Tuesday, 9 April 2019

P Squared, Chapter 9

(Content warning for sexual assault)
“You’ve put the Office in a very difficult position,” says Symons.

P is silent. Klaire took the afternoon off sick. She might not be back for a while.

“What possessed you?” says Symons. “What were you thinking?”

“She’s nice.”

“She’s a grade five!” It’s the first time P has heard Symons raise her voice. “She’s not even secretarial level! She could be replaced any time! Why?”

“I felt that she should not have been droned.”

“That,” says Symons, making an effort to regain her composure, “Is not a decision you make.” Symons stands up, folds her arms, unfolds her arms, folds them again. “We’re complaining to the Agency.”

“Yes.”

“The problem is, we can’t send you back. We need clerical support for the Engagement tomorrow, and there isn’t the chance of getting another Assistant ordered before then. Because THR have to approve it. Because THR aren’t going to be approving anything right now. Because they’re all either hospitalised, dead or massively annoyed!” Symons sucks on her lower lip, composes herself. “You’re on the list for the Engagement tomorrow and assuming that it goes successfully, you’re returning to the Agency. With a complaint. Understood?”

“Understood.”

“Now go sit in the other room. Take Klaire’s desk. I don’t want to look at you right now.”

“Yes.”

P does what they’re told. The moment P got back, they activated the override; frozen, brain-fried, P does everything Symons says without question right now. They’ll probably have to undo it for the Engagement, but until then, P tells the truth and follows orders.

After an hour, Symons leaves the office to go for a meeting. She won’t be back until tomorrow.

No one here seems to realise that P’s hearing is a little better than anyone else’s. Pubs and Quality, in the next room, voices low, are, she realises, talking about them.

“I can’t believe Rina bought that,” says Quality.

“Bought what?” says Pubs.

 “You know.”

“It was one of her usual passwords. She’d just put in the wrong one.”

“That was what you said.”

“It’s true. It’s completely true. Just one of her usual passwords.”

A pause. The sound of typing.

“How do you know what her usual passwords are?” says Quality.

“What, are you telling me you don’t?”

“Hah. Point. It’s unbelievable she hasn’t figured that out yet.”

“True, that.”

Typing.

“She’s got no sense of humour at all, though. If she found out, you know?” says Quality.

“You going to tell her?”

Typing. Sound of a printer running.

“Still,” says Quality, “Got to give it to her. Who hasn’t wanted to do that to THR?”

“True. You know they set the reception desk on fire? And blew up the THR fridge?”

“No shit.”

“Swear to God. Finn in Estates said.”

A pause. “You’re talking to Estates?” says Quality.

“No comment.”

Pause. Typing. Printer.

“I bet you wish you’d been there to watch, though,” says Quality.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I bet.”

Pause.

“They’ll do anything you want them to right now, you know,” say Quality.

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Pubs.

“You keep saying that.”

“So, I’ll, uh, be going home early this afternoon,” says Quality. “Got a pile of flexi.”

“So?” Pubs’ voice has an edge to it.

They work silently now, and at four, Quality leaves. He smirks at P as he puts his coat on and walks through Klaire’s room and out of the door.

Pubs walks into Klaire’s room fully two minutes after Quality has gone.

“You’ve been bad,” she says.

“Yes,” says P.

Pubs steps forward and touches P’s face. P begins to feel sick inside.

“I checked out your archive,” says Pubs. “I was curious.” They lick their lips. “You have some very interesting wares installed in that head of yours, you know.” Their hand caresses P’s cheek, moves up, fingers running lightly over P’s hairless, pockmarked scalp. “You’ve been used for all sorts of things.”

P feels their gut sinking, physically sinking. They cannot speak, is stiff in their chair, hands hovering over the keyboard at their desk.

“So how about we open some apps?” says Pubs. “You and me?”

It’s so clumsy, so predatory. P wants this person dead.

“Any software not currently activated is a legacy system awaiting removal. It cannot be accessed by unauthorised—“

“Who’s unauthorised?” says Pubs, pushing their other hand between P’s tightly-pressed thighs.

“Please, don’t,” says P, unable this time to throw them off, unable to bear them to the ground and kill them with their bare hands.

“Tomorrow we could be dead,” says Pubs.

P desperately doesn’t want to wait.

Pubs swivels P’s chair around and leans over her, their mouth a hair away from P’s cheek. Their breath smells of garlic. “What if,” says Pubs, “we fixed that? Hmm?” They lean in and lick P’s chin slowly; it’s clammy, sticky, like a slug crawling over P’s chin. P shivers involuntarily, feels as if the cold, slimy wetness on their face is spreading all over every square centimetre of skin on their body.
P tries to turn their face away, but the override is still in action. “I can’t,” they say. “It’s not physically possible for me. I’ve had alterations.”

Pubs, holding onto P’s shoulder, reaches over with the other hand and opens the drawer, takes out a phone cable, plugs one end deftly into P’s desktop, the other into one of the sockets at the base of P’s skull. P jerks, stiffens. Their mouth falls slightly open, their eyes round. “Oh, I know that, silly,” says Pubs. “I’ve been poking around. I know everything about you.” Their free hand is now around P’s shoulder, their mouth right next to P’s. “All you need is a bit of imagination.”

Without looking away from their reflection, gold-tinted in P’s wide, empty eyes, Pubs reaches over and hits Enter. And P can suddenly no longer think straight, or obliquely, or at all. “This isn’t about your fun, anyway,” says Pubs. “This, doll, is all about me.”

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