Once he decided I was interesting, the husband—Thomas—became, well not nice exactly, but his friendly demeanor matches his actual words.
“So tell me about yourself.” He’s sitting on my bed; I’m in the chair by the desk, arms crossed as I glare at him.
“Don’t you already have everything on file?”
“Yes, but that’s just… data, information we were going to use to break you. Which just goes to show the flaws in the system. Someone like you should have been flagged.”
Okay, correction, he’s clearly trying to make his actual words match his friendly demeanor but it’s… really not working.
“What is it you want with me?” I manage not to scream it.
“I already told you, I want to be your friend.”
“Friends don’t lock each other up.”
His forehead scrunches. “The door’s not locked, you’re free to go wherever you like.”
“So, what, I could just walk to an elevator, go to the ground floor, and walk out the gate?”
“Yes, but I’d rather you didn’t. Did you not even try the door?”
I hadn’t. Didn’t want to give the bastard the satisfaction of knowing I wanted out.
“Okay, but where would I go? I don’t have any money, any papers, any…” any of the dozens of things a woman needs to make her way in the Dominion. I slouch in my chair.
“That’s a fair point. But you’re welcome in most of the Citadel, and Blake’s and Katie’s drones will stop you from going anywhere you shouldn’t.”
“What about your drones?”
“I don’t have any. More trouble than they’re worth. Fun to train but… yeah, not a headache I want to deal with. Would you like one?”
The offer seems sincere. “Are you fucking serious?”
“I don’t joke about that sort of thing. But have you ever really thought about what having a drone would be like? I’m sure you’ve imagined what being one would be like.” The last sentence sounds almost apologetic.
“What, now that you like me you think droning me would have been wrong?”
“It’s not hypocrisy when you get to decide the rules.”
“Well, if I’m free to leave this room I’m leaving. Don’t follow me.”
I step out into the hallway. I don’t know where I’m going and honestly I don’t care. This is still a prison, albeit a lavish one with really fucking good food, but at least I’m away from the friendly monster. I really really hope I don’t run into the Overlord.
What I run into ends up being a roof garden. One for flowers and shrubberies, not food. A place for quiet contemplation and maybe an assignation or two. I feel calmer, safer. I’m not out of the Citadel but here I could almost imagine I’m not.
And then I see him, it, I suppose. It’s a drone, but one I know, knew. I’d hated him. Karl had been a bully, my tormentor until he’d been arrested and sentenced to the cells. Probably worse than even he deserved; at the time I’d just been glad he was gone. And here he was, or at least his body. It’s bent over a garden plot, weeding.
I walk up to it. It jumps when it sees me. “Violet?” it says. “Violet, oh God, you have to help me!” It stands up and tries to throw its arms around me.
I push out at him with one arm as I take a step back. “K-Karl? I thought you’d been droned.”
“It’s possible to fight, I did fight, but in secret, they don’t know. I managed to stay me and…”
“And what, you think that after everything you did to me, everything you did to Jessica and Ben, I’m going to help you?” I slap him. It feels good, so I punch him. In a moment I’m pummeling his body with all the strength I lacked when I was younger. He doesn’t fight back. He takes what I give him and I find I can’t stop. I beat the bastard to pulp, lying in a blood of his own blood, his whimpers echoing my own from years ago. And it feels so. damn. good.
Last night, Tom came to me with an interesting proposal. One of my drones, 22-Omicron had been someone his—friend?—the idea of Tom having a friend is still weird—had known before he was sent to the cells. Tom wanted to give him enough autonomy, agency, and memory to remember who’d been in the hopes of provoking, well, the scene playing out before me now.
I watch the woman—more handsome than beautiful—destroy my drone and I begin to see a trace of what Tom must have seen in her.
“Like I said, she has a vicious streak.”
“She really does. And you think you could coax more out of her? But why bother?”
Tom rolls his eyes. “Do I have to spell everything out for you? She’s perfect girlfriend material.”
“You’re trying to set me up? You know I don’t date.”
“Neither did I till you set me up with Blake.”
“So this is payback?”
“More like repayment. And she’s not a perfect package yet like Blake was for me. But she will be when I’m done with her.”
“If anyone molds her into the perfect girlfriend, it’s going to be me.”
“Did you have fun?”
I look up and my heart skips a beat. The woman isn’t beautiful like Thomas is when he femmes up, but they’re clearly related and… godDAMN is she hot! She’s short and built like a tank. All muscle and strength. If I went down on her… no, I’m not going to go down on her… I barely know her and she’s probably evil and… okay, but what if I did and she crushed my head between her thighs? But like, in a hot way?
I’m too tongue-tied to answer.
She smirks, clearly aware of the effect she’s having on me, of the effect I assume she has on anyone gay. “My eyes are up here.”
Her eyes are dark and I could drown in them. I pull my gaze away. “I’m Katie, want to have dinner with me?”
She was attractive when I was watching her from a distance, but as I get up close… she looks so delicate, but the blood on her knuckles and the satisfaction I saw on her face when she punched 22-Omicron reminds me that appearances can be deceiving. I imagine what she’d look like with her hands dripping with blood, her boot stomping on a face… oh yes, yes, she’d look amazing.
She stammers at first, and it’s adorable, but then she swallows and looks down at me defiantly.
“So what kind of horrible person are you?”
No point in lying. “I do medical experiments and drone implants.”
I expect her to go pale, or green. I don’t expect her to look disappointed.
“Figures. All the hot ones are taken, straight, or evil.”
“So you admit I’m hot?” I smirk.
“I have eyes.”
“And they’re gorgeous.” And they really are.
“Look,” she points at me. “Don’t flirt with me. I don’t like you. I don’t want to be here. If you want to do something nice for me, for whatever twisted reason you’ve got going on in there, get me papers and money, and let me leave.”
That isn’t going to happen. I decide to return to the original question. “Did you like pounding that drone to a pulp?”
“No! And go away!” she stomps her foot and turns. She doesn’t quite run away, but her walk is rapid.
“Okay, let a drone know if you want me,” I call after her.
Of course I want her. But the whole “being an evil sadistic maniac” kind of gets in the way of things. That doesn’t mean that I’m not relieved when I get back to my room and find a vibrator left on my pillow. I’m probably a bad person to use images of her pummeling Karl, and then some other old enemies, as my spank bank, but it’s effective. I return to my first fantasy, where my head is between her thighs and…
The orgasm that rips through me is almost painfully intense. As I come down from the high, I realize that I’ve been hearing the low murmur of voices for some time. I turn the vibrator off to see if I can hear them better, but the words remain indistinct.
The lights flicker and then start to strobe. The voices grow louder but I still can’t make out the words, or maybe the words are meaningless? I know these words, I’ve used these words but I can’t remember what they mean.
Living in the Dominion means living with a boot stomping on your face forever. But suddenly I’m caught by a fantasy where I’m the one wearing the boot, surrounded by a circle of kneeling subjects trembling in fear. In the fantasy I feel strong, powerful. I vaguely note that I’d normally feel guilty about this sort of indulgence; this isn’t the first time I’ve fantasized about having the power to subjugate, but I usually feel bad about it at the same time. But this time I have no doubts about my absolute right to hold their lives in my hands, to bestow favors and pain by whim.
“Mistress,” one of the kneelers begs, “Please, raiders already stole most of our grain. If we pay the rest in taxes we’ll starve when winter comes.”
A scene from my past, only then it was a drone we knelt to in the hopes that the Overlord might take pity on us. In the end eight others went to the cells and we had enough food to last. But it was still a hard winter and made all the harder by the loss of eight workers.
But although I know the connection to my own past, there’s no emotional resonance. Or if there is, it’s with the man who controlled the drone, with how he must have gotten off on crushing us. On how I’m getting off on crushing these imagined villagers. I imagine riding them down, trampled under my horse as I smash their pathetic homes to punish them for their insolence. As I strip one of the prettier women and have her flogged, as I force her to eat me out, as I kick her aside when I’m done and move on to my next victim…
When I wake up I’m wet and horny, but I also feel guilty. “What the fuck, Violet?” I ask myself. Last night’s fantasies were sick even by my standards. My lust is replaced by nausea as I return to my senses, but I keep everything down.
A knock on my door. I open it. A drone is holding a plate with buttered toast in one hand and a rose in the other. “From the Consort,” it says, holding the plate out to me, “from my Mistress,” it proffers the rose.
“I’m not hungry,” I tell it. Another drone passes behind it and it turns to hand it the plate and rose.
“I will remain outside,” it says. “Please let me know if you are hungry later, Superior.”
“Wait, you use first-person pronouns?”
“Yes, Superior. My Mistress has instructed us to.”
“I obey orders, Superior. I don’t need to understand them. I am a good drone.”
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t have a name, Superior. My designation is 18-Gamma.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to get me out of here.”
“I am instructed to comply with most orders Superior might give me.”
“My judgment protocols are engaged. I will not comply with orders that run contrary to the interests of my Mistress.”
“Does that include showing me how to leave this place?”
“If Superior wishes to leave the Citadel, I can take Superior to a postern.”
But where would I go? And what would I go back to? I haven’t been happy here, but I also haven’t been worked to the bone. I’m eating well and my clothes aren’t falling apart. And Thomas does seem to be sincere about not wanting to drone or hurt me, which means I’m probably safer here than I’ve ever been in my life.
“Bring me something to eat.”
Tom walks into my lab with a grin on his face. “Good news. Violet slapped a drone today.”
“Sorry, what?” I turn away from the drone I’ve been force-feeding.
“It’s a sign that she’s beginning to feel entitled, getting used to drones serving her. Blake thinks he can get her to fuck one.”
I walk over to my desk and sit down, Tom sits on the chair in front of me. “Look, I don’t really get brainwashing. I’m an implants girl. Can you explain?”
“Ooh,” he grabs one of my drones and starts stimming with it while he infodumps. “So normally the point of brainwashing is to induce submissive and fawning behaviors. Get the person to want to be less than human because being human means pain. Being a drone also means pain, but they mostly don’t mind it, or at least mind it less.
“But with your Violet—”
“She’s not my anything…”
He scoffs, “Oh please, you’re perfect for each other. She just has a stupid conscience getting in the way of being the beautiful wasp she was always meant to be.”
“Don’t you mean butterfly?”
Tom twists his plaything’s nipple and it lets out a stifled gasp.
“Tsk, bad impassivity protocols. Report for punishment when I’m done with you.”
He turns back to me, his eyes almost glowing with his obsession. “With Violet I’m doing the opposite. She already has a serious dominant and sadistic side to her, and the goal of brainwashing is to let it out. That means making her less empathetic towards drones, ultimately towards anyone who’s not you, me, or Blake, but that’s a long goal.”
“What if you make her not care about me, too?” I twirl a pen through my fingers, the motion soothes me.
“It’s a risk, it’s a very real risk. You, me, and Blake, we’re a package. We all love each other so no one else matters. Empathy can be guided, directed. For us, it’s all directed towards each other and there’s no room for empathy for anyone else. Violet has tons of empathy, but it’s all spread out. She thinks everyone is a person, deserving respect and fair treatment.” His face bunches up, revolted by the concept.
“That can be fixed. But yes, if I get it wrong I might end up cutting off her empathy altogether. But Katie, I’m not going to get it wrong.”
I frown, “And if you do?”
“She’s still a wasp. It’d be a waste to drone her. I might train her to help me out in the cells.”
I’m on a date with Katie. Why am I on a date with Katie? I’d like to say it’s because I’m bored, or because I’m trying to work out how to assassinate her. The first is true, the Citadel isn’t much fun if you’re a good person; the second should be, but isn’t. She definitely deserves to be assassinated, but… I don’t want to. Why don’t I want to? Is it that thing where prisoners bond with their captors, start to empathize with them more than their own people? Or is it just that Katie’s hot and I’m gay?
We’re eating breakfast in the garden, watching the sun rise. I know, I know. But apparently she’s a morning person, too. The Citadel coffee is always good, but today’s is even better. “Is this the coffee I normally drink?”
“I don’t know what Tom gives you, but he and I have different tastes, and not just in coffee.”
I’ve given up on trying to stop her from flirting. I’m going on a date with her. For fuck’s sake, why am I going on a date with her?
“Do you know how long I’ve been here?” I’ve lost track of time and Thomas has been… evasive on the subject.
Five months! I thought maybe five weeks. But with nothing to do I’ve been… adrift. Focus is difficult. But I can focus on Katie. Maybe that’s why I’m on date with her. She’s something new, someone to interact with other than the endless drones and Thomas. Or, again, maybe she’s hot and I’m gay.
I sleep well here. The bed is more comfortable than anything I had back home, and it’s actually quiet. No fights in the street—no streets to fight in—no airplanes passing far too low overhead… have I even seen an airplane in the sky here? Maybe they aren’t allowed to fly over the Citadel.
Right, Katie. Katie is talking but I got distracted. But Katie is a monster so I’m not going to say, “Sorry, can you repeat that?”
Except apparently I did, because she does!
“I was asking if there’s anyone from your past you’d like to have at your mercy.”
Plenty of people. I don’t have a list per se, but… but no, what the fuck? “Why would I want someone at my mercy?”
“You’re adorable when you pretend not to want things.” She catches my hand in hers and strokes it. “You have all these things you want to be and do, but you’ve got that cute.” she pokes my forehead with her other hand, “little. brain. telling you it’s wrong. But Violet,” she looks at me earnestly, “We can fix that.”
I don’t realize I’ve gotten up and started running until I’m out of the garden, until I’m back in my room with the door shut, locked from the inside, and barricaded with my bed. What the actual fuck?
I hear slow clapping behind me. I turn and see Blake. “That went well.”
“Were you spying on me?”
“Will you punch me if I say yes?”
Normally I would, but I deflate. “I thought I’d unlocked something there but…”
He sits down in the chair Violet vacated. “Brainwashing is difficult stuff. That’s why I leave it to Thomas.”
I let him enfold me in a hug. “It’s okay, she’s getting so much better. This is just a temporary setback.”
“Thanks,” I sniff. “She really is perfect, you know.”
“I have to admit that I don’t really see whatever it is you and Thomas see in her, but I believe you that it’s there.”
“She’s a wasp.” Tom’s word for her is accurate. Or maybe there’s a wasp inside her. She looks like some cute little harmless spider, but the wasp is in there, eating away at the host; it will be glorious when she fully emerges.
How did I not realize it before? They’re trying to make me evil, one of them! That night when I found the vibrator on my pillow… the memory of it comes back to me, I hadn’t realized it had been suppressed, the strobing lights, the murmuring voices… has it happened since then? Probably. I pace around my room. On impulse I go to the bedside table and pull out the vibrator. This fucking. evil. little… But no, they wouldn’t be able to do this if it weren’t already there. I know my dark side, but I keep it under wraps. But they know, they must know. All those fantasies I try to push down, to forget about. All those times when I’ve wanted to lash out, to make someone grovel at my feet…
If I stay here I’m going to become one of them. Unacceptable. But would they actually let me leave the Citadel? Thomas always says the door’s unlocked, the drones have always offered to escort me out… but maybe they’d actually escort me back to the cells and the demon triumvirate would chalk it up as a loss.
I can’t stay here though. If I stay I’m damned. If I become a drone, at least I won’t have become… them.
And maybe they will let me escape. Thomas is a lot of things, but he’s not a liar, he’s too powerful to need to be one. I push the bed away from the door, unlock it, and leave the room.
As per usual, there’s a drone standing at attention by my door. “You drones always say if I want to leave you’ll take me out of the Citadel. Do it!”
“Yes, Superior, please follow me.”
I follow the drone as it winds its way through the labyrinthine passages of the Citadel. I don’t see any other drones along the way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching. A thought. “Are you Katie’s drone or the Overlord’s?”
“The Overlord’s, Superior, but my orders regarding you come from the Overlord’s Consort.’
Because he doesn’t have drones. Not because he has any moral qualms about them, the bastard fucking makes them, but for some weird inscrutable reason he doesn't want any for himself. Not that it matters.
The drone pushes a button and an elevator opens. I follow it inside.
“This elevator will take us to a postern exit, Superior. But it’s a slow elevator and may take a few minutes. Please be patient.”
It’s hard to be patient in this tiny room with only me and the drone.
On an impulse I ask, “Who were you, before you were a drone, I mean?”
“I have purged all knowledge of my prior existence from my memory. I am a good drone.”
“What does that mean?”
The drone begins to recite a weird, perverted creed of some sort but I tune it out. It doesn’t matter. In a few minutes I’ll know if I’m free.
The elevator opens in a small room with a single glass door. Beyond, a forest. “The postern, Superior,” says the drone.
“She left.” Tom’s sitting at his desk and I’m standing so I manage to loom over him. “Why did you let her leave?” I pound the desk with a fist. “And Blake’s idiot drone just let her out into the cold. She’ll die out there!”
“No, she’s watched. Blake has drones keeping an eye out for her. She’ll come back, and if something really bad’s about to happen to her she’ll be rescued.”
I slump into a chair. “What makes you think she’ll come back? She hates us!” She hates me.
Tom holds up a finger. “One, because she has nowhere else to go. The Citadel’s in the middle of nowhere.” A second finger, “Two, because she has a half-dozen subliminal triggers telling her she wants to be here.” A third, “Three, because whether or not she’s willing to admit it yet, she wants to lose her fetters.”
I’m lost. Well, I can see the Citadel; it looms over the forest and would be very very hard to miss. But I have no idea where I am. At first my goal was just to run, run as far and as fast as I could. But I ran out of steam after a few hours. After I realized I was still in the fucking forest. Where is the Citadel, anyway? It wasn’t on the maps we had at school. And I honestly never thought about it much. No one from our village would ever go there except as candidate drones, after all. And me. But I did go as a candidate drone.
What am I now? I have no papers, but that doesn’t matter since there isn’t anyway here to ask for them. I have no money, but that doesn’t matter because nothing’s for sale. I have no food, and that’s going to really fucking matter in a few hours.
Of course I was free to leave at any time. Where would I go? I turn around and head back to the only option available.
A drone is waiting for me when I get within a mile of the Citadel because of course there is. “Please follow me, Superior,” it says. And I do, because what else can I do? It leads me to a different entrance this time, one next to a helipad of some sort. No helicopter though, and I’ve never heard one either. Maybe it’s for emergencies? Doesn’t matter, not important. The drone leads me inside and to an elevator. I get in, and we go up.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Where do you want to go, Superior?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“There are a few places Superior may not go, but beyond that you have full range of the Citadel, just like before.”
“I’m not being punished?”
“Not to my knowledge, Superior.”
I knock on Violet’s door. “May I come in?”
“Whatever.” She sounds so defeated, so broken.
I open the door and see her lying on her bed, her eyes red, an empty box of tissues at her side.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I sit down next to her and stroke her hand. I want to kiss her, make her better, but I don’t. I can’t.
“You’ve won. You’d already won as soon as Thomas decided not to drone me. You’d already won when I was brought here. You’d already won years before when the Overlord seized power. All of this, all of my fighting… it was pointless. I can’t stop you from doing whatever you want to me. You want to make me into some evil bitch and it’s going to happen and I can’t stop it.”
She pulls her hand away from mine. “Why do you want to do this to me?”
“Why don’t you want it? I’m offering you the world at your feet, obedient to your whim.”
She sits up slowly. “And what do you want in exchange?”
I mull my answer before speaking. “This isn’t about me, or Tom, or even Blake. This is about being your best possible self. About becoming something other than a sheep bred for the slaughter. About a life other than the one Blake imposes on the rest of the Dominion because you, who you are, who you could be, is worth it.”
“But why? Why me? I can’t be the only one with whatever potential it is you see in me!”
She doesn’t resist when I adjust myself and put an arm around her shoulders. “You think it’s not fair, don’t you? It’s not fair that you should get chosen to be lifted out of the muck, that you should be the one in a million person who catches our eyes. And Vi, it’s not fair. It’s horribly unfair. Because that’s the point. Life isn’t fair, not to anyone. The only question is whether you can make it be unfair in your favor. And you can. You can reject what we’re offering. If you want Blake to give you papers and enough money to make a life for yourself, I’ll ask him to do that for you. That also won’t be fair, but again, it’s unfair in your favor. You haven’t earned what I’m offering you, but neither have I, neither has Blake or Tom. We won the proverbial lottery and the world trembles beneath our feet. If we hadn’t, it would still tremble, just beneath the feet of someone else. Someone who also didn’t deserve it.
“You said Blake, Tom, and I had already won years before, and it’s true, we did. But sweetie, you won too, it just took longer for your victory to happen. But the prize is right before your eyes, all you have to do is reach out and take it.”
I hold her as she cries, but the tears aren’t the same now. Before she was despairing, but now… now she’s relieved. She’s given in. And she’s going to be beautiful.