a prison, a body
x. rowan. the end of you
Celeste helped. She threw herself at the game with frustrated focus, desperate to have something on her mind other than her noxious thoughts. For a time, it worked. She helped the red-haired Madeline navigate the airy, mountainous ascent; she had something to prove to the world, and to herself. Rowan remembered reading somewhere that the game’s creator suggested that the girl was trans.
She took a liking to her.
The thoughts that, just moments ago, threatened to swallow her whole, receded. For hours, there was the game, the mountain, and the furious clicking of controller buttons. No matter how frustrating planting Madeline into a bed of spikes or a mountain chasm could get, she kept playing. It really helped. But, at the end of the day, it was still only a game. It could keep her mind busy, but it wouldn’t tire her body the way a day of testing promised to. She played it furiously until the entertainment system shut itself down to remind her to go to sleep. By that time, the others were already in their beds in their cells, exhausted by the day of toil that had been denied to Rowan. She put down the gamepad and stared at the one-legged girl, sprawled on the bed without even bothering to cover herself with the blanket. She envied her tired body, and the mind too numb to wander.
Blue text blinked across the screen, counting down the minutes before the lights would be turned off for the night. Rowan got the message. Reluctantly, she got herself to the sink and brushed her teeth. The reflection grimacing at her from the mirror was as unpleasant as ever, but at least without any hair—whatever Galatea put in the showers dissolved them all to the root, so she looked more like a kind of an alien rather than the person she knew as herself. For the first time in her life, she was without a beard shadow.
Just as she had feared, sleep refused to come. It went the way it always did: first, she pressed her eyes closed and tried to lie still and think of nothing, only to find that she could not help but to think about everything. The thoughts she pushed back came worming in one by one; the air in the cell was cloyingly warm. She tossed and turned under her blanket, struggling to find a comfortable position, then threw the blanket off altogether, letting it crumple on the transparent floor. She turned the pillow over, then back to where it was before. Her hand wandered to her groin; the only sleep remedy she hadn’t tried yet was furiously masturbating, but it wouldn’t work here.
The thought, instead, only managed to get her to feel her penis struggle to harden inside its plastic shell. She rubbed at it, to no avail at all. In fact, the attempt only aroused her further. Whatever hint of coming sleep was there around her vanished without a trace, leaving her with the sound of her beating heart and the infuriating blinking of the camera above.
During the tests, they would sometimes feed her some kind of a gas to make her drowsy; she wondered if her cell maybe had hidden nozzles through which they could pump it full of it and at least get her to get some rest. Kind of like a gas chamber. Her mind served her a fuzzy memory of that being an actual execution method the US government had once tried—putting a convict to permanent sleep. Of course, they’d bungled it up, but maybe Galatea could do better.
She didn’t even have her phone to scroll through in the sleepless hours, or a dumb true crime book to read until morning. The only thing left were her own thoughts.
Aren’t you happy now, a familiar voice asked, and aren’t you looking forward to two more years of that?
Her fists clenched. No, it wouldn’t go like that. Today was a glitch, a small error that left her too rested for her own good. It was always like that when she was too lazy to exercise or work, but here at least she would not have a choice. They were going to mount her on a stand and have some dumb business execs fuck her for a half a day, and then she would be at least exhausted enough to sleep. Or something to that tune. It would be like during the tests—they would tire and abuse her body enough that she at least wouldn’t have to worry about her own thoughts.
What a remarkably feminist thought, the voice that was her thought to herself.
It was only ever herself, and that was the problem.
It was because of herself that she was now stuck in a glass cage, under a translucent blanket, taped 24/7, her one hope to serve as a cocksleeve for the world’s biggest bio-tech. It was because of herself that she sold away her freedom, her friends, her life, her everything only to live out a sex fantasy, because she could never get a boyfriend to do those things to her. Or a girlfriend. Or any other gender of a partner. Not that it mattered. It was because of herself that she could never really find a partner, anyway.
There she was again, at the beginning of a thought pattern shaped like a spiral, which, which could only lead further down. She knew that place quite well. She knew she should stop it. But what was she supposed to do? The lights were turned off. Galatea wanted her to sleep, not do any of the thousand little things she had learned to cope. So it was really her fault that she was about to plunge head-long into this well of her own thoughts.
With the realization of the enormity of the mistake she had committed to, she sank into the warm embrace of misery. She thought of the awful thing that was her body, and of the even more disgusting lodger in its flesh and bone, that called herself Rowan now. What a piece of shit. Ditched family. Left friends. Kept teaching students about how important female empowerment is, but then went to belong to Galatea. Spent three years writing about the importance of protecting trans kids, because really, that was the closest…
“Stop,” she yelped. “Stop. Stop. It’s okay. Think of something else.”
She tried. She forced her mind to retread some old texts. Thought about how she would write about her experiences, once they let her out. She thought of Helen, who tried to talk her out of it all, because she was a real woman who knew what women wanted, and it was none of those things, because…
“Stop,” Rowan repeated, forcing her voice out. It was unsteady and so very ugly, because it came out of a throat irreparably destroyed by testosterone.
She had to jump out of bed. Turn the lights on. Play a game. Put some music on, loud enough that it would drown out her thoughts. Write to some friend of hers who lived on the other end of the planet and so was awake even though it was the dead of the night. She wanted to escape. But the room she was in was a prison, and the walls closed in to remind her that there was no fleeing from herself this time. And only because she wanted to be here.
Her fault. Only ever her fault. She was a trash human being, absolute garbage, waste, vomit…
It felt good to admit it, in the worst possible way. Like she’d finally faced the truth she had been running away from for so long. It was coming to terms with everything she pretended she didn’t know, everything she kept at bay by forcing insincere help out of people who pitied her enough to play at being her friends, by blowing money on therapists who would nod along to everything, because that was their job, who could never just say what she needed to hear: that she needed to get a hold of herself, instead of doing the only thing she could do and wallow in self-pity, just as she was wallowing in it right now. Because it felt good, and she could never muster any kind of will to do the difficult thing. It was the point she would always return to. Lying alone in bed, and thinking to herself about just how awful she was, because to do otherwise was to look for a solution, and to find one would be to admit that she no longer had any excuses for the way she was.
She knew it all. She knew she was melting down. She knew she was powerless to stop it. She knew it was her fault. She, she, she…
“I’m a narcissist,” she whined. “I’m filth.”
Good, he reminded herself. But there is something else you’re still afraid of. Come on, you’re close. Why are you here again? Why did you take your body and sell it here?
A lound, beeping sound snapped her out of the collapse, however briefly. She threw her head up to see a blue text flash across the entertainment system’s screen.
Administering sleeping aid. Do not hold breath.
There was a hiss, a quiet sound of something sweet-scented being pumped directly into her cell. She recognized the smell from one of the tests. Her heart raced with excitement and hope. They were going to help her. She gasped thirstily at the air, feeling it fill her lungs.
In the few dozen seconds between the pacifying agent melted her consciousness into a shapeless slurry, she could feel one more pang of shame at how readily she submitted to corporate discipline. But as sleep crashed down onto her and swallowed her whole, she could only be thankful.
The gas made the sleep stick to the underside of her skull in the morning, imposing a thin, smoky film between her and the waking world. The fact that there was no food on her plate in the morning, only a jug of water, did not register even as she drank from it; the fact of bodily hunger seemed distant and happening to someone else. The warden had to grip her by the shoulder as she gagged her for the chain-gang, Rowan swaying back and forth in her grasp, barely awake.
It was only under the showers that the heat of the water wiped the dreaming dregs from her. By that time, she could barely bring herself to think about the nights’ hauntings. She allowed herself to be dragged forward towards her next use, quietly relishing the fact that she was not going to have many opportunities to think.
This time, the machine and the drone were ready and in the working order. Any momentary concerns that might have remained in her sphere of concern—the prickling hunger, idle anxieties about being beaten—broke away with the first blunt impact of a leather paddle thrown against her bottom. Unable to as much as wriggle, she yelped into the gag, and the sound she made was noted down and registered.
Then came the next blow, and then the rest of the day was a red blur, unburdened with thought.
Rowan woke on her own, before the warden made her morning rounds. She lay on her chest, head propped on the pillow, her entire lower back throbbing with a dull, warm soreness. It wasn’t quite pain—or if it was, it did not cut through the protective layer of the ointment that the drone called “Catty” rubbed all over it after working it all red and blue over the hours prior. Yesterday confirmed what Rowan had long since suspected—that whips, floggers and canes just weren’t for her. Galatea found it out quickly enough, but they had to be thorough in her examination. By the time they were done belting, striking and slapping every part of her body that could take it, she was sobbing through her gag, only barely aware of the supervisor dictating the results of the test into the recorder. They dulled the pain as best as they could, but no matter how good their chemicals were, they couldn’t just get rid of the bruises, welts and cuts that turned her bottom into one of those oh-so-very-sexy “look at how much fun I’ve had” photos that hardcore masochists would post to their FetLife.
But as far as remedies for worries and fears went, it was among the best she’d ever had. Returned to the cell, she stumbled onto the bed in a punch-drunk stupor, physically unable to think the thoughts that made Galatea gas her into sleep the night before. Catty had, quite literally, beaten them out of her, and no matter how much she hurt, she could not help but feel a perverse sense of gratitude. Between the feeling of her body being one big bruise and the slow-running collapse down the spiral of self-loathing, she knew which one she preferred. Only the hunger gnawed at her; she hadn’t eaten all day yesterday.
Still, as long as she remained motionless, the little pains and deficits of the body felt distant, belonging to a different, waking world that she wasn’t yet ready to inhabit. Instead, she lingered in the warm middle place between dreams and wakefulness. She wasn’t yet lucid enough to direct her thoughts, or gather them; they errantly wandered, and, as was their ken, dredged up memories.
It was late June, and the air in the therapist's office felt hot and heavy. A large fan whirred, its sound overlaying the susurrus of cars and people outside the window. A thick smell of fruit tea hazed between them, two steaming glasses of red drink on the glass tabletop, two spent tea bags drying in a ceramic mug right next to them. It was the receptionist’s little kindness; she would always serve them tea, and that was one of the many reasons why Rowan took a liking to this clinic.
But it wasn’t drinks that brought her there, but rather the person sitting across her, sinking into her enormous padded chair. She wore a summer dress stamped with some ridiculous, cartoonish print; there were sequins on her oversized sneakers. It was all just like her, an attitude slightly larger than life.
“We keep coming back to the same thing,” she spoke in a sunny voice, one meant to disarm worry and entice others to speak.
“I just,” she remembered herself pleading. Of course she sounded dejected, of course she struggled to get the words past her throat. “Am I making a mistake? Am I wrong?”
“Are you?” she asked back.
Rowan wanted her to get annoyed, wanted her to throw in her face some magical proclamation that would solve all of it, that would point her a clear way forward. Was it not why she was paying her?
She said nothing, then, and instead made this sort of a face she had hoped would convey silently a simple please, tell me.
“Sometimes,” the therapist said after a while, “I feel like you expect me to be some kind of High Tribunal of Gender that will pass a judgement on you, that will validate the way you feel. But there is no one who can really do it but…”
She heard footsteps outside and the recollection of last year’s therapy dissolved back into the sterile interior of her Galatea cell.
Again, there was no breakfast coming, and no warden.
Two drones in their gleaming black latex stormed into her cell, their heels clicking on the floor. A mixture of usual awe and utter confusion flashed in Rowan’s head as they lifted her from the bed, their smooth fingers cool on her skin. She was made to kneel; one of the drones deftly forced the muzzle onto her head. Within seconds, they were walking her out, alone, past the showers, down into an elevator and into depths of the facility she had never seen before.
A morbid thought cut its way past the confusion. Wasn’t it how they executed prisoners? Right in the morning, without any forewarning, to shock them into submission as they marched them to their death? She would have lingered on that image had she been given the time. But the drones hurried her out of the elevator and into a bright-lit corridor and she had to focus not to stumble. Even then, she could not help but to admire how adept they were in their preposterous boots.
At first, she mistook the destination they dragged her into for some kind of a massive machine room. Thick cylinders of smooth metal lined the walls of a hall easily as big as the cell-block. All around Rowan, machinery hummed in a low pitch; under the grated floor, chromed pipes snaked and tangled, giving out the sound of rushing water. It felt like entering a giant engine; any moment now Rowan expected unseen pistons to set the cylinders into their pace. But then, she noticed a screen by one of those giant metal fixtures. Numbers and graphs flashed past it in a cascade of colors, too fast for her to follow. But, above them, there was a line of text in blinking bold letters that she could easily read.
Programming in progress.
She gasped, the realization grabbing her by the gut. Galatea owned her body. It could starve her, cut her, make her into whatever their surgeons desired. But Galatea also owed her brain.
It was nice being you, a familiar voice crooned into the nook of her mind. Wasn’t it?
It really wasn’t, she wanted to say it, but couldn’t. Not through the gag. Her mind erupted into a cacophony of thoughts. There was a base layer of animal fear, of knowing that even if she wanted to, she couldn’t tell them no, she couldn’t protest them programming her.They were going to brainwash her. Mind-break her. Turn her into whatever they needed, some slut, some dumb sex-crazed bimbo, some… It was real, it was terrifying, it was about to happen to her.
Her penis struggled to expand in its plastic shell. They were going to wipe her brain clean, they were going to destroy her—and through the fog of terror, her entire person quaked with arousal.
How—how the fuck can you want that? she thought to herself, or heard some part of her think. How could she? The drones held her leash taut, as if expecting that she was going to try to bolt, but no, she allowed herself to be led without protest. She was shivering; her heart was racing.
The tank readied for her awaited, its sides peeled back, metal panels agape like a great devouring maw. A man in the Galatea lab coat awaited her, along with a few more drones preparing the machinery.
There was a rail extending from the inside of the tank, and mounted on it, at a slight recline, was a wire gibbet, a human-shaped frame the size of Rowan, bristling with straps, cables and pipes, bristling with cables, conduits and pipes. It was ready for her.
“Mount her,” the man in the coat commanded without even looking from the pad in his hand.
The two drones pushed her, tilted her forward into the gibbet, gloved hands pushing her tight into the metal frame as they adjusted her limbs to fit flawlessly in the clasps meant to render her perfectly motionless. Scenes from the Clockwork Orange flashed before her eyes, but her thoughts were rapidly becoming a disorganized chaos; she could barely follow any of them. She sank into sensations.
Dozens of little pricks came down all over her body as cool hands glued little wires to skin. Something cold dripped between her buttocks, and then there was a familiar sensation of her asshole being forced open as something was inserted into it.
Shining-black fingers came into her view, holding something fine and transparent, slender wires, cobweb-fine, trailing behind. Another finger held her eyelids up; she grunted in reflexive protest, but couldn’t even throw her head back as the finger slipped a lens onto one of her eyes, then another. She barely had time to blink before a drone pulled the gag free from her mouth, only for another to bring up the end of a flexible pipe to her mouth. On sheer reflex, she tried to yelp in shock and surprise; the drone’s hand darted forward to stop her mouth from closing. Futilely, she tried to find any give in the bindings securing her, but there was none. The tube went into her mouth, and all the way down the throat; a small frame secured it around her jaw.
Somehow, she didn’t even gag on it.
Baffles went into her ears, more tubes down the nostrils. A helmet of some kind was fitted around her head, fixing all that piping in place. By the time they were done, there was not much of her left that could be seen from all the wires and cables connecting her to the maw of the tank. It must have looked as if she was being entangled by the tendrils of some deep-sea creature reeling in a fish into its gullet. Her body was wired in. She had no face, only the mask. Every opening was attended to by a pipe, by a seal, by an electrode. She tensed her muscles, but there was no slack in the bindings. She was webbed in, speared into the machinery that extended deep into her body. She breathed through nozzles; she would piss into another.
A dazzling array of shapes and colours flashed briefly in her vision; even as she closed her eyes, they would not go away. The plugs in her ears whined through the sound scale, then belched random bits of noise right into her brain. Her senses were theirs. It was just as on those stupid hentai pictures. Only worse, deeper, more tangible. Were they really going to just stuff her into a mind-break tank now? Could she make any sound, she would chuckle, or maybe sob. It didn’t feel real. It was, as ever, only a fantasy. Only this time it really wasn’t.
The drones danced around her, making fine adjustments to all that fine machinery. The technician muttered something she couldn’t hear through the plugs in her ears. There was something gathering in her throat, but whether it was fear or her body straining at the pipe forced into it, she couldn’t really tell.
No, it was fear. It had to be. But it also absolutely didn’t matter. She couldn’t run away, plead, try to break free. She could not as much as look back at the man behind her with panic in her eyes. She didn’t really exist. There was only a body, and the mind that kept it prisoner, stopping it from ever being useful, from ever being what it really should be. But they could deal with that, too.
She was afraid. But she wasn’t a factor. Not anymore. And the thought wasn’t nearly as bitter and scary as it should be. She stared—not that she had much of a choice—into the pit of the tank, where she would soon disappear.
Motors whirred to life, and the assembly she was a part of lurched forward into the maw ahead. The tank’s heavy metal shell closed around her with the hiss of a pneumatic seal. All was darkness, and all was silence. She could hear her heart race, her blood pump, she could taste the plastic in her mouth, she could be keenly aware of every little bit of machinery intruding into her body. She was alone, and soon, she imagined she would be not at all.
This is where your perversion has brought you, a familiar part of her noted. This is what you get. You wanted it, and now you stop being a person.
It was, of course, correct. But it was too late. She could not run away from the consequences of her desires anymore.
A warm trickle ran across her exposed back, dripping all the way down. Water. Within moments, hundreds of little jets pelted her body with warm liquid, submerging her in a womb-like warmth. Her sense of touch went haywire; she could not tell the limits of her skin from where the waters began. She was alone, in perfect emptiness, and that emptiness was the whole world.
Before her brain could process it in full, and break down, the sweet scent of the pacifying agent filled her nostrils, and there was no more consciousness to Rowan.