“Alice,” Tiffany said as she sat on Josh’s bed next to the mesmerized blonde. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes.” Alice continued to stare blankly at one of Josh’s extra screens. Though the signal had long finished, Alice’s mind was still trapped deep in the trance forced upon her by the Algorithm.
The hairs on Tiffany’s neck stood on end as she felt Ross’s presence behind her. What reassured her was the sound of duct tape being liberally applied to his wrists and ankles.
“Want me program this ballsack while you do Alice?” Erin asked.
“No.” Tiffany shook her head slowly. “Not yet.”
“Okay, well I’ll tie up the two fucktards at least.”
Nodding distantly, Tiffany turned her attention back to Alice. “Alice, we’re going to wipe clean every last bit of programming you’ve received since we first discovered the Algorithm. You’ll remember everything, even things you were programmed not to, and all the programming itself is now gone. Do you understand?”
She was so peaceful, so lost in the deep trance. A part of Tiffany was loath to drag her back into the messy and stressful waking world, wanting just to let her be worry free and tranquil.
Tiffany held onto Alice’s hand, a look of solemn reluctance spreading across her face. “Alice, I’m going to say your name three times soon, then tell you to wake up. When I do so, you will start to wake up in a very slow and steady manner. All your thoughts will gently fall back into place over the course of several minutes, and it will be a calm and centering experience for you. You will eventually emerge to full awareness, knowing that you are safe and very loved, and shortly after this you will be entirely one hundred percent back to being yourself, under no influence of the Algorithm or any of the programming done by anyone to you, including me.” A tear fell down Tiffany’s face. “Especially me.”
She sniffed loudly before wiping her eyes with her free hand. “Do you understand all of that, Alice?”
“Once you’re finished waking up, will there be any trace of any programming in your mind?”
“Will you be under the control of anyone?”
“Will you be completely free willed and be yourself?”
“Will you…” Tiffany hesitated, but she felt she had to know. “Will you hate me?”
Alice paused for a brief moment, and Tiffany held her breath for what felt like an eternity.
“No,” Alice replied after the longest two seconds of Tiffany’s life.
Tiffany almost burst into tears as she heaved a sigh of relief. She took a moment to gather herself before continuing. “Alice, Alice, Alice. Wake up.”
Erin placed a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder, and they both watched as Alice slowly began to stir. Tiffany grabbed Erin’s hand and softly pulled it close enough to kiss with tender affection.
“I keep thinking I’m dreaming,” Tiffany said in a near whisper. “Like this isn’t really happening, like I wasn’t able to save everyone from Ross, and my mind is trying to pretend that I did.”
Erin gave Tiffany’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “The scariest thing for me was the idea of being programmed and not to know I’ve been programmed.” She shook her head, as if to banish the unpleasant thought. “But that isn’t what’s happening now, Tiff. It’s everyone else who’s stuck in the dream, and it’s up to us to wake them up.”
Alice was blinking slowly now, gradually reanimating after being still for so long.
“Tiff?” A quiet voice said from the doorway.
Tiffany and Erin turned to see Janet, bleary eyed and confused looking, leaning against the doorway for balance.
“Janet, hey,” Tiffany said, climbing off the bed and walking over to her. “How are you doing?”
Janet blinked at Tiffany a few times. Then she noticed Erin, then saw Alice stirring on the bed. Nodding slowly, she met Tiffany’s eye. “I’m okay, I think.” She then saw Ross and froze, her eyes widening in fear.
“It’s okay,” Tiffany said. “He’s tranced. We got him.”
Janet heaved out a long sigh. Tiffany saw in her the same tension and fear that had gripped her just minutes before. She placed a hand on Janet’s shoulder and fixed her with a reassuring stare.
Erin chimed in. “Plus I’ve duct taped his hands and feet, just in case.” She then chewed her tongue for a moment before adding, “And if it helps I could always stab them a little…”
When Tiffany turned to give Erin a severe glare, Erin held up her hands innocently. “What? I said a little…”
“Tiff,” Janet said in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get the app on Josh’s phone to work… I tried to trick him into unlocking it, but he- but he…” she choked up, shaking her head and wiping a tear from her eye.
“Hey, hey…” Tiffany soothed her, pulling her into a hug. “You don’t need to apologize. You did good, Janet. I just hope they didn’t hurt you too much.”
“Hurt me?!” Janet looked surprised. “I was scared he was going to kill you!”
“I appreciate your intervention there, by the way,” Tiffany said with a soft smile. “Honestly, I was scared too…”
“It didn’t feel like I did much except panic,” Janet admitted.
Tiffany shook her head with a grateful smile before pulling her into a tight embrace. “Don’t be daft. You got the tablet working, you helped me deal with everything in here, and you shouted at Ross to stop him from squeezing the life outta me. You’ve been brilliant.”
Janet nodded, a brief smile appearing on her face. “Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me yet…” Tiffany said, holding Janet by the shoulders and looking earnestly. “I’m counting on you to help me tidy up this mess…”
Janet nodded, her brow furrowing with the seriousness of the task. “What do you need me to do?”
“How well do you think you can come up with a set of instructions to deprogram everyone who was brainwashed by Ross? So that when they wake up, they’ll not only be free from his control, but won’t remember being under it in the first place?”
Janet mulled it over. “I can give it a go, sure.”
“There’s more…” Tiffany continued. “Since it’s like thirty, forty people here, there isn’t time for us to deprogram them one by one, and I don’t want to rush trying to do them all at once in some kind of group announcement. It’d only take one Ross fanatic slipping through the cracks to fuck everything up...”
“Okay,” Janet nodded attentively. “So maybe three or four of us doing it all at once then?”
Tiffany shook her head. “Not quite. I want each person who gets deprogrammed to get a copy of the script you write and for them to use it to deprogram someone else, it needs to be someone whose name they know. Then it’ll be like one leads to two leads to four to eight to sixteen and before we know it we’re done.”
“That would definitely save some time.” Janet said carefully. “As long as it’s managed.”
“It’s important you make them wake up slowly. The trance was so deep it was jarring to wake up instantly,” Tiffany stressed. “And use that gradual wake up time to have them all find their clothes and phones and sort themselves out, y’know?”
“Got it.” Janet nodded, her brow scrunched as she made a mental note of everything.
“But you’ll need to ensure that once everyone has been deprogrammed, people don’t still try to deprogram each other.” Tiffany furrowed her brow. “That’ll just confuse things.”
Janet smiled. “Set a flag, no problem. I can do that.”
“Good, because I barely have the energy left to speak, let alone understand what flags have to do with it.” Tiffany massaged her temples with her eyes closed. She didn’t know what time it was, but the intensity of the night was starting to weigh on her.
“It’s okay, Tiff,” Janet reassured her. “I’ll just make sure they stop deprogramming each other when there’s no one left to do.”
“Great.” Tiffany nodded wearily. “Thank you. So basically when people are fully deprogrammed and fully dressed, they can leave the apartment, they should have no knowledge of the Algorithm or any of the mind control crap that went on. They should just have vague positive memories of a fun party that got a bit wild. They can remember the dancing and conversations and everything that has no relation to the Algorithm.”
Erin had been sitting on the bed next to Alice, but she decided to chime in. “Give them the good parts, Janet. Pizza, beer, some drug dabbling, but only for those comfortable with that sorta thing. Oh, and make it part of their programming that they all erase any pictures or recordings of the night.”
“Oh, I didn’t even think of that.” Tiffany looked at Erin appreciatively. “Yeah, absolutely no photos, and sure, blame the fuzzies on drugs or alcohol where it makes sense to, I guess.”
“And everyone goes home happy.” Erin gave Janet a thumbs up.
“Yeah, exactly.” Tiffany nodded.
“And give them a trigger to drop for Tiff.”
“Yeah- wait, no!” Tiffany quickly corrected herself, glaring at Erin. “No triggers, not for me, not for anyone!”
“Just in case!” Erin argued.
“No!” Tiffany repeated herself. “Erin, please! I don’t want to have the same argument again… I’m too tired.”
Erin puffed up, clearly ready to deliver a passionate rebuttal, but she was interrupted by a very soft voice.
“Erin.” Alice had sat up and was looking dazedly at the tomboy. “Listen to Tiff. She’s… She’s doing the right thing.”
Erin opened her mouth to argue still, but realized she was outnumbered. Giving Tiffany a conciliatory nod, she sighed heavily. “Saved by the blonde…”
“Alice…” Tiffany felt her heart leap into her throat.
“C’mon, Jan…” Erin grabbed Janet and dragged her abruptly towards the door. “Let’s go see if there’s still pizza, these two will need a moment…”
“It’s, I mean, I prefer Janet…” Janet feebly protested as she disappeared through the doorway.
Tiffany was left frozen in place, staring as Alice groggily picked herself up off the bed until she stood in front of Tiffany. Their eyes met, and Tiffany saw in Alice a depth of emotion so complex it was hard to fully comprehend. Tiffany could feel her heart pounding in her chest even as her eyes welled up with tears. She wanted to speak, but her breaths were too shaky.
Alice seemed to be suffering a similar affliction, her eyes glossing as a mixture of opposing emotions played across her face until she stopped trying to express herself with any clarity and instead swept into Tiffany’s arms, laughing and crying all at once.
That was all it took for Tiffany’s emotional dam to burst and she was gone, a torrent of tears and a fit of giggles both bursting out of her uncontrollably. Alice was the same, holding tightly onto Tiffany as she let the weight of the night’s drama pour out of her. The two of them stayed in the chaos of each other’s embrace until little by little they calmed down, holding each other tightly and breathing deeply. It was strange, with tranced out Ross and Dillon mere feet away and Ross’s now blank and harmless slaves scattered throughout the room. Yet Tiffany felt safe in Alice’s embrace. It was like finding shelter in the storm.
However, she didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know which feeling deserved to be on the surface, and there were so many things Alice might say to her. A paralyzing apprehension clung around her throat as Alice drew back and looked at Tiffany in an appraising manner.
As Alice tilted her head one way, then the next, Tiffany imagined she was tallying up her disappointment that Tiffany had almost gotten everyone enslaved. She was imagining Alice was about to viciously berate her for falling for Lucy’s manipulations. She pictured Alice telling Tiffany that despite her salvaging the situation, she couldn’t salvage their friendship.
Instead, Alice started pulling gently on the short strands of Tiffany’s leftover hair while humming in thought. Tiffany, perplexed, just looked at Alice nervously while the blonde started nodding while still staring intently at Tiffany’s messy scalp.
“Yeah, we can fix this up, make it cute…” Alice finally said in a tone that was far more upbeat than Tiffany had expected. “I’m taking you to my favorite salon tomorrow, Tiff. They work wonders. And as it grows out, I think a pixie cut is gonna look really sexy on you…”.
Tiffany was at a loss for words. She had expected stern admonishments at best, and a brutal condemnation at worst. Instead here was Alice the stylist, to her rescue.
Upon seeing Tiffany’s bewilderment, Alice’s expression became more serious for a moment. “When you had me in your ‘control mode,’ Tiff, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, but I could see and hear everything that happened with Ross.”
Tiffany’s throat was drier than a midday desert. She wanted to say Alice’s name, to apologize a thousand times over, but she couldn’t.
“And after all that…” Alice said with a sigh. “Just… Just thank you, Tiff.”
Tiffany blinked in surprise. She was forced to consider the possibility in that moment that she was still in front of the Algorithm being forced to live out a best case scenario so that Ross could bring her back to her brutal reality at the worst possible moment.
No, this was real… It was probably definitely real. She opened her mouth to Alice ask why, but when her throat still stubbornly refused to produce sound waves, Alice continued.
“If Lucy got to you, it’s because she gets to everyone,” Alice said gravely, placing a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder. “I mean, she twisted Dillon round her fingers while you were gone and turned him against Ross. She was playing all of us against each other, and I doubt you could have been prepared for her if you tried. Seriously, don’t beat yourself up over it.”
Tiffany let out a shaky sigh. She didn’t feel like she deserved this reprieve, but she was nevertheless grateful for it. A glance at Lucy lying blank and motionless on Josh’s bed was enough to send a shiver of memory down her spine.
Lucy’s touch had paralyzed her, drowned her in pleasure, and left her dazed and defenseless as she became caught in the Algorithm’s entrancing snare.
Lucy had poured honeyed words into her mind, subtly changing how she had perceived herself and her purpose. She emerged from her trance knowing that she let Lucy take control because of her deep need to be controlled, and because she knew nobody could control her the way Lucy could. Tiffany was so glad it happened the way it did, and that Lucy was the one to bend her to her will.
Feeling the emotions that the memories elicited, Tiffany was overtaken by a sense of loss and longing. She couldn’t help but admit that she enjoyed being Lucy’s thrall, despite all the terrible things that had come of it. It sent a nervous tremor through Tiffany’s very soul. If Lucy was lucid and looming over her in that moment, ordering her to kneel and promising a delicious descent into dominated depravity, Tiffany knew she’d barely be able to resist, because she wouldn’t want to. She could all too easily picture herself flushing with heat and dropping to her knees, unable to endure the siren call of submission that resonated so strongly in her heart.
Of course, the memories of what actually happened would be a strong deterrent from succumbing to Lucy’s control once more. As she tried to take solace in that, Tiffany idly wondered if with enough wonderful implanted memories and a deliberate suppression of negative ones, she could be conditioned into the perfect slave without being programmed the way she had been before. A stealthy warmth trickled through her brain, having crept up from her tingling body. As she gazed at Lucy, imagining how she might be molded into her compliant little slut, a slow sigh escaped her lips.
“I thought I’d killed you, you know,” Alice said, breaking Tiffany out of her reverie. A haunted look filled her eyes. “You or Erin… Maybe both, in a sense. I tried to push it out of my mind while you were gone, I knew I couldn’t change what I’d said. I hoped it gave you enough room to escape. But it was weighing on me the whole time.”
Tiffany could see how much turmoil Alice was in, and that’s what helped her to find her own voice again. “It did!” she managed to blurt out. Alice stopped in her tracks, a slight smile appearing on her lips.
“It did help,” Tiffany reiterated. “I figured out that was your intention before we reached the bridge—I ‘did what I needed to do’ and deprogrammed us both.”
The look Alice gave Tiffany just then could only be described as pure pride. “I knew you were smart enough.” She drew Tiffany back into another hug and squeezed her tight. “I knew you’d come through for us.”
“I did my best,” Tiffany admitted. “Honestly, most of the time I didn’t think it’d be enough.”
“More than that though…” Alice replied, a certain reverence in her voice. “After you got everyone into trance… choosing to deprogram us all…” Alice drew back so she could look earnestly into Tiffany’s eyes. “Let’s just say that any doubts I may have developed about your character because of the Algorithm have been thoroughly dispelled. Honestly, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”
Tiffany felt like bursting into tears again. Her heart swelled with gratitude and she simply dragged Alice in close once more to hold her tightly.
“You were right to doubt me,” Tiffany eventually replied, this time herself drawing away. “More than once I made selfish choices, and I came so close on so many other occasions…” She looked to the floor. “I almost took Ross up on his offer.”
Alice shook her head. “I was ready to turn you into a slave for Dillon.”
“Not the same.” Tiffany retorted, pulling herself to her feet. “You were brainwashed, I wasn’t.”
“Tiff, you were gagged, cornered, beaten, bitten for fuck sake!” Alice replied heatedly, also picking herself off the floor. “I don’t blame you for being tempted by Ross’s offer, it was his sick mind game to coerce you, to get you to betray your friends and yourself, but you didn’t bow to him, and that says something…”
Tiffany nodded reluctantly, “I’m grateful you think well of me.” She sighed as she looked around. Hannah, Marion, Josh, Trev, Lucy, and Emelia were all still trapped in a mindless trance. “Do you think they will?”
“They ought to.” Alice placed a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder. “If they don’t, I’ll set ’em straight.”
“I need to get everyone deprogrammed and send them home…” Tiffany said with a grave expression. “I don’t even want to know how late it’s already gotten.” She looked at her friend with a pleading expression. “Alice, I’m so tired…”
Alice smiled kindly, taking Tiffany by the hand. “Well, it’s a good thing you don’t have to do this alone then, isn’t it?”
She led them through to the lounge where the sea of naked tranced individuals stood in eerie silence, all staring blankly at the deactivate screen. They turned to the kitchen island where Janet was writing carefully on a notepad while Erin was pouring out several cups of-
“Coffee!” Tiffany blurted out reflexively. “Oh my god, just inject it into my veins!”
“Heh. Well…” Erin shrugged. “Since Janet is writing out the super detailed deprogram script to fix everyone, I decided to take on the arduous task of turning on the coffee machine Josh had prepared in advance and set to go off in the morning. So we’re both working equally hard, really. Here, Tiff, one with sugar and cream.”
Tiffany smiled gratefully, wrapping her hands around the warm mug offered to her and taking a slow sip. Even with the added sweetness, the coffee was strong and bitter, exactly what she needed right now.
“Hey, Erin.” Alice walked up to Erin and offered her a probing smile.
“Alice,” Erin addressed the blonde, a pleased smirk playing across her face. “Well played.”
“Oh come here!” Alice insisted, pulling Erin into a hug.
“Oh fine!” Erin relented, hugging Alice back. “But I’m not having a breakdown-into-tears moment with you. That’s Tiff’s department.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Alice said happily, holding Erin close.
“I said no more tears, Alice, I mean it!” Erin protested mildly, though Tiffany could hear the hitch in her voice.
“How are you getting on, Janet?” Tiffany asked between coffee sips.
“Good, I think…” Janet replied without looking up from her page, continuing to write purposefully onto the piece of paper that was rapidly running out of space. “I think I’m nearly done…”
“I hope you don’t mind me reading over your shoulder…” Tiffany said as she edged closer.
“Not at all!” Janet looked up warmly. “I want you to read it and comment before I type it up anyway.”
“Type it up?” Tiffany asked with a questioning squint.
“Well I don’t want to risk anyone misreading my handwriting,” Janet explained. “And besides, I need enough copies for everyone who will be reading at the same time.”
“Huh,” Tiffany nodded as she started reading the long script. “Is that why you have the recipient only tune into the reader’s voice for the duration of the deprogramming?”
“Yes.” Janet nodded. “Towards the end you’re going to have about a dozen or more of these deprogrammings happening at once.”
“Wow Janet, you’re good at planning ahead…” Tiffany remarked as she took another sip of coffee and continued reading. It was mostly as Tiffany has instructed, with some minor alterations for the sake of good grammar and word flow. Apart from near the end.
“What’s this about writing down their contact information?” Tiffany asked severely.
“Oh, um, that’s something Erin suggested I put in, but I agree with her reasoning…” Janet replied a little nervously.
“Oh really?” Tiffany scowled as she turned to Erin. “And what reasoning might that be?”
“It’s not as bad as you think, Tiff…” Erin nonchalantly downed the rest of her own coffee before setting the mug on the counter and meeting Tiffany’s irate stare with her own serious resolve. “It’s letting you have a note and a contact number of everyone that was affected by the Algorithm tonight. I know you’re being responsible, but this way you can keep tabs on everyone, maybe have Josh check in with them if needed. After all, it’s his party and let’s face it, he’s a lot more popular than you are.”
“Okay, firstly, ouch.” Tiffany gave Erin a bemused smile. Erin simply shrugged, but couldn’t hide her teasing expression. “And secondly, I dunno…” Tiffany murmured. “Haven’t I done enough to everyone already? Do I really need to butt into their lives?”
“Honestly, Tiff,” Alice piped up. “It seems like a good idea to me.”
This gave Tiffany pause. “It does?” she asked in confusion, turning to Alice.
“Well, yeah.” Alice placed a reassuring hand on Tiffany’s shoulder. “I get that you mean well, Tiff. In fact, it’s downright inspirational to me how far you’re going to set things right here. But keeping track and keeping tabs on these people isn’t a bad idea. It’s not like you’re leaving them with triggers that you could use later...”
“I’m not going to keep pushing for you to leverage more control, Tiff…” Erin said in an almost sulking manner. “Even if I think you should. But what if one of these dudes starts remembering bits and pieces of the night? We need to have a way to stop knowledge of the Algorithm leaking out.”
“You have to remember to stay objective, Tiff.” Alice nodded in agreement. “Don’t let your guilt stop you from doing the most good.”
“I guess…” Tiffany wavered. “Janet?”
“Hm?” Janet looked up from having her nose buried in the paper, looking like a bunny caught in headlights.
“Do you think keeping everyone’s contact details without their knowledge is okay? Is it ethical?”
“Umm…” Janet faltered. “I think the intention is good, Tiff. That’s what this is telling me.” She held up the paper. “That you have good intentions, and you want to take care of these people.” She then motioned to the crowd of naked tranced individuals still stuck in their mind prisons, waiting for the words that would free them. “You’re undoing what Ross did to them, I don’t think keeping a register is that bad a thing.”
“Okay then.” Tiffany exhaled heavily. “Scrubbed memories, fully dressed, free people. Let’s keep the names handy, I can see the wisdom there. What’s the paragraph you’ve added there?”
“Just a finishing touch,” Janet nodded, handing the paper to Tiffany. “Once everyone is deprogrammed and has all their things, they’ll spend five minutes tidying up this place before leaving with the people they arrived with, and they’ll look out for each other getting home safely.”
“Oh, I like that!” Erin beamed. “We’re always the suckers helping Josh tidy up this place after his ragers!” She then saw the part stern, part amused expression that Tiffany and Alice had synchronized on and coughed. “I mean, yeah… getting people home safe… that’s the best part…”
“It looks good, Janet.” Tiffany smiled in appreciation, putting the script down on the kitchen island. “Thank you.”
“Hm. Yeah, it will do for the vast majority of them.” Alice nodded, grabbing the paper to examine it more closely. “But I’m deprogramming Trev myself, and I’m not wiping his memory.”
Tiffany nodded in understanding. “I figured as much. Trev and Josh both deserve to know what really happened.”
“There’s also a memory in Trev that was stolen. I need to restore it,” Alice said determinedly.
“Hm, you do Trev then, Alice,” Erin pitched in. “Tiff, you wanna do Josh?”
“Actually, I was hoping you could do Josh.,” Tiffany replied, a grim expression darkening her face.
“Why? Who are you going to do?”
“Hannah,” Tiffany said, already feeling a dryness in her throat.
“Tiff, are you sure?” Alice said gravely.
“Yeah, Tiff,” Erin added, echoing Alice’s tone. “From the little I saw, Hannah may be a prime candidate for happy fuzzy amnesia…”
“No,” Tiffany said firmly. “It’s different for the people who just danced around a lot then stripped naked for a bit. Hannah…” she then looked at Erin, “Izzy.” Then to Alice. “Marion. And Libby… Ross really fucked around with their minds…”
“That’s maybe why it’s best to make them forget,” Alice said softly, placing her hand gently on Tiffany’s. “I don’t want Marion to remember any of this. I want to protect her from it.”
“Well I want to give them a choice!” Tiffany rebutted sharply. She quickly caught how harsh her tone was and shook her head slightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just feeling pretty fucking guilty over what happened to them.”
“I get that, Tiff,” Alice replied in a kindly tone. “But I worry it’ll be too much trauma for them to deal with. Hell, I freaked out that night last week and I’d only witnessed Lucy enslaving you then you turning the tables on her and enslaving Erin…”
Tiffany gritted her teeth and Erin smiled devilishly, a slight blush tidying her cheeks. Janet just watched them with curious eyes, not daring to speak.
“Of course…” Alice mused, “now I’ve had my hidden memories restored, I do recall you having us all fuck you all at once after you made us call you mistress.”
Now it was Tiffany’s turn to blush. “That was an accident…”
“It’s okay Tiff,” Alice shook her head with a faint smile. “I’m just meaning that I freaked out enough at the time without remembering that stuff. I can’t imagine I’d have been better off remembering that and the conditioning you put into me…”
“I think we should let them remember,” Erin said, her brow furrowed in thought. She then looked up at Alice with a firm expression. “And let them choose. Without the choice, how are we better than Ross?”
“There’s a big difference between what Ross had in mind and- and this!” Alice replied, exasperation spilling out in her voice. “Ross was a manipulative asshole. He had zero regard for anyone’s consent or well-being.”
She looked at Tiffany and Erin in turn, a pleading expectation on her face. When neither of them spoke, she growled before adding, “Wanting to shield our friends from trauma and heartache does not make us like Ross, okay?!”
Tiffany sighed shakily. “Of course not, Alice. I hear what you’re saying. I just… I just don’t want to rob them of the choice. They deserve to know… If they want to.”
Alice’s anger seemed to calm a bit. “I get it Tiff,” she said softly. “But do you remember the moment Ross held a gun against my forehead, acting like he was about to shoot me to spite Dillon?”
Tiffany felt herself tense at the mere mention of it. “Yes,” she said with a dry throat.
“I was so scared, Tiff…” Alice said, her eyes haunted as she spoke. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, but I was awake and aware for the whole thing. I had a panic attack in my mind, but my body wouldn’t respond to it, so I was frozen in a state of terror for I don’t even know how long.”
“I’m sorry,” Tiffany said in an ashamed whisper. “I’m sorry I put you through that.”
Erin and Janet both looked at Alice, trying not to breathe. The tension was suffocating.
“No, Tiff.” Alice shook her head and grasped Tiffany’s hand squeezing it tightly. “You don’t need to apologize, I’m not saying this to try and make you feel bad. You’ve redeemed yourself to me, Tiff,” she stressed. “I forgive you, completely.”
Tiffany just nodded in reply, wiping a tear from her eye with her free hand.
“I’m telling you this Tiffany because the memory of that is burned into my mind,” Alice said firmly. “I see that gun every time I close my eyes. I know I’m going to have nightmares about it. I honestly feel on the edge of another panic attack right now just talking about it…”
She took a few deep breaths. Erin moved closer to her, offering a hand on her shoulder.
“See, the Algorithm can scrub that whole experience from my mind…” Alice continued. “And maybe that’s what I want to do with it. I think I can live with everything else that happened, but that feels like it might just too much for me. I thought I was gonna die.”
Tiffany nodded again. “Okay,” she whispered. “We can do that.”
Janet watched the conversation unfold with wide, concerned eyes, while Erin looked on in stony silence. Tiffany barely noticed them, all her attention on Alice now.
“I’ve not decided yet,” Alice said stoically. “Part of me feels I don’t have the right to forget. I was the one who stumbled across the ability to trance people with Trev.”
“And me,” Erin insisted.
“Yeah, and you.” Alice nodded. “Point is, I had a hand in the creation of the Algorithm, I shouldn’t be blocking it out. But Marion isn’t involved in this. She can walk away with no memories and no pain. Same with Hannah and the others.”
“I was scared for you too, you know…” Alice remarked. “They were hurting you, and Ross… what he was trying to force you to do… I’m glad you stood up to him.”
“Me too,” Tiffany agreed. “And I’d like to forget how I felt at that moment. How close I was to…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “Marion and the girls… Let’s allow them all to forget whatever they want, but it needs to come from them…”
Alice took a deep breath, then nodded slowly. “Okay. But we need to be gentle with them.”
“We will be,” Tiffany assured her.
Erin cleared her throat gently. “I’m amazed I’m the one to say this, but we ought to get to work guys... We have a lot of human vegetables to deprogram and revive.” She motioned to the unchanged crowd of naked people, all trapped in their own inescapable trance.
“Erin!” Alice chastised, although she failed to conceal a snicker.
Erin grinned at Alice before slapping the table and declaring. “I’ve got Josh.”
“I’m on Trev,” Alice said with a decisive nod.
“I’ll, uh, type up this script if that’s okay?” Janet asked, looking to Tiffany for permission.
“Of course, Janet.” Tiffany nodded, clearing her own throat. “And thank you.”
“Before I go, though…” Erin stalked up to Tiffany and made a show of wrapping her arms around her neck. “Hey, Mistress… I’m proud of you.”
As Janet and Alice went to their own targets,Tiffany gave Erin a grateful smile. “Thanks… But why?”
“Can’t a gal just be proud of her Mistress?” Erin purred, running her hands down Tiffany’s body.
“Of course you can be…” Tiffany responded playfully, moving her own hands into Erin’s hair, “but I want you to shower me with praise, don’t I? Tell me what makes you so proud.”
Erin smiled slyly as a flicker of admiration showed in her eyes. “Your integrity, for one,” she said, holding Tiffany at her waist. “And how beautifully gay you look with the short hair and dudes clothes.”
Tiffany glared with a grin as Erin laughed. She then interrupted her by pulling her into a long, passionate kiss. Erin’s lips tasted of the coffee they just drank, her tongue was soft and energetic. Her hands gripped Tiffany’s ass tightly for several intense moments of making out before sliding up under the oversized hoodie she had borrowed from Josh’s wardrobe.
Tiffany moaned as Erins lips and the touch of her fingers running up her skin slowly melted her. It felt like a revival of her sensual urges after they had been shut down in shock. She pulled away, gasping, even as she wanted more.
“Can’t get too carried away right now…” Tiffany said with a happy sigh. “But later I want all of you, Erin. Every last bite.”
“Wish I could say the same, Mistress,” Erin gazed at Tiffany with fuck me eyes, “but someone’s already taken a bite out of you.”
Tiffany half laughed, half groaned. “Don’t worry, the best bits are all still there.”
Erin bit her lip with an eager nod before leaning into Tiffany’s ear. “Look at all the mindless slaves, Mistress. Sure you don’t want that orgy…” Erin then started sinking her teeth softly into Tiffany’s neck. Tiffany tilted her head back as she sighed and let her eyes close.
She expected her mind to fill with Erin’s proposal, a picture of a dozen writhing bodies encircling her and her sub, sensual hands and horny tongues tasting and teasing with wild abandon. But instead her imagination held only Erin, dropping to her knees, wearing nothing but a leather collar, holding up the leash to Tiffany’s waiting hand, a look on her face that communicated unquestionably who she belonged to.
“Maybe another day, slave…” Tiffany said, cupping Erin’s chin to align their eyes with each other. “Right now I only want you.”
Erin gave a tiny nod before leaning in, their foreheads pressing gently against each other. Tiffany closed her eyes and held Erin’s face next to hers. “No matter what happens, it’s happening with you, ya hear?”
“Loud and clear, Mistress.” Erin sighed. They held each other for a few moments, then their noses touched, and their lips slowly followed. A softer, more tender kiss ensued this time, warm fuzzies tingling through Tiffany’s mind with an undercurrent of arousal.
When they slowly drew away from each other, Erin quickly leaned into Tiffany’s ear, whispering, “Just don’t be afraid to put someone else under your spell like you did me. I want to fuck you til you pass out later, and an extra tongue may come in handy.”
A soft chuckle escaped Tiffany’s lips as she watched Erin go, disappearing into Josh’s room with the others. She couldn’t help but wonder if Erin’s continued hints and insistence of bringing others into their intimate moments was due to her not feeling good enough. Tiffany’s lips curled as she made a silent promise to herself that she’d whip such insecurities out of Erin later. Literally.
But she herself had to get moving back to Josh’s bedroom. She poured herself a second mug of strong coffee and, after nearly downing it in one, went to find an entranced Hannah.
Janet was already busy typing up the script on Josh’s computer while Tiffany quietly took in the room again. Lucy, tranced and on the bed… Dillion and Ross, both deep in trance, with tape over their mouths and their wrists and ankles bound for extra safety… Marion lost in trance… Hannah and Emelia, frozen mid battle for that baseball bat… Josh, to whom Erin was already speaking to in a calm and collected manner, and Trev, who Alice was leading out of the room, obediently following her instruction as she presumably led them to a space where they could be alone.
Knowing she shouldn’t let herself get distracted any longer, Tiffany nervously approached Hannah. Her roommate’s ginger curls fell around her face, framing her innocent blank expression. She was still frozen in her struggle with Emelia, the latter having been under instructions from Tiffany to smash the Algorithm screen prior to being caught in its mesmeric snare. Tiffany gently worked the baseball bat from both of their grips and placed it down on top of Josh’s dresser.
“Emelia,” she said, “can you hear me?”
“Good. Go through to the lounge and sit on the sofa, make yourself comfortable,” Tiffany ordered.
Emelia obeyed without another word, slowly wandering through to the lounge. Hannah was left staring alone at the now blank screen of the Algorithm.
“Hannah,” Tiffany said, trying to temper her nerves and stifle a yawn. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes.” Hannah’s reply was exactly like Emelia’s, toneless and bland.
Fighting through a constant ache of fatigue, Tiffany took a deep breath before she began, “Tell me everything that Ross programmed you with.”
“The old me is dead,” Hannah intoned, her voice flat and devoid of emotion. Those words alone sent a shiver down Tiffany’s spine, but she didn’t have to dwell on it as Hannah continued. “I hated being her. I’m a badass bitch that takes no shit from anybody. I get pleasure out of being cruel and mean. I am fanatically loyal to Ross, and I obey him without question. I don’t let any other fucker boss me around.”
She paused for a moment, before continuing, “I’m always horny as fuck and like doing freaky shit all the time. I like manipulating and seducing people to get what I want, but if that doesn’t work, I’m not afraid to force them to do what I want. And what I want more than anything is to serve Ross and make him happy.”
Tiffany expected that to be it, and opened her mouth to speak, but Hannah again continued.
“Ross controls my pleasure, Ross controls my pain, Ross controls how lucid I feel, how awake, how smart I am. Ross controls everything about me. When Ross tells me to cum, an incredible orgasm will explode through my body, waves of pleasure lasting for a minute or more.”
Tiffany recalled Ross using that command on Hannah, and despite the circumstances, she remembered feeling a pang of jealousy that Hannah felt such pleasure while Tiffany was being tormented by her and Ross’s other slaves.
“When Ross tells me to experience punishment one, I will experience a pain on my face like I have been heavily slapped. The immediate pain will fade after a minute or so, but a dull stingy sensation will persist for half an hour or so.
“When Ross tells me to experience punishment two, I will experience moderate pain in my stomach and head, like I am about to throw up from painful food poisoning. The immediate pain will fade after thirty seconds, but a dull lingering pain will last for an hour or more.
Tiffany felt her hands ball into fists and her jaw clench. She hoped that Hannah was finished, but to her horror she kept going.
“When Ross tells me to experience punishment three, I will experience an intense, unbearable pain throughout my entire body, as if I am on fire. The immediate pain will last for fifteen seconds, but a dull, lingering pain will persist for several hours.” Hannah’s voice was emotionless as she recounted the details, but Tiffany couldn’t help the tears welling in her eyes.
As Hannah paused, Tiffany took the opportunity to swallow and steady herself, bracing for what might come next.
“When Ross tells me to forget, I forget whatever he tells me to,” Hannah continued, her gaze fixed on Tiffany. “When Ross tells me to remember, I remember whatever he tells me to. Ross can erase or implant any memory he chooses to.”
The mention of memory manipulation sent a cold shiver down Tiffany’s spine. She knew Ross had done this with Lucy, but she was worried now that Hannah had false memories implanted in her. If the memories were altered outside of trance, they may be difficult to identify and fix.
Tiffany had to gather herself for a moment. The power to alter someone’s perception of reality, their very understanding of themselves, even, was one of the most fascinating and terrifying abilities that she had been wanting to explore with the Algorithm. However, the events of this party had given her a very heavy reality check.
“When Ross says my name and says ‘Blank Slate,’ I drop instantly into a deep, empty, mindless trance, ready to receive further programming,” Hannah said, her voice still mechanical and without inflection, “When Ross says my name and to wake, I instantly become alert and awake.”
Tiffany waited for more, but it seemed that Hannah’s recitation was finally done. She exhaled a slow deep breath. Ross’s programming and manipulations ran deep, but Tiffany felt like it would be possible to reverse it all.
Then a fleeting thought spoke seductively into her mind. She would have a lot easier a time simply pivoting Ross’s control to her own. She could tone down the more extreme aspects of Hannah’s new personality and have her pretend that she was fully deprogrammed. It would be easier, wouldn’t it? And it also meant she could work on Hannah over time, ease her out of the drastic changes Ross had made…
But as quickly as the thought had come, Tiffany shook her head, chasing it away. No. That was not an option. It was how she used to think, and it rang of hypocrisy. She needed to free Hannah and face the music for the part she played in it all.
“Did Ross program Marion, Libby and Izzy the same as you?” Tiffany asked.
“Yes,” Hannah intoned. Tiffany’s heart sank. She would need to ensure each of them were given special deprogramming instructions. Janet’s script alone would not cut it.
“Hannah,” Tiffany began, “Ross’s words were just that—words. They no longer hold any power over you. He no longer holds power over you, understand?”
“Yes,” Hannah replied in a toneless drone. Tiffany nodded, it was a good start. However, she proceeded to unravel each of Ross’s commands one by one to be sure.
“These words supersede your previous programming. The old you is not dead. Far from it. The old you is the only one in control of you. You didn’t hate being her, you loved it.” Tiffany could feel herself getting emotional as she spoke, but she clenched her fists as she swallowed down her tears. “And you love yourself, deeply and unconditionally, understand?”
“Ross’s programming is gone, like it never happened. You’re free from behaving in a manner he said you would. You’re in control of how you behave. Understand?”
“When Ross commands you to feel pleasure, it will have no effect. When he commands you to feel pain, it will have no effect. He does not control your emotions, your sensations, your experiences. Understand?”
“When Ross tells you to forget, it will have no effect. When he tells you to remember, it will have no effect. Your memories are yours, and Ross cannot control them. Understand?”
“And finally, when Ross commands you to obey, you will not. You do not obey Ross. You do not obey anyone unless you choose to. You are in control of your actions, your decisions, your life. Understand?”
“Good,” Tiffany said with a grim smile. Even with the programming removed, she wasn’t sure how Hannah might react to it all once awake. And with the programming gone, it was time to wake her up.
She set a similar set of conditions that she has used with Alice. Hannah would have a very slow and calm awakening. And Tiffany would be right there for her.
“Hannah Hannah Hannah. Wake up now.”
As Hannah started to stir, Tiffany allowed her awareness to return to the rest of the room. Josh was part way through his own waking up process, dazedly pulling on jeans from his wardrobe with a lethargic expression. Erin stood next to Janet, both looking at the small screen of Josh’s computer.
“How’s it going?” Tiffany asked as she approached them, seeing that most of the script had been typed up. As she tried to read what was written though, the words wouldn’t line up properly and instead were blurring in front of her eyes.
“Good,” Janet said. “Just tidying up the formatting while Erin proofs it.”
“It’ll do the job.” Erin shrugged, before turning to Tiffany. A look of concern appeared on her face. “You okay, Tiff?”
“I look that bad, huh?” Tiffany chuckled in derision of herself, gently massaging her temples while blinking heavily to try and revive her sight.
“You look fucking sexy,” Erin replied without missing a beat, “but it seems that coffee wasn’t strong enough. You want another?”
“No, thank you.” Tiffany smiled gratefully. “But I could use your help.”
Erin practically leapt up. “Anything. What can I do?”
“Move Dillon and Ross to the spare bedroom,” Tiffany said, looking grimly at the two men who had nearly derailed her entire life. “I don’t want them here when Hannah finishes waking up.”
Erin nodded. “Done.” She moved towards the two tranced and bound men.
“Oh. And bring Libby and Izzy back in here when you return, they need to be deprogrammed with a bit more nuance.”
“Gotcha,” Erin replied.
Tiffany let out a heavy sigh before turning to Janet. “One last change.”
“Sure.” Janet nodded, looking up at Tiffany with a polite smile.
“Your script is only to be used on the people in the lounge,” Tiffany explained. She eyed up Marion and Lucy, both still vacant eyed and frozen in place. “The people in here will need a bit more than that script… and I don’t want them to forget everything. Not yet at least. Oh, and the papers have to stay in that room!”
“No problem.” Janet deftly typed up the changes and then leaned back in her chair. “I think that’s it.”
“Excellent.” Tiffany gave a brisk nod. “Print as many copies as you need and get started I guess.”
As Janet got underway with that, Tiffany turned back to see Hannah still in the process of regaining her consciousness. Josh, on the other hand, was dressed and lucid as he watched Erin lead Dillon and Ross out of the bedroom. His eyes met Tiffany’s and he gave her a one sided smile.
“How’re you doing?” Tiffany asked anxiously as she walked up to him.
“All things considered, I’m okay.” Josh frowned in thought. “Are you okay?”
“Do I really look that bad?” Tiffany complained with an exasperated sigh.
Josh gave her a scrutinizing smirk. “Would you like me to be honest or nice?”
“Can’t you be both?”
Josh laughed before placing his chin in his hand for dramatic effect, pretending to think really hard for a moment. “Okay, how about this? I think it was pretty decent of you refusing to suck my dick. You could have done it to save yourself and enslave us all. Props, for real.”
Tiffany gave him a hopeless glare. “I meant about my appear- you know what? Fuck it, I’ll take it. You are welcome for our blowjob free friendship.”
Josh chuckled and pulled her into a tight embrace. Tiffany felt a lot of stored tension ebbing out of her as she slid her head against his chest.
“Tiff.” Hannah’s voice was soft and sleepy.
“I’ll leave you to it, Tiff,” Josh said, withdrawing from the hug. “Because honestly, I need a really stiff drink…”
Tiffany looked at Hannah as she blinked and took in her surroundings.
“This isn’t one of Mast—“ she caught herself and shook her head in puzzlement, “one of Ross’s games, is it?”
“If it is, then I’m as lost as you are,” Tiffany said with a weak smile. Josh nodded to Hannah before leaving, Hannah watching him go before looking cautiously around the room.
“He’s in the spare room, isn’t he?” Hannah asked, although she was already moving towards the door with a subtle grace as if she were still in a peaceful trance.
“Yes, he is. With Dillon.” Tiffany intercepted her at the door. “They’re in trance and tied up for good measure. They’re not going to hurt anyone ever again.”
Hannah nodded groggily. “I want to see him.” There was a look of doubt and confusion in her eyes. “I just, I need to be sure.”
Tiffany wanted to protest, as it felt like a bad idea to let Hannah see Ross, but denying her could also be harmful. She was torn between wanting to protect her friend and respecting her autonomy. She decided to follow cautiously, not able to be sure if Hannah had really returned to her former self or not.
Erin had left Dillon and Ross facing towards the door in the spare room, so their blank, mindless expressions were the first sight for Tiffany and Hannah upon entry.
“You don’t have to see him…” Tiffany said from the doorway, trying to keep her tone soft but with an undercurrent of caution. “We got him. He can’t hurt you anymore.” The sight of Ross and Dillon tied up and entranced brought a wave of relief and a pang of dread, like they were still dangerous even in this state. It wasn’t just seeing their tormentor at her mercy, it was seeing him this way and knowing how close she had come to joining him, to submitting to him, to becoming his slave and betraying all of her friends…
But Hannah’s eyes remained focused on Ross. “I need to,” she said softly, her voice barely a whisper.
Tiffany watched her with a clenched jaw. She felt the undercurrent of fear and curiosity in Hannah’s voice, the unspoken questions that lingered between them.
“It’s okay, Tiff…” Hannah said, seeing the expression on Tiffany’s face. “He never actually hurt me.” She gently pulled Tiffany into the room and closed the door behind them.
A deep rooted fear clutched Tiffany around her throat. Hannah was deprogrammed, right? Why would she close them in the room together like this? Something was wrong, but Tiffany didn’t know what exactly.
As Hannah approached Ross, with his eyes still blank, unseeing, he seemed so harmless now. Yet, Tiffany remembered him from an hour ago. Commanding, controlling, manipulative, and even charismatic in a strange, unsettling way. The change to now was jarring. A nervous instinct inside Tiffany yelled at her to intervene. “Hannah, wait,” she said anxiously.
“I’m sorry Tiff,” Hannah remarked cooly, “but I’m done listening to you for one night.” Her face was unreadable as she studied Ross. There was a blankness to her expression, an emptiness that was almost as eerie as Ross’s own vacant stare. Then she reached out and lightly touched his cheek, her fingers tracing a path down to his chin.
Tiffany’s breath hitched in her throat. Hannah’s movements were tender, almost intimate, as if she were longing for him. Tiffany’s heart pounded in her chest. Hannah had to be okay. She deprogrammed her. Freed her. She had to be okay.
“He looks so innocent like this,” she remarked, confusion and doubt laced through her voice. “He doesn’t seem so powerful now…”
“Because he never was,” Tiffany said firmly from behind her, her heart beating nervously in her chest. “He bargained and tricked his way into control. He did nothing to earn it. And he was never innocent, Hannah. From the start, he was a fucking monster.”
Hannah turned around, looking at Tiffany with a severe expression, angry even. Tiffany didn’t understand, but she was scared. Hannah wasn’t meeting Tiffany’s eyes, but rather staring where her hair used to be.
As Hannah slowly approached her,Tiffany felt a cold knot of fear settle in her stomach. This wasn’t right. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.
“Hannah…” Tiffany’s voice faltered, and she swallowed, tasting the bitter tang of fear in the back of her throat. “We need to leave. We should... We should join the others.”
Then Hannah’s gaze met Tiffany’s eyes, and Tiffany saw the torrent of emotion trying to hide behind her stoic expression. Hannah placed her hand gently on top of Tiffany’s head. “I did this,” she said with a detached solemness. “I wasn’t myself when I did it, but I still did it.”
Tiffany felt a cold shiver run down her spine at Hannah’s words. Her hand atop Tiffany’s head was gentle but firm, and there was something eerily familiar about it. The sensation was also so strange, with much less hair in place between Hannah’s hand and her scalp than should be there.
“None of us were ourselves,” Tiffany finally found the strength to whisper, her throat dry. Her hand came up, hesitated for a moment, then reached for Hannah’s other hand. She interlaced their fingers together, squeezing in a silent promise. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Hannah’s emotions, usually so vibrant and full of life, were dominated by confusion and disappointment mixed in with sorrow and anger. Her breathing was slow but ragged, and she shook her head in nearly imperceptibly brisk and rapid movements, before she strode purposefully for the doorway.
“Hannah!” Tiffany called after her, confused by this reaction. She quickly followed and saw Hannah methodically rummaging in the kitchen drawers. Erin and Janet appeared from Josh’s bedroom, while Josh, Trev, and Alice, already in the kitchen, looked on with confusion.
Despite the onlookers, Hannah’s actions were swift and decisive. The scissors gleamed in her hand as she gathered a handful of her wild, ginger curls
“Hannah, no!” Tiffany squealed as she lunged forwards. Hannah got in one good snip before Tiffany was on her, attempting to wrestle the scissors out of her hands.
Josh cursed, dodging out of the way as the two collided with the kitchen island, while Trev pulled Alice clear.
“Tiff, get off me!” Hannah snapped in annoyance, trying persistently to cut off more strands of her curly ginger hair.
“No! I won’t! I’ll never!” Tiffany insisted. Their movements were strained and wobbly, their similar strength causing a temporary stalemate, where the winner would seem to be the one who could endure the longest.
But Hannah feinted towards Tiffany then pulled away, cutting off another section of her hair with a grim sense of determination.
“Guys!” Josh interjected. “What the fuck?”
Alice looked down at the wild curls that had once adorned Hannah’s head, now creating a surreal tableau on the kitchen floor, before looking back up at the redhead. “Hannah! Stop!”
“Why are you doing this?” Tiffany asked in bewilderment as she successfully grabbed both of Hannah’s wrists, straining to keep them apart. “I don’t want you to.”
“I don’t care what you want, Tiff!” Hannah snapped shrilly. Both girls were breathing heavily now, and Tiffany could clearly see the determined expression on Hannah’s face. “I suggested it. I told them it was your favorite feature, and I told them to make you cut it off. And as I watched, I enjoyed it. I took pleasure from it. So this?”—she glanced at the scissors—“This is only fair.”
“Nothing about this evening has been fair! Don’t do this!” Tiffany insisted. She could see Alice and Josh encroaching from one side of the kitchen island, and Erin from the other. She gave them all a quick severe glance and a shake of her head to get them to stay back. Then she turned back to Hannah, an urgent expression on her face. “You don’t have to do this!”
“Tiffany,” Hannah said in the most serious tone Tiffany had ever heard out of her. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
A sudden, crippling fear clamped around Tiffany’s chest and she instantly tensed up. Those were closer to the words of Hannah under Ross’s control than they were of Hannah, her bubbly talkative roommate. She tried to hold her resolve, but she knew her expression betrayed her.
Hannah took advantage of Tiffany’s reaction to snatch the scissors away. “Enough, Tiff…” she said wearily, holding out a hand to stop Tiffany’s advance. “I’m sorry I said that.” She looked at the scissors and threw them onto the kitchen island with a tension breaking clatter, shaking her head with regret. “Of course I’m not going to hurt you.”
“It’s okay.” Tiffany shook her head briskly, getting her words out through a dry throat. “But please stop, Hannah. Please…”
Hannah chuckled sardonically. “I thought the whole point was you didn’t want me to be taking orders from anyone anymore. Or am I still supposed to kneel for you, Tiff?” She twirled her fingers around another lock of hair, her eyes briefly flitting to where the scissors landed.
“You were never supposed to kneel for me,” Tiffany insisted, gently extending her hand as if doing so would make Hannah surrender the scissors.
“Oh, really?” Hannah sounded amused and incredulous now. “Well then I suppose this won’t mean anything to you?” She looked at Tiffany with a wide eyed empty expression and tilted her head, speaking in an eerie high pitched but otherwise toneless voice. “I am a mindless empty doll. I cannot move or think at all. Mistress likes to play with me. A perfect doll is what I’ll be.”
The words hammered into Tiffany, evoking the memory of her playing with Hannah, Janet, Josh and Erin a few days ago. She had made them all her fun mindless dolls. She couldn’t help but look at Josh, who was nodding his head very slightly while wearing a grim expression. She then glanced at Janet, who was staring hard at her own feet, then Erin, who was glaring at Hannah, looking ready to burst into Tiffany’s defense. But as Tiffany remembered what she did with her dolls, she felt that no defense could be fielded, and her prior words crumbled from underneath her. “I- I- That wasn’t- I mean—“
“It’s okay, Tiffany,” Hannah said with a small smile. “I just wanted to point out that you’re not as different from Ross as you think…”
“I’m nothing like him!” Tiffany snapped defensively.
Hannah gave her a sympathetic stare. “With you, it was subtle, but thrilling. I’d finally gotten a glimpse into your world, your friends. I knew something felt off, but I ignored it because the discomfort was worth the benefits. Or maybe because I was programmed to.”
Tiffany felt an icy chill envelope her. She had brainwashed Hannah, true, but it had been such a light touch she had convinced herself it was barely anything, to the point that Hannah wouldn’t even notice unless Tiffany brought attention to it.
“With Ross,” Hannah continued, her gaze unfocused as she reflected on her experiences, “it was more...intense. Unyielding. No doubts, no second-guessing, just his desires and my compliance. I felt wanted, necessary…” Her gaze met Tiffany’s now, a dark desire in her eyes. “I loved it. He made me feel alive. Confident. Purposeful.”
Tiffany watched her, her mouth dry as her world spun. She could barely believe what she was hearing. She must have deprogrammed Hannah wrong. How could she possibly feel this way?
“Don’t get me wrong,” Hannah sighed heavily, “I know now that objectively, what I was doing was wrong, but you have to understand, at the time, it all felt right, justified, natural even, including taking your hair and hurting you. I’m trying to process that, Tiff, and it’s hard.”
“We can help,” Tiffany said softly. “You don’t have to go through this alone.”
“Tiff…” Hannah shook her head. “I know you mean well, but you need to know I’m really, really angry at you.”
Tiffany nodded grimly. “I can understand that, but—“
“I’m not sure you do,” Hannah interrupted. “You see, when I was under your control, you were like a kid with a gun.” She stared at Tiffany with a bitter expression. “Playing around with it, not appreciating how to use it or how dangerous it was. And that lack of awareness and discipline delivered the Algorithm right into the hands of Ross.”
“Now hold—“ Erin spoke up, having been on the verge of butting in for a while.
“Excuse me! Erin.” Hannah snapped, glaring at the tomboy who was honestly taken aback by the intensity of Hannah’s energy. “I’m not finished.”
She turned back to Tiffany. “When Ross was compiling Lucy’s words, he mentioned a voicemail. He said it nearly worked. And despite this, he was able to do almost exactly the same thing tonight, because nobody was taking any of this seriously enough.”
Tiffany was tight lipped while a storm raged inside her. Her guilt was drowning her while her anger threatened to burst out. Of course they took it seriously! The entire party was a mechanism to brainwash the people who could be a threat to the Algorithm. And it worked!
It just… didn’t go well.
“Ross knew exactly what the Algorithm was, what potential it held, how to claim it and how to use it,” Hannah said with a scolding tone, before stabbing her finger towards Tiffany’s chest. “You let him have it, Tiff. You were supposed to be in control. You were supposed to be looking after us.”
“I…” Tiffany tried. She genuinely didn’t know what to say. She felt shame and anger boil inside her, and a viscous desire to lash out at Hannah, to condemn how easily she became a complete psycho bitch.
But she held her tongue. She knew Hannah had been through such a trauma, she had been brainwashed by Ross of all shitty people. If that didn’t give her a free pass, nothing would.
“So yeah, Tiff,” Hannah stabbed. “I don’t begrudge Ross his malice as much as I begrudge you your ignorance.” Her venom gaze bored into Tiffany as she delivered the killing blow. “He was a monster, sure, but you were worse.”
Hannah’s words stung Tiffany deeper than she ever imagined any words could. She felt a terrible anger and a crippling guilt all at once. Words of protest and rebuttal were boiling up to the surface within her, but she also couldn’t help but know that Hannah wouldn’t be saying that unless she felt it was true. And really, it was. Her emotions came to a head within her, bursting out in loud, ugly sobs.
“I’m, I’m sorry!” Tiffany blurted out between wails, clutching her arms and cringing. “I screwed up and I’m sorry, okay?”
“Tiff…” Hannah’s expression softened as she wrapped her arms around her sobbing roommate, holding on tight as they sank to the ground together. “Yeah… It’s okay…”
“Look, Hannah…” Erin stepped forward in confrontation, but Alice intercepted her before she could say anything else.
“Let them hash this out, Erin,” Alice suggested, moving her away from where Tiffany and Hannah embraced tightly. “Come on, everyone. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Tiffany’s sobs gradually receded over the next few minutes, Hannah holding her tight and staying silent the entire time.
Eventually, once Tiffany had calmed down significantly, Hannah drew away and looked at her with puzzled eyes. “I’m curious, Tiff… Why didn’t you make me forget it all? Why not wipe my mind? Then you’d have the old me back, probably…”
Tiffany shook her head slowly as she breathed out a tense sigh. “I didn’t want to manipulate your mind again. It feels like I’ve done that enough.” Her heart was aching, Hannah’s pain causing Tiffany physical discomfort. “We can make you remember as little or as much as you want. I just…” She paused as a shaky breath overcame her flow. “I just wanted you to have the choice.”
Hannah furrowed her brow in thought. “You know, I appreciate that, Tiff. It’s the least selfish thing you’ve done for me.”
Tiffany nodded stoically. Everything about this conversation was painful for her. But at the same time it was warranted. Deserved, even.
“Well, Tiff…” Hannah sighed, pulling them both to their feet. “I have no intention of sitting down in front of your Algorithm ever again, so I’ll keep the memories and everything that comes with it. As sad as it sounds, it feels like the old me had never really lived. This new me feels particularly messed up, but I’d still take it over who I was.”
“If that’s your decision. I’ll support you,” Tiffany said solemnly. “As best I can.”
Hannah squeezed her tightly. “I know you will, Tiff.” After a few moments of their tight embrace, she drew back and looked Tiffany in the eye before adding, “You have a good heart Tiff. You probably weren’t meant to be the one in control of the Algorithm.”
“What makes you say that?” Tiffany frowned slightly.
“Because there’s no space for indecision when it comes to the Algorithm,” Hannah said, a devious glint in her eyes. “No room for mercy.”
The intensity in Hannah’s eyes made Tiffany shiver. She was finding this aspect of the new Hannah to be unnerving, but she made an effort to hide her discomfort. She placed a hand on her roommate’s shoulder and met her gaze. “You’re probably right, Hannah, but it’s a moot point. Once everyone is deprogrammed and all memories restored to what people want, we’re destroying the Algorithm.”
Hannah tilted her head in surprise. “Really? After seeing everything it’s capable of, you want to let it go?”
Tiffany let out a heavy sigh. “It’s after seeing what it’s capable of that I feel we need to shut it down.” She looked at Hannah earnestly. “I’d be lying if I said I want to, I just think I need to.”
Hannah regarded Tiffany with a casual scrutiny. “So you’re doing what feels right?”
“I am.” Tiffany nodded with pursed lips. “I just want to do right by everyone, after… well after the shit show that was tonight.”
“And you think destroying the Algorithm is doing right by them all?” Hannah frowned a little, letting her skepticism show.
“Well… well, yeah, I mean…” Tiffany faltered. “It’ll stop anyone using it the way Ross was going to use it.”
“And the way you did use it…” Hannah added, giving Tiffany an uncompromising stare.
Tiffany couldn’t look Hannah in the eye. She instead stared at her feet. “Yeah. Exactly.”
“Then I get why you want to do it,” Hannah said softly. She placed her fingers under Tiffany’s chin to raise her head back up so their eyes could meet again. “Hey. You’re doing what you feel is right, Tiff, and that’s great. Even if I feel like it’s missing an opportunity to offer the benefits of the Algorithm to those who were enslaved by it.”
Tiffany shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry I enslaved you Hannah. Truly I am.”
“I know, Tiff.” Hannah smiled faintly, grabbing Tiffany softly by her elbows. “You already apologized to me for that. For my part, I’m sorry I was so cruel and intense to you.”
“You don’t need to apologize for that.” Tiffany mirrored Hannah’s smile. “You weren’t yourself.”
“I was, though,” Hannah said with a look of fascination on her face. “That was me, just a different me, with some traits elevated and others dulled, just like I feel so different now having experienced it all, but I’m still me, aren’t I?”
“Yeah.” Tiffany nodded solemnly. “You are.”
“And I appreciate the apologies, Tiff, and I’m going to work really hard to forgive you, I promise,” Hannah said with a determined nod.
“Thank you.” Tiffany felt fresh tears welling up in her eyes. She felt like the pain of her guilt was starting to recede, even if it was going to be a long process. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you.”
“I will.” Hannah nodded, pulling Tiffany into another hug. Tiffany sank into her embrace. The knowledge that Hannah’s forgiveness could be earned was a balm and a call to action all at once.
“There is something actually,” Hannah said, drawing back from the hug just enough to look Tiffany in the eyes again.
At this distance, it felt oddly intimate as their noses nearly touched. Tiffany simply nodded and whispered, “Anything.”
“Well…” Hannah began, glancing off to the side before staring into Tiffany’s eyes again. “It felt like when I was under Ross’s control and grilling you as per his instructions that you were the most honest you’ve ever been with me…”
Tiffany gulped. She definitely didn’t like where this was going. “I mean…” she hesitated.
“Please don’t backtrack, Tiff,” Hannah urged. “It’s okay. I’m glad all that truth came out. It was refreshing. I actually understand you better now, more than I ever have. But there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about again.”
“Yeah?” Tiffany replied, heart fluttering nervously in her chest.
“You said you wanted to be a slave,” Hannah said with a neutral expression. “You said you wanted your control and agency removed, your choices made for you and to be stripped of your free will.”
Tiffany’s heart pounded in her chest now as Hannah repeated the words she had spoken while naked and exposed to Ross and his sinister harem.
“But you want to be in a position of power when it happens, your multiple slaves turning against you or someone taking them from you and making you one of them, and punishing you severely and stuff. And not just once but over and over again.”
Tiffany listened, feeling a tense energy in her spine, the memory of her sharing this fantasy still all too fresh in her head.
“I guess I’m just dying to know if you really meant all that or if it was just words to keep Ross interested while you figured out your next move…”
Tiffany took several deep breaths. Hannah had given her a perfect way out with her alternative option. She could easily claim that stoking Ross’s interest made him less likely to erase her the way he did Lucy. She could act that it was a lie born of self preservation.
But Hannah had been through an intense brainwashing experience. She has been twisted and abused at Ross’s whim, her inner thoughts and private feelings no doubt laid bare for him to pluck at indiscriminately.
“I really meant it,” Tiffany said in barely a whisper, her cheeks turning scarlet as her heart hammered in her chest. Hannah’s eyes seemed to light up with a keen fascination, and Tiffany found herself continuing, a dizzy compliance coming over her as she felt like her deepest self had been exposed. “I’m not sure how much of it was there before I saw the Algorithm, the Algorithm either shaped it or brought it into focus. But it’s been prominent in my mind this past week because of how much it felt within my grasp.”
“I see,” Hannah said, unconsciously biting her lip. “Sounds like quite the distraction.”
“That’s an understatement.” Tiffany exhaled deeply. “And I’ve been out of control because of it.” She drew away from Hannah and clutched her own arms so she could shrink into herself, once more dropping her gaze. “I nearly found myself submitting to Erin, I did get brainwashed by Alice, that was bad. Then tonight I let Lucy manipulate and outplay me… I even fantasized about being controlled by you.”
Hannah’s eyes sparkled with interest at this. “Really? When?”
Tiffany felt her cheeks burning pink again under Hannah’s keen gaze. “It was before I’d even shown you the Algorithm… That first night I had Erin over…” Her voice was still barely above a whisper. “She had been in control of me, but I figured out she really wanted me to take charge, so I did. But that part of me yearning to submit almost made me drop us both in trance so you could discover us as blank mindless shells to play with.”
“Wow,” Hannah said in awe. Tiffany once more cast her eyes at her feet, so she missed the flash of sinister glee that briefly appeared on her roommate’s face. By the time Tiffany looked up again, Hannah was furrowing her brow in thought. “Honestly, Tiff, the me I was back then would probably have just freaked out at finding you like that.”
“I know.” Tiffany nodded in agreement. “That’s why I didn’t do it. It was one of my better moments, but I hate how little self control I’ve had.”
“Don’t beat yourself up too much, Tiff.” Hannah placed a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder. “I’m not sure if this is going to sound stupid or obvious, but temptation is a very hard thing to resist when it’s something you deeply desire. If I had that fantasy, I’d probably have struggled too.”
“That’s half the reason the Algorithm has to die,” Tiffany said with a pained expression. “So my fantasy can die with it.“
Hannah looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, I suppose you got to experience your fantasy a little tonight, didn’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Tiffany asked with a confused frown.
Hannah clasped her hands together. “Between Lucy and Ross, you were dragged down to the edge of total submission, right?”
“Yeah.” Tiffany nodded uncomfortably. “I guess.”
“And you were in a position of power previously, right?”
Tiffany scrunched up her mouth as she saw where Hannah was going. “Yes, but that was different. Neither Lucy or Ross would have actually looked after me. They didn’t give a shit.”
Hannah leant in, pursing her lips. “But I thought part of it was losing control completely? If that’s the case, you shouldn’t have a say in how you’re treated, should you?”
Tiffany sighed heavily. “No. I shouldn’t. But I still want to.” She deflated over the kitchen island and let out a frustrated groan. “The whole thing is stupid and inconsistent. It happened almost exactly as I keep describing it with Alice, but the reality of it freaked me out when I realized it was actually happening.”
Hannah placed a hand on Tiffany’s cheek, her voice soft and supportive. “It’s okay, Tiff. Maybe you just need some help to figure out what your fantasies translate to in reality, and maybe it’s something you can have without needing to use the Algorithm.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” Tiffany nodded slightly, feeling a strange fuzzy feeling as Hannah’s hand rested on her cheek. It was comforting, reassuring. She looked gratefully at her roommate. “Thanks, Hannah. Really. And once again I’m—“
Using her free hand, Hannah held up her finger to Tiffany’s lips. “Stop apologizing, Tiff.” Her gaze was penetrating and her tone commanding.
Tiffany felt her heart beating faster as she felt paralyzed by Hannah’s soft touch and confident gaze. She definitely wasn’t the same person that had entered the party, and Tiffany wasn’t sure what to do with that. Part of her was terrified she’d messed up the deprogramming somehow, while another part of her was scared that this was simply the result of Hannah’s intense experience under Ross’s control, and that her old overly talkative and excessively bubbly roommate wouldn’t ever return.
Hannah ran her hand over Tiffany’s short hair, her green eyes gazing intently into her. “If I want to cut my hair short like yours, Tiff, that’s my decision. You won’t try to stop me, understand?”
Tiffany nodded slowly, unable to deny Hannah and finding herself captivated by her assertive nature.
“This whole experience has been like an awakening…” Hannah said, slipping her other hand into Tiffany’s. “Honestly, Tiff, despite the horrible things Ross did and nearly did, I hope it brings us closer together, don’t you?”
Tiffany swallowed heavily. What exactly did Hannah mean?
Hannah must have clearly understood her nervousness. “Oh, I’m sorry Tiff…” She shook her head with a casual smile. “I didn’t mean… y’know, that… Just that maybe it’d bring us closer as friends, maybe?” She looked away, shaking her head like she was admonishing herself before returning to meet Tiffany’s gaze with a cool expression. “Of course you’re not interested in me in that way, I’m just your boring, annoying roommate…”
Tiffany found herself shaking her head in protest. “Hannah, you’re—“
Hannah’s eyes seemed to light up with a fierce desire. “Oh? You’re saying you… You… are?”
Tiffany’s words caught in her throat. She was trying to express that Hannah wasn’t annoying or boring, but it felt like the conversation was running away without her.
Hannah’s smile widened, and she stroked Tiffany’s cheek once more. “Well, look Tiff, I’m flattered, but I’m still struggling with how everything played out this evening. Maybe with time it’s something we could explore.” She bored into Tiffany now, somehow managing to sound both wistful and accusatory. “I know you blurred that line between us when you made me your doll… Even though I didn’t have a choice at the time, being posed and undressed by you… feeling your finger glide across my skin and being so lifeless while feeling such pleasure… I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t exhilarating in its own way.”
Her eyes glinted with mischief now as she let her fingertips trail to either side of Tiffany’s neck. “It would only be fair though if it was my turn to pull the strings, and your turn to be the puppet…”
What was happening?! Tiffany was utterly paralyzed by Hannah’s words and actions. This wasn’t the Hannah she knew. She must have missed something when removing Ross’s programming. But what?!
“I… Um… Hannah…” Tiffany rasped through a tight throat. Hannah’s fingertips gently stroking her neck sent incredible tingles down her spine, but it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like Hannah.
“I’m sorry, Tiff.” Hannah drew away her touch and covered her mouth sheepishly, though still gazing at Tiffany with eyes that sparkled with desire. “I don’t want to scare you, and you have Erin… And honestly I’m not ready for anything after all this, I need to do some serious soul searching, you know. Yoga? Some retreat or something? Maybe a montage… I’m not gay, you know… But I’m kinda questioning everything now. Okay…” Hannah stopped herself. “Deep breath.”
Tiffany sighed out the tension that had been coiling around her mind. “It’s okay…” She shakily got herself a glass of water. “Please don’t worry about it.” Somehow, Hannah nearly starting on a tangential ramble was reassuring to Tiffany, a much needed reminder that this truly was Hannah, just… different. New.
“I mean…” Hannah said hopefully, “now we both know what it’s like to be controlled, to be obedient, to be utterly and helplessly devoted to someone, don’t we?”
“Yeah…” Tiffany replied with a weak smile. “I guess we do.”
Hannah looked down at her hair on the floor, pushing it around with her bare toe while lost in thought. “I guess…” she said quietly, still staring down at her feet, “I’m wondering if you’re struggling with the same thing I am.”
“What’s that?” Tiffany asked, a frown of concern flashing across her face.
“That I miss it…” Hannah murmured. She then looked up, part worry, part relief on her face. “Being his slave. Feeling his touch like it was the greatest experience in my life… Being so sure of who I was and what my purpose was, even knowing it was hurting others… Not caring about who I hurt or what I did as long as I was a good girl for him…” She shook her head in self criticism, sighing before saying, “A part of me wants to go to him, wake him up, offer myself up to him and let him make me feel that way again.” Tiffany tensed up in fear of hearing those words, but instead of snapping words of judgment at Hannah, she forced herself to stay silent.
Hannah gave Tiffany a harrowed look before she continued. “But I know doing that would lead to so much suffering, so I’m left feeling angry at myself for even feeling that way.”
It was like looking in a mirror for Tiffany. She walked over to Hannah and wrapped her arms around her. “I know that guilt that’s inside you, Hannah,” she said softly. “It’s the same feeling I hold inside me for both Alice and Lucy.”
Hannah held on tightly to Tiffany, a soft sigh escaping her lips. “Yeah?”
“Oh yeah… In both cases, it was bad news for them to be in control of me, and yet I still miss them both.” She drew back just enough to look Hannah in her conflicted eyes. “I miss the feeling of forced obedience overruling my free will... I miss the pleasure that comes with being completely devoted to my Mistress…” Then Tiffany let out a shaky breath, part of her not believing what she was about to say. “I miss the arousal I feel when I’m forced to do things I don’t want to do, like betray my friends, or engage in the most depraved acts my Mistress can think of.”
Hannah gave Tiffany a stare of admiration and then bit her lip in contemplation. “I… I miss how it feels when I hurt people…” she exhaled shakily, but then chuckled slightly. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do…”
Tiffany chuckled as well, a surreal disbelief in what they were sharing. “I miss twisting a mind around my finger and making them my playthings.”
“I miss coming up with messed up ways to enslave someone for Mast- I mean Ross.” They both laughed at Hannah’s slip, and she rolled her eyes at herself. After the humor had faded, Hannah wiped her brow and clutched her face in an anxious grimace. “Fuck… I think I’m pretty messed up Tiff. I might be for a while.”
Tiffany nodded her head grimly. “I”m so sorry, Hannah. I screwed up so bad, and I’m not just talking about the crap with the Algorithm. I didn’t see past your quirks, and I judged you too quickly when we first started living together. I never gave myself a chance to get to know you properly, and I truly regret that.” Tiffany let out another deep sigh and placed a hand on Hannah’s shoulder. “So yeah, I’m sorry, for all of it, and I hope I can make it up to you.”
Hannah smiled faintly, her eyes warm and grateful. “I know you’re sorry, I’ll come up with some ways you can make it up to me…” she smiled cheekily. “I mostly just need time to process everything, then I’ll probably start feeling like myself again.” She cocked her head to one side. “I know you’re worried about me, but I need you to trust me, okay?”
Her words were like a calming balm to Tiffany’s ears. She didn’t need to overthink this. Of course Hannah wouldn’t emerge from such an ordeal acting as if it never happened. It would surely be more worrying if she did. Tiffany had decided to keep Hannah’s memories of the night intact, so she needed to accept the consequences of that, even if it made her feel uneasy. She found herself nodding to Hannah’s words. “Yes, of course.”
“Good girl,” Hannah whispered as she leant in close, like she was going to kiss her. Tiffany’s breath caught in her throat, and she felt a jolt in her chest. The air between them suddenly felt electric, and Tiffany slowly gulped, finding herself unconsciously leaning in.
Hannah then drew back and burst into a fit of giggles. “Oh, Tiff! You leaned in! You shoulda seen your face just now…”
Her cheeks turning a rosy color once more, Tiffany exhaled the tension away and gave Hannah a humored scowl. “That was evil!” She pouted.
“I know!” Hannah grinned. “But you gotta give me that one…”
“I suppose,” Tiffany conceded, shaking her head to clear it.
Just then, Janet approached them with a stack of paper. “Hey, uh, Tiff?”
“Janet,” Tiffany greeted her with a tired smile. “How are you?”
“Good, thanks.” Janet nodded. “Sorry it took so long, Josh wanted to check it, then we made another version for the other girls in there. I’ve printed out enough scripts to get everyone deprogrammed in here…”
“And in here only, right?” Tiffany asked. “No Josh’s room, no spare bedroom, right?”
“Yes.” Janet cast her eyes at the script quickly. “Like you asked.”
“Excellent. Thanks for that,” Tiffany said, extending a hand towards Janet. “Give me one of those and let’s get started.”
Janet hesitated, a nervous look coming across her face. “Actually, Tiff, they want to see you.”
“They?” Tiffany raised an eyebrow.
“Everyone in Josh’s room.”
“Sounds ominous,” Tiffany looked to the doorway through which the Algorithm sat. “Guess I’ll go then. Can you start deprogramming everyone in here?”
“Absolutely.” Janet nodded briskly. “I’m on it.”
“I’m coming too,” Hannah said with a curious expression, following Tiffany towards Josh’s room.
When Tiffany entered, she immediately noticed the tension in the air. She also immediately noticed that the Algorithm was running, and somebody was sitting in the chair.
Her heart leapt in her chest. What was happening? She instinctively tapped her left thumb and middle finger together three times.
And nothing happened.
Quickly remembering that all of her programming had been scrubbed, including her focus trigger, she instead took in the room as quickly as she could.
At the Algorithm control console was Josh, flanked by Erin and Alice. They seemed to be arguing over the Algorithm’s settings. Marion was leaning against Josh’s dresser, gazing at Tiffany with a frown of concern. Libby was on the bed, clutching her knees in her arms and watching Josh with a distraught expression. Izzy was idly examining Josh’s baseball bat but upon seeing Tiffany enter shot her a glare of outright hostility.
Tiffany’s eyes flickered around the room until she found Trev, partially obscured by the large gaming chair in which victims of the Algorithm had been sitting all night. He was crouched down, gazing up at the face of the person in the chair with glossy, sad eyes.
The person in the chair was the only one Tiffany couldn’t see clearly. But through elimination she knew who it was.
“Lucy...” she murmured. A chill crept down her spine. She instantly knew that something was terribly wrong.