High in her garret, Cinderella has a fever.
It starts beneath her nightdress, and it comes on each time her mind drifts back to the night, one week ago, when she was momentarily free. Thinking of it in the confinement of the narrow attic room, her core warms, like something hot has sunk from her belly to the base of her sex, heavy and slow. There is nothing else to do or be done in this forced isolation than to sink to her pallet and begin a languorous dabbing exploration of the area around her clitoris—the small bead of flesh is far too sensitive to approach directly—which builds in intensity, mewl by ragged mewl, to a harder rubbing, a rolling of flesh, increasingly urgent, until she thrashes and shudders, and her breath is visible in the cold gloom, her sheets as humid as a bathhouse.
By now she has memorized the intricate pattern of spiderwebs in the eaves. Her step-mother forbade her to leave her room more than four weeks ago. “Who knows what you might catch doing our shopping, consorting with the help.” She has been obedient all but that one night.
Her dead father’s townhouse rests at the coccyx of the city’s broad spine, an avenue that climbs from here to the palace gates. For weeks Cinderella has watched through her single dormer window as the great city shut itself down, as it folded up its market stalls and shut up the shops, as it erected medical tents and locked the residents away in their homes. Now only ambulances and military transports scud along the avenue. Even the horses’ snouts are sheathed in a slick plasticine. Bandaged workers trail censers of blue vapor through the streets, while soldiers pump out such vast quantities of medical steam that you can barely see the hospital tents that are clustered by the harbor for the enveloping mists. It swirls around the ankles of the few people still venturing masked through the streets, holding their passes high so that the soldiers don’t approach them.
Last night, a new kind of fever gripped Cinderella as she stood at her window and pined for freedom. Others may at least wander through their homes, but she is trapped here, with the spiders and her memories.
With this fever, she tosses and sweats and shoves her covers away, then she shudders and crawls beneath them again—all the while coughing, coughing, coughing. Through the cheap plank floor, she is sure she can hear her step-sisters gossiping as they warm themselves by the fire, secure and sated in their quarantine sitting room.
“Do you hear something?” one asks.
“Nothing at all,” says the other, as Cinderella hacks into the floorboards.
“I heard there was a ball,” whispers the other. “I heard the prince and princess invited only the best people.”
“Impossible,” says the first. “The security forces would have shut it down.”
Today, Cinderella is much worse. She coughs until she gags. Her impassioned moans have become wheezes. Her thoughts ooze: she will die up here, alone, as ever. She wonders where her fairy godmother has gotten to. Was there a fairy godmother? And if so, has she too gone into quarantine? Even after all her coaching about passion, safety, freedom? Even after getting Cinderella into the ball?
“Safety first,” the fairy said—was it really just a week ago?—as she showed Cinderella what it meant to be careful in a time of disease—how to put on the glittering crystalline mask with its tiny crystal dynamo that purified the air that hung between them like a promise.
The fairy had appeared while Cinderella was alone one blustery afternoon weeks before, claiming she’d known Cinderella’s father. While Cinderella debated whether her mind had manufactured this visitor out of loneliness, the fairy spoke of entitlement and marriage and an imminent forbidden ball where the prince and princess would be seeking mates from among the city’s elite. She promised to help Cinderella escape her garret, promising that she would be safe with the mask.
The fairy had then advised Cinderella, in languid demonstrations, how to give and receive pleasure. “The hardest part,” she’d said, parting her green-glass wings, the whoosh of air sending Cinderella’s hair flying around her face. “Is to stop giving, to stop accommodating. To stop bloody faking it out of fear of being… disappointing… or alone.” And with that she had folded her wings and placed a finger on Cinderella’s center, awakening it. Then she had changed Cinderella into some protective clothing, slipped an invitation into her hand, unlocked the garret door, and sent the girl out into the night, where a carriage disguised as an ambulance was waiting.
Now, prostrate in her bed, trapped as ever, Cinderella blearily supposes that the fairy didn’t really know how to protect against the plague. Maybe she’d caught it too, if fairies could catch plagues.
Cooling herself before the window, Cinderella spies a real ambulance on the avenue. A white carriage with its cross down one side, four horses leading it with feather plumes the color of arterial spray. She wishes the ambulance were for her. But she knows that she will die here alone.
The invitation spoke of a secret tunnel on a side street. Alighting from the coach, Cinderella had to duck into an alley to avoid guards. She came upon a couple fucking up against a wall, two young people, genderless, skin shining as the mist revealed and concealed their entwined limbs. Their masks were lowered around their jaws to reveal faces contorted with passion and surprise as she recoiled from them.
“Sorry!” she squealed.
“Join us, sparkle-face! Don’t be so uptight!” cried one joyfully as Cinderella retreated, adjusting her mask.
“A set of shears glints. Cinderella is too feverish to be afraid. A cool blade brushes her sternum, then snips away her nightdress. The cool air rushes in. The blade chatters as her clothes are cut from her and she lies nude, stippled by goosebumps, her face cradled by the breathing machine.”
Cinderella hears a heavy tread on the servant stairs. Help is coming after all. Then, abruptly terrified, she jackknifes from the bed, collapsing on the floor. She must hide the mask! She manages to shove it into a dark corner before the door bangs open.
The woman who enters is impossibly tall. She fills the room with her cinched floor-length coat. She rests her red rubber gloves on her hips. Two figures appear behind her. Each of them wears a white mask over their nose and mouth. Tiny respirator dynamos similar to the one in her own mask whisper and hiss.
Cinderella is suddenly aware of her dirty body, her filthy sheets.
Any sympathy or disgust is hidden behind the reflective squares of their goggles. They crackle in their airtight suits. “Shhh,” they soothe. They turn her over, careful of her bare legs on the rough wooden floor. They clamp an iron and rubber oxygen mask over her face. She struggles against the frightening thing, then subsides, too tired to fight.
A set of shears glints. Cinderella is too feverish to be afraid. A cool blade brushes her sternum, then snips away her nightdress. The cool air rushes in. The blade chatters as her clothes are cut from her and she lies nude, stippled by goosebumps, her face cradled by the breathing machine. There is something intimate in the rush of the strangely flavored air, like an exotic perfume that makes her dizzy and sad. She remembers a kiss from long ago and sighs.
“Burn them,” the doctor says.
They bundle Cinderella into a blanket and spirit her down the winding servant stairs. Around and around they go. As her head spins, she is transported right back to the ball one week before, to the twirling, tilting dancers with their masks trailing threads of vapor, to the musicians strumming and fiddling from within translucent bubbles, to the distant ceiling with its strange new lights, flickering and dropping sparks. Everywhere, that night, there were people, sexless or exaggeratedly-sexed in protective suits, some canvas, others rubber, some chitinous and glinting, some nearly naked precisely to the extent that the guests trusted the efforts that the prince and princess made to assure their safety.
Upon her arrival at the ball, she was terrified of being discovered as an impostor. But the guard had accepted her proffered invitation chip without hesitation after inspecting the esoteric symbol. The guard had bowed low for her to enter. Next she had been ushered down a steep stair and diverted into one of several cavernous rooms, where she had been disrobed by bustled handmaidens who marveled at her mask and who made her tilt her head this way and that to see the way that it scattered light. They had stripped her and rubbed her body down gently but quickly while others waited for their turn. Again her invitation was consulted and she was served (with some reverence, it seemed) a folded square of gelatinous material dotted with metal beads. They told her, by hand-gesture, to slip it on.
The garment fit snugly, settling into her crotch (here Cinderella had flinched and blushed under her mask, feeling it slip inside her fore and aft, more deeply and intelligently than seemed possible). The garment had first been stretchy and baggy like rubber, but once it was on, it became as clear and close-fitting as ice on winter twigs. The handmaidens had pushed her gently into a narrow corridor, where a throng of other guests awaited. No one seemed to be wearing anything like what she wore, and she wondered what had been on her invitation. Another gift from the mysterious fairy? A special invitation with special perks? She would have preferred something more modest.
In the low-ceiling antechamber, the dynamo-hum of masks was amplified. The collective breath was like a predator’s panting, and Cinderella felt an atavistic sensation of fear. The guests crowded against one another, giggling with how forbidden it all was. A secret ball during a plague?
Just then, they’d been released into the ballroom. As she stumbled from the decontamination corridor into this glorious throng, Cinderella shook her head to clear it. At first glance it seemed the room was occupied by a single organism that clenched and released like a massive eel. What daredevils they all were!
But they weren’t really afraid.
As the ambulance gets under way, jostling over the cobblestones, the tall doctor asks Cinderella questions. The doctor’s built-in respirator huffs. Her overlong inhalations and exhalations are evocative of longing. But Cinderella cannot appease her: her throat is too hot, her head is too dizzy. When she looks again, the doctor is gone, and she is no longer in the ambulance at all, but instead in a long white space where the walls ripple and shift. A decon tent. When she reaches out to touch the wall her hand instead grazes glass. They have put her in a glass case! It’s sealed on all sides and padded at the bottom. She hears the familiar hiss of oxygen.
Through the glass she can see armed men standing at attention, hear their creaking boots as they rock from one side to the other. There are other glass cases with other people in them, stretching as far as she can see. A little farther away two orderlies (her orderlies?) are stripping off their protective suits. Their buttocks gleam, one dark and the other light, shockingly various after the homogenous canvas and rubber suits, their skin alarmingly human as they stretch and scratch and vanish between curtains.
She is alone. But then, Cinderella is always alone.
The ballroom was vast and subterranean. It pulsed and echoed from one distant end to the other with sound and color. Surging bodies, reaching fingers and hands, the city’s young and wealthy reaching out to clasp one another even as the city’s new laws forbade it. The masks were endless: some were inlaid with jewels, some covered only the nose and face, some enveloped the entire head. Some were winged or horned or scaled or had waving tentacles and claws. One had a motionless goblin sitting at its crown, as if in judgment of the menagerie. Cinderella found it exhilarating to be so close to others after being alone for so long. It was all so magnificently illegal. It took her breath away. She silently thanked the fairy.
She had joined the crowd, pushing through, trusting her mask to protect her. And if it didn’t, so what? Hadn’t she been dead up there in that attic, with no books or food, with only the cold window as company?
In the center of the space, still far from Cinderella, two identical plinths towered above the crowd. Each of them was capped by an enormous bell jar—dark inside, with someone or something standing motionless inside.
“Out of some sexual memory or childish impulse, she clutches her hands down over her sex when the tall doctor turns her over, curling the tips of her fingers into the entrance. She is wet with fever or the dream.”
Cinderella wakes in the lamp glare of a sprawling hospital. The glass box has been removed, but she is now strapped to her bed. The room is cordoned at the edges by curtained areas, beyond which weak daylight spreads from tall, paned windows. Rows upon rows of occupied beds hold coughing, writhing patients. They are flanked by oxygen tanks and the chugging, spinning dynamos that power them. She coughs. Gravel grates her lungs. Automatons the size of sparrows veer about in the air. They bob among the nurses and patients, bringing gauze, dropping vapors, diving in to inspect patients and then darting away.
Masked nurses appear and demand to know where Cinderella has been. “Were you at any balls?” one asks, his pair of reflective goggles reflecting Cinderella’s own distorted cheeks. “One week ago? Like all these others?” He gestures at the coughing phalanx of beds.
“She couldn’t have been there,” says another. “Says here she’s just a servant girl, see?”
“I went nowhere,” Cinderella lies. Or thinks she does. Her thoughts sizzle, and she can’t be certain that what she is thinking is not overflowing into what she is saying.
The rip of Velcro brings her to her senses. The tall doctor has returned. She loosens the bands that connect Cinderella to the bed and helps turn her onto her back. Under the red glove’s crinkling touch, Cinderella’s heart stutters in a gratitude that verges on love. The doctor’s face is now hidden beneath a glass and iron shield. She is like a stern angel, like the fairy godmother herself. Yes, Cinderella thinks, bemused: this might just be my fairy godmother.
Out of some sexual memory or childish impulse, she clutches her hands down over her sex when the tall doctor turns her over, curling the tips of her fingers into the entrance. She is wet with fever or the dream. Humiliated, she yanks her fingers up, shoves them down at her sides, and looks guiltily at the doctor/fairy who may yet save her.
The doctor studies her. She is like some veiled odalisque in her shiny white gown. She wields a wand before Cinderella’s face, then studies it and proclaims that Cinderella has a fever of one-ought-four.
They move away then, the doctor and nurses and orderlies, in a coded rhythm of cooperation and avoidance, a self-powered engine of people. There is no failed step or faltering. The machines hum, their escaped force gusting over the drones. The machines chime and jangle, nurses duck and spin and dive, circling and stabbing syringes. They stretch gauze, they shake pills, they ask questions.
“Where? Where? And with whom?”
Cinderella pushed through the crowd of revelers to stand beneath a bell jar. Inside there stood a dormant automaton. It was nude and genderless, with only a smooth plate for a face. Cinderella circled it in wonder, pausing now and then as a frenzy of dancers engaged her.
“Glorious mask,” they cried. She nodded and kept on circling the jar. The automaton was finely made, its hinges almost invisible, its limbs coated in a milky blue-white substance like fine lambskin.
Someone shouted in her ear. For a moment she feared that she had been discovered as an intruder, and she looked away, as if she needed to hide her face.
“That’s some mask,” the voice shouted again.
The musicians came to the end of their song. As she turned to face the person speaking to her, her mask cast shards of light over them. She wore an elongated mask like a stag’s skull, the snout and teeth making up the grill and protruding so far that Cinderella had to stand back. Her pale brown eyes were visible behind a pane of glass, a familiar, if only from pictures. It was the princess.
“You should talk,” Cinderella shouted back over a throbbing beat as the musicians resumed. She hoped she seemed unimpressed.
With the music rising, the crowd screamed. Clothing floated up into the air. A solitary mask arced overhead. Sparks exploded in a distant corner. Cinderella’s eyes strayed to the bar where guests sipped drinks through long, snaking intake tubes that replaced their respirator dynamos. Others sat with needles in their arms.
“Where did you get it?” asked the princess, drawing closer. “Who made it? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“My fairy godmother made it,” Cinderella said.
The princess’s laughter was rich. She nodded in mock defeat and took Cinderella’s arm, coaxing her off the dance floor and out of the main hall. Running alongside the hall was a room of amber-tinged glass stalls arranged in rows. In each stall lay a single body, nude but for a contraption of clustered lenses on their head. Some lay still, others crouched or arched their backs and writhed in a way that reminded Cinderella of her own lonely groping.
“Is it crystal? Or glass?” The princess asked as they passed out of the amber room and into another, violet-tinged one where figures in baths of opaque liquid (disinfectant, the princess said, proudly) splashed and cavorted.
“I don’t know exactly,” Cinderella admitted as a nude woman with a two-headed mask beckoned to her from a pool. She imagined running her fingers down the woman’s smooth wet nipples, and then realized that the princess was looking at her. “I only borrowed it.”
“Ah, yes,” the princess said, laughing. “From a fairy. It refracts light in ways that shouldn’t be possible. You know I’m something of an inventor, yes? Would you let me examine it?”
Cinderella nodded. She tapped the dynamo on the end, where the engine and filter transpierced the mask from right to left. Its whisper was inaudible over the din.
“This is what makes it special,” she said. “A perfect filter. So perfect, nothing bad can happen to me.”
She was beginning to relax, even as the princess moved her head from side to side with her gloved hand. The princess held her own mask to the side so as not to poke Cinderella with the snout of her overlong mask. She stood very close. It occurred to Cinderella that the fairy godmother might have been right. This night could change her life. At any rate, it had gotten her out of the attic.
“Why, even in the face of supposed certain death, are the rich so obsessed with all this?” Cinderella asked, needing to know, even though she risked being exposed as a serving girl. “The whole kingdom is terrified, and yet you’re having a—a—” She gestured at the milling people.
“Because they crave freedom,” the princess said, as they relinked arms and returned to the main hall. “But here you are as well, after all. And one of our few honored guests.”
The princess gestured to Cinderella’s special garment which glimmered like melted honey.
“Not everyone has the privilege to be irresponsible so safely,” Cinderella shot back over the music.
“Did you know that you’re wearing my latest invention?” the princess said suddenly, ignoring Cinderella’s words. She turned and quickly ran her fingers down Cinderella’s sides and up again. Sensation radiated through Cinderella’s skin wherever the tips of the princess’s fingers trailed. The sensation spread throughout her body and she shivered with the tingling thrill, which was at first delicate and then intense. She bucked when it reached her crotch. The princess, meanwhile, stood back. Cinderella heard her chuckle.
“It wasn’t even on yet,” the princess said. Cinderella gasped as the sensation lingered in her cunt, making a tingling whirlpool there.
“The substance amplifies feeling,” the princess went on. Cinderella pitched forward and leaned against her, suddenly feverish, but the princess stepped abruptly away from her. Instead, Cinderella wrapped her arms around herself, only to be momentarily buffeted into new heights of ecstasy as her own touch sent intoxicating waves through to her nipples, to her asshole, to the length of her thighs, even to her nostrils. She was unable to speak.
“Would you like to try out my creations?” the princess asked. And she turned Cinderella by her shoulders, (eliciting an explosion of sensation, a feedback loop of delirium) to face the bell jars.
The doctor’s face swims into view. Cinderella blinks through eyes gone liquid and flat. A large Security Force officer is holding something overhead, between thumb and forefinger. She is startled. Pain grips her abraded lungs. The hospital rush and bustle is gone. She squints out at a different room, this one dim and sea green. A breeze moves a curtain.
“This man is a detective,” the doctor says. “He’s trying to find someone.”
Cinderella shakes her head. She sees the automatons in the jars, slowly changing, growing noses and lips and articulated fingers and something else, there, at the crotch… and she cries out, and presses back against her hospital bed.
“I told you, it’s not hers.” The doctor turns to the officer. “And anyway, she’s delirious.”
“What’s your name?” the officer asks Cinderella.
“Cinderella,” Cinderella whispers. The ball swims before her eyes. “Where is my fairy godmother? She can explain.”
“That’s enough,” the doctor says, and ushers the officer from the room.
She was assured that she was a special guest indeed as she was led, hesitantly, up the plinth’s interior steps and into the glass enclosure. The trap door in the jar closed behind her before she could even turn around. Inside the jar, Cinderella touched the dormant automaton’s flesh and found it oddly warm. Was there something moving beneath? She shuddered and stepped away.
Shaking a bit, looking over the expectant crowd, she found she was excited and ashamed: not just of her semi-nudity (which was no longer concealed by darkness but was now fully on display in the odd, transparent suit with its little metallic pinpoints) but also of her own servile trust. Anything could happen in here with this thing.
But it hadn’t seemed possible to say no to the princess. And wasn’t that why she was here? To say yes? To change—to shuck off who she had been? Anything could happen now. Looking over the crowd, she reveled in knowing that they had no idea who she really was. With the mask, she might be anyone.
She looked across the gap of surging dancers toward the second bell jar, where the princess was shucking off her own clothes to reveal a similar spangled, liquid-flesh suit to Cinderella’s. She marched a circle around her own dormant automaton as the crowd hooted and cheered below, an army of masked faces in varied prophylaxia. They too could be anyone.
The princess had a strong, lithe body, and Cinderella found herself wanting to smell that dark skin, to touch the backs of those long legs, to be anywhere but in this isolation tank. The crowd roared anew as the princess tore off her stag’s mask to reveal a second mask covering her nose and mouth. Her pretty light eyes and arched brows were exposed above the simple cotton. The princess stepped into a contraption at her feet, a kind of strapped thing that she lifted up like a girdle and fitted around her waist. At the front was a glittering metallic phallus that jutted out and flashed in the light. She shrugged at Cinderella and waved to the crowd.
Now there was a hum of engines, the pop and fizz of a light bulb. Cinderella felt her heart thumping against her breast bone. Suddenly, the automaton beside her raised its head. She jumped and pressed herself against the glass. The crowd howled, amused at her surprise. She saw with rising horror that the automaton was changing. Its face-plate retracted to reveal a rubberized set of lips. Its base, where no genitals had existed, parted like a beetle’s wings to release a phallus, straight as a dagger, which bounced up to point an accusation at her.
Meanwhile something was changing in Cinderella’s garment. It tightened, questing even deeper into the clefts between her fingers and toes, her ears, her nostrils, her cunt, her ass, a sudden but somehow gentle invasion that froze her in place as she weathered more waves of augmented pleasure. She flinched as the automaton stepped toward her.
As it advanced, she retreated. It scared her. Would it hurt her? Had they figured out that she was an interloper? Was this her punishment? It stalked her around the small space. Her heart drumming, she tried to open the trap door to escape. It was locked. Narrowly she side-stepped the automaton’s grasping hands as they reached for her, and she saw that the rubber flesh had peeled away from its fingers to reveal finger-phalluses of various sizes.
From the corner of her eye Cinderella saw that the princess was also moving in her bell jar—only she was in pursuit of her automaton, and not in retreat. In fact, it seemed that the automaton that the princess was chasing was cowering from her. Fleeing.
Oh dear god, thought Cinderella. That’s me. And this automaton trapped in here with me is her. This skintight fabric transmits our movements to the machines. Just then, the automaton’s arms caught her around the waist. She shuddered in pleasure as the suit spread sensation down her thighs. The other automaton—the Cinderella-automaton in the other bell jar—was also struggling and shuddering as the princess grappled with it. The crowd went wild.
A voice bellowed across the ballroom, momentarily silencing the crowd. “I, Prince Edward, and my sister, Princess Bettina…” (Here the masked woman in the bell jar bowed, bending over her automaton, as, by dynamo-puppetry, Cinderella was also forced to bow) “…would like to present to you all the future of plague life. Of dancing and fucking. I present to you the Erogenous Pleasure Suit and Automaton. The end of loneliness. The only way to be truly, absolutely, safe.”
The crowd booed and cheered at once. Some flamboyantly gestured to their masks.
Cinderella allowed herself to be helped up by her automaton. Now that she understood this game, she was no longer afraid of the automaton. It’s grip had been surprisingly gentle, and its strange appendages, now cradling her hips, were blood warm and soft. With half-terrified fascination she watched the strange-fingers move across her breasts. They lifted them and squeezed them, always gently. The odd little finger-phalluses were as nimble as real fingers as they stroked and teased her nipples, prompting her to moan again. A flood of wetness streamed from her insides. The suit, she found, was not impermeable.
Now the automaton, with infinite care, turned Cinderella around to face it, arranging her with her back against the curved glass. Across the crowd Cinderella saw the other automaton—the simulacrum of her—also pressed against the glass. The princess stepped back.
The automaton in the jar with her likewise stepped away. It raised its phallus fingers, showcasing them one by one as the crowd tittered. Slowly the automaton ran each phallus up Cinderella’s heaving rib cage, until the largest one cast its shadow down over her face.
“You can’t argue with the future,” boomed the prince’s disembodied voice.
Cinderella hesitated at the size of the phallus-finger, even as her thighs loosened in anticipation. She glanced at the princess, who was looking over at her. At last, Cinderella nodded at her. Come here, then. Then the automaton leaned in close to Cinderella and rested its strange, smooth head on her shoulder. Unmoving lips pressed against her skin. A strange, almost lifeless kiss. Now she felt the finger-phallus parting her cunt lips. The suit magnified the sensation a hundred times—a thousand times—making up for the lifelessness of the machine. She responded helplessly. She sweated and twitched as it slipped into her opening. Confoundingly, she wanted the machine inside her. No, she wanted the princess inside her. And here was the princess, then, her silicon-soul, slipping past Cinderella’s vaginal muscles. The phallus was hard, but slightly yielding, like a real penis. Her cunt involuntarily molded around it, clutching its artificial contours. It shifted deeper, and Cinderella screamed in her crystal mask. The sound echoed in her ears as the automaton abruptly withdrew from her. Before she could recover, it flipped her roughly around to face the glass and the other bell jar. There, she saw the princess positioning the head of her strapped-on phallus between the legs of her own automaton. With a violent thrust, the metal thing entered the automaton. At the same moment, Cinderella felt herself penetrated so hard and suddenly that she screamed again. The automaton embedded deep inside her cunt began to rock against her, brutally, carefully, masterfully, as she cried out in pain and pleasure, unable to adjust herself to ease the sensation. The automaton was relentless. It knew how to move in order to bring her, thrust by thrust, to the point where she wanted, needed, to collapse. It turned her around then, not giving her a moment to breathe before it lifted her legs, and impaled her again. She held onto its rocking, smooth shoulders as if drowning, oblivious to the audience. Surely the princess meant to kill her with pleasure. In the other bell jar, the automaton was bucking and trembling like it might soon blow a gasket. The phallus throbbed and swelled inside Cinderella, hot and electric and somehow carrying the essence of the princess in its movements. When she thought she would die, it withdrew, pausing at her cunt lips, then plunged back inside just as it pressed a finger-phallus into her anus. The pain and pleasure were appalling. The crowd shrieked, surging upward to pound on the glass.
Cinderella sank down to her hands and knees. The automaton let her slip away. It stood looking blindly down at her. Then it too, knelt. Cinderella, with her mouth open and her tongue pressed inside her top lip, tried to catch her breath, to staunch the wave of orgasms that still seemed to be turning her cunt inside out. The automaton knelt and pushed Cinderella’s body into a new position with a warm, careful hand, whose touch sent shivers down to her cunt again.
She felt the weight of the automaton’s cock again at her entrance.
“No more, please,” she started to say. But the broad tip was already piercing her from behind, inexorably, slowly, so that instead she only whined and snorted guttural sounds. It was deeper this way. On her hands and knees she was face to face with the crowd. A woman licked the glass through her own transparent mask.
Cinderella smelled her own arousal. There was no scent at all from her companion as it moved within her—now gaspingly too deep, now mercifully just right, now cruelly withdrawing before returning again to pummel her toward submission or death. Could you die of pleasure? In the other jar, she saw the princess throw her own head back and heard her muffled cry of pleasure. Darkness swam over Cinderella’s vision, and then she was overcome. She came in massive, crashing waves, waves that could break bodies, waves that could shatter the hulls of ships and scatter sailors over the sea…
…until she was washed up and dropped amidst a sea of faces.
The automaton withdrew. A fine mist of exhaust escaped from its joints. Its groin plate clicked back into place, its arms went slack. Tears came to Cinderella’s eyes even as echoes of pleasure washed from her cunt to the tip of her tongue. Faces and hands pressed the glass around her.
It was loneliness that would kill her, she thought, looking at them all—not plague. Could loneliness spread? Had she brought it here to the prince and princess and all their guests and all their creations?
Through the glass she saw her own automaton also on its hands and knees. The princess, waving to her audience, had already left the bell jar. Cinderella’s avatar huddled on the floor of the jar, gazing eyelessly back at Cinderella.
Then: sirens, darkness, the panicked screaming, the pounding of footsteps as the room drained of people, as voices shouted and truncheons rose and fell. Heavy boots, doors forced open wide, the smell of the city rushing in. Cinderella tore open the trap door and fell into the darkness below, and ran, and ran, and ran.
The hospital machines belch and grumble. The doctor moves gracefully. An officer waits by the door like the sphinx awaiting the answer to its riddle. The doctor enters, tall and faceless.
“Go ahead,” the doctor murmurs. “She doesn’t have much longer.”
The officer comes to the bedside. He dangles the tiny dynamo crystal over Cinderella’s head, the magical battery that controlled her crystalline mask.
“We searched your attic,” he says, raising his other hand to show her the glittering crystalline mask. “We found this, hidden in the corner. You’re not the only one we caught. But you’re the only one that we can prove.”
He fits the crystal into the glorious crystal mask with a satisfied nod. And the mask begins to hum.