© Copyright 2009 - AmyAmy - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; FM/f; bond; medical; latex; electronics; mast; cons/reluct; X
Part 2: Testing & Monitoring
The Doll Factory by AmyAmy
Part 2: Testing & Monitoring
After being absolutely broke for a month, three-hundred dollars seems like a lot of money. Centrelink pays my share of the rent, but there are still bills, a lot of bills. They are piled up in a heap on the kitchen table. I haven’t touched them in days. The trickle of money that comes in by legitimate channels just vanishes into that heap of bills.
The house is empty apart from me. My four housemates have gone to Tasmania for the summer. I have no idea why they would do this, to me it appears insane. They wanted me to go with them but I refused. I’m the sort of person that would end up stuck there for years, serving food to tourists over long bleak winters, stuck in a shitty job where the café owner touches me up and his wife accuses me of trying to seduce him. Normally I can be talked into anything, but there was no way they were getting me to go with them. Now I wish I’d gone. It would have kept me off the internet and away from online casino disasters.
The first thing I do when I get home from the totally unreal drug test company is to frig myself silly. This is not normal for me. I rarely masturbate, and when I do it’s usually late at night in a darkened room. In this case, before I start, I literally have to wring out my panties before I put them in the laundry basket because they are so wet. I don’t think I’ve ever been as sexually tense in my entire life. Even after another orgasm, which comes faster than they ever have before, I still feel like I could go for another, but I don’t dare. I’m afraid I will still be longing for more when it has come and gone.
The next thing I do, after putting on clean underwear, is to head to the local food-store, which is also the local bottle-shop. I’m planning on a bottle of wine to celebrate my new cashed up status. It turns into a bottle of drinkable wine plus a four liter container of cheap fortified yellow liquid that hilariously advertises itself as “vermouth”. Only winos drink this shit, but I’m on a budget and I figure I want to get so drunk I don’t wake up for a week.
I don’t know why I feel this way, but I have to stop my mind from moving. There are places I don’t want it to go to. I feel ashamed and slightly soiled over my sudden need for sexual relief, but that’s not it. Something else is eating at me, but I choose not to acknowledge it.
I put the good wine aside and sink back a few glasses of the urine colored crap. It claims to be “dry”, which in this case means it isn’t sweet to the point of being syrup, and it’s a bit like drinking kitchen cleaner. After a while I start to feel a buzz. I keep on drinking, I force myself though it feels like my tonsils are floating in the stuff. I’ve never intentionally tried to drink beyond my limit before and I discover there is perverse pleasure of the forbidden in it.
The thing with drugs that you swallow, such as alcohol, or hash brownies, is that they keep on coming even after you’ve stopped eating. Once you get on the train you can’t get off until you reach the final destination. You just have to take what the journey throws at you. I’m relying on this. Soon enough my head starts to spin, but I know it’s going to get worse. I start to feel horribly sick and dizzy. I try to walk to the bathroom but standing makes me feel too nauseous and I have to crawl along the floor in fits and starts so I don’t throw up immediately. Eventually I arrive in the bathroom where mercifully I black out.
I wake up on the hard tiled floor. I’m lying in a puddle of thin sour vomit. My face is glued to the tiles with it. I still feel very sick. I guess I was headed to the toilet to throw up, but I never got there. I throw up into it now. I have no idea what time it is but it’s dark outside.
I’m half-way between a hang-over and drunk, so I start on the vermouth again. I sit on the floor to drink so I can’t fall off it. This time, when I wake up it’s light. I dry retch into the toilet and hit the shower, trying to wash the non-slip pattern from the tiles out of my face, where it has become embedded.
There’s no hot water and the freezing-cold shower knocks some sense into me. I seriously consider hitting the drink again. I figure it’s wishful thinking that if I stick at it I will forget my life up to this point. Instead, I try to rehydrate. With my mind still reassuringly numb, I look back at what happened at the drug test office.
I was violated. My mind runs in circles trying to avoid the word ‘rape’. It feels worse because they paid me for it. I reckon any self-respecting whore would have wanted a lot more than three-hundred bucks for what that woman did to me. Then in the end she knocked me out and cut my shoulder open. I remember the wound; it’s on my back where I can’t see it. I feel it out with my hand, the dressing is still there.
I get a hand mirror and stand in front of the wardrobe looking at what they did. There’s nothing to see apart from an ordinary surgical dressing stuck in place with tape. I peel it off. Underneath is a small cut about an inch and a half long closed up with some sort of high-tech glue stuff instead of stitches. There are a few small spots of blood on the dressing but otherwise it’s clean. I can’t replace it. I’m too sweaty for the tape to reattach. It looks like it’s closed up anyway.
It’s too hot for jeans and I put on another summer dress. There are enough chores to keep my busy. I go through the bills and bin some of them. I leave the red electricity bill on the top of the pile because I have to pay that one. It’s going to take most of my cash.
I go out to check the mail. I get a shock when I leaf through the usual advertising junk. In with the adverts for super-market special offers and auto accessories is a heavy magazine in a black plastic mailer bag. There’s no address on it, so it had to be hand delivered.
I tear it open nervously. Inside the bag is one of those magazines from the drug clinic. I leaf through it quickly, it’s filled with pictures of women in rubber outfits, and they don’t look much like diving gear. Somebody at the drug place must have delivered it, but I gave them a fake address. I consider the implications. I’m frozen in place, shaking. Suddenly, I feel nauseous again and have to crouch down to vomit. I choke out a spray of brownish water at the base of the mailbox pole, there’s nothing solid in it.
A cold terror is winding up in my gut like somebody has stuck a spade in there and is twisting and twisting, making a ball of my intestines. They know where I live. She can find me any time she wants.
I fall to my knees and sit there on the hot dusty concrete of the driveway as my puke spatter trickles down towards where it meets the pavement. Ants scurry about, excited by a new resource. I don’t know how long I am frozen there.
After a while I recover the use of my legs. I stand up and take everything inside. I sit down and look carefully through the magazine. At least this time I can see properly what it is. It’s some sort of sex fetish thing. There is a subtle overtone of bondage, though none of the women are obviously bound, they often wear collars, wrist or ankle cuffs with d-rings where a chain or lock could go. The actual chain or lock is always meaningfully absent, the gap waiting to be filled.
The clothes themselves are more constraining than any chain, tight rubber in glistening black, red or brown, always tight, compressing what is beneath, squeezing it into new shapes. Sometimes you can see through it at where the sweat has made it stick. There are heavy boned corsets and boned neck collars that stretch the neck and push up the chin. I don’t understand what’s so special about that position. There are women dressed as nurses, and while they too are in a kind of rubber restraint, they are usually administering something to a “patient”. The not-quite consenting patient is usually held by two or more nurses, as if she might try and escape if she could.
Hoods cover faces exposing only eyes and lips, the lips protruding, seeming to pout as they are squeezed out of the rubber enclosure. Sometimes even the eyes are covered, by a blindfold, or by a hood that has no eye holes, or occasionally only little pepper-pot holes that obscure what’s beneath. Sometimes a face is covered by a gas-mask, eyes faintly visible behind enigmatic round glass lenses. The women all exist at a great distance, every one of them protected and yet exposed, untouchable and yet vulnerable. I don’t know how to react to it but it is fascinating in a disturbing way. It’s hard to look away.
It doesn’t feel right thumbing through these images while I’m unaccountably still so horny, so gripped by unfulfilled desires of my own, but I can’t stop myself. I stare at them for hours, transfixed. It’s distracting enough to make me wait before playing with myself. There is no way I am going to masturbate while looking at this stuff. No way. I have a terrible fear that mixing these images with sex would somehow let them pass through some secret door in my mind into a dark place where they might comfortably take up residence forever.
The existence of such a magazine is bad enough. I have never seen anything more risqué than a rubber dress or skirt in my entire life, until yesterday. I’ve never seen this world before, but clearly there are enough people interested in it to make a magazine for. I don’t know what to make of it on its own terms but it seems like a window into the world of the nurse – her world – a place where people are restrained while they undergo procedures that they become lost in, even as they are destroyed by them.
The ever-present overtones of control leave me uncomfortable. I am doubly unhappy that somebody posted this stuff into my mailbox, obviously to send me some kind of message. After the ordeal at the clinic this is too much. Am I supposed to be in to this stuff? Is this what the mysterious tests are all about? I don’t know if I dare go back there.
I don’t know if I dare stay away either. They clearly have plans for me and they are not plans I’ve been consulted on – unless this is a kind of question, a kind of warning. Do I have a choice? I didn’t have a choice about the cash. I needed it, and if I want electricity, I am going to need more cash urgently.
I hide the magazine in my wardrobe. Even though I’m the only one in the house, somehow I’m still afraid of it being discovered by somebody.
I spend the week getting up late, masturbating and worrying. Sometimes I get the magazine out of the wardrobe and stare at it trying to find some hidden story in the pages.
Somewhere in the middle of the week I also manage to buy another slab of noodles from the bloke who steals odd things from the Woolworths warehouse. I was wrong about his job, he doesn’t stack shelves, he picks and loads stuff onto trucks. He tells me that stealing noodles isn’t worth the risk but he did it as a special favor for me. He can get me big flat-screen TV cheap if I want one. I politely refuse, saying I can’t afford anything like that. He hints that he is prepared to trade me all kinds of goods in return for some unspecified sexual favors.
I daren’t answer him. At first I’m simply frozen. Then I emit a kind of pathetic squeak and leave in a panic, struggling to carry my lousy instant noodles. I know I’m a liar, and a cheat, and way too many times in my life I’ve taken the lazy path to nothing; I should simply do whatever he wants.
I see now that I thought I was tough and I could handle things, like nude photos, or drug tests with weird medicals, but I can’t. Tears are streaming down my face as I run home. People would be staring at me, but this is suburbia and there is nobody on the streets except me, it’s utterly desolate. Why did he suggest that? Is it so obvious to everyone that I’m becoming some sort of nymphomaniac? Can they all smell the stink of sex and uncontrolled lust on me that easily?
I wake up early on the morning I am supposed to go to the drug testing program office. I want the time to decide if I am going to go in. Maybe I could just pay the gas and let them cut off the electricity. I can’t decide if the company is trying to blackmail me into going in – or maybe just the nurse. No. They paid me last time. It’s about the cash. It’s about what I have to do to get paid. It’s about something I chose to be part of, for money. I have to face it, that’s the position I’m in and the kind of person I am.
There’s another stream of thought in my head but it’s too quiet, too hard to hear. I’m suffering from traumatic shock. I’m detached from the world and nothing, drifting, cut off, nothing seems real any longer. In this surreal world, it makes perfect sense for crazy shit to happen. I’m completely alone with no support, no sympathy. I’ve made a lot of poor judgments and that’s just the way people look at me now; that’s what they see. I should get help. Then I remember: nobody is going to help me.
The fact that I spent the last week lying in bed and playing with my private bits doesn’t help me feel good about myself either. I deliberately dress in frumpy Bridget Jones underwear that’s hard to get into and has lots of absorbency. I put on jeans and a t-shirt, even though it’s really too hot for jeans.
When I arrive at the office, Susan the receptionist with the beautiful voice knows my name. She buzzes me in immediately. I walk over to her pristine desk, glass devoid of fingerprints. She gives me a bright but empty smile.
“Hello Kelly, just a couple of forms for you here today, then you need to go to our testing station. I’ll call a taxi for you, it will be on our account,” she says. She still looks perfect. Her teeth are so white, her make-up flawless, glistening like in an advert on television. Her hair is the hair that models have in shampoo ads. Even though she’s trying to be nice to me, she makes me feel like I am a disgusting pig.
I sign the paperwork and take the elevator down to the lobby. The taxi is already waiting. It makes a change from before where all I did was wait and wait.
“I know where to go,” explains the driver before I can say anything.
The “testing station” is out on an industrial estate to the west. It’s in a huge new metal warehouse building with a sprawling car-park and truck loading bays. The taxi drops me in front of the main office, which has a lot of glass in the front of it. Inside I can see people sitting at low desks and typing things into computers. There are some seats for people to wait, and some more seats up by the desks. Nothing is fancy, just cheap generic office furniture, but it’s all quite new. I immediately grasp that this is the sort of place that work happens, where you sit down for a long interview and people look at things in databases.
I’m unsure who to approach. While I’m hesitating, one of the men gets up from his seat and walks around to greet me. He holds out his hand for me to shake. I don’t know why, but I am afraid to take it. I do anyway, trying not to shudder. He’s about thirty, maybe ten years my senior, but still pretty hunky in a clean-cut sort of way.
“Kelly right?” He says. “We’re so glad to have someone who really wants to be part of the program,” he says then pauses, then he adds, “oh, my name is Jared by the way.” He seems not to notice my anxiety.
I have no idea what he means. Nevertheless, this place is so different from the office, I start to feel better about it. The people seem ordinary, and so far nobody is trying to mess with my head.
“I’m afraid I don’t really know anything about your program, but I am keen to get in and help any way I can,” I say. I hesitate, then add, “as long as the money is good.” No point beating about the bush. No point letting these people think that I might have any sense of altruism or loyalty, or that I’m somebody that could be a friend. I just do what I’m paid for, whatever it is.
“All the same, it’s still good to have you here. I suppose we should sit down. Here,” he said gesturing to a seat. We both sit. He is opposite me now, looking at me over his little computer screen.
“Can I get you tea, coffee, anything?” He asks.
“I’m fine,” I say. He seems like a pleasant enough bloke, fairly open and transparent; the sort of “nice guy” that could be my boyfriend if I wasn’t a fuck-up. The sort of guy that I end up losing because I sponge off him until he gets sick of me not paying my way and trying to borrow cash off him. Or maybe I lose those nice guy boyfriends because their sister catches me at a party with my panties around my ankles in the arms of some good-looking wanker whose name I don’t even remember two weeks later.
I remind myself that I have no chance with this bloke. I need to stop thinking that way before I get my hopes dashed hard. No way he would want to touch a skanky test subject for a start, especially one as obviously broke, desperate and ill-educated as myself.
There are probably rules that say we can’t see each other outside work anyway, or something like that. He probably thinks I have diseases. No, he probably knows exactly what diseases I’ve ever had, sexually transmitted or otherwise. He knows things about me that nobody should know. I’m an open book to him and the reading isn’t good. He wouldn’t even fuck me over the photocopier at the office party.
“Guess I’d better get down to business then, and explain what we’re doing here?”
“Sure, that would be great,” I say. It’s about time somebody told me something for a change.
“The program we’re looking to bring you into is a special test regime. Most of our tests involve a drug that is self-administered, generally a tablet, usually prescribed weekly, fortnightly. This would be something completely different, much more involved and hands on. You would need to come in here every morning for an injection. If things go well you could be very closely involved with us, probably moving to a full contract position.
“Is this dangerous?” I ask, because there is always a catch. He hesitates before answering. I can see he is thinking. There is definitely a catch.
“I’ll be straight with you; there is no drug on Earth that doesn’t have some degree of risk involved. More people die every year from aspirin and paracetamol than almost anything else, even illegal drugs, so you could say that supposedly safe household medicines are more dangerous than this. On the other hand, people who die from them are often deliberately trying to kill themselves, so it’s all a question of conditions of use.”
“I don’t think I’m following you,” I say. His content-free answer is not reassuring me.
“Let me put it another way. Virtually any drug that actually works in some way is potentially dangerous, but the more closely its use is monitored the less risk there is. In this case we’re dealing with a drug that might be quite hazardous and because of that we need to watch you extremely closely.” He pauses then repeats, “extremely closely.”
“So it is very dangerous?” I say.
“If we thought there was a significant chance of you dying, or suffering some other unwanted outcome, something debilitating, we wouldn’t run this trial. With the monitoring we’ll have in place you will probably be safer than a lot of people trialing fairly conventional product variations, in a medical sense.”
I don’t really know if I believe him, but he seems too open and ordinary to be bullshitting me completely.
“OK. So I come in every day for an injection. I think I can deal with that. What’s this drug supposed to do?”
“You’re probably not going to believe this, but it’s an anagathic,” he says.
“A what?” I say.
“Our hope is that it will delay aging, to some extent reverse the effects of age related deterioration,” he says with a straight face.
“You’re kidding right?”
“Not at all, we already have results that show this makes a real difference. The version you’ll be on is a second generation product that solves some of the early problems. We just need more data before we move to broader trials.”
“So I’m going to get younger then? I can’t afford to get any stupider than I already am,” I say, ironically feeling an idiot for saying it.
“No, but damage due to aging, such as loss of skin-tone should repair itself,” he says as if my question makes perfect sense.
“That all sounds pretty unbelievable, so what’s the catch? Wouldn’t you want to test this on an old person?”
“Funny you should ask. Actually, there is a catch of a sort. Partly as a safety measure but mainly to support our research you will need to be continually wired for high-resolution wide-range bio-informatic monitoring. However, we have designed some informatics packages that are really compact, something unique. You won’t be tied to machines with cables, at least not while you’re awake.” He talks enthusiastically. Clearly he believes in whatever snake-oil he’s selling.
“So, there’s a big catch?” I say.
“Yes, for which you will be generously compensated,” he says, more impersonal now. He puts that distance between us. I think I’ve upset him, something I instantly regret. He wasn’t trying to be a dick.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound like a … well, I’m just afraid ok,” I say. Where did that come from? Truth and openness from me? It’s just not my style, I must be bluffing.
“I’d be afraid in your position too. It’s extremely brave of you to get involved in this really, but on the other hand you are probably going to get better paid than anyone else here. Do you really need the money?”
“You could say that. It’s got to be cash though,” I say awkwardly.
“Yes, there’s a note about that. I don’t handle money anyway. You’ll have to go to the office once a week to pick that up. It’s their problem and I’m glad to be well out of it,” he explains.
“I know what you mean,” I say.
“So, I’ll just mention tea and coffee again before we get started,” he says clumsily. Does he like me after all? No. Impossible. Stop thinking of it.
“I guess I might have some tea now. Is it going to be a long session?” Hopefully not overnight.
“It shouldn’t take long, we’ll be done before lunch.”
He uses the mini-kitchen right behind him to make me a cup of tea. It’s in a chipped mug with the logo of some logistics company on the side. I can’t believe how normal it all feels.
I follow him into the back. I’m expecting to see a huge warehouse space or something, but then I realize that the office area is made out of porta-cabins bolted together that fit badly like a hermit-crab within the main shell of the warehouse, in some cases stacked on top of each other to create multiple floors. I can hear the distant sound of machinery though, a sort of low throbbing, like the hum of high-tension power lines that nags at your subconscious.
“What’s all this warehouse space for anyway?” I ask. Hopefully I won’t be punished for it this time.
“It’s full of computers, mainly, and all that goes with them, backup power systems and all that sort of thing. There’s a whole room of automated DNA sequencers, and we have deposition manufacturing machines for making plastic parts and so on,” he says, like this is normal stuff to have in a warehouse.
“Wow,” I say.
“I probably shouldn’t have told you that,” he considers.
“Your secret’s safe with me. I won’t tell anyone. I signed an NDA, or three, maybe more. I lost count.”
“Of course, I know you won’t say anything, that’s why you’re here, I just mean… Things are supposed to be need to know, but I’m a computer engineer, not some cloak and dagger man, I prefer things out in the open,” he says. He seems embarrassed, or stressed, I’m not a hundred percent certain which.
“I thought you were a doctor,” I say.
He laughs. “Well, I am a doctor, just not the medical kind.” He hesitates then adds, “there are doctors here don’t worry. I’m taking you to one now.”
He guides me through the maze of porta-cabins and we enter a makeshift doctor’s surgery. I’m happy to see there’s no “chair” here, though there is a conventional hospital bed. He stays at the door, letting me enter alone.
“This room has been set aside for you to use when you’re on site. We’ll be moving a few more things in here and fitting a shower. You can wait here whenever you aren’t otherwise engaged,” says Jared, before he leaves.
Standing there in a white coat with her hair down is “the nurse”. I freeze. I literally almost lose control of my bladder. This woman terrifies me. It’s all I can do not to turn and run.
“Hello Kelly,” she says. “I’m Doctor Alex Merriam, so glad to finally meet you.”
I desperately want to call her on her bullshit, but there is no way that I would dare do it.
“Hello Doctor,” I say as my intestines wind themselves up in knots.
“You can call me Alex if you prefer,” she says, as if she is a human being. I don’t fall for her act for a moment. I stay wary.
“If you would prefer that,” I say carefully.
“Whatever you think is best,” she says. I know she doesn’t want me to be familiar with her. She is the sort that demands respect and punishes harshly when she doesn’t get it. I’ve met that sort before.
“Thank you Doctor,” I say.
“Now Kelly, I’m going to give you your first injection. You will need to return here at nine am every morning for your injections, including weekends. Please, on no account be late. You would be well advised to arrive here with plenty of time to spare, at least half an hour for example, because it is really important that we don’t vary the time between injections. Do you understand?”
“Yes Doctor,” I say.
“If for some reason you are late, we are within our rights not to pay you for that week,” she says.
“I understand,” I say.
“You understand what?” She snaps.
“Sorry Doctor,” I say.
“Good girl,” she says checking the clock. “Now remove your t-shirt, we only have two minutes to your injection.”
I remove the shirt without hesitation. I drop it into my lap. She swabs the muscle part of my upper arm with alcohol. She stands by with a complex looking silver gun. There are no needles in sight.
She watches the second hand tick to the top and then presses the gun against me arm. There’s a momentary click and hiss and an odd feeling on my upper arm like a tiny electric shock.
“There you go. Now I can hand you over to informatics who are going to implement stage-one monitoring. I hope you have the discipline to see this through because there are serious risks if you are late for your injections, or worse miss them entirely – the financial penalties are the least of it,” she says as she puts her injection gun away in padded silver flight-case.
“Thank you Doctor,” I say.
“Put your shirt back on you slut,” she says, and then she leaves. I sit and wait. It seems that waiting is what I do for a living now. There are worse jobs. Her harsh verbal jab doesn’t even touch me. I know it wasn’t meant to. It was nothing more than a reminder of how she could really touch me if she wanted, of how she will if I step out of line.
After the “Doctor” leaves. I sit and drink my tea as if nothing happened. I wish I could dissolve into hysteria but I have things I need to do. Gradually the feeling of terror begins to fade to a manageable level. When Jared returns to show me to a new area I feel almost human again.
The “informatics” area is locked behind doors that require a passcode and a swipe card. Inside it’s mostly desks with computers on, though they have huge monitors, bigger than I’ve ever seen before. There’s a large noisy computer in the corner, locked in its own glass enclosure which looks like a big bar-fridge. I take it to be what they call a server, though I have no idea why big computers are always called that, perhaps it has something to do with bytes, but I don’t really know or care what those are either.
Don’t think I’m an idiot because I don’t want to learn to speak gibberish, I just think technology should work for me, not the other way around. Do I have to read a manual for my refrigerator and spend two hours configuring it? No I don’t. I can work my phone or shop online just fine thanks – though that was when I could afford a phone – it went to Cash Converters weeks ago.
Besides the desks with computers on, Informatics has a wide open area with a sort of hospital bed thing connected by a fat black cable to their server enclosure. The cable is so thick I don’t think I could join my fingers around it. I suspect that this is something to do with me.
There is another bloke here, who Jared introduces as Kaiser, which strikes me as a memorable name, but he is not a memorable man. Kaiser gets me to sit down and hold my arms out while they paint my wrists and lower arms with some sort of blue goop. Some drips on my jeans and they panic to mop it up – apparently it stains – they eventually find a towel to cover my lap because it is dripping quite a lot.
Kaiser opens an Esky down by the side of his desk. I think he is going for a coke or something, but inside, on ice are two things I can best describe as skin-colored rubber sleeves. They are quite thick and stiff, and it’s obvious where they are supposed to go.
He slips one over my hand and up my left arm, it’s cold and it stretches with difficulty, but stretch it does. The blue stuff helps it slip on easily once it’s over my hand. Then he does the other side. Jared steps in to make fine adjustments to the position. I think I am going to look like Popeye, but when he has them properly settled and squeezed out the blue stuff it simply looks as if I have slightly more muscle on my lower arms, or maybe slightly thick wrists – or it would if they properly blended with my skin color. They are a pretty close match but slightly paler than my own skin, which has caught a bit of sun here and there this year.
Jared and Kaiser both take turns checking them, finally agreeing with each other that they are properly fitted and “aligned”. I can’t see any kind of seams on them to open them up. They don’t exactly feel tight on my arm but I can definitely tell that they are there. They interfere with the rotation of my wrist more than is comfortable. They refuse to twist like skin and I really only have a little movement available in that respect.
“These are stage one bio-monitors. Not only can they send an emergency alarm to alert us if you have a situation, but that’s not their main purpose. Every night they can dump a massive amount of calibration data that they collect during the day. We will check that data to build up a complete picture of what’s happening to you and hopefully predict and avoid anything untoward happening,” says Jared.
“But it’s mainly for calibration,” says Kaiser. I notice that Kaiser doesn’t talk much. I get the impression that he’s nervous around human beings. For some reason that makes me warm to him, in a way we both have that in common.
“I can’t twist my wrists very well,” I point out as Kaiser plugs a fat metal braided cable into each of the wrist wraps. The other end is connected to one of their computers, a funny looking black box. The cables aren’t very long and I have to hold my arms out so he can do it.
“Yes, that ‘s a known issue. The blokes in materials and sensors are working on a more flexible version but right now this is pretty good I think,” says Jared.
“Have you worn one?” I ask. Kaiser is tapping away on his computer and graphs are appearing on his screen. They must be my data. He isn’t paying any attention to the conversation.
“Only briefly,” says Jared sheepishly.
“When do they come off?” This seems a very pertinent question.
Kaiser turns and gives Jared a double handed thumbs up.
“She’s passed all diagnostics and running up to spec,” he says. I blink. It’s good to know that I’m “up to spec.”
“When we move to stage two testing, or if we abandon the project. I should think you’ll have them on for a couple of weeks at least.”
Kaiser removes the cables from my arms and screws some little covers over the sockets. I notice that are some other covers that might unscrew too, but they are much smaller than the ones for the thick cables.
“I better work on my robot dancing,” I say. “I don’t think I can push a shopping trolley,” I add, trying to imagine how I would do it. I hold my arms to show how it would be done. They manage not to laugh at me but I can see they want to.
“I guess you’ll have to stick with a basket eh?” Says Jarad.
“Have you finished wiring me up?” I ask.
“Oh sure, we’re done here, you can go home. The installation engineer will be around later today.”
“The what now?” I say. “Oh, can I wipe this blue stuff off now? It’s starting to dry.”
“Oh sorry,” says Jarad, using the towel to try and mop off the remaining blue goop. Really I expected this to be done more professionally but I am not comfortable with exceptionally competent people right now, so in a way it’s good, it puts me at ease.
“Installation engineer?” I say.
“We have to install our computers in your bedroom to download the data while you’re sleeping. They’ll be connected to us by a satellite link for now. We’ll get a cable connection done some time this week.”
“That sounds pretty heavy,” I say.
“Well, you’ve got our property inside you, we’re very protective of it,” he explains, half joking.
“I’d better not leave the country then,” I say. I don’t like to think about exactly what he means when he says their property is inside me. I put that thought aside for later inspection.
He laughs. “Well no. That would be a breach of contract of course, but more seriously, it could be dangerous. While we’re on that topic, don’t try and remove the monitors yourself under any circumstance. They are glued on there and you could do yourself a lot of harm.”
“What? Glued? That blue stuff is glue?”
“No, it’s not glue, just bio-active gel. They… they kind of self attach. We’ve had these monitors in and out of trials for a while now. Don’t worry – they’re completely safe unless some idiot tries to cut them off with a knife or something. We’ve just been itching to get someone who was prepared to go the distance with them.”
I don’t know why they think I am the one who will go the distance. I never finished anything difficult in my life.
After that, we just talk about the weather, metaphorically anyway. I don’t really feel like discussing my situation any further, and it’s obvious this stuff is way over my head. All I need to know is that the sleeves are tolerably comfortable as long as I don’t try to twist, which is actually more difficult than it sounds. I hope I don’t get an itch as I don’t think I can poke anything down inside it to scratch.
Jared escorts me out, mentioning that there will be a company car and driver to take me to and from the warehouse every day. It all seems like a lot of fuss for a drug trial even if it is a magic drug. If this drug works like they say nobody is going to care if it kills one in a hundred people, nobody is going to deny it approval because they only problem I can see they’ll have is making enough of it.
Today there is no company car to take me home, just a regular taxi. I have to give him directions. They haven’t paid me a penny yet so I don’t have anything to celebrate but at least I don’t need to pay for the taxi. I figure I collect my money the same day next week.
Sitting at home bored isn’t good for me the way I’ve been so horny lately. I can’t believe I was even considering those nerds, but it could be hard to get a regular boyfriend. As soon as a bloke sees these “things” on my arms he is going to think there is something wrong with me. Right now it looks like I have fake plastic arms from just below the elbow down.
It’s not long before I’m lying on the bed with my pants in a ball on the floor and my granny-knickers dumped in the laundry. I could really use some attention down there. I toy with the idea of buying a vibrator, but that’s just another way to remind myself that I don’t have any cash.
The thought that they can somehow measure all my physical statistics with their little sensor sleeves really puts out my glow. There’s no way I can erase the bumps in heart rate, the rise in skin temperature, the heavy breathing and whatever else they can pick up. What the hell can they measure anyway? I have no idea, but I bet that tomorrow somebody will be looking at a computer screen, reading those graphs, and writing a little note “subject masturbates frequently” into a file. I wonder if they’ll put it down as a side effect of their drug. I know it isn’t though, it started before.
I’ve just finished my oh-so-yummy meal when the installation man shows up. With some of my cash from last week I bought a big bag of frozen vegetables. I boil some up first and then throw in the noodles to make a long soup. It’s better than I’ve put up with for a month but it’s still pretty miserable.
By this point I am really hoping that the installation man is a young single hunk. It turns out that he is definitely young and single, but he also is unusually short and something of an annoying dick. I’m about five six and I swear I can look straight over his head when he stands close. He looks at me like I should worship him as a tiny tech-god and spends the entire time chatting into his hands free headset about yew-pee-esses and other things that aren’t even words.
He barely speaks to me. When he does talk to me it’s to drone on about techno things that leave me feeling baffled and isolated. Flirting with him is impossible and a brief attempt leaves me feeling drained, sad and desperate, and not in a financial way. I have nowhere I can relax because he’s all over the house. He’s in the bedroom, he’s in the kitchen, he’s on the roof, he’s in the living room, it’s like there are six of him – little blue overalled spiders spinning a web around me.
When I check on what he’s doing I find two big black metal towers in my bedroom. They are about a foot square on a side and three feet tall. They have black spike feet that stab through the carpet and sink into the floorboards, which the engineer is meticulously leveling with a small spanner that probably has a USB port in it. There is a mass of wires and black boxes underneath my bed where my fluff collection should legitimately be resting.
I blush and run out when I realize that the hot stuffy room still stinks of my sex and sweat despite the open windows. I imagine some fantasy world where my bedroom smells of strawberries or something instead of a dirty girl’s dirty underwear. I am forced to return later when he insists on explaining to me how this mini-stonehenge is to be used. I can only hope that he has no sense of smell. Given his own distinctive odor, this is entirely possible.
A silver cable covered in metal braiding, like a flexible shower pipe, emerges from each box. They have a flattish plug on the end. I have already seen a cable like this back at the warehouse.
“When the green light comes on you plug a cable into each of your monitors,” explains the engineer. “If you look carefully there’s a cover near the wrist that you can unscrew to plug in. Don’t try and lever them off, it won’t work. You have to unscrew. Just use your thumb.” I know about the screw-on covers already and his patronizing advice annoys me. I consider the cables. They look unreasonably short.
“Couldn’t you put in longer wires? I’d need to be spread-eagled on the bed just to get one of those in each wrist.
“Those are the only ones there are,” sighs the engineer. “It’s your bed, it’s too wide. Probably they were thinking about interference and the safe length for this type of signal. See these aren’t really wires, they’re wave guides…” He starts to ramble off into some technobabble explanation that might as well be from Star Trek as far as I’m concerned.
“It doesn’t matter,” I say snappishly, “just tell me what to do with them.”
“Like I was saying. When the green light comes on, you plug in. When both interfaces engage the blue light will come on. When it’s time to unplug again, the red light will come on. That’s it really, so easy even a Mac user could work it.” He laughs irritatingly at his own joke then points to where my power socket used to be. There is now a fat black cord running out of a panel with a huge switch on it. It snakes underneath the bed where more black boxes are buzzing to themselves. “Whatever you do, don’t turn that off. I had to put in a breaker for compliance, but do not touch the switch unless your house is on fire or something.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t mess with it,” I say frustratedly. He sighs.
“Obviously, there’s also a breaker in your main distribution box…” He stares at me and stops talking. Then finally he gets it. “You don’t want to know this do you?”
“No. Is there anything I actually need to know?”
“Well, there’s a few things. Don’t plug in when the light isn’t green. Schedule is set to start upload at eleven pm and it won’t finish until seven am the next morning. Don’t miss your slot or they’ll go apeshit back at base. They’ll probably call me out and send me straight ‘round here. So unless you want me knocking on your door at midnight, interface on schedule.”
“That’s a long time to spend plugged in,” I complain.
“You have to remember, it’s still recording data all that time, so it has to upload that too. Do you have any idea how hard it is to pack memory into a flexible computer?” He’s grumbling now.
I just wish he would leave so I can get busy with my fingers.
“I guess it takes as long as it takes,” I say in a resigned voice.
“And once you plug in, whatever you do, don’t disconnect from it. All hell will break loose if you do. There’s a safety interlock on the plugs, but I reckon if you were a bit heavy handed you could force it. So don’t do that,” he warns in a voice that is clearly saying he thinks I am the sort of person that forces plugs, drops my iPod and takes my phone in the shower.
“Don’t worry, I won’t break your toy,” I say.
“You’re good to go then,” he says.
“Wait a minute. Do these things get hot?” I ask.
“Yeah. Yeah they are gonna do that,” he says. He has a little think. “There’s going to be some fan noise too.”
I imagine these two big black fan heaters blowing out into my stuffy little bedroom and wish for winter. Even with the door and windows open it never gets a draught through it.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” he says and scuttles out with his last box of tools.
It's only after he's gone that I consider that he knew my real address. The company could have got it from the taxi-driver I suppose, but it still leaves me feeling unsettled.
That night I find myself sitting on the bed in my pajamas, watching the digital clock on tower-number-one and waiting for the lousy light to turn green. At twenty-two fifty it starts to flash. I’m not sure what it means when it’s flashing but it’s not eleven yet. Was that what he meant by turns green? It’s a measure of how stressed I am that I haven’t felt like playing with myself for the last hour.
I check the little covers, they aren’t easy to grip properly to unscrew. I have to clean them with spit then dry them off. After that I can turn them with the end of my thumb. I put the covers on top of their respective towers so I don’t lose them.
I look at the cables. Why didn’t they take me through this and get me to try it out? I feel extremely nervous about messing it up. Mainly I’m really afraid I might do something that means I don’t get paid this week.
I plug the first cable in without much problem. It has a little collar that screws into the same place as the cover so it can’t pull out, again a lot like a flexible shower pipe. After being plugged in for a few seconds there’s a beep.
I try to plug in the second one. Now I appreciate that the cables are so short that I can’t use my other hand to screw down the collar that locks the cable in place, nor is there any way I can reach it with the near hand without magically doubling the length of my fingers.
With some wriggling and contortions I’m able to get the cable into the socket ok but there’s no way to secure it. The only thing I can think of is to stay as still as I can. I lie there continually worrying that it might drop out. There’s another beep. On the side of each tower, a little blue light comes on. I lie there for about thirty seconds feeling pissed off with the whole setup before I realize I left the main bedroom light on too. I daren’t move in case the cable comes out and there’s nothing I can do about the light.
I’m soon glad I didn’t get under the sheets, as the towers are blowing out as much hot-dry air as any ducted heating I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.
I would never have believed they could convince me to act as if I’d been chained to my bed without even having a chain. The only thing holding me in place is my own greed. It would be poetic if the room weren’t so damned hot, the position so uncomfortable and my nerves so frayed.
I spend a sleepless night, sweating in the heat, worrying about the cable. The little blue light that rules my world never goes off; it burns into my eyes while the drone of the computer fans starts to drill into my skull. I do not get a single moment of rest from eleven to seven. To add a twist of lemon to it, from about four am onwards I desperately need to use the toilet and I feel dehydrated.
I’m torturing myself for money. How messed up can I get? What will they get me to do next? The only other thought on my mind is how much I want to reach down and touch myself. There’s no way the cable will reach, even on the side that’s reasonably safe to pull on. By the morning I’m gnawing on the pillow with frustration. I wonder if the Doctor (or nurse as she claimed to be) somehow arranged the whole thing, and then I start to think that’s impossible and I’m becoming paranoid.
At seven am exactly the red light comes on. Finally I can remove the cables. The sense of relief is incredible, it’s better than sex. I’m so tired I desperately want to roll over and go to sleep but I know I have to get up and hit the shower. I can’t even think about sex. I screw the little covers back in and do just that. I didn’t ask them if the things are waterproof, but they didn’t warn me about it and the blue goop was pretty wet, they must be safe.
There’s still no hot water. It’s been broken for over a week now. The cold helps to wake me up just a little. It’s so damn hot in the bedroom I don’t even shiver while I’m in the shower. I dress in whatever comes to hand, things I haven’t worn in ages: a silky white blouse and work skirt from back when I had a real job.
I stagger into the kitchen where I remember I have instant coffee, and there is also milk to put in it! I rejoice. In such times I am thankful for small pleasures.
A plain white car arrives at eight. Again, nobody mentioned the wrong address on my forms. The driver looks barely old enough to have a license. He speaks English better than I do and complains about how he is afraid of racists bashing him when he goes to study. The inside of the car smells strongly of some indeterminate scent of air-freshener and after the first five minutes it starts to make me feel nauseous.