(Rob) the ongoing pattern of male gendercide

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Rob is soaked, cold, tired, dirty, hungry, other adjectives, whatever, by the time he manages to find his way back to the Grand Butera. He gets inside, up the elevator, into Qannen's apartment, through the lounge, up the stairs, down the hall, into her bedroom, and finds:

Nothing. No one. The bedroom looks exactly as he left it, except with no humans.

They're gone. John and Qannen are both gone.

He drops the food, useless, unwanted now. He looks in the closet? Not sure what else to do? Looks around for a note? Some indication of where they went? A sign they'll be right back? But there's nothing. They're just gone.

Did something happen? Did they get captured? He sees the secure box they built to hide the signal from Qannen's phone from the zonny network. He opens it, hope still rising in his chest. The zonny they shot is still in there, writhing slowly at the bottom of the box, but no screen. So: they took her screen, and left.

"FUCK." He yells. "FUCK FUCK FUCK."

No idea what to do. Staring into space. He opens the box and checks again, just to be sure? No. He slams it shut.

"FUCK."

John must have given Qannen her screen back the second Rob left. Did they plan this maybe? Did they want him to leave so they could escape? Had they been planning this all along? He had a vague sense of John's obsession with Qannen but figured it was all in the past, assumed he was as focused as he needed to be, that they were a team, united in their mission. Apparently not. Apparently he was just an idiot.

Rob looks around the room one last time, hating everything in it. He grabs one of the bowls as an afterthought and storms out of the bedroom where he comes face to face with: a very tall alien. It's at least a foot and a half taller than he is, impossibly thin, wearing what looks like a long, skinny, black nylon sleeve.

It? She? Just stares at him, tilting its heads curiously.

"Do you know where they went?" Rob asks.

"Do I know where they went?" it replies.

"Umm what's happening?" Rob asks.

"What's happening?" it replies.

Qannen emerges from the room behind the alien, sleepy, rubbing her eyes. Rob actually sighs, so relieved to see her. There's an explanation, yay. She looks slightly different, she's wearing a new outfit, which is annoying, but whatever, who cares. She's here. But she stops next to the alien and just stares at him strangely and he realizes: that's not Qannen; that's her sister.

Qynka [looking at Rob through her screen]: "What are you? And what are you doing in my apartment?"

Rob: "I was looking for Qannen. I'm. A friend."

Qynka: "Qannen's missing. No one's seen her for days."

Rob: "I literally just left her here an hour ago."

Qynka: "And you're no one. Do you work for Daddy?"

Rob: "You must have seen them. They were here. Where did they go? Qannen and John."

Qynka [annoyed, confused]: "What did you call me?"

Azelbeth [stage-whispering to Qynka]: "Is this a show? How come there's no zonny following him?"

Their eyes do a slow scan of the room behind Rob, and then they both take a fearful step back away from him.

"FUCK!" Rob yells, stomping down the stairs, out, away.

/

He stands under the alcove in front of the Grand Butera, unsure what to do. He holds his screen up, trying to get enough of a signal to message John, but as usual everything about their screens is trash.

"FUUUUCK!" Rob yells, hurling his screen at the ground, smashing it into hundreds of pieces.

A cheer erupts from across the street.

Rob looks up, sees a group of half a dozen men, all in nearly identical outfits of brown and tan long-sleeve button-down shirts and pants. He recognizes them as Conspirasan.

"Dude that was amazing!" one of them calls over. The men cross the street to huddle in around him, staring at him, inspecting the broken pieces of the screen in glee.

The one talking looks different from the others only by having 2 Trash emojis tattooed on his face instead of just one. "Throwing off the bonds of human slavery? Hard freaking core, man."

"What?"

"The tech they use to enslave us, the brand interactions, the disenfranchisement of the male gender. The system is designed not only to keep us compliant but to keep us docile."

"Umm."

"You gotta come to one of our meetings."

"I should?"

"Yeah we found your political statement earlier to be very well reasoned."

Hope rises in Rob's chest. "You saw- my political statement. My video? You saw my video?"

"Video? No, at the mall." He points to the bowl in Rob's hand. "Hey is that a Level 5 Sulfide Audit from TGreXt? Do not put that on your skin, man."

"Don't, what? This?"

"Yeah all that stuff is filled with brain control chemicals and feminine protons. Part of the ongoing pattern of male gendercide. Come with us. We have a filtration system, boil down the pink stuff and then distill it. Dry it out into our own bespoke protein boost, but you can also mix it with some clay we harvest from the Forest District and it becomes a really gentle cleanser. Not only safe but also specifically formulated and balanced for men, you know? Come on, let's sync up."

They start to walk away but Rob hesitates. "I'm. I need to find my friend."

"Where is he?"

"I don't know. With a girl."

The men all exchange knowing looks. "Sex and romance are chains and shackles. It's all connected."

"It's all connected," the men intone.

"Love is fake," Double Trash Emoji says.

"Everything in this entire city is fake," Rob says, causing the men to laugh and shout in agreement far more than seems necessary.

"This guy gets it. What's your name, brother?"

"I'm Rob."

"Rob," they all whisper, a holy word in their mouths.

"Holy shit dude, yes. Powerful name." They turn and start to leave, waving him along."Come on brother Rob. You're with us."

///

[end of Episode Three]

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