When Rowan woke up from a long, deep sleep, she was no longer in the tank.
Air, not water, flowed over exposed skin. If she wanted to, she could move. She breathed unrestrained and unaided, her chest expanding and contracting to its own rhythm.
Her body felt sore and stretched; she could still feel the impressions left where the bindings secured it to a frame. Her jaw, no longer forced open, was stiff, corners of the lips cracked and raw. Rawness—that was perhaps the best word to describe the reminders of where machinery penetrated deep into her, the best word to call those ephemeral phantom pains that barely stood out to senses, but lingered as a vague exhaustion. As she tried to focus on them, she realized that they were not entirely unpleasant, if only for the recollections of past bliss they called to mind. Perhaps this was how one would feel after truly tiring sex, after one of those marathons of pleasure she had often dreamed about, and never really experienced.
She wouldn’t know.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, she opened her eyes, expecting to see the familiar glass ceiling of her cell above. At first, when she still tried to pick out shapes from the warm light blinding her, it even seemed like she had been right. The room around her had the same simple sink, the same entertainment system, the same transparency. It was a carbon copy of the cell she had been held in before. Through glass walls, she could all the same look into adjacent cells, and pick out shapes of others held in them. One of them, she even recognized—the woman with an artificial leg, the prosthetic peeking from underneath the blanket.
But when she turned her head further to the side, to glance below, the translucent floor revealed only a neat array of pipes and cables running below. Wherever she was, this was not her old cellblock.
The outside, visible through the glass door confirmed that. It was entirely unfamiliar, brightly lit, and nothing like the cat-walk lattice of where she used to be held. For a reason completely unknown to her, she had been moved. She wond—
Her scattered attention sprang together, the entirety of her consciousness concentrating on the simple, crackling sound that seemed to emanate from the inside of her head. She turned around rapidly, trying to at the same time see where the words were coming from, and wanting nothing but to listen to that familiar voice.
The cell was empty. She was alone.
Get out of the bed.
She started to move up, and halfway through throwing off the blanket, she realized she hadn’t even willed herself to act. She froze mid-motion, the realization she had obeyed without thinking creeping up her spine. Increasingly confused, she looked around and—
Get out of the bed, a voice she had learned to know by heart reminded her.
The eidolon. The eidolon was speaking to her. She sat at the edge of the bed, straightened her back, hesitated, then very slowly stood up.
It felt good. Felt good enough to make her smile for a second, before she realized that it wasn’t just the experience of stretching and straightening after God knows how much rest, it felt good like a warm, sweet drink rolling down her throat, like being praised, like…
She sat down again, breathing heavily. Images and memories of the days, or weeks, or months that she’d spent in the tank rushed back in. The trigger, the command, the reward. The eidolon had explained it to her, in the darkness and solitude, in loving detail. She had been wired for obedience.
She had been wired for obedience.
She knew that already, and yet this small experience, this dart of pleasure for following a command—issued just how exactly?—still shook her. Startled, she kept swinging her head around, and when she was sure that she was alone, tentatively touched the side of her head, as if expecting to find a place where they drilled into her brain. But no, it was just the same, smooth skin, and nothing else. Whatever had happened remained innermost.
“Oh God,” she muttered, chest heaving. “Oh God.”
Her thoughts exploded into a cacophonic frenzy. She stood up to see if she could even still move on her own—she could. She paced around the cell, patted her entire body up and down. Her heart raced, but she couldn’t even tell for what—terror? Excitement? The inside of her head was a confused mess, and she could not, not for the life of her, sort those thoughts out. They did not array themselves into an understanding; it was a kaleidoscope of impressions and feelings crashing into one another. But as she kept walking around the cell, it started to dawn on her that in all of that mess, something very familiar was absent.
There was a part of her that she had come to expect to remind her of how wrong it all was, how wrong she had been to allow any of it, how she should be ashamed, how she should hate herself. She knew it all too well. But even though she could tell strands of confusion, of worry, even of excitement and arousal from the swirl of her consciousness, this particular voice was dead silent. Against herself, she tried to look for it. After all, she had been brainwashed into obedience to some thing she didn’t even know anything about. She’d lived through a DeviantArt fantasy and emerged from it rigged to a will other than her own. A woman, brainwashed into a sex object? She should be disgusted. Her own complicity in it should be filling her with revulsion. She should be looking at herself in the mirror and—
—but those ideas no longer had bite.
She had known those thoughts well. The ones she learned not to touch, to skirt on the edges of, to never hold in the eye of her attention for too long. She knew their long shadows, the tell-tale signs of their arrival. She had lived her life dreading them, swimming between them, gasping for air worth breathing and times worth living. But those were just short moments between constantly sinking into the suffocating, comfortable depth of misery.
And now, she thought those things, and they passed through her like water, leaving nothing behind.
What came next was terror. Not the animal fear, not the panicked need to run away, but the cold, heavy realization that she had lost something. She had been running away from it for as long as she could remember, but it was never supposed to end like this. To think that it could be just burned away from the underside of her skull, like a tumor, like gangrene, was always only a fantasy, made all the more bitter by how impossible she knew it to be.
There was a stretch of her mind that had been cauterized. She could feel it as a scar, as a reminder of pain that was, but it hurt no more.
Tears rolled from her eyes. She crouched, leaned in, rested her head against the edge of the bed, and cried. It wasn’t exactly sadness, and probably wasn’t joy, just something that had been pent up for so long, and now could finally flow free.
The door to her cell slid aside, letting in a warden. Without a word or a look, he left a tray with food, then disappeared. Rowan cried until she was all spent, then crawled to it, cupping the warm drink between her hands. She didn’t know what to think, and for the moment, wasn’t thinking at all. She drank, then ate. As far as experiences went, this one was quite comfortable.
It was so very easy to slip into attention. She sat, cross-legged, at the empty tray, the eidolon’s voice broadcasting in the middle of her head.
Kneel, it commanded, and she did not try to resist. She shifted her position, already expecting the pleasure of the reward. But it did not come immediately. Keep your back straight, was the next order, and she pulled her shoulder blades together. Bow your head.
Her chin touched her clavicle.
Wait. Do not think.
The static aftersound of the order drowned out the sound of her own thoughts. She knelt silent and still for a time, until her cell opened again.
Good, the eidolon praised, and she relished the sense of pleasure as hands clipped her to a leash and led her away to whatever new need Galatea had of her.
She wanted to oblige them.
What followed wasn’t use. It was training.
Left, the voice crackled in her head.
She stepped left the moment the eidolon spoke to her, the motion taking her as far as the chain between her ankles would allow. A burst of pleasure bloomed through her, no less sweet and no less brief than the last time. Quietly, she gasped, the sound never reaching her ears.
Even though the exercise had been going on for a long time now, her brain continued to struggle. It could not comprehend being unable to see the rows of paintball launchers around her. It wanted to hear the whoosh of the projectile passing by her and splattering against the wall behind. It needed something to rely on, a way to feel at the dark surrounding her, to get a sense of place and bearing. But she had been thoroughly blinded, her ears were baffled and filled with the crackle of static, and her arms securely pulled back and bound together, fingers taped for an extra measure. All that was left to her—and all that she was supposed to do—was to stand still and upright in the unobstructive warmth of the training chamber, waiting for the command to sound in her ears, to interrupt the stretching time of anti—
Immersed in her own thoughts, she reacted a moment too late, slow in going into a crouch. She cried out in pain as the blow caught her right below the shoulder. stinging like a tip of a riding crop, strong enough to leave a bruise. She stumbled back, fighting not to tip over. Liquid paint dripped down from pulsating warmth of the impact point and—
She jerked to the left, heaving her body away from the stinger. No hurt followed, and the moment she realized she obeyed in time, the familiar pang of accomplishment seized her, almost wiping the pulsating pain from the hit at the shoulder. However short was the momentary bloom of pleasure from obedience, it—
She moved before the eidolon finished its command, and again she was rewarded with the sense of accomplishment. Now that she had felt it multiple times, she realized how difficult it was to properly describe—it was unlike any sort of pleasure she was accustomed to, nor was it the artificial bliss that Galatea could induce in her with their chemicals and electronics. It was something else, something that had been buried deep beneath the layers of her thoughts, a close and lovely association between listening to the eidolon, obeying its commands and an experience of what could only be called joy.
Of course, it stemmed from the drugs and electroshocks that Galatea used to program her. She remembered how the eidolon lovingly explained to her the process by which her brain would be conditioned during her time spent in the tank. It wanted to rewire the way her brain worked, and as far as she could tell, the attempt was a roaring success.
When, earlier today, she experienced it in her new cell, it had scared and confused her to feel the control of her body ripped from her. But now, she knew that if she had to find one word for it, one way to describe it, it would have to be hot. Just thinking about how she had been wired for obedience was enough for her stomach to twist on itself with arousal. Truth be told, she wasn’t even sure if that was also the result of what they’d done to her, or if she had always been like that.
She snapped a step the moment the command expanded in her brain; the strike missed. She felt pleasure.
Seventy three out of one hundred. Promising synchronization already. Good.
Had it been a hundred already? Time flowed strangely when she was cut from the world of human senses. But the words were enough to make her exhale joyously and smile to the dark around. The eidolon saw something promising in the way she behaved, and that was enough for happiness, even if it was just programmed in. But then again, if she could not draw the line between what was put into her, and her own thoughts, was distinction even relevant anymore?
A hand—cool and smooth to touch—brushed the side of her neck. She startled as one of the drones removed the blinds and baffles. She blinked to help her eyes adjust to the harsh white light.The wall behind her was a mess of color, and her own body looked little better. Over twenty splashes of pastel-colored paint staining the hairless skin. Or maybe it looked a lot better? Pale, smooth surface, covered by a network of color. The large spots of paint covered up the bruises behind them, and little trickles and veins of color coiled all over her, shaped by gravity and motion into something Pollock-like. Rowan bit her lip; she wanted to see herself in the mirror.
Surprisingly, the drone seemed to concur. Rowan recognized it—it was the one they called Catty, in its red-striped white latex. Its faceplate flashed a brief image of a wink as it stepped in front of her, holding up a small camera.
“Smile,” it said in its electronic voice.
Rowan didn’t need to be told to straighten; had her shoulders not been pulled together by bindings already, she’d try her best to preen and pose. She smiled to the camera: not being the one taking her own slutty selfies meant not even needing to feel guilty about it.
It finished the shoot, and stepped forward, clipping Rowan to a short lead. The exercise session was over and it was time to go.
The usual crowd shuffling about the brightly-lit corridors of the Galatea facility paid her more attention than usual. Naked bodies were a common sight, and only rarely drew anyone’s eyes. But paint-splattered as she was, she stood out. She could feel the looks passing looks slide off her, from the passing lab-workers and wardens. No one stopped to ogle, no one made it apparent, but she could just feel it—the sort of a pressure of being noticed. Idle glances, short looks, people turning heads. Sometimes, it even felt like the omni-present drones would steal a quick glance from behind their inscrutable, faceless helmets. She wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Galatea forced her to be at peace with exposure; the weeks of testing drilled into her an indifference towards being naked and inspected. She was meat to them, and that was a part of the appeal of the entire situation. But those looks, as she darted forward, tugged on by a drone? They were… appreciative?
No, it had to be something else. There was something missing. Usually, the part of her that Galatea had cauterized off her soul would be calling on her to hide herself from the world, lest she be hurt. But it was gone, and however terrifying the thought of that was—and Rowan didn’t have to dwell much on it to realize just how awful the implications could be—she was realizing quickly how little she cared. She caught an older woman in a lab-coat briefly ripping her eyes from the file in her hand to admire the twisting lines of paint along her body and the glance did not hurt at all.
Being looked at did not hurt. It did not remind her of everything that she was not. She could only name the pain that had underlined so much of her life now that it was absent.
The drone called Catty finally led her to the destination—an empty room filled with shower stalls. Like everything in Galatea, they were built with exposure in mind: just tiled recesses in the floor, a single pole topped with a showerhead and a pair of shackles rising from the middle. In the distance, she could see a row of machinery against one of the walls: industrial sinks for cleaning equipment, autoclave, shelves filled with meticulously labeled bottles of detergent. The air here was dampy and heavy with the scent of Galatea’s chemistry.
The drone attached her lead to one of the showers and moved to undo the complicated set of bindings holding Rowan’s arms together. She was not given much freedom—the moment they were free, it quickly attached them above her head, locking her to the shower. It left her like that for a second, quickly shuffling to the shelves, returning with a handful of cleaning supplies.
“She really is happy with you,” it said.
Rowan blinked. It was strange being talked to, especially by a drone.
“Shh,” it whispered, an image of a finger held to a lip flickering through its face. “You’ll see. Now, maintenance.”
Warm water spurted from above, washing Rowan over. Through its curtain, she watched the drone fill its hands with some cleaning agent and then start to rub all over Rowan, colourful foam forming over the white-gloved hand.
Warmed by the water, it did not feel like rubber or plastic, but rather skin, wonderfully smooth and gentle. Rowan half-stepped forward, leaning into the touch. Catty matched her, keeping its distance. It kept on scrubbing the paint away, its other hand cupped at Rowan’s back, holding her still and steady. Again, she pushed herself closer, and this time the drone did not retreat.
It’s slender fingers began to wander, rubbing up and down her spine in rhythm with the washing hand, now scraping away at her stomach, paint flowing away with water. She made a quiet, wordless sound, and the drone pushed itself closer, the surface of its body rubbing against Rowan’s chest. Cool and hard, it warmed quickly, and water now flowed over them both, draining away with the lingering aftershades of paint.
It held her close and firm, the hand no longer traveling along the back, but rather spreading over it posessively, gripping onto the meagre flesh as it ripped the last few stains from her skin. How long had she gone without being touched and held like that? There was safety in the firmness of that touch, in the strength of the drone’s frame. Of course she felt her face and chest grow red, of course she moaned quietly, of course she felt hard. The drone kept her in place like one would a beautiful curio or a beloved pet, and that was everything that Rowan could have wanted.
“Please,” she begged as she felt its hand pressed between two bodies, fingers skipping ever lower. “Please,” she repeated as they reached towards the crotch, skipping over skin, not gripping yet, but allowing themselves to be felt as a suggestion of tension. The hand at her back went up, closing around the back of Rowan’s neck, pushing down at it, the warm shower cascade falling down her spine. She made another sound, too short on breath to be anything but a stunted moan.
Water-slick fingers drew a line around the base of her erect dick; she bit her lip not to make a sound and watched in forced patience as they slowly coiled and tightened around it, then just as slowly pulled back. She gasped, rocking her hip with motion, letting it—
The hand tightened around her dick, pulled back slowly. She inhaled, rocked her hip with the motion, letting it—
“Focus,” the drone said in the voice that wasn’t its own. “Do not move.”
The heat of the command dissolved in the mess of her excitement, and every moment of her stillness felt ever so sweeter with obedience. She wanted to thrust in and out, screw the hand squeezing her, but more than that she wanted to obey the voice of the eidolon, speaking to her through the drone.
She raised her eyes from the tiled floor and at the drone, and saw its face-plate filled with flickering static, an outline of a shape barely visible in it. The eidolon’s fingers pushed at the base of her skull, forcing her to look down again, at the other hand.
“It feels so good to hold you,” it said, its machine-generated voice coming from the drone’s head, but not originating in its throat.
Its fingers move up and down Rowan’s dick a few more times, the motions slow and deliberate. “It feels so good to control you.”
She moaned, struggling to hold still; it would be so easy to just move with it, shift her weight a bit, impale herself, push past the ever-so-near edge…
“Do not move,” it commanded again, not releasing the tension; its fingers squeezed Rowan’s neck and dick harder, rubber digging into skin. Its thumb circled around the edge of the exposed glans. She was getting so close, she could feel the release build up, it just needed that little push...
She breathed in raggedly, tensing all of her muscles, so desperate to disobey, to push in and out; but every second she kept still, a whirlwind of accomplishment rushed up and down her, swelling with each moment of obedience. Her body trembled.
“It will feel so good to be you,” it whispered finally, and released its hold.
Rowan cried in protest, then threw herself forward in mute desperation, the spike of arousal still lodged firmly in her groin. The drone moved back, the face of the eidolon fading from its head. It watched her thrash for a second, then walked away. Rowan stopped paying attention to it, trying to squeeze her hands free from the restraints, so that she could finish herself. The only thing it managed to accomplish was remind her that she was bound securely, which only made the matter worse.
When the drone returned, it held a small rebreather, a white-striped flask attached to it. It pressed it to Rowan’s face, sending in a mouthful of vanilla-scented gas, and Rowan breathed deep. With each gasp of it, she felt her body release a bit, the tension of unrelease giving way to a tired sort of calm.
Catty finished washing her, its motions professional and efficient. Finally, it stepped away, head tilted slightly back, as if to survey the effect.
“So, how did it feel?” it crackled out. Its voice was so similar to the way it spoke just moments ago, and yet Rowan knew somewhere deep inside that the person addressing her was no longer the voice she was beholden to.
She bit her lip.
“Actually,” it continued speaking, walking a half-circle around her, “don’t answer. It’s between you and her.”
A smile flashed on its face, and even though it was just a few lights against a white background, Rowan could swear she saw a hint of envy in it.
That she it referred to—that was the eidolon, wasn’t it? So the drone called Catty knew what it… she was? Rowan opened her mouth to ask, but once again, the image of a hushed mouth reminded her to stay silent.
“Good,” it said, the word inert in its synthesiser. “You can take a hint.” It finally stopped walking and squared its shoulders. “Well, you get to be played with, but at least she allows me my own little sadistic pleasure,” the timbre of its voice hissed ever so slightly, as if a chuckle, “I get to watch you when you learn you’re being watched.”
Rowan just stared. She knew she was being watched—what was it talking about?
And then it told her about Helen.
When Rowan woke up from a long, deep sleep, she was no longer in the tank.