Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Thirteen
Chapter thirteen starts with Toreth’s meeting with Tillotson, and they’re negotiating salaries for Toreth’s team. Here, we get to see another side of Toreth which I love but haven’t seen discussed that much—he’s a good boss. I guess it goes with his strong work ethic, but he’s both good at what he does and good at seeing the potential in, and harnessing the talents of other people in his area, and when they’re good, he advocates for them. Throughout the series it’s something he both does well and which seems to evade the attention of a lot of others (except Sara) until a crucial moment.
Anyway, Tillotson is a complete bureaucrat and wants none of this, and for everything to be organised as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Toreth wants people recognised and paid to their abilities, and he advocates for workers who’ve been good to him.
“Mistry. I’m sure she’s a good enough investigator, but a promotion to level three and a third of the way up the pay scale? I don’t see any outstanding cases credited to her.”
“She’s very sympathetic.”
Clearly, Tillotson, too, has no idea what Toreth’s team actually get up to or their skill levels or abilities. Thankfully, he does.
Yet again, this is one of those moments where I am stunned into disbelief at the sheer accuracy of the writing here… I think this is the upper-management of every government department ever.
Look it up in the fucking dictionary. “Yes. She’s good with people. Witnesses, particularly. People tell her things they didn’t mean to, and it all adds up. If the witnesses don’t talk to someone, we don’t get any evidence, and then we don’t close any cases. Unless you’d like me to run a lot more witness interrogations with damage waivers and all the rest of the trimmings.”
The hilarious thing about this—other than the fact that he’s right—is that this ability to negotiate like this comes from his work and training… the same which Tillotson seems perfectly oblivious to. And by this point, even if Tillotson realises that Toreth has the upper hand, there’s sweet FA he can actually do about it, unless he wants to just be petty and needlessly power-trippy, because as Toreth has pointed out: having Mistry working her magic means that time and money are saved and potential drama is averted.
And when Tillotson asks why level increase is needed, he spins a bit about how she’s been headhunted by another department who are offering her nicer benefits including a housing upgrade. And backs it up with “Sara checked it out.”
“Hm, why does she want to stay?”
Because I’m not as much of an arsehole as you and most of the others here. Toreth smiled. “She likes me.”
“Oh. Maybe we should let her go. Then CF can pay for the psych discharge.”
He laughed politely. With Toreth’s reputation, most people would’ve come up with a different comment. However, Tillotson’s mind didn’t work like that. As far as Toreth could tell, it was mostly filled with numbers and division politics, with people existing only in relation to the wages they cost, the expenses they submitted and the kudos they generated. Sex had no budgetary implications.
I love this meeting SO SO SO much. Firstly, the inner-workings of I&I fascinate me. Like the broader world of the Administration, they’re so close to real that they’re very easy to relate to and understand, and they’re written with a sense of fun, and… detail. Also, I love what Manna does with dialogue: each of her characters has a very distinct voice, even the ones who could have very easily been background props.
Then there’s the fact that I&I runs like a lot of government departments in that everyone there is a bit screwy in their own way. I&I obviously attracts some extremes given the nature of the work, I guess: you get the number-obsessed govi types like Tillotson who have a hard time getting that people are actual human beings rather than just spreadsheet names, and then you get the Toreths who have a hard time getting that people outside his immediate concern aren’t just vessels containing information pertinent to the cases he’s sorting out.
It’s kind of how I imagine working for ASIO to be: not full of super-slick, sky-high-IQ agents, but full of ordinary-ish people who are obsessed with their jobs and quite isolated by them, misunderstood, misrepresented and treated with suspicion from the general public, and who were a little bit different to begin with, hence them being attracted to the job—and getting hired to begin with—and probably, after a few years there, being a little bit more different.
(Not that I ever have worked for such an agency or know anyone who does, btw. This is all speculation, so if anyone thinks I know too much, I actually don’t. 😉 )
Anyway, Toreth basically bargains with Tillotson, scoring Mistry a bigger pay increase than he’d initially aimed for for the “loss” of the housing upgrade he’d mentioned, and gets others on his team similarly sorted.
Tillotson then asks how things are going at SimTech and mentions that Legislator Nissim has been asking what’s going on, while he’s still thinking that it’s simple tech!fail and not really I&I’s case. But Toreth doesn’t believe that the wiped security records and the sim killing people due to tech!fail happened coincidentally.
“I’ve had memos inquiring whether it wouldn’t be better to take the case out of your hands.”
From whom? Nissim? Departmental friends of the Tefferas? Suddenly cold, Toreth sat up straighter. “I beg your pardon, sir?”
Tillotson smiles sourly at the unusual politeness. “I told them you were my best senior, and you have the best—or at least the most expensive—team. So I suggest you get out there and start justifying this.” He gestured irritably at the screen.
Toreth stood up, his stomach still fluttering from the shock. “Yes sir.”
You actually have to hand it to Tillotson in a way. He’s not entirely incompetent when it comes to dealing with people: he can motivate his staff. Sort of.
And you have to hand it to the slickness of the writing there. Such a subtle little thing which could have not been detected, huh?
Later on, at Toreth’s flat, Sara is commenting on his lack of homely surroundings. To be less polite about it: Toreth lives in something of a mess. Not really having a need to keep the place (which, to be fair, sounds tiny, and tiny living areas are hard to keep clean, dammit) clean since it’s only ever him and Sara (who he doesn’t feel the need to impress because she accepts him regardless of his flaws) in there anyway, he’s left it become overrun with pizza boxes, exercise equipment, and clothes. This used to be my bedroom situation, only there were ashtrays and lots of bits of paper and books and cosmetics involved as well, so I’m rather sympathetic here.
Tidying up, because that’s the sort of relationship Sara and Toreth have, Sara points out that he should probably hire a cleaner, but Toreth doesn’t like that idea: he doesn’t want strangers going through his stuff.
It’s an interesting little insight into his character: I assumed initially he’d be kind of anal-retentive (as I assumed Warrick would be as well) but I suppose work and other out-of-home activities consume his life and he’s not really a homebody who’s into cooking food so he wants quick-and-easy stuff which means “pizza,” and well, stuff accumulates and mess happens. Like I said, it’s really easy for a small space to become a pigsty.
Anyway, over the mess— and then dinner (Thai takeaway)—they talk about work, which leads to Toreth’s experiences with the sim, and then… Warrick. Clearly they have an awesome, affectionate buddy relationship, with Sara laying her head in his lap in a completely non-sleazy manner while he recounts what happened.
When he’d finished, Sara helped herself to another beer and said “Does Tillotson know you screwed him?”
Toreth, of course, has handled this like a boss.
“Fuck, no. I fudged his alibi to ‘with a lover, confirmed by surveillance and interview.’ Identity concealed on request, not relevant to the case, et cetera. I got a security recording of him going in and out of the RC so I’m in the clear. Tillotson never wants to upset corporates, so he won’t ask who it was.”
Perfect, isn’t it?
Sara then asks what he was like, to which Toreth explains that he was good, especially since he’s new to “this sort of thing.”
“I didn’t know you did that kind of thing.”
“Sometimes.” He shrugged. “Not very often.”
“Can’t find someone to do it with?”
“No, that’s not a problem. Good tops are hard to find.”
She laughed at the immodesty. “And you’re good, are you?”
“I’ve had compliments.” He leered down at her. “Want to find out?”
It wasn’t a serious question and Sara didn’t take it as one. “I don’t do kinky. So why don’t you do it more often?”
That’s one thing you have to hand to Toreth: all his issues aside, he’s probably one of the more well-adjusted characters in anything ever regarding his sexuality. He’s refreshingly honest and straightforward. He sees sex as something to do for enjoyment; he’s kind of hedonistic about it but he’s open and not weird about anything and there’s nothing personal in it for him. (Something which has probably helped him not have much weirdness on his part after that encounter with Sara.)
And if his work ethic extends to his performance, he’s probably quite good at it, too.
Anyway, he explains to Sara that he’s not into the BDSM thing because of the whole social scene (which cracked my shit up because I haven’t read this book in ages and had forgotten about this conversation and I remember making that last post about Shades referring to real life scene people and some of their, um, interesting behavioural funtimes). In addition, Toreth doesn’t really like the lack of spontaneity which comes with the scene and its players when everything is spelled out by participants beforehand. Which on one hand is understandable, I guess. For the fantasy aspect, I guess.
On another hand, it just screams so many types of wrong—and potential for Really Fucking Bad Stuff to happen— that it’s scary. Until you remember that, in his own funny little way, he and Warrick have sorted out safewords and somehow managed to get things in motion without overly long discussion. Like a lot of things about Toreth, he looks a lot scarier with just the facts than the whole package, I guess.
I still don’t think he’s anything near as terrifying or awful as Christian Grey, though, and after reading this chapter and then the next chapter of Shades, I’m still wanting crossover fic where Toreth either winds up seducing him or interrogating him. (I’m not picky. Either—or both— would be awesome.)
Toreth admits that “respectable corporate guy” as they’re calling Warrick at the moment, doesn’t have a list of likes and dislikes, and that’s a big part of the appeal, and suggests that he’ll learn and come up with one.
“You’re going to do it again, then?” She sounded mildly surprised, as well she might. Toreth had rather surprised himself at SimTech when he had arranged another real-world meeting with Warrick.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Not while the investigation’s in progress, though?” Then her eyes narrowed. “You didn’t screw him again already?”
“A couple of times.” He finished the bottle. “And I’m seeing him tomorrow.”
“Oh, Jesus. Tillotson will blow a fuse if he finds that out.”
“He won’t. Warrick’s not going to tell anyone.” He tapped her on the nose with his beer bottle. “And it’s not going to get onto the network, is it?”
So here we get to see that while he’s normally professional and sensible… he’s taken two major risks: he’s trusting Warrick to remain true to his word—and he’s continuing to see him—and he’s trusting Sara to keep her mouth shut about it. And given how well Sara knows him, this must be such a weird exception for Toreth that she’s probably wanting to say something—but she can’t. And maybe Toreth does have training and an ability to work out who’s going to be more likely to keep secrets than most—but given things like his concern that a cleaner would go through his stuff, and other small hints that he’s not really a sharer when it comes to him and the rest of the world, these aren’t exactly insignificant things for him.
Even when he makes a bare hint by leaving a suggestive opening in the conversation about the time he and Sara had sex—he’s both dying to find out (and from my angle, it’s almost like he’s hoping she does remember and still likes and cares about him in the same way regardless—it’s a weird little test from him) if she does remember—and still scared that if she does, it will ruin things between them—it’s a rare, intimate risk that he’s taking. And it’s significant because of who’s involved. If Sara was no one, it wouldn’t matter. But she’s… Sara.
And she changes the subject.
“You know, I never thought I’d see you of all people getting into an interrogator junkie.”
“A what?” Toreth blinked, distracted from his fishing expedition. “No fucking way!”
I was giggling at this one; it’s another little so-typical-it’s-believable thing in this world. Think about what uniforms and power or authority do to people: there are people who have a thing for cops. Or military people. Or firefighters. Or… you get the impression. (Funnily enough, I think the uniform/career fetish thing applies to just about anyone in a work-related uniform except for retail workers. But then again, retail workers don’t have the sort of power or authority that just about every other uniformed job has with it, right?)
And yeah, folks, FetLife’s confirmed that there are interrogation junkies, who seem to bear some resemblance to Manna Francis’ fictional ones. Some of them seem to have a—I wouldn’t quite call it romanticised, but it’s kind of glorified, I guess—idea about interrogators, and some of the arguments about how t0 recreate accurate or realistic settings for roleplay kink have cracked my shit up or scared the hell out of me. (Protip: talking about doing away with safewords because they don’t use them in Guantanamo Bay is probably a bad idea. It’s probably kind of hazardous to try waterboarding at home. And seriously, there are some people who get a bit too into the specifics of “how to break someone psychologically” under the guise of sexual roleplay. …I suppose the idea of people getting off on doing this stuff in real life is even creepier than the idea of people just doing it because they believe that the ends justifies the means and that it’s a necessary evil. Or maybe that’s just me.)
“No?” She arched an eyebrow. “Screwing him with his arm up his back? Sounds like it to me.”
“Bollocks does it.” Taking the piss was one thing; this was something else. “Do I look that desperate for a fuck?”
*snort* So that was Toreth’s problem? The idea that he would take advantage of that and have to rely on that to get sex? I love it: in a way, it’s again about his work being a big part of his identity, which is, underneath his sometimes casual attitude about it, something he takes very seriously.
“You should be careful with him, that’s all.” Toreth couldn’t tell whether she was serious or not. “Next thing you know, respectable corporate guy’ll turn up outside your flat with your name carved in his chest. Remember Helen the psycho stalker?”
Oooh. Interesting, and dammit, there is stuff I want to say right now but won’t, though did anyone else catch a hint of concern from Sara there?
“Oh, fuck yes. Thanks for reminding me.” Toreth opened a new beer and downed half of it, trying to wash away the faint embarrassment the memory always stirred up.
Again, interesting. He clearly likes attention from sexual partners, and takes pride in his prowess, but he doesn’t want it because of what he does, and he doesn’t want it from the vulnerable and crazy. Now, if this was a certain other bad dude I’m reading about…
It was a well-known rule at I&I that anyone who went through a genuine high-level interrogation and came out the other end wanting to fuck interrogators was guaranteed to be certifiably nuts. Of course, he’d insisted on learning that lesson the hard way.
(And this is the bit where, you just go “WTF HAPPENED?” because dammit, that is shit we the readers need to know.)
“He’s nothing at all like her,” Toreth said. “Exactly the opposite, in fact. Doesn’t even want to hear about it. He’s…” Not a junkie. Not a typical submissive.
(Yeah: hell no. Can we say topping from the bottom, ladies and gentlemen? Also, randomly on this: this is something that there should be a whole lot more of in fiction. Because it’s way more complex and interesting and it doesn’t make all the hideous mistakes that certain other writers do when they make their submissive characters simpering idiots who are rather ambiguous about being submissive. I’ve only seen two examples of this done really fucking well and explored in depth: one is here, and another was in a particular Ace Attorney fic.)
Toreth thinks about him a bit more, and then considers the fact that he’s gone back for subsequent sexual encounters with Warrick which is another thing that makes this such an odd situation—and assures Sara that Warrick doesn’t know where he lives.
Even though, when you consider it—and interestingly enough, it’s something Toreth hasn’t told Sara—he easily could find out. So even though they do have a close relationship—probably closer than anyone else Toreth interacts with—he still has his stuff that she isn’t privy to.
I fucking LOVE this chapter, by the way. This is the stuff that makes you want to meta and psychoanalyse everyone and have theories and see other peoples’ theories about character’s personalities, and just, yeah. God I love this stuff. There is so much going on here, but it’s all so cool and subtle.