Plenty of laws and regulations restrict corporate Alteration, and with good reason. There's always a severe power imbalance between the employer and the employee, and a lot of businesses mandate Alterations for their employees and contractors. Almost as soon as the technology was proven safe, ethical guidelines were drawn up, which quickly became more than mere guidelines as almost every business using Alterations crossed them in some pretty ugly ways. Programs now have to be monitored, sanctioned by a governing body, suggestions carefully worded and approved, methods limited and adapted to suit employees with disabilities and cultural concerns. Workers' advocacy groups pressed for, and got, legal restrictions on how Alteration can be used in most cases: no more than one hour a week, on paid time; a one-hour monitored recovery period following, also paid; and programming limited to morale, focus, and specific details of the job, with anything about working conditions, politics, or life outside work is strictly forbidden.
Suddenly a lot of companies found that it wasn't worth their while to pay employees for two nonproductive hours a week when they weren't able to use those Alterations to make them ignore safety violations, break ranks with the union, or take their work home for a few extra hours of unpaid overtime.
Enter AlterLogic. The subcontracting company Mariana and I worked for. AlterLogic rents or sells Alter technology to other companies and offers contracting services for those businesses that don't want to employ their own on-staff Alterists. Mariana works in customer service, I'm an in-house Alter technician. Wouldn't make much sense for a business like AlterLogic not to have their own people Altered, and not to have their own people doing it.
I got mine done Monday mornings, first thing at eight. Get it over and done with, leave the weekend behind, get ready for a good week's work. Mariana had Thursday afternoons, right after lunch. Always was a good time, but quickly had become the best part of my work week.
The best part of my week outside work had quickly become Friday evenings. We settled into a wonderful routine of dinner, a long walk, conversation, retiring to my apartment for dessert, usually a little more conversation, which tended to morph into a more... intimate form of communication.
Which is what eventually led to the two of us standing in my apartment after dessert, with the recording equipment set up and the portable Alter headset in my hands, for the second week in a row. I didn't know anyone else in town well enough to ask to put them under the visor, and I was worried about asking one of my other co-workers. If my manager found out, I could be disciplined, suspended, taken off technical work, maybe even relieved of duty. I was a tech, I was supposed to stay a tech. I was to leave the Altering to the full-fledged, properly-trained Alterists, just listen to the displays and read the script, and if anything weird happens, get the boss.
Not that it was legal to discipline me for seeking education and advancement on my own time, but they would have found something, some reason to get rid of me. AlterLogic didn't like the idea of training their own competition, and part of the point of the programming that I gave people every week—and that was given to me—was to keep us happy with our present positions. Wouldn't do to have an upstart Alter technician vying for a position above his station, not when they could hire someone with a proven record from outside the company and keep the best technician they had doing tech work.
"You're sure you got rid of last week's recording?" Mariana asked me, hands on her hips.
"Positive," I replied. "Checked it three times on Saturday. Completely wiped."
"Alright," she said. "So we're gonna do the same thing again?"
"Yep. Well, not the same, you're going to sit there, I'm going to put the helmet on you, work up the program, just like last week. But you're not going to start groping yourself this week."
"Gonna tie me up to be sure?" she laughed.
I grinned. "That wouldn't make your arousal drop, Mari. The opposite, I think."
"Oh fuck you," she giggled.
"After we get the recording made, definitely." I planted a kiss on her cute nose. "But right now, digesting that amazing meal, and Altering."
It had been my turn to choose (and pay for) dinner. I knew from experience that a big meal tended to make Mariana more tired than horny; there had been a few special occasions that had been followed up with little more than naked snuggles and falling asleep to a quiet movie. So I hedged my bets, and we went to Chanterelle and had a huge vegetarian plate. It was honestly amazing what a good chef could do with mushrooms. Well, mushrooms and a significant quantity of garlic.
"How're you gonna keep me awake?"
I chuckled, rapping gently on the Alteration helmet. "I don't have to. This will. There's an area of the brain it can stimulate if you start nodding off..." Also, dessert had been chocolate mocha cake, full of caffeine. My mom's recipe (i.e. purchased from the corner grocery).
"Okay, sheesh, sorry I asked!" Mariana laughed and settled into the chair. "Same thing as last week?"
"Yep," I replied, adjusting the focus of the camera. Perfect. "Once everything's ready, I'll hit record and start asking you questions."
I nodded, turning to the laptop. "More math."
"Good, I think," she answered. "It got fun last time. I think."
"You think?" I opened the Alteration program. It was awaiting input, of course; it had no connection to the equipment.
"Yeah, right after I complained about it going too fast, things got all weird and blurry."
"Kind of the idea, Mari." I smiled at her.
"That doesn't usually happen on Thursdays."
"What does happen on Thursday?"
"I sit down in the chair, flash my best smile at the handsomest technician in the place, and wake up an hour later in the recovery room."
"Huh," I answered with a grin. "Jake's been getting your best smiles?"
Mariana grimaced. "If I had something to throw at you..."
"That's why all the sensitive equipment is over here, and you are over there."
"Just put that helmet on me and fuck with my head, would you?"
I laughed again. I couldn't help myself. "Give me a moment to get the recording going, alright?"
"Oh, alright, sure." She dismissed my complaint with a wave of her hand and a little giggle.
"Calmed down yet?"
"Yep." The grin on her face said differently, but I decided to trust her.
We didn't make it past Mari saying her name before we both dissolved into laughter. False start number one.
After a couple minutes and a glass of water, we were ready to try again. We cleared the hurdle of her name with ease, and then the formulaic question of consent passed with a smile and a pause to maintain composure.
And so I continued. "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. Are you comfortable with this?"
Mari hesitated. There was a gleam in her eye.
"Will any of these suggestions involve—" and she broke down, giggling.
And I couldn't help but follow. False start number two.
The third attempt actually saw me slipping the helmet onto her head before her serious look cracked, drawing me down into a chasm of hilarity deeper than I could imagine. I collapsed on top of her, tears streaming down my face, as she held me to her chest, laughing as hard as I was.
When we finally caught our breaths, and I got up to turn off and delete the recording, Mari managed an apology. I shook my head.
"We've both got the giggles," I said, "it's not just you."
"Yeah, I know, but you're trying to get something done here, it's important."
"Meh," I replied with a wave of my hand as the camera reset. "We'll regain sanity in a moment or two, and it'll go just fine." That's the power of suggestion, right there, working even when we're not actually being Altered.
Or at least trying to. Five minutes and two glasses of water each later, we were finally starting to get our heads on straight. Mari excused herself to use the washroom. I got everything back in order.
"Feeling better?" she asked, returning to the living room. "I know I am."
I smirked, but didn't snicker. "Feeling calmer, anyway. Laughing like that's always nice, but you're right, it doesn't get the project finished."
"Sometimes," Mariana said with grace and wisdom as she retook her seat, "it is something that is needed."
"Sometimes it is," I agreed, moving to the camera. "Sometimes it's just a good thing to do."
"Of course," she murmured, wiggling herself into a comfortable posture. "Alright, Svengali, work your magic."
I adjusted the angle of the tripod. "You know Trilby dies in the end, right?" I said, idly.
My brain caught up with my mouth. "Never mind." Definitely didn't need that comparison in her head. Besides, I'd heard her sing, and while she might have resembled Trilby before Svengali's intervention, she was no better when she was Altered. Company karaoke contests were not Mari's forte.
"Sure thing, Lucian. I'm ready when you are."
"Okay. Recording in three, two..." I pressed the big red button and looked up from behind the camera. "Can you state your name, please?"
The corner of Mari's mouth twitched, but she managed to say "I'm Mariana Guadalupe Garcia" without significant trouble.
"Thank you, Mariana, and do you consent to this Alteration, understanding that I'm a student undergoing training?"
Yes, Lucian, I do." The twinkle in her eye was contained.
"In this Alteration, you will be put in a trance, given a few small, simple suggestions, and awakened and tested to see how well the suggestions worked. Are you comfortable with this?"
She nodded. "Of course," she replied.
I picked up the Alter gear from the table. "Let's begin, then." I was careful to arrange myself in a way that the camera could see what I was doing, and in a way that meant that my physical contact with Mari was minimized. Last thing I needed was to tickle her and make her jump, which might set me off laughing again.
"Are you comfortable, Mariana?" I asked, stepping back to admire my handiwork. Everything looked secure and properly fastened.
"I am, yes," she replied.
"Good, thank you. I'm going to attach the leads to the control, now. Are you ready to be Altered?"
I began plugging lines to the collector, again careful not to do anything that might make Mari jump or myself laugh, feeling the tension of that effort. After a moment, I tapped the test button and got the go-ahead green light from the collector, showing everything set up just right. I ran the line from the wire dock to my laptop and took a sip of my water. Mari also had a drink from her glass.
She looked comfortable, which was good. The week before she had been an excellent subject; too good, one could say. I hoped that this week she would prove as good a subject, but without the added complication. Although, a part of me wouldn't have objected too strenuously to that complication happening again. It was definitely fun having a slave, even just for an hour.
I sat down at the table, checking the initial scans. Everything seemed to be in order: adrenaline levels were normal, arousal was normal, everything normal, normal, normal. Perfect.
"Alright, Mariana, 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." Just like last week, just like a dozen times in classes. "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." The words were easy, practiced, familiar. They helped to settle my nerves, even more than hers.
A second check of her scans as she confirmed that she understood showed, again, nothing out of the ordinary. "It doesn't matter 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, sure." Mari smiled for the camera.
"We're going to run a quick test now, 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, and '2' showed up in the field for the answer.
"One," I said.
0.13 s appeared in the delay indicator.
"Perfect," I replied, repeating the test. '3' "Two."
"Five." 0.15 s
"Wonderful, very consistent. And everything seems to be working properly." I triple-checked the scan data, paying close attention to anything that related to sexual arousal. " Just one more test..." I clicked. '2' "Six."
"Eight." 0.16 s
I looked at her vitals. Body heat, pulse, breathing, adrenaline, all up. A tap of the screen brought up the previous weeks' results, and they were comparable. Nothing unusual. Notably, her arousal levels were lower than they had been the week before, well within normal levels, and showing no sign of climbing. Good.
"Testing looks good, Mariana. Are you ready for Alteration to begin?"
A flicker of a grin appeared, marked with a sudden, faint spike in a few numbers on her vitals graph. "Yeah, Lucian, I am."
"The questions will get more difficult as time goes on, and they will come without break. Speed is more important than accuracy, so giving wrong answers is perfectly fine. If you need to stop, just answer 'stop' to one of the questions, and I'll shut the process down and bring you out trance. " The last formality complete, I turned to the computer. "The program will continue when I say the next number."
"Alright, I'm ready."
I clicked and started reciting numbers, receiving replies to the simple math easily in well under a second. Her voice had a floating, airy quality to it, different from the tense, determined, nervous version of Mari I'd been hypnotizing the week before. I took a mental note, kept an eye on her mood, and upped the difficulty.
The double-digit addition changed her tone. Mari was still apparently having fun, but it was more the fun of a mental exercise as opposed to just rattling off easy sums. She started to make a few little mistakes, but she remembered not to just blurt out an angry exclamation as an answer. Her vitals were recording increased focus, some signs of determination and even playfulness, which I hadn't expected to see.
This didn't slow me down at all, of course. I tried to make use of it some; instead of simply jumping to the harder questions, I increased the randomness of the difficulty and set the control to include the more creative, surreal math.
"Thirty-free," I said, reading the screen.
"I, uh, hundred-fourteen?"
1.68 s the response time read.
It was the wrong answer, but it was the right wrong answer, the answer that the helmet was pushing into her mind. Not that there was really a right right answer, when the creative math was involved, but the answer she gave was what was on the laptop screen, which meant that she was following the subliminal instructions. Her brief hesitation suggested that she wasn't quite moving in lock-step with those instructions, not yet.
A couple more normal math questions went by with much less trouble. Mari was definitely having a good time; the smile was evident in her voice, and her happiness was clear on the readout the computer was sending me. It was getting difficult to keep the smile off my own face as some of the wilder questions came up and I was forced to read things like, "Four below awareness," "Half a dream," "The sum of smiles"...
In fact, I was sure that my own mirth was starting to reflect Mari's. Or hers was starting to reflect mine. Didn't really matter, we had a job to do, and we were almost there.
A question of adding four digits to three was followed by nine-plus-clouds, which led into 27 / Are you listening / 27, which she reported with nearly no delay, and with the tiniest, most attractive little giggle.
That giggle caught my attention. One of the things we discussed in the classes I was taking was the deliberate segmenting and partitioning of a mind, using Alteration to lock away bits of the intellect and its processing power, and often the demonstration subject wound up somewhat silly. Airheaded giggling (as our teacher referred to it) was a common sign of this sort of mental division. I'd heard it several times, probably let it out once or twice when I volunteered for demonstration.
That little giggle was anything but 'airheaded.' It almost seemed deliberate, focused and intentional. And anyway, I wasn't making any attempt at slowing down her intellect. It made me pause and check over the computer readouts, ignoring the insistent display telling me the next 'number' to read out.
Measurements had shifted, but nothing seemed too unusual. It could have just been the way she was starting to slip into the trance. Idly, my eyes fixed on the screen, I spoke the words in the box—"down deeper"—and heard her reply, again framed with that little laugh of concentration.
I read off a couple more numbers as I watched those measurements closely. That laugh of Mari's was a little distracting, and I had to keep myself focused. I felt a chuckle touch the edges of my words as I read off the display, but I knew that Mari was too far gone into the programming to pay too much attention to my tone, just hearing my words.
Or was it the other way around? Just hearing the tone, and not the words? Her deep breaths and soft laughter as she said the words "I am listening" over and over again didn't give me any clues. The sound was something like someone exhausted being lightly tickled—not Mari, of course; tickling her usually resulted in loud complaints.
I turned away from the computer to examine my subject, as she muttered another "I am listening" filtered through a light chortle. I couldn't keep a smile from my face, hearing her, seeing the goofy-but-vacant grin and her relaxed, slumped position. Tittering accompanied her sighing exhalation, as she again stumbled over the phrase, "I am listening."
"Good, Mariana," I said, leaning close, a laugh hiding behind my words, "breathe nice and even and watch the patterns, listen to the sounds on the headset..."
"I am... heh... li-hi-stening..."
God, that was adorable. I glanced back at the laptop; the readings there were oddly mixed. It was clear from her reactions and her brain-wave scans that Mari was not just in a trance, but deep in a trance, but a lot of her other readings were quite elevated. Nothing concerning at all, but unexpected.
"Hehe... I... mmmm... lissssning..."
Again, I tried, and failed, to remember if this sort of reaction was normal for Mari. I hypnotized the woman weekly, but none of that kind of information ever stuck with me when I wasn't at work. The absurdity of it made me laugh, which might have prompted Mari's flurry of giggles in reply.
She sounded drunk. She wasn't, very clearly, but she sounded it.
"Doing so well, Mari," I said, turning back to my entranced subject. "Just let yourself settle, relax..."
"'mmm... lisssssnnnn..." she let out a noise that sounded like a soft moan if I'd been jiggling her belly while she voiced it.
She was out. Still laughing, but that laughter was so relaxed that it sounded strange and distorted, like an ancient audio-tape being mechanically slowed. I snorted. This recording would be hilarious for us to watch together. That thought made me let out a short laugh, myself.
And it wasn't possible, of course—I was sure she was too far gone to be paying much attention to me, or really to anything but the information being fed directly to her mind—but it seemed as if Mari's laughter was growing in response to my mood.
Or maybe, as she slurred out another "mmmmmlllsssssnnnnnnn" and another series of chuckles, there was something else going on. My attempts at patter carried my own amusement for a moment, but then were cut short as I noticed her hands, her fingers.
They were curled, gripping the arms of the chair tightly, as she let out a shuddering burst of air. The laptop pinged at me. I turned to see what the alert was as Mari took a deep and shaky breath. Her voice wavered as she let out another mumble of syllables masked by the rasp of choked giggles.
There was no danger, which made me breathe a sigh of relief. She wasn't in any physical, mental, or emotional distress. Just the opposite, actually; the rising physical tension in her body was matched by rising indicators in endorphins, neurological activity, heart rate, concentration...
Mari was automatically repeating herself, or at least she was trying, but the words had long since stopped making sense as she slipped deeper. The 'n' sound turned into a long, slow expulsion of air, broken by gulps of breath rather than by laughter. I turned back and watched as her grip tightened further on the arms of the chair, her legs twitched, and her half-lidded eyes fluttered.
While it must have felt amazing, I have to admit it was the least sexy orgasm I'd ever witnessed.
I turned back to the laptop and told the program to start waking my subject. This would be another recording I just couldn't use. I watched Mari's readings slip a little lower, confirming that the magnetic pulses were re-activating her mind, before turning back to see her body relaxing, slumping deeper into the soft chair with a heavy sigh. A smile played around the edges of her lips, and her unfocused and bleary eyes found mine.
"Mlissenn," she muttered.
"You are," I said to her, holding her gaze. "And you're starting to wake up, Mari. The buzzing in your ear and the pretty patterns on the visor are combining with the movements of the magnets in the helmet to bring you up, slowly, easily, out of the trance."
"So just breathe deep, and start to come back, Mari." I leaned closer. "Just watch here, let your eyes clear, let your mind clear. Breathe. In and out."
"That's right. In and out, letting the trance fade away until you're nice and awake, nice and aware, smiling and happy and..."
"I am listening."
"... and no longer repeating words mindlessly, just smiling and cheerful and being yourself."
"Yeah, I'm good, Lucian, thanks." Mari smiled wide and stretched. "Oof, I'm stiff. What, did you have me jog around the block or something?"
"Ah." I leaned back in my chair. "About that. Here, just let me get things finished." I turned back to the computer and started the shutdown procedures.
I heard Mari shuffling in her seat. "Are... are we going to use this recording?" She sounded a touch embarrassed.
"Likely not," I replied, turning back as the Alter gear deactivated, getting to my feet to help Mari take the headset off. "Why?"
"Because I think I peed myself," she answered. "Did you tell me to—?"
"No!" I cut her off. "And you... well, you didn't, not really. Kind of?"
She blinked. "Lucian." That tone said, Tell me everything, or you're going to wake up tomorrow with at least one black eye.
I blushed. Not really sure why I did. "You... you came."
Her eyes bugged out. "I what?"
"You came. You orgasmed."
"Heard you the first time," she said.
Despite myself, I laughed. It was a relief. After a moment, Mari laughed too, a soft, relaxed chuckled, followed by her flushing and squirming a bit.
"Uh," she said, fanning herself a little, "Any idea why I... it's not like you told me..."
"No, I didn't tell you to do that, either."
"So then why..."
I shrugged. "Near as I can figure, it was association with the little repetition built in to the program. You kept saying 'I am listening,' it reminded you of last week, and..."
"So... wait, am I your slave again?" She sounded a mix of skeptical and hopeful.
I reached out and squeezed her breast. Her eyebrows rose.
She shook her head.
"Not my slave, then."
"Well, that's a relief," she said, with a tone that suggested that she may have thought otherwise. "What if I say it?"
"You know. 'I am listening.'" She let out a giggle which ended with a small moan.
I smiled. "Take off your shirt."
She replied with a broad grin. "Nope!" She laughed. "Not your slave." She rubbed her thighs together.
It was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. "Say it again anyway, Mari."
"You've got that 'I just solved the problem and I'm feeling really clever' look, Lucian," she said, but still, she took a breath and said, "I am listening." She snickered a bit, then sighed happily.
"Oh, because I did just solve the problem," I answered her, "and I am feeling really clever, Mari. Say it again."
"You just like hearing it."
"Not just that, Mari. Indulge me." I helped her to her feet.
"Alright." She shrugged her shoulders, grinning. "I am listening." She gave a short bark of a laugh which ended with a shiver.
I laughed with her. "We've crossed a couple wires again," I said as she stretched her arms up over her head and rode up on her toes. I heard a couple joints pop.
"Alright, wise guy, what's up?"
"Well, that little phrase makes you laugh. You might have noticed."
She raised her eyebrow again. "I didn't. You mean I laugh any time I say, 'I am lis...'" She couldn't even finish the phrase before letting out a snort. Her hands twitched, and she went a shade deeper. "Okay, fine, so it makes me laugh. So connect the dots for me, smart guy, why did I come so hard I soaked myself?"
"The laughter," I said smugly. "I've been watching you since you came out of it. When you laugh, you get turned on. If I told a joke right now, you'd jump me."
"If you told a joke?" She gave a derisive 'Hah!' and a small moan. Her eyes went wild. "Oh God, you're right, Lucian."
"Which means..." I was standing very close to her, so reaching her was easy. Normally when I tickled Mari, it was by accident, and the response was an immediate attempt to slap my hand away, with a 'stop,' or 'don't.' At that moment, though, as my fingers played on her ribs, her response was to giggle, moan, and press closer.
So I dug in a little harder. And she wiggled, and gasped, and laughed. She even said 'stop,' and 'don't,' like I expected, just not in that order. And she said them repeatedly. So after about the tenth "don't stop don't stop don't stop!!" I ducked in and started nibbling lightly on her neck, working to make her laugh any way I could.
From there, she wound up in an escalating loop, caught between helpless laughter and growing arousal. My hands slipped under her shirt and found her belly, and she giggled and gasped. I slid a finger into the crevice of her neck, and her laughs turned quickly to needy groans. I went for the dreaded knee-pit, and she threw her hands around my neck and wrestled me to the ground, guffawing and moaning and begging, begging for more, until her screams of laughter turned to screams of a different sort and her writhing turned to clutching and arching and twitching...
Twice that night I'd made Mari cum, and neither of us had removed a stitch of clothing.
She let out a long string of sighs, chuckles, and half-begun words before turning her head to face me. "I am... conflicted..." she said with a grin.
She let out a puff of air. "The lovely dinner... the fine dessert... all this fun... part of me wants to just... rip your pants off..."
She let out a little storm of titters and gasps. I waited patiently, although between what she had said and what she was doing it was a challenge.
She managed to reclaim her self-control after a moment. "... but I think... I'm just... too tired..."
I nodded, a little disappointed, but a lot sympathetic. I wasn't in much shape to carry on myself. "How about," I suggested, gently brushing her hair, "I help you out of those clothes, march you to bed, and we just curl up together a while and see what happens?"
She smiled at me. "Sounds... sounds great..."
"Maybe we can watch the recording later," I suggested. "I can't use it, but it's..."
"Don't say it..."
I grinned. "Great for a laugh."
She groaned. "If I wasn't so exhausted... I'd... smother you with a pillow..."