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My unpublished SF/Erotica Novella

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One

“Are you saying I put it about a bit?”

Steven shrugged. Caroline Bradshaw was sat inches away from him on the other side of his desk in his fashionably minimalist office a twenty minute walk and three security checkpoints away from her living quarters. Steven was still as young and as good looking as he’d been when Caroline had last seen him, plunging a syringe into her arm in a plush, private waiting room at Heathrow airport six months earlier.

“I would never be so judgemental,” he said by way of reply to her semi-joke.

“As you know, everyone within the Base is respected as an individual. Since your arrival, you have shown normal and healthy sexual appetites for a woman of your age. I state that merely as a fact. You have proven yourself willing to engage in a certain amount of sexual experimentation, and that is good. But in any case, that’s only one of three reasons why it’s you who is being asked to consider this assignment.”

 Caroline nodded. Later, she reflected later on how amazingly quickly she’d accepted the reality of what she’d been told and shown.

“OK then; you’d better tell me the other two reasons, the two that aren’t to do with me being a slag.”

  Steven smiled. Caroline had fancied him since the first time she’d seen him at the Assessment Centre in London. Probably that’s why it was him who’d been chosen to approach her with this bizarre request in the first place. She suspected that little  happen by accident at the Base.

“Well, the second reason, and I’m sorry to say this so coldly Caroline, is that there is no danger of children arising from the liaison.”

 She felt her face twitch at this. It was of course true. She’d known all of her adult life that she lacked the basic internal equipment for pregnancy and child birth, and had long been reconciled to this reality. She loved other people’s kids, but accepted that she was destined to have a life that didn’t involve motherhood. Still, to hear her predicament stated so baldly by Steven was a shock. She’d had no medical examination at the Base, unless one had taken place when she’d first arrived, when she’d still been unconscious. She’d told no one here about her permanently baby-less status. Only Trish who had accompanied her on the journey knew, Trish her best friend and very occasional lover from England. Trish would have told no one. Caroline would trust Trish with her life.

She stayed outwardly cool.

“And can I ask how you know that?”

Steven shrugged again. He seemed to do a lot of shrugging; a lot of shrugging and a lot of smiling.

“Everyone who comes to work on the Base accepts that their employers need to know a certain amount about their private lives. It’s in your contract of employment. And if we need to gather a little extra information from any particular individual, then this is allowed by your contract too.”

 Caroline had no doubt that what he was saying was true; but who reads their contract of employment? Hers had run to over thirty pages of small print. It was common knowledge though that everyone here was under near constant surveillance. That was the price you paid for the high wages and endless supply of cheap entertainment. The higher your position, the more intense the level of scrutiny you were under; that’s what everyone assumed. As a simple cleaning operative, she’d believed that what they needed to know about her would be fairly minimal, but apparently not; not now anyway.

She shook her head.

 “OK, so you know everything there is to know about me. I can live with that. Just as I can live with never having kids; not being able to get pregnant has its perks, right? But you said there was a third reason?”

  Steven leant forward dramatically, using a technique he’d probably been taught to use on one of those communication courses she’d been forced to undertake during her short-lived Business Studies degree at university.

“Yes. The third reason is simply that he chose you.”

 She was silent for a moment, holding Steven’s constant, confident blue-eyed gaze.

“He chose me?”

 Steven leant back, smiling slightly, almost as if in triumph.

“Yes, from photographs and CCTV footage of you going about your business. He chose you from the tens of thousands of women here on the Base, give or take. You should be flattered.”

“When you say he’s seen me ‘going about my business’ you don’t mean that…”

“No, don’t worry, he hasn’t seen you, err, in action, as it were.”

That at least was a relief. Some people said that everywhere on the Base was under permanent surveillance, including private living quarters; that the powers that be, whoever they were, could see anything they wanted to see, at any time they wanted to see it. Maybe they could. Nothing was certain, now. Still, she couldn’t help but find Steven’s manner reassuring; or maybe it was just his looks.

 Caroline rose from her chair and turned her back on him.

“OK,” she said, beginning to pace the immaculately clean and polished wooden floor,.“Let’s get this straight, just so I know. This is my decision, but if I say no, I have to leave the Base and all the usual stuff about never speaking about this place and what goes on here to outsiders applies?”

 She turned and faced him again.

 Steven nodded.

 “That’s about it, yeah. But accept the assignment and you’ll be secure for life. We’ll make sure of that. We look after our own, here. It’s just a few days out of your life, a couple of weeks at most before we know everything we need to know. You might even enjoy it.”

 The swivel chair creaked as she sat back down. The office smelt of peaches. No doubt some psychologist somewhere had deduced that this was the smell that best aided getting what you wanted from people you were about to make insane demands upon. The Assessment Centre venue had smelt of peaches too.

 That she was even considering this whole thing was madness. She could say no, and she would be put on a plane, again in a state of unconsciousness no doubt, and sent home. As long as she never talked, everything would be fine. She could get on with her life; hole up at her dad and Lisa’s place until she decided on her next move. She could forget all about the Base and Steven and his mad offer. It would be as though it had never happened.

And yet seriously considering it she was. Fact is, Caroline liked her new life on the Base; and Steven’s proposal was interesting, beyond interesting really; easily the most interesting thing that had ever happened to her, perhaps the most interesting thing that had ever happened to anyone, ever.

How could she not consider?

“And he really looks like he does on the film, like a real-life human man, not like some slimy reptile, fish-person thing?”

 Steven smiled his biggest, brightest smile yet.

“Yeah, don’t worry, he’s not a shape-shifter; this is real life, not Science Fiction. What you see is what you get. I’m no expert, but I should imagine a lot of women would regard him as a bit of a catch, excuse the fish pun. At least they would if they didn’t know that he...”

“If they didn’t know he was an Alien from Outer Space?”

‘Yeah, if they didn’t know that.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two

It’d all started with sex.

“So what’s next Caroline Bradshaw?”

The guy next to her in the bed, propped on one elbow, looking down at her while she gazed with girlish wonder at the dark hair on his muscular chest, was Pablo. He was Spanish. He was a class mate in her Business Studies course at Lancaster University. Well, to be more precise, he was an ex class mate on her Business Studies course at Lancaster University. Caroline had taken the decision, now that her year one examinations were over, that she wouldn’t ever be going back. Everyone else who’d been out carousing that night had been celebrating the successful navigation of the first year of a three year course en route to a long and hopefully financially remunerative career. Caroline despised Business Studies with all of her heart and would sooner have starved on the street than endured another moment of it.

She was going to be an artist.

“Well,” she said, flicking her eyes rapidly from Pablo’s gorgeous Latin chest to his even more gorgeous Latin eyes, “we could have a little snooze and then slot in a quickie before you have to get off.”

Pablo was going to Manchester the next morning. That’s where his family lived. His dad was something important in IT. The family had moved to England five years earlier.

He shook his head, smiling. His smile was beautiful. She’d wanted him from the first moment she’d seen him, sitting all bright and alert and ready when she’d nervously entered her first seminar at Lancaster. He’d smiled at her then too, but she quickly noticed that he smiled at every female who entered the room; including Liz the lecturer. Anyway, she’d made a list of rules as regards her personal conduct as a student before leaving her home in Hull. Top of the list was that she could have as much sex as she wanted, but not with anyone on her course and not with anyone who lived in her Halls. Pablo was both on Caroline’s course and in her Halls. But her imaginary rule-book had been burnt to imaginary ashes now that she was no longer a student.

“I will make love to you again before I leave, of course…” he said. His confidence was a turn on, as was his Spanish/Mancunion hybrid accent. “…But what I mean is, what are you going to do now that you are not a student? You will have to leave here; find a job and somewhere to live. Or you will you go back to…”

“Hull.”

“Yes, yes, Hull.

He said the name of her home city like it was some impossibly distant and exotic location. Actually, she still wasn’t decided on what she would do. In a way, the thought of going back home was horrifying. She loved her dad, and his new wife was not exactly the wicked step-mother type. But it’d been her dad who’d pushed her in the direction of Business Studies, despite her true calling as a painter. It wasn’t going to be easy to tell him she was dropping out of the course.  

Her mum, her real mum, was off travelling in India. She’d been travelling for the last eighteen months. Caroline had a standing invitation to join her at any point, but imagining herself hanging around whilst her mum prostrated herself in front of charlatan gurus, smoked strong weed and got up to God knows what with boys closer to her own age than her mums was frankly horrendous; and knowing her mum, she had no doubt that she’d be doing all of those things and more.

Caroline let her foot rest on top of Pablo’s. She glanced at the clock radio on her bedside table. It was 4.30. A hangover was starting to kick in. She warily repeated the vague plans she’d told him about above the loud throbbing music the previous night.

“I’ll just hang around here for a bit. I haven’t told anyone officially I’ve quit, so I can. I’ll try and find a job and somewhere to live before I get thrown out. At some point I’ll go back and face my dad. If I have to live at home and get a job in Hull, well that’s what I’ll have to do. Hopefully I’ll be able to find something not-too-taxing that gives me plenty of time to paint until I can get into an art college somewhere.”

 “Your art is beautiful Caroline” said Pablo, his eyes scanning the walls of her small room. They were dotted with her work, with her paintings, her cut-ups and her collages. She didn’t believe him. He struck her as the sort of person who would, in so much as he cared about art at all, be into purely representational stuff; chocolate box art as she regarded it. Her own art was mostly abstract; the kind of art that Hitler had called Degenerate Art. She’d read a book about it.

“Thanks,” she said, enjoying the warm roughness and size of Pablo’s foot. In his case, the old saying about Big Feet was correct.  

“You are welcome. But I have something for you; something for you to think about, something for you to consider.”

 Caroline was intrigued as Pablo slid out of the sheets like a beautiful, hairy, muscular snake. He was naked. He had a fabulous arse.

“Sorry, I must first take a piss,” he called over his shoulder, somewhat killing the poetry of the moment. He disappeared into the small shower room/toilet. Caroline heard the sound of his water hitting toilet water followed by the brief running of a tap. She was sure that men only pretended to wash their hands after using the toilet, and only bothered with that pretence if other people were around. The door opened and he made his way slowly across the wine-stained carpet. His cock was flaccid, but still impressive, swinging back and forth with the rhythm of his walk. His clothes were piled up on top of the only chair in the room. He rummaged in the crumpled jeans that were at the top of the pile above his underpants and her knickers and pulled out a small laminated card. He handed the card to Caroline and climbed back into bed with the same Latino rhythmic grace that he’d left it.

Caroline read the card.

‘If you’re ready for adventure, please call the number on the back of this card for the chance of a unique and life-changing work opportunity abroad.’

 On the back was a mobile number next to the name Steven.

“What’s it all about?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve had it for a long time. I can’t even remember where I picked it up.”

“It’s probably one of those selling bibles to rednecks in Hicksville USA kind of summer jobs,” she said.

“Yes, perhaps. It is just something for you to consider.”

“Are you going to check it out for yourself?”

 “No, I will be spending half of the summer in Manchester and half with my grandparents in Spain, as I told you.”

“Yeah.”

 Their feet re-established contact. His hand found her knee and climbed slowly, enticingly upwards. Caroline stretched out her arm, placing the card on the bedside table, forgetting it instantly as she reached for his chest before placing her own hand directly on his cock. It was no longer flaccid. It was not quite erect, but it soon would be. Pablo sighed. Caroline’s juices were flowing again.

“Maybe we could fit in that quickie before sleep,” she said.

“Yes; and another one after sleep.”

“Three times?”

“Yes.”  

His lips met hers. Further talk was rendered superfluous.

 

 

Three

Pablo left at nine-thirty that morning after that promised post-doze third shag. It had been a long, deliciously languid affair compared to the intense passion of its two predecessors. It was followed by a warm, reviving joint shower and a Full English cooked by Caroline. She figured that Pablo’s impressive exertions had earned him a cooked breakfast.

 They kissed passionately in the main doorway to the Halls before he left.

“You are very beautiful Caroline,” he said. “We will meet again.”

 “Well perhaps. But if not, it’s been great. I mean having you as a class mate; and last night, the sex.”

“And thank you; and I mean it about us meeting again.”

She shrugged. It was unlikely, unless she stayed in Lancaster indefinitely which almost certainly wasn’t going to happen, or unless he was the stalker type which she doubted.

“Facebook me,” she said. She’d exchanged a lot of email addresses and social media links the previous night, but Pablo was the only one she really wouldn’t have minded staying in touch with; and, truth be told, she wasn’t really that bothered about him.

It was moving on time.

They exchanged a final smile and a wave, and then he was on his way without looking back. His arse looked almost as gorgeous clothed as it had naked.

Caroline returned to her bedroom and glanced at herself in the not quite full length mirror at the foot of her bed; a mirror that had played no small part in enhancing the enjoyment of her encounter with Pablo, just as it had enhanced many such encounters over the previous nine months. Despite what Pablo had said, she considered herself a long way away from beautiful, though she thought of herself as OK, physically. She had long black hair and hazel eyes, and was shapely with large, natural, breasts, wide hips and a pronounced backside. She was clearly never going to be the skinny catwalk type, but nor did she want to be. She liked her food too much and despised exercise, apart from sex and a bit of walking, and had no real evidence that men really went for that waif-like heroin-chic that those who ran the fashion industry seemed to be so taken with. She’d certainly never gone short of male attention, either before or during university.

She was tired. A lot of booze, a lot of sex, and the Big Breakfast had seen to that. Sleep was in order; and what was to stop her? For the first time in what seemed like forever she had no boring lectures or seminars to go to. No exam’s to revise for. Not that she’d bothered much with that sort of thing anyway. What was the point when she didn’t care whether she passed or failed?

 She lay down on the crumpled sheets of the bed. It was still warm and Pablo’s gloriously manly scent lingered deliciously. She quickly drifted into sleep and re-lived the erotic highlights of the last few hours in surrealist dream-form. Her dreams were as abstract as her art.

* * *

She was awoken by a phone call. It was three-thirty in the afternoon. She picked up her mobile which was next to her clock-radio, on top of the laminated card on top of the bedside table. The call was from Trish.

“Hi,” said her best friend who sounded like she was million miles away, rather than in Hull.

“Hi,” said Caroline, her own voice sounding almost as distant to herself.

“So, is that it then, you’ve really retired from the exciting world of Business Studies?”

Trish had been her best friend since they’d both arrived at the same Comprehensive school as pubescent twelve year olds seven years earlier.

“Yeah, except I haven’t told anyone yet, apart from…” she was going to say ‘apart from Pablo,’ but she wasn’t yet awake enough to answer questions about her sex life, though no doubt she would soon supply Trish with every gloriously sticky detail, “…apart from a couple of class mates.”

“So when are you going to get yourself back home and face the music with Big Daddy?”

Caroline had no idea why Trish had called her dad ‘Big Daddy’. She never had before. Usually she just called him ‘your dad’, or James to his face. She’d even drunkenly admitted to fancying him once, much to Caroline’s embarrassment.

“Oh, I don’t know, soon, I thought I might hang around here for a bit, see if anything comes up job-wise.”

“In Lancaster out, of term time? You’re dreaming girl.”

“Well, you know me, head in the clouds and all that.”

Actually, Trish was an even bigger dreamer than Caroline. Her claim to be a writer had much less justification than Caroline’s claim to be an artist. At least Caroline did show some of her work to other people. Her room back home in Hull was covered in her artistic outpourings, just like her room in Lancaster. She’d even sold bits and pieces, as well as giving many more away as gifts. She’d never seen anything Trish’ had written; apart from school essays and a few prose-like poems years earlier. ‘That’s because I’m still trying to find my voice,’ she’d say, when pressed; ‘and the right story.’

In the meantime, she subsisted on a job in a launderette.

‘It’s a good place to meet single men, even though most of them are losers,’ she often said. She lived in a seedy bedsit and saw the perk of being able to do her own washing at work as being a perk worth bragging about.

“You sound half-asleep. It must have been a heavy night.”

“Yeah, you know, end of term celebration for everyone; end of Uni’ forever for me, all that.”

“OK I’m betting there was a guy involved as well but I won’t ask, yet. Just get yourself back here girl. I’m dying to see you. It’ll be just like the old days.”

Nine months ago seemed like the ‘old days’ to Caroline too.

 “We’ll see. Look, do you mind if we speak later? Like you say, heavy night; and you’re right, there was a guy involved; a gorgeous guy. I’ll tell all later, but I’ve got to catch up on my sleep first.”

“OK, something to look forward to I suppose. Bit sad though, when the highlight of my day is going to be hearing about my best friend’s latest sexual conquest.”

* * *

As it was, Caroline only hung around in Lancaster for a few days before catching the train back to Hull. Trish had been right: a University campus is no place to be when the students have headed home, or off on their summer adventures. It was like being in a town that had been decimated by the rumour of a coming plague. With no job there was no hope of accommodation, and all the jobs on offer were short term and low paid.

Her dad was naturally delighted to see her. He wasn’t really a hugger by nature, unlike her mum who would hug strangers on first introduction. Nevertheless, his love for Caroline had always been beyond question.

Her first night home was dedicated to a family meal with her dad and Lisa. He’d been with Lisa for three years now. She was from Indonesia. They’d initially met whilst he’d been travelling with Caroline’s mum before the divorce.  

 Caroline’s relationship with Lisa was and always had been more cordial and polite than anything else. Lisa was too young to be her step-mum, and to see her as a friend or a surrogate sister seemed somehow inappropriate.

There was no sign of a baby step-brother or step-sister yet, and Caroline was not sure how she would feel if there was.

“Any word from your mum lately?”  asked her dad when Lisa was in the kitchen doing the washing up. With her mum he’d been quite diligent about sharing the housework. He prided himself on being a feminist and a New Man. With Lisa he barely lifted a finger.

“Oh you know, a postcard, about a month ago. She’s up near, what do you call it, that place where you said there might be a nuclear war between India and Pakistan?”

“Kashmir?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s your mum, always wanting to be where the action is.”

“Yeah.”

 Lisa left the kitchen and went to watch T.V. in the living room. Caroline didn’t know if her dad loved his new wife like he’d loved her mum, but she could certainly see why he liked having her around. She was a quarter of a century younger than him, slim, with olive-skin, beautiful eyes, a ravishing smile, a pert backside, and small but perfectly formed breasts. On top of all that, Lisa was a brilliant cook. No wonder her dad seemed happy. Lisa was a dream-catch for a balding forty eight year old. Her only drawback was the cigarettes that she periodically sneaked down her lungs in the back garden. Caroline’s dad hated smoking, and had looked so sad when he’d caught his then fifteen year old daughter sneaking a crafty one in her bedroom that she’d stopped then and there and not smoked since, apart from the odd spliff.

“And what about you?” said her dad as the theme music to Coronation Street stuck up in the distance. Caroline found Lisa’s devotion to English Soap Opera’s endearing.

“Me?”

“Yes, you know; your plans?”

She sipped from her glass of white wine. Her Dad was on beer. He didn’t like wine and only drank beer on special occasions.

 “Well, you know, see how it goes. I’ll probably get my results in the post in the next week or two, only…”

“Only..?”

“Only…” She hadn’t planned on telling him yet about not going back. She’d wanted to get a Plan B in place first, like a job or a place at Art School. Her dad ran his own electronics business. He owned three shops; selling everything from D.J equipment to computer accessories. He wasn’t rich, and he had to work hard, but he was doing OK. One of the reasons he’d pushed Caroline in the direction of the loathsome Business Studies course had been in the hope that she would one day take over the running of the business side of his small empire. It seemed cruel for her to shatter his dream of one day handing over the reins of ‘Bradshaw Hull Electrics’ to his only child.

 Caroline had been dreading this moment, but her dad, bless him, made the telling easy.  

 “Look, I know you haven’t been happy. I’m not a fool. It’s been obvious; in every phone call, every email, every text you’ve sent, between the lines. I know you never really wanted to do Business Studies. I should have let you do Art, like your mum said. I just hoped that once you got there you’d get into it. If it’s not happening, it’s not happening. You don’t want to go back, right?”

Caroline nodded.

 “I just want you to be happy. And if being an artist will make you happy, well an artist you must be.”

Caroline didn’t know what to say, except for ‘thanks dad.’ She felt like crying with gratitude. She considered hugging him but didn’t.

Her dad adopted his stern, fatherly face, which wasn’t really very stern at all.

“You’re not getting an easy ride mind you. You can stay here as long as you like, but you pay your way. We’re not the fucking Rockefellers you know.”

It was a shock to hear her dad swear, but also quite nice; like he was accepting her as an adult. Sometimes she wanted him to accept her as an adult, and sometimes she wanted to stay his little girl forever.

“Get yourself, a job, pay me what you can, work on your art and see where it leads. You’re very talented. I know that. I don’t tell you often enough, but I do know it.”

 She was even closer to tears, but held them back by force of will.

Instead, she beamed.

“And one day you shall be a world famous artist,” said Lisa appearing suddenly in the doorway.

“Thanks, but it’s not about fame, it’s about…” the blank look on Lisa’s pretty, exotic face told Caroline to shut up, so she just thanked her again and topped up her wine.

That night she lay in bed and couldn’t avoid hearing Lisa and her dad making love. They were obviously trying to be quiet, but that made it worse in a way, like Caroline was an interloper in her own home. Caroline was not exactly quiet in bed herself, and she knew well the thrill of forcing yourself to be so. Once, as a sixteen year old, she’d done it on the sofa whilst her dad slept upstairs. That had been shortly before the arrival of Lisa. Soon, she drifted into sleep, incorporating Lisa’s erotic moans into her sexually charged dream state.

* * *

The morning after the following night, Caroline and Trish were walking home in the same clothes they’d gone out in the night before. It was a Sunday morning, with that typical Sunday morning, 8 am feel to it. It was warm, so their flimsy clothing caused them no hardship, unless you counted the leers and occasional cat-calls from every passing early morning male-stroller or motorist a hardship, which neither of them particularly did.

“So, how was yours?” asked Trish.

“Oh you know, OK, as far as I can remember. And yours?”

“Same. He knew what to do with it, more or less.”

They both laughed a throaty, hung-over, girly laugh. Caroline’s one nighter had been called Dave and Trish’s had been called Martin. They were friends and builders. They’d both had big muscles and loads of confidence, although it was a brasher, more eager to please type of confidence than that which oozed with such ease from a man like Pablo. Neither Caroline nor Trish made any pretence that the previous nights encounter had been based on anything beyond the purely physical. 

They’d walked a couple of miles from the typically rough and ready bachelor pad that Dave and Martin shared. They’d left whilst the men were sleeping, neither of them feeling up for a morning repeat performance. Being a Sunday, it was too early for buses. They reached the point where their paths necessarily diverted. Trish’ flat was within a mile of Caroline’s dad’s house, but it might as well have been on a different planet as far as middle class respectability went.

“So, what are you going to do, job-wise?” asked Trish, as their slow walk came to a halt. Caroline had already answered this question the previous night, but they’d both been drunk and the music had been loud. Plus they’d had Dave and Martin’s Octopus like hands to contend with.

“Dunno, really,” she repeated.

“I could put in a word at the launderette, see if there are a few hours going, if you like.”

Every time Trish’ mentioned the launderette, Caroline thought of Eastenders off the telly; didn’t everyone outside of Albert Square own a washing machine nowadays, apart from students and Trish?

“Maybe,” she said. Then, a thought occurred to her. She fished in her tiny, showy handbag and pulled out a small laminated card and showed it to Trish.

 “Might, be worth checking out. Pablo gave it to me, the other night.”

“You mean after he’d done you three times?”

“Yeah, well, after the second time actually.”

She had of course already provided Trish with every detail she could remember of her hot Spanish Encounter.

Trish smiled and quickly scanned the card.

 “So, are you going to ring the number then?”

“Dunno, I’d kind of forgotten about it until now.”

“Your mum would ring it like a shot.”

“Yeah she would, but I’ve no idea what it’s all about. If it turns out to be legit’ and interesting though, would you fancy maybe going with me?”

“And give up my job at the launderette you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“What the fuck do you think?”

 

 

 

 

 

Four

They sat together in Trish’ bedsit that night, Caroline on the single, battered armchair and Trish on her creaky double bed. A combination of sleep, paracetamol, fresh orange juice and one of Lisa’s speciality vegetarian Indonesian breakfasts had successfully obliterated Caroline’s hangover. Lisa had questioned her about where she’d spent the previous night. She’d said she’d stayed over at Trish’s, not fancying sharing the details of her sex life with her dad’s ridiculously young and beautiful wife.

Trish still looked rough and admitted that this was a fair indication of how she felt. She dealt with this by opening a new bottle of wine. Caroline declined her offer of a glass, choosing instead coffee which she made herself in the tiny kitchenette, first surreptitiously wiping the cups and work surfaces with the cleanest dirty cloth she could find. Trish wasn’t the world’s most house-proud person. She wasn’t the prettiest either, though she had a kind of open sexuality that men responded to. Caroline got the impression that guys thought she was easy, because of the way she dressed and the way she flirted. But she wasn’t; no more than Caroline was. In both of their cases, if they fancied a guy they went for it, if they didn’t, they didn’t.

“So, we going to ring this number or not?” said Trish, after they’d settled down with their respective drinks.

“Yeah, I suppose so, no harm in getting a bit more information is there? It might be fun, if it’s not a scam.”

“Well, we’ll never know, will we; unless we make the call?”

“OK, your phone or mine?”

“Yours. But get yourself here on the bed with me so I can listen.”

“Oh, I’m doing all the talking then, am I?”

“You normally do.”

“Bollocks.”

Caroline took the card and her phone out of her bag and climbed on the bed beside her friend. They both stared at the writing on the front of the card before turning the it over and looking at the phone number and the name ‘Steven’ on the back for a few seconds.

“Dial the fucking number, girl, for God’s sake,” said Trish.

Caroline dialled the number with Trish leaning in close so that she could listen. Caroline could smell the wine on her friend’s breath and the smell made her fancy a glass after all. The phone rang at the other end of the line for a long time. She was expecting it to go through to answer phone, but then a male voice answered.

“Hello, Steven speaking.”

So there really was a Steven. Caroline was silent for perhaps a second too long, which forced him to repeat his masculine ‘Hello’. Trish nudged her.

“Oh, hello, my name is Caroline, Caroline Bradshaw?”

“And what can I do for you Caroline Bradshaw,” said Steven. His voice was deep and educated.

“Well, errm, I’m just, err, responding to your advert’ about…” She read from the card in such a way that it was obvious that she was reading from a card ‘a unique and life changing work opportunity abroad.”’Trish stifled a giggle.

“Ah, yes, good,” said Steve. “You are in luck. We have an Assessment Centre taking place next Saturday, and there are still one or two places available.”

“It would have to be two,” said Caroline, “because I’d only be interested if I could bring my friend along too.”

“And your friend is called….”

Trish snatched the phone from Caroline’s hand. She did things like that sometimes.

“Trish. Trish Russell.”

 She held the receiver in such a way that Caroline could hear Steven’s reply.

“Ah, pleased to meet you Trish Russell. And I suppose that both you and Caroline Bradshaw will want to know where this Assessment Centre is taking place; and what exactly will happen when and if you turn up there?”

“Well, yeah; and what country the jobs are in? And what sort of jobs they are?”

There was a brief silence at the other end of the line. Then Steven spoke, slowly and deliberately.

“The answer to most of your questions will only be given if you are selected to progress beyond the Assessment Centre stage. Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, only a minority are. The only question I can answer at this moment concerns the location of you assessment. It will take place in London, exact details of the venue will be sent to you by email, or text, or post, whichever you prefer. If you choose email or text then you should have them within a few minutes. Bring receipts to the centre and you will be re-reimbursed for all travelling expenses whether you are selected or not. Lunch will be provided. Where do you live?”

“Hull,” said Trish.

“Hull, that’s a fair distance, but an easy journey by train. I’ve made it once or twice myself. The Assessment Centre begins at ten o clock sharp, but you need to be there to register from nine-thirty. Now, can I ask the two of you one question?”

Trish nodded, then realised the futility of nodding on the phone.

“OK.”

“Where did you hear about us?”

Trish looked at Caroline and then handed the phone back to her with more grace than she’d taken it.

 “I was given a card by a bloke called Pablo,” she said.

“Ah, Pablo, of course” said Steven.

Caroline was shocked.

“You know Pablo?”

“Let’s just say I know of Pablo. Now, could I have some sort of address so that I can send you out the information? Either one of you will do, or both of you, if you prefer.”

 “Can we have a few minutes to think about it, to discuss it first?” said Caroline, a little disturbed by Steven’s apparent knowledge of her second to last sexual conquest.

“Yes. But make sure it is only a few minutes. Spaces are disappearing fast.”

“OK, I’ll get back to you quickly.”

She clicked off the phone and stretched out on the bed. “Well, what do you think?”

“I think he’s got a lovely voice, and he’s offering us a free trip to London, girl.”

“Yeah, that’ll be good, but it’s all a bit mysterious isn’t it? I mean, he won’t say what country or countries we’re talking about working in. And Pablo said he didn’t even remember where he got the card, yet this Steven guy, if that’s his real name, apparently knows Pablo.”

“Knows of Pablo,” corrected Trish.

“Ok, knows of Pablo. Still seems a bit weird to me. Maybe he’s running a mad religious cult, or something.”

“Great, a mad religious cult and a free trip to London; maybe this is the story I’ve been looking for. Maybe this is where I find my voice.”

 

 

 

Five

They sat in a semi-circle in the centre of a cavernous, echoic room in a plush non-descript office block close to the centre of London. There were about thirty people in the group, to begin with. They were of roughly mixed gender. Caroline sat next to Trish. They’d decided on smart-casual, skirts of reasonably demure length, crisp blouses that were tight bit not too tight, and heels that were not quite high heels. They’d had their hair done especially and took special care with their make-up. The pair had booked themselves into a cheap hotel for two nights. They’d been to London together on a couple of occasions before, but given the free travel they figured they might as well make the most of this trip. Neither of them really expected to be ‘selected’ for whatever was on offer.

They’d had to give their passports in at the front desk. They’d been told they’d get them back at the end of the day. It had seemed a bit strange that they were told to bring their passports in the first place, butnot that strange. Caroline didn’t think any of the other members of their Assessment Centre group was over forty. The only talking going on was conducted in hushed, nervous whispers.

Up front were Steven and his sidekick Helen. Everyone knew that Steven was Steven, because he’d introduced himself in person to each of the group as he greeted them at the door, expertly putting faces to the various voices he’d heard on the phone. ‘Ah, Caroline Bradshaw, unless I’m very much losing my touch; and if you are Caroline Bradshaw, then you must be her friend Trish Russell.’ His age seemed to be roughly about half way up the range Caroline had guessed it to be when she’d spoken to him on the phone, that is somewhere in his mid-thirties. He was well built, well dressed, and very handsome.

The group knew Helen was Helen because Steven introduced her as such, when she entered the room as soon as everyone was seated upon the arrangement of blue plastic chairs. Helen was probably in her mid-thirties too, and dressed in a tight trouser suit. She was the sort of woman who adolescent boys think of as a sexy older woman. Steven and Helen were sat perhaps three arms lengths away from the semi-circle of people. No table separated them from the group.

Steven rose, signifying that proceedings were about to begin.

“Now it’s time for a round of introductions. I’m sure you all knew it was coming, and I’m equally sure that you’re all looking forward to it immensely.”

There was heavy irony in voice, and he was right of course; it’s amazing how the mere thought of saying your name out loud in public can fill otherwise competent and confident people with dread.

“What we are going to do,” continued Steven, “is to say our names, our first names only, and then share with the rest of the group the thing we like to do best in the whole world; and I must ask you to keep it clean, or not clean, if you prefer….”

There were sniggers from the audience and a practiced smile from Helen beside him. Steven continued.

“Finally we want you to share with the group the one thing that you believe in most of all, and, and that’s it; just those three things: name, thing, belief. Helen will begin. Then it will be my turn. After I’ve had my go we’ll start from the end of the row to my left and move one by one to the other end. Does anyone have any questions?”

There were perplexed looks and shrugs all around. These were tough questions. Well, apart from the first name bit; and that was tough enough in a room full of strangers. Caroline and Trish were sat just a little past centre right, so there was plenty of time to listen to what the others said before their turn came.

Helen rose.

“My name is Helen. What I like doing most in the whole world is making new friends. And what I believe most strongly of all is that an individual or a group of individuals can achieve anything, if they put really their minds to it.”

Caroline wondered how many times Helen had trotted out those particular nuggets of wisdom. After stating his name, Steven said that the thing he liked best in the whole world was laughter, and that ‘the thing I believe in most strongly is in the inter-connectedness of everything: every living being with every other living being, and every living being with nature, or the Cosmos. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious.’

It did, a bit, but he looked so good saying it that nobody seemed to mind; certainly not Caroline.  

She didn’t hear a lot of what else was said as the introductions made their way all too quickly towards her. She was too busy thinking about what she was going to say. There were a couple of God’s mentioned in relation to the belief question, but no Allah’s or Krishna’s or Buddha’s. Only three non-white faces were present in the room: a Chinese looking woman and two black men.

Only one man took Steven at his word as regards to not necessarily having to keep the contributions clean. He was an overweight thirty something with a gruff voice who could have been Dave and Martin’s supervisor on the building site.

“My name is Colin and the thing I like doing most in the whole world is HAVING SEX,” he said loudly, adding “with women,” just in case anybody got the wrong idea. He looked around for admiring glances, and then, finding none, seemed a bit stuck for an answer to the question as to what he believed in most strongly. Finally, rather less confidently, he said “I suppose the thing I believe in most strongly is just trying to be nice to everybody, especially to attractive young women.” He looked up hopefully at Helen as he said this, but she merely smiled patronisingly and pointed to the next person.

Soon, it was Caroline’s turn. The first two bits were relatively easy. “My name is Caroline,” she said, her voice only slightly shaking, and realising that she sounded like she was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, “and the thing I like to do most in the world is to paint.”

The third question was trickier. She hadn’t been baptised, on her mum’s insistence. For her mum, religion was something you chose after your own personal search, not something you had imposed on you by your parents. Caroline’s dad was a non-practicing, probably non-believing Christian, pretty much bog standard Church of England. If asked, Caroline usually said that she was an agnostic. But in reality, apart from a couple of half-hearted appearances at Illumination Group meditation classes, her own spiritual journey had barely begun.

“My strongest belief is that whatever happens to you is whatever is meant to happen to you,” she said.

She hadn’t known she was going to say this, but, the more she thought about it later, the more she realised that that probably was her strongest, most deep-seated belief. Steven caught her eye after she’d said her piece. He smiled and Caroline was pretty sure that she blushed in response. She might even have licked her lips.

Trish was next.

 “My name is Trish, Patricia actually, though nobody ever calls me Patricia; and the thing I like to do most in the world is to write, though I don’t write nearly enough. The thing I believe in most, I suppose, is that no matter what, it’s best just to be yourself.”

 Good answer thought Caroline, though she wasn’t sure that writing really was her favourite activity. Probably, if she’d been totally honest, she’d have given the same answer as gruff Colin, or Mr Sex as she now thought of him.  

Caroline felt sorry for the last person to go. Surely everything worth saying had been said by now? The girl at the end of the row was a mouse like little thing who timidly announced herself as Deborah, and said that the thing she loved most was to get out in nature, and the thing she believed in most strongly was that mankind was destroying nature and needed to stop it as soon as possible. There were patronisingly sympathetic nods all around.

‘OK, so what comes next’, thought Caroline, now that the introductions are over and Steven and Helen have had their first inkling as to what sort of people they are dealing with. Probably some horrible ‘Team Building’ exercises, working out how to build a working perpetual motion machine from empty cereal boxes and a piece of string, or how to escape from a desert island armed only with a packet of chocolate raisins, or something. She’d done that sort of thing in Business Studies.    

But in fact nothing much came next, for the majority of the group, anyway.

Steven thanked everybody for their contributions.

“That was all very interesting and enlightening. Now could you all please excuse Helen and I whilst we confer?”

 With that, the two of them left the room.

“What was that all about?” said Trish, quietly.

“God knows,” said Caroline, equally quietly.

A small murmur of barely audible conversation started up. It steadily grew louder until it ceased completely about ten minutes later when Steven and Helen re-entered the room.

Caroline definitely fancied Steven. He was cool and self assured, and could have been a successful businessman, or perhaps a charismatic university lecturer. He was tall too. She liked tall men.

He faced the group.

“Could you all stand up please,” he said.

The group rose as one. Steven nodded and continued.

“Helen will now walk up to a selection of you and tap you on the shoulder. Those that she taps should go and stand at the back of the room. The rest of you should sit back down.”

Helen smiled, and then she stepped forward and began to make her way along the semi-circle of people, tapping people lightly on the shoulder. The first member of the group to speak during the introductions was tapped, and got up looking confused and embarrassed as he made his way to the back of the room. Both of the people who’d mentioned God were tapped. The first of the two black men was tapped, the second wasn’t. Mr Sex, Colin, wasn’t tapped. The person who spoke before Caroline was tapped. Helen stood before Caroline, looking down at her. She didn’t tap her. She did tap Trish. Caroline squeezed Trish’ wrist briefly as her friend reluctantly rose to make her way to the back of the room. Caroline sat. The Chinese looking woman wasn’t tapped. A whole section of people were tapped, one after the other. Mousey Deborah the nature lover at the end of the row wasn’t tapped.

Helen returned to her place beside Steven. He’d stood impassively and impressively still throughout Helen’s cool performance. Now he spoke.

 “To the people at the back of the room, I say thank you very much for coming. Helen and I really value you giving us your time. You are now free to go. There is a lunch laid on for you free of charge in the canteen if you wish to stay for it. If not, then enjoy the rest of your stay in London if you have travelled from elsewhere, as I know that many of you have. You can collect your passports and travel expenses at reception.”

There was a confused silence, until one lone voice from the back of the room, a good looking man in his twenties, piped up.

“You mean that’s it? It’s all over; we didn’t pass, whatever this was, whatever this is?”

Steven nodded. The man shook his head and mumbled ‘they only asked us three questions’ as he slowly led the rejected group out of the room. Caroline looked behind her at Trish. Her first instinct was to get up and walk out in solidarity with her. Did Trish expect her to get up and walk out with her; should she get up and walk out with her? Whatever the answer was to these questions, the fact is she didn’t get up. She just shrugged, smiled, and mouthed ‘wait for me’ towards her friend. Trish nodded.

Soon the room was much emptier than before. Twelve of the original group remained, dotted around the now broken semi-circle. Steven and Helen quickly and efficiently went to work, gathering up superfluous chairs and stacking them at one side of the room, gesturing for the perplexed remnants of the group to shuffle their own chairs closer together. Once this mild commotion was over, Caroline found herself sitting next to Colin Sex.

 “Well, this is a rum do, isn’t it?” he whispered.

 Caroline nodded and murmured affirmatively.

It was indeed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six

Trish was waiting for Caroline in the foyer when the session finished right on schedule at 5.30 pm.

“So?” she said.

“So, I’ll tell you later, not here. Did you get your passport back?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. Let’s go.”

“You got yours?”

“No. I won’t need it until tomorrow, when I fly off to God knows where.”

“You are joking?”

“Nope. Let’s go.”

* * *

Trish filled Caroline in on her day as they walked to a not too pricey, bar and grill place close to their hotel.

“Well, they gave us our passports back, and then we had lunch in a canteen place they directed us to. I had pasta and tuna salad. It was nice, but everyone who’d stayed was kind of shocked at what had just happened; that we’d been, like, eliminated just on the basis of our answers to them three dumb questions. I mean, we thought the introductions were just the beginning. That’s why they’re called introductions, usually. Nobody was speaking or eating much, but I ended up getting chatting to one of the guys, Baxter, a black guy, remember him?”

Caroline did remember him. He was the black man who hadn’t made the cut. The one who had was called Mike. Baxter was better looking than Mike. Caroline nodded. Trish continued speaking.

“He’s a nice guy. He’s from Norwich. He’s an IT Consultant. We sort of exchanged numbers. We plan on seeing a few of the sights together, tomorrow. He’s never been to London before.”

“You don’t waste much time!”

“Yeah well, you know me, life’s too short. Now are you going to tell me about what happened to you after I left?”

Caroline told her story once they were settled at the bistro, as the two periodically nibbled on ribs whilst sipping red wine.

“Well, we had lunch too, pretty much the same sort of set up, pasta and salad, but it must have been in another canteen, or at a different time to you. Steven and Helen ate with us. Steven was as my table actually.”

“You fancy him, don’t you?”

“No, well, maybe, a bit. He is nice. Anyway, after lunch we went back to the assessment room and sat in a circle again. There were fourteen of us, including Steven and Helen.”

 Steven had done most of the talking.

He’d begun by asking if there were any questions about what had happened so far. This was met by a long, awkward silence that was only broken by Steven himself.

‘Look,” he said, “there must be some; there always are. There’s no need to be shy.’

Much to her own surprise it was Caroline who piped up.  

‘Well, all I want to ask is why us and not the others? I mean, all we did was answer three questions, and one of them was our name. And yet from that you cut the group by more than half. It all just seems so random.’

There were murmurs of agreement.

Later, at the bar and grill, this question was also uppermost in Trish’ mind.

“Yeah, for fucks sake, even mister ‘I love sex with women,’ got through.”

“Colin.”

“Yeah, he gets through and I don’t. I mean, I’m not that bothered, good luck to him and good luck to you and all that. But I wouldn’t mind knowing why.”

Caroline told her what Steven had said to the remaining group.

‘It wasn’t just your answers we were looking for,’ he’d said. ‘It was also how you put your answers across. Helen and I were studying your body language the whole time you were speaking, trying to work out the sort of thinking that lay behind your answers. I know that makes us sound like some kind of cult, but Helen and I have done a lot of training in these areas, and this, along with our experience, has taught us to recognise the existence of a particular quality in people which we know will make them ideal for the sort of positions we’re offering.’

Helen had then continued the explanation.

‘We used to call this particular quality the X Factor until that horrible television show ruined the phrase. Now we just call it SQ. SQ, for Special Quality.’

At the bistro, Trish took a sip of her wine.

“It’s not making me feel great to know that Mr Sex apparently has SQ and I don’t.”

She set down her glass. It was half empty.

 Caroline took a sip of her own drink.

“I shouldn’t let it bother you. It just sounds like one of those bullshit management phrases. They used to crop up all the time in Business Studies.”

“Whatever. So, you said they cut the group down again?”

“Yeah. All they had to do was tell us what was on offer.”

Steven had told them that the jobs were in another country, ‘as you already know from the card.’ Then he continued. ‘There are a variety of different jobs on offer, and they are exactly the sort of jobs to be found at home: Bar-staff; building workers; hairdressers; cleaners; plumbers; electricians. All ordinary jobs but vital jobs in any community, as I’m sure you will agree. And that’s what we are offering you, the chance to be part of a community. I want you to follow Helen and me into the next room. We have a short film to show you.’

 The group had followed him next door and sat in a row in front of a huge television mounted on the wall, the sort of T.V. Caroline mostly associated with pubs showing football matches to shouting, half-cut, sweaty men. They watched a ten minute film of people going about their business in what looked like an ordinary, modern, mildly futuristic city. There were a lot of soldiers around, in uniforms Caroline didn’t recognise, but which she assumed were United Nations because the people in them, men and women, seemed to be from every race imaginable. Apart from a few military vehicles, everyone seemed to ride around in funny looking electric buggies, a bit like Golf-buggies though of varying sizes. Most of the film was of ordinary looking people doing ordinary looking things, going in and out of nice looking apartment blocks; eating in plush restaurants; drinking in clean, enticing looking pubs and clubs; playing pool and ten pin bowling; going in and out of shops, both small shops and big department stores. The film also showed inside some of the apartments. They were spacious and clean and complete with all mod-cons. All of the city, or the Base as Steven called it, looked immaculately clean; and hot: the Sun was shining throughout and everyone who wasn’t in uniform seemed to be in T-shirts and shorts. After the film finished, Steven and Helen had led the group back to the circle of chairs in the room next door.  

Helen had taken the lead for the next bit.

‘Any questions?’

One person spoke up, a guy called Craig who Caroline had clocked as perhaps the oldest person in the room present on first arrival.

 ‘It’s obvious we’re talking about some sort of military base then?’ he’d said.

‘Maybe,’ replied Helen.

‘UN?’ said Craig.

‘Perhaps,’ said Helen. ‘I can tell you that the Base is not in a war zone. Nobody there ever does any fighting. Well, unless one or two people have had a few too many in one of the pubs or clubs you saw in the film. Then you might get a bit of the sort of drunken fist-fights you see everywhere around closing time. But nobody on the Base carries a gun, although weaponry is of course available, in case of emergencies.’

‘And has there ever been an emergency?’ asked Craig.

 Helen said there hadn’t.

‘And I’m guessing,’ said Craig, ‘that you are not going to tell us where this ‘Base’ is, not even what country it’s in?’

‘You are guessing correctly.’ said Helen.

‘It’s a security matter,’ added Steven.

‘Obviously the Middle East,’ said Craig.

Helen said nothing, Steven shrugged.

Caroline spoke next.

‘So if we agree to go to this place, wherever it is, what exactly would our jobs be?’

Helen smiled.

‘Your job would be assigned to you upon arrival, though changes of occupation and position are frequent on the Base. If you are initially given a post that you find disagreeable, you can usually negotiate a change. Though if you were requesting a change every week, then we would probably conclude that we’d made a mistake and that you aren’t really suitable for life on the Base after all. Sometimes we do get it wrong about a person’s SQ. Not often, but sometimes. Mistakes need to be rectified.’

‘But the best thing,’ interjected Steven, ‘is that whatever job you are selected for, you will be paid roughly five times the rate that you would get for the same job at home. And you get to live rent-free, with no gas bills, no electric and no water bills, in fact all of your income will be disposable income, though you are expected to pay for your own food and drinks and entertainments. Even then, you will find the cost of living to be a lot cheaper than at home.’

There were raised eyebrows as well as smiles around the room. ‘Sounds a bit too good to be true,’ said the mouse-like woman who Caroline remembered was called Debora. This was the first time Caroline had heard her speak since the introductions.

Steven had then taken complete charge of the situation.

‘Yes it does, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. Though there is of course a catch, well three catches actually, though they’re only ‘catches’ if that’s how you choose to see them. The first is that before departure, you must sign a paper stating that you will never, ever, talk about what goes on at the Base, other than mundane stuff like what your job is and so on.’

‘Like the official secrets act?’ asked Mike, the black guy.

‘Yes something like that.’

‘And the second catch?’ asked Craig.

‘And the second catch is that in order to ensure absolute security, you must agree to be put to sleep for the duration of the flight to your destination.’

This brought forth a collective gasp of shock, almost of horror. Caroline understood this reaction, although it didn’t sound too bad to her. She hated flying, and usually tried to knock herself out with a handful of Valium and a small lake of booze whenever she ventured on holiday abroad.

 ‘And the third catch?’ she asked whilst everyone else was still trying to process the enormity of the second.

‘The third catch,’ said Steven, his eyes moving slowly around the group before settling rather excitingly on Caroline’s, ‘is that you must be prepared to be on the plane by midday tomorrow. We meet back here at eight-thirty sharp. Anyone who wishes to leave can do so now. It’s decision time folks.’

“Wow,” said Trish, later, back at the grill, when Caroline had finished relaying the story. “They don’t mess about do they? So, what happened then, how many of you stayed, apart from you?”

“A few people were hovering, you could see it on their faces, until that old Craig guy got up, and said something like ‘look, this sounds fascinating, but I have a family to think of. I can’t just go off to somewhere I don’t know where at a days notice.’ After that a few other people got up, one by one, saying pretty much the same thing. I mean, who can blame the, right? Anyway, in the end there were just the five of us left: Deborah the Mouse; Mike, the black guy who isn’t your new boyfriend, Colin Sex, the Chinese woman, and me.”

“Weren’t you tempted to walk out? I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to stay, but I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to get up and go either.”

Caroline shrugged.

“Of course I was tempted to walk out, but for some reason I didn’t. Obviously, I’m shitting myself now, course I am. But I’m sort of proud I didn’t leave; and I’ll definitely be there in the morning. I mean; what an adventure! It’s the sort of thing my mum would do, not me. The only drawback is I don’t know what I’m going to tell my dad.”

“Just tell him you’ve joined a cult and are moving abroad for ever. I’m sure he’ll be fine with that.”

“It’s not forever: it’s for six months’, at first. You and they, whoever ‘they’ are, decide if you want to stay longer after the six month is up. I’ll probably just do the six months; get myself a bit of an experience before sorting a place at an Art College back home.”

* * *

Caroline rang her dad from the hotel. She told him that she’d been offered a job at the last minute working at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. It was the first thing that popped into her head, though she kind of figured that ‘the Base’ must be in the Middle East somewhere, just as Craig had said. Her dad was incredulous. ‘Saudi Arabia! Tomorrow! In a hospital! What are you going to do in a hospital? You’re not a nurse! I thought you wanted to be an artist!’ She told him that she would be a kind of care assistant, and about the money and the bill-free existence, and how it was only for six months.

In the end he was reasonably accepting.

‘Oh well, if all this is kosher, at least you’ll be saving. Not much to spend your money on in Saudi. Be careful though. You hear those horrible stories on the news. No drinking and keep yourself well covered up when you’re out and about. Write to me every week and come home safe and sound.’

‘I will dad.’

‘I always thought there was a lot of your mother in you; probably too much.’

Yes, probably more than even I realised, thought Caroline.

* * *

Later, relaxing in their hotel room, Caroline suggested to Trish that she ring Baxter and go out with him for the evening.

“I’m just going to be a bore and stay here and crash; big day tomorrow,” she said.

“No way, you’re my best friend and you’re going off on a great adventure. I’m not going to see you for at least six months. Maybe I’ll never see you again. I’m staying here with you. I’m already seeing Baxter tomorrow anyway. He can wait.”

 She suddenly changed tack as a thought occurred to her.

 “Clothes! What about clothes, you’re going away for six months at least and you’ve got nothing with you!”

It was true, all Caroline had was the jeans and T-shirt she’d travelled down in, the smart but casual clothes she’d worn for the Assessment Centre, the cotton night-gown she’d just changed into after her shower, and a couple of changes of underwear. But none of this mattered.

“It’s OK, don’t panic. Steven said we’ll be given an allowance and taken shopping as soon as we get to the Base. He didn’t say how much we’d get, but he kind of hinted it’d be plenty.”

“Wow. Cool. Free clothes too.”

“Yeah.”

It was only just after nine, but it’d been a long day.

“I’m going to hit the sack. Sorry, but I’m knackered. You can watch T.V. or go down to the bar. We’ll talk more before I go,” said Caroline clambering between the crisp white, hotel sheets. The room was small and basic, but comfortable, with two single beds, a wardrobe, a fridge, a couple of side-chairs, a thick, old fashioned T.V. which they hadn’t turned on, and not much else.

“Caz?” said Trish, cautiously. When she called Caroline ‘Caz’ it always involved a request of some sort.

“Yeah?”

“Do you mind if…I mean it’s ages since we’ve…and we’re not going to see each other for so long…if at all…I just wondered if you minded…”

Caroline knew exactly what Trish was suggesting.

 “No, I don’t mind at all. In fact I’ve been dying for you to suggest it. It’d be nice; and it has been ages. Jump in.”

Trish climbed into bed beside Caroline. She was wearing her sweetest little girl pyjamas. The two had been best friends since they’d been twelve. The mutual sexual exploration had begun a year later and only stopped when they hit sixteen and started going the whole way with boys. Well, more or less stopped. Sex with each other became something  they did occasionally, as a physical expression of their close friendship The last time before that night in the London hotel, they’d even put on a bit of a show for two gorgeous policemen they’d met at a gig back in Hull. They’d both been drunk and one of the guys had filmed the whole thing on his phone. They were still worried that the erotic footage was going to turn up on the Internet under the name of ‘Caz does Trish’ or something.

Neither of them had ever been with another female, and both very much doubted that they ever would, despite Caroline’s sneaky and almost certainly unobtainable lust for her dad’s young Indonesian bride. They would both have laughed at the idea that that they were anything but heterosexual by inclination.

Caroline hadn’t planned on having sex with Trish that night. She hadn’t planned on having sex with anybody at all. But she was enjoying the feeling of her best friend’s warm body close to hers, and the mingled smells of toothpaste and wine and ribs on Trish’ breath. They didn’t kiss. They rarely kissed; kissing seemed somehow too gay. But soon Caroline’s nightgown was up around her neck, and Trish’ mouth was on her nipples, her hand rapidly travelling up her thigh and down her knickers. Trish’ finger soon hit the spot. That’s the thing about doing it with a woman, Caroline often thought, especially about doing it with a woman you’ve been doing it with on and off for so long: there’s none of that inept, fumbling and searching most male lovers have to be coaxed guided away from before they find the sweet spot.

After about half an hour of gentle lovemaking, they came more or less together in a delicious, squealing, slurping sixty-nine. Afterwards they lay side by side, hand in hand, getting their breath back. Eventually Trish broke the silence.

“I need a drink after that; mini-bar?”

“Oh yes.”

Trish slid out of the bed and padded across the carpet towards the fridge. Trish had a nice arse, almost as nice as Lisa’s, almost as nice as Pablo’s. Caroline had always liked arses. They were her favourite part of the body, sexually, male or female. Trish returned with two miniature vodka’s ready poured. She handed one to her friend as they sat side by side on the bed, propped up by soft pillows.

“I’ll tell you this much,” she said. “Baxter is in for the time of his life before I head back to Hull.”

“My fingers and tongue not good enough for you now are they?” said Caroline, taking a small sip of her vodka, enjoying the way the taste of the harsh spirit mingled with the after-taste of her best friend’s vaginal juices.

“Your fingers and tongue are bloody marvellous, but nothing beats a good hard cock, does it? And you know what they say about black men…”

Caroline was just about to half -jokingly accuse her friend of racial- stereotyping when they were both startled by the sound of Trish’ mobile, her ironic ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ ringtone sounding strangely incongruous in the unfamiliar surroundings.

Trish picked up the phone from the bedside table.

“Steven,” she whispered to Caroline, indicating the phone screen with her surprised eyes.

“The Steven?”

“Yeah, the Steven. I saved is number after he invited us here.”

“You’d better answer it then, hadn’t you, see what he wants.”

Trish nodded and pressed a button with a finger that had recently been put to other uses.

 “Hello?” she said.

Caroline only heard one half of the first part of the conversation.

“Yes, yes, yes, really?”

Trish then held her hand over the receiver and turned towards her friend.

“Someone’s dropped out, for tomorrow. He wants to know if I can go. He wants to know if I want to go.”

“And do you want to go?” asked Caroline, smiling, her hand on Trish’ upper thigh.

“You’ll miss out on Baxter’s big black cock if you go.”

Trish smiled.

“Fuck Baxter’s big black cock,” she said before removing her hand from the receiver and turning her attention to Steven on the other end of the line.

“Of course, I’d love to go,” she said.

 

 

 

Seven

Overall, Caroline was pleased that Trish would be joining her on her journey. But a small part of her was also disappointed. In every friendship there is also a rivalry, and it had been nice for her to be chosen for something above Trish. At school she’d always seemed to be one step behind her friend. It was Trish who was chosen first at games, or was invited first to parties. Caroline often felt like an afterthought when it came to such matters. Trish was more popular with boys too, at least until Caroline’s breasts suddenly inflated at the age of fourteen. Her breasts had equalised the situation.

 Neither of them slept much the night before their departure, because of the excitement, despite a couple more rather expensive raids on the mini-bar, and a second, enjoyable, semi-drunken, giggly, girly-sex session.

Nevertheless, they were showered, dressed and breakfasted and at their rendezvous point a good half an hour before schedule. They were dressed in jeans and T-shirts and light jackets, their travelling clothes, their single nice outfits folded as neatly as possible into the over-night bags that now looked woefully inadequate for the probable scale and duration of the journey to come.

Trish had made two phone calls before they’d finally slept. The first had been to to her mum with whom she’d become increasingly estranged since leaving home a year earlier. Trish’ mum was a teacher and she felt that Trish needed to start thinking about a future career rather than wasting her life washing other people’s smelly underwear. Trish always replied that she was a writer who happened to be temporarily earning her living in a launderette. In the phone call Trish told her mum the same as Caroline had told her dad; that she was going to Saudi to work in a hospital. If anything, her mum was pleased that she was at last doing something with her life. Trish hadn’t spoken to her dad since he’d walked out on his family when she’d been a little girl.

The other call was to Baxter.

“Yeah, I know it’s late, and yeah I’m sorry, really sorry, yeah it would have been fun: maybe when I get back I can give you a call?”

Baxter had not been pleased that their date had been cancelled. Probably he’d thought he was on a sure thing, which of course he was.

After their arrival at the Assessment Centre venue, the two girls waited nervously in the foyer from the appointed time of 08.30. Steven and Helen, who were to meet them, were late. In fact everyone was late; there was no one there from the Assessment Centre at all. Maybe everyone else had had second thoughts, the two pondered quietly. The two girls were even starting to wonder if they’d been the subject of an elaborate put on, that the ghost of Jeremy Beadle was about to leap out in disguise and tell them it had all been a joke. Then, Mousey Deborah arrived, giving them a nervous smile and a still more nervous ‘hello’ before sitting down at right angles to them on the long bench type seats that surrounded the main Reception counter, the tropical fish tank along one wall the only point of interest to look at. Mike the black guy arrived next and sat himself down next to Debora. Soon after that, Colin Sex arrived with a breezy ‘good morning,’ one eyebrow raised at the presence of Trish. He sat next to Mike.

“Colin,” he said loudly, “And you are…” He looked at each of the three young women and one young man present in turn, pointing but not rudely at each of them in turn, “Mike, Deborah, Caroline, and Trish. Good head for names.” He turned towards Mike. “Looks like we’re outnumbered mate, three-to-two; not that I mind. What happened to that other woman?”

“The Chinese woman?”  said Caroline, slightly embarrassed that she had no idea what the Chinese woman’s name was.

“Yeah.”

“Dunno. Steven said someone had dropped out though,” said Caroline.

“I’m her replacement,” added Trish.

“Yeah, I thought you were one of those who got the dreaded tap on the shoulder,” said Colin, adding. “Not that I’m complaining, you can’t have too many pretty faces around on a trip, not in my book.”  He looked at Mike. “Isn’t that right Mike?” Mike smiled somewhat patronisingly at him. Colin continued regardless. “No offense to the Chinese woman, whatever her name was.”

Trish smiled not unkindly. She never objected to male attention, whatever its source, and was quite capable of looking after herself if that attention went further than she desired. Actually, Colin wasn’t bad looking really, if he’d been a couple of stone lighter; and less of an obvious letch.

Conversation petered to a nervous halt. The receptionist, a middle aged man with a nineteen seventies comb-over peered at them occasionally over the top of his spectacles. Caroline wondered if he knew why they were there. The previous day, the receptionist had been an attractive young woman. Probably she was at home in bed now, being served breakfast by a gorgeous young man who’d shared with her a night of passion she would never forget. Caroline’s mind tended to wander when she was waiting.

About ten minutes after the five members of the group had assembled Helen entered the room, beaming a bright smile. Colin looked her up and down, from her modestly heeled shiny shoes to her immaculate hair, via her tight, calf-length skirt and floaty blouse. “Good morning everybody,” she said. “Glad you all made it. Now, would you all follow me please?”

She led them back to the room where the previous day they’d watched the film of life at the Base. The big T.V had been removed, but five small wooden desks had been added, each with a sheath of paper and a pen on top of it, as though they were about to sit an exam. Maybe they were, thought Caroline, maybe this was another test which would whittle their little group down still further.

She’d thought she’d finished with exams when she’d quit university, but in any case it wasn’t an exam; it was simply the preliminary admin’, necessary before their journey could commence.

“I want you to read carefully through the papers on top of the desk. And when you are ready, if you are ready, I want you to sign at the bottom of the last page. Please remember, you are under no obligation. You still have time to change your minds and forget that any of this ever happened. I’ll leave you to it for half an hour or so,” said Helen.

She left the room. They all began to read. ‘I the undersigned agree…’ began the top sheet. The document ran to thirty pages of close-print, and as with any such document Caroline’s initial careful reading quickly gave way to skimming for highlights. A quick glance around the room confirmed that everyone else but Debora was doing the same. The silence was absolute, aside for the turning of pages, the light-scratching of pens, and the varied rhythms, tone and volume of human breath. Occasionally, Trish and Caroline looked at each other and smiled slightly or shrugged. Caroline glanced at Colin. He was staring down at his paperwork in apparent deep concentration. ‘How much would he like to know what Trish and I got up to last night,’ thought Caroline; ‘and if he did know, how much would he have given to have been there; probably he’d have been happy just to watch. She wondered if he was married. His fingers were ring-less, but he probably had been at some point. She had him pegged as an occasional user of prostitutes and a habitual user of online porn, but maybe it was her who was stereo-typing now.

Basically, the thirty pages amounted to a long-winded, legalese version of what they’d already been told: that they would be assigned jobs on arrival at the Base; that they would initially be on six months probation, but were free to leave at anytime; that upon leaving they agreed not to talk to either the press or to other individuals about any details of their life there, save for mundane facts about their jobs, living conditions, friends and so on. They were also instructed not to reveal their location, should they ever discover it, and agreed to be ‘painlessly and non-dangerously’ rendered unconscious for the duration of their journeys to and from their secret destination.

Four of the group seemed to reach the last page of the document at the same time, although Debora was apparently still only about half-way through.

“You do realise,” said Mike, suddenly breaking the quiet, “that we are being asked to agree to be rendered unconscious by who knows what means by people we only met yesterday, with only their word for it as to the reason? I mean, I told my ex wife I was going to be taken to some secret base somewhere to work, and I gave her the name and address of this building, as a precaution, just so there is a trail if anything….if anything happened.”

Everybody nodded. Caroline hadn’t even thought to give her dad that much information. Strangely though, she wasn’t worried: nervous yes, apprehensive certainly, but not worried. Reckless she mused, just like my mum, just like dad said. She liked the idea of herself as reckless.

“Yeah, but what the hell, you only live once,” said Colin, signing with a flourish, slamming his pen down and sitting back as though daring the world to do its worst.. Caroline nodded, smiled, and signed her own name, quickly followed by Trish.

If anyone had been going to drop out at this stage Caroline would have had her money firmly on Debora. But actually, once the first three people had done the necessary, Debora flicked rapidly through to the final page of the document, speed-read it, and signed with an audible sigh of relief. She looked as though she was proud of herself; and, though Caroline didn’t know her, she also felt strangely proud of her. She knew of girls like Debora: girls who were always the last to get picked at school for games; girls who were the last to get a boyfriend; girls who were maybe secretly gay; girls who other girls picked on, including, sadly, girls like Caroline and Trish.

It was Mike who bottled it. He hovered over the signature box with his biro, and then set the pen down. He stood up and glanced nervously at the other members of the group.

“I’m sorry,” he said, clearly, decisively. “It’s been great meeting you all, and the very best of luck and all that. But it’s not for me. There’re just too many unknowns.”

And with that, he was gone, out of the door and out of their lives, forever.

Helen glided back into the room a few minutes later.

“Mike?” she queried.

“Done one.” said Colin.

 “Oh well,” said Helen, smiling, “there is usually one at this stage; and it’s usually a man. Is everyone else OK?”

Everyone else nodded.

“Good, then we shall proceed with the next stage.”

* * *

They were led through a backroom of the hotel into a waiting, non-descript black van with uncomfortable wooden seats in the back. The driver didn’t turn round or acknowledge them in any way, but Caroline could see from his reflection in the mirror that he was a youngish man with a moustache that was too old for his face. Helen sat next to him.

“At least they haven’t put us to sleep yet,” said Colin, quietly.

Helen turned towards them as the driver revved up the engine and their journey began.

 “We are on our way to Heathrow. It doesn’t matter if you know that much. It is there that the process will commence,” she said.

Caroline didn’t like the sound of the word ‘process.’

They were greeted in the Heathrow departure lounge by Steven. “Good morning,” he said. He was smiling too. His smile could adequately lubricate a nun, thought Caroline. She glanced at Trish and knew that her friend was having similar thoughts.

Colin greeted Steven with a manly handshake. Steven summoned the three women towards him as he and Colin stood side by side, and they meekly obeyed, surrounding him as Colin reverently stepped to one side to make room for Helen to take up her rightful place.

“I just want you to know that you can still change your minds,” said Steven. “No one will think any less of you if you do, though you will have to make your own way home I’m afraid. I know what a big undertaking this must seem, and indeed it is. You’ve had a lot to take in over the last twenty four hours. But you’re really going to love the Base. We wouldn’t have chosen you if we didn’t think that. So, if you’re sure, if you’re really sure, please follow me.”

He turned and everybody did as he asked. He was wearing loose cotton trousers. ‘Gorgeous arse,’ thought Caroline who strongly suspected Steven was a man who was used to women doing as he asked.

They didn’t pass through any security checks at the airport, nor even through passport control. There were no body searches or scans, and no depositing of mobile phones and jewellery into trays to make their way through little curtains via a conveyor belt to be retrieved at the other end. Instead, they were merely nodded through the various levels of security as soon as the usually fastidious, uniformed staff caught sight of Steven and Helen at the head of the little group. Clearly they were known, and wherever they were going, someone on high knew of it in advance.

 They ended up in one of those plush waiting rooms with reclining seats that are sometimes given over to passengers whose plane has been delayed overnight. Only Helen entered this room with them. Steven just smiled, said ‘good luck, see you soon’, and went off somewhere else. A small pile of clothes wrapped in cellophane were on top of a cupboard to the left of the room.

“Those are the night-clothes that you will wear for the duration of the process, and for the journey itself,” said Helen.

That word ‘process’ though Caroline again. She liked it less and less every time she heard it.

“Each package has your name on it. You will find that they fit you adequately if not perfectly. Colin, you can change in there,” she pointed to a curtained cubicle in a far corner of the room, “for modesty’s sake; and no peeking, ladies.”

“Does that mean it’s OK for me to peak when they’re changing?” asked Colin, deadpan.

“No!” said four female voices in unison.

Helen left them to it again.

Debora, Trish and Caroline unwrapped their packages and changed into identical, unflattering but functional pairs of white-cotton pyjamas which were hidden by warm, towelling dressing gowns. Debora looked shy undressing in front of the other two women, as Caroline expected she would. But she had a nice, trim, firm figure, once she removed her demure outer garments and was briefly and coyly left in nothing but her underwear.

“Are you decent girls?” called a voice from the curtained cubicle a few moments later.

“As decent as we get,” said Trish.

Colin re-appeared from behind the curtain, wearing clothes that were identical to the women’s in every aspect except size. He looked sheepish and embarrassed. Debora let out a low wolf-whistle, emerging suddenly from her shell, surprising Caroline and making everybody laugh, helping to break the tension.

 Helen returned minutes later, bringing the tension back with her. The scary part, the ‘process’, was about to begin.

* * *

 Helen indicated the four reclining chairs side by side and asked the members of the travelling group to take off their dressing gowns and make themselves comfortable. They removed their gowns and positioned themselves on the chairs. Caroline was next to Trish. Trish was at the end of the short row.

“You have nothing to worry about. Steven will be doing the honours and he’s is a trained nurse. It’s just one of his many other talents,” said Helen.

Steven re-appeared almost as if on cue, and after a friendly but perfunctory greeting opened a box containing four syringes.

 “All that is going to happen is that I’m going to inject you with a general anaesthetic that will last for the duration of the journey, plus perhaps an hour or so afterwards. You may feel a little groggy on awakening, but no more than that. And some of that grogginess will be due to the normal jet-lag you always get after a long-haul flight.”

So wherever we are going really is a long way away, thought Caroline.

 “Now please roll up one of your sleeves, it doesn’t matter which one,” said Steven.

They all did as he asked.

At least we’re not getting it in the arse thought Caroline, smiling to herself.

“And can I ask for a volunteer to go first?” asked Steven.

“OK, I’ll be the man and put my hand up,” said Colin.

Steven professionally prepared his material and approached Colin, needle poised between his fingers.

“Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

“OK, you’ll feel a slight prick, as it were. As soon as you do so, I want you start counting backwards from ten.”

Colin closed his eyes.

“Nobody can ever resist the ‘slight prick’ gag”, he said quietly. He grimaced slightly as the needle went in. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, si…” and then he was gone. Temporarily, Caroline hoped.

“So, who’s next?” said Steven.

Deborah was on the chair next to Colin. She raised her hand timidly but bravely.

 “OK, let’s get this over with,” she said. Her count only got as far as eight.

Steven was between Caroline and Trish.

“I’ll let you two friends fight it out amongst yourselves for the privilege of being my penultimate victim,” he said.

 Caroline presumed he always said the same things, with every new group, at every ‘process’. She looked at Trish.

“Up to you,” said Trish.

“OK, me, if you have no objection,” said Caroline.

Trish gave her an encouraging smile.

“See you on the other side Caz, good luck,” she said.

Caroline closed her eyes as she felt the needle against her skin, imagining that Steven was about to penetrate her somewhere else, with something else.

Her count was over almost as soon as it had begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight

Consciousness crept up on Caroline like a careful thief. At first, with the material world safely hidden behind her eyelids, she struggled to remember anything, even who she was. Slowly, muddy thoughts formed themselves into silent words: ‘I’m Caroline, Caroline Bradshaw. The last thing I remember is being in a waiting room at Heathrow. I was with my friend Trish and others; a Debora, a Colin. There was a woman called Helen and a good looking man called Steven. I’d met them before at an Assessment Centre. Steven gave me an injection. We were going on a flight to a place they call the Base. We weren’t told where the Base was and I don’t remember any flight happening. The last thing I remember is Steven piercing my skin with a needle and hearing myself counting, ten, n…’

At last, she forced open her eyes. The room was dimly lit, but hospital like, white and anti-septic smelling. The bed she was in was hard, but comfortable, the sheets crisp and as white as the walls. She strained her neck to the right where she could just about make out the figure of Trish sleeping on her side in a bed that seemed identical to her own. With a force of will and effort that verged on the heroic, she rotated her head to the left where Deborah was sleeping. There was no sign of Colin. Caroline felt heavy and drowsy. She comforted herself with the knowledge that this would pass. At least she was alive.

Caroline turned her head to the right just as Debora’s eyes flickered open. Caroline smiled weakly at her and Debora smiled weakly back.

“Hi” said Caroline. Her voice sounded to herself like it was coming from a million miles away, and from someone other than herself.

“Hi,” said Debora.

With another super-human effort, and by utilising the raised metal sides of the bed with her hands, Caroline pulled herself into a sitting position. There were six beds in the room in total, but three of them were un-occupied.

Trish was awakening, seemingly going through the same process of gradually re-emerging consciousness that Caroline and probably Debora had gone through, slowly opening her eyes, registering her environment and her memories of how she’d come to be in it. She tried to sit, but immediately fell back against the pillows. Caroline’s first instinct was to get out of bed to help her, but she knew that as yet her own body was still too weak and groggy to risk such an effort. At any rate, with the second attempt, Deborah accomplished her task.

“Good morning,” she said, looking in turn at Caroline and Deborah through blurry eyes. “If it is morning; have either of you any idea where we are we and what happens next?”

Trish was now almost fully awake and sitting. “No idea,” she said. “But I do know I really need the toilet.”

Caroline nodded, realising for the first time that she did too.

“And me,” said Deborah.

“Isn’t there a bell or a buzzer or something, so we can summon a nurse or whatever the hell they have here, wherever the fuck ‘here’ is?” said Trish.

Caroline examined her bed, muscle movement becoming easier by the second. There were actually quite a few buttons on the back-board of the bed, it all seemed very high-tech, but she had no idea of what any of them did. In any case, there was no need for her to attempt to find out, because at that moment a blue uniformed woman entered, almost bustling through the door.

“Good morning ladies. I’m Lizzy. I’m your nurse for the duration of your stay, which I promise you won’t be long. Great to see you all back in the land of the living. I hope you all slept well.”

Lizzy was black and rotund and middle-aged and her accent was Southern American. She could almost have stepped off the set of an unconsciously racist 1930’s Hollywood movie. So much so that Caroline couldn’t help but think of her as ‘Miss Lizzy. She nodded. She realised that she had slept well, if total, dreamless, drugged oblivion can be described as ‘well’, or indeed as ‘sleep’.

“Right girls,” said Lizzy, “did I hear someone say they needed to use the bathroom?”

The three women looked at each other. Lizzy’s eyes darted immediately and perhaps unconsciously to two small cameras clearly visible in opposite corners of the high ceiling.

This was the three girl’s first experience of surveillance on the Base.        

* * *  

The first day was mostly taken up with bodily ablutions, including a deliciously warm and refreshing shower. Quickly, the grogginess wore off. They were guided and directed every step of the way by the friendly and efficient Miss Lizzy. Their first food consisted of biscuits and tea or coffee, as though they’d just given blood. Later, they were provided with a menu from which they chose some of the best and freshest food that any of the three girls had ever tasted. This food was devoured in crisp, clean, brand-new night clothes on metal trays on their beds.  

The part of the building they had seen so far was windowless, so they still had no idea of their wider environment. They’d all had their watches and mobile phones removed, so nobody had any idea of what time it was, apart from through Miss Lizzy’s vague announcement of ‘Lunch Time ladies!’ as she’d arrived with her dumb-waiter-style trolley.

Nobody talked much as they ate, nor afterwards in the short delay between the last morsel of food being digested and Miss Lizzy’s arrival to take away their trays. The sense of dislocation of earlier had gone, but, for Caroline, and she was sure for the others too, a kind of shell-shocked sense of ‘what the fuck have I done?’ had kicked in.

When they did talk, they did so in whispers, overly conscious of the cameras above their heads.

“So what happens next?” said Caroline to Trish.

“Fuck knows.”

Debora seemed to be sleeping; or maybe she was just pretending to be sleeping. Caroline had started to like Debora more and more during the short time they’d spent together, or rather during the short time they’d spent together awake, because who knows how much time had elapsed whilst they’d been unconscious. Caroline recognised that it couldn’t be easy for Debora, being the one member of the group of three who wasn’t accompanied by her best friend.

 “Are you starting to regret this whole thing, or what?” Caroline asked.

Trish shrugged.

 “Dunno. I mean, not really. It’s too early to say, isn’t it?”

Caroline nodded. She was right. This could be the greatest thing ever or…

Her train of thought was cut short by the opening of the door and the entrance of Helen. She was dressed more casually than the girls had seen her previously, in simple tight-fitting jeans and tight, red T-shirt. “Good afternoon!” she said, almost as though she was surprised to see them there. “And welcome to the Base. I suppose you’re all wondering what is going to happen next?”

Caroline and Trish glanced at the cameras again in near-unison. Helen had clearly been observing them. Caroline imagined a plush room with a large monitor through which Helen, Steven and Miss Lizzy observed them constantly from comfortable chairs. Debora opened her eyes and sat up with a speed that indicated to Caroline that her guess as to the simulated nature of her slumbers had been correct. All three of them nodded and looked at Helen with expectation.

“Well, if you’d like to get yourselves up and follow me to another part of the Welcome Building your questions will be answered.”

So, not a hospital; we are in ‘the Welcome Building.’ the ‘Welcome Building’ on ‘the Base,’ thought Caroline. It was all starting to sound a bit Nineteen Eighty Four. Or was it Brave New World? She hadn’t read either of them, yet.

They all got out of bed and, in the absence of any other available clothing, wrapped themselves in their dressing gowns. The air conditioning seemed to have been turned up to max. The once stuffy room was now almost as cold as Hull in February.

They followed Helen through a long white-painted corridor which seemed eerily deserted. Many rooms lined the side of this corridor, but none of their doors were open. At last, as they neared what appeared to be a dead end, Helen turned suddenly and sharply to her left.

“Here we are ladies!”

Caroline was getting a bit fed up with being referred to as a ‘lady’, especially as there seemed to be a definite ironic tinge to Helen’s voice when she said it. Helen turned the wooden handle of an unlocked door and the three girls followed her inside.

It was a spacious, comfortable room which was warmer than both the room they’d recently inhabited and the corridor they’d just emerged from. At Helen’s invitation, they sat, Deborah alone on an individual two seat sofa, Trish and Caroline sharing another identical sofa. There were no other seats, but there was an expanse of thick, cream-coloured carpet. The walls were white and clean, the ‘Welcome Building’ seemed to have a thing about white, and were dotted with paintings, a Mondrian, a Rothko, a Brigit Riley, although Caroline was aware that it was likely that only she out of the group would have been aware of these names. As an artist herself she wanted to ask if the paintings were originals or copies. If they were originals they were moving in very expensive circles. She didn’t get the opportunity to ask, as Helen, still standing, began to speak in that practiced, cultured, slightly patronising voice of hers.

“Today will be spent almost exclusively in the Welcome Building, though we will shortly take you for a stroll in the gardens, just to show you that the outside world does exist. The clothes you had with you have been cleaned and pressed, but tomorrow after breakfast you will be taken shopping. You will be issued with special cards that will be ready loaded with your first month’s wages in advance. No cash is used on the Base. These cards can only be used here. When and if you leave the Base, whatever balance exists on your cards will be transferred to your normal bank accounts.”

Caroline felt a slight shudder at the word ‘if’.

 “As you were told back in London, all accommodation and utilities are free here, and prices are low, so that unless you are an out and out shopaholics, or an alcoholics, or both, you will be leaving with much more than you arrived with, whenever that might be. After shopping you will be taken to your accommodation to unpack the fruits of your excursion and to acclimatise yourselves to your new homes. In the evening, if you wish, you can enjoy the delights of the nightlife we have to offer. You will find that the Base has ample bars and clubs and restaurants. But please don’t drink too much! I know what young ladies are like, it isn’t so long since I was your age; it really isn’t! And there are plenty of young and attractive men here, and women, if you are that way inclined. You will find that nobody judges anybody else on the Base. As long as you do your job then pretty much anything goes. The day after tomorrow you’ll be informed of the nature of your work assignments. This information will be given at your individual apartments, at around one in the afternoon. Work on Monday starts at eight. The working hours for all of you will be eight to four, for now at least; any questions?”

The first question was Debora’s. She sounded nervous, but no more nervous than Caroline and almost certainly Trish was also feeling. “What about contact with the outside world? Our mobiles have been taken.”

“It’s a fair question. You will have to live without your personal mobiles for the duration, I’m afraid. I know how attached to your phones you young ladies are. You will be issued with new mobiles, very nice mobiles, whose signals will reach no further than the parameter of the Base itself. This is unfortunate, but necessary from a security point of view. The same goes for the Internet. Each of your apartments will have its own laptop equipped with all the latest bells and whistles, but no Internet access, I’m afraid, only an Intranet which serves the Base alone. You will be able email each other, and even to Skype one another, but not to contact anyone outside of the Base. You will be permitted to write one letter home each week. Usually the post is collected every Friday evening. But these may only be written in the form of a postcard, and will thus be accessible to anyone on the Base to read. Anything contentious will be blotted out, or the card will be returned to you for revision.”

Caroline looked at Trish. Trish looked at Debora. All three of them looked at Helen. This was serious shit.

“At least you will be able to tell your loved ones you are alive and well,” said Helen. “And remember, you are free to leave at anytime.”

“As long as we don’t talk,” said Trish.

“Yes, as long as you don’t talk,” said Helen. She was silent for a moment, as was everybody. “Now,” she went on, her voice brighter, her manner friendlier, “I’m sure you would love to see those gardens; and I bet you are dying to know where Colin is.”

* * *

The ‘gardens’ were in fact a tropical paradise akin to a vision of Eden. It was now early evening, but the Sun was still high in the sky. The brightness would have been unbearable after so long (how long?) inside, if Helen hadn’t issued the three girls with fashionable and expensive sunglasses as well as their newly cleaned and pressed outdoor clothing before they’d ventured out.

The air outside was warm with the sort of dry heat that one associates mostly with the Middle East, but by now everyone knew better than to ask if that was indeed where they were.

Before them, around them, and above them was all manner of exotic vegetation, none of which, apart from the ubiquitous Palm Trees Caroline knew the names of. As a painter though, she knew that she would be desperate to try to capture such beauty, somehow.

Birds chirped, and whistled and clucked and swooped above them too, a parrot, a cockatoo, a whole flock of budgies, if budgies live in ‘flocks’. The sky was blue and cloudless. It was the bluest, most cloud-free sky Caroline had ever seen, almost like a child’s view of the sky. And then, emerging through a thicket of vegetation, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, accompanied by a beautiful young blonde woman who was similarly clad, was Colin.

“Hello girls!” He said. He looked happy and they all smiled in greeting him. “It’s Good to see you all again.”

He indicated the blonde next to him: “And this is Sam, Samantha. She’s my, err chaperone, for the day. Lucky old me, ay?”

There was a nod and a wink in his voice. He was back to being Colin Sex, sub-seventies Sitcom character again.

“Sam, these are the girls from the Assessment Centre I told you about, Trish, Caroline and Debora. Obviously you know Helen.”

“Hello Sam, hello Samantha,” said Trish and Caroline in unison, remembering an old song from somewhere, almost but not quite laughing.

Sam and Helen led the way through a specially constructed concrete path that cut through the forest. Every now and again they came to an artificial clearing, laid out with wooden benches and tables, places where one might rest or have a picnic.

They did not pass anyone else on their walk. It was almost as if the forest, almost certainly a man-made, implanted, created, artificial forest, had been set aside specifically for them.

Soon, they were beginning to flag through the humid heat, and perhaps through the residue of whatever drug had been injected into them before their flight. Helen and Sam handed out water bottles. At last they reached the end of their trek. It ended in a very high, disappointingly brutalist brick wall. They could hear the distant sound of traffic beyond the wall, and a cacophony of mixed-up, far away music.

“Should we give them a first glimpse, just a tiny one, of the city, before we head back?” asked Sam.

“Why not,” said Helen pulling a contraption like a small T.V. remote control from the waist band of her jeans, pointing it at the wall. At the press of a button a well camouflaged, embedded gate, swung slowly and effortlessly open. It was all very Star Trek.

Helen beckoned the group towards the door.

They found themselves in a small room with mirrored walls on three sides of it.

“This is just an elevator or lift as you call it in England. It will take us up to an observation point,” said Helen before pointing the remote control like device again. The door swung closed and they began to rise.

The journey was smooth and lasted maybe a minute. After the elevator lift came to a silent halt, the door opened without Helen needing to point her device again. They all found themselves in the centre of a long, narrow, rectangular space that contained nothing at all, but which was fronted by a huge window that spanned the entire length of the space, and which overlooked the city.

The four travellers stepped towards the window, Helen and Samantha slightly behind them.

The city was a bustling metropolis. Sky-scrapers towered high over palm trees in the distance, helicopters flying above and between the modernist towers. There were people too. Some of them were soldiers in light blue uniforms and soft hats, but mostly they were civilians (if that was the right word) of every race and colour. Most of them were dressed simply in shorts or jeans, and T-shirts. Sandals and trainers seemed to be popular amongst those who weren’t in uniform, contrasting sharply with the hot and heavy boots of those who were. Most people wore shades against the still blinding Sun. A few bicycles were in evidence on the straight, grid-like roads, as was the occasional, large military vehicle. But there were no cars. Instead there were strange little buggies, almost like golf buggies, which held between one and eight people, and which moved soundlessly, almost though not quite in formation.

The four had of course seen much of this on film back at the Assessment Centre, but to see it in real life, even through the shield of thick glass, was something else.

Colin let out a low whistle at the scene, or perhaps simply at the sight of so many beautiful, multi-racial women beneath him. No one spoke for a while.

“That is where you’ll be working,” said Helen. “Impressive, isn’t it?”

“I’ll say. It’s like Pyongyang, only more modern, more high tech,’ said Colin. “I’ve been to Pyongyang.”

“It’s like looking into the future” said Caroline, almost to herself.

“If you look further,” said Sam, “as far as you can, you can just see the outline of the forest you’ve just travelled through. The Base is at the centre of the forest. You’ve only had the tiniest glimpse of it so far.”

The visit didn’t last long. Soon they were back inside the elevator, heading back to ground level and back to the Welcome Building by the same route they’d left it.

What remained of their first day in their new world was uneventful. After a delicious evening meal in the canteen, where the four travellers plus Helen and Sam were the only people present, Caroline, Trish and Debora were taken back to their hospital-type room to sleep. Colin apparently had a room all to himself. Actually, the three girls were too excited to sleep, and instead spoke quietly, mindful of the cameras, long into the night about what they’d seen so far; about what they might yet see; and about where in the world they might be.  

 The following day promised to be exciting.

* * *

 After breakfast, Helen was their guide and chaperone as they took their first trip through the city. They were picked up from outside the Welcome Building by one of those funny buggies, this one bright red and holding six people. Their driver was called Tam. He was oriental in appearance and wore an American style baseball cap. Helen sat by his side up front. Caroline thought that Colin looked disappointed that Sam hadn’t joined them, though she doubted the blonde beauty would ever give Colin anything more than friendly guidance. The city was busy, but as incredibly clean as it had looked from on high. Despite the heat, the air smelt fresh and unpolluted. Buggies, bicycles and good old fashioned walking were by far the main means of transportation. Even the occasional military style truck seemed to omit no toxic fumes. The four travelling companions sat in virtual silence for the duration of the journey. Nobody outside paid them any special attention.

 Their first stop was at their own apartments.

They were to be housed in what could best be described as high-class tenement blocks, five stories high, thirty flats wide, and three flats deep. They were big blocks and apparently everyone, according to Helen, lived in this sort of environment, regardless of job or status. Their block was a ten minute drive from the wall at the end of the city. As far as Caroline could tell, living quarters in the city were kept pretty separate from the shopping and entertainment areas. These latter areas were concentrated closer to the forest. Caroline soon learned that the phrase ‘the Base’ was used to denote the totality of the area, the forest and the city, as well as what lay above and beneath the surface, although as she as yet knew nothing about the world below.

Tam left Caroline, Trish and Debora at the door of their new living quarters. Colin was also about to clamber out of the back of the buggy, but Helen instructed him to stay seated.

“You’re going elsewhere,” she said. “But don’t worry. You’re going to love it.” Colin shrugged and looked a bit put-out, but didn’t question as Tam drove him quietly away.  

Caroline, Trish, and Debora were to be living in adjacent flats on the third floor of this particular tenement. Helen unlocked each of their doors in turn, handed them their keys, and said “Here we go ladies, home. For as long as you want it to be.”

They each entered their separate apartments, but were soon excitedly running to and from each other’s living space. They all had a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room and a bedroom. Every room was spacious and clean, light and airy, as were the communal areas between the apartments. Caroline suspected that such accommodation would have set them back the best part of a million in London, and would have been out of the reach of most people even in Hull, even to rent.

The apartments were sparsely, but tastefully furnished. Each living room had a large television, a phone and two sofas. Each kitchen had a washing machine and fridge freezer; and every dining room a polished table with matching seating arrangements for six. The bedrooms all had a double bed, a large mirror, wardrobe, a bedside table, a desk with a lamp and a laptop, and another, smaller television. Everything matched and everything was just the right size for the room in question, almost as if the whole place had been designed by a skilled interior designer.

“Isn’t it fantastic,” said Trish, sprawling next to Caroline on her best friend’s bed, after Debora had been and gone.

“And all for free!” said Caroline.

Trish turned towards her.

“Thanks for getting me here.”

“I didn’t ‘get you here’, Steve invited you because the Chinese woman dropped out, remember.”

“Yeah, I know, but if you hadn’t got that card off Pablo after you shagged him…it’s just lucky for me you’re such a slut.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Caroline felt Trish’ foot against hers as her friend continued to talk, adopting the needy little girl voice that men, and Caroline, found almost irresistible.

“Speaking of shagging and you being such a slut, and this bed being so comfy and everything, it makes me want to, you know, ‘Christen’ it, the bed and the apartment, and then go over to mine and do a bit of ‘Christening’ there too.”

Caroline laughed and rolled off the bed. She found Trish almost irresistible.

”Down girl! I wouldn’t mind myself, but actually if any ‘Christening’ is to be done I’d rather prefer it to be with a man. Have you seen some of the blokes walking around out there?”

“Oh yes,” said Trish. “Maybe you’re right. I’ve never seen so many fit guys in one place. Shall we try out the T.V instead then?”

 Caroline turned on the bedroom television. They sat side by side, backs propped against the headboard, and flicked through the channels. There were hundreds of them, but as they’d been made aware, there was no news from the outside world. There were films and television shows they recognised from home, mostly American, but nothing more recent than perhaps four or five years earlier. There were also a lot of Game-shows and Talent-shows made specifically on and for the people of the Base. During these there were periodic reminders that they were open to enter for all employees and residents; a phone number for those that wished to take part appeared with annoying frequency at the bottom of the screen. There were sports channels featuring coverage of various Base-wide competitions, male, female and mixed; and also several Porn channels, upon which the two girls dwelled perhaps too long, almost but not quite making Caroline re-consider Trish’ offer to engage in a spot of erotic baptism .

“I wonder if appearing in these porno films is open only to people on the Base as well?” said Caroline, staring at an incredible display of on screen sexual gymnastics.

“I don’t know, but I’ve seen that big black guy and that little Japanese chick before,” said Trish, smiling, her foot once again brushing Caroline’s.

***                 

Shopping was a blast. Caroline no longer had a shred of disappointment concerning Trish being with her. The Assessment Centre and her brief feelings of triumphalism at being selected ahead of her friend now seemed a long time ago. Maybe they were a long time ago. It was a nice being around Debora too. She seemed to be gaining in confidence and could now hardly be described as ‘mousy’ at all. Colin was also on the trip, with the beautiful Sam on hand to guide and advise him. They looked very comfortable and touchy-feely together. Maybe she was giving him a few extras on the side, thought Caroline. He clearly loved every moment of being the sole male amongst an excitable group of giggling, shopping girls, even if he did say that whatever outfit they tried on looked wonderful, no matter how horrendous it looked in reality.

The shops were the same sort of large department stores that could be found in any major city of the ‘developed’ world, although brand names on the Base were non-existent. The group had been issued with their special credit cards by Sam during a brief rendezvous in a nearby wine bar. She reminded them that they could only be used on the Base, and informed them how much they were ready loaded with.

“And that’s how much we’re going to get every single month?” asked Caroline.

Sam smiled and nodded.

“Well it beats the fucking launderette,” said Trish, hardly able to conceal her delight.

Nobody actually bought that much. It looked like life on the Base was going to be permanently hot, so mostly shorts and T-shirts were the order of the day, although each of the ‘ladies’ bought themselves a couple of showy, sexy dresses and showy, sexy shoes too, plus a Little Black Number each.

“You always need an LBN, don’t you?” said Deborah.

At one point Colin emerged from a cubicle wearing the sort of suit a professional footballer might wear at an awards show, but perfectly fitted to his own overly large frame. The girls all laughed and applauded and Colin bowed theatrically, taking their ironic approbation in good part.

They visited perhaps five shops in all. All were busy, as though they were in a particularly popular and multi-ethnic area of London. They went into a couple of the smaller shops too. These sold mostly sweets and chocolate and booze and the paraphernalia of electronic smoking. Traditional smoking, though not banned, was apparently unheard of on the Base, but Vaping was hugely popular, every second person seemed to be puffing away on devices of various shapes, sizes and colours, giving off different flavours of aroma, even inside shops and restaurants.

There was only one newspaper for sale. It was simply called ‘The Base’ and was available in a variety of languages. It seemed to contain nothing but sports reports, articles about various Base ‘celebrities’, and announcements of new arrivals like themselves. There was no mention of anyone leaving.

* * *

Night time was exciting in a whole different way. It was just Caroline and Trish and Debora on that first night out. They hadn’t seen Colin since shopping. Caroline had tried ringing him on one of the new slim-line, rather attractive mobile phones they’d been issued with and which seemed to be de-rigour on the Base. There was no answer. Maybe, for all his bravado, Colin felt awkward about being out and about with a gang of girls. Or maybe he was pleasurably and productively occupied with the lovely Sam.

Heading out, the three girls felt like teenagers going on their first holiday without their parents. They visited couple of wine bars and a couple of sweaty ‘rock clubs’ and ended up in a flashing, retro-late-eighties-style nightclub called Gulliver’s. They found a seat in a corner from which to drink and observe.

There were some beautiful women about and some even more beautiful men.

“So Debbie,” shouted Caroline above the loud Rave-style music. “What’s your type?”

Debora was wearing a slinky, clinging black and white dress, one of the sexy outfits she’d purchased that afternoon. She really did have an excellent figure.

“Oh, you know; someone nice. I don’t really do casual you know what.”

Caroline hadn’t heard anyone call sex ‘you know what’ outside of British Soap Operas.

“And there’s no one at home?”

They’d more or less had this conversation earlier, about relationships and stuff.

“No, like I’ve said, there was, from school, Nigel. I thought we’d be together forever but it….ended. I suppose I wasn’t good enough for him.”

“Fuck Nigel,” said Trish. “What about him over there?” She was pointing rather obviously at a tall, dark, slightly East European looking man who looked and dressed like a model and obviously knew his way around a dance floor.

“Yes, he’s lovely, but as if he’d look twice at me when he could have anyone he likes.”

 Indeed a dozen or so scantily clad beauties were semi-circling this vision of manliness, gradually edging closer to him like a pack of hungry animals enclosing their prey.

“Rubbish. You look gorgeous; especially in that dress. He’d have you like a shot,” said Caroline.

“I just said he was lovely. I didn’t say I wanted him to have me,” said Debora.

“Even though you do,” said Trish.

“I said I don’t do casual, remember,” said Debora.

Then, as one thumping tune moved seamlessly into another and the collection of sexually charged femininity around The Beautiful One squealed in delighted, unified recognition, something caught Caroline’s eye, or rather someone caught her eye.

The man who’d been the original catalyst for this whole adventure was circumventing the parameter of the dance floor like a careful explorer.

 “Excuse me girls,” said Caroline to Trish and Debora’s obvious surprise. “There’s someone over there I need to talk to.”

She made her way through the crush of heaving, sweating bodies until she was inches away from him.

“Pablo?”

He turned, at first not recognising her, or pretending not to recognise her. Then he smiled the smile that had never failed to turn Caroline on.

“Caroline!” he said, reaching for her, pulling her towards him. The hug was cut short by Caroline.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she shouted above the music. He shrugged and leant in close to her ear, saving himself from shouting back.

“I suppose I owe you an explanation,” he said. “Do you want to go somewhere to talk?”

 Caroline hesitated, and then nodded. She wasn’t smiling.

She returned briefly to Debora and Trish.

“It’s not what it looks like, but I’ve got to go somewhere.” The two girls gave each other knowing looks. Caroline looked at Trish.

“It’s Pablo,” she said.

“What the fuck’s he doing here?” said Trish.

“Good question; and one I’m going to find the answer too. I’ll be back soon. If you move on, ring me.”

* * *

 Pablo’s apartment was five blocks walk from her own. His living-space was almost identical to her own, except she’d been right about his ultra-conservative taste in art. Caroline was all for people expressing their cultural identity, but he had paintings of Bull-fights and flamenco dancers on his walls. It was like her grandmother’s idea of Spain.

She accepted his offer of wine, Spanish of course, and they sat at right angles to one another. His big T.V. was silently showing an old episode of Friends.

“You must have some questions for me,” said Pablo. He was dressed in tight jeans and a white T-shirt. The whiteness of the T-shirt made his skin look even darker.

“One or two,” said Caroline.

Pablo leant forward, looking at her intently.

“There’s no great secret. My father works on the Base sometimes, and I join him during the holidays, just for a break and to help out a bit. When I’m at University, I’m asked to look out for people who would fit well into life here. I always thought you would, but didn’t think you’d go for it; not until you told me you were quitting your course. Then I decided to give you the card, to give you the option of ringing the number or not.”

Caroline was confused.

“But you didn’t tell me anything about the Base; you didn’t try to sell it to me. I could just as easily have thrown the card into the bin the moment you’d gone.”

Pablo drained his wine quickly and shrugged.

“And if you had, so be it. What happens is what is meant to be.”

That had been more or less her own answer to the question about her deepest belief, at the Assessment Centre. Had she said something similar to Pablo at some point before that, or had someone relayed her answer to him since?

Pablo was still talking.

“Somehow I knew you wouldn’t just throw the card away. I knew you would ring it and that once you found out what was on offer we’d end up here at some point, much like this, having this conversation.”

“What are you, psychic?”

“No, sometimes you just know things. But anyway my brief is only to hand out the cards to people I think might be interested. I don’t get paid for it. If they end up in the rubbish, then it wasn’t meant to be. I lose nothing either way, though in this case I have gained by having the chance to see you again. I told you we’d meet again, remember?”

Caroline did remember; and what he’d just told her sounded plausible. Added to that, he still looked gorgeous. She wasn’t quite finished with the questions though.

 “Out of thirty odd people at the Assessment Centre, only four of us made it here; and one of us was a last minute substitute. I don’t know how many cards you hand out, but your success rate must be pretty minimal,” she said.

Pablo replenished his wine and then walked over to her, filling her own glass. He placed the bottle on the floor and sat down next to her, effortlessly changing the dynamic of the situation.

“Success and failure do not matter to me. As I’ve said, I’m just helping out my father.”

“And your father does what exactly?”

He took a sip of his wine.

“The only way you get to find out anyone’s job on the Base is if they tell you themselves. And even then you can’t be sure if they are telling the truth or not.”

She took a sizable drink.

“That all sounds very mysterious.”

He shrugged, his dark fathomless eyes burning into hers.

 “The Base is just what it is,” he said.

 He placed his wine glass on the floor by the bottle, and added “don’t you find mystery exciting?”

One hand snaked behind the back of her head, toying with her hair, whilst his other landed rather abruptly landed on her thigh. A pleasurable chill ran through Caroline’s body. She’d chosen the little black number for this first excursion out, and the short dress was all that separated Pablo from a full on view of her stockings and suspenders and flimsy black-lace bra and knickers.

Sex had not been at the forefront of her mind when she’d accepted Pablo’s invitation to his apartment. What she’d wanted was answers. But there was no denying that she did indeed find the mystery of the Base exciting, almost as exciting as she found Pablo’s olive-skinned muscular body and dark Latin features. And then there was the memory of what he was capable of in bed.

His fingers massaged her thigh. She made no attempt to brush his had away.

“Maybe, maybe just a little bit,” she said, looking into his eyes. Neither of them blinked, in case the magic spell was broken.

Within seconds they were kissing, and within minutes she was undressing, stripping, her dress discarded to the sofa as she stood before him in nothing but her sexy new underwear. Without prompting, Pablo quickly removed his T-shirt, revealing that gloriously muscular, hairy chest. His trousers soon followed, revealing a large bulge at the front of his silk boxers.

Caroline was wet and needed little in the way of polite preliminaries. She sank to her knees and rubbed the cheek of her face against his bulge before pulling his boxers down and off. She licked the tip of his now fully erect cock before taking him into her mouth, sucking him almost, but thankfully not quite to the point of ejaculation. He pulled her to her feet and led her to the bedroom, to the bed, draping her over the edge, her back on the mattress, her legs spread. He knelt between them and all but ripped away her knickers before eating her out with desperate hunger. She screamed with pure animal pleasure as she came, and afterwards she silently thanked God she was a woman; that unlike a man, no recovery time was necessary before she was ready for more of what her lover had to offer.

 They made use of the entire space of the bed as they pleasured each other in a variety of positions, culminating in Pablo between Caroline’s legs, pumping away at her in the good old fashioned missionary, whispering sweet Hispanic nothings as she reached her second powerful, screeching climax of the evening. As her orgasm subsided, he withdrew and uttered a great roar of masculine relief as he unleashed a thick, warm wad of best Spanish sperm upon her belly and breasts.

God, I’m never going to resist this man, thought Caroline, as her breath and senses returned. We could meet once every few months and he could summon me like a dog and I’d meekly do everything he asked and a lot more besides. Maybe Trish is right. Maybe I really am a slut.

After the sex, lying together in the bed, naked and snug and entwined, Caroline quizzed him further about life on the Base.

“I mean, who exactly are we going to be working for here: the Americans; the UN?”

“You’re asking the wrong person. I just spend some of my vacations here. I don’t even know my father’s job, not really. All I can give you is rumour. It’s OK to give you rumour. Everyone talks rumour here. No one seems to mind.”

“So, rumour away sexy Spanish man.”

“Well, it’s probably UN, but a special secret wing of the UN; and I don’t know where we are. They always put me to sleep, every time I come, and every time I leave. They do that with everyone. As for the rest of it, I know there are special lifts around the place, and only a select few have access to them. People say these lifts go down, way down to a whole other underground city below this one.”

“Where they do what, precisely?”

“I don’t know, like I say it’s just rumour. But you hear talk of special interrogation centres where terrorists are, err, interviewed, tortured, whatever.”

“Tortured?”

“That’s what they say.”

“Wow. That’s horrible. Anything else?”

 She snuggled in even closer to him. For reasons she decided not dwell on, she was getting horny again already.

His hand nonchalantly caressed a breast.

“Well some people say that this place, or rather the underground parts of it, is the Hub of the Elite. I’ve heard that phrase a few times. It means it’s the place where the world is really run from; by the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati or whoever; you’ve heard of these groups?”

Caroline found it difficult to talk serious conspiracy theory when her tits were being massaged by a gorgeous Spaniard who’d just made her come, twice. She managed to speak.

 “Of course I have. But I thought that sort of thing was for nerds and geeks and nutters; the type of people who take David Icke seriously.”

“Maybe it is. Like I say it’s all just rumour; nothing more.”

Her hand found his gradually hardening cock.

“You’ll be telling me there are Aliens down there next.”

“Down there?” 

Caroline laughed.

“Not down there. Down there, in the underground city.”

“Yeah, well, the rumour mill ispretty big on Aliens too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine

Caroline returned to her apartment at seven-thirty the next morning.  Trish knocked on her door at nine-thirty, disturbing her much needed and greatly desired sleep. Caroline answered the door with blurry eyes and admirably well-hidden resentment.

 “State of you. Time to tell your aunty Trish all about what you and the gorgeous Pablo got up to last night,” said Trish.

Caroline made them coffee, extra-strong and extra sweet. They sat at the dining table.

She told her all about Pablo’ dad working on the Base; and about him randomly handing out cards to those he thought might be suitable material for life there.

“Wow, that’s really interesting. But what is even more interesting is…”

“I know, I know. Did we or didn’t we?”

“That’s about it yeah. And how many times; it was three last time, wasn’t it? If he beat that, he must be some kind of superman.”

“It was twice actually, if you must know.”

“Oh well, still, not bad. Are you two about to become an item then?”

“No, he’s going back to Lancaster soon, back to boring old Business Studies. Besides, I’m not looking to become an item with anyone; you should know that.”

Trish nodded.

“Fair enough; me neither. Especially here; why limit yourself to one sweetie when there’s a whole delicious jar full of them out there?”

 Caroline smiled. She was waking up and could never stay annoyed at Trish for long.

“And what about you; you meet anyone last night?”

“No. I had a couple of nice slowy’s on the dance floor towards the end, but I went to bed alone, sadly. I considered knocking on yours, but I knew you’d be busy. Anyway, the big news is that Debora, mousey little butter-wouldn’t-melt Debora, copped off with that tall, super-fit guy from the dance floor, the one who every female in the club was after, and probably a few of the men as well?”

“Really? Now that is interesting?”

“Yeah, he strolled over just after you’d left and virtually dragged her off to the dance floor. It turns out his name is Sergei and he’s Russian. He doesn’t speak much English, but I doubt they did much talking. I didn’t see either of them after about ten-thirty.”

“She’s a dark horse…”

“Yeah, dark horse meets Russian stallion.”

“It’s always the quiet ones, and all that.” 

“Exactly. Lucky cow.”     

* * *

For the first time in her new apartment, Caroline cooked, lunch, simple pasta and tuna on the neat, functional electric cooker in the kitchen; and then, as promised, at one o clock precisely, there was a knock at the door. She was expecting it to be Helen, but in fact it was Sam, once again looking like a super-model on a day off.

“Good afternoon. Ready to discover your fate?” she said.

  Sam was wearing shades, which she kept on inside the apartment. She was friendly, but Caroline thought that it was almost like a simulation of friendliness. The way she said the word ‘fate’ sounded slightly sinister, but Caroline let it pass as imagination. At least it distracted her from the repetitive mental vision of Sam nonchalantly stripping down to her no doubt sheer and expensive underwear. Caroline was beginning to think that maybe it wasn’t just ‘friendship sex’ she had with Trish: maybe she really was Bi. First she’d been quietly lusting after her dad’s young trophy bride, and now this Sam was making her tingle in all the best places.  

Caroline banished such thoughts and offered her visitor a coffee, meaning nothing more than coffee. Sam declined.

“Caffeine just makes me jittery. I try to avoid it. I have other vices, but not when I’m working. Why don’t you get Trish over? You’re both going to be on the same team, and that way I can kill two birds…not literally kill you, of course, and I don’t usually call women ‘birds’ you understand. I’m not Colin.”

Caroline smiled at Sam’s gentle verbal poke at Colin, and wondered again at the nature of the relationship between the two of them. It was good news about her being on the same team as Trish. She’d been experiencing some nervousness about what was in store for her job-wise. She’d had no real experience of paid employment. Her only ‘job’ had been helping her dad out in his business. It would be good to have her friend with her.

 Within minutes, after a quick phone call, Caroline and Trish were sat side by side with their respective coffees. Caroline couldn’t help but notice that the way Trish looked at Sam was not exactly lust-free either.

“The two of you have been assigned to the Indoor Clean Team,” said Sam.

“You mean we’re going to be cleaners?” said Trish, the merest hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Yes,” said Sam, “indoor cleaners. You’re lucky. The Outdoor Clean Team starts work at five-thirty in the morning. That’s why the streets are always so clean so early. You don’t start until nine, though you’re expected to be ready for eight-thirty.”    

“And we’ll be cleaning what exactly?” asked Caroline.

“Oh, just the office buildings you see around the city. You’ll be assigned to a certain amount of jobs per day. A buggy will pick you up each morning and give you your details for the day.”

Caroline couldn’t resist a gentle dig at her friend.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll teach Trish the basics, what cleaning material does what, how to use a mop, all that.”

“Cheek! I know how to clean. It’s just that I don’t bother much, at home; different when you get paid for it. At these wages I don’t care how much shit I have to get rid of.”

After Sam had run through a few more minor details and left, the rest of the day was a relaxed affair. Caroline and Trish went out for a nice Indian meal with Debora who was saying little about her night of Slavic passion, if such it was, though both Caroline and Trish noticed that she seemed to be having difficulty keeping the smile off her face. Neither of them saw Colin, or Pablo. There was very little drinking and definitely no sex. An early night was the order of the day.

The next morning, work began.

* * *

It turned out to be as simple as Sam had described it. They were picked up each morning by buggy, by various drivers male and female, few of whom talked much, and then taken to the Cleaning Centre where they were handed a list each of exactly what rooms on what floors in what buildings were to be cleaned. They were also told who they were to be working with on that particular day. They always worked in pairs. Sometimes Caroline was with Trish, sometimes she was with Debora, and sometimes she was with someone else. Naturally, she liked working with Trish best, Debora second best, and a dour, middle-aged, brusque, sour-faced woman from Leeds called Sandra least of all. There were male cleaners, but women always worked with women and men with men. Nobody ever explained why.

 Rooms were cleaned every day except Saturday and Sunday, so they never really got that dirty. There was a lot of dusting involved, a bit of anti-bacterial spraying, an occasional dab of bleach applied. They were kitted out in unflattering overalls and given protective aprons and gloves. They were handed out instructions each morning on how long to spend in each room and how long they would have in each building until their driver arrived to take them to the next assignment bang on schedule. At the end of the working day, officially four-thirty but more often four, they were transported back to their apartments. And that was it, Monday to Friday, with every weekend free.

 Socially, the girls tended to take it easy during the week, maybe a meal out and a couple of glasses of wine. Caroline also dedicated at least two evenings a week to her painting. Trish claimed to be writing, ‘bits and pieces’, but as ever showed her efforts to no one. Their mad time was Friday and Saturday nights. Then, the drink flowed freely, as did the men. Caroline was probably a bit choosier than Trish, but only marginally so; and Debora from that first night onwards, stuck to Sergei. Even more surprisingly given his Slavic gorgeousness, Sergei, as far as Caroline and Trish knew, stuck to Debora.  

There certainly were a lot of beautiful men on the Base, and most of them were apparently unattached. Exclusive couples seemed rare, and children were weirdly non-existent. No one wore uniform in the bars and clubs and restaurants. This seemed to be an unwritten rule. Nobody ever told you their job, unless it was a menial occupation like hairdresser, or cleaner. Instead they’d wink and say something like ‘Master of Espionage’ or ‘Nuclear Physicist’. This was particularly true of the men. Caroline could never quite be sure whether they were telling the truth or not. But then again, that was true at home too. She’d once had a one night stand with an up and coming Hull City footballer who turned out to work in Burger King, although he’d  been a decent enough shag.

 She heard the same rumours that she’d heard from Pablo time and time again, and always with the proviso that they were nothing but rumours. She saw nothing personally that indicated torture or Aliens or Secret Rulers of the World.

As for Colin, better things were chosen for him than being a mere cog in the ‘Clean Machine.’ Caroline would never forget his excitement when he told them about his own work assignment. It was just her and him and Trish. Debora was elsewhere, probably busy with Sergei. They were in a bar; a quiet bar that could almost have been a local English boozer.

 “They’re going to make me a Television Star,” he said, grinning hugely. “Only on the Base, obviously. Well, at first anyway. Who knows after that? I could be the new Bradley Walsh, or Dale Winton, well maybe not Dale,” he added, obviously disturbed by the potential gay implications.

 They didn’t see much of him after that, apart from when they tuned into the cheesy game show he presented. He was no better and no worse than most cheesy game show hosts, at home or on the Base. Quickly, he shed weight and dressed better. At first the girls watched every night, until, after a week or two, the novelty wore off. Whenever they did see him, in the flesh, in a club or somewhere, he always seemed to have a beautiful woman on his arm or draped around his body. Occasionally he’d even be seen out and about hand in hand with sexy Sam. Understandably, he always looked happy.

As Caroline and Trish neared the end of their six month probation period, the individual ‘Reviews’ which would decide whether they remained at or left the Base became due. So, inevitably, when Caroline was called to a meeting soon after the turn of the New Year, a New Year that had been seen in with an incredible display of fireworks and neon-light, she assumed that it would simply to discuss the end of her trial period. She’d already decided, as had Trish, as had Debora, that if given the opportunity, they would be staying where they were. They were having too good a time not to.

 But Caroline’s meeting wasn’t about that, or at least it wasn’t only about that. Her meeting turned out to be with Steven and was a much bigger meeting than she’d been expecting.

It was the meeting where she agreed to become the first human being ever to have sex with a being from another world.

 

 

 

Ten

After the fateful meeting had concluded with Caroline agreeing to Steven’s astonishing proposal, she refused the offer of a buggy-lift back to her quarters. She needed to walk. She needed to think. Life on the Base had always been slightly surreal, but it was now about to become momentous too.

The meeting had taken place in a part of the Base where she’d never previously had cause to venture, inside a huge building, most of which seemed to consist of ludicrously long corridors. She’d had to pass through three security checks before she’d reached her destination. Sam had acted as her guide, Tam as her driver. The security checks consisted of having her personal Base I.D. card electronically swiped through hand-held devices, by huge, uniformed but seemingly unarmed officers. Leaving, she was allowed to make the same journey in reverse and on foot alone, but with the same security checks performed.  

 Finally, she found herself outside of the artificially lit, air conditioned corridors and in the open air. The sun was blazing high in the sky, as it almost always did during the day on the Base. She thought briefly of Hull in January, cold and dark and depressing. She wondered what would really happen if she decided to leave the Base. Of course, they’d all signed the declaration not to talk before they’d left England, but would she now be allowed to leave at all, knowing what she did? Always there were dark rumours about what happened to those who left and did talk. Nobody spelled it out, but these rumours mainly concerned unexplained ‘accidents’ that left people either dead or at the very least unable to speak out, about anything, ever again. Pablo had been the first person she’d heard voice these rumours; and Caroline couldn’t help but wonder now if he’d been speaking with some form of higher authorisation, in order to warn her against any idea of leaving.

Trying to relax on her bed after returning to her apartment, listening to some of her favourite chill-out music, she couldn’t help but dwell on these thoughts as she constantly went over the afternoon’s discussion with Steven. After making his offer he’d gone on to tell her that the Alien had been on Earth and at the Base for about eight months. They’d been studying him, learning from him and teaching him the ways of the human. She’d been shown film of him eating, walking, talking in a variety of languages, reading, exercising and playing Pool and Chess. He seemed like a normal male human being; a normal, highly intelligent, super-fit, highly-skilled, astonishingly beautiful, ultra-male human being. The next stage in his education, and in the human races knowledge of him, was to see how he interacted sexually with a real-live human-woman.

***

She needed to talk. Steven had told her she was allowed to confide in one person. ‘We know you will need to talk to someone about this, that’s natural enough. I presume that person will be your friend Trish?’

Caroline had nodded.

‘Fine, we will of course also speak to Trish ourselves so as to stress the importance of her not talking to anyone else. It wouldn’t hurt for you to stress this to her yourself, in the meantime.’

By ‘we’ she hadn’t known whether he’d meant him personally, perhaps in conjunction with Helen, or Sam, or both, or some scary, shadowy Men in Black types.

‘And it goes without saying that you do not mention any of this in your postcards home. Such talk shouldn’t pass the Censor anyway of course, but every now and then you get some lazy so and so who doesn’t even bother to read stuff before he approves it…’

His voice had trailed away as though he’d been on the brink of telling her something important. Actually Caroline’s weekly postcards home to her dad had started to become fortnightly and then three-weekly. There wasn’t much to say, if you cut out the rumours and the sex. She soon tired of making up stories about the ‘hospital’ in ‘Saudi Arabia. She’d recently had an interesting postcard from her mum though, passed onto her via her dad. She’d moved on from India to Thailand. She was delighted that her daughter was having some sort of adventure, though she of course had no inkling of how much of an adventure that was about to become.  

Back in her room, Caroline rang Trish on her mobile and asked her to come over.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about,” she said.

“Great, sounds interesting. I’m just out shopping, but I’m nearly back now. I’ll bring wine.”

* * *

 Caroline was sprawled on her bed in her pyjamas, occasionally sitting up to take a sip from the large glass of chardonnay on the bedside table. Trish was sitting by the window in jeans and T-shirt. She was also drinking wine, whilst periodically Vaping thoughtfully. She’d been an occasional smoker, back home, now she’d taken to Vaping as though she was born to it. Caroline always enjoyed the subtle, transient aroma of the variously flavoured fumes, though she was not tempted to take up the habit herself. Night time had fallen, and sometimes Caroline liked to sit at that window seat herself, looking out at the bright, neon-lit sky-line. She’d produced a few paintings of that view, both day and night scenes, all highly abstracted, of course. She’d just finished relaying the details of her conversation with Steven, including his warning about not repeating the story to anyone else.

‘Someone will no doubt be in touch with you soon,’ she’d concluded.

 “Well, I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to that or not. I mean, if it’s Steven himself, well he’s sex on legs, but this is, like, wow, I don’t know what to say about this whole thing. It’s just too massive to take in. I mean, you hear stuff about this place, but…”

Her voice trailed away as Caroline nodded.

“And you’ve really said you’ll do this thing?”

“Yeah, I’m not sure if a ‘thing’ is the right way to describe him; but, yeah, I’ve said I’ll do him.”

Despite her nervousness, she could still see humour in the situation.

 Trish laughed a short, worried laugh.

“Wow I’m generally up for adventure, as you know, especially when it comes to sex, but I’m not sure I’d be up for this.”

Caroline sat up, suddenly all seriousness, clarifying her thoughts as she spoke.

 “I suppose adventure’s a part of it. But there’s the money angle as well. They haven’t gone into detail, but Steven said I’ll be made for life if I go through with it. The rest of my life could be another hundred years; and to be financially secure in exchange for just a few days work. Well, not exactly work. Like Steven said, I might even enjoy...”

“Mm, yeah, you do know there’s a word for women who have sex for money?”

Her best friend’s tone of voice was more kind than her words.

“Yeah, but it isn’t like that, is it? I mean this is, like, err, science.”

They both burst out laughing at this, and Trish got up to join Caroline on the bed, placing her own wine glass on the bedside table, as well as her now dormant pink pseudo-cigarette. She reached over and stroked Caroline’s face. Caroline could tell exactly what was on her mind. They hadn’t had sex with each other since they’d left England.

 Trish’s hand slid from Caroline’s face to her breasts, then inside her pyjama bottoms, then inside her knickers, straight to the point, hardly giving Caroline time to object or resist. Not that she had any intention of objecting or resisting anyway. The conversation with Steven had brought forth many emotions, fear not least amongst them. But fear is often not that far removed from sexual desire, and she could not pretend that that wasn’t present within her too. Sitting opposite the gorgeous Steven, watching film of the even more gorgeous Alien, being chosen by that being from all of the women on the Base, from all of the women on Earth…

All these things had played there part in making her physically hungry for sex; and comfortable, loving sex with her best friend was at this moment preferable to seeking out a random male.

 “And this Alien; he’s all there is he, anatomically speaking?” said Trish, her finger gently and expertly massaging Caroline’s sex.

Caroline sighed with the building pleasure.

 “Yes, well, so I’m assured by Steven. I haven’t seen his… I haven’t seen it. They didn’t put that in the film.”

“But he really is gorgeous?”

Caroline looked at Trish. Her friend’s eyes were closed in concentration as she continued to dextrously stimulate her. She suspected Trish was getting off on this whole Alien thing almost as much as she was.

 “Yeah he is; like, a God, actually,” she whispered as Trish inserted her fore-finger into her. Caroline squealed with pleasure-pain delight.

“Then go for it girl; and I want every detail. But first...”

First she wanted Caroline. And she had her; in almost every way it is possible for one woman to have another, the session ending with the two of them climaxing simultaneously as they stimulated one another with expertly dextrous fingers.

 During some of this lovemaking Caroline was thinking about him, about the Alien, about what it might be like to have sex with a God, a Superman.

* * *

The next morning, Caroline was in another office, deep below the city. This was her first journey to the world below. Even to reach the elevator she’d had to pass through five security checks. She was accompanied by two large, unsmiling security guards, one black and one white, both with an array of frightening looking gadgetry dangling from thick belts around their thick waists. The elevator was guarded by another similarly attired and similarly dressed man. It had no floor numbers inside, just a single, large red button, the pressing of which marked the beginning of a slow, smooth but seemingly endless descent, even longer than the earlier climb to the Observation point above the city. After leaving the lift, Caroline and her two minders boarded a buggy, driven by a fourth and this time casually dressed young man. The buggy glided smoothly down long, empty, art-lined corridors through three more security checks. Eventually, Caroline finally found herself across a desk from Helen.

Apart from those first few days at the Base, when she’d been assimilating to her new surroundings, she hadn’t seen Helen at all. She’d sort of assumed she’d had gone back to England to take part in the ‘process’ of attempting to recruit more new people to the Base. But wherever she’d been, here she was now, sitting nonchalantly in a high-backed swivel chair, power-dressed to the hilt, looking down at Caroline. A cafeteria of coffee and two cups were ready on the immaculately polished mahogany desk.

 “Black and strong, if I remember correctly,” said Helen.

At the Assessment Centre there had been a near endless supply of coffee. Caroline nodded. Dark, hot liquid was poured and the formalities of small talk were quickly spoken and dispensed with before Helen quickly got to the point.

“Today, if you are still up for it, you will have your first meeting with him.”  

She said the word him almost as though it should have been spelt Him; like he really was a God, or perhaps THE God.

Caroline nodded nervously.

 “OK.”

Things were happening more quickly than she’d expected. But if she was going to go through with this, and there had never really been any doubt that she was, now seemed as good a time to begin as any.

 “Look,” continued Helen after acknowledging Caroline’s acquiescence with her eyes, “I have two things I need to say to you: firstly, you are not expected to simply jump into bed with him. The idea is that you’ll spend time getting to know each other first; until you’re ready; until you’re both ready.”

Caroline smiled, keeping her nerves at bay, her humour intact.

 “You mean we’re going to date?”

“Yes, if you like. ‘Date’ is as good a way of putting it as any.”

“And how many ‘dates’ exactly are we expected to have, before you think it’d be right for us to ‘jump into bed’?”

“There is no limit, in principle; though at a certain point we might have to decide that the whole thing just wasn’t working. Then I suppose we would need to look for a more suitable candidate for his first erotic-human-interaction.”

Caroline mulled over the phrase ‘erotic-human-interaction’ for a short while.

“And what would happen to me if you or he chose someone else for his first Earthly bunk-up?”

 “Nothing. You will be rewarded for your time, and everything will be as it was before.”

“As long as I don’t talk?”

“Yes. But this is not something we are envisaging happening. After all, he chose you above all others. We are expecting a successful and mutually beneficial conclusion to the encounter.”

Caroline took that to mean Helen expected her to fuck the Alien and enjoy it.

She leant back in her chair, smiling slightly. The whole scenario was surreal, but exciting.

 “Well, in my experience three dates is usually enough. If a guy can get to a third date with me, then he’s pretty much on a promise. To be honest, it doesn’t usually take that long. As I’m sure your spies have told you.”

Helen laughed. It was a kind laugh, or perhaps a simulation of a kind laugh.

“I can see why he chose you. I can see why he likes you. I like you. I have done since we first met. I was not at all surprised by his selection. You have SQ.”

 She paused, took a sip of her coffee, white and sugar-less, and continued.

  “But the second point I wanted to make is that the power does not all lie with us, or with the Alien.”

Caroline silently noted that this was the first time Helen had used the ‘A’ word.

“You can choose to abort this process whenever you like.”

 Caroline wondered who the ‘us’ Helen referred to was. She also preferred the phrase ‘relationship’ to ‘process,’ and decided that that was how she would try to think of her dealings with the Extra-Terrestrial, wherever those dealings led. 

“But if I do call a halt,” she clarified, “nothing bad would happen to me and I could choose to stay on the Base as a cleaner or go home, whichever I preferred, so long as I didn’t talk?”

“Yes.”

“And if I did talk about it, then something bad would happen to me?”

Helen looked Caroline in the eye and said nothing. The look was enough to tell her all she needed to know.

“OK, OK. I’m ready. Let’s do this thing. But I’ve been told so little about him. I don’t even know his name, or where he is from. A bit more information wouldn’t go amiss.”

Helen nodded.

 “Yes, well, there are reasons why you have been told so little. It was thought best to keep the process as normal as possible. To let you get acquainted naturally, as you would in a normal relationship.”

Caroline shrugged.

“But I do generally know the names of my dates; especially by the time I have sex with them.”

She drifted into reverie for a moment, remembering one particular occasion when she hadn’t.

“OK, fair enough,” said Helen, cutting short Caroline’s sexually-charged memory-stream. “As far as names go, his real name is unpronounceable and untranslatable from his own language. We gave him a choice of Earth names to be known by; and after careful consideration, he chose Rupert.”

Caroline let out a burst of involuntary laughter, a residue of coffee-coloured saliva spurting from her mouth.

 “Rupert, Rupert the Alien; are you fuckin’ serious?”

She dabbed incredulously and ineptly at the spillage on her crisp, white blouse with a paper tissue she took from a box on the desk.

Helen laughed too.

“Yes, I know. It’s not exactly Klatu or KPax is it? But we did tell him he could choose any name he wanted.”

“And he chose Rupert? Maybe he’s not such a genius after all.”

“Maybe; or maybe he’s being ironic.”

“Extra-Terrestrial irony,” said Caroline. “Now there’s a concept.”

After she‘d recovered from her bout of incredulity and hilarity, Caroline had more questions.

 “Look, I need to know that he knows how to behave around a woman, a human woman; I’m presuming they do have some form of opposite sex on his own planet. I mean, I don’t know how strong his sexual drive is, but I would like to know he’s not just going to leap on me and force himself on me like some kind of wild animal.”

Actually, this fleeting vision did have some appeal for Caroline, at least in theory.

Helen shook her head.

“No, as you’ve seen on the film, his behaviour is impeccable in all situations. Whether that is natural or simply learnt behaviour is a different matter. At least be thankful he didn’t learn from the type of men I used to meet back home around closing time.”

Caroline was strangely gratified by this little snippet of revelation from Helen’s life pre-Base, and wondered were ‘back home’ was; but Helen didn’t elaborate and Caroline thought it best not to pursue the question. Helen continued.

“But an evaluation of his behaviour around a potential sexual mate is one of the points of the whole exercise, the whole experiment if you don’t mind me using that awful phrase. And of course you will be on camera at all times. It might be difficult for you that this will also apply to the bedroom, or wherever you decide to consummate the process, should you decide to do so. But please just try to forget you are being observed. The cameras are there for your safety, as well as for reasons of scientific investigation; not that we are anticipating any danger to you; and anything that would normally take place in private will, I promise, only be seen by those who have a need to see it.”

It won’t be the first time I’ve had sex on camera, thought Caroline. There’d been that night with Trish and the two policemen back in Hull for a start. Watching yourself at it was fun, and being watched was a turn on, or at least the idea of being watched was. She wasn’t sure yet how she would deal with the reality in this proposed scenario though. She moved rapidly on to her remaining questions.

“And we will be able to communicate properly, me and, err, Rupert?”

 It felt strange saying his name, especially this name, as though it belonged in inverted commas.

“Yes, as you have seen on the film he seems to have the ability to assimilate any language perfectly after observing only a few conversations. He’s mastered fourteen so far. Including Mandarin and Albanian.”

“Wow.”

 Caroline had just about managed schoolgirl French.

“And does he have any, like, special powers?”

Helen smiled almost mischievously.

 “You mean like Superman?”

“I suppose.”

“Not as far as we know.”

Not as far as they knew.

“Anything else? If you have any doubts or any last questions, now is the time to express them.”

Caroline did have one final question.

 “Is my blouse stained?”

Helen smiled. This smile seemed to Caroline like a smile of genuine shared female camaraderie.

“Your blouse looks fine. He’s going to love you.”

 

 

Eleven

He was even more beautiful in reality than he had been on film. Their first meeting took place in what amounted to another of those human-created tropical gardens, this one deep in the bowels of the Earth. To reach this oasis of loveliness, Caroline had to pass through another half-dozen security checks, accompanied by Helen and the same two security guards who’d journeyed with her earlier. This time the guards smiled a little more, rather knowingly Caroline thought.

Eventually the buggy reached a floor to ceiling metal door at the end of an impossibly long corridor. Caroline, Helen and the security men clambered out of the vehicle and one of the men pointed one of his belt-gadgets at the entrance as though it were a gun. The door swung slowly open. The four of them then stepped through it and, there they were, surrounded by palm trees, and plants of every shape and colour imaginable, butterflies and birds and bees floating and flying and buzzing and tweeting and singing between, around, and above them. As they were underground, there must have been a ceiling somewhere up above, but if there was it was well-masked by yet more colourful foliage. Helen asked Caroline to sit at a circular marble table. Despite the dry heat that was the norm on the Base, the area around the table itself was cool, air conditioned by some un-seen technology. The guards left with merely a nod and another knowing smile apiece, back through the vegetation towards the gate. Helen leant over and whispered in Caroline’s ear, though Caroline had no idea why she was whispering.

“He’ll be here in a moment. Don’t worry, just be yourself and you’ll be fine. Think of it as just a meal and a chat, because that’s all it needs to be, at this stage. Good luck.”

And then she too was gone, back through the same gate as the security men. Caroline surmised that he guards would take Helen somewhere to watch a live video feed of whatever happened between her and Rupert. Maybe she would watch alone, or maybe she would view developments with others, perhaps including Steven.

On the table was an ice bucket containing a bottle of Champaign, a jug of water, and two glasses. Caroline waited. She was nervous, visibly so if anybody really was watching. She checked her standard issue ‘Base only’ phone. There was one message, it was from Trish. ‘Good luck,’ it said, followed by ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. That should give you plenty of scope.’ Caroline half-expected a waiter to appear, but in fact, the next person she saw, if ‘person’ was the right word, was him. Rupert.

 He emerged unannounced from a gap in the trees and was wearing a black suit with a white shirt, black tie, and shoes that were also black and looked Italian and expensive. Caroline guessed that he was around six foot two inches tall. He was well built and muscular, without being one of those horrible, muscle-bound body builder types she didn’t much care for. He was smiling. His teeth were white, but naturally so, not dazzlingly white like you sometimes see on men who take vanity just that little bit too far. His eyes were dark, like Pablo’s, like her own, but more so. His facial features were chiselled and symmetrical.

“Hello,’ he said. His voice was deep yet warm, his accent neutral.

He was her type. In fact, he was any red-bloodied, straight, or more or less straught, woman’s type.

“Hi,” she said, as nonchalantly as possible. She wasn’t sure if she was blushing, but she felt as if she was. She cast her eyes downwards. There really was a dark stain on her blouse. It was faint, but it was there and she was sure he would notice. Rupert had an alert quality about him that suggested he noticed everything.

“Do you mind if I…” he said, indicating the chair opposite her. She nodded. He pulled out the chair and sat with graceful elegance.

There was a lengthy, intense silence. Caroline could hardly look at him, he was just too…too everything. She concentrated on the sounds of wildlife, both visible and invisible.

“This is going to be awkward, isn’t it? Being watched and everything: maybe a drink, to begin?” said Rupert.

‘To begin’ were words that were pregnant with promise and possibility.

He pointed to the Champaign bottle with a long, slender pianist’s finger. She’d seen him playing piano on the film; classical stuff. He played brilliantly of course, despite him apparently having never even seen such an instrument until that day.

 Caroline watched entranced as Rupert extracted the bottle from the bucket and popped and poured with what seemed like a single, swift movement. If he was trying to impress her, then he was succeeding with effortless ease. Already, it was hard for her to think of him as an Alien, but easy for her to think of him as a future lover.

 He pushed the glass across the table towards her before pouring himself some water.

“Alcohol doesn’t agree with me,” he explained. “They asked me to try it once, as an experiment. They like experiments, here. I thought I was going to die afterwards. I can’t believe that people here do such things for pleasure.”

 “Oh, I’ve experienced that feeling myself,” Caroline stammered, ‘the morning after the night before. I really ought to cut down, actually. I mean, I’m not an alcoholic or anything, but there’s not that much to do on the Base after work, apart from drink.”  

‘And fuck’ she thought, but didn’t say.

‘And paint,’ she also thought, but also didn’t say, because she was worried that this would sound pretentious. She often worried about this when meeting a new potential lover. She’d done quite a lot of painting on the Base, and by now her flat was covered in her artistic efforts. Her skills had not gone unnoticed. Several people now had examples of her work adorning their apartment walls. Some had even offered to pay her, but she hadn’t accepted. She would have at home, but here there seemed to be no point. She was already earning more than she could spend as a cleaner.

Rupert smiled at her babbling, and also perhaps at the words she had left unsaid. ‘Maybe he can read my mind’ she thought. Who knew? Everything seemed possible where Rupert was concerned. He surveyed his surroundings as a minute, colourful butterfly swooped and briefly rested upon his head, seemingly as fascinated by his magnificence as Caroline was.

“It’s beautiful, here, but I suspect no substitute for the real thing, the world outside? Not that I’ve seen much of it yet, your world; just this place really. The Base, as you call it.”

He sounded sad, wistful. Caroline felt strangely touched.

“They haven’t told me much about you,” she said, starting to feel more at ease. “About how you got here, where you’re from, if you’re alone, any of that stuff.”

He nodded. His body language was as impeccably human as his speech and manners.

“I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say. They haven’t told me not to tell you how I came to be here, so I suppose I can. I was just passing through really, through your planet, on my way to somewhere else. It was an accident, a crash. I’m lucky to be alive. But my enforced visit here is proving to be a fascinating experience.”

His eyes briefly held Caroline’s schoolgirl-crush-like gaze in a delicious optical embrace.

“And it’s getting more fascinating by the second.”

An electric thrill shot through her body. From anyone else these words might have sounded cheesy, but from him they were perfect and real. She smiled, knowing that it was her sexy smile, her ‘OK, you win, I’m yours if you want me’ smile. Men didn’t often get that smile this early. She managed to speak, hoping that he couldn’t actually read what was in her mind at that moment, but also partly hoping that he could.

 “You were travelling alone?”

“Yes. I was in contact with my people, my planet, but the contact was lost when my craft crashed.”

Soon a tuxedo clad waiter belatedly emerged from the foliage bearing oversized laminated menus. He was an attractive man, Mediterranean looking, like a brawnier Pablo. But he looked plain and ordinary next to Rupert. He hovered as unobtrusively as possible whilst the two of them temporarily suspended their conversation in order to assess their culinary options.

 “You do eat food then?” said Caroline, half-smiling.

“Yes, of course. I find your food delicious; especially the unhealthy types, like chips and burgers.”

He made a lip-smacking sound with his mouth and Caroline laughed. In the end they both ordered a Chinese banquet, and several small dishes were soon brought to them by the poker-faced waiter.

The food was a delight, but most of Caroline’s attention was on Rupert. It didn’t surprise her that he was able to use chopsticks like he’d been born to it. She was embarrassed by her own clumsy efforts, but more embarrassed still to avail myself of the knife and fork and spoon that the waiter had also, somewhat pointedly she thought, provided.

 They both chose to forego desert.

“I really need to get a bit of weight off,” said Caroline, leaning back, pointing to her stomach, giving Rupert a good view of her breasts as they pushed for release against her stained blouse. “Too much food here, too much food and drink and not enough exercise.”

“To lose even an ounce of you would be a tragedy” said Rupert. Cheesy but perfect, again. She smiled.

“I’ve almost forgotten about the cameras,” Caroline said after a lengthy comfortable silence had been broken by the waiter clearing away their dishes.

“Thank you,” Rupert replied, recognising this for the compliment that it was.

“You still haven’t told me where you are from,” she said.

  He reached over and took her hand in his. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world, almost as if they were already lovers and always had been. His eyes engulfed her. She was tingling as though she’d been plugged into the mains.

“The literal translation into English of the name of my planet is Home,” he began. “It is very far away, well beyond your Solar System. Our crafts can travel great distances quickly, but they are not perfect; hence the crash. I will tell you more about Home later, if you wish, but not now. All I will tell you for now is that it is very beautiful.”

There were a million questions Caroline could have asked, but she was most interested in the ordinary stuff, in the sort of questions she might have asked of any man she fancied.

“What about a family, a wife, children?”

He squeezed her hand a little tighter.

“On my planet we are all family. It’s very difficult to explain. We are not separate, like you. Here, on Earth, is the first time I have ever experienced loneliness. On Home, we all are linked. We communicate telepathically, so nothing can be hidden. We do form couples like you on Earth, but sexual exclusiveness is rare and not seen as necessary to a healthy relationship. We also have children, in the same way that you humans do; it’s just that parents don’t have the same feelings of ownership about them. Children are loved and raised to maturity by the whole community. ”

They held eye contact for a long time.

“Like I have said, I had never known what it was like to be alone until I crashed onto your planet. But maybe now I am starting to feel a little bit less alone, Caroline.”

‘He said my name’, she thought.  He said my name. He could have had her there and then, if he’d wanted, on the table, on the grass, up against a tree, anywhere; cameras or no cameras.

“And you say you, your people, produce children in the normal way,” she said, “the normal way that we...that we do on Earth?”

“You mean sex?”

Now she definitely knew she was blushing.

Rupert smiled.

“Yes; and it’s just the same. Maybe it’s the same everywhere; a natural Law of the Universe. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen so much of the Universe yet. And to answer your other question, the one you are too shy to ask, I am as yet paired to no one and am still childless.”

Caroline nodded, hardly bothering to hide her inner delight at this revelation.

 His smile, which had been near-constant and yet totally unforced, suddenly faded.

“They told me that you couldn’t have children.”

Caroline shrugged. She’d known they would tell him this anyway. “It’s OK, just an accident of biology. I’m used to it.”

 His smile returned as quickly as it had disappeared. “You know, they don’t even know if procreation between our two species is possible, yet. No doubt they will want to try that experiment too, later. For now they just want to see if a human and a representative of my planet can be sexually compatible.”

“Yes, no doubt after me they’ll find you somebody broody and fertile.” Already Caroline didn’t like to think of there being anyone after her.

Rupert laughed again.

“Perhaps. But after you I don’t think I shall have need of anyone else.”

Exactly the right words again.

Caroline could have gone on talking to Rupert, talking to him and looking at him, all night. But disappointingly, and rather surprisingly, he abruptly drew matters to a close.

“They told me it was up to us how we went about this thing,” he said. ‘I like you, I like you a lot, and I want to get to get to know you more; a lot more. But I want to take things slowly. I don’t want to do what they want us to do just because they want us to do it. Whatever happens I want it to be our choice and at a time of our choosing.’

She liked the way he made the words they and our sound as though it was us against them. Maybe it was, now. They parted with a handshake. You can’t get much more innocent than a handshake, and yet here was that electric shock again, this time so strong that it made her knees shake. If she got this from merely touching hands, what would it be like when they, if they…  

She wanted him to kiss her, but he just smiled as though to say ‘not yet’, and turned and disappeared back the way he’d come, like Alice through the looking glass in reverse. Seconds later, Helen re-appeared with the two bodyguards.

“We’ll de-brief tomorrow morning,” she said, puncturing the romance of the situation, “but now it’s late and you should rest. Your buggy is waiting.”

* * *

The first thing Caroline did when she got back to her living quarters was to lie down on the bed and masturbate. She was wearing her sexiest underwear, the underwear that she’d worn for him, just in case, but that he was yet to see. Strangely, as she massaged herself gently to orgasm, she didn’t think of Rupert fucking her. It was as though this fantasy was too much for her to even imagine. Instead, she focussed on the mental image of his eyes, his dark, Alien, yet all so human, all so masculine eyes, bearing into hers, stripping her to her soul, the mere memory of the touch of his hands on her hands taking her over the edge, soaking and whispering his name like an erotic mantra as she came.

Rupert.

Even that ridiculous name now seemed sexy.

Afterwards, she showered, still thinking of him, luxuriating on the warm jets of water hitting her body.

She wasn’t intending to call Trish, partly because of the late hour, and partly because she didn’t want them to end up in bed together. She was still so turned on, despite her solo efforts, that there was a definite danger of that happening. Fact was that sex with Trish, though tempting, could only have been an anti-climax after her meeting with Rupert. That would have been true for sex with any mere human, male or female, she thought.

Nevertheless, she couldn’t resist checking her mobile before sleep. There were nine missed calls and several messages from her best friend. It was one in the morning by this time, but it seemed churlish not to respond. Trish answered the moment Caroline rang her number, as though she’d been waiting, phone in hand.

“Well?” she said.

“Well, I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

“Well, you will tell me NOW, you cow, or I’ll tell everyone on the Base that you and I have turned Lesbian and are doing each other senseless.”

“That wouldn’t do your reputation any good.”

“Yes it would. All men love a Bi, as you well know.”

 Caroline told her what little that there was to tell which, of course, was still massive.

“Wow, he really is that gorgeous eh? Well, after you’ve done with him I’m happy for you to pass him on to me; I’ll be happy to have his Alien babies, unless he turns out to have five dicks or something. Cancel that: even if he has five dicks; especially if he has five dicks. Can you imagine what you could do with five dicks?”

Caroline laughed.

“I have a feeling that one dick will be enough for me; as long as it belongs to Rupert.”

“Rupert, for fucks sake, what sort of a name is that? Do you think he’d be up for a threesome?”

‘Well, he is a guy isn’t he; sort of anyway. And as you say, all guys like a bit of lesbo’ action. But I don’t want to share him; not even with you. Rupert is my Alien.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve

For their second ‘date’, the night following the first, after a rather awkward daytime de-briefing session with Helen, Caroline and Rupert were allowed to meet over-ground, in the city itself. The meeting took place at The Well, one of the best nightclubs on the Base. Obviously, nobody knew who or what Rupert was, apart from Trish who Caroline had told about the date and was there for a first look at the Alien Sex-God, naturally. Trish and the spies that Caroline assumed they would have inevitably planted in the club.

 Whoever did or didn’t know what, Caroline got plenty of curious, admiring, jealous looks, from women, and also from a fair share of men. Caroline had warned Trish to keep her to keep her distance if she turned up, but that didn’t stop her from collaring her in the Ladies.

“Fucking hell, you weren’t wrong girl, he’s beautiful,” she said, as the two examined themselves and each other in the pristine toilet mirror, the thudding music now more distant, but still loud enough to reverberate sexily through their bodies and cause them to raise their voices a few decibels above normal. Rupert was busy ordering drinks at the bar, a vodka-martini for Caroline and straight water for him. Matters had proceeded nicely so far, despite the difficulty of talking to each other over the pounding techno-beat.

“Hands off, girl; you can look but don’t touch. He knows who you are now, I’ve pointed you out to him, but I can’t introduce you. That’s just the rules of the game, sorry,” said Caroline, turning away from the mirror to face her lightly clad friend.

“I know. Steven came round to read me the riot act this afternoon; to very sweetly read me the riot act. I know you fancy him and all, but I wouldn’t have said no. Not that he asked me, sadly.”

As the evening progressed and drink boosted confidence, a few people, vague work-acquaintances, all female, did approach Caroline to ask, in so many words, who the new gorgeous hunk of manhood she was with was. Caroline explained that he was new to the Base, that the two of them had only just met; and that she wasn’t at liberty to say where he was from or what his job was. Such reticence wasn’t unusual on the Base. Debora was there too, in the Well, with Sergei. He was almost as nice as Rupert, thought Caroline, almost. Trish and Caroline had hardly socialised with Debora at all this last few months. She was always with her neatly chiselled Russian lover. He didn’t seem to speak much English, but that didn’t appear to bother Debora. Maybe it helped their relationship, allowing them to communicate more freely in other ways. Debora and Sergei’s relationship had proved to be a good fall-back conversational topic for Caroline and Trish, when there wasn’t much to say about their own sexual exploits.

 Mostly Rupert and Caroline sat in a quiet corner, holding hands and gazing into one another’s eyes, not even attempting to talk above the music. Maybe the powers that be, whoever they were, knew what they were doing in arranging the venue for this second date. The whole set-up, the whole place, was designed to facilitate physical intimacy rather than conversation.

Her whole rational self was telling her to be careful, that this could never be anything more than an experiment set up by and for the benefit of others. But already she was feeling things for Rupert that went well beyond the bounds of the role she was meant to be playing.           

She longed for the two of them to dance together, and finally they did. As the night neared its end, the music growing appropriately softer and slower, Rupert led her wordlessly by the hand to the strobe-lit, crowded dance floor. Trish was nearby, half-dancing, half dry-humping with a well-built black guy. Caroline had seen the man before, and was sure that her friend had had him before. She was even more certain that she’d soon be having him again. Trish glanced over the man’s muscular shoulder at Caroline and winked knowingly as her best friend stepped onto the floor with Rupert.

Soon, and almost as if in a movie, the dance floor parted for Caroline and Rupert like the red sea parting for Moses. People seemed to just want to watch Rupert, men as well as women, as he moved with the lithe grace and power of an animal that couldn’t exist in reality, apart from maybe on Home. Caroline had dressed more sexily for this date, in a tight mini-skirt, a cropped top and heels; and being with Rupert, the centre of all attention, made her feel like a Goddess. She was mildly tipsy from the Vodka-Martini’s, but the mere presence of Rupert in and of itself was more stimulating than any artificial substance.

For the last dance, the slowest dance of all, Rupert took her in his arms and held her tight against him, gyrating and pressing against her so slowly and subtly, that he hardly seemed to be moving at all. She was melting, juicing and melting, and his cock felt hard against her stomach as it strained for release through his black, cotton trousers. Actually, he was so erect, and at six-foot-two to five-foot-four the height difference between them so pronounced, that the masked outline of his manhood almost reached to the lower regions of her breasts.

Rupert’s cock: a real life human-like-man-cock that was clearly fit for purpose. And it did seem to be ‘cock’ in the singular.

 She whispered in his ear, needing for the first time to take the lead, not wanting anymore to take things slowly, no longer caring about them.

“If you want me Rupert, then you can have me; tonight.”

She felt a strong hand on her hair, just above the nape of her neck. He firmly but gently pulled her head away from his shoulder and gave her his deepest, most soulful, sexiest look yet.

“I do want you, Caroline; and, yes, tonight.”

 They left the club hand in hand. If there were any spies around, then they were being very discreet.

* * *

 Outside, they could have been anywhere, a busy high street in England on an exceptionally warm Saturday evening perhaps, with couples and groups and singles milling around en-route to different places in varying degrees of inebriation and undress.

“Your place or mine?” she half-joked, snaking her arm around Rupert’s perfectly proportioned waist. His response was to put his own arm around her, a strong hand on her pronounced, womanly hip.

“Neither,” he whispered, “they have provided us with somewhere.” 

 They; the way he said this simple word made her want him even more. It really was Us and Them now, although no doubt they were still directing operations from behind the scenes. She let it his words pass without comment as he lead her through crowded streets that gradually became less crowded, until they reached an oasis of green lawns and apple blossom. Here, she soon found herself facing a wooden gate in a high wooden fence, behind which, at the end of a long straight gravel path, sat a two-story cottage straight out of an English Fairy Tale.

“They’ve said we can use this place whenever we want to…be alone,” said Rupert, unlocking the door with a key produced with a flourish from his jacket pocket. The first room of the cottage Caroline saw was a fashionably sparse reception area. They liked sparse, on the Base.

 He gave her the guided tour.

“I’ve sort of been living here at times, incognito, though generally with people guarding me, making sure I don’t get up to any mischief. The idea was that I could mingle with you humans, to observe you and to learn your ways.”

“And have you, learnt our ways?”

It was a silly thing to say, Caroline realised, because his behaviour obviously indicated that he had.

“Not all of them, not yet, but I’m trying; and I’m going to try harder still.”

His sexy smile flashed like a firework as he stopped Caroline in her tracks in the gleaming, immaculate kitchen, gazing into her eyes. She was propelled towards him as if by an invisible, organic magnet. They kissed for the first time. It was brief but glorious. Caroline’s knees trembled and almost gave way with anticipatory excitement. Rupert smiled and took her by the hand, continuing the tour. Caroline followed him like a love-sick and increasingly desperate pet. 

Every room was impressive, tastefully impressive. Clearly a professional interior designer had been at work here too, like almost everywhere else on the Base. There was only one room that Caroline was really interested in though; that was the master-bedroom at the top of the wooden staircase.

 The bed was King Size and the bedding luxurious. Opposite it was a large mirror; and above it, amazingly, was one of Caroline’s paintings. It was a simple street view of the Base that she’d painted whilst looking out from her apartment window, it was lightly abstracted and amplified with a painterly glow of hallucinogenic light, but was still more Realist in form than her usual style. A guy she’d had a one night stand with a couple of months earlier, an Italian as far as she recalled, had seen it in her flat and offered to buy it. She said he could have it for free, though she wasn’t sure why; he’d been rubbish in bed, nothing like the Italian-Stallions of legend.  

“How the hell did that get there?” said Caroline.

“Oh they told me you were an artist and that was one of the things that interested me about you. On Home, art is something everyone does. We don’t have special categories of people or activities. I was amazed this wasn’t the case on Earth, so I asked to see some of your work. It was very different to the representations of reality we produce on Home, but I loved it, and when they introduced me to this place, I asked if this one could go here, above the bed. I love the way that it is reflected in the mirror, especially when the light hits it a certain way, it doubles the visual impact. I have more of your paintings in other places I stay, below ground. Your work is beautiful.”

“Wow.”

 On top of everything else, Rupert liked her art, seemed to be knowledgeable about art, and what is more he came from a place where everyone and no one was an artist. Could he be any more perfect?

His words did however leave her with the nagging question of how her undeserved gift to the frigid Italian had found its way to them, and via them to Him.

She put the question to the back of her mind and sat on the edge of the bed, hoping that this didn’t make her seem too wanton, as though she hadn’t already made it clear enough what she wanted. She was shaking inside. Rupert sat beside her and pulled her to him, so that her head was again resting on his shoulder. She realised that she was trembling outside as well as in.

 “Are, you sure,” he said, “about this, about what we are going to do, about what I hope we are going to do?”

 This was the first time that she’d detected an element of doubt in his voice. This trace of human-type vulnerability made him seem even more attractive, if that were possible. She looked into his eyes. How could he doubt?

 “Yes, I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Except...”

 “Except for the cameras?”

Maybe he really could read her mind.

“Yes, exactly; except for the cameras.”

She was far from being a prude. She’d enjoyed the handful of times she’d had sex on camera. But it’s one thing being filmed so that you can enjoy the results later with a lover, or even so that your lover can enjoy it later on his own; or even share it with his mates, as long as she didn’t know about it and the film didn’t end up on YouTube. It’s quite another being observed live and as-it-happens as you’re fucked by an incredibly lush Extra-Terrestrial, apparently all in the name of science. The fact that at least some of those watching would undoubtedly be getting off on the experience, because such is human-nature, was actually one of the better aspects of the prospect. At least the idea of strange men masturbating over her in hot, naked action was honest and real, infinitely better than being viewed dispassionately like some kind of pornographic Guinea Pig.

“Leave it to me,” said Rupert.

He stood at the end of the bed and closed his eyes. She could see his fantastic buttocks, masked and shaped by his smart trousers, reflected in the mirror, along with fragments of her painting. He spoke, his voice louder and deeper and firmer than ever before.

 “To all of those watching and listening: I want you to know that I will answer all of your questions soon, tomorrow if you wish. But, for tonight, your observations are over. What does or does not happen in this room between Caroline and I will happen or not happen in private. That is as it should be, as befits your Earth customs. Please respect this, or my cooperation with you and your experiments will be at an end, whatever the consequences.”

With these thrillingly assertive words, he raised his right hand above his head, circling it at the wrist, fingers pointing outwards, eyes closed in deep, deep concentration. After a few seconds he ceased his strange efforts and sat beside Caroline once more.

“That’s it; all done. All cameras and audio equipment within this building have been disabled. They can easily be fixed; it’s a simple procedure, but it’ll take them time. I don’t think that anyone will be bothering us tonight. Not after what I said. Not if they have any sense.”

“You mean you can really do that, just with your mind, and with that thing you did with your hands?”

“Yes.”

“And do they know you can do this?”

“They do now.”

“Wow. Do you have any other special powers?”

“Would you like to find out?”

 Again, from someone else, from a normal man, even from a gorgeous, normal man, this would have sounded like a pathetic line. From Rupert, it almost made her come on the spot. She didn’t answer him in words. Instead, she simply leant towards him, her eyes on his, lips pursed and ready. It seemed like forever before he kissed her, but when he did it was the best kiss she’d ever experienced, better even than that first kiss in the kitchen, better in fact than most of the sex she’d ever experienced.

 At first it was gentle, their lips nestling then wrestling, mouths opening and closing and sucking in almost perfect synchronicity. Then his tongue pushed through her lips and found the tip of her own tongue. After that matters became less gentle and more urgent.

The corny old song lyric ‘I’ve been undressed by Kings’ was in Carline’s mind as Rupert quickly loosened her top and pulled it over her head, before gently lifting her into a standing position, his arms under hers, dipping his head so that his lips and tongue could brush the silky material of her brassiere. At the same time, he slid a hand up the back of her thigh until it found a buttock. His free hand detached a breast from her bra. He suckled hungrily on a hardened nipple as he fondled the cheeks of her arse.

 So far, so standard, but already, she was dripping and moaning and ready for him to enter her anytime he wanted, as long as it was soon. By this time, it didn’t matter to Caroline if the whole world, the whole universe, was watching live on television and the Galactic-Wide-Web. She just wanted this man, or whatever it was that he was, wanted him in every way imaginable, and in some barely so. She gripped his crisp T-shirt and pulled it over his head. There was a slight aroma emanating from his hard, sculptured torso. It was different to a human smell in a way that was so subtle that it was impossible to define. He stood, towering above her like a colossus as she kissed his hairless chest, smelling and tasting his salty, sticky, delicious Alien-sweat. This taste, again, was different to that of a human man, but she would have struggled to say how.

 She slid off the bed and gently pushed him backwards a couple of steps, giving herself room to manoeuvre as she stepped out of her skirt, and stood before him in tiny black silk knickers and stockings and suspenders, her already askew bra now discarded to the floor beside the bed. Rupert looked at her with a lust that was both human and beyond human. She wanted to see him naked now, needed to see him naked, to visually experience his super-masculine body in its full raw entirety.

 He groaned as she dropped to her knees and pressed the side of her face against the crotch of his trousers, against the outline of his cock. She undid his single button and fly-zip with trembling hands. Rupert moved to the bed and removed his trousers and underwear rapidly, positioning himself in a sitting position with his back against the headboard, his cock virtually pointing towards the ceiling.

Despite what women often say about size in order to make the less well endowed members of the male community feel better about themselves, all heterosexual females like a big cock. But within reason; there is big, and there is big. Caroline had worried that, as a being from another planet, Rupert’s member might be unnaturally large, too large to be properly enclosed and enjoyed. She needn’t have worried. It was big, but normally, naturally big, the perfect size, perfect, just like the rest of him, perfectly constructed for the provision of feminine pleasure.

 She held it in her hand, pumped it up and down a few times, enjoying the needy, gratified sounds coming from somewhere deep within his Alien throat, his Alien soul, loving the expression of bliss on his beautiful Alien face. She kissed its tip and licked it like a child licking a particularly flavoursome lollipop, before taking it in her mouth and sucking it. She loved the taste of it, the smell of it, the feel of it and the texture of it. Here, there was no difference between Alien and Human, expect he obviously paid more attention to genital cleanliness than the majority of men she’d given a blow job to.

Rupert laid himself down and reached for Caroline’s legs, pulling her around so that her crotch was in his face, his mouth and nose pressed against gusset of her sodden pants, smelling her and tasting her juice through the increasingly damp and sticky, silky fabric.

 Soon, her knickers had joined her bra on the carpet, and Rupert’s tongue was in her, up her, then out of her, then in her again, fucking her like a moist and flexible miniature cock, exploring her insides, teasing her clitoris with just the right combination of pressure and non-pressure. The feelings became so intense that Caroline temporarily abandoned any thoughts of his pleasure, letting his cock slide out of her mouth whilst still holding it rigid in the palm of her hand like a prop as she came for the first time that night, the muscles of her vagina tightening and contracting around his tongue as she panted and groaned and screamed, dripping juice onto his chin and chest, staring transfixed at her abandoned, naked, wanton self in the mirror opposite the bed. At the highest point of her climax, the fragmented reflection of her artwork seemed to shimmer and advance before exploding, the mass of swirling, expertly blended  colours seemingly inside her head as well as in the mirror and on the wall.

After her orgasm had subsided, Rupert turned her gently onto her back, giving her time to recover her breath and senses as he looked tenderly down at her, stroking her face.

 “Caroline, my beautiful Caroline,” he said before kissing her, his tongue probing mouth her once, the diluted trace of vaginal-juice in his saliva rapidly rekindling the desperate need in her loins.

 “Please fuck me Rupert,” she whispered.

Wordlessly, he did as she asked, positioning himself between her legs and gradually, gloriously slowly, sliding himself into her until he was filling her totally. He pushed into her hard, holding himself there, submerged to the fullest possible extent, as he kissed her and stroked her face some more, once again murmuring her name.

“My Caroline. My sweet, beautiful Caroline.” 

My Caroline.

She came again, suddenly and shockingly, bucking against him, his cock rigid, static yet throbbing, her nails digging into his arse as she screamed out his name, the sound of it growing more and more indistinct and distorted as she erupted in a climax that seemed like it would never end.

“Rupert, Ruuuupert, Rupee, Rupeeeeert, Ruuupeeert, Ruupeeeee!”

As the power of her second orgasm finally waned, she became aware that he was still inside her, still rock-hard, still unspent. Maybe, the thought occurred to her once she had again become capable of something resembling coherent thought, Aliens, or at least Aliens from his planet, from Home, didn’t come; didn’t need to come, despite what he he’d said about creating children in the normal manner.

She wanted him to come.

“Come for me Rupert,’ she whispered.

He began to move then, first slowly and gently, apparently mindful of the sensitivity she felt down below after two mind-numbingly beautiful orgasms. Then, he increased his speed and power in perfect tandem with her need for him to do so, astutely reading her body if not her mind, hammering into her, harder and harder, the bedsprings of the mattress bending and squeaking under their combined fucking weight.

“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” she shouted, over and over, “fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” and then “Do it Rupee, come in me, spunk in me, spunk your fuckin’ load in me Rupert, Rupeee, Ruupeeeee!”

 Caroline came again as Rupert finally let go, spurt after spurt of gorgeous, thick, warm Extra-Terrestrial love-cream shooting into her as she shook and clutched and scratched and cursed and all but lost her mind.

 They held each other for a while afterwards, exhausted, before Rupert excused himself and prepared to leave the room. She watched entranced as he slowly exited, her feelings a delicious mixed-brew of awe, pride and renewed longing. He re-emerged a few moments later with drinks, white wine, expensive white wine, for her and the usual water for him. They drank in silence for a while, looking at each other, the smile on Caroline’s face at permanent risk of breaking out into an outright laugh. She drank two glasses quickly, and then she slept. When she awoke, Rupert was still there, still naked, propped on one elbow, looking at her with a look that, if it wasn’t one of love, was doing a magnificent impression of it.

Once she’d awoken sufficiently to ascertain that he wasn’t a dream, that she wasn’t at home in Hull sleeping in her childhood bed, a horny teenager conjuring up the perfect erotic fantasy from somewhere deep within her nascent psycho-sexual being, she spoke.

“I want to know everything about you,” she said, “about your planet, about Home.”

* * *

 Rupert talked for a long time in a wistful, far away voice, about the beauty of his world, and about the reason for the journey that had led to his presence on Earth.

 “On Home, most of the problems that still face your people were solved thousands of years ago. We have no hunger or poverty, no need to work other than because we enjoy it. Everything we need we produce almost instantly, through the simple manipulation of molecules. For this we use a device that roughly translates as The Machine. Freedom from need gives us the time to develop our art and our philosophy, what you would call our spiritual selves. All of our people are involved in such pursuits. We could produce art instantly too of course, if we wanted to, and in any form we wished. But we enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. We like to take our time with the things we enjoy. That includes making love. We have none of the hang ups and obsessions about sex that seem to affect a lot of your people. Sex is one of our favourite activities.”

 “I can tell,” said Caroline, smiling.

Rupert nodded, and continued. 

“We had never previously been interested in exploring other worlds; why would we when we had everything we needed at home, on Home? We even thought, until quite recently that we were alone in the universe. This wasn’t something that bothered us. It was just the way it was. Now we know that we are not alone, that intelligent life is actually very rare and very precious; something to be protected and nurtured. This reverence for life has in any case always formed the basis of what you would call our ‘religion.’”

“And you are including us humans amongst this ‘intelligent life?’”

 “Yes, of course.”

“Well more fool you.”

Rupert was silent for a moment, as though deep in reflection. Then he resumed.

“You shouldn’t put yourself down. You have your problems, but they are nothing that couldn’t be overcome; if the will was there. One day you will overcome them, just as we have. But it is for you to find your way. To continue with my story, a few hundred years ago it became clear to our scientists that our planet had a finite life-span, that eventually, in approximately fifty thousand years time, our Sun would explode, rendering Home no more. We would become literally Home-less. That was when we began the search for other compatible worlds where we might begin to migrate, before it became absolutely necessary for us to leave our own world. That is what my journey was about. It was one of many such journeys by many members of my species.”

Rupert caught the look of concern on Caroline’s face. 

“You have no need to worry; we aren’t about to invade your planet. We are a peaceful people. My arrival here really was an accident. We are looking for hospitable, compatible, uninhabited worlds. Though, if it were uninhabited, your Earth would be perfect for us.”

He fell silent again. Whilst he’d been talking he’d been kneeling beside Caroline, holding her hand. Now he lay beside her, the nape of her neck resting in the crook of his arm. Caroline felt warm and secure. She had no need of anything more from him, but suddenly he offered her more, offered her the world, offered her his world. 

“Soon I will return to Home, Caroline. And I would like you to come with me; to visit or to live; it’s up to you which.”

She gently broke free of his embrace and sat up, shocked.

“But...but, I can’t, you can’t, I mean, they will never let you, never let me, never let us…”

 Rupert laughed.

“They can’t stop me; can’t stop us. Remember what I said about never being alone on Home, about our people’s telepathic link? That was true, although I wasn’t quite being truthful when I said that all contact with my planet was lost with the crash. It was, but now it has been restored. My people have the power to return me to Home whenever I ask.”

He sat up and faced, her both of her hands enclosed within his.

“I am here by choice, now, because I want to be here. But that must and will soon end. Yes, we travel in small crafts, but that is not the only way it is possible for us to travel. We can also be transported instantly. It’s all to do with the manipulation of molecules through the use of The Machine that I mentioned. We don’t use this method for travel much, because of the vast amount of energy it uses. It is wasteful of our resources, and the main reason that we have survived and prospered as a species has been through our careful use of resources. Instant transportation is only ever used in emergencies, for instance when one of our people is stranded, as I am now.”

He stroked her hair.

“You would be made very welcome, if you came with me, honoured even. Think of it, Caroline, you would be the first person from Earth ever to visit another, inhabited world; and the first Alien ever to visit Home.”

 She smiled and thrilled inwardly at the idea of herself as an Alien. It was absurd, of course it was absurd, the whole thing was absurd, but what was one more drop of madness within a whole sea of insanity?

“OK, Rupert,’ she said, laughing, surprising herself, “take me Home; why not?”

Rupert smiled. Caroline wanted him again; and now. She reached between his legs and found him hard, as hard as he’d been the first time she’d held him. She’d had men with good stamina and decent powers of recuperation before, but Rupert was phenomenal.  

“But first,” she said, squeezing him, squeezing it, “before you take me Home, just take me; and this time, no need to be gentle. Just take me, any way you want me.”

He nodded and turned her firmly and swiftly, placing her on all fours, her forehead against the pillow. He positioned himself behind her and was inside of her with one powerful thrust. She was wet and ready, but the speed of his entry still hurt a little. It wasn’t a pain she minded, and she was soon surging once more towards ecstasy as he fucked her hard, just as she wanted; just as she demanded. Occasionally he slapped her buttocks as he did so, playfully but firmly.

He did her like an animal, like a wonderfully free, beautifully natural animal.

Rupert had her in almost every position imaginable. Caroline came three more times, each orgasm more powerful than the last, before finally her fabulous, other-worldly lover let himself go once more, shooting another stream of hot Alien come deep within her as she gazed unblinking with joyful wonder into his eyes, her universe now consisting of nothing but Rupert.

“Thank you, Caroline,” he said as he withdrew, barely perspiring, looking like he could soon be ready for another round. As for her, she was spent, exhausted, sated, fucked senseless and in need only of more sleep.

They cuddled for a short-while, until Rupert got out of bed and disappeared again as she dozed. She was awoken by him gently nudging her, alerting her to a tray of delicious foods, salad and sweet meats and pungent, delicate sauces, fruit and coffee, all ready and waiting for her on a tray at the end of the bed. Caroline ate ravenously whilst Rupert picked at the mini-feast like a faddy man-child.

 After they’d eaten and he’d taken away the tray, Rupert threw open the bedroom curtains to let in the morning sunlight. It was beautiful, but a part of Caroline resented this outside intrusion of the world beyond.

Soon, they showered together and, almost unbelievably, he grew hard again as they soaked and soaped, delighting in their own bodies and that of the other. She wanted nothing from him, needed nothing from him; instead, she simply sank to her knees as the warm water cascaded over them, sucking him off, bringing from him one last, gentle spurt of manna from Home.

 Afterwards they dried and dressed and kissed and hugged before parting at the gate of the picturesque cottage in bright, story-book sunshine.

“I don’t want to tell them about last night Rupert,” said Caroline, breaking from a last embrace that she prayed would not really be the last.

“Neither do I, Caroline, But we must.”

“I know. But will you really take me with you, to Home?”

He placed a finger delicately on her lips.

 “Cameras,” he whispered. “We are outside now. We can be seen and heard. But the answer is yes, and soon.”

She nodded and smiled conspiratorially as Rupert left, signalling for her to wait whilst he headed back the way the two of them had arrived several hours and a lifetime earlier.

Helen quickly appeared, seemingly from nowhere, in the inevitable silently gliding buggy with those same two ubiquitous bodyguards. She wasn’t smiling.

“You look tired,” she said, her voice all sarcastic edge. “Today you must rest and relax. Tomorrow we will talk.”

Caroline nodded, almost defiantly. Rupert was still visible in the distance. He looked back once as his gorgeous figure slowly receded from view. Caroline knew that whatever would be said tomorrow wouldn’t matter, because she had had last night, and soon she would be heading for Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirteen

Caroline slept for most of the day and was awoken at 6pm by the ringing of her phone. It was Trish. She answered sleepily.

“Hi.”

 “Well?”

She smiled to herself through the tiredness.

“Well, what?”

“Well, details. Like, did you or didn’t you? You knew I was going to ask.”

 Of course she had to ask. Caroline would have been amazed if she hadn’t.         

She sat up. Part of her wanted to shout loudly to the world about every wonderful sexy second of the previous night, and part of her wanted to keep the whole erotic miracle to herself, for a little longer at least. But she had to tell Trish something.

“OK, we did. That’s all I’m saying; and that it was great.”

“Only ‘great’?”

“Great as in fucking marvellous; literally out of this world.”

“Wow. Lucky cow; and now I really do need proper details: drink?”

 Caroline was now awake enough to talk.

“OK, your place or mine?”

Trish was silent for an unusually long moment.

“Neither. There’s a new bar just opened called The Mirror. It’s only five minute’s walk from here. I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. Have you seen it?”

“No.”

Caroline wasn’t sure that she wanted to be amongst people. If she was going to talk about her sex life to Trish she would much sooner do so in private; and she was more than a little surprised Trish wouldn’t know this and prefer it too.

“It’s a very quiet place with private booths and the music’s not too loud,” added Trish, as though instinctively registering Caroline’s concern.  “I just fancy getting out for a bit. I’ve been stuck in all day. Please, please, pretty please.”

Trish had reverted to that little girl voice that she so often used to get her own way, the voice that men, and Caroline, could seldom resist.

“OK, OK; why not; The Mirror it is.”

“Great, I’ll call along yours at 7.30pm.”

“Great. Is there any dress code?”

 In some places there was and in some places there wasn’t, on the Base.

“Smart but casual.”

“OK.”

* * *

Caroline showered and dressed in black trousers, white T-shirt, and a pair of newish, flat shoes she’d recently purchased and was quite taken with. A little more casual than smart, but she figured that would be fine for a drink and a chat. Trish rang her doorbell at 7.30 on the dot. Caroline was surprised to find her dressed to thrill in a tight, knee-length, figure hugging dress and heels.

“Smart but casual? I’m going to have to change now aren’t I?”

“No need, not in your case. You’ve found your perfect man or…or whatever he is. But I’m still looking, remember? We haven’t all got an Alien Sex God on tap. Besides, you look great; you always look great.”

Caroline didn’t tell her much during the short walk through the city. She’d already decided she would confine her tale pretty much to the juicy, sex bits. All that stuff about Rupert’s planet, about Home, and particularly about their plan for her to journey there with him, those things she would keep to herself. She trusted Trish, but she didn’t trust them, and she suspected they were capable of powers of persuasion of which she could barely imagine. Then there was the question of surveillance: who knew who would be listening in to their conversation? If only Rupert could disable all cameras and listening equipment on the Base, forever.

It was a Sunday night and even on the Base a Sunday was quieter than a normal day. But this night seemed even quieter than a normal Sunday. The number of people they encountered on their short walk could have been counted on less than the sum of Caroline’s delicately painted toe-nails.

 Their destination was a non-descript two-story construction headed by a sign saying ‘The Mirror’ in large neon letters. The windows were dark, hiding what lay within from curious passersby.

“Here we are,” said Trish, before pausing and adding, “look, you know I love you, don’t you, as a friend?”

“Of course I do,” replied Caroline, hesitantly. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You know that.”

 It was very strange, hearing Trish talk like this; they didn’t normally have the need to ask such things of one another. A feeling of foreboding, almost of fear, flickered briefly through Caroline’s mind and body, but she dismissed it as mere imagination. Maybe Trish was experiencing one of her periodic bouts of girlish insecurity; maybe she was jealous of her and Rupert; maybe it was simply her time of the month.

Trish led the way through a wooden door into a small hallway that was quiet, too quiet.

“We have to go this way next,” she said, pointing towards another wooden door. Trish turned a handle, and pushed it open. Caroline thought she heard her friend whisper the word ‘sorry’ under her breath as she did so. She dismissed this as imagination too, although she could feel her heart beating inexplicably fast, too fast for a simple club entrance.

Trish took her hand and the two of them stepped through the door into a world of bright light and thunderous applause accompanied by wild cheering and whooping.

 Caroline was confused, frozen. She looked around her. She seemed to be on some sort of raised stage, and out there, beyond the stage was an audience, a large audience, the source of the noise which deafened and disorientated her. She looked around the brightly lit stage. There, a few steps away from her, stood Colin, Colin Sex as was, cheesy game show host as he’d become. He was dressed in a shiny black suit and he was smiling. He’d lost weight since their arrival, looked younger, more confident and more at ease with himself. He summoned Trish to his side, and she joined him, looking down at the floor of the stage, not looking at Colin, not looking at the audience, certainly not looking at Caroline. Sitting close to the end of the stage, beyond Colin, sat Steven on a low Breakfast T.V type sofa. He too was smiling, smiling smugly, triumphantly. Next to him sat Helen. She wasn’t smiling at all as she looked at Caroline, tight lipped, hard and unblinking.

Colin strode towards Caroline, microphone in one hand, silencing the wild crowd with an assertive wave of his other. His mouth was moving but Caroline struggled to make out his words through her confusion.

“OK, OK, Caroline, you’ve probably gathered that this isn’t a new bar called The Mirror. You’ll probably be wanting...”

  A shout went up from the audience, a male voice pretending to be a high-pitched female voice.

“Rupeee!”

 There was laughter, on stage and off.

 This was followed by a real high-pitched female voice.

“Ruuupeeert!”

More laughter.

Another male voice, this time hard and undisguised.

“Fuck me Rupert!”

This was followed by a female.

“And no need to be gentle!”

The laughter was now almost out of control. It seemed that the only three people in the building who weren’t laughing were Helen, Trish, and of course Caroline.

Colin ceased his own deep guffaws and struggled to regain mastery over his audience.

“Come on, come on, quieten down; give the girl a break. She’s waiting for some sort of explanation. And I’m going to give her one!”

This was the kind of age-old double-entendre for which he’d become famed, at least on the Base.

It gave rise to another outbreak of hilarity.

 Slowly order was restored, the cacophony of sneering laughter replaced by an expectant, restless buzz.

Colin was beside Caroline now, gently but firmly lowering her into an upright chair that she hadn’t even realised was behind her.

“OK, so I’m going to get straight to the point…”

He paused as though for dramatic effect, and then resumed, varying his professional gaze between Caroline and the audience.

“You thought you were part of an experiment, and you were, in a way, though not the one you thought you were a part of. In fact, you were part of a Television Special called The Mirror, hence the name of this, err, ‘bar’. I have to tell you that your every move, almost, from being first told about Rupert onwards, has been filmed and will be, I have to tell you, relayed throughout the Base during the next few hours and days. That includes, it is also my duty to inform you, ALL of the juicy bits. Especially the juicy bits.”

Whoops from the audience.

“The good people in here are a bit ahead of the game, Caroline. They’ve already had the pleasure of watching you and Rupert… err…, in action, as it were. They were lucky enough to see it live. The rest of the Base are only now about to catch up.”

There was more wild cheering and a prolonged round of applause as Colin paused, now fully in control, triumphant, king of all he surveyed. Caroline was staring at him, open mouthed, disbelieving, struggling to understand the horrific truth of what he was saying. Trish’s eyes were still rooted to the stage.

Colin continued.

“We’d hoped that Rupert himself would be here tonight. But unfortunately he’s been called away on another assignment. You won’t be surprised by now to know that Rupert, ‘Rupee’, is not all he seemed; not all he claimed to be. He is in fact an actor, and a very fine one, isn’t that right ladies and gentleman?”

There was a huge round of applause, led by Colin, Steven, and Helen.

“And not that bad in the sack either, isn’t that right Caroline? What do you say ladies?”

High-pitched screams and whoops and girlish giggles echoed around the theatre, as well as pierced Caroline’s ears like thin, cruel knives.

”It’s amazing what a little bit of Viagra can do, though he does have a bit of a background in the old Porno’ industry as well: it shows, right?”

More applause and more cheers.

“And he really is called Rupert, “which made the whole thing even more amusing. He’s actually an actor called Rupert Wilkinson, and at this moment he’s on his way to screen-test for a major Hollywood movie!”

More applause.

“You’re going to be hearing and seeing a lot more of him; though you couldn’t see much more of him, isn’t that right Caroline?”

More cheers.

“He’s not an Alien?” Caroline said, pathetically, looking up at Steven from her chair, speaking in a voice that was even smaller than the shrunken remnants of her dignity.

“In case our microphones didn’t catch that ladies and gentleman, Caroline just asked if all of this means that Rupert isn’t really an Alien. I think that’s what is known as a moment of realisation.”

Colin looked out expectantly at the audience but did not get the kind of laugh he seemed to crave, this time. He continued, once more looking down on Caroline.

“Well, he is an Australian, if that counts as an ‘Alien’.”

This time he did get a laugh.

“For him, Sydney is ‘Home’.”

More laughter.

 Caroline shrunk further into her chair.

“I want you to know that not only was Rupert terrific; you were terrific too, Caroline.”

He turned to the audience.

“TERRIFIC! Don’t you agree Ladies and Gentleman?”

Wild cheering and applause.

More shouts.

“Rupeeee!”.

Fuck me Rupert!”

“Come for me Rupert!”

“No need to be gentle!” “

Rupeeee!”

Suddenly the shouts and screams weren’t coming from the audience; they were coming from Caroline, from the Caroline who was projected onto a giant screen at the back of the stage behind the defeated wreck of the real life flesh and blood Caroline. She turned in her chair and looked up, staring with transfixed horror at her oversized self being fucked, or made love to as she had so recently thought of it, by Rupert, Rupert the Australian actor not Rupert the Alien.

Colin was at the front of the stage now as the giant explicit montage continued. He circled a hand inches above his head, fingers pointing outwards, eyes closed in apparent concentration.

“Remember that bit,” he shouted, “when Rupert did that thing and stopped all the cameras?”

He paused for effect as the crowd cheered in remembered acknowledgement.

“Well that worked didn’t it?” he added with mock incredulity, pointing behind him to the screen where Rupert was now taking Caroline from behind, slapping her arse-cheeks with gusto as he did so. Caroline’s heart sunk from her knees to her feet as Rupert, the on-screen Rupert, turned his head towards the camera and, unmistakably, winked.

 Caroline turned from the screen to look at Trish. Trish looked up at her, instinctively sensing Caroline’s despairing gaze. Tears were in her eyes. Now she really and definitely did mouth the word ‘Sorry.’ Caroline turned away, closing her eyes, hoping that opening them again would find her awakening in her own apartment bed; or perhaps in her childhood bed back in Hull; or maybe back in Hall’s in Lancaster, revealing this whole nightmare to be nothing more than that, a terrifyingly real and lucid sleep-time horror show.

She opened her eyes slowly. She was still seated on stage. She was still being fucked on screen. She was still in the presence of Colin, and Steven, and Helen, and Trish and a live studio audience. It wasn’t a dream, but it was still a nightmare.

Everything else seemed to pass by in a blur. After a time, Colin asked Caroline for a comment, but she was still incapable of coherent speech.

“The poor girl is in shock,” said Colin. “But don’t worry; we’ll be catching up with her over the next few days; just as everyone on the Base will be catching up with her, in a manner of speaking. We will be getting her side of the story, sooner or later. Shall we give her one last round of applause ladies and gentleman, before we let her go?”

The applause, led by Colin and a now standing Steven and Helen, came as she lovingly sucked off Rupert in the shower on the screen behind her, the image fading slowly to darkness as she rose from her knees, licking her lips like a willing amateur porn’ actress, sperm dribbling wantonly down her chin.

 There was a moment of silence, broken by a single voice.

“Fuck me Rupert!”

Then another.

“No need to be gentle!” 

Then another.

“Take me Rupert!”

Then another.

“Rupeeeeeee!” 

“Come for me!”

“Take me Home!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourteen

Caroline was driven back to her quarters in silence by the standard two bodyguards. Helen sat beside her in the back of the buggy. As they reached the entrance to the apartment block, Helen pressed a card into her hand. The card was laminated, like the card Pablo had given her now so long ago. On this new card it said simply ‘Base Confidential Counselling Services’ followed by a phone number. Caroline looked at Helen. She was beyond tears; now there was only a dull numb shock that manifested itself both mentally and physically. She suspected that this feeling could at any time be replaced by a screaming, shouting, object-smashing tear-filled outbreak of psychotic rage.

“You might need this,” said Helen.

“You really think counselling can help me, after what you’ve just done to me?” said Caroline, quietly.

Helen shrugged.

 “I do have some idea of how you must be feeling. I am a woman too. We’ll talk soon, when you’ve recovered from the shock…”

“I will never recover from the ‘shock’.”

“You will; take the card. The support is there, if you want it. Or there is always Trish. Don’t be too hard on Trish. We gave her no choice. Talk to her.”

“Fuck Trish,” said Caroline, as she dropped the card onto the seat of the buggy and clambered out, her curvaceous figure observed with smirking, knowing lust by the bodyguards. Without looking back, she entered her building, though nothing on the Base now seemed to be ‘hers’, not even her own life, not even her perception of the real.

* * *

The first thing she did was to shower, but she knew that no amount of soap and water would ever make her feel clean fully clean again. After she’d dried herself, she sat on the sofa in her pyjamas, watching television in a state of virtual trance. She seemed to be on every channel. One station was showing footage of her onstage with Colin with the big screen behind her, and the sound of the baying, whooping, laughing audience before her. Another was showing the interview she’d done with Steven when she’d first agreed to meet Rupert. Another featured footage of the original Assessment Centre back in England. Yes, their ‘plan’, if that was the right word, went as far back as that. At one point Colin actually looked directly into the camera and smirked, for an instant metamorphosing from Mr Sex to the game-show host he was yet to become, answering for Caroline one of the millions of questions that had been occupying her mind since she had first found herself on that Hell-like stage, this one concerning whether or not Colin had been in on it, whatever it was, all along. Yet another station was showing highlights of her first date with Rupert, that beautiful meal in that beautiful man-made forest, the memory of which would be now forever sullied; and, naturally, the porn channels were showing nothing but the sex, Rupert fucking her in every possible position, Caroline screaming like a slut, or perhaps simply like a woman in love being expertly made love to by the man she loves.

Caroline continued to flick through the channels, remote control in one hand, glass of wine in the other, until she finally settled on and became morbidly transfixed by the looped sex. She stared almost unblinking at this erotic action for so long that she actually began to detach herself mentally from it, momentarily becoming physically aroused by the imagery, until she stopped such feelings abruptly with the memory that this really was her on the screen, being screwed under false pretences by a cheat and an imposter for the sole purpose of the titillation and hilarity of her fellow residents of the Base.

If indeed that was the sole purpose.

The texts and phone-messages from Trish began almost as soon as Carline’s attempt to cleanse herself in the shower ended and her glazed T.V. watching began.

The messages, whether written or spoken into Caroline’s answer phone, all said pretty much the same thing: ‘I’m so sorry; I had no choice; they made me do it; please talk to me; please at least tell me you’re OK.’

When Caroline didn’t respond to any of these messages, Trish resorted to physically hammering on the door, shouting through it, her voice almost hysterical, her words a desparate variant of the words in her messages.

“Caroline, please; please speak to me, please tell me you’re OK.”

Caroline ignored her and remained silent, the T.V. now muted. She wondered what the neighbours in the block thought of what they were seeing. There was no doubt that they would be watching.

 Everyone would be watching.

Eventually, Trish went away, and shortly afterwards, somehow, still more or less upright on the sofa, Caroline drifted into a nightmarish sleep where she really was being fucked by an Alien, a bona-fide comic-book horror-story Alien, a multitude of slimy tentacles mauling and entering her every orifice before covering her in foul-smelling, foul-tasting Alien gunk.

She awoke in a sweat. On the screen Rupert was fucking her mouth.  Her phone was ringing again. She glanced at it. This time it wasn’t Trish. It was Debora. Had Caroline been fully awake she would probably have ignored her too; but, still dazed from the dream and the living nightmare of her waking-reality, she answered the call.

“Caroline, thank God. Are you OK?”

“What do you think?”

“I know, I know. Do you want to talk?”

As wakefulness slowly returned, she realised that in fact did want to talk; not to Trish; not to Helen or to Steven or to Colin; Rupert, perhaps, just to ask him ‘why’ and to vent her anger at him, but definitely not to some ‘Counsellor’ who she’d never met. She was silent for a moment. She could hear Debora breathing at the other end of the line, waiting worriedly for her response. At last, Caroline spoke, asking Debora the one question that needed to be asked.

 “Did you know?”

Debora gasped.

 “No, I didn’t know anything. The first I knew was last night, watching on T.V. with Sergei. Sergei thought it was funny; funny and a turn-on, the bastard. I won’t be seeing him again. It was…it was horrible, and I promise you I didn’t know. You’ve got to believe me.”

“I don’t know how I can believe anything ever again.”

“No. But please let me come round. You need someone to talk to, and there are things I can tell you, now.”

Caroline was silent again. Then she just murmured the word ‘OK’ and clicked off the phone before bursting into a series of heaving sobs.

* * *

She was still sobbing when Debora knocked on her door moments later. Caroline let her in and the two of them hugged. They weren’t particularly close emotionally, they weren’t even friends, not really, but it was the most necessary hug that Caroline had ever had in her life.

“Thank you” she whispered before leading the way silently into the living room. On the T.V she was kneeling naked on the shower room floor, sucking Rupert’s cock like a needy, hungry nymphomaniac. The first thing Debora did was to pick up the remote and render the screen blank before sitting herself down on the wicker chair that lived by the window. Caroline was on the sofa, still staring, out of habit in the direction of the now image-less screen.

 “I won’t ask you how you’re feeling, because that much is obvious. You’re feeling exactly as I would feel. Exactly as any woman who’s just been raped would feel,” said Debora.

‘Raped’ was a word that had not yet occurred to Caroline. It was a shocking word to hear, but it was exactly the right word, she now realised, for what had happened to her. She nodded in gratitude and, almost, relief, like someone with a terrible but unknown illness who had just been given a diagnosis.

“I’m going to stick to practicalities,” said Debora. “To tell you what I know; and then we can think about what you can do, what we can do about what has happened.”

Caroline nodded again. She was looking at Debora through newly opened eyes. Debora was a strong woman. Had she always been a strong woman rather than a mouse, a fact that Caroline and Trish had failed to notice for a long time, or had her experiences on the Base made her into a strong woman? Maybe she wasn’t all she seemed to be either. Maybe she was an imposter; an actor. Maybe everyone on the Base was an actor playing a pre-arranged role. Maybe they were all watching this latest instalment, this latest twist in The Destruction of Caroline, live and as it happens. But Caroline somehow knew in her heart that a belief in such a wide ranging conspiracy directed solely at her equated to paranoid insanity; and she trusted Debora. She didn’t quite know why she trusted Debora, but she did.

“I’ve been speaking to Trish for most of the night…”

Caroline began to object, but Debora dismissed the objection with an assertive look and a wave of her hand.

 “Just hear me out. Trish is desperately worried about you. She had to help them. She hadno choice.”

 “That’s what Helen said, that’s what Trish keeps saying in her messages and by shouting at me through my door. I don’t believe it. There’s always a choice.”

“Maybe. But they had stuff on film; film of her and some of the men on the Base. They had film of you and her…” Debora looked embarrassed, gesturing vaguely towards the bedroom door with her hand and her eyes.

Caroline looked away.

“You’ve actually seen this?”

Debora shook her head.

“No, it’s not been shown on the T.V. Well, as far as I know it hasn’t. I stopped watching after Sergei had gone; but they showed it to Trish, before. They threatened to show it throughout the Base if she didn’t cooperate. There was other stuff too, stuff from England…a night with you and her and two policemen?”

 Caroline wondered how deep this whole thing went. Were the two policemen in it from the beginning, or were they forced into it later by some unknown power, forced into handing over the film, in which case how did they know about the film in the first place? And then there was Pablo. He must have been involved; but at what point did his involvement begin, and was he a willing participant or not? Maybe they had stuff on him too. Maybe they had film of her and Pablo: her and Pablo in England; her and Pablo on the Base. Pablo with other women; Pablo with men, Pablo with…

There were so many ‘maybe’s’ that concepts like ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ no longer existed.

“Fucking hell,” she said.

Debora nodded.

They were both silent for a moment.

“Helen said she’ll talk to me soon. I was going to tell her to fuck off,” said Caroline eventually.

“You need to talk to her, to discuss your options. You’ve got get out of here, if you can. We all have.”

 “I know.”

Caroline chose this moment to express one of the dark thoughts that was running amok inside her head.

“If they have film of me and Trish, here, then they will be filming us talking, now.”

Debora shrugged.

“I know. But what can we do about that? It seems certain that everything on the Base is filmed. They’d have been expecting you to have this conversation anyway, with me or someone else. It doesn’t really change anything if they can hear us. You still have to talk to Helen. As far as we know the option to leave still exists. But first you should see Trish.”

Caroline shook her head.

“She’s a victim too; not as big a victim as you, obviously, but still a victim. And she’s still desperate to be your friend.”

Caroline got up from the sofa and walked over to the window to stand beside Debora. She looked out at the quiet, misty early morning city, a vision she’d once seen as beautiful and had used as inspiration for her painting many times.

“OK, OK. Go and get her if you want to. I suppose you’re right, I do need to hear her side of the story sometime or other. It might as well be now.”

Debora left and returned moments later with Trish. There was no greeting hug between the old friends and sometimes lovers.

“Do you need me to stay?” asked Debora, her eyes full of womanly compassion.

“No, it’s OK; and thank you, for everything.”

“No problem. You know where I am if…”

“Thanks.”

Debora left.

 Caroline and Trish sat at opposite ends of the sofa. The atmosphere was thick with awkward expectation. Trish couldn’t tell her much more than Debora had told her already. She said a lot of tearful words, but they all amounted to the simple mantra ‘I had no choice.’ Caroline told her that she understood why she’d done what she’d done, why she’d gone along with them. She was being truthful, but in her heart she still believed that Trish could have refused, that there are always choices and that if their roles had been reversed she personally would never have betrayed her friend; not even under torture, let alone through the mere threat of the embarrassment of sexual exposure.

“OK, maybe I was weak,” said Trish. “I should have just told them to fuck off and do their worst. I know that now, and I’m sorry, sorrier than you can ever know, sorrier than I can ever say. But you’ve always been stronger than me.” Trish was looking at the floor as she spoke, the physical distance between her and Caroline on the sofa small but pronounced.

Caroline looked at Trish, intently, unsmiling. She knew that she was telling the truth as she saw it. Trish was looking back at her with eyes as sad as a beaten puppy. Suddenly the hardness in Caroline’s heart and soul softened. She didn’t know if she could ever forgive her friend, but she knew that Trish still was her friend, and that she was going to try. They’d been friends so long that Caroline couldn’t really ever imagine them not being friends.  

“OK,” she said quietly.

Trish looked up.

 “Thank you,” she said, almost but not quite sobbing with relief and gratitude.

Caroline looked deeply into her wet eyes.

“At least you have an ending for your story now,” she said.

Yes, she would try to forgive, but she would never, could never, forget.  

 

 

 

Fifteen

Caroline knew that her meeting with Helen the next day was being filmed, but she no longer cared. They were deep below the surface of the Base, in the same office where the two of them had met before Caroline’s first meeting with Rupert. Caroline was determined to be strong, even if her display of strength was as much an act as that of Rupert, and Colin, and Trish and the stern, immaculately dressed woman who sat looking impassively at her from the other side of the desk.

“So what happens next?” she said.

“What do you want to happen next?”

“I want to leave, to leave the Base, to return to England, to my home.” Caroline was not unaware of the irony of her use of that last word.

Helen smiled an unkindly smile.

“Well, the reality is that you have two choices. You could stay here and make the most of your new fame, or infamy, or notoriety, or whatever you want to call it. Thatmight not be as bad an option as you think. You’re a star now. The feedback from the television coverage has been amazing. I’m sure there will be other T.V work for you, for a while at least. It would obviously be sex-based work, because that’s what you’re known for. But what’s so bad about that? You clearly enjoy sex, and there’s always a market for porn’ on the Base. Or, if you decide that such a life is not for you, you can just go back to your cleaning job. That’s your second option. Everyone will forget about you and Rupert after a while, or at least they will act towards you as if they have forgotten. We’ll probably show the footage for another week or two, then drop it, move on to something else, to someone else. Of course, everybody will have it recorded, but everybody has everything recorded nowadays. When there is so much to see nobody sticks to one thing for very long. You and Rupert will soon become nothing more than an item at the back of people’s minds and the back of their hard-drive porn’ collection, something fondly remembered but rarely looked at.”

She paused, looking to Caroline for a reaction. Caroline was looking at the desk, not speaking. Helen shrugged and resumed.

“We promised you that you’d be made for life; and you can be, just not in the way that you imagined. There’ll always a job for you here. If you don’t want to be a porn star and you don’t want to be a cleaner, we’ll find you something else for you to do. There’s plenty of mundane jobs need doing here, same as everywhere else. Mundane jobs for mundane people. But I can confirm that leaving is not an option and never will be. This is your home now.”

Despite her determination not to, and her feeling that she had shed enough tears already, Caroline was crying now, silent tears rolling in slow-motion down her pale cheeks.

Helen’s eyes were as hard as the mahogany desk that separated them.

 “You shouldn’t take things so seriously, Caroline. After all, it was only entertainment.”

  Caroline wiped her face with her hands and managed to without sobbing, or screaming.

“Is that what this was really all about, ‘entertainment’?”

  Helen smiled that unkind smile once more.

“Well, in a sense. Of course it goes deeper than that. Nothing is ever ‘just’ entertainment. Through shows like these we show the population of the Base that we can make people believe whatever we want them to believe. That is always useful. They enjoy the show despite knowing that it could be them up there the screen, that’s the beauty of it.”

Caroline shook her head.

“Who exactly are you?”

 “I’m Helen; and you’re Caroline. And now you must decide what you want to happen next. What is it to be, choice ‘A’ or choice ‘B’? We are giving you the freedom to decide.”

Caroline was silent.

Helen stared at her unblinking, her eyes radiating with power.

“And always remember, Caroline, whichever choice you make, that whatever happens is exactly what was always meant to happen.”

These were words that Caroline recognised.

They were her own words, spoken on the last day of her old life.

She was living a different life now, a different life in a world without hope.

And yet, unbeknown to her, deep inside of her, a miracle had begun.

New Life was growing within her womb.

(ends)