“Oh, top floor!”
After running out of stairs to climb, Cira emerged from the dark, cold shaft into a dark, cold lobby. She had been looking for Fiona and assumed the elevator would rise to the top. The lone light in the lobby flickered from the active elevator. A screen above showed a relatively low number that incremented by one in the time it took Cira to count to one hundred.
“Still rising. Just gotta wait for it to arrive.” She tapped her claws on the stiff carpet for ten seconds before walking around the elevator lobby, which took another ten seconds.
“Just like the one on the ground floor.” She smiled. “But cleaner!” Dust had settled in the corners, but the carpet looked swept through the middle. The disturbed air her feathers passed through suggested recent traffic. A sweet scent checked the musty dust, as if a tray of confectionery perfumes had recently passed through.
She counted the number of floors on the lobby and calculated how long the elevator would take to reach the top floor.
“Plenty of time to take a quick look around!”
She dashed into the hall and opened doors as she ran, closing each after one second.
“Empty. Empty. Empty.”
Each room held the same set of dark and gloomy squarish furniture, void of life or interest. Soon Cira just wanted to find a room with something new. The halls felt like a side area in a video game with rooms copied to make it feel bigger. She followed her feathers’ prickling sense down halls with more disturbed air. As she declared every room empty she stopped even glancing inside. The clatter of swinging doors echoed down the halls.
Cira jerked back as one doorknob refused to move. She gripped the carpet with her claws to keep her footing.
“Ooh, this one’s locked!”
She plucked a feather from her tail and inserted the tip into the lock. She could pick the lock, she figured, it was just like hacking a security system, except completely different, and apparently not actually something she could do because the lock wouldn’t open.
“Ah, forget it. I’ll have someone look at it later.” She tied her feather to the doorknob with a thread. This reminder made, she resumed opening every door she could find.
A breeze fluttered Cira’s feathers, and she sniffed fresh air clearing out the stale hotel dust. She turned a corner and stopped before a dark balcony dotted with tables and wicker chairs. A glass wall isolated the halls from the balcony and dark sky.
“Ooh, change of scenery!”
She slid open a glass door and stepped onto the hard, glossy balcony. Under the cloudy sky it looked just as gloomy as the interior, and Cira rubbed her arms in the chilly air. She rapped her knuckles on one of the frozen tables and pouted.
“These tables look practically fossilized. Change of scenery, but it’s still empty. Empty, empty, empty. Ooh, but I wonder what I can see from up here.” She pulled her visor over her eyes and zoomed its sight over the city. She looked at the abandoned parking lot hundreds of meters below and smiled. “Hey, I can see my van from here!”
That excitement lasted for a second, and with a huff she turned back to the door. A moonlit glint on a table caught her eye, and she grinned.
“Hey, a collar!” Maybe she finally found something interesting. She picked up the crimson leather collar. “This is cute, it’s got little pink hearts along it. I wonder whose it is. Hey wait, what’s this?” She peered at a gleam against the leather and turned the inner side towards the moonlight to see squiggling lines embedded in the collar.
“Computer circuits? What is this, a robot dog collar?”
Cira rubbed her nose—it twitched from a sweet fragrance exuded by the collar. After she waved it in the open air to dispel the smell she sat on one of the cold chairs to examine it closer. With pliers no bigger than her finger she poked and prodded the inner collar. She thought she could make out machinery beyond circuits, and she brightened her visor’s lights and pulled at the leather to look underneath.
“What secrets do you hold?”
She spied computer chips smaller than her fingernail, tiny metal arms and blades lodged around them. When she peered closer she saw thin tips nestled against the lining as if in standby. She stretched the collar and reached her tweezer-pliers in to pull the tips up for a better look—
The collar jabbed her, and she flinched and dropped her pliers. She waved her finger and the sting faded.
“Guess I should be more careful. Well, who has time for that?”
She slid her arm across the table and realized it felt numb. She frowned.
“Shoot, what happened? What jabbed me?”
The numbness shivered up her arm and faded. She smiled.
“Oh, never mind! It’s fine!”
She reached for the pliers on the floor and plopped forward onto the cold porcelain.
“Oops, that’s weird.” She laughed and flopped into the chair belly-down. Her vision swam before her and she tried to focus, but the gears of her mind stalled as if slime gripped them. She frowned and groaned as she realized her thoughts moved slower than usual.
Cira heard a sliding door, but it sounded far away. A slithering sound scraped towards her. She wondered if Twilight found her—in her current state she wasn’t sure if that would be good or bad—but it sounded softer than her latex.
“Oh, dear. This is what you get for tampering with others’ property.”
To the table slithered a ruby-red snake body adorned with rosy-pink hearts, wider than Cira’s shoulders. A shiny pink glove picked up the collar on the table.
Cira tried to figure out what happened to her, but her mind stalled at how weird and loopy she felt. Her mind moved at a sluggish rate wholly foreign to her, and the world slowed down to match. She felt she should have considered at least seven possibilities by now, but she hadn’t reached the first.
She tried to stand, but her legs swayed as the world twisted and warped. She stumbled back towards the balcony edge. Soft fingers beyond a thick nylon glove entwined with hers and pulled her forward.
“Careful; for all your feathers you don’t appear able to fly,” Jb said.
Cira looked at her. Jb’s bearing, prepossessing as if she owned the world, put her in memory of a dream she once had, of a powerful empress who enthralled all. Her stance alone gave a familiar dominating, divine impression.
“You seem a little disoriented,” Jb said. She slipped a loop of her body around Cira from her feet to her waist. Mist, sweet as cake drizzled with gravy, tickled Cira’s nose, and her legs felt even more like jelly from the velvety scales pressed behind her legs.
“This should help.” Jb pulled the collar around Cira’s neck.
“Wait—” Cira squeaked at a prick around her neck. For a moment she couldn’t swallow. A warmth rushed through her head and down her body, and she forgot about the pain. She felt just as loopy as before, but a focus beyond any she had ever known directed her mind. Her thoughts remained slow, but now they looped around the beautiful lamia who towered over her. Jb smiled.
“Now, isn’t that better?” She gripped Cira’s shoulders from behind. “It gives you the focus you’ve always needed. Your mind won’t be running away so often anymore.”
She ran a hand through Cira’s feathery hair. Cira moaned and shivered as the end of Jb’s tail brushed around hers. She tried to process what was happening, but her sluggish thoughts fawned and obsessed over this lamia. She didn’t even know her. As a daze settled over Cira she worried that the collar had drugged her. She needed to escape.
Cira grabbed a hooked pick from her pocket and felt for thick grooves under the collar. She had to think fast, and while that grew harder as the seconds slipped by, fast thinking was her forte. She jammed the hook under the collar and ripped out circuitry. She could barely feel out the proper spots to do so, but she’d worked with tiny machines before. If she broke the sensors and messaging system—
She gasped as Jb’s tail gripped around her wrists and pulled her arms above her head. The lamia pulled Cira off the ground as she wrapped further around her arms.
“Now, now, we can’t have you doing that.” Jb squeezed her hefty, squishy tail around Cira’s neck and blocked the collar from her. “Let’s give you something else to focus on.”
Cira stared as Jb’s eyes filled with ripples of red and pink pulsing hearts. They stole her attention even more than it had already been nabbed, stalling her thoughts like a lagging computer whose CPU is consumed by a single program.
“After all, it could be dangerous to tamper with sensitive equipment.” Jb chuckled. “Especially as it’s about to infect you.”
Cira moaned; her vision swirled as the hearts in Jb’s eyes spilled through her sight. She gasped as the collar jabbed the back of her neck, but between her warped senses and Jb’s eyes and scales she felt only a dull pinch. The collar embedded something under her skin, but she forgot as it further jabbed her.
Only one side pinched her neck—she must have disabled the other side—but her world swirled into pulsing hearts as her head filled with woozy warmth. Her focus tightened to Jb and her enchanting eyes, the scales of her coiling tail kneading her in a massage.
Cira’s thoughts slid out of her control as something swarmed in the back of her head. Her mind felt as if something strung wires and circuits through it. She tried to pull away from Jb, but she found herself forgetting to, as if her thoughts were deleted and overwritten before she could act on them. She couldn’t move anyway. Her mind told her to give in. Still she tried to keep a grip on what she was losing, but she found her thoughts increasingly absorbed with her beautiful goddess.
Goddess? What goddess?
She stared deeper at the lamia, who stroked her hair and face as if playing with a doll. She admired the lamia, her soft billowing hair, her tight clothes and toned figure, her enticing scent like glazed meat sizzling with rich fruit, her glowing eyes and sly grin and thick, heavy, massaging tail. Jb looked like a goddess.
Jb was a goddess.
What did that matter to Cira, though?
She worshiped the love goddess.
Wait, since when?
She groaned at the feeling of new connections in her head. A swarm of thoughts flooded her mind, and she remembered her love goddess Jb. She remembered worshiping her, obeying her, sinking into her coils, overwhelmed with her kisses and snuggles.
Those memories felt unfamiliar. Cira wondered if they were real. The spark of more new connections in her mind deleted her suspicions. A mental flood oozed through her brain, and she jolted with every new thought. Her mind felt slow, as if a galactic mass intensified the gravity of her mind and pulled her to Jb. Every time she tried to think about how unfamiliar those new memories were, two thoughts that they were familiar and true passed through her mind. Soon her resistant thoughts faded before they could fully form.
Cira stared as fog like sparkling pink champagne swirled and obscured the world around her. She couldn’t remember, couldn’t sense where she was. As misty hearts spun around her and filled her eyes, she remembered: she was in her love goddess’ love dimension. The hotel faded from her senses and memories, as did her past, her team, her family, her friends, her mission, her self.
A vague unease rolled through Cira, but she couldn’t tell why. She was with her love goddess. Everything should have felt fine, and as she sank under the hypnotic influence everything did feel fine. The unease faded as she thought less, and she stopped trying to think. The thoughts from the collar that her love goddess gave her made her feel good. They felt like the correct thoughts to adhere to.
Following another pinch from the collar Cira flopped into Jb’s grasp, euphoria flooding her mind. The microchip that the collar implanted in her head sent signals to her mind that she obediently followed.
Smile. Worship. Sink into her love goddess’ embrace.
These weren’t commands, these were her thoughts. She didn’t need to produce her own thoughts anymore. Her love goddess gave her thoughts, and pleasure swamped and shivered her body when she obediently followed. The collar numbed Cira’s senses to the real world, leaving Jb’s world all she knew and wanted.
The collar cemented the bond of the microchip to Cira’s brain as it jabbed her with more hypnotic serum. The microchip’s commands produced nanobots from the serum that swarmed through her head. As they reinforced and solidified the microchip’s control, the new wires and circuits strengthened, and her old connections decayed. The microchip established a pleasure system for obeying the new connections, and her old ones decayed faster until she lost control of her mind to Jb.
With Jb’s control established, Cira stood upright straight and stiff as a mechanical doll. To slump was to not show her love goddess proper worship, and she felt most relaxed, most at ease when poised and straight and giving her love goddess all her attention. Her old thoughts, memories, desires, all silenced and soon deleted. Her only thought was for her love goddess, her only memories of her love goddess, her only desire to serve and worship her love goddess.
The love goddess slithered up around Cira from her waist and bound her arms in tight coils. She squeezed around her shoulders until her tail wrapped around her neck and gripped her body in a heavy, scaly embrace. Cira sighed from the divine euphoria of her love goddess’ touch, but she remained still and poised, eyes wide and pulsing with hearts as fast as Jb’s.
“My love goddess . . .” Cira murmured.
“Good little pet,” Jb said, tickling her feathers. “And what is your purpose?”
“I worship my love goddess,” Cira said automatically.
“Good, the collar’s ensnared you.” Jb chuckled and patted Cira’s cheek with her velvety-smooth glove. “Now then, you’ll be an obedient pet and not struggle while those lovely nanobots eat away at the rest of your mind, won’t you?”
“Yes, my love goddess,” Cira said, wide smile as stiff as a doll’s. Despite the enthusiasm in her words she spoke them mechanically, not from the heart but from the brain—a brain controlled by a computer chip operating nanobots.
There was little way for her to resist, anyway. Her body might produce antibodies to block the mechanical alteration of her mind, but the nanobots seeped and swarmed her brain and were soon taken as familiar, her own thoughts more foreign than the mechanical invasion. It was only a matter of time before the serum dissolved what remained of her old mind, leaving only obedience and worship to Jb.
“Now, let’s go, my little pet,” Jb said, carrying the stiff Cira in her coils. “I have just one more of your associates to catch, and I’d like to be ready for her arrival.”
“Mm-hmm!” said Cira. She didn’t know what her love goddess meant by associates, but she didn’t question. She would never question her love goddess.
She had fallen to the love goddess. She was in the process of falling permanently to the love goddess.