How Far We've ComebyJukeboxEMCSA©
(Special thanks to Bad Penny and Lady Ru'etha for their patience in proof-reading this story.)
Martine looks down the row of women, each one standing perfectly still with their hands behind their head and their elbows just touching the girl next to them on either side. She sees blondes, brunettes, redheads, women of every race and color, a celebration of female beauty. They are all naked, oiled lightly, and each one has the exact same expression of perfect joy on their face. Martine knows without needing to look inside their mind that the pointless tedium of standing there doing nothing has been transformed into a fascinating and engrossing pastime by the simple knowledge that she wants them to do it.
"Spring cleaning again, eh, Lucinda? How the year flies by," she says to the slim blonde woman in the tuxedo standing beside her.
"Yes, Madam," Lucinda replies. It's amused Martine to give Lucinda a plummy British accent, making her sound like a female version of Jeeves. And like Jeeves was to Wooster, Lucinda has become indispensable to Martine over the years. Her photographic memory means that Martine no longer has to worry about the little details in life; she simply tells Lucinda to remind her, and she does. Martine muses momentarily that this definitely hasn't helped her absent-mindedness, but she realizes that musing isn't going to get the spring cleaning done any quicker.
"So how many girls do we have this year?" Martine asks, surveying the row of gorgeous nude women.
"Thirty-seven?" Martine blinks. "Color me excitable, I guess. They just always look so nummy, and..." She realizes that she's trying to justify herself to a woman who's been conditioned to think that everything she says and does is brilliant, and stops. Besides, Lucinda's not a telepath. Even if Martine tried to explain just how much better sex is when you can feel everything in the mind of the other woman, Lucinda wouldn't really be able to understand. Martine shrugs the thought away, getting her mind back on 'business'. "And we have to get it down to fifteen, huh? Well, let's get started."
They walk up to the first girl in the row. "Nicole Demme, Madam," Lucinda says. She doesn't need to consult any notes. It's her job to know, and pleasing Martine is just as important to her as it is to any of the oiled women staring vacantly into space. "You picked her up on the French junket."
Martine looks her up and down. "Oh, yes. She had the little thing she was doing with the cherry stems, wasn't it?"
"No, Madam. That was her friend, Annabelle, thirteen spaces down. Nicole was her friend."
"Oh, yes. I remember now. Picked her up for the ride. In for a penny..." She shrugged dismissively. "Throw her back." They move down the row.
"Karen Messing, Madam. From the Messing wedding."
"The bride?" She stares at the blonde girl, who forces herself not to shiver with pleasure at being stared at. "I kept her?"
"And three of the bridesmaids, Madam."
"Oh, dear. Well, we'll have to fix all that. Put her down for a memory wipe, and start working out how to get in touch with the groom...and the wedding party...and the guests...ugh." She sighs. "And Lucinda, in future, don't let me have tequila at wedding receptions."
"Yes, Madam." Martine can actually see Lucinda file the thought away under 'Orders Madam Will Later Rescind When She's In the Mood To Indulge Herself'. "Hannah Tristram, ma'am."
Martine peers into the mind of the brunette in front of her. "There's nothing in there," she says. "Just the usual sex conditioning. What--"
"From the ticket counter, Madam."
"Oh, right." Martine pinches one of Hannah's nipples, watches the pleasure blossom inside the otherwise dark theater of her mind. "Guess that'll teach someone not to screw up my reservations, huh? Keep her, I guess. I don't have the patience to fix her up." She knows that the selection process is only the first stage of winnowing down the harem. She'll spend the next several weeks actually reworking the girls' memories and personalities to remold them into the women she's decided they're going to become, and weeks more altering the memories of various other people to make sure that they accept their new lives perfectly.
It's tedious, uninteresting work, and part of her wants to just skip it this year. But she knows that if she skips it this year, then she'll skip it next year, and the next, and soon she'll have hundreds of brainwashed women wandering around the estate that she never even notices. No, better to be disciplined and keep it down to a chosen, talented few.
Or she could just stop picking up new girls. But like she said, they do always look so nummy...
"Tina Bassett, Madam. Three weeks ago, in New York." "Throw her back. Catholic schoolgirls are only fun for the first few days, then they get all casual about sex."
"Are you sure, Madam? You could always erase her memories of sex again." Martine sees the filters and precautions activating in Lucinda's mind. She's used to the changeable moods of her mistress, especially when it comes to the charms of nubile eighteen-year-old women.
"No, no. I'd remember, even if she didn't." She pinches the girl's ass. "If I want Catholic schoolgirls again, I'll just order fresh."
"Lana Derringer, in service two years now, Madam."
"Oh, yes, she's definitely a keeper." Martine feels Lana's surge of joy. She's made sure that the girls who leave aren't disappointed, but the ones who stay......Martine dips into Lana's mind just to feel an echo of that pleasure. She sticks around for a long moment, admiring the 'landscape'. Martine can alter memories and personalities as much as she wants, filter intellects through complex constructs to limit thought and make a Nobel prize-winner into a bleach-blonde bimbo, but she can't make someone smarter or more imaginative than they already are. And Lana is nothing if not...Martine remembers a night two weeks ago, with a feather duster, three candles and a mink coat...imaginative.
"Kelly Hicks, Madam. Visited during your party in July."
"Oh, God. Yes, I remember now. Vapid, uninteresting...nice in the bedroom, but I'd like someone with a little more going on upstairs, I think." She's uncomfortably aware of the vacant, adoring stares of thirty-seven women beating down onto her, but the girls really aren't at their best during Spring Cleaning. Most of the time, a visitor wouldn't realize just how much work Martine's done on their brains. They'd probably even admire the gathering of bright, interesting, personable girls. "Porn. Or perhaps a stripper. Porn, or stripper? Porn, or stripper..." She shrugs. "Porn. The usual arrangements."
Lucinda nods efficiently, and Martine sees the phrase 'the usual arrangements' set up a cascade of additional thoughts relating to the need to contact her people in the industry and ask them what kind of girl they're currently looking for, and the need to set up bank accounts for the girl with dual access for Martine--not that she needs the money anymore, but it's always wise to be able to get ahold of ready cash from a number of sources, and Kelly won't mind. Martine always makes sure to leave her 'signature' in the girls' heads, just in case she encounters them again. It's always such a pain to have to start from scratch.
"Rosa Chavez, Madam. Delivery girl for the new sofa."
"Oh, yes. I remember, she helped me test it out. Let's give her to that nice boy who works down at the restaurant on Wyman Street, he was very sweet. And practically broadcasting loneliness."She feels a little bit better about herself, doing something like this. After all, she has, in the end, used her talents for little more than hedonism and material gain. It's nice to be able to bring two people together, use her talent to ease the loneliness in their lives and make them happy.
It makes it a little easier to see the next pretty girl walking down the street and decide to own her for a while.
"Kyra Hansen, Madam. In service four years."
"I think it's time to retire Kyra," Martine says. "Set her up someplace nice, though. What was it she did before she was with us?"
"She was a teacher, Madam." Martine watches Lucinda rifle through a brain as elegantly organized as a librarian's card catalog. "Fourth-grade, St. Henri's Catholic school."
"Oh. Yes." Martine blushes just a little. "The Catholic thing again. I guess it's a bit of a fetish of mine." She pauses. "Kyra was a teacher? Huh. Guess you never can tell about a girl once you rewire her sexual preferences. OK, let's give her the option. Put her back in the teacher's job, but give her a few million and have her remember winning the lottery."
"Yes, Madam." They moved another pace down the line. "Zoe Hardwick, Madam. In service..." Lucinda pauses. "I'm afraid you've never mentioned, Madam. She was here when I entered your employ. Do you want to get rid of her, Madam? I know you prize variety..."
Martine looks at the girl. She's distinctly out of place among the other beauties; her hair is a muddy, dull brown, and her eyes a vague and cloudy blue. Although her body is trim and fit, due to the compulsions to exercise and eat properly, she doesn't have the same developed physique the other women do. Her chest is flat, she squints slightly with myopia, and there's a long, jagged, fading scar running down her left leg, the remnant of a childhood climbing accident.
Her head felt like it was splitting. It wasn't like the kind of headaches she got right before her period, it was something else...but it made her remember her first period, for some reason. That weird sense that something was happening inside her, that all those pains and the bloated sensation and the moodiness was building to something, something big. Martine wondered a little bit about that.
But mostly she wondered if she could make it through the night. Zoe was here, the pizza was on its way, the movies had been rented, the sleepover was now officially commencing...except that all Martine could do was lie back on the couch in a pair of sunglasses that probably made her look totally dorky when worn with pajamas. She'd taken three Tylenol, but it didn't help even a tiny bit.
Zoe was cool with it, though. Upsides of a best friend. She just put the remote in Martine's hand and said, "We'll turn off the lights, watch the movies with the sound on low, and if you start feeling better, you can turn the volume up. And if you don't, then you can just start snoring and I'll eat your half of the pizza."
Martine said, "Oh, like you need more pizza," but she said it quietly. Her head was just pounding now. Zoe just stuck her tongue out at her and put in 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'.
Before the credits could even finish rolling, though, the pizza arrived. The doorbell sounded like a grandfather clock going off in Martine's skull as Zoe paused the tape. "Money's on the table," she said quietly, not wanting to move.
Zoe jumped up and went to answer the door. Mom had left them money for pizza and videos, which was totally cool of her. Of course, Mom probably knew perfectly well that neither she nor Zoe was going to get into even the slightest trouble spending a night by themselves, even at the age of 18. They were the two nerdiest girls in school, and neither one was likely to get boys with their chubby bodies. Not that Martine cared much about boys. Puberty might have changed her body, but it hadn't done much to get her interested in the opposite sex. She knew Zoe had a huge crush on Jason Heinz, but Martine couldn't see what the big deal was. She'd rather just hang out with her friends.
Well, friend. But Zoe was awesome. Even if nobody else could see it.
Zoe brought the pizza in and set the box on the floor, then went back to grab two plates. "Delivery driver was cute, huh?" Martine asked her as she returned.
Zoe crinkled her forehead in confusion. "How did you know that? You're supposed to have your eyes shut like a good little invalid." She dished herself up a slice of pizza and started to chow down, not waiting for an answer.
Martine sat up, the smell of food causing her headache to ease a little. "I..." How did she know that? She knew it because...because...
Because when Zoe had opened the door, Martine had seen the inside of her head. Just like it was a little aquarium. It was like, she could see the front of it, where Zoe kept the things she was thinking about right that second, like how much money she had in her hand and where she was going to put the pizza and where Martine's mom kept the plates, and then further back, there were some quiet things like her wondering what the movie was going to be like, and worrying about her friend's headache and hoping it would get better soon (and that was sweet, but Martine also saw little threads tying it to stuff Zoe was pushing to the back of her head, like irritation that her best friend had ruined their whole night by going and getting sick and frustration that she couldn't turn the sound up on the movie.)
On the sides and all around, Martine could see the little things that Zoe didn't even have to think about anymore, like how to walk and how to work the doorknob, and whether the pizza box was getting too hot in her hand and all sorts of other things, all of them sending little threads into the front of Zoe's brain when they spotted something important.
And way back in the back, there were these two big things, giants in the warm, soft darkness at the back of Zoe's head. Martine could still see them, even now. They were all chained up back there, tied down with all sorts of threads of other thoughts, but they were kind of blobby, and they kept stretching out around the other thoughts to try to get up to the front of Zoe's mind. One of them was hunger, Martine realized. The whole time Zoe had been heading up to the door, it had been stretching and pulsing and making her think about how good the pizza was going to taste, and even now it was sending little thoughts up to the front of Zoe's mind, telling her to steal an extra slice when Martine wasn't looking. Omigod. Did Martine have one of those in her head, too?
And the other one...it was tied down really tight, practically mummified with thoughts of family and school and teachers and priests and shame and humiliation and God and just about everything, but it was so big. So powerful. It just kept flexing away under all that. Flexing, and pushing, and it seemed like it was constantly snapping and breaking threads of thought and sending little feelers up through Zoe's mind. Most of them never got more than halfway, but when Zoe had opened the door and seen the pizza driver, the big thing had just ripped a tendril free and sent it shooting all the way up to almost the very front of Zoe's brain and attached itself to the picture of the pizza delivery guy in her head and made her think, 'God, this guy is hot.'
And then she'd pushed it back and brought the pizza over. But Martine could see it all. Really see it. She could still see it, even now, she realized as the headache started to really ease up. She could actually see inside Zoe's head. Wow.
She felt herself...not exactly reach out, that wasn't quite the word for it, because she didn't really reach with her hands. But she was reaching out. She felt herself sort of touching the inside of Zoe's head, and she reached down into a sort of stack of little cubes that was all over the bottom of Zoe's mind, and she pulled one up to have a look at it. It was the French word for 'chicken'.
Zoe kind of blinked. Martine saw the little cube suddenly set off a whole cascade of other thoughts in her mind, pulling swarms of little threads all over the place as Zoe wondered why she'd just thought the word 'poulet' for no apparent reason, and pulled up a whole bunch of other cubes that were her seventh-grade French class and looked at them for a little bit, and then started rummaging around for the French word for 'pizza' and couldn't find it, and all of this was sort of going on at the same time. It was neat. Like a little storm inside Zoe's head.
And Martine had caused it. Wow. Double wow. She couldn't just see inside Zoe's head, she could do stuff in there. That was...kind of cool, actually. Zoe was her best friend, but even your best friend could get on your nerves sometimes. It was neat to know that she could make a few changes when she needed to. But she needed to use her powers for good, though. Like Professor X. (Nerd! she heard a little voice at the back of her head mocking. But Martine couldn't see inside her own head the way she could see inside Zoe's, so she couldn't tell what said it.)
She saw that Zoe was just about to take another slice of pizza, and experimentally, she reached into Zoe's head where the threads leading back to hunger were, and she cut them. Sure enough, Zoe just stared at the pizza for a moment, and then turned back towards the movie. She unpaused the tape.
The movie got started, but Martine was way more interested in watching Zoe watch the movie than she was in the actual movie. It was like fireworks going off inside Zoe's head, all these new thoughts just sparking and fizzing and tangling into each other as she engaged with the film. She was picking up a whole bunch of those memories, memories of the first movie and of some Swedish film, and they all seemed to be "sticky", so when she pulled up one memory a whole bunch of others came with it, and then she'd think about those memories. It was all really pretty. Martine knew that Zoe was awesome despite her having a few extra pounds, way more awesome than Jason Heinz would ever realize, but it was nice to know that she had a really pretty mind, too.
That big thing at the back of Zoe's mind, the other one that Martine hadn't quite gotten a good look at yet because of all the other thoughts hiding it, it was getting pretty agitated too. It kept reaching up and sticking to all the thoughts of Alex Winter, the guy who played Bill. Sometimes it would stick to Keanu Reeves a little too, but it seemed to really like Alex Winter. Pretty soon there were little tendrils of it all over the place, sliding around through the recesses of Zoe's mind.
And then one of them got really big, and it mooshed into a bunch of others and pushed its way all the way up into the front of Zoe's head, and it was stuck to all the Alex Winter pictures, and Martine watched as her friend started thinking about what it would be like if she met Alex Winter. Martine's eyes widened just a little as she saw a little movie inside Zoe's head, of Zoe kissing Alex, and then peeling off her pajamas so she was naked, and...
And then suddenly a whole bunch of other thoughts lunged at the mental movie, ripping at it and shredding it to pieces. Thoughts of how Alex wouldn't like her, and how nobody would like a stupid, fat girl who had to wear glasses all the time and had a retainer and read comic books and--
Martine got angry. Those ugly, nasty thoughts were attacking her friend! She reached in and grabbed them, choked them off and pulled them up by the roots and squished them until she couldn't find them anymore.
She was amazed to find that this cascaded even more beautiful, firework thoughts in Zoe's head. It was like a flower blossoming, the way that she suddenly thought of herself differently without those ugly weed-thoughts choking her up. Suddenly her love of comics and sci-fi burst forth in a lightning storm of imagination. Her mental image of herself seemed to glow with a soft, beautiful light. And that fantasy...
That returned, stronger than before, the thoughts from the back of her mind suddenly stronger than ever, and Martine looked over to see her best friend's eyes all glassy and staring straight at the TV, but inside Zoe's head Martine could see that she'd forgotten the TV was even there. In her head, Zoe was naked, and she was lying on the bed kissing Alex and he was naked too, and he was rubbing her pussy and she was moaning.