The Maddening Science, 2 of 2

The Maddening Science

by J.M. Frey

 

A former supervillain is forced to return to a life of crime. When a woman is shot in front of his eyes, he is equally unwilling to break any more laws nor let her die. But if he saves her, what danger will she pose to his freedom, his anonymity, and the secret past he so long ago buried?

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Rachel sulks in her room for the afternoon, which bothers me not at all, as I’ve experiments to attend. When I come back out, she is sullenly reading her textbook on the sofa, and she has found the beer. One open bottle is beside her elbow and three empty ones are on the floor.
It’s not wise to drink when you’re on antibiotics,” I say, wiping my hands on my labcoat. They leave iridescent green smears on the fabric, but it’s completely non-toxic or I would not be exposing her to it.
I’m not on antibiotics,” she mutters mulishly.
Yes, you are,” I counter. “There is a slow-release tablet under your skin near the wound.
She makes a face and pushes away her textbook. It slaps onto the carpet.“That’s just gross.
But efficient.
She looks up, gaze suddenly tight. “What else did you put in me?
I walk over and take away her beer. And then, because it would be a waste of booze to dump it down the sink, and I have been on a limited income since I ceased robbing banks, and because I enjoy the perverseness of having my lips on the same bottlemouth as hers after having so recently admonished her for kissing me, I take a drink.
Not that, if that’s what you’re implying, my dear Rachel,” I say. She blinks hard, my innuendo sinking home.
What? What, no! I didn’t mean…
I’m more of gentleman than that.
I get that!” she splutters. “I just mean…where did you get the replacement blood? What kind of stitches? Am I bionic now?
No more than you were before,” I say. “Nanobots are actively knitting the torn flesh back together, but they will die in a week and your liver will flush them from your system. The stitches and sutures are biodegradable and will dissolve by then. The rest of the antibiotic tablet will be gone in two or three days, and the very small infusion of my vitality serum only gave your immune system a boost and your regenerative drive a bit of extra gas. You are in all ways, my dear Rachel, utterly and completely in-extraordinary. Your greatest fear is unrealized.” I finish off the beer with a swig, liking the way her green eyes follow the line of my throat as I swallow, and then go to the kitchen and retrieve two more.
I hand one to her and flop down onto the sofa beside her. She curls into a corner to give me enough room and then, after eyeing the mess on my coat, thrusts impertinent—and freezing!—toes under my thigh. “Dear me, Rachel, stepping up your campaign?
You started it,” she says. “Re-started it. With the…bottle thingy.
I arch a teasing eyebrow. “Bottle thingy?
She shakes her head. “I think I’m a little drunk.
I think you are,” I agree.
Enabler,” she says, and we clink beers. She drinks and this time I watch her. Her throat is, in every way, normal. Boring. I cannot stop looking at it. Her toes wiggle. “How can you read me so well?” she asks. “I mean, I didn’t even have to say, ‘I’m scared of turning into my mom,’ but you knew.
I shrug. “I’m a great student of the human creature. We all say so much without saying a thing.
Do you ever say more than you want to?
I smile secretively, a flash of teeth that I know will infuriate her with its vagueness. “Rarely, any more. I’ve had a long time to learn to control my, as poker players would call them, ‘tells.’
Hmph,” she mutters and takes another drink. I swallow some of my beer to distract myself. She wriggles her toes again, and pushes them further. Soon they will brush right against my…but I assume that is the point.
Careful, Rachel,” I warn. “Are you certain this is something you want to do?
Yes.
You are drunk and you want revenge on your mother.
Maybe. Maybe I want to thank you for saving my life. Maybe I want to reward you for being a good guy.
What if I don’t want your thanks, or your reward?” I ask.
She smiles and her big toe tickles the undercurve of my testes. “Don’t you?” she asks, and her expression is salacious. I provided her with no bra, I had none to give, and under my borrowed tee-shirt her nipples are pert.
I do.” I set aside both of our beers and reach for her. She comes into my arms, gladly, little mouth wet and insistent against mine as she wriggles her way onto my lap. Iridescent green smears up her thighs. “But maybe…oh!” I gasp into her mouth as clever little fingers work their way inside my waistband. I return the favour. Intelligence must be rewarded.
Maybe?” she prompts, pressing down against my hand.
Maybe I just want revenge on your mother, too.
She jerks back as if I’ve bitten her. “Oh my god, how can one man be such a dick?
I press upwards so her pelvis comes in contact with the part of my anatomy in discussion. “I am honest, Rachel. There is a difference.
She sits back, arms crossing over the breasts I hadn’t yet touched. “An honest supervillian,” she scoffs.
I stand, dumping her onto the floor. “I think we’re done here.
Are we, Profess—
I’ve asked you not to call me that!
She cowers back from my anger. Then it fuels her. “Fuck you, Olly,” she says, standing.
I thought that was the idea,” I agree, “but apparently not.
You’re nothing like I thought you’d be!
I laugh again. “And how could you have had any concept of how I’d be? Did the Dynamic Dyke tell stories? I bet she did. And you felt sorry for me. The poor Professor, beat up by mommy, hated – like you were. An outcast, like you were. Not good enough, like you were. Was I your imaginary friend, Rachel? Did you write my name in hearts on your binders? Did you fantasize about me?
Shut up!” she screams.
Her cheeks are red again, her eyes glistening, her mouth bruised, and I want to grab her, kiss her, feel her ass through the borrowed sweatpants. Instead I fold my hands behind my back, because I told the truth before—I am a gentleman. I say nothing.
You’re not supposed to be like this!
Be like what?” I ask, again. “Explain, Rachel.
She collapses. It’s a slow folding inward, knees and stomach first, face in her hands, physicality followed by emotion as she sobs into the carpet. I stand above her and wait, because she deserves this cry. Crying helps people engage with their emotions, or so I’m told.
When her sobbing slows, precisely one thousand six hundred and seventy-three seconds later—twenty-seven point nine minutes—she unfolds and stands, wiping her nose. I offer her a handkerchief from the pocket of my labcoat, and she takes it and turns her back to me, cleaning up her face.
She picks up the textbook. She opens it to the back, to those useless blank pages that are the fault of how books are bound, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I am shocked.
The back of the book has been collaged with photographs. Of me.
Computer printouts of me when I was the Prof. Newspaper clippings of my trial. Me, walking down the street, hunched into the shadow of my sweater’s hood. Me, buying soymilk. Me, through the window of the shitty apartment on which Oliver Munsen can barely afford to pay rent. Me, three days ago, cutting through that same parking garage.
Genuine joy floods my blood. A small shot of adrenaline seethes up into my brain and I can’t help the smile, because I missed this, I really did. “Oh, Rachel. Are you my stalker? How novel! I’ve never had a stalker before.
She snaps the cover shut. “I’m not a stalker.
Just an admirer?” I ask, struggling to keep the condensation out of my voice. “Or do you want me to teach you how to be a villain? Really get back at mommy dearest?” Her expression sours. “Ah. But you already know that you can’t be. You knew before I told you that you were born boring. So this is the next best thing.” I reach out, grasp her elbows lightly, rub my callused thumbs across the tender flesh on the inside of them. She shivers. “Tell me, how were you going to do it, Rachel? Were you going to accidentally bump into me in that parking garage? Were you going to spill a beer on me in a bar? Buy me a coffee at my favourite cafe? Surely getting shot was not in the plan.
It’s not like that!” she says, but her eyes are closed, her lashes fluttering. Her chest bobs as she tries to catch her breath.
Then what is it like?
I don’t know! I just…I just saw you one day, okay? I recognized you, from mom’s pictures on the wall, and I thought, you know, I should tell her. But I thought I would follow you first, you know, figure out where you live, or something.
Except that I wasn’t being dastardly and villainous.
You sat in the bookstore and read a whole magazine. And then you paid for it.
I smirk. “How shocking.
For me it was.” She tips forward, breasts squishing, hot and soft, against my chest. “The kinds of stories I heard about you as a kid…
And you were fascinated.
And I was fascinated.
And so you followed me.
I followed you.
And then what, my dear Rachel?
She wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me down for a kiss I don’t resist.
You seemed so lonely,” she says, breath puffing into my mouth. “Are you lonely, Olly?
Oh, yes.” I pick her up and carry her off to her bedroom.
The mattress is new, she is the first person to ever have slept on it, but it still squeaks. After, she drops off, satisfied, mumbling amusing endearments about how wonderful it is to make love to someone who is so studious, makes such a thorough examination of his subjects.
Tonight I decide to sleep. I don’t do it very often, but I don’t want to be awake anymore. I don’t want to think. I close my eyes and force my dreams to stay away.

#

In the morning, I’m troubled. I think I’ve made a very bad choice, but I’m not sure how to rectify it. I am not even sure how to articulate it.
Rachel was right. I am lonely. I am desperately, painfully lonely. And I will be for the rest of my unnaturally long life. But Rachel is lonely, too. Desperate in her own way, desperate for the approval of a mother I can only assume was distant and busy in Rachel’s youth, and then too famous and busy in her adolescence. Rachel wants to be nothing like her mother, wants to hurt her, punish her, and yet…wants to impress her so very badly that she is willing to take the ultimate step, to profess love for a man her mother once hated, to ‘fix him,’ to ‘make him better.’ To make him, me, good.
Only, Rachel doesn’t understand. I don’t want to be better, or good, or saved. I just want to live my boring, in-extraordinary life in peace and quiet, and then die. I don’t want to be her experiment. And yet her fierce little kisses…her wide green eyes…
I look down at the schematics under my elbow and sigh. The scent of burning bacon wafts in through the vents that lead to the kitchen, and the utter domesticity of it plucks at the back of my eyes, heating them. I ‘m still a fool, and I’m no less in over my head than I was two days ago.
I abandon the lab and rescue my good iron skillet from the madwoman who has pushed her way into my life. When she turns her face up for a kiss, I give it to her, and everything else she asks for, too.
And I can have this, because I am not a supervillain any more. But I am not a superhero either. If I was, I could turn her away, like I should.
After lunch, I hand her my cell phone. It has been boosted so that the signal can pass through concrete bunker walls, but cannot be tracked back to its location.
What’s that for?” she asks.
Call your mother,” I say. “Tell her you’re okay. You’re just staying with a friend. The shooting freaked you out.
She frowns. “What if I don’t want to?
You were arguing that I should let you call.
Yeah, before.
Rachel,” I admonish. “Do you really want her frantically looking for you?
She pales. I imagine what it must have been like for her when she ran away from home for the first time. “No, guess not,” she mumbles and dials a number. “Yeah, hi Mom. No, no, I’m cool. Yeah, decided to stay with a friend instead of coming home from campus this weekend. No, no, it’s fine. I’m fine. There’s no need for the guilt trip! I said I’m fine! God!…okay. Right. Sorry. Okay. I’ll see you next…” she looks at me. “Next Saturday?” I nod. “Next Saturday. Right. Fine. I love you, too.” She hangs up and places the phone between us. “There, happy?
Yes. I am curious Rachel, how do you intend on springing me on your mother? And how will you keep her from punching my face clear off?
She picks at her cuticles. “I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.
I gathered.” I stand from the table and go to do the dishes. I can’t abide a mess.
She comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my waist and presses her cheek against my back, and asks, “What do you want to do this afternoon?
Whatever you want,” I say. “I’m all yours.” I turn in her arms to find her grinning. She believes me, whole-heartedly, and she should. I never lie, and it’s the truth. For now.

#

When the week is over, I sit her down on my operating table and carefully poke around the bullet wound. In the x-ray, the bones appear healed without a scar. Her skin is dewy and unmarked. The stitches have dissolved and a scan with a handheld remote shows that the nanobots are all dead and ninety-three percent have been flushed from her system. I anticipate the other seven percent will be gone after her next trip to the toilet.
I do another scan, a bit lower down, but there is nothing there to be concerned about, either. We have not been using prophylactics, but I’ve been sterile since I used the serum. It was a personal choice. I had no desire to outlive my grandchildren.
Rachel hops from the table, bare feet on the white tile, and grins. “It’s Saturday!” she says.
Yes, it is.
Time to go!
Yes.
She takes my hand. “And you’re coming with me, Olly. You’re coming with me and then they’ll see, they’ll all see. You’re different now. You’re a good man.
I smile and close my fingers around hers and, for the first time in many decades, I lie. “Yes, I am, thank you.” I use our twined fingers to pull her into the kitchen. “Celebratory drink before we go?
She grins. “Gonna open that champagne I saw in the back of the fridge?
I laugh. “Clever Rachel. I can’t hide anything from you.
Only I can. I am. When I pop the cork she shrieks in delight. Every ticking second of her happiness stabs at me like a branding iron and dagger all in one.
I thought I would need a whole machine, a gun, a delivery device, but in the end my research and experiments offered up a far more simplistic solution: rohypnol. Except that it is created by me, of course, so it’s programmable, intelligent in the way the cheap, pathetic drug available to desperate, stupid children in night clubs is not. My drug knows which memories to take away.
Clever, beautiful, dear Rachel trusts me. I pour our drinks and hand her the glass that is meant for her. I smile and chat with her as she sips, pretending to be oblivious as her eyelids slip downwards, giving her no clue that there is anything amiss.
I catch both her and the glass before they hit the floor. Tonight she will wake in her own bed. She will honestly remember spending the week with a friend she then had a fight with, and no longer speaks to. She will wonder what happened to her backpack, her cell phone, her law textbook. She will not remember the Prof, or The Tesla. Her mother will be annoyed that she will have to tell her the stories over again, stories that Rachel should have internalized during her childhood.
And I will shut down this hidey-hole and go back to my apartment and cash my welfare cheque and watch television. And it will be good. It will be as it should be.
The stupid boy with the gun might have been the bad guy in our little melodrama, but I am the villain.
I am the coward.

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