WARNING: A couple of vague sexual references?
It may have been his life’s aspiration, but there were some days when Michael Bachelor didn’t feel like social networking. Sometimes he got tired of people he just met calling him up day and night lecturing him about how to maintain relationships. He had no idea where these people kept getting his number.
On Saturday mornings he just felt like toaster pastries.
“Good morning, Mikey!” said a cheerful and outgoing voice.
“What do you want, Morty?” Mike didn’t even bother to ask why he was being spoken to through a small flying robot. Bella was out of town; Mortimer was off the leash. He was lucky it wasn’t a T-rex.
“I need to borrow your pickup truck to assist Miss Dina Caliente—you know, from the funeral?”
“Yeah, I know her.”
“I need to assist her in the transportation and repair of a Servo.”
“She has a Servo?” He’d thought they’d been falling out of popularity lately since SBN decided they were the biggest threat to the future of SimNation.
The munchiebot bobbed up and down. “Her fiancé does, but this one didn’t get out of the house much before she was in the picture.”
The thought of Ocean Big in robot form was not pleasant, but it also wasn’t an excuse. “Okay, you can use it with my supervision. I don’t want you to make any weird modifications to it.”
“Not even to increase functionality?”
“I don’t need a truck that talks or shoots missiles or turns into a giant robot, Morty.”
“I just…don’t, okay?”
“You are so frustratingly mundane.”
The issue was still not resolved by the time they got to Mr. Big’s house.
“…It’s the trifecta, Morty. You knocked up my little sister, struck my girlfriend with lightning, and now you stole my toaster pastries! You’re lucky I’m even helping you. In fact, I’m not helping you. I’m helping Dina.”
“It’s the munchiebot’s autonomous function to retrieve delicious nourishment!” Mortimer patted his stomach. “You shouldn’t have been eating a whole box anyway, puddin’ face.”
That was admittedly true. He missed his jock days when he didn’t have to worry about stuff like that. Almost as much as he missed his abs. “Are you doing some sort of science experiment to test how much obnoxiousness a person can put up with before they snap?”
“No, but that sounds like a great idea. Thanks!”
He could sense something wrong at Mr. Big’s house. It was enough to make him forget about toaster pastries.
The front door was locked but there was a blown out window in the back big enough for anything to get through.
“Dina!” Her hand was ice cold but she stirred at his touch.
“Mike?” Her eyelashes fluttered.
He was surprised that she recognized his voice. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“Is the clown gone?” she murmured.
Mortimer gave the room a once over. “I’m going to say yes.”
“What about the bunny?” Her eyes were vacant and bloodshot.
“Dina, what happened?” He wasn’t sure if hugging her would make things better or worse so he decided to start with a hand on her shoulder and see where things went from there.
“I’m fine,” she said, shivering. “I was just really tired and didn’t make it to bed.”
Mortimer was unconvinced. “You look a little green, love.”
At that, she burst into tears.
“Uh—I’ll put on some Comfort Soup!” said Mortimer, hurrying towards the kitchen.
Somehow they managed to translate her sobs into something about an alien abduction. By the time the soup was done she’d settled down into an empty stare and monotone. It was more disconcerting than the crying.
“The police fined me §500 for ‘wasting their time’ and then they just left me here alone. They didn’t even investigate, for all they know I could have killed him and used the abduction as a cover up.”
Mortimer was pacing back and forth behind them, making ‘hmmm’ noises. “I’ve never heard of anyone being abducted without a telescope. Usually extraterrestrials only take an interest in those who take an interest in them.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Of course we do, Dina,” Mike said, shooting Mortimer a look, “and it sounds like you did everything you could. I’m sure he’ll be okay. I know people who’ve been abducted and they all consider themselves better off for it.”
“Indeed. The only thing you can do in this situation is wait. He should be back eight hours after the initial abduction.”
“It’s been ten.”
Mortimer gritted his teeth. “Oh, well there have been—rare— occasions where it takes longer. A day or so…”
“You won’t even have to post-pone the wedding,” Mike added.
“It’ll just have to be a shotgun wedding!” Mortimer said, before getting another glare.
“There’s not going to be a wedding,” Dina sighed. “We broke up due to irreconcilable differences. Before they took him.”
Mortimer raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“You know, I didn’t have to tell you that. I still have the engagement ring. And his car. And his credit cards. I could have just taken the money and ran.” The last slurp finally seemed to snap her out of her trance. “But I didn’t!”
“Commendable,” said Mortimer.
“Is Servo going to be okay?” She pointed towards a lifeless figure outside the arcadia door. Mike realized he must have run right past him.
“I’d like to get him over to lab before I make any judgments. It doesn’t look like a typical breakdown.”
“Can I come with you? Please?”
Mike answered for him. “Of course, and I’ll give you a ride wherever you want to go afterwards.”
“Thank you.” She gave him a weak smile. “I guess I should probably put on some clothes first, huh?” She looked back tentatively before starting up the staircase, as if worried they might not be there when she came back down.
As soon as she was gone, Mortimer jabbed his elbow into Mike’s ribcage. “I’m going to infer that when you said you knew her, you meant in the biblical sense?”
Mike shrugged. “Yeah. So? It was a long time ago.”
“Ah, your ‘glory days.’” Mortimer chuckled, with finger quotes. “Well, don’t get too nostalgic. She’s not telling us everything.”
“It’s not like she’s obligated to.” Though actually he’d come to the same conclusion.
“Her story is very suspicious. Taken off the balcony with no telescope and then kept longer than the regulation abduction period? Why would aliens go after Ocean in the first place? He hates them.”
“What are you getting at? You think she really did kill him?” Mike scoffed.
“She may have had some involvement in his disappearance. I don’t think it’s a coincidence this happened right after they broke up. In fact, I suggest the real story can be derived from her triggered reaction to the word green. Do you follow?”
His brain had pretty much shut down when that had happened; he hadn’t had a chance to think it over. “I figured it had something to do with aliens.”
“No, Mikey.” Mortimer rolled his eyes. “Aliens have nothing to do with it. She’s really a witch, like Bella. A wicked witch.”
“They were arguing, she lost control of her powers and expelled him to the shadow realm. Now she’s afraid that her dalliance to dark side is going to have a cosmetic effect.” Mortimer punctuated this with a supposedly witchy gesture. “It’s a scientific fact that dark magic turns your skin green.”
“So do pesticides.”
“Well of course it’s only speculation. We shouldn’t report her to the Spellchecker until there’s proof. But in the meantime, don’t let your ‘history’ with this girl cloud your judgment. Use your logic skill.”
“Shadow realms are logical?”
Mortimer suddenly got distracted. “Oh, he’s so shiny!” He ran outside before they could finish the argument.
Mike’s first thought was that he looked familiar. A stupid thought, seeing as how he looked exactly the same as any of the Servos he’d seen in his lifetime and probably every other one in existence.
“Isn’t he beautiful? He shouldn’t be very heavy; as you can see, his top half defies gravity! Don’t worry about touching the Viridis Orb. It won’t electrocute you or anything.”
Mike avoided touching it anyway; it sounded like a personal area.
After they had carried the Servo out the truck, he went upstairs to get Dina. Her bags were packed and lying by the door. He refrained from knocking when he heard that she was on the phone.
“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to ruin your vacation. I tried to call earlier but—” She sighed as whoever she was speaking to cut her off. “Oh for goodness sake, Nina, you didn’t kill anyone! If you were really cursed, don’t you think this would have happened when the two of you were in bed together? Wouldn’t that have been a shock? Literally? It’s not your fault; if anything it’s mine, and it doesn’t matter because Mortimer’s going to fix him! He’s the best! Except for Bella—can you tell her I said ‘hi’? And ask her about this—what was it? Anti-abduction…spell. Can you have her put it on you, please?” There was another brief silence. “You said her entire family was protected, right? Do you think if I start to get beamed up I can just grab onto one of them and it’ll anchor me to the ground?”
Mike didn’t know what to make of this except that Mortimer was dead wrong. He picked up her bags and took them out to the truck, figuring he’d eavesdropped enough.
When he was done he looked back to see her standing in the doorway, staring up at the sky. He hurried back to meet her at the door.
“Ready to go?” He offered her his hand.
She took it in a death grip, entwining his fingers with hers.
“He couldn’t remember anything from before he came to live with Ocean. He had no idea who built him or where he came from or who he’d slept with.”
Mortimer frowned. “Servos were not meant to be sold after they’ve been activated. It’s illegal this side of Sim City.”
“Makes sense.” Dina’s face went red.
“The inventor of the modern Servo was a childhood friend of mine. I regret never getting to work with her outside of the school science lab; though I don’t think even I was up to her standards. No person was; I think that’s why she decided to create her own.”
Mortimer was unusually solemn as he looked over the robot, though his eyes were very alert. “She’d have got more fame by focusing on a humanistic outer appearance, and I’m sure she’d have accomplished that too if she’d lived longer, but first she just wanted to create thoughts and feelings and…life.”
Mortimer was surprised by her sincerity. “Looking at the parts used, this fellow must be one of the oldest ones around. It’s even possible he’s one of the original prototypes…” His voice trailed off as thought better of what he was about to say. “And he’s been broken before. In fact, I’d even say the last time was intentional.”
“Evil husband,” Dina said under her breath. “You mean he was attacked? Is that what caused his memory loss?”
“He’s had some severe head trauma. I hypothesize that the fragmented memories he has left are what caused this breakdown. Something must have, shall we say, aroused them?” He winked. “But by removing the corrupted fragments we should be able to ensure that never happens again, while keeping his current memories intact, of course.”
“Thank you, Mr. Goth!” she said, throwing her arms around his neck. “What can I do to pay you back? I don’t have much money, but I still have access to Ocean’s bank accounts. He probably won’t even notice anything’s gone.”
“Er—we can discuss that later, Miss Caliente. I’m eager to get started; my associates should be here any moment!”
“Did somebody order a couple of scientists with extra ham?”
While Mike and Mortimer stepped back from the suitcase, Dina stepped forward out of curiosity.
“Good afternoon, pretty lady. You smell like the color green.”
“Hey!” Mike pulled her away from them and they started sniffing him instead.
“Do not worry, Mikey Mike. We do not eat her kind.”
“Or yours,” said the other.
“Daddy, you are so embarrassing.”
Mortimer waved them over; their behavior was nothing out of the ordinary to him. “These are my associates, Kiernen and Kvornan, the best in the business—besides me. Thanks for coming in early, boys; I know it’s quite a lot to ask of you.”
“No problem. We love robots!” Kiernen stalked over to the operating table where Kvornan was already sniffing the robot. “We will make your friend as good as new, pretty lady!”
“Better!” said Kvornan.
She still held onto him when they got outside, though not as fiercely as before. “So what happened to Mortimer’s friend? The inventor?”
“She was destroyed by her own creation, as mad scientists so often are.” A voice cut in before he could answer. “And yet those monsters are still on the market and in our homes, stealing our own personhood with the click of a button!”
She seemed like a completely different person than the last time he’d seen her, though he couldn’t quite pinpoint why. Her appearance was pretty much the same, save for the unsettling glint in her eye.
Dina didn’t bother with politeness. “You work for the Goths? I didn’t think they scored high enough on your blood purity scale.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I don’t care whether a person is magic, undead, robotic, purple, or green as long as they’re not an abomination of nature. The fact that those things often coincide does not make me prejudiced.”
Dina looked like she was about to cry again.
Brigit glanced down at Dina’s left hand and smirked. “So how’s the fiancé?”
Dina let go of Mike and for a second he thought he was going to have to break up a catfight. She got so close that Brigit had to lean back to keep their noses from touching. “He was abducted by aliens.”
It almost sounded like she was doing an impression of Bella.
“What was that about?” he asked, following Dina into the house.
“Fear and ignorance. Do you know that woman?”
“That’s Parker’s ex-wife.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Your friend Parker? From Sims State?”
He nodded. “She wasn’t always so...evil. Quite the opposite actually. Then one day she just walked out on him and their little girl—who’s a very sweet kid, by the way,” he added, seeing the horror in Dina’s eyes.
“Parker’s a good dad, believe it or not. Brigit, however, has issues.”
“I think she might have ruined my life,” Dina said.
The confrontations with the vampires and the maid and her overall paranoia were beginning to come together like pieces of a puzzle, giving him an inkling of what was going on. But with her he knew if he had to ask, she probably wasn’t willing to share in the first place. So he said nothing, and just opened his arms for a hug, which she accepted.
The smell of her hair made him feel like he was back in college again. He rubbed her back and neck; he wasn’t going to break the embrace until she did. “Do you want me to take you home?”
“I don’t want to go back to an empty apartment,” she whispered. Her voice tickled his ear. “I’m scared.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Not unless you know how to do an anti-abduction spell.”
That was possibly the worst answer she could have given him. “Dina, magic and I do not mix well.”
“Wait…you’ve tried it?”
He realized too late that he’d used a poor choice of words. “It was a total disaster. Please don’t ask for details.”
She didn’t pry any further. “You know, I used to babysit for my friend Olive back in Strangetown. She’s got mystical crap lying around all over the place, stuck between her couch cushions like loose change. One night I took my chances with a wand and spellbook. Can you guess what happened?”
“You banished someone to the shadow realm?”
“Nothing happened, let alone a disaster.”
“I think you’re hiding something, Michael Bachelor.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” he said it gently, but still regretted it.
Her eyebrows shot up. “You want to know why the vampires didn’t eat me?”
“Among other things.”
“It’s because my Latin blood was too spicy for them, obviously.”
He couldn’t help but laugh; though that wasn’t the answer he was looking for. “Dina, I hate to break to you, but you’re about as spicy as cotton candy.” She turned away from him so he couldn’t see her face. “You know there’s nothing you could tell me that would freak me out, right?”
She was silent for a good five seconds
Finally she wiped her eyes and scooted closer to him. “Not even if I said I preferred the Battling Bovines to the Fighting Llamas?” she asked, putting her head on his shoulder.
“…not even then.” He could think of a thousand reasons why it would be wrong to get too intimate with her right now. In his sister’s house. After she’d just gotten out of a relationship. When she was so scared and vulnerable. They were running through his head on repeat at max volume.
Dina knew this. She was taking advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t take advantage of her. “Will you stay with me until our sister gets back? I’ll buy you a pizza and help you grade your papers.”
“Yes,” he breathed, “but I’m not going to cast any spells on you if that’s what you’re after. Seriously, do not ask.”
She smiled thoughtfully, unfazed by his tone. “Must be rough being in the supernatural closet.”
“Whoever repaired him the last time did a shoddy job, eh, Mortimer?”
“Can you blame them? Servos aren’t supposed to acquire this sort of damage. Look at the fractures in this chip; a human being wouldn’t even have the strength to do that!”
“Bigfoot would never maul a Servo. He’s an upstanding gentleman!”
“A witch’s spell?”
“If a witch wanted to destroy him, they wouldn’t need to get this violent. No, I think this creature was something much more disturbing—”
“KVORNAN, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”