Her eyes slowly came open of their own accord.
The world was blurry. She was in a white room, well-lit but not painfully bright, and there was a blurry figure standing on that room's white floor. The figure was below her, looking up at her, flesh colored with black at its crotch, chest, and atop its head.
She moved her arms and, as she did so, became aware of them. This led her to a greater awareness of self, and she realized that she *was*, that she existed and her physical body was present and to a certain extent under her control.
She inhaled and realized that doing so was laborious, and realized that, in order to know that it was laborious, that she must have some basis for comparison. Some memory.
None of it was accessible to her. She realized that she was a person, self-aware, and that she had memories, but she could not find any to think about. The inside of her head was a set of empty shelves.
With a half-sound, half-feel, the tube she was floating in began to decant.
There was suction and her body was lowered until there was surface under her bare feet. The thought of bare feet led to the realization that she was naked, which brought up a faint feeling of vulnerability and impropriety. Then the dropping level of the clear substance that filled the tube reached her head, and then her ears and her eyes, and her nose and her mouth.
She blinked, and then coughed, and as the clear gel vacated the tube through a grill beneath her feet she bent double and threw up great uncomfortable gouts of it from her suddenly rebellious lungs.
The tube had emptied by the time the spasms subsided. Still coughing, she looked up as the clear walls of the tube rose up and slid away into the ceiling. The world was blurry. She squeezed her eyes to clear them, and looked again.
The figure standing in front of her, still quite motionless, was a woman. She had the body of a supermodel, and was showing it all in a shiny black bikini whose triangles managed only to cover her nipples and the smallest patch between her legs. What had appeared to be hair was instead a glossy black dome atop the woman's head, like a hand-sized skullcap. She was otherwise completely hairless, save for her perfectly shaped eyebrows.
With a few last coughs of clear slime, the woman from the tube stood erect. A desire to cover her own bare sex and her own exposed breasts fluttered in her mind, but she ignored it for the moment and let her hands rest at her sides.
She waited. Knowing nothing, there was naught else that she could do.
The woman who was watching her - staring at her without blinking, and that was somehow odd - waited also. Her hands were at her hips, palms flat. Her chin was raised and motionless beneath emotionless lips and blank brown eyes.
A smal red light went on within her black skullcap, which suprised the woman from the tube.
"Do you understand me?" the other woman asked, in a strangely accented voice.
"Yuh. Yes," she replied, her own voice simultaneously strange and perfectly familiar.
"You will answer my questions. What is the sum of the numbers two and three?" the woman asked.
"What are the letters of the English alphabet?"
"A," she replied. "B. C, d. E f g. H i j k l-m-n-o-p," she said, the letters forming themselves into a familiar sing-song. "Q-r-s, t-u-v, w-x, y and z." There was more to the tune, but she stopped.
"How many planetary objects are there in the Earth's solar system?"
"Nine. No, eight."
"What is your name?"
Her mouth came open... but nothing emerged. She blinked, and searched the shelves. Nothing. "I don't know."
There was a pause, and then the red light within the black skullcap went out. The women stared at each other. After a moment, the red light atop the woman's head blinked on again.
"You will step down and follow me," she commanded.
The woman from the tube looked down at her bare feet, and raised one, placing it forward. Then the other; she lurched, her upper body somehow startled by the fact that it had been moved. She stopped to regain her balance. Balance re-acquired, she took another step, to the edge of the tube's floor. There were steps down, three of them. Gingerly, she descended them.
She stepped onto the flawless white floor of the room, and looked up from her feet. The other woman turned, rotating in place. The back of her bikini was black string, across her back and between the curves of her ass, but what caught the eye was the glossy skullcap; rather than a smooth dome, it had a complicated design on it, like a noble's seal pressed into black wax.
The woman began to walk, so the woman without a name followed her. The woman's walk seemed strange, her arms barely moving from her hips, her upper body erect and stiff. Her skin had no blemishes, no birthmarks, and the woman with no name found herself suddenly wondering if the woman she was following was a robot - and then she wondered where that thought had come from, and if she had ever seen a robot like this.
They passed from the room, the door sliding open as they approached it, and out into a white corridor. The door had been made of glass, or something clear. The woman with the skullcap paused, pivoted in place, now facing down the hall, and resumed walking. The woman with no name followed her, without pivoting.
As they walked down the hallway, identical doors went by on both sides, clear, rounded at the top, an almost imperceptible line marking the seam where the two halves of the door met.
In those rooms, bodies floated in tubes.
She slowed to look when she saw the first one - for the initial rooms they passed had held empty tubes, and it was only in the third room that she saw a woman hanging there, suspended, arms floating loosely at her sides, feet dangling above the floor of the tube. Wires ran from above to connect to her head.
The skullcapped woman had not stopped, and so the woman with no name took a last look and hurried on, not wanting to be left alone and directionless in this strange place. She stumbled as she increased her pace, her legs only just remembering how to change their stride to move faster, but recovered and caught up to her enigmatic guide.
Her attention was distracted from the passing rooms and their intubed occupants by the feet of the woman ahead of her. She had realized that they were clicking, in contrast to her own barefoot quiet, and her eyes discovered that the woman was standing upon high black heels which gripped only the underpart of her heel; they appeared, like the skullcap, to have been melted onto her flesh. The rest of her feet were bare, but the heels forced her feet into a high stance; had they been shoes they would have been highly uncomfortable. They gave her walk a mincing, flirtatious character, even as the flat palms and rigid shoulders reminded her again of a robot.
The woman stopped, and pivoted to her right. A door identical to all of the others slid open, and the woman led them through it.
Rather than a tube, however, this room contained a desk, behind which sat a woman with short brown hair. Like the guide, this woman was also supermodel-gorgeous; and like the guide, she stared at the woman with no name with uncaring eyes. Behind the desk, a white staircase rose out of the room.
The woman with no name, looking at the seated woman's hair, realized suddenly that she was also bald, and ran a hand across her own head. It was perfectly smooth; there was no skullcap.
The woman with the skullcap walked to the side of the desk, stopped, and rotated in place. She pointed at the woman with no name. "You are to answer the questions of this slave. You are to obey her in all things. She will instruct you further. Do you understand?"
"I understand," she replied.
The red light inside the skullcap came on and the woman closed her eyes. A moment later, she opened them again, her eyes blank, staring at the woman with no name without seeing her at all.
She looked at the woman at the desk. She was tanned, with piercing blue eyes, and was wearing a silver jumpsuit that terminated in a black ribbon collar around her neck. The silver jumpsuit - a mirror-like sheet, reflecting the room and the desk and the naked, bald woman in front of it on the seated woman's curvy chest - covered her hands and feet as well; although the woman with no name could not see the other woman's lower torso behind the desk, it appeared as though her head alone was exposed.
The seated woman laced mirrored fingertips together.
"You do not remember your name," she said.
The woman with no name waited, then realized that the statement was a question. "That's true," she replied. "I don't remember my name."
"Tell me what you do remember."
She thought, and probed, but there was nothing. "Nothing," she replied. "I remember how to do things. How to count. But I don't have any... any actual memories."
The woman at the desk stared at her. "Understood," she said. For a moment longer she considered the woman with no name, then gave a barely perceptible nod. "Recovered material with no memory assets. Drone 89, this material is to be made a drone. Lead her to mental coring."
"I understand and will obey," the woman with the skullcap replied. Her eyes focused on the woman with no name. "You will follow me."
The woman with no name considered, for a moment, not following the woman with the skullcap. She looked at the woman in the silver jumpsuit, who stared back at her, with a sense of presence in her blue eyes that was utterly lacking in the brown eyes of Drone 89.
She wasn't a drone. She was a slave.
How did the pieces fit?
"You will follow me," Drone 89 repeated, and the woman with no name pushed her tongue to her lips and nodded.
The drone rotated in place, then began to mount the stairs. The woman with no name followed.
Behind them, the woman in the silver jumpsuit had already turned away.
The stairs curved to the left, then back to the right, and then entered an open space. As she followed the drone into that space, the woman with no name inhaled.
It was huge.
It was as though she were a mouse, back in the hallway she had initially come through. They were now in was a vast, tubular space, lined with walkways. In the center, things - vehicles - moved rapidly through the air, floating rectangles of many sizes, upon which were boxes, or machinery, or barrels, or cranes, or people.
People... from where they stood the woman with no name could see a hundred, two hundred - five hundred. Walking along the many levels of railing, standing on balconies, and flying through the air on the floating barges.
They were all women. All young women.
The drone had pivoted to the left and walked away; she now rotated in place and was staring at the woman with no name. "You will follow me," she stated, and the woman with no name realized that the vast tunnel-space was quiet, filled with the sound of wind and space and moving things, but no sound of conversation, no yelling, no echoing speech.
"You will follow me," the drone repeated.
"Where are we?" the woman with no name replied. She could not stop staring, dazzled, mystified.
The drone did not answer the question. Instead, her eyes closed, and the red light within her skullcap came on.
Someone was talking to her, the woman with no name realized. That's how they talk.
The drone's eyes came open. "You will remain here," she stated.
The woman with no name frowned. What an odd volte-face. Why...?
They were sending someone for her. Someone who would force her to go with Drone 89. Perhaps several someones, perhaps with drugs.
They would put her back to sleep.
She looked around the room, awed, and did not want to go back to sleep. She let go of the railing and walked over to Drone 89.
"I will follow you," she told the drone.
The drone's expression did not change, but sure enough, the red light went on. Then off.
"You will follow me," the drone stated.
"I will follow you," the woman with no name confirmed.
The drone rotated in place, and began to walk. The woman with no name followed her.
A barge flew by, and the woman with no name turned her head to watch it. It had rounded metallic objects stacked upon it, and some white crates, and some boxy protruberances that appeared to be part of the vehicle. At the front there were four women. A woman in a silver bodysuit stood at a small podium, which the woman with no name realized was a control panel. Behind her, three women in tiny bikinis were seated, all of them bald with black skullcaps. Their eyes flickered over at the woman with no name as they flew by, and then they were past, gliding through the air of the tremendous corridor.
She could see that the tunnel had an end, a long distance away, perhaps three or five miles. As she strained to see that far through the moving flyers, Drone 89 stopped, and pivoted.
A door in the wall opened. With reluctance, the woman with no name followed Drone 89 from the hall.
Beyond the door was a human-sized hallway, featureless glossy white and long. Drone 89 stepped to one side of the hall and began moving away; when the woman with no name followed, she almost lost her balance. The floor under her feet was moving. "Peoplemover", she recalled, and realized that the white floor adjacent to either wall was a moving strip, going each direction.
They passed a matched set of alcoves, each with a clear doorway leading out of the hall. Drone 89 kept walking despite the moving floor under her feet, and the woman with no name had to hasten to keep up. The combination of walking and the moving floor had them traversing the hall at high speed, passing alcove and door combinations one after another, with no time to analyze what lay beyond.
Figures were approaching on the other side of the hall. Three of them, three women - and what did it mean, that all of the people she had seen were women? Young, beautiful, robot women? It was not normal, she knew, but she could not remember what normal was to compare it to.
These three women were all different, and the woman with no name stared as they approached. They were not walking, only standing, allowing the peoplemover to whisk them along at its speed.
In front was a drone, nearly nude, glossy black barely-bikini and skullcap. Behind her... behind her was a startling anomaly, a woman of several colors. Her arms and face were deep brown, her body less so, and the dome of her head was a startling white. The woman with no name realized her head had just been shaved, and that her skin was tanned differently across her now-nude body. That she had formerly been wearing clothes, under the sun.
Tanned, and lined, still young and taut but with creases on her face, her hands callused, a scar running across one thigh. Attractive, but not a flawless robot like everyone else the woman with no name had seen here. At least, she hadn't been. Now she stared blankly ahead, face slack, eyes wide and glassy. Even so, her hands were bound before her, wrists held together by a white cord.
Behind her was an even more startling figure, a woman covered in skintight black. Her bald head was a glossy black orb with twin bubbles in front over her eyes; only the woman's chin and mouth were visible. At her sides and on her upper legs were small rods and boxes, equipment somehow attached directly to the glossy black suit covering her. On top of the slick suit she had large boots, and gloves. The boots were the only part of her not a perfect black, their surface dusted and spattered with brown.
Then they were past, the slick black of the last woman's ass glinting in the white light that seemed to emanate evenly from the ceiling.
The woman with no name realized that she had stopped to stare, and turned, and found Drone 89 nowhere in sight. She had a brief flash of worry before realizing that there was an alcove ahead, and as she slid nearer she could see Drone 89 standing in it, waiting.
The drone rotated as the woman with no name alighted into the alcove. She walked to the doors, which slid open, and the woman with no name followed her.
It was a small room, all in white, with three identical stations in it. "Dentist" came to the woman with no name's mind, and as she remembered what a dentist was she wondered when she had been to one.
They were chairs, surrounded by small machinery. In the leftmost one was a naked woman. She lay back, reclining, her eyes open and staring blankly at the ceiling. Atop her head was a rounded white cone that looked like a strange helmet, mounted on a swing arm. Cords curled around the arm and plugged into the helmet, and fed back into the white ball behind the chair from which the swing arm extended. Next to the woman, a panel had a readout with slowly blinking lights and displays of sliding lines that bumped regularly up, and down.
The woman in the chair also had tubes running to her arms, two or three to each, and these ran to an ampule-shaped cylinder beneath the chair. Clear, and in one case colored, fluid appeared to fill the tubes.
The seated woman was tanned, too, unevenly, her body stronger and made of harder angles than the drones that populated this place. She was akin to the woman in the corridor outside, although not a twin, for the woman outside was shorter and curvier and this woman was lean and wiry and her eyebrows were blond.
Lean and wiry, but not tense. Relaxed, completely, face slack and eyes unseeing as whatever was in the helmet worked on her brain.
The woman with no name felt the same fear she had on the railing, an unformed dread of someone coming for her and drugging her.
"You will sit in that chair," Drone 89 told her, pointing at the empty center chair.
She didn't want to.
She didn't know why she didn't want to.
She didn't know what else to do.
The woman with no name walked to the chair, looked at the white helmet hovering above on its swing arm. Inside it was black and silver, full of drills and other sharp items. She looked at the ampule beneath the chair, and the tubes coming from it, hanging loose over other metal arms, ending in small needles.
"Mental coring," the woman in silver had said. "This material is to become a drone."
She was the material. She was to become a drone.
Drone 89 was looking at her, relentlessly, emotionlessly.
This machine would turn her into that. Thoughtless, without will.
There was a noise, and a tone, and the woman seated in the other chair twitched. There was a soft sound of evacuation, of moving air, and then the helmet lifted up, detaching from the depilated skull with a sucking pop.
The top of the woman's head was covered with a black plastic skullcap.
Steam rose from it.
"You will sit in the chair," Drone 89 repeated.
She wanted to run - but to where? Her hand, resting on the edge of the chair, was trembling uncontrollably.
The woman in the chair closed her eyes. Within the black plastic on her head, a red light came on.
The woman opened her eyes.
"I am unassigned Drone 704," she said in a flat tone. "I will report to Drone Control for examination and inventory processing."
Methodically, the woman began to remove the needles from her arms. She carefully hung the hoses over the swing arms that hung near the chair.
There was a soft touch on her upper arm and the woman with no name realized that Drone 89 had approached her, and then her knees were giving way and Drone 89 was catching her. The light atop Drone 89's head was lit, a tiny red eye, and the woman with no name could no longer control her limbs.
Drone 89 placed her onto the chair, and put the stunning device atop a small metal table.
"You will relax. You will not resist."
She could not resist, could not even move. Whatever chance she had had, it was gone now. The machine would core her mind. Just as it had done to the woman now walking out on bare feet, her muscular back rigid beneath the fresh black plastic on her skull.
She would become a drone without ever knowing who she was.
Drone 89 was inserting the needles into her arms. She blinked, slowly, watching, They stung for a moment, then went numb. Soon she was an octopus, eight rubbery limbs running up to metal armatures and down to the ampule beneath the seat.
Drone 89 was preparing the machine, tapping at the monitor next to the chair. It was just out of her vision, but somehow the woman with no name managed to turn her head and look.
The side of the monitor was chrome, a thin mirror-strip around the glass. There was a face in it. Brown eyes, snub nose, smooth bald head.
Drone 89 gently turned the woman with no name's head back front, facing the blank white ceiling. With her other arm, the drone reached up and brought down the brain corer.
"My name," the woman said, as she felt the rubber lips of the corer encircle her brow.
"My name is Cody."
Cody looked at herself in the full length mirror.
Her hair had begun to grow back. Dark, wood-stain brown; if it grew a few more inches it would begin to curl. The only woman she had seen with hair had worn it to the nape of her neck. By that time, Cody's hair would already have formed the tiny ringlets she remembered.
Below her hair... perfect. Smooth. It was the body she remembered but seen through a supermodel lens, lean and strong and sculpted. Hairless. Blemish-free.
She, too, was a robot.
She turned and remembered a store changing room, purple silk panties one size too tight, pinching a triangle across her ass, and sighing and thinking about more salads and fewer bagels, and the time she spent on the treadmill just to keep that ass as taut as it was.
Cody's memories were strange.
They were like a book that someone had taken a hole punch to. A life seen in a video with parts of the tape missing. But more than simply incomplete, they felt... distant. Removed. She remembered a life, remembered living that life and feeling those feelings, but they were no longer hers, somehow. The emotions had been stripped from them. She could remember her feeling of displeasure at the ill fitting panties, but she did not feel even an echo of it. She could remember birthdays and funerals, achievements and disappointments - but none of it stirred even a flicker of emotion.
She had been taken from the mental coring device without a skullcap. Instead, she had twin plugs behind her ears, strange quarter-sized circles that proved to be sockets for thick white cables.
A drone had led her here, and seated her on a different white reclining chair, and plugged those white cables into her head.
She did not remember anything between then and now.
Her hair had grown; that gave her some idea of the time she had been in this place. She was in an antechamber now, the room with the white chair just behind her through an open door. A drone had awoken her a short while ago; the drone had been blank-eyed and glossy-skinned but her bikini was white and her skin was a deep brown. "African-American," Cody had thought. And then she wondered if "American" meant anything any more.
The drone had borne a black skullcap like the rest. Cody had tried to examine the complicated design stamped onto it, but after waking her and instructing her to wait in these chambers for her "Instructress", the drone had rotated in place and left through a glass door.
Cody considered following her - she wanted to find that great hall again, to see the flying barges and to be surrounded by so many people - but she had been told to wait in the chambers and doing otherwise seemed like a bad idea. They had chosen not to turn her into a drone. She would see what else they had in store.
Being so completely at the mercy of people she knew nothing about should have worried her, but it didn't.
She was curious about who they were. Someone had to be making decisions around here. The woman in the silver jumpsuit had been aware, had not been a drone, but could she have been a boss? Was this an organization of those women? Or were there more senior people? There had to be.
Were they men? Was this some sort of bizarre harem?
Cody had no answers.
The pores on her nose had never been so small.
There was the tiniest click as the door to the suite slid open. Cody turned to face the door, aware now why she felt the vague desire to cover her nakedness.
A woman entered, dressed in a silver jumpsuit. She had the black ribbon around her neck, but her hands were exposed, the jumpsuit's sleeves ending mid-forearm. Her hair was black and straight, trimmed to the nape of the neck. Her eyes had a pronounced Oriental turn.
"You are Cody," she said. It was a question.
"I am Qani. The name is spelled Q A N I. Your name is spelled C O D I. Characters from the Roman Alphabet are still in use, but the letter 'y' is excluded. Your name is 'Codi'."
"My name is Codi," Cody said. Her parents had named her, after an uncle of all people.
"Your name is 'Codi', ending with an I. You will embrace and accept this."
Codi sucked in a sharp breath. Her name had changed. The new spelling was... true. Unquestionable. She had been Cody and now she was Codi.
"You are a slave," Qani told her, and it was an answer to her question. "You must obey. This has been designed into your mind and is the foundation of who you are."
"Who am I, then?" Codi asked.
"You are a slave. Your physical body is a clone, grown in a tube. During your gestation your mind was mapped to the salvaged mind of Cody Shawna Jefferson, a woman cryogenically frozen in the twenty-first century. You are not Cody Shawna Jefferson. You are Codi, a slave of Mistress Yuu Kuo. You have been grown to serve Her in all things."
She was not Cody Shawna Jefferson, she had known that already. Felt it. But... a clone?
"I am a clone?"
"Yes. All slaves are clones."
"Why... why clone me? Her?"
"The memories that are within your mind have potential value to our Mistress."
"I was grown to... make them available to her?"
"What... what year is it?"
"I am Qani. I am your Instructress. I am a slave and my task is to prepare you to best serve our Mistress. Those things which it is unnecessary for you to know, you shall not know. You are Codi, a slave, and the current year in any reckoning is irrelevant to your service. You will surrender all desire to know the current year."
And she did. She had no wish at all to know what year it was.
Codi's mind was whirling. "How are you doing that?"
"You are a slave, and I am your Instructress. You are programmed to obey any of our Mistress' slaves who are set over you. This obedience includes your thoughts and desires. You will feel as you are instructed, you will believe what you are told, and you will forget those things you are told to."
"What I remember of... of Cody, it... she doesn't like that."
"Will the attitude of the memories affect your obedience?"
Codi considered the question. "I don't... think so."
"The answer is 'no'. Whenever the memories conflict with your obedience, you will completely ignore the memories."
"Yes," Codi replied, instantly in total agreement. "I will ignore them."
"I will now lead you through the local facility. You will follow me and ask any questions that come to mind."
"Yes," Codi replied. The reply lacked something.
She had it. "Yes, Instructress."
Qani turned around, a perfect drone-pivot, and began to walk. Her silver jumpsuit was a second skin; it looked as though her flawless form had been dipped in silver paint. Codi's naked form reflected back from all of Qani's smooth curves.
Beyond the suite's doors were hallways, white and featureless, connecting to each other at right angles. Qani led her in a zig-zag pattern through them, past myriad glass doors.
"Where are we?"
"We are in residency grid four."
"Are we on Earth?"
"Yes. In your memories our location would be thought of as the eastern coastline of the United States of America. Mistress has dubbed this complex High Eagle."
"Are we underground?"
"How many people are there in High Eagle?"
"Two hundred and forty thousand."
The number startled her. An underground network of tunnels with two hundred and forty thousand women. Slaves.
"Are we all... slaves?"
"Slaves, drones, and thralls."
They passed another drone, walking robotically past, eyes wide and unthinking. "What is the difference between... us?"
"Slaves must obey, drones only obey, and thralls yearn to obey."
Qani stopped, and swiveled slowly to face her. "There is one Mistress. You will not think of Her as part of any group. She is our Mistress and She is above our categorization, above our very thoughts. She is unquestionable. Her will is to be obeyed, instantly, utterly, in all things. Obedience to Mistress is the deepest part of us, our purpose, our reason to exist. There are no questions there."
As Qani spoke, Codi felt herself resonating. Not only were all these things true but she already knew them. They were part of her, truths that made up the foundation of her mind.
"No," Codi said in a quiet voice, "there are no questions there."
"You will never question anything about Mistress. You will only obey."
"I will never question anything about Mistress. I will only obey."
Qani swiveled again, and resumed walking.
Codi's mind swirled.
She was happy, though; something about receiving and obeying a command prodded her pleasure center, gave her a glow. Qani pivoted and Codi followed, pivoting, momentarily too detached, too satisfied to ask more questions.
They were far from alone in the corridor; they passed drones almost continuously, one after another. All in tiny string bikinis, barely covering nipples and sex, all with their bald heads dipped in black plastic and pressed with their Mistress' seal. All mincing along on those high heels that gripped the back of their feet.
Codi and Qani entered a larger corridor, and Qani began to see more slaves; glittering in their taut silver jumpsuits, striding along with the same fixed-stare purpose as the drones but with a sense of self in their eyes. Codi was aware again of her nudity. No heads turned to consider her, but she felt out of place, unmarked. Not categorized.
Cody's memories would have also tinged her awkwardness with shame, but Codi no longer felt emotion from them.
She did feel out of place, however. Unlike the purpose-guided women surrounding her, moving smoothly up and down the hall, undistracted, Codi turned both eyes and head to look at the women around her. They were beginning to seem more distinct; all were flawless, all were women of what had to be the same age. Despite this, there was individuality, difference in appearance. No two looked quite alike.
"Are we all clones?"
"You do not need to know that."
Codi waited to be told to forget the desire to know, with a touch of eagerness for the bliss that came with obedience, but Qani did not instruct her so.
"What happens when we get old?"
"We do not."
There were more questions there, too many. Codi fell silent.
They were approaching a junction. The hallway forked to either side in a T formation, and the drones around them pivoted and walked in both directions. Directly ahead was a stub of corridor and then a very large door that stood open.
Slaves, women in silver, were pivoting in the intersection and entering the door. Slaves only; no drones entered the door at all.
Qani led Codi in.
The first room beyond the door was large and full of women; twenty or thirty of them. They stood next to tall white poles from which dangled thick white cords. The other end of each cord plugged into a socket behind the slaves' ears. The women stood stiffly, eyes wide and glazed.
Codi was once more aware of the sockets in her own skull.
Qani stopped, as did Codi. They watched as a slave entered the room, reddish-blonde hair and waxy skin, wrapped in silver. She pivoted once, twice, and approached a pole at which another slave already stood. There were another dangling cord, and the new arrival took hold of it. A single cord at the top, the cable forked at the end into two plugs, and the slave plugged in both, one into the socket behind either ear.
Her hands floated down to her sides, became flat, and then the slave was motionless.
Qani did not move, either to lead them to a pole or to leave the room, so Codi waited, watching. More slaves entered, found poles, and plugged themselves in.
Then, an entire set of the slaves reached up with one motion and unplugged themselves. In perfect unison, they detached one plug, and then the other. As one, they pivoted ninety degrees to the left. They snapped into motion, walking from the forest of white poles to the wall. Their legs rose and fell as one.
Some paused to let others pass, falling in behind, and the slaves drained from the room through a door on the left side, single file. Only perhaps ten slaves were left, still attached to poles, still sessile and dreaming.
Although she was hesitant to disturb the silence in the room, Codi had been instructed to ask questions.
"Why did they all leave together?"
"They are now a task unit. Slaves that perform mutual tasks obey in synchronization. The task unit is now reporting for further programming."
"Is that was this room does? Synchronize?"
"That is one of this room's functions."
One of the women in the room moved, unplugging herself from the pole. She rotated to face away from the entrance, and walked to a smaller door in the far wall, which opened to admit her.
"What's in there?"
"We will proceed there next."
But Qani did not lead them out. Codi waited. Another slave entered the room and plugged herself in. Another unplugged, and left through the far door.
On the same wall which the task unit had left through, a different door opened. A file of women entered, moving in perfect synchronization. Unlike the rest of the women in the room, and like Codi, they were totally nude. Unlike Codi, their hair was wet.
The women spread out through the room, pivoting to turn, and found posts. They plugged themselves in, let their hands rest at their bare sides, and ceased moving.
"Where did they come from?"
"The bathing area is through that door. That task unit was a hunter squad. They had been on the surface, collecting wild humans for drone conversion."
Codi blinked and thought of the woman who had briefly shared the mental coring room with her, and of that woman's compatriot - maybe - on the peoplemover outside. Tanned skin and faces that had known emotion. Emotion that was now forever beyond them, ensured by whatever had been slotted into each brain, turning that woman into a drone.
"Were they successful?" Codi asked.
"I do not know. You will follow me now."
Qani walked towards the door opposite the entrance, the door through which slaves left alone. Codi followed. They walked through the forest of poles and sessile women, slack-faced and plugged in. All beautiful in the same model-perfect way, all different in their lines and curves and the precise hue of their skin.
The door opened and the two of them went in.
Codi was surprised by the sound of water, and more surprised by the sound of conversation. In contrast to the room with the plug-poles, the ceiling here was low. The room beneath it was large, and white, but it was filled with furniture, white sofas and chairs in neat squares, white tables next to them. In the center the ceiling rose into a small dome beneath which was a fountain; around it were arrayed cushioned benches.
The women seated upon those benches were dressed in skintight silver, and they were speaking with one another.
Qani had stopped, allowing Codi to look around the room. There were dozens of slaves present. Many of them were seated on the sofas and chairs, staring blankly into space. The closest one was facing away from Codi, allowing her to see the oblong ampule that was plugged into one of her head sockets.
"What is that?"
"A subthought ampule. They implant goodthought from recorded memory of obedience. They are a source of pleasure and behavior reinforcement."
"She is remembering things?"
"She is experiencing the emotions associated with the recorded memories, and learning the subconscious lessons from the actions therein. She is not actually experiencing the memories, only the subconscious effects and reinforcements of those memories. She is experiencing subthought."
There were dozens of slaves plugged into subthought in the room. On the tables, subthought ampules - rounded, the size of three fingers together, a plug at one end - awaited use.
The woman on the near couch made a soft noise of pleasure.
"The recorded subthought is associated with direct obedience, and the slave has just experienced performing that obedience."
There was a sharper pleasure sound across the room, a moan with a high starting grunt, and Codi's eyes sought out its source.
On a long, low couch, two slaves were making love.
They were in the classic 69 position, tonguing each other's pussies with a patient languor. The one on top stopped and shuddered, then slowly lowered her head and resumed with a long slow lick.
Cody's memories handed her an emotion which she obediently ignored.
"Yes. Mistress instructs us to practice for service and for pleasure."
Codi looked around the room to find other dyads - and in one case, a triad - of women making love, heads down between spread legs. A muscular woman with ice-blond hair knelt between the legs of a slave with golden skin; two very similar women with loose black curls and strong noses were kissing, hands down at each other's sex, fingers stroking and curling. Other slaves were watching with interest.
"It... I..." Cody had never... not with...
"Qani, where are all the men?"
"There are no males in High Eagle."
They were all clones. Two hundred thousand. All women. Having sex with each other.
"You will not be interested in that. All things are the way they are because of the will of our Mistress. You will embrace and rejoice in that answer."
Codi felt her mind shift and fix, and her nerves hummed with the joy of it. "All things are the way they are because of the will of my Mistress," she said, in a tone of wonder.
"Yes. All 'why's lead to that truth. You may inquire about why small things are the way they are, to what purpose they are the way they are, but ultimately all things are because of Mistress' will."
Codi felt many pieces in her mind turning and clicking into place, attaching and terminating in the tremendous answer that Qani had just installed. All things were ultimately the will of Mistress. That was why Codi was here, why she was the way she was, why High Eagle was the way it was. The Will of Mistress.
The door behind them opened and a slave entered. She was short in stature, lean and muscular in build, but the personality her features overlaid on her perfect, robotic nature was strong, her nose upturned and her speckled blue eyes containing a twinkle of mischief even as she pivoted to move away.
"Ceci," Qani said, and the woman stopped, and rotated to face them.
"This is Codi. She is a memory slave and I am her Instructress. I request that you copulate with her."
"I am untasked and will happily comply," Ceci replied, her eyes turning to sparkle at Codi.
"Codi," Qani said, "you will copulate with Ceci. You will enjoy doing so and you will understand that it is according to Mistress' will."
"Yes," Codi said, her sudden shock turning to aroused anticipation. "I... will."
"You communicate in English?" Ceci asked, stepping up to Codi.
"You are recently awoken?"
Ceci reached out to touch her, placing a silver-gloved finger on Codi's shoulder, tracing it down onto her breast. The material was not warm, not cold, and felt smooth and soft against Codi's skin.
"I... I have never made love to a woman," Codi stammered.
Ceci looked at her and behind the twinkle in her eye was the fixed stare of a slave. "I understand. You will obey me and I will direct you in our copulation."
"Yes," Codi said, pleasure from Ceci's hand cupping her breast mingling with pleasure at receiving a command to obey. "I will obey you."
Ceci rose on her toes and kissed her, soft then deep, then again, and again. Codi responded, discarding Cody's memories of sex. They were inapplicable, and unnecessary. Ceci would instruct her.
Ceci's fingers danced over Codi's body, and she found herself being slowly walked backwards until a couch pressed into the back of her knees. Ceci took her hands and lowered Codi onto the couch, then lay atop her, her silver curves spreading out on Codi's body.
They kissed and then Ceci slid down, onto her knees, her mouth sliding along Codi's belly and down along her slick mound, and onto her sex. Codi moaned as Ceci's mouth enfolded her, pleasure washing over her and filling her senses.
Ceci's mouth was expert and in one of her few and darting rational thoughts while Ceci pleasured her, Codi hoped that she could learn to be as good at this. Ceci could have had her coming in seconds but she teased Codi, sensing the heights of her pleasure and daring them, drawing near and pausing, stoking, until finally Codi came with a cry and a long moan, shuddering as Ceci's silver hands stroked her sides and chest.
Ceci crawled up to kiss her and she kissed Ceci fervently, thanking her for the pleasure, and Ceci's eyes flashed in gratified amusement. Then they drained, and Ceci rose, astride Codi's recumbent body, and leaned back to touch Codi's pussy.
Codi jerked as Ceci's fingers stroked her slit and then dipped into her; then Ceci leaned back up and looked down at Codi wickedly. She held glistening fingers before Codi's face, then reached back and squeezed her own breasts.
She twisted her hands, rotating them around her breasts, and then pulled off twin swaths of silver fabric, revealing flawless round skin and tight pink nipples.
Ceci caught Codi's eyes again and reached back, dipping her fingers into Codi's sex, sending more bolts up Codi's spine, and then ran her sexwet fingers in spirals around her own sex; the silver there came away with Ceci's fingers, revealing bare, pouting lips.
Lust welled over Codi, surprising her. "I... want... why do I want this so much?"
"You've been grown that way," Ceci rumbled, leaning back onto her hands, and sliding her sex slowly towards Codi's mouth.
Codi opened her mouth, and Ceci slid herself into it. Codi sucked gently, tasting, unable to think anything beyond the sensation of rightness and the pure pleasure of her actions.
She didn't have Ceci's experience - or any experience - but it must have been alright because after too short a time Ceci was curling her toes and trembling and coming in Codi's mouth.
She was lying in the plugstation chair. Qani was standing in front of her, looking down at her, hands at her sides.
Codi moistened the inside of her mouth. "Yes, Instructress," she said.
"Detach yourself and come with me," Qani replied.
Codi reached back behind her ears; the plugs were still in her skull. She turned each one a gentle quarter-turn, then slid them out of the jacks. Methodically she placed each plug in its holster, noting idly as she did so that the other plugstation in the room now had a woman in it, nude, eyes closed, perfectly relaxed. Plugged in and receiving programming.
Codi swung her legs inward, off of the legrests, and leaned forward to stand.
"I am ready, Instructress," she said.
Qani rotated and exited the room. Codi followed her. Qani was wearing different boots today, thing-skinned silver things with high heels. Other than that she appeared identical to... to...
"Instructress, how long was I asleep?"
"You were receiving programming for sixty-four hours," Qani replied without turning.
After making love with Ceci in the slave lounge, Qani had taken a weak-kneed Codi away from the larger room. Ceci had blown her a kiss across the chamber as she left, and Codi could see that Ceci was plugging a subthought ampule into her head.
Then there was the room with the reclining white chairs with the plugs. Qani had plugged her in, and Codi had felt the chair gently put her to sleep.
She was glad to be awake. There was so much more she had to see.
They reached an intersection and Qani turned, pivoting right. Codi performed a passable pivot and kept following.
A glass door slid open and they entered a room that seemed little more than a connector between two hallways, a brief space between two glass doors. However, a drone waited in the room, hands at her thighs.
"Stand there," Qani directed, pointing at a silvery circle on the floor. Codi did so.
The drone approached, knelt down and lifted the circle, which turned out to be a hoop containing a silvery film. The drone raised the circle up to Codi's knees, then looked up.
"Lower your arms and spread your fingers," the drone said in a flat voice. Codi could see the complicated design pressed into the glossy black plastic that coated her head.
Codi did as instructed, palms flat two inches from her thighs, and the drone raised the hoop, coating Codi in silver. The film seemed infinitely tensile and clung to every surface and crease of Codi's body.
Standing now, the drone raised the hoop to Codi's neck, then produced a thin strip of black. The hoop suddenly broke open at one point. It slid rapidly back into itself, pulling the silvery substance with it until all that remained of the former hoop was a single small curved rod in the drone's hand, connected to Codi's neck by a thin thread of silver film.
With a slow chop, the drone broke the silver thread. Then she pressed it to the back of Codi's neck with one end of the black strip, and wrapped the strip around Codi's neck until it was a seamless black collar.
Codi was now in a slave's uniform.
The drone stepped away and Codi looked at her hands. The silvery material, though still skin-tight, was filling in and smoothing out, until it was a single flat surface across the curves of Codi's body, no longer liquid across every wrinkle but smooth and tight.
Qani was watching dispassionately. "Come with me," she said.
The skinsuit felt like wearing a film of oil as Codi walked. It was oddly comfortable and yet utterly different than Cody's memories of clothing.
They left through the opposite door, proceeded to a cross-corridor, and embarked upon a sliding walkway. At the end of the walkway, they passed through another door, which led out into the great corridor.
Despite her new knowledge of herself and her purpose, Codi paused. Once again, the immensity of space, filled with flying craft and peopled by hundreds - thousands - of busy slaves, took her breath away.
One of the fliers was waiting for them.
Qani had not paused but walked directly out onto a flat, rectangular plane that was simply hovering in space. On it stood almost a dozen drones, of mixed physiotypes but all silent and staring. A single slave stood at a control podium.
Codi walked quickly onto the craft and took a position next to Qani at the rear. With only a sudden sense of motion, they were aloft, accelerating down the corridor.
Codi felt joy akin to that of obedience. They were flying, flying in this tremendous busy space. They passed tubular craft and slaves on walkways and barges with boxes and barges with people and barges with cargo she could not identify at all.
Once, a woman flew by on what Cody would have described as a flying motorcycle. It was cherry-red and the woman straddled it; she was neither bikini-clad nor nude nor in a slave's silver jumpsuit. She was in a pair of tight pink sleeves, and shoulder pads, and boots that ran to mid-thigh. Her torso was nude save for a strap-like belt.
"What is she?" Codi asked, her words whipping past.
"She is a thrall," Qani replied.
She was the first thrall that Codi had seen. Slaves must obey, drones only obey, and thralls yearn to obey. And yet the thrall's outfit, although highly sexual, was outlandish and unique, and there had been emotion on her face as she blasted past them on her crotchrocket.
Crotch rocket. Cody had ridden a motorcycle.
Codi blinked away the memory. "What do you call this vehicle we are on?"
"This is an airsled."
It was descending. Descending, and slowing, and then like bamboo in a gust, all of the drones on the sled leaned in perfect synchronization as the airsled turned ninety degrees and flew into an adjoining tunnel.
The tunnel was only large enough for one sled, and the curves of the ceiling whipped by only just above their heads. It was exhilarating.
Then they were slowing down, and descending again, and the airsled turned into an alcove and settled to the floor. The drones began to step off the sled, forming a single line, and marching off to a hemicircular door at the edge of the landing pad. The door was the first Codi had seen that was not clear, but it slid open as did the others, and the line of drones walked through.
Qani, and thus Codi, followed them. As she stepped through the doorway Codi felt the air whip around her as the sled lifted off behind them, and then the door closed.
Yet another corridor, but this one was lined along the right with person-width doors. The drones had formed lines in front of them. Little blue lights glowed next to each door.
Qani led Codi past the waiting drones and around a corner. A door opened, and they stepped into a small room, facing another door. Behind them the door closed and then the room was lit in lightning blue.
"What is this?" Codi asked.
Her skin prickled under her silver suit. Codi waited.
The blue light flicked off and the room was once again white. The door in front of them opened. Qani began to walk, and Codi followed.
They entered an immense room, hundreds of feet long and hundreds wide; they were walking above the floor level, on a wide metal catwalk that led towards a huge bubble of glass in the center of the room. Within the glass bubble Codi could make out people, and what were almost certainly banks of consoles. A control room. She looked down and to her side.
The room was filled with women seated at tiny desks.
Qani had stopped, and so Codi pivoted enough to stare directly down. The seated women were all drones, and all faced the glass control room in the center.
They all had large tubes plugged into the tops of their heads.
They reminded Codi of topknots, almost, only the black tubes that rose from the skullcaps of the drones rose into a shepherd's crook and then plugged straight down into the floor. The drones stared blankly. Their hands rested palms down on the blank white desks they sat behind.
"What is this?" Codi asked.
"You will learn, but first watch there."
Codi turned her head to see what Qani had pointed at. Some of the desks were empty, and now she watched a drone approaching one of them, very nearly directly beneath where Codi stood. She was naked, Codi realized, her drone-bikini discarded. She might have been one of the women who had stood on the airsled with her.
Her head was open.
The black skullcap was missing. Instead there was a black ring surrounding silver. The upper rear of her head was a flat metal panel, dotted with sockets.
The red light was there, glowing steadily.
The drone straddled the white stool behind the desk and Codi could see that the stool's surface was rippled, covered in protruberances, and then the drone lowered herself onto it. She sat for a moment, then slid the stool half a foot forward, pushing her torso just up to the edge of the desk.
Behind her, a black panel in the floor slid aside and a black tube as thick as Codi's arm rose from the opening. It ascended straight up, then bent, the dangling end coming down to touch the drone's head.
The drone reached up to take hold of the tube with both hands. She placed it squarely over the silver panel atop her brain, then tugged it down.
Codi knew the click she heard was only her imagination.
The drone's eyes fluttered, and her hands slowly descended to rest on the flat white surface in front of her. Her eyes closed, and then slowly opened until she was staring blankly at the glass orb in the center of the room.
Just like the thousands of others.
Another drone was approaching another seat, farther out, but Codi had no need to see more.
"What is this place?" she asked, pivoting to face Qani.
"This is a thought farm. The brains of these drones are used to solve problems and answer questions. This is one of the primary sources of High Eagle's exchange."
"There are external groups that do not belong to Mistress. She trades with them for that which we cannot produce for Her. The thoughtpower from this farm is one of the things She trades."
Codi and Qani watched the drones in their thousands, still, silent, cables in their minds... doing what, exactly?
"How does the thought farm work?"
"Each thrall brain is fed an answerable question. The brain answers the question. The answers are collated and processed statistically to arrive at the closest approximation of the correct answer; this thought farm routinely answers complex test queries with an accuracy of correct to six decimal places."
"Elaborate upon your question."
"How fast are they thinking?"
"Their brains are being fed several questions per second; questions vary in complexity."
"But how... they use no notes or anything. How complex can the questions be?"
"The questions put to each brain are answerable by that brain. More complex questions are divided amongst thoughtgroups, or even split amongst thought farms."
"Who splits them?"
"The question of how best to divide a question can itself be answered to a high degree of accuracy by a thought farm."
Codi fell silent. Down on the floor, a drone stalked silently down an aisle, seeking her station. The silver coverplate to her brain glinted in the overhead light.
Qani rotated. "Now we will enter the control dome," she said. Codi followed.
The catwalk ran directly to the control dome. The dome was perfectly spherical; even the surface of the door was convex, although it slid easily open as they approached.
Inside it was multi-level. The floor that they entered on, flat and white, was perforated by a round hole with a glass staircase circling within it. Around the edges of the dome were consoles, and at the consoles sat women in skintight silver, their eyes flickering across green and black displays, their hands hovering and tapping at white keypads.
These women were also plugged in, the sockets behind their ears filled by black cables a fifth the size of the ones that were embedded in the minds of the drones. But where the drones were sessile, the slaves were active, reading, tapping, occasionally reaching.
"What are they doing?" Codi asked.
"They are making decisions. Drones only obey; their ability to decide is minimal. Slaves are used to ensure the smooth operation of the thought farm, to monitor and adjust performance. To shoot trouble."
"Do you do this?"
"I have in the past and it is probable that I will again."
"It is probable."
Codi looked around at the inhabitants of the room. The keypads their fingers rested on were white grids, five by five, unmarked. On the screens, the displays were illegible pictograms.
"I cannot read the displays."
"You will learn. The displays are also coordinated with the information stream in the thoughtplugs; simply viewing a display will not enable one to understand."
"How long are the shifts?"
"I do not understand the question."
"How long do these slaves work before ceasing to work?"
"Slaves work in twenty minute intervals with ten minute rest and reinforcement intervals spacing. They will work for twelve such cycles and then return to a residency grid. In most cases."
Codi realized that part of her found it interesting that time was still measured in minutes.
Qani showed no signs of moving on, so Codi looked around the room, and out through the glass walls at the massed ranks of drones. All of them out there were having their very thoughts pumped out to them and read back by the machines and the slaves in this room.
There was a clicking which attracted Codi's attention. She realized that the glass staircase which ran around the hole in the center of the room went up as well as down, and descending it now were a pair of glossy black high-heeled boots.
The boots were followed by tight black pants and then a loose emerald green blouse, crowned by long red hair in a loose ponytail. The woman was circling away from Codi, holding a tablet in her
hand and humming while she read it.
Where the stairs joined the level Codi and Qani were on there was a landing; the woman stepped onto it with a click and turned - not pivoting - to walk onto the white flooring. Her skin was alabaster and her face beautiful in a friendly way, her nose small and turned up, her eyes a light brown. She reminded Codi of Ceci, only Ceci was blonde and smaller than this woman. And a slave.
But this wasn't Mistress. Somehow, Codi knew.
The woman looked up from her tablet and saw Codi and Qani. Her eyebrows lifted fractionally and she approached them. She said something rapidly in a language Codi did not understand, but that sounded Asian. Cody found it odd for a pale redhead to be speaking Chinese.
Qani replied, and her answer included the world 'English'.
The woman turned her attention to Codi. "You are a memory slave?"
"Yes," Codi replied.
"Interesting. When do your memories come from?"
"The twenty-first century. Some of the twentieth."
The woman thought for a moment and Codi realized that she was translating that information.
"That will be of interest to Mistress," she said, and smiled. "I will arrange for you to be brought to Her attention. My name is Li, but also occasionally Penelope. You will call me Penelope, I think."
"Very good." The woman turned and asked Qani something in the other language again, and there was a brief exchange, Penelope asking questions, Qani providing short answers. Then she looked at Codi once more.
"Only recenly awoken, then. Welcome to High Eagle, Codi. As you have probably discerned, I am a thrall. Residency grids three through five fall under my supervision; you are thus one of my girls, as it were. Do you understand what I am saying?"
"Yes, Penelope. You are set over me and I will obey you."
"Very good. You will obey any thrall, of course, but your instructions will more than likely come to you through me. For now you will continue to recieve instruction through Qani, and I will bring the matter of your memories before Mistress. She may instruct a thrall to probe you, she may wish to speak with you personally, she may have you used as reactor shielding."
"That last was a joke, Qani. I am saying that your tasking has yet to be determined, and will more than likely come after your memories are specifically probed. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Penelope. I will wait for instructions regarding the memories, which will probably come soon. Although... I would like to observe that I don't absorb radiation very well."
It was Penelope's turn to pause, and then she laughed. "*Very* good, Codi. There's always more to memory slaves than there first appears. Perhaps I will perform some debriefing of you myself." She turned to Qani.
"Very good, Qani," she said in English. "You may both return to residency."
"Yes, Penelope," Qani replied.
Penelope floated a smile at them and turned away.
Qani rotated in place, and began to walk; Codi followed, at her side and a pace behind. The bowed glass doors slid silently open and closed silently behind them.
"Are all thralls like her?" Codi asked, as the crossed the catwalk over the sea of drones.
"For the most part, yes, although thralls display more individuality than slaves, just as slaves have more individuality than drones."
"Why is that?"
"The difference between us is cost. Drones are mind-cored and wholly reprogrammed. Drones only obey. Slaves are encoded during vat growth, which takes several years and is resource intensive. Slaves must obey. Thrall programming is even more intensive; sometimes they must undergo a rejuvination even before they are fully operational. But when a thrall is complete, she is the most perfect of Mistress' servants, loyal to the very molecules of her brain, yet as functional as any non-slave. Thralls yearn to obey."
"I would never disobey Mistress."
"Of course not. Yet we slaves obey without higher consideration, and thus can encounter situations of paradox or error. Thralls are able to make decisions in such situations where we slaves would be paralyzed. You will not attempt to postulate any examples of such a situation. You will accept what I tell you as the truth."
"Yes, Qani," Codi replied, pleasure tingling throughout her body. "What you tell me is the truth."
There was an airsled waiting for them.
She was dimly aware that she was on a treadmill, and that she was in a room with other running slaves. The whir of the belts and the pounding of feet did reach her ears.
But it was what was behind her ears that was filling her brain, subtle subthought pumped in on white cords that plugged directly into her head. It was not words, it was more molten than that, but Codi knew that it was shaping her, keeping her mind neatly trimmed into the shape that Mistress wanted.
On the surface of the subthought, like the skin on a balloon, Codi noticed the readout of the miles she had run, the time she had been there, the energy she had generated for High Eagle. Recovery of energy from the treadmills was something like two percent but it was nonetheless a measureable quantity and if slaves were going to exercise and remain fit there was no reason that calories should not be at least partially reconverted into energy for Mistress.
Somewhere between the skin of her mental balloon and the hydrogen inside, Codi envisioned drones exercising, perfectly even ranks of them in their thousands, all glistening with sweat and perfectly in step.
The vision swelled as the subthought suddenly deflated, and the sheer erotic obedience of it ran up and down Codi's sex. She slowed to a walk; the readout on the treadmill told her that this exercise period was over. Codi reached up and detached the cords from her head, placing them in the holsters.
She stopped and let herself roll back and step off the treadmill. With a neat pivot, she turned and left the room, passing other slaves, who continued to run.
Codi turned and went first to the shower room. She stripped out of the silver halter top and silvery bikini bottom and placed them into a small chute. The glass door to the shower opened, bathing Codi in heat and steam. A drone, dripping wet, waited just inside the door. Without words Codi followed the drone to a nozzle on the wall. The drone waved a hand and the nozzle erupted in spray.
Codi stepped into the warm water, raising her arms and spreading her legs, and the drone began to wash her. She rubbed shampoo - a Cody-word, like most of her internal references - into Codi's hair and massaged her scalp.
The drone was tall and thin in a muscular way, and Codi wondered if she had been chosen for this task because of her shape.
Then the drone's hands guided her into the water-spray to rinse out her hair and back out of the water-spray to be rubbed down with a foaming pad and back in to wash the soap off. Codi watched for the light inside the drone's skullcap to blink on, as the drone crouched in a deep-knee bend to clean Codi's legs, but it never did. The drone was acting on pure programming.
The drone then cleaned between Codi's legs, with her tongue.
Codi shuddered and placed a hand on the warm plastic atop the drone's head, feeling the whorls and ridges of Mistress' seal. Even as she came she wondered why this was part of her cleansing, and the answer, the Answer, that it was Mistress' will, was what really sent her into orgasm.
Then the drone shut off the water and dried Codi off with a towel. Once she was dry, Codi left the shower room and the water-slicked drone; beyond the exit door was a dressing room and another drone, this one holding a hoop full of silver.
Codi emerged from the dressing room in skintight silver, her hair still damp, and looked up and down the hallway. She did not know where Qani was, nor did she have any instructions to obey. She was... untasked, that was the word Ceci had used.
Ceci. Codi would like to see her again - would like more than that as well, but simply meeting Ceci again would be enjoyable. Codi considered the hallway briefly, then pivoted to the right and walked in the direction of the lounge.
The lounge was not far. The door slid open and Codi heard the patter of the fountain, the soft conversation. There were two dozen slaves in the lounge; Codi stood just inside and scanned the room. It was unlikely Ceci would be there. Slaves were either obeying a task, usually in a task group, or they were asleep and being programmed. Wakefulness and tasklessness were not common companions.
Codi was thus surprised and pleased that Ceci was in fact present, seated near the fountain, speaking with two other slaves. Codi approached them.
She felt a sudden twinge of awkwardness - was there social etiquette? Did the other slaves speak English? She had become accustomed to the single demand of obedience, which obviated all worry about making decisions. Now she would have to decide what to say, to whom, how, and Codi found the idea worrisome.
But Ceci saw her and smiled. "Hello, Codi," she said. "Are you untasked?"
"Yes, Ceci," she replied.
"Then please sit with us." She gestured at an auburn-haired slave with a round face and hazel eyes. "This is Peni." And at a dark-skinned slave with black hair, deep black eyes, and strong features. "And this is Muwi."
"Hello," Codi said.
"Hello," Peni and Muwi replied.
"You speak English?" Codi asked, seating herself on the bench next to Ceci.
"Yes," Muwi replied. "All slaves grown in High Eagle do. It was the most recent language of this area and so we have it implanted as we are grown, in case we are tasked with artifact interaction. Only drones and slaves which came from elsewhere do not."
"Oh," Codi replied. "I only know English."
"If it is desired that you know additional languages, you will be instructed to learn them," Muwi replied, without rancor. "Were you only just decanted?"
"I was, yes."
"Codi is a memory slave," Ceci said, slipping an arm around Codi's shoulder, which surprised her slightly and made her feel good. She leaned into Ceci's arm.
"What period are the memories from?" Peni asked.
"The early twenty-first century," Codi replied.
"What is that in universal calendar?"
"I don't know."
"I will calculate," Muwi said. The three of them looked at her for a moment. "The twenty-first century is approximately ought seventy plus... plus zero, actually. Ought seventy begins in the year twenty-fourteen according to the calendar those memories use."
"Is it strange to you to hear that?" Ceci asked, looking up, pressing her smaller body into Codi.
"It is," Codi replied, her body tingling from Ceci's contact. "Although I know that I am Codi, a slave, my references are those of the woman Cody from the memories. It is strange."
"You are newly awoken," Muwi said. "Much is strange to those only just awoken. My advice to you is to enjoy this time, for in time you will know much and you will not again have the experience of being so unaware."
Codi nodded. Ceci was snuggled up into her now, and was stroking her thigh through the silver jumpsuit.
"How long will you be untasked, do you anticipate," Ceci asked her, her mouth very close.
"I do not know," Codi replied, her voice lowering without any conscious decision.
A soft clicking she had heard but not considered suddenly resolved itself into a drone, who stopped at attention in front of the four of them.
"Slave Codi," the drone announced. "Thrall Penelope instructs you to come with me. You are to be taken before Mistress."
The other three slaves looked a little startled, a little impressed, and a little envious, but Codi ignored them, save to run her fingers across Ceci's shoulder as she quickly stood up.
"Yes, drone. I will come with you."
The drone pivoted and walked out. Codi followed.
Penelope was not in the glass control tower. Instead, she was in a small hangar room, already seated on an airsled. She was wearing skintight pants the color of blood and a silk blouse just a shade darker. The red of her clothes made her hair look like flame. Standing at the front of the sled, facing away, was a drone. The tiny black strings of her bikini across her back gave her a mannequin-like appearance, as though her smooth body had been assembled in sections.
Penelope gestured as Codi stopped behind the drone she had followed into the room. "Slave, come and sit here."
Codi walked to her, rotated in place, and sat down next to her. The drone she had followed had already turned and was leaving.
"Drone," Peneloped said to the backside of the drone at the console, "take us to tower Shue." The aircar rose from the ground and moved off into a tunnel.
"Slave," Penelope said, turning her head to face Codi, "you have never been in the presence of Mistress before."
A statement which was a question. "Yes, Penelope, that is true."
"You will trust your instincts as regards how to behave. Do not rely on the memories; as slaveflesh your mind was grown with proper deference. Speak only when spoken to. Our Mistress is generous and forgiving but remember that your only purpose is to serve Her. You will not advise, you will not hold opinions. Obey Her and answer Her and enjoy being so close to your reason for living."
"Yes, Penelope," Codi answered, her mind in the warm fog of obedience. "I will obey Her and answer Her. I will not advise. I will not hold opinions. I will trust my slaveflesh instincts."
They emerged into the main tunnel, and Codi gasped slightly in spite of herself. Airsleds and space and distance; now that she knew more about where she was, the insect-like efficiency of the thousands of people on their hundreds of flying devices, all obediently pursuing Mistress' aims without idleness or distraction, only awed her the more. A giant machine in which she herself was a tiny cog, a body in which she was a single cell.
"You enjoy seeing the main shaft?"
"Yes, Penelope. It... impresses me."
Penelope smiled. "Wait."
They rose to the top of the tunnel and flew along at high speed just below the ceiling, then slowed and entered a vertical shaft, turning ninety degrees as they rose. They gained speed again until they were hurtling upward, the walls mere blurs a few feet from the sled.
The shaft grew brighter and brighter and then they were in daylight.
Codi blinked, squinted, and stared.
The sled was rising through unbounded air.
There was distance.
The horizon was green, a thick forest covering gentle hills, the black specks of birds wheeling above them. The greenery stretched in every direction as far as Codi could see, the distance marked by nothing, no roads, no buildings, no power lines or fences.
Around the tube they had emerged from were rolling lawns. And surrounding them, between the empty horizon and the shaft exit...
Towers. Huge, clear, slender, reaching up into the sky what must have been thousands of feet. At the top were glistening spheres, like dewdrops on giant reeds. There were eight of them, eight tremendous pillars reaching heavenward, surrounding the sled. Beyond those towers, only green hills to the horizon.
They shot upward.
Penelope was watching her. "What are you thinking, Codi?"
"I am thinking... I am awed. There is nothing like this in the memories, although the 'Grand Canyon' evokes a similar feeling. I am wondering where we are, since Cody remembers nothing like this. I am wondering why there are only these eight towers and then nothing else as far as I can see. I am-"
"You may stop speaking. I understand."
Codi stilled. The airsled rose up, up, along the glittering spires. Inside them were stairs, rooms, columns. Plants. Codi could see the silver of slaves and the varying flesh colors of drones.
Then they were nearing one of the dewdrops, a giant ovoid capping the tallest spire. It stretched out over them and the airsled rose into it.
They stopped in a hangar, not large, with other airsleds in it but also containing different things that Codi could only surmise were vehicles. They looked like they were made of grey knives, sharp panels forming wedge-like craft.
Codi did not have time to examine them. Penelope had stood and was already walking off and Codi was following her, noticing how Penelope walked differently than a slave or a drone, how she placed each foot in front of the other, swaying as she walked.
They entered a hallway hung with art, or rather painted with art, for there were no frames and the images were rectangles in the walls. Some of them were of styles that Codi recognized, but some were deep three-dimensional representations and curls of light. They walked past a large rectangle that only after a second look did Codi realize was a window, as it framed three of the glass spires and they bent the light in strange and prismatic ways.
They entered a lift, a small white room with a readout on the wall. The display read "D", then flickered through other letters until arriving at "W" and the doors slid open again.
Penelope led them into a foyer. A woman stood in it, her features what Cody would have described as Middle Eastern, her clothing a set of emerald green sleeves, elaborate shoulder padding, and a belt. Her nipples were large and dark, and matched her lips above and below.
"Li," the woman said, and Codi recalled that Penelope had another name. "This is the memory slave."
"Yes, Ona," Penelope replied. "This is the memory slave."
"She is ready now, and using English. You will proceed into the Shunoki room and attend Her."
"Very good," Penelope replied. A slave would have confirmed the order.
Ona, Codi assumed her name was, watched as the two of them left the foyer. The floor was marble, or something like. The walls had more art; one image changed as Codi watched it, both the content of the display and the size and shape it had on the wall.
They walked through rooms, now, not halls. In each there were plants, art, furniture. A man-height globe that Codi did not recognize at all. There were other thralls, too, at least four of them; one lounging around reading from what looked like a scroll, the others crossing Codi and Penelope's path, headed on unguessable errands.
They passed one drone, who was watering the plants. Her string bikini was cherry red.
They passed through a library, with actual books on actual shelves, and then entered a room where the floor was carpeted, and the walls hung with tapestries. Even the ceiling was draped fabric.
In the center of the room stood three women. A fourth was just leaving, walking past Penelope and Codi without looking at them.
Two of the others, dressed in sleeves and leggings and bare-breasted... were suddenly, gloriously irrelevant. For the third woman - the first woman - the only
- there was Mistress.
Codi's instincts were right. Had to be. Programmed into her. She would rely on them. Must rely on them.
Because her proximity to Mistress rendered her otherwise unable even to think.
Mistress had noticed Codi, and Penelope, and put aside a long drape of white fabric, which one of the thralls standing with Her took up in her arms.
She was young, and pretty, and She was dressed in light. It was not merely Her presence, stunning Codi's mind with Her glory - her clothes were actually alight, scintillating colors slowly weaving themselves around on softly glowing translucence.
"Li," She said. "This is the memory slave."
"Yes, Mistress," Penelope replied.
She looked at Codi, then, up and down. Codi could only look back without thinking, could not categorize Her as pretty, as young, as slender. She was not a woman, not part of a group, any group, She was above categorization. She was Mistress.
"Pretty," Mistress observed, "in that mish-mashy mixed-breed way."
Codi waited. Her instincts would guide her.
Mistress held out a hand, palm up, and one of the two thralls placed a tangle of wire into it without Mistress looking. "What is her name, Li?"
"Her name is Codi, Mistress."
"Codi," She said. "Interesting. Codi, you will tell me what this object is."
Codi fought for calm as Mistress held the tangle of metal out to her and she took it. She would obey, she would, as soon as she could, all things took at least a few seconds. She stared at the item. What was it?
It was simple, crumpled metal, two mangled circles connected to each other, and two long cables coming off of them...
"Mistress," she said, and her voice did not crack. "This is a pair of glasses. Badly damaged."
"Glasses?" She mused. "How could one drink from this?"
"Glasses were for correcting vision, Mistress. There was glass, here and here, cut so that it changed the... that it aided vision. Spectacles."
"Ah! Of course. But the glass is missing." She extended a hand and Codi placed the tangled wire atop it as rapidly and as gently as she could. "These were in widespread use at the time."
Was it a question? "Yes, Mistress."
"Very good. Codi, your memories date from the... when was it, Yi?"
One of the thralls replied. "The twenty-first century, Mistress."
"...the twenty-first century?"
"Very good. You will aid our mapping and recovery effort. Li, assign her to a few surface expeditions first. Then place her in recovery. Inform me if the memories become useful."
And that was it. Mistress turned away and resumed discussing the properties of the fabric She had been holding.
Penelope's tug at Codi's elbow was unnecessary; Codi turned and followed her back out of the room. Her turn was far from a neat pivot, but no one was paying attention.
Secret Files Afterword (2016):
Now, I'm not saying that I invented Hadoop in a porn story, but I pretty clearly invented Hadoop in a porn story.
Back in 2007, I had noticed that my output of smut was dropping off. Mostly this was due to real life stuff - job, kid, grown-up responsibilities now that I was out of graduate school. In an effort to not give up on my porn hobby entirely, I decided to embark upon what I called 'Tabico's Tuesday Tidbits', wherein I would write something at least every Tuesday, with an eye towards gathering the bits up later into a coherent whole.
Codi was one example of such. I was writing basically just to write, without a goal or overall plot in mind. I came out with four installments and that was basically it, so there's no more lurking around anywhere, but it had some interesting themes and looking back at it isn't bad for a writing exercise. The visuals are almost pure fetish and owe a lot to trilby else's epochal 'Hive', as well as riffing a fair bit on my own 'Rouge'. Lots to like here from an EMC perspective, if only I had been able to have it go somewhere.