a prison, a body

xiv. helen. the blowjob engine

by gargulec

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

Helen sat on the edge of her bed, phone pushed to her ear, her entire body tense with anticipation.

“Well…” the voice at the other end—one belonging to a woman who, she knew, five years ago, dyed her hair pitch-black and wore a Therion shirt to a group photo—hesitated. “No, I don’t think I should do this.”

Helen mulched a swear in her mouth and resisted the urge to toss the phone away.

“Miss Hryshko, I insist,” she tried instead, but without much hope that it was going to accomplish anything. She could recognize a pattern. “This is very important, and could lead to…”

“I’m sorry, but I’m terribly overworked these days,” the woman curtly replied. “Maybe we could arrange something in six months, but generally I don’t think that talking to the press is something I’d like to be doing with my life. You’re all liars, anyway.”

Fuck you too was her first thought in response to that. I’m not press was the second.

“Can you at least recommend me someone else, then?” she asked instead, forcing herself to keep the brown-noser’s attitude up.

“No. And please don’t call again,” she replied with the collected, calm rudeness of someone used to being in charge. She had to give it to Hryshko, her go fuck yourself voice was just about pitch-perfect. Before Helen could say anything back, the woman hung up.

Still suppressing the desire to just smash the phone against the floor, she dropped it onto her desk, then, reluctantly, reached for her notepad and scratched out another name from the list. Out of ten former Pygmalion employees that she had managed to identify, she’d found contact information for seven. Five of them had responded to her email or DMs, three expressing various degrees of disinterest in talking with her about their old work; one was polite enough to mention that they had no desire to talk with someone affiliated with a “communist” website. And then there was Marianna Hryshko, who’d asked Helen to call her only to blow her off as of about thirty seconds ago, and one Anatol Kownicki, who’d agreed to an interview. It’d made Helen extremely happy until she’d noticed that he was currently in Anchorage. There were apparently budget tickets available, but the idea of a round flight to Alaska seemed a little bit much for a pursuit of a personal obsession.She stared at the notepad hatefully, tapping the side of it with the pen. There was nothing to be mined from this.

The laptop waited on her desk, reminding her of the other work she had to do. But doing so would mean having to open her mail, and she really didn’t want to see another urgent reminder from Anna about a deadline she was about to miss, or a strong exhortation from Hank that they should hang out so that he could convince her to “release the footage”. Also, knowing herself, she would end up checking on Rowan again just to kill time and see her floating in that nightmarish tank. She was in no mood for that, and, disturbingly, not even because it would upset her. She had looked at that scene so much over the past few days that whatever shock it’d initially caused had long since diminished to a vague sense of distaste. Idly, she considered if that meant that she was just becoming hardened to sexual horror, but even if that was the case, it would be a concern for later.

It was entirely possible that Hank was, after all, correct in his assessment that the thing she should be doing instead was handing over the footage of Rowan to the media. At least theoretically, she could see the way it might work: that sort of stuff was bound to cause a scandal, and maybe even bring down some scrutiny over the sort of practices that happened in Galatea’s laboratory dungeons. It was entirely possible that she should be working on that. But even if watching what happened to Rowan herself could no longer stir her to nausea, the idea that she could be the one responsible for publishing it to the entire made her sick to the stomach. How could she face her friend—if, by some miracle, she ever returned to the world—and admit that it was because of her that any weirdo on the internet could find out the exact recording of the years of her humiliation and abuse?

Maybe she could edit the footage, preserve the anonymity, but what would happen then? Wouldn’t people see her body and go “oh look at this dude being fucked silly, he must be so lucky”? No, that would not do. Besides, if Galatea could change labour laws, then they could handle fallout for something like this—routinely, even. God only knew what kind of PR wetwork they could pull out to…

And what if they had done before? Maybe this wasn’t even the first time they’d played a game like that with a friend or loved one of someone they’d taken. Maybe this was part of some arcane plan that kept everyone silent—why would Helen be so special?

Her phone rang with a shrill sound. She glanced at it, and then picked up instantly, so as to not give the other person a chance to reconsider.

“Helen Hu speaking.”

“Okay,” Hryshko sounded even more annoyed than before. “You want to talk to someone? Fine. Talk to Hurban. I’ll send you the number. And serious, don’t ever fucking call me again.”

“Thank…” the woman disconnected before she could finish. But she hadn’t lied. Fifteen seconds later, her phone buzzed, announcing that a contact had been passed to her, simply labeled “Hurban”.

It was not a name she recognized, but that wasn’t particularly suspicious by itself. As far as she could tell, she’d identified no more than half of people who, at various times, had worked for Pygmalion. This Hurban had to be one of those nameless faces from the photo. Still, she threw his name into Google. Unfortunately, however, he apparently shared it with some Slovak national hero. She tried Hurban Pygmalion, only to be asked by the browser if she meant “Urban Pygmalion”, at which point she gave up and just dialed the number, dearly hoping that the man wasn’t living in some time zone where it was the middle of the night right now.

One bell, two bells, three. He picked up at the fourth, just as she was getting ready to hang up.

“Hello, who’s calling?” he spoke with a bit of a slur.

“Mister Hurban?” she probed.

“Who’s calling?” he repeated, clearly annoyed.

“My name is Helen Hu, I represent…”

“Are you a telemarketer?” he cut in.

“No!” she called out quickly, hoping he would not disconnect. “I am from the New Labourers’ Oral History Project.”

“Never heard from it,”

That didn’t surprise her.

“It’s a NGO working to preserve the testimonies of workers in contemporary industries, and…” she began to explain, quietly praying that he would not find that too “communist”, “...and I....”

“It’s a mistake, I think,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m no labourer. I don’t even know how you managed to get my number, but…”

“I am aware, Mr. Hurban,” she interrupted. “But I am presently working on a piece on the history of Galatea Corporation,” a small white lie like that wouldn’t hurt, she assumed.

“Go on,” he murmured in response.

She breathed out a sigh of relief. He sounded interested.

“I am told you have worked for the Pygmalion before Galatea acquired it.”

“I did,” he said, after a pause. “How did you find me?”

She hesitated, but then decided that the woman had been rude enough so there would be no moral obligation to cover her. Thank God she wasn’t an actual investigative journalist.

“Marianna Hryshko sent me your number and said you may be interested in answering a few questions,” she said. Again, it was technically true.

“That bitch!” the man roared in laughter. “She’s siccing press on me now. Classy move, Mari, fucking classy.”

So the two had a history together, and apparently Helen was now becoming a part of it. Her heart sank. This did not bode well.

“I assure you, I have no ulterior motive here, I just wanted to learn about Pygmalion and Mircea Leon.”

“Leon, that creep?” there was another burst of laughter. “Oh God, girl, there are some photos I could show you!”

“There is no need,” she blurted. Was Hurban the man who’d leaked those? She felt less excited to be talking to him. “I am aware of those photos. It’s not what interests me.”

“Then what is?” he asked, genuinely surprised. “Seriously, that was the most interesting thing Leon ever did, at least before he fucking pulled the ground from under our feet.”

“What did he do?”

“Oh, that’s one hell of a story,” Hurban murmured, “but miss, it’s actually late here and I would like to get some sleep. If you want to know, call me tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she said, disappointed. “Five in the afternoon?”

“It’s a date. ‘Til then, bye bye.”

He disconnected first, leaving her with a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Why did no one want to talk to her? Why the moment she found someone willing, he postponed the conversation? It felt like being stuck in one of those thriller stories. Was she about to find Hurban in the news tomorrow, mysteriously disappeared? The same way Leon went? Was she really turning into a conspiracy nut?

She scowled at that. Even since her talk with Hank, she felt generally better, or at least knew what her problem was. But this meant that instead of being constantly annoyed and frustrated, she just felt bitter and somewhat crazy. She was sinking more and more time into a desk investigation of a defunct company and voraciously reading everything published on Galatea. Broadly, it fell into two categories: tech people obsessing over miracle science that the corporation pioneered and feminists going completely apeshit over what the corporation permitted. She knew which category she belonged to.

But there was still something off, something weird, and she couldn’t even google that without coming across increasingly preposterous conspiracy theories. She worried that one day something in her brain would just break, she would eagerly join a banned-from-Reddit community calling itself the “TruthSeer” or something like that, and go on speculating how reptilian aliens from Tau Ceti were what Galatea was really all about. There was a decent chance she’d end up getting completely redpilled in the process. The thought spurted out a laugh from her. She would probably end up the cranks’ unicorn. “A former feminist on why Galatea is a plot by Zionist gender aliens from Planet Fuck!”, coming to you live from Gab. That would rake in mad clicks.

In a way, it was refreshing to be able to finally laugh about it. Even if it was this “laugh ‘til I cry” kind of a laugh.

She washed and sprawled herself on her bed. There would be a meeting tomorrow and she really didn’t want to give Anna more reasons to be concerned, so she probably should go to sleep soon instead of obsessing any further. Normally, it would be easier said than done, but she had grown smarter than her brain and readied herself a medicine just for this occasion.


She sat in the office kitchenette, feeling generally queasy. The syrup did help her sleep, but it also left her sluggish and vaguely nauseous in the morning. The dregs of the night refused to leave. Again, she wished she hadn’t given up on Red Bulls. But that was one line she wasn’t ready to cross yet.

The tea she made for herself tasted awful; she really needed to buy some of the better stuff for the office, instead of allowing Bohdan to resupply. The man was clinically unable of getting anything other than the cheapest “hundred bags for 1 euro!” stuff that tasted like an infusion of paper dyed with graphite clippings. Not that he ever noticed. At least the drink in her mug was liquid and warm, so it was not a complete write-off.

“Helen!” Hank stomped inside, a broad smile on his angelic face and a brown envelope in his hand. “You’ve got mail!”

“What?” she grumbled, looking up.

“Arrived at the office today, addressed to you. Guess someone didn’t have your home number?” Hank shrugged. “No return address.”

Helen eyed the envelope suspiciously, before grabbing it from Hank’s hand. Whatever was inside was a bit thick and rather heavy, like a book or a large magazine. She wondered if she could tell that a package would have a bomb inside. Would it be flexible? Or maybe trying to bend it would send it off? Could they even squeeze a bomb into a package that size? Or maybe it was poison? Why the fuck was she even considering that? She tore at the side of it angrily.

Two things slid out from the inside. A glossy magazine with a minimalist, viridian green cover bearing the word “automaton” in Futura Bold, and a handwritten note. She recognized the catalogue instantly, and couldn’t hold back a gasp. What the absolute hell?

“I didn’t order this…” she whispered through a suddenly clenched throat. The idiotic ideas about being in a conspracy abruptly felt more real, tangible.

“What is it?” Hank asked, reaching for the catalogue. She swatted his hand away.

“Galatea catalogue. Porn, basically, only wordy,” she explained. “Is this blackmail?”

“‘We have your work address and we’ll mail porn to you’?” Hank chuckled. “In my teenage years we’d call that a ‘weird flex’. And the note?”

She picked it between two fingers, as if it was something utterly disgusting, or possibly an insect about to snap and bite her. It was written on thick, expensive-feeling paper, with pale, blue ink. Not just written—calligraphed. Maybe not the best example Helen had ever seen, but workmanlike.

Dear Helen, it read. I hope that this little gift will not cause trouble for you. I am sending it even though I expect that you will not find it very enjoyable—however, if your quest is still to understand my designs, it may be of some help.


PS: I apologize for being a nag, but you still have not answered if you want Rowan to know you are watching her.

Helen put the note down and rubbed her head.

“The fuck,” was all she managed to say, staring hatefully at the piece of paper.

“What did it say?” Hank said. He was still smiling, but she could tell he was getting worried again.

“Nothing,” she replied, maybe too quickly. “Some bullshit.”

“Can I see it?” he asked, extending a hand.

“It’s private,” she pushed the note hastily away. “Please don’t.”

“They’re just screwing with you, you know?,” he withdrew, then sat down next to care, careful to glower only at the catalogue and avoid even looking at the direction of the note. “Toying. First that live stream thing, now this. It’s fucked up.”

Was it? She looked at the piece of paper again. What if Aphrodite was honest, and just thought that she would like to be updated? After all, she had a bunch of the catalogues already—all that she could find, actually. But then that would imply that this Aphrodite knew that, and that in itself was disturbing.

But also, that post-script. Just looking at it brought up some indeterminate, obnoxious sense of guilt. She really did not want to even think about it, not right now. She folded the note in half and stuck it between the back cover of the catalogue.

“I guess it is,” she exhaled, shoving it into her bag. She straightened, brushed away her hair and forced a narrow smile. There were other things she should be focusing on. “How about the interview today?”

“The guy bailed,” Hank said, eyes still drilling holes in Helen’s bag. “Or, to be more precise, got put in hospital. Broke a leg, apparently. So today’s called off, unless you want to go over that report that Anna sent us.”

“It can wait,” she replied, secretly hoping that she could get Bohdan to deal with it instead. He was the one who liked going through documents like that. She pulled the bag closer to herself. “Do you want to grab dinner, then? And maybe something,” she glanced at the cup, the garish-red BUDGETEA tea bag label dangled off its chipped side, “actually drinkable?”

“Sure,” the beatific smile returned to his face.


After lunch, she spent the rest of the day readying herself for a conversation with Hurban and not thinking about things she did not want to think about. By five, she was prepared. Well sated, brought to lucidity by the passage of hours and several cups of strong tea, she sat by her desk, notebook in hand, phone ready. Perhaps it was all pointless—as she dialed in Hurban’s number, she was already convinced that he wouldn’t pick up. After all, she suspected a conspiracy.

He gave her two bells.

“Miss Hu!” his voice was genuinely cheerful. “So nice of you to call.”

A burst of relief went through her. And surprise.

“Yes, thank you for deciding to speak with me,” she started, but he didn’t let her finish.

“My pleasure. But before you ask your questions, I kinda have to know…”

“Yes?” she grew tense. Was it now that penny was about to drop?

“You’re not doing this just because Mari thought it would waste my time?”

Helen felt her eyes attempt to roll out of the skull.

“I mean,” he continued. “She’s a woman, and you’re this woke warrior type and, maybe this is some, I don’t know, trying to harass me…”

“No, Mr. Hurban,” she said into the phone, doing her level best not to let him know just how stupid she thought the entire idea was. “I’m genuinely interested in the history of Pygmalion, and you’re the only one who wanted to talk. Why?”

There was a pause. When Hurban spoke again, his voice changed. The levity and fake amusement vanished.

“Are you recording this?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. Annoyance vanished, tension returned. This was it.

“Good. It’s not a… big secret, I guess, but if others aren’t talking, I don’t want my name pinned on that. And I’m not going to give you some details.”

“Understood,” she said solemnly. “You have my full confidentiality.”

“So,” she heard him take a deep breath. “I remember you asked about Leon yesterday, right? So, you know what he did?”

“Sold the assets and the entire firm to Galatea for big money?”

“Okay,” he grunted. “That’s technically right, but really, it’s bullshit. What he did was get big money for himself, and pitiful severance packages for us.”

Helen recalled the conversation with Hernaszewski, and the talk about photos, and smiled understandingly. It made sense that Mircea was not keen on his colleagues profiting from his sale.

“But that wasn’t the worst part,” Hurban continued. “No. It wasn’t just that he screwed us off some money, oh hell no. Do you know how to really make mint in our field? And I mean real big bucks, the kind that doesn’t stop coming and sets you up for life?”

“Uh…,” she mumbled, trying to think of something.

“Right, you’re a communist, and clueless,” he declared, and she didn’t really have it in her to argue. “So I’ll enlighten you—it’s in government contracts. And we were about to have one. And not just any run of the mill ‘provide software for the pencil-pushers’, no. We were about to hit a jackpot.”

“What do you mean?”

“Intelligence. Actual, confidential spy stuff,” he said, and she could practically hear him grin. “The negotiations were almost complete. We were about to become an indispensable part of the subtle knife of the Western Civilization. And make fucking bank on it, too. But Leon dragged his feet. We were all ready, and he kept hesitating. And you know what happened?”

She nodded sheepishly to the phone, before going “no?”

“We walk into the office one day to find Leon gone and some pasty asshole from Bratislava informing us we were acquired and fired.”


“‘Oh’ doesn’t begin to cover it, girl. Better for Leon that no one knows where he bolted to, or we’d fucking murder him, and I mean it seriously. Shit, if I met him now, I’d knock his crooked teeth out with my very fists,” Hurban seethed. There was a kind of stale, frustrated hate in the way he spoke that made Helen shudder. What the hell was wrong with people in this business? Why were they all like that?

“Did Galatea take over the intelligence contract?” she asked after a moment.

“Fuck if I know. If they were any smart, yeah. And given how rich they got, I’m sure they did.”

That would explain it. Galatea was just a front for the CIA, or something like that. That was where all that tech was being developed. Jesus, Hank had been on the ball with that MKULTRA comparison. Maybe they really were just outsourcing their technology to some secret agency.

This really was a conspiracy. Or maybe this was the point where she was becoming a fully-blooded crank.

“Can you tell me what the contract was?” she mumbled into the phone, her thoughts racing in circles.

“Sure, why not,” he snorted. “We were developing psychiatric software, basically. Leon figured a lot of it out, got to give it to that little shit, some miracle electro cure for the nutjobs. The spooks wanted it for something else though, and I’m not telling you what.”

He really didn’t have to. It was kind of obvious.

They talked for some time more, but she didn't manage to get anything more out of Hurban. Apparently after the sale went through and everyone got promptly fired, the entire team scattered to the four winds, all kinds of sore that they did not end up on the payroll of a pointedly unnamed intelligence agency. But, Helen thought to herself, Galatea certainly picked up the slack in that regard.

It made all kinds of sense. Maybe the fuck farms were some kind of a front? God, was that how CIA blacksites looked now? Not some dreary abandoned school in eastern Poland, but a high-tech brothel and a torture chamber for American imperialism in the back? Were those drones just brainwashed “terror suspects”? Or maybe it wasn’t just the CIA? Just the intelligences of the Western world cooperating under the guise of the biggest pornographic industry in the world? Five X’s instead of Five Eyes? It would explain so much.

She started pacing the room, pen in hand, punching at the air, or maybe drawing some kind of an unseen net.

No. No, that was impossible, a word would have gotten out already. A lot of people apparently survived their Galatea contracts. Someone would have spilled the news. After all, none of the clandestine shit that the CIA tried to pull off ever stayed secret for long. On the other hand, maybe there was stuff that they managed to keep secret? No one would have heard of it, after all. And if this brainwashing technology really worked, and they could just stuff people into tanks and erase their minds? How was anyone going to reveal that?

She resisted the urge to cover her windows and check if the door to her apartment was really locked. This was insane. If that was the case, if it was some mega-conspiracy, then why had Aphrodite just given her unrestricted access to their surveillance? Unless this was a ploy, meant to hide something. What if the footage was doctored, supposed to convey that there was nothing wrong afoot? But then, why show it at all? It was plenty disturbing, and if she was to release it, there would be scrutiny, so…

The box she’d bought from Emerald Dreams still lay on her shelf. She’d used most of its contents, but there was still some remaining, and she really needed to relax now. She tried to push the visions of a shadowy council of spies in cahoots with a biotech giant from her mind and just focus on rolling a smoke.

It helped, at least in the sense that she managed to stop freaking out. She considered writing to Hank and just laying it all out to him, but she wasn’t feeling that crazy yet, and worse still there was the possibility that he would catch the bug. They would become conspiracy buddies, and that would be an unmitigated disaster.

Why was she doing this anyway? It wasn’t going to bring her any closer to understanding what Rowan had done. So Galatea was a monstrous conspiracy. But she knew it was monstrous already, so that was no news to her. But why Rowan? Just thinking about her made the layers of frustration she’d hoped had receded swell back to bile-like, helpless strength. She wasn’t any closer to understanding Rowan. Unlike the mystery of Galatea, Rowan’s choice made no more sense now than it had when she’d watched her friend vanish into the maw of the corporate beast.

The catalogue was still in her bag; she hadn’t opened it yet. But right now, it was either that or digging through the internet and getting gradually pulled into an increasingly crazy web of conspiracy theories probably fringing on that insane PizzaGate thing that refused to die even years on. After all, wasn’t her idea what Galatea was all about basically the same theory?

She didn’t really want to dwell on that. And so catalogue it was.

She didn’t quite expect to reach a moment in her life when looking through a collection of genuinely baffling porn would register to her as calming, but unlike deep dives into the history of Galatea at least she broadly knew what to expect inside: a luxurious and well put-together collection that, in the end, wasn’t at all that interesting unless you were a connoisseur of weird theory or disturbing porn. Probably that was why it had appealed to Rowan so much. She flicked through the first few pages, eyes skimming over the obligatory art photography of varied interior spaces. This time, apparently, the theme was industrialisation: vintage shots of assembly lines. The history of the factory. Modern installations: piles of arcane machinery littered in loft spaces, a bizarre fusion of sci-fi and ruin porn, followed pages of text against the back-drop of control panels and dials.

And then, there—finally—was the other content, the one she was sure people ordered those catalogues for. A full-page photograph of a head, mounted in some kind of a wall so that only it stuck out, the rest of the body obscured. There wasn’t much face to it—white rubber coated it completely, other than for the crimson-lipped mouth, half open, a single drop of viscous, white liquid dripping from the corner. Right next to it, a panel of buttons was inlaid into the wall, looking like they were taken from a music player. There was one with a right-pointing arrow of play, fast-forward, pause, another labeled “mode”. Just above, a digital counter rested at the number 44.

There was, of course, text on the opposite page, opaque as always.

Paul Preciado, it read, years ago wrote that “there is no machine capable of performing fellatio assembly-line style that can supplant the biomouth or any robotic masturbator capable of distracting the attention of customers who can get a hand job from a humanoid for ten euros in the Parisian bois de Boulogne”. All of it is true, and all of it is false. There is no such machine if we limit our understanding of machines to be a pile of cogs, a combustion engine, an electronic contraption. An assembly line for fellatio, a blowjob engine, is possible, but only if sublimated from the flesh. For it is no longer sufficient to consider the human body a resource that is a breed apart from any other. The bodies we inhabit are tools and can be made into new utilities. Such rendition is difficult, and requires the body to be agreed to its new purpose, treated, trained and carefully fashioned. To sculpt away what holds it from becoming a tool takes effort, but it can be done. Yet…

Helen glazed over a bit. Intellectually, she was aware that it would be prudent for her to be more disturbed that, that she should rage at the exploitation of the female body—if this was a woman. But she had seen enough already. She wasn’t looking for validation of her view on Galatea, or answers. She just needed something to take her mind away from melting into conspiracy madness. She flipped the page.

The next photograph showed a row of naked bodies, all nested and strapped to cushioned pads, electronic displays above them filled with information, rows of wires entangling them and connecting to them. Only their heads were not visible, disappearing into the other side of the wall. All but one of them, that was. Centered in the frame, two figures in rubber—the Galatea “drones”—tended to a standing man, his face away from the eye of the camera. One of the drones held a blanket to him, the other wiped his mouth clean with a piece of cloth. Their touch was delicate and attentive, and he seemed wholly trusting in their strange care. She bit her lip in surprise, looking for the rest of the text.

...yet to make a person into a tool mustn’t be equivalent to unmaking them in personhood. The binary of ends and means misleads us, and naive Kantism can no longer carry us. We are each a machine, connected to the world through infinite and infinitely multiplying media. With each click on the internet, we feed the engines of information capitalism. Our quotidien gestures of consumption fuel it, not just in what we acquire, but what we produce in this acquisition. We are beyond that binary. If we are to find a place for ourselves in this ecosystem, we must acknowledge that we are always already tools, always already mechanisms, and none the less persons for all of that. And we must learn to care for ourselves as persons—and as tools.

Helen finished reading, then stared at the page for a while longer, frowning. She still couldn’t understand what Galatea was getting at in those catalogues, and she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to. Still, the purpose behind writing opaque, pseudo-philosophical rants to go along with their weird pornography kept eluding her. Frankly, the entire thing was just baffling. If it was a propaganda action meant to sell Galatea as woke and humane, it was the least understandable case of pinkwashing that she had ever seen. Which left the disconcerting possibility that whoever wrote those passages sincerely believed in their words.

She flipped through the rest of it, following the transit of the man from his station on the blowjob assembly line all the way to a cozy-looking room, not very different from the sort of the cell they had put Rowan in. What was she even looking for in this, anymore? An excuse to take her mind away from the outline of the conspiracy she had sketched out in her head? Galatea, a shadowy biotech being funded by even more nefarious intelligence groups: dark money and darker purpose. She had to admit—there was something fascinating about this idea, and it almost felt like she could be the one to unravel it. There were loose ends: the ultimate fate of Mircea Leon, the exact source of Galatea’s vast wealth. If she could only follow one of them to the source, maybe then the picture would clarify, and the disturbing truth of Galatea exposed to—

Picking through the catalogue, page after page, she finally reached the note, stuck between the back covers. She stared at it in mute focus, the lines of the postscript taunting her in their serviceable calligraphy.

Was it why Aphrodite sent it to her—to distract her? To disturb her? She had to know that Helen would never let Rowan know about this, that it was her shame that she had to keep hidden from the world; she had already started to regret admitting it to Hank. To let her friend know would be a breach of trust, and admission of a violation, something so awful that she did not even want to dwell on it…

So Galatea’s purpose was to make her consider and not forget? So that she could not put her mind to the task of solving the mystery? Maybe Hank had been correct in his assessment again—this was them toying with her. She should be paying this no mind, not even trying to answer. But then, why did she feel guilty all out of the sudden?

She shut the catalogue closed and put it with the rest, then laid her head on the desk, tired and anxious. Maybe she was just psyching herself out. Maybe there was no conspiracy after all. Maybe no matter how fascinating the ultimate fate of Mircea Leon, or the secret history of Pygmalion were, they were not going to bring her any closer to understanding Rowan’s decision.

Maybe she was just running away from something.

She didn’t want to think about that.

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