2019 Short Stories,  Screen Saver

01 – Screen Saver

Five Years Before Dorian Knocks

The new office was shiny. So shiny. Oh so shiny.

It was such a shame that it would be three months before they could actually move into it.

Screen flipped to a fresh page of her notebook, wrote down the port numbers, then checked the numbers against the assumed map of the new office layout.

It would have been much, much preferred if the map had been finished, but actually signing off on complete work was something that the managers seemed to be almost allergic to.

Consequently, the first week in the new office was going to entail a lot of rework, which somehow, they would find a way to blame on her.

She was magic, but she wasn’t fucking psychic.

So far, this was the messiest office moving project she’d ever been a part of – and that included the freelance job where part of the floor had collapsed – at least that team had neatly labelled boxes that had fallen into the office space below.

Right now, they would be lucky if someone didn’t accidentally pack the office cat into a box without air holes.

On the other hand, it gave her an excuse to be out of the office for hours at a time. The two temps that comprised the rest of her IT team were more than capable of handling the level-one-help-desk stuff that comprised ninety-five per cent of the problems that her team handled on a daily basis.

All of the software was cobbled together, cheap packages that had been hammered into being fit-for-purpose. Spreadsheets ran what should have been databases, if not full-fledged data management applications.

Half of the office used free email accounts because the company email was notorious for eating important communications.

And almost all of her attempts to get the management to do something about it had fallen on deaf ears – fully-written proposals had gotten lip service, but no follow-up. So, after a couple of years, she had stopped trying.

As awful as the patchwork systems were, the actual day-to-day work of the IT department was reasonably easy. Mostly, they were there as a sort of nanny – someone to come by, make cooing noises at the hapless employee, and use big words to describe restarting a computer, checking for memory leak issues, or resetting a password.

So the office move project, and designing all of the architecture that they would need for the expansion and the new teams was a bright spot in what had been a dull year, where six out of every eight hours had been spent on reddit, The Mount, and various depositories of smutty, smutty fanfic.

Various family members had suggested that she move on, that there were better things out there. She argued back that they paid above the market rate for her base salary, and it was only a short bus ride from her apartment.

In this world, in this economy, there were far worse things than getting bored at work and frustrated with the lack of sensible application management.

There were also…less official perks, like how sometimes, more equipment than was necessary was ordered – her team had needed new monitors, of course, but that extra thirty-two-inch curved monitor…was gracing her bedroom, and not the storeroom, as was marked on the inventory sheet.

Accounts should have stopped the purchase order, and sent it back for corrections, but they rarely – if ever – noticed mistakes like that, and she suspected it was because they were too busy skimming off the top to bother spoiling anyone else’s fun.

Screen made a few more notes, then crawled a few feet along to the next section. Crawling was easier than standing, walking two steps, then bending down again. With the checkpoint reached, she stretched and yanked on the cart containing her tools and her laptop so that it was properly within reach again.

The first thing she had to do here was a rectangle on the wall where they needed to add extra data points; so she pulled the pen-stained piece of cardboard from the cart and drew around it with a marker.

She noted the need for the extra points on the first page of her notebook – so far, they’d only missed three installation points – installing one set of two, rather than two sets of two each time.

With the absence dealt with, she plugged her laptop into the first existing port and tested it – running speed tests and ensuring that it was connecting to the baby server that they had set up. All tests checked out on the first, but every test failed on the second; so she flagged it on the page she had marked as “Problems for Future Screen”, and decided, with that minor defeat, that it was time for a break.

She dug into her satchel and pulled out a flattened sandwich and a warming can of Coke. She yanked the cable from the wall and opened the program for her mobile Fairyland data connection.

And A Light’s app was nice and lightweight – a connection button and an account button sat on the left, above a small, square ad for their new promo. Most of the app’s screen was taken up with the distinctive Faerie universal wifi logo, which resembled a stylised flower, sections of the petals flashing as the connection was established, before going still to indicate signal strength.

AAL had decent rates – further discounted if you were in good standing with your Local Court, and when every non-human dollar counted, you kept in good standing with the locals.

The connection and the app minimised itself, and her Fairyland-compatible browser opened automatically.

Spiral was an excellent browser, open-source and full of customizable aspects – and for some reason, it seemed to be the most susceptible to her powers, so a little concentration usually fixed any problems.

She slipped earbuds into her ears, selected a calming playlist, and browsed social media until her sandwich and drink disappeared.

She took a cursory look around – her lunch hour was technically up, but there was no one else around except for the painters, and they had no idea of her schedule. Even if they saw her, all they’d see was the IT chick using a computer – lucky for her, without closer examination, work and play were indistinguishable.

Another fifteen minutes, and she felt ready to continue testing the poorly-planned network.

Over half of the connections didn’t work, and that was just for starters.

It would have been faster to get a team in there to do this, but that would cost money. The company was shelling out for a new office, sure, but she was sure that the cut corners had ensured each of the three senior managers got a new boat.

The company sucked, and mismanagement was the order of the day.

The new office was in a new building, still far from ready to open, but it was lovely. Open plan, big kitchens, function-slash-meeting rooms with feature walls in a variety of colours; and importantly – and expensively – a view of the trashmaid-filled river.

Not that the humans knew it was full of zombie mermaids. To them, it was simply an excellent background and something to space out looking at as the clocked dragged towards three-o’clock-coffee each day.

The address and the amenities were where the spending seemed to stop though – as evidenced by her one-woman crusade to get the IT systems up and running.

And they’d started to fire people as well. A dozen of the poorest-performing salespeople wouldn’t be joining them in the new building – and with the nature of their contracts – long-term temp workers, they wouldn’t get any kind of severance package.

It was shit, but there was nothing she could do. She’d managed to add all the about-to-be-jobless employees to the list of “people to buy gifts for at holidays” – a list usually reserved for business partners and clients that were friends of the upper management.

It didn’t make up for the loss of wages, but it would guarantee them a fancy Christmas present for at least a couple of years until the gift list glitched and got purged. Again.

Her phone buzzed a quick short-long-short pattern – the pattern she’d set for Rose Room alerts.

Fairy biology was weird – and had been radically altered by outside sources over the centuries – less than a thousand years ago, fairies had been tiny, Barbie-sized things that, while fully sentient, where often seen more as a snack than as a neighbour.

There were still fae who had family cookbooks, describing the best way to cook up a brace of fairies.

Their prey nature had caused them to evolve along the procreate-or-die path, with sexually mature fairies reproducing as much as possible, as to ensure their species survival.

At some point, there had been the first mirror intervention – a sole fairy had reached a fallen mirror before all other searchers and wished for their species to be able to change size at will – something that all fairies could still do to this day.

That one wish had exhausted the mirror, so now while the average fairy could go to five or six feet within a few seconds, they still had the biological urge and need to procreate; and that had spun Faerie on its head.

Millions of fairies could now fight back when someone hungry came along and were far more capable of fighting for protection.

Many other fae hadn’t been happy, and had seen their former snacks breeding out of control as a threat; and had set about trying to exterminate the fairies – a campaign that had nearly succeeded, even as various Courts tried to hammer out protections to stop the extinction crusades in their tracks.

And the second mirror intervention had happened – the story – as all the common knowledge about the history of the fairies had more story than history, unless you really studied it; was that the mirror had fallen at the feet of the last two remaining fairy queens, and to save their species; they had made a wish.

That wish took away the abilities for fairies to procreate themselves – and had instead made the process external – fairy children were now born by parents impregnating fruit.

It was likely to have been one of the strangest things wished from a mirror – the mirror had created and spawned fruit trees all over Faerie – the fruit had many regional names, but most people defaulted to calling it “fairy fruit”, and when it wasn’t growing a child, the fruit was often served for breakfast.

All consenting parents had to do was touch their hands against the skin of the fruit to seed their child, then return in a few months and retrieve their child.

The external pregnancy process had been talked about from every angle for hundreds of years – with the first and obvious point that what the queens “should” have done was kill the fairy hyperactive libido, not make such a drastic change.

The queens had argued the point that they needed an immediate solution, that they needed to show that things would change – and fae witnesses to hundreds of disappearing fairy pregnancies had been enough to draw a cease to the extinction crusade.

But to this day, the hyperactive fairy libido was still a feature of their society – so there were various workarounds – sex workers hired on as part of office teams; sexporiums as common as coffee shops; and apps like Rose Room.

Rose had commodified the fairy need for quick sex – instead of having a quickie in an alley or a public bathroom, they had constructed low-cost publically-accessible facilities – the going rate usually bought you ten minutes for ten bucks.

It was like having a bunch of individual rooms from a love hotel but placed right alongside other public facilities like bathrooms and information kiosks. There were imitators, of course, but Rose was the granddaddy and brand leader in the area – and their app helped to facilitate the quick meet-and-fuck sessions that were an everyday part of fairy life.

For non-fairy fae, it was just another hookup app – albeit one of the better ones, as its sign-up process allowed for accountability – with a record of each encounter, if there was an STI problem, or something worse, there were ways to contact the other participant.

She unlocked the app with a fingerprint, and her inbox appeared. As she spent most of her time on Earth, where the ambient fae population meant that you were less likely to be pinged for nearby opportunities for immediate sexytime, she’d set her profile to “Peony”, which was the Rose Room setting that encouraged users to text each other with something more than a pin dropped on a map.

Peony worked well for her – a few flirty lines would usually lead to drinks and a one-night stand. The downside was that it also happened to be the profile that the human-and-part-human Rose user base tended to use, and…broadly speaking, she got more “eww, you fucking fatty” comments from the human user base than she did from the fae. The fae had far weirder ideas of beauty and were just as likely to reject someone for not having vines or tentacles in the right places.

The message was from a cute fairy girl with glasses, her profile shot had her posing with one finger to her lips.

The text message was fairly short:

Screen tapped the message box, and the keyboard appeared. {I’m going with friends, but we’re splitting up at about four. I’ll buy the first round at the fluffins quarter or the popcorn pavilion, your choice.}

The response was immediate – first came a sticker with of a cartoon goblin with heart eyes, then a message.

Half an hour of light conversation and meme sharing passed, culminating in each of them sending a tasteful nude – in her case, she shared her favourite “classy” nude – a small top hat perched upon her left breast.

The pic was received with a volley of thumbs up emojis, and she closed the app with a smile and went back to testing the remaining ports on the wall.

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