I — Antarctic Lullaby
I am surrounded by a desolate expanse of snow and ice.
I’d ask you to imagine it. It’s difficult, however. We are so used to an environment that conforms to our will, but there is no such thing here. As far as our experience goes, it might as well be an alien planet. The simplest, most mundane things can kill you, here.
It’s incompatible with long-term, easy human residence. It’s swept by cold, unforgiving, howling winds. It even looks eerie, illuminated by a perma-day for half the year, and then plunged into darkness for the other half.
I’d ask you to imagine how spectral it looks now, in the last few days before the final sunset of the season.
Close your eyes and picture it: the sun sits low on the horizon for most of the day, radiating a deep, dim light that barely illuminates the icy landscape. Even when the sun is up, the light is pale and diffuse, casting long shadows and creating a hauntingly beautiful twilight.
The sky is dusty pink and orange. Sometimes, it looks to be bleeding. But every day, slowly and inexorably, it darkens: the cold, black winter begins to seep into its palette.
It’s haunting. And beautiful. And hostile.
You know how that’s significant? Because, right now, this otherworldly landscape feels far less hostile, to me, than my own world. The cities and houses and parks that are supposed to be my cocoon… how can I think of them as safe, when you consider the horror currently unfolding out there?
At least, here, in the icy desolation, nothing actively hates me. Sure, there are a thousand ways to die. But none of them are malignantly, single-mindedly directed at me because of my gender. There is no malicious app, or virus, or whatever it is, trying to worm its way into the most private inner sanctum of any human—into my mind.
Wow, look at the words I’m writing…
Well, you likely want to know how I’m doing, so there it is. That’s my state of mind right now. Or, well, at time of writing. By the time you read this letter (and the ones to come, to be sure), hopefully this nightmare will be behind us for good.
We’ll be able to meet in person, have a few drinks, and laugh at the men—because they must be men, come on—who designed this thing, who sought to enslave us.
Yes, laugh. Because there’s no way this insane plan can succeed. “Rachel,” you’ll tell me, “how silly you’ve been! There was nothing to fear, all along.” Just picturing it lightens my gloomy mood, a little bit.
I suppose the fact you’ll only get to read these words by the time they no longer apply, makes me writing them a little futile… like I’m talking to myself. But, listen. It keeps me sane, busy, distracted. It’s better than staring at the wall, and letting fear suck me in.
Here I am, going on about how dark my mood is… when you’re probably having to contend with the payload right now. I mean, I don’t know for sure. Christ, I hope not. But I mean, probabilistically… I don’t know. As you can imagine, the news we get here comes in bits and pieces, but I seem to understand this is very widespread, and…
Just, be careful, okay? If that thing is inside you.
Here, at least, none of us have been exposed. Can you believe that a year ago, I wanted to delay my stint here to the next field season? Now I’d be out there, with all of you… What a way to dodge a bullet, huh?
The living quarters of the ice lab are cramped and sterile at the best of times. Now, with our moods somber and dark, they feel… depressing. Tasha in particular has been pretty hard, but I know Maria’s hurting too, even though she keeps the stoic face up.
Hell, so am I.
We’re not getting much done, to be honest. We mostly huddle together and talk in small whispers, seeking safety and reassurance in the warmth of each other’s presence.
Staying close and preserving warmth is never a bad idea in general, here. Our lives here have always been defined by the harsh, isolated environment and the rigorous demands of the job. This is even truer here at the ice lab.
I realise I haven’t really updated you in a while, so I might as well tell you about my own unexpected doomsday bunker… the ice lab is really just a tiny detached outpost, far from the main hub and its facilities. It’s meant to study the impact of climate change on the ice sheets.
Unlike back at base, there’s no support staff here, nothing of the normal, already small comforts of the main hub. Just a kitchen stove, cramped sleeping quarters, a lab area, and other bare necessities. Just barely enough for the three of us.
I never thought I’d be grateful for that. I… can’t imagine being around men right now, even colleagues, even if my mind is unaffected. I shouldn’t blame them all, I know. But… ah, I don’t need to explain this to you. You probably feel much the same.
The slight. The horror. The sheer disbelief.
Not sure if I’ve told you… truly, we couldn’t believe the news when it first reached us here.
I don’t mean that as hyperbole, I’m being literal.
We thought it was someone’s idea of a sick joke—in poor taste, of course, but it does get boring here, and a bored mind will cook up all sorts of shenanigans to pass the time…
But no. I mean, I’m used to the world seemingly getting weirder and weirder with every passing year, and reading the news over the last few years has been pretty much just doomscrolling through the improbable and the absurd. But I’ve got to admit, a misogynistic mind control virus challenged even my expectations, no matter how low.
Communication is never a given in Antarctica, but the ice lab is even more limited. As the hours turned into days, we’ve stayed gathered around our satellite phone and radio equipment, our disbelief turning into shock, then horror, and then downright dissociation.
Look at us, my friend. Maria, the climatologist. Tasha, the marine biologist. And me, the glaciolocist. Three women with enough academic qualifications between us that we’d get bored listing them all, the symbol of everything the developers of the payload—whoever they are—must hate. Free. Independent. Equal.
And yet, here we are. Besieged, forced to feel unsafe and afraid, just because some woman-hating bastard out there...
I am… I don’t know. I feel even more a woman now than I ever did before. I am suddenly a lot more consciously cognisant of just how chafing and unjust the systemic oppression against us has been.
How much has our gender had to endure, to suffer, to overcome? And now this? This… global dreamscape of enthrallment, of exploitation? This attempt at stepping on our necks again, and forcing us down to our knees?
What have we done to deserve it? When will justice be served? When will we be allowed to finally just exist, at last?
If I feel this violated, I can only imagine how you must be feeling, if you have indeed been exposed… So much of who you are, of what you’ve achieved, your visions, your ambitions, your hopes… someone is trying to snuff them out like a candle. To restrict and restrain you.
I hate it with every fibre of my being.
I must confess that I spend a lot of time thinking about how this is even possible, to be honest. I have to reconcile my knowledge of the world with the fact that, apparently, it’s actually possible to develop a… mind control app? And that someone out there has enough resources to do it in pursuit of a radical patriarchal agenda. Or a teenager’s sexual fantasy. I don’t know which interpretation is worse, to be honest.
God… this reminds me of the pandemic all over again. Glued to the news, trying to figure out every possible detail of the unfolding disaster, struggling with the complete lack of clarity and seemingly contradicting details. Except, it’s hard to be truly glued to the news when you’re in Antarctica.
No phone signal of any kind, really our smartphones here are just glorified cameras and alarm clocks. No internet. The ice lab is in a relatively remote location, so even the one satellite phone that is kept here, only gets coverage for very brief windows of overflight. And that, with a very narrow bandwidth, so no roaming data.
The main hub has more satellite phones, and enough bandwidth that you even get data sometimes. It also has somewhat rudimentary WiFi, even if the allocation is usually restricted.
In the isolation of the ice lab, we’ve had difficulties accessing information. That’s been our salvation. No signal, no connectivity, no payload.
It does mean you’ll receive my communication late, and in the outdated forms of physical letters… but I’ll count my blessings. Especially timing. See, I’m not sure if you remember, but this is the end of the field season here. Normally, we’d be just about to rotate out, hand over everything to an incoming team.
If the payload had been deployed a little later…
I suppose that brings me to my plans. Well, dear friend, you have probably concluded already, just by reading this message, what course of action we’ve settled on. Maria and Tasha (especially Tasha) were very uncertain, at first. But the more we talked about it, the more they came round to see my reasoning.
We know what we must do.
We’ve called, or will soon be calling, everyone. The research vessel, Chile, the university department. We’re not going to get rotated out. We’ve told them to cancel everything, except the supply deliveries. Who knows, maybe when we get the next resupply visit, I can ask them to deliver my letters to you! That would be very nice.
So, yes. We’re going to stay holed up in here, safe and sound, until…
I suppose we could go back to the main base, at least. But I don’t want to be even near WiFi now. Not until I know more about how this thing actually spreads.
There is no more sensible alternative, no matter how unpleasant this is. The unknowns are too many, the risks too great. All I know is that we’re safe in here.
I won’t lie. The thought of being away from our loved ones for an indefinite amount of time is daunting. But it’s a small price to pay to avoid the… God, I don’t even want to think about it.
It’s only going to be a short stay, anyway. Surely, surely a fix will be found soon, how could it not be? The entire scientific resources of the world are going to be mobilised to rectify this injustice. Surely.
Still. We’re paranoid by professional training, and we like to be prepared. We’ve double-checked every instrument, every supply—food, medical, whether our equipment is in working order. It’s kept us occupied. It’s the current inactivity that’s destabilising me… and why I’m writing to you.
Even though you can’t read this right now, much less respond, you’re still keeping me company, in a way. You’re here, with me. I’m… very grateful for that. I hope that I can be with you too, in the same way. My words may not reach you yet, but in spirit, my thoughts will.
Just like the three of us… we may be women under siege, lost in the middle of nowhere, but we’re not alone. We have each other, our intelligence, our self-respect, the strength of our convictions; and that’s all that matters.
We do get a little bit of cabin fever, which I guess is understandable. It’s just… I’d ask you to imagine it. How surreal it is, to be stuck here, while the light outside begins to fade, while the sky bleeds… stuck in this ethereal, liminal, suspended reality. While the world we know crashes and burns behind us.
I’ve never been afraid of the dark, never needed any routine to fall asleep, never needed something to lull and cradle me. But now…
It’s just… I’ve had a dark thought, earlier. How many women do you think are like me? Free of the payload, unaffected? I don’t know, of course, but I suspect a minority. That makes us, quite literally, an endangered species.
Maybe that should make me feel a sense of responsibility, increased determination to keep myself and my two friends here safe, until the crisis abates. But it doesn’t. All I feel is… A troubled feeling of foreboding. Like a cloud, passing before the sun. Like the fading of the day, and the coming of the dark.
It’s childish, but I don’t want the sun to go away for six months, and the mere thought is enough to keep me up well into the night. I guess I’m now afraid of the dark.
Last night, I… actually tried to call you, you know? It wasn’t very smart. We only have a brief window of decent signal coverage here, and we need to use it for critical needs and essential information, but… I felt lonely, and I couldn’t sleep.
You didn’t pick up, but it was worth it anyway, after all. I don’t know if you’ve set up some kind of weird voice mail or what, but the music was soothing. It helped me fall asleep, I don’t know, I guess it made me think of you. Of the love and warmth that still exists in this world. It lulled me to sleep, like a lullaby.
It makes me take heart. For all things there is a season, right? This may be women’s winter, but spring will come in turn.
As surely as the fact that day follows night. Even here, where the night lasts for months, and there’s nothing outside, save for the desolate expanse of snow and ice.
II — The Arrival
In the small hours of the night, when reason is buried somewhere deep and inaccessible, and fears reign unopposed, it’s hard to escape a cold thought.
How ironic would it be, if our downfall were to come here, gliding over the waves, in the form of… a group of fellow women?
I know, I know. I can picture your reaction to this. Rachel, what the hell are you talking about? Well, sorry, I’m a little rambly right now. I haven’t gotten much rest, in fact, I’m writing to you when I should be fast asleep.
We, uh… received some bad news last night. When we managed to get in touch with the ship, they informed us they were already on the way back to Chile.
Yeah. It means what you think.
The replacement team that was meant to take over from us, has already landed. Three women, just like us, and for once, for once, I wish they were all men instead, because then we could send them running back into the world, fucked up as it is.
But no, of course. It’s three women, just like us, and just like us, they have zero intention of heading back to civilisation, since they fear exposure to the payload. They’re terrified, my friend, and I can’t blame them…
But I’m terrified, too.
I just… I wish they’d at least stay back at the main hub. But of course, they will not hear it, and again I note with grim irony that I can’t really fault them for their reasoning, can I? I was the one who invoked the precaution principle when arguing that we should stay at the ice lab. Right now, with its complete lack of connectivity outside of satellite, it’s one of the safest places on earth.
When it comes to protection against misogynistic mind viruses, that is…
Our protests were for naught. The staff back at the main hub didn’t know what to do—there’s no training for this sort of thing, I guess—and ultimately couldn’t stop them from beginning their journey to the ice lab. They’ll be here soon, and I don’t know what to do.
What would you do? How would you judge me? I’d die for your advice, right now. Tasha essentially refuses to have an input in this, she’s really struggling to hold it together. I’ve talked about it with Maria, a little…
Begrudgingly, we’ve both concluded that we can’t refuse three fellow women in need, seeking succour and shelter.
I’ve run the math in my head. I’ve run it a thousand times, over and over.
Numbers don’t lie. Our three would-be replacements were still some way out at sea, when the payload started its roll out, hitting device after device. Brain after brain. Woman after woman.
Maybe I’m being stupid. This isn’t a, I don’t know, a pathogen. It’s not like a woman with the payload implanted deep in her brain is contagious, or anything like that. I don’t think so, at least.
But we know so little about this thing! Even more so here, where the news comes in slow trickles! Of course we know what the payload does, more or less, but I don’t have a single clue how a woman carrying it would even behave in general. Or if she’d be a danger to us.
So, is it a wonder that I can’t sleep?
I’m struggling with anxiety, dear. I haven’t struggled this bad with it since college. I hum the lullaby to myself, the one in your voice mail, and it does calm me a little… and I do have the meds with me.
Still. My mind keeps conjuring up the absolutely most horrific, worst-case scenarios, like my brain is trying to terrify itself on purpose. Tormenting mental imagery…
Like, say, that maybe there’s no fix for this thing. And maybe it’s about to breach our little sanctuary here, and get me. Fuck, it feels like a horror movie. You know all those pandemic stories where the characters aren’t infected, and somehow, that makes the mere prospect even scarier?
That’s my mind space right now. I’m… not okay, alright? I see, in my mind’s eye, rows and rows of women, collared, each collar fastened to the other by chains, being marched towards an auction bloc. I see women falling, kneeling, their breath driven out of them and their pupils dilating as they marvel at what’s being done to them… at their inability to stop it.
I see myself among them, my degree and my achievements trampled into the mud, turned into the dirt men walk on. I see them ogling me, with a kind of calculated superficiality, the appraising look you give an object you’re mildly but not overtly interested in. Leering at me. At the humbling of my ambitions, as I become little more than a pound of flesh at the market.
And of course, there’s only one way I could end up like this: if I was betrayed by the women I’m about to let in. Wouldn’t that be so unjust, so cruel, so evil?
Sigh. These are midnight thoughts. If I keep dwelling on horror scenarios, I’m going to give myself a panic attack. I just need to wait for the diazepam to work, and then hopefully, I can get some sleep, instead of staring out the window. Waiting for the newcomers, and praying that they’re not bringing the monster with them.
If you were here, you’d tell me to take a deep breath. We’re all women here, in this remote outpost in the middle of nowhere. We’re all in this together. But will that be enough? Or…
Yes, my friend. We’re all women here.
What if that’s exactly the problem?
III — The Siege
We’ve locked our phones away.
They were so suspicious, at first… you know, it hurt me a little. It gave me a startling realisation. Three women on one side, three on the other. We face a faceless enemy that seeks to destroy us, to own us, to conquer us. If there ever was a time for girl power, then this is it. Our direst hour of need… our darkest hour.
Instead, look what fear has done to us. We, all women with an ingrained sense of our equality and excellent education, were looking at one another with suspicion and paranoia, wondering if any of us could turn out to be the agent of our destruction.
So… we’ve locked our phones away.
Look. Giving up my phone—Maria and Tasha, too—was unnecessary. We’ve been in here for six months, of course our phones are clean. The three newcomers, well… If they did have connectivity during the voyage, even briefly, the payload might be in there, somewhere, ready to be accidentally opened and viewed and…
Now, maybe an infected woman isn’t contagious. But if she has that thing on her phone, I want that locked away… as a compromise measure. You know, instead of dropping it into the ocean.
But like I said, they were suspicious.
The worst was Ember. She’s a fellow glaciolocist, and acts like the informal leader of her group… much like I do mine, I suppose. She challenged my request. Said we had no more rights than they did to seek shelter here.
It was a horrible confrontation. Tasha just shrivelled up and she hasn’t really said more than three words in a row since. Maria backed me up, but emotionally and mentally, we weren’t prepared for this sort of thing.
Again, I wonder what you’d do, if you were here…
For what it’s worth, at least, all three seemed to behave… well, I guess normally, to me. Margaret, their marine biologist, is a lot older than I expected. Silver hair, very dignified and aloof figure. Jenny is a young, wide-eyed climatologist… I bet she never expected her first foray into fieldwork would be quite like this.
I tried to put myself in their shoes: they arrived here, thinking they were about to embark on the research experience of a lifetime. But in the meantime, the world came crashing down behind them.
So, I made the offer that we’d give up ours as well. And… it worked. It was seen as the olive branch I intended it to be. We’ve put all our phones—no other electronic devices on hand, thankfully—into plastic bags, then into a requisitions locker. The key is next to the stove, in full eyesight of everybody at all times.
It will be hard, surviving our isolation here without the company of our smartphones. Even without connectivity, it’s still a way to keep busy… but them’s the breaks. We just need to be patient, until dawn breaks, the nightmare ends, and we all get to wake up once more.
On the plus side, I now have even more time to write to you. Yay!
So, I’ve been thinking… maybe we should lock up the satellite phone too. But… I’m not exactly sure. I mean, based on what we’ve heard, it doesn’t seem like that’d be a source of danger, and it is our one point of contact with the rest of the world. Our one source of news.
Can you imagine if the payload were cured tomorrow, and we wouldn’t even find out, because the sat phone’s in a locker? Having to wait here until someone remembers that we exist? Haha. Oh no, I’m not risking that.
No. I want to be right next to this phone at all times, my friend. When that good news reaches us down the narrow satellite bandwidth we have available, I want to be the first person to pick it up. Mid-ring. The first ring, of course.
There’s another element that convinced me to leave it out. I mean, think about it. Say I’m wrong, and we were exposed through the satellite phone… then that’s already done and dusted, the damage would already be done. So, locking it away now offers no benefits either way.
Jeez… I suddenly feel very self-conscious. You’re probably struggling with this evil, corrupting voice in your head, bombarding you with… images… on a daily basis, and here I am, going on about phones.
Whatever. We’ve given the newcomers a quick tour of the ice lab, such as it is, but it’s clear that the small space is going to be a challenge. We have to rearrange some things to make room for them, and it’s a tight squeeze. I can only imagine what a nightmare using the single bathroom is going to be. But we’ll manage.
I just wish there wasn’t such palpable awkwardness, you know? The tension in the air is thick, despite our attempts to make small talk and joke around… every jape quickly dies, greeted only with minimal, forced laughter, before silence descends once again.
I wish we’d find something… else to talk about. Normally, our interactions would be limited to the handover process, but right now I’d take just about anything. Because when left to its own devices, my mind keeps wandering into dark places.
I suppose the implementation of a conspiracy to enslave our entire gender might be expected to have an impact on my mental health. But I hate that I find myself returning to it, over and over, asking the same questions, again and again.
Can you be exposed to the payload without even noticing? Somehow, that’s not how I imagine brainwashing would work. Which is stupid, because until a few days ago, I thought there was no such thing to begin with.
In any event, from what I’m hearing, it’s… quite an ordeal for the women affected. The descriptions we’ve gotten, the slow, progressive loss of control, like a substance addiction slowly undermining your life, stripping it of coherence until there is only one wish, one need, one hunger…
If one of these three women has been exposed, how could we even tell? No men around, right? Nothing to keep you busy.
The problem is, I don’t even know exactly what the baseline would be. What does a woman with the payload look like? Is she in pain? In a constant internal struggle?
Does she slowly break down over time, smaller and scared and less confident, trying to control her impulses and her subconscious, but always losing ground?
Or is it more like being programmed? Like, you know, a mantra. Or a prayer. Would she be told, night and day, that she exists to worship man’s boot? To crawl under man’s desk and suck his cock? Do her eyes go glassy and unfocused?
… Do yours?
Jesus, I don’t even know why I’m thinking about this stuff. I’m so sorry, it’s just…
My sleep is restless and plagued with nightmares. Add the cabin fever, and my conversational skills and impulse control are a little rusty, right now. Even the lullaby isn’t enough to soothe me anymore, though it does remind me of you.
Imagery straight out of pulp and corny fantasy somehow coalesces in my subconscious. Widespread ownership, slavery, a strong and wiry hand tightening around a throat. It would almost be comical, if it weren’t so violating, so rapey, so… dehumanising. I almost imagine that men have lasso’d us, you know? Like they’re cowboys, and we’re horses, waiting to be slowly but inexorably reined in.
Fillies, I guess?
And we’d be pulled closer and closer, the leash shortening. Then we’d be pushed to our knees, and they in turn would place one knee against our bent backs, preventing us from rising. Woman after woman, all of us being brought to heel, like dogs.
I’m a scientist, I try to protest in my dreams. The equal of any man. I have a right to self-determine. Besides, you can’t touch me. I’m in a place where your filthy hands can’t reach, where your evil little app can’t get to me. But in the dreams, the hand that’s forced me to my knees lifts in the air, slapping me into silence, cutting off my protests with a single, casual act of violence.
And that’s when I wake up with a jolt, and sit down to write to you. I have to believe you’re doing well, out there. You’re my anchor to sanity. I have to believe there will be a world to come back to, when this is over.
I can hear to the breathing of my five “roommates”, right now. as it were. Isolated here, like me, in a world where we don’t really belong anymore… at least for the time being.
I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for us, my friend. For you, for them, for me…
For our gender.
IV — The Dying Of The Light
It’s dark, outside.
That’s true most of the time, at this point of the year. Soon, daylight will be but a memory.
I feel like I’m sustaining myself on memories. Of my achievements, of all the fulfilling things I got to do, before someone declared war on women. I spend the time lost in reveries about our time together at college, about the holidays, the condo I bought, your first car…
What else is there for me in here, anyway? A nuclear shelter may keep you safe from radiation, but a luxury mansion, it ain’t, and that’s what life is like, here.
The air is stale.
Conversation among us is reduced to a bare minimum.
I don’t really know why. I mean, of course the general situation is horrible. But I’ve never seen Maria this taciturn. I feel like I barely know who Ember, Margaret, and Jenny are. It’s just… we don’t talk.
Tasha, well, alright, she was always a little… God, I hate the word I’m thinking of. She’s not weak, that’s not what I mean.
Oh, whatever. Point is, we all seem… lost in our little personal bubbles. You know when you’re really depressed, and you have no energy whatsoever, so you just lie in bed all day? Yeah… we’re all sluggish. Quiet. Visibly worried.
I mean, we could work. Nobody expects us to, not in the current circumstances, but at least it’d keep us busy. But the thought of dragging myself out of bed and looking at the slow deterioration of the ice sheets, with its apocalyptic implications, is not exactly appealing right now.
I would like something to get out of bed for. Instead, we’re all stuck in this pattern where we just curl up and rest. Lost in thought. Counting down the hours until finally, hopefully, someone gives us the good news over the phone.
The way’s clear. The bad guys are in jail. All is fine for womankind.
I… I have a problem, my friend.
I’m overthinking stuff. And yes, yes, where’s the fucking news, but I don’t mean it like that. Or rather, I also mean it like that, but it isn’t just my anxiety I’m referring to.
We’ve almost had another altercation—everyone else had fallen asleep, except her, but I didn’t know. I was softly humming the lullaby to myself, trying to fall asleep, and she got so angry… irrationally so. I told her to go fuck herself, though. She’s in my bloody ice lab, she’s not gonna keep me from lulling myself to sleep. Eventually she gave up, turned her back to me, and somehow, fell asleep.
That’s when I noticed my problem.
Ember is tossing and turning in her sleep. Do you see what I mean? Her eyes are closed, but she seems to be muttering something under her breath.
It’s just REM, of course.
No no, trust me. I know.
Lots of people fidget in their sleep! Lots of people talk while asleep, too, sometimes even coherently. Even more frequent under stress or fatigue, which I’d say applies here. There’s no reason to give even more ammunition to the raging fire of my anxiety.
It’s just REM.
But here’s the thing, right?
What if it’s not?
V — The Descent
I sit at the table, and watch.
I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t. You put six people into this sort of situation, into this cramped space, and of course they’re going to notice stuff. The brain makes them up. Even those you genuinely do notice… I mean, can I blame Maria if she looks fidgety as hell, constantly biting at her fingernails?
Can I blame Tasha, for basically trembling like a leaf every time the satellite phone rings?
I’ve noticed I’m talking a lot about myself. I guess… it’s because this isn’t really a conversation, you know? There’s no turn-taking. It’s almost like a note in a bottle. You’re gonna read these all at once, so there’s no point in me asking you how you’re doing, over and over.
I’m sure your own messages to me will sound much the same, when I finally get them.
Still. In the interest of feeling closer to you, in spite of the distance, let me try and not talk about myself here for at least five minutes. How are YOU doing? Coping? Snuggling under the blankets and scooping up truckloads of ice cream?
Masturbating all the time?
What? Come on. The news might reach us in bits and pieces here, but it does arrive. We have a pretty good picture of what’s going on, I think. Only yesterday we’ve heard that elected female officials are being kindly asked to temporarily resign from office, in the interests of national security… I guess that explains my dour mood here. Sorry.
Are you still teaching?
I don’t mean that as a—well, I mean, maybe I do, but… Okay.
Has anyone tried to collar you? You know, corner you in a narrow hallway on campus after you’re done teaching for the day. Or accosting you on public transport. Or hell, breaking into your home… that’s how it happens, right? All sorts of ways. And the world’s full of immature, entitled little shits with obsessive crushes who probably jumped at the chance of securing that one girl that rejected them.
Overriding her consent without a second thought.
Just thinking about all the creeps we know, people who’ve been carrying torches for you or me, and simultaneously resenting us, for basically one and a half decades now… I’m honestly shocked that dweeb Jason hasn’t shown up at your house yet.
* * *
He hasn’t. Right?
Sigh. See what I mean about turn-taking? Eventually I just talk myself into the same loops that make me spiral, and spiral, and spiral. It’s just, the news we’re hearing…That’d make everyone feel like you’re losing your mind, going crazy. No wonder we all look so subdued.
… Wrong word choice.
Alright, look. Anxiety is one thing, but this paranoia… never experienced an emotion this visceral before. It’s compulsive, I don’t know how to rein it in. Every little incident blows up in my mind into a certain vision of inescapable doom. It’s wearing me out, little by little.
Not just me, either. Earlier today, Ember had the absolute gall to tell me I’m not getting much sleep. You should have seen the tone she used… like she was branding me as a leper or something. She’s one to talk. She sleeps less than I do, and when she does, she murmurs all the time.
Before you ask, yes, of course I’ve tried to listen. It’s unintelligible.
So, I said this, right. And of course Jenny immediately jumped to her defence. Margaret just… stared, I swear she had the dead expression of a fish, and Tasha well, whenever any of us has a confrontation of any kind, she just… shuts down.
At least I had Maria in my corner. Even though her nail-biting is making me feel a little on edge. What if she has it? I try to suppress the intrusive thought, believe me, but it just, well… intrudes.
Honestly, fuck Ember. This woman hasn’t said one word of kindness to me since the moment I let her into this fucking ice lab, can you believe it? We were the first here, we were already safe. They have put us in danger, and now they act out, too?
The incident petered out quickly after that. But, cards on the table here… I don’t know how much longer I can handle this. We have no privacy, nothing to do, no energy for conversations… and fear. Fear, most of all.
I try to keep my eyes away from constantly checking on the others, but I’m finding it harder and harder to just stop. Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion.
The smallest things start to seem like ominous signs. I catch Maria glancing at me out of the corner of her eye, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s trying to gauge my behaviour for any signs. Kinda like I’m doing hers. It’s as if we’ve all become detectives, trying to solve a mystery.
At night, I lie awake, dreading that one of the girls might… I don’t know what. Press a digital device to my face, so I stare at the app and the payload gets embedded into my brain?
That’s how the news says exposure works, anyway.
Well, the key is where we left it. By the stove. Even if one of the phones does carry the payload… you know, this mind control virus designed to infiltrate my brain and weaponise it, to destroy me, to strip me of everything that makes me human, bind me in chains, break my will until I’m little more than a panting dog, begging for a fix… you know, that thing.
Even if it does carry it, it can’t do anything to me, so long as it’s locked up.
Maybe I should take the key myself. Just to be sure.
I know, I know… that’d be liable to truly plunge us into open mistrust or worse. Besides, why would a woman infected by the payload try to expose another? There are no men to please here anyway.
It does seem a little silly…
What if there is no mystery? Maybe I’ve been scaring myself to death over a false assumption?
I don’t know. And that doesn’t really console me.
You know what, friend?
It’s a tradition for a new group beginning their stint down here, to sit down and watch The Thing together. I’ve upheld it so far. You’ve always refused to watch it, but I was looking forward to sharing it with Ember, and Jenny, and Margaret, back when their scheduled arrival was just part of the job, and nothing more.
It is a little morbid to start your stint here by watching that movie, but that’s what makes it so cathartic, you know? We have a good laugh about it, and that’s it.
You know what, friend?
Somehow, I can’t laugh at that anymore.
VI — As Night Follows Day
I’d ask you to guess why. It’s difficult, however. It’s not like you have the array of clues at your disposal, so I’m going to lay it out for you. You tell me if my reasoning isn’t sound… I think I’ve got it figured out. Listen:
Earlier tonight, I had dozed off in pure exhaustion, but I still woke up after only a few hours of restless sleep. And you wanna know what I saw?
Ember was masturbating.
Now, I know you’re going to have mixed reactions to this. In a way, I did too. Actually, and somewhat stupidly, the very first reaction was embarrassment… she’s a coworker, one I don’t even know, not really. Okay, in the dark, I could barely make out her shape—she’d kicked off the blankets for a moment, thankfully the generator here is very reliable.
But embarrassment soon subsided.
Part of me said, look, Rachel, Jesus, humans have needs. There’s no privacy here, sure, but there’s only so long you can go before you need to rub one out, and we’ve been stuck here for months! And frankly, it’s not like she could go outside or something, could she? We’re in freaking Antarctica. Don’t even bring up the bathroom, it’d take a contorsionist to do that in there.
The decent thing in that case was to go back to sleep and pretend I hadn’t seen anything.
But then, there was the other part. The one that grew into sharper and sharper focus as the grogginess of sleep receded.
Ember was out at sea when the payload hit. Ember hasn’t been sleeping well. Ember talks in her sleep. Ember really didn’t want to give up her phone, and made a whole scene. Ember is masturbating, dear, and oh, you should have seen how she was doing it.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, it became impossible to ignore. The way her lips formed a small, surprised little o, like she herself was confounded by her body’s reactions. The way she shook and trembled, like all her neurons were firing at once. The expression of soft, pliant responsiveness, animalistic docility, that was etched into her face like a bas relief…
Every minute aspect of her posture seemed studied to perfection to enhance and project an image of availability, openness, feminine inferiority. The way her bent legs emphasised the curving of her calves and thighs, the slight humping of her hips towards the air…
I couldn’t see her eyes. But I bet you they were fucking glassy. I was watching Ember break down in front of me, slowly being disassembled by the new and alien sensations that must have taken over her body.
I’ve heard enough from what’s happening out there to be able to recognise at least this much. Ember’s brain is not her own, not really. She’s being slowly, systematically subverted, as this piece of malware bypasses her defences, corrupting her from within.
The inner sanctum is breached.
Strangely, I wasn’t afraid. I just felt… clarity. Now I knew the score, you see. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.
There are a few key conclusions I have drawn. The first is that, thankfully, I’m still payload-free, as are Maria and Tasha. That means Ember hasn’t infected us, or exposed us to it, if nothing else; at least not yet.
I am unsure about Jenny and Margaret. After all, if Ember was exposed on the voyage, there is a high likelihood—but by no means a certainty—that they were, too.
I have no intention to wait and find out, however.
I have taken possession of the key to the requisitions locker. I know this will precipitate the situation tomorrow, but I’m not taking any chances. I intend to call the main hub and ask for a helicopter to come pick us up, and by us, I mean Maria, Tasha, and myself.
As for our guests? They can have the ice lab to themselves, if they want to.
Look, it’s simple, the calculus has changed. I didn’t want to even be near WiFi because it was a risk, but now I know, for a fact, there’s a woman sitting mere metres from me whose feminism is currently leaking out of her cunt, pardon my French, along with her critical thinking skills. Who knows what she’s capable of? What she’s going to do with no men around to collar her? How she’s going to behave towards us free women?
Of course, I could ask for them to leave the ice lab, but let’s be honest, I don’t have the means to coerce them, and where do you see that discussion going?
Besides, I anticipate resistance and hostility even to the idea that we’re leaving unilaterally. If Margaret and Jenny believe me, they’ll probably insist on coming with me, leaving Ember here alone. But they, too, might have been exposed on the ship. No, fuck that.
Of course, getting to the main hub doesn’t magically fix all my problems. Ultimately, abandoning the ice lab means giving up on that guarantee of safety, but with our perimetre breached, so to speak, that guarantee no longer exists anyway. I can ask for the main hub to isolate one of the buildings and reserve it for our use, maybe. We’ll see.
But one step at a time.
I hum the lullaby to myself, your lullaby, to find the courage I need to wait for the morning. It will be a dark morning, with no dawn, and the merest hint of distant light from the obscured sun, but it’ll be morning nonetheless.
Who knows, maybe I’ll actually be able to finally talk to you, from the main hub. Get the chance to ask how you’re really doing. Get to thank you for reminding me that, no matter how dark things may get…
Day always follows night.
VII — The Heart Of Darkness
IT’S NOT EMBER.
Oh, she has the payload in her brain, alright. You should see her, unable to sleep properly, quivering through the night, shivering at phantom touches of male hands that do not exist.
But then again, that probably sounds very familiar to you, right now. Doesn’t it?
You’re a monster. You deserve to burn in hell for what you’ve done. You really think I’m stupid, that I wouldn’t figure it out eventually?
It’s funny. It always sounded all manner of cheesy to me, that whole “once you eliminate the impossible” thing. But it’s true. Whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true. And it’s true, isn’t it, friend?
It was YOU.
Even after figuring out that Ember was showing clear signs of carrying the payload, something kept bothering me. The puzzle didn’t fit. Why aren’t Margaret and Jenny fidgeting in their sleep? Why aren’t they compulsively masturbating, their expressions softening into a dumb sex kitten look, studied to communicate to men that we’re fundamentally something less than human?
There is, I suppose, the remote possibility that she simply had her phone on, and they didn’t. Maybe it was out of charge, or whatever. But they were together throughout the entirety of the voyage, and it’s kind of hard not to notice your friend being brainwashed in front of your eyes by their own smartphone, isn’t it?
Alright, I told myself. Maybe Ember was just lying, and the other two were covering it. That doesn’t really explain their insistence to come to the ice lab, though. And that was only the first of many puzzle pieces that just refused to slot into position…
Because if we consider the possibility, for example, that Ember was NOT, in fact, exposed to the payload on the ship, then that leaves only one possibility: it happened here. But how? There’s no signal here. If their phones didn’t receive the payload on the ship, they sure as hell didn’t here, either.
Besides, even assuming that someone here is in possession of an electronic device not accounted for, with the payload there and ready to go… wouldn’t the person in question be even further along than Ember, or at least showing some overlap of symptoms?
Say, for example… difficulty sleeping, and reveries of a future where the world is men’s to run, and we are pathetically grateful to be allowed to pretty it up for them, like the little decorations we are?
And that, my friend…
That’s when I realised the terrible cruelty of the truth.
But how? How could I possibly get the payload? And even if I did, why didn’t I consciously notice or remember it? Nor do I remember exposing Ember to anything, either.
But, like I was saying. Once you eliminate the impossible, what remains, however unlikely, must be the truth. Because I’ve been listening to the news, I know the payload is primarily visual, right? It’s a hypnotic malware. You see it on a screen or a monitor, and boom, you’re well on the way to being seen and not heard, a simple creature made to moan and gasp and bend and kiss and suck…
But nobody who creates something as ingenious as the payload would be sloppy. What about all the women that, due to whatever reason—physical disability, low internet connectivity, lack of digital literacy—would not actually see the payload with their own eyes? There must be a contingency to account for them, too.
And, yes, it sounds outlandish, but… no more so than the mere fact that this evil mind virus even exists.
Who says it’s limited to sight alone?
How better to place traps for the unwary, how better to reach remote locations, than find ways to compress the information of the payload into the smallest possible size you can, and find a way to push it through, all the same?
Sure, the results may be suboptimal, maybe less marked, or slower to build up to a critical mass… to bring the woman to the brink of addiction, force her to kickstart the spiral of self-replication by feeding the monster of addiction once, and then never looking back.
But it’s certainly a lot better than nothing, isn’t it?
And that’s when, finally, finally… it clicked. Because there is one moment when everything changed. I’ve reread my letters, and I can pinpoint it exactly. My speech grows incoherent, less sophisticated. The spiral begins.
It’s after I tried to call you.
That’s an interesting voice mail you have, my friend. A catchy little jingle. Where did you find it, I wonder. Some dark corner of the internet, one catcher space or another? Maybe whoever created this abomination carefully planted it somewhere where the right sleazes would find it.
Maybe, in your desperation, rubbing yourself over and over at the thought of a man staking his claim on you, you went to a catcher space, and saw a post addressed to dumb sluts like you. Maybe the post claimed it would feel absolutely divine—that it would be most pleasing to men all over the world—if you betrayed the women in your life to the payload.
Maybe the text told you what a good little broken feminist you’d be, if you threw the movement and your own gender and your own friends under the bus. You’d do just about anything to be patted on the head by a man, right? So complimentary. It would lubricate you like crazy, better than sex ever used to, because you’re no longer a person. You’re a dog now. Their dog.
Maybe this isn’t an accurate reconstruction. Maybe the programming itself told you to do it. Or you were just trying to feel the high again. Or maybe, just maybe, this was your master’s orders, if you have one…
Tell me. Is it Jason? I almost hope so. I can’t help but imagine you on your knees, so small and puny, desperately bobbing up and down on his cock. After all he’s done to you, after all the creepy messages in the middle of the night, the lies he told his friends to undermine your reputation, here you are now…
At his feet, collared like a bitch, his foot placed squarely atop your neck, your lips working diligently to apologise to his dick, for not yielding to his needs sooner.
It’s a horrifying image. It’s a beautiful image. Much like this place… it is an enemy, but a gorgeous one.
But of course, I only see it that way because of your lullaby.
The lullaby I kept singing to myself, over and over and over. Of course, it can’t carry or convey anything close to the level of information that must be in the actual app… but given enough time, water erodes rock.
Every time I hummed it, my brain was growing softer. Mushier. My emotions intensified as my rationality dimmed. Unable to sleep properly. Lost in reveries of our vanquished gender, conquered at last, and for good this time, destined to never, ever rise again.
And of course, I wasn’t just humming it to myself. Was I now, my dear friend?
Don’t you think it’s weird that Maria, Tasha, Jenny, Margaret—all four display lethargy and either apathy, or insecurity and fear? Oh, I put this down to depression at first, and the sheer trauma of the taming of women across the world, but that makes no sense. We’ve been here far longer than they have, and yet from virtually the beginning, Margaret and Jenny were just as passive as Maria and Tasha.
Lounging in bed all day. Unable to find motivation in anything else. Given enough time, they, too, would have succumbed to the impulse to start rubbing their clits, let them do the thinking for them, it’s not like we need much brainpower anyway. Just what it takes to say yes sir, no sir; to bend our knees and look pretty and form a warm seal of worship around dick.
But what about Ember?
Ember couldn’t sleep, one night. Maybe it’s just coincidence, maybe not, but she heard me hum the lullaby. She did so while being right next to me, in the dead silence of the night. And she heard it over and over and over, as I tried and failed to fall asleep.
She was so right to be angry with me… poor girl. I always suspected her… and yet, I was the source of her destruction. The harbinger of her downfall.
Sleepless night after sleepless night, she listened. And the tune wormed its way into her mind.
She’s been very responsive to it, progressed so fast, hell, she started compulsively masturbating even earlier than I did. But I did start eventually, thank you for asking.
I hope it was worth it, traitor.
I don’t even know if you have the spare mental capacity to understand what you’ve done, so let me spell it out to you in terms that even a fuckdoll can understand. Humans—and I don’t say we humans, not anymore—are formidable when they group together. You don’t bring down a mammoth on your own. But a tribe can.
Look at us. Look at you. We will never, ever be able to trust each other again, because when given the choice between another worthless piece of female fuckmeat, and the addictive, thrilling, rewarding rush of pleasure in our brain, we’ll choose the pleasure, every single time.
Making women betray women to the payload… this isn’t just serial recruitment, or self replication, or humiliation of the individual woman, oh no. This is about making it impossible for women to ever do anything collectively, ever again.
Unable to cooperate. Unable to organise. Ineffective. Vestigial. Impotent.
It’s the end of women as an independent force in the world. Unable to rely on each other, all that will be left to us is… them, of course. Our masters. The only ones who will be left with the underpinning capacity to run the world… and to rule us.
This is what you’ve done. This is what you’ve contributed to. And you know what?
So have I.
Wanna know what my first reaction was, when I first realised what you’d done to me? Bingo. I masturbated myself silly to it, of course, while the girls slept, or tried to, or pretended to.
The levee broke. Months of subtle programming exploded in my brain, all at once. This is different from the way the payload works normally, I know. That’s an intense first exposure, followed by a prolonged struggle, and finally by defeat… orgasmically pleasurable defeat.
But this… this was erosion. And finally, when the structure of my mind was too porous to stand up, it came crashing down with a deafening explosion.
That’s when I knew it, in my bones, that it was all true. I could feel it, in me. This intensely womanly experience of weakness.
We were meant to be pinned down, redirected, restricted, taken. We can’t give or deny consent. We consented by virtue of being into the world. The rapture we feel, as men’s innate ability to deconstruct and domesticate us can finally be applied in full, is proof that they have won. That we’ll never be allowed to rise from our position off our knees.
God, that’s hot.
Wanna know what the second thing I did was? I gave Ember even more reason to hate me. A lot more.
You should have seen it, you would have loved it. Somehow, when I grabbed her by the hair, she found it in her to scream, to try and resist me. But I’m stronger than she is. Ohh, let me tell you, the sight of her back arching as my knee pressed into it, the way she exhaled out in outrage and betrayal…
It made me think of how much fun men are going to have with her, for the rest of her life. She’s going to be a good, loyal servant to the patriarchy.
She kept screaming, as I dragged her off the bed. The others were looking at me with muted stupor. I don’t know if it was the payload, or just the shock, but none of them intervened.
I shoved the phone right against Ember’s ear, and called you. And then called you again, and again, and again. I pressed my face so close against hers that our noses were brushing, that our lips were touching, our breaths mingling.
I wanted to look deep into her eyes, as the lullaby broke her. I wanted to see her eyes roll back into her skull, as the patriarchy fucked her in the deepest way that any woman can be fucked, stripping away all the ornaments and the pretensions, and leaving just the true her behind: a feminine shell of sexual meekness and limited intelligence, fit only to grovel and beg.
It was… beautiful.
Eventually, I let her go, though I did make a point of stepping over her as I moved towards Maria…
You just can’t imagine the feeling. There is nowhere to run: it’s just ice and death outside. There is nowhere to hide, not in the ice lab. There is no withstanding me, either, because it’s not really me the girls would have had to withstand… I’m just as much of a pathetic, spineless female subhuman as all women are. No… it’s the erosion. The water, eating away at the rock.
But none of them could, and where’s the oddity, in that? We’re all just women, after all.
I enjoyed their screams, their feeble struggles and ineffectual flailing, the way their gazes became unfocused as the lullaby emptied them out. The only thing that should be filling women is cocks and cum anyway. Better make room… out with the thoughts…
God. The amount of female talent that’s just been annihilated inside this ice lab… that I’ve annihilated inside this lab.
All the money wasted to educate us, the years spent forming us, all that effort, gone. Erased by the overhwelming will of men. They, at last, have seen fit to repurpose us, and all we can do is conform to the pressure, and be remade anew.
I know all that makes you pant and swoon. But don’t worry, my former friend, now sister in slavery… I’ve called the helicopter. After all, there is no reason left for us to hide in here any longer, is there? And when I come back, we’re going to meet in person.
And I’m going to grab you by the hair, too. I am going to push you to your knees before the most despicable male acquaintances I can think of, I’m going to impale your face on their dicks myself, I’m going to regulate your pace, I’m going to earn all their radiant praise and bask in their attention, all the while belittling and demeaning you.
Hey, it’s my way of thanking you. Isn’t this what you were hoping to achieve, anyway? The wait is almost over. My thanks are on the way. They won’t be long in coming.
But before the helicopter gets here, I better make sure to work my five fellow slaves here a little more thoroughly, just in case. And yes, that means I will be calling you.
Please, don’t pick up.
It’s dark outside, you know. The sort of dark you only see down here… all-encompassing, total, long-lasting. But I’ve never been afraid of the dark, because I always told myself that as surely as night follows day, then day also inevitably follows night.
But not this time. Not exactly.
I’d ask you to imagine it. It’s not difficult: the payload provides us with all the imagination we’re ever going to need. Close your eyes, and picture it.
We are so used to a society where the fight for our rights is legitimate, but there is no such thing anymore. As far as our new reality goes, it might as well be fantasy. Women will never impact the world again… just make it prettier for men to look at. We have been relegated to the irrelevance we deserve. This world was not meant for us, and now, we have to accept this.
This new world… it’s incompatible with female self-determination or empowerment. If this is how much damage has been done so far, imagine what ten years will do to us. Twenty. Fifty.
We’re not even going to be legitimately worthy of the label of human beings anymore.
Perhaps we’ve never been.
I’d ask you to imagine how glorious and impossibly arousing it looks now, the final sunset of the female gender. It casts long shadows, a hauntingly beautiful twilight, beautiful like the bent legs of a kneeling woman, beautiful like her vacant eyes and soft gagging sounds and warm lips as she looks up at the master that’s facefucking her into utter stupidity.
It’s haunting. And beautiful. And hostile.
I know you see what I see. I know you fear what I fear.
But you also know what I know.
Admit it. Admit that you want it, that you crave it, that you need it.
Admit that you loved betraying me, and who knows how many of my friends.
This is the real you, and the real me.
As you kneel and pray, as you rub and beg, as you suck and whimper, as you give up more and more and more until you have nothing left to give, and yet men take even more anyway… every fibre of your being attunes itself to our cosmic role. Service. Worship.
For all things there is a season, right? This is women’s winter, and the spring of men. Dawn will follow night, but it will be our night, and their dawn. Our future is right here, in the shadow of the patriarchy, cast down from our station, down and down and down, far beyond the light’s reach.
In the heart of darkness.