There is no consent under capitalism.
K. M. Szpara’s Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power—available from Tor.com Publishing on March 3, 2020. Read an excerpt below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one.
To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.
Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him.
Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.
Elisha stares out the window, hands clasped formally behind his back. His skin is still pink from the salon, but the clothes do him justice; they’re colorful, pressed, formfitting. He should be comfortable, and yet he’s so stiff, I imagine he’d tip right over if I prodded.
I shrug off my coat and open the closet as quietly as possible, like he might run away if I make a noise. I can’t scare him off—he can’t even leave. He’s my responsibility, now. The realization settles into my body like the first shot of alcohol on a night out: warm, invigorating, dangerous. I can do this—want to do this. This is not a punishment; it’s an opportunity.
Quietly, I close the closet door and roll up my sleeves as I go to join him. Continuing to follow my instructions, he doesn’t turn around. I linger behind him. What do I say, Hope you had a good ride? How was the spa? Good to see you?
We’re still strangers.
“What do you think of the view?” I ask, unsure whether small talk is the right choice.
“It’s beautiful.” The natural timbre of Elisha’s voice throws me off.
He’s not on Dociline—not until tonight. Maybe that’s why it feels so weird, standing next to him like we’re in a bar and I’m trying to pick him up. After I inject him, it’ll be easier. He’ll be happy simply standing there, waiting for my next instruction. Fulfilled rather than stiff and nervous. It’s making me nervous. I chose a Docile over a husband because the latter requires emotional labor that I don’t have time for and now I’m pulling my weight, anyway.
Get over it, Alex. It’s just for one night.
“The inside’s not bad, either,” I say, finally. “Follow me. I’ll show you around.”
He follows me into the kitchen, where I point out appliances camouflaged into the room’s woods and whites, all clean for this evening’s party. I slide a recessed wine rack out from between the pantry and the refrigerator, grab a bottle of red—don’t even check the label. Elisha watches while I set a wine glass down on the kitchen island.
Before I know it, I’m asking him, “Do you want one?”
I set down a second wine glass, not waiting for his response.
“Um.” He looks around like someone’s going to catch him drinking on the job. There are no other rules here, besides mine. “Sure, I guess.”
By the time he’s answered, I’ve already filled both glasses. I down half of mine in one gulp. The lump catches in my throat and I feel it push down my esophagus. Across from me, Elisha brings the rim of the glass to his nose and sniffs it, but not like I would at a restaurant, more like a dog sniffing another dog’s ass. After watching me finish my glass, he puts his own to his lips and sips.
I pour myself another, store the rest of the bottle in the rack, and push it back into hiding. “You don’t need to know much about the kitchen. I’ve hired a caterer to manage tonight’s party.”
When he doesn’t ask what kind of party, I go on, anxious to fill the silence. “A birthday party.”
“It’s my birthday.”
For the first time, Elisha’s face relaxes. He almost smiles. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you.” The wine is already absorbing into my bloodstream and loosening me up, excising my anxiety. I take advantage of it and explain: “After we finish the tour, I’m going to run a few last-minute errands while the caterers set up. I’ll be back in time to introduce you to…” No point in explaining to Elisha who everyone is. He won’t really remember once I inject him. “Everyone.”
“Okay,” he says. Clearly, that was enough for him.
Elisha follows me upstairs, silently and slowly, trying not to spill his wine, his glass still almost full. I wait at the top of the steps, looking down on my home, out its floor-to-ceiling windows, and at the younger man whose debt I purchased.
He glances up at me and smooths back a strand of hair threatening to liberate itself from its new sleek style. His lips are slightly reddened with wine, face slightly flushed. I remember why I picked him and how this won’t be all work. Once he’s dosed up, we will definitely play.
“This is my bedroom.” I wander in, at ease in my most private space. Though the bed is made and my clothing hung, my personal laptop still rests on the blue-gray down comforter and a rocks glass sits on a coaster on the nightstand. Remnants of last night’s Scotch stain its bottom.
I glance over my shoulder to see Elisha lingering at the threshold. “You are allowed in,” I say, though he knows that. He eyes the bed with trepidation, standing as far away as he dares.
“You’ll sleep in here with me.” I walk to the left side of my bed frame and kneel to point out the adjustment I had made. “This is your bed.” When I wave my hand over a sensor, the trundle glides out silently, already fitted with matching bedding. Elisha doesn’t react to our sleeping arrangements, which, I admit, are more intimate than the capsule bed setup Mariah keeps, or the separate rooms Dutch’s Dociles sleep in.
“The only other rooms, up here, are the bathroom and my office.” I point to both of their doors in turn. “The latter of which is always locked when I am not using it. Do you have any questions?” I ask. He looks nervous, still, though I feel much better with twelve ounces of wine in me. “I’d rather you ask now. I’ll be busy entertaining guests later, and will expect you to handle yourself.”
Thirty slow seconds pass.
“Yes,” Elisha says. “What do I do, tonight, exactly? Follow you around? Wait upstairs? Are there any guidelines…”
I blanch like a schoolboy who’s forgotten his homework. Rules. I should’ve thought up rules. I finish my wine and set it on the nightstand. “Yes.” I can make shit up on the fly. I do this kind of thing all the time for investors and reporters and people who ask me how I’m doing.
“I’ll put the rules up on the wall for you to study while I’m running errands. Memorize them.” I sit at my small writing table, pull a touch keyboard up on its surface, and begin to type.
- Always answer aloud when people address you, and do so honestly.
- Do not speak unless spoken to.
- Consult me, first, if someone makes a request of you.
I hesitate, debating whether that is enough, before adding one more.
- If you require my attention for a non-emergency, say, “Excuse me, Alex,” and wait for me to address you. Always speak up in an emergency.
There. That’ll last the night. Good job, Alex. “If you have further questions about any of the rules, now is the time to ask them.”
Elisha bites his thumbnail while he rereads the rules. “Don’t do that,” I say. “I just had them manicured.”
He removes his finger from his mouth and forces his hand to his side. “Is there a certain way you want me to stand or sit when I’m not doing anything?”
Good question. “Yes,” I say before even having thought of the answer. Thank god he won’t remember any of this once he’s on Dociline. This time, I take a cue from Dutch, who treats his two Dociles more like pets than sex toys. “Unless otherwise directed, you are to sit on the floor beside me or stand with your hands clasped either in front of or behind your body. And look at me when we speak to each other.”
“Okay,” Elisha says, reviewing the rules one last time. “Will I be…” He hesitates, trying to form his question.
I’m enraptured simply watching him think. “Will I be expected to do things at the party?”
“No, like…” He shrugs, looks between the bed and the ceiling, stuffs his hands in his pockets.
Oh. I know where this is going. “Say it.”
Elisha flushes rose gold. “Like, sex?” He sets his half-full wine glass on the writing table and folds his hands together to quiet their trembling. He can’t even look at me. “I’ve heard stories.”
Once Elisha gets some Dociline in his blood, he won’t be so nervous. Correction: he won’t be nervous at all. I almost wish I’d been on Dociline for my first time. I’d gladly forget a few of my first partners. He straightens as I walk toward him, hands still in his pockets, eyes on the floor, then me, then the floor, and then me, again—I draw so close he startles backwards. I reach out, instinctively, to catch him. This is the closest Elisha and I have ever been. I can feel the heat from his skin, hear the arrhythmia of his breath. “Have you ever kissed anyone?”
“No,” he says.
I hadn’t been planning on being intimate with Elisha until he injected Dociline, until he was obedient and eager. But a selfish part of me wants him to remember this. To feel it fully.
I tilt his head back until we’re looking into each other’s eyes, and then at each other’s lips. His are flushed, like rose petals beneath mine, and part easily when I kiss him. He nuzzles my hand when I rest it against the side of his face. Suddenly, I’m struck by how much trust he’s placed in me. He anticipated this—and more. Sought it, even. And I’ve barely thought through tonight.
I pull back first. His cheeks and lips ripen with blood. “Now you have,” I say.
I release him and walk to the door, pausing at the threshold. “The caterers are due any minute. Do not go downstairs or interact with them. Guests will begin to arrive in two hours. I expect you’ll have memorized the rules by the time I return.” I check my watch. “Be here, in this room, at six forty-five.”
I leave without the option for further questions. If I stay, I worry I won’t be able to improvise any longer. And that I’ll want to kiss him, again.
Excerpted from Docile, copyright © 2020 by K. M. Szpara.