“Gentlemen, what you are about to witness is the most obscene, perverse, and thoroughly scurrilous display of the delicate feminine form ever seen on this colony, and likely any other. I show it to you that you may see what is taking place under the so-called ‘new regime,’ which has deposed the rightful leaders of this great nation and now enacts the most depraved rituals upon the fairer sex.”
The speaker was a man whose furious jowls wobbled with every word. He marked his nobility with a curled wig traced with bright silver and gold strands and a preponderance of titanium-spun lace about his neck and cuffs. Those familiar with the dress of sixteenth-century French courtiers would have been quite stunned to see a fellow such as he standing not in ancient France, but instead upon a colony located several dozen lightyears away from original Earth.
With his brightly colored attire flapping in the breeze created by his own outrage, he looked almost as though he could have stepped out of an old portrait—aside from the fact that there was nothing natural about his attire or indeed his surroundings. He was a walking marriage between art and high technology, past and present melded together into a highly offended expression. With his speech delivered, he presented a silver tablet to the view of several similarly dressed counterparts whose brows collectively rose as they looked upon the glowing image of a naked female form.
“This is the new regime, gentlemen. Look what they have done to our women.”
The image flickered and then began to move, audio piping out from small speakers as the camera drew back to reveal a dozen naked young women standing in single file before a fully dressed officer in a simply cut dark blue uniform adorned with a silver star—the mark of the new regime that had overrun the old aristocracy and taken the colony of New Paris for their own.
The ladies, all of different heights and shapes and builds—some soft and curvy, others slim and lithe—were united by merit of their noble blood. New Paris, a name given both to the capital city and the colony at large, had been settled hundreds of years earlier by old Earth aristocrats at the turn of the century of space. The young women were the fine product of generations of noble breeding. A few months earlier, the man ordering them about would have knelt before them had they so much as glanced in his unworthy direction, but times had changed rather swiftly and now the daughters of New Paris stood stripped of station, pride, and clothing before the stern eyes of their new lords and handlers.
Uniformed men walked back and forth along the line holding stout leather paddles in their strong hands. The women cast glances at both the men and the paddles. The view switched from one camera to another, displaying the rear of the line. It was then discernible that quite a few of them already bore bright pink marks where those implements had landed. There was a collective gasp from the watching nobles as an officer whipped his paddle against one round bottom and issued an order to stand up straight.
“Shocking!” One of the viewing men could not help but make the exclamation.
It was shocking, and yet the young women did not seem shocked. Some were quite cowed by the experience as showed in their blushing faces and lowered heads. Others seemed almost excited. There were several flirtatious looks cast toward the handsome guards who stood by in their starched uniforms.
“You have been allowed to believe that you are the centers of the universe,” the officer lectured. “You have been cosseted and spoiled and lied to, for that matter. That ends here. You are now entering a new realm of obedience to your husbands, who will take the responsibility of disciplining you as you should have been disciplined a great long while ago.”
His stern speech made some of the girls giggle behind their hands and others go quite pale with nervousness.
“We will now begin the final choosing.”
A door at the end of the room opened and a man began to walk down the line, pausing to speak inaudibly with one or two of the women before taking one by the hand and drawing her forward to inspect her more closely. The young lady responded to his touch with obvious pleasure, arching her back to press her breasts against the palms of his exploring hands as he cupped her feminine curves. There was a maidenly blush across the bridge of her nose and her cheeks, but she was clearly enjoying the caresses of the handsome soldier in spite of her natural embarrassment.
“Good, Maria, excellent,” the officer praised. “Now spread your thighs and bend forward to touch your toes.”
The position exposed her intimate regions, but Maria had been well trained under the new regime and she moved gracefully as she had been ordered. Once again, a gasp went up from the old guard, the bewigged gentlemen who had never seen such behavior before.
“Harlots!” The cry went up. “They have turned our modest women into utter strumpets.”
Having provided the necessary evidence, the video was stopped. The final frame was a close-up of Maria’s face, her mouth pouting in an ‘o’ of surprise and desire as the soldier made what was presumably a thorough inspection of her intimate region.
“You see, gentlemen, they are not only taking our women. They are turning them against us. See how those once innocent girls become harlots giggling and playing for the attention of those simple brutes. They consummate these marriages swiftly and repeatedly. We must act, and we must act swiftly, lest there not be a true noble left inside a single generation.”
His impassioned comment was met with a round of nodding and cursed agreements. This would not do. This would not do at all.
“But Father, we’re rich.”
A pretty young woman with ubiquitous dark curls and wide blue eyes brimming with emotion, Lydia’s tone was a mixture of petulance and outrage as she held the summons of choosing between her thumb and forefinger, a small yellow card with her name on it and a printed date and time on which the soldiers of the new regime would come and take her away.
Her father sat in his tall-backed armchair, jeweled rings upon his fingers, wearing a suit of fine silk. He had been voted the best-dressed man in New Paris many times, until the practice had been outlawed under the new regime. Now he could only wear his finery indoors—and he did.
A server bot hovered around him, a drink in one claw, a lit cigar in the other. Periodically it would lift either one or the other to her father’s lips and he either swallowed or inhaled based on the object involved. Lydia had inherited his dark hair, though he was missing most of his now, but her eyes were from her mother; welling blue pools of perpetual emotion that became shuttered when she lowered her lashes and drew heavily on the plastic cylinder held lightly between the index and middle finger of her right hand.
Vapor from the ends of their respective mechanical cylinders curled toward high ceilings as the lord and his daughter pondered a problem of significant magnitude. Though their home looked like something out of a stately historical dwelling, every part of it was automated. The food was stocked, stored, and cooked by robots. Linens and clothing were laundered similarly. Housework was simply unknown in a noble home. No manual maintenance was required of the inhabitants whatsoever. Lydia herself had been raised by a nanny bot for the first four years of her life while her mother undertook the important task of being a government minister’s wife.
Outside the grand floor-to-ceiling windows shed gentle light on the domestic scene, buildings of marble and stone lined wide avenues rich with trees and grasses. A prosperous colony, New Paris had been designed by a rather eccentric developer to look as the city of Paris had once looked like on Earth many hundreds of years earlier. To the casual, and impossibly time-traveling, observer it would indeed look almost exactly the same, from the Champs Élysées, to the Louvre, to the Eiffel Tower—but the resemblance was skin deep at best.
Underneath the city, a great organism of machinery hummed day and night keeping the worst of the universal forces of destruction at bay. The machinery did a great many things: regulating the environment, keeping the city clean and watered, removing waste products, and a great many other functions the average citizen had little interest in and even less knowledge of. What the machinery could not do, the drones and robots did, some acting autonomously under the guidance of the great machine mind, others following more explicit direction by the aristocrats who inhabited the upper arrondissements.
Lydia Leon lived in a grand building in the seventh arrondissement, home of the aristocratic few. It was hard to believe that the long arm of the new regime had managed to penetrate such a privileged place, but she held the evidence that she was not above the indignities of the new order in her very fingers.
Upon receiving the message that arrived directly from the president’s office, Lydia’s mother had experienced a fit of the nerves and retired to bed, leaving Lydia to beg for her father’s protection. Thus far, he seemed disinclined to give it.
“I’m afraid that doesn’t matter, my dear,” he sighed, righting himself as the silk of his pants slid against the silk of the chair beneath him, causing him to slowly descend toward the floor during the course of their conversation. “It doesn’t matter how rich we are, we must comply.”
“Being rich always matters, Father. You taught me that.”
“That was before,” her father sighed.
“Before?” Her big blue eyes were wide with genuine innocence. She was a very sheltered twenty-one years old, and frightened at the prospect of being taken from her home.
“Before the new regime. I’m sorry, Lydia, but you will have to present yourself along with the other young women at the choosing ceremony or our family will be stripped of all assets. You wouldn’t want your mother and me to be put out on the streets, would you? You wouldn’t want us to be…” he paused and a note of palpable disgust came into his tone, “…poor?”
Lydia looked around the richly appointed room of the home she had loved all her life and shuddered at the thought of the stiffly dressed military men who even now were parading up and down the street outside, marching through the foyer and taking the house over. It had happened to other families, those who had resisted the new regime, failed to pay their taxes, refused to allow their daughters to go to the choosing ceremonies, or committed any one of dozens of crimes whose numbers seemed to grow by the day.
“For the family, Lydia,” he reminded her. “For the family.”
“But… Father…” A small tear began to form in the corner of her left eye and her lower lip quivered just the slightest amount.
“Really, Lydia,” her father sighed. “Must you persist with these unseemly displays of emotion? What is will be and that is that. You should be grateful that you are able to make a sacrifice for the family.”
“I am grateful, Father,” Lydia said. “I am sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Of course I will present myself for the choosing.”
Having received no support from her father whatsoever, Lydia retreated to her bedroom to compose herself. She dabbed a tissue at her eye to collect the stray tear and looked at herself in the mirror.
“Stiff upper lip, Lydia,” she lectured herself. “We do not cry in this family.”
The words were coming from her mouth, but they belonged to her father. She knew very well what was expected of her, and she knew that she would receive no support if she decided to disobey the summons. Some girls had run away upon receiving theirs. Some had made it off-planet. Others had been caught along the way. Nobody knew quite what happened to the young women who were caught in the act of escape. Some said they were imprisoned beneath the palace, kept as servants and slaves. A shiver went through Lydia at the thought of being forced to do manual labor—or worse.
She picked up a gold-backed hairbrush and began worrying at her dark curls, which did nothing but make them frizz. Sighing, she put the brush down and just looked at herself. She was no longer a teenager, she had been a young woman for quite some time, and yet she did not feel prepared for this next stage in her life. Probably if the new regime had not taken over, Father would have had her marry some cabinet minister’s son, but that would have been quite a different affair from being taken before the new officials who had no fondness for the aristocracy.
If she had allowed herself to express her fear, she would no doubt have dissolved into tears. Instead she reached for her powder and her lipstick and began making her face up. She was naturally pretty; her mother had been quite a beauty in her day, so her wide blue eyes were brought out to advantage with dark mascara and liner applied amply in a way her father certainly would not approve of. Her lips she made vibrant and ruby red, a bow-shaped kiss in the middle of a heart-shaped face.
As she applied her cosmetic mask, a light tinkling sound heralded a call. Lydia tapped at a button on the side of her dressing table and her friend Esme Flawksley’s face appeared on the screen inside the mirror. Esme was twenty-five and still single, though somehow she had avoided being called to the choosing. Esme’s father had served with Lydia’s in the old government and the two women had known one another most of their lives.
“Lydia,” she said in hushed tones. “I heard you received a summons. Is it true?”
“It is true,” Lydia said, trying her best to remain stoic under a great deal of facial powder.
“Oh, you poor dear, I’m so sorry,” Esme said, clasping her hands to her face. “I have heard such terrible things as to what happens to the women they take.”
“We all have, Esme,” Lydia said, lowering her head ostensibly to begin the task of dabbing polish on her nails, but also to hide the tears that sprang unbidden to her eyes.
“Are you going to submit to the summons?”
“Father says I have no choice,” Lydia sighed. “If I do not go, they will lose everything. I must sacrifice myself for the greater good, and not be an ungrateful child.”
“My father said he would die before he let them take me,” Esme said with no small measure of smugness. “He said he would never let them take me alive.”
“How lovely for you,” Lydia said, deadpan. “Would we all have fathers who were once heads of security forces who now hide away in walled gardens much the same as everyone else.”
Esme’s smile grew bitter. “I hope they don’t marry you off to some lowly cadet,” she said in faux sweet tones. “I hope you don’t have to live in those ghastly barracks like some of the other girls.”
Esme and Lydia’s relationship had always been fraught with tension. A mixture of rivalry and mutual affection was a strange one to navigate at times. At that moment, Lydia rather wished she could push Esme into a vat of something unpleasant. Instead, she hit the little button again and disconnected the call.
Her own face replaced Esme’s in the mirror, a much more pleasant visage.
“Don’t listen to her,” Lydia lectured herself. “She is a troublemaker and a stirrer and a nasty little nuisance. They probably haven’t summoned her because she looks like the back end of a pig.”
It was all very frustrating, so much so that Lydia decided to treat herself to another cigarette. She pulled out a slim metallic cylinder, put it to her lips, and inhaled. Immediately a soothing warm breeze of relaxation and calm flowed through her body. Originally, cigarettes had been made with the leaves of plants, but these cigarettes, though they carried the same name, performed quite a different function. Physicians called them mood-stabilizing hallucinogenic compounds. Lydia and her friends simply thought of them as a good time. A few puffs took her cares and fears away and left her ready to lie on her bed and watch the moving pictures on the wall screen and do very little else at all.
She tapped her commands into the interface next to her bed and images of dolphins playing through sea foam filled the room, submerging her in an alternative reality much preferable to her own. Made up like a princess, Lydia laid back on her bed, closed her eyes, and hoped fervently for the best.