Empowered: Agent originally had a different opening, earlier, when Mat was still in Special Corrections. The novel worked better beginning later, with her already outside and struggling to hang on to a “normal” life.” But I liked the scene, so here it is, offered as a bonus deleted scene. Let me know what you think in comments!
The rose sang in my mind as the corrections officer frog-marched me into Warden Fulbright’s office. It was a song of joy that slammed into me like an ocean wave. I fought not to tremble as the damn flower’s stupid happiness threatened to blow my brain. It had been five years since I’d been connected to my superpower, thanks to the null cuffs I’d worn here in Special Corrections, until this morning.
The rose was a miniature white, blooming in a brass pot that sat on a credenza beside a window overlooking the Yard. It was happy, fed, and loving the sunlight that came through thee warden’s big window. Warden Fulbright stood beside the credenza, her back to me and the C.O.. Her hands were clasped behind her, and she stared out at the Yard like the two of us weren’t there.
Fear oozed up my spine. The plant’s song was drowning out everything else. I took a deep, slow breath, focusing on the in and out of the air from my lungs. I pulled my special awareness in as tight as I could, and the rose’s singing faded away to a quiet burble.
But the fear wouldn’t go away. I took another slow breath.
The last person I wanted to see me afraid was the Warden. The “Iron Bitch” loved to see us squirm. Well, not me, and especially not today; my last day inside Special Corrections.
The corrections officer continued to pin my arm behind my back. Her armored hand was cold against my skin. She cleared her throat. “Ma’am,” the Dischargee, Mathilda Brandt, F391-B, is ready for her final interview.”
Fulbright nodded, but kept her straight back to us, and kept gazing down at the Yard. She wore a navy blue pantsuit, her dark blonde hair cut in a page boy. The suit was spotless.
“Good morning, Miss Brandt.” Fulbright said. “Please take a seat.” Annoying how she pretend not to notice me.
I sat down in a cushioned chair that was a million miles away from the butt-hurting bolted-down metal furniture below in the cell blocks. I rubbed my wrists. The null cuffs were gone now, but I could still feel them.
Beyond the window the deflection field was close at this height, shimmering like heat waves rising off asphalt, blurring the San Diego sky. I could just make out the roof of the women’s block across the yard. The yard itself was below my line of sight.
Fulbright turned and stared at me with those ice-blue eyes of hers. I forced myself not to look away, but I couldn’t help blink.
She broke the stare and nodded her head at the yard. “Do you know why my window looks out on the yard? I could have a display window instead showing any scene I desire, an ocean shore, an alpine lake, a garden. Crystal clear ultra-high definition display that looks real. But, instead I chose to have a plain, old-fashioned window. Why?”
I’d never seen such a display. Five years—the world must have changed a lot in five years. I’d never seen the kind of display the warden described.
I rubbed my sweaty palms against my thighs, trying not to be obvious about it. “Because you want to see what we see,” I said. The warden wanted to be inside our heads, and that meant seeing what we saw.
Fulbright’s eyebrow quirked up. “Very perceptive answer, Miss Brandt.” Her tight smile showed even white teeth. The warden was the perfect specimen of a normal human. “You didn’t say it was because I wanted to watch you and the other prisoners.”
A muscle in my neck throbbed. “You didn’t need to.” I’m sure she had a room where she reviewed the footage from the security cameras placed all over Special Corrections.
Fulbright nodded. “True.” She went to the big oak desk and sat in the high-backed chair there, the leather creaking softly. Fulbright looked past me at the C.O. standing behind me. “Thank you, Myers, you can wait outside.”
I could just see the C.O. out of the corner of my eye, looking like a giant two-legged cockroach in that combat armor all the C.O.’s wore. It was a stupid way to make a point about being in charge. None of us prisoners had our powers.
Fulbright raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, ma’am,” the C.O. said. The woman left, the door closing with a quiet click behind her.
Fulbright placed a paper file on the desk in front of her, and opened it. “Myers’s attention to detail is commendable, but she should realize the obvious–why would you jeopardize your release by an act of violence on me?”
I lifted my head. “I just want to start a new life.”
Fulbright leafed through the file. “But will your old life let you, Mathilda?” She asked, using my first name, trying to be my sympathetic friend.
I rubbed my fingers against my palms, trying to burn off my tension without the Warden seeing. “I’m not going back.”
Fulbright sighed. “But you are still Empowered, Mathilda. You still have a talent that normal humans don’t have, a power that makes your dangerous. You proved that when you were sixteen, in the Renegades.”
I swallowed. Great, the warden had brought me here just to rub my face in that screw up one last time. “I’m sorry. If I could erase what I did, I would, in an instant.” I’d done five years here, cut off from my family and the world. What more did the Warden want? I’d gotten parole.
Fulbright gestured at the window. “The deflection screen, the null cuffs that block superpowers, the armored guards, the deflection shield, all of this is because you Empowered are dangerous.” She pushed her chair back, stood and went to a little copper watering can on top of shelf. She took it to the rose, and dribbled water on the petals and leaves.
The rose’s singing got louder in my mind. “You hear the rose, don’t you?” Fulbright asked.
“Of course you do. After five years severed from your power, it’s back, hitting you full force.”
“I’m not going to use it. I know the rules.”
Fulbright smiled grimly. “You mean the terms of your parole.”
Same thing as far as I was concerned. “Yes.”
Fulbright suddenly plucked a petal from the rose.
The rose shrieked in my head.
I shuddered. I raised my hand toward the rose. I could pull water from the air with my power, help it heal, maybe even calm it.
I lowered my hand, glared at Fulbright. Damn her.
She returned to her chair, sat, and tapped on my file with one longer fingernail.
“What will you do when you are outside, and the whole green world is calling to you, Miss Brandt? You nearly lost it right now. How will you respond then?”
“I answered all of Doctor Obi’s questions.” The prison psychiatrist had met with me twice a week for the last month, then every day for the last week. Questions, questions, and more questions.
Fulbright nodded and closed the folder. “Yes you did. But that was in here. Outside will be different.” She stared at me with those ice-blue eyes until I looked down at my hands. Fulbright’s voice became steely. “You use your power, even once, and you are back here, for life.”
I looked her in the eye. “I know. That’s not going to happen.”
Fulbright pursed her lips, drummed the closed folder with fingertips. “I think it is. I think you are going to be right back here in six months. Three months, even.”
I clenched my jaw. “That’s not going to happen.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Really, Miss Brandt? I know human nature. I know people.” She leaned forward. “I know you. Your anger is going to make you do something stupid, and you’ll use your power. Remember what I said about being watched. You’ll get caught, and then you’ll be back here again. Only this time, it will be life. For life.”
“I’m not screwing up,” I said through gritted teeth. “This is the last time you’ll ever see me. Period.”
“We’ll see, won’t we, Miss Brandt.”
She pressed a button on her desk and the door swung open behind me. “You have one chance,” she said. “Don’t blow it.”