Life with the Squip was unquestionably better than before, Jeremy assured himself.
He wasn't a loser anymore. Girls actually talked to him! He was getting rides to school with Brooke now that they were going out, and Chloe kept flipping her hair at him which the Squip assured was a sign of his raw sexual appeal. He was acing all his tests, scoring highly on his homework and always had the perfect comeback to any comment that came his way. He was impressing teachers, impressing girls, impressing everyone! That $400? Worth it. Totally. Every cent. Boy was he lucky to have a Squip.
And yet, life with the Squip wasn’t without its sacrifices: He wasn’t allowed to wear his own clothes anymore; The Squip wasn’t letting him play videogames; It kept making him work out. Whether because of the optic blocking or because Michael had been avoiding him, Jeremy hadn’t talked to his best friend in days. He still felt a pang of guilt over that. Every now and then.
It will all be worth it in the end.
“Of course it will be Jeremy.”
The Squip was there to help, to correct his uncool behavior. Jeremy had to be made aware of what he did wrong. It was all an essential part of the programming.
“Keep your back straight.”
“Thinking about porn again? Believe me, I noticed. That’s another push up.”
“Nowhere near the right answer. Just write 7530. You’ll get the mark.”
The first time Jeremy realized he might have bitten off more than he could chew was over cottage cheese.
“I have calculated this is a necessary step to becoming cool.”
Jeremy had never really been a fan of cottage cheese.
“You have to eat it or you will not build muscle.” Reminded the Squip. “You are a human stick insect right now Jeremy. Is that what you want people to think of when they look at you? A repulsive little bug?”
“I’ve eaten the other stuff and you already made me work out today! My body isn’t going to change overnight.” Jeremy countered.
"I'm not making you do anything." Said the Squip. "I'm helping you sublimate your baser instincts to aid you in achieving your own higher value goal. If anything, you're making me do this to you." It leaned against the kitchen door with its arms crossed, looking at Jeremy with distaste. Its mouth was a thin line. “And you should stop talking to me out loud. It is a bad habit.”
Jeremy’s dad was already asleep and was very unlikely to be woken up, even by Jeremy’s raised voice, still the Squip had a point.
Jeremy stubbornly went to put the bowl back in the fridge but found himself unable to move. It was as if the Squip had pressed the pause button on him. Jeremy’s eyes widened. His limbs felt heavy as stone. He tried to gulp in air as the movement of his chest slowed and his whole body froze in place.
Jeremy’s mouth was fixed open as the Squip left its position by the door and circled around, taking its time until it was standing between Jeremy and the refrigerator. Jeremy’s heart beat desperately for oxygen.
“I want to make something very clear to you.” The Squip bent over just a fraction, it’s face directly in front of Jeremy's. “You will succeed in being cool. It really doesn’t make a difference how much you contribute to the process. If you are too lazy and pathetic to make the sacrifices necessary I am programmed to be capable of assisting you down to the smallest actions.” Its tone was patient but it’s expression was pitiless. “You will exercise. You will talk and move. You will chew and you will swallow.”
The Squip was so close that if it were human, Jeremy would have been able to feel its breath on his face. As it was just a projection, there was no warmth at all.
Jeremy stumbled as his body came back to him. He leaned against the kitchen sideboard, shut his eyes and panted until his heart beat evenly again.
He ate the bowl of cottage cheese. It made him feel sick.
Not being allowed to jerk off was screwing with his head. Pre-Squip, Jeremy was masturbating twice a day absolute minimum, so going from that to nothing was a hard ask, not to mention it led to him getting boners at worst possible moments.
It was a hot and humid day in late September. Damp hung in the air and misted like beads of sweat on the school. On that morning Christine walked down the hallway wearing a bright green tank top sequinned tank top, the bottom hem of which was a light material that fluttered in the breeze. On another girl it might have looked garish, Jeremy conceded, but it made Christine look like an impish fairy beauty.
“That’s the most cringe-worthy thing you’ve ever thought. I’m humiliated to know you. Say, ‘Hey Christine.’”
“Hey Christine!” He shouted a little too loudly. They had started talking more outside of play rehearsal but Jeremy still got a pleasant rush out of his own bravery at approaching her, even if it was prompted by Squip. He put his clammy hands in his pockets and tried to act like his heart wasn’t beating twice as fast as usual.
She smiled and stopped next to Jeremy, eyes down, rummaging in her backpack.
“You’re looking lovely this morning.”
I can’t say that!
“Be casual. Straddle the line between sincerity and sarcasm, so she thinks there is a 50% chance you are making fun of her.”
“You look… lovely…”
“Thanks.” Christine replied, taking minimal notice of the Squip’s calculated compliment. She was still searching for something. When she leaned against the lockers and bent down over her bag the front of her top gaped fantastically. She was wearing a white bra and there was a hint of lace where the cups met soft skin.
“Could you be any more obvious?” Spat the Squip. “Stop looking. She should be checking you out like that.” It scowled at Christine’s inattention and Jeremy’s general inadequacy.
Jeremy jerked his gaze away. Looking at the lockers, posters – anywhere but at Christine’s breasts.
“Ah no I’ve got it!” Christine pulled a crumpled sheet of paper out of her bag triumphantly. “I just got the last answer off my lab partner – I need to write it down quick! Hey, do you mind…?” She gave Jeremy a cheeky smile and spun him around.
Christine smoothed the sheet out over his back to get out the creases. He could feel her hands touching him through the barriers of the paper and his shirt as she wrote her answers, using the flat of his back as a surface to work.
Maybe this was pathetic but it felt amazing. A bit too amazing in fact. Something inconvenient was rising to attention. Jeremy stooped over to conceal his growing boner. Christine resettled her arm and rested it on him. He could feel the pen tracing along his back, Christine’s answer filling up the page line by line.
“I cannot believe you are aroused by this.” Said the Squip, disgusted.
I don’t get touched a lot okay? Not by girls anyway. And it’s not like I’ve been able to jerk off since you’ve been around!”
“This is so pitiful.”
Christine adjusted behind him to get a better angle. Nothing but her hands and arms were touching him but he could feel the warmth of her body as she bent over her work.
“Jeremy she’s almost finished! You have stop getting off on this before she expects you to turn back around and talk to her!” The Squip actually seemed a little worried.
Can’t you just control my body to make it go away?
The Squip shook its head with irritation.
“Too delicate a procedure for this version. S.Q.U.I.P 4.0 has coding for erection control but even that is more suited for keeping the subject aroused than the opposite.”
“Done!” called Christine’s cheery voice.
Before he could be exposed a shock ripped through Jeremy; so forceful it left his body quaking and jittery.
“OW!” Christine bounced back in alarm. She shook her fingers to try and get rid of the feeling of the electric current that had jumped between her and Jeremy.
“Sorry Jeremy it was probably my fault! I need to lift my feet more.” Christine began apologising profusely and backing away.
“It’s okay! It’s really n-not you.” Jeremy stammered, legs still shaking.
Christine waved goodbye heading off for class. She still looked guilty when Jeremy lost sight of her. He sagged when she was gone.
That was huge! Did you have to make it so painful?
“The higher the voltage the better the distraction I thought.” The Squip sounded exhausted at the exertion of power. It started to flicker in and out and then disappeared entirely. Jeremy shuffled around the corner and collided right into Michael.
“Michael!” Jeremy reeled back, he was careful to hold his bag in front of his hips. Despite the electric shock his dick was still refusing to be ignored. If Michael thought this bag placement was weird then mercifully he didn’t comment on it. He looked at Jeremy apprehensively.
“Hey Dude, are you pissed off at me about something?” Michael shifted anxiously from foot to foot. “If it’s about me ditching you at the mall the other week, I’m sorry for that! But you could have just called and I would’ve picked you up.”
“Nah I’m not mad, it’s fine honestly. C-can we talk later I really have to go right now…” Jeremy pointed vaguely in the direction Michael had come from. In truth, Jeremy had stopped looking at his schedule because the Squip always told him where he needed to be. Where he needed to be right now was away from Michael, partly because of his raging erection, and partly because the guilt he’d been ignoring for days was coming back in full force. Jeremy wished for the optic blocking to come back online and then felt even more awful for wishing for it. He took a step to the side aiming to push past.
Michael didn’t let him go. He reached up and grabbed Jeremy’s shoulder so the tips of his fingers pressed into the skin beneath the stupid Eminem shirt. Jeremy tensed at the physical contact. He couldn’t help leaning into it.
“I feel like I’ve barely seen you.” Michael didn’t meet his eyes but moved his arm up and around the back of Jeremy’s neck in a quick half hug – half headlock. “You have to fill me in on how this Squip thing is working out.”
“I’ve been busy with the play rehearsal.”
It was back.
“I’ve been busy with rehearsal.” Jeremy said mournfully, struggling against Michael’s playful grip.
Michael ruffled Jeremy’s hair and released him.
“We’ll hang out this weekend then?” Michael was trying very hard to act his normal self but Jeremy had known Michael a long time. He could hear the desperation pinned down underneath the casual question. The guilt twisted inside his stomach.
“I already have plans.”
“I’ll try. I do want to spend time with you dude.”
Michael made a face.
“It would be great if you could fit me in.” It looked like there was more he wanted to say, but he stepped back and Jeremy took the opportunity to escape.
“I have to go.”
“I have to go.” Jeremy took a last look at Michael with reluctance and hurried in the direction of the nearest bathroom. When Jeremy checked behind him a moment later he had vanished.
“Wow you are actually even harder than before.” Drawled the Squip. “I guess we learned something new about you today Jeremy.”
Jeremy scowled at it.
The Squip refused to budge on its no masturbation policy. Jeremy spent ten minutes arguing with it in the bathroom but it had regained its strength during the conversation with Michael and was more than willing to shock him into compliance. Jeremy squatted miserably in a cubicle, tensing his muscles to re-direct blood flow and thinking unsexy thoughts. His boner did eventually subside. However, when he finally got into class fifteen minutes late and made his excuses, he felt edgy and unsatisfied, his body aching with a discomfort that stretched through every muscle.
As the week continued, Jeremy started noticing gaps in the optic blocking. Michael was three desks away in registration when the teacher called his name. He was on the other side of the gym during dodgeball. Jeremy saw him out of the corner of his eye but when he turned the other boy had disappeared.
Jeremy thought better of asking the Squip about his Michael sightings. Thinking about Michael at all still made him feel like the most worthless friend alive and the Squip was unlikely to take the questioning well. The Squip did not enjoy discussion of possible glitches in its programming. To be honest, Jeremy didn’t enjoy endless detailing of his own faults but there wasn’t anything he could do about that. The tone of the Squip’s comments ranged from unsympathetic to venomous and it often drove him near tears.
“Stop breathing so loudly. The girl next to you thinks you’re disgusting.”
“Smile. Looking at you makes me want to microwave myself. Popular people smile, so smile.”
“Hopeless. Repeat after me.”
Day by day the weather grew colder and Jeremy felt less and less like the person he'd been for the last seventeen years. Undesirable pieces of him were being sliced away by the Squip, and being replaced with something numb and synthetic. Wednesday, two days after his conversation with Michael, was the first full day that every sentence out of Jeremy’s mouth was the Squip’s. The Squip chatted to Brooke in the car. It gave answers in geography class. It talked to his homeroom teacher about how he was coping without Mom, and that yes it was tough, but he was doing just fine really. The words glided out with ease and confidence.
Jeremy came home and collapsed face first on his bed. He had no strength to move. No will to continue, his insides were hollowed out. There was no energy for crying. He lay there breathing hotly into his bed sheets; the tears building behind his eyes. He was nothing, and soon he would be eaten up by this horrible thing and utterly cease to be. He would deserve it too.
There was a light pressure on his back, a hand, or what felt like one was trailing up and down; stroking him like animal. Jeremy fought to suppress a hard sob rising through his throat. There was no escaping the Squip. Not even for a moment.
“You aren’t thinking about this correctly.” Murmured the Squip. Its tone was patient and understanding, like he was explaining it to a child. “You should feel good about today. You listened to my instructions,” The hand went up to the back of Jeremy’s neck. “and you obeyed.”
He silenced the gulp but the Squip’s fingers hooked around to the front of his throat and felt the movement. Was the sensation even real?
“I’m manipulating your tactile perceptions. It isn’t any more ‘real’ than the sound of my voice, but you can hear me, you can see me and with a little extra power output you can feel me too.”
Jeremy’s skin buzzed at the sensation of touch, real or not. The Squip removed its hand from his neck and resumed its rhythm stroking up and down Jeremy’s shoulders. It let him lay there until he fell asleep, waking him up a few hours later so he could eat. His dad wasn’t good at setting regular meal times so it fell to Jeremy to eat when he got hungry.
The Squip stayed quiet as Jeremy microwaved lasagna. Perhaps it knew that being pushed just then would break Jeremy, the thought made him feel fragile and he hated it.
It was Friday. Fall was starting to set in now October was approaching, chill winds blew in from the east and Jeremy was finally sweating less. Staring out the window in a math lecture he no longer needed to pay attention to, he saw Christine and Jake below. They were part of a group scattered over the sparse lawn at the side of the school. The biology class had wooden quadrats out to sample plants but Christine was holding one in front of her like a picture frame and pulling faces, Jake was laughing.
Jeremy stopped looking out the window.
His eyes widened when turning back his desk he saw a scrap of paper that hadn’t been there before. He glanced around but no one was looking at him. Opening it up he began to read a scribbled note.
'Jeremy, are you coming over tonight? I've been trying to talk to you but I think…'
Abruptly the paper vanished. Jeremy lurched in his seat. The teacher gave him a dirty look and continued scrawling complex triangle formulas on the blackboard. He searched the top of the desk but the paper was entirely gone.
What the hell was that?
The Squip didn't answer.
Jeremy felt something hit him in the back of the head. He swiveled in his seat and saw... nothing.
Hey Squip, what's happening?
"I'm re-calibrating. Please ignore any abnormalities you may be experiencing. The re-calibration process will be over momentarily."
Nothing else weird happened until after math.
As Jeremy walked to the cafeteria he felt his legs start to walk on their own, or rather, at the Squip’s direction. It was an uncanny sensation and it made Jeremy’s limbs feel cold and strange. The Squip controlled his body infrequently and only when the situation was dire. Not because of Jeremy’s dislike for it but because it was apparently a major battery drain. The more accurate and subtle the movements the Squip had to control, the greater the necessary power output.
Why am I going this way?
"It will be beneficial."
The Squip suddenly took full possession, flattening Jeremy's body against the wall of the hallway. This earned him a weird look from Jenna who was chatting aimlessly to a blonde senior by her locker. Jeremy tried halfheartedly to relax his muscles but his body just wasn't listening. It stayed stiff, hiding from whatever the Squip wanted him hidden from.
Seriously! Talk to me! What's happening?
"Jeremy you're not going to the cafeteria today. Go to the spot where Brooke took you last week. She will be there. It is imperative that you eat lunch with her today."
Okay sure but why are we hiding?
"Jeremy, the most important thing is that you follow my instructions. It is all you must do. If I could rely on you to obey me I wouldn't have to take manual control."
Maybe if you actually explained things!
Jeremy struggled harder to get away from the wall. He kicked a foot out violently but couldn't get a grip on his limbs at all, they stayed pinned stubbornly to the bricks. He dug his nails into the paint in a fruitless effort to use the wall to leverage himself away.
Let me go!
He was beginning to hyperventilate. His hands sweating where they were pinned against the wall. He managed to let out an audible whine.
“Jeremy stop overreacting. Keep still and shut up.”
Jeremy felt himself stop breathing completely, which was bizarre, especially since his body was still taking in air. It was different from the time in the kitchen, back then he was still connected to his frozen body. This was like being unplugged. The chest that was usually his was still moving up and down. He felt himself drift away from his body. He couldn’t hear anything, feel anything. His world went dark.
Jeremy was floating, but it wasn’t pleasant or relaxing. The empty darkness engulfed him on all sides. He still couldn’t move because he didn’t have a physical body to move. He could hear his own voice from far off and was that? Michael’s?
Suddenly In a blink of an eye Jeremy was standing in the center of the hallway, alone. Jenna Rolan and her friend had blinked out of existence, along with the crowd of students walking to lunch. The busy hallway now only contained a few stragglers. Christine and Jake had finally returned from biology and were entering the double doors to the cafeteria.
Jeremy saw Michael stalking in the same direction. He threw Jeremy a dirty look before he flounced dramatically through the doors.
Is he okay?
"Go to where Brooke is Jeremy.” The Squip flickered next to him. “I promise this interaction will produce a favorable outcome.”
The Squip was hiding something, but his experience of the last two weeks had taught Jeremy that there was no point in thinking about it or planning a way to get the truth out of it. The Squip knew every thought that came into his mind. Trying to get one over on it was hopeless.
Brooke was just where the Squip had promised. She sat on the back of an air con unit listlessly picking at where the metal was rusted and flaking off. To the right the track team was looping round and round inside their cage of artificial turf.
He climbed unskillfully up to join her on her perch. With height, he could see over the quiet roads beyond the school, on to the 7/11 a few blocks away. The weather was warm for the end of September and the sky was grey and still.
Jeremy looked properly at Brooke. She had been crying, he realized. Her eyes were red and puffy. There were stripes on her cheeks where the tears had smeared her makeup on the way down to the point of her chin.
The Squip shrugged when Jeremy turned to it for direction. It looked even more annoyed than usual and seemed to be having trouble keeping its left leg opaque.
“You can’t really fuck this up Jeremy. Brooke already likes you and she’s incredibly insecure. Whatever you say she will view it to your advantage. I’ll be here if you get into trouble.”
Jeremy fidgeted next to Brooke. They might be dating now but he barely knew her.
“W-why are you crying?”
“Watch the stammer though.”
“I’m fine really,” Brooke breathed in deeply and met his eyes. “You’re so sweet Jeremy.” She looked away again over the fence.
“Well... you don’t look fine to me.” She didn’t respond straight away and Jeremy started to flounder. “I mean, you always look fine! You’re beautiful but I mean… what I meant is, you don’t look happy.”
"Initiate physical contact.”
“Give her a hug idiot.”
Jeremy reached a tentative arm around her shoulders. He hoped she wanted to be held. It was hard for him to shake the idea that he was some disgusting creature who she secretly didn’t want around; an alien reaching its slimy, sweaty tentacles where they weren’t wanted.
But Brooke relaxed as he held her. She leaned further into the side hug and rested her blonde head on Jeremy’s shoulder. She pulled at a loose thread in her turquoise jumper.
“Jeremy do you think I’m good in the play?”
“Yes, I think you’re great!”
“Well that’s okay then.” Brooke turned her head bringing her lips closer to Jeremy’s. “Chloe says I’m total shit.”
“Chloe can’t remember her lines, she’s terrible.”
“Chloe can’t remember her lines, she’s terrible.”
This was the right thing to say. Brooke’s eyes sparkled and she kissed him forcefully. Jeremy had to struggle to keep his balance as she leaned her weight against him. Brooke deepened the kiss, guiding Jeremy with a hand on his jaw.
It wasn’t unpleasant, Jeremy thought. Not unpleasant. Brooke slid her tongue against his. Jeremy felt nervous. How was he meant to know if he was doing this right? Brooke didn’t seem like she was about to pull away in revulsion. That was probably a good sign. And hey, if nothing else, he wouldn’t die a kiss-less virgin anymore! Just a regular virgin. That was comforting.
“Give me a bit of credit Jeremy. Move your hand down to her waist, hold her tighter.”
Jeremy did so. Brooke’s body was warm on his and he liked the texture of her thick jumper. Brooke sighed happily. Content that she was approving, Jeremy finally relaxed, allowing himself to enjoy the way she combed her fingers through his hair and clutched him against her. Her hand stroked down to his neck and he was helplessly turned on.
“Okay cut it off. You don’t want to seem too eager.”
Jeremy pulled away reluctantly.
“Say something kind then leave as quickly as possible.”
“Um thanks, this was nice. I… I have to go now.”
Brooke slid off the air con unit and stood next to him.
“Ugh yeah. My next class is with Chloe.” She pulled a face. “I better catch up with her.”
She gave Jeremy a last peck on the lips as they re-entered the school and then went on her way. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s last class of the day was chemistry. Not only did he have to get through it semi-hard due to his encounter with Brooke but they had a quiz he was totally lost on. The Squip dutifully supplied him with every answer but there was still something off about it. The commanding voice sounded far off and echoed, like it was coming from the bottom of a well.
What’s wrong with you? Are you malfunctioning?
"I am not malfunctioning.” The Squip said defensively. “I am running on low power.”
Whoa do I need to charge you?
It had been two weeks since Jeremy had swallowed the little pill. Did it have a battery? Were there instructions the scary employee at the Pay-less hadn’t given him?
“I absorb charge from your body when I am inactive. When you are asleep is the optimal time. My power output today has been… higher than average.”
So, what happens when you run out of power? Wondered Jeremy.
“I will become inactive and absorb power until levels reach 15%. The process takes approximately six minutes during which I cannot be accessed or awakened. It takes thirty minutes to charge to maximum capacity.”
You could shut off now for a bit. I can handle it.
“No. The school day is almost over. I can manage with limited energy reserves until you get back home. Take the bus home, if you go home with Brooke you’re likely to run into a situation where I need to be functioning optimally.”
The Squip was quiet as Jeremy stepped onto the hulking school bus. It was an old vehicle which clanked as it drove its route and the inside stank; the smell of years of teenagers with poor personal hygiene. The windows were smeared where sweaty foreheads had slept against them and trash littered the floor.
Jeremy sat down three seats from the back of the bus and thought about kissing Brooke. He liked Brooke. But that's all it was. He liked Brooke and he really liked that she was into him. Christine was so funny, so great to be around. When he saw her, his heart warmed up. His soul bloomed like a giant Amazonian flower. Nice as Brooke was, he didn't feel that way about her.
No one sat next to him as the bus made its way down the block and in twenty minutes, he was home.
"Jeremy. Watch out." The Squip's voice had a curt, robotic tone, the Keanu Reeves lookalike was pixelated at the edges.
Behind the Squip, Michael got off the bus and he looked pissed.
“Oh, so now we’re alone you’ll admit I exist? And what’s this crap about you dating Brooke?”
“No crap it’s the truth.”
I don’t need you to help me talk to my best friend!
“My mistake, go ahead. Dig your own grave.” The Squip said flatly. It was emitting a soft buzzing noise and changing transparency with abandon.
“It’s not crap.”
“You really are dating her. Does she even know anything about you? You have like, zero things in common. I’ve never seen you talk to her ever.” Michael’s face was turning red like it always did when he was upset about something. When he was younger it had meant tears were on the way but Jeremy hadn’t seen Michael cry for years now. In 6th grade Michael had forgotten his one line in a middle school production of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and Jeremy had finally been the one to coax him out from his hiding place in the janitor’s closet. Tears streaming down Michael’s face, their friendship had been cemented. Until now anyway.
"Brooke’s a nice girl. Why do you have such a problem with her?”
“Brooke’s nice! Why do you have such a problem with her?” Jeremy thought the Squip had a point, but he was annoyed with himself for echoing it nonetheless.
“It’s not her I have a problem with dude.” Said Michael, shaking his head. “My problem is I had to hear you were dating her from Rich! That guy is a dick. If I’m your friend, why does he know more about your life right now than I do?” They had reached Jeremy’s front door.
“I’m sorry you had to hear it from Rich. Just let it go.”
Michael hovered on the doorstep looking uncertainly at Jeremy, unsure if he was invited in or maybe if he wanted to come in at all. His face was still beet red.
“Tell him you’ll see him later.” Demanded the Squip.
“Come in for a bit.” Said Jeremy firmly.
Michael did. They went upstairs uninterrupted and when the bedroom door shut behind them the silence yawned.
“You shouldn’t have let him in.” The Squip complained. “This can only end badly.” It flickered where it leaned against the wall.
“Why are you ignoring me at school? You said you weren’t mad but you still aren’t talking to me! Apart from that crap you pulled at lunch, was that even true?” Michael paced up and down the floor space that wasn’t covered in a mess of clothes, book and general trash.
“I didn’t talk to you at lunch?” Jeremy said uncertainly.
“Um yeah you did? You told me about the Squip.” Michael insisted.
“This is going to sound strange but what exactly did I say?” Jeremy looked at the Squip who returned his gaze coolly.
“Um, that the Squip tells you things, like gives you advice, and it told you to go somewhere. Then you told me you were ‘upgrading’ so you couldn’t eat lunch with me.”
Jeremy couldn’t think of anything to say. A rising tide of dread was filling him up from the inside. Every word from Michael made the shame worse. What the Squip had told Michael was true.
“Basically, because you have a girlfriend now, you don’t want me around.” Continued Michael. “Then just commit to being a total dick and tell me!”
“I do want you around!” Jeremy pleaded.
“I literally threw my pencil case at you in math today and you still blanked me!”
“What pencil case?” Jeremy said, confused.
“The one that I threw at your head dude.” Michael finally stopped pacing and sat on the swivel chair by Jeremy’s desk. “I saw you look around afterwards!”
Jeremy looked over at where the Squip flickered. It opened its mouth but before it could speak, there was a sound like a TV being unplugged and it vanished. How convenient.
“What are you looking at?” Michael followed Jeremy’s eye line but saw nothing.
“It’s the Squip.” Jeremy admitted. “It’s been blocking you.”
“Why has it been blocking me? What did I do?” Michael stood up again, moving towards Jeremy with urgency but then hesitated. “Wait, if it’s stopping you from seeing me, why haven’t you turned it off?”
“Because… it’s been working.” Jeremy said softly. “It’s helping me not be a loser.”
“Jeremy, you have to get rid of it!”
Jeremy looked at the carpet.
“Dude this thing is inside your head! It’s making you into some asshole that isn’t you! We can go back to the Pay-less! The guy who gave it to you has got to know how to get rid of it. The mall won’t close for another three hours. I’ll drive you and we can-”
"It’s not making me do anything." Jeremy sounded surer than he felt. “It’s helping me get what I really want and I’m not going to get rid of it.”
“But dude it’s not letting me talk to you.” Jeremy didn’t reply. Michael stepped towards him, getting in his face and finally forcing eye contact. He put a hand gently on Jeremy’s arm. “It’s controlling you! You aren’t the real Jeremy right now. I’ll help you get rid of it dude, I promise, then we can go back to you and me, everything will be normal again!” Michael looked thrilled at the prospect.
“Normal again? I don’t know if you noticed, but I wasn’t happy being the real me. The real me fucking sucked!” Confusion spread over Michael’s face. “And the Squip isn’t mind controlling me” Jeremy continued, “it’s...it's helping me achieve my goals!”
Michael looked unconvinced, he was going to keep arguing. Jeremy felt so tired and the Squip was still missing in action. If Michael kept trying to persuade him to get rid of the Squip he would succeed, and then all the last weeks of work and stress would be for nothing.
“I turned the blocking on.” Jeremy admitted. He kept the words cold. “I was the one who told the Squip to do it.”
Michael went red again. He would cry now, Jeremy realized, he was too far gone to stop it. Jeremy squashed the guilt before it could break him and turned his face away.
Michael left rather than cry in front of him. He slammed the bedroom door, but went quietly down the stairs to avoid a run in with Jeremy’s dad.
Jeremy stood stiff in the center of the room, his eyes on the closed door.
I guess you got what you wanted. No answer. Only a silent fog drifted in Jeremy’s head. It was funny, he’d lived most of his life alone in his head, just like everyone else. But now the Squip’s absence was unbearable. He felt more alone than ever before.
Nothing filled the silence.
“Squip?” He even muttered out loud. He sank down on his bed, breaths coming fast. He couldn’t go back to being alone. It was too awful and he was too awful. Without the Squip he was worthless.
“Please come back” he whispered, “I can’t do this by myself.”
And now he truly was by himself because he’d certainly just destroyed any chance of salvaging his friendship with Michael. He’d made his choice, just like when he’d agreed to have Michael blocked in the first place. Why was he such an awful person?
Jeremy hid his face in his knees and gritted his teeth as his stomach twisted. What if the Squip had lied about its charge time? What if it didn’t come back today? The tangled thoughts made him panic.
He curled up on his bed, tighter and tighter in a knot of fear.
What if it never came back?
Jeremy shuddered on his bed for exactly three minutes and twenty-eight seconds of terrifying isolation. A chill breeze blew in from the open window and ghosted over his hair. Because of this, it took him an extra fourteen seconds to notice when an unreal hand started combing its fingers through his hair.
Tangled up the hand clenched and raised Jeremy out of his miserable posture. He could feel the tug of it no differently than if it had been physical. He kept his eyes closed and let his head loll as the hand released its grip and resumed stroking. It was strong but gentle, and the force of it make him sway. The motion was nice. It gave him something to focus on besides the ocean of shame and self-loathing that was threatening to drown him.
“You are so responsive to touch. It’s actually sad how lonely you are Jeremy.”
He shivered, torn between wanting the Squip to stop petting him before it got awkward and wanting it to... do more. Exactly what he couldn't articulate.
Jeremy opened his eyes. The Squip appeared normal having recharged, it loomed over where Jeremy sat on the bed, one hand buried deep in his hair. Keeping his head fixed in position.
A sob bubbled up through Jeremy’s throat.
The Squip’s other hand slid beneath Jeremy’s jaw and tilted his face up. His chin bumped up against its solid chest.
“It’s going to be much easier for you now without Michael to worry about.” The Squip’s tone was soft and pleasant. “You’ve made such good choices today Jeremy, even when I was unavailable to assist you.” Its thumb smoothed over his cheek tenderly. Jeremy whimpered. He didn’t feel good. He felt worse than ever. “It’s very promising.” It slipped down onto the bed next to him and coiled its arm around his shoulders, it’s fingers tight enough to pinch.
“I…I shouldn’t have made Michael go away.”
“Then what would you have done?” The Squip rubbed circles on Jeremy’s shoulders. “Lead him on now just to ignore him again at school?” Its voice was light. Its hands moved lower to where his back still ached from years of poor posture, squeezing new muscle and gliding over the bumps of his bones. “That would only have delayed the inevitable Jeremy. He's a loser for life. He doesn’t want you to upgrade.”
The Squip found a particularly tight muscle and pressed hard. Jeremy flinched.
“And you,” it continued, “do want to upgrade.”
The Squip’s hands remained at precisely room temperature, but Jeremy’s skin felt hot all over as he felt the tension flowing out of his body. A flush was spreading over his face and down his neck. The Squip’s movements were rhythmic, mechanical. Each push and prod into his flesh exactly in time with the last. Jeremy wriggled and let out an undignified whine.
It wasn’t just his face feeling warm, arousal was sparking through him. The Squip must be feeling it too, nothing escaped its notice.
“It’s been a long week Jeremy.” Said the Squip, soft and dangerous as a snake, skimming its fingers lower down his spine.
Jeremy suddenly felt his whole body start to buzz with want. It felt like the Squip was radiating beams of pleasure that shone through his body. Jeremy twisted and struggled for breath. The feeling was overwhelming. His whole body was vibrating desperately.
He swiveled around to face his tormentor. Jeremy swung his leg to the side, pushed the Squip down on the bed and rolled his hips impatiently. The Squip had a look of distant fascination. It remained motionless apart from its arms which groped at Jeremy’s shoulders, thumbs circling over new muscle.
The current surged and Jeremy writhed with pleasure. Hands clenching and unclenching involuntarily. It was still increasing and starting to border on painful. Jeremy cried out with the intensity of the feeling and came in his pants sobbing.
The Squip extricated itself, flipped him over and considered him thoughtfully. Jeremy felt the wave of shame rise again within him even stronger than before. His stuttering sobs grew until he was bawling, hot tears dripping off his face. The Squip looked disgusted.
“Jeremy I’m doing my best here.” It said frankly. “I’ve even allowed you this break from the program, but if this is your response…” It stopped there, impatience clear on its face.
He didn’t want to let down the Squip, not after losing Michael. It would be too much. He swallowed a sob and wiped his forearm across his tear-stained face.
The Squip put its hands on his face, pulling him in close so their foreheads bumped together. The Squip felt solid and Jeremy began to calm down.
“You made the best choice.”
Jeremy wanted to crumple but the Squip’s hands held him up stronger than a vice. He let it whisper about how well he’d done and how wonderful he was becoming. He let it whisper nasty things about Michael and how meaningless he was. He let it hold him, until the twisting burn of self-hatred shrank to a dull restless ache. He could ignore that for a while. He breathed on beat in its grip.