Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Five
What’s the difference between Toreth in Mind Fuck and Christian in 50 Shades of Grey?
One’s an irredeemable sociopath and control freak with possessive, childishly jealous tendencies who frequently oversteps his boundaries, who engages in kinky sex which goes to potentially dangerous levels, and who does horrible, hideous things without even realising that they’re horrible and hideous, and whom any sane reader would like to see get his comeuppance.
The other one is just Val Toreth (though let’s face it, the guy has a few, erm, quirks).
Okay, joking around aside, there are an awful lot of differences. It’s a bit like comparing, I dunno, Ronald McDonald to John Wayne Gacy.
I mean, Ronald McDonald is pretty good at creeping out a lot of people, and he is what he is, and by nature that’s quite alarming and disturbing, but when you hear about him kidnapping, raping and murdering people, then we’re talking a whole new ballpark of scary.
Oh, wait: that’s sort of what the Administration does to people in some instances, and Toreth is quite nonchalently involved.
Yeah… but Christian Grey is still creepier. He does that Keyser Soze thing where “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he does not exist” in convincing the world that he’s harmless and lovable. That’s not something you can accuse Val Toreth of doing.
Ahem. Chapter Five of Mind Fuck.
Toreth is back in his hotel room, chilling out after his rather unorthodox experience in the sim, a bit tripped out, but thinking about how he’s going to win this round. That’s what this has turned into for him: he might have enjoyed himself, but being a control freak who thought he had everything handled, and seeing himself at Warrick’s mercy, he’s kind of shitty about it and wants to save face.
And because he’s smart– and he’s got his dignity– and his job– to worry about, he’s not going to go the physical.
[I]t had been tempting to simply punch him in the face right there and walk off. However, that would have been cheap and easy. Worse, it would only have increased the score in Warrick’s favour. Revenge required more than that and dinner was the first step to getting it. He would see Warrick again, and he would come up with some way of demonstrating to him exactly how experienced professionals played mind games.
It wasn’t just embarrassing to him on a basic level: Toreth’s professional abilities were mocked in that exchange. He’s meant to be the expert mind-gamer, and he got played. All through, we’re getting a growing picture of Toreth as a man who actually likes what he’s doing and who cares about his work and his employment status.
We also get the idea of him being utterly scary in a way that we haven’t seen before.
On the way back to the hotel, he had run through a very satisfying scenario involving drugs from work, a set of handcuffs, and a prolonged and nasty rape. Or, given the mood he was in by the time he’d finished polishing the details, short and nasty. He’d elaborated upon it in the shower, then discarded the fantasy to concentrate on finding something practical.
Everyone loves revenge fantasies, don’t they? Everyone has those staircase moments– L’esprit de l’escalier— where you come up with the perfect comeback as you’re walking away and powerless, moments after getting in a good comeback might have saved face. Or made you look cool. Or like you’re the one in control.
Everyone loves the idea of doing something awful to someone who’s already paid forward the favour. Or, well, okay, a lot of us do. The difference is with Toreth– and this is where the dude’s scariness gets multiplied– he actually could do some of the stuff he has revenge fantasies about.
Could do it, but is smart enough– and self-controlled enough– to realise that it would be incredibly stupid– and damaging– and pointless– to do something that would harm a well-protected, noticeable corporate. Isn’t that noble, ladies and gentlemen: he’s not torturing someone not because torturing people is bad, but because he would suffer as a result of it. Very Classical theory in Criminology, but hey, it works for him. (And when you know what the law can do to you for transgressions, because you’re doing those things in your 9-5 workday, you’re probably more likely to weigh up the consequences and consider the value of committing crime: punishment is more than a vague threat. And unlike many law enforcement organisations of today, Int-Sec seems to be more impartial and fair– and as harsh on its own as it is on others. Yet another thing to like about the system.)
A bruised ego was hardly sufficient reason to risk prison or worse. In a way, it was also too unimaginative, almost pedestrian, after the experience in the sim. Worst of all, Warrick would win again.
Oh, Toreth. Pride is a nice motivation to behave yourself, too.
However much he screamed (and he would scream– the part of Toreth’s mind still enjoying the fantasy added a gag to the list of proper required), it wouldn’t change that basic fact. Toreth would have resorted to force to get what Warrick had managed to enjoy without.
So. What exactly had Warrick done? He’d humiliated Toreth completely. He’d made him lose every shred of self-control. He’d made him beg, and then keep begging for more after that. He’d stood at a safe distance and watched every detail on Toreth’s face while it happened. For God’s sake, he’d even told him what he planned to do in the message he’d left at the hotel.
And he’d made sure Toreth had a way out for the entire time.
Oh, burn. The realisation of what he did is positively painful for Toreth, and even the first time I read this, before I realised that I liked the guy, I was cringing for him. You know when you totally fall for something shitty someone else has pulled on you and it’s stupid and you’re too mesmerised or distracted at the time to realise what’s going on, and then afterwards just *thinking* about what happened– and your own part in it– makes you just squirm? And you replay it over and over in your brain and you can’t just let it go and it’s just awful and embarrassing and– yeah.
While it was kind of awesome to see a professional game player out-played, it was also kind of really uncomfortable.
Thinking about the situation– as Toreth does, doesn’t give him any relief: he’s aware that he was fully aware, completely able to stop it, and that that sort of being-totally-dominated thing isn’t his cup of tea, but that was.. enjoyable.
And the sim and its reality is still haunting him. As are thoughts of Warrick’s more appealing features. Half still fantasising, partially considering calling the dinner date off, and yet …wondering if he can turn on the charm and get Warrick up into his hotel room for some non-simulated sexual action, Toreth decides that he’s going to return the favour and screw around with Warrick’s self-image and play some headgames with him.
He would go to dinner and find out something about Warrick he could use. Something the man wanted without even knowing it, without daring to acknowledge it. Something dark and dirty. And then give it to him, gift-wrapped, for him to enjoy.
Oh, you diabolical fiend, Toreth. That’s way better than becoming Christian Grey to make a point.
While all this is happening, we get an interesting contrast: Toreth has showered and been drinking in his hotel room, thinking hard about what move he’s going to make next, pissed off, nursing wounded pride and seething a bit.
Warrick, on the other hand, is luxuriating in a marble bath, enjoying the novelties of fluffy white bubbles, and lifelike plastic ducks (which quack and swim about: the programmers– like programmers in the real world– have a sense of humour)– in the sim. He’s thinking, too, about what had happened earlier in the afternoon, his involvement in it, and of what Toreth represents.
Still, the fuck, mental or not, had worked out well. Not surprising, since the deck had been unfairly stacked in his favour, but that was the way he preferred to play any game. Especially with dangerous opponents.
Interesting. While Warrick is one of the “better guys,” he still isn’t past wanting an unfair advantage whereas Toreth gives the impression of approaching something trying to find what he can use to his advantage, and doing things regardless of the odds being against him or not. It’s one of those subtle points which highlights how different they are and also how complex they are– and it was something I didn’t pick until I’d read through the series this time.
Warrick decides that yes, Toreth is dangerous, and that he really ought to cancel, that he should quit while he’s ahead. Similar to what Toreth is doing back at the hotel… but different, and of course for his own reasons.
He thinks about Toreth’s experience of the sim, and how he’d initially been amazed by it and the beauty of the design, and then how that had turned into cold, clinical professional interest. The sim is Warrick’s baby. It’s his creation, and he loves it… and longs to protect it from being corrupted. He’s smart enough to realise that not everyone is going to want the technology for noble and decent– or enjoyable– purposes, but he’s not giving it up for nefarious purposes easily. As he said in the lecture, he can’t control what people do with it down the track… but for now, he can hold onto its innocence.
Toreth’s interest in the sim as a potential tool for interrogation wasn’t just an insult to its beauty and design: it was a threat. And like a parent seeing their offspring attacked, he sought to mess with that threat, hitting where he suspected it would hurt, collecting Toreth right in the ego.
What I found really interesting about this is that logically, it stands up beautifully, awful as it was for Toreth– and as quietly violent as it came across from Warrick– but also because he was, in effect, demonstrating the abilities of the technology with the subtle insinuation of “See how you like it being used against you.”
Funny enough, though, I could imagine Toreth considering using the sim for altering surroundings, making people believe they were seeing things happen to their nearest and dearest, using sense-related head-fuckery (virtual-reality waterboarding? Repeated distressing sounds? — doing the sorts of things to people which have been heavily scrutinised by human rights groups and governments, though in an artificial setting, possibly rendering them benign in the eyes of legislation because they technically didn’t actually occur. What if you could virtually torture someone by merely screwing with their perception? In the way that waterboarding convinces the person subjected to it that they’re drowning, the sim could be used to convince people they’re dying, couldn’t it? And… this is seriously, seriously terrifying when you consider it. [Anyone played Batman: Arkham Asylum? That scene in the morgue just before Scarecrow shows up, where there’s a strange blur between Batman’s reality getting warped and what’s happening in the game– and being the game player who is unsure whether this is “reality” or something else is kind of nauseatingly freaky. That’s the sort of thing I imagined Toreth considering his department using the sim for. Turning someone into a vulnerable, sexed up pile of goo possibly didn’t occur to him.]) Interestingly enough, I can think of a later “demonstration” of something else in the series which is intended to provoke a reaction and lash out at someone– which has later, far-reaching, consequences. Warrick probably took more of a gamble than he thought he was, and it worked how he’d planned. Sort of, I guess.
Warrick actually considers what he did and the cruelty of it in a way that Toreth… doesn’t (or can’t, really). Again, a really interesting contrast between the two of them. While Toreth is analysing why he feels things and does things, he lacks an understanding of how his behaviour is in terms of, well, moral value. I don’t doubt he knows how things feel, but he doesn’t really get why doing things that upset or damage people is such a big deal. He also seems to lack, though, an understanding of why things affect him as badly as they do when he can’t rationalise them away with names and logic.
Warrick tells himself that Toreth could have called things off, and wonders about the man’s issues with control, with giving it up, and with …safety. The sim, of course, is safe. Risk can’t really be replicated if you’re going in completely aware.
And he likes that. But still…
…[H]e felt an unexpected touch of envy at the unattainable experience. How had it felt to be so controlled? Held there, so absolutely in another’s power.
And it seems he’s not just curious about this as some sort of abstract idea. Thinking again about what actually happened, though, he’s still uncomfortable with what he did to Toreth, though he can admit that he looked good in the throes of ecstasy.
And maybe, you know, he won’t cancel the dinner date.
The thought startled him. What he had done in the sim was one thing; it had been under his control, and above all, perfectly safe. It would be stark raving insanity even to consider doing anything with Toth in the real world.
He still doesn’t know who he actually is, either. He’s aware that he doesn’t know, and he’s fairly certain about what he is, but he doesn’t even know the guy’s name. And he realises that’s risky and problematic. I’d say Warrick is being astutely cautious here.
The man, whoever he was, tortured people to death for a living.
Well, he does other stuff, but that’s the bit everyone seems to focus on, isn’t it?
The problem is, Warrick is only human: knowing that someone is dangerous doesn’t necessarily turn off the hot factor.
But he had to admit that it had been a long time since he’d felt this intrigued by the idea of having someone outside the sim. Inside the sim, everything was so perfect, so pleasant, that he had lost interest in that aspect of the world outside.
Therein lies another question about the sim: could you get addicted to, well, fake fucking and fantasy, in the same way people can become obsessed with porn to the point where it starts encroaching on their experience of reality?
Warrick considers why he’s wanting reality at this point: is it that the sim itself is work, is it that Toreth is rather easy on the eye, or the thrill of danger?
We learn a bit more about the sim as Warrick considers the reality v simulation question. He himself had tried “sim things” in a real world where presumably physics didn’t work like that, though had stepped aside from using the technology until he’d stopped. Warrick, it appears, also has some self-awareness and self-control.
…[I]t had badly affected one of the graduate students. SimTech’s corporate psychologist had labelled it “excessive immersion.” They’d reassigned the girl to the more theoretical aspects of the work and that had resolved the issue.
But Warrick realises that’s not his issue at the moment: his issue is more that he wants the same guy who he’d set up and humiliated and who he realises is bloody scary and dangerous even though that’s a big part of his appeal. He wants the real him, in the flesh.
He decides he needs some more information about him, and that if he gets it, he’ll go along to dinner.
I loved getting to see Warrick’s mind at work. Admittedly, I’m still on Team Toreth, but I love that Warrick is, well, a decent match for Toreth. (It’s the same reason I adore Phoenix and Miles as a couple in Ace Attorney, and possibly why I would rather read same-sex relationship fic: they’re equals in many ways. I’ve come across too much “romance” about heterosexual people where one party is a wet rag and the other has to do everything for them including think. It’s like the stuff you come across in really awful yaoi manga, and completely unappealing—and unrealistic– for me.) They both have their own autonomy and bring their own power to the relationship, and they’re both there because first and foremost, they have made a conscious decision to be there. No one’s been swept away by the other’s manly intoxicating scent of manliness or something; they’re rational, sensible, slightly hedonistic people.
And Warrick might be entertaining submissive ideas, but he’s not a simpering, pathetic ditz. I don’t really get the whole submissive thing (though I don’t think that’s why I have such issues with Shades, by the way) personally, but I find it kind of insulting to see so often people with a particular sexual like being stereotyped in a way that reaches across to the rest of their personality. If we were talking about a kink that was actually harmful, or well beyond what civilised and openminded society would consider acceptable (look, I’m going to be a tad grossed out if necrophilia’s your thing and I’m going to draw unfavourable conclusions about you if you think those crush videos are sexy) a kink isn’t suggesting anything about someone’s day-to-day existence.
On the flipside, I suppose there’s the “dominant/sadist = remorseless, sickeningly cruel sociopath” stereotype, which certainly isn’t applicable here and which doesn’t hold up well in real life either. Toreth might enjoy screwing with people’s heads and manipulating them to do what he wants them to—but I don’t think a few revenge fantasies where his victim is screaming count as decisive evidence that he’s Ted Bundy in the making. He might not engage in awful behaviour because he’s scared of the legal repercussions if he gets caught, but he still doesn’t, and he shows far more restraint than, say, other fictional dominant type characters. I also don’t get the impression he enjoys torturing his detainees; he enjoys getting the information and doing his job well, but that seems more concerned with the man’s work ethic than a desire to just hurt people for kicks. There’s something far more sympathetic about Toreth than “he’s a sadistic, evil bad guy.” And while I usually am drawn to the bad guys in things like whoa, well, let’s face it: I really loathe Christian Grey (who appears to be more of a sadistic sociopath than Toreth from what we know about both of them).
Anyway, I love them. I forgot how awesome the opening gambits were for these two. I also love how succinct this book is: something I didn’t appreciate the first time I read it because I was sort of adjusting to everything, but fuck: it’s awesome. Not having seen unedited work from Manna Francis, I don’t know whether the woman thinks like an editor when she’s writing, or if she has a bloody good editor—or there’s a little from column A and a little from column B there, but it’s a tight, awesome read that we’re getting here.
The further I go through both series, the angrier I find myself getting, though.