Maia North, thirty-three years old and already Silicon Valley’s leading expert on cryptoviral nanosecurity, as well as the too-sunny (for Maia’s taste) locale’s newest trillionaire thanks to the ubiquity of her company’s software, looked at her board of directors and tried to keep her disdain in check, or at least off her face. She knew she did a lousy job of hiding her emotions in general, and she had the most trouble with any feeling expressive of her practically innate sense of the superiority that had put her at the head of this table, and her directors seated to either side.
“Miss North,” Gordon Ernkat was saying, “we all know that you can do as you like in this matter, as in every matter that concerns this company.”
Miss North. Maia had the momentary fantasy of reaching across the table and slapping the middle-aged financier. That made the heat come into her cheeks, because of course the brief mental picture meant her seeing herself through Ernkat’s eyes: Miss North. Lovely, red-haired, green-eyed, small-chested, feisty handful of a tech CEO who should have handed the reins over two years ago.
Girl in need of restraint by wiser minds.
“Yes, Mr. Ernkat, I can,” Maia replied. “We’re not going to let anyone else scrape our metadata. Ever.”
On the other side of the table, Jacqueline Hart, the college friend who had been Maia’s first business partner, sighed. “Maia…”
Maia turned on Jacqueline, and now she didn’t care whether her disdain—or her fury—showed plainly in her face. That’s the problem, isn’t it? If I actually cared, I could probably appear like I don’t know that I’m ten times smarter than everyone I work with.
“Don’t, Jackie,” Maia said coldly. She took a deep breath and surveyed the four of them: Ernkat, Jackie, Henry Lucas, their first engineer hire, paid in stock, and Sanjit Patel, their first investor. Together, the owners of forty-nine percent of Confidelia Corporation. After a torrid (for geeks) affair, Henry belonged body and soul to Jackie, though Jackie had moved on to other lovers now. Sanjit, unlike Ernkat, didn’t seem to have cartoonish dollar signs flashing in his eyes every time he expressed an opinion, but he had made it gratifyingly clear to Maia and Jackie from the beginning that he expected at least a one hundred percent return on his ten million dollars, and would do everything necessary to get it.
They all thought the idea of selling fully anonymized metadata to third-party marketers for, well, just call it a bajillion dollars, a promising one.
Henry spoke, after glancing at Jackie and receiving an almost pleading go-ahead. “Maia, you know there’s nothing harmful to our users about this.”
“And the corporate laws,” Ernkat piled on, “make it clear that the users have no standing to bring legal action in this regard anyway. Their data belongs to us these days. We don’t even have to anonymize it.”
That sent a chill down Maia’s spine. Those fucking corporate laws, and their siren song of ethical irresponsibility. She found herself glancing out the window of the corner boardroom, where in the distance she could see another roof-gardened eco-friendly building just like Confidelia’s, but with the name SELECTA blazoned in red across its upper cornice, or whatever you called the overhang from a roof garden.
Don’t let your mind wander, she thought furiously. Just because you made this decision ten minutes ago doesn’t mean you don’t have to persuade them you’re right.
But of course to think about Selecta and the corporate laws didn’t really represent a straying of her thoughts, even if focusing on the roof garden wouldn’t help. Selecta wanted Maia’s metadata, and though Ernkat had left it unsaid, Selecta had the government in its back pocket—had practically written the corporate laws themselves.
Including the provision for the seizure of data through eminent domain. If Selecta could persuade an intelligence agency that Confidelia’s metadata represented a vital national security resource, the payment the government would give would be measured in the millions, if Maia were lucky. Not even the billions, let alone the bajillions.
She looked at Sanjit, and to her relief saw in his face a willingness to back her hardline position. He spoke slowly, looking at Ernkat, Jackie, and Henry in turn. “You’re discounting the possibility that Confidelia will lose market share if it becomes known that we’re selling this data.”
Ernkat scoffed, “Not only will no one know, Sanjit, but how can a company with a patent like Confidelia’s lose market share? We don’t have competition. Every new networked computer has to install our widget before it can talk to the net.”
Maia again struggled to keep the disdain—no, now it’s positive contempt, she thought grimly—from her features, knowing nevertheless that Jackie at least could read it clearly and that it would do nothing to improve relations with her recently distant friend. Why had Sanjit felt the need to make any argument other than Maia says so? She knew the thought for the stupid, unreasonable, self-centered idiocy it was—knew it even though being aware of her mistake there made it clear that she was probably also wrong about selling the metadata. She couldn’t push it back, though, or the wounded feeling that started to rise, with the prickle in her nose presaging tears. She needed to end this meeting. She needed to shut the door of her office and close her blinds, and get out her encrypted laptop and relax the only way that really worked for her these days.
“Look,” Maia said, letting her anger come to the fore as a way of closing up the hurt feelings she would never show to her board. “I will take this under advisement.”
“Miss North…” Ernkat began again.
Goddammit, Maia thought. And then, But he doesn’t know what that does to you, does he? Not that you could ever tell him, or anyone.
“Yes, Mr. Ernkat?” she asked, her anger, she knew, fully audible. She didn’t care, now, though—as long as she didn’t cry, and create some terrible scene later with Jackie where her friend awkwardly tried to comfort her while at the same time attempting to persuade her to step down as CEO.
“You’re brilliant. We all know that. We all know that even though we’re smart, too, you’re—I don’t know—twice as smart as we are.”
Put together, Maia thought, though she instantly felt guilty. The bitter side of arrogance, where you kept and stoked a generalized resentment of the world for not honoring your specialness, had never really been a part of her character, and she didn’t want it to become one, though current circumstances threatened that resolve.
“Your point?” she asked icily.
“My point is that you know as well as the rest of us—probably better than the rest of us, because you’re so goddamned smart—that the time to make this deal, rather than having Selecta just use the government to take our data for security reasons, real or trumped up, is running out.”
“I will take it under advisement,” Maia said. She looked at Jackie. “Do I hear a motion to adjourn?”
Jackie gave her a sour look back, which really represented a more favorable expression than Maia had expected. Her friend’s twisted mouth harked back to college days over cafeteria food and later drinks, talking about boys. Suddenly an ache, a very old ache, seemed to explode into Maia’s chest, and she almost lost it.
“So moved,” Jackie said, frowning a little, as if she could feel Maia’s pain telepathically, though Maia felt sure she had kept her face frozen so as not to sob.
“Second,” said Henry, of course.
“All in favor, say aye,” Maia said triumphantly, looking directly at Ernkat, who gave her an unexpectedly appraising look back that she didn’t like at all. A fear stabbed through her that the financier might know something, something troublesome, though what it might be eluded Maia entirely.
When Maia turned on New Modesty Blue, a girl named Catherine was getting a naked spanking over her master’s knee. Maia looked at the locked soundproof door, the closed blinds, the sight of the little cherry-red bottom and the sound of Catherine’s sobbing causing a panic to rise in her chest. She was always so careful, and her office was swept for surveillance devices every morning, but the fear she told herself was mostly irrational persisted. What if this time someone could hear the smack of the big hand on the young bottom, or the crying of the girl being punished? What if a crack in the blinds let a camera in a drone see little Catherine pay the price for—Maia glanced down at the chyron—yes, playing with herself: in the bathtub, the caption said.
“This doesn’t feel as nice, does it, Catherine?” her master, a big bear of a man in a business suit said as he spanked her over and over. “I can’t believe you thought you could get away with touching your pussy, or that you have so little respect for your rules.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Catherine wailed. Maia could see her pussy, peeping out between her legs, still wet it seemed as much from the girl’s illicit arousal as from the bathwater out of which her master had hauled her. It made Maia feel faint, just as the sight of a girl’s bare, waxed vulva always did after denying herself NMB for a few days out of her crushing shame about watching it. The masters on NMB always kept their girls’ pussies bare, so that they could see everything a man liked to see.
The slit Maia touched now, having tugged down her jeans just to her knees so that she could start doing the thing that always got NMB girls spanked, or whipped with their masters’ belts, or even sometimes caned, had her red curls still on it. If a man… if Gordon Ernkat… if someone…
No. I wouldn’t. It’s sexist. I wouldn’t let him, even if…
Not Gordon Ernkat. Not ever.
On the screen, Catherine had gone limp over her master’s lap. They were in Catherine’s room in her master’s enormous mansion. Mr. Stonehill rubbed Catherine’s little bottom tenderly now. Catherine whimpered.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Mr. Stonehill said. “But naughty girls who touch themselves in the tub need to learn their lesson. Your little cunny belongs to me. You know that, Catherine.”
Maia whimpered. She had tugged the gusset of her silky ivory panties with the little lace accents aside. She would be spanked, if her master found her, wouldn’t she, just like Catherine? She couldn’t bear it: her master would spank her so hard that Maia couldn’t sit down for a week, wouldn’t he? Then… then…
Maia gave a tiny cry as the thing that had to happen on the screen happened. Mr. Stonehill touched the little pussy, the little cunny as he always called it, somehow evoking from Maia both a giggle and a frisson of shameful arousal. Catherine moaned. Maia’s fingers moved faster and faster, her breath coming ragged from her throat as Mr. Stonehill readied his concubine for the cock he always used in Catherine’s mouth, Catherine’s pussy, even Catherine’s bottom, with such authority it always took Maia’s breath away.
She had watched Catherine’s Story almost from the beginning, six months ago, when the eighteen-year-old had found herself taken to the special training house where Mr. Stonehill had visited her for the first time, to take her virginity. NMB had been part of Maia’s life for three or four years, now, but with Confidelia beginning to slip out of her grasp and little Catherine seeming to embody Maia’s hidden needs so perfectly, Catherine’s Story—the little redhead’s defloration, her first blowjob, her first spanking for disobedience, her first anal sex with Mr. Stonehill—seemed to hold Maia spellbound.
Mr. Stonehill liked to fuck Catherine’s red bottom after a spanking, and today was no exception. He made her get him ready in her mouth first, and then he bent her over the foot of her bed so that the overhead camera could get a perfect shot of his cockhead pressing against the little pink flower of her anus as she whimpered in submission.
Maia’s fingers probed inward where she was still—most shamefully of all—a virgin. A virgin, unspanked, at thirty-three. As Mr. Stonehill began to fuck his girl’s red bottom, Maia spread her private wetness upward, made her clit slick, rubbed, and started to come.
“Catherine again?” Gordon Ernkat asked Kevin Logan over the secure phone he kept in his breast pocket at all times. It had vibrated only five minutes after the end of the board meeting, surely a record for Maia to start indulging herself with her encrypted laptop, her virginal pussy, and New Modesty Blue.
“Of course.” Gordon could hear in Kevin’s voice a half-hearted attempt to avoid sounding smug, and he couldn’t decide whether he appreciated the trying or resented the self-satisfaction more. Kevin hadn’t actually said I told you so about the creation of Catherine’s Story, but the fact remained that Gordon had scoffed at the idea that Maia could be so thoroughly captivated by a show designed around the Institute’s data on her submissive needs.
He should have known better, of course, having experienced for himself the joys to be found in the end result of Institute training. Though his concubine Heather Owens had left Gordon’s service two years before, to become an operative in the Order of Ostia, the memory of what a girl’s self-knowledge and her security in her submission, both fostered at the Institute, could do for the man who owned her would, he thought, never fade.
No, Gordon felt sure he would remember his three years with Heather just as vividly for the rest of his life—even if the extraordinary Maia North, and the newest tech trillionaire’s submissive needs, hadn’t occupied his thoughts so thoroughly these days, making him long for his erstwhile concubine’s adoring touch. As a high-level operative in the Pretorian Guard—the Heliodromus in charge of West Coast operations—Gordon got to see Heather from time to time, and to discipline and fuck her when occasion permitted, but it didn’t feel the same.
A Heliodromus should have a consort, and he had hoped that Heather Owens would want to serve him in that capacity, but the Guard had decided her skillset suited undercover work better than administration: Heather spent most of her time overseas these days, trying to crack the new European energy consortium from the inside. Truthfully, two years later, Gordon could see that they weren’t really suited as a long-term couple, with Heather’s maniacal love of extreme sports and Gordon’s maniacal love of crosswords. It didn’t make him miss her any less, nor stop memories of her submission from haunting him whenever he looked at Miss Maia North and thought about what the Guard needed from her.
They needed her, a fact that had proven and would almost certainly continue to prove, more troublesome than any recruitment and training procedure the Guard or the Institute had ever undertaken. For a multinational secret organization that served as a sort of shadow United Nations—one much more effective than the actual organization—the Pretorian Guard’s efforts to soften the effects of the inevitable global economic collapse relied in general on a very simple model: the honeypot.
Indeed, their honeypots were of the simplest and most classic type: a lovely, innocent-seeming young woman placed in the way of a dominant man. A brain-hack in the form of a yielding mouth, a pretty pussy, and a tight young bottom.
Submissive girls, many of them very similar to Maia North in their erotic needs, constituted the Guard’s stock-in-trade, brought into the Order of Ostia by the dozen through their partnership with the Institute. Now that the global tension over energy supply and transmission had begun to reach what the founder of the Guard had more than a hundred years before predicted as the second inflection point, the Guard had started to seed the upper echelons of corporate power throughout the world with concubines ready to help them guide international affairs to the softest possible landing.
The Institute’s hold upon several governments through its own corporate front, Selecta, not least in the person of the lovely young First Lady Erin Metz, made this process in general relatively simple. The ongoing progress of the New Modesty movement in most Western countries, with the accompanying renaissance of traditional gender roles, played its own key role as well: powerful men felt a good deal more comfortable these days showing off their demure, beautiful young companions in public.
Those who understood the other side of the New Modesty, and knew that the girls would probably go home that night and receive a masterful fucking and perhaps a belt-whipping as well for any sassiness they had shown, envied either the concubine or her master—or both. Critics of Selecta or the government received a full explanation of the consensual nature of the New Modesty, into which parents enrolled girls of eighteen and older, and girls of that age enrolled themselves.
With the advent of the New Modesty reality channel and its companion channel New Modesty Blue, the identification of men with whom to place Institute concubines trained especially for their desires became almost trivial. No one knew that Selecta controlled the channels, but all their subscriber data, decrypted and carefully guarded, lay at the Guard’s disposal.
Including, of course, Maia North’s.
Maia, who had patented a widget that would soon make it impossible for the Guard to surveille and if necessary to control the networked computers they had worked so hard to infiltrate. One of the greatest ironies of a situation that had many was that Maia’s encrypted laptop couldn’t, because of its outdated system architecture, run her security widget. If she had thought to get a new laptop, the Guard and the Institute wouldn’t have been able to see her watching Catherine’s Story.
“How was the meeting?” Kevin asked. “Is she still buying the Selecta line?”
“Yes,” Gordon answered. “Frankly I don’t think she even knows about the existence of GS.”
GS: the Groupe Synergistique—the European consortium of energy companies currently trying to identify and to root out the Guard. Trying to figure out what Maia did and didn’t know of the secret world within which the Guard and the Groupe fought their battle tended to be a maddening experience, since some of her devices were now invisible to Selecta and thus to the Guard.
As of a month ago, Maia had begun to look as deeply as any ordinary citizen could into the workings of Selecta’s government liaisons. The Guard had placed Gordon on Confidelia’s board through a massive infusion of cash six months prior to the rest of the world, including the Groupe, learning about the new security standard created by Maia’s widget and the Confidelia patent on it. A crucial period in which the widget hadn’t yet rolled out ensued, and in that time the Groupe had, according to the Guard’s sources inside the secret consortium, become aware of the threat posed to it by the new standard: even more reliant than the Guard on information gathered from remotely hacked devices, the Europeans would be effectively blind as they tried to manipulate the energy markets. They would be unable to preserve their profits in the face of the Guard’s efforts to redistribute supply and consumption.
If the Guard could get control of Confidelia. If not, both organizations would fail, and the second inflection point, when first supply and then demand would crash, might well turn into the complete collapse feared by the Guard, with all the attendant violence and suffering. Rather than the painful but survivable attenuation of civilization to a few vital communities, which constituted the Guard’s hope for the outcome of the collapse if it should occur in a hundred years’ time, a collapse at the second inflection point would mean at best a dark age of several thousand years and at worst a nuclear conflict and the possible extinction of the human species.
All because of genius software engineer and trillionaire Maia North, currently masturbating frantically to the sight, on her ‘special’ laptop, of a girl having her ass fucked in her adorable, demure, pink-furnished bedroom.
Genius, submissive, beautiful Miss North, light of my life, Gordon thought ruefully. Then, Light of my life: where the fuck did that come from?
As he always did when he thought of her engaged in her self-pleasuring pursuits, and his cock seemed to rise in sympathy, he told himself firmly, I’m not in love, though. She needs a good spanking for a great many reasons, and it seems that soon I’ll get to give it to her. That will be all, and after I’m done on the Confidelia assignment I’ll start looking for a consort in the Order.
“Alright,” Kevin said, “is everything go from your end?”
For a moment Gordon didn’t think he’d heard correctly. “Today?” he asked.
“New York thinks we can’t delay. I know it’s not ideal, but given the meeting today and the way Maia went straight to NMB, it may be the best opportunity we get in the next few weeks. Can you make it happen on your end?”
Gordon’s heartrate had gone up, but his Guard training took over. “Absolutely. You’ve got the cameras in the garage?”
“Yes. We’re ready to substitute old footage as soon as you start the operation.”
“Miss North,” Gordon said, watching her approach from the elevator to this exclusive executive section of the office park’s garage. He stood next to her adorable red electric sports car.
“Mr. Ernkat?” Maia said, frowning. Gordon could read in her eyes the relaxation and the slight disorientation attendant on an extended session of self-pleasure. “I’m headed home…”
To play with yourself more in the tub, yes, Maia, he thought, unable to keep the smile from dancing across his lips at the thought of what would befall her tonight instead. Your pleasure is going to belong to me, Miss North, at least for the next few days—until we can get the matter of the metadata settled.
“Can I do something for you?” She looked up at him curiously, the brightness of her intelligence and her basic good nature shining up now that she had encountered him outside the boardroom.
“Yes, Miss North,” Gordon said. “You certainly can. I’ll be driving you home tonight. Please give me your keys.”
The intelligence in her eyes turned swiftly scornful as she jumped to the conclusion that he had either lost his mind or was engaged in a ham-handed pickup attempt.
“What the fuck are you talking about, Gordon?” she asked. “If you need to say something about the metadata matter, shoot me an email. And no one drives my car but me.”
She hadn’t even looked around to see whether anyone might be nearby to help, so confident was Maia North about the way things worked—perhaps above all, about the way Gordon Ernkat worked.
They were standing next to the broad cherry-red hood of the roadster now. Maia had backed in, of course, so that she could save time and effort at the start of her trip home, as well as having the wonderful sensation—Gordon could confess to himself especially since he would soon be the one to experience it—of peeling out in a garage in a vehicle whose acceleration seemed to make time flow backward.
“Last chance, Maia,” he said in a slow, meaningful tone, looking her straight in her lovely green eyes. The billow of dark red hair around her face made her look to him like a fairy princess even in her jeans.
Her about-to-come-down jeans.
For the first time in the year he’d known her, he saw uncertainty in Maia North’s eyes. Only a flash of it, but now she did look around, her eyes fixing on the security camera nearly directly overhead.
“We’ve hacked the cameras,” Gordon said quietly. “No one is going to see me spank you over the hood of your car.”
Maia’s eyes went wide, and her lips parted. She took a gasping breath, and her fists suddenly clenched. The extensive security measures with which she surrounded herself had prevented the Institute from placing any of its usual sensors on her body or in her work and living spaces, but Gordon felt sure her arousal had just shot up several integers.
“What?” she breathed. Then, her face shaking side to side as if she both tried to understand and tried to deny, she hissed, “We?”