Keeley almost hadn’t signed up for the experiment - it paid a small amount, sure, but it was mid-afternoon and it wasn’t super clear how long it might take. She didn’t want to end up late for training. Coach was an easy-going woman, and would probably be OK, but Keeley had her goals in life. Playing fast and loose wasn’t going to help with that…
All the same, it was on the edge of her interests. She’d love to jump into a sporting career but she was smart enough to consider that her back-up; her focus was on therapy. On recovery. And even if she was thinking more about physio than the mental side of things, so many of the case studies she’d read had covered mental trauma. So often that was memory which couldn’t be forgotten, or that had been lost but shouldn’t be.
(That, at any rate, was what Keeley told herself. It certainly wasn’t any worries about her own ability to retain facts. Or the fact she’d nearly failed the last pop quiz because every answer felt just out of reach.)
She’d had no real expectations of it, not in the sense of understanding what she’d see. And yet what she saw and heard was still out of place somehow. Sitting there, feeling the tingles up and down her spine as everything had its strange effects upon her, she was sure she could make out words.
No, that wasn’t quite right. She could make out letters. Batches of letters together; they might be words, but they appeared and disappeared far too fast for her to register them.
As the arousal built within her, Keeley’s thoughts were idly occupied in the idea that if her muscles twitched in time with the appearance and disappearance of each word, she could perhaps see them more clearly.
And yet somehow, her body wasn’t then willing to follow her urgings. She heard, almost lost beneath the sounds from her headphones, the whimpers and moans of the women around her, and did not realise that her own were contributing to the sound.
Her hands rose to grope, to fondle, to stroke, and Keeley’s vague notion was that this wasn’t her intention. That she was doing this for some other reason.
But the whole sensation left her dizzy - no, not dizzy, but giddy; giddy with pleasure, among other things. She felt her lips settling into a warm, happy smile, then bit her lip as her thighs parted without her own intention.
Fuck, but this felt good; too good, uncannily good, in the kind of way that left her reeling. Her body was honed for fitness, but she could feel herself trembling. And as the display intensified and her feelings rose along with them, she found herself not shivering but shuddering, waves of pleasure thundering through her tensed body. What was this? How did this happen? And how was it that she was so lost to it so easily?
Keeley prided herself on control over her body. Perhaps that was why she noticed that she’d lost it - although even then, she noticed this only for a few moments before her consciousness faded, too, just after someone had sat down next to her.
The thing LaToya couldn’t help thinking was that she was missing out on her favourite streamer. Still, Mimi had insisted, and it was hard to say no to Mimi, especially if you noticed she was nervous herself and clearly just wanted someone she knew around to help her feel comfortable. LaToya was absolutely certain her roommate wouldn’t be going herself if there wasn’t something in it for her, and they could both use the extra credit - just for very different reasons.
The second thing she noticed was that the headphones they were using for this experiment were actually more comfortable than the expensive ones she’d bought for her own rig. She told herself that the experiment was starting, and she couldn’t just lift them off again at a point like this, but she made a note to check the brand after the experiment was over.
The countdown pips were startlingly clear, too. How had they managed to get funding for gear like this?
Even the monitors were unusually crisp for campus gear, she thought, as the countdown blipped out. The pastel pink rolling clouds were an odd choice (was it pink just because they thought girls would pay pink more attention, she wondered sourly) but they were rendered clearly, with no fuzz or issues. True, it was going to be pre-recorded video, but the display clearly needed a high level of precision for this experiment. (And yet, she thought, there were more than twenty rigs in this room. That meant big money.)
The pastel pink and yellow skewed into a deeper purple. God, she thought, she was horny for this setup. Hot on the heels of that thought came the realisation that the word ‘horny’ had more to do with her mental state at the moment than she’d realised; that she wasn’t just horny right now but it had that weakening, needy edge she sometimes experienced, usually when she’d been pushing aside her physical needs for a long time in a push toward something else.
LaToya’s eyes widened, but her lids half-closed. She lost awareness of the clarity of the sound, the crispness of the visuals. They became her reality, the only part of the world she experienced, and she was lost within them, her breathing shallow.
This game was bliss. She wanted still better. Her hands rose from the desk as if to play; they came back to her body, her right hand rising and finding its way inside her ragged, torn band T-shirt, fingers needily probing beneath the soft padding of her bra to graze nails across her nipple. She toyed with this new controller, enjoying the feedback, as her left hand slid from the desk to land in her lap.
This was trickier; her hand fumbled its potion, then fumbled at the waistband of her baggy sweats. It gave up on the tight seal of her panties, her thighs instead parting so her fingers could explore her own wetness through the fabric of the panties.
LaToya stared, her eyes glazed. No real life experience, no game, no daydream had prepared her for this. She was overwhelmed, carried away, lost to the world. Stroking through the soft, sodden cotton of her panties, she came again and again, as if at the mercy of a dedicated, skilled tongue. The pleasant fumblings she enjoyed whenever Mimi played matchmaker were nothing to this.
“We have another test,” Nick and Joey were told. “Another criterion review.”
The two students exchanged glances, Joey smirking, Nick’s expression grim. “Alright,” Nick said. “What do you have in mind?”
“There were a lot of potential results pitched with this program,” their military contact continued, almost as if they hadn’t spoken. “I don’t think anyone expected all of those results to come true.” Which, had he but known it, was a weight off Nick’s mind; they’d pitched a great many different things to get the funding they needed. And as much as he’d enjoyed processing the results and continuing the experiment beyond the initial imprint sessions, he’d been aware that several of them were missing.
“We also knew there was a risk that not every test case would manifest any form of appropriate induced behaviour.” The relief Nick had enjoyed was abruptly gone again. This felt like a build-up to something nasty, either in this call or as a shoe to drop later. And it certainly wasn’t in line with how their handler had behaved during the first call, just a week or two after the initial experiment. Was their backing going to be pulled less than two months after their ideas were put into practice? “As I understand it, several of your test subjects are not currently demonstrating behaviour within the parameters we defined as being militarily useful?”
Nick was making a quick calculation in his head when Joey spoke up. “Somewhere between one in three and one in two, depending.”
“Depending on what, Mr O’Brien?”
“On what level of post-imprint training you’re allowing,” Joey said. “Some of these women aren’t going to be assets in their own right, but they could be with the right support.”
On the other side of the Skype screen, their handler nodded. “I’d be much less unhappy about that,” he said, “if there was any indication you could select the control word for a given test case.”
“I have some ideas about that,” Nick said quickly. “But it’ll require an entirely new approach. So very much for our second test, assuming we get one.”
There was a stern glare from the handler. “Be aware, gentlemen, that if that test doesn’t happen under the funding of the Department of Defense, it will not be permitted to happen.”
Nick nodded hastily. He glanced across to Joey, praying that his friend wasn’t going to say the wrong thing, provoke a problem reaction. “We understand,” he said. “So. What’s the test?”
“This is one for use outside Intelligence. We need someone to put the needs of their handler above their own, while recognising they’re doing so.”
“What’s this designed to model?” Joey asked, suddenly very interested. Nick tilted his head to one side, also very curious.
“There are times when we require a soldier to act against their instinct,” the handler said simply. “For the good of the unit. It’s a rare quality in typical recruitment, but after recent years…” He went silent for a moment. “We’d like some insurance that we get what we need.”
“OK. So a good test will show someone make a sacrifice for us against their own best interest?” Nick followed up, mind racing through the catalogue of developments they’d made.
“That sums it up.”
There were a few of the women now who were reliable and predictable, to the point they’d certainly do anything needed, but he wasn’t convinced their handler would consider that any kind of proof. Abigail and Cecily would certainly do what they were asked. The way Joey didn’t want to file reports about Daphne, Nick had to assume she was giving anything wanted. Jolene would certainly take his authority over her own, simply because he was male. Erica’s compulsions were already part of a test record, and from what their handler had said, he’d be looking for them to prove they’d got enough options to keep this going.
And unfortunately, any of those women had already been pushed far enough in the directions Nick and Joey had decided that he wasn’t sure they’d be regarded as going ‘against their instinct’.
Who to choose…
By this time, Keeley wasn’t actually surprised to see Nick show up during practice. A few of her team mates had warned her about him - apparently assuming she was dating him or something, which, no dating, though she did find herself making the walk of shame back from his apartment every so often - saying he’d been seen fooling around with at least one other woman on campus lately.
Keeley didn’t mind, though. They didn’t have any kind of deal, they weren’t even friends with benefits. They were just friends who fucked occasionally, and if she’d gone from chasing all manner of men over campus when she wasn’t working out to letting Nick be the central part of her romantic life, that didn’t mean she was settling, or pining, or a girlfriend in denial.
Nick had just shown her the value of loyalty. That was all. So he might run around as much as he wanted, but she was prepared to stay just as she was. And why not?
She certainly wasn’t going to listen to her team about him. That wasn’t what a loyal woman did. A loyal woman believed her man no matter what, even if he wasn’t officially her man.
He sat on the bleachers and watched them play, absorbing her teammates glares with good cheer.
As the game finished he rose and made his way back over to the car park, where she quickly joined him, giving him a quick hug with one arm as she unlocked her car with the other. His teeth nipped at her neck in passing, and she responded with a primal growl of delight.
“Hey, stranger,” she said with a grin. “What’re you doing here?”
“Going home with you,” he said.
As always, even with her closeness, when he tried a line like that Keeley did find herself actually considering kicking him to the kerb just for that kind of arrogance. She frowned at him, conscious as always that while he might be an inch or two taller, the strength advantage her honed body had over his gave her a theoretical dominance over him.
She wasn’t sure that had ever occurred to him, and that did frustrate her occasionally.
These moments of irritation, of frustration with his ego, would always surge early on in any meeting. Keeley still wasn’t sure how he always seemed to get by them without her even giving him the telling off he deserved.
She opened her mouth to do just that and, smirking, he spoke over her.
“Keeley, are you loyal?”
There was a moment where she felt herself go cross-eyed before her self-awareness seemed to bubble away. She stood straighter, muscles suddenly taut, as if she were on a parade ground somewhere. Her whole body language changed to one of ordered devotion, and if she could have seen herself, she would have understood her team assuming the two were dating.
Keeley had a brief moment where she felt completely removed from control, an observer only, helplessly watching from the prison of her own head as her body did all of this. Then she heard her voice say “Yes,” and she was suddenly back in control of her body - or as much control as a loyal woman had, considering her man might ask anything of her at any time.
“Are you still playing that game?”
Mimi’s tone was exasperated but affectionate. LaToya actually smiled to herself a little, though the part of her which hated to be seen as a nuisance was squirming inside. “Yeah.”
“You know, you really should take a break.”
“I’m really close to the next achievement.”
“…How close is really close?”
“I should unlock it in another week’s game time,” LaToya said thoughtfully. “So an hour, maybe?”
Mimi tutted, but didn’t say anything else.
LaToya kept playing, conscious of her roommate standing a few feet behind her. Silent. Watching. Judging.
It all slid off LaToya’s back. You couldn’t grow up with her mother and not learn to block out passive aggressive tactics on all levels.
After a minute or two longer, Mimi went away. Latoya could feel her game get better as her focus returned; her reflexes were quicker, too.
“Hey, LaToya?” Mimi called from the kitchen, a moment or two later. “Are you dutiful?”
LaToya hit Alt F4 and shut the game down on immediate reflex. She wouldn’t want to neglect her duties, and if she’d been remiss she certainly didn’t want to slow down her efforts just to save her game. “I am,” she said, her head fizzing with the importance of her duty.
She was already rising and going through into the kitchen; Mimi had been very clear in the past couple of weeks that duties were to be found in the kitchen, where she’d penned up a number of chores - duties - on the whiteboard. And whenever there were duties for LaToya, she would get them carried out. That was important. You couldn’t consider yourself an adult without a clear sense of duty.
It had not escaped her notice that over the time Mimi had put this rule in place, the balance of chores had gone further and further from even. She just hadn’t worked out how to question that without it seeming like she was shirking her duties.
There were new duties on the board, it seemed. They read:
Get out for some fresh air and sunshine
Take Mimi’s library books back to the library and check them in
Bring a venti frappe back on return
LaToya had thought she’d have a free afternoon for gaming. Her stomach lurched at just how badly she’d underestimated the duties required of her.
She exhaled. “I won’t let you down,” she told Mimi, gathering up the stack of books and heading for the door.
As she watched her roommate head off, Mimi told herself for probably the dozenth time that these were for LaToya’s own good, even if she felt uncomfortable about using the phrase, the trigger.
She was pretty sure it had to have come from that experiment the other week; it didn’t seem likely she’d come to university with it, and where else would she have run into it?
For the three dozenth time since discovering her roommate’s trigger, Mimi thanked her lucky stars she hadn’t picked up anything of the sort from that same experiment.
Nick was honestly annoyed with himself that he’d taken so long to think of Keeley. She and Felicity were the two women he’d spent the most time with since deciding that if Joey was going to give into his baser urges, Nick was definitely allowed a treat - very different women from one another, but both had their appeal, and he felt he knew them both pretty well by now.
He’d mostly even stopped asking himself who they might have been if he’d met them before they underwent the imprinting process. They’d been imprinted, he’d been paid well to do so, and if all went well the process would make him and Joey rich enough they could stop working by 25.
At which time he would probably collect Keeley, Felicity, and maybe a couple of others - he was quite taken with Yasmin, although he hadn’t worked out his approach there yet - and start figuring out how to build himself a long-term pleasure palace.
There was something about how eager these women were now. Take Keeley, for example. It was the right thing for a loyal woman to please her man; she’d actually decided that before he’d settled on his first plan of attack.
He hadn’t expected that; hadn’t realised at all that some part of her internalised, pre-college teachings had primed this idea into her. He suspected nor had she; that if you’d ever asked Keeley, the idea that loyalty involved surrendering decisions about sex to her partner would have been ridiculous. But it had been buried in her assumptions all the same, and when she imprinted on the word, it became a rule she couldn’t break.
He’d begun testing her boundaries, in fact; partly because it gave him a thrill, partly because he was curious what he could do with her. Which was why she now hung by her own grip from a pull-up bar just inside her room door, arms holding her in place through sheer determination to measure up to his requirements, thighs wrapping around him, totally naked, as he gripped her close by her buttocks, planted his feet, and pumped into her.
To Keeley, this was a generous offer he’d made that let her keep up her fitness regimen with time she really should have been dedicating to pleasuring her man. To Nick it was just plain hot. He had become fascinated by the power of her muscles, by the curves that formed and vanished as she flexed and held, by the power and strength she showed in contrast to the tempting softness of her skin, by the glow that a sheen of healthy sweat brought to her body.
He’d started pushing her into bigger and better feats of physique, combining each one with the sex she seemed to believe her new role and understanding in life required of her. He was trying - very hard - not to think about the fetish he was pretty sure he’d set brewing for himself. This was complicated enough if he pretended it was all simple and straightforward.
He grunted as he came and, as always, his knees gave a little and he sagged forward against her. He felt more than saw her tense her muscles further in reaction, keeping her pose just as he’d specified in spite of the sudden extra weight. As he recovered, he looked up and met her eyes, open, trusting, and loyal, and he was seized with the sudden temptation to walk away and see if she stayed hanging there.
It would be an interesting experiment but he reminded himself in time that this wasn’t the right time. He had other things that needed doing, now that she’d satisfied his immediate craving.
“Right,” he said, and took her by the hips, lifting gently. Keeley responded to the prompt and released the pull-up bar, allowing herself to be set gently on the floor.
She looked at him inquiringly, and Nick smiled. “Yep,” he said. “We’ve got more to discuss, I’m afraid. I’ve got something I need you to do for me.” Keeley nodded; a moment later, she bit her lip, and Nick realised his own awkward nervousness about this was showing. Keeley always picked up on his moods, and if she’d been triggered to loyalty she would automatically start to adopt them.
Which was a lot better in some moods than others. It’s hard not to feel guilty when your upset is literally contagious.
“So I need you to do something,” he continued, leading her through to the sofa where they settled side by side. “You’re not going to like it, but it’s important to me.”
“I need you to show your loyalty, Keeley,” he said. He watched her eyes unfocus and refocus as they always did. She seemed to look at him more closely every time he pushed her in this way. “And I need you to show you are loyal to me over other things.”
Keeley nodded fractionally again. Her eyes were wide and she was watching quietly, the importance Nick was putting on this overwhelming her own thoughts. She waited to find out what load he would ask her to carry.
“Your game this weekend,” he said. “I need your team to lose. I need it to be due to something you did. And I don’t need you to avoid trouble for it, but I’d like it if you could.”
Keeley’s breath audibly caught. She blinked rapidly, and Nick studied her expression with concern. Had he pushed this too far?
By the time LaToya got back to the dorms, things had changed a little inside their shared rooms. She opened the door, a little grumpy internally that she’d been spending on Mimi again - it might be her duty to buy Mimi coffee quite often, but it was one of the few duties that actually chafed.
She opened the door to find Mimi leaning sulkily against the counter by the board in the kitchen, looking for all the world like a child who’d been put into time out. LaToya held out her frappe with a soft, timid smile, and received a grudging one in return. “You’d better go in,” Mimi said, causing LaToya to blink twice in confusion.
Mimi jerked a frustrated thumb at the kitchen whiteboard. The list of duties LaToya had just accomplished was still there. Now, though, below that list was a new line, written in someone else’s hand:
Give Mimi’s boyfriend a blowjob
She looked back to Mimi, who met her gaze bitterly. LaToya couldn’t understand the frustration. This was a duty, that was all; it just needed to be carried out. She let her smile become gentle and kind, hoping Mimi’s frustrations would ease.
“He’s in my room,” Mimi said. “Waiting.”
“Oh.” LaToya nodded. “Uh. May I go into your room?”
Mimi nodded, crossing her arms again in irritation. LaToya set the frappe down by her friend and then turned, walking into Mimi’s bedroom. She could feel herself beginning to salivate as the door opened and Mimi’s boyfriend Joey was revealed, sat cheerfully on her desk chair, his pants down around his legs, his chest bare, his cock already on display and hard, a smirk plastered across his face.
LaToya crossed the room and knelt to do her duty.
Keeley had a headache. She’d managed to keep Coach from realising - and stayed on the team - but she wasn’t playing nearly as well as she should be. The importance of her loyalty to Nick was huge, but the team was what had got her into college, and while the scholarship wasn’t exactly a full ride, it helped a lot. And a member of a team was loyal to a team; a student at a university was loyal to the university; a person in a state was loyal to a state.
It should be no contest, and yet somehow loyalty to Nick always felt more real. Easier to accept. More active, more something she worked to prove and to embrace.
She kept glancing up and down the court; her reactions were still fast, but her attention wasn’t on the game. Nick was sitting there, two rows back from the front, with his short, creepy friend who’d helped him run the experiment. That set off all kinds of alarm bells - so did the fact Nick had his phone out, like he was recording the game - but he was still Nick, wasn’t he?
Movement distracted her. Despite the headache she moved with drilled, practised instinct, moving into easy passing position. Her shoulder went down and she jinked to the side and the woman marking her was abruptly lost in her dust. A couple of long, loping steps and Carrie snapped the ball up from her dribble, making the pass.
Keeley was too obvious an opportunity, and Carrie had to hand her the ball. Perfect, at this late-game stage, the teams not far off evenly matched. Keeley kept moving, feeling the adrenaline euphoria she’d normally get when she knew the pass had been executed that well, that everything was open. Across the court she could feel the opposition realising how badly they’d been played.
The best thing for her team would be; three more steps, then jump and shoot from the three-point line. She had the time, she judged, to find the right line and make the shot with confidence. She didn’t have much more.
That would be the best thing for her team. Her university. Her scholarship.
Keeley took one… two… three steps… and then four, and then she was running at pace. She went up for a dunk, aware of the defence pulling in close, jumping beside her. With her heart pounding she felt more than heard the slap as one hand deflected her shot away.
She landed and almost stumbled, going down to one knee, as the opposition counterattacked, a series of rapid passes tracking the ball to the other end of the court.
Still kneeling, she heard the buzzer as they scored. Her heart was pounding on her ears, louder than ever, and Keeley was shocked and thrilled to realise she felt the same way she did when she knew she’d helped win the game.
She looked up at Nick, who almost alone among the home fans was grinning, and realised what she was truly loyal to.
She felt as if she’d won the game for her team because she had.