– Two years prior –
Priscilla Reid had spent her first week captive to Briggan in a converted wareunit. It was a tiny space with a bed, a small bookshelf, and a bio-drain. A food dispenser was bolted onto the wall next to the hatchdoor. For a converted storage unit, it was very fancy, the sort of cheap living space that was popular even among low-profile lifestyle enthusiasts who could actually afford a proper full-sized apartment. The fancier you could make your unit, the cooler you were to the lo-pro community. The holographic butler in Priscilla’s unit was a deliberately ostentatious touch that she figured had made some lo-pro’er smile like a devil whenever he got to show it off.
As fond of automation technology as she was, the amusement provided by the hologram quickly wore off. Priscilla had been locked inside the unit, completely sealed off with no interior hatch release. The environmentally controlled micro-mansion was the perfect prison for the daughter of a wealthy clothing magnate. The butler came around every 9 hours to remind her that she needed to eat, and suggested a variety of dehydrated capsule meals which were dispensed by a contraption set inside the wall of the unit. She finally tried one on her second day of capture. Just as she figured, it was a bland mash-up of vegetable extract. She swallowed it only to rid herself of the empty feeling in her stomach, which it sufficiently did. Nothing, however, could remove the hopeless feeling of loneliness and helplessness that set in once she realized that she would not have contact with other human beings for an extended period of time.
She had heard the horror stories of sensory-deprived kidnappings, most of them much worse than the one in which she found herself. They were convenient ways for criminal organizations to separate themselves from their crime while still collecting a ransom and ensuring that their victim did not die. In most stories, the victim was held in hallucinogenic sleep while their relatives were extorted for the ransom money. Priscilla thought her elaborate prison to be some sort of joke about her wealth. Well, her father’s wealth, anyhow.
“Do you desire entertainment” the butler asked her after she consumed the capsule meal.
She looked back at the hologram with surprise, and regarded its features, which were pretty shabby by comparison to technical capabilities at the time. “Who programmed this,” she murmured to herself, as she leaned back against the metal wall.
By day three Priscilla had given in and taken advantage of the butler’s offer of entertainment. Holographic card games and Chess, and even a replica flower garden for her to admire. Between the games and exploration of holographic environments, she momentarily forgot that she was being held captive. But brushing up against the cold metal walls of the ware-unit, and hearing the hollow ting! reverberate throughout the tiny room was enough to bring her back to reality.
On day 4 the holographic unit ran out of power and needed to be recharged. Only external power was provided to small units like the one she was kept in, and for that someone had to pay extra, so she reasoned that whoever had done this to her was unwilling to incur the additional charges.
Her dinners were no longer announced, and she forgot to eat. She wanted to play cards. She wanted to have companionship. Panic began to settle heavily upon her, and for the first time since she first awoke inside the unit, the metal walls seemed to crowd in upon her, and she wondered why she was there and how long she would remain. Someone obviously had something in mind for her, since they were keeping her alive. She figured that the hologram unit being given to her and then taken away was no more than a cruel joke.
She finally remembered to eat, after her stomach’s growling, accompanied by the empty pangs of hunger, broke the long silence. She put down her book, now her only source of entertainment, and began to operate the food dispenser.
“So, you’re finally eating,” a voice suddenly rang out. It scared Priscilla, and she flinched violently before suddenly realizing that she had probably been watched the entire time. Perhaps, the hologram butler was just a trick to lower her defenses, to make her behave.
“Let me out of here” She screamed.
It was a man’s voice, coming in thin and metallic through the tinny speakers set inside the ware unit’s walls. “Not yet. Our client hasn’t provided us with your ransom fee yet. He was instructed that your well being would depend on how willing he was to deposit credits into an account to pay for your care.”
“Do you mean my father,” She asked. “Are you talking about my father?”
“Who else is wealthy enough to matter and would be willing to cooperate with criminals” the voice said with an air of haughtiness.
“He’s plotting your death,” Priscilla spat back. “I can survive, and he knows that. Your precious ransom is being paid to the best mercenaries money can buy so they will come here and kill all of you.”
“We are the best mercenaries that money can buy, sweetheart,” came the reply. “And your father isn’t so keen on hiring the second best, either. Believe me, I checked.” After a pause to reinforce the helplessness of the situation, he continued: “If Daddy won’t pay, then I’m afraid that the relative comfort you’ve enjoyed so far will have to be dispensed with. We aren’t in the baby-sitting business, after all. This is a kidnapping.”
There was a discernible click as he finished speaking, and Priscilla wanted to remain strong and not cry, not show any fear, but she couldn’t. She knew how her father was, and the suggestion that he wasn’t paying for her care was quite likely the horrible truth. His refusal to pay her ransom reinforced what she had known her entire life, that her father simply didn’t care about her. Were it not true, her captives – whoever they were – wouldn’t have bothered using it to manipulate her. She felt, for the first time, completely hopeless and she lay lifelessly on the bed and wept for hours.
During the next three days, she kept trying to get the man to speak with her again. The dull silence was twice as unbearable as the loneliness. Just as she felt to be at her breaking point, she heard a loud mechanical movement at the ware unit’s hatch-door. She shrank back upon the bed, folding into a corner as the door began to open, revealing an old man, dressed in a black suit and tie wearing white gloves and a gray bowler hat. He stood with two men at either side of him, one with a pistol and another brandishing a pair of plas-cuffs and a handkerchief.
“Time’s up,” said the old man. “You are free.” His voice wasn’t nearly as threatening as it had been coming through the ware unit’s tiny sound system.
Priscilla was shocked, she didn’t understand, believing the men to be hallucinations, either imagined or holographic. When the pistol-wielding man entered the unit and tightly grabbed her by the wrist, however, she knew that it was real. What she wasn’t certain of, though, was whether or not what the man said was real. “Why are you letting me go,” she inquired.
The man chuckled coldly. “What a question for a freed prisoner to ask. Your father never paid to get you back. It’s as if he doesn’t care about you.” He entered the room also. His dress shoes made clicky footsteps that reverberated off the metal walls. “But what concerns me more than your father’s parental neglect is the fact that he tried to manipulate me. Which is why I’ve decided to let you go. If you want to that is,” the man added, as if it were a completely normal thing to follow-up with.
“Of course I want to go,” she began to say.
“Or,” the old man interrupted, “you could come with me, and see the place your father suggested you be held captive. I chose this place, and I think you’ll find it to be far more accommodating than what he had in mind.”
He folded his hands in front of his chest and nodded to the man who still held her by the wrist. The large man lifted her, somehow guided her feet to move even though they were not willing, and got her to the doorway. The other man, holding the cuffs took a single step in front of them to block off the exit as the old man spoke to her again from behind.
“You can wear the cuffs and be driven back home tied down in a lift sled, or you can ride with me, unfettered, in my limousine and discuss plans for getting revenge. Your choice.”
He brushed past her and both of his men, and walked out of the unit. Priscilla watched him disappear around the corner as she slowly dropped her hands down by her sides and reluctantly began to follow him, suddenly filled with rage against her father.