In the first scene, Melanie has just taken on two new long-term slaves, a murderous young hitchhiker (the only person in the book so far who deserves his fate) and another little old lady who can provide Melanie with money and shelter while Melanie is on the run. This is her describing the process of "conditioning" her slaves:
If one has the Ability, it is relatively easy to Use someone, much harder to successfully condition them. When Nina, Willi, and I began the Game in Vienna almost half a century ago, we amused ourselves by Using others, strangers usually, and there was little thought given to the necessity of always having to discard these human instruments. Later, as we grew older and more mature in our exercise of the Ability, each of us found need for a companion - part servant, part bodyguard - who would be so attuned to our needs that it took almost no effort to Use them....Such conditioning takes time, although it is the first few days that are critical. The trick is to leave at least a hollow core of the personality without leaving any possibility of independent action. And although the action must not be independent, it must be autonomous in the sense that simple duties and daily routines can be initiated and carried out without any direct Using. If one is to travel in public with these conditioned assistants, there must also be at least a simulacrum of the original personality left in place.
The benefits of such conditioning are obvious. While it is difficult - almost impossible, although Nina may have been capable of it - to Use two people at the same time, there is little difficulty in directing the actions of two conditioned catspaws. Willi never traveled with fewer than two of his "boyfriends," and before her feminist phase, Nina was known to travel with five or six young, single, handsome bodies.
Anne Bishop was easily conditioned, eager for a subjugation of self. In the three days I rested in her home, she was thoroughly brought into line. Vincent was another case entirely. While my initial "teaching" had destroyed all higher order volition, his subconscious retained a riotous and largely unrestrained tangle of surging hatreds, fears, prejudices, desires, and dark urges. I did not wish to eradicate these, for here were the sources of energy I would tap at a later date. For those three long days on the weekend before Christmas 1980, I rested in Anne's slightly sour-smelling home and explored the emotional jungle of Vincent's dark undermind, leaving trails and leverages there for future use.
Howard had told Culley that there was a unique employment opportunity open to him, although he had used simpler words. Bringing him to the hospital had been my idea.
"This will be your boss," Howard said, gesturing to the bed that held my husk of a body. "You will serve her, protect her, give your life for her if you must."
Culley made a sound like a cat clearing its throat. "That old bag still alive?" he said. "She looks dead to me."
I entered him then. There was little in that pinched skull except basic motivations - hunger, thirst, fear, pride, hate, and an urge to please based on a vague sense of wanting to belong, to be loved. It was that final need that I enlarged upon, built upon. Culley sat in my room for eighteen consecutive hours. When he left to help Howard with the packing and other trip preparations, there was nothing of the original Culley left except his size, strength, quickness, and need to please. To please me.
I never found out whether Culley was his first or last name.
"Can we talk outside?" asked Howard.
X shrugged and followed us outside despite the darkness and freezing wind. The door closed on Y's protests. He stared up at Culley and then stepped closer to Howard. There was the slightest flicker of animation in his eyes, as if he knew what was coming and almost welcomed it.
"We're offering you a new life," whispered Howard. "A whole new life..."
X started to speak then, but from ten miles away I pushed and X's mouth fell slack and he did not finish the first word....
I never would have been able to do what I did that evening before my illness. Working through the filter of Howard Warden's perceptions, while simultaneously controlling Culley, my doctor, and half a dozen other conditioned catspaws in as many different locations, I was still able to project the force of my will so powerfully that X gasped, staggered backwards, stared blankly, and awaited my first command. His eyes no longer looked drugged and defeated; they now reflected the bright, transparent stare of the terminally brain damaged.
Whatever had been the sad total of X's life, thoughts, memories, and pitiful aspirations, was gone forever. I had never done this type of total conditioning in a single blow before, and for a long minute my almost forgotten body twitched in the vice of total paralysis on the hospital bed while Nurse Sewell massaged me.
The receptacle that had been X waited quietly in the freezing wind and darkness.
I finally spoke through Culley, not needing the verbal command but wanting to hear it through Howard's awareness. "Go get dressed," he said. "Give Y this. Tell her it is an advance on salary." Culley handed X a hundred dollar bill.
X disappeared into the house and came out three minutes later. He was wearing only jeans, a sweater, sneakers, and a black leather jacket. He brought no luggage. That is as I wished; we would prepare an appropriate wardrobe for him when we moved....
I could not leave Philadelphia without bringing home a souvenir.