Short Stories

Side Effects

A quiet ding woke Theo. 

He pulled the blanket off his face and cursed under his breath; it was three AM.

He’d only given two people the emergency number that would get them around his phone’s do-not-disturb filter. The first was Emma. She was his younger sister and had cut off all contact with the Troxell family, except himself. He slept better knowing that she could contact him in an emergency, even if it was the dead of night. 

Thankfully, as his eyes focused, the message was not from Emma. It was from his personal assistant. This was a business emergency. 

“There’s been a disturbance. On my way to your place. More details to follow.”

Theo cursed at his ceiling. A disturbance? Damn it Sabrina, why couldn’t you be more descriptive. Given that it was the dead of night, his thoughts wandered to his rowdy sister.

Emma was a walking, talking PR disaster when she decided to lash out at their father. Last time she’d popped up in the news, she had been butt-naked at a black tie event. He was very sure that it was no coincidence their father was there as well. Their PR team worked around the clock for three days straight to spin that mess into a pro-Troxell story. Theo was thankful he’d walked away from the company a year ago. 

He was simply confused when the next text came from Emma. 

“Turn on the news. What the fuck did they do?”

Theo rushed to the hotel’s television and flicked it on. Filtering through the strange stagnant early morning programming he found a local news channel. Nothing. Larger US news channels showed nothing as well, at least, nothing more than the usual world-wide chaos. 

Dialing Sabrina was a moot point. He was immediately pushed to voicemail which meant that she was on the phone with someone important. Maybe Emma would answer instead? Worth trying.

“Theo!” Emma answered.

It had been a while since he heard her voice. He hadn’t realized how long. Last he’d seen her it was right before her twenty-first birthday. After the news reports on that, he hasn’t felt too inspired to get in touch. His therapist had finally helped scrub the images from his memory. How the hell had his father thought that was a good idea? 

“It’s a mess here.” Emma stated. He could hear a small voice in the background softly asking what was up and Emma asking sweetly to watch the shop’s counter. 

Everyone sounded safe.

“Emma.” Theo shook his head. “What’s going on, it’s 3am, what’s up?”

“3am? Where the hell are you?”

Theo looked out the window at the glowing city below. 

“A hotel in Bengaluru, I think?”

“Theo, she’s all over the news here. They’re following her like it’s a chase scene from an action movie.”

Fuck. The news wasn’t about Emma. It must have been about their baby step-sister Mila. She wasn’t as much of a trouble maker as Emma but she had her own issues with things like rules and being told what to do. It wouldn’t have been the first time the police showed up after one of her tantrums.

“Please tell me Mila isn’t having her own Emma Troxell moment here?

“Okay first, rude. Second no. It’s a blanked girl.”

“Blanked?” He was cut off by his phone buzzing. It was Sabrina. Theo quickly explained to Emma and switched over to hear what his assistant had to say. 

“Give me the details.”

“Yes sir.” Theo could hear fear in her voice. “At 3am local time, and 6pm at FSU, a volunteer under the influence of BLNK was abducted from the Center.”

“Fuck, that’s bad.”

He heard a hurt sounding gasp.

“It’s not you Sabrina, sorry for the language. Keep going. You’re doing great. Have they found her? Is she okay? How are her vitals?”

It wasn’t well known, partially for security reasons, but the Center’s requisite collar was not only a tracking device but also has some basic biometric tracking. It was a safety feature he’d insisted on before he’d walked away from his job as Troxell Co’s head of R+D. 

“The girl’s vitals are unknown, sir. The Center’s collar had been removed.”

“How?” The collar was the strongest material Troxell’s QC and Safety Team were able to engineer that wasn’t either horribly toxic or known to cause cancer in the state of California.

“Unknown sir. What is known is that it was the girl’s ex-boyfriend. It was a forceful abduction. He’s armed.”

“Is everyone at the Center okay?”

“Yes sir. The staff there has confirmed that they’re flustered, but safe. The nurses there are eager to, quote, see him ripped to shreds.”

Ripped to shreds. That was exactly what was worrying about the situation. The idiot had the a collarless, blanked girl in the back of his van and was hauling ass down the highway. If she wasn’t terrified yet, she would be soon enough.

“Sabrina you’ve done great. Meet me in my room when you arrive. I’ve got Emma on hold. She’s in the area at her coffee shop, I think. She’ll almost definitely be able to help out more than we will.”

“Thank you sir. I’ll be right there.”

Theo flipped back to Emma’s call.

“What’s the news Emma?”

“Just what’s Sal showed me on her laptop.” Emma said. “It’s not anyone we know, thankfully.”

Theo wanted to ask who Sal was. His sister had always struggled to make friends. Was Sal someone close? Did she work at the Cafe? How was that even going? He regretted not talking to her more but he wanted to respect her space; to let her live her own life away from the family too.  

“Are you close?” Theo finally said. How long had it been since they’d talked anyways?

“It’s only a few miles away. We can get there, if we hurry.”

“Emma, no! Don’t. It’s dangerous, let the police handle it. It’s not your job to clean up dad’s messes.”

He waited for a response. Only after there was a knock on the door did he realize that the line had gone dead.

“Emma’s gone to try to intervene,” Theo said as he ushered Sabrina into the room. She looked surprisingly put-together for it being three in the morning, at least compared to his sweats and baggy shirt.

“I’ve got the chief of police on the line. I’ll warn them that she’s on her way.”

“Hopefully they can stop her if they see her.” 

“There’s a news copter on scene and they’re following.” Sabrina pulled out a laptop from the messenger bag slung over her shoulder, opened it and plopped it on the counter near where Theo had stared pacing.

The screen flickered on to a live-stream. A different social feeds showed a decade-old SUV careening down the highway. Local news anchors struggled to keep up with numerous, but nearly useless, check-ins.

The feed flipped over to a video, clearly shot from a smartphone. In it the ragged looking man was leading the woman to the truck, as if they were on a walk around campus. The only only thing that seemed suspicious was the man’s demeanor. He seemed twitchy, constantly tugging at the woman who was dreamily following him as if she were a puppy with a new master. The clip ended with the girl being ushered into the car before the man caught the amateur videographer and started demanding that he delete the video.

“I’ve gotten in touch with the police chief. They will be on the lookout, sir.”

“Thanks Sabrina. If you still have him on; tell him to stay clear. The poor girl’s been blanked. She wont remember too much of this anyways.” At least she she had that going for her. Let the guy run himself until he’s exhausted. Play the waiting game until things cool down. Maybe they could use tranquilizers. Police had those, right?

“Sabrina?” Theo said, afraid to ask. 

“Yes, sir?” Her face popped back around a corner, phone still in hand. 

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” Theo ran his hands over her cheeks and started at the feed, which promptly cut out. The news livestream switched back to the anchors, who assured the audience that the police were handling the affair. Unceremoniously, they went about their mundane daily announcements as if nothing was wrong at all.

“What happened?” Sabrina asked. Theo almost jumped.

“Dad probably. Some of his suits probably got them to hush up the mess.”

“That poor girl.”

“She’ll be fine.” Theo bowed his head into his hands.

“Fine? Sir!” Sabrina gasped.

“I don’t mean to be callous. Look, you know what BLNK feels like.”

Sabrina blushed.

“She wont remember this when she wakes up. BLNK dumbs down your higher brain functions and ramps up your central nervous system. It makes good things feel really damn good, right? There’s more to it.”

A buzz. Emma again. This time, a video call. 

Theo opened it and propped it up for his assistant to see.

Emma spoke as she hurried through a busy plaza. He couldn’t hear her over the panicked commotion around her. Flipping her camera she showed that ahead the kidnapper’s car had spun out, high-centering itself on a cement and steel fountain. The woman was the first to emerge, splashing down into the fountain’s water. In a daze she stepped out on the car, wide-eyed only to have a dozen guns pointed at the car right behind her. Twice as many voices shouted at the man, who now bloodied, kicked open another door and hopped into the fountain to recapture his prey. Brandishing a gun, he hobbled towards his prisoner, ignoring the shouts of the officers. The whipped between the crowd, the officers, and the captured woman who was slowly balling herself up. A hand grabbed Emma, whipping the camera away from the scene. Shouts. Gunshots. The video cut. 

“Emma!”

“Here.” Sabrina turned the laptop to face him. It was another feed, already being shown on repeat on a news site. The view was from a helicopter, he could see Emma’s signature grey hair rushing towards what looked like a the heaviest, most armored police vehicle in the area. Not even their father’s influence could halt another breaking story featuring the now-infamous Emma Troxell.

To both Theo and Sabrina’s relief, it didn’t seem like anyone had been injured. In the chaos the man had fled with the woman into an old clothing store that looked to be currently abandoned, based on the numerous real estate signs littering the windows. The gunshots they’d heard had been him firing through a window to make an entrance. 

Theo tried calling Emma back. No answer.

He started to pace the room, his mind afire with different ways to help; all impotent since he was thousands of miles away. 

“She still looked calm.” Sabrina broke a long silence.

“The blank girl?” 

Sabrina nodded. 

“That means she’s still enjoying herself, right?” Sabrina gave a nervous smile.

“They crashed.” Theo countered. “Even if she were some sort of adrenaline junkie, it can’t be much longer until she snaps.”

His phone rang again. 

“Hey Theo.” It was Emma’s face again. Over her shoulder was a stern looking woman with tired bags under her eyes. 

“Theo, this is Officer Collins.”

“Sergeant Collins.” The woman corrected. “This girl here says you’re Troxell’s head tech guy. We are in the middle of a hostage situation so you damn well better have something real fuckin’ important.”

“You need to tranquilize the blanked woman.”

“Trying real hard not to be shitty here but you have exactly fuck all time to explain why.”

“The girl is blanked. She’s stressed and starting to freak out.” Emma’s voice burst from behind. Theo could see that she’d been handcuffed and was being lead into an open police car.

“Then she can get therapy.” Sergeant Collins asserted. “The Center folks said she’ll snap out of it.”

Another shot rug out. Emma’s phone dropped to the ground. 

Theo hopped back to the laptop where the helicopter was still circling. The feed was clearly delayed at least a full minute. He saw Emma run up to an officer, get tackled, then lead to the Sergeant.

The plaza was empty when the kidnapper was thrown like a limp ragdoll out of one of the shop’s windows.

“Don’t hurt her. Tranquilize her!” Theo could hear Emma shout almost lost among many.

“Theo.” Sabrina gasped. “What’s going on?”

“It’s BLNK.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. “It wasn’t originally some party drug.”

On the scene the woman can bolting out of the storefront. With an unearthly howl leaped and landed on the man. With furious swipes she tore and swung at his chest like a creature gone rabid. 

“It was supposed to make soldiers unstoppable by uncovering a deep, dark urge to hurt hidden in everyone. Turns out, deep down and beneath everything, animals, all of us, just want connection. We want to feel close, safe, and wanted. Dad wanted wolves and got golden retrievers. Cute, cuddly things full of love.”

“But what’s happening to her then?” Sabrina asked as the woman on the screen flung the her once-captor as if he were weightless.

“Well, golden retrievers are the number one cause of dog bites, that’s what. That’s the thing about cornered pets. Beneath all that kindness and obedience is something that never forgot how to be wild and fierce. They just never need to be anything but friendly. Corner them? Flight or flight? Fear? Well, people forget they have big, sharp teeth and a pet can use them whenever they need.”

On the screen the woman took the man’s gun and smashed it against the ground with a manic fervor, successfully mangling it, then flung the pieces. She again turned to the kneeling man. Unable to fight back, he dropped to the ground. He was too weak to grovel, too weak to crawl away. 

“The collars don’t just keep the blanks safe. They track their vitals and allow intervention before things go bad, before something happens that makes the blank feel unsafe. Everything stays fun. Everyone stays safe.”

The blanked woman stood above her now prey. With a jolt she looked to her side, where Emma stood, hands still cuffed, reaching out as a friend.

“Will she remember it?” Sabrina asked as Emma whispered soothing words to the feral thing ahead of her. 

“No. She’ll wake up just like any blank. But…”

“But everyone who saw her will remember, won’t they?”

“They’ll see a monster tearing someone apart. It’ll be a good lesson for the next bastard who tries to hurt a blank.”

One the feed the blank’s muscles were loosening. Her pose relaxed and the tightness around her eyes loosened. After a minute or two of Emma’s sweet, cooing talk, the blank’s posture returned to a relaxed, blank-faced look that they were known for. The feed cut away from Emma, who was leading the blank towards the Sergeant. It instead focused on the swarm of officers and paramedics descending on the failed abductor. 

“Will she be okay?” Sabrina asked, closing the laptop.

“The woman or Emma?” Theo shrugged. “Emma will be fine. She’ll probably eat up the attention. The woman? Well she’ll wake up feeling like she had a nice dream and, I imagine, a little sore in ways she probably didn’t expect. BLNK burns calories like crazy but boosts healing in exchange.”

Sabrina chuffed. 

“Hey! Theo?” Emma’s voice hollered from the phone’s screen. 

“Hey Emma.” Theo smiled. “You did great. I think you just saved the day.”

“My little blank here did great too.” Emma winked and panned her camera to the blank being ushered into an ambulance. Behind her the girl was collared again while getting examined by a small army of paramedics. She, like any calm blank, was enchanted by every touch on her bare skin. 

“I think I’m gonna keep her.” Emma smiled, bringing the camera back to her face. “Not literally, I mean. I have a pet already. They said her name is Jacki.  She’s going to be all over the news now. Maybe I’ll offer her a job at the cafe? I bet she’d fit in great.”

“So, you have a coffee shop?” Theo asked. 

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Emma showing a sad smile. “Mila stopped by a while back. I miss hanging out. I miss you.”

“I wanted to give you space after you went no contact with everyone.” Theo sighed. “I didn’t know if you wanted me, you know, around or not. I hadn’t heard from you in over a year. Then I saw you all over the news after your birthday a few months ago. I didn’t want to intrude on whatever that was, whatever your new life was.”

“Well, her name is Sal. Are you really head of R+D now?” Emma asked.

“No. I quit. Dad and I had a falling out. I ended up leaving.” Theo paused. “You know how he can be.”

“A sociopath?” Sabrina chimed in, patting Theo’s back.

“Ooh, who’s that?” Emma tried to peek behind Theo as if they weren’t a thousand miles apart. 

“Hello miss Emmaline.” Sabrina waved. “It’s a pleasure to finally see you again.”

“Sabrina?” Emma almost shouted. “My old roommate from Beau Soleil?”

“She’s um.” Theo stuttered. 

“I thought you got an internship doing cyber security somewhere?”

“It was for Troxell.” Sabrina smiled. “I left along with Theo. I’m his personal intern now.”

“Theo!” Emma cackled.

“Emma!” Theo hollered back.

“You are an HR nightmare.” Emma laughed.

“Me?” Theo almost choked. “Me? I’m an HR nightmare? I am still getting calls every day asking about how I’m coping with the whole tower thing!”

“Don’t tease my brother too much it makes him cranky.” Emma blew a mocking kiss at the screen.

“Emma.” Theo protested.

“I know. It’s been too long. I’m not teasing you. I really miss you. I mean it.” Emma interrupted. “A lot changed in a year.”

“Make him come visit Sabrina.” Emma added. She’d now found her way to a seat next to the blanked girl and was petting her head as if she were a cat.

“I’ll do my best miss.” Sabrina added. 

“Love you bro.” Emma smiled.

“You too.” Theo answered.

With that Emma ended the call. 

“Can we go see her soon?” Sabrina laughed.

“If you’re good.”

“Make me.” Sabrina smiled.

“See?” Theo sighed. “That’s what she does. She just gets people riled up. Emma’s like gasoline on a fire. Are you going to be bratty about it now?”

“I might be. Sometimes.” Sabina smiled. “Not tonight though. I have plans, sir. Had plans, that is, until this emergency. Plans you’re not supposed to know about yet. Go rest. You’ll find out soon enough and you’ll be very proud.”

This is the first SFW/worldbuilding story that I got to post. It’s noticeably less kinky than the rest and I hope people don’t hate it too much. I felt compelled post it though. After about three years writing “PotluckSoup” someone finally asked how consent works when mind-altering drugs are involved. Since this is a fictional world, I can make up something fun. Hulk-mode rage monsters seemed like fun. Plus, I really like that it was developed as a “super-solider” drug and was a failure because people just wanted hugs.

In real life? Well, much to the DARE Matriarch Nancy Reagan’s chagrin, drug-play is definitely a thing. Of course it is. Have you ever met a human? They’re insatiably horny. Of course people have ironed out the rules on how consent works when mind altering substances are involved. Those familiar with kink play might see some similarities.

First off, it’s always good to try it out something new with someone you trust and is, if possible, experienced. Once you’re set with that; always remember you or your parter(s) can revoke consent at any time. Those are the basic rules of any play. Now, adding mind-altering substances makes things more nuanced and the key is two things. First, enthusiastic consent must be given free from coercion. Everyone should be hyped to be involved in what’s going on. Don’t have everyone’s enthusiastic consent? Don’t even bother. Go home, jerk off, and try again some other time. And, as already said, consent can also be revoked at any time, so keep checking in.

Second, the person cannot be incapacitated. This kind of goes back to the first point. Incapacitated people can’t give consent. Consent should be clear and unambiguous. Dartmouth actually posted a very useful resource about inebriation vs incapacitation.

Still not sure? Don’t risk it.

So thanks for reading my little soapbox about drugs and enthusiastic consent. Be safe out there. What’s next? Well, Haley fans, are you feeling lucky?

– PotluckSoup

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