Contract: Chapter Four

[If you haven’t done so already read the introduction here]

The next morning she was woken up by some sort of alarm going off. It was nothing more than a beeping from the monitor on the TV across from her bed. She groaned softly, feeling terribly hungover. Probably the worst she’d ever felt after a night of getting wasted. She was never doing that again, at least not if she could help it. She sat up and saw that breakfast was supposed to be at 8am. This left her only ten minutes to get ready. Next to the schedule, there was an outfit. It was a slinky black dress with heels. That was it. Literal pictures of the items and only two. Nothing that indicated she should even be wearing undergarments. She’d remembered what he said about following it exactly so that was what she was going to have to do.

It took some massive willpower to get out of bed and into the bathroom to shower as quickly as possible. She knew that she needed to eat so it would be unwise to tempt fate and be late for breakfast. With her hair as long as it was, this made things nearly impossible. She wanted to wash it but knew that would definitely make her late so she just clipped it up to avoid the hassle. She figured she could just come back later and do it. It wasn’t really all that dirty to begin with but she felt so gross after what had happened the night before. She still felt the bandage he’d placed over the burn he’d left. She ripped it off after stepping out of the shower and over to the sink to brush her teeth.

By the time she was out of the bathroom, she was down to four minutes. She headed into the closet which was on the other side of the monitor and grabbed the items that he wanted her to wear. Everything was very neatly laid out in there and self-explanatory. At least he’d made things easy to find. This left her with two minutes to get down to the dining room where she had been before. She hurried out of the bedroom and down the hall, trying to remember where exactly this room was placed in the house. It seemed like a near-impossible task feeling the way she did that morning.

In a panic, she rushed down to the first floor in the direction she believed the room to be in. Checking every other room and door until she found it. She scrambled over to the table and sat down in the spot she’d taken before. He was already there looking pretty amused at this whole predicament. She didn’t want to look directly at him. He was freaking her out. He picked up his coffee mug and took a sip.

“Looks like you made it. Thirty seconds to spare.” He said, his voice seemingly more rough that morning than it had previously been. There was something off about the way he spoke. Maybe a bit of an accent. It was as if he said words mostly correct but he still sounded like someone who had learned English secondarily. His pronunciation wasn’t native in the slightest. The only reason this was weird was because all their intel denoted that he was American. Then again, there wasn’t much intel on this guy at all. Not that the FBI could access at least. There was only so far back they could trace his history and then everything got murky and confusing. Where he was actually from was definitely a mystery but it couldn’t have originally been American.

“Right,” She nodded, “So what’s for breakfast?” He smiled at her and food was brought in a few moments later. In front of him was set a nice plate of scrambled eggs, pancakes, and sausage. There was also a glass of orange juice. In front of her was set a glass which contained two raw eggs. There also seemed to be possibly some salt and pepper in there for a bit of seasoning but that was it. Though this was by far not something she liked to eat, she’d had her share of raw eggs before. Mostly for health, training, and fitness reasons. It was better than nothing and she knew what she faced if she didn’t consume them. She picked up the glass and downed the raw egg concoction without a word. Then she set the glass back down in front of her.

“Interesting, usually get more complaints about that one.” Lex said then chuckled as he started to eat.

“You get about the same amount of protein from that, I think. Had a fitness trainer explain it to me once. Gotta stay in shape if you wanna be a dancer right?” She asked then laughed nervously hoping that he bought that.

“So you’ve done it before?” He replied.

“Yeah, more out of laziness than anything.” She shrugged, “Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking. Not great at it either.” None of that was true but for all he knew she barely did anything other than exotic dancing and snorting coke.

“With this dancing you…like it?” He asked.

“How much can I like it if I’m here trying to win this money?” She replied, which she felt was a valid enough response for who she was supposed to be.

“How did you get into it?” He asked. She watched him as he meticulously cut up his food before actually starting to eat it. She could see areas that he’d even portioned off for some reason, almost as if he was planning to give her that amount and eat the rest. She didn’t know yet.

“Didn’t finish high school so I mean not many options outside of this. Guess I could have been a hooker but that seemed like too much. Once I saw the money-”

“Ah that’s it isn’t it. Money is always such a draw to your type. Cash in hand, no questions asked, no tax deductions. Can’t be traced.” He said then chuckled as if what he just said was funny for some reason.

“If you are so disgusted by people wanting money why do you do this?” She asked.

“Money is just what gets them in the door.” He said and kept eating, “Once here well, then I do what I like. I suppose it all balances out since I’m more interested in behavior than profit. I told you this is inconsequential to me.”

“How many people have you actually-”

“Already told you I can’t answer that.” He cut her off then glared at her, “Try asking again and you’ll certainly regret it.”

“What about you?” She asked, “I mean, who are you really? What kind of things do you like to do? Other than this.” He stopped chewing, giving her the weirdest look she’d seen yet. It was almost as if either he didn’t have an answer or no one had bothered to ever ask him this so he didn’t know what to say. He blinked a few times then froze entirely as if his mind were a computer and there was a slight delay in processing. One of his eyes drifted oddly to the side before coming back to center. His gaze focusing in on her again.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Guess I’d like to get to know you if I’m here is all. Is there anything else you find fun?” She asked again.

“Why do you care?” He asked. This was something he’d said before. Seemed like his go to answer when he was stalling for time or trying to deflect.

“Shouldn’t I care? I’m poised to spend an entire year here with you. A month at very least. Shouldn’t I want to care?” She asked. He shook his head and reached for his coffee mug, picking it up to take another sip. He set it down slowly and cleared his throat.

“Your kind typically doesn’t.” He said, “Most just look at me with disgust, or fear. Maybe a combination of both. They don’t ask. Not really. More questions of why I’m doing this, why I want this. Like you asked last night but they never about me.”

“Okay so…do you have an answer or no?” She asked. He gave her a look and finished eating what he hadn’t portioned off. He set his fork down and took a mouthful of orange juice, except he didn’t swallow it. He grabbed the empty glass that had once held the raw eggs and spit it out into that then set it down in front of her. She knew what this meant, even if she hated it. With a shaky hand she picked up the glass and downed it without any complaint. Mostly to see what he’d do. It made her stomach turn, even worse than the eggs had, but that had been the fastest way to end that. She tried her best not to look as disgusted as she felt. He glared at her and sat back in his chair.

“I have different hobbies, yes. Not sure any of it would interest the likes of you.” He said,

“Try me.” She replied, wishing she had literally anything else to drink to clear her mouth of the taste of that. Even just the idea of what she’d just done was bothering her. It was incredibly risky and unhealthy to do what she had. She barely knew the guy. He picked up his fork and grabbed the few bites of pancakes left before putting them in his mouth. He started to chew slowly and deliberately while looking right at her. After another moment, he spit that back out on the plate and slid it in her direction. He was really trying her nerves with this move but it seemed the more she didn’t resist the more he was willing to answer. She picked up her fork, used it to grab the disgustingly discarded food and eat it. Attempting not to gag or completely puke while doing it was a challenge but she did manage to swallow after quite a long moment of convincing her brain that’s what she wanted.

“Reading. Writing code. Most of it experimental and nothing you’d understand. Developing much of the technology you see around you for my own personal use.” He said, “Why haven’t you said anything?”

“About what?” She asked, her hands on her thighs under the table. She started to dig her nails in to keep from screaming. Her breathing slow and regular as she tried not to trigger her gag reflex enough to puke.

“What I just fed you.” He said,

“I don’t have a choice and I’m hungry. It’s not preferable but it’s better than nothing.” She replied honestly. There was really no other way to think about it. She did abhor the connotations of eating what he was giving her and how but she would, in general, get the same or similar nutritional value from it. The risk of contamination was minimal because he was definitely in good health with his age, size, and appearance. Her immune system could handle it just fine. At worst she’d get mildly sick. She doubted he had any sort of serious diseases or problems that she couldn’t just recover from should that happen. It was far more mental than physical what he was doing to her.

“But you don’t like it.” He said, it wasn’t a question.

“Can’t say that I do. No. Beggars can’t be choosers and I did put myself in this situation so blaming you for my own actions seems counterproductive.” She replied. He glared at her and picked up his mug of coffee again. He took a sip and made a face.

“Cold.” He said, sticking his finger in it and moving it around. He then stood up and dumped the rest of the thing over her head. It was indeed cold, he hadn’t been lying about that, but it didn’t make the experience any less unpleasant. After that he threw the mug against the wall where it shattered and he left. She didn’t know what any of that had been about but she guessed this meant breakfast was now over and she was dismissed. Shivering in disgust and the cold air because of the liquid she got to her feet. At least now she could shower without much time restraints. Lunch wasn’t scheduled until noon.

*****

It took a good ten minutes to figure out how to get back to her room. She’d known it was on the third floor but it seemed like doors were constantly switching places in his estate. Maybe it was just that she was mentally exhausted and there was a large area to search. She wasn’t sure. As she was walking into the bathroom the TV screen flickered to life and there was an image of an exceedingly stunning woman on it. The background was black. She remembered that Lex was some sort of innovator in artificial intelligence so she could only assume this was a type of computer program. She stepped back and looked at the woman who seemed to be looking at her.

“Good morning Alice. I am your Mandated Automatic Mechanized Assistant.” The woman said in a pleasing voice. She had blond hair and ice blue eyes. Her lips were full and pouty but there was some ethereal beauty about her, far more than sexy. “Mama for short. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Whoa,” She said softly, it was like a real person was talking to her. It didn’t sound like a machine at all. “Can you see me? How does this work?” She moved her hand over the screen watching as Mama’s eyes followed the motion. She glanced around the room after that, there were no sensors or cameras, at least not that she could see with her naked eye, but something was tracking her motion somehow. He hadn’t been lying about any of this, especially programming and coding that she’d never understand.

“I am programmed to assist with all of your needs, assess your physical status, and answer any questions or requests you might have when Lex is absent.” She said, “So, is there anything I can help you with?”

“Yes, Lex dumped coffee on me at breakfast. My clothes are dirty and soaked. Am I allowed to get cleaned up?” She asked.

“Lex would prefer you to be clean so yes, you can shower. Or bathe. What temperature would you like the water? I can set it for you now.” Mama told her.

“Kind of hot, just a shower is fine.” She replied. A second later she heard the water start to run in the bathroom. She didn’t know why this feature kicked in just now but it was helpful, or it seemed to be. She wouldn’t be surprised if it was just another way to study and spy on her because that seemed to be the entire point of Lex’s game. “What do I wear after I get out of the shower?”

“The same items Lex chose for your daily schedule. There should be a duplicate dress in the closet where you got the first. Your shoes appear to be fine.” Mama told her. She wasn’t sure how a computer program could tell any of that but she looked down to confirm and saw that her shoes hadn’t really been affected by the coffee. Weird.

“Thank you.” She said, “What kind of questions can you answer?”

“You may ask anything you want but I cannot tell you everything you wish to know.” Mama replied. “Curious about something?”

“Where is Lex from?” She asked, “I think he has a bit of an accent.”

“That information is classified.” Mama said. She didn’t really expect a straight answer to asking that but she guessed it was worth a shot.

“What is his favorite color?” She asked.

“Yellow. It reminds him of sunshine, happiness, and warmth. Like my hair.” She motioned to her flowing blond locks that were, indeed, a light golden color. Nothing bright yellow or artificial but a shade of such. “He also adores blue. Like my eyes.” She motioned to those as well.

“Does he have a favorite food?” She asked.

“These questions are atypical of contract holders by a wide margin. 78.1% of contract holders ask me for meal plans. 13.4% ask me about potential future punishments and possible activities that have been scheduled. 3.2%-”

“That’s nice and all, Mama, but that’s not what I asked you.” She said, “How’s this. How many contract holders asked you something about Lex?” She cut the thing off.

“One. Not including you.” Mama told her.

“Which one?” She asked.

“That information is classified and I’m sure Lex has already informed you that you know better than to ask.” Mama said in a very condescending tone. She laughed softly and pulled her dress off. She knew that one person that was being referred to other than herself had to have been Rika. This dumb computer program didn’t need to confirm it.

“Right so is there anything you can tell me about former contract holders?” She asked.

“That all of them consented verbally to the risks, treatments, and conditions they found themselves in here.” Mama told her. “That and 0% have ever asked what Lex’s favorite food was. Prior to you of course.”

“Are you allowed to answer that question?” She asked.

“Lex most favored food is Pelmeni.” Mama replied. “This is based on statistical data of how much he has requested that for a meal.”

“What is that?” She asked.

“Pelmeni is a meat dumpling, most traditional in Russian cuisine.” Mama told her.

“Drink?” She asked.

“Kvas.” Mama said, “On average Lex consumes 3.5 glasses of home brewed Kvas per evening.”

“Huh, good to know. Thank you.” She said and headed into the bathroom thinking that would be the end of that. She got into the shower and took her hair down so she could get it wet and make sure to wash the coffee out of it.

“Why are you interested in what sort of food Lex favors?” She heard the voice coming from, well, somewhere in the bathroom a moment later.

“I just like to know stuff about people. Guess you could call me nosy. Maybe it’s something I should learn to cook if he likes it that much, right?” She replied trying to just sound nice about it. Almost as if she really liked him and wanted to be his girlfriend. She didn’t, but her alter ego was kind of supposed to be a ditzy slut so she had to play the part. If she said what the real reason was, it’d be suspicious. Though, it definitely gave her a lot of information, potentially. He was possibly Russian or at least had origins from that area of the world. It made sense with his odd speech and pronunciation of words but the accent still wasn’t very Russian. There had to be a reason that was his favorite food and drink though. It was a breadcrumb of a clue but it was better than nothing.

“0% of contract holders have ever made such a statement until-”

“Yeah me, I know. Maybe I’m just not like the others. Is that such a problem?” She replied and grabbed a bottle of shampoo from the nice shelf that was in the shower area.

“No problem. Just, it can get boring repeating myself day in and out. I guess it’s refreshing to have someone who wants unique information.” Mama replied.

“How often does Lex access the information that you collect?” She asked as she started to work the shampoo through her hair.

“Lex does not access my information on contract holders until after the process is complete and the current contract is ended.” Mama said.

“How do I know you’re not lying?” She replied. After that, there was silence. This Mama program was really good. Astounding even. How Lex had anything like this was a borderline miracle. She’d been familiar with other programs like Siri and random computer assistants but nothing to this level. She also didn’t know if she could trust what this program said. Even if Lex didn’t access the data until the contracts were shredded he could still hear and see her through the collar. Not to mention probably anything else he had in that room to watch. Would it matter? He could be listening at any time it’s why she had to be careful about what she asked and said. So far she believed it was reasonable for her ‘character’ to ask these sort of things. Especially if she had a good explanation behind asking. Already the paranoia of the situation was starting to creep into her bones, though. It was almost as if she could constantly feel Lex’s dead eyed stare burning into the depths of her very soul.

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Author, screenwriter, snarky realist and horror expert!

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Nadia Valentine

Nadia Valentine

Author, screenwriter, snarky realist and horror expert!

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