From the author: Procrastinators beware: that unused brain capacity might be powering something more nefarious. Truly gifted procrastinators get sent to Procrastination Limbo to donate their brainpower forever...
Jen’s final sociology paper was due tomorrow, so naturally she was procrastinating online. She hadn’t gotten out of bed, much less her dorm, for the past six hours. Her reddit links were all purple, and Instagram and Tumblr were beginning to repeat themselves. The paper just seemed so daunting, and was worth half her grade…so yeah, no pressure.
“Just one more kitten GIF, then back to work,” she thought, and clicked. A sudden whirling vortex of pungent black smoke emerged from nothingness to engulf her.
She found herself transported to a plain gray office, still barefoot in her monkey-print pajamas and holding her laptop. Sitting at a dull wooden desk was a red demon in a tie, engrossed in a pile of yellowed paperwork and occasionally clicking an abacus. He looked like a bodybuilder, if said bodybuilder was red and horned, and was stuck in an uncomfortable office job from two hundred years ago. His nameplate said “Uz”. He stamped the top page with a wet thud and turned to a stunned Jen.
“OK, let’s see, you’re Jen Sanchez, correct?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “You’ve logged more hours of procrastination than anyone else in your school so far this year. Very impressive.”
Jen gaped at him. “What...where am I?”
Uz turned his attention back to his papers. “Procrastination Limbo. We’re in the administrative wing of the temple of the demon UR. I’m processing you.” Thud, thud, went the stamp.
“Processing me? For what?”
“You’re being upgraded to Acolyte.”
“Wait, what?” This must be a dream. Jen gripped her laptop, which was still warm. Crap. Things don’t feel warm in dreams.
Uz sighed. “The great demon UR draws his power from wasted minds, tapping in and using the idle components for his own purposes. Our initial operation focused on daydreaming, but we try to keep up with new improvements. We’re very excited about this internet thing.”
“A demon’s been using my mind?” Clearly her schoolwork wasn’t getting the brain space.
“Your mind and everybody else’s. Of course, when we have a gifted procrastinator like yourself, we bring them in to better serve the demon UR. Congratulations.”
For the tiniest second, this felt like a relief. Endless procrastination instead of her paper? DONE. But Jen dismissed the thought as soon as it came in. OF COURSE that wasn’t an option. She needed to get out of here.
Uz handed Jen a stack of paperwork. “I’ll take you to Medical for brain prep.”
New plan: she needed to get out of here FAST. Barefoot and armed with nothing but a laptop seemed a bad start. Anything to stall for time would be helpful. “What happens there?”
“A priest lulls your brain into a permanent state of passivity, then you do what you’ve been doing—waste time online. Optimizes the intake for UR. Eventually you’ll become a full priest, worshipping for all eternity.”
“So, what if I don’t want—”
The demon gave her a pointed look.
“Um, to do this without my fuzzy slippers? So if I can just go back to my dorm and grab them—”
“You’ll have everything you need here.” He reached out from under the desk and snapped a cold metal manacle on her wrist, then grabbed the end of its chain. “Now, if you’ll follow me…”
She stumbled down a maze of whitewashed corridors behind the demon. Both he and the chain were too strong to fight, and even if she could there was no clear direction to run—just rooms and rooms of zombie-eyed people chained to laptops, lava lamps, and tables with Mahjong tiles and solitaire cards and something that involved a lot of tiny knots of string. Crap. That didn’t look reversible. Time to stall, get information, something...
“So UR is all about the internet now, huh?” They kept walking through the endless maze.
“Oh no,” said the demon with pride. “We don’t bother UR with the details, especially as these things are so flash-in-the-pan. Our operation runs so smoothly that he hasn’t needed to check up on us in three hundred years. Lets him focus on the enslavement of humanity. Very dedicated. Even goes up to Earth once a week to check on things.”
There was a way out, and it was through UR.
“Can I meet him?”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Um…I’d like to thank him for this amazing opportunity. Gosh do I love the internet. And procrastinating. Uh…and also of course UR himself.”
The demon considered for a moment, looked at the chain still holding her, then shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I can take you there after Medical.”
“But wouldn’t it be better before? Now, I could probably express my gratitude better. He’s surrounded by passive people who can’t really show their passion for the project.”
“I mean, I bet he never feels appreciated for what he does. You’d be the first demon to really give him that acknowledgement from an Acolyte!”
Please buy this bullshit please buy this bullshit. The bubble of panic was welling in her chest.
“...Fine. But no funny business.” Uz gave the chain a pointed tug.
He led her back through the maze to a huge white domed chamber where an enormous demon, easily the size of a small apartment, sat cross-legged. UR’s golden skin glowed against the curved white walls—a demonic yolk in an egg. He seemed to be meditating, with eyes closed and face serene.
On the other side of the room were doors labeled Supplies, Cafeteria, and most importantly, Earth.
Jen’s guide coughed politely, and UR opened his eyes. “Who dares disturb my work?” His voice echoed over the chamber.
“It is I, Uz, your servant.” Uz bowed. “I come bearing an Acolyte who wishes to worship you directly and give gratitude.”
UR sighed. “Very well. But be quick. I’m busy.”
Jen stepped forward, still tethered to Uz. The chain stopped her from going further and she gave it a light but pointed tug. Uz sighed and walked over with her. She stood next to UR’s crossed legs, his knee a good four feet over the top of her head.
“Oh great demon UR, I thank you for this amazing opportunity.”
“Uh huh.” The demon looked bored.
Jen opened her laptop, which automatically connected to LimboWiFi. “Great demon UR, I wish to share some of the ecstasy you’ve allowed me to feel. By your grace, I’ve been mildly entertained for hours.” It was another long shot. There was no way the demon could see anything on a screen that small.
Uz looked uncomfortable. This probably made him look bad next to his boss. Good. “Your Grace, this will be more efficient if you were to adjust for sizing…if you should so wish…”
“If that will make this go faster,” rumbled UR. He shrank down to merely twice Jen’s height. Still an imposing presence.
She moved closer and opened up a video of a skateboarder face-planting onto a railing. No response from UR, who still looked bored. Jen tried again, and showed a Vine of a teenager coughing up a tablespoon of cinnamon.
UR tapped his claws. “Are you done?”
Jen gulped, and in a last-ditch effort, opened a video of a sneezing panda. A grin cracked UR’s face. Really? Cute things did the trick? So Jen followed this with a GIF of otters holding hands, and the demon’s smile widened. He grabbed the laptop with a gargantuan hand and began clicking in earnest. Monkeys hugging puppies, piglets wearing boots, penguins slipping on ice.
Uz coughed nervously. “Sir, perhaps it is time to get back to work...” He reached for the laptop, letting go of the chain.
With both demons distracted, Jen sprinted toward the door labeled Earth, bare feet slapping the floor and chain jingling behind her, with the first sentences of her new sociology paper on addictive behaviors in internet forums forming in her head. As she passed through the door, a voice boomed behind her. “Yeah. Just a sec. Just one more kitten GIF.”
This story originally appeared in Galaxy's Edge.