A
literature

Antithesis pt2 - Ongoing Problem

Griddles's avatar
By Griddles   |   
10 1 517 (1 Today)
Published:
When his body reassembled itself and the very faint dizzy spell he always endured cleared away, Dexter opened his eyes to a new scene. He was no longer on a southern hillside overlooking the city. He was lit not by the setting sun but by banks of fluorescent light 25 feet overhead. The air was cold, crisp and had a metallic aftertaste. The hum of the platform beneath died away. Dexter sighed and looked around. The vast expanse before him was the most familiar, most comfortable location he knew. He was glad to be alone. He needed time to himself. There was no better place than this.

Home sweet laboratory.

Dexter got to his feet, his toe still aching dully. Without even looking at it, he seized the top strap of the heavy backpack and dragged it off the platform. Wanting nothing more to do with that device today, he made a beeline for the giant collection of screens before him and the invitingly comfortable armchair in front of them. His lab, easily the size of an industrial warehouse, was full of contraptions and mechanisms of many sizes. Surrounded by them, he continued to ignore them. At least they weren't alive and staring, judging. The backpack scraped along the cold floor.

"Computer!" he called, noticing the way his voice grated past his lips.

The huge bank of screens lit up and a pleasant female voice spoke, echoing through the subterranean expanse of science "Welcome back, Dexter. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Dexter slammed his hand on the padded armrest of his large and swivelling chair. His first chance to hit something that wouldn't break his wrist. Felt alright. "Water. With ice." he ordered. His computer, a Quadraplex 3001 of his own making, beeped compliantly. Dexter squeezed the padded armrest like a stress ball "Standard daily diagnostic." Another beep. On the massive half-moon desk his chair faced, a panel slid away and a frosted glass of water with three chunky icecubes rose into position with a happy 'ding'. Dexter gave another sigh "And... put out a West Gate readiness alert." He pulled the thick-framed glasses from his face and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He felt a long night on the way.

Without the slightest effort of care, he flung the heavy backpack under the large recess beneath his desk. It smacked against the far end with a thud that shook the whole console. He stood before his screens, lit by their many blue glows. Diagnostics, experiment status reports, even minutiae like outside temperature and air pressure scrolled by on those thin, glassy monitors. He ignored all of it. He clutched his glasses in his right hand. He tilted his head ceilingward. Then he crumpled and with a huff he collapsed into the soft leather backing of his chair.

Ugh.

Dexter slid the glasses back up his nose. Rubbing the bridge had done precisely nothing. Of course it did nothing - there was no proven scientific proof that placing pressure forward of the tearduct warded off an approaching headache. The comfort of his favourite chair seemed to swallow him, but it made thinking about what had just transpired no easier. He removed the glove on his right hand; cold lab air on his skin. His palm was sweating. Another characteristic of extreme discomfort. Here he was, in his favourite chair, in his lab, surrounded by everything that defined him and made him who he was. But the hole he felt widening inside himself was threatening to swallow him up. His mind spun around. He couldn't focus. Only one thing to do. Speak.

"I think I just got dumped." he told himself.

The computress beeped politely "Please restate your previous command."

Dexter actually chuckled. Laughing at his own computer - something WAS amiss. "Disregard, computer. Disable audio inputs until further notice." Another beep met his ears. His little smile slipped almost immediately. Now even his computer wouldn't listen. He was truly alone inside this world of steel and circuitry now. His parents would be waiting back home, going about their regular day-to-day lives ignorant of his undertakings. They knew of his lab and of his friendship with the three guardians of the city. But after a family tragedy several years back had brought them all together in the most horrible way, he now felt the distance between them widening again. He considered the things inhabiting this underground metal world his family, now. The computer. The various robots, working and inert. Even the biological experiments he had tucked away that he'd rather not have people know of. They were his little brothers and sisters. Or maybe more like cousins you only saw every half a year or so.

Without realising it, he muttered the name of the one person he wished he could share this place with right now. Then he clapped his hands over his mouth just as the last trace of the word  crossed his lips.

He fell back into the chair again. His face was beginning to sting again, right where her palm had smacked the spit out of him. He'd never seen her so livid, so utterly furious at something. Even repeat offender bad guys or the rogues gallery of nutjobs threatening global conquest didn't get her that mad. And for the life of him, Dexter couldn't work out why she would act that way. He meant her no harm - that was the very last thing he would ever intend. He'd never known someone so amazing, so beautiful. But from her point of view, he was hurting her. That stung. Much worse than his face. Last time someone got hurt because of him, she had died a silent and sudden death in his arms. He would NEVER let that happen again and would go to any length to make sure.

But maybe that was the problem?

He still remembered picking up the phone that night to hear the shaky voice of Professor Utonium. His girls were in Townsville, their hometown. Why were they there? How? Dexter had been out of the loop on this one. All he had known was that Bubbles, ever the social butterfly, had made some sort of new friend a little older than herself. That was fine. Good for Bubbles. Next he knew, they were back in Townsville - a good 6 hour road trip from Megaville - and all hell had somehow broken loose. But Utonium wasn't scared on the phone. He was relieved. Because the worst of it was over and the girls needed to come home. Dexter had the Transys, his teleportation system. He'd gotten them out of binds with it in the past (and in some cases, made sacrifices in order to do so) so this would be another pickup job. Simple. He'd hear the juicy details of what went down later, when Blossom was ready to talk about it. They'd stayed overnight in Townsville with a friend of the family who was a police officer. Nothing to worry about; they were in good hands. The next morning, he brought them home one by one.

Blossom came through last.

And Dexter was in no way prepared for what he saw.

When Buttercup came through his teleporter without her green schoolvest and red bowtie he thought little of it. But then Blossom came through. The vest was draped around her. The red bow was tied around her bicep. Her skin was bruised, which he didn't even think was humanly possible, and her face sported a large gash across the upper cheek. Her clothes were trashed. The woman they had stayed with, to his knowledge, had a daughter. But none of her daughter's clothes would fit Blossom. So instead she wore all the scars of battle home with her. Bubbles steadied her the moment she walked off the platform - the Transys functions a lot smoother when the passenger is upright. For a long moment he just stared as the Utonium family reunited. Buttercup looked fine at first glance. Bubbles' clothes weren't even messed up. But Blossom had been through hell. Layers and layers of hell. He shoved his way into the family huddle. He took Blossom gently by the shoulders and saw her wince. He let her go again, horror-struck. "What happened to you!?" he asked. Buttercup made a sound he didn't care to identify and Bubbles had gone a bit pale. Even Professor Utonium didn't know what to say. Dexter's cerulean eyes stared into Blossom's as he awaited her answer.

What she said didn't comfort him. "I... fought."

"With who!?" was his outburst, immediate and unguarded "Who could do this to you?"

Blossom managed a weak smile. "I'm fine, really I-"

And then Dexter lost it. He turned to the Professor and told him to take his daughters home. To the much older man he must have seemed like such a bratty upstart. Dexter groaned at the thought. He was sorry then and he was still sorry now. But something possessed him after Blossom tried making light of her wounds. Immediately his brain began to piece ideas together, ways to make sure Blossom would never return beaten and battered like that again. He dreaded the thought of her coming home looking worse.... or not coming home at all. That girl meant so much to him. He'd never let anyone get close after Deedee until her. But one day's absence fighting some enemy neither she nor her sisters could explain and she's barely able to stand on her own? Dexter kept imagining that slash across her face. That beautiful, angelic face.

What if she was stuck with that horrible scar for the rest of her life because he had failed to be there for her in some way?

Dexter shook his head. In hindsight it WAS an overreaction. Blossom was made of sterner stuff and within three days the deep gash and any sign of it on her skin was totally gone. But it had been enough to set him on the path that saw him experimenting with ways to protect her. Even if it was for nobody's peace of mind but his own, he'd see her safe in the conduct of her sworn duties. It brought about his experiments with spatial folding and dimensional overlap, trying to perfect a sort of shield of dimensional energy that was entirely self-contained, self-sustaining. The perfect defense was one that was invisible to the enemy, whoever it may be. It had led to the device he built which now lay in pieces on his desk. It led to Blossom sneaking the brooch from that lost friend out of her house unbeknownst to her family. It led to...

'Done. We're done.'

Dexter groaned. His heart was a lead weight. Stuck on the front of a runaway locomotive.

Red light began to flash in his eyes but at first he didn't notice. Dexter stared resolutely at his lap, wondering what life would be like without the one person he'd gotten closer to than anyone else. He'd met Blossom a couple years ago, by his count. He was young, brash and stupid at times. Still was, he supposed, given what had transpired today. But he'd never opened up to anyone since Deedee died. He was ostracised by the class, never bothering to be the one to initiate a friendship. There was his circle of similarly bright friends who had formed their own mini-club but that half the time seemed only a means of distancing themselves from the rest. He was top of the year level. King of the educational mountain. And totally alone, at least until Blossom had appeared that one day in Ms Merrill's class. Blossom was third in class averages, second only to that Alex girl who was a transfer student from Australia or New Zealand or somewhere. She seemed nice. But she was no Blossom.

No Blossom. Those two words spun around in his mind doing a merry dance. He felt slightly dizzy. Waking up this morning he never imagined he'd finish the day having alienated himself from the one person he cared about more than anyone else. No Blossom. No Blossom.

He blinked, the red flashes irritating him. He looked up and began to ask "Computer, what-" and then cut himself short. Upon his giant holo-screen displays were a pair of enormous words, each letter easily as tall as himself. The words spanned across the 120 degree curve of the screens and strobed down on him like a spotlight. He'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he'd not even realised how long they may have been up there. And telling off the computer meant that she was doing nothing to alert him. She could be... temperamental.

INCOMING CALL

All capitals, boxed and flashing. Seemed urgent, but this was how all his communications from West Gate came through. West Gate was one of several private military companies shacked up in the less public percentage of the shared airport and armed forces base just north of Megaville. It went by a couple of names. To most of the public it was Megaville International, formerly St Auburn's New Arcata Airport after some business figurehead. However, to those more interested in the defence of this still-growing super metropolis, the site was called Joint Base Flint. Or, more unofficially, it was West Gate. Not just because the eponymous PMC was the base's largest by far, but because it was the pinnacle of United States military hardware on the west coast. Anything trying to force its way in had to use the Gate. And the Gate rarely opened for ne'er-do-wells.

West Gate, the company, had approached Dexter not long after the death of his poor sister. After that incident, knowledge of his laboratory and hidden experimentation became uncontained. Dexter's family were distant and to this day, he wasn't sure if they ever forgave him for Deedee's demise. They certainly wouldn't have known what to do if the US Government came in, prepared to seize his life's work and possibly label him a homegrown terrorist. It had been decades since the last home soil terrorist scare. But they were still cagey. If not for his sister then certainly for his lab of unsanctioned (by their standards) scientific experiments, Dexter had been sure the rest of his life would be spent in some manner of prison cell. He was barely a teenager but that wouldn't matter. Genius trumps age.

So now Dexter found himself with the rather ambiguous title of 'Independent Contractor', although the contract in itself was next to nonexistent. He got to keep his lab. He wasn't handed over to the US Government in chains. And the technology exchange as a part of their understanding gave him a world of new innovations at his fingertips. Not all of them behaved, as his sore toes and bottled frustrations could attest.

He reached out and whacked the pulsing green button on his console, answering the call that was blaring silently in front of him. No, scratch that last. The technology wasn't the main cause of his frustrations, not anymore. That had been superseded by another, stronger disappointment. One that no amount of scientific understanding could prepare him for. The words upon the screens changed. He knew there'd be only one person sending out the call and sure enough, the codename appeared. Huge digitised font. Ten letters. The name with which he referred to someone that Blossom and her sisters had never met. The word was 'HEADMASTER'.

Dexter sat back in the chair, waiting for the windowed face to appear in the centre screen. But there was no visual contact. Only their voice came through, crisp and professional, "Good day, Dexter!" Headmaster seemed cheery.

Dexter sorely wanted to disagree with their statement "Hello, Headmaster. Checking in. No visual?" He wondered if he'd have to talk to Blossom by these means later tonight. Maybe to offer an apology to placate her. Or just argue some more.

"Not at the moment. Systems overhaul. Audio only." When in professional mode, Headmaster was precise and on point. Dexter wondered what the Powerpuff Girls would make of them. "How is the technology exchange working out for you?"

Dexter nudged the backpack he'd thrown under his desk. One of West Gate's perks was their ability to disguise prototype hardware as mundane objects for secrecy. Now if only they'd make them work properly, too. "It, uh... it's not as promising as first thought." He knew then and there he'd failed to mask his disappointment, not only in his venture but in the way he'd dealt with Blossom. He wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure his voice had risen several octaves in their verbal stoush.

Headmaster pressed on "Did you hit a snag?"

Headmaster had no idea. 'Snag' didn't come close. It was worse. It was lingering. "It'll be an ongoing problem." Dexter grumbled. It was her mood that had killed the whole experiment though. Dexter's scientific prowess was unparalleled in Megaville, but he could never predict Blossom's mood from day to day.

"You'll have to send us a feedback report before we incorporate this tech into Dreifalken."

Dexter barely registered Headmaster's words. His face had begun to sting again; the pain rolled off his cheek and across his skull and down his neck in waves. The sight of those livid magenta eyes and the way she had gone so far as to guilt trip him - all over his simple attempt to make her life's work a little safer. The long term gain far outweighed initial hurdles, why couldn't she SEE that!? "I never thought she would be so difficult." he muttered.

"Sounds like the ol' girl is a tough cookie." Headmaster offered.

Dexter blinked, aware that his thoughts had been spoken and heard. His other cheek blushed up to match the other's shade of red "W-What?" If he'd been sipping his iced water it would no doubt be all over the screens by now. "How did you know?"

Headmaster seemed a bit perplexed "You just told me."

Dexter's heartbeat intensified "When!?" Oh god, how much did he end up saying!?

"Hey, calm down. I'm just talking about that delicate little trinket of yours. I know how defensive you get about your babies."

Dexter blinked. "What."

"You mean you don't? Wow, Dexter, I always thought you were the kind to assign the female pronoun to things like this. Isn't your computer considered female after all?" A soft laugh through the speakers "All the other geniuses here are like that. You should see Erich, he's just the wors-"

Dexter breathed out "Y-Yes, my trinkets. I see." The last thing he needed was for any of them to know about her troubles with Blossom.

"How's Blossom doing?" Headmaster asked casually. Dexter immediately felt his heart make another heavy thud. "She was helping you with this experiment while her sisters were out of town, right? Hope that's not inconveniencing Professor U. We're still undecided about approaching him for liaison work. The girls have enough going on right now." Headmaster paused, and when Dexter said nothing they asked again "Dexter? Is Blossom still assisting you?"

Dexter steadied his breath and clutched the armrests of his chair "I have... decided that her participation is no longer necessary. I will be venturing alone from this point forward." Another sigh. That sounded believable.

Sure enough, "I understand." Dexter felt a smile cross his face. At least SOMEONE understood him. He clenched his left fist and felt a gentle tingle that really shouldn't have been there. As if reading his mind, Headmaster queried "She still doesn't know, does she?"

Dexter flexed his fingers. He was almost tempted to remove his glove. He held off, thankful that besides the tingle everything seemed normal "No, she doesn't. And I don't think it'd be a good idea for her to find out."

"We're still looking into some compensation options for you. We think we have someone here who can assist with fixing or even improving on the damage."

Dexter groaned. That didn't sound like it'd be a comfortable transition "Keep me posted."

"I will. Unfortunately you've only got another 40 hours before the device must be returned. Final Dreifalken linkup is scheduled soon and we need all results on the table. If you can't get it to work as desired, this aspect will be scrapped in favour of a more conventional payload."

"I understand." Dexter said, mustering as much conviction in his words as he could manage.

"Hang in there, Dexter. She'll come around. Headmaster out." And just like that the screens went blank again, before calling up various day to day laboratory schematics and scans as normal.

Dexter leaned forward and took grasp of his glass of water, the chill passing through his gloves and onto his sweaty palms. Felt ideal. "Something tells me... she's not something that'll be easily fixed." He closed his eyes, picturing her face again. Only this time, she was smiling. Happy. Sitting beside him as they read comics in the schoolyard. The soft feel of her touch on his arm. His left arm. Another tingle made his eyes open and he cursed silently. He wished he could just focus on the good for once. He looked at the giant console before him, wondering if anything was worth doing after today.

And that was when he finally spotted something out of the ordinary.

A datapad sat to one side of the console. Thin, flat, and indistinguishable from the other 10 or so tablets assigned to this or that workstation. Nevertheless, Dexter always knew where they were and what state they're in, from their assigned workstation to their individual battery life. Dexter scrunched his eyes up, trying to think of the exact moment he left one of his pads lying on his main console. He couldn't, but the last few days had been almost obsessively devoted to his failing shield project. Perhaps it slipped his mind. He only brought the pads to his console if they needed to link with the computer. The last time he did that, to his memory, was several weeks ago.

He'd regret not physically checking but he was too tired to get out of his seat. He would happily fall asleep then and there. But he reached out and took the pad into his hand, tapping its screen and bringing up its display. Simple text greeted him - a screen he was familiar with. In identical font to the text on his giant screen, the words "Awaiting linkup - voice print required".

"Ugh..." Dexter grumbled. In his lab, security was everything. Nobody could access his technology without his vocal imprint. When he did any maintenance on his devices he took them offline, fixed them up and resynched them to the main computer with his spoken password. If someone stole the device or attempted to hack into it, the device would lock out and be utterly useless until Dexter's voiceprint said so. It made perfect sense. And it was a total pain in his rear.

Dexter picked up the pad, turning it over in his hand. He was an unparalleled genius but he couldn't remember taking a pad offline for any sort of maintenance. His obsession with protecting Blossom may have simply shoved the memory of doing so from his mind. Wouldn't have been the first time he overlooked something like that. The text on the screen sat patiently. Who knew how long it had even been plastered there, silently hoping for its master to come back and link it back to the mainframe. It would need his usual command prompt followed by a voice code. He knew what the code was. That was a lot harder to forget. But right now, his urge was to change it to something a little less blatant.

He thumbed the screen, calling up the voice interface. In as clear a voice he could muster  he spoke into the device "Commence device primary linkup. Authorisation..." he paused, groaning silently. Then he finished the prompt "'Strawberry Ginger'."

The pad remained inputting a moment longer, his voice registered on the screen's spectrogram which was lined in yellow. Its colour would change once the input was complete. He waited. Promptly, it turned green in silent thanks. Now would be the moment where it would unlock for him and he'd be able to determine which workstation the pad was assigned-

The screen went black.

Dexter blinked, leaning forward and staring at the device. He tapped the screen. Had its internal battery died? Was it waiting THAT long? They could run nonstop for weeks! He turned the device over. He missed it at first, too perplexed as to why the thing had just shut off. Then he saw it, at its base. A red light, strobing on and off very slowly like a beacon. The sinister red light was not something he'd built into any of his pads. He was holding something that didn't belong to him.

A blunt, stinging thud on his right arm turned his gaze from the pad. And there sat the final indignity. He had no idea what to make of its design, but the way it had pierced the sleeve of his off-white coat and latched to his flesh, beginning to make a thrumming static sound, made it utterly clear what it was. All at once a sense of sudden, even greater defeat overcame him even faster than the stun shock. As a quick burst of paralysing static raced through his body from the device, all Dexter could find himself thinking was how rotten his day had become.
© 2015 - 2020 Griddles
Statistically, geniuses struggle to cope with rejection just as much as regular people.

And now the wheels are in motion.

-G
Comments1
anonymous's avatar
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
BlossomSanderson98's avatar
The relationship between the two of them are quite interesting.