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Chapter 34 - Circe
Zaire was getting to be famous. She was friends with that mega-Celeb Bosie. He had mentioned her several times on his fashion spot on morning MV as a person he had designed for.
Willow found this particularly galling as Zaire seemed to have little interest in fashion anymore.
More than that, Zaire had been promoted at work and is now the top resort specialist supporting numerous other Celebs including Aden Hitch and the whole Your Holliday Now team. There was hardly a place on the planet that she hadn't been. She would go on about this or that city or the different food or strange customs or religions still practiced. She even told Willow that had she been brought up in a different country she would have totally different yet sincerely held religious beliefs. As if!
Now she is 'writing' about some woman violently killed as a witch.
And it was true, Zaire has become intrigued by Margery's life story. When Margery was killed Zaire persuaded Claude to let her into Margery's apartment, when it was still a crime scene. Quite against the law she had gathered a lot of personal information by going through Margery's clothes and jewellery. She was fascinated and Claude had tried to stop her opening every draw and cupboard. Then she had wanted to go back several times. She kept asking him what possible difference it could make to the Coroner's verdict. Margery's only heir was her brother, Derrick, presently under permanent house arrest as a serial paedophile. Reasoning that none of this would be of any use to the inquest, or Derrick, Zaire 'borrowed' a number of items for later analysis, including silk underwear, a black suit, a pair of shoes, and her jewellery box, lest it disappear into other hands.
Bianca immediately suggested 'Witchcraft from a Feminist Perspective' as a thesis topic to get Zaire mature age entrance to University. Bianca's seemingly free access to the BoganVillia data and a vast store of other facts and video would invaluable. At the root of Zaire's fascination with Margery is the Woodsman incident. She'd grown fond of her 'puppy', if only for a day or two, and wondered how Margery had done that to him. So she decided to take on the project to improve her skills but not to get into University. She's proud of being Bogan and anyway she has a great job. Why would she want a degree?
Now that Margery's gone and she has seen something of her history, Zaire feels almost sorry for Margery. Hunting around among her things and seeing evidence of her lonely life, after Claude left her, Zaire has generally becoming more sympathetic to his ex-girlfriend. It seems that an uncle taught Margery about sex far too early, so she turned to Derrick, her older brother, for protection. Using what her uncle had taught her, she seduced Derrick and made him her willing accomplice in the uncle's demise. The uncle was drowned in a rip at the beach while supposedly supervising the two teenagers on a day out. They called for help as he was swept out and were not suspected of any part in it: '...as the terrible accident unfolded, while the two teenagers watched helpless as their beloved uncle was swept out to sea'.
But with Bianca's data Zaire now knows otherwise. Margery had searched The Cloud for dangerous beaches and was monitoring the surf conditions before they chose a particularly dangerous day. There's also an old style text message in the archive, misspelled in 'Margery speak', to her uncle, suggesting a sexy beach party if he will bring the drugs; and another to Derrick saying: Unca Ron shouldn't swim on drugs. He could drown. He might need our help.
Zaire has been assembling evidence to support her hypothesis that Margery was a girl from difficult circumstances who struggled to the top by fair means or foul. She was clearly self-taught and was able to cover for her limited literacy with a good VPA and her bed to bed approach with men; and a woman or two. Zaire who's still learning to read at matriculation level is impressed that Margery had gone as far as she had. Her only formal education had been thanks to Morag, who had really messed with her head.
Zaire now has two regular reading and coding coaches: Bianca and Angela. Angela turned thirteen nearly ten months ago and is now officially a teenager. She often hangs out with Zaire and Bianca after school. She's teaching Zaire to read and to code in C++, PHP; and XML. She might have chosen a dozen other coding languages but these are easily read by the Prospero Universal Translator (PTU).
To support Zaire's thesis Bianca and Angela have started to compile a Fascinating Witch database. It is an attempt to catalogue and codify as many of Margery's seduction and domination skills as they have been able to uncover or observe. They've captured feeds from the various device cameras and microphones in the homes of her various victims, together with those from the haptic devices she likes to wear to record her touch sensations. Margery's habit of recording all her conquests has been invaluable. They have a blow by blow record of her conquest of Mohandas and earlier recordings of her conquest of her Bishop - unfortunately just from old sound recordings. Zaire has been amazed at the information that even young Angela has at her fingertips.
"Why does everyone store everything in The Cloud? Even their darkest secrets," Zaire asked rhetorically. "The idea that information is secure in The Cloud is like a religious faith in most people. Yet it's complete rubbish."
Angela with her 'born to code brain' soon saw patterns in their data and when she pointed them out Bianca saw them too. These amounted to rules or laws of behaviour and could be converted to into functions. What had started out as a kind of 'know your enemy' game, a light hearted pastime based on Sun Tzu's The Art of War, had become a real project and now all three were spending quite a bit of time on it. To Bianca's delight Zaire was proving to be a very fast learner and had even written some of the simpler code for the interface.
"We need a shoe routine to add to the subjugation techniques library," Zaire suggested: "Initial variables should include shoe type and colour. We may have to overload it later."
Angela was supposed to be excluded from this adult stuff but she is another coding prodigy and had already written nearly half of the code. So there was little that she had not seen concerning Margery's Craft. They were effectively building a virtual Margery in code. The use of Prospero meant that they didn't have to get everything perfect from the outset. Prospero would evolve to find the best way of achieving the desired goals. Bianca had some artificial intelligence software to upgrade their hypothetical Margery's native capabilities.
"What shall we call it," asked Angela: "Margery?"
"No. I've a better idea," said Zaire. "Let's call it Circe, the name of her VPA, the witch famed for turning men into pigs."
They all agreed.
A month later Bianca stayed late at Zaire's place. She'd come for a meal to try out the new, actually antique, dining room furniture that they had been shopping for together. As usual it was quite boozy and they retired to her still quite Spartan living room. Zaire got out the things that she had borrowed from Margery's apartment and scattered them on her large Persian rug. They both tried on the clothes and were surprised that they fitted almost perfectly.
From the jewellery box Bianca picked out the 'witching ring' Margery had tried to use on her. Margery wasn't wearing it when she died. Edmund had told her no metals were permitted in his lab. This was Bianca's idea to prevent Margery bringing in her hallucinogenic amulet or various pill and potion containing rings and broaches. They now knew that the ring had been used to re-enchant the Bishop. He found that he was obliged to kneel before her when she showed it to him. It was unfortunate for her that she wasn't wearing it. It might have been her only chance to prevent him slaughtering her.
"What better fetish could there be to enslave a Bishop?" Zaire had laughed. She found that she was often amused by Margery's jokes.
Bianca tried the ring on and couldn't get it off again. "Oh well," she said, "it looks like I'll just have to wear it. And while I'm at it I'll borrow this gold amulet too. I want to find out who made it. That is, if the maker's still alive. Would you like a copy? They're a very useful toy, as you will see in the database," she told Zaire.
"In that case I'll wear this other witchy looking ring," said Zaire," and I'll keep all this other stuff safe for Derrick too. If he ever gets out."
The following day Bianca went into Bergeroff Goodman and bought a new outfit: charcoal suit; half a dozen silk blouses and camisoles; a dozen silk French knickers, a dark red lacy suspender belt; a dozen pairs of sheer dark stockings; a pairs of patent dark red shoes with stiletto heels; and a new scarlet lipstick. Then she went to the hairdresser to have her hair darkened to a deep auburn-red.
Zaire was amazed to see the image of Margery appear at her door. It took nearly a minute for her to recover, even after Bianca asked her what the matter was.
"Have you looked in a mirror since you bought your new outfit," she asked.
"Yes of course I have. I've decided that this will be my new business look. Do you like it?"
"Well I think Claude might. Do you mind if I get a similar outfit? I can't have you upstaging me."
"No of course not. We can hardly be identical and it might be fun to have a fashion twin. These days, with your new fashion trendsetter status, perhaps we need to corner the silk market first. Come with me, Bogan twin and we'll set a new fashion."
When Claude turned up at Zaire's newly furnished apartment, intending to stay the night, he didn't know how to react but he found that he was amazingly aroused by her new appearance. That evening she discovered what Margery had begun to teach him and gained new understandings into the subject of her thesis.
Angela is now deeply involved in the Circe project. So Zaire decided to lend Angela another of Margery's witchy rings to wear for safe keeping and as a present for helping her with the supporting evidence for her thesis.
"So am I now officially a witch too, like you and Bianca? In future we can be The Three Witches, like The Three Musketeers."
It was not what Zaire had intended but she was happy with the idea and told Bianca their group's new title.
"All for one," Bianca responded. "And one for all," as a delayed afterthought.
With all the excitement at Phuket Bianca had never got around to telling Zaire, or anyone, about the Burma incident. So Zaire was surprised when Bianca announced that she had distant Bogan cousins who wanted Bianca to be a godmother to their new baby girl. She was even more surprised to learn that Bianca had visited them on several occasions and stayed the night. What was going on?
This would require some explaining. So Bianca invited Zaire and Angela to her place for dinner and Isis oversaw the creation of a delicious meal and got in some excellent wine. Angela was allowed a glass watered down, in preparation for full adulthood. Over desert Bianca explained what she'd done. They were amazed at her revelations.
"How long have you known how to enchant people?" Zaire demanded.
"I had an excellent teacher, I had my first demonstration not long after I knew Margery," she confessed.
She'd never told anyone what Margery had done to her but now it was confession time.
"So I thought I'd try it out," she concluded.
"I think that she may have actually preferred women romantically, after being made to love Morag," said Zaire, then added: "I got quite turned on by your story."
"Well so was I. At the time," admitted Bianca.
Her ankle touched the side of Zaire's under the table. Zaire didn't pull away.
"The thought of making someone else of either sex a willing servant, or even a slave, is a turn on," said Angela, "I have several boys and a girl who fetch and carry for me at school."
The stress on 'a girl' suggested that she knew there was something going on.
Bianca found that she was shocked, yet again, by Angela's adult insights. Maybe she shouldn't be involved in any of this? She understands a lot more than perhaps a thirteen year old should. She moved her foot away.
"Anyway, you can't accept the invitation to be a godmother, you're an atheist," said Angela, quickly changing the subject; realising that she'd both shocked and embarrassed her cousin.
"I've told them that I don't believe in the Trinity or the divinity of Christ or the great bulk of Judeo-Christian mythology. Yet I don't know how the Universe got here and I do believe that there are certain consistencies in the behaviour of energy, matter and the space-time continuum that are mysterious. I also believe that society needs rules to function and that children need to be taught appropriate behaviour. Collectively I'm happy to call these universal characteristics immanence and our evolving rules for living together, morality. But I stressed that this is a purely semantic position. To their intents and purposes, I'm an atheist."
"Right, so these Bogans understood every word!" replied Angela.
When Angela first met Zaire she hadn't realised that Zaire was once a full-on Bogan. She even started telling Zaire about Bogans, as if she'd never heard of them.
"They're getting smarter you know," she said. "The requirement to get a baby licence and to pass the eligibility test has eliminated the really stupid ones. So the average intelligence has already risen by a full ten points in the past twenty five years. In another twenty five it's expected to rise even faster. In a century we should get back to the average intelligence in Europe after the Black Death, from Elizabethan times through to the eighteenth century. In the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries really stupid people were encouraged to breed like rabbits so there is a bit of recovery to do."
Angela was only twelve so her ideas are still in their formative stage. Bianca overheard this and objected that although the number of stupid people had risen, so had the number of precociously smart people as humans from many different environments interbred. It’s called hybrid vigour.
"The argument is far too complex for some trite summary and these have the risk that they can become sloganeered by demagogues like the radio ‘shock-jocks’ of the early twentieth century or indeed the Nazis,” she commented. "You need to be careful to see all sides of a story. And this one’s very complex.”
Since then Angela has always liked to have a dig at Zaire whenever the opportunity arose.
"I keep telling you not to run down Bogans," objected Zaire for the hundredth time. "We're not all stupid. Look at Bianca's friend Oliver, he's very literate. He writes books. By the way, is Connie actually you in his latest pot-boiler by any chance?" said Zaire, turning to Bianca: "That was a bit on the raunchy side. Does Lucent know?"
"It's a joke between us. His given name is Oliver. So my name is Connie Chatterley and I call him Mellors," replied Bianca, avoiding the second question and the implication.
"I don't understand," said Angela.
"It's from a book. Lady Chatterley's Lover. DH Lawrence," explained Zaire. "See, you don't know everything, smartarse."
"How do you know all these Bogans?" asked Angela stressing the last word.
"I meet them in church," said Bianca for affect.
"Rubbish," exclaimed Zaire. "I approached you. And you've just told us how you met Burma and Flower."
"But Oliver's a mate of Burma's and I did meet him when he'd been dragged to church by his mother."
"What on earth were you doing at their church?"
"I was looking for Burma and Flower. Burma's tattoos had told me where to look for them," she told them.
She failed to mention that it had been on an entirely separate occasion, during one of her 'fishing trips'. That was a confession too far.
"And that brings us full circle. Do they want an atheist to be their child's godmother? And are you really related?" asked Zaire.
"Yes they do. And no. But what difference does it make? They have become quite liberal and free thinking since Flower had to deal with lasting effects of the, so called Christian, priest who molested her. They want Oliver to be her other godparent and he's an atheist too."
"Goodness this child is going to have two unusual moral guardians," said Zaire: "Probably for the better. You'll have her off to school and university at fifteen, like this precocious brat," nodding her head at Angela.
That was when Bianca told them that they'd both been invited to the christening. Angela because she's supposedly another long lost cousin and Zaire because she's famous. When Bianca told Flower that Zaire was a close friend she was so excited that she started planning the reception. She would be devastated if Zaire didn't come.
It was time for Angela to go to bed in the guest bedroom that had somehow become hers, she often stayed over these days. Now Angela has three bedrooms to spread her belongings around. One at Miranda's and another at Bertram's.
"So tell me, have you been going about mesmerising anybody else?" asked Zaire suggestively, when Angela had finished messing about, as teens do, and gone off to bed.
"Would you like me to do it to you?" Bianca asked with a smile holding up the ring; and avoiding the subject of 'fishing trips'.
"I sometimes think you do. How many times have I told you that I don't want to become a Grad and yet here I am, writing a thesis?"
"That raises the issue of what we're going to do with Circe. It's looking more and more like a manual to build another Margery. We don't want hundreds of Margery's out there causing havoc. Up till now I've imagined it as supporting evidence for your mature University Entrance thesis."
"I'm not desperate to become a Grad. That's your dream. I'm happy with my present job. And we've put so much work into this now that it seems ridiculous for it to be hidden away in some academic institution. Anyway, it's nothing but theory until we test it to see if any of it actually works."
"Are you suggesting that we should do some real-life functional testing? That could raise some ethical issues," commented Bianca.
"Who cares? There is no law against sexy Apps. If there was, half of the content in The Cloud would be illegal. All our work is just academic time wasting unless we show that it's valid."
"I must say a small trial makes sense. I would like to see if it works too and I know Angela will agree, she's getting to that 'interested in boys' stage. When she's ready she's going to know an awful lot about seduction. So we'll need a test group of people screened as potential dominators and dominated. Do you know a suitable group of Bogans?"
"Oh of course we Bogans are all stupid. Perfect guinea pigs," objected Zaire smiling. "You're as bad as Angela."
"You know perfectly well that she loves you, that's why she's so rude, because she can be. Anyway, around half of all Bogans have below average intelligence."
"And the other half have above average intelligence," responded Zaire.
Her stocking foot briefly grazed Bianca's thigh for emphasis.
"True," Bianca laughed. "We can't argue over the meaning of the word 'average'. Tautologies aside, those less than bright could be ideal for the dominated. And I suspect that the other half might yield a few good dominators."
"Then why not go with Grads or Busies? They tend to self-sort."
"Bogans are the best subjects not because of intelligence or lack thereof but because they are totally reliant on their VPA to function. We can simply install our software as an App in their VPA's program library. VPA's will suggest that their owner might handle the new partner this way or that; or that being treated like that was what they deserved and obviously enjoyed. Feedback on the success of various approaches and types of abuse from VPA's would allow functions and routines to be iteratively refined using Prospero self-evolving software.
But we need to think of a way to encourage a limited group of them to download the software. Software they will want to install to win a prize perhaps?"
"I know," said Zaire: "Free concert tickets. How many tickets would we need to do some screening to sort the sheep from the goats?"
"Or the sirens from the sailors," amended Bianca. "A hundred should be plenty for a small trial."
"But how will we know the results? Do we just watch the news for evidence of an upsurge in sadomasochism?" asked Angela, who'd walked through in her pyjamas, ostensibly to get a glass of water.
"How do you know about sadomasochism?" Bianca demanded in mock surprise.
"Oh, Kids at school," she replied in an off-hand way.
"I'll write a small routine to have their VPA provide an update on progress," said Bianca. "We also need to include an abort routine to stop it running and another to have the VPAs help with the initial selection of test subjects."
They decided that using the VPAs would have other advantages. Just having a library of techniques available was unlikely to recruit subjects. As Margery had demonstrated that it's like a drug. The subject has to be given a taste and then another and another until they crave the ongoing experience.
"For victim candidates, we need the VPA to become more assertive to test their 'owner's potential to be dominated," suggested Zaire. "And to recruit a dominatrix the VPA should become more subservient than usual, I suppose."
"After selection we need to put them together matching pairs. It will be like one of those old adult dating sites from the first days of the Internet. Their VPAs can organise them to meet and prime them with suitable comments about their opposite numbers, so that the compatibility becomes obvious. Angela, go back to bed."
Angela had been hanging around listening, quietly hoping not to be noticed. She reluctantly went back to bed.
"At some point the dominatrix's VPA needs to start coaching their owner to take the initiative, suggesting that their new partner would respond to bit of rough handling and that it could be fun to make them do submissive things," suggested Bianca, after she'd checked that Angela was in bed and had gone to sleep.
"It's the others I'm more concerned about. Those who will become subservient to their VPA. We need to have a point at which their training is complete. Too soon and they may be able to resist their human mistress but too late and who knows?" Zaire said. "We don't want our carefully trained guineapigs all dashing off to a VE clinic do we?"
"No. So we need a proof of success well short of suicide. What about licking feet? "
"Licking an Avatar's virtual feet - it seems a bit tame. I'm sure we can think of something a bit filthier than that," laughed Zaire. "You know, I think this project is making me a bit nasty."
"Agreed. And now I can't wait to find out if it works," Bianca agreed. "And now I'm feeling a bit nasty too."
It was time for bed.
The following morning over breakfast, Angela asked how they had slept, in a very pointed manner.
"Very well," Zaire replied as if she was answering for them both.
Angela smiled back knowingly.
After breakfast all three of them started work on the coaching routines that they would create as a pair of Apps and an initial selection App that would decide which the user's VPA then installed; dominator or dominated.
Zaire had no trouble getting a hundred premium passes to the Greatest Stars concert from the promoter, who's been very pleased at the free publicity she's been able to organise through her contacts, like Aden Hitch and Bosie Wild.
"Ok. Let's see who would like the free concert tickets," she said: "C'mon, roll up, free tickets. Just ask your VPA to download this little App."
Zaire sent most of the invitations to Willow and Starfighter to distribute among their Cloud friends. She kept a few aside for some others she considers to be similarly deserving. The tickets went like hotcakes and those who hesitated were sorry to have missed out.
The concert is bound to be a great success. After all it's late spring and Christmas is not far away.