Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.4

This entry is part 32 of 55 in the series Current

JC looked around at the deadly, deadly robots and only one thought popped into his head. And at this point, the stress had made Swiss cheese of the barrier between his brain and his mouth. “We’re these Maven’s robots?”

He was sure that little slip was going to be punished by automatic weapons fire, but instead, Winnie’s face broke out into a proud smile. “Oh, so you’ve studied her designs too?”

“Well they were on the news a couple of times…”

“The official police statements didn’t do them justice, really,” Winnie said, trailing a finger along the surface of the table absentmindedly. “Her designs were very efficient both in their functions, but also in their construction. While they have very diverse chassis, they’re largely constructed of interchangeable parts, making mass production and concealing production within other projects very simple.”

She gestured tot he seat opposite her. “So what did you think of them?”

“Um…” he took a few timid steps forward before deciding to lean on the back of the chair instead of sitting in it. “Mostly that it was a waste. I mean yeah, they were really good at robbing places, but this is Machine City, man. People make a living here off way less badass ‘bots.”

Winnie made a dismissive sound. “Well of course there are more economically wise uses for the technology, but you aren’t looking at this from the correct perspective: the initial robberies weren’t to accumulate wealth, they were to fund her attack on Capashen Arena and secure her revenge on her former employers.”

“But she didn’t win,” JC replied, “The Descendants stopped her and sent her to jail.”

“Which is why I’ve modified the initial designs.” Winnie said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Of course staying under the notice of all forms of authority in the city is my primary goal, I’ve been working hard on countermeasures in case my robots do have the misfortune of confronting the Descendants.”

He fought valiantly to keep his expression neutral, merely raising an eyebrow as he asked, “Oh? What kind of countermeasures?” It was a long shot that he’d even understand, but if he could just commit the word to memory and tell Laurel Brant, that wouldn’t be an issue.

Unfortunately, Winnie started to explain, but then seemed to remember herself. “I’m sorry, I read about this: all this shop talk has to be boring to you. Why don’t you tell me something about yourself? Oh, and have a seat.”

JC hastened to sit down, sputtering, “B-but it’s not boring at all to me. If you want to know something about me, I’m kind of a superhero fanboy, so this is the kind of thing that interests me. Seriously.” He fought down a wince at calling himself a fanboy of people he actually knew in real life. That idea was almost as creepy as his current situation.

But Winnie was serious about avoiding what she viewed as a mistake. “No no, we’re not supposed to talk about that.” She racked her brain for something someone JC’s age would do and finally came up with, “Do you have a summer job?”

“I thought you already did a disturbing amount of research on me and my friends.”

“I have done the best I could with just seven hours, but there are still obvious holes in my intelligence gathering.”

JC rested his arms on the table, idly watching his reflection in the covered dish. “Alright. Fine. I write reviews online for Reputation Knight. You know, one of those companies that fixes PR for companies with awful products while saying they’re just fixing their ‘tarnished reputations’ even if that reputation is makes shitty products?”

“That’s so interesting.” Winnie lied badly while leaning forward to feign said interest. “Tell me more.”

“Actually, that’s pretty much it. They tell me what to say and I say it. The only reason a ‘bot can’t do what I do is because most online stores these days require an account and have decent catchpa.”

Winnie made a face, this time looking at least somewhat genuinely concerned. “But you at least enjoy it, right?”

“I like being able to be down with work by noon, but really it makes me feel like a jackass most of the time…” It wasn’t until he admitted that that JC realized he was spilling out his troubles to a twelve year-old. “Uh… but really, I would like to hear more about your plans—or your… terrifying army of robots you’ve got keeping me captive here.”

Again, Winnie gave a prideful look and almost started to speak on the subject before vehemently shaking her head. “No,no, no. I’m not supposed to go on about myself.” Then she brightened, “I know! You’ve already shown that you like old, classic movies, yes?”

JC blinked, which obviously meant ‘yes’ to Winnie.

“Right. Then we terminate small talk and advance directly to dinner.” She reached for the covered platter in the middle of the table.

“Um…” JC stopped her from actually lifting the lid. “This looks like the main course. Shouldn’t we start with appetizers? Bread maybe? Oh, or tortilla chips! I love tortilla chips.”

Winnie looked embarrassed. “I… actually have no idea how to cook and you can’t get delivery down here—and again, I only had seven hours to execute everything necessary to set this exercise in motion. I only had time to devise a single presumably romantic dish.”

She then pushed his hand aside to grip the handle atop the lid.

Please don’t be bunnies. Please don’t be bunnies. Please don’t be bunnies.

The lid rose, releasing a cloud of steam behind which was a heaping plate of spaghetti with meatballs the size of a baby’s fist.

JC blinked. He hadn’t been expecting something normal like Italian. Though the lack of garlic bread still pointed to someone who was dangerously unstable in his opinion. “Uh…” was all he managed. It wasn’t helping that Winnie was looking at him expectantly.

Another blink. A robot rolled up to his side and he stiffened, prepared to be tasered or struck or hit with another net. Instead, something that looked like the robotic arm off an assembly line nudged his elbow before presenting a roll of silverware wrapped in a napkin.

When he just stared at it, the machine nudged him again and presented the utensils again.

Finally, after a third prompting, JC accepted them. Then he looked back to Winnie. “Shouldn’t we have our own plates?”

“Sharing food is more intimate than separate plates. I originally considered the classic milkshake with two straws, but… to be honest, I was famished after all my other work. Besides,” she once more gestured as if there was something he should be doing, “You’re a fan of old movies: don’t you recognize this?”

“Do I recognize this?” He shrugged, looking at the pasta from every angle. After a full minute, the young genius frowned thoughtfully before shifting her focus to the palmtop on her arm. Tapping furiously, she eventually brought up a sound file featuring soft mandolin and concertina instrumentals followed swiftly by a strong male voice singing lyrics that pricked at JC’s memory.

Winnie watched recognition dawn on him with a fresh, new smug smile. “I knew aural elements would help enhance your memory recall.”

Dating Lisa with her love of music kept him from tripping over the word ‘aural’, but the implications of what he was remembering was making his head hurt enough as it was. He actually held his hands up as if trying to stop the entire proceedings. “Wait. Yeah, I get what you’re going for here, but… you know we aren’t cartoon dogs, right?”

Rolling her eyes, Winnie huffed. “Yes. And I understand the difference between fantasy and reality as well before you make that accusation. However, there is a perfectly sound explanation for this and it deals with mixed messages in our culture.”

JC rubbed his face with his palm and just let the words break over him, wondering how he’d arrived in that time and place. Aside from ‘via capture-robot’ of course. He needed to steer things back toward the girl’s anti-Descendant plans, he decided. At least gaining that kind of intel would make this all worth it. Plus, if a twelve year-old—genius or not—could come up with such tactics, other enemies may as well.

Unaware of his plotting, Winnie just kept talking. “The prototypical date described in popular culture is ‘dinner and a movie’, however there are very few actual examples of a romantic dinner presented in the same. Any interaction involving dinner is usually truncated if not interrupted by some manner of comedic hijinks, disaster, dramatic turn, or the revelation of eavesdroppers. I contend that the ‘Bella Notte’ scene from that film is, in fact one of a rare few actually romantic dinners captured on celluloid or digital media.”

“There’s still cartoon dogs.” JC replied automatically.

“And that prevents it from being romantic? They are both obviously anthropoid surrogates—real dogs are incapable of any form of what is popularly considered ‘romantic’ love obviously.”

It was a little embarrassing knowing that a pre-teen was talking over his head, but at the same time, the whole argument was something only a kid could argue about. “O-okay. But they are cartoons too and some things work in animation that don’t work IRL. I mean the part where he pushes the meatball toward her with his nose? Cute with cartoon dogs, not so much with people.”

Winnie’s glare could have set his hair aflame. “So you’re refusing to do that part?” Her tone was so flat that Kansas would look like the Rockies by comparison.

“At the risk of you siccing robots one me? Yes!” JC couldn’t help it anymore, he was waving his arms and gesturing wildly. “I mean it’s a meatball in sauce on top of pasta. In real life, it’s not just a cute thing to do: you’re going to get sauce and grease in and probably up your nose and honestly who’s going to want to eat a meatball someone touched with their nose?!”

The girl genius paused, looking thoughtful. “Now that I think of it, it is highly unsanitary, isn’t it? The nose is meant to be a filter for the air entering our respiratory system, so it naturally gathers all the contaminants it filters.” She sat back with a dismissive wave. “Very well. I will not insist on that. However the other key part of the scene is non-negotiable.”

JC pursed his lips and then after long thought, simply folded his arms on the table and lowered his head into them. “No chance I can talk you out of that too?”

“Absolutely not. I learned to make fresh pasta in order to create a single continual strand in order to ensure one hundred percent success with the spaghetti kiss scene.”

Turning his head so one eye was peering at the mound of pasta, JC couldn’t help but notice he didn’t see any ends. “That’s… like two pounds of spaghetti there. It’s all one strand?”

“Yes.” Winnie was close to bursting with pride. “I found that store-bought pasta isn’t long enough to replicate what’s seen in the movie.”

The way he was looking at him made JC deeply uncomfortable. Probably not as uncomfortable as he’d be after slurping down a whole pound of pasta to replicate a movie scene, but still. “Okay: New subject. Why not boys your own age?”

For the first time since the strange encounter began, Winnie looked away, a pout forming on her lips. “I don’t associate with boys my own age. Or anyone my age. I’m in college courses. In any event, what I’ve seen of them indicates they would be ignorant in addition to the obvious immaturity problem.” She deflated slightly. “Not to mention we would have nothing in common.”

“Calling bull…” JC came up short with the word, realizing at the last minute that yes, he was still talking to a kid. But then the ‘kid’ had a number of felonies to her name and probably an engineering degree. A few dime-store words wouldn’t sully her twenty-dollar ones. “…shit on that. Clearly you like cartoons.”

“That’s a rather wide category don’t you think? Like saying people have something in common because they enjoy eating food in general.”

Now it was JC who was rolling his eyes. “Just pick one you really like and find other fans. Or… like if you have time to build killer robots and make fresh pasta, you’ve got time to go to the park or an arcade or the mall or something and meet kids your age. You don’t have to meet them just at school you know.”

Still reticent, Winnie set her jaw and studiously examined the grain of the table. “But there’s such an intellectual gulf between myself and those who would be my peers…”

At this, JC laughed out loud. “Welcome to my world. My best friends are all either geniuses or super-talented. My girlfriend is amazing and the whole world’s about to know it. And… I’m just this guy, you know.” He shrugged, “Only that’s never been a problem with us we’re friends because we have fun together and Lisa and I are together because we make each other happy.”

He sat up straight, slapping his hands down flat on the surface of the table. “Look. I’m going to level with you: you and I are never going to be a thing no matter how many robots you’ve got. I’m pushing twenty and you’re not even a teenager, okay? But what I can do for you is to give you some advice from someone who’s had some experience with relationships.”

After a beat, he corrected, “A relationship. Or I guess several small relationships strung together? They were all with the same girl though, so it’s probably just considered the one.”

“You are going to begin making sense at some point, right?”

“The point is,” he growled in annoyance, wondering if this was what having a little sister was like. He’d have to ask Warrick when he got back. “I’m older and I know a lot about how this works—a lot more than you’re going to learn kidnapping people and trying to force them to date you at robot-point.”

Winnie glared at the table. “In my defense, all their weapon systems are based around less-lethal takedown methods: nets, tasers—that kind of thing.”

“Not actually better. People rarely fall in love with someone who uses less-lethal weapons on them. Y’know, without their permission.”

“What about Stockholm Syndrome?”

JC glared at her. “Are you actually not getting this or are you messing with me?”

Spreading her hands, Winnie grinned. “I find this interaction where I make you appear frustrated enjoyable.” Then she ducked her head in submission. “But your proposal and the logic behind it have convinced me. Please: impart your wisdom on this subject upon me.”

On a whim, JC reached across the table and ruffled Winnie’s hair like he’d seen Warrick do with Tammy often. “Sure thing, kid. Let me tell you a story. You’re… eleven? Twelve?”

“Twelve.”

He nodded. “Twelve. That’s… seventh grade, am I right? Right. Well I was in eighth grade—a little older than you—when I had my first crush that wasn’t a teacher or a camp counselor…” JC frowned and for the first time look a long, hard look at Winnie. She really was just a kid for all the high tech and big words. “…and now I’m feeling like I was being too hard on you. Take away the robots and stuff, this really is just a precocious crush, huh?”

Averting her eyes, the young genius poked her index fingers together guiltily. “My first, actually.”

JC sighed. “Yeah… anyway, it was the first day of school that year. Civics class was third period, and as it turned out, the girl I thought was the most beautiful person in the universe ended up sitting in front of me.” A light chuckle escaped him, “Thank god for assigned seats.”

Starry eyed, Winnie leaned forward. “This is how you met Lisa Ortega?”

He snorted. “No, this is how I met my first crush: Alice Rankin.”

To Be Continued…

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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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One Comment

  1. Typos

    “We’re these Maven’s
    “Were these Maven’s

    “There’s still cartoon dogs.”
    (might be right, might be) “They’re still cartoon dogs.”

    The way he was looking at him
    The way she was looking at him

    problem with us we’re friends
    problem with us, we’re friends

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