Welcome back, friends. Yes, we're finally getting underway.
Lars and Ms. Uglysuit had categorically refused to inform any member of the crew below the rank of lieutenant (my contract had a clause canceling our agreement if I informed them). The Interstel folks had, however, modified the guard arrangement. This time, the piloting chamber's guards had explicit instructions to burn Janet Coombs to vapor if she so much as showed her face outside the piloting chamber before our arrival in orbit around Calvin. Absolutely no one (not me, not even the captain) had authorization to override the guards' instructions.
At 1202 hours, Charlie came through with my wake-up call. No surprises from preliminary questioning. Charlie had confirmed that Janet was still fixated on her father, was resentful of men in sexual contexts, and believed in interstellar cartels that control all aspects of human nature. Our best possible constructs seemed to revolve around sexual situations involving her father. She wanted more than anything to hear Daddy admit that he'd assaulted little Janet and that she was the only woman he ever really wanted. For closure, Daddy had to be punished.
The virtual reality I settled on was fairly mundane. Janet would be assigned by a secret organization to question Daddy. She would be disguised as a prostitute, would seduce Daddy, would handcuff Daddy to the bedpost, and would force him to admit that he had been compelled to copulate with other women by the members of one of the cartels. Once that first admission had come out, she would have to get him to admit his history with and feelings for Janet. She would the reveal her identity to him, and he would beg her to take his life.
The scenario would be entirely projected—entirely virtual—until we cut into otherspace. Janet snapping the cuffs on Daddy would provide the motion analogue to drive us into otherspace. From that point on, Charlie would alter Janet's visuals so that the goal gate looked just like Daddy (actually, like Daddy just the way she wanted him). This should be a pretty tame ride as such things went. Any othershoals would appear to Janet as obstacles between her and Daddy—furniture, interruptions from phones, knocks at the door. A violent magnetic otherstorm might be projected as an interruption by members of the satanic cult. Janet, of course, would be prepared for such eventualities. Firing her concealed pistol would like the ship's candles. Daddy's first admission (forced copulation with other women) would be Charlie's signal to prep the crew for return to normal space. The second admission ("You're the only one Janet. You were too young for me to do that too you, but you're the only woman I've ever loved.") would be the final signal that we're entering the gate. Daddy's death—Janet driving home the knife—would fire the mag-cannon to open the exit gate and the forward thrusters to take us through.
Any complications arising along the route would require some ad-libbing. Mostly, this was Janet's job. She would see and interpret any occurrence as appropriate to her own sense of causality and respond appropriately, but it always helps to have an invisible angel on your shoulder to kibbutz. That was my job. I would be capable of only minor manipulations in her reality (I could, say, nudge a weapon into reach if an adversary appeared—the analog to which would be to prepare to fire thrusters—which thrusters on what vector Janet would determine by her position). We would be relying primarily on Janet's overwhelming need to pry those words from Daddy and kill him in just that way (knife thrust as reverse rape analog) to get three hundred metric tons of vanadium through otherspace.
Pretty typical stuff, really—nauseating, but typical. That simplicity and familiarity mad me suspicious. Janet Coombs was anything but typical. Carter and Tyson would have come up with similar scenarios, and look what happened to them. Suspecting opies of ulterior motives at every turn is paranoid, but in some fields, paranoiacs live longer. As Socrates tried to tell young Phaedrus, insanity is not stupidity.
"Charlie, keep me on blind, but give me Janet on screen."
There was Janet. Without the dulling of the tropes, she was pretty, petite, auburn haired, and green-eyed. She had an engaging smile. She was just sitting there, apparently absorbed with walking two fingers across her body—a little headless man strolling over two round hills. All at once, she dropped her walking hand, looked right into the camera, right into my eyes, and grinned. Then she blew me a kiss.
I shivered. "Charlie, am I on blind?"
"As per your instructions, sir."
Clever Janet, I thought. You probably just guessed that I should be checking in right about now. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was still in the straps. She was just trying to rattle me. If she thought she could frighten me, she must think she's in control. Clearly, this wasn't the case.
I waited a moment while my heart rate dropped back to normal, chuckling to myself for having let her fluster me. "Okay, Charlie, standard opening: wake her from this crazy day dream."
I tapped my readout: 1625 hours. We'd only taken five hours to get through de-troping, questioning, and plot construction. We still had a leisurely eleven hours to set up the virtual sequence to maneuver Janet into a room with Daddy.
Suddenly I was standing in a room with a large bed and mirrored ceiling. I glanced around, but—no Janet.
What gives? I should have been seeing Janet coming out of a daydream, seated at a table on the patio of a small downtown cafe. That was the scenario.
The door to the room entered, and in walked Janet. She was dressed in a lacy black silk babydoll, and she was leading a man by the wrist.
"Come on now, Sweety," Janet said to the man," I won't bite. That costs extra."
I tapped up my time: 1627. "What the fuck's going on, Charlie? Why are we already in the brothel?"
Charlie said, "Sequence proceeding according to plot."
"Bullshit!" I hissed. "We were supposed to start in the goddamn cafe. She has to receive her instructions."
"She has her instructions," Charlie said.
"What?" was all I could think to ask. "Are you out of your germanium-silicone mind?" Then I saw the face of Janet's customer. He was me. O shit.
"Let me help you out of those tight trousers, Jack." Janet slid down to her knees before the other me. How did I get into this construct? I was supposed to be the invisible entity.
I felt something tugging at my waist, looked down to see Janet smiling up at me and taking down my pants. Perspective shift.
I closed my eyes and shouted, "Charlie, get me the fuck out of here!"