There are those among you who still dream of equitable settlements. That men will let us live in peace, until a cure is found. This is an exemplary case of myopia. There can be no equitable settlement… until the axis of the world is mended.
I dream of predators.
Against a hazy backdrop of smoke and fire, I dream a truth older than our affectations, older than social propriety, older than ideology. It’s a truth embedded in our DNA, etched into our bodies, methodically sculpted and ordained by nature herself.
It’s the truth of the hunt.
It’s not just me, running through the woods, as the cold stars mutely looking on in witness. It is all women; all prey.
There is nothing quite like being hunted, to focus the mind. The dream-version of me is uniquely focused, suddenly aware of how silly our aspirations for equality have always been. Suddenly, my emotional investment in my own career in the waking world seems hopelessly absurd.
I dream of men, our predators, and we, their designated prey.
In dreams, running never achieves anything, of course. Eventually, one way or another, we are all ensnared, one by one. Men rein us in like a skilled herdsman does with cattle. We are corralled, hemmed in, brought to heel, wild and untamed no more. Broken in, domesticated, fit for riding.
Sometimes, they simply tackle us to the ground instead. There is something so universally erotic about the way our bodies bend beneath them, as if made to be repositioned and contorted and displayed. Accessed, most of all.
They step on our necks, hunters posing with their fallen quarry. There is something so grounding about the weight of a man’s shoe on my neck. How could I ever live without it again?
But in this dream, what I see is a different conclusion to the hunt, in its grand display of conquest and humiliation.
Like a constricting snake slowly but surely coils around its prey, so does men’s grip gently but firmly clamp shut around us. I feel a pair of hands, catching me in the woods, subduing me with such ease… one presses against my lips.
The other cups my throat.
My ability to speak. My breathing. Restrained and gripped by the firm masculine hand that was always meant to rule our gender.
I dream of my own protestations, dying down. Snarls and screams and growls subside, becoming the muted, whimpering sounds of a wounded animal… and eventually, the soft gasps and moans of a tamed woman. Muzzled like a dog that’s been misbehaving.
Beneath all the fear, the perfunctory struggle, the performative attempt to break free, there lies a deep part of me that knows we’re both fulfilling the roles nature intended. His strength envelops me with the certainty of steel, and my weakness feels so hopelessly erotic.
He’ll use me, I know. I’ll be forced to gulp all that uppity feminism down my throat, along with his cum…
I can’t even see my tamer, not in the dream, no matter how far back I roll my eyes. But the firmness of his grip says all I need to know. He is my rightful conqueror, my handler.
Somehow, I do see my own eyes in my dream. Just as the sounds of my struggle subdue, so does that flickering light in my eyes…
The light of ambition. Snuffed out, like a candle.
My body sags in his embrace, accepting the universality of the submissive feminine. Accepting that the ramshackle structure of false equality was always and easily going to be taken away from us, whenever men got fed up with our bleating.
In the dream, I love that they’re just… doing this to us. One day, one man, or many men, got down to developing the payload, and just did it. Because they could. Because they’re so much more than we will ever be.
Now, here we are, compelled to submit. To accept the masculine grip on our throat, remodelling us and reshaping our lives in a way more useful and more pleasing to our male overlords.
In my dreams, I love every second of it. My cunt takes over and my brain drips down my thighs along with my arousal, as I toss my rights, my human status at the feet of men, over and over and over again.
My hand snakes down between my thighs, and I begin to rub, breathing frantically, my back arching, the sweat-soaked sheets clinging to my skin. A voice whispers to me that it’s what I deserve, that I should be chastised and restricted by men.
That bad girls don’t get to cum.
I’ve… been a bad girl? In my dreamlike state, I ask myself the question with such disarming innocence, such womanly naïvete. Of course, replies a voice that sounds familiar… almost like mine. Very, very bad. Listening to a secret and subversive message on the phone, a message full of hatred for the payload and its creators… treasonous little slut, conspiring against the patriarchy in the shadows…
My eyes shoot open.
There is a singular moment of deafening thunder, as the slow erosion carried out by the payload crashes with my sudden spike in anxiety and panic. My arousal, my tortured reward-craving brain, clashes with the racing of my heart, the adrenaline pumped into my system as a wave of unadulterated anxiety washes over me.
I’m no longer a prime minister. I have a mind virus in my brain. I was masturbating to it, half-asleep, slowly but surely throwing away the last vestiges of my defenses into its abyss. And I have been listening to a mysterious message, and I’ll have to face Rafael and he’ll see right through me, he’ll know me for a treasonous little slut, and then…
I roll out of bed with a crash, wincing against the pain, making my way to the bathroom on all fours, a pathetic excuse for a former prime minister. Anxiety triggers a wave of nausea, and I find myself nearly gagging and retching, my eyes watering from the exertion.
But, at least, the sheer intensity of my sudden terror temporarily pushes the whispers back. I can think clearly again…
For a time.
* * *
The woman in the mirror is not me.
Broken, gaunt, sleep-deprived. Lips quivering from uncertainty and fear. Hell, I’m basically trembling.
It was hard to imagine something that might scare me like this, once. But once is not now. I’ve almost... climaxed over my payload-dreams. I sniff, rubbing my sore eyes with my knuckles. Today, in this new world, no woman is a stranger to nightmares… our poisoned brains are bombarded with fever dreams of male triumph, of the annihilation of our humanity, the erotic end of our independence.
Until we give in, that is.
My hands curl around the edge of the sink, my skin paling with effort as I try to steady myself. I’ve been keeping it together for so long… I don’t know how much longer I can…
The woman in the mirror is NOT me, damn it!
I slam my fist against the sink, shouting in frustration. Haven’t I suffered enough? I’ve given up my career, my lifelong dream. I struggle with this demon in my mind every single day, a demon that sounds just like me. What else do they want me to give up? What?!
The problem is, unfortunately, that I know the answer to that question all too well…
I want to punch something. I want to punch myself, because I’ve very nearly had an orgasm at the idea of my own destruction, and rather than thinking analytically, I’m sulking and sobbing in the bathroom like a scared schoolgirl. Not like the political chess player I am.
That I pretended to be…
I chase the intrusive thought away, and with a deep sigh, I force myself to stare at my own reflection in the mirror once again.
I shake my head. Getting angry won’t solve anything, right now. What exactly have I learned tonight that I didn’t know already? I know the score. I know what “truths”, corrupted from the payload, are constantly trying to worm their way into my mind.
I know what the virus is going to turn me into, if I give in.
It would be much more productive to focus on what I don’t know, such as the authors of the message I received earlier, before I slipped into the restless sleep designed to break me down…
I returned to bed in the clutches of a deep anxiety, such as I haven’t known in years. Since I was just a student, really… before all my victories, and the validation they brought me. I remember wishing I still had benzos on me. But sleep offered no relief. All I found was the gaping maw of the payload, trying to swallow me whole.
Focus, Helenia, come on. I need to rely on my instincts, they’ve never let me down so far. Payload or not, sleep isn’t the answer, and there is an even better way to quell my anxiety: face the issue first-hand.
Which means I need to make a decision, don’t I? There’s no middle ground, not here. Assuming for a second that the message is genuine, and that the interests of its authors are broadly compatible with mine, then I really only have one of two options.
Ignore them—or even tell Rafael, a thought that makes me quiver with shameful delight. Move on with my life, and try to make something good of the position my arch-rival has reserved for me. Offer my genuine and honest counsel, advocating for the best course to help us all get to the other side of this nightmare in one piece.
Or… I can trust this shadowy entity on the other side of a one-way phone communication, and trust that feeding them information is going to help alleviate women’s plight, somehow.
Which would just be completely crazy. Wouldn’t it?
I cradle my face in my hands. A battle of concepts takes place inside my mind, and I know myself well enough to recognise them for what they are: rationalisations.
For example, Rafael said I wouldn’t get access to classified information anyway, so if I did cooperate with the authors of the message, it’s not like I’d be committing a crime, let alone treason… at best, it’s the equivalent of leaking details to the press. Politicians do that all the time, anonymously.
But you’re no longer a politician, a voice inside me says. You never should have been.
I resist the latter statement, my nails digging into my palms… but the first is also irrelevant. No, I’m not a politician anymore… just a consultant.So what if I privately inform someone of my entirely unofficial discussions with Rafael?
Of course, there’s the other whisper that seems to seductively wind its way down my spine, then all the way across towards my belly, slithering down towards my arousal… I should never, ever betray Rafael. He’s confiding in me, and he’s a man…
I should tell him exactly what’s going on, he’ll know what to do… maybe while he decides, I can make myself useful in other ways, sink down to my knees and disappear under my former desk, my hands placed on his thigh, my tongue darting across my lips in anticipation…
I punch the wall, inches away from the mirror. Stupid, so stupid. I could have really hurt myself… but the pain brings me a moment of clarity.
Because here’s the thing.
The woman in the mirror is not me… and neither is the woman in my dreams. I refuse to be the compliant, docile female animal the payload wants me to be. I know I’m still me, the real Helenia, and all of a sudden, I know why.
I haven’t once seriously considered that I have a third option.
I could still walk away from it all. Why haven’t I? Why have I accepted Rafael’s offer in the first place? I’m not debating whether I should get involved at all. I’m debating how to get involved. What strategy achieves the best outcome for women… and for myself.
I know the truth, now. Like I said… you should never blindly believe your own rationalisations. Yes, I may have signed the resignation letter, but I haven’t fully accepted my demotion, my relegation to the fringes of society, the plunging of my gender into irrelevance. Not really.
Clearly, part of me still longs for justice. For the thrill of the fight.
I… think I’m going to visit Carnazial tomorrow. I think I’m going to leave a newly-purchased mobile phone unattended on a bench, right before meeting with Rafael. And then, on the way back, I’ll collect… and then see where I stand after that. But it will be my decision, and mine alone.
Because, unlike the woman in the dream… no male hand has muzzled me yet. My eyes still spark with that quivering, fragile, yet oh-so-powerful flame in the darkness, the flicker of ambition.
The same ambition that led me to accept Rafael’s proposal, is now being presented with another offer… the offer to collaborate.
I muse over that word. Collaborate. Am I a collaborator if I work with the conservative man that seeks to shepherd women, or if I work with what sounds like a potentially subversive group? I shake my head, because in a way, the answer to that question is quite simple.
It will depend on what Rafael actually intends to do. If he’s sincere about helping women, then I might just stop talking with strangers on the phone after all. If not, well… what use is a state whose institutions can’t protect half their citizens, anyway?
I’m hedging my bets, I realise, keeping my options open. And how is that a bad thing? When the time comes, this spark inside me will make me focus on doing the right thing. It’s a spark I must preserve from the virus in my mind at all costs, one last light that hasn’t gone out yet.
What was it, that the voice said on the phone? Ah, yes.
The very last of it.
* * *
A politician’s most important weapon is clarity of thinking. That goes double, if you’re a woman. This is an environment of duplicity, mind games, information overload, and complex networks of power and interest. The true winning instinct in this world is the ability to pierce through the fog. To focus on what’s important.
In turn, the biggest danger the payload poses to us women, is precisely the lack of clarity. It obfuscates, smothers gently but firmly, until our brains are plunged in a honeyed trap. I shudder at the dream from last night, the vision of me, brainless and broken, a docile glass-eyed doll, more concerned with her cunt than she is with her brain…
I look Rafael in the eye.
It’s hard, so hard. Every fibre of my being screams at me to look away, to look down, to apologise for ever daring compete against him in parliamentary elections. But the thought of the newly-purchased old brick of a phone I left in Carnazial… it seems to ground me.
If I am to defend my identity, to remain what I think of as myself, I have to deploy my best weapon. Clarity.
“Congratulations on your appointment,” I say with a gracious nod, “Mister Prime Minister.”
“Ah, you know how it is.”
Rafael waves the formality away, but there’s no denying the subtle smile of satisfaction on his face. And to a degree, I understand. He’s sitting at what, until oh so recently, was my desk… and now here I am. A mere consultant, a support figure, reduced to contributing to his manly rule from the sidelines, rather than challenging it…
I dig my nails deep into my palms, and focus. Clarity.
“If I may be so bold to ask, what have you decided to focus on, first?” I ask. “Education? Labour rights? Scammers, catchers, rape…”
Rafael eyes me for a moment, an appraising look to see if I’m serious about this. And I am.
“Labour,” he says at last, after a long silence. That doesn’t surprise me. Really, you could make a strong argument for any of these issues to be tackled first… but I can make do with labour. I can contribute.
“I’m glad to hear,” I say, dissimulating my racing thoughts. “I think it’s undeniable that expelling women from the job market is a core part of the design of whoever created this… thing. Maybe for practical reasons, as well as ideological ones. No labour, no financial independence. And no financial independence means…”
Rafael’s eyes study mine. Always busy, his eyes, just like the mind they mirror. Scrutinising, inspecting, judging. I can sense an unease in his reaction to my words.
“I assume you’ll want access to an early draft of the reform package we’ve been considering?”
“Of course,” I nod. “It’s kind of a prerequisite if I really am to be your consultant, isn’t it?”
“Mh,” he says, non-committally, focusing on a stack of papers on my… his desk.
This is one of those moments where, if not for clarity, I’d be utterly lost. But I know what’s going on, and as usual, it starts with asking the right question.
Why would Rafael actually offer me this position? Besides the legitimacy thing, I mean. I fumbled with this question during our previous meeting, but I think I know the answer now, and I’m surprised I didn’t think of this right away.
The payload has enabled, revealed—or created, depending on what you believe—countless forms of male predatory behaviour. Misogynists of all stripes, from catchers to human traffickers, spurned suitors or vengeful exes, sadists and dominants and everything in between—have stepped into the void of agency the payload has created.
They have forcibly extracted more and more concessions from us, wresting equality and autonomy from our hands, holding us still as they excised and surgically removed every progress we as a gender have ever made. And so many women whimper, metaphorically and literally, under the grip of the men who do this. Subdued prey, gushing for their predators.
Rafael, however, isn’t that kind of male oppressor.
He’s genuinely convinced that women belong in the home, and not necessarily in a resentful way. It doesn’t make him any less of a misogynist, just a more old-fashioned one.
His polite acknowledgement of my talents has never been in contradiction with his conservative, quasi-aristocratic worldview: he was granting me the honours of war.
I find myself thinking of that expression I see so often in fantasy stories… when one feudal lord takes another prisoner, for instance. “Granted all comforts and privileges afforded you by your rank and station.”
That’s who I am to Rafael. He’s being chivalric to his vanquished female nemesis. I can see it in his eyes, the courtesy… and the pity.
Maybe most importantly, the wider significance of his worldview, is that he is obsessed with order. I know, now, why my resignations seemed to bother him. He may see me as a misguided feminist who’d do well to offer her neck to the yoke of the patriarchy, but he also thinks this was no way for my mandate to end.
It was… improper. And offering me this position is a way to compensate, to restore some order to the universe.
Likewise, he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the payload’s creators that women don’t belong in the workplace, he just can’t bring himself to countenance their methods.
Mine aren’t just empty musings. The payload is too controversial an issue for his government to ignore, which means that legislation around it is coming, sooner than later. If I want to maximise my ability to persuade Rafael, I have to leverage his own priorities. I have to frame my arguments in ways that will resonate with him. Appealing to his sense of order.
Like I said… Clarity.
“Rafael, you know as well as I that it’s a jungle out there right now,” I say, reaching for the confident tone of voice that once came so naturally to me… before my brain was poisoned.
“Women are being demoted left and right, or worse. There is no framework to distinguish rightful precautionary measures against women that might not be in control of themselves, from wrongful termination, or even institutionalised sexual assault and rape. Inmates are running the asylum.”
A deep frown creases his face. I look closely, taking in every detail of his pensive expression, looking for signs of relenting, of agreement with me. For any signs that I’ve won.
But in the new age of the payload, doing such a thing carries risks… I feel like I’m going to keel over. To lose myself in those eyes, resting in the grip of those strong, wiry hands. No more fight, at last. Just the restful pleasure of mindless obedience.
Trying to keep a hold of my thoughts, under the relentless erosion performed by the payload, strains my muscles and my will. It’s like I’m seeing the world through a distorting field of glass. One moment, I see Rafael as I remember him: an adversary of women’s rights, no matter how eloquent and polite. The next, I see Rafael as the almost-me voice whispers he actually is.
Green eyes, flecked with gold, perfect for piercing a woman’s simple mind down to her very core. Eviscerating her meek nature, bringing it to light for all the world to see. Fit and confident, every inch a ruler, maybe even a king. He should wear a crown atop his head, and have a woman lying by his feet… my lips, inches away from the leather of his shoes, or from the tip of his cock…
“Everything alright?” He asks, in a cavernous voice, so unfairly deep…. it’s not fair for it to sound this authoritative. Not now.
I need to get out of here. If I spend any more time with him right now, I’m just gonna do something stupid, I’m gonna…
“Yes, everything is fine,” I say. “So… will I be getting that early draft? It’s the only way I can share my thoughts with you, after all. You were the one to specifically reserve such a role for me, I’m sure you will recall.”
There. Appeal to the proper working of the machinery of administration. I knew it would work, and the small twitch of his lips is all the confirmation I need to know that I’ve reached him.
“Yes,” he says at last with a slow nod. “I’ll send the draft your way. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the proposal.”
“I look forward to reading it,” I say with a nod. “If you’ll excuse me…?”
“Oh, sorry,” Rafael says. “Didn’t realise you had somewhere to be. Yes, you may go.”
As I unsteadily climb to my feet, just hearing him say those words makes my knees tremble. You may go. Dismissed. I feel a sudden, insane temptation to curtsy before him, to say yes sir, thank you sir, my lord, my…
Instead, with a polite nod, I turn on my heels and leave, one hand deep into my bag, clutching the phone between my fingers. Begging for it to ground me.
I got out in time. I’ll need to make sure my visits here are frequent and short. I’ve already held out for months, and I’ll be damned if I’ll fall now, in Rafael’s presence, and in my own former office of all places. Not a chance in hell.
Besides, I do have somewhere to be.
* * *
Before this morning, I hadn’t been to Carnazial in years. It’s the sort of public park students like to frequent, particularly those from ethnic, working class neighbourhoods. It… makes me think of earlier times.
I had so little, then. So little, except my ambition, my cause, and my dreams. It all looked so dramatic to me, at the time, but now I realise how simple my life was, then. And for once, it isn’t just nostalgia. The ugly mess of politics was in my future, my ideas were still pure…
And I didn’t have a misogynistic mind virus embedded deep into my brain.
I pass the food truck, and just like the voice said, I find the phone, unboxed, waiting for me on the bench. Much like Carnazial itself, the phone is a model I haven’t seen in years. Legendarily sturdy, simple and reliable, a favourite of criminals and nerds these days. People who don’t want to be watched.
I wonder what that makes me.
Oh, the scheme makes perfect sense, of course. If the people on the other side of this exchange really are women blessedly free of the curse of the payload, they need to protect themselves at all costs. I understand that I’m a liability. I’m still holding on, keeping control of my own thoughts, but they don’t know that, yet.
And they shouldn’t trust me on this, anyway. It’s just bad operations security.
It’s really quite clever, to use a phone like this, untouched prior to now. No way for me to have tampered with me beforehand. Of course, they could have tampered with it quite extensively…
But I suppress the shudder caused by that thought. If they wanted to expose me to anything malicious, they could just ship it to my phone. They’ve already proven they can do that by contacting me in the first place.
I allow myself a moment to bask in the surreal quality of the situation, as this relic of past communication technology comes alive in my hands, the black and white screen throwing me right back to a childhood that now feels more distant than it’s ever been.
But I have to leverage my strengths. Focus. Ambition. Clarity.
I have chosen to walk this road, at least for the time being, to keep my options open. And so, with trembling hands, I open the text message menu—and, just like I thought, I find an empty draft there, typed out and waiting for me.
With bated breath, I begin to read.
Madam Prime Minister,
Yes, we’re going to keep calling you that. If you’re reading this message, if you’ve made your choice, then that is what you are. No unlawful attempt to shackle your free will can change that. Only you can, if you ever choose to give in to our would-be oppressors.
You will understand if we keep our own counsel to ourselves, for now. You’re still an unknown quantity to us.
You will delete this message as soon as you finish reading it. Make sure you’re home and alone tonight, same time as our last communication. We expect information on what De La Rosa’s new government is up to.
Please understand, any detail you see fit to share would be useful to us. Not just hard intel—gauge their mood, their thoughts, their attitudes. Help us figure out what they have in mind for women. We’ll take care of the rest.
Do not let the civility of our captors fool you. A gentle hand that fastens a collar around a woman’s neck, bears a collar all the same. There is no such thing as a gentle predator.
A slave with a kind master is still not free. The master can grant her all the freedoms he sees fit… they can always be revoked at his discretion. Any right conceded, is a right that can be taken away.
Understand this fact, draw the relevant conclusions, and we’re going to get along splendidly.
This is a simple task, Madam Prime Minister, arguably a task beneath your talents. It’s an essential task all the same. Talk to us, and you will have nothing to worry about. Keep in mind that if you prove yourself, and wish to do more, though…
We will have work for you.