tagMind ControlNeuromancer

Neuromancer

byJukeboxEMCSA©

Bev set the novel down, not even bothering to mark her place. Her gamble on the airport bookstore had come up snake eyes, and her tablet had run out of juice somewhere over North Carolina. That left another eight hours before they landed in London, and nothing to look at out the window but clouds. She looked at the passenger next to her, a young Asian man with an untidy bird's nest of short black hair and piercing brown eyes, and gave an encouraging smile when she saw him look back at her. "Hi," she said.

"Hi," he said back, his smile widening into an endearingly crooked grin. "Grisham not doing it for you, huh?"

Bev looked down at her book, a little startled at the accuracy of his guess, but she realized she'd probably made it more than a little obvious that she wasn't able to get into the novel. "Um, no," she said, shaking her head. "I should have gone with King, but I thought I should try to read something other than horror and sci-fi for a change." She chuckled. "Turns out it's just like horror, only the monsters are less scary."

He laughed along with her. "I'm Robert," he said after the amusement had subsided slightly. "Robert Kimura." He extended a hand. "You can call me Rob, though. Most people do."

Bev shook hands with him as best they could in the slightly cramped environs. "Beverly," she said. "Beverly Drake, but you can call me Bev. So what's taking you to London, Rob? Business or pleasure?" She flushed slightly, realizing a little too late that the words sounded a bit more flirtatious than she'd intended.

Rob didn't seem to notice, though. He just said, "Oh, it's a pleasure trip. Spur of the moment, really, just decided I needed to see the world through something other than a computer screen and off I went."

"Wish I could do that," Bev said with feeling. "I think I've spent the last few years saving up for this trip. I stared at my budget spreadsheet so often I can see it with my eyes closed." She paused, trying to remember whether her next question was considered socially awkward or not. She finally decided to ask it and see. "So what do you do for a living?"

"Oh, I'm a neuromancer," Rob said. "Which is really just a nice way of saying that I'm a very successful beggar, but that doesn't sound nearly as good."

Bev furrowed her brow in confusion. "Wait, what?" she asked, her brain automatically dredging up every tech article she'd read in the last two years to try to remember if any of them had talked about breakthroughs in brain-computer interfaces. "Like, plugging your brain into a computer, living in cyberspace and hacking Tokyo? That kind of neuromancer?"

Rob laughed hard at that, to the point where she almost thought some of the other passengers would complain. But nobody seemed to notice. Finally, he wiped a tear away from his face and said, "Oh, God bless William Gibson. Twenty-five years of search engines, and nobody even knows we exist thanks to that book filling up the results. No, I'm a...well, let's be blunt and call it what it is. I'm a wizard. My specialty is magic that affects the human brain. A death wizard is a necromancer, a fire wizard is a pyromancer, I'm a-"

Bev broke in. "Neuromancer, I get it." She tried not to roll her eyes. Was this really what some guys thought would work to get into the Mile High Club with a nerdy girl? "So how does this neuromancy work?" she asked, trying to play along for at least another few hours. It beat John Grisham, at least. "Do you have telepathy like Professor X, or...?"

He shook his head. "Not exactly. What I do isn't mind magic, it's brain magic. I think I spent the first three years of my apprenticeship just trying to learn what all the little funny lightning bolts inside people's heads meant. I'm much better at it now, of course-I could tell that you weren't into the book, I know your middle name is Kimberly, and I'm fully aware that up until a few seconds ago, you thought this was just a way to get into your pants."

Bev's jaw dropped. She tried to think of all the ways he could be faking this. He could be a con artist, lifting her wallet and reading her driver's license before planting it back on her, or he could have seen something in the reservations computer, or maybe he was a crazy stalker who'd been watching her for months and studying up on her...but no. This was true. Every word of it. He was really what he said he was. She was absolutely certain.

"Of course you are," he said. "I adjusted your brain a little to make you believe me." He shrugged. "I thought it would skip a lot of the boring conversation." He unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. "Want to go get a drink on the upper deck? I'm pretty sure they'll let us."

*****

Rob walked up to the bartender and said, "I'd like a gin and tonic, heavy on the tonic. The young woman will have a cosmo, skip the lime juice."

"How did you-oh. Right," Bev said, her mouth working just a few seconds ahead of her brain. It felt strange, probing at the edges of the absolute certainty that hadn't been there just a few minutes ago. Like when she was a kid, running her tongue along the row of teeth until she found the strange new gap, only in reverse. She knew he was telling the truth. She had no doubts at all that he could really see people's thoughts as they sparked from one neuron to the next, and change the course of those infinitesimal bolts of lightning to make them think whatever he wanted to.

Bev could feel the panic trying to well up in the back of her mind, but he'd probably adjusted that too.

"So, what does it mean?" she asked, as the bartenders gave them their drinks. She noticed that Rob hadn't bothered paying for them. "Being a neuromancer, that is. What can you do?"

"Pretty much anything I want," Rob said, taking a swig of his drink. "Mm." He looked down at his glass. "Except get a decent gin and tonic, apparently. Remind me to make it myself next time. Anyway, the easiest trick is messing with perception or memory. Those are pretty unreliable to begin with, so it's not hard to change them. Like...see that flight attendant over there?"

Bev nodded. "The redhead, right?"

"Yeah." Rob made a small gesture with his hands. "Nobody's going to notice anything she does for the next few minutes, and she's now convinced that it's twelve hours later and she's in a hotel room." The flight attendant handed over the drink she was holding to a passenger who no longer even looked in her direction, and wandered over to an empty seat in first class. She reclined it flat and sat down on it, kicking off her shoes.

"Fucking finally," she growled, as oblivious to the passengers as they were to her. She lifted herself up off the makeshift bed just enough to shuck her skirt and panties onto the floor, then sat down again to undo her blouse. "I've been waiting for this all day," she said as she finished stripping and lay back down on the bed.

Bev watched, her eyes utterly riveted to the sight as the flight attendant reached down between her legs and began rubbing her pussy in slow, lazy circles. "This would probably be a good time to mention that I already know you're bi," Rob said. Bev blushed furiously, but she didn't stop staring.

The flight attendant slid a finger into her pussy, pumping it in and out while she ground the heel of her hand against her clit. She moaned softly, using her other hand to flick at her nipples as she masturbated. "Fuck yes fuck," she whimpered as she added a second finger, and Bev felt a sympathetic surge of heat between her own legs.

"I didn't have to do the perception thing," Rob said, almost causing Bev to jump in surprise. She'd gotten so into watching that she'd almost forgotten about him. "Most of the body's basic needs-food, sleep, sex-they're pretty easy to stimulate or suppress. But you don't have to use as much power when you're convincing someone to do something they want to do already. I'd have to amp her libido up pretty hard to make her knowingly masturbate in public."

The flight attendant's performance was rapidly reaching a crescendo. Her fingers were pistoning furiously in and out of her pussy, and Bev could clearly see liquid dripping out around them as she fucked herself. Her hips involuntarily jerked up against her hand, and she let out a low, keening wail as she jilled off faster and faster. It was pretty clear she was right on the edge, and Bev wondered briefly whether Rob was making her clit tingle in sympathy with the other woman or whether she just had a voyeuristic streak she didn't know about before now.

The flight attendant lifted her full, heavy breast up to her own mouth, latching on and sucking hard as her hips strained into the air and her hand pressed down tightly against her clit. Even through a closed mouth full of nipple, Bev could hear her whimpers turn into squeals as she came. "Wow," she said at last, feeling almost dizzy with arousal.

"Yeah, it's a neat party trick," Rob said, as the flight attendant finally sagged down onto the reclined seat. "She won't remember any of this, by the way." The woman got up and pulled on her clothes again, then resumed her duties as if nothing had happened. "Saves a few difficult morning after conversations."

Bev let out a low whistle. "So you could make anyone do anything?"

Rob waggled his hand in a decidedly non-magical way. "Ish. I mean, raw control of the body, sure. I can make people dance, stop their hearts, all the creepy shit I'm deliberately not letting you think about the implications of because I have better things to do than give you a panic attack over shit I don't even want to do. But long-term stuff, well...that's trickier."

"In what way?" Bev asked. She was trying not to think about how creepy it was that she wasn't allowed to think about how creepy it was. It was just another missing-tooth gap now.

Rob shrugged. "Most of the permanent stuff is interconnected in all sorts of strange, unpredictable ways, and the human brain doesn't have an 'undo' button," he said. "If I want to make really deep, long-term personality changes to someone, I have to be very careful. Otherwise you can break one thing trying to fix another, and then you make a third thing completely different, and that warps something else, and before you know it there's nothing left of the person they were to start with. Only what you put in there. At that point, you've effectively killed them."

"Oh." That took a bit of the fun out of it. Still, it wasn't like Hypothetical Mind Controller Bev had to do anything deep and permanent with her imaginary brainwashing powers. She could just play with people's memories and perceptions, or ramp up their sex drive and watch them struggle to resist the urge to fuck her silly... "So...um..." she said, trying to sound casual, "I mean, how did you...get into this?"

"I got lost," Rob said. "At the beach, I mean. When I was about seven. I wandered away from my folks, met a nice man who offered to show me some puppies in his van in the parking lot, and the next thing I know the guy is punching himself in the crotch repeatedly for no apparent reason and this little old black lady is saying, 'And that's me going easy on you, motherfucker!' That was how I found out about neuromancy."

Bev's eyes widened. "So she taught you how to do it? It's a skill?" That last part just sort of slipped out. But she was sure he knew exactly what she was thinking already. It always seemed like in books, you had to be some sort of super-special Chosen One with the potential for magic already before you got to join the Seekrit Majik Club. But if it was a skill, something anyone could learn...

"It's a skill, but...okay, look," he said, a shadow of a frown crossing his face. "I know what you're thinking, and not just because I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that it'd be really neat to have magic powers and read minds and control thoughts and maybe get into a kinky threesome with Ricky Whittle and Lindsey Morgan when they couldn't say no." Bev blushed, wishing she wasn't quite so transparent at the moment.

"But...seeing everything in people's minds isn't always great," he continued. "You find out a lot of things about people you don't really want to know. That guy over there with the buzz cut and the nice suit? Three-star general, retired last year. Fragged his own CO in Vietnam over a drug deal gone bad, never got caught. The flight attendant we were watching earlier? Sticks her finger up her butt before she does food service because she thinks it's funny. The teenage girl sitting with the blond businessman? She's here against her will, being shipped off to a rich buyer in Manchester. She's not making a fuss because they've got her little brother locked up in a cellar somewhere. People are kind of shitty when you can see everything about them."

Bev started to say something-she felt absurdly wounded by his words, like she needed to stick up for the human race on general principles-but Rob waved a hand and the words dried up in her throat. "And it makes you a pretty bad person, too. I mean, I try not to be too bad, but when you know every single person's worst secrets five seconds after you meet them, you just kind of burn out on compassion after a while. I can be a capricious asshole, is what I'm trying to say. Some days I'm the avenging angel of justice, dishing out karmic revenge for all sorts of shit. Some days I'm the soul of compassion, fixing all the damage that made them do bad shit in the first place. Not often, because it takes for-fucking-ever and the person you're left with is more you than them, but I've done it. And other days, I'm like, 'Eh, fuck it, I'd probably have killed that dude too if I was there.' Being a neuromancer really does a number on your moral code."

Bev couldn't help herself. She smiled. "This is the, the whatsit, right? The thing you do where you tell me all the bad stuff to see if I'm really going to stick with it, or if I'm going to tap out as soon as it starts getting hard. Like the bit in 'Fight Club' where he made the guys sweep the porch for months while telling them to go away. You're telling me this because you want to see if I get discouraged easily."

Rob shook his head. "No, Bev. I'm telling you this because I know about Jamie Ruddinger." Bev froze. Not because her mind was being manipulated or because her body wasn't under her control anymore or because Rob had used his powers on her. No, Bev froze because she knew about Jamie Ruddinger too.

"I was young," she said, her voice impossibly small. "I'm not like that anymore."

Rob looked at her with only the ghost of his crooked smile remaining on his lips. "What part of 'capricious asshole' did I not make clear?" he asked. "I can see inside your head, Bev. I know what you did to him, and I know that you enjoyed it. You haven't felt a day of guilt over it your whole life. Even when he went to prison, you told yourself that he probably deserved it for something because he was such a sleazebag."

"I really didn't know what would happen," she said. She could hear the fear, the pleading tones in her voice. "I just, I knew he was bad for Mom, and I wanted him to go away, and-"

"And you stuck some naked pictures of your fifteen-year-old butt on his hard drive and called in an anonymous tip to the cops," Rob said. "You know there's no point in trying to justify yourself to someone who can read your mind, right? You fucking destroyed him, and we both know that however you rewrote it in your head, at the time it was just because you were a teenage kid who didn't want anyone replacing Daddy. I met him at a bar last week. He was drinking himself to death on cheap vodka. I saw twenty-five years of prison through his eyes. And you could have stopped that any time. But you didn't."

Bev felt hot tears running down her cheeks. She was pleading for her life now, she knew it. "I was scared, I didn't know what would happen if I told, I didn't know what he'd do to me-"

"Now you know," Rob said. "He'd find a fucking wizard to go after you and make you pay for what you did. Now, I've been making some changes to you while we talked, Bev. Jamie had some very interesting ideas about what he wished would happen to you-very specific and detailed ideas. The kind of thing you come up with when you have twenty-five years of time on your hands. Would you like to hear them?"

Bev opened her mouth. She found that she only knew how to say one word. "Yes," she said, feeling her mind soften into obedience as she did so.

*****

When the plane landed, she immediately went shopping. It was an absolutely budget-busting trip, taking all of her spending cash and maxing out her credit cards, but Bev knew she could make back that money pretty quickly. She bought a completely new wardrobe, nothing but push-up bras and lacy panties and silk stockings and skin-tight shirts and micro-miniskirts, and got to work.

On her fourth night in London, she was finally arrested for prostitution and deported. She didn't care, she'd made back the money she spent on the trip already, and it wasn't like she didn't have job opportunities back home. A girl like her could always find something to do for a living. She just needed enough money for food and clothes, and the clothes really didn't get a lot of wear and tear. Everything else, she put away for a rainy day.

It was a few months before she drifted back into Jamie's orbit. He'd stopped drinking, but he still looked like a man much older than his driver's license would admit to. Bev didn't care. She was in his bed that first night, down on her knees for him, helpless to refuse a single request. It wasn't even that she found him attractive-she knew it was a sick, irresistible compulsion, and she couldn't make herself care. She opened her legs for him and begged him to fuck her.

Within a year, he'd spent all her rainy day money. She was making more, every night out on the streets fucking and sucking as many strangers as she could, but he was spending her money as fast as she made it. She was almost grateful when he started steering some new customers her way. The word 'pimp' didn't occur to her for almost another six months.

She stayed with him for another five years, loving him and hating herself. He never even did anything to her. That was the worst part. If he hit her or raped her or degraded her, she would at least be able to say that it was an abusive relationship that she was afraid to get out of. But he treated her with relentless, vindictive respect until she had to admit that it was her that was broken inside. Everything she could find that was wrong with him was just another way she'd fucked him up.

When he finally passed away, Bev didn't even know what to do. She couldn't go back to her old life, not with a string of convictions for prostitution and a drug habit she'd picked up from a few of her customers that liked to get fucked up before they fucked. She kept sleeping with strangers because it was all she really knew how to do anymore. Until one day the strangers weren't interested in her, not after twelve years of hard living had taken away her looks and her intelligence and a few teeth. The sex had run out, the money had run out, and the only man who loved her had found a new way to run out on her too.

And then one day, after two years of welfare and shitty jobs that didn't pay the rent and desperately giving handjobs to her boss just to keep from getting fired, Bev found herself on the Pecos River Bridge, staring down into a river she could barely see in the shadows and wondering what was worth keeping alive in her. When she couldn't find an answer, she knew what she had to do. She climbed over the edge and smiled for the first time in ages as she hit the water-

*****

"It was something like that," Rob said. "But personally, I thought that was pretty fucking vindictive."

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