"Got everything you need?" Mariana asked me.
I looked at the table. Glass of water if I got thirsty. Video camera to record. Laptop computer, headset, portable keyboard.
"Yeah, I'm ready. Are you?"
"Fuuuck no," she said with a grin. "But we gotta do it if you're gonna pass your class, right?"
And I wanted to pass. Oh man, did I want to pass, to get certified, to get the hell out of the 9-to-5 trap and start working for myself.
Mariana was content in her life. She'd bought in to the company line, went for her weeklies like clockwork, and was more than happy to be a good little soldier for the firm.
I should know. I'm the one that implanted the slogans. I watched her recite them, every week, with perhaps a little more than just professional interest. So I asked her out one Thursday after escorting her to the break room, just for a friendly meal. We met for dinner the next night. And the night after. And just like that we went from work-friends who occasionally met on our coffee breaks and saw each other professionally once a week, as we had for three years, to social friends who met outside of work hours, and I immediately got to see a completely different side of the Mariana I had barely got to know over those three years.
Most people have opinions about work that they won't express on the job. Mariana had a whole different person she didn't express on the job. Sweet, gentle, even-tempered, soft-spoken phone-Mariana seemed to be left behind, and the real-life-Mariana that emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis was sharp, loud, quick to joke and quick to react, with a flashing temper that she could seemingly turn on and off at will.
I knew, from my job and from my studies, that Mariana was just showing me two different sides of the same being; all the things that attracted me to her, the sympathy, the openness, the genuine quality of her character, all of it, were still there. Those parts of her that the Alterations suppressed weren't overwritten, but just held back in elastic tension, snapping free with wild abandon the moment that they were released.
Mariana settled into the armchair as I set up the camera. "We could use that later," she said, a bit nervously. "Never seen myself... you know." She winked. She tended to get flirty to cover nerves. It was delightful.
I picked up the headset. A solid plastic shell, like a bicycle helmet, complete with chin straps, with a clear printed-plastic visor on the front and a host of wires leading to, from, and through the device. The electronics and the magnets inside made it heavier than standard protective gear. I would have rather used a monitor screen for the visuals, but the instructor wanted us all to use standardized equipment first, before moving on to more creative means, and I could understand that. Bits of tech like the headset on the kitchen table were common, even widespread—custom gear, while more effective and more suited to an Alterist's personal style, was more expensive, and more variable in its effectiveness.
"What if it doesn't work?" Mariana asked, finally allowing a touch of her nervousness to shine through.
"I have two months to get one successful session on camera, Mari." I smiled. "If it doesn't work, we have next week, and the week after..."
"Oh well, that's something of a relief, anyway." She leaned forward and offered her head.
"Just wait a sec, Mari, I have to record right from the beginning." I turned on the camera. "Can you give your name please?"
"Oh! uh, I'm Mariana Guadalupe Garcia." Instantly all business.
"Thank you, Mariana," I said, stepping out beside the camera. "And do you consent to this Alteration, understanding that I'm a student undergoing training?" Felt silly saying it, given that I was about ten years older than most of my classmates, and a good six or seven older than Mari, and I'd been working in the Alterations department for nearly a decade.
"Wonderful. In this Alteration, you will be put in a trance, given a few small, simple suggestions, and awakened and tested to see how the suggestions took." I used the formal speech I had been given to cover my own nerves. "Are you comfortable with this?"
She bit her lip. "I am." It was nice to know that I wasn't the only person in the room a little on edge.
I came forward with the helmet, trying to angle my body so the camera could see my technique. It wasn't good, exactly; I had only practiced putting the headset on myself, and the gear we worked with at AlterLogic was proprietary—the details rather inconveniently erased themselves from my memory any time I walked out the main doors—and probably didn't use such simple equipment anyway. After a couple minutes of fumbling about with the straps, I had managed to get everything into position.
There was something decidedly silly about the standard gear, the white plastic dome and clear visor, and the contrast of that with Mariana's blue-tinted black ponytail and dark skin only served to accent that strangeness. I suppressed a laugh. This was supposed to be serious business.
"Are you comfortable, Mariana?" I asked, both out of genuine concern and because it was the next question I was supposed to ask her.
"I am, Lucian."
"Phew. Okay. Good." I allowed myself a smile, and she gave me one in return. "I'm going to attach the leads to the control, now. Are you ready to be Altered?" I started plugging the input and output lines to the collector, which had a single long cable that would connect to the laptop. It was an action that brought us physically very close together, and I could feel the warmth of her body and the heat of her breath as I worked.
"Yes, Lucian," she answered after a moment. I didn't notice the hesitation, I was too busy making sure everything was properly plugged in.
I tapped a button on the collector, and it responded with a green light. Everything was hooked up where it should be. I put the heavy wire dock on the back of the chair and ran the line down behind it and towards my workstation on the kitchen table. I was off camera, and if all went according to plan, would stay that way until after everything was done.
I took a sip of my water. "Alright, Mariana," I said, "you're going to see a number appearing on the visor screen. At the same time, I'm going to recite a number. Your job is to add the two together as quickly as possible." I started the first scans. "You might hear some soft noises in the headset, or feel the warmth of the electromagnets in the top of the helmet, or see little flashes on the visor. These are perfectly normal."
I looked over her scans. High levels of adrenaline, but not out of the ordinary for a nervous subject. I tried to remember if that was normal for her at work, but my memories of confidential employee information like that simply couldn’t be accessed when I wasn't on the job.
Her sexual arousal levels were up, too, but we had just been in very close contact. I figured they would come down when she was under.
"It doesn't matter," I continued, "whether you get the answer right or wrong. In fact, there will be some questions which will be very difficult, even impossible, to answer. Just take your best guess and we'll move on."
"Right! I can do that."
There were several options for Alterations programming, but this was my favorite. The computer would be showing me four important details, aside from her vital statistics: what it was showing her, what I should say, the proper answer to the question, and the delay between my statement and hers.
"We're going to run a quick test now." I don't think AlterLogic uses this system, but again, most of the proprietary information left my brain that afternoon once I left the building. The programmers would know for sure. "Just to make sure everything is understood." I clicked the 'test' button. The number '1' popped up in the first field, and the word 'one' in the second; that's how it would display, a number for her to see, a word for me to read. '2' showed up in the field for the answer.
"One," I said.
"Two," she answered instantly.
0.15 s appeared in the delay indicator.
"Perfect," I replied, clicking the 'test' again. '3' "Two."
"Five." 0.16 s
"Great. Very consistent. Everything seems to be working properly. One more test, just to be sure..." I clicked. '2' "Six."
"Eight." 0.18 s
I did a quick check of her vitals. Body heat was up a bit, normal. Pulse and breathing up, normal. Adrenaline up, still normal.
Arousal. Hm. Maybe because of my voice? Or something in my tone? I decided to ignore it. "Are you ready for the real thing?" I asked, a little off-script, and more for myself than for her. Of course, the real thing had already begun, her mind was being scanned, her impulses measured and targeted.
"Sure, if it's like that, it's easy enough." She sounded normal. I mentally shrugged, turning to the laptop.
"I'll remind you that the questions will get more difficult, and they will come without break. If you need to stop, simply answer 'stop' to one of the questions, and I will shut the process down and bring you out of the trance." I wouldn't actually have to shut the process down, myself; if the system detected any serious issues, or she actually used the word 'stop,' I would be in the passenger's seat as the automated safety routines took over. In fact, were that to happen, I would step away from the console and stand beside her, and help her come up. Let the program take care of the program, and the human take care of the human, my instructor was fond of saying, along with, Even where computers fail, conversation can still succeed.
"Okay, sounds good," Mariana replied. "I'm ready."
"Speed is more important here than accuracy. If you give the wrong answer, just let it go." I took a deep breath. My hand was shaking. Still, I moved the pointer to the 'start' button. "The process will continue the moment I say the first number." My voice wasn't shaking, and she probably couldn't see my hand, so for all she knew I felt great.
The first numbers appeared. 4 | Four | 8 "Four," I said."
"Eight," she answered. 0.18 s
3 | Nine | 12 "Nine."
"Twelve." 0.19 s
7 | One | 8 "One."
"Eight." 0.14 s
Single digit numbers continued a while, as they had to. I was keeping one eye on her vitals—my reaction time to things appearing was decidedly slower than hers—but everything looked to be processing normally, everything except that slightly elevated arousal reading. Still well within acceptable parameters, and it should have normalized fairly quickly.
When I judged she was slipping into a comfortable groove, I clicked the control to raise the difficulty of the mathematics.
27 | thirteen | 40 "Thirteen" The double-digit numbers had begun.
"Uh, forty." 0.60 s
Pulse and breathing rate spiked a bit as we got to harder math, and reaction time slowed. It's what happened to me, too, when the instructor demonstrated it.
18 | twenty-nine | 47 "Twenty-nine."
"Ahh... d'er forty-seven!" 0.92 s
It happened to everyone. The math wasn't designed to be easy.
34 | fifty-seven | 91 "Fifty-seven." I kept my voice even and calm.
"Oh, shit, uh..." 0.76 s
I grinned. That was always a fun moment. The display gave us the next question.
17 | forty-one | 58 "Forty-one."
"Wait! what, no..." 0.54 s
33 | twenty-eight | 61 "Twenty-eight."
"Lucian! It's going too..." 0.46 s "... fast!"
I ignored her, as I'd been taught, and watched as her vitals spiked: signs of frustration, mild upset, and increased focus. She wasn't going to let this program beat her. Perfect.
43 | eighteen | 61 "Eighteen."
"Seventy-one." 0.51 s
The wrong answer, of course, but there was no feedback to tell her that, and the program and I didn't care. The point was to give an answer, not the right answer. She showed signs of mental celebration, having triumphed over the challenge. I quickly clicked a control, changing the difficulty.
12 | thirteen | 25 "Thirteen." I sent her a couple softballs, now.
"Twenty-five." 0.40 s
27 | eleven | 38 "Eleven." They were there to reinforce that triumph.
"Thirty-eight." 0.45 s
46 | fifteen | 61 "Fifteen." Make sure she was still feeling good, which she was.
"Sixty-one." 0.62 s
She was back in her groove, settling in nice. All the vitals looking good. "Twenty-four," I said.
"Ninety-three," she replied. 0.81 s the display showed.
I was starting to feel the groove myself. I kept one eye on her vitals and one on my script. "Seventeen."
"Forty-two." Wrong answer, but still delivered fast. 0.55 s
Wouldn't be too long before we stepped things up. I hovered the pointer over "Advance program" but didn't click. "Sixty-two."
"Ei—no, ninety one." 1.02 s
Subliminals were whispering in her ears, lightly, and almost undetectably fast flashes of color accompanied each new number. "Eighty-seven."
"Hundred-twenty-two." 1.17 s
I clicked. That meant this was the last two-digit question before things got really hairy. "Seventy-seven."
"Hundred-thirty-five." 1.09 s
I had to concentrate. The system would know and adjust if I made a mistake, but it was better to stick to the numbers given. 104 | two hundred fifty-nine | 363 "Two hundred fifty-nine."
Mariana remained silent, remembering what happened last time she spoke out of turn. "Three hundred sixty-three." 4.59 s
Not unusual. There was the spike in stress and adrenaline again. All normal.
The arousal, though; it was still high. "Three hundred twelve."
While she was thinking, I quickly activated an inquiry and trace function to check into that heightened sexual excitement. It wasn't outside of normal parameters, but it just wouldn't relent.
"Five-sixty-two," Mariana answered. 4.14 s
She was starting to relax again, finding that groove. Still, needed her to be going faster. "Four hundred nineteen." I made a couple quick adjustments, trying to bring her focus in line, trying to calm down her inhibition against wrong answers. Got to find the flow again.
"Six-sixty-two." 3.25 s
That was better. I pressed more in that direction. "Three hundred twenty-nine."
"Five-fifty-five." 2.96 s
Wrong. Good. I could start to get past that worry about having the right answer. "Two hundred seventy-blue." That's what it said on the screen.
"Five-fifty-five." 1.75 s
The subliminals in her ears would start giving her the answers, now. The wrong answers. They started to appear on my screen. 136 | seven-hundred-twelve | 615, clearly some bad math there, but I would know if the subliminals were reaching her brain. "Seven hundred twelve."
"Six-fifteen." 1.52 s
Good. I chanced a look at her. She had relaxed into the chair, but the look on her face was one of intense, careful focus. "Two hundred nineteen."
"Three hundred three," she replied immediately, incorrectly, her voice starting to lose its color. I looked back at the lapotop. 0.94s
"Five hundred sixty-sleep."
"Seventeen." 0.54 s
It matched the output. I could say anything I wanted, now, and the subliminals would give her the answer. In fact, the laptop display offered up, 769 | five hundred thirteen | I am listening, so... "Five hundred thirteen."
"I am listening." 0.86 s
I glanced over and back. "Two hundred seventy-four."
"I am listening." 0.86 s
Everything was settling into that groove again, and then some. "The square root of interference."
"I am listening." 0.86 s
The display was now flickering excitedly, not waiting for me to say anything. And with every deep breath she took, the words "I am listening" passed softly from her lips. I let the process continue for three breaths as I drained the glass of water, before turning to face her directly, still sat in my chair.
"I am listening," she said, unprompted—or, at least, unprompted by me.
"Good, Mariana, just breathe nice and even and watch the patterns, listen to the sounds on the—"
The laptop made a ping.
"I am listening," Mariana said, apparently not noticing.
I looked over. The trace I'd put on her arousal levels was sending a warning. Nowhere near anything dangerous, but her levels had risen. She was deep, deep in trance, and her arousal was going in exactly the wrong direction. At the present rate, it would be an hour before we were even close to anything physically or emotionally concerning happening, but it was important to pay attention.
"I am listening."
I imagined, I think, some heat in her voice. I turned back to my subject. She was flushed, shifting in her seat some, still staring and focused. Her breathing was a touch shaky.
And her left hand was slowly, agonizingly slowly, squeezing her right breast.
Looks like I wouldn't be using this recording.
"I am listening."
No mistaking that hitch in her voice there. I turned back to the laptop and requested a gentle wake cycle.
"I am listening."
I stood up and stepped over to stand beside Mariana. "I'm bringing you out of the trance, Mari. Just breathe nice and even." I put my hand on hers, on the one that wasn't busy. "I'm here, just take nice, slow breaths, and wake, nice and easy."
"I am listening."
"Good, Mari. So good. Just breathe, and listen, and let the program do its work, stimulating and waking your mind and body."
"I am listening." More life in that voice. And more energy in the hand clutching her breast.
I was a bit at a loss for words. "Ah... g-good, Mari. Just keep... keep listening, keep breathing, keep coming up, back up, and awake."
"I'm awake, Lucian," she said. Her hand hadn't stopped working at her chest. "Can we get this thing off me?"
"Y-yes, of course!" I said, undoing the straps and putting the helmet on the arm of the chair. As soon as it was safe there, before I could say another word, Mariana was on her feet, wrapping her arms around me, pressing her mouth to mine. Surprised, I froze up.
She moaned into the kiss, and I weakened, my frozen resolve melting within seconds. I placed my hand on her chest, where her own had just been. She gasped. "I am listening," she said. She blinked. "What the..."
I quickly realized the connection, and squeezed her breast again. "I am listening," she monotoned, looking a little surprised.
Again I squeezed.
Again she repeated.
"Take off your jeans," I said, giving her a squeeze.
"I am listening," she said, undoing the fly button and pushing her pants down.
"Isn't this interesting."
"Isn't what interesting, Lucian?" she growled. She was deeply flushed.
"Looks like," I said, "we've made a mistaken connection."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that when I do this..."
"I am listening. Hey!"
"... you do that."
She stepped back, out of her pants. "So what does that mean?"
"Well," I said, "it seems that this Alteration program has accidentally made you something of a... er..."
"Of a..." I shrugged, "slave."
She gave me a look of disbelief.
"Don't move," I said, reaching out and squeezing her breast.
"I am listening." Her scowl froze on her face, and the rest of her stayed put.
"You see, sweetie? When you started touching yourself, you made a connection between your right breast, and the statement..."
"I am listening."
"So you see the situation I'm in, Mari? You weren't especially deep, so this'll probably only last, oh, half an hour or so. But for that half hour..."
"I am listening."
"Yes, you are, darling." I chuckled. "If this was a professional situation, this would be unethical as fuck, you realize."
She said nothing, remained still. But her color grew darker, and I could see wetness blooming on her white panties.
"So... do you like this? Answer me truthfully, Mari." I gave a squeeze.
"I am listening. Yes, oh yes, Lucian."
"Best make the most of it while I can, then." I grinned, caressed her breast, and said, "Strip for me."
"I am listening," she said, breathlessly. She gripped the bottom of her long grey shirt and quickly pulled it over her head. She hadn't worn a bra for the Alterations ("I want to be comfortable for this"), so I was treated immediately to the view of her gorgeous bare chest, her sensuous and curvy body. While I was drinking that in, she slipped her panties off and stood, naked and beautiful. Like most Fridays.
But this wasn't like most Fridays.
"May I...?" I left the question hanging.
She practically thrust her small, pert breast into my hand. "Please. I never thought..." She shook her head.
"You never thought what?" I gave an obliging grope.
"I am listening." She shivered. "I never thought that this sort of programming could be so much fun."
I raised an eyebrow.
She blushed. "I mean, you do this to me every week, and it's not like this."
"I don't do this to you every week. Or wait, did you mean enslave you, or get you naked?"
"Alter me, you dork," she laughed.
I shook my head. "Context matters so much. So, so, so much. This isn't the same as work at all."
"Okay, so I don't have to worry that next Thursday, I'm going to be the slave of anyone that gropes me?"
"Nope." I gave her boob a squeeze. "This is a one time thing."
"I am listening," she said.
"Just a weird little reaction. These things happen. Hell, we could probably write a paper..." I paused. I looked over at the video camera. Mariana followed my gaze. "... shit," I finished lamely.
She went a deep red, down to her collarbone. "I think I have to destroy that memory card. In a fire. And scatter the ashes from a low-flying plane, just in case."
"I think I'll just..." I stepped back to the camera and stopped the recording. "And while I'm thinking about it, we'll just..." I accessed the camera's menu.
Perhaps subconsciously, Mariana's hands crossed her right arm across her chest, and her left hand dangled down in front of her crotch.
"There." I pushed the button to reformat the memory card. "Done. No one will ever see that."
"What about your project?"
"We'll get a better recording next week," I said, stepping back towards her. "Now, I have a beautiful woman here, enslaved, naked, having fun, and clearly aroused. And what should I do with her?"
She smirked, relaxing her stance, pushing her chest out. "You should tell her to do something for you."
I reached for her. "Undress me, Mari."
"I am listening." Her hands were reaching for my waist almost immediately. As she loosened my belt, she grinned sardonically. "Seriously? That's it? Total control and you're just like, 'get me naked.'"
She pulled my pants and boxers down, snickering. As she reached for my shirt, I reached for her chest.
"On your knees. Blow me."
"I am listening." She dropped to her knees, her hand stroking my already-hard cock. "That's more like it," she laughed, before licking around the head.
Mariana was not usually enthusiastic about blow jobs—once in a while, a little bit of one as foreplay; rarer still would she take me to completion, on days where she was feeling energetic and playful but didn't want me between her legs—but at that moment it felt like she wanted nothing more than to suck me until I came. Her hands gripped my hips, as my hands pressed down on the kitchen table to try to keep me upright. I thrust gently into her mouth, both of us moaning.
My knees started to get weak; it was time to move. Last thing I needed was one of us (probably me) crashing into the camera or the laptop. I slipped out of Mariana's mouth, turned quickly as she reached for me, and groped her breast. "Stand up."
She got to her feet. "I am listening." She managed to look mildly disappointed, wildly anticipatory, vaguely spaced-out, and incredibly sexy all at once.
I gave her another squeeze. "Time to go to the bedroom."
"I am listening," she gasped, turning on her heel. Before she walked out of the room, she turned back, putting her hands on her hips, giving me a great view. "I hope you'll be joining me."
I whipped my shirt off in response. "I'll be right there."
Mariana smirked. "I am listening," she winked, heading back down the hall.
"So am I," I muttered, catching my breath and following after her.