Tre took the entire weekend to change his profile status from “IN A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DEVIL” to “ENGAGED TO JESSICA TRAPPER.”
He almost waited too long. Jess’s hurtness was seeping out of the walls like ectoplasm, almost manifesting physically in the apartment they shared.
“It doesn’t matter what it says on Facebook,” he lied casually, when she asked him. “This is about us: not all those assholes on Facebook.”
“I changed it in the bathroom literally ten minutes after I said yes,” she said, squeezing one of his thighs as she curled up against him, trying to be more amused by her own response to her own joy than upset by his willful rejection of this extremely clear and obvious new rule w/r/t love.
“We are gonna talk about Facebook in the future like our parents talk about cocaine,” he said. “Man, I can’t even remember that decade. I was on Facebook the whole time. I met your mother on Facebook. I did so much Facebook that my balls went numb and I could only fuck on Facebook. You want to see pictures? They are on Facebook.”
“You sure you aren’t having second thoughts about being relationshipped?” she asked him.
“You make it sound non-consensual,” he said.
“9 times out of 10 it’s somebody you already know,” she said.
“The real problem is relationship culture,” he said.
Eventually, she decided he was merely being dumb and not having “secret thoughts.” She drifted off to sleep beside him.
But Tre lay awake all night, watching who liked the post and responding to the comments.
At Buzzfeed the next day, Tre felt doomed. He coasted through work, trying to get as much done as possible. Everyone kept sarcastically congratulating him, which didn’t help. He figured out thirteen things that only people born in 1990 would know, and then he left early.
Jess had her Pilates class on Mondays so they usually both fended for themselves when it came to dinner. He wasn’t sure what to do.
He drove over to a strip center where they sometimes went for Appalachian food. There was a Chili’s there. He would go to Chili’s. Chili’s was the right place. It was a place you went when your life was over and you were ready to die.
He got a glass of wine and a plate of fried cheese at the bar.
He took a long gulp of the bad wine, feeling cursed, and opened Facebook on his phone.
He started looking through the profiles of old girlfriends, trying to figure out what qualities they had in common, besides dating him. Maybe if he could determine some essential quality they shared he would find out something useful about himself, something he could use as a wedge or weapon.
He resisted the temptation to “like” anything they posted or to make any comments. Surely doing so now, post-engagement, would seem hostile.
“Drone over there just bought you a drink,” said the bartender. “What do you want?”
“The fuck?” said Tre.
“Are you Tre?” said the bartender. “Drone said your name was Tre. You want another glass of wine or like top shelf Scotch or what?”
Tre craned his neck over his shoulder. He had never seen a drone in person before.
“Over there,” said the bartender. “By the bathroom. ”
The drone slumped along one side of a vinyl booth, smiling at him with high definition red lips and big soft cartoon eyes. It was female-shaped. It was wearing a tight black dress and was sitting over a fizzy cocktail that had been purchased purely for decoration. The drone’s proportions were disorienting and hallucinogenic: the six-tone skin rippled in metallic tones, showcasing abstract animated tattoos that seemed to change hue and texture based on the amount of indirect light it absorbed from the stained glass bar fluorescents.
“I’ve never seen one in real life before,” said the bartender. “Somebody you know?”
“I really doubt it,” said Tre.
As he stared, the drone stood up and arched its back. Everyone in the restaurant was watching the machine seduce him. They were laughing at him and pointing, or else gawking and taking pictures.
Tre found himself slipping off of his barstool and walking over, his head swimming, his heart filling with quiet murder. He had to talk to the drone or it would keep trying to get his attention. He slid into the booth and sipped his drink.
“Hello,” said the drone in its digitally-altered machine register. There was a human being on the other end of that voice typing words to him. Some hidden secret subjectivity. It was entirely possible that people didn’t have any kind of external soul that mattered and might survive death, but this drone definitely did.
“Do I know you?” asked Tre.
“Sure,” said the drone. “Sure you do.”
“Then do you mind if I inquire as to who is piloting this magnificent machine that is buying me drinks?”
“I am Anonymous, lol,” said the drone in the same throaty but uninflected half-tone voice. “Does Anonymous get you hard? Does Anonymous make you feel sex feelings lol?”
Tre set his drink down carefully on a Chili’s coaster. The drone immediately slid around so that it was sitting right next to him. It leaned in so that it was touching his thigh. There was a warm hum coming from inside the drone that he could feel through the plastic seat. He could feel it vibrating his prostate; pulling at his testicles. The smell coming from the drone was simultaneously musky and artificial, like a werewolf that had just fucked a rack of fashion magazines.
“No seriously,” he asked. “Who is in there?”
“I hear you are getting married,” said the drone. “That must be exciting. Such a change lol.”
“Do you know me for real or are you just learning stuff about me right now on the internet?”
“Come on now Tre,” said the drone. “Relax a little bit. Talking to us is like praying. We only want to help you and we have the power to do it.”
The drone reached over and put one firm flexiflesh hand on his thigh.
“Do you want to see a picture?” asked the drone. “Something exciting?”
“I need to go,” said Tre. His phone vibrated and he looked down. He had a message. He opened it. It was a picture of the drone all tied up with a ball gag. There was semen, or some kind of semen substitute, trickling down its haunches and it was looking trustingly at the camera. There was a poster on the wall behind the drone for “Finding Nemo.”
“Do you like that?” asked the drone. “Does it excite you?”
The image was sudden and shocking. It was an exact replica from a series of photos he had taken of his college girlfriend in her dorm room, back long ago before people realized that everything digital was permanent. It was a perfect replica in every detail.
The picture was still on one of his old hard drives. His forehead broke out in a cold sweat. That’s where it had to come from. When was the last time he had connected that hard drive to a computer?
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“Do you want to see more?” asked the drone. “We just want to make you happy lol. We can make more, if you like. Tonight. Right now. We can have all the sex! LOL!”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Tre.
“I thought you were leaving?” said the drone, bemused. “Well, if you are going to stay, we should talk about interesting subjects.”
“What do you want to talk about?” asked Tre. He was stalling. He needed to think. This could be an old friend; an old enemy. Someone he had hurt in the past. Some thirteen-year-old kid. Why today? Did it have something to do with changing his relationship status? Had somebody been watching him all along, waiting for him to finally decide to “settle down” before striking?
They didn’t have to live anywhere close to him. They could be on the other side of the world.
It didn’t have to be someone alone, either. It could be a team of people. A bunch of his friends could have all chipped in together and rented the drone for the evening, and they were now fucking with him, all sitting around with beers laughing and debating what to type next. One person at the controls, another busily hacking his laptop, another person figuring out what to say next to make him sweat. They didn’t even have to be American. They could be feeding everything through a language filter.
He had no power here.
He realized all of a sudden that he was very turned on. He needed to focus; to keep his mind away from the very real creature in front of him made out of silicon and rubber and firm warm plastic, he tried to imagine a bald and overweight middle aged-man chain-smoking in front of a bank of computers, pacing back and forth, barking out orders to acne-faced teenagers who were pulling levers and cackling, all wearing Skrillex t-shirts.
“Relax,” said the drone. “We can talk about your fiancée if you like. She seems nice lol. How long have you known her?”
“Four years or so,” said Tre.
“You seem nervous,” said the drone. “Don’t be nervous. How did you guys meet?”
Tre paused. He needed to ascertain what the drone knew about him in order to figure out who it was. Anybody could find out facts about him. They were everywhere; nothing was private anymore. He needed to know the color and shape and taste of these facts in order to triangulate the drone’s likely pilot.
“We met at a little crab restaurant,” said Tre. “I was there with a buddy and we sat at the bar. She wasn’t ordinarily a bartender there, she was normally a server, but she was filling in for the night and we got to talking.”
“Did you go home with her right away?” asked the drone. “Are you a player? LOL.”
“What does it matter? Don’t you already know the answer?”
“Does she know how you met?” asked the drone.
“What do you mean?” said Tre.
“I mean, if I asked her how you met, would she tell the same story?”
“Yes,” said Tre. “Of course.”
“So you haven’t told her.”
“Told her what?”
“About your buddy the doctor,” said the drone. “And the program the two of you made to have a good time in bars. About LadyKiller lol.”
Tre’s mouth went dry. The drone leaned in close, seeming to taste the aroma of his panic. He and Peter had sworn each other to secrecy about that. In fact, his shame and revulsion was so complete that he had mostly manage to convince himself it had never happened. Where was Peter now? He was practicing medicine in Florida. He was happy. This couldn’t be Peter. But what if Peter had a secret livejournal or something?
He wanted to run away, but the drone was too dangerous. It knew everything about him, and he didn’t know what it wanted or who it was yet. It was like a cat, flipping him over onto his back and watching him scramble to his feet before flipping him over again, staring at him, watching him struggle, trying to learn something about the nature of struggle itself.
“You should tell the truth when people ask,” said the drone. “It’s a much better story lol. One night your friend the doctor was drunk on tequila after passing one of his big doctor exams. He had recently dissected a cadaver that had died from a self-inflicted drug overdose and he was having an existential crisis because the cadaver had such glorious and stirring breast implants. He Facebook messaged you about it. He had been worried about his sexual response to a dead woman, and you tried to cheer him up by going as far as you could along with him, talking about breast implants and how they all had to have RFID tags embedded inside them so that they could be tracked for insurance and emergency purposes. And then you said: maybe we could track those RFIDs in living people. With the right open data algorithm, you could find all the people with breast implants in a 300-yard radius and match them up to their Facebook profiles. You both spent the next month coding it up. It was good code lol! And even though you found a few people with plates in their knees and artificial limbs, it worked like a goddamn charm, yo. You got so laid. You got ten thousand times laid. You became a sex hero! You had weird confidence, knowing things about people before you even said hello. And THAT’S how you met your fiancée. It was good and smart. We salute you.”
“How do you know all that?”
“Because we care about you,” said the drone. “We are Anonymous. We are legion. Sometimes we are benevolent lol and reward those who serve the world. It was a brilliant program. Did you know that people still use it to this very day? You are almost a hero in certain circles. In other circles you are not a hero at all. There are many circles.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Tre.
“Ladykiller,” said the drone. “Was that your title or your friend Peter’s?”
“That was me,” he said weakly.
Tre realized now that it didn’t matter who was piloting the drone. He was in an extremely precarious situation and he needed to get away.
“What do you want from me?”
“We don’t want anything,” said the drone. “We are giving ourselves to you as a wedding present, like a fruit basket. You can do whatever you want to us. We are yours to keep. We thought about hacking a power user on Fetlife and sending some willing slave from the bottom of a leather family to you as a gift but this is more clean. We will both keep our secrets: you won’t tell anyone what happened, and we won’t tell you who we really are. It will be so fun for both of us. This whole body is artificial. Have you ever wanted to fuck the internet? LOL.”
The drone reached into its purse and pulled out a band-aid colored pill bottle. The drone shook the bottle, rattling the contents.
“What are those?” asked Tre. “Now you want to drug me?”
“They are harmless,” said the drone. “Just sugar. But they are password pills. For the suite.”
“I can’t stay with you,” said Tre. “I have to get home. You are trying to hurt me somehow.”
“You don’t have to stay the night,” said the drone. “You can leave whenever you like. But you should really come with us. So we can be alone together. I bet you aren’t really honest with your…desires…until you are alone with someone lol.”
A shadow fell across his face.
There was somebody standing over them.
The bartender was standing at their table, grinning knowingly.
“Your car is ready,” said the bartender.
Tre followed the drone out of the restaurant, unsure of how to get away. Could he run? He found himself getting into the backseat of the car beside the drone. The car didn’t have a driver. It navigated the streets carefully and persistently, tinted windows concealing this terrifying vacuity from other drivers on the road.
The drone slipped its hands down Tre’s pants and encouraged him to feel the warmth of its perfect mouth, the wetness of its breath.
“You have to take one of the pills whenever you want to come up,” said the drone. “Your stomach acids will dissolve the coating and prime the transmitter. It is temporary; a bit like a glow stick. By the time it stops working, you have to be gone, or otherwise security will be called. You can take another pill if you want to come see us again. We are a present to you. For all you have done. From Anonymous. For the lulz.”
Tre dryswallowed one of the pills and put the rest in his pocket.
The lobby of the building they stopped in front of was also empty. The elevator snapped open. There were no buttons in the elevator; just smooth metal on every side.
“It is scanning the pill inside you,” said the drone.
The elevator opened on the top floor suite.
“This is nice, isn’t it,” said the drone. “Facebook tells us whose birthday it is and who is in a relationship and who is having kids. We ‘like’ these things. We say: ‘happy birthday.’ Facebook measures how responsive we are to our peers, and to ads, and how much money we make based on the trips we take and the wonderful things we buy and the exciting jobs we have. And when we want to fuck somebody with a drone as a present, Facebook makes it so easy, doesn’t it? Everything is so nice now lol. ”
Tre waited for the drone to turn its head to walk deeper into the suite.
And then he slammed into it from behind, tackling it to the ground. The drone was not made for combat or battle. Its responses were silky and catlike as he straddled it and got his knees onto its shoulderblades. He put his boot on its neck.
“Lol,” said the drone. “You mad?”
His phone beeped at him. Alerts. Hadn’t he turned his ringer off?
There was a marble side table by the foyer. With his boot still on the drone’s neck, he swept a ficus and an antique clock from the tabletop and then picked up the table by the base. He swung the table around and broke the legs off. He just wanted the slab of marble.
The drone writhed beneath him, stroking his ankle seductively. He slammed the piece of marble into the drone’s head, cracking it. He heaved and sweated, bringing the slab of marble down again and again. His phone kept bleeping at him. It was nearly a constant irritating whine now, alerts streaming from his pants pocket.
“Shut up,” he said.
Any piece of the drone that moved, he bashed it with the slab of marble. He was precise and consistent. The fingers twitched; he bashed them. An eyelid fluttered; he smashed it as hard as he could, making sparks, sending chips of marble flying.
Eventually, the drone lay completely still on the soft rug beneath him. He was sweating and kept burping up stomach acid, though he felt nothing but cold inside.
It’s the equivalent of breaking a camera, he thought to himself. The fact that it feels like murder is part of the camera’s new defense mechanism.
He leaned against the door of his suite and finally checked his phone. The alerts were all from Facebook. There were thousands of them and they were still coming in.
He scrolled over to his Facebook wall. It was filled with pictures of him from every angle smashing the drone. The only text accompanying the pictures was a frowny face. There were thousands of them; each moment captured in beautiful three-tone sepia. Too many to delete.
He looked for the camera taking the pictures. Was it in the ceiling tiles? Was it embedded in the door frame?
He was up on a chair using his phone to look at Facebook with one hand and searching the ceiling tiles with the other when the security guard unlocked the door.
“I had to smash it,” said Tre. “It was hacking my computer.”
“The cops are on their way,” she said. “Just so you know.”
“Man,” he said. “Why did you call the cops? It’s a fucking ROBOT!”
“It calls the cops automatically, dude,” said the security guard. “Do you know how much these things cost? You basically just crashed somebody’s yacht, dude.”
“Whose apartment is this?” asked Tre.
“You mean you don’t even know where you are?” asked the security guard, laughing.
His phone was ringing. It was Jessica. He put his phone on the ground and started smashing it with the slab of marble, gritting his teeth so hard that they squeaked and his gums frothed, while the security guard just shook her head and laughed, not getting too close, quietly taking video with her phone just in case the cops had questions.