Hannah marched to her front door, clenching her hands into fists. It was too early for this kind of racket! Who hammered on someone’s door so frantically at half past six in the morning? Whoever it was, they were going to get an earful of her wrath! They were going to regret being so rude. She was gonna… She was definitely gonna-
Hannah opened the door to see Erin looking wild eyed and disheveled. Her anger and determination vanished into a puff of smoke and she found herself saying, “Erin, umm, hi?”
“Hannah, great. Hi. Is Tiff home?” Erin asked frantically.
“Uh, yeah.” Hannah felt perplexion wash over her, especially once Erin pushed her way past her and started knocking on Tiffany’s door.
Hannah tensed nervously, her arms jerking to underneath her chin as she watched Erin’s flustered knocking. “She’ll be sleeping, Erin!” Hannah protested meekly. “She got in late last night. What’s going on?”
“Honestly, I couldn’t explain if I tried.” Erin shook her head. “Look, I’m going in, just wait out here.”
“Erin!” Hannah snapped, then looked surprised at herself for the sudden assertiveness. “Look, I don’t think I’m okay with this. You shouldn’t be, I mean, I don’t know what’s going on, but if you can’t tell me then I’m just not comfortable with, look if it was like later in the morning or something and you weren’t so, or like you told me what was happening, I mean can you give me something or I dunno, I mean—”
“Okay okay okay.” Erin rushed up to Hannah and held her hands pleadingly. “I know this is weird and it’s early and I have no way to explain it, but I’m in trouble and only Tiff can help me. I can’t wait, literally every moment counts here, and I know we barely know each other but I need you to trust me. I really like Tiff, okay? I’m super falling for her. I know that sounds crazy but please please just let me see her.”
Hannah shifted uncomfortably, gulping as she looked at Erin’s imploring face. “O- okay,” she said. She wasn’t sure how to feel, but she didn’t think Erin meant any harm. “I guess,” she added.
“Thank you thank you thank you.” Erin rapidly bowed and returned to Tiffany’s door. She heaved in a deep breath before slowly exhaling. “Okay,” she muttered to herself. “Here goes.”
Tiffany felt groggy as she was forced out of her sleep by a rapid rocking motion.
“Come on, Tiff, wake up, wake up!” Erin said impatiently.
“Eaarg.” Tiffany moaned. “Erin?” She feebly batted at Erin’s insistent hands. Then a moment later, she sprang up alert and twitched her head to one side, her eyes wide with worried confusion. “Erin! You’re here!” Her expression seemed to soften somewhat, and then her eyes glinted with mischief. “You seem to be in my bedroom a lot when I wake up these days... I have to say I kinda like it.”
Erin couldn’t help but snort in amusement at this. “Good, you better get used to it because it’s the new norm. Come on, get dressed, I have a task for you.”
“But…” Tiffany replied in confusion. “Shower? Breakfast?”
“No time,” Erin replied insistently. “Come on, get a move on!”
Tiffany kept her gaze fixed on Erin and her face lit up into a bright smile. “Oh, you have something naughty for this sl—”
“Ssssshhhst!” Erin hissed, lunging at Tiffany to clamp a hand over her mouth. “Ixnay on the Lave-Say!” she muttered under her breath. “Your completely free-willed roommate is just outside the door!”
“Oh, right.” Tiffany rolled her eyes playfully then put her fingers to her lips. “Sshhst it is then.” Her gaze lingered on Erin, scanning her up and down while keeping the cheeky expression on her face. She then whispered, “But once we, umm, persuade Hannah for Mis- I mean- Alice, all bets are on, right?”
Erin looked at Tiffany, forcing a smile, and whispered in reply, “Well that depends on her, doesn’t it? We live to serve, after all, right?”
“Mmmm, right…” Tiffany closed her eyes and flopped back on her bed, a blissful smile spreading over her face. “So what brings you here anyway?”
“Like I said, get dressed,” Erin ordered. “I have a task for you, and it doesn’t involve dragging your heels.”
“Ohh, okay,” Tiffany responded by springing up and out of the bed this time, excitedly running across to her dresser. Erin watched her and blushed, though did her best to adopt an expression of bored detachment as Tiffany began to dress herself.
“So do I get a clue?” Tiffany grinned as she fixed her bra. She looked at Erin hopefully and kept eye contact as she slowly pulled up a pair of matching panties
“Hmm, I suppose.” Erin shrugged. She glared at Tiffany maliciously and kept her voice to a sinister murmur. “You’ll be completely humiliated, filled with utter dread, and it will all be recorded for our Mistress’s endless amusement.”
Tiffany blushed and smiled dreamily, nodding softly then continuing to get dressed in complete silence. Erin fidgeted impatiently and leapt to her feet when Tiffany was almost finished. “Alright, let’s bounce!” she demanded. “Ride’s waiting outside.”
“Wait!” Tiffany pouted. “Hair! Makeup! It’s bad enough you won’t let me shower. You can’t let me leave looking like- like—” At a loss for words, Tiffany dramatically gestured to herself.
“Sure I can,” Erin scoffed, before leaning closer and lowering her voice again. “What did Mistress say about how we get to treat you?”
Tiffany shuddered. “I’m everyone’s slave, bitch, and toy,” she whispered back.
“Fucking right,” Erin growled. “So let’s go already.” She led the way to the door, turning back sharply before she opened it. “Make any excuse you need to for your roommate’s benefit. As long as she doesn’t hold us up I don’t give a fuck.”
“Right, sure.” Tiffany nodded obediently as she prepared to follow Erin out of her room.
Hannah quickly emerged from the apartment’s kitchen when she heard Erin and Tiffany. Erin furrowed her brow and made a beeline for the exit. “Sorry, Hannah, I need to borrow Tiff for something, promise I’ll return her in one piece.”
“Oh okay but what’s going—”
“Hannah,” Tiffany calmly interjected. “Don’t worry, it’s just a thing that came up, we don’t have time to explain it now but I promise I will later okay?”
“Okay Tiff, but...” Hannah sounded confused, but Erin didn’t have time to deal with Tiffany’s whiny roommate as she ushered Tiffany towards the door.
“Relax, Hannah!” Tiffany said, almost laughing. “Look it’s fine, I’m leaving of my own free will, and I’ll have a fun story for you later, if Erin let’s me tell it that is.”
“I dunno, that depends if we get there on time,” Erin remarked pointedly.
“Okay, okay, lead on!” Tiffany threw her hands up dramatically as she followed Erin through the doorway, though she poked her head back around and made a funny face for Hannah’s benefit. “Geez, what a slave driver, right?!”
Hannah’s concern finally broke as she chuckled softly. The sight of this made Tiffany beam with delight and she enthusiastically added, “See you soon! I’m gonna drag you to Josh’s place later like I promised the other day!” And then she was gone.
“Oh! Okay,” Hannah replied in mild surprise to the closed door. “See you later, Tiff.”
Erin practically shoved Tiffany into the car waiting outside. She barked at the driver before she even closed the door. “Drive!”
“Everything okay, Erin?” Tiffany asked with a frown. As she strapped herself in while staring at Erin, the tomboy couldn’t help but feel Tiffany’s gaze scrutinising her every molecule. She felt exposed, and ever so vulnerable.
“I’m fine,” she muttered, staring at her feet, trying to deny Tiffany a good view of her expression. “Just tired.”
Tiffany scratched her head, and looked part amused and part perplexed. “Then sleep in, girl, damn!”
“Couldn’t.” Erin sighed. “This is important.” She couldn’t admit that her head hurt. She couldn’t admit that she felt terrified, alone, and nearly completely helpless. But as Tiffany kept analysing her with that inquisitive gaze, she felt like all her secrets were seeping out of her.
“But you can’t tell me what?” Tiffany smiled slyly. “Oh so teasing!”
She can’t suspect, Erin reasoned. Why would she? What happened to her last night… What happened to all of them. Nothing conceivable could have interfered with that. It should be fine, Erin tried to reassure herself, but it felt like anything but. Her heart hammered in her chest. “No, can’t say,” Erin muttered. Come on, she had to pull herself together! Tiffany would figure out what was really going on if Erin didn’t lean into the role she was playing just a little!
She looked up to Tiffany and was about to snap an order at her but she was taken aback by the way Tiffany was gazing at her. Complete adoration adorned her former Mistress’s face. Even without makeup and with disheveled hair, Tiffany was quite a reserved beauty. She wasn’t the girl next door, shout-it-out gorgeous that Alice embodied or the delicate flower that Lucy portrayed. She looked like the shy bookworm with the giant heart full of love, who just needed some encouragement to blossom. And the way she stared so affectionately at Erin was causing her already hysterical heart to ache. It wasn’t the Tiff she knew, and that look of adoration wasn’t there for the reasons Erin wanted.
“I’ve always been able to read you, you know,” Tiffany shyly murmured to Erin. This took any trace of Erin’s voice away completely. Had she been rumbled already? No! Surely not! This isn’t how Tiffany would react if she knew the truth… Erin simply stared back at Tiffany, even as she felt her face drain of all colour.
Tiffany smiled again and continued. “When we first met, I knew that there was so much pain and anger under all the jokes, all the blurting out whatever seemed to come into your head from one moment to the next. The way you just wanted to be one of the guys perplexed me a bit, because I didn’t know where the pain and anger came from. I still see the pain, Erin,” Tiffany said solemnly. “Just because we both, um, admire Alice now, it doesn’t mean we’re not still ourselves. Just because our priorities have changed, it doesn’t mean we don’t still have all the bruises and scars from our past that make us who we are.”
“What the fuck do you know about scars, Tiff?” Erin found herself scoffing, though she cursed herself internally immediately after. Now was not the time to chew Tiffany out. Not least because that wasn’t the whole point of this excursion. Not in Tiffany’s mind anyway.
“I’m- I’m sorry,” Tiffany replied, looking away sheepishly. A moment of silence passed before she looked back up earnestly. “You can talk to me, you know. I mean, things aren’t as they were, Alice is our…” She eyed the Uber driver briefly. “Our very good friend, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be there for each other.”
Erin shook her head. “Do you think Alice is going to let me be there for you Tiff? She loves…” This time, Erin glanced suspiciously at the driver, before facing Tiffany. “She loves pulling pranks on you. She says she’s going to do that every day until you honestly can’t tell the difference between being pranked or not. She won’t let me be there for you, and you’ll be in no position to be there for me either. Get your head outta your ass.” She bitterly returned to staring at her feet. It was simply too hard to keep up her charade. Hopefully it would be enough that Tiffany was compelled to obey her.
“I don’t get it.” Tiffany frowned. “If you’re this fucking miserable then what are we doing right now?! Don’t you love being Alice’s… friend?.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Tiff,” Erin snapped. She turned to face the surprised looking Tiffany and couldn’t stop herself laying into her. “Of course I love being Alice’s friend.” she added angry air quotes for effect. “But no-one told me I’d have to be just thrilled and overjoyed at having to come up with cruel pranks to play on you in the course of being that friend. Yes, I know this is the right thing to do, and yes, it feels good to do it, but that’s majorly counterbalanced by the fact that I’ve lost you. I feel like I maybe had you for three wonderful, life changing seconds, and now I’ve lost you and it sucks.” She sniffed, feeling the anger melt away from her red cheeks. “It just… It sucks, okay?”
“You’re crying,” Tiffany said, mystified. “I don’t get it. You’re doing what she wants. You should be happy.”
“I am happy, Tiff.” Erin wiped a tear away from her cheek. “Doesn’t mean I’m not also sad.”
Tiffany furrowed her brow, and turned to look out the window for a moment. “Where are we? We’re not heading to Josh’s apartment…”
Erin shook her head. The real Tiffany would have seen through her by now. She would have not only read Erin, but said or done something to turn things around on her. The person she was sharing a ride with, it was like an echo of the Tiffany she knew. Tiffany’s face and body shackled by layers of conditioning, so completely accepting of the reality she had been programmed with that she couldn’t see the one in front of her. Still, Erin knew she had to pull herself together. If she continued to be so careless, the penny would drop and then there would be no telling what Tiffany would do.
Tiffany turned back to Erin with a strained expression. “I know there are some leftover feelings between us from when our friendship dynamic was a bit different, Erin, but I’m happy with the way things are. I couldn’t be happier, even. If you really care about me, more than just the way you need to for Alice’s sake, then you’d be happy for me too.”
Erin let out a slow sigh. “You’re right, Tiff. I should be happy for you. So why don’t we put our focus back to where it should be, making this morning a living hell for you so you’re a broken, quivering mess when we’re done, all so Alice can smile and tell me I did a good job.”
“Mmm.” Tiffany nodded eagerly, her concerns seeming to vanish. “Sounds wonderful.”
Just then, Tiffany’s phone buzzed. In the same moment that she perked up excitedly, Erin’s heart leapt in terror.
“Oh, that could be Misstre- I mean Alice!” Tiffany burst with glee. As she reached for her phone, Erin suddenly clamped her hand over Tiffany’s.
“Leave it Tiff, it won’t be her.” Erin insisted, hoping her voice sounded firm instead of anxious.
“You don’t know that!” Tiffany replied cheerfully. Her voice then got a slight degree less friendly. “It’s… it’s best if I check, Erin. Let go of my hand.”
“No.” Erin shook her head slightly while her brain raced for a solution. If that was a message from Alice, then she was screwed. Tiffany would drop her commands in an instant if Alice gave her just one reason to. She tightened her grip on Tiffany’s hand, determined not to let her reach her phone.
Tiffany’s expression hardened, and she started to frown at Erin. “Erin, seriously, let go.”
Erin puffed herself up, hoping that the trembling in her other hand wasn’t apparent to Tiffany. “No, Tiff,” she said decidedly. “I don’t want you looking at your phone right now. You’re on my time, and what I say goes.”
“Yeah, sure, except if it’s from Alice,” Tiffany retorted. “What she says goes first above everything else.”
“Right,” Erin agreed irritably. “Except it won’t be Alice at this time in the morning.”
“It might be!”
“Just! Let me… Check!” And with that, Tiffany shoved Erin’s hand away and yanked her phone out of her pocket. Erin made a futile attempt to grab it, but Tiffany deftly deflected her arm and positioned herself so that Erin could no longer interfere.
“It’s from Josh,” Tiffany murmured. “He wants me to go round to his place as soon as I have the time.”
“Well that’s not fucking now, is it?” Erin ranted. “Honestly Tiff, I said it wouldn’t be Alice, but you didn’t seem to even consider listening to me, did you?”
Erin tried not to make her relief seem so apparent, so instead she clutched onto her anger and hoped she could use it to drive Tiffany’s suspicion into the ground.
“Well...” Tiffany hesitated. “It was important I checked. I mean—”
“Don’t you think I know better than you what’s important right now?” Erin berated her, all the while hoping that an actual message from Alice wasn’t about to come through. “Don’t you think she knows what I’m doing with you today?”
This last lie seemed to obliterate Tiffany’s suspicions and objections. She simply bowed her head and lowered her voice. “I’m sorry, Erin. You’re right. I should know better.”
Erin held back her snort of disgust. Instead, she callously dropped a small satchell on Tiffany’s lap. “I was gonna wait until we got there, but honestly, I’m sick of talking to you. Put those on.” She watched as Tiffany tentatively took the two items out of the bag and then looked at Erin questioningly. “Now!” Erin commanded. “Remember, while Alice isn’t here, I’m the friend that you should be worrying about.”
“O- Okay,” Tiffany said faintly. With one last nervous glance at the driver who had yet to say a word, Tiffany popped the ball gag into her mouth and tightly fastened the buckle behind her head. Gulping with excited trepidation, she then put the sleep mask over her eyes.
Erin sighed contentedly. “Ahh… So much better…” She patted Tiffany on the knee and smiled. “Now then… shut the fuck up and enjoy the rest of the ride.”
It was another few minutes before they arrived at their destination. Erin pulled Tiffany out of the car and guided her onto the sidewalk before turning back to the middle aged driver who was now staring at them both with a massive grin on his face.
“What?!” Erin asked heatedly.
The bespectacled, bearded driver took a long gaze at Tiffany’s masked and gagged face before turning back to Erin once more. “Can you be my friend, too?”
Tiffany breathed out a long, tremoring breath through her nose, her mouth still occupied by the ball gag. As she felt the duct tape wrap around and around her arms, then her legs, firmly securing her to some kind of chair, she felt herself fill up with an intoxicating cocktail of thrill and terror. She was genuinely scared for her safety now, but that just somehow made everything so much more enticing. She tested the security of the restrains half heartedly, knowing full well that deep down she wouldn’t want to escape whatever creative torture Erin had devised for her. She would have sworn in anticipation if she could. Instead, she whimpered.
Erin had led her into a building, up several flights of stairs, and through at least one doorway, all while gagged and blind. Had nobody seen them? Certainly it had been quiet, it was still quite early after all. Once they had stopped moving, Erin had ordered Tiffany to strip to her underwear, and after Tiffany had silently complied, she had been guided down into a comfortable and soft office chair. The duct tape held to the skin of her arms and legs tightly, anchoring her in place and making escape impossible. She squirmed in delight at the thought of it.
When Erin had finished taping Tiffany into the chair, she removed the blindfold and took a step back. TIffany blinked several times as the sudden light at first dazzled her. After a few moments, things started coming into focus. Facing Tiffany was a large screen, but it wasn’t turned on. The sleek expensive monitor was juxtaposed by the grotty looking apartment in which it sat. The place reeked of damp and stale smoke, and looked positively dreary.
Erin stood to the side of the screen with a smug look on her face. Tiffany, still gagged and speechless, appealed to her with her eyes and brows. What was going on? Something felt… off.
Erin kept eye contact with Tiffany as she pulled out a cigarette from one pocket and a lighter from the other. She lit it up, took a draw, and then leaned in to blow smoke gently into Tiffany’s face. Tiffany exhaled sharply in surprise and blinked rapidly, feeling mild burning on her eyes. But then a memory clicked in her mind, and she would have gasped were it not for the gag still stuffed in her mouth. Instead, her head jerked involuntarily back into the headrest of the chair and her stinging eyes shot wide open.
“Aha!” Erin said with a triumphant smirk. “There’s the penny dropping. That’s right!” She puffed herself up and put on a mock heroic pose, fists to hips and chest thrust forward. “I’m back, bitches!”
Tiffany tried to say something, but through her ball gag it came out as an incoherent moan.
“What’s that you say, Tiff?” Erin chuckled. She mockingly held out a hand to her ear, leaned in towards the bound captive, and faked Tiffany’s voice. “Oh Erin, how did you manage to escape all of your programming when I’m still completely trapped within it?”
Erin straightened up and resumed her normal voice with a serious tone. “Well, I’m glad you asked, Tiff. Very glad.” She walked over to a desk on the other side of the large screen and tapped a few buttons. The screen began to flicker to life, and Tiffany instinctively snapped her eyes shut.
“Oh, so you’re not completely dumbstruck as Alice’s thrall, that’s something at least,” Erin remarked, as Tiffany heard the clack of keys on a keyboard. “I’m glad you’re not as oblivious now as you were in the uber. Honestly, all that conditioning really blunts your keen edge. It bothered me, Tiff, it really bothered me.”
Tiffany focused on keeping her eyes closed. Above all else, she had to avoid looking at that screen. Erin had no doubt programmed the video feed to Tiffany’s particular frequency. If she looked at it, her mind would be entranced within moments, and she would be helpless to resist. She couldn’t let Mistress Alice down in that way. She had to protect her programming and find some way to turn the tables on Erin. She’d done it before, she could do it again.
But nothing of the sort could happen while she was gagged like this. She tried to shout and scream through it, demanding Erin remove it to let her say her piece. Surely she would listen to reason? Surely she would-
A pair of headphones were suddenly clamped over Tiffany’s ears and a familiar sounding thump started pulsing repeatedly through her mind.
“Open your eyes, Tiff,” she heard Erin instruct above the noise of the thump thump thump and the many other subtle beats interlaced through the audio signal. Tiffany resolutely kept her eyes closed and shook her head vigorously. She wasn’t going to go down easy. Mistress Alice had ordered her to resist any attempt to free her mind from her Mistress’s words, and that command was Tiffany’s sole focus. She had to resist. She had to. No amount of thumping bass or Erin’s insistence was going to change that.
“C’mon Tiff…” Erin groaned. “You’re literally stuck here until you open your eyes or die. It’d save us a lot of time, and me a lot of cleaning if you’d just opt for the former.”
Tiffany didn’t budge. Erin took to prodding her sides, tickling her ribs, and slapping her bare thighs, but aside from some involuntary squeals, Tiffany refused to react.
Keeping track of time was difficult while Tiffany was stuck with no vision and constant thrumming in her head. Erin was clearly changing the settings as well, as the pitch and frequency of the repeating signal seemed to vary every few seconds. And each time it was followed by “Open your eyes,” or “C’mon, Tiff, open your goddamn eyes already.”
Tiffany thought that perhaps Erin would get bored of this before she did. She was determined not to… Not to do something…
The sound… Had it changed again? She couldn’t tell, she couldn’t remember what it had been before.
thump thump thump
“Tiff, open your eyes.”
Tiffany’s eyes flickered open. Wait, wasn’t she supposed to-
Dazzling patterns of light assaulted her vision. Quick, she had to-
The lights were so pretty.
“Oh that’s more like it…” she heard a voice say. It was hard to tell who it was, or where it was. It just… was. “Alright, keep looking, Tiff, let the lights guide you down.”
She was Tiff, wasn’t she? That felt... familiar. But as she stared into the swirling patterns before her, she immediately forgot about it.
“Okay I think that’s a good setting. It hits the resonance rule, whatever the fuck that means again. Okay, I can probably take... this out now.”
Tiffany felt hands unfasten something on the back of her neck, and all of a sudden something that had been stuck in her mouth was pulled away. A line of drool dripped down her chin, and she felt the cold of it dripping onto her chest before forgetting all about it.
“Now then, Tiff, are you in a deep and mindless trance for me?”
“Yes.” The words came out of her mouth, though Tiffany had not chosen to say them. It was mindless and automatic, like everything was when she stared into the swirls and heard the thumping tones in her head.
“Good. Fucking awesome, even,” the voice said. “Now then, listen very closely…”
Lucy stirred, rolling over in her bed then burying her head under the pillow. She wasn’t remotely awake. The world needed to go away and leave her alone.
There was some knocking at her door. Was that what woke her up? She elected to ignore it. She was just so tired. She had left to go to Josh’s apartment around half a dozen times last night, each time making it farther and farther before she chickened out. Or before her programming made her abandon the idea. She wasn’t sure which. Heck, at this point, she wasn’t sure there was a difference. In the end, she decided that the chance of her plan going wrong was too high, and that if she waited for Josh to inform her of a suitable window of access, that was truly the best shot she had. Once in front of the Algorithm, she could deprogram herself, and then she could enact her revenge.
Knock knock knock knock.
“Go away,” she muttered under her breath, wondering if she could still get back to sleep and skip her morning classes. She had barely slept a wink all night. Eventually, somewhere around 5am, she had passed out from exhaustion. But even though she must have slept like a brick since then, she barely felt any benefit from it. How early was it right now anyway? She wanted to check her phone, but that impossibility would involve opening her eyes. Whatever the actual time, the answer was too early, so it was a moot point anyway.
Knock knock knock knock.
“I swear to God I will murder you,” she hissed. Raising her voice enough so that the asshole on the other side of the door would be able to hear her, she called out, “Go away!”
Knock knock knock knock.
“I mean it!” she shouted. “GO. AWAY!”
Knock knock knock knock.
“ARRRGHH!” Lucy growled. She launched herself out of bed and flung herself at the door. Opening it with violent fury, she stopped dead as soon as she saw who was standing there.
“Trevor...” She could feel the colour drain from her cheeks just as her rage crumbled into oblivion.
“You’re normally awake by this time,” Trevor said with a mixed chuckle and frown. “You alright?”
Lucy motioned him to enter, pacing to the middle of the room and clasping her hands anxiously. Only when Trev closed the door did she speak again. “No,” she spat bluntly. “I am not okay.” She paced restlessly, keeping her distance from him and glancing at him every few seconds through bloodshot eyes.
“I can’t sleep, Trevor! I’ve barely eaten! You told me to leave you alone the other day and it’s killing me because I physically can’t stop thinking about you. You’re, you’re, you’re always in here.” She held her head in her hands, before running them through her hair in aggravation. “What you’re doing to me isn’t right! You’ve turned me into this thing I’m not. I keep on obsessing over what it means to be a good girlfriend that I don’t even know anymore. Is it good to be your idea of a good girlfriend, and what does that even mean anyway? Or am I to use my own definition? And what if my definition changes from day to day, hell what if it changes from minute to minute? So enough, enough of all of this!”
She took a step towards Trev now, who was waiting patiently by the door, a calm expression adorning his face as he patiently watched her freak out. She held out a trembling finger. “We- we’re- we’re going to go to Josh’s right now and we’re going to put me right, you hear me?! And then we’re going to put you in front of that weird screen and we’re going to make you become obsessed with being a good boyfriend, and doing that is me being a good girlfriend, because you’ll always be happy with me, I- I- I’ll make you always happy with me. I’ll be the most perfect girlfriend in your eyes.”
She didn’t know exactly when it started, but tears were now pouring down her face. Her legs felt weak, her head dizzy. “I just want it to stop.” She sighed, feeling her entire self sag under the weight or her conditioning. Would a good girlfriend really be doing this? Yes, surely. Surely a good girlfriend would be honest and also do whatever it takes to make her man happy. The Algorithm could make him happy. That was the only thing that could possibly happen now.
“Tr- Tre—Trevor?” she struggled between weeps. “Were you listening to me? Sa- say something…”
Trev looked at his miserable girlfriend, then remembered the words of his Mistress.
”I want to program her myself. I have a special reward for her in mind.”
He smiled as he said, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be okay.” He walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her petite frame. She tentatively put her arms around his waist, and was soon melting into him. This felt better, this felt right, and for a moment, she really did think that everything was going to be okay.
Trev closed his eyes, enjoying the embrace for a few moments before saying, “Sleep, Lucy, sleep.”
Josh shuffled his textbooks and notes back into his backpack. It had been an interesting enough lecture to start the day with. Most of it he knew, but the lecturer rambled on about a little known nineties software startup that had been making some groundbreaking innovations in processor technology before being swallowed up by a larger company which was then itself acquired by Intel. Moral of the story, there’s always a bigger fish, thought Josh.
He was about to swing his backpack onto his shoulder to go study in the library for an hour when he felt a light tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, he was greeted by a pair of glasses framed with brown hair. “Jan, hey!” he said. “How’ve you been?”
“Hi, um… I’m okay. Are you? I mean… How are you?”
“Good. Busy, what with homework and trying to become the next basketball superstar, but good. But hey, gotta work hard at life, y’know?”
Jan gave a polite nod.
“So what’s up?” Josh asked.
An awkward silence followed. Jan fidgeted where she stood, her hands clasped in front of her.
Only when Josh placed a hand on her shoulder in encouragement did she finally speak up. “I um… finished my assignment today. I can come over after class to help with that tablet thing you mentioned, but if you changed your mind, I understand.”
“Oh! Oh yeah!” Josh said suddenly. He then furrowed his brow. He had arranged this with Jan days ago. With everything that had happened since then, was that still the plan? Tiffany had asked for Josh to get Jan’s help in creating a portable version of the Algorithm. But that was when Tiffany was pretty much calling all of the shots. Things had changed since then. Now Alice was in charge, as she should be. It’s conception was for the purpose of retrieving Alice from the unknown situation that was Dillon’s apartment. That mission had been successful without the aid of this theoretical tablet, so was it even needed anymore?
On the one hand, working on a side project like this would distract Josh from his task of completing the Algorithm. He was briefly tempted to feel some annoyance that since day two, he had been the only one actually working on improvements to the initial amateur splicing that Trev and Alice had done on his high end machine. However, he knew that deep down that they would only slow him down. They didn’t have the technical mind or coding skill that he had, and their contributions were always going to have been cosmetic or superficial. The features of the Algorithm that needed implementing required a computer science geek like him, but if he started letting himself get sidetracked by this theoretical tablet version, which he wasn’t convinced could even work, then there would be an undeniable delay to the Algorithm. Alice’s Algorithm. He was sure his Mistress wouldn’t like that.
But on the other hand, Mistress Alice could probably find no limit in uses for a portable and discrete version. It might be a technical challenge, but he already came up with several ideas that would help downsize the hardware requirements of the visual patterns. And Jan being more experienced in this niche application meant the project wouldn’t take nearly as long as it would with him doing it himself.
And if Jan was to sit in his desk chair just once, for a quick demonstration of what he wanted her help with… Well, then he would have a competent and ceaselessly willing assistant to help with both versions of the Algorithm, and Alice would have a new slave to enjoy in one serendipitous moment. He had already invited his teammate Bobby over to his place later when they were on their morning run together… But really, why not invite two people over? If he kept Jan busy in the lounge while Bobby sat in the chair… Yes, it would work, and he would be delivering two slaves to his Mistress.
“Umm… Josh?” Jan asked, squinting at him nervously through her glasses. After a moment her tone turned dejected. “Sorry, I’ll stop bothering you then.”
Josh shook his head briskly, focusing on her once more. “No, wait! Sorry,” he replied with a sheepish grin. “Stack overflow, you know?”
“Ah, sure.” Jan nodded understandably. “So... did you still… I mean I get it if you don’t… want my help?”
“Want your help? Absolutely I do!” Josh replied with a firm nod. “If you’re sure you’re free, that is.”
Jan’s face lit up. “Yes! I mean… I’m sure. I’ve got so many great ideas rattling around, I hope you’ll like them! I tried showing them to my roommate, but she didn’t understand any of it. She was just happy to hear I’ll be leaving the dorm for once. But I know you will! Understand it, I mean. That is to say… Um… I’m sure.”
Josh couldn’t help but chuckle, causing Jan to blush. “Okay, we’ll see you then!” he said.
“Yeah, see ya.” Jan waved rigidly as she wandered off, managing to turn around before allowing herself to break into an excited grin.
Josh’s smile faded as he watched Jan exit the lecture hall. “For what’s it’s worth,” he muttered, “I’m sorry.”
Erin sighed heavily as she switched off the monitor and removed the headphones from Tiffany’s ears.
Tiffany felt like a bucket of cold water had just hit her in the face. She jolted to alertness as a wave of clarity electrocuted her. Upon seeing Erin, she let out an elongated groan of despair. “Oh for fuck’s sake!” She buried her head in her hands.
Erin blinked and leaned back to scan Tiffany with a confused expression. “Honestly, Tiff… I didn’t know what you were gonna come out with, but I didn’t expect that.”
Tiffany kept her face pressed against her hands and shook her head repeatedly. “No no no no no no no!” When she finally emerged she looked horrified. “I give up! I can’t take another round of this!”
“Round of what?” Erin asked, irritation seeping into her tone. “Tiff, I’ve removed all the programming from you, everything, it’s all gone.”
Tiffany flinched and shook her head briskly, keeping fearful eyes on Erin. “No, you’re just going to make me think that and then you’ll do something that makes me helpless, you’ll do something that will make my mind twist into whatever Mistress wants it to be. And I’ll give in, I’ll always give in.” Her heart was pounding. She felt like she was in a trap that could spring at any moment. Much as she tried to control it, she couldn’t stop the panic from washing over her like a tsunami of terror.
“No!” Erin snapped angrily. “Tiff for fuck sake, listen to me! I’ve wiped the programming from your mind. Alice’s shit is gone, so are my triggers, just everything, it’s all gone. You’re free.”
Tiffany launched herself off the chair and dropped to her knees in front of Erin, like it was a reflex. Surely she could stem the torture by surrendering now. Surely her willing submission would look favourable. She knew she didn’t have the strength to fight, she knew Alice had beaten her. It was only in submission that she might be able to keep something of her original mind intact. As her eyes filled with tears, she looked up pleadingly. “No, Erin, I don’t want to play these games anymore! You’ve won, okay!?”
“Tiff…” Erin tried to interject.
“No, no, don’t say anything.” Tiffany sobbed. “Please just let me serve you, let me obey Mistress Alice…”
Erin snorted in derision. “C’mon, Tiff! You can’t be this far gone, you were only out for like a day!”
Tiffany took no notice, and instead closed her eyes and tried to control her panicked breaths between sobs. “I am Mistress Alice’s... slave, I obey... her in all things. My life, my... body, my mind is… is hers to control and do with as she pleases, obedi… obedience is my purpose.”
Erin snapped. “Tiff!” she yelled. “Wake the fuck up!”
The sudden increase in intensity caused Tiffany to jerk in shock and she opened her eyes to see a frightfully furious Erin staring down at her. She trembled as she continued to hyperventilate, Erin’s anger captivating her panicked mind.
“I didn’t go through your goddamed betrayal and then a mind fuck from Alice in fucking Dominatrix land and pull off a goddam Hail Mary eleventh hour upset before painstakingly pulling every last bit of brainwashing out of your slave addled mind just for your free thinking mind to fall the fuck apart!”
Tiffany stammered, all her words catching in her throat. It didn’t matter if she surrendered or fell apart, Erin was going to punish her either way. She couldn’t help but weep profusely even as Erin exhaled deeply and lowered herself to her knees so that she was face to face with Tiffany. The fury had melted away but the urgent intensity remained. “Come on, Tiff,” Erin urged. “Come back to me. Believe me. Trust me.”
Being so close, Tiffany could see the pain in Erin’s eyes for the first time since she woke up. There was a complexity behind that pain that she couldn’t understand, but it took her back several nights to her bedroom when Erin had first become her slave. Was there a chance that Erin was telling the truth here?
The tomboy’s eyes were watering as they gazed into Tiffany’s own with steeled determination. What were they searching for? Was it possible that she really was deprogrammed? Was Erin trying to find her, the real Tiffany?
Eventually, tears ran down Erin’s cheeks as the sadness in her gaze deepened. Her eyes fluttered closed and she leaned her forehead gently into Tiffany’s. “Please…” she pleaded softly. “Please, Tiff…”
Tiffany closed her own tear soaked eyes and felt Erin’s forehead against her own. Then she felt it. This wasn’t a trick by Alice’s puppet. This was really Erin. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. And if that was true, then everything Erin had told her was true.
She was herself again. Her mind… her mind was free. Alice wasn’t about to take everything away again. She felt her heart rate slow and her breathing come back under control. It was a few more moments before she realised that Erin was quietly crying, her soft sobs only audible because Tiffany’s own despair was ebbing away.
Tiffany gently pulled Erin into an embrace and felt a pair of warm arms wrap around her in kind. They stayed kneeling on the floor wrapped in each other, sobbing and sighing for what felt to Tiffany like a blissful eternity. Eventually, she pulled her head away just enough to open her eyes and see Erin’s face.
“Erin,” she said with a croaky voice. Erin opened her eyes and their gazes locked. “It’s really you.”
Erin nodded her head and the slightest smile spread across her lips. Her eyes lit up with hope, and Tiffany couldn’t help but smile in return.
“It’s me, too.” Tiffany exhaled a deep, relieved sigh. “I’m back.”