Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.2

This entry is part 18 of 55 in the series Current

“You’ve managed to avoid the deluge of molten mud pies the Madison twins were throwing at you and get through the doors of the schoolhouse, but just as you close the doors behind you, a sinister figure appears at the end of the corridor before you. It’s Ethan the Hall Monitor! He holds out one pallid hand, beckoning for you to give him the hall passes you don’t have. If you don’t deal with him quickly, he’ll send you directly to the office—or call in the Safety Patrol!”

“That sounds like we have to take him down quick.” Four hours of wacky, harmless fun playing as a ten year-old with homemade spy tech had done a lot to take JC’s mind off the many things weighting on it. “Anyone got something that can at least shut him up in a single round? I’ve only got my rubber band minigun and the snack cracker shruiken from my Lil’ Ninja Snack Pak.”

“My duel shoulder-mounted toilet paper launchers might be able to entangle him,” reported Meghan, “There’s also the Jock Sox in-a-can, but that’s not for use in enclosed spaces.”

Ron held up a hand. “I might have something, but I need to ask you a question, Jamie.”

“Go for it,” she replied.

“I have a Many Flavors Candy Cannon. Any chance I can set that to ‘sour balls’ and shoot him in the mouth with it?”

Jamie pursed her lips. “I dunno. That’s a tough shot. Let’s call it Five successes instead of the normal three it’d be just to hit him.”

“Got it.” Ron counted out the six dice he could roll in his attack. “Any bonus dice I can get here?”

“None that I can see.”

You got this, man.” JC said, leaning in close to the table to watch the fateful roll. “No pressure; we can try to gag him with TP if this fails.”

Ron rattled the six ten-sided dice in his palm before throwing them. The first one to stop rolling was a two, nearly dashing the group’s hopes right then and there. But it was followed by two eights, a nine, a ten and… a five.”

Meghan slumped in her seat. “Aw man. Only four over seven. You were so close.”

“He might still be!” JC exclaimed happily. “Tens explode in Game-finite System. He gets to roll that ten again. We might still make it!”

“Good catch, man.” Ron piked up the ten and rolled again, getting a nine. All three players shouted in glee.

Even Jamie had to offer her applause. “Nice shot. Your character takes careful aim and fires a sour ball right into Ethan’s mouth. It’s so sour there’s no way he’s going to be able to talk for a minute or so, let alone raise the alarm.”

JC grinned viciously. “Now that he can’t call out—full auto with the minigun! He’s gonna be red for weeks!”

A few more rolls of the dice and the hall monitor lay dazed and stinging from dozens of rubber bands. “And thus, the you have thwarted a plot by nefarious sixth graders to make you tardy coming back from recess. Congratulations.” Jamie announced happily as she checked her palmtop. “Just in time too. Ron and I have a raid in Shadows of the Shattered Ancients. We’re doing the Goldthorn Guildhouse quest.”

“The one where you can get access to the Goldthorn Room with all the spell upgrade nodes?” Meghan asked, “Sweet. See, that’s the kind of thing that almost makes me want to join a guild.” She wrinkled her nose, “But the best guildhouse in the world doesn’t make it worth having to show up for raids and stuff like it was a job.”

“You can…” JC started to offer her a place in the small guild he, Warrick, Tink, and Cyn had formed, but that brought back all the thoughts he’d been trying to ward off all day and he couldn’t finish the thought.

Unaware of his agitation, Jamie started packing up. “So, everyone have fun?” There was a round of enthusiastic agreement. “Awesome. Maybe at some point I can run a mini-campaign for this. Once we’ve got everyone back together, of course—might have to wait til the end of summer.”

God, JC hoped it wouldn’t be that long, but he nodded along and started packing away his game supplies as well.

“Hey,” Meghan bumped him lightly with her shoulder while Ron and Jamie headed out. “You doing anything today? I bused into the city today and the ride back doesn’t pick people up until five.”

JC blinked. “I didn’t know you lived out of town.”

She shrugged. “Well my parents do and Dayspring doesn’t keep the dorms open during the summer. But there’s not exactly a lot of things happening out in the county and it’s only five dollars to ride into the city, so here I am almost ever day.”

“No summer job?” JC shouldered his messenger bag and stood up.

Meghan tapped her prosthetic arm with the knuckles of her good one. “I’m not at liberty to discuss the settlement from my accident but let’s just say it’s what rich people think poor people think is a lot of money. I’m not set for life, but I’ve got enough spending money to tide me over until graduation if I’m careful, so no summer job for me.”

“You’re more lucky then you think. I’m the reason we can’t have nice things thanks to my job.”

“Oh yeah,” she cracked a smile, “You’re doing the review thing. Does it at least pay good to be the next worst thing to a telemarketer?”

“No in the least.”

Meghan snorted. “Poor you. So. My question: wanna hang out?”

“Doing what?”

“I dunno. Anything. I’ve got nothing better to do.”

JC nodded. “Alright. I’ve got a couple hours to kill I guess. Wanna go see what kind of food trucks are down by the park, maybe see if one of them has some kind of eating challenge.”

An unladylike snort escaped Meghan. “Is this the kind of thing you and War get up to?”

At the mention of his best friend’s name, JC felt his back stiffen and he looked away, covering it by pretending to check his palmtop. “Yeah, actually. One time we went to this rib place and won free ribs for life… then came down with a case of food poisoning.”

Meghan must have noticed something in his reply or reaction because her smile turned sympathetic and she bumped him with her shoulder again. “Hey. I get it: your best friend and your girlfriend are out of town at the same time. It’s shitty, I know. Hell, I’m in the same boat—minus the boyfriend. Doesn’t mean you can’t try and have a good time when they get back. I mean otherwise, what are you going to talk their ears off about when they get back?”

There wasn’t much to argue against. JC gave a nod. “Yeah. You’re right. So was that a yes or no about doing a food truck challenge?”

“That was a ‘yes’,” she said with a thumb’s up. “Let’s bust a gut!”

***

Thanks to a thriving community of antisocial twelve year-olds (be they twelve in mind, body or spirit), it didn’t take long for Winnie to find the tools she needed to do what she needed to do. She called it ‘reconnaissance’ most people would call it stalking.

With a few keystrokes, she weaved into and out of both private and public camera networks, working from her earlier altercation using face recognition software to follow Jonathan Slate from where she’d met him to the gaming cafe where he’d spent the last several hours.

Once she’d used the same facial pattern recognition to find other pictures of him online, everything about him had opened up to her: his public records, Quintessence and ShoutOut accounts, every time his name or picture showed up in local news and every website where he used his real name or the screen name from his gamerID linked to his Quintessence.

With several screens’ worth of information displayed as well as one showing the main entrance to the Dungeon, Winnie switched on a recording program and began to dictate.

“I have decided to approach this new project in the same way I would do any other. Although I understand that the sciences of human attraction tend more toward psychology and biology, these are not my preferred fields. In any event, I see no evidence that expertise in either is necessary given that mankind has managed just fine since the dawn of time with no marked breakthroughs in practical execution.”

At the very least, none of the journals she’d subscribed to ever mentioned any practical advances. As a scientist, she had to admit—to herself at least—that there might be something she was missing.

“Therefore, I will proceed with my usual methods. Step one: Information gathering. The subject’s name is Jonathan Slate. Age: eighteen. Residence: Mayfield Virginia, born and raised. According to a shallow scan of his Quintessence activity, his interests include Tabletop and Video game Roleplaying Games, the television series Malady Place, Imago, Cooking with Awesome, and Live Metal, spectating and lightly participating in competitive eating, and baseball.”

She frowned. “At least baseball is an interest we share. And… I do enjoy fine meals?”

Rapidly deciding not to dwell on that lest she have to consider imperfections in the first young man to strike her fancy, she moved on. “Also noted in the scan of the subject’s Quintessence reveals a second major obstacle to the success of the project aside from the age difference which would naturally become less of a concern over time: he… may have a girlfriend. I’m designating her as Subject ‘B’. Name Lisa Ortega, Age: Nineteen. Residence: Mayfield, Virginia. Her hobbies based on a simple web search as well as Quintessence include…”

Winnie pouted at the screen, trying to will it to be different. “Mythology, collecting antique books… and her carers as song writer for Sonia Remington as well as having recently went national with her own group: Snackrifice.” She sighed and started to pace in her workshop. After a moment of thought, she paused the recording. “So the first boy I like has a girlfriend and she’s a rock star.” Her eyes found a screen showing a picture of Lisa. “A very pretty rock star. Great.”

A few unhappy glares toward Lisa’s picture later, Winnie squared her shoulders. “So what. She might be six month or so from being B-list famous, but I’m already famous in this city. I am Edwina freaking Coope, after all. I don’t back down from challenges, I meet them.”

She switched on the recording again. “This development will not hinder the project immediately, however. Subject B’s Quintessence account has been inactive for approximately ten days and these seems to have been no communication between the primary subject and Subject B via any other web-enabled service. Pending gaining access to the subject’s palmtop and confirming via phone logs, my theory is that the subjects have recently broken up, which would mean things will be far easier.”

‘Theory’ might have been too strong a word. ‘Hypothesis’ would have been better. ‘Desperate hope’ would have been far, far more accurate. Winnie preferred that cozy certainty of ‘theory’ though.

Of course, she only got to enjoy that particular delusion a minute or so longer. Facial recognition alerted her to Jonathan exiting the Dungeon… with another girl.

“Wha—” she started only to remember that the recording was on. Switching it off, she took a deep breath before shouting, “What!?” Scrambling back to her keyboard, she started running facial recognition on the new girl. A few minutes later, she had preliminary results and they didn’t make her happy.

Recording once again, she tried speaking in an even, analytical tone. “The new subject is designated Subject C. Name: Meghan Rockwell. Age: Twenty. Residence: Free Union, Virginia. Her hobbies…” At this point, her voice cracked. “…include Tabletop and Video game Roleplaying games, The television series Malady Place, Imago, Live Steel, and Mission Buildable, model rocketry, robotics, orcing, ice hockey, American football, and baseball. Currently studying robotics, cybernetics and prosthetic therapy.”

Again, she turned off the recording. “In any other situation, I’d really like to be her best friend. It’d be nice to have someone to go to a hockey game with that wasn’t my father for one.”

Turning the recording back on, she observed the screen showing the presumptive couple, hands clasped behind her back. “Thanks to the possible threat to the project Subject C represents, I have decided to move my time table up and advance directly to lab testing. For this purpose, I am activating several ground-based robotic systems to navigate the underground utility access routes Maven once used, capture the primary subject and bring him to one of my remote labs designated Lair 3. Pending new software updates, deploying in T-minus thirty-six minutes.”

***

“The Virginia Tech Special: the Incredible Hokie Hoagie.” JC announced to Meghan as they stopped in front of one of his favorite food trucks: Hoagie’s Heroes. “A sixteen inch hoagie with Philly-style steak, bacon, fried deli-style roast beef, turkey, and chicken, two chicken strips, steak fries, marinara sauce, bell peppers, banana peppers, onion, lettuce, olives and a deep fried pickle. And if you can eat a whole one in thirty minutes, you not only get it free, but you get a t-shirt that gets you a free sandwich whenever you’re wearing it while your order.”

“”Hmm.” Meghan gave the placard advertising the hoagie in question serious scrutiny. “How many have ever finished it in time?”

JC rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Just five. And the day before graduation? I came this close. I had like two inches left when time ran out. I blame the fact that It’d had two breakfast burritos that morning.” He neglected to say that Cyn was one of the five winners. It was only because Laurel asked her to pace herself that she hadn’t beaten every eating challenge in the city.

“I before I agree to this circus of gluttony, I’ve got one question,” Meghan asked seriously.

“What?”

“Can I get hot sauce on one of these bad boys?”

JC grinned. “Why do you no hang out with us more?”

***

“JC! JC! JC!”

A small knot of park goers had formed up around the plastic picnic table out in front of Hoagie’s Heroes, cheering on the man who was closing in on finishing the The Incredible Hokie Hoagie and go on to live in glutton history.

Meghan had given up a little over two-thirds through and had joined the crowd cheering JC on as he came down to five whole minutes left and three inches of the giant hoagie remaining. Though he’d slowed down, he was steadily pulling out fries and eating them one by one.

The excitement (and the delicious sandwich) was keeping him completely occupied as he focused on the home stretch. Eating the filling out of the sandwich was actually a strategy: making it easier for him to eat the rest when the time came.

Speaking of which, he’d finished off the last fry and was chewing the final morsel of chicken strip with a comfortable amount of time left when he heard a buzz overhead.

Drones weren’t an uncommon sight in the city: the MPD, the fire department, the transit administration and pretty much every other government agency had at least a modest fleet plus—no matter what the kid from earlier in the day said—plenty of people had permission to fly the things around the parks. So the sound didn’t even get his attention.

Rather, it just presaged the now-familiar rippled of shocked, curious and eventually panicked sounds from the people nearby. He turned to see what it was too late. Just as he started to move, something flexible struck him, wrapping securely around him before jerking him off the picnic table’s bench, causing him to drop the last morsel of his sandwich.

For a split second, a small, stupid part of him bemoaned losing the challenge a second time.

Then he saw that he was now caught in a net that was being reeled into the open chest cavity of an eight-foot tall robot and that part of him shut up real quick.

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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2 Comments

  1. Typos

    shruiken
    shuriken

    recently went national
    recently gone national

    orcing,
    (Not sure what this is supposed to be.)

    do you no hang
    do you not hang (the original might be correct if JC’s trying to sound funny)

    rippled of shocked,
    ripples of shocked,

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