By Curtis C. Chen
Seriously, who kidnaps a robot?
Okay. Technically it wasn’t a kidnapping, it was a hostage situation—and okay, actually technically it was a hijacking, what Senko called a “malware exploit rootkit.” A security hole in the house’s not-quite-legal avatar software that the hacker used to take over control of our system. I still couldn’t tell you exactly how Senko fixed it, but I trust her that the security patch or update or whatever did the job. Everyone at the TOC is safe again, knock on wood.
But Bandy hasn’t ridden another avatar since it happened. I don’t think she ever will again, and I don’t blame her.
I’m not going to say his name. He doesn’t deserve to be remembered. I’m just going to call him “the hacker,” because that’s all he was, in the end: a malicious weenie who wanted to play with someone else’s toy, but didn’t want to ask for permission. A greedy child who thought he could get away with anything just because he knew how to push some buttons.
I hope he dies in prison.
The hacker was one of the house’s regular clients. I don’t hold that against him, obviously; I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I thought sex was sinful or shameful. I want everyone to have as much sex as they want—safely, with the informed consent of all parties involved—and to enjoy it as much as they can. But our society doesn’t grant everyone that privilege in the light of day, so some of us have to look in the shade for our preferred pleasures.
And sure, I’ll admit it, I originally signed on with this house because it was a novelty. They weren’t just using avatars—which more and more sex workers were turning to for health and safety reasons, and the tech was getting really good, not just simulating external look and feel for the client, also refining the feedback loop to the operator—but actually advancing the tech, doing something new and interesting with it that no one else was.
Why shouldn’t everyone involved get to feel good? And why restrict avatars to humanoid forms, when clients will pay so much more to service their machine-loving kinks?
That was two of the three strikes against us right there. The third, I suppose, was the fact that we were an unlicensed telepresence operation center. But come on, no government agency was going to approve us deploying custom software to remote-mod household appliances into sex toys. How are you going to explain that to voters when the next election rolls around? “Well, single mothers have so little leisure time, why not allow them to combine doing the laundry with a little self-pleasure during the spin cycle?”
I mean, I think it makes sense, but I’m one of the weirdos. That’s what straight men tell me every day on the street, anyway. I don’t know, maybe it’s the hair?
That was one thing I loved about walking into Senko’s TOC every day. It was a completely judgment-free zone, both for our clients and for each other. Senko weeded hard for that in her hiring process. It didn’t matter who you were once you put on an avatar rig; all you needed was a working brain. Body type, skin color, gender presentation, physical disability—none of that stuff mattered. The one requirement was an open mind.
Bandy was already working when I clocked in that day, in one of our soundproof rooms with the windows opaqued. I rolled through the floor of cubicles to the supervisor’s booth in the back. Most of our operators don’t need to ride full-body rigs—you can get a lot of clients off with one hand, especially considering the limited physical motion of some of our remotes.
(For a few weeks, we had a kid working here who liked to run two avatars at once, one on each hand. He couldn’t operate any complicated machines, obviously, but he made a game out of getting both clients to orgasm at the same time. And he won a lot. I think he’s a professional puppeteer now, works on some children’s show over in Iceland. They pay residuals.)
I did my usual rounds with everyone on shift, making sure they were all clocked in, using their equipment correctly, and satisfying their current clients. Then I locked down my wheelchair and put on my supervisor interface headset to drop in on Bandy.
The bad news about running unlicensed avatar software is that we have to do our own tech support. The good news is that we can do things that aren’t FDA/OSHA/EFF-approved, like mirroring an operator interface to two people. And we aren’t limited to just splitting the output; we can also multiplex the inputs, so more than one person’s riding the same avatar. We’ve been able to offer some interesting threesome and orgy situations that way.
I put a reminder in Bandy’s visual overlay about her upcoming appointment and left her to wrap up her current session. Despite being one of our youngest operators, Bandy was also one of the most responsible. I never had to explain how to do anything to her twice, and if she sometimes colored outside the lines a little, she always reined it in when Senko or I told her to. No complaints, no backtalk. She was there to work. And she did great work.
I never asked about her personal life. Maybe I should have.
It was during my lunch break when I got the alert. Not an automated popup; this was an operator hitting the panic button. It was Bandy, who’d never asked for help during a single session in the nearly two years she’d been riding for Senko. Not even when her insulin pump failed during an all-night private session and she nearly went into DKA. The full-body rig's medical monitors had signalled us then.
I shoved my half-eaten lunch to the side of the supes booth and brought my interface out of standby just as Senko rushed in, hunched over a tablet filled with diagnostic code I couldn’t read. She plugged into the workstation next to me.
“What’s happening?” I asked. I should have asked what’s wrong, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the word. I didn’t want to imagine something bad happening to Bandy.
“I can’t disconnect her,” Senko said, not looking away from her console. “The hacker did something to her interface.”
Of course, she didn’t say “the hacker.” She said his name. But fuck that guy, I’m not giving him any more ink.
I looked at the ops board and saw who Bandy was servicing. We’d never had any problems with this client before, but we had filled plenty of unusual requests. The hacker had a lot of weird fetishes involving kitchen appliances. Bandy had been his regular since before I started working for Senko, but I’d reviewed all her past session logs. The stand mixer attachment made some amount of sense, but the smart-fridge ice-maker was a new one on me. I guess that front-facing camera on the door was good for something after all.
“What’s she riding today?” I knew Senko was already doing everything she could to fix this, but maybe I could contribute something if I knew more about the situation. The signal monitor display looked strange, showing a pattern I’d never seen before.
“The hacker,” Senko said, using his name again.
“I know who it is, what’s the avatar?”
“No.” Senko finally looked up at me, her eyes burning with anger. “He wired an interface into his own brain. She’s inside his head. And he won’t let her leave.”
The log showed that Bandy had dropped into the hacker’s usual sexbot, a standard household avatar modded with after-market parts to make more welcoming orifices. He had asked her to go with him to a BDSM club for a threesome. That wasn’t especially unusual; we do some bondage at our TOC, but apparently more clients prefer to get dominated by other humans. Being topped by a robot just seems a little too obvious, I suppose.
The mistress wasn’t in on it. She was just doing her job, not asking too many questions, and she clearly didn’t know much about avatars. The hacker had her instructing Bandy, using the sexbot instead of her usual tools to pin him down while the mistress did her thing. Neither of the women realized that the hacker was doing his own thing at the same time.
Apparently—Senko figured all this out much later—the hacker had rigged his own brain interface with an illicit broadcast feature, and being in the shielded dungeon ensured that no other avatars would get connected. Just Bandy on her dedicated channel. And she didn’t understand what was happening at first, just thought she was daydreaming about being able to feel what the hacker felt as the mistress worked him over. But when she got down to his genitals, Bandy realized that the sensations she felt were appallingly real. There was no other way she could know how it felt for a man to get his testicles squeezed.
That’s when she tried to disconnect. And when she couldn’t, because the hacker had phase-locked her avatar control band, she hit the panic button—a custom feature that Senko had built into all our rigs, with triple redundant backups. Fortunately the hacker hadn’t anticipated that, and the dungeon’s wifi still had its emergency services channel enabled.
But she couldn’t do anything else at that point—the hacker had killed her operator inputs and locked her into a feedback loop with his own interface, so she was experiencing everything he was in full-body resolution. I think she managed to override his control and scream at some point, but the mistress just thought that was part of the act.
It was nearly half an hour before I had the idea. Nearly thirty minutes of having to witness Bandy being tortured inside that psychopath’s body. But once I thought of it, I knew I had to do it.
Senko took a little more convincing.
“I’m not risking both of you,” she said. By this time word had gotten out onto the floor, and we’d left the supervisor booth door open so everyone knew what was going on. Other operators were trying to help, attempting to identify the mistress or the dungeon location so we could call in law enforcement. “I’ve got a few more traceroute methods I can try.”
“And how long will that take?” I didn’t want to leave Bandy alone with the hacker one microsecond longer if we could help her in any way.
“Have you ever used the supervisor interface in full feedback mode before?” Senko asked.
I probably hesitated too long before answering. “I can handle it. I’ve done combat sports in avatars—”
“This is different,” Senko said. “You’re not going to have any physical control. Yes, you’ll be able to talk to Bandy through the overlay, but you’ll be trapped in there with her.”
“No.” I pointed to her diagnostic screen. I didn’t understand all the technobabble, but I did know how to read the standard avatar interface instrumentation. “You can disconnect her once I’m in. Right? Isn’t that what I’m seeing here?”
The signal-to-noise monitor on the diagnostic was showing a lot of filtering on the avatar end. That’s probably how the hacker was cutting out our overrides, but it also meant that we should be able to switch operators in-session. I’d done it a few times before, swapping out one exhausted operator for another during an extended orgy. If the clients had noticed anything different, they never complained about it.
“Then you’ll be trapped,” Senko said. “How is that any better?”
“Because I’m choosing to do this,” I said. “He ambushed Bandy. I know what I’m getting into.”
Senko pursed her lips. “I don’t know exactly how it’s going to feel. I don’t have the specs on his interface, it’s almost certainly unlicensed—”
“Bandy’s still alive. He’s not going to kill me, even if he notices the swap. He just wants to fuck with his operator. I can take it.” I stared down Senko. She knew my backstory. “You know I can handle this asshole.”
Senko’s eyes flicked over to the open doorway. We had attracted a small audience, and a few of them were nodding, as if agreeing with me. More than a few of them had seen me wrangle unruly clients with nothing more than harshly spoken words. They believed I could do this.
I really hoped I could.
“I’m paying you for this,” Senko said, sitting down at her controls. “Triple overtime.”
“Fine.” I didn’t need the money, but I knew plenty of people who did. “Let’s bust this guy open.”
The hacker was down on all fours getting whipped across his back when I dropped in. Senko had wanted me to wait until this part was over, but I didn’t want to leave Bandy alone in there.
It was bad. It wasn’t just physical, the sensations that I was feeling; I was also getting mental bleed from the hacker. Emotions that I didn’t want, that I never wanted to know. His arousal from having power over Bandy was visceral. It made me want to throw up. I tried, but I couldn’t get his body to respond.
Our TOC's one-way overlay still worked. It was there for the supervisor and operator to exchange private messages without the client knowing. Text-only to conserve data, but it was enough.
Bandy. It’s Agatha. We’re going to get you out. Stand by for swap.
no wait you’ll be trapped here with him
Better me than you!
no Ag don’t
Bandy. I need your consent. It wasn’t strictly true, but I knew Senko was watching our feed, and she wouldn’t flip the switch unless I could get Bandy to agree. You’ve been in here long enough. Let me take over for a while. We’re close to being able to shut this down.
I didn’t want to lie to her. You can ask Senko yourself once you’re back in the TOC. Please, Bandy.
I was feeling Bandy’s emotions, too. And heaven help me, she actually had sympathy for this motherfucker. he’s just lonely so lonely he can’t control himself
Yes he can. He just doesn’t want to. We can’t let him do this, Bandy, to you or anyone else.
but you’re going to let him do it to you
Only until we can shut him down! Please, Bandy!
I did my best to feel my own revulsion as much as I could, to broadcast it to her. I now had some sense of how the feedback in this interface was working, at least from an operator standpoint, and it was insidious, how I couldn’t fully separate my own feelings from Bandy’s or the hacker’s. It was fucked up and confusing, and I could see why Bandy would sympathize with him after being tangled up in here for as long as she had been.
I didn’t know her backstory then, but I could have guessed. Bandy had always been overweight, and even though she was only classified as “morbidly obese” because of her type-one diabetes, her weight had always meant she was never considered attractive by most people.
Being in an avatar changed that. When she was riding, she always had exactly the right body for her partner to love.
And Bandy wanted that love a little too much, sometimes.
don’t hurt him Ag
Oh no, I’ll let the mistress do that. She had traded the whip for a wooden spoon and was working over his backside with it.
I felt something like a smile from Bandy. just stop him Ag ok
You bet, Bandy. Now get out of here.
ready for swap Senko
The feeling of Bandy being disconnected was like a gust of wind, sucking air out of the imaginary room that I shared with the hacker. And then he and I crashed into each other, two bodies of water merging chaotically. I did my best to hold on to my own thoughts and feelings, my purpose for being here. It felt like drowning.
I couldn’t communicate with him, not exactly. I was just sharing his headspace. He still had control over the body—his body.
But he had to wire himself up like an avatar to make the interface work, and I was betting that I had more experience as an operator than he did.
He wasn’t a paraplegic.
Ever since the first avatars came online, and it became possible for a human to remotely pilot a robot body around, people have been working to make the technology do more interesting things. Giant mecha fights were obvious, and non-human-shaped robots were also quickly implemented. And all those different sizes and shapes of bodies required interface translation, so someone in a full body feedback rig would feel like they were moving their own limbs, not just fiddling with a video game controller. Reaction times are significantly faster when you’re fully jacked in to an avatar, and that was definitely something the military cared about.
But it always feels weird, even after hours piloting the same avatar, when your brain’s gotten used to the interface and you’ve trained yourself to use new muscles for moving the extra robotic parts that don’t exist on a human body. Maybe they’re additional manipulator arms, or thermal cameras, or a guided missile launcher. There’s no direct analog in human physiology for a fly-by-wire targeting system, and every operator winds up assigning their own neural mapping.
Most operators do it by instinct. I was always aware of how I was translating my own movements—or rather, imagined movements—to specific avatar outputs. Even before I lost my legs in a training accident at Fort Bragg. I’m just as good now, if not better because of all my practice riding non-bipedal combat sport mechs. But the army doesn’t want disabled soldiers.
That’s why Senko hired me originally, after seeing me win a blind-interface bot fight: you don’t know what kind of hardware you’re riding, you just get dropped into the ring, and both fighters have to figure out how to operate their mechs on the fly. It’s a test of mental acuity more than brute force, and that’s what I liked about it. Try out a new body every time.
Senko asked me to train her own operators to run different avatar systems in isolation. The more control you have over your body, the better you are at fucking. That’s just science. And I was happy to do something positive with my very specific skills.
I let myself settle into the hacker’s interface, following his impulses as he responded to the mistress’ continued abuse. He wasn’t moving much, but his mind was active, and he kept probing to make sure that I—the operator—was still connected and alert. Didn’t want me to miss any of the fun.
I couldn’t read his mind, and there was no chance of me guessing his prearranged safeword. But I knew what kind of bad behavior would cause a mistress to halt her session.
And after a few minutes, I knew the hacker's interface well enough to follow his movements when he opened his mouth, preparing for the mistress to fit him with a ball gag. I knew exactly where to push to get his head to twitch the wrong way and clamp his jaw around her fingers, hard enough to draw blood.
By the time security showed up in the dungeon to restrain the hacker for real, Senko was able to disconnect me from his interface and drop me back into the sexbot. I told the mistress what was going on, and then I might have taken a little too much pleasure in gripping the hacker’s wrists too tightly with the avatar’s hands while waiting for the cops to arrive.
We didn’t have to get into all the avatar stuff with the police, since the mistress could press charges for assault. It was probably just as well. The law still hasn’t caught up with avatar crimes, and like I said, we were an unlicensed TOC. Besides, no jury would have been sympathetic to Bandy. Fat shaming is still a real thing in our society, and a fat hooker? Forget about it.
But, as it turned out, the hacker was also responsible for several online indiscretions crossing state lines—which he found out after he posted bail. Funny, what you can do with someone’s household avatar that has access to their physical space and home computers. I don’t know exactly what shenanigans Senko pulled using the hacker's internet accounts, but I do know that she waited until the rideshare dropped him off at his house before setting it on fire. She wanted him to see it burn. And then the feds carted him off.
He couldn’t prove that we’d hacked his avatar. Not without also revealing how he’d hacked us.
Senko released her security patch publicly, for any TOC to use. She didn’t have to explain why she’d written it; the improvements were plain for anyone to see in the source code. I hear that people have reused parts of it for applications in other industries to improve their own avatar operations. Makes sense. The tech’s not going anywhere, and everyone wants to make sure it can be used safely.
Bandy doesn’t ride anymore. Senko made good on her word and paid me exorbitantly for the time I spent shutting down the hacker. She took care of Bandy, too—retroactive hazard pay. But we both left the TOC a few weeks later. Too many memories there. Senko understood.
I’m not sure whether it was Bandy or me who suggested living together. It made sense, financially speaking—the city is expensive—and we both needed accessible housing: ramps and handrails help both of us get around physically.
I guess there was also part of each of us that didn’t want to be too far away ever again. We’d been inside each other’s heads. We knew we were safe together.
Every now and then, I find Bandy checking on the hacker in her news feed. I guess he’s still in her head, too. We don’t talk about him. We never have.
I just stay with her, and I make sure she’s okay.
Originally published on Curious Fictions, 2020.