"Afraid it's just not going to be as exciting as last week," I said, opening the laptop up. "No more math."
"Aww, no more math?" Mari whined. "But the math was the best part!"
"Oh, the math was the best part, and not being my devoted slave, or laughing yourself to orgasm. Right. I see." I put on my best I don't believe you tone.
"Oh, shut it," she replied with an eyeroll. "You don't have to joke anymore. That wore off last week."
It had worn off overnight, actually. Saturday morning, a finger run down Mari's bare side had resulted in a slapped hand. A finger run across her bare breast, though, had a much more desirable outcome, once we had both had a good night's sleep. In fact, that outcome continued through much of the day, right through lunch and dinner and into the evening, when we had to part company.
"'Course it did," I said, turning in my chair to fiddle with the camera. "It wasn't even supposed to happen in the first place. It was a superficial connection."
"'A superficial connection'? You took me to bed and told bad knock-knock jokes until I came. How is that superficial?"
Thank you, Dave's Online Repository of Lame Laughs.
"And anyway," Mari continued, "I have to say, I kind of liked it."
I gave a wry smile. "'I laughed until I came' would be an amazing review for pretty much any comedy show."
She rolled her eyes again. "More appropriate for a lot of porn, I think."
"Most porn isn't really all that funny," I said, "no matter how clever the makers think they are."
"Ooh, shots fired. Since when are you a connoisseur of the erotic arts, anyway?"
I shrugged. "I don't spend all my time with you, you know."
"Oh, so last Tuesday you just—"
"Thought about squeezing your tit and hearing you say—"
"I am listening," we said together, with a laugh.
Mari hummed with satisfaction. "How was I?"
"In my dreams? Perfect, in every way."
"That's a lot to live up to," she purred, batting her eyelashes at me.
"And yet you do an amazing job of it." I stepped closer to her, taking her hand in mine.
"Question for the sexy hypnotist." Her voice was breathy, alluring.
My eyebrows rose. "Yes?"
"Are we going to do the hypno-thing, or are we just gonna fuck?"
I hesitated. There were several more weeks of class, lots of time to get the project done properly.
"Oh Christ, you're thinking it over." Her tone snapped with its usual, familiar bite. I earned a third eyeroll as she slapped my hand good-naturedly. "Just get the helmet on me, idiot. You can fuck me when it's done."
"Like I can resist you?" She winked at me.
"I am listening," I said with a wink right back.
Mari laughed. "You fuckin' well better be. Now get on with it."
I opened the case and got the equipment ready. Mari settled into the chair.
"If it's not math, then what is it?" she asked me.
I tried to look mysterious. "You'll find out soon enough." I dropped the act almost immediately under the force of a withering glare. "I'll explain it when it happens. When it's happening. As I..."
"Right. Got it. You'll tell me what you're doing while you do it."
"Standard procedure." I think, I added to myself. It was standard for me, sure, and it was encouraged in my classes, but I wasn't about to tell her that it might not be basic industry practice.
"You know, most guys just surprise me with flowers. You surprise me with hypnotherapy."
"Most guys aren't studying to do this for a living," I replied. "Also, most guys don't get to see you every Friday."
"Most guys are more thankful when they do see me," Mari said, wearing a flirtatious grin.
"Didn't I show you how thankful I was earlier?"
"Mmm, yes, you did," she answered, sinking a little further into the chair. Apparently, she'd had a rough day at work, so after our nice, light meal, we had retired to the bedroom where I gave her a slow, deep massage that had ended with some light kissing and sightly more intimate touch. Not wanting to get too involved before trying this week's Alteration, we restrained ourselves to cuddling and heavy petting.
We tried to restrain ourselves to that, anyway. Despite our best efforts, one of us wound up with my hand down her underwear. I was about seventy percent sure I heard her mutter 'I am listening' under her breath at least once as I did my work, but I wasn't about to question Mari's fantasy life, certainly not at that moment.
"Maybe," she continued as I took a moment to reflect on all that her previous response conjured up, "I need to show you how thankful I—"
"Let's start the recording before we lose the light," I cut in with the lamest excuse I could think of. The sun had long since set, and natural light was hardly a feature of my apartment.
Mari blew me a kiss, telling me just how believable she thought my explanation—that is, not at all. I tried to ignore the meaning and the sentiment behind the act and focus on the task at hand.
At that point, the formalities of starting the recording and preparing the subject for hypnosis felt practiced and comfortable. When the collector gave me the green light signifying that my mechanical setup was correct, Mari's initial readings were similar to what I might have expected from any other tired person having a long day.
"Okay, Mariana," I said, stretching slightly, "what will happen today is some simple relaxation exercises. You're going to sit in your chair, focus on the images on the visor, breathe nice and slow, and just listen to my voice."
"I can do that," Mari replied. She sounded almost eager for it.
I started the program. "Right now, you should hear a distant, constant tone, deep in the back of the headset. Nod if you do."
She nodded, twice.
"Wonderful. And you're not just hearing my voice in the room, so you know, but also over the speakers; this means that even as the sound gets louder, you'll have no trouble hearing me." That was in part an illusion; the sound in her headset wouldn't get so loud as to block out the sound in the room, but at a certain point my voice in her head would start to feel like thought.
I clicked the button to begin the visual display. "You'll see some gentle lights, patterns, colours, in the visor. Some of them will linger, some of them will be gone before you register them. You can try to make sense of them, or you can just enjoy the feelings they offer you, or you can close your eyes and ignore them, whatever you choose to do. Nod if you understand."
Mari nodded again. I hadn't asked her not to talk or deliberately suppressed anything to do with her speech, but she seemed to understand that the lowest-energy response she could give was the response I was looking for.
Trust the computer, I said to myself, starting the initial step of the disengagement program. "You will probably feel a little warmth in the back-right quadrant of your head. There's an emotion cluster there the system will be working on." In reality, the magnetic system was far too weak to create much real, noticeable heat; that could be a physiological danger. But it could stimulate the nerves in such a way to make Mari feel heat, which in turn played into the narrative I was creating. It's not like there wasn't a cluster of neurons there that the machine would be targeting. And of course, as a hypnotist, I had to recognize the power of suggestion.
"I'm going to turn up the intensity now," I said, doing just that and keeping an eye on her vital statistics. "Nod when you feel that warmth I was talking about." I wasn't watching her, though, the computer system was. A little subroutine was tracking specific neurons related to motion and would warn me when she nodded - or even when she planned to nod. It was far more accurate than my eyes. We had been shown cases in class where a subject had nodded almost imperceptibly, or had only intended to nod, and the subroutine was still triggered.
"Until you feel it," I continued, "just watch the patterns, listen to the soft music, and let your mind follow what you see and hear. You know that you're going to start to feel warmth, a little tingling in your scalp, in the back right corner of your head." Eventually, with this program, Mari should have grown too relaxed to actually nod, but those neurons would still send a signal, which could be picked up by the equipment.
"While you're sitting there, listening to the calm sounds, watching the lights shift and shimmer," — the pattern I had put before her eyes was very reminiscent of the northern lights, slowly shifting curtains of greens and reds and blues, very pretty — "and waiting for your head to feel warm from magnetic stimulation, you might start to notice how comfortable that particular chair is, how nice it feels to take the weight of the day off and just sit there, to lift your feet and relax." She was showing relaxation, that much was certain. Everything was dropping nicely, although her arousal was staying fairly level as it had before.
I was about to keep going in that vein, when the monitor program lit up to tell me that Mari had nodded, and I switched gears to acknowledge that, now speaking more closely into the microphone on the laptop. "Good. Feeling that nice warmth spreading now, from its point of origin on the back of your head, slowly, gently, through your entire scalp." Unlike the past two sessions, I had to concern myself with that arousal level, since I was trying to achieve a hypnotic neutral state. I targeted it carefully, looking to refocus that energy, to tone down her body's production of endorphins and hormones related to sex. Memories of the last two weeks must have been there in the back of her mind, so I had to redirect her attention.
"That warmth will start to spread down from your mind and through your whole body, but only when you want it to." I linked a little program to create just that warming effect to that neurological monitor, so that next time it triggered it would cause her mind to believe her skin was warming from her head down. "When you're ready for that feeling, just give a nod."
I wasn't watching her all that closely, more keeping an eye on her steadily declining vitals. Pulse and breathing rates were slipping downward nicely. I peeked over towards the chair, and then looked back at the screen, wondering since her head had clearly tipped forward, why the nod-monitor hadn't tripped. I took a second, closer look at the live statistics, and immediately saw the problem: the position of her head wasn't voluntary.
I sent a little pulse to her basal forebrain to trigger an increase in acetylcholine. She hadn't fallen asleep, but she was clearly on the edge of it. "That's right," I said into the microphone, "that warm, gentle feeling in little waves trickling across the top of your head. Keep your attention on those soft pulses, and when you're ready, a simple nod will send them passing through your whole body."
Little shifts in her statistical information and her position suggested that my clever adjustments had worked. "Notice how the shifting pattern of light moves in time with the shifting patterns of sound in your ears and the shifting pattern of warmth in your head, and how when one slows down, so to do the other two." I kept a closer eye on hormone levels as I continued the process, stalling until Mari chose to move on to that next phase of the program and signalled that choice with a nod.
Once I'd nudged her a little closer towards being awake, it didn't take long before the equipment detected that movement and started the secondary nerve stimulation. I could see Mari's reactions in the numbers and graphs on the laptop screen, watching as her alertness levels found a new balance. "You might start to notice the way the warmth fades into relaxation, which fades into new warmth, in a wonderful hypnotic cycle." No point in hiding what we were here for, it's not like she didn't know.
And it was effective. The readouts on my laptop screen told me so. I kept talking almost on autopilot as I paged through the display, keeping an eye as various measurements drifted towards their expected states as Mari slumped more and more in her seat.
I was about to continue into the next step of the program when I noticed an odd interruption in Mari's breathing pattern, then another. Several indicators were in the wrong places, and the program seemed on the edge of shutting itself off.
Mari let out a soft snore.
The Alteration system fell into a sleep cycle itself, monitoring the subject, but not actively changing anything. Mari had been Altered, and was in the process of being Altered further when she fell asleep, so the system would wait until she started to come out of sleep to correct for those changes and make sure she would wake up to a normal state.
There were some fascinating sleep aids derived from Alteration technology, and they all carried the same warnings not to interrupt the program until the subject is fully awake. Standard safety protocols for all Alterations work, really; the system is designed to bring a patient down into, and then back up from, a hypnotic trance. There wasn't a whole lot it can do to a subject that's actually asleep, though.
Being a computer system, it was infinitely patient. If Mari slept five minutes, five hours, or five weeks, the computer would simply cycle over and over, calmly looking for the signs of an awakening patient so that it could make sure that she would open her eyes in a healthy, un-Altered state.
I, however, was not infinitely patient. And Mari would probably appreciate not being left to sleep in an awkward position in an armchair. I walked over to the chair and shook her gently by the shoulder.
She grumbled and pushed my hand away. "Go 'way," she groaned. "I'm not asleep."
"What are you then, darling?"
"Hypnotized. Go 'way."
I knew the system would be bringing her out of the trance. Some of the more powerful, more sensitive Alteration equipment and programs could handle interruptions—brief power failures, computer glitches, subjects having episodes of various natures or falling asleep—but the basic system I was working with would just do what we called 'dub-and-dub': wait, and wake.
"It's time to wake up, Mari," I said, kneeling beside the chair.
She stirred a bit. "Did we... uh... did you do... am I...?"
I shook my head. "No, and that's fine. You're just a little too tired right now."
"'mnot," she grumbled. The Alteration equipment was working to bring her out of trance, but I recognized how easily she might fall asleep again. I stroked lightly, almost tickling the back of her hand. She pulled it away, but was tired enough and in a weird enough position that her hand collided with the helmet, causing her to jerk and blink at me through the clear visor.
I could almost see the programming kicking in as she became awake enough to process it again. Her pupils dilated just a touch. Of course, since there had been an interrupt, the helmet was busy reattaching its metaphorical tendrils so that it could let her loose entirely.
"That's right, Mari," I said, getting closer and stroking her arm. "Just stay with me and let the machine let you loose, little by little. Let the trance fade away and just stick with me a while."
Let the program take care of the program, and the human take care of the human, my instructor's words came back to me. I shifted my position, kneeling in front of her, meeting her eyes through the plastic of the visor, taking her hand in both of my own. I felt a little ridiculous about it; she wasn't in any danger, and I was posed like she was on her deathbed. Still, it gave her something to look at, and a touch to help her stay conscious.
"You can sleep in a bit. We just have to make sure that your trance is over before you do." I smiled at her, and she smiled back. "It won't take long now. The system is just making sure you're all back to normal."
"Well great," she replied sleepily. "Did you get a good recording?"
I laughed. "Not this week."
Her free hand came up to my cheek gently. "Aw, poor Lucian. We can try again next week."
I leaned into that hand. "It'll be a good time." I kissed her fingers as the laptop made that predictable alarm noise to let me know that the headset had finished its work. I stood up and slipped off the straps.
"Aw, all done?" she said, getting to her feet and stretching. "You know, the pretty colours were all kinds of nice."
"Glad you liked it." I walked over to the camera and shut it off. "Not sure that that's what we'll do next week, but..."
"Well if we're not gonna do it next week..." She picked up the helmet, turned it over in her hands.
I looked back to her. "What are you thinking?"
She grinned at me. "The pretty colours were all kinds of nice," she repeated.
"What, you want them again?"
She smirked. "Be kinda nice to fall asleep to them. And maybe..." she paused, thinking. I waited for her to continue. "Maybe be nice to wake up with a fun new idea or two in my brain."
I stared. "You... you know I'm not qualified, right?"
"Qualified? You do this every day." She gave me a mischievous look. "And you've had me under three times in three weeks."
"Oh, and those have been roaring successes, Mari."
"Yeah, well..." her nails tapped on the clear visor.
"Like right now, where I couldn't hold your attention and you fell asleep."
She shrugged. "I'm tired."
"Or last week, where I got your brain to mix up laughter and arousal."
She smiled. "Oh yeah, that was fun."
"How about our first try, where you got rewired to be my slave?"
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. "Yeah. Mmm. Can we do that again?"
I think if they weren't tightly secured, my eyes might have popped out of my head. "Again? It was, uh, it was an accident, Mari."
"But a really, really nice one." She opened her eyes. "Don't you ever wonder?"
"Wonder? About what?"
"What you could do with one of these things?" She tapped the visor again.
I blinked, a little confused. "What are you thinking?"
She flushed a bit. "Maybe I've been reading a few too many stories..."
I tried to sort it out. Something wasn't quite clicking.
"Oh for..." She rolled her eyes. "Don't you ever watch Alter / Control / Delete?"
"But... I don't know how to program that kind of a..."
She sighed in a tone that made it very clear that she was tired of talking to this idiot in front of her. "You have a willing subject, you don't have to put a virus in the machine! Just..." She pushed the helmet towards me and I received it clumsily. "Just do the coloured lights thing to me again, and make it so when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be helpless?"
Recognition, at last. "Ohhh!" I said, then blushed a bit myself. "Sorry, Mari, I'm trying to think like a therapist, I guess."
"Oh like a therapist wouldn't think about that." She grins. "Might not do it, but I bet more'n one of them are thinking of it. What, you think none of the Alterists at work think about it?"
I swallowed and looked at the helmet in my hands. "I don't know that I can not think about it, now."
"So?" she said. "Fantasy fodder, right here. Wanna indulge?" She stepped a little closer, putting her hands on mine. They felt very warm. "Put me to sleep, and when I wake up..." She leaned close and whispered in my ear. "Put me to work."
I wanted to. I said as much. "I want to, Mari, I want to so much."
She didn't move, stayed close to my ear. "I hear the 'but' coming," she said, softly.
I nodded. "The records would show it, on the laptop. When I'm certified..." I swallowed. "When I'm certified, I'll break your will any time you want."
She kissed my cheek. "Good enough for me." She stepped back and let her skirt drop. "I seem to remember that we discussed fucking—or is that another side-effect?"
"We very much did," I said. "And I'd really like to discuss it more." I put the headset aside.
"Well, then, talk. Because I'm listening." Her shirt hit the floor and she walked off towards the bedroom.
And there was nothing that was going to stop me from following her.