‘Yew’ — Part One
There was a crackle of static as she drove her fist into the screen, then silence.
Just finished with a call to her Earth-based superiors and at the end of her temper, Lilith Yew could hardly contain the frustration ripping her heart to pieces.
Her subordinates, Alexander and Solana, operators both, watched her with concern bright in their eyes. She appreciated their concern. They were good friends.
She stalked away from the console, out the door. Her steps clicked on the hard stone, loud but unnoticed. She and her two operators were the only people in this wing of the Administration today—her agents would not be called in unless an operation was required of them.
Lilith—Lily, she preferred—turned into a nearby stairwell leading deeper into the Martian earth that her bureau was carved from. There were elevators, but she needed to take the time to think, and moving helped her.
Olivia Moore. Once a secretary for the Administration, disappeared two months ago without a trace. No signs of struggle, no signs of odd behavior by her friends. One of a dozen such cases since the beginning of the year. Written off as another lost to Hive Philae—the personal facility of the Lady Isis Pine.
Of course, had Olivia been sighted anywhere in Lily’s own facility she would have been instantly recognized and taken in for questioning. Instead, she’d been discovered six-hundred miles southeast in the Newton Facility after getting away with her mask of normality for nearly a month.
But she was caught—someone recognized her from the shared database, and she was delivered straight to Lily’s bureau for questioning.
Or, as Lily’s superiors had corrected her, interrogation and following euthanization.
Her hands clenched into tight fists. ‘Of course, I know that the girl will never recover from the deep conditioning she’s been put through. Of course, I understand that the girl can never operate without someone directing her every movement. Of course—she snarled mentally—I recognize the threat to my facility this girl poses!’
That her superiors on Earth could talk down to her as if she wasn’t one of the leading minds in understanding how hives like Pines’ operated! Lily wished she could scream at them that Olivia was still a living human being. That her life didn’t become forfeit after being put through the conditioning, or after having her free will burned out of her skull like it was yesterday’s ashes.
Her steps echoed through the cell bay. Down the hall she heard nothing—silent as a grave, as expected. Olivia never made a sound.
‘She’s just a mindless puppet of Pines’, Yew! Get over your ridiculous life-affirming crusade and face facts! Pines’ infiltration is costing this Administration heavily to counter, and it is your job to ensure that she remains in check!’
Her superiors’ words echoed in her mind. The cell she wanted was at the far end. Placed there to make any escape attempt as difficult as possible, though the snide part of her mind noted that it was unlikely that the prisoner would ever feel the desire.
‘I will run this facility however I damn well please,’ she had hissed, coldly furious. ‘Pines is a contained threat, and not a risk to your precious profits. I will not condemn an innocent girl to die because of something far beyond her control—for better or for worse she’s happy and alive, and as the one who welcomed her here I am obliged to keep her that way!’
The door hissed open at the press of a button. Inside, the girl sat stock-still, oblivious to Lily’s entrance. She shut the door behind her with a similar hiss, sitting on the bench opposite the girl.
“Olivia? Can you speak with me now?” Lily asked cautiously, trying not to let any of the frustration she felt leak into her voice.
The girl was silent, content to stare through her. Her eyes were unusually—for someone who hadn’t gone through the same experience she had—wide and glassy. Green orbs the color of raw-cut emeralds polished to a bright sheen.
Lily tried a different approach. The heavy lump in her chest understood academically that it was what the girl would respond to best.
“Olivia, speak with me now.”
The girl’s eyes focused on her. Or, they focused as much as the permanently entranced girl could manage. Lily marveled at how beautiful her eyes were, how the trance smoothed over features given to soft beauty.
“i obey,” she said softly.
Of course she did. Lily stared at the girl with sorrow. Vibrant and quick to match wits, when Lily had passed Olivia in the Administration building the two had interacted well. The staff was quite small, given the limited population they were allowed in the facility, and Lily had done her best to meet with and get to know each one of her subordinates, even if they didn’t work directly under her.
“Olivia, answer my questions as I ask them, please,” Lily ordered. “Do you remember who you are? Who I am? Do you know where you are? What were you doing when you were captured?”
The girl didn’t blink. “i am olivia. You are Lilith Yew, leader of the Copernico Facility. i am in the Copernico Facility prison center.” Something in the girl’s eyes closed off. “my Controller told me to speak of my task to nobody.”
Lily sighed. “Can you tell me nothing more?”
“i can tell you nothing. i have been ordered to say nothing. i obey,” Olivia intoned firmly.
Lily dropped her head into her hands, eyes closed tightly in frustration. The few other prisoners they’d taken from Pines’ hive were much alike. Their conditioning ran deep and held stronger than steel.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small electronic device. Earbuds wrapped around it in a thin black coil.
Though she led the Copernico Facility as her primary position, much of that was left to the Administration. It was in matters such as the Espionage Bureau that her personal touch was required. Given that Mars’ surface was not given to supporting life, and that no other facility existed within one hundred kilometers, Lily did not have to worry about any threats to her facility save one.
And she had had many years to learn the tricks that women like Pines employed to manage their slaves. While people on Earth still struggled to contain the vast network of slave compounds due to sheer bulk of numbers, they had managed to gather an incredible array of observational data that Lily dedicated much of her life to understand and take advantage of.
Deft fingers plugged the earbuds into Olivia’s unresisting ears, though in the process she found herself leaning over the girl uncomfortably. The girl didn’t react in the slightest as Lily sat back and began to shuffle through the mixes for the right one.
She did, instantly, when Lily found what she was looking for and set it to play. The girl’s eyes dilated widely, and she began swaying eerily. Olivia’s lips moved in soundless mantra. Lily didn’t need to hear the track to understand what was going through the girl’s mind.
“Olivia, I know you can hear me through that,” Lily said. “You will obey me.”
“i will obey…” Olivia mouthed.
“You will obey me, and when you do you will have pleased Lady Pines herself. You will have deserved a reward.”
“i must obey. Mistress commands me to obey. i will obey Mistress,” Olivia whispered blissfully.
“Tell me what your mission was when you were captured. Your Mistress orders you to explain what task you were given,” Lily commanded forcefully.
She hated using this power, though she’d never had the occasion to before. She hated the thrill that came from someone bloody listening to her and obeying. No ulterior motives, no bitching, no whining; just results. This was power stolen—power she’d stolen from Pines, who had stolen it from Olivia.
The girl swayed more, answering promptly. “i was tasked with infiltrating Facility Newton. i was to find employment and insert myself into the social scene of the facility. i was to make friends with other women in the facility and get close to them. When i had a chance, i was to sedate them and wait until others arrived to retrieve us.”
“Were there others given the same task?” Lily pressed.
“i am not aware of any other slaves given this task. i was programmed with only the instructions necessary to the completion of my task,” Olivia said quietly.
Lily sighed and dropped the line of questioning. While it was useful to know that the girl was doing what they’d thought she was doing, not knowing about any other like agents was troubling.
“That will be all for now Olivia. When I stop your track, I want you to go to sleep and dream happy thoughts. You have also earned your reward for answering your questions so well,” Lily told her.
The director crossed her legs uncomfortably as the girl shuddered, her prisoner’s garb not hiding the powerful orgasm that rippled through the girl’s body. Heat burned in Lily’s loins, though she refused to let it show even to this mindless drone.
“Do you have any questions for me, before I go, Olivia?” She asked as a courtesy, not expecting an answer.
“when will i return to Mistress, Lady Yew?” Olivia asked quietly.
Ignoring the honorific for her own name, Lily regarded the girl with sad eyes. She would never be happy outside of Pines’ domain. Her conditioning went too deep for Lily to even hope to reverse.
While she pitied the girl that Olivia had once been as well, she also felt no desire whatsoever to have her mindless shell euthanized. Sans free-will or no, she was still a living being and perfectly functional in the right environment.
‘She’s just a mindless puppet of Pines’, Yew! Get over your ridiculous life-affirming crusade and face facts!’
Lily scowled fiercely. She’d sooner give Olivia back to Pines than see her die. At least she would be happy. “Soon, Olivia, soon,” she murmured soothingly pushing down her anger. She pulled the buds from the girls’ ears.
Olivia’s eyes immediately began to droop, wide green orbs finally relaxing with the rest of her body as she laid sideways on the spartan cell bed.
“i look forward to returning to my Mistress,” she sighed happily. Lily stroked her hair until her mind had completely drifted into slumber—beyond the usual trance she existed inside.
She walked to the door of the cell, listened to it hiss opened, and look back at the quiet body laying there. Her earlier anger died. It was replaced by maternal sorrow; one of her people, beyond her ability to help. If the Olivia she had known could see herself, she would be devastated.
She would not judge this shell harshly. It had not chosen its fate. It chose nothing, now. She doubted it would ever choose anything save for mindless obedience ever again.
* * *
Eve stood at attention, regarding her superior with pride.
Her dark, mahogany locks were tamed back in a ponytail, her equally dark clothes groomed and ironed to military perfection. She had spent weeks correcting the faulty posture that her mother harangued her for before she’d left Earth for the Copernico Facility upon arrival, and now years later blessed her foresight for doing so.
Beside her, her fellow operatives stood similarly, each eager to impress and please their superior. Lilith Yew was legendary for her intelligence and strength of will. More than that, she was legendary as the sole force behind the early colonization efforts on Mars.
Few thought that the red planet had anything to offer worth colonizing for, but Lilith’s drive to bring humanity to the red planet had been infectious, garnering the up-and-coming scientist many thousands of enthusiastic followers.
Funds had been raised, government approval given at the threat of public unrest, and the second space race ended with the launch of Copernico-I, the first Mars Shuttle. Landing on the site of the future Copernico facility months later, the shuttle fulfilled Lilith’s promises, and enthusiasm for colonization grew as people realized that to move to the isolated planet meant a new purpose, new life, and a new society.
Eve herself, stuck in a dead-end job with few relationships tying her down, had quickly volunteered to be a part of the effort and to her delight found herself assigned to Lilith’s own facility.
Arriving, the rigorous testing she’d been put through prior to launch garnered her a position in the Espionage Bureau of Copernico—dedicated to opposing the infiltrations coming from the nearby hive facility of Isis Pines—herself one of Earth’s notorious slave mistresses.
That this placed her near the woman who had in a short time become her role model only made her fervor to serve her facility burn the brighter.
“Agents,” Lilith addressed them from the top of the step. The room was a rough circle carved into a sheer cliff above the facility. With the room cut into multiple levels, Lilith loomed over her agents like a queen. “Your mission has been decided.”
“After interrogating the prisoner Olivia Moore, it has been determined that Isis Pines has been directing several of her subordinates to infiltrate multiple facilities across the planet. Further, intercepted messages between her and some of her known contacts have led us to conclude that this is to take control of this, and other facilities,” the Director concluded.
Another agent, Saira, stepped forward. “Director, aren’t hive messages encrypted? I thought the codes were impossible to break.”
Lilith smiled. “They are, but Olivia has again proved useful in this regard. Though she would normally treat such information as classified, I’ve found a way around her programming. She is happy to tell me anything I wish to hear now.”
Saira’s eyes gleamed her interest, but she stepped back into line.
“Understandably, we do not wish for this to occur. Your mission will be to infiltrate Hive Philae this evening and sabotage their electrical generators. Particularly, you will set them to deactivate at three separate times for ten minutes. During those periods you will each be assigned an area of the facility to hack into and leave behind a backdoor—the outage will mask the infiltration. Once this is accomplished you will regroup and exit the facility.”
A knot of fear twisted in Eve’s gut despite herself. The slave facilities on Earth were legendary for being impenetrable. Hundreds of women had been lost trying to break them wide open, with few positive results. The facilities on Mars hadn’t even been tried.
She would be the first.
Lilith Yew looked on her agents with warm eyes, as if sensing their apprehension. She looked tired to Eve. None of them were ignorant of Lilith’s arguments with the Administration and the strain they put on her.
“My thoughts will be with you, girls,” she said softly, stronger than her fatigue. “Get your gear together—I’ll be briefing you on the facility until it’s time you depart, and you’ve got a long day ahead of you.”
* * *
Hours later, Eve and her fellow agents crouched next to an exhaust vent coming from the facility. No oxygen emerged from it—only the poisonous gases that came from the mines, deep underground.
This hive was known for digging deep—though slave facilities like it were hated, the trade they offered was never turned away, however begrudging.
Forgoing the transmitters each had attached to their earpieces, Eve simply motioned Kate to the grate. She had the tools to break through the industrial strength metal.
The clatter it produced when it fell to the ground made them wince, though the sound quickly dissipated in the thin atmosphere. Eve motioned the others inside—their dark exosuits hiding facial features from her eyes.
The vent drove deep inside the facility, quickly diving downwards into the bowels of the planet’s crust. Sadly, they were unable to directly cut their way into the facility. The pressure change, and escape of oxygen would easily kill them or at least give away their position. Instead, they rappelled down toward the bottom, where the mining shafts bored away at the Martian crust to make room for new sections of the hive.
Nearly an hour later, the five agents crouched above another grate. Through it, they could see stone newly carved and lit by bright fluorescent lamps. In the distance, the sound of drills was clearly audible, though at a lower pitch than anything they would hear on Earth. Eve gestured for Kate to repeat her earlier actions.
They lifted the grate this time, not eager to draw the attention of any drones. Five dark bodies dropped into the tunnel and began moving as a unit toward the nearest pressurization chamber.
Nobody commented on the lack of drone presence—there was little need to guard these sections of the hive. Lilith’s efforts to map Hive Philae’s activity and layout had been profitable. Their Director had selected this area specifically for its weakness.
The code they supplied to the console worked perfectly. Twin doors of stainless steel hissed open perfunctorily, and on the other side they found themselves in one of the featureless white halls that made up the entire hive facility.
Eve slid the bulky helmet off of her head, shaking out her hair from where it had begun to stick to her skin. Beside her, multiple clicks sounded as her compatriots did the same.
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” Ciara admitted, dropping the heavy oxygen tank from her back onto the floor. Her auburn hair fell in waves down her shoulders.
“Lilith’s information was good,” Yseult, Ciara’s sister, responded. Her eyes were on her wrist, where a small screen blinking in several places fed her a steady stream of information. “The air’s all clear in here as well, like she said. I’ve heard about a lot of the hives on Earth keeping the atmosphere filled with tranquilizing agents.”
Saira, in the middle of pulling her own hair back into a fresh ponytail, looked at Yseult with concern. “What about sound?”
“Subliminal tracks playing all around us. Our earpieces will keep us safe from their effects,” the Irish girl responded quietly. She wore a blatantly disturbed look on her face. “My feed’s telling me they’re strong, so don’t lose them.”
An air of grim certainty fell over them. There was no doubting that if they lost what little protection Lilith’s expertise afforded them, they would quickly find themselves becoming a part of the hive.
“Alright,” Eve announced. “Saira and Kate, you two are with me. Ciara, you and Yseult are in charge of hacking the generators. Don’t forget your objectives. We meet back here in four hours.”
Two groups separated, one to find the elevators that would take them to the higher levels, the others further into the bowels of the facility where they would find the generators that sustained everything else.
* * *
Purple shadows lined Lily’s eyes in the mirror, giving lie to the vitality she had expressed while briefing her agents.
It was so difficult to act confident in their presence. To pretend she wasn’t sending them into hostile territory with only a guarantee that they wouldn’t succumb to whatever mischief Pines had planned for light intruders.
No subliminals. An entrance. Floor plans. A clear mission. It was so little to give her agents, but all she could offer.
Would they return? She had every confidence that their training had prepared them as best as possible for their mission, but hive facilities were designed to counter small infiltrations like theirs. The best solution to breaking them wide open was overwhelming force—armies, bombing, not playing the hiding games that slavers like Pines delighted in.
That wasn’t an option for Lily. Never mind that Mars couldn’t sustain that kind of operation—her superiors would never authorize such a mission. Hive Philae was only so much a threat as when it started encroaching on her facility. Otherwise, it was the most productive trade partner Earth could find on Mars, easily able to meet the demands for raw material the Administration set.
‘We want Pines silenced, Yew.’
The Administrations’ orders had cut through her like a knife.
‘Without her, Hive Philae will be leaderless and easily contained. The slaves need someone like her to direct expansion—once the orders stop coming, they stick to primary functions, and become just another manufacturing facility.’
Did they believe she needed the explanation?
‘Your objective has been decided—you will direct your operatives to infiltrate Hive Philae and assassinate Isis Pines.’
Lily told nobody of the orders. She held no love for Isis Pines herself, but the thought of depriving hundreds like Olivia of their sole source of purpose—their Goddess, Mistress, whatever they preferred—felt like blasphemy. A violation.
Instead, she worked to contain Pines’ operations. Sleepless nights had been spent with Olivia, feeding the helpless girl an unending litany of conditioning tracks designed to ensure her receptiveness to Lily. Drawing out every iota of information she could so that her plan would not fall through.
She would find no more support from Earth—her silence had been noted by the Administration after she failed the first check-in. Her compatriots in neighboring facilities had called in their concern. Them, she responded to. Shared her intentions.
Glassy, worshipping green eyes pierced her soul, for all the emptiness they held. Olivia—olivia, she really was, now—was the majority of her interaction, a happy prisoner. Lily ensorcelled her with sickening ease. Though the tracks had no effect on Lily herself, it was a tangible presence she could feel sinking talons deeper into the unresisting mind behind those green orbs.
Her talons. If the Administration knew the real purpose behind her tracks, perhaps there would be an order for her own head out by the end of the month. Lilith Yew—turncoat slave mistress of the Red Planet.
Olivia was not her slave—Lily ordered her to do nothing but feed her the information she required to conquer Pines’ hive. When night turned to dawn, and Lily’s own mind begged her for rest and her hands cramped from copying down encryption codes, mantras, from mapping out what floors the girl could picture, she would pull the earbuds from those ears. Green orbs with lids sinking down in irresistible sleep would pulse with the reward-pleasure that was Lily’s sole consolation for the slave without a true mistress.
‘When will i be able to return to my Mistress, Lady Yew?’
The question haunted Lily. She stared at the ceiling. She really should be with her operators, monitoring the progress of the mission—ready to respond to any distress message her agents could possibly send out. Solana had begged her to go rest, seeing fatigue hanging on her shoulders like iron weights.
‘Soon, Olivia. Rest for me now. You did well, you have earned your reward.’
Did she have the right to cut her facility off from the Administration? The Earth-bound superiors that had for so long ordered her around like she was one of the mindless drones they professed to loathe were no doubt suspicious of her total information blackout. It was not the first time she had stonewalled their attempts to muscle in on the daily operations of her facility, but it was becoming the most enduring by far.
‘What is your mistress like, Olivia?’
It had been the last question she asked the girl, in the session immediately following the Administration’s’ command to assassinate the slave-mistress.
Emeralds sparkled with fervor. Life. Behind the haze, behind the emptiness, there burned fire in that mind. Emblazoned on the girl’s psyche were the words ‘Obedience, Blank, Mistress.’ Olivia shocked Lily with the force of her words, though they were delivered in a monotone.
‘Mistress is my light. my reason for existing. i obey Mistress because She has delivered me from suffering and responsibility. Because She is Mistress and is worth obeying. Without Her i am nothing.’
Lily imagined the words sliding into Olivia’s thoughts as she leaned into whatever conditioning device the hive was fitted with. No doubt they slotted into her worldview seamlessly, a stone dropped into a still pond, sinking to the core of her being to remain for an eternity. Pink lips mouthing the words soundlessly, making them just a little more true with every repetition.
Did she have the right to take that away?
Did Olivia, or any of the other girls in that facility deserve such a fate?
‘Nothing?’ Lily thought with sudden viciousness. ‘What are you except nothing even now? A helpless drone without her mistress.’
Her anger subsided as soon as it appeared. She sat up on her bed, red hair falling to her chest in luscious red waves. Her agents had departed little more than an hour ago. They would be making their way across the Martian surface, would be benefiting from the ruthless physical training she’d put them through in preparation for this day. Even then they would arrive at the hive fatigued. Just one more weakness for Pines to exploit.
Lily closed her eyes, despair clenching like a vice around her heart as she rubbed her temples. She wanted to keep her agents safe—wanted to keep every soul in her facility safe. It was risk one or the other. Either her agents would succeed and return to her, or they would fail and be assimilated. Pines would continue her incursions until Copernico was overwhelmed. The men would be killed or escape to Earth or some other facility—there were male slave empires, but they had largely elected to remain on Earth. Pines had no desire to keep men. The remaining women would become like Olivia.
‘I am alone.’
Lily sighed. Her burden, as it had been since she initiated the Martian colonization effort. Being a subordinate to the Administration meant nothing to her; she could freely admit that to herself now. They never controlled her, merely attempted to direct her with ham fists and threats. Without them her station would survive—they were self-sufficient.
She led them alone. The other facilities deferred to her will—the product of both admiration for her strength and her own established competence. There was nobody to match her.
Lily found herself walking over to her closet. Her mind danced with a kaleidoscope of thoughts and dreams, wishes and intentions.
She wanted the best for her people. She wanted to bring her agents home safe. She wanted those taken by the Hive to thrive—they were life too. She wanted many things.
‘If you want something done right, you do it yourself.’
The thought crystallized in her mind, a memory of a forgettable lecture back in college. Some business major nearby had muttered it bitterly to themselves after class. The look on his face matched perfectly the expression Lily had seen in the black screen of the transmitter after cutting off the call to the Administration. Such an innocuous thing to recall, she mused as she pulled open the closet doors.
There were few outfits within, most similar in style and pragmatic. Silken underclothes, her one concession to pleasure on the cold station, gleamed in the light as she dug deep into the drawers, searching for one particular outfit.
The exosuit felt soft in her hands, made of some impossibly tightly-woven material designed to retain warmth and pressure. She’d had this specimen made for her for the research she had put on hold to run the facility more directly. Too many things to do each day left little time for her to pursue to scientific pursuits she’d kickstarted the colonization movement to follow.
She set it down on a table scattered with books and loose papers. In her mirror, her pale skin gleamed. Her black bandeau and matching panties seemed the darker for it; her nightwear leaving her cold in the cool air of the facility. Heating was too costly to keep it any warmer.
She pulled her hair up in a simple knot, stripping down for more functional underclothes. The simple task occupied her body while her mind raced to fill in the blanks of her growing plan. Her operators would not disturb her for a long time, barring any emergencies. Her agents would never be able to send a signal from the hive, so that avenue was closed.
As far as anybody would be aware, Lily would be sleeping soundly in her rooms, recovering from a long stint of late nights and tireless work.
The exosuit clung to her curves, much warmer than bare skin in the cool air. She pulled her hands through the thin gloves, regretting the loss of touch briefly before putting it out of her mind. Better than losing fingers to hypothermia.
Her hair she tied in the functional loose braid that allowed it to fit into the exosuit’s accompanying helmet easier. Clad in black, dark visor down over her glittering eyes, Lily looked like a predator. Every movement flexed the material of the suit, showing the lithe muscles she refused to allow to atrophy.
Lily closed her eyes, bowing her head against the mirror.
She was alone, save for one. The Administration had challenged her. Had failed to impress her with its threats. Isis Pines had issued a similar challenge, less overt but nevertheless something she refused to let slide.
A few taps at the communicator device on her wrist, and the cameras through the facility began looping old footage. Her door hissed open as she started moving down to the base of the facility.
Her agents would not be alone.
* * *
The lower corridors were silent and empty, at least to Yseult’s ears. Her exosuit told her how much a lie that was, however. It had been hard to convey the depth of her disturbance to her friends when she told them about the subliminals threading throughout the facility. The monitor flashed its warning over and over again, a little purple light; leave the area now.
The earpieces the Director had provided their team with were extremely effective though. Yseult heard none of the potent sound as she followed the auburn hair of her sister—identical to her own—through the halls.
The generator room had none of the quiet eeriness of the lower Hive. The persistent, rattling hum of dozens of high-output machines was nearly deafening. The two had spent nearly half an hour amidst the clamor, and Yseult could still hear the ringing in her ears despite the plugs. No doubt without them there would have been some damage.
There were more similar rooms throughout the hive, but all of them were connected by wiring and programming. It had been simple for the sisters to hack into the system and set them to shut down at the prescribed times.
Their next objective was a floor above their heads though, and both women were well aware that the elevators would be well-guarded. Unfortunately, the stairwells were set to trigger alarms if the access doors were opened. The hive had no use for stairs save for emergencies, and no drone would disobey programming to use them.
A simple, devious way to catch infiltrators off-guard. Yseult was profoundly grateful for Lilith’s vigilance.
Ciara gestured for them to halt. The two pressed themselves against the walls. Yseult cursed mentally the dark coloration of her outfit—while excellent for stealth in normal circumstances, against the white corridors they stood out like beacons.
The sound of marching became audible through the earplugs, followed swiftly by three women marching in lock-step.
Each was dressed identically in Hive Philae’s distinctive outfit. While some facilities on Earth favored the simple, gleaming elastic body-suits that had initially defined the look of a slave-drone, Isis Pines seemed to have had more conservative tastes.
Royal blue vests baring the midriff, accompanied by a similarly colored skirt extending to just above the knees. Both were made of a soft fabric not dissimilar to their exosuits, though much less heavy duty.
Yseult knew that this particular hive used color to designate whatever task drones were assigned on that particular day but hadn’t a clue what each corresponded to. The skin not covered by the outfits gleamed unnaturally, oiled to a gorgeous sheen. Each woman—slave, she mentally corrected—sported black, woven collars with Isis Pines’ personal symbol—the Tyet—embroidered at the throat in silver thread.
The silver gleamed like diamond, declaring allegiance to the woman who had enslaved them. Their eyes—two sets blue, of differing shades, and one brown and wide-set—passed over them without note. They were glassy, empty of any emotion.
Yseult shivered to see them. Their shoes—a strange, hard-soled sandal that wove up their ankles with dark fabric—produced an oddly penetrating click that echoed through the otherwise quiet halls. There was no other sound to contest them.
They were slaves. Drones who had surrendered their free will to Isis Pines. Yseult knew that some of the women in this hive were likely people she had met, maybe had conversations with on the shuttle to this planet.
She and Ciara watched them pass in silence, not willing to risk drawing their attention with a quiet word.
Then the halls were quiet again, even the echo of their marching vanishing. Yseult realized she had stopped breathing and took a deep breath.
“This is fucked,” Ciara muttered next to her, staring after the slaves with haunted eyes.
“Can’t disagree with you there,” Yseult murmured. “We should get going before more come along. No telling when one of them decides we aren’t a part of the décor.”
Ciara frowned. “We need to blend in better if we want to get past the elevator guards. If they didn’t keep an eye on who goes where they wouldn’t have them there, and we stand out like a pair of sore thumbs.”
“Laundry room then,” Yseult responded, pulling up the memory of the Hive’s layout. It was incomplete; the result of both her imperfect memory and Olivia’s inability to perfectly convey its breadth. Though the girl had been a goldmine of information, she was still human. All the conditioning in the world couldn’t change that.
She gestured for Ciara to follow her—unless she was mistaken, there would be a laundry room somewhere within the eastern quadrant of the floor. The Hive was planned to be regular and predictable as it carved deeper into the planet. Eventually it would hit its limit and start branching out horizontally, Yseult mused. Then they would have to learn a new layout.
They tried several rooms. Most were sleeping quarters—small, simple rooms, where each slave was assigned a berth hardly larger than their body. Each berth was tube-shaped, sliding out of the wall for the slaves to slip into, before sliding back inside. The ends were open, allowing Yseult to see the serene faces set deep in slumber within. Large headphones, padded and extremely comfortable-looking, covered each slaves’ ears, no doubt continuing the unceasing mantra of conditioning into their dreams.
A few of the other rooms were simple maintenance areas—one had tables scattered with electronics, where slaves with black outfits stripped with yellow along the sides worked industriously, their mindlessness obviously not enough to diminish their technical abilities.
They finally found the laundry room after ducking into a janitor’s closet—it was unnaturally organized and clean, as opposed to other examples Yseult had been acquainted with before during her school years—to avoid a group of slaves marching toward some unknown objective.
The walls were painted softly white, the same as the outer corridors. Aside from the sleeping areas, which they had found to be colored in various shades of dark blue, purple, and black, everything seemed to be white in the Hive. Yseult wondered if it was simply to avoid the cost of painting it all, or if it was supposed to reflect the blank state of the slaves running the facility.
Didn’t Isis Pines get tired of it, herself? She was one person guaranteed to not be a mindless drone in this facility.
A single slave worked within the room, neatly folding uniforms with precision that Yseult’s mother would have applauded. The room appeared to have been last used for disrobing, as most of the outfits lay in rumpled piles on the ground. She saw a flap in the wall on either side, one where the slave dumped the used outfits and another that opened onto a table. Did new outfits emerge from there? She couldn’t picture what room lay opposite this one on the floor plan she carried in her mind.
Ciara touched her arm gently. “Be prepared to knock her out, I want to try something that might get us in trouble if she responds badly.”
Yseult nodded and pulled her taser from its holster.
Her sister, pulling her shoulders back, marched up to the slave. “Slave, what is your purpose here?”
The woman, dusky-skinned with hair pulled up in the same pony-tail all slaves here seemed to wear, straightened to look at Ciara with empty eyes. “i am tasked with organizing this room. i must deposit uniforms in the laundry chute and retrieve clean uniforms from the laundry flap.”
Yseult blinked. She hadn’t expected that to work. The slave stared at Ciara, unblinking, and Yseult wondered what she was waiting for. Did they need to order her to go back to work?
No, she realized. Around her ears were subtly hidden earpieces, though now that she had noted them they were obvious to her eye. Black, curling around the shell of her ears, miniscule antennae obviously connected the slave to whatever control center directed her movements.
Were those controllers watching them now? Yseult’s hand tightened on her taser.
The empty eyes blinked. The sisters waited. The slave turned back to her task, and Ciara glanced at her sister in bemusement.
“Well,” she said, rubbing her wrist. “I guess that answers that. Their controllers aren’t on the lookout for intruders—or at least, the ones running maintenance are. That’s good to know.”
Yseult nodded and walked over to the stack of folded uniforms, searching for one her size. They didn’t have time to wait for a fresh batch—the next outage was scheduled for just over half an hour from then.
As she picked up one of the vests, holding it up to her chest, Yseult felt a thin stream of something slick run down her wrist. Her brow furrowed in annoyance as it quickly slid up her sleeve where she couldn’t rub it off.
“What the…?” she muttered, wiping what she could away on her pants.
“Nothing, there’s just something inside these vests that slipped up my sleeve.”
Yseult held the vest up to her torso once more, this time careful to keep it from leaking on her. It seemed the right size, so she grabbed the accompanying skirt and carried both over to a clear table and began to strip out of her outfit.
“Oh shit, Yseult I know what this stuff is,” Ciara said quietly.
She glanced at her sister, in the midst of pulling off her top.
“This is that oil that slavers use to keep their drones compliant—very potent chemicals in it that make you suggestible and docile,” her sister explained in growing agitation.
Yseult eyed the shiny patch of skin where it had gotten on her with alarm. It stretched from her palm all the way up her forearm. How long did it need to take effect? How much was necessary for it to work?
Voicing her concerns, Ciara frowned. “I don’t know. Probably not long, but you didn’t get a lot on you. We need to get this stuff out of the uniforms though.”
The slave proved especially useful in this regard. There were several towels that she used to clean up the oil when it dripped onto the floor or tables, which Ciara used to wipe away the inside of both of their uniforms.
Yseult could only eye the slave’s skin with dull horror. The youthful sheen, beautiful on the woman, now seemed horrible to her. Perfect posture and shiny skin, it was easy to picture herself in a similar condition. yseult the slave, marching off to her next task, glassy eyes just as wide and blissfully empty as this slave, and all the others they’d encountered.
She stared in surprise at Ciara. Her sister had placed her hands on Yseult’s shoulders and was gently shaking her. Yseult had barely noticed. Everything seemed to be coming in slow motion. Her sisters words took a long time to penetrate her senses. “Yseult, stay with me now. You didn’t get that much on you and we still need to get out of here.”
She blinked at her sister. Her alarm had faded. What was she concerned about? The mission?
Shit, this was a problem.
Yseult slowly shook her head, awareness fading back in as she reasserted control over her thoughts. The haze that had covered her thoughts like drizzled honey, sweet and sticky, faded away just a little bit. She felt muzzy and languid—it was easy to relax and stop worrying.
Ciara shook her again. Yseult had forgotten what the problem was. Yseult thought Ciara looked beautiful when worried and smiled. They were identical. Ciara was beautiful, so Yseult must be beautiful too.
Yseult stood up straighter. She must listen.
“Yseult,” Ciara spoke to her. Had ordered her to listen. Yseult thought that sounded alright. “You’re compromised right now. We’ll finish the mission and get you out of here—that oil won’t last forever. Once we get back to Copernico I’m sure the Director can fix you up alright.”
Yseult remembered the Director. Lilith Yew. Yseult believed Ciara—Lilith was the smartest person Yseult knew. She had broken the codes of the Hive, made the eternally devoted slave Olivia give up her mistress’s secrets when nobody else could even get close. She could make Yseult better. A part of Yseult loved Lilith for that, though she didn’t know why that was.
“Follow me Sis, I’ll take the lead and get you out of here and safe, alright?”
Yseult thought that sounded lovely.
Ciara dressed her in the uniform. Yseult had been right, it fit her perfectly, though the insides felt like they were designed to slip over skin much smoother than hers. Ciara had been very exacting when wiping away the residual oil, though as Yseult stood there languidly she found herself unable to care. Her wrist felt tingly and warm, especially sensitive against her sides. She wondered how the rest of her body would feel, coated and snug inside her uniform.
Her sister looked beautiful when worried. Yseult knew she’d already thought that, but she liked that thought so much that it didn’t concern her. As Ciara wound the strips of cloth that the hard-soled shoes used to keep snug to her feet, Yseult stared down at her.
She felt like a queen, came the brief, whimsical thought. Her sister was her maid, slipping on her shoes, kneeling before her in supplication. Yseult smiled dreamily at her sister. She wanted to thank her but found it easy to let the desire slip away unvoiced.
Dressed in her own uniform, Ciara looked to Yseult like she belonged here in the Hive with the other slaves in their uniforms. Yseult’s was a lovely shade of purple somewhere between lilac and amethyst. What purpose would that give her? The question faded away into the haze.
Ciara was dressed in youthful green—the color of new spring shoots. It matched her hair fetchingly, Yseult thought. She wished she’d chosen the green as well.
If Ciara looked like she belonged as a slave, that meant Yseult did too, she realized. Maybe more than her sister, as she didn’t feel the same sense of nagging urgency her sister did. The thought pleased her, though she didn’t know why.
Yseult blinked again. Ciara had stepped close and thrown her arms around her. She smiled and laid her head in the crook of Ciara’s neck, enjoying the embrace. She loved her sister.
Ciara pulled away, looking into Yseult’s eyes. Hers were filled with worry and sorrow.
Her lips moved. Saying something. Was Yseult still supposed to listen? By the time she’d considered it, she’d already forgotten what her sister had said, and Ciara was moving away, pulling her by the wrist, telling her to follow.
She didn’t see anything wrong with that and followed dutifully. Her shoes clicked on the hard floor. She thought about skipping—that would make an interesting sound—but that thought was wiped away too. She followed her sister.
Ciara looked beautiful when she was worried.
* * *
Kate wondered if Ciara and Yseult were having the same difficulties they were on the lower levels.
The three agents had successfully bypassed the problem of the elevator by following several slaves carting minerals to whatever hangar the Hive possessed—they hadn’t followed them far enough to discover where that was.
The cart was too large for the usual elevators, and the slaves in question were oblivious to their presence, so it had been simple to just step onto the industrial elevator they’d used. They hadn’t protested when they punched in the floor they wanted—only stood there empty, infinitely patient while they listened to whatever programming guided them.
Of course, that had been their only break. The upper floors were far more crowded with slaves. Slaves clad in white leading slaves clad in red toward some far-off objective. One lone slave in black with yellow stripes ministering whatever purpose she was assigned on a segment of wiring hanging out of a strange terminal in the wall.
Dozens of slaves in green and blue marched lock-step together out of a room that briefly blasted the agents with humidity. Peeking inside, Kate saw row upon row of plants heavily laden with fruits, berries, and nuts. High above, a skylight revealed the starlit expanse of void high above the Martian surface, despite that room being several floors below the surface. She hadn’t gotten the opportunity to see clearly, but she imagined that it must have been a multi-tiered room to explain the inefficiency.
It was marvelous that they hadn’t been noticed or caught. The subliminals blasting throughout the facility were most likely meant to catch intruders without the need for intervention. No doubt the three agents were meant to go about their operations, never noticing their minds soften and eyes glaze over until finally, the perfect beat erased the purpose from their minds to leave an empty, malleable shell.
It was with black humor that Kate imagined Eve—strong, powerful Eve, the de-facto leader of their operation after the Director—frowning in confusion as she came to the realization that she had no idea what she was doing. Her eyes widening as revelation was granted to her. She would march off with new purpose to whatever brainwashing facility they had in store for her, and Kate would follow her just the same.
Perhaps Kate resented Eve, just a little, for treating her like the baby of the team that she was.
Two years she’d been in Lilith Yew’s facility—fleeing a shitty boyfriend and a dead-end job for the barest hint of a future on a dead planet. The best she’d hoped for was a secretarial position. At worst, maybe she’d be relegated to moving boxes on a forklift, another cog in the profit-machine that Mars had quickly become for the Earth-based corporations that funded it.
But no, she’d been snapped up by Lilith for her superb physical fitness record from school. Four years on track team, several tournament wins, one opportunity taken to compete at the national level. She’d left school with honors galore for that, for all that it benefited her later when her parents pulled the rug out from under her in her college years.
Joining the bureau was the best thing that had happened to her in years—but she was still the greenhorn, and Eve took just a little too much pleasure in teasing her for Kate to not hate her just a little.
Not enough to mar their friendship; the two were just as close as anyone else on the team. But the kind of friendly hate that encouraged her imagination to go just a little further than it would usually.
Nevertheless, despite their presence being largely ignored by the majority of Philae’s slaves, they were still forced to avoid the occasional guard that passed by. They were far more abundant on these levels—clad in pitch black with no accompanying markings like the electrician drones. Their eyes seemed just a little more dead to Kate than the other drones, who went about their tasks with blissful emptiness.
The guards just seemed scary. Hard shells emptied of will by their mistress to keep her property safe.
Eve gestured for Kate and Saira to duck into the next room—it appeared to be a laundry room. New uniforms were laid out on a long table, an idle slave standing at attention nearby the probable curator of this room.
The door slid shut behind them, and they each breathed an audible sigh of relief. The slave ignored them.
Kate chose a blue uniform that appeared to fit her size correctly. There were multiple sizes laid out in stacks, organized by their color. She noted that there were no collars to accompany the uniforms. Did the slaves ever take theirs off?
Eve dressed in a white uniform—Kate noted with irritation that it was the color that controllers wore—while Saira took one colored red. Kate found herself staring at her friend as she bent over to strap on her sandals—straight as she was, Saira was worth letting her mind wander over.
“No collars or earpieces,” Eve noted with a frown.
“Do you think that’ll get us noticed?” Saira asked.
Their leader looked thoughtful. It was a strange look for someone dressed in a drone uniform.
“I don’t want to risk it,” she finally concluded. “Kate, you know the layout the best of any of us besides Yseult. Are there any maintenance or technician rooms nearby that we can scavenge?”
Kate’s lips curled downwards as she thought. “I…think so. It’s on the opposite end of the floor from where we need to be though. Can you and Saira finish the objective while I grab the earpieces?”
The two readily agreed. Kate felt a sliver of fear worm its way into her heart as she realized that meant she would be traversing the facility alone, however briefly. It would be only too easy to make a mistake, and there wouldn’t be any ready assistance at hand…
The slaves ignored her as she marched purposefully through the white hallways. The click of her sandals echoed lightly off the walls, though the sound quickly vanished from her hearing. Her earplugs, plus whatever insulation Philae used to keep a semblance of warmth inside the halls, were quick to absorb any stray sounds.
She found herself scanning the ceilings for cameras and microphones. Anything that would record her presence and report it to Hive security. Was she marching just right? Every slave seemed to march to the same mantra—one she couldn’t hear.
Realizing her mistake, Kate berated herself and forced herself to keep her eyes looking straight ahead. Slaves didn’t examine their surroundings.
The fear grew slowly within her. The silence, the cold, the empty, empty eyes that everything seemed to possess in this place—it was smothering. Despite the brightness and spaciousness of the halls, Kate felt claustrophobic.
When the door slid open to admit her into the technician room, it was only through sheer force of will that she didn’t dart inside. Instead, Kate forced herself to march in with purpose, controlling the nauseating fear with the promise that she would meet with Saira and Eve soon, and they would do what they needed to and just get out of this place before it claimed them…!
‘Fucking get it together Greenhorn!’
They weren’t Eve’s words, but the sentiment reawakened some of the defiance, the bitterness, that Kate felt back in Copernico. The emotions were familiar, so she held them close and let them comfort her loneliness. It was like her leader was right next to her, for just a second.
She’d leaned against the wall next to the door while she collected herself. The room itself was smaller than Kate would have expected for a facility so reliant on electricity, barely larger than the minimal dorm room she and her four other agents shared.
Tables, cabinets, and drawers filled with loose wiring and spare parts lined the walls. The center of the room was occupied by long tables neatly spaced out, each covered in a different project.
A single slave worked, clad in the usual black-with-yellow stripes. Her blonde hair fell across her cheek, the ponytail only enough to keep it from spilling all over whatever she was working on.
The sight was so reminiscent of Saira reading one of her books in the dorm that Kate briefly felt her chest thrum with horrified empathy. Was this woman once a part of Copernico? Maybe she was one of Pines’ slaves from before Lilith started the colonization effort, and her brainwashing went back years. She didn’t look much older than twenty, but the technology available in those days was able to easily minimize features of age if one was able to afford it.
Kate swallowed. The bravado she’d felt at the start of the mission had deserted her—mentally, she was compromised and barely hanging onto a semblance of professionalism. She needed to finish her task and get her ass to the rendezvous point so Eve could take the lead again.
Cautiously, she stepped closer to the tables, scanning them for the earpieces she would need to collect.
Her heart stopped for a moment. The slave, blue eyes the color of forget-me-nots, was looking at her. It wasn’t the same tranced, empty look as the other slaves, either. Those eyes scanned her from top to bottom, categorized her, understood what parts of her needed fixing and what were perfectly suited to the Hive’s purposes.
She stood very, very still. Her fingers ached to grab at her taser, if only for the comfort of being armed and dangerous. Not helpless before the eyes of a soulless drone.
The slave’s lips moved. “what is your purpose here?”
The lifeless monotone scared Kate more than anger.
“I-I’m here to pick up three sets of earpieces for some new slaves on sub-level five,” Kate improvised hurriedly.
The slave watched her with eyes that were not suspicious. Kate felt judged, though, and cursed herself for not having a better explanation.
“i will collect three Thoughtcontrol headsets,” the slave told her flatly. “you will wait here while i collect them.”
Kate swallowed. “I will wait here while you collect them,” she agreed.
The slave walked toward one of the drawers to Kate’s right, kneeling to look deep within. Sounds of shuffling metal and plastic resounded from her search.
She let herself breath a sigh of relief. Slaves didn’t have the capacity for critical thinking to see through even simple ruses, she realized. The thought comforted her, though it left her disturbed by the ease she had escaped such a predicament.
What was she doing here? Saira was far more qualified for working solo than she was—even if she didn’t know the layout of the facility as well as she did there was little doubt that her friend could easily find the way.
‘You just wanted to show off to Eve and Saira—show you could handle yourself on your own without needing someone to look after you,’ she thought with a sense of shame.
The slave stopped her search in the drawer and closed it with a neat click. She started clicking her way toward Kate, purposeful and not an ounce ashamed of herself.
Kate pulled out of her thoughts and focused on the black-and-yellow clad slave—and opened her mouth in shock as the black baton the blonde wielded with frightening efficiency crashed into her temple.
Kate crumpled to the ground, a marionette with its strings cut. There was little she could do beyond stare and blink in turn, her ringing ears precluding any thought.
She felt distantly her wrists being drawn above her head and tied together with a length of strong wire. Her back was against one of the low cabinets, the wires attached to a hook set in the wall above her head. As her motor reflexes slowly returned to her, Kate weakly struggled against the restraint. It held with nary a protest.
The slave moved industriously, picking up several pieces from various tables and assembling them with efficiency bespeaking long practice. A large set of headphones, a connecting cord, and small handheld device not unlike what Kate used to listen to music during a workout.
Kate could only watch through dull eyes as the slave knelt in front of her and slipped the headphones over Kate’s ears, pulling her earplugs out with deft ease. Faint music finally penetrated her senses—no doubt delivering the potent, dangerous subliminals Yseult had warned them about—before the headphones muffled it.
“Please…” she whispered quietly, pulling harder at the wire, helpless. “Please don’t do this to me.”
The slave scrolled through the device, and a new musical track filled Kate’s ears, soothing and cool. There was no hesitation or pity in those empty orbs as the slave pulled a vial of something liquid from a pocket on her uniform.
Emptying some of the substance onto her hand, the slave slathered a line down Kate’s throat, ensuring it coated the skin above her jugular and carotid arteries. Her hands were unnaturally smooth for someone who worked with electronics, she thought dully. Everyone Kate knew who did the same had callouses.
Her head slumped forward to her chest. Kate couldn’t find it within herself to cry—the music sinking into her ears seemed to wipe away her emotions, even as the cool oil sank into her skin and bloodstream, flowing directly into her brain.
Feeling more relaxed by the moment, her breathing evened out. Her pupils dilated. Kate stopped worrying about the slave, who had stepped away to return to her work, or her inexperience, the mission, about impressing Eve and Saira, or the headphones pumping slavethoughts into her mind.
There was only the music, delivering her from worry and fear. Minutes passed. Kate felt her mind grow still and empty. The music caressed her like a lover.
Then its message penetrated her subconscious. Kate began mouthing the truths it delivered her.
* * *
Lily crossed the Martian desert with far more ease than her agents. Being alone, it was far easier to hide her presence amidst the ridges and rocks than the group that they comprised of.
‘They must have made it inside by now,’ Lily thought to herself as she crouched behind a low ridge near the Hive.
The outside of the Hive was patrolled by black-clad drones, heads covered in bulky helmets attached by tubing to oxygen tanks on their backs. The entire setup was bulky and uncomfortable—Lily’s own weighed her down more than she preferred.
Below the helmets were masks designed as a failsafe in case the outer shell was breached—a person could survive for several minutes easily with just the mask before the temperature and radiation began to cause problems.
These thoughts flowed through her mind as she slipped around the ridge and stalked over to one of the guards. Her black exosuit melded with the night-clad red soil easily, though she knew that she would be spotted as soon as the drone turned to look back on her.
She didn’t give it a chance.
Jabbing her taser into the drone’s ribcage, she gently lowered it to the ground as soon as the charge was disabled. The woman’s dead weight twitched with electricity every few seconds.
Lily wrestled the drone’s helmet off with deft movements. She wanted to avoid having to deal with the drone once it regained its senses. There was every possibility it had some communicator she was unaware of.
Underneath, the woman had black hair and honey-colored skin. Underneath the mask, its’ eyes were furrowed shut with pain, more expression than Lily was used to seeing in one of Pines’ slaves. She didn’t waste time marveling at the drone’s looks though; pulling out her earbuds—the same set she used on Olivia—she plugged them into the drone’s ears and set the music playing.
There was no reaction for several long seconds. Despite the programming etched deeply into the woman’s mind, its body was still in a state of mild shock. Slowly, the pain eased from her face, and the eyes opened beneath the dark visor opened to reveal inky dark pupils dilated to the whites of her eyes.
Lily’s own earplugs prevented her from hearing the drone’s worshipful murmur, so she ordered it to speak up.
“You will follow my every command, slave,” Lily told the woman.
“i will follow your every command,” it replied blankly.
“You will guide me inside the Hive without alerting the guards. You believe I am a woman surrendering myself to the Hive to become a slave. When we are inside you will fall back into a trance when we are alone and await further commands.”
“i will guide you inside the Hive for preslave processing. i believe you are a preslave in need of conversion. When we are inside, i will fall into a trance and await further commands.”
Lily pulled the earbuds from the woman’s ears and stuffed them into her pocket. She would have recommended this course of action to her agents, but it was unlikely it would have the same success with their numbers.
It wasn’t unheard of for women to surrender themselves to the Hive willingly. Lily had lost several women that way—usually mothers who had lost daughters, sisters looking for a lost sibling, or wives with husbands dead or undesirable. The few caught trying to flee Copernico she either counselled into changing their minds or, as had happened a few times, allowed to leave with her reluctant blessing.
The drone stood and replaced her helmet. “you will follow me,” it told Lily coldly. “you will not resist any orders you receive. you are relaxed and obedient. you wish to become a slave for the Hive.”
Lily repeated the commands dutifully. Usually, drones would stun women with one of the usual flash-devices. Usually some form of baton or flashlight designed to temporarily stun the mind into compliance. Her visor would protect her from such devices in any case, but she was glad to avoid the charade of pretending to be entranced. The drone had its orders—its mind would fill in the gaps if it wanted to.
It was a short walk to the nearest entrance. A minimal array of guards protected the entrance—two more black-clad drones who did little to impede their way. Lily followed the drone into the airlock and waited as the pressurization finished itself.
On the other end, a white-clad controller slave waited.
‘Those two must have called her over,’ Lily mused.
She was rather pretty—with wide-set brown eyes and freckles. Lily might have even called her beautiful, but hers was a face meant for sunny smiles and raucous laughter. Blank and emotionless, she was far less appealing than Olivia.
“you will follow me to preslave processing. you will not resist any commands you are given. you are relaxed and obedient. Confirm this,” the controller intoned flatly.
“Drone, you are relaxed and obedient,” Lily replied, the edges of her lips quirking upwards as the controller blinked once out of turn. It wasn’t much, for a surprised expression, but given the source it was enough for her to feel more than a little satisfied.
“i am relaxed and obedient,” her black-clad drone replied dutifully.
As the controlled opened her mouth to end the charade, Lily spoke: “Subdue the controller.”
The controller was faster than Lily would have expected, stepping backwards quickly. Turning to dart away for reinforcements.
She wasn’t fast enough.
The drone grabbed her by her wrists and kneed her in the lower spine. As the controller’s knees went limp Lily snatched the drone’s flash-baton from its waist and pointed it in the controller’s eyes.
There was no panic to be found. Part of Lily was repulsed even as she admired the devotion to her mindset, but then she pressed the activation button and the eyes disappeared briefly in a dazzling array of pulsing light.
When they receded, Lily ordered the drone to release the captive and return to its duties, handing it back its baton. It left perfunctorily.
The controller stared emptily at Lily from her kneeling position on the ground. With her eyes dilated to the whites, lacking the pretty brown irises, Lily thought her face was even less attractive, and decidedly more alien than before.
She knelt before the slave and plugged the earbuds into her ears. There was no physiological change like with Olivia or the drone—this slave was already suggestible and helpless to the mantra pulsing into her mind. Her lips merely opened and closed softly as she mouthed to the words.
Lily felt sad for the girl. Her back had to be screaming at her from the drone’s assault, yet she simply knelt obediently before the person ensorcelling her to their will. She cupped the girl’s cheek, feeling strangely maternal suddenly.
‘This girl was once somebody’s daughter. Perhaps a sister, or a lover. Now here I am making her mine,’ she mused, running her thumbs along the girl’s cheekbones. Her skin was smooth and surprisingly warm for the cool air. Her flesh veritably sang with youth under her fingers.
It made Lily feel old.
How many years had she worked for her goals? Fighting textbooks and boredom in high school, she graduated valedictorian and gave a speech nobody remembered. In college, she sat through classes she remembered more for the people she met within them than the education she received. After that, in the workforce, she’d relearned everything once again—and later applied those same lessons to inspire the population to colonize.
How old was she now? Mid-thirties, she realized. Over a decade spent establishing her legacy, and so little accomplished in the long run.
‘So much to do, so little time, always held back by those too slow to keep up.’
“Who are you?” Lily found herself asking.
“i am evelyn,” the girl whispered.
“I am Lily,” she told the girl, knowing it would mean nothing to her. It felt important despite the fact. Lily was glad that Isis Pines did not erase the names of her slaves from their minds like some preferred to. A number was harder to love.
She leaned close to whisper her commands into Evelyn’s ear. The girl’s breath washed over her cheek as she did so. It was far more intimate than her experience with Olivia and the drone. This girl would lead her into the heart of the Hive—deeper into her temple, where her goddess lived. Lily would do her the courtesy of valuing her for it.
Lily left behind her helmet, mask, and oxygen tank. They were unimportant now that she had penetrated the facility. As Evelyn marched off, sandaled feet clicking to the ingrained beat of her mind, Lily followed.