Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis, Chapter Eighteen

The initial interrogation took Parsons an hour and three quarters. Toreth resisted the urge to spectate on the screen in his office– watching other people doing his job, even very talented people like Parsons, always drove him mad.

One can only imagine, especially since Toreth has some control issues and is a perfectionist.

Frustratingly, too, nothing is forthcoming from Tara Scrivin.

Parsons wasn’t apologetic, simply matter-of-fact. In the eight years he’d known the man, Toreth couldn’t remember hearing him sound anything other than calm and cold. His lined face and deep-set dark eyes were equally expressionless.

Again, we get this idea that there’s something a little bit… dead about the people suited to this role. And it’s fascinating; Parsons doesn’t come across as some kind of sadistic bully, he’s just… good at his job.

It’s interesting, too, how the characters in this universe are very much products of their time and the environment and its politics, and by the end of my first reading of the book, rather than going, “I hate this crapsack world” or being able to go, “Evil bad guys are evil,” I was asking myself, “Realistically, where would I fit into things in this setting?” I’ve only done that with a few fictional universes: the most prominent other one I can think of being J. K. Rowling’s Potterverse– and I love it wen I can get so immersed in a setting that I start considering stuff like this.

I’d even argue that what’s going on here is so well organised, and that there are so many protocols behind what they’re doing that it doesn’t even have the craziness of current-day situations like Abu Gharib where culture and a lack of protocol– but and end goal– reigns supreme. (Or even something more benign: the participants in Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford Prison Experiment– where university students were given roles of prison inmates or prison officers– weren’t actually given guidelines beyond “control the prison.” They developed their own means of doing so– which essentially came down to bastardisation, causing a whole heap of people in the experiment significant distress– and the experiment to get ended prematurely.) The system in the Administration isn’t unrestrained; we’re frequently reminded of the paperwork and protocol and justification required for people like Toreth to be allowed to take things a step further. They’re supervised and they have rules and bureacracy to worry about. It seems entirely different to soldiers torturing prisoners because they’re “bored”.

I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying: the situations nowadays seem to be almost devoid of protocol, and hushed up when they occur– because there is public understanding that These Things Aren’t Good. In the Administrationverse, it’s almost as though the subjects get the chance to just ‘fess up before things hit higher levels, almost giving the upper-end interrogations a social function: as a warning not to step out of line. But in the same way that capital punishment doesn’t stop people committing crimes in the countries where it’s a potential penalty, the threat of dying at the hands of the Administration’s people doesn’t stop them from ending up there.

Which then brings in a couple of other considerations: what happens when it isn’t warranted, but the desire to get something makes the Administration keep going? Our generation has seen military campaigns continue even when they’ve looked doubtful (weapons of mass destruction, anyone?) with no real admission of “we fucked up and we’re sorry” afterwards: is this something like that on a micro scale?

And the big question: what the hell made the government decide that any of this was appropriate? It’s never explained, but it is fun to speculate on, especially since the government is so heavy-handed about dealing with minor offences like sedition… what the fuck happened to make this seem appropriate? And why have the public accepted it?

Parsons isn’t convinced Tara can offer anything, and advises Toreth that everything checks out in Tara’s story according to what’s on file for Tara, “bar variations for error in recollection well within standard limits.”

I love the way the workplace lingo is so believable, and there is an allowance for such variations. It seems a lot more practical than the current popular ways of assessing someone’s guilt or innocence (even body language is completely subjective, and can be feigned/ignored/detracted from… one reason Lie to Me annoys the hell out of me despite my love of Tim Roth): it’s like a more finely turned lie detection… so it’s believable that there’s not much margin for error.

Sign of someone telling the truth rather than well-rehearsed lies. “Damn. Well, there’ll be a level three waiver coming through, so you can see if she’ll loosen up for that.”

Parsons nodded. “Yes, Para. However, I should tell you that I’m sure I’ll be wasting a room booking. I can do her, no problem there, but she doesn’t know anything she isn’t talking about.”

Fuck. Exactly what he’d thought himself. “Are you sure?”

I actually quite like Parsons for his honesty and his lack of “I’ll keep at her with brute force if she doesn’t say anything.” But there’s something quite telling about the way he’s so casual about what he does: is it evil? Not really: like Toreth, he’s a product of his time and workplace culture and the lingo that gets thrown around so flippantly: and that’s something that happens in a LOT of workplaces where people are dealing with people and tense situations. I’ve come across police, nurses, trauma workers, prison officers and social workers who do it. Is it insensitive? Yep. Does it make them evil and inhuman? No.

Parsons nodded again. “Positive. And for once, Justice is right that she’s a fragile witness. She isn’t a wreck, but she isn’t so stable that I can fill her full of drugs and be sure she’ll come out the other end exactly the same as she went in. If she’s got good lawyers rather than a Justice rep, I’d prefer a level four, maybe five, before I’d even try the top-end level three drugs. Just thought you’d want to know, before I got started.”

And I really like that Parsons is prepared to let Toreth know this. I can only imagine how dangerous things could be if, say, workplace politics got in the way: Parsons withholding information like that could get someone like Tara killed– and someone like Toreth in a world of trouble. So far, things seem okay because people are honest about these things, and Toreth, in his own way, is fair– and no one really seems to have any vendettas against others and they’re professional about what they do.

Imagine if they weren’t. Seriously, that’s where things could get horrific. (That said, I wonder if anyone with such petty tendencies would be weeded out through psychological testing and the like when going for roles in jobs like this.)

Toreth trusts Parsons, and decides that he’s not going to risk wasting time with– or further damaging– Tara, and that he’s going to try “something else.”

Exactly what that would be, he thought as he watched Parsons leave, was a different question.

He checks out Tara’s medical file to confirm that yep, Parsons is right and she’s fragile, but annoyingly, Tanit has okayed her for working in the sim.

Shame she couldn’t have glued the girl sufficiently back together for a decent interrogation, too. Not much of a cure, from that point of view.

I shouldn’t have, but I giggled at that. I love the way Toreth is so focused on getting information that he drastically overlooks the fact that the poor girl’s a mess, and I love the way he’s so dismissive of psychology.

Toreth spent fifteen minutes searching through the I&I system, read a lot of things that stirred uninformatively hazy memories of interrogator training psychology courses, and decided he needed another opinion. He opened the door to the outer office. “Sara, do you know what a dissociative state is?”

Sara looked around. “Nope. No idea.”

There’s so much said in this section that damn, I love it: it’s a perfect example of how crisp and succinct the writing is, and it’s something I wish I was good at: we learn so much from this, and on a re-read, it brings up some questions: what sort of training do paras get? (I’ll admit: it sounds interesting, though this bit gave me flashbacks to my own workplace training!) Is there some sort of database with basics on it for dealing with and explaining things like this that still doesn’t give much practical information? And what’s the training people in Sara’s role- as Admins– get?

I like how Toreth isn’t arrogant enough to not seek out second opinions, and how he isn’t afraid to bounce ideas off his colleagues either. He isn’t afraid of or particularly interested in hierarchy: he seems to treat everyone as a potential source of knowledge.

There’s a bit of explanation here, and while I’d like to go over it all, I feel like I’d be doing Ms. Manna a huge disservice and probably be breaching fair use regulations, so I’ll summarise a bit. We learn about Toreth’s history with the Interrogation Division, and his decision to level up to Para. The role wasn’t always there, clearly the organisation needed someone who could deal with and understand the work of the interrogators and what they needed– but also be able to work on the investigations in a broader sense. And again, we get a sense of realness about the organisation: it’s a government division: they adapt and change and restructure as required.

Interrogation was a profession that had certain basic requirements. Primarily, the ability to hurt people, sometimes kill them, and not care. Plenty of interrogators had applied for the para conversion course, and few had made it. The successful ones were on the more socially adept end of the spectrum– those who could be let near citizens of The Administration without the precaution of a damage waiver. At the time, Toreth had heard the term “high-functioning” used.

Again, this makes me think of a few real life examples, and the example fro Oz that I offered in one of the comments on the last chapter: the description of the SORT team compared to the regular prison officers. It’s interesting that the Administration is so blunt about its requirements: it seems to be something that present-day workplaces aren’t so forthcoming about.

Or, as Sara put it in her less tactful moments, the difference between paras and interrogators was that the former weren’t so dead behind the eyes.

I love Sara and her observations. She’s so awesome– and beautifully observant about people, and she honestly comes off as one of the warmer cast members amongst the people in the series. And when put like this… it’s so easy to understand.

I also love that Manna Francis doesn’t make all interrogators one and the same– a criticism I couldn’t help but have about J. K. Rowling’s Slytherins for most of the Harry Potter series. Parsons is described as a classic example of an interrogator, but it’s quickly added that “they weren’t all so icy.” Which both makes perfect sense (good cop, bad cop partnerships are an effective staple of police procedurals) since different people are going to respond to different stimuli: at the start of the read-throughs I think I mentioned Hans Scharff who managed to get a hell of a lot of information out of people by putting them at ease and getting their guard down– rather than by scaring the crap out of them.

Toreth decides to ask someone more specialised for some insight on the dissociative state: Psychiatric Specialist Senior Interrogator Warner (I wonder what his training entailled?) who is very much one of the creepier and colder examples. He’s unimpressed to be interrupted in the middle of work, too.

He had a combative stance, legs apart, heavy shoulders braced, leaning a little forward. At the same time, his gaze kept flicking away from Toreth’s face, searching the interrogation room, before returning to glare for a few seconds. Overall, it left an odd impression of aggressive disinterest.

I love the use of body language. It’s accurate and so easy to visualise here. And Warner does come off as particularly old-school and scary: he doesn’t believe in it, despite his training (not really a comforting thought, is it?), writing it all off as “corporate lawyer-spawned bullshit.”

Toreth asks if it’s still possible, for Warner to say it sounds like Disassociative Identity Disorder, which is, according to Warner, more crap designed to get people off scott-free. But Toreth keeps pushing him, pointing out that he is an expert in the field, only for Warner to say that in theory, yes, though if all the symptoms check out, it’s probably a lot of shit.  Which… I can understand his logic. No one fits the textbook definition perfectly.

Warner reluctantly agrees that it is possible, though even though he’s seen the tougher nuts over his thirty-five years in the job, he’s only come across a very small number.

“[…] Ninety nine times out of a hundred, it’s someone spinning a line to get out of here.”
“How do you tell the difference?”
The man shrugged again. “Send ’em down here on a high-level waiver and I’ll tell you in a couple of days.”

Toreth’s already imagining the issues that’s going to cause– SimTech and their benevolence and access to good lawyers doesn’t bode well for him getting Tara down to Warner.

“If you’re that keen, send the prisoner to Psychoprogramming and get a deep scan done. DID is only nature’s version of the fast re-education crap they pull over there anyway.”

Oh-kay, um, fuck. This is the part where you go, “What the fuck is going on here?” But if any of you guys are fans of Blake’s 7, you’ll have a fair enough idea.

I’ll admit, the first time I watched B7– which was after re-reading the series earlier this year, and hungering for more, and knowing there was no more— I saw the first episode and kind of squeed and went, “OMG, Psychoprogramming!” I happened to be watching it with someone else who looked at me like I was batshit crazy. But… damn, I love the tie-ins between the series SO FUCKING MUCH. B7 left me in a weird place; I started out with probably a lot more emotional investment in the “bad guys” than other fans would have, given their resemblance to the people in The Administration.

Again, it raises the question of “What the hell happened to make dealing with people like this acceptable?”

More alarmingly still: there’s a waiting list for the services of Psychoprogramming. Just think about that for a moment… a waiting list. For people to get their minds, well reprogrammed.

Warner’s final comment is a classic, too, and– ye gawds, I’ve encountered doctors like this–

“Send her down,” Warner repeated. “If she’s a real DID, I can shove the results through the expert system when we’re finished with her. They’re so rare we’re short of comparison data.”

Is that the heartless interrogator talking, or the medical professional?

Toreth goes higher up for that access to Psychoprogramming, but Tillotson’s been put in his place. Psychoprogramming is for political criminals, not your regular garden variety. (Which begs the question of Holy fuck what political crimes are bad enough to amass a waiting list for this? and then Hang on, what does society tend to do when they hear the word “terrorist” or “pedophile?”) even though Toreth points out that Pearl Nissim’s death makes this definitely political.

But murdered  is, at the moment, speculation, and it could always be that tech failure killing people, even though it totally isn’t, which just makes the whole thing so fucking frustrating.

Toreth thanks Tillotson for trying, at least, and has some less than pleasant thoughts about his boss.

The man was a good waste of oxygen, Toreth mused on the way back to his office. In fact, you could take every Administration official at Tillotson’s level or higher and sink them in the North Sea and it would only improve Europe.

It’s lines like this which make me think “Damn, this is what it looks like when a writer really gets it.” That frustration, that complete uselessness of particular branches of management in government departments, and their ineffectiveness– and generalised inability and lack of motivation to fight for their underlings. (Something else I love about Toreth later on in the series.)

Not to mention violate a slew of intercontinental treaties regarding toxic waste. The idea generated a small smile of satisfaction, not least because, if you had the right kind of petty mind, it was treason.

*snort* I completely understand that satisfaction and amusement at breaking the silly little rules like that. And can only imagine the intensity of them in a world like theirs.

If he’d said it out loud in the coffee room, it could be incitement to discontent. It wasn’t, of course. He was anti-moron, not anti-Administration. Not his fault if the two often coincided.

*cackles* She so gets it.

But then there’s the issue of sedition, of course, which almost detracts from the humour. Rather than getting out and out slaps in the face of how extreme and harsh the laws are, and what seemingly minor things are transgressions, haunting little reminders are placed throughout the story. How do change even happen in a system if the people working at base level can’t express that it’s flawed? I’d suspect the higher-ups have the power to make changes– one reason why it’s a smart idea to get in with them– or that that system fails so terribly and obviously that change, or the appearance of change has to happen.

Toreth decides to use a little schmoozling. Good thing he’s a bit more socially adept than a regular interrogator (and that he has the motivation to solve the mystery). He decides to pay a visit to Psychoprogramming.

Psychoprogramming had been created at the time of the reorganisation, stealing experts away from many divisions.

Hehe. Totally believable, again.

Int-sec made a natural home for them, but they were one of the more clandestine divisions. Unlike I&I, they had no public contact numbers, nor access for private legal representatives to bother them over the fate of the majority of the unlucky citizens who crossed their threshold.

Of course. Again, entirely believable, and haunting, but it echoes so much of government organisations who do this sort of stuff. Maybe it’s not as scary as psychoprogramming, but… having dealt with certain government organisations who have branches like this: it’s perfectly believable. Only this time, we’re talking about an organisation that has the ability to destroy people… in a really horrifying, end-of-the-line kind of way. And even in the somewhat bleak, clinical and cold world of the Administration, Psychoprogramming is held in… different… regard to the other divisions.

(Colloquially, they’re known as Mindfuck. Which is so perfect on several levels, and of course which echoes back to the title, of course, not to mention the recurring manipulations and mind games throughout the story. Can I just say I love this book, people?)

Everything looks nice and new, in that way that the newness stands out even more when compared to the regular government buildings– something which annoys Toreth compared to his own surroundings.

Toreth suspected that one reason Mindfuck was so secretive about their techniques was to hide the fact that most of the time they did fuck all. If they were really so fucking busy, where did they find the spare budget for fresh paint and new carpets?

Hee. Budgetary issues. Or trying-to-impress-higher-ups issues?

We get some more insight.

Still, like I&I, the detention levels were underground, and they were probably noisier than the admin areas.

I love the way such a matter-of-fact description can still sound completely chilling and point out a similarity.

He passed a door marked Research, where a serious and heavily armed guard watched him pass. Toreth’s lip curled. Pretentious wankers. Who the hell were they expecting, here in the middle of the Int-Sec complex? Packs of armed resisters come to find their friends?

Of course, that detail stood out, and it’s interesting, especially since there’s… security issues… down the track. But maybe there’s a reason for either the visibility– or the actual presence– of security who could fuck your shit up in here? Such security isn’t just an actual threat, but a visual one, in the same way that huge (or little ones: I’ve known guys who will think nothing of a refrigerator-sized bloke outside a door, but will worry when they’re confronted with a small security guard, because, as one guy I talked to put it, “You can see why a huge guy would be able to win a fight, but you wonder about someone who’s little who can.”) bouncers at doors serve as a warning to not dick around.

Toreth’s smart though, and not easily put off. Locating Ange, the senior administrative assistant to the head of Psychoprogramming, he pulls out the charm, despite the fact that she’s on her way elsewhere.

Toreth made it a policy to keep on the good side of senior admins, whatever their division, and he’d been hoping for a better reception. Ange was a favourite because, as well as making a useful contact, she was married but not very married. That gave him an easy way to her keep friendly, as well as to fill the occasional lunch hour.

ROFLMAO. I love the fact that he is being smart about things (he gets that there’s a bit more freedom in the Administration’s bureaucracy when you know the right people) and also managing to satisfy his libido at the same time. And, oh fuck, I want to get all into theories and meta about Toreth and sex, but I’ll do that sometime later.

He sat on the edge of her desk, to get his eyes lower than hers, and gave her his patented admin-melting smile. She looked resolutely unimpressed. “I wanted to talk about booking an m-f– about booking a psychoprogramming session with one of your esteemed and preferably discreet colleagues,” Toreth said.

“So fill in a request and send it to Scheduling.”
“Ange, sweetheart…”
“No form, no session. Anyway, they’re booked up two months ahead for externals.”

Ouch. And… time. Something which Toreth is acutely aware of, maybe even as much as Warrick is. So he offers her dinner. Somewhere nice. And it works: a bit. Ange offers him a place in three weeks, which still isn’t enough.

“I need it now. First thing tomorrow morning I’m going to have corporate lawyers crawling all over me.”

Absently, she reached out and rested her hand on his thigh. “Lucky lawyers. But I can’t do any better.”

ROFLMAO. I like Ange.

Ange asks for Tara’s prisoner ID, but she’s not a prisoner, and Toreth explains the details–

“[…] She’s talking, all right, but I think she’ not remembering what happened.”
Ange’s eyes narrowed. “Illegal memory blocks?”

Aaaaand, things take a turn for the even more disturbing… because how the fuck did someone manage to do that to Tara? It’s like any technology, I guess: the government might have some things, but… so do civilians. And probably the only thing scarier than regulated technology like this is… unregulated technology like this.

Toreth explains that he just wants a scan to see if there’s anything there, not anything too intensive– to which Ange softens a bit and starts asking about damage waivers, agreeing that if Tara consents, Ange can get things happening the next day.

“This is just for you, Toreth. I don’t want you telling anyone else I’m a soft touch.”
“Cross my heart. You’re an angel, Ange.”

Aw. I love the way they interact here, the flirting and the banter, and I love that I’m curious about a minor character like Ange: she’s not just a gatekeeper, she’s interesting.

With that sorted, Toreth goes to collect Tara for the m-f– I mean, psychoprogramming session.

Watching the process, and nervous that Warrick and SimTech’s corporate lawyers could make an argument for gaining Tara’s agreement under duress, Toreth is also a bit nervy that going against Tillotson might get him in trouble. It’s only going to get worse if something bad happens, too.

“This is safe, isn’t it?” Toreth asked.
Seiden didn’t look up from the screen. Yes. As safe as it can be for someone with a history of mental instability.”
“Oh hell.”
“If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. If she has been tampered with, then it’s possible that messing around without knowing what was done to her could be unfortunate. ” He scratched the back of his neck, and then added, “That’s why the prisoners we get here have high-level waivers.”
“She’s a witness, not a prisoner, so be careful.”

Oh shit. Just something else to worry about, and again a nice description of how end-of-the-line m-f really is.

Seiden looked around, offended. “I’m always careful. Even with the low-life resisters that get passed through for reboring. Of course,” he added more thoughtfully, “that’s different. We don’t need a waiver at all after they’re convicted.”

Okay, we get a bit more of the picture now, illustrated by the language: resisters. Not terrorists, not criminals– but resisters, which opens up a whole new load of questions about what exactly someone need do to land in the division getting “rebored” as Seiden so charmingly put it. Again, a flashback to Blakes 7: we know that even leaving a particular area is enough to get someone in big trouble. But then again; language changes, and what we have here is a replica which has some vast differences– to the world we know. Perhaps tomorrow’s resisters are today’s terrorists. But then again, perhaps the culture in the Administration is incredibly conservative– and hostile to anything that threatens those values? (Again, a feature I understand is typical of government departments…) Seiden doesn’t seem evil, though: he does his job properly and takes care… probably more because he’s worried about doing his job properly than because he’s concerned about the people hooked up to his machines– which I’d say is a feature he shares with Toreth. It makes me wonder again about the suitability for their respective roles.

Toreth hums to himself– out of key– while Tara rolls into the machine– which sounds a bit like an MRI machine– and Seiden snarks about his humming.

“I play the cornet; bet you didn’t know that, did you? Jazz. Nearly professional standard.”

And just when you think he’s a bit inhuman, you get that insight about him. Also, I like that jazz still exists in the world of The Administration.

Seiden starts getting things happening, and explains to Toreth what he’s doing: essentially matching up the information Tara’s already given them with what’s going on in her brain. While that’s happening, he studies the machinery and considers what m-f means to his role– extracting information from people’s minds is his territory, after all, so it’s understandable that he feels a bit threatened– yet comfortable that the procedure is prohibitively expensive for most of his interrogations– so the threat it poses– at the moment– is largely an abstract consideration. Not to mention, there are still… screw ups.

Toreth leaned against the glass of the observation gallery and stared down at his valuable, vulnerable witness. Neural scanning, direct stimulation and manipulation of memories– the basic technology here wasn’t so different t0 the sim. Yet while Seiden was willing to admit to the dangers of the m-f, Warrick was unshakable on the safety of the sim.

And funnily enough: the mindfuck is like the medium between what Toreth does and what Warrick does. It’s a really nifty mid-point even though it’s underscored by the harsh reality that they’re living in, though side-by-side with the sim, the realities are similar: though the danger and the intent doesn’t seem to be. And comparing the two, you can see even more why Warrick is so protective of it.

All Seiden gets from the m-f is a few “anomalies” which could be data issues or something else: and that’s going to need processing, which is going to take time. And already Seiden has stayed back late.

Returning to his office– it’s late now– after seeing Tara off and dealing with calls from SimTech’s legal department, Toreth is interrupted by Sara. He asks her for surveillance from SimTech’s pharmacy given the issue with the injector– and points out that Belqola was meant to have sorted it out but doesn’t seem to have. Belqola’s still being useless, but trying to make it look like he’s staying back late at SimTech. Annoyed, Toreth asks her to tell him to stay there and that they’ll catch up.

Given that he’s already fucked up a few times, I’m cringing for the guy. I’m interested, too, though: Toreth clearly chose him, but Sara didn’t like him– and she’s quite perceptive about other people– and their failings. Of course, the fact that Belqola implied things about her didn’t help, but Sara is a sharp shooter who is good at seeing through people– and she doesn’t like him.


So, after hours, Toreth goes to the AERC to confront Belqola about his latest incompetency.

Knowing that he should have checked that the surveillance was in place himself only made it worse. However, nursemaiding idiot juniors wasn’t Toreth’s job.

Again, part of me is just wanting to see Belqola get his arse kicked because he’s fucked up so many times that it’s ridiculous. He probably could have gotten away with coming in late on the odd occasion had he not screwed up so much in other areas, too: it’s like watching someone you want to feel sorry for just dig themselves into something even deeper. It almost makes me wonder if Belqola is just not that interested in the job, and is subconsciously self-sabotaging and resenting where he’s wound up after trying so hard to get there. Underperformance in workplaces interests me, as do people’s tendencies for self-sabotage and letting the truth leak out one way or another.

Toreth didn’t make many mistakes when selecting for his team, and the failure was another irritation. So much for high fucking training scores. As he slammed the car door, he vowed he’d never again make the mistake of relying purely on those when picking new team members.

I like that there’s a learning curve for him, too, and that he’s good, but he’s not perfect. And… high marks aren’t always an indicator of success or competency. (Not to mention there’s always the possibility they might not have been honestly obtained.) An ex of mine who was involved in selecting university students for degree intake actually told me that marks were only part of the picture and that interest and drive counted for a lot more– both in his view and in a lot of other people’s. But I can see why Toreth would associate good marks with an ability to be fastidious about detail, to be dedicated– and interested– and possibly something of a perfectionist. While he’s never screaming it from the rafters, Toreth has his own perfectionist tendencies.

When he finds Belqola, he also learns that the guy has only just set up surveillance– talk about closing the gate after the horse has bolted– and is apologising.

“Sorry is no fucking good to me. And no fucking good to Pearl Nissim, either.” Toreth stepped closer. “Why the hell wasn’t it in place a month ago?”

The junior shifted his feet, but didn’t back away. “I forgot to arrange it, Para.”

Oh, burn. You silly little fucker. As they say: YOU HAD ONE JOB.

Toreth can at least appreciate the fact that he didn’t lie or try to fumble about with idiotic excuses.

“You can tell that to the disciplinary board. I’m sure Tillotson’ll be sympathetic.” He waited, but Belqola had decided that silence was the best approach. “Do you know what?” Toreth said. “I can’t be fucking bothered with disciplinary reports and turning up to hearings when I should be running my cases. I don’t need to waste any more time on you.”

Yet another reason Toreth is fucking awesome: I can only imagine how many power-tripping fuckwits there would be in an organisation like I&I who would LOVE the paperwork and cutting down of someone like Belqola, who, in all honesty, deserves it. But Toreth can’t be fucked. He’s there to solve his cases and get shit happening, and I fucking adore his work ethic.

Belqola perks up, only to be told that he’s off the team tomorrow morning and getting an awful reference from Toreth, and that he’s most likely got a career of grunt work and level one interrogations ahead of him.

Belqola, for  some reason, decides to plead with Toreth: I’m interested in the why, because he hardly seems interested in the job (maybe he likes the idea of ascending to a career? Maybe he just doesn’t want the shame of failure– he did have good marks, after all), and offers to do “Whatever it takes, Para.”

Toreth, because he’s Toreth, decides to see exactly what that means, and what he can get out of Belqola before getting rid of him, inviting him out for a drink to “discuss his performance.”


So, Toreth’s had Belqola buy a drink for him, and is listening to the guy explain why he needs his job: all believed to be fictional by Toreth. After their drinks, Belqola mentions needing to go home to his wife.

First time he’d mentioned his wife. Just testing Toreth’s intentions– it was quite clear he’d stay if required to do so. Toreth smiled indulgently. “All right. But first–” He looked over towards the toilets. After a moment’s hesitation, Belqola stood and led the way.

I feel mean saying it, but fuckit: this is fucking awesome. Belqola only has himself to blame, and hey, he accepted the invitation. Toreth’s just capitalising on the guy’s half-arsed bandaid attempt at fixing things, and probably enjoying the power. You totally get the impression that Toreth doesn’t even think of the guy as a team member any more, too, so there’s hardly an argument for him taking advantage of an underling in the aftermath of the meeting.

“Done this before?” Toreth asked. Belqola nodded. “Good. So I won’t need to give directions.”

Not that Belqola was much good at following directions Toreth has given him.

Turns out the guy isn’t completely failtastic at at least one thing, and Toreth enjoys himself for a few moments, and they leave afterwards.

Back at the table, Toreth sat. Belqola hovered by his chair for a moment, then said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Para.”
“Don’t be late. And give my love to your wife.”

Okay, if it wasn’t already established that Toreth is fucking awesome, I think this is a perfect final argument.

But… something else is about to happen: the random bar? Is also the same one that Warrick has decided to visit– it’s near AERC, so it makes perfect sense– but in all the time we’ve been dealing with the investigation, with Tara and the m-f, Warrick has hardly been a consideration. And now… he’s looking at Toreth, which he’s finding unsettling.

Toreth wondered briefly if Warrick had followed them there. As soon as he caught Toreth’s eye, Warrick picked up his drink and strolled over. “Good to see the forces of law and order working so hard,” he said, as he dropped into the chair vacated by Belqola.

EEEEE! You have to hand it to Warrick: just as Toreth basically establishes himself as being completely fucking awesome on so many levels, and a total boss and as slick and cool and clever as anything, Warrick just casually rocks up and manages to do the same thing. It’s one of those utterly perfect moments where you just look at the two of them and realise that they’re so beautifully suited because they’re pretty much the only reasonable “competition” for one another like this: they make me think of my other OTP (Phoenix and Miles from Ace Attorney) who are so at the top of their game, and who balance out one another’s flaws and issues that they’re just divinely perfect for one another. They’re equal on a level: it seems like no one else can really match them in terms of their skill and just manner of dealing with others. And they’re both fiercely independent and just *cool*.

Warrick is clearly aware of what’s going on and seems to want to know about things.

“Just getting to know my staff,” Toreth said. “Harry Belqola. He’s a new junior– finished his training this year.”
“Ah. So how’s he enjoying the investigation?”
“I don’t care. It’s a job, not a hobby.”
His sharp tone didn’t scratch Warrick’s poise. “And how’s he enjoying the investigator?”

ROFLMAO. Oh, Warrick. *cackles* I can so totally see this filming beautifully, as well.

Warrick manages to get Toreth to give away what happened, to which Toreth playfully calls him a bastard and suggests he work for I&I in Belqola’s role. Which is so subtle and perfect: it’s clear that Warrick is damned good at dealing with people and getting things out of them in the same way Toreth is (again, they’re so fucking awesomely Miles-and-Phoenix perfect for one another!!!) though he seems t0 find the whole thing amusing rather than anything else: Toreth doesn’t like jealousy, especially not in these sort of circumstances.

Warrick sipped his drink and eyed Toreth appraisingly. “You didn’t really want him anyway.”
“How the fuck would you know?”
“He was too keen to go along with it,” he said judiciously. “Not putting up enough resistance. You could’ve had him over the table if you’d wanted to– more comfortable than your ten minutes in the toilets probably were.”

ROFLMAO. I’m almost wondering if there’s a twinge of *something* from Warrick, who seems to have shown a bit much interest in observing them to be not especially interested in him.

He noticed an attentive silence at the next table. “He’s married,” Toreth said, as if it made a difference to how willing the junior had been.
Warrick snorted, unimpressed. “I know. He hadn’t even bothered taking his wedding ring off. Which probably means he isn’t feeling guilty about it, either, and that makes him even less interesting. To you.”

Oh, snap. I love how perceptive Warrick is here (and would agree with all of his statements) and also how blunt he is about them, and I love the way that he basically takes ownership of the conversation by making it damn clear that he knows exactly what Toreth is.

“Big assumption from someone who’s known me for, what, five weeks? I thought scientists were supposed to consider the evidence.”

Ouch. Nope, not at all a touch defensive, Toreth. You’re revealing that your hand isn’t as nice as his and that you know he knows it.

“And the evidence tells me you like to play games. Particular games, at that. Tell me something, how often do you have sex with the same person, on average?”
“Once.” Toreth shrugged. “Twice, maybe, if–”

Oh, beautifully done, Dr. Warrick, but ouch. On one hand, it’s awesome that you’re thinking this much about Toreth, on another hand, part of me is raising eyebrows and thinking, “What’s it to you, Mister?”

Another fucking interrogation, but what the hell. “If they regretted it the first time. You’ve been spending too much time with Tanit.”

Oh, he has, hasn’t he: and you have no idea that he was defending you in there, either. Also, E. L. James, since you’re so fond of using the word “interrogation” to describe conversation: this is how it looks. Note how Warrick is sneaking in on him and getting him to reveal stuff he doesn’t want to? This isn’t the same as one character asking another “How was your night?”

Warrick spells it out: that Toreth likes it when his target is putting up some resistance (which: come on, makes things interesting, and means you have to work for things) and Toreth then points out that Warrick doesn’t exactly play hard to get… and that he has the sim, of course.

Warrick changes the conversation to Tara, and explains that she’s talked to Dr. Tanit at her place after Toreth offers something of an understatement about what happened. Deciding to capitalise on the fact that he’s in a good mood– and that Warrick hasn’t talked to Tara about what happened yet, Toreth asks if Warrick would like a drink.

Warrick brushes him off and changes the topic (playing hard to get or just wanting answers?)  back to the investigation. Toreth explains that his boss still thinks the sim’s the killer and that the coders from I&I haven’t ruled it out, and Warrick asks why so many of the files at SimTech are irritatingly sealed– it’s annoying the sponsors. Toreth explains it’s procedure and offers to have a word to Tillotson about it.

“Really?” Warrick sounded genuinely surprised. “Thanks. Can I do anything in return?”
“Such as?”
Warrick sighed. “Or, in the less subtle version, do you want to fuck? Or was your staff management session too taxing?”

ROFLMAO. Beautiful. Better yet, those people at the next table are still eavrsdropping.

A woman at the next table spluttered red wine all over her white and silver skirt. A man Toreth guessed was her boyfriend started to stand up with intent, took a better look at Toreth’s uniform, and at down quickly. Toreth stifled a laugh, because there was no point in starting trouble. Warrick looked openly amused. “That’s a handy perk of the job.”

Hehehe… I love it. Again, another one of those scenes that’s so visual and would translate perfectly to the screen.

They head off (Toreth winking at the woman, the boyfriend not happy about it), and start taking about hotel rooms, when Toreth’s comm rings. Unfortunately, there’s another hiccup in their plans.

Another body’s turned up. Toreth and Warrick aren’t the only ones feeling a bit annoyed and cockblocked here.

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3 thoughts on “Mind Fuck, Manna Francis, Chapter Eighteen

  1. I have SO MUCH LOVE for this chapter. The pacing is brilliant; we spend most of the chapter building up Toreth as awesome, fearsome, top of his game… and then the payoff when Warrick casually strolls in and undoes all that with a few words.

    >>It’s one of those utterly perfect moments where you just look at the two of them and realise that they’re so beautifully suited because they’re pretty much the only reasonable “competition” for one another like this.

    Actually, I have a different view. In my reading of these characters, Warrick wins round one… and keeps winning round after round. Toreth, despite his uniform and his power and his general awesomeness, is really outmatched on every level.

    I love this dynamic because it’s fascinating to see someone like Toreth, who is pretty much a control freak, fight tooth and nail against this despite wanting it more and more. And it’s amazing to see Warrick, who is so easy with his need for and willingness to submit, that he can do it without ever once seeming to yield the upper hand. He has far more money and status; Toreth is a working class public servant, and Warrick is a corporate director, albeit a ‘minor’ corporate, so there’s a class imbalance here. Toreth is also completely out of his league psychologically, in ways that Warrick could exploit easily though most of the time he chooses not to. Not to mention, when it comes down to it, Warrick’s computer hacking skills and access make him much more dangerous than Toreth and his official status (and all its associated regulations and paperwork) could ever be.

    If nothing else, EL James could stand to learn a thing or two about the person who *really* holds the power in a power exchange relationship.

  2. Readthroughs and Randoms on said:

    >>> I have SO MUCH LOVE for this chapter. The pacing is brilliant; we spend most of the chapter building up Toreth as awesome, fearsome, top of his game… and then the payoff when Warrick casually strolls in and undoes all that with a few words.

    I know! It’s one of my favourites, too! So much going on, and so much character revealed!

    >>Actually, I have a different view. In my reading of these characters, Warrick wins round one… and keeps winning round after round. Toreth, despite his uniform and his power and his general awesomeness, is really outmatched on every level.

    I think it’s a bit more equal, especially in the earlier days with these two, especially since Warrick is quietly getting caught up in Toreth against his better sense. Later on, definitely (and it’s funny, I only started thinking that after a couple of re-reads) but in the start, they seem to be a lot more on equal standings.

    >> I love this dynamic because it’s fascinating to see someone like Toreth, who is pretty much a control freak, fight tooth and nail against this despite wanting it more and more. And it’s amazing to see Warrick, who is so easy with his need for and willingness to submit, that he can do it without ever once seeming to yield the upper hand.

    *grins* TOTALLY. And even Warrick is so blase about not playing hard to get, and for Toreth, who needs that challenge, it’s maddening!

    >> He has far more money and status; Toreth is a working class public servant, and Warrick is a corporate director, albeit a ‘minor’ corporate, so there’s a class imbalance here.

    There totally is… but I don’t think that features until after the investigation, tbh, once they’re a tad more established. At the moment, Toreth is still holding a lot of the cards given his position and the investigation.

    >>> Toreth is also completely out of his league psychologically, in ways that Warrick could exploit easily though most of the time he chooses not to. Not to mention, when it comes down to it, Warrick’s computer hacking skills and access make him much more dangerous than Toreth and his official status (and all its associated regulations and paperwork) could ever be.

    It’s interesting, though… because Toreth could just as easily choose to leak (I can’t see him dobbing Warrick in– if he did anything, it would be less blunt) that Warrick’s doing some seriously illegal stuff– but he never does. I don’t think he even entertains the idea.

    >>> If nothing else, EL James could stand to learn a thing or two about the person who *really* holds the power in a power exchange relationship.

    Fuck yeah.

  3. At the moment, Toreth is still holding a lot of the cards given his position and the investigation.

    See, objectively, yes, I agree with you. But here, because so much of this story is from Toreth’s point of view, the detailed world-building and all the Administration’s bureaucracy actually dull the impact a bit. We’re meant to understand that Warrick, like all citizens, should fear I&I in general and Toreth in particular. But because we have Toreth’s blasé, competent, investigative thinking to go on, it’s hard to appreciate the leverage he has here. While Warrick, being much more shadowy and opaque at this point of the story, doesn’t seem outmatched at all.

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