I dropped the laundry basket on the bed. It bounced and turned onto its side, spilling clean clothes onto the bedspread. It was after ten o’clock at night, and my husband Paul, procrastinating as usual, sat shirtless atop the covers. He smirked and nudged the basket with his size 13 foot.
“Can I talk you into folding that for me?”
My playfully defiant expression was just a performance and a transparent one at that. Before Paul finished asking, I had already started picking through the pile of clean clothes, sorting out which were mine and which were his. I balled up a pair of his socks and lobbed them his way. They landed on his thick pecs and rolled down his furry belly. I bit my lip when they stopped right between his thighs, resting against the bulge in his briefs. Lucky socks.
I had been based out of Artemis Station for several years, doing long-distance runs to minor colonies and galactic backwaters. Six months to Vesta. Fourteen months to New Rockall. The occasional 10-week jog to Hyperion and back. Interstellar cargo is a boring industry, but the work was steady, and the pay was good.
The long periods of deep sleep freaked some guys out, but I didn’t mind it too much. I had no loved ones waiting back home who went on living—and aging—while I spent most of my time in a sleep chamber, exempt from the passage of time. Coming home to a new kid you didn’t recognize or watching everyone you’ve ever cared about move on with their lives without you must make you think twice about the job. Of the 200 graduates of my training group, fewer than 50 signed up for a second run. After my third run, I think I was the only one still with the company.
It was getting late. Empty beer bottles and pizza boxes littered the living room. The TV screensaver stopped looping and plainly asked, Are you still watching? Zach and I lay sprawled out on the couches, lethargic from too much food and even more alcohol. A pack of cards rested on the coffee table between us. It was still in the plastic, evidence of my underwhelming party-planning skills.
“Thanks for hanging out, Trev,” he murmured. “You don’t have to wait up with me until midnight.”
I looked at my watch. It was 11:53 p.m. “Not much longer to go,” I said. “Besides, I’m as curious as you are.”
I stood alone in the empty corridor. A few yards away, an ice machine rumbled. Further down, the elevator chimed. I jerked my head in its direction like a startled animal and waited to see if anyone had emerged from the vestibule. No one did. I willed my nerves back down.
Horny online chats were one thing. Coming to Sir’s hotel room was another. I wanted this so badly, but my anxiety and apprehension threw up barrier after barrier to sabotage me. There would always be work projects that demanded my attention. There would always be friends who wanted to make plans at the last minute. I committed to dismissing every one of those mental roadblocks when they arose. I was proud of myself for getting this far.
I already flaked on Sir once before. He graciously accepted my apology and backed off while I sorted myself out. It wasn’t long before I started messaging him again. He was patient yet firm in guiding me toward a second meeting. It was inevitable. I knew I wouldn’t get another chance if I flaked again. This was it. Now or never.
Every store in the Commonwealth trotted out their old, unshifted merchandise on Black Friday. As a date on the calendar, it was a quaint holdover from the pre-Reform, back when people sold you stuff you didn’t need just because you had money, and they could convince you to spend it. It was harmless cultural theater, like those recreations of historic villages with actors churning butter and feigning shock at your zippers.
My best friend Adrian and I ventured into the old commercial sector this year for some Black Friday window shopping. Our dads tried to talk us out of it, saying it was rude to waste a shopkeeper’s time if we had no intention of buying anything. Typical dadNet programming, trying to guilt us into staying home. We went anyway and had a great time trying on boots and coloring in mood panels with hand gestures while our dads remained docked at home. We had just left a home appliances warehouse and were about to break for lunch when I saw him standing in the window.
The box showed up on our doorstep a week before Thanksgiving. We were confused. It couldn’t possibly have been the prep-by-step Thanksgiving dinner we ordered. It was way too early, and the box wasn’t nearly heavy enough.
“Do you think we got scammed?” I asked my boyfriend Paul.
“What do you mean we, Mr. Subscription Delivery Service Addict?” he said with a smirk. “I’m not the one who ordered it. I told you I’d be happy with pizza and beer.”
We’d done pizza and beer for two consecutive lockdown Thanksgivings. I was ready for something special, but neither of us was a great cook. I wanted premeasured ingredients and a simple chart to follow. Thanksgiving-in-a-box was the answer, or so I thought.
I hated my HOA. It was full of boring old people with nothing better to do than micromanage the lives of others. I paid my dues on time every month, but only to keep the pool open and keep the dreaded condo board off my back. I ignored their emails, and whenever a new notice was posted in the elevator, I made a point of looking the other way while I rode from the parking garage up to my unit.
Every summer, they held elections for the condo board. As usual, I threw my ballot in the trash without even looking to see which of my neighbors were candidates. It was always the same handful of people who probably just rotated offices among themselves like a twisted, incestuous merry-go-round. One morning, I found a note shoved under my front door thanking me for my vote. I didn’t recognize who it was from, but I didn’t much care, either. The $400 a month I paid in dues should be more than enough to be left alone.
Noah tapped the key card against the door panel and turned the handle. It was late, and he was exhausted. After a delayed flight, lost luggage, and a tumultuous cab ride in pouring rain, his brain was fried. The dozens of work emails he missed because the plane Wi-Fi was down would just have to wait. At this hour, the only thing he wanted to do was collapse into bed.
It was long past midnight, and all the way from the airport, Noah feared his room had been resold. In a surprising demonstration of customer service, however, the Portal Hotel had held his reservation. Despite his exhaustion, Noah indulged the excitable desk attendant as he explained the hotel’s amenities. The guy was nice enough, and Noah especially enjoyed the way his pecs stretched his already tight shirt when he inhaled.
In this coda from “Poker with the guys,” Didrik explains how the Keypad transformed him from boss to slave.
My name is Didrik, and I used to be the boss. It was fun while it lasted, I guess. I came into my new job full of ideas and initiative, but it didn’t take long for me to learn my true place in the scheme of things. I’d been on the job six months when my five employees—Bill, Doug, Jim, Lou, and Steve—became the bosses of me. Sure, they still follow my instructions and preserve the illusion of being my direct reports at the office. The truth, however, is far more complex. They own me, but they force me to keep up the façade of leadership. They tell me what they want from upper management, and I make it happen, no matter what. I arrive early and stay late to do my job and much of theirs. They set their hours and tell me what work they’re willing to do. Any work left undone is my responsibility.
You might be wondering how I ended up so deeply under their control. You might also ask what their hold over me is. Why do I continue to comply, even as it makes my personal and professional life increasingly difficult? The answers to these questions are equally complex.
Eric and Max’s predicament comes to an end, of sorts, in the conclusion from “To chase and be chaste, part 4.”
With his pants around his knees, Eric waddled back behind his desk and flopped down into his chair. “Come on,” he said to Max. “Get your phone out and do this with me.”
“I’m not sure,” Max said, taking a seat in one of the chairs opposite Eric’s desk. “I’ve been trapped in this thing for a week, and I haven’t found a way out of them. I don’t think there is a way.”
Eric opened a private browser window and pulled up DateMaker. “I can’t take it anymore, man. That meeting was a nightmare. My hands go numb every time they get near my cock. I keep knocking my bulge, and it’s like there’s nothing there. DateMaker can fuck off.”