a prison, a body

iv. rowan. before you look

by gargulec

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

Yesterday, the concrete greenery of the Galatea lobby made Rowan think of a carefully cultivated city park. Nothing changed since. The gravelly alleyways were just as neatly raked, and the potted trees and flowers just as immaculately ordered. And yet, today she could not help but to feel like she was making her way through some kind of a devouring forest, about to swallow her whole. Was it just the air that was so heavy with water that she could feel it condense on her skin, or was she actually sweating? The light, filtering through interwoven canopies seemed both artificial and threatening, bringing back some atavistic impulses from the times of dark woods and lurking predators. In a way, it made her think of herself as a traveller braving a primal jungle, to the ancient temple of bliss laying hidden at its heart, the last place remaining not yet bound by the rules of civilization...

“Great,” she groaned as the vision unfolded in her mind, “I’m having colonial fantasies now.”

The tree-pots had an edge enough to sit on. She didn’t bother wiping the water from the concrete; she didn’t much care if the old jeans she was wearing were going to get stained or ruined. They belonged to a different life, one that she had no interest in ever revisiting.

Still, she needed a moment to think. She leaned back, resting herself against the trunk of a slender birch. Whatever was going on her head right now, it felt like a mess. Just a few hours ago, back in the morning, she stroked herself to the thought of rushing off to Galatea ahead of schedule. All the doubts she had before signing the papers felt alien and distant, like belonging to someone else entirely. Excitedly, she flicked through the catalogues she collected over the months, mentally putting herself in the position of those restrained, deftly-shaped bodies. The heady mix of carelessness and arousal filled her head like a sweet perfume, and every moment of the wait felt excruciatingly stretched-out. So, to kill time and say goodbyes, she made the decision to see Helen.

She rubbed her temples in dull frustration. What was she expecting? Validation?

She knew that Helen was going to explain to her that it was all a big mistake. They had those conversations before. Frankly, she should have seen the other thing coming, too. Of course Helen was going to all but say to her to her face it was just an inexperienced trans girl mistaking being objectified for being a woman. It’s not like she hadn’t grappled with that though herself before.

But as much as it hurt to hear that, it was hardly the worst. No, what really got to her, in that visceral sort of a way reminding of her own powerlessness, was how she didn’t even talk back. She came in girded for battle. She had counters readied in advance to each motion she expected Helen to make. But what did she do when they were together? Made a sad face and begged her to stop being mean. And right.

“It’s not like that, okay?” she whispered at the thin air, imagining her friend being right there, listening intently. “You just can’t get over the idea that a woman in her right senses could want something like that. So I must need money, I must be coerced, it must be a tranny’s maladaptation. Or I must be just disturbed. And you know what that is? It’s rad-fem rhetoric. It’s what they used to say about S/M. Just get out there and claim that if an adult woman wants to bottom, it means that she has the fucking brain worms!”

She caught her voice raising, and paused abruptly. Thankfully, no one seemed to hear, or be around for that matter. She exhaled. Any argument felt convincing, when thrown into the ether like that. She imagined Helen nodding along, however reluctantly.

But of course, the discussion wouldn’t end so quickly. Helen would ask something along the lines: but isn’t it different? Isn’t it false equivalence? A bit of S/M in the bedroom versus actually selling yourself to papa corporation?

“No one is forcing me to,” she continued. “I am doing what I want because I want it. Besides, the society is made up of institutions of coercion anyway. School. University. Army. They all take you and make you into something else. Here? It is just made explicit. I have agency.. And it is not like it’s a boys’ thing to do. It’s not just a fantasy of horny teens who can’t find themselves a dommy GF. More women than men sign the Galatea contracts, there are statistics. So yeah, maybe it is not because I’m trans and I don’t even know what real womanhood is about, maybe it doesn’t prove that I am, in fact, a…”

Rown bit her tongue before the words could come out. It wasn’t Helen she was arguing with anymore. Between the two of them, it was never Helen that doubted in Rowan’s gender.

“It’s not a fetish,” she quietly spoke, trying to sound convinced. “I’m real. I’m real.”

Unfortunately, while she could always win the shadow-boxing argument with the phantom of Helen, the thing she was talking to right now wasn’t nearly as pliant.

If it is not a fetish, the part of her that never ceased being smug about knowing itself to be the real, rational mind, then what are you doing here? Why did you keep wanking your dick off to the fantasy of being a harem utility, long before sissy porn made you a “trans”?

“I…,” and there it was. That exact feeling. That exact feeling she spent years in education that deny, that she could disprove in a thousand ways, that exact feeling she never stopped having no matter how much she talked herself out of it.

You can’t convince yourself, it said, because deep down inside you know you’re just a per…


She jumped up at the sudden sound, startled, but also relieved. The word dragger out of her head and back into the world. She looked up to see one of the Galatea clerks stand over her, a concerned smile on his face. She recognized his eyes - the striking cobalt of the man who greeted her yesterday.

“You look unwell,” he said, “are you alright? Can I help you somehow?”

On instinct, she tried to wave him away, mouth some insincere am okay, but instead she just managed a short, ambivalent shrug. As shameful as the thought was, there was a kind of satisfaction in having her frustration and sadness noticed, even if by a corporate drone.

“You’re here to turn yourself in, right?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Would you want me to sit here with you for a moment?” he offered.

“Uhm… sure?” she murmured, a bit surprised. She shuffled a bit to the side, so to make space for him.

He perched himself next to her, not quite rubbing shoulders, but still close. For a few moments, they were both silent - he, looking at some unspecified point between trees and she, eyes downcast.

“It just feels like I’m making a mistake,” she finally mouthed. The words felt wretched to say, like an admission of guilt.

“It’s okay to have doubts,” he said. “And the longer you hesitate, the worse they will get. But...”

However trite he sounded, she couldn’t help but to feel a kind of pleasure just by listening to him speak to her in this sweet, level voice of his. He sounded less like a clerk and more of a therapist, or just that one friend who would always find time to be patient with you. She missed it very sorely.

“But once you take the leap,” he continued, “they’ll have no more power over you.”

“Because I won’t have any power left over myself?” she murmured with, more bitter than she was comfortable with letting. She had those conversations before. “I know this pitch. I’ve read your material. It’s a fantasy, it’s the stock justification of emancipated girls who are secretly ashamed of liking to be tied up and called whores. It’s a fantasy. It’s bullshit you sell to people so that they sell themselves to you.”

“It’s a fantasy, yes,” he admitted. If her words annoyed him, he didn’t show. “So you want to walk away from your fantasy now?”

“That would be the smart thing to do, yes.”


“Because it’s not real.”

She had to concede this, she realized. Helen was right. The entire plan was a chase after a delusion. Even worse, the part that she hated the most was right as well, as it always was. She had a life, and she was trying to mutilate it out of spite for not being able to look into a mirror and face what she really was. A petty, stupid act of self-harm. She had to admit that. She had to face that.

“Or maybe because you are afraid,” the clerk suggested.

“Afraid of ruining my life, yeah,” she scoffed. “Look, I am not sure if we should be having this conversation…”

“It isn’t the first time,” he interrupted her, ever gentle, “is it?”

Distantly, she realized she was being baited. He was there to ease her, she was sure, into making the exact mistake she realized she shouldn’t be making. What she should do is walk away, and never look back. Throw away the catalogues. Remove the porn from the hard drive. Forget she ever wanted any of that. That would be the rational thing to do. And yet, despite her better judgement, she took the bait.

“First time?” she asked.

“First time you’re turning away from your dreams just because if they are dreams, they can’t ever be real?”

She tensed all out of sudden, as if her entire body was readying to bolt. She breathed out, very carefully.

“How many times have you fantasized to yourself,” he continued, voice still so warm and reassuring, “that someone would put you in heels and made you strut, over and over again, no matter how many times you stumbled, ignoring your shame and your protests, not letting you escape until you finally learned how to dance in them?”

Her stomach twisted, tied itself into a knot. How the fuck did he know that?

“You can’t expect others to make you grow,” she spat, afraid or angry. She couldn’t really tell which. “You do it yourself, or not at all.”

“And how does it go for you,” finally, he allowed his smile to fade. No malice replaced it. Just empathy, “are you growing now?”

“I have my degree,” she pleaded, “I have some work. I have a friend.”

It was all true. And yet, as she said it, it could only sound inadequate, so very hollow. She had that. All of it. But he was right. It wasn’t growth. It was an impasse. Being stuck. Where it mattered, her life felt stuck, buried to the hip in mud, trapped in a quagmire.

“So why did you even apply here?”

There were things she could say to that. She could maintain it was about money, or surgery. One and the same, really. Or she could admit it was stupidity and arousal mixed together. Or maybe she could just come clean and say: I am disturbed, validate the part of her that always felt the most rational. But as she turned the words in her mouth and tried to piece them into a sentence that would make sense, she knew that none of those things were true. Not entirely true. Not at all true. Beneath all that, there was another reason, one that she knew so very intimately, but could never say out loud. Not to others, and not to herself. The wretched feeling of defeat receded, leaving behind only deep sense of solitude.

“Is there even a reason you are doing any of this?” it surprised her just how bitter her voice came out sounding, how ragged and harsh. “Is this a part of your job, to spot recalcitrant lambs and usher them back into the corporate slaughterhouse?”

She didn’t look up to see if this made his professional smile waver. But when he spoke again, she could pick out a faintest hint of frustration in tone that remained immaculately sympathetic and polite.

“Contrary to what you may think,” he said, “you are not the only one to have ever hurt like that. And even corporate peons can sometimes feel empathy.”

He dragged himself up. She heard gravel shift under his boots as he turned to leave.

“When you’re ready,” he said, “wave your hand. Someone will notice on the camera and come over and take you to processing. And if you want to leave…,” he shrugged. “Your contracts become binding after you descend. There will be a line painted on the floor you will have to cross. It’s your leap to take. Until then, you’re free to go.”

For a time, she sat there motionless, a faint haze of resentment and sadness clinging to the underside of her skull. Eventually, she raised her head to look around again. The sense of threat hidden behind all that greenery faded down to vague unease. But as her eyes wandered up moss-clad trunks of hundred-years-old ashes, a different sort of a feeling grasped her.


What was this place? Creating and maintaining this indoor wild had to cost a fortune. There was something mortifying in just thinking about the raw amount of labour that had to go into watering and maintaining this artificial forest. Just how many gardeners Galatea Corporation had to have on retainer and just how many workers had to toil every day to keep this place always wild and always immaculate?

It couldn’t be just for a show of wealth. They did not make this place overflow with vulgar gilt. They did not buy Renaissance marbles and stick it in a glass case. They did not make the lobby a museum to their opulence. Instead they took a living forest, uprooted it, sectioned it into trees and flower-patches, and reassembled in beds of barren concrete, then made it grow and thrive.

It wasn’t about their wealth, Rowan concluded, but rather about their purpose, and their power. A statement not so different from that body in black plastic serving her cocoa with the perfect gait of a well-trained ballerina. Perhaps her intuition that it was just a front for a butchery of sorts wasn’t mistaken. But she could see with her own eyes just how good their products could look.

She looked up, looking for the camera, and waved her hand.

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