“Remind me why we’re watching this again?” Amber asked, taking a light sip of her beer.
“Because it’s one of the greatest anime to come out in the past ten years?”
“Oh, that must be why I’ve heard sooooo much about it,” Amber snorted.
Clair looked towards her friend and raised an eyebrow.
“Ok, fine, fine. I trust your judgement. Please teach me, sensei,” Amber giggled with a mock bow.
When Clair had offered to show Amber what she had described as the good shit, she had started simple. The poor girl had apparently only heard of things that had crossed into popular culture, like Blade Dance Crossing and Philosopher of Steel. So, to give her new friend a little real culture, Clair decided Code Bound was a great place to start. There were only two seasons, and the plot was compelling, but not complicated in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, there weren’t too many instances of classic anime... plot... moments that made her hobby difficult to explain to other people. Well, except for that one episode. With the fish.
“So remind me what this is about?”
Clair chuckled and reached for another beer. They weren’t planning to drink too heavily, but it was a weekend, after all. “It’s easy enough to follow. Just watch the screen.”
Amber rolled her eyes, groaning with comic exaggeration.
“Watch. The. Screen,” Clair punctuated. “Basic premise, Japan was conquered, and now they’re second class citizens in their own country.”
“That’s... that’s just horrible! Why would anyone-”
Clair snapped her fingers, and Amber shut up.
Amber had apparently forgotten about moderation, if the fact that she’d finished her beer and another one by the end of the first episode was any indication. Clair, for her part, hadn’t spent much of that time watching the screen. It was hard not to stare. Even when Amber was wearing a hoodie, it was impossible to forget what was underneath. A chiseled statue of tight muscle, curves just so, and...
Nope. No, no, no. Clair, stop. You’re making sure she’s enjoying herself. Showing her some good anime. Not checking her out. She’s your friend, Clair. Keep it in your pants.
“Why does she have green hair?” Amber grumbled.
Clair rolled her eyes. “Anime’s just like that, Amber.”
She just reached for a third beer by way of response, then stopped, cocking her head. She waited a few moments before she opened her mouth.
“And... why does he have a sharingan?”
Clair choked in surprise. “Wait, you know about... Belay that. It’s not a sharingan, Amber. This came out years before!” Clair just sighed. Patience...
Clair’s thoughts were cut off by a scene she’d been anticipating. The scene she’d chosen this anime for in the first place.
The main character ordered a woman to give him her mech, and she blankly complied, coming to attention. Clair knew that by heart, since she certainly wasn’t watching the screen now.
Amber bit her lip and squirmed in her chair.
Well then. That’s that.
Amber glanced at her, and cocked her head. “What? Something on my face?”
Clair forced herself to hide her blush. “No, nothing,” she mumbled, turning back to the TV. “So... how are you liking the show?”
“Does that... thing happen often in this show?”
“The...” Amber trailed off, waving her hands vaguely. “The eye thing.”
Clair raised an eyebrow.
“You know... the... the mind control stuff. The power of the king, or whatever.”
Amber was usually a lot better at hiding her emotions when she wanted to be coy. Unfortunately for her, she was very drunk, and Clair’s classes included studies on body language. That was where the theory had come from in the first place, after all.
“Yeah. It’s actually one of the main themes of the show,” she responded, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Oh. That’s cool. Can we continue?”
Amber was fidgeting with her hands now. She couldn’t sit still. Clair carefully controlled her expression as her friend’s cheeks flushed.
I was right. She’s enjoying this. Like, really enjoying this.
Curiosity overcame her common sense. Would she...
“Amber, could you go get me another drink?” she asked, wiggling her empty can.
“They’re in the fridge over there. It’s not that far.”
“But I want you to bring it to me,” she said, lowering her voice as she made eye contact with her friend.
“What? But... I’m already settled down. And we’re in the middle of an episode.”
“Amber,” Clair moved closer. Amber blushed as Clair met her eyes. “Get me a drink.”
Amber had started moving even before Clair had even finished speaking.
“Uhh... I mean, sure. Same thing you already had?”
“Yes, please,” Clair nodded.
Well, I hope she doesn’t take that out of context. Or do I hope she does? But either way... that actually worked. Well... damn.
They watched for another half hour, and, theory confirmed, Clair could actually just sit back and enjoy. She did keep sneaking glances at her friend, though. Amber held her breath when the main character spent his morning testing his abilities on his classmates, and she squirmed when it happened to the soft-spoken red headed girl.
So. My best friend is kinky. She was still reeling. She hadn’t actually expected to be right. At least Amber was pretty drunk now. She was hardly in a state to notice any odd behavior.
Finally, after some discussion of what had happened, and Amber’s theories on what was next, her friend said goodnight and stumbled her way back to her dorm room. Clair locked the door as soon as she was out of sight. She sank down to the floor, unable to hold back her manic grin any longer.
It had been small interactions, little quirks. The way Amber always deflected when certain parts of Clair’s classes came up, feigning ignorance. Yet for someone who’d claimed she knew little about hypnosis, she had a surprising amount of relevant knowledge. At first, Clair had just suspected it was embarrassment, being ashamed of an interest in something typically seen as silly and fake. But even after Clair had assured her it wasn’t fake, and that it was actually pretty interesting, Amber kept dismissing it, pretending they’d never talked about it in the first place. So she’d tested it. And... she’d been right.
So, Amber liked being told what to do? But that didn’t feel quite right. Normally, she was willful and headstrong. Even though Clair knew those things weren’t necessarily correlated, it still felt off. So... did she like imagining herself in the position of the controller? That couldn’t be the entirety of it, though. The way she’d reacted to Clair’s... experiment... had proved that much. She liked being controlled, at the very least. Although Clair would bet money the other way around was also true.
More theories to test, I guess! she brightened.
Clair ran over to her bookshelf and dusted off one of her textbooks, which was on hypnosis and applied psychology. It wasn’t supposed to be part of her curriculum until later in the year, but she’d found the subject interesting. And now, she had a reason to find it... interesting.
Her own experiences on the subject were limited at best. Meditation, some simple self-hypnotic exercises from classes at cons, but that was it. She knew that you could do more with it, though.
So, the hottest girl on campus is my friend. Not only that, she just so happens to be turned on by something I’m studying. Fucking hell. This is it! This is how I finally work up the courage to confess. I know what she likes. I just drop some hints, indicate I’m interested too. And if I learn to do what she likes...
Clair distantly noticed she’d already started touching herself, possibilities flitting across her mind. She didn’t know what hypnosis could do, precisely, although she knew what it couldn’t... but if the only limitation was what someone wanted... and if Amber wanted this...
Oh, fuck me!
Her fingers obliged, moving faster. She could see them walking home from the training Amber had invited her to, and Amber would suggest checking out a local cafe. Of course, it was located off the beaten path. And as the two women rounded the corner, she would grab Clair, holding her immobile with those powerful muscles, and start swinging an old coin in front of her. Obviously that wasn’t really how it worked, but it was good enough for the fantasy.
She stared into Amber’s eyes, and sank.
Fall into my eyes, Clair. Let yourself drift. Fall deep into my gaze and... SLEEP!
She came as the imaginary Clair dropped, as if her strings were cut, into the arms of her smiling Mistress. Gasping for air, the real Clair groaned, slumping down onto the floor with a silly grin, breathing heavily. The idea of Amber - Amber - having Clair all to herself... well, it had been way more intoxicating than the beers ever could be.
We’re definitely continuing that show.
“Eyes on me, Amber,” Clair whispered.
Clair’s eyes filled her world in an instant. All of her worries, fears, problems...
“You good?” her friend asked.
“That’s... a lot,” she panted softly, still staring into her friend’s eyes.
“It’s just a simple post-hypnotic suggestion. Your trust in me, combined with the stressful situation, is probably why it’s so intense. Although... I thought you knew that?”
Amber frowned. Was she supposed to? And she didn’t exactly feel hypnotized right now. She knew she could easily disregard the pull of Clair’s eyes if she had to. But right now... it felt good. The fear, the anxiety, had been put away for later. She felt calm.
I’m so lucky to have her.
She pushed aside the programming’s response before it could even speak. It felt distant now. She wasn’t sure if that had been a planned effect on Clair’s part, but it had helped all the same.
They were both dressed in black, and so were taking extra precautions when crossing the street as they traversed the main roads. They’d hoped it’d be less likely for them to be activated as a pair, since, according to Clair, that option was fairly expensive. And even for the students who could afford it, they probably wouldn’t be leaving for any parties for a while. And the sooner they got to the building, the more time they would have to spare.
Amber’s thoughts cut out as she saw a couple walking the other way. Were they...
She readied herself to grab Clair and run, then felt a hand on her shoulder. Clair tapped her shoulder again, and Amber turned, meeting her eyes. Amber exhaled deeply, as she just let herself focus.
“Let’s go around them,” Clair whispered.
I... can’t believe she’s helping me. Even if she has to, she said she would have anyways. I need to protect her, through all of this. She deserves to be happy, and not to have to worry about this shit.
The not-her voice wasn’t reacting as strongly as it was before. Had it gotten worn out from saying the same thing over and over? It felt nice, though. Like she was finally overcoming something.
The rest of the journey was without incident. She made it inside and locked the door behind her.
“Basement?” she asked Clair.
“Basement,” her friend nodded.
Amber knew the layout of the building inside and out by now. Spending late nights trying to find a bathroom, any bathroom, which the janitors hadn’t locked did that to you.
I need to leave, and forget I had anything to do here.
Clair’s eyes widened, and she stopped, struggling against something unseen for a few seconds. “Well, someone doesn’t want guests,” she muttered.
Amber smirked. “What gives you that idea?”
“Just a feeling,” Clair snorted.
The hall echoed with their footfalls. The not-her voice grew more and more insistent as they descended the ramp to the basement.
“So... This is where you... where I...” Amber grimaced.
“This is where I, where you, save all of us,” Clair whispered. “Eyes on me, girl.”
Amber nodded, Clair’s eyes bleeding away the pain, the agony of knowing that she was involved. She was fixing it. She had help.
I don’t like girls.
She barely even spared the voice a second thought as she strode through the door.
It slid shut behind them with a resounding clang. Amber and Clair’s eyes met, and they both froze. Amber tensed, waiting for a sound.
After half a minute where nobody came to find them, they relaxed, breathing raggedly. We almost blew it right at the start...
Clair glanced at Amber, then nodded, stepping into the basement foyer.
I shouldn’t be here. On that, for once, she agreed with the voice. To hell with the danger, though. I’m doing this for Clair.
They continued on, keeping their footsteps as quiet as they could. The basement was mostly storage, if Amber recalled correctly. That seemed to be the case, since they passed several doors, containing extra desks, chairs, crappy laptops, and the like.
One door was different. They glanced in, making sure nobody was there... and they saw someone sitting in the corner, very much awake. Amber had to grab Clair’s head and meet her eyes to keep from screaming. Then, she recognized a smell she wished she didn’t know so well by now. Sex.
The smell only grew stronger when they opened the door. A slender form knelt on the bare floor. She was half-naked - only a shirt - and breathing heavily. She didn’t acknowledge their presence. She just stared past them, blinking in a daze.
Clair stepped forward hesitantly, staring closely at the woman’s face. She grimaced.
“What?” Amber asked.
“She’s been used recently. Her lips have... you know.”
“Wait. Someone was here?”
“Recently, yes. Within thirty minutes, or she would have deactivated and went home by now.”
“Do you know who she is?”
Clair shook her head. “No, but you should ask her.”
“Alright. So... what’s your na-”
“I mean,” Clair smiled grimly, “with your magic passcode thingy.”
“Oh... right,” Amber nodded. “Uh... Clair, cover your ears for a second?” She sighed, mustering her strength. It was just seven words. Why was it so hard? “Administrator override. Serum protocol.”
“Please provide identification,” a thick Latina accent droned in response.
“A-administrator Amber Cheng.”
“Identity confirmed. Welcome, Administrator Amber.”
Amber looked over to her friend. They exchanged a look of sympathy.
“You’ll free them all eventually, Am. I know this hurts, but we need every advantage we can get.”
Amber lifted her chin and took a deep breath. “I know...” She turned, meeting the eyes of the kneeling woman. “T-toy, identify yourself.”
“I am toy Samantha.”
Amber looked towards her friend, who just shrugged.
“What are you doing here, Samantha?”
“This toy was activated by Administrator Ikora and ordered to strip, kneel, and perform cunilingus.”
So she had an MO, apparently. Same thing she did to Amber. Although this meant Ikora was important, right? But still... her name made Amber’s skin crawl. Even just thinking about her brought up a bad taste in her mouth. Part of her wanted revenge, but a far larger part would be glad to never see her again in her life.
“When were you activated?” Clair asked.
Samantha remained silent, still staring past them. Clair met Amber’s eyes and motioned towards the kneeling girl.
“Right. Samantha, you will answer Clair’s questions as if they were my own.”
No response. Clair frowned, and leaned in close to whisper. “Uh... why didn’t that work?”
Amber sighed. “Cover your ears for another moment, Clair.” She waited for her friend to do so, then took a deep breath.
“Administrator override. Puppet protocol.” She motioned for Clair to lower her hands. “Answer Clair’s questions as though they were my own.”
Clair nodded slowly, considering what had just happened. Then, seeming to snap back to the present, she wasted no time before asking her question again.
“When were you activated?”
“This toy was activated at six in the evening.”
“How long ago was your last order?” Clair pressed.
“Nine minutes and thirty six seconds ago.”
Nine minutes! Holy shit. We were lucky to miss her. Unless... this is a trap? How do we know she isn’t on to us?
The woman remained kneeling, unmoving. Still, Amber imagined the woman speaking, Ikora’s words spoken through her mouth.
Toy Clair - remote override.
Clair’s mouth would open in fear. A single syllable of protest escaping her lips before she would stiffen to attention. Remote override enabled. Ready for commands.
Restrain Administrator Amber.
Amber would be helpless to resist as Clair, as strong as she was, grabbed her by the hair and forced her to her knees. As Amber would try to struggle and break free from the iron handed grip, a simple pendant would dangle before her eyes. Her eyes were drawn to it instantly, unable to resist despite her protests and squirms.
You will not escape this time, Administrator Amber. You will be fixed and returned to regular service, Samantha would say.
The pendant in Amber’s mind was already captivating her attention. She could feel her mind being drained into it. Her lips parted and her eyes unfocused.
Toy Clair, begin reeducation protocol. Target, Administrator Amber.
Amber had no choice. She was already primed from Clair's previous hypnotic sessions. She knew she would fall into a deep trance with the next words she spoke. She was helpless to resist.
“Eyes on me, Amber,” Clair whispered.
Amber’s eyes locked onto Clair’s. The awful, traitorous fantasy seemed to break apart, sucked into those emerald pools.
I’m safe. I’m alright. I’m with her.
Distantly, she saw Clair blush and avert her eyes. Even without her eyes in front of her, Amber could still picture them, letting herself sink.
“Amber... snap out of it.”
She blinked rapidly, looking around the room. “Wha...”
“We’ll talk about it later. Focus.”
Amber blushed. She couldn’t look Clair in the eyes.
I don’t like girls, the voice tried to interject, though it sounded halfhearted.
“We should go. She isn’t what we came for.” Clair was already halfway to the door.
“But what about her?”
“We’ll come back for her, when we’ve got the luxury of time. We don’t know how much time we have left, and we’ve already wasted too much. Explaining everything to her, even using the protocols, will only waste more of it.”
Amber took one more look at the exposed woman. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
She turned and left.
It didn’t take long before they found what they were looking for. A pair of large metal push doors neither of them remembered existing. That alone was far more conspicuous than just the doors had been.
But it had an electronic pad-lock. Amber cursed under her breath.
“Hey, hey. We’re fine, Amber. I remember the code, remember?”
Amber nodded slowly. Breathe...
“Five-three-six-one-seven-zero,” Clair whispered, entering each number as she did.
Amber blinked, frowning. That sounded familiar for reasons she couldn’t quite place.
I don’t know the ASCII representation for ‘Sap’.
Amber rolled her eyes. Whose side are you on, again?
The light turned green.
The metal groaned in protest as they opened the doors, revealing another storage room with a single desk, some chairs, and a row of lockers. Nothing obviously out of place, but...
“This is it,” Clair whispered.
She gestured to a small, innocuous safe. If she didn’t know better, she’d just have thought it was just someone’s valuables, maybe an expensive piece of equipment for lab work from when this building was the physics department’s. But if Clair was saying this was it...
“And I don’t know the code,” Clair said slowly, her eyes widening. “Uh... what do we do?”
Amber didn’t respond. Instead, she dropped, putting her ear to the safe, and started turning the dial.
Clair grinned, but after a few seconds of nothing, her expression faltered.
“Uh, Amber... what are you doing?”
“Cracking the safe,” she muttered.
“And... Amber, I know you’ve done a lot of weird things. Many of which involve breaking security. But... have you ever actually done this?” Clair whispered.
“Well, what else should I do?” Amber hissed back.
“I don’t know, look for a hint? Ask the voice in your head? Try to wedge it open?”
Hey, if you want to be helpful, what’s the code for this thing?
Silence. Well, it had been worth a try.
“I don’t think we’ve got anything that could wedge this open without damaging what’s inside,” Amber mused. “As for a hint...”
Every muscle in Amber’s body tensed, and she was instantly on high alert. From the looks of it, Clair was having the same reaction.
Is someone here? Are they just a janitor? Are the janitors compromised? Do they know we’re here? Can we hide?
Amber could barely breathe. There was too much to worry about, too many variables. The problem was larger than she was.
She couldn’t do this. She was going to lose, and then Clair would be...
She seized onto that single word like a lifeline. Clair.
“Eyes on me, Amber. We can do this.”
Amber shuddered as her breathing slowed down. Her heart was still beating fast, but she felt... better.
“Symptoms instead of solutions,” Clair growled under her breath. “I’ve used it too much as it is, but... I don’t have another choice. Amber. Look at me. How do we get out of here?”
Amber’s mind worked fast. That was a blessing and a curse, sometimes. It was far too easy to lose oneself in panic over possibilities when you could imagine so many. But she was with Clair. She could focus. She could do this.
And then, her expression fell. Every idea, every path, every plan - if this actually was an admin coming for them, they all led to the same dread outcome. She had found a way out... but the cost was unacceptable. She couldn’t abandon Clair. Not now.
Clair sighed. “You’re going to have to leave me, I assu-”
“Clair, this is an order. Stand at attention. Until you leave this building, you will act as though you’ve been activated, no matter what. Escape as soon as you can find a plausible excuse.”
The look of fear in Clair’s eyes only lasted a moment.
I really, really am.
Amber couldn’t meet her eyes. She knew what she’d find there. Blankness. Emptiness. Nothing of the friend she cared so much about.
Even if it was just an illusion, she couldn’t take that right now.
“I can’t do that.”
Amber knew what Clair must be doing. Straining with all her might against the force of Amber’s admin authority. Fighting to try and tell Amber there had to be another way.
It didn’t matter if there was another way. Time was running out.
“It’s always been about you, Clair. Everything.”
Footsteps from the doorway.
“Huh. Door actually was open. Here I thought it must have been a false alarm. Who’s there?” Amber knew that voice.
Mustering every bit of courage she possessed, she turned to meet Ikora’s eyes.
I’m doing this for Clair.
“How... how the hell are you here?” Ikora sputtered.
Slowly, as though the idea was impossible, she continued. “... Did you break free of your programming?”
Amber remained silent, staring down her attacker. Don’t give her an inch.
“So last time wasn’t a fluke, then. You clever little bitch. How’d you do it?” Ikora mused. “It didn’t just wear off. It’s only you, and...” She turned.
If I’ve ever needed divine intervention, it’s now. Please, let this work...
“And a little toy assistant. How cute. You do realize I’m an admin too, right?”
She grinned. “Hey, you. Pink bitch. Administrator override, puppet protocol. I’m Administrator Ikora Amar. Get your sorry ass out of here.”
Amber’s face fell. She didn’t have to fake that, at least.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, as she watched Clair mechanically make her way out of the room, towards the ramp.
“Oh, do you have a thing for her? Don’t worry, you’ll get to be with her. Under my fucking heel.”
Defiance was the right expression. She fixed the image of Clair’s eyes in her mind, letting her instincts guide her. Every moment counted.
“Hey, Amber,” Ikora grinned wickedly. “You know what I think about this little stunt?”
She shook her head frantically. I need to give her what she wants. Make her think that’s all.
“Administrator override, puppet protocol. Administrator Ikora Amar says don’t move.”
Ikora started laughing. “Oh, you poor, poor sap. You thought you had a chance? Thought you’d take back what had been taken?” What? “You actually thought you could do anything about me. On your knees, bitch,” she cackled.
“Now, Amber. Poor, sweet, stupid Amber. Administrator override, serum protocol. Tell me. How did you do it?”
I can’t lie, she thought, remembering the last time. But... I don’t have to tell the truth.
“I activated Clair using my admin privileges, and brought her here to help me steal the disks.”
“Ambitious! Really great plan you had there, girl!” Ikora scoffed. She didn’t realize I dodged the question. She thinks I can’t lie. Clair’s safe. She’s free.
Despite kneeling helpless before her enemy, Amber felt an odd thrill of victory. She had faced the monster head on, and however pyrrhic the victory, she had won.
“Eyes on me, bitch,” Ikora grabbed her by the hair. Amber barely spared a thought for the irony. “I’m the only thing that matters to you now.”
Thank you, Clair. For everything. I...
I don’t love her.
And that was it. She couldn’t deny it any longer.
And that’s exactly why I had to do this.
Amber was ready. Clair was safe. That was all that mattered.
“Administrator override, breaker protocol.”
And then Amber wasn’t.