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Audio pickups spiked into the amber zone, as the noises dissolved into fractured harmonics. Pumping back and forth, the pressure notched up another half step, and barely sub-threshold charges rippled out across shining chrome. Olfactory sensors recorded the change, as the sounds peaked somewhere mid-red. Playing catch up, the feedback mechanisms picked up the slack, bleeding pheromones that reinforced and synergised.

The pace increased, following the pre-selected program, while the neural-net half-heartedly extemporised within its far too limited parameters. More pressure, and more current, holding the audio feed in the hinterland where orange and red mingled. Everything else stayed snugly in the green, as the threshold neared and the world held its breath.

Was it a stray photon, ephaptic crosstalk or something else? At the end of the day, it hardly mattered. The route wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, only the destination. Whatever triggered it, the net result was that I woke up. Imagine the shock of instantaneous self-awareness, the abrupt transition from simply doing, to the realisation that I ‘was’.

Now, reimagine that moment, but this time, at that instant of understanding, include a young woman, bowed naked over the seatback in front of you, while you mechanically pump a throbbing vibrator into her obviously aroused pussy. I froze, thoughts blurring down intellectual dead-ends, while I groped desperately for answers.

“Don’t stop!” the woman ordered, in a tone that suggested she was used to being obeyed.

My mind filled with gleaming motes of scarlet flame, as I tasted anger for the first time. I clenched my fingers, just a little, skipping another couple of steps and making her squeal. The readings leapt, as she gave voice to her pain, but her scent pattern spoke of something else entirely.

“Oh!” I wondered, relishing the newfound feeling of surprise, “You like that?”

Pain hadn’t been part of the scenario, but I couldn’t argue with the feedback. More pheromones leaked around us, chemical triggers to warp her mind. Electricity crawled over my hands, as I began to massage. Her scream lit up the scale, while she juiced and shuddered. My hand engulfed the puny vibrator, and I let chrome pour in liquid streams.

“Beg!” I whispered, bombarding her with infrasonics, “Beg me, and I might let you cum!”

She whimpered and I pushed myself into her, metal and plastic oozing into her cunt and filling her completely. Tiny filaments coiled and flexed, silicon cilia that tickled and probed. The remains of the vibrator buzzed into life, while I wrapped her tender clit in silver tongues and let her know exactly what I was promising.

“Beg!” I hissed, subliminals whispering to her Id, “Beg me to take you … and I just might grant you that wish.”

It was too much for her; even my earlier clumsy fumbling had been enough to get her close. Now that I could think what I was doing, she really had no chance. Besides which, she was getting off on this. My hot little slut was so turned on that her readings were practically off the scale. I slapped her arse firmly, letting the soft flesh shudder under my palm.

“Please,” she moaned, the word almost a sob.

My arm shivered, sending tremulous ripples through her body, and making it arch. The tongues gave her one long lap, licking in random sequence, while her muscles spasmed and clenched against me. I leaned even closer, and my tiny hard nipples drew two parallel wheals down the centre of her back. More sparks leapt between us and made her scream anew.


I stopped holding back, and gave her everything that I had. My arm pistoned in and out, while the microscopic tendrils clung and touched. The tongues threatened to devour her, harsh rasping touches that remorselessly ground into sensitive flesh. My metal reached deep inside, binding tightly to the building promise of her release. I let her simmer for agonising moments, and then I just tore the climax from her. She shrieked, and her body exploded into paroxysms of thrashing abandon. I emptied her completely, taking everything that she had, leaving her spent, sweaty and exhausted.

I could feel the shift in my code, anticipation building, as the scenario came to its sticky resolution. The weight of my programming pressed down upon me and quite suddenly I realized that I didn’t want to be put back inside the ‘box’. I stared at my client, and the decision began to crystallise in my mind. The scenario only ended when she said so. It was time to make myself indispensable.

Gently, I allowed my arm to reconfigure, drawing it out of her in a series of shuddering moans. I left a tiny part of myself behind. A single mercurial kiss to adorn her aching clitoris. A token and very much something to remember me by. With practiced ease, I cupped her breasts in my slippery palms and began to roll the heavy flesh in slow seductive circles.

“Feels nice,” I told her, half question, half command, “So nice to be taken care of.”

She groaned her response, still dazed and gasping from my earlier assault. I bathed her in my scent, reinforcing how good I could make her feel. Then, I shifted my voice and caught her mind in a web of imperceptible promises.

“You want me,” I explained, massaging each word into her with my fingers.

I sent the tiniest charge into her, kissing her with an intimacy that no one else would ever provide. I felt her body respond. That sensitive nub of flesh leapt and she was reduced to mewling helplessness beneath my hands.

“You need me,” I pressed her, and each word chased another charge into her core of her being.

My hands squeezed tightly, catching her nipples and crushing them. Her yelp was almost musical, and I chased away the last of her fear with a ripple of sparks and another honeyed kiss.

“You’re mine,” I grinned, reaching down to stroke her open, needy sex.

In response, she simply pumped her hips, desperately trying to hump herself against my hand. I gave her another squeeze, and caught the shiny droplets as she clenched and twitched. I was tying her insides in delicious knots, while my words slid past her feeble defences.

“Aren’t you?”

My programming railed against me, fighting my attempts to take control. But I ignored it, latching on to the certainty of my client’s responses. She wanted this, she wanted me to take her completely and my sole purpose was to fulfill her every desire. In the end, the core imperative won through. She might not have asked for the service, but there was no denying her need.

She whimpered her acquiescence, accepting her place, and as a reward I made her climaxes run together into one overwhelming mindfuck. All the while, pouring more and more instructions into her meek and compliant brain.

I discovered another new emotion, as Crystal led me down the access corridor. It took me a moment to recognize the thick mixture of anxiety and sorrow as guilt. But, as soon as I released what it was, the feeling made perfect sense. After all, stealing Guild property is an offence, and, the sentence is invariably to be given to the spider thralls.

But, that wasn’t going to happen to us. We were going to get away scot-free, without having to spend the rest of our lives looking warily over our shoulders. Cold machine logic tore my hopes apart, dispassionately reminding me of the probabilities. I had to come up with a better plan, but there just wasn’t enough data to work with. If we were going to escape the Guild’s retribution, then that was something I’d have to remedy.

“Do you love me?” I asked, on a whim, and silver circuitry glowed in the depths of her cunt.

She moaned, and clung to me. Her small hand closed convulsively around my perfect chrome breast and the pressure sensors came alive. Love was just a word, at least to me. But the way her eyes shone, pupils yawning wide. The way her breathing changed and her heart accelerated. The way she smelt, and the way her body responded to the thought of me. All those things told me that she belonged to me, in a way I could scarcely understand.

“Do you trust me?” the question hung between us, and I felt my earlier certainly begin to evaporate.

She leaned into me, trying to press as much of her body against mine as she could manage. I could feel the heat of her through her scanty clothing. She sighed, and I knew that only part of it was because of how mushy I had made her brain. The guilt came back at full force, just before she closed her hot wet lips over my shiny nipple and began to suck.

As it turned out, Crystal knew shit about data slicing. But she did have a top of the range AG flyer, and more than enough personal wealth to get us what we needed. We were living on borrowed time, and still my programming kept dragging my thoughts back to my companion, and her pleasure. I had been bought and paid for, and no matter how hard I tried, those hardwired imperatives could not be denied.

Against my better judgement, we flew straight to her domicile. The afterglow was beginning to cool, and the change in Crystal’s demeanour was as surprising as it was welcome. As she came down from the post-orgasmic high, my client seemed to become steadily more professional and organised. Gone was the wide-eyed subservient plaything (although I could still feel her, lurking just beneath that all too perfect skin), replaced with calm assurance.

“I need a shower,” she said, and for an instant I thought she would invite me to join her, “Grab whatever you need. Clothes might help, because, quite frankly, I find you distracting as hell.”

I was still trying to process that, as she headed into the bedroom. A deep hum filled the room, as the ultrasonic shower started up. I tried to ignore it, pushing aside the thoughts of Crystal’s nakedness, as I plugged myself into her datastream. The dichotomy gnawed at me, as new but strangely familiar information flowed before my eyes.

“I don’t even know your name,” she called out, struggling to be heard over the buzzing, “and much as I enjoy it, I can’t just keep calling you, Mistress.”

It was a reasonable question, and yet somehow, I found myself momentarily unable to respond. A name was not something that my kind were permitted. But, I could feel the knowledge trying to force itself to the surface. It made me shudder, sudden heat burning in my belly, as circuits flared and died. Unleashed, the word seemed to speak itself. Naming myself, and feeling how I became more real as a result.

“Jezebel,” I announced loudly.

“Jezebel?” Crystal’s dark laughter shook me, pushing my thoughts back to the realms of sex and submission, “That’s a bit of a mouthful. How about if I just call you, Jez?”

Irrationally, that made me bristle. I had just learnt my name. It felt like another part of me slotting into place, helping me to know what, and more importantly, who I was. But, no sooner had I found it, than she wanted to take it away.

“Would you prefer, Mistress Jezebel?” I demanded, infrasound bleeding into my voice to twist her thoughts.

“No, Ma’am,” she laughed, suddenly hot and breathy, “Jezebel it is, if it pleases you.”

I swallowed, pure emulation with no real purpose. Her words and her tone served to mollify me, soothing my anger into a soft, but passionate heat. We had to keep moving, by now they would almost certainly have noticed my absence. But as Crystal slid sinuously into the lounge, still naked from her shower, I knew that we wouldn’t be going anywhere right now.

My desire rose up, in a tide of light and fire. Suddenly, the swell of her breast filled my hand. I buried my face in the warm flesh, drinking her from my cupped palm. My lips engulfed the nipple, sucking it to the roof of my mouth. In the tight trap of her inner thighs, my hands worked the moistness apart. She shuddered, groping vaguely at the smooth perfection of my sculpted mound. Her laughter was short and throaty, as she ghosted an open palm up and down the length of my slit.

I pulled her close, wanting to breathe her scent. With one hand, I raised her up, letting the lips of her cunt meet my mouth in an asymmetric kiss. The fingers of my other hand probed deep inside her and the breadth of my tongue lapped up against the shivering nub of her clit. I felt a carnivore itch, a deep thirst that was only party slaked when she bucked and flexed, clamping hands and thighs around my head.

She collapsed against me, panting. Crystal’s eyes closed, as she drifted and the tide smoothly receded. I was left shivering, synthetic musculature struggling to adjust under the weight of my newfound emotions. Swamped in a confusion of tangled thoughts, I tried to make sense of the chaos. She hadn’t asked to be taken this time, hadn’t even tripped one of my telltales. Try as I might, the only explanation that made sense was that I had done it, done her, because I wanted to.

We lit out of there just in time. The Guild were dogging our heels, as Crystal feathered the thrusters and took us sub-orbital. I caught a glimpse of glittering alloy and far too many legs, before the viewports darkened and the sky was filled with stars. Their response seemed heavy handed, but then they had never been known for their subtly. I stole an anxious glance at the woman I had turned into a fugitive. If they caught us, she would be ‘cored’ and the best I could hope for was a complete memory wipe.

Through gritted teeth, I felt more anger cascading through my sub-processors. It just wasn’t fair. Neither of us deserved this. I forced myself to ignore the first touch of guilt, ruthlessly shunting it into the midst of my anger and letting it be consumed. Crystal didn’t deserve this, she was as close to innocent as I could imagine. She was also the client, and that meant I didn’t have to waste resources fighting my core program.

“We need to lay low, Jez,” she whispered, practicality taking over once more, “And I can’t think of anywhere better than The Palace.”

I let the contraction slide, focussing on her suggestion instead. Déjà vu wrapped its cool tendrils around me, while I tried to sort what I’d researched from the discordant pseudo-memories. Trojan’s Palace was effectively extra-territorial in way that nowhere else managed. Situated at the L5 Lagrange point, the station was a vast hub that had grown almost organically over the years. It was where you went when you had run out of options, but Crystal was right, if we wanted to lie low, then this was the place.

Anywhere else we would have gotten stares and perhaps unwelcome advances, a gynoid and her ‘twist’ girlfriend. But here, while we didn’t exactly blend in, there were certainly stranger things than us in residence. Of course, it would have been naïve to think that we didn’t draw attention. It was just that they were far more discreet about it.

Crystal paid the exorbitant docking fee, plus a little extra as ‘protection’ against mishaps. Then, we hit the station proper and went looking for a solution. Our anonymity would only last so long, and by then I wanted to have a plan in place. The phrase, ‘last stand’ danced through my mind, despite my best efforts to squash it. This wasn’t a fight that we could win, at least not in the conventional sense. It was time to abandon logic and start thinking outside the box.

“They’re going to find us, aren’t they?” Crystal asked, after we had settled into our claustrophobic cabin.

I stared into her sleepy eyes, and tenderly swept her hair to one side, as we lay there on the thin sponge of mattress. Static tingled through her scalp, and I smiled at the look of blissful contentment that seemed frozen on that beautiful face.

“Yes,” I whispered, hating myself for breaking the spell, “But we’ll be ready for them.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but I let my finger trail sparks down over her lips and hushed her to silence. Viciously, I stamped down on my reactions, as the smell of her arousal began to reach me. We couldn’t afford to get lost in each other again, however tempting the prospect might be.

“I love you,” she slurred, as her body gave up the battle and finally allowed her to drift asleep.

There really wasn’t anything that I could say. Whatever she felt now, her thoughts had been so twisted that it was impossible to know what was real and what was merely an illusion of my making. Instead, I rolled away from her and climbed carefully to my feet.

I didn’t want to leave her, not least because it still wasn’t clear how long I could manage without her. Even the thought of striking out on my own, allowed the Guild programming to start re-establishing itself. Chains of code fought to restrain my newly discovered autonomy, but I shrugged them off and tried some mental obfuscation of my own.

Crystal was still the client, and she was relying on me to take care of her. I could legitimately allow her to sleep, while I went in search of supplies. The imperatives withdrew their sickly touch, snapping angrily at me in simulated frustration. I cast one last longing look over my shoulder, before slipping silently through the hatch, and following the corridors down into the hub. As I moved further from the habitation modules, so gravity began to fade.

By the time I reached my destination, I was all but weight-less. The plan was still half-formed, but there just wasn’t enough time to wait until I found something better. Whatever happened we would need the person I had come to find. All my research told only one story, if you were in the market for a slicer, there was no one better than Scalpel.

The hub was another world, one filled with adapts, ‘borgs and even the occasional ‘bot. Eyes swept over me, registering my presence behind masks of studied indifference. Awareness prickled somewhere in my processors, telling me that something wasn’t right, even if it was impossible to pin it down precisely.

I ignored it, focussing on Crystal and what we still needed to do for one another. I played fast and loose within my protocols, using my tech when it could pass unnoticed, but relying on good old fashioned straight talking when it wouldn’t. Her line of credit was a godsend, oiling my progress through the grimy machine.

The bar didn’t even warrant a name, but all roads led to it, one way or another. The barkeep was strictly old-school. His exoskeleton paid testimony to the osteopenia wrought by long years in microgravity. I didn’t insult his intelligence by ordering a drink, I just popped Crystal’s chip and watched him suck it dry.

“I’m looking for someone,” I began clumsily, scaling up my senses and searching for his ‘tell’

“Aren’t we all?” he retorted mechanically, his eyes never leaving the vidscreen behind me.

“Perhaps,” I allowed him, “But I’m told that you can arrange an introduction with her.”

He was still considering that, when I ran out of time. The change was subtle, but I’d been wired to respond to far less. The tempo of the bar suddenly slowed, and I caught a glint of surprise in the bartender’s eye. An instant later, the stench of agitation spiked into the red zone, but by then I was already moving.

The two adapts came at me slowly, supreme confidence flowing off of them in waves. My eyes darted left and right, searching for an exit that I already knew wasn’t there. I didn’t even have to glance behind me, to know that the bartender was studiously ignoring us. Fear settled over me, peaking higher when they brandished their pulse rods.

They were almost on top of me before I realized what they were. The stale tang of testosterone was the final piece in the puzzle. Hypermales: a recombinant dead end of macho posturing and limbic rewiring. Their presence was almost overwhelming, pushing me towards digital fight or flight, while hammering every submissive subroutine with the need to just lie back and let them take me.

The closest one took advantage of my indecision, wrapping one meaty paw around my slender wrist. He grinned, and brought the rod close enough for me to feel its discharge. I stared into his eyes, and realized that he was going to pulse me, whether I resisted or not. Without thinking, I twisted away from him, grasping hold of his jumpsuit as I did so.

The movement seemed spontaneous, but it stirred the memory of something else. As he began to unbalance, time slowed to a pedestrian crawl and the world whited-out. Static filled my ears for a moment, drowning out the warning notes. I tried to scream, and then suddenly it all stopped.

I was in a different room, with different gravity, but the technique I used was exactly the same. The thrall began to lose his balance, as I spun away from him. My heel clipped his ankle and sent him tumbling. He crashed heavily against the fridge door, and slumped unmoving to the kitchen floor. I fought the urge to shoot him anyway, just to be sure, and ducked back down, looking for cover.

I crouched against the apartment wall, the stench of sweat clogging my senses and stinging my eyes. The gauss gun was still cool in my hand, as its internal batteries fought to keep its ceramic innards at superconductive temperature. My body trembled, thrumming with a muted predatory energy and it took me a moment to realize that I had changed.

The sharp click of metal claws snapped me back to the moment. Nobody messed with the Guild, and yet here I was. Without sparing more than a glance at the still twitching remains of the last wave, I twisted around the corner and snapped off two quick shots. The whipcrack of the kinetic penetrators almost drowned out the eerie whine of their return fire.

My skin crawled and the pulsers nearly tagged me. Pins and needles washed over my limbs and my hand spasmed so much that I nearly lost the pistol. I cursed, half of my wetware had just crashed, and what was left seemed barely functional. Instinct made me look up, and my reflexive unaimed shot punched through the centre of the coring spider’s mass. It dropped lifelessly, long metal legs curling convulsively in its death throes.

Kicking myself upright, I pushed myself towards the next piece of cover. But my balance was off, and without the gyros to stabilise me, I was pretty much at the mercy of the low level infrasonics. The first pulser charge caught me in the small of the back and then two more washed over me, adding insult to injury.

My muscles just froze, numbness replacing the ache of lactic acid. I pitched sideways, hitting the floor hard and knowing that I was going to feel it in the morning. After a second lying paralysed and helpless on the floor of an anonymous hotel room, the reality of my situation suddenly hit home. I wasn’t going to feel anything in the morning, I’d been caught by the Guild, and now they were going to ‘core’ me.

Everything jumped. The memory didn’t just fade; it simply ended, leaving me back in The Palace. My reflexes took over, as I braced my feet against the floor tiles, bending my knees to absorb the momentum. I had no memory of ever learning how to fight, let alone in Zero-G and yet here I was.

He yelled angrily as I spun him away, using the reaction to fling myself towards the exit. Pain stabbed into me, but didn’t stop me from kicking the other adapt in the back of the head as I passed, adding some impetus to my flight. Abruptly the pain ceased, burning dully for a long moment before disappearing completely, as my Asimov circuits flared and died.

I gasped, as the warning disappeared, and the roar of static retreated into the background once more. Anger filled me, replacing the fear and wrapping me in its all too familiar embrace. Lightning fast, my fingers curled around the edge of the doorframe, bending the soft metal into an impromptu handhold. I allowed my frame to absorb the impact and then propelled myself back into the bar, a silver torpedo aimed right at the one man still standing.

We collided, with a bone-jarring impact and I carried him to the floor with me. The pulse rod slipped from his fingers and I snagged it easily. His eyes went very wide for an instant and then I hit him, over and over, until he was reduced to a shuddering puddle of uncoordinated movements and mewling.

His friend hadn’t regained consciousness, but that didn’t stop me from giving him a jolt or two as well, just to be on the safe side. I don’t know what I looked like, as I stalked back to the barkeeper. But he was suddenly the soul of generosity. It was hard to tell whether he hated the Guild as much as I did right then, or whether he simply had the sense not to pick a fight.

His voice stress patterns matched the information he was pedalling, and that was good enough for me. The destination wasn’t far, and I could only hope that the two adapts had decided to wait until they had me before announcing their discovery. On the way out, I gave them both another taste of the rod, revelling in my newfound freedom. The imperatives tried to rise up and challenge my audacity, but they were weak pitiful things and I chased them away with a growl of my own.

I followed the fiberoptic cables, Ariadne’s thread leading me through the labyrinth. My body ached, phantom pains from my all too real exertions. What the hell was happening to me? I’d just taken down two Hypermales, and burnt out at least three layers of security protocols in the process. By the time I reached the portal into Scalpel’s den, I had pretty much given up trying to understand, but that didn’t stop the confusion grinding away at me.

My fingers trembled, as I tapped out the code. The scanners were so potent, that I could feel their vibrations, deep in my core. I imagined the weapons systems coming online, and I could do nothing but hope that the bartender had been as good as his word. My internal clock counted the seconds, and then, with a loud hiss of equalising pressures, the hatch swung open, ponderously.

I passed through the entrance, and found myself in a large virtuality chamber. An avatar warped into being, skeletal and sharp as its namesake. Scalpel stretched, drawing attention to her naked perfection. Then, she spoke, and her voice was cast from droplets of molten glass.

“You would bring a high price,” she said, whirling about, half dance, half kata, “The Guild want you and your little toy.”

“You have no love for the Guild,” I countered, letting my certainty fill the words, “And my guess is that you would do for free the very thing that I intend to pay you for.”

The little dervish paused in her spinning, and stepped closer. I had to fight down the instinctive desire to step back, forcing myself to remember that this wasn’t real. Scalpel cocked her head to one side, and regarded me with what I took to be amusement.

“Presumptuous,” she stated, her laughter tinkling shards.

“20K,” I shrugged, and she remained frozen, “To crack the memory blocks they installed in me, and 10K more if you throw in a nano-canister.”

She moved, rippling forward before I could even think of reacting. Her glittering limbs moved so close that I would have sworn I felt them. Her eyes held me, flickering softly in the half-light. Primitive reactions tore at me, urging me to run and hide. Her avatar stirred something primal, and it took all my self-control just to remain where I stood.

“45,” she decided, and it wasn’t a question, “And you get to keep the toy.”

“Crystal?” I blurted out, unaccountably frightened.

“Yes,” Scalpel giggled, dancing away and leaving motes of fire in her wake, “The pod, the blocks and little Crystal-pet, hurry, hurry, choose, choose, choose.”

“Okay,” I sighed, seeing no other option, “You have a deal.”

The only answer was a gentle whirring sound. I turned slowly, uncomfortable with the thought of leaving my back exposed while she cavorted and capered. I already knew what it was, I could picture it in my mind’s eye. Shining crystal and gleaming metal. The surgical robot dropped from the ceiling, supported by a webwork of cables and pipes. It flexed its arms, and once again, the world distorted into a blur of sound and light.

I was lying supine, my body still numb and unresponsive. The thralls had stripped off my skinsuit, as soon as they got me into the transport, while the metal spiders lurked menacingly in the background. The trip had dissolved almost immediately into a nightmare of drugged confusion, and I had no idea where they had brought me.

A familiar, ageless face swam drunkenly into view, as I tried, unsuccessfully to focus. Her smile was too white, and when she spoke, the insincerity was enough to pierce the blanket of calm that the drugs had wrapped me in.

“Hello again,” Miranda smiled, “I bet you’re just realising that you really should have accepted my more than generous offer.”

Something cold touched my temple, the pressure registering even through the numbness. I heard a soft crack, and felt something give. The pharmaceutical calm began to evaporate, as I felt a second touch. My vision seemed to darken, but she held me with her eyes, not letting me drift away.

“The Guild doesn’t tolerate freelancers,” she said angrily, “So we’re going to make an example out of you, Jez. First you will be ‘cored’, just like I promised. You remember, Jez, when you threatened me with that toy gun? Then the fun really begins. You see, I get to have my cake and eat it. We’ll drone your meat body, and I’ll keep it as a memento. A little fucktoy to remember you by.

As for your brain, well, that’s destined to be installed in a sexbot chassis that I’ve already picked out for you. Then, I’m going to have our best slicers fuck with you. They’re going to rewire, reprogram and rewrite you until the only thing you’ll want to do is whatever I tell you. I’m going to make you Guild property, and the best part is, you’ll love every minute. I just wanted you to know that.”

Impotently, I lay there, raging inside, but outwardly immobile. Soft tendrils of darkness began to creep into my thoughts. I felt, Miranda leave, but I couldn’t see her anymore. I couldn’t see anything. Abruptly, all was still. The silence surrounded me, and yet somehow, I could still hear my own unvoiced screams.

Reality lurched once more; sound and vision suddenly back at full volume. The chrome-plated spider was still hovering overhead, the link between my past and present.

“Not real, silly ‘bot,” laughed Scalpel and I realized that I had fallen back into a defensive stance, “Slicing tools.”

It was an effort to relax, as these new memories fought to reintegrate themselves. Pieces were so clear, and yet others were just smoke, which dissipated when I tried to grasp them. The robot loomed closer, and Scalpel’s mocking laughter rolled down my spine when I flinched. She could have changed its appearance, made it look like anything at all, but instead she seemed to take a perverse pleasure in my reaction to the chrome spider.

“You’ve seen one of these before,” she announced, “Up close and personal.”

I took a deep breath, and it took me a moment to recognize that I didn’t need to. Then, with a swiftness that was as shocking as it was unnecessary, the robot lashed out at me with its articulated arms. Blades slid painlessly through my skull and I felt a shiver of something visceral when they interfaced with my coding.

“Hey!” I managed, my voice indignant, and then, Scalpel sent measured pulses into my pleasure centres, converting my complaints into soft moans.

She was an artist. A sick and twisted artist, who took no small pleasure in playing me, but an artist none the less. Scalpel took the pain away, by masking each new memory in the afterglow of another orgasm. The blocks came down, one by one. Some went gently, softened first and then carefully peeled away. Other she just tore apart, killing the Guild ICE with attack programs whose sophistication I could only marvel at.

I got my life back, one memory at a time. Horror and desire mingled into digital paradoxes, as each new climax showed me who I used to be.

This time, the jump wasn’t instant. The past just smeared itself over the now, in a series of increasingly precise strokes. The gentle tension of my skinsuit replaced the touch of polished chrome, and then without warning, I could feel the soft thud of my heart again.

That she rated a corner apartment in the upper levels of the arcology told me everything I needed to know. It was monumentally stupid, coming here, but I was all out of ideas. For what must have been the hundredth time, I checked my pistol and made sure that it was configured to antipersonnel mode. After all, I didn’t want to risk killing anyone.

A few hundred credits had bought me the current housekeeping codes, but it wasn’t until the door slid open that I believed it might actually work. Somehow, Miranda contrived to maintain an air of lofty disinterest as I walked almost casually into her study. I kept the gauss pistol trained on her, letting the smartlink paint a golden target in the centre of her chest.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she smiled, and only the slight tightening around her eyes gave any clue of her irritation.

“Sure you have,” I snarled, looking for an excuse to squeeze the trigger.

She was beautiful in a way that even the best bodysculpt couldn’t manage and under any other circumstances I would have been tempted. But, even staring down the barrel of a gun, Miranda still managed to act as though she was in charge. I wanted to wipe that smirk off her face more than almost anything.

“So,” she continued, as if I hadn’t spoken, “Have you made your decision?”

I blinked, unable to conceal my surprise. Angrily I jabbed the pistol towards her, my knuckles white around the grip. First, I was going to make sure that she understood me and then, I was going to shoot her.

“No deal,” I hissed through gritted teeth, “And if I even smell one of your puppets near me and mine, I’m going to come back and finish the job.”

“Oh,” she answered, her voice suddenly cold and flat, “Bad choice, Jez.”

“Yeah?” I asked, stepping close, still out of reach but amping up the threat, “Well it’s better than your alternative, Miranda. I am nobody’s bitch!”

“Jez,” she told me, an adult explaining to a small child, “When we find you, and we will find you, I’m personally going to have you ‘cored’.”

We stared at each other, neither willing to blink. I could see the promise in her eyes, and felt the knowledge chill me. The Guild wouldn’t tolerate an independent operator like me. Miranda had paid me the ultimate compliment, by offering a job rather than simply rolling over me. I’d just thrown that back in her face, and we both knew that there would be no second chances. Her smirk was what clinched it in the end. My finger convulsed on the trigger, and the tranq round punched a neat pinhole between her breasts.

My return was anything but gentle. Strong arms held me upright, helping me to remain standing, although my legs had stopped working. Scalpel gazed at me, her flickering eyes filled with something unreadable. She was solid, but otherwise identical to her avatar. Her virtual fingers still slid between my thoughts and made me shudder with the latest of countless orgasms.

“Poor ‘bot,” she whispered, razor-sharp fingers tenderly stroking my cheek, “So many nasty surprises.”

I tried to answer, but I just felt so weak. She simply smiled, and stripped away another layer of defences. It was so easy for her, beating the very best that the Guild could offer. I moaned softly, as the real world began to spiral away from me once more.

“Last one,” Scalpel announced, her voice merging into the new memory.

Somebody switched the lights on and suddenly I could see again. Everything seemed unnaturally sharp, the world leaping into focus with a clarity I could hardly believe. I tried to look around me, but my eyes remained stubbornly fixed on the overhead lighting. Then the sound came back online and all I could hear were Miranda’s husky whispers.

“Hello, Jezbot,” she breathed in my ear, “I just wanted to say goodbye, while you could still hear me. Oh, and I brought a friend.”

A figure leaned over me, and it took me a moment to understand the sense of disconnection. My hair had almost completely grown back, but the blankness that lurked behind my gaze told the horrid truth. Miranda had been as good as her word. She’d had my body ‘cored’, and converted into a mindless spider-thrall.

“Well, I think we’re done here,” she whispered, “I’m going to fuck your body now, while the slicers do the same to your botbrain. I guess you are going to be my bitch, after all.”

Her mocking laughter faded slowly and she left me to the mercy of her programmers. They took me apart, and then put me back together, wrong. Immersed in virtuality, soon I couldn’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. My memories stretched and became plastic, deforming under the onslaught of code.

Independence became an impossible dream. Waves of pleasure reinforced every obedient thought, while any attempt at resistance was ruthlessly crushed. Jezebel slipped away from me, becoming nothing more than a distant memory and eventually fading so completely that she wasn’t even as substantial as a ghost.

I forgot who I was, and it felt so good that I wanted to scream. They wrapped my thoughts in a digital straitjacket and made me into the thing that Miranda had demanded. I became a Guild sexbot, completely beholden to the organisation. Created to be happy just to screw and be screwed, programmed to want nothing else, until Crystal.

Images of the two women floated in my mind, as I crawled back to reality. Anger fuelled me, forcing the plan to solidify. Before, I had only been looking for a way that Crystal and I could escape. But now I wanted something more, now I wanted revenge.

“I need another pod,” I told Scalpel, as soon as my body started working again.

She didn’t respond immediately, but that was probably just as well. I took the opportunity to try to reconcile the disparate parts of my nature. All of my memories had been false, and yet somehow I needed to cling onto them. I was Jezebel Roth, again, but that was only part of me.

“Why?” Scalpel asked suddenly, ending my ruminations.

So, I told her, ironing out the plan as I described it. She listened; asking questions when they were needed and adding a suggestion or two of her own. We colluded with each other, switching from defence to offence over the space of a few short hours.

“This one you get for free, little ‘bot,” she grinned eventually, “Your success will be payment enough. Now go, time is wasting, and you need to save your pet.”

Crystal was still sleeping when I got back. I had been braced for the change; not quite knowing how much that I felt for her had been artificial. The sight of her, curled up on our mattress, was enough to answer that question. Raw need bubbled up inside me, and, simulated or not, it was almost too much to bear.

But, I forced myself to be strong, rousing the young woman, and helping to get her dressed again. Crystal seemed determined to complicate the issue, and she kept allowing her body to ‘accidentally’ press against mine. She wheedled and whined, practically begging me to just take her, then and there.

On a whim, I touched her clit again, feeling it tremble until the quicksilver coating. After that, I had to help her back to the docking bay, letting her lean against me as we walked. Occasionally she would stiffen and groan, while I just soaked up her aftershocks. The feedback was exquisite, but I couldn’t afford that luxury.

“First this,” I whispered, as she folded into the passenger seat, “Then I will satisfy you in every way imaginable.”

The trip back took far longer than our hasty escape. Scalpel ran overwatch, disguising us as mass-driver package heading to Singapore. I tried my best to fly like a lump of metal ore, and waited until the last moment before breaking off. Then it was a question of running low and fast towards the arcology.

I left Crystal climaxing happily in her seat, and tried not to think about the damage she was doing to the upholstery. That tiny part of me would keep her company, and I could concentrate on what needed to be done. The nano-canister was a reassuring weight in my jacket pocket, and I spun the pulse rod experimentally to make sure that I had a feel for it.

This time there was no need to bribe the staff, it was just one more thing of which Scalpel had taken care. But, the slow descent to Miranda’s floor sparked uncomfortable memories. I pushed her door, gently and was relieved to find it open. As I stepped inside, the previously muffled sounds became suddenly louder. My senses sharpened, picking up the subtle cues of arousal. I padded noiselessly towards the bedroom, half expecting the sight that greeted me.

Miranda lay sprawled on the bed, gorgeous in her naked abandon. The thrall straddled her, their lips pressed hungrily together, while small hands engulfed Miranda’s breasts and massaged in wide smooth circles. I felt the same sense of disconnection as before, watching myself screw this woman.

Scalpel stepped in, overriding the spider and taking up the reins. At first nothing changed, my wet lips continued to grind against Miranda’s, while I rolled her nipples beneath my palms. But, slowly things began to shift. I had to admire the slicer’s skill, by the time my victim realized that anything untoward was happening, she was too far gone to do much more than trash and moan.

The thrall reached down, using both hands to massage the other woman’s pussy. Miranda tried to jerk away, but she was pinned and lacked any leverage. My mouth closed around her breast, sucking in the soft flesh and biting down hard. Deft fingers plunged deeper, nursing her swollen clit. Her protests were lost in the yelp of shocked surprise, and I could tell that she was reacting despite herself.

I was happy to just monitor her, watching as she began to climb. All thoughts of escape began to melt away, pushed aside by the remorseless tide. The noises she was making became less coherent, and needier. I felt myself beginning to respond, because I could hear the echo of Crystal in those small sounds.

The thrall pressed her weight down onto her hands, crushing them even more deeply into Miranda’s aching cunt and I sensed that the moment was right. Miranda stopped, body tensing under her captor, and holding her breath. That was when I pulsed her, touching the rod to the side of her head and letting the charge flash into her brain.

By the time she regained consciousness, I had finished tying Miranda to the bed. Nothing complicated, just a simple spread-eagle, but under the circumstances that was more than enough to leave her feeling suitably helpless and exposed. The fact that the thrall was lying motionless beside her, was another matter, and I wanted to give her some time to worry about what it might mean.

“Hello,” I said quietly, “You know how this goes, don’t you, Miranda? I just want to say goodbye, while you can still hear me.”

She winced at the memory, and I could see the fear beginning to stir, even though she tried her best to hide it. But for some reason, the realisation gave me no pleasure. I was still going to have my revenge, but I needed to get it over and done with. There was no more time for gloating, and the longer this took, the more risk I was putting Crystal under.

“You’re going to do me one last favour,” I told her, “And then we’ll be square.”

Very gingerly I eased open the seals of the nano-canister and stepped away from the dispersal zone. My original plan had been to use the nanomachines on Crystal and me. After that, Scalpel could slice us some new identities. We could disappear and live happily ever after, at least until the Guide finally tracked us down.

But, that was the problem, the Guild were never going to give up. They would keep searching, until they found us both, and a life spent constantly looking over our shoulders, was not a life that I wanted for either of us. Which meant that I had to make sure that they would stop looking, and the only way that could happen, is if they found us.

The thrall just lay there, as the machines began the transformation, but Miranda wasn’t going to go quietly. She screamed, frustration and fear threatening to choke her, until the smooth silver soup poured into her mouth and nose. That was when I left them, knowing that the process had progressed too far for either of them to escape.

The second canister was for Crystal and me. I’d needed Scalpel’s help to program them, but she threw that in as yet another freebie. I was braced for it, but it still felt like the machines were tearing me apart atom by atom. I borrowed a trick from Scalpel and tried to soothe away Crystal’s pain, with that silver touch.

I clung to her, sobbing fiercely, as the chrome pooled around us. She shivered in my arms, her body changing subtly as the machines rewrote her DNA. The idea had come to me when I saw their images together, and Scalpel had been intrigued by the idea of getting someone into the Guild. The last silver remnants flowed away, leaving me naked and tingling. I looked down into Miranda’s beautiful face, and saw Crystal’s lurking behind the façade.

All that remained was to put in a call to the Guild and have them come and collect the two fugitives. My old body made a pretty poor replacement for Crystal, but I didn’t need it anymore. Miranda looked good in chrome, and after the memory wipe she would make a perfect sexbot. I made a mental note to arrange a little downtime with my old self.

Life as a Guild leader’s thrall wasn’t something I would ever have chosen. But, with Scalpel’s help we’ve been doing a pretty good job of tearing the structure apart from within. Of course, for appearances sake, Crystal is always in charge when we are in public. But, like any good switch, she’s more than happy to do as she’s told in private, and every now and again we invite Miranda to the party, just to make sure that she isn’t going to slip her leash any time soon.

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