Of Dolls and Men – Chapter One

Here it is folks, after many, many hours it’s finally here, a sneak peek of Chapter One of, Of Dolls and Men, book one in my Pretty Penny Series.

Please note that this is still very much a work in progress and things will likely change upon the books publication. This is a sneak preview and any and all feedback is greatly apreciated.

Of Dolls and Men

Chapter One

“Oh my god, do you know what this is?”

The hole in the side of the shipping crate was thin, but it was evidently wide enough to see through. Christian could make out a curious, glitter-coated eye staring at him from the outside and tried, yet again, to scream for help. He couldn’t, of course. He wished for the thousandth time that he’d never sent that damn email and cursed himself doubly for signing it with his real name.

“What, I wanna see!” Came another excited female voice.

“Shove off Bella, stop hogging the peephole.”

There were three of them?

The crate had been unceremoniously dropped outside a building that needed a buzzer system to get into. Christian had figured that out when the men in charge of shipping him to wherever he was going had started to loudly complain at the length of time it was taking to let them inside. When the door had finally opened with an audible click, the men had picked him up, walked him inside and dumped him back down onto the floor with an echoing thud. Part of the wooden shipping crate had given way, and Christian could see for the first time in what felt like forever. A white marble tiled floor stretched to meet an equally expensive but bland looking wall. He could just about make out the leaves of what he hoped was a fake plant, drooping their way into his field of vision. He listened to the men debate whether or not to take him up to the 13th floor, but when a new call from headquarters came through, they were gone. Christian wouldn’t have been surprised if their shoes had left skid marks on the floor.

“It’s one of those creepy dolls!” The lady with the glittery eye said. “Becky, it’s really one of those things! Look, come and see. It looks so real!”

No shit, it’s because I am. Christian thought, but he couldn’t blame them for the assumption. A week ago he’d have made the same mistake.

“Fuck off,” a slightly higher pitched voice said. We don’t have time for this, we have to meet Zach at eight.”

“Just look, here.”

Christian heard protests, and it sounded to him as if whoever was in front of the hole was dragging the other person over to her.

“Seriously,” Becky said. “Fine.” A new set of eyes peered in at Christian, this time made up in a smokey autumnal design. Apparently, Becky wasn’t quite so in-your-face as glitter queen Bella. She did, however, have the same fake Valley Girl tone to her voice, and it made Christian want to crack his head against a wall until they shut up.

Instead, he tried to blink at them to let them know that he was alive. Apparently, neither of them knew morse code because all they did in response was squeal and pretended to freak out.

“He’s so lifelike, it’s creepy!” Becky repeated as a third face moved in front of the hole.

The third girl had icy blue eyes and was staring in awe, when a soft, rather commanding male voice made her jump. Christian’s view was blocked by her long, muddy blonde hair as she spun to face the stranger.

“I do hope that your curiosity about my purchase means that you girls intend to help me transport it upstairs?”

The man didn’t sound angry, more amused and as far as Christian could tell from the confines of his shipping crate, he was also British.

“Oh, Mr Malco. We didn’t…I mean…Is this yours?” Christian thought the voice was Bella’s and, to his amazement, it sounded interested.

“No my dear, I bought it for my dog.”

“But…you don’t have a dog?” This time it was Becky speaking.

“Yeah Beckz, that’s the point. He was being sarcastic.” The third girl sounded a lot less air-headed than the other two. Christian liked her already.

Evidently, Mr. Malco was thinking along similar lines. “It’s nice to know that one of you shares my sense of humour at least. Now, from the sounds of things the delivery men haven’t followed their instructions and remained with my package, am I correct?”

“No Sir, I mean, they aren’t here Sir.” The third girl said apologetically.

Why the hell did he have to ask that? Christian wondered. Wasn’t it obvious?

“Thank you, Charlotte. And I don’t suppose any of you fine ladies would happen to know anyone who’d be willing to help me move my delivery, would you?”

“What, d’ya mean? You don’t seriously want us to get someone to carry that creepy doll back to your place, do you?” Becky sounded both disgusted and more than a little morbidly curious.

There was a long pause after that, and in the silence, Christian did his best to try and move. He knew his muscles should be tensing and his jaw should be clenched tight with the effort he was putting into trying to free himself, but the Pretty Penny guy had been right. There really was no point in him struggling. He’d never be free.

By the time the Brit – Mr. Malco – spoke, he’d apparently decided against being annoyed at the fact that the girls had found out what was inside of his crate and instead focused on the practicalities of his situation. “How do you think I’m going to get it back to my apartment by myself, Miss Turner? And please, before you go around telling everyone how perverted I am, it’s far more than a doll. It’s an android. As you know, I can’t have a dog to help me around, so-”

“What? You’re gonna use an ‘assistant’ instead?”

Christian imagined the man pinching the bridge of his nose as he spoke. “It has more functions than what you’re trying to suggest, Miss Buxton. It’ll follow any command given to it after it’s suitably programmed.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Bella sniggered.

Apparently, Charlotte was destined for a career in politics because she cut in before Bella had a chance to say anything worse, and in a gently curious tone asked, “So if you tell it to take you to Starbucks and order you a coffee…”

“Precisely Charlotte.” Mr. Malco sounded more than a little relieved. “A companion and a guide dog all in one.”

Guide dog?

Mr. Malco paused before adding, Christian thought, for Bella’s benefit. “I have no issues when it comes to finding people to spend the night with. Companionship is not my most pressing concern.”

“Well duh, you’re blind,” Bella said, and Christian wished the floor would swallow him whole.

Mr. Malco let out an almost audible sigh. “Thank you, Bella, I hadn’t quite figured that out until just now. Your observations are as astute and appreciated as ever.”

“What?”

“It’s OK. I’ll call my brother.” Charlotte was quickly growing on Christian. She pressed a few keys on her phone and began to pace back and forth, waiting for her brother to pick up.

This was all too surreal. Christian was finding it hard to believe what was happening to him. There had to be someone else, some other unfortunate ‘thing’ that they were all talking about. Up until now, Christian realised, he hadn’t truly accepted that this was real. He hadn’t paid any mind to who must have paid Pretty Penny to turn him into a living, breathing…he could hardly think the word – doll.

When this had all started, he’d barely taken in anything that’d been said to him after he’d realised, for the first time, that he couldn’t move. He’d been hoping that it was all a dream or that, somehow, the family he hadn’t talked to in over five years, would mysteriously realise that he was missing.

What would happen when he didn’t show up at the club on Friday night? Would any of the guys notice he was gone, or would they be happy that there was less competition for the ladies attention now that he wasn’t there? What would happen to his apartment? Would they repossess it and take all his stuff? Where the hell was he? Why hadn’t the police turned up, guns blazing, to arrest everyone here?

He focussed on what he could see through the hole to distract himself from the panic that was starting to set in. The floor hadn’t changed. It looked like he was possibly in some kind of reception area, but he couldn’t be sure without seeing more of his surroundings. As Charlotte paced, talking now, he focussed his attention on the man. Maybe, once he could speak, he might be able to explain to him what had happened?

He didn’t appear to be unkind. He couldn’t be older than his late 20’s, maybe early 30’s at a stretch. He was dressed in a smart black suit, and his neatly styled dark hair wouldn’t have looked out of place in an ad for a salon. He didn’t wear the big black plastic glasses that Christian usually associated with blind people; instead, he had on a pair of designer shades that had been tinted a smokey grey. If it weren’t for the cane in his right hand, Christian would never have thought that the man couldn’t see what was happening in front of him.

“Right,” Charlotte said and stopped just short of covering up the hole again. “Tyler’s on his way down with Robbie, they said they’ll help out.”

Finally any longer and we’d have to get Gracie to give us a ride, and I am not dragging her ass around town with us all night,” Becky said.

“Don’t let me hold you up any longer than necessary, ladies.” Mr. Malco appeared relieved to have an excuse to stop speaking with the girls. “I’m sure Tyler and his friend can help from here.” Christian saw the man bow politely to Charlotte as he added, “Thank you, Miss Dover.”

“N…no problem Sir,” Charlotte stammered. “Are you sure you don’t want us to stay?” She sounded a little lost, torn between doing what she knew to be the right thing and keeping her friends happy. Christian could see her nervously fiddling with her skirt as Bella, obviously bored now that the potential gossip wasn’t as juicy as she’d first thought, protested her offer to stay.

“I’m sure I can manage to stand by a box for a few minutes by myself. But your offer is much appreciated,” Mr. Malco said, pointedly ignoring the other two girls and offering his smile to Charlotte.

“Come on Char! He said it’s fine. We’re gonna be late.” Bella sounded as if she was already setting off towards the entrance.

You didn’t seem all that bothered when it was just the three of you ogling me, Christian thought, but he had to admit that he wasn’t going to mourn their departure.

“OK, well, if you’re sure. It was nice to meet you,” Charlotte said as she left to join her friends.

To Christian’s surprise, as Charlotte’s heels clicked across the floor, Mr. Malco replied with a soft “Likewise my dear.”

He waited until he heard the lobby doors close before extending his cane in front of himself and beginning his search for Christian’s crate. It didn’t take him long to find. The muffled thud of the rubber-clad end of the stick colliding with the wood of his shipping crate caused Christian’s heart to race. His paralysis was becoming ever more apparent, and it dawned on him just how vulnerable he really was. Ordinarily, a man like Mr. Malco wouldn’t even have registered as a threat to him – blind and a good few inches shorter than himself, Christian wouldn’t have noticed him if he’d walked past him on the street, but now… Now as he heard the stranger’s hands examining the crate and saw his fingers exploring the small opening the girls had been looking through, real fear set in.

He thought he’d been scared when he’d realised that the drink his boss had given him had been drugged. He’d then registered a new level of fear as he’d woken up, bound and unable to escape, in the middle of a sterile room. After that, his adrenaline had hit new heights during the brief explanation of what had happened to him before he’d been placed into the shipping crate. When he’d found out he was no longer able to move or even scream he’d lost it. Trapped inside his own mind he’d thought he was going to go insane, but the long hours in transit had allowed a sort of pseudo calm to wash over him. He’d dreamt himself away and gone to another place inside of his head. In the blackness, he re-imagined stories he’d read as a child. Tried to remember every character’s name from The Hound of the Baskervilles and lost himself in the music of his own mind. Now reality was kicking down every barrier he’d ever constructed, and from the looks of things – it had no intention of playing nice.

Mr. Malco only stopped his examination of Christian’s crate when the sounds of two young men arguing drifted across the lobby.

“No way, old Thrall would totally kick new Thrall’s butt! He conquered half of Kalimdor for fuck sake. New Thrall just went off to meditate and let Sylvanas get her sweet bitch ass poison on.”

Mr. Malco’s hand disappeared from the crack in the wood and Christian heard him say, “I rather beg to differ Mr. Dover. Your assessment of the relevance, that peace negotiations can play in the face of a new and unknown enemy is rather simplistic. Even Thrall understood that might does not always make right.”

“Huh?” It was the same kid as before, Charlotte’s brother, Tyler, Christian presumed.

“You play WoW?” The friend piped up. “How?”

“I secretly have bionic eyes and just pretend that I’m blind.” Mr. Malco said, completely deadpan.

“Cool!” The other kid, Robbie, sounded impressed.

Christian heard Mr. Malco sigh yet again. “I read books, Mr. Banks. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the invention. Nowadays you can even have someone else read them to you in the form of an ‘audio-book’.” Even Christian could hear the loud inverted commas, but the kids appeared nonplussed.

“I don’t get it.” Tyler sounded even more confused than before.

“Books have been written about the characters in your game, Mr. Dover. I have read said books. I assure you it is not rocket science.”

“But how can you read if you can’t see?” Tyler asked. He sounded completely lost. Christian was praying that the kid had more muscle than brain; otherwise, he was heading for a one way trip down the stairs.

“He already told us!” Robbie said excitedly, “He has bionic eyes!”

Christian heard Mr. Malco make an audible groan. “How old are you Mr. Banks?” He asked.

“Fifteen,” Robbie replied.

“OK. It’s time you asked your parents to explain sarcasm to you. Promise me, that when you get home, you’ll go and do just that. And while you’re at it, ask about braille as well.”

“OK?”

“Or at least ask Google.”

“Oh…right.” Robbie sounded relieved. “Yeah, sure.”

“Not right now, Mr. Banks.” Mr. Malco said as Robbie began to pull out his phone. “I have a package that I need you two brave young warriors to transport upstairs for me. I assure you that this quest comes with a favourable reward for your efforts.”

“You’re weird, you know that?” Tyler said.

“I am aware, yes.” Mr. Malco nodded, quiet amusement causing his tone to lighten ever so slightly.

“OK.” Christian saw a shoulder shrug as the kid began to move into view. Apparently, that was enough to satisfy him, because he then asked. “So, uhm, how heavy is this thing?”

“I heard that you play for your school football team, am I correct?” Mr. Malco asked.

Tyler sounded confused, but answered, “Yeah?”

“Then it probably weighs about the same as you. I suggest Mr. Banks takes the top end and you take the bottom. Between the two of you, I’m sure you’ll be able to transport it no problem. The lifts will do most of the grunt work in any case. My place is opposite the doors on the 13th floor.”

“But no one lives on the 13th floor,” Robbie said. “Bella said it was haunted…or something.”

“The last time I checked I was at least partially corporeal, Mr. Banks. I live in the east wing. Now, as lovely as it is to chat with you two fine gentlemen, I do have some business to take care of.”

“Definitely weird.” Christian heard Tyler say as he positioned himself at the end of the box.

A few moments later Christian felt himself being tipped backwards. The boys counted to three before they lifted him. They were nowhere near as experienced at heavy lifting as the delivery men, but they somehow managed to carry Christian to what was presumably the elevator. He listened to the young men’s protests and silently prayed that they wouldn’t drop him.

Thankfully, someone upstairs was listening.

After a short while, Christian heard the ding of the elevator’s arrival, along with the sliding of the doors as he was shuffled inside. The boys started to try to put him down, but Mr. Malco warned them not to, as it would be easier just to wait. The protests grew louder after that but the elevator was fast, and he soon found himself being taken out and set down carefully outside the apartment.

Christian heard Mr. Malco unlock his doors, and Tyler and Robbie rock-walked Christian’s crate inside. The room was pitch black.

“Bro, turn some lights on or something,” one of the kids said.

Christian heard Mr. Malco’s chuckle as the man replied, “And why would I need lights, Mr. Dover? I wouldn’t be able to see them.”

“So what? You just live alone in the dark? No wonder people think this place is haunted.”

“Indeed. Well, boys, it’s been an experience getting to know you. Here. I believe this should be an adequate reward for your help.”

Whatever it was he gave them, they both seemed more than satisfied. They took the hint and left quickly, happily congratulating each other on their haul. As the doors to the apartment closed behind them, Christian thought he heard them saying something about a Raid and Chinese food tonight.

Christian was alone.

His heart felt like it was about to burst from his chest when he heard fingers scraping against the edge of his box, and he corrected himself. He was alone with Mr. Malco.

What had once felt like a prison had now become his only line of defence, and Christian wanted to yell for the boys to come back when he realised that Mr. Malco was searching for something along the edge of the box. When he found it, the man let out a happy huff and Christian closed his eyes, bracing for whatever came next. In the blackness, he heard fingers moving across something metallic and a few moments later the small, distinct beeps of buttons being pressed. He almost stopped breathing as, helplessly, he felt the air around him shift. He realised that the front of his crate was being opened and his eyes, on full alert, snapped to the movement.

There was no way for him to see. The boys had been right to ask for some light. Perhaps compensating for his lack of vision, the first thing Christian noticed as the front of the crate fell away was the man’s scent. Subtle tones of dark coffee and pine drifted through the air. It wasn’t at all unpleasant. His ears were straining to identify any sounds they could, but the room was silent.

Suddenly cool fingers pressed against his bare chest. Christian’s natural instinct was to punch, kick and get away from the unwanted contact, but his body wouldn’t comply. He tried, in desperation, to scream but the fact that nothing happened made everything ten times worse. His heart was still hammering, and blindly he searched for any source of light that he could. There was nothing.

“Wow, feel that heart of your’s go,” Mr. Malco said. He sounded impressed. “You really are lifelike aren’t you? Here, maybe this’ll help calm you down a bit.”

There was a rustle and then another small beep. Christian watched, stupefied, as blinds began to rise along the back wall of the room. He realised that the entire thing was made from glass and that, from this height, he had the most astonishing view of the city below.

The moonlight, along with the slight hint of yellow from the street lamps bathed the room in a warm, almost nóir like sheen. It highlighted the features of the man in front of him perfectly, and Christian swallowed around the lump that had formed in his throat. The man’s face was all angles. He had a sharp, slightly pointed jawline and a patrician’s nose that somehow managed to compliment his lips perfectly. They were currently drawn into a smug grin as if he were well aware of the effect that the drawing of the blinds was having upon Christian.

“I may not be able to see it, but I do enjoy feeling the sunlight on my skin in the morning.” Mr. Malco explained. “I doubt there’s much light coming in now, but from what I could gather from Google, the sky is cloudless, and the city doesn’t care much for sleep.” He pressed his palm firmly over where Christian’s heart sat inside his chest, and despite everything, the fact that he could now see did calm Christian slightly. This time, when Mr. Malco’s lips moved, they drew up into a true smile. “There we go, much better,” he said. Christian bit down on the urge to punch him in the throat.

He remained frozen as Mr. Malco stepped in closer, running his fingers across his torso, up his neck and over his face; studying his features at the same time as Christian did his best to catalogue everything he could about the other man for when he managed to call the police.

“Humm, apart from the god awful shipping company, Pretty Penny does seem to have fulfilled my order to the letter, they even got the hair right.” Mr. Malco said as he let Christian’s carefully styled cut run through his fingers. “Let’s see if you have the brains to match that movie star body shall we?” He drew an apparently blank notebook from his back pocket. “If you do, I think I’m going to like you a lot.” He carefully flipped through the pages as he spoke, feeling the bottom corner of each until he found the one he wanted. After that he ran his finger across the paper, feeling it, and occasionally nodding as if ticking off an internal list.

Apparently satisfied he closed the book and slipped it back into his pocket. “OK. I apologise for what I have to do next, but it is a necessary part of the process, and it’ll be over before you know it.” Christian’s eyes widened as Mr. Malco disappeared from his line of vision, only to return holding a pocket knife.

He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or more terrified than before when he watched Mr. Malco prick his own finger, drawing a bead of blood to the surface of his skin. Christian held his breath as the man began to walk towards him, using his free hand to feel in front of himself. He wanted to twist away as the stranger found his goal and carefully pried opened Christian’s mouth, but whatever was binding him held him fast. He was powerless to stop Mr. Malco from smearing his blood across his tongue, muttering words Christian couldn’t understand as he did so. Mr. Malco, still whispering, pulled his finger out and stepped back, away from Christian’s motionless body. He listened to the incomprehensible words pouring from Mr. Malco’s mouth, as he repeated them for the third time. As soon as the chanting stopped, Christian felt the change.

Tentatively, he rocked his head to the side. It moved. He twitched his fingers, and they moved as well. He balled his hands into fists and readied himself for, what he expected, was going to be a very one-sided fight, when he realised that the rest of his body was not playing ball.

“What the fuck?” He hissed, then slammed his mouth shut. He’d just said that out loud.

“Good to know they didn’t accidentally disable that wonderful tongue of yours.”

Christian pulled in a deep breath to shout for help but realised that his body wasn’t going to allow that either. The words weren’t coming out. Just like the rest of him, his vocal cords weren’t getting on board with his escape plan. He vaguely recalled something his captors had said to him about ‘submitting to his owner’s will’ and cursed himself for not paying more attention when he’d had the chance.

He twitched in his box, and the rustling alerted Mr. Malco to his movements.

“Feel free to take a look around the place. This is your new home after all. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.” Mr. Malco said curiosity was written across every line of his features.

The moment the words left the man’s lips, Christian found that whatever had been keeping him bound inside the crate lifted. He stepped forwards with bare feet and hesitated when he heard the rustle of the new jeans that the clerk in the packing facility had forced him into. They sounded loud in the silence. Shaking off his uncharacteristic self-consciousness, he began to explore his new…home?

He felt his lips starting to form words, and realised that he did actually want to let this stranger know what he thought of his place. Despite the low light, or possibly because of it, the apartment had an almost surreal calm to it. Looking around he realised that the crate he’d been shipped in, was the only thing that appeared even remotely out of place. The huge black granite central table reflected the moonlight pouring in from outside perfectly, and the dark leather seats by the glass wall just begged to be sat in.

“It’s beautiful,” Christian said. His voice, a little hoarse from lack of use, cracked and he coughed before adding. “I didn’t think people actually had places like this in real life. You only ever see them on the TV. Celebrities have houses like this, not real people.” He spun around, looking at the neatly stacked bookshelves, the pristine fireplace and the slick computer stashed away in its own private corner. “I’m dreaming, right? None of this is actually happening?”

“I can pinch you if you particularly want me to.” Mr. Malco had turned to face the direction Christian’s voice was coming from, and he had that same relaxed smile on his face as before.

“I’m good, thanks,” Christian replied. “I’m not sure if I really want to know the answer.”

“Take it from me Mr. Miller, ignorance and denial will only take you so far along the road to happiness.”

Christian stopped in his tracks. “How’d you know my name?”

“It’s written in your instruction manual.” Mr. Malco pointed to his back pocket, where Christian could just about make out the notebook still nestled in the man’s expensive trousers. “It has a small biography in it. A sort of basic, getting to know you, and what to expect guide.”

“So you know?” Christian said hopefully.

“Know what?” Mr. Malco asked.

“You know what’s happened to me? You know who I am?”

“I know what you think has happened to you, yes.” Mr. Malco said casually as if they were doing nothing more than discussing the weather. “I selected the package that included a full background personality, complete with memories. I’m not looking for a mindless slave as a companion.”

Christian thought frantically. He tried to figure out the best way to explain to Mr. Malco that he wasn’t a doll or whatever kind of robot the man thought he was. He was human, just like him, but his mind was drawing blank after blank. Finally, he just blurted out, “I’m not a machine.”

“Indeed.” The man shrugged as he added “I know you think that, and I understand that the adjustment period will be a little longer than if I’d requested you as a blank slate, but if it’s any consolation I would very much enjoy hearing about your past. I assure you, I’m not a monster, merely a bored blind man with a little too much time on his hands.”

“No, you don’t understand, I have a job, a car, a flat. I can tell you my social security number I-”

“Don’t exist on any government databases and never have done. Look, I’m happy to have this conversation with you in the morning, but right now I’m going to need you to clear this crate from the walkway and heat me up one of the meals in the fridge. I’m afraid the existential crisis will have to wait until after the human has had something to eat.”

Reflexively Christian wrapped his arms around his stomach. When was the last time he’d eaten? It had to be the night before he’d started his research for the article. Come to think of it, when had he last had a drink? With a dawning sense of horror, he realised that at the minimum it had been two days. He should’ve been desperate for water by now. He should’ve been pissing dark orange, but he hadn’t needed the toilet since this whole affair began. What the fuck had they done to him?

“I can’t hear you moving, so I’m going to presume something’s happened.” Mr. Malco said politely.

“I…” Christian paused, trying to hold back the fresh wave of panic. “I haven’t eaten in quite a few days. I mean, I should be hungry but-”

“You aren’t? Not thirsty either?” Mr. Malco finished the sentence for him for him.

“Yeah, I mean no. I don’t feel like I want a drink.”

“That’s because you don’t need one. You won’t need to sleep or go to the bathroom either. You’ll never get sick, age or die. Like I said Christian, you have human memories, but you aren’t alive.” He stood up and gestured for Christian to come to him. “Come here.”

Automatically Christian felt his feet move. He stopped as Mr. Malco rested his hand on his waist.

“You feel that?” The man asked.

“Yes,” Christian answered even as he inwardly recoiled from the touch.

“This is all that matters. You’re the man standing in front of me at this very moment. Your memories are just that, memory. They’re as real as a ghost. The being I’m holding right this second is all that matters.”

Christian looked down at the hand resting against his skin and tried to move away. He couldn’t. Giving in he said, “I’m human. I was kidnapped. You’ve heard of Pretty Penny Assistants? Of course you have, you fucking bought me…They – I – I’m not a robot you just ordered off a shelf. I’m not a fucking ‘Assistant’ and I am alive.” Mr. Malco’s hand was still resting against his waist, and Christian felt the need to add, “And just so you know, I’m not gay.”

“I see.” The smaller man was looking up in the direction of his face but hadn’t quite managed to meet his eye. “Well Mr. Not Gay Human, I’m still in need of food. Let me show you to the kitchen.”

Christian began to protest, but Mr. Malco’s insistent push had his feet moving seemingly against his own will. The man guided him around the centre table and through a small archway into the next room.

The Kitchen was as dark as the lounge had been but with a flick of a switch, clean white light flooded through it. Christian actually had to squint for a few moments before his eyes adjusted. Once they had, he marvelled at what he saw.

“Are you sure you’re blind?” He asked as he took in the pristine countertops and shining chrome appliances all around him.

“Yes, totally.” Mr. Malco sounded more than a little amused. “Why do you ask?”

“Because this house is the shit. It’s like the after shot of every makeover show ever. How the hell do you keep it so clean and what’s with all the little spotlights?”

Laughing Mr. Malco replied, “I pay people. Cleaning and cooking services are available upon request, all you need is a phone and access to Google.”

Christian stopped when he realised how stupid he’d been. If the man could afford to buy him then paying someone to deck out an apartment and keep it clean wouldn’t exactly be an issue.

“Right, yeah. I’m still not quite used to the idea of paying people to do things for you.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Christian realised with a sense of dawning horror what they could mean for him. “Wait, you’re not expecting me to do all that for you now are you?”

Doing his best to remain composed Mr. Malco said, “No. I’m more than happy with my staff’s performance. I have other plans for you Mr. Miller.”

Christian stiffened, and he could tell immediately that Mr. Malco had noticed because he added, “Having a working set of eyes around the house is highly underrated in my experience.”

“Yeah, right, yeah.” Christian tried to compose himself before changing the subject. “So, where’s this food I have to cook for you? And what’s your name by the way, or am I supposed to call you Mr. Malco forever?” The man started to open his mouth, but Christian cut in with “And if you tell me I’ve got to call you Master just so you know, I’m not above punching a blind man in the face.”

To his surprise, Mr. Malco laughed. “I’m sorry to say that, even if you were so inclined, punching me anywhere would be impossible, but it’s good to know how you feel about pet names.” The man reached out towards a high stool tucked neatly under the breakfast bar in the middle of the room. Pulling it out he sat down comfortably and continued, “My name’s Evan and feel free to call me whatever you like while we’re alone. In public, I’d prefer either Evan or Mr. Malco depending upon the circumstance. Oh, and the food’s in the fridge. Around the island to your right.”

Taking the opportunity to put a bit of distance between the two of them Christian bolted towards the massive stainless steel doors of the double fridge. It sounded like what the guy at Pretty Penny had told him was true: whatever they’d done to him was going to force him to comply with whatever Mr. Malco wanted, whether he liked it or not. Lost in thoughts of how he was going to escape, Christian opened the fridge doors wide and was hit with a blast of cold air. “Fuck that’s cold.”

“Freezers tend to be.”

Christian slammed the left door shut. “You can’t see it but just so you know I’m giving you the finger right now.” Reluctantly he found himself examining the rows of neatly stacked and labelled food inside the fridge.

“See, you’re helping already.” Mr. Malco said cheerily.

“Fuck you,” Christian muttered as he pulled out what appeared to be a pre-packaged, ready to bake, casserole and walked over to the island in the middle of the room.

“Negotiable, but just so you know I tend to prefer to top.”

Christian dropped the dish. Luckily it only fell onto the countertop. “I-”

“Don’t do men, I know, you already told me. Unfortunately for you, I do, and as I’m the one who paid for you, I have the final say in the matter. Luckily for us both I also occasionally take a shine to the odd woman and am not averse to sharing, so don’t worry, I have no intention of completely corrupting your poor little straight soul.”

Christian wanted to yell, but the words wouldn’t come out. He tried to pick up the stupid casserole and hurl it at Evan’s head, but his arms wouldn’t move.

“If it’s any consolation,” Mr. Malco said into the silence, “I have a fair bit of experience when it comes to ‘straight’ guys. It’s amazing what you can pull off if you’re blind and have the balls to try. People tend to be a bit more open to experimentation when you can’t see their face.”

“So go fuck them then, like you said downstairs, you don’t need me.” Christian tried, yet again to force his arms to move.

“True, but I want you,” Evan said mildly.

“And you don’t care that I don’t want you? What kind of fucked up freak are you?” Now that he was able to talk Christian held nothing back. “Guess I already know, you’re the kind of freak who’d buy a human sex doll. You’ve gotta have some major issues to do that.”

“Well, like I said to the charming ladies downstairs, my largest issue is the fact that I can’t have a guide dog. The sex for me is more of an optional bonus feature, rather than, as you seem to assume, the sole purpose of my purchase.”

Christian gripped the worktop as tightly as he could. “Rape’s a bonus feature now?”

“It’s hardly rape, Christian. You aren’t human.”

“Yes, I am!” Christian screamed.

“No, you aren’t.” Mr. Malco said equally vehemently. “You’re an android who’s been programmed to do anything and everything I desire. You’re linked to me by my very DNA. You can’t disobey. Sooner or later I’m going to want sex, and when that happens, you’ll want to comply. Just as you found yourself wanting to talk to me and wanting to make my food. Human’s don’t work like that Christian. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is.”

“So what? You ordered a straight guy so you could get your rocks off watching how fucked up he gets about wanting your dick up his ass?”

“Hardly.” Evan’s voice had a slight edge to it now. “During the ordering process, the potential owner is interviewed so that Pretty Penny can match the android to the owner’s personality. They asked me about my sexual history, and I answered honestly. I assume they thought that I’d enjoy the conquest when they matched us.”

Christian’s lip curled, “So I was right, you’re just a fucked up pervert who enjoys watching me suffer.”

“I was actually planning to take my time and do my best to help you, although now I’m not so sure. And for the record ‘watching’ someone suffer has never been my thing. I’m not the blind Hannibal Lecter of San Francisco. And one more thing, not that I have to explain myself to you, but I do intend to let Pretty Penny know that in the future they’d do better to explicitly ask, rather than assume, what sexuality their clients would prefer their android to be. I’m sorry this has happened, but the next time you accuse me of being some sort of sadist I will not be so polite.”

While on the surface Mr. Malco appeared calm, Christian could see the controlled fury that lay just beneath his mask. He felt himself flush with a sense of shame that wasn’t his own and before he had realised what was happening he’d dropped his gaze to the casserole in front of him. He began to pick at the wrapping as he fought against the alien emotions that were taking him over. This had to be what the man had been talking about. He was feeling ashamed because the bastard wanted him to.

“Are you doing this to me?” Christian asked quietly. It wasn’t what the emotions wanted him to say. Every fibre of his being was insisting that he apologise for his outburst, but he fought against it.

“Doing what Christian? I’m not touching you, and I can’t see, remember?” Mr. Malco’s tone was harsh, and it sounded as if his patience was wearing thin.

“I’m feeling… I feel like I need to apologise. Something inside my head’s telling me to say sorry, but…” Christian fought to get the words out. “But that’s not what I want to do. I’m not ashamed of what I said, you deserved it,” another spike of shame ran through him. “Fucking hell, what’s wrong with me?” Christian slammed his fist down against the worktop, and he saw Evan startle at the sudden noise. “Sorry.” He said before he could stop himself. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Evan sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked worn out. “Maybe it is. Like I said, you’re linked to me now, and I most certainly wanted an apology from you for what you said. I didn’t pay for a yes man, but I do have my limits, Christian.”

“This is so fucked up,” Christian said again and spun the casserole on the desk. “You know I tried my damndest to throw this at you but I couldn’t?”

“Thank the gods for small mercies.” Evan quipped. “What is it by the way?”

“It looks like some sort of casserole.” Christian knew that Evan was trying to change the subject and clung to the lifeline, while he wrestled to regain control over his own emotions. He looked at the dish in front of him. “I can’t be sure though, the label’s in braille.”

“Bring it here.” Mr. Malco held out his hand and unthinkingly Christian complied.

Holding it carefully he watched as the man’s surprisingly strong fingers grasped the dish and quickly located the white label.

“Yes,” Mr. Malco said, his tone still sharp with residual anger. “It’s a chicken casserole. Put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour.”

“Right.” Christian took the dish as it was handed back to him and looked around the kitchen. “One question.”

“The oven’s next to the sink. Turn the second dial on the left three clicks.” With that he got down from his seat and started to head back into the living room.

“Wait,” Christian called. “Where are you going?”

“Into my living room if it’s OK with you? I presume that you’re capable of finding your way around a kitchen by yourself. Besides, you still need to clear that shipping crate out of my walkway.” He set off again, heading toward the chairs by the window.

Christian watched silently as Mr. Malco sat down and picked up a leather bound book that had been resting on a side table next to his seat. He found his marked page and began to run his fingers systematically across the paper.

Quietly Christian picked up the casserole and tried his best to shake off the feeling that he’d failed his first test.

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Sophie J Clark

I'm the author of Getting Out: Escape is harder than he’d ever imagined and QP-id: Love, Sex and Nano-Machines. I'm currently in the process of writing my third book. All works can be found on Amazon under the name Sophie J Clark.

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