Ex Machina
Taken by the Machine

by Van © 2023

Chapter 1

Dramatis Personś


Elizabeth Henstridge as...
Dr. Edwina Bliss
If anyone was worthy of the title genius, it was Edwina Bliss.  She was born in Sheffield in northern England, at the tender age of 13 she'd gained a First in Computer Science at Cambridge, and before the age of 23 had earned two PhD's, one in Applied Mathematics and Operations Research from Oxford and the other in Software Engineering and Robotics from M.I.T.  Her published works were all required reading in their related fields.

And oh-by-the-way Edwina was an undeniable beauty with symmetrical features, flawless skin, sparkling brown eyes, long, straight brown hair, an engaging smile, a svelte, athletic feature (thanks to daily exercise), and she moves with the natural poise and grace of a natural dancer.  Over the years she has enjoyed the occasional casual romantic fling (with both men and women), but none of them ever blossomed into long term relationships.  Edwina left very little room in her life for anything other than her absolute passion, the theoretical and applied study of robotics and artificial intelligence.

After M.I.T. Edwina completed a string of postdoctoral fellowships at several different institutions.  She never wanted for funding, but most such grants come with strings attached in the form of specific topics to be researched.  What Edwina longed for was total freedom to research anything she pleased.  And although she'd been urged to apply for permanent positions at more than one prestigious university, she'd always politely declined.  It wasn't that she was averse to teaching (for the most part), but was wary of the academic politics and time-draining committee assignments that went with any Assistant Professorship at any university.

And then, Edwina received the offer of a lifetime (or so it had seemed at the time).

Out of the blue, Edwina was offered a job by Dr. Lydia Aelios, the reclusive billionaire owner of Aelios Cybertronics (aka ΛLIOS «YBRTRONICSô, aka Λ«ô)!  And it wasn't just any job.  Edwina was to work side-by-side with her new boss on all her cutting edge projects!  And it would happen at Lydia's famous, mysterious, and highly secretive private laboratory on the northern coast of California!

Few if any commercial, governmental, or academic endeavors in the broad field of robotics happen without some link to ΛLIOS.  While the company manufactured very few actual products, its ever-growing list of patents were fundamental to the product lines of other prominent companies and corporations.  This made for a highly lucrative and reliable revenue stream for Lydia Aelios.  Strands of her web stretched into virtually every aspect of cyber technology across all political boundaries and into every corner of the globe.
Lynn Collins as...
Lynn Collins
Dr. Lydia Aelios

And speaking of spiders, Lydia might enjoy an enviable intellectual, academic, and business reputation, but in social terms... not so much.

Lydia was a recluse in the literal sense and only rarely emerged from her private lab to attend professional meetings, but once there, she invariably delivered biting and/or snarky criticisms of her fellow scientists' latest published works.  (And it didn't help Lydia rebuild the inevitable burned bridges or make new friends that her critiques always turned out to be spot on).  Also, over the years Lydia had allowed only a few casual visitors to her lair, and her social media footprint was virtually nonexistent.  That said, it was widely acknowledged that Lydia Aelios was a stunningly beautiful spider.  The few photographs Edwina had been able to find of her new boss revealed a gorgeous, shapely, and physically fit brunette, an impression that was confirmed when they finally met.

And of course Edwina took the job.  Uninterrupted research in a bleeding edge laboratory with the promise of total intellectual freedom and virtually unlimited resources?  How could she not take the job?  (She could always quit if Lydia Aelios really was a total bitch and impossible to work with as a research partner.)

Edwina flew into San Francisco International Airport and was met at luggage claim by a handsome male chauffeur in traditional uniform and holding a printed sign that read "DR. EDWINA BLISS."  She made the rest of the trip to the ΛLIOS headquarters and manufacturing campus in the back of a luxurious SUV with heavily tinted windows.

The flight had been long and exhausting, so, after enjoying a delicious cup of tea in the back of the SUV, Edwina wasn't surprised when she dozed off and had to be politely awakened as they neared their destination... which turned out to be a rather modest set of ultramodern buildings seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Discrete and stylish modern signage confirmed that this was, indeed, the "ΛLIOS «YBRTRONICS WORLD HEADQUARTERS."  They were vetted at a security station off the main road, then passed through the twelve foot chain link fence topped with concertina-ribbon-wire that apparently surrounded the entire campus.  Other traffic was coming and going, mostly vans, box trucks, and a few semi-trailer trucks, all heading to and from the outlying factory building, but the SUV stopped at what was clearly the actual headquarters of the headquarters, as it were.

Edwina was courteously received and processed as a new Executive Employee by a series of smiling men and women, all impeccably dressed for business.  She signed various forms, including a voluminous non-disclosure agreement, then was issued a security badge with her picture and a prominent QR code (but not, surprisingly, her actual name).  She was then led to a discrete private elevator, traveled down two levels, and into a large, nondescript concrete hallway with a steel door at the far end.  She was led to the door, her badge and face were scanned by a low-powered green laser, and the door whisked into the wall (just like on Star Trek, Edwina mused).  Beyond was an extension of the hallway and another steel door. 

Edwina's smartly dressed executive handler/guide gestured for her to cross the threshold.  She did so, the door snicked closed behind her, and the door in front opened, revealing Lydia Aelios, in the flesh.  She smiled (coldly) and offered her hand.

"Welcome, Dr. Bliss," Lydia purred as they shook, then she led the new arrival to a golf cart with Λ« markings.  Like Edwina, she was dressed for business in high-heels, skirt, blouse, and jacket.  They took seats and the cart immediately purred to life and smoothly accelerated down yet another concrete corridor.  There was no steering wheel or other controls and the electric motor was virtually silent.

Edwina had returned Lydia's greeting, but sensed her new co-researcher (okay, boss) wasn't in the mood for small talk.  They rode in silence for at least a full minute, then the cart halted in front of yet another steel door.  They crossed the threshold and entered an elevator for a ride up.

She really is a cold fish, Edwina thought during the surprisingly long ride.  Finally, the door whisked open and she found herself in a luxurious, ultramodern, hilltop mansion that reminded her of Tony Stark's lair in the Ironman movies.  Edwina wasn't a huge fan of the cinema, but she enjoyed Marvel movies, the Harry Potter series, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (but NOT The Hobbit trilogy.  What was Peter Jackson thinking? she remembered asking her friends after viewing them.)  Anyway, the mansion's decor was spartan, as well as somewhat... impersonal.  She noted a disc-shaped cleaning robot rolling across the floor of an expansive lounge as they passed.  There was a lot of glass and every room seemed to have a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape, and to the west the Pacific was visible on the far side of a line of forested hills.

Edwina noted a plethora of small silvered domes set in the ceiling in every room.  Obviously, they concealed cameras or other sensors.  But then, it was hardly surprising that Lydia Aelios lived in a Smart House.  Actually, Edwina decided, it's probably a Genius House.

"Your rooms," Lydia said, gesturing to a polished wooden panel that whisked open, as if on cue.  The suite beyond was neither huge nor small, and like the rest of the mansion, it was ultramodern and sparsely furnished but quite luxurious, sort of like a suite in a futuristic five-star hotel.  "We'll do most of our collaborating on my intranet," Lydia said, "but tonight I'll see you at dinner.  The house will give you directions."  And with that, she turned and walked back through the open dooróSnick!ówhich slid closed behind her.

Edwina looked around.  Her employment contract had specified that housing would be furnished, but... a luxury suite in a luxurious ultramodern mansion?  Wow!  That said (meaning thought), Lydia Aelios wasn't exactly a welcoming hostess.  I almost feel... tolerated, Edwina thought.  How disappointing.  She hoped Lydia Aelios was a better work partner than roommate or... mansionmate?  If not, Edwina supposed she could more-or-less ignore her supposed boss and work independently.  The suite appeared to have everything she'd need, including a more-than-adequate workstation with an extra-wide curved monitor and the style of ergonomic keyboard she preferred.  And if she was wrong about Lydia and they did manage to connect, all would be well.  If not, if Edwina's instincts were correct and they were incompatible, she could always find another post-doc or give more serious thought to accepting a teaching position.

She decided to put up with Lydia-Aelios-the-cold fish for... six months, tops.  How bad can it be?



Lydia's Lair!Edwina had long since settled into a routine.  As it turned out, she did collaborate with Lydia on a daily basis, but almost exclusively via keyboard and screen, as she'd been warned.  Face-to-face meetings were few and far between.  "Social interactions" were even less frequent  The mansion was large, but not so large that the two occupants didn't encounter each other, but while Lydia wasn't exactly rude, she made it clear she had no interest in anything even slightly resembling a normal friendship with Edwina Bliss.

And so far, there had been no outside visitors to the mansion, not even Λ« executives from the unseen headquarters in the valley beyond the southern slope of the mansion's hilltop perch.  Granted, Lydia's Lair was big enough and the floor plan complex enough that her employees could be slipping in and out of the residence on a regular basis without Edwina noticing, but it more probable that most of the time they communicated with their boss mostly via the intranet... like Edwina herself.

There was no formal meal schedule.  Edwina placed her food orders via the mansion's network, they were prepared by the mansion's robotic kitchen, then delivered to the dining venue of her choice by the robotic staff.  Everything was robotic, meaning all housekeeping and maintenance functions were accomplished by self-directing automated technology.  It would seem robotic systems had been integrated into the mansion's design from the drawing board up.  Lydia's Lair truly was a Genius House.

Also, the Lair was quite luxurious.  There was an elegantly curved outdoor pool wrapped around the eastern side of the hilltop. It was only suitable for idle recreation, but there was also a much smaller, rectangular "endless pool" on the western side, suitable for exercise.  In addition, there was a fully-equipped home gym with state-of-the-art exercise machines, as well as the required shower area and sauna.  Edwina had adhered to a regular exercise regimen since she was a teenager and took advantage of the mansion's amenities on a daily basis.

As the days turned into weeks and months, the mansion's interface got better and better at synchronizing Edwina's work, meal, sleep, and workout schedules, and life at the lair slowly became what Edwina could only call a "unique experience."  Delicious food appeared when wanted (and needed).  Windows popped onto Edwina's workstation screens suggesting she might want to pause whatever she was working on and take a relaxing swim or gym-session, followed by a nice sauna.  At night, the system subtly reminded her it was time for bed with more onscreen messages, dimmed lighting, and soft music (mostly Classical).

As for running, one thing the mansion did lack was running trails.  Not only was the mansion perched on a steep peak of chaparral-blanketed rock with no running or hiking paths of any kind, but Lydia explained the surrounding landscape was the protected habitat of several rare species of butterflies and wildflowers.  No human feet allowed.

However, in addition to the excellent treadmill-running-machine in the gym, there was a subterranean running track two stories below the mansion that was unique in Edwina's experience.  The floor was padded with textured rubber, and as the subsystem's user interface explained, it was designed for barefoot running.  No shoes.  The walls were also padded, but while the floor had a subtle, swirling, mottled pattern in shades of green and other earth-tones, the walls were a uniform, opalescent, light gray.  That is, they were gray until the projectors mounted in the ceiling activated full color animated images on the inside and outside walls and overhead, creating the illusion that the runner was jogging down a forest trail, or a desert track, or through an alien landscape.  The projections were highly photo-realistic, as well as aesthetically pleasing and very easy on the eyes.  A dozen different venues were available, but so far Edwina's favorites were an enchanted forest reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and an alien jungle trail that evoked the first Avatar movie.  Edwina spent many pleasant hours padding through the towering old-growth forest of Ancient Japan or the bizarre but beautiful jungles of the planet Pandora.

As time passed, Edwina learned she was living and working atop much more than a circular running track.  There was a huge but conventional basement, of course, with the usual household utilities and storage shelves, but beneath that were several floors of industrial facilities dedicated to rapid-prototyping and the manufacture of the lair's specialized robots and control systems.  All the technology in the "Genius Mansion" was built on (or more precisely beneath) the premises!  Lydia could probably have bought equivalent systems on the commercial market, but her machines were not only fully functional and customized to her exact needs, but acted as test beds for her brilliant ideas, or so she explained.  Edwina hadn't actually visited any of the levels beneath the running track, but she had no reason to believe they weren't there.

Regarding the basic research for which Edwina had been hired, Lydia presented her with a list of theoretical problems she'd like her to tackle, all of which Edwina considered intriguing and significant.  She replied with a few suggested additions to the list, all of which Lydia approved, and they were off to the races!

Collaborating via the mansion's intranet they made rapid progress on several fronts.  And then... one day Edwina discovered that her work files were being regularly copied to various sub-directories, and the destination directories seemed to be regularly changing names and migrating to different locations across the mansion's servers.  None of the activity had been immediately apparent, but an automatic "lab-notebook" program she'd written as an undergraduate to document her personal research had noted the changes.  It was... suspicious... more like industrial espionage than collaboration.  She coded a few routines to track the downloads and the directory name changes... and over the next week a disturbing pattern began to emerge.  Her work was being used for unknown purposes on servers that were highly encrypted, hiding every aspect of their very purposes.

The most logical innocent explanation was that Lydia Aelios had a personalized document-handling program of her own and it was copying and redirecting the files, and if Edwina had had a meaningful personal relationship with her hostess/co-worker/boss, she probably would have just asked Lydia what was happening... but she didn't, meaning she didn't have a meaningful personal relationship with Lydia.  Edwina continued covertly tracing her "stolen" files, doing her best to disguise her efforts by encrypting important code blocks and taking other countermeasures to disguise her efforts.  Edwina Bliss was certainly no rebel, but she was a firm believer in the principle that it was better to ask forgiveness after breaking arbitrary and stupid rules that stood in the way of her curiosity rather than wasting time seeking permission beforehand, and she wanted to know what Lydia was up to.

Anyway, as Edwina penetrated deeper into the peculiar and ever-shifting directory structure, she continued encountering large portions of the intranet dedicated to unknown purposes.  And eventually she realized that all of her own research was part of a larger pattern.

To illustrate, Λ« had a thriving Medical Division, and the research efforts supporting its various products were also being copied into what Edwina decided to call the mansion's "Secret Servers," and the volume of traffic was far too great to be just the administrative files Lydia might need to supervise the division's management.  The Secret Servers were sucking up all sorts of data, including the work of the teams developing medical expert systems, software designed to fully automate patient diagnosis, treatment, and care.

And the same went for data streams external to the company.  Edwina selected one such stream at random and backtracked it to forums and websites dedicated to various martial arts and hand-to-hand combat techniques.  Needless to say, this was puzzling.  What did kung-fu have to do with robotics?  Refining ergonomic models?  Maybe.  Making fighting robots?  Absurd!

Edwina followed yet another data stream... and became quite alarmed!  It was dedicated to sucking down information on BDSM!  Bondage and discipline!  Dominance and submission!  Sadism and masochism!  There was no mistake... and no conceivable explanation!

Her expression one of uncomprehending shock, Edwina stared at the screen.  After several seconds of rapid blinking and feeling her heart pound in her chest... she calmed herself and decided she had no choice but to confront Lydia and demand to know what was going on and why even a small part of her hostess' vast research apparatus was dedicated to any aspect of such unsavory activities!  And if Edwina didn't like the answers, she'd quit!

But first... Edwina decided to take a few precautions to safeguard her files.  Typing rapidly in Python, her high level programming language of choice, Edwina composed a worm, a virus that would infiltrate the mansion's high-level administrative systems and rewrite all of her personal privileges to the highest level.  That way, she'd be able to retrieve her research and prevent Lydia from stealing credit for her work.  This took less than an hour, and she took the precaution of hiding copies of the final program in several different directories across the mansion's intranet, and it had an "active trigger" that would activate if Lydia threw a hissy fit and tried to purge everything having to do with Dr. Edwina Bliss from the system.

It was late in the afternoon and Edwina realized she was tired, hungry (meaning ready to eat), and still a little frazzled from her discoveries.  She powered down her work station, stood, and straightened the front of her mint-green Λ« lab coat.  Edwina always "dressed properly" during work hours in stylish heels, skirt, blouse, and lab coat.  It was a matter of pride.  Most of her actual activity might involve keyboards and touchscreens in an office setting, but on occasion, robotics took her into laboratories and workshops, so wearing a lab coat to protect her clothes from lubricants and grime was a sensible precaution.  In any case, wearing a lab coat had been instilled in her early in her academic career and had long since become a habit.

Edwina's intent was to order dinner from her kitchen terminal, marshal her thoughts while she ate, then confront Lydia.


Edwina frowned.  She recognized that sound.  It was the whine of the motors and servos of one of Λ«'s family of medium-size autonomous robots.  She turned to face the now open door of her suite... and there it was!  Roughly 500 lbs in weight, it moved by means of a complicated arrangement of rubber treads and wheels that allowed it to negotiate complex terrain, including stairs and steep ramps.  Two large, strong, articulated arms with padded pincers and additional smaller but otherwise similar arms were folded along its sides.  This model had always reminded Edwina of a giant spider or scorpion with a flat horizontal carapace and treads on each of its many legs.  Creepy, to be sure, but it was also a miraculous fusion of some of her favorite advanced technologies.  At the moment, however, "creepy" wasn't the half of it!  The thing was trundling in her direction!

Edwina took an unconscious step back and nearly stumbled against her office chair.  The robot was getting closer!  "Stop!" she ordered.  The robot didn't stop... and now a second identical robot was lumbering through the door and into the suite!  Edwina had no idea what was going on, meaning what instruction-set the robots were executing, but it couldn't be good and it was time to put a stop to it!  "End program!  Executive override!"  Her administrative status should have overridden the robot's programóor rather the robots' programs, plural, as the first and second automatons were now side-by-side and rolling ever closer.

And then, a pair of armsóone from each robotódarted forward with blinding speed and unswerving accuracy grabbed Edwina's wrists before she could react!  "No!"  The padded clamps lifted her arms over her head as the remaining two robot arms extended forward and down and grabbed her ankles!  Now, despite her energetic struggles and frantic kicking, Edwina found herself off the ground and held in a vertical spread-eagle with her four limbs stretched to their comfortable limits!

"Release me!" Edwina demanded.  Insteadó"MRRMPFH!"óa pair of the lighter robot arms unfolded from the robots' sides, darted forward, and clamped her head in place while a third arm thrust a sphere of black, medium density foam into her mouth!  "Mrrrrrm!"  Narrow steel bands padded with black rubber on the surface against her skin were deployed across her mouth, to either side of her head, and under her chin, then snapped together.  Her head was released and the smaller arms retracted.

"Mrrrmpfh!"  Edwina's ponytail fluttered and shook as she tossed her now thoroughly gagged head.  The robots' main arms allowed enough slack for her to struggle, but they remained rock solid, not even shaking in response to her most energetic contortions.  The clamps holding her wrists and ankles were surprisingly "comfortable," but their wide, padded grips were inescapable.  She continued squirming and mewling through her gag, but knew she was totally in the robots' power!

Meanwhile, the two robots had rolled together and essentially fused into one double-length unit.  Next, the arms lowered her to a horizontal position and settled her on her back across the robot bodies.  Her arms were forcibly lowered to her sides and her legs brought together while all or most of the remaining arms extended, folded across her body from shoulders to feet, and tightened.  The fluid technological dance had been unarguably graceful, and at no time had Edwina been uncomfortably stretched or her anatomy unsupported.  Howeveró"NRRRRM!"óat the moment Edwina was too preoccupied with the shock and alarm of her capture to appreciate a demonstration of robotic artistry.

Restrained on her back atop the joined robots, Edwina continued her fruitless struggles as her cybernetic captors spun in place and rolled out of the suite.  The door slid closedóSnick!óand Edwina's desperate, well-muffled protests were no longer audible.

A few seconds of silence followed... then several small, hidden doors close to the floor snicked open and various small robots of different designs rolled into the suite.  The bed linen was changed and the used sheets folded and taken away, presumably to the subterranean laundry.  At the same time, Edwina's clothing and other possessions were neatly packed, stacked on a robot cart, and taken out through the main door.  Finally, the specialized dusting and vacuuming robots did their things... returned to their hidden alcoves... and it was as if the suite had never been occupied.


Ensconced in her ultra-comfortable, custom made, throne-like office chair, dressed in one of her custom made business ensembles from Milan, her silk-clad legs crossed, and sipping tea from an exquisite, eggshell thin porcelain cup and saucer, Lydia watched the unfolding... experiment.  It was also something of an entertaining melodrama, but above all else it was a test of important technology, so... experiment.  The action was unfolding on the wall-sized projection screen beyond her expansive desk and was repeated at different angles on smaller but still quite large desktop monitors arrayed in an arc before her.  There were also windows inside a few of the screens dedicated to text and graphics, but everything on display was directly related to what was happening to Dr. Edwina Bliss, Lydia's house guest and fellow scientist who, as it turned out, was also a treacherous snoop.

Lydia watched as Edwina was transported from her guest suite (her former guest suite) and through a secret door that had whisked open to reveal a featureless concrete corridor leading to a shining steel elevator door.  She was squirming and struggling, mewling through the gag covering her lips and filling her mouth, and doing her best to escape the many arms of the pair of general-purpose robots holding her prostrate form atop their hard bodies with their many articulated arms.  The agitated, beautiful, curvaceous (if somewhat slender) Brit was making quite an effort, but quite obviously was totally helpless.  There was audio to accompany the hi-definition visual spectacle, but it was limited to the hum of the robots' motors, the occasional squeal of a tread or wheel, and Dr. Bliss' well-muffled protests, pleas, and complaints.

"Mrrrf! ó Mmmpfh! ó Nrrrrr!"

The elevator door snicked open, the robots and their struggling cargo entered the car, the door closed, and the descent into the mansion's underworld began.  Upon arrival at the designated level, the robots and their captive negotiated a series of additional concrete corridors, passing junctions leading off into darkness.  The passing walls were interrupted by the occasional steel door, large power panel, or pipe and/or conduit junction, but there was no signage or decoration.  Finally, a door whisked open and Edwina and her captors took an abrupt turn and rolled into an approximately fifteen-foot by fifteen-foot room with a nine-foot ceiling.

Centered in the chamber was a complex and quite peculiar piece of... furniture?  It might be some sort of table or lounge-chair.  Of course, Lydia knew exactly what the thing was.  After all, the mansion's expert manufacturing systems had dersigned and fabricated it to her demanding specifications.  Specifically, it was an array of rectangular pads, all supported by one or more robotic arms similar to the appendages of the robots that had captured Dr. Bliss.  At the moment, the pads formed a roughly rectangular horizontal bed resting atop a great deal of complicated machineryóbut that was only true for the moment.  If so directed, the pads and robot arms could form themselves into almost any configuration from a day-bed to a lounge chair to a gynecological examination table/chair to an "X"-shaped framework, horizontal, vertical, or at any angle in between.  And more importantly, it could take a human occupant with it as it changed shape without overstretching or damaging her joints.

That was the theory, anyway.  The device had passed all of its simulations with flying colors, but had never cradled a human subject.  Lydia wasn't about to ride the thing herself, so until Edwina's arrival, unforgivable snooping, and subsequent capture, there had been no specimen available.  That was now changed, of course, but first...

The robots trundling Edwina's prone, enthusiastically struggling body into the chamber ground to a halt.  Then, without significant pause, the secondary arms folded across her body retracted and the main arms lifted her back into the vertical spreadeagle she'd experienced upstairs in her former suite.   Edwina was not happyó"Mrrrpfh!"óand continued squirming and tugging against the robotic grip of her captors and mewling through her gag.  "Nrrrrrrr!"  Her long brown hair had somehow escaped the elastic band formerly restraining it in the neat ponytail Edwina habituably wore while working and now fluttered in tousled waves as she tossed her gagged head.  "Mrrrmfh!"

With the exception of the now closed steel door, the walls of the entire chamber were lined with narrow vertical steel panels, several of the closest of which snicked open and robot arms emerged from within.  They were longer, thinner, and with more joints than the arms of the "capture-bots" enforcing Edwina's captivity and were capable of far more complicated articulated motion.  In addition, their business ends were something like motorized Swiss Army knives with a variety of specialized tools, as well as conventional gripping pincers similar to those restraining Edwina's wrists and ankles.  Clearly, the chambers' robotic arms were designed for more delicate and complex work.

Anyway, as Lydia watched (and smiled, and sipped her tea) several of the arms extended towards Edwina.


The arms used various cutting and grasping tools to slice open and remove Edwina's clothing!  All of her clothing!


To elaborate, they plucked Edwina's sensible shoes from her feet, sliced her mint-green Λ« lab-coat to ribbons... followed by her charcoal-gray skirt... followed by her white blouse... followed by her white, lacy, and surprisingly stylish panties and bra!  Finally, with amazing delicacy, they removed Edwina's jewelry, which consisted of a thin gold chain formerly dangling around her neck and the pair of simple pearl posts formerly gracing the lobes of her pierced ears!


Edwina was now totally nude, not counting her gag and the wide, rubberized grips closed around her ankles and wrists.  Her shoes, ruined clothing, jewelry, pens, pencils, Λ« ID badge, and everything else that she'd been wearing or carrying on her person were all deposited in what amounted to a mobile robot hamper.  The chamber door opened, the "robo-hamper" trundled away, and the door snicked closed behind it.

Nude and helpless, Edwina continued struggling and mewling... even though by this time she had to know she was not going to be able to extricate herself from her robot captors' relentless grips.

Lydia continued watching the unfolding spectacle on her giant screen, smiling and taking occasional sips of tea.  She supposed she could begin the next stage of her plan for Dr. Edwina Bliss... but Lydia had important theoretical work she'd hoped to accomplish before supper.  Dr. Bliss could wait until morning.  She certainly wasn't going anywhere, nor would she be able to continue treacherously poking her pretty little button nose where it didn't belong.  Lydia stabbed a button on the virtual control panel, a side menu appeared, and she made another selection.

Down below in the chamber the effect was immediate.  In a whine of motors the capture-bots rolled close to the padded adjustable framework as it reconfigured itself into a vertical "X"-shaped frame.  The capture-bots pressed Edwina's body against the frame's pads and small arms deployed from the mechanism to secure narrow, black, braided nylon straps similar to automobile seat-belts across her torso above and below her pert breasts (which were pleasingly shaped but not as perfect as Lydia's) and across her waist.  At the same time, additional straps pinned her limbs against the pads, over her upper thighs, above and below her knees, and over her biceps.  And then, the capture-bots released her wrists and ankles and their padded grips were instantly replaced by wider straps otherwise identical to the rest of her new restraints.  Needless to say, Edwina's struggles were now significantly more restricted, but nonetheless she continued her pointless struggles, squirming, wiggling, fighting her bonds, and tossing her mewling head.


The capture-bots' arms retracted, their bodies separated, the chamber door snicked open, they rolled from the chamber, and the door closed behind them.  Their work was accomplished.

Meanwhile, Edwina's padded, "X"-shaped prison slowly lowered to just a few degrees above the horizontal.  "Mrrrmfh," the spreadeagled prisoner whimpered.  Edwina gave her restraints one last violent test, then relaxed.

"Until morning, Dr. Bliss," Lydia purred.  She'd been thinking aloud.  An audio link to Edwina's subterranean prison was available but not active.  Lydia tapped another virtual button... and down in the chamber the tiny spotlights studding the ceiling like so many regularly spaced stars slowly dimmed... and dimmed... and finally winked out.

Total darkness did nothing to promote Edwina's acceptance of her predicament.  "Mrrrrrp!"  In fact, the tears that had been begun welling in her eyes as the framework's straps tightened across her limbs and torso began dripping down her cheeks and the sides of her face.  "Nrrrrrrr."

The office displays had shifted to infrared cameras and the chamber's microphones were still open, so Lydia could continue watching Edwina's weak struggles and listen to her pitiful gagged sobbing... but she had work to do.  She left a single live video image of Edwina's spreadeagled form on a small side-monitor, muted the audio from the chamber, and reconfigured the remaining displays to their usual work-mode.  The screens filled with blocks of code, esoteric graphs, mathematical equations (many with notation of her own devising), and she tackled the next item on her to-do list.

Down below in the inky blackness of the subterranean chamber, Edwina languished... completing her first hour as Lydia Aelios' naked and helpless captive.



Chapter 2