It was supposed to have been a routine scouting mission. That had caused great cries of derision at the briefing; each one of them knew that in this situation, nothing was ever routine. Emma was leading a fire team of five soldiers including herself. She knew that she could rely on her sergeant, but was more than a little concerned about the three privates who completed the team. At some point she must have been as green as they were now, but she found it difficult to imagine.
Trouble started almost immediately when Matthews triggered an S/L mine while she was on point. They had been forced to watch as the tiny silver sphere leapt into the air, directly in front of the startled soldier. Low power lasers instantly sort out the unlucky woman’s eyes and then began to bombard her optic nerve with subliminal-laden images. At the same time it emitted a soft buzzing noise, which concealed more hidden messages for the soldier’s naive mind.
The four remaining team members were safely out of range and moments later a single shot from the sergeant’s particle rifle dashed the orb into fragments. But of course, by then the damage had been done. It was impossible to know what the mine had been able to upload into Matthew’s brain, but it was safe to say that she was now a liability. Even mere seconds of exposure could compromise the mission.
The decision was easy, in that Emma had no other choice. But she still struggled to give the order. This was her first mission and she did not relish the idea of abandoning it before they had even begun. The simple reality was that they now had to escort Matthews back to base. They couldn’t allow her to jeopardise the mission and there was no guarantee that she would make it back home alone. If she were to fall to the machines then there was no telling what she might let slip.
Emma decided that Matthews should be disarmed. Briefly she considered ordering her to be bound as well, but somehow that just didn’t sit right with her. Instead she instructed the two other privates, Nanami and Brinn, to keep an eye on her. That left Sergeant Daniels to take point, while she covered the rear. They hadn’t progressed far into enemy territory, but the presence of the mine warned them of the need to take care.
The second disaster came shortly thereafter. Daniels shouted a warning and they reacted instinctively, diving to the ground and seeking out cover. Moments later a small drone hummed overhead. It was not clear which of the two privates chose to take action, but instead of letting the surveillance drone pass them by and avoiding detection, bolts of blue-white energy began to flash up into the sky.
Daniels cursed as the drone began a slow turn back towards them. The short woman rose from cover and swung her rifle to her shoulder. She squinted down the scope and stilled for a moment while her breathing settled. The privates’ wild, ineffective weapon fire made the drone jink and sway, adding to the difficulty. As the machine flew overhead, the sergeant finally squeezed the trigger.
It was just a moment too late as far as Nanami was concerned. Just before the particle beam dashed the small vehicle from the sky, a small bomblet was released. The black cylinder dropped quickly before suddenly breaking open. A black, viscous liquid rained down on the private. Her coated form dropped to the grass an instant later, her struggles slowly subsiding as the keeper tightened its grip.
“Well”, muttered Daniels, “Now they know where we are”.
They knew enough about the machines to know that there was no chance of rescuing Private Nanami now. If any of them had tried to touch her shiny new skin, they would almost certainly have joined her in whatever fate the machines had planned. Muttering a silent apology to the young woman, Emma ordered the rest of them to head off as quickly as possible. The other thing they all knew about the machines was that they would be investigating the lost drone all too soon.
Their morale was at breaking point, Private Matthews appeared outwardly normal, but none of them trusted her anymore. The bookish blonde woman took this badly, in the space of a few short hours she had lost one of her friends to the machines and now, far from having a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, she found herself ostracised. Worse yet, recriminations had started about Nanami’s fate.
Emma blamed herself, she had given the fateful command that the woman be left. The two privates seemed to agree with this assessment. Brinn in particular, whose steely grey eyes radiated nothing but contempt for the officer. Sergeant Daniels in turn blamed the privates and their lack of experience. If they hadn’t fired their weapons, the drone wouldn’t have even known they were there. It was a harsh lesson, that cost the team another member, but if it would make Brinn a better soldier, then at least Nanami’s loss wasn’t a complete waste.
It was only when the machines put in an appearance that this enmity seemed to recede into the background once more. All four women knew that they had to rely on each other or risk the same fate as the slender oriental. There would be time enough for blame when they finally reach the safety of their base. Until then, they had to put their differences aside.
Come nightfall Emma decided to call a halt to their forced march. Tempers had frayed too much already and they all needed to rest and recover. They had not sighted any machines for over an hour and although that by no means meant they were safe, without the immediate threat it seemed sensible to pause. The watch became another complication. Logically Matthews had to be removed from the rota, but should someone be tasked with guarding her? Just in case?
Emma quietly called Sergeant Daniels to her and began a hushed conversation.
“Sergeant”, she began a little warily, “I want your opinion on Matthews, is it safe to leave her unguarded over night?”
Daniels was a compact and solid woman who was just a little older than her colleagues but who seemed to radiate confidence. Even this seemed a little dulled now and that more than anything else worried Emma. The NCO scratched her close-cropped hair and seemed to consider the question for some time.
“If I were you, Ma’am”, she began, “I would be more worried about Brinn”.
Emma waited, knowing that the woman would answer the question in her own time. She nodded slightly; the very same thought had been going through her mind. Brinn was going to be a problem; she just hoped that the threat of the machines would stop anyone from doing something stupid.
“No”, the sergeant finally said, “I don’t think we need to guard Matthews, just leave her off the watch list”.
Emma thanked the sergeant, relieved that she had such an experienced soldier to aid her. Truth be told, Daniels could probably command this team far more effectively than she herself. They spent several more minutes deciding on how the night would be divided between the three of them. She left it to the sergeant to explain what was happening to the troops while she was left wondering whether she would ever get the chance to command again.
Emma woke, becoming almost instantly alert. Something had roused her, but now that she was concentrating she could detect nothing out of the ordinary. With slow movements she grasped her sidearm and checked her watch. It was about two minutes before she was due to relieve Daniels. She stood up, stretching the kinks out of her spine and massaging her legs back to life.
Carefully she picked her way across the campsite; avoid the two sleeping privates as she headed towards the sentry position. Daniels sat, looking away from the camp, her back visible. Emma edged closer, wondering when the canny woman would point out that she had been heard. But as she moved, something about the scene just didn’t feel right.
Daniels was too still. It was almost as if she was asleep, but of course that wasn’t possible. There was a danger here, Emma knew without doubt. She gingerly flicked off the safety and tightened her grip on the large pistol. With exaggerated care, she began to circle around, trying to get a better look at her sergeant. It was then that she heard a faint sound. She came to a sudden stop. Her eyes flashed this way and that, scanning the ground.
The noise came again, unmistakable this time. A high-pitched scratching sound, barely audible but definitely unnatural. Cold fear gripped her. She knew from her intelligence briefings exactly what it was - “crawlers”. Yet another of the machine’s constructs; seemingly designed to tap into one of humanity’s primal fears. Tiny, skittering metal bugs, lightning fast and attacking in swarms.
The young woman wondered if Daniels had heard them too, if that was why she was keeping so still. Then she noticed how the grass around her moved despite the lack of wind and she realised that they were almost upon her. For a moment she forgot her training and something more primitive took over. Emma screamed, at least partly an attempt to wake her slumbering troops, but mostly because she was terrified.
Dimly she realised that Daniels hadn’t reacted at all and she knew that her sergeant was already doomed. As she broke into a run, a wave of metal shapes seemed to explode around her, rolling like quicksilver. There was no reasoning behind her flight, no thought as to where she could go. The young soldier just sprinted as fast as she could. At first it seemed that she might just escape, but the insectile machine were just too fast.
Just as she dared to hope that she might get away, she felt a stinging sensation in her right buttock. Emma gasped, in surprise, rather than pain, as a strange tingling sensation seemed to roll down her leg. She stumbled and immediately the need to escape seemed to grow less urgent. The drug gently lulled and her movements became slower and clumsier.
The crawlers fired tiny slivers of crystal at the fleeing woman, raining their stings down upon her. Each impact spread the tingling sensation a little more. It was only when she had come to a complete halt that the machines stopped their barrage.
Emma’s thoughts were sluggish now, she knew that she had to escape, but moment-by-moment her limbs seemed to become heavier. Her legs gave way, dropping her to the ground. She could do nothing but allow the soporific drug to take her. Eventually Emma’s eyes slowly rolled back into her skull and with a deep sigh of resignation she succumbed to the welcome slumber.
She woke in darkness and it took several moments for Emma to realise that she was still trapped with Melissa, their bodies moving as one. The thick tendrils still thrust and pulsed in time with Emma’s movements and the other woman responded, drawing them both deeper into the pleasure. It had all seemed so real, but she knew that the memory was not as what had really happened.
Emma had escaped; she alone had been fast enough to outrun the crawlers. She spent several days avoiding the patrols and eventually made it back to camp and with some much needed reconnaissance data to boot. The others had been captured and she still felt sorrow mixed with guilt when she thought about them. This version of events was just a fantasy that the weapon had cooked up to keep her from the truth. It had to be.
“See”, the keeper told her, in the same sad tone, “I told you that you wouldn’t like it”.
It was so hard to concentrate. Melissa’s struggles were becoming more purposeful. It seemed that she too could sense at least part of what Emma was feeling and she could use that knowledge to press the right buttons. To her surprise and consternation, the young soldier found the other woman’s attentions increasingly arousing. It would have been hard to argue with her keeper without any distractions, but in this situation it seemed impossible.
“I don’t believe you!” she threw back at it.
“I know Emma”, came the reply, “You only remember what you are allowed to. If you wish I can fill in the blanks for you. Although, as I believe I have already said, you aren’t going to like it”.
Emma tried to will her eyes to focus. Her surroundings stubbornly remained blurred and indistinct. Far too slowly, information began to trickle in through her other senses. She could feel the cool air against her skin, hear a soft humming sound somewhere in the distance and smell the tang of ozone. She tried to rub her eyes, hoping that this might clear them, but to her surprise she found that arms seemed tangled and hard to move.
Her vision swam and piece-by-piece she began to take in her surroundings. The room was large and well lit. Every surface seemed to gleam and for a moment she wondered if this were some kind of hospital. That illusion was shattered when Emma finally realised why she couldn’t move her limbs. Looking down, she could see the well-padded shackles that held her. Worst still, she was completely naked.
Then the man’s voice came, loud and stern. She flinched involuntarily, surprised at the strength of her response.
“You are now our captive” it told her.
She blushed, embarrassed about how easily she had been rattled. Quickly her eyes began to scan, searching for the source of this pronouncement. But there was no one else. The voice must be coming through hidden speakers. Emma jumped again, as the voice continued.
“You will be reprogrammed”, it said, “Our reports suggest that you will make a very good agent”.
At first Emma didn’t dare speak. She worried that her voice would falter if she tried. She had little doubt that the machines could do what they suggested. If she were their captive, then effectively she was at their mercy. But, still, she was an officer and she felt that it was her duty to concern herself with the fate of her unit.
“What have you done with my team”, she managed, thrusting her chin out defiantly.
The voice responded with a subtle edge of humour. Emma bristled, feeling her anger build. Just let them make one mistake and she would show them how dangerous she could be.
“Units formally designated Rei Nanami and Emily Matthews will serve as pleasure units and are now undergoing conditioning”, the voice began, “Units formally designated Joanne Brinn and Daphne Daniels will serve as orgone energy units and have been processed”.
Emma just stared, mouth agape. Four vibrant young women, dealt with so matter-of-factly? She struggled to comprehend the full enormity of what the voice was saying. Seemingly unaware of her shock, it continued to discuss her teammate’s fate.
“Pleasure units new designation will be, PU 1102 and PU 1103”, it told her unnecessarily, “Orgone energy units new designation will be, OU 9945 and OU 9946”.
A question formed, unwanted, in Emma’s mind. She tried to force it away by asking another, but still the thought remained. Which of her colleagues warranted which number?
“What is an orgone energy unit?” she demanded, wondering when the machines would grow tired of her questions.
The tone of the voice changed and began to sound more like a lecturer.
“Orgone was postulated by the human designated, Wilhelm Reich. In simple terms it is a distinct kind of energy, which is produced by all life forms at the moment of orgasm”, it began, “It became very clear to us early on, that the male’s capacity to produce orgone was sadly lacking, whereas the female’s was practically unlimited”.
This didn’t really make much sense, but Emma reasoned that while the talking continued, she would receive at least a momentary reprieve from her reprogramming.
“We made a deal with the former world leaders, we would refrain from acting against them and would even share this clean and pollution-free energy source (as well as certain fringe benefits), if they would cede slightly more than half of the population to us”, although the voice’s tone remained reasonable, the story it told was anything but, “Of course, some people didn’t like this idea, but they quickly saw reason when we showed how dependent upon us they had already become”.
She couldn’t quite believe it. The story seemed to suggest that the machines had come to some sort of arrangement with the male populous. That rather than risk fighting them, they had instead let them predate on the women. It seemed likely that the resistance was made up of the last remnants of those who hadn’t meekly accepted this deal.
“So, what?” she asked terrified at what the answer might be, “You kidnap women and make them orgasm in order to get power?”
It seemed so ridiculous that she had to remind herself of what was happening.
“Yes”, said the voice calmly, “Most of the units that we capture will serve to produce orgone energy. They will be kept sedated and aroused while being pleasured repeatedly to orgasm. It does not take much reprogramming before they happily accept their new role”.
“And the rest”, she pressed, “What happens to them?”
“The remainder, those chosen for their special qualities will either be reformatted to become pleasure units, or in rare cases, those such as yourself will be reprogrammed and returned to the wild in order to speed our acquisition of new units”.
“Pleasure units?” she asked weakly.
“Yes”, came the infuriating response, “One of the fringe benefits of which I spoke. If they are judged suitably appealing, some units, once reformatted, will be given to key members of the remaining human population as part of our bargain”.
Emma couldn’t decide which fate seemed more terrible. To spend the rest of your days in drugged slumber, knowing nothing by pleasure, or to become what they euphemistically referred to as a pleasure unit at the beck and call of someone who had betrayed their own race? Neither option appealed, although she had to concede that the first one sounded marginally less dreadful. She shook her head, trying to drive such thoughts away. It might appear to be the lesser of two evils, but she knew that she needed to think only of escape.
“Your reprogramming will be much more sophisticated than that of your former colleagues”, the voice assured her, “In their case we need only to dampen down their resistance and instil some new priorities and imperatives. For an agent, this would never pass even a casual inspection. In essence we will bury your new programming so deeply, that even you will be unaware of it. I am told that the experience can be a little disorientating, but that it is actually quite pleasurable, especially when you stop fighting it”.
With that, there was a high-pitched hiss as something was injected into the side of the captive woman’s throat. She felt no pain, but a strange fogginess seemed to seep upwards into her mind. Emma blinked slowly, it was such an effort to open her eyes again, but she knew that she must fight to stay awake.
“Don’t try to fight it”, the voice suggested, seeming to slur and distort, “Your adrenaline only makes it work more quickly”.
Emma bit her lip, hoping that the pain might distract her and help her to keep her eyes open. She wondered why the voice would tell her how its drugs worked. The more she thought about it, the less it seemed to make any really sense.
“I’d imagine that you’re finding it quite difficult to focus about now” the voice said after a moment, “finding your thoughts just going around and around, not getting anywhere?”
Emma could just blink stupidly, her eyes blank and glassy. By now she was almost entirely unaware of her surroundings. She did not react in the slightest as the clear visor was lowered over her face. Brilliant colours burst to life before her, and everything seemed to dissolve into rainbow brightness.