The rain started to properly hammer down when they were two blocks down from Josh’s apartment. The streets were desolate aside from a few cars driving too fast through the spray. Street lamps lit their way, the occasional rumble of thunder punctuating the constant drumming of raindrops on the street around then.
“Erin?” Tiffany said after many minutes had passed in silence. She realized that her voice was quiet and likely lost in the rain so she cleared her throat and spoke louder.
“Erin, talk to me. Please.”
“And say what, Tiff?” Erin replied in a dispassionate voice. “What is there to say?”
“I don’t know…” Tiffany replied meekly. “You could get angry at me. Tell me I screwed up again?” She knew that obeying Lucy was the right thing to do, but it didn’t mean she didn’t feel guilt for betraying Erin. Erin was better off under Lucy’s control of course, as was she. Except that idea didn’t meld with what was about to happen… How could they be better off if one of them was going to die? It was an impossibility that Tiffany couldn’t process. “Tell me you hate me, I don’t know.”
“I don’t hate you, Tiff,” Erin replied. They walked past several darkened buildings before she added, “You didn’t screw up.”
Tiffany turned towards Erin in surprise as Erin continued to look ahead with a neutral expression. “I don’t see how you can think that.”
“It’s simple, Tiff,” Erin said. “We are meant to serve Lucy. It’s our purpose in life.”
“Yes, but you’re only saying that because she brainwashed you.”
“She brainwashed you too, Tiff. Don’t you agree we’re meant to serve her?” Erin asked calmly.
“I guess so.” Tiffany nodded. “I know that no one else can control us the way she can, and that obeying her is the right thing to do.”
“Exactly,” Erin said. “It’s our purpose, and we can’t fight it.”
“But…” Tiffany felt her voice catch in her throat. “What we’re doing right now… It doesn’t feel right.”
“I know,” Erin said, still looking ahead. “I don’t want to die.”
Erin’s words echoed around Tiffany’s head. She felt her heart beat faster, fearful of their destination. This couldn’t be it, surely! There had to be something else to it… She wouldn’t accept that this was simply it for them!
“Alice asked to program us, right?“ Tiffany asked with a frown.
“Yeah.” Erin nodded.
“That’s maybe why this doesn’t feel right…”
“That makes sense. She programmed us to walk to the bridge, but I don’t think she programmed us to feel good about it.”
“Do you remember what she said in the trance?” Tiffany asked, trying hard to access the memories.
“Not really. I know we need to walk to a bridge that we can jump off of, one where the fall would kill us. I think we need to choose when we get there who’s going to jump. The rest I’m not sure.”
“Well that will be easy,” Tiffany said with a lump in her throat. “I’m going to jump, not you.”
“We both need to decide, Tiff,” Erin said back bluntly. “Which means we’ll need to agree on it.”
Tiffany sighed heavily. “I’m just saying, you need to agree that I’ll be the one to jump”
“I’m not agreeing or deciding until we get there.” Erin said calmly. “We’re not supposed to.”
They continued to walk as the rain beat down heavily all around them. Tiffany started to shiver. She had no coat, no umbrella, and she was sure there was no wiggle room in her programming to do anything to protect herself from the cold rain.
“Okay. Fine,” she said after a couple more blocks had passed in silence. “Were you there when Lucy programmed Alice, by the way? When she made her fall completely for Dillon? Do you remember exactly what she said?”
“Yeah I was there. She made her his smitten love slave in everything but name. Deeply in love with him, forgiving of anything bad he ever does, only caring about him and nobody else. Oh, and made her back into the psycho bitch that nearly had us all enslaved and almost had me torturing you for fun.”
“Yeah…” Tiffany nodded sadly. But something about it didn’t sit right. After a few more moments of thought she spoke again. “Did she program her to care about Dillon and no other person or no other man?”
“Does it matter?”
“It’s maybe nothing…” Tiff said with uncertainty. “But it may actually be everything…”
Libby giggled as she stretched out on the kitchen island. “That tickles!” she scrunched up her face and squealed as Ross poured the drink into her belly button.
Dillon looked at him incredulously. “Dude that’s a fucking twenty five year MacAllen!”
Ross grinned at him. “So?”
“So you don’t belly shot a fucking twenty five year MacAllen!” Dillon exclaimed. Lucy sat nearby, watching them both with judgmental eyes.
“Excuse me Mr. Bartender!” Ross laughed before diving into Libby’s belly button, greedily slurping up as much of the amber liquid as he could to Libby’s shrieks and giggles. Wiping his mouth with the beck of his hand, he then gave Dillon a judgmental look. “I thought you only took that job to make a smokescreen and find fucking clients!”
“I did!” Dillon replied heatedly. “But it’s a thousand dollar bottle of scotch!”
“So stop whining and enjoy it with me!” Ross shoved the bottle into Dillon’s hand. “Now do you want to use my shot glass or supply your own?” Ross eyed up Alice, winking sleazily.
Dillon sighed, shaking his head. He grabbed three shot glasses from a nearby cupboard and placed them on the table. Pouring out a perfect standard measure into each glass, he then handed one to Ross and slid one across the kitchen island to Lucy.
“Since we’re making a deal,” Dillon said. “Let’s toast to our successes.”
“I don’t drink,” Lucy said cooly.
“Just take a sip. There’s fifty bucks in that glass.” Dillon smirked.
“To bitches!” Ross roared boisterously. Dillon glanced at how unimpressed Lucy looked. He cleared his throat to catch Ross’s attention.
“To the Algorithm!” he declared firmly. “And it giving us everything we deserve.”
“Fuck yeah!” Ross clinked his glass and downed his whisky. Lucy put the rim of the glass to her mouth and let the amber liquid brush against her ruby lips. Dillon took a sensible sip and placed the glass down. He then turned to Alice, who had been lost in admiration of him. “Babe, you want a glass of this stuff?”
“Josh’s pride and joy scotch stash that he’s never let us touch?” Alice asked with a cheeky smile. “Uh, yeah! Why didn’t you ask sooner?”
“Here ya go.” Dillon leaned in to kiss her before handing her a glass of the expensive drink.
Alice took an enthusiastic sip and then screwed up her face immediately. “Gah! How can you drink that?!”
“Does nobody around here appreciate a good drink?” Dillon shook his head in exasperation. He cracked a smile. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Have a beer instead, whatever.”
“Beer.” Alice nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, please.” She looked over to Lucy who was sitting eying her whisky with disappointment. “Hey, uh, Lucy? You want anything?”
“Coke, please,” Lucy said, her eyes flickering to Alice for a split second.
“You okay?” Dillon asked, slumping down on a stool opposite her. Nearby, Ross was arm wrestling Hannah while Izzy, Marion, and Libby were trying to tickle both contestants. The entire area was a din of giggles and slightly slurred smack talk.
Lucy took the can of coke from Alice, looked up at Dillon, then looked over at Ross, then back to Dillon again. “You not going to join in with your friend’s drunken antics?”
Dillon scoffed. “Fuck no. There’ll be time for that shit later.”
They both looked at Ross again. Then back at each other.
“How about you?” Dillon asked with a raised eyebrow. “You don’t want to have some fun while we wait for whoever it is to come back?”
Lucy couldn’t hide her look of disturbed surprise. “With you?”
“What? No!” Dillon replied, incredulous. “Thanks, by the way… No I meant with fucking Trev there!” He motioned to Trev, who was standing a few feet behind Lucy, an impassive resignation on his face as he kept a close watch over Lucy. “Or with one of these other zombies you’ve programmed…”
Lucy looked at Trev, then back to Dillon. She sighed. “The things I want to say to Trev, and the way I want to program him… That’s personal, and I don’t want anyone else to overhear it.”
“So you’re happy for him to be quietly brainwashed in the meantime?” Dillon asked.
“Until I can properly fix him, yes,” Lucy replied, irritation in her voice. “I was happy to fix Alice for you right away, but I want to do the same with Trevor when I have my privacy.”
“So after our deal is done and we’ve left?”
Alice slid up next to Dillon, beer in hand, and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. “What are you two yammering about?”
“Nothing.” Dillon shrugged, pulling Alice in for a kiss. “Hey babe, do you want to take Cindy and Helen and go dance for a bit?”
“Sure babe, sounds fun.” Alice beamed before grabbing Dillon’s other brainwashed girls and waltzing over to the dance floor.
Lucy watched them go and join the rest of the dancers, all of whom were there on her orders to make the party look realistic to anyone else who turned up unexpectedly. As much as she would rather simply turn people away at the door, anything that raised any suspicion was unacceptable, and once the newcomers were inside, they were quickly restrained, brainwashed, and added to the pool of obedient bodies that served Lucy’s will. She knew it was a risk giving Dillon and Ross even partial control over any of the bodies under her programming in case they tried to forcibly break the agreement they were forming, but she felt that the cooperation it was fostering to be worth the risk. Ross certainly seemed to have come fully around once she had thrown enough bodies at him. She turned around to see him watch as Hannah made out with Marion, and Izzy gleefully felt up Libby. She then turned to see Dillon also switching his attention between her and the scene Ross was orchestrating.
“I’m surprised you don’t want to spend all your time with Alice while we wait,” Lucy remarked with a slightly raised eyebrow.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that later.” Dillon nodded. “Besides… I like watching her dance.”
Lucy turned to see Alice moving energetically on the dance floor, flanked by Dillon’s two obedient cheerleaders. They stood out from those under Lucy’s strict control, moving more organically, letting passionate emotions flow out of their bodies. Lucy had never been one for dancing. She couldn’t stand the idea of people watching her and judging her for how she moved.
Ross suddenly thumped onto the kitchen island, leaning next to where Dillon sat. “What I want to know…” he said, pausing to take a swig of beer then pointing at Lucy obnoxiously, “is if you were able to get all these fuckers under your control before we even got here, why bother fucking warning Dillon about this trap? Why not let it spring on us?”
Lucy gave him a deadpan stare before glancing at Dillon, who shrugged with curiosity.
“It was down to two factors,” Lucy said, taking a casual sip of her coke. “The first was a fair bit of luck, I managed to get one of them alone.”
“Which one?” Dillon asked.
“Oh, you mean haircut girl?” Ross chuckled.
Just then Hannah walzed over, clearly having been eavesdropping. “You mean soon to be dead girl?” she said casually, a sinister glint in her eye.
“What use was getting her alone?” Dillon asked with a raised eyebrow. “The last I saw her she was Alice’s bitch.”
“Well she wasn’t tonight.” Lucy shrugged. “Chances are it was just Tiffany playing out her weird fetishes with your girlfriend.”
“What does that mean?” Marion asked as she wandered over with Libby and Izzy in tow.
“Tiffany gets off on being brainwashed,” Lucy said derisively. “It’s all a game to her, but what she wants is to be controlled.”
“Really?” Hannah raised an eyebrow, “I got the opposite impression over the last few days, like she likes to control everyone around her.”
“Maybe.” Lucy shrugged. “But it wouldn’t surprise me that she wants that only so she can act out her fantasies and be able to reset the power exchange at the end of it.”
“What a horny bitch.” Hannah laughed. “Oh I hope we get to have more fun with her…”
“Yeah?” Ross asked with a curious grin. “What would you do to her next?“
“Well she’s completely gay.” Hannah smiled devilishly. “So having her be unable to do anything except gag on cock nonstop would be pretty funny.”
Ross laughed, and Dillon smiled a little. Lucy rolled her eyes.
“What’s the matter Lucy?” Hannah leaned towards the petite girl in confrontation. “You not like our plans for little gay Tiff?”
Lucy looked at Hannah with clear distaste. “If she’s the one to come back, you can do whatever the fuck you want with her, or at least Dillon can as she’ll be his, right?”
“Damn right,” Dillon said, giving Hannah a look of warning.
“But it’s more the fact that if Tiffany is so gay, how’s she supposed to give decent oral?”
“She’ll learn.” Hannah shrugged. “Hell, I need to.”
“You what?” Ross looked at her in shock.
Hannah chuckled and shrugged again. “I’ve never given a blow job… I’m gonna need to learn too. I know Tiff will be Dillon’s fucktoy if she’s the one who comes back, but maybe we can learn together?” She batted her eyelids at Ross then Dillon.
“Oh yeah, we’ll teach you real good!” Ross nodded. “How about you bitches? You got experience sucking dick?”
“Uh, I’ve done it a few times.” Marion smiled sheepishly.
Libby nodded. “I’ve only done it for one guy, but lots of times I guess.”
Izzy chuckled to herself. “I’ve sucked two dicks today already, and that’s a slow day.”
“Well we can work with that,” Ross grinned. He looked at his four brainwashed girls and clapped his hands together in excitement. “You know what, fuck it, get your tits out, all of you. I wanna see what I’m getting.”
“Dude!” Dillon threw his hands up in exasperation as the girls started removing their layers without a hint of protest or embarrassment.
“For fuck sake,” Lucy snapped. “Can’t you control yourself for more than a minute?”
“What? What’s your problem?” Ross sneered at Lucy and Dillon. “I can do what the fuck I want.”
“Could you have the slightest hint of decorum?” Lucy asked in exasperation. “If you need to be disgusting can you at least not do it here?”
Ross looked at Lucy in disbelief.
“She’s right dude.” Dillon shook his head. “If you’re gonna do this shit can you not do it right in front of our fucking faces?”
“Fine!” Ross growled. “Your loss.” He looked around at the four girls that were eagerly removing their upper body layers, motioning them. “Come on girls, follow me.” He started leading them towards Josh’s bedroom.
“Hey!” Lucy called angrily after him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Ross turned around and walked up to Lucy, leering down at her like she was as topless as the four girls under his control. “Consider it a test drive before our deal is done.” His eyes were wide, hungry. “I need to know I’ll be a satisfied customer before the sale is final.”
“Not in there,” Lucy said coldly.
“Why, is that where your brainwashing machine is?” Ross said, an excited glint in his eye.
“Yes,” Lucy said sternly. “And no one is going near it until we have our deal.”
“There’s the spare room,” Hannah volunteered, coming up behind Ross and wrapping her arms around him. “I left my dress in there. Want me to put it on so you can tear it off?”
“Fuck yes.” Ross grinned. He then turned his attention back to Lucy. “Why don’t you come along? Either watch or join in. You look like you could use a little stress relief.”
Lucy couldn’t stop herself from making a face of disgust, but she shook it away and reverted to a cold stare. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just… close the door behind you.”
“Sure, but you’ll probably hear us anyway.” Ross burst out laughing. He slung a small backpack off his back and headed to the spare bedroom.
“Ross,” Dillon called after him, following him across the room.
Ross turned around, quickly motioning his girls to proceed without him. “What up?” He smiled in amusement as he saw Dillon’s frustration.
“Can you stop being such an asshole?” Dillon snarled.
“Dude, what the fuck?” Ross asked in exasperation. “We burst in here ready to fucking kill these assholes, and now you want to play all nicey nicey?”
“Yes!” Dillon hissed under his breath. “This way we walk away with Alice and all these other bitches. I’m this close to getting Alice back!” He held up his thumb and finger a fraction apart in front of his angry face. “If you fuck it up, I’ll end you! I’ll fucking end you!”
A flash of concern appeared briefly over Ross’s features, but he quickly brought back his sneering grin. “You need to wise up, bro.” He slapped one hand hard onto Dillon’s shoulder. “You have fucking tunnel vision! It’s Alice or nothing for you, but there’s more to life than her. You’ll get her and then what, you need to pay for all her shit while she just sucks you off all day?”
Dillon clenched his fists, but Ross leaned in closer and hissed with urgency. “Be smart about this man! Alice is the prize, but the rest of these bitches are our money makers. We put each of them on the streets, knowing that they’re completely loyal to us, and we’re raking in thousands every fuckin’ night. Do you know what we can do with that? Do you know what we can build? A fucking empire, man!”
Dillon frowned, biting his tongue furiously.
“I know Alice is your fucking weakness, and that’s okay. You’ll have her, but you’ll still want to live it the fuck up. No more small-time drug dealing in our crappy little patch of turf. We can set ourselves up like fucking kings, and Alice will be your queen.”
“Just…” Dillon sighed wearily. “Don’t fuck this up. We’ll make this deal and take them all with us. Okay?”
“Not okay.” Ross snarled under his breath. “You’re thinking too small. Yeah, a few whores will make some bank but it’s linear wealth growth… If we get our hands on this brainwashing shit, we’re looking at exponential returns. I’m talking like take over the fucking city style of boss. So we’re not making a deal where the little bitch makes us forget everything, no fucking way. We need that machine, even if we have to cut a deal with her to use it. We’re at a fucking stalemate now, but that will change. Trust me dude, I’ve thought this through.”
Just then, Marion called from the doorway to the spare room. “Ross, baby… We need you in here…”
Dillon shook his head. “It looks like you’re thinking with your dick.”
“I can do both.” Ross grinned again. “You soften Lucy up to the idea, while I confirm just how depraved these bitches will be for us.”
Dillon looked to Alice on the dance floor, swaying to the beats with Cindy and Helen. He then turned back to Ross. “Fuck it, fine. I’ll see what I can do. Don’t take for fucking ever in there.”
Ross laughed. “Just as long as I need, bro.”
With that, Ross entered the spare room and slammed the door behind him. Dillon turned and walked back to Lucy who was watching him cautiously from the kitchen island.
“You’re not wanting to do all your perverted fucking here as well, are you?” Lucy said with an undertone of dread.
“No,” Dillon said sharply, pouring himself another whisky. “And for what it’s worth, sorry Ross is being such a dick.”
“It’s fine.” Lucy shrugged. “I’m mostly glad you both agreed to talk so it didn’t all go to shit in here.”
“Yeah, well…” Dillon stared at Alice on the dancefloor again. “As long as we all get what we want, it’s fine.”
Dillon’s gaze wandered from Alice for a moment. The sound of the party continued around them, the music at a moderate volume and the majority of dancers robotically carrying out their instructions. There was still a queue for the bathroom, but it was just a few people now. The bathroom being in the entrance corridor meant that the brainwashed people there also served as guards to the party, ensuring that any newcomers were noticed immediately, and could be dealt with appropriately. Apart from the music and the shuffling of feet, an eerie silence permeated the apartment, save for some muffled moans coming from the spare bedroom. Nobody was talking or socializing.
The look in people’s eyes was something Dillon had seen before. Strung out junkies had the same look, coming down from their last high and fully aware that their next hit wouldn’t do much more than briefly dull their pain. It was a look of hopelessness, a quiet surrender to a forgone conclusion.
The party was a zombie, shuffling along with no real life to it, ready to infect all that came close enough.
“What did you do to everyone here?” Dillon asked Lucy as she nursed her can of coke. “They all look so fucking out of it.”
Lucy looked around vaguely before shrugging. “I made their entire existence revolve around following my instructions, ignoring their own desires and prioritizing me above everything else.” She looked Dillon square in the eye. “I also shut down their emotions and feelings. The last thing I want is distracting outbursts or tedious complaining as we’re sorting this all out.”
“I see,” Dillon said, trying to ignore the shiver down his spine as he surveyed the brainwashed masses. “What are you planning to do with them once we’re done here?”
“I’m not sure,” Lucy replied with a tired sigh. “I mean, wipe their memories of tonight definitely, but past that I don’t have any plans for any of them. Just Trevor.”
“And what are you planning to do to him?” Dillon asked, genuine curiosity showing on his features as he sipped his whisky.
“That’s my business, I already said,” Lucy replied coldly. “We’re here to make a deal, not get all chummy chummy, remember?”
“I know.” Dillon frowned defensively. “But I think we’ve agreed on the most important aspects already, and we have some time before Tiff or Erin comes back and while Ross gets his freak on…”
Lucy gave him a distasteful look, but said nothing.
“Oh come on…” Dillon encouraged her, “you can always make me forget it later if you want. Right?”
“Fine.” Lucy said, putting down her coke can and clasping her hands together to address Dillon. “I’m going to take every positive memory Trevor has of Alice and make it a positive memory about me instead. I’m going to take every negative memory he has of me and make it about her. I’m going to amplify any negative feeling he has about her by a thousand, and make him adore me and cherish me more than the air he breathes. And once I’m satisfied that he is treating me exactly the way I want him to, exactly the way I deserve, I’m going to make myself forget that I ever made any changes to him so that it will be like it was always supposed to be. Like it always will be from now on…”
“Damn.” Dillon blew out a slow whistle. “That’s good. That’s thorough… That’s…”
“Demented?” Lucy said derisively. “Psycho? It’s okay, you can say it… I know you’re thinking it.”
“No.” Dillon shook his head firmly. “I’m not thinking that at all.” He put his glass down and gave Lucy a thoughtful stare. “It’s not any different to what I’m doing to Alice… Who the fuck am I to judge?”
“I guess.” Lucy sighed. “I just know that they all hate me. I use the Algorithm to create a lie.”
“So what?” Dillon scoffed. “Who cares what they think or feel? Fuck them! You’re the one in control, not them. It makes you strong and them weak, and let’s face it, the weak have always fucking hated and feared the strong. So seriously, fuck them!” He thumped his fist in the table, making Lucy lean back and turning several of the zombified partygoers heads.
“Make them whatever the fuck you want them to be,” Dillon continued angrily. “The Algorithm is a fucking game changer for that. Everyone in the world is either openly hostile to you or work with you while planning to fuck you over the first chance they get. Even people that say they love you betray you. Fuck, I think Alice did love me in some way, or at least some part of me, but she still betrayed me. I’m sure fucking Trev there loves you as well, but what he lacks is fucking loyalty.” Dillon paced around the kitchen before grabbing a beer from the fridge and popping the lid off against the kitchen island. He then downed the whole thing before throwing it into the sink with a noisy crash.
“That’s the real value of the Algorithm,” he continued in a much calmer tone. “It’s not about making them love us… It’s about making them loyal. If they had shown us such loyalty in the first place, we wouldn’t need to be doing this, would we?”
A slight curl showed on Lucy’s lips. “No.” She agreed. “We wouldn’t.”
“It’s not about what’s right or wrong,” Dillon said firmly. “When your life is like mine, you can’t afford fucking morals. There’s the things you do to survive, and the things you do to keep yourself sane. That’s it.”
Lucy reached across the table to grab a slice of pizza. “Sounds like you’ve not had the easiest life.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Dillon smirked. “But I’m willing to bet yours hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies either…”
“I’m sure it’s not as shitty as yours.” Lucy shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter,” Dillon said dismissively. “What matters is that we probably have more in common than we think.”
“And why does that matter?” Lucy said idly as she munched on her pizza.
“Because it’s stupid for us to part ways at the end of tonight. Sure, we’ll have a handful of brainwashed girls which we can use to make a good deal of money, but we’ll have no way to expand our operations. You’ll be sitting with the means to that expansion, but with no intention to use it. It doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t want to get mixed up in whatever plans you have for those girls. Frankly, I can guess what they are, and I don’t really want to know.”
“What we do with them isn’t important…” Dillon looked off to the side, before addressing Lucy directly again. “What matters is we could all be mega rich if we do this right. We can’t do it without you, but we’d be doing all the work. You could be earning millions without lifting a finger.”
“Except for when it all comes crashing down…” Lucy said with an amused smirk. “Then I pay the price.”
“Nah, we’d have a fall guy for all that shit, if it happened, which it wouldn’t,” Dillon insisted. Seeing Lucy’s unconvinced expression, he turned and grabbed another can of coke from the fridge before sliding it across the kitchen island. He then poured himself another glass of Macallan and took a seat across from Lucy. “Can we at least talk about it?” he asked in earnest.
Lucy mulled the idea around her head for a moment before opening her can of coke with a snap. “Alright,” she nodded. “What have you got in mind?”
Shivering and miserable, Tiffany stepped onto the bridge. The rain was caught in a crosswind that beat against her face like a cruel whip. In any other circumstance, she would seek shelter, but such was the insidious nature of the brainwashing in her mind. She could no more abandon her subconscious instructions than she could flap her arms and fly. For a brief moment, she couldn’t help but envy how calm and indifferent Erin seemed to be, as if the cold and wet weren’t affecting her at all. She quickly reminded herself that Erin was probably worse off than she was, having been conditioned to ignore her own needs and to not show emotion probably made it unbearable in a wholly different way; an involuntary torment she couldn’t resist.
“We’re running out of time,” Tiffany stressed as her feet took her towards oblivion, one soaked step at a time. Dull street lamps lit their way through the heavy rain. “Tell me, what was the first thing Alice said when Hannah suggested they make me kill myself?”
“She was against it,” Erin said plainly. “She said it was going too far.”
“Exactly!” Tiffany said, a burst of energy coming from the terror that was gripping her. “And she went on to shooting down every idea they had, the gun and knife and so on…”
When Erin didn’t answer, Tiffany clenched her fists in front of herself and continued, shivering violently. “And then it was Alice that suggested we go here together, even so far as asking to program us herself… Don’t you see what that means?”
“No. I don’t,” Erin replied, absentmindedly adding. “We’re almost there.”
“It means Alice was planning something and being sneaky about it, there’s no other explanation for it!”
“There is, Tiff,” Erin rebutted calmly. “She did what she said she would do, and programmed us to jump off this bridge. There doesn’t need to be more meaning than that…”
“Yes there fucking does!” Tiffany exclaimed. “There has to be! It can’t just end like this!”
Erin said nothing as they continued along the bridge’s sidewalk. What little traffic there was didn’t stop for them. With the amount of spray that was kicking off the ground, she doubted they’d even be seen by anyone. When they arrived at what seemed to be the tallest point, they looked at each other.
And then they felt it.
The layers of Lucy’s control dissolved in an instant. Tiffany couldn’t describe how she knew, but she knew. Suddenly, thoughts and feelings that would have been impossible moments before hit her like a ton of bricks. Her chest tightened and her knees nearly gave out beneath her. The simmering terror that had been slow building for the entire journey was coming to a head, and Tiffany could feel the world close in around her, clawing at her throat.
But as overwhelmed as Tiffany was feeling, it was clear to her that Erin had it worse. In an instant, the tomboy’s calm, stoic, brainwashed expression had broken down into crushing despair. Her attempts to speak only came out as a pleading wail as she crumpled to her knees, sudden intense panic pulling her down. Hyperventilating, she started sobbing uncontrollably as Tiffany collapsed around her, holding her tight.
How had it come to this? How could she have fucked things up so badly? Her tears were lost as soon as she shed them, drops of despair washed away by the rain.
“I’m sorry!” she wailed as she held Erin tight. “Erin, I’m so sorry!”
Erin sobbed uncontrollably into Tiffany’s shoulder. She gripped Tiffany so tightly that her nails dug painfully into Tiffany’s skin. They were free of Lucy’s control, but they both knew what came next. They had to choose.
Tiffany could barely get any more words out, but as a dull, ominous pain started spreading across her skin, she managed to croak, “I’ll do it. I’ll jump.”
Erin only sobbed more, and any potential response was completely incomprehensible to Tiffany. The pain was getting hard to ignore now, a growing burn across her mind and body.
Her hands guided Erin’s face to her own. Their tear filled eyes met, and Tiffany felt more sorrow than she ever thought she could. But she couldn’t break down, not now, she had to push through the pain. “Erin, just nod if you agree, I’m the one who jumps. Just nod now, quickly before the pain gets worse!”
Erin shook her head, her face still covered in anguish. Through immense effort she managed to croak. “No… Me…”
Tiffany grunted with the pain she now felt, like crackling electricity was searing her skin. “Erin, please! Agree with me! Let me do this!”
“No!” Erin sobbed, shaking her head furiously. “Won’t.”
“I have to!” Tiffany wailed. “I’m not letting you go!”
Erin simply shook her head and continued sobbing profusely, her face scrunching up with the same pain Tiffany felt. If only she could clear her head, think clearly, but between her panic and excruciating pain, her brain felt like soup.
It then occurred to her what she needed to do. “Hold on,” she said through gritted teeth. “This is going to suck…”
She tapped her left thumb and middle finger together three times.
Unbearable pain scorched its way across her body and through her mind. She could feel every nerve amplified as they each shrieked with torment. She let out a tortured screamed and collapsed on the ground, spasming uncontrollably with her eyes clamped shut.
“Tiff!” Erin cried out, a fresh look of terror overcoming her.
Despite the difficulties, Tiffany pressed her right thumb and pinkie together and the pain instantly shrank back down to the level it had been at before. Still was still shaking and whimpering with her eyes clamped shut as Erin knelt over her, the sudden shock having dulled Erin’s own distress somewhat.
Erin placed her hand under Tiffany’s head to protect it from the hard sidewalk. “Tiff? Tiff!”
Tiffany’s eyes opened, wide and bloodshot. In a feeble voice, she said. “You need to jump.”
Erin looked down at Tiffany, her breath caught in her throat. She shook her head slowly, fresh tears pouring from her eyes. “Okay,” she said hoarsely. “Okay, I will.”
The pain ebbed away from Tiffany as Erin got to her feet. She felt like the life had been sucked out of her. The echoes of the pain made her scared to move, scared to breathe. Trembling all over, she tried and failed to stand up. She started coughing uncontrollably as she tried to say the word “wait.” She knew what she needed to do now, she knew how to save Erin, but while her mind was fully clued into the details, her body was failing her.
A strange numbness had washed over Erin. This time it wasn’t of Lucy’s making, but the effects were starkly similar. “So… goodbye, I guess,” she said to Tiffany, who was coughing and struggling on the ground. Erin wanted to help her, but she felt a pull that she couldn’t fight against. The barrier of the bridge was at chest height, flat on top with an overhang that made climbing difficult but not impossible. Erin heaved herself up enough to swing a leg up, and slowly climbed on top of the barrier.
Tiffany reached out her hand towards Erin, grabbing at the air wishing it was enough to pull her back from the edge. She tried to scream ”wait,” but her spluttering cough wouldn’t let up, and her arms and legs felt like jelly. A fresh wave of panic started pulling her into the wet concrete, and she couldn’t break free. The pain from before was fading away, but she needed more time to recover.
She needed more time.
Erin gazed down into the deep dark river beneath her. She couldn’t guess how high up they were but she knew that if the fall didn’t kill her, the freezing choppy water surely would. She turned back to look at Tiffany, who was painstakingly rolling over onto her front to start crawling towards her. Their eyes met, Tiffany’s full of terror. Erin smiled for the briefest moment. “It was the best week of my life,” she said calmly. “I… I love you.”
Turning back to the abyss in front of her, Erin breathed a heavy, deep sigh. Closing her eyes, she leaned forward, not needing to think or be afraid, just knowing that this was the end.
Arms grabbed her from behind before she could topple forward. She heard a shriek of effort as a sudden yank backwards caused her to tumble back onto the sidewalk on top of Tiffany, who squealed as she landed. Erin felt a strange compulsion to pick herself up and try again, but before she could, Tiffany rolled her over and clambered on top of her, breathing heavily.
“I love you too,” she rasped through strained breaths. Shivering and trembling, Tiffany nevertheless sighed with relief and smiled faintly. “Now I need to do this, and all you need to do is believe it will work.”
Before Erin could respond, Tiffany pressed her index finger onto Erin’s forehead. Erin looked momentarily confused before a look of shocked realization washed over her. However, it only lasted an instant before all of Erin’s awareness drained away and she sank into trance.