Background time: A 16 year-old telepath named Abby has entered a pseudo-Christian halfway house for abused girls to discover what’s been causing a rash of suicides. She meets Jenna, a resident of the house who also happens to be a succubus. While Jenna needs to feed off of sexual energy to live, she emphasizes that she gets informed consent from all of her partners and would never use her power to change someone’s mind once they’ve refused her. The big bad turns out to be a creature from some nightmare plane that forces its prey to dream of their worst memories in order to feed off of the their emotions while they sleep. Emotions from waking minds are too intense for it to stomach, and Abby first sees it watching Jenna in the middle of a small orgy, slavering after the energy she’s generated but unable to touch it. The creature easily turns aside Abby’s attack, and leaves her sobbing on the ground in the thrall of her own worst memory. To defeat it, she convinces Jenna to first mentally and then physically rape a group of traumatized abuse survivors.
Oh, it’s not phrased quite that way, but a rose by any other name etc. etc.
Abby gets the idea when having a heart-to-heart with Mother Anna, one of the nun-types in charge of the house. Mother Anna tells her:
Wisdom comes in knowing when you can do something on your own and when you need the help of others… You need to be honest with yourself about what you can really do to help people, and then look to others and their strengths to help you do what you can’t do on your own… Respecting your own limits and trusting others to help you will free you to act without fear.
Silly me, I immediately assumed that Abby would tell the other women in the house what had been stalking them, and they would have a great big group empowerment scene where they banded together to defend themselves and reclaim their trauma.
No, because that would involve trusting mere humans.* There aren’t any other psychics are in range to help her, so
Like it or not, she woud have to do this with mundanes. Luckily, she had Jenna. Look to others and their strengths, Mother Anna had said, and that was exactly what she intended to do. If only she could persuade Jenna to do it.
Despite the scorn in the voice actor’s tone when she said “mundanes,” I still thought we were headed towards a plan that would involve consenting participants. Silly rabbit! Humans can’t actively participate in a plan, they’re raw materials to be used in its execution.
Abby explains her idea to Jenna, and I think you’ll recognize the line where my brain sent a glaring ERROR ERROR ABORT message. The conversation in its entirety:
Jenna: You’re out of your mind.
Abby: Probably. But this can work. It makes sense!
Jenna: In spooky land, maybe. But come on, Abs, Clarice is dead, she jumped out a window and impaled herself on a fucking fence. Nobody’s gonna want to party tonight.
Abby: I realize that. But. You’re a succy, Jenna. You can make them want to do it.
Jenna’s face went pale.
Jenna: Oh hell no. No. No, Abs, do not go that way. I don’t mind loosening people up now and then, but what you’re talking about, that’s some seriously dark shit. I go fuckin’ with people’s heads like that, the Lighties’ll have my ass for breakfast.
Abby: Let me worry about the Lightbringers
Jenna: Easy for you to say. Spookies get equal rights and all that. They find out I do what you’re talking about, they won’t need a jury to put me down.
She lowered her head and closed her eyes for a moment. When she looked back up, they were haunted.
Jenna: Besides, even if I could get away with it, I don’t know that I’d want to. I spent the last five years trying to convince myself that I can be what I am and not be evil. I don’t know if Eli lets succies into heaven, but I’ve been trying to do everything I can to convince him that I’m on his side.
She shook her head
Jenna: If I do this, I’m scared he’ll decide I’m just another demon. What’s worse, I’m scared I might enjoy it.
Silence hung across the table for a moment.
Abby: I understand what you’re saying, Jenna. But if we don’t stop this thing, more people are going to die. The Lighties can’t fix this. I don’t think anyone can see this thing who’s not a teep. If we can draw it out, I can hurt it. But not without help from you and a whole lot of other people. If you do this, you’ll be helping to save these girls. You said it yourself: You don’t hurt people if you can help it. You won’t hurt them here, either, and anything you do to their heads will be temporary. I can make sure of that, even if you can’t…Don’t you think Eli would be glad that you’re helping to save lives, even at great personal risk to yourself? Isn’t self-sacrifice his whole deal?
Jenna smirked humorlessly.
Jenna: So you’re saying I can be self-sacrificing by doing something totally selfish.
The other girl snorted, and this time Abby saw a little amusement in her eyes.
Jenna: You know, that’s such a brilliant argument I can’t believe the badguys haven’t thought of it yet.
Abby: Yeah, well, they’re not known for their creativity. How about it? Will you help me?
Jenna sighed heavily and nodded.
Jenna: All right. But you better back me up if the Man Upstairs sends someone looking for me.
Abby: You got it. Now come on, we’ve got a monster’s ass to kick, and your boot’s going to be the first in line.
Got that? All of it? There are so many layers of oh-hell-no here that I could not believe my blinking ears.
“You can make them want to do it.”
I cheered internally when Jenna vehemently refused…until she elaborated on why. Set aside “loosening people up” with only a giant hairy side-eye, since people can’t choose a succubus’s influence the way they can choose to imbibe alcohol or any other inhibition-lowering substance.
“I go fuckin’ with people’s heads like that, the Lighties’ll have my ass for breakfast.”
The first concern out of her mouth. Not “That’s unethical on so many levels we may have to invent new dimensions simply to hold them all,” or “We have a word for people who coerce others into sex, and it starts with an ‘r’ and ends with ‘apist,’” or even “Why don’t we just tell them we need their sexual energy? I’m sure they’d be happy to help kill the creature that’s been slaughtering their friends once we explain the situation.” No, she’s worried about her own skin. I can understand that fear, I can even understand it springing to mind immediately in a selfish but essentially good character. Except she never moves beyond her self-centered concern.
Besides, even if I could get away with it, I don’t know that I’d want to. I spent the last five years trying to convince myself that I can be what I am and not be evil. I don’t know if Eli lets succies into heaven, but I’ve been trying to do everything I can to convince him that I’m on his side… If I do this, I’m scared he’ll decide I’m just another demon. What’s worse, I’m scared I might enjoy it.
This is supposed to sound selfless, but look at her phrasing. There’s a whole lot of ‘I’ in there, and no mention of her potential victims. She frets that she might feel evil, that their Christ-figure might not let her into heaven, that she might decide she likes forcing people. She doesn’t worry about hurting the women she’s lived with for years, many of whom have barely escaped abusive situations with their lives and minds intact. She doesn’t worry about ripping away their mental and bodily autonomy when they’ve only just regained some control over their lives. She doesn’t even worry that doing this might actually make her just another demon, only that Eli will think she’s one, no matter how pretty her justifications.
If you do this, you’ll be helping to save these girls… You won’t hurt them here, either, and anything you do to their heads will be temporary.
A) These “girls” can’t save themselves. They need someone else to take control in order to accomplish anything. B) If it doesn’t leave a physical mark, everything’s fine! Right? It’s not like having the ability to consent stolen from you would be traumatizing or anything, especially for people who’ve been sexually abused in the recent past.
You know, that’s such a brilliant argument I can’t believe the badguys haven’t thought of it yet.
They have, Jenna. You just fell for it.
If that conversation was sickening, the execution is the equivalent of cholera. The scene where they carry out their plan makes what I’d assumed Jenna was going to do seem positively philanthropic. Our daring duo spends the rest of the day telling students that there’s a mandatory memorial for Clarice tonight. Abby implants telepathic suggestions in the staffs’ head to stay away. That night,
Abby noted with relief that the few girls under thirteen and those who were in the late stages of pregnancy did not make an appearance. Abby and Jenna had decided that they were off-limits for their own protection, and Abby had given them a strong compulsion to go to sleep early. She was just glad to see that none of them had resisted her instructions.
Abby spoke, projecting her thoughts so that all of the assembled students could hear her.
“Listen up, ladies. This is Abby. I’m in a lucid dream right now, and you can hear me because I’m a telepath. You’ll forget all about that once it’s over, though, so don’t worry about it. Jenna and I called you here because we found out why our friends keep dying. I don’t want any of you to panic, but you need to know this. There’s a monster from the dreamlands that has decided to make a nest here, and it’s been feeding on your emotions while we sleep. That’s why some of you keep on having nightmares. The good news is, I figured out how I can kill it. But to do it, I’m going to need all of you to help me.”
She paused, giving the students a chance to assimilate everything. Many of the girls turned and began whispering among themselves, clearly unsettled by the voice that had appeared in their heads. At the same time, Abby sent a mental whisper to Jenna. As she watched, the succubus began to radiate supernatural energies, smoky red tendrils that reached out from her aura and began to touch the minds and hearts of everyone present. Once the connections were made, Jenna began sending energy through the links, changing thought patterns and orientations, recalibrating moral compasses, stripping away what little remained of the girls’ inhibitions. Abby saw each young mind transmute itself into a reflection of the succubus, some of them readily and with little alteration, others with so much bending and twisting that what resulted bore little resemblance to what the girl’s minds had once been.
Abby’s speech had been carefully timed. She’d given them enough new information to ensure that they’d still be talking about it by the time Jenna had taken hold of them. The process was both swift and so gradual that the young women had not even noticed what was happening to them. Abby waited for Jenna to nod - Jenna couldn’t see her dream-self, but the signal had been prearranged – and then resumed speaking.
“The thing feeds on emotion. It’s drawn by it. So we’re going to create a little lure for it. And then we’re going to waste it. So listen carefully: I want you to do whatever Jenna tells you to do, and when I give you the signal, you all grab hold of each others’ hands, or whatever other skin is close at hand, and make sure that at least one of you grabs my hand over there on the couch. That’s critical, okay?”
She waited for the somewhat puzzle nods of acknowledgment. Even now many of the girls were absently touching themselves, or tugging at their clothing. But they all seemed to have enough presence of mind to hear and remember Abby’s instructions. Of course, the suggestions she implanted along with the words probably had something to do with that.
“Okay. Cool. Jenna, go for it.”
“You heard the lady,” she said. “All right, girls. Let’s get naked.”
Cue the orgy.
Let’s touch on a couple small issues before we plunge our hands into the steaming, enormous pile of no in the center of that passage.
Abby noted with relief that the few girls under thirteen and those who were in the late stages of pregnancy did not make an appearance.
See, she’s being responsible! Fourteen year-olds are fair game, though.
I’m a telepath. You’ll forget all about that once it’s over, though, so don’t worry about it.
Jenna mentions that psychics have equal protection under the law, so there must be laws against meddling with people’s memories in the book, too. I understand that Abby is supposed to be on a covert mission, but this isn’t presented as a morally objectionable but necessary action, just as an aside that’s quickly tossed off. It’s even worse given the reason Abby told them in the first place.
I’m going to need all of you to help me.
Not that you get to choose whether or not you’re going to.
Jenna began sending energy through the links, changing thought patterns and orientations, recalibrating moral compasses, stripping away what little remained of the girls’ inhibitions. Abby saw each young mind transmute itself into a reflection of the succubus, some of them readily and with little alteration, others with so much bending and twisting that what resulted bore little resemblance to what the girl’s minds had once been.
Are you terrified and nauseous? I am.
Don’t read this from Abby’s perspective, or Jenna’s. Put yourself into the shoes of one of these nameless women. Imagine being warped into something other, a twisted mirror of a demon who’s going to use you for her own ends. Imagine having your very self torn from you. How horrified are we by the thought of dementia, of inexorably losing our mind to something we can’t fight? This is the same, only sped up and sexed up.
They’re not willing participants in what follows. No matter how enthusiastic they are, I can’t move beyond that fact. They might throw themselves into the most frenzied sex since bacchanalias went out of style, but there is no free and uncoerced consent here. In their current state, they have been rendered incapable of giving consent. Even after having Jenna reshape their thoughts to her liking, they’re further compelled by Abby’s mindwhammy to follow Jenna’s orders. Yes, I’m hammering this point until if it were a horse it’d be pâté. That’s because none of the main characters seem to understand it. Neither does the author.
I’ll take the emotion-eating monster, thanks. At least the worst it can throw at me is the product of my mind.
Abby’s speech had been carefully timed. She’d given them enough new information to ensure that they’d still be talking about it by the time Jenna had taken hold of them.
Here we get the real reason Abby bothered to give her victims any information: She wanted them quiescent and distracted so that Jenna could work. She doesn’t think they deserve to know anything about the situation, much less have the facts to give informed consent to her plan.
What follows is a generic, vaguely described orgy scene observed from the outside by our intrepid hera. The music that accompanies it has a steady, driving beat and begins with a rising motif. The monster is defeated, Abby laughs off Jenna’s attempts to lower her inhibitions (haha, the little minx! That doesn’t bode poorly for her future
I have a sneaking desire to write a spitefic where one of the victims ends up at the doctor’s office with an STI she doesn’t know how she contracted, a terror of physical intimacy she can’t explain, and a resurgence of PTSD symptoms that she hasn’t experienced since she first escaped to the halfway home.
One of the most frustrating bits is, this would have been so easy to fix. Have Jenna refuse Abby’s first plan to simply use the girls and insist on giving them a choice. That shows Jenna’s morality despite her infernal nature and highlights Abby’s thoughtless condescension towards humans without turning her into a monster. During the prelude to the orgy, Abby could simply have told the women the truth of the situation, explained that she’d have to erase the memory afterwards for security reasons, and then allowed whoever wasn’t interested to leave. Even if half of them left, they’d have plenty of energy to destroy the creature, from the way the original scene was described. Jenna could facilitate the festivities with everyone’s consent, helping to get them in the mood despite the pall Clarice’s death cast. The women who participated might not remember the precise events, but they could carry within themselves the knowledge that they’d had the strength to defeat a powerful adversary.
Instead, these very young abuse survivors were reduced to objects, quite literally little more than batteries for Jenna to gather the necessary charge. Kant’s assertion that good intentions override the negative consequences of your actions was bullshit when I first encountered it, and it’s equally bullshit when put into practice here. What’s worse, the author doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s written. There’s not a hint in the text that Abby’s plan is anything less than ethical, or that our heroes should face any repercussions. In the aftermath, Abby threatens her superior if he considers pursuing Jenna for her actions, and he agrees to leave her alone. From both of their attitudes during the conversation, the clear implication is that if he pursued her, he would be doing so on a technicality rather than removing an actual menace to humans.
Consent is one of my sticking points. Respecting others’ boundaries is another. You cannot have your character destroy another person’s bodily and mental autonomy without so much as a warning and still expect me to view them as an unadulterated good guy, not unless one hell of a lot of soul searching and genuine remorse follows.
* Which could be an interesting viewpoint to take, since the next story in the series makes it clear that most psychics don’t view non-telepaths as their equals. Except in this case, we’re explicitly meant to view Abby as a sympathetic protagonist putting together a brilliant and morally acceptable plan, not as a twisted anti-hero manipulating humans she sees as one step up from animals for what she considers their own good.
Originally posted at http://settecorvi.dreamwidth.org/10