Bring Me A Light And Then Bring Me A Light, Part 5

(by The Tobacconatrix, 13 November 2012)

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Bring Me a Light and then Bring Me a Light 
By The Tobacconatrix 

Part 5 

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." 
Shakespeare; Hamlet 

Chapter 1 

"Whenever you light up a cigarette while in character, it is important to 
know why your character is lighting up." 

Dr. Piper had been talking to the class for several minutes now, but Louise 
was finding it hard to concentrate this morning. She was tired and 
distracted. She had managed to get almost no sleep last night; there were 
simply too many conflicting thoughts running around inside her head. She 
had also made the mistake of taking a couple of those headache pills before 
going to bed, and they had kept her awake long after Portia had fallen 

Portia at least had been a rock last night. When they had returned to their 
room, Louise had been trying to make sense of everything she was thinking, 
and she felt as if she was being pulled in several directions all at once. 
Anthea had promised to find out absolutely everything she possibly could 
about Dr. Piper, but until then, all Louise could do was wait. She wasn't 
even sure what she was waiting for. What did she expect Anthea to find? 
Anthea didn't seem to mind; she was delighted to be given the chance to do 
more research, and she had promised to give Louise a full report as soon as 

"You are really tense," Portia had said to her as they had settled down for 
the night. "You seemed to be enjoying the film, but now you're suddenly 
tied up in knots; what happened?" 

Louise hadn't been sure how to explain herself without sounding like a 
crazy conspiracy theorist, so she had tried to brush off Portia's 
questions. She would wait until she had something more to work with. Portia 
had been sensible enough not to press the issue, and had instead opted to 
give Louise a back massage. 

"You look like you could use one," she had said. 

She had been right. That one back massage alone nearly made the entire week 
worthwhile. Not for the first time, Louise had to ask herself how she could 
be so lucky. Before this week, her sexual experiences had been average, at 
best. True, the guys she had slept with had certainly seemed to enjoy 
themselves, and that had always encouraged her. She was obviously doing 
something right. But Portia was the first partner she had ever had who 
seemed to care as much about pleasing Louise as she did about pleasing 
herself. It had never occurred to her that sex could be a game that two 
people could enjoy. For all she knew there were men out there who thought 
this way as well, but Louise had yet to meet them. 

She was in no hurry. Until last night, she had never realised what an 
incredibly erogenous zone the back could be. Portia's fingers were magic, 
and seemed to know exactly where to go and what to do. Louise had felt 
every nerve in her body starting to relax, but it hadn't stopped there. 
Portia had lit a cigarette and had continued to work on Louise's back as 
she blew streams of smoke, resting her head over Louise's shoulder; their 
faces nearly cheek to cheek. She had run her tongue along Louise's back, 
and Louise felt her entire body convulsing in sexual energy. 

Inevitably, the back massage had become a front massage, and Louise had 
been able to give back to Portia a little of what she had been receiving. 
Portia's cigarette became Louise's cigarette, and then there was no longer 
a distinction. Louise knew that she had been wrong: sex was not a game for 
two people. She lost track of where she ended and Portia began. Her body, 
Portia's body, it was all the same. Her pleasure, Portia's pleasure; it was 
not possible to have one without the other. She took a drag on the 
cigarette and the smoke emerged from Portia's mouth. She ran her tongue 
between Portia's legs, and the shiver of sexual excitement was hers. 

It was the best back massage of her life. 

"Cigarettes in a drama should never be lit at random," Dr. Piper said, and 
Louise was snapped back to the present for a moment. "Every cigarette 
should advance the plot in some way." 

Louise and Portia exchanged glances, and Louise grinned. Last night they 
had advanced the plot quite a bit. 

Portia was looking wonderful this morning, and Louise took a moment to 
admire her yet again. Her stylists had kept the hair extensions, but now 
they were trimmed and combed so they no longer erupted from her head in a 
big unruly mess. She was wearing a severe, well-tailored jacket with a 
matching pair of trousers; a far cry from the street-walker look they had 
adopted for the photo shoot on Saturday. 

Louise herself was also back in character, along with the rest of the 
group. Adrian had chosen a very nice sleeveless black dress with matching 
pumps. As usual, the skirt was very short, and her legs were very much on 
display. Yvette had also re-done her manicure (which had gotten quite 
bedraggled over the events of the weekend) and her hands were once again 
looking flawless. Louise had been tired, and had kept dozing off in the 
makeup chair, much to her embarrassment. Yvette very kindly gave her a 
small bottle of the energy pills, and that had helped to perk her up quite 
a bit. By the end of their session, Louise was feeling like her old self 
once more. At the last minute, Adrian had given her a lovely little 
Bakelite pin for her lapel, and she was extremely pleased with her overall 
look. Simple, but very elegant. The dress actually fit her, unlike the 
jeans she had worn yesterday, so she was much more comfortable. She had 
asked Yvette about that, and had confirmed that she had indeed dropped a 
full dress size since last Monday. She was unsure what to make of that, but 
Yvette had been full of praise. 

"You're looking incredible," she had cooed. 

Everyone in the room was looking incredible this morning, Louise thought to 
herself. Seeing them yesterday in jeans and T-shirts had been something of 
a shock, but today was very much business as usual. The girls were gone, 
and the women were back. 

"Before we break for lunch," Dr. Piper said, "I want you to divide 
yourselves into groups and think about the different ways cigarettes can be 
used to establish character in a drama." She smiled at them. "Think about 
the films you watched yesterday, in particular. What did the cigarettes say 
about the characters who were smoking them?" 

Louise groaned to herself. She and Portia had missed the first 
two-and-a-half films yesterday. They wouldn't have a lot to contribute to 
the discussion. 

"I also want you to start practicing," Dr. Piper continued. "Try to smoke 
your cigarettes in a way that conveys something specific to the audience. 
Decide what you want your character to be, and try to smoke the way that 
character would." 

As usual, Louise and Portia were seated with Michaela and Anthea. After a 
week of working together, the seating arrangements had become almost 
formalised. Anthea was once again in her Goth ensemble and looked very 
striking, Louise had to admit. Michaela was looking more gaunt than ever. 
Her eyes seemed to have sunk even deeper into their sockets, but Louise 
wasn't sure if that was really the case, or if it was simply a trick of the 
makeup. Her stylists had accentuated her cheekbones and darkened her 
eyelids. When combined with her tiny frame and pale skin, she looked like 
the dying swan. She definitely had the physique of a ballet dancer. 

Anthea slid her chair over to Louise. "I've been hoping for a chance to 
talk to you," she whispered. "I found quite a lot of information last 

Louise looked up at Dr. Piper, who had lit yet another cigarette and was 
wandering around the room, watching the girls arranging themselves into 
groups. Louise turned her chair around so that she was facing Anthea, as 
Portia and Michaela also pulled up their chairs. 

"I can't wait to hear," Louise said. Several girls around the room were 
already lighting cigarettes. At the next table, Anushka (the Bollywood 
Bombshell once again) shook her luscious hair out, trailing a cloud of 
smoke and doing a decent impression of Rita Hayworth. Louise was impressed, 
despite herself. 

"First of all, Dr. Piper the anthropologist is definitely our Dr. Piper," 
Anthea said. 

"You're sure about that?" 

"Well, unless they both happen to have assistants named Tina," Anthea 
laughed. "There was a `Tina Montgomery' listed as a research assistant on 
several papers published by Dr. Piper." 

Michaela groaned. "Are you going on about this again?" She glared at 
Anthea, then turned to Portia. "She was up all night reading this crap on 
her laptop. It drove me crazy." Anthea looked as if she wanted to respond, 
but she controlled herself. 

"Maybe this isn't the best time for this," Portia said, mildly. Dr. Piper 
was circling around the room and heading for their table. "We're supposed 
to be working on something, here." 

Louise quickly pulled out her cigarettes and lit one, just as Dr. Piper 
reached them. She blew a long stream of smoke into the air, fixing her gaze 
on Dr. Piper and holding it, remembering the way Rita Hayworth had looked 
at Glenn Ford in the movie last night. Dr. Piper winked at her and moved 
on. Once she was safely out of earshot, Louise turned back to Anthea. 

"Go on." 

"The papers were all very interesting," Anthea said. Dr. Piper was 
lingering at the adjacent table, so Anthea pulled out her own cigarettes 
and lit up. Portia and Michaela did the same. 

"The one about religious cults made pretty chilling reading, but there was 
an even worse one about hazing in the military." 

"I had to sit through this all night," Michaela said to Portia. "I don't 
suppose you want to swap room-mates with me?" She took a deep drag on her 
cigarette and blew a long column of smoke into the air. 

Anthea ignored her. "Her thesis was that hazing is used as part of the 
military training programme to break down any sense of individuality in 
cadets, so the army can mould them into more ruthless soldiers. Some of the 
examples she gave were pretty horrifying." She shook her head. "Remind me 
never to go into the army." 

"So that's the sort of thing you found," Louise said thoughtfully. 
"Research papers?" 

"Well, I did find lots of published papers, but there was lots more as 
well. The papers were the most interesting, however. There were papers 
about fraudulent mediums, psychics, used car salesmen, you name it." She 
was getting caught up in her account, and her voice was rising. Louise 
looked up, nervously, but Dr. Piper was busy demonstrating something to 
Claire, two tables away. 

"What else did you find?" she asked Anthea. "Apart from all these papers?" 

Anthea exhaled a stream of smoke and lowered her voice once more. "Well, I 
did some checking on that Institute of hers. It was set up a few years ago, 
but the website is strangely vague. I did find a few interesting things, 

"I hate to interrupt," Portia said, interrupting, "but shouldn't you wait 
until you have some privacy for this?" She was keeping her eye on Dr. 
Piper, who was still flitting from table to table. 

Louise nodded. Portia was right; this was not a good place to talk. She 
took another drag on the cigarette she had just lit, noticing in passing 
how good it felt to be smoking again. Ever since `coming out' to herself as 
a smoker yesterday, she had been feeling a lot less guilty about lighting 
up whenever she felt the urge. She and Portia had smoked together in the 
morning, and Louise had smoked with Adrian and Yvette during their morning 

The others were also puffing away on their cigarettes. Sitting this close 
to Anthea, Louise could clearly see the black lipstick stain she was 
leaving on the filter as she smoked. 

"When did you smoke your first cigarette?" she asked Anthea. 

Anthea looked a little surprised by the question. "In our first class. 
Right here. When Dr. Piper taught us to inhale." She took a deep drag on 
her rapidly dwindling cigarette, as if to demonstrate what she had learned. 

"That was the first time you had ever smoked?" 

"Yes, of course," said Anthea. "Apart from the night before, at the party, 
when the power failed." 

Louise and Portia exchanged glances. Louise wanted to know more, but Dr. 
Piper was heading towards them again, so Louise bit her tongue. They would 
have to pick this up later. 

Chapter 2 

Beverly watched the girls with satisfaction as they huddled in their little 
groups, chatting and smoking away. Everyone's smoking style was really 
starting to develop; she was seeing very little of the awkwardness she had 
been seeing during the first week. By and large, the girls were no longer 
frightened of their cigarettes. Many girls now seemed to be taking her 
instructions to heart; they were actually making an attempt to use their 
cigarettes creatively. Anushka was making an effort to take long, languid 
drags in a passable imitation of a 40's movie star, or perhaps a Virgina 
Slims commercial. Her friend Rochelle was still treating her cigarettes 
like the forbidden fruit, but she was taking long, deep drags, and 
releasing thick streams of smoke into the air. A religious upbringing was 
not easy to penetrate, and Beverly knew that it would take more than a week 
to break down two thousand years of conditioning. Two weeks - minimum. She 
wasn't worried; she had nicotine on her side; there were plenty of 
religious smokers out there. 

It was a pity that the relationship between those two appeared to have died 
in its infancy, but she wasn't surprised. At least there seemed to be no 
animosity between the two of them, which indicated a certain maturity. 

She moved around the room, ignoring the pain throughout her body. Last 
night had been intense, but very therapeutic. She grinned to herself. She 
had a number of bruises and cuts (and the odd bite-mark) in places that 
might puzzle her doctor, and the AV room was going to need some repair, but 
she was feeling great. Eve would have a few battle scars of her own, she 
reminded herself. She took a puff on her cigarette. Her lip was sore, but 
the cut was completely hidden under her lipstick. No permanent damage had 
been done, and the nagging self-pity she had felt yesterday was just a dim 
memory. As usual, she had identified the problem, and she had fixed it. 

She turned her attention back to the room and moved over to the next group 
of girls. Kumiko and Jordan were in this group, giving very passable 
performances as a pair of novice smokers. Jordan met her gaze and tilted 
her head imperceptibly towards the next table. Beverly smiled; she didn't 
need to be told. Louise and Anthea were sitting there, huddled in earnest 
discussion about something, and it was quite obvious they were not talking 
about Rita Hayworth. 

Beverly casually wandered over in their general direction, deliberately 
taking her time. She stopped at another table, offering a few random 
comments and pointers, keeping Louise and Anthea in the corner of her eye 
at all times. They had their heads together like a pair of political 
agitators plotting the revolution. Who did they think they were kidding? 
She finally walked over to them, careful to keep her expression neutral. 
The group of them saw her coming, and Portia looked guilty, like a young 
child caught misbehaving. Michaela just looked bored, but Louise looked up 
at her fearlessly and deliberately lit a cigarette (one of her Lucky 
Strikes), fixing Beverly with an intense, penetrating stare. Her manner was 
confident and unwavering, and Beverly was impressed. This was not the same 
timid girl she had seen a week ago. This girl had fire in her eyes. 

I know what you're up to, she seemed to be saying. Yes, we are putting it 
all together. She took a long, meaningful drag on her cigarette, never 
taking her eyes off Beverly. Beverly felt a little shiver of excitement. 
This was a Louise she could learn to respect. She winked at her and moved 
away. Keep up the good work, young lady. We'll make a woman out of you yet. 

She deliberately gave them some privacy, but stayed focused on them, 
curious to see what they would do next. The other three had lit cigarettes 
of their own, and Beverly was impressed by Portia's smoking style. She had 
been focusing her attention on Louise last night, but she could see now 
that Portia was developing a very sexy style of her own. Confidant, yet 
effortless. She understood why Louise was attracted to her. 

Michaela, by contrast, had no style at all. She just dragged robotically on 
her cigarette, sucking in lungfuls of nicotine like the addict she was. She 
had been extremely thin at the beginning of the course, but now she was 
starting to look positively malnourished. Her eyes were sunken and her 
cheeks were hollowing out. Her arms and legs were bare bones. It never 
ceased to amaze Beverly just how much punishment the human body could take. 
Anthea was also smoking, but in an absent, almost unconscious manner. She 
was in the process of explaining something to Louise, and looked very much 
like a professor in the middle of a lecture. The contrast between her 
academic demeanor and her goth appearance was almost funny. 

Beverly decided to toy with them. She began bouncing from table to table, 
never lingering in any one place for long, and never going back to their 
table. She kept her moves unpredictable, trying to keep them off balance. 
Portia continued to watch her, obviously the look-out of the group. There 
was no question that Louise and Anthea were trying to discuss something 
sensitive and private; probably the internet research that Anthea had 
apparently been doing. 

Well, Beverly wasn't about to make it easy for them. She refused to give 
them complete privacy, but she also kept her distance. Let them try to make 
sense of that. If they wanted mind-games, she would give them mind-games. 
She was the grand master of mind-games. 

Chapter 3 

The opportunity to talk properly finally presented itself over lunch, and 
Louise decided to make the most of it. At her request, Anthea brought her 
laptop, and the two of them found a corner of a table to sit and go through 
everything Anthea had found. They still didn't have as much privacy as 
Louise would have liked, but at least Dr. Piper was seated at the other end 
of the room, eating with Tina and showing no signs of going anywhere. 

"Tell me about the Institute," she said, and Anthea began calling up web 

"Well, their website is very ambiguous, which is pretty much what you'd 
expect from a company that calls itself the `Institute for Rational 
Logistics'." Anthea grinned. "My first thought was that it was one of those 
ridiculous `management consultancy' firms, or something like that." 

"But now?" Louise looked at the screen. The page did indeed look like a 
bland, professional business website. It reminded her of the sites for 
theatrical agencies she had seen: lots of polish to attract the visitor, 
but no actual content. 

Anthea pointed to the screen. 

"Look at their office address. That's an expensive location. It got me 
curious about their funding, so I began tracing their financial 
background." She began to type a web address into the laptop, but her long 
black fingernails were interfering with her typing, and she kept making 
mistakes. Finally she seemed to find the page she wanted. 

"They're set up to look like a research organisation, but they seem to have 
no ties to any universities or colleges that I can find. Most of their 
money seems to come from private business." 

Louise and Portia both leaned over the screen, but the page was just a 
dense body of text and numbers. Anthea is good at research, Louise thought. 
She had obviously come to the right person. 

"And Dr. Piper is the director of this company?" 

"That's what it says here." Anthea took the laptop and called up yet 
another screen. They were starting to attract some attention from the other 
girls, and Louise felt herself getting a bit self-conscious. Kumiko and 
Jordan had sat down next to them and were looking over Anthea's shoulder 
with the undisguised curiosity of a couple of teen-aged girls hoping for 
the latest gossip. Louise found them annoying. She wished they would go and 
sit somewhere else. 

"It's odd," said Anthea, "Dr. Piper has all those research papers to her 
name, but she seems to have no current ties to the academic world. She's 
basically a lobbyist for private business interests." 

"Well, she must have some ties to academics," said Kumiko. "She's teaching 
this course, after all." Anthea glared at her and tried to shift the laptop 
down the table. She was obviously finding the two of them as intrusive as 
Louise was. 

"Why are you so interested in Dr. Piper's career, anyway?" asked Jordan. 

"I was going to ask you that as well," Anthea said to Louise. "You never 
told me why you wanted all this information." 

Louise hesitated. She had been bouncing ideas around in her head all night, 
and most of them sounded pretty insane, even to her. She hadn't even said 
anything to Portia yet, and she was uncomfortable getting into it now with 
so many people sitting around them. 

"This has something to do with the power failure, doesn't it?" said Portia. 
"This all started last night when you spoke to Claire about the lights." 

She was good, Louise had to admit. 

"What about the power failure?" Anthea asked, curious. 

"I'm not certain it really was a power failure," Louise said, cautiously. 
"I think it might have been staged." 

Kumiko and Jordan both laughed, and Louise wished she hadn't said anything. 
She sounded like a crazy conspiracy nut. For her next trick she could tell 
them all about the fake moon landing. 

"Why would you think it was staged?" At least Anthea wasn't laughing, but 
she looked very skeptical. Portia sat silently, an unreadable expression on 
her face. 

"Let me ask you something," Louise said to Anthea. "You said you smoked 
your first cigarette during the blackout. What made you do that?" 

"Michaela," Anthea said, looking disgusted. "She was playing with her 
cigarette lighter, and she was so stoned I was afraid she was going to set 
us on fire." 

"And that made you light a cigarette, for the first time in your life?" 

"Well, I had the unlit cigarette in my hand," said Anthea, defensively. "It 
was a good way of getting the lighter away from her." She shook her head. 
"It was really dark. I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly." 

"It did get pretty strange in the dark. Almost as if normal rules didn't 

Louise looked up. Anushka was sitting a few seats down from them, eating a 
salad. She had a curious, faraway look in her eyes, obviously remembering 

"It was so unexpected," she continued. "I guess we all reacted to it in our 
own way." 

Jordan was not convinced. 

"It was pretty freaky," she said to Louise, "but why would you think it was 

Louise took a deep breath. It was now or never. She told them about the 
emergency lights she had noticed yesterday, and what Claire had said about 
the health and safety regulations. 

"So?" Kumiko said. "It doesn't prove anything. Maybe the batteries were 
just dead." 

"But they're working now." 

"Tina said she had to call an electrician. Maybe he fixed them." 

They were right, of course. Louise had no proof of anything. That's why she 
had hoped Anthea might find something about Dr. Piper; something that might 
give her a clue as to why she might have done this - if she had done 
anything at all. 

"Could I see that for a moment?" Anushka suddenly reached across the table 
and grabbed Anthea's laptop. "How are you connected to the internet?" 

"Wi Fi," said Anthea, looking puzzled. 

Anushka nodded and began clicking on a series of menu screens, calling up 
window after window. 

"That means you're connected to the Local Area Network." She continued to 
work for a few moments. 

"The network keeps a log of data usage," she said, brushing a few strands 
of hair out of her eyes. "If there was a power interruption, there should 
be a gap in the logs for Monday night." 

Everyone stared at her, stunned. 

"What," she said, looking up briefly. "I'm a girl, so I can't be a computer 
nerd?" She clicked on one final screen and a long column of numbers 

"I put myself through college working in a call centre in Mumbai," she told 
them. "The network was always crashing. If it was down, it didn't log our 
calls, and we didn't get paid. We were all very good at fixing it." 

She turned the screen around so that the others could see. 

"There was no disruption to the network on Monday night, according to this. 
There was no power failure." 

Louise sat for a moment, digesting the implications of that. There was no 
power failure. She had actually been right. She felt a growing lump in her 
stomach, and her legs felt rubbery - she was glad she was sitting down. 

It was one thing to spend a sleepless night playing with crazy conspiracy 
theories. It was quite another to be told that people really were out to 
get you. No one else had reacted to Anushka's revelation; they all sat 
there silently, looking at her, waiting for her reaction. She wondered how 
this had somehow become her pet issue. 

"There's no other explanation?" She finally asked Anushka. Her voice 
sounded strange in her ears. "You're sure the blackout was faked?" 

Anushka pointed a long, well manicured finger at the screen. 

"I'm sure the network was never interrupted and networks need electricity 
to run." 

"Maybe the network runs on a different circuit from the lights," Kumiko 
said. She sounded like a defense attorney, trying to introduce reasonable 

"No." Portia shook her head. "Tina said that the Wi Fi was down as well, 
remember? That's why she couldn't access the room arrangements that night." 
She was looking steadily at Louise. Louise met her gaze and knew exactly 
what she was thinking about. The blackout was when they had met. They had 
both been floundering desperately in the darkness, and they had found each 
other. They had touched. They had... They had found each other. If the 
blackout had been faked, what did that mean for them? 

She touched Portia's leg under the table with the tip of her shoe. Portia 
kept looking at her. Why are you doing this? she seemed to be saying. 
Louise's pulse was still racing. She felt herself sweating. She needed to 
calm down; she needed to think everything through. 

She needed a cigarette, she realised. 

Anthea was looking at the network logs on the laptop screen. 

"But why would they do this," she said now. "What's the point?" 

"Maybe it was meant as a joke," said Kumiko. 

"Not a very funny one," said Anushka, thoughtfully. She was looking 
distracted, presumably remembering her own experiences of that night. 

Louise wished they would all shut up. She was trying to think, and they 
weren't helping. She needed a moment of quiet so she could gather her 
thoughts. Excusing herself, she got up from the table and practically ran 
out of the room. 

Chapter 4 

"What happened to the door to the AV room?" Tina asked Beverly as she sat 
down. "I can't get it to close properly." 

"Never you mind about that," said Beverly, rubbing the relevant bruise. 
They were in the lunch room, watching the girls picking at their food and 
chatting away. Beverly didn't usually eat with the rest of the group, but 
today she wanted to keep an eye on Louise. 

"Have a look over there," she said to Tina. 

Louise and Anthea were once again huddled together like a pair of 
conspirators. This time they were working with a laptop; Louise seemed 
completely engrossed in whatever Anthea was showing her. They weren't even 
pretending to eat lunch. 

Tina nodded. "They're talking about you, I gather." 

Beverly grinned. It was fascinating to watch. She would have loved to 
simply walk over and join them, but she needed to see how this played out. 

"Jordan and Kumiko haven't been able to find out much, so far," Tina said. 
"Apparently Anthea `got curious' about you and decided to do an internet 

"You should have seen them today in class," Beverly grinned. "It certainly 
didn't look like idle curiosity." 

"What do you want to do?" 

"Nothing, so far," said Beverly. "It's their move. I'm curious to see what 
they do." 

"Shall I send Jordan and Kumiko over there at least?" 

Beverly thought for a moment, then nodded. Tina pulled out her phone and 
tapped out a quick text message. A moment later, Beverly saw Kumiko pull 
her own phone out of her pocket and study it briefly. She then said 
something to Jordan and the two of them got up, casually, and carried their 
plates over to Anthea and Louise's table, not once looking in Beverly and 
Tina's direction. 

Beverly smiled to herself. Modern technology definitely had its uses. 

"By the way," Tina said as they watched. "I'm going to need to buy more 
cigarettes for the group. We're starting to run low." 

"Excellent," Beverly nodded. "Consumption must be increasing." 

"It is," said Tina. "All the girls have been going through their supplies 
much faster these last few days." 

"Why don't we give them some stronger brands this week," Beverly said, 
thoughtfully. "I think they'll be able to handle them by now." She was 
thinking about Louise's pack of Lucky Strikes. 

Whatever Anthea had on her laptop was generating quite a lot of attention. 
A sizable crowd had formed around the table. 

"If that's our website they're looking at, remind me to compliment our web 
designer," Beverly said to Tina. "It certainly seems to be keeping them 

Suddenly Louise jumped to her feet, looking visibly upset. She turned and 
ran from the room, leaving the others where they were. Portia looked after 
her, her face twisted in worry and concern. Kumiko and Jordan made very 
brief eye-contact with Beverly, then looked away quickly. They both looked 

"Are you sure this isn't starting to get out of hand?" said Tina. 

Chapter 5 

Louise found herself in the deserted bar area. 

This is where it had all started, she thought, grimly. The lights were all 
on at the moment, and the room was brightly lit; just an ordinary room. 
Louise pulled out her cigarettes and lit one. The smoke was like a warm 
blanket; it entered her lungs, wrapped itself around her and comforted her. 
A true friend. 

She released a thick cloud of the smoke and watched it drift upwards. A 
week ago she had never smoked a single cigarette in her life. Now she 
couldn't imagine life without them. The fact did not frighten her, it was 
just a fact. 

What did frighten her was the idea that she and the others were being 
manipulated. Dr. Piper and Tina had staged a power failure. That was no 
longer just a theory, that was now proven (thank you, Anushka!). The motive 
behind it was less clear, however. What did they stand to gain from this? 

The cigarette was calming her down slightly, but her stomach was still full 
of butterflies, and her pulse was racing. She popped a couple of headache 
pills in her mouth and sat down, trying to get control of herself. It would 
have been so much simpler if she hadn't known any of this! Why did she have 
to go digging? 

The door opened and Portia stuck her head into the room. 

"May I join you?" 

Louise smiled, weakly, and Portia came in, sitting down in a chair next to 
her. Neither of them said anything. Louise continued to puff on her 
cigarette, and after a moment Portia picked up the pack and removed one for 
herself. It was the last of the second Japanese pack, and Portia crushed 
the pack in her fist after she had lit up. The two of them sat and smoked 
in silence for a time. 

Finally, Portia broke the silence. "What are you going to do?" 

"I don't know." 

"Maybe we should just ask them," Portia said thoughtfully. "There might be 
a very simple explanation." 

Louise thought that was a terrible idea. If the blackout had been faked, 
that meant they were lying. Confronting them about it would just close them 
up like a clam-shell. But she didn't have anything positive to suggest. She 
felt used and manipulated, and it was making her skin crawl. 

"What do the others want to do?" she asked. 

Portia shrugged. "To be honest, I'm not sure they want to do anything." She 
put her hand on Louise's leg. "They aren't as upset about this as you are." 

"But they tricked us," Louise spluttered. "Don't they care about that?" 

Portia stood up and faced Louise. 

"Sorry to be blunt about this," she said, "but why do you care so much? Why 
is this such an issue for you?" 

Something about her voice made Louise look up, sharply. Portia was staring 
down at her with a complicated expression. 

"So the blackout wasn't real," Portia continued. "Are you saying you wish 
it hadn't happened?" 

"I don't like being lied to," Louise said. "I don't like being 

"And what about us?" Portia sat down again and took Louise's hand. "If the 
lights hadn't gone out, what would have happened between us? Do you regret 
that as well?" 

"Of course not," said Louise. "How can you say that?" 

"Because I'm not sure where you want this to go," Portia said. She pulled 
on her cigarette again. "Maybe the blackout was fake," she said through a 
cloud of smoke. "Maybe they had some reason for doing what they did. But I 
can't feel angry about it, because I know what it led to. For me at least." 
She squeezed Louise's hand. "And for you as well, I hope." 

Louise was confused. She truly did not want to hurt Portia, but how could 
she just forget about what they had learned? Why couldn't Portia understand 
that this had nothing to do with the two of them; it was about getting to 
the bottom of whatever Dr. Piper was up to. 

Her cigarette was burning away in her hand. She studied it, watching the 
rising smoke drifting up, mingling with the smoke from her own exhales. She 
studied her hand as well. Her nails were long and red and perfect, and 
contrasted nicely with the white cigarette clutched between her fingers. 
Last Monday was the first time she had ever had polished nails, and she 
remembered thinking that these had felt like someone else's hands. The 
hands of a smoker, she had thought, at the time. Well, they hadn't been 
then, but they were now. She took another puff. Definitely the hands of a 

Portia was still looking at her, pleadingly. Still waiting for an answer. 

"I don't want to hurt you," Louise said, finally. "Of course I don't want 
to hurt you. You have to believe that. But I have to know what's going on." 

"You won't let it go?" 

"I don't think I can, no." 

"All right," said Portia. She crushed out her cigarette. "Then we'll get to 
the bottom of it together." 

Louise stood up and took Portia's hand. 

"I love you," she said. 

Chapter 6 

Beverly was intercepted by Jordan and Kumiko just as she and Tina were 
heading back to the classroom. 

"We need to talk to you," Kumiko said, nervously. "It's important." 

Beverly looked around. This was not smart. They were standing in an open 
corridor, and the next session was due to start in just a few minutes; any 
one of the girls could come through the door at any moment. From the look 
on their faces, however, they obviously had something urgent to say. 

"Let's go in here," she said, and bundled them all into the AV room. 

Once everyone was inside, Beverly closed the door as best she could and 
turned on the lights. 

"What happened in here?" said Jordan, looking around the room in amazement. 

"None of your business," Beverly snapped. "Now what's the big emergency?" 

"They know about the fake power failure," Kumiko blurted out. 

"Who does?" 

"Everyone," Jordan said, gesturing wildly. "Louise, Portia, Anthea, 
Anushka, and probably the entire group by now." 

"Okay, calm down," Tina said gently, throwing a worried glance in Beverly's 
direction. "Tell us what happened." 

The two girls took deep breaths and gave a slightly flustered account of 
the events in the lunchroom. 

"That's actually quite impressive," murmured Beverly as they finished. "I 
hadn't thought about the network logs. Good for them." 

"But what are we going to do?" 

"Well, the first thing you're going to do is stop panicking," Beverly said 
sternly. She got up and moved to the window. All the lights were on in the 
bar, and by comparison the dim light coming from the `Emergency Exit' signs 
was almost imperceptible. Louise had been very sharp to notice them. 

"How did they react to this?" she asked them. 

Kumiko shrugged, nervously. "Louise was upset. The others didn't seem to 
care as much." 

Beverly remained where she was. She was looking at two lipstick-stained 
cigarette butts, freshly stubbed out in an ashtray by the bar. One of them 
was still smouldering. Whoever had smoked them had obviously just left. 

"How did you react?" Tina asked. "Did you say anything?" 

"We tried," Jordan said. 

Kumiko nodded. "I suggested that the Wi Fi and the lights might have been 
on different circuits." 

"That was a mistake," Beverly snapped, turning back to face them. "You 
should know better than that." She took a deep breath and sat down at the 
table. The chair was badly bent, and wobbled as she settled into it. 

"I've told you before. When something like this happens, observe; don't 
interact." She calmly lit a cigarette. Kumiko and Jordan sat silently, 

"It's like playing poker," she said, finally. "Watch the others; notice 
everything. But never give yourself away." 

"But they figured it out," Jordan said. "They know." 

"All right, fine." Beverly was getting tired of these two. She shouldn't 
need to go over all this with them. 

"They know that the blackout may not have been real," she continued, "but 
that's all. And the more you try to explain it away, the more they will 
keep thinking about it. In a situation like this, the best thing for you to 
do is to do nothing. Don't add to the wild speculation. Just let it move 
off the front page, so to speak, and chances are most of the girls will 
start thinking about other things." 

She looked at her watch. The girls were probably already assembled and 
waiting for them. 

"Tina, check that the corridor is clear. Then, you two, go and join the 
others. I'll follow in a couple of minutes." 

Once Jordan and Kumiko were gone, Tina turned back to Beverly. 

"How far are you going to allow this to go? Louise seems to be putting 
everything together." 

Beverly nodded. "Yes, but she doesn't know that. Right now she simply has 
lots of crazy theories. The worst thing we can do is give her any 
indication that she might be on to something. We carry on with business as 


"Business as usual," said Beverly, firmly. 

Tina looked as Beverly, shrewdly. "You're enjoying this, aren't you? I've 
seen that look before. You're turning this into a game of wits with 

Beverly grinned. Tina was smart. Pity the same could not be said for Jordan 
and Kumiko. 

"Well, why shouldn't we have some fun?" She stubbed out her cigarette. "And 
perhaps Louise will have some fun as well; you never know." 

"Even if it jeopardises the grant?" 

"I seriously doubt it will get that far," said Beverly. "If it does, we 
will deal with it, but I'd like to avoid that, if possible. That would not 
be pleasant for Louise." She stood up, taking care not to damage the chair 
even further. 

"We should probably get this room repaired," she said. "But now, if you'll 
excuse me, I have a class to teach." 

Chapter 7 

The afternoon class had been surreal. 

Louise had found it very difficult to concentrate. Every time she looked at 
Dr. Piper, she found herself wondering about what might really be going on 
inside that woman's head. Every time Dr. Piper looked in her direction, she 
convinced herself that the look was somehow significant; that Dr. Piper was 
somehow teasing her. 

This must be what paranoia feels like. 

But, she reminded herself, it's not paranoia if they really are plotting 
against you. They had lied about the blackout. All sorts of other things 
could be going on. 

The actual class had focused on different styles of smoking, and Dr. Piper 
had asked them to practice a series of different techniques. As they broke 
into small groups once more, Louise tried to quiz Anthea still further 
about the reading she had been doing. Anthea had answered her questions, 
but Louise sensed a growing impatience as well. 

"Look, why don't I just send you the links?" Anthea had finally said. "That 
way you can read them yourself." 

Louise had tried to press her further, but Anthea became rather 
tight-lipped after that. They spent the rest of the session actually 
practicing the smoking techniques they were supposed to be practicing. 

After dinner, Louise and Portia retired to their room and Louise found an 
email waiting for her with the links Anthea had promised her. Opening up 
the links, Louise found many of the research papers Anthea had told them 
about. They were long, densely written and full of jargon, but Louise felt 
it was important to wade through them. She was tired, but she had to get to 
the bottom of this, so she took some more Benzedrine and settled down with 
the computer and a fresh pack of cigarettes. 

After smoking the Lucky Strikes all day yesterday, the Marlboros tasted of 
absolutely nothing, but Louise compensated by simply smoking more of them. 
She kept lighting them up, one after the other, as she read through Dr. 
Piper's research papers. As Anthea had said, many of them made rather 
disturbing reading, and Louise found herself learning quite a lot about the 
ways in which people could be manipulated. 

Salesmen, for example, would often invite potential customers into their 
offices and then leave them alone for a few minutes on some pretext or 
other. They would then record their private conversations in the hope of 
picking up information they could use to influence the customers even 

Mediums and psychics would regularly put shills in the audience - posing as 
ordinary members of the public - to pick up any loose information which the 
psychics could then claim was revealed to them by the `great beyond'. 

As Anthea had said, though, the papers about military hazing and religious 
cults were by far the worst. In both cases, victims had their sense of 
identity methodically destroyed. Everything that had previously been 
important to them (and to their view of the world) was systematically wiped 
away by a series of rituals or activities designed to make them feel small 
and worthless. The manipulators could then re-build them from scratch, 
turning them into either brutal killing machines or adoring acolytes, 
depending on the agenda of the organisation. 

Dr. Piper had documented all of it in meticulous and dispassionate detail. 
Louise found herself becoming more horrified and disgusted with each 
passing paragraph. It was getting very late, but she couldn't tear herself 
away from the screen. This woman clearly knew every technique of 
psychological manipulation ever devised. With a repertoire like this, she 
could play with the human mind as easily as a child might play with a 
Gameboy. In this context, Louise realised, the faked power failure made 
perfect sense. Plunge them into total darkness in the middle of a room full 
of strangers. Make them feel frightened and alone. Tear them apart. 

She jumped up from the laptop and started pacing around the room, puffing 
rapidly on her cigarette. She felt trapped. They were in the clutches of 
this evil woman, and they had to get away. Portia climbed out of bed and 
put an arm around her, trying to calm her down. 

"Settle down," she said gently, her voice cracking with worry and fear. 
"You're acting like a crazy person." 

Louise shrugged Portia's arm away. Didn't she understand the danger? 

"Dr. Piper is playing with our minds," she said to Portia. "We have to get 
away before it's too late!" 

Portia tried to calm Louise down once again. "Why don't you come to bed," 
she said, pleadingly. "We can discuss this in the morning." 

Louise pushed Portia away. There wasn't time to sleep. Every minute they 
delayed was another opportunity for Dr. Piper to strengthen her hold on 
them. Why couldn't Portia see that? 

"The morning will be too late," she said. "We have to go, now. Get 
dressed." She started to pull on her own dress, but Portia didn't move. 

"Nothing is going to happen tonight," she said slowly. "And you're in no 
condition to go anywhere. Let's wait until morning, and then see how we 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Louise snapped, stepping into her shoes. 
She wondered if it was already too late for Portia. 

"I'm tired," Portia said, calmly. "I need sleep and so do you." 

Louise wasn't feeling remotely tired, although her eyes were hurting from 
staring at the laptop screen for so long. She fished out her bottle of 
headache pills, but Portia stopped her. 

"Let's try to go easy on the pills for tonight, what do you say?" She took 
the bottle out of Louise's hand. "I think you've taken enough pills for one 

Portia was looking at her strangely. Louise wasn't sure she liked it. She 
remembered what Dr. Piper's article had said about shills in the audience. 
Was Portia possibly spying on her? Was there anyone here she could trust? 

"If you have a headache," Portia said slowly. "I might have something that 
will help." She opened her robe and let it drop to the ground, then she 
stepped up to Louise, pressing their bodies together. Louise was wearing 
her heels, and she towered over the bare-footed Portia. Portia reached 
around her and slowly opened the zipper on her dress. 

"Come to bed." 

Louise looked down at her. Portia was sweating, and her skin was glistening 
in the reflected glow of the computer screen. She did look beautiful, 
Louise thought. She pulled her close and kissed her, roughly. Portia 
flinched slightly, but did not resist. Louise could taste the cigarettes as 
well as the sour flavour of her perspiration. Portia slowly worked Louise's 
dress off her body, never breaking the kiss. The dress dropped to the floor 
and they both stood there for a moment, naked (apart from Louise's shoes) 
and locked together. Then Louise pushed Portia backwards, more or less 
gently, and the two of them tumbled onto the bed. 

Portia tried to caress Louise, but Louise wasn't in the mood for tender 
intimacy; she was too worked up for that. She dug her nails into Portia's 
back and grabbed one of her nipples in her teeth. Portia gasped in pain and 
surprise, and Louise released her, then locked her legs around Portia's 
thigh and bore down. She could feel Portia writhing and squirming under 
her, and she forced herself against her, generating an unrelenting rhythm 
until Portia was forced to give in, and the two of them bucked and weaved 
in tandem. Louise had never before been an aggressor in sex, but the events 
of the day just seemed to coalesce in her mind, and she found herself 
releasing all of her tension and stress onto the sweating Portia. At one 
point she went a bit too far and Portia cried out in pain and fear. 

"Relax," Louise laughed. "Take it like a man." 

Portia choked something out; something that might have been a laugh or a 
sob, or perhaps something in between. Louise found herself drawing on 
energy reserves she didn't even know she had. Finally she collapsed on top 
of Portia, exhausted and covered in sweat, among other things. Portia lay 
under her like a dead thing, making no attempt to move. Only when Louise 
finally rolled over did Portia rouse herself and stumble into the bathroom, 
staggering and leaning against the wall for support. 

Louise reached across to the bedside table and helped herself to a 
cigarette, which she smoked in the darkness as she listened to the sounds 
of running water coming through the closed bathroom door. 

The sex had helped; Louise found that she was no longer quite as wound up 
and frantic as she had been. Running away would have been a mistake; she 
could see that now. After all, there were all the other girls to think 
about as well. Plus, if Dr. Piper was left to her own devices, she could 
just keep doing this to more groups of girls. Again, and again, and again. 

It was up to Louise to stop her. But how? Dr. Piper was smart. Until 
reading these research papers, Louise had not quite realised just how smart 
she was. If she was going to go into battle with this woman, she would need 
to be equally smart. She would first need to show Dr. Piper that she was 
not deceived. She would need to prove that she was no longer being 
manipulated. She would need to do something that would put Dr. Piper on the 
defensive, for a change. 

Portia had still not come out of the bathroom, so Louise continued to lie 
there, alone in the dark. By the time she finished her cigarette, she knew 
what she was going to do. She had a plan. 

Chapter 8 

"You can't be serious." 

Anthea stared at her, incredulous, but Louise met her gaze without 

"I'm completely serious. This is what I want to do, but I'm going to need 
your help." 

Anthea turned to Portia, who simply shrugged. Portia had been subdued all 
day; in fact she had hardly said a word to Louise since emerging from the 
bathroom last night. 

Louise had barely slept. She had spent the rest of the night working out 
the details of the plan in her own head, and she was confident she could 
make it work. As long as she had help. Unfortunately, neither Anthea nor 
Portia seemed convinced. They would understand, soon enough. 

"Just how did you come up with an idea like this?" Anthea was asking. She 
didn't seem to be alarmed or frightened by the prospect. Just... amused. 

"Something my second year drama teacher used to say to us all the time," 
Louise said. "What would Shakespeare do?" 

Anthea laughed. "And you think this is what Shakespeare would do?" 

"This is what Shakespeare did do," Louise pointed out. "You must have seen 

"I have," muttered Portia. "And I seem to remember it doesn't end well at 
all." She stubbed out her cigarette and immediately lit another one. She 
had been smoking more than usual all day. 

Louise glared at her. "I'm not suggesting we stab Dr. Piper with a poisoned 
rapier, or anything." She laughed, but Portia didn't appear to see the 
humour. "Although I could, actually. I took a fencing class last year." 

"Was it just a fencing class, or did you decide your instructor was trying 
to turn you all into lethal assassins?" 

Portia's attitude caught Louise a little off guard, and Anthea looked 

"I'm happy to help," she finally said to Louise. "Just let me know when you 
want to prepare." She laughed, nervously. "It'll be fun and it will be 
better than trying to work with just Michaela again. That girl scares me, 

She left the two of them alone. Portia continued to sit where she was, 
looking pale and dragging on her cigarette. 

"I think we can pull this off," Louise said to her. "We can show Dr. Piper 
that we know what she's up to." Portia was silent. "Don't you think?" 

Portia shrugged, vaguely. "Sure. Whatever." 

Louise sighed. Portia had been in a strange mood all day, and it was 
starting to get on her nerves. 

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong," she said, "or are you going to 
keep me guessing?" 

Portia sat for a moment, not moving. Louise didn't have time for this; 
there was too much to be done. She finally got up and pulled out her 

"I have work to do," she said to Portia. "If you feel like talking, just 
let me know." 

She spent the next hour or so working at her computer and smoking. She was 
feeling confident and composed, now that she had something positive to work 
towards, and her writing went smoothly. The cigarettes helped her stay 
focused as well, for which she was grateful. 

She was dimly aware of Portia moping around the room, but she couldn't 
allow herself to be distracted, even when Portia stumbled and nearly 
knocked over the bedside table. Louise fervently wished she would just 
settle down; she was making it very hard for Louise to concentrate. 

Eventually, Louise decided to take a break. She was stiff, from sitting at 
the computer for so long, and she needed to stretch her legs. She had also 
finished her pack of cigarettes. She stood up, stretching, and turned 
around, just in time to see Portia swallowing a couple of pills. 

"Do you have a headache?" It was the first time she had ever seen Portia 
taking pills. 

Portia shook her head, vaguely, and dropped the pill bottle by her purse, 
then walked unsteadily over to the bed and sank down onto it. Louise was 
intrigued. She picked up the bottle and tried to read the label, but it was 
printed in Russian. 

"Where did you get these?" 

Portia waved her hand, vaguely. "You have your suppliers, I have mine." 

"What are they?" 

Portia lay back in the bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Just something to 
calm me down," she mumbled, dreamily. 

Louise examined her more closely. She was talking very slowly, and not very 
clearly. Her eyes were glassy and unfocused. 

"How many of these have you taken?" 

"I dunno.... a few." 

Louise sat down on the bed next to her. Portia looked vaguely at her, but 
her brain was clearly operating through a thick fog. Thinking back, Louise 
realised that Portia had been unfocused all day. She had been concentrating 
on her plan to take on Dr. Piper, and hadn't really noticed. 

She put her hand on Portia's forehead. The skin felt a bit clammy and warm. 

"Maybe you should go easy on those things." 

Portia laughed - a weird, inarticulate laugh. "That's funny, coming from 

Louise felt her blood rising. "What's that supposed to mean?" 

Portia pulled herself up into a sitting position. It clearly required some 

"Look at you," she said, finally. "Look what's happening to you. You're 
losing it. This.... obsession... is tearing you apart." She trailed off, 
staring at nothing in particular. "....Tearing you apart," she said again, 
finally. "And me. Tearing me apart." She made vague ripping movements with 
her hands to illustrate what she meant. "...Us. It's tearing us apart." She 
seemed satisfied with that, and lapsed into silence. 

Louise started to protest, but stopped herself. This was not the time to 
attempt a rational conversation. Instead she put her arm around Portia and 
tried to give her a comforting hug. Portia grinned, drunkenly, and giggled, 
letting her head fall against Louise's shoulder. 

"You said you loved me yesterday," she mumbled, indistinctly. "Did you mean 

"Yes," Louise said, sincerely. "Yes, of course I meant it." 

"Then why are you doing this?" She pulled herself away from Louise with 
effort, and tried to look her in the eye. She didn't quite make it. 

"Because Dr. Piper needs to know that she can't treat people like this," 
Louise said, stiffly. Portia groaned and flopped back on the bed. 

"I'm serious." Louise pushed ahead. "She needs to see that we aren't just 
another group of cult victims. We see what she's up to, and we will fight 

"Yeah, yeah," Portia muttered into the pillow. "I've seen that movie, too. 
We'll fight her on the beaches, we'll fight her in the streets." 

"You don't want to fight her?" 

"I just want Louise back. My friend, Louise. Remember her?" She waved her 
hand vaguely towards Louise. "Look at you. You aren't sleeping. You aren't 
eating." She laughed suddenly. "You're turning into Michaela!" 

Louise was silent. She grabbed an open pack of cigarettes and lit one, 
thoughtfully. It was true that she had barely slept since Sunday, but she 
had a lot on her mind. That was understandable, surely. Why was Portia 
making such a big deal? 

Portia reached over and took the cigarette out of her hand. Taking a large 
puff, she exhaled, dreamily and giggled as she watched the cloud of smoke 
forming around her head. Louise lit a second cigarette for herself. 

"All I know," said Portia to no one in particular, "is that thanks to Dr. 
Piper, I met you. Whatever happens, for the rest of my life every time I 
light a cigarette, I will think of you." She took another drag. 

"But right now," she continued, "you aren't much fun to be around. Now I 
promised I would help you, and I will." She sighed, softly. "I just need a 
little help getting through it, that's all." 

Louise leaned over and kissed her, gently. 

"I know this is hard," she said, softly, "but it has to be done. Things 
will be better very soon. You'll see." 

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Portia muttered, and fell back into the 
bed. Her cigarette was still burning between her fingers, so Louise 
returned it to the ashtray, worried that it would set fire to the blanket. 
Portia made a vague noise, but didn't move. 

Why did everything have to be so complicated? This was all Dr. Piper's 
fault, thought Louise. She put us in this position. They were going to have 
to teach her a lesson. Louise would show her that people could not be 
played like flutes. 

She would show her. 

Chapter 9 

Beverly suppressed a yawn and turned to the class. The afternoon was 
progressing slowly, and she was looking forward to ending the session so 
she could relax and have some food. Most of the day thus far had been 
occupied with role-playing performances, and they were all starting to 
blend together in her mind. One group after another had been getting up to 
enact some sort of smoking scenario in front of the rest of the class. 
Beverly was less concerned about the specifics of their scenarios and had 
been focusing instead on the quality of their smoking. There was no 
question that everyone in the group was now fully committed to their 
smoking habits. The high point of the afternoon had been Anushka and 
Rochelle. Anushka was becoming a very sexy smoker indeed, and she was 
developing a style that was all her own. 

"Who's next?" she now asked. They had been working their way around the 
room, and she saw that they had reached Louise's table. Louise was looking 
very excited and flushed, and Beverly smiled to herself. For the last 
couple of days, Louise had been acting like a woman possessed. It must be 
driving her crazy, knowing that something strange was going on, but not 
knowing exactly what. 

Louise jumped up from her chair and fixed Beverly with a belligerent stare. 

"We've actually been working on something a little bit different," she 
said, and grinned, strangely. "We can show it to you now, if you like." 

Beverly looked at Louise more closely. She was talking very rapidly, and 
her hands were never still. Even when she had been sitting at the table, 
Beverly had noticed her constantly clenching and unclenching her fists, and 
rocking slightly; a bundle of nervous energy. She was also looking very 
pale and drawn. There were dark circles under her eyes, which even the 
makeup wasn't able to hide completely. Sleep deprivation, was Beverly's 

She met Louise's gaze now, and saw that Louise's eyes kept darting 
nervously around the room, as if she couldn't hold them still. She's on 
amphetamines, Beverly thought. Interesting. She turned her attention to 
Portia, but Portia was showing no signs of the same agitation. If anything, 
she seemed especially sluggish today. Her movements were slow and 
deliberate, and her eyes were extremely bloodshot. Very interesting indeed. 

The two of them moved to the centre of the room, and to Beverly's surprise, 
they were joined by Anthea and Michaela. Louise was staring directly at her 
with a demented expression, and Beverly realised this was not going to be 
just another role-playing scene. Louise had something special up her 
sleeve. She straightened up in her chair, her fatigue suddenly gone. She 
couldn't wait to see what Louise was up to. 

"A group project?" she asked, grinning. "Are you folks hoping for extra 

"Well, your course has been so educational," said Louise, "We thought it 
was only right that we gave you the sort of performance you deserve." 

Around the room, Beverly saw the other girls shifting nervously in their 
seats. They could sense the tension. Something was obviously going on, but 
they weren't entirely sure what they were witnessing. 

"You have my complete attention," said Beverly, sincerely. "Show me what 
you have." 

The four girls arranged themselves around the room, in preparation. 
Michaela and Portia stood together, off to the side. Louise lit a cigarette 
and took up a stance of authority in the centre. Even in character, she 
kept shooting angry glances toward Beverly. 

Anthea stepped up to her and spoke. 

"Good afternoon, Dr. Peters," she said to Louise. "Everything is set up and 
ready for you." 

Louise nodded, solemnly. "Thank you, Tanya." She looked towards Portia and 
Michaela. "I see that the girls are starting to arrive." 

"I'm curious," said Anthea. "You're a successful social anthropologist. Why 
would you be interested in teaching a course like this?" 

Louise smiled, wickedly. "Just a simple demonstration," she chuckled. "I 
intend to show just how easy it is to control the minds of these gullible 
young women." 

Beverly stared at them, and fought to suppress her laughter. This was 
incredible; if only Eve could see this! The rest of the group was watching 
the scene unfold with growing confusion. They clearly had no idea what was 
going on. This was just between Louise and Beverly. 

She watched as Anthea walked over to Portia and Michaela and handed them 
both unlit cigarettes and lighters. 

"We're going to spend the evening getting to know each other," she told 

Portia turned to Michaela and they shook hands. 

"My name is Eliza," said Portia. 

"Lucia; nice to meet you," replied Michaela. 

Beverly was loving every moment of this. She looked at Louise, and Louise 
stared back at her with a frightening intensity. Neither of them blinked. 

Sitting in the audience, Jordan and Kumiko were staring open-mouthed, in 
undisguised astonishment. Beverly was glad Louise's attention was focused 
so completely on her. Those two had the worst poker-faces in history. 

"Lucia" and "Eliza" continued to chat for a few moments, while "Tanya" and 
"Dr. Peters" stood behind them, watching, impassively. 

"When I give you the signal," said Louise/Dr. Peters, "I want you to turn 
off the lights. Plunge them into darkness." She laughed, coldly. If she had 
a moustache, she probably would have twirled it. 

Beverly bit her lip and used every ounce of her discipline to fight back 
the laughter. 

Louise raised her hand, and Anthea mimed throwing a light switch. Michaela 
and Portia instantly began thrashing around in a comic pantomime of two 
girls in the dark. 

"Now we wait," said Louise to Anthea, and dragged on her cigarette, 

Portia and Michaela bumped into each other (in the `dark') and then grabbed 
each other, huddling close together. Beverly noticed that Anushka and 
Rochelle were sitting in the audience, looking very uncomfortable. Good for 

Portia lit her cigarette lighter and held it like a torch, shining its 
light onto Michaela, who also produced her lighter. After a moment of that, 
they each lit the other's cigarette. Louise stood proudly behind the two of 
them, strutting like Mussolini. 

Beverly was going to have to stop this, fun though it was. She knew exactly 
what Louise was doing; she had seen Hamlet, and she knew what was expected 
of her. Slowly and deliberately, she got to her feet. Louise followed her 
with her eyes, looking smug. 

"The doctor rises," murmured Anthea with a grin. She didn't look as if she 
was taking any of this seriously. Beverly slowly walked forward until she 
was standing directly in front of Louise. They stood like that for a 
moment, eye to eye. 

Beverly needed to take control of this situation. She removed a cigarette 
from her pack, moving slowly and deliberately. 

"Could I have a light?" 

For an instant, no one moved. No one breathed. Then Louise ignited her 
lighter and raised it to Beverly's cigarette. Beverly leaned into the 
flame, careful not to break eye contact with Louise. She took a deep drag 
on the cigarette and released a long stream of smoke, aiming it carefully 
over Louise's shoulder. 

"Thank you," she said, calmly. "I'll do the same for you, someday." 

"Give me a light, you mean?" Louise's eyes flickered, slightly. 

"That too." 

Louise raised her own cigarette to her lips and inhaled, blowing an 
impressive column of smoke at Beverly. 

For a long moment, they stood like that, facing each other, smoke curling 
around their heads. Everyone else in the room was forgotten; it was just 
the two of them. Louise was clearly not about to back down; she stood her 
ground, her gaze boring deep into Beverly. 

We must look like a Sergio Leone movie, Beverly thought. 

Slowly, Beverly allowed herself an almost imperceptible smile. No one else 
watching would have seen it, but Louise did; it was just for her. She 
nodded fractionally at Beverly and took another drag on her cigarette. 
Beverly could feel the electricity passing between them. 

I know what you are, Louise seemed to be saying. I know what you are doing. 

Nicely played, young lady, Beverly thought to herself. 

She finally stepped back slightly, breaking eye-contact with Louise, and 
the spell was broken. The air in the room seemed to start moving again, and 
the other girls began shifting uncomfortably in their seats, talking 
nervously. No one knew what to make of the spectacle they had just 
witnessed, and Beverly could sense the confusion in the room. 

"A very interesting choice of material," she said to Louise, for the 
benefit of the entire group. 

"Thank you," Louise said, calmly. "I had hoped you would find it 

"And a very interesting character, your Dr. Peters," Beverly continued. 
"Morally ambiguous." 

"You think so?" said Louise, standing her ground. "I thought she was evil." 
She continued to stare directly at Beverly. "What she is doing is wrong." 

"Surely that's just a subjective value judgement," said Beverly, carefully. 
"Who gets to decide what is right and wrong? And on what basis?" 

"She is toying with real people." Louise's voice was starting to rise. She 
was getting angry. 

"But to what purpose? Is she really doing them any actual harm, your Dr. 

Louise was silent. 

"At any rate," Beverly said, finally, "a most interesting piece of drama." 
She smiled at the four of them. "Thank you for presenting it to us." 

She started to turn away, leaving Louise smouldering where she stood. 

"Just one more point," she said suddenly, turning back to Louise. "How does 
your drama end? What happens to your Dr. Peters?" 

Louise fixed Beverly with a strange expression. 

"That's a very interesting question," she said, and took a long, meaningful 
drag on her cigarette. "What sort of resolution do you think would be 
appropriate for a character like this?" 

Beverly smiled. "It's your drama. The ending is entirely up to you." She 
took a puff on her own cigarette and blew the smoke in Louise's direction. 

"Perhaps the ending has yet to be written," Louise said. 

"Perhaps," Beverly said. "But here is my advice: don't start something like 
this, unless you have some idea of how you are going to finish it." 

"That's your advice?" 

"The advice of a drama teacher, yes. You should think very carefully about 
the possible endings that are open to you." She smiled again, and took a 
final drag on her cigarette. "Perhaps by the end of the week, we will know 
how your story ends." 

Beverly turned to the rest of the group, who had been staring open-mouthed 
at this exchange. 

"I think this is a good moment to break for dinner, wouldn't you say?" 

Chapter 10 

"What the hell was that??" 

Louise and the others were finding themselves very much the centre of 
attention at the dinner table. Everyone was talking at once, and Louise 
could tell emotions were running high. She felt herself becoming 
overwhelmed by all the attention they were getting. Ever since she had 
formulated her little plan, she had been focusing exclusively on Dr. 
Piper's reaction; it had never occurred to her to wonder how the rest of 
the group might react. 

By all appearances, the group was reacting violently, and the four of them 
found themselves very much at the centre of a storm. Michaela, especially, 
seemed completely defeated by the attention. She almost seemed to be 
wilting; shrinking into herself. Louise wondered briefly why she even 
bothered turning up at dinner; she never seemed to eat anything. 

"Was that supposed to be about us?" Claire asked them. 

"It was meant as a joke," Anthea laughed. "We were just having fun." 

Louise and Portia exchanged glances. 

"Some joke," said Rochelle, stiffly, and Anushka nodded in agreement. 

"Actually, it wasn't a joke," Louise said, firmly. She turned to Anushka. 
"You said yourself: the blackout was faked." 

"I said the power was never interrupted, that's all," Anushka protested. 
"But you were saying that Dr. Piper is some sort of evil scientist. That 
was just...." she flailed around, searching for the right word. 

"...That was rude," she said finally. 

"I agree," said Kumiko. "It was very insulting to Dr. Piper. You should 
apologise to her." 

"Dr. Peters," Jordan corrected, smirking slightly. 

"I wanted to call her `Dr. Pepper'," said Anthea, grinning, "but Louise 
wouldn't let me." 

"Can't you see," Louise said to them, "she's been manipulating us, from the 
first day." She turned to Portia for support, but Portia just shrugged. 

"We know the blackout wasn't real," she continued. "And she isn't even a 
drama teacher. She's an anthropologist. She makes a career out of 
manipulating people." 

Everyone stared at her, silently. 

"You should read the stuff she writes about," she said, desperately. "The 
different ways to manipulate people..." 

"Actually, I did read a lot of it," said Anthea gently, "And it was 
interesting. But you're building all of it into some sort of paranoid 
conspiracy." She shook her head. "I think I made a mistake to help you with 
this. I thought you were joking." 

Everyone was looking at Louise with hostility, now. She felt more alone 
than she had ever felt before. She looked around the room for support, and 
found nothing. At the far table, Dr. Piper was sitting with Tina. They both 
looked at her and waved, cheerfully, then went back to their food, 
unconcerned. They had nothing to fear from Louise. 

Louise could feel her hands shaking. She was sweating, and her vision was 
blurred. She felt totally defeated. 

"Fuck you all," she spat, and stormed out of the room. 

Chapter 11 

The corridor outside the dining room was deserted, and Louise just stood 
there for a moment, trying to calm herself down. She pulled out her pack of 
cigarettes, but it was empty. She had smoked the last one during her 

"Fuck," she said. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." She started down the corridor, with 
no idea what to do next. 

"Louise, wait." 

Portia stepped into the corridor, and the two of them stood there for a 
moment, facing each other. 

"I tried to warn you," Portia finally said. "No one else cares. It's just 

"But they've been manipulating us..." 

Portia turned and pounded her fist against the wall in frustration. 

"For God's sake! Do you really think there is some massive conspiracy? Is 
that what you really believe?" She moved closer to Louise. "I'm sorry, but 
I just don't believe that. There is no conspiracy." 

"But the blackout..." 

"Yes, I know," Portia shouted. "The blackout was faked. Big. Fucking. 
Deal!" She was turning purple. Louise had never seen her like this before. 
Her voice was booming in the narrow corridor, and Louise was sure that 
everyone in the dining room could hear every word. They should really be 
having this fight somewhere more private. 

To her left was a door marked "AV Room". It wasn't completely closed. 

"Let's talk in here," she hissed at Portia, and pushed the door open. 
Portia stormed through, and Louise followed her. 

And stopped, amazed. 

She had been expecting a glorified storage cupboard; somewhere to keep the 
projector and screen and any other appliances when they weren't in use. The 
room they found themselves in was much larger than a cupboard; it was a 
fully equipped control centre, complete with rows of computers and video 
monitors, all surrounding a large picture window that offered a perfect 
view of the bar area they knew so well. 

The window was the mirror, Louise realised. The mirror over the bar. She 
had looked at herself in that mirror several times, this week. She had 
actually been looking directly into this room. 

She turned her attention to the video monitors. They were all showing 
different viewpoints of the same room. It felt like the mixing desk of a 
television studio. But that wasn't a stage set out there. She felt her skin 
starting to crawl. This was just like George Macready's office in Gilda. 

Portia was also staring at the room, her tantrum forgotten. They were both 
trying to make sense of what they were seeing. Louise noticed that the 
whole room reeked of stale cigarette smoke. She looked down at the table 
and saw several ashtrays, filled with crushed out cigarettes. The rest of 
the room was in disarray. A metal cupboard was badly dented, and several 
shelves of computer disks had been knocked over; their contents had spilled 
onto the floor in a heap. Some of the disks had been neatly stacked, but 
the rest were still on the floor where they had fallen. 

Portia bent over and picked up one of the disks, curious. She read the 
label, then handed it to Louise, without comment. It was a standard 
five-inch CD, and had been labelled in neat, prim handwriting: 

B. Piper Smoking Project; Blackout - camera 4 disk 2 

Louise read the label. Then she read it again. Portia was staring at her. 
Neither of them had said a word since walking into this room. Louise 
finally removed the disk from its sleeve and inserted it into a 
likely-looking disk drive. After a moment, one of the video monitors sprang 
into life with a strange, otherworldly green picture. The two of them 
watched it in stunned silence for a few moments. 

"I told you," said Portia, finally. "You've got fantastic legs." She was 
staring at the image on the screen. 

"And I told you it was a conspiracy," said Louise. Her voice sounded 
strange in her ears. 

"I guess we were both right." 

They continued to watch the unfolding scene on the video monitor. It was 
all there, Louise thought. The blackout, the panic, their blind encounter 
in the darkness... She remembered every detail of that night. It had been 
the most extraordinary night of her life. But to see it like this, played 
back on a video monitor in that weird night-vision.... 

It was a violation. 

She suddenly couldn't take any more. She jabbed at the `eject' button and 
the disk popped out of the machine. Portia took it and turned it over in 
her hands. 

"They were watching," she said in disgust. The whole time... they were 
actually watching...." She turned to Louise. 

"What are we going to do?" 

Louise smiled at her. "Thank you," she said, gratefully. 

"What for?" 

"The `we'." She looked around the room. "We need to tell someone about 

"You mean the other girls?" asked Portia. 

"I mean someone in authority." 

Louise came to a decision. She grabbed several more of the disks. 

"We're going to get out of here. We're going to show these to the police, 
or to a television network, someone. We need to let everyone know what this 
woman is doing here." She put her hand on the doorknob, but Portia stopped 

"Listen," she said, softly. "For what it's worth..." she faltered. 

"I know," said Louise. "Same here. But we can talk about it later." 

She pulled open the door - and found herself standing face to face with 

They stared at each other for a moment, both frozen in surprise. No one 
spoke. Tina appeared to have been caught completely off guard. Then Louise 
saw her eyes drop down to the computer disks in Louise's hand, and Tina's 
expression hardened. 

Louise didn't stop to think; she probably still had a little Benzedrine in 
her system. She shoved Tina aside, roughly, and grabbed Portia's hand, 
pulling her bodily through the door before Tina had a chance to regain her 
balance. Once they were clear, they ran down the corridor and out the door 
as fast as they could run in their heels. 

Chapter 12 

Beverly was in the middle of telling Eve about Louise's little class 
performance when Tina came running up to her, completely flustered. 

"Louise and Portia were in the AV room," she said without preamble. "I'm 
pretty sure they took some of the disks." 

"Where are they now?" Beverly asked. 

"They got away from me," Tina said. "I'm sorry. They caught me by 
surprise." She looked upset and out of breath. 

Beverly was furious. This was bad. She had been enjoying her little 
cat-and-mouse game with Louise, but if she and Portia had gotten their 
hands on some of the video footage, they could potentially cause Beverly 
real trouble. She was going to have to deal with Louise. She had really 
hoped it wouldn't come to this. 

"I'm sure we can find them," Tina said. "There are only so many places they 
can be." 

"That isn't necessary," Beverly said. "They're going to try to get away 
from here, and the only way to do that is the train station." 

Beverly had been thinking about this ever since Louise had started snooping 
around, and she was ready with her plan. 

Identify the problem. Then fix it. 

It was just a shame. Louise was resourceful. She didn't deserve the game to 
end this way. 

"Send Jordan and Kumiko to the station," she said to Tina. "Tell them to 
get there as fast as possible, and have them watch for Louise and Portia. 
Don't let them get on a train, whatever happens. I'll do the rest." 

Tina nodded, and waited, expectantly. 

"Tell them now," Beverly snapped. "Go!" 

Tina scurried off, and Beverly pulled out her mobile phone. 

"What are you going to do?" Eve asked. 

"I'm going to call in a very big favour," Beverly said. She scrolled 
through the numbers on her phone, looking for the one she wanted. 

"I know the deputy police commissioner. He owes me big time. I saved his 
marriage, after his wife caught him in bed with another woman." 

Eve raised her eyebrows. "I didn't know you were ever a marriage 

"I wasn't," Beverly said. "I'm the woman he was in bed with." She found the 
number and dialled it. "As I say, he owes me big time." 

"What are you going to ask him to do?" 

Beverly shrugged. "I'm going to ask him to arrest Louise and Portia." 

Chapter 13 

Louise and Portia found a quiet spot outside the building and paused to 
catch their breath. This was the first time Louise had actually tried to 
run in heels, and she had nearly broken her ankle on the steps outside the 
main entrance. Portia didn't seem to be doing much better; she was leaning 
on the railing for support, gasping for breath. Louise felt her heart 
pounding and her breath coming in ragged gulps. She couldn't believe how 
exhausted she was from such a short spurt of activity. At least she still 
had the computer disks clutched in her hand. 

They rested for a moment, and Louise took stock of their options. They were 
going to have to get away from here. Unfortunately, all of their belongings 
were still up in their room, and going back into the building now would be 
very unwise. The train station was just down the road, but Louise didn't 
have enough money in her purse to buy a ticket. Even her phone was back up 
in the room. 

"Do you have enough money for train fare?" she asked, and Portia shook her 
head, no, still trying to catch her breath. 

Louise tried to think. They couldn't go back inside, and they couldn't stay 
here, either. Tina and Dr. Piper would almost certainly be looking for 
them. Whatever she had expected from this two-week course, she had never, 
ever, guessed that she and her lover would find themselves fugitives from a 
mad anthropologist and her minion. It was bizarre on so many levels. 

"What do we do now?" Portia was starting to regain her composure, and she 
was obviously contemplating the same problems that were facing Louise. 

Louise looked around. They were huddled in a delivery alley behind the main 
building, out of sight for the time being. It was after dinner and the 
light was starting to fade, but this was summer, and there were still 
several more hours of daylight ahead of them. They would not be able to 
rely on darkness for cover. 

"Do you think one of the other girls could help?" Portia asked. "Anthea, 

Louise shook her head. "Not based on that scene at the dinner table." She 
grinned. "It's just you and me now." 

Portia grinned as well, and they kissed briefly. Anything more was going to 
have to wait until they were on the train. 

But to get on a train, they were going to have to get out of this alleyway, 
Louise reminded herself. She looked around again. They were in the shadow 
of the main building, but off to the side, a little further away, she was 
able to see the top of the fashion department. 

"Come on," she said to Portia. "I think I know who might be able to help 

Chapter 14 

"Louise!" Yvette beamed, as they walked in. She was still in her studio, 
sorting through boxes of cosmetics, but she looked as if she was packing up 
for the day. Adrian wasn't there. "I'm glad you stopped by; I've got 
something to show you." She started to put down the box she was sorting, 
but paused as she got a better look at the two of them. 

"Are you all right? You seem a little upset." She looked them both over, 

Louise smiled at her and tried to look calmer than she felt. 

"We're fine," she assured her. "I'm sorry to bother you like this, but I've 
got a big favour to ask you." 

"Anything," Yvette smiled. "What do you need?" Yvette really was a very 
nice person. 

"We need money for train fares," Portia said, and Yvette frowned. 

"We just thought we would try to get away for one night," Louise said, 
hurriedly. "Spend a quiet night together; have a little fun, you know..." 
Every stitch of clothing they both had on belonged to the fashion college, 
and Louise didn't want Yvette to start asking too many questions. 

Portia lowered her voice. "We're not really supposed to leave the campus in 
the middle of the course," she said in a conspiratorial tone. "That's why 
we can't go back for our things. If we go back to our room, we'll probably 
be stuck there." 

Yvette smiled again. This was obviously a situation she could understand. 

"It's a pity you're sneaking off tonight," she said to Louise. "Cassandra 
is back from Tokyo, and we're going to have a little party for her. I was 
hoping you could both come. It'll be quite intimate; just a few close 
friends, in our room, having lots of fun." 

Louise could only imagine what Yvette's idea of an `intimate party' would 
be like. But she smiled, politely. 

"We were really hoping to get away together this evening," she said. "Our 
course is almost over, and then we'll be going our separate ways." 

"Of course, I understand," Yvette said. "But feel free to stop by when you 
get back. Chances are, the party will still be in full swing." She grinned, 
then went to her purse and counted out some money, which she handed to 

"Thank you," Louise said, very sincerely. "I'll pay you back; I promise." 
She had no idea how she would do that, but she resolved to try. Yvette was 
being wonderful. She was a good friend to have. 

Louise suddenly had a thought. "Tell me," she said to Yvette. "Do you know 
if the fashion college gave any money to the drama department to cover the 
cost of the course that Portia and I have been taking?" 

Yvette's eyes went wide. "I can't imagine they would. We run on a very 
tight budget. We can hardly afford to pay for our own supplies." She 
pointed to the rows and rows of cosmetics. "We're always being told to 

Louise looked at Portia, who nodded. She wondered if anything at all about 
the course had been real. Thanking Yvette once again, they started to 
leave, but Yvette stopped them. 

"Before you go, you should take these as well." She handed Louise a large 
brown envelope. "I got them a few hours ago. I was going to drop them by 
your room when I finished here." 

Portia gave Louise a worried look. They really shouldn't waste any more 
time. It was perfectly possible that Dr. Piper might think to look for them 

"Thank you," said Louise, taking the envelope. She had absolutely no idea 
what it was. 

"I think they came out really well," said Yvette. "I hope you like them." 
She was staring at Louise with a big grin on her face, like someone who had 
just given their best friend the perfect birthday present, and was waiting 
for them to open it. Louise realised they would not be allowed to leave the 
room until she opened the envelope. 

"What is it?" she asked, and tore it open. 

"Oh my," gasped Portia, looking over her shoulder. 

Louise found herself looking at photos of herself. 

They were the photos from Saturday's photo-shoot. But they were also some 
of the most beautiful images Louise had ever seen. The photographer had 
worked miracles. Louise stared at the alluring, seductive woman in the 
pictures and had to remind herself that this goddess was actually Louise 

These were photographs of her. 

Many of the images were actually very dark, almost black; but there was 
just enough back-lighting to hint at the outlines of her figure, teasing 
the eye with what was suggested, rather than what was shown, overtly. 
Against the black background, her pale face was lit up like a beacon, and 
the creamy white cigarette smoke surrounded her in a perfect, milky halo. 

She and Portia stared at photo after photo, the urgency of their escape 
momentarily forgotten. Louise had never seen herself photographed like 
this. She had plenty of photos, of course; her Facebook page was full of 
them. Photos from holidays, photos from college, with her friends, photos 
with her family. 

But nothing like this. Those other pictures were snapshots. These were 
works of art. 

She turned to the photos from the Charleston session. Where the posed 
images had been statuesque, serene and mysterious, these photos came alive 
with sheer kinetic energy. Many of the images caught Louise in mid-leap, 
streams of smoke erupting from her mouth and nose like some elemental 
force. She could see a fierce energy burning in her eyes, and her entire 
face was lit up with passion and ecstasy. It looked like a scene from some 
primal dance of the earth. The photographer hadn't missed a thing. 

"I had no idea," she whispered. She was having a hard time equating these 
incredible images with the hours of hell she had gone through that day. It 
astonished her that the awful, bigoted photographer she had come to despise 
so strongly could have produced results of such ethereal beauty. 

Portia squeezed her hand, staring at the photos in silence. 

"I had a feeling you'd be happy," said Yvette, looking delighted. "I told 
you that guy was worth putting up with." 

She had been right. Louise could not find a single thing to dislike in 
these photos. She remembered the dress the photographer had insisted on 
changing, in order to catch the light properly. She had hated the new dress 
at the time; it had been uncomfortable and ill-fitting. Now she could see 
why he had insisted. The pins that had held the dress together were 
invisible in the photographs, but the whole ensemble seemed to glisten with 
an energy of its own. The contrast between light and shadow, between dark 
fabric and white cigarette smoke, created a thing of extraordinary beauty. 

Louise again marvelled that a day of such stress and hardship could have 
produced results this magical. 

"Thank you," she said to Yvette. "Thank you for showing these to me." 

Portia was still admiring the photos. 

"Whatever Dr. Piper's motives were," she said, "some amazing things have 
come out of this experience." 

She was right, Louise thought. It had been an extraordinary time. She 
thought back to the first day, standing nervously in a roomful of 
strangers, wishing she had been somewhere else. She had been very naive 
then; she had had no clue that the course might have had some hidden 
agenda; no clue that there might have been anything happening beyond what 
was visible on the surface. 

If nothing else, Dr. Piper had taught her to look beyond what was 
immediately visible. Nothing was ever quite what it seemed to be. Like 
those old movies they had watched: the real meaning lay in what was not 
shown. But what could she take away from all this? 

She looked at Portia, standing next to her, looking very beautiful. She had 
the incriminating computer disks in her hand. All they had to do was take 
those disks to the authorities, and Dr. Piper would be revealed to the 
world as the con artist she was. No one else would ever have to go through 
the experience she and Portia had been through. 

She suddenly remembered what Dr. Piper had said to her earlier in the 

It's your drama. The ending is entirely up to you. 

But that wasn't true. This had been Dr. Piper's drama from the beginning. 
She had been in complete control at every stage. Not any more, Louise 
thought, grimly. She and Portia had those CDs. For once, they had the upper 
hand over Dr. Piper. For nearly two weeks they had been running around 
inside Dr. Piper's little laboratory experiment, but now, finally, Louise 
had an advantage. 

She was going to make Dr. Piper dance. And Louise was going to choose the 

The irony of all this was that the old Louise would never have been 
confident enough to stand up to someone like Dr. Piper. Hell, she used to 
be terrified of her own drama tutor! But that was all in the past now. She 
looked at the photographs once again. The woman in those pictures had fire 
in her eyes. If you were smart, you didn't mess with her. 

Dr. Piper had brought this on herself, in a way. She was the one who had 
transformed Louise into such an imposing force. Without her influence, 
Louise would never have posed a threat to her. `The ending is entirely up 
to you' indeed. 

Portia looked at her with urgency, and Louise reluctantly slid the photos 
back into the envelope. They needed to get moving. She thanked Yvette once 
again. She was tempted to say more, but she didn't want to say anything to 
hint that this might be her final good-bye. 

"Thanks for your help with all of this," she finally said, indicating the 
photographs. "I don't think I could have survived any of it without your 

Yvette smiled, happily. "I'll be honest with you," she said to Louise. 
"When Adrian and I first met you last week, we had our doubts. You were so 
nervous and timid! It looked as if you really resented being here. But you 
really proved us wrong." She suddenly ran up to Louise and hugged her, much 
to Louise's surprise. 

"It's funny," she continued. "Sometimes you just come to all the wrong 

Louise was caught off guard by Yvette's sudden display of emotion. She 
awkwardly returned the embrace, and saw Portia watching them, smirking 

The wrong conclusions. That pretty much summed up this whole experience. 
She was grateful that she had been able to figure everything out in the 
end. It hadn't even been that hard; it was just a question of putting the 
pieces together. Like figuring out the gay subtext in Gilda; it was there, 
you just had to look for it. 

Portia nodded her head towards the doorway. They really had to go. They had 
to get away from here, so they could stop Dr. Piper. That way no one else 
would have to go through the same emotional journey that Louise herself had 
gone through. That was important, surely. Whatever Dr. Piper's reasons for 
doing this had been, they could at least make sure she would never do it 

That was the one piece they were still missing, Louise realised. The why. 
Everything else had fallen into place, but she still didn't have a firm 
answer to that final, fundamental question. Why had Dr. Piper done all 
this? Out of malice? Out of some deep need to be in control? 

Yvette released her from the embrace and stepped back, grinning. 

"Stop wasting your time," she laughed. "Go. Be wonderful. Catch your 

Louise looked at Portia. Their eyes met, and Portia smiled. They made a 
good team. 

"We have one stop to make, first," Louise said. 

Chapter 15 

There was a short knock on the door to the AV room. 

"Come in," Beverly said. "It's open!" 

The door was pushed open, and Louise and Portia stood there, looking calm 
and confident. They gazed down at Beverly and Eve, who both remained 
seated, at ease. 

"Welcome back," Beverly said finally, and the two young women stepped into 
the room. Portia pulled the door closed behind them. 

"We have questions," Louise said, simply. 

Beverly smiled. "I'm sure you do." She turned to Eve. "Would you mind 
giving us the room?" 

Eve stood up without protest and moved to the door. 

"Louise; Portia; it's a pleasure to finally meet you both," she said, and 
left the three of them alone. 

Louise took a seat at the table, facing Beverly. Portia sat down next to 
her. No one said anything. After a moment, Louise produced a small stack of 
computer disks and placed them carefully on the table. 

"We came back. For an explanation." She regarded Beverly implacably. 
Beverly was impressed by how calm and focused she had become. The nervous 
energy was completely gone; the young lady sitting opposite her was in 
complete control. 

"Would you like a cigarette?" She slowly and deliberately slid her pack 
across the table. 

"Yes," said Louise. "Yes, I would." She removed a cigarette from the pack, 
and Beverly extended her lighter. Portia took one as well, and Beverly lit 
them both up. The two of them then sat for a moment, smoking their 
cigarettes in silence. 

"I see you have made your decision," Beverly said, finally. 

"To end the drama?" Louise asked. 

"No. To start smoking." 

Louise smiled slightly. "But that decision was never ours to make, was it?" 

"Not really, no." 


Louise's question was not accusing. It was a simple question. Beverly took 
out a cigarette of her own, and lit it carefully, taking her time. 

"I first became an anthropologist," she said finally, "because I wanted to 
show people why society worked the way it did. I was appalled by the extent 
to which people are manipulated as they live their everyday lives, and I 
wanted to help people wake up to it." 

Louise nodded. "I read your papers." She blew a long stream of smoke into 
the air. 

"Let me ask you something," Beverly said to her. "You have figured 
everything out. You worked out what was being done to you. How did the 
other girls react when you told them?" 

Louise and Portia exchanged glances, and Beverly nodded. 

"They didn't want to know, did they?" Beverly said. "They probably blamed 
you for trying to show them what they didn't want to see." 

Louise's silence told Beverly all she needed to know. 

"This is what I discovered as well," she said. "People like to be deceived. 
They prefer it. It makes their lives a lot simpler. When I tried to expose 
the techniques used by salesmen, by politicians, by advertising companies, 
I was met with nothing but resistance and resentment. The human race has an 
incredible capacity for self-deception." 

"That's very cynical," said Portia, speaking up for the first time. 

"It's objective," Beverly said. "If people are confronted by facts they 
don't like, they will go to incredible lengths to avoid seeing those facts. 
They won't even realise they are doing it." 

Louise nodded, slowly. "That's how a film starring Rita Hayworth can 
actually be a gay love story without anyone noticing." 

Beverly was impressed. That was a very good example. 

"So you decided to switch sides?" Portia asked. 

"Not exactly." Beverly smiled at her. "I realised that I was taking the 
wrong approach." She got up and moved to the window, gazing out at the room 

"I was trying to raise people's awareness by telling them directly about 
how they were being influenced. They didn't want to hear it. But I suddenly 
realised I had all the tools I needed right in front of me." She turned 
around. "Why tell people something they don't want to hear, when it is so 
much easier to influence them into seeing it?" 

"But what does all this have to do with smoking?" 

Beverly sat down again. 

"Do you remember the Congressional hearings back in the early nineties, 
when all those tobacco executives were questioned under oath?" She laughed. 
"No, how could you - you're too young." 

Louise reddened slightly, but said nothing. 

"It was a big scandal at the time," Beverly continued. "The CEOs of seven 
different tobacco companies all testified under oath, before Congress, that 
they believed nicotine was not addictive." She smiled. "Everyone was 
shocked. The general assumption at the time was that these executives were 
all perjuring themselves in front of Congress. And this was back in the 
nineties, when people still took Congress seriously." Beverly paused, and 
took another drag on her own cigarette. "But what if something else was 
going on?" 

"Are you saying nicotine really isn't addictive?" 

"Of course I'm not," laughed Beverly. "Don't be silly. Just look at the two 
of you. Nicotine is incredibly addictive." 

Louise and Portia both looked self-consciously at the cigarettes in their 

"But suppose those executives weren't actually lying? Suppose they really 
had managed to convince themselves that nicotine wasn't addictive, despite 
the overwhelming evidence that was right in front of them?" 

"People will avoid seeing the facts they don't like," said Louise, 

"...No matter how obvious those facts are," Beverly finished. 

Portia was clearly turning this over in her own mind. "So you're trying to 
prove how addictive smoking can be? By getting people hooked before they 
realise it?" 

"Not quite," Beverly said. "The fact is, the modern tobacco industry is 
terrified. They are facing a tidal wave of government legislation. Every 
year there are new laws brought in to make their business more difficult. 
They aren't allowed to advertise their products. They have to put health 
warnings on the packaging. Next they have to add horrific photographs to 
the warnings. Then people aren't allowed to smoke indoors. Now, in some 
countries, cigarette companies can't even use their own brand logos 
anymore. Tobacco companies are convinced that they are being driven out of 
business. They believe that there will come a time when they have no 
customers left." 

"But nicotine is addictive," Louise said, puffing on her own cigarette by 
way of demonstration. "It doesn't matter how many laws are put in place." 

"True," said Beverly, grinning. "But if the tobacco executives have really 
convinced themselves that it isn't addictive, they are blinding themselves 
to the chief selling-power of their own product." She picked up the pack on 
the table and studied it, thoughtfully. 

"They are desperate to find new ways of marketing their products. And they 
will pay a lot of money to anyone who can come to them with fresh ideas." 

"You're a lobbyist for the tobacco industry," said Louise, slowly. 

Beverly shrugged. "That's a little cold. I prefer to think that I have 
convinced the tobacco industry that I have skills to offer. Skills which 
they believe they need." She grinned at them. "I can be very persuasive 
when I want to be. And they pay me very well for my services. In return, I 
am able to carry on my own work." 

"Your own work?" 

"Look at yourself," Beverly said to Louise. "Look what you have achieved in 
the last two weeks. Do you even realise how far you have come in that 

Portia smiled slightly, and Louise looked embarrassed. 

"I'm serious," said Beverly, earnestly. "You saw beyond the surface, and 
you followed it through. No one else in the group did that." 

"Well, I did have help," Louise said. "Anthea, Anushka, and Portia of 
course..." She smiled, ruefully, and squeezed Portia's hand. "Portia has 
put up with a lot, recently, I'm afraid..." 

"And you helped the others," Beverly pointed out. "You actually told them 
what you had learned. But look where we are now. You are here talking to 
me; they are still out there, no wiser than they were two weeks ago." 

She smiled at both of them. "Think about it. Are you ever going to be able 
to look at the world in quite the same way again?" 

"Probably not," Louise laughed. "I think you have spoiled me for that." 

"That's what I am trying to achieve," Beverly said. "No one will be able to 
push you around, ever again." 

"I'm still not sure I approve of your methods," Louise said, thoughtfully. 
"Even if I accept what you are saying." She stubbed out her cigarette, and 
gestured to the overflowing ashtray. "You're playing with fire, don't you 
think?" Portia grinned. 

"I would prefer to say I'm fighting fire with fire," Beverly said. "But if 
you think my methods need moderating, I'm sure there's room for 
discussion." She looked at the two of them seriously. "I have a strong 
feeling we are going to be getting a substantial budget increase at the end 
of this week, and I need some new interns." She smiled to herself. "I've 
not been terribly thrilled with the interns I have at the moment." 

Portia looked visibly shocked. 

"You want to hire us?" 

"Why are you so surprised? Don't you think you're good enough?" She grinned 
at them suddenly. "You don't have to decide right now, of course," she 
said, magnanimously. "Take a couple of minutes to make up your mind." 

Louise and Portia exchanged stunned glances. Beverly sat back and left them 
to contemplate what she had told them. She had no doubts what their 
decision would be, but she allowed them the dignity of deciding for 

All things being equal, she was very pleased with the way things had turned 
out. The course was a success, and they would get the research grant, but 
more importantly, she was going to have a very promising new pair of 
interns to work with. 

Louise turned back to her, and Beverly smiled at them both. 


Tina came up to the AV room door and was slightly surprised to see Eve, 
standing in the corridor by herself, looking relaxed. 

"Is everything all right?" she asked Eve. "What's happening in there?" 

"Nothing to worry about," Eve said, smiling. "Beverly is.... in conference 
at the moment." 

Tina frowned. "I've just had a very strange email; I don't know quite what 
to make of it. Perhaps you know what this is about?" 

Eve looked at her expectantly. 

"It's from a Deputy Police Commissioner MacDaniels," Tina continued. "He 
says to tell Beverly that he's done as she asked. He says Jordan and Kumiko 
have been arrested." 

She looked at Eve, perplexed, and Eve suppressed a laugh. 

"I don't think that's quite what Beverly had in mind," she said to Tina. 
"But I wouldn't worry about it. I don't think their positions are going to 
be vacant for long." 

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