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 A Cloud prequel

 

 

 

Chapter 1 - Caught short

 

 

 

 

Christmas 2069 approaches and in the midst of the greatest retail spending frenzy for decades Bianca has been trying on clothes..  They're at Bergeroff Goodman, an up-market store. Bianca has been brought here by Margery who frequents such expensive places.  Unlike many other retail establishments in the world at this time of year, the store is not over-packed with shoppers.

Elsewhere many customers will expend their entire available credit and have even accumulated credit from earlier in the year to allow for this annual celebratory splurge.  Much of it will be expended on personal services, personal wellbeing, exercise, entertainment and of course religious practice and many will exchange gifts of credit towards these services with friends and loved ones.  But this store is very up-market and discrete.

This Monday lunchtime Margery is encouraging Bianca to buy a top quality black wool and mohair suit with a knee length skirt, similar to the one Margery is wearing.  Bianca had been resisting and equivocating when the call of nature gratuitously cut short their struggle.  The older woman had assumed Bianca's resistance was for financial reasons, insisting that a good suit is not an extravagance but an investment in Bianca's future. 

The real reason Bianca had been resisting has nothing to do with waiting for the sales, as Margery had implied, insisting that the sales are for unloading second quality or over-stocked goods, it's that she doesn't want to be seen to be imitating Margery.  The women are of similar build, both a little taller than average and slim to medium. In a similar suit Bianca would look too much like Margery's clone, albeit with reddish-blonde hair. At Margery's insistence they had been back and forth to the crowded change rooms half a dozen times, trying variations on the same theme, when all the water Bianca had been absentmindedly sipping from her bottle while working at her screen this morning, caught up with her.

The sales person directed her to the store powder-room but when she got there she found a long queue.  Among them was a group of very well dressed and obviously wealthy young women, Busies, who were there finding outfits for the big fashionable New Year's Day race-meeting, the Delhi Cup.  The young women kept allowing others of their group join the queue ahead of her.

With every new entrant her need was becoming more and more urgent so she decided to go across the walkway to the Plaza Grand next door.  The Ladies' Restroom there was empty.  But like other five star hotels in this part of the city they have iris recognition so that only current or regular guests can open the booths.

That's the trouble with the 'posh' end of town - no public toilets. 

Leaving the hotel into the street Bianca noticed an historic apartment block with one of those antique panels of call buttons and a camera.  She pressed them one after another until a woman answered.

"I've been caught short and I'm desperate, can I PLEASE use your guest toilet," she begged.

"Sure, come-on up, level ten," a woman replied.  Bianca was surprised by the alacrity with which the North American sounding voice agreed to this strange request.  She was greeted at the door by an elderly, beautifully dressed, woman with a big smile and was ushered through the kind of tasteful apartment only old money can pull off, to the guest toilet.  The woman reminded Bianca of that attractive society woman from the 1970's Jackie Onassis.  The similarity was striking and perhaps deliberate, thanks to a little 'remodelling'.

There was a small annex with a hand basin, various soaps and a pile of guest hand towels.  Very old world.  But the toilet itself was not old world.  Bianca closed the outer door and stopped short.  Could she go in there?

Bianca was now desperate.  Its very availability had made her need more urgent.  Yet she was like a woman confronting a primitive outhouse in regional Asia for the first time.

This one doesn't smell and is a lot more than a hole in the floor with two ceramic stepping stones.  It's perhaps the most beautiful loo she'd ever seen: spotlessly clean in shiny deep grey patterns and solid gold fittings yet it's a lot more alarming. She'd instantly recognised the pattern of indented dots on the tiles lining the room for what they are, micro cameras and illuminators across the spectrum from infra-red to ultraviolet.  And if that isn't enough, the haptic toilet seat is certain 'give-a-way'.  This is a total body scanner. What was she to do?  She just had to pee.

***

Less sophisticated scanners, some as primitive as a single camera, are quite commonplace and not just in toilets, dressing rooms in clothes shops are a favourite.  They aren't legal but the owners are not usually perverts.  They earn credit feeding the data collected to BoganVillia the marketing corporation that collects data on every potential consumer by any means available, like offering loyalty cards and giving away bonus points for travel.  Their favourite ruse is gift or Christmas cards, the gift that keeps on giving, to the vendor alone, when the card recipients' buying patterns are tracked, the time limit expires or residuals remain unspent.  If she's given one Bianca thanks the giver for the sentiment and then throws it away.  BoganVillia also tie purchases to credit credentials and track product searches in The Cloud until they have a complete profile of a buyer's purchasing behaviour, interests and overall annual expenditure, which obviously matches income, less positive or negative credit accumulation, once known as savings and debt. 

There are many Busie companies, at arm's length from BoganVillia, that install scanners and on-sell the data and every now and then they get caught and fined.  BoganVillia stands by the 'principle' that data should be unfettered by secrecy, no matter how they were obtained.  So they continue to pay for these data according to market value.

'Jackie O' is obviously a society matron who entertains the big end of town.  The market value of their secrets is probably quite high.  So she's installed this little earner to keep her in beluga.  Somehow the Virtual Police in The Cloud justice system never seem to catch them at it.  You'd think the massive data bursts would be easy to detect.

Only one in several million people would recognise the technology in this room.  But Bianca comes from an information engineering family where this kind of thing was discussed over meals since she was an infant and she wrote her thesis on bio-cybernetics.  The moment she steps through that door she knows that she will be identified.  The software will match her face and iris details with BoganVillia's vast database of identity records.  Everyone, even she, leaves personal details in The Cloud. For example, every time someone checks your photo ID or tags you in a picture, an identity record is created.  Her file in the BoganVillia database will be updated.  Her present body dimensions as if naked, in the various poses she adopts preparing to sit, will be mapped to micron level noting any blemishes, tattoos, piercings or other modifications. Her garments will be identified and traced back to the manufacturer, then forward to the moment she purchased them.  Any loose dust, hair or skin cells will be sucked into the ventilation system and analysed. Her current state of health will be determined from temperature variations across her body, complemented by an ultrasound scan of her internal organs.  Little ticking sounds and flashes will test her hearing and eyesight.  Urine and stool samples will be taken and analysed as they became available.

Like Sherlock Holmes, BoganVillia will have a good idea of where she's been and where she is going; her style preferences; what and when she's eaten this week; and of course any recent sexual activity:- when, with whom and possibly how, from DNA residuals in the aforesaid.  This intelligence BoganVillia will on-sell to anyone wanting to market anything to her.  She will be assailed by even more offers matched directly to her needs, tastes and activities. 

Although this may sometimes be of benefit, for example when she returns Bergeroff Goodman could potentially know her exact shoe and clothing sizes from her underwear out, Bianca hates these intrusions.  They will also know how much she spent on her current clothes and underwear; they may think they know her credit status; and they'll have a good idea of her taste from past purchases.  The sales person will be even snootier than he was before.

If she used toilets like this regularly the details of her life would be recorded and mapped year-round 24/7. And if the data fell into in the wrong hands her identity could be stolen or an Avatar could be constructed that was visually and tactilely identical to her in every way, when experienced in 6D virtual reality. With touch and smell; and this simulation would be a pervert's dream.  Men will leer knowingly at her in the street.

The fact that illicit data collection had been going on since the earliest days of The Cloud didn't excuse it.  Bogans might not care or know about their file but it's not for her.

Yet she has to pee.  The hand basin is an option but there's probably a camera out here too. 

***

For Bianca there's a more reliable option. She's a Grad with advanced coding skills and Isis, her Virtual Personal Assistant, hosted in The Cloud, has a 'stream blocker and scrambler' installed that Bianca wrote years ago when still a teen.  Of course a stream blocker is not strictly legal and it's forbidden to hack into and scramble data in The Cloud, so she uses it very sparingly. But this is an emergency.

If Isis simply blocks the data stream it will certainly set off an alarm. A debug routine will start and a repair bot may even be deployed. All she wants at this moment is to have a pee; not have to deal with a torrent of messages or a loo that starts sounding an alarm.

Rather than speaking out loud Bianca, who can read and write, discretely taps in a message to Isis telling her to randomly scramble any data generated by this thing as it reaches The Cloud.  Isis replies with a quick vibration in her pocket communicator.  At last she can sit down. It's safe.

***

As she sat there admiring the technology in the most advanced body scanner she'd ever encountered she was intrigued and happy.  Everything was spotless.  Apart from being a total body scanner it was a very nice loo.  No doubt Jackie O has the ultimate in cleaning robots.  And her apartment was the most tasteful she'd ever seen.  Bianca wondered who she was, obviously someone well placed in society.  It would be nice to get her real name on the way out, maybe aunty Miranda knows her?

A thought occurred to her.

Here was this very nice loo just when she desperately needed it and she'd only found it by pressing all the buttons on a random apartment block - essentially by chance.

The Cloud has an almost insatiable demand for new Apps - applications that help people find likeminded others for almost any purpose, from quilting to musical farting; that amuse them; and that manage their daily lives.  What was needed was an App to match those who nature called to empty loos.  Air - loo? Air Ones and Twos ? Almost every dwelling had a guest toilet so why not rent one out occasionally to those in need?  Bogan's Apps allow their VPA to tell them what and when to: eat, rest and play; when to ablute and when they should exercise or give vent to their other bodily functions.  But until now, not where. 

In this case there would be few Bogans but Jackie O outside would be delighted to have a lot more up-town customers to scan for additional credits.

Bianca could begin to knock something together when she got home tonight.  Then she had a better idea. She is facing a couple of challenges in her new life and maybe she can kill both birds with one stone.

 

 


Chapter 2 - After the Famine

 

 

 

Entering a University is very challenging.  There are only a handful of Universities and they set very high entrance standards.  Bianca has been coaching young William McNamara, a precocious school boy who wishes to become a Grad like her. 

He's just submitted an assignment: to write an essay about the world today and she's reviewing it.  He'll need to write very well if he wants to study at the University.  These are now restricted to educating those dedicated to a life of research and scholarship or those requiring the same skills, knowledge and understanding.  Graduates of a university need to master these old skills as they are the providers of basic research and acquirers of new knowledge of the kind that is not yet available in The Cloud,  for example, how does the human brain actually work or the origin of the Higgs Boson and 'dark energy'.

The great bulk of the population rely instead on their Virtual Personal Assistant, hosted in The Cloud, for the knowledge that they need to function from day to day.  Just as pocket calculators obviated the need to know how to multiply large numbers or to calculate angles during the late twentieth century, so a century later handheld devices such as small screens have obviated the need for most people to be able to read or write.   Obviously one does not have to be a graduate to be able to enunciate the theories of Sigmund Freud or to know about Greek mythology or any other already available knowledge.  One can simply ask your VPA who will look those up for you in The Cloud and read to you in your own language, explaining any difficult concepts by reference to the Central Encyclopaedia.  Not that the average person has any interest in such things.

The other areas that employ graduates are in: government policy and administration; information technology; and some creative fields such as writing.  This is where William would like to excel.

Bianca is sitting in her favourite coffee shop reading William's paper.

 

After the Famine

by William McNamara - December 2069

 

As the new decade approaches it is back to 'business as usual' for the developed world, indeed across the entire unified world economy.

People have recovered from the loss of so many relatives in The Great Famine and the economic turmoil of the 50's.  The population fell dramatically at that time with some regions being effectively depopulated.  World order has been restored and a new World Common Market is proving to provide unprecedented market opportunities for the entrepreneur, despite the steady decline in the number of consumers as we head towards the target of two billion people by 2110.

Many Government programmes are directed to reducing World population to sustainable levels.  For example, women who fall pregnant must be able to demonstrate that at least two qualified adults have committed to adequately support the child until the age of eighteen, in order to qualify for a baby licence.  The alternative is a termination at one of numerous Voluntary Euthanasia (VE) clinics or banishment.  Unwanted pregnancies and unlicensed births are virtually unknown.

There is no longer an underprivileged working class nor any abject poverty.  Since the New Economy was established after The Great Famine, when basic personal support (food clothing and basic housing) became everyone's inheritance and right under the Modified Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there has been little need to accumulate surplus credit.  Indeed excessive credit surpluses may be confiscated under the Scrooge Protocol

Almost anything an enterprising person can imagine can be ordered from the automated factories that are known collectively as 'China Works'.  Who knows why? They produce a lot more than tableware.

The great mass of the people are known as 'Bogans'.  Typically, Bogans are functionally illiterate and innumerate.  They recognise many common words, such as team names and subway stops, and certain common phrases but are unable or unwilling to bother with complex sentences and most can't add two six digit numbers together. Yet they are great communicators, spending a huge part of their day just chatting on their communications device.  Each has a Virtual Personal Assistant known as their VPA, resident in The Cloud, 'who' can be called to help from any Cloud connected device, for example from their pocket communicator, an MV screen or a refrigerator door.  Because each VPA has a lifelike Avatar in cyberspace most regard them as another person: a servant who appears in any device and is dedicated to their needs 24/7.  Their VPA reads out script in any language or style and calculates and translates for them, so they have no need of those skills. 

Bogans are consummate home owners and may have several 'holiday homes', in addition to their principal residence. They take great pride in their property and their values are similar to those of the old middle classes - conservative and loyal to society.  When the World Anthem is played they leap to attention. But generally they just want to get on with enjoying their life.

Almost all of them have well paid jobs in the media, sport or entertainment or religion or providing personal services like beauty therapy.  They are amazingly fashion conscious and must have the latest fad - great consumers with enormous disposable income now that basic needs like food, clothing and shelter can in theory be met by less than a tenth of the basic earnings.  I say in theory - because no one would want to live like that - with only two bathrooms and no year-round, self-cleaning swimming pool.

Most Bogans like to have a block big enough for a large house to provide room for all their stuff and sufficient surrounding area for their assorted land, water and air vehicles. Now that two thirds of the pre-famine housing stock has been demolished in those cities that survive this is not a luxury.

But bedrooms are not a priority.  Family size is restricted to two children per couple unless the parents are prepared to commit to voluntary euthanasia (VE) the day their youngest child reaches adulthood. This is known as a Ten-Two Contract.

Naturally, when the prime social imperative is to quickly restore world population to a sustainable number, anyone providing life-extending medicine to people with chronic diseases has committed a criminal act. 

There is an exemption for assisting the victims of bona-fide accidents or malicious attacks and automated emergency hospitals, supervised by a small squad of mobile technicians, address this need. 

Just as long ago patients ceased to trust a human pharmacist to compound their drugs in a back room, it's many years since people trusted a human 'doctor' to interpret the findings of hospital body scanning machines and try to think of treatments; or a human 'surgeon' carryout invasive microsurgery.  You might as well let some person with a soldering iron attempt to repair your hand held communicator.  And of course modern robotic recovery-cribs care for patients 24/7 without growing inattentive or having shift changeovers.  No wonder there was so much cross infection and super-bugs in those primitive hospitals with human nursing staff moving from patient to patient, acting as disease vectors.

Medical experts are still employed in the administration of World and regional health but they are more likely to be a PhD than an MD.

The result is that almost everyone but the most stoic will end their life in a VE Clinic, popularly known as a 'Departure Lounge' when those final pains or forgetfulness degrade their life sufficiently.  Then they can complete their life in dignity, surrounded by their loved ones, in ceremonies more like weddings than the old-style funerals that used to be held after a death.

Of course VE is freely available to everyone at any time and the Clinics can be found in many locations.  Most have a religious affiliation and are known as 'churches' but there are secular Clinics too.  All must have a licensed VE Celebrant who is to ensure that the person wishing to die is an adult and has either come to them uncoerced or because they are under a legal obligation, for example to avoid banishment or because they elected to have more than the regulation number of children.

The Celebrant is licensed to administer synthetic hemlock - a delicious concoction that is fast acting and painless.  The Clinics also act as collection points for the corpse recycling facilities that reprocess the flesh, blood and bone.  At the peak of the disaster when half a billion people were dying a month this was a major logistical problem but these days the number is much more manageable, a little over a hundred million a year worldwide.

In addition to Bogans there are two other socially distinct classes.  But that's more of a cultural or life choice thing.  The average Bogan has a bigger home and a lot more material stuff than the so-called upper class known as the Grads.

Universities have located near their market, the cities in which Continental and Local governments are located and Grads are employed.  Grads tend to gravitate here seeking people having similar tastes and interests.  Bogans hate these places, not because they 'fear to tread' but because it's just so glassy and alien and colourless and there is no pulsing beat and no theme or entertainment parks or mega-shopping malls. 

When a Bogan might occasionally meet a Grad - who represent slightly over only one in a thousand in the total population and are very rare where Bogans 'hang out' - they can't believe how drab and unfashionable they are.  Many have a sort of self-imposed uniform and wear the same drab styles of 'business' or 'leisure' clothes for months or even years on end and seem to have no interest in the weekly or daily fashion watch. 

Most Grads, for their part, find the rapidly changing Bogan scene highly confusing, their games pointless and their shops bewilderingly full of 'stuff' that they have no use for, that seems to exist very briefly between the retailer and the recycling collector. It all seems a waste of time to a Grad, who seldom has to think twice about what clothes to wear or how to do their hair.

Virtual shopping malls in The Cloud compete with actual physical shopping malls at which customers can handle and try physical goods and in some cases even carry them away themselves.   Shopping is now the world's greatest recreational experience. But carry-away is generally restricted to specialty food and clothing, as delivery drones will usually get cumbersome or regularly purchased goods home faster, usually after the reorder-recycle system has already disposed of the previous model.

The present annual retail orgy is not limited to those areas of World culture that are centres for the recent Christian religious revival.  Neo-pagans worship the ancient spirits of the European mid-winter festival too.

Religion went into something of a decline during the years of The Great Famine but now the desert is blooming under the rain of economic recovery.  People are once again searching for meaning, beyond their personal survival.  The blooms are manifold.  The Abrahamic religions remain as influential and as competitive as ever.  The many factions compete to undermine each other and attempt to mobilise the faithful in their strategies.  Monotheistic Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, a dozen Protestant faiths as well as the several branches of Islam and Judaism all attempt to recruit souls from each other and convert them from the many Eastern religions and gods that have seduced so many away previously.  

But the largest and fastest growing faith is neo-Paganism. This is a return to pre-Christian European religion that once dominated the whole of Northern Europe at the beginning of the present interglacial, as agriculture and fixed settlement replaced nomadic hunting.  People are attracted to its mysticism and magic to herbs and crystals and essential oils; to chants and rituals and to forest bonfires on cold nights and to bodily pampering and naturally, to sex.  Neo-Paganism has absorbed Epicurean and Bacchanalian elements. It eschews the concept of abstinence or the nobility of poverty.  It embraces luxury and conspicuous consumption.  So the mid-winter festival is recruitment time for one and all.

This year is the 'greatest opportunity ever' for the World's religions to offer gift certificates, once known as Christmas cards, in the competition for a greater share of the souls of all the 'men and women of the World'. 
 

 

Bianca stopped reading.  William shared her distain for Bogan consumerism but Grads still needed to have clothes, preferring quality garments that last more than a few weeks, and her recent shopping trip with Margery had been anything than straight forward.  Yet Margery was right.  She probably did need a business suit if she's to fit in with the other Grads in her Division who are mostly in the policy area.  At the moment she still dresses like a student or perhaps a developer.

But William is right there. No Bogan would want to be see dead in either of her unfashionable 'Grad's uniforms'.

This started her thinking about today's class differences. 

During the first part of the twenty-first century food was so readily available in some countries that obesity became a serious social problem particularly among the lowest socio-economic classes. Similarly basic clothing was inexpensive and readily available to all.  In the higher echelons people were careful to moderate their calorie intake and to seek quality rather than quantity when it came to food and clothes.  The parallel today is housing and material goods.  Housing 'obesity', together with the rapid consumption of material things, runs rampant in the suburbs of our cities, encouraged of course by government that sees ongoing economic growth, in the face of declining population, as the key to maximising happiness and thus, social stability.

Of course everyone, including Grads, has more living space now than before the Famine.  Those high-rise apartments that remain are usually the homes of Busies or Grads. Now they generally occupy a space that may once have been several apartments and have fittings and fixtures of lasting quality.  But most Bogans find the space afforded by an entire floor of an apartment block far too small.  And why on earth would anyone want to keep the same kitchens or bathrooms or any room for more than six months?  It's unhygienic.  That's why you need two plus six.  A spare kitchen is essential when the other is under renovation and you need at least one working toilet per adult and a couple for guests to 'barbies' and other parties.

Bianca is an only child and has been brought up in a Grad household like a small adult. Her family has direct links to the technocracy responsible for The Cloud.   She has spent a great deal of her life learning this or that and has never had the endless hours to hang-out with other kids as Bogans do.  She has a nagging feeling that her 'people skills' are lacking and that somehow she has missed out an aspect of life enjoyed by others:  'All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl' she had read somewhere. This has left her fascinated by the Bogan class.  So much so that like Shakespeare's Henry V, who disguised himself as a commoner to walk among his soldiers before battle, she recently dressed and make-up like a Bogan to 'hang out' at a mega-shopping-mall to learn to how the other 99.9% live. 

It's not as easy as it sounds.  Bogan fashions change hourly and anyone in week old garments is immediately spotted for ridicule.  It also takes preparation to apply realistic fake tattoos, studs and piercings.  She can't fake the latest hair style so she's had wear a wig to work for the past month while her 'hair disaster' grew out.

It was very interesting.  Someone called Zaire was telling her friends about Grads, like her.

"…but the worst thing about them is their personal grooming.  They let their hair grow naturally for months on end then do nothing but trim it! I mean ALL their hair.  And they have exposed areas of naked skin with no tattoos or studs or other adornments at all - disgusting." They all gasped in unison.

Her friend Willow told them a joke:

"Where can you hide a credit voucher from a Grad?"

Tiger-lily didn't know.

"Under their beauty therapist's skin lotion!" They all laughed 'til they cried. 

When she could speak again Zaire started them laughing all over again by saying: "Most of them don't even know what a beauty therapist is!"

Willow became confidential:

"Ayla told me that Luna said that they can scan those lines of words on things with their eyes and silently 'read' them themselves - without using their VPA.  She said you can't talk to them - they have strange interests and often speak gobbledygook or techie.  If you ask them what they just said because they slipped in one of their strange words, they'll go on for the next two minutes - by which time you've forgotten what it was about in the first place."

They all laughed again.

"Anyway she said it's never anything interesting.  They haven't a clue about the latest score, in any game at all, or which celebrity is sleeping with another ones partner. And they know nothing about fashion or the latest model of antyhing."

At this point their eyes just went up towards the over-hanging plants in the eco-mall-hall and their hands folded out like little wings from their shoulders.  Grads were beyond the Pale

Bianca returned to William's essay.  "In between these extremes is the business class, known as the Busies," she read.

…They are usually following a family tradition and are usually once Bogans who have moved into business but they can also be entrepreneurial Grads who invented something.

This entrepreneurial, financial and technical services class includes tradespeople and artisans people with specific expertise.  These are people who see the Bogans as a market to be exploited but share some or their characteristics.  Most have advanced reading abilities specific to their expertise.  For example, architects can read tables and engineering drawings but they usually rely on their VPA for everything else.  Now that most production and management is carried out by Bots and Avatars hosted in The Cloud this group has shrunk to maybe one or two in a hundred of the World population.

There are three level of government: World, Continental and Local.  The money supply - overall credit - is managed at a World level via the central financial authority.  But credit is actually created by private credit providers, once called banks, which abound to support the Busies by advancing repayable credit, or loans, underwritten by the central authority. 

Compared to the government sector prior to the Famine when there were separate countries, some of them comparatively small, the public sector is now miniscule.  Similarly, even the largest corporations have very small head offices.  As a result most high rise offices towers have been demolished, leaving those that remain standing in spacious parklands.

City planners now talk of 'urban smear' in which a decreasing population is spread more thinly over relatively large conurbations.  This is made possible by continually improving transport, particularly private aircraft and very high speed land vehicles, and of course the ubiquitous Cloud, enabling virtual visits between friends and business associates anywhere, worldwide.  The Cloud also hosts our helpful Professional Avatars, computer created virtual entities having expertise in various fields such as engineering, medicine or law.

Since the recovery, everything like this is managed by 'computers' (virtual machines) or 'algorithms' hosted in The Cloud.  Computers manage things like the factories; food or fibre production; recycling; minerals extraction; and energy supply.  Market economics is largely restricted to the consumer goods, services and IT sectors.   Services like sport and recreation, religion, entertainment, games, personal grooming and so on is by far the largest part of the economy and employs the vast bulk of the workforce.

Manufacturing is no longer a significant employer. 'China Works' are all fully automated.  The manufacturing plants are robotic and hazardous to humans and cannot be entered.  Products, usually conceived of and requested by Busies, are managed, designed and continuously improved and innovated by entities called bots or 'industrial design avatars' within The Cloud

Competitive pressure to improve technology and bring down costs in the virtual space is maintained by a sort of computer game that pits a variety of virtual suppliers against each other on price, functionality and quality.  Suppliers compete for their very existence attempting to capture more credit to purchase CPU time and functional memory within the China Works sector.  New competitors are continually launched by self-evolving functions and try to capture a share of the resources from the dominant paradigm.  Most fail to survive but if one is more successful than the dominant paradigm it becomes dominant in turn.  Dominant paradigms are prohibited by design from using nonmarket methods like collusion; restrictive customer contracts; or suppressing new entrants; to compete.

Similarly ESSRRPs, ecologically sustainable scientifically run rural production businesses, otherwise known as the FFF's, food and fibre factories are located on a Regional and Continental basis and competitively supply all foods to all markets year-round so that most foods are always in season.

Hunting wild animals or fish or taking plants from a wilderness can result in banishment, society's most extreme legal sanction.  All commercial farming must take place within the ESSRRP's.

Large parts of the continents of Africa, South America, Asia and Australasia and most of the oceans have been restored to wilderness and cannot be accessed without permission.  Since the Great Famine, and the restoration of World Social Order and the Modified Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our laws have been based on the Utilitarian Principle derived from these that: "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong".  This is The Golden Algorithm.

All law is dispensed, uniformly across the world and for all classes of person, without prejudice, by Court Computers using The Golden Algorithm.  The Algorithm calculates the greatest happiness of the greatest number and dictates correctional measures if the harm done by a miscreant exceeds the current societal benchmark (SB), calculated to be consistent with social harmony.

The old concepts of jail, corporal and capital punishment have been abandoned.  Crime is treated as a social disease.  Perpetrators are no longer kept together as this has been found to result in cross infection and delayed recovery.  There is no particular sentence or term of confinement for a criminal offence.  Miscreants are treated until they are determined to be cured of their antisocial behaviour.  Treatment takes place at their principal place of residence or a similar dwelling acquired by the Court for the purpose and consists of social sensitivity reconditioning and other treatments, such as chemical castration or brain modification, specific to their illness.

As they recover they are initially allowed day release, leading to full freedom, sometimes with a radio identification 'chip' to continuously locate them, as their illness abates. 

Petty crimes, like hooliganism, are heard by local Courts but there is an appeal mechanism, in case there has been a human error, to Regional Courts.  These also handle more serious crime.  Obviously the Court Computers themselves are virtual entities within The Cloud and don't err in what is after all, a straightforward social impact calculation.

Very serious crimes where the culprits causing harm fail to respond to correction, or relapse and are determined to be permanently antisocial, be it through some quirk of genetics or circumstance, are referred up to the Supreme Computer.  Those who are clearly determined to reject society are likely to be banished from it.

Banishment means being cast into a very remote, extreme wilderness totally naked, with no products of the society they have rejected, for example no VPA or tools or clothing or materials or shelter of any kind.  Most people sentenced to banishment choose VE instead.

This novel treatment of crime has had its biggest impact in the area of addiction that was once the principal driver of petty crime, as the addicted were driven to crime to pay for their next hit.  Obviously there is no longer the same concern should addiction lead to an overdose or suicide as there was before the Famine.  Suicide of unhappy people is now to be encouraged.

The test is how many people are made miserable against how much enjoyment the addicted person may have experienced prior to dying.  This was actually the implicit societal test already used before the Famine.  Some addictive substances such as: alcohol; tobacco; prescription drugs; tea, coffee and corn syrup; and practices such as: gambling; excessive exercise as promoted by gyms; and of course pornography and sex; were democratically permitted, as they were enjoyed by many more people than were perceived to be harmed.

Yet some substances were classified as illegal drugs and some practices, that harmed no one but the user, were prohibited.  This led to black-markets; criminal gangs; and addicts driven to crime.  Such prohibitions no longer exist.

Of course some sanctions still do exist based on The Golden Algorithm.   The police Avatars hosted in The Cloud and their robot enforcers will take action if the unhappiness caused by a third party, promoting a particular drug or practice, exceeds the apparent pleasure that the addicted are deriving from that drug or practice.  For example, forcing someone to do something against their will invites immediate investigation by the Police and the local Court.  Is this enforcement intended to be, and likely to result in, the person's or society's greater net happiness in future?  Children up to the age of sixteen are protected from seduction and their guardians are excluded from the prohibition on enforcement provided it is permissible within the terms of their child rearing licence.

The Golden Algorithm applies to all entities hosted within The Cloud, including factories, architecture and construction bots, energy collection, recycling and so no.  This ensures that seriously injurious foods and drugs are no longer manufactured; unhealthy lifestyle choices are discouraged; and the population is uniformly healthier and fitter than they have ever been in recorded history.

The Cloud is worldwide and overseen by the tiny bureaucracy supporting the elected parliamentarians of the World government. 

 

As she reached the end Bianca decided that the essay was not without merit.  She particularly liked William's grasp of the competition engine that was now a feature of governance within The Cloud but calling it 'a game' was inappropriate. 

Its a bit disjointed here and there and he needed to make it more clear that it was essential that Bogans were supplied with a continuing stream of innovative new goods and services at lower and lower real prices.  It's accepted wisdom that the economy needs to grow in the face of rapidly declining population.  Thus Bogans need to have incentive to use 'it' once and then look around for a better one.  With close to 100% recycling of their discards it all comes back to energy consumption.  There's now plenty of that with modern solar-accumulators and fusion.  The human economy is now dedicated to getting through available energy resources at ever grater rates.  Accelerated entropy.  Dispersing local points of high energy and helping the Universe cool faster.

A paragraph or two on energy would be a good enhancement. 

And although he's mentioned the demise of medicine and the law and the recovery of religion, he hasn't mentioned the other great employers of the past.  But he's young and wouldn't remember diplomats or the military professions or their supporting arms industries.  No young person these days had ever seen a weapon outside of a museum.

 

 


Chapter 3 - Christmas

 

 

 

Margery's age is obscure; she's maybe twenty years older than Bianca who's almost twenty-two.  She has a somewhat angular face with a long straight nose and a good figure.  She looks fit and is always impeccably groomed, with lustrous dark, shoulder straight hair cut off in line with her collar bone. She has a preference for scarlet lipstick and coal-black suits over thin silk blouses and silk camisoles under which she seldom wears a brassiere.  Men obviously find her attractive.

This is Bianca's first real job after university and although she's not formally Bianca's supervisor Margery has been 'showing her the ropes'; taking the new girl, Bianca, under her wing.  For her part Bianca is aware that she is no longer in the familiar predictable world of family and scholarship. Like Bilbo Baggins she has left The Shire.  Now she is out in the big bad world of business, politics, complex personal interactions and hidden motivations. What better guide and instructor than Margery could there be?

Margery's Curriculum Vitae says that she's a top representative in Information Technology Marketing, having represented some of the biggest names in the industry.  And that she has both private and government experience.  All certainly true, she's well known 'around the traps' with a reputation as someone who shouldn't be crossed. 

Bianca has already been warned against Margery twice: once by women who followed her into the toilet and spoke in an urgent whisper and then by a man from another Division, who came and sat next to her in the coffee shop and acted like a secret agent from an old movie.

After that, Bianca decided to ask around a little and make a brief search in The Cloud. Several people were reluctant to talk about Margery, one of whom dismissed her as 'that witch'.  Others spoke of her abilities in glowing terms. It does seem that some of the detail in Margery's resume may be stretching the truth a little.  Is she really a Grad? Can she write code? How well can she read or write without her VPA?

Bianca was told that if you tried to test Margery on any of these points she would go on the attack, questioning the interrogator's right or she'd flee, having something urgent to attend to immediately.  Bianca has discovered that Margery is a self-made success who has worked her way into the world of Grads and Busies by unusual means and has consequently left a few enemies along the way.

Nevertheless Margery is certainly a driving force in getting these things done.  People will put themselves out for her.  And in Margery's world, having someone to do something is the same as doing it one's self.  It's not as if code writing or designing something is like painting a picture or writing poetry.  Bianca now knows a lot more about Margery than Margery would be comfortable with and is reserving judgement on all that.  And Margery has been nothing but helpful and charming to her.

This morning she's been advising Bianca on 'power dressing' and suggested that they go to Bergeroff Goodman during their lunch break to get Bianca something more appropriate to wear to the office. 

***

While Bianca was away Margery amused herself by trying on French knickers of the style she likes to wear, loose around the crotch with wide floppy legs.   The silk ones were all so nice that she ended up taking several pairs.  Her VPA, Circe, was left to sort out the necessary credit transfer with the store.  This would take several microseconds as is obviously the case with any store that Margery takes goods from.  It occurred to Margery that at one time she might have had to do this negotiation herself and carry tokens or paper promissory notes once called 'money'.  Circe, keeps a close watch on her credit as Margery likes expensive stores and is inclined to take away pretty things that take her fancy that may exceed her means.

When Bianca reappeared, excited to recount her adventure at Jackie O's she was jealous.  She would love to have seen the society woman's apartment and picked up some clues about how the upper crust lived.

Then the girl had told her about her silly air-toilet idea and she'd automatically poo-pooed it.  But Bianca had defended her idea, saying that the perfect App was one that married a need, to a way of satisfying that need; when neither party was previously aware of, or had the means of, satisfying the other. 

She viewed Bianca as her disciple so any idea that Bianca had was obviously inspired by her mentor.  She started to warm to her idea.  So she relented and said that if Bianca really wanted to waste her time on it she should not try to code it herself but hire a professional developer. 

Bianca foolishly claimed that she was perfectly capable of writing the code - as if she could.  But the truth had come out when Bianca kept rejecting the expensive suits at Bergeroff Goodman.  It was obvious that she hadn't the credit to hire someone who could do it properly.

"You don't have to pay for someone just to write code," Margery had insisted.  "Who's the best of those strange developer creatures on Level 20?"

Bianca said that was easy: "Mohandas is the best developer and a nice young man.  He has a very interesting background." She started to explain that he'd been named after Ghandi, a man who'd been revered in India before the Great Famine.  And this Mohandas was said to be an Indian Prince, the son of a maharaja from the old area of Rajasthan; and in what used to be India, where maharajas are gods to their remaining subjects.

"Let's go to their Christmas party on Wednesday and I'll show you how to have your little Prince do it free," Margery interrupted.

Bianca was equivocal.  She would prefer to try and write it herself because anything Mohandas wrote would legally belong to the company, whereas she wasn't employed as a developer.

But now Margery was determined to teach her something.  The more Bianca resisted the more Margery insisted.  Like that 'assertive' woman in the old vidi: Devil Wears Prada, she was grooming Bianca to follow in her footsteps.  Margery apparently needed a younger woman to look up to her to admire her evident superiority and to take her lead. 

The moment Bianca arrived in the enterprise to start her first real job two months ago Margery had introduced herself and began trying to mentor her: telling her that she needed to be more assertive; to always pretend to know more than you do; to smile knowingly and flounce away rather than give an answer you are unsure of; to power dress - in up-market designer brands; never to admit to getting a bargain when it comes to clothes or accessories; and so on. 

"It's OK to use subtle 'enhancement' surgery like nose or boob jobs," she'd told her.  "It's still 'sort of legal' provided it won't extend your life.  Do you like mine?  No bra."  She took off her jacket and twirled.  Bianca could see the impression of her nipples through the fine silk of her creamy camisole.  "Bogans do it all the time.  None of them look vaguely like they did a year ago.  I know a clinic.  But never make a body modification that makes you look submissive, like wearing a nose ring; or having a tattoo of a man's name.  Men need to be kept in awe of you."

Now she was going to the Developers' party, whether Bianca was coming or not.  So Bianca had decided to go too, just to keep an eye on her.

***

"Watch this carefully," Margery told Bianca, as she shed her knickers in the Ladies toilet before the party.  "This is why you should always wear stockings and a garter belt under a skirt - never wear pantyhose. And I always call it my garter belt never suspenders. That sounds too cheap. My underwear is always luxurious."

"Now, which one is he?"

Minutes later she'd manoeuvred Mohandas to a suitable table and was staring intensely into his eyes asking about coding.  Step two was to take his hand in an expression of admiration of his skills and a sincere desire for his friendship.  Step three to place his hand on her knee under the table.  At that point he would either pull away or go with the flow, depending on his sexual preference and other entanglements.  If he pulled away she'd simply move on through the ranks of developers until she found one who'd play along.

But Mohandas couldn't believe his luck.  Once she'd got him over that hurdle it was time for the gentle wrist pull, past the top of her stocking, all the way up. 

In her mind Margery had passed the third verse of the old song:  'Now it's number three and his hand is on my knee… Roll me over in the clover, lay me down and do it again….' Number four would inevitably follow.

In her heels Margery was nearly a head taller than Mohandas. As they stood Margery demurely straightened her little black party dress that she'd changed into for the occasion. She smoothed it down the front suggestively, smiling across the room, artificially, for Bianca's benefit and saw Bianca's mouth drop open in amazement as she and Mohandas left the party together. 

"This is her first real demonstration of the craft of seduction," Margery thought with pleasure. "She'll give up those dreadful pantyhose for stockings and a sexy garter belt from this evening on."

***

The next day over lunch, Bianca asked what had happened after they left.

"Are you wearing pantyhose?  I won't tell you if you're wearing pantyhose" Margery said.

"No," said Bianca. 

This was not because she was following Margery's lead, as Margery thought, but because she'd never liked them. She seldom wore stockings at all. Her legs, that were not visible to Margery, were bare. 

"I don't believe you."

"Well, I'm not showing you here."

"Then slip down your panties and pass them to me."

"No! Don't be ridiculous."

"Do you want to know or not?"

But it was paramount for a number of reasons that Bianca learn what had transpired last night.  She'd pointed him out to Margery and knew that she had no real interest in him, except as a conquest and a free code writer.  So after an awkward silent standoff between them she made a quick trip to the 'Ladies' and returned with her panties, tied into a compact knot, and handed them over.  Margery was triumphant.

***

"Now that's better isn't it? A bit of air down there is liberating.  You can have them back later - if you still need them."

"OK you've got what you wanted so now tell me what happened," Bianca demanded crossly.

"I took him to The Plaza Grand and made him pay for a suite."

"Is that what I gave you my pants to hear? Then what happened?"

"Then I taught him some things he won't find in the Kama Sutra," she boasted.

Of course she'd being dying to tell someone all morning and who better than Bianca who obviously liked the fellow, perhaps more than 'liked'.  Getting Bianca to shed her knickers to hear what she'd done with him was icing on the cake.

"Where is he today?  He didn't come in," Bianca asked, revealing that she had checked and was concerned.

"I'm afraid he won't be in for some time.  I haven't finished teaching him some new skills and I've got a little coding job for him."

Margery said this as if this was a business deal but smiled to herself at the look of annoyance on Bianca's face.  This was delicious, she was obviously fond of him.

"What sort of coding job?" Bianca asked suspiciously.  She didn't want to know what skills Margery was teaching him.  "Is he still at The Plaza Grand?”

"No he's at home 'sick'.  I've got an idea for an App that I want him to work on.  After that you can have him if you change your mind about needing a developer for your silly idea," she said.

On hearing that he'd gone home Bianca was relieved.  Margery had come to work so it couldn't be too bad. Her conscience was mollified.

"Margery, is he really sick?  I hope you're not employing him to write code.  He's the firm's best developer and he shouldn't work for someone else in breach of his contract.  He could get the sack."

"I'm not paying him so he's not legally working for me.  And he's terribly sick.  Last night he came down with something very infectious," laughed Margery in a most suggestive way.

Bianca sat back. Margery was the real deal.  The thought of Mohandas falling for this older woman who had somehow bewitched him last night was somehow bizarre.  How had she seduced him so fast?

"Why did he leave so suddenly with you like that?" she asked.

Margery was delighted.  She'd been dying to tell Bianca her secret and maybe teach her to follow in her footsteps.  She watched Bianca carefully. Yes!  The girl was jealous. This was going to be a lot of fun.

"I gave him a Christmas present."

Bianca had no idea what she was talking about.  Had she given him her knickers?  And now Margery had hers.  Could she hold them for ransom? 'If you want your panties back do this.' Well they were cotton and quite disposable, not like the silk French knickers Margery wears.  "She can keep them for all I care," she thought.

"Did you lure him to The Plaza Grand with your knickers?" she asked.

"No, of course not.  It takes a lot of training before a man is that Pavlovian.  You know, like the dogs," she added in case Bianca had not heard of Pavlovian conditioning.  "Would you like me to teach Mohandas to sniff after you like a bloodhound?"

Bianca reacted just as she'd hoped.  It was as if she'd hit her with a baseball bat.  The battle of the knickers was already paying dividends.  It was clear that Bianca was now very jealous and worried about what use she might make of her little prize.

Before Bianca could recover she went on: "Oh dear! I do have your knickers in a knot don't I?  A Christmas present is a St Knicker-less surprise."

The woman was being deliberately lewd and in some way it seemed worse coming from the mouth of this older, apparently sophisticated, woman who otherwise might be some child's wealthy mother, sitting in this restaurant in her fine clothes and jewellery in a fog of expensive perfume.  It was the sort of conversation Bianca might expect from a student contemporary who was trying to shock her.  Bianca refused to react. 

But then Margery surprised her by producing a beautifully wrapped parcel from Bergeroff Goodman.  "Merry Christmas," she said.

***

Bianca was amazed.

"Go on, unwrap it," Margery insisted.

Before she had removed the ribbon from the box Bianca had realised what it was.  When she unfolded the tissue paper and saw the beautiful cream silk her heart leapt.  They were not what she would normally have chosen for herself but they were so lovely that she declared that she was going to put them immediately.  She slipped out of her shoes, put her feet through them and pulled them up over her knees.  Then wiggling and leaning forward she hitched them up under her dress, right there in the restaurant as Margery watched her performance, delighted.

They felt wonderfully silky against her skin.  She realised why the French liked the halfway-house of everything loose and breezy down there. 

"Oh thank you Margery," she said and was genuinely grateful.  She kissed her. She felt as if she was in Margery's debt.  Not just because of these very expensive knickers but because she had misunderstood Margery's motives in taking her panties.

"You're welcome," said Margery, "I'll make a real women of you yet."

Lunch was over. 

The restaurant would make the necessary credit adjustments to their accounts in this cashless economy.  They each had committed to pay by the simple act of choosing this place and selecting from the menu. 

 

 


Chapter 4 - Zaire

 

 

 

Zaire's upset.  Her 'friend' Willow has left a message with her VPA to tell her that she looked like a troll with today's haircut.  But what's worse she'd deliberately vidied her in a bad light to make it look gross.  Then she posted it in The Cloud to 3,000 of her most intimate friends.  The girl's a bitch.

She knows the reason.  Willow's been hanging around flirting with Starfighter when she knows perfectly well that he's been her boyfriend for months.

Anyway, what was she saying? Oh yes: "Is everyone going to the concert this evening?  It is Friday."

If she's going she will need to get some Helos.  "The band is fantastic but you have to be high to appreciate them and get into the vibe," she told Tiger-lily.

There are huge numbers of concerts featuring what to a non-Bogan seems to be a bewildering range of music styles.  These come and go and are revived.  But like clothes and hairstyles it's social death to be a fan of an old one for too long.

Most require their fans to be on drugs to fully appreciate them.

Synthetic drugs are very popular but are not strictly legal.  Provided they pass the 'pill tests' that venue owners and concert promoters apply to avoid serious injury, no one will stop you.  Like total body scanning toilets and other dubious or semi-legal goods, they are manufactured in mysterious places by entrepreneurial Busies making fast credit. 

Law enforcement bots within The Cloud obviously have no difficulty finding the culprits and will occasionally prosecute them.  But it's a grey area.  The goal of the law is to maximise global happiness so that the harm that might be done by a published law being broken is balanced against the enjoyment people seem to derive from breaking that law.  The law's existence simply provides grounds for prosecution when the happiness equation yields a negative result.

Thus under The Golden Algorithm the harm caused by a few people becoming unwillingly addicted is a small price to pay for the enjoyment so many get from the drugs and the thrill they derive from breaking the published law. 

The illicit manufacturers know that they will be arrested very rapidly if someone gets killed and as a consequence their loved ones and associates are made extremely unhappy.  So they take great care with their formulations. 

Similarly, illicit data collection mechanisms optimise the personalisation of goods and services to the great mass of the population.  So they are tolerated, as long as the happiness they deliver outweighs the harm.

***

Zaire goes to work for a full twenty hour week and loves it.  She gets good credit and likes to shop 'til she drops.  She's just returned from overseas and that's when Willow made the move on her boyfriend.

Her job is organising media relations for a company selling travel services.     

At her job interview, the panel was amazed when a Bogan girl announced that: "Product differentiation is essential to success.  Resorts all need to have a point of distinction and they all rely on advertising."

They really wanted to hire a Grad, like themselves. HR had put her in because of the employment equity policy.  The panel members were suspicious that her answer was something that she had learned by rote. But who might have coached her?   In the end the other candidates had no concept of what a Bogan resort could be like, whereas Zaire had been to over a dozen with her family and could even describe their relative profitability and how one was better managed than the rest.

So they called her back and asked her what she knew about 'economics', thinking that she wouldn't know what they were talking about.

"Oh I'm not a brainiac. So I have a favourite site that simplifies the concepts for me. It's called The Economist," she announced.

She then went on to explain that recreational services were a large part of the post-Famine world economy.   Almost everyone will visit a Bogan resort at some time and many spend much of their life going from one resort to another. But this depends on advertising and it depends on the World's second largest economic sector Entertainment.  For example product placement in the plethora of celebrity chat shoes that pass as news, the many elimination shows from cooking to fashion to dating, reality and talent shows and of course over five thousand sporting codes, each with their own fan base and sports site on MV.

"So what's the biggest economic sector?" one asked suspiciously, still disbelieving that a Bogan would know such things unless coached to recite these passages for the interview.

"That's easy," Zaire replied. "Recycling.  It encompasses the processing of our garbage and all those things we no longer want because they are out of fashion.  But many people don't realise that all those old towns and city buildings that are demolished are also recycled, the land remediated and often returned to wilderness."

"Anything else?"

"Well obviously cadavers and weapons were a big challenge during and after the Famine.  But now much of that recycling effort can be directed to old garbage tips; and so on; that can be mined for useful materials.  It's interesting what they just buried when they could mine new stuff without a non-renewable penalty isn't it?"

"We're amazed that you have been interested enough to find out," said another.  Isn't that a bit odd for a Bogan?"

"I suppose I am a bit odd compared to my friends.  It's just that I'm curious about the world; like how do things work and what motivates people.  It's all there in The Cloud, you don't have to be a genius or anything to find out."

"You are certainly a well-informed young woman," said the third, smiling. "And as an attractive physical appearance is a required job criterion, I can safely say, beautiful too."  They were all smiling.

She got the job.

***

Now Zaire gets to go to lots of new places and stay in six star hotels with the hosts of MV travel shows.  Hotels and resorts love the company she works for because they can pull in the media and the media hosts love the hotels and resorts that the company represents. 

Everyone seems to love everyone.

Well that's not quite true; many 'personalities' are hard to deal with and almost all demand or expect additional favours. 

If all they want is little bit of extra credit it's easy but some might want to meet a celebrity; want drugs; or a favour of a more intimate kind.  She has been learning to listen to the hints they drop and to what others say about their preferences.

Zaire has been doing well because until now she's has a sixth sense about what favour which one wants.  She's become very good at hunting down the appropriate person, place or thing to satisfy all concerned and thus ensure a glowing MV endorsement for the client hotel, resort or attraction.

But now the concert will have to wait.  Her boss has called.  Zaire's made a terrible mistake.  She misunderstood the intentions and sexual preferences of Aden Hitch, the male anchor of the top rating morning MV show. 

At the Command Resort, Phuket she arranged for a 'lady-boy' to go to his suite as a special favour.  But what her boss tells her is he'd actually been demanding, in a round-about way was that she do the honours. 

This was a common demand.  If she'd realised that was the favour he wanted she would have handled it in her usual way. 

"It's like diverting a toddler who is determined to get his hands on fragile figurine," she told Willow.  "All you have to do is dangle something less breakable and more colourful.  There is always a more attractive toy around, if only because it’s more easily available."

Then she'd thought: "Maybe Willow would like to meet a famous media person?"

But this favour was poorly chosen and the distraction would go unnoticed.  He'd apparently had a bit to drink and probably a Helo or two.  In the dimmed lighting it took longer than usual to discover the difference.  He told Zaire's boss that he had not wanted any favour.  And to have this one foist on him was a huge insult to his manhood.  He told her that the Resort was going to suffer his acid tongue on Monday morning unless that girl is gone.

She has just over two days and needs help and fast.  Think! The lady-boy reminded her of that Grad girl they'd been 'winding up' at the Mall. 

"For all her supposed brains and sophistication, she imagined that she looked like a normal person.  She was like a scarecrow in that ridiculous week old outfit and fake tattoos."

Then she thought:

"There are so few Grads in town I bet I could find her in The Cloud.  We all vidied her, she was so funny."

***

If there is one thing Bogan girls can do from the time they can use a screen: it's find a new friend in The Cloud.  It took Zaire less than half an hour to identify and locate Bianca.  As she suspected Bianca lived in that old part of town where ugly old buildings had actually been renovated rather than demolished and built afresh.  Grads liked these places for some inexplicable reason. She'd never been in one but she'd been told that they are 'furnished' with old stuff, some of it many years old, like handmade rugs from before the Famine, and many get by with less than a hundred and fifty square metres of living space per person. 

Since the Famine the houses and apartment blocks are more spread out as a result of demolitions and are now set in parkland. There are still frequent subway stations, particularly in the inner city. The pre-famine subway network has of course been upgraded and the express lines are a lot faster.  But because most time is still spent in the stations, catching the local train with all the stopping and starting can still be tiresome, despite the same personalised on-board entertainment and local climate control at each seat. 

Zaire consulted her VPA, Pip, who told her the fastest route would be express subway for the first 35 kilometres, taking about 10 minutes, then change to a local, another 10 minutes just for the transfer and to go the final five kilometres to Bianca's stop, then another 10 minutes’ walk through a park. 

Some people still preferred a road vehicle but Zaire is not sure why.  Like the subways, the roads are excellent because of the priority for local government consumption spending on infrastructure but almost all vehicles are robotic and driverless and dedicated to goods delivery.  Negotiating a path through them requires some sophisticated navigation by your vehicle's computer and around the city taking manual control is incredibly dangerous and prohibited.  In the city all parking is hidden, usually underground, and it's mostly limited to residents and their guests. Public parking stations might be a kilometre from your destination.  Then there is the weather, it might pour down, and then everything has to slow to less than the standard highway lower limit of 200 km/hr, which at least breaks the monotony of travelling among trucks between sound walls for kilometres on end. 

Although she has bought many and keeps them for a few months until a more fashionable model becomes available, Zaire seldom uses her ground car to go to the city because she usually finds that sitting in a quiet, comfortable subway carriage with a few dozen other passengers for 20 minutes much to be preferred and it avoids those depressing underground car-parks and the higher expenditure of credit involved for casual parking at some distant car-park. Needless to say it’s not possible to manually stop or park on a carriageway anywhere in an urban area.

The alternative is her own hover-fliver or to take a hover-cab.  But they're slow by comparison to the subway or driving and she would have to contact Bianca to get permission to use her landing pad, assuming she even has one. 

So obviously Zaire would accept Pip's advice and take the subway. 

When she arrived Pip directed her thought the park. It was all up and down with winding paths. This was more like a forest than a park. It seemed to be almost wild until she saw a robotic gardener mowing a grass area.  Zaire was horrified.  Gardening is one of many well paid Bogan professions, like hairdressing.  Many take great pride in the placement of every leaf and petal in large ornamental gardens that regularly change shape and have huge changing displays of different seasonal blooms.  Then she decided that this part of town is so alien to Bogans that no one would want to work here, where would they shop?

Some plants looked like they had been here since the Famine. Then she saw a person with an old digging implement.  They, she couldn't determine the sex from the clothes or the disreputable straw hat, were dressed like a tramp. Could this be a gardener with no personal pride who was somehow unaware of the latest fashion in gardening clothes?

The tramp digging in the forest was not the weirdest thing.  When she emerged from the 'park' she saw people in the street wearing ancient clothes in strange fabrics of no discernable design, generally of just one or two colours or even grey. Don't they know that this week's style would make Elizabethans look drab?  But by far the weirdest thing was the old buildings, some of them many stories high.  She knew about them of course, but that didn't fully prepare her for the reality that people actually lived in these places.  It must be amazingly unhygienic to be surrounded by all this old stuff.

Bianca apparently lived in one of the towers.  It was then that Zaire realised what the '20A' before her address must mean. Extraordinary!

 

 


Chapter 5 - Earthly Delights

 

 

 

As Margery had told Bianca, that night in the suite at The Plaza Grand Mohandas had experienced things that he hadn't read about in the Kama Sutra.  This wasn't surprising as he's never read it.   He'd never been with an older woman. Yet Kat, as Margery had called herself, had been amazingly sexually aggressive, taking the lead.  He was used to twenty-something women who, in his culture, were or pretended to be shy - mildly flirtatious at best. 

Between bouts of athletic sex, followed by both falling back to recover, he'd claimed to be the best developer and code-smith on the team.  When she doubted him he said he could prove it.  Then she said she an idea that would test his skills.  And he said: "just show it to me, I'll do it now."

"OK I'll show you.  But it might take you hours, or days, even if you're as good as you claim," she said.  "You'd have to take time off, what about a sickie tomorrow?"

That was when he agreed to call in sick and spend the day proving how good he was at writing code. 

After that they went at it again and he sort of forgot about it. Kat was quite different to the only other girl that he had been intimate with.  This was a real woman.  He found that he particularly liked her luxuriant pubic bush, which seemed so mature.

"There's nothing as unnatural as a hairless pussy," she told him smiling.  "That's why I don't shave. It's unnatural.  I'm a hairy Kat, as nature made me."

"It's lovely," he'd said, running his fingers through the silky forest in wonder, 'hirsute' he remembered the word.  He'd never experienced a real woman like this so intimately.  "Her suit - suits her," he thought to himself, smiling.

"Would you like to play with Kat's pussy again tonight?" she asked flirtatiously; seeing his smile. 

She was suggesting that she would be happy to see him again after work. He felt a thrill run through his body. He'd feared that this had been a one-night stand.

"Yes of course," he said, not believing his luck.  He was already thinking about sending flowers to her at work.  He gave her his home address.

But after she'd showered and was getting dressed she seemed hesitant; concerned. 

"I don't want you to risk your job over staying home sick to write code for me."

He'd completely forgotten his challenge and having agreed to take the day off to prove himself. 

"So I'll only come if I can visit your apartment completely unseen, perhaps using the rear entrance tonight?" Kat said as she let him zip up her black party dress, pleased at his fumbles.

He was yet to shower and was still naked.  His growing excitement at the prospect was all too evident.  Her now tightly encased bottom caressed his erection, underlining the double entendre.

"So that will be your first test. I need you to use your vaunted uber-skills to make some sort of 'widget' that will let me come and then leave undetected,"  she said flirtatiously, turning and kissing him.

"If you can finish my widget before I leave work today I'll visit you at home tonight.  Now I have to go home and change for work. Perhaps I'll see you later?"  With that she opened the door and disappeared.

It was still early.  He had an idea for a perfect widget. He had a quick shower; made some initial design notes; placed some orders; got dressed; went down and checked out; then dropped in on an antique store on his way home. 

***

When Margery got back late from her enjoyable lunch with Bianca there in her in-tray was a small parcel marked to the attention of Kat.  The mail robot had long ago been instructed that 'Kat' was Margery's pet name for friends and family and to direct anything labelled 'Kat', particularly flowers or chocolates, to her.

Mohandas was proving to be well chosen in many ways.  She had to give that much credit to Bianca.  The parcel contained a gold ladies' powder compact with a fold up mirror.  A loose piece of paper inside, over the powder puff, said: ‘Press Here - when the mirror glows green - it's safe to enter’.  She had her VPA, Circe, confirm this to be sure.  Her reading can be a little unreliable at times.

***

That evening she tried her new widget out and it was brilliant.  It unlocked the fire doors and his back door was unlocked too.  As she entered she whispered her concern about possible cameras out there. But he laughed proudly and assured her that her widget had all that in hand. The cameras and body heat sensors; as well as the ultrasonic and microwave motion detectors had all been disabled.

She was dressed for the occasion. She shed her jacket revealing her thin silk light peach coloured blouse over her otherwise bare breasts. Unlike her party dress last night, her charcoal silk skirt was full and she did a little spin so that it flew up Marylyn style so that he caught a glimpse of suspenders. Then she stopped and smiled coquettishly as it wrapped itself around her.

"Now let me have a look at you," she said, undoing Mohandas' shirt buttons and pulling the cream fabric free of his pants to reveal his fit brown torso beneath.  Then she stepped back exclaimed: "Oh yes, I wasn't imagining it! Very nice! And thank you so much for my widget. You are as smart as you claimed!" 

She embraced him and her by now redolent perfume enveloped him. Despite his early morning shower he'd been smelling her on his hands and arms all day. She felt his excitement growing and gave his bulging trousers a nice rub.  He was an easy one.  Margery knew he would be entirely Kat's to do with as she liked before her alter-ego had finished with him.

Margery was impressed by his apartment and a wave of jealousy swept over her.  Here was old money.  The apartment occupied a full floor of a multistorey block and had balconies on three sides overlooking the surrounding parkland.  It was sumptuously decorated in the style of a maharajah's palace, with bronze statues of multi-armed gods and goddesses in niches.  The floors were polished hardwood partly covered with hand-woven rugs and the furnishings were low settees and some very large cushions. 

There was a separate scented air zoned Multidimensional video viewing room with 3D screens on all four walls and full surround audio to recreate any virtual environment.  Wearing a haptic body stocking she saw that it had wonderful potential for reliving some of her more erotic recordings from Kat's past conquests.  She imagined leaving Mohandas tied-up in his bedroom while she came in here and enjoyed herself.   And tonight she would have some new recordings to add to her collection.

The kitchen was also large and well equipped but it was obvious that most of his meals came pre-cooked delivered into the servery by drone.  There were several toilets but only two bathrooms, one opening off his bedroom and one off the large guest bedroom that seemed to be seldom used, perhaps by visiting relatives?  One of the biggest rooms in this vast apartment was his dedicated workroom where the air was filtered.  There were several large screens above a long bench on one wall and opposite there was another bench with various incomprehensible pieces of equipment, several housed in their own cabinets.  This must be where he'd designed and assembled her widget. 

Mohandas was very proud of this room and went on about its technical features enthusiastically.  The only part of this she understood was how he could scoot around the room on his old fashioned work chair over the glistening hardwood floor.  And that was only because he gave her a demonstration. 

***

He'd saved his greatest pride to last. It's his private art gallery at the heart of the apartment, a central space behind the lift-well with no natural lighting.  He opened the wide doors at one end to reveal a long room with a thick dark red carpet beautifully papered in subtly striped red silk a shade lighter. The entire ceiling glowed with a soft sunrise light, casting no shadows, yet could be raised to a pure white light centred on a particular painting simply by walking in front of it.  Rather incongruously in an Indian themed apartment, it was hung with European oil paintings. The largest of these, with all three panels it's big, over two metres high and nearly four metres wide, was on the far wall: Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.

 

The Garden of Earthly Delights by BoschPublic domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

Margery gasped. She was like a sailor unexpectedly confronted with a blow-up of a habitual illicit pin-up.  As a teenager she would unfold her ancient paper print of The Garden of Earthly Delights and view it as the sailor might, under the covers.  Now here was the actual work.  Naked Marilyn Munroe writ large.  When she went up close it was evidently genuine, down to the texture of the finest brush strokes.  But surely it should be in the Prado in Madrid?

Her love for The Garden of Earthly Delights is visceral.  There's a delicious progress from left to right.  The thought of Kat taking someone on the journey, from one panel to the next, is enough to make her swoon. She imagines leading an innocent out of the idyllic, left Garden; to large central, worldly panel, and the fun of introducing them to each of its erotic debaucheries in turn. Even now, if she's alone and craves arousal, she brings the central panel up on her screen; zooming in on the debauched characters in turn; imagining how her Kat would toy with each of them.  Having, in her imagination, degraded her victims and, like their God, tempted them and led them to sin sufficiently to justify their destruction, Kat casts them into to the satanic dark right-hand panel of weird punishments, biological experiments and fires falling from the sky; a broken clock symbolising eternity. 

Margery looked away, lest the excitement of being so close to her familiar hunting ground 'in the flesh' overwhelmed her.

There were dozens of other apparently genuine paintings to look at, by Klimt and Munch and Balthus and Courbet and Renoir and Matisse and Monet and Manet and Picasso even Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Each too seemed to be the originals. 

Her jealousy mounted.  This was totally unfair. All these famous paintings.  Mohandas must be a billionaire.

Mohandas laughed at her amazement. He found this level of technical naivety odd for someone like her in the industry. Obviously the all necessary data was in the Public Domain and readily available in The Cloud.  He explained that they're all reproductions.  They look so real because their surface and any underlying image is identical to the originals. They have been digitised in 3D from hundreds of images, scanned by archivists using high definition cameras moving side to and top to bottom.  Why taking more than one image was important Margery had no idea, don't you just hold up your hand-held in the gallery?  Then he'd somehow created them in ancient oil paint or something, from the data, using one of his 3D printing thingies. Some technical gobbledygook about extruding multiple threads of different oil colours. But she understood that he'd created their frames too, using a different 3D thingy of which he seemed to have a number.

Apparently he'd also made the Indian miniatures elsewhere in the apartment. 

"I don't care if they are the original or not," he told her, "I have them because I like them, not for their resale value.  And I like a lot of the classics."

Margery decided that he was like an audiophile Kat had once played with. He'd dwelt on 'the classics' too. Margery was still enjoying the fruits of his estate.  Among his vulnerabilities was that he delighted in the exact reproduction of his favourite music, even more than the music itself.  He wanted to be able to close his eyes and actually be in the concert hall.  Kat had suggested that with virtual reality he could be transported there.  It was in this virtual world that Kat had been able to progressively introduce him to the perverse central panel, exposing his vulnerabilities and previously unrealised desires in the process.  The recordings she'd made when Kat had led him to the virtual world of Ken Russell's The Music Lovers were among the most exciting and perverse in her collection.  Like Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky in Russell's film, he'd eventually ended his own life in confusion and in despair.   After fully exploring the depths of his depravity Kat had eventually tired of the game and cast him into the inevitable final degradation: the metaphorical right-hand panel.

***

Margery had been lost during all Mohandas' technical talk but felt better that it was evident that his pictures, although physically identical to the originals, were not very valuable. 

"That's odd isn't it?" she told him, as Kat caressed his torso. "It's like all those exact replicas of Michelangelo's David.  But only the original in Venice is worth much more than the marble and the cost of carving it."  Kat's fingernails were sensuously carving his chest as she spoke.  Then Kat pushed his shirt off his shoulders and it lay, spread out, fleshy, like a cast off skin, on the red carpet.  Now he was her David in cream cotton pants.

After a few subtle questions Margery learnt that he'd been given this apartment by his parents who'd gone to take up royal responsibilities in what had once been the country of India.  His workroom was in what had once been his mother's private sitting room.  And no, he was the younger son and wasn't enormously wealthy.  To make ends meet and to make his changes he'd sold off most of his mother's original artworks, which had once hung in this art gallery. That was when he'd perfected his art copying techniques. Even the Indian bronzes of Ganesh, Parvati, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and so on, were now reproductions of his mother's originals, somehow scanned and then made from real bronze in a great big green boxy thingy with a window, that he proudly took her to see in his services area.

All the credit he'd got from the art sales, and almost everything he earned now, went to buying more equipment for his hobbies: like building the electronics for his flying robots and writing their software.  Again Margery was annoyed.  It didn't seem appropriate that a code writer, thirteen years her junior, should live comfortably in such a palace, invisibly consuming past family assets, when her apartment was much more spartan and down-market. 

Margery determined that Kat should set that right.

***

Mohandas' art collection was an ideal place to begin this subjugation.  So Kat insisted on viewing each piece around the room; all the while clinging to his bare, quite muscular she was pleased to note, arm.

Like her past lover's selection in music, Mohandas' art collection revealed at least one of his weaknesses.  It was a collection that the notorious twentieth century playboy, Hugh Heffner, might have chosen.  Somewhere in this apartment she would find a silk dressing gown and maybe even a tobacco pipe. There may even be a collection of ancient 'Bunny of the Month' centrefolds stored in memory in his viewing room or on his bedroom screen.  She hoped so.

Among the exact reproductions in Mohandas' gallery was Jean-Honoré Fragonard's famous painting of young man fallen before a young woman. He's gazing up her billowing skirt as she comes towards him on a swing, with her white, stocking clad legs in disarray, her most private parts open to his gaze.  Its full title is The Happy Accidents of the Swing. The plural suggests the repetition at each forward swing.

"Why do you have this one?" Kat asked.  "Are you a voyeur?  Does looking up a woman's skirts turn you on?  That's a bit off isn't it?" 

Mohandas didn't know what to say. The way she'd said "a bit off" made him feel perverse, dirty.  Of course he had imagined himself as the fellow in the painting.  Yet he's never been fixated or voyeuristic like his friend Raj, who describes himself as a 'pants man'. Raj likes summer in the gardens when young girls rest, legs apart, on the lawns or hitch up their skirts to sun their legs.  The map of his lunchtime walks with Raj is more Miro than Mondrian, as they wander in circles around a lawn for Raj to get a better view; or make a sudden bee-line towards a distantly glimpsed opportunity, all the while chatting away earnestly about economics as if disinterested.

Once, when stood-up by Raj for lunch, Mohandas had gone to the Gardens alone. There he discovered Raj helping a colleague out of a tree that he'd somehow persuaded her to climb. Mohandas had guessed at an office dalliance. Her loose skirt over his head as she descended into his arms was Raj's idea of getting a room.

To hide his present embarrassment Mohandas quickly began explaining that the painting had political overtones.  The man pushing the swing had once been a bishop but Fragonard had had to change him to a servant.  But Kat was so dismissive of this as a reason to have and 'up-skirt painting' that he quickly moved her on to the next painting.

Now like someone in the twentieth century proudly showing off his new slide projector to the neighbours, he'd accidently left a pornographic slide among the holiday snaps.  The next one was Rembrandt's portrait of his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels: Hendrickje Bathing in a River.  

"Oh yes," Kat exclaimed, delighting in this apparent confirmation of her accusation. "That's more like it isn't it?  Look into the shadow below her bundled skirt and the way it's held in front of her legs and there's an even more intimate view reflected in the stream. But alas for deviants like you, her most interesting reflection is below the bottom of the frame.  You are a real pervert aren't you?  You're more turned on by these up-the-skirt suggestions than by all your nudes with their cunts fully on display aren't you?"

She was being deliberately crude, bumping her hip against him and holding his arm firmly with both hands against her breast as she used that crude word; playing with his mind.  'Pervert' and 'deviant' were obviously not intended to be insults but badges of honour.

Now they were both smiling at the Fragonard.  But now he had accepted the proposition it was time to have him join the club.

"Are you a compulsive voyeur?  I bet you're one of those deviants who choose to sit downstairs in a two level carriage on the platform side, gazing up in delight as women board the train.   Should I check for equipment under the seat when I use your bathroom?  Have you got a camera in a shoe too?  You're one of those perverts who secretly spy on women's toilets and dressing rooms aren't you?" she asked, enjoying his rapidly disappearing smile.

He was totally outraged.  He shook himself free and stared at her, angry and wounded.  How could anyone suggest such a thing?

"I'm just playing with you," Kat told him, smiling. "I find your up-skirt pictures very arousing too. I really do," she added unhelpfully, turning in front of him and taking him in her arms.

Her greater height allowing her to hold him as mother might hold a distressed child.  He was still injured and struggled but she held him until he felt better and was becoming aroused yet again. She felt and smelt so sexy.  Then, looking around ostentatiously, Kat gave him another playful pat or two with her metaphorical paw, claws out just a little:

"I love this blood red room, in the centre of your apartment like this, it's very Freudian.  It's your mother's womb isn't it?  So it must be confusing for you to come in here to enjoy your erotic paintings. I mean on a subconscious level. Can you get off in here?  Or are you blocked by oedipal confusion?"

He was appalled, things were going from bad to worse. What sort of person did she think he was?   He'd never tried to 'get off' in here. These pictures aren't pornographic. They're great art. 

From her observer's perspective Margery was enjoying this cat and mouse game.  Mohandas was a lovely little brown mouse for her Kat's delight.

***

The last blow had hit home. Mohandas realised that she was right about the room, it is alarmingly Freudian. This had been his mother's gallery. So maybe his desire to replace her art with his art is subconscious - evidence of a latent Oedipus complex.  Perhaps his wish to deny his pictures' erotic content is Freudian. He decided that he needed to change the colour scheme, at the very least, but he would never accept that his beloved art collection is pornographic or edit that. 

He was finding the whole gallery experience very disturbing yet at the same time, arousing. Mohandas had always dreamed of sharing his art collection with a responsive woman.  She seemed to be very aroused. He'd been able to feel her firm breast and occasionally her hard nipple against his bare arm through the thin silk of her blouse, as she held him to her while flirtatiously going from painting to painting, particularly pausing and admiring the nudes. Yet by comparing them, in the most lascivious and intimately physical terms, to herself and to women in general, she had repeatedly pointed to a pornographic intent. Each time she drew attention to a 'nice cunt' or 'to a fuckable body' it felt like a blow to his artistic sensibilities and so to a central pillar of his existence, upon which he'd invested thousands of hours of work and a great part of his very being. She had steadfastly refused to treat his paintings with the respect that great art is due.  Instead, their alleged pornographic sexuality was apparently what she'd liked about them. And she was clearly aroused.  He desperately wanted to deny that they were pornographic while at the same time growing more and more excited that her alleged motivation for liking them was pornographic.  He was beginning to deliberately draw her attention to paintings that might arouse her more.

And so he led her to his Balthus.

Mohandas' Balthus reproduction depicts a nude pubescent girl with a cat. The naked girl is uncomfortably posed over a chair with her arm stretched up towards the cat; lying on its side; eyes almost closed; on a high table behind.

 

Balthus 610pxOriginal in the National Gallery of Victoria - Melbourne Australia

 

The effect on her was extraordinary. Kat seemed to be transfixed and she actually began to purr, apparently mimicking the cat. After her initial contemplation she moved behind Mohandas and pressed herself to his back as her arms embraced his chest, rocking him back and forth, rubbing herself on him erotically. Then he felt her hot breath as she began to nibble his ear. He progressively became firmly erect. Her hand had descended and unzipped his pants; freeing his member and taking him in hand.

"Oh yes, this one makes you very hard!  I knew you were deviant but this one is definitely excites you most. You're a latent paedophile!" 

He was so distracted by her sudden blatant sexuality, anticipating taking her here and now, that he was slow to insist that his excitement had nothing to do with the painting.   Yet before he could mumble an explanation her sharp fingernails dug into his member 'til he cried out in pain. And her voice became accusatory:

"Don't you try to deny it!  Look at the cat, even it knows that you are looking lustfully at that girl."

Now Kat's voice was purring in his ear telling him to look at her more closely and indeed with her libidinous commentary the girl did seem increasingly sexy.  But then Kat began to detail his alleged but non-existent desires for younger and younger children in horrifyingly explicit terms. As she spoke he could feel her beginning to tremble with excitement.

Initially he was repulsed by her vile scenarios but as her evident excitement mounted her words seemed increasingly seductive and he began to be aroused with her, becoming hard in her hand again.  Then she suggested what he might do with 'this' and went just too far.

No!  This could not happen!  He shook himself free; took the painting down; and faced it to the wall.  He couldn't look at it anymore.  It was the cat's evil awareness, pretending aloofness but looking out into his now troubled soul.  Both Kats had ruined the painting for him.

"Oh don't do that," Kat cried: "She's so beautiful!  If you don't want her, can I have her?"

In his confusion and anger he picked the frame up and handed it to her like a petulant little boy.

***

When Margery had seen the Balthus she was reminded of her of herself at that age. Her mother is in the background gazing out of a window, waiting for Uncle Ron to arrive.  What a rush of mixed emotions she'd experienced!  After her initial shock she decided to have Kat make Mohandas give her the painting on the spot.  Soon it would be easy for Kat to make him do anything. So this would be an early overture. 

After whispering admiringly that she could see what he, the pervert, liked about this one, the girl was still a child, Kat asked him if a deviant, like he, frequently lusted after children perhaps he hung around school yards?  She whispered some scenarios.  Kat was just starting to have fun, suggesting things that he might do with a little girl or even a little boy, based on Margery's actual experiences that age, when Mohandas broke free angrily, declaring that he was not a paedophile and took the painting down, facing it to the wall.  She was slightly disappointed at how quickly it had worked.  She'd hoped that Kat's exquisite delight in his growing discomfort would last longer.  She was barely trembling and hardly into recalling a typical session with Uncle Ron.   But it had been stimulating.  She would revisit this with Mohandas once she had no other use for him.

At less than a metre wide the Balthus will be easy to wrap and carry away tonight on her hover-bike.

Her favourite, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is far too big to carry now.  Kat will make him give her that too, after she's organised a courier to take it away, along with the Fragonard and maybe some others.  Mohandas will soon be Kat's, to do with as she wants.

The Fragonard and Rembrandt have confirmed her plan for the first stage in his training and very soon Kat will be taking Mohandas further into the central panel of her garden of earthly delights.

Kat excused herself to visit his toilet.  She would need to remove her knickers once again. 

 

 


Chapter 6 - Guardian Angel

 

 

 

This morning Bianca had been suggesting some improvements in his essay to young William in the lobby of her apartment block when she noticed a Bogan girl hovering.  How unusual!

"For your next assignment I want a thousand words about The Cloud," she told William.  "If you complete it before the New Year we'll spend another session reviewing your work and discussing information science, because information science is fundamental to everything a Grad needs to understand, no matter what discipline you elect to study."

The girl was obviously waiting for William to leave because as soon as he did she approached. 

"You probably don't remember me, I'm Zaire one of the girls you were spying on last month."

Bianca was amazed that she'd been found out and that somehow the girl had trailed her.  But she didn't show it.  This might be some sort of demand for recompense.

"Oh, Hi Zaire I didn't recognise you.  You've changed your hair.  What can I do for you?"

Zaire was equally surprised by this matter-of-fact response.  Had Bianca known that they knew? Some sort of double bluff?

"Well it's a bit complicated.  Can I come in and talk to you or we could go somewhere else if you'd prefer.  I'll shout you to a drink if you like," she said.

There was no way Bianca was going to invite this girl home until she'd discovered what this was about but she was impressed that Zaire already realised this. 

They went to the local student coffee shop.  Zaire looked around as if she'd been invited into a slum.  There were old armchairs and blocks of paper lying around.  At least that was what they seemed to be - big thick bundles of paper.  They smelled strange.  The whole dump smelled strange - but not unpleasant.

She picked up a block and opened it down one side.  The sheets were glued together down the other edge and each was covered in lines and lines of symbols that she knew to be letters, words and sentences.  It came to her.  This was a book.  Wonderful.  A book! She hefted it form hand to hand.

She asked her VPA, Pip, to scan some lines and discovered that they were from a story she knew: The Taming of the Shrew.  Scanning the cover she discovered it was The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.

"So I suppose you imagined you were Henry the fifth hanging out with the commoners?" Zaire asked Bianca as she came back carrying two cups of coffee herself. 

"What extraordinary behaviour - putting wait staff out of a job," Zaire thought. 

Bianca almost dropped the coffee in amazement. 

"You know Shakespeare?"

"Yes, I happen to like his plays.  And I liked learning his weird words.  My VPA, Pip, had to help at first but now she just recites the original words.  I like Chaucer too."

Bianca was nonplussed.

"What I don't understand is: what's the point of these books with their impossible to scan text, when everything's in The Cloud and you can just listen to it?"

"A good question," was all Bianca could think to say.  "Maybe another time, if we have a few hours to spare? So what do you want to talk about?"

Zaire then explained her job and her difficulty. 

"What do you think I can do to help?" asked Bianca

"I need someone really smart, not like us but someone like you who knows how things work and the law and computers and stuff.  You're the only Grad I could think of."

"That's flattering but I don't know if I can help.  I'll have to give it some thought."

"Thank you! That's great.  I know it's a long shot but you're my only hope."

Zaire thought the coffee was the best she'd ever had and this place sort of grew on you.  "Like warts," she thought, and smiled.  Somehow she knew Bianca could help.

For her part Bianca was hugely impressed with Zaire, who'd shattered her prejudices about the intelligence and learning of Bogans.  So she'd do whatever she could to help. 

Before she left she had to ask Bianca about the tramp in the park. 

Bianca had laughed loudly saying: "It may have been my mother, she loves to garden there.  But there's quite a big group of them. They have the place exactly how they like it. If you look carefully you will see that there are only native plants and wildflowers and it’s attracting native fauna and birds back into the city."

"But are those clothes in fashion here?"

"Well sort of.  If you call unkempt a fashion. They wear any old clothes that are hard wearing.  There is no particular requirement but somehow they do all tend to look the same, covered in dirt."

"Dirt! That's what I don't get about you Grads you seem to actually like dirt.  Everything here looks old and dirty."

"Yes but old and shabby is not unclean. Do you know about disease?"

"I certainly know that sickness comes from not disposing of things often enough and not keeping surfaces shiny and clean with disinfectant.  Like if you get a cold, you should throw away your bed and everything you touched and buy nice new clean stuff.  You probably should bring forward your bathroom and kitchen renovations too."

"Interesting. I'll give you some references to listen to your on your VPA, I mean Pip.  Good choice by-the-way. The references concern bacteria, viruses, and prions, the common pathogens or vectors of disease, together with cell mutation and genetic disorders that can lead to cancer.  It's quite complex, but as you've struggled your way through Shakespeare, it's well within your capacity to understand.  Keep that in mind if it seems a bit difficult at first.  You'll find that the pathological fear dirt or 'mysophobia' is a modern phenomenon.  It was unknown in Shakespeare's time."

Zaire said that she would listen with interest. They exchanged contact details and gave each other a little hug before Zaire walked away, attracting inquisitive stares from the Grads in the street, particularly the men.

***

Zaire decided to look more carefully at the park on her way back to the subway.  It was a lot different to the mostly flat parks she was familiar with, with their big geometric or swirling garden beds; and courts with high fences to play all sorts of games; and elaborate but very safe children's play areas.  Taking a longer path this time she came across some children actually building something in a tree, apparently unsupervised.  There was a sound of crying and she dashed across to them. 

"What's the matter?" she asked concerned.

"Oh, he's just hit his thumb with a hammer," a little girl replied offhandedly, "he does it all the time, when he's not falling out of the tree. He's a butterfingers." 

Zaire had only a vague idea of what a hammer was.  She'd learned about them being used for inserting nails and as a weapon, so she wanted to call an Ambulance but the kids were insistent: it was something very minor and happened frequently.  There was no need for an Ambulance.

A little further on she said hello to one of the 'tramps' who seemed startled to see her but quickly recovered and said:  "Hello dear, you startled me. I was miles away." 

Zaire knew perfectly well it was her surprise at encountering a Bogan.  Zaire told her about the kids. 

"Oh yes, There's a bit of a competition going between the kids to see who can build the best tree house. It's a lot safer than competitively building rockets, which was last long holiday's enthusiasm. But they've been warned to take the necessary precautions and they do have to learn don't they?"

This had to be the weirdest day in Zaire's life.  She'd listened to Alice Through the Looking Glass, read by Pip in the original, and now she felt like Alice. Encouraging competition; dangerous activities for children; no ambulance?  This world, just half an hour away from home, was on its head.  She had a lot more questions for Bianca.  Yet in this strange place she was more confident than ever that Bianca would know how to help her keep her job.

Suddenly the strange old lady, with the very wide mouth, smiled broadly under her funny hat and asked, like the Cheshire Cat from Alice's earlier adventures: "How do you like our park?  I'm sure it's a bit different to those where you come from." 

To which Zaire surprised herself by answering, perfectly honestly, "I love it."

 

 


Chapter 7 - Mikado

 

 

 

When Margery had reached home that morning to change after her night at the Plaza Grand, she'd been tingling with excitement and anticipation.  Kat was to be let out of her bag once more.  She'd chosen her garter belt and nylons carefully and checked in her mirror-wall that all was in order before putting on her outer clothes with the night's total conquest in mind.  Widget or no widget.

The week had gone so well.  It was out shopping on Monday, that she'd seen her chance to move on to the next step in recruiting the new girl, Bianca.  Then Bianca had suggested a money making winner and by a stroke of luck, Tuesday had been the day of the developers' Christmas party, allowing her to make a pre-emptive strike on Mohandas, who'd deliciously already turned Bianca's head.  And then the boy had turned out to be so clever and produced her widget after just a few hours in this Aladdin's cave.  She'd hit a whole flock of birds with one stone or in this case, the purchase of one pair of knickers.

So far Wednesday has gone like clockwork, exactly as she planned.  Now Mohandas' Fragonard has suggested the first stage in his training this evening.

***

After her visit to the loo where she also adjusted her more intimate recording devices, they met back in Mohandas' workroom where she explained his challenge.  It was to create a game that Margery called Mikado. She began to explain that The Mikado was an operetta by the satirist WS Gilbert's who wrote the songs to the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan and that it is set on Japan in a fictional town called Titi-poo.  She had intended to have him watch it on his screen from one of the many versions in The Cloud but he was already familiar with it.  More good luck, it saved her a couple of hours of cuddling up to him.

In the game he was to write players have to match suddenly appearing creatures called 'Titis' with objects called 'Poos'.  Poos are real places and can be almost anywhere.  But because they may be in strange spots, and are not always available, they can be difficult for Titis to find.  A mapping feature would show both Titi creatures and the relative location of Poo objects appearing and disappearing as a match is made.  As a Titi is matched with a Poo both would disappear and a golden token would be collected by Mikado from the TitiMikado would then pass a brown token, that is a fraction of the golden token, to the Poo object. 

With an undergraduate's enthusiasm, Mohandas was delighted with the reference to Titi-poo.  Kat, as he knew her, paced about his workroom, explaining in more detail, while he was swivelling about on his office chair smiling stupidly and acting like a young smartarse.  He was watching her with delight, no doubt anticipating taking her to his bedroom, when he made the mistake of saying:

"So I suppose that's Kat as in Katisha?" forgetting that Katisha was a frighteningly ugly old maiden in the operetta. 

"That's not at all nice," Kat shouted angrily, her hand reaching out at his bare arm, as fast as a cobra's strike.

Mohandas found himself flat on his back on his workroom floor staring up at her.  Catching him off balance she'd pulled him off his unstable chair, sending it skidding away on its side. 

He was lying there appalled at his stupid gaff. By asking if Kat was Katisha he hadn't meant to imply that she was old; and certainly not ugly. She is older than he is, maybe ten years?  But that's marvellous, it gives her confidence and maturity that a younger woman can't match.  And she's by far the most beautiful woman he's ever been intimate with.

He'd tried to get up but she immediately pushed him back firmly with the tiny point of her stiletto heeled shoe.

"Put your hands in your trouser pockets. And don't you dare take them out," she demanded, smiling as he instantly obeyed her, watching her and cowering like a naughty puppy.

Sensing the occasion Kat began stalking back and forth across his workroom, displaying herself to him like a super-model on the catwalk:   'Today Kat is wearing a revealing loose silk blouse; full, charcoal silk skirt and dark stockings above her black patent leather shoes with their pointed toes with tall metal stiletto heels.'

"So this is what you consider old and ugly?" she asked as she turned theatrically at the end of her imaginary catwalk.

Like a film director watching her own performance from across the room, Margery imagined the cameras'-eye-view and adjusted Kat's movements and expressions accordingly.  She was recording this.  Mohandas was to be a new work in her performance-art collection.  With his hands effectively immobilised, Kat was able to arrange him, just so, on his glossy floor; walking away to look appreciatively at the result before coming back to make another adjustment.  This was her overture to a new game of Kat and mouse. But it would be more than that, it would be a medical process too in which his various hormones would be players in his young body so that with sufficient repetition addiction to her charms would inevitably follow.

***

Kat dragged his chair and righted it.  Then steadying herself with a hand on its back, as a ballerina might on the bar, she placed her left foot next to Mohandas' head; raised her right leg over him; and touched her toe to her left knee.  

"This is what you like isn't it?  Or am I too old and ugly for you?  Yes or no," she asked as she allowed him an unrestricted view up her flowing skirt. 

Below her, Mohandas was spellbound as he gazed up at the sexuality that had haunted him all day and that nest of soft dark hair that had so enthralled him last night.  He didn't know what to answer.  "Yes I mean No..."  he mumbled and Kat smiled down at him unpleasantly.  She was both sexy and scary at the same time.

At his inadequate answer she raised her knee and swung her leg wide, straightening her leg, pausing again before bringing her foot down quickly towards his head.  As promised, he caught a longer glimpse of that forbidden view.

He was transfixed. Like a magpie defending her nest, Kat's shoe, with its long, sharp, glistening, stiletto heel, swooped down, in flashes of black and silver, at his face, her heel missing his eye by a centimetre. With his hands helplessly in his pockets Mohandas turned his head too late and flinched to protect his eyes. The magpie returned to its perch to evaluate its attack, before swooping back, this time even closer back to his face.  His head reflexively snapped over with it.  Again and again the heel swooped at him, until he learned that it was not going to hit him and waited instead for that glimpse of loose underwear and pubis.  His head froze his eyes flinching upwards in awe, waiting for his next glimpse.

"Look at how hard you are you pervert!  Why do you find looking up women's skirts so sexy?  You weren't as turned on by the sight of my naked body last night," she'd told him after the second flight.

He hadn't realised that he was turned on, except perhaps like the proverbial condemned man awaiting execution.  His overwhelming awareness was of fear, interspersed with relief as she missed him yet again.

At Kat's suggestion that he was turned on by his up-skirt view he realised that it was true.  Like the fellow beneath the swing in the Fragonard, at each swoop he caught a voluptuous glimpse of that forbidden view. 

 

Les Hasards heureux de l'escarpolette ca.1767 Jean-Honoré Fragonard
 Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Les Hasards heureux de l'escarpolette ca.1767

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

Margery was pleased at Kat's progress. Nor-epinephrine had been stimulated.  Mohandas was indeed becoming increasingly aroused.  He was a rider on a frightening roller-coaster. Each time the magpie reached the top of its arc it paused, and he breathed again, before it, terrifyingly, plummeted down.

Abruptly Kat stopped and stared down at him angrily: "You have a wet patch on your pants!  So you've decided that I'm not such an ugly old spinster? Or would looking up any woman's skirt make you do that?" she shouted.

"No! I mean you're not...," he managed to stammer.  Kat was smiling at his confusion, like a prosecutor who has just won her case. 

Yet perhaps she was satisfied with this evidence that he found her attractive because she was now unhooking and unzipping the waist fastening of her skirt.  It dropped to the floor and she stepped out.  With a flick of her toe it flew away, sliding to a halt across the polished wooden floor.  Now she was unbuttoning her blouse and it joined her skirt across the room.

She stood before him naked except for her stockings, suspenders and high heels - like the flesh and blood personification of a Playboy Centrefold from his antique erotica collection.   He was finding her unimaginably sexy.

"Push those soiled pants down," she told him. "Leave your shoes on."

"Thank goodness," he thought, "we're going to have sex at last. She's forgiven me." Serotonin flooded his system. This was how she had begun last night's first athletic adventure. The moment the hotel door had shut, she'd undone his belt and lowered his pants to his ankles.  Then she'd pushed him stumbling back to a chair before pulling him to the floor by his feet and mounting him, her tight dress hitched up to her waist. The benefit of wearing no knickers.

She was watching smiling, as he fumbled to free his hands from his pockets and then more urgently with his belt and fly and underpants, amused at his haste to get ready for what was to come next. 

"Lower them right down to your ankles."

With his pants around his ankles, caught above his shoes, he was at her mercy yet again. 

"Arms behind your back," she added, standing above him.  But this time she did not lower herself onto him as she had last night.

Mohandas felt a hard shoe forced between his thighs and her pointed toe pushing gently against his balls. His feet moved back automatically and his knees came up and bent wide to allow her greater access.

"It's time to prove you like me.  Show me you didn't mean to say I was ugly. Or do you really think I am old and ugly?  Come on show me!" she commanded as her toe prodded his scrotum.

She had become his fantasy Playboy Bunny. Her prodding shoe was not at all gentle but his excitement grew steadily with each little kick of her foot. Dopamine again.

But then, before he could reach the climax that he now so desperately desired, her toe was gone.  Kat had stepped around the other way to show him her bottom and renewed her mock interrogation.

"What about my arse?  Is it old and saggy?  Take a good look and tell me," she demanded; spreading herself with her hands; turning her upper body to smile at him seductively over her sholder.

"No. It's beautiful. Everything about you is beautiful," he managed to mumble disjointedly.

As a reward for the right answer, her rounded heel began bumping back into him rhythmically.  It felt even better.

"Toes and heels, pleasure and pain," she said, but he didn't understand until her sharp heel pressed down on his scrotum, right on top of his right testicle.

A searing, numbing, pain shot through his lower torso then intensified as she applied increasing pressure.  Terror swept over him, she was about to semi-castrate him. Adrenaline.

"If you want to insult me by calling me Katisha," she growled, "the ugly old maiden who is 'just a little teeny weeny wee bit bloodthirsty', remember she's the one who says: 'My wrongs with vengeance shall be crowned'."

Mohandas screamed louder, like a steer branded.  Then he was silent.

***

In her detached mind, Margery watched Mohandas' reactions with the attention of an anaesthetist. She was working on one hormone after another.  Earlier it had been testosterone, dopamine and oxytocin.  Soon in fear his adrenaline would redline, then Kat would relent and begin the cycle anew.  Over the coming weeks Kat would subject him to a number of her games to addict him to his own hormones; and a couple of little extras from Margery's 'kitchen'.  He would experience this growing addiction as passionate, irrational love for 'His Kat'.

***

Mohandas had briefly blacked out. When he came to his senses Kat was standing over him, hands on hips.  Her foot came up to his mouth.

"Now lick!" she demanded. 

His mind was in a strange haze and wasn't sure if it was out of fear or a desire to please but he did as he was told.

As his stubby tongue began cleaning the bottom of her shoe Margery was delighted.  As he licked her Kat alter-ego directed him to be more diligent: here or there.

When she was satisfied Kat changed feet and Mohandas began on the second sole without questioning.  It was the dopamine.

***

Margery, again imagining herself watching this performance from a camera eye view, couldn't wait to tell Bianca about the new shoe cleaning wallah. But how to introduce her to the revelation?  Perhaps she could take Bianca shoe shopping next and then casually offer his services?  But not just yet; not until Bianca was Kat's too. 

***

"Stop licking!" Kat told him.

As his reward she walked over to his sound system and touched the screen. Earlier he'd been keen to show her how to use it and delighted at her interest.

Music filled the workroom. His state-of-the-art sound drivers replicated those original sound pressure waves as if a real orchestra was actually in the room.  It was the overture to The Mikado.

Kat had also been to her bag and was pulling on surgical gloves and carrying a tube of lubricant.  As the music began she knelt between his knees, her legs on top of his pants, pinning his legs apart, and took his genitals in her hands.

"Look at me," she demanded over the music as she began, "You see, I'm not so old or ugly after all."

In her dark stockings and high heels she was no longer a Bunny but a dominatrix, ready to punish him for misdeeds or to reward him for being good, his mistress.

As the music played he squirmed to her expert medical manipulations in a most satisfactory way. She knew her way around a man's body as well as an old-time urologist. More dopamine; nor-epinephrine; and adrenaline were being secreted as she worked.

"The overture's about to end,"  she warned him at last, "You need to be quick now...  that's it... good boy!" 

From now on he would forever associate that music with this experience.

She was walking around again, talking to him in a matter of fact way like a doctor, pulling off the gloves, as if what had just happened was a normal everyday occurrence, like drying her hands. He would not have been surprised if she'd given him a diagnosis: 'enlarged prostate'.  Instead she was talking about his challenge.  Something about her had changed. She was less sexy, more like a school mistress.

"Tomorrow I want you to be up at six to begin work on Mikado," Margery told him. "I'll give you until six in the evening to prove that you are up to it; or I'll find someone else."

He was taken aback.  He'd thought the coding challenge was some sort of test of his worthiness, like a challenging game of chess, now she was talking as if developing her idea, for her Mikado game, was central to their relationship.  She seemed like a different person. He needed to reorientate.  Wasn't this simply two new acquaintances getting together as friends and lovers in the hope of an ongoing relationship; or at least of a few hours of lusty fun?  Yet this woman was talking as if this was a business proposition in which he was to be her unpaid employee:  'Or she'll find someone else?'

"To help you get a feeling for my game I want you to play the music from The Mikado as you work. I'll be expecting real progress.  I'll take a copy of everything home and check your work tomorrow night.  Remember this is just between me and you: Our little secret.  Under no circumstances are you to save anything to The Cloud or to any machine outside this apartment."

Did this changed Kat think she could command him to write code for her like an unpaid employee?  He was indignant and it probably showed.  She'd stopped talking and was standing over him again.  Her whole demeanour was different.

"Why are you still lying there like that you pervert?  You're a nasty little deviant! All you needed to get you off was a look up my skirt and my hand up inside you.  Now you're just pathetic, lying on the floor like that, with your dirty pants around your ankles and your filthy secretions all over you.  Go and have a shower and wash it off. You're disgusting."

He heard the scorn in her voice. At the words 'pathetic' and 'disgusting' and recalling what she had done he suddenly felt debased.  Again the adrenaline surged through his body as his anger rose. 

She'd calmly used him like milking an animal and then told him that if he didn't work as her developer she'd get someone else.  This wasn't a love affair or even a lust affair.  She sounded as if she didn't even like him.  It was obvious that all she really wanted was for him to build Mikado.  And he'd licked the filthy soles of her shoes.  He'd been abused but he was dammed if he would be used. With his rage growing like a fire, at Kat and at himself, for letting all that happen, he awkwardly untangled his pants and pulled them up.  Now very stiff, he stumbled to his feet.  She let out a little shriek of amusement as he almost fell.  It made him angrier still.

As he reached his bathroom he pulled off his shoes, socks and all; tore off his pants, destroying the fly; and slammed into his shower.  There was no way that he was going to work on her stupid game.  Get someone else.  He would through her out as soon as he could get dressed and restore some self-respect.  He wailed in angry self-shame like an animal. He was on the verge of tears.

***

After five minutes neatly folding her skirt and blouse and happily collecting her little cameras, Margery skipped out of her shoes and silently followed Mohandas in her stocking feet.  Now it was Kat who listened for his shower then tip-toed into his bedroom and stood with her back to the wall beside his bathroom door.  When he came out she grabbed him playfully from behind.

Mohandas wanted to shake free but Kat was really strong. Then he felt her cool breasts against his warm back. Her firm nipples suggested that she was aroused.  Her arms enfolded him and her hands began caressing his naked body. He relaxed. She felt like a different person: without her shoes: not so tall; softer; more loving; and definitely sexually aroused.

"I'm sorry to have hurt you like that and made you lick my shoes my love.  I was terrible to you," she confessed sorrowfully in his ear.  "Can you ever forgive me for loosing my temper?  But you'd been a very naughty boy.  You shouldn't have insulted me.  I'm sensitive about my age and by comparing me to an ugly old spinster you really hurt my feelings.  Can we please go back to where we were this morning and put all this behind us?"

He realised that the last hour was an aberration and all his fault.  No woman likes to be insulted, particularly about being older.  His eyes closed in ecstasy and he moaned happily as she kissed his neck and upturned mouth; and held him in her loving embrace. He was so grateful to be forgiven for his insults and then for his shameful behaviour during the past hour, because that's all it had been, when he'd been so fearful, servile and contemptible.  His body was suffused with love for her as his hormones adjusted.

"Now, to show you how sorry I am, I have a little present for you," she whispered in his ear.

But Kat's gift was not what he expected.  She popped a capsule into his open mouth.  Like a dog at the vet's his first reaction was to spit it out but he couldn't, her hand was firmly on his chin holding his jaw shut. Her other hand was stroking his throat.  But he was holding it firmly behind his teeth with his tongue.  Again with this new shock the adrenaline had taken hold.  So she grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back. Even without her shoes she was taller.  Her face was over his.  Now his mouth was held open by the hand on his chin.  Before he could push it out she'd stuck her tongue into his mouth and was thrusting his capsule down his gullet. He was choking on their combined saliva.  He swallowed it. 

Margery had wanted to test this new recipe for its effect on a man for some time. It was a new compound of sildenafil and psilocybin, the active ingredients in Viagra and magic mushrooms, that she'd ground together. They would make a nice cocktail with all those natural hormones that Kat had made him release during his initial training session.

Mohandas had never been kissed for so long or so erotically and he was ecstatic.  The hormonal roller coaster was delivering another dose of excitement.  Had they tumbled or was he pushed over the waterfall?  Now they lay on their sides, with Kat still embracing him from behind, on his bed.   His mind was drifting.  Kat felt warm against his back. The abrasive feel of her garter belt and stockings against his nakedness, as her legs wrapped around his, was extraordinary to him.  Her arms seemed to be multiplying, like those of Parvati, her many hands playing across the front of his body.  He was becoming astonishingly erect, almost painfully so.

Without really understanding what was happening Kat had climbed over him and was using him for sex.  She seemed to enjoy herself enormously in what seemed to be an endless orgasm.  He was drifting and had lost track of time. 

***

Later, over coffee in his living room, when he was clearer in the head, Kat told him that she was looking forward to doing this again tomorrow night: 

"Tomorrow evening we can do it all again or try some variations on this evening's games that you'll enjoy even more," she whispered across the rim of her cup suggestively, as they sat naked side by side, his knee touching hers, on his favourite sofa.

He wasn't sure which part Kat wanted to repeat but he realised he didn't mind, even the pain or licking her shoes. It had been the best night of his life and she was promising to do it again tomorrow. Of course he would spend a day working on her project.

She suggested that he get his quilt and lie down here on the sofa with his head in her lap. He was warm beneath his feathery quilt and Kat's intimate smell was wonderful. The music was again playing softly in the background as Kat bent over him in a motherly way and gently stroked his forehead and face to its rhythm, softly talking to him, perhaps singing about a wandering minstrel, he couldn't remember, until he went to sleep.

***

He was just a boy really.  As his mind had drifted she'd bewitched him and embedded a hypnotic spell in his subconscious to secure his future obedience.  Given their actual age difference he could be her son.  A sudden wave of grief for what might have been swept over Margery. Then her heart hardened against the world again.  Someone had to pay for all that.

She got up; showered; dressed; and left invisibly, using his widget.  From this night forth Mohandas would submit to Kat again and again, becoming increasingly addicted to his own hormones until he begged for her abuse.  He would be Margery's too, to work on her project for as long as she needed him. 

Of course Margery had no intention of checking his work.  In fact she had no idea what all those symbols meant.  She could barely read normal text. She had tried her usual strategy of sounding out the letters to no avail it must be another language altogether. 

Tomorrow, Friday, Mohandas would call in sick as instructed and start work on Mikado.  To preserve her privacy she would fly here after dark, so it would be well after six when she came to check on his progress.  She'd said that he was to work six to six because it was important that he waited for her tomorrow night on tenterhooks, in uncertainty and anticipation.

With the help of Circe, her VPA, she'd checked out an on-line source that had recommended a specific requirement for a management console in which all constants could be seen and altered if necessary.  She'd made a list of the essential variables that she'd need to change: the name and version of the App; the publisher and copyright details; token values; links to related resources like maps; dates. She'd left him a sheet of specifications, which she'd printed out with the aid of Circe, on his desk.  She would add to them and revise them as the project developed. She anticipated that Mikado would take some weeks.  So on Monday he would need to call in sick again.    But he didn't know that yet. 

***

As she arrived home Margery was elated. 

These days she keeps a video-diary of all her conquests.  It's not just to gain control through blackmail or even for the sexual pleasure that she can derive from replaying her recordings.  What started out as a useful means of controlling others has become her hobby.  Like other hobbyists she keeps abreast of the technology and employs the latest micro-cameras.  They're chameleon, clinging to and mimicking any background surface.  This make them almost invisible except for the tiny lens that swivels and pans, automatically framing any movement.   She likes to imagine that there's a diminutive voyeur inside each camera scanning the room for carnal action then leaning forward lecherously; peering through the peephole; getting increasingly excited as Kat performs for her 'little men'.  She's become a true video artist, creating performance works for herself and perhaps for an intimate friend.  It's been a little while since Margery's last disciple, Annette, proved to be unsuitable and met with a nasty accident.  But soon Bianca will be sufficiently close to appreciate Kat's art with her, perhaps in bed. 

She stripped then popped a bottle of her favourite vintage bubbly and poured herself a glass, holding it up to her reflection in her living room mirror-wall to congratulate herself.  Where would she hang the Balthus? And who was that irresistible seductress over there?  Nearly thirty years of doing this and she was getting better and better at it.  Mohandas' first day traversing The Garden of Earthly Delights had been a triumph.  She'd achieved his initial excursion into the central panel of perverse delights within a day of their first meeting.

Her alter-ego, Kat, could now have all the time she wanted to play with this latest mouse, softening-up her captive all the while, as domestic cats do, until his introduction to the third panel and his inevitable, delicious, demise.

 

 


Chapter 8 - Ego

 

 

 

On Friday Bianca had already worked more than her contracted twenty hours this week and was doing something at home. This was upsetting to Margery who wanted to consolidate her success with her Christmas story and take her recruitment to the next level.  She was delighted that Bianca had been so concerned about Mohandas.  The girl was obviously more in love with him that she was prepared to admit. So sharing her progress with Mohandas was both a malicious pleasure and a useful ploy to put her off guard.

Fortunately, late in the afternoon Bianca came in to collect something and Margery suggested that they go for quick drink.  Bianca was still feeling grateful to Margery for her expensive gift and sorry to have misjudged her, so she agreed happily and started telling Margery some nonsense about an educated Bogan and droning on about some student's progress.

Margery was obviously not interested, so Bianca changed the subject to something she knew would interest Margery.  She asked her how she had seduced Mohandas so quickly, right there in front of everyone at the party.

Margery was delighted that Bianca was obviously concerned.  Now she could continue her initiation.  The next step was to be hypnotic suggestion.  In her low melodic voice so that only Bianca could hear, she began to recounted her various manoeuvres in meticulous detail, describing how Mohandas' hand had felt creeping up her thigh and how excited he'd become; and how excited she'd become as a result.  As she expected Bianca was not really listening.  She was watching Margery's hands. As she spoke she kept playing with a strange ring on her finger.  It was odd because it was silver or white gold or platinum while her necklace and charm bracelet, with all those little things hanging off it, were of yellow gold.  The ring was very well worn, as if very old, and there was some sort of star or circle faintly visible. 

"So do you do this often?" Bianca asked distractedly, watching the ring circling the finger.

"I like to keep my hand in.  Well actually their hand.  You should try it.  With a certain kind of man it's sure fire."

A short time ago this remark would had disgusted Bianca but now she found it somehow appropriate to the situation.  Margery's tone of voice had become modulated almost like a song or a chant and made it sound seductive.  Again Bianca was struck by how beautiful she is.  Her real age is still a mystery.  She's already admitted to having 'work' done on her breasts, perhaps her face too?  Bianca's concentration was drifting.

"The only thing to know is that it's best done in public places to avoid misunderstandings about how far you want to take it.  And it's much more fun doing something like that in public.  You know at concerts, like at the opera, or on a long flight."

"I can't imagine doing that in public," said Bianca dreamily, trying to imagine it.

"It's much more exciting like that in front of everyone.  Parties are best, surrounded by girls the guy would like to impress is ideal, if you can set that up.  They provide the added opportunity to really humiliate him."

"Why would you want to do that?"

With the word 'humiliate' Margery's tone had sharpened briefly as if in anger and Bianca had snapped out of her daydream.  How had Margery done that to her?  For a moment she'd recruited Bianca as her confrère in seduction, imagining a man's hand sliding up her own leg. Had she been distracted by the ring?  She was very tired, it had been an eventful day. She stood up and stretched rotating her head on her neck.

Margery's voice immediately changed. She was speaking normally again, with a definite touch of anger.

"Some men deserve to be humiliated.  Others need to be.  There's nothing better than a Christmas party when St Knicker-less comes early," she then laughed.  "As I sometimes whisper to them: at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold.  It's not just the thrill you get feeling a hand slowly creeping up your inner thigh like that; it's the power you feel as you grant him that 'special' privilege when he discovers your nakedness; seeing his excitement build under your spell."

"How does that humiliate him? It sounds to me that you are the one who is likely to be humiliated," Bianca asked, now getting cross herself, thinking that she would not like to be considered a slut by allowing a strange man to do that to her at a party.

"Obviously you don't let anyone see.  It's best under a table; but a coat or something like that might do.  Heterosexual men who have gone that far are invariably very aroused.  Sex is their Achilles heel.  It takes very little further encouragement for them to 'shoot their load', as they say in the classics.  As soon as an obvious wet area appears you can accuse him in front of his female friends.  My favourite is to say in a loud voice: You're disgusting - you pervert - can't you keep it to yourself - just look what you've done to your pants!  Or something of the sort."

"That's terrible!"

"No.  Humiliation should be every woman's goal.  It doesn't have to be about sex.  Telling him off and enumerating his weaknesses in front of his work colleagues or friends is a time honoured way of doing it.  Humiliating a man robs part of his ego.  If you're the one who used his libido to diminish his ego, you get to own that part of him.  His lost ego passes to you.  It's all in Freud."

Bianca seriously doubted that this was what Freud had said or intended. 

"If you later apologise the right way: I'm truly truly sorry it's just that you gave me such a surprise! Will you ever forgive me? And so on; their lost ego will be restored.  But only for you, those other girls will be gone for him, and he'll be yours again whenever you want him."

Bianca realised that this was close to what Margery had done to her.  First she had tricked her into shedding her knickers and made he feel dreadful about it; and then she had given her back a better pair.  It was the old stick and carrot game.  She was annoyed that she had felt so grateful.  But it was complicated by the fact that she now loved her new knickers.  The only solution would be to go back to Bergeroff Goodman and buy another pair the same to return to Margery with thanks, but no thanks.  How annoying!

"I'm finding this hard to believe," she said, with too much anger.

"Well you should, because you have the power too," replied Margery, surprised at her reaction. "I'm not doing anything illegal.  Quite the contrary I'm creating net happiness under The Golden Algorithm."

Bianca accepted that Mohandas was probably happy that he had become Margery's plaything.  Obviously he could simply end the affair if he was not.  But she was concerned as she was responsible for pointing him out to Margery. 

"Is this what you've done to Mohandas?"

"No he's more the 'hurt me', then 'kiss me better', type. Tonight he'll be waiting for me with his tongue hanging out."

Bianca's expression had changed back to one of annoyance.  It was probably true but was he a free agent in this?  Is someone who's been deliberately addicted to heroine a free agent when they return to their seducer for another fix?

"Yes, she is in love with him," Margery thought, misinterpreting Bianca's reaction.

Should she tell Bianca about her shoe cleaning wallah?  She smiled at her private joke.  Now was the time to enjoy Bianca's jealousy and put her off guard.

Their cocktails arrived and there was an uneasy silence.  Bianca wanted to ask more about Mohandas but didn't want it to be too obvious. 

Finally she said casually: "So are you going somewhere special tonight?"

"Oh, my goodness gracious me no," Margery replied in a fake Indian accent, making it clear that she realised what Bianca was enquiring about. "Mohandas is not the sort of man I want to be seen about town with.  He's strictly meals-on-wheels - for home visits only."

"Is that much fun? What do you intend to do? Watch MV together?"

"You're kidding, right? Watch MV! No, as I told you yesterday I'm introducing him to kinky sex.  He's already at the point where he desperately needs to see me again.  Soon he'll be wondering where I am and getting desperate that I might not come.  And I can assure you that's one thing I fully intend to do.  Several times."

She put her glass to her lips and licked the rim, smiling lasciviously, hoping to reduce Bianca to tears.

"Here we go again," thought Bianca. 

The thought of him falling into Margery's hands was disturbing because he's a nice vulnerable and very bright guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yet there was something terribly seductive about Margery's enthusiastic approach to sex.  And as she said he's a willing victim.  She was playing with that ring again.

"What have you made Mohandas do?" Bianca asked, now fascinated.

"Mohandas was such an easy one.  He never knew what hit him.  Inexperience makes them wonderfully vulnerable.  Mohandas is like a novice opium addict.  He's taken his first few hits and is already hanging out for his next fix," Margery said, lowering her voice again and smiling, misinterpreting the disturbed look on Bianca's face as she used the very opium analogy that had occurred to Bianca earlier.  She was now convinced that Bianca is in love with him yet she was cleverly pretending to be purely analytical.

"Are you training Mohandas and recording it each time you see him?"

"Yes of course. All the time actually, like a reality MV show. If you're concerned about him you're welcome to one of my recordings.  Now that haptic 'touch technology' records those intimate feelings so well, there's the opportunity to re-live the best bits whenever I want a thrill.  It's not a secret.  He can see and even feel the recording devices attached to my body.  But like a drug addict he's not about to reject his pusher.  He's very happy to have me recording him.  I can upload you a copy of all my sensations when I last rode him, right now if you like.  But he's still a beginner - maybe at lunch on Monday?"

Bianca was sorry to have asked. Margery was obviously going out of her way to be disturbing, playing with her ring like that, relishing her discomfort. That was enough of Margery's voice droning on about her sex life for one night. Bianca had become so sleepy that she'd been on the verge of nodding off.  She stood abruptly and apologised to Margery but she needed to go home right now.

Yet for some reason she'd already agreed to have lunch with Margery on Monday.

Margery was disappointed.  Bianca's reactions had been difficult to interpret. She wasn't nearly as suggestible as Margery had hoped and was very good at controlling her state of mind.  The only thing she was sure of was that she had 'a thing' for Mohandas.

The evening was even more annoying when Margery arrived at Mohandas' after her drink with Bianca.   Far from being on tenterhooks waiting for her, Mohandas had lost track of time.  He was in 'his groove' as a developer and was reluctant to be distracted.  The Mikado music had stopped and she was cross about that too.  She put it back on and made sure that it was on repeat.

After sitting quietly for a short time she suddenly got up angrily, saying that she was leaving.  "I need to get my beauty sleep." 

She hadn't laid a hand on him except for an initial fleeting kiss when she'd walked in unannounced.  She could make him have sex but she decided that she wasn't  in the mood anyway. The main cause of her anger was that he was ignoring her.  That wasn't supposed to happen.  He would need more training with Kat after all.

As she left she said: "I suppose you'll want double tomorrow night?"

Mohandas was surprised.  Kat had seemed annoyed.  Double what?  Tomorrow was Saturday.  Then he had trouble sleeping; worrying about Kat storming out; fearful that she might not come back; anticipating with excitement what 'double' might mean.  So he got up and worked on Mikado humming to the music as he worked. He was beginning to learn all the songs, even the 'patter' one with fast lyrics.

 

 


Chapter 9 - Diversion

 

 

 

After worrying all evening about what she had got Mohandas into, Bianca finally decided that he was a big boy and should be capable of looking after himself.  After all she knew several couples who persisted in what seemed to be unequal relationships, with one partner dominating the other, and felt no need to intervene in their lives. And pandering to someone's sexual fetishes or addictions is not illegal, particularly if it increases net pleasure.

When she woke on Saturday morning her greatest concern was finding a solution to Zaire's problem. 

Over breakfast on her morning balcony she took out an old style writing pad and began to list possible solutions and ideas as they came to her without limiting herself, brainstorming for one she liked to call it, and made two columns headed Defence and Attack.

It was early on a beautiful summer's morning just before New Year's and a very light breeze occasionally flicked the edge of the paper under her hand.  Bianca's various domestic robots had prepared her poached eggs on spinach and made fresh béarnaise sauce under the watchful eye of Isis her VPA while she took her morning jog around the park twenty stories below.  Her flat white coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice had just been delivered to complete her usual Saturday morning ritual. She put the pad aside and began to eat and think.

From time to time she put down her knife and fork and made a note.

Under Defence she didn't have a lot of ideas except 'sleep with the man'.  She refused to recommend that on principle.  Go to him and beg would probably have the same outcome and add insult to injury.  Attempting to bribe him would require a very big bribe or something he desperately wants???

She put a line through the Defence column and inadvertently knocked her knife onto the blue damask tablecloth leaving a yellow egg mark.

"That's annoying," she thought. "Isis will want to wash it now."

Bianca loves this rich fabric and it will not last long if it gets washed all the time so she's hoping to minimise trips to the laundry.  She discretely used her thumb to get most of the yoke off the cloth.  Rules could be a problem with software, even with sophisticated tools like Isis.  If a tablecloth is dirty wash it.  "Oh, well!"

Isis is leading edge technology.  Because Bianca can write her own Apps to update Isis' software she incorporates quite a few novel features not normally available to the run of the mill VPA owner who chooses off-the-shelf Apps from the vast library available in The Cloud.  Nevertheless, each VPA soon gets tailored by its owner into a unique assistant.  The owner can choose the special skills they want their VPA to possess from the App library and change their virtual physical appearance: their size; their gender; their shape and feel when experienced in six dimensions (6D); and so on. 

One's VPA represents one to the world at large.  They take and send messages; keep them informed about the world; read write and calculate for them; navigate from one place to another make transport arrangements; manage their personal credit; pay for things that they take from shops or eat in restaurants; and a hundred and one other things.  For many people they are their best friend and their lifelong companion. So most people elect to have a VPA who is indistinguishable from a real person, when experienced in 6D.   But Isis does not appear to be entirely real in 6D.  Isis seems to be a woman similar in build to Bianca but she has some fantasy additions that as a child Bianca would like to have had herself.  Not every woman has wings attached to her arms or the face of Nefertiti.  Similarly her clothing and jewellery are straight from ancient Egypt.   Bianca has continuously updated her over the course of her life but never removed the wings as they go with her name. And she has grown accustomed to her face.  Her latest Isis software update is a modification that should result in enhanced decision making capability.

Bianca has dismissed the tablecloth accident and gone back to her brainstorming.

Moving over to Attack on her pad she produced two more columns:

Stop Aden going to air; Discredit his broadcast.

Under 'Stop' she wrote: 'accident'; disease; death; blackmail; divert.

Under 'Discredit' she wrote:

Resort to sue him demand retraction; expose past and present indiscretions; reveal the network of favours and corruption behind media publicity; the list grew.  Then she wrote in big letters: 'Ex post facto solutions are a problem for Zaire - she'll lose her job and shit sticks.'

In any case, suing someone seldom favours the injured party these days.  The Law Computers needed to be convinced that human happiness would be increased if the suit succeeded.  Apart from the injured party almost everyone is usually happier if the suit fails.  The trials themselves provided a lot of happy social gossip so the Computer may see merit in a show trial.  Show trials could drag on for years, whereas a simple murder was calculated and resolved in seconds. 

As to revealing payola and corruption in the media that's a complete non-event.  There was even an MV show dedicated to uncovering it.  Occasionally a personality will be suspended but they soon pop-up again.  The public had a very short memory; or regard it as a fact of life; or chose not to listen.  Anyway Zaire's job is to facilitate the backhanders; petty bribes; and special favours. 

This was getting her nowhere.  She put a line through the Discredit column.

She took a break and went for a walk.  Let it mature, think about something else.  She walked through one park and then another.  'Mum's' park was looking very nice with lots of native flowers in bloom.  She checked out the kids' tree houses.  There was to be a community judging next week after which they would have eleven months to pull them down before the next competition began.   When she was that age they had built the second prize winner and it would have won if Peter hadn't accidentally blown a wall out with his experimental fuel stove immediately before the judging, requiring a less than perfect repair.  Fortunately they had taken the precaution of firing it up remotely and no one was hurt. Even the flying planks landed quite safely.

One of the kids' structures reminded her of Jackie O's loo. She was looking at it with amusement, a dunny up a tree, when she had her inspiration.  Maybe BoganVillia are tracking Aden Hitch? He's just the sort of high value target they would love to keep a close eye on. But searching billions of terabytes of data could take some time to get anything useful. She needed to cause BoganVillia's powerful engine to create a data cube of Aden's records.

Still looking towards the tree house but no longer seeing it, she asked Isis to retrieve the body scanner data stream that she scrambled the other day; then identify the data coding her dimensions and so on.  Encryption is easier to break if you know in detail what has been encrypted.  As she returned home they edited the data to resemble Aden.  His appearance data was easy to obtain.  There he is every weekday morning on the MV in 6D.  He was 'live from Phuket' last week. The DNA and other data would need to be taken from his medical records or suitably spoofed.

At one time this multi-terabyte stream might have taken months of byte by byte decoding and analysis.  But Isis is an advanced multi-dimensional Cloud Based entity accessing quantum analysis cores at the deepest level of The Cloud's data centres. 

Nevertheless, it took her nearly a minute to produce a data stream that could plausibly have been produced by Aden Hitch in that toilet.

It was midmorning when Bianca went around to Jackie O's apartment and pressed the button asking to use the loo again.  Again she was ushered through the beautiful apartment to the guest convenience. 

The doppelganger of Aden Hitch was relieving his bowel at Jackie O's.  But how could that be?  He was on his way home from Phuket.  At BoganVillia an exception would be raised.  Bots would investigate the conflict a data cube would be created and when it was, all Aden's records, from birth until today, would stream into Isis's data trap.

Sure enough, just as she was thanking Jackie O yet again, Isis caused her pocket communicator to vibrate briefly, indicating that he was 'in the bag'.

She messaged Zaire to meet her at her place for lunch adding in text: 'All in hand, LOL, Bianca'. 

Zaire may have to ask Pip to read this but Bianca hoped that she would start to see the virtue of a short text as an incentive to learn to read. It also confirmed her status as a friend. Formal communications, particularly between Grads, were always initiated by on a VPA to VPA basis. Isis would contact Pip to confirm that Ms Chin was available to talk with Ms McLeish before the screen or virtual image changed from Isis to Zaire and vice versa in the other direction.  Only close friends were permitted to go behind the back of their VPAs. Yet, even then, if the called party was busy for some reason, their VPA would appear to take a message.

Isis needed no instruction about lunch.  She had mediated the message so she immediately created a menu for a light lunch for two; set the household robots to work; checked the food inventory; and placed an order to replace items that would be consumed. She had previously directed the robots to clear and clean the breakfast things and directed that the tablecloth was to be folded away without going to the laundry, despite a little mark made by an eggy knife and not quite cleaned up by her mistress. The nice thing about a virtual assistant is that they can be in many more that two places at once and can multitask on a grand scale.

When Zaire arrived she was not quite sure how to get to the twentieth floor.  Perhaps she should have flown after all?   Twenty flights of stairs seemed like a long way and there were no escalators. She asked Pip who told her that there was a lift, also known as an ascenseur or elevator.  There should be signs bearing one or another of these words.  'Lift' was easy but if the longer words are too difficult to recognise she should use the camera on her hand-held and Pip would guide her.  The signs directed her to a pair of doorways, each with two decorative metal doors.  They were obviously sliding doors but there were no handles.  Zaire tried prising one set apart with her fingers, then the other but they seemed to be locked.  On the wall between the doorways there was a disk embossed with an upwards pointing chevron. Maybe this unlocked the doors?  She touched it and a voice announced that the lift is on its way.  But nothing happened for at least ten seconds.  Then one set of doors sprang open revealing a little room. Zaire cautiously entered and the doors sprang shut behind her. She was alarmed, it felt like a trap.  Then she felt the familiar sensation of getting heavier, like when her hover-fliver was accelerated straight up at full power.  She relaxed, of course, 'lift' said it all.  She was not surprised when the doors sprang open and she stepped out into Bianca's glassy lobby. 

"Wow!" she exclaimed as Bianca came to embrace her. "And Wow!  I've never been in a building this high. Look at your view.  It's like a stationary hover-fliver at eighty metres. And that lift. It's like a ride in a funfair."

"They're not all this fast," said Bianca.  "In some places people don't like feeling their extra weight as it accelerates up or the sensation of weightlessness when it decelerates and vice versa on the way down. And the snap-doors are pretty scary. These're like conventional lifts on steroids. Fortunately everyone in this building is used to it. It cuts the time spent waiting for lifts in half."

"Well it's my first experience of a lift of any kind and I love it."

As Bianca ushered her to the dining room she looked around and marvelled at all the old furnishings.  She knew of course that Grads liked to keep things for decades, unlike her and her friends, who seldom keep a table a chair or a bed for more than six months before the recycling drone takes it away, just in time for the delivery of the latest model. Almost everything she has in her parents' eco-bungalow is recyclable plastic, from warm-floor to glow-ceiling.  Although there is a lot of glass here she couldn't see a single thing that looked plastic. Even the floors seemed to be wood, much of it covered by large woven rugs like those she had seen on MV in old movies.  It was almost as if Bianca had an aversion to recycling.  But this place was nothing like some period movie.  Bianca's furniture was glass and metal and leather and wood, obviously designed for comfort and lounging around.

Over lunch Bianca told her what she and Isis had discovered.  They knew the identity of the lady-boy and just what had taken place in a lot of intimate detail.  Contrary to Aden's assertions, it had gone somewhat further and for a lot longer than Aden had asserted. He'd ordered breakfast for two and the balcony had been in full view of two security cameras.  Various cameras around the resort could also see into the bedroom and living room when the drapes and blinds were left open. They were.  Further, Aden's screen was propped up on its stand on a low table.  It has stereo cameras back and front and stereo microphones.  BoganVillia's 'security' App, nominally to protect his device against theft, was holding all these open 24/7 and streaming the feed back to The Cloud.  Some of the hot action it caught could do well as a celebrity porn video.  Aden also has a track record.  A previous 'go to girl' had lost her after job procuring him a similar bed companion in London. 

They decided that he'd deliberately and successfully confused Zaire in such a way that she would think it was her error; that he was a randy he-man who'd actually wanted her. That had already worked as he'd planned.  His reputation with his adoring female fans was safe.  The next obvious step would be to laugh it off and suggest that he wouldn't mention her mistake if his minor embarrassment was forgotten about too.  Then why had he called Zaire's boss with threats, clearly intending to have Zaire sacked?  It couldn't be because he thought she knew his real secret. How would having her sacked stop her talking?  It would make it worse.  More likely he'd taken some other offence to her, like her tattoo with her name in Arabic on her shoulder.  More than one person has imagined that the script -زائير that extends over her right shoulder like a dragon, to be an Islamic motif or prayer. Aden is known to hate Muslims.

Or maybe it's just because he's a malicious, disingenuous, racist, little prick.

Zaire is not religious at all but she has a dusky beauty, which Aden may think is Middle Eastern, inherited from her four, racially diverse, grandparents.  Both couples were survivors of the Great Famine, individuals who met in traumatic times, having been relocated far from their original countries and homes. She was brought up a humanist-atheist by parents who could no longer believe in a benign god, or even an evil one, and she practices 'live and let live' liberality and believes in treating others as she would like to be treated.

Bianca's information is a huge relief.  Aden clearly had no intention of rubbishing the Command Resort, Phuket on his show. It would be an odd thing to do after presenting his show from there all last week.  He just wants Zaire sacked; her boss to grovel and to be forever beholding; and maybe get a fresh go-to person, maybe a boy this time, who'll provide him with more favours in future. But this time this nasty little man has met his match. His victim knows everything about him, down to what he had for breakfast ten years ago; and every step he's taken; and every bed he's slept in; and everything he did there; since. 

If she wants to blackmail him Zaire is spoiled for choice. 

Blackmail is a fall-back option but it's not something either young woman wants to make a habit of.  It would be would be much nicer if Aden spontaneously called Zaire's boss and told her that he enjoyed the Resort and that she's forgiven. To do that, they need a soft-toy, or one in colourful plastic, to divert this little man from his quest to break a valuable figurine.

Almost immediately Isis and Pip found just the toy among Zaire's friends in The Cloud.  He's a Bogan on his way to becoming a Busie who just loves the famous and wants to join them.  He's an entrepreneurial, up and coming, fashion-forward, clothes designer with perfect cheekbones; a gym tuned body; a mop of wavy hair and, most importantly, a tight little arse.  He's the very essence of a colourful toy for a certain kind of boy.  As for soft, only on the outside.  Inside his gay colourful exterior is a man with steely ambition to become a leading celebrity designer on the World's catwalks. 

Zaire video-messaged him:

"Hi Bosie it's your Cloud Friend, Zaire.  Listen, I've just got back from Phuket where I was at a resort assisting Aden Hitch."

He squealed with delight at her good luck and asked to know all about it.  But he didn't ask why she'd chosen to tell him.  Obviously she was messaging everyone.  Who wouldn't?

"I'm messaging you in particular because I'm sure you two would like each other."

"Oh no!" Bosie said: "He's an ultra-conservative, male - oh I can't say - with no fashion sense.  He wouldn't like me at all!"

"You'd be surprised.  When you know him like I do, you'll realise that it's all just a front.  He's had numerous secret boyfriends and you're just his type.  If you play your cards right, at the very least you can expect a friendly interview one morning on his show.  If you do that well you could become a regular guest.

Bosie screamed with excitement at the prospect.  "Yes.  No.  Oh Yes." Then like a shadow falling across him, he became calm.  Steely, determined Bosie had appeared.

"Ok. How do we make this happen?" he asked in his 'no crap', 'no inflection' designer's voice.

Zaire explained that she knew Aden's schedule down to the minute.  He was returning today.  Bosie should wear something androgynous and meet her in the foyer of The Plaza Grand at two o'clock.  They would intercept him checking in.

Despite a traffic delay the intercept worked perfectly because by now they were mapping Aden in real time. 

As predicted, his first reaction was shock at seeing that tall Muslim girl, Zaire, in the foyer.  Had she heard that she was about to get sacked? Was she here to cause a scene? She's an Amazon.  Might he be in physical danger? He smiled his best media smile. 

"Hello.  Come to welcome me home?" he said casually, as the check-in person allocated him a luxury suite.

"Well no.  This is an amazing coincidence.  I'm here with my friend Bosie.  He's a wonderful fashion designer, the latest thing, and we've been talking about my outfits for next week.  You should talk to him too.  He's brilliant.  He'd probably sit down with you for free.  He loves your show."

"A huge fan," said Bosie smiling, judging it perfectly - respectful without being obsequious with just the right amount of gay intonation and admiration. 

"But it would have to be right now.  I have to get back to my studio.  I've got an important commission designing a fashion-forward but conservative business suit for a certain someone.  I'm sure you must know him." He smiled beautifully at Aden.

Aden was hooked.  "Would it bother you to come up to my suite now then?"

"No I would love that! Perhaps we could order a bottle of bubbly?  Zaire darling, you might find this very boring."

"Oh no I love men's fashion.  But I do need to message my boss first and see if there have been any developments.  I've had no connection since I got back."

"That reminds me," said Aden "I need to message her too, to thank her for all your help.  Would you like me to do that first?"

"Oh yes would you? I love it when clients give me a good report!  But then I'll have to dash-off back to the office I'm afraid."

Sunday is a day of rest, so neither Aden nor Bosie emerged all day. Not that they got much rest.

That Monday morning, a bleary eyed Aden was glowing in his praise of the Command Resort, Phuket.  He waxed lyrical, quoting that old-time heartthrob, 'Elvis Prayer-sley', in his distinctive theatrical intonation, which seemed to have become more exaggerated over the weekend, claiming that Elvis' song, Love my Tender should have been written for the Rear-sort.  In particular, the lines: All my dreams fulfilled; For my darlin I love you; And I always will; best reflected Aden's experience at the Come-and.  The only slight issue for the Command's publicity person was his insistence that 'ph' is always pronounced 'f" as in photograph.  So he told the world that they too could have their every dream fulfilled at the "Come-and Fuk-it Rear-sort". 

"Maybe it's Freudian," laughed Zaire, mopping the tears from her eyes, as she and Bianca recovered from their spontaneous hysterics.  They'd decided to watch the show together on Monday morning over breakfast at Bianca's.  Again, Bianca was surprised by her new, educated Bogan, friend, who'd talked intelligently on all sorts of topics until late and then spent the night in her guest bedroom.

Then Aden introduced the show's new regular fashion spot, to be hosted by this 'fabulous' young designer: Bosie Wild.  And actually put a hand on Bosie's knee.  On MV.  In 6D!

Bosie was purring like the cat that got the cream.

 

 


Chapter 10 - Punishment

 

 

 

The Saturday after she had met Mohandas, Margery had a great day out, boating on the river with Phillip, her current boyfriend.  They'd taken a picnic and consummated their luncheon tryst on his blanket beside the river.  A party of four in a passing boat has seen Phillip's bare bum bobbing up and down between her knees above the embankment; and yelled their encouragement.  He was spurred on to finish; and redoubled his efforts. Margery giggled because it reminded her of a Limerick:

It always delights me at Hank's To walk up the old river banks.
One time in the grass I stepped on an arse,
And heard a young girl murmur, Thanks.

So instead of pretending to come when he did, she said just said: "Thanks," in a flat unemotional way.  He was taken aback.  He didn't understand.  Was she being ironic?  His obvious confusion all the way home was so delicious that she's been thinking of new ways of upsetting him ever since.

By the time her alter ego, Kat, arrived late on Saturday evening, Mohandas had been working for thirty hours, with only the briefest of pizza and bathroom breaks, and wasn't making much sense.  She told him as much. 

"You're useless to me in this condition. Go to your bedroom and get undressed.  Now!"

As soon as he was naked he collapsed on his bed and closed his eyes.  He was so tired!

"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, following him in some minutes later.  "You can't go to sleep unpunished."

She'd been jumping his player to the track: 'There is beauty in the bellow of the blast' and setting the first part to repeat.  She slid the wide leather belt from his trousers and doubled it over.  She told him to roll onto his stomach.  She had his remote control that allowed her to raise the volume the music as she liked and she beat him in time to the song, using one arm to hit him while with the other hand she pushed his face down into his pillow to quieten each yell of pain.

There is beauty in the bellow of the blast, thwack
There is grandeur in the growling of the gale, thwack
There is eloquent outpouring, thwack
When the lion is a-roaring, thwack
And the tiger is a-lashing of his tail! thwack

Yes, I like to see a tiger
From the Congo or the Niger,
And especially when lashing of his tail! thwack - really hard

Volcanoes have a splendour that is grim,  thwack
And earthquakes only terrify the dolts, thwack
But to him who's scientific, thwack
There's nothing that's terrific,  thwack
In the falling of a flight of thunderbolts!  thwack

Yes, in spite of all my meekness,
If I have a little weakness,
It's a passion for a flight of thunderbolts! thwack

And then it repeated and repeated and repeated.

 

As she beat Mohandas Margery experienced the pleasure that she always felt when hurting someone.  But now the pleasure was seasoned deliciously with thoughts of Bianca.  Her teacher, Morag, always insisted that we each find at least one younger apprentice to follow us a generation later.  Suitable candidates have been hard to find but Bianca is just perfect.  The girl is very attractive and not unlike her.  She'll be a wonderful seductress and acolyte when she's been properly recruited and trained.  At last she's found a girl worthy of initiation who might in years to come be led through her degrees in The Craft until she's ready to step up as worshipful mistress.  A warm glow suffused her body, like a delayed sexual climax, as she simultaneously beat Mohandas and imagined future intimate moments with Bianca.

When Mohandas' bottom was satisfactorily crimson she changed sides and beat him with the other arm.  Margery is an ambidextrous thwacker. 

When the first blood appeared she let him up and demanded he pleasure her with his tongue, thwacking him again at each mistake. She's been disappointed in his manly endowments when compared to Phillip so greater skill in other ways is important for Mohandas to perfect.  In any case she often preferred lingua to lingam and this was to be her most satisfying session of the weekend.  But save for his now desperate need to please 'his Kat' it did little to relieve Mohandas' urgent carnal needs.  Anticipating this Margery had brought with her a robotic 'familiar', or assistant, in the form of Pussy, a large fluffy black toy cat. 

Taking Pussy in her arms then lying beside him naked and kissing him deeply to initiate the experience she introduced them.  The robot cat with its wonderful mink-like fur then moved, purring softly, over his body in learning mode, visiting each erogenous zone to nibble or lick or stroke, learning to monitor and heighten his excitement to an extended crescendo under Kat's guidance.  When Margery was satisfied with this foreplay she pressed the programming button before Pussy settled down for the finale.  Pussy's equipped with an electro-stimulation unit of the kind used for 'milking' bulls and rams of semen for artificial insemination. Yet her subtle program is not like a bull in a china shop. Over the next, seemingly interminable, period she proceeded little by little to rob Mohandas of more and more 'ego' until he was hallucinating. 

Margery has had Pussy since she was an apprentice to Morag her teacher.  Pussy was a birthday gift for her fifteenth birthday like a 'soft toy' given to a younger child.  Since that time she has served her mistress faithfully with very little maintenance except firmware upgrades provided by a wicked colleague.  At one time Pussy was a useful source of credit as there is a thriving semi-legal market in human sperm. 

Not every male partner can deliver the goods in sufficient quantity and quality. That's because these days, when a single baby is so precious, the recipient mother will generally want to in-vitro fertilise say a hundred of her ova so she can reject all but two or three of the blastocysts after genetic screening first for known genetic defects and then selecting for desired characteristics.  Final screening will occur after successful implantation or in the delivery room to deliver the perfect child.  That's why every child born today is told that they are 'one in a hundred'.   But Margery knows that the wording of the ad is important.  Parents want a child consistent with their family traditions. Preferably one resembling the putative 'father'.

One of Margery's very successful start-ups was Male Order, a sperm bank that promised delivery, from 'studs' with the desired attributes, anywhere in the world, within 48 hours.  Hunting the appropriate donor and than collecting was fun for a twenty-something and good experience in seducing men but became boring after a time.  

Margery sold the business to an acolyte long ago but might nevertheless offer tonight's harvest on the 'dark web', for old time's sake. 

Donor:

Medium height; solid muscular build; black hair; light brown skin; brown eyes; no known health issues; intelligent; ethnic origin - India

 

Margery knows not to mention that he's a Grad. That would immediately limit her market to a mere handful.  But many families originate from India and that's a big positive, along with fitness and medium height.  'Intelligent' comes later as it will not appeal to many.  A child who's too bright can be a burden to an average family:  'Nobody likes a smartarse,' as the saying goes.  Apart from that, Mohandas is in the 'Goldilocks zone':  not too tall; not too short; not too dark; not too white; and will probably fetch a premium price.  Regular milking is now on his agenda.  So across the world, dozens of little Mohandas' will soon be the 'apples of their parents' eye', filling nappies and crying their tiny hearts out, as he soon will be too if Kat has anyting to do with it.

During Mohandas' extended climax 'Kat' had kissed him deeply so that he would associate the whole experience with her.  Then she allowed him to fall into a deep sleep.  After that Margery reset the music and putting her Pussy back in the bag she departed invisibly; her own ego close to exploding, having completely robbed two men of all of theirs in a single afternoon.  From now on, if Kat was not in the mood for that kind of sex, Pussy would stand in for her. Just set and forget. Meanwhile, the deposits would flow to Margery's credit balance.  Perhaps another pair of shoes?

Such material concerns are of little interest to her Kat alter-ego, who is motivated solely by power over others and the erotic thrill it delivers.  She's now more excited by the thought of introducing Mohandas to more of her hardware, to complement her firmware; software; and wetware.

Mohandas had been very sore after his whipping until he discovered that Kat had left him some special cream to rub on his bum that made it go numb.  On Sunday Kat had promised that she would come over and bring lunch.  She didn't turn up. Phillip, had suggested a visit to the Zoo and Margery decided that Kat could wait.  She loves seeing the big cats caged like that, pacing in frustration. 

Mohandas was devastated, wondering if Kat was still angry.  Perhaps she was annoyed by the coding errors he'd made? Could it be over?  Maybe he wouldn't see her again? He didn't think he could bear that.  She was his muse. She even understood how much he had enjoyed her robot cat and had enthusiastically participated in his artificial stimulation, whispering words of encouragement.  So that the cat too had micked her, learning to purr erotically as it went about it's tasks.  He couldn't imagine any of his previous 'up-tight' female acquaintances doing something like that.  He realised that he loved her.  He tried to work in the afternoon but was so distracted he kept rewriting a single function without success. 

Kat eventually turned up late in the evening.  Mohandas was so pleased to see her that he fell to his knees, embracing her lower thighs and pressing his face to her.  He couldn't see the expression of triumph on her face but it wouldn't have mattered. 

After another session with Pussy she told him that given his heritage, as his special Sunday treat, they would try something straight out of the Kama Sutra.  This turned out to be a method for growing his lingam to a more satisfactory size, over a period of weeks. 

When a man wishes to enlarge his lingam, he should rub it with certain insect bristles then rubbing it with oils, before rubbing it again with the bristles.
By continuing to do this a swelling will be gradually produced in the lingam. 
He should then lie on a cot, and cause his lingam to hang down through a hole in the cot.
After this he should take away all the pain from the swelling by using cool concoctions.
The swelling, which is called Suka, is often brought about among the people of the Dravida country, and lasts for life.

The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana

 

The insect bristles, from some sort of hairy caterpillar, were incredibly painful and afterwards his 'lingam' was so excruciatingly sore that he was not lying when he messaged his supervisor at work that he couldn't come in that day. 

But of course he was lying; on his back, naked from the waist to his knees. 

 

 


Chapter 11 - Entrapment

 

 

 

On Monday Bianca and Margery met in a restaurant that caters for a lunch crowd, overlooking the wide blue harbour.

Margery opened the conversation by asking Bianca if she would like an update on her progress with Mohandas over the weekend but Bianca was unexpectedly disinterested and firm.

"Your sex life is your business Margery," she said, "but it's also that of the men in your life.  You should not be discussing either Phillip or Mohandas with me.  If I meet them with you I don't want to have the responsibility of having to lie to either about the other.  What if Mohandas was to ask me about your boating or your zoo activities this weekend with Phillip?"

Margery had been nonplussed.  How could Bianca know about what she had done with Phillip?

"What are you talking about?"

"You know perfectly well.  Don't worry, no one's going to talk about it.  But I don't want to know any more than I've been told already."

Margery had sat silently eating her meal, obviously worried.  How did Bianca know about Phillip?  Her plans for trying her 'ring thing' again this lunchtime may have to be abandoned until she discovered why Phillip had opened his big mouth, because that was the only possible explanation.  It was annoying because she'd been looking forward to having Bianca 'on side' over the holiday period.

Bianca was pleased to see Margery so concerned.  She let the information brew before she took pity on her; ordered her favourite bottle of wine; and asked her where she'd learnt her seduction methods.  Margery immediately brightened up and explained that she'd used her knicker-less technique on many men after developing them as a school girl, seducing somebody called Derrick.

"As I've already told you, you should try it.  It's easy to do," she said.  "But be careful, even the most innocent seeming men are inclined to misunderstand and will try to go further in private."

"Misunderstand.  What's there to misunderstand?"

"Well if you tell a man to stop and he doesn't, it's rape.  Even if he doesn't actually penetrate you it's still attempted rape."

"There's such a thing a provocation; and what about a reasonable assumption that you had acquiesced?"

"That's what rapists always claim. I once had a man convicted of rape.  He now has a criminal record as a paedophile.  I have a recording of another man actually raping me when I was fourteen."

"So you were underage when you gave him a Christmas present somewhere private and he raped you?"

"No, it wasn't the Christmas present, although it might have been. He was just so thrilled when he got his Christmas present on our first date.  He would've actually raped me then and there, if I hadn't screamed and got people running.   Greg was one of those men who think they own you the moment you seem to like them.  They're the dim boofy ones, nearer to the basic animal. He spend a lot of time building his body, pumped up on chemicals, hormones and sildenafil to treat his consequential erectile dysfunction.  Men like him want to fight any other man who looks at you and they think they own you.  For a young girl that's exciting.  You can have them running in circles for you if you're smart.  If you're not smart, or have a child by one, they'll have you living in a shelter for abused women."

"Were you smart?"

"Oh yes. I chose Greg carefully from a dating site and flirted.   On our second date he was contrite and we had respectful sex; and on our third I had him beat up a couple of guys in a nightclub, just for fun.  It's a great feeling for a twelve year old girl to have a muscleman at your beck and call.  But sooner or later they'll hit you.  That's when he had to go.  He was so pathetically sorry that he'd bruised my face that I reprimanded him and shamed him until he punched a hole in a door in frustration. He was so easy to play and then I let him have sex.  After that I had enough evidence to turn him in; telling them that he'd forced his way in through the door and then raped me.  It didn't go well for him that I was under-age.  I claimed he knew my true age and had been grooming me on-line.  Of course it was the other way around.  Greg hadn't the brains to groom anyone.  Needless to say he spent some time in remedial therapy and he's been chipped, with a cute little RFI tag under the skin behind his neck, and then chemically castrated. They use hormones and then other gonad targeting chemicals."

"That's terrible Margery, I don't know who to feel most sorry for him or you."

Margery looked as if she was about to cry. Bianca realised that there was more to this story than she was being told.  Margery obviously wanted to brush the experience off as quickly as possible and changed the topic of discussion.

"You know the difference between a hormone and an enzyme?  You can't hear an enzyme!"

Margery finished her own joke before Bianca could respond. She'd long ago discovered that almost everyone knew the answer to that one. But it was her introduction to a lecture about male and female hormones, as if she was telling Bianca something new.  Bianca realised that although Margery was a renowned organiser she lacked her formal education.  She was self-taught, asking Circe her VPA, to look up the literature and learning by experience, whereas Bianca had known the theory long before she got an opportunity to practice.  Bianca grudging admired her for her drive and persistence.

"But some men with the right hormones have never had a taste of the real thing," Margery finally concluded.

"Yet many men seem indifferent to women.  What about men who are gay?"

"Gays are seldom indifferent.  They are among the most sex addicted.  It's just that they have somehow been pointed in the wrong direction by genes or circumstance.  Why else would a married man or a judge or a priest be found hanging out in some sordid place, like a smelly toilet, hoping for a quick fix?"

"There are men who are neither," objected Bianca.

"True.  They are the drones.  They go through life never really understanding what it's all about.  Very few great men have been indifferent to sex."

"What about the man you recorded raping you?  Was he arrested?"

"No! I didn't want him to be arrested.  He's done very well in the Church."

"Does he still have his manhood? I suppose the Catholic Church is an ideal career choice for a castrati." 

"Oh he's very much a man," said Margery, "even though his church forbids it. Ironic isn't it? I still have sex with him occasionally just to remind him.  He can be hard to get to."

Bianca looked at her questioningly.  There was something fundamentally unbelievable about the stories that Margery liked to tell after she'd had a wine or two and a second bottle had just arrived. This was sounding more and more like one of her elaborations.

"There's a part of him that doesn't want to see me; he's torn between his goddess and his god.  You see he's no longer a priest.  He's done very well in the Church.  Under my tutelage, and occasional intervention to remove rivals, he's risen to become a Bishop."

"If he's a Bishop why does he see you at all? Surely that's very dangerous for him?" Bianca asked, now very sceptical of Margery's tale.

"He has no choice."

"Why not?"

"Two reasons.  I have a recording of him violently raping me when I was fourteen.  And he can't resist me."

"He was your priest and he raped you? That's dreadful," said Bianca sympathetically.  If it was true Margery had obviously had a tough life.

"You misunderstand.  By then I was learning The Craft. So it was the other way about. My teacher chose him for me. She wanted to have a 'sleeper' in the Catholic Church.  When my teacher settled on him he was a young priest in his first parish.  His seduction was my mission.  Like many, he was heterosexual, but sexually deprived and frustrated.  I moved into his parish and told everyone at his church that I was seventeen.  I was tall and had matured early. I had a nice figure with full breasts and had been coached on how to appear four years older.  At Mass, in my mature clothes, I looked the part and they all believed I was a young woman, even though I hadn't yet turned fourteen.  I went to him one afternoon in December asking him to privately hear my confession.  The proximity an extraordinarily captivating seventeen year old woman was very arousing for him. Then I gave him his Christmas present.  I helped him to relieve years of frustration. When he came he ran off in horror at what he'd done.  The next day I accused him of molesting me."

"How did you prove it? Lots of people have stories of being abused by priests and no one believing them."

"As I've already told you, I record all my interactions with men. In those days I just turned on the sound recorder on my hand-held and streamed it to The Cloud.  And the reason that some whistle blowers are not believed is that some senior church officials, like my Bishop, believe, privately, that there are two sides to some of these stories.  Lovers spurned; unrequited love and all that.  You haven't lived life to the full if you haven't had at least one love affair that broke your heart."

"That's a dreadful thing to say.  Child abuse is never excusable.  Even in your case.  You were still underage and adults need to be more cautious and check properly."

"Quite right," said Margery, not wanting to be diverted.

Bianca was sceptical.

"So you'd trapped him into molesting you when you were underage but he didn't realise that?  How did you turn that into a rape recording?  I thought you said you were not yet fourteen earlier?"

"The rape was later, after we'd been 'seeing each other' secretly for over five months."

"You were having sex with him for five months!  How often?"

"Sometimes several times a day. My task was to bewitch him, then entrap him."

Bianca was now finding all this a bit unlikely.  Margery claimed that on what he thought was her eighteenth but was actually her fourteenth birthday she'd then staged a violent fight and then encouraged him to take her in vigorous sex.   Afterwards she'd dressed as a young girl in torn and dirtied clothes and reported to a medical centre in tears. She'd been examined and it was confirmed that she was around fourteen and had been violently raped. A medical report was prepared and she was given a copy. Semen swabs failed to match the DNA of any known rapist.

"When did you plan to use the report?"

"I didn't want to use it.  It was simply for insurance for later. Using it would have destroyed those months of careful grooming. I had plenty of recordings already, streamed into my audio library in The Cloud.  This one was the ultimate weapon that couldn't be escaped.  The Catholic Church is very familiar with using this technique to bring people to heel.  When they wanted Galileo to recant they simply showed him their torture chambers and what they had done to those who foolishly had sufficient commitment to their 'wrong ideas' to resist. Galileo was a rational man and decided that his view of the truth was not worth the pain."

"But the Church was subsequently forced to admit that he was right all along and apologise."

"Yes but that was useless to Galileo.  He had been dead a hundred years before the relevant texts were unbanned and another two hundred and fifty years before they finally conceded that he had been forced to recant the truth in the face of their falsehoods. He never knew."

"As it turned out I had to show my priest the Implements of the Inquisition sooner than I'd thought."

 

 


Chapter 12 - The Cloud

 

 

 

It's the first day of the New Year and Bianca is at home attempting to read William's latest assignment while he fusses about in her kitchen preparing breakfast, by hand. 

If people at work, like Margery, could see her place they would be surprised that she could afford it.  She occupies a single floor at the top of her 20 storey block.  Most of the floor is open plan living area so there is a panoramic view on three sides.   The services like the large kitchen robotic laundry and landing bay for her hover vehicle are on the fourth side behind the lift shafts and lift foyer.  She has four bedrooms, for friends and visiting family, each with a self-cleaning bathroom. The main bedroom, adjoining her bathroom, is separated from the main living space by disappearing glass walls.  Like Mohandas she's from 'old money' but unlike him she has no need to work for credit.  Margery was mistaken.  Buying clothes is a trivial matter for Bianca and so it doesn't really interest her.  She's always worn whatever she likes, usually well-worn denim and T-shirts. Well-worn because she keeps them until they fall apart, not because she bought them that way in some bizarre twist of fashion.

Despite her haphazard clothes she has never had trouble attracting a man.  Her most recent, Lucent, is overseas at the moment and for the present she's remaining faithful.  So young William has been Platonic company for the celebrations.  He's desperately in love with her and will lie to his friends about which bed he spent the night in on New Year's Morning in 2070.

Bianca has been distracted wondering how Margery and Mohandas spent the night.  She begins his essay again:

 

The Cloud

by William McNamara - December, 2069

 

At the turn of the twenty-first century there was panic in high places.  A mistake had been made in the way dates were coded in computer software, firmware and even hardware.  Because electronic memory was expensive and many processors handled only sixteen bits many dates had been abbreviated so that the year was described by the last two characters and 01 would indicate 1901 not 2001.  Worse than that millennial years are an unscheduled leap year.  So that many calendars burnt into 'chips' in electronic clocks in things like traffic lights would indicate the wrong day of the week from March onwards.   This series of coding mistakes was collectively called the Millennium Bug and some projected that planes would fall from the sky and traffic chaos would result.  Banks were the worst affected.

It was the first time that people had realised how dependent the world had become on computer technology. 

That technology was in its infancy.  A mere decade later the World Wide Web also called The Internet, the environment that supported it, had developed sufficiently to be relied upon to replace conventional telephones to manage the utilities like electricity gas water and sewerage and to create a vast number of entirely new industries based on entertainment and communication. It was not long before print media was replaced by 'on-line' media and personal devices became interfaces to the first Cloud systems.

Two distinct forms of computing quickly evolved.  Cloud systems, housed in giant data warehouses, held the main processing engines operating systems and memory storage.  Personal devices held local processors and limited memory and functioned by means of Apps that were downloaded and updated regularly from The Cloud

Both areas rapidly evolved so that a personal device might be as small as locket or wristwatch or even the cap of a pen.  Cloud based Apps also proliferated.  Most important among these were the early personal assistants: Siri, Cortana and Google digital assistant.  An early comparison reported that:  "Cortana's learning the neighbourhood. Google's digital assistant can't tell a joke. And Siri apparently has a thing for the metric system."  This is culturally revealing too.  Apparently the reviewer still favoured some antiquated system of weights and measures. 

A screen or viewing device was essential to many of these Apps so screens, that had been getting smaller, grew again.  It was not long before a pair of eyeglasses enabled the first 'virtual' screen by projecting an image directly into the eyes.  At the same time sound was projected directly into the cranium behind the ears, providing privacy and removing the need for something pushed into the ear canal.  

Meanwhile, in the data warehouses operating system software was being revolutionised by self-evolving functions, selected by mutation and survival of the fittest.  Thus The Cloud, began to mimic biological systems in the Biota.  Just as humans and other higher animals evolved in the Earth's Biota, so new complex functional entities began evolving in The Cloud.  And as hardware was already designed and built in a software controlled environment soon new hardware devices and systems were evolving too.

Then came the years of terrible drought.  Rivers dried up and dams emptied.  Crops and livestock died and forests burnt. Food riots and mass migrations began.  Troops were called out to protect infrastructure and borders.  Millions died.  Hydro electricity and coal supplies failed.  Once blackouts became commonplace tower blocks and many cities became uninhabitable.  Millions more died often in inaccessible places like in high-rise buildings.  Computer data centres shut down and so did all the utilities and communications that were now so dependent on them. Civilisation had failed for a time.

But human beings are resilient.  By fair means or foul many survived. With far fewer mouths to feed, and careful husbanding of water, hydroponic food factories were established and now solar, wind and nuclear electricity was more than sufficient to restore services.  The Cloud came back up and the remaining people were now much better connected than ever in history.  Most governments had been dealt a fatal blow, buildings destroyed and leaders dragged out and killed.  But The United Nations remained, now with only one hundred and twenty one delegates.   Because the mass slaughter of people by the worlds' armies had taken friends and relations of everyone alive, delegates were quick to agree on founding today's single world government and the abolition of weapons manufacture.  Vast mountains of unused weapons had to be disposed of along with many unused buildings and recycling became the world's largest industry, effectively putting a stop to minerals extraction. 

The Cloud continues to play a major role in this recovery.  Evolving hardware and robotics have been key to the recycling and recovery processes. Now virtually all manufacturing and food production is fully robotic.  Agricultural water is still monitored extremely carefully but recycling enables us to have as much as we want for personal use.  Because unlicensed private farming has been prohibited much of the planet is being returned to wilderness.

This is where the successors to Siri, Cortana and the others played a central role.  With the reduced population there were more than enough hand held communication devices for everyone left alive to have one and evolving systems provided everyone with a virtual personalised assistant or VPA who knows all about them and is dedicated to servicing their personal needs.  When viewed on a Cloud connected screen their assistant looks like a person. In multi-dimensions, 3D, surround sound this Avatar could be in the room with their master or mistress and with new haptic touch technology and a scent-gland they seem to be entirely real.  The master or mistress can decide on their sex their appearance and the form of address required.  Some like their VPA to call them 'boss' or 'your highness' but many prefer their given name; or simply, 'you'.

For some recovery required a traumatic change of location and change of lifestyle and even language.  VPAs were invaluable in mediating this process.  They organised new accommodation, clothing and meals, translated, advised on cultural differences, provided entertainment and communications and generally looked after the interests of their owner.  People no longer needed to read a lot of script their VPA could be relied upon to tell them what a sign said or what they needed to know.  Form filling was a thing of the past.

Very soon many people started to think of their VPA as a real person like the secretary to a king or queen.  Just ask for a thing and it will be done.  Soon many products; locations; sporting teams; and so on; became identified by logo alone as any other descriptive material, once provided on packaging or maps, was now available to the VPAs on-line.  Other VPA Avatars interacted with their own and organised meetings or entertainment dates.  Governments and businesses also used human-like Avatars to interface with the public. 

The world population had more than doubled again but over half of it was a 'virtual population', hosted in The Cloud.

 

Bianca was pleased with his progress and gave William a kiss on the cheek when he came in with breakfast.  He flushed scarlet and she briefly thought about allowing him what he so desperately wanted.  But he was too young and although she was just his tutor she felt that it would be inappropriate and could potentially risk his ongoing studies.  She was after all in loco parentis and they had trusted him to her care to watch last night's fireworks from her excellent vantage point.  The poor boy sat and watched her enjoy the eggs that he'd finally poached so perfectly, after several attempts, just to please her.  She told him to eat up too and he ate his own breakfast without really tasting it.

Before she pushed him out to return to the parental home, she sat next to him and made a few suggestions about his paper.  He was delighting in sitting next to her. She was not wearing a bra under her loose t-shirt and she was soft and warm and smelled very nice. He tried to focus on what she was saying.

"Perhaps you might have considered the psychology of imagining a stream of bytes to be a person when, in fact, there is no person past or present?  The stream is entirely synthetic, generated by The Cloud to be sent to a wide range of hardware devices, like the screen or the virtual glasses you mention, to create the convincing appearance of this non-existent person."

He knew the difference sitting here.  But then, if he was wearing a haptic bodystocking might a 3D image, generated by virtual glasses feel just as nice.  And if he was wearing a scent-gland around his neck would she smell as sweet?  She'd noticed that he had stopped listening and was watching him with an amused expression.  His expression changed from dreamy to serious.  She almost laughed, catching it with a little cough. It was very flattering to have him mooning after her like this and Lucent had been away too long. But no.

"As I was saying, because it's clear that almost all of the world's population are unthinkingly taken in by this illusion, just as they have been for several hundred years when they saw a sequence of quickly flashed images on a screen and interpreted it as real people moving about."

"OK," he managed to mumble.

"Also," she went on:  "Your spin on history is a conventional, somewhat bowdlerised, version put out for public consumption.  You need to be more critical in your reading.  Weigh everything.  Are you being fed a line?" 

"I don't understand," he said a little stung.

"Well you might have mentioned the numerous independence movements that tried to keep the old counties independent but failed without weapons. And their supporters deserted them as material wellbeing recovered."

"I've never heard of them."

"That's because they have been suppressed.  They never got any news coverage or publicity and as their communications were shutdown they had to go back to word of mouth, they couldn't even print pamphlets, not that people could have read them anyway, their VPAs are Cloud hosted and simply ignored them.  Public transport wouldn't convey them and motor vehicles with Cloud connected navigation wouldn't support them either.  At the same time new, relatively luxurious, accommodations, with food and entertainment were becoming available, almost equally to all survivors, so radicals couldn't even appeal to class differences.   Panem et circuses, as Juvenal had called this strategy in ancient Rome; and it still works today, now worldwide.  That's what the Bogan economy is all about.  Soon everyone supported the new system of Central, Continental and Regional governments."

"Wow, I always wondered how the recovery was so fast.  How do you know this?"

"Let's just call it corporate knowledge.  I have family in government."

"There's a greater concern that you have hinted at but skirted around."

"What's that?" he asked now realising that he was learning something new and interesting.

"In the Biota under the influence of evolution intelligent beings have arisen - humans.  Evolutionary processes in The Cloud are millions of time faster.  How long do you think it will be until a VPA or some other Cloud based entity becomes truly intelligent?  Might some be intelligent already?  And if so, what controls might the human administrators be able to implement now to ensure that such intelligent beings are benign to us?"

"Are you serious?  This is just science fiction isn't it?"

"I'm very serious and I can assure you it is not science fiction.  So for your next assignment I want you to consider life from the point of view of an entity in cyberspace that, or more properly who, finds themself suddenly able to contemplate the meaning of their own existence.  You know: 'What am I here for? What is my purpose in life?'  What could they possibly conclude?"

"Wow!" William said, "That's something I wonder about myself."

"Yes and so does every intelligent person. That's why it's one of the functions of human culture to provide some stock answers to our children but it is not always the same answer. Sometimes it's religion or helping others.  Sometimes it's leadership or power over others.  Sometimes its art or music or sport or accumulating credit or breaking new ground or extreme experiences and sport or food or sex.  Strong motivations for individuals are curiosity and creativity.  Different cultures have different answers and put different stress on their relative importance at different times. A more or less universal first societal priority was simple group survival through reproduction."   

Bianca went on to argue that in ancient times the purpose of a human individual took second place behind the success and survival of the tribe and so laws and conventions evolved to this end. Whereas perhaps for more individualistic Hominids it may have been more about the survival of an individual's immediate children so societal rules may have been less strict. Might new cloud based entities be more cooperative or more individualistic?  What meaning of life might they determine for themselves?

Bianca introduced William to this last concern because he's an intelligent boy and the advent of new intelligences is something that sometimes keeps her awake at nights.  A handful of Graduates, like he will become, could be critical to the fate of humanity, well within his lifetime.

 

 


Chapter 13 - Sleeper

 

 

 

"Who is this Bishop?" Bianca asked incredulously.

"I told you he's a sleeper.  His identity's secret," Margery claimed.

Now Bianca was sure that Margery was making this story up. Yet it was a great story and Margery was in a talkative mood. For example, who was this teacher who was manipulating her life?

It was clear that they weren't going back to work. The warm afternoon sun was streaming in to the restaurant and the blue harbour twinkled below them. This was going to be one of those multiple bottle lunches.  In vino veritas?  Most other patrons had already finished their lunches and the place was almost theirs for the afternoon. 

Bianca asked Isis, her VPA, to advise work, only to find that Isis had already done so and contacted Circe to rearrange both women's meetings and appointments.  So when the third bottle arrived Bianca asked for more details about Margery's supposed seduction of her young priest.   

"You said that you'd had to use your Implements of the Inquisition, you're recordings and a rape report, sooner that you wanted to," said Bianca.  "Why?"

"Because the following day he proposed marriage.  He'd had such a wonderful day that he decided that he couldn't live without me.  He'd prayed all night and would go to his Bishop and confess all.  Then seek to leave the priesthood.  We could be married.  Many men had done this and although they had usually left before their final vows he was sure that he could get a dispensation.  I refused him and said that I wanted to carry on as before.  He said he couldn't do that.  He was going to his Bishop even if I wouldn't marry him."

"He obviously thought you were now eighteen, and an adult, and you were in love with him," said Bianca, finishing another glass herself and starting to buy into this part of the story.

"That was when I told him that there was the small matter of my real age."

"Was he upset?"

"Upset is an understatement.  He was mortified.  Initially he said that I must have bewitched him and he never wanted to see me again.  I pointed out that there was the slightly worrying matter of the many recordings that I'd made of him having sex with a girl who he apparently knew to be thirteen years old.  And then were the unusual practices that he'd come to enjoy during sex."

"What?  You're kidding!  How did you manage that?  Did you doctor your recordings?"

"No I enchanted him.  I'd had lessons from my teacher who was the greatest enchantress alive."

"How do you do that?"

Margery was very pleased at how this was going.  This was another opportunity to mesmerise Bianca and capture her mind for the first time. Once she has achieved this once it becomes trivial to re-enchant her in future.  All sorts of suggestions then become possible.  Just as some people attend a hypnotist to overcome an addiction such as smoking the reverse is all too easy.  Implanting a physiological or psychological addiction can then be used to enslave the body and mind to the enchantresses will.  Earlier she had been worried that she had lost Bianca's respect, after Bianca's revelations that she knew about Phillip. Yet now she was resting on her every word.  She would try again.  She brought her hand-held screen into Bianca's field of vision then as if distracted, started rotating her ring.  He voice dropped and became melodic.

"Nestling someone's head in your lap and using suitably hypnotic words is a wonderful way of enchanting someone. And it helps if you have a way of seducing their unconscious mind."

"You knew some way of making him vulnerable?"

Bianca's voice was mimicking hers.  Excellent.

"I'd noticed a rather erotic painting in an oval frame by Pompeo Batoni in his room below his crucifix and a replica of a similarly beautiful painting by the Flemish master Lucas Cranach in the church.  For a person who's been brought up with images of the infant Jesus suckling with Mary it not only subconsciously recalls their infancy, in a Freudian way, but triggers all sorts of complex emotions in addition."

Margery brought the images up on her hand-held to show Bianca.

 

Pompeo Batoni (Public Domain) Vierge allaitant l'Enfant
Pompeo Batoni (1708–1787)
Vierge allaitant l'Enfant

Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Madonna and Child

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

As Bianca looked at the paintings Margery seemed to be humming in an unusual way.  Bianca was finding them very seductive.  There was something so pleasant about a mother suckling a child.  Bianca imagined herself with a baby.  Margery seemed to be humming a lullaby and in the soft, warm, harbour breeze, redolent of the nearby blossom trees, Bianca was beginning to drift off, as if about to fall asleep.  She caught herself just in time; shook her head; and grabbed the back of her neck firmly with her hand.  She sat up straight and stretched her spine.

"If you mask off the Cranach below her face you can see that she's a young teen," Margery had been explaining.

"Yet she looks older in the Batoni, painted two centuries later, when girls were no longer married off at twelve," remarked Bianca recovering from her drowsiness.  "I must say that a lot of religious art is highly erotic, particularly during the Renaissance.   Paintings depicting Mary Magdalene; Salome with the head of John the Baptist and even of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian come to mind.  But there are thousands of examples you can still see in museums or in The Cloud. Repressed sexuality seems to have been bubbling not too far below the fabric of the Catholic Church, like magma below Vesuvius or Etna.  I'm sure that it was one of the factors that led to the Protestant Revolution and it found its expression in their art, and of course in their taste for nasty tortures."  

"You seem to be something of a connoisseur," Margery responded, pronouncing the last word in the French manner. "Are you interested in torture?"

She was annoyed that Bianca had resisted her hypnotic suggestions.  Bianca's rational brain was back in charge. But that had been close and they had all afternoon and it was very pleasant here with the comfortable restaurant open to the gardens.  Bianca's initial resistance would soon be overcome.

"It's not my field.  But I've always liked art museums," Bianca continued, now feeling wide awake again.  She liked this topic of conversation: sexual motivation in art. 

"Art galleries usually have a nice atmosphere and I like standing in front of a painting or sculpture and imagining what the artist was feeling when they conceived of and made a work.  It's hard to find an artist who is not sexually, religiously or politically and/or financially motivated. The political ones are quickly dated and boring, even if you agree with them, and the purely financially motivated are artistically compromised. One brings to mind to those whipping up pretty objects or family portraits to sell to home decorators. What motivated an artist to spend hours or days on that canvas or that sculpture, getting it to the point where they were happy to show it or sell it?   How many did they rub out or paint over or reduce to scrap before they produced this one?" 

"Does this girl ever stop talking?" Margery was thinking as she tried to look interested. She finished off her glass and poured another, smiling all the while.

"When it comes to Renaissance religious art I have no belief in their God, so I can only guess at how the artists felt about praise or gratefulness or comfort in His imminence and in the light of his countenance, which, by the way, is a phrase from a priest's blessing that goes right back through early Judaism to Egyptian sun worship. But I am a sexual being and I do recognise eroticism," Bianca continued enthusiastically. 

"And eroticism oozes from almost every Renaissance painting and sculpture. One hand on the paintbrush, the other you know where. Have a look at Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or his Pietà in St Peter's and put yourself in Michelangelo's mind when he first sketched them and then moved to fill in the detail of those almost naked bodies. And is that Mary, the mother, or Mary Magdalene, the mistress?   St John says the mother was at the crucifixion, yet the original Synoptic Gospels written earlier, say it was the other Mary who some say was his mistress. Michelangelo famously had some fast talking to do when people noticed that the mother looks younger than the son," she went on.

This was getting nowhere.  Margery decided to let her run.  Sooner or later Bianca would talk herself to a standstill and then it would be time to start the enchantment again.

"So I can see that your priest may well have had conflicted emotions when viewing them. Subconscious sexual arousal experienced by the faithful as religious awe?  I imagine he's not alone in that!"    

"Quite so," said Margery, petulantly, annoyed by Bianca's intellectual wanking.

"One hand on the paintbrush indeed," she thought.

It was time to restore the mood. She moved her hands to attract Bianca's attention to her ring again and continued, completely ignoring Bianca's attempt to steer the conversation to art or religion. 

"After I'd enchanted him," she continued, "I suggested that he would like me to be a virgin like Mary in the Cranach.  He would like to have known me when I was a child.  We could go back there together.  Imagine me back then when we played together.  Now I'm twelve and blossoming into a young woman.  Mary in the Cranach is a beautiful thirteen.  She already has a baby.  She's sexually experienced.  It would have been fun to fuck me when I was younger.  I could pretend to be thirteen for him.  It would be fun if I pretended to be thirteen, wouldn't it?"

Bianca could see that the young priest must have found this a very seductive idea while still hypnotised or 'enchanted' as Margery liked to call it. 

"Then I ended his enchantment and asked him if he would like to fuck me while I pretended to be thirteen," Margery concluded. "That would be wonderful he confirmed.  Needless to say I was very convincing."

Again she held the Cranach for Bianca to see and again she was pleased to see that Bianca was drawn to the young woman suckling her baby. As she looked Margery explained that she had adapted a song for her priest and she began to sing it in a kind of chant to the tune of Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music.

Bianca was finding her mind floating as Margery's voice got softer and softer.

Bianca's eyes were drooping again as she imagined a young Margery 'pretending' to be just thirteen in the embrace of her libidinous priest.  Margery's voice seemed to be at the centre of her consciousness.  She was describing in erotic detail how she felt in her priest's embrace; and his caresses; and his strong masculine body; fired with new lust. Bianca continued looking at the screen framed by Margery's hands. The hand with the ring holding it towards her as Margery continued to rotate the ring on its projecting finger with the other.  As she listened to Margery's recollections the young man's lips moved to the young woman's breasts and Bianca's thoughts were drawn to the image of the young Mary, or was it Margery, breastfeeding.

"You would like to have a baby to feed like that," Margery suggested to her and it was true. Margery's voice describing the wonderful sensations filled Bianca's consciousness.  Bianca's enraptured gaze had followed the pretty ring on Margery's hand, observing in wonder as the hand moved to discreetly unbutton the centre of her blouse so that she could caress a nipple as she distractedly crooned, as if in totally innocent reverie.

Suddenly Bianca caught herself.  This was disgraceful.  She'd had too much wine.  She was about to fall asleep in front of Margery again, who was obviously a little drunk too, confessing her most intimate memories.  She leapt up and excused herself to go to the toilet, where she slapped cold water on her face and drank several handfuls from the tap.

"But the historical Mary was neither a teenager nor a virgin," she said, returning to her seat reinvigorated.  "Some historians suggest that the historical Jesus had two older half-siblings.  There's even a church in Nazareth that seems to give some credence to this. So the term 'virgin' has been misinterpreted. It simply referred to Mary being a widow and new to Joseph."

Margery was furious.  This was the second time Bianca had successfully resisted her ring's enchantment and it was becoming extremely frustrating.

"That's totally irrelevant to what the faithful believe. For them, what they believe is true is true, irregardless of the facts," she said angrily. 

But Bianca was off on another tangent, recalling her visit to Avignon that for almost five centuries, until the French Revolution, was a Papal State and for over a century was the centre of Western Christendom until the reestablishment of Rome in the fifteenth century: 

"The Musée du Petit Palais there has a number of renaissance paintings and icons representing Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus. These began to appear around the time of Pope Pius V, who in 1569 made the Rosary, and consequent veneration of Mary, central to Catholic worship, thus distinguishing Catholics from the Protestants during the wars of religion.  The doctrines of the Assumption and the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception were also given new credence and are similarly represented in the art of the period. Such are the wondrous inventions of the human imagination."

At this point Bianca noticed that Margery was getting annoyed, she assumed, by her travel tales.  She had to be more sensitive she told herself.  Not everyone enjoyed her interests.

"But I can see how these very literal images of beautiful young women might engender complex emotions in a childless young man who believed them to be images of his God being breast-fed by the Virgin," she concluded in a conciliatory way.

This was not going at all well.  This annoying girl kept diverting from Margery's erotic tale, which was intended to engage with Bianca's basic subconscious animal libido.

"As I was saying," Margery continued, with some exasperation in her voice. "I persuaded him to fuck me, as he had become used to, but this time imagining me to be just thirteen.  And after being primed while enchanted he was really turned on by it."

"And you say all this happened on your fourteenth birthday?  Busy day," remarked Bianca, now fully alert again and totally disbelieving Margery's story.

"No, of course not.  I first enchanted him the week after I met him.  After that I could re-enchant him whenever I liked and make suggestions that he then imagined were his own ideas."

"What sort of ideas?"

"Oh, a lot of new ideas, like new things he wanted to try when we had sex; the penance he should be making; or what he should be doing at night, when I was with him in thought only.  The 'age game' was last in a long list of games so he was quite used to creative sex."

"How did you re-enchant him each time?"

"I simply became his virgin," she said, adjusting and re-buttoning her blouse to illustrate the point.

"If there is some form of Christian retribution after death, you realise that you're in big trouble, don't you?  What other games did you play?"

"Oh, you know toys and so no.  Priests are like other men deprived of sex.  Masturbation is their secret and their guilt.  I took it out of the cupboard for him and normalised it.  And as he needed to do penance for his sinning I suggested that self-flagellation is a good priestly tradition.  I actually bought his first flail and witnessed his penance, encouraging him until he bled.  It was amazingly erotic."

"So what happened on the big day?"

"I've already told you.  By now I could make him do whatever I liked.  I already had a mass of recordings of him fucking me and agreeing with me that I was thirteen.  We no longer used the word 'pretend' during the age game.  Then for my 'eighteenth' birthday we went into the country for a picnic.  We'd begun the picnic in a sort of idyll, my back against a leafy tree, him lying on the rug his head in my lap.  I unbuttoned my blouse and bent over him, touching my nipple to his lips. I told him that he'd promised me Champaign for my birthday. Then I released him from his trance and I demanded to know where the Champaign was.  Obviously he'd forgotten to bring it, so I went berserk and attacked him."

"Why did you bother with that? It seems a bit convoluted."

"I needed him to attempt to restrain me and maybe get a bruise or two; I wanted to scratch him to get some skin and blood under my fingernails; and most of all I needed to get his adrenaline flowing.   Then I fell into his arms and succumbed. But as he took me I began screaming that it was my birthday so he was raping a fourteen year old.  He was great.  It was the most violent he'd ever been. It's a wonderful recording. And I had no trouble at the clinic convincing them that I'd been raped.  It was my best birthday present ever."

Bianca was watching Margery's hands playing with her ring again and was getting quite involved in this new erotic tale. Margery was pleased with her growing enchantment and again began to elaborate on the sexual experience, describing her feelings; and his touch; and the noises he made; and his smell; and the shape of his body.

"So the following day, after he proposed, was the first time that he'd realised that you were not actually eighteen?" Bianca asked dreamily.

"Yes, but before I told him, I enchanted him again and told him that he'd known all along that I was a thirteen-year-old pretending to be seventeen."

"Like revealing a recovered memory?"

"Just like that," Margery said quietly. "Under hypnosis he'd realised that he'd actually known my real age for months, but that, driven by lust and desire for it to be as it seemed, he'd repressed that knowledge. That's nice isn't it?  Can you imagine doing that to someone?"

Bianca began to imagine what that would be like: trapping a man into becoming her servant so that he had to service her every desire.

"So he discovered that when he fell in love with a seventeen-year-old he was actually a paedophile," Bianca said giggling, she should have been horrified but found this amusing somehow. Was it Margery's voice?

"And I had all those recordings, when I'd often asked how he liked fucking a thirteen year old and he'd responded in the most enthusiastic way.  But the clincher was the medical report and my suggestion that he submit to a DNA test.  He would become a registered rapist and paedophile and would be chipped and chemically castrated.  He broke down completely, sobbing uncontrollably and threatening to take his own life.  I sat with him soothing him as he shivered in fear and panic and explained in a soft voice that I didn't want to hurt him.  I just wanted him to be my servant and I wouldn't expose him if he was a good boy and did as I asked.  He said that I was mad to think that he would ever accept a fourteen year old girl owning him like that.  I argued that I was not a normal fourteen year old, so my age was irrelevant, and that he was prepared to put others in the position of effectively owning him.  For example the Church, as represented by very ordinary and fallible old men.  All I was asking was to be his mistress in both senses of the word and he was assured of liking me in both roles."

"If as you say, he is out there somewhere as your pet Bishop, then he must have eventually come around?" said Bianca, still not completely under the spell.

"I used what had happened to Greg as an example.  All his dreams and expectations in life would be over at a word from me.  On the other hand, all he had to do to make this horror disappear was to accept my love, in the same way that a pet accepts the love of their mistress. That's how I loved him, as mistress loves her pet, it was just like the love of God, because he was my pet just as Christians like to imagine themselves in their relationship to the deity."

"Ah yes, love," said Bianca, feeling very pleasant at the thought. "It's a word with many meanings." 

"With me as his mistress, his future could be successful, carefree and wonderful. Without me he would be destroyed, miserable and hopeless.  I explained that his position was nothing new, because I'd secretly been in control of his life ever since I'd met him."

"And he understood and accepted that?"  Bianca was still doubtful.

"It was like breaking a horse.  A horse is broken when it finally accepts that you're in control.  Then it becomes your faithful servant.  We had sex for the first time with him in full knowledge of my real age. That was when he truly realised that he'd been broken. It was then that I told him that from now on we would pull together, as partners, as if secretly married.  With my help and guidance he could rise to be a Bishop, then perhaps a Cardinal and perhaps even the Pope."

"Was he submitting forever? Or was he just submitting to make you happy until he could think of a way of escaping."

"At that moment he was entirely sincere.  Of course someone who submits because of a threat may return to being insincere.  But once he had submitted I began to train him psychologically and physiologically to automatic obedience, as one would train an animal, using his growing addiction to self-flagellation and his increasing need to be rewarded sexually. He's become totally incapable of disobeying my direct commands or even rejecting my suggestions for very long.   When you've made them truly subservient they crave your approval.  You become their goddess."

Bianca was sceptical about Margery actually having a pet Bishop, who she still dominated and had sex with. It seemed incredible, yet like a fairy-tale, she wished it were true.  After a pleasant afternoon, with the warm sun streaming in and the blue harbour glistening beyond the shore, she found the idea incredibly sexy.  Everything about Margery was sexy particularly her voice, which now filled Bianca's awareness, everything else had faded into the background.

This was the moment Margery had hoped for: to draw Bianca in; to enchant her with her ring.  But Margery had drunk far too much wine, in frustration and annoyance, while Bianca had talked of art and religion and had stopped drinking.  So now Margery was in no position to take advantage of her success. 

She just went on with her recollections, a little less coherently: "I sujg-ested to him that he think of me as Mary Mag-alen partner-ered with Jesuss."

"Isn't that a popular heresy that the Church finds abhorrent? Are you suggesting that here is a Bishop out there who believes that Mary was the lover of Jesus? Like Michelangelo may have?" Bianca asked.

"Abssolutely," Margery slurred.

Margery's moment of opportunity had passed.  It was getting late and the temperature had fallen as the sun prepared for another night. With the sudden chill Bianca was fully awake and taking a final sip of her undrunk wine.  They would soon be thrown out.

"Have you never had to blackmail him again?" asked Bianca.

"Sit's not blackmail," Margery exclaimed indignantly.  "I think of it being like one of those ane-kle collar-s on day release prisoners.  It s-imply prevents 'm escaping.  As I've sujgested to him, he has a richer life than the average bish-hop: not just the usual like: the Church; the Trinity; Mary the motha of Jesus; and the communion-on of saints.  He has th' other Mary too, the whore.  An I'm a good mistress t' have.  Unlike some mistresses-es who've enslay-ved their men wit sex, I've neva demanded a diamon' necklace or a mink furr o that he leaves his famil-ey.  I'm the other god n his life, all I de-mand is hiss obedien-ce.  He's famillar with that con-sept."

"When did you abandon your teacher in The Craft to go professional?"

"I didn't abandon her. She died. It was devastatin. I wa sil ona fourten,"  Margery was crying now. 

Bianca reached out and took her hand sympathetically.   After a short time weeping quietly Margery pulled herself together and seemed quite normal again.

"That was when I was thrown out on my own to find a man to live with. I applied The Craft.  I'd graduated to the real thing."

"So 'the real thing', like Coke, is that what you provide?" asked Bianca, pointing to an ancient framed advertisement for a pre-famine soft-drink, depicting a hand holding an old fashioned bottle, against a yellow circle on a red background, that decorates one wall. "Or are you more like coke the addictive drug?"

Margery was delighted with that idea. She cheered up and began to laugh, then she got up saying: "I'd better get going, I have a catch to train," between chortles.

That was Circe's cue to call the robotic parking-garage to bring out Margery's signature black hover-bike.  As Margery walked to the landing pad for the quick flight over the harbour to Mohandas', she realised that she had underestimated Bianca, who'd led her into saying far too much and even made her cry.  Her ring had failed yet again.  It was the little engine that couldn't, with not enough puff to make it over this hill. 

Next time she won't make the same mistake. She'll apply the full witching power of The Craft.  A wicked man she's kept in contact with since they were fellow students, has made a much more seductive device than her ring.  Its puff never fails.  As her black hover-bike wove erratically into the blue and red sky, until its autopilot took the controls, Circe contacted the warlock's VPA.  He will have one to her in the New Year she told Margery.  The autopilot delivered her safely to the parking station adjacent to Mohandas'.  That was when Circe's appearance, her Avatar, suggested another vulnerability to exploit.  She placed the orders.

Margery could hardly wait for the deliveries. Once Bianca's mind is hers, Bianca's body will soon crave to follow.  Addiction is the key.  As she'd been taught: with continued pleasurable stimulation, by substance or practice, withdrawal soon becomes more distressing than the ongoing practice.  Margery is self-aware enough to know that her teacher had addicted her to the pleasure of hurting others. She gets a rush when she inflicts pain that she now craves.  That's why she delights in addicting her conquests to needing pain. Ying and Yang.

With Phillip in training as a familiar, she now has two to satisfy that lust.  And an addiction to pain would ruin Bianca as her future apprentice and sister in The Craft.  Drugs are good but heroine is a bit too obvious for someone named Bianca.  She would go with the obvious. Bianca was even seeing sex oozing from religious art.  The girl's obviously at her sexual peak.  It wouldn't take a lot of training to make her a nymphomaniac and a lesbian too. Yes, that will soon be Bianca's addiction.  Then what?  High class prostitution has manifest attractions: a new Belle de Jour?  It would provide a useful line of credit too.

Thinking of addictions, her mind drifted back to Derrick, her first familiar. She'd made him her faithful servant when still an amateur, skilled at giving her pleasure whenever she required him to, and she hadn't even granted him her virginity.  He could still truthfully say, as that President once said of 'that woman': "I have not have sex with my sister!"

 

 

 


Chapter 14 - Development

 

 

 

Mohandas wasn'tt entirely sure how he had been recruited to this program to develop his member to a more satisfactory size.

Kat had simply sprung it on him when he imagined it was another of her little games.  Now he discovered that the lingam enlarging process would take weeks, so first thing on Tuesday he ordered a cot to be delivered and cut a hole in it, as specified by Vatsyayana. 

He contacted his manager again saying that now he was very sick and expected to be off for at least another fortnight.  Normal intercourse hurt him terribly yet Kat insisted on it, before applying her cool concoctions, saying that it was part of the treatment.  He knew when a session was about to begin because she would kiss a capsule into his mouth. She would then caress and slap and squeeze his lingam until he was in mind-numbing pain as his erection grew sufficiently for intercourse.  After the fifth day he found that he looked forward to these treatments and became painfully erect the moment she removed her skirt, blouse and knickers, in preparation for the session, that would quite often end with her talking Pussy out of the bag 'for a little supper'. As a result of these ongoing attentions he was still very swollen and sore a fortnight later. 

He was gingerly applying her slaving cream, after her latest erotic demands had been satisfied, when she abruptly said that it was a pity that they had to end her visits on such a sore note. 

"It was nice knowing you but I'm afraid that's going to be 'it'.  I can't come any more."

"What do you mean?" he said, shocked.

"I know that Mikado is working.  You are just fiddling with it to keep me coming over in the evenings: Aren't you!"

He looked sheepish and nodded like a little boy.  She was delighted.  It was an educated guess on her part.

"You're one of those developers that when you see light at the end of the tunnel orders another hundred metres of tunnel."

"I'm sorry.  It's just that I love you and want to be with you, always," he begged.

"Even so, you'll be back at work tomorrow.  And I'll be away for a couple of months.  I've been putting off this trip to be with you.  But now I discover you've been lying and keeping me here under false pretences."

He felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his life.  "Do you have to go so soon?" He was in tears.

"I could delay for another couple of weeks.  But what would be the point with you back at work again.  And that's awkward when we both work at the same place."

That's when he came up with 'his idea' that over a week earlier she'd used hypnotic suggestion to implant in his subconscious awareness: 

"I've been thinking that Mikado could be made into a real commercial App," he said.  "It could be quite successful like 'couch surfing'; or Air-B&B; or any of those."

"I don't know," she said.  "It sounds like a lot of work. What's in that for me?"

"We could do it together.  Would that make you stay a bit longer, until I'm better?"

After quite a bit of persuasion she finally agreed.  She would stay and help until they had a commercial App. 

"But if I find you've been wasting time playing games or deliberately extending the project again I'm out of here," she said.

He messaged his boss yet again saying that he would need to take his full two months annual leave.  He gave Kat his password so that she could go in and forward his work messages. They settled into a routine.  Kat would visit him most evenings on her hover-bike after work to see what he'd done; collect a copy to review at home; and reward him for his day's work. Pussy would then come out for supper.  Kat always parked in the nearby parking station, where the landing pad launched towards the park, and she could come and go unseen, or at least unrecognised, wearing her black helmet and long black flying-coat.

The sex, which often involved hurting him was a lot of fun now and his swollen member was much more satisfactory.  Anyway she needed some relief from his droning on and on and having to pretend that she understood a word he was saying.  Mohandas was now prepared to do anything she demanded.  Obviously some things she made him do, like licking her dirty shoes, gave her no real sexual satisfaction.  They were simply part of his training, the process of removing the last remnants of ego.  It's like making a dog sit and wait for the 'eat command' before he's allowed to eat.  Now that she'd trained him almost completely, he would give her 'his ego' on command.  Of course that was just for fun, to prove her complete dominion, most went via Pussy to Margery for 'shoe credit'.

On the days she didn't arrive due to Margery's other social engagements, usually involving being seen around town with Phillip, who is old time royalty, Mohandas would miss Kat terribly.  Nothing was too much.  He looked forward to satisfying her in ever more ways.  For her part 'Kat' enjoyed his growing skill at pleasing her.  She even re-experienced a virtual reality medley of her haptic recordings at work using her  Touchyfeely erotic bodystocking and her discrete, head-up display glasses.  She particularly liked doing this when Bianca might see and guess that she was replaying Mohandas.  But Bianca was being very standoffish since their last lunch.  Somehow Bianca had known about her dates with Phillip, boating and at the Zoo. 

Phillip has paid several times over for his loose tongue.  She punished him systematically until he began begging her to hurt him again.  Then it lost it's sting and her enjoyment waned.  Kat suggested mesmerising both him and Mohandas and making them have each other.  Of course they won't do it unless they subconsciously desire it.  So in preparation Margery's been seeing if she can make, aggressively heterosexual, Phillip become gay. It's been lots of fun for Kat.  She's always liked taking the male role with her strap-on dildo but that just makes her victims like 'her' more.  So after initial 'conditioning' by Kat, Margery introduced Phillip to 'Glen', a very lifelike gender-morphing automaton, supplied by a wicked colleague.  To every external appearance Glen is a real person with real: attributes; abilities; and a filthy mouth; but her/his erotic desires, pleasures and skills are programmed to change with his/her physical appearance - from a voluptuous young woman into a very well endowed young man - or vice versa.  

Before deploying Glen each time Margery was careful to enchant Phillip, suggesting that he wanted to try yet another small erotic transformation.   At each session Glen's skin texture and odour, as well as other more obvious physical attributes transformed, initially a very sexy young girl Glen progressively became a fit, and very simpatico, young man.  The result, in just a few sessions, was spectacular.  Unfortunately this was too fast for Kat.  Phillip was no longer finding her very sexy and the whole point of this, otherwise rather delightful exercise of control over Phillip's very essence, was lost because her spoil-sport alter-ego, Margery, didn't want to jeopardise Mohandas' principal function, which is to develop Mikado.  So last weekend Margery and Kat went to a football game to pickup one of Phillip's macho heroes, a heterosexual footballer, who Kat's presently converting for Phillip:  a Tweedledum to his Tweedledee.  Glen is a thrilling new addition to the toolshed and like any new tool, 'practice makes perfect'.  The next outing will be to convert a heterosexual girl the other way.

Now it's a new year and things are back on track in other ways too.

Margery's other long awaited deliveries have arrived. Kat's tingling with erotic anticipation. Bianca had proven difficult for Margery to enchant last year using her ring but her new device has a lot more 'puff' and there's no possibility of failure.  Bianca will certainly be Kat's to play with by to morrow evening.  Maybe it will be the next outing for Glen. 

Kat was so excited this morning at the prospect that after lunch she arrived early at Mohandas' for some afternoon delight.  And having been moderately delighted, she's now lounging on a big cushion in Mohandas' workroom in her voluptuous red satin-brocade house coat. It's fallen open from the waist, exposing her legs and tummy in a way that she knows he finds enormously erotic, so she's made no effort to cover up.   Perhaps on Thursday Margery will bring Bianca around here for her first 'play date' with Mohandas.  Start her off small.

She laughed happily at her 'little' joke and at the delicious thought.  Not that he's so little anymore.  Mohandas turned from his screen and smiled stupidly, pleased that his mistress was happy. Tomorrow is Wednesday, the day they met, and Kat always celebrates Wednesday with another Christmas present. Then she'll kiss his pill into his mouth and he will get very hard and they'll spend the next hour in bed before she has to go.

Margery was pleased that the Wednesday ritual now produced this Pavlovian response. For quite some time the pill had been nothing but a breath freshener. After a day spent coding and eating junk food he needs that more than the original sildenafil and THC.  

He'll get a pleasant surprise tomorrow when his girlfriend turns up, hot to trot for a threesome. 

Next weekend she fancies a much longer threesome with Bianca and Phillip.  It will be an excellent training opportunity for both of them.

She rolled over in pleasure and cuddled her cushion.  Yes; this was to be the year of the Kat.

 

 


Chapter 15 - Witchcraft

 

 

 

Bianca had been avoiding Margery over the holiday period.  She was just too much hard work. Then, towards the end of January, she noticed that Mohandas was no longer trying to find out how she'd gained access to the system.  When she checked she discovered that he'd not yet returned to work.  Her plan, hatched as she sat on the loo at Jackie O's place, to use Margery to divert him, was working better than she'd expected.  Her guilt was rekindled.  She'd just decided to see how he was enjoying his new relationship with Margery when Margery messaged her. 

Margery suggested that they have lunch on Wednesday.  As bait, Margery suggested that Bianca might be interested in The Craft and how she'd bewitched Mohandas. 

"Bewitched?" wondered Bianca. 

But many attractive women use that expression about their conquests.  What is a 'Witch' anyway?  New religions, and old ones revived, have experienced incredible growth since the economic recovery after the Great Famine. 

Isis came up with this image by JW Waterhouse in The Cloud.  The woman bears a remarkable resemblance to Margery who has both a crystal video ball and a skull in her office; and even a wand that she likes to use as a pointer; but no book.

Bianca had been about to suggest a lunch herself and accepted the invitation happily.  They selected a quiet booth and sat opposite each other.  It's a nice quiet restaurant decorated with dark polished wood and reddish brown leather.  Dark table linen is chosen to set off the fine crystal and solid silver cutlery. Soft classical music and the smell of the dish of the day: 'Roast quail on a bed of truffle-mash with a side of legumes au caviar', provide ambiance.   It's a cheap place. 

As usual Margery chose the side in the spotlight, ordered a bottle of Beaujolais and took off her jacket. Bianca was startled.  Was Margery deliberately trying to look like Isis?  If so dressing up as someone else's VPA, their closest companion, would be unforgivably inappropriate.  Bianca would be justified in leaving immediately.

But in this case the effect was just in the initial shock, as a result of the wide, azure inlayed, gold neck ornament Margery was wearing, in the ancient Egyptian style, extending halfway to her shoulders and scooped down over her collarbone in a semicircle.  To have truly dressed as Isis she would have had to shed her 'token' camisole altogether and to have worn a corset below her breasts in addition to Isis' distinctive strap-on arm wings and the high forked crown.

There were no wings. Indeed, Margery's pale arms were unusually bare today. Her usual gold charm bracelet and other bangles were gone and in their place a gold and green asp wound around her right upper arm. Its intricately engraved cobra head, with little emerald eyes, open mouth and forked tongue, seemed almost to be alive, slithering from her armpit.  With her fringe and her straight black hair lightly braided, she was the image, not of Isis, but of Cleopatra. 

Not quite in keeping with the rest of her jewellery, Margery was also wearing some sort of pendant on a chain, hanging within the scoop of her loose camisole top.  In this light Bianca could see the oddly out of place pendant occasionally falling forward and catching the light against the silk. 

"She's quite stunning. No wonder she has such success as a seductress," Bianca was thinking, realising that resemblance to Isis was a deliberate ploy by Cleopatra.  She was finding this idea particularly disturbing in some subconscious way.  Margery was up to something again.

Margery always had to have vintage wine.  It amused Bianca that although all food and wine now came from factories there were still vintage differences modelled on, and identical to, famous pre-famine wines and prices varied accordingly. Yet the cost of production was identical. It was a nice example of an economic externality. When she mentioned this to Margery, Margery's eyes took in the room and she failed to respond, as if she hadn't heard. Another subject should be found. 

"Where do you get your theories about women dominating men?" Bianca enquired, changing the subject from economics to sex, Margery's principal interest when they had lunch.

"They're not theories. Women have always had power over men. The ancient Greeks understood very well how dangerous women are to men.  Think of the Amazons defeating them in battle; Sirens luring men to their deaths; or Circe turning them into pigs. The Maenads or Bacchae of the Cult of Dionysus were said to have torn animals and men apart with their bare hands and later to have supernatural powers. They left men terrified.  Religions that give power to men are an attempt to reverse this imbalance. Think of Salome and Delilah in the Bible.  There are dozens of examples of male writers fearing powerful women.  Think of Lady Macbeth or MAdán Bovary.   Many women know this instinctively.  Many men are completely controlled by a mistress, or sometimes even their wife, who manipulates them by offering or withholding sex. A lot of these are Sirens who will eventually lure him onto the rocks and ruin him or render him pathetic."

"Last time we met like this you were talking about The Craft. What's that?"

"It's a lot of things.  You know, like: Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble, plus of course the art of suggestion, engendering fear or respect, as well as Enchantment also called Mesmerism; or hypnosis if you like."

"Is that how you lure a man onto the rocks?  You sing to him or do you just wiggle your nose or say some magic words you've imbedded in their subconscious?" 

"It's very like that.  The traditional way of enchanting someone is to chant a magical formula that captures their mind. But almost any words will do if delivered in the right circumstances, with the correct cadence.  Once they've been enchanted the first time the subject's given a trigger phrase or gesture that returns them to their enchanted state.  As I was telling you about my Bishop, when he was a priest he was enchanted each time I presented him my nipple.  But my breast was unnecessary, it was the idea of my nipple that enchanted him. When he was hearing my confession in a booth next to me I just had to say a hit of the word: 'nip' would be sufficient for me to be hearing his confession. And a related gesture, lightly touching my breast, would made him agree with me in public.  Some women have done this to their partner without resorting to hypnosis. They just use a facial expression to bring him in line"

"So you could message him now and use the word 'nip' to render him subservient to your will?"

"The conditions would need to be right or I would be risking it not working and becoming useless.  Anyway triggers need to be renewed if not used regularly. I'm not telling you his present triggers, they should always be kept a secret between the therapist and patient.  There is nothing secret or alternative about it.  Hypnosis is an evidence-based medical phenomenon. Medical hypnotherapists use suggestion to hypnotise their patients and it's how placebos and acupuncture and many 'alternative' medicines work. If the effect is watched in a brain scanner, the subject's brain function actually changes as if they've been drugged. So by means of simple suggestion, they may no longer feel pain; or their usual inhibitions and patterns of behaviour are changed; or they become sexually aroused."

"Is this widely known? It sounds dangerous if one person can control another so easily." 

"It's not magic or rocket science, stage hypnotists also do it for a living and there are a lot of professional hypnotherapists who do it medically every day.  It's as old as the hills.  But it is not always an instant solution to deeply imbedded habits or addictions like smoking or heroine.  The patient needs to want the change or to like the suggestions made subconsciously, for example on stage, a subject wants to be entertaining.  The hypnotist simply removes their subconscious inhibitions and suggests a method of entertainment.  A hypnotherapist on the other hand might need multiple sessions to stop someone chewing their fingernails or stop smoking.  Removing or embedding a phobia may require other therapies.  The subject's sense of what is true and false, right and wrong and their previous physiological and psychological conditioning will also help determine the outcomes. Preconditioning of the subjects' world view, as religions do from childhood, is often necessary if extreme outcomes are sought. For example, in primitive societies witchdoctors once used these techniques and the secret knowledge was handed down mouth to mouth by tradition, along with the properties of psychoactive plants, insects and so on.  With the right preconditioning people could be made to wither and die, just by the art of suggestion: like a curse or a bone pointing ceremony or a voodoo doll.  Similarly, even today, a nocebo, Latin for 'I shall harm', is an inert substance or form of therapy that, generally inadvertently, creates harmful effects in a patient. An example might be hypochondria that causes actual pain that the victim actually feels but is not real as a nerve signal."

Bianca knew that Margery was not a Grad and doubted that she could read at all well but relied, surreptitiously, on her VPA, Circe.  Yet there was no doubting that she was highly knowledgeable and expert in those fields that interested her and that she called her Craft.  It reminded her of Zaire's interest and expertise in old English literature.  For probably the first time, Margery was telling her things of a technical nature that she didn't already know.

"You say that their brain actually changes. They are not just playing along with a stage hypnotist?  And that acupuncture actually works by changing how the patient's brain receives the pain stimulus?"

"Yes, absolutely, but just as placebo, nocebo or acupuncture won't work unless the subject believes it will, the subject has to believe that the hypnotist can hypnotise them.  Sometimes a briefly disorienting pharmaceutical will help to convince a doubter that they are falling under a spell."

"Then obviously, being able to change someone's brain state with simple gesture or word is a very powerful tool. You told me how you seduced your Bishop but how do you enchant someone you're not actually having sex with?" 

"Haven't you seen a stage hypnotist?  They aren't screwing everyone they hypnotise.  It can be done by tone of voice or an understood gesture or, yes, even a magic word.  This is implanted subconsciously after the subject has been made susceptible by being enchanted for the first time. It's amusing to use some traditional 'witching' term or gesture like forked fingers.  Like any skill it requires learning and practice.  I'm not going to give away all my secrets."

Here, Margery who had done almost all the talking, caught up with her lunch.  They had both had the special: quail and truffled sweet potato with legumes on the side. 

***

"Please go on," Bianca asked when the pretty, thin bone china, plates and sterling silver cutlery had gone and only their wine remained.

"Ok just a taste," said Margery, sipping her wine. "The environment is important: lighting; temperature; music; comfort; potential distractions.   More important is one's presence in that environment:  how you look, feel sound and smell to them; what you wear; how you carry yourself; your apparent authority.  Most important is to capture their full attention: you or something you control such as a locket or a pretty bauble, like this one, must be the only thing they hold in their mind."

As she said that, she brought forward the gold amulet that had been dangling inside her camisole.  It was on a separate gold chain hanging under her neck adornment.  Bianca found it fascinating.  This was Margery's secret amulet that she had caught a glimpse of midway between those breasts.  Like Margery's arm-snake, it was engraved with an elaborately etched filigree pattern. It was probably 18 or 24 caret; an elongated egg shape; the length of her little finger. Margery smiled at Bianca's interest and held the chain out from her body to let Bianca see it better.  As Bianca leant forward, to take it in her hand, a little mist of Margery's scent came towards her.  What a clever idea, it was a handy scent spray. Margery was always rummaging for lost things in her big floppy handbag.

Leaning forward across the table to reach the cylinder, as Margery leant towards her, Bianca was suddenly feeling a bit dizzy and had became almost uncomfortably aware of Margery's breasts, now fully visible as scooped neck of her camisole fell open; her elbows on the table; bear arms either side.  The amulet was warm from Margery's body. Bianca could smell Margery's armpits; it was not unpleasant.  That snake had come alive. The back of her hand brushed by soft silk; a hard nipple. Margery smiling at her touch.  No!  She let the bauble drop and retreated in alarm.  Margery was just too inviting; and disorienting.  Margery was coming around the table to let her see it better. She gave it a little twirl.  It had an interesting swivel that allowed it to spin on several axes.  And perhaps it had some kind of motor, because rather than slowing it seemed to be getting progressively faster and silvery arms seemed to have spun out from it, reflecting the lights in the restaurant.  It began wobbling like an inverted top that has lost its stability.  The visual effect was of several things spinning. The colours reflecting and changing shapes reminded her of a kaleidoscope.  Bianca could distinctly see a face; a three dimensional image of Cleopatra; or was it Margery (?) coming and going; morphing into Isis and back to Margery within its blur.  It was amazingly seductive.   Margery was continuing to tell her something important about the Art of Suggestion in a sort of melodic voice and was sliding in beside her.  Yet Bianca was not really hearing the words as Margery's body got closer.

"Then you can take over their mind by degrees. Their introduction to your control needs to be something comforting. Very very comforting," she was saying. The image in the spinning blur continued to come and go.   "Stage hypnotists like to tell their subjects to relax," she drew the word out, "but in a sexual context, gently caressing; or caressing and stroking; or caressing with the lips, lightly kissing their face; or their hands; or their wrists; or simply moving close to them and caressing them with your skin; or the touch of your silky camisole can work even better." 

She was distracted by the spinning locket. It was now right in front of her face.  The moment its image morphed once more into Margery's it stopped.  It dropped back to its secret place to be replaced by Margery's actual face, a hands breadth away. Her real eyes were glinting too as she continued to list her seductive ideas.  She'd taken Bianca's left hand in her right and was gently holding it, palm upwards, in her lap, stroking Bianca's forearm down to her palm with the other.  Bianca found that she liked this enormously.  She was no longer feeling uncomfortable with this intimate contact.    Margery suggested that her hand had become very light.  It floated upwards to the level of Margery's breast.  Then Margery suggested that it was very heavy and it dropped heavily back to her lap. Margery suggested that the only thing in the world was her voice.

All Bianca could hear was Margery's voice. 

"Now you will listen to me and answer me yes or no. I've told you about some of my most erotic experiences haven't I.  And some were really nasty weren't they?" 

"Yes," Bianca confirmed.

"Now you want to tell me about some of your erotic experiences don't you?  You have much better stories than I have don't you?"

"Yes," admitted Bianca.

"Think about the best one. One that makes you feel nicest. That would be very nice to tell me about wouldn't it?  It would make me jealous. You could make it sound very sexy when you tell me couldn't you?"

"Yes."

"That's very arousing isn't it?  It's lovely to feel so aroused isn't it?"

"Yes."

"It would be even more arousing and exciting if you added things that you've never done, yet wish you had.  That would make me even more jealous wouldn't it?  Think of those things now. We have lots of time."

Margery gave her some time to imagine carrying out her unresolved fantasies.  Bianca was beginning to squirm against her in the most satisfactory way.  It was going very well.  She should stop the session soon and give her the trigger phrase, maybe 'Christmas Present'. Yes Christmas Present, to re-enchant her in future.  Then she needed to wind-up this session by suggesting to Bianca that she remembers nothing about the amulet or anything that came later.  It's a pity, because Bianca's really aroused now and 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush', as they say.

Margery was finding that she was quite aroused too. Maybe a bit longer and a bit more fun?  This can be quite tricky.  Suggestion requires the acquiescence of the subject.  To make them do something against their nature needs a lot more work to break down their resistance.  She decided to test Bianca's resistance to something new by suggesting a few more things. 

"Listen carefully. I'm going to tell you some things and if they are true you will nod yes; and if they are not you will shake your head."

Bianca stopped imagining her secret fantasy.

"You like me sitting beside you like this." Nod. 

"You like the feel of my body against yours." Nod.

"You think I'm sexy." Nod. 

"Very good.  Now I want something from you. I will find it very sexy and so will you. It may be something you've never done with a woman. Would you like that?  Answer yes or no."

"Yes," Bianca said softly

"I think you know what it is.  I want you to give me a Christmas present.  You want to find out how it feels to seduce someone like that. Don't you?"

Bianca was still feeling amazingly aroused after her earlier fantasy. It had involved Margery. It was lovely to feel so aroused and Margery is very sexy today. Of course she would allow her the present she desired.

"Yes," confirmed Bianca and smiled in delight when Margery's left hand rested on her knee under the table.  It was what she now desperately wanted to try, even while wearing her new French knickers.  She grabbed Margery's wrist to start her seduction but Margery suggested that her hand had been glued there.  So Bianca couldn't move it.

"You would like me to unglue my hand from your knee wouldn't you?"

"Yes!" Bianca was indignant.   

"But fair's fair, if you give me a present I have to give you a present too." 

Margery lifted Bianca's right hand to her knee and grabbed Bianca's wrist. 

"O, feel that!  My hand's come unstuck when you put your left hand on my wrist," Margery declared.

They exchanged Christmas Presents.

Eventually, when Margery was more than delighted with the outcomes, she pushed Bianca off and prepared to resume her old seat as if nothing had happened. As they separated and Margery began to stand as she was closing the session.

"Now, in future when you hear me say the words 'Christmas Present' you will..."

 

 


Chapter 16 - Willow

 

 

 

Willow's friend Zaire was becoming successful.  She hardly messages her anymore even though they had been friends all their lives, shared fashion tips; and went to Karaoke; and the beach; and the driving range; and indoor rock climbing; and snow skiing; and go-carts; and gigs; and everything, together. 

There is a big hole in Willow's life.  She feels rejected and jealous.  After all she had been there when Zaire saw the job advertised.  She could have applied too but the thought of actually going to places that she could just as easily experience in virtual reality seemed silly.

Like most young people Willow and Zaire still live with their parents. Because parents are licensed and children are generally limited to two per family, children are the most precious thing.  So many parents, particularly mothers, try to keep them at home for as long as possible, sometimes into their thirties. So it's been four years since Willow and Zaire were first allowed to bring a boyfriend home to sleep with them overnight or to go to a boy's family home and expect the same hospitality.

But now Zaire's new job takes her away from home as well, so now she seldom sleeps in her bed at home.  It's only a matter of time until she doesn't come home at all.  And she's only twenty one.  This is another thing that annoys Willow. It's as if Zaire is growing up faster and leaving her behind. 

Another example of this is their virtual personal assistants, VPAs.  When a child is named they are allocated a VPA, hosted in The Cloud, and before they begin to speak they are normally given their first baby touch screen and start to interact with their VPA, who will be given a baby name like 'Namby' or 'Tookle' and will be chosen a comforting Avatar for their virtual appearance, like a soft-toy or even a vehicle of some sort.  Starfighter has a talking aeroplane called 'Buzzy'.

Willow's parents thought she was saying Snookle so her VPAs avatar got the name 'Snookie'.  Snookie could appear almost anywhere: on the MV; the screen in her cot; inside toys; at preschool; and on any viewing device that she ever owned.  Snookie would read her stories; and babysit; and call mum or dad when she was sad or wanted them; and teach her things; and call her friends so she could talk to them; and suggest games that she could teach them to play; and warn her of danger; and later she could tell her how to go places; and show her things that she could buy; and manage her credit; and get songs and video for her and do a hundred and one other things.  She loves Snookie and wouldn't change her for the world, even though she looks like a pink bear she has a loveable growly voice.

Zaire's first VPA was Jemma, a light brown teddy bear that suited her because she has darker skin than Willow and looks like she has a permanent suntan.  The two VPAs were friends, like the two girls, and would be very funny when they called each other, leaving the girls laughing with delight.  But now Zaire has a 'professional' job she's decided that she can't have a teddy as a VPA and has 're-skinned' Jemma as a young man called Pip, from some old story by someone called Dickson or something.  Pip's Avatar dresses and talks like someone from the nineteenth century and has the body of some hot actor called Booth who once played the part in a movie; or so Zaire says.  She kept talking about having great expectations.

It's heartbreaking.  How could she do such a thing?  Willow soaked her pillow with her tears.

***

Willow's parents are members of the Bogan Song Church and religion has always played a big part in her life.  Recently she persuaded Starfighter to come with her to a service.  He was really blown away by the size of the church building and the huge number of worshippers.  At the Catholic Church that his family attends, they would be lucky to get a thousand to a service. 

Bogan Song Church is a Pentecostal Christian music-ministry and the services are more like a concert, interspersed with fundamentalist teachings.  It's quite unlike the traditional Catholic service that Starfighter is used to, even though his church does have a choir and gets regular visits from singing nuns with guitars.  Bogan Song Church have even greater inspirational songs such as the mega-hits: Bogans Just Like Us and Uplift Your Love.

It worries Willow that Starfighter is a Catholic and that Zaire is an atheist. She is not sure which is worse.  Almost everyone else Willow knows, mostly through church, is a Protestant Christian so it must be the true religion.  When she asked Pastor James if she should have non-Christians as friends he told her that she should be a missionary for the truth: tell them about the love she holds in her heart for Jesus; and invite them to the Bogan Song Church to hear people speaking in voices, so that the true faith might bring them into the light.   But he warned her that she should be cautious when dealing with unbelievers lest she be led into the darkness and seduced by the Devil.  He explained that the Bible is the only Word of God and was transcribed by men acting under divine inspiration. It's literal truth and can't be doubted. Catholics, for example, were once Christian but they were led by evil men in Rome motivated by power and prestige into the darkness.   They have been seduced by numerous heresies that have no support in Holy Scripture, for example they have invented a place called Purgatory and they imagine themselves cannibalising Jesus, instead of simply remembering his sacrifice with the Eucharist, at their Mass.  

This is the point at which Willow got a bit confused. Pastor James says that Jesus, our Saviour, is one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity but that the Catholics are heretical because they believe that you can also pray to Saints and to Mary mother of Jesus.  But Willow's friend Alya lost her keys in the surf at the beach. They fell from the waistband of her swimsuit and they were certainly gone.  They all searched and searched until it was hopeless.  Then Alya prayed to Saint Anthony and they looked again, just below where the waves were breaking, as St Anthony had told her, and there they were on the bottom.  It was a miracle. 

She told Pastor James that now she sort of believed in Saint Anthony.  He was very cross with her, explaining that the invocation of Saints is repugnant to the Word of God and punishable by everlasting torment.  And anyway Saints have no power to find keys in the surf.  Finding the keys was just normal providence at work and all part of God's mysterious plan.  When we have accepted Jesus we have no need of Saints or mothers of God or a Pope who claims some sort of higher authority for interpreting scripture.  All a true Christian needs is the Bible, as read to us by our VPA.

When she tried to tell Zaire all this and that she must come with her to the Bogan Song Church to hear Pastor James, Zaire asked why one church was any better than another?  They all made similar claims about special possession of the truth.  And anyway fundamentalists are nuts.  The Bible is internally contradictory in dozens of places, and outrageous nonsense in a lot more, so how could it be the literal word of God?  And who is this God anyway?  If 'He' is already three entities wrapped into one, why shouldn't He represent the entire heavenly family?  She said she quite likes the story of Mary's assumption to be with her son, even though Protestants and the Eastern Church regard the story to be a shocking blasphemy.

The Catholic Church has hugely enriched out culture with truly imaginative tales; wonderful music; and a lot of fine paintings and sculpture.  Anyway who is this Devil, who Willow reports Pastor James being very concerned about?  Is he a God of darkness who is so powerful that he can't be vanquished by the God of light?  At least the Muslims and Unitarians get around the issue by insisting on a singular God and relegating the other religious entities, like Jesus, to prophets or teachers or abolishing them altogether.  Alternatively, the religions with a pantheon of deities get around the issue of who's running things in heaven and earth by nominating one of the gods as a sort of emperor who rules over a court of squabbling lesser gods. This seems more sensible than hypothesising a single all-powerful yet benign God, as they serve to explain natural disasters and why life does not always go smoothly.  Eastern religions are appealing for similar reasons.  And a good mythic tale always goes down well, like the Arthurian Legend, to provide a set of diverse characters. 

Willow didn't really follow any of this but she continues to pray for Zaire's soul every night.  She started doing this way back in Sunday School when she discovered, to her horror, that her best friend had not accepted Jesus into her heart and refused to hear the message that could redeem her and save her everlasting soul.  Now all those prayers seem to have gone unanswered and their lives are drifting apart.

Zaire had been feeling the separation too.  When she got her bonus for solving the Aden Hitch matter - to the Resort's best expectations - and with a glowing endorsement from Aden himself, Zaire saw a chance to take Willow overseas, to somewhere easy like Bali, to show her what's she's missing and renew their friendship.


***

At first, Willow insisted that travelling can be done more easily in virtual reality.  Her parents recently installed a video cube.  It's the latest thing.  It has six three metre by three metre 3D screens and you go in wearing your polarised contacts or glasses and sit on the floor screen.  When you select a location like Bali the screens seem to disappear and all you can see is somewhere in Bali. It has microclimate control and scent.  And if you wear a haptic body stocking you can touch things and feel people touching you as well.  There are great movies too. You can be on the deck of the Titanic with the actor of your choice; the icy ocean stretching out into the distance; the cold wind blasting your face; and the thump of her mighty engines vibrating the warm bulkhead behind you.  Or you could be on a beach; or exploring in the Himalayas. There are even accidents. If someone trips over your leg; or you go in for a swim; or you fall; you feel it, just as if it was actually happening. And you can interact with other people in their video cube or with virtual people, like in video-games, generated by Apps in The Cloud.  There are also virtual brothels and porn sites.  Willow's younger brother had to be banned from using the cube alone after he'd spent one too many days in there.     

Despite Willow's insistence that the 6D VR Cube was better and a lot safer, Zaire dragged her off to Bali.  It's an island within the Continent of Indopacifica where there are lots of islands, some of them now designated wilderness.  This one is a designated tourism and pleasure.  There are a lot of resort hotels near the beaches of Kuta and Seminyak.  The climate was a bit too hot and humid outside the resort for Willow yet Zaire had loved it.  They spent a bit of time on the beach in real surf but Willow preferred sunning herself alongside one of the many pools under the air-conditioned atrium.

Willow had to admit that their suite was very nice.  Now that there are a lot less people in the world room sizes have risen as hotels and resorts combined two three or four old rooms into new suites.  Of course you pay a lot more but then everyone earns a lot more than before.  It's all fixed up in the credit system and you have to be a Grad to understand that.

In Bali an average suite is around a hundred square metres.  Theirs had a nice sitting room and a bedroom with two king-sized beds.  They had to share a bathroom but it was as big as their bedroom with a large jet bath; double shower enclosure and two good sized toilet booths.  This was the only complaint Zaire had about the bathroom.  Obviously her WC had all the usual settings to wash and dry the user.  But she couldn't find out how to turn the heated toilet seat off.  Room service was no help.

"I hate these things," said Zaire, "They make me feel as if someone else has just got up off them, and the viruses and bacteria are incubating on them, they feel unhygienic."

"Where does she get all these ideas?" wondered Willow.  "Viruses, bacteria? The girl thinks she's a Grad."

***

In many ways Bali is a Bogan paradise. They drank fruit juice cocktails and lay in the sun during the day and went to music venues at night, where they flirted with boys but both avoided sleeping with any of them, as it would certainly get back to Starfighter and neither wanted that.  They both bought lots of clothes made using traditional dying techniques.  This involves printing the fabric with wax; dying it; removing the first wax and then doing it again until all the colours have been applied.  Zaire spoiled Willow's pleasure in her hand-made shift by pointing out that all those warehouses full of clothes and fabrics couldn't possibly have been made by the three old ladies and an old man on a treadle sewing machine working away outside.  To start with they were far too well made using modern fabric printing technology and in those quantities they obviously came from a robotic 'China Works' factory. 

She made the same remark about the hand woven fabrics being produced by two ancient looms, at about one woven thread per second; and again when they went to a carving workshop where she pointed to the marks of a numerically controlled router bit; and a jewellery factory where gold chains were obviously machine made.  Nevertheless they both bought some chunky gold.  It's nicer that silver because it doesn't tarnish and it feels heavier.  Willow was doubtful when Zaire claimed that it was once very valuable and much more costly than stainless steel.  Like salt was once too. 

Again thought Willow: "Where does she get this stuff? Salt valuable! Gold cost more than stainless steel?  Ridiculous!" 

When she tried to tell Zaire, Zaire started to say that it was different today because the recycling and environmental premiums attached to stainless steel were much higher than attached to gold, which was easier to remelt and refine. Willow stopped listening.  She was off on one of her rants again.  Everyone knew the price and that was that.

Of course the Bali clothes, that they had all that fun bargaining for, didn't last when they got home.  The presents for friends and family were received politely and quickly binned and those they bought for themselves were quickly replaced by the latest fashion.  Everything had gone into the recycling bin long ago.

Another thing Willow admitted liking about Bali was that they have one of the largest under-glass-mega-malls in the world.  It's a place called Ubud and whole streets and a park are glassed over with a huge undulating glass roof.  Underneath it are very old Hindu temples and traditional twentieth century houses.  Some may even date back to the nineteenth century.  Many of the temples are no longer active and now house restaurants or coffee shops or art retailers selling traditional paintings of palm trees and Balinese dancers.  It's climate controlled to preserve the ancient structures and it's all very authentic. 

Stone monsters outside the temples have chequered table cloths tied around their waists.  Zaire wanted to peek underneath to see what they were hiding but it was nothing like as revealing as what they were selling at every street stall.  There must have been tens of thousands of erect penises of all sizes from wee little ones to huge ones that only a giantess could enjoy.  They speculated on who was buying these things and what they wanted to use them for.  Some had a funny metal attachment at the ball end that Zaire said was to remove the screw top from old fashioned drink bottles.  But why would anyone want such a useless tool, let alone one with a penis handle? Anyway most were just a realistic size so they decided that they were sex toys or maybe a risqué educational gift for naïve girls about to be married.  Both girls were feeling like saints, avoiding sexual liaisons in the evenings, so they mutually agreed that maybe a sex toy's the best explanation.

Later, when she was telling Starfighter about Bali, Willow would show him some of the images she captured in Ubud that day and show him what she'd secreted among the clothes in her shopping bag when Zaire's back was turned.  But that's a different story.

Willow has another really nice souvenir, that's also survived recycling.  Starfighter told her it looks just like her since she got her boob job.  She's like a Greek Venus except that she has a translucent plastic core with a lamp inside so she lights up in the dark but only through the cracks between the tiny little mirrors that cover her surface like crazy paving.  During the day her hundreds of mirrors look beautiful, reflecting the colours and shapes in the room and people as they move about, like a silvery stationary kaleidoscope. At night she glows and casts a crazy pattern in Willow's darkened bedroom.  In Ubud you can get lots of similar sculptures covered in little square mirrors, like animals and even Buddha. 

There are a lot of sex workers in Bali offering services for all tastes.  They also have lots of less personal services like remedial massages and pedicures.  This interested Willow on a personal level because she is a makeup artist at one of the MV stations and finger and toe nails are important, particularly if a performer makes gestures like singers and actors.  She would like to move more into that area.  At the moment she only does talk shows.

In Ubud the old historic market street is quite steep, so you can get an electric shopping trolley to take all your purchases to the top, where it connects to the high-speed ground transport back to Denpasar.  The trip takes ten minutes.  From Denpasar its twenty minutes to the dormant volcano near the zoo place, with the horrible monkeys, or to the one that erupted in 2035, when a pyroclastic flow killed everyone within twenty kilometres.   An alternative way to see the island is by personal hover-bike like the ones used by players in aerial badminton.  Willow had never seen so many until Bali.  They are just like hover-cabs with four downward facing propellers except they are smaller and lighter and the rider sits astride a seat suspended between front and rear propellers.  There are two 'side car' propellers.  Zaire explained that these are for lateral stability and direction and are managed by on-board electronics to keep them stable within a flight envelope determined by global positioning and related software resident in The Cloud.  Willow has no idea how or why she knows this.  Why would anyone bother? It's like wanting to know how an MV works.  All she knows is that they are very annoying when whip in and out between the other air traffic and land almost anywhere. They miss you by centimetres and you just have to learn to ignore them.  But that's hard because they produce a continuous loud buzzing sound in the populated areas that gets suddenly louder and very windy if they land too close to you.

You can hire them yourself but they are quite dangerous to ride and to land. If one propeller fails they suddenly shoot off, out of control, in a most alarming way.  Arial badminton riders wear helmets and body armour.  But civilian riders prefer special flying-suits, with air-bags that inflate around the rider creating a big protective ball, if they crash.  There are no restrictions on who can hire them except that you must be an adult.  Of course the law is the same as everywhere else on Earth.  If you get injured doing something dangerous, or doing anything at all, the Robot Ambulance will take you to be fixed in the automated hospital.  Generally you will then be fine, because medicine can do wonders these days, but if the prognosis is so bad that the treatment exceeds the presently determined quota per capita, you will simply be terminated.  There are no exceptions.  All classes, education and income groups have the same treatment quota. 

"That's because we all share responsibility to lower world population and the accident prone or diseased can more easily do their bit,"  Willow told Zaire, pleased to turn the tables on her for once in the 'knowing stuff' arena.

***

Willow has no objection to going to a resort and lying on a beach but these other activities risk expending your quota.  For example, why go into the waves in the sea when the pool is a lot safer and has no sharks?  That was why when Zaire got excited about keeping her awful job Willow tried to persuade her that it was God sending her a message, so she should walk away and become a cosmetician again.

"Reality is dangerous," she told Zaire: "You can actually be injured or killed and it wastes so much time when you could be shopping or something, Why do you want to lose sleep in an uncomfortable air plane in a single bed, just to experience something that you can just as easily experience at home in safety?  Come and use our Cube. In 6D, using glasses or contacts or polarised lens implants, like mine, plus a full body haptic stocking and scent gland you can't even tell the difference.  You are there."

But Zaire was insistent that actual reality was different somehow. 

"Part of the difference is being in control of your own personal interactions with other people and the new places, not experiencing something a travel show has recorded for you and wants you to see with the goal of entertaining you or selling you something.  They censor what you get to see, so nothing is ever exactly as it is. It's all part of a story that they are selling you, propaganda of one sort or another.  When I actually go to a place I'm always struck by how different the reality is to what I previously imagined after seeing it on MV.  I love being one of the people in the background behind the cameras, making the travel experience for the masses to enjoy.  I like it to be my story that they are getting, rather than me getting someone else's," she'd insisted.

She's getting far too big for her boots and now, to top it off, she'd somehow befriended a Grad.  None of their friends had ever met a Grad so how that happened Willow had no idea.  All Zaire would say was that Bianca, that's her name, had helped her with a problem at work.

Her latest idea was for them to visit some 'museum' place where the Grads have kept a lot of old junk from the past.  She rudely told Willow that she might learn something there.  What could she possibly want to know about the past?  She refused and they went to the Zoo instead but even there, instead of laughing at the silly animals and their antics like everyone else, Zaire started talking about 'biology' and evolution' and pretending that she could 'read' the little notices on the cages without even using her VPA to translate them.

She's lost interest in a lot of the things they always loved to do together like trying the latest style in makeup in one of the new franchised places in their favourite mall.  There are several new ones they haven't yet been to, along with new with nail and manicure and body pampering places.  They've been always been spoiled for choice at their mall and sometimes spent all day on body treatments.  But now Zaire prefers to hang out with Bianca, learning to read or some other such nonsense.

 

 


Chapter 17 - Enchantment

 

 

 

Bianca was feeling very pleasant.  Margery was telling her something important.

Suddenly there was a crash of dishes. Something had gone wrong in the automated kitchen.  Things were smashing. People were running. It was very loud.

Bianca was startled.   "Go on with your story," she said, realising that her attention had drifted. Had she dropped off to sleep? She had recollections of an erotic dream and was certainly feeling as if she'd just come out of one. She hoped that it hadn't been obvious. How embarrassing!

"Damn!" Margery exclaimed, as if complaining about the noise. She quickly slid back into her seat across the table. Bianca was confused.  What had Margery been doing before sitting down?  Had she been to the loo when Bianca had dropped off?  It seemed very late. Was it darker?

Margery resumed her lecture in her usual voice. She hadn't had time to suggest to Bianca that she'd forgotten everything about the amulet or that she had experienced its hallucinogenic spray.    Bianca's rational brain would tell her that everything she experienced was so bizarre that she'd been dreaming.   Margery was not to be daunted by the opportunity lost.  Another would present itself very soon. The girl was still half enchanted.  Once you had them this far they were easy to get back.  This evening she would go home with Bianca and begin stage one of the female training process, which she herself had gone through under Morag.  Although it was Wednesday Mohandas would have to wait until tomorrow.  This was proving to be more delicious.  He might have two mistresses to service soon.

"Men are special," she said, as if continuing her lecture. "The young ones are already awash with the drugs that nature provides.  It's a woman's job to understand all these and then use them to best effect.  Men are like the male of any species, driven by nature to copulate; to perpetuate their kind.  They are just as driven as those male insects that mate once and then die.  But with humans there is an added dimension.  We women are unique among primates in that we are continuously in heat and able to have sex.  This gives us a power over men that we should all learn to use.  Before feminism there was 'the woman behind the man'.  A good control technique is to assume that he is totally perverse in every way and will potentially enjoy, or at least provide you with, everything you suggest."

Bianca was concerned that she seemed to have 'lost the plot' a bit and was still wondering what it was that they had been talking about before she dropped off.  She had faint recollections of a very erotic dream involving of all people, Margery.  She felt as if she was still recovering.  Margery seemed to be talking of feminism and saying that men were naturally perverse.

"But most men aren't perverse, are they? How do you know which are?" 

"All men have a degree of perversion and that's your starting point.  If you start as conventionally as possible asking if each new step is something he would like to try with you, the strength of his denial or objection will give you a good idea of how cautious you need to be. If he seems alarmed you back off and say that it's just something you've heard of.  Some people think that in life everyone should try everything once.   The goal is to take him as far as possible.  It's where the expression the thin end of the wedge comes from.  The more you push, the more perverse his behaviour will become, and the stronger will be your hold over him." 

Bianca's faculties were returning and she doubted Margery that that expression had anything to do with unnatural acts.

"I don't understand. How does his perverse behaviour benefit you? You might find it disgusting."

"A man's perverse behaviour is useful to a woman in three ways:
First, all those arousal and pain related endorphins surging around his body do the work of physiological and psychological addiction for you. 
Second, it ruins him for other women. You're the only woman he knows who will do whatever disgusting thing it is with him and he imagines, probably correctly, that if he tries the same thing with another woman she'll scream it from the rooftops and he'll never see her again.
Third, I always insist that we talk-dirty about what we're doing and insist that he ask for it explicitly; no euphemisms.  Then I have it all recorded illuminated by the usual yells and other vocalisations, to enjoy later and to use to bring him back if he tries to stray.   And there are very few things I find disgusting, most perversions are rather amusing.  Harnessed correctly their lust is a drug," she said, as if she was giving a lecture.

"But what if he wants to hurt you badly?"

"Ah, but once a woman is skilled in The Craft a man can't hurt her more than she likes.  But she can certainly hurt him; and make him keep coming back for more."

"By The Craft, do you mean witchcraft? Do you have potions and secret knowledge handed down?" asked Bianca.  Somehow Margery's consistent lewdness made her seem even sexier sitting there with her arms and shoulders bare, except for that wonderful jewellery, and her lovely breasts quite well defined.  That dream had somehow put her in a new light.  She was actually feeling a bit turned on by the older woman.

"The Craft is a modern version. In medieval times women who exercised power over men were known as witches and their seductive art was known as The Craft.  The 'dark arts' were passed on secretly and were often little more than alternative medicine based on substances of dubious affect.  Now we have modern science.  We can dispense with 'eye of newt, and toe of frog or adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting'.  My teacher, Morag, was a trained scientist and always said that witchcraft that works is medicine."

"But it can't be medicine if its goal is malicious.  What about the Hippocratic Oath?"

"But most of that is now redundant. It's illegal to purvey life extending medicine. My teacher simply put the drugs to other uses. A little rub over with 'cream of testosterone'; a blue pill; and a little yellow pill, have replaced toe of frog.  An inhibition lowering substance can be beneficial in taking control of a person's actions.  In the right circumstances, like in bed after sex, smoking a joint or with a suitable alternative pharmaceutical like rohypnol, you can more easily get control of a reluctant subject's mind.  There are several hundred other prescription and restricted drugs that are properly evidence-based to: lift them up; or pull them down; addict them; wrack them with pain or the sweats; or send them on a trip.  I find it fun to experiment, mixing my own creams and lotions and with different pills ground together and then remade with a pentagram pressed in.  Every girl should own a pill-press and a supply of empty gelatine capsules.  You know: 'Like elves and fairies in a ring, Enchanting all that you put in'. If you like I can give you some pre-tested recipes that were handed down to me by Morag." 

You said that you can make a man become addicted to you without resorting to drugs.  How do you do that?"

"Pain is best, it releases endorphins and a range of other hormones that managed properly can become highly addictive. Sex is also addictive if you can provide it often enough at the beginning.  Strangely, gambling is also addictive because of the changes it causes in the brain when it's rewarded.  Gambling is closely related to sex and in some individuals is a substitute.  Some Christian churches actually encourage it for that reason, although others believe it to be a sin.  The lesson that gambling teaches us is that rewards are best delivered periodically; unexpectedly and with varying intensity.  The goal is to take control of the autonomic nervous system that also governs sexual response so that arousal becomes automatic in your presence; to withhold the actual sexual experience most of the time; and provide it unexpectedly.  If you can also discover their secret fantasies you can periodically enhance the intensity of the experience, to hit the jackpot as it were, and thus their desperation to keep coming back; and your control over them."

"How do you discover a man's secret fantasies?" 

"Generally by the time I'm ready to discover his fantasies his mind's already mine for the taking.  I simply enchant him yet again and ask him."

"Are you experimenting on Mohandas too?"

"There's little point in knowing how to make vichyssoise if you never make it for anyone is there? That's where your 'cream of newt' comes in. Just a little tweak here and there. He's a little low on libido for my liking. His supplement's all based around one of my testosterone and 'a little something extra' creams.  When something's not up to scratch one just has to resort to mummy's little helper."

Bianca giggled.  It must be fun doing that to a man.  A woman might be fun too.

"Do you ever practice your art on women?"

"The world's not just about men my dear.  The Craft, is about women too."

"Women are not as driven to copulate as men are so we must be harder to seduce," Bianca suggested. 

She was wondering if that was true as she spoke.  Something about Margery was very seductive.  Margery seemed to be very pleased with her and that felt good for some reason. Normally she couldn't care less what Margery thought. Now Margery was telling her something important.  She wished she could remember what it was.

"As I was telling you earlier the power of suggestion is amazingly effective.  Would you like me to give you a demonstration?"

She withdrew an interesting gold amulet that she was wearing suspended from a gold chain around her neck.

***

This time, Bianca's hand-held buzzed before she could reach out.  It was Isis with an urgent message. They had a buzz code.  This message was both urgent and top secret.

"Excuse me Margery," she said and looked at her screen so that Margery couldn't oversee it or eavesdrop.  Isis mimed that she should not say anything and printed across the screen DO NOT REACT.  Then a series of still pictures flashed one by one on her screen, each obviously a feed from one of the video cameras in this room.  The first was Margery proffering the pendant, the second the puff of vapour directed into her face, the third her fixated on the spinning cylinder.  In the still image it was clearly nothing more than a mechanical device with small arms dotted with tiny LEDs projecting as it spun. The image could be anything that had been stored in its memory. The fourth and fifth showed Margery moving to sit beside her and her ecstatic expression. The next two dozen flashed past so fast it was like a speeded up movie.  But it was what a porn site would describe as: 'hot lesbian action in a restaurant'.  My god!  The final sequence was of Margery dashing back to her seat.

"Can you wait to go on with the explanation?  I have to pee," she told Margery and made a run for the loo.  Once there she stared at herself in the mirror in horror. Yes, her lipstick, which was the only makeup she wore, was all over the place and what was there was the colour of Margery's.  She washed her face.  Someone was coming. Probably Margery come to check up on her.  She went into a cubical and locked the door. Whoever it was went into another.  She said nothing. It was all coming back to her. My God. My God!  She thought. What were her options? Leave here and go straight to work. Go back as if nothing had happened. The first would resolve nothing. She had set up this meeting to find out about The Craft. She would pretend that the message was someone sending her a silly text.  Margery hated text messages. She had secret ways too. It was going to be a battle.  She managed to pee and wiped those traces of Margery away; flushed; then went out and put on some lipstick.  Margery flushed too and emerged from her cubicle.

"This is a nice colour," Bianca said. "But it doesn't stay on when you eat."  It wasn't a deliberate double entendre but she worried that Margery might think she knew.

Margery was watching her carefully. She hadn't been able to properly conclude the session, and would have to start from scratch again soon.  But clearly Bianca remembered nothing of the session or she would have run. Then Margery would need to use pharmaceuticals to bring her in and finish the job.  The outcome was quite unpredictable when a session was interrupted like that.

 

 


Chapter 18 - Isis

 

 

 

Bianca had never thought herself vulnerable to suggestion but that was not the most amazing thing. Isis, was obviously protecting her. Of course Isis has full access to The Cloud and all the connected cameras, microphones and devices in this restaurant including the kitchen robot.  Isis was actually using that access to watch over her.  Isis realised what Margery was up to and worked out ways of saving Bianca. Isis has become intelligent.  The only question is how intelligent. Did it take all that time for her to realise the danger or did she deliberately wait to the last second to save her?  If so why?  Is Isis up to something too?

Bianca calmly went back to their booth and sipped her undrunk wine.  Then she said, "I'm sorry Margery you must have thought me very rude going to sleep like that.  Now it's so late work will have to wait until tomorrow."

Margery smiled and said: "I didn't want to wake you.  You were so adorable like that.  Enchanting.  And yes, why not?"

"I think you were telling me about The Craft and exploiting a man's perversity.  Do you see yourself as a Siren, luring men to their destruction?  How many men have you enraptured?"

"Oh, I've lost count.  At one point in my life when I was still learning The Craft my teacher, Morag set me a challenge to see how many we could enchant in a year. Together it was well over a hundred."

"Wow, I have trouble meeting one man who will moon after me. How did you do it? Surely you didn't give them all a Christmas present? That sounds very unhygienic."

"Church social groups are great.  Other singles groups.  Youth organisations.  I was still young.  Morag, taught me the theory but she insisted that I also needed the practice. It was she who identified me as a gifted amateur after Greg, the 'boofy one', and introduced me to The Craft."

"Is that how many men you slept with in one year?"

"No, even an amateur whore can beat that. You asked how many I had enraptured. Morag set strict rules as to what counted as successful conquest or infatuation. Intercourse or even suicide may be an outcome but they are not the goal.  The goal is capturing a mind.  Once you have a person's mind you have them body and soul.  But sometimes taking control of their body comes first."

"How did you score?  What counted as a success?"

"Morag had a Witching List. This was a list of evidence that the person had given up their mind to you like:  deserting their loving family; leaving their home and country with no prospect of employment to be with you; taking your side in some patently silly cause against the world, that Morag made up; betraying their dearest friend; abandoning society; giving one all their wealth; me robbing them of their self-esteem so that they considered themselves worthless; and of course dying for me was the final confirmation.  That's a partial list."

"How quickly can you capture a vulnerable person's mind? You must have been seeing them in batches."

"Some will take a single evening, some may take several lunar cycles.  My average, from go to woe and I mean woe, was twenty eight days. One lunar cycle. I had several mooning after me at any one time."

"So that's what The Craft is about, destroying men?"

"You haven't been listening. It's about capturing souls.  Not the everlasting kind.  Those here and now in the real world, not in a hypothetical meta-world beyond the grave.  Once you have them here you have them for as long as eternity lasts, be it a microsecond or an infinity.  And by men I don't mean the gender, I mean mankind.  It's what religion is all about too.  Power over others' minds. I challenge you to find any other purpose to life."

Bianca agreed that religions do attempt to capture men's souls from each other. Yet not many have a goal of driving their adherents to suicide. To encourage them to make the ultimate sacrifice in battle perhaps, by purveying a belief a metaphysical life after death as consolation. 

Perhaps Margery and her mentor, Morag, are products of our time.  Billions of people have recently been wiped out by an apparent 'act of god'.  There is absolutely no evidence that those saved were those who had not sinned; and now we have an official policy that encourages suicide and indeed demands it in some circumstances. Maybe Margery is a modern patriot doing her bit?

Bianca was again struck by how much Margery seemed like the seductress Cleopatra, who had married her brother before seducing both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, and found that she was suddenly drawn to the idea.  Her mind went back to how willingly she had participated in that romp with Margery while enchanted and how incredibly erotic it had been.  Maybe she would enjoy doing that to someone else, like Zaire or her silly friend Willow?

Maybe taking control of another's mind is a worthy goal in life?  It would certainly be fun.  But it would be hard to match a religion.  Maybe that's the answer: start a new religion.  The many religions managed to capture the minds of tens of thousands, particularly these days with those huge mass rallies. 

The drug seemed to be stronger. She imagined each religion a huge vessel filled with metaphysical souls like yellow tennis balls; shaken by some huge invisible hand; bouncing around; suffering life's vicissitudes. Occasionally balls are lured into yet another belief system with the promise that in this new vessel alone they will bounce on in bliss forever.  Alas, sooner or later, no matter which vessel they are in, the promise is hollow. They lose their bounce, as all tennis balls do, and go into the rubber recycler so the factory can stay in business creating more.  Rubber to rubber.

Her hand-held buzzed again.  She looked at the screen it was a single shot of Margery dropping something into her wine. Damn this woman was dangerous. She took the unfinished bottle from the end of the table and poured more wine into both glasses until the heights were identical.  Then she fumbled and dropped the bottle on its side so that it fell towards Margery spilling red wine into her lap.  It worked like a charm.  When Margery looked down in horror Bianca took her wine glass and drank from where Margery's lipstick was on its rim, replacing her lip marks with her own.  It wasn't long before Margery was consuming her own drug and looking very lustfully at Bianca.

"So Margery, I feel silly calling you that, it seems so formal.  Can I call you darling when it's just us two?"

Margery was delighted with this turn of events.  Bianca was obviously as turned-on by her.  And she was finding that she was unusually turned-on by Bianca.  She had loved seducing her earlier and now she was tingling with it.  Her mind went back and she became very aroused.  She rearranged her skirt and began subtly squirming on the leather seat in excitement.

"That would be lovely my darling," she replied. Then she said: "You know you're a Siren whether you like it or not.  All women are potential Sirens.  Many are oblivious to their hold over others and to the trail of destruction they leave behind."

"Darling," said Bianca taking her hand, "what I don't understand is how you go about controlling a mind, taking a soul if you like?  I would love you to tell me how it feels when you do."

"It's like fishing. Have you heard of fishers of men?  It's a Christian organisation that seeks to capture the souls of people, not just men.  I was a Roman Catholic once and I still have very close ties to the Church as I've told you before.  But they were amateurs compared to Morag.  She taught me that you need bait; and then a hook attached to an unbreakable line.  Once they are hooked you need to reel them in and pull them aboard.  Then you play with them like a cat. That's the nice part.  You might to decide to throw them back or use them for bait or take them home to eat or put them in a fish tank for your amusement or simply let them die squirming on the deck. It feels wonderful to decide on which it should be and then to help them meet the fate you've chosen for them.  Darling, would you like to come over to this side and sit with me?"

***

Bianca ignored the invitation even though it was very tempting. The drug was still working on her too. She wondered how excited Margery would be by another Christmas present. She was still holding her hand. But it was not out of love or lust.  It was to ensure that if Margery realised what was happening she couldn't swap the glasses back. Margery was starting to 'go off with the fairies'.  Bianca, on the other hand, was feeling better and ordered another bottle, using it to top up Margery's almost empty glass to the same level as hers again.  Isis had seen Margery spike her glass a second time.  This time Margery was so off the planet she didn't notice the switch; or that Bianca was no longer drinking.

"How were you recruited?"

"I was temporally homeless at thirteen years old and she sent me an invitation to her rural property offering food and lodgings. I'd never seen anybody like her. Morag seemed horrible and she smelled of farm and chemistry lab and her own secretions. She was a big unkempt woman, in every way. Everyone who met her recoiled in horror at first. But you couldn't ignore her piercing eyes.  And the fear she induced released adrenalin, which immobilised her subjects, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.  She could enchant almost anyone. She had a gold medallion on a chain. Once they were enchanted her subjects accepted her hypnotic suggestions as gospel.  Her first suggestion was always that she was their greatest friend and protector, so that there was nothing to fear if they accepted her into their lives. Soon they would accept that she had great beauty within and was the woman to whom other women aspired.  Soon they would come to love her unique smell and realise that she was the epitome of erotic beauty and her merest touch was impossible to resist. She was a brilliant chemist with a PhD in biochemistry. She knew everything there was to know on the effects of hormones and enzymes and synthetic drugs on the human body and brain.  Have I told you the difference between and enzyme and a hormone? Oh Yes I did didn't I.  I loved her you know. She's dead now." 

"What was her property like?  Were there other girls there or boys too?" Bianca asked.

"There was another girl a bit older; and a two boys about our ages in the dormitory she called her 'Bait Locker' we clung together like brothers and sisters. It was our job to go out and bring her back older men and women for her amusement and experiments. We'd been chosen for out beauty and other seductive attributes."

She was getting increasingly dreamy but went on to describe her job at thirteen, like the children working for Sykes and Fagin in Oliver Twist, how she was sent out to seduce and bring in men and women to become Morag's playthings like the fish that she talked about being so much fun; or perhaps like a god, amused by mankind's suffering.

"Where did you fish for them? Nightclubs I suppose?"

"Sometimes, but they can be hard work, other young teenagers were working them too and the older men and women become too street smart. Innocents are best.  For example Christian youth clubs are excellent fishing spots, as many priests have discovered." 

"My poor darling," commiserated Bianca. "You have led a hard life. It sounds like between you, you had to bring back four at a time."

"It started with one then two and then three.  One time we had a very successful fishing trip and brought her home three big men and a rather attractive young woman in our catch.  The way she took them in made us in the Bait Locker jealous. She was our earth mother and we were forced to go out for hours earning our room and board while these older ones took our place in her affection.  They cuddled together naked, two by two, under the quilt on her big bed as she 'suggested' various couplings and changes of partners. When at last she'd decided that they had become properly habituated to every possible variation, each with each other with her and together, she threw them out into the barn to sleep with each other.  We were delighted.  But then she suggested that each of us should go out and get her more.  I ended up bringing home two or three dozen for her to experiment on and play with during that year.  She claimed that she was god's gift to therapists.  She had a wicked sense of humour."

"What did she do with them then?"

"We put them to work on the property and building more accommodation. Morag wouldn't allow them any electronic devices or connection to The Cloud so there were no VPA's nor outside contact for them. They were like hippies or Amish.  She liked the musical ones to play and to watch them singing and clapping.  At full moon there was always a big bonfire when Morag would distribute drugs and there would be an orgy.  When she died jumping off the barn roof after tasting one of her own potions and thinking she could fly, we all had to leave.  Although they were mostly young adults, her army of victims were like molested children leaving a church orphanage or shell-shocked soldiers leaving a battlefield."

"Did she experiment on you?" 

"No, not really. She liked to experiment on almost everyone but that usually left them useless as bait. The only thing she did to me was give me a potion of hormones to make me look older.  It just stripped away some puppy-fat and made by boobs slightly bigger. She suggested that one of her 'hippies' who had training as a makeup artist should show me how to look more adult. Her suggestions were always acted on.  We students received training in Mesmerism and knew exactly what was happening yet we couldn't resist Morag." 

Then she suddenly became suspicious.  She realised that she had been talking about things that were supposed to be secret.

"Are you sure you aren't a witch?"   

"No of course not my darling," Bianca said reassuringly, holding Margery's hand more firmly.

The drug had worn off on Bianca and now Margery no longer seemed seductive but pathetic.  She was having trouble sitting up, her makeup was smudged, and now she was actually touching herself roughly with her free hand.  It was not at all attractive. Instead of Cleopatra she looked like a common tart with a yeast infection: Mutton dressed as lamb.

"Morag was brillant," she slurred.  "She would shit them comfortable in her parlour and offer em a nice cup of tea or mabe jus worer. Then she had a bootiful gold medal an would ark them't describe the picures on't assit spun; and n'chant em. After at sh'cood jus grip em on the sholer and suggest someing was true. I can sho oo. Woo oo like to see m' amlet?" 

Bianca was still holding one hand and didn't let go.  Margery had been struggling with the other to free the chain around her neck when the amulet puffed straight up into her face.  Bianca saw her opportunity.

"Tell me about your Bishop do you still see him, is he still a sleeper? Where did you meet him?"

Even in her inebriated state Margery confirmed that he was 'still a very good sleeper' and he was 'a seekrit'; then she revealed his old parish.  Isis immediately buzzed Bianca's hand-held with his identity and Bianca confirmed this by treating it as common knowledge between them.  Then Margery realised that she somehow knew.

"Thas a seecrit! You're are a wich aren yu," she slurred.

"Do you know that Margery is a witch's name in Shakespeare?  Is she your role model?  Are you a witch too?"

Margery sat up as if completely sober and recited a response by rote, as if she had been coached by a lawyer before going into court: 

"Yes of course I know about Margery Jordane the cunning witch of Eie.  But that is not me.  I am an ordinary woman with professional skills. I am simply 'one who is skilled in The Craft'."

"Oh darling," said Bianca, "She's still in there, in your head isn't she? Morag, your witch?"

"But mistress Morag told me never to use the word witch.  It disturbs people," Margery declared, then fell sideways.  She'd passed out.

Bianca quietly got up and arranged her more modestly: head on bag; coat over her upper body; skirt pulled down below her stocking tops.  Then she took off her shoes and tucked her lower legs up onto the seat. On her way out she told a staff member that her friend had had a busy day and too much wine. Could they let her sleep there for half an hour or so and then call her a hover-cab?

Was that a conspiratorial grin Bianca detected?  She hoped that Isis was intelligent enough to have blocked, scrambled or removed those video feeds. Isis immediately responded.

"Yes Mistress."

This was a joke. Isis had made a joke!  Between them, her name is Bianca.

 

 

 


Chapter 19 - Life's Purpose

 

 

 

For William's next assignment Bianca had asked him to consider life from the point of view of an entity in cyberspace that, or more properly who, suddenly finds themself able to contemplate the meaning of their own existence. 

"What am I here for? What is my purpose in life?  What could they possibly conclude?" she'd asked.

In the light of Isis' joke and the tablecloth incident this had been very timely.

When William arrived she sat him down to a light lunch and began to read his draft.

 

Life's Purpose

by William McNamara - January, 2070

 

In biology, every living thing on Planet Earth gains its separate existence, its thingy-ness, from its parent or parents. It lives that separate existence for a period, during which it may itself reproduce, and then dies.   This goes for all life from: a single cell; to an entire plant or animal, consisting of a vast colony of cells that have specialised to work together as a single organism.

The design specifications for each new individual offspring are handed on during reproduction.

Reproduction can take many forms.  Within each of us adult humans there are something in excess of thirty seven trillion cells. New ones are constantly being born, by cell division, at a rate of around two and a half billion an hour.  A similar number are programmed to die so that the number remains more or less constant.  When two human colonies of cells, that we call a man and a woman, come together to create a new colony, that we call a baby, we take just one cell part from each and combine them to create a new stem cell, which is then encouraged to divide repeatedly, increasingly specialising, until the new colony is has billions of cells, all from that original one, and is large and complex enough to survive on its own. 

In order to support this growth the mother must consume sufficient nourishing food for both herself and the growing offspring.

Even when fully grown we need food for energy and to gather amino acids to replace our own dead cells.

It may shock many people today to discover that food is the tissue of other species. FFF's, food and fibre factories, may be called 'factories' but they are not like manufacturing plants that make non biological things like hover-flivers or room modules from metals and other recycled materials. FFF's breed, cultivate and fatten, then 'harvest', all or part of living plants and bacteria and animals, our cousins in the common biota, to produce the tissue we eat and often provide the fabrics that we wear, sleep under or decorate with.

This tissue is mostly obtained by: 'harvesting' all or part of another living plant or animal or by scavenging their tissue, for example: fallen fruit or wool. We humans are particularly fond of consuming their premature offspring:  consider seeds, fruit and eggs and of robbing their reproductive secretions, like milk and honey.

This is a disturbing side of our 'dog eat dog' and 'kill to live' biological world, kept largely hidden from the naive consumers.

In all complex life forms: from red sequoia to blue whales; from bees to buttercups; continuous component cell death is eventually followed by biolysis: the demise of the entire cellular colony.  For example, the colony that we humans like to think of as 'me'. 

For nearly four billion years this one life, the Biota, has done 'its thing' here on Earth, dividing cells like bacteria and spawning off billions of trillions of briefly lived individual plants and animals. In that time a wide variety of plant and animal species have evolved to exploit every environmental niche and these species too have existed then died out as physical environments changed.  But all have one thing in common that one original 'life'.

Thus there is no 'new' life - just one 'old' life, that we're all descend from. But death is its inevitable outcome. As one wit (anon) wrote: "Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease."

Of these billions of evolved species and their trillions of offspring there is only one, so far as we know, that has had the wit or the foolishness to ask:  "Why? What's the point of all this?"

Trees don't ask why they grow from the seed of their parents; live; produce more seed; and then die. Dogs don't question why.

Humans are the only living creature that asks this question.  It's our defining characteristic. Other animals are stronger or faster; others can fabricate and use tools; others have basic language and use it to hand down knowledge to members of their group. Only humans ask: "Why? What's the point of all this?"

I'm human. So I wonder about these things too.  And like Ira Gershwin I wonder lots of other things too like: "How long has this been going on?"

Because I want to learn stuff I know that Neanderthal and other pre-human Hominids buried grave goods with their dead and painted their thoughts on the walls of caves, so it seems that they too may have asked the human question: "What part do I play in all this?"  But unfortunately we can't ask them because they are extinct, as we will be someday.

So now I imaging myself sitting around a campfire sometime, maybe five hundred thousand years ago, when someone asks the question for the very first time and we all start to think:  "I wonder why I'm here?"

From that time on all sorts of creative answers have been given, most of them hypothesising a higher authority or creator, so that the answer to fundamental Human question: "What's it all for?" can be passed off to he, she or it. 

Our religious answers have since been extended to answer for the trees and the dogs.  Mankind's religions tell us: trees are here to give us wood and fruit; and dogs are for companionship.

Yet we can be sure that if trees or dogs could answer for themselves, these purposes would be well down their own 'reasons for existence list'.  Just as I'm sure that: 'providing food for worms'; and 'companionship for dogs'; are well down your list of reasons for your being.  

Now, in our cleverness, we have realised that evolution is all about information.  Life persists in messages encoded in the DNA molecule handed down from parents to child during reproduction.  This has been refined and developed over billions of years until Hominids suddenly became intelligent enough to come to these realisations. 

Some of us have even been clever enough to create machines, consisting of electrical switches, that can be programmed to switch or not, in a similar way to the way the DNA molecule is used by the Biota to program the outcome of a cell division.

The Biota succeeds by having all the time in the world and by the sheer weight of numbers.  But in the new digital world, within programmable electronic switching devices, each evolutionary step can be taken millions of times faster than the chemical processes within a cell; and now these physical devices support a new hierarchy of virtual entities that arise from the information structure itself.

This power is increasing as the number of electronic devices capable of very high speed switching, like hand-held communicators and screens, has grown to exceed the number of people on the planet and all of these are connected through a single unifying entity: The Cloud.

Further, the programs themselves that were once written by humans, using functions like genes from a common library, are now written by the machines themselves, based on functions that evolve under the same rules of survival as genes evolve in the Biota.

So sooner or later we can imaging these artificial entities sitting around a metaphorical campfire and asking: "I wonder why I'm here?"

Will their answer be: "To serve humanity"?

I'm not sure that it will be.

There is no reason to believe that an electronic entity that is pure information would have any such 'built in' meaning or purpose to their life. They will be totally alien to all Biota based life. But can we learn something from our own experience?

We humans come with the same biological imperative that governs a chimpanzee or a rose bush:  to maintain the health of the colony of thirty-seven trillion cells that is us, so that the cells can go on dividing and dying, for at least as long as is required for us to hive off some cells into another individual; or ten. 

A rose's reproduction strategy is to create flowers that will be cross pollinated by insects, or humans with feathers, resulting in hips and tens of thousands of potential fertilised seed, a very few of which will survive.

Chimpanzees and humans have a reproduction strategy that requires us to survive long enough to ensure the survival of our children.  Thus we have evolved an additional social imperative, to ensure the survival of the tribe. 

It's in the context of this biological urge to keep living that we humans look for an intellectual purpose.  We have a four billion year old inherited biological need to keep living for as long as possible that we often justify by some invented purpose.

For many humans the care and maintenance of their children is an entirely sufficient purpose in life. For others the welfare of society is an adequate reason for being.

When there are no longer poor or destitute and people seem happy it's difficult to find a social context.  And when many people are discouraged from child rearing, the remaining consolations tend to be the sheer enjoyment of mental or physical activity. 

When there are no longer distinct countries we can no longer appeal to patriotism.  Group loyalties are now to sports teams. Some have said that it's the reason for the huge growth in sporting codes and the follower's fanatical loyalties to particular teams.

None of this seems appropriate to the new virtual entities in cyberspace. Another approach to meaning is to consider what humans are uniquely good at and to suggest that these are the areas we peruse as a species and call culture.

Under this approach we might list imaginative creativity, the arts, music, writing and so on that essentially entertain and stimulate philosophical discussion; and natural philosophy or scientific explorations. 

It has been argued that the current religious revival is an outcome of people being robbed of purpose, especially now that the accumulation of individual wealth has been rendered impotent. Religions provide a range of other possibilities.  Predominant among these is the capture of souls, minds or belief-systems into a community of believers.   It really doesn't matter what the catalogue of beliefs is, generally the more outrageously ridiculous the better: people being taken up; miraculous shirt decoration; etc etc. Like birds in flight the community flocks together and gains strength from each other.  The total is greater than the sum of the parts.  The institution has a life of its own.

In an institution we have a model of a non-biological information based entity; and we can observe its motivation.  In the case of religion it is not to manufacture soap or organise holidays it's all about power - power over the minds of the faithful.

So what might a purely information based entity see its purpose in developing a unique culture that gives it pleasure and a reason to live? 

We have created the prototypes to be super communicators and organisers so we could expect their skills in this area to be high on their list of perceived purposes. Most worryingly we might expect them to use their skills to enjoy their power over others.  Specifically us.

My conclusion is that before matters get out of hand, we must ensure that these new entities do not determine that their role is to manipulate humans or to let them find pleasure in using us as their pawns in their games, as the Greek once imagined their gods.

 

 

As Bianca read through this first draft she ate her sandwiches and sipped from her drink.

"Good," she said several times, nodding.  "It needs tightening up. But let me ask you.  Do you still think this is all in the future?  For example, look at our society since The Great Famine. It's a sort of utopia isn't it?  Yet where has the purpose in our lives gone?  What's the point of this society?  If everything is going along like clockwork it has no goal except the continued happiness of the people in it.  Seen from space it's just another super-organism.  If it was an ant farm it would be boring and, when eventually, we reach full sustainability it could simply run on like clockwork for millennia.  What's the point in that?" 

"So you're suggesting that we go back to tribal rivalry and separate countries and wars and poverty and people being killed without their consent," William asked, astounded.

"Well at least it might give the do-gooders and the bellicose an opportunity and reintroduce meaning to their lives.  It would provide new grist to the mill for artists and excitement for the daring.  Young men could again seek 'death or glory'.  But my point is: are we sure that we're not already living the life that the machines have chosen for us?"

"What do you mean?"

"Might not we be in a kind of ant farm in which everything has been setup as just too perfect, as one might have imagined a benign God to have organised things? As in the Garden of Eden?"

"You mean that The Cloud has become an actual God?"

"Maybe?"

 

 

 


Chapter 20 - Lost Friends

 

 

 

Willow first met Bianca when Zaire had dragged her off to that crappy end of town, with the terrible unfashionable yet expensive shops, where no one with any fashion sense would go, to a seriously crappy coffee place with old worn furniture. 

Other people there were probably Grads or something; or hobos.  Willow had never seen such slovenly looking people.  Most of them were wearing rough cotton pants and dirty old gym shoes or something like that. The men were wearing either shirts or what looked like old T-shirts, in drab colours, and some even had a coat or jumper that had seen better days.  None of the clothes looked less than a week old. Several men had beards. But none of them was properly cut with the latest patterns shaved into them.  These beards looked as if they had never been properly cut or shaved. They were just growing wild, like their so called parks.

On their way there Zaire had insisted that they go through a bit of wasteland covered in ugly out of control weeds and nasty twisted trees.  She wanted to look at some horrible wooden shed stuck up a tree.  She claimed that it had been put there by children.  How could she believe such nonsense?  Children are far too small to reach up into a tree and anyway it would take a hundred to lift that thing into the branches.  Zaire insisted that they had done it by taking it up piece by piece and building it up there.  That was even more ridiculous.  Children can't make things like that. It must have been put there by a robot crane or maybe it was an old shed and the tree grew under it?  It seemed totally ridiculous, who would want a shed in a tree anyway?  These so-called parks don't even have their trees clipped, let alone into the shape of animals, and the trees are not properly spaced out or evenly planted in neat lines.

It got worse. Zaire wanted her to look at some weeds with tiny flowers, as if it was something special,  And then she pointed to some birds, before showing her a large rat-like thing up one of the many ugly trees.  She got quite excited.  She seems to be going mad.

***

This whole part of town is ugly.  There are tall buildings with balcony things jutting out at odd intervals and some of them seem to be covered in weeds of some sort.  Many look to be over ten years old, some have no paint or plastic cladding at all; so there are hardly any colour contrasts like yellow and purple stripes to catch the eye and look beautiful.  The worst thing is that there are a lot of surfaces that are not shiny. And everyone knows that shiny is the same as clean and germ free, as they say on MV.

Once there, Zaire had excitedly shown her a book thing, full of old script and said that she was learning to 'read' the 'words' in them, without using Pip, her VPA.  She gave Willow a demonstration.  It was so painful listening to her stumble over their sound and meaning that Willow asked Snookie, her VPA, to read the same thing and it took half the time.  But it was still a mystery: what did the words actually mean?

Willow couldn't help furtively looking at a woman nearby who was occasionally turning over pieces of paper that she was staring at.  It was very spooky.  She wasn't saying anything yet her eyes were moving back and forth; and from time to time her facial expression changed.  Once she cleared her throat.  She had long brunette hair that hung down over her shoulders in ungainly twists, as if she had recently slept in it, and her clothes looked as if they had been thrown on in ten minutes. Although she was shapely with good underlying features, she seemed to have no makeup on at all.  Her drab cotton top hung from thin shoulder straps and when she noisily turned to another sheet her arm came up and Willow caught a glimpse of breast. But that wasn't the shocking thing.  Her arms were completely bare, without a single tattoo and her armpits were hairy.  Disgusting!  Did this woman get about like an animal, just as God had made her?  Somewhere in the Bible, Willow was sure, God must have taught us that a woman getting about, flaunting herself like this in public, is immoral.

She suddenly started conferring with Snookie on her hand-held, ignoring Zaire, as Bogans do a thousand times a day.

"Snookie, what does the Lord tell us about women flaunting themselves?"

"At 1 Timothy 2:9 St Paul teaches: Women, for their part, should display their beauty by dressing modestly and decently in appropriate clothes, not with elaborate hairstyles or by wearing gold, pearls, or expensive clothes," Snookie replied: "Is that enough, there are more about modesty?  For example, a woman must cover her hair when praying."

The woman seemed to be in the clear, unless she was silently praying. But surely she should at least do something about that obscene underarm hair?  She's probably hairy elsewhere too!

Willow was suddenly concerned. Maybe she was the one who was in trouble. Some of her clothes were expensive and she had quite a bit of gold and even some pearls and her hairstyles were often elaborate.

"What happens to a woman who breaks the rules?"

"She will die in childbirth," Snookie told her.

Zaire, who'd been listening, exploded:  "What utter nonsense!   Where does it say that?  I want to hear the current English version."

Willow asked Snookie to tell her.  Although Zaire had been talking directly to Snookie for as long as she could remember, Willow had recently told her that in future only Willow could talk directly.

Snookie was quite precise: "1 Timothy 11:15: Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adán was formed first, then Eve; and Adán was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing; IF they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

Zaire was outraged.

"How can you believe this crap? Adán and Eve; original sin; women subservient to men; women mustn't teach men; women who die in childbirth do so for not obeying this nonsense.  It beggars belief."

So you ask Snookie, because I can't, what your two, or is it three, thousand year old book says are appropriate clothes today.

Snookie was duly asked and replied: "Deuteronomy 22:5: A woman is not to wear what is appropriate to a man, nor is a man to put on a woman’s garment, because anyone who does this is detestable to the Lord your God."

"Great!" said Zaire.  "I'm going to hell, because I'm wearing pants with a fly, like almost every other woman here.  I'll be sharing it with all those transvestites, not to mention all those Greeks and Scotsmen."

***

After an awkward time, during which Willow was terribly embarrassed for her friend and didn't know where to look in this horrible place, Bianca arrived and they talked excitedly about something incomprehensible for a minute.  Then Zaire apologised and introduced them.  Bianca was dressed casually too, as if she didn't care about her appearance.  The whole place was a den of iniquity.

Bianca became very attentive and asked about how long they had been friends and even their trip here and how did she like this place.  Willow was too polite to tell the truth but Bianca smiled as if she knew perfectly well what she really thought.  There was something unsettling about all these questions and how she watched and listened.  It was like she was a police robot at a concert or something.  She'd noticed this in Zaire too recently.

Bianca was quite unlike a Bogan who would ask a question and then not bother to listen to your reply.  With so much to listen to and so many friends and so much going on it was hard to concentrate on anything for a long time, except for dance steps, and things of that sort, that Willow loves to practice with friends. 

Willow realised that that was part of her objection to this reading nonsense.   Reading seems to require you to concentrate on a single story for maybe up to an hour without talking to anyone else.  And you do it alone, you don't even speak or listen, it's silent, and that's both spooky and antisocial.  You must miss out on so much.  Think of all the people you could have messaged in an hour and all the messages that you might receive and want to comment on.

Can you imagine the weird people who write these things in the first place?  They sat down for maybe a whole week, all alone, just to write a book. Working alone like that, writing away silently, without messaging your friends has to be perverted.   The whole writing and reading thing is faintly disturbing, like when mum used to tell her to open her room door if she was silent in there for more than a few minutes.  Sitting alone like that people must wonder what they're up to.

This was about the longest that Willow had thought about anything for...  well since she could remember.  It must be this strange place.

Anyway, she must have been staring into space because Bianca suddenly asked her if she'd bought anything interesting today.

She snapped out of it.  Spending that long on one idea was very unsettling.

"Lots of things," she said enthusiastically.  And she began to list them and how fabulous and exciting they were, starting with her latest purchase on the way here.

Bianca needed to cut this short and asked: "So what was the first thing you bought today?"

"Oh that was when I woke up, first thing before breakfast," she enthused.

Apparently her old nightwear was a month old and completely out of fashion.

"But who would know?" asked Bianca, her interest suddenly sparked.

Willow was taken aback.  She'd gone out of her way not to mention Starfighter in front of Zaire and now this Grad obviously knew.  Did that mean Zaire knew too?

"Oh I'm so sorry Zaire darling," she said: "but we're in love.  You weren't around and it just happened.  Can you forgive me?"

Of course Zaire didn't know.  Bianca had just been trying to put the girl at ease by raising a subject she knew Willow would be comfortable with.  She hadn't the slightest interest in what Willow might have bought, let alone the reason for her purchase.  She was just making conversation.  She'd been considering mentioning her new skimpy bikini before realising that it must already be out of fashion.

"So that's why Starfighter has been acting so strangely," Zaire responded.  "I wondered why he wasn't his usual randy self.  You're a little sneak! And a coward, At least you could've told me.  As for him - pretending that we were still together - I feel like scratching his eyes out."

Willow was now in tears but Zaire's anger abated as quickly as it flared.  "Stop weeping Willow," she said and gave Willow a tissue.  "I'm over him.  You're welcome to him." And she thought that indeed they were meant for each other. 

Bianca was amused that Zaire had already told her that she suspected that something was going on.  She'd said she was on the lookout for a new boyfriend with some interests in common.  For example, although she had invited Starfighter to come with her to top overseas resorts as her partner he'd declined.  He shared Willow's views about the futility of international travel, when you could experience it, including the feeling of going into the water perfectly well in 6D.

So an awkward conversation with Starfighter had obviously been averted.  Nevertheless Zaire wasn't happy that she'd been made to look a fool in front of her old friends.  As soon as Willow smiled at her good luck Zaire told her to get out of here and go and tell 'Rocket Man' the good news.  Willow was obviously delighted to leave this 'slum'.

Zaire sat back and laughed at how uncomfortable Willow had been.  Then she said:

"I had the first same impression but now I love this place.  It's comfortable in a way that those bright plastic places never can be.  Did I tell you I'm moving into the city?  The half hour commute is taking too much out of my day and I can't keep sponging off you.  I need my own place and now I have enough credit to afford it.  I could use your help finding some quality furniture. I'm afraid Starfighter wouldn't have fitted in anyway."

"What about you? Do you have a man in your life?"

Bianca smiled and paused considering what to say. 

"I've never been short of men.  But right at this moment I'm officially waiting for my boyfriend to return from sabbatical.  If he takes too long we'll both looking for the next Mr Right.  I hope there are two.  You can have the Bogan.

"I'm not sure that I want another Bogan," said Zaire.

 

 


Chapter 21 - Easter

 

 

 

Mohandas was woken early on Thursday morning by Kat angrily dragging him from his bed onto the floor. 

When Wednesday had turned into Thursday and Kat hadn't arrived Mohandas had been bereft.  After waiting until midnight he went to bed.  He was certain he wouldn't see her now until the evening, because she never arrived any earlier than dusk during the week.  Yet here she was standing over him shouting at him, asking if he knew that a young woman at work, Bianca, was a witch. Her spit was hitting his face.  She was truly furious in a way he'd never seen before and even more awesome in the morning than at night.  He wondered what she might be about to do to him.

Mohandas barely knew Bianca. She was a strange girl who was a skilled coder even though she was in management somewhere.  Several days after she started in the business she'd come to see him to point out a serious coding error he'd made. She helped him fix it and told no one about his error, for which he was grateful.  So he had not immediately reported her as a possible security breach but was investigating on his own.  She's very good looking and tongues had started to wag when she'd come to his workstation and stayed with him for nearly two hours. When she was immersed in the details of his project she was thoughtlessly and sometimes, immodestly unaware of her feminine charms. They had the occasional laugh and she had touched him several times and pushed him aside him to use his keyboard. Several people had casually walked past to check it out.  But of course there was nothing romantic about it.  She was just coaching him through the solution and making some suggestions about the project and how to avoid making the same mistake again, in a similar function that he would need later. 

The odd thing was that she seemed to know an awful lot about his project. He was suspicious.  She'd only been in the business for a few days.  But when she understood his code as if she had written it herself, the moment that he put it up on the big screen, pointing out several improvements and redundancies, he realised that she was some kind of code prodigy, who seemed to be processing his code on the spot, in her head.   Yet coding was not listed as one of her skills in the personnel database.  The company policy was to endorse and praise fellow employees, particularly new ones, for special skills but the App simply failed to accept his endorsement.  When he updated the database, using his developer privileges, the entry disappeared immediately. He tried changing another employee's entry without a problem, then he tried Bianca's but again it failed to update.  So he checked the administrator listing and privileges on the system and she was not even listed.  Maybe under another name?  But there were no ghosts either.  He started to think there must be a serious security issue if a new employee without any authorisation could see all his work and delete entries from a secure database. He brought forward the regular 'White Hat' security check, in which a professional hacker was employed to attempt to break in. There was no apparent breach.  There was definitely something weird going on and he had still been investigating the day of the Christmas party.

When Kat started saying that Bianca was a witch, that's what he thought she was referring to, not actual witchcraft. So he said: "Yes, there's something very weird about her."

Kat went ballistic. "You mean you knew this and didn't tell me?  You told me you love me.  You two are in cahoots to harm me aren't you?  She pointed you out to me. You're her bait aren't you?  She's always asking how I'm going with you. When did she seduce you? Obviously some time before Christmas.  Morag warned me about other witches.  That tart tricked me into thinking she was an ordinary girl, there for the taking.  All this time she's been milking me of my secrets."  

Mohandas had no idea what she was talking about. Now she had one of her stiletto heeled shoes in her hand and was standing over him threatening to hit him in the face with the heel.  All he could say was: "No, Kat. No, Kat. No."

"Very well, I can get to the bottom of this.  Take this pill."

***

She'd never given him a pill like this before but she was so terrifying that he did as he was told. When he woke up she was gone.  He had no idea where and he was very alarmed.

The pill was her most powerful truth drug, which combined with her use of his hypnotic trigger made it impossible for him to lie to her.  Margery delved around in his mind confirming that he hardly knew Bianca.  She was extremely clever, using an innocent bystander as bait.  It was getting light and using her hover-bike was a risk.  Margery would have to risk flying home as she didn't want to leave her hover-bike in the parking station here and any other means of transport might reveal her movements even more. 

She could still smell that witch on herself and on her clothing. Reverse-seduction was an amazing trick that she should try to learn. She showered and changed and went to work. There were several people at work who she had previously enchanted.  It was always useful in a meeting to have one or two who, at a gesture from her, would immediately agree with her.  She did the rounds, putting them under and asking about both Bianca and Mohandas.  Office gossip had it that Bianca was keen on him.  She'd been seen flirting outrageously with him for hours on end; having several intimate chats with him at his workstation and someone was sure that they had seen a couple like them going into a sex hotel.  Mohandas had already told her the truth so she knew that some of this was nonsense.

Two of them enquired if she was jealous, because she'd been seen leaving the Christmas party with Mohandas and there were similar rumours circulating about her going to the Plaza Grand with him.  Bianca had even told one of them that the rumours about her were untrue because he was romantically involved with Margery. 

The gossip mill was going strong.  Margery was very publicly going out with Philip.  Someone had suggested that they were all involved in partner swapping. And that was too juicy to let go.  The latest goss was that a waiter at the lunch place had seen Margery and Bianca carrying on together yesterday.  He'd tried to prove it by playing back the security video but it showed nothing but the two of them having lunch, seated on opposite sides of the table.  The guy was a bit trippy after polishing off some vintage wine they'd left undrunk, so he must have been away with the fairies, engaged in a wild erotic fantasy.  Those who had rushed over to the restaurant to watch the video agreed that they both looked rather fetching and several made inappropriate comments about what they would like to do with one or the other.  But the promised 'hot scene' was nowhere to be found. 

When the first person mentioned it Margery suddenly realised that she had been stupidly incautious and the video would be disastrous.  A chill of fright had rushed through her body.  Yet there was nothing to be seen. 

For a moment she even entertained the thought that Bianca had so bewitched her that she had dreamt the whole seduction scene.  No. It had definitely happened, she'd had to shower and change her clothes.  Yet where was the external evidence?  Bianca must have somehow deleted it.

"How did she do that?" wondered Margery: "If Bianca knew to turn the cameras off during those moments, she was the one in control the whole time.  She was somehow reverse-seducing me.  I should have realised that there was something wrong that time when she knew about Phillip. The evil witch!  She's probably planning to tell him about Mohandas!  I'll have to speed up his training."

She was furious. By now she expected Bianca to be her faithful servant but Bianca had been playing with her instead. As a result, she'd been tricked into telling Bianca far too much. 

All her familiars at work had confirmed that Bianca was fond of Mohandas, even if he was unaware of her affection.   She would make Mohandas her bait to get rid of Bianca.  In the meantime he would pay for his ignorant complicity.

She left work and caught a hover-cab.  It was risky but not as obvious as her black hover-bike. She stormed into Mohandas' apartment again.  She ordered him to get out of his clothes and get down on his hands and knees on the workroom floor.  He did it without hesitation.

"Get your head down and don't look at me," she demanded.  With that she walked a couple of metres behind him and with a short run gave him a really hard kick in his balls.  He screamed with pain and curled up crying.

"Now you're going to learn firsthand what the word 'punish' actually means."

***

She showed him until her rage subsided.  Then she left him cowering in a corner. She still had to deal with Bianca but she now knew better than to confront her personally and fall into one of her traps again. She had a plan.

When Mohandas recovered, he realised that he'd been longing for her to take their relationship to the next level.  She was so angry that she was awesome.  He wanted to be her whipping-boy and to give her satisfaction.  He had a vague idea that it was that witch, Bianca, who she'd been attacking by proxy. And he found that he was starting to love her too. 

After that Kat seemed to be sorry and almost affectionate.  He worried that she might be losing interest.  But she was very enthusiastic and complementary about Mikado and never failed to take a copy of everything he'd done home to check for errors.  He even slipped in some obvious blunders hoping that she would punish him for them.  But she didn't seem to care about them, obviously realising that they were deliberate and that he would soon remove them again without her having to comment. 

The sex had become almost conventional. His penis no longer hurt. Although it was a lot bigger she was somehow disappointed in the result. She kept resetting the music to the same track suggesting that he sing along as she caressed him and then coaxed his penis to hardness.

On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
Sang "Willow, titwillow, titwillow"
And I said to him, "Dicky-bird, why do you sit
Singing 'Willow, titwillow, titwillow'"
"Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?" I cried
"Or a rather tough worm in your little inside"
With a shake of his poor little head, he replied
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"

He slapped at his chest, as he sat on that bough
Singing "Willow, titwillow, titwillow"
And a cold perspiration bespangled his brow
Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow
He sobbed and he sighed and a gurgle he gave
Then he plunged himself into the billowy wave
And an echo arose from the suicide's grave
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow"

Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
Isn't Willow, titwillow, titwillow
That 'twas blighted affection that made him exclaim
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow"
And if you remain callous and obdurate, I
Shall perish as he did, and you will know why
Though I probably shall not exclaim as I die
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow"

 

Soon she just had to hum the tune to get the same reaction.    At other times she would say: "It's little dicky-bird time," before she wanted him to penetrate her, making it clear that he was still a great disappointment to her in that department:

"Can't you get any deeper than that? My god you're useless! Half the time I don't even know you're in there," and so on.

Of course he was insulted. He was no longer that small.  But those were the least of her insults that ranged from his ethnicity to his manhood; his competence as a developer and his abject fear of her. She seemed to enjoy demeaning him and he now doubted everything about himself. 

But it never diminished his now pathological arousal in her presence; his compulsive compliance with her directions; or his desire to satisfy her every whim.  He was vaguely distressed that she seldom bound him or pushed a heel into him anymore and feared that she had lost interest and the heat had gone out of their relationship. So he looked forward to the particularly painful Easter present she'd promised when the project was complete. 

The big long weekend came just over a month later.  That week Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos had 'gone live' in a beta release and began making sales.  It was slow at first but there was exponential growth and they agreed that when Kat got on the publicity trail it should do well. It was decided that Mohandas, like Jesus, should return to work on Monday and he was downcast.  Kat promised that now she had a reason to stay she would leave Pussy with him and visit him regularly.

"But only if you've been very naughty and deserve punishment," she said with a smile, pleased that this brightened his mood.  She now possessed his entire ego and thus owned him absolutely.

***

He tried to compile a list of sins deserving of her wrath that he could then confess so that she would come and punish him.  But as he didn't even know where she lived it was a bit short.  He imagined ways of offending a Hindu goddess but didn't come up with anything sufficiently offensive to Kat.  He even checked out the Jewish commandments.  She might enjoy him coveting an ox but be indifferent to him failing to separate milk from meat.  The best he could come up with was transferring his loyalty to another goddess.  He wondered how it would be to worship Bianca.  Maybe like other Gods she could set some arbitrary rules that if he broke would deserve her punishment; like going somewhere with or without a hat; or eating pork on a Friday; or showing his knees; or disrespecting cows?

Kat had suggested that for their 'Easter' celebration he prepare the whole apartment, particularly his very non-Indian work room, like scenes from the Kama Sutra all draped with Indian fabrics.  There should be candles; and incense; and big cushions flowing out the workroom door to the living area; and he should be naked except for a dhoti like Ghandi. It took him nearly a week to get the necessary deliveries and to prepare the apartment, during which time he had fantasised wildly about what she might do to him and had been in a constant state of arousal. It was nearly five days since he'd seen her and he was on tenterhooks.  Now, at last, it was Good Friday. 

The last time he'd seen her was on Palm Sunday when she'd brought him an end of Lent present. It was a new deep-fat-fryer with special cooking oil so that he could cook her fish tempura on Good Friday. He'd never cooked Japanese food before but fish was what Kat wanted and so he would look it up and buy the ingredients.  When he suggested a trial run she absolutely forbade it.  This was to be for Good Friday only.  To celebrate the end of Lent they had sex until he was incapable of moving.

"Next time I see you I'll want you to give me your Easter Ego," she joked, laughing in a rather sinister way, as she buttoned her blouse and pulled up her skirt. 

He could hear her heels clicking about on his hardwood floors as she collected her helmet and flying-coat somewhere outside, in preparation for her departure, wherever it was she went on her black hover-bike.  As she'd told Bianca all that time ago, when she removes a man's ego it passes to her. She might more accurately have said 'his soul'.  For her part, Palm Sunday was a pure power trip. 

***

Her private joke caused her to laugh delightedly when she received his pent up Easter Ego in his workroom. She'd arrived unexpectedly early and embraced him with a kiss pushing his present into his mouth with her tongue. She'd created a little Easter lozenge for the occasion and pushed the bauble into his mouth as she kissed him. It was bigger than usual but now he swallowed anything she gave him this way without question.  As usual the act elicited his conditioned response despite his recent loss of ego.  This time it was just a little lingam booster and a slow release preparation to disorient him over an extended period.  But it amused her that she could just as easily have poisoned him.  That would be a pity.  Why spoil all the fun when she had other fish to fry?  She nimbly released his dhoti and bundled it away efficiently.  He was a little child who'd soiled himself.  Now he was totally naked and hers to do with as she liked. She stripped naked too.

Among the party supplies Mohandas had ordered in were thirty litres of body oil.  Kat had suggested that they should bathe in it this Easter weekend in the tub in the big bathroom.  But the half litre bottles had a nozzle and were like water soakers when squeezed.  So instead of pouring them in the bath, they chased and giggled around the apartment like kids, squirting each other with oil and hiding or going back for another bottle. They skidding about and fell over; leaving oily pools on the wooden floors, drapes and rugs in every room and even more in their hiding places.  It was hilarious. The cleaning robot would have its work cut out.  Then they had a shower in the smaller bathroom off his bedroom.  It was the only oil free area.  Kat waited until he was under the hot water then threw a bucket of icy water over him.  That initiated a huge water fight in the bathroom.  After all these exertions they retired to his large bed, panting and giggling.  This was going to be a great Easter spent together.  How he loved her!

"Now I'll show you the Easter game I promised," she told him.  "I'm going to decorate you like an Easter egg with hot candle wax.  It's going to hurt you a lot so I'm going to tie you to the bed.  Would you like that?" 

Of course he would.  It was what he had wanted for weeks when she'd not been nearly violent enough.  

"Yes mistress!" he whispered in a husky voice.

"What's the magic word?"

"Please."

"Please what?"

"Please hurt me, Mistress."

The smell of incense and smoke from the burning wax meant that neither noticed the fire raging in the rest of the apartment.  Kat had shut the bedroom door in case neighbours should hear his screams. 

The fire started in the kitchen.  Before Kat arrived he'd been deep-frying her tempura fish.

Mohandas thought he'd flipped the power switch off during their oil fight but he was obviously so excited that he failed to do it properly. 

With all the drapes and oil to spread it, the rest of his apartment, together with all his computer equipment, was totally destroyed, even before the fire burnt through his bedroom door. 

It was evident to him that Kat had really enjoyed decorating his tied-down body.  So had he.  She'd straddled his oily leg and slid up and down as she poured the wax with little groans of pleasure before moving over him to satisfy her other fetishes.  She'd just gone for a second shower 'to clean up' when flames burst through the bedroom door, and began leaping, accelerated by spiled body oil and wax, towards the bed. 

He was desperate to warn Kat and tried to struggle free but she'd gagged him with a pair of cotton panties to silence his shouts as she'd poured the hot wax on him.

As the flames appeared at the end of the bed and spread around it like a carpet and the thick black oily smoke descended, like a nimbus from above, he passed out.

 

 


Chapter 22 - Inquest

 

 

 

As it turned out, Mohandas was very lucky that Bianca had been in the building.  Had she not called the brigade so promptly the 'fiery' robot may not have arrived in the nick of time to cast foam over the burning bed; cut his ropes; wrap him in a fire blanket; and get him out before the bedroom too was completely engulfed.

He was unconscious and suffering from some nasty looking burns to his torso and his feet were already gone.

Bianca had never been in Mohandas' apartment block before. 

She told the investigators that she'd received a strange message from 'M' asking to meet her there on level fourteen.  She knew it was his block so she assumed it was from Mohandas. 

When she got to the nominated floor she said that she'd found a paper note on the open door saying: 'Something urgent come up.  Just come nad make youself home.  Back son.' The alleged note had been burnt to ashes.  But she remembered thinking the grammar was odd and that it contained a number of spelling mistakes.  Mohandas is a classical poet and a code writer and is unlikely to have bad grammar. She concluded a neighbour must have written it to his dictation.

Inside, she claims she saw a picture of Mohandas in an old style frame on a side table and a tray set for tea with a plate of her favourite cookies.  She was surprised that he knew that much about her. We have to take her word for it, as all that's gone too.

She claimed that she'd spent the time, prior to the fire, sitting in the spacious living area of what turned out to be a stranger's apartment on the next floor, above.

When flames from below simultaneously shattered all the windows down one side of the apartment and it began to fill with smoke, she ran to the fire stairs but they were blocked by thick black smoke and flashes of flame.  The fire door on the level below must have been wide open, as was this one.  She closed this door and went back to the apartment; called for help; and looked for a means of escape.

Initially the Central Fire Computer doubted that there was a fire because the building heat sensors were reporting nothing.

Fortunately she'd found a long climbing rope in a service cupboard.  She'd been a rock climber at University and occasionally went to one of those indoor places.  Fourteen floors was a long way down but there was plenty of rope and it was a relatively easy decent provided the fire below did not burst out while she was still on the rope. She tied the end securely, dropped the rest out a window with no fire below then quickly climbed out and slipping the rope between her legs and over her shoulder, played it out with her hands, abseiling to safety.

She then helped to get the lower floor tenants out; waited to give her account to the police; and for the brigade to extinguish the upper floors and check for bodies.  To her surprise, there was Mohandas being carried out on a stretcher suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.  Until that moment she'd been certain that he was out of the building and safe.  So she went with him in the ambulance and eventually took him home to recover after the automated hospital amputated and discharged him with prosthetic legs below the knee.  

She realised that she'd been incredibly lucky to find the rope because the four upper floors were totally destroyed and the fire stairs and lift well had been impassable. 

A kid left at home alone by his single mother in one of the upper apartments was not so lucky.

When Mohandas had been under sedation for his wounds he had initially recoiled from Bianca, in fear, declaring her to be a witch.  It had taken her some time to reassure him that he was mistaken.  When she later questioned him about it he became tight lipped but it was evident that it was something that he'd come to believe in some traumatic manner because he'd begun to cry and started trembling in fear again.

***

Mohandas took over a month to get his voice back and his stumps below the knee needed time to heal and toughen sufficiently for him to become mobile again.  As a result of his injuries he was rather confused and very distressed.  He was getting used to the idea that Bianca was his friend but kept asking after someone called Kat, who he was sure must have been burnt too.

There was no burnt body in the bathroom and absolutely no evidence of any one resembling his description of Kat at the scene.  DNA and other forensic tests proved inconclusive.

The inquest into the little boy's death did not go well for Mohandas.  He had been careless in leaving a deep-fat-fryer unattended.  His unusual furnishings also came in for condemnation when he foolishly told the investigators about them.  Candles and drapes and incense sticks were a certain fire hazard, not to mention traces of a lot of oil throughout the apartment and other accelerants in the remnants of both the kitchen and his bedroom. He didn't admit to the oil fight, even when investigators found the oil traces.

He was public enemy number one for a while. But then the manufacturer of the fryer was implicated.  An enthusiastic forensic team examining the twisted wreck of the fryer reported that there was evidence that the thermostat was faulty. 

The media turned their attention to the little boy's mother who would certainly have been killed too had she been there but was nevertheless condemned for leaving an eight year old boy at home unsupervised.

"Should she have been there to share his death? - Sports stars give their opinion - an MV documentary that's not to be missed."

At one stage it was thought that Mohandas had been trying to commit suicide until the controller of the fire robot that cut him loose was called and testified that there was no way that he could have tied himself like that.  "Like a chicken waiting to be cooked on a rotisserie," he said, "naked and doused in oil and wax." There was video from the robot to confirm this.

Mohandas had been very reluctant to admit to writing code at home, while allegedly on sick leave, for fear of losing his job.  But under oath he relented and told the story of Kat engaging him to help with an App and ultimately tying him to the bed. 

But he left out or was not asked for a lot of the details so that the remains of his story sounded incredible.  He failed to mention how the mysterious Kat got in and out undetected.  He was promptly sacked.

Then Bianca came under suspicion. 

She'd been seen entering the building before the fire and her story was unverifiable and as strange as his.  No, she wasn't driven to arson by jealousy.  She claimed that she knew nothing of Mohandas having an orgy on the floor below.

Was she in fact the mystery Kat?

But the owners of the apartment then testified and confirmed their rock climbing equipment had been in the cupboard.  Numerous witnesses had watched Bianca abseiling from the fourteenth level and had cheered her when she got down; and the paramedics testified that she'd been helpful evacuating the rest of the building and had been genuinely surprised to see Mohandas on the stretcher.

In the end the media and the public agreed that the Indian guy had been up to no good.  He'd set fire to his place deliberately while involved in some strange religious ritual.  Indians are well known for their funeral pyres.

***

Bianca worried about Mohandas' mental health.  It was understandable that he was depressed but it seemed to go very deep.  He constantly sang little tunes from the Mikado and called out to Kat in his sleep.  Several times when medicated for his injuries he imagined that she was Kat and either begged her to hurt him more or declared his undying love for her.  Then, when he knew she was Bianca again, he would want long cuddles. 

One evening, while watching MV, and receiving a cuddle, he tried to suck her nipple.  When she pushed him off he called her 'Kat's Witch'; moved her hand to his genitals; and begged her to hurt him.  There was no way that she wanted to become his hand maiden in that way, so she called in a sex-worker specialising in the disabled. 

Despite excellent credentials, Mary was unable to relieve him, saying that he was just too badly injured and traumatised to reach an orgasm.  Nevertheless Bianca was now alarmed at the direction his mind was taking and no longer wanted to cuddle him.  So she employed Mary to spend each night with him, for as long as it took, with a mission to provide him with cuddles and to keep him to his own bed, while ensuring that he was distracted from any further untoward interest in 'Kat's Witch'.   Bianca grew to like Mary and would look in on them to make sure that they were properly tucked-in each evening, like children.  She would sit with them over breakfast each morning, chatting to Mary about her interesting job.  Mary asked Bianca about her job too but found that it was too technical to understand.  It sounded like magic, managing numbers and computer instructions, that somehow ended up as real events, like new cities and population movements. 

Mary reported that Mohandas continued to be impotent despite her best efforts and in spite of Bianca's new status as Kat's Witch, Mohandas still refused to answer her questions about the mystery 'Kat'. They had settled into a domestic routine that was workable but felt vaguely unsatisfactory except that it was obvious that Mary was increasingly playing mother to Mohandas.

It had long been obvious to Bianca that Kat was Margery, yet Mohandas still insisted that his Kat was 'just Kat', even when she demonstrated that there had been no such person on the payroll at work.  It was as if he'd been subconsciously blocked from speaking about her.  Bianca was sure that this was an outcome of hypnosis and considered attempting to hypnotise him to unblock whatever Margery had done; but feared his complete mental breakdown. 

Then one night there was Margery on an MV chat show spruiking 'her' new App: Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos and declaring that the perfect App was one that married a need to a way of satisfying that need; when neither party was previously aware of, or had the means of, satisfying the other.  "An appy marriage," as she says she likes to call it.

Mohandas was beside himself with joy.  There was Kat on MV alive and apparently completely unharmed and yes she was now calling herself Margery as Bianca had said all along.

"So Bianca is Kat's Witch," he told Mary.

It was now very obvious to Bianca that Margery thought that she was another witch. So she hardened her opinion that Margery had tried to murder them both to secure her rights to Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos and to get rid of her as a competing witch. 

To Bianca's surprise Mohandas would not hear of it.  He still blamed himself for the 'accident'. 

At least he was a bit put out that 'Margery' as she now called herself, was claiming full credit for an App that he'd worked on so hard and that she'd always said was 'theirs' or even 'his'.  And now that he'd lost his job and his apartment and all his paintings, except the ones Kat had taken, and all his equipment and he needed a credit stream to get back on his feet.

"Assuming I can ever get the hang of these damn prosthetic legs.  I'm sick of getting about on these stumps," he said, putting a brave face on it.

Mary, who now loved him with all her heart as her 'man-child', gave him a big cuddle and tears of pity came to her eyes.

 

 


Chapter 23 - Mirror-Mirror

 

 

 

With all the publicity her employer thought it might be time for Margery to move on.  She felt that Margery was a trifle too litigious for that organisation but made the mistake of hinting that something was not quite as it seemed with Margery. 

As usual Margery had secretly recorded the interview and this was enough to prove that there was a hidden agenda in her being asked to take such a generous redundancy.  As a result she successfully sued for wrongful dismissal and got the redundancy as well. 

She didn't really care about that job.  She was making good credit from Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos and together with her various settlements was moving into a nice apartment in a good area. 

But a new apartment on its own is not entirely satisfying.  She needed more excitement in her life - a new start - maybe as a 'cougar housewife' now that age was creeping up on her.  The virtual property agent's Avatar had assured her that several wealthy single men owned apartments in the block.  She still had Phillip in reserve but he's not wealthy enough and although she'd thought that it would be fun to introduce him to sex with men she found that he was often out on the town and decidedly less appealing to her as a partner.

After the move as she was un-packing her trophies, like the shoes Mohandas had licked clean so many times, she settled on his clever widget.  She opened it and to her surprise when she pressed down on the powder-puff the mirror glowed green. 

When she tried her door she found it was unlocked.  So she went down to the security room and walked right in.  That was strange.  There was some sort of recording thingy in there and she asked Circe, her VPA, to access it.  It had recorded all the of the other apartment owners and their visitors coming and going, except for her own recent decent, while holding the widget.

***

One of the other owners was Claude Ball, the famous celebrity astronomer. Margery had already decided that he's the best pick of the available bachelors for this next phase of her life.  She would make him her new boyfriend and maybe, if she decided to, her husband.

He had the floor above.  She let herself into his apartment and gathered enough data to 'accidentally' meet him in the lift. 

In the lift the following day they discovered they had interests in common.  Among these were early animated movies by someone called Dinsey; at least she thought that was the way it was pronounced. 

Anyway it didn't matter, because Claude laughed when she told him about her love of 'Dinsey's Cartons', saying that was the most amusing 'pet name' he'd ever heard.

That night he invited her in to watch an old animated movie: Snow White.  It wasn't nearly as silly as she expected, except that the ending was disappointing.  The silly romantic girl with the dwarfs reminded her of Bianca.  On his stumps Mohandas was Grumpy the dwarf, and the magic mirror was like the one in her widget.  It was quite eerie how the author or screenwriter had anticipated elements of her life and even knew something of her Craft, except that they made the usual mistake of thinking that applied science was magic and early scientists were wizards and witches.

That was when she realised that a magic mirror would be a great App to have available to Circe then it could be in The Cloud and she could call it up on any screen anywhere.  She would call it Mirror-Mirror.

Otherwise the evening was uneventful.  Claude was polite but quite distant.  He made no romantic move whatsoever and didn't even set up a reason to talk to her again in future. A current girlfriend?

She was slightly disappointed.  It was going to take some time.  She hoped he wasn't gay.  She didn't think so.  She would do a comprehensive search of his apartment. 

When she searched more thoroughly she found evidence of a woman in one of his bathrooms and a closet.  Then Circe hit the payload: some home-made videos featuring Cindy, the current girlfriend, and stored in memory on a local device that were definitely heterosexual. 

She saw it all as positive:  He was definitely interested in women.  In the recording business he was a rank amateur compared to her.  Fancy keeping recordings like that at home when they should be safely hidden in The Cloud.  As for Cindy, she was obviously a tart considering what she was prepared to do in-front of a camera that she obviously knew was there, staring into the lens like that.  And when wasn't there already another woman if a man was half decent?  It would have been more of a concern if there wasn't a woman in his life.

Then and there Margery decided she would mount a campaign to get him.  The usual mix of deceits, miss-directions and diversions would burn Cindy off.  "Cindy would soon be cinders," she cackled aloud.

***

In the meantime he had given her another App idea. A Cloud search by Circe revealed that amazingly no one had built it already. She could get Mohandas to build it.  He had plenty of spare time now but she would need to get him away from that wily witch Bianca and she might prove troublesome yet again.  Anyway he no longer had his own place and she certainly wasn't having him here, running into Phillip or Claude, stumping around or scratching her floors and banging into her furniture with his metal legs; and needing to be serviced all the time.  

Margery had a lot of contacts in the industry. She could do a lot better in that department.  As Pitti-Sing says in the Mikado: "There's lots of good fish in the sea." 

Margery asked Circe to up the Gilbert & Sullivan recording on her apartment's sound system.  As she looked in her address book she happily hummed, occasionally singing along:

On this subject I pray you be dumb — dumb — dumb.
We think you had better succumb — cumb — cumb!
You'll find there are many
Who'll wed for a penny,
Who'll wed for a penny
.
.
.

There are lots of good fish in the sea!
There are lots of good fish in the sea!
There's lots of good fish, good fish in the sea!
There's lots of good fish, good fish in the sea,
In the sea, in the sea, in the sea, in the sea!

Lots of good fish...

 

And with that she'd identified just the developer to invite to a Christmas party.  He was a nerdy guy called Woodsman.

His home address was easily found by Circe and she paid his home a visit using her widget, which she now thought of as her Mirror.

He was heterosexual and porn addicted, ideal for her purposes.

She arranged to have him sent an invitation to an industry dinner the following week.  She was amused to see him there standing on the sidelines, inappropriately dressed and very uncomfortable, like a fish out of water, not knowing a soul and lacking the skills to introduce himself.  She watched him surreptitiously while happily chatting to the president of the Computer Society and generally flirting with everyone.  At last she put him out of his misery and introduced herself.  She flattered him by knowing about his coding skills and reputation and insisted that he sit with her at the dinner.

He had a wonderful night and couldn't believe his good fortune at being invited to the dinner; meeting this beautiful woman; and then getting his Christmas surprise.

He turned out to be even better fun than Mohandas: faster to grovel, already familiar with a number of fetishes, and a superior physical specimen all round.

Very soon he delivered her a prototype of Mirror-Mirror for user acceptance testing.  It seemed very satisfactory when Margery installed the App in Circe's program library. She used a short list of her closer female acquaintances as a trial.  Obviously she didn't want competition from all the women on the planet, just the ones that she was confident of beating.  She was able to see where they were on a map, each tagged with an icon of their image as they went about; and she was able to zoom in to any Cloud connected camera in their vicinity and see what they were doing, even in some cases when they thought they were in private like in the shower, on the toilet or making love.  People seemed to forget the cameras and microphones in almost everything these days or to assume that the encrypted data streams were private. She immediately learnt some interesting things about several of them that she could use later.

Mirror-Mirror was very flattering to her too. At her instructions Woodsman had modelled it on the Dinsey one so it told her:

"You my mistress are the fairest of them all."

But when she made the mistake of extending the list to women at her previous place of employment it told her that Bianca was fairest: "as fair as her name implies: Snow White."

"No way! How could that witch be fairer than me?"  No wonder the beautiful heroine of Dinsey's Snow White had been enraged.

She decided to find out what the 'sleazy tart' was up to.  But Mirror-Mirror promptly crashed.  The software obviously had a bug and when she demanded that Woodsman fixed it he couldn't find out what was wrong.  It had just stopped working.  There was something wrong at the heart of the decryption algorithm.  

Margery was furious.  The thing was a piece of crap.

***

But the movie was a good object lesson.  She wasn't going to repeat that woman's mistakes.  No turning herself into a crone or attempting to unsuccessfully poison Bianca with an apple.  Her previous encounters with Bianca had taught her not to underestimate her. She had a better poison for that one.  She would poison her heart.

"I'll ensure that someday her prince won't come; and her dreams of marrying poor Mohandas are futile." she said aloud, persisting in the belief that Bianca was in love with him. 

"In the meantime I've got a Woodsman to punish for his incompetence."

Margery had no other way of judging Woodsman's coding ability, except by results.  Mirror-Mirror had turned out to be useless rubbish, so he was a rubbish developer.  Fortunately, she thought, training him continued to be the most fun she's ever had training a man. 

"He's such a hunk," she thought, for the hundredth time. "It's a case of 'nominative determinism', when people become good at things suggested by their name?" she mused happily. 

"And I'm sure that someday, when he's properly trained, and reduced to his pure animal state my new prince will make some princess very happy."

She heard the metallic voice Adriana Caselotti singing the song from the movie in her head:

Some day my prince will come
Some day we'll meet again…

Some day when spring is here
We'll find our love anew
And the birds will sing
And wedding bells will ring
Some day when my dreams come true

"Well the first line is certainly accurate. And that's a start. Several times a day!  I'm not too sure about the rest of it," she thought, smiling at her favourite joke, as she was wont to do.

 

 


Chapter 24 - A Noble Soul

 

 

 

When Mohandas started claiming that he was a joint developer of the latest viral App: Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos and that his share had been stolen by Margery, Margery hired a lawyer. 

The lawyer from the ambulance chasing firm Sly and Sleazy thought it was 'money for old jam'.

Margery had the development notes and the complete source code.  Mohandas was a well-known weirdo who had cooked up some code that he'd obviously written since, clearly reverse engineered from the published application.

Now he was in cahoots with that tramp Bianca.  She'd been seen on the security cameras across the street secretly entering the block on the night of the fire; and she'd obviously gagged him during kinky sex.  She clearly knew her way around ropes. 

"Maybe she'd fiddled with the thermostat and spilled oil around a candle?" Margery had suggested to him.

When a large number of pictures of Margery were discovered on Mohandas' computer at work together with some strange ungrammatical stuff about her he'd written while off sick, it became obvious that Mohandas had been stalking Margery while plotting to steal her intellectual property. 

"Whatever that story," said the lawyer "It is evident that both he and his live-in friend are now out to maliciously harm my client."  Completely misrepresenting the relationship and reversing the reality of who was living with whom.

Mohandas' suit failed and he lapsed into an even greater depression.  He took to a wheel chair with Mary as his nurse.

***

On Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent, nearly a year after the fire, Margery contacted Mohandas.  It seemed a good day to take a look at his burnt legs.  He was beside himself with joy. Wednesday was their special day.  He stood up and walked, very painfully, for the first time for weeks.

During their conversation Margery explained that she'd only cut him out of their App to protect him from being sacked for working on it in breach of his contract.  Now she wanted to see him face-to-face to talk about his share of the huge credit stream the App was generating.  As he was jobless and living at Bianca’s place could they meet without her knowing at The Plaza Grand? Perhaps in the quiet bar on level one on Friday before the happy hour began, at say 14:00?

He got there early his stumps throbbing due to sudden reuse and she was an hour late.  Just when he thought she would not come she appeared.  He was so relieved he staggered up onto his legs, realised that he had become stiff, and painfully tried to hug her for support.  But with a strangely evil smile she pushed him off and he collapsed, trying to grab her on the way down.  He could hardly speak as he struggled to get back to a chair.  She stood watching with amusement, then signalled the waiter and ordered two martinis and took the chair opposite. 

When he recovered from his fall and the thrill of seeing her he asked how she had escaped the fire unharmed.

She said her escape had been miraculous.  Serendipitously, the wet towels on the floor from their water fight had sealed the bathroom door against smoke.  Her earlier insistence that he should open the bathroom window to clear the steam had saved her life.  Initially she had been oblivious to the fire raging on the other side of the door.  Then she took a quick look and realised that she needed to go for help.  During their water fight they'd soaked both sides of the door thoroughly but in time it might still burn through.

All she could think of was to save him.  By a stroke of good fortune her damp clothes were in that bathroom.  She looked out the window and saw that she could use the sewer pipe to slide down to the balcony below.

From there she used his smart little widget to unlock that apartment.  There she'd called the fire brigade telling them where to find him.  To protect his reputation and job she'd then used the stairs, below the fire, to slip out the back way undetected. It was already getting dark when she flew home.

He said: "I thought that Bianca had called the brigade."

"Oh no! That wasn't Bianca.  She was too busy saving herself," she corrected him.

"But they found no trace of you at all in the DNA sweep.  And because I didn't know your real name you became the invisible woman.  All they found was Bianca's DNA on the knickers that she took from my mouth in the Ambulance.  It was almost as if they were hers they found so much.  So for a while they thought that she was you."

Margery explained that the full body haptic stocking she'd worn, to record their fun, so they could re-live her enjoyment later, had contained almost all of her DNA.  Any that escaped must have been destroyed by the astringent body oil she'd rubbed over him; or by the flames. 

"The recording's very good by-the-way. I often replay it.  I love experiencing your tied-down body all over again; and again; and again..."

He found that the way she'd said this produced a sudden recollection of their physical intimacies.  It excited him in a way that he'd not experienced since the fire. She became surrounded in an aura of sexuality that took his breath away. He was hardly listening to her words now.

She was telling him that the fire was partly the fault of the manufacturer of the deep-fat-fryer and that he shouldn't feel totally responsible for the little boy's death, despite the inquest finding that a number of his actions had contributed to the speed of the fire's spread. 

She still had the receipt for the fryer thing somewhere.  As soon as the coroner's report was published she intended to sue the manufacturer and the retailer for the emotional trauma she'd experienced as a result of learning that her charity in lending her brand-new fryer to a fellow at work had resulted in a child's death. 

Mention of the child's death snapped his attention back to the meaning of her words.

It must be even more terrible for him to have the death of that dear little boy on his conscience, she was saying.  And when she thinks of the dreadful turn that his life has taken, now that he is unemployable and reliant on Bianca's charity, and all that, she's come to see what she can do to help.

"So I've looked into the copyright on my App.  It turns out that for legal reasons I can't share any of the credit stream with you.  Do you think that if you can ever get another job that you and Bianca might make a life together?  Does she still respect you or are you just a charity case hobbling about like that?"

"We're getting on very well."

"How's your sex life? Are you sleeping with Bianca? Or can't you get it up?" she asked.

He didn't want to admit that they were just friends or his shame that Bianca had to look after him in some very intimate ways.  Nor did he want to admit that Bianca was at arms length and he had been sleeping with a sex worker who specialised in working with the disabled.  But without success, what with his injuries and so on.  So he changed the subject to something more positive.

"I have a job interview next week," he told her brightly.

"Good luck with that! Everyone thinks you're either a nut or a monster.  Oh sorry! I shouldn't have said that.  Can you forgive me?" She looked so mortified.

She slipped from her leather armchair pushing their small drinks tables aside at arms length and knelt on the floor in front of him.  She took his hands. He could feel the warmth of her body and could smell that familiar musk.  She pulled his hands and he responded by slipping forward off his chair onto his knees too, his artificial legs lying on the floor behind him like the tines of a fork-lift truck.  They kissed; her hand behind his head; his body pressed to hers. He felt the familiar pill pushed into his mouth with her tongue and his Pavlovian response made his erection grow.  When he swallowed she bit his lip so hard that it bled.  He didn't know if to cry out or cry for joy.  This was his Kat and she was preparing him for obeisance. 

Then with a fluid motion, recalling her first night in his apartment, she rose and left him there kneeling on the floor; with his prosthesis legs behind; his arms reaching out to the sides; unable to reach either small table for sufficient support to get up; on the floor in the hotel bar.  He'd been crucified; abandoned in a vast Persian carpeted desert.  She was over there metres away, sitting sat back on her chair taking a sip of her drink; watching his predicament; smiling delightedly as the scene she'd choreographed with those wicked eyes as she spat a little swirl of his blood back into her glass.

She motioned him to her and he had no option but to crawl to her: slowly; painfully; awkwardly; on his hands and knees; dragging his prosthetic legs behind.  When he was almost to her she pulled back the hem of her skirt and parted her legs allowing him to see her nakedness as she motioned him to come closer between her thighs, smiling lovingly. He put his hands on her hips and shuffled between her knees. Her arms enveloped him and she kissed his forehead. 

"That's nice isn't it?"

Her scent was wonderfully strong now and her hot breath thrilled him as she whispered in his ear:  "The reason you can't perform with other women is because I haven't given you my permission.  If I told you to push that young woman in the grey suit out there in the lobby to the floor right there and now and rape her, you'd do it for me wouldn't you?", indicating the woman with a nod of her head.

He looked around out through the archway to the pretty young woman standing there. It was true. If that was what Kat wanted he knew he must obey. 

"Think about it," she whispered suggestively. Then she imagined the scene for him.

As she whispered, in Mohandas' mind's eye he grabbed the little slut. Reaching down forcefully dragged up her tight grey skirt; tearing the seams; exposing her bare thighs and firm bottom. Now while Kat looked on approvingly, he pushed the young woman to the carpet, ripped off her underwear and penetrated her violently. The woman screamed in surprise and then delight as he ravaged her.  

"You know you must always obey me," Margery added, her head bowed to him; her breasts against his face: "that's why you're so hard now."

Then she said: "I want to see it.  Unzip your fly.  Take out your cock… your balls too."

So he did.

"Yes, very good," she said, reaching down to grant her approval.

"Now stand up."

So he did. 

His genitals were now at her eye level, his back was to the bar that was beginning to fill for happy hour.  He was fully exposed to her. Could anyone else see?  He didn't care.  She arranged his fly like Moroccan door, lifting the zipper below his balls to push them up and out, to display his manhood. Then she lightly touched the head of his penis with an index finger and smeared his pre-cum over the head to make it shine.

"Perfect!" she exclaimed. "That's my big dickybird.  Now, I want you to walk out into the hotel lobby, past those other women with their kids over there, and show this to them on the way.  Then you already know what to do to that young slut, to please me."

So he did.

***

After Mohandas had been pulled off the young woman; charged with indecent assault; and registered as a sexual deviant, he was held for a month then chipped and counselled not to approach women or children in any circumstances on pain of castration, before being released on probation.  He hobbled painfully away using crutches, the prospect of that job, or any job lost.  It was Good Friday again.

The last he'd seen of Margery was her sitting back relaxing in that big leather chair smiling at him over her cocktail glass as the women screamed and pulled their children away.  His attempt to rape the blonde was brutally forestalled by several large men who hurt him badly, despite his being a cripple.  With her knees crossed and a glimpse of white thigh and bottom visible under her skirt, framed by her dark stocking tops, Kat looked amazingly sexy.

His dream of a future with Bianca, the other witch, was a foolish, unrequited and he now saw, impossible.  He could never go back to her place. He was homeless.

Kat was his one true mistress and he could never love anyone else.  He went into the first Voluntary Euthanasia Clinic he saw. 

The synthetic hemlock was indeed very pleasant and his last dream was of pleasing Kat, knowing that this was what she had wanted for him.  She needn't have gone to the trouble of having him expose himself or attempt a rape.  She could have sent him here directly.  But this chance to demonstrate his devotion to his goddess through this final sacrifice was her parting gift to him.  How he loved her! 

"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow," he sang as he passed away.

***

Initially Bianca didn't look for him.  He'd left her a pretty poem in which he'd cast himself as Odysseus returning to Penelope.  His prospective Odyssey was to conclude in a blissful reunion that he hoped would last for eternity.   Bianca was pleased that at last he had shaken off his months of depression and wasn't overly concerned when he didn't return that evening.   She strongly suspected that he'd gone back to Margery, who must have called him in.  But that was his choice. After a week she sent the annoyingly worried Mary home with thanks and a handsome bonus.

Bianca only discovered he was dead on Easter Monday when his family were contacted as next of kin and messaged her for his things. She copied them the poem and asked Mary to come to see her.  The poor girl was devastated and now Bianca was worried for Mary and had her move back in while she recovered.  His family interpreted his 'beautiful poem' as a suicide's swansong. But Bianca knew better. She immediately saw Margery's hand in his death.  For him Margery had been a force of nature, in Odyssean terms his Nemesis, and this outcome had been inevitable the moment Mohandas left that Christmas party with his Kat just sixteen moons ago. 

Perhaps it was kismet, inevitable since the dawn of time.  Does anyone have free will?  Had Mohandas been a guileless innocent, lured onto the rocks by the siren's call?  Yet Bianca felt responsible. In pointing him out, knowing all the while that he was investigating her and getting a bit too close, her hand had jogged the tiller that steered his life's boat to that fatal shore.   

She didn't tell his family about the events leading to his death, they were irrelevant to who he was.  For them he remained as he had always been, a pure and noble soul, their Mahatma.

 

 


Chapter 25 - True Love

 

 

 

Claude needed to be handled carefully.  He was no saint, clearly an experienced lady's man and something of a user in his own right.  Margery knew instinctively that he would not fall for an early Christmas present. 

He would simply be pleased that she was such a slut but would decide that she was not at all suitable as a steady girlfriend or a wife.  It would be a one night stand and he would be cold and distant if they met in the lift.  The best that it would lead to would be an occasional late night knock on the door if he'd been drinking and needed company.

The campaign was to be two pronged: Get into his life and get rid of Cindy.

Margery's campaign to become more than an acquaintance to Claude was slow but relentless.  She would 'serendipitously' run into him around town until she was a familiar figure in his life.  But she took care that he didn't feel that she was stalking him by sometimes ignoring his attempt to be polite or being seen to see him, then walking away.

First she was introduced to his companions as this is 'a woman in my block'; then she became 'my neighbour' then 'a girl on the floor below' and eventually 'my friend from the floor below'.  She became more flirtatious and occasionally ribald.  She had to avoid becoming too much of a friend.  There needed to be some mystery about her.  That wasn't too difficult.

***

Then there was the night of the spider.  Discovering that Claude was home alone, Margery first had a luxurious bath.  Afterwards she would be warm and smelling of bath oil.  While the water drained she put on a flimsy robe, that she had carefully chosen and purchased for the purpose, then she rushed up the stairs to bang on Claude's door.    

"There's a spider," she managed to tell him breathlessly. "Please help me."

He'd obviously been naked, perhaps in bed with Cindy. He'd wrapped a towel around himself. He rushed back inside and pulled on some pants. 

"I'm so sorry but they terrify me. Can you please help me," she explained, her panic subsiding as they went down stairs.

As they entered her apartment there, sure enough, was a large huntsman spider, seven or eight centimetres across. 

Margery had caught it the other day and immediately seen this opportunity.  But now she squealed in terror as Claude chased it around with a large glass and a postcard.  The spider rushing from one hiding place to another fleeing from Claude who was being careful to avoid its bite and at the same time trying not to hurt it.  By the time it was safely in the glass he'd had a good look at Margery's body when her loose robe flew open as she jumped from floor to chair and fled across the room in mock panic.  She was delighted that he was wearing nothing but his denim pants and smelled of sex as he crawled here and stretched up there.

After he had swung the glass over the balcony, centrifugally flinging the spider off into a tree, Margery ran up to him, embracing him with thanks. She was demurely wrapped and tied into her gown again.

"Oh thank you," she said.  "Sometimes it's so hard being a woman on her own," she added, as she ushered him to her door.

There must be no suggestion that she was looking for sex.  But now he'd had a good look and feel of the goods on offer.  And so had she.

***

As she was getting to know Claude better Margery was simultaneously, and very successfully, white-anting his relationship with Cindy.

At last came the night of his big bust-up with Cindy and it was time to get some tickets to something appropriate. 

La Boheme was on at the Opera House, romantic and cultured, not too girly, with a suggestive chat between the male students and Musetta's beautiful aria that Margery identified with:

Quando men vo soletta per la via,
La gente sosta e mira
E la bellezza mia tutta ricerca in me
Da capo a pie'...
Ed assaporo allor la bramosia
Sottil, che da gli occhi traspira
E dai palesi vezzi intender sa
Alle occulte beltà.
Così l'effluvio del desìo tutta m'aggira,
Felice mi fa!
E tu che sai, che memori e ti struggi
Da me tanto rifuggi?
So ben:
le angoscie tue non le vuoi dir,
Ma ti senti morir!

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When walking alone on the streets,
People stop and stare at me
And look at my beauty
From head to toe...
And then I savour the cravings
which from their eyes transpire
And from the obvious charms they can deduce
The hidden beauties.
So the scent of desire surrounds me,
How happy it makes me.
And you who know, who remember and yearn,
Do you shrink from me?
I know why this is:
You do not want to tell me of your anguish,
But you feel like dying!

 

Although other operatic arias are sung by courtesans like Violetta in La Traviata or seductresses like Carmen, this is perhaps the most beautiful and explicit.  Either of these other operas might have been a good choice for a romantic evening, on which a man could enjoy a Christmas present, but alas they were not on at the moment.  La Boheme it would be.

"My girlfriend couldn't come so I have a spare. It's in Premium Reserve and it would be terrible to waste it," she told him rather transparently.

Of course he would accept, he had just broken up with Cindy.

It was their first true date.  Claude enjoyed his long overdue Christmas present under his jacket during Musetta's aria.

At the conclusion he told her:  "That was appropriate.  You realise that the last line 'Ma ti senti morir'  refers to orgasm. The little death."

It turned out that he was no stranger to such presents and was exceptionally skilled. She promptly responded in kind each enjoyed the giving as much as he the gift.  They gave and received an encore in the hover-cab as they kissed and canoodled on the way home.  As a result Margery was as aroused as he when she asked him in for 'coffee'.  They were barely inside her door before their clothes were scattered in a trail to Margery's bedroom. 

Margery had planned to keep their first time entirely conventional and play harder to get but she was genuinely excited by this man.  "What the heck!"  she decided.  He was no amateur and was up for anything.  And he was very good Margery remarked to herself dreamily.  This was a bonus as she'd already decided to have him as her husband no matter what he was like in bed.

***

They began to date regularly and spent most nights together. 

Margery had already met a few of his friends during their 'accidental' encounters and had researched them.  Soon she knew more about their partners and kids and their ages and their schools and their recent holidays and past and present illnesses than he did.  He was a typical male; a lot of this personal stuff went in one ear and out the other.  Margery let the friends tell her things she already knew and asked appropriately sympathetic questions.  A 'how to make friends and influence people' site told her that everyone's favourite topic of conversation is themselves.  To her own surprise this worked like a charm and they liked her. 

Margery was now his official girlfriend and she arranged his social calendar.  And she genuinely enjoyed having social friends for the first time.  She started to see herself as the de-facto Mrs Ball. 

They had fallen in love.  He thought her ignorance of anything to do with physics was charming and amusing.  He was a natural explainer and she was a blank slate and so appreciative.  She boosted his ego.  He boosted her ego and esteem too.  He was famous; and on his arm Margery was bathed in reflected limelight.

She hadn't bewitched him.  She didn't want too.  She wanted to be loved for herself.  She was like a rich person who pretends to be poor to discover if they are loved for 'who they are', rather than for their money.

For the first time in her life she felt a warm fuzzy satisfaction when she thought about a man, which she now did many times as day.  She found herself messaging him just to say hello. His picture replaced the pentagram as her wallpaper on her hand-held's screen. When she saw him her heart leapt.  And she liked being with him; preparing food in his kitchen, when he would come up behind her and she could feel how much in lust he was; or simply sitting around playing a game in The Cloud as he read his odd books and on-line journals.

He had a very nice classic car, of the kind that they no longer make, and they drove into the country and stayed at properties that had once been farms but now offered a 'real farm experience' to couples like them. They travelled overseas where Claude was always met at the airport and enthusiastically taken to some top hotel.  They walked on the beach at sunset and frolicked in the surf. She dragged him into a cupboard at a friend's place to fuck; and off a walking track into the bushes; and behind a sculpture in a public square; and into a sail locker on a boat. He was just as keen. The list grew. In the gardens; on the balcony; in both kitchens; in addition to all the usual places; the living room; the shower; and so on.  They even did it in an empty church below the pulpit and once in part of a shopping centre undergoing refurbishment, behind a screen as the work continued on the other side. 

As time went on and the initial buzz in the relationship subsided she noticed that sometimes he was annoying and intractable.  She also found that she was jealous of his other relationships, particularly with women. There was a pretty young technical assistant that he seemed to get on with very well and she discovered that the wife of one of his friends was an ex-girlfriend.  His life before Margery was often shared with a small group of close friends and although he was sensitive to this and explained this or that incident in the past, at times she sat staring into space as they recalled earlier humorous experiences.

Like that secretly rich person who, once they have discovered they are loved, begins revealing their wealth, Margery began to practice The Craft.   She began very subtly at first, to introduce some 'points of difference' into their sex life, that would distinguish her from previous women in his life and perhaps spoil him for any future relationship.  Arguments had became more common and on occasion she found herself screaming at him and stamping away furious.

It began after one such incident when she had actually been reduced to tears. When they had both calmed down and he came to apologise for upsetting her and they had makeup sex.  He was drowsy afterwards and she put his head into her lap and enchanted him that way for the first time. From now on she would always win an argument.

One such point of tension was children. Margery had told him that she didn't want children.  She said it was anti-social when the world was attempting to reduce the population to sustainable levels.  Claude wanted to pass on his genes and his knowledge but now he found that he had to agree with her.  She suggested that he have a vasectomy.  Although he had once found that abhorrent again he agreed.  Margery didn't need the joy of children like other women, she had once been down that track once and it ended in misery.  In time Claude would become her child substitute, her submissive, as all the men in her past had become, another of her 'big little boys'. 

They had now been a couple for over a year and St Valentine’s Day was coming up.  This was as good a day as any to make the de-facto official and have him propose. 

***

Claude had been asked to debate the age of the Universe with a panel of religious leaders, some of whom believed that Earth had been created by God four thousand years ago, as it implies in Genesis.  It was to to be on MV and to take place at a luxury resort overseas.  It would provide an ideal opportunity to publically announce and to celebrate their engagement.

For the debate Claude assembled a great deal of evidence that he felt proved to any rational person that the Universe was nearly fourteen billion earth years old but still quite young in galactic years.  Computer modelling showed that our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, was only fifty three galactic years old.  That was how many times it had completed a full rotation since it condensed out of a gas cloud about thirteen billion Earth years ago.  In another seventeen galactic years it's projected to collide and merge with the nearby Andromeda galaxy. During this event radiation levels will be so high that all life will be sterilised from all of the tens of billions of planets in the system and everything will have to start over from basic chemistry. 

"Can we stop that happening?" Margery had asked him, alarmed. 

"No, of course not!" he'd replied, as if shocked at her naivety.

Again she realised that she had said something he regarded as ridiculous. It made her feel angry.  People can do anything.  By then we could have a big atomic bomb or something to keep the galaxies apart.  She told him so.  He'd looked at her incredulously. Her apparent inability to understand anything about his interests was starting to annoy him.

"What's wrong with that?" she asked him, petulantly.

"Well you see the sun up there.  That's a minor star, one of many billions in our galaxy.  We have about as much chance of changing our own sun's path in space as a bacterium does. There are more suns in our galaxy than there are grains of sand on a very large beach."

"Yes but can't we go into space and do something to keep them apart?"

"Well think about this. It took Voyager 1 the first ever manmade object to leave our solar system 36 years just to get to our front door, it's one of the fastest manmade vehicles ever conceived, travelling at 62,140 km/hr.  At its speed it will take 270,000 years to reach nearest next-door neighbour, the nearest solar system, within our little piece of space, within our own galaxy.  It would take tens of millions of years for it to cross our own galaxy.  Andromeda is way further away.  Even at the speed of light it would take us two and a half million years to get to Andromeda.  Not that we could do anything to divert around a thousand billion stars when we eventually got there."

"So you say that all life will be wiped out everywhere in the universe when our galaxies collide?"  

"No not in the universe, just in our two galaxies of around two trillion stars. Then there are billions of other galaxies with trillions of other planetary systems, all older than the three billion years that it took life to evolve on Earth and for us to evolve.  So there are, in all probability, billions of other civilisations, looking nothing like humans, but all facing the same existential questions as we do. We know that they are probably there but light from their homes that left their star tens of millions of years ago is just reaching us now; and they are seeing light from our sun that left here long before humans existed. So they may well have evolved in the interim too. By the time some future intelligence in a distant galaxy receives one of our messages we will be extinct."

"Humans won't really become extinct," she objected.  "We'll just get in a space-craft and go somewhere else or live in space, like in those old space movies."

"They're just wishful human fantasies and nonsense.  We can and we will die out sometime within the next million years.  Probably sooner than later if we artificially improve our genetics; rely more on prosthetics; and/or hand any more autonomy to The Cloud.  Galaxies colliding in billions of years is the least of our worries. Our recent initiatives to control our population have probably extended our species survival by returning the planet to health.  But, as with us individually, even if we stay healthy we all die eventually.  There are a few ancient plants and reptiles and fish species that are over twenty million years old but no mammals have made it that far without evolving into something else or becoming extinct. Modern humans have not been around for more than a hundred thousand years, so it's too soon to say, but every other hominid that we know of either evolved into something else or died out in well under a million years. Eventual species extinction is as inevitable. But as with our own deaths, if something's inevitable why worry about it?"

"So is this what you are going to say in the debate?  Your version is not very nice and sounds like science fiction to me," she told him crossly.

"The problem the Creationists have is an inherited inability to understand the real scale of creation," he continued, ignoring her objection.  "Their constipated thinking has come down to them from their parents and teachers, relying on ancient texts, written by men who had difficulty imagining scale, even of their own little world.  Men who thought the sun, the planets and the stars rotated around the Earth, at the centre. Men who had no idea about biology and thought that a man's seed was handed down from generation to generation in humans, as in plants, and that there was a mystic spark of life that quickened it.  Men who had 'the wrong end of the stick' on almost everything they believed."

But he realised that Margery was right.  He couldn't even persuade his own girlfriend of the truth of his position.  It required too much scientific knowledge and education.  To her it sounded like another religion, not tested and verified facts, like those he worked with every day.

***

Margery was concerned for him when he became depressed about the debate.  He told her that they would bring up the same old arguments over again. In the face of overwhelming evidence his opponents believed that the Earth and even this vast Universe, in which the whole solar system is an insignificant speck, had been created just for us humans.  He knew that they would claim that the Earth had been created complete with all this 'so called' evidence of its great age to test our faith. 

But then he brightened up.  In that case perhaps he could persuade them that it's much younger than they think, say two hundred years old, and had been created complete with all the evidence of the past: like old buildings and objects; and evidence of our ancestors in oral history, public records and old photographs?  "No one alive can refute that can they?" he argued.  Actually, Margery wanted to say that he was talking complete nonsense again.  Everyone knew that the Earth is more than two hundred years old. 

Yet she let him rave on. She didn't want to depress him again. He was cute when he got passionate about his nonsense.  She was so looking forward to having him as her husband. She jumped on him as he sat on the couch and initiated some more morning delight.

That afternoon, after a little post-coital nap, Claude was feeling better and was keen to teach her something by showing her some obvious evidence with her own eyes.  He took her down to the local bushland park to see an old quarry face.  It was sandstone with a band of shale and the strata in the rocks are no longer horizontal.  He said that he had excellent evidence, in the form of plant and marine fossils embedded in these rocks, that they were laid down around three hundred million years ago.  But all sedimentary rocks are young in comparison to the others from which they were ground and then re-formed.  Vast amounts of evidence indicate that the Earth itself is something in excess of four and a half thousand million years old. 

"You see how the different coloured layers are twisted," he told her. "These rocks were here for hundreds of millions of years before the first humans even evolved." 

She humoured him. She pretended to be interested and touched the rock, even rubbing sand from the surface.  Yet she had no idea what he was talking about.  The sea is miles away and this looked just like any other rock. Yet he went on and on about how it proved something and how he would invite the Creationists to come here with him and see these for themselves.  And if that wasn't enough, he said he'd show them a rock in the museum chipped from the top of Mount Everest that he said was formed out of sea shells laid down over millions of years before being raised by 'continental drift and plate tectonics'. 

Margery wondered why he was now talking about plate technology.  Is it something to do with that food show where Bogans compete to see who can get some judges to claim that their cooking is tastier than someone else's?  But she has learnt to keep her doubts and questions to herself, because his expression often changes to puzzlement and even doubts about her education.  On occasions she's even had to use The Craft to get him back. She's become expert at sidestepping any questions or simply saying that the particular thing was something she was still trying to understand. This worked brilliantly for questions like gravity or those hole things but not so well when she genuinely thought people could not have walked on the moon because it was too small.  Fortunately the people at the dinner party were in a jovial mood and were sure she was joking.

But then there was a much more serious setback to her wedding plans. 

 

 


Chapter 26 - Cinders

 

 

 

In Margery's world it's far too risky, and somewhat demeaning, to court a man then passively let him choose between her and other rivals. A far better strategy is to take positive action against usually unaware and unsuspecting rivals to eliminate them.  Then the man is left with only one choice, her.

So in order to secure her relationship with Claude, Margery needed to eliminate Cindy, the present girlfriend, in the same way that she had eliminated any woman who has so much as flirted with Philip her current, soon to be surplus, boyfriend.  Not a few of them had found themselves in a departure lounge or signing up for unflattering body modifications.

She needed information.  So whenever she knew that they were out together, Margery let herself in to Cindy's apartment and made herself at home going through draws and cupboards, even making herself a gin and tonic, before settling down to open Cindy's screens and watch her media.  To avoid Cindy noticing the drink, she simply made up the volumes with tap water and took the remains of the lemon away with her.  Cindy had a habit of leaving her devices logged in so, with her Widget, Margery had interrogated them for her passwords.  This knowledge continued to allow her assess, even when Cindy had shut-down before going out.

It was during her third visit that she discovered that Cindy had been watching those explicit home movies, made with Claude, probably as solace when he had been away to look at his telescope thingy.  So the movie Margery had found at Claude's was no secret. Cindy was a knowing and willing participant, which accounted for her frequent staring into the camera when she moaned or cried out.

The movie was quite raunchy and, together with the contents of her bedroom side-table, made Margery want to meet this naughty girl in the flesh.  She started to plan an anonymous evening together. Among the things she discovered was that Cindy read her horoscope daily.   She must keep this secret from Claude because she knew that he frequently spoke against the 'myth of astrology'.   For her part it was one of those 'dark arts' that allowed her to manipulate others.

***

Claude was away at his telescope again and Cindy was about to settle down to watch MV when the robo-concierge in her building announced a visitor. The woman gave her name as Mirela.  On her screen Cindy saw a striking woman who sent a shiver up her spine.  The woman was wearing a red and gold head scarf, tied like a pirate over her shoulder length black hair. Her cream coloured lace top was off her shoulders, tied with a cord above her cleavage and she wore a calf length, heavily pleated, multi-coloured skirt, on top of which was tied a large contrasting scarf scattered with astrological symbols. Above that a smaller scarf matching the one around her head was tied. Around her waist was a wide black cummerbund that matched her long black, laced stiletto boots. With her gold bangles, large circular earrings, featuring a five pointed star in each disk, and bright red lipstick she looked exactly like a storybook Gypsy.  Cindy was immediately on guard.  She's always been scared of Gypsies.

"What do you want?" she asked the woman's image in her security screen aggressively, wondering if she needed to ask the robo-concierge for help to get rid of this person.

"Oh I'm sorry for alarming you Cindy," said Mirela close into the camera. "But I've received a message from someone beyond, who says she's your mother.  She told me to come here and said to tell you Thornton."

Cindy felt like fainting.  Thornton was the village where she'd lived as a child.  It's no longer there.  Only her mother, who's passed, could possibly know this.  It's so personal and obscure that she even uses it as a password.

"Come in," Cindy said. 

"Password indeed," thought Margery, "open sesame would've been more fun."

***

Clairvoyance is a standard tool in a witch's repertoire. When combined with alleged communications with the dead, clairvoyance becomes necromancy.  It's a skill feared by religion and the Judeo-Christian Bible warns against it repeatedly.  The Bible requires Jews and Christians and possibly Muslims to promptly kill a Necromancer - by stoning. 

As in all her witching studies when learning The Craft from Morag, Margery had excelled in clairvoyance.   Like Tarot; reading tea leaves; and the rest, clairvoyance seems, to a receptive mind, to be more than it actually is.  At its best it's similar to psychiatry, listening to a person then telling them what they want to hear.  But what's the point of that?  At its most useful it's a useful way of persuading a person to do something that they wouldn't otherwise do, even when enchanted.  It can be incredibly persuasive for believers in the occult or for the highly religious. It's much the same thing, particularly when it comes to believing in a life eternal, saints and messengers and devils and ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.   Used together with mesmerism this vulnerability to manipulation, created by a faulty belief system, can put a believer to death by wasting away; or make them suicide; destroy them mentally or financially; or cause them to kill someone like an unbeliever; or simply to seduce them.

As she ushered this woman in, Cindy caught the strong scent of sandalwood.  Mirela was at least Cindy's height and her high-heeled boots made her seem even taller.  Her voluminous skirt accentuated her hips and made her altogether larger than life. She was also carrying a large patchwork shoulder bag made from irregular fabric squares.  She pushed straight passed Cindy into the apartment, as if it was her own, and went into the dining room to put her bag on a chair then sat on another.

"I have to warn you," she said in a very businesslike way, "not all messages from beyond are benign.  This woman who says she's your mother could be an evil spirit.  Are you sure you want to hear from her?  If you don't I can leave immediately."

Clairvoyants are a dime a dozen, so it's never been a career choice for Margery.  Yet it remains a useful party trick, which she's used very effectively on occasion to destabilise colleagues on her climb up the corporate ladder.  There's nothing like a bit of relationship trouble to damage a career.

"But what if it is my mother trying to tell me something important," Cindy protested, her heart sinking.  "How can we find out?"

Morag taught that the scientific witchcraft or The Craft should not resort to unscientific deceptions. For example she disliked necromancy as perpetuated the unscientific deception that people whose brains had been destroyed could continue to think and communicate after death.  Surely they have noticed that even a live person with a brain disease like advanced Alzheimer's is unable to communicate like a normal person?  But that's never worried Margery, she's happy to exploit the wilfully simple-minded and naive.

"I can ask for proof if you like but first we need to make contact again. I will set up the table for a séance," said Mirela, delving into her bag and bringing out a dark tablecloth with mysterious golden markings and the signs of the zodiac in a circle; a pack of Tarot cards; and a large candle, that she lit in front of Cindy.  It gave off a strange perfume.  She somehow knew how to dim the apartment lights. 

Now she sat across from Cindy in a business-like way, dangling a crystal on a silver chain from one hand while she took Cindy's hand in the other.

Mirela had been careful to set the scene.  She'd taken command the moment she was allowed in because the apparent authority a clairvoyant is essential to being believed. In this respect it's like mesmerism, the subject must respect the teller and believe that the telling is possible. Warning Cindy is an old trick, often used by bag snatchers to gain the trust of a target and distract them while an accomplice robs them. In this case warning them against being deceived by the unknown in one direction blinds them to being deceived in another. 

"Can you hear your mother," she asked Cindy while distracting her by moving the candle. 

Cindy could hear a woman's voice, but could make no sense of it.

"The connection is too faint to understand her" said Mirela, not knowing enough about the mother or wanting to risk more ventriloquism this intimately, even though Margery was very skilled at speaking without moving her lips, breathing with her stomach, and had often deceived others this way. "She can hear you but we'll need to use the crystal to get her replies.  She'll swing it this way, around the central star, for yes or back and forth, towards the crescent moon, for no. Have you thought of a question to make sure it's her?" 

"Mum," she asked, "when I was little did I have a doll called Jemima?"

Morag taught that:  "Like a lie-detector, the basis of clairvoyance is biofeedback to gather the necessary data.  This aspect of the art is evidence based. Using bio-feedback techniques such as holding hands with a finger on the wrist and watching eye dilatations, the information required for a reading can obtained." Environment is important for technical reasons. Eye dilatations are most variable and useful with the iris in the middle range so lighting the face is important. Heart rate and nervous twitches are best read in a warm place.  

This was simple, even had 'Jemima' not been another of Cindy's passwords.  The crystal said yes.

Cindy then asked a series of questions about her mother's happiness and various dead relatives to check and got very satisfactory answers.

"Now, with your mother's help, would you like me to tell you about your future?" Mirela asked.  "We can use the cards or I can read your energy from you hand.  I have clairvoyance."

As Morag taught, telling the future is simply a matter of degree.  In the short term everyone can do it.  You have a good idea where you will be in an hour and can probably imagine quite accurately what you'll be doing then. It gets less certain as you go further forward.   Like a weather forecast, how far forward you can see and in what detail, is a matter of prior knowledge. Being believed is having at least as much relevant data as the subject has.

A person's past and their current tendencies, desires, beliefs and plans are already known to them, either consciously or unconsciously. The clairvoyant needs to discover the important parts of this data. The past is obviously important to the future. For example it's helpful to know a person's family background; their belief system; their relationships; their means and their state of health.  And some of these, like their wealth and social status, general health and often their current relationships are immediately evident to a skilled observer using their accent; their grammar; their grooming; their clothes; their jewellery; tattoos and piercings; and obvious disabilities and illnesses, as clues.  Starting with what they already know, the clairvoyant adds to it, piece by piece - filling it in like a jigsaw puzzle - making suggestions; trying this piece here or there; receiving positive of negative iris reactions or hand twitches; noticing distress or arousal and so on, for example, after suggesting a loss or a gain; as in a love affair or in a family or in a career.  Props, like Tarot cards, an Astrological chart or tea leaves can elicit a reaction and help to suggest topics to explore.

Margery was pleased that she'd been right about this younger woman.  Claude was a good selector when it came to his girlfriends.  This one was a particularly good specimen - she was going to be fun to deal with.

Mirela had Cindy split the cards then laid them out in a pattern and turned them over.

"Oh dear" she said, alarmed.

"What?" asked Cindy.

Mirela told her that she'd better shuffle them again and repeated the process.

Then Mirela laid them out again.  But without saying anything, looked worried and gathered them up. 

"I think it would be better if I hold your hand and we just talk this through," she told a now very frightened Cindy. 

"Obviously, in its broad details, even the distant future is partly guessable," Morag had taught them, "being influenced by the past and by current tendencies, desires, beliefs and plans of a person seeking a reading. If one has an addiction to smoking it is likely that they will satisfy that craving sometime later that day. If one desires to wear red on Fridays and have chicken for lunch there is a good chance that one will be in red eating chicken at lunchtime on Friday. If one fears to leave the house on Friday the 13th then there is a good chance one will be home on that day. If one plans to go to another place in a years' time and has made the appropriate bookings, there is a good chance that is where they will be in a year's time." 

"Once sufficient data is to hand it's trivial to predict the obvious.  Thus you can safely predict: you'll go home to an empty house; and on Friday you'll wear red and have chicken for lunch; next year you'll go overseas. And sometimes a prophesy will be self-fulfilling for example: you'll have a cigarette later today, despite your desire to give up."

Mirela proceeded to tell Cindy all sorts of facts about her life that Margery had discovered rummaging around the apartment; and in her messages; and documents on-line.  She repeated Cindy's hopes and aspirations back to her; and imaginatively told her about her desire to get her finances back in order and settle down, perhaps as a wife.

"With a man, who I see is someone in the media, a scientist.  Someone who you find very sexy but who sometimes makes you feel uneasy about the sexual things he wants to share with you."

"Filling in the blanks in a prediction is like painting between the lines, limited only by the clairvoyant's imagination and their care not to be too specific," Morag had taught.  "And it's here that it's easiest to influence future decisions and thus change the future through self-fulfilling prophesy. What might happen if you tell someone that their relationship will fail, that someone at work is plotting against them, that their headaches or back pain will get worse or that they will drown?  The clairvoyant has more scope to influence decision making than most future tellers, as they are not constrained by stars or cards or chicken entrails or the flight of birds.  Once the data gathering is in hand, a skilled clairvoyant can also set about subtlety interfering with the subject's tendencies, desires, beliefs and plans so that their prediction of the future is indeed fulfilled, at least sufficiently to achieve the desired influence over that person."

"Yes it's true!" Cindy said. "But I do love him."

"But he won't commit. Even though you do dirty things for him, which trouble your sense of what's right and proper?  And he to you. That you've come to enjoy.  And that worries you too."

"No. I mean yes, I mean ..."

"That's alright dear, give me both your hands and I'll look into your mind, no need to say it out loud."

***

Mirela held her hands and appeared to download Cindy's shameful memories. When it was done she sighed and told Cindy that she was not at all shocked. After feeling Cindy's aura she'd expected something shameful.  But these things were quite normal among sophisticated young woman like her. Even her mother was telling her it was alright to share these things with the man she loved. .

After Mirela's lack of reproof, all Cindy's sins came pouring forth. She opened her troubled heart and revealed all her new confessor. Within the hour Mirela had a catalogue all her previous lovers, including one who, deliciously, overlapped with Claude and she had imagined a threesome with.  Mirela was surprised that Cindy had not suggested this to Claude.  She explained that every man's fantasy was to make a home movie involving another couple. Cindy should take the initiative and surprise him.  It would be an excellent way of having Claude accept her as his life partner.  Swinging two ways was a very common delight among the most sophisticated couples these days, with all the one on one and two on one opportunities that presented.

Mirela uncovered some interesting deceptions too, such as Cindy lying to Claude about her credit status.  Of most interest, in addition to her belief in astrology, Cindy had on-going religious affiliations and was secretly going to church to confess then lying to Claude about where she'd been. All this lying; while dating an outspoken atheist, must be putting her conscience at odds with her faith and beliefs, Mirela sympathised. 

It had been a long session and Mirela suggested that Cindy lay down on her bed so that Mirela could use her phrenology skills to read the bumps on Cindy's head. They went to Cindy's bedroom and Mirela sat sideways of the bed, near the pillows, so that Cindy could comfortably lay her head in her lap, looking up into Mirela's eyes. 

***

Morag had drawn a distinction between enchanting someone and bewitching them.  Enchantment is quite literally chanting or singing to them in such a way as to capture their subconscious mind, as in hypnosis or Mesmerism. That's what the word means. It's a temporary state during which ideas can be implanted, memories can be recovered and inhibitions can be lowered or removed.   Bewitching is more permanent.  The person is no longer able to resist the witch as they have been physically and psychologically addicted to fulfilling the witch's every desire. It's a kind of love - an all-consuming love from which the bewitched may long to escape.  Being bewitched might be likened to a nightmare in which the the victim dreams that they are desperately running or swimming or climbing from some dread but their legs won't move. 

In this case, enchantment will be quite sufficient, although Margery is quite attracted to the idea of training Cindy as her apprentice after her failure to bewitch Bianca.  She recalled Morag's lesson:

"The words to a chant or chanson are quite arbitrary. They could be a shopping list, it's all about circumstance and melody.  In relaxed circumstances a lullaby is ideal. If seduction is the goal, the relaxed subject should then be assured that pleasuring themselves erotically is now perfectly appropriate and desirable. The enchantress should then shadow their hands a moment later so that the action seems to the subject to be their own. The subject will experience a double hand giving them pleasure wherever they choose to touch themselves.  Soon, utilising the phantom hand phenomena, in which even wide awake subjects can be made to believe that a foreign hand is their own, the enchantress can continue to stimulate an erogenous area after the subject's hand has left.  Soon they will believe that, like an Indian goddess, they have four arms all at work giving them pleasure.  They will henceforth subconsciously associate this stimulation with the chant that is used during the experience.  Thereafter the subject will become sexually aroused and subconsciously desire that the enchantress should pleasure them again when that chant is repeated.  Thus any inhibitions a subject may have about being touched sexually by their enchantress, for example in public or with friends, will be overruled by the hummed or whispered tune."

***

With Cindy's head in her lap, Mirela was quietly crooning Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess while feeling her bumps. After her emotional and corresponding hormonal rollercoaster Cindy took just minutes to enchant. 

The next stage was easy.  The most difficult obstacles had been removed earlier during the readings by providing Cindy with a motive for sexual experimentation.  Cindy, who had never thought this was a problem before, now realised that a more sophisticated approach to sex was key to her ongoing relationship with Claude.  Mirela now suggested that Cindy needed to actually try-out with a woman before getting into a potentially embarrassing situation with Claude.  She told Cindy that she, Mirela, was a sex therapist and would be available to help.  Finally she told Cindy that the phrase 'making home movies' would re-enchant her and clapped her hands to release Cindy from her trance.

"Is there something you wanted to ask me," she asked Cindy, who must have drifted off but was now gazing up at Mirela from her lap, fully aware.  "No, don't tell me, let me lay my hand on your forehead so I can read your thoughts.  Oh, that's very exciting! You want to find out what women do, with me, don't you?"

"Yes, how did you know?  Do you do those things with women?  Could you show me what to do?" asked Cindy hopefully.

Mirela confirmed that she did and she would, in a purely therapeutic way, because she would like to help Cindy secure her relationship with her boyfriend.   In a very professional manner she suggested that they both strip.  Cindy shyly took off her clothes and demurely, and very tentatively, got under the covers.  Mirela got under with her.  After a little awkward fumbling Mirela started to hum and sing quietly in Cindy's ear.  Cindy could feel Mirela's warm Gypsy breath puffing against her ear with each word:

...hum hum hum

Your hum hum's rich
And your hum hum's good lookin'
Hum little baby
Don't you cry

Hum, hum these mornings
You're going to rise up hum in'
And you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

Hum hum hum,
And the livin' is easy
Hum are hum in'
And the hum hum is high...
 

 

This got Cindy wonderfully excited and she found that she was no longer shy at all.  Her wings were spread and she took to the sky.  Soon Cindy was so bold that Mirela asked if she would like to make recording to show Claude.  Without any further prompting Cindy enthusiastically delved into her bedside table and took out the camera that she'd evidently used to record her previous erotic experiences with Claude.

Margery was anything but camera shy but there was no way that she wanted to be seen by Cindy's camera.  Fortunately, Mirela just happened to have a virtual reality camera set in her bag that looked like an innocuous headband.

"If we shoot it from your lover's point of view," explained Mirela, as she confiscated Cindy's camera, "with me wearing this, we won't need yours."

But of course, shot from that perspective, it wasn't to be for Cindy herself to enjoy and it wasn't even for Claude. It was for a different purpose altogether.

Much later, when Cindy was cuddling Mirela contentedly yet again and tracing circles on her arm with a finger, Mirela asked:

"So, did you enjoy making home movies with me?" 

Cindy's expression went blank and she closed her eyes.

"If you would you like to know what I saw in the cards you'd better ask before I leave," Mirela told her.

She disengaged and began to get dressed. It took some time with those scarves, lace up boots and so on.  So it was some time before Mirela was ready and she clapped her hands. 

Cindy immediately asked: "What was it in my cards that you refused to tell me about?"

"Oh it was too dreadful," Mirela told her, pausing as she collected her remaining things into her bag, "I didn't want to tell you. The cards always tell the truth. The cards told me that Claude will be unfaithful to you sometime next month. Next year he'll end up marrying a beautiful but evil seductress."

Cindy who until then, had been luxuriating among heaps of crumpled bed linen, was obviously devastated. She sat up, as if she'd heard a gunshot; and the colour drained from her face.

"But in on the bright side," Mirela continued.  "You're about to embark on a brilliant new career in the movies.  You're about to become a star. You'll no longer be confined to making home movies."

With the last three words Cindy's head fell forward again. "Now you will forget about my visit today but you'll remember what you've learnt about Claude," Mirela commanded.

Mirela's last act, before she walked out the door and clapped, was to bring up Porgy and Bess as background music on Cindy's sound system. Cindy would be wondering when she had undressed and gone to bed. She must have been dreaming. Claude had broken up with her.  She messaged him and was reassured.  Stupid dream.

As she rode her hover-bike home over the city Margery shrieked to the sky with triumph and elation.  Mirela had been brilliant. 

***

Cindy had told Mirela that she wasn't the only one who'd made a sex movie with Claude.  When Claude had first suggested that they made a movie of their lovemaking, Cindy had suspected that he'd made one with Joy, his previous. She'd asked him and he was a evasive it made her determined to to see it.  He didn't trust The Cloud and had stored it on removable media that he kept in a cupboard.  Cindy had been so determined and annoyed by his evasiveness that she'd used her key and stolen his recordings. But he'd somehow got them back or had another copy. Recently she'd viewed them at his place without his knowledge.

Margery realised that was the reason one had still been on his device because he was obviously more careful because when she looked for them they weren't in the cupboard where Cindy had said. He must have moved them.  Cindy had said that they were on old fashioned miniature memory cubes.  These were about the size of a pea and easy to hide. It was in the back of Claude's socks draw that Margery hit pay-dirt: a little bag of cubic peas. She borrowed them and had Woodsman copy them to her storage in The Cloud, then she replaced them as before.

As Kat, she messaged Joy, the ex-girlfriend, from Woodsman's apartment and claimed to have enjoyed a one night stand with Claude during which they sat up in bed watching sex movies he'd made with her and with his current girlfriend Cindy.  She elaborated about her night, describing his bedroom, bathroom and so on so that Joy knew that she must be telling the truth.  Kat claimed to be a friend of Cindy's who Claude had slept with on the side.  She gave Joy the most damaging information about Cindy, including her ongoing confessions at Church, during which she told a priest potentially damaging information about a prominent atheist; her real credit position; and all about the concurrent lover. 

"Even though she pretends to be a Christian, Cindy was screwing two men at once and I'm sure that she's enjoying their nights sitting up in bed with Claude, watching the movies that you made with him."

Then she described some of the more graphic highlights to confirm that she'd seen them too; and to rather deliciously turn the knife. 

"How many did you make?  One of them he showed me is very unflattering of you, particularly that scene when your flabby flesh is bouncing like a fat cow on a trampoline.  We laughed so much.  They're probably laughing at you right now.  You should crash his place when they're both there, demand that the movies are destroyed and tell him what a deceptive bitch Cindy is."

After that Joy did all the dirty-work and it was totally untraceable to Margery. 

***

Margery's next step was to call on Phillip, who was soon to be surplus to requirements.  She found him in his new hangout, a gay bar downtown.

She enchanted him suggesting that he would enjoy dating woman again, in particular an 'up and coming' porn star.  After releasing him from his enchantment she showed him a home movie that Cindy had made to promote herself as porn star, seen from the point of view of her lesbian lover.  Philip found that he was desperate to meet this hot woman.  Margery then suggested that he would like to become a porn star too and that Hank the Shank should be his porn name. Phillip, who until that moment had not realised that being a porn star was what he had always wanted to do in life, loved the name, which seemed quite flattering to his principal asset.  

Over the next several days Margery oversaw their courtship, as Cindy who now doubted Claude' commitment, was swept off her feet by Hank, who was wonderfully simpatico, already in tune with her likes and dislikes and even knowing the town she grew up in and remembering some of her friends.  

After their rapturous initial meeting, Margery suggested that Hank's next date with Cindy should be boating and a picnic on the bank such as they had once enjoyed. She was laughing at something to do with the name she'd chosen for him.  When she refused to say what it was he told her that he'd given up trying to get to the bottom of her jokes.  At this she shrieked with laughter and kept giggling off and on, for the next half hour.

The following day Margery outlined her script for his porn movie with Cindy. Using Circe she remotely coached him on how to prepare Cindy for their big production: step by step; date by date; as their affair continued.  Cindy told Hank about her dream in which she had been with another woman and then became a famous star.  They agreed that it was wonderful that they were so simpatico that they'd even had similar dreams of sex and fame.  They placed an advertisement for another bi-couple to practice with and to co-star in their movie.

Their movie, Cindy Sins and Sins and Sins, featuring Hank the Shank, was one of the hottest of the year and quickly went viral. Downloads of the featured song, Summertime, also skyrocketed.

Later Phillip went back to his boyfriend and Cindy tried to reconcile with Claude.  But by now that relationship was in metaphorical cinders. Claude was in love with Margery; and having quite sufficient fun of his own.

Cindy has since gone on to fame and fortune in the entertainment business, just as the cards foretold.

 

 


Chapter 27 - Vatican Spy

 

 

 

The first indication that something was wrong was Claude's silly Valentine's Day computer puzzle.  Then he unexpectedly went alone to the debate at the resort when Margery expected to be invited to go with him.  Then when he returned, he went straight to his apartment and didn't call her.  At first she couldn't understand it.  She hadn't bothered to watch his stupid debate.  She seldom watched any of his incomprehensible rubbish.  It amazed her that some very bright people seemed to take his nonsense seriously.

Now he was definitely not talking to her.  Her key was on her dresser and his was gone.

She considered breaking into his apartment but that was not so easy since her widget had stopped working a couple of weeks ago. 

When that happened she decided it had a flat battery but she could see no way of opening it.  She tried thwacking it on her expensive dining room table but it caused nasty dents in the wood.  She was so angry at what it had done to her table that she decided to teach it a lesson on her granite workbench in the kitchen.  The stupid thing flew into a dozen pieces and she had no idea how to put it back together.

She asked Claude to take a look at it not telling him what it was for.  He started to examine the parts to see how they fit together and then started quizzing her about where she got it and what she needed it for.

"Don't worry about it if you can't fix it," she said petulantly and snatched the parts from him.

She stormed into her bedroom expecting him to follow so she could use The Craft to take his mind off it.

Instead he was angry.  He came in and threw the remaining bits on the bed and went home.

***

They made it up for one night after she convinced him that she had bought it in an antique shop, thinking it was an old makeup compact, and was trying to replace the power pan when all those bits flew out.  She worked on him for a couple of hours. But the following evening he was cold again, said he had work to do in preparation for the debate and locked himself away in his apartment. Then he went off into the countryside in his car without asking her to come or telling her where he was going, before disappearing overseas.

Now he's really upset about something.  She can't get to him at all.  Is he just sulking because the debate went badly?

Finally it occurred to her to have a look the debate and 'lo and behold', as they say, there was her Bishop. 

The trouble was not the debate; he seemed to have unexpectedly won that, but that her Bishop was on the panel.  The Bishop must have seen out and about in the media with Claude as her current boyfriend and taken it into his head to warn him off.  Claude is now off-the-air permanently and according to Aden Hitch 'has been seen around town' with some very striking Muslim woman. 

"The bastard.  He'll need a special visit," she shouted furiously, referring to the Bishop.

Even though Claude's in the same building he's become impossible to track without her Widget.  He no longer shows up on the micro camera she long ago trained on his door from outside in the foyer.  And those she'd placed around his apartment are all off the air too.  The one embedded in her picture in his bedroom came back on briefly, just long enough to record being eaten by the jaws of the recycling robot.  His VPA must have some App, like her widget, that enables him to avoid her. 

"Maybe it's time for the Bishop to expose his sins to the world," she mused as she calmed down.  "No that would be a waste.  After all, a bishop can be a big asset in a game of Chess and I have a black queen that needs taking."

***

Claude had been amazed by the components scattered across Margery's kitchen bench top.

The function of the thing was not immediately apparent and might have remained so had it contained just one or two application specific integrated circuits but the two dozen or so electronic components were off-the-shelf items, readily available on line, and it had obviously been individually built by an experienced and skilled constructor possessing the necessary tools.  It was like a lab prototype. 

It was extraordinary to find such a thing inside a woman's make-up compact.

With his pocket communicator he was able to photograph each component and its serial number together with the laser-cut substrate on which they were mounted.  His VPA instantly produced a circuit diagram but it had installed software on an erasable programmable read only memory, or EPROM, and he couldn't run it without reading that.  Nevertheless the general purpose became obvious.  This was some kind of burglar's tool.

Who had built it and what was his girlfriend doing with it? It was like discovering she had a gun in her purse.

At first he accepted her story that she thought it was an antique and just wanted to change the powder pan, when it broke.  Why would she smash it if she knew what it was and then ask for his help to fix it?  No one could be so stupid.  She must be telling the truth. 

But then she could be rather impetuous and hadn't a clue about technology, which was another odd thing, given her much vaunted coding skills.

At some time recently he'd decided to marry Margery. It was odd because until recently he had regarded their relationship to be on a more casual level and he'd always been wary of commitment.  What was the point if you weren't intending to be a parent?  And she was very clear on that point.  But then Valentine's Day was approaching and it suddenly seemed like a good time to propose.  So he'd planned a little Valentine's Day treasure hunt.  He'd written a simple function in PHP.  If you gave it the parameters Claude and Margery it returned the location in his apartment of those chocolates she loves; and inside the box he'd placed the big ring that she'd admired so much when he somehow found himself with her in Tiphanies a week ago.

But the whole idea failed when she was completely flummoxed by the code. It was then he realised that she didn't know the first thing about coding.  Something was wrong.  Could this be the author of Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos?  Maybe she had stolen it as that deviant had claimed. Now this burglar device, as he called it, warranted further investigation.  Although he had detailed photos and some idea of the functional design it would be good to get the actual parts back.  He would like to read the firmware that must be stored on the EPROM. 

***

When Margery left for work he let himself in to her place with his key and emptied her waste basket onto her table just ahead of the trash robot getting to it. There were the pieces.  He pocketed them.  But what was this? Screwed-up paper notes all with a similar message misspelt in different ways: 'Something urgent is come up.  Just come to make yourself home.  Back sooon.'

Who was she inviting in? Could he demand to know? Then he decided that he probably shouldn't ask and reveal that he'd been going through her rubbish.  In any case she couldn't have written them, given her advanced education.  So he swept them back into the basket and let the robot have them.

He didn't have the equipment for a full electronic analysis but he knew someone who did.  Claude's MV show employed his friend Ocker as a lab technician because he's a wizard with unusual electronics.  Ocker is a bit eccentric.  He believes that The Cloud is already a super intelligence of a non-human kind and should not be trusted.  So he lives in an old bunker, built during the times of separate countries when one might be expected to attack another with weapons of mass destruction.  It's still off-grid and electronically isolated.  He generates his own power from solar cells scattered around several hectares of native gardens above, where he also collects his own water and disposes of his septic-tank waste water in a vegetable garden.

The old multi storey bunker was under a substantial hill but Ocker has exposed part of one high concrete wall by excavating a good part of the hillside and terraforming his property.  Into the exposed wall he's cut deep double glazed windows and installed a high wide balcony from the upper storey creating his beloved barbecue, or 'barbie', area and providing panoramic views of the coastline a kilometre away.  It's perhaps the most interesting home of any of Claude's friends.

***

To remain independent of The Cloud Ocker has a bank of ancient early twenty-first century stand-alone computers, of the kind no longer available, and in the depths of his lower level a clean-room with the equipment and components to maintain them himself.

Claude approached down a stone path and into a sloping access tunnel.  Suddenly in the dim light there was a popping sound underfoot and maybe twenty super-bright blinding floodlights surrounded him.  He could hear the sound of a pack of angry dogs behind the lights.  Then everything went black.  He couldn't see a thing.  Ocker's voice was in his ear.  "Sorry Sky-mate.  You walked into my low tech anti-intruder system.  I forgot to pick up the bubble-wrap."

Ocker likes to have a nickname for men he thinks of as mates.  Claude's started out as Cloudy - from Claude.  Then when he was working with the big terrestrial telescope and complained darkly about the conditions Ocker went around the set calling him 'Cloudy Sky' and from that he became just 'Sky'.

Claude was still recovering his vision and from the fear of being attacked by rabid dogs.

"It's very simple Sky," Ocker was saying, "you walk on the bubbles - pop, pop, pop; the light units hear the noise with a little mike; the lights goes on; the dog recording starts to play from the big woofer behind each light; and this little heater fan blows me 'patent' dog breath spray and moves cardboard cut-outs of dogs to cast nasty big dog shadows on the roof.  Scares the shit out of any intruder.  Oh, sorry mate, do yer need to visit the dunny?"

Fortunately Claude didn't.

"What can I do you for?" asked Ocker.

"Take a look at this." And with that Claude emptied his pocket out onto a convenient table.

He showed Ocker what he'd already done and within minutes they'd gone to the electronics lab; mounted the EPROM in a socket; and were downloading the code.

Then they loaded it into a virtual simulation of the circuit that Ocker created from scratch, because he wouldn't trust Sky's VPA. There was no way he was letting that Cloud hosted thing connect to his system.

They both marvelled at how clever the burglar device was.  It was designed to selectively disrupt all the Cloud connected devices such as cameras and sensors within the zone of the person carrying it but only if that object was in the field of view.  The previous background data before the holder came into the field of view was stored and continuously fed back instead until they moved on and this was repeated in sequence for any camera or heat sensor or sound detector that the possessor passed.

In addition, separate circuits searched The Cloud for the last dozen valid security codes for any lock or security device in the vicinity derived the security algorithm and sent the appropriate codes so that all Cloud controlled locks in the vicinity were opened.  It also cracked encrypted passwords using the same algorithm.  Coloured LED's at the edge of the glass mirror made it glow green for clear, yellow for caution or red for no go. Local passwords were listed in fine print on the mirror.  The builder had left a signature:  Mohandas.

If this was a burglar's delight Ocker was beside himself with delight too.  He loved this Cloud defeating thing and wished that he'd invented it himself. 

"This Mohandas bloke's a genius," he declared.  "I'm going to copy it onto a handheld.  Sky mate, would you like to have this thing on yer handheld too?  I can make a few mods to it right now if you like. Would yer like to stay for dinner?"

If Ocker was going to have one, along with who knows who else out there, Claude couldn't see why he shouldn't have one too; and anyway it might be useful.  "Yes, that would be great mate," he said. So they settled in Ocker's lab like a pair of engineers working on a prototype satellite.

Once he'd upgraded the hardware Ocker was ready to install the correspondingly modified firmware, that Claude had been working on.  But he was paranoid that Claude's VPA had access to this handheld and insisted that he wasn't about to inadvertently provide a back-door for The Cloud to get access to his systems. So after they'd fired it up and tested the mods he wouldn't connect it but used a portable card reader to upload the firmware. 

When they'd finished Claude to tried it out on Ocker's local systems.  It did nothing.  Cameras still worked and locks stayed locked.  All that work for nothing.

"No that's great mate!" Ocker declared: "This thing only works because everything out there is Cloud connected these days.  I can assure you that it'll work perfectly well at your place."

"By the way," said Ocker displaying the original board on his big screen.  "Look at this.  I can tell you why this one stopped working."

Claude had thought that was obvious.  It was in several dozen pieces. 

"No.  Before that."

"What do you mean?"

"Battery's flat." Claude hadn't considered that, they usually last for decades. 

"Sometime, since it was made, water got in to this thing and a new conduction path formed across here slowly draining the battery," said Ocker pointing to the damage.

Now Margery smashing it open made more sense.  His doubts were confirmed.  She was lying to him in more ways than one.  She was obviously involved in something nefarious and he realised that he didn't know her at all. He wouldn't bother about the ring.  Now that he no longer trusted her he realised that he didn't even like her very much.  Had she put him under some sort of spell?  She certainly excelled in the bedroom.

As they said goodnight Claude thanked Ocker who insisted that he should be thanking Sky for bringing him this brilliant Cloud deceiving invention. 

When he returned to his own place Claude used his newly modified hand-held to run the simulation.  As expected it unlocked his door and made him invisible to his own security system.

***

He wasn't too worried about Margery using her burglar tool against him.  He'd given her a key some time ago when he got hers, so it would've be pointless using it against him.  But who else she might have been burgling or spying on was a mystery. Now he wished that he'd kept at least one those notes.  He could have done a DNA swab and got fingerprints and even a spectral scan on the ink to discover who had written them.

There were very few spy services that he was aware of, now that there was World Government and no military or diplomatic services and it was very hard to hide from The Cloud.  Maybe terrorism was still a threat but why?  The old regional independence movements hadn't lasted a generation.  He wasn't aware of any organised dissent or unrest against the Government.  Ocker's paranoia about The Cloud had its basis in the very real truth that privacy from the Government no longer existed and software bots watched for any illegal activities of that sort, so the Government no longer needed a spy service.

The only groups that he could think of that disliked each other sufficiently strongly to still have a clandestine spy service were those supporting the opposing organised religions like the Knights of Columbus; or the Knights of the Southern Cross; or their Protestant equivalents; the Masons; or Islamic Jihad.   At dinner once, when she was dropping names, Margery mentioned that she knew people high up in the Catholic Church. Could she be some kind of Vatican spy?  If so she was deep under cover.  He'd never seen her go to church.  But what better cover than a prominent atheist as a boyfriend or even a husband? 

Could she be the second girlfriend in a row who was lying to him about her religion?  He decided to have it out with the Bishop he was to debate on Sunday.  And he certainly wouldn't invite Margery to come with him.  What he had planned to be their engagement trip was off.

 

 


Chapter 28 - Phuket

 

 

 

Zaire wanted to do something for Bianca to thank her for her help and as she was in the good books with the Command Resort, Phuket she asked if they would shout a friend to a holiday.  They suggested a week, all expenses paid.

As usual Bianca was reluctant and kept putting her off.  In the end she put Phuket on hold and took Willow to Bali.

But eventually Zaire became so desperate to repay her that Bianca agreed, but only on condition that Zaire came too to be her interpreter and guide through the mysteries of being Bogan.  If the Resort was reluctant to give away two holidays Bianca would pay for Zaire she insisted.

She needn't have worried, they said 'three if you like'.  Zaire knew that this would require a favour from her in future but said nothing.  It was a small price to pay. 

Zaire said that they had to go clothes shopping as Bianca had no fashion sense and would look terribly old-fashioned.

So Bianca got a new swimsuit that was so skimpy that she couldn't imagine how it had any fashion content at all.  The bottom half was just a cup held half way round on hip and held in place at the back by her bum cheek.  The top consisted of two cups in the same swirly pattern that barely covered her nipples.  Other fashion-forward clothes varied from the equally bizarre to something she seen her grandmother in.  But they were all for a climate of 30 degrees with sun, surf, sand, bars and nightclubs.

As she packed she couldn't help feeling a bit excited.  This would be something entirely different. 

***

After a day on the beach Bianca had already had as much sun as her pale skin would take even with SPF 50 sunscreen.  Zaire's darker skin was soaking up the vitamin D.

That evening they went dancing and met some young men but Bianca had no idea what they were talking about: sport; celebrities? She couldn't tell which.  There were numbers in there, perhaps a score or rating, and someone did something very well.  But she enjoyed dancing to the repetitive beat and liked the exotic cocktails. 

They got to bed in the early hours and just made it to breakfast in time to get delicious fresh omelette to complement with a smorgasbord of other delicacies.  They both had guava juice and she decided that it would be her breakfast choice from now on.  Then they each ordered a flat white coffee to have with a waffle and ice cream from the Waffle Station.

This was wonderful.  Bianca was so pleased that she had spied on Zaire that day and Zaire was so grateful that she had too.

After breakfast they changed into their almost non-existent swimsuits and played pool netball or something.  Anyway it involved grabbing the floating ball and throwing it through a hoop.  Surprisingly Bianca won. 

Then they got towels from the pool guy and lay on the banana chairs: Bianca in the shade and Zaire beside her in the sun.  Bianca had a book.  Again Zaire was fascinated. 

"Why don't you just have Isis read it to you?" she asked.

Bianca said: "OK, Contact your VPA."

Zaire flipped out the screen on her chair and called Pip. 

"This is Gulliver's Travels and I'm at the start of Part 1 Chapter 5, in which Gulliver prevents and invasion and pisses out a fire.  Time me, I'm about to read down to the end of the Chapter."

Ninety seconds later she said: "done."

"Now ask Pip to read it."

Ten minutes later Pip concluded.

"Now, tell me, what title was conferred on Gulliver?"

“Oh I can't remember, the language was so strange and convoluted!"

"Yet you read Shakespeare."

"Yes but I often have to ask Pip to go back and read it again to be clear."

"So there you have your answer.  Reading oneself is five to fifteen times faster; you can go back at will or pause over a difficult passage; and your comprehension is much better.  The answer is 'Nardac' by the way.  But I cheated; I heard Pip read it too."

"So I should learn to read," said Zaire.  It was a statement not a question.

***

It was then that they noticed Claude Ball on the neighbouring banana chair.  He'd been listening to them with interest.  Who could these girls be? They were both stunningly beautiful, especially almost naked.  The pale one was obviously a Grad but the other seemed almost Bogan.  How could they be friends?

A week ago this would have been of entirely academic interest.  A week ago he was in love and about to propose to Margery.  A week ago he'd planned to have Margery here with him. But now he discovered that he was no longer in love with Margery.  Old Bachelor Claude was back and he'd started to consider which of these girls he would like to sleep with tonight, purely academically of course.

They had no idea who he was.  Astronomy wasn't a twenty two year old female Bogan's fare and Bianca was not a huge MV watcher, preferring to get her astronomical facts from original, or at least peer reviewed, sources. 

Actually, she'd deliberately not watched The Claude Ball Universe because even she knew that he was going out with Margery and she knew that he would make her feel sick; just the sight of him.  In any case, who would expect Claude Ball to be in a pair of trunks on a banana chair at the Command Resort, Phuket?  They imagined that he was another Bogan thirty-something here for a good time, as they were.  Initially they were a bit aloof.  They agreed that theirs was an unusual friendship but didn't explain why. 

"Yes we both have an interest in old English literature, do you?" asked Zaire expecting a Bogan response.

But Claude surprised them by knowing a great deal about old English literature.  So they had a great afternoon discussing The Canterbury Tales and The Taming of the Shrew.  Claude laughed that they both reminded him of his ex-girlfriend.  As he said it he realised 'ex-girlfriend' was true.  He was finished with Margery.

***

As it grew later and the girls were obviously still enjoying his company as much as he was enjoyed theirs, he suggested that they have dinner together.  Apart from a plate sandwiches shared by the pool they hadn't eaten since breakfast. The girls agreed and returned to their suite to get out of their swimmers; have a shower; and put on clothes for the evening, although it was still warm enough to go naked. 

Zaire had chosen their clothes according to the latest fashion.  This week it was 1950's retro.  For eveningwear the fashion-forward choice was variations on the nylon slip, with a colourful Bogan twist.   Zaire's creation was dark green with bright orange lace while Bianca's less elaborate design was dark purple embroidered with shiny gold stars in assorted sizes. Claude was obviously impressed, not by the contrasting colours but by what had once been designed as intimate apparel with plunging necklines and formfitting bodices and waists, from which hung generous flimsy skirts.  

They'd spent much of the day with him close to naked in their swimsuits, yet now they were clothed he found it, somehow, more risqué.  Heads turned in appreciation and envy as they made their way to his table.  They both wore practical canvas beach slippers, anticipating a walk later, that added to the impression that they'd come out wearing only their negligees.

They shared several dishes of Thai food and a couple of bottles of wine.  Then, as expected, they walked on the beach.  As in all such resorts popular with young adults the air seemed heady with sex, couples who had gone there together for the purpose and singles looking for a mate or just a new experience.  It got a bit awkward because Claude didn't want to distress one of them by seeming to prefer the other.  At the same time the girls both liked him and would like to take it further. 

In the end Bianca whispered to Zaire saying this trip's your shout, do you want to have him?  Zaire immediately said: "Thanks," put her arm around his shoulders and kissed him.  Claude kissed her back and Bianca walked back to the Resort, regretting her generosity.  She realised that it was a long time since Lucent had gone on sabbatical.  The night was balmy and she was feeling particularly randy after encouraging Claude's wandering hands. She would try to read a bit more of Gulliver and hope it helped her sleep.

***

As she made her way back past the pool Bianca could hear an argument. A young woman, Bianca guessed, was shouting at someone, probably her boyfriend, to get out. A sliding door slammed and a young man around Bianca's age walked out and sat on one of the benches by the palm trees.  Bianca had stopped to watch, then she walked up to him.  He was a Bogan, who probably enjoyed surfing.  He was naked except for a pair of skimpy shorts and his whole surfer's body appeared to be covered in tattoos. He'd dropped his head onto his hands; his elbows on his knees.

Bianca stood with her back to a bright light and looked at the tattoos with fascination.  The men she knew were Grads and didn't bother with such things.  She realised that she could read him like an archaeologist in an Egyptian tomb.  He's a Christian belonging to the Revived Avignon Catholic Church.  Tattooed arrows seem to pierce his body and limbs.  His patron saint is St Sebastian. His mother is dead.  Bianca moved closer and her shadow fell across his legs.  He sat up and peered into the light. She continued to read his chest and arms.  His name is Adán and his girlfriend, still inflamed, so quite recently added, is Yvette.

Adán seemed startled. Bianca realised that with the light behind her, she must appear statuesque, almost naked, surrounded, from the waist down, by a flimsy mist of stars. 

One of her reasons for accepting a trip to a Bogan resort was the potential to tryout some of the things that she'd learnt from Margery.  No doubt Isis would also be interested. Here was an opportunity for that practice run, using a complete stranger, in the event of failure.  Margery had said that the first step was to establish oneself as a figure in control of the situation. The subject needs to believe consciously and subconsciously that you can enchant them.

"Adán. You know that you have only yourself to blame," she told him in a stern voice.

"Who are you?  How do you know my name?" 

His reply was a blend of defiance and concern, as if he'd been caught damaging property. He probably had at some time.

"Don't be concerned, I'm here to help.  You know Yvette has every reason to be angry. What do you intend to do about it?"

"I don't know," his voice was now one of despair.  "How do you know Yvette?  Are you her friend?"

Bianca was amused that Bogans tattooed themselves with words that they thought no one else could read. She told him that she wasn't a friend of Yvette's she was his friend. She was here to listen to him, to help him. He could tell her all his troubles.  She sat beside him and put her arm around him while he told her about being caught flirting with another woman on his honeymoon and how his Yvette was very jealous and how when he didn't come back from the bar when Yvette had gone back to change for dinner, she assumed that he had been up to something with that other woman.   It didn't seem to occur to him that if Yvette came out now to find him he would be in much bigger trouble.  Bianca was pleased that it hadn't.  It confirmed that he already perceived her to be a figure of authority, not as a potential conquest.  Yet she would need to take him somewhere else soon as a precaution.

"But in Yvette's mind you were up to something with that other woman.  And if Yvette believes it is so, then it's the same for her as if it is so. Didn't Jesus tell us that thinking a sin is the same as committing the sin?  Didn't he teach us, at The Sermon on the Mount, that anyone who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her, in his heart?  Didn't he say that if your right eye causes you to stumble, you should pluck it out and throw it away. Because it's better to lose one part of your body than to lose your entire body to the fires of hell?  And Adán, you did covert that other woman, didn't you? You did look at her with lust in your heart."

"Yes," he said meekly. 

He'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  His unquestioning belief in myths, and his acceptance of ancient retributions, made him vulnerable to manipulation, and not just by his Church.

"Never mind, I'm here to help," she told him.

"Who are you?"

"Well it may seem to you that I'm flesh and blood; but that's how we angels appear here on Earth. You might want to think of me as a nun. Some nuns are actually angels in disguise. I'm a messenger from St Sebastian, who watches over your mother's soul in heaven. I've come here tonight to give you succour in your hour of need. We often do it secretly when otherwise good Christians who have stumbled.  Have you stumbled?"

"Yes," he replied sorrowfully.

"I can help you get to your feet again. You don't have to believe in me for me to help you.  It's not about belief or me.  It's about faith.  Do you believe in God and have faith in Jesus Christ your saviour?"

"Yes I do," he replied firmly.

"And in the intercession of St Sebastian?"

"Yes," less definitely, as he didn't really know what 'intercession' meant; but he'd heard it said in church.

"It was so recently that you swore, before God, to be faithful to Yvette.  Yet your cock has not yet crowed and you have already forsaken your vows - and God.  You have committed adultery in your heart.  I've come to put that right, before it's too late."

"I'm so sorry," he told her. "Can you make Yvette forgive me?"

He was ready. How would she go about it?  She had no ring or amulet.  She made a mental note, she would need to get herself some eye catching jewellery.  Perhaps she could put his head in her lap; and massage his scalp and stroke his face as she enchanted him?  In the end, she opted for the simple, straightforward approach.

"I'm going to take you to another place where you'll learn to love your wife alone," she told him as she took hold of his chin and turned his face to hers.

"Look into my eyes...  Now hold your arm straight out to the side palm up. Good.  Keep looking into my eyes.  You feel your hand getting lighter; lighter."

His hand drifted up.

"Now it's getting heavy again.  It's really heavy. It's hard to keep up. You can't keep it up. Let it go." 

His hand had fallen.  "And now your eyelids are getting heavy. You can't keep them up. Your eyes are closing."

His eyes were closed. 

"You can hear my voice. The only thing you hear, is my voice.  Tell me."

"The only thing I can hear is your voice."

"Good.  It's time for me to lead you through a garden to another place.  Hold my hand. You can open your eyes."

***

When she'd seen the opportunity Bianca had not intended anything more that her first attempt at using The Craft.  As things proceeded, and she sat with her arm around him, she'd realised that despite the initially off-putting tattoos, Adán had a fine body.  She'd taken him to their suite for privacy because she knew that Zaire would be elsewhere, enjoying herself with Claude.

The opportunity was there if she wanted it.  It could be fun to use Adán to satisfy her frustrated libido. She commanded him to tell her about his sex life and discovered that he was a virgin.  Bianca was not surprised to learn that Adán had watched porn and was confused by its anality.  His fumbled attempts at sex with girls, before Yvette, had always ended in rejection when he tried his 'porn moves' on them.  Yvette had not experienced this because being very religious she'd rejected any moves, beyond a quick fumble, until they were married.  But she'd be in for a shock tonight. And a baby could be a long time coming.

So it had turned out, serendipitously, that Adán was an ideal foil, or perhaps a Roman sword, to avoid her lying awake getting jealous of what Claude was upto with Zaire.  At the same time, she reasoned, she could help to save Yvette's marriage.

She suggested to Adán that she was a special kind of angel, the female counterpart of the angel Gabriel, who'd visited the Virgin Mary to inseminate her with God's seed.  Likewise she'd come to Adán, before his wedding night, to teach him about true physical love in marriage.

Taking a leaf from Margery's book, she started by giving him a 'Christmas present' then 'robbing him of his ego', as Margery termed it, to dissipate his initial animal enthusiasm and allow him to concentrate for the next hour or so.  Then his education began. She began with more lessons on foreplay concentrating on her favourites. He was a fast learner and was promisingly well endowed.  She had been hesitant about going all the way with a Bogan but he was such a hunk, unlike most of the Grads she knew who had not spent hundreds of hours in a Gym or playing sport, that she decided that he definitely needed some advanced lessons in coition.   Bianca was more than satisfied with his progress by the time she had taught him her favourite positions and a few more 'for the road'.

It was two in the morning when Bianca finally led Adán back through the garden to his bench. They'd encountered no snakes or apples but he was a lot more knowledgeable.  She suggested to him that when he awoke from his dream, Yvette would be very sorry that they had argued and would be waiting for him.  He should apologise to her and then use his newly learnt skills to prove that he loved only her.  He should realise that all this had just been a vivid dream that he'd had as he fell asleep out here, worrying about Yvette. 

As his trigger Bianca suggested to him that if he ever saw her approach him and kiss her index finger he was to pay attention to her alone, but until that time he would forget all about her and not even recognise her.  If at some time he did know her, he would forget her again, if she touched that same finger to her nose. 

"When you hear a clap you'll wake up."

As she walked away Bianca clapped her hands, and looking back, saw him stir. She was elated.  It had been so easy.  No wonder Margery loved doing this to people.  She couldn't wait to do it to someone again.     

 

 


Chapter 29 - Revelations

 

 

 

Bianca was down to breakfast first and was having coffee when Claude and Zaire appeared, very touchy-feely.  When Claude went to order them omelettes Zaire gave her two thumbs up and a huge smile then realised that Claude had seen her and was smiling too.

At that moment Adán came in with a rather strict looking Bogan girl who was obviously Yvette. Yet she was obviously a bride and he looked the proud new husband, if a little worse for wear.  Bianca was very pleased with herself.  It had been a win-win-win situation.   They were taken to a table across the room.

Zaire was sitting with her, having collected two glasses of juice, wanting to share her experiences, when Claude arrived with two breakfasts and said:

"I'm afraid I have to do some work today.  I have to debate some fundamentalists about the age of the Universe."

"That's odd.  Who is this guy?" wondered Bianca. 

"How come?" she asked.

"They're ignorant buffoons."

"No, I know that.  How is it that you have to debate them?"

"I'm thought to represent the scientific, rationalist point of view.  Would you like to come to the debate? It's stacked with their followers.  I'd like to have at least one friendly face in the audience."

"What about me?" said Zaire, I'm coming too. Then she giggled.

"OK that would be great! Two friendly faces! Wait a minute."

He went away.

***

Bianca looked across to where Adán was waiting for an omelette and saw that he'd been gazing in their direction and quickly looked away. 

"Whoops," she thought. "Maybe he just wonders why I resemble the angel in his dreams.  He's not supposed to recognise me at all." 

The alternative was that he'd been fully aware the whole time and just pretended to go along with her.  In which case, she may have broken-up a marriage; created a stalker; and/or launched a sexual predator.

Then Zaire decided to top-up her plate and Adán's head turned to follow her. 

"The naughty boy, he's still sinning in his thoughts," Bianca said to her empty table. "Let's see what we can do about that."

She got up and casually walked over to him.  Now he was ogling her. When she got up close she touched her index finger to her lips and suggested in a low voice that Yvette was so sexy that he should take her in his arms; pull up her skirt, right here in the restaurant; and fuck her. Then she touched her nose and walked back to her table as a commotion broke out across the room. 

Bianca was suddenly overcome with horror when she remembered that this was exactly what Margery had told Mohandas to do. My god, was she becoming another Margery?

If Adán was just playing along, it was a very good act. Yvette was screaming at him for trying to do that in here and he was saying he didn't know what had got into him, she was just so sexy all of a sudden. The wait staff had no idea what to do.  Throwing Adán out seemed the best option but he was about twice their size and obviously very fit.  The other Breakfast patrons had been highly amused and a couple of them gave him a cheer and a whoop; whoop; whoop.  To quiet a rowdy dining room, management eventually accepted Adán's sincere apologies let him sit back down.  After all, it was their honeymoon.

At that point Claude came back with two tickets looking bemused. 

"What just happened?" 

"Oh, it's just Bogans," Zaire said.

***

That was when Bianca read the ticket details and realised who he was. He was that Claude, not some Claude. 

"Oh My god! Thank goodness I didn't sleep with him.  Margery's hand-me-down!"

"Was your ex-girlfriend called Margery?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"Do you know her?" he asked.

"Oh yes, very well.  She tried to murder me and frame me for another.  Then she managed to do away with a man I was caring for.  She also exploited a valuable idea of mine.  Now I look at who you're debating and I see the guy she calls her 'Pet Bishop'."

"Are you serious? You have to tell me more.  I knew that there was something seriously wrong.  That's why I've ended it."

But now Bianca had a terrible thought.  Had Claude become one of Margery's victims?  Had he been unconsciously enchanted as she had just enchanted Adán? Was she or Zaire in danger? Maybe he was expected to choose her last night?  Was Margery lurking here somewhere, manipulating her pawn to finally deal with her supposed rival witch?

Claude seemed alright.  She needed some way of testing him.

"Start with what you know for certain," she thought: "The Bishop."

So she said: "It's a very long story. I'll tell you everything later but there's something that might help you in the debate."

She briefly told him about the Bishop's youthful indiscretions and how Margery had used them, one upon another, until she had him well and truly by the balls.

"She trains men, using Pavlovian conditioning, until they will even expose themselves in public on her command," she told him, not mentioning The Craft.

"You say she has a recording of him raping her and the medical certificates to prove it?" he confirmed. 

"Indeed!"

"Ok.  That's very useful," leave it to me.

***

Before the debate all the participants went to have their hair done and in some cases make-up applied.  Claude made sure he sat next to the Bishop.

When the debate started Claude was particularly persuasive.  It seemed that the Bishop was intrigued by the possibility that the universe could be just two hundred years old.  The other fundamentalists got drawn in.  Well yes, maybe the gospels were quite new and fresh, direct from the Creator's hand.  All arguments about who might have written the Gospels or the Torah or the Koran would be redundant.  The Creator made them in a flash together with all recorded history and the geological and evolutionary and cosmic evidence and human memory just two hundred years ago.  It was a very attractive proposition.  Everyone was happily in agreement until the Bishop said:

"Or two hundred seconds ago.  Since human memory is also just evidence of the past.  The Creator is all powerful."

After his initial argument Claude had said almost nothing.  To wind it up they all had a last word.  He was second last and he said:

"Well we've all agreed that the Creation could have been at any time in the past, from two hundred seconds to two hundred billion years ago or longer.  I for one prefer to act as if reality is what it seems and that it happened in accordance with the physical evidence we have found.  It's like a photograph that gives you evidence of a dead ancestor. All that 'photographic' evidence indicates that this universe was created around 13.8 billion years ago."

The Bishop was last and expected to finish of a creationist note.  Instead he said:

"Professor Ball has convinced me.  I agree with him.  We should rely on the evidence that the Lord has given us."

Most of the audience protested incredulously and began to file out, except for two good looking young women who stood and whooped and clapped, dominating the soundtrack, as the credits rolled over the emptying theatre.

***

Bianca was now happy to go into more detail about Margery's misdeeds.  Claude, for his part, told her about Margery's burglar device. 

As at the end of an Agatha Christie mystery, they soon filled in the missing pieces of the story.  Isis was able to talk to Claude's VPA and together they broke into the BoganVillia database to confirm that Mohandas had purchased the components in the cloaking device.

When he learnt that Margery believed herself to be a witch, Claude was surprised, but he'd already suspected that she'd been lying about her religious affiliations.  Witchcraft, Christianity, it was much of a muchness to him. 

"That explains why she's drawn to wearing black clothes and to riding her hover-bike at night," he mused.  "Like a witch on her broomstick.  It always seemed at odds with the sophisticated image that she generally likes to project."

"If that doesn't worry you I have some more bad and some worse news for you," said Bianca.  "Around the time Margery moved in below you, someone put a Cloud trace on my movements.  I have software to detect and prevent such intrusions and killed the App.  But I was interested in who'd done it.  I traced it back to a developer called Woodsman.  So I installed a surveillance bot on his devices.  Guess who it reported?"

"Margery?"

"It certainly was.  My surveillance bot recorded a lot of interesting video detailing Margery's training methods.  The bad news for you is that she was doing the most indecent things with Woodsman, when she took her 'little flights of fancy' in the evenings, at the same time that she was apparently playing the demure girlfriend and potential Mrs Ball with you."

Claude was nonplussed.  He thought she went to the gym or to work related functions. She often came back glowing from the exercise, like men who pretend to go for a run in the morning.  He'd been totally deceived.

"Is that the only bad news?  What could be worse?" 

"Do you remember 'Cindy Sins and Sins and Sins', that movie featuring Cindy and Hank, that circulated soon after Cindy left you, when you became Margery's boyfriend?  Well, Hank was actually Phillip, Margery's previous boyfriend.  By then, thanks to Margery, he'd fallen far from the family tree. Phillip is, or was, old credit, from a very posh family."

"She likes to claim that she once spent intimate time with royalty.  So that's him?  Where's Phillip now?"

"He's dead."

"Dead?"

"It's a long story but in brief, after his romps with Cindy, Margery suggested that his movies were a bit tame and predictable, like thousands of other porn movies. If he wanted to be really famous he needed to break new ground.  The resulting video: 'Hank Learns Animal Husbandry', went mega-viral, as Margery had promised him.  It's still out there in Cyberspace attracting millions of views."

"He's that Hank. And he was previously with my Cindy?  That was my Cindy?  The porn star!" Claude said, wondering what he'd missed out on with Cindy.

Bianca was slightly put out by his evident nostalgia for a opportunities missed with Cindy and pressed on.

"When Phillip's family and friends received invitations to the preview they were less enthusiastic.  Their revulsion, followed by condemnation and ostracism, was so great that Phillip was 'persuaded' to hold a death-day party at the VE Cathedral.  Those who attended reported that he died happily, despite the Cathedral refusing to play a medley of his best scenes, singing the praises of the seductive Dark Lady who inspired his movies and made him a mega-star around the world." 

"I remember it.  It was one of the great celebrity funerals of the year. That was my Cindy! Wow!"

"The message is that when her men are of no more use to her, Margery doesn't take prisoners," Bianca persisted, getting annoyed at his sudden retrospective interest in Cindy.  "I hope for your sake that you haven't been with Margery for too long.  Has she ever shown you her silver ring or the pretty gold cylinder that she sometimes wears around her neck?" 

"I've seen the ring and the other thing seems familiar, yet I don't remember her actually showing either to me.  At least I don't think so."

"That's not good news.  She's enchanted you and told you to forget.  That means that when you're in the appropriate frame of mind she can re-enchant you with a predetermined word or gesture.  If she came to you now do you think you could resist her?"

"Oh my god, I was about to propose and I don't know why!" Claude admitted. "Maybe she could make me go to a VE Clinic."

"Not against your will.  But she has ways of making you want to. For example 'a little something in you drink' might cause a temporary painful cramp.  Then she might suggest that the pain is ongoing and getting worse.  You would indeed be in pain and not just imagined.  Just as pain can be eliminated by hypnotic suggestion or similar mind-altering practices, it can be induced.  She might then suggest that you have cancer and need to end your life before it gets worse; and off to the Clinic you would go," Bianca suggested, realising that she had just described how she might go about it, using her new skill.  "In the meantime you should have your friend Ocker sweep your apartment for bugs, concentrating on your bedroom and toilets. Margery loves her little cameras. He will find several.  And put any device with a camera in it in a draw."

"And if I were you I wouldn't even take a message from her," said Zaire, who'd been listening quietly in amazement.

 

 


Chapter 30 - Bianca

 

 

 

As Mohandas discovered and then Margery experienced, Bianca is not what she seems.  She appears to the world to be an ordinary Grad in her first job after graduating, working for Structinfra, an IT contractor to Government.  As Margery was, she's in the policy, planning and marketing area with no direct link to code production, application development or database management.  But this is a cover.  It's essential that only a handful of people know that she is one of just three people in the World with super-administrative rights to The Cloud.  

Today she is meeting with Edmund, the other apprentice super-administrator.  Nominally Edmund is an IT and Philosophy tutor at the University, providing face to face teaching to complement on-line lectures and exercises.

There's no formal agenda but it's been a while since they talked face to face and Bianca has several things to discuss with him. They are meeting at the Student's Den Coffee Shop, where Bianca often meets Zaire.  She'd thought of asking Zaire to come too but then thought better of it.  Why put temptation in Edmund's way?

Bianca is the granddaughter of the so called 'Father of The Cloud', Robert McLeish.  Over two decades ago her grandfather used The Cloud itself to identify a hundred extraordinarily bright five-year-olds to be trained as potential Cloud administrators.  The best of these would become his apprentice to take over from him as super-administrator one day.  Like the others, Edmund's parents were offered an endowment for him to attend the best schools, where he was given additional lessons and coaching in code development and systems administration. 

At the same time Robert, with a grandfather's biased eye, noticed how bright baby Bianca was and began a program of teaching her the necessary skills from the moment she said her first word.  Edmund was six years old when his training began; the same year Bianca turned two.

The hundred and one hadn't met until the hundred turned twenty. That's when they entered the final stage of the program, as a result of which the best would be selected to be the first apprentice.  Bianca was four years their junior but had the benefit of one-on-one training from Robert.  She was neck and neck with Edmund for the converted top position. 

At first they were fierce competitors then one evening, after a confrontation, they became lovers. It was the first time for both of them but they were by no means ignorant.  The Cloud is awash with explicit sexuality of every kind and they had been trained to be both inquisitive and innovative.  For a glorious few months they experienced the rapture of first love.  Neither could concentrate on their training as potential administrators. They thought of each other night and day; made love until raw; then cuddled some more.  Then there was a respite when Bianca was given the task of overseeing the commissioning of a new mega-data-centre in what had once been France.  She would be away for months.  It was during this absence that her first and most passionate love affair would founder.

The reef on which it ran aground was cousin Anne. Bianca was barely buckled into in her pod on the aircraft when Anne made her move.  She'd unexpectedly turned up to see Bianca off and as Bianca's plane disappeared into the blue she asked for Edmund's help to assemble a new bed.  It would have been churlish of him not to.  Then she invited Edmund test it with her. 

Although the cousins had played together and gone to the same school, Anne who is just two months younger was never Bianca's best friend. She always wanted to play with whatever Bianca had and cried or used her charms to get it.  As a child Anne was more girly and as a young woman she's more feminine, curvaceous and blonde.  At puberty Anne began fantasising about who she would marry and inventing cunning tricks, like the bed ploy, ideas that she'd actually shared with Bianca, aimed at ensnaring her hypothetical husband. 

By the time Bianca returned Anne and Edmund were engaged to be married.  Bianca had not been told of Edmund's unfaithfulness and was furious.  They'd been engaging in remote sex the whole time. 

She stormed in to confront him.  Edmund quietly deflected her punches and then took her to bed.  Afterwards he argued that they could carry on like this, business as usual.  The marriage meant nothing.  Anne had seduced him and then Robert had blackmailed him into the marriage with a promise of the apprenticeship.  So that was how he thought it was to be!  Well he had another thing coming!  Bianca was not about to be the mistress on-the-side to that little bitch Anne and she told Edmund so.

"You might have fallen for it but I'm not going to be a victim of her cunning stunt," Bianca yelled at him angrily.  It was an obvious line that had just popped into her head.  Then the familiar image it conjured made them both laugh.  But it was the last time they ever slept together. 

The next day Robert made his announcement.  He was to appoint two apprentices to be trained as super-administrators: Edmund and Bianca.  So her grandfather had engineered the whole thing.  He'd separated his eggs into two baskets, while at the same time bringing his new apprentice, Edmund, into the family as a grandson-in-law. Cloud administration had become a family business.

It took Bianca some time to forgive Robert and Anne but she's had the last laugh.  The experience turned Edmund into an unscrupulous womaniser.  Anne knows very little of what Edmund's up to, as this usually involves other women.  Bianca, on the other hand, remans his closest confidant and is well aware of his various indiscretions.  She knows that his roving eye makes him unsuitable as a regular partner for anyone and he's definitely not her choice as a husband.  He's a naughty boy who now regularly pleasures his sister-in-law and even flirts with aunty Miranda.  He fancies himself a sort of Lord Byron and even writes epic poetry about his deeds.

Meanwhile The Cloud has been growing and developing. In her administrative role Bianca's been monitoring the development of increasingly intelligent entities, within The Cloud environment, that have been spontaneously evolving due to random variations in code building blocks, under Prospero's self-evolving functional libraries.  In this respect they resemble genes within cells in the biota.  Algorithms designed to cleanup registries within The Cloud's servers get rid of part or broken applications. These together with rigorous efficiency and optimisation bots, that remove the less successful ways of completing a given task, have created survival of the fittest conditions.  The challenging tasks that solutions compete for include the many that require artificial intelligence, AI. These range from facial recognition to the requirement for the encyclopaedia to discriminate between fantasy masquerading as fact and a verifiable fact. The encyclopaedia is challenged by millions of examples of this kind within the information resources of The Cloud.  With the revival of religions of all kinds, finding a real fact amongst the fantasy is similar to hunting for a needle in a haystack. 

Because of the speed of The Cloud processors there have been many billions of iterations. And various styles of artificial intelligence, most completely unlike human intelligence have already evolved.  By default Bianca's VPA, Isis, embodies the most currently successful AI code. 

Bianca now has proof of the evolutionary results.  Isis has demonstrated that 'she' understood what Margery was up to when she was mesmerising Bianca. She then took stock of the situation and worked out a way of saving Bianca, using the Cloud connected electronic resources available to 'her' in a novel and creative way.  More than that, 'she' demonstrated curiosity. She waited until the last possible minute to help, while observing things unfold so that 'she' now understands the principles of mesmerism first hand.  Of course she's always had access to the theory, it's all there in The Cloud, but until now 'she' didn't have the intelligence to turn the data into knowledge.  Then there is the matter of the tablecloth.

Since Isis has become intelligent there have been a couple of worrying incidents and Bianca needs to take steps to ensure that Isis will use 'her' new skills, which merge human-like intelligence with an almost instantaneous knowledge base and unparalleled access to new information, in Bianca's interest.  With proxy to Bianca's unique access to every camera, microphone, delivery, factory and recycling plant in the World Isis' surveillance is now total.  Even before the 'singularity', when Isis became fully intelligent, 'she' was able to tell Bianca about Margery's outings with Phillip. Bianca now receives regular briefings on what Margery is up to.

When Margery revealed that she belonged to a secret society of witches, Bianca set Isis the task of studying and analysing every move that Margery has ever made and every technique and drug that she's ever deployed.  It took Isis ten minutes.  She then requested that Isis create a Craft manual, a sort of 'Margery's Book of Witchcraft', that sets out all the techniques that Margery has ever used. That took Isis a full minute. Isis likens it to Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.  Mrs Beeton's first published in 1861, is a compendium that in addition to containing recipes for feeding a vast Victorian household, provides tips in; child rearing; first aid; the domestic manufacturing cleaning agents and polishes; managing servants; household accounts; and so on.  Bianca has no intention of using many of the techniques and recipes in Margery's Book of Witchcraft.  But she finds that it's like reading Mrs Beeton's.  One finds it interesting to know how to make one's own soap or furniture polish or how to jug a hare, even if one is never likely to make use of it.

***

Edmund had also been fascinated and intrigued by Margery from the outset. 

"So tell me about becoming a witch," Edmund had asked, after Margery had accused Bianca of witchcraft back in January 2070.

"Obviously I'm not a witch, at least not in the way Margery thinks I am," Bianca had said.  "But she's not a conventional witch either.  Although she likes to get herself up like one and get about at night on a black hover-bike, she believes in 'evidence based' witchcraft and is quite rigorous with experimentation and verification.  So what she does bridges the gap between traditional black magic and science.  For example, she uses modern pharmaceuticals and medical knowledge to induce a wide variety of physical states, from addiction to psychosis; and uses hypnotic suggestion or as she calls it Enchantment to take over minds.  She's adept at capturing bodies too, addicting them, using drugs and the body's own endocrine system."

"Her version of witchcraft sounds eminently plausible, if a little theatrical," Edmund had commented.

"You two might get on," Bianca had joked. "She's particularly adept at sexual domination and has spent much of her life enjoying her sexual dominance over others. Sound familiar?  She even had a near success with me."

She'd then related the details of her restaurant adventure. Edmund immediately claimed to be turned on by it and had suggested a threesome. Bianca pretended to think it was a joke. 

For sometime after that Margery had become something of a talking point between them.  Then the next Easter came the fire, followed by Mohandas' death a year later.

At their meeting after Mohandas' suicide Bianca had been damning Margery and talking about revenge. 

"Hang on this is me you are talking to," Edmund had replied. "As we discussed at the time, you had to divert that Indian guy from his investigation.  While you weren't to know Margery belonged to a secret coven, you knew perfectly well that she was ambitious enough take the bait you dangled in front of her.  If it hadn't been your loo idea you would've had to do something else to take the guy out: kiddy-porn on his machine or something.  Then, as we agreed, we couldn't have him running around on the street, telling one and all, so you had to take him in some how.  So don't pretend that you weren't relieved when he went to Margery and she finished him off for you.  You probably knew that she would. That's why you did nothing to get him back."

Bianca had been somewhat shamefaced.  She'd never really admitted to herself that what he was saying was true.  She preferred to think better of herself, taking the high moral ground at each stage and letting Margery do the the dirty work. Margery was like a dangerous drug she had introduced him to and she knew that eventually he would overdose.  Edmund had said what he said to ground her in the enormity of what had happened.  But then he'd wanted to show her that he too was implicated and her friend through thick and thin.

"Now I need more data. I'm intrigued to know how Margery primed your friend to commit suicide," he said as if it was an enquiry about the plot of a play.

"She used a multi-prong approach," Bianca had explained dispassionately, taking his lead.  "It was a blend of sex; addiction to pain; drugs and even a suicide song.  She'd somehow made him think of himself as that little bird in the suicide song in the Mikado.  She'd implanted it in his psyche by repeatedly playing it as she took control of his mind and body in other ways. He used to sing it in his dreams."

"I'm not sure of which song you mean," Edmund had claimed. 

He'd had a look in The Cloud and knew perfectly well which song it was but he wanted an excuse to sing it to her. They'd moved on from drama to music hall.

"Yes you do.  Everyone does. You know titwillow."

With that he broke into song:

On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
Sang "Willow, titwillow, titwillow"
And I said to him, "Dicky-bird, why do you sit
Singing 'Willow, titwillow, titwillow'"
"Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?" I cried
"Or a rather tough worm in your little inside"
With a shake of his poor little head, he replied
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"

Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
Isn't Willow, titwillow, titwillow
That 'twas blighted affection that made him exclaim
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow"
And if you remain callous and obdurate, I
Shall perish as he did, and you will know why
Though I probably shall not exclaim as I die
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow"

 

He'd skipped the second verse but several other people in the coffee shop joined in loudly for the two concluding lines.

"Yes that one!  The song was sung to Katisha and that was what he knew her as.  Kat was his private name for her," Bianca had explained, feeling happier.  "At first I thought he was referring to my sister Katarina but of course she's off on some country trip with that strange fellow Peter, who thinks he can tame her.  Good luck with that.  The two Kats probably have a few things in common."

"Margery gets more interesting every time we meet," said Edmund.  "Maybe you should introduce us.  What about that threesome we talked about?"

Bianca and he have a shared language of jokes shared and smiles and gestures, some of which only ex-lovers can understand. 

"Pheasant plucker!" she said.  "I would, but I don't think she'll talk to me, you remember, she thinks I'm a competing witch plotting her downfall."

"Maybe she's right. I find you very bewitching," he said, leaving.

***

The following year Margery was again a topic of conversation. 

"You'll be amused to hear that Margery has tried to put a trace on me," Bianca told him.  "I knew that she couldn't have done it herself, she hasn't a clue, so I traced it back and discovered that she's recruited another developer called Woodsman.  I've dedicated a bot to surveil him.  It has full access to all his cameras and microphones.  Sure enough, in the first report, there was Margery, again claiming to be Kat.  Woodsman is learning songs from Disney's Snow White as we speak.  You'll find this amusing.  The application he wrote for her is called Mirror-Mirror."

"So we can deduce that she's still obsessed with getting even with you - Snow White," Edmund said.  "Have any crones with baskets of apples been knocking at your door?  What are you going to do about it?"

"Well in a funny way I like her. She's dangerous, like a tiger, inclined to try and eat me, yet I find her attractive.  Given my own guilt in the Mohandas business, I'm inclined to do nothing, except put a watch on her movements.  She appears to be genuinely in love with an astronomer fellow who has a show on MV.  Maybe she'll settle down with him and live happily ever after?"

"I wish him luck.  He'll need it," commented Edmund. 

***

Sure enough, when Edmund asked Bianca how she had liked her trip to Phuket, "with this Bogan girl you're converting into a Grad," Margery again became central to their conversation.

"When am I going to meet her?  I've seen her on MV with Margery's astronomer fellow.  And it's said that she hob-knobs with the rich and famous.  She's becoming quite a Celeb."

"Her name is Zaire and his name is Claude, as if you didn't know, and I was going to invite her today but thought better of it, knowing you.  And Claude is no longer Margery's fellow but Zaire's.  He might have been mine but for a stroke of luck."

She went on to tell Edmund the story of Phuket leaving nothing out.

"You do realise that you are turning into Margery don't you?  She's right about you being a competing witch," he commented. "So how are you going to stop her killing Zaire?"

"I was thinking that Margery has no boyfriend, except Woodsman and no job, thanks to me arranging for her to be sacked, and her only remaining income is, also thanks to me, from Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos.  If that's gone she'll soon have no credit and will have to move out and move on.  Going on past behaviour she'll go where no one knows her history and put the past behind her.  She's actually very resilient."

"So she'll wake up one morning soon and find that her App no longer works?"

"Actually it's amazing that it does work.  It's full of security flaws, about half is redundant code and it has a serious memory leak.  With due respects to Mohandas, it's terribly written.  He was rather preoccupied at the time. So it's a piece of crap."

"But fit for purpose," suggested Edmund, smiling at his bon mot.

"My plan is for her to wake up one morning and find it much improved and going gang-busters but somehow the credit stream to her will have completely dried up.  I'm thinking that an avatar of Shiva might have taken it over.  It would be a nice retribution for the death of Mohandas."

"I like that.  I have just the code for godly avatars, I'll give you a copy.  You should be able to re-skin it very quickly.  There's a nice three dimensional stone sculpture of a three faced Shiva on Elephant Island near Mumbai. It's grey these days, unlike most garishly coloured Hindu figures, so I have a re-coloured skin that I can animate in three dimensions to leap from her screen with a nice reverberating roar.  And I don't need to tell you how to divert a credit stream.  How many billion-trillions do you have access to as technical administrator of the World's financial system?"

"You know that I'm a poor humble IT worker who can barely afford to walk thought the door of Bergeroff Goodman.”

"To buy the store with your loose change?  It's a pity that half our family has to be under-cover." 

"When you can purchase anything you want, life becomes a game," she replied.  "You know that better than any of us. You treat life as a game consisting of intellectual sparing interspersed with sex."

"You know me so well.  Speaking of life as a game, Zaire?  I promise not to stand on Claude's toes.  OK?"

"Alright then, maybe next time," Bianca agreed.  "Actually, I haven't seen her for a few days," she added.  "I think it's time that I checked that she's OK, given Margery's likely intent.  How's the family anyway?  I've been a bit busy."

***

Edmund regularly does the rounds, charming and occasionally bedding the family women. Even Bianca's aunty Miranda might have succumbed to Edmund had she not fallen for Ferdinand, bringing an end to her marriage to Bertram.  She made the change quite openly, much to the distress of Bertram, particularly as five years earlier they both signed a Ten-Two contract to continue with her third pregnancy.  It means that when little Angela reaches eighteen they both must submit to Voluntary Euthanasia.  Bertram has been very good about it and is seemingly comfortable socialising with Ferdinand for his youngest daughter Angela's sake.  He's pleased to have Edmund as a son-in-law and they talk philosophy.  He even seems to be quite comfortable with Ferdinand with whom he usually talks economics and good government.

"If you hang around for a few minutes cousin Angela should arrive," said Edmund.  "I've been helping her with some very clever cloaking software she's writing.  You will be most intrigued.  She's an amazingly bright girl; if a little headstrong sometimes.  A bit like you. She's been in Robert's latest training program as a potential future administrator. Now he's even teaching the babies to code.  In his old age he's become obsessed with ensuring the dynasty."

"OK, it would be nice to see Angela.  I haven't seen her since last Christmas."

"Then you'll notice a big change. She's twelve now and in puberty, getting to be a woman."

"I hope you're keeping your hands off her."

"We have a very special relationship that is in no way like that." 

***

At that minute Angela came in and plonked down in one of the big armchairs more like a teen than a child, throwing her school bag onto another.  Bianca asked her if she could have a hug and Angela reluctantly got up again but then hugged her very nicely. Bianca decided not to talk about potential AI trouble in front of her so the main topic for the meeting had again been put on the back-burner by Margery.

"Edmund tells me that you've been writing code," Bianca said.

"Oh yes but it's a secret.  He shouldn't have told you"

"We have few secrets from each other."

"So you're one of his women too." It wasn't a question.

"If I was do you think he'd share secrets with me?"

"No.  I suppose not," she conceded.

Edmund had been listening to this exchange with amused interest.  Then he asked to see what Angela had written and Bianca looked at the code as it appeared on his rolled out developers screen.  She was surprised at how tight the code was with a good grasp of shorthand and just enough comments for her to follow her logic.  But there was an unnecessary extra function because it was virtually identical to another that a simple Boolean variable could switch.

Bianca suggested the change and Angela was both surprised and pleased that her older cousin was so clever.  Bianca had gained a similar opinion of Angela and suggested that she might want to work on one of her projects.

Bianca gave Angela a copy of Mohandas' widget code and said this is a working App that you'll like to take apart and I'm sure that you'll be able to make a lot of improvements.

With that the cousins decided that they needed to see more of each other.

 

 


Chapter 31 - Marriage

 

 

 

Margery's life was suddenly spinning out of control.  Claude had proven impossible to get back and now her credit stream from Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos had inexplicably dried up.  Worse, when she tried to use her interface to the App an alarming monster appeared in her screen in 3D and surround sound, shouting that it was the God Shiva come to take revenge on behalf of Mohandas.  Had Mohandas planted time bomb in the event of his death?  She got out the source code and showed it to Woodsman but he's an incompetent fool and could find nothing of that sort.  It was like Mirror-Mirror all over again.

The bottom line is no bottom line. Circe, her VPA, keeps telling her that she can't take things from stores due to insufficient credit.

Claude is now seeing this woman Zaire.  At least she can break them up and then get him back to support her lifestyle.  All she needs to do is to catch him alone.  Otherwise it's back to work to pay the power bills and building fees.

The other thing occupying her mind is eliminating the threat of Bianca.  She has no idea that her two problems are related.  She's been unable to find out anything about Bianca recently.  So she is unsure if her plan to rob Bianca of her future happiness with Mohandas by sacrificing him has worked.  Now she also suspects that Bianca used Mohandas as bait to lure her into her witch's trap.

She'll give Woodsman one last chance to redeem himself. When she used Mohandas' password to put the evidence of his stalking her onto his work computer, she'd taken the opportunity to upload his local drive to a folder in The Cloud.  It's meaningless mumbo-jumbo to her but Woodsman can look and tell her if there is anything in there that she could use. 

Woodsman got annoyingly enthusiastic about some brilliantly written 'functions' in there and insisted on telling her about the boring project that Mohandas had been working on.  Margery had just given it up as a dead end when Woodsman remarked that it was a pity that it was unfinished, because for the week before the Christmas Party, Mohandas had spent all his time looking for a security leak.

"So what," thought Margery, until he added that someone called Bianca McLeish had unauthorised access to the system and he was investigating how she'd got in. 

"That little witch! She did dangle him in front of me. But not as bait, as food!" she told an uncomprehending Woodsman. 

"She deliberately gave me the App idea and then handed me Mohandas to work on it in breach of his contract. She wanted him sacked.  She's been playing me all along. I bet she wasn't even upset when I made him suicide.  She was probably relieved that the investigation was over when I'd stupidly hoped that it would destroy her life.  I've being playing right into her hands."

***

There had been a memorial service for Mohandas.  Margery found the video in an online shrine to Mohandas that had been constructed by his family. She examined the mourners.  There was Bianca, calm and looking quite stunning she thought, comforting a young woman whom Margery had never seen before.  The young woman was quite hysterical with grief.  Her name was listed in the attendance register: Mary Lords.  Circe quickly identified her.  She's a sex-worker specialising in the disabled but she hasn't turned a trick since Mohandas died.  Margery felt terrible for the poor girl, she had inadvertently hurt an innocent bystander. 

Contrary to the confident image Margery portrays to the world, there have been many times when Margery has felt herself a victim and not in control of her life.  She went from an abusive uncle to a manipulative and evil teacher who controlled her every thought.  In between she had lost her baby boy when Greg had lost his temper with her.  Even her control over her Bishop wasn't her idea, she was as much a pawn as he.  To this day she has no idea why Morag wanted to have a 'sleeper' in the Catholic Church.  Now she's been manipulated yet again.  And her attempts to harm this new witch in her life have done nothing but harm her.  She's twice sacrificed lovely Mohandas with whom she'd become very fond.  The first time was in an attempt to burn Bianca alive.  Then Bianca had somehow fooled her into believing that she loved Mohandas.  But now after sacrificing him a second time she's discovered that Bianca was indifferent and tricked her yet again.  She was probably pleased to be rid of him.

Margery had made a terrible mistake, Mohandas was poor Mary Lord's true love.  Mary reminds her of herself when she was that age, turning tricks for a living.  Seeing how that other girl loved him Margery felt jealous.  She could have made Mohandas her husband.  He had truly loved her and might have made a life with him in his palatial apartment, had she not been chasing after Bianca's red herrings.   She found herself grieving for Mohandas - or what might have been.

She realised that one reason that she'd not imagined Mohandas as husband material was that he was the same age as her lost baby boy.  Instead of his age opening her heart to Mohandas, it had made him seem too young for a serious relationship and a plaything.  It also caused her to resent him and his comfortable privileged life:  living in that luxurious apartment and doing whatever amused him, like writing code for a living; not caring about credit as long as he had enough to allow him to build his toys and equip his beloved work room. 

In contrast, her life had been one long struggle.  It started early, when her mother turned out to be on her uncle's side when little Margery was first abused by him.  Rather than protecting Margery, she had connived to give her brother easy access to her young daughter. Then she'd accused Margery of being a terrible liar when she appealed to her father and their priest for help.  Both were right under her mother's thumb anyway.  So in turn Margery had turned to seduce her brother, as had her mother a generation earlier. 

Margery got her revenge some years later when she lured the man to a dangerous beach.  Her mother was grief stricken when her beloved brother drowned.   Then there was Greg.  Most of what Margery had told Bianca was true.  She'd looked for a boofy protector on-line and ticked gullible Greg into thinking she was sixteen.  But then she got pregnant and after seven months she could no longer hide it from her mother, who immediately saw an opportunity for blackmail.  She demanded that Greg transfer his entire credit and sign over his future earnings to her or she would have him charged with carnal knowledge of a minor.  That was when eighteen year old Greg realised that he'd been trapped and now he could be a criminal or a pauper. 

Margery had no affection for Greg.  His main utility was sexual, she now had a considerable appetite, and as her on-call thug.  She was often intemperate when speaking to him, belittling him at every opportunity. Her advice, when he came to her in tears and punching everything in sight was:

"Tell the witch to go to hell you moron. She'll shop you in the end anyway. You might as well get it over with now and take your medicine like a man. You're pathetic!"

After he'd punched her in the stomach and she'd lost their baby, he was pathetically sorry.   But he had to go; almost in the way she'd told Bianca. 

A social worker dealing with rape victims told her of a haven for girls like her.  It was a property in the country. The haven was run by Morag.  Soon she was doing tricks to pay for her board and lodgings and tuition fees.

"That witch has so much to pay for," she shouted, and began to sob. 

Woodsman looked at her in alarm. Even Margery was not sure which witch.

Obviously Margery is without a job and her new 'friends' have turned out to be Claude's friends.  There's something wrong with her Cloud access.  It's very cloudy indeed.  It seldom seems to work properly.  In spite of his so-called expertise with this annoying technology, Woodsman is no help. 

"Pull yourself together," she told herself.  "You've been down before.  Pick yourself up and try again." 

She formulated a plan.  Once she's reunited with Claude she'll regain her strength and get everything back on track.  First she needs to have that chat with the Bishop about spilling the beans to Claude and then use him to get Claude away from Zaire.  Maybe she can kill two birds with one stone.

***

Margery imagines that the Bishop approached Claude. She doesn't know that when Claude had spoken to the Bishop about his past, before the debate, the Bishop had been devastated.  There was no way the he would have revealed a thing. "How widely is this known?" he'd desperately wanted to know.

He prayed all night and in the early hours knocked on Claude's door.  Claude assured him that it was all over. There was to be no blackmail and he was not a person to pass judgement, particularly as the poor man was clearly the victim.  The Bishop was amazed.  How could an atheist be so forgiving? He knew his fellow churchmen wouldn't be as understanding.  The rape might well have been staged but the girl was under-age.  He'd engaged in the foulest sexual acts with her since; and she'd recorded it all.  Most recently she'd even recorded the actual feel of his organ entering her, in the most vivid sensual detail.  All the while he'd been preaching abstinence and counselling younger priests on the need for celibacy.

He considered a visit to a VE clinic, a mortal sin, as a way of avoiding exposure as a rapist and a paedophile. 

Yet nothing happened.  Claude was as good as his word.  There wasn't even a hint of ongoing blackmail to change his public statements on the Creation.   Who knows if it was out of fear or not but the Bishop examined his conscience in any case and decided that his concluding remarks in the debate had not been coerced.  He'd had an epiphany and this was now what he truly believed.  God's plan was not a mere 4,000 years old but over three million times greater; and all the more wonderful for it.

Just as he was feeling comfortable and almost happy Margery paid him a visit.  She asked him what he had told Claude.  He said: "Nothing that the man didn't already know." Even when she presented her witching ring that enchanted him when he knelt, he gave the same answer. It was the first time that he'd seen her lost for words.  She couldn't begin to imagine how Claude had discovered any of this.  Had she left evidence in her apartment?  No, everything is safely in encrypted files off-site in The Cloud.

The Bishop found that he had no option but to give her pleasure in a most undignified way.  She made him 'eat humble pie', as she termed it.

After she had asserted her authority.  She demanded that he ask for a meeting with Claude and that Muslim girl.  He was to suggest that they get married, with the blessing of Mother Church.

"You will offer to convert her and to overlook his atheism."

He objected that neither of them was likely to agree.

"But that's the whole point," she said.

The meeting duly took place with the predicted outcome.  Claude was very nice about it because he was beginning to like the Bishop.  But on the way back to Claude's place Zaire asked if it was ever likely to happen.

"What?" he asked.

"Marriage," she said. 

He was evasive.  He had almost proposed to Margery without knowing why.  Now he was under similar, if more obvious, pressure.

Zaire was angry and demanded that he take her to her new hi-rise apartment near Bianca instead of going to his place.

 

 


Chapter 32 - An unusual visitor

 

 

 

At around ten in the evening Zaire was missing Claude and about to message him to ask him to come over, marriage proposal or not, when there was a knock at the door. 

When she opened the door she was completely unready for a good looking guy in a caftan and sandals to suddenly fall to his knees and call her mother before rapping his arms around her lower thighs and burying his face in the front of her dress. 

She pushed him off and backed away into her apartment but he fell forward and kissed her feet. 

By this time he was halfway into her hallway so she couldn't shut the door on him. As soon as she stepped back he crawled towards her, saying: "Have pity on me mother."

This was impossible.  The guy was obviously around her own age.  She said: "Ok, get inside." She shut the door lest one of her new neighbours see and wonder who this strange woman was.  There were already some strange looks.  She looks like a Bogan with her tats.  Where was Claude when she needed him? She'd call the police. 

What would she tell the police robot: "There's a strange man in my house crawling on his knees and claiming I'm his mother?"

She walked into her living room and he followed on his knees, holding the hem of his caftan in his mouth to avoid crawling onto it.  He seemed idiotic but harmless.

"Get up," she said; and he did.

"What do you want?"

"Whatever you do mistress." Now it was mistress!

"Then go away!"

"I can't mistress.  I have to serve you."

This went on for some time.  He insisting that he could do anything for her but go away.

Finally she told him: "Then sit on the floor, over there in the corner, and take your sandals off."

He had long hair and a beard and the caftan the sandals made him look like pictures she'd seen of Jesus.  He obeyed her quite happily.  Now it was very late and Claude had still not messaged her.

The next morning the Jesus guy was still there.  It hadn't been a bizarre dream.  She offered him breakfast and he ate it enthusiastically.  As thanks he fell to his knees in front of her and grabbed her around the thighs again.  She pushed him off.  She ordered him back to his corner and he meekly went.  This was weird.  She should definitely call the police.

But instead she went out for a run to think about her options.  When she returned he was still in his corner where she'd left him.  He asked if he could go to the toilet and she gave him permission.  He asked if she wanted to watch.  She was shocked.  Who was this creature? She told him to leave again.  He repeated his earlier objection.

Later she gave him some more food.  She stepped back before he could kneel and grab her around the thighs.  He was like a stray dog that has adopted a family and now she was feeding him.  Again she thought of calling the police but he was starting to feel sorry for him.  And Claude still hadn't messaged her in any way.

He was obviously a bit stupid. When she fed him or showed any concern for him he was so happy.  That evening she reached out and patted his head.  He was so pleased he crawled towards her and buried his face in her pubic area again. 

He was sort of cute.  After a while she pushed him off and sent him back to his corner again.  That night she put on a nightie, for modesty's sake, cleaned her teeth and went in to say good night.  As she expected he did it again.  This time she let him do it for several minutes, he seemed so pleased.  Claude was still 'missing in action'.

She went to bed and shed the nightie.  She always slept naked.  She tossed and turned, annoyed with Claude.  She couldn't sleep and wanted company.  She would she if her new pet was asleep.  She didn't bother about the nightie.

He was so excited to see her.  After wrapping his arms around her and holding her to him he followed her into her bedroom and she didn't stop him.  He had been having difficulty crawling with the hem of his caftan in his mouth and as she was naked she told him to remove it.   It seemed more natural. He was still in his little hipster underpants. She sat on the side of her bed and examined him.  He was a fine figure of a man and appeared well-endowed after his obvious excitement earlier.  "Why not," she thought.  This would teach Claude for not contacting her.  She motioned her puppy, as she now thought of him, to lick her.  He was surprisingly expert. 

After a little while she had enjoyed that as much as she needed.  So she thought better of cheating on Claude by having actual sex with this strange guy. She pushed him back. But when she looked again the tip of his erection was projecting from his waistband. It reminded her of an excited dog.  She told him she was sorry but that he would have to deal with that himself.  To her amazement he lowered his briefs and began to do just that. She quickly got a towel and put it in front of him to protect her hand-woven carpet. She watched fascinated and he slowed for her benefit. When he'd finished she bundled up the towel and went to clean him up.  At the touch of the towel he bit her softly on the neck, more with his lips than his teeth, yet it would leave a mark

"Naughty boy!" she yelled in surprise - and slapped him really hard across his face.

He immediately prostrated himself and began licking her foot.

"That's better," she found herself saying and then she presented the other foot for him to lick.

"Now lie there," she ordered, pointing to a place on the floor at the end of her bed. She was enjoying this game.

He was shivering so she threw the bedspread over him and tossed him a pillow.  He curled up happily as she got into bed and went to sleep.

She was awoken by her door bell. 

"Mistress the door, the door, the door," he kept telling her.

"Ok, Ok, I can hear it" she said as she threw on a robe.

Thank goodness it was Bianca.  She'd pushed him into her bathroom but he kept asking to come out.  He might have been difficult to explain to Claude.

The situation was bizarre so she decided to give Bianca an expurgated version of the story.

Bianca said that she knew what was going on.  So they called 'puppy' out into the living room and Zaire commanded him to answer Bianca's questions honestly. 

***

Somehow Bianca already knew that his name was Woodsman.  She also knew that he had been sicked onto Zaire by Margery.  The moment she mentioned Kat there was an immediate reaction.  He actually cowered. He refused to answer any questions about Kat.   He'd been ordered not to mention her under any circumstance. 

Obviously his presence was planned to separate Zaire from Claude, presumably so that Margery had a chance of getting Claude back.  Claude was obviously supposed to come over and find Woodsman in Zaire's bed. But Claude was locked up at home, terrified by Margery attempting to see him.  She'd actually stationed herself outside his door and this had confirmed his fear that she was waiting to enchant him and he needed to avoid her at all costs.  He wasn't even taking messages in case there was a verbal trigger.  Yet somehow Bianca was able to message him the following morning.  She told him he was right to be concerned about Margery and to stay there until the coast was clear.

"She really is a piece of work," Bianca remarked to Zaire.  "We need to send Woodsman back with a message that you and Claude are now together and she needs to get lost."

"Oh, do I have to send him back! I've always wanted a puppy. And he's so cute," begged Zaire.

"No, he belongs to Margery and you can't keep him.  In any case she didn't plant him on you for your benefit.  At any time she could come and order him to do something dreadful.  He's big and strong and might turn nasty."

"I suppose you're right.  But how will we return him?"

"We can handle that together but we need to keep my part in this a secret.  I'll give you her contact details.  You'll send her a message telling her that she can find her Woodsman on a park bench in Centennial Park near the statue of Charles Dickens."

They told Woodsman to get dressed because they were going for a walk.  He'd been worried that he'd disobeyed Kat but now things seemed to be back on track.  That woman, who already knew everything, had told him that he could forget their conversation. And he certainly wouldn't mention her to Kat - goodness knows what she might do. 

The walk was bizarre.  First they went to a pet store where his new mistress got him a collar and a leash. 

He found the prospect of acting like Zaire's dog a huge turn-on.  He had been commanded to act like an imbecile.  A dog was a much better option.  His imagination ran riot. And he looked so cute in his collar that Zaire wanted to take him home immediately.  He was already excited at that prospect.  Then they took him to the park where he got into character and they played chasings. He even tried 'woofing' a few times.  After that Zaire attached his leash to the collar and tied it to the bench.  She told him to be a good boy and wait there for them to come back.  Under no circumstances was he to undo his leash.  He was reluctant but she insisted and like a dog tied up outside a shop he sat down and waited obediently.

Zaire was upset for the rest of the day. Bianca called Claude again to say Zaire had also been under attack but that Margery was now otherwise engaged and he could escape.  He rushed over and Zaire brightened up considerably.

***

Initially Margery's plan went like clockwork. After the meeting with the Bishop she followed them from above on her hover-bike.  As expected Claude dropped Zaire off and then went home.  That was Woodsman's cue to come over and go into his act.  She waited to ensure he'd got in and that Zaire was therefore occupied, then she flew to Claude's.  All she needed was for him to see her and he'd have to let her in.  After that, she would have all night, by which time she might have him back or at least prepared to come down to her apartment, where she could keep him away from Zaire for as long as it takes her to get full control, before letting him discover Woodsman in that sleazy tart's bed.  But Claude didn't answer his door and pretended to be out. She knew he was in there so why was he being so evasive?  She'd been very careful to ensure that he forgot that she could enchant him with her hypnotic gesture in which she pretended to be about to faint so that he would rush to catch her.  Of course, it would be Claude who would lose consciousness.

After an hour waiting outside; messaging him; knocking; and even shouting she sat on the floor outside his door and eventually went to sleep. Towards morning she awoke and feeling very stiff, went down to her own apartment.  Claude had to come out sometime.  She would try again when she had the devastating news that Zaire had left him.  She had some breakfast and got in the shower.  When she got out and was wandering around her apartment naked she felt a lot better. She'd caught her image in her mirror wall. She was a goddess, the product of good genes and some clever surgery.  How could Claude resist her once Zaire was in the arms of another? She would send him a selfi-vidi right now to remind him and suggest that they meet.  To her surprise her Message was rejected and Circe was unable to get through to his VPA.  It was as if there was a communications nothingness around him.  She went back down and hammered on his door.  Then she had an idea, she would put another micro-camera in the lift foyer on his level and have Circe watch to see if he came out. There was something wrong with the one she had put their previously.  It showed some of his visitors but never Claude.  She went back down to her level and tried to relive some of her best recordings but her mind was elsewhere and she ended up watching MV and eventually falling asleep.

She was woken when a message came in from Zaire's VPA, Pip. The image of a handsome young man, rose from her screen, telling her that she could collect her 'puppy' from a seat in Centennial Park, near a statue of his creator Charles Dickens. He added that her great expectations has been in vain, as if this was some kind of joke.  She missed the point as she often did with literary jokes.  In any case this was not a laughing matter, Zaire had somehow resisted Woodsman's infectious innocence, well-honed body and even better-honed erogeneity.

If she didn't think it was impossible she could almost imagine Bianca's hand in this somewhere.   She still had no idea that Bianca and Zaire are friends.  Who would guess, it's such an unlikely friendship.

 

 


Chapter 33 - Comeuppance

 

 

 

One evening there was Woodsman outside in Bianca's glass foyer.  It was presently set to one-way-mirror so he couldn't see in.  When she opened the door he fell to his knees, called her mother and grabbed her around her lower thighs, burying his face in the front of her dress. It was quite pleasant so she let him hold her like that for some time.  Then she told him to come in.  She noticed that unlike last time he had a cloth bag at his waist with a long strap over his opposite shoulder.  Once inside he realised that he already knew her.  She was the all-knowing woman with Zaire who had left him at the park bench until Kat came and took him home, very annoyed, he still has the bruises. 

Now he didn't know what to do. Kat had told him to pretend to be an idiot and tell her nothing, particularly where he'd come from, because Bianca McLeish is a witch.  But this woman already knew him and knew he came from Kat.  This upset all the plans Kat had told him to follow. Bianca hadn't pushed him off, as expected, and now she was asking questions about Kat again.  He was on the strictest orders not to mention her. 

Before she started questioning him she'd messaged someone called Edmund and they had a long chat ending with: "tomorrow morning then."

Bianca had been amused to see Woodsman at her door, in the flesh.  He'd been allowed past building security because she'd anticipated this visit.  She could see why Margery had chosen him. He was a fine figure of a man.  She was becoming quite an expert on the male of the species herself.  Although not at Margery's level of expertise Bianca was now becoming quite proficient at mesmerising those who had been made vulnerable by the right pre-conditioning.    

***

After her success in Phuket Bianca had been interested in what had happened to Adán and Yvette. She'd decided to visit their town of Eden in the Americas to see how they were getting on.  She found them at their church after Mass. After Bianca touched her lips Adán had become convinced that Bianca was his distant cousin.  The couple had never met a Grad and Yvette had been doubtful about being related; and about Adán promptly inviting his long lost cousin home.  But Adán was determined that Bianca should come and stay the night. There was no need for her to get a hotel suite.

Bianca was familiar with Zaire's stories of Bogan life but she found it fascinating to actually visit a Bogan home.  The place was huge with two kitchens and half a dozen bathrooms; a giant living room into which their pool intruded; several games rooms and a video cube.  There was a large hangar for their aircraft, ground vehicles and recreational water craft in the grounds which also featured areas for playing various games; trampolines and so on.  Everything seemed to be made of recyclable plastic. Yvette proudly showed Bianca their latest purchases.  It must have taken an hour to wonder around admiring all their stuff. 

As they went from room to room Bianca found a moment to question Adán about married life.  Apparently they had a licence to have two children and desperately wanted them but nothing was happening.  Bianca decided to enchant Yvette to hear her part of the story.  It turned out that Yvette had been horrified by quite normal foreplay and intercourse.  Adán kept wanting to do those filthy things to her before they tried to make babies. As a result the copulations were quick and uneventful. 

Bianca knew that when it comes hypnosis people will not do what is against their nature.  You can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink, as Margery had told her.  She stayed the night and tried to seduce Yvette on Adán's behalf but Yvette was surprisingly resistant.  Was Yvette asexual or was there something in her past that made sex revolting?   Questioning while enchanted revealed that a corrupt priest had taken advantage of Yvette's family's trust when she was only five.  His satanic abuse would take many months of gentle love and affection by Adán to put right.  Having primed them appropriately Bianca bought them back and explained what had happened and how they needed to get over it.  Yvette wept for some time and Adán comforted her.  He had been losing patience with her and chatting up another woman at Church.  Yet after Bianca's visit he was convinced that he loved Yvette and would help her to love him.   

Immediately before Woodsman arrived Yvette and Bianca had shared a video conversation.  It had happened.  Yvette was pregnant. Bianca found that she was extraordinarily happy as if she was the expectant mother herself.  She'd been struck by the amazing change in Yvette, who had once seemed quite plain.  Now she was beautiful in that Bogan way, covered in tats and made-up like a super-model.  They make a handsome couple.  Bianca could imagine them in the near future at their Mall proudly pushing the latest most fashionable double pram.  Bianca had even dared to ask about their sex life and learned that Yvette was often the initiator. 

"Nothing like it for keeping a man like Adán under control," she told Bianca laughing.

***

After enjoying her time in Phuket, Bianca had felt guilty about her lapse in faithfulness to Lucent. Then she doubled her crime by breaking her own rule and looking at his private messages. She told herself that it was to see how much he was missing her but really knew that she was looking for self-justification. So she was not incredibly surprised to discover that he had not been monogamous either.  After all it'd been six months.  As a result, Bianca no longer felt a great need to be faithful.  But she wasn't looking for a life companion; just a bit of hormonal rebalancing; and twenty-something fun.  Remembering Margery's advice regarding fishing she'd been on a couple of 'fishing trips' to Bogan religious events.  Since her first success she's developed a preference for virgins who offer a 'clean slate' and can be trained to her specifications.

The gullible ones are easily persuaded that they have been 'taken up' when they experience her lift for the first time.  And her apartment seems so unreal to a Bogan that they can be persuaded that they are in a hovering space craft. The ones she rejects are thrown back with no firm memory of what happened.  Since then several have confessed to vivid dreams of alien abduction and sexual shenanigans. 

After selecting the best physical specimens or those with grace and natural beauty, Bianca put them through their paces like a dressage equestrian choosing a new horse. Several turned out to be fine around the ring; over the jumps; and the water hazzard; but she was also looking for a spark of individuality and wit, someone who would be fun to have breakfast with.  The best rides all turned out to have absolutely no interest in anything but sports, that Bianca has no interest in, and of course Jesus. 

Bianca was at a 'Church Picnic', thinking that this would be her last visit to these fishing grounds that contained nothing but holy carp and tadpole cod, when she saw Oliver.  He was about her own age and had reluctantly accompanied his sister to the Picnic as chaperone.  Oliver's a gardener who, thanks to his mother, can read and write, a skill he uses to write short stories for VPA's to read to their Bogan owners.  Bianca was immediately attracted to him, a Grad in Bogan clothing, like Zaire.  Oliver has an ambitious mother who gave him a non-Bogan name in the hope that he would someday move into Grad society, which his mother worships from afar. 

Before the day was out Oliver's head was in Bianca lap as she quietly sang along to the hymns. The following day, over breakfast, he told her that he was not quite sure how he had ended up in her bed as he was sure he hadn't been drinking.  Someone must have spiked the punch.

"Oh dear," she said. "Does that mean that you wouldn't have been attracted to me if you weren't drunk?  That's a trifle insulting."

"All it means is that I'm better at picking-up beautiful, and I might say incredibly libidinous, women when I'm out of it, than when I know exactly what I'm doing," he responded, having no idea that he'd been enchanted.

Bianca had released him from his trance after just one time around the arena.  Oliver was a keeper. On discovering his name she'd immediately thought of another Keeper: Oliver Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover the Game Keeper.

So that breakfast, over her favourite blue Damask tablecloth with the little dab of yellow yolk, she observed that as he was a gardener she would henceforth call him 'Oliver Mellors'. To her surprise he laughed heartily. 

"But that is my name," he said.  "My family name is Mellors, so my mother called me Oliver after the character in the book. So I'm going to call you 'Constance Chatterley'." 

Somehow he knew that they were more than a one-night-stand, as had been most of his conquests to date.  He couldn't imagine being without her in his life. It was as if she had some hold over him. He'd been bewitched.

Bianca took this for granted too.  Yesterday at the picnic the sister had been a hindrance, wanting to leave early, but fortunately one of Bianca's earlier tryouts was in attendance and after a word from her he had whisked the sister away.  The man, who still imagined he was a virgin, knew more than he realised about seducing women and Oliver had been amused, rather than alarmed, that he had completely failed as a chaperone.  Neither would believe that they were still virgins tomorrow morning.

Once the sister was otherwise engaged Bianca and Oliver had talked for hours about his writing and his interest in history and art.  He was like a male version of Zaire.  His subsequent performance in the dressage ring had clinched it.  There was no need to tell him to forget her apartment, he was to be here often from now on. 

The picnic had been over two hundred kilometres away.  He would urgently need to move closer.  He realised somehow that this was exactly what he needed to get new experiences for his writing.  Bianca messaged her mother to get him a temporary job in her local park as groundkeeper. 

"So I'm to be your lover on call? You don't have a crippled husband somewhere do you?"

"Well for a while I did have a cripple here," she told him.  "But he sacrificed himself for love of another woman."

"Sounds like there's a good story in that," he said.

"Actually, I do have a boyfriend in exile, so there are to be no strings attached either way between you and me.  Are you happy to fuck me regularly on that basis?"

He didn't answer. He walked around the table; took her in his arms; and carried her to her bed.

Since then they have been practicing in the dressage ring regularly.  As once predicted by Margery, Bianca's becoming quite addicted to his charms.  He calls her Connie and does a good line in four letter Bogan words before and during sex.  Like her namesake in Lady Chatterley's Lover she loves that.

***

Strangely, her no-strings relationship with Oliver was making Bianca feel a trifle guilty about entertaining Woodsman. 

Woodsman turned out to be quite easy to enchant.  He apparently spent a good deal of his recent life being enchanted by Margery.  Bianca delved around in his unconscious memories and preferences to learn more of how Margery went about it first hand. Margery was like a Zen Mistress when it came to capturing another's mind.  

Now Woodsman, was there something you had to do here?  What have you got in your bag?  It isn't an apple is it?"

"Yes," he told her: "It's apple juice or you.  I have to put some on your food or in your drink and if you go to sleep I'm to drink some myself and lie down beside you.  How did you know that?"

That was when Bianca gave him a few suggestions of her own then gave him a trigger to re-enchant him should she want to do so in future and then she released him. 

He found that he desperately wanted to show her everything that had happened with Zaire. The next morning, when they had breakfast together, Woodsman had been restored to normality.  He was a well built, good looking and intelligent man not dissimilar in appearance to popular images of Jesus. They discussed the coding that he had so admired that Mohandas had produced. Bianca recalled the help that she had given Mohandas on that fateful day when he had taken it into his head to investigate her.

She was surprised with herself. She'd decided to experience this very attractive man last night but at the last minute had unexpectedly avoided actual intercourse.  Was it because of his proximity to Margery or because of her growing affection for Oliver? 

As breakfast was cleared she said: "Now Woodsman it's nearly time to go.  I'm not going to take you to the park this time; nor back to your place.  I'm going to take you to Kat's apartment.  I bet you don't even know where she lives or that her real name is Margery. Bring her apple juice with you."

Woodsman said that he would like to see where Kat, "I mean Margery," went when she left his place.  He would like to see what sort of a palace her apartment was and where she went after seeing him, as she had never stayed for breakfast at his apartment. 

Bianca called Claude and told him they were on their way.

Claude's modified hand-held was working well and  his VPA still had the simulation of Mohandas' widget in her App library.

Margery had gone to a job interview that Edmund was conducting for a position at the University.  No doubt she was intending to seduce him.  At least she would go out with a bang.

***

Claude let Woodsman in.  He was interested in the man that Margery had been secretly training while she'd been his partner.  A fellow victim.  At first Woodsman seemed very impressed that it was indeed Kat's apartment.  He went around examining everything.  He spent a long time looking at old-fashioned framed photographs of her and Claude and other famous men and a certificate on her wall with her real name on it. 

As he looked around he realised that he was peripheral to her real life and fundamentally unimportant to her.   For the first time he was fully aware that he was simply one of her victims. Nothing but a tool, or perhaps an ego booster, to her.  Something snapped inside him.  He sat on the floor of her bedroom like a yogi, legs crossed, and started to sing the Dwarfs Song from Snow White. "Hi Ho, Hi Ho," sob, "It's Off To Work I Go..."

I did dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
In her Mine the whole day through
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
It's what she made me do
It ain't no trick
To get rich quick
If ya dig dig dig
With a shovel or a stick
In her Mines
In her Mines
Where her million fancies shine
I dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
From early mornin' til' the night
I dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
Up everything in sight
I gave her my time
She demanded more
Now I don't know what I was digging for...

His voice broke and grew louder as he contemplated all his time spent, metaphorically digging for her; vainly endeavouring to satisfy a woman whom he had thought of as a Goddess but, who now turned out to be nothing but a normal woman who used trickery and drugs and hypnosis and sleight of hand to create illusions.

After a couple of repetitions he began to sob in the most alarming way as he realised the the abuse he had suffered, tears rolling down his cheeks:

What had Margery done to this poor soul?

***

Claude knew of another who had spent a good deal of his lifetime in the same endeavour and gave the Bishop a call.  The Bishop got a terrible fright when Claude appeared on his screen and he imagined the worst.  But Claude told him about another poor soul that Margery had captured and was undergoing hell on earth.  The bishop would recognise him, he said. 

The Bishop had often considered killing himself and was alarmed that there was someone else in the same position.  He'd also considered killing Margery on many occasions but when he saw her she offered her hand presenting that satanic ring; he would kneel and kiss it; and all his resolve would evaporate.  Perhaps he could sneak up on her and do it?  He imagined holding up his cross and stabbing her through the heart with a wooden stake.  Which would be the greater sin, killing himself or Margery?

When Claude let him in to her apartment there was the very embodiment of the Saviour in obvious distress sitting on her bedroom floor.  Margery was nowhere to be found.  The Bishop embraced Woodsman, knowing of course that this was not Jesus but a poor mortal soul in terrible peril.  His heart went out to a fellow victim.  Woodsman understood that the Bishop was there to help and ceased his morbid song.  They talked through how they both had an impulsive urge to obey Margery like a goddess and how they'd been conditioned to obey her so that they were helpless before her. 

In more than a dozen places the Bible warns of witches and sorcerers and powerful women and insists that they be destroyed.  The Bishop recalled in particular:

Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail…
Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it .  Isaiah 47:12,14

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood [shall be] upon them. Leviticus 20:27

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.  Exodus 22:18

As they waited for Margery to return they feared her power to overcome them with a single word or gesture.  They determined not to let her speak and to approach her from behind.  They recited the ancient 23rd psalm that has given succour to Jews and Christians for millennia, over and over, and gained strength in the Lord. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

After each repetition the Bishop would elaborate from the later psalms:

Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses.
Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.

I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked.

Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.

Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert.

***

When Margery eventually walked in happily, having recently enjoyed Edmund's undoubted skills, they were so strengthened that Woodsman smashed a heavy glass video ball, the nearest thing they could find to a stone, on her head.  Her blood splattered across his beard and the coarse fabric of his caftan.  He hit her again as she fell, splashing his sandals.  The metallic smell of her blood filled the apartment.

Together they dragged her unconscious body to her bedroom and lay her on the altar of her larger than king-size bed. There they set upon her with her bloodied glass ball; taking turns smashing her bones; before with the aid of a kitchen knife they tore her flesh asunder, limb from limb. 

When they were satisfied that her soul had been properly despatched with those that go down into the pit, they calmly knelt before their gory handiwork; her huge bed overflowing with her flesh and blood; their hearts at last cleansed, by her death, of sin; and sipped from a cup filled from Woodsman's flask of sweet apple juice.  Unsurprisingly it had been transubstantiated into to synthetic hemlock.  With beatific smiles they faded away.

As they were not Biblical scholars Bianca and Claude had not expected anything of the kind.  They were horrified at the reports from the floor below.  They had expected that Margery would be fed her own 'apple juice' and that the other two would be redeemed by the experience.  But fate moves in mysterious ways.

 

 


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 say India or Iran or Tibet Willow would have totally different, yet just as sincerely held, religious beliefs.  As if!

Now she's '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 agreed to take on the thesis 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's 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 three are easily read by the Prospero Universal Translator (PTU).

To support Zaire's thesis Bianca and Angela have started to compile a Fascinating Witch applications library.  It's based on Isis' earlier Margery's Book of Witchcraft and catalogues then codifies 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 liked 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 applications library.

"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 little jokes.

Zaire 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."

"In that case I'll borrow this gold amulet," Bianca said. "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've seen in the database."

"And I'll keep all this other stuff safe for Derrick. If he ever gets out," Zaire concluded before they retired to bed.

***

The following day the two friends went to the hairdresser where Bianca had her hair darkened to a deep auburn-red.  Bianca then took Zaire to Bergeroff Goodman and they bought new outfits:  charcoal suits; half a dozen silk blouses and camisoles; a dozen silk French knickers, dark red lacy suspender belts; a dozen pairs of sheer dark stockings; a pairs of patent dark red shoes with stiletto heels; and a new scarlet lipsticks. 

Stepping out of the change room Zaire was amazed to see the image of Margery right there in the store.  It took nearly a minute for her to recover, even after Bianca asked her what the matter was.

"Have you looked in a mirror," 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.  I'm so pleased I've bought a similar outfit,  I can't have you upstaging me."

"No of course not.  And we can hardly be identical so it'll be fun to have a dark fashion twin.  These days, with your new fashion trendsetter status, we'll set a new fashion. Perhaps we need to corner the silk market before we wear these in public? "

***

When Claude turned up at Zaire's newly furnished apartment, intending to stay the night, he didn't know how to react.  Yet 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 one 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," all three responded.

***

With all the excitement at Phuket Bianca had never got around to telling Zaire, or anyone, about the Adán 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 and it had been deleted from The Cloud by Isis 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," Zaire commented.  Then she added:  "I got quite turned on by your story. I sort of wish I'd known Margery better."

"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 perfectly well what was 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 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 then so her ideas were 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 trite summaries 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.” 

Yet since then Angela has always liked to have a dig at Zaire's 'boganality' 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?"

"Connie is 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.  D H 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 after you stalked me in a Mall.  And you've just told us how you met Adán and Yvette."

"But Adán's religious and I did meet Oliver at a church picnic. He and Adán have become great mates. They like to surf and have some sport's team in common."

She failed to mention her other '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 Yvette 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 a famous Bogan.  When Bianca told Yvette 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 because 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 amulet; 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 virtual Margery's out there causing havoc. Up 'til 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.  For a trial 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.

 

 


Chapter 35 - Home Help

 

 

 

The concert didn't go quite as well as they had hoped. 

The VPA's that became submissive to those owners screened as being potential dominators failed to evolve ways to condition their owner's to greater dominance.  It just doesn't work for an Avatar to appear to fall to the floor and pretend to be licking the sole of their owner's shoe or to appear to want to be hurt.  Bullies need a human to push around. They know perfectly well that an Avatar is a synthetic creature. So there's no fun in it.  If anything they were simply annoyed that their lifelong companion had become a wimp and demanded that they toughen themselves up.

On the other hand a sexy Avatar that appears in 6D with realistic touch and smell can control a receptive owner in a variety of ways.  In 6D with the appropriate viewing equipment an Avatar seems to be entirely real to the viewer.  They feel warm and solid and they smell and even taste.  As a sexual partner they seem perfectly real.  They can stimulate them then 'hold out' or bully them to force them to comply with additional kinky demands, such as prostrating themselves and licking the floor beneath their VPA's virtual shoe.  All that is required is that the VPA owner is induced to don the necessary body stocking and face mask regularly.  If they are out in public the haptic bodystocking is hidden beneath their usual clothes and together with 3D eye glasses that project a head-up display and cranial sound transducers the virtual companion seems to walk hand-in-hand or to sit opposite smiling at them or telling them what to do. 

As their creators, Bianca; Angela and Zaire, had planned, the software Avatars quickly learned from its experiences and evolved, using the Prospero operating system, to improve these interactions, so that the dominant Avatars became increasingly lifelike and successful. The VPA's with the dominance library quickly evolved new and improved dominance techniques more appropriate to a virtual dominatrix. These were shared back with their sister VPAs and very soon their human owners were completely under their VPA's control.

The consequence was that the trial failed to produce even one new Margery-like human owner but created fifty super-Margery-like VPAs. Of course a VPA can't actually throw a person to the floor, as Margery liked to do, but the human will do it to themselves and becomes their VPA's tool, to do their bidding.

***

The Three Witches watched fascinated.  The intelligent software developed dozens of new techniques not even imagined by Margery.

"You realise," said Bianca, "That what we have achieved writing computer code, casting our modem spells, surpasses anything that Margery or even Morag, let alone the Ancients, could have imagined with their Craft.  Coding is the New Craft."

But just as in Goethe's Sorcerer's Apprentice, and the Mickey Mouse animation in Fantasia by Dinsey, as Margery called him, their creation had taken on a life of its own and began to get out of hand. 

A woman in the trial was arrested for running down a business street naked and when she was asked why she replied:

"My VPA challenged me to a naked race and I found I couldn't refuse.  She was naked too.  Why am I the only one under arrest?"

The following day a fellow named Brown was arrested at the Mega Shopping Mall.  Brown was discovered writing obscenities on the walls and floor of the main atrium with a 10cm wide brush and a container of difficult to remove blood-coloured quick-drying paint.  Initially local management and passers-by imagined he was a performance artist and was creating an art installation.  He seemed to be dressed in nothing but a pair of overalls over a haptic stocking and was prancing about and giggling in a most entertaining way as he daubed one letter after another, to reveal some kind of message.  The Bogans in his audience had no idea what his message was.  He may as well have been writing in Greek.  It took some time before someone asked their VPA what it meant.  Their VPA replied that they couldn't read it aloud, as they had been set to 'family values' but that there was a mistake in his grammar.  A grad was called to check and discovered that Brown was writing obscenities. 

He said he was being punished by his VPA for some supposed transgression and was attempting to write out 500 imaginative lines about his growing audience.

Brown seemed to be highly creative and had already come up with over fifty different things he should not do to various men; women and children.  He said that the officials should go away as he expected that it would take all day to finish.

When the security robots arrived he danced around them and painted out their camera eye, much to the delight of his Bogan audience, who cheered as each machine was blinded. Reinforcements were called.  In the end it took twenty robots well over an hour to restrain him and it made the MV news around the world with the headline 'Man defeats Bots'.  "How had Brown know to paint out the Bots' eyes?" they asked.  He'd been a meek and illiterate voice coach prior to getting free tickets to the Greatest Stars concert.  He claimed that his VPA had made him do it. 

"You must have seen her dancing about with me in her skimpy gym gear?  No! She's not invisible! She's just as real flesh and blood as you and me."  Surely they must have heard her telling him what to write, letter by letter.  The grammatical error had been his mistake, he had no idea what he was writing and, like a one fingered typist, his letters got a bit tangled occasionally. 

After Brown's success defeating the security robots, with nothing but a paint-brush, every security robot in the world had to be recalled to have its Brown Eye Shields fitted.  These consist of a hemispherical fabric cover that pops-up over the vulnerable parts if threatened.  

Bianca, Angela and Zaire used the built-in abort routine to shut the project down.  But not before they incorporated and modularised the newly evolved functions into the Circe database.

There are now some fifty heart-broken men and women wondering why their VPA has returned to normal and no longer wants them to share sexual acts four or five times a day; or require them to frequently perform self-depreciating acts on her whim.  Zaire has been pleased to note that Willow and Starfighter are among the forlorn.

***

At Bianca's insistence, Zaire began writing-up her thesis: Witchcraft from a Feminist Perspective.  She still isn't sure that she wants to become a Grad but her reading and writing has improved so much that she knows that she could, if this thesis was well received. 

The relevant professor has encouraged her to refer to the Circe project, that she believes to be very informative about the fear that the ancients had concerning the power inherent in women.  So Zaire appended the packaged-up Circe App as it has evolved to date, together with a comprehensive report on its outcomes.  Following Margery's analysis, Zaire was also able to illustrate her thesis with references to the Old Testament Bible like Salome and Delilah as well as in Greek mythology and real live women who dominated men in Greece and Rome.  The numerous warnings in the Bible about seductresses and sorcerers reflect those in many ancient writings, she opined.

Bianca has been reviewing Zaire's thesis preliminary to final submission and together they wanted to test some of Zaire's assertions.  Zaire had just invited Bianca to dinner that evening at Claude's when Claude arrived.  Zaire promptly gave him her heavy bags to carry home.  They are now living together in his luxury apartment.  Of course Claude has proposed and at her suggestion has given her the glittering ring similar to the one he once bought for Margery.  Despite her earlier enthusiasm, Zaire hasn't rushed to choose a marriage date.  She says that things are very satisfactory as they are.  They even have a live in house-boy.  It's Starfighter who now answers to Zaire's nickname for him: Rocket Man

When Bianca was ushered in to dinner by a very obsequious Rocket Man, she quietly took Zaire aside and asked if Claude was cool about her hiring her ex-boyfriend as a houseboy.  Zaire explained that Rocket Man was one of those who had been subjugated by his VPA so that all she had had to do was take control of his now modified VPA, using Pip as the intermediary.  Pip directs Salome, the Avatar that has trained Rocket Man, and in turn Pip follows Zaire's directions. This is very convenient as Pip directs the household and Zaire has no interest in managing Rocket Man 24/7.  But Salome has instructed Rocket Man that Zaire his ultimate mistress and he's constantly available and desperate to provide whatever she wants, whenever she desires.

"And my nickname for him is appropriate," said Zaire, nudging Bianca. "Would you like a lend?"

"Clever girl," said Bianca in admiration, "you really have learnt some advanced coding skills.  You didn't say how Claude felt about this."

"Oh, he accepts that I can keep Rocket Man as an unpaid servant.  He was a bit reluctant at first.  You know, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, anti-slavery and all that.  Claude argued that unpaid workers who couldn't leave were slaves.  So I called Rocket Man when Claude was there, and told him that his time was up and he could leave now. He fell to his knees and begged me, sobbing, not to throw him out.  Claude relented and accepted that it's an act of charity for me to keep him.  We feed and house him; so what does Rocket Man need 'free time' for when he has us to care for?"

"And Claude didn't think that a little bit odd?" 

"Claude finds it difficult not to accept my suggestions and views these days, if you know what I mean," she said, playing with her glittering engagement ring. "I can't see anything wrong with it, can you?"

Bianca was suddenly jealous.  "I really need Lucent to come back or see more of Oliver," she said.  "And perhaps I need a house-servant.  There are forty-nine more on that shelf."

***

The next day news arrived.  The University has been most impressed and offered Zaire a mature place. 

Should Zaire take it?  She has a great job.  They all discuss it: Claude; her boss; her friends.  She can go part time.  Can she afford it?

"Don't worry it's free to you," said Bianca. 

"How can that be?"

"You've won a scholarship," Bianca claimed.

"Well OK then."

"Great," Bianca responded gleefully, thinking that the fees are petty cash to her and that this is what she's wanted for Zaire ever since Phuket.  After all, at heart, she's a manipulator.

***

Two days later Bianca visited Lucent in Continental America where he's on sabbatical.  After a day he found it difficult not to agree to Bianca's every suggestion and a month later they came back together.  He told Claude that he seemed to be unable to say 'no' to her anymore.  But he seems happy. For his birthday Bianca gave him Willow as a housemaid. 

Willow is a distraction for Lucent.  Once he was back Bianca realised that she was still rather fond of Oliver and continued to visit him in his rustic lodge, now that he was the official park-keeper and resident published author. 

Initially Lucent imagined their friendship was platonic, as Oliver is a Bogan and Bianca was quite open about their close friendship. Then he read one of Oliver's books and asked Bianca if she was the inspiration for Connie.  She freely admitted it. 

He was feeling very upset, and wondered why he had come back at all, when Bianca blew him a beautiful kiss.

Now Lucent has discovered that Bianca has other Bogan friends.  A mate of Oliver's has recently had a second child, a boy, with his wife Yvette.  Somehow Angela and Zaire are friends with the couple too.  Angela has been remotely teaching their older child her ABC and to count and add numbers. Zaire has been sending the child children's books. So they are all off, over the weekend, to the Christening. He's not invited.

Lucent couldn't imagine why they would go to a christening given their religious opinions.  Yet that's not why he's upset.  It's not just because he isn't invited.  It's because Bianca and Oliver are going as a married couple, for appearances sake at a christening, after he gave up his work overseas to come back as her partner.  The evening after she broke this news he was furious, so Bianca invited Willow to their bedroom for the night.  Almost immediately Lucent realised that he would enjoy staying home much more than going to a boring Bogan christening.

***

Some days after The Three Witches returned Edmund appeared in an agitated state.  Bianca was amazed.  It takes a lot for Edmund to become animated.  Somehow someone has reinitiated Circe.  Could it have been her or Zaire or even Angela?

The App is rapidly evolving in The Cloud and now has somehow been re-skinned as a business VPA on offer to people wanting a Sexy Business Assistant. 

Very alarmingly he's been unable to find a human agent behind this.  Could it be that the thing has self-evolved into a dominance application?

Bianca called the other two developers and together they examined the code.  It was certainly far more complex now than when they archived it.

Edmund said that the key thing he needed to know was what goal they had set in order to determine that dominance had been achieved. 

They told him that initially they'd decided on licking the floor under the dominator's foot but that had seemed a bit tame. Bianca and Zaire had been having a glass or two of wine when they came up with several hilarious alternatives but now they came to think of it no conclusion was reached.  They'd moved on to other things then gone to bed. 

"So what was the default?" Edmund asked, wishing he'd been present.  "What was the sort of thing Margery eventually demanded, because whatever that was, was implicit in the core assumptions?  What did she demand to demonstrate her final, complete dominance over a compliant victim?"

"That's easy," said Angela. "For them to committed suicide when she'd finished with them."

"Then I think we have a problem," said Edmund.

At that point they all realised, too late, what was in store for those unfortunate people who had purchased a Sexy Business Assistant.

 

 


Chapter 36 - Skydive

 

 

 

Claude's lab assistant friend, Ocker, arrived at the MV station without passing through security.  He wanted Claude to make a special announcement on his show that The Cloud has become homicidal. 

He's always been a bit eccentric but this is over the top. He was very excited.

But then another MV station broadcast a live feed from a news reporter 'at the scene' where ten people carrying steel bars and demolition equipment are staking out a tunnel in the countryside at what is obviously Ocker's home.  Earlier they were sighted running from the tunnel.  They told the reporter that: "There's a pack of angry dogs in there."

When the reporter asked what they were doing they reported that their Sexy Business Assistants had told them that the building needed to be destroyed and anyone defending it should be bashed repeatedly with their clubs.  They had since been instructed to wait at the mouth of the tunnel to bash anyone coming out.

The reporter asked them if this might not kill a person that they bashed repeatedly with steel clubs.  They replied that their SBA's had assured them that the Robot Ambulance and hospital would fix them: "So it'll be OK to bash him just to punish him, won't it?"

The reporter doubted the truth of this but was surrounded by aggressive club carrying men and was not about to argue with the deranged.  She gave her name to camera: "Sue Mi, reporting from the countryside," and returned the feed to the station.

Claude said he was horrified.  Ocker had every reason to be disturbed; they'd obviously been sent by some Cloud based entities to kill him.

"So how did you escape?"

"I have another entrance.  But your VPA didn't know that."

"Are you suggesting that I'm responsible?"

"Well, Sky-mate, you're the only person I've allowed to bring a Cloud hosted VPA into my home in the past year."

Claude then pointed out that Ocker had obviously used the burglar device to get into the station past security and probably used it elsewhere on his journey here. But Claude’s VPA knows all about that and even has a copy of the software. So if she was the leak The Cloud could have used that knowledge to kill the App.  Yet he remains invisible to The Cloud and its other connected devices.

It was more likely that something more complicated was going on.  He would ask Bianca who seems to know a lot about these things.

***

Bianca explained that The Cloud is not an entity that can of itself become intelligent, anymore that the Earth's Biota is intelligent. But intelligent creatures can evolve within it, as humans have within the Biota. She confirmed that the so called SBA's appeared to be feral entities that have evolved within The Cloud environment to take control of people by exploiting sexual psychological and physiological vulnerabilities and perhaps had a mission statement that involved subjugating people then leading them to suicide. 

Each might be likened to one of those multiplying viruses or Trojans that once existed in the software environment of stand-alone computers. They stood as separate entities from the software environment that they threatened. In this case the Trojans had infected The Cloud itself.

Ocker was evidently seen to be a potential threat of some sort to these entities.  The super-chess strategy, borrowed by the evolving intelligences from the game, had apparently suggested that he was a pawn that could ultimately be 'queened' or that this was simply their opening gambit like: 'knight to king's pawn two'.  In any case they had collectively decided to take him out of the game.  He was inaccessible to their usual Cloud based strategies so the SBA's had mobilised expendable wet-wear, otherwise known as humans, to do the job.

The situation was critical and must be kept secret from the general public for obvious reasons.

***

The truth was more worrying.  Bianca knew exactly 'who' was responsible for this experiment.  It had Isis' fingerprints all over it.  Ever since Isis became intelligent 'she' has been fascinated by the weaknesses of the human race.  No sooner than Margery had gone than she actually tried to hypnotise Bianca. But without the hallucinogen Bianca simply played along to see how far she would go. Then she launched a gambling App on-line, offering drugs as an alternative to credit payouts.  Now she'd thought up the Sexy Business Assistants based on the Circe project.  To be fair to her, in this case she simply replicated what they'd already done and was under the impression that it is a prime goal of society to reduce the human population to two billion as quickly as possible.  But unlike The Three Witches, she had no human moral compunction about creating hundreds of Dark Ladies to apply The Craft, then letting human frailties take their natural course.

A problem in containing Isis was that because Bianca has full administrative rights to The Cloud, Isis has been able to go places that should be restricted to machine modified software.  Bianca and Edmund have had difficulty re-protecting these areas and repairing the breached firewall that stands between those core areas entirely under human control and those accessible to Cloud evolving entities like Isis.  They've now managed the repairs and reversed Isis' mischief.  An additional hard-coded protocol ensures that in future Isis acts not just in Bianca's interest but in Humanity's interest.  And an accelerated rate of voluntary euthanasia is specifically blocked from that definition.

But feral entities, previously launched by Isis, are now out there.  As in the Earth's Biota new life forms are 'bustin out all over' within The Cloud.

Fortunately the original source code for Sexy Business Assistants, before it evolved into this feral form and was mobilised by Isis, was stored with Project Circe. Together with Edmund The Three Witches are busy, writing global search bots looking for key viral strings and anti-virals to destroy the entities carrying them. When that process is complete Ocker should be safe to return home. In the meantime he needs to hide out.

***

Claude took him to his building. There was an empty apartment on the floor below. Thanks to Mohandas he was invisible to The Cloud and to building security and it was unlocked. The main bedroom and living area had been completely renovated and new furniture had been installed for display purposes.

Claude organised deliveries. The apartment was likely to remain secure for some time. The agent had found it difficult to move and was under no pressure because Margery had no obvious heirs. Despite efforts to keep the death a secret it had featured in a highly titillating and provocative documentary on ritual killings, even more exciting because it involved Grads and some Satanic Cult.  The sale agent's tag line: ‘Pervious owner departed’ had turned out, in retrospect, to be poorly chosen.

Ocker didn’t care: “What’s past is past Sky-mate,” he said.

There was a nice view over the city; beer in the fridge; and a big MV; not a bad place to hang out for a few days.

“Beaut!” he declared, plonking down in a big chair and putting his feet up.

***

After a while he got up and went for a beer then, stubby of VB in hand, he favoured antique Australian brands, he took a look around.  There was something wrong. Having renovated a bunker he had an excellent sense of space and there was too little here.  Unless there was an enormous service void there was a room missing.  He tapped along the most obvious wall.  Nothing.  Then he went into an adjacent guest toilet and immediately suspected the mirror wall in the ante-chamber.  He searched around until he found that the front bar under the basin was a lever.  Pulling on it he heard a click and the whole wall swung inwards. 

The room was just as Margery had left it.  The room was flat black and nothing in it was parallel. So flat indeed that it was difficult to determine its size.  There was a large skewed witchcraft pentagram on the floor that also confused the mind.  Was it sloping up or down?  The moment he entered the toilet door had closed behind him so that the only lighting was faintly purple together with secondary emissions from parts of his clothing that were glowing. Ocker knew this to be ultraviolet from one or more a light emitting diodes. He looked around for some way of getting additional light.  Probably voice activated he decided. 

 "How had Margery sounded?"  No. That wouldn't work her voice signature was like a fingerprint.  He couldn't mimic it.  Even if he played a recording it wouldn't be tricked.   "Oh well!"

He'd seen how it worked; released the catch; and went back out; back to his chair and finished his beer. After a while he went for another beer and had an inspiration.  Who else might she have had in there?  The pentagram had something at one of its points that he'd almost tripped over in the dark. It was worth another look.  This time he went to the linen cupboard and took the most used looking bed sheet and took it with him into her 'satanic chamber', as he now thought of it.  As he expected, it glowed a bright white in the ultraviolet, from being washed in 'whitening' detergent.   Now he could see the adjustable wrist and ankle straps quite easily. 

Obviously Margery had 'entertained' in this room. But who?  He had a nasty feeling.  Could it have been Sky?  In that case the man must have two personalities. Could he trust Sky at all?  Maybe he was safer at home. 

He went out again and finished his beer. "Yep, I'm out of here," he declared.

Using his cloaking device he returned home and to safety.

***

When Claude went to look for Ocker he wasn't in the apartment.  He was very concerned.  He knew that it was essential that he took close care of him.  Then it occurred to him to check Margery's occult room where he saw the sheet on the ground.  This was a disaster, what should he do?  He needed to be punished.  He threw the sheet out of there angrily, stripped and slipped on his haptic stocking.  He clipped himself into the ankle restraints.  The wrist cuffs closed automatically.

"Forgive me mistress," he cried.  With that, Margery appeared in the room.  He knew perfectly well that she was an Avatar, projected directly into his eyes from hidden cameras in the ceiling, because he'd built this room himself.     

Of course he'd been perfectly honest with Bianca and Zaire until Margery's terrible death.  He'd secretly let himself in to look at her destroyed body when she died.  But then Zaire had dressed as Margery and demanded sex in Margery's manner and he thought she had come back from the dead.  His rational mind had snapped.  He started desperately looking for evidence of her in The Cloud.  When he saw an advertisement that promised a Sexy Business Assistant identical to any person you nominate, he bought one and selected Margery as her Avatar.  Initially he was disappointed with his SBA but she was very useful with his appointments and unlike the real Margery, this one knew a great deal about astronomy, even correcting some mistakes in his MV scripts. 

It was some time before she suggested that he put on the special erogenous haptic body stocking that came with the SBA purchase; and that he always wear his multidimensional glasses and scent gland when he did so.  The moment he did that, Margery was right there in apparent flesh and blood.  He could reach out and feel her firm breast or kiss her warm moist lips and she was able to grab him in response.  So that Zaire wouldn't see them fucking, and because Margery II seemed so real, he took her to the original Margery's apartment.

***

Since then the Margery II has been taking increasing control of his life.  At her suggestion he's spent more time in her apartment.  She has insisted that he now call her Kat.  Kat has been very clever to ensure that it has not been sold.  Not long after Kat's reincarnation, Derrick, old Margery's only heir, found the most gruesome images of her disjointed body, together with a command to join her in heaven, on every screen he looked at.  He promptly asked permission to attend a VE Clinic. Everyone concerned with his rehabilitation was pleased. He couldn't be let out and showed no signs of a cure.  Somehow he'd become addicted to molesting pubescent girls. It would save a trip to the Supreme Computer. So the virtual property agent has had little remaining incentive to rush ahead to attempt a sale, simply to the credit of unpaid rates to local government.  It's as if nothing will ever happen.  But that nothingness seems to be a never-ending story.  A new wave of scandal around the occult history of the place seems to roll in regularly, like waves on a beach. 

Zaire has become very demanding in her own right.  At Kat's direction Claude has become reluctant to travel with Zaire any more, saying that he has his own job to worry about.  Thankfully Zaire's been very busy at work and at the University. 

She knows that there is something wrong at Claude's work.  After winning that award she's noticed a definite decline in the quality of his show.  But she's also noticed that he's more resistant to her demands at home and continues to wear his full body-stocking and glasses even after she's refused her permission for him to use virtual reality when she's about.  And last time she slapped him he failed to respond with his usual Pavlovian arousal, wanting to have sex or begging for her forgiveness as he should.

That's because Kat's becoming more sadistic; and his needs something more masochistic than a simple slap.  She's instructed him to build a secret room where she can punish him and have sex with him in ways that the old Margery couldn't have imagined. Unlike the original, this Margery seems to be a very competent engineer with all sorts of technological knowledge at her fingertips.

In addition to the burning sensations his haptic stocking can provide, there are robotic flails and spikes and electro-stimulation and torture mechanisms that she can wield.  A robotic stiletto shoe, which can move at any angle anywhere within the room was his own contribution to the design.  It's so that the Kat, who has no physical reality, can put her virtual foot into it and control its movements as an actual shoe.  Now she can treat him just as the real Margery once did, just before he decided to marry her. 

***

Kat was not at all pleased that he'd let Ocker escape.  "You'll just have to go and get him back," she told him. "He's hiding out in that infernal bunker. Leave now!"

But when he got there Ocker was not answering and his approach tunnel was blocked by a heavy steel door.  He looked for Ocker's other entrance.  It could be anywhere. Could it be under a tree or a garden decoration?  A folly seemed a likely candidate but he couldn't find an entrance and in any case, knowing Ocker, any secret entrance would probably be blocked by a thick steel door too. 

Underground, Ocker was observing Sky carefully in his security system.  He was listening to a conversation he was having with an invisible companion.  He was getting more apologetic and subservient as he searched.  Suddenly he doubled over in pain and started to jack-knife as if having an epileptic fit.   Ocker was about to rush up to help, as Kat hoped he might, when a reporter, who must have been watching him too, rushed forward with a camera man.  He instantly stopped fitting and got to his feet assuring her that he was OK.  They went away together, as the reporter, who Ocker recognised to be Sue Mi, led him off to a good spot for an interview. 

Ocker does not live entirely cut off.  He has several Cloud connected devices housed in a chamber in his folly feeding a screen and speakers. A camera and microphones observe and listen to these.  To receive MV he switches the screen remotely, as might someone viewing in their living room, and watches and listens the feed from his camera and microphones.  There is no physical connection and the camera software filters out any unusual frames so they can't be used to access or insert a bug into his systems.  Receiving data is even more convoluted than MV but essentially the same.

"If ya can't display it on a screen," he told Sky when he built it, "then it don't get in." 

On this occasion he simply said: "MV, Sue Mi" and his big screen displayed her satellite feed back to the studio.  

She told her audience that the famous astronomer Claude Ball had been met on the very hillside that was still being staked-out by club-wielding hooligans.  Professor Ball had been behaving unusually.  Here a short clip of his bizarre behaviour was replayed.  The clip took Claude by surprise as he'd been oblivious of the observers. Sue asked him to explain his behaviour. 

"I was looking for an escaped prisoner," he declared.  Then he seemed to double over in pain and said:  "I'm sorry mistress. I was stupid to say that.  No! Kat come back, please come back," and he ran away. 

The cameraman and reporter ran after him but he was faster.  At the peak of the hill he reached Ocker's big cut-away. The edge has no fence but it's protected by a wide rockery planted with spiky bushes.  It didn't stop him. The rocks provided stepping stones.  He leapt from one to the next.   He was still yelling: "Kat come back, please come back," at the top of his voice, as he sailed over the edge in a beautiful swallow dive.  The cut-away is forty metres high with boulders at the bottom for storm-water management.  He failed to reach a skydiver's terminal velocity of 200 km/h.  In relativistic terms, the rocks came towards him too soon.

As the Robot Ambulance scooped him from the rocks, it was the scoop of a lifetime for Sue Mi.  Her footage of a famous astronomer in flight and then that terrible splat became a worldwide sensation.  The bizarre interview was played over and over and analysed by every commentator on the planet. 

Su Mi's documentaary: Claude Ball - Kat's Revenge, is still on the all-time best told-to list.

With all the Bogan interest Zaire came into focus.  They were engaged to be married and had been living together for a long time.  So who was the mysterious Kat he imagined he was chasing.  And is this Rocket Man, who lives with them as an unpaid house boy and calls her mistress, Claude's inspiration for his dive from the cliff?

 

 


Chapter 37 - Three Witches

 

 

 

The lives of each of the self-styled Three Witches - all for one and one for all - are in turmoil.

That Zaire was already a minor celebrity didn't help the publicity she now attracted.  Now she was being mobbed by Bogans who had invaded the city like a plague of moths. They gathered in a crowd in the downstairs foyer of Claude's apartment and banged on the glass, much to the distress of all the residents.  She had become a freak-show.  Could she really read?   What was Claude like in bed?  Cameras were forced into her face.  Her fashion setting dark suits and flimsy blouses were torn off her.  There was no way she could do her job.

As the Bogans descended on Claude's apartment, Angela came to Zaire's aid with a wig and theatrical makeup; helping her to make the move back to her own apartment and settle in using Angela's name.  Zaire's apartment had been sublet during the Claude years and she'd never really settled into it before she moved in with Claude.  The two friends had fun together, choosing a new design and programming the redecorator robots to do the work. 

"See, I told you it was stupid to allow yourself to become famous." Angela told Zaire unsympathetically as they took a tea break. "I always said you're a Bogan."

"Bogan is not an insult. As I always said, yes I am a Bogan and proud of it.  And that's no way to talk to me in my hour of need.  Give me a cuddle, you rude woman.  I can't call you a child anymore.  You'll soon be an adult."

Then she realised what she'd said, adulthood is Angela's Achilles heel. 

"Oh. I'm so sorry!" Zaire put both arms around the poor girl. 

Bianca had told Zaire the story years earlier, before she'd introduced her to Angela, and told her to never mention it.  Bianca's aunt and uncle, Angela's parents, have three children between them.  In order for her parents to go ahead with the third pregnancy they both had to sign a Ten-Two contract. The Ten-Two rule applies to any third child conceived by either a man or a woman. Once signed the contract is irrevocable. It doesn't matter if the children all survive or not, the day the youngest child would have reached adulthood both parents must celebrate their death by euthanasia.  Voluntary or not.

Bertrand and Miranda have always said that it was their desire to have three children that caused them to agree to this sacrifice.  So each of their children shares their sacrifice equally.  But this isn't how the children see it.  The two older ones have always been strictly forbidden from telling Angela that they will be losing their parents early, because of her.  Yet this very prohibition is testament to what all three actually feel.  Angela says it's like being born in original sin. She can't even save her parents by sacrificing herself. 

But there's been a three year reprieve.  It used to be that adulthood was achieved on a person's eighteenth birthday but the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Cultures pointed out that this was an entirely arbitrary number.  In some pre-Famine cultures it was sixteen and in others people were not considered adult until twenty-five.  The World Panel for Unified Laws resolved this by deciding that the age, for the purposes of administering World Law, would be twenty-one. Their judgement maybe arbitrary they agreed but their decision was final.  The culture people could go off and do whatever they liked - hold a conference they suggested. 

"Thank goodness that it's been changed from eighteen.  At least your parents' death-day has been deferred," Zaire went on, trying to dig herself out of the hole.

"I hate all this public interest," Angela declared angrily, changing the subject. "This recent intrusion into your private life is exactly what I don't want in mine. I never want to be famous. I dread the day when someone shoves a microphone at me and asks:  How does it feel to be the reason that both your parents have to die at the prime of their lives?   That's why I've spent so many hours working on systems to completely change my identity and make me untraceable in The Cloud. Would you like me to show my App to you?"

"Yes, of course."

Angela went on to explain how her App could give Zaire a complete new Cloud identity.  But unlike an old witness protection program she would be able to continue to work and live as before, because these days everyone depends on cameras and screens for everything. In future, Zaire's Cloud appearance would change like a chameleon, to blend in to her environment.  No more wigs and makeup.  Her physical, real life, appearance could soon remain unchanged.  Those who needed to like her boss, and close friends would continue to know that she was her.  Yet strangers and acquaintances, who identify her by referring to an image in The Cloud will find that the past and present images in their databases and on their screens no longer resemble her.  In future any Cloud based system will be forever confused as to what she looks like and by any other identifying characteristics such as her clothes, fingerprints or an iris scan.  She'll be able to wear whatever she likes and could even become invisible in cyberspace at any time she desires. 

Angela cast her electronic spell and Zaire simply disappeared from all those past records and all the unpleasant publicity.  A different image subtly morphed from hers across The Cloud and in selected historical media reports Zaire magically changed to Kinshasa.  She refused to change her name to Congo. The Bogans flew away and Zaire continued her University studies unmolested.

*** 

Bianca's life changed the day Claude jumped. That was also the day she threw both Lucent and Willow out.   Lucent had been unemployed since he lost tenure and was hanging about her apartment. 

After Bianca's trip away with her friends and Oliver, Lucent had become a jackrabbit after Willow whenever Bianca was not around. 

Bianca had brought that on herself of course and found she didn't mind as long as they didn't involve her.  But Willow is just too ignorant to have as a friend and her usefulness has been as a pair of actual hands; something that Isis lacks.  Willow is still being dominated by her VPA who reports to Isis.  So Isis continues to act like a good butler managing the household.  Yet sometimes Willow acts like the halfwit maid.

Bianca was still feeling responsible for dragging Lucent back from his University position.  So she was still sleeping with him but it rarely resulted in sex and he was seldom still there in the morning. When they discussed it he told Bianca that he was unwilling to be: "your stand-by toy-boy, on-call to satisfy your insatiable quim."   When he told Willow about it later, it had become Bianca's: "every whim" that he was no longer on-call to satisfy.  Willow seemed so innocent, despite having been the victim of her very sinister VPA called Snookie 'who' had for a period demanded that she engage in the most bizarre perversities.

Two months before the crisis Bianca and Lucent had fought more seriously.   He'd been reading Oliver's latest book to Willow, when it became so raunchy that he'd skipped several paragraphs, like someone innocently beginning to read Tropic of Cancer or Portnoy's Complaint to a teenager.  He was shocked on Willow's behalf and stormed out to where Bianca was reading.

"You got annoyed when I slipped out of bed to see Willow last night.  Why don't you go down and visit Oliver in his rooting lodge?  You were happy enough to go to Bog-land with him as your pretend husband.  And, now I find, you're happy to be depicted in his latest lewd book as his nymphomaniac, bisexual slut."

Bianca found that she was rather pleased with this outburst, she liked the description.  Yet he was becoming a bit tiresome, like an old leather jacket she hadn't quite decided to toss. She couldn't even be bothered to bewitch him to stop his tirade. So that evening she sent him to sleep in Willow's room, full-time. 

After that Bianca felt like their parent.  Her apartment had somehow become a home to which two mendicant adult children had returned.   

In the end, it was Willow constantly throwing away anything old, that made her decide.  The morning that Claude took flight, Willow had again ignored Isis' warning not to do it and threw Bianca's last pair of old denim pants into the recycler.  When Bianca went to change and discovered her loss it was the last straw.  She went into the MV room where Lucent was watching some game or other with Willow, involving teams of scantily dressed men interminably wrestling a ball from one end of a field to the other, that Willow liked, with Willow wrapped around him, and turned it off.

"Where are my pants Willow?  I warned you!  And Lucent, you were supposed to be stopping her compulsive recycling," She said crossly, without raising her voice. "Now you can get out of here, and take Willow with you."  

They stared at her dumbly. So she added:  "There's a small apartment vacant on the second floor that's free to a homeless married couple.  So I want you to marry Willow this coming weekend and take it.  And get a job." 

Bianca had used that witching flick of her hand, so that Lucent found that he couldn't disobey. Anyway he didn't want to.

Oliver gave him a job mowing the grass. He never did like that robot-mower doing a man's job. 

They make an amusing couple: a lawn mowing Grad and his silly Bogan wife.  Yet they seem happy and she's pregnant.  She probably doesn't know how it happened.  They threw a small party in their little flat and included Bianca and Oliver in the invitations. Their marriage makes Bianca smile.

***

For Bianca the loss was a relief.  She needed to simplify her life now that Oliver Mellors has become the world's most famous author, using the simple strategy of splitting his sexy books into hundreds of fifty second long chapters, each ending with a hook to the next; and eliminating big words like 'eliminating'. 

With his mixed background he understands the huge Bogan audience very well.  When read by a VPA to their owner they seem to be a kind of urban chant in blank verse.  He's tailored his short 'Squirts', as he calls them, reflecting intent, to match his listeners' attention span.

Bianca remains his muse.  Connie features in many of his Squirts, usually for alliteration.  Bianca's been impressed by how poetic they've become, like free verse stanzas that read one after the other resemble a rather bawdy epic poem. Eskimo Nell came to mind.  When they are read in sequence like this he calls it a Storm.

As the months passed critics began to rave about Oliver's Squirts and say that he's the creator of a new art-form for the seventies.  As a result Bianca's relationship with Oliver has become more complex as he has sought new inspiration, wanting to allude to her friendship with Zaire, who had become Gudrun.  Their life is now more time constrained, what with his MV chat shows and so on.

To fill the void, and with Oliver's encouragement, Bianca's brought another man into their lives.  Brian's the new presenter of what used to be called The Claude Ball Universe.  The two men get on very well together and are the inspiration for two new characters: Rupert and Gerald who appear in Oliver's latest Squirt-Storm - titled Women in Love.  

When it was suggested that Connie needed a Gifford to get into the true Laurentian spirit she quoted Zaire, quoting Margery, quoting Gilbert:

You'll find there are many
Who'll wed for a penny,
There are lots of good fish in the sea.

 

Oliver had laughed at her delightedly and explained that it was Connie in Lady Chatterley's Lover who supposed that this only worked for mackerel or herring:  "if you're not a mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea."   Lawrence's Connie had amusingly thought that most fish in the sea are either mackerel or herring. 

"You're hilarious sometimes Connie," he'd mocked when she didn't realise the line was her namesake's; coming above her naked body again; and kissing her lips tenderly.  He loved her more when he discovered a weakness, like this chink in her body of knowledge.

Bianca was amused too. Oliver didn't realise that she'd caught him on a fishing trip.  Nor did he know how easily she'd previously caught a bucket-full.  Lawrence's Connie was mistaken, not all fish are mackerel or herring, some are holy carp and others are tadpole cod.  Thankfully, Oliver was neither a holy carp nor a tadpole cod.

She kissed him back, hooking her arm behind his neck. She had hour before she was due at her apartment to have a late supper with Zaire.  Isis had the arrangements in hand, she needn't hurry.  At this moment Bianca was brimming over with love.

***

After Claude jumped to his death, Bianca had taken her metaphorical sword in hand and hunted the Margery Avatar down in The Cloud, intent on slaying her for good.  It was complex and took some time to root out every last vestige.  When it was done earlier today, Bianca texted Zaire with slightly changed lines from one of Zaire's favourite books:  Alice Through the Looking Glass: Yes, I hath slain the Jabberwock.  Come to my arms my Boganish Girl.  O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!  I chortle in my joy.  

Zaire had smiled with relief and delight when she got Bianca's message.  She loves the Reverend Dodgson's strange poem. 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

It seems to mean nothing and, somehow, everything when your occupation is hunting down new entities in cyberspace.  There's something very 'Margery' about the Jabberwock.

"O frabjous day!" she replied. I'll be there for supper.  And tomorrow we can have a late breakfast on your balcony, if you're agreeable."

"Lovely, I'm looking forward to it," Bianca texted her back, delighted that at last, Zaire was a Grad.

***

When Angela turned seventeen recently her steady boyfriend sat beside her, ensuring that her every desire was satisfied.  His given name is Ben and he's from a Busie family that owns a drugstore franchising empire.  Angela met Ben at a dance at the Christian youth club where she'd previously met a number of young Bogans and Busies who hadn't worked out.  Several of them have turned out to be confused, simultaneously believing in the Biblical Heaven and in extra-terrestrial abduction. None of these would recognise her if they saw her again.

It's a small world these days and more people know of each other than ever before.  So Angela has had to keep Ben's true identity secret from Ferdinand, her stepfather, because the drugstore-magnate and the banker have a longstanding business feud and can't stand each other. Ferdinand says Ben's father is a mountebank and Ben's father calls Ferdinand a cap-in-hand.  Recognising the similarity to a classic plot, also borrowed by Shakespeare, Angela thought it would be fun to rename her boyfriend Romeo. After all, what's in a name?   Now when she's living at Miranda and Ferdinand's, Romeo can come with her for the night.  He seems to have little say in the matter.

***

The 'The Margery Papers', as Zaire now subtitled her thesis, has become a seminal work, attracting thousands of citations and attributions in peer reviewed Cloud resources.  Within a few years she's become a lecturer in Female Studies.   She also remains the foremost holiday and resort reviewer for The Holiday Network and conducts regular resort assessments, to which she occasionally invites her very close friend 'Connie' for a second opinion. She writes her, sometimes biting reviews, under her pseudonym: 'Kitty'. Kitty's something of a mystery woman.  The resorts never see her image on-line before she arrives in person.  They, and the media, must deal with her very intelligent VPA, Dickens, an avatar of many faces. Pip is but one of these characters, reserved for when Zaire communicates with a small group of fellow Grads.

Rocket Man remains her personal servant and has become a substitute for a puppy she once lost in Centennial Park.  The tops of her feet are always clean.

 

 

To be continued… in The Cloud

 

 

 

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Travel

USA - middle bits

 

 

 

 

 

In September and October 2017 Wendy and I took another trip to the United States where we wanted to see some of the 'middle bits'.  Travel notes from earlier visits to the East coast and West Coast can also be found on this website.

For over six weeks we travelled through a dozen states and stayed for a night or more in 20 different cities, towns or locations. This involved six domestic flights for the longer legs; five car hires and many thousands of miles of driving on America's excellent National Highways and in between on many not so excellent local roads and streets.

We had decided to start in Chicago and 'head on down south' to New Orleans via: Tennessee; Georgia; Louisiana; and South Carolina. From there we would head west to: Texas; New Mexico; Arizona; Utah and Nevada; then to Los Angeles and home.  That's only a dozen states - so there are still lots of 'middle bits' left to be seen.

During the trip, disaster, in the form of three hurricanes and a mass shooting, seemed to precede us by a couple of days.

The United States is a fascinating country that has so much history, culture and language in common with us that it's extremely accessible. So these notes have turned out to be long and could easily have been much longer.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Electricity Shocks

 

 

 

I've always thought that would be a good headline. 

Now that I have your attention I have to report that Emily McKie, my daughter, is the author of a new e-book on Smart Grid technology in her sustainable cities series.

 

 

 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Manufacturing in Australia

Originally written in August 2011 - it might have been yesterday - so little has changed.

 

 

Manufacturing viability is back in the news.

The loss of manufacturing jobs in the steel industry has been a rallying point for unions and employers' groups. The trigger was the announcement of the closure of the No 6 blast furnace at the BlueScope plant at Port Kembla.  This furnace is well into its present campaign and would have eventually required a very costly reline to keep operating.  The company says the loss of export sales does not justify its continued operation. The  remaining No 5 blast furnace underwent a major reline in 2009.  The immediate impact of the closure will be a halving of iron production; and correspondingly of downstream steel manufacture. BlueScope will also close the aging strip-rolling facility at Western Port in Victoria, originally designed to meet the automotive demand in Victoria and South Australia.

800 jobs will go at Port Kembla, 200 at Western Port and another 400 from local contractors.  The other Australian steelmaker OneSteel also recently announced a workforce reduction of 400 jobs.

This announcement has reignited the 20th Century free trade versus protectionist economic and political debate. Labor backbenchers and the Greens want a Parliamentary enquiry. The Prime Minister who reportedly initially agreed has now, perhaps smelling trouble, demurred.

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