Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Twelve
So, Toreth doesn’t pussy out and he goes along to the sense-memory stacking demonstration in the sim, even though he was quite obviously apprehensive about it.
Toreth lay in absolute darkness. In fact, lay wasn’t the right word– he simply existed. He could feel nothing, not even an awareness of being inside his body. He tried to blink, and didn’t know if he had. He was a mind, adrift in an endless emptiness.
Anyone here tried sensory deprivation tanks before? (Do they still use them nowadays?) I did when I was pregnant with my now-eleven-year-old son, and after the initial period of getting used to being in the thing, you do get a sense of just being… a collection of thoughts. It was one of the trippiest, most humbling and calming things I’ve ever experienced, even though I’ve heard that it can scare the beejesus out of people.
Apart from his own thoughts, the only thing he was conscious of was Warrick’s voice, giving a running commentary on the body Toreth couldn’t feel.
“God you’re hard,” he murmured from an unguessable distance.
Again, an interesting situation here: Toreth is completely at Warrick’s mercy. Again. Like he was last time. And even though Warrick assured him that all would be safe, I had the impression that Toreth wasn’t just worried about the fact that the sim was possibly killing people… he’s had that other experience with Warrick in the sim, hasn’t he?
Toreth asks what Warrick is actually doing, which is a fair point since he has absolutely no sense of what’s going on beyond his thoughts. Warrick explains that he’s “finger fucking the virtual Toreth, and that even though he can’t feel it right now, he will.
To be honest, the first time I read this section I was seriously trying to get my head around the technology here, but precisely why it works and is better than most other virtual realities is that thought has gone into it; it’s not magic or “it’s there so just believe in it, readers,” it’s a part of the story and it’s developing.
Toreth suggests that they just get to the fucking part, and asks how much longer they’re going to be, reminding Warrick that he’s meant to be working.
“And so you are– as in fact am I. I’m running an SMS trial on a new volunteer. You’re investigating the sim. Didn’t you say your boss was convinced it was responsible for the deaths?”
“I don’t think Tillotson will be impressed if I file an IIP saying I spent all afternoon here in the dark with your virtual fingers virtually up me.”
The warm laugh again. “So ask me a question, Para-investigator.”
I was giggling here: I love Warrick’s interpretation of things. He might be a brilliant engineer, but can anyone else imagine this guys as a lawyer or a politician?
Toreth asks about the paper Tanit told him SimTech had suppressed, to which Warrick replies that it wasn’t so much as suppressed because of the outcome Tanit discussed but due to the fact that it breached confidentiality agreements and revealed too much about th workings of the sim itself. The sponsors received copies; the wider public did not. Warrick then explains that the sponsors didn’t see how one unfortunate happening could ruin the commercial viability of the sim.
So we have, erm, two versions of “suppressed” here, don’t we? The Tanit conspiracy version where the corporation is stopping the world knowing about a dangerous product, and the Warrick version where it would be corporate suicide due to confidentiality and sponsorship issues to talk about the sim in detail.
And then he says that Toreth’s ready for the run through the SMS.
Without any sense of change or transition, Toreth’s body flamed back into life. At the same instant, the sensory awareness of twenty minutes of Warrick’s careful handiwork exploded into his mind with perfect clarity. If he could have drawn breath, he would have screamed at the overwhelming intensity– he felt as though he had spent hours on the brink of coming. He held on to the sensation for seconds that seemed to stretch into forever, before it peaked into a blaze of ecstasy, which finally burned out back into darkness.
Okay, let’s be dead honest: this sounds fucking incredible. And I’m one of those I-highly-value-my-privacy-when-it-comes-to-my-sex-life types, and even I’m saying “Fuck yeah, I’d have to give that a go.” In short: you can totally see why people are wanting to have shares in this, can’t you?
Afterwards, Toreth wakes up in the meadow scene, to Warrick asking him what he thought. Toreth is still coming down from the bliss of the experience, and points out that it’s all recorded anyway, though Warrick says debriefing is part of the process.
“And you get off on hearing about it, don’t you?”
“Mm.” Warrick smiled. “That would be extremely unprofessional.”
Hehe. Warrick, the sexy, slightly mischievous control freak. I find it interesting, again, that Warrick can’t help but take that– something fairly personal, when you think about it– into his work– yet when Toreth is doing his thing (in a regular, not-having-sex-with-Warrick capacity of his professional role) he’s really not, and he’s already made a few efforts to remain professional in his thoughts even though he can reognise that he, say, wants Warrick (and even though he gives in to that).
Toreth agrees to provide the feedback, provided Warrick explains how SMS works. So Warrick explains that there’s a “temporary disconnection between sensory-input-stroke-processing and conscious awareness of the same,” demonstrating on Toreth’s body by running his moistened fingers over his nipples. Only able to feel it on one side– but noticing the way the other side of him reacts, Toreth gets an explanation:
“You didn’t feel that, did you?” Warrick asked. “Except that you did. The sim fed the sensation into your nervous system, it travelled up into your brain, was processed there, and you now have the memory of being touched on that side. It’s merely not consciously accessible to you yet. […]”
I was trying to think of a way to explain it simply and “in my own words,” but I think this is about as clear and as succinct as it gets.
Warrick touches the controls and suddenly Toreth get both the touch and the surreality of feeling it now when before there’d been no sensation.
The disjunction between seeing two touches, feeling one and remembering two left him disoriented and struggling for words. “Fucking hell… Christ, that’s– that’s so fucking weird.”
Randomly, there’s something else I love about the dialogue in here: Manna Francis’ characters talk– and yes, that includes when they swear– like people. “Fuck” isn’t just a word used to express anger or to be coarse or controversial– if you’re anything like me, you realise there are a whole range of perfectly valid uses of the word. Stubbed toe? “Fuck.” Bus driving away just as it comes into sight? “Fuck.” Weird-looking thing in the night sky emitting a green light to the ground? “Oh my” just doesn’t cut it, folks.
Afterwards, they head out together, and Warrick eventually says that if Toreth wants any more sessions in the sim, then he’s sure he could accommodate him.
Toreth smiled, enjoying, as he always did, the feeling of being pursued. Of having the power to refuse. Enjoying it enough that, rather than responding with one of the more final retorts from his repertoire of rejections, he said, “I’ll think about it.”
Hehe. I love his style. Yeah, okay, perhaps it’s completely insecure and manipulative and immature, but hey, it’s also perfectly believable and human.
That drew not a flicker of emotion in response. “Well, let me know.”
Oh, Warrick, I love how you’re not rising to him.
Piqued by the lack of reaction, Toreth said, “Aren’t we due a real-world fuck, in any case?”
That got a response, if only a small one, a catch in Warrick’s breathing before he said carefully, “I suppose so, if you wish to keep score.”
See what I mean about how you could sit here forever and watch the back-and-forthing of their dialogue? I love these two. Seriously, they are awesome. And so perfect together because there’s that push-and-pull and desire to not give in.
“That would be delightful.” Mask back in place again, which made shattering it with the next sentence that much more fn.
“Should I bring something this time? Cuffs from work?”
*cackles* Oh, you romantic, Toreth.
“Well, I– ah.” Warrick licked his lips, and then grinned, suddenly abandoning all pretense of detachment. “Yes. I’d like that a great deal, I suspect. Shall we say eight? The Anchorage is very nice and quite out of the way.”
Interesting; Toreth quite clearly threw him off with that suggestion, and yet by the end of that conversation, Warrick’s back to steering the direction of things. Yay subtle shifts in power!
When Toreth nodded, Warrick turned and left at once. Toreth watched him go, mildly irritated to find himself smiling. The man refused to react as Toreth expected, and that was perversely intriguing. No time to dwell on it; he had a meeting scheduled with Tillotson, which was more joy he didn’t need.
Waiting for his taxi back to I&I, Toreth thinks about the SMS in the sim, resalising why Warrick is so invested in it as a commercial venture, and why Tanit is concerned about addictiveness of such a thing.
If he personally had free access to something like that, would he ever leave the house again? Forget that, would be even leave the sim long enough to eat?
For all his indifference and unawareness about a lot of things, Toreth does have some serious libido going on. While I can see the appeal of the sim in this capacity… I can also imagine that it would eventually get boring after awhile for me. But for someone like Toreth? Different story, hey?
It took two people, though– at the moment– and presumably required a certain amount of expertise on the part of the… what would the word be? Dominant and submissive didn’t seem to apply, although there was a certain passivity to the experience. In that way, it had been, on reflection, a little unsatisfying.
Hehe. I love that it’s that aspect which makes him think twice about it.
He thinks about the commercial application of the sim and who would be responsible for trying to sabotage it, and figures that since he’s got no leads, he’ll at least get the weekend off, and he considers asking Sara for a Friday night hangout.