Sasha continued speaking, but Amber might as well have been in another room. She was far too preoccupied with Sasha’s previous assertion. In the back of her mind somewhere, Amber knew she should be worried about her friend. She should be working towards uncovering Sasha’s predicament. And yet, all she could fathom in the present moment was her own.
She imagined herself standing naked at attention. Matt’s roommate Steve, looking her over, commanding her to kneel and obey. The thought sent chills through her soul. The idea that she could just be… switched off, used, and put away when finished. All while not even being aware of it. It was something out of a bad fantasy movie. Amber was certain she had watched a movie with a similar plot once… and it didn’t end well for the heroine. Worse than that, she couldn’t bear to think of what Steve had or hadn’t made her do. Had she had sex? If so, what kind? It was as if her own mind was betraying her. As if her body was no longer her own.
Her mind spun with possibilities. Sasha had already moved on from talking about the night with Steve, and was droning on in the background about some new perfume and makeup combination that she wanted to sample. Amber barely paid attention. She just absentmindedly repeated ‘yeah’ or ‘sure’ whenever it was needed. Inside, her mind was torn. She wanted to run and hide, half her thoughts told her, to get away and escape. The other half was filled with concern for her friend. This is her problem as much as it is mine, she thought. And we can’t even be certain that running would fix the problem.
Amber’s train of thought was derailed by a hand waving in front of her face, then a snapping sound.
“Amber, wake up,” Sasha giggled. Amber inhaled sharply, disoriented by the sudden movement.
“You ok in there?” Sasha smiled. “You looked a little preoccupied.” Sasha ran her fingers through Amber’s hair as she continued. “I’m kinda tired. Gonna head to bed now. Sorry about what happened with Steve. He’s such a douche. You deserve better.”
Amber, still in a state of mild shock, just stammered, “Y-yeah… sure.”
Sasha drummed her fingers against the table for a couple seconds, then got up.
“I appreciate the offer to stay over, but I’m gonna head back to my place. No offense, but your couch is kinda hard, and I don’t think you’re interested in sharing a bed with me,” she winked bending over to grab her drying clothes.
Amber just nodded, still having trouble processing everything being said. She had already started to fade back into her own mind, asking herself questions with seemingly no answer. She let out another non-committal ‘yeah’ as Sasha reached the door. She didn’t notice the dejected pout on the redhead’s face as she left the room.
Several minutes later, Amber realized she had been pacing her dorm room, a stubbed toe having broken her train of thought. She surveyed the empty room, noting the out of place chair that had bruised her foot, and immediately felt like an idiot. Why the hell did I let her leave? Our only chance of beating this is together. She fought the urge to slip back into that anxious panic of questions she couldn’t answer.. What were you doing? What were you thinking? How long do you remember speaking with Matt? She forcefully shifted her train of thought from baseless, useless worries. Instead, she started writing a text to Sasha, asking her to return to her room. She made up an excuse about having decided she wanted to watch a movie, eat ice cream, and cry about how much an asshole Steve was to her.
She mentally kicked herself when Sasha didn’t answer. Of course she wouldn’t want to see me right now. She was trying to be a good friend, and I wouldn’t stop asking questions about that stupid party. Sasha’s apartment was off campus, and she could be anywhere between there and here by now. The small part of Amber that wanted to chase after her friend died as rational thought triumphed. Being alone at night was dangerous enough already, doubly so when you couldn’t trust your own mind to keep you safe. All she could do was hope that her friend made it home alright.
As she lay in bed, she couldn’t help but slip back into the frenzied storm of thoughts trying to find the solution to her problem. The comfort of the sheets helped her focus, and stop worrying, and start acting. She focused, approaching her dilemma as her comp-sci classes had taught her.
Step one: Figure out what you know.
Step two: Figure out what that means.
Step three: Figure out what you have to do.
Feeling confident that she had a place to start, she let sleep finally claim her. What she wouldn’t acknowledge, though, what she would continue to ignore when she woke up… was how wet the thought of being used made her feel.
The following day was uneventful, at least, as far as she could remember. Crisis or not, school, work, and her training were not skippable events. All the while however, her mind kept thinking back to any moments when her mind had drifted into a flow state. How many times had she lost track of time while walking? Moments on her way to the gym, when a fifteen minute walk had felt like two. Was she being used then? Had Steve—or anyone else, for that matter—pulled her aside and pushed her against a tree, and she just blankly complied? What about all those times she had just been pacing her room, browsing YourTube… and then two hours had passed, just like that! Was she letting boys into her room without knowing? That thought scared her more than the rest; the idea that she wasn’t safe anywhere was too daunting to consider, so she pushed it aside. She resolved to check her sheets when she got home for evidence of foul play.
Amber spent the rest of the evening speculating on the missing time. She quickly realized that trying to ask herself questions about something she didn’t remember would never go anywhere. You couldn’t decrypt something without the key, so to speak. So instead, she decided she should be focusing on the method of control. How had Matt and Steve gotten her and Sasha? Some kind of chemical in their drinks? Possible, yes. she grimaced. And Matt had mentioned paying for… Fuck. this is so wrong. I don’t ever want to be around them again. She took a few deep breaths before continuing. So, that means whatever happened to Sasha and I was something you could purchase… But that theory fell apart as she remembered that neither she or Sasha had let their drinks out of their sight.
Maybe some kind of airborne spray, then? Amber remembered watching a documentary about a powder used by the mafia in Brazil, which worked something like mind control. They would get prostitutes to spray it in your face before harvesting your liver, or something like that. Still, the accounts of that drug, from those who had escaped, few though they were, all pointed to a docile, compliant, almost child-like mentality while affected. Sasha was more than just compliant. She was a zombie! And we both had a complete memory blackout! Moreover, Sasha called me… Mistress? She had brushed it off at the time, but the more Amber went over the party, she was certain that whatever had happened to Sasha was more than just a chemical change. Chemical change wouldn’t provide you with a word to say. But that’s impossible, she scoffed. Brainwashing isn’t real. The idea seemed utterly ridiculous. What little knowledge of hypnosis she had, from stage shows, wiki-dives into conspiracy theories, and pranks at parties, she was certain that it was nowhere near powerful enough to explain what she had experienced last night. She finally threw that theory out the window when she remembered that Matt and Steve were nowhere near smart enough to pull off something like that, and certainly not so quickly.
Amber could feel her thoughts going in circles again. It was a common problem she ran into when programming, too. Last winter, she’d gotten so neurotic she almost broke her laptop’s casing in a fit of rage from an annoyingly undescriptive error that just would. Not. Cooperate. Her faculty advisor had joked that a rubber duck should be part of her standard toolkit, and she was seriously tempted to just buy one one of these days. So it was time to put her worries on the backburner, and focus on school. She always came up with her best solutions once she let the problem breathe.
The following week had been one of furious theories and plans. Amber was vigilant, constantly scrutinizing her own thoughts. If she had funds to do more than just scrape by each month, she would have bought a GoPro or some other kind of body cam. Without the correct equipment, however, she adopted the next best thing, hastily cobbled together from some old projects she had lying around in Android Studio. Every thirty minutes, she would get a ping on her phone to answer a small set of questions, which was tagged with her current location and a timestamp. The app would never pass a safety inspection, but it didn’t have to. It just had to work.
How did I get here?
What was I doing just now?
What time is it, and what was the time when I last checked?
Her diligence paid off. She’d found no gaps in her memory for the past four days, which had let her sleep easily again, when she’d worried she might be living in fear forever. The thing with Steve was probably a one-time thing, and as long as she didn’t catch anyone else’s eye, she was probably fine. And it let her appreciate the fruits of her labor. Her logs from the gym and meal times showed her diet and exercise regime were even better than her initial plans had hoped. But the real surprise came from her schoolwork. She first noticed it during her machine learning algorithms class. Classes that normally were total snoozefests, where she’d be playing games on her computer more than paying attention to the boring old fart of a professor, now were easy to pay attention to. She just had more energy and focus, thanks to her stronger body and stronger discipline.
Amber had been making a conscious effort to complete them well before the due date for a long time. It gave her more time to screw around, watch movies—and now, more time to work out. Her sudden introspection had revealed, though, that she wasn’t just trudging through her assignments anymore. With her new wealth of focus, she was actively enjoying them.
Thrilled with the results, Amber decided it was time to celebrate. She left the library just before nine, after having done a little research on hypnosis and suggestibility. Her findings just corroborated what she already knew.
Hypnosis is a state of intense focus and relaxation, but it isn’t mind control. It can’t be made to do anything the subject wouldn’t normally do, Amber thought, recalling the opening passage. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Now how does this help me at all? I’m still no closer to figuring out what happened last week.
Amber inhaled sharply, then began breathing slow, measured breaths as she noticed the beginnings of an obsessive spiral. The smartest thing was to relax, take her mind off it with a nice movie or something that took minimal brainpower. A homemade pizza and Eviler Dead: The Musical sounded nice. She took another deep breath, then exited the building just as her phone buzzed.
How did I get here? I walked from Data Structures to the library. What was I doing just now? I was researching hypnosis at the library, and now I’m leaving for my dorm. The time is 9:00pm, and the last time I checked was 8:45pm.
Nodding in satisfaction, she began the ten minute walk back to her dorm. She timed her breath and counted her steps as she’d been doing for the past week, bringing back memories of days spent as a kid fascinated by conspiracy theories, planning contingencies for various ends of the world. She just… hadn’t expected them to actually matter. Well, the tricks and memory games left her with nothing seeming out of the ordinary. She smiled and waved to a cute boy as she rounded the corner to her dorm.
She stopped in her tracks. A cute boy. She was alone, and had maybe-almost flirted with someone who could as far as she knew switch off her mind for the evening. Her thoughts jumped to Sasha for a moment. She’d barely spoken to her friend since the night of the party. They still passed each other at the gym, but Sasha just acted like she didn’t know her. Under other circumstances, Amber would have tried to mend the relationship… but that wasn’t as important as the quest for knowledge. After all, it might very well help her too. I really need to apologise to her… she sighed, then groaned. I’m such a dolt! Movie night! All I have to do is invite her over, say I want to make amends. Amber, you genius! Feeling optimistic, she pressed on towards her dorm, opting instead to take the long way home, where few people tended to walk. Humming to herself, she pulled out her phone to make a manual entry.
I’m heading home to my dorm to invite my friends over for a move. It’s 9:05pm, the last time I checked was 9:00pm.
Amber woke up before her alarm, something that was becoming more common the past few months.
Ok, morning routine. She sat up and stretched, going over her mental catalog of mindfulness exercises and conspiracy tricks. Ok, I just woke up. I’m in my dorm, the last thing I was doing was… Walking home? She frowned. That’s… that can’t be right. She looked around, and panic set in as she took in the unfamiliar sights. Oh, shit, shit, shiiiiit… She sat up on the bed, the light from the window meeting her face… on the wrong side. Amber’s dorm windows faced west, but the sunlight was streaming in.
Amber scrambled back as her arm brushed against a firm, fleshy object. Feeling like she knew what the answer was, and dreading it, she glanced at what had touched her. Sure enough... it was cylindrical, erect, and very much a penis. Its owner had, thankfully, not woken up when she had. He groaned, shifting under the covers next to her. Slowly turning her head, so as not to make a sound, Amber saw with compounding dread the same cute boy from last night. She recoiled, falling off the bed, though she managed to land without much of a sound. Unfortunately, that meant she lost the protection of the bedsheet, revealing that she too was naked. She instinctively covered herself, resisting the urge to scream. Slowly, with shaking hands, she reached down towards her legs. She had to hold in another scream when she realized she was completely naked… and wet.
She moved slowly, careful not to wake the sleeping boy as moved around the room. She had to leave, get out of danger as soon as possible. She had no idea what the danger was, but she had no desire to find out. She found her discarded clothes from the night before easily enough… although their placement told a very passionate story which should have been unforgettable.
The bulk of her clothing was next to the mystery boy’s bed. Images danced in Amber’s mind, possible simulations of the night before. Had she taken the clothes off herself? Had her new… ‘boyfriend’ removed them for her? The scattering, in a loose arc, suggested that whatever she had done had been slow and deliberate. A strip tease. So... why in hell was she dancing for a boy she only just met? She shook her head, focusing on more immediate concerns. She knew this was happening already. She could have that meltdown again later. But where were her panties? They were the only piece of clothing she couldn’t find. After half a minute of panicked searching, she decided to leave without them. The last thing she wanted was for sleeping beauty over here to wake up. Informative as it might be to try and ask him some questions, she had no evidence that whatever he’d done to her wasn’t repeatable.
Amber cursed under her breath as she approached the doorway. Her panties were discarded next to the front wall, along with a boy’s underwear and jeans. From the way the elastic strip on the panties had been bunched up, and the state of disarray of the top of the dresser nearby, it was pretty obvious she had been fucked here, probably from behind—and hard.
She bit her lip as her traitorous imagination began painting the scene.
She walked into the boy’s room, blank and compliant as Sasha last week.
“Hands against the wall,” the boy ordered.
“Yes, Master,” Amber said tonelessly. The same emotionless compliance as Sasha, like she was on auto-pilot.
“Spread your legs,” the boy ordered.
She imagined him rolling her panties down from under her skirt, her body reacting even though her mind stayed blank. She heard the thunk of his jeans and belt hitting the floor, and felt something hard enter her from behind. She didn’t make a sound as she watched the wall get closer and farther, the rhythmic thrusting from behind steadily increasing in pace. Eventually, her face was pressed up against the wall, her hair being pulled back, her expression still blank.
“Turn around, kneel, open your mouth.”
Something hot filled her mouth, and she swallowed automatically.
“I need a minute. Take off your clothes. Put on a show for me.”
Amber shook her head a few times, slapping herself lightly. This was no time to fantasize!
She put her clothes on as quickly as she could without making noise, then made her way out into the hall. She peeked around every corner as she passed, careful not to meet the attention of any new boys. The last thing she wanted right now was to see Matt, Steve, or anyone else in this building, for that matter. Her primary goal was the fire escape she’d used in her previous foray to the boy’s dorm. Reaching the ladder was easy enough. It was early enough on what Amber hoped was a Saturday—she didn’t want to imagine the possibility she’d lost an entire day—that no one was awake to see her leave. The sound of a door opening made her freeze as she finished scurrying out the window, quickly hiding on the opposite side of the wall. She heard movement, and knew she shouldn’t look, that the smartest plan was to wait for the sound to move away and then continue down the spiral staircase… but her curiosity got the better of her. She needed to make sure that it wasn’t Sasha. Anyone else, she could deal with. She held her breath as he peeked around the window corner.
She caught a flash of dyed pink hair.
“Clair!?” she shouted, much louder than she’d intended to. Amber ducked back from the window, not even checking to see if anyone had acknowledged her outburst. She smacked herself on the forehead. Stupid! Why did she open her idiot loud mouth? Peeking her head back over the window cautiously, though, Clair—and, it seemed, nobody else—had heard her, or at least had ignored it. Clair was just walking serenely towards the exit.
Amber’s gut reaction told her that Clair had been through the same ordeal as her and Sasha. But the scientist’s part of her mind gave her another alternative. I can’t know for certain… Maybe Clair is just having regular sex? Jumping to conclusions would just make her a target for… whoever was doing this. Amber made a snap decision, taking out her phone and recording a video of Clair’s presence here. If she really was just having a casual fling, Amber would delete the video, and if she wasn’t, then video evidence might force Clair to confront this. Hell, it might help Sasha confront it too, and make her forgive Amber to boot.
She hadn’t realized it until she started recording, but now that she was watching her phone screen from a safer angle, she saw that Clair was clearly wearing some kind of fetish outfit. Her torso was bound in a leather corset, and her pants were so tight they showed off the crease of her ass for all to see. She was wearing a green leather jacket to cover up her bare shoulders. And her movements were precise, almost robotic. Clair was always the most put together of their group. If it wasn’t for her ever-changing hair color, and tendency to spend entire nights binging anime, one could easily see her being next in line to be president. Seeing her act like… well, like a mindless drone, made Amber all the more determined to show her the video.
As Clair left her phone screen, Amber hurried down the fire escape with the video still rolling, hoping to catch a shot of Clair leaving the building. Her hours at the gym showed themselves as she bolted down the stairs, and she got to the bottom with ample time to get a good angle of Clair leaving the building in the same robotic manner. After about ten steps, Clair paused, then began moving more naturally.
Amber stopped recording, running towards Clair. This is it, she decided. This has to work!
“Clair!” Amber shouted.
It took a few moments for her friend to pinpoint where Amber was. She turned and waved, smiling as she caught sight of Amber.
“Am! It’s so good to see you,” she grinned, the warm gesture feeling as powerful as a hug to the frantic girl. She definitely needed some comfort, what with all the stress she had been put through. Now I can get to the bottom of this, she grinned, letting herself enjoy the triumph. Clair has a good head on her shoulders, and she’s almost as neurotic as me. If anyone can understand, she will. The two women had met at a local comics convention a few months ago. While normally Amber was one to shy away from large gatherings, mingling with sweaty people, she had decided it was time to show off her—at the time—emerging assets.
Young-confident-and-stupid Amber had taken on the challenge of cosplaying as Slave Lana from Star Warriors. She didn’t know much about cosplay—although Clair had given her some tips since—so her costume had been little more than a bikini with a bit of clay crudely plastered on. Her newly acquired abs filled out the rest of the costume, giving people more than enough eye candy to keep attention off the makeshift outfit. Clair had been cosplaying as some blue haired girl from an anime Amber would later learn was called Re:Done. Even before she’d joined the workout group, Clair had been incredibly beautiful, and the maid costume she wore that day was so impressive she just had to strike up a conversation. A nice chat about shared hobbies, some lunch, and later some drinks, and the cosplayers were walking arm in arm at the convention the next day. Some small part of Amber had reminded her that these two characters should never be photographed together, but the fun of having two beautiful women posing together felt too great to ignore. By next week, Amber had introduced Clair to her Holy Church of Iron Will, and the two had become workout partners for life.
“Clair, what just happened? What were you doing in there?”
Clair looked around, her smile politely confused. “In… where?”
“The—!” Amber slammed her hands over her mouth, then lowered her voice before continuing. “The boy’s dorm. I just saw you come out. What were you doing in there?”
“I was?… Huh.” Clair trailed off for a few seconds. “Oh well. Do you wanna hit the cafe before morning practice? I saw this new gluten-free tart that looks scrumptious!”
Amber blinked, utterly dumbfounded. She stared numbly as Clair kept flashing that comforting smile.
“What are we on today, legs? You know I rely on you to tell me what we’re working out, Amber.”
A thousand questions passed through Amber’s mind. How did she not know? Who did she wake up next to? Why isn’t she at all concerned? How many times has this happened? Why do I care where I’ve been, but not her? Amber wanted to scream, but making a scene would be an awful idea. So instead, she responded.
“Yeah… legs today, then we do a small abs workout at home tomorrow for our recovery day.”
“Riiight, gotcha, Taskmistress.” Amber flinched, although Clair didn’t notice. It was a stupid nickname that Amber always thought was ill-placed, but today it felt especially wrong. Clair insisted that she only ever used them for people she liked, though… so she felt too bad to voice her concern.
“Hey, you mind if we grab a coffee and sit down for a bit, before we workout?” Amber asked hesitantly.
“Sure, but what about Sasha? She’ll be waiting for us.”
“I’ll tell her not to wait up. She’ll be fine without us for today.”
“Sure thing. You know me. You’re the Taskmistress. I just do what you tell me to do.”
Amber winced internally, but was grateful that she didn’t raise any objections. If the two of them could sit down, maybe she could make sense of what was going on. Maybe she could show her the video.
The coffee shop was about as drab as you could get for a campus java-hut. A few minutes later, and both women were sitting at a corner table with lattes and gluten-free tarts.
“So, who were you seeing last night, anyways?” Amber asked, sipping her coffee slowly. She knew she’d need the extra energy to focus on asking the right questions.
“I wafn’t,” Clair mumbled, her face half full with tart.
“Then why were you at the boy’s dorm when I caught up with you?”
The silence could have been cut with a knife.
“Oh riiiii, ya. I waf at dah boy’s dorr laft ni.” Clair rolled her eyes, swallowing her tart. “Hey, did you check out that video from that one instagram trainer I sent you? His glute program is supposed to be a-mazing!”
Amber set a mental reminder to take another look. She was always on the hunt for new workout routines… but now was time for more pressing matters.
“What about this morning. Where did you sleep?”
“Uhh, in my bed? Am, you doing alright?” she chuckled.
“Clair, I saw you walking out of the guy’s dorm this morning. That’s where we met up.” Amber was careful to keep her voice down. People were always checking her out these days. The last thing she wanted was people invading the privacy of her conversation… or the sanctity of her mind.
“Was I?” Clair asked, downing her latte. “Oh yeah, I was.” Painful silence passed again as Clair stared off into space. “So, legs today, yeah? We doing squats or deadlifts?”
The rest of the breakfast date was much the same. Whenever Amber tried to ask a question about Clair’s night, Clair would deflect or just be confused. This was not just a case of missing time, but somehow a state of… wilful ignorance, too. Clair seemed to have no recollection nor care for the fact that her evening had vanished. In fact, all she really seemed to care about was when they were leaving for the gym. She didn’t leave her seat, though, until Amber finally gave her permission to leave. That was how it typically went, but it still felt… off, today. Everything did.
The walk back gave Amber plenty of time to think. The big question, the one she kept coming back to, was why only she seemed to care about her missing time. She still couldn’t remember a single thing about what had happened last night… and a not-insignificant part of her was glad that she couldn’t. A smaller part of her whispered that it’d be so nice if it happened again. At least that way she could gather more data… She pushed away those thoughts, thoughts that told her losing control like that was hot. It was not! It was terrifying, it was desecration, and she would not give up.
The two women swung by Amber’s dorm, which was on the way, grabbing some workout equipment she kept in a closet. The girls kept theirs with them, but Clair hadn’t come from her dorm tonight, so she borrowed an extra set. Then, suitably equipped, they headed to the athletics building. Amber’s mind never stopped asking the same questions over and over again, and she couldn’t just vent the worry to her actively ignorant friend. Her phone chimed, and she took a couple seconds before heading out of the changing room to fill out the report. As soon as her workout started, though, she was blessedly able to let her mind clear, and just focus on the effort. Half an hour later, she finished her last reps, and was sitting in the changing room to fill out another report. No time lost, thankfully. With her sweat session over and her determination abundant, she concluded she needed more information… and she knew just where to get it. All three friends had experienced the same phenomenon. Which means Amber had three data points, to triangulate the cause... although, wasn’t that a distance thing? Either way, more data would mean more she could figure out. A couple texts to Sasha, and the three women had decided they would be meeting up that night for drinks and a movie, Sasha only having agreed after extracting an apology from Amber. She had a plan of action. She was ready.
She was going to get to the bottom of this.