Whatever had happened last night, Linda couldn’t remember a thing. The realization startled her wide awake from her groggy, dazed state of half-sleep like a bucket of water to the torso.
Fuck. This wasn’t her bed.
Oh no, I’m fucking naked she realized with another, even more regretful rush of adrenaline. She groaned quietly. The throbbing headache behind her eyes did nothing to make this any better.
Fuck. I’m never drinking again! She could only barely remember the start of last night. She remembered feeling completely out of place between the fancy decor, the half-naked waitresses, and the weird atmosphere. The place had been invite-only -- and it had given her strange vibes from minute one, somewhere between roaring twenties and eyes-wide-shut sex society. But it was highly exlcusive, she’d gotten the opportunity to be there, the boys had been handsome and drinks had been free, so she had decided to make the most of it.
She should have known better.
She found her panties and bra along with the rest of her discarded clothes in a scatter plot of shame that described a path from the bedroom door to the king-sized bed. The bedroom was enormous, too. It felt almost as large as Linda’s entire student apartment.
Oh God, don’t tell me I hooked up with some trust-fund asshole, she thought as she hurriedly dressed herself, looking around the room. It had very high ceilings and was sparsely decorated. Between the curtains covering the large windows she could make out an expansive and densely planted garden. Try to fuck the rich by making an insignificant dent in their drink budget, then literally fuck the rich because you can’t handle your booze. Good job, Linda!
There was no trace of the hook-up to be found, and nothing to hint at his identity. The only pictures in the room were modern art pieces that looked as expensive as they looked vaguely unsettling. Dark splotches of paint with deep purple swirls streaking through them, the paint layered so thick on the canvas that a glancing ray of sunshine cast visible shadows on the surface.
Linda’s headache seemed to grow worse the more her body woke up. Her fingertips tingled slightly, and she wasn’t sure that she had even entirely sobered up. It felt like more had happened to her brain than just alcohol. She slipped into her dress and zippered it up. Her handbag was nowhere to be found. She wished she could just sneak out, but now she would have to go looking for it. She squinted as she tried to remember anything from last night, and pain bloomed in her skull. Nothing. Fuck. Well, if she had to guess, probably in the kitchen or next to the entrance.
She took a deep breath and exited the bedroom. Please be out for work or something. Please don’t be here. I don’t want to deal with this.
“Ah, you’re finally awake!”
The bedroom door had led her into an even more spacious living room with an attached kitchen. It was almost as big as a small ballroom, and she might have thought she was in fact in a castle if it hadn’t been for the stark white minimalism of the decor. There was little furniture apart from a grand piano and an obscenely large flat-screen television. And on the leather couch, reading from an iPad, was the mistake she had made last night.
He was tall and fit and very handsome, with neat blond hair and stylish glasses. He might have even been her type if he didn’t look like someone who was just about to insult a bus boy for taking too long to fetch his penthouse keys. He was wearing a goddamn polo shirt and khakis. He was the walking embodiment of unearned wealth.
Kill me now, she thought.
“Hi,” she said awkwardly. “uuhh… ”
“Take those off again,” he said without lifting his head to look at her, and in a tone that someone might use to tell a barista to make a coffee to-go. “I want you naked.” He gestured lazily at her, waving his hand toward the floor.
Linda’s jaw dropped. It took her a moment to even process the sheer, utter audacity of it. She felt like she had been slapped in the face. “Excuse me?!” she screeched, and Polo Shirt frowned. For a moment he looked like he was actually surprised that Linda wasn’t just stripping when he told her! Linda watched him in disbelief. She was still paralyzed with shock.
“…you’re awake,” he said after a moment. His brow was deeply furrowed. He looked suddenly very concerned, which Linda didn’t understand at all. She felt baffled and overwhelmed, like someone had taken her by the heels and flipped her upside down.
“I… I’m leaving, “ she said, finally feeling her confusion turn into the appropriate righteous anger. Polo Shirt was getting up from his couch, looking alarmed. What the fuck had he been expecting her reaction to be? She couldn’t believe what was happening.
“But… you’re mine,” he said, anger rising in his voice, too. He looked at her with an expression that made her hairs stand up on the back of her neck. Oh fuck, no, Linda thought as all alarm bells in her head began to ring at once. He fucking roofied me! I got raped! She turned to run away.
“Override code theta... fuck, what was it…?” he said as she made to the end of the room that she prayed led outside. What?
“Override code theta-zeta 7!“ he screamed, his voice coming at once from a million miles behind her and from inside Linda’s skull, and something inside her seemed to shut off. She stopped running.
What?! No! What is happening?!
She just stood there, at the edge of the living room. She could see the front door at the end of a hallway. But she couldn’t move. It was like she was completely paralyzed, except that she was able to stand upright.
“Oh thank fuck,” Polo Shirt said, and she could hear a sigh of relief between the low rumble of the blood shooting through her ears.
She had to call for help! She had to get out of this! He had done something to her. He must have drugged her, raped her. Oh God. This can’t be happening! She had never heard about a drug that could do this. But whatever he had done to her, she couldn’t do anything. When she told her mouth to scream, nothing happened. When she told her legs to run, she remained standing straight as a candlestick. The only thing racing was her pulse and her mind.
“Come back here, bitch,” Polo Shirt said.
No! Fuck you! Let me go! Make this stop! she thought, but her body was doing what he told her. She watched herself turn around and calmly walk back to the couch. When she arrived, her body stopped and she came to a standstill. She wasn’t even trembling. It felt so wrong. She was trapped.
He took her by the shoulders and pushed her down on the couch. Her body gave way easily and she fell backwards into the soft upholstery. Polo Shirt looked at her with a sickening expression of satisfaction, then walked away.
“Be right back, Linda,” he said. “Don’t move.”
Linda could do nothing but to stare ahead, across the coffee table and out into the garden, where trees were gently swaying in the breeze as if nothing had happened. Linda’s heart was beating against her chest like an angry, caged animal.
I have to get out of here. I have to get out of this!
She tried to focus on just one part of her body. Maybe she could make that move. Just one part. Just her right thumb for a start, and maybe work her way up from that. Just anything at all! If she could manage to use her hand she might somehow use a phone or something.
She tried to bend her right thumb. She focussed all her attention on the sense and feeling of the digit. She could still feel all of her body. She just couldn’t move it at all. She focussed on her thumb, and the muscles in her lower arm that she knew controlled it, on the skin and the tendons and the abstract sense that told her where her limbs were even when her eyes were closed.
For a while, absolutely nothing happened. Then, almost imperceptibly, her thumb twitched. She tried again. Nothing happened. She tried again, and it flexed a little bit more. She tried again and—
Polo Shirt’s footsteps broke her out of her concentration. She would have tensed, but her body refused to do even that. He was carrying black plastic zip-ties and a handful of kitchen towels. He was muttering to himself under his breath.
”The fuck, man… this was supposed to work... she was completely fucking gone.”
He took her hands and wrapped a kitchen towel around both her wrists in two layers, then zip-tied them tightly behind her back. He did the same thing to her ankles. He then took a last towel and gagged her with it.
“Just to make sure,” he said, then took out his cell phone, made a call and put it on speaker. He laid it on the coffee table and paced up and down the room as it rang.
”Enclave entertainment and bookings, how may I serve you?”
“Yeah, this is Chad DeVere, of your elite customer program.”
”Just a moment, sir. I’ll refer you,” the vice replied and the line went to a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the call was put on hold.
Chad. Really? Fucking Chad?! Linda thought despite herself. She was again trying to concentrate on her fingers. While the phone had been ringing, she had managed to bend her thumb all the way. She was actually kind of glad in a supremely desperate way that Chad had bound her hands behind her back. This way at least he wouldn’t see what she was doing. And surely he would untie her at some point, thinking she wouldn’t be able to do anything. That would be her chance to break his fucking nose and run for it.
Telling even small parts of her body to move took Linda a great deal of concentration, but it was getting slightly easier now that she was getting used to the kind of thinking it took to make it happen. It was a strange foreign feeling, like taking the back door to her own tendons. Her index finger twitched when she wanted it to, and after a couple of more tries she managed to bend it, too. It had gone much quicker than her thumb.
“Elite Customer Program, please state your credentials,” came a different voice on the speaker phone. Whereas the first voice on the phone had been cheerfully corporate, this voice had a more serious and businesslike tone.
“Chad DeVere, seven-seven-five-nine-mayflower.”
There was a pause. Linda’s middle finger was flexing and stretching, and her wrist felt like it was starting to do what she told it, too.
“Good morning, Mister DeVere, how may I serve you? Is this about slave linda?”
Linda’s heart skipped a beat. What the fuck did she just say?!
“Yeah, it is,” Chad said, sounding angry. “she’s not working properly. I had to use the initial override to stop her from bolting. You told me she’d be my fucking slave. How did you put it? ‘Willing and obedient’. Well she’s fucking neither of those! All I have is a paralyzed bitch staring daggers at me. Fix her or give me my fucking money back!”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mister DeVere. We will do everything to make sure that this is resolved as soon as possible. I apologize for the inconvenience, but may I ask you to make sure that the material is still responding to trigger phrases?”
“I already told you I overrode her.”
“Yes Sir, but may I ask you to test the sleep and wake commands?”
Linda’s right fist clenched. What?!
Chad rolled his eyes, turned to her and said “Sl—
—she woke up. She was lying on her side on the couch.
“Works fine. She fell asleep and woke up as I commanded her,” Chad said.
“Thank you, sir. It seems like the initial imprinting was successful. The fault must have occurred during the end user imprinting.”
“I did everything exactly like the manual said! It took almost two hours, and she worked fine the rest of the night! If something went wrong, your fucking manual’s wrong!”
Linda swallowed, then did a mental double take when she realized that she was able to swallow in response to something that was happening. She was getting control back! It was working!
“I understand you’re upset, Sir. Let me assure you that we’re doing everything to help you. Please stand by for just one moment.”
Linda tried to swallow again. But it had only worked that one time and she couldn’t make it happen again consciously. Reflex seemed to have a better pathway to her unresponsive body than willpower did. Willpower was unfortunately the only thing she could actively work with. She went back to her right hand, and she was pleasantly surprised to realize that she could make her fingers do a little wave and ball into a fist in one motion.
Chad meanwhile was angrily pacing up and down the room again, hardly minding her at all. She pumped her fist a couple of more times. Imagining punching Chad with that fist seemed to give her even more control. The raw hatred and fight and flight response somehow helped. She felt the tendons in her arm twitch with anger.
“Mister DeVere,” said the voice on the phone. ”Thank you for holding. I am sending an associate right now to troubleshoot the issue with your slave and make sure that the material will obey you as intended. Since the initial body override was meant to last only one night, I recommend that you command the material to sleep until the associate arrives in about forty-five minutes.”
Linda could almost flex her arm now. She tried her left hand, and it took her only a couple of tries to find the mental pathway to make something happen. It was hard, and it felt weak, but she was definitely getting somewhere.
Chad said something and—
She had been dragged back into a sitting position. The surprise of waking up made her instinctively tense, and to her even greater surprise she somehow knew instantly that she could move her whole body if she wanted to. Somehow, she had the presence of mind not to jump and make any noise. She tried to wiggle her toes however, and it worked easily. It still felt foreign in the backwards way she had to push through her nerves, but her mind seemed to have grasped how to do that in a deeper way.
Sleeping on a problem really helps, she thought, and after a few silent moments she realized something else: She had woken by herself, without a command like last time. She was alone.
Her mind raced. Chad was nowhere to be seen, but it was very unlikely that he had left the house. He might be in another room, or he might be just behind her.
She made a mental inventory of her situation: She could move now, but she was still tied up. She didn’t know how much time she had before Chad came back. She didn’t know how much time she had before the ominous 'associate' arrived.
The associate, she thought. From The Enclave? That was the club she had partied at last night after she’d won a VIP ticket in a social media contest. They had talked about her, calling her ‘slave Linda’. Was that what this was? Was that why she couldn’t move? Could he make her fall asleep? Was this some kind of evil mind control? Her brain instinctively recoiled at the idea. It was just ridiculous. Ridiculous except for the fact that it was definitely happening. And that meant…
…they wanted to enslave her. Somehow. Her mind spun with all the terrible things that could mean. Make her want this? Make her unable to think thoughts they didn’t want? Unable to resist? Turn her into a robot? Turn her consciousness off entirely? Trap her in her body like she had been, but permanently?
She didn’t know which alternative was the most sickening. All she knew was that she had broken free for now. And she knew that she had to do something; and whatever she did, she’d likely have only one shot at it.
Fuck, I’ve already waited too long. Regardless of whether Chad was coming back ten seconds from now or ten minutes, she had wasted precious time. Sitting on the couch was getting her nowhere.
She got up with difficulty, owing to her bound hands and feet, and the soft cushions she had deeply sunk into. When she finally managed to stand up, she almost fell over onto the coffee table. But she managed to find her balance. Chad was still missing. She started awkwardly waddling towards the kitchen area.
There was a knife block on the kitchen counter.
It probably took her less than half a minute to get there, but it felt like an eternity. With every miniscule shuffle of her feet she dreaded losing her balance, or a door opening. One magic word from fucking Chad, and she would be out.
Getting the knife out of the block and sliding it between her wrists and the zip-tie was almost impossible with her hands behind her back, but after another eternity of quiet struggle she somehow managed it. When the zip-tie finally gave, she thought she might fall unconscious from the dizzying head rush of adrenaline and endorphins. She cut her feet free and made for the door as quietly as she could, hoping, praying, that her impossible luck would hold for another few seconds. The living room let into a long hallway, and at the end of it, the front door. Just a few more steps. Just a few more—
She heard muffled footsteps, and somewhere behind her a door opened. Fuck, no!
Before she even knew what she was doing, her hands were pressed on her ears tightly, and she was screaming at the top of her voice as she ran to the front door in a full sprint. Don’t listen to it! Don’t let him get you.
She didn’t look back, and she didn’t know what he was doing behind her. Nothing he could be doing changed what she had to do. She had to take one hand off her ear to get the door open, and she screamed louder than she had ever screamed to make up for it as she pressed her ear into her shoulder and ripped the front door open.
She ran right into another woman, but she didn’t care, didn’t even really see her. She ran past her, towards freedom. But something grabbed her, tripped her. She stumbled and fell, and the impact on the ground knocked the wind out of her for a moment.
She scrambled to get up to her feet. She was so close. The sun was casting warm rays on her skin, and there were birds chirping in the soft breeze. The front gate of the garden was unlocked. She only had to—
The woman said something, and Linda felt a short, terrible moment of panic and recognition before everything went black.