I’ve never hired a taskmaster and am nervous. Why pay to become addicted? It’ll make me perform. Yeah, but I’m handing myself over. Does not knowing the girl help? Definitely, it does. I’d never defer to friends or my family. They’d find uses for me. I’d be washing windows and donating paychecks to homeless shelters. They’d never be intentionally cruel, but their ideas for what’s right for me are theirs. Also, they know me well enough to justify punishing me a little. They say all relationships are mutual using. An addiction would merely make other people using me easier. Besides, I’d offer ideas. A person immersed in addiction will try to nourish it.
The taskmaster and I have never met. She doesn’t know I once convinced my parents that my brother was gay and that I’ve cheated on my girlfriend with the girlfriend of my best friend. That makes her more loyal than the people who like me. She thinks I spend my free time helping troubled teens and setting out food for stray cats.
There are things I don’t know about her too, but she’s certified. That means she’s been conditioned according to legal requirements. It also means she’s never been accused of abusing her role. Her clients could be enslaved, but probably not. The addiction fades if not reinforced and too many sessions in too short a span would arouse notice; the government audits taskmasters.
I’ve written a book, but won’t edit it. That’s why I’ve hired a taskmaster. She’s motivation for ten dollars an hour. It won’t matter that I’ve stared at my manuscript so long I’m sick of it. It won’t matter that there’s a million more fun projects to do. The taskmaster will keep me focused.
She’s here. I heard a knock. I don’t want to answer, but I do. I’m stunned by what I see. Those dimples and pony tail are fresh from high school. Judy looks more like a babysitter than someone qualified to administer electric shocks to my brain. She has a fat backpack in which, I assume, are the tools of her trade.
“I didn’t expect you to be so young,” I say.
“I’ve been certified since I was thirteen.”
“How old are you now?” I’m afraid to know.
I imagine myself at eighteen, all acne and hormones. Is an eighteen year old responsible enough to trust completely? I shudder; she’s done this five years.
“This is my certification,” she says, handing it to me. “You should verify it before we continue.”
I’m about to ask her how, but she could lie. The news two nights ago said how to detect impersonators, but I remember only how scammers took advantage of their victims, not how to reveal phony certification.
I turn the card over in my hand and notice a phone number. I could call, but it might belong to an accomplice. I could dial information to check the number. Calling seems smart, then doesn’t. It’s possible to divert a phone line to ring the same place regardless of the number dialed.
I log onto the Internet and search for taskmaster + certification + verification. The taskmaster doesn’t question this. I find the website. It has a field for certification checks. I enter the card’s serial number. The girl’s picture appears next to the words, “Taskmaster Judy Cowtown, Verified.”
I return the card. She asks if I have questions before we start.
“The addiction is temporary, right?”
“It has a three hour half-life. Three hours from your last BSR – that stands for Brain Stimulation-Response - your cravings reduce by half. Three hours later, they’re at a quarter. Three hours later, they’re at an eighth. And so on.”
“It’s never fully gone?”
“Research shows that at twelve hours, self-control returns. The addiction fades fast because it’s hard to remember what it feels like.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Is it ever fully gone?”
“No. The first book you ever read exists inside you too. All memories have half-lives. An image has a half-life of a fraction of a second. Sounds have a half-life of two seconds. The BSR has a half-life of three hours. I don’t erase experiences.”
“Fine then,” I say. “Let’s do it.”
She hands me a bottle of nasal spray and says to flood both nostrils liberally.
“The show I saw the other night mentioned electric shock,” I say. “I didn’t know it worked like this.”
Judy laughs. “That’s not the stimulus. That’s a numbing agent.”
The front of my face feels gone, so she’s telling the truth.
“Tilt your head,” she says and slides a tool up my nose and there’s a thump and a moment of pressure, but no pain. Judy removes the tool, snaps off the head, puts both pieces in separate baggies and returns them to her backpack. I’m at her mercy and this is erotic. I don’t feel right feeling this way. She’s very young, although somehow, that adds to the effect. I am vulnerable to this pretty, eighteen year old like I have never been with any woman. Now, she asks, “What will you accomplish?”
“I’ll edit my book.”
She nods, then asks me to edit a sample page. Without an example of the editing I want done, she won’t know I’m not passing off crap for another BSR.
I edit the first page. It takes forty minutes and I’m hungry for lunch.
I show Judy and she presses a button on what looks like a calculator. The thing triggers whatever it is Judy left in my nose. Unbelievable pleasure wraps my senses. It is familiar and alien, better than any orgasm or ice cream sundae. It suffers in translation.
“I just stimulated your lateral hypothalamus. That was your brain’s absolute potential for pleasure.”
“Do it again.”
Judy smiles, “Edit two pages this time.”
I go to it and in thirty minutes am ready. Judy makes sure they’re consistent with the sample, smiles, then gives me another jolt. This dose lasts longer.
“Now I want four,” she says.
I provide them in forty-five minutes. Judy examines them and jolts me, “Now six.”
I comply. Judy looks them over, then says, “Eight more.”
“You didn’t do it that time.”
“No, not that time.”
“I edited good. I didn’t cut corners.”
“I know. Give me eight pages.”
For a moment, I consider snatching the calculator, then recoil at myself. It’s like she can read my mind.
“The password on my BSRT is never the same twice.”
I’m going to ask what BSRT stands for, but decide I don’t care. I finish eight pages in an hour.
“You tried to cheat,” she says.
“I did not!”
“You’re lying,” she says and I can’t meet her eyes.
“What do you expect? You jilted me last time.”
“It takes longer to redo something than do it right the first time,” she says. “Fix it.”
I go back and edit more thoroughly. It takes twenty minutes. I pass them to Judy and she smiles, then works her magic. It was worth putting up with her crap. This time, the stimulation lasts and lasts. When it does stop, I’m grinning inanely.
“That seemed like an hour,” I say.
“Ten seconds,” she says. “Your longest BSR so far.” As if I hadn’t noticed.
“Give me ten pages,” she says.
I don’t get jolted this time, but do the next two. I understand what Judy’s doing. She’s training me to associate work with reward, so as to not need reward. I notice another association forming too, although I don’t think she’s making it on purpose.
I’m associating her smile with pleasure. It gives me a warm feeling, even when I’m not receiving an accompanying jolt. I don’t mention this because she’d stop smiling. Her training taught her to respect her clients and that includes not brainwashing them to want her happy. Why am I letting this happen? For the same reason people keep fetishes. It feels good.
I edit ten pages and am rewarded.
“Twelve pages,” Judy says.
I offer her fifty bucks for another jolt. She laughs at me.
I offer a hundred. She doesn’t even consider it.
“Two hundred,” I say.
“I was once offered twelve hundred dollars. I still refused.”
“Two thousand,” I say. That’s nearly all of my savings, but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter that it takes longer to earn two grand than to edit ten more pages. I want immediate gratification.
Judy smiles, then says, “I won’t do it for any price.”
“You’ve been brainwashed,” I say. “You know that, don’t you?”
“I agreed with the principles of the conditioning before I was ever trained. The conditioning merely made me immune to temptation. I’ve been brainwashed to comply with my own beliefs. You’re wasting time, you know. You could be on your way to another jolt. Now give me twelve pages.”
It’s useless arguing, so I edit. Occasionally, I glance over and she smiles. This melts me.
I don’t get a jolt this time, or the next three. I’m getting pissed. I don’t bother arguing with her, except to say, “I don’t know what I’m paying you for. You’re just watching.”
Judy smiles. She thinks it’s funny. No doubt this has something to do with her being eighteen. I forgive her immediately. She has such a beautiful smile.
I finish twenty pages and Judy gives me a really short jolt. I’m disappointed, but working even faster. She doesn’t do me this time, but does the next. It’s a great one, the longest I’ve had so far. At its peak, I’m struck blind.
“I love you,” I tell her and she smiles.
I didn’t think I could do the entire book in one night, but I do. I guess I just needed the right motivation. Twice, I consider forcing Judy to jolt me. The first time, I ask if that’s ever happened. Judy shakes her head.
“I’d punch in a wrong code. You’d be tranquilized and the police would come.”
“Why the police? You could just leave.”
“Not if I was handcuffed to a chair.”
I nod and resume editing.
Hours later, I finish and wish I’d written more. I suggest to her that I will.
“Not this time,” she says. “The job’s over.”
“Don’t leave,” I say. “It doesn’t matter if you won’t jolt me. I enjoy spending time with you. You’re smart, beautiful and authoritative in a very sexy way. I want to know you. ”
She smiles and it’s pure positive reinforcement.
“We’re done,” she says.
“Can I buy you dinner?” I ask. “You must be hungry. It’s been hours…”
“It’s illegal for taskmasters to date clients,” she says. “Or former clients,” she adds, predicting my next remark. Sure, she’s heard it before.
“At least give me another jolt,” I say. “If you’re determined to go, leave on good terms. Give me a dose to show there are no hard feelings.”
“Okay,” she says and I flinch because I expected her to refuse. She tells me to lie down. This BSR is going to be so good I’ll lose all muscle control.
“First, though, press your thumb to the receipt. I need a good imprint.”
“I’ll do it after.”
“No. I’m leaving while you’re… distracted. Otherwise, you’ll keep me here all night.”
“What’s your rush?”
“I’ll return for it Wednesday then.” She meant to leave without giving me a jolt.
“Wait, I’ll do it,” I say. I press my thumb to the pay-screen and it’s recorded.
Judy smiles and says to lie down.
I make myself comfortable and watch Judy finger her BSRT.
I feel something, but not my absolute potential for pleasure. I feel drowsy. I can hardly move.
Judy slides a new tool up my nose. Its magnetic tip drags out an electrode.
“You tricked me,” I say, slurring the accusation. She’s packing her things.
“In case you don’t know,” she says, “you’re a really good writer. I’d buy your book.”
“Juuuuuudddeeeeeeeee!” I moan.
“You’ve had a long night. Sleep now. You’ll wake up refreshed.”
Judy douses my nose with nasal spray and I hold my eyes open watching her mouth, hoping for one last smile.