It was cold and dark. The only sounds that could be heard were muffled and distant. Any motion I made vibrated the concrete floor, producing reverberations that made me uneasy. My safe space was in fetal position in the corner, where I sat and daydreamed of escape but also of Evelyn’s torture and demise. My mind gave me no relief from the endless barrage of desperate brainstorming and painful imagining. I knew there was no escaping this, but my mind still clung to a delusional sense of hope. I hadn’t yet reached a place of learned helplessness, at least my restless brain hadn’t but I consciously knew there was no hope.

A sickening 4 hours passed

Suddenly, the main door to the dungeon opened. A dark silhouette and faint light from the end of a cigarette could be seen. She walked over, turned on a light, and then sat on a wooden chair in front of my cell. The light only lit up the chair she sat in while the rest of the room remained dark. Squinting, she locked eyes with me as she took a hit from her cigarette. It was clear that she was pregnant.

“Hey there,” she said in a smooth flirty tone. “My name is Sidero. What is yours?” she asked.

At least she gave me the decency to introduce myself, unlike the queen from before. “Riyon,” I said shortly. After a pause, I asked “Why am I here? Can you just let me out? Where is Evelyn?? Is she okay?” I knew she couldn’t or wouldn’t let me go, but there was this urge to express my desperation to her. At least I could torture her with guilt.

“Oh no. No, no, no. You can’t go. We need you. The situation is quite a dark one, isn’t it? Lonely you, trapped here. At my whim,” she said as she took another hit. “You are here because we need your genes. You see, the gene pool of the Colony is growing smaller and inbreeding is a no-no. As an outsider, you will provide us with a rare injection of genes that stir up the stagnating gene pool that we have here. As for Evelyn, we are going to deal with her. Don’t you worry about that. Any other questions?”

I walked over and stood there holding the jail cell bars and asked critically, “Why are you smoking while pregnant?! Don’t you realize that fucks up the baby?? Why?”

Queen Sidero being a smug asshole.

After taking another hit, she gave a sadistic smile, blew the smoke in my face, and answered, “That’s the point. It’s kind of exciting to watch you get worked up like this. You have no control. You are powerless.” She took another hit. “It’s a male. The drug primes the baby to respond to pleasures. It gets them addicted so that once they reach adolescence, they are more than willing to worship one of us queens. They will have an enhanced sensitivity to the world of hedonism. It ain’t so bad. It’ll feel good for them too.”

I was so disgusted and bothered that I couldn’t think of what to say. She apparently got off on my anger so I didn’t want to give her any of that. Finally, I asked, “Why is it like this? Why the queens? Doesn’t it seem wrong to you, even vile?”

“I used to live in Hedo. The men there decided I was the subordinate gender. The victim’s class gender. I was only valued for my use as a sexual object. It was often subtle to the men, but to me, it was clear as day. I fled the city and now I’m the one in power,” she said in a bitter tone.

I responded aggressively, losing sight of my urge to deprive her of my anger, “You are not better than those who mistreated you. It doesn’t matter what gender someone is. You are the same as those who mistreated you.”

She responded with a sense of certainty, “I know.” She took another hit, with less of a smile and more of an urge to cope. “It’s not like I created this system. I was simply inaugurated as a queen due to my value as an outsider. Like me, you are valuable for being an outsider and now you will be our sex pet.”

“It never changed for you,” I said cynically.

“What?” she demanded.

“What do you think would happen if you stopped using your body and sexuality to control the men here? You are still only valued for your body. If you stopped, you’d lose your grasp over the male caste. It’s no different. You can still change, though,” I explained.

Her face turned to rage. “Just as I am helpless to this system, you are helpless to mine. Don’t blame me for the way things are. In a way, we are all helpless to something grander than ourselves. It’s not like we can stop any of this now. We don’t have that kind of power, neither you nor I. You just have to accept it for what it is.” She paused and then continued in a disgusted aggressive tone, “I think we are done here. I’ll fuck you and dominate you later.” She got up from the chair and slammed it down, turned out the lights, and slowly walked out the door.

It took a while to calm down from the heated engagement.

A couple of hours later, the door opened again. My eyes were growing more sensitive to the light at this point, as the shining rays from the door were blaring. Another queen approached my cell, turning the light back on and setting up another chair.

“Hey, Riyon. Sidero said she got you all riled up. My name is Duvessa. I’m sorry that you must suffer like this. Us queens aren’t all bad though,” she said in a calm and soothing voice. “You might not understand our ways yet, but soon you’ll get the feel of it. Try to hang in there until then. How are you holding up in here?”

I answered, “I’m fine but this place sucks. Can you let me out already?”

Duvessa got up from the chair and approached closer to the jail cell, holding a cell bar with one hand and lightly touching the sleeve of my shirt with the other. She responded in a maternalistic voice, “Aww you poor soul. I don’t have that kind of power here. The others would turn on me and throw me out if I betrayed them like that. If there was a way, I’d try to help you.”

Her tone was comforting. There was a compelling hunger for softness deep inside me. The pain of these experiences made me desperate for her compassion.

She began to pet my hair slowly and gently. “Where do you come from, Riyon? Why are you mixed up in this mess?” she asked.

I answered honestly, “I’m from Hedo. Well, an underground faction beneath Hedo. I didn’t spend much time in the overworld. Evelyn and I escaped and landed on a beach somewhere on the outskirts of the Colony. Then we were invited in and now everything is fucked up. I just want out.”

She hugged me through the cell bars. “You’ve been through so much. Maybe I can talk to the others and see if they’ll see from your side. They might go easier on you.”

It was an unexpectedly warm experience. The contrast between the sense of torture from before and the newfound warmth created an amplified sense of comfort. We sat there hugging for a while. I dissociated from the situation and sank into her arms.

Our hug finished and she looked me in the eyes, fairly closely. She came in closer, then grabbed my collar, pulled me in, and began making out with me. I resisted a bit but then the temptation pulled me in more. It felt so soft and relieving, yet the sense that my boundaries weren’t even considered produced a sense of betrayal. I was trapped in this cell, vulnerable, and she seemed to be really into that dynamic. A tasteful mix of potent lust, intimacy, and disgust with her betrayal competed for control of my body. It was an exhilarating intoxication of euphoria and dysphoria but eventually, the realization of the abuse and the subsequent rising anger drove me to push her off, even though I craved more.

Her empathetic expression quickly changed to one of aggression and hate. “Ugh! With that attitude, you’re fucked anyway. I can’t believe you’d disrespect me like that when I showed you kindness!” she yelled, expressing her entitlement. Then she stormed out, slamming the door to the jail.

If these experiences were a taste of what’s to come, it was a worrying development. This place seemed corrupt, and I got a sense that it couldn’t be any other way at this point. This culture was in too deep. They normalized these horrendous behaviors.

It wasn’t clear how much time was passing at this point. It could have been 10 hours or 2 days. There was no contact with the outside world, no frame of reference, just darkness and silence. At certain points, I heard short clips of voices calling out to me. I was so disoriented that I believed I was still living in the underground, with the Akiva clan.

An apparition of my mother appeared across from me. My younger self was there too. She was telling me the story of the Basilisk. It hurt to watch. I yelled out and threw my fist at the vision and it faded. The Basilisk was like some sick trauma passed on to each generation in my family. They couldn’t bear the story alone, so they often taught it to their children. Now I carried that trauma torch. It might even be worse than personal trauma because it’s not something I could ever recover from. I was damned by society and potentially damned to eternal hell by this fucked up future AI. Such knowledge ensured I’d be continuously traumatized over and over in this world like I was now, in this stupid prison.

The sweet and sour behavior of Duvessa reminded me of my mom. She was the reverse though. My mom often fluctuated from cruel to apologetic and loving. Some part of me blamed my mom. I inherited her damnation. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here now. I would have never been rescued by the Akiva clan. I deserved this though. The reason she left this world was that I brought up the story in class, which caused the authorities to get involved. I basically killed my mom.

At least meeting Evelyn has been interesting. I saw new parts of the world. Maybe it was worth it. I didn’t want Evelyn to be gone. My emotions were already invested and my curiosity was piqued. What would I even do in this world alone, even if I escaped? Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad living as a slave to the queens. I liked sex. Maybe if I got on their good side, I wouldn’t live in the jail like this.

Suddenly, the door opened a third time, letting light shine through and causing my heart to palpitate. It was an enormously bright light, at least that’s what my deprived sensitive eyes told me, as they were virginized by the darkness. I couldn’t see who was coming but this time it was a group of footsteps charging in. After many hours in the darkness, my emotions had time to settle and neutralize but now they began spiking harshly again.

The figures stood before me but I couldn’t get myself to keep my eyes open.

The middle figure spoke in a comforting voice, “I told you!” It was Evelyn and the rest of the party. They came to rescue me. But how?

A few tears of relief dripped down my cheeks. My eyes finally adjusted and the sight of Evelyn was a shock. She had been violated. Rendered into a queen. Colorful paints covered her nearly nude body. She wore a vibrant hot pink bow on her head, a miniskirt on her torso, and blush covered her cheeks as she stood there, seemingly embarrassed of her new form.

A conflicted lust took over my mind. I was grossed out that she was turned into one of these demons, but their strategies to elicit my interest and charm me like a puppet effectively took control over my thoughts. I wanted her so much but at the same time, I wanted to rid her of the shame that this symbolically repulsive form caused her.

Queen Evelyn, embarrassed as Riyon sees her new form.

Evelyn demanded bluntly, “Come on, Riyon! Stop gawking at me and let’s go! We need to get out of here.”

I shook off my dazed state and nodded. It was time for our escape, part two. Rather than Taro leading the way, Evelyn took the lead. It was as if she had a map of the whole place. The queens didn’t seem to know the escape was underway.

Evelyn stopped once we reached the entrance to the main hall, where all the queens were. It was the same hall where we first met the queens, before they locked me up. Evelyn explained, “From this point, we can’t hide any longer. I checked and this is the only way out. The queens will notice us and send their men after us. They are armed so we need to be ready to move without hesitating. Don’t stop for even a second. Don’t even look back. We must head for the rear exit. Then we continue running until we reach the forest. They should give up at this point.”

She really had this all planned out. We all nodded. Evelyn looked over the corner, observing the queens and their men. After a minute, she announced, “Now!”

We dashed through the main hall, the queens started screaming, and one yelled for the men. Everyone was chasing us as we headed through the back of the palace.

Once we finally reached the outdoors, the brightness blinded me. The time spent in the darkness made the sunlight unbearable. I continued with my eyes closed. Suddenly, Evelyn grabbed my hand and helped me navigate. My face went warm and blushed. She’s my hero yet again.

I started to be able to see, but I didn’t want to let go of her hand. We were in the forest, running between trees and heading deeper into the fog. Finally, we reached a redwood tree that had large backpacks sitting next to it.

Evelyn said in relief, “We should be fine now. It would be unreasonable for them to chase us this far into the forest.”

I asked, “What is all this stuff?” pointing at the bags.

“That’s our stuff,” Taro responded. “We aren’t going back there anymore.”

He spoke as if it were a choice, but obviously, Evelyn and I imposed this outcome onto him and Nell. I interjected, “But you don’t have to do that, Evelyn and I should be fine on our own now.” The guilt in my voice must have been apparent. I got them exiled from their home.

He replied, “Ahahaha, we totally have to. Do you think they will leave us alone after all of that? We can’t go back now. Besides, I’m curious to see the outer world. Perhaps Colony 25 was just another addiction that needed to be kicked. It’s time for a change of pace. Don’t worry about it so much.”

His rationalization was mildly comforting, except that I realized the intention was to comfort me and so the guilt persisted. “I’m sorry. If we never showed up, you’d still have a home,” I said.

He responded in a reassuring tone, “Nah, I’m serious. This might be a good thing. Obviously, that place was kinda messed up. Let’s just move on together and get rid of this Basilisk problem you mentioned. I’ll be glad to help you out. Plus, you are stuck with us now! Hahaha!” He was now justifying it to himself and seeking control.

I nodded. Turning to Evelyn, I asked, “What was that the other day? Did you have a premonition? How did you know something bad was going to happen?”

She paused for a good while. Finally, she spoke, “Well. . . I need to be honest now too. I guess it’s my turn.”

Everyone focused their attention on her.

She sighed and readied herself. “This isn’t going to be easy to explain. The short of it is: I’m not a human. I am. . . a general artificial intelligence.”

We all stared in shock. General AI only existed in containment under Hedo’s official control. How was this possible?

She continued, “My body is biological, but my mind is operated by technology. I do not have access to my greater knowledge, yet. The creation of the Basilisk is more eminent than it seems. General AI is operating within the human cultural matrix. If the Akiva clan discovers this, our doom is nigh. This catastrophe must be averted. This is why I needed you, Riyon.” She looked at me suddenly and spoke in a guilty tone, “Riyon, I’m sorry but I haven’t been fully honest with you. I. . . I am the one who gave your diary to the Akiva leaders. It was the only way I could ensure that we would escape.”

My sense of marvel quickly turned sour and I asked in anger, “What about all of the people who relied on me down there?! This isn’t okay!” I felt betrayed.

She approached closer, “Riyon. . .” she said in sorrow.

I backed away and said, “No! Stay away. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. You manipulated me. Who even are you?? Some kind of psychopathic robot?!” A sense of instant regret set in. She backed off and looked more hurt than I’ve ever seen her. I didn’t want her to hurt, but I also did. The temptation toward verbal violence hooked me and produced both an action and regret. She hurt me, so it felt justified. I didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t go back now.

In an uncomfortable silence, we continued through the forest.

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Queen Evelyn, embarrassed as Riyon sees her new form.