• EWJ

How to Survive Being Kidnapped for Science

By: Amy Dong

1. Don’t Panic.


It’s sort of obvious that one has not had a great day when Getting Kidnapped By a Major Supervillain does not even make the top five terrible incidents of the day list. Okay, the bumping and the less-than-ideal treatment from the henchmen at the moment was not the greatest experience, Elliot admits, but the broken coffee pot before the conference had definitely hurt more. And that journal rejection in the afternoon had not so much broken his heart as blown it to pieces. Conversely, from what Elliot remembers in the protocols, the major supervillains tend to want to keep you alive.


When someone finally rips the slightly moist blindfold off of Elliot, he’s a little bit underwhelmed after he blinks to adjust to the light. He’s strapped to a chair, the ones you can buy from IKEA at half price, and his arms are tied down with some default looking ropes, the kind they give to boy scouts to learn to tie knots with. Minus five for creativity. He’s in some sort of dimly lit basement-like structure, and the air is stale but not damp. Call him judgemental, but he’s had a rough day and he’s not exactly pleased, so sue him. Overall, not a great look, especially when you hear about all the other lairs that people get captured into. Like the underground volcano. Especially the underground volcano. Yes, Elliot sighed softly, he sure liked that one.


Someone is clearing their throat loudly and expectantly in front of him, so he snaps out of his daydreams about underground labyrinths and lava traps to look up at his presumed kidnapper. He is tall and broad, that’s for sure. He is draped in a lavish royal purple cloak, and his outfit could pretty much only be described as “cool”. Like some kind of upgraded knight-armor meld. His mask (helmet?) covered most of his face, leaving only his mouth exposed, which was currently pressed into a thin, impatient line. When Elliot faces him, mouth slightly ajar, he straightens, presence filling the room.


“Greetings, professor.” He begins, voice cold and echoing throughout the room. His eyes bore into Elliot’s soul, even though Elliot cannot even see them. “They call me Tempest.”


“-for I rival the wind,” Elliot blurts out without much forethought. When he notices what he’s done, and how stock-still the supervillain has gone for essentially cutting into his catchphrase, he stutters out sort of apologetically. “Uh. I mean. Yeah, I know. Director of the League of Villains, right? Nemesis of the notable superhero Coral? Well known for his well-funded heists and uh,” Elliot licks his lips, swallowing drily as he catches the still frozen figure of Tempest in front of him, “other things?”


If Tempest is offended that the scientist that he had just kidnapped just ruined his entire starting monologue, he does not show it. Instead, he crosses his arms, and lets a dry smirk form across his face as he does the cool thing where he hovers over to where Elliot is strapped down. Elliot tries not to show how intrigued he is.


“So glad to know that I have fans in the scientific community.” Tempest is not smiling, per se, but Elliot can hear the amusement bleed through his voice. “This should be much easier for the both of us.”


“Hmm” is what comes out of Elliot’s mouth rather eloquently. Despite being a scientist at a somewhat notable institution, he does not get kidnapped often, and it shows. All at once Tempest has zipped to Elliot’s position, arms and cloak effectively pinning him to the chair that he is stuck in. He is leaning in very close to the professor, and Elliot’s brain has easily short-circuited. “Hmm.”


“Here’s the deal, Strovkovsky.” Tempest hisses into his face and Elliot tries not to lean back any more than he already has. “You build me that pretty little death ray that your institution has been specializing in. And I,” Tempest smiles, “will refrain from killing you.”


Elliot feels like the physical definition of bonehead when the only thing he can come up with in response is another “Hmm.” He remembers this lesson, actually, when the professors were being herded in for their annual training meeting or something. Most of the conference had covered university safety and all of that, and the occasional what-to-do-in-a-supervillain-attack-drill that the administration will run through, but a small segment at the end had specifically addressed the researchers, in what to do if one got kidnapped by a supervillain for science.


To be fair, Elliot hadn’t really listened to the whole thing in earnest, because he had been such a low-ranking researcher at the time that even minor villains wouldn’t have really batted an eye at him walking down the street. But he did remember the general gist of the talk, even though the guy who gave it really didn’t seem to know what tone was. In the event of a supervillain kidnapping, the administration approved route of action was to agree to the deal, should the life of the kidnapee hang in the balance (which was most of the time). Once the imminent threat of danger was removed, the researcher should attempt to negotiate with the perpetrator. If all else fails, build a harmless version of the proposed weapon of mass destruction, and hightail it out as soon as a chance is presented. It didn’t sound very administration approved, to be honest, but it was all Elliot could go off of at the moment, which was a lot more than he already could ask for.


“Okay,” Elliot says, because his mind is blanking. Tempest looks sort of shocked.


“That’s it?” Tempest asks, and Elliot wonders what he has done wrong now. “No begging? No moral negotiations?” It suddenly strikes Elliot that maybe agreeing straight off the bat wasn’t exactly the move that a sane person would do, even if armed with a safety plan. He realizes that he is not exactly cut out for the kidnapped thing.


“Well, uh.” Elliot blinks and considers himself for a moment, before grasping onto the first excuse he can find to buy himself more time. “You know, I would, but you know I can’t. All these supplies are hard to come by, and I’ve lost my grant funding months ago. It just wouldn’t go over well. I’d love to help, man, but uh.” Elliot drifts off when he notices the look on Tempest’s face.


“Oh.” Tempest says, his mouth really curving into a smile this time. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”


---


2. Agree to the deal, should your livelihood be at stake.


“Holy cow,” Elliot breathes, taking in the sight of pure unadulterated heaven. “Holy crap, dude.”


It turns out that the grant issue really wasn’t a problem. In fact, Tempest’s coverage could probably supersede the entire National Science Foundation itself. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with high-tech equipment, the newest in quantum technology, the greatest in data computing. There are barrels of chemicals stacked against the wall and incubators with pulsing yellow bacteriophages, and Elliot just wants to run around the room like a five-year old and touch all of it. Whatever he used up, Tempest had promised to buy more of. Elliot has never gotten this good of a grant funding in his life.


“Don’t call me dude,” Tempest says sourly from next to him, but Elliot ignores his sponsor? grant-man? enthusiastically as he does a sort of spin in place, gazing around the room. He is having the time of his life, and he didn’t even need to submit a NH1 proposal.


“This is so cool,” Elliot bubbles out, because he can’t physically contain his excitement any longer than he has to. If he was with his lab, they would be all over the place already. “This is cool, right? You’re seeing this right now? This is so cool.”


“Indeed.” Tempest replies drily, as Elliot runs to the boxes of Arduinos stacked neatly in the corner. There’s at least 12 of them. “Please remember why you are here, professor.”


Indeed, Elliot does remember why he is here. He’s here because he needs to foil Tempest’s plans to vaporize Coral, or at the very least the entire city, which requires playing along with his plans until he can throw in the towel and cook up something underwhelmingly not lethal. Which should be easy enough, technically. There’s a lot of complicated machinery pseudo-guns that look lethal in the process, but resemble more of a third-grade science fair project in function. Like Dr. Snow’s Refraction Ray that shoots confetti after enough charge. Or a popcorn machine.


But it’s such a waste, Elliot realizes. He hates to be that person that gets swayed by money or fame or promises, but look around him! The most updated scientific technology, a fuel of unlimited potential and supplies. All the Raspberry Pis and proton splicers in the world at his disposal. It feels like such a waste to turn all of that into some halfhearted treat dispenser. A treat dispenser powered by a Summit supercomputer, but still a treat dispenser all the same. Imagine what he could do, Elliot thought almost hesitantly, if he really used this. All of this.


Tempest is watching him, and when Elliot notices, a thin wave of guilt slices right through him. He shouldn’t, really shouldn’t. Researchers who collaborated with their supervillains got their licenses revoked, and got banished from the community. Elliot may not be the most influential researcher in his field, but he’s got dreams, at least. Most of them involve getting published in Nature, but he had been pretty sure until today that he could probably still have a shot at that full Professor title. Maybe even that tenure, if he’s lucky. Sure, his last journal rejected him, but maybe if he had pestered the editor a little bit more…?


“I’ll need that tech by next month, at least,” Tempest calls, crisp and clear, from across the room. He shuts the door abruptly, leaving Elliot in a room full of everything he’s ever wanted.


---


3. Once the imminent threat of danger is removed, negotiate with the perpetrator.


“Do me a favor and staple all your fingers together.” This, from his lab assistant, who hisses over the phone with cold derision. Elliot is hiding in the bathroom, and it is easily two in the morning.


“It’s been lovely to hear you too, Meryl. Your company never fails to warm my being,” Elliot replies gleefully. He can hear her temper threaten to destroy either him, or her, or maybe both. Maybe all.


“You are an infant and should not be allowed to use the computer,” Meryl replies instead. “You know the last time you bothered to give a word of notice that you were alive? Four weeks ago! That’s almost a month!”


“More than a month,” Elliot corrects , holding the phone closer to his ear as he tries to keep his foot from falling asleep. He is still decked out in his lab coat, and his goggles hang loosely by his ear. “And in all fairness, I didn’t even know my phone still worked. You’ve got to love Nokias, yeah?”


His tone is cocky, but he is whispering. There’s a reason he’s hiding out in the lab’s bathroom after all. His phone had started chirping in the middle of a test, and to hide his utter shock he faked a sudden and emergently dire need to use the loo as soon as possible, experiment be darned. There’s a henchman waiting outside to guard him, completely unaware of the possible mini-explosion that his half-finished experiment may be prone to for anyone currently still in the lab. Elliot is hiding, not only to conceal the hidden communication that he has just realized he obtains, and also to keep from possibly being blown into fine bits of matter.


“You suck,” Meryl says flatly. Elliot grins. “What are you even doing there? Just make him a bubble wand and be done with it. Your lab is in chaos. None of the interns you’ve brought in know how to operate a command line.”


“Uh, well.” Elliot adjusts the phone to his ear and smiles sheepishly. “Stuff, and the like. You know, the Tempest actually has some very eloquent funding? Like, probably more than that last grant had combined.”


“Elliot.” There is a hint of warning in her tone that shatters the somewhat-bantering atmosphere the two had held up the guise of before. “You’re not really…”


Elliot knows exactly what she means. You’re not really making something, right? And well, technically, no he hasn’t made anything yet. He hasn’t gotten to that practical application part of everything yet. What he has gotten is data and observations that would have taken decades’ worth of experiments to determine from his lab. A new insight onto the true nature of nuclear fission. Two particles that he’s pretty sure could actually tear apart the fabric of the lab with a contained black-hole. Things that are probably closer to the death ray gun that Tempest had really wanted than anything else.


“Well,” Elliot says haltingly. “I will tell you that we’re going to get a heck of a paper published as soon as I finish.” The lab chooses to have a massive explosion at this moment, because the particle barrier has finally disintegrated. Elliot is having a field day, and he can almost tell that Tempest is already rushing down to see what his crazy scientist-in-his-basement has cooked up. He rushes to get out of the bathroom without looking the least bit suspicious. “AnywaysbyeMerylthelabisblowingupseeyousoon.”


“Go eat a shoe,” Meryl tells him as he presses “end call”.


---


4. If all else fails, build a harmless version of the proposed weapon of mass destruction.


Elliot stumbles upon the very blueprint to manipulate the gravity of the universe. The first thing he demands for is the intellectual mortgage for it.


“With all due respect, professor, I don’t think you understand what this means.” Tempest is utterly lost and Elliot knows this. This does not stop him from pacing back and forth on the floor, clutching his coat and looking sour.


“Tempest. Tempest! Tempest.” Elliot is seething through his teeth. “I don’t think You understand what this means.” He knows that Tempest does not know what this means, because Tempest is only thinking of the small picture. He’s thinking of the picture where Elliot hands over his discovery in a portable, easy-to-use ray gun, to which he can obliterate all of everything. “Let me spell this out for you, sweetheart. I’ve just made this interesting discovery. Which means?”


“Which means that you have the power to literally blow up all of mankind in one fell swoop?” Tempest raises an eyebrow. Elliot resists the urge to roll his eyes.


“Yeah okay. But after that? After everything has been completely wiped clean from the universe?” Tempest looks exceedingly lost, and Elliot takes pity and decides to phone-a-friend for him. Or maybe he just gets impatient. “I need credit, Tempest! Credit! I’ve got to establish my stake in the field now, rather than later! I was the one who broke the ground first! Otherwise that bootlicker from IT will take the credit again! And get published! When he doesn’t even know what a p-value is?” Tempest looks borderline concerned, when Elliot grips him tightly by the body armor and looks towards his face with tired eyes. “I need to get this published, Temp.”


Surprisingly enough, Tempest relents. And this is easily the fastest that Elliot has ever gotten published in his lifetime. When Elliot has the manuscript finished (triple-checked and double-checked sixteen times over), Tempest slaps down the submission fee without even blinking an eye. He even lets Elliot send it in to Nature. Less than a week later, he’s already in the latest issue.


He thinks Tempest probably has something to do with it. Definitely has something to do with it, given how impatient he’s been looking. And by how shakily those reviews had been penned in, Elliot doubts that they are shaking due to his own intellect. He’s seen that handwriting on his last journal submission a few months ago, and that reviewer had easily ripped him limb to limb without even blinking. When he asks Tempest, he only smiles, and then threatens to kill him in cold blood if he doesn’t stop referring to him as “Temp”.


---


5. Hightail it out


Of course Meryl called the government. Elliot hadn’t even finished the full death gun yet. In his defense, it’s basically still harmless as a model. It doesn’t even generate a true black hole, just a small contained one that could soak up a city. No one should have even known that it could have been applied into a gun. Elliot blames the Nature article.


“This is ridiculous,” Elliot says, looking absolutely salty in his hands which are tied in rope, sitting on some government agent’s car hood, while Tempest is fighting an entire squadron of superpowered government hillbillies in the skies. He is technically supposed to be getting rescued, because Meryl had technically been calling the hero agencies to see who would be dumb enough to wander into Tempest’s lair and create enough of a distraction to give Elliot some leeway to leave. But then she let slip the whole disastrous black-hole generator that he’s made and now the government’s super squad wants in on the action, and now the whole thing has become some sort of giant and convoluted mess.


“You’re the ridiculous one,” Meryl replies, sitting by him. She’s poking sorrowfully at the leftover remains of that Box Of Arduinos from the lab that the super squad had nicely blown up, and Elliot feels her silent anguish. It was still a solid lab, no matter where the funding had come from. “I can’t believe you made a quantum synthesizer without me. And you got published in Nature.”


“It’s great, isn’t it?” Elliot is sparkling, and Meryl is reaching up to slap him when a giant boom lights up the sky and the two turn their attention back to the unstoppable forces that are meeting head-to-head aerially. It’s sort of terrifying. Elliot doesn’t even know who should win anymore.


“I’ve never met a researcher so absolutely hedonistic,” Meryl mutters from his side. Elliot’s hands itch, and he wants to go back to his lab, the one that Tempest gave him. He wants to keep working on that supergun. Which the agents had confiscated and put into their car for safekeeping when they had busted into the lair. Which also reminded him.


Elliot scoots over, trying not to draw attention to himself from the giants in the skies, trying to get a peek through the windshield of the government car. Meryl takes notice, and Elliot notes one of the most excellent deadpan faces that she has made to date. He’s almost proud.


“Elliot,” Meryl hisses. “What. Are you doing?”


Elliot ignores her in favor of squinting and leaning forward, to observe the compartment. There! On the floor. Is what looks like a super soaker, but he remembers painting those colors himself. He ignores Meryl’s watchful eyes and scoots ever closer. The car doors are locked, definitely, but if he could just reach through that window...


Possessed by some kind of scientific yearning (is it still scientific? It feels compulsive, now), Elliot kicks a heel back and absolutely smashes through the windshield of a government-sanctioned car. Meryl looks at him as if he has gone completely insane, but Elliot ducks through the broken glass and is trying to grab onto the gun with his tied hands, which is going about as well as one would expect. Meryl is screaming, or maybe Elliot is screaming, and no one in the sky seems to be caring about the struggling going on in one of their own government vehicles. Elliot just wants to take his gun, because this is his intellectual property, dammit. But Meryl is wrestling for his hands, and though Elliot could have probably been an even match for her in the old days, his tied and bound state probably couldn’t handle even himself.


Elliot probably could have told her to be more careful, and he probably could have restrained himself from running on some absolutely granulated mess of a thought train at the moment. But he can’t, or won’t, and in the whole struggle for his government-concerned, possibly-lethal blackhole ray gun, a hand squeezes too tight or a leg kicks out in the wrong direction. Either way, the gun drops to the ground and fires.


“Um.” Elliot and Meryl watch as the particles hit what should have been a government agent square in the chest and Elliot winces almost instinctively, having fired his prototype into so many old can barrels and remembering the subsequent ripping of gravity that wouldn’t hesitate to jerk a user off their feet.


But the person that they hit is not a can barrel, in fact. Where a government agent had been is where Tempest has moved towards, on his route to dodge an incoming bullet from somewhere else. When the particle nails him square in the chest, he twists, distorted like some sort of filter, and Elliot and Meryl watch as Tempest folds in on himself, screaming. There is too much gravity in the wrong direction, and there’s a tightness in Elliot’s gut as he watches the bravado and armor compress itself into a ball. Into a speck. Into nothing.


There is a pull towards his center of mass, asking him to move towards the rip in the fabric of gravity that Elliot has created. He can only watch, fascinated. When there is nothing left and when the air is clear again, Elliot hears Meryl swearing like a sailor as she tries to leave. Tries to get off of him and go far far away from whatever that got published for.


He notices, intriguingly, that his ropes have been loosened in the struggle with Meryl, and in Meryl’s struggle with him. He notices, intrigued, that he can slip his hands out if he were to wiggle a little more. Which he did. And he notices how nice it is that the key is still in the ignition of the car whose windshield he had ultimately smashed through entirely.

Government agents are descending from the skies, and Elliot knows that he has absolutely no defense now. He would have helped the supervillain, no matter if he had very much compressed him in the end, and he would be behind bars before he could say “quantum computing”. There is no way that they would let him back into the lab now. He would have stood a better chance waiting for Tempest to save him. But his hands are working and his feet are already half submerged in the velvet seats of the government car that he was sitting on. He longs, for a moment.


Elliot hops into the car, hightailing it out with agents at his heels and yelling at his tires, and sets off into the world in search of grant funding.


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