Lucy and Trev walked hand in hand as they left the movie theatre. Trev was raving about everything they had just seen, and Lucy nodded along and agreed wherever she deemed it appropriate.
She had never been into superhero films. While she had tolerated Trev’s obsession with the ridiculously dressed and nonsensical creations when they had been kids, she had despised his continued enthusiasm for them when she had moved to be closer to him last year. She remembered being so disappointed then.
But a good girlfriend would keep an open mind, she reminded herself. She didn’t have to like that Trev enjoyed that stuff, she only needed to try to understand why he did. He was a man, he wanted to fix things and be brave and rescue people, so of course he admired Captain what’s his face and Spider-whosit.
When Trev asked, Lucy described her favourite moments, which were the few points in the film where the characters were out of their silly costumes and had seemed almost real with actual people problems. She didn’t say anything derisive about the CGI action scenes or gaping plot holes though; a good girlfriend wouldn’t attack something her boyfriend liked so much.
She knew she would have been saying a lot of different things had this been the previous weekend. Hell, they wouldn’t have gone to the cinema at all the previous weekend, because Trev would be away hanging out with those lovely friends of his already.
Lucy found that in addition to Trevor’s choice of friends, she could suddenly live with a lot of the things she hadn’t liked before. A good girlfriend would love her boyfriend regardless of the things she didn’t like, she reasoned. It was also easier and easier to let these constant intrusive thoughts seep through her mind and wash away her resistance to them.
She smiled, enjoying the feel of his hand in hers. It felt right, and she knew that at least that thought had always been there.
Trev still hadn’t mentioned James, and she was starting to think he wasn’t going to. Perhaps it would be too painful for him to talk about it. She wondered if she had volunteered to let herself be programmed by that computer program as penance for her cheating. Since she had no memory of it, wondering was all she could do.
Either way, she didn’t know how best to be a good girlfriend in that situation yet. Confess to it, bring it to light, or sweep it under the rug forever more, like it never happened? She knew that she hadn’t been a good girlfriend with her behaviour there; her past actions were inexcusable, the memories filling her up with both guilt and regret. A good girlfriend would never have cheated, plain and simple. But what would a good girlfriend do to make the situation better?
For the first time, the answer didn’t seem obvious, and she decided that a good girlfriend would take her time to fully consider things rather than act rashly on emotions.
“Are you cold, baby?” Trev asked as they walked towards the nearest subway station. Lucy had offered to cook Trev a dinner of his choice, so they were off to the shops to get ingredients for lasagna and then it would be back to Trev’s flat
“I’m okay,” she said gratefully, and she realised she was. She was trying—really trying—to be a good girlfriend, and the results had already been exceptional. Trev had, for the first time, blown off his friends to spend more time with her. He was being more attentive, more present. She loved it, and she loved him. Trying to scheme and plan to get her own personality back would seem like a pyrrhic victory at this point, because she would also risk losing the relationship with Trev she had always wanted. It was too early to be sure about it after such little time, but it was promising so far.
“I love you,” she said, looking adoringly up at Trev.
“I love you too.”
He leaned in to kiss her, and she melted in his arms and wished that the moment would last forever. But then she realised she only wanted it to last as long as Trev wanted it to. A good girlfriend would try to meet all of his needs. A good girlfriend would do anything and everything for him. A good girlfriend would devote herself to him, obey him, and bow to his will.
“Let’s go,” Trev said. “If we miss this train we’ll be waiting forever for the next one.”
“Whatever you like, baby.” Lucy sighed as he put her arm around her and then continued walking.
In a sense, she could feel her old self slipping away, and felt that soon there wouldn’t be anything left of who she was. Instead, there would only be a mental construct of who she thought a good girlfriend would be, inhabiting her body.
The idea made her nervous, but only briefly, for a good girlfriend wouldn’t worry about that kind of thing. A good girlfriend would strive to always be better, whatever the cost. As they approached the entrance to the tube, Lucy surrendered to that idea, as she knew she couldn’t resist it. Moment by moment, she felt the changes slowly consume her.
“Is this a stupid idea?” Tiffany murmured to Erin as the bus trundeled down street after street. “Am I being stupid just rushing in there?”
“No…” Erin replied quickly, though her doubting expression gave her away. When she saw Tiffany looking at her impatiently, she wobbled, then sighed. “No! It’s not stupid Tiff, it’s just…”
Tiffany clenched her jaw and urged Erin to continue with a tense nod and expectant stare.
“I guess I wonder if we’ll only get one chance to confront her.” Erin squinted, clearly uncomfortable saying it. “Like, if it goes badly this time for whatever reason, next time they might not even let us in the door, which would be a waste of the handheld device if we were to come back with that.”
Tiffany exhaled sharply and ran stressed hands through her hair, looking away with a distraught expression, though Erin quickly continued.
“But Tiff, listen, you’re also right in what you said. If Alice is really in as much trouble as it sounds, then every moment counts. Getting to her now might mean the difference between her coming home with us or her having a really bad trip and going completely off the rails.”
“So which is it?” Tiffany looked back to Erin intensely. “Is this a mistake or not?”
Erin shrugged hopelessly. “We won’t know until after. But it’s the best we can do right now, so what else can we do?”
“Urgh, I can’t believe I let this happen…” Tiffany slumped in her chair. Being on the bus feeling like they were taking forever to get there was not helping. She should have asked Josh for money for a cab. Even without being programmed, he would have gladly helped her for something this important.
“Don’t blame yourself, Tiff.” Erin placed a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault.”
“I dunno, Erin. I think it kinda is.” Tiffany sat up and held a finger in front of Erin’s face. “I’m forgetful.” Another finger went up. “I don’t think things through in advance, and ad hoc things far too often.” The third finger went up, and Tiffany scrunched her face up for several moments. “I dunno, I’m always screwing up!”
Erin chucked softly. “So you were horny and got distracted more than once. None of us are turned on by using the Algorithm quite as much as you are…”
Tiffany looked incredulous for a moment, and this time it was Erin’s turn to give her an impatient look.
“Okay, yeah…” Tiffany slumped back down in admission. “Since the first moment I saw you blank in the chair, it’s been driving me wild…”
Erin leaned in close now, her mouth stopping inches from Tiffany’s ear, her voice a murmur so the other passengers couldn’t hear. “And that’s not a bad thing, Mistress… I love it. I love how horny it’s made you, I love the powerful, dominating side it’s brought out of you. I love how you made me into your slave, and how you make me do whatever you want me to. It’s so fucking hot. When you’re relaxed, and you let your mojo out, it’s goddamn magical.”
Tiffany closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It felt like Erin’s words were little girders of support, propping her up, keeping her from falling over. It was tiring, exhausting even, feeling like she needed to be strong and in control when she really wanted to curl up and cry until she woke up to find that none of it was real.
Except she didn’t really want that. Not at all, actually. The thrill of control and the exhilaration of imposing her will was literally her living out her greatest fantasy. The problem was, she felt, that reality kept on coming back to smack her in the face pretty much every time she was just starting to enjoy it. But it was like Erin said, in the moments she let herself really sink into it, it was magical.
So yeah, fuck it! Fuck moping and doubting and beating herself up! She would overcome the obstacles, plough through the crap in her way, and enjoy the magic to the fullest extent she could when the day was done. She felt her fists clench in excitement before releasing them and feeling strangely better. She was in control. She was the Mistress, and despite the occasional intrusive thought to the contrary, being in charge was where she wanted to be right now.
She exhaled a slow, deep breath, and felt a calming wave of certainty soothe the turmoil in her heart.
When she emerged from her reverie, she saw that Erin was idly looking out of the window over Tiffany’s shoulder. Their eyes quickly met and Erin smiled a joyous, heartfelt smile. Tiffany had never seen Erin smile like that. She was all sly smirks and cheeky grins, and wore her amusement like it had an agenda of some kind. Tiffany had always found Erin’s tomboyish looks unconventionally hot, but now her beaming smile let Tiffany appreciate the often disguised beauty of Erin’s face. Her hazelnut eyes were lit up, and Tiffany felt a strange flutter in her chest.
“Thank you.” Tiffany reached over and caressed Erin’s cheek lovingly. “Seriously, Erin, thank you.”
Erin leaned in again, her eyes hungry now, and fixated on Tiffany’s lips. When her own lips were almost brushing Tiffany’s, she closed her eyes and whispered, “Anything for you, Mistress”
Their soft lips met, and Tiffany let her mind melt away, lost in the passion and the pleasure of her slave as she ran her hands up her neck and through her hair. Erin’s hands stroked Tiffany’s legs and shoulders, communicating their strong desire to be running under Tiffany’s clothing instead of over it. Their tongues danced and teased each other until the bus stopped suddenly and honked at a car that had cut it off, almost throwing both girls off their seats. They laughed and shuffled back, lost in each other, not noticing the old woman shaking her head in judgment or the group of teenage boys who were staring wide eyed and slack jawed at them both.
The rest of the bus journey passed with Tiffany in a much lighter mood, and before she knew it, they arrived at the stop a couple streets away from Dillon’s address. As she stepped off the bus, Erin in tow, Tiffany felt apprehension creep back into her as if it had been waiting for her on the sidewalk. It wasn’t as intense as it had been on the bus, so she pushed it aside and checked which way to go on her phone.
They strode purposefully down the fairly busy city streets. There were a spattering of local stores and a few cafes at the base of tightly packed apartment blocks. The buildings all looked weathered on the outside, but it seemed like a pleasant enough area otherwise. Tiffany had expected to be walking into a somewhat seedier looking district, but the lack of that appearance didn’t do much to calm her nerves.
They arrived at the entrance to the block of apartments as someone else was leaving, allowing them to catch the door and let themselves inside.
“Third floor,” Tiffany read from Marion’s message.
“What?! No one said anything about stairs! Sorry Tiff, I’m out.” Erin grinned as Tiffany turned back to her.
“Don’t make me force you to give me a piggyback all the way up…” She smirked as Erin’s eyes widened.
“Wow, such a cruel Mistress!” Erin approached Tiffany playfully. “I should resist your control, throw off these shackles!”
“You can’t.” Tiffany winked as she pulled Erin towards her. “I’m irresistible.”
If Erin agreed, it was lost in her soft moans of pleasure as their lips met once more. Tiffany felt like she was drawing strength and bravery from her slave’s devotion and loving touch.
Her mind raced with all the ways she wanted to play with Erin later. One involved making her into a complete statue, slowly removing her clothing piece by piece, with her programmed to feel more and more pleasure the more her flesh was exposed.
Another involved programming her to feel like her willpower was getting siphoned out every time she kissed someone, but simultaneously making her addicted to kissing. So many ideas to play with! But there were more important things to do first…
“Come on.” Tiffany grabbed Erin’s hand and led her up the stairs in a brisk semi-run.
“So how’re we gonna do this?” Erin asked as they reached the third floor. “Be all bitchy and up in her face about how dumb she’s being? Be the concerned, pleading girlfriends who are all apologetic? Oh! Good cop bad cop?”
Tiffany pondered this for a moment. “Um… Honestly, I was just gonna wing it.”
They arrived outside the door and Tiffany turned to see Erin trying hard to hide her astonished disapproval. “What? What’s wrong with winging it? We don’t know what’s going to happen, planning around a preconception seems pointless.”
Erin looked like she was trying to figure out whether Tiffany was joking or not. She finally shook her head. “Okay, you clearly don’t play sports…”
“Hey, I’m open to suggestions here.” Tiffany shrugged, holding her hand up to knock on the door.
Erin tilted her head to one side. “Just… Be confident. It suits you and makes me want to do whatever you want me to do. Let’s hope it works on Alice.”
“Confidence. I think I remember that one…” Tiffany smirked and then rapped on the door.
“Me… I’m going to go for detached but concerned.” Erin stroked her chin thoughtfully, before adding, “With a side of exasperation.”
Tiffany opened her mouth to retort but stopped abruptly when she heard the latch on the door. She took a step back and tried to remember how to look confident as the door opened.
Dillon looked much as he did when Tiffany last met him. Mussed up short black hair, some unkempt stubble, and piercing blue eyes were the features that stood out. He was tall with a decent build and dressed in designer jeans and a dark shirt. He had several piercings in his ears and parts of tattoos visible on his neck and arms. The moment he saw her, he folded his arms, his eyes narrowing as the slightest smirk hinted on his lips.
“Tiff. And let me guess, Erin?” Dillon made a mild snort of amusement as he looked Erin over.
“Hi, Dillon,” Tiffany said in as neutral a tone she could manage. “We’re here to see—”
“Alice, I know,” Dillon interrupted. “Wait there.”
He shut the door in their faces, leaving Tiffany to frown in irritation.
“Well, I guess he’s kinda hot,” Erin commented. “Looks like he has some pretty sweet ink too.”
Tiffany made a show of rolling her eyes. “Try not to fall in love with him before we get Alice back.”
Erin shrugged with a half chuckle. “I don’t really do love, Tiff. A lot of no strings fucking is more my speed.”
Tiffany found herself smiling. “Well, you are a good fuck.”
Erin grinned, but before she could reply, Dillon opened the door again and gruffly motioned them inside.
Tiffany entered cautiously, looking all around her and trying to take in as much as she could. The smell was the first to hit her, the place reeked of stale smoke. It was a pretty typical looking apartment otherwise, with slightly worn looking furniture, smoke stained light walls, and a faded carpet. It looked like the kind of place that was only ever cleaned properly once in a full moon, but it wasn’t a complete disaster either.
They were led into a lounge area where there was another guy sitting on a well-used sofa, completely absorbed in a video game on an imposingly large tv. He was scrawny, with long auburn hair tied back into a greasy looking ponytail and a small goatee. He wore an aggressive expression on his bespectacled face, and didn’t look up or acknowledge Dillon, Tiffany, or Erin in any way as they entered.
“Have a seat,” Dillon instructed. “Please ignore Ross, he’s overdosing on Fortnite.” He then turned to the gamer and barked, “Ross! Make some room!”
“Suck my dick,” Ross muttered as he shuffled over to one side of the sofa. Tiffany sat as far as she could on the other side of it while Erin sat on a straw coloured armchair right next to her.
Dillon disappeared through a doorway and returned moments later with a kitchen chair in one hand and a can of beer in the other. He placed the chair down in front of Tiff and Erin, the back of it closest to them, then held out the beer to Tiff.
“Beer?” he asked, almost forcing it into her face. She politely declined and then he repeated the offer to Erin.
“Sure.” She took it from him and cracked it open. “Why not?”
Tiffany frowned at Erin momentarily. She shouldn’t be drinking, not now! They needed to be on full alert! But at the same time, she didn’t want to start bickering with Erin in front of Dillon, so she tried to let it go.
“Cool,” Dillon said, returning once more to the kitchen to get another beer for himself. He opened it and sat down on the kitchen chair, regarding Tiffany and Erin with a curious distrust.
“So. Alice doesn’t really want to see you. She came here to get away from you,” Dillon said unemotionally. “The fact that you would track her down and chase her here like a couple of stalkers is frankly a little disturbing.”
Dillon’s words hit Tiffany like a ton of bricks. She immediately felt herself tense all over and found herself at a loss for words. Stalkers? Disturbing? She felt anger and outrage, but also guilt and shame. Was that how Alice saw her? Was that what it looked like to the likes of Dillon? Her throat seemed to seize up despite her wanting to defend herself, to explain that her coming here was to help Alice from him.
Tiffany felt relieved when Erin interjected. “Look. We’re Alice’s friends,” she said in a heated tone. “While you’re someone she shacked up with for what, a week or two? We’re here to help her, so if she’s here, we want to talk to her.”
Dillon smirked, clearly amused by Erin’s anger. He took a long swig from his can before placing his gaze directly on Erin. “First, try a couple months. And I wanted to go steady with her, but she said no. Not that any of that matters right now, but if you want to diss me, at least get your facts straight.”
Erin just glared in reply. Tiffany clenched her fist on the hand that was by her side and out of Dillon’s sight.
“Secondly, you’re the people she specifically said she had to get away from, so how you think you’re somehow helping her by coming here is beyond me.” Dillon shrugged and took another swig of beer.
“But we can help her,” Tiffany mumbled, suddenly not so sure of the fact herself. She didn’t have to do anything to Alice in trance other than help her. She didn’t need to install any more compulsions. She didn’t need to do anything other than restore her to how she was and reassure her that it was all going to be okay. Alice was trying to escape her control. Tiffany felt she could respect that, or she could at least understand it. “We can help her,” she repeated with growing confidence.
“Help her how? She’s just stressed out with her college work and needs to blow off steam, right? Or is it that you two have been harassing her to, like, what? Sexually experiment with you both? Strip teases and makeout sessions? Help me out here, because she was a bit hysterical when she came to me yesterday.” Dillon’s eyes narrowed, scrutinising Tiffany and Erin for their reactions.
Tiffany’s mind wanted to race off with ideas about how much Alice has shared with him, but she forced herself to observe Dillon instead. His piercing gaze was filled with curiosity, but as he watched Erin shift uncomfortably in her seat, she also saw expectation and excitement. Tiffany’s instincts told her that he knew more than he was letting on, and was testing and probing her and Erin. She took a deep breath, and then took a shot in the dark.
“Look, I know Alice has told you about the program we made. We call it the Algorithm. So please cut the crap, and tell us if we can see her or not.”
Dillon seemed to be trying hard to stifle an amused smile as he looked Tiffany up and down. “You’re pretty smart, Tiff,” he finally said. “She’s told me a bit, sure, not that I think I understand what she’s on about.”
Tiffany was continuing to watch his expressions closely. A lot of the tension and nerves had subtly left him now, so she reckoned he was telling the truth, or a close enough version to it.
“So, she actually is willing to come talk to you, but she has some conditions,” Dillon continued. “If you accept, she’ll come out. If you refuse, you can leave and that’s that, no seeing her, no talking to her.”
Tiffany paused in thought, looking sideways at Erin. Her slave gave her an affirming nod, which gave Tiffany all the confidence she needed. “Alright, name them.”
“Fair enough.” Dillon sat up straighter in his seat, and for the first time Tiffany really felt how much bigger and stronger he looked compared to her. She tried not to let the nervousness of such knowledge show on her face as he delivered Alice’s terms.
“Firstly, you’re to only speak to her when she speaks to you directly. No saying ‘Hi’ or anything until she speaks to you. Alright?”
“Okay…” Tiffany nodded slowly.
“Fine,” Erin agreed.
“Secondly, you’re not to tell her to do anything, or say anything that can be taken as a suggestion or command, such as ‘Come home, Alice,’ or ‘Try and see our point of view, Alice,’ or anything of that sort, alright?”
TIffany paused for a moment. So Alice was all too aware of how easily they could influence her. It would make things difficult, but not impossible. “Alright,” she said, Erin grunting with a nod beside her.
“And lastly, you’re not to say “Sleep, Alice, sleep” or any other phrase that sounds out of place. If you do, or if I otherwise notice Alice acting all differently all of a sudden, I’m to stop you from talking, and she didn’t specify how.” With this, Dillon’s eyes seemed to darken somewhat, and Tiffany felt a chill run down her body. “Alright?” Dillon added.
She didn’t feel she had a choice. If this was the only way she could see Alice, then so be it. “Sure. Alright.”
“Whatever. Let us see her,” Erin concurred.
“Great,” Dillon said, though his tone was still flat and emotionless. “You both seem like sensible chicks. I’m sure you’ll both behave and not make me do anything I’ll regret.” He left the thinly veiled threat hanging in the air as he left the room.
He returned moments later, pushing through a desk chair and placing it beside the kitchen chair he had been sitting on. He took his seat again as Alice slowly entered the room.
Alice clutched her elbow as she cautiously approached the desk chair to sit down. Tiffany and Erin both stared at her, examining her all over. Her eyes had heavy bags under them, and she looked paler than usual. Her golden blonde hair, normally flowing and voluminous as a result of daily care, looked flat and frazzled. Her clothes were all crumpled, and she carried herself with nervous uncertainty.
As she sat in the desk chair, she regarded Tiffany and then Erin with the same anxious expression, as though she were a frightened rabbit staring at a hunter’s shotgun.
A heavy and deafening silence hung between them all, the only sounds in the room coming from Ross’s furious mashing of his gamepad as he paid absolutely no attention to anyone else, the headphones he wore ensuring he was worlds away.
Tiffany and Erin were fixated on Alice, obeying her wishes by waiting for her to speak, though finding it exceptionally difficult to do so. Dillon’s eyes quickly darted between the three girls, watching closely and with great interest.
Finally, Alice spoke, her voice at least as clear and melodic sounding as ever, though laced with anxiety like it had encompassed her to her core. “I wasn’t sure if you’d come. Part of me hoped you would, another part hoped you wouldn’t.”
“Of course we came.” Tiffany sighed deeply. “I’m sorry we didn’t come sooner. I’m sorry for a lot of things.”
“I’m sure you are Tiff, and you, Erin.” Alice nodded slightly at both of them in turn. “But honestly, I can only handle talking to one of you right now. The other needs to be in trance where I know you can’t suddenly spring anything on me.”
Tiffany felt an immediate jolt of discomfort shake her where she sat. One of them had to be in trance? That didn’t feel safe at all.
“So come on…” Alice said impatiently, her voice nervous and blunt. “Who’s the one who has taken control of the other? I know you had Erin doing things for you the other night, Tiff, but you all seemed to lose your memory, so now I don’t know. But I’m serious, one of you needs to put the other one into trance, or I walk away.”
Tiffany shared a nervous glance with Erin. Erin’s gaze met her own and she saw her slave give her the slightest nod of assent. ‘You do what you think is best, I’ll be okay,’ is what Tiffany felt in her mind that Erin was saying.
Tiffany turned back to Alice, meeting her wide-eyed gaze. Alice’s lips were pursed and she was perched so rigidly on her chair that she looked ready to snap in two. ‘She’s just scared,’ Tiffany reminded herself. ‘I did this to her, and I have to help her. I have to show her that she can trust me.’
“Okay,” she said slowly. “I’m going to put Erin in a trance now.” She waited while Alice took a deep breath in, then nodded briskly. “Sleep, Erin, sleep.”
Erin sighed a deep exhale as her entire body relaxed. Her pupils dilated and her gaze dissolved into the distance while her expression drooped into an emotionless blank slate. Tiffany quickly grabbed the beer from Erin’s loosening grip and placed it safely on the ground.
Tiffany waited patiently as Alice sat in silence, staring at Erin for several long moments. She noticed Dillon examine Erin with interest as well, though he was making a point of staying quiet himself. Tiffany felt her skin crawl when she imagined what he might be thinking. His eyes looked possessed with greedy desire, and he was learning something new with each moment of observation.
“She’s really out?” Alice asked, still not taking her eyes off of the tranced and blank Erin.
“Yes,” Tiffany replied in a neutral tone. “Just like you were in the chair, just like I was.”
“That’s right, you were…” Alice sighed heavily. “Tiff, I know you don’t remember that night, but it was really intense, and I’m freaking out.”
Tiffany shifted in her seat. She figured Alice must think she still had memory gaps from the last night they had all been at Josh’s together… Tiffany tried to think if there was any way she could use that knowledge to her advantage, but nothing came to mind. She didn’t feel like correcting Alice though, so instead she nodded grimly. “Yeah, I wish I could remember it. It seemed so crazy when we all just got amnesia all of a sudden like that.”
“I didn’t though.” Alice leaned forward, her voice full of urgency. “I still have a few gaps in my memory and I was, like, fake drunk and stoned for quite a while, but god, Tiff, everything I remember just wigs me out. I just... I just wish I could say you felt safe to be around right now, Tiff, but you really don’t.”
Tiffany looked downcast at the floor. Come on, she had to steer this conversation better! Looking back up at Alice with a pleading expression, she asked, “How come?”
“Look at Erin, Tiff…” Alice shook her head in irate exasperation. “You had her mindless like that the other night, doing… things to you that you told her to… And clearly you haven’t stopped. Clearly you like brainwashing her mind and making her your... your... your fucking plaything or something!”
“But—” Tiffany started in protest, but Alice’s tirade would not be halted.
“And my knees were sore when we left my flat that night. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when I think back, I realised that you must be doing the same thing to me! I can’t handle that, Tiff! I just can’t handle that.”
“Now wait!” Tiffany desperately pleaded, leaning forward towards Alice. She saw Dillon shift at the outburst, so she settled back and raised a hand to assure him she’d behave. When her attention returned to Alice, she still couldn’t mask the distress in her voice. “That was Erin! She had you in a trance on your knees, sure, but nothing happened!”
“Do you expect me to believe that?” Alice threw her arms up dramatically. “Does it matter if it was you or her?” She motioned to the still blank and relaxed Erin slumped in her chair. “It was all just a blur to me until we were leaving, and then on the bus I started having these flashes of thoughts about you and me and her, all… doing stuff together. It felt so much like my own thoughts but I knew they weren’t! And they’re not going away, either… I can’t make them stop. I can drown them out with drink and drugs, but they always come back. Do you have any idea what it feels like to have thoughts seep into your head that you know aren’t yours? You feel utterly powerless to stop them! You feel so weak and helpless no matter how hard you fight… It’s exhausting, Tiff. I’m exhausted.”
Alice slumped forward, burying her head in her hands. She sniffed a solitary sniff before sitting back up and forcing herself to maintain some composure.
Tiffany’s heart was lead, slowly sinking through her stomach to the pit of her existence. The way Alice had framed it had made it unquestionably clear that what Erin had intended as playful suggestions had felt a whole lot different in Alice’s mind. How could she fix this? How could she make it better? She tried to think of something to say. Something inspirational and wise, something that would win Alice over and make her trust Tiffany once more.
But there were no words like that. If Tiffany could drop Alice into trance right then and there, she could instill thoughts like those and make Alice believe that she could trust Tiffany, but in a normal conversation with normal words, Tiffany had nothing. Without the effects of the Algorithm giving her voice immalleable authority, she felt powerless, weak, and pathetic.
She felt tears in her eyes. “I know what it feels like,” she mumbled through a sniff. Alice watched her with suspicious curiosity, but didn’t say anything.
Tiffany took that as an invitation to keep going. “I woke up last night having been dropped into trance by Erin. I was tied to my own bed, blindfolded and gagged. I felt like I should have been so scared… But it was like my fear was pushed aside because it was made to, and I enjoyed it instead. But all the time I knew I wouldn’t be enjoying it if my mind hadn’t been tampered with like that, and it still feels strange and makes me uncomfortable when I think back about that. It feels like if that could be done to me so easily, what else could be? I could be made to be anyone, think anything, and I could be made to not even notice, and that does scare me a lot.” Tiffany sighed, letting the words hang there. She didn’t want to mention that the idea simultaneously excited her beyond her own comprehension, because that just seemed in poor taste. But it did make her think of something else she could say.
She met Alice’s eyes, and with a wavering voice, added, “And I guess… Well, Erin and I, we both like the idea of being controlled, of thoughts and suggestions being put into our heads. We didn’t stop to think that perhaps you wouldn’t. For that, I am really, truly sorry.”
“Thank you,” Alice said cautiously. “I appreciate you saying that.”
Tiffany offered a faint, hopeful smile, but Alice’s expression was still one of pain and sadness.
“Lucy put words and ideas in your head, you know.” Alice remarked, twisting her head slightly. “It was on the night you can’t remember. But you seemed to not enjoy that and you managed to escape being controlled by her.”
‘Only just!’ Tiffany thought, the memory bringing up feelings of dread. “I’m glad,” she said meekly. “I don’t want to be controlled by Lucy… I mean, when I say I like the idea of having thoughts put into my head, I mean by someone I like and trust... “ She then felt her voice catch in her throat, but she persisted in adding in a somewhat croaking voice, “Someone like you.”
“I have no interest in doing what you’re doing here, Tiff.” Alice said bluntly, motioning to Erin once more. “I don’t want to be in your role, I don’t want to be in hers. Honestly, I want to say I wish we’d never made that fucking Algorithm, but I actually more than anything want to keep working on it, I want to finish it and see what it can really do. But I know that’s another thought that wasn’t there before.
“I can’t trust my own thoughts, Tiff, and I definitely can’t trust you… Either in my head, or even near me... I don’t know which of your words are going to make me not act like me. That’s why, by the way, I’ve had my phone off and have gone completely offline. I need to clear my head, and my thoughts, and I just know I can’t trust you to help me with it, so that’s why you need to go.” She finished that last sentence with a tone of finality that seemed to surprise even her. She looked ready to burst into tears again, but clenched her lips and her fists tightly and repeated, “You need to go.”
“Alice, please!” Tiffany blurted out. Dillon cleared his throat loudly, and Tiffany looked at him suddenly to see him glaring intensely at her. “Sorry! Right!” she spat out in irritation. “Alice, is there anything I can do to let me help you? Is there anything I can do that’ll help you trust me?! There has to be something, right? Anything? Absolutely anything!” Her heart was pounding at a thousand miles an hour now, and she could feel the adrenaline burst through her body like a stampede.
“There is one thing, I guess.”
“Anything.” Tiffany found herself leaning forward, gripped on Alice’s every word.
“You said Erin put you in a trance last night, right?” Alice asked.
Tiffany felt the entire world freeze and shrink around her, as she knew Alice’s next words before they were spoken.
“Have her drop you into trance right now. Both of you in trance for me. Either that, or leave.”
Even though she knew it had been coming, the words still hit her like a ton of bricks. She felt frozen in place, every muscle on her body seizing up in sheer panic.
Her mind started to frantically ra-
“And no taking forever to “Think about it” and “Read me,” either!” Alice snapped. “You’ll either do it now, or get out, Tiff. You’ll just have to trust me, because sure as hell this is the only way I’m going to be able to trust you.”
Tiffany couldn’t process the sheer amount of information overload she was experiencing just then. There was too much to consider, too much to take in. She couldn’t do it, but she had to decide, right there and then.
Like a bolt from the blue, her gut reaction answer immediately escaped from her lips...