previous: CharmanderChar1962 ch2
“Henry?” I slept the sleep of a thousand Disney princesses. Suddenly, my mind awoke in the darkness; cold, wet and alone. Why was I wet? I looked down. trying to catch a glimpse of my actual body, but all I could see was black. I wasn’t invisible since I could see the shape of my hand movement within the space. Was I covered in paint? No, idiot, just no.
“You’re not an idiot, Charlotte.”
“Henry, are you there?” I could hear the sound of my own voice, but it was not coming from my physical form. it was like an echo, or a playback.
Looking straight ahead, I could see a figure begin to materialize. it started as a shadow; a shimmery liquid sculpting itself in the darkness. Little by little it began to pull in pixels of light, until it resembled a neon green wire frame, loosely in the form of a human male.
The figure looked around, as if lost or confused. His long hair flowing behind him in the form of a river of fading light.
“Henry?” I said again, hearing my voice echo from the opposite side of the room. It was possible he couldn’t see me.
The figure continued to pull in neon green pixels, adding details to his appearance. Soon, he turned to face me. “Charlotte?” Henry said as he looked at me with a creepy, partially rendered expression. Even with unfinished form, there was something distinctly human in his eyes. He reached out his hand, searching the area in front of him.
Reaching forward I could feel the weight of my hand. I was real; this moment was real. “Henry, am I asleep?” My hand passed through his. The energy felt like comfort, hope, and love.
“Unfortunately, your body is asleep in h-HIS bed, by h-Is side.” There was a tone of sadness in his voice. I read his expression as pity but not necessarily fear. “I’m hopeful that Vice Paul is not actively monitoring the network, but since this is all of his own creation and design,” he paused with a sigh. “I-will,” Henry’s voice froze as the image flickered, “We will err on the side of caution.” the man continued to render, his face becoming more detailed, until I could make out his features; kind fatherly eyes, a strong nose, and lips that spoke of wisdom and truth. “Still, it is of utmost importance that I show you what I’ve discovered.”
“What did you find?” I asked. My focus was on his hands, part of me hoped that (with enough mental energy) I could pull him into my reality, save him from this darkness. This was a dungeon far worse then where Alicia was, at least that place had a line to the outside world.
Henry’s voice became gradually clearer. “I have reason to believe our captor is attempting to sell his services to the highest bidder.”
“Highest bidder? Are we talking politicians, celebrities, the mafia?”
Henry nodded. He blinked his eyes, and with each motion a photo appeared in my line of vision, flicking like a slideshow. All the images seemed to be of clients from the main studio floor. First was an older Hispanic man. He looked regal with his salt-and-pepper facial hair. He sat on a reclining chair, resting his muscular arm on a side table. Vice Paul proceeded to work on the man’s bicep, using what looked like a tattoo gun. And then it sparked. This was no ordinary tattoo.
Henry blinked again, moving to a new image. The view of the room was switched to a different camera, allowing me a look over Vice’s shoulder. From what I could see, Vice was wielding a bionic component into the man’s arm (or perhaps making a repair to an existing piece.)
“Who is that?” I asked, knowing the client had to be someone of importance, someone in a position of power.
Henry paused, adjusting the camera feed. I watched as he moved his hand over the portion of the image with the man’s face, zooming in as much as possible, to bring out recognizable features. “From what I could access via internet photo recognition, he is a high-ranking official from Colombia, possibly thought to be connected to the cartel.”
Oh, that is bad. “Does the deadly powerful drug dealer have a name?”
“From what I could find via the surface web, his name does not remain consistent across all platforms.”
“What about the dark web?”
“If I could access the dark web, I assure you, we would be in a much better position. My advice to you, as it stands, is if you were to encounter this individual: play ignorant. If he is a potential ally, he will likely reveal what name he prefers.” Henry blinked his eyes, waving his hand to move on to the next series of images.
I instantly recognized the tall Asian woman with waist length hair. She was a famous K-pop star known for her onstage hair transformations. I was about to see why. After greeting Vice Paul with a hug, she laid on a massage table, exposing the back of her neck. To the average body mod enthusiast, it would appear like she had a series of surface piercings. However, the pictures told a different story; apparently it was a circuit board that connected to a mechanism controlling her hair. She could change the color, texture and even material at will; fire, ice, even metal.
“Wow, just wow.”
“Wow?” Henry asked with a look of concern. Apparently, I had come off as a little too pleased in my statement
“You have to admit, that body mod looks amazing.” I had seen her music videos; there was no doubt the girl was a star and her superhero-like hair played a major role in making that happen.
Henry scoffed, noticeably rolling his eyes at my comment. “According to the internet she goes by the name Flower. no one knows her real identity. Some think she’s a spy from the DPRK.”
“A North Korean spy?” Now I was the one acting incredulous. She was just a model, there was no way she could be working for North Korea.
“May I continue?”
“Yes,” I said, bowing my head apologetically. “I’m sorry.”
Henry blinked again. The image switched to a blonde girl with colorful highlights, sitting in a reclined dentist chair. She was receiving some kind of oral surgery. “This is American born Instagram influencer, Rylie Blue.”
“Never heard of her.”
Henry smirked. “Why do I not believe you?”
“Fine, I know she’s an aspiring singer with a billion followers on all the major platforms.”
“But you’re not a fan?”
“I’m…” I pursed my lips. Was I really embarrassed about liking the music of a teen rapper who bragged about how she was ‘not like other girls?’ “I respect her as an artist and I am more then a little jealous of her success.”
The next pic was of Ms. Blue taking a selfie with her new mouth piercings. There were gems in her teeth that looked kind of like braces made of computer parts. Her bright red lips, plump with fillers, were adorned with five additional piercings; a medusa, angel bites and a labret.
As Henry switched to future images, it was clear that instead of typical jewels, her lips were connected to led lights. What did it all mean? “Is Vice Paul trying to start an army of bio mech soldiers?”
“No, I don’t believe that to be the case.” Henry replied with a sense of uncertainty. “The truth is, Vice’s true intentions illude me. He doesn’t seem to be chasing wealth or power.”
“Are you sure? I mean this secret lair can’t be cheap.”
“This place is a storage facility, nothing more. His electricity and water are poached from local sources, as are his crafting materials. So, beyond feeding himself, he had no need for money.”
“What does he want? He has to hold something of value.” I already knew the answer; his data, his creations, the reason why he was able to track me down.
“As long as he had his data, Vice could easily abandon his work here, without a second thought. In my opinion, Vice seems to be craving results.” Henry crossed his arms, looking off in the distance. “I believe he’s looking for a way to secure his own immortality.”
Henry shook his head, turning away, as if to acknowledge how crazy his theory sounded. “That might just be the narrative he wants me to see.”
I felt my body stand up, placing weight on my invisible legs. I placed a hand on his shoulder, touching the tingly energy of his virtual skin. “I think you’re pretty powerful.”
Henry turned to me “For a brain in a box?” For a brief moment I saw him smile.
I wanted to reach out, to touch, to smell, to taste. What would it feel like to kiss him?
I awoke (for real this time) to the sound of my phone messages pinging one after another. I rubbed my sleepy eyes, jolting backward in pain. ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about the foreign object in my eye socket.’ I forced myself to take a deep breath, fighting past the pain. I needed to remain calm, happy, loyal. “Who is FTA1692?” I asked sweetly, trying to maintain a positive demeanor (since I sure as hell wasn’t the one that changed my account name.)
Vice was laughing from the open bathroom door. “Fire type axolotl,” he said as he brushed his teeth. “I even drew you a new logo.” Sure enough my avatar had been changed from a red lizard, to a steampunk pink axolotl with a glowing blue eye. “Do you like it? Kind of reminds me of you.”
I look like an axolotl? “Great, just great.”
Since I had not uploaded in over a week, there were plenty of people worried about my whereabouts and wellbeing; fans, friends and (most likely) my supervisor who just now realized I missed a six-hour shift. The police were called in for a wellness check, but according to ‘evidence presented at the scene’ I was simply on an extended vacation. (I imagined my stupid bitch of a supervisor agreed that this was just the kind of immature stunt I would pull.)
Then there was my new channel intro. The thumbnail made me look like a wannabe Emilie Autumn; a creepy goth steam-punk princess. With trembling hands, I clicked play. The clip was a ten second theme song (of sorts) that would attach to the front of all my videos. it was a dark, punk-style photoshoot showcasing my new eye. The instrumental music was mesmerizing, hypnotic even. And the images were simply magical.
I could recall when the pics were taken. After retrieving me from Alicia’s cell, Vice had escorted me to the bedroom I was now in. I was allowed to get cleaned up, using his personal shower. He even offered me a change of clothes.
The man had a noticeably large collection of women’s clothing. Some were clearly sex attire, but others were actually kind of cute. After offering me a drink of water (that tasted oddly bitter), he guided me to a set of lacy black lingerie. I had every intention of wearing something over Vice’s chosen outfit; a robe or maybe a sweatshirt but he kept tempting me with drinks; tonics from colorful bottles, with labels from all over the world.
When I was good and relaxed, he started snapping photo after photo, all from the comfort of our bed. In my inebriated state, I could still remember that he claimed he was using them for his online portfolio. This was odd since his shop didn’t really have a gallery (otherwise Henry’s pics of Vice’s former/current clients would have looked a lot more professional, as opposed to screencaps from a security system.)
I recalled that particular moment, because, in my drunk, sleepy, flirty voice I asked, “Portfolio? Does that mean you’re selling these online?”
He flashed a smile, his perfect teeth shimmering in the light. “Why would you say that?”
“Because you just want to break my heart?” I got on all fours, licking my lips like a loyal dog. “Vince, baby, I thought you made my blue eye just for me?” Yes, I called him Vince. The memory made me sicker than any hangover.
Perhaps that was the truth, maybe Vice meant only to document his work, but after my sexy display of Stockholm syndrome he was inspired to create something that would showcase my new look to the world. This video was a gift, just for me. And it was clear he worked hard on it. He zoomed in on certain shots, to make aesthetically pleasing compositions. On my face, He erased all signs of bruising or bleeding, even giving me a full face of makeup. I thought I looked like something out of a magazine. (Vice was just that talented.)
Not everyone seemed to agree. I kept scrolling through comments, most people just thought I was trying to be edgy, unique or perhaps just thirsty for attention. Most were trolls, unworthy of my attention, but one of them drew me in.
‘Who took those, your new man?’
The tone seemed to imply that I took the pictures myself using camera tricks (like the people who take photos using their feet claiming that their unseen partner took the pics.) I did not take kindly to being called a liar.
‘Yeah, totally.’ My mind went blank as my fingers typed out a response. ‘I got a new man. He’s the love of my life, the angel of my world.’
I turned the phone snapping a picture of Vice. Checking out my handywork, I’d caught a view of his back. Vice had a massive black and gray tattoo of Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the underworld. The image started on his shoulders, with the creature emerging from a shady background, running forward on to his back, with its front paws ending somewhere just above his ass. Personally, I would have never chosen that particular mythical character for a back piece, but I had to admit it was more original than a roaring lion or a burning phoenix.
The more I looked at the image, the more I fell in love. He looked mysterious, sexy, and very Instagram worthy. It was just the kind of image that could go viral. With a devilish grin, I saved a copy to my cloud, added the attachment to my post. And then I hit reply.
“Did you just take my picture?” Vice smirked, glancing at me with a raised eyebrow. He seemed happy, maybe even proud, but there was no way to know for certain.
“Well, you do have an Instagram account,” I said, smirking back like this was all a big joke. “Your face isn’t exactly hard to find.” I was prepared to delete the pic from my phone.
Vice pulled on his button-down polo shirt before taking a seat on the bed. “Did I say that I give a shit?” Chest exposed, he cuddled by my side. I could feel his body; muscles, skin, sweat. He was making a grab for my phone.
“Here,” I said, handing it over without a fight. “All you had to do was ask.”
Vice stretched his back, resting one arm around my shoulder. “So, I’m your man?”
I shrugged, giggling awkwardly. “I thought BAE was kind of outdated.”
“Well, how did you know I have an Instagram?” he asked with a coy smile. Clearly, he was screwing with me.
“That’s you, right there?” I asked, pointing at an avatar trying to add me as a friend. “If not, you might have a stalker or a clone. Please don’t tell me you have a clone.”
“Or a brother?” In all honesty, he did seem like the kind of person who would have a clone. (Most likely for use in crime or for spare parts.)
The black and white image was of a blond-haired older man tilting his head like a model, showing off his vast array of facial piercings.
I looked at Vice’s face, to see what piercings he had currently. Strangely, the answer was none; no eyebrow bar, no surface piercings, not even the sizable labret below his lip. That would have left a scar. Unless of course it was all photoshop. “Is it you? I mean I just assumed it was.”
“Yes,” Vice said, finally flashing a sweet smile. He almost looked human. “It’s just a pretty old one.”
“You know what? Why don’t we take a new one?” I asked with the most energy I could muster. With a flirty swipe I took back my phone, all while resting my head on his shoulder. I knew I needed to hold him close. Henry had gotten such good info, I needed to try to hunt for anything that would typically not be caught by security cameras.
Did Vice have any scars on his body? I’m only looking for scars, focused on scars. Everything else is just an act. He was thin. I could feel the side of his ribcage through his shirt. But with every breath, I could feel that he was undeniably strong.
I stroked his cheek, tracing along his jaw, down his neck, all under the guide of getting a good selfie. I kept moving; snuggling, adjusting, until I hit plastic. The rockstar mad scientist had a PICC line.
I must have dwelled for a second to long. To break the awkward silence, Vice pulled in excuse out of his ass, “I just got tired of shooting up in my arm.”
So, you’d rather shoot up in your Carotid Artery? “All about efficiency, huh? I might get one myself someday.”
“Like hell you will.” Vice grinned like a demented mannequin, speaking directly into the camera.
Um, ok. “Smile!” I took a look at the image, before sending it off to Instagram, making sure to tag in Vice’s ancient account.
“That came out nice,” he said, stretching his back as he relaxed on the pillow. “I might just have to change my avatar.”
“Yeah, well,” I was blushing, giggling like a schoolgirl. “You have a really beautiful smile.”
“You too.” Vice sat up and kissed the top of my forehead. “Anyway, I have to get to work, at the studio.”
I sat up, pulling my knees to my chest. “What kind of work?”
Vice shrugged, making sure to face away from me while speaking. “Nothing special, I just got a client coming in.”
“Can I meet them?” My voice quivered. That request sounded much too formal. Now I just had to hope Vice’s answer was a positive one (as opposed to cutting out my other eye and throwing me back in a cell for my insubordination.)
Vice replied almost immediately. “Fine. Only if you can get yourself ready in ten minutes.”
I sprang up. “I’ll only need six.”
Vice turned and nodded as he put on his tie, before heading out the door. “Yeah, well, I’ll need the full ten to set up my work station.” The door slammed shut, locking from the outside.
“Ok, cool. I guess I’ll get dressed, then.” I walked to the closet, mentally sorting my options, since I was certain that not every piece of clothing would be appropriate for a ‘client’ meeting. (Or even my size.) I needed something ‘one-size-fits-all’ while also looking like a worthy piece of arm candy for a new age, rockstar mad scientist/evil genius. I settled on a red cocktail length dress with full sleeves. The back was very, VERY open, with a single ribbon attached to the butt. I assumed this was to allow someone to lace themselves in to the dress as little or as much as they liked.
I was in the process of tying it when the door creaked open. Vice slithered in, quiet as a snake, as he put his arms around my waist. “That’s not the correct way to wear that.”
“I’m not flashing my chest,” I replied, assuming he meant I had it on backwards.
“That’s not what I meant.” Vice proceeded to wrap the ribbon around my body, tying me in to a handmade corset. “This dress is a piece of my own design.” He said as he pulled tighter. “A proper display case for a woman of grace and beauty.”
Vice stroked his hand down my exposed back. “I’ll need to remove your ribs, two, maybe three on each side for a nice slender frame. And then I’ll perform a full hysterectomy. I can’t wait to taste of your ovaries, your womb.” He spoke with such passion I was almost getting turned on. “Maybe I’ll leave you cut open for a while and just dine on your blood.”
“You don’t want kids with me?” I asked in a nervous giggle. What the fuck do you say to something like that?
“I have so many plans for you.”
Frozen in fear I walked with him out the door, to an elevator that required a key to operate. We rode in silence to the main floor emerging from the ground to lively applause.
The long-haired Korean woman stood up, her hair shifting from lavender to metallic blonde as she spoke, “Such beautiful work.” She cupped her hands over her mouth like a little doll. And then she took a bow, kissing Vice’s hand. “So brilliant!”
Vice patted her head like a puppy. “You are too kind, my love.”
The woman then took my hand bowing to me, like I was royalty. “Beautiful girl, you are yet another masterpiece.”
Looking over her shoulder, I could see she was surrounded by an entourage of fashionably dressed people with their eyes on their phones. They were monitoring her without watching her.
She bowed her head again before shaking my hand like a semi-normal person. “I’m called Flower, what does he call you?”
There was something odd about her accent. Something about it didn’t seem fully Korean. “Hello, my name is Charlotte, but Vice calls me Charli.”
“Then I shall call you Charli as well.” She put her arms around me, going in for a hug. This caused Vice to move to the side, stepping away to speak to the other people.
I could hear cameras clicking, as I was blinded by one flash after another, as Vice disappeared into another room, with a handful of people by his side. Where was he going?
If I had to guess, he was meeting with Flower’s handlers, while the rest of the entourage were charged with keeping us from escaping. I felt Flower put her arms around me, turning her face to create perfect internet trendy poses. She kissed my cheek, leaning in close. Her lips hovered over my ear, as if she was trying to determine if she could trust me.
“Charlotte?” Her voice was a gravely whisper. “Is he looking away?”
“Yeah, I think so.” My heart was racing. I could hear her real accent; she was an American. This was another person taken against her will to become a living art piece.
She kissed my cheek, pretending to flirt, but I could already feel the tears welling up in her eyes. “My name is Hellen Zhao, I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas.”
The camera flashes started to decrease. The guards knew we were talking.
Flower’s hair became longer, shielding our faces, as she pressed her cheek to mine. “I haven’t seen my family in over ten years.”
Before I could reply, Flower was forcibly pulled away by a woman in a suit speaking angry, fluent Korean.
Flower leaned in and kissed my hand. She made sure to give the cameras a final, flirtatious smile, before turning back one last time. “Please help me,” the clearly American girl said in a soft breath as she was forced through the studio door for her appointment with Vice.
I was left alone with the remaining guards. They still had their faces glued to their phones, with Bluetooth earpieces in their ears, but I would have been foolish to attempt an escape. Instead, I took the opportunity to look around the unique space. The main color of the walls was a deep blood red, highlighted with gold and black accents in the form of filigree. This theme was continued with the various art pieces. There were paintings and sculptures made from random trash; paper, plastic, metal. The works portrayed the human form in various stages, from a fetus made of computer parts, to a naked female torso made of plastic straws, all spray painted with a high gloss finish. Near the door to the studio (where Flower had been forced through) was a chair made from a large truck tire.
I could hear the sound of power tools; a long-drawn-out whirl, screeching, crunching. This was followed by very human screams. I glanced up at the guards. They were all looking at me from behind tinted sunglasses.
I couldn’t help but think about a quote that I only knew from the 1994 Street fighter movie, ‘When good men do nothing that is evil enough.’
Realistically, I needed to stay alive. Not just for my own greedy, cowardly ass. Alicia was still trapped (along with God knows who else.) And I had no idea what was behind that door.
The world went silent and I could hear the sound of doors opening and closing. And then the rest of the people exited through the studio leaving me completely alone. I waited a few seconds before standing up. For my effort, I caught the briefest look of the outside world; a loading dock overlooking a beach, before Vice appeared in my view.
“I see you wish to help me clean up,” he said as he tossed me a roll of trash bags. “If you do a good job, I might just treat you to some real food.”
I forced a nod at the sight of the bloody exam chair. “Sure, sounds great…”
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