Gilded Cage (02)


Posted by DrZeus on July 31, 2001 at 16:18:36:

(Scene opens to the tune of David Bowie's "Young Americans"....)

Bethany Jane Collins (simply 'Bethany' to her countless legions of fans) was feeling pretty smug. She was the "it" girl of the moment. Her latest CD had gone platinum with a bullet... the tour was selling out in all venues... and things were going so well on the road that her handlers had agreed to let her play hookey for the night.

Jetting from New Orleans to her exclusive hideout on Sannibel Island before the next show in Dallas, she mused on how well she had managed to kill two birds with one stone-- getting some private playtime with her latest conquest (a relatively unknown young male model who had the most incredibly talented tongue!), and dumping her previous studboy-- an up and coming young actor who was trying to break out of his television career and into film. Much like the string of golden boys that preceded him, Eric had turned out to be lame lame lame. Sure, he was good in bed... but he lacked imagination. Bethany craved new experiences... and her new toy, Sean, was both attentive and properly awed by her celebrity status.

Bethany was a product of the O-town pop factory... the latest in a string of manufactured bubblegum stars that seemed to spring from obscurity to overexposure in the blink of an eye. She had been born to an upper middle class family with society ties... new money, but money nonetheless. Raised in relative obscurity, her mother had started her on the kiddie pageant circuit at a very young age... her childhood had been filled with dance lessons, singing instruction... then finally television commercials and a kiddie cable show. Mom was ecstatic. It was no big secret that the Mother was living vicariously through her daughter's success. Bethany didn't fault her in the least. "Let Mom have her little thrills", she thought, "...while _I_ sample the platter that life has to offer!"

Bethany's youthful appearance belied her 22 years of privileged life. This was no mere accident... rather a shrewd and calculated marketing ploy on the part of the producers who had recruited and groomed her for bubblegum stardom. Market studies had shown that the previous female bubblegum stars, all pretty much in their 'jailbait' years, had amassed a pretty respectable "closet" fan base-- young adult to middle aged males who couldn't help but drool over the fresh and bouncy images they were bombarded with on a daily basis. But Bethany was different... the unspoken message seemed to be: "Go ahead and drool openly boys... this one is legal".

Settling back in the plush first class seating of the private jet they had rented for the jaunt, Bethany stretches like a satisfied kitten and gives her bodyguard Vic a smile across the aisle. Vic returns the smile and goes back to his sports magazine, secretly relieved that "the princess" (as she was not-so-affectionately referred to by most of her support staff) seemed to be satisfied and content for a change. Out of the corner of his eye, Vic notes that his "assistant", a burly muscleboy by the name of Deke (who had blown his shot at an NFL career by way of a drunken college brawl that had landed him a nice little manslaughter charge), was once again picking his teeth and examining the 'findings'. "Christ..." Vic thinks... "I told him... she catches him doing that and he'll be 'gross'...", which was pretty much synonymous with 'dismissed' in the princesses entourage. Vic just rolls his eyes and gets back to the latest rundown of draft picks, surrounded by the comforting white noise hum of the learjet's engines as it streaks through the cloudy night sky, crossing the Gulf of Mexico for it's rendezvous with 'princesses playpen'.

After a while, the flight attendent starts making his rounds... starting with Bethany of course... who orders her usual double Pina Colada. As she takes her drink from the vaguely attractive but sorta old guy, Bethany can't help but feel that his eyes are lingering a bit more than they should, and she makes a mental note to complain to the charter service. "After all..", she thinks, "a firm that specializes in catering to celebrities like herself should damn well be briefing their people on maintaining a proper distance when serving the clientele!"

Vic simply grunts that a "mineral water will be fine"... and a hard stare back at Deke pretty much tells _him_ to follow suit, instead of his usual "Budwahser". Vic had been having a devil of a time keeping Deke off the suds during on-duty time, and he'd be damned if _he_ was going to catch any flak for Deke's seemingly endless thirst for "Budwahser"...

Surprisingly, none of this is lost on Bethany, who took a secret delight in Vic's eternal struggle to keep Deke from being a total fuckup... so when the barely audible "fwup fwup" sounds register from behind her... and Vic starts clawing at the back of his neck in some sort of drunken pantomime, she starts giggling, thinking that Deke has shot a spitball or something at Vic in retaliation for the mineral water eyeballs... but then she sees the small matte black wasp... no... a dart... sticking out of the back of Vics neck... and Deke pitches over the seatback next to her.

Bethany's short hairs stand up on the back of her neck.

For a heartbeat she sits frozen...

...and is rewarded by a sharp sting slamming into the fleshy side of her neck... and a wave of soft fire that radiates from the impact point as the tranq drug quickly takes effect... blunting her belated attempt to leap from the seat-- instead she makes a spastic half-turning fall that wedges her against the seatback in front of her... looking back at her attacker...

The flight attendent just smiles...wisps of Co2 vapor still rising from the open end of a disposable pen that he holds pointed at her... and he nods in response to the barely audible question that she struggles to form as she quickly sinks into the fog of the tranq drug-- "wh.. who.."

The guy's grin gets wider... an obscene parody of the grin-lock she had seen on the faces of her teenybopper fans during autograph signings...

"Bethany... I am your biggest fan", he says simply.

It's the last thing Bethany hears before the fog turns ominously black and she goes under.

Richard quickly retrieves his darts and props his impromptu party of three back into a rough semblence of sleep-seating, then reloads the dart-pen and trundles the drink cart up to the cockpit.

Two more "fwups" later and a quick check of the autopilot, and Richard returns, whistling as he leaves the cockpit. He kicks the drink cart into the front side-galley and grabs a heavy jacket and backpack from the overhead cabinets, then trots quickly over to Bethany's row. He puts on the gear and plucks a small plastic packet from one of the jacket's many pockets, then kneels down next to the slumbering pop-singer...

His gaze lingers for a moment... "Like an Angel" he muses... and he hums a few bars of Bethany's latest hit, chuckling to himself and brushing a stray lock of blonde hair back from her eyes, then pulling the fresh hybrid collar from it's packet and curling it around her all-american cheerleaders neck.

Richard flicks the end caps off the new collar with his thumbs and holds the bare ends together, watching the almost imperceptible blur as nanotech devices knit the material together at the molecular level, joining circuitry and leather, and cinching the collar to a predetermined snugness, the extra material bled off in a cool wispy smoke of discarded metal and organic particles.

Satisified that it was primed, he lets go of the collar and grabs the discarded caps, shoving them into his pocket and waiting for the joining process to complete...

When the surface of the collar joint shines with the same consistency as the rest of the material, Richard pulls the Fob from his pocket and quickly punches in the sequence for the calibration routine... and the Collar glows faintly red... Bethany moaning and stiffening as the dull ache of calibration manages to cause uneasy dreams in her tranq'ed down haze...

Richard clicks his teeth impatiently... and is finally rewarded by a tiny chime from the Fob... calibration complete. His grin couldn't be any wider as he switches modes and points the Fob at the elegant Collar, wrapped snug around the pop singer's long and lovely neck...

"It's showtime Beths", Richard murmurs as his thumb mashes down on the oval button...

The collar glows a faint hazy Cherenkov blue... then in an eyeblink, Bethany's travel clothes-- wide bell bottomed hip hugger jeans and an untied midriff shirt.. lay empty across the seating... almost like a tube of clothing. Her heavy cloggy shoes fall to the aisle with twin thumps as the "clothes tube" settles flat... except... for a small outline bulging about where the shirt and pants hems meet.

Richard gingerly spreads the shirt and pants fabric apart... and inhales sharply when he reveals Bethany Collins, naked and perfectly formed... no larger than a Barbie Doll. He unzips an inside jacket pocket and takes out a foot tall rectangular box... padded inside with a porous foam material, the rigid outside of the box criss-crossed with rows of tiny airholes.

Richard carefully scoops up the nude miniaturized pop star with both hands, laying her on the padding and closing the lid... then snapping shut the six travel interlocks around the sides and tucking the box back into the pocket, zipping it shut, tight and snug.

He stands and trots back up to the cockpit... unclips a small black box from his backpack and sets it against the autopilot CPU... and a software virus is transmitted into the memory of the machine... in one minute the autopilot will have been "incorrectly calibrated"... and all traces of the virus deleted... sending the plane into a lazy one gee rolling turn... banking it over enough for Richard to bail out... and also to convince the crash investigators that the pilot had transposed an entry code in such a way as to mask the course change from them at night... if they were distracted... say... having a drink or chatting with the flight attendent... a freak one-in-a-million thing really...

Richard retrieves his virus box and returns to the cabin, waiting by the pressure door and looking disdainfully at the still drooling bodyguards. When the time is right, he grins and waves... "buh-bye"... then pops the hatch open and leaps into the bracingly cold night air...

After an exhilarating free-fall, Richard's airfoil canopy pops open and he starts guiding it towards the "Shrimper" that waits at the pre-determined spot. His wrist GPS ticks out the course and range as he struggles to ace a dry landing on the seemingly ramshackle boat. The orange glow of a distant fireball plays along his face as the doomed jet slams nose first into the dark waters of the Gulf... the dull roar of the explosion coming moments later.

As befitting his final recruitment... Richard's feet slap the hard deck of the shrimp boat as he absorbs the shock of landing. While the attendents help him shed the parafoil rigging, he thinks that this was going to be a very long ride back to his place in San Fran... a long ride for _him_ anyway.

Bethany, on the other hand, would be spared the trip. Her awakening had been timed very carefully.

Television sets across the country are synced together in one of those mass media moments: "Special Report"... the sinking feeling in the gut of anyone over forty who had forgotton for an instant that the cold war was over... and the relief when the announcment was made... in contrast with the delicious angst of the younger set...

"A charter flight carrying pop singer Bethany Collins has disappeared from air traffic control radar and is assumed down over the Gulf of Mexico... Coast Guard search and rescue craft are currently racing to the last reported position...."