It was a bitterly cold January day in Purchase New York. The hip young professionals of PepsiCo are slaving away in their cubicles, the fluorescent lights above humming. A woman named [DEADNAME_REDACTED] is checking her email; no new messages. The office is tense, the value of PepCoin is tanking, and their Christmas bonuses are now worth almost nothing. [DEADNAME_REDACTED] opens a spreadsheet, she zooms in on one of the little boxes, then out again clicking frantically. She types in a number, then frowns, deleting it, she checks her email.
The groggy croak of the percolator in the breakroom filled the office, brewing up a disgusting new batch of Pepsi Cafe, PepsiCo's desperate attempt to corner the market on coffee flavored sods pop. The clock, which was high up on the wall behind [DEADNAME_REDACTED] was ticking loudly, the noise like the heartbeat of the office, the slow march of time motivating every last action, every deadline, every weekend countdown. But clocks were becoming obsolete. [DEADNAME_REDACTED] shook her wrist and her apple watch lit up with the time, 10:56. She stared blankly at the number, before resizing the columns of her spreadsheet. Her lunch break started at 11:30, and the avocado toast she had eaten for breakfast had left her hungry. She could get a snack from the vending machine, but she was trying to watch her figure, and the vending machine was far away in the bigger, better breakroom, across the courtyard.
Her email inbox updated, and she opened and skimmed the message; something from her boss about the MTN Dew Pitch Black demonstrations, which apparently now involved tipping employee cars, as well as making crossing the courtyard difficult. Determined to finish her spreadsheet before lunch, she copied the last line of the email and opened a text to number generator. Spreadsheets were the love of her life, nothing felt better than balancing the boxes with the numbers. Coworkers would populate their spreadsheets with profits and payments and units produced, but [DEADNAME_REDACTED]’s spreadsheets had a subtler beauty to them. The curve of the three, the gentle dominance of the five. The organized boxes and the clever logic that Exel imposed on her compositions. 8p became 8:00pm, 11219 became 1/12/19, the gentle dance between her and the AI. The order it saw in her chaos, the chaos it made in her order.
She pasted in the text, and while her numbers loaded she admired the jawline on the man in the "Macx Virus Scan and Cleaner" advertisement. She wished, on a very hidden level of her subconscious, that her jaw was like that, that she wiped viruses and harddrives and would sell your email address into the world of retail drop shipping scams. She wished she could exist on the same plane as the numbers and letters, that like him, she was zeroes and ones. On a conscious level though, she was simply waiting on her numbers to generate, and as soon as they did she pasted them into the spreadsheet, her heart speeding up as the symmetry and order of the document revealed itself, the hidden meaning adding a thrill to the long unbroken number.
When lunch arrived, she stood up quickly, her anticipation growing as she remembered what she had stuck in the door of the communal freezer, a "NutriFresh LowCal Veggie Mac Scramble". She dutifully logged out of her computer before heading to the breakroom, (the mandatory data theft seminar still fresh in her mind) before pulling out the veggie mac and cheese bowl. She moved to put it in the microwave, but frustration befell her. A post-it note was attached to the microwave door.
The percolator shut off, suddenly, and her disappointed sigh was loud in the silence. The clock ticked, her coworkers typed and double clicked, and clutching the frozen meal she set off down the hallway. At the end of the hallway she took the maintenance stairs, which she new let straight out into the courtyard. She was halfway down the first flight when she remembered the demonstrators. She paused, listening. If she strained her ears she could hear it, "Pitch black! Pitch black!" they were chanting. They sounded angry, they sounded so close. They would eat her alive she was sure: rip away her lunch and hoist her above the crowd, steal her keys and invade the building, tip her car with her in it. The iron railing was chilly to the touch as she backed up a few steps, considering what to do. The walls around her streaked with rust, the pipes clanging, frozen from the harsh January cold. Her eyes landed on a steel door on the landing before her. It was rusted like the walls, and a bright yellow hazard sign was placed in it's center. There was a brick propping it open, almost beckoning her to enter. There was an idea. The warehouse ran parallel to the courtyard, connecting the two offices. It was completely off limits to office drones like herself of course, her boss would have her head if she cut through the warehouse, he would fire her on the spot he would… but he had said to avoid the protesters. He had told them to go to any lengths to avoid escalating the conflict. Maybe this wasn’t quite what he meant, but as she crossed the landing and peered past the door she felt emboldened. She was good at playing the dumb blonde, and plausible deniablility was on her side. And on top of that she was so, so very hungry. She looked down at the food in her hand, before timidly stepping towards the steel door. Her hand turned the knob, and the door opened, and nobody stoped her. Nobody stopped her, and once her eyes adjusted to the dimness she realized that the warehouse was, as far as she could tell, totally empty. She didn't analyze it at the time, but she was finding it deeply thrilling, the thought that she was breaking the rules, and getting away with it. Being somewhere she wasn't supposed to exciting her greatly. Which is why she stepped through the door so quickly and closed it so quietly.
The door led to a fire escape type landing, with stairs going up and down. What was in front of her was a thin catwalk, with a railing on one side. She could have taken the stairs and navigated across the warehouse floor, but the catwalk would be faster, and it provided a bit more if that thrilling spark, the spark of danger. She could see the door across the warehouse. Her path was clear and she set off, her beige sensible shoes clanging against the metal grating, echoing against the high steel ceiling.
It was a long way down, and she tried not to look. [DEADNAME_REDACTED] was deeply afraid of heights, but even now -totally alone- she was the kind of woman who hid it when she was afraid. She was always the loudest and the boldest, and felt compelled to compete with male friends at every turn. Fear and weakness were feminine, and although it wasn't a conscious connection, femininity made her sick. So she wasn't weak and she didn't look down at the boxes and conveyor belts and the vats of ooze and soda, the tick of the clock echoing in the empty space.
Quickly now, she was finding the dangerous thrill rotting down into panic. As she looked ahead she walked a bit quicker, trying not to ponder the hard cement floor, and the wide railing-less space to her left. Her hand clutched the railing to her right, and she walked even quicker, morphing into almost a run. The clock ticked monotonously, seeming to get louder as she ran… wait. Her foot skidded on the grating. She realized she was far far away from the ticking clock of her cubicle. Her head snapped up, and her foot left the catwalk. The noise wasn’t a ticking she realized with dawning horror, but a dripping. Her french tip manicure scrabbled on the edge of the grating but it was too wet to gain purchase. Her stomach plunged as she fell. The dripping resumed, a frozen pipe across the ceiling leaking moisture, slicking the catwalk. She plummeted. The frozen meal thunked onto the grating loudly. Her body however, by luck or perhaps not, did not crunch to the floor. Instead there was a tremendous splash, yellow carbonated droplets flew upwards, the sound echoing in the empty space. A droplet landed on the veggie mac and hissed viciously, before fading into echoing silence.
[DEADNAME_REDACTED] didn't drink MTN dew. Drinking MTN Dew was totally at odds with everything about the person she was. If she had maybe she would have recognized that it was the liquid she had landed in, fresh from the assembly line. Pure and unadulterated. For it was MTN Dew that broke her fall, saved her life, bathed her terrified frail body. It was MTN dew that churned around her, entering her pores and her nostrils, intoxicating her brain. It was MTN dew that baptized her, and MTN dew that was the embryonic fluid of her rebirth.
Maybe the fall did in fact kill her, because when the factory workers returned from their lunch break it wasn't [DEADNAME_REDACTED] that they pulled, gasping, out from the churning vat. It wasn't a respectable office worker who had taken a wrong turn. When the liquid was drained and the body was dregged, and the forklift and the crane and the conveyer belt were switched back on, production resuming, the body they laid down on the cement wasn't the woman who fell, wasn't a woman at all. They didn't recognize it's bright green hair, pale skin and grinning face.
"Sir are you alright?" they asked,
"How could you survive that fall?"
"Who are you?" they demanded,
"Who on earth are you?"
The man sat up, totally unharmed, grinning.
"I'm the Joker" He replied his smile rictus like, eyes wide and unfocused. "like from Batman."