raised her tear-stained to look at the man, who had stood again.
"In the same capacity as Hendricks and Mallory… the man who brought you in, and the woman you killed. As agents. Finding other people with abilities, like you, who may be a danger to themselves or others, and bringing them here to be trained."
"And forced into a life they don't want," Chelsea snapped. "I never wanted to be an agent, capturing innocent harmless people."
"You're not harmless and neither are they!" the man burst out, almost up to a shout. "There are dangerous people out there – not by choice, but inherently. The people without abilities need to be protected. How do you think I would feel if you touched a friend of mine, or my daughter? How would her family, her friends? Like this morning – what if you'd touched a person instead of a computer?"
"I won't do it," Chelsea said, her voice trembling. "I won't drag more people into my situation. Just leave them alone!"
"I had hoped it wouldn't have to come to this…" The man paused, drawing something out of his pocket. Chelsea glanced up at it and ducked aside; too slow, as he stabbed the needle through her jeans and into her leg. She flailed clumsily sideways as the world blurred at the edges, then completely, then went black.
Dr. Elliot Hansen glanced up from his novel as somebody came through the door, carrying a teenage girl over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. He raised an eyebrow at the unconventional mode of transport as the man laid the girl down on one of the hospital-style beds in the room.
"Afternoon, sir," Hansen said. He didn't know the names of anyone who wasn't directly on his staff, and liked it that way. He stood and walked over to the occupied bed.
"I need you to remove her abilities," the stranger said without preamble. "Can you do that yet?"
"The serum is still highly underdeveloped," Hansen said. "There has been virtually no testing done, we cannot even begin to predict the side effects."
"Then consider her a test case," the man said, before walking out. He paused at the door and spoke back over his shoulder. "She's an electrical absorber, Doctor. Don't let her touch you."
"Ah, yes…" Hansen crossed back to his desk, retrieving a key hidden beneath the coffee mug in the second shelf from the bottom on the left side of the stack. Usually, electrical absorbers were simply held in rubber-padded cells, but if she could absorb electricity from a person then such a measure would be ineffective. Minor things, like the retrieval vans, yes, but not on a larger scale. And so the only option remained. Hansen unlocked the medical fridge and extracted a vial, double- and triple-checking the serial number. It was the right one. He found an injection needle and slotted the vial into place.
Chelsea returned to consciousness with a blinding headache and only fuzzy memories of the day so far. Something pricked her in the arm, piquing her curiosity enough for her to force open her eyes and focus. She saw the needle slide down under her skin and wanted to jerk away, but couldn't, so tired… She felt the liquid push in between her muscles and gritted her teeth. She breathed slowly and then suddenly couldn't get enough air in, stabbing pains in her chest, so cold –
The doctor was shouting at a nearby nurse. She felt somebody tear open her shirt and place cold pads on her chest. Shouting again and the pins-and-needles from the pads. The voices faded and then-
"She died?" asked the man in the glasses, facing away from the doctor, still in his white lab coat.
"I'm afraid so," he said apologetically.
"Was it the injection?"
"No. The injection worked perfectly. Of course, we cannot determine later side effects from this case, but it removed her abilities flawlessly."
"What was the cause of death, then?"
"Simultaneous cardiac arrest and progressive diminishing of activity in the brain."
"In plain terms, please, Doctor."
"Her body had already become accustomed to running on a higher level of electricity than her own biology provided. She was constantly absorbing static electricity from the air around her, and the amounts from the computers and Mallory only served to heighten the amounts of electricity her body required. With the loss of her ability, she could no longer absorb the extra – required – electricity from the air. Death was almost instantaneous after the ability was gone."
"But the formula was a success?"
"Completely. Of course, we cannot tell any of the side effects yet, but -"
"Thank you, Doctor, you have been most helpful. Will an autopsy reveal the formula in her blood?"
"By a hospital, you mean? Certainly not, it is completely absorbed into the DNA itself."
"Then if you could arrange to have her body returned to someplace where it will be found at her school? Make it look like a natural death."
The doctor nodded and left, closing the door behind him. The man remaining sat down at his desk, filling out a form detailing the death. Regrettable, he thought as he filled in her name. She could have made a good agent with that ability.
He never considered the death regrettable simply because it was the death of an innocent girl.