Karen would normally be relieved to have a span of time to spend at home. Home was a condo in Cannon Beach, Oregon, the result of some early and astute spending of an old inheritance and her C.A.L.I.B.R.E. signing bonus.
She’d bought a place big enough to raise a family and then never met anyone she felt comfortable trying to start with. As her work ate into more and more of her life, the other bedrooms got used for other things; a home gym and training centre and a home cinema.
She was very glad right now that the notional ‘kids room’ had become a guest room rather than another big remodelling project, for the same reason she wasn’t relieved to be at home. Now she was having to put up with a houseguest, and on indefinite stay.
Enmascarada Verde was a supervillain who’d been operating in Mexico. Now, thanks to a strange chain of events and some even stranger decisions from her superiors, she was in custody of Agent Karen Wainwright, who had had to assume a position of responsibility in the villain’s ongoing mind control.
Karen had argued strenuously that she should be put in one of C.A.L.I.B.R.E.’s holding facilities, but her arguments had gone nowhere. Instead, she was being “kept on hand” by forced detention with Karen.
It didn’t sit at all right. Since her debrief, she’d come to the conclusion that this was part of some plan by corrupt elements above her head. That fitted with the revelations of corruption made by her new handler.
The thought that she had no idea who her handler was or how he’d been assigned never quite made it to her head; there was plenty going on there with worry about her agency and with dealing with a housemate who could, if she chose, probably punch Karen unconscious.
Said housemate was, at the present moment, sprawled in Karen’s recliner in the home cinema, watching El Fantasma de Elena.
“I never miss an episode,” she’d said the first time, and her jaw had tensed enough that Karen, knowing this woman was capable of punching through walls without batting an eyelid, had let it pass without comment.
Three weeks (and four other telenovelas - the woman was addicted) later, she was less comfortable with this. She’d been distracting herself by scheduling her home gym time for peak telenovela time each day, but it still wasn’t ideal.
Today, Karen had finally lost her patience. Riding an endorphin high from her workout, frustrated at her lack of duty, she marched in there just before the credits rolled. “Turn that off,” she said tartly. “This isn’t a party. You’re being held until needed.”
The unmasked villainess looked up at her curiously, blinking her eyes in what seemed like surprise. In English much better than the blonde’s Spanish would be, she tried “Perhaps if you were also watching the show? I can explain to you the story so far, if you want…”
Karen opened her mouth to retort, but at that specific moment, both of them heard a cellphone ringing.
They looked at each other in mutual confusion.
“That’s not my phone,” Karen said.
Enmascarada - Karen insisted on sticking to the villain’s codename - blinked lazily. “But I have no phone.”
Karen frowned again and went in search of the ringing.
The phone was the one her handler had given her. She’d never checked the ring tone; she’d just set it aside and checked its charge regularly. Karen picked it up, hit the answer call button. “Wainwright,” she began. “Go ahead.”
“Good afternoon, Agent,” her handler’s voice began. “I have direct orders. You understand what my orders require of you?”
Karen’s body went smoothly to attention without her being aware of it. In her workout leggings and crop top she stood rigid, ankles together, left hand straight by her side, right arm out to her side holding the phone to her ear in an unconscious parody of a salute. Her eyes unfocused.
“Unhesitating obedience, sir.”
“Good. This sequence of orders is a complex one, and you must not allow any other agent of C.A.L.I.B.R.E. to become aware of these orders or the fact you are operating under orders when you follow them. You understand, Agent?”
“Excellent. Now listen carefully…”
Her handler hung up, and Karen dropped from attention to an at ease pose. She looked at her phone for a moment, running through the orders in her mind. Part of her head was deciding on the best way to carry them out. Part was wondering how some of them would help protect C.A.L.I.B.R.E. from corruption - they didn’t seem to have any connection. No obvious ones, and not even any she could see at a stretch.
“Can you hear me now?”
Karen froze, then swivelled.
Enmascarada was standing there, looking at her with something between concern and suspicion. She’d evidently been there for some time. And she’d been talking, which Karen hadn’t noticed.
She should be thinking about this. Asking what the villainess knew. Finding out more. Learning from her.
But she had direct orders.
“Enmascarada, superslut,” she rapped out.
Now it was the villainess’ turn to fall to something like attention. Her legs came together. Her arms stiffened to her sides. Her back arched, showing off her chest even through the loose T-shirt she was wearing. Her eyes glazed, and the expression vanished from her face.
Karen gave the superhuman her own orders and watched her fly away. Then she went to change into her infiltration catsuit, obeying her orders unhesitatingly.
She consoled herself that there would be time to question them later.
Carmen Alonso thought to herself, privately, that it was going to be time to confess her secret to Karen soon. But she couldn’t even get the spy to call her Carmen - it was like the woman wanted to pretend she was an object, a tool lying around, not a person. She hadn’t even wanted Carmen to know her name, but when you’re stuck in the same condo as someone else, their mail is always around.
Which Carmen had been conditioned to deeply enjoy, as ideas went; but pretty clearly that wasn’t Karen’s intent, especially as she didn’t know. Not yet.
Mostly, though, she was worried. It was bad not to know who was pulling your strings. It turned out it was worse to watch the person who you’d been imprinted onto being made to pull them for someone else.
She thought all this from around a hundred and fifty yards into the air, flying around the roadways a little northwest of Portland, looking for a grey security van. That was, after all, part of her instructions. And she had to obey. The conditioning she’d received in Mexico wasn’t something she could just shrug off. In fact, from what Karen had told her - wanting to be up front with her - there would be at least another five months before her head was clear enough to shrug this all off.
At least another five months before any robberies she made were her own idea.
Finally, her eyes settled on a van that matched the description. She ran her gaze along the road behind it, extending her vision as far as she could, and smiled slightly when she saw a second coming along. The instructions she’d been given were against her will, but at least they were also correct.
She’d already learned that nothing was more frustrating to someone who’d been slaved to another’s control than commands that couldn’t be carried out.
And then she swooped down, off to the side of the road, to vanish into the woods beside it.
The first security van passed the point where she was waiting and Carmen blurred forward, barrelling into it. She hit it just above the front wheel, not quite at her top flying speed, but close enough that momentum and her nigh-invulnerable physique crumpled the engine and spun the van around. The spin was important; she hopped onto the back as it came around to her, keeping one hand on the doorframe to keep whirling the van as her booted foot caved in a door designed to withstand small amounts of plastic explosive.
There was a guard in the back, but her armoured form had bounced off the wall and she was rattled. Carmen saw the briefcase on one of the shelves near the front - placed there explicitly to be easy to collect - and flung it out of the doorway into the treeline. Then she twisted, rolling down around her shoulders, and flipping the van as she did so.
C.A.L.I.B.R.E.s guards were well armoured for evidence transit, and they’d survive. That wouldn’t have mattered to Carmen under the terms of her instructions, except that one specified the need for a witness.
“Dammit,” she loudly exclaimed from the rear doorway. “This isn’t the right fucking van - oh, shit!”
And with that, she blurred away, back the way the van had been driving, to crash into the other grey security van she’d been told to expect.
This was a bank transfer. This was notes and securities being transported up to a bank in northern Oregon.
This one Carmen hit head on, shattering the bulletproof windscreen like it was nothing, surging between the two guards riding up front. At full speed her impact peeled the armoured wall between the cab and the back apart. Carmen came to a halt, meeting the rear guard’s eyes from behind the improvised mask she was wearing. She slapped the guard, just casually, across his helmet, and he twisted and dropped.
By now the van had come to a halt, partly from her own impact and partly from hastily applied brakes. Carmen was busy grabbing box after box of cash and securities, making sure that she was clearly seen (if still disguised).
The real theft would be lost for a while, under the assumption the thief had been aiming elsewhere. Even when it was realised that the item was gone, C.A.L.I.B.R.E. might not imagine that the thief knew what they had.
Carmen had carried out enough robberies of her own to work that out. She could even guess at C.A.L.I.B.R.E.’s next several steps, and at how they’d delay the organisation from a worthwhile response.
There was a loud retort - in these confined conditions, punishingly loud - and she felt something slam into her shoulder with force. A shotgun slug, point-blank range.
She grabbed another box, cramming her hands full of grips, and only then did she turn to look at the guard up front who’d shot her. She flexed her arm gently, and the flattened slug peeled off her skin to drop to the van floor, her skin smooth and unbroken beneath, showing through the rip in the hoodie she had on.
She hoped Karen wouldn’t be angry that it was holed now. After all, it was under Karen’s orders.
As she’d expected, the guards took the opportunity to bail. For whatever reason, whatever displays of power you give before then, nobody really believes they’re dealing with a superhuman they can’t fight until they try to shoot you.
She departed the van, flying out of it at low level into the woods, running at a decent speed, but not so fast she wouldn’t be seen by anyone from C.A.L.I.B.R.E. monitoring the scene. It was essential, she’d been instructed, that they fall for the cover moves.
Once back in the woods she went back to her feet, moving quietly but quickly until she could collect the case from the first van, and then fled the scene north.
Her black catsuit was currently concealed by a loose-fitting blouse and her tracksuit pants. Her face was partly concealed by sunglasses and a ball cap. Karen was parked up on a Wilkesboro street, watching a house across the road carefully. Waiting.
Some surveillance jobs were simple. Others, much more complex. All of them were… kind of tedious.
But Karen really hated urban street surveillance like this because-
Ah. Right on time, the loud tap at the window. Karen looked up, met the eyes of a patrolman looking down at her.
You see different expressions from policemen depending on who you are. When Karen ran into them, it tended to be in the course of her work, and there would always be some attempt to mingle looking imposing and authoritative with some attempt to look approachable and accessible for the attractive blonde.
She rolled down the window and smiled politely. “Hello, Officer.”
“Afternoon, ma’am,” he said. “Now, you seem to be just sat in your car quite a long time…”
“May I just reach into my purse, Officer?”
His posture changed slightly, arm moving toward his sidearm. Even now, he was suspicious.
There were times Karen was very glad to look how she looked.
“Go ahead,” he said.
Karen picked up her purse and transferred it from the passenger seat to her lap, so it would be more visible. She twisted the catch to the left, opening the hidden compartment rather than the main bag. From it she withdrew the C.A.L.I.B.R.E. warrant card she’d been issued, and passed it across to him.
His eyes widened. Most places, there had to be queries to confirm C.A.L.I.B.R.E. existed. The exceptions were high-superhuman-activity or Portland, near the agency’s main HQ, carefully chosen to be far from its usual active areas.
He passed the card back quickly. “Sorry, ma’am.” There was a very different attitude now, and a complete change to his tone; somewhere between reverence and envy.
“That’s alright. We haven’t been permitted to inform your precinct yet. Please keep this under a lid for us.”
“Count on it, ma’am.”
He moved on quickly, and Karen rolled the window up and resumed the dull, slow business of surveillance.
Eventually a tall woman, a little more heavily built than Karen (but then, she wasn’t a field agent, and to Karen’s eyes at least, she carried it well, and who didn’t love a woman in a well-cut power suit?) left the house, pausing at the door to examine something inside. Her hand moved as if operating some kind of keypad.
Security alarm… check.
She shut the door and double-locked it, then headed down the stairs from her front door to the sidewalk and went to a dark green station wagon.
The house was empty, and should be empty long enough while Doctor Hendricks did the school run for her kids. Karen gave it five minutes - on a short trip out, if she’d forgotten anything she needed, she’d only return in the first couple of minutes - then put her car in gear and drove down an alleyway to find the back entrance.
She left the cap, glasses, blouse, and pants in the car, and went up the outside of the house after a quick check for any observers. Security was always less intense on a third-floor window than a ground-floor back door.
While there were locks on the windows, they weren’t actually too bad; she was able to lever the window up and slip inside without doing any damage likely to be noticed.
From there it was just a question of locating Hendricks’ home office, booting her computer up, and clipping the pen drive she’d been supplied into place. She loitered near the window, counting to sixty in her head, watching the road.
The green station wagon had still not returned when she completed the count in her head. She crossed back to Dr Hendricks’ computer, removed the pen drive, and started shutting the computer back down.
From there it would normally be a nice simple exit, although she had one last instruction to complete before she left. She turned away from the computer in its shutdown process, removed her handler’s phone from her equipment belt, called up the camera function, came to attention with one hand extended, and saluted. She took a selfie of herself saluting in front of the computer, installation confirmation still visible during the shutdown, and texted it to the number her handler had called from.
That was ridiculous, of course. She’d freely admit it was crazy. It was leaving evidence. The pose was ridiculous. But she still did not hesitate to obey her instructions.
Once the text confirmed as sent, though, she was heading back to the window. She climbed out, eased it shut behind her, and scurried down the fire escape and into her car.
She got moving as quickly as possible, and as soon as she was out of Wilkesboro her speed picked up.
She had plenty more instructions to follow, starting with a rendezvous with Enmascarada.
Dr. Zoe Hendricks was the proud mother of two children just entering their teens. She was also, for the next four months, the only one looking after those children outside school hours; her husband was on assignment somewhere in Europe as an undercover agent for C.A.L.I.B.R.E.
Fortunately, Dr Hendricks’ employer had arranged to let her work from home during this period provided she observed certain security protocols, a generous gesture probably made more reasonable because Hendricks also worked for the agency.
Returning home, she let her kids in, disengaged the alarm, and sent them off to do their homework for an hour or two before dinner.
That gave her the freedom and time to get another hour or so done of her own daily work before she needed to think about cooking. She took herself off to her home office, shut the door, engaged the childlock (security was security, after all), and booted up her computer.
A home office had been an essential for security, but Zoe would have insisted on it anyway. It did the same thing for her as putting her suit on when working from home. It took her from Zoe to Dr Hendricks. It drew a line, and put her in the right mental space.
The first thing she checked was her email. Dr Hendricks was still trying to get a straight answer about why an appointment she’d had in the office had disappeared from her calendar a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t the first time, either; two or three agents who’d been awaiting an Assessment of Mental Adjustment; confirmation of whether or not they’d been affected by some form of mind control, and an action plan to recover if they had, had just vanished from her calendar.
It was concerning, to say the least, but she wasn’t getting much in the way of responses. She might have triggered an internal investigation, and just not be receiving any answers because the investigation was ongoing. On the other hand, she might be being stonewalled.
Either way, her first instinct was to check to see if she’d had any further response. The secure browser was a little slower in loading than usual, with a quick note that it was updating; C.A.L.I.B.R.E. must have pushed an update to the system out. She watched the little install wheel spin in pink-and-purple flower-petal segments. They’d changed the graphic for it, she noted idly. It had been much more a typical load wheel, but now it looked stylised, possibly some internal graphical update.
Actually, she thought, it looked a hell of a lot like the Pinwheel program for brainwashing that CodeBreak had unleashed last year. That had been a nightmare; she’d been working overtime for two months after C.A.L.I.B.R.E. aided Stormforce in taking down the radical hackers, trying to clear agents for duty again. It had actually only stopped after the two-month effectiveness period of Pinwheel ended, and agents no longer being exposed to Pinwheel recovered on their own.
Dr Hendricks frowned. Why would they use something that looked like Pinwheel? It wasn’t even like CodeBreak’s style was close to C.A.L.I.B.R.E. branding.
Pinwheel, she remembered, worked through gaining focus, strengthening attention, then locking that attention and using that state to imprint new ideas over the top of existing ones, then finally ‘bonding’ the new ideas to the victim via pleasure conditioning. Once you were looking at the Pinwheel you were thinking about it, inevitably.
She leaned forward. It was obviously going to take a closer look to sort this out. It did look quite a lot like Pinwheel. But it couldn’t be, of course. If it actually was Pinwheel, then she wouldn’t be able to look away, and obviously she could -
Obviously she could glance-
She could turn her-
Zoe told herself to breathe calmly. Panicking would help nobody. If she was facing Pinwheel, that didn’t have to be a problem. She could use what she knew about it to solve it, couldn’t she? She’d worked with so many agents who’d been indoctrinated by it. There had to be something in her memories she could use.
She reviewed the past few moments. Obviously she’d been tricked into letting Pinwheel gain focus when she looked at the install wheel. Her attention had sharpened onto it and grown stronger when she realised the connection in design. And now she couldn’t look away, so her attention had been locked.
And that had happened several seconds ago, so Pinwheel was already imprinting ideas onto her own thoughts, replacing them with thoughts better suited to the intent of the Pinwheel programmers. That couldn’t be CodeBreak - they were all gone now - so someone must have taken a Pinwheel code dump and rewritten key portions to use for themself.
Zoe realised suddenly how much she wanted to blink. She hadn’t been for some time.
She was just wondering whether the idea she could reason her way through what she knew about the program to resist it had been her own idea or one Pinwheel had imprinted over her intended reaction when she felt another thought change.
She tried to work out what had happened, catch the changed thought, but it was fleeting, elusive, like standing in a supermarket with a full basket, trying to remember the last thing you’d planned to buy.
Eventually she caught the thought; this was definitely a CodeBreak incursion. There was no need to look anywhere else for those responsible.
Zoe knew the thought had to be wrong, but she couldn’t for the life of her think of an alternative. No contradictory thought would form.
One thing was for certain, which was that any C.A.L.I.B.R.E. agent under the influence of Pinwheel should receive a spotless Assessment of Mental Adjustment, and be cleared for immediate return to activity. Definitely.
Zoe half-nodded to herself, eyes still locked on the pinwheel, helplessly unblinking, before realising she’d lost track of which thought had been changed.
But she was about to be distracted, anyway; Pinwheel had moved on to the pleasure conditioning. Her body was suddenly responding to her commands again, but even more than that, it was responding to waves of pleasure. She blinked - such a relief - but didn’t look away; Pinwheel still wasn’t letting go.
Out of the periphery of her vision she saw a green light as her computer’s webcam booted up.
Her hands came up, squeezing her breasts through her suit. Even with her pleasure receptors supercharged by Pinwheel that wasn’t enough. She tugged at her vest, buttons popping off as she pulled it loose. Her blouse followed not long after when it still wasn’t stimulating enough, the force she put into pulling it open over her breasts actually ripping the fabric not far below the still-buttoned collar.
Zoe realised she’d started humping the air as her hands fumbled at her bra, fingers finally meeting skin to know that while it still didn’t feel quite enough, it was finally close - finally acceptable - and she began pawing at herself in uncontrolled lust, panting slightly, still humping the pair.
Pinwheel meant it didn’t feel like that, though; it felt like there was someone with her. She squeezed tight around the cock she was imagining, wanting to galvanise her phantom lover. It didn’t work; Pinwheel was supplying her with clear updates on what the body she felt inside her was doing and even how it felt for Zoe.
She was still gasping, moaning, louder and louder, her hands frantic, moving faster than they ever would if she were stroking her body under her own control. It was something animal, unleashed, and the part of Zoe which still considered Pinwheel a threat remembered the accounts she’d heard of this from agents in debrief. Once the climax was reached, they were more firmly leashed than ever before.
Zoe knew she should be fighting this. But she also knew that she couldn’t, and that soon her mind wouldn’t even try.
Her cries rising in volume and intensity, Zoe Hendricks succumbed to Pinwheel, becoming a dripping, eager slave to its programming.
As the spiral vanished away, the webcam light shut down. She shuddered a final time, sagging back into her chair. Her breath came in shallow pants, a thin sheen of sweat on her chest, and she looked down and saw her ruined white blouse, her grey vest in need of repair, and the deep, dark spreading stain of Pinwheel’s control across her coarse grey business skirt.
Pinwheel slave Hendricks rose briskly. She had to shower and change into casual clothing before her children wondered where she was and came looking for her; there was no acceptable level of risk that her service would be discovered. She would spend the evening maintaining her cover as Dr Hendricks, and would begin the work she was programmed to do when the kids were safely at school the next morning.
Karen guided her car up a mostly-disused forest road. The tarmac had split a little down the centre from years without maintenance, and the shoots of grass emerging from the crack were testament to how rarely anyone used the track.
This was not something Karen would have done willingly without it being an instruction. Still, instructions had to be followed, so that’s what she was doing. She kept an eye on the road to the left, watching for… yes, there she was.
Standing by the side of the road, looking bored and pouting, next to a small stack of metal boxes and a single reinforced briefcase, wearing a makeshift facemask, was her houseguest.
Karen pulled up next to her.
“You kept me waiting longer than I expected,” the villainess started, and Karen cut across her testily. “Enmascarada, maidslut.”
Visible through her mask, her eyes glazed, and she dropped a quick curtsey before standing, hands clasped behind her back, head bowed. She was now in what the Rossum post-it described as ‘janitor mode’.
“Tidy those boxes into my trunk then get in the car,” Karen instructed. Enmascarada Verde curtsied again, then picked up half of the boxes and moved to obey, arranging them neatly in three stacks so they wouldn’t rattle in transit and would be easy to unload.
After she’d finished, she was opening the car’s rear passenger side door when Karen interrupted again. “The briefcase belongs in the trunk too.”
Enmascarada Verde shut the door, retrieved the briefcase, opened the trunk, stowed the briefcase, closed the trunk and returned to her seat, all without batting an eye or complaining.
“Seatbelt,” Karen instructed. She watched the villainess mutely but willingly obey.
Part of her wondered whether using the mode triggers would make their shared homelife more peaceful. It seemed more reasonable to use them unprompted now she’d used them as part of her handler’s instructions. Karen wasn’t sure she liked what that said about her.
She started the car up again and started looking for the next junction. They were silent most of the way home - Karen never played music while on a mission, and felt this counted - but, toward the end, glancing up at the rear view, Karen could see the unmasked plaything behind her starting to come out of her triggered mode.
“I think you and me, we have a problem,” she said, her tone much more gentle than when Karen had picked her up. Karen opened her mouth, and Enmascarada raised her hand, begging for a moment uninterrupted. “Please - do whatever you were going to do! But before you do, I ask you, please let me tell you why I think so.”
Karen was still processing ‘please do whatever you were going to do’ as the villainess continued. “The briefcase you had me steal - do you know what’s in it?”
“…No,” Karen said slowly. She didn’t. She only knew she had instructions to get it - and most of the money - to her handler for the next phase of their work to keep C.A.L.I.B.R.E. uncorrupted.
“It’s the device they had me in when you took me. The control headset.”
Karen frowned. “That… doesn’t make any sense.”
“I agree. But also, your conversation on the phone today makes no sense.” The villainess let that idea sit for a few moments. “Miss - if you are in trouble, I am too. Can I help? What were you talking about on the phone?”
“You can only speak of it in this room, or when this phone rings. It must be answered only in private. Do you understand?”
Karen didn’t answer her, because she couldn’t.