“Yes, Doctor,” he said. “As you command.”
The chancellor turned away from the van and headed back into the university, ready to start a fire and forget all about his past few weeks.
Bimbeau fell silent, watching him walk back in, and considered for a while.
He’d considered installing the programming software on Dr Kraft’s computer to be a moment of no return – nothing could be the same again, not after that. But there had been more since then. Taking Candace home, ordering her to avoid contact with her husband and daughter – that had made everything more risky.
Lucy becoming Lulu had come with its own risks. Not as major, but still standing out. He occasionally wondered what would have happened if her boyfriend had refused to accept his rejection.
And hanging over all of it had been the certainty that his programming would fade in time. Everyone who he affected became a time bomb, someone whose countdown needed regular re-setting.
But with the test of the new equipment, that was no longer a factor.
It was time for Doctor Bimbeau to disappear, somewhere he wouldn’t be so easily found as the research continued. To stop trying desperately to dodge Candace’s family.
He’d never been sure he had it in him. And by now he was sure that there would be future opportunities to fail ahead.
But with the fire his brainwashed thrall was about to start, Doctor Bimbeau would vanish from the record. His equipment requisitions would seem to be the scrap metal piled haphazardly in his lab when it was found after the fire, charred and melted.
The new life… the power over the world he was so keen to seize… all of it was now all but in his hands already.
He distantly heard the sudden whoof of chemicals catching fire. His eyes widened. How long had he been sat there?
He sat back, glanced across to Candace at the wheel of the van.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
“Yes, Doctor,” she agreed. The engine sprang to life and, as she pulled away from the curb, she added “As you command.”
Bimbeau smiled at the sign of submission, but lapsed back into silence after that, returning to his thoughts.
When Candace spoke, he was far enough removed from his surroundings that she had to repeat herself even to get his attention. He shook his head.
“What was that?”
“I was just wondering what the plan is, Doctor?”
He shrugged. “Get to the warehouse, set up the tiara and table again, and make some changes while I figure out the next move.”
“Will your next move need money, Doctor?”
That sharpened his attention. True, there wasn’t much in the way of operating expenses here.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering if you would want to take my husband’s money.”
She said it so matter-of-factly, her eyes on the road, as if it was a casual suggestion. He turned and looked at her steadily for a while, trying to read an impassive expression.
Of course, the fact he’d been schooling her in that impassive, blank-looking expression got in the way now, when it came to reading her.
“I don’t believe Lulu and I could rob a bank successfully, Doctor, even if you ordered us to.”
He laughed out of sheer surprise.
“I guess not,” he said. “And you’d be noticed.”
“Yes, Doctor,” she agreed.
“But… he’s still your husband.”
“Yes, Doctor.” A pause, as the van threaded its way through the traffic on a roundabout. “But I belong to you.”
A shiver ran down his spine. It was that same matter-of-fact tone, and somehow that carried more weight than passion would have.
“So… you’re offering me your family’s future.”
“No, Doctor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s already yours.” There was a sudden urgency to her voice. “You only need to take it.”
Bimbeau weighed his next words carefully, wondering how to ask what he wanted to ask. “Do you want me to do this, Candace?”
Candace fell silent. Her pause began to stretch out. Watching her closely, he could see her jaw twitching as a muscle clenched, then unclenched, repeatedly. Her impassive mask was hanging loose while they navigated this topic.
“I think so, Doctor,” she managed, eventually. “But if you overrule me, I will obey.”
Which, he had to admit, wouldn’t have been at all certain otherwise. Not after her innovative stunt with the chancellor.
Bimbeau nodded. This was something he should consider. Something where he should weigh it up. Come up with a plan only if it seemed necessary.
Hadn’t he just been thinking about the risks already taken and overcome?
“Yes,” he said. “We’ll do it.”
Candace approached her family manor house carefully. It was very important she not be seen – not by her husband, nor the staff – at least until her job was done. Being discovered before the household was in hand could lead to all kinds of uproar. It had been a week since she’d last responded to Angus’ attempts to contact her, and her absence had clearly already been suspicious.
So it had been decided that she would go in at midnight, after the staff had turned in for the night. This improved her ability to stay hidden, but meant she still had to tread carefully as she made her way through the garden.
She was surprised by how much colder a midnight walk in the grounds was now than those she’d taken before. Of course, after a few moments, it occurred to her that she wore significantly less nowadays than she used to.
Once in sight of the house she started moving in a wide arc until she could approach the French windows to the library. The house as a whole was heavily alarmed, but Angus never, ever remembered to lock the library windows.
All the same, she touched the handle lightly at first, pulling it down only slowly, watchful for any sign of alert. Then she eased the door open, just as slowly, and slipped inside.
She stood stock-still for a long moment, wondering and waiting, hoping there would be no reaction.
With no reaction, she turned to face the garden, pulling out her phone, and triggered its flashlight on and off three times.
After the third pulse she simply waited, watching the darkness until Lulu emerged into sight, stepping through the open door.
Lulu set her kitbag down on the card table. They opened it up and each took out their packages, then moved on.
No words were exchanged. They were both operating on orders, so nothing needed to be said.
They moved as quietly as they could. Candace made her way into the servants’ quarters – the chance of someone being awake was higher there, and while her appearance would create uproar, it might not result in a panicked call to the police, which they could expect if Lulu was spotted.
Fortunately, there was no such uproar. She entered the kitchen, then closed the heavy door as gently as she could to muffle any sounds that might emerge.
Setting her bag down on the long central table, she moved a chair across to where the tallest cupboard rested. Standing on the chair, she unplugged the heavy old cathode ray TV – the same set since before she’d married Angus, a bulky early-1990s purchase that had begun to show its age – and set it down on the table.
She unscrewed the back and opened up her bag, extracting some extra circuitry. She produced a pair of wire clippers, disconnecting the feed from the antenna, and started stripping wire to hook up the new circuit.
Elsewhere, she knew, Lulu would be doing the same thing to Angus’ much newer computer monitor, a slightly-temperamental LCD flatscreen. The Doctor had painstakingly programmed the exact actions she’d need into a mind that had been missing all of the key tricks involved the day before.
In fact, when the two of them had left him to carry out their orders, he’d been muttering something about a new training imprint technology that he believed could spin off the mind-altering Tiara.
Candace knew her husband’s daily routine off by heart. He’d be up by six am, and would always log on before he did anything else. He liked to get any official business done before breakfast so he could spend the right of the day out and about on his land.
Lulu’s snare would be sure to catch him before he could leave, and – she grunted slightly as she turned the servants’ TV to face toward the door, just out of view until they’d fully enter the room – this snare would catch most of the others.
She plugged it back in and, taking care not to look directly at the screen, turned it back on. Then she set a timer to shut it off again in eighteen hours.
That was plenty of time for what she and the Doctor had dreamed up.
She fell back to the library and met Lulu on her way down. She could tell by the smile on her fellow slave’s lips that everything had gone right.
The two kissed for a moment – not duty, not programming, not even passion, but an escape valve for their own excited, delighted glee – and Lulu slipped back outside the door.
Candace, in turn, sat down in a familiar, old favourite chair in the library. She turned her head to look at the face of the grandfather clock in one corner, lit only barely by the moonlight outside, and knew no more.
The hands on the clock, now visible in the warm early dawn, stood at 7:05am. She had been patiently unaware of the time passing, and was aware now only because it was time to do something.
But she clearly hadn’t been found, which told her the staff had been caught as they filed into the kitchen for their own breakfast, and that Angus would be similarly trapped in front of his TV.
Kara – dear, sweet Kara, her daughter – would still be away at boarding school. So it was time for Angus’ instruction, now that she had the run of the place to herself.
She crossed the entry hall, began to ascend the stairs –
She froze. Turning, she saw her daughter, a gangly fifteen-year-old with nothing of her future in her face, frozen on the opposite stair on her way down.
Kara was irrelevant to her orders. But she could still prevent them from being put into action in the first place, if she tried.
“Kara, what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to come home. Mum, you were missing. Dad says you were hiding for a while but answering the phone, and then you just… stopped. I thought maybe you’d been kidnapped.”
Closer to the truth than she could possibly imagine.
Candace hesitated. She didn’t worry about her family - she knew she didn’t need to - but she did worry about her orders. How could she…
Wordlessly, she opened her arms as if for a hug. Kara’s breath visibly caught for a moment, and Candace thought she could feel her daughter’s heart skip a beat. But then she started moving, clattering down the staircase to the mezzanine join and then up the stairs to crash into Candace in a tight embrace. The tightness spoke volumes to the depth of her worry. “I’m here now,” Candace said quietly, stroking her daughter’s hair. “It’s alright. I promise.”
Despite herself, Kara’s voice caught. There was an audible, weepy sniffle as she asked “So… why did you…”
“It’s not your fault, darling,” Candace said gently. “Not really anybody’s. Well… your father and I had… an argument.”
There had already been a tension to Kara’s arms, but somehow it changes, as if she were settling into a different tension. Getting ready for a fight. And she wasn’t sure how to handle that.
“It’s OK now,” she said. “Well… it will be, I hope. Let me guess - he told you everything was fine and nothing had happened?”
She could feel Kara nod into her shoulder. “That’s OK,” she soothed. “I can’t blame him for not wanting to bother you. He probably thought I’d calm down much faster.”
Lying came so much more easily now. But then, her lies how had a purpose. That probably explained it.
Her priority was the mission. Second priority would be the Doctor. She didn’t need to worry about her daughter. So she took a deep breath, and said “Sweetheart, I promise, I’ll sit down with you as soon as this is done.” She put warmth into her tone; it wasn’t as hard as she’d feared. Just because she didn’t worry about Kara didn’t mean it wasn’t pleasant to be around her.
“But your father and I need to talk now, and we need to talk alone.”
Kara looked up at her and – so Candace hoped – saw only total sincerity in her eyes.
She made herself smile. “This isn’t as serious as you’re worried. I’ve calmed down now. And honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
“But I want to hear all about school once I’m done, alright? I’ll come straight down to meet you. In fact – why don’t you head into the kitchen and see what you can persuade them to rustle up to make breakfast special?”
“You promise?” Kara asked. Candace wasn’t sure what she’d be promising if she did, but equally knew it didn’t matter. She bent her head and kissed her daughter on the forehead. “I promise, Kara. And we’ll talk about you staying home from school for a little while, alright? So that we can sort this all out.”
Her daughter smiled, eyes crinkling to drive more tears out to run down her cheeks. She squeezed a tight hug again – what on earth were her sports teachers doing that had given Kara that amount of muscle? – and ran off to the kitchen.
Candace spent a few worried moments trying to develop a plan in case her daughter didn’t end up in the same programming cycle as the staff – one which would leave them uncertain and forgetful about events, after occupying them for long enough to prevent them raising an alarm – but after a minute or so of waiting without commotion, she relaxed.
Kara would, by now, be spellbound with the rest of them. She could safely be abandoned to the staff’s care until the screen shut off that evening.
Treading much more lightly now, she practically skipped up the stairs to her husband, realising only partway up how good it had felt to see her daughter, and how good it had felt to act intelligently on the Doctor’s behalf.
She entered her husband’s study, and took a moment to rather enjoy the sight of someone so reliably in control who had been completely stripped of that same control.
“Hello, Angus,” she said softly. “I’m afraid I’m going to need you to follow some instructions of mine. Without question. Is that clear?”
There was almost no hesitation before he answered “Yes.”
“Good,” she said, perching by a hip on the edge of his desk. “In fact, I need you not to think about anything I ask or tell you today. Just tell me or obey.”
She smiled. Reaching out to her side, taking care not to catch sight of the screen that held her husband spellbound, she found the monitor’s power switch and shut it off.
As Angus began to blink, coming back up, she turned the monitor back on. “Did you miss me?” she asked, then blinked. That hadn’t been her planned opening gambit… it had just got away from her.
“Yes,” he said again. There was actually emotion to this one, at least.
“Wondering what happened to me and why I’m back?”
Candace smiled. “I’ll tell you in a moment.” The fact his expression hadn’t sunk back into a glazed stupor told her that, as expected, the monitor was no longer blasting subliminal programming. She picked up a pen from the desk and tapped the screen. “I need you to make a bank transfer first.”
As he continued to rouse from his trance, he turned his head to look at her for a moment, but his hand was already moving to the mouse. He opened the window.
“We’re being generous,” she said. “Kara’s trust stays, and you keep everything that we’d need to sell to get anything from. But you’re going to transfer all the liquid assets.”
He nodded. She could see his Adam’s apple jump as he swallowed. Even under compulsion, this had to sting.
“Who are we?” he asked. She clucked her tongue sympathetically. “You’ll find out later. I don’t think you’ll believe it even when you see him, though.”
This had to be how the Doctor felt all the time. She and Angus had been a perfect match, before she was changed into the best servant she could be for someone else. Intellectually and physically they’d always complemented and completed each other.
If she hadn’t got the mission as her priority, she’d be delaying the transfer while she instructed him to take full advantage of her. As it stood… well, later, perhaps.
Certainly if she could find an excuse.
She recited the number of her own account from memory. Angus’ fingers clattered across the keys to enter the information as fast as she gave it.
It was being generous, she told herself again. She could absolutely have found a way to take all of his money, even selling their home off to profit the Doctor. As it stood, some things would have to be sold off to handle initial debts, but Angus’ investments would start covering a reduced lifestyle not long afterward.
She really shouldn’t be worrying about this.
Once the transfer had been completed, she picked up her husband’s phone and dialled a number.
“It’s done,” she said when Lulu answered. Her fellow slave hung up immediately, to begin the process of logging into Candace’s account and start transferring the money away from easy tracing.