Chapter Six: The Office on Drugs
In between these periods of activity I spent most of my time crying in the shower or listening to country ballads on my floor mattress. Once a week Joyce would come over to comfort me. I was too depressed even to be slapped around so she would just hold me. Things between her and Stanley had grown complicated. After most of her raiding party had been killed she had been forced to accept Stanley's offer of work at his office. Michael was working there now too; it was another topic we stayed away from during our binge sessions. She told me both men claimed she had a natural talent, but I still didn't understand what it was they were all doing.
"We're focusing on integrating digital solutions to modern paradigms through optimizing communication in virtual spaces and restructuring existing data retrieval techniques to be more sustainable," Joyce explained to me.
"What?" I asked.
"We're shifting information technology to a more community-focused approach," she continued, frustrated, "with optimized efficiency and rewards-based systems of management. You're shaking your head? Oh, come on! I know it's not exactly ethical in practice, but what other choice do I have?"
"That's not what I-"
"Oh, I know what this is about. You're jealous of how much time I'm spending with Stanley now."
"No!" I said jealously.
The next morning I woke up and Joyce had shifted out of my embrace. Fragile sunbeams dispersed against her soft dark skin. I watched her sleep for a bit and then I got up and cooked pancakes for her. She thanked me quietly but leaned away instead of against me. I asked her if she could help me hunt for furniture in the residential zone. She said yes and gave me a time to meet her outside the office.
At 4:30 I walked to the old twelve-story building where Stanley's office was. The building had been made to last, with cement and porcelain tiles, and still probably looked the same as when it was constructed. There was no shade out by the entrance and I still didn't see Joyce so I headed in. I took the stairs to the eleventh floor and entered the lobby. Michael was smoking weed on the couch, and when he saw me he dropped his joint. He bent over and flexed his triceps in an attempt to retrieve it, but I ignored him and knocked on the door. With no response to go by, I cautiously pulled the handle and stepped in.
Stanley stood before me, looming over Joyce at her desktop. Both of their backs were to me. On her monitor was a lot of code I didn't understand and what looked like a 3D model of Joyce. It spun slightly in the digital breeze. There was something menacing about the model's T-pose and neutral expression.
"Hi," I said.
"Oh, Riese," Stanley said, turning around, "what are you doing here?"
"Joyce and I were gonna go do something. Doesn't she get off at 4?"
Joyce visibly tried to relax her shoulders to no avail. She wiped her face as she spun around slowly, but when she faced me I could still see her red eyes and traces of tears. My girl should only have red eyes when she's getting zooted out on that good kush, I thought to myself. But she wasn't my girl, was she? She was still Stanley's.
"Joyce just needs to finish a couple things, Riese," Stanley explained, "She'll be done soon. You can wait in the lobby."
I tried to maintain eye contact with Stanley but he won out. As much as I selfishly wanted Joyce to myself, there was nothing I could do as long as she pretended there wasn't a problem. No problem here, man. Who, me? Have a problem? No way. Ha.
I sniffed and forced myself to smile by biting my lip. Joyce looked at me and then the door out. I left the office quietly and sat away from Michael on the opposite end of the old couch in the lobby. He lit his joint again and regarded me for a bit.
"What?" I asked.
"Are you here for Joyce," he replied, "or me?"
"Joyce," I replied hastily and gulped. Had I just wanted to see Michael living his new life? The one he kept away from me? I knew I didn't matter to him anymore. I was good for a fun time and that was about it.
"Sure," he said, "Whatever you say. I'm going home now. Are you coming over tonight?"
I told Michael I would think about it, kicking myself internally for not refusing his offer. There was always the temptation offered by his sweet smile and supple ass. That would always be there, right next to the hole our love used to occupy. Michael stepped out and after a moment I got up and pressed my ear to the office door, curious what was taking Joyce so long.
"I can do the rest tomorrow, right?" came Joyce's muffled voice.
"No, you can do it now," came Stanley's.
"I could just start scripting the main search and reprogram functions myself."
"No, no- that's what she's going to do," I heard a finger tap on a screen. Was he talking about the 3D model? "She's going to do that stuff for you so that you and I can start working on actual infrastructure. Once you've finished feeding her your information our efficiency will be doubled. And everything will change."
I stepped away and found an old couch in the lobby to sit on. I didn't know what they meant, but Stanley's words made my stomach tight and my breathing shallow. I waited for what felt like forever for Joyce to come out, scratching at her eyebrow nervously.
"Yeah, fine," Stanley shouted from the office, "I'll tinker with it by myself now. I should be able to get her working soon!"
"Let's just go," Joyce said to me. We started down the stairs. Joyce was taking a brief pause every few steps. I asked her if something was wrong and got no reply. We made it to the sixth floor landing. Joyce paused again and turned to me. She grabbed the railing and fell to her knees. I rushed down the stairs and knelt beside her.
"What's going on?" I asked.
She didn't respond and couldn't even meet my gaze. Her pupils were rolling from side to side. She fell forward before I could catch her. I started screaming for help but Stanley was the only one in the building and he was too far up to hear me. I looked at Joyce's back and saw her spinal applicator was pumping a liquid into her- sertraline, an antidepressant. Ripping the applicator out would probably kill her. I grabbed my knife from my purse and stabbed the wretched machine. Glass and chemicals spilled out on the tile.
"Joyce, baby, baby I need you to turn over. Lay on your back!" I shouted. Joyce moaned and let me pull her over, spilling the rest of the sertraline. She didn't look too hot. She was drooling and her eyes were rolled all the way back in her head. She was mumbling words I couldn't understand.
I didn't know what to do. I was paralyzed by my fear and already felt like despairing. I didn't know why this was happening. Then Joyce started moaning loudly, which turned into screaming. Blood was gushing from her wrist. The metal band which connected to a tiny computer Stanley had bought her was clamping tighter and tighter, digging deep into her skin and through to the bone. I heard a sickening crunch and Joyce's screams redoubled as her hand was separated from her arm. She passed out a few second later.
The metal band grew back to its normal size, and Joyce's wristwatch rolled around on the landing floor, coming to a stop at my knees. I looked down and saw an image of the 3D model of Joyce. It was just her face, and it was smiling.