Warning: This story contains mature themes that will be disturbing for some readers.
They picked me up on my way to the slums. Luckily they hadn’t arrived a minute earlier. If they had, they would have seen me visiting the tall, translucent figure of the artificially intelligent Docbot. I touched the small scar on the back of my neck, pretending to scratch an itch. The Docbot had inserted a cable into my neck, one end connecting to my frontal lobe and the other trailing down to the top of my spinal cord. The scar reassured me. I knew they were watching. I knew I had a way out of here.
They put a blindfold over my eyes and tagged me, puncturing my ear and hanging a tag from the lobe. I had seen the tags before. Small pieces of plastic inscribed with betting odds. I wonder if I was a 2-1 or a 100-1.
They threw me in the back of the van and closed the door. I could see a faint glow around the edge of my mask. As part of my cosmetic improvements, I’d had each strand of my hair embedded with bright, atom-sized LED’s, as was the fashion of the elite.
It began just four nights ago. I went to the gambling hall, like every night. It was our only source of income since the Bots took our jobs. The artificial authority or ‘Authorobots’ ensured that every penny spent on fun and cosmetics went back into gambling each night. But, lady luck wasn’t on my side tonight.
I sat at a table across from a man with a tiger tattoo on his wrist, the stripes blazing red and black. Others gathered at the table, but I remember meeting his eyes, he was a perfect target. Brutes stood over the man’s shoulder guarding him. He was rich, and I needed money.
Anyone who is anyone in this world had a Brute looking after them. The Brutes are all masked with anonymous black plates cosmetically fused to their face. They had no identity other than their height and build, they just watched over the rich without emotion. The stitched perforations across the material allowed for breathing and sight. Their lips a contrasting pink against the matte black, their teeth sharp and white.
The man with the tiger tattoo played a hard game.
“Call me Burke” he whispered as he challenged me to a game of roulette.
I called black instead of red. I lost.
Every single penny I’d owned was passed to him.
Burke told me he would give me my money back if I’d sleep with him.
So, I did.
At least I knew I wouldn’t have to live this life forever, unlike some of the girls.
I couldn’t pay my debts so the gang reported me to the Bailiffs. As soon as I’d lost my money, even if I changed my face and hid away, I knew what was coming.
Anticipating the worst gave me a short advantage. Before the traders grabbed me, I’d made a deal with the authorities; I would carry on working in the trade for as long as it took to identify the boss. Afterwards, they would free me and pay off my debts, effectively making me and elite… If I survive until then.
The journey was short. In a world where most jobs were done by AI, the roads were never busy. All we could do was gamble and do the work they couldn’t. Solving moral dilemmas and making judgements. The elite spent their days in leisure; skydiving and having fun with the pleasure-bots. For the unlucky, nothing is left but crime and illegal activity.
We arrived at our destination in under an hour and I was unloaded into a crowded room. Two Brutes took away my possessions before roughly tearing off my clothes. I was dressed in rags by invasive hands and chained to a wall by my ankles.
The room was full of girls, all unlucky and penniless like me.
None of us fought back, we knew what happened then. The girls who fight can only be sold to lowlifes who do all manner of horrors to them. At least the high-profile clients treat their girls better.
I was in the room for days, or hours, I couldn’t tell.
It was dark and damp, and the food was bland. The other girls were broken and scared, some had been here for years. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for them, to never know when they would be free again. At least I had the promise of a future after this.
The room was silent. I could feel my willpower drain away as the hours passed, the slightest whisper from anyone led to a cane across their shoulders. Isolation was making us passive, teaching us to take abuse. I could feel it creeping into me as I sat there, tied with heavy chains. I could feel the strength, the hope, and the happiness leaving me. All the while, the device in my brain remained quiet. They could communicate with me, but they chose not to.
The thought of revenge got me through the time spent chained to the wall. The tattooed man had left me in the morning without giving me back a penny. I couldn’t wait to become an elite again and teach him a lesson.
He had left me feeling disgusted. Used. Violated.
He’d made a mistake, though. He had left me in his room.
I’d managed to swipe an expensive watch off the bedside cupboard before making my escape. I sold it to the highest bidder to make some money. Not enough to pay my debts, but enough to buy a new face.
The traders still got to me anyway. They knew an unlucky girl by sight, even if she had a new face. I didn’t even make it to the slums.
The hours spent on the hard floor made me feel grateful for the new limbs I’d brought in the cosmetic’s house. They stopped me feeling pain. Whatever happened to me here, at least I wouldn’t be able to feel it. Unfortunately, it made me more valuable too. They could do what they wanted with me without hurting me.
I must have fallen asleep for a moment as the door to the room was wrenched open and the light startled me awake. One by one, the girls were led out. As the Brute reached me, I felt a soft flutter in my spine as the Authorobots tuned back in, I could feel them watching.
A brute caned me across my back to urge me to my feet. I collapsed back against the wall, but a searing pain took over my mind and I was compelled to stand. I didn’t know the Authorobots could do that. I didn’t know…
The Brute unlocked the chains around my ankles and his calloused hands pulled my arms behind my back. He nearly pulled my shoulder out of its socket as he clamped chains around my wrists. With another slap of his cane, he jerked me into an adjoining room.
I was roughly washed down with a hose before a seductive red dress was yanked over my head, covering less of me than the rags had. His masked face never allowed him to give any emotions away. But I suspected he was enjoying it. As soon as the Brute had brushed my hair with painful scrapes, he unlocked my wrists and threw me through another door.
I stumbled into a large auditorium. The Authorobots took control of my feet to stop me falling flat on my face, then left me again. Around one edge of the room was a two-way mirror. I stood there, my shoulders blazing with pain, I couldn’t think. The lights were dazzling. I took a few steps to the centre of the room and paused, trying to think through my shame.
However, before I had the chance to make a decision, an impulse forced me to dance. I watched, hopeless and terrified, seeing from the outside as my feet twirled in a seductive dance that would entice anyone to buy. I couldn’t control anything as a fake smile forced its way onto my face. A smile they had put there.
Panic rose inside my gut. I tried to distract myself with rage, imagining the men on the other side of the glass. I tried to believe that letting the Authorobots control me was the right thing to do. I knew from the stories that one pane of glass covered the buyers; the men I would be forced to submit to. I could imagine them bidding with leering smiles. The other pane of glass hid the betters. Disgusting men who were not rich enough to buy a girl, so bid on which elite would win her instead. It was sick.
My distraction didn’t work, I couldn’t control the panic, I felt myself black out for a moment, but the Authorobots forced me awake again. I was trapped in my own body, no amount of rage and justification of the Authorobot’s actions could change that. They violated me in a way no man ever had or could. I felt sick.
But then it was over, the Authorobots let me go. I felt their presence recede as I was thrown into a suite. I rushed to a plant pot in the corner, straining my empty stomach.
The room was luxurious, the bed decorated with thick downy cushions and silk sheets. I knew I had a role to perform, but after what the Authorobots did to me, I was struggling to decide which fate was worse; the trade or the robots. I realised that either way, my body would never be my own.
I just wanted this thing out of my head. The Authorobots were no better than the traders. I realised that now.
I wasn’t alone for long, a brute joined me in the room and pulled a blindfold over my eyes. The client joined me a minute later. The whole time he was there I was hoping I would just black out from the pain. I was battered and bruised by the time he took the blindfold off. Whip marks streaked across every inch of my skin. My body sliding on the silk sheets soaked with my own blood.
My stomach churned at the sight but I had no energy to do anything about it. I was broken, conquered, and invaded.
However, the moment the light stopped searing my eyes and I saw who he was. The red and black tiger tattoo danced upon his wrist, its tail soaked in my blood.
It was him. Burke.
My rage tried to overcome me, I wanted to pay him back for everything he had done to me. But I controlled myself, the monsters were still in my head watching.
I couldn’t let them have him. I hated them as much as I hated him.
I would have my revenge but it had to be my own.
I waited for him to leave the room to shower off my blood, then I crawled out of the saturated sheets and over to a glass jar near the window. I took the roses out of the jar and laid them on the bed in a twisted mockery of my situation.
Mustering all the strength I could gather I smashed the pot onto the floor. It shattered in a shower of glass.
I could feel the Authorobots’ confusion. They never did understand humanity. What it really means to be human.
I took the sharpest shard of glass and, without giving the Authorobots a chance to react, I cut into the back of my neck. For once I was glad the room was sound proof as I let out a yell. The fresh blood became indistinguishable from the other open wounds. With one hand I grabbed the tangle of bloody wires, and with the other, I sliced. I felt the Authorobots’ presence immediately leave me.
I’d severed their connection for good.
Using the candle next to the bed, I dropped hot wax over the wound, sealing it. I screamed, but at least the abuse was my own this time.
My mind was finally my own again. In some sick way, I felt free.
I knew the Authorobots would come for me. But if this was a game of roulette. I would take red over black any day. Being abused by flesh and blood rather than being abused by machinery and technology. I’d come to terms with the fact that my body would never be my own, but I couldn’t accept the loss of my mind as well. I would rather risk staying in the trade than lose the part of me which makes me human.
The Authorobots are the ones that put me here in the first place. They are the ones who took our jobs.
I am going to get revenge on Burke, I am going to take the trade down and when the time is right, I am going to drag the authorities down with me.