a prison, a body

xxi. helen. one last big job

by gargulec

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

Rabbit murmured something incoherent, pulled themselves up alongside crumpled sheets, and began to fiddle with the buckles of the pleather cuffs securing their wrists to the bed frame. Helen leaned in to help, careful not to accidentally brush against the flesh-colored fabric contracting their chest.

Her fingers again touched their skin, still warm and sticky with fresh sweat. The buckles gave in, and Rabbit dragged themselves up to a sitting position, then reached behind their head to free their mouth from the blue silicone ball holding it open. They dropped the spittle-slick gag onto the bed, then scrambled to the floor, giving Helen a good view of their nimble frame.

“You we—” she started, but they gave her a sign to stop talking, wrapped their waist in a discarded shirt and skipped off towards the bathroom door.

It was always a joy watching them move. Rabbit stepped energetically and confidently, never letting their small size come across as meek or adorable. Helen remembered seeing them at a protest, clenched fist smashing the sky as they shouted about injustice until their voice went raw and hoarse. They gave an appearance there of a taunt, metal cord, that cut through stone if it was ever to snap, and Helen had enough first-hand experience with Rabbit when they got pissed to know that the impression was entirely justified.

They disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Helen alone. She waited a moment, then pulled the thin latex gloves from her hands, crumpled them into a ball and tossed them into the overflowing garbage bin in the corner of Rabbit’s sroom. It was, as usual, a mess of the kind that Helen could never entirely decipher from conscious decor. The row of craft beer bottles along the windowsill looked deliberately arranged, but a larger grouping of right below probably wasn’t. There were clothes scattered everywhere without rhyme or reason, books and papers thrown into precariously loose piles, an expensive camera and lighting equipment peeking from gutted bags sitting right next to a stack of make-up palettes and two unopened instant cup noodles. Only the posters adorning the walls were well-tended to, recording Rabbit’s eclectic taste in music that you could be aggressive to.

It was funny how no matter where Rabbit ended up renting an apartment, their room would always end up looking like that, a mess that would strike Helen as boyish if it was any less glittery. Against herself, she enjoyed this place.

Rabbit returned, refreshed, wrapped in a colourful blanket and smelling of artificial cocoa fragrance. They sat down on the edge of the bed next to Helen, wrapped their arm around her waist and pulled her close for a short hug.

“Look at you,” they whispered, “didn’t even get your shirt off. So very butch.”

Helen smiled lazily as Rabbit withdrew.

“Wasn’t it to your liking?” she asked.

They smirked back, sitting cross-legged on the bed, back propped against the wall.

“You were charming, yeah,” they replied, pushing the scattered toys away. “Thanks.”

“You too. Is the kitchen free? I’ll get us something to drink.”

She brought herself a cup of steaming earl grey and a beer for Rabbit. They spent some time in the intimate silence of a comedown, wordlessly enjoying each other’s presence.

“You could have gone harder on my butt, though,” Rabbit finally broke the quiet. Their words hang in the air for a moment, and then they both burst into laughter.

“I mean,” they continued after taking a swig, “you’re a big girl. You boxed, didn’t you?”

“Still do,” Helen nodded, her smile getting a tiny bit nervous. “Occasionally. I just… didn’t want to hurt you.”

Rabbit put down the bottle on the messy nightstand and slinked down onto their stomach, dragging a pillow to rest their head on.

“You were spanking me,” they groaned, not without amusement. “Hurting is, like, the point.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for the next time,” she replied awkwardly, shifting to give them more room on the bed.

“So there will be a next time?” Rabbit glanced indicatively at the toy-bag at the feet of the bed, and the tangle of leather, straps and metal links glinting inside.

“You seemed to enjoy yourself,” Helen followed their eyes, thinking back to that time earlier when Rabbit dragged the bag from their wardrobe and excitedly splayed it open.

“Did you?” they quietly asked.

“Yeah,” Helen exclaimed, before pausing for a moment. “It was really sweet how you liked it.”

Rabbit buried their face into the pillow to muffle the awful, snorting sound their made.

“You should never,” they said solemnly, “ever tell something like that to a bottom.”

Helen blinked, confused.

“Why?” she mumbled.

“Never imply you’re doing it for their sake,” Rabbit continued in an exaggeratedly self-serious voice. “Being serviced makes them terribly insecure.”

She bit her lip, unsure on what to say.

“Look,” Rabbit added after a moment, lifting themselves up again. “I’m selfish enough that I don’t really care that you’re beating my ass only because I asked you to.”

Helen chuckled nervously.

“You’re handsome,” they grinned, “you’re, like, the second person I’ve ever been with who understands what ‘don’t touch my chest’ means, you’re a good talk. So I don’t really mind that you’re not into the same stuff as I am, as long as you provide.”

It stung, even though it shouldn’t have had. Helen exhaled and petted the back of Rabbit’s neck, thinking on what to say in response. She really couldn’t blame them—from the start, they were open about what Helen could and couldn’t expect from their get-togethers, and what they saw her as. But knowledge didn’t always help with the way hearing a reminder of it all went down her throat.

“I try,” she said, perhaps more defensively than she had intended to.

“Yep,” Rabbit nodded, leaning up into her hand and allowing her to cup the back of their neck. “You do. But, like...” they looked at her, lips pursed. “Do you actually want to have a talk now, or, I don’t know, watch something?” they glanced at their laptop buried under a pile of clothes on the floor.

Helen hesitated, withdrew her hand. She reached back for her tea, drank a little more. The simple joy of what they had going on just moments ago faded, and the edges it smoothed over began to emerge once again.

“See,” Rabbit sighed, pulling themselves up once again. They also went for their drink. “If I asked you to, like, put me on a leash and drag me to a club for a play party, would you?”

Helen couldn’t say yes, but didn’t want to say no.

“Yeah,” Rabbit chuckled. “Even if you would, it’d just end up really awkward for everyone.”

“Hey,” Helen murmured, quiet enough to be dismissed.

Rabbit took another swig from their bottle, then giggled once again.

“Look, you make me happy, I make you happy, it’s a transaction,” they said with a smile. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”

The words only made Helen more embarrassed. She fixed the loose sleeves of her shirt, buttoned up, coughed.

“I just wish I could,” she started, then forced herself to finish. “Understand what you find so appealing in being leashed and dragged around.”

“Yeah,” Rabbit nodded along, jumping down from the bed. “It’s a mystery, isn’t it?” she said, digging up the laptop and bringing it closer. “I’m hearing that Cosmonauts ‘99 is really, really good. Want to give it a shot?”


There was a period—a few days, pushing on a week—after Helen had discovered the nature of Aphrodite when she also all but gave up on watching Rowan. Her friend was being brainwashed into a drone by a sex AI; just the very idea of that thought registered as preposterous enough to give Helen pause. It wasn’t that she didn’t care anymore, it was just how she felt she had exhausted every trail of evidence she had. Mircea Leon was probably somewhere in Galatea's grasp too, happy now, just as the computer claimed Rowan was. Maybe it wasn’t a lie.

At times, Helen found it almost funny. She had discovered—and maybe would even get to prove—something incredible. Galatea, a corporation created by an artificial intelligence made as a sex toy. Under any other circumstances, she should have been pleased with herself for digging that much up, or maybe wondering if it was some play by Aphrodite, some elaborate gaslighting operation meant to draw her attention away from another, more important thing. But none of that brought her any significantly closer to understanding why Rowan felt the way she did.

Or, maybe, as she was slowly coming around to thinking, it wasn’t even about understanding.

A stack of well over a dozen messages from the Galatea surveillance system waited in her email, all alerting her to the recordings of Rowan directly addressing her. She hadn’t opened them yet, and struggled to come up with a good reason why. Of course, she had a lot of excuses—work, exercise, the lack of emotional bandwidth. It wasn’t difficult to not make time for them. In fact, she stopped watching the livestream of Rowan’s captivity altogether. A part of her already knew everything it needed to know, and as for the rest…

There was a book on her desk titled The Secrets of Bottoming, a row of accolades from sex-positive feminists emblazoning the magenta cover. She flicked it over, eyes skimming over paragraphs of text about how being a D/s submissive is all about trust, the sense of safety, good communications, the ability to enjoy yourself. How it is about finding your limits and having someone help you explore it.

Weren’t those all just different words for love? She closed the volume and put it back, alongside the sleek blue The New Topping Book, Revised Edition that she’d received in the mail alongside it. Why would you need leashes for that, why would you need your partner to drag you around and slap you on the face? Why would you need all the horrors that Galatea could provide? Helen glanced to where the glossy spines of Galatea catalogues glittered on her shelf. She had stopped feeling outrage at their contents. Now, it was just a sense of shame. Why couldn’t she get it?

It was that shame, and the guilt roiling right below it, that finally made her boot up the surveillance app, track down the first monologue by Rowan, and play it.

“Hi, Helen, I hope you’re watching this,” her friend spoke, lying on a transparent bed, smiling softly to the camera directly above her head. “There is so much I want to tell you, but I don’t know where to start. Well, maybe with how my day went, though you probably could see that for yourself, and…”

And there was this talk of being restrained, deprived of her senses, laced with drugs, of being trained for perfect obedience, like an animal. There was talk of the beauty of having to wear heels, the sort that Helen could only describe as “male fantasy”, the simple, plain pride of learning how to walk in them. There were scattered comments about how Rowan recognized it was wrong and how she chose to ignore it.

Helen restrained herself from pausing. She listened to all of it, right to the point when Rowan said “I’m really happy,” and waved her goodbye. She exhaled, and loaded up another video. It was more of the same. Phrases recurred, blushes repeated. In each subsequent recording, there was just more talk about the same drills and training, the same insecurities and concerns flashing across Rowan’s face, the same justifications and explications. And to all of this, the same refrain.

“I’m happy now, Helen.”

“Helen, this is the best I have been.”

“I’m really doing well, I think.”

“I know I probably shouldn’t, but I am just happy.”

Of course, there were outliers. Sometimes, Rowan would appear tired, barely able to speak. Sometimes, she would be more annoyed than usual, or more wistful. There was this one talk when she alluded to how she wanted to have a woman’s body already, and how the fact that Galatea did not proceed to feed her hormones and else saddened her. But the core of the messages remained the same.

“I want a better world, but I also want a better life. And, no matter how wrong that is, I’m finding it here.”

And then, the last one, from right before the missives stopped.

“I wonder if I will ever find a way to explain.”

Briefly, Helen flicked to the live stream, to be rewarded with the image of a glossy black drone locked into some kind of wall niche or a socket, long pipe running from its face to a computer screen above, the words rest cycle displayed in neon green text. It was just one of many—Helen could see the edges of other sockets, other encased bodies, peek from the sides of the screen. It was no longer a cell where they held Rowan, or what remained of her, but a hive.

“I wonder about that, too,” she whispered to the screen, closing the feed.

There was documentation on her inbox, helpfully provided by Galatea, outlining the nature of the technology they used on Rowan. It explained the basics of the environmentally-sealed shell she was contained in, how it allowed them to control and monitor every function of her body for efficient nutrition and waste disposal. Around the time she got to the section outlining the “integrated reward/punishment circuit”, she gave up on reading the rest, closed the computer and sighed.

“You wanted that,” she said into the air, not a question for once, but a statement. “You really did. And you are, probably, right now, happy.”

She tried to imagine how must it feel to live like Rowan was living right now, a sex trade slave cyborg, fed by a tube, all the senses slaved to the whims of a sex AI. The only result she got was goosebumps, and a vague sense of nausea. It was the same vicious cycle. She tried to understand, and only got further disturbed. She tried empathy, and came out blank.

Previously, it would end up with her frustrated, going on a jog, doing something—anything—to get her mind off this mess, off the things that should make sense, but didn’t. But, right now, she was getting angry.

At Galatea, for setting it all up. At Aphrodite, for facilitating it. At Rowan, for being into it. And, most importantly, at herself. For being bad at it.

There had to be a way to get it.

But, the more she butted her head against the brick wall of peoples’ desires, the more it seemed like she just wouldn’t, not unless she could just live through the same thing they did, not unless she could walk a mile in their shoes, not unless she could know what it means to lose all agency and love it, instead of freaking out...

It was an impulse decision when she grabbed the phone, opened Messenger and wrote to Rabbit how about a visit to a Galatea resort together, in the summer?

By the time she thumbed send it was, thankfully, too late for regret.


“The experience of objectification is key for Body/Dance/Monument,” Rabbit read from the catalogue in their hands, seemingly unconcerned with anyone being able to overhear them. Given how loud and crowded the chain coffee was, they probably weren’t wrong. Still, Helen couldn’t help but to feel a tinge of worry, glancing around the indistinct interior, to see if anyone was spying on them.

“The body as an instrument, the body as a message, the body as a tool,” Rabbit continued, “are all within that experience. Body/Dance/Monument is dedicated not just to showcasing the ways a body can be made into a ready-to-hand thing, or how ‘the human’...” they paused at that, “the human is in quotation marks,” they noted, before carrying on, “how ‘the human’ can be stripped from a body without diminishing it, how one can become a part of a greater whole and not lose their oneness in the process. Those phenomena are all important and reflected in entertainments allowed to visitors.”

“It’s basically a rubber vaudeville,” Helen mouthed. She remembered flicking through that catalogue long before Aphrodite’s invitation. It had the least skin, and that was everything she recalled about it.

“However, Body/Dance/Monument is meant to facilitate learning first-hand. It not only shows those experiences, but allows the visitor to live through them. If they only consent, their body will be sexualized, objectified and integrated, shattering the self, cleansing shame and allowing pleasures far beyond the gential.”

They smiled a wicked, excited grin, and finished reading:

“For details about pricing, practices available, consent forms, travel planning and else, visit galatea.com/bodydance.”

They closed the catalogue and put it on the glass tabletop, tapping the cover a few times with their fingers.

“Holy shit, Helen, that sounds awesome.”

“You think?” Helen smiled nervously. “I remembered you talking about how you wanted… you know, during the concert…”

“Yeah, when you showed me your friend wired to this weird fuck machine,” Rabbit nodded. “That was great, and—you’re for real? You actually want to go? Where the fuck did you even get the tickets, it costs a…”

They had such a wonderful way of being excited, all jittery and sinuous, eyes basically alight with the expectation of pleasure. Even under the circumstances, it made Helen feel a little less heavy.

“It’s a long, weird story,” Helen replied. “So you want to go?”

“Fuck yeah,” they nodded eagerly. “I should be free in summer and you—-”

“Yeah, the project should wrap up by then. I’m happy you like the idea.”

Rabbit chuckled, the sound high-pitched enough to actually draw attention from the couple at the next table. They shot them a stupid grin.

“That’s a very thoughtful gift,” they said, still giggling, before leaning back in, face stern and serious. “But seriously, Helen. What the fuck?”

She blushed, and opened her mouth to say something, but did not receive an opportunity.

“Seriously,” Rabbit pressed, words sharp, intimidating, “don’t bullshit me here. I’ve talked with Hank, he relayed to me your theory and it’s like—now you jump out of the woodwork with this shit?” they tapped the cover again. “I mean, not that I don’t appreciate it, I love the idea, but you better give me a reason why you’re going.”

“Right,” she mouthed, almost pushing herself back from the table. “Right.”

She looked around again. The crowd felt suffocating, the noise deafening. In theory, she knew the words to say, but as she opened her mouth, no sounds came out. She grunted something rude, tried to breathe in the heavy air, smelling of floor polish, ground coffee and cheap pastries, then sighed.

“Do you want to go outside?” Rabbit asked, watching her carefully. Their face showed a trace of concern.

“I’ll pay the bill, yeah,” Helen said in lieu of thank you, and bolted towards the cashier.

The spring was kind on the city; after the rains ended, and sun emerged from behind thick clouds, the greenery exploded from every nook and cranny, briefly rendering the concrete and steel bleakness of old architecture with a veneer of life and vibrancy. The air was fresh and crisp, but still cool enough to refresh, instead of scalding. Those were the best weeks, the best days of the year. Helen breathed deep, looked for Rabbit’s hand for reassurance, and walked on with them, away from the street and the noise.

They didn’t hold hands long—Rabbit didn’t have the temperament for it. But they both could share silence, allowing Helen to gather her wits and her words again. She thought of the images summoned by the catalogue, to her partner’s giddy excitement, to her own squirming unease. She thought of Rowan, whatever was happening to her right now, and of the weeks and months behind her, the constant stress and worry and the feeling of guilt seeping into every recess of her composure.

It helped combat that spike of anxiety. She felt calm again, and the fear and anger that accompanied her earlier had dispersed into their idle, mild forms. But she still couldn’t muster the words.

“I just hope,” Rabbit murmured finally, “that it is not some stupid zany scheme to, I don’t know, save your friend from the terrifying captivity or…”

“No, no, no,” Helen blurted. It’s not like the thought hadn’t crossed her mind, but it was just too insane to even consider. “I know she’s happy, I don’t want to mess that up.”

“Really?” they turned to her, a silver eyebrow raised. “That’s a change from the last time.”

“Yeah,” she looked down at the ground. “I’ve… I’ve been really reluctant to accept it.”

“No shit,” they chuckled. “But I’m glad you’ve come around. So what’s the deal? A prison visit?”

“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t even know if she’s there, I just—I’m supposed to meet that Aphrodite person, maybe find proof she really is a computer. It’s all kind of crazy.”

“It is,” Rabbit agreed, giving her a gentle pat on the back. “So that’s it. Just going there for an interview?”

“No, that’s…” again, she paused, glanced at them as if asking for help.

“Just spit it out. This blushing abashed schoolgirl thing is not your vibe,” Rabbit shrugged. “Seriously.”

Helen laced her fingers together, stretched them nervously, and finally let it out.

“I want to give it a go,” she said. “Just, experience it, learn what the hell is…”

Rabbit stopped in their tracks, turned to face her, and smiled with incredulity.

“Seriously?” they asked, a glint in their eyes. “That’s your plan? Top me in the wicked kingdom of latex as your helpless friend watched from the sides?”

Blood drained off Helen’s face. Panickedly, she looked away, the urge to run almost a physical force trying to shove her away from this conversation. She hadn’t felt like that in years.

“That’s not…” she tried to get her tongue to move, but it felt dead stiff. “It’s, it’s…”

Rabbit’s eyes narrowed, and their smile grew more and more taunting.

“You can’t be serious,” they whispered, and Helen couldn’t tell if she was being ridiculed or hailed. “You want to…”

When they laughed, the sound felt louder than their tiny chest should allow. Birds flew off from the branches of nearby trees. They howled until their voice all but broke, and then, raggedly, they rasped.

“You want to give bottoming for them a go?”

Helen took a step back, then forced herself to step forward. With all the strength available to her, she forced a neutral face.

“It’s…” she started, failing at calm.

“Shh,” they put a finger to her lips. “It’s stupid, you know? It’s not going to work.”

She deflated. Rabbit was right, this was just a…

“But I’m proud of you that you want to try,” they continued, and Helen once again found herself cursing the part of her that still remembered the hopelessness of romanticism. “And I think you should.”

“Really?” she asked, hopeful and bright.

“Really,” Rabbit nodded sternly, stepping back. “But seriously, this wavering shyness just isn’t you. You’re doing a weird, you’re taking me along for the ride, great. Just…” they frowned. “Just don’t milk too much validation out of me.”

Helen nodded slowly and solemnly, mulling over what they had just said. They parted soon after, a brief hug and a promise to see each other again in a few days. Rabbit scampered off to whatever work they had to do (they never quite explained what their income was, and Helen didn’t dwell), and Helen stayed, enjoying the spring sun. She had another piece to write, and a large bit of the project report to prepare, but it could wait. She would hate herself in the night, but that was nothing new for a freelancer’s life.

She found herself a park, one of those tiny pieces of green sliced with concrete pavements, inserted between old architecture and frequented mostly by old ladies and tired moms with their colourful prams. At this hour of the day, it was mostly empty; Helen slumped down onto a bench and allowed the sun to drench her, eyes closed.

After some time, she reached for her phone, plugged in the headphones and played the music that had been on her mind a lot lately, ever since that Courage Disaster bassist reminded her of the soundtrack to the most confused years of her life.

The dry, unrefined acoustic of Pat the Bunny’s guitar filled her ears, soon followed by the boyish, desperate voice she used to identify so much with, back then, back when.

And for once, the whole truth was clear:
Everything's new and there's no turning back

It would be great if it could be that simple. If there really would be no turning back, no chickening out of her commitments and stupid plots. At least now she knew for sure that she couldn’t cancel the trip to that facility without disappointing Rabbit to the bone. That was one way to keep herself in check and on track.

The plan she had hatched was, of course, stupid, and Rabbit was right. It probably wouldn’t work. But she owed it to herself to try—or, to be honest, she owed it to Rowan to try. To learn how it felt.

Maybe then things would start making sense, not intellectually, but in a way that mattered: the visceral, gut-level knowledge of why it felt the way it felt.

So I'll seek no comfort and shelter no fear
Where they plant orchards I'll reap barren land…

She envied him the courage to sing those words, and the courage to live by them. She would probably need some of it, soon enough.

She waited for the song to end, basked in the sun some more, then, trying not to think about what she intended to do would feel like, brought herself up and marched back home.

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