Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.3

This entry is part 31 of 55 in the series Current

Despite a few glaring examples to the contrary, JC thought himself to be pretty isolated from the superhero weirdness that his girlfriend and friends seemed to attract like radioactive cyborg hyper-bears to honey. Typically, he got to hear about all the things that happened, all the death-defying action that went on without ever having to be in the middle.

At the moment, not so much.

A steel fiber net had wrapped him and he was being dragged into the open chest cavity of a giant robot. Though, as he had time to observe further, he estimated the thing to be no more than teen feet tall including the big all-weather tire it seemed to balanced atop. The capsule that made up its torso seemed to make up the bulk of its size and that was mostly empty space and a firing and winch mechanism for the net.

Confirming popular belief, being dragged into the chest cavity of a mid-sized robot is an uncomfortable experience. He barely fit. When the front panels closed, blocking out the sounds of screams from outside, they pushed his knees up into his chest.

Once that was done, any thrashing he tried was relegated to pathetic wriggles.

A tone sounded somewhere over his head as the robot began moving. It was followed by the same pseudo-cheerful female voice he recognized from every automated phone system ever. “For your own safety, do not struggle. The filaments used to create the net are known to cause abrasions and pressure wounds on entangled subjects that struggle. Your comfort is important to us.”

JC didn’t know if that message was more confusing or creepy. It seemed to know that he was trying to get out of the net thought, so he assumed someone was behind the voice.

“Hello? Who is this?”

After entirely too long, the voice returned, stilted as if the words it was saying were being typed into a text-to-speech program. “Hello, Subject A. You will learn who I am in due time.”

“I’m really not feeling good about being called a ‘subject’. In the utter darkness of the robot’s torso, JC had no warning when the machine suddenly took a short, fast drop, rattling him against the walls. “What was that?”

“Obviously sizable machine like the Mobile Specimen Acquisition Robot can’t move around unseen on surface streets,” was all the voice would volunteer. “As for being called a subject, do not fear: the exercises will be neither invasive nor painful. If it would set you at ease, I can call you Jonathan if you prefer.”

He might have been the model C-student, but JC was observant enough to realize that knowing his given name took research. Everyone from friends to professors called him JC. So he wasn’t a random choice and he wasn’t a spur of the moment choice.

Forcing down the sick feeling forming in his gut, he asked, “I’m sure there will be days where I’m laying on a therapist’s couch ruing that day I asked this but… what are the ‘exercises’ for?”

“They will be part of a study on Human Attraction and Courtship Rituals of which you are the sole focus. While you are being transported, would you be willing to take a short survey concerning your personal preferences in a mate? The data provided by sampling your previous relationships proved inconclusive.”

JC glared into the darkness, the general skin-crawly feeling he had from hearing what the ‘study’ was being temporarily overridden by perceived insult toward Lisa. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Only that, beyond gender, there is very little in common between your two love interests of record.”

“Two?”

The voice didn’t notice the question, simply plowing ahead, “Age, body type, ethnicity, hobbies—none of them match. Therefore, I hypothesize that you are attracted to less superficial aspects shared by both Lisa Ortega and Meghan Rockwell.”

“Hold on,” JC actually shook his head, trying to clear out what had to be some kind of hallucinogenic compound. “You think I’m going out with Meghan?”

If he wasn’t being held in terrifying darkness, being transported to an experiment that promised all sorts of unpleasantness, JC might have called the following silence ‘uncomfortable’. Instead, it made him feel like he was going to puke waiting for the response.

When the voice finally came back, there really wasn’t anything but awkward about the way the synthesized voice said, “You… aren’t?”

Through the steel body of the robot, JC heard the familiar roar of a subway train. It occurred to him that instead of freaking out and asking questions, he could have been mentally mapping the robot’s route in case he managed to escape or call for help.

That ship had sailed, so he opted for information gathering.

At least that’s what he’d tell his friends later because mostly he was talking to keep from having a panic attack.

Warrick once told him about the concept of ‘bantering’. The way he put it, constantly making comments, asking questions and especially joking around helped some people deal with the fear and stress that came with running headlong into dangerous situations. As a bonus, it kept enemies off kilter by drawing emotional reactions from them. It was one skill he’d actually honed.

“Okay, the creep factor is heightening now… Look, the way you’re talking, it’s like you’re sizing me up as a dating prospect. Which… I gotta tell you: kidnapping and being stuffed in a robot is a very specific fetish. One I don’t have. So maybe you should check online, find a community that’s into that…”

“I think we both know that you were collected specifically and that the mechanism of that capture is merely a means to an end.”

JC tried to shrug. The train sounds had faded and after a moment, the robot stopped moving before beginning a slow descent. An elevator. “So let me make sure I’m understanding this right: When you say Study on Human Attraction and Courtship… you mean a date.”

“It could be both,” the digital voice said all too quickly.

If he wasn’t terrified of what kind of psycho was behind that voice, JC would have burst out laughing. Instead, he found himself continuing with as much caution as one could when conducting an interrogation while trying not to lose control of one’s bowels.

“…And when you say I’m the ‘subject’, you mean the date is with me specifically. As in you want to take me on a date.”

“Precisely.”

JC paused the swallow. At the same time, the elevator came to a stop and the robot rolled forward again.

“I guess it won’t matter if I point out that I’ve got a girlfriend?”

“And this girlfriend is neither Meghan Rockwell nor Lisa Ortega?”

In the interest of not having whoever was talking to him kill someone he cared about and wear them like a people costume, he said, “Yes. And I’m not telling you anything about her.”

Another pause, then: “That is a completely logical reaction. I accept that. However, to answer your question, I gave this topic serious thought and came to a conclusion. Supervillains are defined by using their extra-normal capabilities to get what they want regardless of morality. As I intend to make an eventual reputation as a supervillain, it would only be logical that I should not concern myself with matters of fidelity when it is in my favor.”

“I’m guessing it goes the same way for things like ‘consent’,” JC started to grumble, only for the robot to abruptly stop. The entire torso tilted, dumping him unceremoniously onto a carpeted floor in a well lit room. Some form of magnetic catch caused the net to disengage from around him and the robot promptly reeled it in.

Untangling himself from his own limbs, JC struggled to his feet as the robot rolled out of the room, instantly becoming concealed behind a panel that slid up from the floor.

This left him in the middle of a room that—thanks to having seen plenty of similar set-ups in college—he knew to have been hastily cobbled together. The carpet wasn’t secured to the floor, a few clothes racks had been dragged in, and a couch—quite possibly rescued from a curbside somewhere—had been dropped into the middle of it.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

A speaker affixed to the ceiling crackled to life. “Your available online information makes no mention of your measurements and I was working on limited time. Please take care in choosing proper attire for dinner.”

JC looked across the room at the clothing selection. Someone had robbed at least three or four thrift shops. Granted, that’s where most his clothes came from anyway, but it didn’t make what he was going through less surreal.

Someone with the resources to build a mancatcher robot and yet they went about scoring roadkill furniture and thrift-shopping to give their victims a wardrobe? As if everything else about the past half-hour of his life didn’t, this seemed especially off.

He cast a long look around the room, searching for doors first, cameras second. Neither were in evidence, but he knew better. He also knew better than to ask if his kidnapper was going to watch while he changed—even if he was sure of the answer, he really didn’t want confirmation.

Under the guise of looking over the offerings, he checked his palmtop. No signal. Not a surprise, but he had to try. With no other options beyond acquiescence, he picked a black sport coat and slacks, plus the nicest dress shirt on the racks: pink with white pinstripes, and a white tie. If he was going to be forced to play dress-up, he might as well pick clothes he liked. Socks and shoes hadn’t been offered, so he remained in his sneakers.

Dressing quickly as possible and trying to keep everything that might ‘interest’ his captor facing blank wall, he finished in record time. Then he spent five minutes standing in utter silence.

Whether this was a positive development or not, he couldn’t tell, but he slowly sank onto the couch. If he was being given time without the voice, he was going to use it to think things through.

And just like that, as if having read his mind, the voice returned. “Are you finished dressing yet?”

That was really the last thing he expected to hear. “Say what?”

“Are you finished dressing?”

“You mean you don’t know? You weren’t watching?”

There was a long pause before: “Of course not. What kind of person do you think I am?”

JC pinched the bridge of his nose. “The kind of person who would kidnap someone else for a date?”

“That was necessity. Spying on you would be taking advantage.”

“I am having the weirdest day,” JC muttered, leaning back on the couch, fingers massaging his temples. “Look, I don’t know what you’re planning to get out of this. I have a girlfriend. I’m not interested in people who would do this kind of thing to me.”

“You might change your mind once the exercise is complete.”

“Yeah, not likely,” groaned JC. “Leaving aside all the robots and nets and creepiness, I still love my girlfriend. Whatever we do here—whatever you make me do—isn’t going to change that.”

Another pause, then: “That is a very endearing sentiment, but it had not changed my mind about continuing the exercise.” Another wall panel, this one directly across from where he was sitting on the couch, slid down to reveal a lit cement corridor. “Please proceed down the corridor that we might begin.”

Almost as soon as he rose from the couch, it was as if the last of the shock (or at least the mind-insulating effects of bantering) wore off and stark reality set in for him. He was somewhere deep beneath Mayfield, held prisoner by some madwoman (and the ‘woman’ part wasn’t confirmed yet) who wanted to ‘date’ him against his will.

He’d heard stories about people—mostly women—who had been captured and forced for years to be the ‘wives’ of some nutball or other. It only just then sank in to him that this was where this could be going. The voice never said how long these ‘exercises’ would take or how many there would be.

With his luck, he thought ruefully, this was a genuine mad scientists and the ‘date’ would include electrodes and vivisection.

He had to steady himself, leaning against the arm of the sofa, to push his mounting anxiety down. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he did his best to put his fears in check, reminding himself that his best chance at escape was pretending to go along, however reluctantly.

The corridor was a short one ending in an oddly normal office door; the kind with a small window above the knob and a grate along the bottom for ventilation. Creeping up to it, he took a peek at his fate.

Inside, the same woefully inadequate decorator seemed to have set up a dining room. An area rug failed to cover the concrete floor, a handful of mismatched pictures hung on the wall and in the middle of the room was a table and a pair of chairs. Atop the table sat two lit candles and a large covered platter. Unlike everything else, the platter seemed well cared for, its cover gleaming in the candle light.

One could only wonder what was under there. A stuffed, baked cat? Nothing but gnawing bones? The last guy the owner of the voice ‘dated’? The Incredible Hokie Hoagie in his gut was getting angry. He was going to hurl if it got more angry.

Wishing for all the world that Lisa, Warrick and Tink would reappear beside him, ready to kick some undoubtedly crazy ass, he forced himself to grab the knob and turn. The door opened smoothly, not providing him with even a tiny creak to excuse one last delaying flinch.

Every muscle in his body tensed as a mighty fight or flight reflex started to build up. Thousands of synapses started firing, granting him hyper-alertness, preparing him for anything.

Except for crossing the threshold and having his brain come to a screaming halt of confusion.

“Hey, you’re the kid from this morning.”

Indeed it was. She was wearing a dark purple pinafore dress over a white blouse with puffy sleeves instead of jeans and a band shit, and her hair was in a bun instead of a ponytail, but there was no mistaking that smug expression even with her cheeks bearing a cartoon character’s worth of rouge.

Even more bizarre, she had a palmtop strapped to her arm not unlike the way Tink carried hers as Renaissance. Hers however was projecting a holographic display into the air over her wrist. He noticed one of the open programs was a text-to-speech app.

Whatever dread he’d been feeling melted away in a deluge of incredulity. He ran his hands through his hair, distinctly feeling the metaphorical last straw snap in his head.

“Okay. Please tell me you’re in the wrong underground horror bunker and my appropriate age or older bunny-boiler will be with me shortly.”

To his utter horror, she cracked a smile and laughed like—well exactly what she was: a smitten school girl. “Oh excellent! This is starting much better than I expected. You were referencing Fatal Attraction, yes? Then you like old classics too.”

JC blinked. “Someone really needs to talk to your parents about letting you watch that kind of movie.”

The girl snorted. “Please, I’m in a higher academic grade than you are and had to take Honors Biology at ten. There is nothing in that film that could traumatize or desensitize me.”

“Except you obviously drew inspiration from it…” JC grumbled.

As a reply, she offered a death glare that make him feel vindicated for his comment. “In any event,” she said through gritted teeth, “My name is Edwina, but you can call me Winnie if you’d like. And we are going to have dinner.”

JC raised a finger in protest. “Um… you’re like ten.”

“Twelve.” Winnie corrected sharply, turning her attention to her holo-display and tapping a few icons. “And if that gives you pause…” Five panels opened in the walls of the room, revealing robots; these armed with actual weapons instead of a net launcher.

“I insist you stay.”

To Be Continued…

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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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4 Comments

  1. Yech. A full dinner after a 16 inch roll stuffed full of fillings?

    Typos. Not too many today.

    teen feet tall
    ten feet tall

    “Obviously sizable machine
    “Obviously a sizable machine

    a genuine mad scientists
    a genuine mad scientist

    ruing that day
    rueing that day

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