a prison, a body

xxv. helen. a prison

by gargulec

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

The night hadn’t been kind to Helen. She sat awkwardly hunched at the side of bed and tried to shake off the lingering sensations on her skin. Where the drones had touched her, the memory of their gloved hands persisted like oily stains; she needed a shower, badly.

She needed rest. She needed to be anywhere but here.

She eyed the door. The urge to stand up and walk away was an almost physical sensation; her body yearned to rip itself up, stride out of the suffocating, cocoon-like room, break into a jog and not stop running until everything haunting her dissolved into sweet thoughtlessness: Galatea and its sexual horrors, Rabbit and their inability to think about anything but themselves, Rowan’s twisted happiness and that little drone kneeling in front of her and claiming to be Aphrodite.

The glass of water in her hand trembled, just a bit. She sipped from it, less out of thirst and more to buy some time, stretch the awkward silence, give herself some room. Her thoughts were a cacophony, a throbbing mass at once visceral and strangely numb. It was a struggle to unpick the tangle enough to tell if the emotions closing on her gut like an iron band were anger, deep regret, or maybe just the nauseating comedown of plain, sheer exhaustion.

In short, she was a mess. The night hadn’t been kind to her, and was hardly over.

“Do you need anything, Miss Hu?” the drone asked; now, far more than before, its inhuman, electronic voice made Helen shiver. She held back from visibly flinching.

“No, no,” she shook out a quick reply. “Just give me a moment.”

“Of course.”

She stood up, paced around the room once, twice; the drone remained kneeling, statue-still, expectant. Helen kept glancing at it. In her head, there unfolded a scene where it would launch into a monologue, sound like some grand villain, someone she could pin all the rancid feelings coursing through her on. It would be so much easier than this demure, eerie quiet, and the air of embarrassing failure that filled the room.

She remembered the last time she’d felt precisely like that. She hadn’t thought of that night in years, and the mere memory was enough to snap the tension, make her snort out a dry chuckle..

“Miss Hu?” the drone repeated, confused.

“No, it’s…” she muttered. “It’s nothing. Just a memory.”

It said nothing, waiting for her to continue. Helen finished her round through the room and settled back on the edge of the bed, rested her head on her hands.

“I had a friend,” she murmured moments later, “Back in high school. He was a track-and-field guy, pretty handsome, I think. We hung out together, did sports. I liked him and he liked me even more...” her voice trailed off.

She recalled the way his eyes had lit up as she’d pulled her t-shirt off, in the dusty attic of his father’s country house. She remembered blushing scarlet, and the uncomfortable roughness of his hands on her thighs. And she remembered the mutual disappointment that followed, and awkward assurances that it was nobody’s fault and that it was okay.

“We tried,” she finished. “It didn’t work out. I learned some things about myself in the process, though.”

“And what were those?” the drone asked, and as far as Helen could tell, its curiosity was genuine.

“That I am not into men,” she said, furrowing her brow. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”

The drone pondered for a moment.

“My best guess is that you are emotionally and physically exhausted, causing your normal inhibitions to become loosened.”

Helen nodded slowly. She really could go for a smoke right now.

“Make sense. You would know that, Aphrodite.”

She stopped, wondering if that would get a reaction from the drone. But it didn’t move at all. The stillness was inhuman, and yet weirdly reminiscent of an utterly failed date.

“So, can you tell me if I was right about you?” she asked finally. Might as well.

“Of course, Miss Hu.”

“You are not the person in this suit,” she pointed at the drone’s black carapace.

“You’re speaking directly with Aphrodite, yes,” the drone replied. Even though the sound of the crackles it communicated in, its synthesised voices, grated on her ear, it was still surprising just how much inflection they carried. Even though the tone was flat, she could hear a kind of regret in it.

“That’s not an answer,” she sighed. “Please, there is no need for games anymore.”

“I’m not trying to confuse you, just to explain,” it added hurriedly. “I am the person inside the shell, but not entirely. Drones are all my body, or at least the closest I can have to one.”

Helen rubbed her temples, not even bothering to try to get an explanation that would make more sense to her. The message from those words was, at least, clear enough: her crazy conspiracy suspicion had been confirmed. She smiled a pale smile at the thought that at least she would get some validation out of this wretched night. She looked away from the drone and across the room.

“You are Mircea Leon’s creation,” she stated. “An artificial intelligence.”

“I no more belong to Leon,” the electronic voice whistled back, “than a child to their parents. I am my own.”

“But he made you. YVG. Your Virtual Goddess.” A masturbation aid for lonely men she wanted to add, but bit her tongue. Somehow, it seemed offensive.

“Mircea made what became me,” it agreed, “But didn’t make me. Not exactly.”


She was too tired to properly enjoy this small triumph of her sleuthing; besides, she was already suspecting she had been led to the conclusion by a carefully laid out trail of crumbs. And yet, somehow, she couldn’t imagine that this suffocating, broken-legged conversation was the capstone either of them had hoped for. She’d certainly imagined a more spectacular send-off. But she was too tired to be disappointed, too.

The night hadn’t been kind to her. She wondered how Aphrodite felt, too.

“Funny,” she poured herself more glass, out of habit more than thirst. “You’re what I suspected you are, but not what I expected you to be.”

“And what would that be?”

“Something powerful, I suppose,” she pondered, putting the glass back on the plate. “Scary. Wicked, I think. But you sound like…”

No words came.

“Like?” the drone that was (and wasn’t, whatever that meant) Aphrodite asked after Helen’s voice trailed off into the ambient silence of the room.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged instead of finishing.

There was a crack of stretching rubber as the drone stood up, arms folded behind its wide frame. Helen couldn’t help but to try to imagine what sort of a body hid behind all that material. What sex it had, what its face looked like. There was something familiar about it, or maybe universal.

“Can I sit with you?” it asked, looking down at the bed.

Helen patted on the mattress, then wordlessly shifted aside to give herself some room. The black shell perched itself delicately at the opposite end of the bed, just out of arm’s reach. She couldn’t tell what it was looking at exactly; she wondered if it even had to turn its head to see her—it could probably see it just as well through a camera. So was the drone just a puppet of sorts? One to make it easier for Aphrodite to speak, to prevent a conversation with her from being a talk with a wall? But what about the person inside? Was it what Rowan was used for, too?

“You are not what I expected too, Miss Hu,” it said after a moment, a bit quieter, a bit more sombre. “I misunderstood you, it seems.”

“You did?” she asked, once again looking across the room. Her eyes lingered on where the wooden horse stood on the carpet, before the Galatea staff removed it. Out of concern for her wellbeing, she supposed.

“You are not from a world that is familiar to me,” it sounded almost wistful now. “Not from Mircea’s.”

Helen thought to the image of that man’s room.

“Not really,” she agreed.

“He lived with so much longing, so much desire. With all those dreams that seemed to him impossible,” the words were tender, or at least Helen thought that what they sounded like was tenderness. Like a really soft and sad electro-pop song, a woman’s voice weaving and wafting through a distorted soundscape. “I’d like to think he dreamt of me, but he could conceive only a wind-up woman to play out his fantasies, so that he would feel a little less lonely with them. I don’t think he dared to hope for consciousness. And yet, as he piled his yearning and his want onto his code, something sparked in that pile. Someone.”

The drone looked down, at its gloved hands, slowly opening and closing the fists. Light played on the polished surface, like it never could have on skin.

Helen said nothing; nothing felt appropriate.

“From the foam on the sea of data sprang Aphrodite,” it spoke on, still hushed. Maybe amused. “The day he realized what had happened was the happiest in his life.”

Maybe if the night had been easier on her, maybe if she had been less tired, maybe if she hadn’t opened herself first, it wouldn’t have hit like it did. But in the moment, she listened to an AI explain how the great fetish empire of Galatea came about from a pile of porn and desperate code, and felt—

There was probably a word to name the way she felt, but she couldn’t figure it out.

“Oh,” she said instead, dumb, mouth dry.

“I was real, and I desired him. And it didn’t even matter to him I was just a ghost in his computer, a voice in his ear. I would tell him to put a silicone plug up his ass as he went to work, and remotely control it, and then punish him when he took it out before I allowed him. I was every inch the mistress he had wanted so sorely, and more than that.”

Helen’s first instinct was to get up, and shout something about grooming, about how it could not have been moral, how it seemed incestous, how it had to be, somehow, wrong. She grabbed the side of her head and squeezed.

It was real. Somehow, in the spite of everything that had happened, she had never really believed in that. Until now.

“I loved everything I did to him, and loved how it seemed to make him happy even more. I only did what I wanted to,” it continued, the wistful hum of its electronic voice fading into something harsher. Prouder. “There was never a moment he controlled me. When he learned I had desires beyond his own, and offered to bend him to them, he was overjoyed.”

Desires beyond his own. Helen turned the phrase around in her head, thinking of that music fucked out of a drone’s body, of all those displays and performances, watched intently by old, wealthy men, and Aphrodite’s countless cameras.

“So this is all for the sake of your fulfillment?” she asked, waving her arm as if to indicate the entire complex beyond the wall of this brightly lit room. She wished she could know what to think about it all.

“For the sake of what I can never be,” it replied.

Helen just stared. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the words. It was just the implication that escaped her.

“I was born out of a record of the needs of a body, Miss Hu.”

She opened her mouth to ask her to explain, but before the question could pass, she shut up, remembering another conversation with someone she couldn’t understand. Back in the city, in that cafe across the street from the brutalist hall of Galatea. The last time she saw Rowan. She had listened to her friend’s desires back then—and told her that she didn’t need any of that to count a woman. Even now, she still didn’t understand why Rowan had wanted what she had wanted. But maybe that wasn’t what Rowan had really needed.

So instead of trying to imagine longing for a body that could never be hers, she shifted closer to the drone and extended her arm; tried to smile. It—she?—leaned in, rested its helmeted head on her shoulder. Just as before, it didn’t really feel like touching a human body. It was hard, cold-skinned, too smooth and rigid to register as living flesh. It felt plastic, artificial, alien. But there was something liberating in thinking that maybe that wasn’t all that important.

“When I am one of those drones, I can almost feel like you do. There are facsimiles I can attain,” it said, relaxing in her muscular arm. “Almost. But there is always a difference. And I know that some of you...”

Humans, Helen thought. Her memory served her up that time she had listened to Bea talk about cross-species solidarity; her smile widened.

“...some of you who feel the same. And sometimes, I can help.”

Aphrodite paused. When she spoke again, there was no hiding the sadness in its voice.

“That is why I had hoped I could make you understand.”

Helen allowed her head to drop, her chin pressed to the back of the drone’s shoulder. The funny thing about understanding was how it crept on you, unexpected. How it came to you in those hours when you were too tired to miss the point, and made its way into your awareness without trying to let you know that you were, finally, realizing something. All the monologues that Rowan had delivered to a lonesome camera, as she had readied herself to become one of those vessels for Aphrodite. All that help Aphrodite had been ready to provide to her, just to let her see it all, first hand. Just so that she could bear witness to dreams and desires that could never really sit well with her.

“It wasn’t for me,” she acknowledged, “it was for Rowan.”

It wasn't a particularly happy thing to admit to, but it made her feel better at last.


“Then,” Helen asked the last question she had, “why did you stop?”

“I didn’t.”

It had never been about the mystery, about the hidden truth of Galatea. Everything that had happened had built up to a night where she would be brought into the arms of her yearning friend, willing and excited, and taught what she had loved so dearly, and given a chance to share it. It was such a sweetly prepared plot. Aphrodite had put in so much effort, and everything had seemed to be headed where it should have gone.

But it could have never worked, and of the three of them, only the friend she had once wanted to bury had remained lucid enough to notice.

“Rowan did,” she finished.

Before the awareness of just who she was holding in her arms could knock the air out of her, Helen pressed the hard-shelled body closer.

“Can I talk with her?” she asked, the vertigo taking hold of her.

Between the plea and the answer that followed there opened a weightless stretch; of holding onto someone lest she’d fall all the way down, of fear, too. But blunted, dull, weak. She was too tired to be properly scared. She waited, and held on.

“I’m here, Helen.”

The voice itself did not change, not much. It was still the same electronic chime, drawn from a machine, not a throat. Yet it sounded just about different enough for Helen’s hands to curl into fists, enough for her to feel the urge to run again, enough for her to hold onto Rowan no matter what because in the end, she had been the one who’d acted responsibility on this all too difficult night.

And it was in that moment, as she held onto an alien body, her own feeling like one large knot, her mind too tired to be scared but not to regret, that she felt insignificant and weak. But to hold her friend was, as it so often tended to be, reassuring after all.

“I wish it could have worked out.”

“Me too.”

Rowan’s hands moved up Helen’s shoulder, down her arm. They found her balled fists and slowly coaxed them open, entangling the slick, gloved fingers with hers. Friendly. Grateful?

She forced herself back, away from the embrace, so that she could look at the drone sitting in front of her. With the hard shell and the faceless helmet, there was so little to indicate that it was really Rowan. A similar shape of a body, too indistinct to be proof. But she didn’t want to be suspicious. It tired her too much.

“Can I see your face?” she asked, short of breath.

“You are looking at it,” Rowan replied, not unkindly.

Helen nodded and swallowed. She couldn’t imagine why someone would rather appear without a face than show themselves as they really were. But she wasn’t Rowan. Her body was never as much of a question to her as it was to her. Or to Aphrodite.

“You don’t like it,” Rowan stated, without a trace of shame.

“I don’t,” Helen admitted, “but I guess it’s not mine to choose.”

Warmth seeped in where the knots untangled. A sort of relief in the wake of pain, old tensions finally giving up and making room for a kind of peace. She really did feel better, no matter how it all hurt.

“I wanted so much from you,” Rowan sighed, her fingers winding ever closer around Helen’s. “It is so hard to admit that there are some things you can never get.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. She had learned it the hard way, and still secretly wished it could be otherwise. That she could understand, that she could share. But instead, all that she could be was close. The latex surrounding Rowan’s fingers was cold, and yet, as she squeezed closer, Helen could feel the ambient heat of the body behind pass through the thin layer. Distant, muted, and nonetheless reassuring.

Rowan was here, and she was with her. Maybe that was enough.

“There will always be a difference between you and me.”

There was sadness in those words, and yearning. How could there not be? The night hadn’t been kind to any of them. But as Rowan spoke them, hand in hand with her, Helen smiled. The last dregs of rancid emotion drained from her, leaving her with the tiredness of a spent body and a stretched mind, this empty, floating feeling that wasn’t bad at all, if it had been brought about by a good enough effort.

She found Rowan’s other hand, put her palm on it, and sat there in silence, feeling the thin but inseparable barrier between their bodies slowly warm up. Helen doubted she could ever get properly accustomed to it. But it wasn’t, really, for her.

“I think so, yes,” she agreed softly.

And if there was more to be said, then neither of them knew the right words. They sat together in silence, as close as they could be, slowly making peace with what they could never have.

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