|“There is a march of Science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat?”|
The girl with the ponytail reappeared and held the door open for us while pointing down the corridor. As we filed past she gave an encouraging grin that for some reason only increased my anxiety. By now even Graham had gone quiet. “This is creeping me out!” I heard Mazher mutter behind me. Doctor Barzani strode ahead of us, those long, long legs swishing in the fine hosiery and ridiculously I wanted to drop behind her to see if she wore the kind with the seams up the backs. We entered a room that had obviously once been a gymnasium even to the extent of the thick green and orange rubber floor mats, the wooden climbing frames bolted to the walls and the long low forms arrayed beneath them upon which the class would have sat. For some reason the phrase from innumerable news broadcasts flashed through my mind – ‘The executions took place in a converted gymnasium’. I bet they did, I thought, wishing by now I’d never gotten into this business.
At least the misery of uncertainty was about to disappear; for there ahead of us waited six sets of what I could only describe as ‘apparatus’. Each consisted of a pneumatic black shape that resembled a collapsible car seat and – incongruously enough – a virtual reality helmet of the sort favoured by hardcore gamers dangled from it by coiled tubes. Twin sets of parallel loops protruded from the seat at positions equivalent to the limb joints on the human body. The floor and its collection of mats was a network of crazily inscribed wires, Ethernet cables and extension boards. Doctor Barzani stopped and held out her arms to check our progress. “Right, ladies and gentlemen,” she spoke reassuringly. “Well need you to take up position over the equipment so you’re kneeling on the seat with your palms on the floor. Don’t worry, it’s semi-automatic so you will be guided into position.” She then walked briskly over to a raised area like a platform at the bottom end of the gymnasium and I craned my neck to follow her.
There stood another workstation upon which was a desktop computer connected to a portable television set; the type used by industry with the innards gaping and uncased as the domestic set would be. I also noticed an oscilloscope among the equipment maintaining its steady display of a single brief signal across the green screen. Even more ominously, someone had parked a trolley next to the workstation and its sole cargo consisted of a single black and grey cube. Thick plastic pipes snaked from brass terminals on the top of the cube across the rubberised floor to all six sets of apparatus.
I stopped and stood for a moment trying to make sense of it all before Doctor Barzani’s voice floated into my consciousness above the sound of her fingernails clacking on the computer’s keyboard. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you would take your places please?” The oscilloscope waveform continued its steady sinister beat.
By now my mounting sense of anxiety clouded my judgement; I should have turned and fled immediately but glancing nervously at my fellow test subjects and seeing them shuffle toward the chairs I involuntarily followed suit. Gingerly I approached the nearest set of equipment and gripping the back of the seat, lowered myself onto it, my knees sinking into the black Naugahyde. God it felt creepy – cold and clammy. Thee ponytailed girl had drifted over to stand behind me and I was conscious that in this position my rear end was sticking right up in the air. “Oh, you’re wearing jeans … ” she said before her voice trailed off.
Damn! I thought, remembering that I hadn’t read the joining instructions properly. I now remembered they said ‘wear leggings or yoga pants – no thick material.’
“Doctor?” The girls called out and then I heard the click and squeak of those high-heeled shoes and caught the scent of Chanel Number Five. I twisted round to see the doctor in her white coat leaning down over me. “I’m terribly sorry but your jeans are going to have to come off,” she said, her face set in a serious expression. “We need to get efficient conductivity you see.”
“Okay.” Blushing furiously I unbuckled my belt and in this most embarrassing of positions snaked the jeans down around my hips while she leaned forward to retrieve a bundle of wires that terminated in Velcro pads from the floor nearby. To my astonishment I then felt Doctor Barzani’s fingers actually touching my backside through the tight briefs whilst she attached the wires to my posterior. She then circled round to where my head lolled down as I rested my weight on my palms, the seat sinking queasily and knelt in front of me. In such close proximity were we that I had to drag my eyes away as the hem of her lab coat and minidress slid above her knees, exposing a shapely section of charcoal-meshed thigh as she attached more of the pads to my chest and neck. The sweet scent of her perfume filled my nostrils and that beautiful face swam but a few inches from mine but the smile twitching the corners of her flawless mouth had a distinctly vulpine quality to it … All too quickly she was done.
My discomfiture had not gone unnoticed amongst the other members of the group. “Hard cheese, old son!” Graham hooted. “You’ve got to do it in your pants!”
“Great budgie smugglers, mate!” the lanky blonde Aussie girl called derisively down the row to my left as she took her place. “Are they your pulling pair?”
“I’m a grower, not a shower!” I retorted. But I was pleased to say she had to expose her own ‘botty-huggers’ when Doctor Barzani turned back her denim miniskirt to attach the Velcro pads to the tautly curved seat of her pink panties.
At this juncture of course I should have been contemplating what these strange adhesive pads were for. Barely had I the time to register the Australian girl’s embarrassment (and derive some malicious pleasure from it) than Doctor Barzani walked back to my position. Just as I opened my mouth to ask the inevitable question she took the helmet and slipped it over my head. On being plunged into darkness two things happened. With a hiss of compressed air a gag like a car’s airbag punched inside my mouth to cut off any cries and squeals. Having something like that so suddenly inflate in my mouth felt invasive and I experienced a brief moment of panic in that I might choke – ‘the gagging reflex’ as it is (ironically) called. Simultaneously – and certainly quicker than I could react – the wrist and ankle cuffs, which had snaked about my joints, snapped into life, automatically adjusting for a perfect fit.
The machine cinched me tight and drew me down upon it, into something that must have resembled the missionary position so that my buttocks and haunches were positioned up on a higher angle than my head. I could only imagine the others in the same predicament, kneeling forward, trussed thus, displaying our rumps clad in tracksuit bottoms, the fashion of tight black leggings or briefs in the case of the Australian girl and I – ready for whatever came next.
Eerily a computerised voice spoke from a speaker from within the helmet. I immediately recognised it as a synthesis of Doctor Barzani’s except it sounded even huskier. “You are being restrained for your own safety and well-being,” the voice intoned seductively. “Continue to breathe normally: your vital signs are being monitored.” My mind swirled in confusion I could sympathise with a luckless animal caught in a snare. What the hell were these weirdoes going to do to us —?
— Then the voice began to speak again.