Chapter Thirteen: Justice Thy Name Be Joyce
Joyce and I walked up the stairs, hand in hand. We didn't stop at the landing where she had died, she just gripped me tighter and we pressed on. We finally reached the sixth floor and found the lobby empty and Stanley's office door shut. I motioned for Joyce to release my hand and she reluctantly obliged. I tried the door handle and found it locked. I slammed my shoulder on the door and succeeded in hurting my shoulder.
"Fuck that hurt," I said, "Zoe? Or Thalia?"
Zoe nodded at Thalia who strode past me and kicked the door right off its hinges. You had to admire that kind of raw strength in a woman. You just had to! She took a step into the dark office and flipped the lights on. Then she turned around with a confused expression.
I hastily squeezed by her and looked around. Stanley's office was even more minimalist than I remembered. Even his desk was missing. I made several full rotations despite there being nowhere for him to possibly be hiding. I stepped back out into the lobby and Joyce heard me groaning to myself.
"What?" she asked.
"He knew we were coming," I said.
"Well he's still gotta be here. He wouldn't abandon this place, ever. It meant everything to him."
"Maybe, but he could have backup. I know it was just him and that Jeremy guy before but if he knows I'm back he could have a dude with a gun in every office."
"Nah. Stanley was never good at making friends."
"Oh yeah," I laughed nervously, "That makes sense. Can't relate though, I definitely find it really easy to forge meaningful relationships with people I'm not sleeping with!"
Joyce gave me a condescending look and lead our group down the hall. She slammed open the first office door on the right and flicked on the light switch. The desk in there was missing, too. She did the same at the next door on the left and then slammed the door shut loudly.
"Stanley!" she yelled, "Where the fuck are you?!"
After a moment the third door on the left slowly creaked open. We heard slow footsteps behind it and Zoe and Thalia stepped in front of me, forming a human shield which I was very glad for until I saw the face peeking out from behind the door. Joyce approached with her fist raised.
"Wait!" shouted Jeremy, terrified. A thin curtain of sweat inched down his face. "I just want to go home! Do whatever you want!"
I couldn't help but lose all my affection for Jeremy as he stood there whimpering. He had given up before even laying eyes upon the threat- in his office, I assumed, probably as warm urine soaked his boxer briefs. Then again, his boss wasn't the type to inspire much loyalty. In the end, it seemed he'd be forced to face us completely alone. This empty inanimate hellscape of postmodern design and fluorescent lights was all Stanley had left now.
Zoe walked behind Jeremy and grabbed his wrists. He began walking toward the stairs without any further provocation, but Zoe held on with what looked like a sturdy grip. He lead her out the door and out of sight, while Thalia and I carried on following Joyce down the long hall.
"Don't worry- she'll check him for weapons and make sure he doesn't come back," said Thalia.
"I wasn't worried," I said.
"Right, you're not really so small. Not like her. She's different..." she said, staring almost reverentially at Joyce.
"She sure is. I mean, she always was. She doesn't wait around for people, either. I'm always waiting for people to decide how they feel about me. But she doesn't."
"Do you love her?"
"...Probably. I feel like I need her. She told me she loved me once, but I wasn't ready. Then there wasn't anything romantic left between us, I guess. Then she died."
"I think you love her."
"I don't know, Thalia, maybe. Right now I'm just scared to shit."
"Don't worry, I'll take care of Stanley."
"Not of him."
"Hey, Thalia!" shouted Joyce from the very end of the hall, "Can you come help me with this one? It's locked."
Thalia patted my head and ran to Joyce, stopping at the locked door. As Joyce and I looked on, the Greek beauty widened her stance and slammed into the door, knocking it off its hinges. Then her body flew into the hall as shrapnel exploded out of her back. She slammed her head into the wall and fell back against it, her chest now a bloody mess. I recoiled in shock and horror.
Joyce screamed and started shaking. Regarding Thalia's destroyed body, she began to glow a light blue. She then turned around and stepped into the dark room before I could stop her. Her glow brightened and the room was soon illuminated. It was spacious, and seemed to have been used for storage. In the corner were a couple of vacuums and a mop, along with a shelf containing other supplies. The main feature of the room now, though, was the massive structure of flipped and stacked desks, all wooden with steel beams. They had been piled at least seven feet high, and formed a barricade with solid walls and a couple of peeking windows low to the ground. From one of these I caught sight of Stanley's bespectacled face, scared to shit.
"Oh, fuck!" he exclaimed, and started fiddling furiously with something. When he was done he stuck it through the hole in his barricade of desks. It was a shotgun that had once belonged to Hunter S. Thompson, but which I had only seen carried by Bryan the Wise. I was about to yell to her when Joyce grabbed hold of the gun barrel and pulled it, along with its carrier, through the hole. Stanley hit the cement hard with his shoulder and sprawled out on his back, writhing there in Joyce's glow. As she approached him he spun himself around and stuck his hands out in protest.
"Wait! Riese, tell her to stop! Come on!"
Joyce slowed in her approach not one tad. I did nothing to help Stanley, whose stammering reasoning had become more frantic.
"Hold on! Think about it! God's computer? Come on, that's bullshit! What was it doing there? Wh-why was it so huge? It's a statue, an artifact! A shell for a tiny processor that Ashe couldn't even access directly! Think about it! Riese, come on! Don't you care?"
"Actually no," I said, my face blank and bitchy, "I don't understand a fucking thing."
Stanley's eyes grew even wider as Joyce leaned in. She tossed Bryan's gun over her shoulder and reached out with her other hand. I had no idea what she was about to do but I couldn't look away. Not from the man who I still held such a seething envy for. Even now that he had nothing left, I felt the pain of Joyce being not quite mine, something I had needed ever since I had become not quite Michael's. It was a sharp and throbbing lack, and it turned my blood to toxic bubbly gamer fuel.
Wordlessly, Joyce grabbed Stanley's shoulder. Hard. By increments, his skin started to blur and roughen. To my shock, the subtle and supple musculature of his nerd arms all turned to sharp edges, each a different shade of pale that reflected light with no particular care for detail. His face turned to a grimacing citrine skull, jagged and uncanny. It opened to scream and what came out was a distorted garble, rather like a dial tone from before the before time. He flailed against her, but Joyce grabbed him with both hands and pushed him down, straddling his suddenly weaker body.
Blue light ebbed and flowed from Joyce into the flailing skeleton. Seams started to emerge from within Stanley's skin. They glowed cold blue, and crisscrossed his body like well-designed city roads. As the seams split, the gaps between these segmented squares of Stanley's body surface grew. Blood spilled out of each, quickly forming a huge pool under my former dominatrix and her prey. I could see bone and viscera still floating within, naked and divided. Joyce bore down harder and suddenly all the squares collapsed. The bones and viscera were gone, leaving only flat squares like what Ashe had become. There lay Stanley, except he was only the vaguest approximation of the man I had known and obsessed over. Tears fell from my wide and fearful eyes as I looked down wordlessly at him.
But Joyce wasn't done. She pushed down on the flat squares, which had suddenly soaked up the blood like sea sponges. The blue energy kept coming into them, and they began to coalesce. Groups of four squares shifted and merged, and this repeated exponentially. Soon there was only one square- light brown and trembling slightly. Joyce smashed her fist into it. Then her other fist came down. Again. And again.
"FUCK!" cried Joyce, her tears dripping suddenly and heavily, "MOTHERFUCKER!"
A huge crack formed on the brown square, the shaking of which had become spastic vibration. Joyce's fists continued to rain down and the crack grew until it bisected the cube diagonally. With one more punch it tore apart and exploded into dust. For a moment I thought I saw 1s and 0s fly across my vision. That may have been mere fanciful allegorical trans metaphor. Or not. It didn't really matter.
Stanley was dead.