I found out about my world’s surrender, and its awful consequences, before nearly all the rest of the women on Artemisia did. I found out before most of the rest of the planet’s population, in fact, since the Magisterians hadn’t yet separated men and women, at gunpoint, into separate ‘spheres of life’ as the Magisterian Federation called their patriarchal system.
Or, to be more accurate, not at gunpoint but at cane-point, which frankly seemed to me much worse. When the Magisterian special police came to take me away to the reformation center—the very first of the women of Artemisia to suffer that fate—I would rather they had shot me instead.
“Miss Sara Granzofar?” the officer in the purple uniform asked when I opened the door of my apartment.
“Ms.,” I replied, purely out of reflex. His eyebrows went up. The other officer, whose uniform seemed to have a smaller number of shiny badges on it, chuckled.
“Not anymore, Miss Granzofar,” the superior officer said flatly. ¨To confirm, you are Miss Sara Granzofar, formerly head of Artemisia’s Global Public Relations Department?”
“Formerly?” I demanded. My mind reeled. It was Saturday morning. I had just woken up, and I had on sweatpants, a t-shirt, and running shoes; I had been about to go to the gym. I would have to put in some work later on three or four press releases despite it being the weekend, but a visit from the Magisterian special police would seriously fuck up my day.
Since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Artemisia and the Magisterian Federation, these purple-clad assholes had grown more numerous in the capital, where I lived and worked, as the youngest cabinet secretary in the history of my world. I hadn’t had to deal with them, though.
The superior officer gave an audible sigh, his broad shoulders rising and falling noticeably as he apparently got his frustration with me under control.
“Are you Sara Granzofar?” he asked.
I frowned deeply. I had rights, right? Even if the worst had happened and the negotiations had gone very badly, surely I didn’t have to answer to the Magisterian special police?
“Who wants to know?” I demanded.
“In fact,” the man said, “you should know that I’m not required to tell you my name, according to the treaty signed by your government an hour ago, but as a courtesy I will tell you nevertheless that I’m Major Harrow of the Magisterian Special Office for Planetary Reparations, and this is Lieutenant Withers of the same office.”
I would have interrupted him before he could extend that courtesy, but my jaw had dropped and I had started breathing so quickly I could feel myself begin to hyperventilate.
“Treaty? What treaty? We have a—”
Major Harrow interrupted me.
“Had, Miss Granzofar,” he said with infuriating smoothness. “That treaty has been superseded by the one your president signed this morning. As you’ve obviously guessed, the terms of the new treaty have been kept secret until now, just as the ongoing negotiations have been.”
“But—” I tried, my mind veering between anger and sudden terror. A secret treaty with the Magisterian Federation. Precisely what so many of us had feared. The fate of the other egalitarian worlds who had joined the Vionian Empire in their war against the Magisterians… enforced here, on Artemisia…
Again the major interrupted me.
“I can see from your expression, Miss Granzofar, that you understand at least some of what the terms of the treaty entail. You’ve clearly heard stories about Magisteria and our method of obtaining reparations from various planetary systems who participated in the lamentable war.”
My eyes went wide. I felt the color drain from my face.
“Now’s when you tell me that I really have nothing to fear,” I whispered into the silence Major Harrow had left. My eyes went from his handsome, bearded middle-aged face to that of his subordinate, just as attractive in his purple uniform and peaked cap, though ten years younger. The wild thought rose irrepressibly in my mind that despite their inherent evil, the Magisterians sure knew how to dress and to groom themselves.
The major smiled with an air of patronizing indulgence that made my heart skip a beat—with fear, I told myself angrily… only fear.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, miss,” he said. The word miss in his mouth made me want to scream, because of how very much it conveyed about the ultra-privilege of the wealthy, powerful Magisterians—their men, anyway, because it seemed no one knew what Magisterian women were like at all, beyond wild rumors of orgiastic autonomy and self-government. “From your standpoint, I’m quite sure the stories and their terrors—that is, for a girl like you—are more or less true. So, allow me to ask you one final time before I’m forced to make you regret your lack of cooperation, are you in fact Miss Sara Granzofar?”
I looked down and realized that I had unconsciously thrust both my hands in front of my midriff and clenched them into fists. I felt my face crumple as I looked up again into Major Harrow’s face. For a moment I considered refusing to answer, or even lying, but the terrifying stories about the Magisterian special police rose into my mind’s eye once again.
“Yes,” I whispered. “But… but I’m twenty-eight… Not… you know… a girl…”
Major Harrow smiled patiently. “You’re a very accomplished young woman, aren’t you, Miss Granzofar? Head of a planetary government office at twenty-eight?”
I felt my face pucker with dismay at his condescending tone as I nodded. What scared me the most, I suddenly understood, was the fact that Major Harrow didn’t seem crazy, or even cruel. He simply had his own highly rational, extremely privileged framework through which he looked at the universe. The thought that his framework might even be more rational than mine, in certain ways, rose into my mind and a wave of uneasiness passed through me.
“From a Magisterian standpoint, however,” he said calmly, “you are an unwed girl. That makes you subject to certain provisions in the treaty—most notably at the moment, it makes you entirely subject to my authority. We’re going to enter your apartment now and help you get ready for transfer to your reformation facility.”
I realized I had started to shake my head no, and my fists had risen into a defensive posture in front of my breasts. At the same time, though, I also felt a horribly unwelcome feeling start to take hold in the same body I had put into that warding-off stance. Fucking assholes. I hated them for being so handsome, and I hated them for awakening the part of me I always tried to push down and away.
Still, even as I set my mouth into an angry scowl I felt how my hands meant not only to keep them out of my apartment—my home, where I lived proudly and independently—but to keep Major Harrow of the neatly trimmed dark beard and Lieutenant Withers of the red-gold hair and the green eyes specifically from coming anywhere near my little breasts.
For I had become much, much too conscious of my being clad only in my sloppy sweats with no bra, and worse, of the way these Magisterian fucks had set my treasonous nipples tingling.
That didn’t represent the worst part, though. The worst part arrived in the form of the realization that at the same time I had put on my scowl and raised my fists, I had started to back away into my apartment.
I probably meant the movement, somewhere in my subconscious, as an attempt to get away, maybe with the intent of slamming the door in the faces of the Magisterian special officers. I told myself that, anyway. I hadn’t done anything that might help me actually close the door, though. So as I became aware that I had receded a step into the apartment, I understood too that Major Harrow and Lieutenant Withers had taken my backward motion as acceptance—and that, to my horror, it did constitute a kind of acceptance.
In the back of my mind, a dismaying, bizarre emotion had awoken, and my cheeks had blazed up in heat to express it in a vexingly vivid way to the Magisterians.
Shame. Modesty. I didn’t want my neighbors to know that I had enemy police at my door. That they had come to take me away.
Ridiculous, but even as I cursed my relatively traditional upbringing for instilling the feeling, and cursed the social norms of my otherwise completely egalitarian world for allowing that upbringing, I couldn’t help myself. I had an important role in the government of the entire planet of Artemisia. My neighbors on this hall in this deluxe apartment building knew that, and though I had always kept a low profile—through, yes, modesty—I had also reveled in knowing that the other wealthy owners on this floor felt a good deal of pride in living near me.
These Magisterian officers belonged to the armed forces that had occupied my planet after the previous administration had so stupidly and vainly joined the Vionian alliance. My boss, the president of Artemisia, Viola Herranofar, had surrendered to the Magisterians. I had been in the room—the cabinet chamber—when we had made that decision, the day after our election. I hadn’t said anything, but I had voted yes, like all Viola’s other ministers.
We had felt certain that to surrender would spare us the harshest kind of reparation measures—the kind Magisteria had brought to bear on Hippolyta, for example, where professional women like me had found themselves made examples of. Now I understood, watching Major Harrow walk steadily toward me as I continued to back up, that we had thoroughly deceived ourselves.
Before the surrender, the previous administration of Artemisia—one with a man as president, ironically and infuriatingly enough—had gone all in with the Vionian Empire. In exchange for hyperspace access to key shipping lanes, ‘guaranteed’ by Vionian warships, Artemisia had supplied the Vionians with planet-busting weapons. We knew for a horrific fact that the Vionians had used Artemisian bombs to annihilate an entire Magisterian colony.
Still, Viola had told us—and her secretary of state had backed her all the way—that back-channels in the Magisterian Federation had promised to spare Artemisia, if we allowed a quick occupation. The first open peace negotiations—what I had supposed naively the only peace negotiations—had seemed very clearly to demonstrate the truth of what they had told the rest of the cabinet.
To say I felt betrayed wouldn’t even have begun to express all the mingled rage and fear coursing through my nervous system at the moment. If I had had to pick one very worst thing about this horrific invasion of my home, though, I would have had to say that my own detestably weak response to the arrival of the Magisterian officers at my door and then inside my apartment—as Lieutenant Withers closed and locked my door behind them—constituted that very worst thing.
That decision, that choice of what made this horror truly unbearable, received an immediate challenge—indeed an insurmountable one. The whole experience entered a completely new dimension with the next words the major spoke, quietly but with a hard edge that made my knees feel loose.
“Thank you, Miss Granzofar. Now please go ahead and take your clothes off for me.”
I had kept myself from giving into my idiotically prurient curiosity. I hadn’t listened to any of my colleagues’ whispers about Hippolyta and the other egalitarian worlds forced to make reparations to the federation—let alone sought out on the infonet the videos I knew must be all too abundant. The Magisterians wanted women to fear the consequences of conflict with the federation; I felt certain that such terror played a key role in their strategy to bring the galaxy to heel. I had proudly refused to give in. Men like Major Harrow and Lieutenant Withers—men of Magisteria and of the other worlds who had adopted so-called traditional gender roles of one form or another as a keystone of their cultures—wanted women to quail before them.
I had felt so sure of that—and I still did. Standing in front of the Magisterians, though, with my mind still processing the words that had brought instant heat to my cheeks, as if my body understood before my brain, I realized how stupid I had been not at least to familiarize myself with what my world’s enemies might have planned for their newly subject planets.
“What?” I gasped, though I knew how silly—how uneducated, even—I sounded.
Major Harrow smiled patiently. Also, so very, very patronizingly that it made my stomach jump. Anger burned in my chest—as much as the stupid butterflies lower down, in my own body, as at the officer’s obvious arrogance.
“We know enough about you, Sara,” he said, “to know that you’re extremely intelligent—but that you’ve decided to keep yourself woefully uninformed about the culture of the federation that’s now in possession of your world.”
I gaped at him. How could they—he—know that? I brought my hands closer to my chest in an unconscious gesture of protection.
“All the infonet records of Artemisia became subject to our examination at an early stage of the negotiations,” the major continued smoothly and deliberately, the smile never changing. He paused to let me absorb this news.
Of course. But my brain still rebelled.
“They promised…” I blurted out. I shook my head. Tears started to form in the corners of my eyes. They spilled out onto my cheeks when I saw Major Harrow’s eyebrows raise just a fraction of an inch, as if to say, You actually believed them?
I looked desperately at Lieutenant Withers, suddenly even more dismayed to find myself blindsided this way in front of a man clearly younger than I was, and yet so obviously, so glaringly privileged. To have his superior officer make an absolute fool of me this way, telling me terrible things about my own government—the government of which I actually represented an important part—seemed to make the whole scene so much worse.
I tried again, desperately seeking to add conviction and fury to my words.
“She promised…” My boss, the president. She had promised me and the rest of the planet. I shook my head, and I felt at least a little better when the anger in my chest rose to my throat, and I found I could make the gesture of denial angry and dismissive despite the tears on my cheeks. “She promised that they weren’t retaining that data.”
I remembered the speech. It had practically won her the election. The Magisterian Federation’s demonstrated appetite for turning enemies’ data against them had become a major election issue in the final month of the campaign as it became clear just how terrible a position the Vionian Empire had put us in, now that the empire itself seemed on its last legs.
To my horror, Major Harrow’s smile changed from patronizing to sympathetic.
“From what I understand,” he said, “your president tried to make that an essential pillar of the treaty. She failed, however, and so I know that you have more or less actively avoided all the information the federation seeded your infonet with, concerning our culture.”
I blinked, a frown taking hold of my brow.
“You probably thought the number of stories about Magisteria you saw in your newsfeed simply had to do with the war,” the major continued. “But I’m afraid the federation infiltrated the Artemisian infonet some months ago, both in service of making the negotiations easier and as a way to gather information from the reactions we recorded to those stories. That’s why Lieutenant Withers and I are here, rather than in some other girl’s apartment. And it’s why I know how complicated a thing it is for you to undress in front of us.”
My lips parted. “Complicated?” I whispered, after I had closed them to gather enough moisture in my suddenly dry mouth that I could utter a syllable.
Major Harrow nodded, his face so compassionate that I had a sudden urge to lash out with one of the fists I had moved defensively almost to my chin.
“Let’s just call it complicated for now, Sara,” he said, matching his voice perfectly to his face.
“Why are you calling me by my first name?” I demanded, flailing mentally to find something to say that might interrupt whatever horrible train of thought the officer clearly wanted me to follow. “You were… you were polite before, at least.”
He nodded again, as if he had fully expected this challenge. The man’s arrogant smugness seemed truly amazing; I tried to focus on the question of whether he might win some sort of pangalactic arrogance competition rather than the dismaying effect the expression on his much too handsome face had on me.
“I’m afraid that from now on you can’t expect courtesy until you earn it, Sara.”
The sound of my own name started to grate on me. Again I tried to lash out with my intelligence and my own unrivaled power—the ability to put words together to make them do what I wanted them to do. It had fled, seemingly, at the appearance of these Magisterian assholes, but I tried desperately to haul it back.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Major?” With an act of will I drew myself up to my full five foot two, feeling a little silly doing that in my sweats and bare feet as if I had on a business suit and heels, but still taking some defiant energy from the movement. “Are you suggesting that I haven’t earned respect through my role in my planet’s government? Through my career as—”
Major Harrow cut me off.
“Enough, Sara. It’s time to obey me or face the consequences.”
My eyes went wide and all the composure I had mustered a moment before evaporated into what felt to me like the hottest blush of my life. The urge once again to repeat every outrageous thing the officer said with a question mark after it—consequences?—nearly overwhelmed my proud refusal to appear so terribly weak in front of him. Nor would I even demand an explanation.
You know, my mind told me. You tried to avoid it, but you know very well what a Magisterian means by ‘consequences’ when he’s speaking to a woman.
I shook my head, looking from the major to the lieutenant and back, plastering a sneer on my face.
Obey him? He had literally said obey, like in the old, old Earth marriage ceremony.
Feeling like every bodily movement I made cost me dearly in emotional energy, I folded my arms across my chest. Again I turned my attention from Major Harrow to Lieutenant Withers, fixing the junior officer with the coldest look I could muster, as if to say to him, Clearly your boss is too old and arrogant a man to understand how monstrous his actions seem not just to me but to you as well.
The lieutenant, to my horror, crooked his mouth into a smile of what seemed to me suppressed laughter. The idea that the younger man had the same ancient attitudes about the relations between the genders as his superior shook me, but I looked back at Major Harrow and kept my face as impassive as I could.
“As a citizen of the free planet of Artemisia, I demand my right of habeas corpus,” I said, glad at least that my voice didn’t waver as I spoke the words I knew would get me nowhere.
I thought for a moment the major would laugh at me. I almost wished he would, rather than keeping the horrible patronizing, sympathetic look on his face. Then, when he didn’t laugh, or react immediately at all, I thought—wildly, fearfully—that he would give me another chance.
He gave one final nod, and the smile on his face, worst of all, seemed to grow a little sad, as if I had disappointed him. The flutter that smile sent through my insides—my body’s, yes, complicated reaction to it—threatened to draw my attention and to force me to consider the parts of what the major had said that I absolutely refused to think about.
The next thing Major Harrow did, however, at least diverted my focus enough to prevent me from following that train of thought. He looked around my spacious living room.
I felt my face crease into a frown. I looked over at Lieutenant Withers, who seemed to find his superior officer’s interest in my furniture not at all interesting. Was the major in search of a place to sit down? Or—the absurd thought floated into my consciousness—had he suddenly become impressed by the admittedly impressive collection of attractive pieces I had managed to accumulate?
He turned to the lieutenant.
“The arm of the sofa, I think,” he said, clearly giving an order in a way that vaguely smacked of many centuries’ weight of tradition and privilege. A masculine military culture so ingrained, I thought with a sudden fearful shiver, that a Magisterian general, speaking to an army of men about to perish for the glory of the federation, would probably say something like, “The fort on the hill, I think, at all costs.”
I looked at my sofa. I didn’t see anything remarkable about it, beyond its being upholstered in a deep shade of blue in a fabric with a pretty, slightly rough weave. This momentary lapse in my attention on the Magisterians, though, meant that Lieutenant Withers’ swift movement toward me took me entirely by surprise.
Suddenly the blond officer stood right at my elbow, with his hand on that joint in a position that told me instantly and dismayingly that he had a good deal of training and perhaps experience in controlling the bodies of others. He had already begun to turn me toward the sofa with that grip on my arm alone before I could start to struggle.
I twisted hard, pulling my arm as forcefully as I could away from the Magisterian’s hand. In return for my defiance I got only what felt like a steel pincer closing down on a part of my body I had no idea had such an integral connection to my central nervous system.
I cried out, and tried to twist further, but Lieutenant Withers, who had eased the pressure for a moment as if he had meant only to warn me of what he could do with his viselike grip if he chose, squeezed again, harder, at this new sign of resistance.
The pain from his strong hand felt nearly unbearable, and the young officer held me that way for a second longer than he had before. I, looking wildly about to see only Major Harrow standing by the couch, apparently waiting, first—out of sheer instinct—tried to wrest my arm from the hand imparting so much pain. I screamed, wondering idiotically, even as the white-hot agony shot up my arm, if I would wake the neighbors, who I knew liked to sleep late on the weekends.
Then, just as suddenly, I felt my body give in, at precisely the moment the pain from Lieutenant Withers’ fingers eased. I had the sense, somehow reassuring and disturbing in equal measure, that he had timed his torture to have exactly that effect: that he knew so much about how to control young women like me—complicated young women, came the echo of the major’s voice in my mind—that he could predict exactly how much force to use with me.
He drew me further toward the couch and Major Harrow. He spoke in my ear, in a tone that seemed imbued with the same condescension the major’s patronizing smile had shown me.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be, Sara,” he said.
Oh, no. To hear that tone from a man clearly younger than I, as he had his strong hand on me, controlling me. Fuck you, I forced my mind to say—if only to myself—in defiance. Fuck you, you Magisterian fuckers. Fuck you and your ‘complicated.’
A sob broke from my throat as I forced my body to try one final time to pull myself away from the lieutenant, who stood so close to me that I could smell his cologne. That pleasant, masculine scent didn’t help at all—but the fragrance had nowhere near the effect of the renewed grip of his fingers on my elbow. He didn’t even squeeze as hard as he had the first time; all the lieutenant had to do was remind me of how much pain he could bring, and I let him move me the final step toward where his dark-bearded superior officer stood waiting next to my expensive couch.
“Now, Sara,” said Major Harrow. “Are you going to lay yourself down like a good girl and take what you’ve got coming?”
It took every bit of my will to pretend I didn’t have any idea what the major meant.
What you’ve got coming.
No Artemisian parent had used those words with a child since the colony’s founding, I felt sure—nor any teacher. Nor of course any spouse with their partner, because Artemisia’s charter explicitly outlawed marriage. Egalitarian culture, on my world, meant egalitarian culture. Disagreements between a parent and a child in their rearing group got resolved through loving application of boundaries. Later on, in school, a teacher might impose a consequence for misbehavior, but the very structure of the phrase what you’ve got coming relied on an utterly atavistic understanding of power relationships.
As a rising public relations professional, I had had to study the way other cultures handled imbalances of power among groups and between individuals. I had studied Magisteria and its close allies, where ‘traditional’ gender norms prevailed, as little as possible. The very idea of men treating women in that patriarchal way simply because they came into the universe in possession of a mutant chromosome disgusted me.
I felt my forehead crease into a deep frown as I looked at the blue-upholstered arm of the couch and a picture, an all-too-clear mental image, of the posture Major Harrow wanted me to assume came into my mind’s eye. Again I heard in my head his words about what the Magisterian special police had learned about me from my infonet history.
I know how complicated a thing it is for you to undress in front of us.
If I could have rewound the scene to the point where the major had simply asked me to take off my clothes, I would have paid anything for the privilege, I told myself. In that case, I could have stripped off my sweats and my panties, sneering at them all the while, and… and… followed them to their transport and their reformation center, content to revel in the mark of paradoxical honor they had bestowed on me, a defiant Artemisian woman. I would have cast my stupid, pointless modesty aside and held my head high.
This, though… the lieutenant’s hand on my elbow, the scent of his cologne, the major’s beard, their crisp uniforms, their patronizing smiles… and the arm of the couch…
A sob rose to my lips, and my mouth spoke without my mind’s consent.
“Please,” I said, and I looked the major in the eye despite how it made my tummy flip over. “Please, don’t… I…”
I read in his eyes that he knew precisely how complicated a situation he had put me in. I also saw that he had not the slightest intention of taking pity on me—much worse, that Major Harrow, without a hint of real sadism, enjoyed this part of his job, and felt no shame about the pleasure he took in teaching women like me the lessons he believed they deserved.
Shameful consequences. A girl’s painful, bare-bottom reward for disobedience.
“Lieutenant,” the major said, his voice sounding absurdly gentle. His eyes flicked to the man on the other side of me, and the lieutenant lost no time in complying with the order he clearly understood from the simple inflection of his superior’s voice. I cried out as he used his grip on my elbow to bend me over the arm of the couch, my cheek pressing into the cushion.
“Hold her,” the major said.
“Oh, no,” I sobbed into the scratchy fabric. I tried to get up, starting to struggle in earnest out of sheer panic and million-year-old evolutionary biology.
The lieutenant complied with Major Harrow’s command with a pressure on my back that felt so precise I thought he must have trained for this particular duty in some special Magisterian academy for the fostering of masculine dominance. It felt like his strong hands, one on my neck and the other on the small of my back, even had a message in them: Stay there, girl. Don’t make me push harder.
With a cry of shame just at the idea of succumbing without protest, I defied the message. I writhed under the pressure of Lieutenant Withers’ hands even as I felt the major’s fingers reaching into the waistband of my sweatpants. That sensation, as dispassionate as it seemed to me despite the humiliating intimacy of the act, imparted a desperation to my struggle that did nothing but exhaust my strength sooner.
I managed to flail out with my left arm though, and strike the uniformed leg of the lieutenant. For that minuscule victory I received the reward of a tsking noise from the mouth of the younger man, and the movement of his right hand to grab my wrist and twist it behind my back.
My whole body shuddered. For the next few seconds, my mind absolutely refused to believe it: I felt like I had exited my body and begun to watch some absurd voyeuristic video of the kind I knew Artemisian men watched while pleasuring themselves from time to time. I had managed never to learn very much about the practice, but I knew the ancient name of that sort of video was porn, and that they had once been made with real actors and actresses.
The vast majority of Artemisian society looked down on the watching of such videos. They existed on my world nevertheless because men could import them legally from other planets—worlds such as those in the Magisterian Federation—as long as they depicted digitally generated characters rather than showing actual people performing the sexual acts.
Complicated. I felt my face crumple as I couldn’t help picturing it: the porn video about a fantasy character, composited by a computer… the proud, independent Artemisian cabinet secretary having her pants and panties pulled down by one Magisterian officer while another kept her bent over the arm of her luxurious couch.
I could feel the air moving around my naked legs, between my trim thighs, but my brain told itself that the fictional video simply had a very high degree of reality. It couldn’t be real: this couldn’t happen to an Artemisian woman—let alone a high-ranking member of the planetary administration.
The Sara over the arm of the couch, the disobedient girl of whom the Magisterians clearly felt the need to make an example… Major Harrow pulled her sweatpants and her black bikini briefs down to her knees to imprison her legs in a soft but still restrictive tangle of fabric.
“Sara,” he told that girl… me… he’s saying this to me, some rational part of my mind tried to persuade me. Get it together! This isn’t a hallucination! “I want to make it clear that the hand spanking I’m about to give you is the lightest punishment you’re likely to receive from this point forward.”
I had nearly exhausted my strength in my reflexive struggle against Lieutenant Withers. My mind and my body conspired for a moment to make my limbs relax under that iron grasp as I tried to process what Major Harrow had just said.
Lightest… from this point forward…
For an instant I felt certain the major would pause for questions, then. When I ran a media conference, I would always follow the sort of statement he had just made with a space to allow the assembled journalists at least to start shouting their inevitable challenges to the carefully worded information I had just provided. Sometimes I even intended to answer a carefully selected question or two.
More often I merely meant to provide my administration with the appearance of being open with the people of Artemisia. I didn’t have any hope that I would get an honest answer from the major to any question I asked, but I thought he would stop and wait to let his outrageous statement sink in.
Instead the Magisterian officer put his left hand on my bare right hip, working it under the hem of my t-shirt, and gripped firmly. I barely had time to draw breath and start a cry of protest before I felt a slight rush of air behind me, against the bare flesh of my bottom-cheeks and, to my dismay, further forward between my upper thighs.
Then I felt it and heard it at the same time: the major’s big, open hand coming down hard on my backside, low on my right cheek. I felt the pressure, and the sharp sound came to my ears, so loud that I felt instantly sure my neighbors would hear it through the walls.
The pain took a moment to follow, so that the first spank of my life—and I remembered with far too much clarity for the nanosecond’s space it took what the major had said about what I should expect from this point forward—only really started to hurt as the second one landed, on the same side of my bottom, a little lower down so that it stung my thigh as well.
I realized then that whatever fucking complicated thing existed inside my mind or my heart or my body or whatever had prevented me from truly struggling before. The pain from those two swats of Major Harrow’s open hand to my backside, to which he quickly added a third and fourth on my left cheek, brought out the real fight-or-flight response in my body. I writhed desperately under the lieutenant’s grip, only to find out exactly how much skill he had at restraining disobedient girls.
He pressed me against my elegant couch cushion, putting just enough pressure on my pinioned left arm that it discouraged me from twisting too far. The frustrated energy from my imprisoned muscles seemed to go in a rush to my chest and then my throat, as I let out a pitiful sobbing cry.
“No… no… please,” I begged. Instinctively I tried to kick out with my right leg, taking the left with it and feeling for a moment completely unbalanced atop the arm of the couch.
Major Harrow tightened his grip. His horrible, huge hand, which had quickly attained a swift, sharp rhythm that he seemed to have no intent of pausing, started punishing my upper thighs with hard swats that stung even more than the ones to my bottom. He didn’t need to speak a single warning word; he told me with his hand to stop kicking.
Take your punishment, the hand said. Your lightest punishment, from this point forward.
I sobbed into my couch, realizing that I had made a pool of tears on the beautiful blue fabric. My bottom felt like I had sat on a stove, and every shameful, involuntary squirm of my spanked cheeks reminded me of just how helpless the major had rendered me.
Again I seemed to float out of my body, but in a different way—a confusingly, distressingly peaceful way. I felt for a horrifying moment the justice of the Magisterian’s treatment of me. You disobeyed him, when he had treated you so reasonably. He made it clear that you would have to take your clothes off and go with them, and you decided to be naughty. So now you, the girl being held firmly over the arm of her fancy couch, are getting the lesson you earned, on your bare bottom, just as you deserve.
My body relaxed. The next spank that landed, on my already terribly warm right cheek, made me whimper, and made my hips jerk with the additional sting, but to my dismay I pushed out my bottom right afterward, as if inviting another swat.
I felt the major observe the change; I sensed the way his grip loosened a little, and the slight pause before he gave me that final spank, right in the middle of my backside, very hard. I gave a pitiful, sobbing cry, my whole body tensing and then going limp.
The lieutenant let me go, whether at a nod from the major or simply because he, too, knew exactly what to look for in a girl receiving bare-bottom discipline for the first time.
“You may stand up, Sara,” the major said, “and take off your clothes for me now.”