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Chapter 4:
A Dumpster Fire

Mars sat in his office trying to forget his experience at Macrohard. This proved to be difficult as the image of Willy was seared into his neurons with an amazing fidelity. Thankfully, he had plenty to do to keep his mind occupied.

He had to fix all of the broken links and half-baked features that he had accidently programmed into Facepalm during his sleep deprived delirium the other day. However, it wasn't a total bust. As they say, "there is a fine line between insanity and genius", and Mars seemed to have crossed it in the making of one particular feature, the Facepalm Voxel. This was a holographic image that was projected from the computer to the space around a user's head and continuously harassed them until they bought a product. Mars was certain that it had potential. In a morbidly generous gesture, he also shared it with Facepalm users so that they could take advantage of its unholy power for themselves.

Finding a good spot to pause his work, he decided to take a short break. As he made his way to the kitchen for a glass of water, he saw that Melody was watching TV in the living room.

"Hey, isn't that your friend?," she asked Mars as he took a gulp of his drink behind her.

Mars looked at the screen and sprayed out the contents of his mouth in surprise. A fine mist of water and saliva droplets showered Melody's head and face.

Through squinted eyes she screamed, "Eeeeewwww! Mars! You are so GROSS!!!"

Shocked, she flicked her eyelids open, reflexively reached for her hair, and moaned, "Awww! And you ruined my hair! I just went to the salon!!!"

Before Mars could apologize, she stormed out of the room. His eyes followed her as she left, then jumped back to the TV screen once again. He leaned over the couch and quickly grabbed the new remote. Fiddling with the buttons, he turned up the volume.

"...Police are still uncertain of Mr. Orca's whereabouts. He was last seen 3 days ago, looking distressed over the recent scandal involving his business, Tweeker, and the eccentric actor turned presidential hopeful, Duck Horn," a newscaster solemnly delivered with the sort of odd cadence that they had a tendency to use.

At first, Mars thought that maybe Johnny was pulling some kind of PR stunt to get back into the public's good graces. But the more he thought about it, the more something didn't sit right. The news story stuck with him all day.

He leaned back in the chair of his home office and pondered the situation carefully. Struck with an idea, he opened up a drawer of his desk and rifled out an old address book. It contained all of the contacts that he had within the tech industry, people he knew of, but didn't really "know".

Number after number he dialed asking if they had heard anything about Johnny. Few had any information to offer him, until he reached Eugene Mirror. Eugene was the wunderkind behind the temporary messaging service, Cracktalk. People often used it to avoid responsibility for embarassing situations and illicit activities, the ephemeral nature of the messages acting as a form of plausible deniability. It seemed like an incredibly huge waste of time, but next to the PikPlak app, it was extremely popular with the kids.

"Hello, Eugene. This is Mars Sugarhill. I was wondering if you had heard anything about Johnny Orca. He seems to have gone missing and I am trying to find out where he is."

"Hello Mars! I'm sorry, I haven't heard anything about him. I hope he is alright!"

"Me too Eugene. Anyway, thanks for your time."

"Hey Mars, wait! I may not have any information personally, but I know someone who could probably help us."

"Really Eugene? That's wonderful! Who is it?"

"Laurel Sheets."

"You know thee Laurel Sheets?", Mars asked incredulously.

"I sure do! Let's meet somewhere and I'll take you to him."

"Ok! That sounds great!"

After getting the details down, Mars and Eugene hung up. Eugene seemed really cool and down-to-earth. Mars still couldn't believe that he knew Laurel Sheets, CEO of Giggle LLC.

Despite its name, Giggle was hardly a laughing matter. With their hands in so many pies, they had the stickiest fingers in the industry. Their WeScreen streaming video service, their Giggle Platnium web browser, their Giggle Fun app store, their GiNote email client, it was a wonder that they could juggle all of these balls without dropping any.

These grand successes may have had something to do with their so-called "innovative approaches", but not everything was always sunshine and roses. They had gotten into some hot water recently for running their "Giggledome" workplace more like a children's pizza parlor, only for employees to find out that sexism also happened to be baked into the crust of that structure. Funnily enough though, the rush to be hired by them remained as steady as ever. The perks must have been great!

Of all of their business ventures, what they were most well-known for was their Giggle search engine. It was so popular that the verb "to giggle" eventually took on a different meaning within the English lexicon, much to the consternation of those who use "proper grammar". Nearly all other search engines faded into obscurity within the cold and looming shadow of Giggle. Ask Jones, High Mountain, Black Dog, Yippie!, all of them long forgotten memories.

About an hour later, Mars pulled up to the Giggledome in his trusty Bougieauto, Eugene in the passenger seat.

"Hey Eugene, I really have to thank you again. It is nice of you to help me look for Johnny."

"No problem Mars! I'm happy to help. I already called Laurel and he said to meet him up in his office."

"Awesome! Lead the way."

They both got out of the car and walked up to the glass and steel behemoth before them. The entire outside of the building screamed "modern professional". A large sign that said "Welcome To The Giggledome" hung above the main entrance.

Eugene held the door open and Mars waltzed inside. The interior was akin to a mish-mash of sci-fi, Hooties bar-and-grill, and a traveling carnival.

"So, what do you think?," Eugene asked with a voice full of wonder.

Mars was at a loss for words.

"It's...uh...interesting! I can see why so many people seem to like it!"

They did not linger much on the main floor, but headed straight for the elevator. In order to reach it, they first had to crawl through a plastic tunnel and swim across a large ball pit.

Eugene hit the "Up" button to ring the elevator. It wasn't long before the doors opened. If the contents of the rest of the building were any indication, Mars half expected the elevator to be made entirely of glass instead of their average-looking polished metal. Once inside, he noticed just how many different floors and departments there were. A panel within the elevator was thoroughly covered in buttons.

"Wow...," he commented to himself.

"I know right! And I thought Facepalm was hard to navigate!," Eugene joked with a laugh.

Mars was not amused, but smiled politely.

Picking up on this, Eugene immediately tried to make amends.

"I'm sorry. I'm just kidding. Seriously though, Giggle has such a maze of projects that I don't think most people are aware of half of them."

"Yeah, even as someone who works in tech, I don't think I have ever heard of some of these," Mars replied as he ran his fingertips across the raised lettering above each button. "Rare Animal Petting Zoo" read one of them.

The ding of the elevator signaled that they had finally reached their destination. The doors slid open to reveal a hallway wrapped in a bright, multi-colored wallpaper covered with a strange texture. Upon closer inspection, Mars saw that it was not actually a texture but hundreds of little lines of text printed onto the wallpaper itself, phrases such as "Giggle is family. Giggle is home. Giggle is life."

Finding it curious, Mars asked, "What is this about?"

"Oh, they did some studies to determine how to maximize the amount of time an employee works before they either collapse from exhaustion or quit in frustration. This is the result of one of those studies," Eugene answered as they walked.

"Does it work?"

"Of course! They wouldn't waste money on it if it didn't help them to squeeze every last bit of life from their employees...You mean you don't use these kinds of psychological maneuvers at Facepalm?"

"No, we've always relied on corporal punishment rather than manipulation."

"Huh, that's interesting. I would have never suspected...Well, here we are," Eugene pointed at the office of Laurel Sheets. Eugene waved at him through the glass walls. He nodded and beckoned them inside.

"Hello Mars! Nice to meet you! Eugene here tells me that you are looking for your friend Johnny," Laurel greeted.

"Hello Mr. Sheets! It is nice to meet you too. Yes, he seems to be missing.," Mars replied.

"Please, call me Laurel," he encouraged in a friendly manner. "Anyway, I know that you must be worried, so I won't waste your time. I don't know if Eugene told you, but due to wiretapping laws, we are limited in the type of information that we can access."

"I understand. Really, any amount of information will help," Mars stated.

"So, what information can you access Laurel?," Eugene questioned.

"Anything that our systems are connected to. Therefore, we can see his last emails in GiNote, his Giggle search history, his purchases on the Giggle Fun store, and his watch history on WeScreen."

Laurel walked over to a laptop on his desk, picked it up, and handed it to Mars.

"Here, take a look for yourself."

Mars held the laptop in his hands and looked over the screen. There was a Giggle Platnium window that showed the contents of Johnny's GiNote account. There was not anything out the ordinary, some emails to a few employees at Tweeker, a statement for his monthly subscription to Tumbling Rock magazine, some advertisements for erectile dysfunction pills.

"Hmmm....none of this email seems suspicious," Mars said.

"What about his Giggle Fun purchases?," Eugene asked.

Laurel reached over and clicked open another window for them.

Mars and Eugene inspected the contents. He hadn't downloaded much of anything, only a demo version of Croptown, a time-wasting simulation game where the player tirelessly tends to opium plants.

"How about his Giggle search history then?," Mars asked.

Laurel clicked open another window.

There were only a few random searches, like "the long-term health effects of Bolt cola", "people's thoughts on Tweeker", and a risque "old women in spandex" image search with parental lock off.

"I guess all that is left is his WeScreen watch history.," Eugene offered.

Laurel opened up one last window.

"It looks like he binge watched 52 hours of...My Little Phony?," Mars said in confusion.

"Apparently it is some kind of animated show about magical donkeys," Eugene clarified as he skimmed the video synopsis.

"I don't think we learned much about Johnny, other than a few of his peculiar fetishes," Mars lamented.

"I'm sorry boys. I will keep an eye out. If anything turns up, I will be sure to let you know," Laurel replied apologetically.

"It's okay. We appreciate your help Laurel," Mars thanked him.

After having a brief chat, Eugene and Mars left the office. At the end of the hall, they both waved goodbye to Laurel one last time before getting onto the elevator. When he was sure that they were gone, he reached for the intercom on his desk, pressing down on a bright red button.

"Ok, they're gone now. Delete all of the evidence," Laurel spoke into the microphone.

"I'm sorry sir. It is all paper files," a flaccid voice replied through the speaker.

"What is this, the 1800's? Look, I don't care if you have to take it outside, throw it into the dumpster, and light it on fire. Just DESTROY IT!," Laurel impatiently and forcefully retorted, spittle landing on the intercom.

"Ok, sir. Right away," the voice robotically complied.

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