It’s a jungle in the office here, with all the administrators in heat. They’re mating with the photocopiers and producing children born for office work. Dull, duplicate grayfaces attached to each other–they know the horrors of office work, but they were bred to it. Their fathers raised them suckling on espresso in plastic-nippled bottles. Softly the photocopiers whisper a legend: Espresso Nipples are a popular drink at the strip club. You pay a stripper twenty bucks and she shoots espresso from her nipples into your mouth.
This is how Jared starts his day, in a taxi’s back seat. He takes a stripper to work and drinks from her nipples each day. She fake-moans at his touch, but he’s thinking of the photocopier he’ll fuck later. There’s been a territorial fight lately with the photocopiers at stake. The Director wants to fuck Jared’s favorite photocopier, but Jared won’t let him. Jared’s risking his job. But his photocopier is special. She’s the mother of his first hundred duplicates, and only one of them is smudged. She’s good for breeding and he likes that about her.
Today’s stripper in the taxi is the color of espresso. Ivy grows from her head–a genetic alteration, or perhaps her mother was an office plant. Green vines flow over the seats, lengthening as he watches. She stares up at him from his lap, her nipples exposed to his thirst. She’d make a nice photocopier, Jared thinks, but she’s merely a stripper. He calculates the formulas needed to become CEO. He must have x years of experience, y degrees of beauty in his wife, and z number of kids. XYZ = CEO. Jared’s XYZ increases every time he touches his photocopier.
The stripper covers herself with her hair. Jared flicks the ivy away with a finger. “Hey. I want more espresso.”
“You’re cut off. I’m tired.”
Jared pauses. The taxi lurches sideways. She’s watching him–a Lady Godiva in leaves. He’ll call her Godivy. Underneath the leaves is espresso, and Jared wants more. “I’ll pay triple the usual.”
“Don’t need the money.”
“You’re a stripper.”
“I’m a mermaid.” She stretches on the vomit-scented taxi seat. Jared looks at her legs. Two feet poke out from the leaves like an unearthed corpse. She has no toenails–only ten green scales. Godivy says, “I know, you’re wondering where my tail is. Well, I don’t have one.”
“All mermaids have tails,” says Jared. “Otherwise they’d just be women.”
“Not black mermaids. Betcha didn’t know we existed.”
“I’ve never seen one.”
“Blame the artists. No one painted us in the nineteenth century because they said we weren’t even people. Not that mermaids were people anyway–just mouths, with tits. A sailor’s dream. To take without giving.”
Jared shrugs, thinking of his photocopier. She’s gray and boxy, and her children resemble her more than himself. He wonders how he’ll stave off the Director’s advances. It’ll be a careful black-and-white chess game. There’s no room for an ivy-haired stripper. But Godivy watches him with ocean-blue eyes. He asks, “Why aren’t you in the water?”
“I’ve got a mission.”
“Nothing you’ve paid for.”
Jared loses interest. She’s just a stripper, but his enemy is a Director. His XYZ is at stake. The taxi docks outside the building and he pays with a handswipe over a panel.
“You’re dismissed,” he tells Godivy, extending his hand. He expects her to shake it and complete the transaction.
“Don’t you want more espresso?” she asks. She lifts just enough ivy to reveal one perfect nipple.
Jared is captivated. “I thought you said I was cut off,” he says, thirsting.
“Take me upstairs. I’ll give you something.”
“No. I can’t take you inside.”
She smiles. “You were interested in taking me anywhere you could have me. Something’s changed. Are you ashamed? Worried about what I’ll want in return? Or just afraid I smell like fish?”
He scowls. “Get out of here.”
Godivy gathers her hair and lifts it out of the taxi. She steps into her green heels and walks away without a word. Jared watches her smooth brown hips as she disappears around the corner. No fish can walk like that. She’s a liar, like the thieving Director.
He banishes her from his mind and concentrates on the game at hand. He must checkmate the Director today and save his photocopier. He’s a rook sweeping through the front door, a bishop angling up the stairs. Jared the king steps into his throne office. The paneled walls prove his XYZ to the identical office cubes. The grayfaces bow at his arrival, and drift away on their business.
His photocopier stands in its corner. He strokes its open lid with the back of his hand. The photocopier whirs and beeps red, three times. “I’ll protect you,” he says softly. He unzips his pants. The photocopier spits out page after page: a plant, a plant, a plant. Jared looks at his photocopier’s smooth face. Someone has left a ceramic pot on the glass. Inside is a tiny plant.
Jared suspects a plot by the Director. He throws the pot out the window and hears it shatter three stories below. Ivy bursts from the shards. Green vines explode towards Jared and tangle through the window. He tries to run, but the ivy wraps his wrists. A leafy ocean sweeps him to the floor.
Someone laughs. Jared turns his head. The Director stands there, tall and skinny and brown. Jared has never noticed his green hair before. The Director is motionless, his twig fingers extended toward Jared’s photocopier. Godivy stands behind the Director.
“Who–what–are you?” asks Jared. The vines resist his struggles and tighten their grip.
Godivy steps forward. “I told you. I’m a mermaid on a mission. And this–” She gestures towards the Director. “This is a plant that I left here.”
“Don’t take my photocopier,” Jared cries.
“Too late. She’s not yours anymore.” Godivy places two fingers in her mouth and whistles. It sounds like the ocean in a shell. The photocopier quivers and stretches itself. A long green tail grows from its paper tray. The tail reaches four feet long, then splits to form fins. Jared’s office smells like the beach.
Godivy leaps out the window, and the photocopier swims through the air after her. Jared strains against his bonds. He hears splashing from the other offices. More photocopiers swim through the air, their tails flashing green as they escape out the window. They dive down the ivy waterfall and vanish. Jared’s bonds melt into seaweed sludge. He lies on his office floor, next to the rubber tree he knew as the Director, his face gray and empty. The nearby cubes are silent. The photocopiers swim towards the open sea, their buttons flickering green in the sunlight.
Originally published in anthology Paper Cities (2007).
Copyright © 2007 by Vylar Kaftan. All rights reserved.