Island - New Arrivals

by Jack Peacock

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© Placed in public domain by author - Jack Peacock

Storycodes: M+/f+; slave; training; collar; cuffs; bond; chain; prison; strip; sex; naked; cons; XX

New Arrivals

Prologue

Isla Del Sur, known simply as the Island to its inhabitants, was first discovered in the 16th century when a Portuguese merchant ship bound for Japan went off course after rounding the African Cape. Lost in the Indian Ocean, the ship stumbled across the uninhabited island group. The captain marked it on a chart, refreshed his supplies of food and water, and headed due west, eventually finding the African coast, where he continued on his way. Upon his return to Portugal the chart of the new discovery was forwarded to the Royal Archives and became one more state secret. It was lost until the 19th century when a minor clerk checking historical records discovered the well-preserved chart with the hand-written notes detailing how the islands were found. He immediately recognized the worth in what he had found and sold the secret to an English businessman, one of the many who came to Portugal each year to buy port wine.

The islands had no obvious value. The archipelago was too far away from any shipping lanes to be of use. There were no natural resources to exploit, and the location had no strategic or military significance. What it did offer was isolation. The largest island, Isla Del Sur or South Island, had enough land and fresh water to support a colony. The businessman knew of many dissident groups looking for some remote area to colonize and escape repression in modern Victorian society. He had bought the location purely on speculation and did manage a modest profit when he sold it to the founder of the League to Preserve Tradition, one of the many idealistic, utopian societies that were common in Victorian times.

The League was a loose organization of people who had not prospered from the Industrial Revolution. They managed to raise enough money to buy a ship and set sail for their new homeland. Like many great social experiments of that era, the hoped for agrarian utopia fell victim to a combination of poor planning, infighting and homesickness which resulted in the abandonment of the site after only a few years. Isla Del Sur was uninhabited for nearly a century until rediscovered by one of the ancestors of the original League members, when going through papers inherited from an estate. This man was also a misfit of sorts, but he had the resources and contacts to make better use of the Island.

And so began the modern history of the Island, when a freighter arrived with the first of a brand new set of colonists. But these were no ordinary people. As with the League so many years ago, they were unhappy with the way modern society was evolving and looked for a place of their own, where they could escape to a more traditional way of living.

Over the course of years a small town was built up, along with homes scattered across the larger islands in the archipelago. The backers were men of power and influence who had access to resources to build a modern infrastructure including electricity, water, roads, communications, and commerce. The Island became a vacation and retirement community for them, a place where they dictated the law of the land, with no outside interference.

The closed society that grew from their efforts appeared to be a small slice of modern life to the untrained eye, but there were some crucial differences. The founders were powerful kings of commerce, men who chose to lead rather than follow, men who desired and sought out a certain kind of woman, one willingly submissive to their authority. As the outside world evolved to erase gender-based roles, the Island moved in the opposite direction, striving to preserve the sharply delineated positions of man and woman in society.

With the advent of satellite mapping the existence of the Island could no longer be kept secret. The leaders recognized that without some form of national sovereignty they could not prevent a land grab by any nation with even a modest navy. Isla Del Sur could not remain independent, nor could its unique culture be maintained as a territory of any major world power. But the inhabitants wielded immense economic power and used that influence to develop alternatives. After some internal debate the community sought out and eventually became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There were no troops, no military bases, and no naval warships to protect the Island. Instead there was the much more powerful threat of an oil embargo against any belligerent power. And behind that the indirect threat of intervention by Saudi allies. The future of the Island culture was secure, and the Saudi kingdom benefited from the goodwill of some very powerful newfound friends. Technically Isla Del Sur operated under the Saudi legal system, but this presented no problem to the inhabitants. A few even joked about how it was too liberal.

The island group does not appear on maps or atlases. There are no encyclopedia entries, tourists are not welcome, and the inhabitants do their best to ensure no publicity about their life appears in the outside world. Media stories are quietly killed with a few words between friends, or in extreme cases by pressure on stock prices. Visitors are few and by invitation only. The only way to get to the Island is by sea, and the small numbers of ships that sail there are owned by the residents. It is closed to outsiders and free of the need to answer to world public opinion.

Best for All Concerned

“I’m sure you understand the hospital’s position, Ms. Driesler.” The Human Resources supervisor was a typical corporate drone, formally polite and wholly insincere. “While the medical review board did not explicitly blame you for the tragic mistake, nevertheless you were not cleared of wrongdoing. The attempt to shift responsibility to the surgeon did not reflect well on your own credibility. Dr. Gallatin has been with us for over a decade and has an outstanding reputation in the medical community. To suggest he would show up intoxicated for major surgery is absurd.”

Elise knew what was coming. Not for the first time the good Doctor Gallatin had shown up drunk and everyone knew it. And no one would admit to it or the hospital would be liable for who knew how many botched operations. Easier to sack her, leak her name to the press and preserve the status quo. Dr. Gallatin would be quietly transferred to teaching and kept far away from treating patients in the future. Meanwhile Elise Driesler, R.N., would take the blame for permanently crippling a child

“I regret to inform you that the hospital trustees have decided to terminate your employment contract, effective immediately. We believe it is the best course for all concerned. Under the circumstances we cannot provide references. I’m sure you understand.”

Elise understood all too well. She had been devoted to Tom Gallatin, right up to minute when he had turned on her at the board meeting. She had followed his instructions on what to say when she testified; words he had twisted to cover up his own mistakes. His reassuring whispers in bed the night before had proven to be nothing more than empty words. In hindsight the manipulation was obvious.

The woman across the desk from Elise rambled on about severance pay and insurance. Elise tuned it out; nothing mattered now. Her career was ruined. No hospital in the country would hire her after the publicity. She could have lived with it all if only Tom had supported her. But no, he had betrayed her to save himself. The one person in the world she counted on had thrown her to the wolves to save his precious career. No one seemed to understand she would do anything for Tom, no matter what he asked. Even Tom didn’t appear to appreciate what he meant to her.

“Ms. Driesler?”

Elise turned her attention back to the personnel exit interviewer. A nice euphemism for the hatchet man, Elise thought to herself. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

The woman put down the forms in her hands and stared hard at Elise. “Look, I’m going to be honest for a minute. I could lose my job over this but you’re getting a raw deal and everyone knows it.”

Surprised at the woman’s blunt honesty Elise shifted in her chair and gave her full attention.

“Gallatin will never touch a scalpel again. The board was a whitewash; off the record the rest of the team made it clear he was drunk. There’s no justice in you catching the heat for this,” the woman shook her head in disgust, “but we don’t always live in a fair and just world.

“I can read between the lines here, Elise. You trusted him, and in return he set you up. I’m sorry I can’t do anything about it, but if you’ll allow me I would like to put you in contact with someone who understands what happened to you, and why.”

She slid a card across the desk. Curious, Elise picked it up. The front had a man’s name, Clancy Yates, a title of Director of the Facility, and an e-mail address. There was no phone number or street address, not even a city. “Facility? What kind of facility?”

“I can’t give you any details. Now you have no reason to trust me, but I think it would be worth your time to see if Mr. Yates can offer you some options. Look, I happen to know this man. He’s helped me in the past. There’s no connection to the hospital; it’s just something I want to do to help make the best of a bad situation.”

Elise slipped the card into her purse. Why not, she told herself, it’s not like I’m going to be doing much in the future.

For The Good of the Cause

Sitting in her New York City apartment Luisa Calvaho read the letter again. More than six months of research and investigation had gone by, hitting dead ends again and again but now she was on to something. The letter itself was innocuous, merely a confirmation of her application followed by the travel details. Not like they’d put anything vaguely incriminating in print anyway, she thought. The letter also represented a moment of truth for Luisa. Could she go through with it, knowing the risks? If they found out who she really was, and what she was trying to do, they would simply make her disappear. If they were powerful enough to suppress all evidence of their existence then eliminating a nuisance like her should be trivial.

They weren’t quite as thorough as they would like to believe. It had been pure coincidence she had unearthed a journal from the old British League to Preserve Tradition. It had been an unpublished manuscript donated by the estate of the great-grandson of one of the original members. The university she had been attending had accepted the document as part of a collection of papers. Papers apparently left unread until one Saturday afternoon she had checked it out and leafed through the pages while researching some other references to the donor. The author had been barely literate, one good reason it had never been published. It told of the founding of the colony on an Indian Ocean island, the initial success and the fast transition to disaster when the missionary zeal wore off, to the last days when the colony had been abandoned. Luisa had been intrigued by the story and was curious as to the name of the island and its status now.

To her amazement a check of the atlas showed no such place as Isla Del Sur. Where the colony ship supposedly landed showed only an empty section of the Indian Ocean on modern maps. Drawing ever-widening circles around its charted location she found the nearest possible island was Kerguellen, an uninhabitable volcanic rock described as hell on earth by the French research teams who rarely visited. That couldn’t be the spot. It was more than a thousand miles from her starting point, much further south, an arctic climate, and it didn’t match the description from the journal.

Equipped with research skills as part of her new journalism degree, she went looking. An initial search online yielded no links on the Internet anywhere, not to the Island or the League. She shifted to hardcopy library research, and again came up empty-handed. She even enlisted the help of a Brazilian relative to translate a letter and sent it to the Portuguese National Archives. They had no records of any charts showing a place named Isla Del Sur.

In frustration she began posting requests for any information about the Island or League on Internet news groups. After a few weeks those posts started to disappear. The mystery deepened when she did receive enigmatic replies to her requests. Most of them suggested it would be best if she stopped her quest and moved on to other areas of interest. But one day that fateful e-mail had appeared in her inbox. Phony headers and routing through an anonymous re-mailer had left it untraceable. The contents were so amazing she had read it, over and over again, all night long.

Isla Del Sur did exist, the message claimed, but it was kept deliberately concealed by powerful and influential interests with ties across the globe. The reason for it being hidden was the nature of the society there; a place where women were literally enslaved, kept as property by their male owners, stripped of dignity and all human rights. The e-mail went on to make sickening claims of cruelty and depravity, all shielded by the isolation of the Island. The descriptions made Afghanistan under Taliban rule sound like a feminist paradise in comparison. Luisa was shocked to her core. If the claims were true someone had to expose this inhuman travesty to the world, someone like herself.

The next evening a second e-mail arrived from the same anonymous source. This one claimed to hold all the details of what the unnamed author knew of the Islands, including possible links to known companies and hints that a recruitment program existed. Luisa began to run down the new clues but as the time added up she realized she needed help. She had to find a sponsor to fund her research.

After graduation from college she had made a living by freelancing, doing research and writing magazine articles. She approached several of her previous employers, but all declined without comment. She met the same resistance when she went to other magazines, until one of the smaller lifestyle magazines indicated interest. Their willingness to help had surprised her given the strong conservative tone of their articles, but she had no other options.

A week later she met with the magazine’s editor. His terms were simple; they would fund her investigative work in return for an exclusive. He expressed some doubts about the farfetched claims but was willing to take a risk. The money was disappointing compared to other work she had done but critical to her effort was the expense account and the magazine seemed to be lavish in that respect. With no other prospects she had little choice but to reluctantly accept.

All her trails turned cold, except for the list of international companies from her Internet source. Every single one had a squeaky clean record, both in business and in how their personnel were treated. None stood out in any way except for one, a civil engineering contractor based in Saudi Arabia. They appeared to thrive on contracts in areas of the world no one else would dare go. Pipelines in western Asia, transmission lines in equatorial Africa, mining in the Andes, even a power plant in the heart of riot-torn Myanmar. Yet never a single story of any of their engineers or managers being kidnapped or killed. Luisa’s reporter instinct told her something was missing from the skimpy news articles.

She looked into the company’s published records. It was listed as being privately held by a group of Saudi investors, capitalized by oil money. The home office was the address of a building in Riyadh. The company claimed modest profits and reported a pattern of unremarkable but steady growth. Low key and low profile seemed to be its charter. The high-risk projects were ones the established corporations would avoid, leaving this company an economic niche with little in the way of competition.

Out of curiosity, and to satisfy a nagging doubt about the references to a recruitment program from that e-mail, she wrote to the company to ask about a job as a technical writer, using a fictitious name and her post office box. The response arrived in the form of a large envelope addressed in both Arabic and English; Saudi postage stamps and an Arabic postmark confirmed its origins.

The cover letter informed her that indeed the company did have openings for technical writers to help provide customer documentation for ongoing projects. A pamphlet in the envelope showed company locations around the world, though there were none in North America, Australia or Europe. Buried in the text around the glossy pictures was a note that the company operated facilities in the Maldives Islands, and that the employee training center was located on a private island in the archipelago.

That caught her eye. Luisa had a vague idea that the Maldives were not in the Pacific Ocean. A quick check of the map showed they were in the Indian Ocean spread along the equator, with the closest countries being India and Sri Lanka. Her suspicions rose; it was too much of a coincidence. The Maldives even had a link back to Portuguese exploration five hundred years ago, followed by a British presence from the 1800s. The location didn’t fit too well with the League manuscript, but that could be explained by the poor education of the original author. Everything else did fit. Luisa was convinced her elusive Isla Del Sur had to be one of the numerous islands in the Maldives chain.

She gathered up all her information, wrote a summary, a proposal for further investigation, and then took it to her editor. She knew she had to sell him before she could take the next step. Over lunch he went through her summary point by point, bringing up other interpretations to her facts, but to Luisa’s surprise he agreed it looked like a good story. Since he seemed interested she pitched her proposal next.

“You sure about this?” he asked. “Do you realize how dangerous it could be? A foreign country, you could be cut off from any kind of help. Don’t kid yourself about the glamour of undercover reporting. You may see the success stories in the big newspapers and on TV, but sometimes it goes terribly wrong. You don’t know what kind of people you might be dealing with.” For nearly half an hour he lectured her on everything that could possibly go awry.

Luisa wasn’t swayed from her purpose. “I think I’ll be safe. If it looks like they are getting suspicious then I’ll hop on the next plane out of the country. I checked; the Maldives are a major Asian tourist area with regular schedules. Just be ready to help me escape if I need it, that’s all I ask.

“Look, it’s all set up. I can’t pass up a chance like this. Who knows how many women are off on some island suffering under conditions we can’t even imagine. I spent four years in college reading about places like this. Women and minorities brutally exploited and repressed. I can’t sit back and knowingly let it continue. We have to stop it!”

Her editor held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, you win. Maybe this will be Pulitzer material, but even if it isn’t it’ll grab the public’s attention. Now about this false identity, I think the magazine can provide some assistance there. A few years back we did a feature on fake passports and birth certificates. Some of our sources were shut down, but I know of one that can help. That part doesn’t go into your story, by the way. And my cousin runs a website company; she can provide you with work references. I may be able to get you set up with some school records too. Fortunately you are young enough not to need a long work history. This won’t hold up under close scrutiny but it should pass for a simple background check.

“One thing though. A whole lotta years ago I worked for a big city newspaper. We had a wannabe investigative reporter decide he’d go undercover and break up a ring of exotic animal smugglers. He did everything right, fake ID, good solid references to back up his story, but he did something incredibly stupid. He told his girlfriend what he was planning. She talked about it over lunch with a friend of hers. That friend told her sister. Someone overheard her. The reporter was badly beaten and nearly dead when they dumped him in the street right in front of our offices. He quit and went to work selling car parts.

“Whatever you do, don’t give anyone even a hint as to what’s happening. If you want you can keep addressed letters with a delivery date in our office safe, but for your own sake don’t leave a word about it anywhere else. I wouldn’t want you on my conscience.”

Luisa hadn’t even thought about it. She had been so focused on finding the Island, and now the investigative work, that she hadn’t given any real consideration to her own safety. The letters sounded like a good idea, she could leave one for her aunt. They weren’t close but she was the only relative who kept in occasional touch. There were no real friends so explanations for her coming disappearance weren’t required. “Alright, I’d like to leave one envelope with you, though I’m not worried. Get the identity set up. I’ll send in the application.”

That had been four weeks ago. Today the employment offer had come for one Lois Vallardo, unemployed web site designer in New York City, complete with salary offer and travel plans if she chose to accept. The salary amount seemed absurdly low at first, except the letter pointed out that room and board would be provided at company expense, as well as any travel. Plus under reciprocal tax treaties there would be no income tax taken out of her pay. Factoring in the low cost of living it looked very competitive. Luisa had a fleeting thought that if this didn’t work out she could just keep the job. In terms of take home pay the total amount was better than freelance rates.

She sent back a letter accepting the offer along with an open start date. A week later a courier delivered plane tickets with an envelope. Inside the envelope was a letter with her schedule and an advance for miscellaneous expenses. The tickets proved to be a surprise; New York to Madrid, across Africa to Victoria in the Seychelles, and finally the city of Male in the Maldives. The letter warned her to expect a tropical climate.

The letter also made a point that the Maldives were an Islamic country, though a liberal one tolerant of tourists from the West. She was advised to not bring alcohol or non-prescription drugs into the country, to dress conservatively, and that it would be considered polite to wear a scarf on her head. The first hints of oppression, Luisa thought, already telling me how to look and act. Still, it was a foreign country; she told herself she shouldn’t try to judge the culture by her own values.

Luisa made a copy of the letter and the tickets and mailed it to the magazine. From now on there would be no direct contact. For all intents she had become a different person, someone eager to start her job at a new company in a far off exotic land. She looked at the name on her passport, Lois Vallardo. That’s the only name she answered to now. There would be no more Luisa Calvaho until she returned. Her editor would be her lifeline, the only one in the whole world who knew her secret. And when she did come back, she would destroy the Island of the South, Isla Del Sur.

Personal Meeting

“Dr. Jaffe? Your 4 p.m. appointment is here.” The voice on the intercom was the office receptionist.

Ben Jaffe checked the clock on his desk, five minutes early. Isla Del Sur might be a sub-tropical island but the stereotype about ignoring the clock didn’t apply, something Ben appreciated. For the most part people were prompt for appointments.

He clicked on the intercom and answered the receptionist. “Thanks, Annie, I’ll be right out.” Checking his desk he picked up an open folder of patient records, closed it and put it in his out box. He was scrupulous about confidentiality but in this case it was more of an excuse to take a few seconds to compose his thoughts before greeting his caller. He was accustomed to being the consulting physician but not so comfortable when asking for help.

His visitor stood as Ben opened the door to the reception room. “Mr. Yates? Ben Jaffe,” he introduced himself while offering his hand.

“Clancy Yates, pleased to meet you, Dr. Jaffe. I hope I’m not taking you away from anything important?” The two men shook hands.

“Not at all, I’m off duty for now. Please come in.” Ben gestured for Mr. Yates to enter his office. “Have a seat.”

Sitting down Clancy began the conversation. “As I explained over the phone this meeting is a follow-up to your initial inquiry last week. I like to have a personal, face to face get together to clear up any misconceptions as to how the Facility operates. To start, why don’t you give me some idea of what you know about our service and what led you to call on us?”

Ben leaned back in his chair and regarded the man in front of him. The question was direct, even blunt. It deserved a similar response.

“I’ve been a resident of the Island for several years. I was recruited for the position of chief surgeon in our small hospital here to help fill the shortage of medical expertise. It’s an ongoing problem, as I’m sure you’re aware. I’m originally from Indiana, but I did my residency in Haifa, while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. You might say I’m someone who believes in the importance of principles and traditions. That’s what brought me here.” He paused to reach for the intercom. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Thanks no, but help yourself. You learned about the Facility after moving here?”

Ben decided to pass on a last cup of coffee. “Yes, as part of the overall history of the place, along with the other alternatives like the regular ownership program and the corporate apprenticeships. I looked at all the options before settling on the Facility. I must say you don’t seem to garner the same degree of respect as other programs.”

Clancy laughed. “As in we turn out brainwashed sex slaves?” He held up his hands as Ben started to protest. “I’ve heard it before. I think you’re an intelligent man, Dr. Jaffe. That’s not what you’d be looking for, would it now?”

Ben shook his head. “I outgrew adolescence some time ago. These days I’d prefer to find a lifetime partner, one who can tolerate my personality. That’s not such an easy task. From what I’ve read about the Facility, and there doesn’t seem to be much, your approach might be the solution to my problem.”

Clancy picked up on Ben’s last words. “Problem? How would you describe your problem?”

Ben smiled, that was an easy one to answer. “Modesty aside, I’m a very good doctor, Mr. Yates. As a military trauma surgeon in Israel, I’ve had more experience than anyone outside of an inner city American hospital. When someone comes in with a gunshot wound or shrapnel from a bomb every second counts. I save lives, but to do it I need to run the show. I depend on my team following my orders to the letter. I’m a dictator, to make it simple.

“And I like it that way. I’m not a tyrant. I listen to those who know more than I do. I respect the talents of the people who work for me. But I don’t apologize for who and what I am. There is a cost though. I tend to be the proverbial bull in the china shop outside the operating room. Between my lack of the social graces and my brusque reputation I have little opportunity to find a lady who might find me compatible.”

“That’s what brought you to the Island?” Clancy nodded in understanding.

“Exactly. I thought I’d find my peer group here. To some extent I have, at least in the sense that I’m not ostracized for political incorrectness. What has not worked out is finding the right someone. When I have a medical case I can’t figure out, I call in a specialist to consult. I’m not well equipped to solve this problem. I think you can help.”

In the seven years he had been the director for the Facility, Clancy Yates had learned from experience how to spot the pretenders and predators. In every case there were two factors he looked for: patience, or lack of it; and a willingness to speak plainly and honestly. He could tell Ben Jaffe didn’t try to hide behind some grand philosophical principle or overtly selfless dedication. Clancy could trust someone who was admittedly selfish to act in a predictable fashion; it was the self-proclaimed Good Samaritan who concealed his hidden motives that set off alarms.

“As you are aware Dr. Jaffe,” Clancy paused, the key question coming up, “the women who graduate from Facility training are what might be considered at the extreme end of the submissive spectrum, even by Island standards. For them no ordinary master will do. Tell me, why do you think you deserve to own one of these women?”

Ben leaned forward, resting his arms on the desktop. “Because I can do it, Mr. Yates,” he answered, never wavering as he looked Clancy straight in the eye. “I know where my own obligations lie. I’ve been around long enough to learn privilege is balanced by responsibility. I want the privilege; in return I’m willing to expend the effort to earn it.”

“Good intentions are admirable, Doctor, but we ask for something a bit more solid. To start, we require an extensive background investigation. We will find where you have your skeletons buried. There will be tough questions you will answer to my personal satisfaction. No lawyers, no legal proceedings, and no appeals. If we find inconsistencies or deliberate deception there will be no second chances. Do you have an issue with that?”

Nearly a third of the men withdrew once they found out their background would be scrutinized. Another third tried to bluff it through and hope the real dirt wouldn’t be uncovered. Clancy hired the best; no one had yet fooled his team. But he was sure Dr. Jaffe would be in that final one third. There might be something in his past, but he wouldn’t conceal it.

“No, no problem. I assume you would want the same basic information as a security clearance? As a starting point I can provide you with an updated version of the data I had to supply to the IDF, that’s the Israeli military. E-mail okay?”

“Thank you, Doctor, I’d appreciate it. The e-mail address is on my card. I can convert most any common file format. Naturally, we will have some additional questions.” Clancy was being polite. In fact he had already obtained an abbreviated copy of Dr. Jaffe’s records from his own sources in Jerusalem. Chances were he knew more of what was in those papers than the good doctor. Some of the commendations were handwritten, by names he recognized from their frequent appearance in history books and on the news.

“One last point, Doctor. You do understand we ask for a lengthy commitment. We have a special dispensation to bypass normal Island procedures. The ownership agreement we offer has no trial period, no cutoff date, and no restrictions. You will go directly to an unrestricted lifetime agreement. You will be the only one allowed to set the terms.” Clancy paused in order to emphasize his last comment. “And you should know, she will accept the agreement sight unseen. Just as she will be required to accept you.”

That was the one requirement that seemed to draw the most disapproval. Women graduated from the Facility by being chosen. They went directly into a lifetime ownership without an opportunity to refuse. The suitability of a man to be her master was determined solely by a committee at the Facility. Ben had thought no woman would willingly submit herself to those conditions but, to his surprise, found the Facility did not lack for applicants.

“So how does this work, Mr. Yates? You show me a book and I pick someone out?”

Clancy shook his head. He knew Ben’s question wasn’t serious. “You would be surprised, Doctor, at how many men think it’s just that easy. I don’t run a brothel service.

“How it works is like this. We get to know you, what kind of a man you are, how you think, what you expect from life, and what you seek in the special someone who will share that life with you. We want to be sure you will treat her right and take care of her properly. We know what she needs to be happy and content in her new life; it’s up to you to convince us you can fulfill those needs. If you don’t measure up then I’ll bid you good day and perhaps suggest an alternative.”

“Let’s say I do convince you, Mr. Yates.” Ben leaned forward. “And it’s you in particular, isn’t it? Does anyone pass without your own personal stamp of approval?”

Clancy nodded his head in agreement. “Very perceptive, Doctor. The answer is no. There are others involved in the process but the final word is mine. No potential master comes to the Facility, and no woman leaves, unless I’m satisfied. I put my own reputation on the line every single time, so you can understand I do the most thorough job I can.

“It may interest you to know my own wife is a graduate of the Facility. I don’t bother with the nonsense of being impartial or uninvolved. Every woman who comes through the gates of the Facility trusts me, me personally, to deliver what I’ve promised them. I represent their interests first, not yours, to be clear about it. I fight for what I believe in, Doctor, I do whatever it takes. I think that’s something you can understand.”

Ben studied the man sitting on the other side of the desk. This Clancy Yates had passion in his beliefs, confidence in his abilities, and no doubts as to the rightness of his cause. “Indeed I do understand, Mr. Director. On the Lebanese border I fought for what I believe in too. Today I fight to keep the people on the Island healthy and in good repair.” He showed a wry smile, one corner of his mouth upturned. “I too intend to do whatever it takes to find and keep that special someone, as you put it.”

The combination of name and Irish accent, and the man’s odd phrasing, suddenly struck home with Ben. “Out of curiosity, Mr. Yates, would you happen to be from Ireland?”

Clancy’s face went blank as he answered with a crisp, “Yes.”

“Would it be too personal to ask what part?” Ben was sure he knew who Clancy was, not specifically but what might have been in his past.

“I was born in ‘Derry, but I grew up on a farm in County Armagh. Right on the border with the Republic.”

Armagh, every bit as dangerous a place as the villages of southern Lebanon; Ben was certain now Clancy’s remark about fighting wasn’t some allegorical reference. During the so-called Troubles Armagh was so dangerous British troops couldn’t even use roads but had to fly in and out of bases by helicopter. Mr. Yates did indeed fight for his causes. From the expression on his face, Ben could tell it was a past he didn’t care to discuss.

“Enough about me, Dr. Jaffe. I’m here to find out about you. You seem to have definite ideas as to what you are looking for. Could you speak to some of them?”

Ben had expected the question and was well prepared with his answer. “As you might expect I come from a Jewish background. Orthodox family, though I can’t say I’m very observant. My ideal would be a woman who would be comfortable in the type of role described in what we call the halakha, Jewish law. Now she doesn’t have to be Jewish, but she should be at ease in that environment. We would have separate roles, hers primarily one of homemaker.

“And I’d have to add in one additional requirement. There’s a Hebrew word for it, tznius, essentially an internal attitude that affects the outer appearance. A modest dress and a pleasant manner, and I’d add appropriate obedience, should reflect her attitude. I don’t want someone who puts on a show; she must believe the life she is to lead is right and proper for her.”

 “Nothing unreasonable there, Doctor. I confess my knowledge of Judaism is limited, but I’ll see to it that omission is remedied by the time we next meet. In any case I think I understand what you’re seeking, and I believe the Facility can provide some excellent candidates for your consideration.”

Clancy stood up, ending the meeting. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Jaffe. I’ll be in touch in a few days with some additional details. And some questions.” The two men shook hands and Clancy turned to the door. Just before he opened it he turned back to the doctor. “You know Ben, I think we are not so very different. Just a first impression, but if I’m right, and I usually am,” both men laughed, “then you will find that special someone. I did, from the same source, and I’ve never had occasion to regret taking home my Siobhan.”

“Since we’re both accustomed to being right, let’s hope we never disagree on anything important. Thanks…Clancy.” Ben watched him leave.

Orientation

Elise waited in her stateroom while the other passengers left the ship. Just before docking the steward had brought a message from the captain, asking that she remain in her room until someone came to escort her ashore. The voyage from the Seychelles had been uneventful. The captain and crew had been polite but distant. The captain had personally taken the time to apologize for the conditions but explained it was required for those who were en route to the Facility.

From the porthole in her cabin she could see parts of the city nearest the port. She didn’t recognize any of the scenery, but that wasn’t a surprise. Elise knew little about this part of the world. She was sure it was an island, since they had been heading south and east into the Indian Ocean, but she had no idea of its location, or even the name of the place. All she did know is that the mysterious Facility was located somewhere nearby.

Not that she knew much about the Facility either, other than what she had been told in the letter. The moment she had come aboard the ship’s purser had taken her to see the captain. He had been very specific in telling her not to discuss the Facility with the other passengers, or to divulge anything about her own history. Elise still had an uneasy feeling that she was acting rashly, perhaps even risking her life. To abandon everything and everyone, and then travel halfway around the world sounded foolish at best. Every night she had gone over what she had done, but here she was anyway.

The one suitcase looked forlorn sitting by the door of her cabin. The contents represented all that was left of her past. The promise of the Facility was a brand new and radically different life; a chance to start over. The conditions they demanded should have scared her away immediately. Instead she had signed up, left her apartment in California, and sold or gave away virtually everything she owned.

No one knew she had taken the flight to Africa, or boarded the ship in the Seychelles to some unknown island. No one would miss her either. Whatever happened she would be on her own. After three months she missed her job at the hospital, but she knew that chapter in her life’s story was closed.

At the sound of a polite knock she jumped up and opened the cabin door. Standing in the corridor was the ship’s purser, with a crewman behind him. “Good afternoon, Ms. Driesler. Might I trouble you to accompany me ashore? There is a car waiting. This man will take your bag.” He picked up her suitcase and handed it to the crewman.

Elise grabbed her purse off the bed and stepped out into the hallway. “I have my passport here. Do we go through Customs first? I was told a visa wasn’t required.”

The officer, she remembered he had introduced himself as Ahmed, only one name, shook his head. “We have no real Customs here. You would not have been allowed on the ship unless you were expected. Your passport will not be necessary. The car at dockside will take you directly to the Facility. If you would follow me?” He spoke flawless English, but she could tell it was not his native language.

Having gone through several Customs gates as she flew across Europe and then on to Africa the prospect of avoiding surly bureaucrats pawing through her bag was a pleasant relief. Ahmed led her down through the interior of the ship to a large open hatch in the side where crewmen were unloading crates. They stopped to allow Elise and the officer to pass through the cargo hatch and go ashore. Ahmed pointed out a car parked nearby on the dock.

Once the driver caught sight of the approaching party he got out and walked to the rear of the car where he opened the trunk. The crewman trailing them put her luggage inside. The driver left the trunk lid up when he came around to open the rear door for Elise.

She turned to thank Ahmed for his courtesy. She noticed a brief flash of some odd emotion, almost an expression of sadness, cross his face as he wished her well. She got into the car but the driver didn’t close the door immediately.

“Excuse me, Ms. Driesler, but I must ask that you leave your purse with your other belongings in the trunk. It is Facility policy.” He held out his hand.

Elise hesitated, but she had been warned in the letter that she was to have nothing in her possession when she entered the Facility grounds. She picked up her handbag and held it out to the driver.

“I’m sorry, but you have a watch on your wrist. Could you place it in your purse? The earrings too, if you would?” The driver was polite but she could tell he would be insistent. She set her purse on her lap, slipped off the wristwatch and removed her jewelry. Dropping them in a side pocket she handed the purse back to the driver again. This time he took it and closed her door. Watching from the rear window she saw him place her purse in the trunk before he shut the lid.

The driver, who did not give his name, got in but did not start right away. He glanced back at her first and asked her to put on her seat belt, explaining that it was required. The moment she fastened it the car took off.

“Our drive time will be about 45 minutes, including a ferry ride. I apologize in advance for not answering any of your questions, but again it is Facility policy. There will be an orientation meeting as soon as you arrive. Please hold your questions till then. Welcome to Isla Del Sur.” Those were the last words he spoke.

The trip was interesting for Elise as she did get to see a short glimpse of the Island from the car window. Isla del Sur, at least she knew the name of the place now. By appearance it could be any modern country. The buildings were a mix of classic and new designs, most of the cars late models, though the makes were unfamiliar. She didn’t see anyone close up since they were on some sort of expressway, with walls or trees used for noise abatement blocking most of her view of the town.

At one point they stopped to board a ferry. Once the boat was in the channel she could see open sea on either side. Apparently the Facility was on a separate island. It took the ferry about fifteen minutes to reach their destination. Elise noticed her car was the only one to disembark. She could see the ferry pull back into the channel from the rear window as they drove off the pier.

From the ferry landing it was a short trip along a paved road to a complex of buildings. They went through an open gate into a large garage attached to what she assumed was the main section. The driver got out and opened her door. Elise noticed he did not retrieve her things from the trunk.

The moment she got out of the car a door at the rear of the garage opened, and a man in uniform came out. “Ms. Driesler? Elise Driesler?” At Elise’s nod he continued. “Would you come with me, please?” He held open the interior door for her.

She stopped in the doorway and turned back, pointing to the car. “I have some luggage…” she began.

The man cut her off. “Don’t be concerned. They will be taken care of. Please, others are waiting.” He gestured for her to precede him through the door. There was a trace of some accent in his otherwise perfect English.

Elise had a mental image of the ominous sounding Facility as some kind of giant hulking monster of a Victorian era prison, with massive brick walls and barred windows. The real appearance was more of a large sprawling manor house, varying between three and four stories high, and smaller buildings arranged around it in a semicircle. There were no barbed wire fences, high walls, or guard towers anywhere. Judging by the few men she’d met so far courtesy and a professional attitude seemed to be the corporate culture, a far cry from the bullying, inbred stereotypes she associated with institutions. There had been more than a few of those self-important types at the hospital. Perhaps she hadn’t made a rash decision after all.

Her escort stopped at the door to a small conference room and held it open for her. “Please wait inside,” he told her. He shut the door behind her, after she went in.

There were three other women in the room when Elise entered. All three were sitting around a long table. Pulling out a chair she sat down to wait. Perhaps this was to be the orientation lecture for new arrivals. The other three looked to be nervous too.

She must have been the last one expected for no sooner had she sat down than another woman came in. Elise knew at once this woman must be part of the staff, primarily because of the metal ring around her neck. It was no piece of decorative jewelry but a profound statement of who she was. Elise stared at the woman’s collar, fascinated by the kind of life it represented. She wore what Elise assumed to be the standard uniform for the female staff, a beige colored sleeveless blouse and a maroon skirt. The name Mrs. Yates was stitched on her blouse.

The woman went to the head of the table but did not sit down. At first she said nothing, silently staring at each of the newcomers as they sat watching her. Elise jumped when Mrs. Yates, assuming that was her name, suddenly slapped her hands on the tabletop. “All of you, stand up right now!” The four of them leaped to their feet. “No one gave you permission to sit down!” she shouted at them. “Line up against the back wall, quickly.” Elise and the others nearly ran to the rear of the room.

The woman picked up a chair and dropped it in front of them. She sat down, folded her arms and began to lecture. “My job this afternoon is to prepare you for life at the Facility. That’s what we call this place. It’s the only name you will use. My name is Mrs. Yates. All staff will be addressed by last name only. In here you will use your first name. Only your first name.” She held up a hand as one of the other woman started to ask a question.

“Quiet! Stand there and pay attention to what I tell you. Don’t any of you understand what you’ve gotten into here? It all comes down to one single word. Obedience. You are here to learn it, to live it, to offer it to the one special man who will someday come to claim you. Your training starts now, this very minute. You will be told when you may ask questions; until then you wait.”

She stood up and walked up and down the line, looking at each woman. “I once stood in the exact same spot you do now. I know exactly what you are thinking. I know what you will face in the coming months. I had all the same questions running around in my head that you want to ask now.” Her voice dropped, so low Elise could barely hear her. “You came here out of desperation, searching for some way to put your lives back in order and perhaps even find some small measure of happiness. I’m here to tell you it will happen. Every one of you will complete the program here, and every single one of you will find her master. That’s a promise.

“How do I know? Because none of you will leave here until you are done with your training! That’s a guarantee, whether you like it or not. There is no quitting. You can’t just walk out the door. Get it in your heads now; there is only one way, our way. The men who run this Facility aren’t going to let you give up and run away; no matter how much you beg or plead, you are here until you finish. So don’t even bother to ask.”

Mrs. Yates’ words weren’t a shock to Elise. She knew once she entered the building it would be her last act of free will. More than once it had been made painfully clear in the material she’d received that she would be incarcerated for an indefinite period of time. Attendance is mandatory until such time as the review panel concludes to its satisfaction that you have met all the goals of the training program. Those were the exact words in the letter. The precise nature of those goals, or even who made up the review panel, was not explained.

Elise turned her attention back to Mrs. Yates. “You will learn to reorient your thinking if you want to succeed here. To start, assume everything is forbidden unless you are granted permission. I saw numerous violations when I walked into this room. First off, you were sitting down. Chairs are a privilege; you stand until invited to sit. Next, you were talking. That is a privilege as well, one you will lose if you repeat that mistake.

“And finally you did not stand when I came in the room. As a sign of respect for authority you will stand whenever a man enters the room, or any member of the female staff, including me. All men will be addressed as sir unless you are told otherwise. For female staff you will use either Ms. or Mrs. and last name, never first name. See this?” She pointed to the name on her blouse. “Use that name. That’s how you will know someone is not a trainee. Trainees, that’s you, are allowed to use first names only, no exceptions. You do not have a last name here. Don’t use it.”

Just like that, Elise thought, no more Elise Driesler, now I’m inmate Elise. Not that she missed the old Elise right now. With a tinge of anxiety she realized she might wish for the old life after a few more days.

Mrs. Yates continued. “There will be a multitude of rules and restrictions. You will learn every one by heart. I can tell you now not to try making up excuses. No one will listen or care. Results are all that matter. You will be told where to go, what to do, and when to stop. Your days will be planned for you. Someone else will decide what time you wake up, when and what you eat, when you work, when you study, when you go to bed. You will be taught how to behave, what to say, and what to think. You will learn patience, and you will learn the high cost of a short temper and ill-considered words.

“And once you have learned all that, you will discover something else. Right now it sounds strict, even cruel, and brutally uncaring of your feelings. But there will come a time when you see it in retrospect as something else. Harsh, yes…but fulfilling too.

“There is a certain type of woman, and I count myself as one, who thrives on structure and discipline. Not some threat of punishment, but a discipline based on a hierarchy of authority. I need someone to impose order in my life. You see this collar?” She ran a hand along the metal band close around her throat. “It was put there by the man who owns me. I would do anything for him. He doesn’t hesitate in taking advantage of it either. That’s not some silly romantic notion. It’s reality; I live it every day.

“Each one of you will wear one of these someday. When that time will come depends on how much effort you are willing to invest. Be certain of one thing though. You will not be given the opportunity to be lazy. Good enough is not good enough. You will be held to a higher standard.

“There is a simple working policy here. You are granted privileges, but in turn there are obligations tied to those privileges. Fail in your responsibilities and you lose those privileges. You don’t have a right to anything.

“In a moment you will be taken to another room and there you will be issued your uniform. I’m sure you recall from the enrollment terms that you are not allowed any personal possessions during your stay here. That includes your clothes. Starting today this place will determine what you need and provide it when appropriate.”

Mrs. Yates paused for a moment, looking at each newcomer in the group. “Now you can ask questions. One each, so think about it. We’ll start on the right.” She pointed to the woman at the right end of the line.

She was a small, dark skinned woman. “You said we have no rights. Are there no laws in this place?”

Mrs. Yates answered quickly. “Yes, we have laws. None of them protect you. The laws of Isla Del Sur allow the Facility to act as the management deems necessary. There is no oversight, no complaint board, no appeal. If you think that’s unfair, too bad. Live with it.”

The next question was about meeting men. Mrs. Yates was blunt in her answer. “You don’t meet anyone. When you have completed the training to the satisfaction of the review committee, then and only then a possible master will be selected for you. The Facility accepts applications from carefully screened men who must then fulfill certain prerequisites before they are allowed access to information about the trainees. They will decide if they wish to interview you.”

The woman standing next to Elise followed up. “What do you mean, an interview? What if I don’t like him?”

“The two of you meet. He asks you questions. If he decides you are the right one, then you belong to him. If you don’t think you can get along then you tell him in the interview. It’s up to him what happens after that. You don’t get to say no.”

The other women seem surprised to hear it put so plainly. Elise had read the offer carefully before she signed up. No choice meant precisely that. There had been nothing ambiguous in the wording. Being handed over to a complete stranger she could accept. She had another concern.

“What if none of the men want me?” Elise was sure she could never compete with the other women at the Facility.

Mrs. Yates stared at Elise for a long moment before putting a hand on her arm. “That won’t happen. No matter what you may think of yourself now, provided you are sincere in learning what the Facility offers, you will find yourself the object of someone’s attention. This place has a certain reputation, one which draws the highest quality men to apply for consideration. There has never been a single instance of someone completing the training that is not subsequently chosen. That’s why we can guarantee success.

“That’s the last question. Before we go you will ensure this room is in proper order. You,” Elise was surprised when the instructor singled her out, “you will return all the chairs around the table to their proper place. Do it now.”

And so it starts, Elise thought. At first she simply pushed the chair in against the table, but one glance at Mrs. Yates told her she was missing something. Proper place, that’s got to be the key to what’s lacking. Elise backed up and looked at the chair in front of her. The carpet, there were marks where the chairs had been sitting earlier. Carefully she aligned each chair to the pattern in the floor. She went around the table and adjusted each one, even those the women had not used earlier. Only one chair was left, the one Mrs. Yates had been using. Elise stood next to it but did not touch it. She said learn patience, and assume nothing, so I’d better wait before taking the chair.

Mrs. Yates stared at her in silence. Did I do the right thing? Elise asked herself.

“See this?” Mrs. Yates pointed to Elise. “Did you notice what she did? I hope so, because you are going to have a hard time if you don’t get it. It is not enough to be a robot and blindly obey. You have a brain. Think about what you are told to do. She didn’t just push in the chairs; she made sure they lined up correctly. Details are important.

“Put this chair away too. You did well.” It wasn’t much in the way of praise, but Elise appreciated it. “Back in line.” Elise rejoined the group.

“This was your first lesson. It is not enough to simply react. You must excel in the small details as well as the greater. Try to put something of yourself in everything you do. Think first, but trust your instincts. Your master wants to see your personality. Don’t ever forget that.

“Now listen carefully. We are going to leave this room in single file. The last one will close the door. No talking, and keep your eyes forward at all times. Stay in line, keep to the right, and don’t look around. This isn’t a sightseeing tour. The corridor should be empty, but if anyone comes by, and I mean anyone, you will stop and stand with your back to the wall, eyes lowered, hands at your side. And stand still; do not fidget. I’ll tell you when we can proceed. If a man stops us, do exactly what he tells you no matter what it is. Don’t look at me; he’ll be the one in charge. If he asks you a question, answer in a respectful tone of voice. And for God’s sake don’t forget the sir.

Mrs. Yates opened the door and checked the hallway before motioning Elise, closest to her, to follow. The rest of the group trailed behind. In the hall Mrs. Yates paused for a moment to make sure the last woman in line closed the door. Their short trip proved uneventful. No one was in the hall, and no one opened a door to look out. The hallway looked like a million other office building or hotel corridors. Elise was tempted to take one peek over her shoulder but decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. With her luck it would be exactly the same time Mrs. Yates turned around.

Their destination proved to be a locker room. The floor was concrete; the walls were painted an unattractive grey. Scattered around the room were several tables with cardboard boxes underneath them. “Each of you go to one of the tables,” Mrs. Yates ordered. “There you will remove all your clothing, and I mean everything, fold each item neatly and place it in the box. When you finish you should have nothing on but what you were born with. After everyone is done you will be issued regulation uniforms. From now on, you will wear only the uniform supplied by the Facility.” Mrs. Yates stood by the hallway door as they began.

Elise stepped out of her shoes first. From the corner of her eye she could see the rest of the group was reluctant to begin as well. I have to do this, she told herself. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a second, and then began unbuttoning her blouse. She dropped it on the table and followed in a moment with her slacks. She noticed the others were watching her. Great, now I’m a role model too. That left only her underwear.

Stalling for time she folded up the pants and blouse and placed them in the box. I shouldn’t have done that, Elise realized. If my future master were watching he’d want me to take it all off first. She reached behind her back and undid the hook of her bra. The pantyhose were the last item to come off. She packed away the rest of her garments in the box, shoes on top. The other three women were still undressing. Finished, she turned to look at Mrs. Yates to see what she should do next.

Elise wanted to shrink and hide when she saw the way Mrs. Yates was staring at her. She saw it too, Elise thought, why doesn’t she say something? I made a mistake.

Siobhan Yates did notice Elise’s hesitation, but at this early stage it would easily be corrected with a quiet word later. This one is going to catch on quick, Siobhan told herself. If she can overcome her inhibitions she will go far. I hope she finds herself a Clancy Yates like I did. Too bad she isn’t Irish or I’d mention her to Clancy’s brother. She checked the progress of the rest of the women. All of them had the potential to do well, or the Facility wouldn’t have accepted them. She didn’t envy them the next few months though. How many times did I cry myself to sleep? These days, with Clancy next to her in bed, the crying represented tears of joy.

“All of you, your attention.” It was time for her to get back to work. “I’ll issue your uniforms now. I want each of you to pick up your box.” Mrs. Yates headed for the stockroom as they gathered up their boxes.

“Line up in front of the counter. Stop on this line.” Elise looked down and saw a white line painted on the concrete floor. “You will wait here for your turn. When I call you come to the counter where you will exchange the box for your uniform.” Mrs. Yates went behind the counter and took out a clipboard. Elise could see racks and shelves of clothing. The concrete floor was cold on her bare feet.

Elise suppressed a shiver. She was self-conscious about standing in line in the nude. Comparing herself to the group it looked like the other women could be models. She thought she could be a model too, except it would be the cover girl for Plain Jane Monthly. Mrs. Yates seemed to be taking her time.

“We’re ready to start,” Mrs. Yates said, placing the clipboard on the counter. “The procedure will be as follows: one at a time you will step forward. Place your box on the counter and state your name. I will give you one uniform, which you will put on to check for fit. If it’s too big or small I’ll hand you another one. When I’m satisfied the size is correct you will put the uniform back on the hanger and take it with you when you go back to the end of the line. You will hold the hangar in your left hand. First in line, step forward.”

Elise walked to the counter and stood in front of Mrs. Yates. “Elise Dreisler.”

Mrs. Yates frowned. “That’s not acceptable. Hold out the box in front of you, with both hands.” Puzzled at what she had done wrong, Elise took hold of the box in both hands and held it out, her arms straight. “Now keep holding the box that way while you go to the end of the line.” A surprised Elise walked back to stand behind the other women. “First, I told you to drop your last name. Never reveal it unless one of the staff asks for a last name. Only your first name is permitted from now on. Get used to it.

“Second, you failed to address me properly. The proper response should have been your name, followed by mine to indicate you are answering me. Next in line, step forward and state your name.”

The box wasn’t heavy but by the time Else made it back to the counter her arms were aching from the strain. Mrs. Yates made her wait, still holding the box above the counter, while she searched the uniforms for Elise’s size.

“Put the box down and try this on. Sign your name, your first name, on the clipboard.” Elise did as Mrs. Yates instructed. After checking the fit she put the uniform back on the hanger, as the women in front of her had done. “Join the rest,” Mrs. Yates gestured to the line behind Elise.

The four of them stood in line, each holding a hangar in her left hand. Mrs. Yates didn’t even look up while she filled out the forms they had signed. Only after she had finished, read it over, and then placed the clipboard under the counter did she return her attention to the four women waiting for her. “You may dress now. Place the hangar on the counter when you finish. Quickly, I don’t have all day, and we have much to do.”

Siobhan watched the group of women, looking for subtle hints about their personalities. They had started out well. Not a single one had protested over the uniform. The procedure was deliberately contrived to be a test of their patience and commitment. It’s just a taste of what’s coming, she thought to herself.

Flight Interrupted

The plane touched down at the international airport in Victoria right on schedule. The airline was some Turkish regional carrier with a name Luisa couldn’t even pronounce, but the stewardess spoke English and the plane did arrive on time. This would be the last layover before the Maldives. Victoria, the capital city of the Seychelles, was also located in the Indian Ocean, and judging by the number and accents of fellow passengers it was a popular tourist spot for Europeans. She had four hours here before catching the next and final leg of her flight. It had been a long day, more than sixteen hours just to get this far. Luisa was tired from traveling and jet lag. First thing after getting into the airport at the Maldives capital city of Male would be to locate the company campus and find out where she would be living. The beaches could wait for a day.

Customs were fast, polite, and efficient. One look at her passport followed by instructions on how to find her departure gate took no more than a few moments. With her luggage in tow she walked through the concourse looking for a restaurant to have lunch. At a place that advertised they would take euros or dollars she ordered a salad for lunch. Because of the time change it was only noon locally. Traveling east she would lose a few more hours on the way to the Maldives. By her calculations she would be in time for supper.

When she finished her meal she was surprised to hear her name being called over the loudspeaker. It was a request that she proceed to the business desk for the airline listed on the remaining ticket. The announcement was repeated in French. She asked the cashier for directions before heading down the airport concourse toward the ticket counters.

Being a small airport she had no trouble finding the airline’s location. When she told the woman behind the counter her name, the ticket agent gestured to a man standing at the end of the counter. Luisa turned to face him.

“Good afternoon mademoiselle, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Henri Mustapha, a local travel agent. Your company makes use of my services to handle employee bookings here in the Seychelles. As I’m sure you are aware, you are scheduled to fly to Les Isles Maldives later today. I regret to inform you the flight has been cancelled due to a fire this morning at the international airport in Male. There has been some damage to the tower and navigation systems. Estimates are that it may be several days before the airport is reopened.”

Luisa was taken aback at the news. Thinking quickly, it seemed she might be able to stay at a hotel until she could resume her journey. She would have to retrieve her luggage from the airline. She started to ask the travel agent, but he continued before she could speak.

“When your company was notified I was immediately contacted and asked to make other arrangements for you. Through inquiries I have determined that a ship is departing later this day, the destination to be the same island as the company’s training center, which I am told is where you are expected. Now I must inform you the ship is a freighter, not a passenger liner, but they do carry a small number of passengers on a routine basis and have very comfortable private cabins. The crossing time should be no more than four days. The ship is of Saudi Arabian registry so you may be confident of her safety. I have taken the liberty of reserving a cabin for you, but if for any reason you would prefer to wait until the airport reopens, however long that may be, then of course I will instead arrange for a hotel here in Victoria.”

Luisa was charmed by the travel agent’s accent and appearance. In another age he would have been the stereotypical colonial French planter. She didn’t like the idea of waiting. It could take weeks instead of days. This was the tropics; work traditionally went at a slower pace along the equator. It would be a substantial expense for the company to pay her hotel bill too. If she refused it would leave a bad impression about her, a primadonna who was uncooperative.

The ship didn’t sound that bad anyway. She had been on a cruise ship once way back in high school, on a trip with her parents. It might be fun to sail the ocean on a tramp steamer, like the old movies. She had a fleeting vision of herself as Mary Astor in Across the Pacific, romanced by Humphrey Bogart while sinister foreign spies resembling Peter Lorre lurked in the background. The travel agent could almost pass for Sidney Greenstreet if he’d had an English accent. “I would be happy to continue on the ship, Mr. Mustapha. I’d like to thank you for your efforts. I don’t know what I would have done stranded here without your help.”

“My gratitude for your kind words, mademoiselle. Your employer is very influential and highly respected among our islands here in the Indian Ocean. It has been my privilege, for many years now, to make certain their employees always have a safe, enjoyable, and uneventful trip while passing through our little corner of paradise.” He stopped to glance at his wristwatch. “Then it is settled. Allow me to retrieve your luggage before we depart. Afterward I will drive you to the port and see that everything is in order. We have a little time, might I suggest the scenic route to the harbor?”

Without waiting for her reply he turned to the ticket counter and spoke rapidly in French. The woman made a phone call to someone else in that same rapid French patois. Luisa’s knowledge of French dated back to a single year in high school; far too little to even follow along with the conversation. She wasn’t even sure if it was the European flavor of French they were speaking.

Bien.” Henri concluded his conversation with the ticket agent and turned back to Luisa. “All is arranged. If you might accompany me to the baggage area? You must identify your things, and then we can be on our way.”

After she picked out her luggage he carried the bags out to his car. True to his word he took the long way around, a drive through the town and along the shore, all the while carrying on with a non-stop travelogue. When they arrived at the port later that afternoon, he drove right up to the ship. Luisa had imagined it would be a leaky rust bucket barely kept afloat, but docked at the pier was a modern ship with no tell-tale signs of poor maintenance. She recognized the green Saudi flag flying from a mast. At the stern was the name of the ship, in English and Arabic, the Salsa Mahar. When she tried to pronounce it, the travel agent translated.

“I think the owners make a joke. The name, it is the extract of soybeans. Perhaps they carry many tons of beans to some part of the world. If you would excuse me for a moment, I will check on your passage.”

Luisa laughed. Sailing off on the good ship Soy Sauce would be a story in itself. Mr. Mustapha parked the car close to a gangway, got out, and approached a crewman standing watch. She waited while the men exchanged a few words, the agent showed him some papers, and then apparently the matter was settled as the crewman took a radio handset from his belt and spoke into it. The travel agent returned to the car, stopping to open the trunk and then Luisa’s door.

“All in order. The ship’s purser will be along momentarily to conduct you to your cabin. He will inform you of safety procedures, meal schedules, and the passenger facilities on the ship. If you have questions please speak up at any time.” He held out his hand to assist her out of the car. Standing up, she saw a uniformed officer and a crewman exiting the gangway. The officer pointed to her bags and said something in what sounded like Arabic. The crewman nodded and picked them up.

“Welcome aboard the Salsa, ma’am. May I introduce myself? I am Ahmed, ship’s purser and part-time guide for our passengers. If you would follow me, I’ll show you to your cabin. We cast off in about an hour. Henri, good to see you again, perhaps we will have that dinner on my next port call?” His English was perfect but definitely not his native language. From his appearance and the accent she guessed Indian or Pakistani.

Luisa thanked the travel agent once again, and after the two men shook hands she followed the purser up the ramp into the ship. The décor was decidedly function over form. Pipes and conduits lined the corridor walls, all with arcane engineering labels. Quite a contrast to the cruise ship Luisa had been on. Still it was clean and organized, if not up to luxury liner standards.

Ahmed took her through several corridors to the passenger section. There were six cabins, and not all occupied judging from the open doors and empty rooms. This was definitely not a cruise ship. Her cabin was small but it did have a private shower and toilet. There was even a porthole on one bulkhead. “It is customary for the passengers to dine with the ship’s officers, ma’am. A crewman will deliver the schedule once we are at sea, along with the safety instructions. Feel free to take a walk outside anytime but please be careful of working areas. We also ask that you let an officer know if you are on deck after dark, for safety reasons. We have a small passenger lounge with modest entertainment offerings. I believe you will have three traveling companions on this trip. Now if you will excuse me, I must see to my duties before the ship leaves port.” Ahmed tipped his hat and left.

Out the porthole she could see the sun on the horizon. Being so close to the equator made for a short sunset. She could hear loud mechanical sounds, and soon felt the vibration of the engines as the ship prepared to leave the dock. As much as she would have liked to watch the departure, the long travel time in the air and close proximity of a soft bed were too much to resist. Luisa went right to sleep.

She awoke at sunrise. A look out her porthole verified they were at sea. On the floor in front of her door was a slip of paper. Picking it up, Luisa discovered it was the promised dining schedule. On the interior wall of the cabin was a small clock embedded in the wall. That must be ship’s time, she thought. She had about an hour before breakfast, enough time to shower and take a short walk.

Thirty minutes later she was closing her cabin door from the outside. English signs on the corridor wall directed her to the lounge, officer’s mess, and outside hatches. Taking note of the directions she headed outside.

The sky was a bright cloudless blue. There was a cool morning breeze and calm seas. Luisa strolled along the deck, heading toward the stern. Where there would be a pool or tennis courts on a cruise ship, here were covered cargo holds and stacks of shipping containers. A crewman working next to one of the holds noticed her and nodded. She smiled back and kept going. Near the stern was a small observation deck with chairs and tables. It being early in the morning she was surprised to see a man sitting in one of the chairs reading some papers. As she approached he noticed her, put the papers in a briefcase, and stood up to greet her.

“Good morning, my name is John Leeds. You must be one of the other passengers?”

Luisa introduced herself, using her working alias. She sat down next to him, gazing out at the wake of the ship. “A beautiful day,” Luisa began, “I’m just getting a little air before breakfast.”

“Time change for me, I woke up too early.” John continued, “I’m on my way home after an assignment in the States, along with a short field trip to the Congo.”

“Africa? It must be interesting work. This is something of a detour for me. I was supposed to catch a plane to the Maldives yesterday, but there was a problem. I was lucky this ship was headed in the right direction. I’m going to be attending a training school as part of my new job.”

She noticed a puzzled look on his face. “The Maldive Islands? What company do you work for?” he asked.

“Gulf-Indian Civil Engineering Group, GICEG for short. Have you heard of it?”

“Indeed I have. I’m one of those civil engineers. I work across the street from the training school. That’s in the main building downtown. I shouldn’t be too surprised at the coincidence. After all, everyone on the ship is headed for the same place.”

Luisa was puzzled by his cryptic comment, but it might be an opportunity to learn about the company, maybe even pick up something on the rumors. This man, probably American by the accent, could very well be one of the people she wanted to expose. “Have you lived in the Maldives long?” she asked.

“The Maldives? Oh no, never been there.” He pointed at the rising sun off to the port side of the ship. “We’re at the equator, sunrise is due east. The Maldives are in that direction, stretched out along the equator. Our bearing is south by east.”

Luisa looked at the sun. He was right. They were heading the wrong way.

“GICEG’s training facility isn’t in the Maldives, that’s only the port the company uses for air travel. We’re headed to the Island, you know, Isla Del Sur. No airport, the only way to get there is by ship.” He stopped to check his watch. “It’s about time for breakfast. Would you like to go up to the officer’s mess now?”

Isla Del Sur! Luisa was able to conceal her shocked expression by standing and turning away. She was headed to the Island that didn’t exist. Dumb, she told herself, of course there wouldn’t be regular scheduled air service to a mythical land. She turned back to John. “Could you lead the way? I haven’t had a chance to explore yet.”

On the way Luisa made small talk but inside her mind was in turmoil. Why hadn’t Henri the travel agent told her where the ship was headed? Had he even told her the truth about the airport fire? It could have easily been a ruse to divert her to the ship. But why bother if she would have boarded a ship in the Maldives anyway? The only difference was no one knew she was on this ship except Henri. The plane tickets said something different, and if someone who looked like her had used those tickets then anyone trying to trace her whereabouts wouldn’t even be close to the truth.

Up until the minute John had mentioned their destination she still had doubts the Island really existed. Those doubts were gone now, but new concerns demanded her attention. Her idea about hopping on a plane and flying off unannounced once she had her story wasn’t going to happen. She had a cold feeling that she might be in over her head, as the words of warning from her editor came back to her. These people were very smart and very thorough. Luisa realized she had no idea what awaited her, no clue as to how she would get back to the rest of the world, and she was already past the point of no return.

A Private Room

The Facility had a dining room where all the meals were served. Mrs. Yates had been replaced by another staff member who explained the rules for mealtime. Standing in line Elise went over them again. While in line there was to be no idle conversation but after being seated she could talk, but only to her table companions. She could pick out her food from the buffet style serving trays, and then a guard would take her to a table and assign a seat to her. Finally she had to ask the guard for permission to begin eating. And when she was finished she had to raise her hand to signal the guard and ask for permission to take her tray back to the cleanup window. The whole procedure seemed overly elaborate. While waiting her turn she watched the protocol in action.

The guards were all men, and easily identified by their uniforms. They looked intimidating, an impression Mrs. Yates had been quick to reinforce. “Under Island law you have no rights,” Mrs. Yates had explained. “You are wards of the Facility, subject to the rules and regulations of the institution. You are legally obligated to obey the guards, no matter what their orders may be. Remember that. If you are disobedient or act inappropriately, you will be punished. If you try to run away the guards will bring you back. And even if you can elude them, there’s no way to get off the Island.”

Elise didn’t notice the mirrored glass windows high up on the wall at the rear of the dining room. Hidden behind it Clancy Yates leaned back in his chair, arms folded, watching the evening meal progress below. Siobhan Yates knelt on a cushion at his side while they watched the new arrivals lining up for dinner.

“That’s her, the one who just came in and is standing at the end of the line.” Siobhan was careful not to move as she spoke.

Clancy unfolded his arms and leaned forward. “You think she has some special potential? I read over her file again. You wouldn’t be playing at being the matchmaker, would you now?” Idly he reached out and rubbed the back of her neck, his fingers tracing random patterns around the collar.

“Yes sir, I would. And you know the one I have in mind. She has the right attitude. Once she gets the training to bring out what’s already inside her, and I don’t think it will take long, she would be the perfect fit.”

From experience Clancy knew Siobhan’s first impressions almost always proved to be correct. Still, he had to make the final call. He preferred to back up Siobhan with his own observations. In the reflection from the window he could see her scrutinizing the new arrival. She was under strict orders not to move while she knelt at his side.

“Holidays are coming up Mrs. Yates, what would you say to a trip back to the old country? Does your uncle still run that pub in Sligo? It’s been more than a few years since we last called on him. We could start in Dublin and motor whichever way the wind blows. Wouldn’t you like to see some of the old places?”

Siobhan raised her head up to look at him. “Clancy Yates, don’t tell me you intend to cross the border to Armagh! It’s too dangerous!”

“There’s an amnesty, don’t you know? Besides, my name never appeared on any official enquiry list.” He grabbed her hair and jerked her head back to face the window. “I don’t recall giving you permission to move. You know better, my dear Siobhan. Mind your position.”

Swiftly she assumed her posture of submission again. “Please forgive me, sir. No excuse.”

“See that it doesn’t happen again. Don’t worry; I intend to stay in the Republic. Remember that night we walked hand in hand along the river? The Liffey is still there, waiting for us. But that’s a ways off, for now let’s see why you think this Elise will stand out.”

Down below Elise finally reached the head of the waiting line. A woman stood next to a stack of trays. As soon as a guard nodded to her she picked up the top tray and handed it to Elise. “The soufflé is pretty good tonight. I had some earlier.”

“Thanks,” Elise replied. She was hungry and the smell of the food was tantalizing. She picked out a salad, a plate of the soufflé, and a small slice of pie for dessert. She finished with a glass of milk and a slice of bread. Nervously she approached the guard, tray in hand.

Here goes, she thought. “Good evening, sir. May I be allowed to sit at a table?” That was the formal request they had been taught less than an hour ago.

She expected him to lead her to the next empty table but instead he stared at her. “New aren’t you? I haven’t seen you before. What’s your name?”

“Elise, sir, I arrived today.” She almost added her last name but caught herself just in time. Mrs. Yates object lesson from earlier in the day would ensure she never made that mistake again.

“Follow me, Elise.” He turned and headed for a table where one woman was sitting alone. Elise trailed behind, careful to stay close but not on his heels. Not once did he look back to see if she was behind him. He doesn’t have to check, she told herself, I better be there or else. He pulled out a chair across from the woman, who had stopped eating when she saw him approach. Elise noted how she sat very still, hands in her lap and eyes down. “This will be your place this evening.” He pushed in the chair as she sat down.

“Thank you, sir.” Elise straightened her tray but didn’t pick up the fork. It was a requirement that the tray had to line up with the edge of the table. “Sir? May I have permission to eat?” If he said no she would go hungry tonight.

Mrs. Yates had told them never to assume an answer. “Sometimes they will tell you no, and not offer an explanation. If that happens, you thank them and sit there. You do not touch the food. And don’t think it won’t happen. I went to bed without supper more than once. When you ask, be sincere. At the Facility asking for permission is never a rhetorical question.”

This time she wouldn’t go hungry. “Help yourself,” he answered. “Just wave at me when you’re done, or if you need to get up for something. And take your time. A meal should be a space in the day’s routine to relax.” He nodded toward Elise and went back to his post by the serving line. She turned to watch him leave.

“Hi, my name is Jamie. Is this your first day? I’ve been here a few months and haven’t seen you around before.”

Elise turned back to her table companion for dinner. “I’m Elise. Yeah, I started today.” She lowered her voice and gestured with her head at the guard who had escorted her. “Did I do okay? I’m really nervous. There’s so much to remember.”

“If you had made a mistake you’d have known right away. I wasn’t paying attention before you approached but just now you did well. Don’t worry; in time it becomes second nature. You won’t even think about it.” Jamie took a bite of her dinner.

Elise took a sip of her milk and began eating. Were there rules about talking to others like herself? There must be. She asked Jamie about it.

“Rules? Of course! There’s a rule for anything you can think of. It’s mostly common sense and courtesy. You can volunteer information about your past but don’t ever ask about anyone else’s history. Never use a last name, but you know that one already. Don’t mention dates unless it’s several years ago. Above all, stop whatever you are doing if one of the men looks like he’s heading this way. They get your undivided attention.” While Jamie was talking Elise noticed she looked away every so often. “I watch your back, you watch behind me. Put your fork down and put your hands in your lap, that’s the signal. I’ll do the same.”

Elise nodded in agreement. “What do I look for?”

“If you see one of the guards heading directly toward the table, say within, umm, fifteen feet away? You get a feel for it. If you think he’s headed for you, stop and wait. No harm if he goes on by. But if you ignore him,” Jamie paused, “well, just don’t do it.”

Elise changed the subject. “What do you think of the Facility? Would you still come here, if you knew then what you know now? I must have changed my mind thirty times.”

Jamie stopped, fork in midair, as she pondered the question. “Yes….I think I would. I lived on the Island before signing up with the Facility, so I had some idea of what it would be like.” She stopped, looking at Elise. “Do you know much about the Island? Isla del Sur? If I’m prying into your privacy say so.”

Elise shook her head. “No, I came here from California. I’ve never been to the Island before. You mean where the ship docked, don’t you?”

“That’s the main island. The Facility is on a separate island, by itself. My boyfriend introduced me to the Island and its unique lifestyle. He was going to be my master. We went through the ownership program, before deciding to try the one year agreement.” Jamie smiled in a wistful manner. “I was in heaven. I wore his collar; I belonged to him. And best of all everyone knew it.”

The use of past tense wasn’t lost on Elise. Something had gone wrong, or Jamie wouldn’t be sitting across the table from her now. But as much as Elise wanted to ask, that would be prying. Jamie had to volunteer it. She cut off a corner of the soufflé and continued to eat, all the while listening attentively to Jamie. And she didn’t forget to watch for nearby guards either.

Jamie took a sip of her tea and continued. “It was exactly the kind of life I wanted, but it wasn’t for Jimmy. He left on a business trip to Europe. I got a letter a week later, telling me he couldn’t be my master. The keys to my collar were inside. He never came back to the Island.”

Elise put a hand to her mouth. “That must have been horrible! And you didn’t have any idea?”

Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe there were signs, but I didn’t see them. I fell apart when I got the letter. I must have cried all day. Then I got scared. I’m not supposed to ever have the keys to my collar. I didn’t know what to do. The police might even arrest me if they found out.”

Elise was puzzled at Jamie’s comment about the police but didn’t ask about it. The Island must have some odd laws. “What did you do? How did you wind up here?”

“I finally got up enough courage to call my neighbor. We were friends, though not close. Her husband came right over and took charge. He contacted someone in the Island’s administration who deals with situations like mine. He also took the keys for my collar. That night I slept on their couch. The next day a woman came out from an Island agency and explained my options.”

Jamie stopped when she saw Elise perk up. Immediately Jamie put her fork down. “Sorry,” Elise said, “false alarm. He was seating someone else. What were your choices?”

“Don’t sweat the false alarms. You’ll learn to recognize when they’re headed for you. Given my status I had three ways to go. First, I could leave. Jimmy had posted a bond to pay travel costs for anywhere in the world. There was no guarantee I could ever come back to the Island.

“Second, I could stay and go to work for one of the local companies. There is an apprenticeship program. Basically you are supervised by the company until someone claims you. The program wasn’t really what I wanted, but it sounded like the only way to stay.

“When I asked if there were any other options the woman hesitated but finally told me about the Facility. There was an opening available, though I’d have to apply and be accepted. Then she explained how the Facility worked. You know the conditions. Frankly it scared me. But I thought about it, and what a failure I’d been at picking my own guy. Maybe someone else might do a better job. So here I am.”

In the office Clancy switched off the audio. “You arranged for her to sit with Jamie?” he asked Siobhan, still kneeling next to him.

“Yes, sir. I checked the schedule. Mr. Lee was supervising dinner this evening so I stopped by and requested a favor before he started. Was that okay?”

Normally Clancy would have allowed her to stand up by now but he had decided to extend her time on the cushion in response to her breaking position earlier. “Yes, that’s fine. I trust your discretion.” He hit the button to close the blinds and cover the window. “I think that’s enough for now. You may stand. Let’s take a short stroll across the grounds.” He stood up and held out a hand to her. Graceful as ever, she took hold of his hand as she stood.

“Clancy? You caught me off guard for a moment. I remember your story about crossing the border that night, dodging both the Garda and the British patrols. I don’t want you going back there ever again. It’s just that I don’t want to lose you to the Troubles.”

He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. “Not to worry, lass. Those days are gone. There’s a peace process now, everyone sort of gets along. But this is my home now, not Armagh.” He looked down at her, suddenly drawing her up into a passionate kiss.

“What you should worry about is your complacency,” he whispered in her ear while he held her tight. “I’ll not stand for any disobedience. Just because you are the Director’s wife doesn’t earn you a special dispensation. Tomorrow you will demonstrate to my satisfaction you have not forgotten how to properly kneel in the presence of your master. Now, let’s go watch the sun set.”

In the dining room Elise and Jamie continued their meal, unaware they had been observed from above. Elise was probing Jamie about the Facility. “Do you have a hard time with all the restrictions and protocols, like the part about asking permission?”

Jamie paused for a moment, considering Elise’s question. “I did at first. Ask to stand up, ask to sit down, ask to leave the room; I thought it was ridiculous. I’m an adult, not a small child. The Island isn’t like this place. The men there don’t go to the extremes of the Facility. I couldn’t understand the point of it all.”

Elise nodded. “Exactly! What am I supposed to learn by asking a stranger if he approves of me eating a meal? I’m not going to be group property, at the beck and call of every man in the place.”

Jamie grimaced. “Well, technically you are at the beck and call of every man here, as you put it. The Facility is male domination carried to an extreme. It’s not meant to represent what life will be like on the Island though. It has another purpose.”

“So when I get to the main island I’m not going to be ordered around by every man on the street?”

Jamie laughed, nearly spilling her drink. “Oh no, it’s not like that at all. You serve one master. There are certain standards for behavior, but nothing like what we go through here. No, the purpose of this place is to test your resolve as much as to teach you what it means to be submissive in a world where it’s taken seriously.”

Elise, finished with dessert, carefully placed her fork on the tray. In a moment she would signal for the guard, but before she left she wanted to ask Jamie about something that had piqued her curiosity. “My resolve? What do you mean?”

“You consider yourself a submissive female, someone who wants a relationship with a strong dominant male?” Elise nodded as Jamie continued. “Okay, that’s obvious or you wouldn’t be here. But, can you live the reality as well as the fantasy? Can you really turn over your life to some guy? Can you trust him when you have no idea if he’s right or not? You’re going to find out, because the Facility turns fantasy into fact. You don’t have a choice, remember? They are going to make you confront what’s really inside you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. If you can make it here you’ll have the answers to those questions.”

No one had ever explained it in quite such blunt terms. Elise stared across the table, hesitant to ask the obvious question. “What about you, Jamie? Did you find the answers to those questions?”

Jamie didn’t turn away. Instead she answered in a quiet but confident tone of voice. “Yes I have, Elise. I will sit here until a man tells me I can leave. I will go to sleep tonight when a man gives me permission to go to my room. In the morning I will put on the clothes a man orders me to wear, and carefully listen to what he wishes to teach me. And one day the right someone will tell me to come home with him. When it happens I’ll go with him, happily, willingly, obediently, and I’ll do my best to be his companion for a lifetime. That’s what I’ve learned about myself.”

Elise was quiet, deep in thought as she pondered Jamie’s words. Would she too one day find that peace? Just what would the facility teach her about herself? She had the feeling that she would soon find out.

History Lesson

After the ship entered the harbor, before docking, a crewman brought a message from the ship’s purser, Ahmed, stating that Luisa’s company had arranged transportation at the port and requested her to remain in her stateroom until he called. The crewman had taken her luggage. Luisa nervously sat on the edge of the bed, worried that she had been discovered, that somehow she had revealed her real identity while on the voyage from the Seychelles to the Island. A bump and then silence as the ship’s engines shut down told her they had docked, but no one came to her door immediately. She was so wrapped up in disaster scenarios that when the polite knock on her door came about fifteen minutes later it made her jump. She got up and opened the door immediately.

Ahmed and another man were waiting in the corridor. “My apologies for the delay, Miss Vallardo. Ship’s business, always busy when docking, I’m sure you understand.” Luisa nodded, afraid to say anything. “May I introduce Mr. Rupert Townsend? Mr. Townsend is a representative of your company.”

“Please to meet you, Mr. Townsend.” Luisa extended her hand. To her surprise rather than shaking hands Mr. Townsend merely held it and gave a small, polite formal bow.

“May I say I’m delighted to meet you, Miss Vallardo?” He had a definite Australian accent. “If you are ready it would be my pleasure to escort you to our corporate headquarters. There are a few formalities that need to be addressed before you settle in. I have a car waiting.” He stood back and gestured for her to precede him.

No uniformed police, no accusations, no demands that she explain her presence on the Island. It looks like I’ve pulled it off, Luisa told herself. “Thank you, Mr. Townsend, I’m ready. About my bags? And what about Customs? I have my passport here in my purse.”

“Not to worry, it’s all been taken care of. We don’t have Customs here on the Island, and you don’t require a passport. Right this way, if you would please follow me?”

The apparent laxness of the Island’s entry procedures was puzzling to Luisa. For a place that seemed to value its secrecy so highly there appeared to be little in the way of security. Mr. Townsend must have been on the ship before since he knew precisely where to find the exit hatch that opened onto the dock. They wound their way through the lower part of the ship, but sandwiched with Townsend in front of her and Ahmed behind, she didn’t have an opportunity to see much except empty corridors and a cargo hold packed with crates.

Leaving the ship was as simple as walking down a ramp from the open cargo doors to the pier. As promised a car was parked just beyond the cargo unloading area. Luisa didn’t recognize the make. Before she could reach for a car door, Mr. Townsend opened the rear door for her. She could see a driver inside. Ahmed said his goodbyes and headed back to the ship.

The drive into town was uneventful. Sitting next to her Mr. Townsend pointed out various buildings and facilities on the Island. To Luisa it could have been a city in Florida or southern California. They left the highway and drove through downtown streets until they reached headquarters, easily identified by the large company logo on the side of the building. The car drove down a ramp to the basement-parking garage and pulled into a reserved parking space next to an elevator.

“I’m sorry to rush you,” Mr. Townsend apologized as he led her to the elevator door, “but it’s late in the afternoon and there are some people waiting to meet you.” He held open the elevator door for her and punched a button when they got in.

Luisa started to ask him about the company, but he cut her off immediately. “Again my apologies, and I don’t mean to be rude, but someone else will answer all your questions. We have certain procedures to follow.”

Exiting the elevator he led her to an office at the end of the corridor. Luisa noticed several women, either passing them in the hallway or through an open office door, all dressed in what looked to be a uniform. Mr. Townsend discretely knocked on a door marked “Conference” before opening it. Inside was a table, with three chairs arranged along one side. Two women were seated on either side of the central seat. On the other side of the table was a single armless chair. Mr. Townsend pulled it out and asked Luisa to sit down. He took his place across from her.

“First, I’d like to welcome you to the Island and to the company. Allow me to introduce Mrs. Dornier, who also works for the company, and Mrs. Leeds from the Island’s government. I’m sure you have many questions but if you could hold off for a moment perhaps we can answer some of the obvious ones. Mrs. Leeds?”

The woman on his left began. “Good afternoon, Miss Vallardo. My name is Anna Leeds, one of the members appointed to your oversight board.” The woman speaking to Luisa was formal in manner and appearance, businesslike in every way. Every way but one, and that was a jarring reminder to Luisa, now Lois Vallardo, that she was in a place with very different rules. The once crucial difference, and the one she couldn’t help but stare at, was the unmistakable metal collar around Anna Leeds neck.

“I’m from the Island’s immigration agency, sort of an official greeter. I’d like to go over with you regarding some legal details about your employment contract.” Anna paused to pick up a sheet of paper. “As the letter containing the job offer explained, you have accepted a position in this company’s apprentice training program.”

Luisa nodded in agreement. “That’s right, as a technical writer.”

Anna frowned at the interruption but continued, “You are correct. However, you may not be aware of the Island’s laws pertaining to your position. I see you are from New York City. Tell me, do you know much about the history of New England and the upstate New York area in the early 1800s?”

The question didn’t seem to make any sense to Luisa. How did American history have any bearing on her job? “I’m sorry, but no, I only had the minimum in history at school. Excuse me, but I don’t see the relevance. I wasn’t aware a technical writer had to be a historian as well.”

Anna smiled as she shook her head. “No, no, it was just a casual question. I asked as certain events back then have shaped current Island policy. Let me explain.

“In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the northeast U.S. was the center of the textile industry in America. Automation in the form of water wheel powered looms was changing a largely rural area. One of the problems the mill owners ran into was a severe labor shortage. They simply could not hire enough men to keep up production.

“What could they do? There was an explosion in demand for their products. Sales were being lost to British mills because they couldn’t keep up with demand. Finally the mills resorted to what had been the unthinkable up to then; they recruited farm girls, young women who would normally never be employed outside the farm.

“Now keep in mind what it was like then,” Anna continued. “Women did not work in factories. They married and lived on their husband’s farm. That was the only way for a proper young lady to fit into society. Parents would never allow their daughters to work in the mills.

“So the mill owners, desperate for workers, set up a social system that concerned parents would accept. The companies built and operated dormitories, saw to it the women stayed in at night, received a good education in the social graces and went to church on Sunday. In effect the company took charge of their lives until they married and left the mill.”

The history lesson wasn’t inspiring Luisa. What Anna had described sounded like paternalism at its worst. Luisa could make her own decisions about her life; she didn’t need someone else to tell her what was acceptable.

Seeing there were no questions Anna continued. “And that brings us to the present. Here on the Island the company training programs, such as the one you signed up for, are structured much the same as those old textile mills. Your time will be closely monitored by designated company supervisors, such as Mrs. Dornier.” Anna nodded toward the other woman facing Luisa. “Under Island law you are required to submit to their authority and follow the set of rules for trainees.”

Anna slid a small book across the table to Luisa. “In here are the essentials you need to know.” She put her hand on top of it before Luisa could pick it up. “I want to stress that what is in here is a legal mandate. It’s the law, not just a bunch of suggestions. Read it, and learn what’s in there.

“To misuse an old movie line, you are not in Kansas anymore. The social structure on the Island is not what you are used to back home. Don’t let the similarities fool you. Here we all have well-defined roles. It is up to you to learn how best to fit into yours. The company will help, but in the end it is your responsibility.”

Luisa had never been to Kansas, but she recognized the reference to The Wizard of Oz. In a way it felt like she was a Dorothy who had been picked up by a tornado and dumped in a dream world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fantasy she shared with the rest of the Island’s inhabitants. With some trepidation she picked up the book and opened it.

It was every bit as bad as she had feared. Uniforms, supervised free time, permission required for even the most trivial matters. She wasn’t even allowed to leave the building on her own. Whoever had written the book must have come from a military school and one for twelve year olds at that. It might have been reasonable two hundred years ago, but not today. “Look, I’m an adult.” Luisa threw the book down on the table. “I don’t see why I have to do any of this. Why wasn’t I told before I accepted the job?” She almost bit her tongue as the angry words came out. She was here to investigate, not get kicked out on the first day.

Anna slid the book back toward her and stood up. “Now you look. I don’t know how or why you came here, but that’s irrelevant now. I don’t care if you find it acceptable or not, and neither will anyone else. This manual,” Anna tapped her finger on the cover, “has the words you live by from this moment on. Get it through your head right now; someone else sets the rules for us. You need to learn to show some respect for those in authority. The sooner you do the better off you’ll be.”

Anna sat back down. “Sorry, I get carried away. Things like this are very important to me. I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’re new here and there are so many things you don’t understand yet. Please, read the book. You really don’t have a choice, you know. The contract is for a year. You have to stay on the Island until it expires.”

And there it was, Luisa thought, the words I really didn’t want to hear. I can’t leave. I can’t just walk away. It doesn’t look like I’m going to escape or be rescued either. She picked up the book again, resigned to reading it but determined to do as little as possible.

Anna nodded in approval. “Good. Now, a few points first. This is all covered in there but you need to know it right away. First, do not leave the building unless you are being escorted. That’s very important. If you are caught outside on your own you’ll be in serious trouble. Same for insubordination, do as you are told and don’t mouth off.

“And always remember where you are, Lois. This is Isla Del Sur. The men are in charge, that’s the reason women like us come here. There’s no ambiguity about it.” Anna touched the collar around her throat. “I know it’s hard to adjust, but be patient and work at it. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll find the man you want to call master.”

It’ll be a cold day when some man convinces me to wear one of those things, Luisa vowed.

As soon as Anna stopped talking Mr. Townsend spoke up. “Thank you, Anna. I must stress the importance of what Mrs. Leeds has covered, Miss Vallardo. The company aggressively complies in full with all Island regulations, as spelled out in that book. Mrs. Dornier will see you to your room and explain your schedule for the next few days. I would ask that you see her about any daily concerns that may come up. If you feel the situation warrants you may request a meeting with your entire oversight board, the three of us, by submitting a written request to your supervisor. For now I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Mrs. Dornier.”

That must have signaled the end of the meeting for he immediately stood up. Anna Leeds followed him out the door but the one remaining member, Mrs. Dornier, stayed behind. From the expression on her face Luisa gathered she had not made a good first impression.

“First, we get you some uniforms, then a room assignment.” Mrs. Dornier stood up, “and if there’s time we can stop by your office. You’ve been assigned to the technical proposals section. Some friendly advice,” she pointed to the small book on the table, “you better know that book by heart. I don’t know why but the powers that be decided you are going to work for Kurt Goeren. He literally wrote that book and trust me, he’ll expect you to follow it religiously.”

Field Work

The plane touched down on the dirt airstrip next to a small village. This was Mark Sturgis’ initial visit to equatorial Africa and the first of what would be several field trips to inspect the progress of the power transmission line. The Congo Republic government was backing the construction to bring power to a new mining district. The royalties from the cobalt being produced there would pay for the bonds in less than five years, so there was little financial risk. Without cobalt jet engines and gas turbines couldn’t be built, and the Congo had most of the world’s supply of the strategic mineral. The only other source was Siberia, where mines were operated under horrendous arctic conditions and shipments of the precious mineral were spotty at best. Aircraft engine factories and electric utility suppliers all over the world needed reliable sources and paid dearly to ensure uninterrupted delivery.

It was difficult to recruit experienced engineers to work in central Africa, and that was reflected in the price tag in his contract. The signing bonus for this project was paying the costs of moving to the Island and then some. His new friend, John Leeds, had been instrumental in helping Mark and his wife Cathy put all the pieces together. John had sponsored their names to the Island’s immigration board; he had put Mark in contact with the Island-based civil engineering company that was managing the Congo project; and he had even volunteered to help them get settled once they decided to move.

Mark thought back to that first invitation, when he had flown to South Africa and then taken the freighter to the Island. John had shown him the sights, talked about the society, and then arranged an appointment with the immigration review board. The meeting had been short; their application was approved with no objections. The job interview had also gone well, but the company’s need for a hands-on inspection was urgent and already overdue. He had returned to California to give Cathy the good news and wrap up their affairs before moving. Time was short though, with the result that Mark had to travel on to the Congo and not complete the trip back to the Island with Cathy.

As the small plane taxied to a stop he saw the group of ubiquitous Land Rovers parked at one end of the dirt airstrip. A Belgian company was constructing the towers for the transmission line, after which Mark’s company, as the general contractor, would see to the installation of the power cables. It was his job to drive the length of the power line and evaluate the work completed to date. Beyond the Land Rovers were several military trucks filled with government army soldiers who would theoretically provide security for the trek.

As with much of central Africa the Congo had problems with guerrilla bands, most of them little more than bandit gangs raiding to fill their pockets. Mark’s company had quietly arranged an insurance policy with the bandits too, some cash bribes and a promise of retaliation by highly skilled mercenaries against the leaders if their agreements were not honored. The company had used the same policy in the past with great success, and the few times that it had been necessary to carry out the threat had only added to the company’s reputation. Employees could take on projects in some of the most dangerous areas of the world with virtual impunity. Mark was concerned the poorly paid soldiers coming along with him represented a greater danger than the bandits, but given this was a high profile project they should be on their best behavior.

As soon as he was out of the plane the first person to meet him was the local manager for the company’s interests. He took Mark over to meet the construction foremen while one of the workmen fetched Mark’s luggage from the plane. Mark spoke neither French nor Flemish, so he was grateful when he found some of the Belgians could speak English. Introductions were made all around and then they were on the way to the construction site. Mark’s driver, a local, didn’t speak much English, so he was able to turn his attention to the countryside.

He thought back to the day it all started. They had gone to bed for the night. Lying in his arms Cathy had told him of her secret desires, of her need to be dominated, and how she wanted to feel him controlling her every moment of the day. She had told him of Internet websites she had found and how they explained the master/slave lifestyle.

Mark had taken the lead role in their relationship virtually since the first time they had met. He had been careful not to be overly aggressive and had gradually assumed the dominant position as she reacted positively. He would tell friends they had a “traditional marriage” when someone remarked on how she seemed to defer to him. It got the occasional raised eyebrow of surprise, but people seemed to understand it was what he and Cathy both wanted.

John Leeds had been in Los Angeles as part of an extended consulting project at the old company where Mark had been employed. They had met one day for lunch and became friends. It had been just a few days after Cathy’s revelation that John had been talking about his wife Anna. He had pulled out his wallet and showed her picture to Mark. The collar around her neck was prominent and obviously not jewelry. Mark recognized its meaning from what Cathy had told him, so he decided to ask John about it.

What John related to him took Mark by surprise. A private island where women were actually owned, a place where a man was literally master of his household; it sounded like something out of a bad attempt at an erotic novel. On the way home that evening he thought about it. When he told Cathy about their conversation she became excited and wanted more information. She talked of nothing else all night. It was clear the Island had struck a responsive chord in her. She was fascinated by his description of the picture showing John’s wife wearing a collar.

The next day Mark called John to invite him to dinner. The conversation afterwards stretched on for hours as Cathy asked question after question. When John left to go back to his hotel Mark inquired about information on moving to the Island. John had told him it was possible and would make some calls.

Now Cathy was on the ship, and Mark would be joining her a week after she arrived. In his briefcase were the papers detailing the basic ownership agreement and some other documentation explaining his rights and obligations. He had read it over once, and would read it again as time permitted. In real terms there was little that he didn’t do already, as far as his commitment to care, shelter, and provide for Cathy. What amazed him was the scope of his power over her. If she signed the agreement she would be taking an immense risk. As long as they lived on the Island then for all practical purposes she would be his property, except that he couldn’t sell her to someone else. It might have been a common practice two hundred years ago, but he still couldn’t quite believe it existed in a modern society today.

In the distance he could see the skeletal outline of completed transmission line towers marching across the valley. They would be at the construction camp in a few minutes. This afternoon he would review the plans and progress to date. The long inspection tour would start in the morning. Mark had already flagged several stopping points on his topographic map but knew there would be more only someone on the ground would notice. He had to make sure the towers were properly spaced and accessible to the heavy trucks equipped with the cable pulling winches. If they had to resort to helicopters the costs would skyrocket and might even result in a net loss for the company. For his own peace of mind he also wanted to see how the weather would affect their operation. They didn’t want heavy trucks out in the field during a monsoon.

In a way this trip might be a good idea after all. It would give Cathy time to see the Island on her own and talk to some of the people there. John had stressed how important it was she understood what would happen and that she fully comprehend both the risks and benefits. Mark knew his absence could give her the space she needed to think through the consequences, without feeling any pressure from him. Except for some limited communication through the telemetry satellite link he would be out of touch until he left the Congo.

At the construction camp there were trailers set up for the staff. Most were partitioned into living quarters but one trailer was set aside for the field office. The project manager made room for Mark at a table so he could go over the construction plans for the final build out to the mines and smelter. The distribution substation would be constructed on the land being used for the camp, and afterward smaller lines would be run to the mine heads. He spent the rest of the day going over the paperwork, with a break to look around the camp and plan how the substation would be laid out. Few people were in the camp since the crews would not return from the field till dusk.

That evening he dined on authentic local cuisine, prepared by some village women the construction company had hired to run the camp kitchen. Both the meat and some of the vegetables in the stew had an odd taste but were quite good. Mark made a mental note to ask what he was eating later on, unsure if it was a good idea during the meal. He hadn’t thought to check with John about the food selection on the Island. Cathy was proud of her cooking but he was sure if faced with a choice cut of wildebeest roast she‘d need some help. This was the opposite end of the world from Los Angeles; there wasn’t likely to be a corner taco stand or pizza delivery.

After dinner he sat outside his trailer for a while, looking at the stars in an unfamiliar sky. This was south of the equator; the night was a display of strange constellations. After a while he did pick out the Southern Cross, the only stars he knew about. Many times he and Cathy had spent the weekend camping out in the Sierra Nevada range, away from the city lights. They had sat up late, his arm around her, looking up at the night sky, picking out constellations while talking about their hopes and dreams. They would be looking at brand new stars now. In a way it seemed to fit with starting a new life.

He turned in early since they would be starting at dawn tomorrow, to get in as much daylight as possible. This would be the last night spent in relative comfort; for the rest of the trip it would be a sleeping bag and tent. Mark sat up in the cramped trailer bed and opened his briefcase to get the ownership contract papers. He wanted to check some points one more time, to let the implications roll around in the back of his head while he was working the next few days.

The basic contract was clear in spelling out obligations. In addition to the travel bond, which he had already posted, he had to guarantee her the essentials, that he would provide food, shelter, and medical care if she needed it. He would not inflict serious injury or disfigure her. He would not appropriate any property or financial assets which belonged to her. He would take responsibility for her actions and see to it she learned and kept within the laws and customs of the Island.

She was required to acknowledge his authority as her owner, to obey his orders and faithfully keep to whatever rules he imposed. She had to follow the laws specific to her new status, including restrictions on travel, handling money, wearing the collar, and curfew. Unless the terms of the contract were violated she could not leave him or refuse to honor her commitment as spelled out in the contract. Neither of them could back out unilaterally.

The consequences for breaking the contract could be severe, for either of them. If he failed to support her he could be charged with neglect. If she disobeyed or broke a law she could be charged with disobedience. Both crimes could be treated as felonies if the situation warranted. And if she ran away, or he abandoned her, the explanation booklet for the contract made it clear the penalties were very severe, including prison sentences.

This was the part that made Mark uneasy. He had no intentions of abandoning or mistreating Cathy, but neither did he want some stranger second-guessing him. He needed to talk to John about those clauses, in particular what kept some well-meaning but misguided government official from passing judgment on his and Cathy’s relationship. He had read of too many cases where social workers destroyed lives by careless, biased, or poorly-informed judgments.

Mark put the papers back in his briefcase and turned out the light. Drifting off to sleep he thought about Cathy. There was a nagging feeling of guilt that he couldn’t be with her at such an important moment in their lives. At least she would be looked after, by someone Mark trusted.

Overtime

Luisa looked at the clock, 4pm on a Friday. They weren’t going to have the project report ready in the next hour. She and her supervisor, Kurt Goeren, were the only ones in the tiny technical proposals office. Under normal circumstances it could wait until Monday, or they could even work a few hours over the weekend. But this particular document was the centerpiece of the company president’s sales pitch, a report he needed tomorrow afternoon in his hotel room in Asia, before the next round of presentations. To close this contract would mean bonuses for everyone in the company and plenty of consulting and support work in the future.

She turned away from her workstation and looked at Kurt. He was standing at the table next to her, assembling pages and graphics. “We aren’t going to make it,” she said, the undertone of frustration making her statement sound angry.

Kurt stopped and turned toward her. She knew he was originally from Switzerland, though he had lived on the Island for several years. In typical Swiss fashion he seemed unperturbed at the imminent demise of both their careers. He glanced over her head at the clock on the wall.

“There is time to finish. The report will be ready for transmission tomorrow morning.” His words were slow and precise, as if he carefully picked each one from a list. His English was colored by the barest hint of that flat accent, the trademark of the German dialect spoken in the Swiss Alps.

“I can’t. I have three hours of editing left, plus proofreading. And you know I have to report to the dormitory after five. There’s no way I can get it all done.” It’s the rules, Luisa thought. Work ended at five, then ten minutes to report to the dorm supervisor for evening assignments. It seemed like each moment of her waking day was regulated in some way. There was a company policy for everything, at least for trainees.

“One moment,” came Kurt’s clipped response. He went into his office and picked up the phone. She couldn’t hear what he said, but he came out a moment later. “It is arranged. We have as much time as we need to finish.”

“You got an extension? But I thought we needed it by morning!”

“The deadline has not changed. We will continue working as long as is needed. You will not report to your dorm until our project is complete. I have authorized overtime for you. Please continue with your editing.” He turned back to the table and resumed his sorting.

Luisa turned back to her screen and continued typing. As simple as that, she told herself. I’d be in all kinds of trouble if I were a minute late, but he can brush it aside with one phone call. Each evening, in the little free time they were allowed, she had been writing down every instance of how unfairly women were treated, both in the company and on the Island. Men ran this society; men controlled every aspect of a woman’s life here. They made all the rules and had all the power. It was like returning to the Stone Age. Maybe they didn’t drag their knuckles or carry around clubs, but men like Kurt were the essence of the Stone Age caveman. He hadn’t even bothered to ask if she would mind working late.

At least she had been able to get her articles out. There was a regular mail service, though she had to get someone to help her with the Saudi riyal stamp denominations. There was no island postmark; everything went by ship to the Saudi post office at the port of Jeddah first. Apparently all mail to certain addresses in Jeddah came back to the Island in the same way. The arrangement was that her editor would hold the stories until she returned or in case something happened. If he didn’t hear from her after thirty days he would run the stories and do his best to publicize her disappearance. That was as close as she could come to some kind of guarantee of her safety. If her secret was ever discovered she had a bargaining chip for her freedom.

She concentrated on the report. The living conditions might be horrific, but her job proved to be fascinating. As a technical writer she was learning new concepts virtually every day. All the intricate planning that went into something as simple as a road or a bridge amazed her. She had pictured civil engineers as the flannel-shirted, beer-swilling cretins who lived only to cut down age old forests or bulldoze orphanages between trips to the local redneck bar. Working with them, even the most obnoxious ones like Kurt, had shown they spent more time minimizing negative impact than actually building the project. Even the document she was now editing had provisions to add expenses to the pipeline they were bidding on, costs incurred by avoiding a significant historical bazaar district and mosque in some small village in Azerbaijan no one outside the country had ever heard of. She still couldn’t reconcile the imperious assumption these men had about getting their own way with the care and foresight they put into their work.

And why did it seem she was the only woman in the company who even seemed to care? She didn’t understand why her female co-workers seemed so happy. Her dorm roommate in particular was a good example. Luisa had tried to bring up the way the Island held down women, but her attempt went nowhere. Instead she got a lecture on how wonderful the place was and how her roommate would never dream of leaving.

She had been so busy that she didn’t notice when 5pm came and passed. She did stop fifteen minutes later when the hall door opened. A company security guard stood in the doorway, clipboard in hand. He looked at Luisa first, then to Kurt as he came out of his office. “Good evening Mr. Goeren. I need you to confirm the overtime authorization. Could you sign here?” He held out his clipboard. Kurt took it and signed. “Thank you. Do you have a specific time when you plan to stop? Someone can come by to escort her to the dorm.” The guard nodded toward Luisa.

“That will not be necessary. The time is indefinite at this point. I will see to it she is delivered to the dorm area when we are finished. Good evening.” Luisa watched him dismiss the guard in his usual brusque manner. She suffered in silence as Kurt headed back to his desk.

Great, she thought, dinner in the dorm is at six, no exceptions, and no way I’m going to be done by then. Looks like I go hungry tonight too. Not that Kurt would care, for him nothing mattered but getting the job done. That was something else that distinguished the men here, a sort of single-minded determination that took over once they decided to do something. No matter what, or who, got in the way, Luisa reflected. Through his open door she could see him at work on his computer, oblivious to the rest of the world.

The interruption over Luisa continued with her editing. The writing was difficult and time consuming, but by seven p.m. she was done. Files saved, she stood up and went to Kurt’s door. “The documents are edited and collated. Should I go ahead and print the final draft?” The report was in color and lengthy. It would take at least an hour to print the full proof copy with text and graphics.

“One moment,” he answered. He typed in some commands at the keyboard while she stood waiting. Naturally, she growled silently, the whole world waits for Kurt to finish. He stared at the screen, clicked on something, then nodded in satisfaction. “Yes, please start the proof job.” He didn’t even look up at her as he issued his orders. She went back to her workstation, started the print run, and then finished by checking the color printer for ink and paper. An hour to print, followed by the proofreading. If she was lucky she could beg a snack from someone in the kitchen before going to bed.

As the printer warmed up she heard Kurt talking. Looking through his door she saw him hanging up the telephone. The first page started to feed through the printer. She noticed he opened his desk and put something in a pocket. It was shiny but from the angle she couldn’t make out what it was. He came out to stand next to her as the printer slowly composed and spit out each page.

“Do you like Chinese food?” The unexpected question caught her off guard.

“Why, yes I do. An egg roll would be heaven right now. I’m starving.”

“There is some time before the printing is finished. I have made reservations at an excellent restaurant within walking distance, one where I have often dined. Is there anything you need to take care of before we leave?”

Luisa wondered if he had to work at being so irritating, or if it came naturally. He didn’t even bother to ask if she’d like to go out. She couldn’t pass up a chance at a real dinner though, especially when she was so hungry. There was one small detail he seemed to have overlooked. “I was told I’m not allowed to leave the building unless I’m escorted by authorized personnel. I don’t think I’m supposed to leave for dinner.”

Kurt nodded, “Yes, that’s correct. However, as your supervisor I am one of those authorized personnel. It is permitted within your guidelines to accompany me to dinner to discuss business. You are welcome to call the dorm if you would like to confirm it.”

He was too meticulous to make a mistake about something like that. Luisa didn’t need to call. Even if he were wrong she wouldn’t be held accountable. She didn’t really want to talk about oil pipelines over dinner, but Chinese food was tempting. All she had to do was clench her teeth and count to ten every time he said something, hold in her temper, and stuff herself with rice and steamed veggies. It would be nice to get out for a while too, even if it was only for an hour. “In that case I’m ready. I checked the ink and paper so there shouldn’t be any problems.”

Kurt went to the hall door and held it open for her. She took one last look at the printer before he shut the door. He gestured toward the elevators. “We will let the machines do their work. I have every confidence the report will be done on time. Now we will take the time to relax at the end of the work day.” Luisa wondered if his odd way of speaking had to do with being Swiss or if it was unique to his personality. He seemed to make it a point to be formal, polite and aloof. She was used to the U.S. office style, where co-workers were informal and often friends outside of work. He pushed the elevator button for the lobby. When the car arrived he held open the elevator door for her.

In the lobby he steered her toward the receptionist counter rather than the front door. At this hour a security guard sat behind the counter. “Good evening, Joe,” he greeted the elderly guard.

“Hi Mr. Goeren, working late tonight?” His eyes lingered a moment longer on Luisa as he recognized her company uniform. “Good evening Miss, are you with Mr. Goeren?”

Kurt spoke up before she could answer. “We are going out for dinner but will return later tonight. List it as discretion of supervisor.” Joe nodded, wrote something down, and then handed Kurt a clipboard to sign. “Thanks, Joe. How did Manchester do yesterday?”

“Over Arsenal by two, looks good for a cup this year. Enjoy your dinner, Miss.” Luisa heard the buzzing as the front door unlocked. Kurt took her arm and led her to the front door.

Outside he pointed down the street, “We go that way.” In the distance Luisa could see a neon sign in Chinese characters. “Joe Bardeen is an interesting character. In his younger days he played English football before joining the company and still follows the football clubs. He retired from the company board of directors a few years ago. When his wife passed away he had too much time on his hands, so he asked to return in some minor position. Now he’s the evening security guard on weekends. He chose to work late so people wouldn’t recognize him.”

Luisa wondered at the kind of man who would willingly go from the top to the bottom of the company. Kurt talked about him as they walked along the sidewalk. She could hear the respect and not a little awe he had for old Joe.

It didn’t take long to reach the restaurant. Inside he shook hands with the host and said a few words before they were seated. A waiter brought menus for the two of them.

Outside the sign had been in Chinese only. She was afraid the menu would be in Chinese too but on opening it found the names and descriptions in English. Some dishes she recognized but others were unfamiliar. She looked up at Kurt.

He must have noticed her puzzled expression because he launched into an explanation immediately. “The style of cuisine here is what’s called Szechuan, from northern China. It’s hot and spicy, mostly meat dishes. The chef does prepare some southern dishes for those who aren’t accustomed to food that bites back.” He smiled and Luisa laughed. That was the first time she ever heard Kurt make a joke. He pointed out the items on the menu that she might like.

After she told Kurt her selection he signaled the waiter. She was about to speak up when he gave the waiter first her order then his own. Count to ten, she told herself, same old Kurt, he won’t even let me order my own food. She watched the waiter leave before turning back to Kurt. She was startled to see him watching her intently.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. His stare made her feel self-conscious. She looked down at her company issue blouse and skirt, no stains or wrinkles, nothing out of order.

“No, nothing wrong,” he answered. He folded his hands on the table before continuing. “Tell me, you know about the history of the Island, the type of people who choose to live here?”

She answered immediately. “Yes, of course. We have to attend classes after work hours. They cover the Island, the proper roles for men and women, that sort of thing.” Proper roles indeed, Luisa thought, more like indoctrination. Most of her articles had dealt with those lectures and what the women here were being taught. It was textbook male oppression. Not just virtual slavery but the real thing. She remembered that first day she had seen a woman with the collar around her neck. Ownership, the word made her skin crawl. She still didn’t understand how those women put up with it.

Then she found out she wasn’t exempt from that oppression. The employment contract she signed under island law made her a ward of the company for the one year term. It made no difference that she was an adult. The company now had the right to exercise complete control over her life. Everything was regulated now, where to live, what to eat, the clothes she wore, even the movies she was permitted to watch. She couldn’t leave the building on her own. The very first lecture had stressed that compliance with company procedures wasn’t optional. It was the law of the land.

That was the main reason she had to tolerate Kurt and his domineering attitude. If there had been a way to escape she would have left at the earliest opportunity. But no matter what crazy plan she came up with, there was no way to get off the Island. It had to be by ship, and there was only one port. She might be able to make it to the entrance, but it was impossible to get past the port guards. It had been so easy on arrival, but leaving was another matter. In order for her to book passage someone from the company, some man she corrected herself, had to escort her all the way to the ship and present the forms and permits allowing her to leave.

Kurt continued. “This is the plan for the evening. We are going to have a pleasant dinner, then return to the office. I will proofread the final copy. When we are finished with any changes I will take you to your dormitory.” He paused while reaching into a pocket in his jacket. He took out something shiny and metallic, carefully setting it on the edge of the table next to his plate. When he took his hand away she recognized the object he had taken from his desk, handcuffs.

“When we are finished with dinner, you will stand up, turn around, and put your hands behind your back. I will then place the restraints on your wrists. You will not be permitted to take them off, nor will you be allowed to ask for their removal. There will be no discussion on the matter.”

Luisa stared at the gleaming metal cuffs on the table. “Why…” she stopped. No discussion meant just that. She couldn’t ask the reason why. Her eyes jumped from the cuffs to Kurt’s face, back and forth. What was he doing? Given her status, or lack of it, she had no doubt he had the authority, but there was no reason for it. She had been cooperative, no matter how much he aggravated her. If she had broken some company rule it was one she didn’t know about. This isn’t fair; he has no right to haul me back to the office in chains. And even if he does have the right, she had to concede that point, it was the Island, there’s no justification for humiliating me in public.

Before she could say anything else the waiter brought their food. The interruption gave her time to recover her poise. The waiter placed the bowls of rice, meat, and vegetables on the table, deftly avoiding the cuffs next to Kurt’s plate. Though he must have noticed them he made no comment. Of course, Luisa realized, it’s nothing new to him. He probably has a set at home too. The waiter finished serving by placing a small wire frame cart of sauces in the middle of the table.

“Please, help yourself.” Kurt said, reaching for a bowl of fried rice. “If you like soy sauce, I suggest you try that one on the end, the extra dark one. The light colored soy sauces are used for dipping, use that small bowl to pour some out for this garlic chicken. This bowl with the red in it is called Kung Pao, you might want to take just a little taste before you put some on your plate. It’s very hot. The red vegetables are actually peppers. Here’s the rice, put the vegetables on top.” He handed her the bowl of fried rice.

She grabbed the bowl and held onto it tightly, to conceal the shakiness in her hands. Reaction, Luisa realized, I’m scared. She held the bowl of rice steady with one hand while scooping out some onto her plate with the other hand. She tried to put the cuffs out of her head but her eyes kept coming back to them, sitting on the edge of the table. Never in her life had she ever been arrested. She had never worn handcuffs, or even seen them close up. Her worst criminal offense had been a ticket for running a red light. She looked up to Kurt, who seemed to be oblivious to her distress.

Somehow she managed to get the food onto her plate while avoiding the Kung Pao on Kurt’s advice. The first bite told her this was Chinese food unlike anything she had ever tasted before. Distracted, she looked at what was on her plate.

Kurt must have noticed the expression on her face. “It’s really very good, isn’t it? That’s why I try to eat here often. I know the chef, Lee Fu Bai. The food is authentic as he’s from northern China himself, Manchuria, close to the Siberian border. He learned to be a chef at a restaurant in Urum Qi, that’s a city in the far northwest. Did you happen to notice the name of this place?”

A mouth full of food, Luisa shook her head. There was no English translation for the Chinese characters on the sign or the front of the restaurant.

“Well, Fu wanted all the ethnic Manchu Chinese to recognize the place and remember his name, so he ordered the neon sign to be made in Chinese. It’s difficult and expensive to make the characters though, so he had to shorten it. The original plan was to call it Lee Fu Bai’s Manchu Dining Room, but that was cost prohibitive. So he shortened it…to Fu’s Manchu.”

Luisa had to grab her napkin to cover her mouth while laughing. Kurt grinned as he kept talking. “The first time Fu translated for me, he couldn’t understand why I started laughing. I told him all about Sax Rohmer and his stories featuring the villainous Dr. Fu Man Chu, constantly thwarted by Nayland Smith. Fu liked it, so he kept the name. He even tried to grow that famous Mandarin moustache once.”

All through dinner Kurt kept up the conversation, talking about himself, how he came to the Island, and his boyhood in the Alps. He would pause from time to time, allowing Luisa to get in a few comments. At some point she realized the stiff, formal Kurt at the office was a real charmer once he relaxed. He was witty, intelligent, and had a dry, deadpan sense of humor that was all but extinct these days. His stories were simple but revealed a man who looked at life as something to be enjoyed every moment. He was talking about growing up in Switzerland.

“During my college years we had to take our military service during the summer. As you probably know, all able-bodied Swiss men are enlisted in the reserves. For my training I volunteered for the bicycle regiment. It has been disbanded now but was still in force at the time.”

Luisa nodded, “I’ve heard of it. The Swiss Army was the last major country to still use bicycles.”

“That’s true. We were told it was to be prepared if there was no fuel for cars or trucks. We could move quickly to defend strategic points, faster than troops on foot. Our training was to practice that kind of maneuver. It might have been a good idea, but it didn’t work too well. In the morning we would gather at a town, load up our bicycles, shoulder our rifles, and ride off to guard the bridge in the mountains. Country roads are not too good though, and the bicycles were old. An hour later most of us had flat tires.

“We wanted to stop, but the lieutenant said no, in a battle we would have to keep going. So we passed through small villages clattering on our metal rims, making an awful sound. So loud that many of the farmers offered to take us the rest of the way in trucks. The sound was bad for the cows, they would say, it will make holes in the cheese.” Kurt finished his story and took a bite of food.

Luisa laughed again and shook her head, holes in Swiss cheese. She should have seen that one coming. She looked across the table at her dining companion with newfound respect. Except for that dictatorial attitude he’d be the kind of guy she’d want to spend a lot of time with. Oh my god, I’m on a date, she realized, and having a good time too. Now she was suspicious. Had he deliberately waited till the last minute, so they would have to work overtime? So he could get her alone? Whether it was coincidence or conspiracy, she was still enjoying the dinner and his company. It was a welcome escape from the dorm and the never-ending rules and lectures.

She began to notice small things about him. He was telling her all about himself, but not asking questions. When she spoke he listened but did not try to dig deeper into her background. It was almost as if he was selling himself to her, while trying to be non-threatening at the same time. She felt no pressure to talk about herself, a remarkable change from past dates she had been on. No innuendos either. Not a single sexual reference, no off color jokes. Usually by now her dates would be hinting at the rest of the night, but not Kurt. He finished another one of his stories, making her giggle uncontrollably.

He leaned back in his chair and grinned at her. “A fine meal seasoned with the laughter of a beautiful woman. What more could a man ask for in life?” He signaled the waiter for the bill. “But we still have our duties to attend. The report awaits our return, and I must see to it you are returned to your dorm safe and sound. It is time to go back to the office.” He stood up, looked at Luisa, then slowly and deliberately picked up the handcuffs.

The world shrunk to the steel bracelets in his hand. Listening to his stories she had forgotten all about them. As if she were a detached observer she saw herself push back her chair and stand up. She stepped away from the table, looking into his eyes before she slowly turned around. She could see the door to the street and the cashier, as well as other customers at tables. In slow motion her arms moved of their own accord, behind her back. His hand took hold of her right arm first, positioning it. The cool touch of the steel against her skin had an almost electric feel as the cuff closed on her wrist. She heard the ratcheting sound a second time as the other cuff closed on her left wrist.

Staring straight ahead, not daring to move, she expected to see people pointing and whispering. A few diners looked up momentarily but otherwise ignored her. Even the waiter said nothing as he pushed in her chair against the table. No outraged demands that she be released, or even a question as to what was happening. It isn’t unusual, she thought, I might as well be putting on my coat. She felt Kurt do something to the handcuffs, and then he was at her side, a hand firmly grasping her upper arm. He gestured toward the cash register by the front door and indicated she should head that way by pressure on her arm. She followed meekly.

He paused at the cashier’s counter to pay the bill. Before he let go of her arm Kurt scrutinized her face, looking for any sign of distress. Luisa felt as if she were floating, not actually in her own body. She watched as Kurt counted out the bills. She vaguely remembered she wasn’t allowed to handle money, another company rule. If she wanted to buy something for herself, she had to ask permission first. Someone would purchase it for her and deduct the amount from her company account.

While the cashier counted out the change she tested the handcuffs by trying to pull her wrists apart. A few inches and no further. They felt loose but she couldn’t slip either cuff off past her wrist. She couldn’t see what they looked like but her fingers brushed against what must have been a keyhole on each cuff. Kurt finished and took hold of her arm again. With his free hand he opened the door, gently pushing her forward. She walked through the door ahead of him. He never let go of her arm.

Back to the Office

Outside the restaurant the street was empty. Luisa realized they had been gone for a lot longer than an hour. Suddenly Kurt spun her around to face him, holding her in place with hands on both her arms. He stared intently at her. Their eyes locked, and she found she couldn’t look away. They stood transfixed, alone on the sidewalk, until Kurt broke the spell. “Are you okay?” She heard genuine concern in his voice, unexpected considering what he had done to her.

The simple question brought her back. “Yes, I’m all right,” she answered quietly. Why shouldn’t I be? She told herself. Trapped on an island of cavemen, the indentured servant to some mysterious company, standing on a deserted sidewalk in the middle of the night with my hands chained behind my back. What could be wrong? There wasn’t anything wrong though. She didn’t feel scared or violated. Something was happening that she didn’t understand. The outrage, the anger she should be feeling at being forced into handcuffs wasn’t there.

They started to walk back to the office building, Kurt between her and the sidewalk curb. He held onto her arm and kept looking over at her. She felt off balance, walking with her hands behinds her back, but she was in no danger of falling. She was about to say so when she realized if she did happen to stumble, she wouldn’t be able to break her fall. The same thing would happen if she tried to break his grip and run away.

The front door to the lobby wasn’t too far now. Kurt had told her she couldn’t ask to have the cuffs removed, but she was positive he would stop and unlock them before they went in the door. She didn’t really understand what he was trying to do. Maybe it was the price she was paying for the delightful dinner, something to symbolize her place at the bottom of the hierarchy. A stray thought crossed her mind, maybe this is what repression is like.

Kurt stopped as they reached the glass doors of the lobby. Luisa relaxed, grateful she would be rid of the restraints. Her relief didn’t last when Kurt knocked on the door but made no effort to free her. Joe waved from his counter and reached down. The door buzzed until Kurt pushed it open. Luisa hesitated but had to yield to his insistent pull on her arm. He led her right to the counter where Joe was watching.

A stab of real fear went through Luisa. What if they knew she was on the Island under false pretenses? Had they searched her outgoing mail and discovered the articles? Maybe the dinner had all been one big charade to see if she would let something slip, before Kurt turned her over to the Island police. That would explain the handcuffs too, delivering her wrapped up in a nice package.

“Evening, Mr. Goeren.” Joe held out the sign in sheet on a clipboard. She watched as Kurt filled it out. Joe looked at her but said nothing about the handcuffs. He turned back to Kurt as he handed over the clipboard. “Any difficulties?”

The question wasn’t directed to her. Of course not, Luisa thought, they’re all members of the same club. It was only natural he would assume she would be the cause, not the victim. And what would good old Joe put in his report, that she had attacked Kurt and had to be subdued? No wonder Kurt wasn’t concerned about anyone seeing her with her hands bound behind her back.

“No problems, Joe,” he answered as he took hold of her arm and steered her toward the elevators. No sudden outburst of accusations, no appearance of sinister black uniforms to take her away. It appeared her secret was still safe, unless they were waiting for her in the office. I’m going paranoid, get a grip, she told herself. Kurt said nothing when he called the elevator. They got in and he selected their destination. She watched the floor lights go by. At least this time of night there would be no one to see her.

The elevator stopped at their floor. Kurt held the elevator door open until she was in the hall. With his hand on her arm they headed for the office. He opened the office door and stood to the side, waiting for her to enter first. Always the gentleman, Luisa thought, or maybe he just wants to see that I haven’t managed to slip the cuffs.

The printer tray was full, no paper jams. The report still had to be proofed, but that was Kurt’s job. As manager it was his responsibility to sign off and deliver the final product. He did not head directly to the printer though.

First he pulled out Luisa’s chair from her desk, rolling it to the center of the room. Then he led her over to it. “Sit down. You will wait quietly until I have finished with the proofreading.” Awkwardly she sat down, her manacled hands behind the back of her seat. He pulled up another chair, facing her, before retrieving the printout. He sat down and began to read silently, glancing up at her occasionally.

She looked down at herself. The hem of her company skirt drew a line across the top of her knees. She had been unsure of what clothes to bring to the Island, but that turned out not to be a problem. Her luggage had been put in storage somewhere, unopened. She was only allowed to wear what the company provided. That was a simple choice, for there was only one uniform. The first day on the Island she had been given a white sleeveless blouse with company insignia on the upper left front, and the regulation company issue maroon mid length skirt, again with a small logo on it. Even her underwear, hose, and shoes were company approved. At least those didn’t have logos.

Naturally there were rules to go with the uniform. Clean and ironed attire, hair properly combed, a neat appearance were all mandatory. They had to line up for an inspection by the dorm supervisor every morning before going to their work assignments. Jewelry and makeup were forbidden, not too difficult to obey that one since they weren’t given any.

After being issued the uniforms, one of the early lectures had been what she still thought of as “charm school”. The woman teaching the class, the tireless Mrs. Dornier, had explained that they represented the company, so it was essential they present an appearance appropriate to the company’s image. Luisa almost laughed at the list of do’s and don’ts. But she listened and did her best to comply. Always sit straight, hold your head up, proudly. But don’t ever cross your legs; that was forbidden too. Even crossing your ankles was against policy. She sat like that now, facing Kurt with knees and ankles close together.

He went back to reading the report. Careful to not let him see, she explored the handcuffs on her wrists with her fingers. Around each wrist was a sort of thick adjustable metal bracelet, closed to where it wouldn’t slip off, but not too tight to cut off circulation. She located what seemed to be a hole on each cuff, probably for the key that opened them. A short metal chain connected the cuffs together. She slipped her fingers underneath the bow on one side and tried to pull it open, but it wouldn’t budge.

Luisa knew better than to ask him for the key. It felt wrong, though she couldn’t explain why. She watched him read, taking his time, being thorough, sometimes backing up. Every time he turned a page he looked over at her. She did her best to sit still and not distract him; that’s what he wanted.

She was helpless, completely within the control of the man sitting across from her. Luisa knew it was affecting her by the way she was having trouble concentrating. She didn’t understand why, but it seemed like the most important thing in the world was that she sit in this chair exactly as he had told her. A distant voice in her head was telling her something was very wrong, but she didn’t listen. What she did hear were his last words, over and over again. Wait quietly for him to proofread the document. Don’t fidget, don’t make any noise, be patient, that’s what Mrs. Dornier had told them, over and over again.

Each time he paused she looked up at him, eagerly hoping for some indication of how well she had done on the report. She’d never worked on so complex a project before. For all his brusque manner Kurt had been very patient in explaining her mistakes, never making fun of her obvious lack of knowledge and experience with large commercial projects. Rather than taking the quick route of making the corrections on his own he had taken the time to explain where she had gone wrong, how to fix it, and what to do the next time she ran into a similar situation.

Then there were the times she made dumb mistakes, either from laziness or not paying attention. He wasn’t patient and understanding during those moments. Then Kurt at his worst would come out. He never yelled, but she still cringed when she saw his frown and heard his cutting comment. “You know you can do better. Don’t let it happen again.” And then he’d just walk away, without letting her explain.

He was right, though, I did know better. And I didn’t do it again. There were no explanations she could have offered anyway, only weak excuses. How long since the last time he chewed me out that way, two weeks, three? Luisa couldn’t remember, because she took her technical work seriously now. The report in his hands was some of the best writing she’d ever done. Not that Emperor Kurt will ever admit it, nothing satisfies him. She pulled against the handcuffs one more time, more in frustration than any real attempt to free herself.

When he did finish, it seemed like she had been sitting there for hours. The clock on her desk showed it had been no more than twenty minutes. “You are a skilled and gifted writer,” he began. “The information is concise and accurate, each page flowing to the next. No errors either. I don’t know of anyone else who could have done as well. The project is complete. I am proud you are on my team.”

From a manager it would have been a simple compliment on a job well done, but to Luisa it sounded like an announcement that she had just won every prize possible for literature. She felt her cheeks burn as she blushed. Her body betrayed her in another way too, a rising desire telling her she wanted this man.

No! Anyone but him! There was that voice again, but instead she sat up straight and pulled her shoulders back, drawing attention to her breasts. Lust, it’s lust, not real attraction. Remember who he is, what he represents!  The voice was screaming now.

Kurt must have seen it but he said nothing. Instead he helped her to stand up. “It’s time for you to go to your room. I’ll finish the packaging and see that it’s sent to the hotel in Dushanbe.”

The dorm was the last place she wanted to go. What she wanted was to stay with Kurt. His hand on her arm sent tingles shooting through her body. She didn’t even care about the handcuffs any more. It was so tempting to let go, maybe just once, to really see what it was like to be completely within his control. Sure it was wrong, but would one time be so bad, even if it was with a prehistoric throwback like Kurt?

It wasn’t going to happen this night though. He pushed her chair back in to her workstation before he led her out to the hall. She wanted to hold back, to ask him to let her stay and help, but some form of weakness gripped her mind. There was no resistance as he took her first to the elevator, then down to the dorm floor. Luisa was disappointed, but there was nothing she could do.

When the elevator opened on her floor she started to walk out into the corridor, but he quickly pulled her back in. Puzzled, she watched as he hit the button to close the elevator door. When he turned back to her there was a wild expression on his face. He grabbed her shoulders and shoved her roughly against the back wall of the elevator car. His lips pressed against hers in a fervent kiss. One of his hands fondled her breast through the thin fabric of her blouse while the other pinned her against the wall.

A rush of passion and desire raced through Luisa. She struggled to escape the handcuffs so she could throw her arms around him, but all her efforts made no difference. In desperation she tried to press herself against him, as she returned his kiss.

As quickly as it came it passed. He backed up, still holding her against the wall, looking at her silently. Then he spun her around, so that she was facing the wall. Something touched her hands, and then the handcuffs were open, freeing her wrists. He dropped them in his pocket as he effortlessly turned her back to face him. She started to reach for him but he shook his head. “Compose yourself. When you are ready I’ll check you in at the dorm counter.” The cool, calculating Kurt had returned.

Reluctantly she did as he ordered, straightening her blouse and tucking in some loose hair. When she finished, he opened the elevator door, holding it until she had stepped out into the hall. He walked with her around the corner to the desk. The evening supervisor was sitting there, doing some paperwork. She looked up as they approached. “Mr. Goeren, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. We had to work overtime tonight. Since the hour was late, we took a break for dinner. I’ll return Lois to your care now.” Kurt signed a clipboard the supervisor handed him.

Lois. Hearing her pseudonym woke Luisa out of her daze. In the heat of the moment she’d forgotten all about her mission. She’d finally seen a glimpse of Kurt’s hidden side, the side that all the men on the Island shared, the side that had to be revealed to the rest of the world. But, that word stuck in Luisa’s head, but where is the outrage at what happened tonight?

“Thank you, sir,” the supervisor answered, glancing at the clipboard. “Anything we should be made aware of?”

“Yes, she is to be commended for an exemplary job. Her work was critical to finishing an important project for the company. I would recommend she be given some time off in recognition of her efforts tonight.” Kurt turned and walked back to the elevator.

Both women watched him leave. The supervisor spoke up after he was out of sight. “Well girl, seems you really made an impression with Mr. Goeren there. He’s not known to be easy to work for, and praise from him is as rare as finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ll be sure to pass on his comments.” The supervisor opened the entrance to the dorm rooms. Suddenly all Luisa wanted was to find a soft bed and get some sleep. She thanked the supervisor and headed to her room. She had a lot to think about.

Arrival

Cathy Sturgis watched the scenery from the porthole of her small passenger cabin as the ship entered the harbor. It was no cruise ship, just a freighter with some staterooms for a handful of passengers. The trip from Port Elizabeth in South Africa had taken four days. The journey had been slow, uneventful and somewhat boring. Passenger facilities were limited, though there were several recent releases of movies on DVD to help pass the time. It had been interesting to tour a real commercial freighter and to see the day to day activities, but she was still glad to reach her destination.

There was a knock on the cabin door. When she opened it a crewman informed her in broken English that he had come to pick up her luggage. They would be docking in a few minutes. He passed on a message from the port that someone would meet her at the Port Authority gate when she left the ship. He picked up her suitcases and left. She waited till the ship stopped moving before she walked out onto the deck and headed toward the gangway being lowered onto the dock.

She was finally here. When Cathy had first found out about the Island she didn’t believe it. There was no way it could be kept secret in these days of instant news. But her investigation had proven how elusive information could be on the Island and its whereabouts. Her husband Mark had only one comment, “I told you so”, when she confessed to him that she had tried and failed in her research attempt.

They had traveled as far as South Africa together but he had to send her on by herself while he took care of some urgent business matters for his new employer, a civil engineering firm also headquartered on the Island. She had been nervous about being on the ship alone but he had assured her it was far safer than where he was going. She had asked to stay with him but he flatly refused, telling her in that stern, insistent voice that central Africa was too unstable and dangerous for her. She knew better than to pursue it any further.

At least she wouldn’t be totally on her own until Mark arrived. He had called ahead and made arrangements with his friend John Leeds, who lived on the Island. Someone was supposed to meet her as soon as she got through the arrival formalities. She assumed that meant passports, visas, and luggage inspections by the usual Customs agents. When she left the ship and headed for the processing area she was prepared for a long and tedious wait.

To her surprise the Customs gate was one lone official at a desk. The handful of other passengers from the ship were standing in line ahead of her. While she watched the Customs agent asked a few questions then moved to the next in line. No forms, no inspections, she didn’t even see him collect a customs declaration. When her turn came he asked her name, entered it in a computer terminal, then welcomed her to the Island and asked if she would remain a moment longer, because someone was in the port terminal waiting for her. Cathy stood to the side as the one remaining passenger behind her was processed through. She had never seen Customs work like that in any other country. He hadn’t even asked for a passport.

He made a quick phone call then turned back to her. “Your party will be here in just a moment. I also have a note to let you know your baggage is being delivered to your home, so you won’t have to worry about it.”

“Thank you very much,” Cathy answered. “Do you need to see my passport?”

“No, we don’t use them. The only people who arrive here are the residents or invited guests. You would not have been on the ship unless you were expected.” He pointed behind her. “Here comes your party now.”

Cathy turned to see a woman approaching her. Conservatively dressed in a tailored business suit, a few years older than Cathy, she could have easily been mistaken for a business professional except for one thing. Prominently displayed around her neck was a metal collar, too large to be mistaken for a choker or some kind of necklace. Cathy recognized it and knew what it meant immediately. In front of her was a real life female slave, someone literally owned as property.

“Hello and welcome to Isla Del Sur, the Island as we call it. My name is Anna Leeds, my husband and owner is John Leeds. I’ve been asked to give you a quick orientation about life here.” She held out her hand to Cathy. “I’m sure you have many questions. If you can hold off for a moment I’ll try to answer them for you. You need to know your husband arranged for this, and he also saw to it you will be taken to your home later on. I’m sort of an official greeter for new arrivals. Life here is a bit different than what you are used to so I’m going to give you some idea of what to expect.”

“Hi, I’m Cathy Sturgis, my husband is Mark Sturgis. I’ve met your husband John, and I recognize you from the picture he carries in his wallet. He had dinner with us one evening when he was staying in California.”

“Yes, he told me about it. He was working with your husband on a consulting project. That’s why my master asked me to meet you today. Why don’t we go sit down and talk for a few moments before our ride gets here? There is a lounge area; it’s this way.” Anna turned and nodded in the direction she had come from. “Did you get the message about your luggage?”

“Yes, thank you.” Cathy walked with Anna down the hallway. She didn’t miss how Anna had used that word, master, in such a casual way. “Sorry if it’s out of place, but can I ask you about the collar? Is it real?”

Anna laughed, “Oh yes, it’s very real. Strong and sturdy, and locked on. I can’t take it off, though I wouldn’t even if it was possible. You will find they are commonplace here, and there are some obligations that go with wearing one. I’ll cover all that a little later. And to answer your next question, everyone who sees it knows what it means. That’s what’s different about living here. Things like this,” she touched her collar, “are in the open and accepted.”

They reached the lounge area, a snack bar and a few tables. Anna pointed to one of the tables and they sat down. “Would you like something to eat or drink?” Anna asked Cathy.

“A cup of coffee would taste good,” Cathy replied, setting her purse on the chair next to her. She noticed Anna didn’t seem to be carrying a handbag.

“Okay, you sit down and I’ll be right back.” Anna walked over to the counter. Cathy watched as she poured two cups of coffee, then took off a card on a necklace and presented it to the cashier. Cathy noticed she carried two cards. One was obviously a type of credit card, but she wasn’t sure what the other one was.

Anna returned to the table and handed a coffee cup to Cathy, then sat down. “Let me warn you. This is real coffee, the original African plant. It might be a little strong if you’re used to the South American variety.”

Cathy took a sip and added some sugar. “Thanks for the warning. Could I ask you what those cards are that you are carrying?” Cathy asked.

Anna took the necklace off her neck and held it out. “Very observant. This one is to make purchases. I am not permitted to carry cash. My master gives me an allowance for personal needs, plus any household shopping, groceries and such. I believe he receives some kind of statement each month. I have restrictions on how and when I can use it. Naturally he knows about everything I buy. Essentially it’s a debit card but it’s good anywhere I’m allowed to shop.

“The other card is a very valuable one. I mentioned there are issues regarding collars? One of them is permission to travel. Without this card, a travel permit, I could not leave the house by myself. I would have to be accompanied by my master or another man, with my master’s prior approval. Even with this card there are places I cannot go. The Customs desk, where you came in off the ship? I can’t go past the desk or even wait there unless my master is with me. That’s why I had to stay here until you were done.”

Cathy studied both cards carefully. Anna’s picture was on each one, along with a magnetic stripe. They looked just like a credit card and a driver’s license. She glanced up at Anna with a new realization of what a collar meant here.

“It’s not as bad as you might think. I have quite a few limits on what I can do, but my master likes it that way. It’s good for me too. Before I came here I was, well, flaky is the word. Unreliable and not much self-control, very disorganized.” Anna shrugged. “I don’t do too well on my own. When John claimed me and later brought me here, I was afraid at first I couldn’t manage the change. But that’s what makes living here so wonderful, everyone is supportive. The first year was tough, more than once he took away these cards, but I got through it. I wouldn’t have it any other way now. He regulates my life and I love the attention he gives me.

“Same with being out in public. Everyone recognizes I have rules to follow. Somehow knowing that it’s all in the open makes it easier for me to keep on the straight and narrow. I like my life here; it makes me feel proud to wear his collar.”

Cathy leaned back in her chair and took another sip of coffee, momentarily lost in thought. She had come to the Island for the same reasons. Just like Anna she wanted to take that next step, give herself to her husband, and make him her master in fact as well as in her heart, without any limits on his authority. When Mark had told her about the Island she had been skeptical at first, but when they talked about it at length she could see he liked the idea, and there was a certain appeal in being open and uninhibited about her own submissive nature. Were she pressed to admit it she would have to confess she did her best to talk Mark into the move.

Anna continued, “John explained to me you have come to the Island with the intention of becoming collared yourself?” Cathy nodded. “Good, I always worry that someone might get it wrong. First thing then, I need to make sure you know about the ramifications of your choice and how it will proceed. The laws here are very specific in defining informed consent, before you make any contractual agreements regarding your status. Bear with me if this sounds dry and boring, but I’m required to explain it in a certain way.

“At the moment your status is free and independent. You may leave at any time. There are no restrictions on what you may do, and that includes the provision that you need not obey your husband, even if you do consider him to be your master as well. At the end of our conversation today, you can get back on the ship and return home. I’ve been assigned to explain the Island to you, and answer questions, but I am not allowed to offer you any advice on your decision to stay or leave. If you wish to have someone else conduct this orientation you can tell me to stop at any time and I will contact the Immigration office and arrange for a replacement.”

Cathy held up her hand to stop Anna. “One question, you said I can leave at any time? How would I get back home?”

“Your husband has to post a bond for you. If you choose not to stay all your expenses will be covered to any place you wish to go. You can leave at any time, up to when you agree to transfer that privilege to your master. I was just about to explain that.

“Your husband has enrolled you in the ownership program. It’s also called the TPE; that stands for total power exchange, a nice euphemism for enslavement. Under the program, you will start with a thirty day period which includes this introduction, followed by some orientation classes on how the program works. We try to cover everything you need to know. You get to see how we live on the Island, especially the differences from the outside world. It gives you some time to think about staying here, to interact with the locals, and an opportunity to talk it over with your husband. He has some requirements to meet too. It might be that one or both of you decide it’s not to your liking. That’s not unexpected, we do take domination and submission to an extreme here, and it’s ingrained in society as a whole so you can’t ignore it. The intensity can be intimidating.

“After the thirty day period you are eligible to enter into a Basic contract. Like any civilized society we live within a body of laws. Contracts, legally binding and enforceable agreements between two parties, are the foundation of relationships on the Island, just as marriages are in the outside world. You will find that what can be put in a contract is very different here. You can agree to give yourself to someone for a period of time, and specify how you should be treated.

“In the TPE program you must start with the Basic. It is one year in duration. There are some standard provisions, and the two of you can add others by mutual agreement. For that one year, you literally become his property. Unless he breaks the contract you must remain with him and are legally obligated to obey his commands and follow his rules. He can’t injure you, and he has to provide food and shelter, plus keep you in good health. You are required to wear a collar to identify your status. Your legal rights are derived from what is called the Shariah, Islamic law as interpreted in Saudi Arabia. If you are of the Muslim faith there are some additional restrictions. Remember, this island is Saudi territory.”

Cathy was puzzled by that last statement. “Islamic laws? You mean there are more than one set of laws? Will I have to learn to speak Arabic?”

“No Arabic, but otherwise you have it right,” Anna answered. “At the moment you fall under the Western system, pretty much what you are used to. Rights, trials, judges and juries, all the usual. But once you have one of these,” Anna put a hand on her collar, “all those disappear. The only right you have is to be supported by your master. Everything else becomes a privilege, to be granted or withdrawn as he sees fit. You cannot travel, or even leave the house, unless you have his permission. You can own assets, such as property or investments, but you cannot use them without his approval. He can dictate what you wear, who you talk to, where you can go, if you can work, and in general what you are allowed to do. The only personal time or privacy you have is what he sees fit to grant you.

“At any time during that first year you can opt out of the contract, providing you both agree on it. If you do, the program ends there and you are not eligible to proceed further, though you can start over later. If you make it through the first year, then you can move to the next phase, or you can extend the existing agreement a year at a time. Many couples choose to stop with the Basic if they find it meets their needs.

“After the Basic is complete, you can move to the next phase, the unlimited agreement. It also has a fixed duration, three years, but there are some differences. For one, you cannot specify any contract provisions as to what he may or may not require from you. He alone can decide what the provisions of your agreement will be. All you can do is accept or reject the agreement, you cannot change it. You have no rights, no recourse; you become his property, a possession to do with as he pleases. As with the Basic, you must wear a collar. Also, you can’t revoke the contract; that becomes his privilege alone.

“As you can imagine an unlimited contract is a big step. Less than half try it, and only a few renew it. The last phase of the program is the same contract, but no time limit or revocation by either party. At that point you have no rights, or even legal standing. You belong to him for a lifetime.” Anna stopped for a moment then added, “I’m currently in the last year of our three year Unlimited. I hope my master will choose to renew it without the time limit.

“And no, you don’t have to learn Arabic. English is the predominant language here, though there is a Muslim section where Arabic and Farsi are spoken. Mosque services and Friday prayers are in Arabic, and there are Islamic schools which teach in Arabic, Farsi and English. You should learn about the local customs and some of the Bedouin or Persian traditions before visiting those areas.”

Mark had told Cathy about the ownership program, so it wasn’t a surprise. But seeing Anna sitting across the table, the steel ring secured around her throat, turned an abstract into reality. Cathy was sure of what she wanted, and that included being where Anna was now. The question now was if she had the determination and ability to get there, and if it was what Mark wanted too.

She had been married to Mark long enough to build up her trust and feel assured in her submission to him. Now she was ready for the next step, giving herself to him without reservation, obedient to his every order, serving him in any way he wished, devoted to his needs and desires. When she had confessed her secret to him, what she wanted, he had surprised her by explaining that it was possible, and he knew how to do it. They had spent many hours planning this move. Time and again he had made sure she sincerely wanted to proceed, and more important she understood the changes in her life that would come from it. He had tried to scare her, making up worst-case scenarios where he turned into some kind of monster, but she knew better. Mark was one of the kindest and most decent men she had ever met. He had never given her any reason to doubt him or her determination to be the best wife and companion to him that she could be.

“That’s the end of my little lecture. John will be coming to pick us up in a few minutes. He’ll take you to your house, and we’ll give you a short tour on the way there. Do you have any questions in the meantime?”

Cathy thought about it. There was so much to learn, but she had time. Her first task was to get their new home ready for Mark’s arrival. “I don’t think so, but I really don’t know enough to ask. I’ll need to get the house in shape first, plus groceries and household things. I don’t know my way around yet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the housekeeping, I’m here to help. John has given me permission to show you around town tomorrow. I hope you will have dinner with us this evening? He was looking forward to welcoming our new neighbor.”

“Neighbor? You live close by? I haven’t seen the place yet.” Mark hadn’t mentioned they lived so near.

“We are right behind you. There is a small stand of trees between your backyard and ours. It is an island you know; afraid the lots for houses are not all that big. We try to keep development to a minimum. No big mansions here, just the usual suburban houses.”

At that moment a man entered the lounge. From Anna’s reaction he was obviously her master. She turned to face him and kept her eyes on him as he approached, all but ignoring Cathy. Cathy turned in her chair to get a better look. John Leeds would not stand out in a crowd, average height and looks, but she could sense in the confident way he carried himself that he was indeed a dominant man.

“Hello Cathy, nice to see you again. I see you’ve met Anna already.” He turned to Anna. “Did you have enough time to cover the preliminary information? Do you need more time?”

“No sir, we’re done for today. I was just passing on your invitation for Cathy to have dinner with us.” Cathy watched Anna closely. This was her first opportunity to see the interaction of Anna and her master. For the moment Anna would be her role model, at least until Cathy had a better idea of life on the Island.

“Very good. Cathy? Mark asked me to make sure you got settled in. I received a text message via satellite link from him a few hours ago, he asked to pass on that he will be in the Congo for a few more days and then will be on his way here to join you. I’m sorry he wasn’t able to be with you on your arrival but he was urgently needed in the field.

“Until he gets back we’ll make sure everything goes smoothly for you. I hope you will join Anna and me for dinner tonight?”

“I’d love to, sir, thank you for the invitation and for passing on Mark’s message. I appreciate all you and Anna are doing for me. I admit as a newcomer I’m a bit overwhelmed.” It was only after she finished that Cathy realized the sir had crept in. It had not been intentional, but somehow it felt right. She would have to ask Anna about it the next time they got to talk alone. Neither of them commented on it, so she felt safe in assuming it was not out of place.

“My pleasure. If you’re ready to go? The car is in the lot outside the front door, this way.” As Cathy stood she noticed how he took hold of Anna’s arm before she got out of the chair. He kept a hand on her back as they went out the building entrance into the parking lot.

When they reached the car he opened one of the rear doors. “Why don’t you and Anna ride in the back? Anna can be the tour guide while I concentrate on driving. We’ll take the long way home so you can see some of the town.” Cathy got in and he closed her door. He led Anna around to the other rear door, opened it for her, and closed it as she sat down. He got in and started the car. “We’ll go through the shopping district first. It’s the closest to the port.”

Cathy didn’t recognize the make or model of the car. She didn’t hear any engine noise as he started. John noticed her puzzled look. “It’s electric, all the cars and most trucks and buses are electric. It’s very difficult to ship in gasoline, expensive and dangerous, but we have plenty of electric power, so this works out best.” He added, “The Island has a nuclear reactor for the power plant. Don’t worry, it’s safe. Notice how clean the air is? No oil, no coal. Electric works because there’s no long distances on an island. Drive too far and you wind up in the ocean.” They all laughed at the joke.

He pulled out of the parking lot and drove along the road toward the town center. The ubiquitous palm trees lined the road. To Cathy the scenery was reminiscent of southern California, except for the occasional odd looking native tree or bush. Within a few minutes they were in the town. “Anna, you may begin.” His voice was low and the tone soft, but Cathy sensed it was an order.

“Yes, sir. We have a good selection of the staples, Cathy, but you will have to remember we are isolated. You can order just about anything, but it takes time to get here. The only items you have to be concerned about are alcohol and some food products, especially pork. You can get them, but they require special handling. Most everything has to be shipped to one of our outside contacts, either in South Africa, the Maldives or the Seychelles, before it’s loaded on one of the ships and brought here. I’m sure you already know there is no air service. You should plan ahead about three weeks for anything you might need. One plus, we have first rate communications to the rest of the world. Phone, satellite TV, even Internet connections. And if anyone asks, you are somewhere in a remote section of Saudi Arabia. Our standard line is that for security purposes we aren’t allowed to divulge the precise location.”

Anna went on to point out the stores she liked and what could be found in them. There were several restaurants, a park, a library, and a performing arts building in the center of town. Cathy observed several women wearing collars among the pedestrians on the sidewalks. In one case it seemed as if the collared woman had her hands bound behind her back and was being led by the man next to her.

Anna stopped her travelogue as she noticed where Cathy’s attention had shifted. “You saw that? It’s one more consideration when, or if, you decide to accept a collar. The loss of freedom is not an abstract idea. If he decides she is not allowed the use of her hands, then she learns to do without. There’s nothing she can do about it either, as you saw. If she called out for help, her pleas would be ignored. In fact, anyone passing by would expect her to be reprimanded for causing a commotion.” Cathy nodded to show she understood. Despite the outward appearance this really was a fundamentally different place.

They left downtown and headed into some low hills outside town, the residential district. Homes dotted the semi-tropical landscape. He turned the car onto a side street and pulled into the driveway of a modest house. As Cathy opened her door to get out she noticed Anna sitting with her hands in her lap, waiting. John opened her door and held out a hand to help Anna out of the car. Nothing was said, but Cathy recognized what had happened. She had to wait for permission to get out of the car. Once again he kept a hand on her as they walked toward the front door of the house.

“You can go right over to your house, Cathy, there’s a path through our back yard. I’m sure you’d like to look around and rest for a few minutes. Anna will give you a call later and when you are ready we’ll go out to eat.” He opened the front door and waited for the two women to precede him.

“Yes sir, I would like a short rest. Would an hour be okay?” Cathy did feel tired and wanted some time alone.

“That’s fine. Anna, why don’t you show Cathy to her back door? Here are your house keys. You will find your luggage in the front room. Come on over when you’re ready, no rush.” He handed a key chain to Cathy. Anna started toward the rear door at the back of their house.

Once in the back yard Cathy could see the trees that separated their homes. Anna led her through them on a cobblestone path to the back door of the Cathy’s new place. “Here we are. The weather is nice so we leave our back door open, just come on over and yell when you are ready. And Cathy? Don’t worry. It really is a lovely place here and you will never regret coming.” Anna waved and headed back to her house. Cathy went into her new home with the hope that Anna was right.

First Night

Cathy watched Anna head back through the trees from the rear kitchen window. A new home, new friends, and a new life; it would take some time to adjust to all of it. She picked up a bag from her pile of luggage and took it into the bedroom. For now she would unpack just the bare essentials. She opened the garment bag and hung some outfits in the closet. No serious wrinkles so she could wear one to dinner.

She thought about Mark somewhere out in the vast countryside of central Africa. She knew it wasn’t jungle or rain forest where he was staying. Farmland, small villages, and low mountains dotted with some of the richest mines in the world. That was how he had described it. It was also a country with rampant civil wars breaking out every few years. She couldn’t help but worry about him, even after all his assurances.

There was a clock radio on the nightstand. Glancing at the time, she decided a quick shower and a short nap would fit in her schedule. The trip by sea had been long enough for her to gradually get used to the time change, so she wasn’t tired from jet lag. She headed into the small bathroom off the master bedroom. As Anna had warned her, it was very middle class suburban. No golden fixtures or roman style bathtubs, all she found was a plain shower. She took off her clothes and climbed in.

The hot water felt good. Whoever had furnished the house had been kind enough to leave a new bar of some nice smelling soap for her. Mark had told her the water was actually from the Indian Ocean. Given the surplus of electricity, the Island had several desalinization plants to convert sea water and store it in reservoirs and cisterns, so the Island’s natural water supplies weren’t depleted. There were no water restrictions to prevent her from enjoying a long, luxurious shower.

Afterward she lay down on the bed to get some rest and think about the day. She ran through the radio stations; some in were other languages but she was relieved to find a number in English. Settling on an easy listening format she stretched out on the bed. Be careful what you wish for, was her first reaction to what she had seen so far. Everything could come true just as Mark had promised, but was it the best choice for the two of them? She would have to pay careful attention to everything she saw in the next few weeks.

Could she sign away her life to Mark? In her mind she had already done so, but up to now she knew if it all went horribly wrong she had the option to walk away. Could she give up that last little bit of control, even if it was only for a year? How well did she really trust him? Would her dream fantasy turn into a nightmare reality?

She stopped. This always happened when he left her alone too long. If Mark were here she wouldn’t be having all those doubts and questions. Until they were together again her job was to learn, not to talk herself into a bout of depression fueled by insecurity. Cathy checked the clock. It was late enough to start getting ready for dinner. She was beginning to feel hungry too. The food on the ship wasn’t that bad, but the crew had all been from Asia and many of the dishes had been unfamiliar to her. It would be nice to eat a normal meal, something without curry or coconut milk in it. Roast beef and mashed potatoes would be nice, she thought, but they are probably foreign and exotic here.

She got up and went to the closet. What to wear? She should have asked Anna where they were going. Cathy settled on a skirt and blouse combination that might be out of place at a burger stand or a fancy gourmet room but would be appropriate for a casual night out with friends. She got dressed and headed out the back door.

It was still light out, which confused her for a moment before she remembered. Southern hemisphere, it was springtime here and the days were getting longer instead of shorter. Just as Anna had said, their back door was open. Cathy knocked on the open door and called out.

Anna appeared almost immediately. “Hi, come on in. I’ll tell John you’re here as soon as he gets off the phone.” Cathy was relieved to see Anna had changed into a casual dress. No evening gown, so they wouldn’t be going anywhere formal.

“Hi Anna, I forgot to ask where we will be going for dinner. Is this okay?” Cathy gestured to her own outfit.

“Sure, I think he was going to take us to an American style steak house. He mentioned you were probably tired of African and Asian cooking. How does a T-bone and baked potato sound?”

“I’m ready to sell my soul for one.” They both laughed.

John must have heard them talking because he walked into the kitchen where the two women were standing. “Hi Cathy, ready to get some real food? I promise, not a hint of squid or banana leaf, and you will recognize everything on the menu. By the way, the office just got another satellite link message from Mark. He’s in the field inspecting the route for the power transmission lines. He should reach the capital in two days and from there will catch a flight to the Seychelles, where he can meet the next ship heading to the Island. You should expect him within no more than a week from now if the weather holds. He asked me to tell you he would call as soon as he gets to Victoria, that’s the main city in the Seychelles. He might get through from Kinshasa before his flight out but the phones aren’t too reliable in the Congo.”

“Thank you, sir. I worry when he has to go to places like that, but I know it’s his job. And I would love to have some real food.” Cathy knew her husband was an idealist at heart, that he took the assignment in Africa because he saw it as bringing the modern world to some of the most deprived people. The only problem was not everyone agreed with him, and some of those people had guns. Still, he didn’t go into the really dangerous areas. He had promised her he would never go to any country with active rebels or guerilla units. Going to the Congo was skirting that promise but at the moment the countryside was quiet.

“Okay, if everyone is ready?” Both Cathy and Anna nodded. “Then let’s go eat.” They all headed out the door and got into the car. As before, John opened the rear door for Cathy first, followed by Anna’s door. He started the car and drove back toward the center of town, following the same route from earlier in the day. The sun was setting as he pulled into the parking lot in front of the restaurant.

This would be Cathy’s first real opportunity to see how Anna and her master acted in public, in a normal social setting. It was obvious from the way Anna waited for John to open doors that he was controlling her, but Cathy wanted to see the other subtle differences that came with living on the Island. Aside from the collar around her neck, Anna would not stand out in public anywhere else in the world. Why did they come here, she wondered, what was so different about this place? Perhaps tonight there would be something that told her it really was worth the trip.

They went into the restaurant. The first surprise, the hostess also had a collar around her neck, though from what Cathy could see none of the other female employees had one. John had called ahead for reservations so they didn’t have to wait for a table. The hostess seated them immediately, but Cathy caught the nod from John before the hostess returned to the front door. Had he actually dismissed her, or had she simply waited to see if everything was in order? Yet one more question to ask.

A waiter brought the menus. He handed one to Cathy, and the other two to John. He asked if they would like any drinks before dinner but pointedly did not look at Anna. John ordered a beer for himself and iced tea for Anna, then turned to Cathy. She thought for a moment then added an iced tea for herself. Out of the corner of her eye she watched as John opened a menu, glanced at it, and handed it to Anna. Cathy was sure something unusual had just happened. She decided to ask, “John? Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Sure, Cathy, what is it?” He looked up from the menu.

“Just now, the waiter didn’t hand Anna a menu, or ask if she wanted a drink. Why is that?”

Anna looked to John, to see if he would answer. He turned toward her and said, “Anna, why don’t you explain.”

“Yes sir. Cathy, this collar signifies I belong to my master. If I am permitted to look at a menu then he will hand one to me. Same for selecting a drink or food, the waiter rightly expects my master to order for me. He was not ignoring me; he was respecting the collar I wear and my master’s rights over me. If John had given me permission to order, from that point on the waiter would ask me, but the key difference here is he assumes John will act on my behalf. In fact, if I had spoken up and told the waiter I wanted iced tea, without waiting for John, he would have disregarded me until John gave some indication he approved. Far from ignoring me, the waiter was being polite.

“There is another principle at work here you should know about as well. Under Islamic tradition a proper woman minimizes her interactions with a strange man, speaking to him as little as possible and in neutral tone of voice. I know, sounds archaic, but it still applies here. Since John is with me the waiter would naturally start with him. You noticed he asked John for the drink order first, then you? That was because John did not speak up and order for you, a cue that the waiter could talk to you directly.

“Fortunately, not everything comes from Middle Eastern traditions. The dress code isn’t mandatory, so I don’t have to wear one of those coverall burqa type dresses. Unless he orders it, then I wouldn’t have a choice.”

Anna’s explanation made sense to Cathy. This was the sort of information she had been looking for, the ways people would look at and treat her differently with a collar in place. But there was one piece missing, so she asked Anna. “What if John weren’t here, just the two of us, what would the waiter have done?”

“Well, first thing he would want is an explanation of why I was out after hours without my master. I’d be in considerable trouble. The restaurant staff would detain me until the police arrived. Anyone with a collar has a curfew, 6pm to 6am, no travel except in the company of one’s owner or a mahram. That’s an Arabic word that refers to a male member of the immediate family or household that can act in place of one’s husband. The definition here on the Island is a liberal one. A mahram can be a trusted friend as well.

“Now if this were lunch it would be different. Assuming I had permission to meet you then the waiter would have asked you for your order first, and then turned to me. He would not assume you would order for me, since it’s obvious you are not my master or a mahram.”

Cathy thought about it for a moment. Something didn’t sound quite right. “Wait a minute, how would he know you don’t have a mistress instead of a master?”

John laughed and Anna smiled, “Cathy, remember where you are now. For one thing, it isn’t possible simply because it is outlawed here. Islamic law is very clear when it comes to any relationship like that. For another reason, this island exists to provide a shelter for a group of people with definite ideas on how they want to live. There are dominant males, submissive females, and that’s it. We are all here because we believe that’s how we should live. Anyone who disagrees is asked to leave. Is it prejudice, discrimination, a sign of intolerance? I suppose so, but that’s why we choose to live apart.”

Anna continued. “Now it’s true I can’t leave here, at least not of my own accord, but no one forced me to come. When I signed away my freedom I knew exactly what I was doing. I love it here and have no desire to go back to the outside world, but if for some reason I couldn’t take it anymore, I trust John to do what’s best for me, either to keep me here or allow me to leave. I’m sure there are a small number of unwilling inhabitants, but they all knew in advance what would happen and what this island was like. I am here because I want what this place represents. If the laws seem unjust to someone else, well that’s too bad. I want those laws in place to preserve the kind of life I want.”

John held up a hand to stop her. “Anna is very passionate about protecting our little corner of paradise. The truth is we are exclusionary. We do not invite in people who would disapprove of our society or have trouble fitting in. If a mistake is made we have procedures to correct the error. We are not fanatics. As Anna said, she cannot leave, but if I saw she was miserable here I would take her back to the outside world. I’m sure most of the other men here would do the same. For the few who won’t, that’s why we have time limits.”

John was interrupted by the waiter returning with the drinks. He asked if they were ready to order. John looked to Cathy and asked what she would like.

“I’d like the T-bone steak, well done, with baked potato and ranch dressing on the salad,” Cathy told the waiter.

Nodding toward Anna, John ordered for her. “She’ll have the Ribeye steak, medium well done, sweet potatoes, and Italian dressing on her salad. I’ll have the Delmonico, medium rare, with fries and the soup. Add a side order of mushrooms in butter too.” The waiter took down the orders and left.

“I can anticipate your next question, Cathy. That’s Anna’s preferred meal when we come here. Since she didn’t pick up the menu or say anything I knew what she wanted. There’s no rule on doing that, it’s just something between us. By the way, the beef in this place comes from cattle ranches in Kenya. The taste is a little different so be prepared.”

The dinner conversation continued on with other subjects. Cathy told them about southern California and Los Angeles. She was surprised to learn John and Anna were Canadian, from a rural town in Alberta. The Island was a very cosmopolitan place, with residents from all over the world. After the waiter delivered their plates and cleared the salad bowls, John explained about how the influence of Muslim law came to be.

“The Island had no sovereignty, no guarantee of independence. The people living here at that time knew something had to be done. Some felt South Africa should be approached, but then the UN embargo was voted in and that became impossible. This place survives by trading on the expertise of its people. The embargo would have led to economic disaster. India wasn’t considered because the politics there are chaotic, nor did the Island want to become embroiled in a possible war with either Pakistan or China. Then someone suggested the Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or Oman. The Omani sultan wasn’t interested because we were not predominately Arabic, but to the surprise of almost everyone the Saudi king indicated he would consider annexing the Island.

“There were conditions of course. The primary duty of the Saudi king is to protect Islam and the two holy shrines, the cities of Mecca and Medina. He didn’t demand conversion of everyone to Islam, but he did insist that the laws follow Sharia, a code of conduct derived from the Koran. A mosque had to be built, and for believers the laws had to essentially match Saudi Arabia. Non-believers are tolerated since there are no holy shrines here, but the secular requirements of Sharia had to be merged with Western law. Quite a bit of negotiation went on, but eventually an agreement was reached and we became a self-governing autonomous province of the Saudi kingdom.

“There are some exemptions from the less tolerant Saudi laws. Alcohol is allowed but not public intoxication; pork is available but can’t be sold on the street in an open market; women are allowed to work alongside men and drive a car; and the requirement to attend prayers was set aside. The hijab, a head cover, was made optional for those women not of the Muslim faith. Laws of inheritance though must follow Sharia if you are a permanent resident.”

“How has it worked out for you and Anna?” Cathy asked. “What were the biggest changes you had to make?” She could live without a can of beer and a bag of pork rinds but was a little anxious about the rest.

“The major change is in how responsibility is assigned.” John continued, “I now have a legal mandate to take care of Anna. There are minimum standards I have to meet; I think Anna has told you about them too. We don’t have to attend a mosque for prayers, but it is expected that we donate to charity commensurate with our financial status. We can’t accept interest from loans, but we can collect dividends on ventures that share risk, which means we had to change some of our retirement investments from mortgage bonds to common stock. That’s both of us; even though Anna wears a collar she is entitled by law to her own assets and property. This may also surprise you…she is allowed to take a reasonable amount from my assets if I fail to provide for her, but I cannot make use of her finances without her agreement. Anna, tell her how your responsibilities changed too.”

Anna looked up from her plate on hearing her name. She picked up the conversation while her master ate his dinner. “I have real security here. No worrying about making a living on my own or anything like that. I have a guarantee he won’t abandon me. I know he will always be there for me, no matter what. I don’t have to make the hard choices. You know what I mean, the times it seems you will hurt someone no matter what you do. I have the priceless luxury of letting my master decide for me.

“I always know what I’m supposed to do, every day. I don’t have to guess or anticipate. I can tell John anything without fear of making him angry or disappointing him. He tells me exactly what he wants, and if I’m not sure he explains to me how to accomplish it. The biggest worry in my life is what to fix for dinner, providing he doesn’t decide that too.

“But, I no longer control my own destiny. Except for a few conditions we agreed on, and those were written down in the contract, he has virtually unlimited control over my life. And here comes the real differentiation between the Island and the outside world. He has a legal right to demand my obedience. My consent ends with my signature on a piece of paper. From that point on I can’t tell him no. He gets the last word if we disagree, whether I like it or not.

“Now you might think it doesn’t make a difference. After all, you want to serve him anyway. That’s why you are together. But after a few days, when the excitement dies down, you get up one morning, look in the mirror at the collar around your neck, and realize you can’t take it off. For better or worse, as the vows go,” Anna smiled, “you serve and obey your husband and master. You can’t give up and walk away if it becomes too much. You are committed to making your relationship work, to bring the fantasy into reality.

“I can promise you there will come a time when you feel like he can’t understand you at all, that he’s deliberately being mean, arrogant, stubborn, and unreasonable. You will be boiling mad, so angry with him you can’t even talk. However he decides to handle your outburst, you have to accept it, even if it means he makes you stand in the corner for hours.” Anna pointedly looked over at John, who stopped eating long enough to laugh. “Through all that I knew no matter how furious I was with him, still I could not disobey. Part of it is the submissive side in me, but in a way it was easier to accept because this collar was a constant reminder that there was no loophole, no escape clause. It wasn’t just the two of us; in effect I had made a public promise to everyone on this island. If I broke that promise I would have to answer not only to my master but also to the community as a whole. So I stood in the corner as he ordered, silently fuming. Eventually I calmed down, but I had to stand there staring at the wall until he ended my punishment. He made me sit down and explain why I was so upset. We both made some changes, and it solved that particular problem.”

Cathy took a bite of her steak and thought about what Anna had just told her. Could she give Mark the same kind of unconditional obedience? And would he be patient with her? As Anna had described, it would not be her choice to stay or leave. Did she really trust Mark that much? She had never disobeyed in the past, and could not imagine a situation where she would want to leave him. Still, he would have an unprecedented amount of power over her, more than he had ever experienced before. Would he change for the worse because of it? For that matter, how would it change her?

One question she had been avoiding, but now had to ask. “Anna, what would have happened if you had walked out the door? If you really couldn’t take it anymore and just had to leave.”

John sat back in his chair, one hand holding his beer glass, watching Anna as she answered. “Well, it’s not something we like to talk about here. If I had tried to leave the house, I imagine John would have stopped me. If I somehow got away and ran off, then it would be serious. It doesn’t happen very often, but running away is actually a crime, the equivalent of a felony, like robbing a bank. I don’t know where I would have gone; no one would help in a situation like that. Sooner or later I would be caught by the police, or turned in by friends.” Anna turned to look at her master. “What would happen after that I don’t know. There is some sort of hearing where John would have to appear before a judge. Then I would be punished.

“There was a case like that about a year ago. The woman ran away from her master and hid in the forest in the interior of the Island for several days. Eventually she was apprehended by the police when she tried to sneak into town. After the hearing she was sent to a disciplinary center. I don’t know for how long, or what happens in there. For all practical purposes it’s a prison, on another island. I don’t know anyone who has been there.”

That shocked Cathy. Prison, Police, Court? She hadn’t realized it went so far. The words legally enforceable didn’t seem that significant when Mark had first told her about the Island. She had some half-formed idea those who broke the agreement would be asked to leave. Now she understood how it was enforced. She finished her meal with small talk, lost in thought about what Anna had told her.

After dinner as they were heading back to the car, Cathy started to ask Anna if they could get together again tomorrow, then she stopped before speaking. Who should she ask? Better to start with John first. In the car she turned to him and asked, “Sir? Anna mentioned she would be assisting me to prepare in accepting a collar, and to help me settle in here. I’d like to go over some matters tomorrow with her. Should I ask you first, or what?”

John nodded in approval, “You catch on quick, Cathy. Arrange schedules with Anna. Feel free to call her at any time. If there is a conflict she will let you know. Anna has permission to help you out any way she can, including frank answers to your questions. I’m sure there are subjects you would feel more comfortable discussing without me around. Anna? Why don’t you two have lunch tomorrow? Then run by the grocery store. I’m sure Cathy has to stock up in the kitchen.”

Anna looked over at Cathy, who nodded in agreement. “Yes sir, we need a few things too. Cathy, come on over when you are ready tomorrow, any time after nine.”

A few minutes later they were back at John and Anna’s house. John invited her to stay and visit but Cathy declined. She was tired and still had much to do getting the house ready for Mark. She headed straight home through the trees between their yards to her back door.

A quick look in the kitchen confirmed she needed to go shopping. There were a few basics, some bread and coffee for breakfast but not much else. First task in the morning would be a grocery list. And she would have a list of questions for Anna. Cathy headed for the bedroom and some sleep. Her first day had come with some surprises, but she still felt Mark had made a good choice in bringing her to the Island. Seeing the interaction between John and Anna made her yearn for the same for Mark and herself. Sprawled across the empty bed she imagined the weight of a collar around her own throat.

Mark would put it there. He’d have the only key, so she could never take it off. It was a real, tangible symbol of the excitement of actually being owned, his hold on her so strong she could never resist him. She had to ask Anna about the legal issues though. She trusted Mark with her life, but she wanted a better understanding of what she would be giving up to him. It sounded scary the way Anna had described it. She had a fleeting vision of the police carrying her off because she didn’t want to wash the dishes, but it couldn’t really be that bad. Anna didn’t seem to worry about it, and that made Cathy rest easier.

Two for Lunch

In the morning Cathy started in the kitchen with her grocery list, followed by a walk through the house to see what else she would need. Mark would be in the middle of his field work today, somewhere out in the Congolese countryside. Her only warning would be the phone call before he boarded the next ship to the Island. She knew his work surveying the power line route was hot, dirty and difficult. Dangerous too, but she tried to keep that part out of her mind. He would arrive exhausted, so she wanted the house to be perfect when he walked through the door.

He had a predictable routine after a long trip. Rest the first day, and the second day….Cathy smiled. The second day was the one she looked forward to, a day he set aside for her. They never left the house on those second days, so she had to make sure they would have everything he might want. The third day he would head back to the office to write up his report, which worked out well as Cathy always needed a day to recover.

Mark had already set up a local bank account for them, plus she had some cash left over from traveling. Fortunately the Island used American dollars as well as Saudi dinars so she wouldn’t have to change any currency. She looked in her purse to see how much she had left, then stopped while counting the bills when she realized this might be the last time she ever handled money. Mark had always managed their finances, though he did take the time to explain to her each month what their position was and how the investments were doing. She didn’t think much about it since it was one of those areas she was only too happy to turn over to him. They had worked out what she would require for the household budget and her own personal needs. Anything beyond that she would tell him, and he would see to it. She would have to keep in mind that shipping costs raised prices here compared to California, but low taxes made up for it.

Satisfied she had enough cash for shopping, Cathy checked the clock. It was after nine; she should call Anna. There was time for one last stroll through the house to see if she had missed anything, before she picked up the phone. Anna answered and invited her over for a cup of coffee while they planned the day.

She dropped the list in her purse before she headed toward Anna’s back door. As usual it was open to let in the cool sea breeze. Anna was in the kitchen and waved at Cathy to come on in. They sat down at the kitchen table, cups of coffee at hand. Cathy started with a question she had been pondering all last night.

“Anna, about what you told me last night, the part about legally enforceable. Could your husband really send you to prison for not ironing his shirts?”

Anna laughed. “In theory he does have the power to do that, but it would be pretty silly on his part and the judges who would listen to the complaint wouldn’t take kindly to having their time wasted on something trivial. Don’t worry about that part, Cathy. That’s the last resort, calling in the authorities, and not something taken lightly. Before they would get involved it would have to be serious, like attempting to leave the Island without permission. Besides, if he wants to make your life miserable he can do it on his own, without any help from the police.

“You are making a common mistake, looking for the extreme case and assuming no compassion. Remember you know this man pretty well, or you wouldn’t be here. Nor would you be willing to wear his collar unless you trusted him to treat you decently, or at least the way you would prefer. Why would he suddenly turn mean and abusive? This isn’t a stranger you just met; you’ve been with him for a few years.”

Cathy took a sip of coffee, thinking about it. Anna did make sense, what reason would Mark have to turn on her? He had never given her any cause to doubt his sincerity or his character. “I suppose you’re right, but it’s so different, just knowing that one word from him and my life is ruined. I guess it’s the enormity of the risk, having to trust him to a degree that I never had to face before.”

Anna smiled as she picked up her coffee. “Yes, but that risk is part of the excitement too. I want to please John in any way I can, especially the ways he demands from me. I know he won’t have me locked up if I fail, but I also know he could do it. It’s that extra little bit of motivation for me to be obedient. I don’t do it out of fear, but still, well, there is that little voice warning me I had better do it anyway because I have to. It’s the law, in a very literal way.”

“That’s the one part that bothers me. If anything goes wrong…” Cathy’s voice trailed off. She didn’t know what to say.

Anna understood what she was trying to put into words. “What we do here on the Island, Cathy, it’s something every woman has to come to terms with on her own. I try to keep my own opinions from coloring my work with new arrivals but I think in this case it would help with some of your questions.

“I have two simple guidelines: make an informed decision; and then stick to it. The first one you’re doing right now, and so you know I asked the same questions when we moved here. It’s so tempting, giving yourself to the man you love, you don’t want to ask those tough questions. But there will be a time when obeying him takes every last bit of determination on your part, so you have to be ready when it happens. The first time he says no and you just can’t understand how he can be so stupid, foolish, and pigheaded stubborn, you have to be prepared to live with it. That’s what I mean by informed; you knew in advance what could happen, and how few options you would have. If you choose to proceed then you accept all the consequences.

“Now, enough of the depressing talk. What are our plans for today? John gave me permission to go out, but I should send him a note to let him know where we’re going. If at all possible I am supposed to tell him our schedule before we leave. We have all day free, but I have to be back in the house by 4:30.” Cathy noticed that Anna already wore the travel permit and debit card around her neck.

Cathy took out her list. “I need groceries, plus some towels and linens. We can do the food last. I’d like to look around some of the department stores first, then we can get some lunch. A few more stores and then the supermarket to finish?”

“Alright, let me make a list of places we can go and where we’ll stop for lunch. I need groceries too. Give me a few minutes to send John an e-mail of our plans then we can get started.” Anna went into the living room and came back with a laptop. While they finished the coffee, she told Cathy about the stores while she entered their schedule. When the email was ready she sent it to John at his work address. “He should get it right away. I usually wait a few minutes in case he replies. That is, if he isn’t busy with something.”

Cathy watched as Anna worked at the computer. She made a mental note to ask Mark about staying in touch throughout the day. It hadn’t been possible at his last job because of company policy against using workstations for personal business, but that might not be a problem here. She asked Anna about the arrangement they had.

“I try to keep him updated on what I’m doing while he’s at work, at least two texts on my phone at times he has set for me. Calling on the phone is inconvenient because he might be busy. With text and email he can check it while taking a break, so I don’t become a distraction. He prefers to keep track of me during the day, and I guess I kind of like it too, especially the way I have to stay focused on what we’ve planned for my day. I tend to be impulsive, easily distracted. It works out well as I get time to myself, but he always has overall control and approval of everything.” Anna looked up from the laptop for a moment. “I sent our plans for the day to him. I don’t have to wait for an answer, but I usually give him about five minutes. After that I can assume a tacit approval even if he doesn’t reply.”

Cathy nodded as she took another sip from her cup. She hadn’t considered the possibilities of being able to talk to Mark all day long, but now that she saw how it could work she found the idea intriguing. She asked Anna. “Is it common, what you are doing now? Do companies object to it?”

Anna looked up from the laptop screen. “Very few companies restrict personal usage. Managers know it’s necessary for employees, like John and Mark, to keep in touch with us. The policy can vary by company, a few even allow video feeds.”

John had not answered by the time they finished their coffee, so they decided to leave without waiting any longer. Anna drove them to the commercial center in town where they stopped to visit several shops. Cathy noticed collared women in the stores, all of whom had the same combination of travel and debit cards on a necklace. Back in the car she asked Anna about it.

“It’s a law. We must have our travel card visible at all times. If not someone would stop and detain me until the police came. You may not notice it, but when we go into a store the clerk will look to see if it’s visible. If I bought anything the cashier would check the picture as well. Even walking along the street, people will look to see if it’s there. It’s one way everyone cooperates to enforce rules. Were John to decide I should stay at home, all he has to do is take the card.”

The idea of a permit bothered Cathy. She felt her obedience should be based on trust, not a card. If Mark didn’t give her permission to leave the house then she would stay inside. She didn’t need any one else to remind her. She said as much to Anna.

“Oh no, Cathy, you are looking at it the wrong way. This card isn’t about a lack of trust, it’s about control. It is part of the structure given to us, and what makes this island so unique. I know the laws may seem to be restrictive and even unnecessary, but to me they are very important. I need to feel the limits, my boundaries, every minute of the day. This card is one of them. I know I can’t walk out the door by myself without wearing it. I have to have his permission, in this case the card, just as I need to ask him about everything I do.

“It changes the way you look at the world, Cathy. For example, this morning at the kitchen table. You saw it as planning our shopping trip, but in my mind I thought in terms of presenting what we would like to do, then seeing if John would approve. In this case I was sure he would, because he knew about it in advance. But to me there is always that extra step, ask first and make sure I have his permission. The collar, the cards, everything works to reinforce my place, a place where I submit and acknowledge his authority over me.

“There’s one other reason for the card, though I don’t feel comfortable talking about it. I do the grocery shopping. In order to eat John has to give me permission to go to the store. If he doesn’t we starve, or he has to go instead. He has to keep track of me, even if he doesn’t feel like it. The card system works to keep both of us focused on our obligations.”

“But what if he just hands you the cards and then tells you not to bother him? I don’t understand.” It still seemed one-sided to Cathy.

“He can’t do that. I’m not sure of the exact details, but I know he has to review the debit card and approve it each month. Same for the travel card, they expire unless he does something to renew, though I think I’m not supposed to know exactly what it is. If he ignores or forgets then I’m stuck at home. Like it or not he has to constantly make a deliberate decision to allow me those privileges. He has to pay attention to everything I do.”

Cathy thought about her explanation. “Does it bother you? That he knows every penny you spend, where you go and what you are doing? Don’t you ever want a little privacy?”

Anna shook her head. “No, I don’t want to hide it from him and yes, I want him to have access to all that information. How he uses it is up to him. It’s his right to know. If I do anything to interfere with it then I’ve broken a promise to him.

“As for privacy, I have my own time when he’s at work. When he comes home I want to be with him, not off on my own. Privacy is something I leave to him to determine. You’ll hear this quite often: your time is not your own. It’s a saying we have here on the Island. Your owner has a right, one you can’t qualify or deny, to know what you are doing at any moment, day or night.”

The way Anna explained it did make sense, and Cathy nodded in agreement. Yet one more point where island life diverged from the rest of the world. She was so forceful and zealous in her defense that Cathy realized those laws existed because women like Anna demanded them.

“Ready to go? First stop is the dry goods store. I like their towels but the sheets are so-so.” Anna continued, “After that I know a nice place that serves Mediterranean style salads and sandwiches. There’s Greek, Italian, even North African dishes. And there’s a good place to look at sheets nearby.”

Board Meeting

Inspection over, the dorm supervisor dismissed them to go to work. Luisa hung back as the rest headed for the elevators. This particular Monday morning she wasn’t in a hurry to get to the office, even though one of those countless company regulations did not allow for tardiness. The office work she enjoyed, but today she would have to see him again. All weekend she had gone over last Friday night in her head, trying to figure out what had happened and what it all meant. Most of all she dreaded having to face Kurt. Not because of what he did, but because I don’t know how to handle it, she told herself. Something had changed inside her, but she couldn’t put words to what it was. Her attempts to sort it out over the last two days had only left her more confused.

She should have been outraged at his behavior. At the very least she ought to have reported everything to the dorm supervisor immediately. There were company policies about how she should be treated too. It included a respect for her personal space. She had every right to file a complaint. That’s what she should have done, but it wasn’t what happened. Instead she had spent a sleepless night with images of Kurt stuck in her head. His position in the company may have given him broad authority over her, something she still wasn’t certain of, but she was positive he went over the line with the handcuffs. And then there was the incident in the elevator. No question he had crossed the bounds when he had, under any definition, attacked her.

The problem was she didn’t want to report him. In some way she still couldn’t fathom he had gotten inside her head. In the restaurant she had submitted to being handcuffed without a word of protest. The rest of that evening she had been in some kind of trance, willing to do whatever he wanted and eager to please him in any way she could. Then, in the elevator, far from resisting she had been disappointed when he stopped.

In retrospect, at the restaurant she should have refused immediately when he took out the handcuffs and announced his intentions. In the elevator she should have tried to push him away with a loud “No!” Except, she thought, except I didn’t. If she did file a complaint, she would have to explain why she cooperated when there was no coercion. That question she had tried unsuccessfully to answer all weekend.

The crowd waiting for the elevators thinned out. Reluctantly, Luisa headed toward one, checking the hour on the wall clock. She could still make it on time. That was something else she still had to justify to herself. When the list of company rules had been presented to her, she had been determined to ignore as many as she could get away with, as a personal show of defiance. In her articles she had written several scathing essays on how ridiculous they were. But now she found herself unconsciously following those same rules in spirit and to the letter, even when no one would have known if she cheated. And why wasn’t she going crazy in this environment? The first week had been occupied with non-stop plots to escape, but she didn’t think in those terms anymore. The secret articles and the undercover spying were losing their attraction. She loved the work, and the dorm wasn’t that bad. Heck, she thought ruefully, I’m even getting used to these clothes. She reached down and brushed away an imaginary piece of lint off her skirt.

Inside the elevator she pressed the button for her floor and stood back. She could see her reflection in the mirror tiles that decorated the upper part of the elevator car. Her face was framed by her loose hair, as it fell around her shoulders. Luisa’s eyes widened as she realized she had forgotten to tie back her hair this morning. No one had said anything to her, but then there was no restriction on wearing one’s hair loose. Cutting it or changing color required approval but otherwise hairstyle was unregulated. She remembered that Kurt had mentioned he liked to see a woman wear her hair loose.

The elevator stopped on her floor. Luisa stepped out into the hall and walked toward the open office door. Naturally, Kurt would already be there, working on a project. When she passed through the doorway she saw him at his desk in the inner office, reading some papers. He looked up as she came in, issued his perfunctory good morning greeting as usual and returned to his reading. She stopped at her workstation to turn it on and pick up her coffee cup, before heading to the pot on a table against the back wall. At Kurt’s door she stopped and asked if he would like his mug filled. He looked in it before nodding and handing it to her. “Yes. I put a fresh pot on half an hour ago. It should be done now,” he told her.

She poured out the dregs into their tiny sink before rinsing his cup out. She poured his coffee, put in the one spoonful of sugar and swirled it with a stirring stick. Kneeling down she opened the door of their mini-refrigerator and took out two chilled creamer servings. She set his mug on a saucer and arranged the small creamer containers and a clean stirrer on the edge. Then she brought it back to him, placing a napkin on his desk before she put the saucer down. He had a habit of slowly adding the creamer as he drank his coffee, but he always put the sugar in first. She went back to the pot to pour a cup for herself.

Sitting down at her workstation she brought up the morning’s mail on her screen. She shook her head in amazement as she deleted the offers to get rich with pyramid schemes and the cryptic ads for Chinese cellular phones. Like cockroaches, she thought, you clean and clean, but they still manage to sneak in. The person who invents a way to get rid of this junk will win the Nobel Prize and the gratitude of the entire world. A few items remained after garbage collection. The first was a list of her assignments for the week from the dorm supervisor. Luisa groaned when she saw she had general housekeeping on two days. The next item was a surprise. The name was unfamiliar until she opened it and saw it was a thank you note for the effort they had put into the report. It was signed by the company president. His comments were gracious and made her feel appreciated. A good feeling immediately brought to an end by the last item. It was a summons from her oversight board to appear before them in one hour.

Everyone in the training program dreaded when they were called in to their oversight board. Luisa had met hers once before, when she had first arrived. The board consisted of three individuals who were charged with evaluating each apprentice trainee and determining what was best for her. From listening and talking to the other women in the dorm she knew it was rarely good news when they held a meeting. She read the terse message several times. No clue as to why, merely the time and place she should be present. They had a nasty habit of issuing short notices; there would be no time to prepare a defense even if she knew the reason behind their order. She would have to tell Kurt.

Standing up, she turned to see if he was busy. He was stirring creamer into his coffee, looking at her with a thoughtful expression on his face. Walking over to his doorway she stopped, “Kurt, I just received an e-mail. I have to report to my oversight board this morning, at ten. I don’t know what it’s about.”

“I’m sure you will be informed of their intentions at the meeting. You should have received a note from the company president too. The initial sales presentation was earlier this morning in Dushanbe, in Tajikistan. Representatives from all countries involved in the pipeline were present. Preliminary indications are that our proposal was received well by the government negotiators. Your detail work with the pipeline route costs played a crucial role. I have a note from the team in Dushanbe that your cost increase justifications to bypass a mosque made quite an impression. We are not the only bidder, nor were we the lowest, but we were the only ones invited back next week.” Kurt leaned back in his chair, looking up at her while sipping his coffee.

I don’t care about the presentation or some mosque in a place I’ve never heard of. I’m worried about the summons. That’s what she wanted to say. Kurt had dismissed it with one sentence. That was typical of his approach. He never speculated without knowing the facts. She wanted to talk about it, even if there was nothing to say. And Kurt was the only one available. She continued to stand in his doorway, unsure of how to bring up the subject.

He solved that by pointing at the other chair. “Sit down and tell me what’s bothering you.” His abruptly direct manner never ceased to take her by surprise, but she pulled out the extra chair by his desk and sat down.

“This summons makes me apprehensive, Kurt. I can’t believe it has anything to do with work, even with that nice letter from the company president. It’s much too soon. I’ve been told the meetings are almost always planned a week in advance. It has to be something else, but I don’t know what. I think I’m in trouble.” And why am I so scared? The worst they can do is fire me and kick me off the Island.  At least she hoped that was the worst.

Kurt took another drink from his cup, brow furrowed in thought. “Is there any reason for you to be in trouble? A serious infraction of the regulations, perhaps trouble in your dorm, personality conflict with one of the supervisors or another one of the trainees? I can assure you there are no complaints about your work from this office.”

“No, I get along with everyone. I’ve had some minor problems with the rules in the beginning, but no more than the others.” She thought back. The worst had been one Sunday afternoon in the dorm lounge area. A small group of them had been watching a video of a new movie. Without thinking Luisa had crossed her legs while sitting on the couch. The dorm supervisor saw it and got on her case immediately. Rather than apologize, Luisa had argued the merits of such a ridiculous rule. The supervisor had been unimpressed and simply cancelled all her free time. Spending every night for a week cleaning toilets and mopping floors had shown Luisa the wisdom of respecting rules even if she didn’t agree with them. Compared to some of the other trainees, that had been a minor flare-up, hardly a justification for an oversight board meeting. And since that incident she had a nearly perfect record, with only minor verbal reminders when she made well-intentioned mistakes.

Unless they knew about her real purpose on the island, and then the summons would be to confront her with the evidence. If they had discovered her false identity that would certainly justify being called to explain it. Luisa was getting tired of living in constant fear of discovery. Her articles had already slowed to a trickle, mostly because she found less and less to write about.

Her reporting was to have been a catalog of exploitation. There was no lack of blatant male-dominated authority; it was ingrained in Island society at every level. Her difficulty was that it was becoming less objectionable by the day. The passionate appeals she had written in the first few weeks, a list of humiliating abuses coupled with strident demands that international authorities shut down the Island and rescue the women trapped in an endless cycle of degradation, now sounded like mindless rants. None of it had proven to be accurate. If she could turn back the clock she never would have written the stories. When they were published it would hurt a lot of decent people; people she now thought of as friends, people like Kurt.

Lost in thought she hadn’t noticed the silence in the room. Looking up she saw Kurt watching her, genuine concern showing in his expression. “If you have done as you have been told in an honest and sincere manner then you have no need to fear this meeting. Put your mind at ease.

“You need a distraction. Before you leave, I need you to initialize a new area in the documents repository for the pipeline project. You will find the template and guidelines in the boilerplate section. I would like you to begin immediately.” He dismissed her by turning back to his computer.

Luisa stood up and headed back to her own chair. Just like that, don’t worry about it, get back to work, she told herself, afraid to say anything out loud. She wanted to empty her coffee cup over his head then claim it was honest and sincere. Clicking on the icons she brought up the procedural manual on new project setup. Another one Kurt had written, she noted when she read the title page.

She was still busy diagramming the workflow when the reminder popped up about her meeting. She looked up at the wall clock, fifteen minutes to go. She had to give Kurt some credit, concentrating on the document management assignment had kept her from brooding on her impending doom.

At ten till the hour, she switched off her display and glanced over to Kurt. He acknowledged her leaving with a wave of his hand. Standing up, she gathered her courage and walked out into the hall, heading to the elevators. She passed by a fire alarm switch, but resisted the temptation to pull it. It would only put off the inevitable. In any case, there were other people in the hall who would see her.

She got off the elevator at her dorm floor. The supervisor directed her to the meeting room where she was expected. The room had a small waiting area outside the door, so per the posted procedure on the wall she sat down until she was called. At ten o’clock the door opened, and Anna Leeds asked her to come in.

All three members of her oversight board were present. The first one was Mrs. Dornier, one of the senior dorm supervisors. Luisa had gotten to know her better from the “charm school” lectures the first week. She had a well-deserved reputation for dedication to the company. Nothing less than perfection would do for her, and any slacking off was met with the minimum of a sharp-tongued lecture. Luisa had earned her share, though no more than anyone else.

The second was the mandatory member from outside the company, a volunteer with the Island’s immigration agency, Anna Leeds. Luisa had her pegged as the most conservative of the three. Anna Leeds wasn’t as strident as Mrs. Dornier, but to Luisa it seemed that she was actually less tolerant of any woman who did not know her place on the Island.

The third was the board chairman, a man from the Human Resources department, first introduced to her as Rupert Townsend. She still had no impression of him, and no one else in the company had much to say about him either. In the first meeting he had spoken little, seemingly content to have the women do the work while he presided in near silence. She might have dismissed him as a non-entity except for the deference Anna Leeds and Mrs. Dornier showed to him.

Together they were supposed to monitor her progress at the company while ensuring she was not harmed or neglected. They had the power to make changes in her training program, alter work assignments, or even dissolve her work contract. In theory the board rarely interfered with trainees, but when they did they operated with virtually unrestricted power.

The chairman, Mr. Townsend, got right to business as soon as Luisa sat down at the conference table. “The issue before us today is in regards to your supervisor, one Mr. Kurt Goeren. I am sure you are aware there is a strict code of conduct for employees of this company. Just as you have been given guidelines to follow, so Mr. Goeren has directives in how he may interact with employees entrusted to his supervision. We have some questions regarding your working relationship with Mr. Goeren, in particular the events last Friday night.”

They were after Kurt! Relief at not being the target was instantly replaced with feelings of hostility. For some reason they were trying to get him. What had he done? Would he lose his job? The last thing she wanted was to cause him any trouble.

Mrs. Dornier began. “The attendance records show that last Friday Mr. Goeren requested that you work overtime. What was the nature of the work, were you really needed to complete it, and was all the overtime spent working on the project?”

Luisa knew they must have the records, including the sign-out sheet from the lobby. This was a trick question to test her honesty. “The project was the documentation for a sales presentation held earlier this morning. Since I had worked closely with Mr. Goeren on the project from the very beginning it was necessary that I be there to help finish it. It was essential that the material be ready early Saturday morning when the report would be sent to the sales team in Tajikistan. I believe the project is critical to the company. In fact I received a note from the company president this morning, thanking me for the effort while stressing its importance.

“We did not spend all evening working in the office. There was a break for dinner while the documents were printing. When we returned Mr. Goeren proofed the copy while I waited, in case last minute changes were needed.”

Anna Leeds asked the next question. “Do you believe it was necessary to work late last Friday? Had you been working steadily on the project before then? Do you think you might not have been given enough time deliberately, so you would have to stay after normal working hours?”

Luisa’s respect for Anna Leeds went up. Her questions showed a keen perception echoing Luisa’s own suspicions. She had to be very careful about the answer. Any careless implication could reflect badly on Kurt. “We had been working on the presentation all week long. It is a very complex project, and we did not have all the information in place at the beginning. I believe that additional unforeseen factors which came up late in the week forced us to continue past our expected completion date.” All that was true enough; they even had to bring in a translator one day.

She hadn’t heard of some of the countries when they started two weeks ago. Kurt had been very patient when he got out a map and pointed out the proposed route through western Asia, pronouncing all the exotic names with ease. She remembered her own hidden embarrassment when she learned Samarkand was a real city, not a mythical place from a poem. It made her realize how little she had actually learned about the rest of the world while in college, knowledge Kurt seemed to possess in abundance.

Mr. Townsend checked something on a printout before he asked a question. “The security guard in the lobby noted that you returned from dinner wearing handcuffs. Was there any improper conduct on your part that would justify Mr. Goeren placing you in restraints?”

I knew he should have taken them off before we went in the door.  Luisa thought quickly, trying to find some way to justify Kurt’s action. There was no way to explain it though. If they had interviewed the restaurant owner then they already knew nothing happened. She might have admitted to a sudden attack of irrational anger or fear, but if they knew about the restaurant then they would know she was lying. “No sir, to the best of my knowledge I did not behave in a way that would require him to physically restrain me.” She knew that wasn’t a good answer.

Mrs. Dornier didn’t think so either, as Luisa could tell from the next question. “The hallway security camera shows you still in cuffs when the two of you left your office and entered the elevator, just before he returned you to the dorm. Were you forced to wear the handcuffs all that time?”

That was a question Luisa didn’t know how to answer. It was true she had the handcuffs on, but she didn’t like the way Mrs. Dornier stressed the word “forced”. Anna Leeds must have sensed her hesitation because she interrupted before Luisa could answer the prior question. “Were you forced to wear the handcuffs against your will? Did you ask him at any time to take them off? This is important.” She paused for effect. “Did you willingly cooperate when he restrained you?”

She knows, Luisa realized. “Yes, I cooperated, and no, I wasn’t forced. I never asked him to release me.” Luisa’s voice was so low they could barely hear her. She hung her head, staring at her hands carefully folded on her lap. One of Mrs. Dornier’s rules from charm school, never fidget. She had to concentrate to hold her hands still.

“Does anyone have any more questions?” Mr. Townsend asked. Luisa looked up in surprise. Was that all? Maybe they didn’t know what happened in the elevator. She certainly wasn’t going to volunteer it. “I believe that concludes the first item on the agenda then.” Luisa started to stand, thinking the meeting was over.

Mrs. Dornier made it clear they weren’t finished with her. “Sit down, girl. We aren’t done yet. Stay there until you are dismissed.”

Mr. Townsend continued, looking at Luisa as he spoke. “Now on to the second item. Mr. Goeren has filed a formal request with the company, stating his intent to acquire you and asking the company to determine the financial requirements needed to accomplish a transfer. Given your statement on the first matter I see no reason to reject his request. Any questions?” He looked to either side to see if the two women had a comment. Neither spoke up. “Then it’s the unanimous opinion of your oversight board that Mr. Goeren’s request be honored. The accounting department will prepare a statement for him. The meeting is concluded.” He looked up at a very puzzled Luisa. “I believe Mrs. Leeds wishes to have a few words with you, if you would be so good as to remain behind.”

Intent to acquire? What was that? Luisa felt like she had just dropped into a Wonderland where she was the only one who didn’t understand what was going on. Anna remained seated while Mr. Townsend and Mrs. Dornier stood to leave. Luisa watched as the two filed out the door.

“Do you have any idea what we were discussing?” Luisa turned back to Anna in response to the question.

“Not a clue. Something about Kurt, I mean Mr. Goeren, and a financial statement. I didn’t get any of it.”

Anna leaned forward, arms on the table. “There were two points we had to look at, both regarding your welfare. An oversight board is chartered to act in what we consider to be your best interests, as I’m sure you know. It’s not always obvious what the definition of best interest is. You see the here and now; we try to look ahead to the longer term. The first item was of immediate concern; the second far longer, perhaps a lifetime.

“The questions about Mr. Goeren were to determine if he had exceeded his discretionary authority as your supervisor. That’s not entirely an objective judgment; your view of the events had much to do with how we interpreted them. Mrs. Dornier and I had a pretty good idea of what went on that evening, but Mr. Townsend wanted to hear it for himself. Once you made it plain that you welcomed Mr. Goeren’s attention there was nothing more to talk about. Personally, I suspect a lot more happened than what was in the report. Am I right?”

Luisa had to look down as she felt her cheeks blush. She nodded in answer to Anna’s question, afraid to say anything.

“Don’t worry about your Kurt. You are from New York?” Luisa nodded again. “Well, remember laws here on the Island are very different from what you are used to. You probably think Mr. Goeren was in danger of losing his job over some kind of sexual harassment case?”

Luisa looked up, “I don’t want him to get into any trouble. I know how it is in big companies; an accusation can ruin a career.”

Anna laughed. “It doesn’t work quite like that here. See, we all knew he was after you. We’ve known it for a while, probably even before you did. I’ll get to that in a minute. What he did, and what you left out, is acceptable providing you do not object. No black mark, no scandal. Tell me, was it on the street before you got to the building, back in the office that night, or was it in the elevator?”

“The elevator.” Then Luisa realized what she had just blurted out. “I mean, umm, I didn’t leave anything out.”

Anna laughed again. “Of course not. You know, in a way I envy you. But I wouldn’t trade places with you either. I know a little about the type of man your Kurt is. Imagine a glacier, slow and deliberate, but unstoppable. He’s decided he wants you. Nothing is going to hold him back.” Anna fingered her collar. “I hope you don’t have any problems with one of these, because he’s not going to stop until you are wearing his collar. That’s what I really wanted to talk to you about. You better get used to the idea he is going to own you.”

Luisa stared at Anna, eyes wide. “What do you mean? Own me? No man owns me. He hasn’t said anything about it anyway. I think you are jumping to conclusions.” She was indignant at the idea she could be the property of a man, especially someone as arrogant as Kurt.

Anna sighed and shook her head. “No, you have no idea what you are up against. I’m not guessing. Mr. Goeren filed a request with the company stating his intentions to acquire you. That’s how we knew the motivation for what he did. His request, in simple terms, means he wants to own you, and will compensate the company for the expenses incurred in bringing you here and training costs since your arrival. Between the lines it’s also a request that the company, meaning us, your board, endorse his actions toward you. That was the second item we approved. The company will determine the amount required in order to release you from your work contract. Once your company obligations are discharged you can sign the ownership agreement, his ownership agreement. At that point your status as a ward of the company will end.”

Luisa stood up. “This is ridiculous. The company is selling me to him? I think I should have something to say about it. I am not a sack of potatoes, traded on speculation. I like working with Kurt, he’s bright and well educated. If he would work on his manners and try to add a little sensitivity I’d probably find him attractive. But the idea of me being the starry-eyed slave girl devoted to a caveman like him? It’s not going to happen.”

Anna said nothing but stared silently at Luisa. She sat back down, confusion whirling around in her head. Kurt wants me? Why? He was intelligent, good looking, tall and handsome. But his attitude left a lot to be desired. He just orders me around. Like he owns me. Suddenly the events of the past week all made sense. Like he already owns me!

Anna gave Luisa a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing. “You did have something to say about it, just now. You defended him, quite passionately in case you hadn’t noticed. That was all we needed to hear. Didn’t you wonder why the questions stopped so abruptly?” She stood up and came over to Luisa’s side of the table.

“I’d like for you to think about participating in the ownership program. It is a series of seminars the Island sponsors. It’s all about how the process works, what it means for each of you, and you can meet others who have gone through the same sort of thing you are experiencing now. You don’t have to answer right this minute, think it over and leave word with your dorm supervisor to contact me.

“One last point before I go. If you wish, you can be transferred to another work assignment. We can even arrange it so you have no further contact with Mr. Goeren.”

An Afternoon Drive

Cathy was waiting at her front door when the car pulled up. John, always the gentleman, got out and opened the car door for her. Inside she could see Anna sitting in the back seat, hands folded in her lap as usual. It wasn’t until Cathy sat down next to Anna that she noticed why Anna’s hands were so carefully placed. Around each wrist was a gleaming steel bracelet, linked to a chain around Anna’s waist. Cathy couldn’t see a lock but it was obvious the chain was tightly fastened above her hips, holding Anna’s wrists close to her side. Her hands were resting in her lap because that was the limit imposed by the short lengths of chain between the cuffs and her waist chain. She looked at Anna with an expression that asked the unspoken question as to what was happening.

Anna gave a shrug of her shoulders but said nothing. John started the car and pulled out into the road. Today was supposed to be a sightseeing trip and old-fashioned picnic to help Cathy relax. Mark was due to arrive tomorrow on the next boat in. Cathy had been frantic getting everything ready for his arrival. John had called earlier that morning and suggested she come with them on a drive to the interior of the Island, more as a distraction to help her get through the day rather than a real trip. Cathy had started to decline, but then realized he was right. She needed to unwind and a change of scenery was the ideal solution.

Anna moved her legs slightly. The motion caught Cathy’s attention when she realized there was a matching pair of cuffs around Anna’s ankles linking them together. Anna was effectively immobilized, bound hand and foot. She might be able to stand, but walking would be very slow and difficult. Cathy couldn’t help but stare at the bonds; it was something she had never seen in public before. Anna smiled, seeing Cathy’s fascination at her predicament, but still said nothing.

John broke the silence with an explanation. “I’m sure you noticed Anna is a bit, umm, restrained today. She’s not being punished or anything like that. It’s just a whim of mine. At times I like to remind her who is in charge. As you can see, she has little option but to do as I wish. For the moment she does not have permission to speak, which is why she didn’t say hello. This is part of living on the Island too. No one would give a second thought to seeing Anna dressed in chains, because she has that collar around her neck. And of course Anna does not have the option of removing the cuffs. She doesn’t get the spare key.” John laughed. Anna rolled her eyes then shook her head.

“Sir, may I ask how long you will keep her this way?” Cathy ventured a question. Anna didn’t look uncomfortable at the moment but that could change if it was going to be all day long.

“No, Cathy, that you cannot ask. She will remain silent until I tell her otherwise, and she will wear the restraints until I remove them. But I’ll let her explain it to you while I drive. Anna, you have permission to speak.” John turned his attention to the road as the traffic picked up.

“Yes, sir. Hi Cathy, glad you decided to come along.” Anna continued, “I’m not sure what you might think of this, but it’s not quite what it seems.” She lifted up her hands and tugged on the handcuffs on each side of her waist. “Contrary to what you might think, I find wearing these to be very exciting. I like that helpless feeling, knowing I’m controlled by my master. And best of all, here on the Island we can do it in public.” Anna laughed. “Maybe it’s a latent streak of exhibitionism. Anyway, people aren’t going to stare, not much anyway, and the police aren’t going to stop and question us.”

Cathy shook her head, frowning in confusion. “But…aren’t you worried about what people will think, seeing you like that?”

“Anywhere but here, yes. Everyone on the Island knows that bondage doesn’t mean I’m being arrested, or I’m a criminal. Instead, it shows that I am being controlled by the man who owns me, in a very real and visible way. I am vulnerable, defenseless, unable to fend for myself. But I trust John to protect me. And beyond that, it’s something of an unwritten law here that when we are, hmm, call it restrained, everyone is extra helpful and patient. If I can’t open a door, someone will open it for me. If I have to walk very slowly, people will be patient and wait for me to go by. Master is always with me though, so I never have to worry.

“And remember Cathy, where I now sit you may well be in a short period of time.” Anna lifted her chin. “Once you have chosen to wear a collar, you cannot refuse if your master decides he wants to see you like this. Or worse. I am grateful that master allowed me to wear clothes today.”

Cathy was taken aback at Anna’s last comment. It did make sense once she thought about it. Clothing was as much a privilege as speaking, to be granted or withdrawn solely at his discretion. Besides, once trussed up in chains there would be little she could do if he suddenly produced a pair of scissors and began removing garments piece by piece. Would Mark ever do that to her, parading her striped and shackled through public streets in the middle of the day? She didn’t think so, but then again there was nothing to stop him.

“One more thing Cathy,” Anna interrupted her train of thought. “The question you asked about how long master will keep me in restraints? There was no way you would know, but it’s considered impolite to ask those kinds of questions here. Unless there are exceptional circumstances no one questions how an owner treats his property. If John had answered your question then I would have known when he intended to release me. It’s not my place to know such things in advance, unless he wishes to inform me. That’s why he didn’t answer, or so I assume.”

Cathy turned to the front of the car. “Oh, my apologies, sir. I didn’t mean to interfere.”

“No problem, you had no way of knowing,” John answered. “Usually I make sure Anna knows what I have in mind for her, but today is different. Today she doesn’t know what will be happening from one moment to the next. Uncertainty is a pinch of spice to add to her feelings of being powerless and controlled. And Anna? You were only given permission to wear clothes when we left the house. I said nothing about the rest of the day.”

A brief look of panic crossed Anna’s face, as her hands jerked against the handcuffs. Then as Cathy watched she carefully folded her hands in her lap once more and lowered her eyes, facing straight ahead. “Yes sir,” Anna said in a low voice. Clearly Anna did not like the idea of being forced to strip in public either, but Cathy saw her resignation. Was John bluffing, merely to tease her? His wording had been very carefully contrived to imply everything and nothing. Cathy started to ask him then realized he wouldn’t answer, but if he felt challenged to prove something Anna would be the one to suffer for it. Cathy now understood why such questions were considered impolite; one day she might be in a similar situation where she would pay for a careless question from someone else.

The conversation lulled, as the two women were lost in thought. Anna remembered the last time she had thoughtlessly called her master’s bluff, and the night she had spent locked in the car trunk as a result; nude, gagged, and tied hand and foot. She had learned that lesson well; never again would she dare him to carry out a threat.

Cathy’s thoughts were focused on Anna, and what it might be like if Mark were the one driving and she were the one sitting in the back seat, locked in shackles. What would he do? And the real question, what would he make her do? Anna was right; Cathy could be in exactly the same place in little more than a month from now. Could she sit there as calmly as Anna, knowing she would be so completely dependent on Mark?

Some of her concern must have shown on her face, for Anna spoke up. “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to handle it. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to let go, place all your trust in him, to sit back and wait to see what will happen. Think of it this way: if there is nothing you can do, then there is nothing you have to do.

“Look at me. He can do just about anything he wants. Tomorrow morning he could wake up and tell me I am forbidden to talk to anyone or to leave the house for the next three months. I would be trapped, no way out, but I would obey. I wouldn’t like it, but when he took possession of me I knew the worst could happen, and if it did I would have to accept it. But I’m not worried. If he decides this afternoon he wants to see me dressed in nothing more than steel chains, then I will strip on the street corner and hold out my wrists to him. I trust he has a reason for what he does, and even if it’s for no other basis than he wants to look at me, that’s enough.”

“Anyone want something cold to drink?” John interrupted. “There’s a convenience store up ahead, and I’m thirsty. Cathy, Anna?”

Engrossed in her discussion Cathy had forgotten about John, still driving in the front seat. She answered first. “Yes, sir, that sounds good.”

Anna added a “yes, sir” in agreement. John pulled off the road and parked in front of the small store. He opened his door and got out, then turned to ask the two women what they would like. He went into the store, leaving Cathy to watch over Anna. As soon as he was inside she turned back to Anna to ask a question in private.

“Anna, tell me and be honest, what do you really think about wearing those chains? I’ll never repeat to anyone what you tell me.”

“Honestly? Cathy, I really do enjoy this, except for being a little uncomfortable. The truth is it’s a real turn on sexually for me. I guess I am a bit of a showoff too because I love doing this in public. I want people to know I belong to him, that he has this power over me.

“I like the way he looks at me when he has me restrained. You know that look? Lust, desire, the gleam in his eyes, the dominating expression? He enjoys it as much as I do, maybe more. I’ve watched him at home, me sitting on the couch hooked up like this, him sitting next to me with the keys in his hand, playing with them. We might sit there for hours, watching a movie or talking, but all the while he plays with those keys, a reminder I’m completely within his power. It can be scary, in the sense that I never know when, or if, he might let me go. But I get all the attention I could ever want. It’s as if the chains actually tie him to me. The more vulnerable I am, the more I need him, the closer I draw him to me.

“However, all that aside, I sure wish I could scratch my nose.” Cathy laughed as Anna leaned forward to rub her nose against the front seat. “I try not to let him see me do that; he gets these ideas, you know?”

John came out of the store, carrying drinks for everyone. He opened Anna’s door and reached across to hand the first cup to Cathy. He put the other two on the car top before he took a set of keys out of a pocket. He unlocked the handcuffs holding Anna’s wrists, closing them after releasing her wrists. The cuffs still dangled from the chain around her waist. He stood up, handed Anna her drink and closed the door. He got back in the front and took a sip from his cup while looking into the back seat. Anna sat with the cup in her hands but did not take a drink.

“You may drink, Anna. Go ahead and stretch, I’m going to leave the handcuffs off for a while. We don’t have too far to go. I have a spot in mind that’s usually not too crowded and it has a magnificent view. We can have our picnic there and walk around for a little while.” He turned back to the front and started the car.

Anna took a drink while alternately holding the cup in one hand and exercising the other. She tried to straighten out her legs as best she could but the cuffs around her ankles still held her feet close together. Cathy took a moment to examine how her legs were confined with the oversize cuffs. She had never seen anything quite like them, enlarged versions of regular handcuffs so they would fit ankles, but rigidly linked by a hinge instead of a chain. Anna was forced to keep her feet and legs close together and in line. She could probably stand up with some help, but she couldn’t walk, much less try to run or kick. Even with her hands free Anna was still essentially helpless, able to do little more than stand or crawl.

“Could you hold my drink for a moment?” Anna asked. While Cathy held her cup Anna raised up in the car seat and pulled out her dress where it had gathered underneath her. “Thanks, that was bothering me. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand a wrinkled or bunched up dress. It’s hard to sit down properly when you can’t use your hands.” She took her cup back. With Anna’s arms out of the way Cathy could see the handcuffs were permanently attached to the each side of the waist chain. That chain fit snugly above her hips, fastened behind her back with a lock.

Anna touched the chain belt. “These are popular on the Island. Originally they were made for transporting criminals to prison. As you can see they are very effective. You have little freedom of movement, even less if your hands are covered. And if master decides to reverse position by crossing your arms you have no movement at all, especially if it’s behind your back. It’s hard on your shoulders though, holding your arms behind your back for very long. Hurts if you have to sit that way too, unless you are in one of the specially designed seats with space for your hands.

“If master allows me to keep my hands in front and not crossed I can wear this for hours. My shoulders get stiff from not moving around but that’s about it. Oh yeah, and you have to move your wrists around so the cuffs don’t leave marks. The only real drawback you can see for yourself, you can’t reach anything.”

“That’s why I chose the waist design,” John added. “It doesn’t put a strain on her arms or wrists like regular handcuffs would. It’s supposed to confine, not hurt.”

Anna continued when John finished. “You noticed the ankles? Those aren’t as common. When he wants me to sit still, or stand in one place, he uses these oversized hinged handcuffs. He tells me they were made for large men with big wrists, but by coincidence they are just the right size for a woman’s ankle. One time I made the mistake of trying to walk with them on. John warned me, but I wanted to see for myself. Best I managed was something slower than a crawl, plus I got bruises. I won’t try that again.”

Cathy leaned over to take a closer look. The leg shackles weren’t on tight, but neither could they be slipped off. She could see it would be virtually impossible to walk; there wasn’t any slack or flexibility of movement.

“You probably wonder why I make her wear the steel jewelry,” John said, joining in the conversation. “I make no excuses for it. I like to see Anna in them. To me it makes her look attractive and very sexy. Here on the Island there’s no law or society taboo to stop me, and, unlike the outside world, bondage isn’t considered to be humiliating. A stranger passing by would pay no more attention to Anna in handcuffs than he would if she had a miniskirt on. She might get a few leers but that’s it. I’m sure some people don’t approve, but it’s a matter of personal choice.

“My choice, not Anna’s. I’m sure she’d rather do without the extra decorations but in this particular case I don’t allow her the option. Our first year in an ownership agreement I didn’t tell her in advance what I intended. I’m sure she didn’t expect it, but she has adapted well. Feel free to talk to Anna about it, Cathy.”

The conversation drifted on to other subjects while John drove up into the hills that dotted the central part of the Island. They had been on the road for about thirty minutes when he pulled onto a side road. A few moments later Cathy gasped in surprise when a beautiful lake setting came into view. Dense trees came almost to the shoreline.

“This is a reservoir, not a natural lake.” John pointed toward an earthen dam at one end. “It’s a natural basin. One end was closed off to hold the lake. It’s supplied by a combination of rainfall, runoff, and desalinated water from the Island’s facilities. The power plants have to be kept running at night when demand is low, so we process additional seawater and pump the fresh water up here. Most people like to go to the beaches on the coast, but I miss the Canadian Rockies. This is as close as we get.”

They parked at a visitor’s picnic area, dotted with tables and barbeque grills. John and Cathy opened their doors to get out, but Anna remained seated, hands in her lap. Cathy started to ask if something was wrong, then remembered Anna’s ankles were still locked together. John opened Anna’s door and bent down to release her legs from the restraints before helping her out of the car.

I have to remember not to stare, Cathy told herself, I may be in the same position myself one day. She still didn’t know how she would react to that. Mark could surprise her with something unexpected, and she would have to obey. Still, Anna seemed to do well, even when trussed up the way John seemed to like. The more she saw of Anna and John, the more she wanted the same for herself. Even if it meant she had to sit in the car bound hand and foot.

John opened the trunk of the car. Inside were several baskets. Anna reached in and picked up one. “Cathy, can you give me a hand setting up the food? Sir, if you’d like to take your pole down to the water we’ll get lunch ready.” John took out the heavy cooler and set it on a nearby table.

“That sounds like a good plan.” John came back to the car to get his fishing pole and tackle box. “There are a few fish, trout and some species from Africa. I’m not much of a fisherman but I like to try it out now and then. Yell when lunch is ready.” He headed down to the shoreline.

“I’m not big on fishing at all, and truth to tell he rarely catches anything. Sometimes I suspect there really aren’t any fish in the lake. I think it’s just a momentary flashback to his childhood, fishing in the Rockies. Can you get the tablecloth out of there?” Anna pointed to the basket Cathy was carrying.

The two women unpacked the picnic lunch, setting it out onto the table. In a few minutes they had everything ready. Anna glanced toward the lake. John was casting a line out into the water. “Let’s sit down for a while. He likes to go through the motions, but in about half an hour he’ll be done. We can leave the food covered for a few more minutes. Do you like fishing?” Anna asked.

Cathy made a face. “No, not at all. Smelly disgusting creatures, and cleaning them, yuck. I like a nice salmon steak all wrapped up from the store and ready to go on the grill. That’s as close as I want to be to fish.”

Anna laughed. “I feel the same way. Cleaning fish is a man’s job. I can batter and fry a fillet, but that’s all I want to know about it. No fish for us today; it’s traditional North American picnic food, fried chicken and potato salad.” Cathy noticed how Anna pronounced the word fillet with the “t” on the end, a distinctive Canadian accent.

They sat at the table talking, with Anna facing the lake to watch John. “Anna, I’d like to ask you about something John said. He didn’t tell you in advance about those?” Cathy pointed to the handcuffs dangling from the chain around Anna’s waist. “Didn’t that bother you? I know he’s the master and all that, but don’t you feel better if he gives you a chance to talk over what he’s going to do first?”

Anna thought for a moment before answering. “It didn’t bother me. I was surprised, but not upset that he didn’t warn me. It is scary, looking down at your hands, seeing those things and knowing you can’t take them off. It does something to you. All the talk in the world about obedience and obligation is fine, but then it hits you when that last illusory bit of choice is abruptly yanked away.

“That first time I will never forget. He told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. I had no idea what he was doing, but of course I obeyed. Suddenly I felt something on my wrists, cold and heavy. I opened my eyes just as he finished closing the handcuffs. Before I could say anything he was behind me, pulling the chain tight around my waist. He was so fast and strong, I never had a chance. I started to say something but he spun me around and forced a gag into my mouth. I couldn’t even talk. Then he made me kneel down on the floor and put shackles around my ankles. Not the kind in the car, these had a short connecting chain.”

Cathy sat at the table listening to Anna, fascinated by her description. “Weren’t you scared? Did you have any idea what he was going to do next?” She nibbled on a carrot stick, eager to hear more.

“So afraid I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move a muscle. Not that it made any difference; he had done a thorough job. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life, before or since. I didn’t have a clue what was coming next. I couldn’t even think straight. He pulled me to my feet, but stayed behind me so I couldn’t see him. I remember looking down, dimly seeing my own hands and feet, locked in those cuffs. There was nothing I could do.

“Then he pushed me up against the wall. I almost stumbled and fell when my ankles pulled the chain taut, but John held me up. He pinned me by holding his own body against me. I felt his hand stroking my hair, then I realized he was talking to me. Whispering in my ear. Hearing his quiet soothing voice the panic started to go down. He was telling me how much he loved me, how important and special I was. How no one else would ever give herself to him as I had done.

“His fingers caressed my neck, lightly touching the collar. I had forgotten all about it, even though it had only been a few days. That’s the moment it hit me. I did belong to him, not in some abstract sense but as his personal property. I couldn’t say no, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to say no, I wanted him to keep going. I wanted him to use me, any way he liked. It sounds crude, but at that moment and ever since, I get a thrill when he, umm, I guess you could say when he chooses to take advantage of me. I suppose I shouldn’t admit to this but it’s true, I like him to force me. Not ask, but take. Does that make sense?”

Cathy nodded in understanding. “I haven’t really talked to Mark about it, but the way you describe it that’s what I’ve been battling with inside me. Coming to the Island, this ownership agreement, now I know why it sounded so perfect. I want to encourage Mark to be more aggressive, less inhibited, and I think this will do it. My concern is how Mark will be affected in other ways. I don’t want to be a source of constant worry and stress for him. That’s my big unknown.”

Seeing John had finished, Anna waved to him, signaling that lunch was ready. He started back up the path from the lake. “You can count on him losing his reticence. He’ll need some time to get past what he’s been taught from childhood. Trust me on this though. From personal experience I can assure you he will lose those inhibitions, as you can see for yourself. You be sure you’re ready for it.”

John went to the car first, to put his fishing pole away before he joined the two women at the picnic table. With his nod of permission Anna handed him a paper plate and began uncovering the dishes. She handed Cathy a plate and they all began dishing out the fried chicken, potato salad, and corn on the cob. John opened the cooler and got out drinks for everyone. “Eating outdoors adds something to the taste of the food.” He wrapped an arm around Anna and hugged her. “So does a pair of lovely ladies for company.”

The three of them sat eating and talking for over an hour. As the conversation eventually slowed John stood up and invited the two women to take a short walk with him on the path that an around the lake. “With all that good food we need a little exercise. Anna?”

Cathy immediately realized that for Anna the lakeside stroll wasn’t optional. She watched as John took each of Anna’s hands and closed a cuff around the wrist. Anna stood quietly, offering no resistance. Gripping her arm he started to lead her down to the shoreline. “How about we start by going part way around the lake, then come back on the path that runs through the woods?”

Could I do that, in public? Cathy knew it was a question she had to answer for her own peace of mind. She could ask Mark if he would ever parade her around in chains, but that wasn’t the point and she knew it. Whether or not John and Anna had deliberately intended to bring up the issue she had learned one more fact about Island life. If, more likely when, Mark chose to do something similar she would have to obey him. No picking and choosing, either I accept it all or tell Mark now it was a mistake.

Slip of the Tongue

“Settle down, let’s begin,” Mrs. Yates raised her voice to get everyone’s attention. Elise turned around to the front of the classroom. She stood next to her desk. Sitting was a privilege; as the instructor Mrs. Yates would decide when it would be allowed. “I want everyone to remain standing.”

Elise crossed her hands in front, the right hand lightly resting on her skirt and the left hand on top. By now her training was becoming a habit so she didn’t even notice that everyone else stood precisely the same way. If someone had pointed it out and asked her she would have explained that it was the proper, expected way to be attentive while standing. No other way was acceptable. There were no grey areas at the Facility; there was one right way and a whole lot of wrong ways for every situation.

“Today I’m going to change the topic somewhat. Up to now the theme has been the ways in which we serve our masters. Today we’re going to explore the other side. What goes on inside his head? What are his motivations, why does he seem to be perfect one day and insufferable the next?” Everyone laughed. “Well, I can’t answer that, so today we will have a guest lecturer who will try to answer those and other questions. He should be here in just a moment…”

Mrs. Yates stopped as the door open and a tall man in a business suit came in. Elise didn’t fail to notice the way Mrs. Yates visibly changed in an instant, facing him with crossed hands and lowered eyes.

“Good morning,” he spoke quietly with a pronounced Irish accent. “My name is Clancy Yates. I am currently the Director of the Facility. You will address me as Mr. Director. If you happen to notice the similarity in the last name then you might also rightly assume Mrs. Yates is my wife. Not that it grants her any special privilege here. Siobhan, would you join the group?” He gestured to a desk next to Elise.

“Yes, sir.” Mrs. Yates went to stand by the desk to Elise’s left.

“You may all take a seat.” Elise sat down, along with the rest of the class. “Now then,” he began, “Siobhan has asked me to say a few words on those mysterious creatures known as dominant men. First, I have to qualify my remarks by saying there are no safe assumptions. We all have our own idea of what we want and what we expect. I can tell you a bit about my own philosophy on life, but don’t expect your future owner to be the same.”

Clancy gestured toward Mrs. Yates. “I’m sure Siobhan here has impressed on you the need for order and discipline. While it may not be universal, you can safely assume that to some degree your master will expect the same. That’s one of the primary reasons we emphasize the virtue of submission expressed as obedience to authority. The rules exist for a reason.”

In the back of the room someone whispered. “Too bad we don’t have a rule limiting the number of rules we have to learn.” Everyone heard it, and there were even a few hastily suppressed giggles.

Elise was shocked. Who had made the outburst? It had come from behind her but she dare not turn around to look. At the front of the room the Director stood silently, a blank expression on his face, but the steely gaze of his eyes as they swept the room told the story. When he briefly stopped and looked directly at her, Elise was so scared she couldn’t move or even breathe. Not until he continued on did Elise remember to take a breath. A feeling of impending doom warned her that the lecture today would not be ending in a normal manner.

“Would our commentator care to identify herself?” He waited. “No? Somehow I thought not. Whoever you are, you miscalculated in one important respect. Anonymity does not shield you here at the Facility. Had you been more patient you would have heard me explain that you have a collective responsibility to the group as a whole, to help and support each other. Not just here in the Facility, but on the Island as well. And more importantly, to uphold the standards you all share.”

He took a cell phone off his belt and opened it. He looked up from the small display, as if counting the number in the audience, and then punched in a few commands. He studied the small screen for a moment before closing it and clipping it on his belt.

Elise listened as he spoke. “In any society we as individuals bear a responsibility to maintain its values in exchange for the benefits we receive. Here on the Island we have a unique social structure, but the basics do not change. All of you, as submissive women, as women who will one day be owned and sheltered by your masters, have a collective responsibility to see that your peers do their part to uphold our way of life. And your friends and classmates should see to it you are reminded if you have a momentary lapse. None of you should ever tolerate what we just heard here. It is unacceptable behavior in any circumstance.

“That one of your classmates would even consider what she has done would earn your approval is indicative of a failure on the part of all of you to work together to preserve our lifestyle. Tacit approval by silence is grounds for punishment here at the Facility. I don’t care who made that comment; I do care that she thought she could get away with it. All of you,” he turned to look at Mrs. Yates, “are to be held equally responsible for this incident.”

“It no longer matters who spoke out of turn. It was disrespectful and unacceptable. It is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. When you act in this manner there are consequences you must face.” He stopped as the classroom door opened. Four guards, all large men, came in. Two carried cardboard boxes. From the corner of her eye Elise saw Mrs. Yates jerk back in surprise. Clearly something very unpleasant was about to occur.

“Stand up.” As Elise turned to the side to get out of the desk she saw Mrs. Yates hesitate. “All of you,” he clarified. That answered one question as Mrs. Yates, Siobhan now, stood up. He had included her in the group.

Elise would never forget his next words, directed to the guards who had just entered. “Collective punishment, close confinement for all of them.” Then he turned back to the class and spoke. “I am disappointed in each and every one of you. I had hoped you would be supportive of each other as you learned to be the best you can be. Instead I find this. See to it that it never happens again.” He walked out the door without looking back.

Class Day

Cathy stood in front of the building, checking the address one last time. This was to be the first day for her classroom sessions. Mark had dropped her off on his way to work and would be picking her up at the end of the day. Anna had explained that there would be several days of classes as part of the qualification process toward an ownership contract. She had provided the date, time and location for Cathy’s group. As Cathy walked up the steps to the door, which simply read “Adult Education” on the front, she thought back to her first year in college. This won’t be as much work. Anna had explained it was more a seminar than a real class, and there would be no tests or grades. The only hard and fast rule was that she had to attend every session.

Inside the door was an information desk. Cathy stopped and asked the receptionist about where she should go. The woman at the desk first checked for her name on a printout then pointed out the directions to the room on a small map. The woman informed her that the class would start in about ten minutes. Cathy went down a corridor and stopped at the open door matching the room number.

Inside was a long conference room table with several chairs. At one end was a whiteboard and what looked to be some kind of projector. Five other women were sitting at the table as Cathy came in. The one at the head of the table Cathy took to be the instructor, for she was the only one in the room wearing a collar. She also had a scarf covering her hair.

“Hello, come in and take a seat anywhere. We’ll be starting as soon as everyone is here. I’ll be leading the discussion today. Could I have your name?” She picked up a sheet of paper.

“Cathy Sturgis,” Cathy answered as she sat down. “I hope I’m in the right place. I was supposed to be scheduled for the first orientation class?” The woman had an odd accent, almost British, but she couldn’t place it.

“This is the right room. We have one more on the list yet to arrive. There is tea and coffee in the corner if you would like some. Make yourself comfortable.” Cathy stood and went for some coffee. As she was fixing it a young woman walked into the classroom, dressed in what looked to be a company uniform. Cathy recognized the company logo on her blouse and skirt, the same engineering company Mark worked for. The instructor went through the identical greeting, checking her name off and pointing out the refreshments.

As soon as everyone was seated the instructor stood, closed the door, and went back to the front of the room. “Good morning, everyone. My name is Fatima Maktoum and I will be the instructor today. As I’m sure you are all aware, this class is part of the program that is required before you can enter into a voluntary ownership agreement. At the end of the day I will provide you with information on when the next session will be held. There is a legal requirement that you attend every session, but otherwise you are free to participate as much or as little as you wish.

“That little speech was mandatory. Now I’d like to add a personal comment. Everything we will be doing here today is for your benefit. I see from the list you all come from different parts of the world. I myself am from a small country, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Our backgrounds make us look at the world in different terms. What each of us took for granted in our previous homes may not apply here on the Island. My purpose is to help you understand the cultural differences and what it will mean to you if you choose to complete the program.

“By way of introduction I am currently in a permanent unrestricted agreement with my owner and husband. He decided my experience and knowledge should be shared with others so he offered my services to this school. I have been teaching these classes for the last three years. I can tell you that those who think they have nothing to learn here are the ones who had the hardest time after they found themselves wearing the collar. We are going to talk of reality, not erotic fantasy. All of you are at the beginning of a major change in your life. Beyond a certain point you will not be able to control how that change progresses, so consider that it may be to your benefit to know what to expect.

“Now, why don’t we start by going around the table and have each of you introduce yourself?” She sat down and picked up some papers, as each woman in turn gave her name. Cathy was surprised at the range of ages and country of origin, young and old, from four continents. After introductions the instructor verified full names and addresses, went over some history of the Island, and talked about how the ownership contract worked.

The morning went quickly while they talked about the Island. Most of the information Cathy had known but there were some interesting details she had not come across before. There was a chain of islands, the large one they lived on and some smaller ones that stretched out beyond the horizon. Not all were inhabited, and not all were open to visitors. Fatima warned them not to take a boat to any of the other islands without checking its status. She would not elaborate on why some places were closed to the public.

When they paused for lunch Fatima mentioned there was a cafeteria in the building, or they could go out. Being new Cathy decided to stay inside. It seemed the others had the same idea when the whole group followed Fatima to the lunchroom. Cathy was pleasantly surprised to find the cook was from northern Mexico. The food was all standard Mexican border fare familiar to anyone from southern California. She spent a few moments explaining to other members of the group the difference between taco, tamale, and a torta sandwich. She ordered a taco salad and then joined the rest at a table.

At first everyone sat quietly eating. Cathy took the opportunity to ask Fatima how she came to live on the Island. “As I mentioned my husband and I are both from Dubai, a seaport on the Persian Gulf. He is a chemical engineer and consults around the world at refineries and petrochemical plants. He met several colleagues who live here and gradually found out about the Island.

“I was raised in the Islamic faith, which teaches that a good wife submits to her husband’s authority. I was fortunate that I did not have to conceal my desire to be submissive and please my husband. We had been married for five years when he told me about the Island. I wasn’t at all enthusiastic about moving. You have to understand, I grew up in a society where men ruled and women did as they were told. I fit in quite well. Unlike some in my country I had no desire to move to a Western society.

“Our concern was that the Emirates are a modern cosmopolitan country. We could see it was becoming more Western. Groups were pushing to change traditions and how women were treated. I didn’t want to lose what I had. I like being sheltered and protected, to have him take care of me.

“We considered Saudi Arabia but they don’t want immigrants, even ones from the Emirates. So he decided it would be best for us to move to the Island. We did check to make sure none of the local laws would be in conflict with our beliefs. There are none, which explains the large number of Muslims who live here. We have been on the Island for ten years now, and I do not leave except when my husband takes me to visit relatives.”

The woman in the company uniform asked Fatima about the Islamic dress code. After taking a few bites from her lunch Fatima answered. “You mean wearing the hijab, that long black dress that covers you completely? It is from the Koran. We are taught that in public a devout Muslim woman must wear plain, concealing clothes, and cover herself except for face and hands. Some believe even a type of veil should be worn, since there is a surah which says a woman may not speak to a strange man except through a curtain. Usually a hijab is black, but it can be another color as long as it is drab, the definition of which opens a giant loophole in many countries. I have several, all black but with a tiny bit of decoration in Emirati style, which I wear when attending prayers or if I have to go out during the day by myself. I wore one when we traveled to Mecca for our hadjj, our pilgrimage, but then in Saudi Arabia it’s expected. Most Islamic countries leave it to the individual, but there are a few places where it is mandatory, like Afghanistan or many tribal areas. I must confess, I am a bit liberal when it comes to hijab. I have a few colorful ones too, not as drab as they should be, but I wear those only here on the Island.

“My husband allows me to wear western clothes in public on some occasions, for instance when I am teaching here at school. He does insist I cover my head in public, which is why I wear this scarf, and that I dress modestly. No miniskirts or halter tops for me.” The group at the table laughed at her joke.

“He is strict with me in most ways. You must remember he is a very traditional Arab man. I cannot leave our house without permission, nor am I allowed to drive a car. Except to shop at the market or to attend prayers I may not travel unless accompanied by my husband or a mahram approved by him. You remember I mentioned that’s a restriction you will all have to live with.

“When he decided I should be an instructor here one of the conditions is that the class must be segregated, that I would only be teaching women or children, which is in line with conservative Islamic principles. He brings me here in the morning. I am not permitted to leave the building until he comes to pick me up. I am expected to have only minimal interaction with the male staff unless my husband is present.

“One surprise you may not know about though. The school must pay me, not my husband, and he cannot take my earnings. I choose to give them to him, but he can’t order me to do so. We’ll talk more about that this afternoon, how the ownership contracts can vary.”

They finished lunch and headed back to the classroom for the afternoon session. After everyone was seated Fatima began, “I thought we would continue the discussion from lunch, since it fits in with the afternoon’s subject matter. Each of you is here because you intend to give yourself to someone else. Give in the sense that you surrender your freedom to the control of your man. However, the way in which you give yourself over to ownership can take many forms.

“I know that none of you are totally unaware of what you are doing. If you were not submissive you would not be here. I think it likely each of you is in a relationship where you are devoted to your man, eager to please, and happy to fulfill his slightest wish. But think of this, in one month you will be in a position where you literally cannot say no. You may tell yourself that’s how it is now, but you would be wrong. Before moving here you always had that option to walk out the door, perhaps with friends or family to help you.

“It’s different on this island. If you walk out the door there will be no place for you to go. No one will help you, for you will have broken the vow we all hold sacred. Every hand will be turned against you. You will be hunted down as a criminal and severely punished. No matter what the reason, there will be no sympathy for you. No one will take your side. No one will be interested in your version of the story.”

Fatima put a hand to her collar. “Make no mistake about what this means. It is not some abstract symbol announcing your love and dedication to the world. It is a claim of ownership stating for all to see that you belong to a specific person and no other. It is locked on and you will not have the means to remove it, just as you cannot remove your master’s entitlement to determine the course of your life. Your existence narrows to an extension of his world. He draws your boundaries, beyond which you can never go. He has the right to claim every minute of your time, to demand you reveal your innermost thoughts and secrets to him. And never forget, he also has the right to force this on you if you are unwilling to do it on your own. A right you will freely give to him knowing full well he can and will use it at any time.”

Cathy had never thought of Mark having the right to force her against her will, but she could see that Fatima was right. Mark had never struck her in anger or physically forced her to obey him. She liked to think it never would happen because she would never put Mark in that position. Then there was the small matter that in California it would have been spousal abuse, and he could go to jail for it. Here there would be no such restriction. She would be the one who could wind up in jail for the crime of defying him. She better make sure of this right now.

Cathy raised her hand to ask a question. “Do you mean he has the right to beat me if I am mouthy or disobedient?”

“The agreement is very clear on that issue Cathy. Yes he does. There are provisions to address your concerns though. All of you here will be in what’s known as a Basic agreement. You can ask for the agreement to be amended to preclude force, or you can ask for limits on it. Part of Islamic law does permit a husband to physically punish his wife, but he may not cause bruises or break bones. Our agreement doesn’t prohibit force, but it does state we will both faithfully abide by the Koran and Islamic beliefs. I trust him not to hurt me, but I know if he believes I am misbehaving he will correct me by whatever means he chooses.”

Cathy made a mental note to talk to Mark about this issue. They had never really discussed what he might do to punish her. Till now it had never been an issue. She did her best; and he knew it. She needed to go over it with him and see what he thought. She didn’t want to be beaten, but neither did she want to restrict Mark’s authority over her. The instructor’s point was obvious, to build in some kind of stated limit as to what he could do. It was reasonable and a prudent precaution, but Cathy didn’t feel comfortable even at the thought of bringing it up with Mark.

Fatima continued. “You remember I mentioned there are variations on the agreement? My husband and I have an unrestricted agreement, which means there are no limits on his power over me. It is also unlimited, which means there is no future date when it must be renewed. I belong to him for a lifetime. But there is a pledge on his part to keep to our beliefs, to abide by Sharia, Islamic law, and to require that I do the same. That guarantee he chose to add, I had no say.

“All of you are starting with the Basic agreement. It has a fixed one year duration, which starts the moment you sign it. It has standard provisions that he must keep you in good health, provide for your basic needs, inflict no serious injury, and post a return bond. That bond is a way for you to leave the Island if the agreement is dissolved. In return you vow to be faithful to him, to love and cherish him, diligently obey his commands, to put no other above him, to submit to his authority and keep to both the spirit and the law of his rules for you. You must be honest and forthright, answer his questions truthfully and completely without holding back.

“That’s not the end though. Both of you can put in additional clauses. If you have religious beliefs that must be respected, make sure you include them. If you are afraid of being beaten, put that in. If he goes crazy and hurts you the agreement ends, leaving you the bond money if you want to move away. You can go anywhere in the world.

“Think carefully of what you ask to put in the agreement though, because once it begins you cannot change it except by mutual agreement. If you make a mistake, if you discover he is not the man for you but he refuses to terminate the agreement, then you will have no recourse but to wait till it expires. That’s why it’s for a single year only.”

Cathy didn’t think she and Mark needed any extra provisions. Nor did it have to be for just a year, but those were the laws on the Island. She had no changes in mind but Mark would decide if they needed any additions.

“While we are on the terms of the agreement I want to make all of you aware of its legal standing. As I mentioned earlier today the legal system here is primarily an extension of the laws of Saudi Arabia, but we do have local autonomy. Penalties for criminal activity are very harsh by Western standards, so don’t try to rob a bank.” Everyone laughed.

Fatima continued. “Now I don’t think any of you are here to rob or murder, but one law that will directly affect you is unique to the Island. Once you agree to ownership, the contract has the force of law. You have a legal obligation to meet the terms, and there are criminal penalties if you do not. I want to stress that, severe penalties. For example, if I were to deliberately disobey my husband or try to leave the Island it would be treated as a crime equivalent to desertion in the military.”

One of the other attendees, an older woman from Europe, asked about the range of sentences if convicted of breaking the ownership agreement. Fatima paused for a moment before answering. “First of all, there is no ‘if’ about conviction. All it takes is a sworn statement from your owner that you ran away, disobeyed him, or violated some other part of the agreement. The court issues a summary judgment against you. No lawyers, no trial. Your master and the court decide the penalty. They may or may not tell you what it is. What’s the worst possible sentence? You are taken away to the detention center where you wait for the time you might be released, a date you never know until the day arrives.”

The grim picture silenced everyone at the table. Remembering something Mark had once told her, Cathy asked a question. “My husband likes to tell me that in engineering the worst case is not every case. How often do situations like that occur? Are there any statistics?”

“Good point, Cathy,” Fatima responded. “It is unlikely you are going to spend a month in jail because you forget that he wants spaghetti every Friday night for dinner. Criminal cases here are very rare. Those involving ownership are usually settled without formal proceedings. In the last three years I know of only one case of someone who ran away and was prosecuted. I don’t know the results since the proceedings aren’t made public.

“There is a related point I’d like to make, about attitude. I’m not going to lecture you on submission and accepting his decisions about you. We are here because it is a need in each of us, to be held, controlled, and guided. What I do want to talk about is how you must change in the way you look at your relationship.

“Think of a card game. Your new master has all the cards, and he can play those cards any way he wishes. He can even change the rules of the card game. If you try to play against him in the game he will always win. It sounds hopeless, but you have one big advantage. He wants to give you the best cards in the deck so you will be the winner, but you have to play by his rules. You take the cards he deals to you and then wait while he shows you how to use them to win. He will stack the deck, but he will stack it in your favor.

“What you have to avoid is that impulse to negotiate or compete. You have nothing to negotiate with. Remember that. He holds all the power. There is no score, so you can never win on points. Never offer to make a deal with him, or reach some kind of compromise. You aren’t allowed to hold anything back. If you offer to trade, he can simply take whatever you try to offer. If you seek a compromise, he can order you to do it his way.

“The manner in which you change is to remember your place when you go to him. If you want something, tell him and explain why. Don’t make demands; instead show him your reasons. If you are upset, tell him why, and what he can do to help. Perhaps one of his rules is causing a problem. Explain to him your difficulty with it.

“Then let him do his job. If he is like most men he wants you to be happy. If you aren’t content he has to fix it. My husband once told me there are times he thinks about me all day long, am I getting enough attention, is he being too strict, should he make changes, is there something I need but haven’t asked about. I don’t know how he can take on the responsibility of owning me, or even why he would want it. He does so much to give me an easy life while taking so little in return. I don’t pretend to understand why he does it, but I do know he is sincere in the way he is concerned about me. Remember that when the man in your life doesn’t seem to understand anything you are telling him.

“What I’m trying to say is, do not be confrontational, ever. Explain instead of argue. Talk softly instead of screaming. Remember what he can do if you make him mad. And remember his word is final. If he listens to you and then says no, the matter is over.”

The class stopped for a break. Fatima had certainly given her some much needed insight. Cathy stood up to stretch and walk around. She stopped to say hello to the young woman from Mark’s company, who introduced herself as Lois Vallardo from New York. At the end of the break they all sat back down.

“For the final topic today I’m going to talk about what you might expect the first few weeks after the agreement starts. The immediate change will be at home. Of course, you are all different. For some there may be little or no change from your current routine. But from what I’ve seen I would suggest you make no definite plans. Your master will be like the little boy who is taken to the candy store and once inside is told he can have everything he sees. He goes around the store tasting every kind of candy, just because he can. But he will settle down to what he likes best.

“Until he does settle down though, you better be prepared for anything he can imagine. No matter how active you have been in the past, the moment you sign yourself over to him he is going to change. You will be giving him something he has desired all his life. Ever see a man with a new set of tools? He has to find something to do to check out every one. You are going to give him a present more valuable than any set of tools, and I promise you he will try it out.”

Everyone laughed. Cathy nodded, realizing that Mark fit the description. It could be interesting to try to predict what he might choose to do.

“Something else for you to think about is your public image. Remember, with this collar on everyone will know who you are, and will expect a certain type of social conduct from you. It doesn’t mean you have to obey every man you meet. You belong to one person only, don’t ever forget that. No one else has any kind of rights over you. You should ask your owner how he wants you to handle situations where someone becomes aggressive or demanding.

“Do not attempt to handle it on your own initiative. You are at a disadvantage because of your natural tendency to worry over how your own manners reflect on your master. Ask him to give you some explicit instructions on how to handle the situation, and then stay with his policy no matter what your own inclination may be. He expects you to hand over these types of problems to him, so don’t hold back. Remember, when you act on your master’s orders, you bear no personal responsibility other than to faithfully obey his directives.

“This is not a major problem. Overall, you will find the men here to be very polite. If anything they will be somewhat formal with you. They know you must stay within your owner’s rules and will understand if you tell them you are not permitted to do certain things. But also remember when you are with your master you will be treated in a way you may not anticipate. Everything will go through him. No one will speak to you directly unless there is some kind of approval from him, even if it’s just a nod or a wave of the hand. People may talk as if you aren’t even there. That doesn’t mean you have become a non-entity or second class person. Rather it means they acknowledge that you are his property, and he determines what you can and cannot do. They will expect him to stand between you and the world, and act accordingly.

“I know it can be difficult, especially for women from Western countries. In my own culture this is not unusual. I grew up knowing there would always be a man to protect me and speak for me, either my husband or a mahram if I were unmarried. I find it difficult to be on my own in public, in mixed company.”

Cathy had noticed with Anna how she seemed to step back when she was with John, always waiting for him to proceed first. And several times she had seen how Anna was treated as if she didn’t exist. Now Cathy better understood the hidden moves as the manner in which John interceded on her behalf. He was shielding her, only allowing others to interact with Anna if he thought it appropriate.

“This will conclude the session for today. We will meet again tomorrow, in this room and at the same starting time.” Fatima said as she ended the class for the day.

All for One

The bare concrete floor felt cold and hard. Ordered to strip, their clothes taken away, then paraded through the hallways and herded into a bare-walled cell, the psychological shock may have made the cold more imaginary than real. Elise held still as the guard closed the irons on her ankles and wrists, resigned to accepting her punishment with a fatalistic calm. She looked up at the man’s face when he turned the key in the lock. He glanced back at her, their eyes meeting for only a moment before he moved over to the woman sitting next to Elise. It was hard to read his expression, but her quick impression was one of reluctance.

No longer the center of the guard’s attention, Elise was able to look to her right where Mrs. Yates sat on the floor wearing an identical set of restraints. To the left the rest of the class was lined up on the floor, all waiting their turn to be shackled. Collective punishment, Elise recalled the Director’s words, because we are all responsible for tolerating one classmates’ poor behavior. Was it fair to send them all to what could only be called a dungeon because of a single person’s lapse in judgment? It was hard for Elise to answer that question objectively while staring at the steel enclosing her wrists and ankles.

The guard continued to move down the line. No one had tried to resist or even speak up in protest. Not that it would have made a difference. There was another guard at the cell door, plus two more that she could see in the corridor beyond, enough to overpower anyone who didn’t comply. With the shackles locked on Elise would be hard pressed to mount an effective struggle against a small child, much less a large man.

The guard in the cell finished quickly. At the doorway he turned back and inspected his work, his eyes sweeping up and down the line. Satisfied, he closed the heavy metal door. Elise could hear the deadbolt slide into place on the other side. In the bright light of the overhead fluorescents she could see there was no way to open the door on her side. There was no other exit; the grey concrete block walls were windowless.

Shut or wide open the door didn’t really make any difference. None of the room’s current occupants were going anywhere. Elise took a moment to examine her own personal prison in greater detail. Double irons, that’s what one of the guards had called them. The bottom piece was a thick, two inch wide strap of steel, about sixteen inches long, with ovals bent into it to accommodate her ankles on the outside, and her wrists in between. A hinged top strap closed over the bottom, locking in the middle between her wrists. The area around her wrists and ankles was lined with a thin layer of some kind of padding so the metal didn’t chafe against her skin. A short length of chain welded to the bottom ended in a ring embedded in the floor. She was forced to sit hunched over, arms between her legs, feet and hands on the floor, unable to straighten out her back or her legs. At least there was enough slack in the chain to allow her to lean back against the wall, which did help to ease the tension in her shoulders.

No one had spoken yet. Like Elise the rest of the women tried to find the most comfortable position allowed by the chains. Out of curiosity she tried to slip her hands out but as she expected it wasn’t possible. They would all have to be patient and wait until someone came back to release them.

The clenched fists of Mrs. Yates drew Elise’s attention. She would normally be the class instructor but after the incident she had included in the group punishment at the Director’s order. All for one and one for all, Elise recalled from the famous line of the Three Musketeers, not even the Director’s wife is excluded. Of all the women in the prison cell Mrs. Yates seemed to be taking it the worst, which confused Elise.

“This isn’t fair! I wasn’t out of line, why do I have to be here?” The voice came from someone else in the class. Elise turned away from Mrs. Yates and tried to see who was talking. “I shouldn’t be treated this …”

“Shut up!” Mrs. Yates yelled. Elise jumped at the shout next to her. Turning back she saw Mrs. Yates clumsily scooting across the floor so she could face the rest of the class. “Fair? You talk about fair? Was it fair for me to be humiliated in front of my master? Did you hear what he said? I’m a disappointment. I failed him because I didn’t teach you, all of you, to take this place seriously. As far as I’m concerned every single one of you deserves to be severely punished. If it were up to me I wouldn’t be this lenient.” She held up her hands and feet and shook the chain attached to her irons.

Elise tried to calm her down. “Please Mrs. Yates, I don’t think…”

“No.” Elise stopped when Mrs. Yates interrupted. “It isn’t Mrs. Yates, not in here, not like this. I’m not your teacher now. My name is Siobhan, no last name. As long as we are being punished I’m part of the group. No special privileges or status, as you might have noticed?”

Someone else asked, “How long do we have to stay like this?”

“How long? Until someone decides we’ve had enough. I have no idea how long, an hour, a day, maybe a week.” Siobhan shook her head in disgust at the question. “Why do you even ask? Maybe you have a watch, you’re going to tell us all how much longer we have to go?”

Elise was scared; there was no way she could last a day much less a week trussed up as she was. Even now the strain on her back and shoulders was beginning to build up. Apparently the rest were having problems too as several murmured complaints. One woman spoke up, “I can’t take a week like this. I don’t think I can last another hour.”

There was no sympathy in Siobhan’s reply. “And what do you plan on doing about it? Why don’t you take these irons off, stand up, go open that door, and tell the men out there how you don’t appreciate being punished, and demand they do something about it? I’m sure they’ll give your complaints due consideration.”

Her sarcasm aside she had a point none of them could ignore. What could they do about it? At the Facility male authority was paramount and they all had agreed to submit, without limits, to whatever discipline the men deemed appropriate. Even if it meant being stripped and chained in a prison cell, Elise now realized.

In the same basement floor but on the other side of the sprawling main building, Clancy sat in a chair watching his Siobhan and the rest of the class on a monitor in the surveillance room. He reached out to the control panel to switch off the audio but left the video on.

“That’s a good woman you’ve got there, Clancy. You could have done a lot worse.” Jeff Clark had retired years ago but still liked to help out, often volunteering to man the video room when one of the regular operators called in sick or needed some time off. “If I’d been a few years younger I might have given you a run for your money with her.” Jeff had been the Facility Director when Clancy had first started, and when Siobhan had arrived. “But I doubt she’d settle for anyone but you, so I suppose it worked out for the best.”

“You’ll get no argument from me. Still it hasn’t always been easy. Times like now, when I have to send her in there,” Clancy nodded at the monitor, “it breaks my heart. Earlier today I had to walk out of the room so she wouldn’t see how much it hurt to have her stay with the group. But what could I do? She knows the rules; she even helped to write some of them. I couldn’t make a special case for her.”

“You do what you have to, Clancy. You knew it when you took the job. Could you ever have earned her respect if you didn’t make the hard calls, like today? You heard what she said, she doesn’t blame you.” Countless times in the past Clancy had sought out Jeff for his advice. He knew there had been no option but to punish the entire class, Siobhan included, but it did help to hear Jeff confirm it was the right choice.

“I know too well she’d blame herself no matter what happened. She is thoroughly pissed off, that’s for sure. At the rest of them and at herself too. When her words pick up that sarcastic bite, look out! Those double irons are sheer misery after a couple of hours, but she calls it lenient?” Clancy shook his head before continuing. “Can you imagine what she would have done? They’d probably all be hanging from the ceiling by their thumbs while dangling over hot coals.”

Jeff laughed as he watched the monitors. “Exactly. We have to be here to temper the more zealous excesses of that peer pressure we try so hard to encourage. Save the hot coals for something serious, like a curse word after stubbing a toe.”

Clancy stood up. “Good ole Jeff, always the voice of patience and reason. Okay, let the watch room know, they get three hours full restraint as they are now, fifteen minutes for an exercise break to recover, and then they can spend the rest of the night ankles only shackled to the floor. No food or drink. Light activity tomorrow, they won’t get much sleep. I think that will impress on them the wisdom of keeping wisecracks unvoiced. We’ll save the Inquisition for another day, though by tomorrow morning they’ll be sore enough to think they’ve been raked over those hot coals.”

Two hours later Elise was ready to strangle with her own hands whoever had gotten them into trouble. Her back and leg muscles were one large ache. She tried to shift around as much as she could but nothing helped. The other women were just as bad off, complaining and struggling in their restraints. Only Siobhan Yates sat quietly, leaning against the wall, hardly moving at all. Since her first outburst she had refused to say anything more.

Copying Siobhan, Elise slid up against the wall and leaned back. She closed her eyes wishing she could accept the punishment with the same stoic attitude as the woman next to her. How do you do it, Elise wondered.

She didn’t realize she had spoken out loud until Siobhan turned to look at her. “How? Because I have to. You think I like being punished? My master is a good man, but he is firm about discipline. He doesn’t tolerate laziness or rude behavior.” She held up her hands and feet, imprisoned in the irons. “This is the consequence of failure. He couldn’t ignore what happened. I failed to teach all of you that simple principle. Next time I won’t forget.” She closed her eyes and turned away.

Elise stared at the irons holding her own wrists and ankles. It was a simple device, an effective tool to make a point. She would not be eager to repeat this experience. But the real lesson was one she would never forget. From now on she had to answer for her actions, good or bad, even if she were only an onlooker. And if they were bad there would be someone to exact a price.

Would her future master do something like this if she failed him? Surprisingly she had no good reply to that question. If she did her best it wouldn’t be fair to punish her for a failure she couldn’t prevent, but that was only half an answer. If she were clearly at fault, whether from laziness or inattention, then there would be no excuse.

She wasn’t perfect; no one was. That’s not an excuse, Elise realized. The goal might not be attainable but it didn’t mean she shouldn’t try. All her life she’d been the overachiever, first in school and then at the hospitals where she’d worked. Concentrate, she told herself, look at the finish line, not the track. Closing her eyes she pushed away the physical pain by concentrating on her one single-minded goal for the future, to be the best for her future master. If, or when, she made mistakes they would not come from lack of trying.

Another Class Day

Luisa entered the classroom for her next scheduled session. She signed in and fixed herself a cup of coffee, then sat down at the conference table. Fatima, the same instructor as yesterday, nodded to her in recognition then returned to some papers. Luisa recognized the other women in the room from the first class but noted there were fewer in attendance this time. She did see Cathy Sturgis, wife of one of her company’s civil engineers, had returned. The class hadn’t started yet, so she sat down next to Cathy to talk for a few moments.

When Cathy asked about her future owner Luisa hesitated before answering. She began by explaining she was here only as part of a company-sponsored training program. Luisa still hadn’t resolved her issues with Kurt and his stated intentions, so she thought it better not to mention him. Instead she told Cathy about being offered a job and how the program worked. She finished with a description of her oversight board and their recommendation that she attend the classes, but left out the part about Kurt. When she mentioned Anna Leeds was one of her board members she was surprised to learn Anna was Cathy’s neighbor and friend. Cathy asked her about more details on the company program.

The instructor, Fatima, had been listening in to their conversation. “Since it came up we will talk about the corporate training programs this morning,” Fatima said, addressing Cathy’s curiosity. “It’s not what you might think from Lois’ brief description.” Luisa flinched as she heard her assumed name used. More and more she was feeling guilty about not using her real name from the start.

Fatima continued. “There’s no prostitution or any of the abuses you might assume would occur. No one is forced to participate though once in the program the trainee cannot leave. In some respects it is similar to a Basic ownership agreement in that the company as a whole assumes the temporary role as her master. It is all strictly regulated and closely monitored by an oversight board. Lois, would you like to tell us about it?”

Luisa gave her cover story about being a web designer in New York and how she had been offered a job as a technical writer. “Under the terms of my employment contract I am a ward of the company. As Fatima pointed out, that’s a limited form of ownership. I am required to follow company rules, complete work assignments, and in general recognize the authority of my supervisors and the oversight board. But the demands they may ask of me are restricted by specific guidelines. That part is nothing like the agreements we talked about here. One similarity, I cannot cancel the contract, resign, or leave the Island without permission from the company.” She left out the part about her prior research attempts, and how she had been neatly trapped on the Island after accepting the job.

Cathy asked about the living conditions and the nature of the company rules. Fatima motioned for Luisa to continue.

“I think the closest comparison is to a college dorm, but a very strict one. There are two women per room, which has a bed, dresser, closet, and desk for each of us. The two of us share a bathroom. It’s small but comfortable. There is a common area for eating and relaxation. We have lectures there too. There is always at least one supervisor on duty in the common area, day or night. We have to clean our rooms and help with some housekeeping in the common area, but we don’t prepare meals. Good thing too, I wouldn’t want to eat my cooking.” Everyone at the table laughed at her last comment.

“There are lots of rules. I still have a hard time keeping track of them. We can’t leave the building without permission, and usually we have to be escorted. Attending class here today is one of the rare exceptions. We are only allowed to wear the company uniform, what I have on now. We have to be clean and have a neat appearance, in part because we represent the company. I have to add that I had a hard time at first adjusting to such a different environment, but now that I’ve been with the program a while I tend to agree with how it is run. Not with everything, but I can live with the rest. And I do love my job. It’s some of the most interesting and challenging work I’ve ever done.” She had deliberately ignored the part about supervisors in general and Kurt in particular.

“The concept originally came from the United States in the early 19th century,” Fatima added. “When the country began to industrialize in the New England region, the mill owners faced a severe labor shortage. They took the extreme step of recruiting young women to run some of the machinery.” She went on in more detail, giving the same introductory lecture Luisa had first received from Anna Leeds.

“Now the same conditions don’t apply today, but some of the original concepts still have some value,” Fatima added. “The company programs provide a single woman with a sheltered place where high standards of conduct are still expected. The Island instituted the program about five years ago. Since then it’s proven to be popular and successful.”

Luisa did not contradict the part about the program being voluntary. While it was accurate that she had joined the training program there had been no prior warning about what it meant. She still didn’t know if she was the exception or if deceptive recruiting was common practice.

At least no one asked me why I’m here for the classes, she thought. That was one of many questions she still couldn’t answer. Nothing made sense anymore, be it her feelings for Kurt or the Island in general. So many times she wanted to strangle him, but then he’d look at her that way and she’d lose it. What was it about him that was so compelling? She’d rationalized signing up for the ownership classes as a way to understand what Kurt intended.

After listening to Fatima and talking to the other women in the class she had no illusions as to what Kurt had in mind for her. Ownership wasn’t some euphemism for a relationship; it was taken literally. Whatever he wanted he got, regardless of her opinion on the matter. Not all that different than working for him now.

That thought made her smile. The only real change would be going home with him at night, instead of back to the dorm. Thinking along those lines led to scenes late at night she did her best to avoid, mostly because they brought on feelings she didn’t want clouding her judgment. Luisa turned her attention back to the class.

“…so the reasoning behind all these laws is to ensure one thing, that we must depend on our masters.” Fatima was talking about the regulations for collared females. “The curfew, travel, handling cash, the collar, they all deliberately make it that much more difficult for you to be on your own. Why? The answer should be obvious. The men like it that way.

“They may not always show it, but have no doubt they are very possessive creatures. I’m sure you have no intention of ever leaving him, but that’s not really relevant. In his way of thinking he is driven to control, you, the environment, anything and everything that’s important to him. His ideal world is one where we are so tied to him it just isn’t possible for us to even consider any other alternative. Is it paternalistic, even condescending in some ways? Of course it is. Is that good or bad? Only you can answer that question.”

Everything Fatima said made sense to Luisa. It sounded like she was describing Kurt in person. It explained why he was a control freak, and even why he wanted to own her. It did not explain why she was still drawn to him. There, she told herself, I can finally admit it. Why is it I want to belong to him? Why do I want him to take away all the freedoms I thought were so important? And why do I secretly envy Fatima for that loop of steel around her neck?

Two Problems

While Cathy was attending her class, John had invited Mark out for an extended lunch. “You have two problems you will have to face,” John began, as they sat at their table. “The first is what I call the Abyss. It will come to you one day, when you are least prepared to handle it. You might wake up early one morning to see her sleeping peacefully next to you in the light of early dawn. Then it hits you. This woman whom you love more than life itself is completely dependent on you for everything. Her tranquility comes from an unquestioning trust in your ability to run her life. The least sign of annoyance from you is devastating to her. She will be sensitive to your mood, to the point it will seem she can read your mind. It is an awesome responsibility, holding someone’s life in your hands. Can you handle it?

“That’s the moment you must look into the dark abyss of your own soul. No lies and no deceit, you have to answer yourself truthfully. If it isn’t within you to take on the management of her future then you know to look for another path. But if you can say to yourself, yes, I can do this, I want to do this, then the next time she looks up at you, waiting to hear your words, you can look her in the eye and command her. She will see the confidence in your eyes, hear the ring of assurance in your voice, and it will be all she needs to know. If you believe in yourself, she will never question your orders, even if events prove you wrong later.” John paused to take a bite from his sandwich.

Mark thought about John’s words. While on the ship heading to the Island after his Congo field trip he had sat on the aft deck for several hours looking out at the Indian Ocean, trying to resolve just that issue. Did he have what it took to own Cathy, in the most literal sense? To master her to the degree she wanted and expected from him? And what about his own motives? The image of her standing in front of him, collar around her neck, had been spinning around inside his head since that day John had told him about the Island. Did his own desire cloud his objectivity?

“The second problem is complacency.” John put his sandwich down and continued. “In the beginning you keep in mind what she expects so you exercise your authority on a constant basis. She loves it. But over time you fall into a routine. You start to slip, which is understandable since she now knows you pretty well and can anticipate what you want. You are not as demanding and assertive as before. You might not notice it, but she will, and it will affect her. She will be moody, maybe even think you are starting to take her for granted. She feels she isn’t doing enough for you; maybe she isn’t contributing her full share to the relationship. If you don’t catch it in time, it grows into a conviction that you don’t want her anymore. Unchecked, it becomes a home wrecker where she is positive you have rejected her and will be looking for someone else.

“It isn’t easy but you have to make sure you don’t let up. Set rules for her and be firm about enforcing them. Make it obvious you check. If she forgets you better catch it immediately. A few words to correct her also shows that you care. You should be insistent but not strident. A gesture or a look may be all it takes to remind her. Make some allowances at first, since she may be breaking old habits or learning new ones, but only if it’s an honest mistake.

“Don’t be afraid to make selfish demands. She will do anything for you and the more self-centered it is the happier she will be. Maybe you are sitting around watching TV some evening and you get that urge to throw her on the floor and take her right then. Do it. She won’t say no. Remember you own her; she can’t refuse. But months, even years later she will recall that moment of passion and get a warm feeling of satisfaction from knowing she can attract and please you.”

Mark nodded in agreement. Everything he knew seemed to be turned upside down. He had been raised in an environment that taught him a concept of sharing, that a relationship must be based on consensus, all decisions made together but each maintaining some independence. That would not work here.

“I have to tell you, John, at first I had a hard time accepting all this. I had all the usual lessons drummed into me while I grew up. Be sensitive, don’t demand, share all the obligations equally, make all the decisions together. I’m sure that works for many couples, but neither Cathy nor I were very comfortable with it. I was frustrated and she was always worried and stressed. In some ways we were starting to compete with each other.” Mark stopped to take a drink before he continued.

“Finally we sat down and really talked about it. I’m sure you know how surprised I was to find she wanted me to, well, I guess the words ‘take over’ are the most appropriate. We had just started down that road, trying to figure out what worked for us, when I met you back in California. After talking to you about it I had to do some serious thinking, perhaps not to the point of facing what you call the Abyss, but I did have to satisfy myself that it was right for Cathy as well as me. We talk about it every night, sometimes for hours. She’s done a good job of convincing me this is what she needs, and she isn’t doing it just for me. I’m still not sure she comprehends what it will mean to be owned, but from what I’ve read the class she is attending will try to show the reality and not glamorize it.”

Finished with his lunch John leaned back in his chair, drink in hand. “She will learn quite a bit from the classes. The women who run the program don’t gloss over the difficulties. Give Cathy some time to digest what she learns, and talk to her about it. There aren’t any secrets. Anna and I went over what she had been taught and how it fit with what she expected. By the time she finished she had no illusions as to what would happen. Just like you, it was important to me that she understood how her life would change. And how you would change too. The key item though, the way you and I think, how we see the world, it’s not the same for them.”

“What about discipline? How do you correct, or punish? I have to admit I’m uncomfortable with the idea of hurting her in any way. I’m no sadist. I was taught never to strike a woman, so I don’t think I could beat her.” Mark was uncomfortable bringing up the subject, but it had been bothering him. He finished off his sandwich while John answered.

“You have to maintain control, and there are times that means some sort of adjustment to get her back on the right track. She looks for a firm hand to guide her, and that means there will be occasions when you must correct her mistakes. Now how you choose to do that is up to you. No one can tell you what is appropriate, because only you know her well enough to judge what will be effective but not excessive.

“I sympathize with you not being a sadist; I find it distasteful too. I can share a few techniques I use with Anna, but again, don’t assume it’s right for you. First off, Anna and I have been together long enough that some kind of discipline is rarely needed. None of us are perfect though, so I still have to watch for the infractions and decide if there are extenuating circumstances. If not, then I do have to act, and she understands that.

“If she does get out of line, it usually is in some minor way. For the most part I point out the problem and remind her of what I expect. She tries very hard to keep to my rules and to her role, so I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt if she makes an inadvertent slip. If it’s minor I make sure she see that I noticed, that’s always paramount, but a simple nod tells her I know it wasn’t her fault. There are some situations I can’t overlook though, especially if it involves attitude.”

Mark interrupted to ask a question. “How can you tell? I don’t want to jump on her for an honest mistake. I’d rather be the benevolent dictator than the tyrant.”

John thought for a moment before answering. “Keep acknowledgment separate from consequences. If it’s unavoidable, leave it at that and let her know you understand the circumstances. She will know that you are paying attention, that you support her acting on her own initiative when the unexpected occurs, and most important, she can trust you to be reasonable when she has to break a rule.

“But if you think she’s being lazy or even worse defying you, make sure she understands you won’t tolerate it. Put a stop to it immediately. If you get caught unprepared, trust to that old standby for some form of punishment, boredom. Inactivity can turn minutes into hours. Make sure she can’t see a clock, and then make her do nothing, in some clever way. It’s even worse if you’re watching, because it makes her self-conscious about failing you.

“Other ways, hmmm….” John paused for a moment looking up at the ceiling. “There’s deprivation, taking away something important to her. Remember being grounded as a teenager? All you have to do is take her travel card and she’s stuck in the house. Or humiliation, make her do something she dreads. Take her shopping, find the ugliest, most unattractive dress you can, yellow with big purple polka dots, make sure she can’t stand it. That’s your big club. She’d do anything not to have to wear it when she has to go to the grocery store.”

Mark burst out laughing. “I can imagine! Cathy would go crazy. Yellow and purple? I’ll have to watch for something like that. Sure that’s not cruel and unusual?”

John smiled. “All the better if it is unusual. Cruel, well, you be the judge. Punishment aside, make it clear beforehand that you are a pragmatic master. I know some couples who are so dogmatic about rules and obedience that it intrudes on everyone else, especially in public. It can border on being rude and only annoys others, so don’t go to ridiculous extremes.”

Mark wrapped both hands around his glass, considering John’s advice. “I think I’m pretty well grounded in reality. I’m not out to antagonize anyone else, even if some of the norms here on the Island give me leeway in what I can do. I’ve given a lot of thought to what I expect from her and the best way to go about it. I appreciate your help too, John. I intend to borrow from you and Anna, but in a manner that will better fit Cathy and me.”

Mark reached for his wallet. “Lunch is on me. And anytime you see the need to offer some friendly advice, please don’t hesitate. I may not always agree with you but I’m old enough to understand that experience does count.”

Confrontation

Luisa sat at her workstation, staring at her reflection in the screen. She was supposed to be working on the pipeline templates, but her own problems were making it difficult to concentrate on business. Anna had been right about one thing. Kurt had worked his way into her head, and she couldn’t get him out. He represented the worst of everything she had been taught to believe in, but for all his faults she was attracted to him. When she told Anna she would attend the ownership classes her intention had been only to learn what the instructors were like, perhaps to use as research for future articles, maybe find some insight into men like Kurt. Hearing the other women had changed her view. They were all sincere and open about what they wanted. And so was Kurt, for that matter. The classes had made her stop and think about her own life.

Her problem, and there really was only the one, was that it was getting to her. The Island, the company and its training classes, Kurt, the ownership classes; it was all piling up against her mental defenses. She was seeing the difference between oppression and domination first hand, and it was destroying all her preconceived notions. Where there should be misery and the struggle to be liberated, instead she found contentment and the insistent desire to be the devoted captive. If it was brainwashing then it was very effective, for she could feel herself slipping into the same frame of mind.

And that scares me, Luisa thought to herself, it would be so easy to let go, especially for someone like Kurt. All it takes is to say yes, sign the papers, wear his collar, and belong only to him. After a year she could go back to the outside world. She could survive anything for a year.

She turned to look over her shoulder and saw Kurt watching her. Catching her eye he gestured for her to come into the office. Luisa figured he must have noticed she wasn’t getting any work done. She stood up and walked into his office. He pointed to the empty chair in front of his desk. She sat down.

“You seem to be distracted. Is something bothering you?” His voice was quiet but his tone demanded an answer. He fixed her with a stare so intense that it seemed to pierce into her soul. She had to look down at her hands in her lap.

“No, Kurt, I just have a few things on my mind. I’m sorry I haven’t been focused on the templates.” She made a conscious effort to hold her hands still, remembering not to squirm when nervous. Mrs. Dornier considered it to be unladylike. Luisa had learned early on never to do anything which did not meet with Mrs. Dornier’s approval. That particular aspect of her training had become a habit.

“Look at me.” Again that demanding voice she could not resist. She looked up. His deep blue eyes locked onto hers, holding her gaze. “Do not conceal your feelings. Tell me what preoccupies your mind. Now.”

Luisa heard herself start speaking, as if she had just been injected with truth serum. “I…it’s your intention to acquire me. The oversight board told me about it. You want to own me.

“Kurt, I’m so confused.. I want to be myself, to make my own decisions, choose for myself how I live my life. I don’t want to be changed into someone else. I’m scared. Something in me, it’s driving me to say yes, but I know it has to be wrong. Why is this happening to me? I don’t know what to do. “

Kurt leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful expression showing he was mulling over her words. “You are faced with a life-changing decision. I can show you how to resolve your dilemma, but first you must tell me this. Do you want the answer, right now, this very minute?”

Luisa frowned, how could he possibly accomplish what he claims?  Still, it wouldn’t hurt to hear what he has to say. “Alright. Yes, tell me how to solve my problem.”

“The answer is simple.” Kurt leaned forward again. Somehow his demeanor changed, becoming at once serious and intense. Luisa could feel it in his expression and body language. “If you value your independence foremost, if you cannot relinquish control of your life, then you will stand up and walk out the door of this office. But if you know, in the hidden depths of your soul that you will never be complete without my hand on your heart then you will sit in that chair, speaking not a word, until I tell you otherwise. Do it now, go or stay, but whichever you choose remember this is the moment you decide the path for your future. It may be the last one you make on your own.”

She knew the answer. No matter how attractive Kurt’s offer, she couldn’t surrender her freedom to him. Walk out and it’s over, she thought, it’s that easy. She reached out to place her hands on the side of the chair while gathering her legs to stand up. This would put an end to Kurt and his ambitions on her. She would go back to her computer and finish her job. Kurt would go back to being her supervisor at work and nothing more. She stood up.

Or tried to. Nothing happened. She looked down at her hands, still carefully folded on her lap, then up at Kurt. She couldn’t move. No! She was near panic. I’ve got to stand up. Luisa closed her eyes and willed her body to rise. Stand up, turn, walk out the door. She opened her eyes to see Kurt peering at her. This can’t be happening, not to me. No man can ever own me.

No man except Kurt. The barest hint of a smile told her he knew it too. Whatever he had done to her, it had worked. Defiance gave way to resignation in Luisa’s mind. He was right again. The answer was simple, and one she could not deny any longer. Anna was right too, there was no stopping him, or even trying.

Kurt said nothing, and Luisa was unable to utter a word, silenced and immobilized by a simple command from him. She watched, helpless, as he savored the moment of his success. He pushed back his chair and stood up. She looked up at him expectantly, waiting to hear what he would do with her now. She turned her head to follow him as he walked around the corner of the desk.

“Eyes front, face forward.” His orders were quiet and crisp, but to Luisa it felt like he had shouted in her ear. Her head snapped back to face his empty chair, her eyes looking straight ahead. She could feel him, close behind her back. “There is something else bothering you. I want you to tell me about it, right now, and don’t hold back. I can see it has been eating at you. It is time you let go of your worries.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Tell me.”

The words came out in a flood, uncontrolled. Everything about her search for the Island, her deal with the magazine, her false identity, even stories she had sent in. At some point she began to cry. The tears streamed down her face but she still couldn’t move, even to wipe them away. Kurt’s hands rested lightly on her shoulders but to Luisa they seemed to pin her to the chair. Her confession didn’t stop with her deception either. She kept going, describing how she really felt that night in the restaurant, how she was attracted to him, the shock of being handcuffed and how it triggered her into unresisting submission, even to the moment on the elevator when she wanted him to keep going, to use her any way he wanted.

When she stopped, still sobbing, he let go of her shoulders and went back to his desk to open a drawer. He took out a box of tissues and placed it in front of her. “You may wipe your face.”

She took several out and cleaned off the tears. She was surprised at how calm he appeared, even after learning she had revealed the existence of the Island and quite possibly destroyed the lives of everyone on it. She had expected at least some indication of surprise. Nervously she asked, “What will happen to me now?”

Kurt folded his arms and sat on the edge of the desk. “First, you will finish your ownership classes. I expect you to catch up on the pipeline templates too. After that, we will go to the Records office to fill out the paper work. When that is complete,” he paused, reaching into the desk again, “you will begin to wear this around your lovely neck.” He dropped an oval shaped metallic ring on the desk. Luisa recognized it immediately, a collar. She could see his name engraved on the side, along with a number.

“But…what about the articles I wrote? The magazine might have already published them. The publicity will ruin the Island.”

One last time he reached into the desk drawer, this time pulling out a folder full of flash drives and envelopes. “Do you mean these articles? They never left the Island. Luisa, your editor has a vacation home here. He saw to it your secret reports came to me. They never left this building.”

“How…you mean…” she stammered, confused. Then it hit her. Luisa, he knows my real name. She hadn’t told him her true identity in her outburst, only that her working name was an alias. He knew everything, perhaps from the moment she arrived. “Why did you let me carry on with the secret identity? You knew all along, why didn’t you put a stop to it from the first?” She began to think they had played her for the fool, laughing at her behind her back.

“You had to see this place for yourself. If we had confronted you the moment you got off the ship, you would have been suspicious and hostile from then on. This way you learned about the Island, who we are, and most important you learned something about yourself. Any other way and I would have lost you forever.”

He was right again. He was always right. She would have hated him as the poster boy for male domination. Hated and feared. One last question she had to ask. “What would have happened to me, once I was on the Island?”

“You would not have been allowed to leave, at least as long as you represented a threat. Don’t ever forget, Luisa, the people here are generally kind and decent, but they will protect what they have, whatever it takes. That includes me. And now it includes you.”

His last line made her pause to think. Up to this minute she had seen herself as the outsider, hiding under false colors, learning all about the Island but never really a part of it. She looked at the collar on the desk. My collar, then she corrected herself. No, his collar. A difference of perspective, now that Luisa was on the inside looking out.

“And the trip here? All arranged to get me out of circulation?”

Kurt nodded. “Yes, but the job offer was genuine. You were diverted onto the ship in the Seychelles to make you disappear. There was no fire at the airport in the Maldives. The travel agent, Henri, he is legitimate but he knows all about the Island. A most congenial fellow, and very thorough. I understand he’s retired from some French intelligence agency. Anyone trying to track your whereabouts would get no further than the airport at Victoria. Not a trace of you once you got off the plane. Your ticket to the Maldives went unclaimed. You would not have appeared on the security cameras either.

“The magazine company in New York is a front to divert attempts to publish information about the Island. Given your enthusiasm for your research project, the Island’s security team deemed you a threat to the Island. You are intelligent, talented and can be very determined when you set yourself to a task. Eventually you would have found out enough to be a risk. A few discrete anonymous tips to steer you in the right direction and a predictable attempt to sneak in were all it took to get you here.”

So someone on the Island, the shadowy security team Kurt had mentioned, had been not one but two steps ahead of her all the time. “And what about me now?” Luisa asked. “Am I still a danger? Were you part of the plot too?”

Kurt shook his head. “No, I didn’t know about you until you started working here. And I didn’t know the full story until I filed the request with your oversight board. As for your status right now, I’ll be honest. You aren’t considered to be a threat as long as you are here. When your contract ends you will not be allowed to leave. That’s not a permanent ban though. It all depends on you.”

There it was, confirmation of her worst fears. She was on the Island for the foreseeable future with little or no chance of ever escaping. She looked up at Kurt, still perched on the side of his desk. “Kurt, what can I do? Are the police coming to take me away? Are they going to put me in prison?” There was an edge of fear in her voice. For the first time she realized just how alone and isolated she was; no one to even worry about her.

He stood up, reached down to take hold of her trembling hands, and drew her up out of the chair. “What you can do is not worry about it,” he told her, lifting up her chin so he could look into her eyes. “It’s my problem now. No one is coming to take you away, and if they tried they’d have to get through me first.”

Luisa put her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. He held her close, whispering in her ear his love for her, promising to protect her and keep her safe. She closed her eyes, still troubled over the future but no longer scared. She wasn’t alone any longer.

Field Trip

Elise sat on the bench, leaning back against the wall. Normally Saturday afternoon was scheduled as free time at the Facility. She had been in the common room sitting on the couch, just starting to read a magazine when one of the guards came in and ordered her to come with him. He offered no reason when he took her to the room she was in now, waiting with three other women for someone to explain what was happening.

The guard had instructed her to sit quietly, so she and the others couldn’t talk. Shrugs told her none of the others had a clue either. She had been on her best behavior the last week, few verbal reminders and no reprimands. As far as she could tell there was no reason to expect any kind of serious punishment. The other three were some of the more conscientious students too.

When the door finally opened Mrs. Yates entered first, followed by two guards. Elise started to stand up but remembered she had been told to remain on the bench. Unsure of what to do she chose to stay seated. One of the others started to stand too but quickly sat back down.

Mrs. Yates must have seen their confusion. “When in doubt follow the last verbal order. You did right to stay where you are, even though it’s not the usual policy.” She stood in front of the group of four. The two men stayed back, at the open door.

“You can relax,” she explained. “It has been decided that since the four of you have shown excellent progress you will be allowed a field trip into town. I’m going to go over the ground rules,” she smiled at the ubiquitous term, “before you start.”

Mrs. Yates turned to the side and gestured at the two men behind her. “Remember you are wards of the Facility and as such you must obey your escorts at all times. Mr. Owens,” the man to the left of the door nodded, “and Mr. Estevez,” the other man held up a hand, “will be in charge of your group during the trip.” She turned back to the four women. “I’m sure you all know what is expected of you and will act accordingly. If any of you fail to behave as you have been taught the trip will be terminated immediately and you will all be held to account.”

Elise knew what that last thinly veiled warning meant. They would all be punished if any one of them acted up. Still, it would be nice to get away from the Facility for an afternoon and see the main island, even if it was to be a brief and heavily supervised visit.

“Now then,” Mrs. Yates continued, “you will be driven into town. The route will go past the civic center so those of you new to the Island can see some of the local landmarks. One of you is familiar with the place, so Jamie? You will provide the rest of the group a little travelogue during the drive. Next, you will stop for lunch and then will be taken to a theater for a matinee film. Don’t ask what the movie is, I have no idea.

“And one last part. We want to make sure everyone stays together. Would all of you stand up now?” Elise and the others stood up. Behind Mrs. Yates the two guards came forward while she continued. “You will be paired up. Elise, hold out your right hand, Jamie your left.”

Obediently Elise raised her arm. At her side Jamie did the same. The first guard, Mr. Owens, took a pair of handcuffs from his belt and chained the two women’s wrists together. The other guard did the same for the other two women in the group.

“You can put your arms down,” Mrs. Yates told them. “That’s all. I hope you all have a good time.” She backed up to the open door. “Sirs?”

“Very good, Siobhan, you may leave.” That was from Elise and Jamie’s escort, the guard named Mr. Owens. Apparently he was the senior, from what Elise could tell.

“Thank you, sir.” Mrs. Yates turned and left the room.

Mr. Owens picked up where Mrs. Yates had left off. “You have permission to speak up if you have a question or need to bring something to our attention. Normal Facility rules are still in force so act accordingly. You may talk amongst yourselves when we start but you are strictly forbidden to speak to anyone else. In the event someone does speak to you directly, you will not answer unless you are given permission, even if you have to be rude about it.”

The other guard picked up the gym bag he had carried into the room and unzipped the top. “In order to comply with Island law,” Mr. Owens began, “as wards of the Facility you are required to display that status in public.” He reached in the bag the other guard held and pulled out a large metal ring. “Each of you will wear a collar denoting Facility ownership for the length of the trip. It will not be removed under any circumstances until you return here.”

Using a key from his belt he unlocked the collar. Elise saw it easily swing open. Her heart raced as he placed it around her neck and fastened it shut behind her head. He took three more out of the bag and adorned the rest of the group in the same way.

The ring encircling her throat wasn’t uncomfortable but she couldn’t ignore its presence. She desperately wanted to touch it, to see if she could remove it, to find a mirror and see how it looked. Instead by force of will she kept her arms at her side, never taking her eyes off the man who was now in charge of her. Mrs. Yates’ warning of collective responsibility echoed in her head. Elise didn’t want to be the one who ruined the trip for all of them.

The second guard, Mr. Estevez, spoke for the first time. He had a slight accent but Elise couldn’t place it. “I should point out that under Island law as collared females without travel permits you must be escorted at all time by me or Mr. Owens. Be sure you stay close to us and do not stray. If by some accident we become separated stay where you are until we find you. If you are challenged explain the circumstances and do whatever the person confronting you orders. Is that clear?”

Elise added her own “yes, sir” to the chorus. They had been lectured on Island law but seeing it in practice was quite different from the classroom. She felt some apprehension at being so dependent on him but there was another reaction growing inside her too, excitement.

The men took them to an inside garage where a van was waiting. Elise and Jamie got the rearmost seat, Elise on the left by virtue of the two of them being shackled together. The other pair was seated in the middle. Mr. Owens drove.

Having her wrist cuffed to Jamie’s was awkward but they managed to find a comfortable position to rest their hands. After they started for the ferry dock Elise risked a question, asking if she could touch her collar. Mr. Estevez smiled at the request when he gave the okay.

Sitting next to the window she could make out her reflection and the line across her neck. With her free hand she ran her fingers around one side, exploring the fit. There was enough room to slip a finger between her neck and the metal band, but there was no way it would come off over her head. There was some kind of locking mechanism at the rear but she couldn’t tell by touch how it worked.

At that moment the realization of what she had done came rushing in. Someday soon she would be wearing the collar of her master, the man who would be her owner. She might never see the key that opened it because the collar would never be removed. The one she saw in the window might be temporary but there would come a time it would be a permanent part of her life. That was the promise made by the Facility. Elise still wasn’t convinced it would ever come true.

Jamie must have sensed some of the turmoil in her head. When Elise turned away from the window Jamie grabbed her hand and squeezed it. Coming from someone who had been there before it reassured Elise that she had made the right choice.

They reached the dock before the ferry. “It should be about a ten minute wait,” Mr. Estevez told them. He opened his door and got out. The driver, Mr. Owens, stayed in the van while the other guard walked out onto the pier, watching for the boat.

They had permission to talk but none of the women took advantage of it. Elise felt uncomfortable making small talk while the men were present. Apparently the others did too as no one spoke. She knew it was a byproduct of their training. It had been drummed into them to be attentive and respectful when the guards were present, to wait to be told what to do and when to do it, and to otherwise keep interaction to a minimum.

Instead she took the time to examine the handcuffs linking her and Jamie. The cuff on her right wrist wasn’t uncomfortably tight. She could see the keyhole, pointing away from her hand. Elise realized she had no idea what a handcuff key looked like either. She used her free hand to explore the steel bracelet.

Seeing Elise’s curiosity Jamie held up her hand, sliding the cuff up and down her wrist. “Remember when you reach for something I’m attached.” Both women giggled. The driver looked back at them but said nothing.

“Boat’s coming,” Mr. Owens told the women. Leaning forward Elise could see the ferry coming into view as it approached the dock.

The other guard opened the rear door of the van. Elise saw him take something out of his pocket. “For safety reasons you won’t be cuffed together while we’re on the water. Hold up your hands.” He unlocked the pair in front before reaching back and unlocking the cuff on Jamie’s wrist. Apparently their relative freedom would be temporary since he left the handcuffs locked on Elise and the woman in front of her.

The trip on the ferry was uneventful. Elise and the others weren’t allowed to get out but they all had a clear view of the ocean during the passage across the strait to the main island. The only interruption was a crewman who came by the driver’s window to get a signature on a clipboard. Though he didn’t say anything he took his time looking over all the women. Under his scrutiny Elise sat up straight and carefully folded her hands in her lap. When he walked away she saw Jamie had done the same thing.

When they arrived on the main island Mr. Owens drove the van off the ferry and pulled to one side of the road as soon as he was clear of the ramp. As Elise expected Mr. Estevez got out, opened the rear door, and reattached the handcuffs so the women were linked in pairs again. They continued on into the city center.

“Jamie, you may begin now. For the benefit of those who haven’t been here before, why don’t you give us a description of some of the places as we go by?” That request, really an order, came from Mr. Owens.

Elise played the gawking tourist as Jamie described some of the stores, good restaurants and places of interest. Being a Saturday afternoon the streets were busy with traffic and pedestrians. Several times Elise saw a woman wearing a collar, and some of them were not accompanied by men. Though she had been told she would be allowed out on her own if her future master gave permission seeing it in person was confirmation that her life on the Island wouldn’t be one of isolation.

The driver turned into the parking lot of a mall and stopped in a space near the front door of a restaurant. Close by Elise could see a movie marquee. This must be their destination. Before getting out Mr. Owens told them what to expect.

“We’ll have lunch here. Mr. Estevez and I will show you where to sit. Remember you are not to speak to anyone outside the group, and that includes the waitress. You may ask for anything on the menu but we will order for you. When you are served you will wait for permission to eat. You will not leave the table without asking.

“While you are here I expect you to all be on your best behavior. You have done well in training and know what is expected. Remember the public judges the Facility from the impression you make, so be sure it’s a positive one. Any questions?” He paused.

At first none of the women spoke. Timidly Elise raised a point that had been bothering her. “Sir? I’m right-handed. I don’t think I can use a fork this way.” She lifted up her cuffed right wrist connected to Jamie.

Mr. Estevez chuckled. “Not to worry, we’ll take the handcuffs off.” And as promised as soon as they got out of the van the cuffs were removed. Mr. Estevez led the way into the restaurant, with Mr. Owens behind them.

The hostess seated all of them at a large table. Elise wasn’t sure if the carefully neutral expression when she handed the menus to the guards was one of boredom or disapproval. Mrs. Yates had told them to expect some resentment, or even outright hostility, toward anyone from the Facility. Not everyone on the Island approved of its methods or the graduates.

Mr. Owens passed out the menus and asked each of the women for their selection. When the waitress came by he ordered for all of them. Other than a sideways look at them she spoke only to the two men. Mindful of their parting instructions Elise and the rest sat quietly until the other guard, Mr. Estevez, began the conversation by asking them which movie they’d like to see after lunch. Elise admired his skill in drawing the women into the discussion. By the end of the meal they were all talking to each other.

For Elise it was a pleasant break from the routine at the Facility, almost a return to the normalcy of life before she had arrived on the Island. Even the weight of the collar around her throat was less of a distraction. She found it reassuring that the training she was receiving at the Facility did apply to the outside world, at least in the microcosm of Island society.

Outside the restaurant Elise and Jamie were cuffed together again. Each of the men took charge of a linked pair and led them across the parking lot to the movie theater. Elise had expected stares since she was handcuffed to Jamie but to her surprise no one passing by seemed to consider it out of the ordinary. They got a few appreciative glances from men but no one said anything to the group.

The movie was a romantic comedy, a recent release that no one had seen before. Before it started they all got a trip to the snack bar, where Elise indulged in a candy bar and popcorn. Though she seldom went to movies she was soon laughing at the jokes and sympathizing with the leading actress.

About halfway through Elise felt a tug on her wrist. A glance to her side showed Jamie was staring at the screen, but when Elise looked down she saw Jamie’s hand pointing toward Elise’s feet. At first she didn’t understand what Jamie was trying to say, but then it struck her. Elise had unconsciously crossed her ankles. It wasn’t a serious violation of the rules but it could be enough for the guards to cancel the trip if one of them saw it. Disguised by shifting in her chair she quickly changed position.

She had almost ruined the trip for everyone. Lucky for them the men were sitting in the row behind and couldn’t see what she had done. And they were fortunate that Jamie had spotted it first. At the Facility the usual punishment would be 24 hours wearing a spreader bar, an unpleasant arrangement of ankle cuffs with a solid bar between them. It made walking difficult but the public embarrassment was far worse. Almost all of them, Elise included, had been caught at least once. Few repeated the mistake. She squeezed Jamie’s hand in silent thanks.

After the movie they were taken back to the van and driven to the dock to meet the ferry. The return trip was uneventful but all through the drive back Elise brooded on what she had done. She knew it had not been intentional disobedience but it still bothered her that she hadn’t told one of the men immediately. Again and again they’d been lectured on the virtues of being true to one’s ideals. Concealing infractions of the rules was not one of those ideals.

They arrived back at the Facility at sunset. After dinner Elise, still battling a nagging feeling of guilt, went to her room to be alone. She sat down at her small desk and took out a sheet of paper, thinking she would write an explanation and an apology.

An hour later she was still staring at the blank sheet of paper. With a sigh of resignation to the inevitable she put the sheet of paper away and stood up. There was only one way to stop the constant nagging from her conscience. She went out into the hallway and headed for the supervisor’s desk.

The man on duty wasn’t one of the two who had escorted them to town. Elise asked if she might speak to Mr. Owens, explaining that it had to do with the field trip earlier. The supervisor told her to sit down in one of the chairs across from his desk while he made a call.

A few minutes later the door next to the supervisor’s desk opened and Mr. Owens came out. From the puzzled look on his face Elise could tell he had no idea why she had requested a meeting with him. “Good evening, Elise, what can I do for you?”

She stood up as soon as she saw him in the doorway. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. Could I speak to you in private about the trip today? There was an incident I think you should know about.” She couldn’t look him in the eye when she said those words.

He hesitated, unsure about what she was talking about. “Alright, come in here to the office.” He held open the door. Elise went in ahead of him. “Please sit down.” He followed her into the tiny office and shut the door.

The wall behind Elise was glass, with a clear view of the supervisor’s desk. Mr. Owens went around the desk and sat down, facing her. “Now then, what is this incident you mentioned?”

Else started slowly but before long the whole story came out, how she had broken the rule about crossing ankles while sitting and then not told him afterward because she didn’t want to spoil the trip for the others. She did leave out the part about Jamie warning her. When she finished he sat there, not saying a word, leaning back in his chair with arms folded. She waited quietly to hear what he would do next.

“You understand that there will be consequences for this?” His tone was neutral.

“Yes sir, I expect to be punished for it. But it was my fault alone; none of the others should be included.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Abruptly he stood up. “Stay here until I come back.” He left the office.

Elise could see him making a call from the desk outside. He was on the phone for several minutes. At one point he turned around and saw her. The little spinning motion with his hand told her to turn away. She immediately faced away from the window. Was he ordering the other three women to be rounded up? She hoped not, as they had really done nothing wrong.

When he finished he opened the office door but didn’t come in. Instead he motioned for Elise to come with him. Reluctantly she rose from her chair to follow. They headed in the opposite direction, away from the entrance to the common area.

An hour later she slowly hobbled back into the common room. Every head turned to look at her. Elise kept her head down to hide her red-faced embarrassment. It was all she could do. Her hands were locked behind her back in handcuffs, and her legs were forced wide apart by the bar fastened between her ankles. Worst of all she had been ordered to strip naked, the additional penalty for not coming forward immediately. The only saving grace was that Mr. Owens, who had his large hand wrapped around her upper arm, was taking her to her room. The early bedtime saved her the stares and whispers that would have come with being ordered to remain in the common area.

In her room he freed her hands to allow her to get ready for bed. But as soon as she lay down on her stomach he cuffed her hands behind her back again before tossing the bedcovers over her. “Second offense,” he explained, “don’t make it a third.” The severity of her punishment had surprised her but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

Elise tried to shift around on the bed, searching for some small comfort zone. She could tell she wasn’t going to get much sleep, but she was grateful the tossing and turning would not be coming from a guilty conscience. The nagging voice was gone.

Signing Off

“One last chance, are you sure about this?” Mark asked Cathy as they were getting into the car. This was the day they were to formally complete the paperwork and register their ownership agreement. Once the signatures were on paper there was no grace period to back out. Mark would be legally obligated to take care of her for the next year, and in turn Cathy would effectively become his property, equally obligated in the legal sense to obey his orders and faithfully keep to his rules.

He held open her car door as she sat down. “I’m sure Mark, as sure as the day I married you. Maybe I should ask you the same question. Are you ready to take on all this responsibility? Am I going to be too much of a burden for you to handle?”

“No, you aren’t going to be a burden. I’m looking forward to the challenges, and the privileges that go with it too. Yes, I’m ready.” As she buckled her seat belt she looked up at him, still holding the car door. Mark hesitated just a moment before closing the car door, enjoying the sight of what would be his possession by the end of the day.

He opened his door and got in. Before he started he looked over at Cathy once more. She had picked out one of his favorite outfits to wear, a long sleeved white blouse with a dark wine red skirt that ended a few inches above her knees. After today I can tell her what to wear, any time I feel like it, Mark thought to himself. He knew she would happily change her appearance to accommodate whatever he wished anyway, but somehow being able to dictate it appealed to Mark.

He must have stared too long because Cathy noticed. “Is something wrong?” She brushed off her skirt, looking for a spot or wrinkle.

“No, no, you’re okay. I’m just daydreaming. Ready?” Mark made a mental note that he would have to do something about her being so self-conscious. And something about her hands too. He grinned as a possible solution came to mind, one he could easily institute after today.

“I’m ready, let’s go, umm, that is if you are ready, master.” Cathy giggled as she spoke that last word. The realization it wouldn’t be a joke much longer made her stop to think. “Mark, what am I supposed to call you? After today, I mean.”

Mark considered it as he drove. “I confess I haven’t thought much about it either. I tell you what; you can use either my name or the title master, whichever you want according to your mood at the time. Bear in mind if you are in a crowded room and call out master, you may have several heads turn. How does that sound?”

“That’s a good idea. There are times I think I’d like to use the title, but I’m so used to your name it wouldn’t feel right to drop it. Unless you want me to use something else?”

“I’ve always been partial to Grand High Exalted Poobah, but that’s too long. Kind of sounds pretentious too. To tell the truth, I don’t even know what a Poobah is.”

Cathy started giggling again, “Yes sir, oh mighty Poobie sir.”

“What’s this? The first day and already I must contend with a disrespectful tone?” Mark said in mock seriousness, before joining in on the laughter. Good, he thought, some humor to lighten things up. She has to be nervous. He continued with the lighthearted joking and bantering while they headed downtown.

The Records office was a nondescript single story building in the area zoned for professional services. The sign out front, Public Records and Document Registrations, gave no clue as to what type of business was transacted inside. Mark knew it served several purposes. He had been to the agency before to research some building plans for a minor company project on the Island. An online archive of all public records was kept there, from birth certificates to marriage registrations, to ownership filings. Originals he knew were kept in a storage vault somewhere underground in the interior of the Island. Legal claims still had to be backed up by certified copies of the paper documents.

Mark held open the door for Cathy as they went in the entrance. In one hand he held the envelope full of forms they would need. There was no one in line ahead of them at the counter. Mark placed the envelope on the counter and slid it toward the clerk standing there. “We are here to register an ownership agreement. I believe this is the paperwork you need.” Cathy stood next to Mark, watching quietly.

The woman behind the counter took out the documents from the envelope and looked them over. “If you would care to have a seat, this will take a few minutes to process.” She gestured to a small waiting room off to one side. Mark and Cathy went over to a sofa and sat down.

“From what others in the class have told me this doesn’t take too long. They have to verify the program steps have been completed and that we are residents.” Mark could hear a little nervousness creep into Cathy’s voice as she spoke, but she seemed to be calm. He arched one eyebrow, an unvoiced question. “Yes Mark, I’m still sure.” She smiled as she shook her head.

“Okay, no more questions. We’ve both done all the preparations. Now we’ll have a year to make sure it’s what we expected.” Mark took her hand.

A door opened and the female clerk came out. “Mrs. Sturgis? Could you come with me, please?” The woman held the door open as Cathy stood up and went with her. Mark wondered if there was a problem.

Almost immediately the door opened again. “Mark Sturgis? My name is James Horton, a supervisor here.” He offered his hand to Mark. “Not to worry, this is a routine procedure. Could you follow me?” Mark followed him through the door into a small meeting room.

“Please sit down. Now then, you are here to file an ownership agreement. Pursuant to regulations, each of you must be asked, separately and in confidence, if this agreement is being made under duress.” He held up a hand as Mark started to protest. “Bear with me, it’s a pro forma requirement. If for any reason you feel you are being coerced into this agreement you may file an amendment in secret right now. At a future date, after a discrete investigation, the agreement can be annulled. We will still proceed with the paperwork but the information will be turned over to investigators, who will contact you privately later on. Your wife is being presented with the same information. Do you wish to file the amendment? If you do, your wife will not be informed.”

“No,” Mark said. He hadn’t known about this procedure, but it made sense.

“Very well, that’s all.” He looked at his watch. “We have to wait for a few minutes. Another policy, the separate interviews have to be precisely five minutes long. Everything will be ready when we’re done. So, I understand you are a recent arrival, what do you think of our little tropical paradise so far?”

For the next few minutes he and Mark talked about Island life. When the time limit was up, he stood and opened the door. Mark followed him out and back to the front counter. Cathy was waiting for him, along with the original clerk. Cathy looked at him and gave a reassuring smile. He was sure she hadn’t filed an amendment either.

“Here is your basic one year agreement,” the clerk began, pointing to a form on the counter. “Mr. Sturgis, you are listed as the owner. You agree to be responsible for Cathy and abide by the clauses listed here.” She pointed out the relevant clauses, waiting for Mark to read them. Mark has seen the agreement before and already knew the contents.

“And you Cathy, will acknowledge him as your rightful owner and master. Your obligations are listed in this section here.” Cathy had also seen the contract before. In class they had reviewed every line. She read the place the clerk indicated one last time. “If both of you agree to the terms you may sign it now, at the places indicated. The agreement will be in force for one year, expiring at 6pm on this date next year. It takes effect immediately. Mr. Sturgis, your signature goes here.” She pointed to a line on the left side at the bottom.

Mark looked at Cathy for a long moment, and then signed his name. He handed the pen to her. Without hesitation Cathy signed her name where the clerk indicated. The clerk filled in her own name as witness.

“Congratulations, and my best wishes to you both. You will receive a certified copy with seal in the mail in one week. Please store it with your other important papers. Cathy, as of now he is your master for the next year. Your status is now owned and you are subject to all applicable laws and regulations, as I’m sure you are aware. Mr. Sturgis, she now belongs to you. You are subject to the laws and regulations governing masters.” She handed Mark a laminated card with Cathy’s picture on it. “Here is her travel card. You can obtain a transaction card for her from any bank.

“Cathy, you must be in possession of this travel card whenever you are outside of your home and not accompanied by your master or someone he has approved to act in his place. You may not use the travel card during curfew hours. You are also no longer allowed to handle or possess money, in the form of coins or currency, in public. If you have any bills or change in your purse be sure to give them to your master before you leave the building.” The clerk picked up the signed contract and took it back to her desk.

Mark stared at Cathy, her eyes glistening with tears of happiness. “You are no longer properly dressed. Look at that bare neck. Nope, it will not do, especially in public. Good thing I came prepared. Stay right here while I go out to the car.” She knew what he intended, answering with a nod. While she waited Cathy checked her purse to make sure she hadn’t missed any stray coins when she had cleaned it out earlier that morning.

He went out to the parking lot and got a small box out of the trunk. She hadn’t seen it yet, but for the next year she would become intimately familiar with the contents. He went back into the office where Cathy was waiting. Setting the box on the counter he opened it and took out the slim metal band. Everyone in the office stopped to watch.

Mark had made sure it was unlocked before it went into the box. The key was in his pocket. He didn’t intend for Cathy to ever see it or even know where he kept it. “Turn around” he ordered. Eyes wide, she slowly turned around, her back to him. Mark gathered her hair and pushed it to one side before sliding the collar around her throat. Slowly he closed it, making sure it wasn’t too tight. Satisfied it was a perfect fit, he took out the key and placed it in the lock at the back, turning it several times to secure the collar. He dropped the key back in his pocket before turning her around.

Tears of joy were streaming from her eyes. “Go ahead, you can touch it.” She reached up with both hands, checking the fit. He noticed how she tried to pull it open. “No, it stays closed.” Mark held out his arms to her.

In a flash Cathy was in his strong embrace, kissing him. “Master” was the only word she managed to get out. They stopped, embarrassed, when the office workers started clapping in approval.

“I don’t think this is the proper place to celebrate, let’s go home.” Mark took her hand in his and headed for the door.

Out in the parking lot he went to her side of the car first. He let go of her hand and opened the door. After she sat down he went to his side and got in, but didn’t start the car right away. “Cathy, from now on when you are with me you will need permission to enter or leave the car. Normally you will wait for me to open your door, but any other time I expect you to ask first. Is that clear?”

Cathy nodded in agreement, “Yes sir, I understand. Mark? Is there anything else you want me to do?”

“Be patient. Yes, I will be making some changes but not all at once. We both have to get used to this, so I plan to do a little bit at a time to start and see how it works out. I expect you to speak up too, especially if something bothers you.”

“I will, I promise. But I’m not a fragile porcelain doll, so you don’t have to hold back. Tell me Mark, tell me what you want. You are my master as well as my husband now. For my own peace of mind I have to hear you order me, not ask me.” Mark could see by her expression and the tone of her voice that she was serious. He started the car.

“Careful what you wish for,” he told her while doing a poor impression of an evil leer. He pulled out of the parking lot into the street. “Now that you mention it, there is something else. Place your hands in your lap, palms down, left hand crossed over right.” When he stopped for a traffic light he glanced over at her, and nodded in approval as she held her hands in the precise manner he dictated. “That’s right, just what I want. Anytime your hands are idle, not just in the car but whenever you are sitting down, I want you to hold your hands that way. And if you are standing up I want the same too. Hands in front, properly crossed. Do you see any problems with that?”

Cathy thought for a moment. “Can I stretch? My arms will get stiff and sore if I don’t move them around once in a while.”

“Yes, that’s a good point. I don’t mean it to be uncomfortable. You can move around as needed. And Cathy, I told you I would usually explain my orders, but not every time? This is one of those times I won’t tell you the reason why.”

“Yes sir, no discussion. You will correct me if I forget, about my hands? Habits are hard to break so I’ll need some time to work on making the change.”

“I’ll see to it you remember.” He already had an idea on how to remind her, in a way she couldn’t ignore and he would enjoy seeing.

Cathy stared at him as he drove, unsure as to how to take his last remark. He deliberately avoided elaborating as he wanted it to be a surprise. I could easily get used to this, he told himself. To Cathy he added, “There really is a difference now, between us. Not for the worse, at least I hope it won’t turn out that way. I know I could have asked you to do this for me before now, and I’m sure you’d have been happy to do it. The difference is now I don’t have to ask. I like it. Maybe you’ve awakened the sleeping dragon.”

She looked down at her hands, then over to Mark. “If I have there are no regrets. The difference is freedom, sir. You are free to be yourself, and in my own way so am I. We’ve been together long enough for me not to worry about what’s going to happen. I don’t know what you have planned for me but whatever it is I’ll be there, ready, willing, and eager. Not only because I have to, even though that’s part of it now, but also I want to serve you, to please you any way I’m able. It sounds silly, but the need is inside me and I don’t want to hide it any longer. I’m free to devote my whole life to you now. That’s what I’ve always wanted, from the first moment we met.”

“And I promise you will have all the opportunity you could wish for, maybe more than you really expected.” He laughed. “I love you with all my heart Cathy, and I’d never intentionally hurt you in any way. But, and I’m serious about this, you will obey me no matter what I tell you to do. We’ve talked about this before, how you should speak up, but my word will be final even if I’m wrong. I’m going to set some rules, your daily routine, how you are to behave, what I want from you. I trust you to keep to them even when I’m not with you.”

“I will, sir. Mark, this is what I’ve dreamed of for so many years. I want it to be your dream too.” She glanced down at her hands, folded in her lap. “I hope you will tell the reasons for some of the changes you will make, but I know you have to judge if it’s appropriate. If you think it’s better I don’t know then I’ll accept it. When you do tell me it helps me to better understand, and that I can use for new situations. I want to please you, my master, any way I can, any way I can anticipate.

“If I fail to obey to your satisfaction then do whatever you think necessary to correct me. I may not like it, make that definitely won’t, but no matter what happens please don’t hesitate. Do what you think is right, regardless of what I might say. I won’t pretend that the idea of being punished doesn’t scare me. You are a good man though. That’s why I don’t worry. Be strong when you must, trust your judgment no matter what I might say in some fit of anger. I count on it, so don’t let me down.”

Mark drove home thinking about what she had said. Can I trust my judgment all the time? What if I get angry? She would be the one who suffered if he ever lost his temper. John had mentioned one of his favorite quotes from the Bible during one of their lunchtime conversations: Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief. He could see how well it related to the present day. Even if the accounting was to no one but himself, he had to be able to hold up his head with pride if ever called to explain his treatment of Cathy. It was a fine balance, too much would be abusive, too little would deprive her.

He glanced over at Cathy. She was looking out the side window, her hands still carefully placed on her lap. He could see the gleam of the collar on her neck through the fall of her hair. She must have seen his reflection in her window for she immediately turned back to face him. “I’m sorry, sir. I was distracted for a moment. Did you say something?”

“No, just enjoying the scenery during a pleasant drive home.” She smiled and looked down, warmed by his compliment. He turned off the main road into their neighborhood. “It’s still hard for me to comprehend exactly how few limits I have. My command is literally your law now. Are you sure you can handle all the restrictions? Not even being able to leave the house without permission?”

“Oh Mark! You know very well that doesn’t bother me at all. You have to keep track of me. Remember, that’s in the agreement, you are responsible for me? The best way is for me to make sure you know where I am at all times. The card makes sense. I can’t afford to forget to ask permission or I’ll be stuck at home. It makes it that much easier for you to supervise me.”

He had to concede she was right. Without the card now sitting in his shirt pocket she couldn’t leave their house unless he was with her. John had made a point about the travel card and how its use was rigorously enforced. Cathy had mentioned it during her classes too, how important it was to have the card visible if she was on her own.

They would be home in a few more minutes. Mark pulled to a stop at the last traffic light. While waiting for the light he turned to Cathy. “There is one thing, something I’d like you to do from now on.” He paused, “No, make that something you will do from now on.” He put a hand on her knee. “You are an attractive woman Cathy. I like to look at you. From now on you will wear only skirts or dresses, unless there is some reason not to do so. I’ll leave it up to you to pick the style. But whatever you choose, you will keep in mind I expect you to accentuate your femininity. Men and women are different; your appearance will emphasize those differences.” The light changed and he turned onto their street.

Caught by surprise Cathy blinked before answering. “Yes, sir. Master? That will be an easy order to obey.”

As he pulled into the driveway he answered. “It better be, because if you forget the penalty is being restricted to the Island’s Muslim dress code. A month or two covered from head to toe in a burqa and I’m sure you would be extra diligent.” He opened his door and got out.

Mark saw her start to reach for the door handle before suddenly returning her hand to her lap. Good, he thought, she remembered. He walked around to her door and took hold of the handle but didn’t open it right away. Cathy turned her head to look at him through the window, waiting patiently. I like this, Mark admitted silently, I really do. Power is a turn on. A turn on for her too, I have to keep that in mind. He opened her door.

Making the Grade

“You sure about this?” Clancy Yates read the short one page report again. Siobhan knelt at the side of his chair, doing her best not to move a muscle. “It doesn’t seem to be enough to me. Are you sure you’re not being hasty?” His other hand caressed the back of her neck. He found it helped his concentration.

“Yes, sir, I’m sure.” She closed her eyes, savoring the touch of his fingers as they traced the gap between the nape of her neck and the collar. “I’ve talked it over with the others and the committee agrees we should move forward.”

“And when has the committee ever disagreed with you?” She didn’t answer, knowing it was a rhetorical question. She heard the same line every time she handed him a major progress report.

Of course, Clancy knew why they agreed with her. She had thorough detail to back up her opinions. Even he had a hard time arguing with her, and he could stop her at any time with nothing more than a raised hand.

“I’ll want to see your backup on the second and third points later. Now tell me the real reason you want to move her up. I know you look for those unguarded moments for clues. What was it in Elise’s case?” Clancy studied her back while stroking her hair. Her wrists were crossed behind her back, tied together with one of her scarves. The scarf was all she wore. Not a twitch; he never tired of seeing the self-control she could exhibit when he ordered her to kneel next to him.

“The field trip, sir. The way she came forward, on her own, that convinced me she is ready.”

“And what about the part she left out?” Clancy had obtained the full story from the rest of the trip’s members.

“She was only trying to protect the group. I would have done the same. Her friend Jamie was doing what she had been taught, to help by reminding Elise when she forgot. We couldn’t fault her for putting our training into practice.”

Clancy stared out into the room below. It was still early for lunch and only a few of the women were eating. “No, I suppose that wouldn’t send the right message.”

He could see her watching him in the reflection from the window. At this point in the meeting she wasn’t allowed to speak except to answer his questions, but that didn’t stop her from staring a silent reminder at him to make a decision on the report in his hand. He took a pen out of his shirt pocket and signed the report. “Okay, it’s official. I’ll notify the good doctor. We’ll set an interview date for one week from today.” He set the paper to one side.

That was the last item that required immediate action. He stood up and walked to the window. Siobhan didn’t move. Turning around he looked down at her. “Spread your knees,” he ordered, on a whim. This wasn’t part of their regular routine. But she obeyed immediately, shifting position to widen the gap between her legs.

“More.” Clancy used the toe of his shoe to push her left leg. This time she spread her legs as far apart as she could. With her hands tied behind her back it was an awkward position. He crouched down until he was at her eye level.

Staring into her eyes he lightly brushed the tips of his fingers across her exposed inner thigh. A sudden, involuntary gasp slipped out between clenched teeth. Satisfied he could still get through her iron control, Clancy stood up. He went around behind her and untied her hands. “Legs together, resume your normal position,” he ordered.

She had to be getting tired, but she returned to her standard position, hands on top of her thighs, knees slightly parted. Clancy knelt down behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. Leaning close he whispered in her ear the two simple words she loved to hear, “good girl.”

New Friends

Cathy was busily planning dinner and the necessary grocery shopping for the next week when the phone rang. “Hi, Cathy, it’s Anna. I’m going over to visit my dear friend Fatima Maktoum for lunch. You met her when you took your classes. Anyway, she has permission from her husband to extend an invitation for us to visit her home. Why don’t you ask Mark if you can come along with me?”

“Sure, I’d love to go. I’ll send Mark a text right now. Oh, is there anything special I should do? I’ve never been in the Muslim section of town.”

“Don’t worry, there aren’t any Taliban. No religious police on every corner. Let Mark know you need to dress conservatively, long skirt and no bare arms. It would be polite to have a scarf over your head too but it’s not mandatory. Oh yeah, don’t expect a ham sandwich and a beer for lunch either.”

Cathy laughed. “I know that much. Okay, let me see what Mark thinks. He keeps telling me he wants me to get out of the house more, so I’m sure he’ll approve. What time?”

“How about I pick you up at 10:30? Fatima is going to fix a Middle Eastern style lunch. Trust me, you’ll want the falafel recipe. Unless I hear from you I’ll assume we’re on for then.”

After she finished talking to Anna on the phone Cathy sent a quick text before she went into the living room and sat down at the computer. She wrote out a quick summary of Anna’s call in an e-mail to Mark and asked if she could accept. As an afterthought she included the part about a scarf. Clicking the send button she sat back and thought about Anna’s call.

She and Mark came from Southern California, one of the more cosmopolitan parts of the United States, but even so she didn’t know much about the Middle Eastern way of life. Cathy did remember that Fatima had mentioned she came from the Emirates, a modern country with a standard of living comparable to Europe or America. The contrasts to her upbringing would be interesting to see.

Mark must have been busy because he didn’t answer. She hesitated, unsure if she should go, but he had made it clear she could go out during the day at her own discretion, as long as she let him know. She couldn’t think of any reason he would object.

Based on what Anna had said on the phone Cathy knew the dress she had on wouldn’t be appropriate for the visit, so she went into their bedroom to change. She even found a scarf for her hair. Taking one last look in the mirror she checked to make sure her appearance wouldn’t be outside Mark’s preferences. She’d ask him when she got back but she was satisfied there were no glaring violations.

Anna pulled into the driveway a few minutes after ten thirty. Cathy remembered to grab her travel and debit cards before she went out the door. She got in next to Anna.

It didn’t take long to drive to the Muslim section of town. The biggest change Cathy could see was the sign lettering, primarily in Arabic but usually with an English translation underneath. The majority of women on the street wore traditional garb, but not all. She even saw one woman in a western style dress with a collar around her neck.

Anna turned off the main street and parked in front of a house. When they got out of the car they were met by Fatima at the front door. She invited them in and showed them around the house before they sat down for lunch.

“Do you mind if I ask you about those long tent-like dresses you have to wear?” Cathy asked. “Doesn’t it bother you that you have to go out in public covered up like that?” She sipped at the oddly flavored tea, very sweet and hot by American standards.

Fatima laughed. “No, it doesn’t bother me at all. That’s a common misconception by those raised in western countries. Where I grew up the hijab, that’s the Islamic dress code for women, is universally accepted. I suppose it’s all in one’s viewpoint. I think you would be pleasantly surprised at the changes if you were to, what is that American expression, walk a kilometer in my shoes?”

Cathy was quiet for a moment, thinking about what Fatima had indirectly suggested. What if she did “walk a mile” as a proper Muslim woman? “Could I actually do that, go out in public dressed that way? Would it offend anyone, or violate some Island law?”

“You would have to have your husband’s permission of course. Because your collar and travel card would be covered as well, you should have something in writing from your master that he has allowed you an exemption. I can’t imagine why anyone in the neighborhood would object, as long as you didn’t go in a mosque or act in a disrespectful manner. Besides, if you think about it, how will anyone know who you are? All you have to do is wear a niqab, that’s the veil which covers the face except for the eyes.”

“A veil too? That sounds so exotic. Oh, what about the card? Don’t I have to show it in public? How is that handled?”

“When wearing hijab the law specifies you must carry the card and present it on demand but you do not display it. That would defeat the purpose if your features are to be concealed from strangers.” Fatima opened her purse and took out her card. “Notice the picture on the front? The scarf means I am required to cover my head in public.” She turned her card over. On the back was a stamp in one corner with some Arabic script. “This stamp indicates I am required by my husband to meet the minimal hijab standards when in public and not in his company. Face and hands only may be uncovered, clothes must be loose-fitting and in a feminine style. The workplace is exempted if it’s indoors.”

Cathy nodded. “So that’s why you can wear western clothes when you teach the classes?”

Fatima answered, “Yes, but work is not public. I don’t have the card with me. My husband has to drop me off and pick me up. I can’t leave the building on my own.”

Anna added, “There are several stamps that can go on the back of the card. Take Fatima’s for example. There can be one to require the niqab, the veil, or it might restrict her to more conservative dress, either a chador or a burqa. The burqa completely covers you from head to toe. The veil is an integral part, with only a small lace rectangle for you to see through. It’s not a common practice outside of Fatima’s community here. It’s a matter of what goes into your ownership agreement. If there are no stipulations regarding religious practices then the subject doesn’t come up.” Cathy handed the card back to Fatima.

“Mark has a rule that I have to wear a skirt or dress. Could he have done the same thing, have the Records office put some mark on my card?”

Anna shook her head. “No, Cathy, it’s used only for matters of faith-based practices. The church John and I belong to have tenets that specifically interpret the Bible to require women to dress in a certain way. The same with Fatima and the Koran. Both our husbands agreed to ensure we do not, well, I guess ‘sin’ is the word; we do not sin by breaking the commandments we must live by.”

“I understand,” Cathy said. “Mark and I are not religious, so his rule is sort of private? He is the only one who enforces it?”

“Exactly,” Anna told her. “The general principle is that your owner, husband in our case, is responsible for the details on how you are to behave, not society as a whole. Where we all play a part is to see that the minimums are kept. Those of us who accept ownership status also agree to public enforcement of a certain standard of behavior. Part of the uniqueness to living here on the Island is that those standards can be extended for certain groups. We know what it means to wear a collar. Some of us have an additional set of rules to live by. If I were back in Alberta it would be voluntary; here it is mandatory. I would behave the same in either place, but I feel better about it here.”

Cathy turned back to Fatima. “So if Mark does give his permission I could maybe go out with you some time, wearing all those things? I don’t want to impose on you.”

“It would be my pleasure Cathy. I’m sure I have something to fit you. I will have to ask my husband first, but I don’t think he will object. As long as we don’t go to prayers I don’t see any harm.”

That night over dinner Cathy told Mark about her visit. “So I thought I’d better learn how this hijab dress code works just in case I forget and wear something you didn’t approve of beforehand.” Mark laughed at her reasoning.

“Seriously, Mark, I’d like to see what it’s like, mostly out of curiosity. It’s quite a contrast. Fatima and her family come from a modern country, same standard of living as us, but they have such a different approach to how they structure their lives. She takes for granted what I’ve had to struggle to recognize and accept.”

Mark leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin in thought. “My only concern is if you violate some religious prohibition or tradition. If your friend Fatima is confident there won’t be a problem then yes, you can do it. I’ll write out a note stating you have permission, just on the off chance someone complains.”

The next morning Cathy called Fatima. Her husband had also given his approval with some restrictions. Cathy agreed to the conditions, which seemed reasonable. They set a time for tomorrow afternoon to meet.

When Cathy arrived the next day Fatima took her right to the wardrobe. “First you start with a jilbab.” Fatima took what looked to be a cross between a dress and a coat out of her closet. Expecting drab black or brown Cathy was surprised at the bright blue floral pattern. She asked Fatima about it.

“It varies by locale. Observant conservative Muslims do not approve of color, while those of us from more liberal countries feel variety is not haram, that’s the word for sinful. In your own country, in New York City, you have the Orthodox and Reformed Jews. Islam has the same spectrum. I have a plain black chador too, from a trip to Iran several years ago, if you’d rather try that on? Personally, I think this one is prettier.”

Cathy felt the material. “So do I. I’ve seen pictures of those black things. I sort of expected that’s what you would have for me. This is much nicer. Can I try it on?”

Fatima helped her change. “This isn’t everything of course, just the start. Make sure it’s a loose fit.”

“I thought it would be much heavier. This is really very comfortable.” Cathy looked at herself in the mirror on Fatima’s dresser.

“It’s summer wear, cotton cloth. In winter we wear wool if it’s cold. Next you must cover your head and shoulders with what we call the hijab.” Fatima took what appeared to be a long triangular scarf out of a drawer. “You must completely cover your hair, everything except your face. “ She showed Cathy how to start at the top of her head and finish with it draped over her shoulders. “A couple of clips to hold everything in place and you’re ready.” She took a handful of small plastic clips out a box in her drawer. “There you are. You now meet the minimum requirements for a good muslimah. Take a look in the mirror.”

Cathy marveled at the change. Mark wouldn’t even recognize her. The only skin showing was her face and hands. Her figure was all but invisible. “I thought there was a veil too. Is that something from the movies?”

Fatima opened another drawer. “It is called a niqab. In strict terms it’s not directly ordered by the Koran. In most countries it is up to the individual. My husband doesn’t usually require it, but there are times he asks me to wear one. Basically it’s just a light scarf with a loose weave so you can breathe through it.” She held up what looked like a regular scarf. “Let me show you. First we need to undo your hijab…”

When Fatima finished Cathy looked in the mirror again. All that were visible were her eyes. No one could possibly recognize her now. “This is amazing. There’s no way to tell who is underneath all this. How do you recognize your friends if you pass them by on the street?”

“First of all, we aren’t supposed to be walking the streets to socialize. The phone or the Internet is the preferred way to keep in touch. In earlier times it would be socializing around the village well, but we’re more hi-tech now. We also visit each other in our homes. Remember, and this applies to you too, we aren’t supposed to leave the house without our husband’s permission.

“Aside from that, not too many choose to cover their face. For those who do,” Fatima took a large light blue dress type outfit from her closet, “they may wear either a niqab, as you have on, or a burqa like this one. It completely covers your head. You have this small lace covered square to see.” She pointed out a panel in the head dress.

“How do I recognize my friends? Usually by voice, or sometimes the outfit. Or I don’t recognize them. Where burqas are common you have to rely on the voice, or perhaps a small child with their mother. My husband’s grandmother was born in eastern Iran, a place called Baluchistan, which is very conservative, like your Bible Belt in the States. Two years ago we visited his relatives there. The entire time a burqa was all I could wear in public.”

Cathy took the burqa from Fatima and held it up to examine it in closer detail. “I’m not sure I could go all day in something like this.”

Fatima laughed. “In certain parts of the world you don’t have a choice. Either you stay indoors or you go out properly dressed. Besides, if your husband decides it is required you do as he says.”

Cathy nodded, “Yes, there is that. I suppose if Mark told me what to wear I’d have to do the same.” She stopped, realizing he had done just that.

Fatima changed into a jilbab and hijab similar to Cathy’s, but without a veil. “I usually visit the park to watch my son’s soccer practice after his school is over. Would you like to come with? Afterward we can stop at the grocery store. It will give you a small look at a typical day. I think you will find our little community here is not so different from any other neighborhood.”

Cathy wanted to go but hesitated. “I can’t speak Arabic.”

Fatima smiled. “Few Muslims can. English is the common second language here. Otherwise we’d have to learn Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, Malay, Turkish, Albanian, all kinds of languages. Don’t worry; you won’t be at a disadvantage.”

“Then I’d love to go see soccer practice. How many children do you have?”

“My son Tariq, he’s 12, and daughter Aliyah, she’s 16.” Fatima finished dressing, tucking in a few stray wisps of hair. “There are a few items to go over before we go outside. My husband asked that I mention this to you. Unless you need to transact business you should not speak to the men. If you are introduced, do not offer to shake hands. You should not sit next to a man either. The sexes are supposed to be separated as much as possible, so we will have our own sections in the park. Just follow me and watch what I do.”

Stealing one last glance in the mirror Cathy decided to go for the full experience. “Would it be okay if I wore the veil outside?”

“Of course, but you will have to keep it on. It is in bad taste to take off a niqab in public.”

Outside the front door Fatima pointed to their left. “The park is that way. School should be ending right about now.” Several older children were passing by on the sidewalk. “Oh, I almost forgot. What is your father’s name? I will need it if I have to introduce you.”

“My father?” Cathy was puzzled. “His name is Frank, Frank Wainwright. Why do you ask?”

“In Arabic custom you would be introduced as Cathy bint Frank Wainwright, the son or daughter of your father’s name. In Islam a woman does not change her name when she marries. It’s more common to follow western practice here on the Island. If you remember I used my husband’s last name at the school, Fatima Maktoum. My legal name is actually Fatima bint Ibrahim Aziz. That’s the form I use if signing a document in Arabic. Not everyone follows the custom, but our family is very traditional, as you might guess.”

“I didn’t know that. Cathy bint Frank it is for the afternoon.”

The two women continued their walk to the park. At one point they passed by several men working on the street, replacing a section of buried pipe. In Los Angeles Cathy knew she’d receive looks from all of them and maybe a crude comment or two after she passed by. Here they didn’t even look at her. After they were out of earshot she asked Fatima about it.

“It is said that the hijab frees a woman from the prison of a man’s stare. We dress only to please our husbands, and then in private for his eyes alone. Every time I hear a woman from Europe or America telling me how bad off I am I struggle not to laugh. She is the one who is oppressed, forced to exhibit herself for all to see.” She stopped and put a hand on Cathy’s forearm. “Tell me, am I having a bad hair day?”

Cathy laughed. “I see your point.”

They arrived at the entrance to the park. The soccer field was busy with several teams practicing. Fatima pointed to one side, where several other women were sitting or standing by some bleachers. “That section is set aside for the unescorted soccer moms like myself, come to see how brilliantly their son is playing while roundly cursing the team manager for not letting him in the game more often.” She waved to one boy leaning against the fence changing his shoes. “That’s my son, Tariq. Come, we can sit down and watch.” She led the way to an empty place on the benches.

“Are you concerned about raising kids here on the Island?” Cathy asked during a lull in the practice session on the soccer field.

“No, not at all. My husband and I talked about it many times. We came to two conclusions. First, as parents we have a right, perhaps even an obligation to pass our values onto the next generation. And second, neither of us is ashamed of whom we are or the life we have chosen.” Fatima stopped and gestured toward a group of teenage girls approaching them. “That’s my daughter, Aliyah, in the peach colored scarf.”

Fatima said something to her daughter in Arabic when the group reached the bleachers. She quickly switched to English, which everyone seemed to understand. “Aliyah, this is my friend Cathy Sturgis bint Wainwright.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Sturgis.” Aliyah spoke English with the same trace of British accent. She turned to her mother. “We were going to go look at some new games at the mall. Is it okay if I go along?”

“Be back before your father gets home.” Fatima turned back to Cathy as the teens left, shaking her head. “By a remarkable coincidence the boys tend to gather at the fast food place just across the way from the game store. I remember what it was like when I was a teenager, and as long as they stay in a group I don’t worry too much. She’s a good daughter and wouldn’t do anything improper. My husband would have her in purdah, locked away in a room far away from adolescent boys but I managed to persuade him to be a little more modern. Truth is, he goes soft and gives in whenever she wants something, a common problems with fathers. I’m the one who has to tell her no.”

Cathy nodded in understanding. “My father was the same way. Fatima, if you don’t mind me asking, what does your daughter think about our lifestyle, here on the Island? Do you want the same for her?”

“I don’t mind. She is old enough now that we talk about it. I explain to her why I’m here, why I wear her father’s collar, and how I believe it is consistent with Islam and a woman’s place in the world. Both my husband and I also make sure she understands she has other choices. We hope for her to study abroad when she graduates, perhaps Britain or the States. If she finds another path in life we will support her. Meanwhile we teach both of them how to make their own way in the world, like parents everywhere.”

Out on the soccer pitch the team split up and began playing against each other, practicing offense and defense. Fatima pointed out her son and explained what the striker position in soccer meant.

When soccer practice finished the two women left the bleachers and went to meet Tariq. At that moment Cathy’s veil began to slip off. She tapped Fatima on the shoulder to get her attention. Fatima saw the problem at once. She called out something in Arabic and several of the other soccer moms gathered round. “Not to worry, Cathy. Looks like one of the clips fell off. Happens all the time, I always carry a few extra.” Though her face was exposed while Fatima worked, the other women crowded around to make sure no one could see her. When Fatima finished she said something else in Arabic. The group dispersed.

Fatima explained while they waited for her son by the gate. “Remember that part of the classes, where we talked about the obligations on all of us to preserve our way of life here on the Island? What you just saw was part of it, though the tradition goes back much further. It was your duty to make sure your face was properly covered. We all made sure you could honor your obligation. By the way, you made a good impression on the rest of the team mothers, especially the older ones.” Cathy had noticed she wasn’t the only one with a veil.

Change of Habit

Saturday mornings were room inspections at the Facility. If their room passed they had the rest of the day free. If it didn’t pass they had to make it right. Elise stood next to her bed, waiting for the inspector.

When Mrs. Yates walked in the open door it was an unexpected visit. Elise had never seen her on the Saturday room inspections before now. Mrs. Yates was far more thorough than the men who usually made a cursory check and passed them, but by now the inspection was more of a formality since Elise knew exactly what they looked for and had gone over the entire room earlier that morning.

Her roommate, being next to the door, was the first to pass and be dismissed. Elise felt nervous even though she knew everything was in order. It went well until the last item on the checklist, her closet. At first Mrs. Yates checked to make sure everything was in order, but then she pulled out every blouse and skirt and dumped them all on Elise’s bed.

“Jamie, come in here!” Mrs. Yates yelled at the doorway. Jamie came in carrying an armful of new clothes. Elise realized she must have been waiting out in the hall, just out of sight. Mrs. Yates took the clothes from Jamie and hung them in Elise’s closet.

“Take these away, and close the door behind you,” she told Jamie, pointing at Elise’s old clothes on the bed.

“Yes, Mrs. Yates,” Jamie answered as she left. Elise caught the questioning look from Jamie as she went out. Something was happening but so far it made no sense.

“Starting today your uniform will be changed to the ones in your closet. I want you to put this on right now.” She took out one of the replacements and handed it to Elise.

After she changed Elise looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. The colors were the same but the style was radically different. The blouse was the same off-white beige but the neckline was much higher, overall it was a looser fit, and there were full length sleeves with buttons at the wrists. The skirt matched the maroon color she was used to but it was much longer, below her knees.

Mrs. Yates pulled out the chair at the small bedside desk. “I want you to sit down and hold your hands up, above your head. Pretend you are reaching for something on a shelf,” she ordered.

Elise sat down, gathering the skirt underneath her. Even sitting it still covered her knees. She reached up as far as she could.

“Good, the length is right. You can put your hands down. Elise, I can’t explain why you are being singled out for this but I want you to know it’s for a good reason, one I hope you will learn about soon. I let it be known that anyone who gives you any kind of grief over this will answer to the Director himself.”

Her new outfit wasn’t as revealing as the old uniform but in some respects it was more comfortable. Still Elise couldn’t understand why she had to change. “Mrs. Yates, did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble?”

“No!” Mrs. Yates was emphatic in her denial. “It’s nothing like that. You’ll have to trust me on this. We, and that includes both the Director and several others, believe this will be in your best interests for the future. I can’t explain why right now.

“This is for you alone. Now I want you to pay particular attention to the change in your uniform. It is very important that you stay covered below the collarbone, and that your knees and elbows are not exposed to anyone else. The guards have special instructions to make sure you don’t forget. Is that clear?”

“Yes Mrs. Yates, I’ll do my best.” And Elise would, even though she had no idea of the reason why.

Ready or Not

Cathy slipped on her shoes and headed for the front door where Mark was waiting. Today would be a trip to the mall. The plan was to meet John and Anna for lunch at a restaurant next to the shopping center, and afterward she and Mark would check out the stores. Cathy paused to look in the bedroom mirror one more time at the metal collar surrounding her neck, touching it lightly with one hand. As a form of jewelry it definitely enhanced her appearance, but there was so much more. She felt proud to wear it in public, at her master’s side. There would be no hidden meanings or doubts as to what it signified when people saw her wearing it today.

She turned off the bedroom light and headed toward the front door. Mark was waiting for her by the front door. She noticed he had a cloth bag in one hand, something she hadn’t seen before. She picked up her purse from the side table as she approached him. “I’m ready to go, master.” She still had to smile when she used his new title. Mark had an odd look on his face.

“No Cathy, you aren’t quite ready. Listen to me carefully. Put your purse on the table, then face me and stand still.” Puzzled, she set her purse down and turned to him. What had she forgotten? “Take the belt off too.” She unbuckled the belt around her skirt and pulled it out. “Drop it on the floor.” She lowered it to the floor to one side.

“Good. Now, hold out your hands.” Cathy lifted her arm toward him, hands slightly apart. She looked at the bag in his hand closely, a sense of foreboding as to what was in it. As she suspected, he withdrew a pair of handcuffs attached to the center of a length of chain. They were similar to but not quite the same type of cuffs Anna had worn on that trip to the lake. Fascinated, she watched as he opened the handcuffs and closed one around each of her outstretched wrists. She stood motionless while he checked the fit, making sure they were not too tight, and finally using the tip of the key to double lock them so they wouldn’t tighten further. She noticed how he tested the fit by slipping a finger between the cuff and her wrist.

“Tell me if these begin to hurt, or if you feel a tingling in your hands. I don’t want them to cut off circulation. Hold still.” He went behind her, reaching around her waist to take the ends of the chain. Pulling the ends through the belt loops on her skirt he took up the slack behind her back, pulling her wrists close against her body in front. “If the waist chain is too tight then tell me. It should be loose enough for you to sit comfortably.” She felt him attaching some kind of fastener or lock in the back, but couldn’t see what he was doing. When he finished he tugged against the chain encircling her waist. Satisfied, he walked back to the door, facing her. She glanced down at her imprisoned hands for a moment, pulling at the chains holding them, and then looked up to face Mark again. She was surprised to see a genuine look of concern as he waited for her reaction.

“Am I ready now, sir?” She spoke in a calm voice so he would know she was okay. Anna’s warning that day in the car had been prophetic. Cathy now found herself in the same situation. No longer would she daydream about what it would be like. He had caught her unprepared, but she told herself that may have been deliberate on his part, to see if she would panic. She looked to one side at her purse still on the side table. Should she try to pick it up, or leave it?

He answered her unasked question by picking up the purse but not handing it to her. “One more thing, I want you to be silent, no sound, not one word. No talking, unless you have a problem with the restraints.” He opened the door and motioned for her to precede him. That was the point where she did start to panic. Outside everyone would see her. Mark must have sensed her hesitation for he took her arm and walked her out the door. When he let go of her arm on the front porch so he could close the front door, Cathy didn’t even turn to watch. No one was out in the street, which was a small relief for her. A short-lived relief as he nearly dragged her out to the driveway and her side of the car. A neighbor was out watering his lawn. She saw him glance her way before he went back to tending his yard. No point in hoping she would go unnoticed now.

“When possible I want to hold onto your arm while you are walking,” Mark told her as they walked down the driveway. “I don’t want you to trip and fall.” Cathy turned her attention back to her master. While she had on comfortable low heel walking shoes today if she wore high heels she would want him to keep her steady. Actually, she liked to feel his touch anytime. At that moment it had a calming effect, one she needed to help her with her anxiety attack at being handcuffed in public.

“Now take your time and don’t bump your head,” he told her as he opened the door. She looked at the car seat and tried to remember how Anna had managed the day they had gone to the lake. What should be a trivial task, getting into the car, had become a real challenge. If only Mark had let her practice a few time before she had to try it in front of everyone. Not being able to move her arms made her feel awkward and clumsy. And worst of all the neighbor next door had an unobstructed view of everything she did.

She turned her back to the door and sat down on the edge of the car seat, leaning forward to avoid hitting her head, careful to keep her legs together. Mark held his hand over her hair to make sure she kept her head low enough to clear. Then she slid backwards to keep her skirt from riding up on her legs. This was the difficult part. Without hands to gather the skirt under her it was no small accomplishment to keep her modesty. Far enough back in the seat, she turned and placed her legs inside. She tried to reach the hem of her skirt to straighten it but she could barely touch it with the tips of her fingers. Not perfect, but she was satisfied with the results. With practice she would get better.

Mark reached in and pulled the seat belt between her arms, buckling it just above and behind her hands. “Can you release the seat belt?” he asked. Cathy managed to reach with one hand and grab onto the belt buckle. She pressed the button and opened it. If the door was closed she should be able to reach the handle too, providing the seat belt was loose. “Good, I wasn’t positive if you could open it or not. Now we know for sure.” He closed the seat belt again. “I want you to be able to open it in an emergency. Otherwise I will take it off for you. Mind your hands.”

She placed her hands palm down on her lap, left over right, exactly as he had ordered. The handcuffs kept her wrists close to her waist but she still had enough movement to cross her hands. Crouched down next to her in the open door of the car, he casually rested one hand on her knee as he looked up at her.

Cathy was mildly shocked at what he had done but also surprised at her own reaction. Now that she had made it to the car seat she felt no fear or worry, more a calm patience mixed with curiosity at what he would do next. Clearly he intended that she would be under his direct physical control for the moment. It explained her surge of passivity, the reason she was so cooperative in ensuring her own bondage. He was triggering her submissive instincts. She was past the point of being able to resist now, but even at the start, when he ordered her to hold out her hands, she had obeyed without even thinking about it. She still didn’t understand how he did that to her. No one else could do it, but when he spoke to her in that calm yet demanding tone of voice it was as if her brain stopped working.

As to what he had planned next, her curiosity was answered when he reached down and crossed her ankles. Next he pulled out a length of cord from under the seat and wrapped it around her ankles several times before tying a knot. It was simple and escape-proof since she couldn’t reach it. He left about two feet of cord for a tether, which was tied to something under her seat. He stood up to admire his handiwork for a moment before he placed her purse behind her seat and closed her door.

While he walked around to the driver’s side, she pulled at the rope on her ankles. Nothing she could do about it, too far away to reach. Between the seat belt and her bound ankles she would remain in the car until he decided otherwise. Mark had tied her up a few times, but those had been private evenings given over to lust and passion. This felt different to Cathy. It was more about power, control, a sense of place. Looking down at her hands resting on her lap in the crossed position it was certainly obvious to her who was in charge.

He opened his door and sat down. He put the key in but didn’t start the car. Instead he reached over and quickly unbuttoned her blouse down to her skirt. The slightest movement on her part would cause it to fall open. Cathy sat motionless, afraid to even take a deep breath lest she be exposed. She looked out the side window to see if their neighbor was watching.

“There, that’s to keep you occupied. Feel free to struggle if you get the urge, but remember we’ll be driving through traffic.” Mark smiled at her and ran his hand along the inside of her knee. Cathy closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. His hand had sent waves of desire sweeping through her. She had to bite her lip to keep from making a noise and breaking his order of silence. She knew he must have a gag somewhere. He had been too well prepared with everything else. Even so, she couldn’t take too much more before she would lose her composure. His hand lingered above her knee at the edge of her skirt. If he kept going she wouldn’t care if her blouse opened up. She wouldn’t be able to keep quiet either.

“Look at me.” Her eyes flew open at the sound of his command. She turned her head to face him. He began buttoning up her blouse. “You’ve handled this well, Cathy. I’m proud of you. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but you behaved exactly the way I hoped you would.” He finished with her blouse, but she noted how he stopped one button further down than she did. She would remember that in the future. “There, I have no intention of sharing you with the world. Some things I keep for myself. I don’t want you strutting around in front of strange men with no clothes on.” He glanced at his watch. “We’ll be late if we don’t get going now. Your order of silence still holds. Sit quietly and watch the scenery go by. Pay attention to your hands,” he reminded her as he started the car and pulled out of the driveway.

From the grin on his face and the gleam in his eyes she could tell he was enjoying this immensely. She looked out her window, momentarily lost in thought. His brief words of praise had made her feel warm and content, glad that he approved. Every stop sign and red light along the way he would look over at her. Anna was right about how being so vulnerable and dependent actually drew him closer to her.

It felt strange to be driving through town in the middle of the day while bound hand and foot, in plain sight of any passerby. While no one could see the handcuffs or the rope around her feet, her collar was in plain sight. No one could mistake it for a simple necklace. How many of their neighbors had seen him lead her out to the car? For that matter, what was going to happen when they reached the mall? Certainly he would have to untie her legs, but how was she going to eat? And why was she worrying about it? That was his responsibility. He would tell her what to do, when she needed to know, and she would follow to the best of her ability.

She could see herself in the reflection from the car door window. The distinctive glint from the band around her neck was clearly visible. I am this man’s property, it proclaimed to her and everyone else, I submit to his will. It was like carrying a sign that advertised she was not accountable for what she did, providing she kept to her owner’s edicts. It was ironic, Cathy thought, giving up her independence in turn brought her so many other kinds of freedom. No need to offer contrived explanations when her submissive nature peeked through, no more contemptuous looks when she deferred to her man. She was with her peer group now. Every woman who wore the same collar knew of the need to feel the strong hand of a dominant man in her life, possessing her, demanding her unconditional love and devotion, accepting nothing less than total obedience while sheltering and protecting her from a harsh world.

Mark turned off the street into the parking lot of the restaurant. Behind the building she could see the store signs of the mall. They drove by John and Anna’s parked car and pulled into an empty space further on. She hoped they hadn’t been waiting very long but without a watch she had no way to tell the time. She tried to see the time on Mark’s watch but it was turned the wrong way. She no longer wore one after he had forbidden her to wear any jewelry on her wrists, ankles, or neck. Now she understood the reason behind that particular rule. He provided his own decorations for her to wear in their place. While he was distracted parking the car she discreetly pulled against the handcuffs. Industrial strength matching charm bracelets, she thought to herself.

Still under his order of silence she sat quietly while he shut off the car. Before he opened his door he reached down and untied her ankles, pushing the cord back under the seat. He got out and walked around to her side. Opening her door, Mark reached in and unbuckled her seat belt. He picked up her purse, set it on the hood of the car, and then turned back to assist her. Cathy reversed her earlier procedure, first turning to the side and placing her legs on the ground, then sliding forward while standing up. As before he put his hand out to make sure she didn’t hit her head. Her skirt came up too far for her taste when she slid out, but Mark was standing in front of her. Once she stood up it fell into place. She would have to work on a more graceful exit. And hope Mark’s taste didn’t change to include mini-skirts for lunch dates.

He closed her door, picked up her purse in one hand and then took hold of her upper arm in the other. He led her up the sidewalk to the front door. He let go of her arm to open the door, holding it for her to enter first. Inside the hostess looked at Cathy, then immediately turned to Mark as he stopped at Cathy’s side.

“How many?” the hostess asked.

“We’re meeting another party here,” Mark answered, just as John stood up and waved. The hostess stepped back as Mark took Cathy’s arm and headed for their table. As Cathy walked past the line of tables she expected to see everyone staring at her, but only a few glanced at her. No expressions of disapproval or mumbled comments about bad taste. When they reached the table she saw Anna struggling to suppress a laugh. Something of a reversal of fortune, for now Cathy was the one wearing the chains. Mark stopped her just before she reached her chair. He placed her purse in the chair before he took a key out of his pocket to release her hands.

He pulled out her chair as she picked up her purse and sat down. She set her purse on the floor and ran her hands under her skirt as he pushed her chair in. Finally she had a chance to sit down in a dignified manner. The closed but empty handcuffs dangled from the chain around her waist.

The hostess, who had been following behind them, handed menus to John and Mark, pointing out the special of the day. As she left a waitress came to the table and asked about drinks. As usual John ordered tea for Anna. Mark ordered water and lemon for Cathy. Both men ordered soft drinks. After the waitress left Mark turned to Cathy. “You have permission to speak.”

At last, she was starting to worry she would have to sit through lunch without even saying hello to Anna. “Yes, sir” she answered.

Mark handed her a menu. “Take a look and see what you’d like for lunch.” His comment was casual but she knew it to be an order. He was asking her preference but not allowing her to order for herself. John set a menu in front of Anna but she didn’t touch it until he nodded. A different style, Cathy thought, but the same result. Anna looked up from the menu and met Cathy’s eyes. Both understood what was happening, no questions were needed this time.

John spoke up, “I see congratulations are in order on your new status, Cathy. Has it changed your view of the Island at all?”

Cathy paused to look at Mark before answering. Seeing no indication of disapproval from him she began. “Thank you, sir,” she replied, one hand brushing her collar. “I don’t think there have been any changes; perhaps a better understanding now I’m no longer a spectator.”

Anna nodded in agreement. “Everyone was very nice to me when we arrived here, but I never felt I was part of the Island either, until master granted my wish to wear his collar. Welcome to our little club, Cathy.” She reached across the table and squeezed Cathy’s hand.

Everyone turned to the menu. Cathy pointed out the Caesar Salad to Mark, then handed him the menu. The waitress returned with their drinks. The two men ordered lunch for themselves and their wives, who sat quietly as the men talked to the waitress. Not once did she talk to either of the collared women. Cathy decided it would take some time to get used to what seemed to be rudeness, but was actually respect, at least the way Anna explained it.

The moment the waitress left Anna pointed to the chain around Cathy’s waist. “I told you so! Don’t mind me; I just wanted to say it.” John turned to Anna with a mild expression of disapproval but didn’t say anything. Anna caught it immediately. “Sorry, sir, I know that was out of place.”

John turned to Mark and shook his head, pretending exasperation. “See how it is? You have to watch them every moment. Still, you seem to have things well in hand.”

His last word triggered a reminder for Cathy. Her hands were on the table, not in their proper place while she was sitting. She picked up her napkin and placed it in her lap before she folded her hands on top. A quick glance from Mark told her he had noticed. She was grateful he didn’t say anything to verbally correct her. She was proud she had gracefully recovered on her own.

During the rest of lunch they made small talk at the table. John mentioned an upcoming project in Central Asia that might involve the whole company. Mark brought up some of the exotic meals he’d had during his trip in Africa. Lunch came and they ate while talking about plans for a dinner party around the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

When lunch was over Mark and Cathy said their goodbyes to John and Anna before going to the mall. Before Cathy got up from the table Mark reached over and fastened the handcuffs on her wrists again. He held her chair as she stood, and picked up her purse from the floor. Once again Cathy looked around but no one seemed too concerned at what was happening. When he held out her purse she took hold of it with both hands.

She stood behind Mark while he took care of the bill at the cashier’s register by the exit. The mall would be their next stop. Outside he put her back in the car and drove across the parking lot to the mall entrance.

This would be a mostly window-shopping excursion today, primarily to see what the local stores had to offer. Mark also wanted to gauge Cathy’s reaction on her first public excursion with him as her master. Before they got out of the car he carefully went over his instructions.

“I want you to stay close to me at all times. If we get separated in a crowd you stand still and wait for me. If I let go of your arm you stop where you are. If we come to a door I will open it for you. If there is something you would like to look at or a store you want to visit, just ask. We don’t have a schedule so you can take your time. If you get tired tell me and we’ll sit down. You can talk to me without restriction but I do expect you to ask my permission before you speak to anyone else. Okay? Any questions, or something you want to say?”

“No questions, sir, I understand,” Cathy answered. He knew this wasn’t the way she wanted to go shopping, but that wasn’t his real purpose in bringing her here today. He had already spoken to John; they would let Cathy and Anna go out by themselves some other time. For today Cathy only knew that he wanted the two of them to do something together, and he had picked a visit to the shopping center.

So far she had done well. There had been the unguarded moment when she first saw the handcuffs and her obvious hesitation when she was outside the house, but she had remained calm. The drive in the car allowed her to adjust to her initial shock, while the restaurant had served as an initial, limited exposure to the public. Now she would be in a crowd. Her response to being seen by large numbers of people would be crucial in his evaluation of her state of mind.

Mark had a two-part plan, first a sort of stress test, which she was undergoing now, followed by discussing her feelings later on, after it was over and she had some perspective. If her comments were consistent with what he observed then he would be satisfied. Though she had reassured him time and again she wanted and needed the transfer of power, he still had some unvoiced reservations. Mark didn’t pretend to understand why she wanted it; the very idea was incomprehensible to him. But she was persuasive in convincing him she was genuine in the desire to be owned. Now that she had what she wished for, he would find out if she only wanted the outward appearance. As much as he wanted to own her in turn, his own love for her would not allow him to continue if it were to harm her in any way.

He opened his door and got out. From the corner of his eye he watched as she started to reach for the door but was brought up short by the cuff on her wrist. Let it go this time, Mark told himself, give her a few weeks to adjust. As he came around to open her door he looked in the window to check she had placed her hands in her lap. That told him she was paying attention and had caught herself in time. He knew she was working to overcome habit and so he didn’t think it necessary to remark on the small mistake. He was watching for signs of deliberate resistance more than honest errors. Once she settled into a new routine he would call her on it, but she had to have time to change.

The purpose of the outing was to evaluate how she behaved when actually confronted with the reality of her new status. Mark knew he was being overly strict, more than actually suited his own inclination, but he had to push her in order to find out if, beyond doubt, it was her desire to be so completely dependent on him. What he didn’t want was an attempt on her part to suppress her own feelings in order to please him.

He opened her door and helped her out. She stood next to the car, both her hands held against her waist by the chain around her waist. Cathy was visibly nervous, her eyes wide as she looked at Mark. She knew what was coming but was trying to put off the inevitable.

First he had to remove her last security blanket. “Why don’t you leave your purse in the car?” he asked as he picked up her purse from the car seat. “Is there anything you need in it?” Inside were her purchase and travel cards. Without them she was not only penniless but could not even step outside the building unless he accompanied her.

“No sir, I won’t need it.” Cathy watched with a wistful expression as Mark put her purse back in the car on the floorboard before he closed her door and locked the car. He turned back to face her. He could see in the expression on her face that she knew what would happen next. Mark hesitated for a moment, considering if he should offer to remove the chains, but realized if he did then he would have failed to keep his own promises to her. She had to see him acting in a confident and determined manner. If he backed out now she would blame herself, thinking she had done something wrong, followed by doubt that he had the resolve to master her.

“Remember,” John had told him, “if she makes a mistake you correct her and move on. She expects it; she trusts you to keep her on that straight and narrow path you have laid out for her. But if you make a mistake the ramifications can be serious. Now she will understand if your best effort was the wrong choice. No one can be perfect every moment of the day. If she knows you did your due diligence, gathered all the facts, listened to her, then made a decision which proved you wrong and her right, she will accept that you just had a bad day.

“What she will not understand is if you fail to live up to your duty as her master. If you are hesitant, indecisive, if you do not demand from her what is your due, then she will lose her trust and faith in you as her owner. It’s the worst blunder you can possibly make. Good, bad, or indifferent, make the call. Be consistent, finish what you start, she has to know you are unwavering in your determination to have it done your way.”

With his hand on her arm, he led her across the parking lot toward the mall entrance. Mark was careful to let her set the pace as he knew she would feel off-balance from not having the use of her arms. At the front door he let go of her to push open the heavy glass door. As he had instructed, she stopped immediately, watching him to see what she should do next. He held the door open and gestured for her to proceed. She walked past him and once again stopped just past the doorway, turning back to wait for him. He went through the door and took hold of her arm. He gave it a slight squeeze and smiled when she looked up at him. “You did well,” he told her in a low voice. Cathy looked down and said nothing, but Mark could see she appreciated the praise.

He led her over to the store directory at one side of the atrium inside the main entrance. Still holding on to her he looked at the map and listing of the stores, to see what was offered. When he turned back to Cathy to point something out, he was surprised to find her attention focused on the food court rather than the directory. Facing the same direction Mark saw what had caught her eye. Standing in line with her master was a woman of about Cathy’s age, the ubiquitous collar around her neck. More significant was the chain around her waist and the attached handcuffs securely locked to the woman’s wrists. Mark had been worried that Cathy might stand out and was relieved to see someone else attired in the same manner. It would go a long way toward making Cathy relax and not be too self-conscious.

The rest of the day went well for them. A few times Cathy asked to visit a store, and once she sought permission to sit and rest. At the bookstore he released her hands so she could browse through the books with him. He also allowed her to roam around the book stacks, as long as she kept within sight of him. At every store they visited the clerk always approached Mark first, but one time Cathy did request permission to ask some questions of her own. The moment he agreed the clerk switched to Cathy, almost as if Mark had vanished. Obviously they knew who held the real buying power, collar or no. He had to turn away in order not to laugh out loud.

As the day went by it was obvious to Mark that Cathy was becoming relaxed and comfortable. Her mistakes, small things like starting to walk before he took hold of her arm, or trying to reach for something, were fewer and further apart. All she would need is some repetition and practice to replace old habits with new ones. He could tell from what she pointed out in the stores that she was having a good time, paying more attention to the merchandise than her collar and chains. That was what he wanted to see, a consistent pattern that showed she was adapting, integrating the changes he imposed with her ordinary life.

Her progress was affecting Mark too. His tendency to hold back was receding, but something else was moving in to replace it. Standing at a store window he found himself paying more attention to her reflection than the items on display. More and more he found himself marveling at how attractive she was. A few times he took hold of her wrist to lead her instead of her arm, just so he could feel the steel bracelet against her skin. When they sat down at a bench to rest and have a cold drink, he put his arm on the bench top, so he could idly fondle the collar at the back of her neck.

When they finished their drinks he stood up, took hers and dropped both cups in the garbage can. Cathy stood up at his nod. He placed her wrists in the handcuffs and took hold of her arm, but turned her to face the entrance. “We’re done for today.” He told her as they headed toward the door.

“But sir, didn’t you want to go by the camera store…” Cathy cut off abruptly. Mark turned his head to see why she had stopped talking. Her expression told him she had figured it out as well. No surprise, he knew she could pick up on his moods quickly, especially when it was one of those moods where she was the center of his attention. She kept her eyes down and said nothing, but that was her typical reaction when he became sexually aggressive.

At the car he took the time to tie her ankles again. Sitting next to her he could tell she was already aroused. The bondage was affecting her, feeding her fantasies. Before he started the car he ordered her to silence and once more unbuttoned her blouse. He laughed as she tried to press her breasts against his hand. She shrugged and smiled at him, as if to say she had to give it a try. He answered by slipping a hand beneath her open blouse and squeezing one breast hard. Cathy gasped, closed her eyes and arched her head back, but managed not to cry out. Mark laughed again, openly enjoying her helpless position. He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot into traffic. Cathy was sitting very still lest any move on her part cause her blouse to fall open. He didn’t make it any easier for her. At stoplights he would reach over and put his hand between her legs, beneath her skirt. More than once she shuddered involuntarily, and she was losing her concentration as small groans of pleasure escaped her best efforts to stay quiet.

They reached the house. Mark hit the garage opener. He had to park inside since the car would need to recharge overnight. He pulled in and hit the button to close the door. Cathy watched as he opened his door, eagerly anticipating what was to come in a few minutes. Mark turned as if to get out, then suddenly twisted back and lunged across the car seat. With one hand in her hair he roughly pulled her head back against the seat rest, while forcing open her loose blouse with his other hand. Between the passionate kiss and the hand fondling her breast Cathy lost all self-control, struggling fruitlessly against her bonds as she tried to reach him. The unexpected way he had suddenly seized and used her, coupled with her vulnerable position had pushed her past the point where she could think rationally. An uncontrollable orgasm raced through her body and mind even as his hands were still on her. Only the first of many, Mark knew, for he had her solidly within his power now. She would beg for more all through the evening, surrendering her body, her mind, and her dignity to his demands.

Mark drew back, watching her as she recovered, breathing shallow and skin flushed. Her eyes were still closed. He began to appreciate the degree of control he now had, seeing how quickly and easily he could bring her to this state. Cathy turned to look at him, her eyes wide as she realized what he had done. She had little time to think about it as Mark grabbed her hair and once again kissed her, smothering whatever question she was about to ask.

This time his other hand went to her waist, yanking hard on the handcuffs and chain holding her prisoner. He could feel her hands move, trying to reach up to touch him but rendered useless by the bonds he had placed on her. Another orgasm hit her immediately, the shaking and senseless fight against the restraints telling Mark she was lost to the moment, not even aware of what she was doing. He grinned as he drew back again. From now on she would never look at a car seat without remembering this moment. He reached out and took her chin in his hand, turning her head to face him.

“Don’t ever forget Cathy. I am your master, no one else. You answer only to me. I own you, mind and body, and I will do with you as I please. I will accept nothing less than your complete obedience. I will not tolerate defiance of any kind. Your place is to serve and please me, don’t ever lose sight of why you are here.” Mark ended with his eyes boring into her own, till she had to look away, unable to meet the intensity of his gaze. Reinforcement when she was most susceptible, that’s what he wanted to impress on her. Cathy said nothing, remembering she was still under orders not to speak, but he could see his words had not been ignored.

Mark got out of the car, went around to her side, and released her seat belt. He had to help her stand up. Holding onto her arm he led her into the house, past the kitchen into the bedroom. He ordered her to stand still as he removed the handcuffs and waist chain. Setting them on the floor he began to undress her, not permitting her to help. Finished, he swept her up in his arms and dropped her onto the bed. Throughout the evening they made love as never before, tender at first, then forceful, always with Mark in control.

Later That Night

In bed later that night Cathy lay in Mark’s arms, head on his chest. He noticed her thoughtful look. Feeling contented he waited, certain some kind of question was on the way.

“Mark? This morning, when you made me wear those chains? I was so scared when we went out the door, mostly that people would laugh and make fun of me, or I’d do something stupid and you would be disappointed or embarrassed because I made a mistake in front of everyone. At the restaurant I was terrified to even get out of the car. But once we were inside and at the table I realized I didn’t have to worry. People looked but didn’t laugh; no one pointed or made some snide remark. There really is something special about this place.

“It was odd, this morning. I didn’t want to wear those handcuffs, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted so badly to say no but the words never came out, even as I saw my hands go out to you. After you finished I saw how concerned you were. It’s funny, but the moment you were done somehow I knew I had to go through with it. That’s why I told you I was okay.

“Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I liked the way you acted this morning, before we left. You didn’t ask me first, you just did what you thought was necessary. It was unexpected, but I don’t have any problems with it. I hope you will ask me if you think it appropriate, but it is within your rights as my master to proceed as you see fit. That’s all.” Cathy finished and snuggled closer to him, one hand idly tracing a circle on his chest.

Putting her in restraints had been an impulse that came to Mark the day before, on the way home from work. He had detoured to a store and obtained the equipment on his way home from work. At first Mark had planned to tell her what he intended to do, but on reflection thought she would handle it better if she didn’t have time to brood over it beforehand. It was a fine line he had to walk; on the one side he had to show her that he was in charge and did not require her consent or approval, but on the other side he didn’t want to hurt or scare her. For his peace of mind he had to be sure her trust came from love and devotion, not fear.

In the short time Cathy had been collared Mark could already see changes taking place in how she behaved. This morning when he had taken the chains out of the bag he saw how her expression altered, the anxious moment when she realized what he intended. The old Cathy would have cooperated after first sending him a questioning look and asking what he was going to do. This new Cathy had not questioned; her arms had reached out to him as if she were being compelled by something too powerful for her to resist. For the first time he had seen the effect of sheer dominance, force of will, as it immediately stripped away any resistance on her part.

He put a hand over hers as he turned to look down at her. “I was anxious for a moment there, thought maybe you were going to have some kind of a panic attack. I could tell you were nervous, but I wasn’t quite sure that you wouldn’t freak out and somehow hurt yourself.” He reached over and took her chin in his hand, tilting her face up so he could see into her eyes. “I want you to know that I’m very pleased with how you behaved today. This was important to me, Cathy, and you did everything right. Not once did I have to correct you. You obeyed every order to the letter and didn’t forget anything I told you to do. Not once did you say anything inappropriate or act improperly in any way. You would make any man proud to have you at his side. I’m glad you chose me.”

“Really, you mean it?” She tilted her head to better see his face. She had tried so hard to be perfect for him. She lived to hear him say words like that. It was what she had sought after for so long. He was pleased with her.

“Yes I do Cathy. They aren’t empty words of praise, and you know it. Never think I don’t value what you have given me by wearing that collar around your neck. You are a superbly unique type of woman, one who can willingly and happily devote herself entirely to one man. I could never find someone like you again, nor would I even consider it. You have given me everything I could ever desire. The piece of paper may say I own you, but in your own way you have guaranteed I belong to you as well.

“Don’t forget who is in charge here though. You may have a pretty strong hold over me, but it doesn’t prevent me from running your life. When I tell you to do something I expect you to obey, whatever it may be. I will not tolerate laziness or a bad attitude.”

“Oh no, sir, I won’t ever forget. Besides, it’s hard to overlook one’s obligations when there is a permanent and constant reminder.” She smiled up at him, and then laid her head on his chest once more. He felt the cool touch of her collar on his skin. “I can’t help being what I am. I need you, Mark, more than you could ever know. I need you to command me, force me, lead me into your vision of our future. Like you did this morning. And this evening, in the garage, that’s the man I want.

“And master? I felt clumsy and awkward today while wearing your chains. Will you allow me to practice here at home? I know I can do better if you help me.”

“You did quite well for the first time. Yes, I’ll see that you get lots of practice. We’ll work on it together. Meanwhile, it’s time to go to sleep.” He leered at her then smiled.

They drifted off to sleep with Cathy nestled in his arms. Hours later she roused for a moment. It was still dark outside but she could see the first hint of dawn from the gap between window and curtain. From his breathing she could tell he was asleep. They had shifted into their usual sleeping position, he behind her, one hand casually draped over her hip. Careful not to wake him she touched his hand. Anything he wants, she promised, no matter what it is I’ll do it. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

Before the Interview

In any journey there comes the point of no return. A moment in time where events dictate the only choice is to go forward. Looking down at her hands Elise knew the return point had come and gone. She leaned back against the cool concrete wall and closed her eyes. In retrospect there had never been a point where she would have stopped, even if they had given her the opportunity.

Her nose was itching again. It had to be psychosomatic, a cruel trick her mind played on her body. Her nose never itched when she could scratch it. Turning her head to one side she rubbed her nose against the rough surface of the block wall. Instant relief, but she knew it wouldn’t last. The cure was to rub her nose with her hand, but that wasn’t possible at the moment.

Her eyes were still closed but she could describe exactly how she looked if anyone asked. She had on the special uniform Mrs. Yates had given her: long sleeved blouse, the skirt ending below her knees, and low heeled sandals. Around her waist was the wide leather belt that was locked behind her back. Behind her back where she couldn’t reach it, because the steel ring riveted to the front of the belt held the handcuffs locked on her wrists. She had never been given the key that fit those cuffs, but even if the key were sitting on the bench next to her it wouldn’t make a difference. The training she’d received at the Facility the last few months had taken hold and grown within her. She would never even consider trying to escape from the restraints.

Jewelry was forbidden, as was just about everything else, though the cuffs on her wrists might qualify as a set of matching bracelets. She had been told they made her look attractive. As an accessory they would not have been her first choice, but no one had consulted her. Neither had she been asked if she would like to wear the matching leg irons now locked around her ankles. In some ways those were worse than the handcuffs. She could stand up, and even walk around, but the short eight inch chain between her feet limited her to a slow and clumsy shuffle.

Her eyes flew open at the sound of a door in the hallway. Immediately she sat up straight on the bench and checked her position: legs together, knees not quite touching, shoes precisely two inches apart on the floor. She had been taught to present herself in a certain way, to the point where it became a reflex. Failure to act in the proper manner was unacceptable, both for her pride in the person she had become and to those who now determined her fate.

Elise strained to hear any footsteps on the hallway floor. She held her breath in expectation when she heard faint male voices, but the loud sound of another cell door sliding open told her they had not come for her this time. She relaxed, slowly letting her breath out. She did not move, for they might still walk past her. Even the slightest mistake on her part could earn her some unwelcome attention. When her turn did come it had to be for the right reason, not for disciplinary review.

The cell door down the hall closed. She had been brought to this place, blindfolded, along with two other women. The three of them had been ordered not to talk at the start of the trip. When they had arrived at her current location they had been separated and placed in holding cells before the blindfolds were removed. Elise’s cell was the most distant from the entrance to the holding area. Her only instructions had been to sit quietly on the bench and wait to be called. Twice they had come now, doubtless to take the other women away. Unless someone else was in another cell she would be next.

This place must be on the same island as the Facility because they hadn’t boarded the ferry. There had been no explanation as to why she and the others had been brought here, or even what purpose this building served. As it should be, Elise reminded herself, I’ll be told when I need to know. But it sure would be nice to have some advance warning now and then.

She heard the hallway door close. Leaning forward she turned her head to one side to check if she could hear anyone left in the hallway. After waiting a few moments she leaned back against the wall again and stretched out her legs. Of course, she could stand up and walk to the cell door, and then look out through the bars to see if anyone was there. But she had been told to sit on the bench. The door, and for that matter even standing up, were all out of bounds.

She straightened her legs, trying to move them as much as she was allowed to avoid sore muscles. She had no watch, nor was there a clock on the wall, so Elise had no idea how long she had been waiting. Telling time was a difficult task these days. The Facility had no clocks or calendars in the section where she lived. Those who supervised her and the other trainees rarely wore a wristwatch. And naturally the trainees had no watches, clocks, or much else. They were not allowed personal possessions.

The rings surrounding her ankles gleamed, reflecting the light from the fluorescent fixture overhead. No running away, certainly no kicking, nothing but a slow hobbled walk. Not that she wanted to fight or escape, but they saw to it the thought never got past a short-lived fantasy. The chains made her easy to control, whether or not it suited her. At first the restraints had scared her, made her feel like a criminal who couldn’t be trusted. Patience, familiarity and education had helped her overcome her fears, to where she now felt comfortable when helpless.

Not just comfortable, she told herself, but excited. She had looked forward to this day ever since she had first arrived. She had been restrained and confined before, for longer periods, some as a punishment, some for training purposes, but this time was different. Today she was sure she would be interviewed. Today she might well meet the man who would claim her as his own. In a few hours her life could change forever, and her dream come true. Maybe she’d even learn the answer to the mystery of her recent change in her wardrobe.

No one had told her the reason she had been brought here, but it was the only explanation. She had been outside the Facility before, always escorted and usually restrained in some way. But for those trips the chains had been removed while she was in a secure area, like the cell she occupied now. This time they had left the cuffs on, deliberately, to affect her state of mind. It worked too. Even though Elise knew the reasons, still she was on edge, anxious for someone to come back for her. With her hands and arms all but useless and only very limited use of her legs she could be easily overpowered by anyone.

It was an ideal mindset for her upcoming interview. Her interrogator would be in charge from the moment he walked in. Her assignment would be to comply with his commands, to answer each question honestly, and to ensure she did not deceive or displease him in some way. The weight of the cuffs did wonders to remind her of her status. From her training she had an idea of what to expect but her instructors had stressed how potential masters could be unpredictable. She had to be alert to every nuance, his tone of voice, his body language, the expression on his face. It would be his decision whether or not to accept her but Elise still wanted to do her best no matter what type of man he was.

Lost in a daydream about some white knight and a castle she jumped when the sound of the hallway door opening reached her. Once more she sat up straight, ready for them to come for her. This time her hopes were answered as two men stopped outside her cell.

“Stand up, turn and face the wall,” one man spoke softly. Elise immediately came to her feet and turned her back to the door. She heard a key in the lock followed by the sound of the door sliding open. One of the guards came in and stood behind her. He did a cursory check of the belt and her handcuffs. Satisfied she wasn’t about to free herself, overpower the two of them and make her escape he took hold of her arm to turn her around. “You will be interviewed in a few moments. You will conduct yourself in a respectful and dignified manner, as you have been taught. If your behavior is in any way deemed rude or inappropriate the consequences will be severe. You will be representing the Facility. Do you understand?”

She understood all too well. In the classes it had been drummed into them over and over what this moment meant. “Yes, sir, I understand.” She understood that if she failed, if there was any complaint about her attitude or degree of cooperation then she would be forced to start over in her training. And not just repeating her training, but starting in a disciplinary class. Her instructors had made it clear that was the last thing in the world she wanted.

The guards didn’t remove her handcuffs or leg shackles. Instead they led her out slowly, so she could keep up. They were on either side of her, one holding her left arm and the other her right so she wouldn’t fall if she lost her balance. Without the blindfold she could now see the route they had taken earlier in the day. They passed two empty cells before reaching the solid metal door in the hallway. The man to her left let go of her arm and took out a key from his belt. He opened the door so the second guard could lead her through to the corridor on the other side.

Beyond was a carpeted hallway and numbered wooden doors. From this side even the door to the holding area appeared to be of wood when closed. There were pictures on the walls and indirect lighting in the ceiling. It would be easy to mistake this place for a hotel.

“You are in number seven,” the man to her right said, gesturing ahead. Firmly in the grip of the men on each side she started forward, peering at the room numbers as they passed doors. Even at the slow rate she could manage they reached her room quickly. The man to her left opened the door and held it for her, nodding his head to indicate she should enter.

Elise wasn’t sure what to expect but the room was a surprise only in its bland decoration. There was a desk and office chair near the door and beyond it in the middle of an otherwise empty room an armless wooden chair. She looked up at the man holding her right arm, unsure as to what she should do next.

“Stand in front of that chair,” he told her while pointing to a spot in the middle of the room. “Do not sit down unless told to do so. Face the rear wall, look straight ahead and do not turn around until given permission, even if you hear the door open and close. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.” He led her past the desk into the room. Once he had her in position he released his grip on her arm. The other guard had already left the room and was out in the corridor. Elise couldn’t see him but she heard him leave as he brushed past the desk. The remaining guard checked her restraint belt and cuffs one last time. “Remember, eyes forward, don’t move, and do not turn around unless you are told to do so. Do not speak unless you are given permission or asked a direct question.” He stopped but didn’t leave immediately. She sensed there was something else he wanted to say, something that wasn’t in the script.

“Elise, one last thing. We are all proud of how well you’ve done at the Facility. We want the best for you. From now on you’re on your own. Remember what you’ve learned; trust your instinct to do what’s right. And Mrs. Yates says not to fidget.” With that warning he left. She heard the door close behind him.

She risked a quick look down at herself to make sure her skirt and blouse were straight. She crossed her hands and shifted her feet further apart to raise the connecting chain off the floor. She focused on a point on the wall, staring at it, concentrating on not looking around. Her heart was beating wildly with excitement. Breathe in, breathe out, stay calm Elise, you can do this.

Prior Preparation

Ben Jaffe leaned back in his chair while watching Elise on the monitor. What he saw confirmed the impression he had gleaned from her training records. Not once had she stood up since the guards had put her in the holding cell. The key to understanding her was the principle of order imposed from without. It explained her dedication.

He recognized it from the way she completed her writing assignments. When instructors had provided an outline her prose had been concise, consistently on topic and never straying from the guidelines given to her. But if there was no outline and the purpose of the assignment was vague or poorly defined she tended to ramble, her thoughts presented in a disorganized manner.

He first noticed the discrepancy when he had been provided with a selection of case histories of trainees. After an initial consultation with the Director of the Facility, Clancy Yates, Ben had been given a brief description of several women who might be appropriate. Elise had been one of the prospects.

Elise immediately stood out. What first caught his attention was her education, a degree in nursing and experience as a surgical assistant. He knew what that represented. She had the ability to stay cool under the incredible pressure an operating room could produce when something went wrong. Assisting in major surgery required confidence in her own ability and an innate trust in the doctor’s instructions, even if they appeared to contradict her training and experience.

Once last time he thumbed through the copies of some of her essays. The instructors had graded them on content more than style. The stated goal had been to stress the attention to detail, to teach her to express herself no matter what the writing task given to her. He was more interested in the organization than what she had actually written. He had been told the style wasn’t especially important since it wasn’t a composition class, but he believed the way she tried to go beyond the minimum, to make it interesting and entertaining, the way she chose particular words, all demonstrated her determination to do her best but stay within the parameters of her assignment.

The director, Clancy Yates, had indeed done his homework too. The two women brought in with Elise had worn the standard Facility uniform, but Ben recognized the reason behind Elise’s change the moment he saw her on the screen: tznius, the Hebrew word for modesty in dress and behavior, which he had casually mentioned to Clancy in their first meeting. He hadn’t asked for it nor had he expected to see her dressed to suit his own preferences.

Movement on the monitor caught his attention. He looked up to see her stretching her legs. He asked the camera operator to switch the angle from the ceiling corner to the camera hidden in the corridor wall outside her cell. She must be getting tired. And anxious too, he thought as a smile crossed his face. He turned to the technician sitting behind him. “Could you arrange for her to be taken to the interview room in, hmm, say five minutes?”

“Right away, Dr. Jaffe.” The operator picked up his phone and dialed an intercom number. Ben turned back to the monitor screen. She didn’t seem to be aware that she was on camera.

The chains on her ankles, and the way her hands were restrained, only added to her attraction. At an instinctive level it affected Ben, stirring his desire not just to protect her but to own and control her as well. In a sense she was his for the asking. She had surrendered her right to refuse anyone the moment she agreed to come to the Facility. In turn the Facility had singled her out as, in their opinion, an excellent match to the type of woman he was seeking. If physical attraction was his only criteria it would take no more than a few words to claim her.

Ben had some ethics though, moral principles he lived by that would not allow him to drag home an unwilling woman to be a sex slave. The Director’s sarcastic comment from their first meeting came back to haunt him as he watched Elise on the monitor. The purpose of the Facility wasn’t to prove its critics accurate but to produce a unique type of woman, one who would proudly stand at his side in public but be just as comfortable kneeling in submission in the privacy of their home. He had to be certain Elise was that woman, and that she believed he must be the man who possessed her.

On the monitor he saw her suddenly sit up straight, and then stand as the guards came to the door. Surprisingly Ben didn’t feel nervous. He knew exactly how he would conduct the interview, and felt confident he would earn her respect. That was crucial for him. He knew he had to make a good first impression too, or she’d never truly accept him as her master. On the monitor she disappeared as the guards escorted her out of the waiting cell.

The video operator switched cameras, following her in the hallway and stopping outside the interview room. There were no cameras in the room itself. The two of them would have complete privacy. A few moments later the phone buzzed. The surveillance operator picked it up, listened, and hung up. “Dr. Jaffe? Whenever you’re ready, she’s in room seven across the hall.” Ben stood up, buttoned his jacket, took a deep breath, and thanked the camera operator. You make your own luck, he told himself, so don’t blame anyone else if this doesn’t go well. It’s no different than surgery; the scalpel is in your hand, no excuses.

In the hallway he could see the guards leaving the interview room. The last one out turned to him after closing the door.

“Dr. Jaffe? She is inside, waiting for you. As you requested she is facing the wall away from the door. Take as long as you like. When you are finished let me know. We’ll be down there at the end of the hall.” He pointed to a desk past the surveillance room door. “Oh yes, you might want these.” He held out a set of small keys. “They are for her restraints.”

Ben took them and dropped the keys in his jacket pocket. He thanked the guards as they left him alone by the door. He reached for the doorknob but stopped. Let her wait. It will be interesting to see how it affects her, he told himself. He took out his pocket watch and opened the cover. I’ll give her two minutes. That should be plenty for her to imagine all kinds of disasters.

The waiting tried his own patience, but it did give him time to compose his thoughts and review one last time his plan for their meeting. He closed the cover on the watch and put it back in his pocket. Then he turned to the door and opened it.

Inside her back was to the door, precisely as he had intended. She knew he was here, but couldn’t see him. He entered the room, closed the door behind him, pulled out his chair and sat down. She hadn’t moved. He nodded in approval.

Finally he could see her in person instead of on camera. Nice looking legs, he thought, they belong in chains. He touched the keys. I could let her go if I felt like it. He picked up the keys and dropped them in the desk drawer.

Time to begin. In a moment he would order her to turn around and face him.

First Meeting

She forgot to breathe when she heard the doorknob behind her. Elise desperately wanted to turn and look but resisted temptation. This first impression was critical. If she started it off with a show of blatant disobedience he might walk out the door and not even speak to her. She didn’t want to dwell on what would happen after that.

The office chair casters squeaked as he pulled it out from behind the desk. She heard him sit down and drop something on the desk. Then all she heard was silence. She waited for him to start but nothing happened. Was something wrong? What had she forgotten? Had he mistaken her for someone else? A thousand possibilities whirled around inside Elise’s head.

“Very good, you answered my first question correctly.” He had a deep voice, with the flat accent of Midwest America. “Turn around and look at me. You will remain silent.”

Eagerly Elise turned and faced the man who would determine her immediate future. She didn’t recognize him, just as well since she didn’t want any contact with her past. He wore a business suit and tie. He had a moustache and short beard with a few tinges of grey. By appearance she guessed he was not too many years older than her. He sat in the office chair with arms folded, head cocked to one side, studying her intently. She met his gaze and their eyes locked. She couldn’t look away. Underneath his non-threatening exterior she sensed a reserve of self-confidence that made her knees weak. This was someone who was used to power, someone who could suggest softly with the same effect as a loudly shouted order.

He stood up and approached her. He stopped close to her, reached out, and put his hands on her shoulders. “The first question, should you be here? Your answer is yes, because you did not turn around.” He put one hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. “The next question, am I the right man for you, will take a little longer to answer.” He let go of her and went back to his chair.

“You are here at my request. The reason why is not important right now. I know quite a bit about you, not only the time spent at the Facility but also your life prior to that point. You know nothing about me. This meeting is to adjust the balance a bit more in your favor.”

He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Before I start, are you comfortable? Are your cuffs too tight? You may speak up at any time if you have a problem with them.”

A direct question, she had permission to respond. “No problems, sir.” She had been taught to answer with short, concise responses when under orders to remain quiet.

“Then we’ll begin. You may speak freely, with no fear of punishment. Whatever you say will be between the two of us and no one else. However, I expect a respectful attitude and do not tolerate cursing. Clear?”

“Yes, sir. May I ask questions too?” Elise knew she was taking a risk in asking, perhaps overstepping the privilege he had granted her.

To her relief he took it well, at least he grinned as he answered. “You can pose your own questions after I’m done. For now I’ll do the asking. If you don’t understand something then yes, please ask.” He held out one arm and made a slow spinning gesture. “Turn completely around, slowly.”

So he wanted her to display herself. That was something right out of the training classes, a request she expected and was prepared to meet. Elegance, grace and poise, the words of Mrs. Yates came back as she made the first quarter turn clockwise, left to right. The challenge was to complete a smooth movement while both obeying his order and accentuating the qualities she wanted to portray for him. The long hours practicing in front of the mirror paid off as she drew his eyes to the shackles on her ankles, and from there to the feminine curve of her legs, while she glided through the routine.

Facing him once again she saw only a blank expression but the movement of his eyes down and back up told her it had worked. She wasn’t twenty anymore, but her legs were still in great shape, better than the rest, so that’s what she wanted him to look at. She finished by widening her stance to the full extent of the chain, pulling it taut between her ankles. It was a subtle finish designed to remind him that he literally held the keys to her freedom.

“You do that quite well, I’m impressed.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Let me see it again.” Elise could tell from the gleam in his eye that he enjoyed her little performance. Again she slowly turned around. When she finished she met his look and held his gaze for just a moment before lowering her eyes.

Show him you are somebody, proud of your accomplishments, but don’t challenge him, let him know you want him to be in charge. Those were memorable words from her training. These past months in the Facility had given her the confidence to be a woman who knew exactly what she wanted, a woman who didn’t hesitate to show the world who she was.

Ben stood up, picked up the keys from the drawer and opened her handcuffs. He removed the cuffs from her wrists and closed them again, but left the empty cuffs dangling from the belt around her waist. “Why don’t you sit down?” He returned to his chair.

She waited until he faced her before sitting down in the chair. With her hands free she was able to gather her skirt to prevent it riding up her legs. Once in the chair she straightened the hem below her knees while carefully keeping her legs together.

Ben watched her, enjoying the graceful way she moved. Modest and reserved, even though at any moment he could command her to strip. That particular order wasn’t part of his agenda today though. He wanted her to relax and not be too nervous to carry on a conversation. Removing the handcuffs and letting her sit down would help by bring a feeling of normalcy into the room. However, he did not remove the shackles around her ankles. It was no oversight; they would be a subtle reminder to her, and a pleasant picture for him. That was part of his plan, to maintain some level of control over her at all times.

“First of all, I think I can clear up a mystery for you. When was your uniform switched?”

“Last week, sir. I wasn’t told why.” And she still didn’t know, but it looked like she was about to find out.

“Let me fill in some background first. My heritage is Jewish. I’m neither Orthodox nor very observant, but I still try to respect Judaic tradition and the mitzvot. Those are the Commandments, all 613 of them. And I do it by choice as much as faith.” Ben paused for a moment.

“I happened to mention to the Director that my ideal companion would be a woman who followed the practice of tznius. That’s a Hebrew word referring to modesty in a woman’s dress and behavior. Among other things it dictates that a good woman must be covered below the collarbone, the sleeves of her blouse must cover her arms past the elbows at all times, and her skirt must cover her knees even if sitting down. Sound familiar?”

That’s what Mrs. Yates was doing when she made me sit down and reach up. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for Elise. “Yes, sir, now I see. I thought I had done something wrong.” And it explained why Mrs. Yates couldn’t provide a reason. The women at the Facility were never told of interviews in advance. Rather than a punishment she had been trying to help.

“It wasn’t at my request,” Ben continued. “It seems Mr. Yates, the Director, took it upon himself to stack the deck ahead of time. By the way, whoever picked out your uniform did get it right. I find it quite attractive.”

She could tell by his appreciative stare his words were not an empty compliment. “Thank you, sir.” She brushed a non-existent bit of lint off her skirt to hide her nervousness. “If I may, I’d like to add I like the look too.” And I owe you one, Mrs. Yates.

For the next two hours Ben did almost all the talking. He started with the early days in Indiana, med school and military service in Israel, and his move to the Island after retiring early from the Defense Forces. He let Elise ask questions, but kept the focus on himself.

So far the interview had progressed as Ben had intended. To an outsider he would probably come across as egotistical, deliberately keeping the subject to his life only. But he knew she was at a significant disadvantage. He was thoroughly acquainted with not only her past but her training regime at the Facility, while she knew nothing about him. From the questions Elise asked his strategy seemed to be working. She was genuinely interested in what he had to say.

By the end of the first two hour phase her questions were changing from polite and generic to a tone of familiarity but with pointed probes into specifics he had glossed over. She picks it up fast, he realized. Clancy warned me a woman like her would spot the gaps immediately; seems he was right. Ben decided it was time for a break.

Done Deal

Luisa stared at the piece of paper on the counter. The pen was still in her hand, resting on the line where she had added her signature underneath Kurt’s. I signed it, she told herself, I really did it. She carefully put down the pen and slid the agreement toward the clerk.

Kurt put a reassuring arm around her waist. She looked up at him as she leaned into his embrace. Out of the corner of her eye she could see his other hand resting on the box on the counter. She knew what was in it; he’d shown it to her that fateful day in his office.

That day she would never forget. Her world had turned upside down when Kurt forced her to confront her own feelings, for him and for what the Island represented, for what the object in that box meant to her. Now here she was, signing away her life for the next year to a man she hadn’t even known before arriving on the Island.

The records clerk finished whatever she had been saying and handed Kurt a laminated card with a picture on it. Luisa wasn’t listening. What happened to me, she wondered, how did I wind up falling in love with a man I should despise? Kurt held up the card so she could read it. Her travel card, with her picture and her real name printed on it. He had insisted she drop the pretense of the undercover reporter and use her actual name from now on. He dropped the card in his shirt pocket.

Will he ever let me use it, she wondered? That card represented about as much freedom as she could hope for, but only if he chose to permit it. For the next year she would have to depend on Kurt to give her permission to leave their apartment. Without that card she couldn’t even walk out the front door on her own.

The woman on the other side of the counter was telling Kurt about bank cards. I can’t even use money now, how am I ever going to adjust to that? But she had already made the change. She hadn’t touched a coin or a bill since she got off the ship. The cash she had with her had been taken away as soon as she walked into the company building. All credited to her account, or so they had explained, along with her wages every week. The money still belonged to her but she couldn’t touch the account without Kurt’s permission. Luisa knew it should have bothered her but she didn’t worry about it. He’d figure out what was best and tell her what to do with her funds.

Kurt was thanking the clerk. Luisa came back to the present and added a few words of gratitude. She had to be polite, anything else would reflect badly on Kurt. My master, the words rolled around in her head.

“One last detail,” Kurt told her. “Turn around, and hold your hair away from your neck.”

Using both hands Luisa gathered up her hair and held it to one side. Quite a bit longer than when she had arrived on the Island, but she didn’t have much choice about hair style these days. The company had minimum length requirements and didn’t allow her to keep it short. Now it was up to Kurt, but she doubted he’d let her go back to short hair.

She knew what was coming next. She heard him open the box. Would it fit? Of course it would, Kurt didn’t make mistakes like that. Then she felt the first touch of the metal band as he closed it around her throat. Cool, not cold, and not too tight; it didn’t make her choke. She had expected it to be much heavier.

There was a mechanical click as Kurt closed it. He did something to the latch in the back. That’s it, a done deal, I can’t go back now. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment. The whole world knows I belong to him.

“I’m finished. Let go of your hair.” She opened her eyes and turned to Kurt. So typical of him, a simple announcement, no emotion, he showed about as much excitement as if he’d just brought in the mail. The look in his eyes told Luisa a different story though. That intense stare from his blue eyes was worth more than any amount of words. She knew what it meant. He has what he wants, what he’s wanted from the day we met.

“You belong to me.” He leaned down to kiss her. Her arms went around his neck.

Kissing me in public, am I finally getting through that emotionless rock? Maybe she did have a chance to show everyone he was human after all. The cheers and clapping from the staff at the Records office brought an abrupt end to his display of affection. Oh well, but it was a small crack.

“I think it’s time we went home.” He took hold of her hand and actually smiled.

“Yes, master.”

Interview’s End

Ben studied Elise, reviewing in his head the events of the day. She sat quietly, waiting for him to continue. In his estimation she had done well, as he had expected. She was attentive and obedient, but didn’t act like a robot. Once she had relaxed and gotten over the anxiety of the first moments she had proven to be articulate and charming. Every one of his questions, some embarrassingly intimate, she had answered to his satisfaction. Her own hesitant inquiries were cleverly designed to draw him out without portraying herself as demanding or presumptuous. The specific test he wanted to see, how she would react in his presence, how well they got along together, convinced him his first impressions were accurate. It was time to conclude.

He picked up the phone and dialed the extension written on a slip of paper taped to the desk. “Hello? Would you be so good as to join us?” She didn’t know it but the extension went to the Facility Director. He would know who had called and what was about to happen.

“Please stand up, Elise. I must ask you to remain silent for the next few moments.” She rose to stand next to him, puzzled as to what was happening. “Don’t be concerned,” he told her. “You did well today.”

At that moment there was a discrete knock. Ben went to open the door.

Elise’s eyes went wide as the Director, Clancy Yates, came in. He had been the one who had sentenced her to that miserable night in the punishment cells. He exercised the ultimate and essentially unlimited authority over her and the rest of the trainees. She had never spoken to him directly. The Director came into the room and offered his hand to Ben. “I trust everything has been to your satisfaction?” He had a box tucked under one arm. When he looked at Elise she did her best not to tremble.

Ben shook his hand and answered, “I’d like to thank you for arranging this meeting. Everything has been just as I expected. However, I won’t be requiring your services in the future.”

Elise was near to panic when she heard his last words. She wanted to run out of the room and hide. He wasn’t coming back. He didn’t want her; she hadn’t been sufficiently attractive to him. It must have been her questions; she should have been more circumspect and not pried so much.

The Director continued, “Glad to hear that, Dr. Jaffe. My best wishes to you in the coming years.”

Now Elise was more puzzled than panicked. Why wasn’t the Director angry? She expected to see him glaring at her in anger instead of a beaming smile of satisfaction. Not only had she failed but she had driven away what must be a valued client.

Confused and lost in thought Elise didn’t notice at first when Ben turned to her. Only when he reminded her where she was with a simple “Elise?” did she come back to the men in the room.

She looked as Ben. “Yes, sir?” she answered in a bewildered tone.

He held out his hand to her. “Are you ready to go home now?”

Home? She couldn’t concentrate. What did he mean? Was he taking her back to the Facility? That didn’t make any sense. The guards would do that. His home? Was he asking her to come home with him? Or was he telling her to come home with him? She stared at his outstretched hand. When her own hand found its way into his she was more surprised than Ben.

She looked up, meeting his eyes. She saw that he hadn’t asked her a question. He had chosen her. I belong to this man now, she realized. Both men were looking at her expectantly, waiting for her to answer. But the question was not what he had asked, not really. When the “yes, sir” came out, in a voice so low she could hardly hear it herself, she knew the answer had been her agreement to accept him as her master.

“There is one detail before the two of you leave. Dr. Jaffe, I believe you’ll need this. We wouldn’t want our Elise to go out in public improperly attired.” Clancy handed Ben the box under his arm.

Elise felt like she had just walked off a cliff. This morning she had woken up in her bed at the Facility, looking forward to a quiet Saturday afternoon after room inspection. She had fallen into a routine at the Facility, one where the idea of finding the man who would be her master was an abstract that might never happen, but was far in the future if it did come to pass. A few hours later he was holding her hand. Events were moving too swiftly for her to absorb what was happening.

Ben let go of her hand so he could take the package from the Director. When he opened it and took out the object inside she didn’t even realize what it was at first. Elise was so wrapped up in the enormity of the changes in her life it took Ben two tries to get her attention. She missed her name the first time but came back to the room the second time he spoke her name.

“Sir? I’m sorry, I… I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Ben smiled and squeezed her hand. “That’s understandable. But I need your attention for a moment.” He held up his other hand. “This is for you.”

In Ben’s hand was a polished metal band, slightly oval in shape. Elise finally realized what the Director had given him. It’s a collar, she thought. She didn’t make the obvious connection that it was for her.

Ben did something to open it and turned to her. “Face me, hands at your side. Look at me.”

His eyes locked with hers as he slid the collar around her neck. His hands, behind her head, fastened the lock but none of it registered with Elise. She was drawn to his eyes, the way they seemed to peer deep into her soul.

“There is some paperwork, Dr. Jaffe.” Clancy put two sheets of paper on the desk. “The first is your agreement with Elise. We’ll register it with the Records Office. The second is her transfer from the Facility to you. That’s for our records only.” Ben looked over both documents and signed them. “That’s it. Elise? All of us wish the very best for you. Remember what you’ve learned, do your best, and take care of Ben. He’s the top doctor on the Island; we can’t afford to lose him.”

The walk from the interview room to the driveway outside the building was a blur. She didn’t react until Ben opened the rear door of the waiting car for her. Still in shock at what had just happened she didn’t get in until he told her to sit down. He closed her door and went around to the other side. When he got in he patted the seat next to him. “I want you to sit close to me.”

Elise scooted across the bench seat to be next to him. She looked down at her lap, nervous and uncertain as to what she should do next. He answered that by taking first her left then her right wrist and closing the handcuffs around them. She had forgotten all about the restraint belt and cuffs, and even the chains on her ankles.

He put his hand under her chin and turned her to face him. “Listen carefully, this is what I want you to do.” He let go of her chin and put an arm across her shoulders, on the seat behind her. “Lean your head on my shoulder and close your eyes. I want you to sit quietly and listen while I talk on the way home. Okay?”

“Yes, sir.” She was exhausted, drained emotionally from the constant tension of the interview. His shoulder felt good, as did his arm around her. She was even grateful he had restrained her. In some odd way the chains helped her to relax. As he had ordered she closed her eyes and listened. He talked while the driver took them somewhere, his home she assumed. What he said on the way she had no idea. By the time they got off the ferry on the main island the low deep tone of his voice had lulled her into a drifting sleep.

“Wake up, sleepy.” He gently shook her shoulder. “We’re home.”

For a moment Elise was disoriented. She wasn’t at the Facility. Then the day came back in a rush. She wouldn’t be staying in her room any more. She had a new home now, with the man sitting next to her.

He was her master, for as long as he wanted her. And she had fallen asleep while he had been talking. Afraid of what he might think she stammered out an apology. “Oh sir, I dozed off. Please forgive me, but I didn’t hear what you said.” She studied his expression, anxious to determine if he was angry or disappointed. Mentally she kicked herself. Within minutes of acquiring a master she had fallen asleep, ignoring him. Mrs. Yates would have chewed her out for hours.

“Shush,” he told her, holding a finger to her lips. “You didn’t miss anything. I could tell you were tired after being grilled all day long. I wanted you to take a little nap on the way here.” He opened the car door on his side. Before he got out he put a hand gently on her arm and told her, “You stay right there.”

He got out and went around to her side. Before he opened the door the driver handed a package to him through the driver’s side window. He tucked it under one arm. Elise wondered what it could be.

She didn’t have much choice except to wait for him to open her door. With her hands bound close to her waist she couldn’t reach the door handle. She looked up at him out of her window as he said a few words to the driver before opening her door.

The Facility had promised her a new life, though not without some catches. She had to trust their judgment, good or bad. From what she had seen so far this Ben Jaffe seemed to be different than any man she had met before. He didn’t hesitate in telling her what he wanted. She liked that. Thinking back she realized at every critical moment during the day he had quietly yet emphatically told her what to do; stand, sit, wait, she never once had to guess at what he expected of her.

She couldn’t make out what he was saying to the man in front as the rear compartment of the car was separated from the driver’s seat by a partition. Undoubtedly he was thanking the driver for taking them home. She was struck by how polite he was, even to her. That had been her problem in the past, men who treated her as little more than a piece of furniture. She hoped her new master wasn’t like that.

He opened her door. Elise looked at him expectantly, waiting for his next instruction. She would need his help to get out of the car, at least with her dignity intact. He must have sensed her uncertainty as he spoke. “Now Elise, I want you to slide over to the edge of the seat first.” That wasn’t difficult for her. “To get out of the car you turn to your side, put your legs out first, and then lean forward. I’ll make sure you don’t bump your head.” She followed his orders, but remembered her training as she kept her legs together while placing her feet on the driveway outside. He put a hand behind her head and took hold of her arm to help her stand up.

As he helped her out of the car it never occurred to Ben he could have simply released her hands first. The ride home with her asleep next to him had triggered something inside. He wanted to protect and shelter her, but he didn’t want to let her go either. Ben knew it was a contradiction but he didn’t care. He was determined to see that she had a good life with him, but it would be on his terms. At the moment those terms included her being attractively vulnerable and helpless.  Besides, he rationalized, she doesn’t seem to mind the inconvenience.

Holding onto her arm he led her toward the front door. Behind them the car from the Facility pulled out of the driveway and drove off. Ben had intended to drive himself, but now he understood why the Facility insisted on picking him up and taking him home. They had no way of knowing he would decide on the spot she was the one for him, but the Facility seemed to be talented at anticipating events.

They stopped at the front door. He let go of her arm to get out his door key. “Elise, this is your home too. I know it’s all new to you, but I want you to get used to living here. Do not refer to this place as my home, but our home. I insist on it. Understand?”

“Yes sir. Thank you for taking me to our home.” She smiled at him. The phrase seemed odd even as she said it. My home, our home. He’s right though, this is my home now. She watched as he held the door open for her. The pressure of his hand on her back told her she was to enter first. She walked into the foyer.

It didn’t look to be a large apartment, but it was clean. The decoration was sparse: the walls bare, plain carpet and only a few items of furniture. Her immediate impression was that it lacked warmth. Instead of a home it felt more like a hotel suite. When she felt comfortable, she’d bring up the idea for some changes.

Standing quietly out of his way she waited for him to close the door and put down the package he was carrying. Idly she took hold of the cuff on her left wrist with her right hand and moved it back and forth. She knew it had to be significant that he had not released her before she got out of the car. I’m learning about him already, she thought. He likes physical control; I’ll have to remember that.

During the early lessons at the Facility the same subject, control and bondage, had been discussed. Elise had been concerned that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, but as it turned out it was very easy for her. Being confined, or bound, had a calming effect on her, almost like meditation. There was a certain flavor of fatalism when she was helpless. Whatever happened was beyond her ability to influence, which gave her a sense of freedom to open up and enjoy the moment without the nagging fear of failure.

Ben dropped the package on the entryway table and turned to the new addition in his life. He didn’t see any signs of distress or upset. No doubt she wasn’t too impressed with his interior decorating skills. He wasn’t either. That was one task he would gladly turn over to her. He had intentionally done as little as possible, knowing that once she made some changes it would become her home in a tangible way.

Though he was tempted to leave the chains on her it was time for more important items. These first few hours together would be crucial, so he had to be pragmatic about indulging himself. He watched her as she stood calmly waiting for him. In one sense she had it easy. He hadn’t planned this evening as carefully as the interview because he hadn’t expected to bring her home. He needed a little time to plan out the next steps. The best way to do that was a short tour of the house.

First he had to free her from the confines of the handcuffs and shackles. This would be a good time for him to establish a set way, something that would develop into a habit. It took only a moment for an idea to come into his head.

“Elise, I’m going to remove your chains. I want you to pay attention, because this is how we will do it from now on. First, I want you to turn and face that wall.” He pointed behind her. She turned around, but looked over her shoulder to see what he wanted next.

“Good, next I want you stand right here.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and moved her a few inches to one side. “Remember this spot. Now, when you are wearing shackles on your ankles I want you to stand with your legs apart, so the chain doesn’t drag on the floor.” Elise widened her stance, but the short connecting chain didn’t allow for much movement.

“That’s right. Exactly what I want. Don’t move.” He took out the keys to the restraints and knelt down. He unlocked the cuffs on her ankles and removed them before he stood up again. “Now I want you to face me.” She complied, chancing a glimpse of his face as she turned. He unlocked her handcuffs and removed them from the retaining ring on the belt around her waist. “Hands at your side, face the wall again. We’re almost done.” She let her arms hang loosely at her side as she turned to the wall again. She felt him unbuckle the waist belt and take it off. She hadn’t realized it was so tight until it was gone. He opened the hall closet door and placed the belt and set of chains inside on hooks.

For Elise it was a relief to be able to move freely again. Her shoulders were stiff from inactivity. He must have read her mind because his large hands were massaging the sore muscles in her shoulders. “I’m a doctor, remember? I know enough about physiology to figure out where the aches are.”

“Yes, sir, it does feel good.” And it did, though she would rather be massaging his back.

“We’ll take a quick walk through the apartment so you know where everything is, before we sit down and talk for a while. Is there anything you need first? Or anything I should know?”

She took a moment to consider his question. If they were going to talk later he must be referring to something immediate. “No sir, I’m fine. I’d like to see where we will be living.” The we still sounded awkward, but she would get used to thinking in those terms.

“Alright, we’ll start with the kitchen, through there. Oh, one more thing.” She stopped and turned back to him. “When we are alone you are not permitted to wear shoes in the house. Take yours off now and place them in the hall closet. The right side is for your things.”

She hadn’t expected that but it was an order. She reached down and slipped off her shoes. Opening the closet door she saw a place for them on the right side. On the left hung the restraint belt and leg chains and handcuffs dangled from pegs in the wall. She placed her shoes neatly on the lowest shelf and closed the door. “Sir? May I ask a question?”

He nodded. “Sure, Elise, unless I specifically tell you to remain silent you may speak up at any time.”

“Yes, sir. You said, when we are alone. Does that mean your rule does not apply if we have guests?”

“That’s right. If we have visitors or we’re entertaining, I expect you to be properly dressed. We’ll go over all that in more detail later. Okay, ready to see your new place?” He held out his hand.

Shyly she took it, marveling at how his large hand seemed to engulf her own small one. He led her through each room in the apartment, pointing out where things were located. The last room was the master bedroom. There was a small bathroom to one side, and a walk in closet for their clothes. She entered with a slight sense of unease. The source of that unease was the large king size bed. A bed she would be sharing with her new master.

Ben noticed her mood change immediately. He put an arm around her and pulled her close. “Don’t worry,” he whispered in her ear. They went back out to the living room.

Sitting on the couch he took her hands in his own. “I’m going to start by giving you some idea of what I see for us. If you have a question, or you don’t understand, or even if you want to add something, go ahead and interrupt.

“I want the best for you, Elise. It’s important to me that you are happy here. I know about the Facility and what was promised to you. I intend to fulfill those promises. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

“I intend for us to be together for a very long time. For that to happen I need your cooperation. You must work with me Elise. Tell me what is in your mind. Help me to understand your feelings. I promise you I’ll try my best to do the same for you.”

“I’ll try, sir. I’m sorry, but this is all so new. I don’t know what to say…” She felt lost, unsure what he wanted.

“I know you will.” Ben held her hands in his. “I want you to stay at home the next few days, give you some time to make the transition from Facility life. We’ll go out together until you feel comfortable getting around the neighborhood. When you’re ready I’ll allow you to go out on your own. For now I’ll keep your travel card.”

“Yes, sir.” Without that card her world shrank to the apartment. His restrictions did sound reasonable. She’d be lost a block from their place, and a little time to mentally shift gears from Facility routine to focusing on Ben was a good idea. She studied his face, searching for any clues to what he was thinking.

“Once you’ve adjusted, and you find your way around town, I’ll leave your card here at home, so you can go out during the day. I will expect you to tell me in advance where you will be going and when you get back. You are not allowed to leave home before 9am in the morning, and you have to be back by 5pm in the afternoon. Also, you may not leave without my permission when I’m home. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir, I don’t see any problems. What if there’s an emergency?” It was an odd feeling for Elise, listening carefully to the man who was now her master and owner, as he put restrictions on what she could do. She’d have to write them down later, so she wouldn’t forget anything.

“I trust you, Elise. Use your own judgment if something unexpected happens. If you have to break a rule, tell me why and we’ll discuss it. I’m serious about the time though. I want to know where you are, day or night, even if I’m at work.”

She could see from his expression the curfew was important. She would have to be very careful about scheduling her time. That was another clue to his personality; he was a stickler for being punctual. “Yes, sir, I’ll remember the times.” Did he have a punishment room like the one they had learned to dread at the Facility? Something in his eyes told her not to expect leniency if she misbehaved.

“Good. Now, when you’ve settled in we’ll talk about how you will spend your days. For starters, I want you to think about doing something with the decor. Make a list of ideas, things you’d like to change, and then we’ll go over it. And Elise? Don’t worry about upsetting me. I’m not the temperamental type. I can promise you, the only thing that makes me mad is deliberate disobedience. Remember that and we won’t have any problems.”

Company Picnic

Kurt picked up the car keys on the dresser. In the mirror he could see Luisa standing behind him, ready to go. This afternoon was the annual company picnic for employees, their families, and guests. Along with Luisa he had volunteered to help with serving the food. She was watching his every move, as he expected. Casually he opened his top drawer, took out the handcuffs and slipped them into his back pocket. She didn’t say a word.

He would have been surprised if she had spoken up, since he had told her to stand in her spot quietly. He felt no need to offer an explanation either. She knew from experience exactly how the cuffs worked. And she understood he would use them at his discretion, regardless of her opinion. Now that she belonged to him there were a great many things she understood that hadn’t been clear before.

He turned around to examine his prize. Would he ever tire of seeing her like that, facing him, waiting attentively for his next command, so eager to please him, all underlined by the collar encircling her neck? The band that bore his name engraved on the front, proclaiming to anyone who cared to look that she was his property. She had on a sun dress in a bright floral pattern, something she’d picked out yesterday when he had taken her shopping.

The trip to the mall had brought its own enjoyment. Without offering a reason he’d taken her to the clothing store, pointed to a rack and informed her that she would be helping at the picnic, so she should find something appropriate. He had told her to take her time and made his way to a corner chair where he sat, reading the news on his phone.

The first two selections he vetoed out of hand, the first because he didn’t like the style, the second for no other reason than he could. Her relief when he allowed her to set aside the third dress was so obvious he had to hide a smile while she went back to search for more. From the corner of his eye he could see hurried and hushed conversations with the store clerk. She picked two more; he rejected one because of the color and told her to try on the remaining two, so he could see her in each one. At a loss to decide which one looked better he bought both of them for her.

“Ready to go?” Kurt asked. It was a redundant question. The clock showed five minutes past ten in the morning. He had told Luisa to be ready by ten. She also knew he valued punctuality.

“Yes, sir,” was her only answer, all she was allowed when ordered to silence.

She was so tempting. If not for the picnic she wouldn’t be going any further than their bed, and she wouldn’t be traveling in the new dress either. But he’d promised to help, and he took obligations seriously. That didn’t mean he couldn’t take an extra minute to think about possibilities for later that evening.

Luisa wasn’t used to being stared at, but she knew what he expected from her. It was important that she not be self-conscious, that instead she should think of herself as a sculpture, a work of art, and the intent look was his way of appreciating the aesthetics. There was a time she would have been horrified at the idea of being objectified; now she was learning about the emotions of pride and accomplishment that came with being able to please her master even if doing no more than standing in front of him.

They left the apartment and took the elevator down to the garage in the basement. The annual picnic was a very informal affair, where the company took over a section of the park downtown and provided the food and drink for the afternoon. The intention was to have the employees get to know each other better in a relaxed setting. Kurt had been to a few of them but didn’t socialize much. This time would be different.

Luisa stopped just before the front passenger door. She waited until he opened her door before she got in. When she got his nod of permission she fastened her seat belt. He closed her door and went around to the driver’s side.

Today Kurt would be manning the grill for an hour, cooking hot dogs, hamburgers and shish kabob. He had volunteered Luisa to help in the serving line, dishing out potato salad.

When they arrived at the park the tables were already set up. The official start time was about an hour away but quite a few people had already showed up to find spots in the shade. Kurt found Mrs. Dornier and the other dorm supervisors organizing the women from the apprentice training program into teams for different serving tables.

When Mrs. Dornier saw Kurt and Luisa she turned over her clip board to an assistant. “Mr. Goeren! I’m glad you made it. It looks like we may have a problem on the grills. If we’re shorthanded, would you mind if we imposed on you for an extra half hour?”

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Kurt answered. “Where will Luisa be needed?”

“Right behind you, on table three, any time you are ready. If that’s all right with you, Mr. Goeren?”

Kurt looked back over his shoulder. The table behind him had large covered pans with potato salad, corn on the cob and a vegetable casserole. One young woman in company uniform stood behind the table. She looked anxious and confused, obviously worried that she would be handling the table by herself.

“Luisa, you will help at that table until I’m finished at the grill.” He turned back to Mrs. Dornier. “And which grill will be mine?”

“The red one on the end, sir.” She pointed to the line of grills. “There’s an apron and utensils underneath. You’ll be our second hamburger cook. I’m afraid you’ll be rather busy once the serving starts. If you like I can show you the arrangements right now.

“Robin can show Luisa the serving arrangements for the table, Mr. Goeren.”

Kurt nodded. “Good, I’ll join you at the grill in one moment. Luisa? Come with me.” He took her hand and walked her over to the serving table.

“If there are any problems you will come get me immediately, or wave to get my attention. If you need to leave the table be sure to come to me first, so I’ll know where you are. You have permission to socialize. I’ll let you know when we’re done. Is that clear?”

Luisa turned to look at the line of cooking grills. She’d easily be able to see him, and he wouldn’t be far away. Then she remembered one big problem. “Sir? I don’t have a travel card. Is it okay for me to be at the table here by myself?” She kept her voice low so no one else would hear the question, in case Kurt had forgotten to give her the card.

“You don’t need the card as long as you are with the party. Just be sure not to go beyond the marked off area.” He paused for a moment before he let slip one of his rare grins. “I’m delighted you remembered to ask though. I forgot all about it. Now don’t you forget to have fun. Be polite, say hello to everyone. We’ll eat as soon as I get a break.” He gave her hand a squeeze before heading off to his cooking duties.

Luisa had not expected to be the center of attention but the moment she took her place behind the table she was mobbed by the women still in the company program. They all wanted to congratulate her, and in a not so subtle way find out how her new life with a real owner was working out. It wasn’t until Mrs. Dornier finished with Kurt and came back that everyone immediately scattered back to their own tables.

“You’ve been the main topic of conversation in the dorm,” Mrs. Dornier explained to Luisa. “Everyone was shocked, and Kurt Goeren at that. No one is quite sure if they should envy you or feel sorry for you. Your master does have a reputation for being,” she hesitated, trying to find a tactful phrase, “somewhat difficult as a supervisor.”

“He does expect a lot,” Luisa had to concede. Apparently Kurt’s cold, perfectionist attitude was known all over the company. “But he’s not unreasonable about it. He’s strict, but he makes sure I know the rules first. And he never asks for more than I’m capable of.”

Luisa didn’t add that he rarely demanded less than all she could give either. So far she’d delivered on everything he wanted, and that was a source of pride for her. Praise from Kurt did not come easily so when she did hear it she knew it was earned, not empty words.

“We’ll start serving in a few minutes,” Mrs. Dornier said. She looked to the young woman behind Luisa. “Now Robin, remember to be polite, greet everyone, and don’t act like this is a cattle feed lot. Watch how Luisa does it. And Luisa? Thanks for helping.” She headed for the next table.

“And don’t slouch,” Luisa whispered, too low for Mrs. Dornier to hear. Robin heard it though, and tried to stifle a giggle.

“You too? She’s on me all the time. It seems like every day she tells me to sit up straight.” Robin began peeling back the foil cover over one of the pans of corn. “We’re supposed to open one at a time, so the food stays warm.”

Luisa picked up one of the aprons under the table, unfolded it, put it on and tied the strings behind her back. “Okay then, I’ll dish out the potato salad and casserole, and you do the ears of corn.” She picked up a large serving spoon as people began to line up with paper plates in hand.

Kurt looked over his shoulder to see how Luisa was doing. The charcoal in his grill needed a few more minutes before he could begin cooking. He opened the top Styrofoam cooler to check on the meat. It was full of hamburger patties, each one separated by a slip of parchment paper. He didn’t consider himself to be an expert cook but this particular job didn’t look to be too difficult. Luisa was talking to her helper. Every so often she would emphasize some point by brandishing her serving spoon in the air.

He nudged the leg of the grill to turn it sideways. Moving around to the new position he could see Luisa’s table out of the corner of his eye. It was a small change that wouldn’t inconvenience anyone who came by for a hamburger, and now he had a clear view of her at all times. When she looked back at him he waved the spatula in the air.

Kurt never tired of watching her, be it at work or at home. He told himself that it was all part of his obligation to take care of her, but he knew there was more to it. I own her, he thought as he tossed the first hamburger patties on the grill. He was well aware of a possessive streak in his personality. He knew about his reputation as a perfectionist too. Both were factors in how he controlled Luisa. He had no intention of changing or moderating his personal standards, especially for the woman who now had no choice but to meet his expectations.

Mrs. Dornier’s voice boomed out over the loudspeakers, announcing that the serving tables were open. Kurt flipped over the patties on the grill so they’d cook evenly. A quick check on Luisa showed she was already busy. He took a moment to study how well she interacted with the people in line. She appeared to be animated, talking to everyone while dishing out the potatoes and casserole to those who held up their plates.

When Kurt turned back to his grill there was a smile of satisfaction on his face. In spite of the criticism about his seemingly rigid and uncompromising way of doing things, and the subtle suggestions from friends to lighten up, he knew he was right in the way he closely controlled her.

In other times she would have been some kind of zealot, a wild eyed bomb-throwing radical or gun-toting revolutionary following a charismatic and persuasive leader. Once she latched onto an idea she spent every moment focused on it, dedicating herself to nothing else. Her arrival on the Island was a direct result of that obsessive drive.

Luisa wasn’t stupid or blind to what she saw though. Like the same radical who discovers the leader has betrayed the movement and lost the trust of the faithful, she had been disillusioned when the preconceptions built on the one-sided presentations in her university classes didn’t meet the test of reality. Her reaction had been obvious, at least to Kurt. She now embraced Island life with all the passion that had once motivated her attempt to destroy it.

Maybe I did take advantage of the situation, but I don’t care. Kurt didn’t think of himself as ruthless or heartless. He would never let her come to harm. And there was always the alternative looming over her, a future in which he was sure she would not thrive. As long as she was a threat to their society she would be monitored by people less sympathetic to her welfare. Luisa may not have any idea of what went on behind the scenes, but Kurt did know he was her only chance for a happy and productive life on the Island. It was up to him to prove she was no longer a threat.

“Make it a double Kurt, I’m hungry today.” Preoccupied with Luisa, Kurt hadn’t noticed it was John Leeds standing in front of him.

“How do you like your burgers? Rare, medium, or charcoal? Want melted cheese too?”

“Well done, but edible, no cheese this time. Got anything in that category?” John held out his plate, bun open.

Kurt slid the spatula under two patties in the center, where they would cook faster. He picked them up and deposited each one on one of the bun faces.

“That should do it. I see there’s a good, strong mustard over at the condiment table. I hope you aren’t going to ruin one of my masterpieces with ketchup?” Kurt took two more patties from the cooler and put them on the grill.

“Not a chance. I’m not one of those barbarians, but I better warn you Mark Sturgis is on his way. You know those Americans, they like everything covered in red goo, hamburgers, steak, eggs, coffee, ice cream…”

Kurt nodded, “As the Russians say, ne kulturny, no culture. A tragedy to waste fine beef in such a way.”

John put a tomato on one side of the burger before folding it into a sandwich. “I see you brought your assistant, what’s her name, Lisa?” He gestured toward Luisa.

“Luisa, it’s Brazilian, though she’s from New York. I thought the picnic would be an excellent place for her to meet other people in the company, since she’ll be working on the pipeline project full time.” Kurt took the opportunity to check on her.

“I met her briefly on the ship. We were both heading for the Island from the Seychelles. Very attractive, and a hard worker judging by what I’ve seen of the pipeline proposal you two put together. You’ve done well, Kurt.”

“She is all I could ask for and more.” There was a glint in Kurt’s eyes when he spoke. “I am most fortunate to have met her.”

“Listen, when you finish, grab Luisa, get some food and come sit with us. We have a table over there under the trees.” He pointed to several tables in the shade of a clump of tall trees. Anna stood up and waved back. Mark and Cathy were also sitting at the table.

“Thanks for the invitation, John, we’ll be sure to come by. Duty first,” Kurt patted the Styrofoam cooler behind him, “I have to meet my quota.”

John turned back to the line forming behind him. “That shouldn’t take you too long.”

It was not going so well for Luisa. The line was getting longer, because Robin was spending too much time talking to her friends while serving up the corn. She recognized two of the engineers patiently standing in line. John Leeds and Mark Sturgis, they had done the fact checking on the technical design. It wasn’t right to make them wait.

Meanwhile Robin was chatting away, oblivious to what was happening. Irritated, she snatched the tongs out of Robin’s hand, grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the table. “Listen to me,” Luisa whispered, trying to keep her voice down. “You pay more attention to your job and less to your friends.” She handed back the tongs. “Now get back there and do it right. You keep one more of the guests waiting and I’ll see to it that Mrs. Dornier knows exactly what happened. Am I clear?”

A shaken Robin was the model of efficiency for the next hour. Even so it still bothered Luisa. She knows what’s expected, Luisa told herself. This is the Island, after all. I shouldn’t have to be the one to remind her. She’s never going to find a master with a lazy attitude like that. Still, Robin did well after the reminder. She decided not to mention it to Mrs. Dornier.

Inattention

It looked like a quiet evening. Cathy glanced over at Mark, sitting on the couch going through the satellite TV channel guide. He must be looking for a movie, she guessed based on the program listings screen display. It didn’t look like there was anything worth watching. She decided her book was more interesting and picked it up. A few pages later she heard Mark talking.

“This looks like a good movie, come over here and sit with me. It’s about to start.”

Cathy looked up at him, then at the channel guide on the TV. She didn’t recognize the title and it didn’t sound very good. She turned back to her book and answered him with, “I want to finish this chapter first.”

A shadow crossed the page, blocking her reading light. She looked up to see Mark standing in front of her, a frown darkening his face. He reached down, took the book out of her hands, carefully replaced the bookmark, and sat it down on the end table. Cathy started to protest but stopped when she saw his expression.

“No, you will not finish the chapter. I told you to sit with me on the couch. It was not a suggestion. Now stand up and face me.” His tone was that quiet yet determined sound of being deadly serious. Cathy realized she had just made a major mistake, one he would not ignore. She slowly stood up and turned to him. Whatever happened next, she knew she had brought it on herself. He might not be angry, but he was definitely irritated, and she was the direct cause. She stood very still, looking up at his face, arms loose at her side.

“We only have a certain amount of time together during the day. I want to spend some of that time with you. What I do not want is to watch you read a book. This will be the last time you ignore me and choose to do something else. Do you understand?”

Cathy couldn’t look him in the eye. He was right and she knew it. She had to drop her eyes, looking down at her feet, before she could answer him. “Yes, sir, please forgive me, I didn’t think.”

He lifted up her chin, forcing her to look at him. “No, you didn’t think, and that we will have to correct. I think you need a reminder, something that will ensure you do not forget. Something that will make you think, the next time.” He stopped, obviously considering what would be appropriate. Cathy waited with a growing sense of dread, sure it wasn’t going to be pleasant but resigned to the certainty that she would be punished.

He let go of her chin and took a step back. Cathy tensed, he had decided on something and she was about to find out what it was. “Strip, all your clothes, get them off right now. Leave them on the floor, stay where you are. You are forbidden to speak.” She started with her blouse, unbuttoning it as fast as she could. Her skirt followed, then her underwear, all dropped in an unkempt pile in front of her. Finished, she stood facing him once again, doing her best not to tremble. “Look at me.” She raised her head to see his face. His eyes seemed to lock onto hers, holding her gaze.

“From this moment on you are forbidden to wear any clothing. Not just tonight either. Until I tell you otherwise you are not allowed to cover yourself in any way. No socks, no shoes, no towel, no robe, nothing. You are not to leave the house. You are forbidden contact with any friends. You will not read your book or anything else, and you will not use the TV, radio, phone or computer without my permission. Now turn around.” Without thinking she did as he ordered, turning her back to him. She heard him pick up her clothes and walk to their bedroom.

How many times had she been cautioned not to forget her place, not to ignore him? Both Anna and Fatima at the school had warned about carelessness. One of the most common blunders made, they had both said. It seemed the common part was right, in spite of all the advice she had committed the very same mistake.

She heard him coming back into the living room. He stopped behind her so she couldn’t see from his expression how upset he was. It had been only a few days ago she herself had asked him to be strict with her. Be careful what you wish for, she thought, it might come true.

He took hold of her arm and pulled her toward an empty corner of the living room. “Kneel down. Since you want some time to yourself, you will remain in this corner and meditate on how important it was to finish that chapter in the book. You will remain here, eyes to the wall, until I tell you otherwise.” He released her arm and walked away. She heard him sit down and start to watch his movie.

An hour later and Cathy found herself still staring at the wall. She had run the full range of emotional reaction, from anger at being forced into the corner, resentment at how powerless she was, all the way to her current state of depression at how she had failed both him and herself. She could feel the tears running down the cheeks of her face but could not stop. Her legs hurt from kneeling on the rug and she felt cold. The cold was all in her head, the result of having her clothes taken away. She was so preoccupied with her own misery she didn’t even notice when Mark turned off the TV and came up behind her. She jumped at the unexpected touch of his hand on her shoulder. He took her arms and helped her stand. Softly he wiped away her tears then held her by the shoulders, facing him.

“Cathy, look at me.” She lifted up her eyes, surprised at the concern showing on his face. “I don’t enjoy moments like this when discipline is required, but it is a necessary element in my obligations as your master. I want you to understand that I will not overlook incidents like this. When I ask you to sit with me, either you do it or you ask me if I will wait, and then explain why. You do not tell me you are too busy reading a book.”

He brushed back the hair from her face. “I’m not mad at you, or even disappointed. Overall you have done very well. This was one moment when you needed some guidance. I’m sure it won’t happen again. Now go wash your face and then come to bed. You have permission to speak.”

Allowed to talk again her words seemed to tumble out uncontrollably. “I’m so sorry, master, please forgive me. I’ll never do it again. I can do better, please don’t be mad at me. I wasn’t thinking. Mark, I…” The tears started again.

“Shush, I’m not mad.” He held her close, arms around her, and let her cry on his shoulder. It felt so good the way he held her that she calmed down. She put her hands on his chest and looked up at him.

“Really? You aren’t angry? Master, are we okay?”

“Yes, don’t worry. Now go wash your face. It’s getting late and we both need some sleep.”

As he let go of her she turned and headed for the bathroom. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted from her. She still felt bad about being disobedient, but he had dealt with it as he saw fit. She ran the cold water over a washcloth then wiped the tear tracks away. It wasn’t until she looked in the mirror and saw her bare breasts that she remembered the rest. He hadn’t said anything about her clothes. That meant she still didn’t have any.

Staring in the mirror, her eyes fell on the collar around her neck. She reached up to touch it with one hand. For the moment it would be all she wore. She smiled. This was a lesson she would not want to repeat anytime soon.

She hung up the washcloth and turned off the bathroom light. Mark had just finished changing when she came out. He smiled as he saw her, which made her feel warm and self-conscious at the same time. He held out his arms, beckoning her to come to him. In an instant she was in his embrace, reaching up with her arms around his neck as he bent to kiss her. He reached down and literally swept her off her feet, picking her up in his strong arms. He carried her to the bed and gently laid her down, then went around to his side of the bed.

She turned on her side, arms open and reaching for him. In a moment he was there, touching her, kissing her, whispering his love for her. He made love to her in a quiet and gentle way. Afterwards she nestled in his arms as she so loved to do.

“Mark, can I ask a question, about tonight?”

“Of course, what is it?”

“Well, you ordered me not to wear any clothes. Is that order still in effect?” She was positive he had not forgotten, but wanted to be sure.

“Yes Cathy, it is. You are not to leave the house either, or have anyone visit you. No books, no TV, no phone, no computer. I’ll tell you when your punishment is over.”

“Yes sir, it’s just that I wasn’t certain. And I won’t forget either.” Cathy paused, thinking. “Seriously Mark, I want to tell you that even though I got upset, I think you acted as a master should. You stopped me immediately and made sure I corrected my behavior. I was careless and disobedient. I do know better.

“In the class I went to, several times the instructor told us never to forget your time is not your own. I listened, but it didn’t sink in. The moment you took that book out of my hands I realized I had goofed. I should have asked permission to finish reading first.”

“It’s over now, and we won’t dwell on it,” Mark said. “I’m serious about your punishment though. I meant what I said, no clothes, and no contact with anyone else. I want you to remember this, as a lesson that I will not tolerate disobedience, even if it’s minor. We all make mistakes, and when we do we have to accept the consequences. That’s how we learn not to do it again.”

She snuggled in tightly against his chest. “I know, Mark, and I do understand why you have to do this. I promise I won’t ever do it again. And if I do forget, I expect you to stop and remind me just like you did tonight.”

Mark fell asleep almost immediately but Cathy lay awake, still preoccupied with what had happened. As always in hindsight it had been so stupid. Just a momentary lapse, but he hadn’t missed it. She listened to his quiet, rhythmic breathing, recognizing from the familiar pattern he was fast sleep. He didn’t ignore it, that means he really does take this ownership thing seriously, she realized. She reached up and slipped her fingers under the collar, tugging on it. No going back, it’s not going to come off. Maybe I better get serious about it too.

The next morning she was still drowsy as Mark got ready for work. He didn’t eat breakfast so he let her sleep in till he left. Half asleep she heard him getting ready. As usual he stopped by her side of the bed and knelt down.

“Hey there, wake up. New day starting.” He said the same thing every day, but she never got tired of hearing it. His voiced dropped as he turned serious. “Now remember what I told you last night. I trust you to follow my instructions without cheating.”

That woke Cathy up. “Yes, sir, I remember. Mark? I really will. Exactly the way you want, until you tell me different.”

“Okay then, I’ll see you tonight when I get home.” He bent over to kiss her goodbye.

She watched as he went out the bedroom door. A moment later she heard the front door open and close. It was tempting to stay in bed a few more minutes, but Cathy knew she was supposed to get up when he left. Throwing back the bed covers she got out of bed and headed for the shower. The hot water felt good and finished the job of waking her up.

Afterward she started to open her closet before she realized what she was doing. Not today, maybe not tomorrow, she thought, the closet and dresser are off limits until further notice. At least she could brush her hair. It was a small consolation but it still made her feel better. Sitting in front of the dresser mirror while counting the brush strokes her mind came back again to Mark’s punishment. He was right about one thing; she would not forget it any time soon. I’m grounded, she smiled at the memory of high school days when her parents would make her stay in her room on a Friday night after some particularly dumb escapade on her part. Funny, I never thought about sneaking out. Finished with her hair Cathy headed to the kitchen for some breakfast.

The moment she left the bedroom the first problem arose. The curtains were drawn back on all the windows. If she went into the living room she would be exposed to anyone outside on the street. However devious Mark might be, she was sure he didn’t intend for her to put on a show for the neighborhood. Lowering herself to the floor Cathy crawled past the window to the far side where the curtain drawstrings were hanging. Reaching up she pulled the curtains closed. That would solve the immediate problem. Now if the doorbell were to ring, she didn’t know what she would do.

It wasn’t the doorbell but the phone that brought on her next trial. It was Anna, asking if Cathy wanted to come over for breakfast.

“I’m sorry Anna, but Mark put me on restriction. I can’t leave the house. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone either.” She would have to report her conversation to Mark, but she was sure if it was kept to a minimum he would allow it for the sake of being polite.

“Oh, I understand. Okay, call me when you can. Bye.” Mercifully Anna seemed to know the routine and didn’t press for details. Cathy hung up the phone and went to the kitchen.

Breakfast was toast and marmalade jam with tea. It was more British than American in style, but Cathy wasn’t hungry. Sitting at the kitchen table sipping the tea she thought about the coming day. No gardening this morning. No laundry either as she couldn’t use the clothes line. There were some chores around the house, but not enough to fill the day. Not even enough to make it to lunch, she realized as it dawned on her what the real punishment was going to be. Standing in the corner hadn’t been pleasant but it was over in an hour. Taking her clothes away made a point about his power over her. The boredom though, that would be the hardest to take.

Turning around, she could just see her book on the coffee table in the living room. She could pick it up and start reading. Mark would never know. Except he would, because I’d have to confess all to him. It was tempting but she couldn’t do it. I knew this could happen. I went into it eyes wide open. Now I have to keep my promises to him. Cathy sighed, resigned to a very long day.

Second Thoughts

“So if we change the pipe gauge it should rupture within three months causing massive damage to the pumping station. That sound okay to you?” John pointed to a spot on the blueprints spread out on the table between him and Mark.

“Sure,” Mark answered in a distracted tone of voice.

“The fireball should be visible from thirty kilometers away,” John finished, positive now Mark wasn’t paying any attention to the plans or what he was saying.

“What? Fireball? What do you mean?”

John shook his head. “C’mon, let’s go get a cup of coffee. You’re in no shape to work on this right now.” The two men picked up their cups and headed for the coffee pot before going into John’s office.

“Okay, sit down and tell me what’s on your mind. You just approved an engineering change that would have blown up a million dollars in pumps. Want to tell me about it?” John leaned back in his chair and took a sip from his mug.

“It’s about Cathy. I lost my temper last night.” Mark went on to tell John the circumstances and what he’d done. “Thing is, I overreacted. I came down on her too hard. Now what do I do?”

John put his mug on the desk. “First, it doesn’t sound like you lost it. She did something wrong; you corrected her. That’s what you are supposed to do.

“Second, you didn’t overreact. The punishment fits the crime. If you aren’t willing to do what’s necessary she’ll lose her faith in you. What was her reaction this morning? When you left was she an emotional wreck, couldn’t stop crying?”

Mark frowned. “No, nothing like that. There were a few tears last night but she seemed to accept the consequences. That’s not the point though. It was enough that I take away her book and all the rest for today. Taking away her clothes was too much.”

“You may think so Mark, but I’d bet she wouldn’t agree with you. In the same situation I’d impose at least as much of a penalty as you did, probably a lot more. It was no small matter. Not just that she disobeyed, but you wanted to share some quality time and she selfishly ignored you.” John shook his head. “See, you have first claim on her time. That’s the point. She expects it, and she knows better than to say no. Considering the circumstances you were lenient.”

“Still…’ Mark hesitated.

“No still about it,” John interrupted. “Your job is to be her master, better or worse. Last night wasn’t one of the better moments but there’s no excuse if you fail in your responsibilities. You signed a contract; you promised her you would keep your end of the bargain. Do it. Don’t mope around and let those doubts eat away at your confidence.” John jabbed his finger at Mark. “Get it together, man. She expects discipline and structure in her life. Those have to come from you. You made the call, live with it.

“Now let’s go back and see if we can come up with a layout for that pumping station. Preferably one that won’t incinerate the neighborhood.”

The Rising of the Moon

Mark watched Cathy out of the corner of his eye as he drove by the street where they normally turned off to go home. She glanced over at him and started to speak, thinking he had missed the turn. “Mark? Wasn’t that our street back there?”

“Yes, but we aren’t going home. We have to be somewhere else this evening. I’ll explain later.” Mark continued to drive, heading toward the shoreline road. “I think you will enjoy this, if it works out.” He switched on the headlights as the sun dropped below the horizon. The idea had first come to him a few weeks back, when he overheard a co-worker at lunch discussing the cove. Intrigued, he had made a few inquiries and found out the best dates to visit. A quick trip to the docks and a call back from a helpful fishing boat crewman should ensure tonight would be the moment to be there.

At the stoplight he reached over and put his hand on top of hers, in her lap. “Don’t worry. I have something special planned. If we’re lucky, tonight you will get to see a sight to remember for years to come.”

That piqued her interest. “What is it? Or am I supposed to guess?”

“No guessing, but you will have to be patient. When the time is right you’ll see.” Mark grinned at her before turning his attention back to driving. One of his newfound joys as Cathy’s owner was the way he could control the timing between them. He knew she would be dying of curiosity but the simple act of telling her to wait had stopped any further questioning. He could almost hear the imaginary gears whirring inside her head, trying to find a loophole so she could discover what he had in mind.

“You’re teasing me. Just because you have me at a disadvantage,” she pulled at the handcuffs holding her wrists close together in front of her waist, “doesn’t mean you have to take advantage. Okay, so I can’t ask. Is there anything I need to do first, to get ready for this surprise?”

“Nope, all taken care of in advance. Besides, if I told you now it might be a clue.” He had put one of her sweaters in the trunk in case the sea breeze turned chilly. Otherwise he had made sure she was ready before they had even gone into town earlier today.

He stole a quick glance at her before returning to the road ahead. She was looking out her side window at the passing scenery. They hadn’t been along this road before so it was all new to her. The eastern shore wasn’t too popular because of the rocky hills coming right up to the ocean. There were few houses on this side, as the terrain made it difficult to build. The resort beaches were all along the western shore, on the other side of town. Traffic was light with no more than a handful of cars on the road at dusk.

A quiet moment settled over them as he drove on, each lost in their own thoughts. Mark was looking forward to what he had planned. On a whim he reached out and put a hand on Cathy’s knee for a moment. She looked over at him, smiled and turned back to her window. She doesn’t mind at all, Mark thought, mine to do with as I please. Not that he’d ever abuse or harm her, but he was not going to ignore that power either. There was a time when Mark would have shaken his head in disbelief if told he would be able to control in minute detail the life of the woman he so dearly loved. Now all he had to do was look to his side and he could see it.

Purely for his own pleasure he snuck in a quick look again. She had on a long-sleeved white blouse and close-fitting dark blue knee length skirt, one of his favorite combinations. It was no coincidence that was her choice for the day since he had told her to wear it. Without any explanation either, something he still hadn’t gotten used to doing. Around her waist was a steel chain, locked behind her back. In front was the attached pair of handcuffs, at the moment confining her elegant and shapely wrists. Per his standing rules her hands were neatly folded in her lap, left hand on top of right at an angle. The high collar of her blouse nicely framed the metal collar around her neck. For tonight he had left her ankles unrestrained. She had her legs stretched out with ankles crossed, which he allowed. All together it presented a package he found irresistible.

It was a rare moment now when he had to remind her about the precise positioning of her hands. Habit seemed to be taking over as she obeyed without even thinking about it. It was a small matter but seeing how easily he could alter her behavior to suit his own taste still left him in awe at how much influence he had over her.

Up ahead was the turnoff for the observation point. As he slowed down Cathy turned back to the front, to see what was happening. “Is this the place?” she asked.

“Almost there, it’s about half a mile down this road,” he answered as he guided the car onto the side road. It sloped down toward the ocean. “This is a little cove someone told me about. No real beach, just rocks, but I’m told it’s a good place to be around this time of year.” They came to the end of the road, a small promontory overlooking the sea about twenty feet below. Mark parked the car to one side and switched the motor off.

Cathy looked around but didn’t see anything special about the place. There was a waist high rock wall at the edge with a few wooden benches. She twisted her head back to Mark, an arched eyebrow and frown stating the unasked question, is this it?

Mark laughed while reaching over to unfasten her seat belt. “Like I said, patience. You stay right there while I check it out first.” Mark opened his door.

Leaving her in the car he walked over to the wall at the edge and looked around the place. Satisfied they were alone he went back to her door. Through her window he could see her waiting. When they were together she required permission to enter or leave the car, a little reminder of how much she had to depend on him. Sometimes he felt a few pangs of guilt at forcing her into dependence, but it meant so much to him and she didn’t seem to mind. He opened her door and helped her out.

She had definitely been practicing this particularly tricky move when he wasn’t home because she now executed her exit with a remarkable grace compared to the first few times. Turning to her side, legs together and trailing as she moved, then smoothly placing her feet on the ground before leaning forward to stand up, all in one fluid motion with her hands still folded properly at her waist. Mark held a hand above her just in case she might misjudge and bump her head but it wasn’t necessary. He had never seen her do it so well before.

He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “I’m impressed. I know how difficult it is for you to get in and out without using your hands.” And she never complains about it either. She must know how much I take pleasure in seeing her so helpless. Mark knew it was essential he encourage her so she could see for herself how important it was to him.

Cathy looked down, delighted that he noticed. She had been practicing for several days. Anna had given her some pointers too. “Let’s go sit down on the bench over there.” Mark took her arm and led her from the car to the observation point. As she was about to sit down he stopped her, reached in his pocket, and took out the key to the handcuffs. “You won’t need these.” He unlocked the cuffs, freeing her wrists.

Mark sat down next to her, looking out to sea. He put an arm behind her, resting on the top of the bench. She snuggled in close to him. “Okay, I still don’t have any idea what’s going on,” she said.

“It isn’t time yet,” he told her, “we have to wait for the moon to rise first.” A line of silver was barely visible on the horizon. It would be about a three-quarter moon tonight, which should be plenty of light if his information proved out. A full moon would have been ideal, but Mother Nature worked on a different schedule.

They sat quietly at first, listening to the waves break on the rocks below the wall while the moon slowly climbed into the sky. Cathy broke the silence with a question. “Mark, can I ask you something? Not about your surprise tonight, something else?”

“Sure, you know you can ask me anything. Unless I’ve told you otherwise,” he added. It would be several more minutes before the moon was in the right position. He turned away from watching the waters in the inlet to look at her upturned face. “What is it?”

She hesitated before continuing. “I don’t think I’m contributing enough. You do so much, taking care of me, paying our bills, plus you have to work all day. I want to do more to help, especially to please you. At the company picnic I watched Luisa. She was so perfect, always attentive to Kurt, demure and submissive, deferential to all the men. I can do that for you, Mark.”

The last thing Mark wanted was for Cathy to copy Luisa. He had to be careful how he answered her, to make sure she got the right message. Fortunately John had warned him something like this might come up. He had to start with the basics. “What is it I want from you?”

“To obey you, to always be there and never leave you, to have you control my life?” Her tone made it into a question.

“Yes, that’s part of it, but I want Cathy too. I want the woman I married, the woman I now own. If you try to be like someone else then you take away the Cathy who makes my life worth living. I will not permit you to steal away the one I love so dearly and replace her with a poor imitation.”

“But…” she began.

“No, listen to me.” Mark dropped into what he thought of as his low-key command voice, a tone that conveyed serious intent. “First thing, you will not compare yourself to anyone else, Luisa in particular. I promised you I would tell you exactly what I wanted. If you recall what I’ve told you these last weeks, being just like Luisa was never part of it. I’m not holding back Cathy, when I tell you to do something that’s what I want, and what I leave out I don’t want.

“Second point, you do more for me than you realize. You are a good wife, my best friend, and the type of woman I never dreamed I would find. If my friends from college knew about our life here on the Island they would envy me. Now in public they might criticize me for being the stereotypical male chauvinist pig, but secretly they’d wish they had the same. Don’t underestimate yourself because it seems easy and you don’t have to constantly work at it.

“We are the perfect fit, Cathy. Where I want to be controlling you are obedient to my every wish. Where I want to be the provider, you are willing to depend on me. When I need someone to talk to, even reveal my deepest darkest thoughts and fantasies, you are there to listen. And when I want my damsel in distress”, he pulled at the handcuffs dangling from the chain at her waist, “you are always ready and willing to fall into my evil clutches.”

She laughed at his last remark. “Well sir, I’m in no hurry to be rescued from this particular villain.” She reached up behind her shoulders and pulled down his arm over her, wedging herself in close against his side. “Mark, do you really mean that? About being your friend and the rest, just being myself? Don’t you want someone like Luisa?”

“Yes, I meant it, and no, I don’t want a Luisa. Those two are meant for each other. And it’s good they found each other, because they’d never be happy with anyone else. Tell me, what’s your candid impression of Kurt?”

Cathy hesitated before replying. “He makes me nervous. Not like he’s going to attack me, or anything like that. It’s more like he’s waiting, ready to pounce on me the first time I do something wrong. He’s smart and he can be charming, but he keeps his distance. Aloof, that’s the word. I can’t believe he would ever have close friends.”

“That’s my impression too. All the qualities someone like Luisa craves. She is the type of person who has to be constantly pushed to the limits of what she can do. When she is out on the edge, and she can stay there, then she is proud of herself. That’s what Kurt does. He is never quite satisfied, always demanding a little more, challenging her to do her best every moment of the day. You saw it as waiting to pounce, but if you asked Luisa, she would tell you it is loving attention, the kind she has to have. I don’t know how the two of them operate, but I bet you she has a list of rules so complex you’d have to write them down to keep track of it all. Neither of them can ever relax. Every minute of the day she’s working to keep on that straight and narrow path, while he is running as hard as he can to keep one step ahead of her.

“You see why I would never want someone like Luisa, and the last thing I want is for you to be like her? I don’t want to live like that, spending every free moment trying to keep one step ahead, and I don’t want you so fearful that you are scared to even move without permission. I can ask you to do something for me and trust you to handle the details. You know me well enough to understand why I ask and how I would like you to do your part. You are free to use your own talents and abilities, and I don’t have to work overtime to keep track of you and constantly push you along. If anything you are probably going to do a better job on your own than if I were standing behind you overseeing every little detail. I can sit back and enjoy the benefits of being in charge.”

That was something else Mark had to learn, not to sweat the fine points. Even when he was tempted to micro-manage her, it never was as satisfying as letting her proceed on her own. Early on he had noticed how she put more effort into her tasks when left her to work out the details. At times it was eerie how she could become obsessed with his most trivial requests. John had cautioned him to be careful about offhand remarks for just such a reason.

A distant splash out in the cove brought Mark back to the present and the reason he had brought Cathy to this remote spot. The moon was now fully above the horizon and lit up the water like a sheet of silvery white. “Look,” he told her as he pointed out toward the ocean.

At the mouth of the bay there were more splashes and long, low figures moving through the waves. Cathy leaned forward, trying to make out what it was. She looked a puzzled question to Mark.

“Minke whales, migrating toward their feeding grounds to the south. Something about the depth, water temperature and current around the cove here attracts plankton and krill, whale food. They gather in small pods and come by the Island for a quick snack. A fellow on a fishing boat tipped me off earlier today that some were headed this way. I took a chance they would come by their favorite spot on the Island.” As the whales came in closer to shore it was easier to see them in the moonlight.

“Oh Mark! They’re beautiful. Thank you for bringing me. I’ve never seen a whale before. I’ve always meant to take one of those whale-watching excursions out past Catalina, when we were back in California. This beats a boat load of seasick tourists any day. Can I stand up?”

“Sure, but don’t go past the wall. I don’t want you to fall in.” He stood up with her, leaning out over the retaining wall to get a better look as one of the whales came further in toward the shore. The hills dropped almost straight down so the water was deep enough to preclude any chance a whale might beach.

“Mark, look!” Cathy was excited now, “there’s a calf. The one below us is a mother.” Sure enough Mark could just make out a smaller shape trailing the adult. “Here comes another one too. They’re so close! Will they be all right?”

“The water is deep, and the shore is rocky. No sand bars for them to get stuck on. I think that’s why they come here. They can scrape off barnacles on the gravel bed. Whales are pretty smart, you know. They remember the good fishing spots too. Probably better than us.” Cathy laughed, thinking back to John’s unsuccessful attempt at angling when they visited the reservoir.

For the next half hour Cathy and Mark sat watching the whales as they swam about. Cathy kept up a spirited running commentary, pointing out each one she spotted. Watching the whales in the wild was interesting but to Mark the high point was seeing Cathy so animated. He worried about her being alone during the day, that she might grow homesick and long to return to California. There was plenty to do on the Island but it was isolated. He knew over half the immigrants eventually left, in most cases because they missed the outside world.

Mark didn’t want that to happen to her. He made it a point to keep up on activities that she could participate in, and ways she could meet other people and make friends. The company picnic had been part of that strategy. Kurt and Luisa may not have been the best possible choice, but he wanted her to meet a variety of people. After those two Cathy will feel at ease with anyone, he thought to himself.

“Mark?” He looked down at her, nestled in his arm as she sat close by his side. “I just wanted you to know that I’m very happy here. I was a little scared at first, but not now. I’m so glad you met John, and brought me here to the Island.

“One other thing I want to say, then you can tell me to be quiet again.” Mark watched as she reached down, opened the handcuffs at her waist, and closed them around her wrists. She carefully placed one hand over the other in her lap. “I really do belong to you now. Whatever you like, tell me and don’t hold back. I never thought I’d say this, but these chains?” She jiggled the handcuffs but didn’t change the position of her hands. “They don’t bother me at all, not when you’re with me. I didn’t believe Anna when she told me she enjoyed being restrained in public by John, but now I understand. That first day you put these on me and took me out the front door? I saw respect and approval from other people, and that really surprised me.”

“Approval?” Mark asked. He had been concerned with her and hadn’t paid any attention to reactions from strangers. Keeping one arm around her he placed his free hand on top of hers.

“Maybe you didn’t notice. I could tell by the way people looked at me as I passed by. Oh, there were a few frowns. The majority either showed no interest or gave me some encouragement, a smile or a nod of the head. Leers from some of the men, but not as many as I would have expected. And once I think I saw a look of envy from a woman.”

“Do you know why I do this?” Mark took his free hand off hers and wrapped his fingers around her wrist where the cuff held it. He ran one finger along the line between the metal bracelet and her skin.

“Because you like it? You like to restrain me?” She had never thought to ask for an explanation.

“It’s not hard to figure out I like it. Seeing you vulnerable makes you look sexy. And yes, it’s control too. I think what appeals to me is that you can’t do anything about it. I’m forcing you to do what I want, but without violence. You can’t get those cuffs off, and even if you tried to run away no one would help.

“It’s almost a contradiction. I don’t want to hurt you, but there’s something about striping away your ability to offer any resistance that turns me on. Here, I’ll show you what I mean.” Letting go of her wrist he reached up and began to unbutton her blouse, all the way down to where it was tucked into her skirt. Then Mark pulled her blouse out and over her shoulders, down to her waist.

Cathy, caught by surprise, tried to grab her blouse but the handcuffs prevented any movement. She looked up at Mark, confused and worried.

“See? There was nothing you could do to stop me, even if you tried.” To underline his point, Mark unhooked her bra in front and pulled it down around her shoulders too. Cathy sat on the bench, exposed for anyone to see.

“Mark? Someone might come by…” she began.

“No. You will remain silent. Do not speak until I give you permission. Face forward, eyes front, sit up straight. You will sit on this bench and not move until I tell you otherwise.” He stood up and turned to face her. She started to look up at him. “No! Face forward, don’t look at me. I want you to hold still, don’t even turn your head.” He sat down on the wall in front of the bench, leaning forward to see into her eyes.

“I like to look at you this way too. If I feel like it, I can reach out and touch you.” His outstretched hand began fondling one of her exposed breasts. Involuntarily Cathy closed her eyes and drew a sharp breath.

“Open your eyes and look at me.” He didn’t shout but her eyes flew open at his quiet yet insistent command. He stood up and walked around the bench till he stood behind her. Mindful of his orders she stared straight ahead while concentrating on holding still. He looked down at her bare moonlit shoulders.

Mark knew he had to be careful. He was losing his own inhibitions but he couldn’t go too far or she might be at risk. He rested his hands on her shoulders, enjoying the feel of her bare skin. He ran his hands up and down her arms. Leaning forward, his lips almost touching her earlobe, he whispered softly, “You will not forget I am your master, now and forever. Make no mistake, what I want I will demand from you.” He tightened his grip on her upper arms. “It is not your choice to give, but mine to take. You offered yourself to me, now I will claim what is mine. I will tolerate no disobedience Cathy, never forget it. I will allow you to tell me what you think, but I will be the one who has the final word. When the discussion is over I expect you to do as I say. Not in a defiant, half-hearted way, but with the determination to prove you will keep your promises to me, just as I keep mine to you.” He felt an involuntary tremble go through her, and he could hear her uneven breathing. This was a moment when his words would sink deep into her mind.

Suddenly he let go of her arms and grabbed both of her breasts roughly. She gasped and arched her back. Mark could see her hands struggling in the handcuffs. One word, “master”, escaped from her lips before she recovered enough to restore her silence.

Leaning over her from behind, he next took hold of her wrists where the cuffs held them. “Remember this moment,” he whispered. “I love you Cathy, more than you can know. But never doubt I will do whatever I think best. I might tell you first, I might even ask you to give me your opinion and discuss it. Those occasions I do not allow you that privilege, I still expect you to do your part. Even if you disagree, even if it scares you and you are upset.” He jerked on the cuffs. “You have to depend on me. You must have my permission, keep that in your mind always.”

Power, Mark thought, it’s the ultimate aphrodisiac. The rhythm of her breathing, the tremors in her body when he emphasized a point, the warmth of her skin, all told him she was aroused. If he lifted the order of silence she would beg him to take her, right there on the ground. Not yet, I have one more surprise in store for you.

One small detail he had to take care of first. “Close your eyes,” he ordered. Mark reached into his back pocket and took out one of her scarves. He covered her eyes and tied the scarf in a knot behind her head. Easy to slip off, but she wouldn’t have the opportunity. “Now, stand up.” He held onto one arm to steady her as she rose from the bench. He noted with approval how she kept facing forward and didn’t try to turn to him.

He came around the bench to her side. He put his hands on her shoulders to turn her to face him. Blindfolded she didn’t see the expression on his face. Had Cathy been able to see, it would have been a picture of intense concentration focused on her. “Come with me.”

Her blouse still pulled down to her waist where her hands were bound together, she followed meekly as he led her toward the car. Unable to see for herself she had to walk blindly, trusting Mark to guide her. Just before she would have walked right into the front side of the car he pulled her to a halt and spun her around to face him again, her back to the hood. He held her there for a moment, marveling at her beauty in the moonlight.

In the past when he used the chain belt and cuffs he had threaded the chain through the belt loops in her skirt, but not this time. He figured she had noticed but assumed he was in a hurry. If so she had guessed wrong, for it was deliberate, in anticipation of this very moment. Pushing her up against the car he reached down and unzipped the side of her skirt before pulling it to the ground. Her underwear followed, forming a pool of clothing at her feet. He lifted her up and kicked the skirt out of the way.

As he bent her back over the car he heard the chain around her waist hit the car, muffled by the padding of her blouse. This time he would not free her hands. Using his knees he forced her legs apart as he dropped his pants. She must have recognized the sound because she began to squirm, making small involuntary sounds. Mark didn’t correct her; he knew she was losing control. Hands on her arms he held her against the hood of the car as he roughly took her. Cathy struggled, trying in vain to put her arms around him, not even realizing her wrists were still trapped in the handcuffs. She cried out his name as he entered her, her head going from side to side, fighting to rise up to him as he held her down. He felt her heels dig into the back of his legs, pulling him in. As he orgasmed her whole body shook uncontrollably, moans of pleasure and odd, incoherent sounds he had never heard before escaping from her mouth. Mark was glad he didn’t bring the gag or he might have missed something new.

Riding the Roller Coaster

Cathy reached for the toast when it popped up. She began to butter it, more for something to do than anything else. Anna was sitting at the kitchen table sipping her cup of coffee.

“You seem preoccupied this morning. Want to talk about it?” Anna could tell by the elaborate amount of detail work Cathy was putting into making a slice of toast that something wasn’t quite right.

Cathy put the last slice on the plate and brought it over to the table. She sat down across from Anna and took hold of her coffee cup in both hands. “Last night, Mark and I went to this little isolated cove. A pod of whales swam by and came in close to shore.”

“Neat! You’re lucky. We’ve tried to see them twice. The first time they swam on by, and the second time they were leaving just as we got there. I only got to watch them for a few minutes.”

Cathy nodded, “I know. Mark found someone on a fishing boat who called him as soon as there was a sighting. We got to see them come into the little bay and stay for at least half an hour. It was so beautiful, with the moonlight on the water.”

“So what’s the problem? Sounds like a night to remember.” Anna took a slice of toast from the plate and began nibbling on it.

“It’s not exactly a problem. What’s got me rattled is afterward. We were sitting on the bench, just talking, when Mark became, umm, I guess you might say aggressively dominant. It was very sudden. I can’t quite remember everything that happened after that but I wound up bent over the car without any clothes on.”

“Sounds like fun to me, a nice way to finish the evening.” Anna smiled and winked.

“I’m not complaining, at least I don’t think I am. More like I’m overwhelmed. I remember being scared, but not frightened. Does that make sense?”

“Oh, sure. Ever ride a roller coaster? You know it’s actually safe and you aren’t really going to get hurt, but when you drop down that steep incline or barely make the sharp corner it’s still exciting. Being dominated is like that for me. I know John isn’t ever going to hurt me so when he becomes aggressive, as you call it, there’s the thrill of the unknown but no terror of being maimed or killed. I can’t stop him any more than I can stop the roller coaster in the middle of the ride.

“And I don’t really want to stop him, even if I could. There have been some scrapes and bruises but he never means to intentionally hurt me. Don’t worry too much if some of the details are fuzzy. There have been times John’s overwhelmed me too. Dominant men, they seem to have this talent to take away our ability to think at a conscious level. I’m sure that’s what happened to you.”

Cathy nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that sounds right to me. I remember he was talking to me, then it sort of blurs for a while, then I’m at the car and my skirt is on the ground.” She shrugged. “I’m okay, just feeling a little confused. What are you going to do today?” She decided to change the subject.

“I’m going to look for some walking shoes. I need to get more exercise, so I thought I might start walking around the neighborhood in the morning, after John leaves for work. Say, why don’t you join me? It’s less work if there’s someone for company.” Anna picked up her coffee.

“That sounds like a good idea. I need to get out too. I’ll ask Mark for permission.” Cathy stopped. Where had that last line come from? She had spoken it without even thinking.

Ana noticed her abrupt stop and puzzled frown. “What is it? You think Mark might say no?” No need for either woman to ask or explain the need to obtain their man’s approval. They both wore a collar around their necks.

“I think he’ll approve. That’s not it. That last part, it just popped out. I said it without even realizing what it meant. Anna, he’s inside my head. I literally can’t do it without asking him first.

“I thought all this,” Cathy touched her collar, “was about him controlling me by restricting what I’m allowed, or doing things he liked. Up to this morning that’s how I looked at it inside my mind, sort of negative. But just now? It changed. I need him to tell me I can, even more than I can’t. I don’t want to go walking with you unless he says it’s a good idea.” She tapped he head with a finger. “He’s in here, like a voice whispering in my ear reminding me what it is I’m supposed to be doing all the time.”

Anna held up her hands to stop Cathy. “It’s a natural progression. I have my little voice too, nagging me day and night. We all do. John and Mark, they do something to put it in our heads when we are at our most susceptible. I can’t tell you how they do it; maybe we actually make it happen ourselves. Don’t ever ignore it though! If you do then you’ve done something wrong. He’ll find out too, because you’ll have to tell him. Your mental watchdog will keep barking at you until you confess all. You wanted him to control you? Well, you got your wish.”

Exploring

Elise sat at the dining room table, sipping a cup of coffee. Ben had left for his office at the clinic. She had much to do today, but for the moment she felt the need to sit and think.

It was an eerie feeling, looking around the still unfamiliar room and realizing it was her home. Ben was adamant about how she must always include herself. If she forgot and asked about his car, he immediately corrected her. She had to carefully repeat it again, but using their car instead. On reflection she had to admit it was working. Slowly she was beginning to think in terms of us, of Ben and Elise as a couple.

The day she had given up everything in her past and walked through the doors of the Facility seemed far away now. That’s when she had resigned herself to a life of subsistence, one where she existed but contributed nothing. The training had not been easy, nor had the long months of being constantly reminded that she had not the slightest bit of power or influence over what was to happen to her. Yet they had been right. Here she was, and by any measure Ben was a dream come true.

He sure wasn’t her original vision of the ideal man. She had never met someone quite like him. At one time she would have called him arrogant, but the way in which he so matter-of-factly assumed she would be submissive and obedient made him all the more attractive. He was good to her, that she couldn’t deny. But it came at a price. He was strict and demanding too, though in a quiet way. Excuses, or tears, didn’t seem to affect him at all.

That thought brought her back to the present moment. He had decided last night that she should know where everything was in the apartment, rather than asking him. So he wanted her to go through every closet, shelf, and drawer and see what they contained. Only his small home office was excluded. She wasn’t to disturb anything in there since it had patient records.

Her coffee cup was empty. Sighing, she stood up. There were no more excuses to put it off. She took her dishes into the kitchen and rinsed them off before putting them in the dishwasher. Elise took a moment to glance around the kitchen to make sure it was presentable before she began. Were he to surprise her by coming home early only to find dirty dishes stacked in the sink and crumbs on the counter…she didn’t want to think about that.

The simplest way would be to start at the front door and work her way back room by room. For some company she went to the living room to turn on the radio. Background music made work go faster. Her bare feet made no sound on the carpet as she went to the front door. She stopped in front of the closet door in the foyer, but it was the front door that caught her attention.

It was solid, made from some kind of wood, either oak or pine. It wasn’t locked. She could simply open that door and walk outside at any time, except she could never do that on her own. He had made it clear she was not to leave their apartment without his permission, unless it was an emergency. That simple, plain order was as effective in keeping her inside as ten foot thick walls of reinforced concrete.

She opened the closet door. On the right were her shoes, now joined by two more pair after their shopping spree. Why wouldn’t he allow her to wear shoes in the house? He had offered no explanation. It was simply a rule she was required to follow.

On the wooden clothes rod were some hangars, one holding his raincoat, and an umbrella. She would have to get a coat when the weather started to cool. Finding one was an outstanding item on her long list of assignments. The shelf above yielded a single rather worn looking hat. It was one more interesting clue to his personality. He didn’t like hats.

The left side of the closet was reserved for his things. There was a pair of battered tennis shoes, possibly for walking, and an incongruous pair of finely tooled leather cowboy boots in like new condition. The boots were a question mark. She didn’t see how they fit in with what she had learned about him to date. She made a mental note to check for country western music in his music collection.

I did it again! Elise shook her head in disappointment at herself. It was our collection, not his. At least she had caught it this time, before he heard her say it out loud. She smiled; the cowboy boots were definitely his, and his alone.

Above his shoes, hanging on pegs, were items she was intimately familiar with: the restraint belt, the handcuffs that went with it, and the leg shackles. Those were his alone as well. Somehow she could never think of them as being shared, not in the same way as towels or a bedspread. They were his tools to use on her, as and when he wished.

She reached out and lightly brushed the belt with her fingers. It was made of sturdy leather, more than strong enough to hold her hands close to her waist. It had last encircled her waist for most of that fateful day when she had met Ben at the interview. She hooked the fingers of her hand around the steel ring fastened in the center of the belt. She remembered how the handcuffs had dangled from that ring when he had released her hands. He had left the cuffs on the belt instead of removing them. She had known immediately what it meant. And she had been right; before the day was over she had been imprisoned by that belt and handcuff combination one more time.

The plated steel of the cuffs and leg shackles gleamed. Those she would not touch, not without his express order. They were his means to physically control her. She couldn’t explain why but it felt as though it would be disrespectful to his authority if she were to handle them. Elise felt guilty about touching the belt too, but in her mind she didn’t think of it in the same way. On impulse she took it off the hook. The weight of the leather surprised her. Around her body it hadn’t seemed so heavy. Curious, she wrapped the wide belt around her waist.

Today she had a dress on, one that didn’t have belt loops. She pulled the belt tight with the buckle in front. Too tight, she could hardly breathe. She let it out a notch. With some effort she slid the buckle around behind her back, leaving the retaining ring for the handcuffs in front. She placed her hands on either side of the ring and closed her eyes.

That first evening coming home in the back of the car had been special for her. She had been so scared, afraid she’d make a mistake, positive he would reject her, worried she would never have a chance for happiness again. Then he had put his arm around her and started talking so softly to her, whispering in her ear. When he told her to close her eyes and lean against him all the cares of the world had vanished. She still had no idea what he had said. Before she had fallen asleep she had felt the first small glimmer of hope that her life had finally turned around and for the better.

Elise sighed and opened her eyes. Reaching behind her back she took off the restraint belt. Would he ever use it on her again? With the rest, the chains? She would give anything to recapture that moment, so powerless yet so safe in his arms.

She put the belt back in the closet. Could she ask him? And what would he think of her if she did? The problem was she still didn’t know him well enough to predict his reaction. And that made her naturally cautious. He had immense power over every facet of her life. He might even return her to the Facility if she disappointed him.

She shut the closet door and went over to the side table in the entryway. A direct question was too risky, but perhaps she could ask something else in order to get some insight into his thoughts. That day in the interview room he had been in no hurry to take the restraints off. His look when he ordered her to turn around had been telling. She could tell when a man was looking at her in a sexual context.

The side table had one small drawer with a set of gloves in it. Probably driving gloves for cold mornings, she thought.

Elise spent the next several hours going through each room. When she got to the music he did in fact have a few old vinyl records of country-western music. The artists were familiar names she rather liked herself. The collection as a whole was eclectic, ranging from big band to rock and roll to classical. Judging by titles and artists he liked nearly every kind of music. She had permission to listen to music, and he had shown her how to operate the sound system. Selecting some of the Beatles albums she loaded the CD changer and headed for the bedroom while Norwegian Wood played in the background.

There were no shocking revelations when she went through his belongings. Ben seemed to live a rather simple life. There were a few pictures in one drawer, apparently friends at some vacation spot, one with a younger Ben and some men all in unfamiliar military uniforms. The clothes in his closet were drab by any standard. Maybe he would let her pick something out for him.

Her side of their closet she already knew. At least there were some clothes there now, clothes she had been allowed to select. After so many months at the Facility, where she had been given the same uniform to wear every day it had been nice to have some variety. Variety yes, but not exactly freedom to choose whatever I want, she reminded herself.  She ran a hand past the short line of outfits. It represented a one day shopping trip, with her picking out items she liked followed by his approval. More than once he had turned down something she thought he would find attractive. He had been patient when she guessed wrong, explaining that she would learn as much by what he turned down as by what he accepted.

There were dresses, skirts, and blouses. Not a single pair of shorts, slacks, or pantsuits. No miniskirts, halter tops, tee shirts or low cut blouses either, which surprised her. He wouldn’t allow anything too revealing. His taste in fashion ran to the classic, conservative look. And she had been reading about his tznius, fashion that met Jewish standards, on the Internet. Our tastes now, she chided herself, I want to be whatever he wants to see. The last item in her miniscule wardrobe was the uniform she had worn the day of the interview, and the two identical ones the driver had given Ben. She had washed and ironed them yesterday.

Those three outfits had been her entire allowance of clothing the last week at the Facility. She had never really thought of them as her own, especially since there were no personal possessions allowed. Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to wear them now; she would have to ask Ben about it.

In the back of her closet was the single suitcase she had brought with her to the Island. It had been kept in storage at the Facility, along with the clothes she had been wearing when she left the ship. Those clothes she knew were in the cardboard box next to the suitcase. The box brought back memories of that first day at the Facility, when she had been ordered to strip. The box and luggage were the last remnants of her old life. For Elise they were a reminder of a past she had no interest in remembering. If Ben approved she would dispose of them unopened.

Action and Consequence

Ben went over the day on his way home from the clinic. That last patient’s results had been worrisome. The combination of high blood pressure and preliminary tests full of warning flags, combined with a family history of heart problems, meant there was an excellent chance of a bypass operation in the patient’s very near future. He had done the best he could, warning the man he was at substantial risk of a heart attack. Further tests were needed before he would recommend an operation, but his primary concern was time. He had given the man his business card and asked him to carry it with him. And he had alerted his answering service to pass the patient’s calls through any time day or night.

He had brought Elise home on the same road that first night together. She had been asleep that evening, her head leaning against his shoulder. He had brushed a stray hair out of her closed eyes. In response she had snuggled closer to him. Or maybe he had been the one doing the snuggling. She did feel good.

She had looked so small and vulnerable. He knew what she had faced at the Facility. Strict unrelenting discipline, endless rules and no excuses for breaking them, and total dependence on the staff to care for her with no limit on the time she would be there. What could have driven her to willingly agree to such conditions? She had known what it would be like before she entered the gates. Yet still she gave up everything in her life for the chance to belong to someone else. Ben shook his head. To him it was incomprehensible, like volunteering for a life sentence in prison.

He would have gone crazy. She seemed to thrive on it, a chronic overachiever. He had gone through all her records at the Facility, and watched her several times on camera. They provided proof of her sincerity and commitment. As the Facility counselors had pointed out, she not only accepted the conditions imposed on her but also actively worked on her own to apply what she had been taught to new situations.

The question he faced now was one of degree. The advisors at the Facility had warned him that his first assumptions on how to treat her would be wrong. If he were to let up, go easy on her, she would lose her faith in him. Keep her busy, make sure she is focused on completing specific tasks, that had been their advice. And see to it those tasks are achievable but not too easy. Tell her when she does a good job, but don’t hesitate to criticize. She will know if she hasn’t done her best. If she weren’t held to his standards, he would lose his credibility.

Ben respected the experience behind the advice, but found it difficult to put into practice. Elise was special to him and he didn’t want to drive her away. His natural inclination was to take care of her by making her life easy and not be too demanding. According to the Facility that plan would be a quick route to disaster. As they explained it, her self-worth was measured in terms of what she could do for him. If he didn’t provide her the opportunity to prove herself, or even worse discouraged it, she would be lost.

They had told him to be authoritarian. Impose rules, define her daily activities, and above all do not hesitate to demand. Don’t ask her, tell her. In Ben’s mind the question was in the degree of control he should apply. The difficulty was in determining how she would react. He just didn’t know her well enough to judge.

The last few days had given him some basic impressions to work with. His idea of letting her pick out clothes, but vetoing those he didn’t like, seemed to be a success. There had been no sign of any latent resentment when he had refused some of her choices. To her credit she picked up on his selection criteria quickly, rarely making the same mistake twice. For the moment he would proceed with the strategy of encouraging her to use her own talent and ability by setting specific tasks for her, but not supplying the details of how she was to complete them.

Ben’s attempts to draw her out in casual conversation weren’t doing as well. He had avoided questions about her past on the assumption it was better she volunteer whatever she wanted to share. The Facility had promised her a place to start over, and he intended to keep the same promise. He had tried to keep to safe topics, like books, movies, or music that she enjoyed. She would answer if he asked, but he could tell she wanted him to do most of the talking. Of course she was doing the same thing, trying to encourage him to tell her about himself. He could appreciate, from her perspective, the urgency of learning what was inside his head. On balance he had to concede it was better he talk and she listen, at least in the short term.

Ben pulled into the garage and stopped the car. Elise knew he was on the way home so she would be watching for him. When he opened the door she would be there. She had to be, since he hadn’t allowed her out on her own. He wondered how well she adapted to that particular restriction. When he had explained what he wanted she had agreed, with a few astute questions as to what she should do if there was a fire, some other emergency or someone came to the door. He had no way of proving she had stayed inside but he would have bet anything she had not even opened the door.

He got out and headed for the apartment. Over dinner he’d ask her about her assignment to explore the house, and what she had found. That wouldn’t take long as he hadn’t done much with the place. He had all evening alone with her; he looked forward to it. Tonight would be spontaneous, since he hadn’t planned anything definite.

When he opened the front door she was standing in the hallway, hands crossed in front and eyes down. “Good evening , sir,” was all she said, accompanied by a quick glance up at him before she lowered her gaze again.

Ben opened the closet door and hung up his jacket. He kicked off his shoes, shut the door and turned to Elise, waiting patiently for him. This was something she had started doing on her own, meeting him as he came in the door. The first day he had been unsure it was a good idea but it had grown on him quickly, to where he now looked forward to it. He held out his arms. “Come here.”

In a blink she was in his arms as he kissed her. He finished with a hug and let her go. “What’s for dinner?” He could smell something good on the stovetop in the kitchen as they walked into the living room. He noticed the dining room table was set for supper.

“I fixed a roast with potatoes and carrots. I’m not sure how it came out. The beef has a different taste than what I’m used to.” Ben had to be careful not to laugh seeing her apprehensive look.

“It’s a regional difference. The beef comes from east Africa.” He explained. “The cattle feed is mostly local grasses. You’ll get used to it.” They sat down to eat.

After dinner she surprised him by asking permission to bring up something bothering her. Curious, he sat down on the couch and told her to sit next to him. This was something new from her. He told her to begin.

“Ben, I may have disobeyed you today. I didn’t think about it at first, but all afternoon it’s been bothering me. It is your right to punish me if I’ve done wrong.” She stopped, unsure of how to continue.

Puzzled he tried to figure out what she meant. She had gone through the place, what else had she done? “Why don’t you tell me what happened and I’ll be the judge if any correction is warranted.”

“Yes, sir, I’m sorry. When I went through the front closet I took down the restraint belt and put it on. I shouldn’t have touched it. I promise I’ll never do it again.” From the expression on her face he would have thought she was confessing to a lifelong crime spree. Ben tried to remember if he had even put the items from the Facility off limits.

He couldn’t figure out what she felt guilty about. She hadn’t broken any rules or acted outside her boundaries. Rather than punish her he wanted to know why she put it on. All it took was a question, so he asked her.

Now she looked embarrassed. “Sir, I…I’m not sure.” She looked up at him, an anxious expression crossing her face. “I don’t mean to be evasive. It’s just that I can’t explain why.”

“Did you take down the handcuffs or leg chains?”

“Oh no, sir! I would never touch those! At the Facility we were taught that such things are the sole province of our master.”

Ben had an idea. “Show me. Let me see what you did.” He took her hands and pulled her up. She followed him into the hallway. He opened the closet door and took out the leather belt.

He hadn’t examined it very closely at the interview or when they came home. It was wider than a regular belt, with extra stitching on the buckle. The ring about halfway down the belt was mounted on a metal plate, and attached to the belt by rivets through a matching plate on the back side. The D-ring was large enough to accept handcuffs but much too small for a hand to slip through. The belt length was sized for a woman or small man. He held it out to Elise.

She hesitated before taking it out of his hand. She wrapped it around her waist and pulled it tight. As she was about to slide it around so the ring would be in front Ben stopped her. “That looks too tight. When you wore it during the interview, did it fit so close?”

She looked up at him. “No sir, should I loosen it? I can wear it this way if you like.”

“Yes, loose. It doesn’t have to hurt. As long as it stays in place I’m satisfied.”

“Yes, sir.” Elise let out the belt to where it wasn’t so constricting but would still be too narrow to slip over her hips. “Is this okay?” She held out her arms.

Ben put his hands inside the belt to test the fit. He tried to pull it down but it wouldn’t go any lower. He noticed a fleeting change of expression on her face as he pulled on the belt. She recovered quickly but he was sure it had excited her. “At the Facility, did you normally wear this with the ring in front?”

She nodded. “Yes sir, sometimes the guards would handcuff our hands behind our backs, sometimes in front, but when they used a belt like this our hands were always in front.” She put her hands on the belt and began to slide it sideways. “I can move it around.”

Ben took hold of her wrists and gently pulled them off the belt. Puzzled, she looked up at him, unsure what he wanted her to do. “Turn around and hold still.” She obeyed instantly, her back to him, arms loose at her sides. She sensed something in the tone of his voice that told her not to speak. “Put your hands behind your back.”

She had to know what he intended next, but she didn’t say a word. Ben reached in the closet and took the set of handcuffs off its hook. He checked to make sure he still had the keys in his pocket. Pushing open the bow of one cuff he took hold of her left wrist. He could feel a slight tremble as he closed the cuff around her wrist. He opened the other cuff and slipped it through the ring on the belt. Still she didn’t move. He took hold of her right wrist and locked the cuff around it, imprisoning her hands behind her back. The trembling was more pronounced this time as he slowly closed the cuff.

Quickly Ben spun her around. She kept her eyes down. “Look at me,” he told her. He held her tightly with a hand on each upper arm, below her shoulders. He was concerned she would be frightened or about to panic, but one look told him that wasn’t going to happen. Her face was flushed, her breathing heightened, and through the thin material of her dress he could see her nipples were pronounced.

Dropping one arm to her waist he pulled her close. His other hand wrapped around her long hair and pulled her head roughly back as he kissed her. A suppressed moan escaped her lips as she melted in his arms, pressing against him. He could feel her hands struggling with the handcuffs. He grabbed one manacled wrist with the hand behind her back and she immediately stopped.

When he told her to put her hands behind her back Elise knew it could be for one reason only. She held her breath as she heard the familiar ratcheting sound. When he took hold of her wrist and she felt the cool metal encircle it she shook uncontrollably. Then he locked her other wrist in the grip of cold steel. She closed her eyes, savoring her helplessness.

She was caught by surprise when he spun her around. He had control now; she couldn’t resist him. Faster than she could react he pulled her to him and grabbed her hair. The kiss crushed against her lips as she instinctively opened her mouth to accept his questing tongue. Swept away she didn’t even realize she was fighting the handcuffs, trying to throw her arms around his neck and cling to him. But when she felt the pressure of his hand as it grasped her bound wrist she relaxed and stopped. His slightest touch could command her now.

When he stopped he held her at arm’s length, studying her face intently. “I understand now. Let’s go back into the living room.” He led her back to the living room, her hands still confined behind her back. His tone of voice made her uneasy.

“You were right to bring this up, Elise. I don’t consider this outright disobedience and I won’t punish you for that. However, you were correct that this belt,” he slipped a hand behind the buckle and pulled her close again, “should be off limits to you even if I had not explicitly told you so. I trust you to do what you think is right when I’m not here. You failed to listen to your own misgivings and for that you must now face the consequences.”

Ben pulled her over to a corner of the room and turned her to face the wall. “You’re going to have a timeout. I want you to stand here, quietly, until I tell you otherwise. I want you to think about what you did wrong and how you will avoid that mistake in the future. In particular ask yourself why you didn’t recognize your error immediately.” He reached into his front pocket and took out a coin. When he held it up in front of her she saw it was a dinar, the size of a US quarter. “I want you to hold this coin against the wall with your nose. If you let it fall we will start over again. I don’t want to do that.” She leaned forward pressing against the coin with her nose. He let go of it and walked away.

Elise heard him sit down in his chair behind her. From the rustling sound he must be reading some patient records. She stared at the spot in front of her nose. This is it, she told herself, I’m being punished by my master. I displeased him. He’s right too, I did know better. Being ordered to stand in the corner in itself wasn’t really all that bad, and the fact her hands were locked behind her back was only an inconvenience. What hurt was that she had disappointed him. She would have to do better next time. Meanwhile she had to make sure she didn’t let the coin slip.

Ben sat in his chair, test results in hand, but it was Elise’s back he was reading. Her handling the restraint belt was a non-issue, except that she had brought it up. By her own standards she believed she had failed him. He couldn’t ignore that, so he settled on a mild punishment. He would let her stand in the corner for about fifteen minutes, enough time to work out her own emotions while showing that he took his own job as her master seriously.

The Facility director, Clancy Yates, had a name for it, the Broken Windows syndrome. As he had explained it one afternoon, a neighborhood where broken windows are tolerated soon deteriorates into a crime-ridden ghetto when no one is willing to take responsibility for anything. For a neighborhood, or a relationship to survive there must be minimum acceptable standards for everyone, and someone willing to hold others to that standard. The same principle applied on a smaller scale when a master did not take the time to properly address the minor infractions. Elise had pointed to a broken window; Ben had to acknowledge it and make the necessary repairs.

The ironic part, to Ben, was that if Elise had casually mentioned what she had done, he wouldn’t have even thought about punishing her. He would have ignored the whole matter, which in retrospect was the wrong approach. Her perception dictated his reaction more than the event itself.

She slowly flexed the fingers of her hands. Probably getting tired, Ben thought, and a sore nose too. He checked the time on the mantelpiece clock above the fireplace. She had five minutes to go. He spent the time organizing his thoughts.

When her time was up Ben stood up and walked over to stand behind her. First he took the coin away, next he released her wrists from the handcuffs, and finally he turned her around to face him. There were streaks of tears on her cheeks. He wiped them away with his hand and stroked her hair. “C’mon, let’s sit down on the sofa.” He took her hands and led her to the couch.

“I want you to understand my disapproval is only that you didn’t trust your own judgment.” Her look of apprehension turned to surprise. “I did not tell you the belt was off limits, so putting it on wasn’t really disobedience. In the future I want you to listen to your intuition. When in doubt do what you believe is best.

“I’ll never punish you for that, Elise. The fact you told me, even though you could have kept quiet and I’d never have known, it’s important to me. These are early days for the two of us. I have to learn about you too.” He held up the handcuffs he had just removed from her wrists. “I have to figure out how best to use these, and the other tools at my disposal.” She giggled as he pantomimed a crude leer to accentuate his innuendo.

Elise put a hand on his arm as she spoke softly. “If I can make a suggestion? Practice with your tools. Often. I belong to you, Ben. I’m listening to my intuition when I tell you not to hesitate. Remember? You told me to.”

He had to concede she made her point. And what should he do next?

“Go put your shoes on. It’s time you got out of here for a while. We’re going to take a walk around the block and work off some of that delicious dinner. You can see some of the neighborhood.” Ben stood up and took her hand as she followed. “We still have some daylight left, and there’s a nice breeze.”

At the front door Elise got her pair of walking shoes from the closet and slipped them on. She stood by the front door, waiting for Ben to open it.

But he didn’t open the door immediately. “You’re not ready yet.” She looked down at herself, unsure as to what he meant. “Turn around, put your hands behind your back. I’m going to get in a little practice.”

When Elise did go out the front door her hands were securely bound behind her back, held in place by the belt around her waist. It was a mark of how much she had changed since her arrival on the Island that she didn’t even consider it unusual.

The Dinner Party

Mark opened the front door to invite inside Kurt and Luisa. Mark and Cathy had decided to throw a small dinner party for their new friends and to welcome fellow island newcomer Luisa. It was also something of a celebration in recognition of the new ownership agreements for both couples. Plus it was the Thanksgiving holiday season for everyone from North America.

“Through the house and out to the back porch. The turkey is in the oven and should be ready in an hour. John and Anna are in the backyard. They live right behind us.” Mark told them. He watched as Luisa hesitated just a moment, waiting for Kurt’s barely perceptible nod before she stepped inside the doorway. Kurt followed behind her, one hand on her back. He had a paper bag in his other hand.

After Mark closed the door, Kurt turned and handed him the package. “If you enjoy wine this is something I have sent in from Europe. Not much selection here on the Island. It’s a small chateau in the south of France, a business associate of my father. Not well known but I think the quality is better than most in its class. It is best served at room temperature.”

Mark took the bottle out of the bag. Kurt was right; he had never heard of the label, and couldn’t read French anyway. “Thanks, Kurt, I’ll put it on the table. Let’s go out back for now and enjoy the cool breeze.” Mark made a short detour to set the bottle on the dining room table before he followed Kurt and Luisa out to the backyard.

There were greetings all around. They had all met before at the company party.

After a few minutes of conversation Cathy stood up and headed for the back door. “If you gentlemen will excuse me I have to see to dinner.” She slid open the patio door to go into the kitchen.

Kurt touched Luisa’s arm. “You will assist.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied quietly as she stood up to follow Cathy. After a quick look at John for approval Anna headed for the kitchen too, leaving the three men on the back porch.

“Congratulations Kurt, your Luisa is a real prize,” John began. “How is she adjusting to the change?”

“I am quite pleased with her. I had expected some difficulties, but there has been no requirement for stern measures yet. She seems remarkably content considering how strict I am with her.” Kurt had a thoughtful expression on his face. “Are there times when you think your Anna might be putting on the brave face, but actually is experiencing difficulty with the direction you wish to take her?”

“I’ve thought about that too,” Mark added. “Like Kurt, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the lack of resistance on Cathy’s part. I know some of the rules I’ve imposed have to be difficult for her, but she hasn’t said anything.”

John nodded as he leaned back in his chair. “That’s a common situation. First, to answer Kurt, yes I’ve seen Anna put aside her own feelings when I think she should have spoken up. How to handle it is up to each of you. There is no one way that solves every case. Of course you have to find out what she’s hiding, typically with some questions during a quiet intimate moment, when she is relaxed and won’t become defensive.

“But I’ve also learned from experience that there are times its best not to see what she wants to hide. She has an image in her own mind of the person she wants to be. We all do. And on occasion she fails to meet her own self-imposed expectations. That may be the reason she seems to be hiding something. If so, and you think it’s not harmful, you look but do not see.

“Whatever you decide, keep in mind it may also be a case of seeing ghosts that do not really exist. You assume it’s difficult for her because you put yourself in the same position and ask yourself what you would feel. That’s a major mistake those of us new to the role of master often make. In significant ways they do not see the world as we do.” John stopped to take a drink from his glass.

Mark picked up the thread of the conversation. “I think I’ve seen what you are talking about. The other day I took Cathy out to lunch and afterward to the mall for some window shopping, just to look around. Just before we left the house, I ordered her to wear one of those waist restraints, similar to the kind you have for Anna. You saw it when we met for lunch, John. I expected her to hesitate, maybe even plead with me not to use it, or at least ask to discuss it since this was the first time, and I hadn’t warned her beforehand. She took me by surprise when she did neither.”

“The secret isn’t in what you ask her to do, but how you do it.” John leaned forward. “Fact is, they will do just about anything for us, if we go about it the right way. You saw part of it, Mark. Speak to her quietly, in a firm tone of voice, look her in the eye and explain exactly what you are doing and what you want from her. Don’t give her time to react, move quickly in a determined manner, and she can’t resist. Not won’t, but can’t.’

“Luisa responds the same way,” Kurt added. “I had read about it, but the first time I tried it myself I was still amazed at how they seem to lose the will to resist. I do not understand the process to this day, but cannot deny it exists.”

John leaned back in his chair and grinned. “It does make life easier for us.”

Kurt spoke up, “Mark, I would like to thank you for inviting us to dinner. Though I’ve lived here several years I have few friends, and being new Luisa has none. I was concerned about finding suitable acquaintances for her, women who could be both role models for her and a peer group where she can relax and talk or ask for advice. Your Cathy I think will be an excellent example for Luisa. Cathy is also new to the Island, and like Luisa is just starting the experience of being owned, but unlike Luisa she has been with you for some time and has already reached a comfort level in her submission.

“Anna will be the example for them both, to show both Cathy and Luisa they can be a success. You are fortunate, John, in having her by your side for so many years. Luisa mentioned that your current ownership term is coming to an end soon. Have you decided to renew or change to a lifetime agreement?”

John nodded as he answered. “Anna has been dropping these none too subtle hints she’d like to make it permanent now that we qualify. I haven’t said anything about it, so she’s a little nervous. Between the three of us, I’m going to renew it as a lifetime agreement, but it’s going to be a surprise for her. I have forbidden any discussion about it, so she hasn’t been able to ask me. She isn’t going to know until I hand her the agreement at the records office.”

“Excellent, and you say nothing that contradicts you own intent to renew.” Kurt paused for a moment, thinking, before he continued. “It serves to remind her of the important separation of roles. Regardless of what she may want, she must wait for you. And it emphasizes that you will not be hurried in your decision. It will encourage her to be patient and trust you to do what is best.”

“I don’t get it, why keep her guessing?” Mark asked.

“It’s what I want, that’s why,” John answered. “Mind games, I like to get inside her head and put in a few reminders I’m always there. Remember Mark, the women we own are a little different from the outside world. They expect us to keep a close watch over them. Anna would be disappointed if I didn’t do things like this once in a while. She needs to feel my power being used in a way she doesn’t anticipate. I think it’s some type of reassurance, that I’m getting what I want, and I want it from her.

“I like the expression on her face when I catch her by surprise. That’s the other reason. I don’t want her assuming I will go a certain way every time.”

During a quiet lull the men heard the women laughing through the open patio door. Mark turned to look and began to stand up. “Maybe I should see if they need any help with dinner…”

“Mark,” John said quietly, “if I might make a suggestion?”

He sat back down and turned to John. “Sure, what is it?”

“Let the women be. They are having a great time preparing the meal for us. Let them enjoy it. When they are ready, we will go in, and they will serve up an evening to remember. Everything has to be done a certain way, but if you intrude they will have to stop. Tonight we do our part by doing nothing. So sit back and relax, let them take care of it all. If they need help they’ll ask.”

Kurt added in, “I agree. You have assigned a task for her to complete. She has everything she needs to accomplish the task. Now it is necessary to give her the time and space she needs to finish. This is how I work with Luisa.”

“I can understand that, but I don’t want to overwhelm Cathy either.” Mark thought for a moment. “I like to keep an eye on her, to check on what she’s doing. In part it’s being a responsible master, but for me it’s also a benefit of being in charge. She knows I’m looking over her shoulder, and I hope she sees that as reassuring instead of interfering, but I’m also exercising my authority. Even if I say or do nothing, I’m still controlling her.”

The sound of feminine laughter came from the open patio door again, louder, from all three women. “I’d say they don’t need our help or supervision right this minute,” John quipped.

In the kitchen Anna was chasing an olive that had fallen off the counter. It seemed to have a mind of its own as it rolled across the floor with her in hot pursuit. All three women laughed at the antics of the wayward green oval when Anna finally pounced on it.

“A slippery devil,” Anna commented wryly as she tossed it in the garbage. She sat back down at the kitchen table while Cathy and Luisa finished the plate of appetizers, bite sized squares of toast topped with cheese, salami and an olive, skewered with a toothpick. Anna snatched one off the plate and bit into it. “Mmm, good. Just checking to make sure master will approve.” They all laughed again.

Luisa tried one too. “I think Kurt will like it. Is this one of your favorites, Cathy?”

“They’re sort of a tradition in my family. I still remember munching on an olive at my grandparents’ house one Christmas, I was only four.” Cathy rearranged the plate to conceal their pilfering. “Okay, I think it’s ready for the guys. Luisa, would you take it out to them? See if they need any refills on drinks too.”

Luisa wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and picked up the plate. At the patio door she stopped and tapped on the glass before sliding the door open. Cathy could hear her ask Kurt, “May I serve a plate of appetizers?” before she pulled the door shut.

“Is it me or is that dress really on the short side?” Cathy asked Anna as she turned back to the kitchen counter and the potatoes.

“It’s you. And it is on the short side, but it may not have been her choice as to what she wears. Besides, you never wore a mini when you were a teenager?” Anna began folding the cloth napkins for the table settings.

Cathy looked over her shoulder at Anna. “Oops, got me there. I sometimes forget the rules are different here. Do you think Kurt picks out her clothes?”

Anna shook her head in a negative. “No, men have no fashion sense. She’d be wearing something hideous, pink stripes with little clowns.” Cathy nodded in agreement. “He does make her wear something like a uniform at work though.”

Looking out the window onto the patio Cathy could see Luisa gathering up glasses. Attractive and graceful, she serves to perfection. And the men notice it. Cathy attacked the last potato with the cutting knife, chopping it up with an exuberance that caught Anna’s attention.

“Luisa admires you Cathy, did you know that? She told me once that she envies the way you adapted so easily to the Island, the way you did so well in the classes and asked questions she had never thought about. She had a hard time overcoming her past prejudices. You see how she overcompensates, trying to be perfect for Kurt?”

Cathy stopped, laid down the knife on the cutting board, and turned to face Anna. “She admires me? But…she never makes a mistake. Look at how they all watch her.” She nodded toward the window.

“She doesn’t make a mistake because she never relaxes. Every moment she’s thinking about what to do next, making sure she doesn’t break any of Kurt’s rules while trying to please him as best she can. Kurt is the type of man to encourage it too. He likes keeping her on the edge. Does she want it that way? Hard to say, but she wears his collar by choice. Wouldn’t be my choice for a life though. Are we ready to set the table?” Anna held up the napkins.

The patio door opened and Luisa came in with two glasses. “Mark would like another beer, and John says to tell Anna to get him the usual?”

Anna went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of ginger ale and a bowl with lemon slices. Luisa went to the sink to rinse out the glasses. “John and I don’t drink alcohol very often. His usual is ginger ale with lemon. Foul stuff, I don’t recommend it, but no accounting for taste. Nothing for Kurt?”

Luisa placed the glasses on the counter, watching as Anna filled John’s glass first. Cathy reached into the refrigerator and took out a bottle for Mark. “Thanks, Anna, Cathy. No, Kurt didn’t want anything to drink. He does like the appetizers.

“Umm, if you don’t mind me asking, did I do alright outside?” Luisa fingered the collar around her throat. “I, ahh, don’t have any experience in serving in a setting like this. It’s all very new to me.”

Anna dropped a lemon slice in John’s glass and slid it toward Luisa. “You did fine. Don’t be nervous, they don’t bite. Not often anyway.”

Cathy handed the beer bottle to Luisa. “Mark likes to pour his own, so just give him a glass and the bottle. When you’re done we’ll set the table. You can tell the guys dinner will be ready in less than an hour.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back. That is, I hope I’ll be right back.” Drinks in hand she returned to serve the men on the patio.

Cathy put the pot of potatoes on the stove to finish cooking. She leaned against the counter, idly wiping her hands with a towel while she stared out the window. She saw Luisa carefully walk behind the chair of each man as she delivered their drinks, so as not to interrupt their conversation. When she finished she went to stand by Kurt, asking for his permission to go back inside.

A few minutes later Cathy checked the turkey. The thermometer said it was done, so she turned off the oven and went to the patio door. “Mark? Could you take the turkey out of the oven and put it on the counter?” Behind her Anna and Luisa were going around the table, arranging the place settings.

John and Kurt stood up and started to follow Mark but Cathy waved them back. “We’re not quite ready yet, sirs. I just need Mark for a moment.”

While Mark manhandled the large bird out of the oven Cathy cleared a place on the counter, folding a towel so the pan wouldn’t scorch the countertop. As soon as he put the heavy pan down she chased him out of the kitchen. “Go, go! You’ll only be in the way.”

All the women giggled as soon as Mark ran out the patio door. “Bossing your master around like that, you like to live dangerously!” Anna said, trying her best not to burst out laughing.

“When it comes to a dinner party the hostess rules supreme.” Cathy brandished a knife, preparing to cut open the cooking bag around the turkey. “And he knows it, too.”

As soon as the last dishes were ready they set everything out on the table. Cathy invited the men back in and asked Mark to place the turkey on the table.

When they were seated around the table Mark held up a hand before they began. “Just a few words before we start, consider it the cost of admission.” He gestured toward John and Anna. “For those of us from the States and Canada this time of year we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a feast to celebrate our good fortune and enjoy some of the fruits of our hard labor. Here on the Island we have something extra to be thankful for, an opportunity to live our lives openly, as we all believe men and women should be, without fear of condemnation. The details we may not agree on, but we all share some basic principles which have been lost in the societies we came from. We should all be thankful we have this small corner of the world to ourselves.

“And I’ll close there. John, would you say grace before we do proper justice to this magnificent meal?”

Running Out of Time

Something was definitely wrong. John’s skin color was almost grey, and he seemed to have trouble breathing. “John, are you okay? Can I get you something?” Anna asked as she unbuttoned his shirt collar.

John didn’t answer immediately, instead closing his eyes and grimacing as if in pain. After a moment he looked up at Mark and the others as they crowded around. “Afraid I’m going to spoil your party, Mark.” He paused, holding his left arm against his side. “Could you call an ambulance? I think it’s a heart attack. Ask the dispatcher to contact Dr. Ben Jaffe. He knows my medical history.”

Mark turned to Cathy, who already had the phone in her hand. “Use 999 instead of 911, Cathy, it’s a British phone system,” he told her.

“Yes, sir,” she answered. A moment later she began giving details to the person on the line. “They’re on the way. What was the doctor’s name again?”

“Dr. Jaffe,” Mark told her, “ask the dispatcher to contact him. Ask them to tell the doctor it’s John Leeds.” He turned back to John and Anna. “Anna, let’s get his feet up on the couch, but keep his head up. Kurt? Can you give me a hand? Hang in there John, help is on the way.” With Kurt’s help he got John into a more comfortable position.

Luisa stood behind Cathy, trying to stay out of the way. When Kurt called out her name she came forward. “I want you to go to the front door and watch for the ambulance. Flag them down as soon as you see them so they won’t have to check addresses.”

“Yes, sir,” Luisa answered. Cathy was still talking to the dispatcher on the phone but touched Luisa’s arm as she went by.

“There’ll be an ambulance and paramedics, two vehicles. That’s what the dispatcher is telling me.”

It didn’t take long for the emergency team to arrive. Luisa called out when she saw them. Cathy hung up the phone and went to the door to move a side table so they could get their equipment through the front hallway.

The paramedics worked quickly, one attaching sensors to John’s chest to check his heartbeat while the other started an intravenous drip. The ambulance crew followed behind, bringing in a gurney.

“He needs to be transported immediately,” the first paramedic told them. “I’ll ride with him to the Island’s clinic. His doctor has been notified.”

When they began wheeling John out he grabbed Mark’s arm. “Mark, could you do something for me?” His voice was nearly inaudible. Mark leaned over so John could whisper in his ear.

“Sir? We don’t have time,” the paramedic began.

Mark stood up and patted John’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll see to it. You try to relax. We’ll meet you at the hospital.”

Anna started to follow. “I have to go with him…”

Mark grabbed her arm to stop her. “Anna! Listen to me. We’ll take you to the clinic right now, but you can’t ride with John. The paramedic needs room in case he has to work. You’d get in his way. You don’t want to endanger John’s life, do you?”

“No, I don’t….”

“Kurt, can you take Anna to the clinic? There’s something John asked me to do. It’ll only take a few minutes. Then I can meet you at the emergency room.”

“Of course. Anna? Please come with me.” Kurt turned to Luisa, standing behind him. “Stay with her,” he ordered in a low voice.

Mark pulled Cathy aside. “I want you to go with Anna. Don’t let her out of your sight until I get there, understand?”

“I understand. Mark, what about their house?” Cathy kept turning her head to watch Kurt and Luisa as they took Anna out to their car.

“I’ll take care of all that, don’t worry. John asked me to do something. It’s important, has to be done right now. You just stay with her. I won’t be more than five minutes behind you.”

Necessity

When the phone rang Elise answered it first. Ben was stretched out on the couch, sleeping off the turkey and gravy. She recognized the voice of the receptionist at the clinic. Ben raised his head, awakened by the call. She listened for a moment before holding the phone out to him.

“It’s the clinic, sounds like an emergency.” She’d been a nurse long enough to know the unpredictable calls were part of the job.

Ben sat up and took the phone. Elise went back to the kitchen. She saw him making notes on one of the pads he always kept by every phone in the house.

“…his medical records are in the filing cabinet, under his last name. Put Dr. Singh on the phone while you go look for them.” Judging from the frown on Ben’s face Elise assumed it must be serious. “Paul? Try to get him stabilized as soon as the ambulance brings him in. He was scheduled for an angiogram next week. You’ll see in my notes, looks like he’ll need an immediate bypass. Get a blood sample and see if Annie can find someone to come into the lab and run a full workup on it. Have her check the blood supply and see who’s available for an operation tonight or in the morning.”

Elise shook her head. From what she’d overheard she was certain it was a heart attack. A bypass was a common operation these days but still risky, especially if the patient was in bad shape right after an attack.

“Annie?” Elise listened in as Ben started talking again. “Once Dr. Singh gives the okay see that he’s hooked up to a heart monitor, and keep a close eye on it. Let me know if there is any change in his vitals. Round up a team for a bypass, as soon as possible. Call me when Dr. Singh finishes his examination.” Ben hung up the phone.

Elise finished wrapping up the turkey and put it in the refrigerator. Ben was standing in front of the rear patio door, staring out into the back yard. She kept busy in the kitchen, giving him some time to think about what he wanted to do next.

She was loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher when he came into the kitchen. One look at his expression and she knew he was worried.

“Ben? Is it bad? Do you need to go in?” She wasn’t sure what to make of his concern. Was it the patient, or maybe he was nervous about doing a bypass? That seemed unlikely. He’d been a surgeon for too many years not to have some experience in open-heart surgery.

He shook his head. “Not yet. I’ll know more as soon as the clinic calls back. Yeah, I think it may be a bad one. I don’t have any tests yet but from the one examination with the patient I’d say he’s a high-risk for blocked arteries. Paul Singh is a G.P, not a surgeon, so if an operation is indicated then it will be me.

“Meanwhile, in case it looks like a long night, how about we examine that pumpkin pie right now? My prescription is for a thick slice with whipped cream on top.”

“Yes, doctor. Will that be oral or intravenous?” Elise said straight faced while reaching for two plates in the cupboard.

“That nutmeg and cinnamon rush can be intense. I think oral is indicated.” He stood behind her, hands on her hips while she sliced into the pie. Before she could lift the pieces out of the pie tin he took hold of her hands and pressed them flat on the counter.

“Keep your hands exactly where they are now.” His voice was barely above a whisper, the lowered tone one of command. “I want you to stand still, don’t move, don’t speak, close your eyes.”

Elise had no idea what Ben intended but it didn’t matter. His body pressed against her, pinning her to the counter. She could feel his warm breath on her neck.

“My precious Elise. Did you know I’m obsessed with you?” His lips were next to her ear, his voice barely audible. She forgot about the kitchen, the pumpkin pie in front of her, and everything else except for the sound of his voice, whispering to her and no one else.

“All my life I’ve dreamed of someone like you. And now the dream has come true.” His left hands continued to press her palm into the counter, but his right hand slowly moved up her arm. He began kissing the nape of her neck, above her collar. Both his hands moved to her waist.

More than anything she wanted to turn around, throw her arms around his neck, and beg him to take her there on the kitchen floor. But she had to obey him, willing herself to hold still under his touch, the palms of her hands glued to the counter top.

The mood was spoiled when the phone rang again. He muttered something unintelligible before letting go of Elise. “I’ll get that. You finish with the dessert.” Reluctantly he let go of her and went into the living room.

Disappointed that he stopped but still pleased with his words, she slid the knife under a pie slice and moved it to a plate.

“The flu? For the last two days? And Marsha Collins is still off the Island on vacation?” Elise used a tablespoon to pile on the whipped cream. It must be the clinic again, and by the sound of it bearing bad news. “Alright, what’s his blood pressure again? Okay, continue with the drip. I’ll be there within an hour. Alert everyone we may have to operate by, hmm, make it 9pm tonight.”

Ben came back into the kitchen. “He’s in a bad way. I’m not sure he’ll make it another day without an operation. The lab is typing his blood now. I just hope it’s not something rare or we’ll have to call for volunteer donors first.”

Elise opened the refrigerator and put in the plates with the pie slices. “Dessert can wait. I know you have to go.” And how many times had she broken a date for the same reason? Experienced surgical nurses were a rare commodity; she’d been on 24 hour call too many times.

He didn’t say anything at first. He stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at her. She sensed there was something else, something he was reluctant to bring up. Suddenly he grabbed her wrist and headed for the front door. “I want you to come with me.”

Caught off guard she stumbled after him. “Should I change?” she started to ask, but he cut her off.

“You’re fine. Put on your shoes. I’m sorry, Elise, I didn’t mean for this to happen, but I need you.”

Puzzled, she slipped on her shoes and closed the closet door. She didn’t mind going to the clinic with him. In fact, she looked forward to seeing him at work. She couldn’t understand why he felt the need to apologize.

Indispensable

“You have to do this, Elise. His life depends on it. There’s no one else to assist.”

They were outside his office door at the clinic. Ben hadn’t said much until he’d seen the patient first. Then he’d told Elise that there were no qualified nurses to assist with the operation. Of the two on the Island, one was on vacation in Australia and the other one is sick with the flu.

“But…Ben, I haven’t been in an operating room in ages. What if I forget, what if I make a mistake again?”

“Again? You mean the incident with that quack, Gallatin?”

“You know about it?”

He grimaced. “Yes, more than you do. For instance, did you know Tom Gallatin was busted on a DUI two months after you left? He ran a light and plowed into another car. Vehicular manslaughter. The only place he makes his rounds now is in the prison ward.

“The Board of Examiners opened up all his old cases. Once the dam broke everyone came forward. You were exonerated. The chief of surgery and the hospital director were fired. They’ll spend the next few years in court defending themselves on charges of malpractice and obstruction of justice.”

“But, Ben…”

He took her hand and dragged her down the hallway. “In here,” he told her. They went into the clinic’s operating theater. He took her over to a line of instruments laid out on a table, next to the sterilizing unit. “All you lack is confidence.” He turned his back to her and held out a hand.

“Clamp,” his tone was crisp. Reflex took over as she quickly picked up the instrument and slapped it into his hand. “Retractor…sponge…scalpel…” he went on until she had emptied the tray.

“See? You got every single one right. Now, how many sponges?”

“Nine,” she answered. She didn’t have to think about it. Her job was to make sure everything that went into a patient came out afterwards.

“Turn around,” he took her hand and pointed to the pile of unopened sponges on the table. “Look.”

There were nine sponges on the table. “That’s why no one else but you can do this. If I get busy I have to rely on you to keep track of the details. You’ve done bypasses, you know the procedures, and you know what to do if there are complications. You won’t panic, and if I hold out my hand you’ll know what I need before I even ask.

“Elise, I have to operate in a few hours. He won’t live till morning. Read his chart, you recognize what it means.” He handed her John Leeds’ file.

She wasn’t a doctor, but she could see the trend immediately. Falling blood pressure, low blood oxygen, all the indicators were there. Ben was right.

He picked up a plastic wrapped package from a side table. “Take these scrubs and go change. Annie will show you where. You’ve done this before; you will do it again, and you won’t make a mistake. I’ll see to it.”

Annie, the receptionist, showed her to the women’s locker room in the back. On the way they went past the waiting room. Elise caught a glimpse of the group, and the woman who must be the patient’s wife. She hoped she’d never be in the same position, worried sick about Ben while he lay in a hospital bed. Ben left her to go in and explain to them what was about to happen.

She had the locker room to herself. She had plenty of time; the patient and the operating room needed to be prepped first. She sat on the wooden bench in front of an empty locker, the scrubs sitting on her lap.

Of all the scenarios she had imagined during those nights in her room at the Facility, the ways in which her master might make demands that would test her resolve, this particular one had never come up. In an abstract sense she knew Ben was right; emotionally she was still afraid she would fail him. Either way she had no choice. She reached behind her back to unzip the dress.

Walking through the door into the operating room was one of the most difficult moments in Elise’s life. She recognized Ben, already marking the patient’s chest for the incisions. The anesthesiologist was to one side, watching the vitals on a monitor. A technician stood behind Ben, checking some electronics. She took her place at Ben’s side.

He stopped for a moment, looking a question at her over his surgical mask. She nodded, answering his unvoiced question. He was her master, where else would she be but the place he had set aside for her?

The moment they began all doubts vanished. Elise was back in an environment she knew well. She followed Ben’s every move, reaching for the next instrument before he asked, providing the third hand to hold a clamp or retractor when he needed it. The two of them worked together like they’d been a team for years.

The operation itself was anticlimactic; by the book, with no complications. Ben extracted a length of vein from the patient’s leg and deftly spliced it into the heart. Elise had assisted many surgeons, but none had ever come close to the economy of motion she saw in Ben’s hands as he operated. She understood now why he was the chief surgeon on the Island.

When he finished he stepped back and glanced at the instrument tray. “Did we come up short?” he asked Elise.

“No, doctor, all items accounted for.” She was sure the question was redundant; he wasn’t the kind who left anything inside a patient that didn’t belong there.

“Okay then, Elise, would you let the family know Mr. Leeds is doing well after you clean up? They can visit him in the morning. I’ll be in to talk to them after I make sure he’s settled in post-op. Could you do that now?”

“Yes, doctor.” She didn’t mind delivering good news. Part of her training had been handling the grief of family members when they’d lost a loved one. It still took a toll on her to tell a wife or husband their partner of so many years didn’t make it.

Back in the locker room she sat on the bench, thinking about what has just happened. Ben had been right. She was still every bit the nurse she’d been a year ago. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment. He’d been in charge, coordinating the entire team, her master, and everyone had met his expectations.

She opened the locker and found to her surprise her clothes had been replaced with a nurse’s uniform. It had to be Ben’s doing. It looked like she was back to a full-time job. Her fingers danced over the collar around her throat. Doctor’s orders would have a whole new meaning now.

In the Waiting Room

Looking at her reflection, Elise adjusted her hat till it was straight. It was a very traditional style: white uniform with the hemline at her knees, white hose, white shoes, and a white cap in her hair. Timeless and distinctive, she couldn’t remember how many years back she’s proudly worn the same outfit after graduating with her nursing degree. Most hospitals had done away with the old uniforms now. She’d never thought much about it, but looking in the mirror she had to admit there was something about tradition.

Becoming a nurse had been her ambition since she was a young girl. She loved helping people, being the caregiver, there to comfort someone with their loss or deliver the good news after an operation. And the doctors, always so confident, she loved the way they took charge the minute they walked into her ward, dictating orders for patients and making sure the charts were up to date. The other nurses made jokes about them being egotistical, but she never joined in. Some of those doctors had repaid her admiration with abuse, but Ben wasn’t one of them. He understood, he must, or he wouldn’t have left the uniform for her.

A professional appearance was important, that was the excuse she made for spending too long in front of the mirror. Her master had given her an assignment to talk to the group in the waiting room. He wouldn’t appreciate her taking too long. And she did not want to be the one to tell him she’d failed in her task.

She went to the front desk to check with Annie, to see if the patient’s status had changed. Ben was still in post-op, watching for any unexpected developments. Otherwise, the patient was resting and wouldn’t wake up before morning. The monitor next to Annie’s desk showed a strong, regular heartbeat. Already feeling at home Elise told Annie she would be in the waiting room with the family.

One look and she had separated the group into two couples and the wife. “Mrs. Leeds? I’m Dr. Jaffe’s assisting nurse.” The older woman stood up. Elise could see she’d been crying. The man sitting next to her stood up too.

“John? How is he? Please, is he okay? Can I see him now?”

“Your husband is resting comfortably. Dr. Jaffe is with him right now. The operation was a complete success. As soon as the doctor is finished he’ll be out to tell you more.” For the first time Elise noticed all three women wore collars like her own.

The man standing next to her spoke up for the first time. “My name is Mark Sturgis, a friend of John’s. The doctor said he’d had a heart attack, and they were going to do a bypass?”

“That’s right, sir.” Her training at the Facility hadn’t worn off. The sir had come out without any effort on her part. “Dr. Jaffe will give you the details. I can tell you I just checked Mr. Leeds’ vitals and they all show he’s doing well. The doctor asked me to mention that Mr. Leeds will be sleeping off the sedation tonight, and that you can visit him as soon as he’s awake in the morning.”

That’s when circumstances began to spin out of control.

“Morning?” Anna Leeds shrugged off the hand Mark had laid on her shoulder. “I want to see him now! Why is the doctor still with him? Why did he send you instead? What are you hiding from me? What’s wrong with John?”

Elise’s training told her what was happening. Too much anxiety and stress had pushed Anna Leeds into near panic. “He’s in the recovery room right now, Mrs. Leeds.” Elise was careful to keep her voice calm and professional. Silently she thanked Ben for having her put on the uniform. The image would help to diffuse the situation. “The doctor is checking for any post-operative complications. This is a normal procedure. Any major surgery puts a strain on the body. Mr. Leeds needs a few hours of quiet and sleep to rebuild his strength.”

Elise didn’t get the chance to continue. “What do you mean, complications? You’re not telling me the whole story. Or maybe you don’t know? I want to talk to someone who was in the operating room.” Anna’s voice was getting louder.

“I assisted Dr. Jaffe, Mrs. Leeds, for the entire operation…”

Anna interrupted Elise before she could finish. ”And who are you?” She studied Elise’s face, her collar. “I don’t recognize you. Who is your master? I meet everyone who goes through the ownership program.”

“My master is Dr. Benjamin Jaffe, Mrs. Leeds, chief surgeon at this clinic and for the entire island. I didn’t participate in the ownership program.” Elise was trying to be polite but the woman’s attitude was beginning to irritate her. She couldn’t see the reason for the questions.

“Didn’t participate…” Suddenly Anna’s voice rose to a scream. “You’re from the Facility! Get out of here! You don’t deserve to be in the same room as the rest of us. Where’s a doctor? Not your Dr. Jaffe. He probably isn’t any more real that you!”

Elise backed up, thoroughly confused at the unexpected attack. Mrs. Yates had mentioned briefly that not everyone on the Island approved of the Facility. She hadn’t gone into any detail, nor had she mentioned how deep that disapproval might run.

At that moment the man next to her took over, much to Elise’s relief. He grabbed Anna Leeds by the upper arms and turned her to face him.

“That’s enough, Anna. The people here are doing their best to help John. Let’s sit down and wait for the doctor. I’m sure we can work out a way for you to see John tonight.”

“No!” Anna pulled away from Mark. She pointed an accusing finger at Elise. “She sold herself to an auction, sight unseen. Her doctor was the high bidder. I don’t want to deal with either of them. I want one of the other doctors here to look after John, and I want it now!”

Cathy, Luisa and Kurt had been silent bystanders. Seeing Mark intervene Cathy began to stand up, to come to his aid. She stopped when Kurt put a hand on her arm and shook his head. He leaned over and whispered, “Wait, he knows what he’s doing.” She sat back down.

Mark had hold of Anna’s arm again. “Anna, I want you to read something.” With his free hand he took a folded envelope out of his back pocket and handed it to her. “John asked me to give it to you, just before they put him in the ambulance.”

That stopped Anna’s tirade. She flashed one last dirty look at Elise, who had backed out into the hallway. Anna took the envelope from Mark’s hand and opened it. She read it, looked up at Mark, read it again. The anger drained out of her as stood there, head down, letter dangling from her hand, silently crying. Mark went to her, put an arm around her waist, and gestured for Cathy to join them.

“Anna?” Mark’s voice was soothing. “After we talk to the doctor, we’ll take you home. You need to get some sleep so you can be fresh when you see John in the morning. Okay? He needs to see you at your best, so he won’t worry. Cathy will stay with you tonight, and I’ll bring you back here first thing in the morning. Why don’t we sit down now?”

The letter dropped out of Anna’s hand and slid across the floor until it stopped near Kurt. He reached down, picked up the scrap of paper, read it, nodded, and handed it to Luisa. She read:

Anna,

If you are reading this then something has happened to me. For whatever reason I can’t be there for you. That doesn’t mean you are on your own. I trust Mark Sturgis. In the time I’ve worked with him I’ve found him to be honest and honourable, a true friend. For that reason I ask that you give him your complete obedience in my place. Place your trust in him, do as he asks, and accept that he will act in your best interest even if you don’t believe it. Do your best Anna, and do not fail me.

John

Luisa handed the letter back to Kurt. He leaned over and whispered to her, “I expected as much. Any good master would do the same.”

Luisa watched as Mark and Cathy comforted Anna. At that moment Dr. Jaffe came in and sat down across from them. Luisa was half listening to him, more interested in John Leeds’ letter than his operation. He’d anticipated a problem and left a contingency plan to handle it. As Kurt had said, “what any good master would do.” That’s when it hit. Had Kurt prepared a letter for her?

Fundamentals

“John, you shouldn’t be up. The doctor said to take it easy, no stress, and keep off your feet.”

John frowned as he stood up. “That was weeks ago. I’m not so old I can’t heal, Anna. If I don’t get some exercise, I’m going to wither away. Besides, we have a full schedule today and it’s time to get started.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up one of his boots.

Anna bit her lip, looking worried. “Well, if you feel up to it. I’ll drive though. You don’t need the aggravation.”

John dropped his boot on the floor. The unexpected thump made Anna turn around to face him. “Is something wrong? Can I…”

“Yes, there is something wrong. Come here Anna, stand right there.” He pointed to a spot on the floor. “Now, you stay there, don’t say a word, and listen to me. Am I clear?”

Anna heard the steel in his seemingly calm tone. She cut off her response and did as he ordered.

“I think a review of a few fundamentals is in order.” He leaned back and folded his arms. “Strip. Right now, everything, throw the clothes anywhere, but get them off right now. I don’t want to see you wearing anything but what you were born with.”

Hesitant and puzzled Anna started slowly to unbutton her blouse but sped up quickly when she saw the clouded look on his face.

“On the floor. Kneel before your master. Hands behind your neck, back straight, head up, knees wide, you remember.”

It had been a while but old habits can come back with surprising speed. Anna knelt down, never taking her eyes off him, and sat back on her heels. Chin up, and fingers laced together behind her head she stared at John. She spread her knees as far as she could, exposing herself to his unrestricted inspection.

“Good, at least you remembered something. Now listen to me. This is how it is going to be today. When we finish you will get dressed. I will drive us to the clinic, where you will make a sincere apology to the nurse who helped save my life. After that, and assuming I’m convinced you were sincere, we will go to the Records building, where we will renew the ownership agreement. It will be the last time, because this one will be permanent, without any conditions or limitations. You will sign it as is, without any modification. You will not read it.

“If you don’t apologize to my satisfaction we will not be going to Records. Instead I will put you in the car, in the trunk if need be, and drive directly to the police station. There I will turn you over to them while I file a complaint of willful disobedience. You know what that means.”

It felt like a cold icy hand had grabbed her heart. Anna couldn’t breathe. Willful disobedience, that’s about as bad as it can be. She studied his face for any sign he was joking. John would never be a poker player, because he could not bluff. Anna could see it now. She could very well face prosecution by nightfall, and no fixed length to her sentence. Disobedience suspended the expiration on the existing agreement; they could keep her for years.

“Yes, sir,” was all she could manage to say.

A Verdict

Rupert Townsend stood up as Kurt walked over to his cafeteria table. “Good to see you again, Kurt, thanks for taking a few moments out of your day.” The two men shook hands and sat down.

Kurt didn’t know Rupert well. They had spoken a few times regarding Luisa since Rupert was on her oversight committee. He was the consummate stereotype of a clerk: short, thick glasses, balding and overweight. No one would guess he also doubled on a part-time basis as the deputy director of Island security after retiring from a long career with an Australian intelligence service.

 It wasn’t until Kurt approached Luisa’s committee and expressed his intent that Rupert had taken him aside and explained the irregular nature of her presence on the Island. Kurt had been shocked to discover she had in effect been kidnapped to silence her attempts to reveal their secret to the public. When Rupert had presented Luisa’s articles as justification Kurt had spent most of a night reading them over and over. He could not reconcile the person he worked with during the day to what she had written in the evening, and said as much to Rupert the next day. They had argued but in the end Rupert had agreed to allow Luisa to continue in the company program with Kurt.

“I trust Luisa is doing well? I see she is using her real name now. Was that a decision on your part?” Rupert picked up his cup of tea.

“She’s doing quite well, thanks for asking. She’s very excited to be working on the Central Asia pipeline project. I thought it best for her to return to her real name since the false identity wasn’t necessary any longer. And I like the sound of it; reminds me of her Brazilian roots.” Kurt took a bite of his sandwich. He watched Rupert closely. This was no casual conversation no matter how low key the small talk between them.

Rupert for his part didn’t miss the way Kurt scrutinized him from across the table. His career had by necessity honed his ability to read people’s reactions using the slightest of cues. Kurt was apprehensive about Luisa’s fate and ready to defend her if the outcome wasn’t to his liking. Luisa’s owner would be a dangerous adversary to anyone who threatened her.

Some people had to be eased into news, good or bad. Others liked it blunt and quick. Rupert could tell Kurt was one of the latter so he skipped the preliminaries. “We have reviewed Luisa’s progress since you chose to become involved.” The “we” was a shadowy group who made sure threats to the Island were dealt with in a satisfactory manner, no matter what it took. “After careful consideration we have determined that no further action will be taken in the matter of Luisa Calvaho. Her conduct will be solely your responsibility, Kurt. The only restriction we ask is that you keep her on the Island for the next two years, and after that you notify us in advance if you intend to allow her to travel. And of course, neither Luisa nor anyone else is to be made aware of the arrangements or my part in it.”

Kurt nodded in agreement. The provisions were reasonable, better than he had expected. “I guarantee her behavior? No one second-guessing me?”

Rupert smiled. “She belongs to you. We aren’t going to tell you how to run your life, or hers. No one will be looking over your shoulder. Do what you think best.

“But I have a personal request. Promise me, Kurt, your word on this. See to it she never has a reason to criticize what we have here. Those of us who have to place the Island’s interests as a whole above personal consideration are not monsters. Tricking her into coming here wasn’t a high point in my life, and I’m not proud of what I did, even though it was necessary. Promise me the Island will never have to call on my services to deal with you or Luisa.”

Rupert’s odd request caught Kurt off guard. Kurt sat up in his chair, thinking over what he had just heard. Behind the bland expression of an accountant Kurt saw the weariness of a man who had faced too many ruthless decisions where common decency and a sense of fair play were handicaps. Kurt held out his hand. “My word on it, Rupert. Whatever may come of the future, I know my obligations. When you go home tonight you carry one less burden to worry about.”

“Good enough.” Rupert shook his hand, and then pointed to Kurt’s plate. “Try the potatoes, for once the cook got it right. Think the Brazilians can stop Germany in the World Cup? Joe tells me that last year their soccer team was almost as bad as their beer.”

The Perfect Day

For Elise the day had begun normally but ended as one she would remember for years to come. Earlier in the afternoon Ben had dropped her off at a salon where he had arranged for “the works”, as he explained to her without elaborating. The staff had taken her through a complete makeover, ending with a beautiful blue chiffon evening gown. When Ben returned to pick her up he was dressed in suit and tie. Even his ubiquitous running shoes were replaced with newly shined dress loafers.

She met him at the door of the salon. “Ben! What’s the occasion? They’ve been working me over all afternoon; they tell me it’s all on your say-so.”

“The occasion is Just Because day. We’re celebrating just because we can. Just because I can put you through the torment of a makeover, so I can enjoy the results. I hope you’ve been good and didn’t give them a hard time.”

Elise carefully folded her hands in front and lowered her eyes. “I was a good girl, sir. The manager said you had left explicit instructions as to what you wanted, so I was properly obedient. There were at least three times I nearly kicked him but I held back.”

“Then for your patience you shall be rewarded with a night on the town. C’mon, we’ll start with dinner.” Ben turned to one side and stuck out his elbow. Elise took the proffered arm, holding onto her escort as they went out to the car.

The evening began at an Italian restaurant at one of the better seaside hotels. Elegant didn’t begin to describe the setting. Their table was secluded, next to a real stream that ran through the room. Once Elise was sure she saw a fish go by. The real surprise came when Ben handed her a menu and she opened it to discover that, although the descriptions were in both English and Italian, there were no prices.

“I thought about a French place,” Ben offered by way of explanation, “but truth is I really don’t like French cuisine. It seems like whatever they cook started out as something I wouldn’t go near. Italian I can get by.

“Remember, no pork dishes, and no shellfish. You’ll have to skip the marinara and calamari. We keep kosher now.” Elise was halfway through reading the books Ben had given her on Kashrut, dietary laws. He had made it clear they would both eat kosher so she had to learn a whole new style of cooking. They even had a small, separate refrigerator for milk products. Elise still struggled trying to keep track of what went where, especially the two sets of pots and utensils.

After dinner a band set up in one corner and began playing slow dance tunes from the swing band era. Ben stood up and held out his hand.

“May I have this dance?”

Elise had no idea Ben could dance. “I’d love to,” she answered as she took his hand. He held her close as they moved around the dance floor. The music was familiar but she couldn’t remember the name. “Ben, do you know the name of this song?” she whispered in his ear.

“It’s an old Glenn Miller standard, Perfidia. It’s by a Mexican film composer, Alberto Dominguez. Late 1930’s, I don’t remember the name of the movie it was in. It’s a sad ballad; his love is lost to perfidia, treachery in Spanish, when he finds her in another’s arms.”

Elise put her arms around Ben’s neck and lifted her face to kiss him. “No perfidy here, master. I’m not interested in anyone’s arms but yours.”

She hadn’t been dancing in years but it didn’t take long for the two of them to fall into a natural rhythm. Ben wasn’t the most accomplished dancer, and for her part Elise hadn’t worn high heels in a while, but he managed to lead without running into anyone and not once did he step on her toes. When the song ended he put his hand on her back and led her back to their table. Crossing the floor she saw several of the men watching her. And why not, she told herself, I’m looking good tonight. Sorry guys, I belong to the one that brought me. Literally. The hairdresser had fixed her hair in a French braid, which left her neck uncovered. Her collar stood out prominently, framed by the cut of the gown. She took a perverse pride in knowing they envied Ben for being the one who put that collar around her neck.

There were two glasses of red wine waiting when they sat down. “Don’t ask me what kind it is, I don’t know anything about wine.” Ben took a sip. “Tastes good. I asked the sommelier to pick out something appropriate. All I can tell you is it’s definitely not Mogen David.”

Elise picked up her glass, swirled it around and inhaled the aroma. She hadn’t had a glass of wine for nearly as long as her absence from dancing. It had a slightly sweet taste, definitely from grapes ripe with sugar. She was surprised to see him drinking wine, since he never had anything with alcohol at home.

“It was nice of that woman to come by and apologize, but it really wasn’t necessary. She was worried and afraid for her husband; it’s understandable she’d say things she’d regret later. We studied about it in nursing school, patient stress management. I’m glad her husband is doing well.” Elise paused to take another sip of wine. “Did you notice how nervous she was?”

“Yeah, that struck me as odd too. She made it sound like you accepting her apology was a life or death situation. A bit too melodramatic.”

“I guess it all worked out. She kept looking at her husband; there must have been some words there. Ben, can I ask you about something she said?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“That day she was yelling at me, she said I wasn’t real, that I’d sold myself to the highest bidder. When she apologized she said she didn’t mean it, and it wasn’t fair to compare our relationships, but is there some grain of truth in there? Am I getting some kind of special treatment because I went to the Facility?” Elise frowned. “It’s been nagging in the back of my mind.”

Ben reached across the table and held her hands in his. “The answer isn’t a simple one. Yes it is true you got what might appear to be a special privilege since you went directly to a lifetime unlimited agreement with me, but that’s offset by the fact you weren’t allowed a choice in the matter. Even here on the Island not many people approve of the Facility’s way of doing things.”

“But I did have a choice!” Elise protested. “No one forced me to come here. I knew the conditions beforehand. It was no secret some man I’d never met would come along and pick me out. I trusted the Facility to do right by me, and they did. I never dreamed I’d wind up with someone like you, Ben. You can make me do anything you want. I’ll be the last one to complain.”

“Then how about I twist your arm and make you take a walk with me along the beach? The moon’s already up, and there’s nobody out there this time of night.” The twinkle in his eyes guaranteed he had more in mind than a tour of the surf.

“Like I said, no complaints.” She knew the wine was getting to her, but didn’t care. “You don’t have to twist my arm either.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Ben replied, hiding an enigmatic grin she missed as he held her chair while she stood up. Hand in hand they walked out to the strand in front of the hotel.

“You can take off your shoes. I don’t think high heels work so well in sand.”

“Thank you, kind sir.” She put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself while she slipped off her sandals. She curled her toes into the sand, still warm from the daytime sun.

He took her shoes and put them down next to the retaining wall. “Now then, about that arm twisting…”

Elise stopped kicking up little clouds of sand and looked over her shoulder. “What?” She hadn’t heard him clearly.

She saw something in his hand flash in the moonlight. “Hands behind your back, now.”

She didn’t hesitate. And he didn’t either. She felt the handcuffs ratchet shut on her wrists. “It’s after curfew. You know the law about being outside after dark.” He hadn’t been kidding about the arm twisting.

“Now then,” he began, rubbing a hand up and down her arm as he held her close to his side, “let’s go down to the surf see what’s happening on the beach tonight.”

Elise gave a quick tug on the cuffs to make sure they were secure. Satisfied he was in control she followed him across the beach, close by his side.

The Spare Room

“Mark, can I invoke privilege and turn a problem over to you? It’s been bugging me all day. Hard as I try I just can’t find the answer.” This was the favorite part of the day for Cathy, cuddling in his arms in bed, talking about anything and everything.

“Of course you can. Handling problems is part of my job description. Tell me about it.”

“Okay, here’s my dilemma. Abigail, Catherine, Mary Ellen; or Jonathan, Raymond, Andrew. I narrowed it down to those three, depending, but just can’t pick the right one. Why don’t you decide? Or you can come up with something else.”

“Okay, names, now why don’t you give me some little clue as to who or what is to be named? Who knows, it might even help if I had some idea of what we are talking about.”

Cathy grabbed his hand and put it on her stomach. “In here. A daughter or a son, but it’s too early to tell. Or do you want to wait until the last minute? I can ask the doctor not to reveal the sex after the ultrasound.”

Mark shot up, almost falling out of bed. “You mean… Are you sure? We’re going to have…. Are you okay? We have to tell…”

Cathy started giggling at Mark’s flustered half-sentences. She had been biting her tongue all day after she got the news, waiting for the one special moment to tell him.

“I’m fine. I won’t start showing for weeks. And I’m sure. We’re going to be a threesome. Not that I would ever tell you what to do, master,” she paused to make a face, “but you better get busy on the spare room. Hmm, make that the kid’s room.”

“But how? When? I’m really gonna be a daddy?”

“Now Mark, if I have to explain the how it could take all night. As for the when, as far as I can tell it was the night we went to see the whales. You do remember what happened that night, don’t you?”

Mark ran his hand over her stomach, and the new life growing inside. “Indeed, I do.” He paused, thinking. “Cathy, do you want to go back, for the baby? Back to California?”

She put both of her hands of his, on her soon to be growing belly. “No, I think we’ll be okay right here. I might have thought different a few months ago, but now I’ve seen life on the Island. I can raise our child and know he or she won’t be forced into a lifestyle they might not want. Is it selfish of me, Mark, to want to stay?”

He stroked her hair. “You have my permission to be selfish. We stay here, in our home.”

Unfinished Business

Kurt pulled into the basement garage and parked near the elevator. It was late on a Friday night; the parking area was empty. “This won’t take too long,” he told Luisa, sitting next to him. “I do need something from the office, and it cannot wait. I want you to come with me.” He got out of the car.

Some days, like today, she just could not figure him out. First he ordered her to wear her old company uniform, as usual without any explanation, and then he dragged her back to the building claiming he had forgotten something, again without any explanation of just exactly what he had left behind. She didn’t really want to come along but he hadn’t given her a choice. She sighed, shook her head, and waited patiently for him to open her door.

It wasn’t like him to forget things. He’d had his briefcase when they had left at quitting time. Anything on the computer he could download at home. She got out when he opened her door, and followed him to the elevator door. While he was in front of her she took advantage of the moment to straighten her skirt. She knew exactly where he expected the line of the skirt to end. He didn’t appreciate any deviation.

They rode the car up to the office floor in silence. He kept looking at her with an odd expression, one she couldn’t figure out. She ran over her mental checklist to see if she had missed anything, but couldn’t come up with an explanation. Besides, he’d be on her right away if she had broken a rule. He may be a perfectionist, but I can match him any day of the week, she told herself proudly. And it was a rare occasion when he caught her now. She knew his rules by heart. If he called her on anything she could quote his orders word for word. She never made the same mistake twice.

When the elevator stopped she followed him into the corridor to their office door. He opened the door for her. Per his instructions she paused, waiting for his nod to enter. That had become a habit; she didn’t even have to think about it. He might be polite, holding the door for her, but he was still her master, also giving her permission at the same time.

Kurt left the lights off. “You stay right here,” he told her. “I know where it is, in my desk.” She still had no idea what it was. She heard him open a desk drawer but couldn’t see what he was doing. “There it is,” he called out. She heard the drawer close.

He was right, it didn’t take long, she thought. But then his specialty is always being right.

When he came out of his office she finally saw what was in his hand. “Turn around,” he ordered crisply, “Hands behind your back, you are not permitted to speak. No discussion.”

Luisa didn’t hesitate, quickly turning around and holding her arms behind her back. She knew exactly what he would do next. She heard the familiar click of the ratchet when he closed the handcuffs on her wrists, the same sound she had heard that night at the restaurant.

He took her out into the hall. She waited while he closed the door, and then with his hand wrapped around her upper arm he led her to the elevator. This is almost déjà vu, she thought, surely he doesn’t intend to take me back to the dorm again?

She had an anxious moment inside the elevator but relaxed when he punched the garage button. She looked up at his face, searching for some clue as to his state of mind. Was he mad at her? It didn’t seem so, but she couldn’t be sure.

The car stopped and the door slid open, showing the still empty garage. She started forward, glancing over her shoulder for the nod before she crossed the threshold. What happened took her by complete surprise.

Instead of the nod he grabbed her arm and jerked her backward, to the rear of the elevator car. In rapid succession he hit the Door Close and Hold buttons, stopping the elevator. “We have some unfinished business,” he told her, his eyes gleaming.

Before she could react he was on her, one hand pinning her against the wall. His grabbed the top of her blouse with his other hand and yanked down hard, tearing it open. Loose buttons fell to the floor and rolled around. Another jerk and her skirt fell to her feet.

Overwhelmed Luisa started to say something, but not a word escaped. His mouth covered hers with an overpowering kiss. She felt his tongue pass her lips.

Luisa closed her eyes, surrendering to his strength. She felt her bra fall away, followed by her panties sliding down her legs. His hands were everywhere, touching, caressing, demanding. She heard the zipper on his pants open, then the rustle of more clothes on the floor.

His hands were at her waist, lifting her up. She wanted to put her arms around his neck, but for some reason she couldn’t. But her legs were free, so she wrapped them around Kurt’s hips, holding him tight while her heels pulled him in.

He was kissing her neck, working her way around the collar. She tilted her head back, against the wall, and tried to lean forward, pressing her breasts into him. She kept trying to embrace him, unconsciously struggling against the cuffs. More than once a moan escaped as they rocked back and forth, but she knew, dimly, she shouldn’t make a sound. Even that prohibition was forgotten when he came. She shuddered, gasped, and called out, “Master!”

Epilogue

Human societies exist for the benefit of those who are willing to live by its rules. When the rules, be they explicitly coded as laws or operate in the guise of morals imposed by peer pressure, begin to interfere to an unacceptable degree with that most basic of relationship, man to woman, then sanctuaries like the Island will appear.

Some, like Mark and Cathy, survive in the outside world but will search for a better place where they can simply be themselves, accepted for who they are and what they believe in. Others like Luisa must be shown they need not reject what lies within, that they are not alone in their struggle to resolve what they have been taught to what they feel in their souls. And for those like Elise who trust to fate, they discover destiny can bring happiness.

10.10.2022

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