Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Eleven

“It’s unnatural, that’s what it is,” Toreth told his coffee.

Chevril looked up from his borrowed copy of the JAPI. “Must be something bloody odd if you think so.” From his vantage point of long years of faithful marriage, he vocally disapproved of Toreth’s lifestyle.

“No one can be as nice a guy as Jon Teffera and manage a successful corporation,” Toreth elaborated. “It’s not natural.”

Toreth’s frustrated. What looked like a high-profile case involving a business with cutting-edge technology being sabotaged seems to be going nowhere, and it’s looking more likely to be about tech!fail than anything else. He can’t figure out wtf is going on; after wading through all the paperwork, there seems to be no reason why any of it would have happened deliberately, and Teffera, as he’s noted, is well-liked and an all-round nice guy. Even his brother and sister are nicer than the average corporates; there’s no discernible motive that he can find, and even mulling over things with Chevril doesn’t seem to be giving him fresh insight.

One thing does come across though, and again, it’s a clever use of narrative; if things weren’t 100% clear in the last chapter, they’re summarised and explained from another angle. (It’s one of those little tricks that I took for granted and didn’t really pay much attention to until actually reading the book in this capacity, which shows that it’s been used effectively, too. Yet again, the environment feels effortlessly normal, too.) And here we get two things that I love: dialogue between two characters I adore– and some understanding of how they work. For all his griping about the workplace, Chevril comes across as astute and competent; he considers possibilities and he’s happy to discuss with Toreth what’s going on. I like their relationship; they bounce ideas around and they’re neutrally friendly and helpful towards one another. I can imagine already with what we know about I&I (that given the nature of some of their work, there are going to be people working there who have anti-social traits to some degree at least, that given the role itself– one where the workers have power and authority– certain types of people will be attracted to the work to begin with; and given that it’s a government organisation with potential movement up a hierarchy) such relationships could be quite rare. There seems to be genuine cameraderie and respect between Toreth and Chevril, and it’s nice. I will admit a certain weakness for their dialogue, too: they’re, well, fun together. (And no, not like that. But… If someone wants to convince me otherwise by writing Toreth/Chevril, though, don’t let that stop you. Actually: convince me. This fandom needs more fic.)

Toreth is at his wits end: he’s spent just under a week trudging through paperwork, reading enormous case files (including Jon Teffera’s; where his primary focus has been at the moment) and as he tells Chevril, “They’re so clean there almost has to be something wrong somewhere.”

Chevril suggests it might be personal.

“So what does that leave? Someone couldn’t put up with his charming smile? Or how about an affair with someone’s wife– that’s usually a good one.”

I like that Chevril considers something so typical– and boring– but human.

“Or husband,” Toreth said, just to provoke the grimace of distaste from Chevril.

And I love that Toreth does things like that. Yet they’re still buddies. Toreth, in many ways, is perfectly distanced and blase about other people’s opinions of him, and it makes him impartial. (Though it doesn’t stop him being a bit of a shitstirrer when the time is right.) Later on down the track there’s an example of his seeing through damning evidence and not being biased in a way one could feasibly expect of him: it’s both believable given his position (where, as he says to one of his prisoners, he doesn’t care what they call him: he’s already been called everything before) and his general work ethic and attitude towards his fellow humans.

[Chevril] duly obliged, nose wrinkling. “I suppose so. So was he?”

“Not in the real world. Paraplegic.”

“Let me guess– not at all bitter about it?”

“You’re getting the hang of it. You can add bravery and a helping of noble suffering to the all-round sugary niceness.”

“I can feel my teeth rotting.”

 

*chuckles* I love their dialogue. It feels natural, and I love that they’re both a couple of snarky-arsed cynics about people in their own way: again, it’s thoroughly believable for both of them, and the sort of acquired– or possibly sought-after trait that comes with their line of work.

They continue discussing the case, and included with Toreth’s frustration at the (lack of) progression, Tillotson’s riding his arse.

“Okay, I give up. So what have you got?”

“Fuck all. No, tell a lie; a ton of files and a fuckload of waspy little memos from Tillotson. Buzzing in every five minutes. I think he’s got a nest of the fucking things in his office. Half of them are telling me to get a move on, half of them are telling me not to piss off any corporates while I’m doing it.”

 

Chevril nodded, looking almost sympathetic. “I get Kel to deal with those.”

“I told Sara this afternoon that if I see another one, I’m going to hard copy the lot, take them to Tillotson’s office and ram them down whatever bodily orifice I find first.” Chevril snorted. “Let me know when you do, so I can sell tickets. […]”

 

I love that the Chevril seems to delight in Toreth’s irritation as much as Toreth seems to delight in Chevril’s discomfort about his sexuality. I guess, to a point, that some part of you has to be a bit of a stirrer– and you would get– or come in with– a rather odd sense of humour in I&I.

Chevril turns his attention to Kelly’s death, and assumes, like Toreth has, that LiveCorp appears to be the target because it would be overkill to bring down SimTech’s credibility by killing someone like Jon Teffera. But it’s in his nature to play Devil’s advocate, and he points out that a high-profile death like that will definitely draw attention to SimTech so it could have been directed at them, because people are going to notice… and possibly draw the conclusion that the sim is dangerous and a bad investment– and therefore withdraw sponsorship.

Chevril, out of ideas, asks with some level of exasperation why he bothers and wonders why he doesn’t just handball it over to Justice. But… that’s not what Toreth does. His nature– and his work ethic– aren’t like that. Toreth likes cracking things. His cases are problems which need to be tidied up and which he needs to exert some sort of control over. Even the way he handles his detainees and interview subjects amounts to the idea that they’re vessels which in likelihood contain information which he can use. His dehumanisation of them is both non-biased and yet, still haunting.

Before leaving, we get another bit of insight into both Chevril and I&I:

“Oh, listen to this first, though: my prisoner finally turned up. And guess what?”

“She’s your long-lost sister?”

(Let’s reflect on that for just a smidgeon of a moment. Imagine the conflict of interest if you were working at I&I and a relative of yours was a suspect. I’ll just leave that thought with you and carry on.)

Chevril rolled his eyes. “No, of course not. After all that bloody fuss over the m-f, days of filling in forms and Tillotson sticking his pointy nose in, the silly bitch went and confessed, first session. I didn’t even unwrap an injector. I could kill her.”

It’s little moments like this when we become aware of what actually goes on in I&I– and the capacity they have for making things happen.

Toreth grinned. “Is she annexed?”

 

I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did. I can totally imagine I&I being one of those workplaces where you develop a rather odd sense of humour as a buffer or a coping mechanism. Or where you wind up hired because you’re a bit damaged to begin with. Later in the series eligibility for I&I roles is touched upon, but already, stuff like this gives you a clear idea of the environment. One where jokes about wanting to kill someone because they’ve caused you paperwork headaches are a bit closer to literal than they are in most work environments.

“No, they want her alive for the trial.” Chevril slapped his palm with the rolled-up JAPI. “I tell you, between the bloody prisoners and the bloody management, as soon as I find a decent job, I’m out of here.”

God I love Chevril. Yes, he’s, to some degree, a monster. But I love the way he’s written; he’s so believable and his frustration is very real.

 

Toreth reads over his interviews, still searching for a lead in on any information, noting that the friends and relatives investing in SimTech are a lot more confident than the commericial investors. He notices that Warrick’s sister, Dillian, is genuinely worried, while the corporates aren’t saying much and seem to be hiding behind “commercial confidentiality.” Toreth initially assumes that Teffera’s death was having its desired effect in spooking them.

Or perhaps the killer was selecting sim users genuinely at random, in which case the investigation was probably fucked from the start. Or the sim was killing users. Or one or both deaths were due to natural causes. Too many possibilities.

 

I can only imagine the frustration, and I love that it’s written in a manner that brings it on home for the readers. Every variable adds another complication to the mystery and something else getting in the way of the truth. By this point, I was seriously wondering if the sim was killing people (or if it had been set up to do so) and thinking that it would be a royal pain in the ars for a guy who’s basically trained in psychology and rooting out people’s secrets having to deal with a big mechanical failure issue or thereabouts. (When I purchased Mind Fuck, I wasn’t aware of the fact that there were more books in the series. I didn’t know about Manna Francis’ website. I assumed it was a standalone, one-off we-won’t-see-these-people-again novel, by the way.)

He decides that Chevril made a decent point in mentioning that the more recent death is probably a better place to focus his attention and decides to go back to SimTech and have a chat to Warrick. Before doing that, he watches the hypothetical observer record of Kelly Jarvis’ sim time, viewing what appears to be some sort of sensory information gathering (which, “[f]or fuck research, it was very dull”) involving Kelly and Yang –the tech who was the first to see and realise that she was dead– and, afterwards, Kelly’s earned recreational use of the sim. He can’t find anything, and realises, with frustration, that these were probably the last moments of Kelly’s life and there is nothing there that’s at all suspicious. Once again, he suspects that the sim killed her, though the security “fault” at reception offers too much of a “coincidence” for him.

Warrick’s tidying up in his office when Toreth arrives to ask him about the more recent death. Again, he’s amiable and cooperative with the investigation, though there’s a crackle of *something* there which Toreth can’t quite shake and which he can’t quite put a name to.

He’d forgotten over the last few days how attractive the man was. Not classically handsome, but compelling in a way Toreth couldn’t define. Was it his confidence? Or maybe it was the contrast between his current self-assurance and the still vivid memory […] In control.

For the record, I always imagined Warrick as looking like a less-pretty Jack Harkness. With a bigger nose, and slightly imperfect features, but an intensity and focus in his expression that’s not just explained with “can seduce the camera like whoa.” When I started watching Blake’s 7, I was completely “OMG, YES, he’s like Warrick!” about Avon, because the dry humour and his timing and even the tone of his voice was just so easy to place with Warrick. So, um, yeah: I can totally get that Warrick mightn’t look like a conventional pretty boy but that he’s seriously interesting because of his intensity and just the way that he holds himself.

Also, as we know about Toreth, the man likes cracking things. He’s not afraid of a challenge. Hell, in the first moments of Toreth realising that Warrick was interesting, the observation was made because he’d picked that Warrick was a control freak– and therein lay the challenge.

Toreth never fucked suspects– not during the investigation anyway– but the temptation tugged at him now, unexpectedly strong. Not lust so much as a desire to crack through Warrick’s defenses.

 

Just in case it hasn’t already been established, Toreth fucking rules. One thing I truly have to give him is that in spite of the fact that a lot of the time, he’s ironically completely lacking in self-awareness– here is a different story. He unapologetically wants this guy not because he’s nice to look at, not because of some sort of external yearning for sex or misplaced substituted desire for someone else, but because he wants control. No, it’s not nice. Yes, it’s very human. And no: it’s not something that gets written very often, and usually when it is, it isn’t done particularly well. All too often characters with this bent either turn into a romantic hero in the middle of the sex scene, or they’re Christian Grey levels of horrifying (intentionally horrifying or otherwise). Two things on this: a) this is still a better love story than Twilight, and b) yes, I still say this even though not a great deal has actually happened– emotionally, at least, anyway– between Toreth and Warrick. I don’t think Toreth has conceptualised him as human in the same way that, say, Sara or even Chevril are human to him.

 “I’m not offering a general invitation by the way,” Warrick continued. “I don’t want your less proficient subordinates eating up my time with inane questions.”

Oh, Belqola.

Pausing in his tidying, he gave Toreth a slight smile that didn’t match his acid tone. “You, however, are always welcome.”

And if that wasn’t perfectly obvious, I don’t know what was, but I can already see flirting like this in most fic going completely over the head of the character being flirted with. Think about it: romance loves its misconstrued flirtations or characters who are blinded by their own interests to see what’s being offered. It’s the tropiest trope in tropesville. Hell, the first ninety-odd pages of a certain other thing I’m reading are all about the most Captain Obvious attempted seduction ever, and yet the intended recipient of these “hints” is dead convinced that no way in hell would this guy like her like that.

And you know what? I actually love drawn-out seduction. I love it when a writer makes me just about bounce off the furniture going, “JUST DO IT ALREADY.” I also really, really think headgames can be completely sexy under particular circumstances. (They can also be creepy and interesting because of that, especially when one party looks like they’re completely being dicked around and they’re actually more clued-in than it seemed, or something happens that totally changes the game, too.) One of the appealing things with Warrick and Toreth is all the power issues and the fact that nothing about them feels tired and cliched: even though it didn’t take them long to wind up having relations, it wasn’t like that was some sort of climatic point and everything else following was either just icing on the cake– or worse yet– going downhill.  And in this instance, I love that they aren’t fucking around in the non-literal sense, because too much ambiguity would be stupid in their scenario: it needs to be blunt and bold. Neither of these guys is ambiguous: both seem to know when they want something (well… sex is pretty much the only thing Toreth can recognise he has a want for, emotionally speaking) and since they’re both fairly headstrong, blunt people, they do away with the coy shit. It rocks. Better yet, down the track, they actually communicate about stuff. Toreth might be kind of shit at dealing with his own emotional shit, but honestly, both of them, and their relationship, are only a gazillion times healthier than certain other– like, just about every other— fictional romantic couple even written. And it’s a fucking joy to read.

I’ll be fair: I think I have a “type” when it comes to pairings. I love Phoenix and Miles in the Ace Attorney series for the same reason: they’re both equally-matched, assertive, successful people who compliment one another. (They even have a similar dynamic, if you focus on certain canon happenings as big issues for them). I kind of love my favourite not-canon-stretch-of-the-imagination pairing in that fandom, too (Kristoph Gavin and Matt Engarde, for anyone who knows the series); while they have their differences, they can each hold their own. Even if one party is sexually submissive, it doesn’t mean sweet FA about him when they’re not having sex.

 

Ahem: Toreth and Warrick. I love the way there’s no wanking around with these two, no drawing out stuff that doesn’t need to be drawn out. I love that the seduction doesn’t happen with the sex being some kind of end point, but part of the scenery along the way– the journey is about them finding intimacy and trust and things they can’t find elsewhere. It’s about their lives, the way they relate to one another, their associates, their jobs, their family, the conspiracies and mysteries and government surrounding them. It’s so much more interesting and believable and three-dimensional like this. And it’s cool: all too often science-fiction futuristic dystopia lacks the human stuff—or the intimacy and fun of, well, people. It’s a bit like comparing the movie of Sleepers to the book: in the movie, you saw what was happening and how awful it was, but when you read the book… you knew who it was happening to and you came to give a shit a whole lot more.

 He didn’t give himself any more time to think about it, nor did he want to. As Warrick turned away again, Toreth took hold of him, pushing him back against the desk, stifling a surprised protest with a firm kiss. After a couple of minutes, Warrick pulled back, breathing raggedly. “Door. We should—the door. Lock it,” he said, with flattering incoherence.

Okay, firstly, that was kind of hot. Secondly, you can see how potentially problematic this situation could be between the two of them: remember, earlier, when Warrick asked if Toreth thought he was crazy wanting to go back to his hotel room given their differences in strength and build and ability? Toreth could fuck your shit up. Toreth could have continued what he was doing even if Warrick most definitely didn’t want it. (Theoretically; with what we, the readers, know of Toreth, I can’t imagine him lowering himself to raping someone. Especially not Warrick: and that was discussed earlier. Furthermore: the guy has pride. If Warrick didn’t want him, at this stage, Toreth would be more likely to straighten himself up, coolly leave, then go get drunk and pick up some random and lick his wounds in relative privacy.

Yet… if it weren’t for this pride and his own internal values system and desire to stay out of trouble… he could be incredibly, seriously dangerous. Therein lies the appeal for Warrick, of course.)

Anyway, they have epic officesex. The writing rules: it’s quick and efficient and, well, kinda hot. And the attention paid to the little details that a lot of writers miss when writing sex rules, too: there are more hints in the aftermath than in the actual sex.

 

Afterwards, as more calculating thought returned, Toreth watched Warrick wiping his fingers clean with a tissue and refastening his clothes, and wondered what the fuck he’d just done.

Ever the professional, isn’t he? He recognises that while he shouldn’t be screwing witnesses—not like that, anyway—before an investigation—  as long as the investigation goes well, he’s probably not going to get into too much trouble. (Considering Tillotson annoying him all the time about annoying corporates, and then this—it just shows how much power the corporates have, doesn’t it?)

But—

This was different. It was, in fact, insane. If Warrick gave any hint of the fuck to anyone…

So there’s considerable risk involved for him, too. Interesting.

Toreth was still trying to come up with a request for discretion without too much desperation in it, when Warrick spoke. “I take it,” he said meditatively, “that lies somewhere outside your standard interview techniques.”

*giggles*

Toreth nodded, trying to keep his voice steady. “Somewhat.”

Did I ever say that I fucking love these two and that by this point in the series, I was actually wanting them to just interact lots and lots and lots solely because of their exchanges like this? (And also, okay, because the sex is hot. In the interest of being perfectly honest, I’ll be honest about that.)

“Then I shall be sure not to mention it to anybody.” Warrick flashed a brilliant smile. “Although perhaps you should suggest it to your superiors. It certainly puts me in a very helpful mood.”

Handled both cooperatively and suavely.

They then move onto the other reason for the visit (can anyone else imagine if things hadn’t worked out so well or there’d been too much awkwardness afterwards? Toreth could have seriously fucked—no pun intended—the investigation, couldn’t he?) and discuss Kelly Jarvis’s work. Warrick explains that she was largely funded by the Tefferas’ corporation, and talks about Kelly’s research and how it relates to the sim and its development. They talk about her change in research projects, and Warrick mentions that she’d only been on the second project for six months before she died.

Toreth brings up that there’d been a disciplinary notice on her record from around that time, and asks about it. Warrick admits that that had partially been a reason for the change in her work.

Kelly had worked with Tara Scrivin, and Tara became mentally ill. Warrick explains that the workplace psychologist believes it was due to excessive sim exposure, even though it’s clear that he doesn’t believe that’s the case.

They divert a bit and discuss Dr. Tanit, who Warrick refers to as being “highly professional,” which sounds like a cool respect for her abilities at least.

Toreth smiled. “You don’t like her?”

“We don’t pay her to be likeable. We pay her to be an excellent psychologist, which she is.” He smiled slightly. “However, as a matter of fact, I don’t dislike her personally. We have some areas of disagreement, that’s all.”

Interesting. And kudos for his lack of taking disagreement personally.

Kelly had been not helping the issue by giving Tara extra time—her own personal time—in the sim. Warrick explains that workers would often share or exchange time in the sim with one another, though after that incident and advice from Dr. Tanit, the practise has been banned.

SimTech had paid for Tara’s treatment and kept the details of the episode where she lost it (that she was planning a murder-suicide for herself and an ex-boyfriend) out of Tara’s personal files, and allowed her to return to work.

“Once her treatment was completed and Dr. Tanit was prepared to declare her fit, there was no reason not to. We arranged a more theoretical program—analysis and modelling—which doesn’t require sim usage. We don’t abandon our employees and students.”

Godammit, who wouldn’t want to work there? Most organisations I’ve known will do anything they can to get out of admitting fault when they have quite clearly fucked up their staff, and will use all sorts of means to get rid of them afterwards.

Warrick admits that turfing someone that tarnished would make them virtually unemployable, and that he can recognise that she’s talented and hard-working. I love the way he thinks—it’s something I referred to earlier in his attitude towards Dr. Tanit— it’s also something he shares with Toreth, who, in a later episode,  sees beyond a set of actions from one person and looks at the complete package. It makes it a LOT easier to like both of them as people (rather than just as well-written characters) because it’s a rare trait. But it’s one similarity which seems to cancel out a lot of the differences these two have.

Warrick describes Tara Scrivin to Toreth in vague terms; she seems a bit fey, a bit vulnerable, and sweetly childlike. And he isn’t impressed with the fact that Toreth wants to ask her about the incident.

“That’s ridiculous!”

“No, it isn’t.” Actually, it probably was. A desperate murder-and-suicide was a far cry from two carefully, premeditated, passionless killings. However, Toreth was willing to follow any lead that offered itself. “It’s my job.”

Oh god. Nice reminder of what you’re attracted to, Warrick. And that he can. And that he will.

Warrick looked at him expressionlessly, and then nodded. “Well, I can’t stop you.”

No, you can’t, Toreth thought with an odd satisfaction, but there was no need to antagonise Warrick more than required. “I’ll try not to frighten her. Tell me more about this… what  did you call it? Her project?”

Warrick explains that sense-memory stacking is “one of the fringe developments on the sex side of the sim program” and that it’s highly technical and requires “a greater degree of direct manipulation of the brain.” Toreth inquires about the safety of this, and Warrick explains that it’s no less safe than anything else regarding the sim’s use, and that there are, of course, safety precautions in place. When Toreth asks about Dr. Tanit’s concerns, Warrick says she’s merely worried about addiction issues (Hey! That was my thinking, too!). When Toreth asks how it works, and Warrick explains that there’s a space-and-time issue with it in the sim, he offers him a demonstration to assist explanation.

Toreth weighed it up. He’d been in the sim before, of course, but that was before he knew about its tendency to produce dead bodies.

“I’ll be in the sim with you,” Warrick said. “I assure you that it’s perfectly safe. No need to be afraid.” Which I can see you are, he didn’t need to add.

Toreth sighed silently. One day he was going to get himself into trouble. Maybe this was the day. “What time?” he asked.

 

Toreth reads through Dr. Tanit’s statement to B-C before visiting her, noticing that in regards to Kelly’s death, the two of them have provided stable alibis (which have been confirmed) for one another. But there’s little information on Tanit herself, and as Toreth notes, she was the one who initially called Justice after Kelly’s death because “it simply seemed like the right thing to do.”

Apparently she hadn’t felt the need to consult with the directors first. At the bottom of the interview Barret-Connor had added, “Don’t let her ask you about your mother.” Toreth had told B-C before that if he absolutely had to put jokes in case files, he could at least make them funny.

Anyway, enter Dr. Tanit.

She had light auburn hair, greying slightly, and pale blue eyes that now examined him thoroughly. He’d thought “arrogant” when he’d seen the picture, and he thought it again now as she studied him, taking her time, before she nodded him into the office.

Being an expert in psychology, she obviously knows what Toreth is, and what he does. She doesn’t seem too happy to see him, either, and when Toreth starts asking questions, she’s a closed book citing “confidential information” as a reason for her inability to talk. When Toreth points out that he can get a warrant to get her to talk, she tells him to.

But before leaving, Toreth asks if she’s going to cite commercial confidentiality issues once the interviewing post warrant occurs. She suggests again that Tara’s excessive immersion is the only thing commercially sensitive but she can’t talk about it because of her contract. Toreth leaves and gets Sara onto getting warrants happening.

When he gets the warrant, he is back to Dr. Tanit and her explanation, and he looks around her office; there are little personal touches reminding him that she’s got kids of her own.

It was unusual for a woman without a registered partner to be granted permission to conceive by the Department of Population. No doubt a psychologist would find it easier to pass the more stringent psych evaluation for solo applicants.

Interesting. I love the little hints like this which suggest far broader things about the world of the Administration, and it’s interesting when you consider that even these sorts of measures aren’t necessarily perfect or beyond human “cracking”: there are still exploitable loopholes. Toreth’s consideration that a psychologist would find it easier to pass psych testing is one that would still ring true in the world nowadays.

To get personal for a moment, too: an admission of bias. Psychological testing fascinates me and has always done so—maybe interests can be genetically hardwired to a degree? My father was an organisational psychologist who did a lot of work in testing potential applicants for roles in large corporations. I didn’t exactly grow up around psych testing—I actually didn’t really know what my dad did until I was about ten or eleven—and it wasn’t like he spent a great deal of time with us as kids. But even since I can remember, psych testing—and the issues surrounding it—have absolutely fascinated me. And I’m currently working in a job where rigorous psychological testing has been employed as part of the selection process (while I’m glad I wasn’t subjected to it when I was hired, I’m dying to find out what I missed out on) so I always find it interesting when it gets mentioned in fiction. It’s a day-to-day reality for most of us, but this is the first time in fiction (which isn’t specifically about stuff in a psych setting) I’ve seen which gives it a decent mention and consideration. Later in the series it crops up, too: psychology, still being debated as an art or science in today’s world—seems to have some pretty serious believers and it appears that testing is revered and utilised a lot in a number of areas.

(I would have TOTALLY encouraged my dad to read the series if it had been around when he was alive, even though I think the explicit gay sex would have probably freaked him out a bit: I think he’d have appreciated the setting and the consideration that went into the details, and like me, he was a psychological thriller fan. [I’ll admit, though, I’m trying to get my Mum to read the series even though she loathes psychological thrillers and I think Toreth will freak her out for a variety of reasons… she likes mysteries and good writing, though. See? Something for everyone.])

Tanit clearly believes that the sim is responsible for the deaths, and she has other concerns about it, too.

“The sim is very…” her eyes narrowed. “Seductive might be a good general term, although too close a focus on the sexual element is counterproductive. It gives access to a world that can be absolutely controlled. Somewhere there is no danger, no risk, no chance of failure. All wishes can be gratified, without any consequences. To vulnerable personality types it can be powerfully attractive.”

Bada-bing. This was one of my first considerations about it, too. Though counter to that is the obvious: no everyone who  uses drugs is going to become an addict, not everyone who buys a lotto ticket is a problem gambler, not everyone who polishes off a bottle of Bacardi Pina Colada one night because they’re bored and it tastes nice (why yes, that might have some part in the delay in my updating… I did lose a couple of nights thanks to that) is an alcoholic, not everyone who enjoys some time in the sim is going to be living in lala land for the rest of theirs. But like fireworks and Dyewitness and the internet, all it takes is for a couple of idiots to fuck things up, and then the authorities decide something is bad news for everyone. Pfft.

Perfect place for a control freak like Warrick, too.

Interesting that while Toreth notes something so blatantly obvious, it probably wasn’t something Dr. Tanit was considering. Or maybe she was.

Tanit goes on to explain that Tara created a room in the sim: her boyfriend’s flat, and with her sim time, took out a lot of her rage against the guy. Tanit says with all the time she spent in the sim doing this, her concept of reality became skewed with the sim’s reality, and mentions that she even wrote an academic paper about what happened.

“Unpublished? SimTech suppressed it?”

She shook her head. “Your words, not mine, Para-Investigator. It’s publication is not considered commercially appropriate.”

This is the bit where I’m raising eyebrows about what corporations can get away with, though comparing this stuff to things which have recently happened in our world today, I’m hard-pressed to see how this is any worse than, say, the legislation that was passed in the States which forbids people from exposing animal abuse in factory farms, or certain political figures paying scientists to say that climate change is a myth. Or, say, everything ever that Gina Rinehart has been getting up to lately, with her desire to suppress particular media content. This stuff isn’t happening in some faraway dystopia, it’s happening now. What’s presented– or not presented– as the truth goes to the highest bidder.

Tanit explains that Tara’s all right now, though with Kelly’s death, she’s obviously upset, even to the point of blaming herself because of Kelly getting into trouble for her involvement in the “time share” issue earlier. They also talk about how there are now improved measures to stop this from happening in future, thanks to Dr. Tanit fighting for it, and that now she’s got the power to interview heavy sim users and suspend them if she believes it’s necessary. She states there are a few bans every month, and casually—that she’s got the ability to control access to every sim in the world.

Toreth continues the interview and they discuss the safety measures, and Warrick, and then the sim itself again. When Toreth asks if she thinks the sim is killing people, Tanit stalls, talking about the fact that there is a clause in her contract preventing her from discussing the sim in, apparently, anything more than abstract terms.

“That doesn’t apply during an investigation.”

Tanit turned the screen back towards her and leaned back in her chair. “I would be interested in seeing the legal basis for that statement, Para-Investigator.”

“I—“ Toreth stopped. He’d said those words so many times with such confidence, but never quite in these circumstances. I&I cases didn’t normally involve questions of product safety. There had to be a legal instrument that put I&I over corporate contracts. Didn’t there? He’d have to tell Sara to check it out.

Interesting, and again very much believable. How many times do people say “That’s illegal!” and then when questioned a bit about where exactly in law it’s illegal, the response waters down to “Well, it should be.” Or how many times do authorities ask for things– security guards in shops asking to see the contents of small bags, for example– and people will oblige without question?

Tanit continues on, not explicitly stating that she believes the sim killed anyone, though with an ambiguity which suggests that she’s not overly confident in the technology and that SimTech has something to hide.

Toreth shook his head. “They’ll get you on inference, you know.”

“Possibly.” Tanit sighed again, and for a moment she looked older—tired and depressed.

If Toreth’s job had that effect on him, he’d have started seriously scrutinizing the JAPI long ago. “Why are you still working here if you think the thing’s dangerous?”

Interesting. While the subject is clearly Tanit, the idea that Toreth has some level of belief in the system becomes abundantly clear here, even though he never really comes across as political. And again, thinking about I&I, it makes you wonder about people like Chevril, who are cynics: do they believe in the system, or are they just there for the ride and the paycheck? (And come to think of it, Chevril does look older than he should, doesn’t he?) I still love Toreth’s work ethic, too, quite randomly; there’s an honesty about him doing work that he believes in, I guess.

Tanit says after this that her job is more or less to promote safety of the sim, and that she believes it will be successful. I can understand her logic here.

“Do you have any more questions?”

“No, not at the moment.” Hands braced on the back of the chair, Toreth paused and said, “Not going to ask me about my mother?”

Tanit looked at him blankly, and then laughed—honest amusement that almost startled him. “Ah, yes, of course. Your charming young investigator. He seemed to be expecting something appropriately psychological and I hated to disappoint him. Well?”

“Nothing to tell.” Toreth stood up. “Haven’t spoken to her for years.”

It seemed almost weird to think about Toreth having a mother, for some reason, when I first read this line. You get so absorbed into his identity as Para-Investigator Toreth, and so accustomed to his overriding work ethic, the requirements of his job which—at this point—are sort of ominiously hinted at rather than explicitly detailed—and his seemingly casual headfucking other people to get what he wants from them. But there’s that one throwaway mention—which he didn’t need to make at all, but which came across as almost challenging to Dr. Tanit. While he’s spent the past however long getting answers from her and trying to unravel her attempts at tangling up the truth in corporate restrictions, he’s said nothing of himself. He hasn’t needed to. His job, like hers, as Warrick stated earlier—isn’t to be liked. He doesn’t have to be friendly or offer anything of himself to her.) Tanit, presumably, knows what he is, and given her credentials, likely has an idea of the sort of person who is able to do the job he does.

Yet he drops that one little hint about himself. Interesting.

 

Following this, he meets up with Mistry, his soft-touch junior—and they have a chat to Tara Scrivin.

She was tiny, less than one metre fifty tall, and lightly built. She had bright red hair, and pale, almost translucent skin, scattered with freckles. Overall, she looked incredibly delicate and oddly alien—there was something otherworldly about her.

And she was terrified.

Good thing Mistry’s there.

 Toreth saw a lot of frightened people in the course of his work, and he could judge the tenor of fear finely. His first assessment was that this wasn’t guilt; she was simply afraid of him. It wasn’t an uncommon reaction to the black uniforms of I&I employees.

This is so seriously easy to imagine and relate to. How many people will freeze up or freak out when they know cops are around even if they’re not doing the wrong thing? Uniforms have that effect on people, too; it’s a detail Manna Francis refers to every now and then through the series, but it’s dead on and realistic; it’s not the sort of thing that only happens once in the course of a story, but multiple times, dependent on how many new characters come in. And it’s completely believable with poor little fragile Tara.

Toreth even starts talking to her as though she’s a kid being interrogated (yes, consider this for a moment; this is a world where it’s perfectly okay for the government to interrogate kids) but then actually realises he’s doing that and mentally pulls himself up. He realises that she’s scared that he’s going to ask about the breakdown—let’s face it: who likes being asked about sensitive, highly stigmatised mental health isssues?

Anyway, he asks her about it. Tara explains that she’s been back for a couple of months, and that she spent a month in hospital. She seems hazy about it but says that it was good for her and that she doesn’t hold anything against Kelly, and that she wouldn’t hurt her.

Mistry leaned forward. “We just want to understand things a little bit better. How would you describe your relationship with Kelly?”

“We were friends. I used to share a flat with her.”

“But not recently?”

“No.” She edged back a little in the chair, sitting on her hands. “I live on campus now. Since I was ill. Dr. Tanit thought it would be better if we didn’t see so much of each other.”

“Did you mind?”

“Dr. Tanit thought it would be better,” she repeated, as though that ought to be enough.

Interesting: clearly Dr. Tanit and her advice are held in high regard—maybe not by the higher-ups at SimTech, but definitely by the worker ants.

“And what did you think?”

“I’d—“ She shrugged her narrow shoulders. “I liked living with Kelly, and she said ti was okay for me to stay. But it was one of the conditions of keeping my studentship.”

So Dr. Tanit does have some pull there.

The other conditions, Tara explains, were not going in the sim, doing a different project, and having counselling with Dr. Tanit. She’s calmed down a bit, too, though when Mistry asks her about leaving Kelly’s flat, she admits she wasn’t pleased about having to leave, though she’s willing to accept that it’s understandable that it was a condition. Tanit and Warrick even pulled strings for her by talking to the university.

Toreth fought to keep the frown off his face. The amount of sheer bloody niceness in this case was beginning to piss him off. Maybe the resister-spread rumours were right after all, and the Administration was putting something in the water.

Oh, well played, Ms. Francis. Seriously, well fucking played.

I hadn’t watched Blake’s 7 prior to reading the series… actually, I only started watching it after the last read-through, when I’d hit the end of the last book and was wanting MOAR ADMINISTRATION and well, there isn’t any more, and unlike my other fandoms, there isn’t any sort of side stuff, there isn’t a whole lot of meta or fanfiction, there’s no kink meme… so I was trying to get my hands on anything even remotely related to the series. Which of course… is Blake’s 7. (Watch it, people. But… note that you may find yourself getting weirdly fangirly when the Administration crop up even when you know they’re the bad guys. It’s… awkward.)

In the very first episode—The Way Back—one of the characters mentions that the Administration is drugging the water to keep citizens under control. Prior to my understanding, it was believable, and just Toreth being snarky—now… well, yeah: nicely done.

Tara talks about her last moments with Kelly and then about how she saw Dr. Tanit afterwards and then the two of them went back to her room since there was an issue with Dr. Tanit’s appointments and Tara would have missed out on her rehabituation session in the sim the next morning.

They talk a little about Kelly again, and Toreth can see that Tara is getting upset, and he stops the interview since he’d promised that he would be gentle with her.

After deciding that sending Mistry to talk to Tanit would be a fruitless exercise, the two of them head back to I&I. Toreth thinks over what’s happened and since he’s got no new leads and he’s not a tech guy, he starts having regrets about getting involved. Hopefully the demo he’s been invited to on Friday will offer something. .

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7 thoughts on “Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Eleven

  1. Thistle on said:

    Yay new post! I’ve missed reading your reviews, though Bacardi Pina Colada sounds like quite a nice distraction. 😀

    • Thanks. My life sort of took a nosedive and things have been a bit hectic… AND, well, the one time I did have a couple of nights spare, I wound up drinking the bottle of Pina Colada… which had me feeling kind of incoherent initially, and then hungover. 😦

  2. Yay, an update! And one that included this gem of an observation, too:

    I love that the seduction doesn’t happen with the sex being some kind of end point, but part of the scenery along the way– the journey is about them finding intimacy and trust and things they can’t find elsewhere.

    This is the main reason why I can’t stomach reading most “romance” novels. The will-they-or-won’t-they is the source of the dramatic tension in most of those rent-a-plots. The build-up is all about seeing the characters getting closer and closer to physical intimacy, and the point at which they actually fall into bed is the climax (bad pun, sorry) of the plot. After that, there’s nothing else to write about, so the story ends. It’s all about the thrill of the chase. We’ve all known men like that, and they’re no more fun in fiction than they are in real life.

    Of course, every good story needs a source of dramatic tension — something that the reader is set up to long for. Something that keeps us reading. And here, we have two: The A-Plot, who killed Jon Teffera and Kelly Jarvis, would get relegated to pointless back-story by a lesser writer, but in this case, it’s the main source of dramatic tension — another reason why I say this fits better in the genre of mystery thriller or police procedural than in the narrow framework of ‘romance’.

    But the B-plot — which is what keeps us reading beyond the first novel and wanting more of the universe — is about the tension between Toreth and Warrick. And and in this case it’s not about whether they have physical intimacy, since that happens when we barely know, let alone care, about these guys. It’s about whether they can ever have emotional intimacy. And by setting up these major stumbling blocks to that goal — Toreth’s psychological and emotional issues, Warrick’s need for caution and distaste for the job that Toreth does, the world in which they live that makes them at odds in many ways — we have the makings of a true romantic plot. Not in the trashy romance novel sense of the word, either.

    • I can seriously LOVE tension, but I think it often makes sex out to be a Bigger Deal than it really needs to be (and I wonder if that line of thinking then leads down to a lot of weirdness society has about concepts surrounding sex, like “sex = love” and “virginity is the most important attribute a woman can have” and all that other assorted bullshit)… and when it’s used as an endpoint, well… I don’t buy that a whole relationship can be based on it. (Which is one reason I’m interested in finishing That Other Series: I’m curious as to how the writer manages to “keep the spark” there now that it’s all “Achievement Unlocked.”)

      >> And here, we have two: The A-Plot, who killed Jon Teffera and Kelly Jarvis, would get relegated to pointless back-story by a lesser writer, but in this case, it’s the main source of dramatic tension — another reason why I say this fits better in the genre of mystery thriller or police procedural than in the narrow framework of ‘romance’.

      Exactly. I feel cheated that the reviews suggested that the series was “dystopia with gay sex” because that’s doing it a huge disservice. It is WAY better and so much more. I love the incidental stuff too: like Chevril and Toreth’s conversations, and Sara: all elements unessential to both a romance and a crime thriller.

      >>> And by setting up these major stumbling blocks to that goal — Toreth’s psychological and emotional issues, Warrick’s need for caution and distaste for the job that Toreth does, the world in which they live that makes them at odds in many ways — we have the makings of a true romantic plot.

      I KNOW! There’s a lot at odds between them.

      There’s one later point down the track where (god, vague spoiler time from me again) stuff happens and Toreth’s getting cold feet and my brain was going, “RUN LIKE HELL, TORETH; GET OUT BEFORE YOU GET FUCKED OVER” even though I knew damn well that wasn’t going to happen… but I knew how strong that urge must have been and that I’d have done precisely that in his situation. And then you look back and go, “These aren’t actual people we’re talking about here” and realise that, shit, they’re so well written that they COULD be.

  3. mannafrancis on said:

    And no, not like that. But… If someone wants to convince me otherwise by writing Toreth/Chevril, though, don’t let that stop you.

    I wrote a Toreth/Chevril scene once. Totally and utterly non-canonical and just for fun 🙂

    God I love Chevril.

    Yay, Chevril fan! {high five}

    I have a big soft spot for Chevril. He was one of the OCs from the initial Blakes 7 gen story for which I first invented Toreth, so I feel like he’s been there from the beginning. (The others are Tillotson, Ange, Seiden, Doral and Narr. Sara’s existance is mentioned in passing, but she doesn’t have a name.) He and Toreth are always fun to write together. Having them working together in Control was great; it’s a shame that the senior paras in the same section don’t work together on cases more often, really. And I don’t think anyone other than Chevril could [spoilerish] do what he did in First Against The Wall and get away with it.

    For the record, I always imagined Warrick as looking like a less-pretty Jack Harkness.

    Hah!

    Sometimes when people ask who I think should play Warrick, I say John Barrowman, because in terms of acting he’s sort of the modern equivalent of Paul Darrow 🙂

    I still say this even though not a great deal has actually happened– emotionally, at least, anyway– between Toreth and Warrick. I don’t think Toreth has conceptualised him as human in the same way that, say, Sara or even Chevril are human to him.

    I wasn’t sure about mentioning this before you got to the end of the readthrough, because it might make you end up spending time looking for the strings in the background, as it were. But. I wrote the bulk of Mind Fuck after I’d written quite a number of the later stories. The first six chapters were rewritten from an already somewhat AU Blake’s 7 story. Then I wrote Pancakes, worked on Mind Fuck briefly, and then wrote various of the other stories before I went back and finished Mind Fuck. (Looking at the timeline, before I wrote most of Mind Fuck I’d pretty much finished First Against The Wall, although I hadn’t written all of the stories that now sit between them.) So in terms of the overall structure of The Administration, the plot of Mind Fuck exists primarily to move Warrick and Toreth from the end of Chapter Six to a point where they can start to develop a relationship. It’s all about linking them together with an external tie that can’t easily be undone.

    Even after that, when the paperbacks came out, I still wanted to write Quid Pro Quo so that I could proplerly show the passage of time needed for the relationship to keep slowly developing over the months until Pancakes. (And also because I really wanted to write a story with Chris Doyle, and that was where it had to go.) Without Quid Pro Quo, it always felt like there was something missing, even though you can reasonably infer the intervening months. But it takes a lot of coaxing to get Toreth finally to stand over the trap door 🙂

    • I am in total awe of your ability to have conceived of, developed and written this universe in the first place. The sheer complexity of keeping all the pieces straight, and the way that the character development and pacing are absolutely, utterly perfect… and now to learn that you didn’t even write it in ORDER??? Awe. That’s the only word for it. Awe.

      • mannafrancis on said:

        For me, writing out of order is really no problem, because of the way I write. I almost never plan or outline, because I find it kills my enthusiasm for actually writing things down if I know what’s going to happen. I sometimes envy people who have a big board covered in sticky notes and know exactly where they’re going before they set off.

        In a way, it’s a lot easier to do complicated plots and foreshadowing if you can go back to an earlier point in the timeline and write the foreshadowing in once you know what it’s meant to foreshadow. This is one of the things that’s making me slow with the new stories now the paperbacks have ‘fixed’ the Administration world. Suddenly everything is sitting in jars of formalin, and all I have to work with is what I’ve already written in. (Although I used to drive people nuts when I’d go back and change something that was already on the website, so it’s good from their point of view.)

        And there are other problems with my ‘method’ (or lack of method). I write plenty of openings for stories that never go anywhere in the end. Even when they do reach a destination, it can take me a long time to find where. I wrote the first two parts of Control very quickly, and then it took me several months to find the plot for the last part. But I’m always willing to put something to one side and wait for inspiration. The paperbacks were good for that, as I had no choice but to finish/create stories or that place on the timeline was lost.

        I think the main thing you need to jump up and down the timeline when writing is a reasonably strong sense of the characters, especially how, when and why they change over time. Sometimes it really obvious, like the abrupt change between Toreth and Sara at the end of First Against The Wall that slowly smooths out over time afterwards. But it’s true for minor characters. Phil Verstraeten isn’t the same ‘now’ as he was when he was first introduced in Mind Fuck and Quid Pro Quo. I have a timeline, and a big character spreadsheet with every named character who has ever appeared or been mentioned, along with which stories they show up in.

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