Cecily’s head was spinning as she got up from the computer screen. It had been a fascinating experiment, though honestly, she wasn’t convinced the experimental design was ideal for a recall experiment.
(Of course, that might have been the reason they did it; to offset standard memory techniques.)
Despite her determination to take it all in, she couldn’t help but feel she’d lost track along the way, which was frustrating. In another two years she hoped to be a postgrad designing experiments like these of her own, which was why she volunteered as frequently as she possibly could.
She’d just been overwhelmed. Which she was determined to stress in the post-experiment interview.
She had to wait for a few minutes - the two men running the experiment were interviewing individually, and that left her waiting for the first wave to be completed. Of course she was hardly the only one waiting; one of the others really stood out, pacing rather than sitting. Cecily wasn’t sure how you could still feel agitated after that experiment. It might have been overwhelming, but it was also very soothing, a combination she would have said was a contradiction in terms before.
Cecily wondered if that was part of the intent of the test - how does recall change as someone relaxes - or whether it was just a byproduct of their methodology. Now she came to think of it, though, she remembered less of the most relaxing parts. Past a certain point she’d just become content to be led through the experiment.
Yes, that was it - she’d somehow forgotten the moment she lost her determination. Once she did, it had been less a keen student taking mental notes, more someone in the passenger seat, being led through the route. No say of her own. Just a simple, easy docility.
…What a strange place her thoughts were taking her to.
She glanced across to one of the others waiting. She knew Erica, only vaguely, but the two had fled to the campus coffee shop after a class with one of the world’s worst and most lecherous lecturers some months ago. Finding themselves in the same place and survivors (as it felt) of the same gruelling experience, they’d gravitated together, shared laughter that started out jerky and unsettled before becoming genuine as they unwound.
They’d shared a few coffees since and Cecily would have called them friends if asked, though they barely knew each other. Erica took a while to even notice Cecily was looking at her, let alone look back in her direction. When she did, though, she smiled, a small smile that didn’t seem like Erica. A guilty smile, too; embarrassed. What by, Cecily wasn’t sure.
For her part, Cecily simply sat meekly on her chair. She might be going over the experiment in her mind, but that was just to keep it fresh for the exit interview. She wanted to be sure she gave value for money. And so she simply waited to be called.
She wasn’t sure whether she should mention that the experiment had left her hot and flustered. She’d probably wait and see if they asked. If they didn’t, then it could stay her secret. If it did, then of course she’d have to tell them.
By contrast, Daphne spent the brief moments before she went into her own exit interview trying to hide her blushes. How she’d felt during that experience was… well, people certainly didn’t need to know. She was still flushed and embarrassed. Good girls just didn’t feel that way, and if they did, it was because they’d invited sinful thoughts into their bodies in the first place.
Her thighs were clamped tightly together. She was unusually grateful that she’d worn dark pants that day.
Thankfully it looked like she’d be one of the first to be interviewed, and would have her chance to get in and out quickly. She barely wanted to admit how she’d felt to herself, but she knew she had some prayer ahead to purge herself of sin.
The interview seemed to fly by; in what seemed like no time at all she was walking across campus again, heading for her dorm. She was in the front door of her dorm before the thought struck her that it was odd she didn’t remember any of that, but she put it down to natural embarrassment. She didn’t want to think about any of these events. Not until she could pray.
Settling down in her dorm room, she ignored the curious glances of her roommate, obviously (Daphne felt) unfairly amused by her obvious awkwardness, and settled to her knees beside the bed to pray.
Cecily flashed a winning smile as she sat down opposite Nick. “First of all,” she said, “it was a pleasure to experience that. I’m not read up to postgrad level, but I think I saw some of the theories on recall you’re working with in one of my textbooks. Subconscious stimulation as a memory anchor?”
She wasn’t quite sure how to read the expression that crossed Nick’s face at that. He seemed… cautious? That didn’t make any sense.
She flushed suddenly. Maybe there was one reason it might. Maybe he was protective of his methods. Well, it was better than if he were embarrassed about them and she’d led with a comment like that…
“You think we primed people?” he asked after a few moments.
“Oh, well, uh…” Embarrassed herself now, she scrambled for a get-out clause. She’d been picturing this man as a potential mentor and it was suddenly very clear she’d overstepped her bounds. But she could still make it work. She was sure of that. “Doesn’t every experiment prime people at least a little? Unless we were supposed to be a control group,” she saw his lip quirk dismissively as he heard the idea, and knew both that it was safe to go down this route, and that he was amused, “and I don’t think something that elaborate would make sense for a control group. You’d be all but certain to create some false positives. And maybe some false negatives into the bargain, which isn’t exactly easy. To do at once, I mean.”
Nick smiled softly. “It’s true that people can be led to certain mental states fairly easily,” he said. “Subconscious stimulation is hardly the only way to get there, of course.”
Cecily nodded enthusiastically. At least now they were edging toward the conversation she wanted. Toward her chance to impress. “Obviously it would be very improper for you to discuss your methodology when we have a follow-up test to go,” she said. “But I was hoping that after that test, it might be possible for us to-”
“People can be very easily led,” Nick said, talking over her with the air of someone who has made their decision. “In fact, some people can become quite… docile…” He looked at her significantly. Cecily felt a tingle at the base of her brain, a strange sensation that bubbled up beyond to wash over her. “…under subconscious stimulation,” Nick continued.
Cecily was still feeling that tingle wash out from the base of her brain through the rest of her brain, down her spine, through her nervous system. It felt like someone’s complete attention; a strange frisson of something misunderstood but somehow wonderful. She had had a half-dozen ideas, conversational gambits, tactics to psuh her agenda in mind, but they had melted like the first falls of snow on a sunny day. Not a trace of them was left in her head.
A heartbeat later, she no longer even recalled that they’d been there, or in her plans at all. She sat back, straightening up. Her legs, which had been crossed, uncrossed, feet side by side on the carpet. Her hands, previously clasped in an attempt to impress Nick by mirroring him, opened, and each settled onto a thigh, palm-down, her posture now empty, open, and - no other word for it -
“Are you docile, Cecily?” Nick asked gently.
She smiled, almost dreamily. “Oh yes,” she said simply. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, that’s good,” Nick said, his voice soft but full of thrilling, delightful menace. “If you’re docile, then we have a good working relationship ahead of us…”
Joey’s laugh, Nick had decided privately, was the thing about him he had the most difficulty not flinching at. The problem was, it was somewhere between a giggle and a gurgle, and how was anyone supposed to deal with that? The whole idea was ridiculous.
Still, his gurgling giggle was currently so enthusiastic the frames of his glasses shook occasionally.
“Oh, man,” he said again. “A bible basher. You know she’s gonna be a demon in bed.”
Nick offered a smile. He didn’t see the logic, but where was the harm in letting his friend entertain a fantasy? They just needed the last few tests to confirm everything and they were going to have all the money they needed - and government backing in case anyone sniffed out a scam and called in the law.
“So long as it doesn’t turn out that faith is a strong shield against brainwashing.”
“C’mon,” Joey wheedled. “How likely is that?”
“Well, we don’t know,” Nick pointed out, feeling reasonable enough about it. “The statistics on that kind of thing, we’re not going to have a proper handle on until we’ve done a few rounds of experimenting-”
Joey waved a hand impatiently. “You know what I mean. Your system works.”
“Our system,” Nick pointed out gently. “You’re not freeloading on this, man. Have some self-respect.” He smiled, to show it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Joey blinked at him owlishly, then laughed and nodded.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he agreed. “You know what I mean.”
Nick nodded. “Still,” he said. “Let’s get some work done on the rest of these. Then you can make your plans.”
Joey grinned slowly. At least his attention was back on the job, Nick thought; there was too much too this for him to get it all done on his own.
Nick was occasionally frustrating, but he’d provided the other key to their techniques. Frustratingly - and typically - he’d commented on the missing point, saying something everyone else had missed, and been surprised when anyone found what he had to say at all important.
Her roommate was, at least, respectful enough to be silent when she prayed. When Daphne opened her eyes and stood up, though, she said “Well, that was early.”
Daphne ignored her. She took her towel down from where it hung over the open door of her closet and started rummaging for new underwear.
“What happened?” her roommate continued. “Sin more than usual?” There was amusement in her voice, and Daphne looked up sharply, intending to chastise her, but she could already feel the heat of the blush spreading over her face.
“Please don’t joke about sin, Kate,” she said, intending a tone of wise reproach. Constrained emotions always fought back against authoritative tones, though, and she could hear the slight quaver in her voice. With a sinking feeling, she knew that so would Kate.
Kate grinned broadly. “Oh my God-”
“Don’t say that.”
“-did you meet a guy?” Daphne tried to bear that out with dignified silence. This was a mistake, as Kate continued, “Did you meet a girl?”
Daphne audibly tsked and flounced out of the room. She kept hoping that Kate would take the hint, but so far, she never had. It was frankly infuriating.
She took a long time in the shower. It was supposed to be cleaning, soothing, and even purging of those impure thoughts. But her sheer bewilderment at where those thoughts had come from got in the way of that. She kept thinking back to the images on the screen, to the music in her headphones. None of it had seemed erotic. None of it had seemed sinful.
(Much as Kate wouldn’t believe it, Daphne thought primly, she did understand the difference between the two. Erotic inclinations were only sinful outside the proper context. Since she had no ring on her finger, she could not have the proper context.)
But none of the swirls and colours should have been enticing. Nothing in the music had been arousing.
And yet, all the same, she’d been enticed. She’d been aroused.
It didn’t make sense.
She had already spent plenty of time searching her memory of the Good Book for anything she could use for solace. It was time to face facts. It wasn’t solace she needed. It was an explanation.
If only she had a good way to get one.
Beatrice, Joey decided, was a great thing, not a good thing, but she was still kind of harshing his buzz. Since rewriting her into his girlfriend - which was a step or two further than Nick had realised he’d be willing to go - she’d decided to be, well, around a lot. And he was having to pay for everything.
Which being the case, it was two weeks before he actually got around to talking to Daphne, despite his conviction that someone that repressed had to be “sensational in the sack.”
And he almost didn’t reach out to her at all, but after Nick read him the riot act for taking advantage of Beatrice (well, not exactly, he seemed to think people would have questions to ask about why someone like her was with someone like him, which he put down to jealousy), and after he and Beatrice had an argument on the same day (he had commented again that he wanted other women in the relationship, and Beatrice had finally, and a little condescendingly, told him it was a miracle he had her, and that he’d never get anyone else) - and, admittedly, also after he’d asked Beatrice if she was ‘rampant’, pushing her mental buttons so he could have his fun with her as his way of getting even - he eventually decided that what he needed was a good Christian girl, because that old Billy Joel song couldn’t possibly steer him wrong.
He’d made sure to get some sex-selfies (sexies?) of Beatrice riding him which he texted to Nick, telling himself he was just confirming for his lab partner that their system worked. It definitely wasn’t about bragging. Someone with Joey’s natural advantages didn’t need to brag.
Which all goes some way to explain why, at the same time Joey was trying to find where he’d written down Daphne’s number, Nick had decided that if they were going to be risking the integrity of the experiment by pushing its subjects hard before their second treatment, he should at least be getting some of the rewards.
Ultimately, they were both just as screwed if this went right but was discovered. If anyone reported on their experiment, Nick and Joey were expected to go down quietly without naming anyone or letting reporters realise the study was ultimately funded by a government organisation. In turn, they’d be given support once they finally got out - assuming they did.
The penalties if it just hadn’t worked were far less severe. Right up until Abigail responded correctly, they’d been in a fairly low-risk part of the test. It was now that there were risks, and Joey was magnifying them.
Nick recognised that joining in didn’t make anything better - in fact, if there was a flaw in the system, doing more with it before the indoctrination was firmly lodged in long-term memory would make it much riskier - but his partner had rubbed in his face that this was just going to escalate.
Not only that, but his partner got to enjoy the benefits.
Like many Psych postgrads, Nick was much better at analysing the psychology of others than he was at understanding his own.
He emailed Cecily, inviting her to meet up and talk experimental design at the local Starbucks. As he’d hoped, the acceptance came in within the hour.
Cecily arrived at Starbucks after Nick, leaving him to wait a little.
She waved; he smiled back; he waited a little longer as she queued up to order her drink. Strange how hard it was to keep his patience now he’d decided to act so soon; when he’d been resigned to wait a month it had been easy.
Perspective plays funny tricks on a man.
She set her cup down at the other side of the table, pulling out her chair to sit. “So, what did you want to-”
“Cecily, are you docile?”
Her sentence died in her throat. Nick saw her eyelids flicker for a moment and she went from a smooth motion to sitting heavily, almost unbalanced. He had to reach out his hand to to her arm to steady her.
It was like he’d switched her head off in the middle of a motion. Then she looked at him, eyes clear, innocent, and absolutely empty of independence.
“Yes,” she said. Her voice was soft. It was peaceful. He had to strain even to hear it over the background chatter but it sent chills down his spine when he did. Suddenly he couldn’t imagine why he’d taken so long.
“…Fuck,” he almost moaned.
“Yes,” she said again, starting to rise. It took about three seconds for him to process what had happened.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said urgently, trying to keep his voice low.”Stop that. Sit back down.”
Her hands had reached her belt; they released it, reluctantly, and she sat back down. That wonderful innocent dependence was now flavoured slightly with confusion. Her wide eyes still looked steadily back at him, awaiting context, awaiting information. Wanting to be led so she could follow.
Nick was nervous now, having seen just how much power some of the words could have on their subjects. Now it finally felt real. He fiddled with his cup for a moment, then put it to his mouth with shaky hands and swallowed the quarter-cup that was left. Cecily, prompted by watching him, had mirrored his action, putting the cup to her lips and taking a drink.
There was too much power over her to be safe if he couldn’t shield this from public view. “Drink up,” he told her. She put the cup back to her lips. It stayed there a long time; her cup had been almost entirely full but, led to it by his words, she finished it in one extended pull.
Nick was already standing. “Follow me,” he told her. “Let’s get out of here.”
As they threaded out through the crowd, one of the students at the next table watched them go - or, rather, watched Cecily go - deep in thought.
She was a handful, Joey thought. But, and he couldn’t help but smile possessively as he continued the thought, she was his handful. She was programmed to see him as her boyfriend. He’d also extorted obedience to his word out of her while in her rampant state.
On the other hand, her conscious mind definitely figured she was the one who wore the trousers in their relationship. She would twist his words (all right, she would just find flaws in the way he said them) which gave her tremendous leeway, and she pushed harder at that the more he tried to clamp down.
She had quickly become accustomed to getting her way physically whenever he didn’t intervene in time. And when they were talking, she was affectionate, but in the manner of someone who knew she was better than him.
She acted like being his girlfriend was doing him a favour.
It was no wonder that he’d wanted to find someone else where the situation could be different. But he thought it might be possible to make this an object lesson, too – show Beatrice who was really in charge, by how he took control in this situation.
So along she came to the dorm where Daphne lived. The two of them then spent a long time sat in the foyer, watching the comings and goings of the students there.
“Are you trying to pick one you’ve got a chance with?” Beatrice said. Her tone was somewhere between teasing and challenge. He frowned at her, but that only left her grinning even wider. So Joey tried, instead, ignoring her.
After a little while, though, he nodded to himself, got up, and started walking for the elevator. Beatrice, surprised, stood up and hurried after him.
“What is it? What’s going on?”
Walking briskly, he answered “Her roommate’s left.”
“Oh, so you can’t seduce her if she’s got a friend around?” She sounded amused. “Worried her friend will make her immune to your ‘sexy moves’?”
As the elevator door closed behind them, Joey smirked at her. “Do you remember me using sexy moves on you?”
Her brow furrowed. “No…”
“Wait. What’s that supposed to mean?”
Suddenly, Joey looked briefly nervous. He waved a hand, somewhere between trying to dismiss her question and Obi-Wan using the Force. “Don’t worry about that.”
Beatrice shrugged. She leaned back against the wall and folded her arms, but almost immediately she’d gotten comfortable the doors opened again.
Joey strode out onto the second floor, walking like he knew where he was going.
Following, Beatrice noted a lot of puzzled looks at him - and more than a little revulsion. It was hard not to resent that. Sure, she didn’t think much of him either - honestly she sometimes wondered why they were an item, though the question never seemed to matter too much - but other women outright rejecting him? It was something she’d known would happen, had to happen based on how he looked and acted. But it was painful to watch actually happen.
He made his way along the corridor, checking door numbers. Beatrice finally put her finger on why the puzzled looks had her on edge. He’d clearly never been here before. Which made it an absolute certainty he was about to make a fool of himself - and whatever else she thought about her boyfriend, she didn’t like the idea of him being humiliated in public.
When he finally knocked on a door, the half-familiar woman who opened it didn’t look happy to see him. To Beatrice’s eyes, she looked like a mouse; more, a mouse who was still being dressed by her mother. Although, she’d grant, that calf-length skirt could be hiding some legs that might almost rival her own…
“Daphne,” Joey said, “Are you submissive?”
The suspicion and discomfort in her eyes died away. Instead, Beatrice saw a woman completely empty of her own drive. Her mouth opened, but the word ‘yes’ didn’t come out, was only shaped by her lips.
Joey put a single finger on her breastbone and with that almost absence of pressure he walked her backward into her room. Beatrice followed and shut the door. “What did you just do?” she demanded.
And then she realised where she knew the girl (strange, how an absence of intent transforms a woman into a girl) from. The psych experiment.
“Wait,” she said. “Is that what you did to me?”
Joey’s expression froze in a moment of pure, blind panic.
Nick had not taken Cecily home. That had been the initial plan, but halfway there, he realised there were better options if he wanted to be sure his currently docile companion would remain docile and wouldn’t become a security risk.
Instead, the young psych major found herself following her dream mentor into the lab where their experimental equipment was set up.
He walked over to stand by the computers, and Cecily followed. He moved a chair away from one, and pointed to the space where it had been. Wordlessly, Cecily took her place there. “Spread your legs,” he said. “Bend over.” She did as she was told, not wondering why, not considering her future. Waiting instead to be led.
Nick put the headphones onto her. The tip of Cecily’s ear was folded in on itself a little. Left to her own devices, she’d have adjusted. As it was, she simply assumed he must have some reason for putting silent headphones on her like this.
Nick walked away, and Cecily waited.
Then the screen came to life, and the headphones soared into life with them. Cecily whimpered slightly as she found herself sucked into the programming once again. The words seemed clearer and sharper this time, more present, as if she could see them better now they were a part of her.
She wasn’t aware of Nick returning. Didn’t feel him reach around her to unbuckle her belt, unfasten her pants, pull them down around her ankles. Didn’t feel him pull down her panties.
But she felt him when he slid inside her. She just didn’t move. Hadn’t been told to.
There was a slight click as Nick connected his mic into her headphones again. He took it slowly, taking his time with her, enjoying her, keeping his thrusts to the same slow lazy rhythm as the screen. And throughout it, as he did so, he whispered phrases into her mind to join the words.
“You need me. You want me. You worship me. You need me. You want me. You worship me. You need me. You want me. You worship me.”
“You’ll earn me. You deserve me. You’re devoted to me. You’ll earn me. You deserve me. You’re devoted to me.”
“My pleasure is your everything. My wish is your everything. My goals are your everything.”