Yew — Chapter Three
The firmament gleamed above the Martian sky. Underneath the birch tree where Eve concealed herself from the retreating drone, she admired it.
Red and blue stars winked at her. Golden suns countless light-years distant sparkled like new gems. Nebulae and the dusty arm of the galaxy’s plane made for a colorful stain against the endless black void.
Watching it wheel overhead, Eve remembered the night not long ago when Kate sat with her at their dorm’s viewport and outlined the major constellations to be found in the vast night sky. Being the first time that they’d managed to properly connect with each other—the first time Eve hadn’t fucked up and stung Kate with some critique of her performance, really—she looked back on that experience with longing.
She picked out the Great Bull, with its distinctive horns and tail. The Eyes of Venus. Apollo’s Bolt. When people had left Earth for Mars, they hadn’t realized until their arrival that the move would alter the constellations. Several astronomers had taken the time to map out the skies and chart out new constellations for the future. It was an undertaking that Kate took a personal interest in.
Kate had pointed to them with a childish fascination, the barriers between them dropping. Eve had listened with a gentle smile and an attentive mind. She would give nothing less to her sister in arms.
Alone, scared, and near the end of her mission, Eve wished she could go back to that time.
She’d left her vigil at the elevator when the two drones stepped out instead of Saira and Kate. Twenty long, anxious minutes had passed, but instead of her comrades the black-clad drones emerged and locked their dead stares on her.
She froze up. Their eyes bored into her, utterly emotionless. Under that regard, Eve felt like a pinned animal beneath the gaze of a hungry predator.
They stalked toward her in eerie unison, and Eve bolted.
The top floor of the Hive was a virtual paradise. Trees and lovingly tended gardens filled the air with the moist sense of life. Tiny pollinators hummed around—Eve found it ironic that Isis Pines would create hives within her Hive—and landed in dozens of varieties of blooming flowers.
Eve sprinted through the gardens, thanking every deity she could think of that Isis Pines hadn’t smoothed the entire place over into a level plane. There were plenty of low walls and bushes to break the drones’ line of sight.
Her heart hammered in her chest. Crouching next to a bush, she listened to the sharp footsteps drawing near.
She drew her breath into her chest and prayed for the woman to miss her. The footsteps slowed to a halt. Eve could hear the drone’s breathing. In the peak of its physical abilities, the drone was barely breathing any faster than before.
Seconds stretched into eternity and Eve’s lungs began to burn from the strain.
The slow tap of the drone’s steps was agony.
“The intruder has evaded capture. Has annadrone found any trace of her presence?”
Eve shivered to hear the drone speak aloud. Like its eyes, its voice was just a touch blanker than the other slaves she’d encountered. Warped into a stronger, tougher blade, personality bled from the veins and obedience filling in the hollow space.
She couldn’t hear the other drone’s reply. It obviously came through the earpieces though, as the drone spoke again: “i have found no sign of the intruder’s presence. i suggest returning to the elevator to stand guard. All other exits from this floor have sufficient security to handle the threat.”
The sound of the drone’s footsteps retreated. Eve sighed deeply, relief a balm to her throbbing heart. The adrenaline souring in her veins was a harsh reminder that she hadn’t slept in nearly two days.
She carefully poked her head out, saw the drone walking away. It had lustrous black hair, shining in the artificial lighting of the geodome. Its ass swayed seductively with each step—nothing to detract from the dangerous aura it put out, but enough to distract Eve’s thoughts briefly.
Thinking on the drones’ exchange did nothing to improve her mood.
‘I’m fucked,’ Eve thought bitterly to herself.
The towering cliff where Isis Pines undoubtedly made her personal abode loomed high above the dome, cut into the earth where it had risen above the rim of the crater. Careful observation by Lilith’s facility had determined early on that there was no exit from that section of the Hive. If the drone was correct, she would need to fight to escape from this place.
Given the dangerousness of the drones, it wasn’t something she looked forward to.
‘Breathe,’ she ordered herself. ‘You’ve gotten out of worse situations than this. You’re smart and fast and dangerous—You have people relying on you to get them home. Finish the objective and go find Kate and Saira.’
The drone was gone. Eve stood and eyed the cliff where Copernico’s greatest threat resided. Her last objective: infiltrate the command center of the Hive and sabotage its hardware. Same as the lower levels, but an order of magnitude trickier for its proximity to the slave mistress.
She set a cautious pace toward the cliff, eyes constantly flickering around the garden, alert for more drones.
It was truly beautiful, she had to admit.
Isis Pines either had immaculate taste, or at least some fantastic botanists in her thrall. Trees dominated the open space, carefully pruned and healthier than if they’d been reared during the summer months of Earth. Insects flitted by, silent to Eve’s ears through the buds, while birds darted back and forth through the treetops.
There was more greenery present than anything Eve had seen since she left Earth; Mars had little space for plant life and less for anything that didn’t produce a crop. Such bounty was unheard of on the wasteland planet.
Scents wafted through the area. Apple trees dripping with sap and heavy-laden with ripened fruit, sweet-smelling and delicious. Strawberries and blackberries and blueberries, each with their own wild beauty, littered the ground.
Far away toward the other end of the garden, Eve saw orange and lemon trees with their bright treasures, smelt their tang faint on the air. Peach and cherry tree with their pink and white blossoms falling lazily from whip-like branches, too.
The trees without fruit were just as well cared for. She smelt sandalwood and cedar on the air as she wove her way along paths cut into black, healthy soil with new-cut stone. Their branches hung high above her head, leaves an impossibly vibrant green.
There were slaves, too. Dressed in forest green and royal blue uniforms, they each tended to differing sections of the garden. One carefully tended to delicate blooming orchids in cast iron pots suspended from a towering maple tree. Another watered the base of an ivy-laced ash tree with a strange green fluid.
It flowed like water but clung to the plants where it touched. It’s soaking touch quickly absorbed into the wood and plant fibers, or else sank into the rich soil. A few fat bumblebees landed on a tangled root to gather droplets of the fluid and carry them away.
One of the royal blue-clad slaves gathered water from a swift-flowing artificial stream and used it to refresh a stone basin—a birdbath—that had been freshly scrubbed clean of slime and moss.
They ignored Eve’s presence, even when she walked right past them. Her controller’s uniform was enough for the mindless women to dismiss her.
A few minutes of walking, however, took her into the heart of the garden, where a towering cedar (not pine? She was shocked that Isis Pines would overlook the significance) dominated a gently sloping hill. A girl lay beneath it, sleeping.
Her body was completely nude. Her long, chestnut hair covered her slight curves like a veil, though beneath it Eve could see her round buttocks and the dimples of her lower back. Her spine was lightly tanned but otherwise unblemished by freckles or birthmarks.
Eve couldn’t see her face—the girl lay facing away from her—but a thick book lay open on the grass beside her.
She hesitated. Slaves in uniform she understood, could predict. Why was this girl naked, where every other soul in the facility was not? Could Eve trust her to not attack?
She knew that this wasn’t Isis Pines herself—her physical description was on file at Copernico. This girl was too short, too slim, and had hair the wrong color for it to be the slave mistress in the flesh.
Eve thought of her training. The hours and hours of hand to hand combat she’d engaged in specifically to fight drones and people like them. Then looked at the slip of a girl beneath the cedar. She smiled.
If she proved a threat, Eve could take her. She walked toward the girl.
The girl smelled like cinnamon.
It was the first thought to cross Eve’s mind as she knelt beside her. Her hair, long, wavy and luscious, had obviously been vigorously washed with product laced with the spice, as the scent covered her like a fine blanket.
This close, she could see the girl’s face now. Heart-shaped, as blemish-free as her back and sublime. Delicate pink lips, parted in her sleep, exhaled a soft, regular breath that sent a few errant locks of hair aflutter. Her elfin nose twitched as Eve grew near and her shadow drew over the girl’s prone form.
Almond-shaped eyes scrunched up and opened. Eve gasped slightly. The girl was beautiful, without a doubt. Many of the slaves within the Hive were, of course, but this girl was different.
She was aware. Her eyes sparkled when they opened, delicate cocoa brown flecked with gold, taking in Eve’s face and her surroundings. Where a slave would awaken mechanically, inhumanly fast, the girl spent a few vital seconds watching her in confusion.
“Did Mistress send for me?”
The drawl was another shock to Eve’s system. Lazy, languid, and utterly unconcerned by her presence looming above her. Like a cat woken on a dozy weekend morning.
Eve’s mouth quirked against her will. The girl was cute, it was undeniable. Her wide eyes—in almost every way unlike the altered and disturbing gaze of the slaves—glistened with the bravado of an adolescent.
“No, I’m afraid,” she replied, trying not to sound as tense as she felt. She hoped the girl wouldn’t pick up on the façade. “Were you expecting to be sent for?”
The girl’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Why’re you waking me up then?” she challenged.
“I thought you might appreciate some help. Hive Philae isn’t exactly the best vacation spot to fall asleep in, you know,” Eve told her, matching her tone. The girl’s eyes had changed. There was calculation in that gold-flecked gaze that set her on edge.
The girl’s mouth tightened, the edges twisting downwards. Her eyes bored into Eve’s, searching her soul for… something.
“Who are you?” the girl demanded, siting up completely.
Her arms were tense. Fists clenched, and leg muscles bunched up as if to leap on Eve at any moment. Eve mentally prepared herself to subdue this slip of a girl should she decide to try her luck against her.
“Eve Layton, you?”
The girl’s eyes roamed Eve, taking in her white controller’s uniform and the black headset snug around her ears. Suspicion warred with confusion on her face as she bit her lip in hesitation.
“…Rebecca. Rebecca Woods,” She said slowly, as if tasting the words before she divulged them. Her almond eyes met Eve’s, accusation flaring. “You’re not a slave.”
Well that was the rub, wasn’t it?
“You are, I’m guessing?” Eve deflected.
The girl was different, that was certain. Those eyes were too intelligent, too suspicious. She bore the distinctive Tyet collar of Pines’ slaves, but not their uniform. Was she a favorite, perhaps? A trusted advisor, or a friend that Pines spared the brainwashing?
“I’m a bed slave. Specially selected by the Mistress herself,” Rebecca said with pride, pulling herself to her feet.
A favorite, then.
Rebecca flipped her long hair over her shoulder, baring her nude body to Eve shamelessly. Her tanned skin bore no lines. Soft curves toned by smooth, pleasing muscle distracted the eye from her breasts, which were small compared to what Eve would expect from Isis Pines’ personal sex kitten.
Her eyes dared Eve to make the first move as she took a few delicate steps back toward the cedar, ignoring the book left open at her feet.
She spoke again before Eve could think of something to say to that, eyes flashing. “I bet you think I’m a poor little victim in all of this, don’t you?”
Eve followed Rebecca slowly up the hill. “You don’t sound victimized,” she said, eyes narrowing.
“No? I thought I’d have the look down by now. Don’t think collar and au natural suits me?”
Rebecca spun around for Eve, her hair fanning out around her in an airy veil. Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she danced a few more steps back toward the tree, back practically against it.
“And you don’t look like much of a hero,” Rebecca mused, eyes shining. “All dressed up in my Mistress’s uniform like that. It looks great on you, actually. Isn’t it comfortable? Perfect for rescuing damsels in style.”
She scowled at the girl. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Rebecca pouted. “Get with the program! You’re supposed to be my hero! Rescuing me from the clutches of the evil dragon… my knight in shining armor!”
Was this girl cracked?
“You want out of here?” Eve asked cautiously. Rebecca didn’t seem like she was eager to get out.
Unexpectedly, she laughed. A quick, sharp staccato mocking Eve and her concern. It stopped suddenly though, Rebecca’s eyes fierce with derision. “Why would I? You might think that the outside world is so much better than it is in here, but you’re wrong.”
“Wrong? Isis Pines is a menace,” Eve interrupted, angry.
“Isis Pines is wonderful,” Rebecca shot back. “You don’t understand—you can’t understand until you’ve been in her service and felt the freedom she gives to all of her slaves.”
Eve’s mouth worked silently for several seconds, flabbergasted. “Freedom?” she spluttered.
“Yes! Freedom! Freedom from responsibility!” Rebecca hissed. “Freedom from pain, freedom from hurt! Freedom from the endless ridiculous ways we suffer when we’re enslaved to our choices! Freedom from a world that doesn’t care!”
The girl suddenly advanced on Eve, who pressed the balls of her feet into the soft grass in anticipation of the girl’s attack.
“You think that the life you have is sooooo fucking nice, don’t you?” Rebecca sneered. “But you’re still stuck listening to your own mistress, still stuck with the arbitrary rules society has laid down for you to follow lest you get canned by public fucking opinion.”
‘She’s been hurt,’ Eve realized suddenly, seeing the bitter glint in Rebecca’s eyes. ‘Badly.’
She wondered how, and by whom.
“Well Mistress has delivered me from that, from all the pain and bullshit of living my own life. I’m a slave and that’s all I need to know, now,” Rebecca continued fiercely, working herself up to a tirade.
Rebecca took another step toward her, putting them nearly nose to nose. Eve could feel her harsh breaths against her lips, tasting faintly of strawberries. Even lower on the hill as she was, Eve was still a few inches taller than Rebecca; the girl was forced to look up to meet her eyes.
Eve looked deep into them.
Suddenly, the fire died down to a quiet shimmer.
“Mistress is my light,” Rebecca whispered softly. “My reason for living, my Purpose. You won’t take that from me. I won’t let you.”
Eve didn’t know how to handle this. It was hard to tell, but Rebecca was most likely one of the few women to seek out a slave mistress on purpose, tired of their lives but not willing to end them. Lilith had told them stories about women like that. They were the worst to deal with; resolute even without conditioning.
Painful to face. Worse to let go. Eve didn’t know what to do.
“You could join my Mistress, Eve,” Rebecca said, soft as a petal’s kiss. Her hands rose to cup Eve’s cheeks with a gentle touch. “She would treat you so much better than Lilith Yew ever could. She wouldn’t ask you to put your life in danger like this, wouldn’t make you risk your happiness for her ambitions.”
An image of herself, kneeling next to Rebecca before the replete body of a faceless woman, mind empty save for devotion, body unclad save for the simple collar of a slave, soul alight with feverish devotion. It played across Eve’s retinas, like the afterimage of a bright flash.
She felt sick.
Eve returned to the moment staring at the slave, stunned and disturbed. Anger boiled in her gut that the girl could have such nerve. That she could inflict Eve with such an image of herself so debased.
Taking her silence as hesitation, Rebecca pushed. “You could be a bed slave with me. You’d look amazing in just the collar,” she stroked Eve’s cheeks with her thumbs. “You can forget the worries and anxieties eating away at you. My sister-slave. We can worship our Mistress together.”
Eve grasped the girl’s wrists, pulling them away from her face. Her eyes were hard. Rebecca’s stared into them with desperate longing.
“I’m sorry,” Eve said, reigning in the harsh edge threatening to creep in. Who did this girl think she was? “But that isn’t going to happen.”
She didn’t quite know what she intended to do next, but Rebecca made the matter simple by deciding it for her. Soft brown orbs hardened, and the hands Eve held in her grasp tensed—and shoved her. Hard.
Eve tumbled backwards, her balance ruined by the incline and Rebecca’s unexpected strength.
Rebecca took off, sprinting away on long legs, her hair fanning out behind her in a long, fluttering wave.
She shouted back over her shoulder, voice high with the anger of the spurned.
“If you won’t choose it, I’ll choose for you!”
Rolling to her feet and cursing her luck, Eve leapt after her.
‘Can’t let her get to the drones!’ She thought desperately. She couldn’t handle three slaves together; she had doubts on her ability to take two at once already.
She gained ground quickly. Rebecca was lean and fast, with long legs that flashed like gold in the artificial light, but Eve had the benefit of years of physical training. Long hours taking tips from Kate, with her background as a track star, had shaped her into an excellent runner.
She wished Rebecca was clothed, though. Her shapely ass was nearly as distracting as her hair.
Eve was close behind the girl as she broke through the tree line. The doors into Pines’ headquarters stood open, letting in the artificial breeze and the scent of the garden. Rebecca sped up, breath coming in harsh pants as she struggled to outpace the agent.
Eve thanked Isis Pines’ decorating taste as she tackled Rebecca to the ground. The plush carpeting probably saved her several bruised bones as they skidded a full meter before stopping.
Eve’s chest rose and fell evenly, a dusting of pink on her cheeks as she regarded the defiant slave below her. Rebecca, for her part, squirmed and wriggled relentlessly, trying to break the iron grip Eve had on her wrists.
“You know,” Rebecca panted. “You only…had…to ask… if you wanted me… pinned underneath you.”
“Shut up,” Eve ordered flatly. “I need to think of what to do with you now.”
Because she had no idea. She could knock the girl out, but that left her with the question of what to do with her unconscious body. Carrying her all the way back out into the garden might work, but she was on a time limit before the final power outage occurred.
Rebecca wiggled her hips underneath her. “You sure you can’t think of anything?” she taunted.
Eve gave her a dark look.
Understanding Rebecca’s attitude was beyond the limits of her patience. Approaching her was rapidly turning into the biggest mistake she’d made on the mission, only surpassed by the decision to split up with Kate and Saira.
Rebecca bit her lip, eyes looking down from Eve’s stare below her chin, at her body looming over hers. Eve had a split second to tense as the light of inspiration lit up within those brown orbs.
Long, golden legs leapt upwards to wrap around Eve’s waist. Rebecca twisted her body roughly, sending Eve off-balance. They rolled, Rebecca wrapping herself insistently around her, arms encircling Eve’s neck, one below her arm.
Eve struggled against the bear hug, but Rebecca held on like an insistent tick.
Then she started yelling.
“Intruder! Intruder in the main lobby! I need help! Please! Security!”
“Shut up!” Eve snarled, pushing against the girl clinging to her like her life depended on it.
“No!” Rebecca replied with equal vitriol. “You’re trying to take me away from Mistress! I won’t let you! Security!”
Eve reached up to dig her fingernails into the soft muscle below Rebecca’s shoulders. The girl released her grip with a shrill cry of agony, her upper body falling away as Eve leapt to her feet. Rebecca’s legs let go as well, their tight hold around Eve’s waist ruined.
‘Time to go!’
Eve made to run down one of the numerous halls leading into the bowels of the facility—the rift wall was rife with different passages, each richly carpeted and adorned with fantastic works of expensive-looking artwork.
Rebecca tackled her from behind, flinging herself against Eve hard enough to send them tumbling once more.
Eve heard the far-off, muffled sound of doors slamming. Drones. She was on a time limit. She hoped they wouldn’t run too fast.
“Mistress will love you, Eve,” Rebecca panted into her ear as she pressed herself against her. Her body weight wasn’t anywhere close to being enough to pin Eve to the ground, nor was she strong enough, but her dead weight was enough to keep her trapped while she clung on.
“You’re so beautiful,” she continued, voice tinged with adoration. For Eve herself, or for the thought of her Mistress, Eve had no idea. “Your hair and eyes…and this tight, tight body…”
To Eve’s mortification, Rebecca’s hands started roving her body as she tried to pull away, slipping underneath the vest-top from below to cup her breast, thumb teasing over her nipple. Eve hated her body at that moment, as both peaks hardened in an instant. The slave girl’s lips teased over the side of her neck, leaving butterfly kisses and nibbles against the thin skin there.
Her other hand reached up to pull away the thoughtcontrol headset.
It came away with her earplug as well. Music flooded into Eve’s senses.
Fear turned to panic in an instant.
Eve threw the girl off her with a burst of adrenaline-fueled strength and pulled herself to her feet. The footsteps were drawing close. Rebecca fell on her ass but quickly recovered, sprinting after Eve with unquenched fervor. Eve made it a mere ten feet before the girl’s weight slammed into her once more.
She rolled, tucking her knees against her chest so that Rebecca was unable to get a firm grip on her. It worked until Rebecca twisted to the side, clinging to Eve from there as desperately as before. The girl giggled playfully, eyes lit up from within.
“Just give up Eve. Let the drones take you away and make you like me,” she crooned.
An image of Eve, next to Rebecca, worshipping at the feet of a featureless mistress. Her naked body entwined with the slave girl, lovingly, lustfully reminiscent of their current position.
Eve’s stomach twisted.
Her arms were free this time, she realized. She reached up to Rebecca’s cheek, just as the girl had done to her below the cedar. Rebecca’s eyes shone.
She drew her fist back and clocked Rebecca over her temple. Her brown eyes widened in shock before they glazed over in unconsciousness.
Eve pushed the slave girl off her. Rebecca didn’t rise this time. Her chest moved slowly up and down.
Footsteps approached. They were too close.
Eve looked down the central hallway. Empty eyes bore into her with the intensity of a laser as the first drone rounded the corner at a dead run, followed by two others.
Music in her ears, Eve lunged to her feet and sprinted off one of the side passages. Her chest ached from the multiple impacts with the ground, softened by the carpet as they had been. She would bruise in the morning.
She barely outpaced the drones as they ran after her.
The adrenaline singing in her veins revitalized her limbs as she put every ounce of her training to the test. The drones were fast, but they did not have the additional incentives Eve had to evade their grasp.
She didn’t want to fail Lilith. Her team. Her new home in Copernico. She didn’t want to lose her freedom or become the bed slave that Rebecca would convince her mistress to turn Eve into.
And continued to think. A boon the drones did not have.
Rounding a corner several steps ahead of the drones, she flung open the nearest door, nearly pulling her arm from its socket as her body continued forward with its momentum.
Behind her, she heard the drones slam into the unexpected obstacle with jaw-rattling force. The door snapped off its hinges and sent the three women into a pile of tangled limbs.
She rounded several more corners and slowed down, gently opening a door and slipping inside the empty room. She carefully shut the door behind her, mindful of the sound it might make.
It was a bedroom, fully outfitted with queen-sized bed, tables, chairs, entertainment center, the works. Eve walked with deliberate slowness to the closet nearby and sank down against its inner wall, closing the door behind her.
Her world enshrouded in darkness, Eve let the ordeal catch up to her.
She panted raggedly. Adrenaline soured in her veins. Her ribs ached with forming bruises. Her nipples rubbed against the inside of the uniform, unwanted arousal from Rebecca’s well-trained touch still tinging her body with even more heat.
Eve dropped her head against her knees and sighed, forcefully slowing her breathing down as tears fell down her cheeks. She had these few moments to recollect herself.
In the quiet dark of the room, with her body crashing from its several-faced high, Eve reflected.
She was afraid.
Because she was alone. Her team was likely in terrible danger. Because the image of her, collared and docile, still played across her eyes like a specter. And because the room was not truly quiet to her.
Music played, audible through her single, defenseless ear.
The fear in her gut intensified.
Saira placidly accepted Kate’s attentive hands on her flesh as the shower’s spray washed over them.
The room she’d been carried to was for washing. Kate was happy to explain that she would first be cleaned up before receiving her first full-body oiling and uniform. Most preslaves were usually sent directly to conditioning, but Kate was happy to take responsibility for her friend while the music reshaped her softened mind into the picture of devout obedience.
Her childlike glee at the thought was both cute and depressing to Saira.
The drugs working through her system kept her docile to Kate’s ministrations. She let her friend strip her down completely without resistance and accepted the spray of water without comment. The hot water was pleasant. Letting her muscles relax and her sinuses open in the humid air let her briefly pretend that she wasn’t in the middle of a personal nightmare and was slowly losing the battle for her own mind.
The heat helped her forget, for a time.
Her earplugs had been removed with the uniform. Suffice to say she now understood Yseult’s worry when they’d entered the facility. The subliminals were indeed potent beyond Saira’s expectations.
The conceit of relaxation didn’t last long. Kate could barely keep her hands to herself, and soon they were wandering all over Saira’ body with soap and product abound.
Tender caresses and bold groping mixed together as Kate took the liberty to familiarize herself with Saira’s physique. Saira closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool tile, letting it happen.
Saira was not lesbian per se, but she’d long been aware of her friend’s more-than-platonic infatuation with her. Given time she might have grown curious enough to explore the relationship further.
This, however, felt wrong. Rushed. Kate was not herself, and Saira was too vulnerable to protest. The arousal joining the drugs in her bloodstream did nothing to quell the rising tide of despair raging through her.
At least Kate’s commentary was flattering. She’d no idea the triangle of dark hair between her thighs would be in the least attractive—Saira hadn’t dated in a long time, and when she had nobody had ever gotten far enough to see that. She’d always viewed body hair as an inconvenience she needn’t bother about until she found her perfect other.
To say the least, Kate herself was attractive. All lithe muscle and perky flesh. The athletic blonde had scars from her past life, but they did nothing to detract from the statuesque beauty she possessed in spades.
Saira dimly realized the shower spray had shut off.
The music was muddling her worse than the drugs. She could feel her body slowly beginning to respond to her commands with increasing frequency, but the music made her ever less likely to want to take advantage of it. It was so much easier to relax into its melody and allow her body to ride a wave of docile subservience.
Kate took her hand and drew her into the next room. A group of slaves waited for their turn at the oiling station, where a slave woman dressed in an amethyst-colored uniform coated their bodies in slick, gleaming oil.
Kate babbled on, the words lost to Saira as she cut ahead of the rest of the uncomplaining slaves. She dragged Saira with her by the hand.
Saira felt like her entire body was melting under the heat. The hot water and the presence of dozens of gleaming, beautiful bodies with pliant, youthful flesh was getting to her, rising to her head where it mingled with the music seeking to melt her from the inside.
Kate let go of her hand, whispering encouragement to Saira before she turned and leaned her head back as the slave coated her in oil. Saira saw her body go slack, expression draining from her face like water down the drain.
She was finished quickly. The slave ordered Kate to continue into the next room.
Her friend didn’t look back at Saira. She merely obeyed, and that was all.
The slave turned to her and ordered her to move up. Saira felt her softened mind respond sluggishly to the music, urging her to obey.
She turned away and walked out of the room, hanging on to her sanity by threads forged from steel.
It was hard. So hard. To walk away. It was nearly painful. It was painful. Like looking into the face of a loved one and spitting on them. Like turning down a drink of cool water in the middle of a desert. Like declining a meal when starved near to dying.
Saira said goodbye to Kate in her mind, the sentiment powerful amidst the whispers and the melodies. A sorrow-filled ballad to its seductive serenade.
Saira strode with measured steps down the hall. She would check the industrial elevator and see if she couldn’t escape out the way she’d come in. The mission was finished; escape was her only option.
She needed to escape before she didn’t want to escape.
Her mind drifted as she marched, following her route through the halls with robotic precision. Her steps fell into a familiar rhythm that soothed her as much as it worried some fading part of her.
Her mind was melting. It was so hot.
The music was so loud in her quiet mind.
She turned the corner and fell into step with a group of green and blue-clad slaves, led by a single slave in white. A controller.
Could she lead Saira to her salvation?
The steel wires quivered in the furnace her mind had become. The music licked at them like tongues of flame.
She was a wax doll melting in the sun.
Saira only realized the group had halted when the controller turned around to look her in the eyes. She couldn’t find it within herself to wonder why that was.
The controller’s lips moved. They were red, like carmine. Like a vampire’s.
The group moved on. Saira followed the controller in the other direction.
She was melting.
The music was like cool water, yet it boiled away her identity as effectively as any crucible.
She returned to the shower. The controller stripped off her white uniform and washed Saira again. She whimpered as the hot water ran down her skin, shuddering.
The controller took her hand, leading her forward. Saira had no headset to guide her steps.
The oil was cool against her skin as the slave in the amethyst uniform sprayed her down. It was marvelously soothing.
The controller was sprayed down behind her—Saira could hear it, though she did not look back after the slave’s orders entered her ears.
The oil and the music soothed her burning mind. The steel threads had long since pulled away from each other, melted ends heated white hot and painful until the soothing music cooled them into a new shape.
She felt it molding the hot wax her mind had become into something more becoming of her new status. Saira couldn’t find it within herself to care. She couldn’t find anything within herself, really. It was all freezing up, hardening like a snuffed candle.
They didn’t put her in a uniform. Another slave dressed in white told her to follow her and Saira did.
Her mind, now frozen in the shape of obedience, could do nothing more.
Lilith strode briskly into the elevator atrium. Several dozen slaves waited passively for their turn in neat, organized lines or rectangular formations. Evelyn trailed behind her, her white controller uniform usually enough to make security pass over them unquestioningly.
When she was in the lead, at least.
Lilith had no patience for subtlety any more, though. Evelyn’s story—heartbreaking, tragic, painful for her to listen to without falling into another rage—had shattered it as effectively as any meeting with Earth’s Administration.
The four security drones in the room each turned their heads as one to look at her.
She had no uniform. She was armed. Evelyn walked behind her, rather than in front as a controller would.
They started forward, black wasps ready to sting her into submission.
Lilith stepped forward to meet the nearest drone, drawing her taser and slamming it into the woman’s midsection. It twitched violently, electricity robbing it of its sensory control despite the iron grip its conditioning had over its mind. It dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.
Its partner lunged at Lilith with its baton, cold, empty determination in its eyes. Lilith grabbed its wrist in an iron grip and wrenched it closer, driving her knee up into its solar plexus.
Air left the drone’s lungs in a great huff. Lilith ripped the baton from its insensate fingers and smacked away the next drone’s strike with consummate ease, letting her previous target slump to the ground and attempt to reclaim its ability to breathe.
The two remaining drones circled her, one to her left, one to her right. Lilith eyed them, calculating. As one they lunged forward with their batons.
She dove between the right drone’s knees, coming up behind it, seizing its shoulders, and spinning it around. She pulled it close and drove her knee up into its ribs, same as the last. She was even less gentle than last time and felt the telltale crunch of snapping bone as its lower ribcage gave way.
The drone crumpled with a choked whimper, then fell silent.
She vaguely hoped it wouldn’t suffocate before its comrades could help it.
The last drone eyed its scattered fellows and Lilith, obviously un-cowed despite its vastly reduced chances for victory. It lunged. Lilith dispatched it with the same ease as the others.
Detached, she looked at the slaves around her in their colorful uniforms. Blank, wide stares set in unfamiliar faces. Controllers, with their veiled calculation, watching her with just a tinge of hostility.
She stared back, challenging.
She turned away and strode forward, leaving the drones in their crumpled heaps, and claimed an elevator for herself and Evelyn, punching in the button for the surface level.
She was out of patience.
Eve’s thoughts felt like they were swimming through thick, sweet honey.
She’d left the closet and room that had sheltered her from the drones mere minutes before, the halls now blessedly bereft of the sound of patrolling drones. Perhaps they’d abandoned their search for her.
That would be nice.
Something about that felt wrong. Mistaken. Isis Pines was no fool, to leave such a breach in her security alone and uncorrected. Eve’s training flared and complained as she dismissed the worry with an idle hand.
Why should she worry? It was good to not encounter the security. The drones scared her. She was strong, but they were probably stronger, less inhibited by worries for her safety.
A picture of the drones fretting over her unconscious body came to mind, one gesticulating wildly at its comrade, the other checking her pulse, their entire conversation bland and dead yet nevertheless funny to Eve’s mind.
‘annadrone should not have struck the intruder so hard. It did not deserve such callousness.’
‘terridrone is being obtuse. The intruder felt nothing. Its struggles ceased immediately. Its consciousness fled it without struggle. terridrone would have prolonged the suffering.’
‘annadrone enjoys violence too much.’
‘terridrone forgets that annadrone is a drone. Drones are made for violence.’
Eve giggled at the mental picture, swaying on her feet. She felt so light, haze floating through her thoughts like she’d drunk too much of the Ward sisters’ whiskey.
She didn’t quite remember what she was supposed to be doing. The power had flickered off not too long ago, scaring her terribly for some reason she couldn’t quite catch. She felt like she was forgetting something important.
The music pulsed, and Eve giggled again. Worrying about those kinds of feelings seemed ridiculous now. Worry made her afraid and she hated to be afraid. Her body was achy and hurt and she felt the sour burn of lactic acid in her weary limbs. Leaving the bedroom and its soft, warm bed had been far more difficult than she had anticipated.
But she had…something…to do. She couldn’t remember what, but it was more important than sleeping. She shouldn’t have stayed in the closet for so long, really, but it had been so easy to just lean against the wall and listen to the pretty music soothe her racing heartbeat and wipe away the pesky fears and anxiety plaguing her.
Maybe Rebecca would find her, and they could talk some more. Now that Eve felt a little less high-strung and rushed, they could probably get to know each other better without the fighting. Rebecca was strong! Stronger than she seemed. Eve brushed her fingers over her ribs, feeling the dark bruise that ached and pained her.
Rebecca was stronger than she seemed.
Eve hummed dizzily as she tottered through the halls. She didn’t know where she’d learned the tune, but it made her feel strangely happy and floaty. Everything else seemed to melt away save for the music.
The music! That’s where she’d learned it. It was telling her where to go. Eve felt grateful for that. She didn’t really know where she was supposed to be, or what she was supposed to be doing. The music was being helpful.
She’d long since pulled out the other earplug keeping it out of her head. It had seemed like a bad idea at the time but was just so tempting. She’d already lost one, though, and the music was already getting to her, so it didn’t seem like that big a problem.
It had gotten a lot louder and clearer for her when she let the plug drop to the floor. Eve felt a lot better really fast after that.
She stepped onto an elevator—it closed and started moving before she even pressed a button! Eve smiled at that. It was so convenient, she didn’t know where she was going but the elevator did. It didn’t question itself. It knew what it was for. Making the decision for her, she felt like it was giving her advice; a little nudge out of the door to find herself.
Eve stepped out of it way too soon. The ride felt too short to be normal. The elevator music was much better than usual. She might have zoned out a little bit listening to it.
She giggled. She wasn’t usually so spacey.
It opened to a long, circular hallway, leading off in both directions. Art lined the walls. Expensive, beautiful art. The owner had excellent tastes, Eve thought. One depicted a big garden with a tree and some people in it. The woman was eating some sort of fruit (Eve felt a tickle in the back of her mind at this).
Another was a city in flames. Stone walls cast down while an army poured through the gap, setting fire to the innards, taking its inhabitants for their own and melting down many of the beautiful statues within. A very pretty one showed a woman with raven-black hair (much darker than Saira’s) and a snake-topped staff standing in a boat floating across a beautiful, clear lake. Eve saw faeries and a misty isle with apple trees abound behind her.
Then there were doors, and Eve looked at them for a long time with hooded eyes before she thought that it would be a good idea to knock.
She felt so tired.
Exhaustion wavered all over her body as Eve came to that realization. The doors slid open for her, revealing a vast room lined with computer terminals and a beautiful panoramic view of the Martian landscape and the garden with its geodome covering below. Slaves dressed in white uniforms (each with silver and blue markings down the sides) worked quietly at their terminals, monitoring various screens and processes.
Eve hesitated before taking a lazy step forward. Dizziness nearly toppled her where she stood.
“Welcome, Eve Layton,” a grand voice rang out from within the room, washing over Eve like the tide.
Eve focused her gaze (it had fallen out of focus at some point, everything was so blurry, it was so easy to just tune out and let her body move on its own) on the center of the room, where a large chair (throne) carved of expensive white marble stood. Red velvet lined the plush seat. The color matched the woman who occupied it.
Her red dress was crimson. Not the petty shades any tramp can buy for a night on the town. Crimson like blood. Crimson like the sunrise after a season of wildfires. Crimson like the pain-haze of the masochist. It matched the color of her lips exquisitely, contrasted her creamy skin deliciously. Eve blinked at the woman like she’d been clubbed over the head by one of the drones.
Isis Pines smirked at her over a glass of wine held carelessly in one hand, taking a delicate sip as Eve staggered forward.
Eve dropped like a stone, her knees crashing into the floor with jarring force.
She barely noticed.
“I must congratulate you on your arrival here, Eve,” Isis said winningly to her. “Neither I, nor my devoted slaves here around you, noticed it until one of your friends ran afoul of one of our technicians. Kate’s been a grand help in catching the four of you, you know. We’ve been on guard and monitoring your progress since she succumbed and gave you away.”
“Of course, we were already trying to find out what was causing those pesky power outages, but we’d not even suspected foul play until dear Kate let us know,” she laughed, the sound rich with a strange tone that Eve couldn’t identify.
She stared dumbly at the slave mistress.
Grey eyes peered at her over the delicate hand that rose to cover her lips as she laughed. She was painfully refined. Honey-blonde tresses fell carelessly over elegant shoulders bared by her dress.
The hand fell away. Eve watched helplessly as Isis Pines regarded her with that shrewd gaze.
“Now what to do with you, Eve? You’re the penultimate triumph I’ll be claiming for today, so I’d rather enjoy savoring you myself. Rebecca wasn’t wrong when she said you have a lovely, tight little body.”
“But you weren’t so inclined to let Rebecca claim you for herself, were you? You fought her like a wildcat. I like that. Breaking women like you is always a delightful challenge, and I can only imagine what it would be like to feel that spunk beneath the sheets. You won’t resist me of course, the subliminals lacing the music threading through your soft little mind has already taken care of any of that.”
She was so tired…
“I could make you my little spy, you know. You’re very good at it—your team as well. Yseult, Ciara, Kate and Saira will all make fine additions to Philae once they’re thoroughly brought within my thrall. I could have you infiltrating all these different facilities dotting my planet. Or I could go with Rebecca’s idea and make you my little bed slave… Mm… You’d make a fine addition to my bedchamber…wildcat, or sex kitten, I could have both whenever I’d like…hm?”
Isis looked away from Eve. One of the terminal-slaves had captured her attention. Eve couldn’t hear their conversation. She could think of no reason to listen in.
The slave mistress turned back to her, seemingly delighted.
“Well Eve! It looks like I’ll be dealing with two birds at once. I already have one right in the bag, but the other will make for quite the feast.”
Eve had no idea what she was talking about. It was too much or her mind to handle. She was thinking through honey. Isis Pines’ words coated her thoughts in a thick syrup glaze.
Isis seemed content to wait for whatever it was that was so important in silence—minutes passed like seconds for Eve, who was mere steps from falling into a total and abyssal trance as the music sloughed through the sticky sweet coating of her thoughts.
The door opened behind her. Two sets of feet walked in. One exchanged words with Isis. Eve couldn’t quite make out anything that was happening until one cool hand touched her shoulder.
“Are you alright, Eve?”
Eve made a muzzy, quiet sound somewhere between a purr and a hum, turning her head to look at her director with eyes wide with confusion.
The hand stroked her hair, and Eve melted into the touch with relief so profound it hurt. Her neck loosened, and she found herself nuzzling into Lilith’s leg, covered as it was in the light, smooth material of her black exosuit.
She looked up to meet Lilith’s green eyes, her own so so tired. They were filled with worry for her. So much that Eve felt her heart melt with gratitude. The glaze cracked under the force of that emotion; a trickle of painful realizations seeped from her frozen mind.
She had failed her mission.
She had failed her team.
She had failed Lilith.
“Are you okay, Eve?” Lilith seemed even more concerned that she’d had to ask her brightest pupil twice so simple a question.
Eve parted her lips; saying the word seemed so difficult now… “…No…’M not…” she said slowly. Her head fell back to Lilith’s thigh and laid there. She could see Isis watching them with amusement plain to see on her refined features.
“Okay Eve,” Lilith said slowly, her voice cracking. “Just leave it to me. I’ll take care of things from here. You did good, now you can relax and rest.”
“Rest and sleep now for me.”
That sounded so nice…
“Rest and sleep…”
Lilith’s voice was like a siren’s song. Eve listened. The music had taught her well. Eve knew when to obey.
Her eyes fell shut and her mind dissolved.
Lilith glared at Isis Pines as Eve slumped away from her leg, Evelyn kindly catching the girl and pulling her off to the side. The slave mistress was far, far too smug about Eve’s submission for Lilith’s tastes.
She had every reason to be, but it pissed Lilith off all the same. Her fists clenched, imagining the woman’s bones crunching underneath them like the drone’s ribs before her knee.
“You think this is funny?” Lilith asked quietly, dangerously. Isis smiled at her around her hand.
“Oh Lily, you have to admit that it has its ironies,” the slave mistress replied. “I’ve kept tabs on Copernico’s newest recruits—as best I could, what with your security being what it is—and the five you delivered to me tonight were just delightful entertainment. I was worried!”
“They’re not yours to keep.”
“But they are!” She laughed, savoring the words. “And you know it.”
Isis smiled and stood from her throne, taking a few elegant steps down from the marble seat to stand at Lilith’s level. Her smile was as grand as her appearance. Lilith hated it.
“You might have converted my dear little controller there, but right now all of your little agents are mindlessly happy slaves in my employ, or will be in the next hour or so,” Isis said. She spread her arms wide, “Everyone in this facility is mine. Mine to do with as I please, my property. My possessions. My blissful worshipers, disciples all.”
Lilith remained silent.
Isis seemed to appreciate the gesture, the edges of her eyes quirking upwards. The effect was less effective than if she looked her age (her file reported her age to be in the mid-sixties, but she didn’t look a day over twenty) and had crow’s feet to crinkle, but nevertheless made her look as friendly as if she were sharing a private joke with Lilith.
“I wanted you, you know. Have wanted you—for a long, long time. Still want you.”
She looked hungry, suddenly.
“Every slaver, Earthbound or like me here on Mars, has wanted to see the most powerful woman alive kneeling at their feet, bound by their chains,” she confided, moving to circle Lilith, Evelyn having pulled Eve off to the side to spectate. “All attempts? tried and failed.”
Lilith knew what she spoke of. Attempted kidnappings. Systems hacked to try and catch her in a subliminal net. Drugged foods and drinks. Her life had been plagued for years.
Isis’ voice dropped to a whisper as she stepped close to Lilith, her lips mere inches from her ears. “It just makes this moment sweeter. My triumph. Claiming you as mine.”
The slave mistress pulled away, her smile naughty as Lilith scowled at her. “What makes you think you’re going to be the one walking away from here a free woman, Isis?” she asked. “I am well within my remit to arrest you here and return you to Earth for imprisonment. With your track record, they might even have you executed.”
Isis giggled. “But that would require you talk to your Administration, Lily!” she said lightly, voice floating on a high mocking her.
She turned away from Lilith abruptly, walking past her throne toward the massive window, gesturing for her to follow.
With a glance toward Evelyn and Eve, Lilith shrugged and turned to join the slave mistress in gazing outside.
“I’ve heard about your difficulties with the Administration, you know,” Isis told her quietly as she joined her leaning on the window sill, finally dropping the persona she’d worn for Eve. Lilith appreciated the decision; candor was the way to her heart over manipulation.
“I have spies too, like I said. They’re not half bad at keeping tabs on what’s going on amongst my enemies. I know you’ve been having trouble keeping up with their demands and attempts to keep you below them.”
“My problems with the administration are hardly unique among modern leaders,” Lilith retorted without heat. She could see where Isis was going with this and restrained the urge to bristle at the implications.
It troubled her to no end, that her probing touched nerves Lilith had long since kept well-guarded. Her problems were apparent to any who knew her but hearing them so baldly brought up by the woman Lilith had long considered an enemy was unpleasant.
“Not me,” Isis replied simply. “The Hive doesn’t work like that—my word is law, and there is no disagreement.”
“Easy for you, when your subordinates can’t summon the thought to disagree in the first place.”
Isis turned to look at her, her grey eyes swimming with compassion. “But no less true. I can’t imagine the hurt you must feel when they tell you that you can’t keep people like my wayward Olivia, or that you can’t expand the colonization efforts to try and rehabilitate Mars. It was your dream to make it inhabitable for life, wasn’t it? You wrote several papers on it before all of this began if I recall correctly.”
She’d done her homework. Lilith grudgingly gave her a few points for that.
“Yes,” she admitted tiredly. “But that would cut too far into their profits. People are happy to follow me here, but only so long as it makes them money. If anything gets in the way of that—like you, like Olivia, and like my dreams—then it’s either swept aside or eliminated entirely.”
Isis took Lilith hand in her own, fingers dancing over her knuckles in sympathy. “And that hurts, doesn’t it? If there’s one thing I’ve ever learned about Lilith Yew, it’s that she wears her heart on her sleeve and bleeds for the lowest of the low when she can’t do anything to help, and that she dreams with the passion and ambition of any ten people combined.”
“Yes, it hurts,” Lilith growled, her temper flaring up. “But if you think that’s enough for me to drop my allegiances in favor of yourself, then you’ve got a lot to learn. You are just as big a problem as any of the Administration.”
Isis drew back in affected hurt. “Me! Nobody in my employ has ever regretted joining—not a one is anything less than perfectly happy!”
Did she think Lily was an idiot, with all this pretension? She’d dropped the act she’d put on for Eve, but this false sympathy grated on her nearly as badly. She’d almost thought the slave mistress was trying to be genuine. Almost.
But apparently not. Lilith was done playing this game.
She turned away from the view—it was truly magnificent, she had to admit—and faced Isis head on, advancing aggressively towards the unnerved slave mistress.
“You,” she growled, jabbing a finger at the Isis. “Rob people of their freedom whether they will it or not. You might ensure they’re happy, but there was never a choice in the first place for them. You don’t care one whit about the women you’ve enslaved, any more than any two-bit slaver back on Earth.”
Isis opened her mouth to protest, but Lilith spoke over her. “You don’t care—you have never cared save to aggrandize yourself and enhance your ego. You think that coming to Mars marks you as somehow superior to all of the other slavers with their mindless thralls, but you only reveal your vanity and self-delusions!”
She was shouting now, though not yet screaming at the woman, who seemed shocked that Lilith would so reveal her temper like this. It was still loud enough for the slaves manning the terminals to look over in mild concern. Isis jerkily shook her head at them though, and they returned to their work obediently.
“You think you can win me over with pretty words and platitudes,” Lilith snarled. “But I am not so cheap. I am not some pretty bitch with a brain and some fame for you to pluck for your collection, and you are not the kind of person I would ever accept even for a partnership, much less to subordinate myself to you!”
Isis took the opportunity to step back into the conversation while Lilith took a breath.
“Fine!” she growled, eyes flashing like lightning through grey storm clouds. “You think I’m arrogant, vain, egotistical? Fine! My slaves are happy though, and I can make you happy! You wouldn’t need to worry about the fucking idiots in the Administration, or about taking responsibility for people you can’t protect—you wouldn’t have to worry about anything!”
Lilith blinked. Isis pressed her advantage.
“You think my methods are bad?” she asked harshly. “Fine. So, what? The result is the same. You go in however you are before, you emerge blissfully happy to do whatever I say. And that’s what matters—to me, and to you. They all come out happy. I can make you happy, Lily.”
Her eyes were passionate, flecked in their depths with the same hunger Lilith had glimpsed before. She wanted Lilith’s loyalty; knew it had to be by choice—knew that Lilith could easily overpower her if she so chose, and that the sole remaining method she and her peers had failed to employ against her was persuasion.
“I can erase all of those worries from you mind. I can release you from the grief and anxiety that keeps you awake at night and haunts your darkest nightmares,” Isis promised, moving closer so that she was nearly nose to nose with Lilith. Lilith was perhaps an inch taller than her, so that Isis had to tilt her head up in supplication to her.
“I can help you, Lily,” Isis whispered, so close to her that Lilith could feel her body heat against her.
The door opened, seemingly a million miles away from them. It was background noise to Lilith.
In her heart, mangled as it was from the night’s events, Lilith knew that Isis had several points that were tempting in the extreme. She was tired. She hurt. Lilith didn’t know how long she could last as the leader of a colony whose sole purpose had evolved into an effort to satisfy the void-like hunger that Earth had developed for Martian goods.
Her dream to colonize Mars had been a success, but it was marred. It was supposed to be a stepping stone into the future—a future where Lilith could pursue her ambition to revolutionize humanity and bring it into a new golden age of progress. She’d spent years in preparation for the arrival, and yet when she had finally accomplished those first vital steps, an endless array of obstacles presented themselves.
Setting up the facilities dotting the Martian surface. Ensuring they set up the proper infrastructure to mine the polar ice cap and keep water supplies sufficient to support a growing population. Dealing with the alkaline-saturated soil so that it was safe to grow edible food without poisoning people. Creating the technology to support larger geodomes so that people could walk somewhere that wasn’t a claustrophobic hall or underground hangar or bunker. Organizing the workforce so that nobody was idling around.
Dealing with the earthquakes generated from the frequent meteorite impacts against the planet’s surface. Training up her recruits in the Espionage Bureau so that they could deal with the crime that sprung up around the small settlements before it became a lasting and serious issue. Keeping the Administration off her back for long enough to get things done and keeping them satisfied enough so that Earth didn’t cut off the vital supply shipments that made the colonies feasible.
And that didn’t even mention Lilith’s personal, daily training to keep her body and mind in top-shape, or the effect that Isis Pines herself had had on her attempts to maintain law and order in her one, single facility.
It was a wonder she had time to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom each day—much less pursue her dreams of scientific research into improving life on the Red Planet and for humanity in general.
It was tempting to think of—not having to deal with that.
To give herself up to slavery, so that she could be free.
So incredibly tempting.
Isis Pines could help her. That much was terribly, awfully true.
The slave mistress slunk up to Lilith, her arms coming to rest around her in a soft cage of creamy flesh. Her crimson dress, so like fresh-spilled blood, pressed against Lilith’s black-clad legs as she pressed herself against Lilith’s chest, leaning her back against the window.
Her eyes were so big. Wide, and dark with myriad emotions. Anticipation. Longing. Hunger.
Could Lilith let her win? Could Lily?
“Please,” Isis whispered, hands coming to grasp Lilith’s waist.
A second that dragged into eternity passed, and Lily made her decision, lowering her head to press her lips against Isis’s, her arms rising against the crimson dress to rest against the slave mistress’s nape.
She felt the shocked inhalation Isis made as she realized what Lily had done. Felt the hands at her waist become vice grips and the soft, red lips on her own press far harder as the hunger came to the fore.
She felt their heartbeats come together. Lily’s; slow, calm, and deliberate. Isis’; pounding, reckless, impulsive.
Isis shoved her away suddenly, backing off with wide, wide eyes.
Lily let the empty vial in her hand drop to the ground, where it shattered into tiny pieces.
They stared at each other, the room seemingly frozen in time.
“What…What have you done?” Isis whispered, breaking the silence.
Lily pulled the stopper off the other vial of clear, fragrant oil—pilfered off the drones she’d defeated barely an hour before—and flung the contents into Isis’ face.
The slave mistress yelped as the oil quickly ran down her face and over the well-defined bones of her chin, her hands flying up to scrape wildly at it as it worked its magic.
It was hardly necessary. The vial she’d emptied down the back of Isis’ dress was more than enough to do its work, but Lily couldn’t help but feel a certain satisfaction at seeing the meticulously groomed makeup and comportment melt straight off the woman’s face.
“Do I really need to explain it to you, Isis?” Lily asked, feeling a stab of pity. However much deserved, the look of betrayal and fear on the woman’s face was utterly pathetic.
Isis stared at her. Lily could see that her pupils had already dilated.
She knelt next to the woman—Isis had already fallen to her knees, her legs deprived of strength—and gripped her shoulder, careful to avoid the slick of oil gathering nearby. “You don’t deserve your victory. I might be happy with you, but that’s not enough for me. I want to help people and depriving them of myself won’t do that. It would be selfish,” she explained calmly.
It felt nice to have a purpose, she remembered. It had been so long since she last felt it. The doubt, the fear and anxiety that had plagued her felt lightened now that she knew what she needed to do.
“But…You didn’t want to hurt my Hive…” Isis murmured dully. “If I’m gone…they’ll be lost…”
“No,” Lily told her simply. “You’re going to give them to me.”
Isis stared dumbly. Lily knew the oil worked fast, but she imagined it was also from the shock of the statement.
“You’re a bad person Isis,” she said, ruthlessly calm. “But you’re right. I can’t do anything while I’m stuck listening to people who won’t work with me. So, you’ll give me the Hive and I’ll use them to make a better world.”
Lily didn’t think Isis heard her words—not really. Her grey eyes, so much like storms before, were like glassy marbles. The storm clouds were still, looking like soft, steel coins.
“Get up, and transfer the Hive’s loyalties to me,” Lily commanded Isis. The woman briefly struggled with the order—Lily’s eyebrows rose incredulously; she must have truly wanted to refuse such a thing—but it quickly passed, and Isis rose to her feet and moved robotically to one of the terminals in compliance.
“I don’t think so.”
Lily looked in surprise at the newcomer. She’d forgotten about her while dealing with Isis.
The girl was totally nude, with long brown hair that reached her waist and almond-shaped brown eyes to match. It was a simple matter of fact to say that she was beautiful.
And she was pointing a taser at Lily; close enough to hurt her, though not nearly as effectively as if she were to jab it directly into her body.
Several dark bruises had blossomed around her ribcage, and one particularly purple addition on her temple. She wore a fierce scowl, though her eyes kept darting over her shoulder to the crumpled form of Eve, to Isis, and back to Lily.
“Get away from her,” the girl said, gesturing with trembling, jerky movements away from Isis. Lily raised her hands up with her palms open and complied easily, eyes never leaving the girl’s.
“What do you want?” Lily asked her, voice level.
“You won’t take me away from her,” the girl said, fiercely.
Lily narrowed her eyes at the girl, appraising—relying on her own intuition and experience in reading people to tell her what the girl was up to. If she were simply fanatically loyal to her mistress, then she would have incapacitated Lily immediately. There would be no words, only action.
The girl’s limbs shook. Her eyes were wide with emotion, seeming shocked at the sight of her mistress so utterly helpless. Her elegant face so blank, so mindless; like one of her own slaves. Her nudity spoke to a special position in the Hive—Lily knew from long observation and study that only the special exceptions and Isis herself were clad in anything but the Hive’s unique uniform.
This girl knew Isis personally. A consort, most likely, as her nudity would imply. Didn’t need a trance to stay in line either but hadn’t acted automatically on her conditioning. She was likely one of the precious few to enter Isis’ service willingly.
Why hadn’t she attacked Lily? It wasn’t out of loyalty to Isis.
She was afraid of what Lily would do to her now that she’d taken control.
‘You won’t take me away from her.’
Fear of the outside world. Of leaving this haven. Of change.
That made Lily’s task easier.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she told the girl gently. “My name is Lily—can you tell me what yours is?”
The girl licked her lips nervously. Her hands were tight on the taser. Behind them both, Isis tapped away on the keyboard, too deep in her trance to resist Lily’s command.
“R-Rebecca. You won’t hurt my Mistress, I won’t allow it,” the identified Rebecca answered.
“I don’t want to hurt your Mistress, Rebecca,” Lily soothed. “You heard our conversation—your mistress is a bad person, but I don’t care about that. I won’t let her hurt anybody else, but she won’t be hurt under my care. I promise.”
“What good is a promise from you?” Rebecca snarled, the light of anger flaring on her face.
“Do you know who I am?” Lily asked.
Rebecca’s jaw tightened. “You’re Lilith Yew—leader of the Copernico Facility and the Mars colonization movement. You sent Eve here to do something and she got caught. By me,” she answered.
Eve spoke to the girl? Why?
Lily dismissed the thought. It was a distraction she didn’t need. Rebecca still hadn’t tasered her. That was a good thing, though she still held it tightly, like a lifeline.
“Yes,” Lily said. “That’s who I am. I know I have a reputation—and I think you know it too. Do you honestly think I would lie about this? I didn’t let your Mistress’s slaves come to harm when they were captured by my people—she probably mentioned that to you?—and I do my best to improve the lives of the people I’m responsible for.”
Rebecca nodded tightly.
“I won’t hurt you, or your mistress, Rebecca,” Lily continued soothingly. “But that’s not what you care about, is it? You don’t want to leave the Hive. You like it here, don’t you?”
The girl’s pupils contracted, and her face lost a bit of its color. It made her lips look that much bloodier in contrast. She said nothing, however. Lily needed her to respond.
“Can you tell me what you really want, Rebecca? I can do my best to make it happen, you know,” she tried again.
“You can’t,” the girl croaked. “You wouldn’t—not you. You’re too good. You wouldn’t give me what I want.”
Lily stared at the girl, calculating her chances.
She rolled the dice.
“I’m taking over from Isis, Rebecca,” she told the girl softly. “She’s too selfish to lead the Hive—she’ll only hurt people. You heard me tell her that I’m going to use it for good. I meant it. You can stay here. I won’t force you away.”
The taser lowered hesitantly. “Why?” Rebecca asked, fear waging war against the confusion rising in her brown irises.
“Because I can, and because I’m tired of not being able to take charge and use my talents effectively. I’m tired of other people and society holding me back,” Lily replied.
She knew she was an effective leader, but she was constantly hamstrung by the endless requirements of leadership. There was too much that could not be delegated for fear of bias and incompetence in whoever took the job. Isis wasn’t lying when she said that she and her peers were probably the sole people in command of hundreds and thousands of people who needn’t worry about such things.
Lily craved that kind of freedom.
She would be indenturing herself to her position—a slave to her dreams, but she wanted it as badly as Rebecca likely wanted the security of her collar. Lily could make Isis Pines’ operation something good; something worth rallying to.
She had every intention of doing it.
The question told Lily that Rebecca had surrendered.
“Yes,” she answered.
The taser lowered to Rebecca’s side, held in slack fingers, and Isis quietly spoke into a microphone—her voice filling the entire facility, alerting every slave that Lily would be their new mistress, and that her final command was that they follow her as they would have Isis.
Rebecca knelt without prompting, the taser clattering to the ground. “If you really mean what you say,” she said quietly, “I will serve you, if you’ll have me.”
The other slaves in the room—Evelyn included—were all watching her, waiting for her first command. Lily felt the regard of the entire facility on her, absent as much of it was.
She could do anything she wanted with them, and they would listen.
She walked carefully toward the marble throne, with its plush crimson cushion, and sat down. It was comfortable; perhaps too much so for the responsibility it took to sit there.
Lily licked her lips and spoke.
“Lock down the facility. I want no communication to enter or leave, and all slaves operating outside of the facility are to withdraw immediately. Any recruitment efforts are to cease, though if any woman so chooses to join Hive Philae she will be permitted,” she said, voice growing in strength as she hit her stride.
Her eyes turned to Evelyn, softening as she looked on the girl who had guided her through this place. “Evelyn, please bring Miss Pines downstairs for processing. When you have her situated, please gather my other four agents and bring them up here. Should you require their location I’m sure there are ways of finding them through the terminals in the facility,” she ordered.
Evelyn bowed her head, murmuring, “It will be done, Mistress Yew,” as she left with the deposed former slave mistress.
Lily looked to Rebecca, who watched her with guarded eyes. “You know of my agent?” she asked, gesturing to Eve.
Rebecca looked at the sleeping woman, longing in her eyes. “Yes,” she answered.
“Take her to somewhere where she can rest. I’ll think of what to do with her later,” Lily ordered.
The two left, Rebecca carrying Eve in her arm, her mahogany locks hiding her head from view, cradled as it was in the crook of the slave’s neck.
The slaves at the terminals had already resumed their work. The transfer of power hardly changed their behavior in the slightest.
Which left Lily alone.
She turned the throne on its built-in swiveling axis so that she could look out on the Martian horizon. Black sky over the paper-thin atmosphere. Stars twinkling in all their glory overhead. Rusty earth spreading out toward the horizon, Copernico glittering in the distance.
Her home, now. Her planet.
Not Isis’—Lily’s, as it should have been from the beginning.
‘Better late than never, I suppose,’ Lily thought sadly, thinking back on all the wasted time of the last decade.
‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.’
She smiled. That in mind, she stretched her fingers out, wincing at the pleasant cracking sound they created, and pulled up Isis’—her—tablet from where she’d let it lean against the side of the throne.
So much to do, so little time. Lily had many plans.
The halls of the Espionage Bureau rang with the sound of footsteps. Sharp staccato, hard-soled sandals on the cool stone floors.
eve gestured for ciara and kate to guard the doors while she handled Alexander and Solana. The operators had been frantic in their attempts to contact the five agents Mistress Lily had sent out three days prior, for their leader was missing as well.
By all accounts, the operators had comported themselves well. Copernico had no idea that its illustrious leader had left them for better things, and no idea what the future would present them with now that She had cast off the shackles the world had attempted to bind her with.
eve understood. Mistress Lily had been very forthcoming with her, once she’d awoken in the luxurious bedroom that had been the property of the former slave mistress Isis Pines.
she had panicked, initially. Rebecca—even now realizing her true nature as rebecca, though she would remain on Mistress Lily’s team of advisors to manage the Hive’s affairs—had been there, carefully stroking eve’s hair as she came to consciousness. she had thought that that would be it; she’d lost, the music had gotten to her and she would spend her life as a mindless puppet of a woman she loathed the thought of.
Then Mistress had entered the room, dressed in a luxurious grey robe that shimmered like light though water, and told her what eve had missed.
Oh, how she had wept and begged for Her to reconsider. To do something other than replace the despicable woman they fought against. Mistress had been patient and firm—She would not sink to Pines’ level; would not fall prey to the vices that had consumed the vast majority of history’s slavers.
eve had looked into her Mistress’s eyes; searched those emerald green orbs for any sign of lie, egotism, greed, or power-lust. Anything she might have missed before. Anything that would make Lilith Yew unworthy of her loyalty.
She found nothing.
eve pledged herself, then. Rebecca shedding tears of joy in the background, near-quivering with excitement.
And she’d submitted herself—of her own choice!—to the conditioning. Mistress Lily had offered—requested, even—that eve abstain, but she’d refused. If the point of Her decision to claim Pines’ position was to ensure the utter loyalty and dedication of Her followers, then eve would not skimp on her own duties as a part of that plan.
Rebecca had led her away. Had bathed her in the hot water and covered her in the soothing oil. She led her to a room with many terminals—eve could barely remember what that room was like, it was so hazy in her memory from the effects of the oil—and strapped her into the comfortable chair.
Eve first met the eyes of the slave in the screen; the eyes of the woman she would become. Then the lights had turned on, and her mind dissolved like morning mist at midday.
Now, she would tell Alexander and Solana what they needed to know to execute the next part of the plan. The Administration would have no part in the future of Mars. Mistress Lily had already communicated with dozens of the suppliers on Earth that the Administration would usually liaise for Her—She had so little time already without adding in negotiating trade agreements when She’d led Copernico—and hammered out the basic agreement for trade in the future.
Without the Administration.
They would have supplies until Mars was habitable, self-sufficient, and its own entity. Mistress would be its leader, and She would remake it in Her image. A place of growth, opportunity, and happiness.
she walked through the doors. Alexander and Solana jumped in surprise to see her, rapid fire questions fleeing their mouths. eve waited.
They fell silent, unnerved by her stare, and she told them what had happened.
Solana was devastated. Alexander looked shell-shocked. The Lily they knew? Replace Isis Pines? Had Eve been hit over the head?
she handed them the letter Mistress had written for them. Alexander’s face crumpled, his handsome features reigned. Solana sank to her seat, her head falling to her hands.
The letter told them that Alexander would lead Copernico while Lily consolidated Her power over Mars. The Newton and Agrippa Facilities had already pledged themselves to Her. yseult and saira were negotiating with the Galileo Facility, and Mistress Herself was talking with the Hawking Facility.
There were a few others, but they would fall in line once the major facilities capitulated to Mistress’s proposed terms. Her reputation, and the promises She offered of a bright future, free of the oppressive yoke of Earth’s insatiable need for raw material, and the opposition to self-sufficiency were alluring indeed.
Newton had essentially leapt at the offer, once they realized the Isis Pines was a mindless slave in her own facility due to Mistress’s actions.
eve blinked. Solana, tears running down her face, made a very strange request. Entirely unexpected.
eve considered it and nodded. Mistress would not recruit save for when people came to Her of their own volition. If Solana wanted to be a slave—if only to be near Mistress Lily once more—then eve had no problem in granting it.
she directed her questions to Alexander, who seemed even more dazed than before as Solana rose to stand behind eve’s shoulder to await their departure.
Yes, he would handle Copernico’s affairs while Lily worked things out. Yes, despite what had happened he was still loyal to Her. Yes, he was in shock and needed some time to cope with it, but he would be okay.
He shooed them away once he realized that eve was lingering out of concern for his wellbeing. Alexander had always been level-headed, and good at compartmentalizing his emotions. He would make a good replacement for Mistress Lily. eve respected him for that and appreciated the care he had for Solana as they made their last goodbyes—his hug lingered perhaps a second longer than was appropriate for friends, and the tears that he expended were fatter than she expected, but her happiness evidently mattered more than his own.
Yes, eve respected him for that. He wasn’t as good as Mistress Lily, but he would be sufficient for the task.
kate and ciara flanked eve and Solana as they left the Bureau, suiting up once more in the exosuits so that they could make the stealthy journey back to Hive Philae. It wouldn’t do to panic the civilians unnecessarily.
eve watched the rift at the crater’s edge, so far away. The window where she knew her Mistress would reside behind, on Her rightfully-claimed throne, was invisible from this distance, but eve could feel the magnetism drawing her back to her rightful place.
‘Long live the Hive! Long live Mistress Yew!’