Amanda sat at her desk, chin testing on her arms, pupils following the steam that trailed out of her coffee mug. She huffed, shutting her eyes and listened. Any other person would have heard nothing but the sound of faint traffic outside the compound. But Amanda was no ordinary person. A thousand voices bustled in her mind: speaking brilliance, idiocy, evil, virtue, gossip and slander. The voices mingled and mixed, a confusion of harsh tones and soft murmurs.
Amanda never knew what they were, exactly, but Dr Suzy Wang was quite adamant that the voices were merely a figment of Amanda's imagination, nothing more than a symptom of some form of dormant insanity. Not that Suzy ever said it that way. No. Dr Wang liked to be polite and professional.
Dr Dmitri Talbot had a different opinion. Old and bitter though he might be, Talbot theorised that the voices were a result of a rare phenomenon: the voices were the fragmented recollections of Amanda's ancestors. The causes for such a condition were unknown, though Talbot mentioned in passing that it could be because of Amanda's prior misuse and overuse of recreational drugs. There were others that had been brought to the compound for 'treatment' and study. Many of these patients were incapable of containing and understanding these voices and were thus driven insane. Amanda was one of the few that could contain and understand. It was easy for her to zone-out and listen. It gave her guidance, skill, strength and sometimes even foresight. She had been respected.
But things had become complicated with the appearance of Valfreyja.
It seemed that everyone but Talbot believed she'd finally cracked - and Amanda had an inkling that it was mainly due to his success with her that he was loathe to agree with the others.
Amanda clenched her teeth at the way Han had spoken to her. He already knew that Amanda had had an encounter with Valfreyja, but was still insistent on the belief that it was a little more than a seizure.
“Slack-jawed bastard,” she muttered to herself, “Who needs him, anyway?”
She sniffed, dug out her cell phone from her pocket and browsed through her recent messages. Her eyes brightened when she saw the name 'Elina Schmitz'. She was less impressed at the time Elina's message was sent - 3:46am. Amanda's friendship with Elina was a strange one. It started out as merely a tutor-student relationship, Amanda would go to the Schmitz house once a week to help Elina with her English and Math work. But the relationship grew when Elina seemed to feel that she could open-up to Amanda about everything from her school life to her relationship with her father. In her head, Amanda liked to describe it as an aunt-niece relationship - but she knew it was more than that.
They were friends.
Amanda stared at the message for a while, chewing the inside of her cheek, and then she made a decision. She tapped Elina's name on the screen and gave her a call.
The tone rang for a while before someone on the other end picked up.
“Hello?” said the voice.
Amanda straightened in her seat and smiled, “Hey, Elina. Everything okay? I got your late-night message.”
Elina paused, “I'd say it was an early morning message.”
Amanda scoffed, “What's the matter?”
Elina sighed, “How come you told dad that we've been talking?”
Amanda got up and sat on her bed, “I said it in passing. Why? Are you not allowed to be talking to me?”
“Do you really want to hear it?”
“Nah,” Amanda said, “I don't need you telling me how much of a little bitch your dad is.”
Elina scoffed on the other end.
“But,” Amanda continued, “still shouldn't be a reason for you to be up so late. Or early...”
Elina mumbled, “I don't want to talk about it.”
“Well... alright. How's your step-mum?”
Elina sighed, “She's... fine.”
“'Fine' is never a good thing. You should know that much by now, El,” Amanda laughed, “You'd be surprised just how much like your dad you sound.”
“Get some sleep, Elina. Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll wear down in a few days. Unless it's bigger than I anticipate, in which case it will scar you forever.”
Elina laughed, “Thanks, Amanda. I feel great now.”
“You know I mean well.”
“Yeah... Say, what are you doing up so late?”
“I was listening to your dad being a little bitch...”
“What, all this time?”
“No. He's been gone for about two hours. Just don't feel like sleeping. Probably be able to get a nap some time in the day with the way work is going.”
“Aww, I thought we were going out today!”
“Well... I was going to ask you if we could...”
“Is it something important?”
“Can't you go with your step-mum?”
“Gemma is so... boring, though. With you and Lisa, we'd be shopping for about six hours, having actual fun. Gemma would just barrel in and barrel out with any old tacky thing. She'd take half-an-hour. Tops.”
“Sounds... awful. But I don't think I'll be able to make today, Elina, sorry. With work being slow and your dad making threats, I'd probably be cooped up in Briar's office for a while... Can't you go with friends?”
“We're not in the best mood about each other at the moment.”
“What do you mean?”
Elina hesitated before she said, “Katie attempted to steal Brad. And Brad, the nugget, thought he could get away with going out with her without me knowing it. In the end, Katie started spreading all these rumours and basically bitching behind my back - and everyone just went ahead and believed her!”
Amanda paused, “When did this happen?”
“About a week ago,” Elina mumbled.
“Did you tell anyone else?”
“I'm sorry to hear that, El. Sounds rough. You should have told me earlier, might've tried to electrocute the stupid girl.”
Elina snorted, “Are you allowed to do that?”
“Who cares? That chihuahua stole your nugget boyfriend!”
Elina laughed, “I haven't been feeling great.”
“I know. Middle school can be tough. It's like a gladiatorial sport.”
“I know. You've said that twice before. I actually have that pinned onto my inspiration board. Right next to Gemma's top tip: 'the fastest way to a man's heart, is through his stomach'.”
“You didn't let me finish.”
“Fine, go on.”
“Gladiators were slaves. Even so, some of them stood up to emperors,” Amanda finished.
“Take that, Gemma!”
Amanda giggled, “I'll let you know when I'm free, Elina. And then we'll have a proper day out. Okay? No nuggets, no dads, no chihuahuas, no Gemma. Guaranteed.”
“What was my dad threatening you about?”
“Don't bother about it. Your old man is obsessed with me. One of these days he's going to drive me up a tree,” Amanda spat, smiling to herself, “Still...”
“You should have told him about all that stuff you just told me. About your ex-friends.”
“...You think he'd care?”
“Look, I know I go on and on and on about how much I hate him - but I have no doubts in my mind about this: he's your dad, of course he'd care.”
“I don't know...”
“Well, duh, you've never given him the chance. I know it's tough because he's so silent, sinister, aloof, judgemental, intimidating, arrogant-”
“Getting to the point...”
“Right. What I'm getting at is: everything he does, he does for you. I think he might have even married Gemma because you were growing up and - let's face it - he doesn't know the first thing about adolescent girls and what they need. You should have seen his face when he saw Lisa today - he had this look. Like she was a terminally diseased Martian or something, and she's pretty much an adult!”
“It's hard. To talk to him.”
“Then maybe try building a relationship? I don't know of you've discovered it, but your dad has a positive side. It's highly disproportionate to the rest of him, but it's there. I have first-hand experience of it,” Amanda smiled, “Get to know your dad. He wants to get to know you too, but he has the same problem as you. Just ask him what his day was like, crack a joke, who his most hated person in the world is (I'll give you a hint for that last one: you're talking to her!). But take baby steps, okay? Don't charge in with your hormones at the ready.”
“I got it, Amanda!”
“Good. Now get some sleep. You should not be up at this time,” Amanda chuckled, “And don't forget to call every now and then? I might not be able to see you every week, but I'll be happy with hearing your voice every day.”
“Okay. I will. You get some sleep too. I hope dad doesn't give you too much of a hard time.”
“If he does, expect him to have a swollen, crooked nose when he gets home.”
“Oh no! Please don't hit my dad!”
“Only for you, El,” Amanda scoffed, “Sweet dreams, then?”
“Yeah. You too.”
Amanda switched off the phone and lay back on her pillow, not bothering to take off her white shirt. She kicked off her shoes and took her jeans off and let them drop onto the floor. She put her phone to her chest and stared at the ceiling.
“I should call Talbot,” she murmured to herself, “from the way Han said it, I will be in Briar's office while they call me a nutcase, and I stand there like a wooden post, chipping away at their condescension. Should probably start packing for good old England as well...” she paused, “And what? Let him win? That arsehole doesn't know anything about anything! All he knows is how to point and shoot! He doesn't know what kind of danger there is in store, what's at stake, the kind of monster Valfreyja is. And what am I going to do about Lisa? No way I can just leave her here, stuck with no-one. I put her in this mess, I should be responsible for her,” Amanda sighed and put a hand through her hair. She muttered, “Ah, who am I kidding? Dann was right.”
She put her phone under her pillow and curled up on the bed, in the vain hope that she might sleep.
“Lunatics don't win,” said a soft whisper in her head.