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Words, distant and muffled, slowly seeped into Andy's ears. They reached his brain at last and pulled him awake.
"Andy Go! Are you okay?" He could finally make out the words. Dash was calling out to him repeatedly.
Andy opened his eyes and found the ceiling light glaring at him from above. He was on the carpet, flat on his back. He had blacked out for a few seconds. Then everything came flooding back to him and he sprang up like a vampire from its coffin. His vision went white for a moment from the sudden drain of blood from his head. Finally, he found Dash at the service window when his eyes cleared. He staggered over to her, delirious with shock.
"You!" he cried, hyperventilating. "This is a joke, right? You can't be serious... Please tell me this is April Fool's Day in your dimension."
"What's 'April Fool's Day'?" Dash blinked, full of wonder.
Andy's voice cracked as he exploded. "You... bastards! You tricked me into this!"
"What're you talking about? Everything was right there in the contract," Dash stated.
"That thing had more pages than Moby Dick!" Spit was flying. "You knew I wasn't going read all that! You're telling me every time you sign up for a porn site you read that twenty page agreement? Who reads contracts?"
"We do. Every word. A Praxian would never sign a contract he or she hasn't read and understood."
"Well, I'm not a Praxian! And even if I had read every word, I wouldn't have understood a thing! That contract language was like Greek to me! I might as well have been reading an MS DOS manual!"
"Hey, look on the bright side." Dash grinned. "You'll still be paid $250,000 a year!"
Andy hurled himself onto the bed, howling in anguish. He couldn't breathe... couldn't think. He started muttering like a crazy homeless person on the bus, his voice withering into shallow, ragged rasps. "This can't be happening... This can't be happening..."
Dash stared curiously. Then she shrugged and turned to go. "Well, enjoy your dinner."
"Wait, wait!" Andy shrieked and threw himself at the window. Then he took several deep breaths and pulled himself up by the sill of the opening. He spoke as calmly as he could through his trembling lips. "Okay, look... I'm really sorry, but I changed my mind. I don't want this job. I want to leave. Right now."
Dash spread her hands. "There's nothing I can do, Andy Go. You signed the contract."
"Fuck the contract! Get me the hell out of here!"
Dash giggled and patted the top of Andy's head. "You humans sure are cute when you get flustered."
Something snapped inside of Andy as he stared up her grinning face. The walls of sanity were collapsing around him. He was suddenly gripped with blinding desperation, the likes of which he had never experienced before. And it moved him to actions which he never thought himself capable. His body moved on its own, and before he knew what was happening, he had grabbed the knife from his dinner tray. He wrapped his other arm around Dash's neck and pulled her head through the service window. The blade glinted as he raised the knife to her throat.
"Look, I'm sorry," he panted. "I don't want to do this... But you've given me no other choice! Now, unless you want to speak out of a voice box for the rest of your life, you're going to get me out of this cell and take me back home. Now!"
Dash gazed at him mildly for a second. The she wrapped one hand around the blade and squeezed it into her fist. After she let go, Andy stared dumbfounded at the blade crumpled like a pretzel in his hand.
"You should finish your dinner before you start playing around, Andy Go," she muttered nonchalantly.
Andy staggered back in disbelief, knees wobbling. The mangled knife slid out of his quavering hand and dropped onto the floor. Just then, D86 stepped into view behind Dash once again.
"Well well well," he sneered. "So you thought you could just cruise through life doodling, eh, monkey boy? Well, you got your wish. Now you can doodle away uselessly until the day you die."
Andy threw himself onto the sill of the window. "D86! You have to release me! I... I didn't know what I was signing!"
D86 bared his teeth like a wolf. "You make me sick. It's because of lazy leeches like you that your pathetic civilization is in the primitive mess that it's in. And now you're telling me even contracts don't apply to you? You 'artists' think you're so goddamn special... Well, I've got news for you, monkey boy. You're going to have to work and suffer just like the rest of us!" Then he turned to Dash. "Come on, 503(4)-0717.04.23.B101. Let's go. You've got other animals to feed."
He spun around and Dash shuffled after him obediently.
"Come back here, you bastard! Let me out of here!" Andy screamed after him, his voice going hoarse.
"And don't even think about jumping through that feeding window," D86 growled. He receded into the narrow corridor with his back to Andy. "You'll never get past us. And I'll personally snap your scrawny neck if you try."
"You can't do this to me! I'm not an animal! I'm a person!" Andy's shrill, desperate pleas echoed down the corridor after the two Praxians. D86 flipped the switch and the window shrank until it was no more. Andy pounded against the solid wall until his fists turned red. "I'm not an animal! I'm a person!"
He felt tears welling up, hot and stinging. With a pathetic sob, he slid down the wall into a heap on the floor.
"I'm a human being, goddamn it," he croaked. "I can do crossword puzzles... and upload videos on YouTube... and eat chips with chopsticks if I want... I'm not an animal... You can't do this to me... I have rights..."
A slow chuckle echoed out of the air vent.
"Welcome to the club, kid."
Andy crawled over to the vent like a wounded animal. "Mo...! Why didn't you warn me?"
"Hey, I wasn't going to take away the last four carefree hours of your life," he stated.
Andy writhed on the floor in bitter agony. The carpet was soaking up his tears like a sponge. "I can't believe this," he wept. "I can't believe this..."
Mo yawned. "I told you before, we're just animals to them. You think they're going to play fair with us? Do you ever ask a goat for permission before you stick it in a petting zoo?"
"I'm not surprised to see this coming from D86," Andy muttered, burying his face in the carpet. "That guy's obviously got some serious issues. But Dash... How could she do this to me? She seems so nice. But she was acting like she hadn't done anything wrong."
"You don't catch on very quick, do you? She hasn't done anything wrong in her world. In Praxis, there's absolutely nothing immoral about using misdirection to undercut someone in a business deal. It's expected. If the person you're making the deal with isn't sharp enough to catch on, that's on them."
But Andy heard none of this. He was in shock. His ears were ringing with overwhelming grief. "I'm going to rot in here for the rest of my life," he rambled to himself. "I haven't even done anything yet… I haven't lived! Now I'm never going to visit the Louvre, or see the Aurora Borealis, or eat sushi off of a naked woman..." He choked on his sobs.
"Eh, it's not all bad," Mo said casually. "Have you had the veal? These Praxians can replicate one mean piece of veal, let me tell you."
"Mo," Andy whispered in a fragile voice. "I'm sorry, but I think I want to be alone right now..."
"You are alone, kid," Mo replied. "Totally and utterly alone."
Andy stretched across the floor and shut the vent in a fury. Then he crumpled into the fetal position and wept deeply into his chest.
I'm never going to see Mom and Dad again, he thought with a sob. They must have been worried sick, wondering what happened to their son. They were probably at the dinner table at that very moment, watching Andy's dinner grow cold. Then Andy thought woefully about Roger and Tony. He would never enjoy another night of drinking in their brotherly company. Or have another heated argument over artists and directors as they made their way down to San Diego Comic-Con in Roger's crappy two-door Suzuki. Andy felt a deep pang at the thought of never seeing them again. Then as his thoughts inevitably drifted to Yumi, he spun into a whirlpool of sorrow and regret. He would never hear her laugh again, or gaze with slack-jawed infatuation as she played the Game of Thrones theme song on her mini accordion. He cried a scalding tear of regret for every chance he had to tell her how much he loved her and never did. Now he would never know if she felt the same way for him. He nearly pulled out a handful of hair imagining Yumi waiting for him at the Japanese Tea Garden this weekend. She would undoubtedly think he had flaked on her, without a cell phone to even call him.
Why hadn't he read the fucking contract before signing? Hell, why had he quit school? Why had he been so cocky? Why didn't he ever think things through before jumping into something? As Andy lay there weeping, his grand childhood dream of becoming a successful artist and proving his parents wrong drifted up to the surface of his mind. A bitter laugh trickled out of his throat. What a joke. He was such a joke.
There's an old Korean superstition that say if you laugh and cry at the same time, you'll grow hairs around your butthole. Andy prepared himself then for the hairiest damn butthole this side of the multiverse as he rotted away in his cell reliving this day over and over in his mind for the rest of his miserable, wasted life.
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