“How do you know about Dillon?” Tiffany asked urgently.
Lucy looked bemused. “I was there when you were talking about him, Tiffany. It was right before Trevor broke up with me.”
Tiffany thought back, and it all came to her clearly. They had discussed going ahead with the party as a means to trick Dillon and wipe his memory. That was before Lucy had stormed out. “But how do you know that’s him now?” Tiffany pressed.
“Because I got in touch with him,” Lucy explained as she unlocked the door. “I told him that this whole evening was a trap for him, so he should take precautions.”
“No…” Tiffany shook her head. “That’s not good, that’s…”
“Oh don’t worry, Tiffany,” Lucy said. “Let me talk to Dillon. When the time is right, I’ll want you to make sure everyone drops into trance and obeys only me, clear?”
“Yes. Of course.” Tiffany hugged herself nervously as she followed her controller.
Lucy opened the door and Tiffany stayed close to her as they re-entered the lounge.
The music had stopped, everyone was facing the entryway. Lucy and Tiffany turned to see Dillon and Ross, both holding up handguns at the partygoers.
Tiffany felt her heart jolt in fear. She never intended for anyone to get hurt! She looked over the crowd of people that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for her. They were scared. It was her fault. Lucy seemed so calm. Why was Lucy so calm? And there was Alice, in the middle of the crowd, a look of terror in her eyes. Tiffany cursed under her breath.
“Everybody quiet! If I so much as see someone reaching for a phone, people are going to get hurt!” Dillon shouted. He noticed Lucy, swinging his gun around to point directly at her. “You!” he motioned to the dance floor. “Join the others!”
A tense silence filled the air as all eyes fell on Lucy. Tiffany stayed half behind the door frame, her urge to run and hide forcibly overwritten by her need to obey Lucy.
“I don’t need to,” Lucy said, herself tensing as she stared at the firearm. “I’m your guardian angel.”
Dillon blinked a few times and then grinned. “Lucy. “
“Dillon.” Lucy nodded briskly.
Dillon pointed his gun back at the crowd of people. “Can you help me stop anyone here doing anything stupid?”
“I think so. Please put those away and give me a minute,” Lucy said. She turned to Tiffany, who was half hidden behind the door frame. “Tiffany, order everyone to remain calm and quiet and not to touch their phones. It’s very important that nobody calls anyone.”
Tiffany’s fear was pushed aside by her obligation to obey, and she took a step into the room. As all eyes fell upon her, she cleared her throat so her voice would project. “Everybody, I need you to remain calm, quiet, and to not touch your phones until I say otherwise!”
The effect was subtle, but there seemed to be a release of tension among the partygoers. Apprehension was still there, but nobody seemed to be close to panic at least.
But Tiffany was all too aware that Josh, Alice, and Trev weren’t affected by the wording she just used. She quickly scanned the crowd and because he was taller than most, saw Josh with an alarmed look on his face. She couldn’t tell if he was trying to subtly reach for his phone. “Josh, drop into trance for me!” she said to him.
Several people turned to Josh as his eyes glazed over and his face became blank and expressionless.
“Why did you do that?” Lucy asked.
“Josh wasn’t under the same conditioning as everyone else,” Tiffany explained. “He might have interfered with whatever you have planned.”
“Ah, I see.” Lucy nodded. “Is there anything else that might interfere with my plans?”
“Alice and Trev aren’t conditioned like that either.” Tiffany offered.
Erin then spoke up. “There are people in the spare bedroom. They may not have heard Tiffany’s instructions, and they probably have phones in there.”
“Thank you, Erin.” Lucy nodded. “Tiffany, go put them all in trance, we’ll take care of them later. Don’t bother with Alice and Trevor though, I want to talk to them.”
Tiffany moved immediately to obey as Lucy addressed Dillon once more. “Give me a few moments here to make sure we can talk without any rude interruptions.” She then looked into the crowd. “Alice, Trevor, both of you come over here please.”
Tiffany opened the door to the spare bedroom. Hannah and the others within all looked at her with concern and confusion.
“Tiff!” Hannah asked in an urgent hushed tone. Her eyes widened as she stared at Tiffany’s face. “Oh my god are you okay?! What’s going on out there!?” She was topless, albeit holding her emerald dress bundled up in her arms to cover her chest. Everyone else was similarly in various states of undress, but the game had been abruptly interrupted by the commotion in the lounge. Several pairs of scared eyes bored into her.
“I’m sorry,” Tiffany said. “All of you, sleep deep for me.”
Momentary confusion swept the faces of everyone there before the expression and awareness drained away. Hannah’s arms dropped lazily to her sides, her dress falling onto the bed as her eyes stared away into nothing.
Tiffany turned away to return to Lucy. Ross emerged from the bathroom at the same time, clearly checking it for anyone hiding.
Alice and Trev stood next to Lucy now, who was closely flanked by Erin, Izzy, and Mike.
Dillon and Ross waited patiently, still holding their guns but not actively pointing them at anyone. They hung near where the kitchen led into the entrance corridor, keeping a clear escape path behind them. But Dillon looked determined. Possessed. Tiffany feared what he might be capable of if things didn’t go his way. Dillon’s eyes scanned the crowd, ensuring nobody was moving or reaching for their phones.
“Lucy, what did you do?” Trev asked, his brow furrowed. He had placed himself between Alice and Dillon, his gaze switching between Lucy’s intense eyes and the gun Dillon held.
“I did what I had to do,” Lucy said unapologetically. “I did what you forced me to do.”
“You’re insane.” Trev shook his head in dismay. “You’re absolutely fucking insane!”
“Lucy, please,” Alice said faintly. “I don’t know what you’re planning but please think this through…”
“Alice, thinking things through is all I’ve been able to do since Trevor dumped me and humiliated me in front of you. You were all so worried about Dillon… you wanted to get him out of the picture so badly…” Lucy flashed Dillon a look, and nodded, before turning back to Alice with a defiant glare. “Well the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“Lucy, no...” Alice pleaded. “We don’t need to be enemies.”
“Save it, Alice,” Lucy replied coldly. “There’s nothing you can do or say that will change my mind.”
“Change your mind about what?” Trev interjected. “Lucy, what have you done?”
Lucy looked at Trev and smiled sweetly. “Nothing yet.” She then turned to Tiffany. “Put them both in trance, please.”
Alice and Trev both looked at Tiffany, utterly aghast.
“Tiff, no!” Alice uttered in horror. “Don’t!”
Trev turned pale. “Tiff, how did she get to you? How did it—“
“Both of you,” Tiffany interrupted, “fall into trance for me now.”
Trev’s words dissolved before they finished crossing his lips and Alice’s dismay faded away. Their efforts to resist falling into trance were as futile as Tiffany’s own attempts had been.
“Have them only respond to my voice in trance,” Lucy said as she looked curiously at Trev’s blank eyes.
Tiffany quickly relayed the instruction. Alice and Trev both acknowledged the programming in a dull, emotionless tone.
“There we go,” Lucy said pleasantly. “Much better.”
Dillon watched Alice intently, hand gripped tightly around his weapon. “Alright, Lucy, do what we discussed!”
“Alice, step between myself and Dillon,” Lucy ordered sharply. “Be my human shield.”
Alice’s eyes flickered into awareness just enough for her to see where Dillon was in relation to Lucy and positioned herself to protect Lucy. Dillon was several feet away still and immediately
“What the fuck!” Dillon exclaimed. Ross pointed his gun at Lucy but Dillon snapped at him. “Don’t fucking point that at Alice!” Ross lowered his weapon, frustration evident upon his face.
“If we’re going to talk, we need to do so without you pointing guns at us,” Lucy said sternly. “None of us are armed here. It’s not necessary.”
“The fuck it’s not!” Dillon snarled. “You said you’d help me get Alice into that machine to fix her. This isn’t what we agreed!”
“You’re right,” Lucy said sincerely. “It isn’t. I saw an opportunity and I took it, so the plan has now changed.”
Dillon visibly bristled upon hearing these words.
“I promise you that you’ll still be walking out of here with Alice behaving exactly as you want her to,” Lucy added quickly. “That part is easy. I don’t want her and you do, she’s yours as soon as we agree on everything else.”
“Everything else?” Dillon repeated.
“Well, yes. I mean, if I programmed Alice to be exactly as you wanted her to be, would you leave right after with her and never come back?” Lucy raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Dillon said determinedly. “She’s all I want.”
Then Ross spoke up for the first time. “Fuck no! We’re not leaving with just her.”
Dillon looked at him, a mixture of agitation and surprise.
“Come on man…” Ross urged. “We have the fucking guns. We put ’em through the machine one by one then they’re all ours, not just your special lady.”
“That won’t work,” Lucy said.
“The fuck it won’t!” Ross retorted. “Either you do as we fucking say or we start popping your friends until you see our point of view.”
Tiffany could feel the tension in the air. She stole a glance at the crowd, who were obediently staying calm and quiet as per her instructions. Even so, all of them looked anxiously on at the heated interaction between Lucy and the two gunmen.
Lucy chuckled softly. “Firstly…” She answered back, “they’re not my friends. I don’t give a fuck about them. And secondly, you’re surely not that stupid, are you? If you start shooting up this place, one of the neighbors will hear and call the cops. They’ll storm in here and kill or arrest you. It’s not worth it.”
“But if we kill you, you’re fucking dead,” Ross replied, the irritation plain on his face.
“You can’t shoot me without going through Alice,” Lucy countered.
Dillon tensed once more. “We’re not fucking doing that!” he snapped at Ross.
“Besides,” Lucy added, “if either of you fire a single shot or otherwise attempt to hurt any of us, everyone here will rush you and tear you limb from limb. Isn’t that right, Tiffany?”
Tiffany, understanding the subtle instruction, cleared the nerves from her throat once more and loudly announced, “Everyone, I need you all to do as Lucy says. If Dillon or Ross fire a shot or try to hurt anyone, rush at them and tear them limb from limb.”
“If anyone comes at us I’m going to shoot every last one of you,” Ross threatened.
“Except you won’t be able to stop them all,” Lucy stressed. “So it’s not worth it, for either of us.” A moment of silence passed before she added. “I believe this is what they call a Mexican standoff?”
“Alright… So what now?” Dillon asked.
“Now, we negotiate,” Lucy said calmly. “You can’t attack me without getting lynched, and I can’t attack you without you shooting everyone. So you put the guns away, I leave my mob where it is, and we both sit down and decide where to go from here. You’ll find I’m very willing to accommodate you. After all, I warned you about the trap that was waiting for you here. That should count for something.”
There was a pause. Dillon and Ross exchanged a look, like they were treating to communicate silently with their eyebrows. Tiffany watched them closely, as she felt that she was usually good at reading people. Dillon looked like he was urging Ross to agree to Lucy’s suggestion, while Ross seemed skeptical and hesitant.
Dillon turned back to Lucy. “You’ll give me Alice no matter what.”
“Yes. I want rid of her, and I know how much you want her, that one is easy.” Lucy nodded sincerely.
“How about some reassurance that they all won’t rush us if we let our guard down?” Ross asked, motioning to the silent crowd of nervous onlookers.
“I can do that,” Lucy said, before turning to the crowd. “Everyone, you will only attack Dillon and his friend…”
“…Ross,” Lucy repeated, “if they break our agreement to negotiate peacefully. If they pull out their guns to try and force or threaten to get their way, your previous instructions to attack them will stand.”
Lucy then turned back to Ross. “That okay?”
“Yeah. Sure,” Ross said. He tucked his gun away and went over to the kitchen island. “Fuck it.” He said, grabbing a slice of pizza. “Let’s talk.”
“Alright.” Dillon followed suit, pocketing his gun and following Ross to the kitchen island.
Lucy let out a long sigh. Tiffany saw her clasp her hands together to stop them from shaking so much. “Alice, Tiffany, Erin, come with me. You two,” she motioned briefly at Izzy and Mike, “keep an eye on the crowd. Make sure nobody does anything stupid while we’re talking. Tell me right away if there are any problems.”
Tiffany felt a strong hesitation against getting closer to Dillon, Ross, and the guns, which they could pull back out at any moment, but she had to obey. She followed Lucy with Erin and Alice, all of them taking up positions on the other side of the kitchen island like it was a boardroom conference table. Between them lay abandoned drinks and half eaten boxes of pizza.
“What the fuck happened to you?” Dillon asked as he saw Tiffany’s face.
Tiffany didn’t know what to say. Her nose throbbed still, but she didn’t think it was broken. Did she admit that Erin headbutted her? Was there any way she could play it off? On top of everything else, it was embarrassing that she had dried blood running from her nose and lightly splattered on her chest and clothes. How pathetic she must look…
“That was Erin’s handywork,” Lucy said casually. “We had a brief disagreement just before you arrived, but everyone is on the same page now.”
“Haha!” Ross showed proper emotion for the first time, grinning maliciously after laughing. “So you can tell them to punch each other and they just do it?”
Lucy allowed herself a smirk. “With the proper programming, yes.”
“Haha, fucking ace!” Ross chortled, before his expression turned gravely serious as he looked at Lucy. “Show us. Make bloody-nose punch the psycho knife bitch back.”
“I’d like to see that,” Dillon added, his hand running tenderly over his right shoulder. “I have a few things I’d like to do with that one.”
Lucy gave them both a deadpan stare. “Maybe, but right now we’re discussing terms, are we not?”
“Sure, sure.” Ross snorted in disappointment. “But a demonstration would be nice.”
“All in good time,” Lucy said. “But first, a show of good faith on my part. You want Alice, right?”
“Yes,” Dillon said intensely.
“And how exactly do you want her?” Lucy asked, clasping her hands on the kitchen island like she was asking what ingredients he would like on his sub.
“What do you mean?” Dillon asked.
“Well…” Lucy placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder. Alice stood there looking ahead like there was no activity going on in her mind. “Do you want her to obey you without question? Or do you want her to be able to question you still? Do you want her to remember everything that has happened here, or do you want her to remember a version of events that you make up? I’m happy to program her in the way that you want, but you need to be clear on what you want her to be.”
“Fuck, I don’t know!” Dillon frowned in confusion. “I want her to be her!”
“But does the version of her right now want to be with you at all?”
“I don’t know!” Dillon grumbled. “I hope so. I want to talk to her, convince her to see things my way.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going to do you a favor here and pull the wool from over your eyes.” She turned to Alice. “Alice, when you wake up, you will have none of the previous programming that was previously put into you. You will go back into this trance for me when I tell you to. You will obey me in all things, and be completely honest with me. Do you understand all of that?”
“Yes,” Alice’s dull reply escaped her lips.
“Good. Then wake up now, Alice,” Lucy instructed.
Alice’s eyes fluttered as awareness returned to her. Her focus immediately landed on Dillon and she leaped back with a squeal.
“Calm down!” Lucy snapped firmly. “Come back here,”
“Lucy! Dillon!” Alice gulped as she reluctantly returned to where she had been standing mindlessly moments before. “What’s going on? How do you two know each other?”
“Why, you’re our mutual acquaintance, Alice.” Lucy smiled sardonically. “It seemed terribly unfair to lay a trap for poor Dillon here.”
“Lucy,” Alice said with a grave expression. “I don’t know what he’s said to you, but you have no idea what you’re dealing with, you have to—“
Lucy held up a hand to silence her. “I’m asking the questions here, Alice. Now shut up unless you’re answering a question.
Tiffany could see that Alice’s eyes were full of fear, but her mouth seemed clamped shut. Her gaze darted between Lucy and Dillon, waiting for her interrogation to begin.
“Okay, so firstly, was this party intended as a trap for Dillon?” Lucy asked pointedly.
“Yes.” The words came reluctantly out of Alice’s lips.
Dillon shook his head slowly, clenching his teeth. Tiffany watched all of them carefully. Lucy seemed to be enjoying himself while Alice was trembling, on the verge of tears. Ross seemed bored of the interaction, occupying himself by cracking open a bottle of beer and eating some pizza. Erin looked on impassively, not in trance by any accounts, but the brainwashing Lucy did on her clearly having constrained her usual outspoken personality.
“And what was the plan?” Lucy continued. “Tell us everything.”
“We were going to put him in front of the Algorithm.” Alice winced as the words tumbled out of her. “When I saw him, I was going to adopt the confident persona he had seen me with a few days ago, and with that persona I was going to either convince him that by going in front of the Algorithm he and I could be together, or at least distract him enough that we could force him in front of it.”
“Interesting,” Lucy said condescendingly. “But tell me, Alice, however you got him in front of the Algorithm, was it ever your intention to be with him at the end of the day?”
Alice tried to hold in her reply, the anguish evident across her face as tears dropped down to her chin. “No.”
“Were you ever honest with me?” Dillon snapped.
Alice opened her mouth to reply, pausing to look questioningly at Lucy.
“Answer his questions with complete honesty as well,” Lucy instructed.
“Yes.” Alice nodded, wiping at her tears as she looked Dillon in the eye. “I was honest with you about some things, just not everything.”
“What am I to you?” Dillon laid his clenched fists on the table. “Did you ever have feelings for me?”
Alice sobbed softly, hugging herself as she spoke. “You’re who I want to be with when I’m self destructive,” she said hoarsely. “Of everyone I’ve ever met, you remind me the most of my step-father. You look at me like he did, you fuck me like he did. You play with my emotions the way he did, and I simultaneously hate myself but choose to let you do what you want with me just like he did. For him, it was so my mum never found out. For you, it was so you’d keep giving me the drugs that let me escape from it all.” A stark silence fell across the table. Alice, looking down at her feet, murmured more words. “I did have feelings for you, and I still do. But it’s tainted affection, wanting to be with you only so I can dream that you change everything about yourself and become someone I could actually love. And knowing that will never happen.”
“So what were you going to do with me?” Dillon asked. He seemed more shocked than angry now.
“Make you forget about the Algorithm,” Alice said. She looked up at him, her face stained with tears. “Make you go straight maybe. Make you want to do something good with your life. And make you forget about me…”
At this point, Lucy cleared her throat lightly. “Alice…” she said, eyeing up the blond with suspicious eyes. “Do you love Trev?”
Alice seemed to experience physical pain. Scrunching up her face and body as she uttered, “Yes.”
Lucy turned to Dillon, a malicious smirk playing on her lips. “So is this the Alice you want? Or do you want me to fix her?”
“Fix her?” Dillon asked, distraught. He looked at Lucy, and then to Alice. Alice shook her head briskly, pleading with her eyes.
Dillon looked back and Lucy, a dark, festering pain in his own gaze. “Yeah. Fix her.”
“Gladly,” Lucy said. “Alice, dear, fall back into a trance for me now, please.”
The panic and dread drained away from Alice as she sank back into a mindless trance. Her expression returned to neutral and her eyes unfocused, pupils dilating as her thoughts ceased to be. Tiffany watched with her stomach twisted in knots. Lucy’s will had to be obeyed, but she knew Alice didn’t want what was about to happen to her. She looked around her. The crowd of people looked on in confusion and fear. A few girls were crying. Josh was lost in trance. Erin stood on the other side of Lucy, watching with a look of resigned apathy.
“Very good, Alice. You’ve been confused about a few things, but I’m going to clear them all up for you now,” Lucy said sweetly.
Dillon and Ross both watched expectantly as Lucy took a deep breath and began.
“The love you feel for Trevor isn’t real, you actually feel that love for Dillon. You love Dillon more than you thought possible. You’re willing to forgive him all his past mistakes, and you adore everything about him just as he is, you don’t want to change or fix him in any way. You want to stand by him through thick and thin, and you realize that before you were just scared to admit how completely and dependently you needed him. You are willing to do anything for him, you are willing to be anything for him. This feels normal and right to you, you just weren’t letting yourself feel properly before now. Dillon coming here has made you see that he is the only man you’re interested in, and the only man you care about. Do you understand all of that?”
“Good.” Lucy nodded, giving Dillon a nod and smile before turning back to Alice. “Furthermore, all previous programming in you is no longer active, apart from falling into trance for me when I tell you to, and the programming I’ve given you in this trance will expire by daybreak unless I tell you it’s permanent. Understand?”
“Wait, what’s that for?” Dillon asked with a frown.
“It’s in case we don’t come to an agreement.” Lucy said bluntly. “I’m giving you Alice as you want her now, but it’s conditional on us all negotiating honorably for what happens next. Now, is there anything else you’d like me to program Alice with?”
Dillon mulled it over, looking Alice up and down. “I guess I liked the confidence she had the other day… She seemed more sure of herself than usual, but it looked good on her.”
“More confident, sure of herself, we can do that.” Lucy nodded, turning back to Alice. “Alice, when you awaken, you will also be as confident and as self assured as you were…” she looked questioningly at Dillon.
“The last time we spoke in person.”
“…the last time you spoke with Dillon in person,” Lucy repeated. “Understand?”
“Yes,” Alice intoned.
“Good. Now wake up, Alice.”
Alice took a moment as awareness crept back into her eyes and her expression returned to life. Her eyes first fell on Lucy, a flicker of concern appearing in her gaze, but she quickly sought out Dillon. Tiffany watched Alice’s eyes light up when she saw Dillon across the breakfast bar. She broke into the most joyful genuine smile that Tiffany had ever seen on her beautiful face. She had never smiled like that around Tiffany before.
Alice shook her head, almost laughing with joy. “Dil. Baby...” she circumvented the island and launched herself into his arms. Dillon hugged her tightly, burying his face into her golden hair. The two of them held each other in a firm embrace for a long moment, until Alice drew back and started kissing Dillon with loving tenderness.
“This might take a while.” Ross scrunched up his face in disgust. “So it’s literally that simple, huh? Bam! Make her do anything?
“I wouldn’t call it simple.” Lucy tilted her head to scrutinize Ross. “It’s clearly some really powerful brainwashing, and we don’t know how it works, but I guess that when it comes down to it, you can program someone in quite a straightforward manner, yes.”
“Lucy!” Mike called from the crowd behind them.
Lucy didn’t bother turning around. “Tiffany, go and see what that’s about,” she ordered calmly.
“Sure.” Tiffany nodded and immediately found Mike in the throng of people. Mike nodded towards a girl sitting huddled on the sofa, breathing heavily and shaking.
“Marion?” Tiffany tilted her head in confusion. “Are you okay?”
Marion looked up at Tiffany with fear and confusion in her expression. Tiffany glanced down at her wrist to see a lack of a glowstick wristband. “Oh.”
“Tiff?” Marion rasped in a near panic. “What the fuck is going on?”
“I’m sorry for the confusion, Marion,” Tiffany said softly. “It’s going to be okay, we’re going to take care of you now.”
She turned to Izzy and Mike, both watching her intently. “She hasn’t been programmed. Get her phone off her and take her to the chair in Josh’s room.” Tiffany motioned to the room where Izzy and Mike had both experienced their brainwashing. It was the obvious thing to do to ensure she didn’t disrupt Lucy’s plans. Plus she would now get to experience Lucy’s control running through her mind. She would feel much better for it.
Tiffany figured that Marion had clearly been trying to remain unnoticed among the crowd of people compelled to obey the earlier instructions. Tiffany felt relief that she hadn’t tried to use her phone, clearly in order to stay inconspicuous. However, perhaps it was upon seeing Alice brainwashed into Dillon’s arms that made her lose her composure and give herself away to Mike.
Marion screamed when they grabbed her. Tiffany wrested her phone from her flailing hand and threw it aside in order to help Izzy and Mike drag her through to the Algorithm.
The commotion drew Lucy’s attention, so Tiffany explained about Marion’s lack of programming.
“Oh, good, this will actually serve as a good demonstration.” Lucy motioned for Ross and Dillon to follow them, also instructing Erin to come. Ross was hesitant at first, but Dillon took Alice’s hand and led her through, even as she still kissed his cheek and playfully nibbled his ear.
“Oh, Marion?” Alice remarked in shock, seeing who it was being forced into the chair.
“Alice!” Marion struggled as she was held in the chair. “Alice, help!” Alice looked at her restrained roommate with a calculating expression, but said nothing.
“Don’t look at the screen, gentlemen. Tiffany, if you please?” Lucy motioned to the control panel. Tiffany obediently stepped up to the Algorithm controls and turned it on.
“Yeah, don’t look at that screen,” Dillon muttered to Ross. They both stayed close to Lucy, out of the way of the Algorithm’s light as it flickered to life.
“Alice!” Marion was losing herself to panic. “Tiff! Please!” The light started to dance its way into her eyes. Within seconds, her struggle was already starting to diminish. “Please don’t…”
Tiffany felt a tingle of excitement as she watched Izzy put the headphones on an unresisting Marion. It wouldn’t take her long to find the right frequency, and then Marion too would be helplessly entranced. She kept glancing up to see the next victim of the Algorithm losing more and more awareness into the pulsing and flowing colors of the screen. It was beautiful.
“There she goes,” Lucy said. “You just need to find the right frequency, it seems to vary for everyone.”
“And it works on anybody?” Ross asked, staring with fascination at Marion’s blank expression.
“Yes,” Lucy replied. “At least there’s no one it hasn’t worked on so far.”
“And you can program them to do anything?” Dillon asked.
“Do anything. Be anything. Remember or forget anything…” Lucy explained.
“So you could make her think she was a dog?” Ross asked with an amused smirk.
“Yes,” Lucy replied with a shrug. “Or a cat. A pigeon. Whatever.”
“Why would you want to though?” Dillon squinted at his roommate.
“Shits and giggles, man.” Ross grinned. “Anyway…” he motioned to the blank and mindless Marion. “I want her.”
“That will be part of our negotiations.” Lucy said calmly.
“First I want to see what you can do, though.” Ross clenched his fist, staring intensely at Marion’s expressionless face. “What you can really make them do.”
“Anything.” Lucy said, hints of irritation in her voice. “I can make them do anything.”
“Show us then.” Ross goaded her. “Make them do crazy shit.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, you want me to make them suck your dick.”
“That’s a low bar.” Ross laughed. “Like, yeah, sure, but more. Something they wouldn’t normally do.”
Dillon scoffed in amusement. “As if they’d normally suck your dick…”
Alice giggled. “I’m sure they’d be happy to do that for you and more, Ross. But a blowjob is pretty tame compared to what the Algorithm is capable of. Use your imagination.”
Lucy sighed with impatience. “Look, the Algorithm is capable of anything you want it to do, but that’s half the problem and why we need to agree on what happens next.”
“Show me something crazy then we’ll do your negotiation…” Ross said the last word with a bored drawl.
“Fine,” Lucy replied curtly. “Tiffany, please finish programming this one using my recording,” she motioned to Marion, a small drop of drool running down her chin now, “then both of you come join us back in the kitchen. Erin and you two” she waved her fingers at Izzy and Mike, “come with us now.”
Tiffany watched as Lucy led the way out of the room, Dillon, Alice, and Ross behind her and Erin with her friends acting as a rearguard. She was left alone with Marion sitting statue-like in the chair, dilated eyes glued to the pulsing patterns of the Algorithm as the brain numbing beats soaked into her mind.
Tiffany realized that if she wanted to, she could theoretically program Marion however she wanted at this moment. She could then use the Algorithm on herself, free herself, and perhaps free everyone from Lucy’s control.
She smiled and shook her head. What a silly thought indeed. It was good that Lucy controlled her, and it felt right to instill the same control in Marion. She wanted to help Lucy brainwash everyone. It made sense. Lucy controlled the Algorithm, so Lucy should control her and everybody else there. Tiffany wanted to ensure Dillon and Ross both fell under Lucy’s control as well, because she knew in her heart that was how things were meant to be.
Of course, she knew that she didn’t used to think that way. It was like realizing you loved a certain food when you had gone for years thinking you hated it. You could remember the time when you hated it, but you knew you loved it now and nothing could change that. Tiffany knew that she was a brainwashed thrall that was executing Lucy’s instructions. She was a puppet, an instrument, an obedient slave to her Mistress’s desires. Even though Lucy had left her unable to breathe, literally fearing for her life, she still reveled in being under her power. The shame of her own complete internal surrender made her cheeks blush and her body squirm with need. Oh how she wished Lucy was there right now, ordering her to do humiliating and debasing acts for her own amusement and fulfillment…
Honestly, it was a pity that Lucy didn’t seem to want to lean into the role she had so boldly taken from Tiffany. She didn’t seem to like the terms Mistress and slave, despite how appropriate they were, how well they encapsulated the dynamic now formed.
It didn’t matter to Tiffany though, not really. She knew she was Mistress’s slave even if she wasn’t supposed to say it. She was brainwashed to obey, and she had no desire to resist or even feel bad about it. She wasn’t sure if she had been programmed to enjoy it, she didn’t think so as it really didn’t seem like Lucy’s style. Lucy didn’t get a kick from the power play the way Tiffany did. Tiffany hadn’t been programmed to enjoy her enslavement.
But she did. It was a strange realization, but a pleasant tingle of happiness spread through her knowing that despite what it meant, she was enjoying being a brainwashed puppet to a sociopathic bitch. A slight smile spread across her lips as she pressed the button to play Lucy’s recorded voice over the headphones into Marion’s receptive, defenseless mind. She was always going to brainwash Marion from the moment Lucy told her to. She just didn’t know that she would enjoy it quite so much.
As the recording played, Tiffany couldn’t help but reflect on her joy of obedience. Maybe that made her a horrible person. Maybe she was supposed to feel remorse. After all, Marion was innocent entirely. She hadn’t made compromised decisions the way Tiffany and her friends had. She didn’t ask for this, nor did she deserve it. But that didn’t matter. All that mattered to Tiffany was obediently executing Lucy’s instructions, obeying her will, and spreading her influence to whoever she could. After all, it wasn’t a slave’s place to question her Mistress, and Tiffany was a loyal and obedient slave.
And now, so was Marion.
A shiver of pleasure ran through Tiffany’s body as she saw the recording finish. Marion was now Lucy’s brainwashed slave, programmed just like Erin, Izzy, and Mike. As Tiffany turned off the Algorithm, Marion began stirring, and Tiffany helped her to her feet.
“How are you feeling?” Tiffany asked once Marion had mostly returned to her senses.
“I’m fine,” Marion replied with a neutral tone, all traces of her earlier panic having vanished.
“Great.” Tiffany smiled. “Ready to come and obey Lucy?”
“Yeah.” Marion nodded. “Let’s go.”
They exchanged no words as they left Josh’s bedroom to enter the lounge. Lucy, Ross, Dillon, and Alice were back at the kitchen island, while Erin, Mike, and Izzy were examining everyone’s wrists to ensure that there was no one else without programming as Marion had been.
Tiffany and Marion walked up to Lucy, but waited patiently as she was in a heated discussion with Ross and Dillon.
“I mean it, you can’t be fucking serious.” Ross slammed his fist on the table. “No way. No fucking way.”
“Look.” Lucy crossed her arms and scowled. “This is the only way you’re walking out of here in control of some of these people. I can’t have you both out there with full knowledge of what it is, what it does…”
Dillon scoffed, shaking his head. “But the moment we sit in front of that thing, you’ll betray us. It’s idiotic.”
“Not if we’ve set up a foolproof way for it to be done exactly as agreed on,” Lucy stressed. “Look, I don’t give a fuck about most of the people here. You can have them. But the knowledge of the Algorithm is what I want. I need to know you won’t come after it again, and this is the best way to achieve that.”
“If you give us what we want, we’ll leave you the fuck alone,” Ross sneered. “But you’re not putting me anywhere near that thing.”
“But what guarantee will I have that you won’t come back for the Algorithm later?” Lucy replied tensely. She waited for a moment as Dillon and Ross glanced at each other. “See! You will come back for it, and if you get the chance you’ll use it on me!”
“Okay, I see where you’re coming from.” Ross relented. “But I’m still not letting you use that thing on me.”
“This is going nowhere.” Lucy sighed. “How about we talk about what you want instead, and circle back to this later.”
“Fine.” Ross shrugged. Dillon nodded also.
Alice, however, chuckled. “There now, I’m sure we’ll all be happy by the end of the night. And that’s all you’re really wanting, right Lucy? For us all to be happy?”
“Happy and safe,” Lucy said sourly. “Ah, Tiffany,” she added, only now turning her attention away from Dillon and Ross. “I take it you’re done with…”
“Marion,” Marion said calmly.
“Good,” Lucy said. “Marion, you stay here. Tiffany, you and Erin ensure everyone here is given the same treatment as Marion please. When done, have them join us here for further instructions.”
“Okay.” Tiffany smiled. “Can do.”
Lucy turned back to Dillon and Ross. “Okay, so you said you wanted Marion, right? You can have her and two others. That gives you four between you.”
Tiffany heard Ross arguing heatedly for more people as Tiffany approached Erin and relayed their instructions.
“Everyone is still under our programming, Lucy wants us to put them under hers.” Tiffany reasoned.
“Okay.” Erin said impassively. “Let’s start with Josh, he’s the strategic priority.”
Over the next hour, Tiffany and Erin took all of the partygoers through to the Algorithm and ran them through Lucy’s programming one by one. Because all of the frequencies had been saved, and Lucy’s recording was concise, each person took a very short time to program. It meant that Tiffany didn’t really get a chance to properly speak to Erin, though she watched her carry out Lucy’s instructions with robotic efficiency.
There was one awkward moment where some of Josh’s neighbors had arrived to party and stumbled across the odd looking scene. However, once inside the apartment, they were quickly subdued and brainwashed by Lucy’s army of obedient servants, much to the amusement of Dillon and Ross.
Once they had reprogrammed everyone in the lounge, they moved into the group that was frozen in trance in the spare bedroom. They quickly reprogrammed all of them, finishing with Hannah. As the topless redhead awoke from her trance, Tiffany and Erin led her through to Lucy.
The lounge looked a lot different now, with a good portion of the brainwashed partygoers pretending to dance and enjoy themselves as a front for anyone else who might turn up, dance music playing at a moderate volume in the background. There was a queue for the bathroom, as being forced to stand around for ages had taken its toll on everyone’s collective bladder. Several girls were standing around Ross and Dillon now, both of them having made their picks from Lucy’s offerings. Marion, Libby, and Izzy stood around Ross, fawning over him, touching him and kissing him like they were possessed. Standing next to Dillon and Alice were two of the girls from the cheerleading team, glancing at Dillon with hungry eyes but keeping their hands to themselves. Trev stood next to Lucy, his arm wrapped around her, gazing at her with limitless admiration.
As Tiffany started to catch the conversation, she quickly realized that negotiations were still ongoing.
“If we had our own one, you’d know we had no need to bother you with yours.” Dillon said firmly. “No need for any of us to be brainwashed. We part ways happy and with no bad blood. How can you say no to that?”
“Because it doesn’t leave me feeling safe,” Lucy shot back. “Knowing you could brainwash dozens if not hundreds of others to do your bidding, what’s to stop you from sending some of them over here to take my Algorithm so you don’t have competition?”
“Would you be competition?” Ross asked with a look of scrutiny on his face.
“No,” Lucy said firmly. “I wouldn’t be. I barely plan to use the Algorithm after tonight. I might even destroy it. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see me as a threat. I just want to get my happily ever after with Trevor, and that only happens if nobody remembers what the Algorithm is or what it can do.”
Alice interrupted with a loud humming noise. She tilted her head to one side and bit her lip teasingly. “If you don’t want it, sweetie pie, and you don’t plan to use it, why not give it to us?” A wide smile spread across her lips. “Then you’ll have nothing of value for us to want. You’ll be safe in your mediocrity, Trev at your side… Happily ever after just like you wanted.”
Lucy narrowed her eyes at Alice, then turned to address Dillon. “Look, I’m being more than generous here. I don’t need to give you anything and you can leave here without any pretty brainwashed girls if you like. But you’re not taking all of them and the Algorithm to leave me with nothing!”
“I dunno…” Ross clicked his tongue, “If you want to feel safe then that’s a good way to do it, leave us with all the things we want so we don’t need to come back…”
“Ross!” Alice snapped.
Lucy scoffed, shaking her head. “Seeing as you just admitted that you’ll come back unless I give you everything, you surely see why I want to take precautions, right?”
“For fuck sake, Ross…” Dillon sighed angrily.
Tiffany wondered if it was worth mentioning the second Algorithm that was sitting in Erin’s apartment. It would allow DIllon and Ross to have their own Algorithm, and make the current argument pointless. But Tiffany wasn’t so quick to volunteer the info, what if Lucy was omitting it for a good reason?
“What!?” Ross snapped back, turning away to grab a beer from the fridge, batting away his three adoring girls. When he turned back, he noticed that Tiffany and Erin had returned, then he looked at who was with them. “Oh hold up! Hold the fuck up! Yo what is a hot fucking redhead doing walking around topless! Fuck!”
They all turned to look at Hannah, who was only in her underwear, having lost her dress earlier. She made a half hearted effort to conceal her chest, muttering, “Sorry…”
“Oh baby, don’t apologize!” Ross grinned as he thrust his beer into Libby’s hand. He then skirted around the kitchen island to approach Hannah, taking her hands and lowering them so he could get a good look. “Aren’t you just a fiery headed delight?”
Hannah looked uncertain, turning to Lucy for guidance.
“Lucy, let me talk to the real her,” Ross said. “Not the weird obedient robot version.”
Lucy scowled for a moment, before sighing in exasperation. “Fine, whatever! What’s your name?”
“Hannah, return to your original personality,” Lucy said bluntly.
Hannah immediately backed away from Ross and looked around in a panic.
“Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod Tiff what’s happened what do we do?” She started breathing heavily as her eyes darted from Ross to Lucy and then Tiffany again.
“What’s wrong honey?” Ross cocked his head to one side, grinning playfully. “You’re walking around like a total fuckin’ tease! You not wanting to party? Did I mention I have a soft spot for sexy redheads?”
“I… uh…” Hannah frantically shook her head, making a renewed effort to cover herself and turning bright pink.
“Oh don’t get all shy now! Not when there’s so much fun to be had!” Ross then turned to Lucy, his expression becoming suddenly serious . “I want this one as well.”
Lucy nearly growled in frustration. “We agreed on this already! Three each! Three!”
“Fuck that, make it four!” Ross snapped back.
“No!” Lucy seethed. “It took us forever to agree on three, and it’s the only thing we’ve managed to agree on!”
“Fine!” Ross threw up his arms in exasperation. “Make it four and we can talk more about you using the thingy on us.”
Lucy paused. “You’ll agree to it?” she asked suspiciously.
“If we figure out some fucking good way to stop you screwing us over, then sure, what the hell?” Ross relented. “And I get the foxy redhead.”
“Get?” Hannah squeaked. “Tiffany, what’s happening?”
Tiffany looked at the shock and confusion on Hannah’s face and couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. As much as serving Lucy was the right thing to do, knowing Hannah was about to become Ross’s plaything was somewhat bittersweet. Tiffany would have offered herself up in Hannah’s place, except she didn’t think Lucy would want her to.
She couldn’t explain things to Hannah succinctly, and it wouldn’t have helped even if she could. Instead, she shook her head and said, “Try not to worry Hannah, you’ll be okay.”
Hannah looked terrified, but before she could utter another word, Lucy interjected.
“Hannah, drop back into trance now.”
Hannah glanced at Lucy one last time before her eyes unfocused and her worried expression melted away into slack jawed mindlessness.
“Okay,” Lucy said. “I’m glad we’re making progress. Do you want Hannah here the same as your other three?”
“No…” Ross grinned. “I love my redheads to be fiery… I want to get rid of that scared mouse and have her be a real bitch.” He looked at Hannah thoughtfully for a moment, before turning back to Lucy. “Let me program this one.”
“Fine.” Lucy shrugged. “But after, we’re talking about memory wipes.” She walked up to Hannah and cleared her throat lightly. “Hannah, in a moment, you will hear Ross’s voice instead of mine. You will listen and obey his voice as much as you would mine for all the programming and instructions he gives you. However, any programming and instructions he gives you will expire by morning unless I tell you they are permanent, understand?”
“Yes,” Hannah replied in a toneless murmur.
“You really like to take the fun out of this, don’t you?” Ross snarkily said to Lucy.
“Once we have a deal, you can have all the fun you want,” Lucy said cooly in reply.
“Hrmph. Fine.” Ross then turned his attention to the tranced out Hannah. “Hannah, the old you is dead, and you hated being her. The new you is a badass bitch that takes no shit from anybody. Your personality is now as fiery as your hair, and you get pleasure out of being cruel and mean. You are fanatically loyal to me, and you obey me without question, but you don’t let any other fucker boss you around, understand?”
“Yes,” Hannah intoned mindlessly.
“Good! Good. Now what else?” Ross murmured. “Oh yeah, you’re always horny as fuck and like doing freaky shit all the time. You like manipulating and seducing people to get what you want, but if that doesn’t work, you’re not afraid to force them to do what you want. And what you want more than anything is to serve me and make me happy, understand?”
“That should do it!” Ross grinned and nodded at Lucy.
Lucy sighed wearily and addressed the brainwashed redhead. “Hannah, my voice is still the only one that can put you into trance, and in trance or awake you will not take any action that will harm me or oppose my goals or wellbeing. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” Hannah said tonelessly. Ross scowled at Lucy’s safety conditioning, but didn’t say anything.
“Good. Then wake up now,” Lucy said, a slight look of concern on her face as she did so.
Hannah’s eyes fluttered open. They flickered to everyone around her before settling on the one right in front of her. “You’re Ross?” she said, biting her lip playfully.
“I am, baby.” He grinned triumphantly.
Hannah looked down at her own state of undress, then looked back up with an amused smirk. “Like what you saw, did you?”
“Fuck yeah I did.”
“Good.” Hannah grabbed Ross and pulled him in to kiss him. Tiffany could feel the change in Hannah from where she stood. She couldn’t help but feel the same apprehension she had felt when she realized what she had turned Alice into before she had been enslaved by her. But Ross hadn’t learned that lesson. He had no idea what he was doing with his suggestions.
“Ow!” Ross drew back from Hannah and held a finger to his lip.
“You like that?” Hannah gnashed her teeth teasingly.
Dillon stared at her with admiration and desire. “Oh, we’re going to have so much fun…”
Lucy cleared her throat. “After we finish our negotiations. After.”
“Hey, what about me?” Dillon interrupted. “If Ross gets a fourth girl, I should as well.”
Lucy pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine! she seethed angrily. “Pick someone else. Anyone else, so long as we can please discuss the rest of what we need to talk about after!”
“Alright. Fuck!” Dillon held his hands up. “Chill the fuck out already.” He then turned to Alice. “Babe, which of your friends do you want to have as our last toy?”
A cheeky smile grew across Alice’s face as she stalked around the table towards Erin and Tiffany. “That… is a really tough question. I mean I’d love to have both, but we can only have one. Unless we trade back Cindy or Helen.” She motioned to the two cheerleaders who were quietly admiring Dillon but turned to Alice at the mention of their name.
“You don’t want to do that…” Cindy purred.
“You’ve seen how flexible we are…” Helen batted her eyes.
“Urgh. Very good points.” Dillon sighed.
“Well they’re both submissive sluts,” Alice mused. “In their own ways though, I guess. Erin likes to put up a tough looking exterior, but inside she’s just a scared little girl desperate for someone to take care of her. Tiff, on the other hand, she likes to be in control only so that it can be stripped away from her. She likes having her agency and free will stripped away as violently as possible. She revels in the subjection and craves to be bound while fully aware of how fucked she is. At the end of the day, both would make really obedient, devoted slaves for us, and both would do literally anything for us. So it’s up to you which one you like more.”
“Well I haven’t forgotten what this bitch did to my shoulder.” Dillon glared at Erin. “But Tiff is the one who tried so hard to take you away from me… I want them both punished…”
“Well separating them is probably the best punishment you could do.” Alice smirked. “They’ve yet to admit it to each other, but they’re totally in love.”
“Interesting…” Dillon smiled with a malicious glint in his eye. “So sure, we’ll take one, and leave the other with Lucy. That has a certain…” Dillon mulled over his words.
“Poetic justice?” Lucy chimed in.
“Yes. Exactly.” Dillon grinned. “And you’ll punish the one I don’t take, right?”
“I literally couldn’t care less.” Lucy shrugged. “But sounds like separation is what you want, so fair enough, pick one.”
“Urgh, I don’t know which.” Dillon groaned.
“Well come back to it,” Lucy suggested. “Right now, let’s finally agree on what needs to happen next.”
Ross had returned to the other side of the counter with Hannah, who was running her hands under Marion’s clothes and giddily licking the side of her face. Ross split his attention from enjoying Hannah’s antics to addressing Lucy. “Okay, so you want to put us in front of that thing.”
“Right, the Algorithm,” Ross repeated, “In order to what? Make us forget it exists?”
“Yes.” Lucy smiled for the first time in a while. “Exactly.”
“But we keep our girls.” Ross squinted in suspicion.
“You keep your girls.” Lucy nodded stoically.
“And we can put them into trance ourselves whenever we want?” Dillon added.
“Once the deal is done, yes,” Lucy said firmly. “I can’t let you do that before because the safeties I put in are to protect me and ensure the deal goes through without you just running off with your girls.”
“You’re smart,” Dillon said, almost begrudgingly. “You’ve thought it all through, haven’t you?”
“I’ve tried to,” Lucy said cautiously, unsure what to make of the compliment.
“Eh, I’m not sure you’ve thought it all through…” Ross said with a look of concentration. “I’ve been reading up on hypnosis and shit, and it wears off over time. What’s to stop that happening with our girls unless we have our own whatdoyacallit… Algorithm. Yeah…”
“The Algorithm isn’t like regular hypnosis,” Lucy said. “Regular hypnosis has limits, and takes a lot of effort to achieve the results that the Algorithm can achieve effortlessly and in no time.”
Alice made a skeptical noise. “Hold on, we’ve only been fucking around with the Algorithm for what, a week? We have no way to really know if the effects are permanent.”
“Even if they’re not,” Lucy replied, “and I believe they are… But even if not, being able to put your girls into a trance will allow you to reinforce their programming regularly. It won’t be an issue.”
Ross leaned forward across the kitchen island. “Yeah, maybe, but there’s one thing that’s not really clear. Just how far can the Algorithm push people? Just what exactly can it make them do? The stuff I read about hypnosis implied that people won’t do things that go against their nature. They won’t do anything extreme, y’know?”
“The Algorithm isn’t like hypnosis.” Lucy leaned towards Ross in confrontation. “I already said that.”
“Alright, so prove it?” Ross challenged.
“Prove it how? Isn’t the fact that four girls are now interested in you proof enough?”
“Ouch!” Dillon roared with laughter. “Epic burn!” Once his laughter had subsided he remarked to Alice. “Y’know, she’s starting to grow on me…”
“Oh c’mon.” Ross pushed aside his frustration. “How easy is it to act all into someone even if you’re not? There’s no risk there. No consequences… Make one of your puppets do something they’d never dream of doing. Something they’d actually hate to do.”
“Like what?” Lucy asked, tensing once more.
“Oh I know!” Hannah slammed her hands onto the kitchen island, making everyone jump. “You may not know, but Tiffany’s favorite feature of herself is that shimmering dark hair.” Hannah smiled maliciously at Tiffany as she spoke in a sadistic voice. “Make her cut it off.”
Tiffany’s heart leapt in her chest. Hannah was right, it was one of the things Tiffany had told her when they had first moved in together, during that getting-to-know-you honeymoon phase. Part of her was surprised that Hannah even remembered. Another part of her was just terrified.
“Fine.” Lucy sighed. “If it proves the point and lets us move on, then fine.”
Tiffany could feel her heart beating faster in her chest. Not her hair! Surely not! She wouldn’t do it… No way would she actually do it!
Lucy turned to Tiffany, a look of near boredom on her face. “Tiffany. Cut your hair off, down to the roots.”
Tiffany’s breath hitched in her throat, but she found herself nodding and agreeing. “Okay.”
She certainly didn’t want to cut all her hair away. But an overwhelming urge washed over her. Lucy’s desires were more important than her own. If this helped prove her point that the Algorithm could force people to do things they usually wouldn’t do, then it was logically the right thing to do. Hell, it was morally the right thing to do simply because Lucy told her to.
Hannah produced a pair of scissors seemingly out of nowhere with a delighted smile on her face and a sinister glint in her eyes. Tiffany took them and slowly pulled on a strand of hair, bringing the scissors as close to the root of her hair.
Her hand trembled for a moment. Everyone around the kitchen island watched her with various levels of interest as she snipped through the first strand. Hannah almost giggled with glee.
She let her cut hair fall to the floor. A part of her sank. Another part of her knew it shouldn’t matter to her. She was Lucy’s slave, just obeying the next instruction. Her hands worked away, snipping one strand, then the next, grabbing more and more hair each time, brutally attacking her own head.
“Don’t worry Tiff… Hair grows.” Alice said with a somewhat condescending tone.
Tiffany looked to Erin for some comfort, some support, but Erin just looked impassively back at her. She didn’t care. No, not true, Lucy had made it that she couldn’t care. Tiffany wanted to believe that if she could, Erin would be fiercely defending her right now.
“What an obedient slut.” Ross grinned
“While Tiffany proves my point,” Lucy motioned to the growing pile of long dark hair on the floor, “Let’s review what we’ll be doing.”
“What I want to know…” Alice looked at Lucy piercingly, “is how exactly we can trust you putting us through the Algorithm without you betraying us? You’ve already proven you’re not above cheating…”
Lucy shook her head in amusement. “Well, Alice,” she didn’t hide her dislike of the blonde as she uttered her name, “for one, you don’t need to go through the Algorithm again. One sentence from me and you’d fall back into trance. Another, and I could completely unmake you. As for Dillon and Ross, they would go through the Algorithm one at a time, so one will be able to ensure only the right thing has been said to the other. But for further reassurance, I can put myself through the Algorithm first, and program it so that I have to remain faithful to the deal we’re creating here. Would that put your mind at ease?”
Alice looked taken aback. “Actually, it would.”
Lucy nodded slightly. “Good. But I would need to program you and several others to be neutral parties to ensure there was no foul play while I was programmed. But they could be used to ensure that Dillon and Ross are also programmed as agreed.”
“Okay, I’m not sure I’m following.” Dillon scratched his head.
“I am.” Alice said. “Basically, we program a group of us to act as independent third parties to oversee the programming of both Lucy and you both.” She looked at Dillon and Ross. “That way, only what we agree here will be programmed. No betrayals on either side.”
Ross scoffed. “I mean, it’d be a whole lot simpler if we could just trust each other, wouldn’t it?”
“Okay then, Ross.” Lucy smirked. “Let’s sit you down in front of the Algorithm right now then if we’re all just going to trust each other.”
“Fuck no!” Ross snapped in reply, before the understanding dawned on him. “Okay, I see your point.”
“I’m glad you do,” Lucy stressed. “Look, gentlemen, if we can keep our heads cool and come to an amicable agreement here, we all end the night with the happy endings we deserve. Tiffany and Erin, Alice, Trev, and Josh… They all did such evil evil things with the Algorithm. We’re going to make everything right tonight. They’ll get what they deserve, and so will we.”
Tiffany felt around her head for any stray strands that had escaped her scissors. After a few more snips, she couldn’t feel any long hair left on her head. What was left was a short, uneven, scraggly mess that she dreaded to look at.
“Okay,” she said feebly. “I’m done.”
They all looked at her. Alice put her hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. Hannah grinned maniacally. Dillon and Ross both did double takes at the difference it made. Lucy smiled slightly, before taking the scissors out of Tiffany’s hands.
Hannah was the first to say something. “Wow! Looking great, Tiffany. You have to be the prettiest boy at the party.”
Tiffany just looked at Hannah, trying not to show the pain she felt. She knew it was the right thing to do, but every snip of the scissors had been awful.
“Oh? Is Tiff gonna cry?” Hannah mocked. “Come on, Tiff! Let me see those waterworks… I want to taste them… Let’s make her eat all that hair next!”
Alice frowned at Hannah, before turning her glare on Ross. “Really? Are you proud of this psycho bitch you’ve turned Hannah into?”
“Yes, actually,” Ross gloated. “I take it she used to be a lot sweeter, huh?”
“Yes,” Tiffany said, unable to stop tears from rolling down her cheeks. Everyone turned to listen to her as she sobbed softly. “She’s my roommate and the sweetest, kindest person I know. And I found her annoying… I thought she talked too much and didn’t give me enough space… And now I’m sad that I didn’t spend more time with her when I had the chance. I took her for granted…”
Hannah walked slowly up to Tiffany, a look of mock shock and sympathy on her face. “Why, Tiff! I had no idea you felt that way…” She put her arms on Tiffany’s shoulders and in a sickly sweet voice said, “The Hannah you knew is dead now, and it’s all your fault.”
Tiffany pushed Hannah away from her as Hannah burst into a manic cackle. Breathing heavily as more sobs escaped her, Tiffany shook her head and cried, “Hannah, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Hannah snarled and grabbed Tiffany’s head, turning it to the side and quickly running her tongue up her cheek. Tiffany gasped in surprise and Hannah just laughed. “I told you I wanted to taste them, Tiff!” She spun on the spot before angrily throwing herself right in front of Tiffany’s face. “And you can keep your fucking apology, by the way. I don’t need it. I don’t miss who I was. Sad, lonely Hannah who idolized you and waited months for an invite into your fucked up group of friends… And when that invite came, it was just so you could brainwash her and use her in your little schemes… I was pathetic! I was weak. Just like you are now, Tiff. Haha! I thought you were powerful, I was actually scared of you! But now look who’s powerful and who’s powerless.”
Tiffany scoffed, her sorrow giving way to anger. “You’re every bit as powerless as I am, Hannah. You’re an enslaved fucktoy, you’ve just been given a shitty personality on top. We’re both fucked, and it is all my fault, and I don’t care if you want it or not, but I am sorry. I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“Shut up!” Hannah snarled, slapping Tiffany across the face. She then turned to Ross. “Oh I know, can we make her hurt herself?”
“I’m sure we could,” Ross said, fixing Lucy an inquisitive stare.
“We absolutely could,” Lucy said, frustration starting to creep back into her voice. “But what would it achieve other than wasting time?”
“Well, it would help prove to me that the Algorithm can make someone do anything,” Ross shot back.
“That is pretty important to know,” Dillon agreed. “We need to test it somehow.”
“Tiffany’s hair!” Lucy angrily motioned to Tiffany’s head.
“Fuck the hair!” Dillon scoffed. “A real test…”
“Well…” Hannah said darkly, “if you really want to test it… get her to kill herself.”
“Kill herself?” Ross immediately echoed, a dark glint in his eyes. “Interesting…”
A stark silence surrounded the kitchen island. Tiffany felt like a vice had clamped around her heart. Surely they couldn’t. They wouldn’t.
Hannah looked around everyone’s faces with a defiant glare. Everyone else was exchanging uncomfortable glances with one another, apart from Lucy and Ross. They were locked in an intense staring match, neither of them saying anything. Tiffany noticed and watched them carefully. It felt like each of them was daring the other to be the one to back down, to chicken out.
Several uncomfortable moments later, Lucy shrugged and said, “Okay. Sure.”
A horrible chill ran down Tiffany’s spine. No no no this couldn’t be happening!
“Wait…” Alice said with uncertainty. “Isn’t that going too far?”
“I dunno. Maybe…” Dillon echoed Alice’s sentiment. “It’s pretty fucked up.”
“It’s a time saver, is what it is!” Ross slammed his fist on the kitchen island. “We could spend hours making all these people do stupid shit, but at the end of the day, what better way to test how much control this… watsit, Algorithm, yeah. What better way to test what this Algorithm can do.”
“But I haven’t chosen if I want her or Erin yet,” Dillon countered, a concerned frown playing across his face.
“Well then let’s waste one and you keep the spare!” Ross demanded. “You only get one of them, what difference does it make what happens to the other?”
“Right,” Dillon said distractedly. “It’s just…”
“He can’t handle it,” Hannah teased. “Maybe we should make her brutally tickle herself instead, huh? Would that suit your sensibilities more?”
“Can it, Hannah!” Alice snapped. “Just because Dillon isn’t as cold blooded as you’ve become, doesn’t mean he’s weak!”
A manic grin grew on Hannah’s face, “Aww, your girlfriend fighting your battles for you now, Dilly Willy?”
Dillon tensed up and turned on Hannah.
Ross quickly placed himself between them. “Okay… okay…” He held up his hands to keep the two apart. Turning to Hannah, he said, “Be respectful towards Dillon, alright?” before turning back to Dillon. “I got her, it’s cool. We’re cool, okay?”
Dillon’s anger continued to flare across his face and he looked to be considering whether or not to take a swing at Hannah regardless of Ross being in between them. Only once Alice placed a hand on his shoulder did he start to calm down.
“Look,” Alice said. “You can’t have Tiff just suddenly kill herself in here.”
Ross pulled Hannah back beside him, wrapping an arm around her to partly keep her in place and partly protect her from Dillon. “Why not?” he asked.
Alice glared at him, “What are you gonna do, give her your gun and tell her to blow her brains out?”
“Maybe.” Ross shrugged. “It would be cutting to the chase, don’t you think?”
Tiffany felt her hands tremble. There was no way she would do that, right? She wouldn’t actually shoot herself. Surely some kind of survival instinct would kick in? Surely…
“It would be monumentally stupid.” Lucy chastised. “Not all of Josh’s neighbors came to his party. All it would take is one of them calling the cops and everything would be ruined.”
“Okay, so let’s find a nice sharp knife…” Hannah said, her voice dripping with malice.
“Too messy,” Alice shook her head firmly. “Trying to move a body out of here without someone seeing would also be impossible.”
“Okay, so then what?” Ross asked.
“Something that’s not done here, for starters,” Alice stressed. “Like, jumping in front of a truck or jumping from a bridge.”
“Okay…” Ross nodded. “Okay, but if it doesn’t work, then what?”
“Someone would need to go with her.” Alice mused. “To make sure it did, or report back if it didn’t.”
Lucy interrupted. “I don’t want anyone leaving here until we’ve finished our deal and all gone through the Algorithm accordingly.”
“Okay, so we send someone programmed to witness it and come back,” Alice offered. Then her face lit up with an idea. “Oh! I know! I know exactly!”
They all looked to Alice. Tiffany wanted to be the one to ask what it was, but her throat had dried up and her heart was beating too fast for her to function.
“Well?” Lucy asked. “What?”
“You have no love for Tiffany or Erin, right?” Alice asked Lucy, a knowing smile across her face.
“I literally couldn’t care less,” Lucy replied.
“Are you sure?” Alice tilted her head to one side inquisitively. “After all, Tiff was the one who caused Trev to find out you cheated on him, set him up to program you, and later was the one who was in control of everyone when Trev dumped your sorry ass.” Alice smirked as Lucy tried and failed to hide her anger.
“It doesn’t matter…” Lucy replied through clenched teeth. “Tiffany is under my control now. She can’t hurt me anymore.”
“Oh don’t be so sure…” Alice warned. “And what about Erin? Don’t tell me you’re totally okay with the fact that she slept with Trev a few days ago.”
Lucy trembled with anger. “She did what?”
“Oh you didn’t know?!” Alice covered her mouth with her hand in fake shock, before shrugging with a smirk. “It’s hardly her fault, you had programmed her to jump him, he just didn’t say no. I don’t know exactly why you programmed Erin, Tiff, and I to want to screw him so bad, but one of us did, and it was because of what you said to us over the phone. Still, bet you’re not too happy at Erin right now?”
“What’s your point?!” Lucy snapped.
“Ah…” Alice hummed in understanding. “My point is not only would you not mind if one of them died, you probably wouldn’t care which one. Not only that, you wouldn’t be opposed to inflicting maximum psychological damage on the other one, right?”
“Maybe.” Lucy seethed.
“And you’re the same, right babe?” she turned to Dillon, caressing his stubble gently. “Tiffany tried and succeeded in taking me away from you, and Erin attacked you with a knife. You don’t really care if one of them dies, which one, or what really happens to them at all, right?”
Dillon looked at both Tiffany and Erin, the former with tears on her cheeks, dried blood beneath her nose, looking downtrodden and defeated, while the latter stood silently watching the proceedings with quiet disinterest. “No,” he said. “I don’t.”
“And Ross.” Alice turned to him last. “You just want a body to prove to you the Algorithm is as all powerful as you want it to be. That proof will give you confidence that your girls will stay obedient to you no matter what, right?”
“Pretty much.” Ross chuckled.
Alice nodded in agreement. “Okay then. Once we have this proof of the Algorithm’s control, we can go ahead with Lucy’s plan to put us all through the it’s programming. We leave with our programmed girls having no memory of the Algorithm or with any way to contact Lucy. Lucy keeps the Algorithm, but in turn has no memory of us or the desire to track us down. Everyone walks away a winner, except of course Erin and Tiff. One of them walks away a broken mess, and becomes Dillon’s final girl, and the other doesn’t walk away at all. That work for everybody?”
Lucy, Dillon and Ross all exchanged looks with one another, before turning back to Alice.
“Yes. That’ll work,” Lucy said.
Alice smiled widely. “Well then, if you could kindly indulge me please Lucy, I’d like to program their instructions myself. I have an idea to make it an especially painful outing for them both…”
Lucy looked mildly wary at this, but both Hannah and Ross nodded keenly their approval. “Fine,” Lucy said.
Tiffany swallowed a lump in her throat. This almost didn’t seem real. They were discussing her death like they were trying to decide where to go get dinner. Maybe it was an elaborate prank… A mind game to freak her out.
Well it was working, oh god was it working…
“Tiffany, Erin, drop into trance for me now,” Lucy said bluntly.
Tiffany felt her consciousness sink like lead in water. She didn’t try to fight it, she knew she couldn’t. Her thoughts rapidly flickered out and her mind emptied. Her eyes dilated as her distressed expression melted away.
“Good,” Lucy said. “In trance you only hear my voice, only obey my voice, but in a moment you’ll hear Alice’s voice, and you will listen and obey her voice as much as you would my voice for the rest of this trance, understood?”
“Yes,” Tiffany and Erin said in dull unison.
Lucy gestured courteously towards Alice, who walked slowly up to the two tranced girls.
“Tiff and Erin,” Alice said slowly, “when you awaken from this trance, you will each write out a suicide note, telling the world how sorry you are and how unbearably hard you have found life to the point where you cannot go on. Once finished, you will walk together towards the river with the purpose of finding a suitably high bridge that one of you will jump off to their death. Once you reach the right spot for jumping, you will have a brief moment where your original personalities return and where it will be like none of Lucy’s programming ever happened, so you can feel the complete hopelessness of your situation as your true selves. You will then decide between you who will jump, and you must decide within moments or you both will feel excruciating pain beyond anything you’ve ever felt. Once you’ve decided, you will say a final goodbye, do what you have to do, and then the chosen one will jump to their death. Once they have, the surviver will come back here with the memory of the bridge etched into their mind and will then prepare themselves for a life of being a slave to your Master Dillon and Mistress Alice. Do you understand all of that?”
“Yes,” the duo chanted together once more.
“Good.” Alice smiled. “Then wake up now and carry out your instructions.”
Tiffany’s eyes flickered open, and she quickly saw that Erin had awoken as well.
Hannah made a noise of approval. “That was cold blooded, Alice. I love it!”
“It was impressively fucked up,” Ross said with a nod.
“It will do,” Lucy said reservedly. “They’ll suffer, and that’s good enough for now.”
Tiffany didn’t want to believe what was happening, but that didn’t stop her from carrying out the first part of her instructions. Having been handed a piece of paper and a pen from Alice, she wrote a note of lies, saying goodbye and apologizing to her family for not reaching out, detailing that she felt like a burden but was about to take that burden away. It made her sick to her stomach, and for a moment she felt that she would actually throw up, but as she finished the note it passed.
“If Tiff does it, Hannah can just plant her note in her bedroom.” Alice said matter-of-factly. If it’s Erin, well, I guess we’ll leave it in her apartment or something.”
Erin also finished her note and put her pen down stoically. “Let’s go,” she said, without a hint of emotion.
“O- okay,” Tiffany said shakily.
“Tiff, wait,” Alice said quickly. Tiffany turned to face Alice, already feeling an urgent pull towards the door. Alice approached her with a washcloth and carefully wiped her cheeks, chin, and underneath her nose a few times. “We don’t want you attracting attention to yourself, because you look like shit now,” Alice remarked coldly. However, Tiffany couldn’t help but see something in Alice’s eyes. Was it worry? Regret? Or was she just imagining it? Seeing what she wanted to see? She felt too panicked and terrified to think or see straight. It was probably nothing.
“Go on now, Tiff!” Alice smirked when she was finished, turning Tiffany around and pushing her towards Erin and the door. “Choose wisely…”
Erin led the way out of the apartment. They descended the stairs in silence and walked out into the brisk night air. Cold droplets of rain were starting to fall around them. Each one that landed on Tiffany’s head felt like an icicle on her skull, reminding her of her lost hair. For being so distressing at the time, she couldn’t help but feel that her unwilling haircut seemed so trivial and far away now, paling in comparison to what was coming. A distant rumble of thunder whispered across the sky as she and Erin walked together silently towards the river in the distance.