Marisa had no dreams that night; or at least, none that she could remember. In some ways that was more frightening, not remembering. Maybe Hallam had programmed her to have crazy sex dreams about him and forget them all. Or maybe all of her hypno-play with Kat had given her wild ideas that she was using to scare the shit out of herself for no reason. Impossible to say, really.
Marisa had gone to sleep on top of the sheets and covers, so that if Kat tried to climb into bed after a late-night bender, she would know. Nothing had happened. Marisa awoke on top of the covers, alone in bed.
“Kat?” She rolled out of bed and rushed into the living room, hoping to see her lover on the couch. No luck.
Marisa’s first instinct was to text every friend that she trusted well enough to admit, Did Kat sleep at your place yesterday? We had a fight. She actually looked in a couple of places for her phones before she remembered that Kat still had both of them.
“Damn it, Kat,” she sighed to the empty room. “We’re gonna need to have a long talk about this whole ‘messing up my life to protect me’ thing.”
She wanted to run out of the apartment right now. She vaguely remembered where the building near Washington Square Park was, and the nightmare from yesterday still echoed in her head. If Kat had gone off half-cocked and gotten herself in trouble, that was where she was likely to be. Marisa actually had her hand on the doorknob before she realized she was planning to go off half-cocked as well.
She forced herself to sit down, eat a couple of granola breakfast bars, sip some orange juice, and make a plan. It was good that she did. Otherwise she might have forgotten the box that she had purchased from Best Buy the night before.
At some point before sunrise, Kat’s state of mind was altered. She did not “wake up,” as we commonly consider the phrase. Neither did she “come to.” “Regain consciousness” was closer, though what Kat regained would have been in question to even the world’s top neuropsychologists. In truth, most of those doctors would have given large amounts of money to study Kat’s brainwaves between six p.m. on Saturday and six a.m. on Sunday.
Kat was sitting in a dinner-table chair. Her arms were secured to the chair’s arms with industrial-strength restraints of the sort used in hospitals on patients who are dangers to themselves or others. The restraints pressed into her forearms with enough force to dent the flesh, but Kat was not aware of their presence.
Expensive noise-cancelling headphones wrapped around the top of Kat’s head. Their weight was not reason that Kat’s head nodded down until her chin rested upon her chest. Kat’s closed eyelids fluttered rapidly, as though she were in the middle of a vivid dream.
A cable left the headphones. It was a twelve-foot wire with an in-line microphone. Their owner had been promised studio-quality recording from the in-line mic, and so far, its owner had not been disappointed. The cable crawled across the floor to a card table, where it plugged into an Apple laptop. A USB camera, which also promised professional-quality recording at amateur-level prices, was plugged into the computer as well. Several windows were open on the Mac, layered one on top of another on top of another, but the top-layer window was the video feed of the camera, aimed dead-on at Kat so as to capture her entire body from the waist up.
The card table and the chair in which Kat was sitting were the only pieces of furniture in the room. A bare lightbulb, projecting a half-dead amber glow, protruded from the ceiling.
Music flowed through Kat’s mind. She had heard the music before, but she could not remember when. She could not remember much of anything, and when she tried to—
—do so, the melodies of triple Hammond organs would swirl though her mind and scatter her thoughts like leaves.
Kat was not a somnambulist like Marisa. Kat did not forget her trances and felt much more aware when she was under. Listening to the music was, without question, the strangest sensation of her entire life. She had an almost intuitive understanding that she was in trance, but simply could not lift her eyelids and come out of it. Every time her indistinct thoughts would head in—
(Red, red, so fucking red)
—that direction, she would take a deep breath in, and feel the thoughts dissipate as she let it out. She had no concept of time in this state. She might have been there eight hours or eight minutes.
A voice appeared in the headphones. “Hello, Katherine. How are you feeling?”
“Trancey,” Kat muttered. It felt like a normal conversation to her, except that she was far too deeply relaxed to guard her words. Or to open her eyes.
“Yes, of course,” the voice said. On some level Kat knew—
(Mister Print Voice)
—who it was, but such thoughts were easy to ignore. “You know all about trance, don’t you?”
“How long have you been hypnotizing people, Katherine?”
“Since college.” She had wanted to do it in high school, but had been too shy and closeted. If he had asked her to explain herself, she would have said so.
“Have you ever been hypnotized before today?”
“Few times.” Memories came to her unbidden: saving up from her high school job for months, just to get a couple sessions with a hypnotherapist. “To learn.”
“It feels so wonderful to be so deeply relaxed, yes?”
“Describe the feeling.”
“Like nodding off on the subway,” Kat said slowly. “But without the neck stiffness or the smelly dude sitting next to you. Like having the whole car to yourself, letting its motion rock you to sleep.”
“That’s beautiful, Katherine. You have a powerful imagination.”
“Have you ever been aroused in hypnosis, Katherine?”
Kat breathed in, and out, feeling resistance drift away. “It’s hot ... just to go under.”
“But you’re under right now, aren’t you, Katherine?”
Kat sighed, a pleasant sound. “Yeah.”
“So you must be aroused right now, Katherine.”
Kat made a small sound. Not an erotic moan, but something which could become so, in time. “I don’t know.”
The print voice said, “You will.”
Quentin Hallam watched Kat over the video stream, listened to her responses in his earphones, and took notes on a yellow legal pad. At the top of the pad was written SUBJECT 2: KATHERINE ALEXANDER.
Below the auburn-haired undercut in the next room was a gold mine of data for his research of The System. Hallam had never considered that The System could cause such a widely varied texture of trance as he had seen between this woman and her girlfriend. He was learning new things every minute.
As Kat thanked him for complimenting her powerful imagination, he muted his microphone so that he could giggle like a small child as he began to write:
NOT A SOMNABULIST — INTERACTS WITH HYPNOTIST — YET CAN’T WAKE UP
POSTURE HASN’T CHANGED IN FOUR HOURS
IMAGINATION ACTIVE AND EFFECTIVE
As they went on, Hallam began to understand what he did not know about The System and its capabilities. He had assumed The System would create a normal trance depth, and that the subject would fall into a normal sleep eventually, like some people do if left in hypnosis unattended. But Kat had been hearing the music in her ears for eight hours and was still going strong, despite having the psychological profile of a person who could rouse themselves from trance if they wanted to.
In truth Hallam, who had been awake for nearly thirty-six hours preparing this setup in his spare bedroom, was much more likely to collapse than his subject was. He needed rest. There was no point in wearing himself to the bone for a subject who could not move. Hallam decided to hit the rack, but not before implementing a little test.
“Sit up straight, Katherine. Sitting up straight, as though your spine is a rod of solid steel, but still so deeply relaxed.”
Kat shifted in the chair, an Army private surprised by the sudden appearance of a general. She sat bolt upright, lifting her head erect. Her eyes remained closed, fluttering in the REM state. Her hands gripped the armrests, helping maintain the posture.
There was no headrest on the chair. It would be interesting to see if she would need or want one by the time he awoke.
Hallam rose from his desk chair, took three steps, and flopped face-first into his pillow just as Marisa was rising from hers on the opposite end of Manhattan.
After finishing her meager breakfast, Marisa was sure: she had to go to the building near Washington Square Park, if only to confirm that Hallam did, in fact, live there. She didn’t even know that much about him.
Some part of her hoped that she would run into Kat there. The neatest, most optimistic explanation for Kat not returning home was that Kat was staking the building out. She could imagine Kat perched on a park bench, waiting for Hallam to go out for groceries so that she could confront him in public, where he would not have the music as a weapon. Her voice of reason knew that this was absurd, that Washington Square Park could be as dangerous as any other part of New York at 2:30 a.m., and that Kat did not have the patience for an eight-to-twelve-hour stakeout. But Marisa chose to hold on to her hope anyway.
She gathered everything she thought she would need, from bottled water to the small box from Best Buy, and stuffed it all into a backpack. Then she stood for several minutes in front of the open bedroom closet, staring at the back wall inside.
Where Kat’s aluminum softball bat had been rested. An old soldier that Kat never wanted, but couldn’t quite get rid of.
That bat is serious business, she thought. You can kill a man with one hit, if you swing hard enough.
Maybe that level of violence would be called for. Hallam wanted to control people’s minds. Why wouldn’t he try the same on police, prosecutors, judges? In truth the best way to stop him might be a gun, but she had no access to one. Perhaps the bat was the best available option?
You’re forgetting something, she thought. He’s had his hooks in you for a couple of days now. If you take that bat to his place, maybe he would make you use it on someone else? On Kat?
Marisa shuddered, a full-body expression of her inner dread, and slammed the door shut.
Kat’s sense of time was not shut off in her current state, but it was greatly warped. She had some idea that she had been in the trance for hours, but she could not even—
(How many hours)
—hold on to the question long enough to ask it to herself, let alone answer it.
All she could do was sit up straight. It was so important to sit up straight. Sitting up straight helped her relax deeper and deeper. She knew this all the way down into her very soul, and the music helped her understand it.
Kat’s right foot curled up, muscles all across the sole cramping violently. She made a fist with her toes for a full five minutes. Her mind took no note of this cramp, nor the pain associated it with it. Except as an early symptom of dehydration, the cramp did not matter.
All that mattered was that she sat up straight and relaxed deeper.
The weather was just as bright and sunny as it had been the day before. The weather app on the laptop had said so, as Marisa had checked it right before she left the apartment. But when she remembered walking along Washington Square Park the day before, she remembered a gray, cloudy day, half-dark with impending rain.
No. Not dark because of rain. Dark because I was in his shadow.
She saw the huge stone arch coming up, and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. The last clear memory she had from yesterday was of that arch. She must have entered the park and ... done whatever she had been programmed to do. Plus all of the things Kat had wanted her to forget as well.
She turned, looking at the buildings across the street, on the other side of Park North. The buildings there were mostly row houses, some of them looking like they could be as old as the Republic itself.
In the middle of the block, almost directly opposite the stone arch, was a red-brick-and-glass behemoth that towered over all of the pre-war architecture. From across the street she could read its plaque: THE OLYMPIAN. She remembered the building from the day before as through a heavy fog, Kat all-but-dragging her away from it as she had tried to understand the disorienting sensation of redness filling her mind.
Marisa crossed the street and walked up to the front door of The Olympian. She saw a classy-looking lobby, chairs and a long couch. There were no magazines on the coffee table. Kat saw the magazines had fallen to the floor, splayed out around and under one of the chairs. Something about the magazines set off alarm bells in her head.
It’s probably nothing. Maybe some kids just passed through here.
How often does one of these classy rich-person buildings let their lobby look messy like that? Have you EVER seen it?
It’s not evidence of Kat being here, though.
Marisa walked up to the front door. It was locked, so she turned to the directory and call system. Three button pushes showed her Q HALLAM 15C. She stared at the name, struck dumb for a moment, unsure of what to do.
That’s him. That’s the guy.
Okay, Kat’s voice said in her mind. It’s him. What are you going to do about it?
Call the police.
Kat asked, in that annoying, reasonable way that she had,What has he done that’s illegal?
He could be holding you up there against your will! Marisa knew that she was having an internal conversation with herself, but she could feel her inner voice getting animated already, as though she were debating with Kat in real life. That’s kidnapping!
IF I’m up there, Kat’s voice said, using that heavy sarcasm Kat liked to deploy. IF I’m up there, then the definition of “against my will” is really loose and getting looser all the time.
That’s why I gotta call the police now! If I wait, you’re screwed!
Based on the time stamp of my last email, I might have been up there as many as eighteen hours, Kat’s voice responded coolly. I’m already screwed. And if you go up to 15C and I’m not inside? Then YOU’RE screwed. Either he plays the music for you, or the cops nail you for a false report.
For a moment Marisa was dangerously near tears. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that this was just an imaginary conversation with an imaginary Kat.
Gotta focus on what I’m sure of. The bad guy is up there in 15C. Is Kat up there? Don’t know. Who would know? Maybe the doorman.
She waved her hand, trying to get the security guard’s attention, and flashing a winning smile he looked over. He buzzed her in, and stood as she walked over to his desk: African-American, six foot four, wearing at least thirty extra pounds on a frame that would have been a formidable weapon ten years ago. His name tag said ROBINSON. “Can I help you, Miss?”
“Uh, maybe,” Marisa said. She dug in her backpack for the one headshot-sized picture of Kat she had. She had removed it from its frame and brought it along today, just in case she needed to ask exactly this question. “Have you seen my friend? I think she came here yesterday, but I haven’t seen her since.“
The doorman took the picture and looked at it, his brow furrowing for just a moment. Then his entire face, from the forehead on down, went blank. His eyes seemed to stare through the photo. His jaw hung slightly agape.
“Sir? Have you seen her? Sir?” Jesus, is this what I look like when we do a scene?
Marisa looked around: no one else was entering the building, and no one was in the lobby. Hallam could come down right now and play the music for her, if he wanted to. If Kat had come in here thinking the doorman could protect her, she had been wrong indeed.
“Excuse me,” Marisa said, a little too loudly and a little too sharply.
The doorman started, blinking his eyes. “Sorry bout that, Miss,” he said, handing the photo back.
“So have you?” Marisa said. Seeing no recognition on his face of the question, she added, “Seen her.”
“No ma’am, can’t say I have,” he said. She figured he would swear to that if pressed, whether it was Marisa pressing him, or the police, or his own mother. That was what her experience with Hallam’s skills told her.
Can I call up there? she almost said, but then stopped herself. She didn’t need the doorman for that, she could call from the directory system. And if she did so, she wanted to be well prepared for what might happen afterwards.
“Thanks anyway,” she said politely. The doorman touched his cap, a chivalrous gesture of the old school, and as she left she marveled at how he had been utterly convinced of a truth that she was increasingly sure was false.
Quentin Hallam opened his eyes. Sunlight peeked through the closed blinds. He checked the clock: 2:17 PM. Only about five or six hours of sleep, but enough time to collect more data about The System.
It was only three steps to the desk, but instead Hallam decided to go into the hall and down to the adjoining room. What was the point of having a two-bedroom condo if you didn’t leave your room once in a while?
Turning the doorknob as gently and quietly as possible, Hallam entered the spare bedroom. Katherine Alexander sat there, head still erect, eyes still closed and fluttering.
“Hello, Katherine,” he said into his phone. Even being in the same room with her, he would need the phone to control the music and properly be heard through the headphones.
“How are you feeling, Katherine?” Long before he had developed the System, Hallam had trained himself not to say phrases like How are you feeling this afternoon, as giving the subject association to the time of day could lessen their trance depth. But if the System continued to work this well, he may not need to make such considerations any longer.
“Relaxed and receptive.”
“That’s good, Katherine.” Hallam’s voice had the cooing tone that some people reserved for kittens and puppies. “You’re doing so well.”
Hallam walked a slow circle around Kat, his feet padding silently in the carpet. He studied her for signs of fatigue, and saw none at first. He took note of her twitching right foot. If she smelled him, or otherwise sensed his close proximity, she did not react.
Finally, facing her dead-on once again, Hallam said, “Sit up straight, Katherine. Relaxing so much deeper as you sit up straight.”
Kat’s posture did not change. She was already sitting up as straight as she could. And had been, for five to six hours.
For the first time, Hallam allowed himself to think, It’s really happening. “Katherine, when was the last time you hypnotized Marisa?”
“Uh...” Kat’s brow furrowed slightly. In a normal trance, Hallam might have worried, as the question asked for some analytical thinking that could have caused her to emerge from trance. But with the System in play, there was no cause for concern. “A couple days ago?”
“Tell me about that trance, Katherine.”
In a drowsy, distant voice, Kat told him everything. Unprompted, she even told him about the suggestions to turn Marisa into a listening device.
Hallam smiled grimly. Under other circumstances he would have been more concerned, as this woman had devised a rather ingenious scheme to catch him. But, of course, a listening device was useless now that the ear on the other end was under his control.
“Your plan for Marisa didn’t help, did it, Katherine?”
“I ... I don’t...”
“You did more harm to her than good, didn’t you, Katherine?”
“Y-yes.” A tear streamed down Kat’s cheek.
“It would be better if you left her, wouldn’t it, Katherine?”
“Nnn,” Kat said. Her head gave a small twitch, as she tried to shake it. “No. Love her.”
Hallam smiled indulgently. There would be plenty of time to change her mind.
Marisa sat on a bench in Washington Square Park — maybe the same bench that she had sat on the day before, she could not remember — and stared up at where she thought the fifteenth floor of The Olympian to be.
He was up there. Judging from the fact that he had been watching her yesterday but Kat had not seen him, he was careful. He was a master hypnotist, and she had been under his control, so he likely understood her trance better than she herself did. Making a plan for him was challenging.
You don’t even know Kat is up there.
She didn’t have proof, but she was sure it was so. Kat would have come home last night, unless she found the guy. If she had found the guy but she wasn’t out here, trying to make the very same plans Marisa was herself making right now, then she had already tried to confront him. If she had confronted him but the building was not crawling with cops or reporters or both, then something had gone wrong.
Still, Marisa could not prove this, which was the frustrating part. With proof, she herself could go to the police or the media or both. With what she had, they would assume that she was deranged.
He’s up there. She’s probably up there. I have to bring him down here, away from her. What would do that?
She turned it over and over in her head for nearly an hour before she admitted there was only one such bait: Herself.
Hallam knelt before Kat. He was aware of the irony, that he would be in such a supplicant position when in fact she was the submissive here.
In his hand was the portable stun gun that he had used to subdue her. It was on its minimal setting. In time he might try for something stronger, but he was already aware that he was taking a chance. He rolled up the cuff on the left leg of Kat’s jeans. “How are you feeling, Katherine?”
“A little tired.”
Interesting. The implications of that phrase were massive indeed. But first, the matter at hand. “Katherine, do you feel anything touching your left ankle?”
He pressed the power stud on the stun gun, and said, “Katherine, do you feel anything touching your ankle now?” and touched the contact points onto her bare skin.
Kat’s left foot reacted instantly, clenching with noticeable force. The toes fisted and the tendons in her ankles stood out. But none of this showed on her face. “Pins and needles ... like my foot went to sleep.”
Fascinating. Hallam held down the power stud. The foot continued to convulse. Her face remained, at most, slightly distracted.
After fifteen seconds, the electricity automatically shut off, a safety feature built into the stun gun. Two angry red circles, a couple of centimeters in diameter, were on either side of Kat’s left ankle, where the contact points had touched her. The foot remained clenched for another ten seconds, by Hallam’s count, before it began to relax. “How do you feel, Katherine?”
“A little tired.”
Hallam set aside the stun gun, grabbed his legal pad and pen, and sat down in the carpet to take notes. “That’s wonderful, Katherine. You’re doing so well. Sit up straight for me now.”
Her erect posture changed not one iota.
Marisa sat in a coffee shop two blocks south of Washington Square Park. She sipped her bottled water as she took furious notes in the notebook she had brought with her. The notebook contained her preparations for war.
Every few seconds Marisa would sigh harshly, furiously scratching out an item on her list as she realized that arranging that item would require something that she did not have access to: her phones, the demo file, Kat’s skills as either writer or hypnotist, et cetera. Soon it seemed to her that the first notebook page had more items scratched out than listed.
Marisa’s psyche balanced on a razor’s edge. On the one hand, the person who had taken the Assistant Director of Content position savored the problem-solving, listing the resources she would need and determining what access she would have to them. On the other hand, she was near panic as the thought of the time she was wasting, and filling with dread at the thought of what Hallam could be doing to Kat with each minute she let pass.
The first page turned into a second, which had fewer scratch-outs and more list items. The third page, fewer scratches still. The more she wrote down, the more she could imagine it was happening to someone other than herself, and the quieter the yammering panic became.
The fifth page had her final iteration of her plan; across the top of the page she had written the creative header The Plan. As she read the page, itself completely free of scratch-outs, she liked what she read, but she realized that there would not be enough time to execute it today.
She was going to have to leave Kat in his hands another night.
The panic began to yammer again. After two and a half hours, I was forgetting everything he said on every call! How is Kat going to be after two and a half DAYS?!
Marisa took a depth breath, followed by a long gulp of water, and forced the panic down. It’s even worse for her if you fuck this up. You’ve got a good plan. Get it done and you can pay for her therapy afterward.
Marisa took her laptop out of her bag and began to type out an email.
Kat was too relaxed to think about how long she had been sitting in trance, and whenever she tried to think about—
—how all of the sitting up straight made her feel, she would take a deep breath in, and let the music carry those thoughts away.
The voice, which she no longer thought of as the Print Voice, would come to her and say things. She would answer back, but as time went on and on—
(days, I’ve been here for)
—it became tougher and tougher to think about the contents of those conversations. Her voice simply answered of its own accord, telling the truth always, because she was too relaxed to even consider deception or lies.
The pins-and-needles sensation came and went in her left leg several more times. It was not important.
Later, the voice said, “Katherine, I’d like to know more about you. Would you like to tell me?”
“No,” she said indifferently.
“But you will tell me, yes?”
“Yes,” she said, just as indifferent.
“It will be so deeply relaxing to tell me, yes?”
“And it’s so arousing to be in such a deeply relaxed trance, yes?”
(She flashed on her first trance, lying on a therapist’s couch, sinking down into the dark and feeling her pussy wet)
He said, “Tell me about the first time you went into trance, Katherine.”
—hesitated, just long enough for the organ melodies to weave together again. She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and said, “I was eighteen.”
“Was the hypnotist a professional?”
“You didn’t want therapy, did you, Katherine?”
“No. I told her I just wanted to relax.”
Sitting at his computer, Quentin Hallam smiled. “You wanted a female hypnotist, didn’t you, Katherine?”
“Did you know that you were gay, Katherine?”
“I...” another deep breath, almost like a sigh, as she tried—
(none of your business)
—and failed to hold onto her train of thought. “I don’t know.”
Hallam considered following up on this. He knew so little about homosexuality that he had no frame of reference if this was a typical answer or not. But then he pushed his curiosity aside. Get to the point. “Tell me about the first time she hypnotized you, Katherine.”
“It was summer,” Kat said. Her voice was clear, but her pace was sluggish. “So bright outside that you can see how hot it is, even with the blinds closed. I sat down on the couch.”
“How did she induce your trance, Katherine?”
“Elman induction,” Kat said. “She asked me to close my eyes. She started talking about relaxation, and before I realized, my eyes wouldn’t open.”
“You were already starting to feel aroused, weren’t you, Katherine?”
“Let yourself feel what you felt then, now.”
Kat shifted in her chair, hips twitching back and forth. She moved her knees forward and backward, rubbing her thighs together. “It’s working,” she murmured. “Working so fast...”
“The Elman induction is a fast induction, isn’t it, Katherine?”
“Yes,” Katherine said. The color was rising in her cheeks as she continued to rub her thighs together. “She told me to open and close my eyes, but they barely opened.”
“You didn’t want them to open, did you, Katherine?”
Kat sighed. “No.” The warmth from her vagina starting to spread up her torso. The sensation was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Even the thoughts—
(god this feels so fucking good)
—she was trying to have, before the music gently dashed them, had changed.
“At the end, did she ask you to count down from one hundred?”
“Which number did you complete before you forgot the numbers completely?”
Hallam smiled. “What happened next, Katherine?”
“Sinking down into the couch ... deeper and deeper into the dark ...” Her hands, hungering to touch herself, twisted against the restraints. “My pussy got wet ... for the first time ... like no guy had ever done for me...”
“What did the hypnotist do, Katherine?”
“She woke me up and gave me a tape of the session,” Katherine murmured. “She sounded embarrassed ... oh god, I think she could smell me...”
Hallam massaged his erection. He pictured a fire hydrant in his mind, stolid, unfailing, holding back the wet release. “Listen to the music, Katherine. Listen to the music, and drift. Drift, and think about what you wanted the doctor to do instead. Think of your most powerful fantasy about that doctor and that trance. Let that happen to you now.”
“OH MY GOD!” Kat’s back arched, thrusting her breasts out to a degree that seemed painful to Hallam. She gripped the arms of the chair, a white-knuckle flier in the midst of a rough landing. Her hips shifted and squirmed. Quentin Hallam was not a virgin, but whatever Kat was seeing and feeling, he had never done.
“That’s so good,” Kat moaned. “There, right there, that’s so fucking good...”
Hallam stroked himself, trying to keep hold of the image of the fire hydrant, but feeling his concentration ebb in the face of Kat’s passion. Finally, when he could not keep the hydrant in his mind any longer, he cried, “Katherine, cum NOW!”
They came simultaneously, Katherine screaming with pleasure as she did. For a full minute, neither of them could speak, sighing and moaning as they came down from the adrenaline high.
At last, Hallam looked at the computer screen, at the woman in the next room. He could not have imagined an orgasm like that from a person in the same room as he, let alone by remote. She had let go of the sit-up-straight suggestions completely, her entire torso slumped forward in the chair. If he released the restraints now, she would fall face-first onto the floor.
“How are you feeling, Katherine?”
“Wonderful,” Kat whispered.
“I helped you feel wonderful, didn’t I, Katherine?”
Kat’s mind was blank, the afterglow a soft blue behind her eyelids. Any thoughts of redness or resistance, brief though they might have been with the music in her ears, were gone. “Yes.”
“It feels wonderful to submit to me, doesn’t it, Katherine?”
In the aftermath of orgasm, her own body drugging her with euphoric endorphins, Kat had never felt so submissive in her life. “Yes.”
“You’ve been a submissive from the beginning, haven’t you, Katherine? From that first trance.”
“You’re wasting yourself, playing Svengali for your girlfriend. You can have so much more pleasure without her. Isn’t that right, Katherine?”
The image of Marisa flashed through Kat’s mind for just a moment, before the music sent her adrift again. But that was enough. “Marisa ... I don’t ... I ...” she sighed heavily.
Quentin Hallam’s vision washed over red. I almost had her! I was so close! He barked into his phone, “Sit up straight, Katherine!”
Kat snapped bolt upright in the chair with the same near-comical suddenness as she had yesterday. Her neck erect, her arms now holding the chair arms comfortably, she showed no sign of the intense passions she had experienced just a minute before.
Hallam muted his phone with a stabbing finger-tap. He threw back his head and yelled at the ceiling, “GOD DAMN IT!”
Kat might have gotten herself into trouble by being too aggressive and jumping in without looking, but Marisa understood that aggression has its place sometimes. If she didn’t start being aggressive, she was never going to get the two of them out of this with their minds intact.
She stopped at the drugstore to make a number of purchases, including a cheap Android burner phone. It looked like the sort of thing parents gave on Christmas to children too young to have actual smartphones, but she didn’t really care as long as it dialed nine-eleven when she needed it to do so. She plugged its charger into the wall, to let it sit overnight.
She couldn’t deal with a normal dinner that night; Marisa ate cereal instead, as though it were breakfast. As she was chewing her way through it, the email she had been waiting for all afternoon arrived.
Marisa: here’s the entire subliminal track from the file you had me look at. I’m not really sure why you wanted this by itself, but as long as I get the job, your business is your business.
Marisa downloaded the file, her heart in her throat. It shouldn’t work. I’m in control. It’s only the music that does anything. It was easy to say those things to herself, but it was also easy to assign the demo file (and its creator) magical powers in her mind. But when the download was done, she didn’t hesitate to click play.
The sound of Hallam’s subliminal suggestions — Mister Print Voice — filled the room. “Listen and relax. Relax and obey. Obey and listen.”
Marisa’s stomach turned, but after a minute or two, she felt certain that she was nowhere near trance. The music was the key, and had been all along; the words couldn’t put her under any better than Kat could have done on their first date. She let the phrases drone on in the background as she washed out her cereal bowl and did other things to prepare for tomorrow.
After about an hour and a half, with an hour left on the file’s length, according to the readouts at the bottom of the QuickTime window, the words from Mister Print Voice changed. The volume changed slightly, but not as much as it should have done for the words to be audible; that was why Dustin had equalized the track. Still, Marisa jumped at the volume change anyway.
“You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email...” by Marisa’s count, the suggestion repeated itself five times.
The email address was repeated five times. The suggestion that the music would be even stronger the next time was repeated five times. The suggestion to destroy the letter and envelope was repeated five times. And on and on.
When the file was done, Marisa felt weirdly empty. That’s all it is. He’s just trying to do what he did with the undergrads in the psych department, by remote. She forced herself to listen again, this time so she could take notes. Then again, so that she could be familiar with his Trance Voice in case he tried to use it in person.
Finally, with the stars starting to come out, she looked around the apartment and realized she had no more preparations to make. She could go over now, if she wanted, but nighttime was dangerous. More people came and went from a building like that in the evening.
Instead, Marisa opened GarageBand and made a recording of her own. She arranged some pillows on the couch, lit a candle, and placed it on the end table opposite the pillows. She set the computer on the coffee table, and laid down on the couch with the pillows supporting her back and head. She could see the candle flame between her feet.
Marisa reached out and hit PLAY on the computer. Her recording of her own voice played from the speakers. “Kat needs you to relax, and rest. Kat needs you to relax, and rest. Kat needs you...”
If it had been Kat’s voice repeating the phrase, she would have dropped like a stone. But Marisa had never tried trancing a person before, not even herself, so her conscious period lasted much longer. Still, at some point the background behind the candle blurred, her eyes grew heavy, and she drifted away.
“How are you feeling, Katherine?”
“I think you’ll find it so relaxing to sit up straight, Katherine.”
Kat did not move, her back already as straight as could be.
“Remember the day that you took Marisa to meet your parents,” Hallam said.
Kat’s brow furrowed slightly. “Don’t wanna,” she said, relaxation blurring her words.
“Relax, Katherine,” he cooed. “You don’t need to remember the argument. Just see yourself and Marisa, right before you entered the house. Can you see it?”
Kat made a small sound, not exactly a sigh, resigned to surrender. “Yes.”
“Tell me how you felt, Katherine.”
“I knew,” Kat said. “I knew it would go badly. I knew they would never accept us.”
“I understand, Katherine,” Hallam said, though in actuality he did not. He thought that he had never met a homosexual in his life (he had; they simply had found him too off-putting to reveal that information). “Did you tell Marisa?”
“I said, I’m nervous, Ris,” Kat murmured.
“How did Marisa respond?”
“She said, No matter what’s happens, you’ve got me, so it’s going to be okay.”
Hallam smiled, seeing the perfect opening. “But it wasn’t okay, was it, Katherine?”
Kat’s eyebrows twitched, but her eyes did not open. “I ... have Marisa ...”
“There was a huge argument, wasn’t there, Katherine?”
“You can never go home again, can you, Katherine?”
A tear rolled down Kat’s right cheek, but her voice remained vague and indifferent. “No.”
“Marisa was wrong, wasn’t she, Katherine?”
“She was trying ... to help...”
“If she had not been there, you would not have needed the help, yes?”
Katherine’s mouth worked. A tear escaped from under her left eyelid. The music caressed her mind and numbed her imagination. “Y-yes.”
“If Marisa had not been there, you could go home again, yes?”
“Marisa is the problem, isn’t she, Katherine?”
“No.” Katherine’s head twitched, the closest to shaking it that she could manage in her deeply relaxed state. “No.”
“You’re very tired, aren’t you, Katherine?”
“Ex ... exhausted...”
“I will help you with the problem of Marisa, Katherine. Only once you have been helped, then you can rest. Do you understand?”
“That’s very good, Katherine. You’re doing so well. Let’s go back to the beginning.”