Pixel Sunsets

Chapter 3- Tatakau Goburin no Nokkuauto

by HypnoticHarlequin

Tags: #noncon #brainwashing #clothing #dom:female #drones #exhibitionism #f/f #humiliation #mystery #pov:bottom #robots #tech_control #thriller #urban_fantasy

Alice flipped through her wardrobe, trying to wake herself up enough to get to work on time. As she pulled on her shirt she realized that if she was going to Megacon she should really get a costume together. But the question was just who should she go as.

This question bugged her the whole day at work, she spent every free moment looking through various websites, hoping that something would inspire her.

However, her web searching was fruitless leaving Alice more unsure than when she had started. As her work day came to a close Alice decided to go to Blissoplis, hoping that Gralla would be able to suggest a good costume for her.

As Alice rounded the corner she saw that a large group of people was stood outside the building. Alice quickly moved to try and get a glimpse of whatever was going on, only for her mouth to fall open in shock.

On the outside of the building, someone had hastily scrawled the word “Liar” in spray paint. Several Blissolplis guards were trying to scrub the paint off with brushes, but it was still very obvious what the graffiti said.

Alice quickly dashed into the arcade and fumbled her pass out. As the wall opened Alice started to talk, not even waiting for the woman to speak. “Is Gralla around?” Asked Alice frantically.

“She is busy at the moment,” replied the voice. Alice opened her mouth to reply, only to be interrupted by the main door opening.

“But I always have time for you,” said Gralla as she stepped out. Her smile looking slightly forced.

“Is everything okay? I saw the graffiti outside?” Replied Alice, moving quickly over to Gralla.

“It’s fine,” said Gralla as she slouched forwards a little bit, her smile wavering for a moment.

“Hug?” Asked Alice, stretching her arms out.

“I.” Started Gralla. “I would really like that right now,” she said gently, her voice lacking all the confidence that Alice had come to expect. Alice quickly wrapped her arms around Gralla and pulled her tight to her breast.

“You can talk to me about it if you want,” whispered Alice gently. Gralla looked up and nodded.

“Okay, why don’t you come to my quarters? I don’t want the guards seeing me like this,” replied Gralla softly, obviously trying to whisper without making it obvious she was whispering.

“Of course,” smiled Alice, letting Gralla go and following her up into her quarters. The second they arrived in the room Gralla crashed onto one of the couches. Alice sat down next to her and smiled softly. “So what’s up?”

“I don’t know,” sighed Gralla, leaning sideways gently so she could rest against Alice’s body. “First the posters, and now this graffiti. Someone is angry about me and I have no idea who it is or why they are even upset!”

“That is horrible!” Replied Alice, wrapping her arm around Gralla’s shoulder. “You’re sweet, who would want to hurt you?”

“I don’t know, someone doesn’t get my character I guess.” Sighed Gralla, her bottom lip wobbling a little bit. “I just want to make people happy, you know?”

“Oh gosh,” exclaimed Alice, pulling Gralla close and rubbing her hair. “You make lots of people happy, you make me happy.”

“Really?” Asked Gralla, looking up at Alice with tears in her eyes. “I make you happy?”

“Yes! Of course, you do silly,” smiled Alice. “I always love it when you send me messages! I actually came because I wanted to see you!”

“That, makes today a lot better,” nodded Gralla before sniffing softly. “What did you want to see me about?” She asked gently, moving her head a little so it was easier to look up at Alice.

“Well, I’ve been trying to think of a costume for Megacon and I’m drawing a blank. I wondered if you had any ideas,” smiled Alice, “what are you going to be wearing?”

“I’m going full Galactic Empress for the convention,” smiled Gralla, obviously starting to perk up again. “I’ve got some heavier armor for the guards as well.”

“That sounds awesome!” Smiled Alice, continuing to softly rub Gralla’s hair.

“I do have one idea for you,” said Gralla, her cheeks going slightly red as she buried her face in Alice’s stomach.

“Tell me! Tell me!” Giggled Alice.

“Well, I had this silly idea ages ago,” mumbled Gralla. “But, it is a bit, forward, to ask you to play along.”

“Tell me! Tell me!” Bounced Alice, turning Gralla’s head so she was once more making direct eye contact with her.

“Okay, but please don’t take this the wrong way, okay?” Replied Gralla, her voice wobbling a little.

“Promise!” Nodded Alice.

“Well, I had this idea for a captured princess, being held as a symbol of the power of the Empress. Like she would have cybernetics forced onto her and stuff like that.” Rambled Gralla, looking at Alice the whole time.

“That sounds so cool!“Grinned Alice. “There is so much you could do with that look!”

“I might have made a few sketches,” mumbled Gralla.

“I demand to see them!” Shouted Alice, her excitement obvious on her face.

“They are on my computer,” smiled Gralla, rolling off Alice’s lap and moving to her desk, quickly opening up several images on her screen.

Alice skipped over and gasped as she saw the images. They were of a tall woman in a shredded regal dress. On her head was a metallic band and she had various other cybernetics embedded into her body.

“She looks amazing!” Grinned Alice. “Tell me about her!”

“Well,” said Gralla, her shyness radiating off her. “She is a princess from a large pseudo-monarchy, captured by the rebellious Empress. The circlet is a brainwave inhibitor. It controls her mind, slowly influencing her until she decides to work with the Empress.”

“That is so cool!” Nodded Alice. “And she looks pretty.”

“Would you like to play her?” Asked Gralla with a smile, causing Alice to squeak and blush as she remembered why she was looking at this image.

“I don’t think I’m pretty enough to pull it off,” she said gently.

“Nonsense! I think you are!” Smiled Gralla, pulling Alice closer. “I think you will look great in it.”

“Really?”

“Totally,” nodded Gralla. “I’ve got free time this week, how about I knock up a prototype of the costume and then if it doesn’t look good we can find you something else?”

“You would do that?” Blushed Alice.

“I mean, I’m one hundred percent sure it will look great, so it isn’t like I’m taking a gamble here!” Giggled Gralla.

“Sure then, I’ll at least try it on and see if it looks good.” Smiled Alice, gazing into Gralla’s eyes.

“Thank you!” Grinned Gralla, hugging Alice tight. “I’m going to have so much fun making this!” Gralla leaned in closer, lifting her hand gently to rub Alice’s cheek, only to be interrupted by a noise coming from her computer.

“What is that for?” Asked Alice, turning her head to look at the screen.

“It’s the motion alarm for our back door,” sighed Gralla, putting her hand back down and clicking on the alert. “It is likely nothing, the raccoons do like to party back there.”

The camera opened and showed a grainy image from behind the arcade. A figure in a hoody was furiously digging through the dumpster.

“Who is that?” Asked Alice, leaning closer to the screen and squinting slightly.

“I have no idea,” replied Gralla, leaning in with Alice, watching as the figure pulled its head out of the dumpster and looked around, obviously trying to make sure it wasn’t spotted.

“It might be the person who wrote that garbage on your wall,” growled Alice, moving towards the door of the office.

“What are you doing?” Blinked Gralla.

“I’m going to go check! If it is the same person, I don’t want them to ruin your building a second time!” Replied Alice, her voice growing quieter as she quickly left the office and headed down the stairs.

Alice dashed through the arcade, moving to the fire escape she had seen at the back of the building. Alice shoved the door open and stepped outside.

“Hey, you!” She shouted at the figure. The figure jumped and fell backward out of the dumpster, hitting the concrete with a thud. “What do you think you’re doing?” Continued Alice, moving closer to the figure.

“She is influencing your mind!” Shouted the unknown person, its voice obviously feminine. As it started to pull itself to its feet it shouted once more, “don’t trust her!”

“What are you going on about?” Huffed Alice, stopping and glaring at the figure.

The figure quickly pushed the dumpster towards Alice and started to run down the alley. Alice jumped to the side to avoid the dumpster and by the time she had pulled herself up the person had vanished down the street.

As Alice walked back towards the building the door opened and Gralla dived out, hugging Alice tight. “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” sighed Alice, her heart pounding in her chest. “Just what the hell was that girl’s deal anyway?”

“I have no idea,” replied Gralla, slowly guiding Alice back inside as she did. “I tried to get a shot of their face but I couldn’t get a good angle,” she added as the girls made their way back into Gralla’s quarters.

Once they got back into the room Alice let out a sigh. “I really should go, I need to get my laundry done tonight,” she said before giggling. “If not I’ll end up having to wear your princess costume full-time.”

Gralla laughed for a moment before smiling at Alice. “Mind if I walk you home? I would like to make sure whoever that was doesn’t loop around and pester you.”

“I’ll be fine, I’m a big girl.” Replied Alice, scoffing at the thought.

“Please? It would make me feel a lot more comfortable,” asked Gralla, her voice starting to waiver again.

“Sure,” nodded Alice. “If it will make you feel better.”

“Thank you,” smiled Gralla, walking up next to Alice and guiding her out of the building towards her apartment, a smile on her face the whole way.

A few blocks away from the apartment, Gralla suddenly gasped. “Do you mind if we do an errand while we are out here?”

“Sure! Out of milk?” Giggled Alice.

“Nah, I’m good for milk. I need to pick up a trophy for this weekend and the engraver is two blocks from here,” smiled Gralla.

“Trophy?” Asked Alice.

“Megacon is running a game tournament,” beamed Gralla.

“Oh wow, I didn’t know you were involved in that!” Grinned Alice.

“Yeah, I’m the sponsor of it,” nodded Gralla. “Well, sponsor and host. They are using my machines for the whole thing,” she said as she walked towards a shop front.

“Neat! What games are they using?” Asked Alice.

“I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” winked Gralla. “But there is going to be a classic game and a more modern one. No Queen of Fighters, unfortunately, I don’t have enough machines for that.” She said as she wandered inside.

Once they were inside, Gralla had a small conversation with the shop owner, who quickly went into the back of the store. After a few minutes, the man emerged with the trophy. It was a large gold sculpture of a woman with a flag in one hand and a joystick in the other.

“What do you think?” Asked the shopkeeper.

“What do you think Alice?” Asked Gralla. “You have an eye for aesthetics.”

“I think it looks great,” smiled Alice, moving closer and inspecting the details. “I love how you carved the design into her shirt, what is that, Zodiac symbols?”

“They are!” Nodded Gralla. “They are in a circle around a central eye, I wanted something that looked sort of punk like, without it being visually overwhelming,” she explained gently.

“You both nailed it,” replied Alice, smiling at both Gralla and the shopkeeper.

“Perfect,” chuckled Gralla, sliding a wad of notes to the shopkeeper and picking up the trophy. “I hope the winner is just as happy about it as you are.”

“I’m sure they will be,” beamed Alice as she walked out of the store and continued her walk home.

Once Gralla had made sure Alice was home safely she made her way back to Blissoplis, a smile on her face the whole way. The guards were still outside scrubbing away at the graffiti on the wall, their brushes doing nothing to strip away the paint.

Gralla walked past them quickly and went straight into her office, placing the trophy down on her desk as she unlocked her computer. She opened up the security feed and cycled it back to Alice confronting the person in the dumpster.

Gralla paused the footage and slowly zoomed in on the face of the woman in the hood and laughed to herself. “Anastasia, oh Anastasia, I really thought you would be above rooting through my trash. I guess I’ll have to leave you a little gift there.”

Gralla shook her head and started to delete the security footage, a smirk on her face the entire time. “Such a shame we had to have that hard drive failure today,” she said to herself. Once the footage was deleted Gralla grabbed a soda and headed down to her workshop.

Kim sat at her desk, trying to focus on her work. The last few days had been terrible for her productivity, she felt constantly tired. It was like she hadn’t slept for days despite going to bed early every night.

As she yawned again Kim shook her head. Today was futile. She decided that she would just go home, it was under an hour until the office closed and if she wasn’t going to get anything done then she might as well prioritize trying to get some rest.

She quickly shoved her stuff into her bag before walking out onto the street and towards her house. Kim zoned out as she walked, all she could think about was getting home and falling into bed, hoping to finally get rid of this horrible sleep deprivation.

Kim wandered into her apartment and threw her bag down before walking into her bedroom and starting to undress. Once she was naked her phone started to beep. Kim wanted to ignore it, but her body grabbed it and opened the message before she could finish her thought.

“Do you want the high score?” Asked the message. Kim’s mind started to shut down again, her whole world becoming nothing but the glowing screen of her phone.

Kim robotically bent down to pick up her clothes so she could get dressed, only to be interrupted by another beep on her phone. Kim opened the message, only to see it was another one from Gralla. “I’m going to call you, answer it.”

Kim nodded softly and answered her phone the second it started to ring. “I want the high score,” she mumbled softly.

“Good good,” replied Gralla. “Now, I have some questions for you, of course, there are points for every correct answer.”

“Yes Gralla,” moaned Kim, her body swaying gently as she stared off into infinity.

“Have you ever gone clothes shopping with Alice?” Asked Gralla.

“Yes, Gralla.”

“Do you remember her sizes?”

“Some of them,” nodded Kim, her whole body drowsy and heavy.

“Tell me them,” demanded Gralla firmly. Kim started to list off the measurements to the best of her memory. Digging through her own mind to recall every situation she had brought clothes with Alice, her memories nothing more than a currency she could exchange for points.

Once Kim had listed off all the sizes Gralla giggled to herself. “Wonderful, you have ten points,” she said as the chirp from Hexiblous came through the phone’s speaker.

Kim let out a low moan, her thighs rubbing together as her body shuddered with pleasure. “Now,” added Gralla, her voice pushing through the haze in Kim’s mind. “When I end this call, forget it, delete all record of it and then go to sleep,”

“Yes Gralla,” started Kim, only to be cut off by Gralla hanging up. Kim fiddled on her phone, deleting the records of the call. Once that was done Kim fell forward onto the bed, hitting it with a loud thud, her mind already falling into sleep.

Alice spent most of the week working away, though during her free moments her mind would drift back to the image of the princess. She was flattered that Gralla thought she could pull off such a costume, but she had her doubts about it. Could she really look as pretty as that drawing?

On Thursday morning Alice felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and found a message from Gralla. “I’ve got the prototype done, want to come by tonight and try it on?”

Alice’s heart fluttered slightly, she was pretty nervous about trying the outfit on, worried that it would make her look like a fool. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself, Gralla wouldn’t go out to make her look stupid, it had been Gralla’s idea to put her in the costume in the first place.

Despite this rationalization, Alice was still slightly nervous as she walked to Blissoplis after work. She wandered into the main door and called Gralla, who quickly made her way downstairs.

“Ready?” Smiled Gralla as she led Alice up to the office.

“A little nervy if I’m honest,” replied Alice.

“Don’t worry about it, you are going to look stunning,” beamed Gralla as she wandered into her quarters and pointed to a box. “It is all in there, I’ll wait in my office to give you some privacy.”

“Oh, thank you,” nodded Alice, moving over to the box and looking at its contents. She had to admit, all of the bits looked amazing, Gralla must have spent ages making all the cybernetics look this realistic.

Alice slowly got undressed before pulling the costume on. Doing her best to avoid seeing her own reflection until she was totally in the costume. Once it was done she shouted out to Gralla. “I’m ready!”

Gralla walked into the room and gasped, putting her hands over her mouth as she did. “You look. You look amazing!” She shouted, bouncing a little as she did. “You look even better than the drawings!”

“I do?” Blushed Alice.

“Yes, let me get a picture!” Smiled Gralla, holding out her phone and quickly snapping a photograph. She moved over to Alice and held out her phone, showing Alice the costume.

Alice’s eyes went wide. Gralla was right, she looked amazing! The outfit flattered every inch of Alice’s body, she looked like something off the cover of a book.

“Oh, you are still missing one part,” grinned Gralla, quickly moving back into her office before returning with a circlet. “Can’t have a captured Princess without a brainwave inhibitor!” She smiled as she leaned in close and slipped it down over Alice’s hair.

Alice wobbled slightly as the circlet was slipped down on her head, her heart was pounding so fast and her stomach was full of butterflies, she could feel the heat radiating off Gralla’s body. Alice hadn’t felt like this since high school. As the feelings grew Alice took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.

Gralla smiled and stepped back a little bit, admiring Alice’s body. “I think you look amazing, I would subjugate you without a second thought,” she giggled.

Alice blushed softly as she posed for Gralla. “Really, you think so?” She stuttered gently.

“I’m totally sure, you are going to blow everyone away at Megacon,” nodded Gralla. “Well if you want to wear it, that is.”

“I do,” smiled Alice, a warmth growing between her legs.

“I’m so glad!” Squealed Gralla, clapping her hands as she did. “On Saturday we’ll make a few alterations to the costume.”

“Alterations?” Asked Alice.

“Yes, I’m going to make a few latex prosthetics to help blend the cybernetics with your flesh a bit more,” nodded Gralla, moving closer and rubbing Alice’s arm.

Alice shuddered and blushed as she looked at the cybernetics. “You do prosthetics as well?” She asked, trying to draw attention away from the heat that was filling her. “You have a lot of talents.”

“Oh you flatter me,” smiled Gralla, backing off slightly as she did. “I just have a lot of time on my hands and thus I learn stupid skills.” She said with a giggle.

“I think you are great,” replied Alice, taking a few deep breaths as she did. “I should change out of this to keep it fresh for Saturday,” she added quickly.

“Okay!” Beamed Gralla, walking out into her office and closing the door behind her.

Alice started to peel the costume off as she continued to take deep breaths, doing her best to calm the fire burning inside her. Alice’s thoughts were racing through her mind, was she really crushing on Gralla?

Once Alice had finished changing she waited for a few moments, feeling the heat gently fading. Once she was calm she walked into Gralla’s office. “All changed!”

“Great,” grinned Gralla, standing up from her computer. “Thank you so much for doing this for me, I’m so excited for Saturday!”

“Me too!” Nodded Alice, her cheeks flushing bright red. “But I have to work tomorrow, so I guess I’ll see you then?”

“I’ll be waiting for you,” giggled Gralla. “Meet me here at six am and I’ll get you into the costume.”

“Sure, see you then,” smiled Alice as she left the office.

Kim’s whole week was the same thing over and over again. No matter how much she slept she never seemed to be able to get rid of the feelings of sleep deprivation. On Friday night Kim canceled all of her plans and went home and fell straight into bed, planning to spend the whole weekend catching up on sleep.

However, in the dead of the night, Kim’s phone started to buzz and vibrate. Kim rolled over and grabbed her phone, still half asleep. As she opened the message her mind ground to a halt.

Kim groggily pulled herself out of bed, slumping forward at the waist as she stumbled towards her door, hastily wrapping a coat around her naked body before walking out of her apartment and into the night.

Kim’s eyes were totally glazed as she walked through the deserted streets, her arms limp against her sides as her legs propelled her sleeping mind constantly forwards towards Blissoplis.

Kim stumbled in through the main door, only to find that Gralla was stood there waiting.

“I want the high score,” mumbled Kim, drool trickling down her chin as she did.

“Of course you do,” sighed Gralla. “Now into the office, quickly!” She said walking quickly up the stairs. Kim stumbled up the metal stairs, her mind not able to comprehend anything but obeying Gralla’s orders.

Gralla’s office was a lot more full than usual. There were several guards stood stiffly against the wall, each of them in much chunkier armor than usual.

“Get naked,” demanded Gralla, grabbing a box from behind her desk as she did. As Kim’s coat fell to the floor Gralla laughed. “Well it seems someone really likes points, now, get changed into this outfit.”

Kim obeyed, reaching into the box and pulling out the armor pieces, clumsily putting them on one by one until she was totally covered.

“Now,” started Gralla, leaning against her desk. “Your character is an assassin, surly and rude, always keen to keep a close eye on things. So really turn up the grit when interacting with people at our booth, understood?”

“Yes Gralla,” mumbled Kim as she pulled the heavily decorated mask over her face.

“Perfect,” smiled Gralla. “All of you go down to the van and get to the community center,” she said firmly, grabbing a clipboard and shoving it into the chest of one of the guards. “Becky, follow these instructions to the letter and then destroy the paper.”

“Yes Gralla, your will shall be done,” responded the guard, taking the clipboard firmly in her hands.

“Now quick march!” Shouted Gralla. Instantly the girls started to stomp their feet up and down in unison before they marched out of the office and down the stairs, heading towards the waiting van.

Once the footsteps had faded away to nothing Gralla smirked to herself and walked out of her office and out of the arcade, humming to herself the whole way.

Alice yawned as she walked through the streets, she didn’t usually get up this early but had wanted to make sure she wasn’t late. She didn’t want to delay Gralla or her team.

As she got closer and closer, the butterflies in her tummy got more and more active, fluttering around more and more intensely. Alice was really unsure what to do about these feelings. Part of it was a mixture of nerves and excitement about wearing the costume at a busy convention, but the other part was a genuine excitement to be around Gralla again.

As Alice wandered up to the arcade she saw they had erected a large sign on the on the door that declared that the arcade was currently “compromised” and that people should visit them at Megacon.

Alice walked into the building and went straight up to Gralla’s office, presuming that was the most likely place she would be. As Alice pushed into the office she was taken aback by the sight. Gralla’s desk had been cleared to make way for a load of food and a large coffee pot. As Alice gasped Gralla came out of her quarters with a smile.

“Oh, you are here!” She grinned. “Sit down, help yourself!”

“I didn’t know you had to cater the convention yourself,” blinked Alice, sitting down at one of the chairs.

“Oh, this?” scoffed Gralla. “The convention is catered but I thought we should have some breakfast before we got you into your costume.”

“That is a really sweet thought,” blushed Alice, only to spot one of the plates. “Is that pear brioche? From Giovanni’s on the high street?”

“Yes, they are!” Nodded Gralla, walking over and sitting opposite Alice. “I picked them up fresh this morning. They are my favorite thing in the city.”

“They are my favorite as well!” Grinned Alice.

“Be my guest,” smiled Gralla, placing one onto a plate and passing it to Alice. Alice took the plate and started to eat, her cheeks remaining a bright shade of red the whole time.

The sugar did nothing to calm the butterflies dancing in Alice’s tummy, in fact, it fueled them, leaving Alice feeling like a very giggly school girl.

“Well,” grinned Galla as she topped off Alice’s coffee. “Should we get the princess ready?”

“Oh gosh yes!” Squealed Alice.

“The box is behind you, why don’t you change while I go fetch my make up kit?” Said Gralla, wandering out of the room as Alice started to yank her clothes off and pull the costume on.

Alice wiggled a little bit, running her hands down her body gently as felt the heat increase once more. Now she was in the costume she felt more confident, it was too late to turn back now, she just had to embrace it.

Gralla walked back into the room, carrying a massive black box with her. “Take a seat,” she said with a smile, putting the box down and opening it up, revealing a massive selection of bottles and jars.

“That is a lot of stuff,” gasped Alice, going wide-eyed as she tried to take it all in.

“I end up hoarding this stuff,” chuckled Gralla, pulling out a lump that looked like it was made of human flesh. “Put your arm out please.”

Alice put her arm out, slightly confused by what this stuff was. Gralla held the stuff against Alice’s arm and smiled to herself. “What is that?” Asked Alice.

“Latex. This was my color test, I was basing your skin tone on the picture I took, so I wanted to make sure I had it right before I attached the main parts.” Explained Gralla. “I think it is a perfect match.”

“It looks it!” Grinned Alice, watching as Gralla went back to her box and produced several smaller boxes as well as two bottles and two paintbrushes.

“Okay, so arms out in front of you, give me your best zombie pose,” Giggled Gralla as she opened one of the bottles and dipped a brush into it.

“Brains,” giggled Alice as she put her arms up in front of herself.

“Perfect” Smiled Gralla as she knelt down in front of Alice and gently rubbed the brush across her skin like she was drawing an outline of the cybernetics.

Alice shuddered gently, Gralla’s closeness and the soft bristles running along her flesh made her strangely aroused. She did her best to distract herself, hoping that her arousal and fast breathing wouldn’t be obvious to Gralla.

Gralla went around the area a few times with the brush before pulling out a small strip of latex and laying it around the cybernetics, gently pressing down on each corner of it to make sure it attached firmly.

Alice was both amazed and highly aroused. Something about having Gralla touch her like this was driving her wild and the prosthetic looked amazing. It made it look like the cybernetic components were actually embedded in her flesh.

Gralla continued to work, gently tweaking the latex around the circuit board, adding little details to make it seem more and more realistic. Alice was mesmerized by Galla’s movements, she was so careful and precise with them, each little tweak or movement making the prosthetic look even more impressive.

Once it was done Gralla ran her hand all the way up to Alice’s shoulder. “That is the first one done, now for the second,” smiled Gralla. Alice bit her lip gently, still trying to hide the heat that was washing over her body.

Gralla quickly got to the work on the other arm. The brush dancing over Alice’s sensitive flesh once more. Alice fought hard against her urge to squirm, focusing on Gralla’s hands in an effort to try and quell her arousal.

Impressively Gralla didn’t just mirror the prosthetic and had, in fact, made a totally different part, making the whole costume look even more realistic.

Once the prosthetics were attached Gralla backed off and smiled. “Move your arms around a bit,” she said gently. Alice instantly complied, wiggling her arms and doing a small dance.

“These look so good!” Grinned Alice. “It looks like I was put through a really crazy operation!”

“Awesome,” smiled Gralla, pulling out a second brush and dipping it into another bottle. She then gently dabbed the brush around the edge of the prosthetic. “This will make it look more like a healed wound,” explained Gralla.

Alice continued to bite down on her lip, fighting her urge to let out a little whimper, her whole body trembling from the sensations.

After a few moments, Gralla pulled back and put the brush down. “I think you are ready to go princess!” Exclaimed Gralla, clapping her hands together.

“If you command it,” said Alice in a soft monotone before breaking out into giggles.

“Very nice,” winked Gralla, causing Alice’s cheeks to flare once more. Had she really just attempted to flirt? And had it worked? Gralla certainly didn’t seem upset or put off by it.

Alice stood up and stole another chunk of brioche as Gralla giggled. “It is addictive isn’t it?” She smiled. “I’m going to go change, so feel free to finish it up.”

Alice nodded and continued to eat as she waited around for Gralla, curious to see how today’s costume differed from the outfits Gralla usually wore.

After a while, Gralla stepped back into the office. She looked amazing. Her face was painted with a pattern that resembled a star map and her blue hair was topped off with a cross between a crown and a warrior’s helmet.

Her body was clad in an armored dress that had glimmering patches of chrome running through it, she was even a few inches taller due to a pair of massive thigh-high boots.

“Oh Empress,” purred Alice. “You look fantastic.”

“You think?” Smiled Gralla, a hint of redness dancing across her cheeks.

“It is amazing! Everyone is going to love you!” Smiled Alice.

“I hope so,” nodded Gralla. “Are you ready to go?”

“I am very ready,” smiled Alice, moving close to Gralla, “lead the way Empress”

Anastasia sipped her coffee and looked out of her car window, watching as people came and went from the community center. The back door was busy but it was mostly just exhibitors moving their stock and displays into the building.

Anastasia had been sat there for hours, waiting for someone to slip something into the trash can, but so far no one had even been near to it.

She hummed to herself, tapping her fingers on the dashboard in an attempt to stave off the boredom and keep herself awake. A short while later a van pulled up near Anastasia’s car and opened its doors wide.

Anastasia watched as several masked women poured out of the van. The sight made Anastasia shudder, the girls carried an atmosphere of dread with them. Anastasia watched as the girls started to move various arcade machines out of the van and into the community center.

None of them even looked at the trashcan, let alone put something into it. However, this didn’t deter Anastasia, this was the best chance she was going to get at bringing Gralla down, she would wait here even if she ended up waiting all day.

The women worked quickly and efficiently to empty the van of its contents. As they moved the last few objects a cab pulled up next to the van. Anastasia ducked her head down, doing her best to not be spotted.

“Wow, you guys were quick setting this up!” Smiled Alice as she looked at the guards. “And this new armor is amazing!”

Anastasia instantly recognized the voice. She looked at the girl and shook her head, no wonder she wouldn’t listen to Anastasia’s warning. She was obviously Gralla’s right-hand girl, she was in on this whole thing.

“I can’t wait to see your booth!” Added Alice with a smile.

“Oh yes, we should go check it out,” nodded Gralla, moving towards the back entrance, the guards not far behind. Just before they went into the door Gralla let out a small shout. “We need to do a group photo!”

“Yes!” Bounced Alice, quickly ducking inside the building to ask someone to take the picture for them. Once the person had been given the camera the guards started to try and arrange themselves into a few lines.

“Wait! I have an idea!” Chuckled Gralla. “Becky and Garrett! Can you lift me and Alice? Then we can have two curved lines around us!” She said.

Instantly two guards moved to sweep Alice and Gralla up onto their shoulders with the other guards moving quickly to steady them and make sure neither Alice or Gralla fell off.

Anastasia smacked the dashboard of her car as she watched the chaos unfold. All of the movement totally obstructed the trashcan, making it impossible for her to tell if someone had left her the stuff she needed.

The group continued to move and shift until they had the perfect pose. “Say galactic domination!” Chuckled Gralla as the camera flashed.

Once the person taking the picture had returned the phone the group started to shift again, helping Alice and Gralla to the ground before all of them walked into the community center.

“Ugh,” grunted Anastasia opening her car door and marching to the trash can. As she bent down to look inside she heard a cough from behind her. Anastasia jumped and spun around, clenching her fist.

“Madam,” said the security guard. “May I ask why are you fiddling around in the trash?”

Anastasia looked at the guard and unclenched her fist, thanking her lucky stars that it wasn’t one of Gralla’s goons. She reached into her pocket and produced a card.

“Anastasia Phillips, city hall. I’m doing an inspection to make sure your refuse and recycling plans are up to scratch.”

“I thought we had already been inspected,” replied the security guard, scratching his head.

“Statute five hundred and seventy-nine, subsection nine allows us to inspect the refuse system at any point during a public event,” said Anastasia firmly, hoping the guard wouldn’t know enough to see through her lie.

“I see,” nodded the guard. “I’ll have to ask my supervisor.”

“Go get them then!” Barked Anastasia. “I will write you up for this if not!”

“Okay, okay,” nodded the man, quickly dashing into the community center to find someone. The second the man was out of earshot Anastasia closed the door behind him and turned back to the trashcan.

The trashcan was mostly empty apart from some scrunched up newspapers and a box from Giovanni’s bakery. Anastasia sighed, this was obviously just random litter.

However the bakery box stood out to Anastasia, it looked far too neat to be a box that had been used to carry pastries, it almost looked like it hadn’t been opened. It also laid perfectly flat against the bottom of the can, it hadn’t been thrown away, it had been very deliberately placed there.

Anastasia grabbed the box out of the trash and pulled it to her chest. As she did the guard returned, this time with a man in a suit.

“Miss Phillips,” smiled the man. “You wanted to do an inspection?”

“Well,” stuttered Anastasia. “I did want to, however, I’m going to let you off, something has come up which needs my immediate attention. Just make sure you keep these trash receptacles clear, okay?”

“Okay,” blinked the man, obviously confused by this statement. “Yes, we’ll make sure that’s done.”

“Good.” Nodded Anastasia, quickly running back to her car and driving away.

Alice looked over the Blissoplis booth, it looked just as amazing as the main arcade. It was designed to look like some form of a spaceship that had crashed into the building. There was the main cockpit that housed an information table and then an open docking bay that had five arcade machines and a large sign pointing towards a curtain.

“Whats the curtain for?” Asked Alice, walking over to the booth.

“Oh, it is for a rare game,” grinned Gralla. “It has issues with glare and it is a bit temperamental, so having it out of sight lets us shut it down if it decides it doesn’t want to work today.”

Gralla pulled the curtain back to reveal what seemed to be a whack-a-mole game with a large screen in front of it. “What is it called?” Asked Alice, her eyes going wide.

“Tatakau goburin no nokkuauto,” said Gralla, stumbling over the words a little bit. “Or Fight Goblin Knockout in English. It was designed to promote a tv show that flopped heavily, so they only made a couple of these machines.”

“Neat!” Smiled Alice.

Slowly but surely the community center started to fill up with people, all keen to see what the convention had to offer. A lot of people came to get photos with Gralla and Alice, impressed by their costumes.

After a few hours, a mousy woman approached Gralla with a smile. “Hey,” she grinned.

“Well hey,” grinned Gralla. “So you are the person I’ve been told all about.”

“I hope you’ve been told good things,” laughed the woman, offering her hand out for a handshake.

“Oh amazing things,” nodded Gralla. “Alice, this is Laura McMichael, she writes for a few retro gaming websites, Laura, this is Alice, she is my assistant.”

“I love your articles!” Gasped Alice, finally putting a face to a name she had heard many times. It was only then that Alice realized what Gralla had called her. A wave of warmth ran through her body, she was both honored and slightly shocked that Gralla would consider her something like that.

“I’m glad to meet a fan,” nodded Laura, adjusting her glasses as she did. “So, I’m going to be part of your tournament later, I must say I’m very much looking forward to it.”

“As am I!” Nodded Gralla.

“Now I’m not one to fraternize with judges, but I was told you are showing off some rare machines and I couldn’t help but come to have a look!”

“We are,” Grinned Gralla. “I have one of my rarest machines here actually, would you like to have a go?”

“Would I ever!” Nodded Laura. Gralla smiled and started to lead Laura through the curtain allowing her to see the strange machine.

“So they only made a few of these,” explained Gralla as she fiddled with the machine, dropping a few coins into the slot.

“Wow, it is certainly unusual,” replied Laura, looking over the machine.

“It is a fusion of Whack-A-Mole and a Laserdisk full-motion video game,” continued Gralla, grabbing the large foam hammer and passing it to Laura. “It has a good amount of English text, and most of the instructions are diagrams.”

“Right, right,” smiled Laura, grabbing the handle tightly. “I’m excited to try this!”

“Wonderful!” Exclaimed Gralla. “Due to the fact this game is both loud and involves you swinging this thing around, I’m going to pull the curtain across and wait outside for you. Just come and find me when you are done!”

“Will do!” Replied Laura.

Gralla giggled to herself as she pulled the curtain across and turned the sign around so it looked like a generic Blissoplis poster. “Make sure no one disturbs her,” whispered Gralla to a guard before wandering back over to Alice.

The machine started to play a flashy video showing various heavily armored men beating up an assortment of green creatures. The animation quality made it clear that this video was directly extracted from the show the game was designed to promote.

After a minute of overblown video, a small yellow lump popped out of the machine, right in front of the Whack-A-Mole grid. The screen flashed up the image of a hammer hitting a similar yellow lump.

“Guess that’s the start button,” shrugged Laura, whacking the hammer down onto the lump. The lump instantly went down into the machine and another video started to play.

A girl with a sword appeared on screen, talking furiously at the camera while also pointing to a gigantic castle that sat ominously on the horizon. After a few minutes of monologuing, the girl dashed forward, running towards the sinister castle.

As she ran forward, several hulking goblins popped out of the nearby trees and started to menace her. The video started to slow down as words appeared on the screen. Laura gripped the hammer, presuming it was time for some gameplay.

A green goblin lunged forward with a dagger, aiming right for the girl. As it did, a green target popped out of the whack-a-mole part of the game. This target was a green tube, complete with a goblin face painted on it.

Laura smacked the target with the hammer. Instantly the target went down into the machine as the goblin on the video got sent flying. Text appeared on the screen giving a score and a red thumbs-down.

“Guess it reads how hard I hit,” mumbled Laura, watching as another goblin charged forward, causing a second target to rise out of the machine. Laura whacked it as hard as she could, causing the goblin to collapse as a green thumbs-up appeared.

This pattern continued a few more times, a goblin would jump out and bother the camera or the girl. As this happened Laura would have to hit a target that popped out of the machine, causing the goblin to get knocked away.

After that, the girl started to talk again, drawing her sword and starting to creep forward into a cave that was just behind the trees. The camera panned left and right, almost as if the player character was looking around.

Suddenly a goblin jumped out of the shadows. Laura swung the hammer at the target that popped out, smashing it back into the machine as the goblin evaporated into a cloud of dust.

“Sakkaku,” said the girl firmly, nodding as if Laura could understand the language she was speaking. Laura actually had no idea what it meant, but the fact the game was still going suggested that she just had to keep hitting things.

Alice and Gralla continued to pose for photos and promote the arcade to anyone who seemed interested. After a while, Gralla tapped Alice on the shoulder. “I need to go inspect our capacitor bank to make sure everything is going okay,” she smiled. “Hold the fort until I get back?”

“Yes my Empress,” winked Alice, trying to stay in character.

Gralla wandered into the cockpit part of the booth, opening a panel and going into a small cupboard-like space. Once inside she looked over some readouts and nodded to herself. “Nothing has exploded,” she smiled.

She then opened up another panel and pulled out a small cable, plugging it into her phone before pressing a few buttons. She waited for a few minutes before wandering back out into the bustle of the convention.

Laura continued to smack goblins, totally focused on the screen. As the girl wandered through the cave the goblins came faster and faster, often in groups of two or three, with the game giving only a few seconds to hit all of them.

As they left the cave Laura started to realize there was a strange static sound coming out of the machine. She shrugged it off quickly, she had read that laserdisc games were very temperamental and the static could just be a side effect of making footage from a tv show run on an arcade machine.

“Machibuse!” Shouted the girl, turning to the camera as a massive group of goblins jumped out from behind some rocks, all drawing their weapons and moving in to attack.

A circle of goblin targets popped out of the machine and Laura leaned forwards, smacking them all as hard as she could. One by one each of the goblins was knocked away by the on-screen character.

As the last one flew away the ground started to shake as the music suddenly got very dramatic. The girl let out a scream as a massive goblin lumbered towards them. The goblin was the size of a building and wore random bits of armor that had obviously been stolen from other warriors.

The giant goblin let out a massive roar as it ripped a tree out of the ground and started to brandish it like a massive club. Two health bars appeared on the screen as Laura blinked. “I have health now?” She exclaimed.

“Jakuten o utsu!” Screamed the girl, pointing to the giant goblin. A series of targets popped out of the machine, in a shape that resembled a stick figure. Laura didn’t question it and went to hit the one closest to her.

The game made a loud metallic clunking noise as the blow bounced off a piece of the goblin’s armor. The screen flashed red as Laura’s health bar depleted.

“Jakuten o utsu!” Screamed the girl again.

“I don’t know what that means!” Replied Laura, trying to work out just what the game wanted from her. The goblin let out another loud roar as it swung out its log.

As it swung, another target popped out of the machine. Laura hit it as hard as she could. On screen, her character blocked the blow from the tree. The goblin started to wobble a little bit before stumbling backward.

“What are you,” mumbled Laura. However, mid-way through her sentence realization hit her. “I’ve got to parry and then hit it when it’s stunned!” She grinned, getting ready to block another shot.

As she focused on the machine, Laura was sure that she heard another voice. She quickly brushed it off, presuming that it was just noise from the convention outside.

Laura clenched the hammer tighter and waited for a sign that the goblin was going to attack again. The goblin kept rocking forward and back, almost like it was trying to feint her out.

The goblin lunged in for another strike, causing another target to pop out of the machine. Laura dived sideways and hit the target before quickly hitting one of the stick figure targets.

However, the target popped straight back out of the machine. The footage jumping back to the goblin rocking back and forward.

“Full motion video,” sighed Laura before looked around. She could have sworn she had heard someone tell her to focus. She pushed it out of her mind, it was obviously just her mishearing an ambient sound.

Laura continued to focus on goblin waiting for her moment to strike. As she focused she felt the room dim around her. The goblin moved to strike and Laura instantly hit the target.

“Strike,” came a soft voice. Laura didn’t question it and swung at a target. As she did the on-screen weapon smashed into the goblin’s armor, sending it flying off, leaving an exposed point.

“Destroy,” came a second soft voice. Laura looked around again, trying to work out the source of the audio. However, before she could fully search the room, the goblin moved to attack, forcing Laura to refocus on the machine.

Laura squinted as she moved to hit the target. The light level in the room felt like it was changing as if the lights were pulsing softly, almost like the room had a heartbeat. Laura continued to hit targets as they came up, slowly whittling down the goblin’s health bar.

The changing light made it hard to focus on the machine and the targets, but it was also strangely relaxing. The voice continued to whisper to Laura. She was unsure why the game had it, but she didn’t mind, it was actually turning out to be quite helpful.

With one large strike, Laura totally depleted the goblin’s health bar, causing it to crash down to the floor with an almighty thud. The animated girl cheered as she started to walk towards the castle once more.

However, within moments of starting to walk, yet more goblins started to attack, forcing Laura to strike targets in quick succession without much of a break in between them.

As Laura smashed the last target she panted a little bit. This game was a good workout if nothing else. The girl started to talk again, obviously, this was the moment they dumped all of the exposition however it was useless to Laura who didn’t understand a word of it.

However, Laura stood there and watched the animation play out, trying to get her breath back. The voice kept whispering to her, telling her to focus. She wasn’t sure why it existed but presumed it might be a hint warning her of another upcoming ambush. Laura didn’t want to lose focus, as losing focus meant she would have to redo that boss again.

Laura just watched the screen, letting the dialogue wash over her, the soft pulsing of the lights helping her time her breathing so she could get her breath back, the soft whisper making her relax and focus without a second thought

The girl continued to ramble as Laura gazed at the machine, the slowly pulsing lights leaving her feeling so calm. “Relax,” whispered the voice. “Focus and relax.”

Laura nodded softly, waiting for a cue to act, watching as the girl on screen continued to ramble on and on about things that Laura had no understanding of.

Time seemed to stretch out into infinity as she watched the video that never seemed to end, the girl just kept talking and talking with no obvious end in sight.

Suddenly, Laura felt a hand on her shoulder as something dropped into her vision from above. The object sparkled and caught the soft light of the room as it started to swing gently.

Laura went to say something, only to hear a whisper right next to her ear. “Focus,” it said gently. “Watch it,” said the voice again, interrupting her thoughts. “Wait for your cue to act, you’ll lose if you act at the wrong time,” continued the voice as Laura’s mouth dropped open. The voice was right, she had to wait for her cue, she didn’t want to lose, she didn’t want to sit through this long video again, she just wanted to get to the end of the game.

As the object swung and sparkled Laura was able to work out what it was. It was a silver medal, shiny and polished. As it continued its heavy swing, the voice continued to whisper into Laura’s ear.

“Yes, you do better at games when you stop thinking. You do better when you just let them happen when you don’t think and just relax,” purred the voice gently. “And that is why you are doing so well, because you are focused, because you are not going to take your eyes off it, even for a moment.”

Laura’s mind swam gently as the swinging object held her gaze totally, something about the swing was utterly fascinating to her. Her eyelids felt heavy and she could feel her eyes starting to water.

“That’s it, your eyes must be getting tired,” said the voice, almost reading Laura’s thoughts. “Your eyes must be so tired from staring at that screen for so long, but I know, I understand. You don’t want to stop watching the swinging, as it is just so pretty.”

“Yes,” slurred Laura, the voice pushing into her mind. Watching the never-ending movie sequence had made her eyes tired and watching this swinging thing was making it worse. But the swinging was just too pretty to stop looking at, regardless of how tired her eyes were.

“I have a solution for you,” said the voice softly. “A way for you to rest your tired eyes as well as enjoy the pretty swinging. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” replied Laura gently.

“I can put the pretty swinging in your head, so you can close your eyes, and see it, so you can rest and watch and keep watching. Wouldn’t that be so lovely?”

“So lovely,” mumbled Laura, wanting nothing more than to close her heavy eyes and just watch the swinging forever.

“But I need your help,” added the voice. “You know you can’t get a perk like that without unlocking it first, it is how the game progresses. You need to unlock it.”

“Unlock it,” nodded Laura, it made perfect sense to her. Something as wonderful as watching the swinging while she slept would have to be worked for, it wasn’t something that was given away for free.

“We need to make room in your head to fit the shiny, shiny pendulum,” cooed the voice. “How can something swing when your brain is so full of junk?”

Laura nodded some more, it made total sense to her, she wanted the pretty thing and had to earn it and find a place to put it, like everything else in her life.

“I just need you to force those heavy eyes open and do one thing for me,” continued the voice. Laura forced her eyelids open, doing her best to keep the world in focus, the light stinging her sleepy eyes.

“You can see your thoughts in front of you can’t you?” Said the voice gently, wrapping Laura’s hand around the handle of the foam hammer. “They are little green gremlins, taunting you, mocking you, telling you that you will never get shiny to swing in there.”

“But I want it,” blinked Laura, her eyes focusing on the sight in front of her. A whole load of giggling little green gremlins, popping up and down in front of her. Laughing at her. Teasing her. Laura felt a strange range filling her, she wanted the swinging in her head, and wouldn’t let these disgusting gremlins stop her.

“You won’t be able to get the swinging in there until you get rid of all of them,” purred the voice. Laura nodded, she knew what she had to do. She lifted the hammer above her head and waited for one of the little thoughts to show its ugly mocking face.

When it popped up she slammed the hammer down with all her might. As the hammer hit, Laura felt a firm smack on her head that seemingly vibrated through her skull and right into her brain.

Laura wobbled a little bit, her head felt oddly lighter like it had more space inside it. She giggled a little bit, only to see another evil thought gremlin raise its ugly head. Laura once again smashed the hammer down onto it, feeling the thud in her brain as more thoughts were knocked away.

As a third gremlin popped up Laura swung the hammer, almost falling over due to how dizzy and light-headed she was. The impact caused her whole head to vibrate as more and more of her brain fell away, her smile growing goofier and goofier.

“The last one is coming up,” giggled the voice as another little target popped up. Laura didn’t hesitate and smashed the hammer into the machine with all her might.

As the target went down Laura stiffened, it felt like her brain was shattering, all of her thoughts breaking into a billion fractured pieces that fell away and through the floor. Laura felt two hands firmly grip her by the shoulders and pull her backward.

“And sleep,” purred the voice as Laura started to fall eternally down. “Just let the swinging and shining take up your whole mind, so pretty and so shiny and you can just totally focus on it so totally.” Laura’s mind was suddenly filled by the wonderful swinging object, her whole body growing heavier and heavier as she sunk into a deep sleep.

Kim pressed her toy gun to the head of the girl she was taking a photo with. She was an assassin and had to act the part perfectly if she wanted to get the high score.

“Awesome!” Smiled Alice, backing up to get them both in the shot. “Say hostage situation!” She giggled as the camera flashed.

“Thanks!” Smiled the girl, walking over to Alice to get her camera back. Alice passed the girl her phone and a Blissoplis flyer.

“Come and pay us a visit sometime,” added Alice with a wink.

Kim started to make her way back behind the table, her eyes wandering back to Alice every few seconds. She tried to place just why she felt so attached to her. Part of it was because Gralla had told her that Alice was above her, that Alice had authority over all the guards, that Alice was great and their secondary purpose was to make Alice as happy as possible.

But there was something else about her. It was like a faint itch in the back of her mind that she just couldn’t get to, every time she got close to working out just why she felt this way the reason eluded her and her mind became fixated on the thought of a high score once more.

“That photo came out so well,” smiled Alice as Kim took her position. “Pity I couldn’t get a copy for you, it looked badass!”

Kim didn’t respond, she had been told not to speak unless it was an utter emergency. Speaking would give her a score penalty, and a score penalty was painful on every level imaginable.

Alice stared at the masked assassin for a few moments before movement near the curtain caught her attention. Gralla and Laura stepped out together.

“Have fun?” Asked Alice, smiling towards Laura.

“It was a very interesting game, slightly tiring,” replied Laura, her voice seeming kind of distant. “I need to go prep for the tournament now,” she added quickly, starting to walk towards the other room.

“Everything going okay here?” Asked Gralla with a grin.

“Amazingly! People love my costume!” Replied Alice, bouncing a little bit as she did.

“Great!” Said Gralla, moving to the back of the booth. “So Fight Goblin is being stupid, so I’m going to turn it off for a bit and let it cool down.”

“Okay!” Nodded Alice, watching as Gralla went into the small cupboard and fiddled with some of the switches.

After a few moments, Gralla emerged and stretched. “Time for the tournament, come and host with me!”

“Host with you?” Gasped Alice. “But I haven’t seen the script!”

“You’ll pick it up,” smiled Gralla. “I mean you’ve run this booth without any help, people seem to love you and I don’t blame them.”

“Okay!” Nodded Alice, the costume making her more confident than usual. Gralla let out a little cheer and led Alice towards the tournament.

The tournament was standing room only with a few hundred people looking towards four arcade machines that sat on a small makeshift stage.

As the lights dimmed Gralla motioned for Alice to follow her. Gralla climbed onto the stage and gave an introduction packed with all the pomp and flair that Alice had come to expect, within moments Gralla had the entire audience eating out of the palm of her hand.

Gralla introduced the first three contestants and welcomed them to the stage before taking a deep breath. “And now, our guest of honor!” Exclaimed Gralla. “The modern girl with the eight-bit heart! You’ve likely read her articles on Retro Zone! Ladies, gentlemen, and aliens of all kinds. Please welcome Laura McMichael!”

The crowd went wild as Laura walked up onto the stage and gave a drowsy wave to the audience, her eyes still seeming glazed and distant. Alice shrugged it off, presuming she was tired from travel.

“Round one is simple!” Shouted Gralla. “You’ll each have five minutes to score as many points as you can on CyberThrust!” She said, motioning for the audience to cheer. “Considered one of the hardest space shooters of the late 80s, this game is bullet hell before bullet hell was a thing, so watch out!”

The contestants all nodded and smiled, moving towards the first machine with trepidation. The first contestant gripped the joystick as they got ready to start. Gralla walked to the side of the stage and grabbed a toy laser gun and passed it to Alice.

“What is a tournament without a princess to start us off?” Asked Gralla, making Alice blush. “So when Alice sounds the gun, your five minutes will start.” Nodded Gralla before walking over to the machine. “Are we ready? Three! Two! One! Go!”

On the shout of go, Alice pressed the trigger of the gun, causing a loud bang to ring out as a small amount of confetti sprayed out of the barrel and into the air.

The play was furious, with each player racking up high scores very quickly. Gralla hadn’t lied, the game was exceptionally hard due to the sheer amount of projectiles on the screen. The only player who seemed unphased by this was Laura who was able to retain her cool the entire time.

Most people would have presumed that this coolness was due to Laura making a living from writing about and playing old arcade games, meaning she was likely very used to difficulty. However, the truth was anything but. Laura was asleep, just floating in an infinite black void, her eyes fixed on an eternally swinging pendulum, her body working only on pure reflex and muscle memory.

The other two rounds played out mostly the same. Gralla had obviously picked very hard games, that forced a lot of quick movements and frantic adjustments, meaning that a lot could happen within a five minute period. This meant that everyone but Laura struggled and meant that Laura very easily won the tournament.

“Well done Laura!” Cheered Gralla. Picking up the trophy and handing it to the dazed girl. As Gralla did this, Alice handed out silver medals to the other participants.

As Laura saw the medal around the neck of one of the other competitors she blinked and shook her head, emotion finally returning to her face as her body and mind kicked into high gear. She lifted the trophy into the air and smiled. “Thank you, everyone!” She cheered as the whole room started to clap.

Laura then grabbed the microphone out of Gralla’s hand and started to speak. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we need to give a big hand to our hosts and our sponsor! Alice and Gralla! Let’s hear it, everyone!” Smiled Laura, not totally sure why she felt the urge to gush like this.

Alice went bright red as she wrapped her arms around Gralla’s waist and took a bow, soaking in the adoration of the crowd. However much Alice hated to admit it, she could get used to this.

“You should all check out Blissoplis!” Added Laura. “They have so many neat machines. Honestly, we should do a video series going through them all!”

“Oh well,” smiled Gralla. “If you want to, I mean if you think people would be keen to hear me and you talk about random arcade machines!”

“Would you?” Said Laura, turning to face the crowd. Instantly the crowd cheered like mad as Laura chuckled. “I think that answers your question!”

“Well then who am I to say no,” laughed Gralla as she pulled Alice closer.

Anastasia pulled into the parking lot, looking in her rearview mirror to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Thankfully she wasn’t. She quickly found a secluded little space to park, this lot wasn’t very busy on a Saturday, mostly being used for the office building that sat above it.

Anastasia undid her seatbelt and leaned backward, grabbing the pastry box from the back seat. Her heart had been pounding the whole drive, a mixture of anxiety and excitement about what could be in this box.

As she put it in her lap she realized that the box wasn’t just untouched, it was taped shut. It had to be the cache of information she had been promised.

Anastasia set her phone to record and placed it on her dashboard with a shaky hand before slowly starting to gently pry the tape open, making sure to not damage anything inside the box.

As she lifted the lid Anastasia gasped. The box was jammed full with paper and other things. This wasn’t just a cache, it was a treasure trove. That girl must have been working on this for months.

Anastasia pondered for a moment, did this mean that someone bigger than her was looking into this? The girl could have just been a whistleblower, but collecting this much information screamed professional. Could that unassuming girl have been from the FBI? Or even higher?

Anastasia shook her head and refocused herself. She could try and answer that question once she had gone through all of this information and worked out just what the girl was trying to tell her.

She decided to separate the things out into a few simple piles. Personal correspondence, official documents, items of evidence and then other things.

This process took a while, mostly due to the fact that the box was full of random bits of scrap paper and old newspaper. It was obviously an attempt to make the box feel heavy enough to carry pastries, but it didn’t make working out the relevant documents easy and Anastasia’s excitement only made this worse.

After a few hours, Anastasia had everything sorted and started to try and piece things together. The most obvious item was a scan of an old id card for a Myra Knox. The picture obviously showed a younger Gralla despite the fact that she didn’t yet have her trademark blue hair.

“Changed your name did you?” Chuckled Anastasia. “University id as well, that should make finding your history much easier.” She said as she lifted up a badly scanned copy of Blissoplis’ purchase agreement. “But how does a university student get enough money to buy a building in cash.”

As she looked through the rest of the documents she found more of the same. Lots of large purchases of arcade equipment, all in cash with no sign of any major income aside from the entry fee. While it was clear Blissoplis attracted a lot of people, it wasn’t nearly enough to allow Gralla to throw cash around like she did.

Anastasia picked up a large document that seemed to be an invoice for various electronic components. However, as she flipped through the pages she realized that there was an envelope stapled right in the middle of the document.

Anastasia gently prised the staple open using her car key before carefully extracting the envelope. She opened it slowly and pulled out the piece of paper inside.

It was a letter. An actual handwritten letter. Anastasia’s heart was in her throat as she started to read it out loud to herself.

“Dear Anastasia.

I’m sorry we have to talk like this. But I can not risk blowing my cover, I don’t know what will happen if it finds out that I’m sneaking out information.

As you know, whatever that thing is, it is not human. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Green skin hides under its fake human visage. It never normally lets people near it when it is changing, but sometimes I’ve seen its fake human shell get cut, revealing the horror underneath.

As for what it wants. I don’t know. It seems to possess some kind of mind control technology. Anyone who doubts it soon comes back as nothing more than a puppet, dancing to its tune.

In the white box is my ultimate secret. A vial of fluid, that I think is the creature’s blood. Confirm it and protect it, it will be the only way to prove the truth when the time comes.”

As she finished the letter Anastasia dived forward and grabbed the small white plastic box from her passenger seat. At first, she presumed it was just packaging, another way to weigh the box down so it wouldn’t be detected.

Her hands shook as she opened the box, revealing two small vials of red liquid. If Anastasia was honest, the vials looked like they were full of human blood, however, Anastasia knew that wasn’t the case. Whatever Gralla or Myra was, it certainly wasn’t human.

Anastasia put the vials back into the box and quickly packed all the paperwork back into the cardboard container before grabbing her phone and starting to type. There was only one way to prove this and that was to get the blood tested.

Anastasia quickly found a local medical lab and started to drive over there as fast as she could. She grabbed one vial out of the plastic box and marched to the front desk.

“I need this blood tested as quickly as possible,” said Anastasia.

“Well madam,” replied the secretary. “We can get it done within twenty-four hours if you pay for our premium service.”

“I need the results today,” demanded Anastasia.

“Madam, that might be very hard,” responded the woman, obviously trying to keep a civil tongue in her mouth.

“I don’t care about the cost,” added Anastasia. “I need the blood test results today.”

“Why do you need them so quickly, if it is a medical emergency you should consult with a hospital,” said the woman gently, obviously growing slightly annoyed by Anastasia’s aggressive demands.

“It isn’t an emergency, but I work for the city and my hours are crazy,” said Anastasia, faking a sigh as she tried to garner sympathy. “I have to get these tests done and this is literally the only time I have, I’m sorry, everything is so stressful recently.”

“Right,” said the woman softly. “I understand, I’ll go talk to a lab tech for you, how about that?” She said before walking into a side room. After a few minutes, the woman re-emerged with a smile. “So the tech will try and get it done today. No guarantee, as it can take three to six hours, but we’ll do our best.”

“Oh thank you, you are a lifesaver,” smiled Anastasia, taking out her card to pay.

“If you want we can call you when it is done?” Added the woman.

“No, I’ll wait, just in case,” nodded Anastasia.

“Are you sure Madam? It may take six hours.” Repeated the receptionist, looking slightly confused by Anastasia’s desire to wait.

“I’m sure. I’m still a little dizzy from the draw, so I shouldn’t drive.” Said Anastasia, putting on a fake smile.

The secretary took the vial of blood and walked back into the side room as Anastasia sat down on one of the waiting room chairs. Her heart was still pounding in her chest.

The seconds seemed to last for hours as Anastasia sat on the hard chair, waiting for the results to come through, waiting for her theory and her worst fears to be confirmed.

After a few hours, a lab tech burst out of the door and slammed the vial onto the counter with a sheet of paper. “You think this is funny?”

“What do you mean?” Asked Anastasia, rising from the chair and going over to look at him.

“I pushed everything back to help you out and you give me reptile blood? What you thought it would be funny to waste my time, well we don’t give refunds!” Shouted the man, pointing to the results on the paper.

“I knew it,” laughed Anastasia, a wave of anxiety and euphoria washing over her body.

“What?” Shouted the lab tech, obviously very annoyed about this whole situation. Suddenly Anastasia’s eyes went wide as the pieces clicked together in her head.

“She is planning to brainwash the whole convention,” muttered Anastasia as fear filled her eyes. She quickly grabbed the vial and the paper and ran down to her car as fast as she could. Once she got there she dived in and slammed the car into gear, exiting the parking lot in a cloud of tire smoke.

Alice and Gralla sat outside of the community center, enjoying the cool breeze after hours of being in the very hot building. “Today was great,” said Gralla gently. “Thank you for being such a great help.”

“I’ve had a wonderful day,” nodded Alice gently, smiling at Gralla.

“I was wondering if I could repay you for your time,” replied Gralla, her cheeks going red as she gently rubbed her hair.

“You don’t need to pay me silly,” laughed Alice, waving her hand. “You got me a free ticket and I like to help friends.”

“No, no,” replied Gralla, shaking her head. “Not like that. As in.” She said, taking a deep breath. “I would like to take you out to dinner.”

Alice let out a soft squeak as her cheeks went bright crimson. “Oh,” she stuttered, wiggling a little on the bench. “I, I would actually like that a lot.”

“I would as well,” smiled Gralla, leaning in softly. Alice blushed more as she leaned in towards Gralla and puckered her lips softly, her heart starting to flutter.

“Security! Security!” Screamed a voice from inside the building, making both Gralla and Alice jump. Suddenly a load of security guards started to run towards the shouting.

“What is going on?” Asked Gralla, quickly moving into the building with Alice only a few steps behind. As the pair moved closer and closer to the noise they could quite clearly hear a woman shouting.

“I can free you, come with me! Don’t trust her, you knew the truth! We can beat this, come with me!” Shouted the woman. Alice recognized the voice but couldn’t place it.

As they turned around the corner they saw what all the commotion was. Kim was stood without her mask, blankly staring at Anastasia who was yanking on her arm and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

“Wake up! Wake up dammit!” Screamed Anastasia. “Don’t let her win! It was one of these machines! She is brainwashing you!” Continued Anastasia, yanking hard on Kim.

“Kim?” Blinked Alice, her mind filling with a storm of confusion. “Get off her!” Shouted Alice, running towards Kim, her motherly instincts kicking in and overriding her confused mind.

Before Alice could get to Kim, several convention security guards had pulled Anastasia off of Kim’s arm. Anastasia kicked and struggled, trying to break free of the guards.

As Alice got close to Kim, Anastasia did her best to kick at Alice but missed by several inches every time. “I’m onto you reptilian! I’m onto both of you! No one should trust you! You’re both aliens! I’ve got the proof! Your days are numbered, Myra! " She continued to scream as the guards started to drag her out of the building.

“What?” Stammered Alice, her confusion giving away to fear. “Kim? Are you okay?” She asked, looking up at the emotionless girl.

“I’m not Kim,” responded Kim. “I’m an assassin, that is my role.”

“Kim? Are you okay?” Trembled Alice, her breathing getting faster and faster, almost like she was about to hyperventilate.

“It’s okay, Kim,” nodded Gralla, walking in front of Kim. “You don’t need to act anymore,” she said firmly.

Kim’s brain picked up on the implied command as she started to smile. “I’m okay,” she said, emotion flowing back into her voice. “Everything is okay, I just didn’t want to give that woman the pleasure of ruining our stand.”

“But you said you were not coming,” mumbled Alice. “I wanted to come and you said that you didn’t want to, and, and,” stuttered Alice, her body crashing down from its adrenaline high.

“I can explain,” said Gralla, wrapping an arm around Alice. “I wanted to make today special for you. So I recruited to Kim to help me plan it,” she said, keeping firm eye contact with Kim the whole time.

“Yes,” nodded Kim, doing her best to pass herself off as normal, despite not understanding what was going on.

“And, well, I wanted to ask you on a date. And Kim, being the sweetie she is, wanted it to just be me and you, so you didn’t feel pressured,” continued Gralla. Watching as Kim continued her robotic nod.

“Wait, Kim knew?” Asked Alice, a tear trickling down her cheek.

“I asked her permission. I know you two are close and I just wanted confirmation that I was good enough for you.” Replied Gralla.

Alice sniffed deeply before grabbing Kim and Gralla by the waist. “You are two big silly heads, you know that?” She said between sobs. “Gralla you are the sweetest woman I know and Kim you are the best friend in the world.”

The girls hugged for a few moments as the crowd dispersed. Once they let each other go, Gralla adjusted her hair. “Kim, I’ll call you a cab, you should go home and recover.” Said Gralla.

“Yes,” nodded Kim.

“Yeah I think I need to lie down for a bit,” added Alice.

“I’ll drive you home, just to be on the safe side,” replied Gralla, taking a deep breath before going to call a cab.

Once the cab arrived Gralla led Kim out to it. “You’ve got five hundred points,” said Gralla gently, watching as Kim went weak at the knees. “You will go home and sleep, forget everything but the story I gave Alice. If asked you will do whatever you can to sell me as a good person, the kind of person Alice would want to date. Am I understood?”

“Yes Gralla, your wish is my command,” moaned Kim gently.

“Good, here is your cab,” smiled Gralla, walking over to the parked car and opening the door.

Once Kim was safely on her way home, Gralla helped Alice into the van and started to drive.

“Hey, Gralla,” said Alice gently.

“Yes?”

“That woman called you Myra.”

“She did yes,” sighed Gralla softly. “Myra was my old name. I never liked it, so when I got the chance I decided to change it.”

“That makes sense,” nodded Alice. “I understand the desire to want to change everything about yourself,” she continued as she looked out of the window. “Just know, that you don’t need to hide it from me, okay?”

“Okay,” nodded Gralla. Once they reached Alice’s apartment Alice climbed out of the van and waved to Gralla.

“Talk soon,” she smiled. “We’ll have to sort our date out!”

“We’re still on?” Asked Gralla, sounding slightly shocked. “Even after all of this?”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Said Alice softly, leaning into the van window and kissing Gralla on the cheek before walking into her apartment.

Kim sat in front of the TV, sipping on a cup of coffee as her phone rang. “Hey Alice,” smiled Kim as she muted the TV.

“Hey Kim,” replied Alice. “So I wanted to tell you how much it means to me that you would try and set me and Gralla up and that you would go through what you went through with that woman.”

“Oh don’t worry about it,” replied Kim, her mind starting to feel slightly foggy, almost like the words that were coming out of her mouth were not her own. “Gralla is amazing!”

“She is!” Grinned Alice. “But still, you shouldn’t have to get assaulted so I can get a date!”

“Assaulted?” Asked Kim blankly. “The convention wasn’t that bad.”

“That woman attacked you!” Said Alice, obviously confused.

“Nah it wasn’t that bad, just a lot of people,” replied Kim. “Just excited for you to finally get a date with a sweet girl like Gralla.”

“Right, sure,” said Alice softly. Trying to work out what was going on with Kim. It seemed like she had no idea what Alice was talking about. Alice pondered for a few seconds, this was really unlike Kim, in fact, Kim hadn’t really been herself as of late.

“I’m sure you will have a great time,” nodded Kim, her eyes totally glazing over as she spoke.

“Yeah, I have to go,” Replied Alice, hanging up the call. Alice sat and pondered for a few minutes, something was up and if Kim wouldn’t tell her, Alice was going to have to find out for herself.

Gralla sat in her office, sighing gently. “Dear Sir or Madam,” she said, reading the words off her screen. “I’ve decided to not press charges against Ms. Phillips. I understand that she has been under considerable stress recently. I feel partially responsible and feel that if I had been better at seeing her distress, the situation would not have escalated as it did and this terrible misunderstanding of what was supposed to be a joke would never have happened. Thank you for your time, Kim Pine.”

Gralla read the letter a couple more times before hitting print. As the printer whirred into action she put her head into her hands. “I’ve really messed this up,” she sighed gently. “Why did I let Alice confront her? Why?” Continued Gralla, smacking her fist on the desk as she fought back her tears. “I don’t have a choice now.”

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