“Yes!” Tiffany squealed, relief and joy flooding through her. Knowing she had no time to lose, she barely took a breath before she all but shouted, “The programming done by Lucy and Alice is no longer in your mind, it’s like it never happened, do you understand?”
“Yes,” Erin replied in her dull, tranced tone of voice.
“Good, good girl.” Tiffany heaved a heavy sigh of relief. “You’re going to be okay, I promise. Here, sit up.” She helped Erin sit so she wasn’t lying on the cold wet ground, and cradled her in her arms. The rain was unrelenting, but Tiffany barely noticed it anymore. All her focus was on the beautiful, soaking wet girl in her embrace who she clutched onto lovingly. She never wanted to let go. She wanted to sink into that moment, but there was still something important that needed to be done.
“Now in a moment I’m going to say ‘Trance me,’ and when I do, I want you to put me in trance, remove Lucy and Alice’s programming from me, then wake me up again. Understand?”
Tiffany thought for a moment. “In fact, remove all of the programming you put in me also. Clear?”
“Okay, trance me.”
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Erin said plainly. Tiffany felt the familiar sinking feeling as her thoughts flickered away. The two girls stared past each other with unfocused eyes.
Erin waited a few moments before saying. “Are you in trance now?”
“All programming by Lucy and Alice and myself is now removed from your mind. Understand?”
“Wake up now.”
Tiffany blinked as awareness returned to her. Erin was still tranced out in her arms. The rain was still soaking them through, and she could feel how badly she was shivering. “Did you do it?” she asked in confusion. “Erin, did you deprogram me?”
“Okay, good,” Tiffany said. “Good girl.” She let out another deep sigh, feeling the tension that had accumulated all over her body slacken. They were, for the moment, out of danger. She intended to give Erin further instructions, but she wanted more than anything to just be with her.
“Erin, wake up now.”
Erin jolted awake like she was emerging from a nightmare, her eyes frantically darting around her surroundings and her breathing quickly becoming rapid.
“It’s okay!” Tiffany soothed her. “It’s okay, I’m here! Erin I’m here, you’re safe, you’re safe now…”
Tiffany was determined to keep herself together, as there was too much at stake, too much to do, and too much lingering danger for her to lose her composure now. She had to detach from her emotions and focus on the next important task, she had to-
Then her eyes locked with Erin’s and all of her resolve crumbled into oblivion. She started sobbing profusely, and Erin was quick to follow. All of the emotions she could possibly have overwhelmed her all at once, and she clutched onto Erin as tightly as she could, Erin squeezing her back like she was trying to crush her.
The rain continued to pelt down onto the two soaked girls as the occasional car sped past in a mist of spray. It felt like a freezing eternity before Tiffany was able to calm down enough to say, “We need to get out of the rain.”
Erin had also mostly calmed down by this point and through chattering teeth said, “No shit.”
Tiffany closed her eyes and kissed Erin’s forehead before forcing herself to her feet. She wanted to stay on the ground with Erin hugging her for much longer, but it was too cold and wet to linger. “Come on,” she ordered softly as she helped Erin stand. “This way.” She took Erin’s hand and started walking to the far side of the bridge.
“Why this way?” Erin asked with a frown.
“Because your apartment is nine blocks this way, and I don’t have my phone on me, do you?”
“No.” Erin checked her pockets to be sure. “Fuck.”
“Exactly.” Tiff nodded through a shiver. “So let’s go. We can flag down a cab if we see one, but we can’t waste time.”
“Okay…” Erin nodded, her voice distant and unsure. “But can we talk about what happened back there?”
“We absolutely can, so long as we keep moving,” Tiffany said in a firm voice, although squeezing Erin’s hand to reassure her. She led them across the bridge at a normal walking pace. She knew they needed a moment to gather themselves if they were going to manage what was to come.
“How did you know?” Erin asked. When Tiffany didn’t immediately answer she added, “That you could stop me from jumping?”
“I had two plans in mind,” Tiffany said plainly. She was forcing her emotions down because the alternative was to turn to a puddle of tears and lose the ability to function. “Luckily the first one worked.”
“What was the second one?”
“That was going to be a hard sell, and would have involved me convincing you that what you needed to do before you jumped was deprogram me using the Algorithm at your apartment. And once there, I was going to use it to deprogram you if the first plan didn’t work…”
“And the first plan was just triggering me into trance?”
“Well, do you remember the trigger I gave you th—“
“Of course I remember the forehead tap!” Erin interrupted. “I mean, how the fuck was there a large enough gap in our instructions for you to be able to even try that?”
“Ah…” Tiffany turned to see Erin’s confusion. “Well, that’s because Alice intended me to.”
Erin was silent for a few moments. They crossed a road, breaking into a light run to avoid a semi that was going way too fast. Once safely on the next sidewalk, Tiffany noticed the look of concerned suspicion on her face.
Erin’s face quickly betrayed her impatience. “Yeah, Tiff, I’m gonna need you to show your work on that one.”
Tiffany squeezed Erin’s hand and quickened her pace. “I can do that, but we need to move as fast as we can, okay.“
“You’re the boss…”
“Alright then…” Tiffany trailed as she thought about it all. “So you were awake when Hannah first suggested I kill myself, right?”
“Oh fuck, Hannah…” Erin said with a severity Tiffany had not often heard. “Tiff, I’m so—“
“Don’t,” Tiffany interrupted. “Please don’t make me dwell on her right now.”
Erin slowed her pace, tugging gently on Tiffany’s grip to encourage her to slow down. “Okay, but—“
“No!” Tiffany growled, anger spilling out of her tone now. She quickly shook her head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.” Her voice was much softer now, but still firm. “Erin, please, I can’t handle thinking about Hannah right now. I’m barely able to keep going. I know that if I stop and let my feelings really catch up with me I’ll drown, and if I drown in my guilt and my shame then I won’t be able to make this all right. I won’t be able to save them.”
“Tiff, this is all my fault, not yours,” Erin insisted. “Stop fucking blaming yourself, okay?!”
There was a strained silence between them that lasted an entire block. The rain was starting to ease up, but Tiffany was soaked through to the bone already. Her teeth were chattering as she spoke again. “I appreciate the sentiment, Erin, and I agree that you played a part in the way things went down, but I am ultimately responsible for everyone being brainwashed at Josh’s place right now.” She turned to Erin in earnest. “I don’t want to fight about it. I just want to fix it. Will you help me, please?”
Erin chewed over several potential responses in her mouth before settling on, “Fine. Okay. To be continued…”
“That works for me,” Tiffany smiled slightly. “Now then, Hannah suggested the idea, but do you remember how Alice initially opposed it?”
Erin craned her neck as she thought back. “Yeah, she was saying it was a bad idea…” She then scrunched up her face in scrutiny. “Until she fucking took the idea and ran with it that is!”
“But she did so in a very specific way,” Tiffany explained. “Try to imagine that everything she did, she tried to do in order to not only save us, but not let Dillon, Ross or Lucy get suspicious about it…”
“But why?” Erin shook her head in confusion. “Why even try to save us?”
“Because Lucy very specifically twisted Alice’s mind into being devoted to Dillon, but she didn’t do anything to diminish her feelings or loyalty towards us.”
Erin scoffed in disbelief. “Tiff, how the fuck can she be devoted to Dillon and still loyal to us? He hates us, especially me.”
“True, but Alice deliberately led the conversation to get him to say that he didn’t care what happened to us, which meant she could save us without conflicting with her own programming.” Tiffany turned her head to look at Erin earnestly. “She still cares about us, Erin. She just couldn’t show it.”
Erin looked at Tiffany with near disgust. “Are you calling that pain and torment, and the fact that I almost fucking killed myself, caring?”
“Yes,” Tiffany said bluntly. “If she had been too soft on us, Dillon and Lucy would have gotten suspicious, not to mention Hannah…” She sighed heavily. “The pain and distress was to distract from the moment where Lucy’s programming no longer worked on us.”
“I don’t remember that being said,” Erin said with a renewed look of confusion. They crossed another road, jumping over a large gutter puddle before she continued. “How do you know all of this anyway?!”
“The same way I became good at skateboarding.” Tiffany smiled faintly. “I gave myself a self trigger that gives me heightened senses, clarity, and insight when it’s active. When I used it on the bridge back there I was able to pull memories from when we were in trance back at Josh’s.”
Erin was silent for a few moments. With a concerned frown, she asked, “Is that why you screamed so much? You had heightened senses…?”
“Only for a moment.” Tiffany grimaced, the pain still fresh in her memory. “Only for as long as I needed.”
They walked in silence for another few minutes. Tiffany could feel an ocean of tumultuous emotions roaring under her calm appearing surface. She would hold things together for as long as she needed to, at least until they got into Erin’s apartment. She needed to be strong. For Erin, but also for all the poor souls trapped at Josh’s apartment whose fates were in terrible danger because of her.
“I meant what I said, Tiff. Back on the bridge… when I was about to… y’know…”
“I know…” Tiffany looked at Erin and nodded. “So did I.”
More silence. Tiffany hadn’t noticed at what point her feelings for Erin had surpassed ‘really really like’ and become something else. She’d never said the L word to anyone other than her parents before. On the bridge, the words came out so easily, so naturally. She wondered if the high stakes brainwashing and near death experience were overly influential to her feelings, but it was another thing she didn’t want to dwell on just then. She longed for the luxury to explore her feelings in safety and comfort, but knew that such a thing would have to wait. They continued to hold hands as the rain beat down on them.
At last Erin spoke, breaking Tiffany’s train of thought. “Do you really think we can save everyone?”
Tiffany hesitated in her response. She honestly didn’t know. There were so many people there and several enemies that needed to be neutralized. If it were possible, it certainly wouldn’t be easy. She looked at Erin, unable to mask her solemn expression. “We have to try.”
“Do we?” Erin asked, a subtle pleading in her voice. “Can’t we… can’t we just…”
“Just what?” Tiffany asked, seeing the guilt on Erin’s face.
“Run.” Erin said meekly. “Pack a bag and get the fuck outta here… together.”
Tiffany felt an instinct to snap, to get angry. What about Alice? Josh? Trev? Hannah? What about everyone there who knew nothing about the Algorithm? They had turned up to a party expecting it to be just that. They didn’t deserve to be brainwashed and enslaved… They didn’t deserve to be abandoned to their grim fate…
“You came back for me,” Tiffany said softly, seeing the fear in Erin’s eyes.
“Yeah.” Erin nodded. “I came back for you, Tiff.”
“But then you sent me in to distract Alice so you could get her with the second Algorithm.”
“Yeah, because I knew it would work!” Erin said defensively. “But the element of surprise is gone! If what you said about Alice is true, she’ll know that we plan to do the same thing again. It won’t work.”
Tiffany wanted to argue, but she didn’t have a good rebuttal. Instead, she shook her head and sighed.
“I know. But I have to try.”
“You don’t, though!” Erin protested. “We can run away together! Go somewhere new. Florida! Texas! Anywhere far away from here.”
“They’ll find us.” Tiffany said firmly. “As soon as they realise we’re alive, they’ll look for us, and eventually they’ll find us.”
“Then we’ll go even further, go where they’ll never look. London! Amsterdam! Fucking Berlin! I don’t know…”
“Erin…” Tiffany said with patience.
“C’mon, Tiff, just think about it!” Erin stopped Tiffany, grabbing onto both her shoulders and staring pleadingly into her eyes. “I’m scared. I don’t think we can win. Instead of trying and failing, we should cut our losses. We have each other, maybe that’s as good as it can get… At least we’ll be together.”
Tiffany felt a heavy heave on her heart. In truth, her plan to save everyone using the Algorithm at Erin’s apartment wasn’t one she had a lot of confidence in. If they dedicated their energy to escaping the city though, they could probably disappear before Lucy, Dillon, or Ross had a chance to catch them.
But she would really need to disappear… Josh, Alice, Trev, Hannah… All of them had ways to contact her parents. If they got to them… What would they do to them? Turn them against her, sure, but what else? If Tiffany ran, she’d have to be willing to sacrifice them for her own safety. For Erin.
The fact that she seriously considered it filled her with guilt. And then there was the guilt she felt for Alice, for Hannah, for everyone who faced a life of brainwashed enslavement…
The chance she had to right the wrongs she had created, to undo the damage… was fleeting. There was a closing window of opportunity, while Lucy and Dillon were at their perilous standoff, figuring out how to work together, everyone was still at the party, everyone was still near the Algorithm. Once their deal was done and people started to leave, it would become impossible to control.
No… Tiffany couldn’t run. Not now, not after everything. She had to try to fix her mistakes. She had to at least try.
Tiffany caressed Erin’s cheek gently. “I have to try. Erin I have to, and I know you’re scared but I need you to help me.”
Erin winced at Tiffany’s words, closing her eyes as she took a deep, harrowed breath. “Tiff… I… I can’t.”
“You can. And you will,” Tiffany said in a firm but tender tone, “because I’m telling you to.”
Erin looked into Tiffany’s eyes for a long moment. Tiffany wasn’t sure if she was crying fresh tears or if it was the relentless rain. After another deep sigh, Erin nodded slightly. “Okay. Mistress.”
“Good girl.” Tiffany leaned her forehead against Erin’s and closed her eyes. “I’ll take care of you, don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” Erin replied. “That’s all I’ve wanted since the moment you made me yours.”
Tiffany pulled away. “The forehead tap,” She said with a slight frown. “It didn’t work because I needed it to, it worked because it was always there, didn’t it?”
Erin nodded. “The moment I was freed from Alice’s control I programmed myself with it again.”
Tiffany’s mouth opened in surprise. “You mean… that Uber ride to your apartment… the skate park…”
“It was there the whole time,” Erin nodded. “I… I feel naked without it….”
Tiffany felt more emotions bubbling up to the surface that she couldn’t afford right now. She shook her head, wiped away a tear, and quickly kissed Erin’s cold, trembling lips. They had so much to talk about, and so much to do. Tiffany wanted more than anything to be with Erin in a world where she wasn’t responsible for ruining a couple dozen lives. With that in mind, there really was no time to lose.
“Come on,” she said, pulling Erin along at a jog. “We can do this! But we have to hurry!”
“Yeah, maybe a thousand for the night.” Dillon nodded as Lucy listened with interest. “Some of these girls, probably more. They’re young, healthy. Smokin’ hot…”
They faced each other across the kitchen island still, while the coordinated party continued on the dance floor. There had been no sign of Ross for the past half hour, and no sign he would be emerging anytime soon.
Lucy turned to gaze at the several girls dancing to the music. “That’s quite the nightly income.”
“If you can find enough well paying clients,” Dillon said as he sipped at his whisky. “That can be the real challenge sometimes. But if a girl gets regulars, well then she can earn you a shit ton.”
“It’s interesting, I can absolutely see myself as a pimp…” Lucy said with a sarcastic drole as she faced Dillon once more.
“You wouldn’t do that part,” Dillon explained with a knowing smirk. “We would. You’d just be our supplier.”
Lucy scoffed as she turned back to face Dillon. “Seriously? You want me to kidnap and brainwash girls for you so you can profit off them being whores for the rest of their lives?”
“Fuck no.” Dillon laughed. “They’re only good til a certain age… Besides, you’d be profiting too. A few months of it and you’ll have more money than you know what to do with.”
“I think I’m okay with the deal we’re making,” Lucy said calmly. “I don’t need additional risk.”
Dillon looked perplexed now. “So you’re just going to let them go home? Let them all go free once we’re done here?”
“For the most part, yeah.” Lucy shrugged, before looking at Trev, waiting dutifully nearby. “I’m getting what I want, it’s all I care about.”
“Bullshit,” Dillon said. “You can’t tell me that you don’t feel something having fucking brainwashed all of these people?”
“Like what?” Lucy raised her eyebrow.
“Powerful,” Dillon suggested. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’re not using that power more.”
“To what end?” Lucy frowned in mild irritation.
“Have them fucking worship you, have them pleasure you, I don’t know, whatever gets your rocks off…”
Lucy sighed wearily.
“What does get you horny, anyway?” Dillon asked with a cheeky smile and raised eyebrow.
“What?” Lucy looked at him incredulously.
“Come on, you have all this flesh around you, ready to do whatever the fuck you want, and you’re really not interested in any of it?”
“It’s not that I’m not interested,” Lucy said defensively. “But I have a very specific and important goal I want to achieve, and I don’t want to get distracted before I achieve it. I’m not willing to risk losing Trevor now that I’m so close to us being together properly forever.”
“All this for one guy, huh?” Dillon shook his head in confusion. “Okay, I’ve got to know, what’s so fucking special about him?”
Lucy crossed her arms. “You wouldn’t get it.”
“You’ll make fun of me.”
Dillon burst out laughing, his amusement extended by how irritated Lucy was getting at his reaction.
When he was able to talk again, Dillon wiped a tear from his eye. “Yeah, if you’re worried I’m going to make fun of you, I’m definitely gonna fucking make fun of you…”
“Fuck off then.” Lucy sneered.
“Oh, you definitely need a good fuck…” Dillon chuckled, making his way around the island.
“Don’t touch me,” Lucy practically hissed.
Dillon held his hands up with an amused expression “Relax, princess! You’re proving my point for me though, you’re wound so tight you’d probably snap anything we put inside you right now. You should take the edge off! Enjoy the spoils of war. Let me grab that Asian bitch there and I’ll show you how to enjoy yourself.”
Dillon returned, dragging a girl from the dance floor who put up very little resistance and looked to Lucy as if to check what she should do. Lucy looked at Dillon expectantly.
“Alright, tell her to keep dancing here no matter what happens to her, and especially to not react to anything I do to her.” Dillon grinned.
“What’s your name?” Lucy asked.
“Debora Kim,” the petite girl replied.
“Okay, Debora…” Lucy relayed Dillon’s instruction and as soon as she finished, Dillon started dancing with Debora. Lucy wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be watching at first, but it didn’t take long before Dillon’s hands were wrapping around Debora as he leaned into her. She was unfazed as his hands started grabbing and groping her in increasingly intimate places.
A slight smile appeared on Lucy’s face. She didn’t want to admit it to Dillon, but there was something enjoyable about watching him molest Debora with her being unable to perceive or react to it. It reminded her of the first time she had entranced Tiffany with the Algorithm. Her enjoyment only grew as Dillon’s hands started sliding under Debora’s clothing, exploring and caressing her while she was powerless to stop it. Her face betrayed each time Dillon brushed or touched something sensitive, but otherwise Debora continued to dance as she had been, obediently obeying her programming and not acting like anything else was happening.
Even when Alice stormed up to her and aggressively pulled her away from Dillon, Debora continued to dance like nothing untoward was happening.
“Dillon what the fuck?” Alice snarled.
A delighted smile spread over Lucy’s lips. “Oh, this’ll be good.”
“Baby, don’t sweat it.” Dillon played it off as best he could.
“Don’t sweat it?” Alice glared at him. “I was right there and you were just molesting some random girl!”
“Debora Kim,” Lucy interjected with an amused smirk on her face.
“What?!” Alice turned her jealous anger towards Lucy.
“Her name is Debora Kim,” Lucy repeated camly, not making any effort to hide her amusement.
“Stay out of it, bitch!”
Dillon’s eyes widened in interest as Lucy’s amusement suddenly dropped, replaced by a dangerous looking calm. She slid off her seat and approached Alice, staring intently. Alice, almost immediately realizing her mistake, held up her hands apologetically. “Lucy, look, I didn’t mean it that way…”
“We all have choices, Alice,” Lucy said calmly. “Like just now, you could have chosen to be polite, but instead you chose to be rude…
“Now, you have another choice to make.” There was a hint of sweetness in Lucy’s voice now. “Either you can apologize and then remain still and silent until I permit you to speak, or I can drop you into a trance and you will have no choice but to be still and silent anyway, except afterwards you will spend the entire rest of the party as a rabid whore desperate to be fucked raw by every last person in here, and you’ll be conditioned to hate every second of it.”
“Hey…” Dillon appeared at the side of the two girls who were locked staring at one another. “Let’s all just calm down now, yeah? You can’t do that to her…”
“Until our deal is done, I am still holding Alice accountable for her words and actions,” Lucy said firmly, not breaking eye contact with Alice, who stared back at her with a fearful anger. The sweetness returning once more, she added, “So what will it be, Alice?”
Alice furiously bit her tongue before bowing her head slightly. “I’m sorry I called you a bitch, Lucy. It was disrespectful of me.”
“Do you know what else is disrespectful?” Lucy asked. “Don’t answer, it’s rhetorical, and I mean what I said about making you the party’s cum bucket if you move or say another word.”
Alice took a sharp breath in, blinking slowly with furious eyes. But through force of will, she remained silent.
“What’s disrespectful…” Lucy explained sweetly, “Is making a move on someone who broke up with their boyfriend literally hours earlier.”
Alice opened her mouth to protest, but seeing the malicious smile that grew on Lucy’s face as she did so, she choked her words back, her cheeks burning scarlet.
Lucy sighed with enjoyment as she took in Alice’s anger. “I’m sure we can figure out how to make amends and move past this though…”
Without warning, Lucy grabbed Dillon’s t-shirt and pulled him in towards her, guiding his lips to hers as she started to kiss him. Dillon pulled back in surprise for a moment, glancing for a split second at Alice, before leaning back into Lucy’s kiss. Dillon’s stubble felt weird on her face, and his tongue was forceful, but Lucy kissed him passionately anyway, every few moments looking at Alice to see a mixture of shock and anger on her face.
This only encouraged Lucy as she started running her hands over Dillon’s chest and through his hair. Dillon was quick to follow Lucy’s lead and was soon cupping her breasts and squeezing her ass to Lucy’s encouraging sighs. Arousal flushed through her like a torrent, spiking more and more each time she glanced at Alice to see the blonde’s barely contained seething rage. Grabbing Dillon’s crotch, she could feel how hard he was already. She briefly looked at Trev, who was watching her with a look of resigned acceptance, and her arousal only grew.
Dillon kissed her neck next, and it sent pleasurable tingles all down her body, His hands were strong, invasive, possessive. They wanted her. He wanted her. Although as good as that felt, it paled in comparison to how much this was a knife in Alice’s gut. Lucy found herself staring into Alice’s furious eyes as Dillon kissed his way down her neck and shoulder to her breast, and the stimulation within her pulsed and grew.
Part of her wanted Alice to scream or move, to defy her further, to give her any excuse to find more ways to humiliate the furious blonde. But another part of her was getting increasingly lost in the pleasure this moment was giving her and she found she wanted more. She didn’t resist as Dillon’s hand slid up her inner thigh, and she allowed herself an excited squeak when he effortlessly lifted her onto the kitchen island, throwing off pizza boxes and spilling drinks everywhere.
Several heads turned to see what the crashing noise was, and for a moment Lucy felt self conscious of all the eyes on her. But she quickly ignored them and instead pulled Dillon’s head in to continue kissing him. Let them watch, let them see… She could wipe their minds if she wanted. She could reduce them all to drooling vegetables. She could make them fuck one another until they passed out from exhaustion, or anything else that her imagination could dream up.
Dillon moved to pull her dress right down but she stopped him before he could side it over her hips. Instead she pushed his head down as she spread her legs open, lifting her hips to help him pull down her tights. She took one more look at Alice, feeling a rush of pleasure from the tears and anguish on the blonde’s face. Lucy blew a kiss mockingly towards her and bit her lip as Alice physically trembled with rage.
Dillon began to lick her, teasingly, playfully. She stared into Alice’s furious eyes, gasping and moaning with pleasure and wondering if she would reach her climax before she pushed Alice over the edge.
They stopped in the dank entrance hall to catch their breath, having ran for three blocks straight. Tiffany quickly clutched Erin’s wrist and dragged her up the stairs towards her apartment. Her ankle pounded with pain, to the point where she awkwardly limped, but she couldn’t stop now, she wouldn’t stop now.
“Come on!” she wheezed. “There’s no time!”
“Tiff!” Erin protested meekly. “Tiff…!”
“What?” Tiffany turned to see Erin dripping wet and hunched over.
“I’m gonna… puke.” Erin groaned, panting as she leaned over, hands on knees.
Tiffany wanted to tell her to stop being dramatic, but decided not to in case she actually threw up. They both caught their breath in the poorly lit entrance hall as the rain continued to hammer down outside.
“Okay.” Erin managed after a minute, still breathing heavily. “Okay, I’m good…”
Tiffany nodded, feeling like she could do with more time but determined not to slow down too much. She took Erin’s hand once more and they went up the stairs together past flickering fluorescent lights.
Erin’s door was covered in angry notes, mostly handwritten saying things like ’RENT’ and ’WHERES MY MONEY’. On top of all this was a printed piece of paper, much scarier than the scribbled rants. At the top on red letters it read ‘Eviction Notice’
“Oh for fuck sake!” Erin groaned. “He’s such a fucking asshole!”
“Shit...” Tiffany said gravely as she read the notice.
“He’s all bluster.” Erin scoffed. She crouched down and started peeling up a patch of cracked vinyl flooring near her door. “He’s too much a drunk to ever get off his ass, I’ll get him his money soon, I’m just behind schedule…”
“What are you doing?” Tiffany squinted down at Erin. The vinyl peeled away to reveal a small hole in the floor into which Erin was trying to grab something with the three fingers she could fit down there.
“Keys are at Josh’s…” Erin explained, focusing on her task. “Same as my phone… I left a whole bag of crap there…”
“Yeah, same…” Tiffany shivered and hugged herself as Erin fished for her prize. “Can I help?”
“Do you have a magnet on you?” Erin asked snarkily.
“Then you can’t help.”
Tiffany shook her head, a slight smile creeping briefly onto her lips. Sure, she was cold, wet, tired, hungry, and in pain, but at least she had been able to save Erin, and she had a chance at least of saving everyone else.
It was a start, at least.
“Aha!” Erin beamed triumphantly as her fingers emerged with a key dangling from them. She wasted no time in replacing the vinyl and moving to unlock the door. “Always have a spare!”
“Okay…” Tiffany mused, “so first off we’ll get the remote connection online, and am I right in thinking that you can see Josh’s bedroom with his webcam?”
“Yup,” Erin said, “That’s how I knew when I could spring the trap on Alice last- Fuck!” Erin cursed loudly as soon as she opened the door.
“What? What is it!?” Tiffany asked, feeling a nervousness take hold of her.
Erin simply walked into her apartment and let Tiffany follow. “We’re fucked,” she said bitterly. “That’s what.”
Tiffany rushed in behind Erin and immediately saw the problem. The tiny apartment had been ransacked, and the second Algorithm was gone.
“Fuck!” She said, echoing Erin. She went to run her hands through her hair as a stress reflex, and was briefly surprised to find no hair there. “Fuck!” She instead covered her face and cursed repeatedly.
When she emerged, she saw Erin walking around the mess looking desolate. Clearly her landlord had thrown everything onto the floors and picked out anything of value. Tiffany saw clothes, towels, toiletries, food and crockery all intermingled on the floor. “I’m sorry, Erin,” she managed to say. She picked up two of the towels and handed one to Erin.
Erin absentmindedly dabbed herself dry with her towel, then sighed and shook her head. “None of it was important. The only thing that mattered was the Algorithm…”
“Still,” Tiffany said as she looked around the mess, doing her best to dry herself off as well. “It was your stuff…” Her eyes were drawn to where the bed had been. The tiny wire frame camp bed had been thrown across the room, and the fairy lights that decorated the section of wall where the bed had been had been torn down. To Tiffany’s surprise, there was a large assortment of wigs, lingerie, and colorful costumes scattered over the floor that had probably lived in the trunk that sat open where the bed used to be.
Tiffany saw Erin watching her as she reviewed the contents of the floor.
“Look, Tiff…” Erin started to say tensely.
“Forget it,” Tiffany said. “I didn’t see anything.”
A look of gratitude passed over Erin’s face. “Okay.” She sighed. “What now?”
“Call the cops?” Tiffany suggested. Despite Erin flinching at her words, Tiffany continued. “At the least we might be able to get the Algorithm back and can take it to my apartment if you’re still evicted.”
“We can’t call the cops, Tiff,” Erin said bluntly.
Tiffany frowned. “Why not?”
Erin stared at Tiffany, a very ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ expression on her face. Tiffany responded with a ‘Tough shit, spill it!’ glance, and Erin rolled her eyes before sighing in frustration. “So for one, I very deliberately didn’t leave much of a paper trail when I used Josh’s money to buy a second Algorithm…”
It was Tiffany’s turn to sigh now. “And secondly?”
“I don’t exactly live here legally. I pay in cash, there isn’t a rental agreement… And I really can’t afford cops to ask for my ID…”
Tiffany felt a lump in her throat as she gave an expectant stare.
“…because they’d maybe arrest me.”
Tiffany ran her hands through her very short hair once more. She was severely worried where this conversation was leading. “Erin…”
“I’m sorry, Tiff.” Erin muttered. “I should have said something sooner.”
Tiffany shook her head. “Look, on the scale of things, it belongs firmly in ‘Let’s talk about it later’ territory. It only mattered for getting the Algorithm back, but I hear you, no cops. It just means we’re seriously running out of options…” Tiffany said bitterly, “I mean the only thing left is…”
They were interrupted by a deep voice. “You could always pay the fucking rent, you know.”
Tiffany turned in shock towards the entrance, where a large, powerfully built man who looked to be in his late fifties leaned casually against the door frame holding a hockey stick. Instinctively, she took a step back towards Erin. Her nose was suddenly assaulted by the stench of cheap vodka, and it was all she could do not to physically balk. The man looked a little ungroomed, but his sleeveless shirt showing his muscular build let her know he was likely much stronger than both her and Erin. The arms covered in tattoos and the several piercings on his face didn’t put her at ease either.
“Erin…” He said with an amused smile. “It’s been too long… Literally.”
Tiffany looked at Erin, whose expression was one of resentment mixed with fear. “Yeah,” she replied cautiously. “For sure.”
“I mean, there’s only so many times a fella can call, text, or leave angry notes on a door…”
“I’ll get the rent to you, seriously,” Erin replied firmly, though Tiffany could hear the nervousness in her voice.
“Bullshit!” The landlord chuckled jovially. “No offense sweetheart, but I don’t believe a word out of your mouth anymore.”
“What’re you gonna do?” Erin grumbled as she eyed up the hockey stick. “Knock us around the rink for a while?”
Tiffany watched the landlord closely as she took a deep breath. The guy was drunk, sure, but he was also coiled like a spring. He expected Erin to bolt, and would be ready if she tried it.
“I mean, I could…” The landlord replied jokingly. “Since you’re evicted, you’re technically trespassing on my property right now…”
Anger flare in Erin’s face as she clenched her fists. “Trespas—?! All my shit is here!” She fumed in indignation, motioning to her possessions strewn around the floor. “That is, the stuff you didn’t fucking steal!” She angrily threw her damp towel on the floor by the landlord’s feet.
“Look…” Tiffany interjected calmly but firmly. “Just give us back Erin’s stuff, and we’ll get you your money.”
Tha landlord turned his attention back to Tiffany. “Wrong way ’round, darling.” He chuckled at her as he spoke, “get me my money though, and then you can have that stuff back.” He then pointed at Erin. “You’re still evicted though. I’m done with all the extensions and delays and the endless excuses…”
“Fine,” Tiffany said. “We’ll go. Right now.”
“Ah ah ah…” He shook his head slowly. “You think you’re both walking out of here? No way. One of you needs to stay.”
“Fuck you!” Erin snarled. “No fucking way!”
The landlord smirked in amusement as he slowly approached Erin, gripping the hockey stick tightly. “Now now, sweetheart. You ought to have better manners for someone who’s got all your valuable stuff. No sense in speaking unkindly, is there?”
Erin was livid as she stared at the hockey stick, then to the ransacked kitchen unit. Tiffany saw her hands trembling, then realized her own hands weren’t faring much better. A nervous shiver ran down her beck. Her gut told her that this man was dangerous, and that Erin was scoping for a weapon so she could challenge him.
“Wait, just wait.” Tiffany said firmly. They both turned their attention to her. “Of course we should honor Erin’s debt, and I don’t blame you for wanting… well, collateral… How much is it? I can stay here. Erin will go get it. Right, Erin?”
Erin seemed to be stuck, breathing heavily, eyes fixed upon something she had spotted on the floor near the sink.
“Erin!” Tiffany snapped. It got her attention as she came back to the room. “Tell him you’ll get the money. Tonight!”
Erin turned back to Tiffany and saw her expression. Relenting, she nodded, her voice faint as she said, “I’ll get it... I’ll get it tonight.”
“Fine.” The landlord sighed. “Out. Both of you. Come with me.”
In a haze. Tiffany dropped her towel and led the way out of Erin’s apartment, into the hallway. Just as the thought was occurring to her that she might have a brief window to try and outrun the man, the landlord firmly took hold of her arm with a powerful grip.
“This way, if you please…” He said insistently as he took them into what was presumably his apartment at the end of the hallway. Tiffany was barely paying attention, but it was clear that the interior of the landlord’s apartment was much nicer than that of Erin’s. “You too, Erin. In you come….”
Erin followed reluctantly. The landlord let go of Tiffany’s arm and shut the door behind Erin.
“Have a seat.” He pointed to a plush lime green sofa.
Tiffany and Erin exchanged a glance. Tiffany gave Erin a reassuring nod, and slowly walked over to the sofa.
“Not you!” he said suddenly, before looking pointedly at Erin. “You.”
“Wait, what?” Tiffany asked, her face scrunching into a frown.
“I thought—“ Erin started.
He interrupted them with a silencing gesture. “I’m done trusting your lies sweetheart, so you’re staying here with me until your friend pays your due.” The landlord spoke in a voice bordering on friendly, which made the tightly gripped hockey stick seem even more threatening.
“You can’t do that… That’s kidnapping!” Tiffany protested.
Erin had turned pale. “I’m not staying,” she said nervously.
“Yes. You are.” The landlord locked his door with a large key and pulled the key out as he wandered out of the room. “Either of you want a beer?”
In the moment they had alone, Tiffany and Erin huddled next to each other. “Tiff, what the fuck to we do now?!”
“I don’t know…” Tiffany replied faintly. She felt a strange sensation, like she wasn’t in immediate danger, but could be at any moment. “Can you pick that lock?”
“I can’t pick any lock!” Erin replied in a flustered panic.
“Okay… do you think we could get that key off him?”
“No,” Erin said. “He’d squash us.”
“Okay, so when I’m ‘going to get the money’” Tiffany air-quoted, “I’ll call the cops to come bust you out!”
“No cops, Tiff!” Erin hissed under her breath. “Seriously, it’ll only make matters worse!”
“Okay…” Tiffany frowned. “Then how about—“
“Beer!” The landlord suddenly re-entered the room and threw a can to Erin, who barely caught it. “None for you!” he said in a joking but stern voice to Tiffany. “You need to go get my money now.”
Erin eyed up the beer suspiciously, while Tiffany placed herself between Erin and her landlord.
“Oh come on!” He motioned to the couch. “It’s a sealed can! No funny business. Sit and drink while we wait. Let’s watch a fucking movie, right?” He looked expectantly at Erin and Tiffany. “What?”
Erin and Tiffany shared a glance, then Tiffany said, “Well… I mean, you’re basically holding Erin hostage for ransom…”
“That’s a pretty fucking negative way to look at it.” The landlord made an expression as if Tiffany were the one talking nonsense. He let the hockey stick sway gently from side to side as he took a drink of his own beer. “I prefer to see it as we’re bringing Erin’s problematic tenancy to a satisfactory close, where I get what I’m owed, I don’t have to go through the hassle of selling that fancy looking computer on eBay, and we can part ways on friendly terms.” His expression then became more steely as he gripped the hockey stick tighter. “Trust me, it’s much better than parting on unfriendly terms. Now sit and drink your beer.” He pointed at the sofa with the stick and looked at Erin expectantly.
“It’ll be okay.” Tiffany gently nudged Erin towards the sofa. “I’m gonna take care of this.”
“See, there’s a can-do attitude I can get behind!” the landlord said enthusiastically. As Erin reluctantly sat on the sofa, he ushered Tiffany towards the door. “Come on, come on, none of us are getting any younger…”
“Okay, okay…” Tiffany let herself be herded to the door, albeit stopping and staring down the landlord as he fished out his keys. “You’ll treat Erin well, though.”
“Like an honored guest.” The key clicked and the door opened. “Don’t make us wait too long now darling, I want to see you back here in a couple of hours, tops. Time enough for a good movie I think…”
“I’ll do my best…” Tiffany said solemnly. She looked towards Erin one last time. Erin was looking at her, concern on her face and fear in her eyes.
“Don’t you worry about Erin…” the landlord insisted. “So long as you get my money, everything will be fine.”
“Alright…”’Tiffany sighed. “How much is it anyway?”
“2000 dollars,” the landlord said with a jovial smile. “And that’s including interest and storage fees. Now get to it!”
“Wha—“ Tiffany tried to say, but before she got the words out, the door was slammed unceremoniously in her face.
The darkness of the hallway seemed to close in on her from all sides, as a growing feeling of hopelessness took hold of her heart.
Tiffany was alone.
Alice felt the fury burn inside her like a furnace ravenous for revenge. As Dillon grunted away, Lucy stared right at her, her mouth contorted in gasps and moans, but her eyes filled with a taunting gleam. He had her perched on the edge of the kitchen island, dress lifted above her waist and pulled below her breasts. His jeans rested around his ankles, and he hadn’t even bothered to remove his shirt. He was focused on Lucy, biting her neck and cursing under his breath. Lucy only had eyes for Alice, daring her to slip up, taunting her to her very limit.
Alice was clenching her fists so much that pain was shooting up her arms. That was good, it was a focus. She needed the pain in that moment to stop her lashing out at the irredeemable bitch that was fucking the love of her life. She felt a similar anger towards Dillon, but knew that she would forgive him almost immediately. She was his, devoted to him completely and beyond all comprehension. Whatever fucked up thing he did, she would stand by him. However much he might hurt her, she would take it and love him dearly still.
Lucy, however… That bitch was going suffer…
But Alice needed to contain her anger, refine it, and unleash it upon Lucy at the right moment. Lucy could still drop her into trance, and Alice fully believed she would follow through on her threat to transform her into a horny slut that would spend the rest of the party unable to help herself but be the cum bucket of all the guys there. Furthermore, Lucy had a small army of emotionally-dead-inside drones that would restrain her the moment she attacked. Sure, she might be able to grab a knife and do some surprise damage, but the fallout of such a move might actually hurt Dillon, and that would be unacceptable.
No, it had to be done right, and she had to control her anger. There would come a moment where Alice would be able to exact revenge on her tormentor, and she wouldn’t even see it coming. She would get Lucy in a trance and program her into her very own devoted brainwashed slave. Forget using the Algorithm to help people, its purpose was to serve Dillon’s interests. It would provide him slave after slave to build his empire of money and power, and Alice was determined to ensure that Lucy became the most depraved of them all. So she met Lucy’s gaze, not trying to hide the fury she felt, just holding onto the promise to herself of revenge.
When they had finished, Dillon disposed of the condom while Lucy fixed her dress. She then lowered herself from the kitchen island and slowly wandered over to Alice. Alice vividly pictured herself punching the petite girl in the face, but she controlled herself.
Lucy wore a smug smile as she leaned up to whisper into Alice’s ear. “That’s the second man I’ve taken from you tonight. Now be on your very best behavior, or I’ll make it permanent.”
Alice trembled with her anger but said nothing, and did nothing.
Lucy then slid her hand under her own dress. “One final task for you, before I permit you to move and speak again…” She sighed slowly, closing her eyes and biting her lip. She then opened her eyes to fix Alice with a sinister stare, before pressing two fingers softly against the blonde’s lips.
The strong scent filled Alice’s nostrils immediately, but she managed to stop herself from recoiling. Lucy couldn’t be serious… Alice felt her rage nearly burst out of her. The immediate satisfaction of pummelling Lucy to a bloody pulp would surely offset anything bad that could happen to her, right? Right?!
But she remained stoic. She had to. Two things she didn’t know were the limits to what the Algorithm could make her do, and the scope of Lucy’s imagination for cruelty. As repulsed as she was, she needed to endure this final humiliation if she were to enact her revenge.
Slowly, she opened her mouth and didn’t resist as Lucy pushed her wet fingers in. The taste in her mouth wasn’t so bad, but a feeling of deep repulsion shuddered through her and she felt instantly nauseous knowing it was Lucy she was tasting.
“Lick them clean for me like a good little bitch,” Lucy hissed into Alice’s ears. “And if you take one step out of line for the rest of tonight, I promise you I’ll make you addicted to this more than anything you’ve ever been addicted to before.”
Alice felt a chill run down her spine. It wasn’t enough to cool the hot anger that simmered under her skin, but fear was definitely mixing in with the fury. She knew all too well how it felt to be in the thralls of addiction, and to be in such a position with Lucy being her fix… It would be a living nightmare.
The hatred she felt for Lucy in that moment was beyond anything she had ever experienced. As she began to slowly lick her tormentor’s fingers, running her tongue all around them, something quirky snapped into place in her mind. She began to see her forced obedience to Lucy in a whole new light. She was simply complying with a last request, because she now knew that Lucy wasn’t going to live to see the morning.
“All done,” Lucy smiled sweetly as she pulled her fingers out. She condescendingly patted Alice on the cheek with her moist hand and added, “You were such a good girl, you can move and speak again now. Just remember what I said.”
Alice smiled at Lucy. A fake, plastic smile beneath eyes of daggers. “Of course,” she said in an eerily calm voice. “I’ll be sure to remember.”
Just then, Dillon barged into the middle of the two smiling girls.
“Hey!” he grinned. “You both okay?” He looked eagerly at both of them in quick succession. “You cool now?”
Alice turned her attention to her man, her beautiful incredible Dillon, and drew him in close. “Yeah sexy, we’re all good now…” She then bit her lip and bowed her head to bat her eyes at him. “How about you? You looked like you were having fun…”
“Yeah!” Dillon smiled awkwardly. “I hope you don’t mind… It was kinda spontaneous, helping Lucy here loosen up.”
“I do feel looser…” Lucy said in her attempt at a lighthearted tone.
“Well you sure know how to make a girl jealous…” Alice said pointedly. She ran her hands over his chest and pulled him in for a long, passionate kiss. Then she whispered in his ear. “The next girl you fuck better be me or I’ll slit the fucking whore’s throat, whoever it is, okay?”
Dillon’s eyes widened as he met Alice’s deadly serious gaze. A moment of pause was followed by a dark smile spreading across his lips. “Yes, my queen.”
“Good,” Alice said, her tone already lighter. “Now what were you two talking about before you got… distracted?”
“We were saying that there’s a potential partnership to be had here,” Dillon explained, looking hopefully to Lucy. “Together we can use the Algorithm to make a shitload of cash if we work together.”
“We’re floating an idea,” Lucy said with caution in her tone. “Nothing’s decided yet.”
“Really…?” Alice raised an eyebrow. She swung around the kitchen island and grabbed herself a beer from the fridge. “Well go on, tell me more!”
“Well just making us forget it all completely seems like a fucking waste of oppertunity to me.” Dillon smiled devilishly. “Don’t you think so, Lucy?”
“Look…” Lucy said with a sly glance to Dillon then Alice, “So long as I get what I want and my safety and security is assured, I’m open to at least hearing out your ideas. I am not making any promises right now.”
“What would it take to convince you?” Dillon asked with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s easy.” Lucy shrugged. “Sit in front of the Algorithm. Right now. Let me program you to ensure you won’t betray me.”
Dillon turned away from Lucy and walked a few feet away. When he turned back, the agitation was plain to see on his face. “But what’s to stop you making me your obedient zombie bitch like everyone else here if we do that?
“Nothing.” Lucy shrugged with a coy smile. “But I was just answering honestly. You asked what it would take…”
“Well I’m not that fucking stupid.” Dillon scoffed.
“For the record, I wouldn’t have made you into my… What was it… zombie bitch?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Dillon looked at the floor, muttering under his breath.
“What would it take for you to take me at my word?” Lucy asked, a look of genuine curiosity appearing on her face now.
“I guess the same fucking thing.” Dillon shrugged in irritation. “Let me use the Algorithm on you.”
Lucy chuckled softly. “I think you know my answer to that.”
“Yeah.” Dillon sneered bitterly. “Neither of us are willing to trust the other.”
Alice interrupted by means of an annoyed groan. “For fuck sake…” She sighed in exasperation. “Neither of you should trust the other, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still make a deal out of this!” When they both looked at her quizzically, she threw her arms up in annoyance. “You were always going to encounter this problem with your memory loss plan. Nobody would have wanted to go first for fear of betrayal. Well, since we’re all agreeing to go through the Algorithm anyway, instead of it being a matter of memory wiping, why not make it a matter of loyalty?”
Dillon nodded. “Alright, so we make it so we what… don’t fuck each other over?”
“You can come up with whatever wording you like.” Alice shrugged. “But essentially you’ll be binding yourselves to the terms of whatever agreement you settle on.”
Lucy shrugged. “I’d be okay with something like that I suppose. The Algorithm can manufacture trust between us, or make trust irrelevant I guess.”
“So long as you program someone or someones to be impartial as they put you all through the Algorithm…” Alice said, “there’s no chance for backstabbing.”
A silence of accord fell across them, hanging in the air for a few moments while the three of them exchanged glances.
“So did we… did we just make a deal…” Dillon tentatively said into the lull.
Lucy stayed silent for a few more moments, carefully considering her next words. “We didn’t make a deal, we just established that we can make a deal. Safely, so to speak. The actual deal still needs to be discussed…”
“It still feels like progress.” Dillon shrugged.
“It is,” Alice said, eyeing up Lucy with cool skepticism.
But what about… your friend?” Lucy motioned to the spare bedroom, a look of disgust briefly appearing on her face. “He needs to agree too, right?”
Dillon looked at the spare bedroom with scrutiny. “What the fuck could he still be doing in there? He must have busted his load half a dozen times by now…”
“That’s… Disturbing,” Lucy said. “I have to admit, it’s one thing to agree to this stuff with you… But…”
“Ross is another matter…” Dillon finished for her.
“Yes.” Lucy nodded slowly. “He’s…”
“Horrible?” Alice suggested. “Crude? Lecherous? Misogynistic?”
“All of the above…” Lucy smiled faintly. “I just can’t see him agreeing so easily.”
Noticing that Dillon looked troubled, Alice approached him, wrapping her arms around his body. “What’s up, sexy?”
“Ross and I are best friends…” Dillon murmured. “Brothers, even… But…”
Alice took Dillon’s hesitation as an opening. “But although you want to defend him, you know Lucy is right… He’s the least likely of you all to actually accept a reasonable deal.”
“Yeah,” Dillon muttered bitterly. “Exactly.”
Alice stroked his hair and kissed him tenderly. “I can’t sugar coat it for you sexy… It’s gonna be a problem asking him to work with Lucy as a partner…”
“I know…” Dillon muttered. After a moment of what could only be described as deep brooding, he added, “But what if it didn’t have to be?”
Lucy raised her eyebrow. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying…?”
“Look…” Dillon sighed, “Ross is a genius when it comes to hacking computers and phones and doing technical shit, but he’s an asshole and unreliable. Honestly, I don’t fucking trust him with the Algorithm.”
“Strangely enough,” Lucy said, “you saying that makes me trust your judgment just that little bit more… Ross seems truly chaotic.”
“It’s true…” Alice nodded. “You don’t need a loose cannon like Ross on your deck. This is all complicated enough already.”
“Okay,” Dillon said. “But we’re not totally brainwashing him or anything. Just making sure he behaves reasonably, right?”
“Of course,” Lucy said with a slight nod. “That’s all we need…”
The conversation moved back and forth over the next few minutes, gradually evolving from a general agreement of wanting to use the Algorithm to bring Ross under control to a discussion on how best to do it.
“Alright then,” Dillon said heavily once they had reached a consensus. “So whenever the fuck he comes out… I’ll get his gun, and as soon as I do, you’ll have some of those big fuckers over there get him to your Algorithm…”
“Not my Algorithm…” Lucy said, the corner of her lip curling up. “Our Algorithm.”
Janet’s world had become one of flashing lights, pained beeps, and inexplicable failure. She tried not to dwell on how much time she’d spent, and how much stress she’d put on the devices. They probably wouldn’t work as well afterwards, if at all, and it wouldn’t be easy to rescue some of them. That had been a lot of money, but even though it was mostly Josh’s materials that she was using, the guilt was hard to ignore.
Sitting in front of her was the last tablet that she hadn’t managed to brick. Her notebook lay open next to her, disjointed notes and ideas and pseudocode sketching out how to adapt the sound and the visuals of the Algorithm into something purely visual.
She had no plans to depart for the party at Josh’s apartment anytime soon. This project had consumed her life for the past several days, and although her progress had been considerable, she wasn’t where she wanted to be with it. She had standards to meet, but to do so would require a few more hours… if she was lucky. But she needed a break. Food, sleep, a shower…
Maybe just a little more work. After stifling a yawn, she connected the tablet back into her laptop and brought up a console. Something was causing the tablet to fail catastrophically, in ways she hadn’t even realized the language she was using could fail. It kept crashing hard, consistently, after about five minutes of running the program. And sure, she had figured out the cause was a memory leak, and she knew it was somewhere in the display calculations, but after hours of profiling, she still couldn’t figure out exactly where.
Her train of thought was shattered by a sudden and demanding knock on the door. It didn’t relent for the entire time it took Janet to untangle herself from her work and answer it.
“Ti- Tiff?!” Janet stammered as she took in Tiffany’s bedraggled appearance.
Gasping for breath, Tiffany grabbed Janet’s collar and stared at her with demented determination.
“Is it ready?” she rasped. “Does it work?”
Janet froze anxiously. “It’s not ready.”
Tiffany’s face fell, but Janet quickly shook her head.
“But- but it does work.”