A horn blasted over the fields where we were working, startling the blackbirds and crows that kept us company. They took wing, squawking off into the distance. I watched them go with a twinge of envy.
Dirty men rose from the loam, heads peeking up over the tops of the plants. Brows furrowed. It was too early for lunch.
Our Lozen guards, some of whom were on horseback, herded us to the old, ramshackle farmhouse that was our base when we worked this field. If we cared, if the building belonged to us, we might have done something to fix it. It had once been a family home, after all, and probably deserved some care. If we’d respected what had been, we might have done something. We didn’t. It saddened me a little. Once a family had lived here. Mother, father… some kids too judging by the faded lines and dates scratched into a doorway.
I never really wondered what happened to them.
Some of the men grumbled as they shuffled out of the field. They didn’t want a break, knowing that this time of idleness would be tacked on to the end of the day.
The static hum of a prod sounded behind me. One of the guards, this one on foot, had snuck up on me. I was losing my edge. I walked faster.
I’d long ago stopped trying to identify the Lozen. There was no reason for it; it wasn’t as though I’d ever want to socialize with them or chat them up. They wore long gray robes that obscured the contours of their bodies and sometimes hid weapons. All wore face coverings, similar to the niqabs I’d seen pictures of in old newspapers. When you saw actual eyes, you saw accusation and hardness. Whatever their color — brown, green, or blue, made up with mascara and eyeliner or not — the look was the same. Most Lozen wore mirrored sunglasses against the bright sunlight though. That was hard too, seeing your reflection, so tiny and pathetic in the eyes of those for whom you were little more than an insect.
The sweaty men assembled in two long, uneven rows in front of the house and waited. The wind blew a phantom of dust across the dirt driveway and cicadas hummed in overlapping waves. We needed rain. We always needed rain these days. I heard that they called it global warming back in the day and that people argued about it. We didn’t have a special name for it anymore and there was no point in debate.
Rabbit, so named for the harelip that was indifferently corrected when he was a kid, whispered to me out of the corner of his mouth. “What’s going on?”
I glanced at him and shrugged. How the hell would I know? What did anyone know?
Sweat trickled down my back. A rivulet found my ass crack.
“Fuck it’s hot.”
“Shut up,” I whispered.
A Lozen guard turned to me and gave me that look. I stared straight ahead and heeded my own advice.
A streamer of dust in the distance announced the reason for the assembly.
An old Jeep, bracketed by a pair of motorcycles in front and behind, turned into the lane. The motorcycles were driven by another set of Lozen. The Jeep too, probably, but the tinted windows made it impossible to know for sure. Not that it mattered.
The engines were turned off and the only sounds were those of insects and the rustling grasses. At length, cooling engines started to tick. We waited and sweated. I appreciated the theatricality of it. Those in the Jeep were probably appreciating a few more minutes of air conditioning.
Eventually, one of the motorcycle riders dismounted, her dusty robe rippling in the breeze. She marched to the Jeep and opened the rear passenger door.
I recognized who it was and grimaced.
Unlike the Lozen, Sister Aisha and those of her position had no qualms about showing their forms to advantage. She had a fine, curvy body. I suspected that the effort she took to display it was ultimately cynical, a crass effort to remind us of what we’d lost and would never have again.
Sister Aisha wore a white bonnet, indicating her station, and a white blouse. Beneath it, she sported a crimson waist cincher. Gray breeches and calf-high leather boots with modest heels completed the ensemble. I knew from discussions I’d overheard how badly some of the men in the crew wanted to stuff those orifices of hers, as though they had a snowball’s chance. It was stupid talk. Talk like that showed just how defeated you were. Talk like that got you re-educated or worse. Simple as that.
And even if they did have a chance, I doubted any of them would have paid the price of admission. As tough as life was in the camp, I had little doubt that being a freeman was tougher and even more thankless than the lives we lived. Still, that didn’t keep a lot of the men from talking.
Sister Aisha approached us slowly as though she were walking a runway. I’d seen some contraband video somewhere, so I knew what it looked like. Slow and sashaying, as though walking an invisible line. She made for Rabbit and me. I stifled a groan. The corners of her mouth quirked up when she noted my dismay. This couldn’t be good.
She stopped in front of Rabbit and studied him, ignoring me. Rabbit fidgeted under her unblinking, blue-eyed stare. He was large, muscular, and towered over the Sister, but seemed smaller somehow. It was odd seeing them this way, a study in the difference between strength and power. At length she withdrew a piece of paper from the pocket of her blouse. Unfolding it, she held it out. “You are the artist.”
It wasn’t a question.
Rabbit looked at the paper, his dreadlocks falling into his sweaty ebony face, and then dropped his gaze even further. “Ma’am.”
I caught a glimpse of it. It was a rendering of a nude woman. It was good pencil work, expertly shaded, rendered in bold chiaroscuro. Nudity aside, there was nothing even vaguely sexual about it. It reminded me of some ancient artwork that I’d seen as a child — reclining odalisque or something like that. While it was far from any man’s masturbatory fantasy, it was bad enough.
“You will not represent or objectify the Mother.”
The second commandment. I kept my expression carefully neutral and stared straight ahead. Damn it, Rabbit, how could you have been so careless? The Mothers knew. You could be as clever as possible and they still knew.
“It’s not the Mother…” Rabbit hesitated, realizing too late that it was a distinction without difference. “Forgive me.”
Sister Aisha scowled. “It is not I from whom you should be begging forgiveness.”
I saw the edge of Aisha’s bonnet turn as she faced me. A white bonnet, signifying purity and chastity. She was young, barely eighteen. There might come a time when she would be granted a red headdress. I didn’t doubt for a minute it would happen. She had ambition and had risen unexpectedly high in her meager handful of years. I didn’t meet her gaze.
Aisha sparked a lighter and held it to the drawing. The corner caught and curled, blackening, and the rest of the paper quickly flared. Seconds later, the charred page fell to the ground and disintegrated, black flecks dancing off on the wind.
This is what happened to beauty now. Had I not gotten so used to the transience of anything good, I might have felt something.
“Do you have a second?” she asked.
“Jude, ma’am,” said Rabbit, his voice quiet and shaky when he realized what was happening.
“Good. You and Jude will be collected tonight at the well. Be ready.”
Second, I thought. What a joke. Witness was more like it. Witness first and disseminate next. That’s how things worked, how they kept control.
I clapped Rabbit on the shoulder in sympathy once Sister Aisha and her entourage had left. No words were needed.
The Sorority ran a small school in Lowville. Until the age of thirteen, children were expected to attend. At any time during their schooling, they could be streamed into one of the city’s schools where they would learn alongside their urban counterparts. There, the girls would be trained to become Sisters or servants. The boys would become craftsmen, breed stock, or minor functionaries, depending on aptitude. The balance of the children — those of low aptitude or subversive inclinations — were kept in Lowville or the other towns that surrounded the city to work in the fields. Few of the chosen ever came back to visit.
I couldn’t blame them.
It wasn’t an arrangement that promoted population growth in our little town. Most couples remained childless despite the promise of a stipend should the child land among the chosen. The actual chances of being selected were small and the likelihood of having another mouth to feed with nothing to show for it was simply too great. Still, there were some children about by virtue of vice or accident.
Rabbit and I waited by the well as instructed. Two school-aged boys who didn’t know any better stood and watched, unabashed and inscrutable. They must have heard about the morning’s events.
At a different time, those two boys could have been Rabbit and me.
I’d known Rabbit for some fifteen years now, ever since he joined the crew as a young teen. Back then, he hadn’t known his ass from his elbow, but he was big and strong even then. I hadn’t spoken to him much at the beginning. Not because I didn’t like him, but because I didn’t speak to anyone really, except Sol who ran the crew back then. Besides, I was licking my own wounds at the time. Instead, I watched him, this gentle giant who silently bore the work and the merciless taunts of the men because they taunted all newbies. Even so, they were especially hard on Rabbit. His disfigurement made him different and even though we were all the lowest of the low, some couldn’t resist pushing others lower still. Human nature, I guess. It was dumb and senseless and depressed me, but it wasn’t my battle.
And so I watched, curious to see how long it would take Rabbit to break. He’d lasted far longer than I had when I first joined the crew. I didn’t know whether that made me respect or pity him.
One day, on Sol’s request, I took him aside and told him that he’d have to deal with it or clear out. Baiting him had become a sport and it was distracting the crew. And it was making me angry.
Rabbit listened and then shrugged.
It was the shrug that did it. His passivity, his mute acceptance of injustice, made me see red. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that he ultimately had a better read on things than I did, but at the time I hadn’t come around to his way of thinking. I put my hands on his chest and pushed him. Hard. I was being as cruel as the others, but I didn’t care. I was angry. I knew my way around a fight enough to know that Rabbit could probably be a handful if he set his mind to it. Maybe that’s what I wanted.
“You never bother me,” he said. “Why?”
“What would be the point?”
He nodded and I pushed him again. He stumbled back but didn’t fall. I was glad to see that his fists were clenched, eyes narrowed. I saw anger in his eyes. Why for me? I wondered. For this? Worse had been done to him and he’d never shown any sign of anger.
Maybe it was because I was the last person he expected it from.
“You can’t keep taking it,” I said, pushing him again and this time managing to trip him up. “Get up.”
He dusted himself off. Now he looked bewildered and hurt.
“You have to make it hard for them. Make it so the price they have to pay is too high. Then it’ll stop.”
He shook his head.
I couldn’t believe this guy. Here I was, giving him a life lesson as I understood it then, and he greeted it with indifference. Maybe there was no hope for him. Maybe he was content to be ground down to nothing by lesser men. That, more than anything, infuriated me. He was one of the good ones. And because of that, I took a swing that he side-stepped easily. Before I realized it, I was on my back, looking at a fist that was cocked and ready to fly.
“Just like that,” I said, grinning despite my surprise.
He unclenched his fist and let his hand drop to help me up. “Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I can’t,” he said.
It wasn’t long before he did. The object of Rabbit’s wrath was lost to the crew for several weeks while he nursed various breaks and bruises, but harmony was restored. And I’d made a friend.
And now my friend and I were waiting for his atonement to begin.
“This is the shit,” he said.
Unfortunately, there was no fighting one’s way out of this one.
No one from Lowville saw us off except for the two boys. It was either a small piece of resistance — wanting to deprive the Sorority of their object lesson — or an unwillingness to witness Rabbit’s shame. I liked to think that it was either of those but had to concede a third possibility — indifference.
Sadly, that was probably it. It wasn’t an indifference borne out of insensitivity or disregard for Rabbit. No, it was that we’d all seen too many instances of petty humiliation that even the gross humiliations scarcely registered anymore. Most would pity Rabbit and would concede, in private at least, that the punishment far outweighed the crime, but that would be the end of it. I didn’t hold it against them and I doubted that Rabbit would either. We were all in the same boat after all, and people only had so much capacity for empathy.
Of course, if more of them knew the details of the atonement in store for Rabbit, perhaps it might have been different. Perhaps the Sorority might have earned more of the disdain it deserved. As it was, most who went through it didn’t talk about it. Their seconds didn’t either. I certainly hadn’t and I knew Sol as my second had kept the details to himself. I was grateful that no one really knew.
Those of us who had atoned were a silent fraternity. We recognized each other by the scars we bore. Rabbit had seen mine and in spite of it, he now asked, “What’s going to happen?”
Rabbit and I were in the back of a transport, heading toward the distant lights of the city. The drive had taken us from Lowville through fields that had lain fallow for several years. We were currently driving through the dark outskirts. Suburbia, I’d heard it called. I looked out of the window at the decrepit houses and overgrown yards. It was obvious that no one lived here now. I certainly wouldn’t want to. It was too close to the city. Too much of a reminder. I preferred the distance. Nowadays, there were those who lived in the city and those who lived in the towns and camps like Lowville. There was very little in between. Suburbia as a place and a concept had been abandoned.
It was better that Rabbit remained ignorant for now, but I could understand why he’d asked. “Just go with it. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway.”
Rabbit lapsed into silence. I looked over and imagined that his face looked ashen. It was probably just a trick of the light.
We stopped at a gate manned by a troop of Lozen. Our driver passed some paperwork to the guard who peered into the transport. I looked past her and saw more guards clustered around a checkpoint.
I wondered what they were guarding against. No one I knew wanted to go to the city, and I couldn’t imagine that many who lived there would want to escape to the outskirts. Maybe it was just to promote the illusion that the city was something that needed protecting.
There was a short delay as a guard spoke into her communication device, no doubt confirming our entry. At length, she returned the papers to the driver. “Have fun,” she said.
As we drove through the city, Rabbit’s eyes widened. There were brightly lit shops and restaurants. Sisters and Mothers strolled the tree-lined promenades. Occasionally, a freeman could be seen walking the requisite number of steps behind his matron.
I remembered that Rabbit had never been here before. I could have played the tour guide based on my last time here but didn’t feel like it.
Soon we had traversed the city center and were again nearing the outskirts. Glittering, glass-faced apartment buildings reflected the lights but showed nothing of what lay within. These eventually gave way to dimmer tenements and then to brooding warehouses, some of which were still in use though the majority seemed to have been abandoned. The decay seemed more pronounced than the last time I’d been here, but then I knew how fickle memory could be.
We slowed as we neared our destination. There was nothing about The Sisters that announced its presence. For most of us in Lowville, The Sisters was little more than a rumor. Those of us who had actually seen it added nothing to the rumors. Those who hadn’t whispered stories that were more fantasy than truth.
I never thought that I’d be back. Though I wasn’t the main attraction this time, a sense of dread pooled in my gut. And here I thought that enough time had passed.
As we neared, we saw that there were no neon signs announcing its existence, but there were lights flashing through the grimy upper windows of the former warehouse. A low thump of music seeped out onto the street. And outside, furtive shadows arrived in ones or twos.
We drove into an alley to a side door and eased to a stop.
The Sisters was a bacchanalian feast that served sin and casual cruelty in equal measure. I’d wondered about it after my first time here, astounded that it could exist. Eventually, I came around to thinking that it was simply the shadowed face of the Sorority, the side you never got to see unless you were singularly unlucky. I now knew that a good many of the patrons of The Sisters were themselves members of the highest orders. The Sorority would have understood that the club, or one very much like it, was necessary to let off steam. Maybe it was just a useful symbol, for them and for us.
And so it continued to ply its trade.
The Lozen guard unlocked the back of the transport and ushered us out.
“Welcome to The Sisters,” she said.
While the Sisters made ready for Rabbit’s atonement, he and I stood on the stage and looked out over the club through a small gap between the curtains. The Sisters had changed little since I’d last been here over fifteen years ago. This was Rabbit’s first time and his eyes were wide.
Then as now, it was a monochromatic sea, ebbing and flowing with the gray of the Lozen and the white of the Sisters. Against the walls were tables and chairs, lit by trembling haloes of candlelight. The area in front of the stage was left open, occupied by small groups of women who drank and chatted. They swayed to the flashing lights and to music that I didn’t recognize.
A cheer drew my eye to some activity on the floor to the right of the stage. It took me a moment to make out what was going on. A masked dancer stood with her feet set on two small platforms raised about three feet in the air. She wore nothing but a black shelf bra and garters and stockings. In her hand, she held a thick ribbed staff perhaps nine inches long, poised at the apex of her legs, She looked almost bored as she idly rubbed its rounded tip through the furrows of her cleanly shaven sex. She swayed vaguely to the music and gave the assembled women a haughty look. I appreciated the bravado. She might be naked and vulnerable, but she wasn’t about to reveal weakness. Like all of us from outside the city, she was a survivor and I respected that. As a dancer, she held a certain charm as well. Even from this distance, I could tell that she was well put together — proud breasts, narrow waist, and full hips. I didn’t recognize her from Lowville.
Three chains extended from the base of the staff, holding a metal disk about the size of a dinner plate. The assembled members of the Sorority feigned disinterest, but snuck peeks at the dancer as she toyed with herself.
An old Sister raised her hands and brought the onlookers to attention. “Are we ready, ladies?”
The women gathered around, forming a loose circle around the dancer. There were no Mothers in the crowd, only Sisters and a few Lozen.
There was an expectant hush as the dancer inserted the rod into her cunt, inch after slow inch until only the chains remained visible. The plate swayed between her legs like a pendulum. The image evoked a flash of arousal which annoyed me. I thought I was past that kind of thing. Evidently not.
The dancer set her hands behind her head and laced her fingers together. Her hips described slow, lazy circles while she waited.
The old Sister nodded and announced, “Ten weights for ten credits. Ten credit minimum.”
Ten credits seemed pretty steep to me, but what did I know?
As the players paid the Sister for their weights, the dancer swayed on the platform and the disk swept back and forth between her legs. The players clutched their weights in their hands. Conversation around the platform ceased; all attention was on the dancer. She stilled.
“I think we’re ready to begin,” said the matron. “Ante up.”
Hands shot out and placed the tiny weights onto the disk. If the dancer felt the increased weight that now pulled at the rod within her, she didn’t show it.
The Sister nodded to the woman in front of her. “Please begin.”
The woman set a weight on the plate, and the assembled players chanted one-two-three, whereupon the next woman in the circle placed a weight, followed by another chant.
After completing a circuit, perhaps two dozen little weights adorned the plate. The dancer whimpered unconvincingly, suggesting to those assembled that she was struggling to keep the rod within her.
The next woman in line laughed and placed a weight alongside the others. More women followed suit.
The number of weights that the dancer held aloft grew. I observed her face. Though it remained impassive, a sheen of sweat had appeared on her forehead.
“I believe,” said the Sister, “that things are about to get interesting. Who’s next?”
A Lozen raised her hand and the Sister nodded. The woman set the weight. The Sister counted to three as the players had grown hushed, observing the plate and the dancer with interest. The Sister then nodded to next woman.
More weights were added, each followed by a count of three, sung by the assembled crowd, gamblers and casual onlookers alike.
The glow on the dancer’s forehead had coalesced into droplets, and I noticed the quivering of her leg muscles and the strain in her face. She wasn’t faking it now. She would get a small percentage of the take and so was encouraged to hold out as long as possible.
More weights were added and the rod within the dancer slipped out an inch, peeking out from between her labia. The dancer moaned with the effort and a roar of excitement erupted from the onlookers. Eager hands shot out to add their bets.
The matron held up a hand. “We must be orderly now.” She nodded to a woman and then another after an excited count of three.
The rod slipped out another inch and then held fast. The chain and plate now quivered with the tremors of exertion.
Another weight was added. The rod remained embedded within the dancer for a second and then slid out on the count of three, landing on the floor with a crash.
The woman who had placed the last weight let out a giddy cheer while the others moaned and cursed.
The old Sister gathered up the weights, counted them, and then divided them between the winner, herself, and the dancer.
The crowd dispersed and the dancer stepped down from the platform. If she felt happy with her windfall, she didn’t show it.
Rabbit turned to me, eyes wide. “What the fuck was that?”
He’d never been to the city, had never seen how the other half lived. “Entertainment.”
At that moment, a Sister approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Are you ready for your big debut?”
Rabbit pulled out from under her hand. “I might be ready if you told me what I’m expected to do.”
“Follow nature,” she said.
He turned to me and I shrugged. “Like she said. Just go with it.”
“Some help you are,” he muttered.
There was nothing much I could do.
A pair of Sisters wheeled a St. Andrew’s cross from the backstage area.
“As the second, you may intervene.”
It was a formality. I knew it. Rabbit didn’t. For his sake, I had to make it good. “On behalf of my friend, I beg for Mother’s clemency. My friend vows never again to commit the sin of which he was accused. He was misguided in his desire to capture the beauty of the Mother’s form but has now learned. As this is his first offense, I urge you to consider mercy over atonement.”
The Sister appeared to consider it for a moment. “Your request is noted. The Mother has decided to be merciful and to offer freely that which the accused appears to lust after.”
Atonement it was then. “The Mother’s mercy is great,” I said. It was expected.
“What’s happening?” asked Rabbit.
I’d tried, but the outcome of the negotiation, such as it was, was never in doubt.
A pair of guards approached Rabbit. “Give us your wrists.”
“Better do as they ask. It will go worse for you if you don’t.”
It made me feel sick. Rabbit had faith in me. When this was all over, he would feel that I’d aided and abetted the Sorority. There was nothing for it of course, but he didn’t understand that.
The guards fastened thick leather cuffs around his wrists and then his ankles.
The Sister offered Rabbit a cup. “Drink this.”
“What is it?”
“Something to make things easier. Spare you some embarrassment.”
Rabbit looked frantic. He looked at me and I nodded. He tipped the cup back.
“You may now undress,” said the Sister.
“No!” As much I admired this token resistance, it was too late and ultimately futile.
Two Lozen grasped his wrists and fastened them to a cross. When they did the same with his ankles, he attempted a half-hearted kick which earned him a touch of the prod.
“After what you’ve done, I’d have hoped for some contrition,” said the Sister. “I suggest you stop moving.”
She nodded to a Lozen who brandished a long knife. At the sight of it, Rabbit quailed and strained against the bonds.
“The blade is very sharp and I wouldn’t want you to be nicked.”
Wisely, he stilled. Soon his clothing was reduced to rags at the base of the cross. He sent a wounded look of accusation my way. I took it.
“Half an hour,” said the Sister.
Rabbit didn’t want me near him and I couldn’t blame him. I was bad as company and useless as a friend. I retreated to the opposite wing, which allowed me to keep an eye on Rabbit and sneak peeks at the crowd. I was surprised at how full The Sisters had become. There was a multitude of Lozen and Sisters, though I suspected that many of the latter were disguised as Lozen to better protect their anonymity. There was no one openly dressed as a Mother, but then I wouldn’t have expected it. If there were Mothers within the crowd, and I had no reason to believe that there weren’t, they were probably disguised as well.
Apart from the Lozen and the Sisters, countless pleasure maidens plied their trade for those of the Sorority who favored the company of women. There were a few freemen about as well, all tethered to their mistresses by collars and leads. The pleasure maidens were either among the lowest orders of the Sorority or particularly gifted recruits from the outskirts. They circulated among the guests, carrying trays of refreshment. Some were naked but for garters and stockings and impossibly high heels; some wore the ancient clothing of men long since gone.
I noticed a girl dressed in a man’s suit as she approached a Sister, carrying a tray of fluted glasses. Her suit had been modified — the trousers clung to her shapely hips and the lapels of the jacket had been tailored so that they framed full, firm breasts that sat high on her chest. But what caught my attention was the large latex organ that jutted out of her trousers. It swayed as she walked as though she were dowsing or something. I found it unnerving and grotesque.
I couldn’t hear what the Sister said to her, but the girl blushed and looked uncomfortable. The Sister glanced at the large erection that sprouted from the girl’s loins. The girl’s eyes widened in hope. There was little to be gained in serving drinks, but there was potentially a lot of money or favor to be won in doing more with her dildo than merely showing it.
Music thumped and on platforms affixed to the room’s supports, pleasure maidens danced, swaying in time with the beat, moving in a suggestive pantomime of sex. The audience hooted and called to the girls. Drink had loosened inhibition as it was wont to do. Off in dim corners, pleasure maidens sat on laps, nuzzling with Lozen and Sister alike. Hands explored and teased breasts, or buried themselves beneath skirts and between splayed legs.
A spotlight blinked on and lit the curtains, nearly blinding me. The volume of the music dropped. I looked over to where the Sister and the suited girl had been, but they were gone.
A hush spread across the assembled crowd. Into the circle of light stepped a Mother. Applause and gasps of surprise erupted at her appearance. I didn’t recognize her, but then, there was little reason I would have. She seemed far too old for this venue. Her face looked like a topographic map of a tortured landscape. Besides the red bonnet of a Mother, she wore a necklace with a large circular pendant that glinted in the spotlight. I wondered whether she was a senior functionary. Judging by the reaction of the onlookers, she must have been. She smiled and held up her hands, nodding as waves of adulation engulfed the stage.
When the applause finally abated, she spoke. “Dear friends and colleagues, I welcome you. I trust you are enjoying yourselves?”
The assembled women roared and clapped. The Mother smiled and held up her hands again to silence the crowd.
“It is my pleasure to be with you tonight. It isn’t often that my duties allow me to partake in such festivities, although now that I’m here, I think I might carve out some time for it.”
Some in the crowd laughed.
With some difficulty, the Mother removed the microphone from the stand and stepped to the edge of the stage. You could hear a pin drop. I observed the expectant faces. Who was this woman? On the opposite wing stood Aisha. I detected admiration and love on her face as she watched the elderly Mother.
“I’m afraid we have become complacent. It’s true. We must be ever vigilant. Thoughtcrimes are becoming more common, as are sins against the Mother. As you know, after the Ultimate Sin, by dint of determination and righteousness, we established a beachhead against those who would demean and disrespect us, but the protections we enjoy are never to be taken for granted. The tides that swirl around us may seem gentle but are no less insidious, and over time may erode that which we have built. So even as you enjoy yourselves this evening, I urge you to redouble your vigilance and vows to protect the Sorority.”
After replacing the microphone on the stand, the Mother placed her hands together and bowed. She then left the stage, brushing by me, flanked by a squad of Lozen.
Aisha then stepped up to the microphone. “Words of inspiration,” she intoned. “And now, without further ado, I invite you to enjoy tonight’s scheduled atonement.”
The crowd roared as a Lozen guard wheeled the St. Andrew’s cross onto the stage and turned it in a circle, revealing Rabbit to the crowd and the extent of his naked vulnerability.
“Here is a man guilty of representing and objectifying the Mother,” said Aisha.
I heard some hisses, a little nervous laughter, and the occasional exclamation of dismay. Above all was a sense of barely restrained anticipation. I imagined this was what ancient Romans might have felt like in the Coliseum, wanting to be part of the experience but harboring some misgivings about what was about to unfold.
The Lozen left Rabbit alone on the stage and invited the revelers to have a closer look at the sinner. Most of the women here would have had little contact with anyone beyond the city limits. Rendered harmless by the restraints, he posed no threat and the women filed up to the stage. Some merely studied him, commenting on his muscular physique with both wonder and fear. Others were more hands-on, pressing hands against his flesh, measuring his upper arms against their slender hands. The more brazen inspected his genitalia, weighing his balls, touching his cock. Against his will, Rabbit soon responded to their nervous touches, assisted no doubt by the drink that he’d been given earlier. He had grown aroused and the shame of it was etched on his face.
Some of the Sisters who touched his erect penis jumped back with little shrieks when it twitched, as though it might bite them. The more adventurous grabbed or tugged on it. One even stroked it tentatively for a few seconds and giggled when Rabbit moaned. By and large the Lozen hung back. They would have their chance later with a different brand of pleasure.
When the more daring of the crowd had satisfied their curiosity and the stage stood empty again, a white screen descended from the rafters, concealing Rabbit from the audience. The house lights dimmed and the assembled crowd fell silent. Behind Rabbit, a battery of floodlights erupted in light, casting his shadow on the screen.
Rabbit was turned so that he was positioned perpendicular to the screen. What the onlookers saw was his bound form and an impressive erection. Unfortunately, he was facing me. I could read the resignation on his face. I shook my head. It killed me not to be able to do anything.
It was part humiliation, part lesson. He had sinned. The Sorority had a grievance, particularly considering what had gone on before. Whether it was justified was not for me to judge. I was sad that the target had to be Rabbit, sadder still that the victim was the least equipped to appreciate the subtlety of this ritual vengeance.
The first to approach was a Sister. She was either the most adventurous of the bunch or the most angry. She reached down and grasped Rabbit’s erection in her fist. The crowd on the other side of the screen registered that there was intent in the touch and cheered and clapped as the Sister stroked.
“Are you ready, fuckpuppet?”
She must have been wearing a microphone, for her voice echoed through the space. There were some nervous titters from the assembled throng. The Sister continued to stroke.
“You like that, don’t you?”
Rabbit didn’t respond.
“Is it humiliating, being an object?”
The Sister unbuttoned her dress. With a subtle movement of her shoulders, she allowed it to slip to the floor.
The crowd on the other side of the screen was rapt and silent as the Sister approached Rabbit again and then turned her back to him. She spread her legs and bent at the waist.
A collective gasp rose from the crowd as they saw the shadows join. It might have been a trick, some play of light and shadow, but it wasn’t. Rabbit’s moan needed no amplification as it rolled off the stage.
The Sister rocked back and forth upon Rabbit’s cock. Whether she derived any pleasure from it, I couldn’t tell. Maybe the exercise of power bestowed a different kind of pleasure.
Soon he was thrusting as much as his restraints allowed. It was awkward. For so intimate an act, it was brutally impersonal, and maybe that was the point.
Rabbit’s thrusts became erratic and the Sister disengaged, finishing him off with her hand. He moaned as his release splattered the floor.
He slumped against the restraints. The Sister wordlessly collected her dress and left the stage.
After the first one, several others, emboldened, approached Rabbit. He found no release after the first time, nor did he find relief from the use he was put to. He’d closed his eyes, resigned, humiliated. The crowd beyond the screen soon lost interest and conversation resumed, soon followed by music. What was happening on stage was now incidental and familiar, not worth more than a passing glance.
A Lozen guard, one with striking green eyes, was one of the last to approach. Lozen didn’t ordinarily join in this part of an atonement, though I wasn’t sure that it was forbidden to do so. She was tall even for a Lozen, and her utility belt, bearing a prod and a number of instruments of pain and restraint, cinched a narrow waist. I watched closely as she neared the bound form of Rabbit. Instead of disrobing and taking from him what he was powerless to deny, she placed a hand gently on his chest, leaned into him, and appeared to whisper something in his ear.
Instead of returning to her cohort of gray-clad enforcers, she stood next to me. “I told him what to expect,” she said quietly.
“Why?” I asked, surprised that a Lozen would even speak to me. I didn’t know whether she’d warned him out of compassion or cruelty.
“It’s best that he’s prepared.”
The stage lights dimmed and a Lozen guard wheeled the St. Andrew’s cross from the stage. The music rose in volume and the party carried on beyond the screen.
This was a part of the evening that the patrons never got to see.
The Lozen surrounded the cross and it took a minute for Rabbit to register their presence.
Sister Aisha approached Rabbit. “How much pleasure did you derive?” she asked.
“Did you receive ultimate pleasure?”
I groaned inwardly. There was no right answer, no way out. Claim too little pleasure and you insulted the Mother and were punished for your unworthiness. Claim ultimate pleasure and it would be negated with ultimate pain.
No one left here greater than they entered. All left diminished.
I watched as Rabbit considered his answer, fidgeting on the cross. “Yes, ultimate pleasure.”
A pair of Lozen unfastened Rabbit and repositioned him so that he now faced the cross.
“What’s happening? Jude?”
“Be strong.” It was all I could say.
A Lozen stepped out of the shadows, wielding a bull whip. Rabbit didn’t see her but by his indignant yelp, he soon felt her.
It was impossible to look away. I was here to bear witness and I would.
I felt a presence next to me. It was the Lozen with the green eyes. She flinched as the first lash struck Rabbit’s back. I felt her hand grasp mine and I froze. What was this? Lozen never touched the likes of me unless pain was their intent.
I cleared my throat. She let go and straightened.
Ten minutes later, Rabbit was freed from the cross and collapsed to the floor.
Sister Aisha approached me. “Be sure to take care of him,” she said. “He’s suffered a great deal.”
She took a few steps toward Rabbit and studied the lacerations that bled and seeped on his back, pink against brown. She shook her head and sighed. “It would have been so much easier had there been mutual respect.”
I nodded. She was probably right. Although Rabbit had been more sinned against than sinning at this point, the fact was that he’d sinned.
She took another step towards him. Carefully, she placed a dainty boot on his outstretched fingers. She shifted her weight and I heard a sickening crunch followed immediately by a howl of pain.
“Try playing the artist now.”
As we were bundled out of the side door of The Sisters for the waiting transport, I looked for the Lozen with the green eyes. She was nowhere to be seen.
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