“So, what can I help you with?” Edwin asked.
I sat down on the free chair. Now that the moment had come, the words ran from my mind.
A deep breath helped steady me. “I’m working on a story for the student paper, and, well, you are the most popular student here. I wanted to interview you.”
“Really? I’m ﬂattered.” He took the other seat, at his desk. “Although I’d have thought that one of the undergrads was a more likely choice.”
I shrugged, starting to feel a bit more comfortable. So, the stakes were high. This wasn’t my ﬁrst interview. “There are a couple that are known party animals. But everyone knows who you are. And that you are the person to go to if someone’s having trouble.”
“If you say so.”
“Anyway, my editor thought it might be nice to have a piece with a bit more on you. You know: The Edwin You Never Knew type of thing.”
“Well, if you are doing a tell-all biography, I think I may have to decline. Kissing and telling would probably jeopardize my status as the most popular student, after all.” He smiled, making it a joke.
He had a nice smile. It aﬀected me, I’ll admit. He had a reputation as a ladies man, and I wasn’t planning on falling for it. Still, one had to wonder, and he wasn’t the best-looking guy at the school…
Though maybe I already knew why he was so lucky in love. “Oh, no, nothing like that. Just a little human-interest piece.”
He smiled, and nodded, his eye catching sight of something on his desk for a moment.
I took that as assent, and pulled out my voice recorder, placing it right where he’d cleared a spot by picking a small decorative block up and handing it to me. “Ok then. First question: How long have you been at P. I. T.?”
“Including undergrad, let’s see… About seven years now. Three and a half undergrad, three for my masters, and a little over a half since then.”
“Fast for undergrad, then slow for masters. Why the slowdown?”
He laughed. “Well, I discovered there were other things in life than studying. Undergrad, I probably was the least known student on campus.”
“Yep. I was just a good little nerd. All work and no play.”
“Anything in particular bring this change about?”
He looked at me a moment, oddly. “Yes, there was. It’s a bit personal though, and I’d rather not get into it at the moment.”
Fair enough. I was interested, but this interview was only a cover after all. “As you wish. So, may I ask what you are actually studying?”
“No secret there: I’m in nanoelectricals. Which tends to have a large side of medical these days. Basically, I’m ﬁnding new ways to diagnose diseases quickly. Maybe someday we’ll even be able to treat them. But making a chip to reliably detect, say, which version of malaria someone has in a few seconds frees up doctors, and allows more and better treatment.”
“That what you are working on? Malaria?”
“Not really. Malaria can be handled with a microscope well enough. I can give you a paper on what I’m working on, if you want it. But people have heard of malaria, and it’s got similar symptoms, so I’m having to account for it.”
“So, basically, it’ll handle malaria as well, but that’s not what you are making it for.”
He grinned a bit. “Yeah, basically. I should probably ﬁnd who is working on malaria…” He drifted oﬀ a moment. “Sorry. Had an idea, which might help. Anyway, if you want the technical details of what I’m working on, I can give them to you, but they are boring and aren’t really all that secret.”
“Maybe true, but a bit of the background wouldn’t hurt. I doubt many people know all that much about it, after all.” He didn’t want to talk about it. “But, maybe later. I guess, if you haven’t always been the most social of people, I’d like to hear how you went from that to being so well known. Not what brought the change about — although I’ll admit I’m curious — but what it felt like to you. What you actually changed in your life.”
“I can’t say I really noticed it, all that much. I mean, I started going to parties I heard about, then started actually getting invitations, and throwing some of my own. Which is basically where it is today.” He paused, then nodded, acknowledging something he’d left out: “And I started dating, of course. I hadn’t really as an undergrad. Not really seriously, but extensively.” He grinned at me. I grinned back.
Yes, he had charm.
“You seem to have good luck: Not only do you get the pick of the ladies here, none ever seem to get upset with you, no matter how quickly you go from one to the other.”
He held up his hands in bemusement. “What can I say? It’s all worked out so far.”
“Care to share your secret?”
“Is that a proposition?” He grinned to show he wasn’t serious. At least not completely. I decided not to react. He shrugged. “I’m just myself. I never lie or hide my intentions, or try to pretend something’s more serious than it is. I just look to enjoy the company I’m with.”
If this were a real interview, I’d have switched subjects now, probably to the people who came to him for advice. Partly to make sure he didn’t take it as a proposition, and partly to throw him oﬀ balance a bit.
But it wasn’t a real interview: and we were getting close to the subject I wanted to know about. “But you do give advice. That’s one of the main things you are known for: You are the person who talks people though their heart problems. If someone just got broken up with, you can help them get them back. Or not. But even if not, you can help them get over getting dumped. Or if someone can’t ﬁgure out how to get the object of their desire to notice them, you’ll be able to work out how, or show the person that who they really want isn’t there, and send them on to someone who is.”
“Was that a question?” He grinned. “Hey, I try to help whenever I can. I seem to do ok.” He shrugged.
“You do better than ‘ok’, from what I can tell: I managed to track who you’ve helped recently. Of the last ten cases, you set up six. All of those are going strong, including the one where the girl had to dump her current boyfriend to go out with the guy you talked to. The other four are now happily dating others, just not who they came to you for advice with. Dear Abby wishes she had your success rate.”
He paused, considering me a moment. “What can I say? I’ve been lucky.”
“Maybe you have. But, they say that you can set up anyone with anyone, no matter who.”
“Not even Cupid could pull that oﬀ.” He laughed. “But what are you getting at? You implied that I had some ‘secret’: What do you think it is?”
I took a deep breath. Keep ﬁshing? Go for broke? He’d probably just clam up… And I had him on his guard now. Maybe best would just be to keep going, see what he’d say…
I heard my voice say: “I’m not sure. But… Some say that you don’t just set people up. That you can make a girl fall in love with someone. Even if it’s just for one night. That not everyone always remembers what happens at some of the wilder parties, and you never, ever, have anyone put any heat on you for those parties, no matter what happens.”
“And you believe what people say?”
“The rumors are just consistent enough to be true, somehow. They don’t sound false.”
He sat back, and contemplated me for a while. I tried to look professional, and kept my mouth shut. If he was going to talk, it would be now, but only if he got tired of the silence and spoke ﬁrst.
He did. “You know, this campus has one of the world’s best labs for nanoscale electronics.” It was a complete change of subject, but I wasn’t going to interrupt. “It can work at smaller scales than just about any other out there, and it can produce huge batches of stuﬀ. And,” he laughed here, “undergrads occasionally have access to it.”
“I was one of the few. Must have impressed my advisor or something, because I got a huge bank of time on the fabbers, if I wanted it. All at odd hours, of course. But I could do what I wanted.”
“I was more into the augmented-human side of things those days. Tying man to machine, allowing one to extend the other, true change the world stuﬀ. People have been working at it for years, really, trying to ﬁgure out exactly how to make something that really would allow people to become more than just what they are. Augmented reality, cybertronics, whatever you want to call it.”
“My advisor was Miss Purdue. Ah, I see you’ve heard of her.” I had: She’d had a reputation. As a bitch, but one all the guys had wanted some ‘special advice’ from… She’d disappeared about the time I enrolled. “Anyway, one day, at some god-aweful time of the morning, I went to check to see if my latest test round had come out of fabber. I was getting excited: I thought I was close to a real breakthrough. Lab tests… Well, never mind. My current design had focused on integrating themselves into target organisms, seeking out large nerve clusters, then connecting in to them. I’d mostly gotten that worked out - and had a pretty good computer interface to show what happened when they did - but was having some feedback problems I was hoping to solve, as well as fabber production issues.”
“And there Miss ‘Call me Doctor’ Purdue stood, shoveling the output from the fabber - more than I’d gotten in ages - into plastic bags. I asked her what she was doing. She turned, surprised to see me, and then laughed. Said she’d like to thank me: This was going to make her famous. I said it was going to make me famous, and she said no one would ever believe an undergrad had developed this. They wouldn’t even listen to it, without her name on the paper, and if she claimed it was all hers… Well, she’d be believed. She’d let me get a cut, but only if I kept my mouth shut.”
“I hadn’t had much sleep, and I’m afraid I wasn’t as rational as I could have been. I threw a ﬁt. Just hammered at her, at everything around her. At some point, I realized she’d stopped moving, and calmed down quick.”
“She wasn’t dead: I was a scrawny nerd-boy, and she worked out every day. If the ﬁght had lasted much longer, she’d probably have been able to say I tried to rape her as well, and she’d had to beat me unconscious to stop me. But I’d managed to hit the computer keyboard, and this batch had ﬁnally ﬁxed that feedback problem, and she’d been hands-deep in the stuﬀ when I’d arrived…”
“They’d absorbed into her, and gone about their mission. And when I’d hit the keyboard, it’d started oﬀ the test-sequence: All the little bots had stopped all activity around them, and waited for instructions. And they’d been deep in her brain when this happened. So I’d shut her oﬀ.”
“My ﬁrst thought was that this could kill her, so I re-started everything. She tried to attack me again, but I was still at the keyboard, and shut her down again. Then I restarted her, and she screamed that she was going to call the police on me, and headed for the door. I shut her down before she got out of range. We played this for a while, before she ﬁnally realized she could neither escape nor get close enough to attack me. Then she asked what I was going to do: Sooner or latter, we’d have to leave that room. Or someone else would come down.”
“I hadn’t had a plan until then, but my system had a good map of where everything had attached itself to her, and I knew a fair amount about how the brain worked. I told her to promise to keep quiet. She sneered at me. I activated the pain centers in her brain for a moment, then asked her again. It took her a moment, but she said she’d never crack. I hit the pain centers again. She said there was no way. More pain. She said she’d split the credit. More pain. She said I could have the credit, if I’d just let her go. More pain.”
“She promised to keep quiet. I hit the pleasure centers. She said I couldn’t hold this up once we left the room. More pain, and I told her I could, and why. I told her to promise again. She did. More pleasure. I told her to repeat it. More pleasure. I told her to say she would never hurt me. She told me to fuck oﬀ. Pain. She agreed to never hurt me. Pleasure. Repeat. And again. I told her to say she would help me in whatever way I wanted. She agreed. Pleasure. She repeated on her own. I gave her another jolt. I told her to say she loved me. She agreed, tears in her eyes. Pleasure. Next time she had dry eyes. Then a smile. She started babbling that I was perfect, adorable, everything she’d ever wanted in a man, that she’d never do anything I didn’t want her to. I leaned on the pleasure center until she came, explosively. It surprised me.”
“She collapsed and passed out, and I shut the pleasure oﬀ, going over to check on her: I’d never seen a woman orgasm before, and didn’t recognize it. She came too, slightly more coherent, and asked if she could have more. I decided that doing this in public wasn’t a good idea, grabbed my laptop, and told her to take me to her place.”
“By the time we arrived, she was starting to act a bit more like her normal self, and she tried to get the laptop away from me as I got out of the car. I managed to evade, and turned her oﬀ again. I waited until I was out before turning her back on, then had her open the door and let me in. Pleasure when she obeyed. I had her phone the admin oﬃce, and say she was going to be out for a few days: A ﬂu had hit her hard. She left the message.”
“I spent the next week reinforcing and training her. She wasn’t allowed within ﬁve feet of my laptop, or of the phone, or of any of the doors. The laptop brought pain. The others just shut her down: I’d managed to separate the ‘automatic’ systems, so it wasn’t a health hazard. The system could track distance, so I had those on automatic. That way I could sleep. The rest… She served me. She obeyed me. She loved me totally, completely, without any reservation. Anything I wanted, she wanted. Nothing that could hurt me in any way was even something she could consider.”
“I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she oﬀered herself to me when I went to bed. I was, but I wasn’t quite sleepy enough to not realize what had happened. Nor to take advantage of it.”
“By the end of the week, there was no way she’d ever even consider telling people what I’d done. And I had a good map, not only of the gross-main-fuctions of her brain, but of exactly how it worked: I could track, and read, a thought as it crossed her mind. Before she even knew what it was. I could have the computer stop the thought, or to place a new one. And she wasn’t able to tell that they weren’t her own, 100%.”
“Me, I still hated her. She’d had huge bags of my old designs, which she was dissecting and reverse-engeneering. She couldn’t even think it at this point, but it was clear she’d planned on being able to totally cut me out of my own work.”
“And, besides, she couldn’t really pass for ‘normal’ anymore. Not around me, at any rate. She could fool people for a while, but not months. And I wasn’t sure if what I’d done to her would hold, at least hold when I wasn’t watching. She knew what had been done to her, after all. And she was trying to work out ways around it.”
“Don’t ask me how I found the brothel owner online. I did. Some seedy little place in Mexico, that didn’t ask questions. As soon as the semester was over, I took her down there, told her she was to stay there, turned the ‘arousal’ levels in her brain all the way up, as well as the pleasure centers feedback from sex, set the bots to stay that way, and turned her over to them. By the time I left, she was already entertaining a customer. Enthusiastically.”
“I pondered the ethics of it over the drive back, but I ﬁgured it had been her or me. Of course, I didn’t want what I’d made in anyone else’s hands at this point, so I never wrote that paper which would make me famous. In fact, I destroyed all evidence of my work. I also ﬁgured the best defense was a good oﬀense, so I made a set for myself that would only work for me, and would keep others out.”
“That took most of winter break, and then I got a phone call. Some Russian mob boss had found out about what had done, the results anyway. He wondered if I could do it some more. I said I’d have to think about it. He oﬀered an obscene amount of money. I said I’d have to think about it. He oﬀered to break my bones from the neck down. I said it would take some time.”
“He was my ﬁrst customer. We quickly agreed that it was a waste for me to try to work over every tag in his brothels, and that I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself. So I would stay here, and try to recruit some ‘special’ talent. In the meantime, I made myself comfortable. I’ve managed to not make my deal with the Russian exclusive - I proved it wasn’t worth taking me down - but I still deal with him and a few others like him.”
“So, yes. I have a secret. And yes, I can make anyone - within reason - fall in love with anyone. I’ve reﬁned my techniques since then: I don’t do the weeks of brainwashing anymore. I can make people think it’s their own thoughts and desires. But I still use my original invention: The little set of nanobots that can integrate into people’s brains. I’ve become more adept at administering them though.” He picked up a little cube, and looked at it. “I’ve got a better storage form as well.” He set it down on the desk. It looked just like the cube he’d thrown me, that I still had in my hands.
I looked down. There was no trace of the cube in my hands.
I didn’t say anything: Fear shut down my mouth. I just looked back at him, and his smug smile. “Erase the recording.” He commanded.
My hands obeyed, despite everything I tried to stop them.
I managed to say something: “So, what are you going to do with me?” It even managed to sound calm, which amazed me. “You got a buyer for me already?”
He laughed. “No, I don’t. I’m not planning on selling you: Mostly I don’t. Oh, I rent some out, here and there. Mostly I just make sure people see things my way, and don’t cause me too much trouble. You could just leave, and you’ll forget all about this interview.”
“Did you really tell me all that, just to erase it? Like I erased that recorder?”
He laughed. “See, I knew you were smart. No, I didn’t. Oh, I’ll admit it was fun to ﬁnally get to talk about all of it to someone for once, and if you walk out it’ll have been worth it just for that. But I thought it might be fun to have someone to talk to on a more regular basis. And, honestly, it’s getting to be a lot of work, dealing with all of this. I’d like an assistant.”
“So, that’s the deal. Either I agree to be your assistant, or I go free. I don’t remember anything, and you don’t do anything to me.”
“Well, I didn’t say that. I’ve got a couple of people who would be very interested to know you are on the market, on a strictly short-term basis. But basically, yes.”
Ok, so he’d whore me out either way. If I didn’t agree, I probably wouldn’t even know about it. “Why ask? Why not just make me your assistant?”
“Because it amuses me.”
God. He had the evil-dictator routine down cold. Even the charm: I could still feel it. Maybe stronger, now that I knew he could make me want him. I scowled, and thought, trying to avoid the seeing the way he looked at me.
Either way, I was his slave. One way I’d know it. The other I’d think I was free, most likely even if he did eventually decide to sell me.
I was a journalist. I wanted the truth, no matter what. Even if I’d never be able to tell it. “I want a cut of whatever you earn oﬀ of me.”
He laughed again, that short explosive laugh. “Sure. How does 90% sound? I’ll take a ten percent commission.”
Given that if he wanted, he could force me to give him all of it, that sounded almost fair. “Deal. I’ll be your assistant. You want to shake on it?”
Now he had an evil grin. “Nah: I’ve got a better idea…”
Suddenly he was the hottest, most desirable male I’d ever seen in my entire life. A guy any woman would die to fuck.
And I was so horny I would fuck a tent pillar. “Ugggh.” I tried to keep from licking my lips suggestively at him, and failed.
“Take oﬀ your shirt.” Well duh, of course. It came oﬀ. I started working on the rest, unable to take my eyes oﬀ him.
Of course I knew he had done this to me. That the lust wasn’t my own. But it didn’t matter: Or better yet, it made it hotter to know that, right now, he was in complete control of me. And I couldn’t even be sure of my own thoughts.
He was still fully clothed by the time I crawled into his lap. I tired to ﬁx that while wrapping myself into a full-body sex sleeve. The two objectives seemed mutually exclusive, but Edwin helped, and the feel of his touch was almost enough on it’s own.
Almost. Nothing could be enough.
I’m not sure how we got into his bed. Or when he got on top of me. All I cared about was his lips, his skin, his touch, getting him inside me…
And then he was, and that was everything and anything I’d ever wanted. It was pleasure, pure and unblemished, thrusting itself inside me. I accepted it, I welcomed it, I wanted to ﬁll me…
When it exploded, I did as well.
I milked the pleasure for as long as I could, as it deﬂated inside me and Edwin relaxed. Then I was myself again. No warning, just the lust was gone, and he no longer looked to be a sex god.
I disentangled myself, carefully. “Shouldn’t you have used a condom or something at least?”
He grinned back. Damn him. “You’re clean. The bots checked. I’d rather go without, given the chance. But you might want to carry some with you. You never know when you may need one.”
That was either a threat or a promise, depending on how I wanted to take it. Or both.
“I hate you, you know that right?”
“I know. You’ll get over it.” He kissed me, quickly. No time to react. “And you aren’t going to hurt me, or betray me.”
“Thanks for the reminder.” I wanted to hit him. I really did. But actually doing so just wasn’t comprehensible.
“Want to go again?”
“No. I didn’t want it the ﬁrst time.”
He laughed, got out of bed and started to get dressed. I was just glad I wasn’t trying to rape him again.
But the thought that laying around like a sex-slave was likely to get him going again got me up and dressing quickly. I think it was me, but I suddenly wanted out of there now.
I realized I’d never be able to be sure what I was thinking was ‘me’ ever again.
He stopped me as I walked out the door. “Here, you’ll need these.” He tossed me a bag of those little cubes of nanobots. “After all, my assistant should help out in acquisitions if she gets a chance.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say as the door closed on my face. I just clutched the bag to me.