Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Three
I’m going to make something clear, if it wasn’t prior to this: I like Toreth. I get where he’s coming from a lot of the time—and not just when he’s being a BAMF, either—and I love seeing his little intricacies when he’s just going about his business. Like me, he people-watches.
And his people-watching makes it easier for the narrative to give the reader an idea of what’s happening in his world. Like, well, now.
He’s at a lecture, watching the head of a small—but successful company discuss their product and its application in the real world. While many of the attendees seem to be computer people—or other corporate people—Toreth recognises a few of “his own” amongst the audience. (Even that was something that amused me: I don’t know how true it is for other professions, but I can generally pick people in my line of work when I’m out and about.)
Toreth’s reasons for being there aren’t quite the standard “work sent me as a representative,” (OMFG; work-related conferences…) rather it seems that he has interest—and initiative in the idea of a machine that might somehow make his job—or an aspect of it, at least—redundant. Not that he believes that, but still.
The company is Simtech, the product is the Sim. An impressive virtual reality machine designed to replicate places, smells, sounds, feelings, sensation and everything else that a user would think of as reality. My first thought, when I heard about it was, “Where would I want to go?” When I realised that it was a day in my life which was more than a decade ago now, I started considering how seductive a fake reality could be… and how while that would be insanely fucking awesome, it could have some serious social problems in the longterm.
Toreth isn’t at the presentation because of that, though: his consideration isn’t about how the Sim could replicate fantasy, but rather how it could convince his, er, subjects, into compliance. While for him there’s a very unlikely but still imaginable threat of his job being turned over to a machine, there’s also the somewhat horrifying idea of what virtual reality could be convincing a subject of. Ever had one of those nightmares where someone is hurting someone you care about—or forcing you to? Ever had one of those nightmares where you can’t stop something? What about the ones where you feel suspended forever with some hideous reality which was so believable that you wake up and it takes a strong coffee and a walk around the house to realise that yes, you still have a house, and no, no one’s kidnapped your children.
Then come ideas about suggestability in an interview or interrogation process. Imagine having virtual reality to add to your toolbox if you’re doing the questioning. Scared yet?
And this is where we meet Dr. Keir Warrick.
We don’t get a full descriptive blast of the man immediately: initially he’s at a distance and is indistinguishable dark hair and a smart suit, the next thing grabbing Toreth’s attention being his voice:
Good voice, Toreth thought. Overarticulates. Sign of a control freak.
Nicely spotted, Toreth.
He smiled. He enjoyed control freaks—it gave him something to take away.
And therein lies the challenge and the initial interest. It’s not that Warrick is pretty or intensely staring across a room or that he’s loaded or that he makes him feel like a natural what-the-fuck-ever—it’s that he’s a control freak and a challenge and he’s involved with something somewhat interesting. (Or that somewhere, deep down, what he does is seen on some subconscious level by Toreth as a threat which needs to be studied and neutralised.)
A new voice attracted Toreth’s attention. “Are you aware of the recent review in the Journal of Re-education Research which discusses the potential applications of simulation in the field of psychoprogramming?”
Toreth’s eyes narrowed. Mentioning a restricted-circulation journal in public wasn’t a clever move. He looked around for the speaker. There. A university type, earnest and obviously dangerously idealistic.
God. Combine the little that we know about Psychoprogramming (when even people trying to access using the procedure on their detainees and subjects are calling it “mind fuck” you know it’s pretty bad) and now this, and Mr. Idealistic Bright-Eyed-Bushy-Tailed-Save-the-World type is poking a wasp’s nest, isn’t he? Especially when it’s mentioned that he’s referred to a classified publication: the previous chapter referred to an industry-specific newspaper being contraband in the workplace…. But this sort of stuff? I can imagine the type of guy mentioning it, too: someone who wants to show how bright he is and how switched on and aware he is, someone possibly hoping for a bit of a debate to demonstrate how smart he is in front of an audience.
On that note, too: there probably is a journal like that out there. Not long ago, there was an FBI report released in a we-hardly-ever-do-this-but-here’s-a-one-off in regards to, and I quote—the science of interrogation. (I suppose “art” has an almost cartoon bad guy evil flair to it. Science makes it sound more serious and professional.)
The man continued, with the delightful addition of the academic’s touch of distancing himself from a dangerous opinion. “I have heard it described as potentially the most effective tool of oppression since memory blocking.” Toreth upgraded his assessment from “idealistic” to “death wish.” He had far better things to do than report the man, but even in the sheltered university environment there were doubtless others with both the time and the inclination.
Warrick responds diplomatically, though later we learn his true feelings about the situation of the world around them and about what goes on at I&I.
He sounded disapproving, although Toreth couldn’t tell whether of the question or the questioner. “I am aware of the paper referred to. All I can say is that it is not an area SimTech plans to exploit, but I have no more power over how the technology may be used in the more distant future than I do over the opinions of the questioner’s acquaintances.”
And here, we learn a bit more about the relationship between the Administration and the private corporations who are still very much bound by—and regulated by—and utilised by—the Administration:
The Administration had the power to compel the licensing of new developments to the appropriate departments—the balancing factor was that the corporates as a block had the political clout to ensure that the Administration provided substantial compensation. In this case, Toreth could think of half a dozen highly useful applications without even trying; the interdepartmental fighting over budgets would be spectacular.
I… think I like this relationship. It seems a bit healthier than big business paying off politicians and getting to do what they want. Yeah, the Administration might be oppressive and totalitarian and paranoid, but it beats the idea of political parties being owned by big business and doing their bidding and making people believe what they want them to, from my point of view. *shrugs*
The talk about ethics and the Sim continues, and Warrick wraps things up like a boss. Toreth still hangs around, though.
And then he starts talking to him. And this is where we get a closer look at Warrick:
The man turned his head. Impassive dark eyes looked at him out of a face dominated by high cheekbones, too much nose, and the most beautiful mouth Toreth had ever seen on a man.
Light is on, trap is set, ladies and gentlemen.
And so, they start talking. Deciding not to reveal where he’s from—it seems that most of the rest of the world in their time are just as uncomfortable about the idea of a governmental interrogation department as ours are—Toreth smoothly uses a fake name, not bothering to mention where he’s from.
“You have an interest in computer sim technology then. What business are you in?”
“Not business, Doctor. Government.” Toreth gave the man a smile of his own.
“Ah. Are you hoping to license from us, Mr. Toth? If you are, I’m afraid you’ll have to make an official approach to SimTech. Or are you simply a civil servant out on a career development activity during his lunch hour?”
“I’m neither. Just interested in the topic, that’s all.”
“People are generally interested for a reason.”
“Of course. It has a bearing on what I do for a living. I fuck minds,” Toreth said pleasantly.
I love this. I love this exchange so so much that it makes me want to squee. We get so much about both of them here; while it looks like it’s more about Toreth revealing things—Warrick is demonstrating that he’s pretty damned shrewd when it comes to getting answers out of people when they don’t want to give them. He’s just doing it with a corporate-professional smoothness, in the same way that he handled the idealist’s questions during the presentation.
“I see.” Warrick took a sip of his drink, his expression calculating.
“Neurosurgeon? No. You didn’t introduce yourself as Dr. Toth. Socioanalyst, perhaps, if you were more…” He thought for a moment, his fascinating smile flickering and dying again. “Arrogant,” he said, finally.
Toreth’s smile grew. Lack of arrogance wasn’t something he’d been accused of before.
Warrick looked Toreth up and down, obviously appraising him with care. “Para-investigator, maybe,” Warrick said.
Toreth laughed, delighted. “Not even close. I study brain biochemistry at the Pharmacology Division of the Department of Medicine. I saw the announcement of your lecture and decided to attend.” Toreth leaned closer, glad he’d put in a little research before he came to the seminar. “I read your paper on preliminary computer sim in Neuromanipulation some years ago. Groundbreaking work, Doctor.”
Warrick tilted his head a fraction, considering. “That journal was not circulated to the general public.”
“No,” said Toreth, giving him a just-enough-teeth smile. “It wasn’t.”
“I see. You fuck minds,” Warrick said evenly. He put his glass down on the buffet.
And this is the point where Toreth decides that he’s going to get down with the guy. And this is the bit where I go, “Yanno, even this far into things, it’s still a better love story than Twilight AND 50 Shades.” Not to mention a hell of a lot hotter.
And when someone else rocks up to talk to Warrick, Toreth starts planning things, getting in contact with Sara, and asking her to find him a room where his fake name would take a corporate.
I love that Sara knows exactly what he’s up to, too, by the way. And that they have this down to a fine art. Sara suggests a hotel, finds a room, gets it though the department’s expenses, gives Toreth a moment to confirm with Warrick, and then books the room when confirmation is confirmed.
Who else wants a Sara in their life?
Before the date, he does a little background research into Dr. Warrick; re-reading about his basic stats on paper make me smile; it’s old nostalgic stuff realising that the names of his parents and siblings will have importance down the track, and that Toreth hasn’t even realised it at this stage.
And then he decides to read over his clearance file. It’s a bit more confidential and creepy than doing a Google search or looking someone up on FaceBook, but hey (does anyone think Warrick would have his settings on Public, anyway?)
Just at the end, we get a somewhat ominous—though intriguing—close. Warrick starts doing a little research of his own. He’s realised that he was talking to a fake identity… though the outer package was quite attractive, and he wants to know just what was going on. He’s narrowed it down somewhat, deciding Toreth is
[…]an ethically challenged Administration minion who had nothing better to do with his afternoon than sniff out new ways of hurting people. And hand out his hotel number to strangers.
And yet he can’t let it go. He realises he’s found someone who plays games and who’s been playing one with him. And he wants to see him again.
And all of this makes me one happy little person.