Editor's Note






Archived Issues

Roy Gray is a writer and scientist who lives in Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Trick and Treat

by Roy Gray

     The colours of the ghosts flickered and throbbed in sequence with the disco lighting as they danced to the music's banshee wail. Reflections, twinkling off glassware and bar fittings, sparkled through intervening ghosts making it easy to see the lack of live dancers among the images filling the dancefloor. At first Rick thought the club was full but close up the illusion faltered. Mike's rapid return from the bar was another giveaway.
     "That's yours, Stood'nt, a pint of shandy," he shouted over the din.
     "Right, thanks." Rick took the glass, careful to avoid disturbing the five lagers on the tray. "You needn't 've got a pint. A glass would have done." His mild grumble found a rare moment of relative quiet.
     "Get it down, you lad. It'll do you good." Griff slapped his back, catching him in mid-swallow.
     Jeff and Kevin laughed. "Stood'nt, get drunk and throw up, fine. Throw up and get drunk? It's not natural!" But Jeff helped by holding the glass, his voice just audible over the beat.
     Rick wiped himself. 'Student' would be OK, somehow 'Stood'nt' seemed much more mocking. Their heavy emphasis on the first syllable and the cod Scottish accent made it so annoying. Retrieving his glass, he returned to watching for glimpses of thigh, cleavage and exotic underwear amid the illusory dancers.
     Steve nudged him. "Look at that lot," he pointed to a group of youths at the bar, "they may be well oiled but they must have sussed out the graphics. Watch that big one in red."
     "Sorry?" Rick cupped his left ear at Steve.
     Steve merely pointed again at the youths.
     Rick saw a tall lad wearing an FM 'T' shirt which looked red when the lights flared to white. The words emblazoned on the front, 'Healthy', 'Wealthy &' and 'Worthless' were all visible when the lights were white, or yellow, and sometimes in the glow from nearby ghosts. Otherwise they flashed into individual readability according to the illumination. The youth, who had moved gracefully onto the dance floor, was now taking great care to adjust his position.
     Moments later a shapely feminine ghost backed into him and stopped to wriggle her hips at her phantom partner. Worthless had chosen his spot well and timed his movements perfectly. Rick heard hoots of drunken laughter from the bar at his precise pelvic thrusts and lascivious fondling while the ghost shimmied and bobbed with the beat. Finishing his mime with a feigned orgasm he closed his eyes and staggered back, eyes raised, lips pursed and fists clenched in fake ecstasy, as the dance separated them. Then he spoiled the performance by stepping through several ghosts.
     Another youth, with a ribbon in his hair, tried a similar trick, mincing into position with much exaggerated pouting and primping at his audience who whistled and cheered his mockery. His attempted docking with his insubstantial male target was completely mistimed and greeted by derisory jeers. Rick watched him wander towards the projectors and reach up trying to obscure them with his hands. He turned back to Steve, "The one with the ribbon doesn't have a clue, does he?"
     "Sorry?" Steve shouted back, cupping his ear, "What's he doing? I couldn't hear."
     "I said he hasn't got a clue because he's trying to make parts of the ghosts disappear by putting his hands in the way."
     Steve looked puzzled. "You mean the lasers will damage his eyes, do you?"
     "No." Rick wondered if it was worth trying to talk over the din. The shouting already promised to leave him with a raw throat. "You can't interrupt a part of the beam and expect to blank out a particular spot in the image."
     "Why's that?"
     Rick sighed to himself. "The graphics is a hologram. The information that generates it is spread over the whole wavefront. That means...." Suddenly he realised Steve was smiling at the others and they were all smiling back.
     "Bastards!" he mouthed silently in mock viciousness. Their smiles turned to laughter.
     "Sorry," said Steve, still grinning, "But I couldn't resist that one. Don't take it to heart, you'll get used to us before you go back."
     Rick raised his glass and drank to avoid replying immediately. The three months 'work experience' before he returned to university couldn't pass quickly enough. Someone tapped his arm.
     "Come on. We'll find a quiet corner before the place fills up." Kevin said.
     Carrying their drinks they threaded their way between the tables in the darkness beyond the dance floor. Kevin dragged a chair from a nearby table.
     "Hey Kev, fetch another table up while you're at it. There'll be no room for all the drinks." Griff called.
     "He means there'll be no room for the empties." Kevin sighed, turning back.
     "Forget it Kev, they're all fixed down." Jeff demonstrated, pushing in vain at the table.
     The laughter was partly drowned by the music and partly by the scraping and banging as chairs were shuffled around. "It's not much quieter here." Kevin ignored the merriment.
     "It's a classy joint really." Rick answered.
     "Yeah, very now state."
     "There's nothing like this in Durham, man."
     "Well you're deep in the Prosperity Belt here." Kevin laughed cynically.
     Griff banged his empty glass on the table and stood up. "Refill time. Same again then? Five pints and a shandy for Stood'nt?" He looked at Rick expectantly.
     Rick studied his half full glass. "I've got plenty left, thanks. Leave me out this round."
     "Oh no. Can't 'ave that can we lads? I'll get you a half just to fill up with then." He turned towards the bright lights of the bar.
     They watched his progress from a vague shape in the gloom to a silhouette looming against the hurricane of light that was the dance floor and then the technicolour mosaic of his back as he ploughed through the images, inexorable as a tank in a riot.
     "That's what you might call the direct route, isn't it?" Steve broke into their short silence.
     "Yeah. Go to the bar, go directly to the bar, do not pass out, do not collect any empties on the way." Kevin picked up the empty glasses and transferred them to a nearby table. "Might as well have some space."
     "Forget it Kev." Mike said, "There's a taker here. You'll spoil Griff's fun."
     "No sign yet, maybe they've forgotten it. Trade's still slow. They'll remember when they run out of glasses, won't they?" Steve said, struggling to remove his jacket while seated.
     "Talking of robots, I saw the dolls round the back of the bar when I was gettin' the drinks. They'll be out soon." Mike reached across and pulled at the jacket.
     "Thanks." Steve twisted round to hang it over the back of the chair. "Perhaps we can introduce Stood'nt to the dolls." He smirked. "That's if they get past that mob at the bar."
     The others laughed, apart from Rick. "No thanks!" he blurted, "I'm not that desperate." He glanced at his companions worried that their evening's entertainment was planned at his expense. The light was too poor for him to make out their expressions without staring. For a moment his gaze was held by the gleam of the highlights reflected in Jeff's spectacles. He knew he had said the wrong thing and wondered if anyone had noticed.
     "Ah, come on, Stood'nt. " Steve's laugh was breathy and forced, rather like a cartoon character's. "'Fun without Fear' and all that. Remember?"
     Everyone laughed at this reference to the Cybasecs ad campaign.
     "What's so funny?" Griff returned burdened with drinks.
     "Oh we were just reminding Stood'nt that he can't catch nothing nasty off a doll." Jeff unloaded the tray as he spoke.
     "He's missin' a bit of the old home cooking and he just told us he's desperate. We said we'd to introduce him to a doll." Mike leered with a suggestive jerk of his fist.
     Damn, Rick thought. They wouldn't let him forget that little slip.
     "Male or fem? Or should I say thing?" Griff stopped to resume drinking.
     "Definitely a femdoll." Steve answered Griff's rhetorical question. "He can hardly keep his eyes off Sylvia when he comes in our lab, can he?"
     "Is that so?" Griff looked at Rick. "This could be your lucky night ... you can try an Electrik Su. She's magnetically attractive." He grinned at his joke.
     Rick smiled, hoping to deflect their mood. "Funny," he glanced down, "I don't seem to have a strong north seeking pole at the moment." Weak but quick, he thought.
     Kevin chuckled and Griff smiled. The gloom and noise made it difficult for Rick to gauge the others' reactions.
     "Hey! What do you call a bloke who gets his leg over with a doll and doesn't pay?" Mike asked.
     Kevin looked up. "Dunno ... a teste pilot?"
     "Nah!" Griff missed the pun. "How about a eunuch, or, even better, a new eunuch?"
     "Try again."
     "A hacker, or even a hackist?" Rick called.
     Mike laughed, "That's better than the original, which was ... Da Da! Heart attack victim."
     "Excuse me, was that supposed to amuse us?" Griff curled his lip looking at Mike. "Stood'nt definitely improved that. Mind you with my credcard he should have no worries on that score," he sniggered, "should he?"
     Rick wondered how to respond. Maybe it was a mistake to have accepted their invitation to a night out. 'A drink with the lads' had seemed politic, but even here their jokes and tricks were mainly at his expense, just as they were at the lab. He was determined not to get drunk.
     "Hey Griff! Taker 's coming."
     A small wheeled robot was inspecting the tables for empties. Rick watched it clear the only occupied table nearby. It scuttled around carefully sighting glasses through the gaps between the drinkers. Then, with unerring accuracy, its single arm reached out and collected each empty glass. Finally it vacuumed the ash tray. His companions were equally entranced watching the arm repeat its sequence of unfold, grip, refold, stow with each glass. Strangely the two couples at the nearby table seemed to ignore it. Their only reaction was a barely perceptible sway away from the arm stretching between them.
     "Hey! It looks different to last time. Is it a new model?" Mike looked at Griff.
     Griff's reply was to raise his right hand and circle his nose with thumb and forefinger. He sustained the pose for five seconds before twisting back to watch the taker.
     "The sign of the encircled nose." Kevin turned to Rick. "Do they do that in Durham?"
     "Fuck knows."
     "'Course they do. Why did I ask?"
     Jeff and Steve had been talking, but not loud enough for Rick to hear over Kevin. "...definitely a Moover 127 so it is a different model. Well spotted, Bruce."
     Mike stood and bowed several times.
     A moment of relative silence enabled them to hear Jeff continue. "... and they've got a set of Moover 128s on the warehouse system. They use them for order picking, linked direct to MRP46 and ..."
     Griff interrupted. "Excuse me." Feigning a massively injured tone he pushed his chair back and stood. "Excuse me," he repeated loudly, then continued in a bitter voice, "have we been here an hour? Have we had two pints here? Have we had four pints in The Kings Arms before that -- Stood'nt excepted of course." Fiercely he turned to Jeff. "So why the fuck are we talking about work?"
     Jeff's response was simple. "It's right behind you. You'll miss it if you're not careful."
     Griff subsided and looked round as he sat. The taker had speedily rounded up the glasses on the next table and was now rolling their way. Rick poured his new drink into the old pint glass to leave the taker something to collect, he had never seen one close up before. Most of the others did likewise but Griff's glass was half full.
     "Bit of fun here I think." Griff announced. He shuffled from side to side, trying to frustrate its attempts to scan the table, and moved a few of the empties around.
     Kevin, who had a reasonably full pint, grabbed it with his right hand and tucked it protectively against his heart. "Ah! You don't catch me that way." He turned to Rick. "You watch. There'll be beer everywhere."
     Rick shuffled his chair back slightly, just in case.
     The talking stopped as the taker worked its way round the table. It was a quiet worker, the five second interval warning tone and the dull flash of its red lights were an unobtrusive contribution to the disco background. There was a muffled chinking from its burden of empties, or was it coins? Rick noticed a Salvation Army collection can taped to one side. He struggled to find a coin in his pocket and dropped it in the slot. Then he watched the arm extend past, grasp his half full glass, move it to one side, disengage, continue its extension, pick up the empty glass and withdraw. The precision of the operation was its fascination.
     Jeff's coin rattled into the tin. "Like a Swiss watch, isn't it?."
     "Watch this, then." said Griff, savagely, as the arm reached past him. His face showed his concentration as he followed the movements and the instant the empty glass left the table he pounced. Mike jumped back in alarm, obviously worried about the fall-out, as Griff refilled the moving glass from his own drink. The taker stopped dead, the arm still half extended. Then its lights flashed to intense fog lamp red and the warning tone shot up to the hundred decibel SOS level. The combination was excruciatingly annoying, close up, and, by the way all heads turned towards them, more than just a nuisance elsewhere.
     "Shut that bloody thing off!" Griff shouted between the pulses, but Jeff had recovered quickly and was already in action.
     He was laughing as he keyed the reset, lifted the offending glass from the slack grip of the now quiescent taker and again pressed the reset, all in one smooth move. The machine came to life, withdrew its arm and scuttled round the table taking more sights and continued on oblivious.
     "Christ! You can't take him anywhere, can you?" Kevin's resigned glance up to the heavens showed he expected no response.
     "Piss off," Griff mouthed.
     "So sorry. We forgot to warn you." Jeff said, struggling not to laugh.
     "Piss off." Griff stayed in lip reader mode.
     "'Tis the truth, to be sure." Mike chimed in, not trying to stop grinning, "We would have told you if we knew what you were goin' to do. Wouldn't we?" He turned to the others for support.
     "Bastards!" again without sound.
     "Oh oh." Kevin butted into the mirth. "Gestapo's coming."
     A tall man in a dark suit was approaching. He dodged the occasional real dancer but waded straight through the graphics on his way. For a moment his dark frame, backlit by the glare from the bar and disco, cast a menacing shadow as he threaded the maze of tables. Rick's eyes readjusted to the dark and he could see that the man was smiling.
     The bouncer looked at Griff as he spoke. "I might have known. Pity I wasn't on frisk duty for you." He had a loud voice. "Hi Mike, Jeff." he nodded. "What's he done this time?"
     Griff spoke out first. He managed to add an air of puzzlement to his tone. "Magnetick Dick?"
     "The Queer Robot." Jeff and Mike shouted in unison. Everyone laughed at this reference to Sir Jasper Carrot's famed sketch.
     "I'm sure we ordered Electrik Su," Griff continued before anyone could start the first line.
     The others smiled but Jeff turned to Rick and Kevin. "Pete's from Warehouse Four but he moonlights as security here. He was at school with Griff."
     Pete was also speaking "... and if you must fiddle with something, self abuse is your best ...." He put his hand to his ear, and stopped talking, his attention distracted for an instant. Then he turned his lapel over and spoke into a small microphone attached there. "On my way." He turned away tugging at something in his pocket."
     "Trouble." he called back to them. "See you around."
     "Getting the filters out early tonight." said Griff. "Must be that lot we saw by the bar. They were well tanked when I got the last round in."
     Pete moved back to the bright lights as Griff spoke. Rick noticed he was pulling something over his head on his way, presumably a pair of goggles. Definitely sodium filters. Confirmation was the sudden sallow illumination from an intense graphics fog, late sunlight on a crusted windscreen, cast over the bar and disco. The shocking silence as the music stopped and white safety lights killed the gloom made the wan light almost welcome.
     Shouts, laughter and the buzz of conversation came from around the room but other less welcome sounds emanated from the haze: angry shouting, the clatter of bouncing glasses, rushing feet and feminine squeals. Everyone was looking towards the action but the fog made it impossible to see the details and nothing overspilled into the normal lighting. Within seconds silence returned. Then the graphics switched back and the lighting returned to normal, accompanied by cheers from the darkness and jeers from around the bar. The ghostly dancers reappeared in mid-twirl. Simultaneously an insistent beat signalled the all clear.
     The only sign of the action was the taker vacuuming the floor by the bar and, just visible by the exit, two of the security men tidying themselves and removing their goggles. "It's too efficient, that graphics fog. Makes it far too easy for the ones who can see." Kevin said, disappointed.
     "He's not happy unless he sees the blood, is he?" Steve joked. "You're still pining for your days as a lager lout aren't you?"
     Kevin grinned back. "Yeah. Those were the days.."
     Jeff interrupted. "Yes. Those were the days when men were boys, glasses were really glass and bottles shattered into nasty jagged fragments when you smashed them in someone's face. Is that right, Kev?"
     "Ah shut up. If there's a bit of excitement I just want to see it. The place is pretty dead otherwise." Kevin scanned the entire room as if to confirm his last statement.
     "Oh stop whingeing. It'll get crowded soon enough. We're a bit early, that's all. We don't want Stood'nt here to miss the excitement do we?" Griff nodded at Rick then turned back and continued speaking. "Besides which we got a good spot away from the racket and well placed for talent spotting."
     "What talent? Show me." Jeff demanded, drumming his fingers on the table in time to the beat.
     "Someone get another bloody round in." Griff banged an empty glass down close enough to Jeff's fingers to make him flinch.
     "OK. I can take a hint. Same again everyone?"
     Rick nodded assent still uneasy. What 'excitements' had Griff in store for him? At least the place is filling up he thought watching a crowd come in and beat Jeff to the bar. Perhaps he could get away from whatever they had planned by joining in the dancing. Well ... once there was some real dancing to join in. Ghosts still seemed to outnumber people twenty to one. He watched the new arrivals absently as Griff and Steve lamented Jeff's slow progress at the bar.
     Bare arms were the fashion at the moment, making it difficult for women to wear concealed scrammers. Rick was mildly amused by the fact that so many had decorative versions dangling from their wrists. He turned to Kevin, "Costume jewelry scrammers. Whatever next?" he laughed.
     Mike obviously overheard, despite the music. "As long as they work, who cares? I got one for my daughter. It was the only way to get her to carry one." He paused and for a moment the tip of his cigarette flared bright red in the shadows. "Mind you," he exhaled, the smoke a pale blur around his head, "I doubt you'd hear one from over there."
     "We'd smell the thing but you've no chance." Griff broke in. "Put that bugger out. You'll poison us all."
     Steve and Kevin coughed ostentatiously.
     "Oh. Stop moanin'. It's the first I've had here. You should be grateful. Normally I'd have had three or four by now." Mike waved the offending cigarette and tapped the accumulated ash onto the floor. Then he continued to puff away happily, tapping his feet in time to the beat.
     "Look at that poser over there." Kevin tapped Rick's arm and pointed to a man going past with a tray of drinks.
     Tall, perhaps in his early thirties, with an FM 'T' shirt. In the flickering dim light Rick could just make out the words 'Ancient, Mortgaged & Married.' It seemed a witty riposte to the many variants on 'Young, Free & Single' which were a fashion of the moment.
     "No wait 'til he turns round." Kevin saw his puzzlement. "Read the back as well."
     Rick read 'Still Hopeful' as he passed.
     "I see what you mean." Rick grinned, "but maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt."
     "Not with him, you can't." Kevin responded.
     "Why? Do you know him?"
     "Yeah. He used to work at our place. He was one of the frilly cuffed brigade. You know? One of the marketing guys." Kevin explained. "We always call them 'the frilly cuffs' just like we call all students 'Stood'nt'.
     "Don't tell me -- you had an old Scottish supervisor who started it." Rick was resigned to hearing another interminable tale about the mythical Bob MacSomething who was a constant source of mirth for his companions.
     "Something like that." said Kevin. "Frilly there's wife found he was having a bit on the side so she got back at him through his portable. She virussed it; altered data, mucked up files and even ruined his backups." He paused to sip at his drink. "He was lost, couldn't do anything useful for weeks. Wrecked his career. He's in training section now."
     Rick spoke without thinking. "How do frilly cuffs come into it?"
     "Oh. We had this old Scottish supervisor called Bob McNeill and ..."
     Rick groaned inwardly. Why had he asked? How could he change the subject?
     "... and this bod from marketing came to ..."
     "Look at that!" Rick nudged Kevin and nodded at a shapely young Black woman with her back towards them. She was bending slightly to deposit a tray of drinks on a nearby table. "Must be laced from the inside to cling like that." He joked referring to the tension in her white slacks.
     "Yeah." Kevin inhaled and squinted his eyes in the gloom as he peered round at her. "Ooh you can almost see the impression of each pubic hair, can't you." He stared while groping for his glass. "I don't think my imagination can cope."
     Griff broke in, aware of their interest even though he could not hear their murmurings. "She certainly isn't wearing a spaceman's plug." he boomed, loud enough for the girl to hear over the music.
     Rick cringed mentally and thought, briefly, about turning away as he watched the girl turn towards them. The others were laughing and smiling. He read 'Young, Gifted & Trapped' on her dark FM 'T' shirt. The shirt was as well filled as the jeans he thought. Obviously she was not sure who had made the comment but it did not take her long to decide.
     She stalked over, carrying the empty tray in one hand, and spoke to Griff. Her teeth gleamed in the darkness but her smile was not over friendly. "No I'm not, but you should have one at both ends. You need it most at the top, just swap it round if you've only got one." She waved at her companions, still seated at the other table, as she turned away, to return the tray to the bar.
     They watched her go, the white slacks a beacon drawing their gaze into the darkness. "Now that's what I call a high fractality index." Kevin commented.
     "Is that what you'd call a complex bifurcation Stoodn't?" Griff leered.
     "To be sure there's a strange attractor somewhere under there." Mike saved Rick from answering.
     "Nah ... just a fuzzy torus." said Steve, to crude laughter.
     They all saw Jeff's double take as his path crossed the girl's on his return.
     Steve spoke as Jeff arrived. "You seem very interested in Flash Messages all of a sudden."
     "Bugger the message. Did you see the medium?" Jeff answered, smiling, as he placed the loaded tray on the table.
     "I think bugger the medium was more on Kev's mind, don't you Stood'nt?" Griff cut in as he took his drink.
     "I think he's dead keen to give the medium a massage." Rick took his own drink. "Thanks Jeff."
     "I'll take the tray back." Griff stood. "I need a leak."
     "Good idea. I could do with making room for more as well." Steve followed Griff towards the bar.
     Rick watched them for a moment. They met the Black girl as she returned. Griff must have made some comment to her because she laughed as they passed.
     "Trapped is a real peach and just your age, I should think. You could be well away there." Kevin commented.
     "Huh?" Rick looked blank.
     "The dark girl." Kevin nodded towards the nearby group of young women. "Young, gifted, etcetera. What a' you waiting for?
     "Oh. Yeah she's nice, but it's a bit early yet. Anyway what's she waiting for?" Rick countered grinning. "All she needs do is ask. She could be well away here then."
     "And here." Kevin laughed. "I think we'll be waiting a long time."
     They both picked up their drinks and turned to towards the dancefloor. Real dancers were taking over now and the ghosts were fading away. Most of the crowd ignored the few remaining ghosts and danced straight through them. They would soon be switched off.
     A fair proportion of the light had emanated from the ghosts. Rick wondered if the system would compensate, as it had for the sound - which was just as loud as ever despite the extra bodies, or gradually let the place get darker. Griff and Steve were returning, guiding a strikingly attractive dark haired woman with a long sweeping skirt towards the table.
     She was wearing a very low cut white top which seemed to cling only in places where it would have maximum effect, and there was plenty to cling to. It was loose only in those places where it could reveal a lot and there was a lot to reveal. That skirt must be slit, Rick thought noticing it flow and skirl around her legs as they approached. When they left the direct light it became more difficult to see the details of her face, though he had the impression of crimson lips and long dark eyelashes. There was something familiar about her but he could not pin it down.
     Griff brought her to the table. From this angle Rick could see the skirt was slit to the waist. Every movement exposed a wealth of thigh. It was almost hypnotic, a struggle to look away. The others were all leering, laughing and shaking their clenched fists with mock lust. He panicked, trying to jump up, as recognition dawned and he realised his predicament.
     Griff spoke at the exact same moment. "Stood'nt, this is Electrik Su." He was smirking and nodded approval at Kevin who had restrained Rick's sudden reaction and pulled him back down before he had any chance to escape.
     Rick knew he was not dreaming, but it was like a nightmare and a wet dream rolled into one. Everything was happening at once, he was blushing, though who would notice in this light, as he struggled to avoid Su's embrace, Kevin was shouting something in his ear about calming down or it would be Magnetick Dick, the Q. R., not Electrik Su, Su had managed to straddle him so that she was sitting facing directly towards him on his lap, she, no it, was so light, in that position her, no! no! think it, think robot, thighs were either side of his, slit skirts could be very functional, her breasts seemed almost level with his face, he could feel her warm, moist breath in his eyes, and the perfume she was even wearing perfume, he could see and hear the others, raucous laughter, shouts and cheers surrounded him, cheers? Oh God, Griff was putting a credit card in Su's back, that's right dolls had a slot and a keypad just behind the shoulder, he couldn't reach round to interfere because of Su's embrace, try to calm down boy, think, think, he looked up at Su's face, not Su think Robot, keep calm, she looked so real, so attractive, she blinked and leaned in, all rosy soft kisses, like a butterfly flitting over his face and neck, fluttering eyelashes brushing his cheeks, think of robots, think metal, how could she look so demure? little white teeth gently nibbled his ear lobes, hot breath inflaming his thoughts, think electrical, think stepper motors, a warm tongue wetly tickling into his inner ear, moist breathy whispers only he could hear ....
     "Is that good ... Big boy?"
     Think armatures, think carbon brushes, she leaned back again but pulled him into a closer embrace having just given him time to see how the loose top was gaping open now, the dim surroundings didn't matter, it was lit up from the inside, no need for imagination, think wear, think lubrication, no don't think about lubrication, he felt himself responding despite all the noise, shouting and giggles, giggles? oh no! all around him, despite all his mental gymnastics she/it was getting at him, all her squirming on his lap had allowed her, no it, to settle and sink between his thighs so his legs were forced apart, or had someone helped by rocking his chair, he was so confused, his chin had been sunk in her cleavage at one time but now their faces were level.
     "Use me." she said and leaned forward insinuating her tongue between his lips, unthinkingly he responded, a thump on the back, a voice, was it Kev?
     "That's it Stood'nt have fun and make Griff pay. You can't go wrong." Oh Christ, think, down boy down, think ... its a femdoll, a robot, a slot machine, why had he responded like that? A reflex? Think machine, think plastics, it was so feminine, so realistic, her taste ... think electronics, think mechanics, think hydraulics no no don't think about hydraulics, her hand was on his crotch, he tried to pull her arm away but his companions kept releasing his grip, he couldn't reach to stop her, why didn't I wear 'Y Fronts'? She was undoing the zip, two ones are two, two twos are four, two fours are eight, two eights sixteen, her hand was inside, keep it small, two sixteens thirtytwo, faster get the number bigger, sixtyfour, onetwoeight, he could feel a cold draft as she exposed him, how safe are these things? Can she do any damage? Keep on that thought, is it shrinking? The touch was soft and sure, OK, OK, twofivesix, fivetwelve, tentwentyfour, she was speaking, he felt a delightful and pointed little tug.
     "Do you come here often?"
     A flash of inspiration. "Only when I'm kneaded."
     Someone slapped him on the back again. "Only when 'e's kneaded!" it had to be Griff, "Good one lad."
     What's so funny?
     "Keep it up lad."
     "Ah ha keep it up, 'e 'asn't got it up yet."
     "Oh a real shaft of wit. Hey! 'shaft of wit' Not bad?"
     "Yes Mr. Spooner."
     "An oscarism, we are quick today. What's he doing now?" Twentyfourtyeight, fourtyninetysix, he could feel sweat trickling down his back and running down his face, Su had squirmed into intimate contact, he could feel her heat radiating straight into his crotch, eightyoneninetytwo, stray thought: has it got IR heaters built in down there? I'm losing control, must concentrate on the numbers again, eightyoneninetytwo, sixteenthreeeightfour, thirtyt ....
     Crimson lips butterflying around his face, breasts squashed into his chest, a hand guiding him into a caldera of pleasure, it would be so easy to give in, get it over quickly, no not with a slot machine for God's sake, not with an audience, where was I? Thirtytwosevensixeight, sixtyf....
     The squirming and shuffling melded into an exquisite rocking motion, try to keep still, don't respond, the extraneous voices impinged on his concentration.

     "I think he's found his strong north seeking pole," Griff said.
     "Yes he must be in full point and probe mode by now," said Jeff, "move his drink as well Kev."
     "Good point Steve. Ah ha! Yes definitely a good point Rick."
     They were sniggering at some joke, sixtyfour, sixtyfive, sixtyfivefivethreesix, she was all over him like an itchy shirt, scratch one spot and the fire burned fiercer elsewhere, right hand can't reach under her arm, he tried forcing his right arm between them going over rather than under Su's arm, somehow his hand ended up inside her top stuck between his chest and her breasts, immediately she began to writhe and pant as though she was taking short sharp breaths, a hot butterfly alighted on his ear again, "Squeeze me, Squeeze me," a warm voice murmured, he extricated his hand but the angle was awkward now and as it passed her breast, he was distinctly aware of a raised nipple, onethreeoneohseventwo, easier here, twosixtwoonefourfour --
     "I bet he feels a right tit."
     No mus'n't linger, fivetwofourtwoeighteight, she was nuzzling the nape of his neck, lips tracking almost to his shoulder, at least the rocking had stopped, now she was writhing her hips, it was almost unbearable, the possibilities for synthetic musculature down there don't bear thinking about, it seemed endless, a torrid earthquake of delight, he was well into the subduction zone now and knew she was unstoppable, as implacable as plate tectonics, he sensed the long, slow, sensuous grinding like continental plates raising a mountain, they were pressed so close together, the slight perfume from her hair flowing across his face, sharp little teeth caressing his neck, hot breath under his collar, aching pressure building up, where was I, yes, oneohfoureightfivesevensix, twoohninesevenseven, she straightened up and pulled his head down into her bosom before he could react, twoohnineseven, he was looking down the illuminated valley, little pinpricks of light glowing in the white top, onefivetwo, fouroneninefour, one side of his face was cushioned in the soft down of her skin, momentarily he marvelled at the detail resolved by his free eye, the dark traces, simulating veins, visible under the skin branching away from the delicate almond stipple that moated her nipples, threeohfour, so real, fouroneninefourthreeohfour, so close, eightthreeeighteightsixoheight, so hot, so ....
     "He's lasting well considering he should have been a bit rusty." "Rusty, ha ha. He might catch a nasty dose of rust on 'is can opener if he doesn't hurry up."
     The coarse laughter and crude commentary of his companions were almost a welcome diversion.
     "I wonder if dolls ever get metal fatigue?"
     "No sign of 'im suffering from brittle fracture yet."
     The numbers, don't lose track, eight ... three ... eight ... eight ... six ... oh ... eight, how to hold on, don't lose control, try to keep a straight face, sixteen.., the peristaltic twitching continued, no, no,
sixteen ... seven

      ... seven ...
          ... seven ...
            ... huh ... seven?
              .... seven?


     Her hand and mouth were fluttering around his face again but all her movements were slowing and the excitement was subsiding. It stopped and whispered into his ear. "That will be one hundred and seventeen Euro 55; including forty seven Euro 2 value added tax."
     Don't slump forward, sit up straight, what's she doing now? She was sitting back but her hand was at him again, he looked down fearful she was starting again but the slit skirt was an effective cover, that was a relief at least. Her grasp was quite definite, was that warm water he could feel? It was like waking from a dream. The kind where you dream that you are urinating and wake up to find you really are wetting yourself. Oh no I can't be, his panic subsided as the warm wet streams turned to jets of warm air, it's got a washing and drying system fitted in its hands, the water must be drawn off by tubes in the wrists and arms.
     He sat still for a moment his composure steadily returning. The doll's hand was still under cover busy restoring him to normality. He noticed that the lights in its clothes were out. Everyone seemed to be talking to him at once but he was concentrating on the doll's activities. He breathed a sigh of relief as it zipped him up.
     As it stood his spirits sank as though the load off his lap weighed double on his mind. He just wanted to leave, he couldn't bear to look anyone in the eye. He felt for his drink, any excuse to delay interfacing with the world around him. His hand tracked gingerly across the table behind the rising doll. Someone pushed a glass into his hand. He clutched it gratefully and began to drink only to stop, choking and spluttering, as he realised it was a large whisky rather than his shandy.
     "Do you always throw up when you have a drink?" a voice penetrated Rick's gloom.
     "Leave 'im be Mike. E's doing alright. Get it down, it'll do you good." Griff's voice was rueful as he retrieved his card from the doll's back. "Bloody 'ell! A hundred plus Earoes. You made a dent in that, didn't you? Even allowing for inflation! Ha ha! Dent, inflation get it?" Nobody responded. "Anyway drink that it'll do you good."
     Rick managed to control his throat and continued sipping. He watched the svelte figure of his former partner walk back toward the bar. Hair swinging, hips swaying, so feminine, it was still difficult to accept it as a machine.
     "Cheer up, Rick." Steve walked round and slapped him on the back. "You did well there. Lasted longer than your predecessors. Mind you they looked as though they enjoyed the experience. They did, didn't they?" he turned to the others for support.
     "Rick looked really embarrassed, didn't he?" Mike laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone as embarrassed as that.".
     "Yes. But did you see the expression on his face when Griff shoved his card in the slot. You couldn't believe it, could you?" Jeff turned towards Rick.
     Kevin spoke before Rick could reply. "Well ... After the first surprise he looked pretty impassive to me. He only lost control the once, that I saw. Mind you he never looked like he was enjoying himself, did he?"
     Rick's gloom grew as the merriment and humour of his companions continued. The fact that they were using his name, at last, made no difference. They are getting worse he thought.
     "Impassive! 'E didn't look so impassive when it gave 'im the old clean-down routine." Griff grinned. "In fact 'e looked like he'd wet 'imself to me." His laugh was infectious. The others joined in, even Rick managed to smile. The joke was uncomfortably near the truth. He could imagine his own expression at the time.
     Rick finished his whisky as the mirth continued. Then he gulped down the remains of his shandy. Going for a round of drinks would get him away for a few minutes he decided. Perhaps they would calm down in the meantime. He stood up. "Same again everyone?" He raised his voice to ensure they heard.
     "Thought you'ld never ask." Kevin said. "Get Griff a whisky. I think he'll need a stiff one after what you've done to his credit card." He grinned at Rick. "You've had a stiff one. Don't expect another."
     "OK then four pints of lager, a whisky for Griff and mine?" Everyone nodded.
     Turning towards the bar he realised the graphics had changed. The lighting had a greenish cast now because the dance floor had been transformed into a lush rainforest. All the bar and disco lighting had switched to sunlight yellows and greens to harmonize. He could see parrots and flying squirrels apparently just below the treetop canopy. The illusion made it seem that there was no ceiling and the low lighting was a result of the dense forest. It would have been quite pleasant but for the crowd of dancers, the drinkers and, as he got closer, the piercing throb of the music.
     He joined the throng at the bar, happy to be out of the limelight. The music seemed less painful here, curious, he looked around to see how the sound system was designed. He immediately recognised a girl behind him, it was 'Trapped' from the next table. He turned back quickly hoping she had not noticed. He was sure he had heard her, or one of her friends, giggling during his ordeal. He didn't want any eye contact.
     There was a tap on his shoulder and he heard a musical feminine voice at his side. "I thought they were really rotten to you."
     "Pardon." he said twisting back, unsure how to respond.
     'Trapped' had jostled her way to his side. She was almost his own height and very attractive with dark curly swept up hair and long eyelashes. They made him wince mentally as he recalled recent events. His glance took in her reddened lips, dark flashing eyes, white teeth and genuine sympathetic expression, as she spoke again.
     "I thought your friends were really rotten to set you up like that." she repeated. "I don't know how you can speak to them now." She kept up with him as he squeezed nearer to the bar.
     A surge, as someone left with a tray of drinks, pushed them together for a moment. "Sorry," he said, as his elbow pressed into her arm. He was still confused and at a loss for words.
     She gazed at him, "Are you alright?" Her voice was warm with concern. "I would be absolutely seething after something like that."
     "It's different for men, they didn't mean any harm. To them it was just a joke." He attempted a smile without a great deal of success. "They seem to have done it before and I guess most of their victims enjoy the experience." He shrugged his shoulders. It was about the only gesture he could make in the general press. "I've survived, I'll be alright thanks." He slipped into the space, as another drink laden tray was carried from the bar, and made room as she squeezed in next to him.
     The barmen looked very busy. "I think we've a bit of a wait yet." he said looking at her again. She had beautiful eyes. "Can I get you a drink as well?".
     "Oh no. Thanks. I 'm fetching drinks for my friends. I wouldn't let you buy all those." she smiled.
     "Oh don't worry." he replied. "Tell you what I'll introduce myself and then I'll get the drinks." he smiled back and glanced along the bar to check his chance of being served. The nearest barman was busy with a complex order for some exotic mixtures and would be a while yet. "My name's Richard Renshaw, Rick if you like, I'm working at the International Labs in Flocklea for a few weeks. Now what can I get you?"
     "Everyone calls me Per, which is short for Peerama. I'm not going to let you buy our drinks," she replied cheerfully, "but we could dance later, if you like?" She looked at him expectantly.
     "I can't argue with that." he grinned, in surprise and delight. A space opened on his left and he moved up, easing the crush. We were probably closer then than we'll ever get dancing was his rueful thought. "It's a date." Per's nudge reminded him that the barman was nearly ready.
     "Go on." she said, "you were first."
     "Four pints of lager, pint of bitter and a double Bells." he called as the barman returned a card to the woman next to Per. Ordering himself a half of shandy now might spoil his image. Why take risks when things were looking up?

     The music made it difficult to talk while they were dancing, especially with Per's frenetic style of aerobic stretching movements, distant bumps and grinds and back to back shunts, so he stopped trying. Rick enjoyed watching but his mind was still spinning. Why hadn't he recognised it? Why hadn't he realised what they were planning? Why hadn't he kept better control? It was hard to break the spiral despite the music, the movement and keeping up with Per.
     Per danced behind a tree remaining just visible through the trunk. Rick followed up straight through the image, avoiding neighbouring dancers, and pretended to trip on a phantom root to turn Per's moue of disapproval into a smile. In other circumstances it would have been an inspirational smile but his state of mind muted his response. He tried to look cheerful.
     Suddenly the lighting changed. Now they were dancing in a moonlit forest. The music changed to suit, slowing and even quietening, banishing the fierce edgy dance styles as a wind scatters the leaves.
     "Impressive effects." Rick murmured to Per as she moved in close for the slower dance. Still breathless, Per did not answer but just clung to him adapting to the slower tempo. A small bead of moisture gleamed at her temple and, an even better assurance of humanity, was that a tiny spot high on her cheekbone? It seemed entirely natural to lean forward and kiss her forehead. Never had acne been so welcome.
     "I think it's really romantic." Per said nestling in close. "Don't you?"
     They looked around. They could almost be dancing alone in bright moonlight. Phantom trees formed small glades so that by restricting their movement couples could imagine themselves surrounded by trees with music borne on a midsummer breeze.
     He could feel her sliding slowly against him as they swayed in time to the music. For a moment her movements reminded him of his trial, but the despair was gone. He smiled, tightening his embrace, amused by his own private joke.
     One two is two, two twos are four, two fours are eight ....