a prison, a body

i. rowan. what do you have to lose?

by gargulec

Tags: #cw:sexual_assault #D/s #drones #pov:bottom #sub:female #transgender_characters #bondage #exhibitionism #sadomasochism
See spoiler tags : #robots #scifi

Someone unaware of what Galatea Corporation traded in would be easily excused for mistaking the lobby for an exhibition hall for the newest trends in green brutalism. The bright, warm light seeped from above, illuminating rows of carefully maintained potted trees, their canopies throwing natural-like shade over gravel alleyways running in beds of smoothed concrete. The slightly damp air smelled of spring in full bloom even as winter closed on beyond the building walls. In little alcoves, corporate clerks wove stories of fulfillment and self-mastery in Galatea resorts to clients seated on inconspicuously expensive Scandinavian furniture. Every detail was calibrated to give an air of easy opulence, of the kind of vast wealth that needed not to ever brag.

Careful not to stumble in her new heels, Rowan shuffled deeper inside, the file with all her documents gripped close to her chest. She couldn’t tell if the building soothed or intimidated her - perhaps both. What it did for sure was confuse, however. There was no reception desk, no clear direction to take. The paths through the greenery twisted and turned, making her feel more like she was getting lost in a park rather than visiting a corporate center. Hoping to maybe find some map or a guide, she stopped by a rack of glossy magazines, sheltered from the irrigators by a small, corrugated iron roof. But they were just the same masterpieces of typesetting and corporate marketing that she had been flicking through. But they were just the same catalogues she spent the last year of her life idly flicking through at night, mono-colored masterpieces of typesetting whose innocent, simplistic covers barely hinted at what they offered inside. Increasingly anxious, she looked around to find any sort of a direction.

“How can I help you, Mr…?”

She could barely restrain a gasp of panic; in the susurrus of the inside-park she didn’t hear the clerk approach. Forcing a polite smile onto her face, she turned to face him.

He was young, the corporate livery - a kind of Space Age vision of a formal wear, all shiny synthetics - accentuating his already slender frame. Black gloves clung close to his dainty hands, creaking very quietly with his every move. There was a smile on his face, so warm and earnest, that Rowan felt herself relax a little.

“Miss,” she corrected, doing her best to keep the voice pleasant and level. “I have an appointment with human resources.”

“Ah, I am so sorry,” he bowed his head apologetically. “I must have mistaken you for someone. Miss Edilinsky, I assume?”

“In the flesh,” she nodded.

As outlandish as his uniforms was, it was his eyes that stood out the most. They were blue - but not the usual pale grey, but rather piercing, vivid cobalt. It was on enhancements like that that Galatea made its reputation, and it seemed that the corporation spared none of its gifts, even for its doormen.

“In that case, please follow me,” he offered, straightening. “I will take you to your interview.”

He waited for her to give him go-ahead before picking a path between the concrete tree-pots that she didn’t even notice. He walked quickly and confidently. Once, Rowan would have no trouble keeping up, but now she had her new shoes to deal with. She struggled to follow, stumbling and almost tripping several times before they reached the elevator door.

“It’s difficult,” she mumbled by the way of apology as he pressed the button to summon it. “I’m…”

“I’m sure you will get the hang of it soon enough,” he replied without even a hit of condescension in his voice. He sounded sincere enough to actually reassure. She breathed out and reminded herself that she had better things to be anxious about than her small personal failures.

Thankfully, the inside of the elevator was kept in the same careful illusion of wear and tear as the rest of the building; the last thing she wanted now was to see herself reflected in the polished surface of the elevator wall and confirm her suspicion that her two-piece dress made her look positively freakish. For once, however, the clerk did not as much as gawk once. All through the short elevator trip he maintained polite silence before opening the door for her several floors up.

“Straight ahead,” he instructed as she entered a small, but no less tactfully arranged corridor. “First door on the left. You may enter when ready”

Rowan took a deep breath. So this was it? Suddenly, she felt her stomach lurch, and a sense of vertigo hit her like a truck. She swayed to the side, holding onto a wall just to keep herself upright.

“Are you alright, Miss?” the clerk’s voice reached her as if through thick water. She exhaled and tried to stop the world from spinning around her head. So this was it.

“Yes, I just…,” she bit her lip. “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

“Yes. Its employees only, but I can open it for you, if you need.”

“Thank you,” she mumbled, feeling the usual spike of anxiety when things like that came up. What if he was going to say something, imply that…? She strained, trying to get the thought killed before it could mature. It is not like she was supposed to care what he thought about all of that. None of his business.

Still, she coudln’t help but to feel relieved when the washroom turned out to be unisex. She lingered at a sink for a time, splashing her face with cold water, fingertips tracing the few places where the razor cut the skin. Fewer than usual - she did a great job this morning. With a little bit of effort, she smiled even as her eyes avoided the mirror.

“You want this…,” she hesitated, before reminding herself, “girl.”

By the time she left, face thoroughly drenched and then just as carefully dried, the vertigo was completely gone, replaced instead by a kind of lightheadedness; even the knot in her gut that had been tied so tightly for past months seemed to loosen a bit.

“You want this, girl,” she repeated to herself, stopping briefly in front of the indicated door. She blew her life up already. This was just wiping the rubble. Besides, Galatea never took those it could really harm. At least that’s what the internet said. And maybe this tugging in her groin was more than just stress. Maybe it was also arousal. So what if it was?

Mustering her courage, she knocked.

“Come in!”

The office inside was a small replica of the hall below, with all the free-growing greenery replaced by massive viviara, huge glass tanks containing whole slices of ecosystems. The flowers blooming inside were so spectacularly eye-grabbing that it took her a moment to even notice the desk in the back, empty but for a large computer screen.

“I, too, can’t stop being impressed,” she heard someone speak. A genial-looking man with an old-time doctor’s round glasses adorning his face emerged from behind one of the tanks, extending her a hand.

“Marius Vujkowic,” he introduced himself as she shook. “And you must be Miss Rowan Edilinsky, right?”

She nodded, and felt a pang of sheer disgust. He was a good head shorter than her, even before the heels. She looked away, trying to hide her expression. It wasn’t about him. It wasn’t his fault she was this ungainly.

“Please, take a seat,” he pointed her towards a cushioned chair, himself slumping behind the desk. “You are here for the interview, yes?”

“Y… yes,” she managed to stutter through a suddenly dry throat. She sat down, cross-legged, file on her knees and hands folded over it.

“It’s understandable that you’re stressed then,” he smiled, not without empathy. “It’s a big decision you are making.”

Thank you, she mouthed without saying anything.

“If I remember correctly, you applied for a full two-year contract,” he continued, “all autonomies waived, and then a possibility for an extension…,” he squinted at her, then theatrically slapped his forehead. “Oh, where is my hospitality! You look positively parched, should I get you something to drink? Coffee? Tea? Water? Cocoa! Some sugar would do you good.”

“Yes, please,” she blurted. “That would be great.”

“Should have had one ready already, I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed, grabbing a phone from below the desk. “Minnie, two cocoas please. And quick!” he barked. “Anyway,” he added, putting it down, “how do you like our lobby, Miss Edelinsky? It received several architecture prizes last year, I’m told.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said after a moment of hesitation. “Do you get lost there, too?”

“Oh, not anymore,” he laughed. “But first few months? We even had to call Forest Rangers once!”

The joke, however stale, made her chuckle. She smiled, then exhaled.

“I have all the required documents with me,” she said, opening the file. Her hands weren’t even shaking more than usual any longer. “Medical examinations,” she passed him a few sheets of paper, “including a psychiatrist’s note. Employment and education history. Personal questionnaire. Cover letter. I have already attached everything to the application.”

“Yes, we saw. Very thorough. It speaks well of you. You know, it’s just a formality, we need the paper copies for,” he frowned playfully, “bureaucratic reasons. Everything seemed in order when we checked. Still, I must ask you a few questions. Let’s start with education. You have a PhD?”

She bit her lip.

“In history, yes. Defended my dissertation earlier this year. Is this a problem?”

“Oh, not at all. But…,”

Before he could finish, the door behind him opened, and Rowan just gasped. The person delivering the coffee tray was clad head to toe in hard, reflective plastic, polished to a mirror sheen. She couldn’t even see its face, hidden behind a plane of smooth material, nor determine its gender. Two sounds accompanied each move it made: a soft creak of rubber, and a jingle of the short chain running between its ankles. And yet, even though its feet were locked in heels easily twice as high as Rowan’s, it walked with easy confidence as it delivered the tray to the desk. She couldn’t even tell if the sight made her more aroused, or just plain jealous.

Only as Marius stood up and removed the steaming cups from it did she notice that it did not exactly carry the tray - in fact, its arms were secured stiff to its sides. The tray was simply attached to its torso. It lingered a moment, as awaiting further commands, and then vanished back behind the door. As it did, any doubts Rowan had about what she was feeling vanished. She was just happy she put the file over her groin.

“You like what you see,” Marius observed as the figure left the room without a word.

“Is… it that obvious?” she murmured, looking aside and feeling a blush creep up her cheeks.

“It is,” he replied with an easy smile. “Just look at yourself. Besides, you put it in your questionnaire. Anyway, what were we talking about… Ah! Ah, all I was saying is that it is rare for people with your sort of education to arrive here.”

“I just need a change in my life,” she reached for one of the mugs, feeling the warmth of the drink spread through the thick ceramic. “My career can wait.”

“Wouldn’t it endanger it, however?” he asked, grabbing his own cup and wrapping his hands tight around it. “It’s a long break you want to take.”

“Maybe? I’m already endangering it plenty anyway. Plus, to write an insider story of the Galatea resorts...,” she shrugged. “As you said. Few people in my field ever had such experiences.”

Infuriatingly, it was enough to start talking shop to both the arousal, and stress to start to fade away. She sipped at the cocoa, savouring the sweet taste. Too sweet, probably, although there was something oddly comforting in the notion that at least their drinks weren’t perfect.

“That’s not an uncommon reasoning,” Markus said. “Although I must warn that our NDAs are quite stringent. Our business courts controversy, and we’ve had more than a few journos apply just to get the scoop. Looking for that expose of the century! Unfortunately, we had to take precautions.”

She scowled, even though it was hardly a surprise. One could scarcely google Galatea without running into one of the million conspiracy theories about what they were up to, all fuelled at least partially by their notorious secrecy and a privacy policy to match CIA blacksites.

“I am just trying to justify my decision to myself,” she replied instead. “I mostly write about historical trans movements anyway. It is not like they are going anywhere in two years. Or more.”

“Quite,” he agreed. “Make no mistake. As long as you do not break your agreements, the fact that you have a PhD is not a problem for us. Nor an incentive, to be honest,” he chuckled and the off-handed dismissal made her just press the file stronger down, hiding her body’s reaction. “Although it will be a novelty. In any case, I also have to ask - in case of an accident, you’ve asked us to notify one… Helen Hu?”

“She’s my friend.”

“Not family, though.”

A sting of frustration cut through arousal again. Why must it always come back to them?

“We are not on speaking terms anymore,” she replied, hoping that the tone of her voice would tell everything she didn’t want to say out loud. “I hope to keep it that way.”

“I see. Well, it is not my job to pry into that,” he agreed, and again a small wave of relief washed over her. “I just had to make sure there was no mistake here. With that out of the way…,” he reached below the desk and dropped a small stack of documents between the cocoa mugs, “let’s talk shop. Miss Rowan Edilinsky, in the name of the Galatea Corporation, I am pleased to announce that after review, we have decided to provisionally accept your application.”

And suddenly, the anxiety rammed her straight back in the gut. Oh shit, a part of her screamed. She knew that it was coming. She knew that extremely few of the applicants invited for an interview were ever rejected. That they would never reject someone for the reasons she was sure they were going to reject her. The internet told her so. And yet, even now she could not help but to think that it was a joke, and that she was about to get told off. With shaky hands, she put the mug, careful not to spill.

“When you sign these,” he continued, tapping an end of a pen at the papers, “for the duration of at minimum two years, you will waive your rights to privacy, property, physical freedom, consent, bodily autonomy, and, ultimately, personhood. It is really amazing what they allow us corporations these days.”

He chuckled at that, with the full-bodied laughter of someone in power. She tried to patch it, but what came out was a dry cough. And yet, as she stared at the pile of documents, she felt doubts wash away, or maybe peel off, like scabs. She felt at the stiffness in her crotch and breathed out. Her dad did always say to think with her brain, not her dick. But he said many other things, and most of them were just awful so why was she to listen to him on this one? Fuck him. Fuck everything he stood for.

“Essentially you will become the property of Galatea Corporation. You will be moved to an undisclosed location, and then used as we see fit, most likely for sexual work. You will be subjected to any and all performance-enhancing alterations we will find necessary, including invasive surgeries.”

It was the last bit that clinched it. She had dreamed about it ever since she opened the Undone Gender catalog and saw what their surgeons can do.

“Afterwards, you will be compensated for the time served, according to the base sum established in the contract and any potential bonuses earned. You will also receive a lifetime premium access to services of the Galatea Corporation world-wide. Please ask any and all questions you may have now.”

She drew the stack closer and just flicked through it. It was not like legalese inside was something she could ever hope to understand, other than by knowing it was designed precisely in the way to disempower her now and ever. The decision she was about to make was a bad one, or at least not one to be made by someone with a life to lead. But then again, what did she have to lose, exactly?

“Can I have the pen?” she asked.

“Are you sure?”

She thought how being reduced to a thing, someone great corporation’s cocksleeve for hire, or worse, would go old fast. Of how the initial rush of doing away with her life would fade and leave her trapped in a contract making her an absolute legal nothing. Idly, she twisted the pen between her fingers, and thought of the lousy apartament she could return to, and of making sure the light is off in the bathroom as much as possible, as to avoid the accident of taching a glimpse of her face in the mirror.

“Do you want me?” she asked instead.

“Of course we do,” and the whiff of sincerity in her voice was reason enough.

She pushed the pen to the paper and scrawled a signature. Once, twice, as many times as she had to. Then, she shoved the whole stack his way.

“There, I’m yours.”

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