Kiera of Gor (1)
(a sporadic new mini-series)
1: Café Gold
I was drinking expensive coffee at a fashionable Notting Hill café in the heart of London when I first saw the Gorean coin. Of course at that time I had no concept that it was Gorean. I had never heard of the world, nor had I considered the possibility that a Counter Earth could exist on the far side of the sun. I knew nothing of Priest Kings or Ubars or worlds with multiple moons or steel ships. I simply stared at the coin as Sophia placed it on the café table in front of me and watched her sit back, pleased with herself for the first time in many months. The coin was quite large, larger than any of the Earth coins in my purse. It was roughly made, crudely stamped and yellow like raw gold. I picked up the coin and was surprised at how heavy it felt. The script on the edges was unfamiliar and the curious designs made no sense as far as I could tell. I looked at Sophia, hoping for an explanation.
"Is this some sort of film prop?" Sophia was an actress, or rather she like to call herself an actress. In the three years since we'd been at University together she had found parts for herself in two commercials and a voice over for a documentary about geese. To make ends meet she had been forced to take up employment in a corporate call centre, just as I had. It was gruelling work and neither of us particularly enjoyed it.
"Not a prop, no, Michelle." She smiled and raised her own coffee to her lips. Sophia was beautiful - not as beautiful as I of course, but I could see why many men fought hard for her attentions. Like me she wore the prescribed office uniform of a white blouse, knee length black skirt and heeled shoes. Personally I resented being made to wear a skirt to work. I felt it was demeaning - making me out to be less than my male colleagues. I wasn't of course forbidden to wear trousers, but I knew only too well from past experience that women who did so saw their careers suffer. My Manager had strict opinions on how women should dress and there were a thousand ways he could make my life difficult if I chose not to comply.
I turned my attention again to the coin and placed it back onto the table. The metal glinted in the warm sunlight as I touched it.
"What is it? Where did you find it?"
"It's made of gold. It's my pay."
"Your pay?" I was, I admit, curious. Firstly, if the coin truly was made of gold it must be worth a tidy sum. And secondly it struck me as a very unusual way of paying anyone's wages.
"I'm no longer working at Pierce and Morgan. I quit yesterday and walked out. That's my first day's wages."
I looked at the coin again. It was a day's wages? Surely not. I speculated that the coin might be worth as much as nine hundred pounds. I thought of my own hourly wage and suddenly felt very jealous.
"Tell me about your new job."
Sophia smiled but suddenly seemed very evasive. "I can't say much." She glanced around as if concerned that someone might overhear what she had to say. There were other diners in the café, but no one seemed to be paying us much attention as we drank our coffee and chatted during our lunch hour. True, from time to time we received the attention of men, their eyes studying us closely, but this was something I was used to. We were of course both very beautiful women. In truth I enjoyed being aware of male attention. I enjoyed the fact that they could look but not touch. I enjoyed the power that I possessed to deny them my body.
"At the moment I'm on a retainer of sorts, and I'm going to be working abroad. I'll receive full training and the job includes its own accommodation."
"But what will you be doing?"
"It's a service role of sorts. Well, that's how it was described to me over the phone." Sophia continued to sound evasive.
"Over the phone?"
"Yes - it was so strange. I was working at the Pierce and Morgan call centre as normal, and I received a call from a man who called himself Mr Smith. He said I had been highly recommended by one of his employees and would I be interested in a job contract with exceptional pay."
I reclined back in my chair and considered this. The idea of Sophia suddenly becoming rich and successful, seemingly overnight, was an unsettling one. True we were friends but we were also rivals. Ever since University we had aggressively competed in everything we did. Clothes, boyfriends, it was always a contest of one upmanship. I would secretly hate Sophia whenever she wore a nicer dress than me, or whenever she had a boyfriend that I secretly wanted for myself. Sophia was dark haired, with soft tanned skin and sea blue eyes. My hair was a light blonde in contrast, slightly longer than Sophia’s and, dare I say it, better cut, though I am of course possibly biased. I was an inch taller than her, and, as I constantly reminded her, my breasts were one cup size larger too. Like Sophia I too frequented the tanning salons and enjoyed a healthy looking skin colour despite the lack of sun in London.
"You're jealous!" Sophia looked at me and laughed.
"No I'm not," I snapped quickly. "I'm pleased for you. Well done." My smile felt stretched on my face.
"Michelle, there's no need to be jealous. You see, here's the best part, Mr Smith is looking for additional employees. In fact, he's told me to recommend someone. I'll even receive commission. I could recommend you."
I stared at the solid gold coin as it lay on the café table cloth. I so much wanted it. Several of those would pay off the student loan that still hung like an albatross around my neck.
"What qualifications would I need?"
Sophia looked puzzled for a moment. She shrugged. "You know, that's really strange."
"They weren't interested in my qualifications come to think of it. I told them about my degree in English, but…"
"They hired you on the basis of the interview alone?"
"Not even that really… I had the offer on the phone. The meeting was just a formality. They already had my CV and picture it seemed."
I thought this sounded very strange, but the sight of that gold coin made me ignore the circumstances for now.
"But you met this Mr Smith?"
"Yes." Sophia lowered her eyes for a moment. I noticed her hands trembled a little as she held them together.
"What is he like?"
"Strong? What does that mean?"
"I'd rather not talk about him. Or the meeting. He gave me the coin at the end of the interview and assured me I wouldn't regret my decision."
"You'll be working for this Mr Smith?"
"Oh no. He's just a local recruitment officer. I'll be working abroad."
"Um…" Sophia thought hard. "I was rather excited at the time, I didn't really take in all the details. I think he mentioned a city called Corcyrus. It may be in the Mediterranean."
"I've not heard of the place." It didn't really matter. All that mattered was the promise of a gold coin each and every day. I thought of the things that gold could buy me. So many lovely things. I looked at my watch. If I didn’t leave soon I’d be late back to work and that would entail a verbal warning from my manager. But if this new and mysterious job offer came through, such things would be history.
Sophia understood that look in my eye. She reached over and took hold of the bill. “My treat. I’ll speak to Mr Smith and he’ll call you.”
“When?” I tried not to look too desperate for this. Sophia’s hand closed around the gold coin as she placed it back inside her handbag.
“I don’t know. Soon I expect. I imagine he’d want us to leave together.” Sophia rose from the table and it was then that I caught sight of something around her ankle. I looked as she picked up her jacket from the back of the chair and I saw that it was a slim ankle chain of some sort. But whereas most ankle chains were made of gold, or made to resemble gold, this one seemed to be made of steel. True, the links were small and feminine, but even so it seemed strange that Sophia would have bought an ankle chain. Sophia suddenly noticed what I was staring at, and blushed.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No. Why should there be?” She shivered and drew her jacket on. She seemed very conscious, perhaps a little too conscious of the ankle chain. I stared again. It couldn’t be. Was that… “I have to go now. I’ll speak to you soon.” Sophia hurried off into the busy street, looking to her left and right as she did. I chewed my lower lip and considered what I had just seen. Perhaps I was wrong, but it seemed to me that the ankle chain had a small metal disk in place of one of the links and, although it was too small to read, there seemed to be some kind of symbol engraved on its surface. But it was the second thing which seemed most strange. Again I could have been mistaken, but it did seem that the ankle chain had a small lock on it.
I picked up my own jacket and hurried back to my office.
2: A Whispered Conversation
“Good evening, you are through to Pierce and Morgan. My name is Michelle. How may I help you?”
I was nearing the end of my shift in the call centre when Mr Smith rang. I somehow knew it was him the moment he spoke. What I didn’t know was that I was addressing a Gorean man.
“I am speaking to Miss Frost I trust.” The voice sounded like strong dark coffee would if it could speak. The tone was hard, cultured and commanding.
“Yes.” I hadn’t expected this. Calls come through at random in a call centre. It is not possible to dial an individual unless you can somehow bypass the automated switchboard that administers the queues.
“My name is Mr Smith. I understand you are expecting my call.” I tried to imagine what the face behind that voice might look like. Distinguished, rich, handsome, tall, strong. Wasn’t that what Sophia had said? Strong? She had called him strong? I sat back in my chair and looked around the call centre. It was late and only half the cubicles were filled. It was unlikely at this time in the evening that my calls would be personally monitored by my supervisor. Even so I kept my voice low. I didn’t want to be overheard by anyone walking by.
“Yes, Sophia told me that…”
“Sophia works for me now.” He cut me off just like that. Interrupted my sentence as if whatever I was about to say wasn’t important. I hate men like that. I hate the way men expect me to listen to them. But I held my tongue and thought simply of the gold coin and others like it. “The question is, would you like to work for me too?”
“What sort of work?” I enquired casually, though my heart was beating hard and my pulse was quickening.
“The kind of work that will pay you a gold coin every day. Does that interest you?”
“Yes.” I fidgeted in my seat again. The man in the cubicle opposite was watching me. Carl often stared at me throughout the day. Sometimes I wondered whether he was composing fantasies about me to alleviate the boredom of working for Pierce and Morgan. I hated him. I hated the way he looked at me as if he owned me.
“Good.” The voice almost purred, but it was the purr of a powerful lion.
“But I’d like…”
He interrupted me again. “You will listen carefully and you will speak only when I specifically ask you a question. Even then you will restrict your words to providing me with a concise answer. If you forget this I will simply hang up and employ someone else. Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” I was shocked by this. Who did he think he was?
“Tell me - what are you wearing?”
I sat there, speechless with rage. Sophia had said nothing of this! My finger moved towards the ‘panic’ button that would disconnect the call. I wasn’t going to put up with this.
“You’re silent. Sophia answered my question. Sophia was paid a gold coin. Sophia will receive another one tomorrow. I see you are different. Goodbye.”
“Wait!” There was a trace of panic in my voice as I said it.
“You are free so you are entitled to one second chance. Do not waste it.”
I thought that was a very strange thing for him to say. I breathed in, tried to control my nerves, and replied “I’m wearing a black, pin dot pencil skirt, a white long sleeve cotton blouse, with the top two buttons undone, and a pair of black, two part leather shoes with three and a half inch heels.”
The line was silent and for a moment I feared he really had hung up on me after all.
“Surely that’s not all you’re wearing, is it?” He said it as a matter of fact.
I was blushing now, realizing what he meant. This was too much! “Flesh coloured tights,” I whispered into the phone, “and a white bra and mini-briefs.”
“You’re finding these questions embarrassing. I can tell from the tone of your voice.”
“They’re hardly appropriate!” I replied.
“On the contrary. Your answers tell me quite a lot about you.”
“Such as whether or not you can work in Corcyrus.” There was that word again. Sophia had mentioned it. It did sound Mediterranean.
“Where is Corcyrus exactly?”
“Far away. You will see it soon.”
“I’ll be working there?”
“Possibly. In some capacity.”
“Then you think I’m suitable for the job you have in mind?”
“Miss Frost, There is no question that you seem potentially suitable for at least one of two jobs. The question is which one. One is in a…” he hesitated for a moment, “managerial capacity, and the other most certainly is not.”
“I would obviously be interested in the managerial position.” It was safe to assume it would pay more.
“Of course, though most women find themselves selected for the…” again he hesitated as if searching for the correct description, “more junior position. We are people who expect results. That is why we pay well.”
"I am not most women.” I turned my swivel chair round. Carl was also on the phone to a customer, but I could see that his eyes were on me again. From the expression on his face I could tell that he had guessed I wasn’t taking a business call. I tried to speak as quietly as I could. “I’m confident I won’t disappoint you.”
“We shall see. I will assess you personally tonight. You will attend a house in Belgravia at ten o’clock. A car will be sent for you. Dress appropriately.”
I tapped the end of my pen against the monitor as I listened to this. “You wish me to dress for a formal interview?”
“No,” the voice sounded almost angry. “I said dress appropriately.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You are a woman. Dress appropriately for your sex.” And with that he ended the call. I flicked the ‘off line’ button on my phone set and swiveled round on my chair again. I could hardly contain my excitement. I was going to have a new job, well paid, and be working somewhere foreign and mysterious. And yet through all of this, I still hadn’t discovered exactly what I would be doing. How very naïve of me.
3: The House of Three Moons
Any doubts I may previously have entertained as to the resources of my potential employer were swiftly discarded as soon as the black London taxi drew up outside the exclusive Belgravia residence. The house was large and stood in an area of London where most of the foreign embassies were located. Indeed this house resembled the embassies as it too had secure iron gates in front of its courtyard and discreet security cameras overlooking the entrance to the driveway. Two men, both tall and powerfully built, with short hair, wearing smart black suits, stood at the entrance way, presumably acting as security guards. Whoever my new employer was he certainly possessed the resources needed to maintain an exclusive address in the heart of International London.
As I approached the iron gate one of the men said something into his walkie talkie. The other man pressed a button that slid the gate open electronically. I walked through feeling suddenly very important. I was glad that I had chosen to wear a simple black trouser suit. There was an air of old world authority to this place and I didn’t want to appear awed by my surroundings or the people who owned it. It struck me that these men must want the services of Michelle Frost quite badly and this meant I was in a position of advantage. I would negotiate with them with the cool air of a professional business woman. They would soon discover that my price was not cheap.
“This way Miss Frost.” The taller of the two men, though they were both impressively tall, took my arm, quite firmly and escorted me towards the main door. The top of the archway contained a heavy stone carved with a symbol of three moons orbiting a planet. Blinds were drawn against the lower windows and curtains were drawn on the upper floors. I was led into a beautiful hallway with elegant wood panelled walls and antique furnishings and on into a spacious reception room. A log fire burned in a 19th century hearth. Two sumptuous armchairs were drawn up next to the fire and, to the side of the larger chair, stood an antique side table big enough to hold a crystal decanter and two barbaric looking goblets.
I was about to sit down in one of the armchairs when the man who had escorted me in suddenly spoke. “Do not sit yet.”
“Oh.” I froze and remained where I stood in the centre of the room.
“You will be told if and when you can seat yourself.”
“I see.” My voice betrayed my irritation at this. Why should I have to stand?
“Mr Smith will be here shortly. In the meantime, remain where you are.”
“Very well.” I clenched my hands. This was hardly an appropriate welcome. “I trust he will not keep me waiting long?”
“He will keep you waiting as long as he feels is appropriate,” replied the man in the suit. “If you have a problem with that you may leave.”
“No, I do not have a problem with that.” I thought again of the gold coin I had seen. All I had to do was put up with this charade a little longer and then I too would have one. So what if I had to stand for a few minutes.
“You were told to dress appropriately.” The man regarded my choice of clothing with what amounted to disapproval.
“I am dressed appropriately.” Who was he to speak to me like this? I stared him down, and made it quite clear that his opinion was of little interest to me.
“Men will be the judge of that. You should have worn a dress or a skirt.”
I was about to say something dismissive when another man suddenly entered the room behind the first. This man wore an expensive looking Italian suit and boasted a very healthy looking tan that reaffirmed my suspicions that the proposed job involved the Mediterranean. He was, I suppose, handsome. Well yes, very handsome, but in a stern, almost dangerous way. His hair was short, cropped in a close cut Roman style that added to his air of sombre authority.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
“No Sir,” replied the first man who was obviously a subordinate of some kind.
“You are Miss Frost?” He regarded me casually as he walked towards the fireplace.
“My name is Smith. Unbind your hair." He was referring of course to the fact that I currently wore my hair tied back with a black ribbon in a pony tail fashion. I found the style more convenient for day to day working. I love my long hair but it often got in the way when I was working. Also, and this was something that annoyed me, I found that men tended to treat me differently, less seriously when I wore my hair loose and long. I was awarded more respect and treated more appropriately as a serious scholar when I tied my hair back.
"I prefer it the way it is."
"I do not." The tone of his voice didn't suggest he was in the mood to discuss the matter further. My hands shook a little as I undid the ribbon and brushed my hair forward. Mr Smith watched me carefully as I complied with his wishes. Only when I finished did he speak again.
“You are quite beautiful.” He sat down in the largest of the two arm chairs and crossed one leg over the other.
“Believe me, I am something of an expert when it comes to recognising and assessing beautiful women. And I think you are truly exceptional.”
I basked in his praise and allowed a little smile to cross my face. He noticed this and laughed.
“I also think you are quite vain, Miss Frost.”
“Perhaps. May I sit?”
“No.” Mr Smith clicked his fingers – a signal to his subordinate to leave. He did so, closing and locking the double doors behind him. I don’t know why but the sound of the lock made me twitch. “There is a rug close by my feet. You may kneel on it while we talk.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. Kneel? When there was a perfectly good arm chair opposite his? “Perhaps I do not want to kneel,” I replied. “Perhaps I will not stay to be treated like this.” I walked swiftly towards the great double doors and placed my well manicured hand on the door handle. It was stiff and it refused to open. "The door is locked," I said, with a slight quaver to my voice. I tried to appear unconcerned as if there was nothing to be worried about.
"Indeed it is." Mr Smith placed his hands on the arm rests of his chair.
"I can't open it."
"That is correct." He regarded me curiously. I shrugged and adjusted my shoulder bag.
"I would like to leave."
Now Mr Smith reached into his pocket and produced a flat golden coin similar to the one that Sophia had shown me. I grew excited now as he casually placed the coin on the wooden surface of a small coffee table. As I watched, he folded his fingers together and regarded me again. From where I stood I could see that the surface of the coin was stamped with three moons. “Are you quite sure you want to leave?”
“Perhaps I was hasty.” The coin sat there, heavy and golden, promising me more money than I could earn in a fortnight.
“Perhaps you were. Kneel.”
Swallowing my pride, I knelt where he indicated, on the curiously woven rug, close to his feet. I knelt with my knees together, my bottom resting on the heels of my feet. I looked up at this strong, confident man, and I felt suddenly very small and weak in comparison.
“Good.” He seemed pleased at last.
"Where is Sophia?" I asked.
"Preparing to travel."
"Travel? Where? She didn't tell me she was going anywhere so soon." Mr Smith didn't reply. "I want to see her."
"I'm sure that can be arranged. In fact I'm certain of it."
“Then… I have the job?”
“I think so, yes. If you accept, you will be paid one of these every day.” He pointed to the gold coin.
That was all I wanted to hear. In my greed I reached for the coin, but suddenly his hand shot out and seized hold of my wrist mere inches from the coin. I screamed, but I couldn’t free my hand. It was held in a vice like grip.
“You’re hurting me!”
He relaxed his grip a little, but still held me firmly. “You understand, Miss Frost, that if you take that coin you are in my employ. We will have a contract.”
“You understand then that I would not take kindly to second thoughts once you have taken my money?”
I found this rather worrying but the lure of the gold was still too much for me. Perhaps he was hinting that his business operated in the grey area of the law. Perhaps he was less than forthcoming when it came to paying his taxes. None of this really mattered to me. “I understand perfectly.”
His grip relaxed and I was allowed to take the coin. I held it tightly in the palm of my hand.
“So now you work for me.”
“Now I work for you.” I nibbled my lower lip. His voice suddenly sounded cold.
“Extend your left foot.” Mr Smith removed something else from his pocket. It was a steel ankle chain, like the one Sophia had been wearing at the café. Like hers, it too had a small engraved disc and a sturdy looking lock.
Placing my weight on one hand, I extended my foot as instructed and felt Mr Smith take my ankle and quickly lock the tight chain in place. I drew my foot back and touched the cold metal links. The disc clearly stated my name along with a set of numbers.
“I don’t understand. Why do I have to wear this?”
“There are two types of girls going to Corcyrus. I wouldn’t want you to be mistaken for the wrong consignment.”
“Consignment?” I ran my fingers over the links. The chain was locked on me, that much was certain.
“Yes, consignment. Until tomorrow Miss Frost.”
“Wait!” I turned on my hands and knees, still kneeling on the rug, as he walked back towards the door. “I don’t know where I’m supposed to go! What am I supposed to do?”
“Ignorance can be bliss. We will come for you when the time is right. Until then, enjoy your gold.” And with that he left. I quickly rose to my feet. This was too much. I would find Sophia tonight and discover once and for all what this was about.
4: A Call in the Night
By the time I got home to my small one bedroom flat it was close to midnight. Although a car had been sent to deliver me to the House of Three Moons, I had been left to my own devices to find my way back again. The tube stations were running slow due to bomb scares in London and many of the stations were shut altogether.
As I closed the door behind me and switched on the light I stared with distaste at the cramped and unwelcoming room, with its cheap carpet, yellow patterned wallpaper and tiny windows overlooking an alleyway. The steady thud of a stereo from the floor above mine reminded me how low my fortunes had sunk since I had moved to London in search of work. But now everything would change. With this much gold I could save for a deposit to buy a place while I was working abroad. Life would get better. I clutched the heavy coin in the palm of my right hand as I picked up the telephone with my left. Speed dialling Sophia’s number brought no response except her answering machine. It was unusual for her to be out at this time of night on a week day, and hadn’t Mr Smith said something about Sophia packing her travel bags tonight?
“Sophia, it’s Michelle. Call me when you get in. I’ve just back from meeting Mr Smith. I want to talk to you about it.” I was about to put the receiver down when suddenly there was a click at the other end, signifying the phone had been picked up.
“Who is this?” The voice belonged to a man, and for a moment I was confused by the accent until I suddenly realised it was the same accent that Mr Smith had.
“Who are you?” I asked in return. “Where’s Sophia?”
“Is that Miss Frost?” The man had ignored my questions.
“Yes, yes it is.” I placed the gold coin down on the surface of the cheap dresser and cradled the phone receiver against my chin.
“Why are you calling here?”
“I wanted to speak to Sophia. Is she there?”
“Go to bed. Sleep and shower in the morning. Then phone your place of work and notify your manager that you have resigned. You will be contacted later in the day. Do not leave your flat until you hear from us.”
“What?” I began to pace about my tiny living room, feeling frustrated by all this mystery. The light, feminine steel chain, for I had ascertained it was made of steel, felt cold and tight around my ankle, reminding me only too well that it was locked upon me.
“In future men will not repeat instructions to you. I suggest you learn to listen to them carefully the first time around.”
“I find your attitude very rude. What is your name?”
“Santos.” It was the first time he had deigned to answer one of my questions. “Remember it well, woman. Be sure I will remember yours.” And then he hung up.
I dashed the phone receiver against the base unit and swore to myself. But then the sight of the gold served to calm me down. By the end of a week I would have seven of those coins, and by the end of a month thirty. Yes, I could afford to bite my tongue and put up with the rudeness of men. I laughed to myself. Why, wasn’t it true that in a way I was using them? I was taking their money just as long as it suited me, and then when they were no more use to me, I would tell Mr Santos and Mr Smith precisely what I thought of them.
I glanced again at the steel chain on my ankle, and shivered. There were numbers engraved on the disc, like the reference for a shipment of some kind. I had no idea what it meant. Also, and this thought had just occurred to me, the chain and the disc around my ankle effectively labelled me, as if I were some sort of commodity that could be numbered and documented. Such a thing afforded me little in the way of dignity. Moving across the room, I sat down on the second hand sofa and stretched out my leg. Pulling the leg of my trouser suit up, I caressed the chain with the extended fingers of my left hand. It felt strange to have steel locked on my body; in particular to know that I could not simply remove it if I wished to. A man had secured the chain to my ankle and it was a man who would have to remove it. I felt sure that these were no ordinary men that I was dealing with. Each man I had spoken to possessed a surety and confidence that was altogether absent in my previous dealings with their sex.
I was considering whether to go straight to bed or to watch some TV first when my phone rang. For some reason I jumped as the ring tone sounded. Why was I nervous? What was there to be nervous about? I was Michelle Frost, and I was quite capable of controlling the situation to my excellent benefit. The phone rang again several times before I gingerly reached out and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” I said, choosing for some unconscious reason not to identify myself.
“Yes.” I recognised the voice as belonging to Sophia. “I’ve been trying to reach you. You got my message then?”
“Message?” There was something wrong with her voice. She sounded out of breath, and on the edge of tears. “I didn’t get any message.”
“I just called your flat. A man answered and was very rude to me. Are you okay?” I curled my feet up beneath me as I sat on the sofa.
“No… no, I’m not okay. Can you meet me, Michelle? I mean now? I’m scared. I’m in a bar not far from you.”
“What’s wrong?” My feeling of alarm grew at the sound of her breaking voice.
“I can’t talk on the phone. But I really want to see you. Please come now.” She gave me the address of a bar that stayed open until two in the morning.
“Is this to do with Mr Smith and your new job?” I asked. I heard sobs by way of reply.
“Please come, Michelle. I don’t know what else to do.” And then her money ran out, which meant she was calling from a public phone box instead of using her mobile. Instinctively I dialled 1471 to obtain the number of the call box, but by the time I got it and pressed redial, she had gone, presumably back into the bar.
The clock on my wall showed it was now half past twelve. It would take me half an hour to get to the bar on foot, and probably longer if I had to wait for a taxi at this time of night. I chose to walk.
The bar was small and in the back streets away from the main thoroughfares that served as central arteries through London. I walked quickly down narrow side streets, between tall imposing buildings, grey and impersonal in the night sky. Why had Sophia chosen such an out of the way place to meet me?
Inside the bar I saw my friend seated at a corner table. There were several other late night drinkers present, mostly winding down after an evening out at the West End or the South Bank. I made my way quickly to Sophia’s table and sat down opposite her.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as I placed my hand bag on the table.
“Something awful is happening to me.”
“What do you mean?” looking closely I could see my friend was close to tears.
“I had a phone call this afternoon.”
“Mr Smith?” I asked, though the answer was obvious.
“Yes. I was told to report to the house in Belgravia because our employer wanted to record some personal information pertinent to my new role. Having turned up on time, in fact ten minutes early, I was led into a secluded suite of rooms towards the rear of the house. A woman was waiting there for me.”
“A woman?” This interested me as until now the House of the Three Moons had seemed to be a peculiarly male environment. Women had been conspicuously absent, and nothing about the furnishings or interior design had suggested any kind of feminine touch. The House of the Three Moons was such an exercise in masculine vanity that it almost seemed to sweat testosterone.
“She introduced herself as Lisa and explained that she was there to assess me. Her choice of clothing seemed very incongruous considering the old world environment of oak panelled rooms and displays of antique weapons and armour throughout the house. Lisa wore a very short silk dress, sleeveless and little more than a slip really. It was tightly belted, accentuating her slim waist. She was barefoot and I could tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra.”
“This just got weirder.”
“Yes. Other than the thin filmy dress, she wore a black silk scarf wrapped several times around her throat.”
I thought this was a strange fashion accessory to be worn indoors, particularly in conjunction with a slip-like dress, but then everything about this affair seemed bizarre from the very outset.
“The door was closed behind me, ensuring privacy for when Lisa asked me to undress.”
“Undress?” I stared blankly at my friend. “What on earth for?”
“It seems they wanted to measure me.”
“What for? A uniform? Will we have to wear uniforms?”
Sophia blushed as she recalled the events that occurred to her earlier today. “Somehow I don’t think so, for the measurements they took were unusual. Lisa seemed uninterested in my waist, hip or bra sizes.”
“Then what did she measure exactly?”
“Well…” again Sophia blushed. “She measured my collar size.”
“For a blouse? But surely she would need other measurements than that.”
Sophia nodded in agreement. “And she made careful and exact measurements of my wrist and ankle sizes.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. How can these measurements be used to clothe you?”
“I don’t know. Lisa went on to record things like my finger prints and toe prints, the width and length of my fingers and toes, the width of my heels, and the distance between my nostrils, the size of my earlobes, all manner of trivial things. She examined my teeth and…” and now Sophia looked away, unable to meet my gaze.
“What? What else?”
“She examined me… intimately… to determine if I was a virgin.”
“No!” I sat back in my chair in amazement. “You’re making this up…”
“I swear I’m not.”
“What did you say?”
“By this stage I didn’t know what to say. Oh Michelle, I’m feeling really nervous about this. I don’t like this. And there’s more.”
I wondered what else Sophia could possibly say that would surprise me. But in fact she didn’t have to say anything. She simply pointed at her ear lobes which I suddenly noticed were pierced with simple gold studs. I knew for a fact that her ears hadn’t been pierced before today.
“Lisa told me I would be required to have pierced ears where I was going. She did it at the end of my examination.”
“This is too much. They have no right.” I thought of my own ears – they had never been pierced and never would be. Yes I sometimes wore clip on earrings, but to have one’s ears pierced… it seemed too feminine, too conventionally feminine, too submissive. I wanted to be taken seriously by men, and did not want pierced ears to remind them of my sex.
“When I returned home afterwards I saw a light switch briefly on in my living room, as if someone was looking for something, but didn’t want the light on too long for fear that it might warn me that someone was inside my home, for a few seconds later it went off again. It was only by chance that I saw it at all.”
“You didn’t enter your flat?”
“No, of course not. I was suddenly very scared. I ran to a public phone box and called the police.”
“Good. What did the Police find when they searched your flat?” I suddenly recalled the man who had answered Sophia’s phone just before midnight. The man hadn’t answered any of my questions but he seemed to know me.
“It never got that far. When I gave my name, the policeman at the switchboard seemed to recognise it, perhaps from a list. He told me that I would have to be put through to a special department.”
“A special department to deal with intruders?”
“I don’t think so. I had barely explained what was happening. When my call was transferred, the man I now spoke to sounded cold and distant, and I instinctively had a bad feeling about him. He wanted to know where I was. He would send a patrol car round to pick me up. But he didn’t seem to be very interested in why I had called. I put the phone down and ran – I don’t know why – and I ended up here, where I’ve been all night, only leaving the bar to phone your flat every hour.”
“Sophia, this sounds unbelievable.” A thought crossed my mind. “You haven’t been using cocaine again, have you? You know how paranoid that used to make you.”
“No! No, I haven’t taken any drugs! I’m not imagining this, Michelle. It happened, every bit of it. Look at my ears!”
“It just seems…”
“Michelle, I’m so scared. I don’t know why, but I am. I can’t go home and I’m now too scared to phone the police.”
I reached over and took Sophia’s hands in mine. “It’s okay, there’s bound to be a rational explanation for all of this. But you can’t stay here. This bar will close in half an hour. Come back to my flat and spend the night with me.”
Sophia sobbed. “I don’t even know if that’s safe. You’re known to them too.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic.” I softly dried her tears with a clean tissue from my bag. “Nothing is going to happen to you in my flat. I think you’re worrying needlessly. Okay, so there are aspects of all this that do seem strange, even intrusive, but there’s nothing illegal going on. These people are obviously foreign. This is probably how they do things in their country. But they’re not criminals. Come on.” I helped Sophia to her feet and led her to the door. Somehow, in reassuring her, I had banished my own concerns and doubts. Her obvious paranoia was so out of proportion to what I had seen that I felt confident that everything would work out fine.
“Michelle, there’s one other thing that I didn’t tell you.”
“Oh? What?” I hesitated as we stepped outside into the cold night air.
“I told you that Lisa was wearing a silk scarf.”
“Yes you did.”
“Well, at one point when she knelt down to measure my ankle size, the silk slipped a little and I caught a glimpse of something underneath it.”
“What?” For some reason I suddenly felt nervous about hearing the answer.
“I only saw it for a second. I could be mistaken. But I think Lisa was wearing a steel collar.”
5: Strangers in the Night
They came for Sophia at four o’ clock in the morning. I don’t think I was really their intended target that night, but as I was with Sophia, the rest is history. As I have already stated, my flat was very small. The bedroom itself had little room for anything other than a double bed, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. It was now gone two in the morning and I for one was feeling tired. Sophia claimed she was too nervous to sleep but, after much prompting from me, she accepted one of my old t-shirts, undressed down to her underwear, pulling the t-shirt on over her head, and slid between the sheets with me. The last time I had shared my bed with a friend was in my first year at university, and it felt strange to be doing so again, after so long living on my own. The room was cold and we shivered together while we waited for our body heat to warm the bed up. Without meaning to, my foot brushed the ankle chain around Sophia’s foot and I was suddenly reminded how we were both effectively labelled, awaiting our respective consignments.
“Can I see your ankle bracelet?” I asked, as I turned on to my side to face her.
“But it’s cold.” Sophia snuggled deeper under the sheets and slid her braceleted leg up towards her hand so that she was able to touch the hard steel.
“I want to see what you’ve got written on yours.”
With some reluctance, Sophia drew herself up from under the sheets and sat at the head of the bed. She extended her ankle towards me and I took it with my left hand, turning the chain so that I could see the engraved disc. “You can’t remove it can you?”
“No.” Sophia sighed. “It’s locked and won’t open.”
“Only a man can open it,” I added.
“Why do you say that?” Sophia looked at me.
“I don’t know.” That was true. I didn’t know why I had said that. Why should I think in terms of the ankle chain being removed by a man?
“You’re always thinking of men!” Sophia turned her head away.
“I am not.”
“Yes you are. You always worry about what they think of you.”
“It’s not like that.”
“But your boyfriends never last long. You always grow tired of them.”
“Sophia!” It was true, but it was a cruel thing to say to me.
“And you know why. It’s because you always pick nice men. Boringly nice men who are afraid to upset you in any way. I think deep down you want someone stronger.”
“Can we stop talking about this?” In the dim light of my bedside lamp I could make out Sophia’s first name on the disc, a serial number of sorts and a consignment reference which differed from mine. “I don’t think we’re travelling together. Look. You have a different flight number to me.”
“You know for a fact that we’re flying somewhere?”
“Well how else will we travel?”
“Perhaps we are being sent to different cities. Perhaps we will not be working together.”
I looked at Sophia and I remembered how Mr Smith had decided I might be suitable for a managerial post. I wondered whether that was still the case for my friend. Perhaps, I thought, she would be in a junior position to me. Perhaps I would be travelling business class while she was packed in to economy. Perhaps that was the meaning behind the different consignment references. Actually, as I gazed at Sophia, I quite enjoyed the thought of being in control of her. We had been rivals too often in the past for me not to feel competitive now. It would be nice to tell her what to do; to correct her if she made a mistake; to discuss her performance with my superiors. I smiled, and decided that I would be a strict manager to Sophia.
When they did come, I of course didn’t hear a thing until I awoke with a hand clamped over my mouth to stifle my screams. There is that first moment of wakefulness when you are disorientated, not knowing whether you still sleep or not, not knowing what that pressure on your face could be. I tried to move, but hands gripped me and turned me quickly over onto my belly. I was aware of the cotton sheets being pulled away, and of Sophia, still lying beside me, struggling helplessly.
“This one has been tagged as well. She must be on our list.”
“Good. They’ve saved us some time by sharing the same room tonight.”
I wanted to scream; I needed to scream, but all I could muster under the circumstances was a muffled choke. The men holding me were strong, very strong. No matter how hard I struggled, I couldn’t escape the firm clench of their grip. Oblivious now to what was happening to Sophia, I felt a thick ball gag being forced into my mouth by patient, determined fingers, and leather straps being secured and tied at the back of my head to hold the gag in place. My face was pressed into the white cotton pillow as one man lifted up my t-shirt and pulled down my panties to expose my bottom and the small of my back.
“Administer the paralysing agent. We don’t have all night.”
I felt cold in my lower back as a cotton swab dabbed disinfectant against my skin. The touch of the swab was swiftly followed by the sharp jab of a hypodermic needle. I whimpered through my gag, afraid of what the drug would do to me. Although I couldn’t see it happen, men were also preparing Sophia for shipment too. I reached out with my left hand and touched the fingers of her right. We gripped each other tightly as the quick acting paralysing agent was carried through our blood stream. Within a matter of seconds I began to feel numb. Very quickly I lost all sensation of touch which was swiftly followed by complete muscular paralysis throughout my entire body. I lay there, fully conscious and aware, but unable to move any of my limbs.
The men had pencil flashlights to work by. In the dim light I saw one of them produce a sharp folding knife and quickly cut away the few clothes that Sophia had been wearing in bed. The shreds of material were stuffed into a plastic bag, presumably because the men did not want to leave behind any evidence of their abduction. Then my t-shirt and panties were also cut away and discarded. I lay on the bed, naked and helpless as the man checked our ankle chains one at a time.
“Sophia, 8A7753C, consignment 21AA.” One of his assistants marked her name on a small list.
“Good. Mark her. Left thigh, common brand.”
I was rolled on to my side so that I could see what was about to happen. One of the men gripped my head and made sure I was facing Sophia as another man produced a small torch-like device and pressed a button. Within ten seconds there was a red glow from the end of the device. He pressed it to Sophia’s left thigh. Thankfully the paralysing agent prevented Sophia from feeling a thing, but the plume of smoke and the horrible smell of burnt flesh told me that she was being branded. After a matter of seconds, the instrument was withdrawn and switched off. I could see the shape of a graceful alien letter imprinted in Sophia’s smooth skin. What I didn’t know was that my friend had just been permanently marked as a Gorean slave girl.
A man rolled me onto my belly and checked my ankle chain. “Michelle, 8A7761C, consignment 23AB.”
“Hmm, this is a problem. She shouldn't be in tonight's consignment – she's an AB, but we can hardly let her go now that we're here. Downgrade her to an AA on my authority, the same as her friend. I'll sort out the mess with Santos tomorrow. He should be more careful. Mark the girl. Left thigh, common brand. Let's secure them both and get out of here. We have two more pick ups and then we're done for the night.”
The torch like device was now pressed against my own thigh. I felt nothing thanks to the paralysing drug, but again I smelt burning flesh, this time my own.
I could still see Sophia as one of the men produced a large heavy canvas bag with air holes and multiple handles. One by one our wrists and ankles were secured with cable ties. Then my friend was placed inside the bag, with her knees drawn up to her belly. The zip was then drawn shut across the top. A second bag was prepared on the floor, and now I felt myself being lifted and placed inside it. My legs too were drawn up to my stomach. I wanted to scream for help but my vocal chords seemed to be as paralysed as my body.
The zip of the bag was drawn shut, plunging me into darkness.
What occurred next I can only conjecture. I must have been lifted, possibly by two strong men, one holding onto the handles of the bag at each end, and like Sophia before me, I must have been carried out of my apartment, down the fire escape stairs of my building and out into the quiet night where they had a van parked nearby. It seemed incredible to me that I could just be carried so simply from the place in which I lived, concealed inside a thick canvas bag. Surely someone might see what was happening and confront the men? But of course it was four o' clock in the morning and the chances of anyone being about were very slim. And even if someone did pass by at just the right moment, what would they do? I imagine my abductors were armed, and if necessary they would not hesitate to shoot a witness with a silenced automatic pistol. These men of course were confident in their superiority. They were of Gor, and they viewed the men of Earth as weak. They would not be scared of them.
It was the last thing I remembered before I mercifully passed out.