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Offline joyfully

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« on: March 25, 2009, 04:58:39 AM »

It was late at night when Greg ‘phoned me, at least, later than people usually call but this was call I had been hoping for. I had met him socially at a product launch and he had immediately impressed me . Well-dressed, educated and sophisticated, he could have been a stockbroker, accountant or bank manager but was, as it turned out, a club manager. On learning I was in robotics he was fascinated and we talked together for over an hour, parting with a vague promise on his part to show me an idea I may like. For my part, I have a very small circle of friends and would have enjoyed his company anyway, even if his “idea” was as hopeless as most “inventions” usually are.

There was an edge of excitement in his voice as he asked me to meet him at his club to discuss a possible job with him and his associates. I am no pauper but far from wealthy and this smelled like a worthwhile opportunity so, writing down the address I smartened myself up and ‘phoned a taxi. Strangely, the driver hadn’t heard of the club and said the address must be wrong but, on my insistence, he headed for it. Doubt rose in my mind as I realised that this was, indeed, no nightlife area we were entering but a darkened industrial estate, my normal habitat by day but somehow menacing at night. The cabbie looked nervous but as we pulled up at the designated address lights switched on and I saw Greg standing in the doorway of a nondescript little house nestled between two factories. Reassured, I paid off the driver and headed up the path. As Greg ushered me inside the lights clicked off and the house faded back into anonymity.

After taking care of my coat and renewing our acquaintance Greg led me into a surprisingly large room where three other people, one woman and two men, were settled, drinks in hand on two sofas separated by a long low coffee table. The far wall was dominated by a huge home theatre type T.V. with D.V.D. player, and enough entertainment technology to keep any geek happy for months.

Greg quickly made the intros, doing it one by one in the old fashioned stand up, speak, shake hands manner, not the more modern “everyone this is Mick”, followed by a quick laundry list of names which are forgotten almost instantly. Once again, I was impressed by his polished manners. The woman was called Karen and she was their P.R. and marketing person. She had the slightly pretentious habit of pronouncing her name as “Car-En” but, like Greg,, she was all class. Pretty without being a startling beauty she had a neat, tight little figure and wavy auburn hair tumbling around her shoulders. Greg was next. An ex-marine if I ever saw one tall, athletic with a Mr America square jawed face, curly blonde hair and a handshake like a vice. On the opposite sofa sat, I sensed, the man I must impress. His name was Lewis, hard faced, cropped greying hair, solid build and an air of command which stamped him as a leader and decision maker.

I took the glass Greg handed me and sat on the end of the sofa next to Steve and opposite Lewis, setting myself squarely against the main man and let the silence in the room build. When I was young we used to play a game called “monkey”. Someone, usually an adult wanting some peace, would call out “silence in the court, the monkey wants to talk”. Thereafter, the first one to utter a word was deemed the monkey and lost the game. So it is in business negotiations. The first one to broach the subject definitely weakens his position and, outnumbered and on foreign ground, I had enough disadvantages. I put on my best poker face, adopted a deliberately relaxed posture, sipped at the excellent single malt scotch and waited.

Silence is unnerving and Steve cracked first. “So, Mick, what exactly is it you do?” he asked. As an opener it was about like Andre Aggasi starting a tennis match with a pat-ball serve. I thought I saw Lewis wince and struggled to keep a straight face but, like a pat-ball, it got the game started. I could have used a put-down but I already liked Steve and right now I needed an ally. “I’m an engineer” I replied, “specifically a robotics specialist”. “Wow!” he exclaimed, “you mean like Artoo Deetoo?” Across the room I thought Lewis would choke on his drink and, this time, I made no attempt to hide my amusement. “That’s the popular image” I replied “ but the reality is nowhere near as glamorous. My robots are usually bolted to floors in factories and do fun stuff like welding in inaccessible corners and spraying toxic chemicals which would kill human workers.” “And you build them?” he asked. “I’m more a designer these days” I replied “but I still get my hands dirty when the need arises”.

Now Karen weighed in. “Just how do you design a machine” she asked “I mean, I have this image of inventors tinkering in labs, patenting things then looking for markets”. “Great way of going broke” I replied. “No, usually my clients have a problem and a budget for solving it and I find the best way to do what they want. Mostly, I apply existing technology. There isn’t a lot of inventing involved, just adapting off the shelf hardware to do the work quickly and efficiently. Once I have a combination of components which will work together to do the job I refine the process and look at fun stuff like making it idiot proof so the operators can’t hurt themselves. That can be the toughest part.”

Karen had her glass to her mouth as I said this and suddenly, her eyes widened, she gave a strangled giggle then coughed and spluttered violently as the wine stung her nasal passages. She patted her chest then gave me a lopsided grin. “Sorry about that” she said. “Wine took a wrong turn.” I am not the most socially adept person I know but there is no mistaking a severe attack of the giggles. Hastily reviewing my words I couldn’t find anything particularly funny about what I had just said and shot a “what the..” look at Lewis and Greg. Lewis set his glass down on the table, uncrossed his legs and leaned forward slightly. “Uh-Oh” said the coach in my head “ time to stop playing with the k i ddies. Daddy want to get down to business.”

“Mick” said Lewis “before I get to the nitty gritty I want you to understand that everything you are about to hear is absolutely confidential. What we discuss in this room stays here.” “Of course” I replied, after all, this was a basic business requirement and blabbermouths do not last long in my field. “ I’m quite happy to sign a confidentiality agreement”. “I don’t believe in ‘em” Lewis replied “either you trust people or you don’t. Greg trusts you so your word is good enough for me.” “Thank you” I replied and meant it. “You have it”.

“Good”. Lewis picked up his drink again, as if wondering how to broach the subject. “Have you ever heard of Suicide Island?”. Eyes are things you can feel and I was acutely aware of six of them boring into me. Game on! This opener wasn’t out of left field, it was out of outer space. I rode a mental storm for two seconds then took refuge in the truth. “Sure.” I replied, as normally as I could, screwing my poker face a little tighter “ The death cult which lives on a luxurious island retreat somewhere between Antarctica and the North Pole. Depending on who is telling the story and how many drinks they have had it sounds like a pretty wild place. I always believed it was an urban myth.” “It’s real, Mick. I run it.” What do you say to that? I fell back on my last defensive position and said nothing, often a good thing to do, always a smart thing to say. I could have sipped my drink or used another distraction but that would have betrayed confusion and showing weakness is fatal in tough negotiations. I held Lewis’ gaze and ransacked my mind for a strong return.

“Well”, I said at last and was pleased my voice came out strongly and casually, “that is a first. Usually stories like this involve someone else, like my neighbour’s aunts plumbers daughter, this is the first time I’ve heard one in the first person.” Now I sipped my drink and thought I deserved it. “Good comeback Mick”, said my mental coach, “now shut the hell up and listen”. I didn’t have to wait long. “It is real, Mick”. Lewis repeated, his eyes boring into mine so that, for the first time, I felt the full power of his will. Martial artists refer to this power as Ki or Chi, Jedi Knights call it “The Force”. It is real and potent and as Lewis looked at me I felt my own will struggling to meet his [email protected]?ng?. “If you have any religious or moral objections to facilitating suicide please leave now, otherwise, I will show you what Suicide Island is really like and explain what we want from you.”

Now my curiosity took over. Religion had, of course long ago ceased to have much influence over society but social taboos still lingered. This explained the secrecy. If their business was indeed facilitating suicides it was, if not illegal, morally questionable in some people’s eyes and scrutiny by sensation seeking journalists or over-zealous Police would not be welcome. “O.K.” I said, “convince me”. Lewis pressed a remote control and the big screen came to life showing Karen doing a travelogue style intro for “the island”. It looked like any luxurious tropical resort with all the usual indulgences, beaches, surfcats, tennis courts, spas, pools and a theatre. The main difference was that all the guests were attractive people, none older than 40, and all were naked. The special features came next. Most guests lived in a large resort building but six, three men and three women lived in a smaller, even more luxurious building called “the death cottage”. Each Sunday at 7.30pm a lottery would select one man and one woman from the six to die by suicide on the main stage before the whole group and a camera team at Another couple, chosen by a similar lottery the day before would then replace them in the death cottage.

Next Karen interviewed several guests, apparently chosen at random and all seemed happy, well balanced people who wanted to experience the ultimate thrill of dying and were keen to do so among like-minded people. They paid no fees, just allowed the company to film their deaths and profit by selling the resulting $nuff films. One pretty blonde girl in the death cottage typified the attitude of most guests by declaring that she had already died a hundred times in her mind and couldn’t wait to experience death at first hand. The common belief was that suicide was a special, happy event to be shared and celebrated rather than hidden away.

Next we were shown footage of several suicides. All the members and most of the resort staff gathered in a natural amphitheatre sitting on tiered seats in a semi – circle around a raised, well-lit stage. The necessary equipment was carried, or, in the case of larger machines, wheeled out at 7.55pm and, promptly at 8.00pm the chosen man and woman walked on stage hand in hand and bowed to the enthusiastic, encouraging applause of the audience. I noticed that most of the male performers were sporting at least partial erections and there was usually a brief sexual interlude between the couple before each went to their chosen death. Many masturbated to a final orgasm before making the final fatal move, cumming and going simultaneously.

The methods of dying were as varied as the performers. There was a selection of guns which were mostly chosen by the men. The most memorable was a large, powerfully built man who carefully grounded the butt of a double-barrelled shotgun, rested the twin muzzles against his lower belly, leaned forward slightly and used a T shaped bar to fire both barrels. The two heavy charges tore his belly open flinging blood and guts across the stage and lifting him off his feet before exiting between his shoulder blades. The women mostly preferred to die more tidily, usually opting for a quick snap of the neck on the gallows, the slower strangulation of “short-drop” hanging or quick, bloody decapitation on the guillotine. The one exception was Denise, the girl Karen had interviewed earlier. She knelt unrestrained on a white mat on the stage and, using an authentic Japanese tanto, slit her belly across and up in a classic hara-kiri suicide. She sat for several minutes with her guts spilling across her lap and watched Joe, her death mate, use a similar knife to slice deeply into his throat, sending an incredible fountain of bright, arterial blood spurting across the mat. As soon as he slumped unconscious, Denise took up his knife, unhurriedly laid her head back and finished herself off by driving the blade deep into her throat then slashing sideways. The camera lingered lovingly on the two red-streaked bodies laying together surrounded by their mingled blood and Denise’s torn intestines.

Lewis stopped the tape at this point. “ These two are our million dollar k i ds”. he said “Up to this point the resort was on the brink of going broke. Denise and Joe’s suicides were marketed as a special copy-proof limited edition disc and grossed $1.5million. They put the company firmly in the black and secured its future. Now we want to plough some money back into the operation and upgrade some of the equipment. Check this out”. The tape restarted and showed two of the more novel suicide machines. The first one, called a “head knife” used a falling concrete block to drive a knife blade into the top of a man’s head, probably down to the level of his shoulders. From his bemused expression and lack of reaction his death, while messy, appeared to be quick and painless. The second machine was a different story. This man lay on a table under a concrete block whose lower surface was studded with various knives. When he triggered the machine the block fell fairly quickly at first with one long knife piercing his guts pinning him down. Then the block fell more slowly driving the remaining blades slowly home until he coughed up a lungful of blood and died.

“That was a good death wasted” Lewis said. “The guy had guts and died the way he wanted to but the machine hid most of the action from the audience. Knife deaths are popular with audiences and viewers. You have action, blood and visible damage then the reaction. A lot of our people dream of dying by a blade but very few could do what Denise and Joe did. Those two trained for months and people like them are one in a million. The difficulty is in overcoming the natural resistance to causing pain. Most people would falter and botch the job. What they need is a reliable machine which will kill by knife, sword, spear, whatever. People must be able to choose exactly how they want to die, set it up then just pull the lever and let the machinery do to them what they cannot do themselves.

Now Karen broke in, her face a little flushed with emotion. “This is more than just people killing themselves, Mick” she said. “These people want their death to be an experience, a real performance and a good spectacle for the onlookers. They want to die knowing they have put on a good show which will encourage the others to look forward to their turn on the stage. Knives are just so , so.. sensual and dramatic. Shiny, sharp blades plunging into bodies and coming out red, blood spurting or pouring, reaction, collapse, bleed, die. It really is the ultimate spectacle.”

Lewis looked a little taken aback by her passion. “Poetic”, he said but quite true and the trouble with suicide is you only get one shot at it, no retakes. Any machine we give our people must be 100% reliable. They need to be sure that when they pull that trigger death, in the exact manner they have chosen, is guaranteed. All they have to do is relax and go along for the ride.

My mind was reeling from the moving and strangely erotic images I had seen and I realised that a whole world I had not even known of had opened up in front of me. While I was shocked and confused, the engineer in me was intrigued. Killing machines like the gallows and guillotine were generally designed to ensure a quick death for the condemned rather than entertainment for the onlookers. I was being asked to turn death into a spectacle to be marketed and enjoyed. Somehow, I felt no revulsion at the prospect, in fact it was vaguely thrilling, like my first illicit peep at a porn magazine.

Greg moved smoothly in to rescue me. “Mick, you look as if you have gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson” he said. “ Why don’t I take you home. Think about what you have seen and heard here and, if you want in, call me and we’ll meet again. If you don’t call within two weeks I promise you will never hear from us again. Is that fair?” Part of me recognised that it was more than fair and I respected their professionalism. They obviously wanted me but only if I was willing to commit to the project with a clear mind. Greg drove me home in silence and handed me a business card as I got out. It had only a mobile ‘phone number on it. “You can call me on this number any time, day or night” was all he said.

Back in my apartment I sat down in the darkened living room and breathed deeply to steady myself and regain some semblance of mental balance. It was long past my usual bedtime but sleep, I recognised, was a lost cause tonight. Instead, I let my mind review the evening’s events and, unwittingly, my memory kept replaying those deaths. I watched the blade of the guillotine sweep down onto a soft, female throat. Saw a man pull a lever to send a knife into his head and, over and over, I watched Denise slit her belly open and sit proudly basking in the applause of the audience as her guts spilled across her lap.

Unbidden, my designer’s mind circled the problem. Raw material, process, finished product, join the dots – my basic practical designing litany ran through my mind. Raw material – a living naked human body. Required output – a dead naked human body. Processing method? Better make that methods as variety was an obvious requirement for this project. Firstly, position the raw material, which was also the operator. Now I understood Karen’s amusement at my concern for operator safety. These operators didn’t want to be safe, they wanted injuries, spectacularly fatal ones. Positioning had to allow the knives all-round access to the body as well as good viewing by the audience and cameras. I decided that standing or sitting on a simple seat with no backrest and the arms raised to at least shoulder height would be best. This way a weapon could be thrust right through the body if desired. Restraining the arms in this position meant the body could be held upright allowing a good view of the killing stroke and subsequent death throes. Perhaps the restraints could be made to release after the killing stroke to allow the body to collapse and die naturally.

Next came the actual killing. Once the operator pulled the lever death must be certain. A person attempting suicide with a knife may well flinch from the sting of the blade and fail to drive it deep enough. My machine must plunge the blade hard and deep into the chosen target letting the operator simply focus on experiencing his or her death. A simple air ram could drive the blade in against a powerful compression spring which, on the air being released, would instantly withdraw the blade. This could happen so swiftly that the operator would hardly feel the thrust and, if it were aimed at the heart, death would probably be quick and painless. However it seemed not everyone wanted to die quickly and easily so the speed of insertion and withdrawal needed to be adjustable. Some may prefer to die with the steel still buried deep in their bodies or want multiple wounds. The system would also have to accommodate everyone from the largest men to slightly built women. I sketched in a steel framework to surround the operator and carry the various weapons and decided I needed expert advice about killing with blades before I could go much further. Having got this far so quickly it was pretty obvious I was going to come on board with Lewis and Co so I put together a quick artists impression of a well-built man standing, arms raised, within a steel framework with a wicked looking knife poised under his sternum and his hand closed around a control lever. The next morning I ‘phoned Greg and set up a meeting.

Lewis was ecstatic about the basic design. “Great start” he said “I’ll get Steve and Karen to help you fill in the blanks. Steve is an ex marine combat instructor and can source any weapons you need and also tell you everything you need to know about killing people. Karen handles P.R. and she will help you with design aesthetics and camera requirements etc.” that left only the money side and I braced myself for another battle but it never came. “I want the best of everything on this machine” Lewis said. “No corner cutting or economising and on a successful demonstration we’ll pay you $US300,000 in any currency you name anywhere in the world.” That shook me, it was about twice the going rate for my kind of work but, I realised, this was not a job you could advertise in the Times. Only one thing puzzled me. I raised an eyebrow and asked “Demonstration?”

“Sure” Lewis said “ Surely that is reasonable?” “I suppose” I said thoughtfully but he quickly cut me off. “Don’t try and hide from what this is all about, Mick.” He said harshly. “You are going to design a machine which men and women will use to kill themselves. They will sit, stand or lie in that thing and when they activate it they will die, quickly, slowly, neatly or messily but they will die. Blood is going to pour all over that shiny metal and you are going to make sure that it is fail safe. Everyone who pulls the trigger must die in the way they have chosen. When it is built I will arrange for two volunteers, a man and a woman, to die on it in front of all of us. When that is done and you have taught our people all they need to know about servicing and maintaining the equipment then you will be paid.” Now Steve spoke up, quietly but forcefully. “That sounds [email protected], Mick” he said “and it is but you have to face what you are doing and accept it. If you don’t, or can’t, one day the reality will hit you and you will go mad. I’ve seen it happen to guys in combat units. One day it suddenly hits them, kinda like hunter’s remorse and they start seeing those enemy soldiers they’ve killed as fellow human beings. From there it is only a short trip to a counsellor’s couch, or the bottle, or to a rubber lined room with a funny jacket like this” He wrapped his arms around his torso miming a straitjacket.

Once again In was out of my depth but I quickly saw the sense of what Steve had said and was forced to admit that I had, indeed been trying to hide from the grim reality behind this task. I gave Steve my best smile. “Thank you” I said “I needed that reality check” He nodded curtly. “Take a handful of our films,” Lewis said. “Your homework is to watch a couple of hours worth of people dying happily and voluntarily in pleasant surroundings. Get used to the idea that death, for some people, is the ultimate thrill and selecting the method, watching other people die and then, finally, taking the plunge yourself is not all bad. Hell, you might even want to demonstrate your machine yourself.” I laughed shakily. “You people are all pro” I said, and meant it. “All right, I’ll do my homework then Steve, Karen and I’ll get together for dinner” Now Lewis, Karen and Steve looked puzzled. “Tradition” I said breezily. “Whenever we designers land a good contract the first thing we do is blow a bundle on a slap up feed and too much alcohol. Quickest and best team-building method known to science.”

The dinner was at an Italian restaurant not far from the factory. This was the first time I had had Steve and Karen to myself and, if we were to work together, knowing each other on a personal level was vital. Steaming, hearty Italian food and good wine soon had the ice broken. I told them about a couple of my previous projects, including my biggest ever stuff-up, just so they would know I was also human. Steve reminisced about his army days. Like most ex-military men he talked about friendships, hardships and the camaraderie rather than about combat. His most amusing stories centred on his time as an instructor when he taught knife-fighting and unarmed combat to raw recruits.

Of course, the Island came up in conversation and, it turned out, Steve and Karen had both worked there, Steve helping train clients in the use of various weapons and Karen, helping with the filming and editing the footage into coherent films. “What is it like?” I asked her, “I mean, getting to know people then filming them while they kill themselves, didn’t it upset you?” She sipped her wine and looked thoughtful, remaining silent for so long I thought I had offended her. Finally, she looked directly at me in that way people have when they trust you enough to share something very private. “I left the island” she said quietly, “because I was liking it there too much. I got to know Denise very well, so did Steve, he trained her. Talking to her I could understand her fascination with death and the process of dying. I could never have done what she did but I am sure, if I had stayed there much longer, I would have been begging to shed my clothes and join the community.” I was about to try and lighten the moment but bit my lip, realising that any flippancy would be an insult the intimacy she had offered me.

“Denise was a wonderful student” Steve said, “she watched Samurai films, studied the rite and made sure she did everything according to tradition. She really carried it out perfectly and I am sure she knew that at the end.” He swallowed the last of his wine and set the glass down firmly. “I hope she enjoyed the trip.” Shortly after that we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet on Monday to draw up proper plans for the machine. My final [email protected]?ng? to my crew was to try and come up with a name for it. “I think Fred would be nice” I said lightly “ For Real Easy Death you two should be able to come up with something better than that for sure.”

On Monday morning, Steve, Karen and I stood and surveyed out new domain. Lewis had set aside a large space for us in the warehouse next door to the house. There was electricity, lighting, air conditioning, a couple of offices for paperwork, a small but well equipped kitchen and even a couple of bedrooms. A computer similar to mine with all the necessary drafting programmes and internet access was installed in one office with all the usual faxes, ‘phones and other gizmos necessary to 21st century life.

Karen had forsaken her businesswoman dress for jeans and a no-nonsense scoop-necked navy blue singlet. I looked approvingly at her toned arms and the sturdy closed in shoes on her feet. Steve wore similar jeans and work shoes with a dark red polo shirt. “well, c h i l dren” I said “welcome to the sandpit.” Our first task after exploring was to unload the first components of our machine. “Polypipe?” Steve’s eyes popped out as he saw the truck’s load “Lewis will have a fit if you build this thing out of polypipe”. I couldn’t resist twisting his tail a little. “Great stuff “ I said “cheap as chips, light, easy to handle and you can paint it any colour”. His face broke into a wide grin “You bastard, you had me going there” he said. “This is for experimental setups, right?” “Got it in one” I replied, pleased at his quick understanding. ”We can play around and make all the mistakes we like with this stuff and maybe even build a functional prototype from it before we spend real money on proper components.”

We quickly assembled a base plate 7 feet by four with a 7 foot upright at each corner and a similar headframe. This allowed the operator to sit, stand or lie full length. I hadn’t thought of an operator laying full-length but it made sense as Karen showed me a picture of a Mayan sacrifice with the victim arching his back over a sacrificial stone while the priest raised a knife above his chest. After some deliberation we raised two more uprights at the centre back to carry restraints for a standing operator and added a cheap plastic chair to simulate a seated position.

Now we moved back to the drawing board and considered the business of killing. Here, Steve was the expert and he quickly filled us in on the finer points of killing with blades. For quick deaths, a thrust into the heart was best and the blade could enter by sliding between the fourth and fifth ribs, angled upwards towards the centre of the body. A second route was upwards, under the sternum and through the diaphragm. In either case, the handle should be pivoted once the blade was driven fully home so that the knife cut across deep inside, opening a large wound causing massive internal bleeding, shock and death. The third route into the chest was the soft triangle of skin on either side of the neck. A thrust straight downwards could pierce the lung or, if angled towards the centre and driven deep enough, slice the main blood vessels on top of the heart.

Cutting was the next consideration. Steve explained that slashing across the throat, unless done with a heavy blade, could just sever the windpipe and minor blood vessels and leave the victim gasping towards a slow and painful death as blood filled the lungs. Far better, he said, to drive the point into the neck just above either collarbone then cut across deeply, severing both carotid arteries and the jugular veins. “One third of the body’s blood passes through those vessels on its way to and from the brain” he explained. “Sever them and you’ll see more blood than you ever thought possible. Joe did it perfectly. He was down within 20 seconds, probably dead within a minute and wouldn’t have felt much either.”

“What about Hara kiri?” Karen asked. “or even gutting? That is just the most spectacular knife death of them all. Perhaps, if it were just a matter of strapping yourself in and pushing a button more people would opt for it.” “You love to see guts, don’t you?” Steve teased her. “Yes, it is spectacular but it is also bloody painful, even if it is done quickly with a really sharp knife. If anyone were going that route I’d suggest they have something else ready to finish themselves off fast if it got too much. Kinda like a chicken switch which would trigger a quick thrust through the heart or a bullet in the brain. “Of course,” I said, “We are not limited to knives here. Once our people are sitting comfortably and strapped in we could strangle them, use a shear mechanism to cut off their heads or impale them top to bottom or bottom to top, it really is limited only by the imagination of the users”.

“How would you do all that?” Karen asked and I opened my well-thumbed catalogue of robotic arms. “This is the answer” I replied “The Emerson precision manipulator” It looked like an articulated, almost human arm and, with air rams “muscles”, steel bones and steel cable tendons, it possessed almost human precision of movement. “Your operator positions himself however he likes, sitting, standing, laying, and places markers on his body to indicate the target points. A laser scanner creates a 3 dimensional map of the body and loads it into the guidance computer. Next, the operator chooses what tooling he wants and how it is to be applied and, if necessary, he can even watch the machine go through a dry run to check everything is right. That should take about 15 minutes tops but it could be done days or months in advance and kept on a disc. On the big day the operator fits the necessary tools, inserts the disc straps in, presses the button and Fred does the rest.”

Steve and Karen both studied the diagram and specifications of the arm and agreed it would do everything we needed it to. After brainstorming various scenarios we decided to fit four arms, one to each rear upright, one floor mounted and one overhead. This left plenty of vacant space for cameras, microphones, lights etc on the framework. I had one more surprise for Steve and his eyes widened when I showed him the vibroblade attachment. This held a tool and vibrated it through less than a millimetre at 10,000 cycles per second, like the vibrating stylus dentists use to clean teeth. It was said to increase the cutting power of a blade by up to five times. At a demonstration I had seen it use an unbelievably slender blade to slice right through the leather sole of a workman’s boot and peel an apple with absolute precision.

While Steve and I worked on the business end of the machine, Karen had busied herself with the drawing programme to convert my crude layout into something more attractive. She decided on a matt silver finish for the frame and similar coloured steel chequerplate for the floor. All the seats, altars, standing restraints etc would be matt black to match the Emerson arms. Given the copious amounts of blood this machine was to spill there could be no fabric and no porous surfaces apart from the Velcro fasteners on the restraints which could be discarded if they became stained. The whole machine would weigh around half a ton so we set it on wheels and incorporated a steering tiller and a small motor which would run off the same air supply as the arms. Raising the floor enabled us to dish it slightly and add drains with a large tub under the floor to collect offal, blood and other bodily fluids for disposal. For a permanent installation it could easily be connected to the sewerage system. Now, Karen added two strokes of pure genius. The first was a large mirror which could be positioned overhead or on any of the vertical members so the operator could watch his death as it unfolded. The second idea, which was easily incorporated into the arms’ computer programme, was a laser pointer which would indicate on the skin where the point of the weapon was in the body. We even had a few colour choices to accommodate different skin colouring.

At this stage I ordered the Emerson arms and all the associated equipment and, from my toolkit, produced a coupling so Steve could arrange for the necessary blades to be made. Their design and function I left entirely in his hands. Now, Karen frowned at the drawing and pointed at the heading. “Fred”, she said contemptuously. “You really can’t be serious about calling it that.” “Why not?” I replied, teasing her. “ It is short, catchy and meaningful. A perfect acronym.” “It sucks in the worst possible way” she replied. “O.K. then,” I said. “As I said after dinner, you come up with something better.” She frowned and walked across the floor to look at our polypipe mockup. “It is all about taking control of your own destiny” she mused. “Choosing death and dying in exactly the way you wish is the ultimate mastery of life. That is what this machine does. It empowers people, makes them the masters of their own fate. Her eyes widened “Deathmaster” she said. “That is exactly what it is. Complete mastery of death.” I applauded her vigorously and, with a ceremonial flourish, tossed the dregs of my coffee onto the baseplate of the machine. “I christen this machine Deathmaster” I intoned solemnly. “May God bless her and all those who die on her.” Karen giggled and punched me in the ribs. “Idiot” she said affectionately.

The Emerson arms were delivered the next day and it took only a couple of hours to unpack them and clamp them onto the frames. We connected the compressor, fired it up and, within a couple of hours both Steve and Karen had mastered the simple computer programme to such a level that they could have the machine put milk, sugar and coffee into a cup then fill it with boiling water. Now we started getting serious and I bought several solid bodied “love dolls” from different shops and suppliers, grinning to myself at the knowing smirks of the shop assistants. If only they knew the type of fucking these toys were in for.

We had no blades for the machine but, as a stopgap, I sharpened several control rods to a serviceable point and we set up our first “kill”. Miss Sadie ( voluptuous negress ) was strapped upright and scanned with target markers on either side of her neck. We then set the machine to pierce her “skin” with a short, fast 2” stab then drive both blades more slowly down into her body to meet in her heart just below her breasts. Steve assured us that the most painful part of being stabbed was the blade piercing the skin and underlying muscle layer, the deeper tissues were much less sensitive. This method got the painful part over quickly and, once the blades were actually in their bodies, the subjects should feel committed, relax and submit to death. “O.K., Steve,” I said. “let’s kill her”. Steve pressed the cable-mounted trigger. The two arms on either side came to life, lifting their steel points and holding them up in front of Sadie’s eyes for inspection before positioning them on either side of her neck, angled slightly inwards. The air-ram hissed and the steel spikes shot downwards, through the latex skin, the arms seamlessly following up this initial stab with a slow steady thrust, the laser pointers moving down over Sadie’s breasts and touching just below them. They remained there for five seconds then quickly withdrew and returned to rest just above her head. We grinned and exchanged high fives.

While “Sadie” was still upright we secured her head and tested our head knife. When properly made, this would be shaped like an arrowhead. The arm would stab it quickly down through the top of the head, into the neck down to shoulder level. It would then instantly retract but as it passed back through the skull it would spin rapidly, scrambling the brains to a bloody pulp and cutting a neat, circular hole in the crown of the head. Death should be almost instantaneous with the rapid withdrawal producing an impressive spray of blood and brains for the audience. Once again the machine performed perfectly. Now we attacked “Sadie” every way we could think of, stabbing her quickly, slowly, with all four blades at once and with just one performing multiple stabs. “Wow” said Karen at last “I believe we have a winner here. I wonder if it could use a sex toy attachment as a warmup for the ladies before the big event?” Steve turned red and looked hastily away and I grinned at his discomfort. When it came to death Karen had no inhibitions and I could easily imagine her settling herself into the deathmaster seat and submitting to lord knows what elaborate scenario with complete abandon. “Why not go and buy something suitable?” I said “And see what you can do with it. You know the programme as well as anyone else.” She met my eye without a tremor. “Sure” she said and headed for the door. “What a girl” I said to Steve who grunted something into the keyboard.

There was now little we could do until we had actual blades and these would take a few days. I emailed the specifications for our proper frame to a few suppliers to ask for quotes then Steve and I headed home. I was halfway home when I realised I had left my glasses in the office and cursed and turned back for them. The entry to the factory was hidden behind the house and as I walked along the narrow path between the two buildings I clearly heard the distinctive iron rattle of the compressor and frowned. I am meticulous about maintaining machinery and was sure I had switched it off and “blown down” the tank before leaving. Hairs prickled on the back of my neck as I opened the door and saw light spilling from the partly open door to the workshop area. The compressor had stopped but I could hear someone panting then a low moan. Cautiously, ready to turn tail and bolt at the first sign of danger I crept towards the workshop door, dropped to one knee and peered cautiously around the door.

The first thing I saw was the deathmaster, the second was Karen, stark naked, sitting in the seat with her arms behind her head and legs wide apart.. The lower Emerson arm was between her legs and the two side arms were holding large soft paint brushes and stroking them gently over her body in a seemingly random pattern taking in her throat, breasts, sides, her raised arms and the insides of her thighs. As I watched, she pressed the trigger and the lower arm raised a brightly coloured dildo and pushed it smoothly into her open vagina, working it gently in and out. From the soft buzzing sound I realised the toy was also vibrating. I could not have moved away even if I had wanted to but stood watching like a teenager spying on a neighbour’s daughter. Karen was breathing faster, her face flushed and nipples standing tightly erect as she lowered her right hand over the vibrator, cupped it around her pussy and kneaded the sensitive lips vigorously. After just a few seconds the pale skin of her throat and breasts flushed crimson her breathing quickened and her whole body squirmed ecstatically in orgasm. She kept up her frantic kneading, shaking her head, sweat pouring from her as she came repeatedly until, finally, she slumped back in the chair, sweaty and spent and switched off the machine. Pulling the dildo gently out of her vagina she detached it from the arm and sucked it, sampling her own juices as she gently stroked her pussy again.

When she finally stood up and turned her back to the door to wipe the seat and close down the deathmaster I tiptoed quietly to the office, retrieved my glasses and let myself out as quickly and quietly as I had entered. Sleep was again a lost cause as my mind replayed the awesome sexual display I had just witnessed then my mind added a finale of a long, sharp blade plunging through her body or slicing open her throat or belly at the peak of her orgasm. My own arousal was so extreme by now that I had to find relief. The ladies at the nearby “massage parlour” were both surprised and pleased to see me so late. My favourite, a demure little Thai girl, was not working but an Amazonian brunette with a bold smile and a magnificent pair of breasts was much more in tune with my mood tonight. With the money and health check out of the way we headed for a garishly decorated room where I surprised my lady and myself with the kind of porn star gymnastics I hadn’t attempted since my early twenties. By the end of my hour the two of us lay exhausted in the middle of a tangle of twisted, sweat soaked sheets. I gently kissed the Amazon’s forehead and stroked her damp skin as sanity returned. “Wow!!” I exclaimed “ I really needed that. Thank you” She smiled slowly, stretching that amazing body like a cat ”Thank you” she said.

Lewis had not been around much during the experimental stage and I was glad of that as I really do not like close supervision. As a courtesy I had emailed him regular reports and he seemed satisfied with that. However, the day the steel frames arrived he was at the factory and helped us assemble the prototype. This took most of the day but, finally, the deathmaster stood complete and we stood back to admire it. The columns and baseplate gleamed dully in contrast to the matt black arms and seats. In metal, they were much finer than the polypipe and less visually intrusive. Lewis finally nodded his approval. “Well,” he said, “ she looks the part, now we just need some blades”. As if on cue a small courier van rolled into the delivery bay and honked its horn. Steve went out to it and came back a few minutes later carrying a long polished wooden box and grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Here we go” he said, “I wasn’t expecting these for another week but our friends moved it forward for us.”

Steve unlocked the box, set it on a bench and swung the lid open with a theatrical flourish. Inside, nestled in black felt-lined slots was a gleaming lethal looking array of blades, each ending in a perfectly machined socket which would mate with the Emerson arms. All the blades came in pairs and among them I recognised a wavy-bladed Malay Kris, a Bowie Knife, straight slim stilettos and a variety of sword blades. Lifting out one tray Steve then revealed a selection of lethal looking arrowheads, each threaded at its base and a half-dozen steel shafts, threaded at one end and ending in the Emerson fitting.

He removed this tray and, nestled in the bottom of the box was a weapon like nothing I had ever seen before. It had a steel shaft tipped by a double edged spear point about 5” long. At the base of this blade the shaft was flattened and two long, slender razor sharp blades were hinged to it, one above and one below, laying snugly against the shaft. Steve picked the weapon up by the shaft and I saw that the shaft was hollow with a thin rod inserted up the centre. He tugged on this rod and the two blades pivoted smoothly out and up until they lay parallel with the spear point. “The Klingon blade” Steve explained. “Named after the Star Trek warrior race.” It can be driven in like a spear then a tug on the rod and these blades cut a massive 6” circular wound inside.” Karen clapped her hands. “Brilliant” she said.

Now Steve lifted out the tray in the top of the box to reveal half a dozen short spear-pointed knives with small bulbous projections at their bases holding air nipples. “These are for you, Karen” he said. “Vibroblades”. One of these could open you up from hip to hip and belly to brisket in a couple of seconds. It could even slice though your sternum clear up to your throat if you fancy some do-it-yourself open heart surgery. I was staggered. “Where the hell did you get hold of those?” I blurted. “That blade is protected by International patents.” “Relax, Mick” Lewis said. “They cost us a packet but they are all legal and above board. We have quite a lot of contacts.” “Obviously” I replied. “Well, let’s choose a victim and try this toy out.”

Now it was Lewis’ turn to be surprised and he chuckled appreciatively as I hauled one of the sex dolls out of a cupboard. “I hope you wore your raincoat and a suitably furtive expression when you bought her” he said. It was the closest thing I had heard to humour from Lewis and I chuckled politely as I hauled “Jenna”,(busty blonde bombshell) over to the Deathmaster. “How would you like to die, Missy?” I asked her. “How about demonstrating that Klingon blade?” Lewis asked. “O.K”. said Steve, already at the console “Set up the altar and lay her across it”. I unclipped the seat and set up an altar which looked like a stone slab but was, in fact, hollow fibreglass. Next, I [email protected] Jenna across it with her back arched, head supported by a headrest and arms and legs dangling. I secured her limbs with the Velcro restraints, making sure her legs were widely parted then slid a hollow dildo into her vagina. By the time I had done this Steve had fed Jenna’s scan into the computer and set up the Deathmaster’s control programme. In reality, Jenna would then press a button held in her hand but I took the control switch and handed it to Lewis with a flourish. “Would you care to do the honours?” I said formally.

Lewis pressed the button. The floor-mounted arm, tipped with the Klingon blade came to life. It raised itself up and reached forward over Jenna’s body, positioning the point of the weapon above her face for inspection. After 3 seconds, it swiftly retracted and threaded the point into the hollow dildo. The air ram triggered with a sharp hiss and the full length of the blade disappeared into Jenna then the arm smoothly and swiftly drove the shaft into her, the laser pointer tracking its progress into her body. As the pointer reached a point between her breasts the air ram hissed again, driving the swing-blades into their lethal arc. A 3 second pause and the arm slowly withdrew the blade, holding it point down above Jenna’s breasts so that, in a real death, the dripping blood would add a final theatrical flourish.

“Great work” Lewis exclaimed and wrung my hand so hard I winced. Next he shook Steve’s hand and embraced Karen. “Let’s do an autopsy on this young lady and see just what happened inside her.” Steve used a sharp pocket knife to slit Jenna open from crotch to throat, opening her latex foam innards to show the long, narrow slit ending in a great, circular slash where the swing blades had rotated. “In a real person, that would have split the heart in two and sliced both lungs open.” He said grimly. “Chest would fill with blood, shock would cause almost instant unconsciousness, brain death within a minute.” Lewis nodded with satisfaction. “Well”, he said, “let’s try a few more scenarios.”

Over the next couple of hours we reduced my remaining latex victims to rags, stabbing and slashing them in every way we could think of. Lewis examined the equipment in minute detail, even running a couple of scans and kills himself before, finally, he stepped back and nodded in satisfaction. “Great work” he said quietly, “Very well done, all of you.” Steve and Karen smiled delightedly and I realised, with a sudden quiet thrill, that such praise from Lewis was probably a rare commodity. Lewis’s next words, however, brought me back to Earth with a thump. “I think we are ready for our final test” he said, “I’ll have Greg organise it tomorrow.” Surprisingly, far from being repelled by the idea I felt an incredible surge of excitement and sexual arousal at the prospect of watching this machine perform the task we had built it for.

The next day, however, brought a major setback. Greg had arranged for the volunteers to arrive at 2pm and, right on time, the doorbell chimed. As I was closest I opened the door and gave a start at the sight of the forlorn looking couple who stood there. The guy was about my height with a thin, almost emaciated body, prematurely thinning mousy hair and a lined face. He looked as if he was in the final stages of some terrible disease. The girl was taller, blonde and attractive but her eyes, when she looked at me were unfocussed and I realised with a twinge of alarm that both were drugged out of their minds. I heard Lewis come up behind me and turned towards him angrily. “What the hell is going on here?” I almost shouted. “These two are stoned blind and in no shape to object or consent to anything. This is murder and I don’t want any part if it.” Lewis looked at the two “volunteers” and his lips compressed into a thin line, his pale eyes hardening into chips of ice. With rapid strides he reached the Taxi which was just pulling away at the end of the path and flagged it down. “Come here you two” he called to the confused couple. They obeyed with bovine calm and, as they walked back to the car Lewis said something to the driver and thrust a banknote into his hand. He opened the cab door, ushered our guests in then slammed it behind them.

By the time Lewis came back to us he had composed himself again. Greg appeared in the passageway and shot an enquiring look at me. Lewis turned on him. ‘Where the hell did you dredge those two junkies up from?” he demanded. “Junkies?” Greg said. “Hell!! The screening agency assured me they had two people who would be perfect for us and I trusted them. They’ve never let us down before.” “They won’t do it again” Lewis said grimly. “An episode like that could blow this whole operation wide open. See to it that whoever is responsible knows just what a balls-up he has made then fire him.”

Now Lewis tackled the problem of the missing volunteers. “Any of you feel like doing a test-drive?” he asked seriously then grinned. “Get the machine crated up, charter a cargo jet and we’ll take it to the island. At least there we’ll know that our volunteers are for real. Karen, email the staff to set up quarters for us and organise a lucky draw or some other fair method to choose a couple of volunteers.” He turned to me “Any problems getting away for a week or so?” I shook my head, impressed by his rapid recovery from the setback. “I’ll just pack a toothbrush and I’m ready.”

Steve, Karen and I worked into the night dismantling the deathmaster, packing the components into the crates they had been delivered in. Greg lined up a charter jet and arranged for a taxi and truck to pick up the machine and the five of us in the morning. Then we all went home to pack and get some sleep.

Next morning saw us in the air winging across the Pacific. Lewis didn’t tell me our exact destination and I didn’t ask, respecting the need for secrecy. After the hard work the night before I was exhausted and, shortly after takeoff, curled up on a pile of cargo nets in the back of the ‘plane and fell asleep, only waking up when Steve shook me and told me to strap in for the landing. The island was pretty much as I had seen in the film: A typical tropical paradise resort, remarkable only for the nude guests and the fact that none of them had bought a return ticket. A heavy utility with a trailer met the ‘plane and we unloaded the crated deathmaster then Steve, Karen and I rode in the truck to the main stage while a car took Lewis and Greg to the staff quarters a short distance away from the resort.

The resort staff had organised a contest to choose the two candidates for our “live” demonstration and, as it was now Saturday, they had arranged for the deathmaster demonstration to take place right after that evening’s scheduled suicides. This time we had the deathmaster up and running inside of two hours and broke off for lunch in the staff dining room. After lunch we installed the cameras, lights and microphones. The cameras were miracles of miniaturisation. Small and remotely operated they shot video and provided live webcam images for the company’s website. When all was ready Peter, the master of ceremonies for the evening, lent us the black robes and hoods worn by all the stage staff and we went to meet the winners and scan them in preparation for their evening date with the deathmaster.

When we approached the stage a man and woman were already waiting by the deathmaster and Peter introduced them as Kurt and Vanessa. Kurt was a handsome man in his mid thirties, Nordic looking with blonde hair and a fit, athletic body with the wide shoulders and heavy pectoral muscles of a champion swimmer. Vanessa, his “deathmate” was a tall brunette with firm, perfectly formed breasts and a model’s body, tanned evenly all over by long days spent on the beach. After the introductions they both eagerly inspected the deathmaster and gazed in awe at the range of weapons laid out for them. Vanessa quickly laid out her scenario. “I want to stretch out on the altar,” she said , “and have this blade slip up under my ribs, right through my heart and up to my shoulders then pull out quickly so I can see the blood flowing down my body as I die.”

Kurt wanted his death to be slower “a real experience” as he put it. He chose two long rapier like blades to stab downwards on either side of his neck, through his lungs, angling outwards to avoid the heart. As soon as these blades retracted a long broadsword blade would be thrust right through his chest from left to right, splitting his heart for the finale. We scanned them both, fixing the flouro markers on their bodies, handed them their respective programme discs then went back to our quarters to await the evening’s entertainment. For my part, I felt like a k i d being allowed to stay up late for the first time and it took a deliberate effort to hide my excitement.

That evening we were led to the staff seats at the side of the stage wearing our robes again and promptly at 8.O’ clock the stage lit up and a naked couple walked out holding hands. Behind them two robed attendants pushed a guillotine and a tall, glass sided cabinet half filled with water. The couple embraced, hands stroking over each other’s bodies then parting a little, hands darting between each other’s legs for more intimate caresses. They walked slowly over to the guillotine and the man lay down, face up looking up at the massive blade while the woman closed the padded lunette over his neck. She then took his erect cock in her mouth and worked him vigorously with lips, tongue and fingers. I saw his toes curl and his body shuddered as he pumped his seed into her mouth then, at the peak of his orgasm, he tugged the trigger rope. The blade hissed down slicing through his neck. His head tumbled to the ground and his body convulsed violently as blood spurted from the stump of his neck.

The girl waited until his spasms subsided then walked over to the cabinet. It was open at the top and she climbed a ladder at the side lowering herself into the water which now came up to her neck. She pulled the lid closed and snapped a catch to secure it then took a pair of handcuffs which hung on one side and secured her hands behind her. Next she felt behind her and pulled a lever. Immediately, a powerful electric pump whined into life and more water surged into the bottom of the tank, the level quickly rising over her face. Just before the water covered her mouth she sucked in a quick breath, bent her knees and ducked completely under the surface. Now she exhaled hard, blowing out a stream of bubbles and, as the tank filled and the pump stopped she slowly and deliberately inhaled, drawing the water deep into her lungs. Her body convulsed, reflexively fighting for life then slowly relaxed into death and sank quietly to the bottom of the tank.

The lights were dimmed and the attendants wheeled the guillotine and the drowning tank with their human cargo away. As the lights came up again, two more attendants wheeled out the Deathmaster with Kurt and Vanessa riding on the platform, smiling and waving to the crowd who responded with loud applause and shouted encouragement. My heart rate skipped into overdrive at the sight of the awesome machine I had devised and its first two clients. I had long ago decided that “Victim” hardly seemed an appropriate term for people so willing and eager to use it.

The machine was already fitted up with its altar so, apparently, Vanessa was to have the honour of “christening” it with her blood. Karen had taken over as from Peter as M.C. and now she quickly outlined the machine’s capabilities before introducing Kurt and Vanessa and taking a seat in the shadows to one side of the stage. Kurt and Vanessa bowed to the audience and shared a brief embrace before Vanessa mounted the platform. The overhead Emerson arm was already armed with the broadsword. We had dubbed this blade “Conan the Barbarian” and it was a wicked looking piece of hardware. Fully 28” long its needle point flared out in two graceful convex curves, reaching its maximum width of 3” twelve inches behind the point. From there, the blade thickened in section while narrowing down in two concave curves to a 2” width at the base. Vanessa stood on the altar, reached up and carefully touched the point, raising a bloodied finger to the crowd to demonstrate its sharpness.

Sitting down she fastened the Velcro leg restraints around her ankles before arching her back over the altar, her stomach flattening, the arch of her ribs standing up and her breasts, with nipples fully erect pointing straight up. She had oiled her tanned skin and it gleamed in the harsh light. Using her left hand she secured her right arm in a Velcro restraint then slipped her left arm into the metal cuff which held the control button. This would tighten when she triggered the device holding her securely while the blade was driven into her body. She parted her knees and Kurt knelt between them, kissing her vulva gently then more determinedly, working her with his tongue and lips, sliding a finger into her then two as she writhed, lifting herself up and moaning encouragement. After just a few minutes she came with a series of short ecstatic cries. Kurt gave her a final kiss then backed away.

Vanessa took a deep breath and pressed the trigger button.

Immediately, the upper Emerson arm came to life and lowered the blade, holding it over Vanessa’s head for inspection then moving swiftly down her body until the laser eye located the marker on her taut stomach, just under the arch of her ribs. A split second later the air ram triggered the first lightning fast thrust, driving the point and the first 3” of the blade through her skin, the arm seamlessly following this up with a smooth, steady thrust, the razor edged steel sliding smoothly through the brown skin deep into her body. At the first thrust Vanessa gasped, a short intake of breath and her whole body went rigid, straining against the restraints. Then, as the blade moved deeper into her chest she relaxed, letting her breath out in a slow, almost sensuous uuuuuuhhhhhhh, ending with a sibilant hiss which may have been “Yesssss!). The laser pointer reached the top of her sternum and the blade swiftly withdrew hovering point down above her body, blood pouring then dripping from the steel onto her breasts. Now she lay still, her body completely relaxed in death. Bright red blood poured from the wound and flowed down her body and over the altar, pooling in the drain pan under the machine.

The crowd let out its breath in a collective hiss and I felt my own pulse pounding in my ears at the erotic sight I had just witnessed. The lights stayed on, letting everyone appreciate the sight for a full five minutes then they dimmed and the attendants moved swiftly, gently undoing the restraints and removing Vanessa’s body and the altar before hosing down the machine and setting up the chair for Kurt.

When the lights came back on Kurt was already standing on the machine, He waved briefly to the crowd then, as though anxious to get on with it, turned and sat in the steel seat. He secured his ankles, snapped a belt around his lap then placed his hands behind his back, wriggling them into a pair of handcuffs. This position ensured the side of his chest was fully exposed for the final sword thrust. This too would be delivered by “Conan”, the second of the pair. Afterwards, both blades would be checked for chips and honed to a razor edge before being used again.

Kurt felt behind his back for the switch, found it and pressed it hard.

Immediately, both the side-mounted arms rose, holding their rapier blades in front of his eyes for inspection for exactly three seconds. Now the blades rose on either side of his head, located their targets, set themselves to the correct angles and stabbed swiftly downwards through the two soft triangles of skin behind Kurt’s collar bones. He sat perfectly still, face unmoving as the twin laser pointers moved down either side of his broad, tanned chest, marking the progress of the points through his lungs. As the pointers reached the base of his ribs he breathed deeply and coughed hard, bright, frothy lung blood spraying from his mouth. In the same instant the rapier blades withdrew and the broadsword slammed into his left side, sliced through the width of his chest just below his nipples and emerged bloodily on the right side where it remained. Kurt’s head slowly sagged until his chin rested on his head. Bright red blood bubbled up from the wounds in his shoulders, dripped from the sword-cut and dribbled from the corners of his mouth.

Once again, the lights remained on for five minutes before dimming. As the audience started getting up to leave Karen took up the microphone again. Don’t go yet, folks, she said brightly, there is one more demonstration to go. Lewis, Greg and I looked at each other in surprise. This hadn’t been in the script. Suddenly, with a lurch in my stomach I realised what was happening and gripped Lewis’s arm. “It’s Karen” I said, “she’s going to do herself in, isn’t she? For God’s sake stop her.” “I can’t, Mick” Lewis said quietly. “On this island no-one, but no-one interferes with someone’s death. Security would stop anyone, even me from approaching the stage.”

In the dim light I saw the robed figures of the stagehands running away from the machine leaving just one standing at the control panel then the lights came on again. Karen threw off her robe and, naked, stepped onto the platform holding the microphone. “I am going to handle this demonstration myself” she said. “I have programmed the machine to perform the hara kiri ritual, using three vibroblades. They will slit my belly across and up then, when I press the trigger for the second time, the third blade will slit my throat. Enjoy the show.”

Laying the microphone down she knelt on the baseplate with her back against a low rest and secured her legs just below the knee. Settling back onto her heels she slipped both arms through Velcro loops on the backrest and secured them then placed her hands behind her, wriggling them into handcuffs.

Her fingers found the control button and pressed it.

At once the tw

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