The Freshman
Copyright 2005 by EC
EC's Erotic Art & Fiction -
(warnings: corporal punishment, erotic discipline, public nudity, sex between adults, references to drug use, references to violence, language)

Chapter 26 - Cecilia's FaÁade

On the first day of classes Jason returned to his job modeling for the art department. Although he no longer needed the credits, he enjoyed modeling so much that he decided to do it for the remainder of his freshman year. Because both Cecilia and Ken had completed their humanities requirement, Jason did not expect to see any familiar faces in the spring semester life drawing classes. However, but it turned out there would be a familiar face in one of the classes; Cecilia's friend Suzanne Foster. Although Suzanne already had been at the university for a year and a half as an art major, she had not yet taken life drawing, which was an art department requirement. So, this time around it would be Suzanne's turn to study his body in detail and render it to paper.

Suzanne enjoyed looking at Jason's body and thought about various photography projects she night want to try with him as her model. She approached him about modeling, which he readily agreed to do. He warned her that he could only model the nights Cecilia was duty RA, because he did not want to take any time away from the relationship or his studies. Also, his girlfriend had to approve of any modeling projects ahead of time, so it would be best if she were to approach Cecilia directly about anything she wanted him to do.

However, Jason enjoyed Suzanne's work and was flattered that she wanted to feature him in her next project. He knew that her work would be part of a major spring art show and later possibly published in a nationally published photographers' magazine. Appearing in a widely distributed magazine appealed to the exhibitionist in him, because he would have the chance to show off his body to a large audience of photography enthusiasts.

Jason's public appearances in the nude extended beyond his modeling sessions for Suzanne and the drawing classes. A European news magazine approached him about doing an interview for a feature that concentrated on US college students who were nudists. During February he was also scheduled to speak on behalf of two nudist organizations in Indianapolis and St. Louis. He was to be among several speakers at symposiums in Indianapolis, and would address a college crowd in St. Louis. Ken, Lisa, and Suzanne had promised to accompany him to the Indianapolis presentation. Cecilia also had promised to go, but secretly was hoping that Burnside might come up with some tasking that would make it impossible for her to break away from the department.

Jason, Lisa, and Ken began their second semester of classes without having Burnside's Theory of Economics class hanging over their heads. Having taken and passed that class cleared the way for enrolling in classes in several departments, making it easier for the three freshmen to think seriously about what majors they might want to choose. Jason decided that he wanted to double major in Political Science and International Affairs, while Lisa decided to major in business administration. Ken, still trying to figure himself out, decided to double-major in psychology and education with the eventual goal of becoming a counselor.

As he put it, "With as screwed up as I am, I'm sure I can see eye-to-eye with everyone else who's screwed up."

All three students had gravitated towards departments with classes that had the Burnside class as a prerequisite. Even the psychology and education departments had started using Burnside's class as a means to cut down on the number of students pouring into their programs, using the justification that anyone able to pass that class was a serious student as opposed to a dilettante.

Cecilia's future was much more set by her circumstances than were the futures of Jason and his two friends. She had to complete the requirements to get a Bachelor's degree in economics within a four-year period. She had some flexibility with taking electives, but not very much. For the humanities requirement she had thought about taking another art class, possibly with Suzanne as a classmate, but her decision to tackle Spanish changed those plans. She had decided to exchange an easy credit for one much more difficult.

Cecilia's Spanish professor turned out to be every bit as harsh as she had heard. It turned out he was the Spanish department's version of Ruth Burnside. Even worse, he epitomized the stereotype of the snooty Spaniard who looked down upon the variations of the language that had developed in Latin America, visually cringing when he heard Cecilia speaking for the first time with her rough street accent. In response she quickly snapped in her street Spanish, "Well, if I knew how to speak properly, I wouldn't need to take this class, would I?"

Over the first month of the semester Cecilia earned the respect of her professor by demonstrating she truly was interested in improving her Spanish and that she had taken the class solely with the goal of bettering herself. Her attitude and background contrasted with most of her classmates, who of course, were non-native speakers enrolled because it was a department requirement. The class was perfectly suited for her immediate needs because it gave her the proper structure she needed to express herself in both speech and writing.

Besides giving Cecilia proper structure, the instructor also corrected numerous errors she made that were not normally made by a Spanish-speaker with formal education. For example, she confused the letters "b" and "v", using them interchangeably when she wrote words in Spanish. Her professor drilled her on that mistake, forcing her to memorize which letter went with which words and putting huge red circles around her spelling mistakes. As the semester progressed, Cecilia noticed fewer and fewer red circles on her papers as she memorized the lists of words her professor had typed out for her to study. She also noticed her speech improving as she began editing out the slang and anglicized words from her childhood. As was true for her English, her Spanish street accent was stubbornly resilient, but it seemed that in everything else she showed marked improvement.

By her fourth semester in college, Cecilia already was taking junior-level classes with the economics department. Burnside's ultimate goal was to get her scholarship student to take a couple of graduate-level classes before the end of her senior year and get a feel for what she might expect as a graduate student. She knew that Cecilia really had no choice but to continue her studies upon graduating, since there was little she could do with a BA in economics. She would have the choice of pursuing an MBA or perhaps work towards a future in economic development, but, unless she had something in her background that made her stand out, she would have a hard time getting the financial help she needed to pursue the next level of her education. Burnside hoped to give her that something extra and get her through the MA program with some assistance.

Although Cecilia's probation had ended and the exam crisis from the previous year was forgotten, Burnside was her usual unpleasant self when dealing with her student on a day-to-day basis. At least once each week Cecilia had to stand in Burnside's office justifying why she had not mentioned some famous economist in a research project, or why she did not have a formula properly memorized, or why she had not properly applied some theory to a real life situation. In addition to her own work, there were endless tests and essays Cecilia had to grade, her ongoing duties as RA, and her self-appointed project to fix her Spanish. At the end of each day she relieved her stress in the gym, and then relied on Jason to massage her and give her an orgasm to settle her nerves. She reflected how reliant she was on her nightly routine; without her nightly massage and orgasm she really would be going nuts with all the pressure she was under.

At first it seemed that the relationship between Cecilia and Jason would continue during the spring as it had during the fall, as least on the surface. It still was Cecilia who was telling Jason what to do most of the time. It would remain his responsibility to attend to her needs, to massage her body, give her shoulder and neck rubs, satisfy her clitoris with the gentle caresses of his tongue, hold her, and comfort her. When she needed him to be there for her, he would be there for her. He was taking another Burnside class during the spring, and spent hours standing at attention in the nude, answering her questions about what he was studying. Whenever he did anything to offend her, it was clearly understood he would bend over to receive the belt. As for his outside activities, he would ask her permission before making any commitments.

However, as she interacted with Jason and watched him running around the dorm and hanging out with his friends, Cecilia reflected that he was changing. He certainly seemed more self-assured than he did in the fall, which was something she had not expected. During the fall she had forced him to be successful in his studies, but that very success made him more willing to stand up for himself, defend what he believed in, and also defend his relationship with her. Jason had started growing up.

During the second week of classes Cynthia Lee got together with Cecilia. Cynthia had spent New Year's in Danube City celebrating with her sister and brother-in-law, and came back with some good news. The Danubian government of Vladim Dukov and the national government of his counterpart to the south had finalized a border treaty that incorporated the idea of moving the Danubian consulate to Sumy Ris. The consulate itself would be a compound enclosing the disputed church and graveyard, along with two buildings built in the 18th Century that would contain the offices for the Danubian diplomats. However, what was really exciting was that the nearby castle and several other ancient buildings in Sumy Ris would be sold to a private group of Danubian investors who were planning a restoration and tourism project. If the project went ahead as planned, Sumy Ris would become a major destination for Danubians making pilgrimages to the church and traveling south to other parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

As for the rest of the border, the negotiations had gone extremely well. About 40,000 ethnic Danubians would be re-incorporated into the territory of their native country as a result of the border changes. There would be customs agreements and several internationally managed nature preserves. Most importantly, there would be a bi-lateral agreement to de-militarize the border region in exchange for better cooperation between the two countries' police forces. For the first time in its history, Upper Danubia would have completely secure borders and a formal ally.

The arrangement also would affect all criminals who were ethnic Danubians incarcerated in the country's southern neighbor. Once the new border between the two countries was demarcated, about 400 criminals of Danubian descent would be transferred by bus to the Duchy. On the Danubian side of the border there would be judges and police officers waiting for them. The criminals would be granted Danubian citizenship and then re-tried under Danubian laws. Those who still had time left on their sentences would have to finish their terms under the Danubian justice system, which meant they would be assigned a Spokesperson, collared, switched, and forced to live in the nude. It was a convenient way for Upper Danubia's southern neighbor to rid itself of 400 prisoners.

The arrangement could not have come at a more crucial time for the government of the Duchy's neighbor. Even before the treaty was finalized, Dukov's counterpart was forced to move troops away from the Danubian border to deal with another border dispute that was not going nearly as well. Had Dukov been less trustworthy, his government could have taken advantage of the troop withdrawal to grab the land in question. However, the treaty had been negotiated in good faith and awaited approval by both parliaments before the Danubians would take possession of their new territory.

Cynthia confided that she was worried, in spite of the amiable arrangement between the two leaders.

"The commercial attachť at the US Embassy tried to undermine the negotiations, and no one can figure out why. Also, it seems that Mega-Town Associates doesn't like it and they're trying to get the World Trade Organization to stop the treaty. I don't get it. You'd think that one less border conflict in Eastern Europe would make everyone happy, but it hasn't. Something weird is going on behind the scenes, and whatever it is, I don't have a good feeling about it."

The final two weeks of January passed by very quickly, but at the same time were hectic for the residents of Huntington Hall. Cecilia had to choose her spring semester research topics for Burnside, which took time away from her efforts to learn correct Spanish. She and Lisa continued to work out together, more out of habit than anything else. Cecilia was in much better physical shape than she had been during the fall and knew as much about using the gym equipment as Lisa.

Of course, among the things that interested Cecilia were the latest details of Lisa's love life, because the Californian had given up a boyfriend the RA respected for one who she thought was a total idiot.

Cecilia made no effort to hide her disdain for Ken and clearly expressed that she felt Lisa had made a very poor exchange. Lisa, in trying to justify herself, gave up more about her relationship with Ken than she had intended, giving her friend a full account of Ken's desire to be punished and the real satisfaction she felt having him over her lap.

"I don't know how I can say it so you'll see where I'm coming from. The truth is I totally love punishing him. When I have him tied up and I'm hitting him... I don't know... I just feel really good. It's a total adrenaline rush. And he likes it too. As soon as I do anything to him, spank him, slap him, or best of all, give him a really good pinch... it's like flipping a switch. He's as hard as a dildo. And it's total, you look in his face, and you can tell he wants it so bad..."

"OK, that's real nice. So he likes you whippin' his ass and you like whippin' his ass. And what else is goin' on between you two, besides his sore ass?"

"You make it sound like there ought to be more. Why? Why should there be more? Right now I'm having fun. He's got a lot of imagination and he's willing to try anything, which was something Mike absolutely refused to do. It's fun, and that's what I want. I'll tell you, I've never had sex like what I'm having with Ken."

Lisa's relationship with Ken was very different from Cecilia's relationship with Jason. The level of personal commitment between Lisa and Ken came nowhere near the commitment Cecilia and Jason had with each other. Outside her room Lisa saw Ken as her equal, so she was not trying to raise him or influence his personality like Cecilia was trying to do with Jason. Lisa never disciplined Ken with the goal of influencing his behavior. Her viciousness was a manifestation of her sexuality, nothing more. Unless they were building up the mood for a sexual/discipline encounter in her room, Lisa never told Ken what to do, what to wear, or how to behave. There was no hint that she wanted to control his life or form his personality, so the punishments she inflicted were just for sexual stimulation and had no larger purpose.

In contrast, in Jason's life a belt-whipping served a completely different purpose from an erotic spanking. Cecilia felt that she was finishing the job of raising her boyfriend and was trying to form his personality. She wanted him to behave responsibly and used the threat of the belt to keep his weaknesses under control. She threatened him much more than she actually punished him, one example being her insistence that he quit driving. If she ever caught him behind he wheel of a car she really did plan to flog him to the point of drawing blood, but she also expected never to have to carry out that threat. She had warned him, and if he knew what was good for him, he'd obey her.

A second difference was that Ken wanted a more intense experience that focused on pure pain. He enjoyed being tied up, slapped hard, savagely pinched, and cruelly humiliated. During their sexual sessions, "fucking little pervert" was only one of many insults Lisa hurled at him. As serious as Lisa might be at the moment, both she and Ken knew that her insults were not what she really thought of him, they simply were part of the mood they needed to make his punishments truly satisfying.

As for Lisa, the punishments gave her a way to vent her anger and frustrations, as well as satisfy her craving for combining cruelty and dominance with physical stimulation and sex. She loved attacking Ken by jumping on him, digging her fingernails into his skin, slapping him hard across the face, and above all, viciously pinching him. All that was on top of punishing his bottom, photographing him, and telling him what a little pervert he was for getting so aroused. The savage animal in Lisa's being had escaped its cage and now roamed freely in her room whenever Ken was there. The inner tension in Lisa's soul was gone now that she had a partner who could satisfy her. She was much happier than she had been in a very long time.

With that Lisa concluded her response to Cecilia's doubts. There was no question that Mike was smarter, more worldly, and had a stronger character than Ken, but none of that mattered. It was Ken who satisfied her needs. It was Ken who was feeding her inner animal.

Cecilia shook her head. Most of that stuff Lisa was doing to Ken she couldn't even imagine doing to Jason. Her boyfriend did enjoy being spanked, but what Jason considered erotic paled in comparison to what Ken wanted. During an erotic spanking, the moderate pain from the smacks of her hand or the leather paddle were only one out of many ingredients of a much more complicated experience, which also included caresses, sensuality, foreplay, and love. The raw meanness Lisa inflicted on Ken was absent from the sessions during which Cecilia spanked Jason.

Jason's public responsibilities took him to Indianapolis the second Saturday of February, where there was yet another conference for naturists concerned about increasing the appeal of nudism to college-age people. The conference not only emphasized the idea of nudism as a fitness movement, but also its philosophy and perceived conflicts with organized religion. It was a far-reaching conference that also sought to address some of the moralistic arguments being used in the US to keep the movement as restricted as possible.

Jason's part of the presentation would be to discuss his love of exercising in the nude, and how, without any prompting from anyone else, he had become accustomed to being naked at home while he was still in high school. The point he was making was that he considered himself fortunate because his privileged upbringing allowed him to have the privacy to pursue his beliefs. His argument was that other young people should have the choice of exercising naked regardless of social class or privacy and society needed to accommodate that need. He would conclude by citing research about Danubian high school students who exercised nude in their gym classes. The research clearly demonstrated that the typical Danubian high school student led a lifestyle that was far healthier and free from vices than the lifestyle led by a typical student in the US and did not have the same sexual hang-ups.

When Jason informed Cecilia that a representative of the Danubian Clergy was planning to be present to discuss traditional Danubian values and the Church's attitude towards nudity, her interest in going was sparked. She was curious to see a Danubian religious leader in real life, given the Church's importance in the society of the Duchy. She dropped her idea of trying to get out of going, instead asking permission from Burnside to be excused from any duties to the economics department that weekend. She would go, partly out of curiosity about Upper Danubia, and partly because she wanted to see why Jason was becoming such a popular speaker at nudist events. The two couples piled into Ken's car and drove into Indiana towards the state's capitol. Suzanne, who originally had planned to travel with the group, had a contract to take pictures and already was at the conference site getting set up.

The conference was at a rented country club, which made the entire affair surreal to Cecilia. Outside there was nothing unusual about the entrance; it was just a parking lot full of cars like anywhere else. Inside was a different story. There were lines of people checking in, still dressed in winter clothing. However, beyond the check-in there was a sign that read:

"Nudity required beyond this point"

Beyond that sign, not a single person was wearing anything except shoes. It was when Cecilia saw the sign it hit her that she would have to surrender her clothes and, for the first time in her life, appear naked in front of a bunch of people, most of them much older, who did not know her. She struggled to catch her breath, thinking: what the fuck have I gotten myself into? It was too late to reconsider; now she had to go through with it.

As Cecilia nerved herself to go into the women's locker room, she saw Suzanne off in the distance, loaded down, as usual, with her photography supplies. Apart from the black camera bag straps crisscrossing her shoulders, she was as naked as anyone else in the corridor. Cecilia called out to her, and she waved back. Suddenly Cecilia became more concerned about talking to Suzanne than anything else, so she rushed into the locker room and quickly pulled off her clothes. As the cool air hit her bare body, she felt extremely exposed and vulnerable, but she quickly ran out to greet her friend.

Cecilia posed for a snapshot with Jason and Suzanne, the three students standing completely naked arm-in-arm. Only later would Cecilia see a huge irony in the photo, standing as she was between her boyfriend and her one-time lover. Lisa and Ken stood together for another picture, her fit, deeply tanned body contrasting with Ken's somewhat lighter skin. Fortunately the couple had toned down their sexual adventures prior to coming to the event, so Ken's skin was unmarked. Cecilia noticed Ken glancing at her body, and then remembered he had never seen her without her clothes before. The closest he came was that night he saw her in her underwear during the Poker game when she had battled Lisa and narrowly won.

Cecilia's initial unease diminished after a few minutes. While Jason took off to meet with the group organizers, Suzanne recruited her friend to help her with her equipment, carry camera bags, and reload film. Cecilia stuck close to the photographer, grateful to have something to do that kept her mind off the fact she was naked for the first time in her life in front of hundreds of strangers. It also helped that Suzanne was equally naked, looking perfectly at ease as her statuesque body moved about the main conference room.

It was mid Saturday afternoon when the first of two presentations that interested Cecilia was given, the speech by the Danubian Clergy. A severe-looking older man, accompanied by a somewhat younger but equally severe-looking female companion, entered the room. Both were dressed in their religious outfits: a long black robe with a tall hat for him, and a long black dress for her. The dress looked like a typical Danubian formal gown, except the color. Cecilia later learned that the Danubian Clergy had to wear their religious garb whenever performing official duties or representing the Church. That was why, even at a nudist conference, they had to stay dressed.

Cecilia then had the shock of her life. Cynthia Lee followed the priest and priestess onto the stage. She was completely naked. The two representatives of the Danubian Clergy stood at attention while she moved in front of them, knelt, and touched her head to the floor. Then she stood up. The two Clergy members saluted her and she saluted back. It turned out that Cynthia was a convert to the Danubian Church. She really was taking Danubia seriously.

Cynthia and the Priestess took their position at the main podium, while the older man stood behind them. The purpose of the arrangement became evident when the woman started speaking in heavily accented English. Cynthia was there to make sure she could be understood and translate any questions posed by the audience. The Priest was there to back her up if she had any theological doubts, but the presentation would be mainly her show.

The Priestess gave a brief history of the Danubian Church, but quickly moved to the topic of interest to the conference, the role of public nudity in Upper Danubia and how it was viewed by the Clergy.

It turned out the Danubian Church was accepting of nudity under certain circumstances. People performing religious duties such as public penance or ancestral remembrance marches used nudity as a way to distinguish themselves from people living everyday lives. To the Danubian religion, to be naked was to humble oneself before the Creator and the Spirits of the Ancients. The Priestess was well-aware that the attitude of the Danubian Clergy horrified many foreign religious leaders who viewed the uncovered body as something shameful and definitely not something to be openly incorporated as part of the believer's personal atonement. The Danubians, on the other hand, were horrified by other cultures that had placed such a huge emphasis on the fashion industry and the "evil worship of cloth".

To emphasize her point the Priestess held up several glossy fashion magazines.

"This how we the Danubian view the Sin! This the real Sin, the material worship of thing no made by Creator! No made by Creator, but capitalist say we must give much money to company, and we must worship the cloth, no worship the Creator. This... the capitalist Sin!"

With that the Priestess tore the magazines and threw them to the ground. It was a rather shocking display, the Danubian version of a fire-and-brimstone sermon attacking the fashion industry and its materialistic values.

The leaders of the conference had invited the Danubian Church representatives to encourage the conference attendees and reporters covering the event to see the issue of religious morality in a different light. The Priestess's angry tearing of the fashion magazines to emphasize her point certainly caught the attention of the audience and of several reporters filming her. The Danubian priestess was presenting a moralistic and philosophical counter-argument to much of what was being preached in the US about the human body, which was why she was there. She wanted to get her audience to urge the people of the US to re-assess their priorities.

Jason was at the podium shortly afterwards, with a much more light-hearted portion of the presentation. He was an excellent and very likable speaker. Cecilia watched him with intense interest, wanting to see her boyfriend in action. He commanded the stage and the room, surprising her with his on-stage charisma. He joked with the audience, told amusing antidotes, and confidently moved back and forth between serious thoughts and humorous ones.

Dang... he's good, thought Cecilia to herself as the audience chuckled and clapped.

Jason continued with some jokes about the Tri-Alpha run and gestured to his fellow-runners Ken and Lisa, who were sitting in the audience. A light shined on them as they stood up and waved to the group. Jason's presentation concluded shortly afterwards, to much cheering and applause.

There were other presentations, but Cecilia missed them. Suzanne quickly drafted her to help move some lighting, pulling her away from Lisa and Ken. As she walked down the hallway following her friend, she had time to reflect about how much Jason really was changing. She had known about his changes since the beginning of the spring semester, but now she had actually witnessed it, seeing him perform so well in public. Jason was completely self-confident and clearly enjoyed himself on stage. For half an hour he had captivated a room of nearly 400 people.

It was at that moment, as she walked down the hallway studying Suzanne's bare backside, Cecilia had an awful realization... Jason isn't gonna belong to me after all. It just isn't gonna happen. Iím not gonna be able to have that kind of relationship with him, not with the way he's goin'.

The relationship she had envisioned, where he would be kneeling and meekly obeying her commands... there was no way he would be able to give that to her. His character was too strong.

Cecilia had to reflect on her situation alone. She excused herself from Suzanne and looked for a place she could think in peace for a few minutes. Finally she found an indoor tennis court that was empty and poorly lit. The court reminded her of Jason's mother and the Schmidts' moribund lifestyle, but she pushed that thought aside to deal with her own inner turmoil.

Cecilia realized she was very frightened. She had promised herself that never again would she allow a relationship to take over her life, but now, with Jason, that was precisely what had happened. She had wanted to change him, and indeed did change him, but not into what she had anticipated. The changes in his character were because of her, because she had forced him to overcome his weaknesses and stop hating himself. She had made it impossible for him to fail, because she wanted to create a partner who would not be a loser. She had created a person whom she could respect, showed real potential for success, and could contribute to the world. But in doing all that, she had lost her control over him.

What a huge irony. In trying to control him and mold his character, Cecilia had ended up setting Jason free from his own failings. In setting him free from his own failings, she had made him much more difficult to control. He had accomplished too much, and there were too many other people and events influencing his life, for him to become the meek servant she had wanted back in September.

And yet... and yet... she knew that he still desperately needed her. Without her, he would not be asking the big questions about his life and reassessing the values he had grown up with. Without her, he still would be tormenting himself over the death of Heather Jones and the fact his father held him in such disdain. Without her, he still lacked the drive to pass difficult classes on his own. Without her, his inner inertia would take control of him and make him do nothing.

He still needed her. She knew that if anything were to force them to break up he would be devastated. Not just devastated, but broken. His weaknesses and character flaws, stronger than ever, would return to take over his life and ruin him. She couldn't leave him. She was committed to the relationship and committed to him. She also realized she was committed to changing herself to accommodate her life with him. She had to accept the fact there were things he could teach her and ways over time he might influence her own life and values. Yes, in fact he already had changed her, much more than she previously had realized.

The question she now faced was: how could she let go of her obsessions and fears? How could she accept her life, now that her original plans were so completely undermined? Would she find happiness with him, even though he wasn't going to be the partner she had envisioned? Could she face down the inner terror that had been the root of everything she had done since she was fifteen, the fear that she once again would have to relinquish control of herself?

I ain't got no control, she kept thinking, I ain't got no control over my life, and that ain't what I wanted. It just ain't what I wanted.

She began having flashbacks, thinking back to a time when she really did feel that she had no control over the direction of her life.

I ain't your fuckin' bitch, Vicente. I just ain't...

Jason burst into the room, looking for her. Seeing her standing alone with a terrified look on her face made him assume that perhaps she had become intimidated by the conference and by being surrounded by so many naked people. However, the conference was the farthest thing from her mind at the moment. She made it very clear that it wasn't the conference that was bothering her. When he asked if there was something he could do for her, she thought for a minute, and finally responded.

"You can hold me, Jason. That's what you can do for me. You can hold me and don't never let go."

For a very long time he did hold her, assuring her that he would be there for her, no matter what. He didn't bother to ask her what was wrong, because he knew she couldn't put it into words. There were things about her he would never understand, but he didn't care.

Finally, she pulled out of her strange mood and kissed him. She gave him that loving look and sarcastic smile, kissed him again, and with that they went out to find the other members of their group.

The following morning the group headed back to Chicago. They studied during the afternoon, but Jason asked Cecilia to come to his room at 7:00. Cecilia wondered why he would want her over there so early, but she decided to satisfy her curiosity and show up at his door at 7:00.

When she walked in there was a loud "Surprise!" She looked around and noticed a banner reading "Feliz CumpleaŮos" and a small cake sitting on Jason's desk, with 20 lit candles burning on its top. Lisa, Ken, and Suzanne, each holding a small gift, accompanied Jason.

Cecilia had forgotten that she was turning 20 that day. It had been such a long time since anyone had celebrated her birthday that she barely noticed the passing of the years in her life. Her birthday simply was another day that came and went, another date on the calendar indistinguishable from any other day. Tonight, on her 20th birthday, that pattern was to be broken. It turned out that Jason had learned her birthday by sneaking a peek at her student ID several weeks before and had told the others, thus allowing them to prepare a small surprise. It wasn't much, just a cake, a banner, and four gifts, but it was more celebrating Cecilia had been given for a birthday since she turned 15.

She was overcome with emotion, because the surprise had been total. Because she never thought about her birthday, she figured no one else would think about it either. She had been wrong about that, since there were four people in the dorm who did care about celebrating her 20 years on the planet.

Jason's gift was something Cecilia actually wanted and had been planning to buy for herself, a Danubian shawl to go with her formal dress. The shawl was made of expensive linen and imported from Upper Danubia. Upon seeing it, he could tell that she was genuinely excited about it and eager to see how it would look with her dress.

Lisa cut up the cake and passed it out, Suzanne took some pictures, Cecilia said thank you to her companions and hugged them, and with that her first birthday party in five years concluded. She escorted Jason back to her room so she could model her new shawl with her dress. To him it was very strange seeing her in her Danubian get-up, because she looked so different in that dress than she did in her normal knee-length skirts and tight blouses.

Cecilia carefully took off her dress and hung it up with her new shawl. Only her thong remained covering her body, and she approached Jason, signaling he would have the honor of lowering it that night. He did so, admiring her flawless dark body. He stood up and hugged her. She pulled back slightly, so he could see her dark eyes and sarcastic smile.

"I'm in my birthday suit, and it's my birthday, and maybe I've been just a bit naughty. So, what are you gonna do about that, Jason? What are you gonna do about it?"

She was breathing heavily and he could feel her heart pounding. She was in a very strange mood, but was obvious what she wanted. She wanted him to celebrate her 20th birthday with a birthday spanking. The moment Jason had waited for had come, the moment she would go over his lap.

To make absolutely sure he understood what she was asking from him, he ran his hands down her back to her bottom. He gently rubbed and patted both sides, very softly mimicking a spanking motion. A sensuous sigh gave him his answer. Yes indeed, she wanted to go over his lap.

He sat down on the bed, reached up, and grabbed her hand. He pulled her across his thighs and positioned her so that her backside was nicely displayed, with her bottom cheeks relaxed and her legs slightly spread. He ran his hand over both sides and gently explored the sensitive skin in between. She sighed again. There was no tightening of her muscles and no hint she would try to resist.

She was ready to be spanked. The only doubt in Jason's mind was how hard she wanted her bottom to be slapped. He already had decided on the number of slaps: 20, since it was to be a birthday spanking.

He continued exploring her right bottom cheek with the palm of his hand, but began building up the tension by patting her soft dark flesh.

"So, are we keeping count, Cecilia?"


SMACK! "One!" SMACK! "Two!"

Jason had landed a crisp slap on each side, and paused to gently caress his target before spanking it again.

SMACK! "Three!" SMACK! "Four!" SMACK! "Five!" SMACK! "Six!"

He paused to let the sting sink in and change over to a comfortable warm burning. With loving attention he absorbed every detail: the feel of her beating heart, the first smell of her arousal, the sight of her sweaty skin, the sound of her tensed breathing and very faint groans. She was scared and excited, wanting to experience first-hand what Jason was feeling when she put him over her lap. Now it was her turn, and she was loving it.

SMACK! "Seven!" SMACK! "Eight!" SMACK! "Nine!" SMACK! "Ten!"

He noticed a reddish tint in her brown skin as he gently rubbed her and waited for the stinging to fade into that wonderful burning that so many spanking enthusiasts seek as the fulfillment of sexual desire. He was gentle with her, but firm with his slaps. They had to sting for the experience to be real for her.

"So, how's it feel to be the naughty birthday girl?"


She smiled slightly and wiggled her bottom to let him know she was ready to continue.

SMACK! "Eleven!" SMACK! "Twelve!" SMACK! "Thirteen!" SMACK! "Fourteen!"

He continued gently massaging, now expanding his explorations to the very wet region between her legs. He teased her clitoris, but just for a second, just long enough to force her to turn her bottom up in a desperate effort to make contact with his fingers. She was nicely spread, her bottom-hole on full display.

SMACK! "Fifteen!" SMACK! "Sixteen!" SMACK! "Seventeen!" SMACK! "Eighteen!"

"Well, it looks like we've gotten you through high school. But you know that college has been a lot harder. It's the last two years that really count, don't you think?"


She sighed as he again brushed her clitoris with his fingertips. Once again she pushed her pelvis upwards, desperately seeking his fingertips with her vagina. Oh... she was so aroused...

SMACK! "Nineteen!" SMACK! "Twenty!"

By the twentieth slap she had a nice reddish color in her bottom, which looked truly sexy as it contrasted with the unmarked brown skin of her thighs and back. He kissed the sweaty, warm, swollen skin and was rewarded with a gasp.

"Jason! Take me! Please take me!"

"Not quite, Cecilia. You know good things come to those who wait."

With that he very gently brushed her entire vulva with his fingertips, and then leaned down to kiss her bottom. He made her get up and swept her up in his arms. He gently laid her back on the bed and again brushed her vulva with his fingertips. It was with total desperation that she watched him take off his clothes and slip on a condom. He kissed her, and finally gave her the long-awaited reward, thrusting as she groaned with delight and moved about furiously underneath him. She gasped as the soft burning heat in her bottom warmed her entire soul and filled her with sexual desire. She climaxed, but Jason stayed in long enough to climax a second time. By the time he finished, both of them were completely exhausted.

She cuddled up to him and fell asleep. For once it was not Jason's bottom that was sore but Cecilia's. He was immensely happy, because he understood that something significant had happened that night when she went over his lap. She had opened herself up to him and, for a few minutes, however brief they might have been, submitted to him. He was well-aware that she had never intended to surrender herself at the beginning of the relationship, but things between them were changing. She had learned that she would need to trust him, and in trusting him would discover the real meaning of love and happiness.

February ended with another public appearance for Jason in St. Louis. Unlike his previous appearances, Jason was dressed, since he was addressing a college crowd in an auditorium on campus, and his presentation was part of a symposium titled "The Philosophy and Practice of Fashion in Modern America." Jasonís audience was a very mixed group, ranging from students who were receptive to public nudity to ones who were downright hostile to the idea.

Jason was dressed in one of his better suits and struck a very dignified image for an 18-year old. However, the truth was he felt much more at ease speaking in the nude than he felt speaking wearing a suit. Given that he was not speaking to an audience of fellow nudists, and that he was standing before the harsh judgment of people his own age, he realized that the St. Louis presentation would be by far the most difficult one he had given so far.

Jasonís presentation was restricted in other ways. He knew many of the jokes that drew laughter from fellow nudists would fall flat to an audience not familiar with the quirks and inside humor of the movement. In the end Jason realized that he had better set aside any attempt at humor and give a straightforward appeal to the idea of accepting nudism as a lifestyle.

To prepare his speech he decided to draw upon the experience of the one country where public nudity was a part of daily life, the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia. He was able to cite the Danubian Churchís view on the matter and the sectís hostility towards the fashion industry, incorporating much of the sermon given the previous week by that Danubian Priestess. He was able to draw upon the fact that swimsuits were actually illegal in the Duchy and that families spent their summers at public beaches in the nude and thought nothing of it. He decided to leave out the fact that criminals also were punished be being denied the right to wear any clothing during their sentences, because he wanted to play up the positive aspects of nudity in the Duchy, not the negative ones. However, he anticipated being questioned about that, and asked Cecilia to write Kimberly Lee and get her perspective on the Duchyís use of mandatory nudity to punish criminals.

Kim wrote back that the reasoning behind forcing criminals to be naked throughout their sentences was two-fold. First of all, it made them easy to identify. It also was a useful means to reform petty thieves, because upon being sentenced they had no clothing in which they could conceal weapons or stolen items. Much of the temptation to continue stealing disappeared because it was so difficult for a naked person to take anything and not be noticed.

The second reason behind the sentencing practice was the Danubian religious concept of humility. The Danubians believed that most criminals acted out of selfishness, which was the logical outcome of an over-developed sense of pride and entitlement. The criminalís sentence was designed to strip the criminalís soul by stripping his body, and in doing so force him to accept the fact he had no reason to be proud and was not entitled to anything.

Jason gave his speech, dividing his time on stage between his personal experiences and the collective experience of the Danubian nation. At the end of his speech, sure enough, he was questioned about Danubian sentencing practices and was prepared with an answer. When his critic interjected his objections to Jasonís comment about the Danubian justice system, he responded, "The Danubians have their way of looking at the world and doing things that has kept that nation going for 3000 years. They still have the lowest crime rate in the world, so obviously thereís something theyíre doing right. What is it that makes your values superior to theirs? What is it that makes them wrong and you right?"

Jason surprised himself with his response, which threw the hostile question right back into his criticís face and silenced him. Jason won that small confrontation and succeeded with his goal, to get his audience to re-examine their own values about clothing, fashion, and the human body. He left St. Louis with his reputation as an effective public speaker enhanced and his own self-confidence boosted even more.

Since the beginning of the year, the Jason pondered what he should do about the CD of pornographic images taped to the back of the drawer of his desk. Although he had fantasized about presenting the CD to Cecilia and getting her to punish him over it, he realized that perhaps the time for doing that had passed. She had not given him a belt-whipping since the fall semester, and Jason sensed that she really had no further desire to do so. The relationship was changing and slowly Cecilia was becoming his equal. More and more she was letting down her guard and exposing her vulnerabilities to him, more and more she wanted to be held and re-assured. Jason realized the relationship was becoming much more "normal" than it had been when they were starting out.

Finally he did take the CD off the back of his drawer and spent a long time sitting with it, fingering its blue surface. Then, suddenly, he held it over his trash can and bent it with both hands. It shattered with a loud crack, exploding into plastic shards that shot into the can. There... it was done. Jasonís final secret from his girlfriend now was nothing more than a bunch of sharp pieces of plastic sitting in the trash.

Even though the CD no longer existed, for some reason he felt the need to tell her about the incident. With the CD broken and the relationship changing, he doubted she would lose her temper, but still, he was curious to see what would happen. On the very first day of March he told her, and even though he had not known what to expect, was surprised by her response.

"Jason, I donít have any right to be pissed at you over that, not if you donít have that CD any more."

"No, I busted it in the trash, and I didnít make any other copies, and now Iím telling the truth."

For a long time Cecilia sat looking at the floor, obviously struggling with something she was trying to decide whether or not she should tell him in response. Without looking up, she began speaking, "Well then, itís my turn to confess somethiní to you, which is why I donít have no right to be mad about a CD. Last fall, there was somethiní kinda important I hid from you..."

Cecilia took a deep breath and continued.

"Do you remember, them days after Halloween, I wouldnít let you see my ass? That I didnít want any massages and I blindfolded you when we had sex so you couldnít see me? Do you remember that?

"Yes, I remember that. I thought youíd gotten bored with the massages or something."

"No, thatís not it. I... I didnít want you seeing me Ďcause... my butt... it was all marked up. I did something... something just plain stupid... and I... I got in a lot of trouble with the department... I mean like... a lot of trouble... and Dr. Burnside had to go up in front of the ethics committee, and beg them to let me off, and she got me out of it, and she fucked herself doiní it. Afterwards she was really pissed, and I was all scared, but she got me out of trouble..."

"But what was it? Whatíd you do?"

Cecilia explained how she accessed the midterm on Burnsideís computer and how the universityís examination tracking system caught her. Then she continued, "Anyhow, after the ethics committee said they werenít gonna kick me out... what Dr. Burnside told me... was that she was gonna whip my ass, Ďcause I got her in so much trouble. She wanted to punish me, but she didnít want it going in my record, so she found another way to do it."

Cecilia then admitted that, right under Jasonís nose, she had endured two physical punishments at the hands of her professor, including the severe switching she received on Halloween. She described it in detail along with the party that followed, and concluded with her efforts to keep him from finding out about it.

"I feel bad about all this, Ďcause thatís when I was tryiní to make you think I was perfect. I wanted you to think I was fuckiní perfect, and here I was, nearly gettiní my ass kicked out of the university. I wanted to fool you... and I did fool you, and now I donít feel good about it."

Jason paused for a long time, trying to think how he should respond. He was shocked by how quickly Ceciliaís defenses were coming down, how quickly her vulnerabilities were being exposed to him. He knew that he was seeing the real Cecilia Sanchez, the very flawed, frightened young woman who was hiding behind the fearsome faÁade she had used to protect herself for the last five years. She had given him peek behind that faÁade, and in doing so had placed herself at his mercy.

"So, I guess weíre still even, then, arenít we?"

He took her hand. She nodded, trying to force a smile while holding back some tears.

"I guess so, Jason. I guess weíre just even."

Chapter 27 - Lisa's Hard Lesson

Cecilia remembered that Mardi Gras was coming up, which was one of three occasions throughout the year Burnside held one of her infamous BDSM costume parties. The other two times were Halloween and the 4th of July. Burnside deliberately picked holidays people normally dressed up in outfits or costumes. The 4th of July was pushing it a bit on the costumes, but it fell about half-way between the other two holidays and was a convenient time to have a summer party.

Ceciliaís nude servitude during the Halloween party in the fall was not at all unusual, because for each party Burnside needed at least two hosts or hostesses to help set up and serve drinks. If she could get four, that was ideal, but normally the number was two or three. As Cecilia learned the hard way, Burnside normally used students who were in academic trouble. That gave her the opportunity to punish the students beforehand, which was something she intensely enjoyed doing. Using punishment as a pretext for getting hosts also allowed her to assign the outfit she most enjoyed for her servants, spending the night completely naked except for a collar and bondage cuffs. Burnside herself could not have explained why she liked that arrangement so much, but for every party she always managed to have the students she needed for her hosting.

The early midterm usually provided the recruits she needed. Invariably there was some idiot who tried cheating on the test or turning in a plagiarized term paper. Either offense was a serious violation of the University Student Code of Ethics and was viciously punished by the institution. Not only did the student face immediate expulsion from the university and receiving failing grades for all classes taken during the semester, but the university made sure that every other academic institution knew about the cheating. A student caught cheating essentially was blacklisted from all major universities nation-wide.

Burnside offered her cheaters an alternative to having their lives ruined. They could work as a host for her party and submit to a physical punishment. As was true for Cecilia, they had to sign an agreement to submit to discipline. They faced a very unpleasant night, but once that night ended, they could return to class as though nothing had happened.

During the spring semester the early midterms went unusually well. For some reason the students did somewhat better than normal, which prompted the professor to comment the test had been too easy and she would need to fix that for the next time. The relatively easy test left her with another problem. For the first time in her career she did not catch anyone cheating, and just a few days before her Mardi Gras party did not have anyone to host for her. Of course she could try to hire someone, but some of the flavor of her party would be lost if she could not get someone to host in the nude.

When Cecilia was in the professorís office, she noticed Burnside calling several staffing agencies to see about getting help for the party. She didnít even bother to bring up the issue of what the host or hostess should be wearing, but even so, upon finding out the nature of the party, it seemed that the temp agencies were reluctant to send anyone.

Burnsideís problem gave Cecilia an idea. It would give her an opportunity to do a favor for her professor and perhaps try to get in the womanís good graces. If she were to do Burnside a personal favor, she knew that she could expect somewhat better treatment in the future. Anything to lighten her daily responsibilities was worth a try.

The professor hung up with a frustrated expression and began thumbing through an underground newspaper to see if she could recruit help from one of the adult services that advertised in the back. She was getting desperate. That was when Cecilia decided to speak up.

"Dr. Burnside, if youíre haviní problems gettiní someone to host for you, I Ďspose I could do it."

Burnside looked up.

"I mean, I really donít mind... you know... Iíll even wear the cuffs and whatnot... I wouldnít mind helpiní you out... and Iíll get my boyfriend to help too. I know heíd do it, Ďcause if thereís somethiní he can do without his clothes, heís there in a heartbeat."

"Well, it would certainly solve my problem. If you could do that for me Iíd really appreciate it."

"Sure. Just tell me what time you want us there, and weíll be there to help out."

Later that night Cecilia broke the news to Jason that she had volunteered both of them to host at Burnsideís party. She had decided to go the full route; they both would host wearing nothing but collars and bondage cuffs. The only thing missing from their outfits would be welts on their bottoms, since obviously the professor had no reason to punish either of them.

Jason was surprised, and Cecilia herself was surprised, that she no longer thought anything of running about completely naked in a house full of 200 people dressed up in fetish outfits. Of course she knew the experience would be something Jason would enjoy, which was why she had no hesitation volunteering him. However, only recently had she become comfortable enough with her own body to pose for Suzanne, let alone do something like be a naked host at a party full of people who would mostly dressed.

Cecilia felt truly liberated as she openly told Jason about her experience at Burnsideís house the previous fall, including the switching demonstration and what was expected from the servants. She discussed the whole atmosphere and the tension among the guests over how real the party was. Cecilia concluded that it was mostly a fantasy and costume party punctuated with real punishment.

The commitment took an even stranger turn later that night, when Jason got together with Ken and Lisa for their nightly study session. When the couple asked him what plans he and Cecilia had to celebrate Mardi Gras, he told them the truth, that he and Cecilia would be working as hosts for Ruth Burnsideís springtime BDSM party. They were very curious to know the details, which Jason shared. The only thing he left out was the fact that Cecilia had hosted in the fall, but he did explain Burnsideís normal procedure for recruiting hosts and that this semester she failed to get anyone.

Then he mentioned Burnsideís Danubian police switch. Ken and Lisa looked at each other. It was Lisa who spoke up.

"You mean sheís got a Danubian police switch? The real thing?"

"Yeah... Cecilia told me she used in on her TA in the fall. She gave him a full 50 strokes, right in front of a whole bunch of people. She said she had him crying like a baby and that he was totally humiliated."

Jason noticed from Lisaís expression that she was deep in thought, as though trying to figure out how to say something. However, they did have a class to prepare for, so Jason told the other two to drop the subject and open their books.

Later that night Lisa approached Cecilia about the party.

"I was wondering if there was any way you could get Ken and me to come."

"I donít know. Usually that partyís just for graduate students and older people. I donít think Dr. Burnside wants a bunch of freshmen runniní around her house."

"I mean to host. Weíre willing to be hosts and help you guys out."

"You know what weíre gonna be wearing?"


"And you still wanna do it?"


"OK. I Ďspose sheís not gonna turn down two more hosts, if thatís what you guys wanna do."

Lisa took a deep breath, and then continued with the second part of her strange request.

"Thereís something else I want to ask. Jason told me that Dr. Burnside has a Danubian police switch. The real thing, from Upper Danubia."

"Thatís true."

"And that last fall, when she switched that guy with it... right in front of the whole group..."


"I mean I... like... uh... I want to do that to Ken. I want to tie him down and give him a full 50 strokes, right in front of a bunch of other people."

"Lisa, youíre fuckiní crazy! You canít do that to Ken! Thereís no way Dr. Burnsideís gonna let you do it, Ďcause you wouldnít know what the fuck youíre doiní! That thingís fuckiní dangerous! You canít just go hittiní people with it! Itís somethiní you gotta learn how to do!"

"I understand that. The point is that if me and Ken are willing to host for her, thatís how she could repay me. Teach me how to use that switch and then let me have a go at Ken."

Cecilia was dumbfounded. For one thing, it seemed to her that Lisa was being extremely arrogant. She was expecting Burnside just to do what she wanted. That was totally unrealistic, the idea that a freshman would set conditions to a tenured professor. She wanted to crash someone elseís party, and then use it to pursue a personal fantasy with her boyfriend.

For another thing, Cecilia knew that wielding a Danubian police switch took training. The goal of a stroke with the switch was to deliver as painful a blow as possible without breaking the victimís skin. It was a very delicate balance that Danubian police officers spent several weeks perfecting during their training at the National Police Academy. Cecilia suspected that neither Ken nor Lisa understood how extreme a full punishment with the switch would be.

Lisa brazenly asked Cecilia to make an appointment with Ruth Burnside the following day so she could volunteer herself and Ken for hosting her party, and then bring up the issue of the switch. Cecilia felt bad about the imposition on the professor.

The next morning Cecilia was in Burnsideís office, nervously explaining the situation with Lisa and Ken, somewhat apologetic about Lisaís straightforward attitude. She fully expected that one of two things would happen. Either the professor would tell her to tell Lisa to get lost, or she would have Lisa come into her office and give her a nasty lecture about respect. However, Burnside did neither. Instead she commented, "Thatís fine, have her come in here at 12:30. I want to hear this directly from her. Now, a question: are you free tonight?"

"I guess so, Dr. Burnside. I was gonna study and review with Jason..."

"Well, I want you to forget about all that. Unless I give you a call with a change of plans, I want you to bring Lisa over to my house at 6:00, and Iíll show her what she needs to know about using that switch."

"But... I mean, just like that? Donít you think sheís beiní a bit..."


"Yes, thatís the word, arrogant. I mean just demandiní that you..."

"Thatís not a problem. I like young women with an attitude. Gives me a bit of a challenge. Iíll teach her how to use that switch, all right. But Iíll be doing it my way, and thereís some other stuff sheíll be learning as well."

Cecilia left the office, wondering what Burnside had in store for Lisa that night. She knew the words "other stuff sheíll be learning as well" were significant. She knew that Lisaís experience at Burnsideís house would have some unpleasant surprises. Oh well, Lisa. You got yourself into this.

Cecilia escorted Lisa into Burnsideís neighborhood that evening. It was bitterly cold, but fortunately there was still some light outside, an indication that the dark, cold days of winter would be coming to an end shortly as the spring equinox approached. Lisa had a light-hearted "I told you so" attitude about the impending get-together with Ruth Burnside. Cecilia was quiet on the matter, suspecting that by the time they left Burnsideís house Lisa would be wishing that she had worn a looser pair of jeans.

Burnside opened the door dressed in a sweatsuit. Standing next to her was an old friendly-looking mixed-breed dog she called "Maynard". Cecilia was struck by the contrast between the harsh professor and her quiet dog. When she bent down to pet the animal the professor explained that Maynard had been with her since she was starting her Masterís degree, which would make him about 15 years old. Cecilia thought about the changes that must have taken place in Burnsideís life during that time. She wondered what things would have been like when Maynard was a puppy and Burnside was only a couple of years older than Cecilia was now. She reflected: 15 years... what will I be like in 15 years?

Burnside offered her two guests some tea. The women sat down in a surreal prelude to what was going to happen in a few minutes. Burnside questioned Lisa about her discipline sessions with Ken, asking her what she used, how hard she struck him, and how they had begun their sadomasochistic relationship. Lisa chatted confidently, still blissfully unaware that anything was going to happen other than the professor would do her bidding and teach her how to use the Danubian switch. Cecilia knew better. Ruth Burnside does not take orders from a freshman...

When they finished their tea, Burnside asked Cecilia to take Lisa into the spare bedroom and carry out her infamous punishment bench or "horse", as she sometimes called it. While the two young women struggled with the heavy piece of furniture, Burnside collected the other items needed for the lesson. These included the switch and the police instruction manual, a set of leg and ankle cuffs attached to short chains, and a sturdy pillow that would be strapped to the punishment horse that Lisa would use for target practice. Cecilia glanced at the cuffs. They confirmed her suspicion that something else besides that pillow was destined to feel the switch that night.

For the next half-hour Burnside gave Lisa a straight-forward explanation about using the switch. She showed the student how to stand, how to hold the implement, and how to swing with the goal of maintaining control before, during, and after the stroke made contact with her victim. Cecilia flinched as Burnside savagely struck the pillow with an ominous... whoop!

Burnside casually explained: "Now, after each stroke the Danubian cop usually waits for a minute or so, to allow the criminal to feel the full impact. Thereís also the visual effect of watching the welt rise and turn dark, and it makes it tough for the criminal to not scream. Iíve been told that usually the criminals break between 20 and 30 strokes. Thatís normal. The really tough ones can hold out to maybe 40 or so."

Burnside sat down with Lisa and pointed out various details in the police manual. The manual was full of line drawings and also contained some black and white photos of naked men and women lying across the switching table, their bottoms marked up to varying degrees from painful strokes.

"So these people are Danubian criminals?"

"No. Theyíre police cadets. Thatís part of their training. The Danubian National Police makes all cadets take a couple of switchings themselves before theyíre certified, because they want their police officers to know what a switching feels like. Itís also an issue of avoiding hypocrisy. The Danubians are real big on avoiding hypocrisy. Every criminal whoís facing the switching table is aware that the cop whoís beating him knows what it feels like from first hand experience. Thatís only fair, donít you think?"

"Yes, Dr. Burnside, I suppose thatís true."

"OK, good, now letís see you try it out. Imagine thatís Kenís butt over there on that horse. Letís see how you do."

Lisa struck hard and struck well. She laid a series of parallel lines across the pillow, slowly working her way up from the bottom to the top. After about 20 strokes Burnside stopped her.

"Good. It looks like you got the hang of it. Let me have the switch please."

Lisa handed her the switch.

"Now get your clothes off. Cecilia, please hand me those cuffs."

Lisa was not sure she had heard the professorís last statement correctly. She gazed dumbly at the older woman as Cecilia bent down to pick up the cuffs.

"What did you say, Dr. Burnside?"

"I told you to take off your clothes. Just fold your stuff up and put it on the coffee table."

"But... but... why do I gotta take off my clothes?"

"Because Iím going to switch you."

Lisa went pale and her face froze with a strange expression, more bewilderment than fear.

"But... I... itís Ken whoís getting it... not me..."

Burnside gave Lisa a very cold look.

"Lisa, what weíre dealing with here is a very severe experience. Something that is very painful, and very traumatic. I have no problem with you punishing Ken at the party. However, Iím not letting you do it unless you clearly understand what youíre planning to put him through. I donít believe you can understand that, unless you experience the same thing yourself. So, thatís what weíre going to be doing right now."

"But... thatís not..."

"I understand that wasnít what you expected. You came over to my house expecting me to give up my evening, teach you how to how to use my switch, and then give up time at my party so you can pursue the fantasy you got with your boyfriend. You expected to have everything your own way and to not have to submit to anything yourself. Itís not going to work like that, Lisa. You need to know what this switch feels like on your own body, before you use it on someone else. The Danubian National Police is very adamant about that, and so am I."

Lisa was immobilized. Burnside walked up to her and coldly stared into her eyes.

"You will either get your clothes off and let Cecilia cuff you, or you will get out of my house. I do not appreciate this hypocritical attitude of yours, and I donít think itís becoming of a woman with your intelligence."

"I... I..."

Lisa glanced over at Cecilia, silently pleading for help. The Dominican gestured back by shrugging her shoulders. Hey, itís your choice, Lisa.

Cecilia was amazed by how quickly the mood in the room had changed. In less than a minute Lisa went from seeing herself as an equal exchanging favors with her professor to a very inferior young person about to be punished by an older authority figure. For the first time that Cecilia knew her, Lisa was very frightened. She was shaking slightly and struggling to breathe.

Something inside of her, that seemed to rise up from within and take control, prevented Lisa from fleeing to the door. Was it extreme curiosity? Was it her desperation to really use that switch on Ken? Was it her pride, not wanting to look like a coward in front of the other two women? Was it a secret desire to be punished? Whatever it was, Lisa did not leave. Instead she gave Burnside a frightened look, and, after a very long pause, slowly began taking off her clothes. As instructed, she folded everything and placed it on the coffee table, except for her shoes, which went underneath. Once she was finished, she stood quietly, her arms at her sides, with her attractive tanned body on display to her professor and her RA. She knew better than to try to cover herself. Anyhow, she remembered that Burnside had seen her during the Tri-Alpha run, so there was no point in being modest.

The professor motioned Cecilia to put the cuffs on Lisa. She began with her friendís wrists, encircling her arms with the leather and buckling the restraints into place. The short chains hung loosely, but Burnside planned to hook them to the legs of the punishment horse momentarily. Cecilia bent down to repeat the process for Lisaís ankles, encircling her legs with the leather straps and buckling them into place.

Burnside sharply tapped the punishment horse with the switch. Lisa directed another frightened glance towards Cecilia and reluctantly approached the bench. Burnside placed her hand in the middle of Lisaís back and pressed her forward. As she draped herself over the punishment bench, letting her arms and legs hang freely, Lisa was dumbfounded by what was happening. Why... why was she letting the professor do this to her?

Cecilia began to feel a familiar warm burning and wetness between her legs as she watched the overly confident Californian gracefully draped over the punishment bench. She had long, beautiful legs and a truly lovely bottom. Her shapely bottom-cheeks were quivering slightly, making them all that much sexier.

Burnside badly wanted to rub Lisaís bottom and tease her between her legs, but figured that she was pushing the girl hard enough as it was. She quickly clipped Lisaís cuffs to metal rings welded to the legs of the punishment bench, and thus immobilized her.

Burnside moved in front of Lisa, cruelly slashing the air with the switch.

"Lisa, my understanding is that you wanted to give Ken a full criminalís punishment of 50 strokes. Is that true?"

Lisa shook with fear. Yes, that was indeed what she was planning to do. She struggled to catch her breath as she nodded.

"Please answer me properly. I donít accept you moving your head around as an adequate response."

"Y...yes maíam. I... I was gonna... h...hit him 50 times."

Interesting, thought Cecilia. Sheís never called anyone maíam before.

Burnside slashed the switch through the air as she continued:

"My... my... my... Fifty times. A bit extreme, donít you think? Maybe, now that you face 50 strokes instead of him, perhaps that might be a bit severe?"

"I... I... Ďspose so, maíam."

"Well, the deal is, whatever Iím giving you is what Iíll allow you to give him. Youíre not doing anything to him that you havenít experienced first. Do you understand me?"

"Yes... M... maíam."

"Youíre calling me Ďmaíamí now, arenít you? How fascinating. You werenít calling me that a few minutes ago. I suppose our changed circumstances has made you re-assess how you should address me?"

"Y... yes... M... maíam."

"Very well. Hereís a few more facts about punishment in Upper Danubia. Criminals get 50 strokes when theyíre over 18. Minors, people under 18, also can get the switch, but the maximum punishment for a minor is just 25 strokes. I think thatís what weíll do. Weíll start you out as a minor and Iíll stop at 25 strokes. Then Iíll give you the choice of whether or not we shall continue."

Burnside stepped off to one side and measured her distance. Then she calmly and expertly drew back and laid a fearsome blow across the base of Lisaís bottom, marking both sides with a straight, even line that quickly darkened.

"Uh... uh... oh... my God..."

"Kinda hurts, doesnít it? Now I donít want you making a bunch of noise. If you want to play the Danubian criminal, you will make it a point of honor to stay quiet. We got 24 to go... or 49, if you so desire."

Even after just one stroke, it was obvious from the expression in Lisaís face that sheíd be damn lucky to make it to 25 strokes. Fifty strokes was out of the question.

Burnside twisted back and laid a second harsh blow, very close to the first stroke. Lisa gasped and grunted. Already she was clenching her teeth and tears were flowing down her cheeks. The professor paused, waited for the line to darken, and struck again. She leisurely struck Lisa a fourth and fifth time, each stroke laid perfectly parallel to its predecessor and almost, but not quite touching it.

By the end of the fifth stroke, Lisa had a solid band of pain, about two inches wide, crossing the lower part of her unprotected bottom. Her legs were shaking and her buttocks were quivering. Burnside stopped to take up position in front of her.

"What you will notice is that Iím laying the strokes perfectly parallel and not crossing them. When you use the switch, you have to be very careful to minimize crossing the strokes so you donít make your victim bleed. You have a lovely bottom, and I wouldnít want to do anything that would permanently mark it, right?"

"Uh... Ahh... Uh... Yes maíam."

"Very well. Weíre pausing a bit to let what weíve done so far sink in. I want you to feel the punishment, so I can break you with fewer strokes. I think thatís a misconception about a severe punishment like this. I plan to break you, but I want to do it with as little injury to your body as I can. Thatís why I need to spread out the strokes, to make each one count and let the passing of time, not additional blows, wear down your resistance. Iím under the impression you didnít understand that when you were planning to switch your boyfriend. Now, Iím going to continue. Youíve got a nice red strip across your bottom. Iím going to be adding strokes above in the same pattern: parallel, very close together, but not touching each other."

Burnside slowly worked her way up Lisaís bottom to the top of her crack. She took nearly 10 minutes methodically laying 10 strokes to cover all of Lisaís backside with cruel reddish lines. Sweat trickled down Lisaís body and her voice was breaking as she desperately tried to breathe without screaming. Burnside stopped for a minute to admire her work. Then, tapping the switch in her hand she addressed Lisa again.

"OK. Thatís the first part of the punishment, covering your entire butt with one layer of welts. Now comes the fun part, the strokes thatíll break you. The way Iíll be doing that is going to be to start with a nice severe stroke at the very upper part of each thigh. The next stroke will be in that tender spot where your thigh ends and your bottom-cheek begins. From my experience, thatís the one that usually gets a girl screaming, because thereís a lot of nerve endings there. Itís a sensitive area. Then Iíll have six more strokes to distribute around your sore bottom."

Burnside had read Lisa perfectly. She struck hard at the tender skin that joined the girlís left thigh with her bottom, setting off a high-pitched scream. The scream died down to desperate sobbing. There was another scream when Burnside struck the other side in the same spot. There were only six strokes to go, but Lisa now was broken. She screamed each time the switch landed and sobbed loudly in between.

Ceciliaís feelings about the entire affair were complex. On the one hand her heart went out to Lisa, who was suffering horribly and undergoing a very traumatic experience. Her self-assuredness was gone, along with the over-confidence that landed her into her situation in the first place. She had learned the hard way that no, just because the professor was a fellow dominatrix did not mean Lisa could treat her as an equal.

At another level Cecilia was glad to see Lisa being so humbled. The Californianís arrogant attitude had irritated her, and it would be nice to see it go away for a while. Also, Burnside had saved Ken from Lisaís unreasonable expectation that he could tolerate 50 strokes. There was no way Lisa could withstand anything more than 25 welts, so that would be the maximum that Ken would have to endure.

Burnside laid the final six welts across the middle of Lisaís already marked bottom. The new welts, laid on top of old ones, quickly turned dark and looked very painful. Lisa was sobbing uncontrollably, but Burnside showed no sign of being ready to release her. Instead she walked around the punishment bench in circles, slashing the switch through the air.

"OK. Thatís the punishment a minor gets in Upper Danubia. Is that going to be good enough for you, or would you like to continue with a full adultís punishment?"

"Ahh... Uh... Please... maíam... I... Iíll stop... please... enough... it hurts so bad... Ah..."

"Then you understand thatíll be the cut-off when you punish your boyfriend. 25 strokes. Thatís it. You understand that, right?"

"Yes... maíam... I understand."

"OK, Cecilia. You take it from here. Go ahead and release her. Sheíll need you to comfort her, so please hold her and be patient."

"Yes, Dr. Burnside."

Cecilia unclipped the hooks that attached Lisaís cuffs to the punishment horse, and then grabbed her arm and helped her stand up. Lisa truly was broken, her face distorted with misery and pain. That switching was more painful than anything she could have imagined and left her completely traumatized. The Californian fell into Ceciliaís arms, still sobbing uncontrollably. Burnside went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, which she brought out and set on a buffet in Ceciliaís sight. As soon as Lisa stopped crying Cecilia would try to get her to drink, which would help calm her nerves.

Cecilia thought that Lisaís sobbing would go on forever, as she struggled to support the weight of the taller woman leaning against her. Finally she managed to calm down. The glass of water calmed her down even more. Burnside directed Cecilia to take Lisa to the guest bedroom and let her lie down for a few minutes to recover. Once Lisa was safely deposited on the bed, lying face down, Cecilia took a better look at her badly marked bottom. The final strokes, crossing the earlier ones, had left brutal-looking dark red lines across the middle of her backside. Cecilia flinched at the sight of the cruel marks and decided to offer Lisa the opportunity to exchange her skirt for freshmanís tight jeans to ease the pressure on her welts when they left Burnsideís house.

Cecilia returned to the living room. Burnside offered her another cup of tea, which she nervously accepted. She was not sure what to say to her professor. There was nothing about what had happened to Lisa that particularly surprised her, but still, it was very unnerving to actually witness it.

Burnsideís mood had shifted. She calmly talked about the upcoming party, signaling her gratitude that Cecilia and Jason had offered to help out. Of course Lisa and Ken were still welcome to help as well. Burnside promised that she would give Lisa a half hour to punish Ken, starting at about 1:30.

"Sheís earned it, and Iím not one to go back on my word. If she shows up, Iíll set aside the time for her."

A few minutes later, Cecilia returned to the guest bedroom to wake up Lisa and get ready to go back to Huntington Hall. At first Lisa sullenly refused Ceciliaís offer to lend her the skirt she was wearing, but the moment she felt her tight jeans pressing on her welts, she changed her mind. Cecilia took off her skirt and passed it to Lisa, and then put on the jeans. She had to roll up the legs to accommodate the long pants on her own short legs. Fortunately Lisaís waist was only slightly bigger than her own, so the pants did not look too bad on her. The two women left Burnsideís house and made their way back to the university.†

Cecilia had a comment, "You understand that Dr. Burnside had to do that to you. You didnít give her any choice, Ďcause sheís not takiní attitude from a freshman. You understand that, donít you?"

Lisa gave Cecilia a hostile look, but didnít say anything.

Cecilia continued, "So, anyhow... you still bringiní Ken to the party and whippiní his ass?"

"Oh yeah, Iím bringing him. I didnít go through all that for nothing."

Two days later the students prepared to return to Burnsideís house. Cecilia took control of the expedition, sharply explaining what was going to happen and how, since there were four of them, they would divide the work. The guys would take care of anything having to do with moving heavy items at the beginning and the end. Lisa and Ken would serve drinks to the crowd, while Cecilia and Jason would concentrate their efforts in the kitchen. There was another detail that Cecilia decided to take care of before they left Huntington Hall; the shaving of their pubic hair. She told the men to go to the bathrooms and shave, while she snapped her fingers at Lisa and ordered her into the womenís shower for the same thing.

The two women stood next to each other in the shower as they shaved off their hair. They inspected each other to make sure neither missed any spots. Of course Lisaís backside still was badly marked from the welts she had received two days before, but to Cecilia the marks complemented her friend's attractive body. Lisa was very sexy, especially with the added detail of the purplish lines crossing her shapely bottom. Lisa, on the other hand, was not at all thrilled about the pending public display of the markings. She didnít know what to make of the RAís comment, "Those markings look good on you."

Cecilia called all three freshmen into her room. Then she ordered them to stand straight and listen up.

"OK, tonightís gonna be a bit weird, but I think we can have some fun with it. But thereís somethiní I want you three to understand. As far as youíre concerned, Iím the one whoís runniní the show. Iím takiní orders from Dr. Burnside and then passiní them along to you. You got any problems, youíre telliní me, not her. And if any of you donít do what I tell you, Iím gonna fuck up your night, and I guarantee that. You three get it?"

Jason and Ken immediately responded, "Yes, Cecilia."

Cecilia gave Lisa a cold look. "Lisa?"

"Yes, Cecilia, I get it."

A few minutes later the four students were on their way to Burnsideís house in Kenís car. As soon as the students entered, Cecilia took charge. She asked Burnside for paper bags to put their clothing into, and then casually undressed along with the others. The Dominican then ordered Lisa and Ken to carry the bags to the back bedroom, while she picked up the bondage cuffs from a coffee table they were laid out on.

Burnside watched saying nothing. Instead she quietly enjoyed Ceciliaís display of confidence and dominance. The scholarship student directed Jason to put the cuffs on Lisa and Ken, and finally on herself. Then she put the final set of cuffs on Jason. She then asked Burnside what items she wanted to remain in the living room and which ones needed to be taken to the back bedrooms. Upon getting the professorís response, the two guys began moving the furniture. The three women stood watching them for a few minutes, enjoying the sight of the muscles in their bare bodies straining and their penises jiggling as they moved one heavy piece after another out of the living room.

Cecilia and Lisa set up in the kitchen, but ultimately Cecilia wanted Lisa to serve the guests so that everyone could see her punished backside. She would keep Jason in the kitchen with her to assist in preparing drinks and organizing serving trays. She also would have him wash dirty dishes as they came back in, in order to cut down on that task once the party ended.

The four freshmen hung up Mardi Gras streamers and various glittery decorations while Burnside changed into her favorite fetish outfit, the one that looked like a leather two-piece swimsuit from the front, but left her almost completely exposed from the back.

Dr. Halsey showed up in an outfit that looked like a leather police uniform. He handed the hostess a gift, gave her a very sharp slap on the bottom, and asked how his naughty birthday girl was doing. Cecilia thought to herself, hmm... naughty birthday girl. I wonder if thatís gonna mean anything later on...

As the guests started coming in, Cecilia directed the three freshmen to gather up coats to take to the back rooms. The students made a very strange sight, three freshmen, all of them wearing absolutely nothing but metal collars and bondage cuffs, being directed by an equally naked sophomore. Another detail that made the sight so strange was the fact that Cecilia was by far the smallest in stature of the four students, but clearly the one in charge.

Once the guests were safely accommodated in the house, Cecilia and Jason went to the kitchen, leaving Lisa and Ken to shuttle trays of drinks and empty glasses to and from the living room. With ruthless efficiency Cecilia took charge of mixing the drinks by jumping from blender to blender, quickly distributing the contents into waiting glasses, and reloading ingredients for the next batch. Meanwhile she kept Jason very busy loading trays and cleaning dirty glasses. Burnside later would comment that Cecilia ran the most efficient operation in the kitchen she had ever seen at one of her parties.

Burnside and her lover Jim Halsey commanded the evening, obviously enjoying themselves in their roles of mistress and master of the strange group of fetish enthusiasts gathered in the house. They always provided some form of pain-related entertainment, as well as directed guests experimenting with Burnsideís large collection of discipline implements.

Cecilia did not have the chance to see Burnside in action that night, because she had chosen kitchen duty for herself and her boyfriend. However, Lisa got a chance to see Burnside close-up. She was impressed by the older womanís charisma, but even more impressed by her ability to balance play-acting with maintaining tight control over 200 adults. Burnside set the mood in the over-sized living room and somehow, just through her presence, made the party what it was. She knew how to distinguish between wanted and unwanted sexual degradation and kept a close eye to make sure no play-acting crossed the line. Above all, she was concerned about safety and quickly intervened in any situation she thought might risk injury to a guest. That was to be expected, but the way she did it, using the subtle force of her personality to avoid offending anyone truly impressed her student.

At about 11:00 p.m. Dr. Halsey took his loverís hand, led her to a raised platform, and called out to the group. "Attention! Attention! As most of you know, Ruthís birthday is coming up. Sheíll be 38 years young next week."

There was a loud cheer from the room.

"So, ladies and gentlemen, what do you propose we should do about it?"

"Birthday spanking!" shouted several people in the room. Suddenly the entire room began shouting:


Halsey placed his hands on his loverís shoulders and gently turned her around, placing her uncovered backside on display.

"Yes, indeed. I would say the owner of this lovely bottom has been quite naughty over the past year. I donít know. 38 swats... doesnít seem like too much for this lovely bottom. Perhaps... perhaps we should make it a double-dose... 38 nice sharp spanks on each side instead?"

The room started chanting "DOUBLE DOSE! DOUBLE DOSE! DOUBLE DOSE!"

Cecilia and Jason, upon hearing the chanting of "SPANK! SPANK! SPANK!" left the kitchen to see what was going on. They pushed their way through the crowd, who stepped aside to let the student hosts slip by. Then they saw their professor, her attractive bottom on full display and the crowd chanting its approval of the upcoming discipline session.

From the reaction of Burnside and the interaction with the crowd, Cecilia could tell that the birthday spanking was an annual event. Ever since they started their relationship, the two professors publicly spanked each other close to their birthdays. Burnside got her spanking in March, while Halsey got his in July. In both cases they were relatively mild over-the-lap hand spankings, although this year Halsey had decided to give his lover a double-dose to put some color in her bottom. Of course paybacks are hell, and there was no question he would face a double dose in July.

The older man sat down in a wooden chair and drew the middle-aged woman across his lap. The room fell completely silent. Burnside closed her eyes, but from the expression on her face Cecilia could tell that she was enjoying the experience. Halsey began a spanking Burnside with a double-slap, one swat on each side, which counted for one year of Burnsideís life.


The crowd began counting:






Cecilia watched the entire affair with absolute fascination. She never could have imagined her fearsome professor meekly going over anyoneís lap, much less enjoying it. She also had not really noticed how attractive Burnsideís body was. For a woman who was 38, the professor had done a fantastic job keeping herself in shape.

Cecilia felt the wetness and burning building between her legs. Her heart pounded and she began to sweat as she realized that she was intensely aroused by the scene that she was witnessing. Somehow, the sight of her professor submissively lying across her loverís lap, her red bottom on display to a room full of cheering spectators, drove her sexual instincts wild erotic desire. She badly wanted to be on that platform, but couldnít figure out whether she wanted exchange places with Burnside, or exchange places with Halsey, with Burnsideís body draped over her lap and the womanís firm red bottom bouncing under the vicious slaps of her hand.

Cecilia desperately resisted the urge to slip her fingers between her legs. That would only make things worse, and, even though the room was dark, certain to be noticed. Instead she grabbed Jason, noticing that he seemed aroused by Burnsideís spanking as well.



Finally the spanking ended, with Burnsideís bottom deep red from having endured 76 full-force slaps. She stood up, turned her back to her cheering spectators, and bent over. Dang, thought Cecilia to herself. That woman sure isnít shy. Sheís as bad as Jason...

The hot burning between Ceciliaís legs only intensified. She wasnít going to be able to go back to the kitchen, not in that condition. There was only one solution, however risky it might be. She grabbed Jasonís hand and led him to the spare bedroom. The bed was piled high with coats, which she dislodged with a huge push that sent them tumbling to the floor. She ripped back the cover and jumped on. Without saying a word, she reached up and grabbed Jasonís hair, forcing his face between her legs.

Jason knew better than to second-guess his duty to her. When she was this uncontrollable, there was only one thing he could do. He had to make her climax so she could calm down. He dutifully began cleaning the wet juices of her arousal from around her vulva. He then inserted his tongue into her vagina, massaging and cleaning her, before finally moving on to her clitoris. She gasped with delight, but grabbed his hair and pulled on it as he continued licking her juices and striving to satisfy her.

Jason pulled his head up to catch his breath, and noticed a box of condoms sitting on the dresser. He spoke to Cecilia with a voice of authority that slightly unsettled her.

"Cecilia, I want you on your elbows and knees, properly presented to me. I want your bottom up and completely spread. Now itís my turn."

Seeing Burnside spanked and then tasting Ceciliaís arousal in his mouth made Jason totally hard. He had a condom on within seconds, and then paused to enjoy the sight of the Dominicanís exquisite bottom before entering her. He ran his hand over her lovely brown skin for a few moments, but then grabbed her thighs and pushed in. He thrust and thrust, as she squealed with delight and their sweat dripped onto the sheets.

Finally they calmed down and separated. Cecilia suddenly remembered their abandoned service in the kitchen. "Shit! We gotta get the drinks going!"

Reeking of sex, the two naked students pushed through the crowd to get back to the kitchen, where Lisa and Ken were waiting for them.

"Where the fuck have you..."

Suddenly everyoneís eyes went to Jasonís crotch. He still was wearing his condom. Definitely it was not one of his most dignified moments...

About an hour after midnight came the final public event of the Mardi Gras party. Burnside, still dressed in her revealing outfit, took the stage to announce Lisaís punishment of Ken. It was a bizarre turn of events for the guests, because never had any student hosts ever actively participated in the fetish demonstrations. Also of interest were the remnants of Lisaís two-day old welts, which contrasted with Kenís unmarked body. Ken and Jason moved the punishment bench into place on the platform, while Burnside and Lisa stood in front. Burnside introduced Lisa and announced that she would be giving a demonstration with the Danubian police switch. The professor briefly described the Danubian justice system for the benefit of the guests who had not seen her demonstration back in October, and added the detail that minors were only punished with 25 strokes instead of 50. She then ordered Lisa to turn around and present her bottom for the guests to view. She explained that the welts on Lisaís backside were administered two days before but still were visible.

The moment came for the introduction of Ken. He seemed reluctant to present himself to the view of the crowd. His posture indicated what was wrong: he was hunched over, trying to hide an erection. It was obvious that he was horribly embarrassed. It was equally obvious that Ruth Burnside had no patience for people who, through their own actions, had landed themselves in humiliating circumstances. This idiot is going to face the music, she thought sourly. She stepped back, grabbed his arm, and shook him to force his hands away from his penis.

"You got yourself into this, and we donít have time to deal with your bullshit," she snarled into his ear. "Now you are going to stand up straight and show yourself to the guests. I think everyone here has seen a boner before, and now theyíll get to see yours."

Ken stood before the cheering audience with his face beet-red, and his penis sticking straight out to the amusement of everyone present. Burnside added to his misery by calmly explaining to the room that for some masochistic men, fear is an aphrodisiac. Kenís misfortune worsened as his intense humiliation made him even harder. When Lisa slashed the switch in front of his face, his penis began bobbing up and down, to the delight of the spectators. There was a final indignity awaiting him when Burnside forced him to turn sideways, to allow the crowd to admire his erection from the side.

In spite of her own situation, Lisaís internal desires and the pending fulfillment of a longtime fantasy began to release the inner animal in her soul. She grabbed Kenís collar and jerked him over to the punishment horse. He had a hard time positioning himself because of his intense erection, but finally he managed to push it to the side enough to be able to scoot forward and turn his bottom up. Lisa hooked his cuffs to the legs of the bench, immobilizing him and forcing him to spread his legs. She gently massaged his bottom, enjoying the feel of his sweaty, trembling skin. Youíre gonna get it, Ken, she thought to herself.

Lisa stepped aside and cleared her mind as she tapped the switch against the base of Kenís bottom. She planned to use the same technique on Ken that Burnside had used on her. She would start with fifteen even parallel strokes going from the base of Kenís bottom to the top, and then lay the four strokes across the extreme upper part of his thighs to break him, and distribute the final six strokes across in the center to drive home the lesson.

She laid on the first stroke, striking hard and leaving an even reddish line across the base of both bottom cheeks. The room was absolutely silent as she struck again and again, slowly widening the red band of solid pain marking her victimís backside. About 10 minutes and fifteen strokes later, Lisa paused to study the rising welts on her boyfriend. She had struck as hard as Burnside would have struck, but so far Ken had managed to stay quiet. Weíll see about that, you little bastard, thought Lisa to herself. She still had 10 stroke to go, and those were the ones that would cross the strokes she already had given him.

The pain Ken felt was far more intense than anything he had previously experienced. He was enjoying the experience however. The pain was so absolute that he felt like his soul was being cleansed, and felt that he could clear his mind of everything except the intense physical sensations of the moment. He also was faced with the challenge of not screaming, which was something he had set as a personal goal. No matter how hard Lisa hit, he was determined not to scream. It would be a victory over both her and his own weaknesses if he could take such a savage beating and not make any noise.

In the end, it was Ken who got what he wanted out of the beating, not Lisa. His bottom was in bad shape, crisscrossed with ugly purplish lines and blood blisters, but throughout the ordeal he managed to stay quiet. Lisa landed the 25th stroke and felt despair at the fact that her opportunity to break him had come and gone. He was not broken, and when she released him and they bowed to the crowd, it was him, not her, who they were cheering.

There was an intense sexual rush he was feeling at the moment that he desperately needed to satisfy. As soon as the cheering died down and they left the platform, Ken grabbed Lisaís hand and led her to the spare bedroom. The searing heat in his backside aroused him tremendously. He just had to take her. His senses out of control, he desperately kissed her. She quickly responded: her own instincts blocking out the recent humiliation of not having managed to force him to cry. She passionately pressed into him and ran her hands over his welt-covered bottom cheeks. As soon as she squeezed that sensitive area, his erection hardened. He pushed her on the mattress and enjoyed one of the best orgasms of his life as the searing heat from the switching pushed him to continue pumping semen into her.

Burnside knew what Lisa and Ken were doing, but was willing to excuse them for a while. She knew what it was to be caught up in a passionate high from the mixture of pleasure and pain. The sexual desire could be all-consuming and blocked out everything else in life. She knew that reality from her own experiences, so she actually was pleased to see how something as simple as a punishment could bring such intense erotic excitement into the lives of the two freshmen. Let them have their break and their fulfillment as a couple.

Anyhow, it was time to wind down the party, so the professor informed Cecilia that she was not to mix any more alcoholic drinks. Jason took the place of Lisa and Ken, moving about the living room with non-alcoholic beverages and collecting used glasses. Shortly thereafter Lisa and Ken re-appeared, just in time to help pass out coats to guests as they departed.

With four people to do the job, the cleanup went relatively quickly. Ceciliaís efficiency continued to serve the group as she organized the others into an assembly-line to clear out the living room and then attend to the dishes. She stayed behind in the kitchen to finish cleaning it while the three freshmen moved the furniture back to its proper place. They were dressed and out the door by 3:30, the earliest that any group of student hosts had managed to make it out of Burnsideís house after one of her parties.

Cecilia noticed, over the following week, that her efforts to help her professor at her Mardi Gras party had paid off. The change in Burnsideís attitude her was subtle, but it was real. Cecilia was relieved. Anything to make her life easier...

Chapter 28 - A Playbook for the Opposing Team

The following several weeks passed uneventfully for the residents of Huntington Hall. Cecilia continued telling Jason to push Ken and Lisa in their studies, and made herself available to various residents who were having problems with their midterms. Of course, there were the inevitable crises over panicked freshmen and failed tests, but the RAís tight grip over her residents ensured that the 2nd floor had the fewest academic problems of the entire dorm.

Lisa and Ken were forced to take a break from their sexual adventures for a week while they waited for their welts to heal. However, the party changed both their characters and how they treated each other. As a couple they had endured a very strange, but very powerful experience that drew them much closer together and intensified both their personalities.

Lisa now understood why Ruth Burnside had wanted her to undergo a switching herself before inflicting a punishment on Ken. The pain they both had endured became a shared experience that made them much more serious about their relationship and about life in general. It greatly strengthened their feelings toward each other and brought about a psychological commitment that neither felt prior to the beginning of March. The change was especially noticeable in Lisa, who was forced to respect Ken after he made it through a 25-stroke switching without any noise or crying.

Cecilia and Jason noticed Ken and Lisa spending much more time together during the weeks following the Mardi Gras party. The most obvious change was their workout schedule, because Ken dropped working out with Jason and Lisa dropped working out with Cecilia. Instead, they went to the gym together.

Both the RA and her boyfriend felt a bit put-off by being ditched, and the only solution was for Cecilia to start working out with Jason. The change in the workout routine led to another change in their relationship. Jason was determined to teach Cecilia how to swim. Now that he had her in the gym to himself, he told her that after working out, they would change into swimsuits and meet at the pool.

When Cecilia hesitated, Jason commented, "Look, this means enough to me that Iím willing to buy a swimsuit and actually wear that stupid thing in the pool. I need your cooperation on this, because I donít want to see you drowning. I think thatís reasonable, to not want you to drown."

Cecilia complied, reluctantly showing up at the university pool in a one-piece swimsuit. The first time she saw Jason in swimming trunks, she thought he looked a bit odd, given that she was so used to seeing him naked. However, she quickly set that thought aside as he handed her a swimming board and continued the lengthy process of teaching an adult how to swim.

The swimming lessons became an important part of the over-all change in the relationship between Cecilia and her boyfriend. She had to struggle with a deep-seated fear of taking her feet off the bottom of the pool, and at the same time making herself completely dependent on another person to avoid any mishaps in the water. As long as she did exactly what he told her, she was fine. If she deviated from what Jason was telling her to do, invariably she found herself struggling in the water and her boyfriend immediately grabbing her and guiding her back to the edge of the pool to catch her breath and calm down. The water taught her a hard lesson; that she was not to disobey him while they were in the pool.

Over time the helpless child-like feeling Cecilia suffered while in the water diminished, as she slowly learned how to stay afloat and not panic the moment her hands or feet werenít touching something solid. Then, right before Spring Break, Jason gave her a major test. She had to swim the entire width of the pool on the deep end, taking no breaks and not touching anything. He swam alongside her, but offered no assistance other than being there to help her if she panicked. She didnít panic. She made it all the way across and didnít panic! When they made it to the other side she hugged him, because she had just overcome one of her biggest fears. She still had a long way to go, but for the first time in her life, at age 20, Cecilia finally was swimming.

Spring Break came just a few days after Ceciliaís successful first swim. For most students Spring Break meant fun and a break from classes. However, for Jason and Cecilia, Spring Break meant nothing more than being separated for a full week. For him it meant a bleak sojourn at his parentsí house in Wisconsin. For her it meant a long week trying to get caught up in her studies and night after night of lonely sessions masturbating in her room.

When Jason got back to Wisconsin, the mood in his familyís house was more sinister than ever. Cassie did not look good at all and was completely uncommunicative. Mrs. Schmidt didnít look good either, but Jason almost didnít see her at all during the entire week. She had quit overseeing the preparation of the family dinners and now spent all over her time at the country club, right up until it closed.

No one in the house was speaking to anyone else... at all.

The changes Jason noticed in his mother and sister were nothing in comparison with a subtle change Jason noticed in his father. The change was not something that was obvious on the surface; Mr. Schmidt was as overbearing and belligerent as always, but still, something was not right. There was something odd about his fatherís behavior, a weird vindictive look in his expression, as though he were concealing some evil secret. It almost seemed as though the secret was something Mr. Schmidt really wanted to brag about, but couldnít. It seemed as though... as though there was some crime or awful deed he was about to commit.

Jason was intimidated by the cruel satisfaction radiating from his father every time he talked to him. He presumed that Mr. Schmidt was about to strike at some business associate, which certainly would not be the first time. Mr. Schmidt already had ruined several peopleís lives and always felt deep satisfaction whenever he managed to incapacitate a rival or, better yet, take down someone stupid enough to trust him.

Jason knew something evil was coming.

On a pleasant Saturday afternoon, the first full day of his Spring Break, Jason stepped outside to contemplate how thoroughly his family was contaminated. The lives of Cassie and his mother were ruined. Even his fatherís life was ruined. Whatever was good in Mr. Schmidtís soul had long since drained out, leaving behind nothing but greed, not just for money, but also for the ability to control as many people as possible and ruin their lives. Greed and meanness -- that was all that was left in the soul of Jasonís father. Mr. Schmidt had become a sociopath, a cruel caricature of the American Dream that had turned into the American Nightmare.

Jason went back inside, his thoughts in turmoil over the psychological poisoning of his family. They had arrived all right, not to any state of happiness or security, but quite the opposite. He felt as though Hell had surfaced to engulf the oversized house and the four miserable people trapped inside. He yearned for a happier time, or at least for a time when he had the illusion of happiness, when the future seemed open to him and he could enjoy the other people in his life.

Jasonís thoughts drifted to his junior year in high school and that wonderful summer that followed, a time before the events that ruined his senior year began to unfold. He thought about his high school memorabilia, wondering what he might still possess that he could take a look at. He went into the basement and dug through a couple of boxes he remembered packing the previous year before going to college. He found some certificates from his time as a track team member and his high school annuals. He opened the annual from his junior year, and several photos and cards fell out. A pain shot through his heart as he opened up the picture from his junior year, a prom portrait of himself and Amanda Galloway. There were various holiday and birthday cards from her, and several small studio portraits. He thumbed to the page of his annual she had written into, forcing himself to read her message. The words from his old high school partner were the words of someone who thought the relationship would be permanent, written about four months before Jason began pursuing Heather Jones.

Amanda... she was gone... completely gone from his life. There was no way he ever could face her again, nor any way he ever would want to. What a waste... but that was the reality he had created for himself. He had lost Amanda due to his own stupidity, and as a result had ended up with Cecilia. There was an irony in what had transpired over the past year. Amanda, as nice and affectionate as she had been, could not save Jason from his character flaws. Cecilia, not so nice, never tolerated the weaknesses that had destroyed his relationship with Amanda. Thus, it was Cecilia, not Amanda, who was destined to share her life with him.

As Jason consolidated the items he wanted to keep into a single box, he heard his fatherís voice through the air duct. Hmm... that was interesting... so the air duct in the basement seemed to carry sound directly from his fatherís home office. He was vaguely curious to know what his father was doing; spending all that time on the phone behind the roomís locked door. He moved closer to the duct and listened...

"Look... Iím telling you weíve got it covered here in DC. That shit-bag and his crew donít have any friends here at all, except for a couple of Liberals in Congress. Well... and the Foundation, but who cares about that fucking batch of welfare-state shitheads? Weíll handle all the press releases and the news items... weíll just run it all through our friends and thatís the story everyone will be hearing... Look, Iíll send you the drafts and then you can see for yourself that weíre ready to roll... No, Iím telling you weíve got it taken care of... weíre defending free markets, thatíll be the party line. Whoís going to argue with that, except for the Foundationís fag professors, and who gives a shit about them?"

There was a long pause, then another call.

"Alright Cutter, I think weíre good to go on the press stuff. Weíve got our people ready on this end, once the shooting starts. Now, youíre sure you know where their Prime Minister is going to be on the 23rd... youíre totally sure? Damn... so youíre taking out his kids as well? The kids, huh? Fuck... and I thought I was ruthless... OK, I'll write that in... What about Dukov... so heís still going to Athens? Youíre still good to go on the plane crash? OK... good. Good. Let me secure fax you what we have so far, and then you tell me if weíre not ready.... OK... OK... Great! The 23rd baby, the 23rd... I just wish I could be there pumpiní rounds myself. Yeah... weíll show them. By the way, how many people do you think you got storming their capitol? Sounds good... Danube City... OK... OK, Cutter, thatís great!"

Jason stood in the basement in a stupor. What the fuck... was there going to be some sort of attack on Upper Danubia? All his fatherís talk of "everything being ready" and "the plane crash" and "people storming the capitol" and "Danube City..."

Jasonís father picked up the phone again and began talking in German. Unfortunately Jason did not understand German, but the tone of his fatherís conversation was similar to the two English conversations. He thought he could make out several place names related to Upper Danubia or its southern neighbor. Yes, most definitely Mr. Schmidt was up to no good.

Jason was faced with a dilemma. If his fatherís associates were planning something evil, wasnít it his duty to try to stop it? But then, wouldnít that entail betraying his father?

Fortunately Jason did not pause long to ponder the moral dilemma he was facing. He could worry about that later. What he needed was to find out exactly what was going on. He sneaked upstairs and passed near his fatherís workroom, but couldnít hear anything through the door. He would have to return to the basement and put his ear near the air vent. Then, he had an idea. He didnít understand German, but his grandmother did. Would it be possible to get a tape recorder and record what his father said, then have his grandmother translate it? He had an old casette tape recorder in his room that was pretty sensitive, so perhaps the idea of recording his father's conversations would work.

Jason grabbed the tape recorder, checked to make sure the batteries were still working, and carried the device back to the basement. He followed the air vent to find the spot where his fatherís voice was the loudest and keyed the machine to start recording. For the next half-hour Mr. Schmidt chatted confidently in German, blissfully assuming no one could hear him. Even if they did, no one in his family would understand what he was saying. He hung up and there was a very long silence. Then he picked up the phone yet again, and started talking in English about his work as a lobbyist and discussed several payments being made to various re-election campaigns for congressmen. There was another long pause, and some more talk about Upper Danubia. Then Jason heard the following:

"You know, my idiot sonís little crack-whore girlfriend actually likes that fucking commie bastard. You should've heard her last Thanksgiving... it was kind of funny to listen to her, when you think about it..."

Imitating Ceciliaís voice he continued, "íIsn't that up to the Danubians? It's their country. Don't they get to choose who's gonna lead 'em? Isn't that what democracy's supposed to be all about?í Well, at any rate, itís gonna be a hoot looking at that little cuntís expression when you guys have things wrapped up. Iím gonna have to get my moron son to bring her back just so I can see that little bitchís face."

With that comment Mr. Schmidt resolved Jason's moral dilemma. He was sick of being referred to as an idiot and a moron, and he certainly did not appreciate his girlfriend being called a "crack-whore" and a "little cunt". He no longer owed any loyalty to his father. Whatever it was that his father's associates were planning, he would try to stop it.

Jason went into his own room, put the tape recorder under his blanket, and turned it on. Sure enough, it had recorded his father's voice. The recording was barely audible, but if turned up to maximum volume it was possible to make out what he was saying. Jason wrote the date and time on the tape's label and put it in a tape box. He then made sure he had several more cassettes and extra batteries. Whenever his father was on the phone, he would be in the basement trying to record what he was saying. He would be patient, gather as much information as possible, share it with his grandmother, and then figure out what to do.

Jason spent the next three days watching his father. Whenever he went into his office, Jason was at his post in the basement with the tape recorder. When his father was not at home, he spent time on the Internet and with an atlas trying to learn as much as he could about Upper Danubia and its neighbors. His father was mentioning a bunch of place names that seemed important. Very quickly Jason educated himself about the politics and geography of various countries, to be able to recognize names and places that came up in his father's phone conversations.

By Tuesday morning Jason had six cassette tapes full of his fatherís ramblings in both English and German. During the entire time he was making the recordings he kept his eye on the office door, wondering if there was any way he could get in. The door was always locked, whether Mr. Schmidt was in the room or not. However, the very fact that it was locked hinted that items were in there that might solve the mystery of what exactly was going to happen in Eastern Europe on the 23rd. Jason absolutely had to get in and see if there were any papers to supplement what he had recorded. Then, he had an extraordinary piece of good luck.

The house was totally empty except for Rita, one of the Schmidtís two maids. Jason slept in, after having been up most of the night in the basement with his tape recorder. When he woke up, he wanted to see if his mother was still at home to ask her something. He went into the Master bedroom and saw Rita standing at the dresser, next to one of his mother's jewelry boxes. The box was usually locked, but she must have picked it open. He quietly moved up behind her, curious to see what exactly she was doing. The maid was looking over several items, apparently trying to see if she could take something that would not be missed.

Rita squealed in terror when she realized her bossís son was standing right behind her.

"Mr. Jason... I just clean... I no..."

A large batch of keys tumbled to the floor; the keys Mr. Schmidt had given her to be able to access the rooms to the house. The keys, and the maidís terrified expression, gave Jason an idea.

"Rita, about those keys. Do you have a key to my fatherís office?"


"Do you have a key to that office? Can you get in there?"

"Yeah... I got key, but your father, he say me, you no open door."

"You let me in there, and weíre even."

"I open door? But your father, he say no."

"You let me in there, and I wonít say anything about the jewelry box. If you donít let me in, I will."

With a very nervous expression Rita unlocked the door.

"You no say?"

"I wonít say anything about the jewelry box. And you wonít say anything about me being in this room. Get it? You wonít tell anyone I was in this room."

"Yes, Mr. Jason. I no say nothiní. Thank you."

Jason set about exploring the room. He was careful to remember how everything was arranged; concerned that when he left the room would look exactly as it had when he entered. He calculated he had about four hours before his mother or sister might return. His father would not be back until much later, so Jason had plenty of time to go through the office and see what was going on.

The first thing he noticed was a box of passports. The passports were not Danubian, but instead from its southern neighbor. Each passport had multiple stamps and visas, including Danubian visas that Jason suspected were forged. He went into Cassieís room, grabbed her digital camera, and began taking close-up pictures the front page of each passport. There were folders of documents in various foreign languages, including Danubian. Jason did not have clue which ones were important, so he spent an hour scanning them in Cassieís computer and then saved the images to a temporary folder in her hard drive. When he returned to his father's office, the next thing he noticed was a box of floppy diskettes sitting near the folders. He took the diskettes into Cassie's room, and, without opening any files, simply copied the contents of each diskette into a new directory created for that purpose. He transferred the passport photos as well, burned everything to a CD, and then returned to the office with the camera.

Jason found maps of several cities, full of handwritten notes, times, and other markings. Jason scanned the maps and burned a second CD. Then, he found what he was looking for, printed drafts of several press releases concerning a coup in Upper Danubiaís southern neighbor, covered with his fatherís handwritten notes. The press releases were dated April 23. There were some drafts of official correspondence, apparently intended for various diplomats and US congressmen, explaining the setting up of a provisional government and justifying the shooting of several officials and their families. There were other documents, including drafts of future contracts between Mega-Town Associates and several Eastern European officials. Jason recognized some of the names, but none of them were people currently in power.

The question about Vladim Dukovís trip to Greece was answered when Jason came across several papers related to a water-conservation conference to be held in Athens. Dukov and several other Danubian officials were slated to attend and were planning to fly home on the 23rd. Apparently that trip was the reason April 23rd had been chosen to launch the coup. Jason did not find anything specifically discussing a plane crash, but he suspected that Dukovís plane would be targeted as the delegation flew home.

After about three hours Jason stopped collecting information. He burned a final CD with the newest scans and decided he needed to quit. Undoubtedly he was overlooking plenty of important items. He knew better than to try to turn on his fatherís computer, or even touch it. Perhaps what he had was incomplete, but most certainly it would be of tremendous value to both the Danubians and their southern neighbors, should he chose to turn the information over to them.

He carefully put everything back in order. He went through Cassieís room to make sure no papers or other items from his fatherís office remained, and finally checked the office to make sure nothing was out of place. Then he locked the door and shut it. His next step was to clean up Cassieís computer as best he could. He deleted the history files and logged onto a couple of her book-marked websites to over-write his own recent activities. Then, he checked the cameraís video card to make sure none of the pictures he took were still on it. He put away the camera and shut off her computer, just in time. He stepped out of his sisterís room as he heard her coming in through the garage door.

Jason looked over what he had: three CDís and six cassette tapes. He sat in numb horror as he contemplated what his fatherís associates were planning to do: assassinate a Prime Minister and overthrow his government. He knew why: his fatherís partners in Mega-Town Associates still were hoping to log Upper Danubiaís forests and build that road. There were some other contracts pending as well, if he understood what was in the documents from his fatherís desk that now were scanned onto his three CDís.

It was time to call his grandmother. He told her that he needed to go over to her condo right away, that he had something important that he needed to tell her. For the next hour he paced nervously while he waited for her friend to come get him. Carrying his cassettes and CDís in a backpack he left the house, suddenly very fearful Mr. Schmidt might come home and find him with the evidence.

That evening Jason and his grandmother sat listening to the tapes. The German conversations confirmed Jasonís worst fears, that there was a pending coup being organized against not only Upper Danubia, but also its southern neighbor. The plot would begin with the killing of Vladim Dukov's delegation by blowing up his plane. The plane crash would divert everyone's attention and be the signal to launch military operations in Upper Danubia. The assault would begin in Danube City with the seizure of the National Parliament and the National Police Station, as well as the King Vladik International Airport and Danube Cityís port and railroad station. The operations would be deliberately bloody and violent, to destroy the Danubian government and scare its people into submission. Once Upper Danubia was secured, a second operation would land mercenaries into the countryís southern neighbor, where several paid-off local officials would be waiting with their own supporters. The double coup would place the plotters in direct control of both countries within a 24-hour period.

The assumption was that, with Dukov, his advisors, and most of the National Police officers dead, there would not be much organized opposition in the Duchy. A German subsidiary of Mega-Town Associates was planning to provide much of the logistical support and fly in mercenaries. Jasonís father was in charge of everything having to do with communications, public relations, and assuring the new governments received quick recognition from the US and other countries.

From the German conversations Jasonís grandmother learned that Mr. Schmidtís lobbying firm apparently was not directly tied to the coups. The project was a private matter between Jasonís father and several executives from Mega-Town Associates. It was something of a rogue operation, but if it succeeded as laid out in the conversations, it would leave the company in complete control of two countries in the center of Eastern Europe and allow the executives to then launch a hostile takeover of Mega-Town Associates. The project would not end there. The takeover would place the largest corporation of the US under the control of the plotters. Using the company's wealth and influence, they would bankroll congressional and presidential candidates and try to take control of the entire United States.

Jasonís grandmother was devastated as she sat listening to the tapes. In her mind there was only one option for her grandson. He had to get the information to the Danubian government immediately. There was no doubt about it whatsoever. The Danubians had to know. Jason hesitated.

"Youíre not worried about Dad, that maybe..."

"No. I could care less about him. If this is the way he wants to be, then heís not my son anymore. Heís dead, as far as Iím concerned. Dead. I donít want to see him again."

She blinked back some tears and continued. "Do you know anyone... who you can get this to?"

"I... maybe Cecilia might know..."

Jasonís grandmother immediately grabbed the phone and passed it to Jason. "Call her. Now. You've got only three weeks to stop it."

It was late, and Cecilia was asleep. Even though she was trying to wake up, she seemed very glad to hear from him.

"Jason... oh... you donít have any idea how much I miss you... I'm goin' crazy here..."

"I miss you too, but I... we've got a big problem. A really big problem. I need to get some stuff to Vladim Dukov right away."

"What do you wanna send?"

"I can't tell you over the phone, but it's important. It's some stuff I gotta get to him, and he's gotta take a look at it. It's not something he can sit on. He's gonna have to look at it right away."

"But we're startin' up next week and then..."

"It can't wait that long. It'll be too late. Is there any way you can get up here?"

"You fuckin' crazy? I can't get up to Wisconsin! I ain't got no car!"

"Well, I can't leave."

"What about a bus? If you come on a bus to Chicago?"

"I can't. I can't leave here because..."

"Your dad?"

"Yes, my dad. There's no way I can try leaving on a bus, 'cause I think he'd figure it out."

There was silence on the other end.


"Jason, youíre tellin' me your dad's up to somethin'..."



"...and it can't wait." Jason emphasized his last point "It cannot wait."

Cecilia thought about her options. The only realistic one was to call Cynthia Lee and ask her what to do. She could only hope that Cynthia was at home.

"Is it OK if I make a call, and get back to you?"

"Yeah. I'll be at my grandma's place."

Cecilia thought about that, and then figured it would be better to keep their phone conversations as secret as possible.

"Look, Iím not callin' you there. You go to one of those convenience stores and buy yourself one of those cheap phones, you know, with a callin' card. That's what Raul always used so the cops couldn't find him. You get yourself one of those phones and you call me."

Fortunately there was a convenience store within walking distance of the condominium, so Jason went over to pick up a phone and a calling card. Once he keyed in the service number and activated his account, he called Cecilia.

"OK, so what's goin' on?"

"I got some stuff I got out of my dad's office... some recordings and I scanned some letters and whatnot... I think there's gonna be a coup against the Danubians and their neighbors. I mean... like they're gonna be shooting a bunch of people and taking over. And, they're gonna kill the Prime Minister."

"What? You're sure about this?"

"I've got the tape recordings and papers. I actually heard my dad talking about it. There's some serious shit that's about to happen over there. I want Dukov to see what I got, and then he can figure out for himself what he's gonna do."

Jason then filled in some of the details and convinced Cecilia the plans were both serious and well advanced. She replied that she had managed to contact Cynthia Lee, and would call her again to relay Jason's information.

Fifteen minutes later Cecilia called back.

"Iím not gonna be able to come up, but Cynthia's on her way."

"On her way?"

"She's leavin' right now. Can you meet with her?"


"She'll be at your grandma's place first thing tomorrow morning. She wants to see what you got. If it's important she'll take it and fly it out to Danube City herself."

Jason spent the longest night of his life, unable to sleep as he waited for the morning and a phone call from Cynthia Lee. Words could not describe the turmoil going on in his mind. Why on earth was he doing this? Why was he risking himself to help a bunch of total strangers? The only answer he could come up with was that he did not approve of what his father's associates were planning to do and wanted to stop them. It was that simple.

Finally Jason dozed off, his cell phone at his side. No sooner had he fallen asleep than he was startled awake by its ringing. He picked up.

"Jason? It's Cindy. I'm in downtown Carterville. You got the stuff?"

"Sure do."

"OK, so where am I going from here?"

Jason gave Cynthia directions to the condominium. While they waited for Cindy to show up, Jason's grandmother fixed breakfast and made coffee. A few minutes later the very tired-looking graduate student stepped out of her car. Cynthia gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Jason's grandmother offered her. She quickly laid out a laptop on the dining room table and began looking through the CD's. Jason nervously tried to justify himself.

"A lot of this stuff I don't know what it is. I just scanned what I could, what I had time to scan. I kinda thought the passports would be important, so I did get most of those."

Cynthia flipped through several files, and finally responded. "It's what you say, Jason. Exactly what you say. There's gonna be a coup on the 23rd. Theyíre gonna take the Duchy and then move south. How many people know about these CD's?"

"No one knows, except you, Cecilia, and Grandma."

"And you won't say anything to anyone else?"

"Of course not."

"I can take these?"

"That's why I called Cecilia. To get them to Dukov ASAP."

"Then I'm going straight to Milwaukee and flying out as soon as I can get on a plane. If I'm lucky I'll be in Danube City first thing tomorrow morning. It'll be my Easter present to the Prime Minister. A pretty fucked up Easter present, don't you think?"


"I'm... I don't know how to thank you. I... I mean to have the guts to do this for us... and go against your father. You're one of the bravest people I've ever met. No matter what happens next month, you remember that, what I just said. You were the one who had the courage to warn us."

She hugged both Jason and his grandmother and then quickly drove off, turning towards the freeway to continue on her journey to Europe.

Jason and his grandmother stood quietly in the chilly dawn as they watched Cynthia drive away. The enormity of what they had done struck home. She had betrayed her son, and he had betrayed his father, in an effort to change the course of history, save a bunch of lives, and thwart some extremely unsavory ambitions.

Less than 24 hours after slipping into his father's office, Jason's part in preventing the coup was completed. Now it was up to others to finish the task: up to Cynthia to safely make it to Danube City with the CD's and cassettes, then up to Dukov and his people to analyze the information and act on it.

A few minutes later Jason was on his way back to his fatherís house, his self-appointed mission completed. His grandmotherís friend suspected that something very serious had just taken place, but did not ask. Instead he cheerfully bantered about restored cars and his latest project while Jason tried to pay attention. What he actually wanted to do was go to sleep.

He returned to the house and passed his fatherís home office. The room was locked, and his father was at his job in Chicago helping his unsavory clients. Later that night Mr. Schmidt would be back in the office, on the phone and with the door shut. However, Jason knew there was no further point in taking the tape recorder down to the basement. There was nothing left to do but wait, and hope that within a day or so the Danubian government would be analyzing the information he had collected. He did go back downstairs one final time, to retrieve the box of high school memorabilia he was planning to keep. He vaguely suspected it would be the very last chance he would have to take anything out of that basement.

The remaining days of Jason's Spring Break were rather anti-climatic. He went jogging through the neighborhood and spent hours in the pool, hoping to be ready to participate in several marathons over the summer, and perhaps to even try to win the Tri-Alpha 10-K run a second year. He carried his anonymous cell phone with him, just in case Cecilia needed to call.

Saturday morning, she did call.

"Jason... good news. Cynthia just called me from Danube City."

"So she made it OK?"

"Yeah, she made it in yesterday mornin', and that poor girl hasnít had any sleep since she landed. They got a bunch of people lookin' over your stuff and she's been translatin' for 'em. It's the first break anyone's had in two days. That's why she didnít call 'till just now."

"So they're taking it seriously?"

"Takin' it seriously? Yeah, they're takin' it seriously. You saved their asses, Jason. They didn't know shit about what your dad was plannin' till they got those CD's."

"So... did Cindy tell you what they're gonna do about it?"

"No, she didnít tell me that. Thatís not something you talk about over the phone. I 'spose we'll know more, when she comes back next week. She did say the Duchy's gonna do what they can to keep your name out of it, cause those people from the company are mean. If they find out it was you who turned 'em in, they're gonna fuck you up."

Jason's heart skipped beat. He hadn't thought of that. No wonder Cynthia Lee kept saying he was so brave... He drew a deep breath, but didn't know how to respond.

"Jason... Jason? Are you still there?"

"Yeah-yeah, I'm still here."

"I got somethin' else to tell you."

"What's that?"

"I love you."

It was the first time Cecilia had ever said that to him over the phone. She was not affectionate or loving when she spoke on the phone, so from her those three words meant very much. Hearing "I love you" from Cecilia gave Jason most of his courage back. He realized that no matter what happened to him, he already had defeated some of the most powerful men in the United States. They had been defeated, and nothing was going to change that, not even his own death.

That afternoon, a day before he was scheduled to return to the university, Jason glanced at his father as he sat in the family room. He was watching a couple of football games from the previous season that he had recorded but never had the chance to see. The cheering of the crowd on TV and the chatter from the sports commentators reminded Jason of his fatherís constant use of football terminology to refer to his life and his relationships in the business world. Winning team... rush... huddle... goal post... fumble... play-book...

Then, as he looked at the arrogant, abusive, domineering man sitting in front of the TV, Jason thought bitterly about all the terms his father used to refer to him: moron... idiot... wimp... loser...

Weíll see about that, Dad, he thought to himself. Weíll just see.

He resisted the urge to walk up to his father and announce that he had just given away his teamís play-book to the coach of the opposing side. The linebacker had fumbled, without even knowing it yet. As soon as Cynthia Lee landed in Danube City, the defending team had taken control of the ball.

Chapter 29 - The Defense of the Duchy

The following day, the first Sunday in April, Jason Schmidt went home. For him, home was not the house in Wisconsin, nor was it really his dorm room in Chicago. Instead home was a feeling, which he could only experience when he was with Cecilia. He desperately wanted to be with her, and anxiously counted the mile signs along the freeway as his father drove him south.

Jason, as usual, took a ride from his father. He felt slightly guilty about accepting a ride from a man he had betrayed, but he really had no choice. He had no other means of getting out of Wisconsin. He promised himself that the ride he was taking would be the last trip he would need from his father. Somehow he needed to strike out on his own, because he felt that everything associated with his father was contaminated, tainted with blood and poverty. He needed to move on, which would be an issue he would try to resolve during the final weeks of the semester.

Mr. Schmidt blissfully drove his son back to the university, his mind on other concerns. He needed to dump off the wimp and really get moving with his own ambitions. There still was a lot to take care of and he planned to spend most of the next couple of weeks at his office or his apartment in downtown Chicago. Big things were about to happen, and with a project as complicated as a double coup against two countries, invariably there would be last minute problems.

Still, it seemed that the project was going as well as could be expected. Earlier that morning one of his associate sent him a coded message with some good news. An important element, the bomb needed to blow up Vladim Dukovís plane, already was safely assembled in Athens and ready to be loaded in a suitcase. The associate had hired a luggage handler to load it, and he would be paid $ 50,000 once the plane blew up. The plane was a commercial flight, so which aircraft it actually would be would not be known until shortly before it took off.

It was true that probably about 130 passengers would be on that flight along with the Danubian delegation, but so what? What was a planeload of passengers in comparison with the big plans Mr. Schmidt and his associates had for their own futures? Sure, a lot of people would die in two weeks, but that was just too bad. The world would just have to learn not to stand in the way of Mega-Town Associates.

When Jason got back to Huntington Hall, Cecilia was waiting for him. She rushed into his arms, thrilled to see him after a week of lonely nights in her room. There was a lot for the couple to take care of and discuss that night, but they did have their priorities. Less than 10 minutes after Jason got out of his fatherís car; he was naked in Ceciliaís room, his face safely back between her legs, his tongue gently massaging her clitoris.

That afternoon was a day she planned to reward him for good behavior. Once she climaxed from the oral sex, she got on her elbows and knees and wiggled her dark sexy bottom. Seeing her in that position had its usual effect on him. He just loved seeing her backside turned up and spread like that, a lewd invitation for him to enter. It was an exquisite homecoming for him, as he released of all of the tension from the past week into that lovely body of hers.

Jason and Cecilia discussed in detail what each knew about the pending Mega-Town coup plot in Eastern Europe. Jason filled in the details about what exactly he did in his fatherís home office and what he found out. He discussed the strange chain of events that led him first to find out about the coup in the first place and then to be able to access the office to be able to copy all that information. How strange, that he happened to be in the basement precisely when his father was talking about the coup. How strange that he had caught Rita digging through his motherís jewelry box, thus making her an unwitting accomplice in his efforts to undermine what his father was planning to do.

Cecilia gave the matter some thought, and finally commented, "Jason, Iím not so sure all that was coincidence. While you were gone, I was readiní about their philosophy in Danubia, and they think that everything happens for a reason. Maybe everything that happened last week was Ďsposed to happen that way. I know thatís what Kimberly Lee and her friends think, which is why they donít give a shit about losiní their singiní contracts. Kim thinks theyíre Ďsposed to serve some other purpose, and Iím wonderiní if maybe youíre part of all that."

The following day classes started up again, which forced Jason to concentrate on the mundane details of his life. There were tests to study for, term papers to finish, formulas to memorize; all of which crowded into his thoughts and forced him to push the entire Upper Danubia situation to the back of his mind.

There also was his project to finish teaching Cecilia how to swim, which took up a half an hour each day after working out. That Monday afternoon they were back in the university gym swimming pool, with him swimming alongside her as she continued to struggle to overcome one of her biggest fears in life.

The Wednesday after classes started Cynthia Lee came back from Danube City. She was in a difficult situation because she had to struggle to get caught up in her studies without being able to explain to her professors what it was that had forced her to run off for a week. However, in spite of her hectic schedule, she did make time to get together with Cecilia and Jason.

She filled them in on what had happened during her week in Danube City. It turned out that practically everything Jason had scanned or copied had useful information. Jason had been right about photographing the passports, because they were to be given to various mercenaries slated to enter the countryís southern neighbor and infiltrate the Duchy on the night of April 20th. Now the Danubian government knew many of the aliases of the conspirators.

The plot relied on a large number of arms caches stored in several safe houses around Danube City and Rika Chorna. The majority of the mercenaries in the plot planned to travel first to Upper Danubiaís southern neighbor. They would pass through the countryís relatively unguarded southern border and then pick up their weapons at Danubian stash sites. The mercenaries would spend about two days setting up around the national capitols and several major provincial cities of both countries, coordinate with local armed groups, and wait for Dukovís plane to crash as the signal to start operations.

Once they heard the plane had gone down, hit teams would immediately kill off military and political leaders in both countries, and then there would be a major land and air assault by heavily armed men to take over Danube City. Several Danubian collaborators would occupy the provinces with their own militias, freeing up most the foreigners for an invasion of the countryís southern neighbor. Dukov would be dead, and by then hit teams would have killed off most of the members of his government.

The plan was to have both countries secured by people friendly to the plotters within about three days. The Danubian phase of the coup would be the most difficult because apparently the number of trustworthy local collaborators was relatively small. Securing the politically unstable neighboring country would be less problematic, because there were plenty of armed gangs who opposed its government that had been recruited by the Mega-Town CEOís.

Cindy did not want to discuss in detail how the Danubian National Police planned to counter the plot, but she did provide some general information.

Dukov still planned to send the delegation to Athens to attend the conference, but would not accompany them. His brother Victor Dukov, with his hair cut short and his face made up to look like the Prime Minister, would go instead. The only problem was that Victor did not speak English as well as Vladim, but they would have to get around that somehow. Meanwhile Vladim would secretly travel to meet with the Prime Minister of the neighboring country. The two governments would launch a series of coordinated arrests on the 21st, the day most of the mercenaries were planning to cross over into Upper Danubia. As many of them as possible would be arrested on the Danubian side of the border, taken back to Danube City, and locked up in the Central Police Station. As soon as the arrests started, there would be raids against arms caches and safe houses in both countries.

An important part of Dukovís plan was seizing the bomb in Athens before it made it on the plane. Because the Prime Minister was unsure which officials in Athens he could trust, members of the Danubian Secret Police would travel to Athens and try to locate the baggage-handler themselves. Once he and the bomb were identified, the Danubian embassy in Athens would notify the Greek government and it would be up to the Greeks to intercept it. Anyhow, to be on the safe side, the Danubian delegation planned to miss their flight on the 23rd. They would go to the airport, check in, wait in the boarding area, but not get on the plane.

Following the 23rd would be the most difficult part of the operation, arresting the local conspirators in both countries who had coordinated with the Mega-Town executives against their own governments. Arresting foreigners was relatively easy, but it would be much more difficult to arrest local citizens, especially ones with any influence. Still, by the 23rd, hopefully the coup plot would be disrupted enough that it would not take place.

"Now itís just a matter of waiting, and thatís gonna be the hard part."

Cynthia continued with another concern.

"Jason, the Prime Minister is very worried about your safety. No matter what happens next week, the people launching this thing are going to be asking a lot of questions about what went wrong. Youíve already seen what theyíre capable of, and donít think that they wonít come after you if they figure out that it was you who got us the information. I can tell you there is a lot of money riding on this coup project, millions of dollars. I mean, to hire all those mercenaries, pay off a bunch of locals, buy and ship all those weapons...thatís a lot of expense, and some big wigs here in America are really rolling the dice on this. So, you canít be talking about it to anyone. Not anyone. You donít know anything about it. And that goes for you too, Cecilia. No research, no term papers, nothing about Upper Danubia. Ever. I know itís gonna mess you up academically, but I think your life is more important."

"What about you?"

"Iím finishing the semester and then Iím leaving. I have to go back to Danube City and stay there, because I was dumb enough to fly under my real name. My tripís now in a bunch of records, and sooner or later someoneís gonna make the connection. So, Iím heading out in May, and I donít know when Iím coming back, if ever."

There was a sad resignation in Cindyís voice that frightened both Jason and Cecilia. She didnít say it with words, but her message was clear. My life in the U.S. is finished. I am going to have to start all over, from nothing, in Danube City. Thatís my sacrifice, and itís just the way itís gonna have to be.

The next two weeks passed uneventfully, as Jason tried to stay caught up in his studies and Cecilia dealt with both Burnsideís demands and the looming crisis in the dorm over finals week and a floor full of nervous students. The weather got warmer and spring fever hit many of the residents, much to Ceciliaís chagrin. She found herself continuously trying to calm down rowdy freshmen and began waging a personal campaign against loud music on her floor. There were drinking problems, overflowing toilets, petty vandalism incidents, and disputes between stressed out roommates. Cecilia sighed with despair as she ran around her floor, her radio crackling aggressively, as she tried to deal with one idiotic situation after another.

On April 19, Jason decided to do something dumb and immature with Ken. He suspected that it might be the very last time in his life he could act his age, because he figured there was a very strong possibility that the serious side of life shortly would intrude on him and change him forever. He felt the urge to mark the change with one last irresponsible action. He and Ken decided to go streaking, in a repeat of their ill-fated adventure in the fall.

Before going out, Jason flatly told Cecilia what he was planning to do. Oddly enough, she understood, and while not exactly approving, at least let him know she wouldnít try to stop him. She only had one comment, "If you gotta do that shit, I guess I kinda understand. Just promise me youíll stay out of the Student Center. Please donít go into any buildings."

He kissed Cecilia and went downstairs with Ken and Lisa. As before, Lisa would stand guard at the door, holding the shorts of the two freshmen.

The two young men stripped to their shoes and took off, running down the same dark path they had run during the fall. With the humid spring air gently blowing against their bodies, they circled to the library courtyard and heard the cheers and whistles of the handful of students milling about during those late hours. They continued along the dark trail to the Student Center, but did not go in. If that female security guard were in there, well, tonight there would be no risk of any encounters, because the run was more for fun, not because of any dare. As best they could, Jason and Ken would try to play it safe and not risk getting caught by Campus Security. They simply circled the Student Center and returned to the trail. There were more whistles and clapping as they crossed the library courtyard again, but this time the two freshmen continued uneventfully on their way back to Huntington Hall. Less than 40 minutes after leaving, they had safely returned to the back door.

While Lisa waited, Cecilia had joined her with a camera. She took several pictures of Ken and Jason before allowing them to get dressed and Lisa to let them back in. This time she was not mad, nor even pretended to be. She understood the real world was about to close in on her boyfriend and that he needed one last night of acting stupid. He hadnít been caught, was now safely back in Huntington Hall with his shorts on, and on his way to take a shower.

Once Jason got out of the shower, Cecilia escorted him back to her room. Both of them knew she owed him some quality time with the leather paddle. He meekly undressed and placed his hands on her dresser while she massaged his bottom and lectured him about what a bad boy he was for running around the university with no clothes on. Only bad boys who deserve good hard spankings on the bare bottom would do such a terrible thing. So, Jason, are you a bad boy?

With that she began spanking him, not too hard but with enough force to put a nice warm sting in his backside. She watched as he became harder and harder, gently rubbing his warming bottom and massaging his penis between swats. However, even bad boys need love, and before long she was lying on the bed, groaning with delight as he entered her and thrust vigorously. Yes, she did indeed know what her bad boy needed...

Twenty-four hours later Jason did a search on a popular Internet news website for the term "Danubia". Immediately he got his answer:

Danubian Prime Minister declares State of Emergency as border arrests continue

Danube City - April 21: 7:05 a.m. Danubian Prime Minister Vladim Dukov appeared on television to declare a National State of Emergency, following the arrest of at least 218 foreign nationals along the countryís southern border. Along with the arrests, the Danubian Prime Minister claimed the seizure of three significant arms shipments and numerous caches of small weapons and ammunition distributed throughout the country.

Officers from the National Police remained mobilized and were guarding every major intersection throughout the capitol Danube City and the eastern provincial center Rika Chorna. Meanwhile, military reservists and citizen defense patrols manned checkpoints between other provincial capitols while police officers conducted raids against multiple targets. All traffic in and out of Upper Danubia remains suspended and flights at the King Vladik International Airport have been grounded until further notice.

The Danubian Prime Minister stated that all persons arrested so far were intercepted attempting to enter the territory of the country through various points along the southern border, and that many of them were armed. He added that more arrests were likely, but the focus of enforcement actions will shift to Danube City and Rika Chorna in the next few hours.

Correspondents working for Griffin Independent Media report that gun battles between officers of the Danubian National Police and unknown assailants erupted near the main railroad station and the governorís palace in Rika Chorna at approximately 5:30 a.m. local time. However, the Danubian National Police later issued a statement that both buildings were re-taken earlier today and all assailants were killed or captured.

The Danubian Defense Minister also reported combat operations at a landing strip 40 kilometers south of Danube City, during which at least 44 Danubian military personnel and an unknown number of foreign gunmen were killed. Five aircraft at the landing strip were disabled by the Danubian military and seized. There are unconfirmed reports of the loss of an army helicopter and a fighter jet in the vicinity due to hostile fire.

In a related note, the National Parliament approved the Prime Ministerís request for an arrest warrant against David Jones, the Commercial Attachť at the United States Embassy in Danube City for "Espionage in Furtherance of an Act of War", which, under Danubian law, is punishable by death. The United States Government vehemently denies the charge and has lodged an official note of protest at the Danubian Embassy in Washington DC. The whereabouts of Mr. Jones remain unclear at this time, although he is believed to be in the U.S. Embassy.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement denouncing the arrests and the "wild accusations" of Prime Minister Dukov against the United States and American interests in the country.

"Of particular concern to us is the detention of three high-ranking employees of Mega-Town Associates. The Administration unequivocally demands the immediate release of those three individuals."

Jason downloaded the article and printed it. He then called Cecilia, who had news of her own.

"They got the bomb! I just heard about it on the news! The Greeks are holdiní a press conference about it right now!"

Jason quickly turned on his television. Sure enough, the cable news channel was running footage of a press conference in Athens, with several airline officials, uniformed members of the Danubian National Police, and Victor Dukov present. The Prime Ministerís brother seemed visibly outraged, while the Greeks were staring at the device with incredulous expressions. The cameras focused in on a rather powerful plastic bomb placed inside an open suitcase.

Jason thought the coverage of the entire affair was a bit odd. The U.S. news media seemed completely unconcerned about the drama unfolding in Danube City, but the moment there was mention of a bomb on a plane, that was headline news.

Cecilia came over to Jasonís room to sit with him and watch his TV. They cuddled in his bed as he flipped through various cable channels for re-runs of the press conference and dramatic footage of the ongoing arrests and arms seizures occurring throughout Eastern Europe. It was obvious the coup had failed, and failed quite spectacularly.

The next day Jasonís grandmother called with the news that his father had "gone berserk" at the house and had kicked his wide-screen television to pieces. Cassie had fled the house and was at the condo, totally terrified at her fatherís inexplicable display of temper.

"He was sitting there watching the news, and suddenly he went nuts. He smashed up the TV, and then the phone rang and he grabbed it and threw it against the wall. Then he just started kicking stuff and screaming ĎFUCK! FUCK! FUCK!í Cassie said to me: ĎI donít get it... he was just watching the news... and then he went crazyí. Of course you and I do know why he went crazy..."

Jason swallowed hard and tried to catch his breath. "Grandma, you canít tell Cassie about anything thatís happened with you and me, you know that, right?"

"You bet I know that. Iím not telling her anything. But anyhow, Iím glad it happened. Your father needed to get his comeuppance. Now maybe he can think about whatís really important, and..."

"I donít think so, Grandma. I donít think itís gonna happen like that. Iím kinda thinking he was in a lot deeper than we realize..."

"What do you mean?"

"Grandma, think about it for a moment. Dadís not a CEO from Mega-Town Associates. Heís a lobbyist. Why would they take him in as part of their group? Iím now thinking itís because each of those guys put his own money into the operation, and the moneyís why he was in on it. If thatís true, Dad may have gotten wiped out financially."

Jasonís grandmother was silent on the other end. She realized that her grandson probably was right. Mr. Schmidt was doing far more for the coup project than just writing press releases. He must have been one of the financial backers.

Jason thought about Ceciliaís comment last Thanksgiving about "dirty money". Well, this was about as dirty as money possibly could get. It couldnít get much worse. Now, with the mercenaries in custody, their weapons piled in the basement of Danube Cityís Central Police Station, and information just beginning to come out in the press about Mega-Townís involvement in the project, the "dirty money", including whatever his father had put in, was gone.

There was only a week of classes after the 23rd and then a week of tests during the first week of May. Whatever consequences there might be from the coup, Cecilia figured they would not directly hit Jasonís family until sometime during the summer. She had a common sense approach to his dilemma: there wasnít anything he could do for anyone for several weeks at least. What he needed was to concentrate on was passing his classes and doing as well as possible academically. Jason followed her advice and tried to focus on his classes. He needed to take care of the semester. When he got his grades then he could deal with the other problems in his life.

During finals week Jason had lunch with Cynthia Lee to get an update over what was going on in Danube City that was not making the news. Cynthia, her sharp mind able to sort out what was important from what wasnít, gave Jason a concise picture of the ongoing crisis, a systematic analysis he had not been getting from watching cable. Jason had been following the US portion of the news and its impact on Mega-Town Associates, so on that part he was able to compare notes with Cynthia.

On Wall Street and in Washington the failed coup attempt was morphing into a massive scandal that caught up several U.S. State Department employees, executives from Mega-Town Associates, arms dealers, and a couple of Danubian provincial politicians who were arrested in the Duchy as conspirators. Mega-Town Associatesí reputation suffered a catastrophic blow and its stock price fell nearly 15% in just two days. Five Eastern European governments ordered the company out of their territories, which essentially shut down its chances of expanding into that region of the world.

As for the conspirators, they were finished professionally. The week following the coup attempt Mega-Town Associates held a chaotic emergency shareholder meeting over the fiasco, which resulted in the firing of all the executives involved in the project. The company elected a new board that immediately began a campaign of damage control that publicly excoriated the rogue operation.

Certainly what happened in Eastern Europe did not reflect the values or goals of the employees and shareholders of this fine company as a whole...

It was an exercise in absolute hypocrisy, but it assured that Mega-Town would lie low for a while and leave foreign governments alone until it repaired its public image.

Cynthia then moved on to what Jason knew less about, the situation in Danube City following the failure of the coup attempt.

A total of 153 National Police Officers, Army soldiers, helicopter pilots, military reservists, and citizen defense patrol volunteers were killed during combat operations, along with 78 mercenaries. Another 583 mercenaries and local conspirators were in custody, and that was just in Upper Danubia. Another 139 prisoners had been taken south of the Danubian border, and the Greek government was holding the people responsible for the bomb.

There was a surge of militant nationalism in the Duchy, which was to be expected after such a traumatic event. The first priorities on the minds of the Danubian public were the "fallen heroes of the Ancients". The 153 Danubian fatalities were buried with honors on April 24th, the day after the coup itself was supposed to have been launched. They were buried together in a specially designated cemetery outside Danube City, each of them dressed in a black robe and holding a small mirror. That day the entire country was dressed in black robes in honor of the dead and the Temples were full of worshipers attending memorial services.

Following the state funerals, Vladim Dukov faced a complicated problem, how to handle the nearly 600 prisoners captured on April 21st and April 22nd. They remained chained in the basement of the Central Police Station in Danube City and the Governorís Palace in Rika Chorna, while the Danubian government tried to figure out what to do with them. The problem was a complex one for the Prime Minister, because the prisoners pitted his own supporters against Upper Danubiaís international image.

The Danubian public was livid over the coup attempt and demanded the execution of everyone involved. Tens of thousands of outraged Danubians marched down the streets of Danube City waving hangmanís nooses. Politicians and news commentators were arguing for the mercenaries to be shot in groups in front of the U.S. Embassy in full view of the American diplomatic staff. Then the crowd should throw the corpses into the embassy compound as a protest against the U.S. government.

Dukov knew that no such thing as a mass execution was going to happen. He had to get rid of the mercenaries, but shooting them was not a viable option. Jailing them was not an option, because Upper Danubia did not have any prisons. To collar them and sentence them in the Danubian manner was not an option either, because the Danubian justice system was not set up to accommodate several hundred hardened foreigners. Dukovís only real option was to somehow repatriate the majority of the foreign mercenaries to their home countries and hope they would be prosecuted abroad, but with the public mood the way it was, to do so would risk a popular revolt if he didnít handle it right.

While Dukov was struggling to calm the tempers of his citizenry, he also had to answer the angry demands of foreign governments asking what was going to happen to their citizens currently languishing in the underground cells.

Dukov viewed the conflicting demands of the Danubian citizenry and the foreign governments as a possible opportunity to solve his problem. Being a skilled and shrewd negotiator, he had decided to play the Danubian public and the foreign governments against each other. He would extract concessions from other leaders in exchange for deporting the mercenaries, bring home real benefits to the country, and improve Upper Danubiaís international standing in Europe. The prisoners, instead of being a problem, would be used as bargaining chips in a very complex game of international Poker. He would argue he needed meaningful concessions, or else his Parliament would not allow him to deport the prisoners, which was very true.

While Dukov wanted to deport most of the prisoners, there were about 25 among them he planned to prosecute to the fullest extent of Danubian law. They included the three captured Mega-Town executives, several German and U.S. coup organizers, all of the field commanders, a Bulgarian arms dealer, the people who tried to plant the bomb in Athens, and last but not least, the U.S. Commercial Attachť, who was still holed-up in the U.S. Embassy.

By threatening some of the lower-ranking foreigners with prosecution, the Danubians quickly got the confessions and information the government needed to identify the leaders in court. The lower-level mercenaries had been shown TV images of the angry crowds marching outside with nooses, and after several days, many of them were scared enough to tell prosecutors whatever they needed to know about the coup operations as originally planned.

Dukov decided to allow the high-profile prisoners to hire their own lawyers and hold a foreign-style trial with real defense attorneys instead of assigning them Danubian Spokespersons. The reason for making that concession was that he wanted as much of the incident to become public knowledge as possible. He wanted the defendants to show themselves in court for what they were, allow them to turn on each other, and use the trials to humiliate Mega-Town Associates.

The strategy was risky, because foreign defense attorneys would try to cover up the truth about their clients. Also, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the coup had been thwarted because the Danubians had prior knowledge of the attack, and any worthwhile defense attorney would demand to know how the Danubian government could have known ahead of time that a coup was about to be launched.

The problem was how to handle that question: who tipped off the Danubians about the coup. Dukov couldn't tell the truth, because that would put Jason at risk. However, to claim the Danubian Secret Police somehow uncovered the plot would require police officers to commit perjury on the stand, which was a grave violation of Danubian values. Cynthia didn't know how the Danubians were going to resolve that problem, to obtain convictions that could not be challenged by foreign governments.

Jason gave her words some thought. Then he sat up straight and took a deep breath. He knew exactly what he needed to do. As the Danubians always said, it was a question of honor.

"Cynthia, the only solution is for me to go to Danube City and testify. You said it yourself; Dukov doesn't have any other options if he wants to nail those fuckers. I'm gonna have to testify."

"There's no way, Jason, no way. You'd be dead within a week of getting back. Even now there's some really pissed off people running around trying to figure out who screwed up their plans, and..."

"It doesn't matter. They're gonna find out anyway, sooner or later. Before they kill me, I want to tell my story. I want to stand up in court and say 'yes, I'm the son-of-a-bitch who messed up your precious plans.' I want the world, and I especially my father, to know what I did. I'm not ashamed of it at all, so why should I hide?"

"I think you're wrong. They don't have to find out it was you..."

"I want them to know. I want to look at those defendants and tell 'em it was me. When you go to Danube City, I want to go with you."

"But... you'd be ruining your life... your college..."

"That's over anyway. I think my dad just got wiped out financially, and anyhow, even if he didnít, I'm sick of taking his money. I don't want to go to college on his money anymore. I'll do it some other way. I want to stand up and do things on my own, and if I have to, I'll fail on my own."


"Look. You need that information. Once I give it up, I really won't be worth killing, 'cause I won't have anything to hide anymore. It'll come out in the trial, and then, that's it. I will have said what I need to say."

Cynthia took a deep breath. Unfortunately Jason was the one who truly understood his situation. Sooner or later someone would find out he was the one who got the information to the Danubian government and he would die, probably a horrible death. If he traveled to Upper Danubia, perhaps the Danubian government could protect him.

"Maybe you're right. I suppose you really would be better off testifying and just be done with it. But if you do come with me, there's gonna have to be a condition. I'm gonna need you to stay in Danube City for a while. I think you'd be safer there than anywhere else. Maybe you could learn Danubian and study at the National University."

"But I don't have any money."

Cynthia gave him an incredulous look.

"I think the Duchy can afford a scholarship. I also think that anyone in their government would open up their house to you and consider it an honor to have you sit at their table. You're the only reason they're not all dead right now."

There was a long pause, while Jason thought of another detail in his life, the one person he could not live without.

"There's something else, that's very important to me."

"What's that?"

"Cecilia. I can't leave her. She'd have to go too."

"That goes without saying. She'll have to go, because she'll be in just as much danger as you."

Later that afternoon Jason broke the news to Cecilia. She agreed that he really had no choice but to travel to Danube City and testify, and really no choice other than to stay there and hope the Danubian government could protect him. She also knew she had no choice other than to go with him. He needed her, as he had needed her over the past year, to encourage and inspire him. He needed her support, he needed her body, and he needed her presence. She would have to go.

On the last day of final exams, Cecilia told Ruth Burnside about her decision. She explained in detail about Jasonís role in preventing the coup plot and that he had one final contribution he needed to make, providing his testimony to ensure the plotters could be convicted. She explained that Jasonís life was in danger, and the only hope he had of surviving the summer would be to stay in Upper Danubia.

To that Burnside responded, "Well, you know that weíre setting up an exchange program with the National University in Danube City. We wonít be sending students until next year, but the programís going to need a counselor. Weíll need someone to be the first student on the ground, a U.S. citizen who can deal with the quirks of the Danubians and help people get settled in. I had been wondering who we were going to send, but I think the candidate just chose herself."

"You mean... me?"

"Why not? Youíve proved yourself as an RA. I just got a phone call from the director of Huntington Hall. He told me you were the best RA heís had, ever. Since youíre going to be stuck Danube City anyway, weíll just send you as our first student. Our trailblazer, so to speak. Get yourself settled in... youíll have a year to do it, and then you can put your old RA skills to use when we send our first batch of exchange students next summer."

Ceciliaís heart jumped at Burnsideís proposal. So it really was her destiny to follow Jason and continue to be the mainstay of his life. Even Burnside knew that. They would be leaving together and they would stay in Danube City, however long that needed to be, together.

However, another thought crossed her mind, a strange one, considering all that had happened to her over the past year. She felt pushed to share it with her professor.

"You know, Dr. Burnside, in spite of everything, Iím gonna miss you."

"Iíll miss you too. A lot, maybe more than you think. Weíve had our rough spots, but itís not going to be the same without you around the office."

Cecilia and Jason both had to say goodbye to the people in their lives. Cecilia got together with Suzanne just two days before it was time for her to leave. She wasnít one to talk about what had happened to Jason to most people, but she did feel she could share some of the details with her photographer friend. Suzanne was very sorry to see Cecilia departing from her life, but she knew that it had to be that way. Upper Danubia needed Jason, and Jason needed her. The path of her life had been determined, and she would have to follow it. Before they gave each other their final hug, Suzanne took one last picture of Cecilia. It was a simple portrait taken of her sitting at the university coffee shop, but once she developed the picture, Suzanne would consider the image one of her best.

There was the need to say goodbye to Lisa and Ken, but both Jason and Cecilia knew that it would be better not to burden them with the serious situation of the upcoming trial in Danube City. Instead they listened to Ken talking about his upcoming pledge obligations with the Tri-Alphas, and Lisa talking about her recent decision to join the fraternityís sister sorority. They would spend the summer doing odd things for upper classmen and getting their butts paddled, and then in the fall Ken probably would be doing a repeat performance as a pledge leader. It would be a while before life would close in on them, but Jason was glad about that. They could still have some fun and just be ordinary students for a few more years. Jason hoped Ken and Lisa could stay together as a couple, but wasnít sure whether that would happen.

There was one final goodbye, and that was Jasonís grandmother. Her friend drove her all the way from Wisconsin to Chicago, in part so she could take some of the things he would not be able to ship to Danube City. She would store the items to give back to him at some point in the future. She talked about her hopes for him and Cecilia. As for Mr. Schmidt, she had no news about him whatsoever. Cassie had gone back to the house, but had told her that she had not seen much of either of her parents since her fatherís temper tantrum in the den back in April. Not that she wanted to see him. She was perfectly content having the house to herself.

Jasonís grandmother was proud of her grandson, even though he had been forced to turn his back on everything he had grown up with. He would leave and then return in a few years, irrecoverably changed. While he was absent the crisis about to strike down his parents would come and go, and later he would be called upon to salvage what was left of his family. Life had great things in store for Jason, even if he did not realize it yet.

Jim Halsey was the person who took the three students to the airport. He stayed with them until they made it past the security screeners; his eyes watchful to make sure no one had followed them into the terminal. A short time later Cynthia Lee, Jason Schmidt, and Cecilia Sanchez were on their way to Frankfurt, where they would change planes and make the final short flight to Danube City.

Chapter 30 - Americans in Danube City

The three Americans completed the final leg of their journey about 10 hours after beginning it in Chicago. Only a short time after rising to cruising altitude the plane began its descent into Danubian airspace. Jason and Cecilia looked out of their window at a range of heavily forested mountains that gave way to open farmland punctuated with villages and crisscrossed by railroad tracks. There was a large lake off in the distance that must have been the Rika Chorna Reservoir. The plane banked to the west and briefly followed the Rika Chorna River westward as it descended towards the capitol. Finally it veered away from the river and passed over potato fields and some ancient-looking buildings as it approached the nation's only international airport.

The arrival was a surreal experience because the airport was so primitive. The plane simply stopped next to a 1930's art-deco style terminal building that looked like a prop from a very old movie. Workers rolled two staircases on wheels next to the plane and the passengers stepped out into the open air. The final part of the journey into the building had to be completed on foot.

It was obvious there still was a lot of tension because of the recent coup attempt. There were police snipers and anti-aircraft batteries on the rooftop of the terminal, and an over-all air of concern among the officials working the Customs lines. Jason knew the Danubians had reason to be worried because, until the situation of the mercenaries was resolved, there was the constant possibility of an escape or rescue attempt.

Cynthia led the group through Airport Customs because she spoke Danubian and her companions did not. It was obvious the Customs officials knew who she was and simply waved her through. Jason and Cecilia noticed her exchanging salutes with several people in uniform.

The person picking them up was none other than Vladik Dukov, the Prime Minister's son. He was in full uniform and accompanied by two lower-ranking police officers. Once their suitcases were retrieved, the three Americans and the three police officers traveled into Danube City in a van owned by the Danubian Police. For most Danubians, even riding in a police van was considered a luxury, since there was a very strict prohibition against personal vehicles of any type in the Duchy. Why that rule was needed became very evident as the van entered the Danubian capitol. The crowded streets and tightly packed buildings simply could not have accommodated anything other than trolleys, bicycles, and the occasional police or military vehicle.

The fact that Vladik was the Prime Minister's son made no difference as far as his transportation was concerned. Cynthia explained that Danubians liked to keep things as simple as possible when it came to their daily lives. It was a cultural value that even politicians were expected to uphold, and certainly one that Dukov supported. Even the Prime Minister tried to be as unobtrusive as possible as he went about his business. For example, if Dukov needed to go anywhere, usually he just hitched a ride in whatever police van happened to be nearby. If his situation was urgent, or he needed to go to several places in a single trip, the cop driving the van might actually need to stay parked outside and wait for him. If it was something really important or a major trip by a Parliamentary entourage, then three or even four police vans might be needed. That was considered extravagant. Upper Danubia had no equivalent of Air Force One or the Presidential Limo.

As they passed rows of well maintained solidly built houses, small street shops, attractive schools, and clean trolley stops, Cecilia was able to appreciate an urban environment that was totally different from the one where she grew up. The first thing that struck her was the complete lack of graffiti. There was none: not a single spot of spray paint on a single wall, anywhere. There was no trash on the streets and absolutely nothing that appeared broken. It was obvious the country was not rich, but what wealth it did have seemed very evenly distributed.

There was one quirk of the Danubians that became evident right away, and that was their love of griffins, their national symbol. Griffins were everywhere; not just on the national flag, but also painted on any large wall throughout the city and in the form of numerous statues guarding the entrances of parks and public buildings. There were big griffins, small griffins, medieval-style griffins, and even abstract modern griffins. Every society has its oddities, and the obsession with depicting griffins was a major one of the Danubians.

Cindy joked, "If you don't like looking at griffins, you're in the wrong country."

The van passed an area where there were a large number of naked criminals moving around carrying musical instruments or other items needed to perform or record music. Cecilia couldn't decide what shocked her more, seeing a bunch of naked people on the street or seeing them with their instruments. Cynthia explained that the area was where the city's thriving musical recording studios was located and that the naked people in the street were musicians from various groups who were working on their music.

"The Danubians have an expression 'to sing like a criminal', which falls back on their idea that only a criminal, a person who has gone through a lot of personal anguish, can really express themselves with true emotion. There's a belief in this country that only music that comes from criminals is genuine, that has that genuine feel of suffering that people here like to hear so much."

The trip took the van around the Old City Wall, which was largely intact except several spots where openings allowed streets to pass through into the oldest section of town. Huge 600-year old stone watchtowers, which at one time looked out over open fields, now looked out over the old business district of the Danubian capitol.

The group's destination was Danube City's largest hotel; an elaborate 19th Century building that overlooked the East Danube River. It was in that hotel where Cecilia, Jason, and Cindy would spend the next several nights, and where Kimberly Lee would meet with them later in the afternoon.

Cynthia translated an explanation from Vladik.

"The Prime Minister apologizes for not being at the airport to greet you himself, but he's down in Athens, 'cause they're getting ready to put that baggage handler on trial... you know, the guy who was going to load the bomb on their plane. Anyhow, he'll be back in a couple of days and in the meantime wants you guys to get settled in."

Vladik checked the Americans into three adjoining rooms, but Cynthia explained that they actually would have only two rooms, because two police officers assigned to protect the group during the trial would have the third room. She added that Cecilia could either sleep with Jason or with her. It was obvious that Cindy was the one who would have a room to herself.

Kimberly Lee, dressed in business attire and accompanied by a tall female criminal, showed up shortly after the three Americans were checked in. Like every other criminal, Kim's companion was completely naked except for her metal collar. The taller woman was very attractive and couldn't have been much older than 21. It turned out she was yet another fellow American, Kim's client Tiffany Walker. Tiffany shyly shook hands with Jason and Cecilia, said hello to Cynthia, and then did something that totally surprised Jason. She knelt in front of Kimberly, touching her forehead to the ground.

"Goodbye, Apprentice Lee, may the Ancients protect you on your journey home."

"Goodbye, Criminal # 98946. You are released for the evening. May the Ancients protect you until we meet again."

With that Tiffany stood up and hugged Vladik. They took off, a uniformed cop and a naked criminal, who just happened to be engaged to each other.

Noticing the bewildered expressions on her guests' faces, Kim commented, "It's sort of an interesting story, how they got together. I'll fill you guys in on that later on, because I think it will help you understand this place a bit better."

Cecilia's heart was pounding now that she finally was meeting the woman whose music had so profoundly changed her life. She had corresponded with Kim plenty over the past two years, but now, here she was, in Danube City, with Kimberly Lee right in front of her, and not able to say anything. She was just too overwhelmed.

Kim understood that Cecilia had been through a lot, and perhaps needed a break from anything that required any thought or making decisions. She suggested a walk through the old section of the city, the heart of the place that would be their home for an indefinite period of time. It gave Cecilia and Jason a chance to just follow someone else's lead and not really have to worry about anything apart from seeing the city. They would need time to adjust to where they were and what was happening to them.

Kim led them past the Old City Wall into the downtown part of the capitol. They walked through the National Parliament Building and exited into the Central Plaza, where they contemplated the National Cathedral and the sprawling headquarters of the National Police. It was weird to think, in the basement that very building, were many of the prisoners and nearly all of the weapons from the failed coup that had landed Jason and Cecilia into Upper Danubia in the first place. Several old tanks and military trucks guarding the main entrance, as well as the police snipers stationed on the roof, served to remind the four Americans of the continued tension the nation suffered because of the recent traumatic events.

"It's a strange building, the Central Police Station. A lot of it's underground, which is why they got so much room. There's chambers and vaults down there that are over 1000 years old, and even a catacomb. It's a lot bigger than it looks, 'cause of all the parts you can't see. Anyhow, the Central Courthouse, where you're gonna be testifying, that's over there, opposite the Police Station. You guys want to see my office?"

Of course Jason and Cecilia were curious to see where Kim worked, so they made their way into the main entrance and up two flights of stairs to the hallway of offices where Danube City's 20 Spokespersons and 17 Apprentices worked. They entered one of the doors and passed into the back room. There were two desks, because, as Kim explained, she shared the office with another Apprentice. Once she graduated and sworn-in as a Spokeswoman, she would have the office to herself. Kim added that the office where she was working was Spokesman Vladim Dukov's office before he became Prime Minister.

Seeing all of the places she had heard about in Kim's music and correspondence greatly put Cecilia at ease, and allowed her to start asking her questions about her life and about Danube City in general. Gradually the conversation became more two-way, and Cecilia and Jason started relaxing enough to talk about themselves.

They stepped back out into the Central Plaza. Off in the distance loomed King Vladik's Castle, but Kim announced there would not be time to see that landmark, because already it was getting late. Instead she had something much stranger and much more revealing to share with them. They returned to her office, where the two sisters changed into black prayer robes. They invited Jason and Cecilia to go with them to the Temple of the Ancients.

"We've both converted to the Danubian Church." Kim explained. "If you guys don't mind, Cynthia and I need to go over to the Temple, and we'll take you to see it, if you're curious. After that I'm gonna have to head down to the river and meet up with someone."

With that the four Americans walked past Danube City's 15th Century National Cathedral, which now was used mostly for ceremonial instead of religious functions. The real center of the nation's religious life was the Cathedral's predecessor, the Temple of the Ancients. The Temple was much older than the Cathedral; parts of it 3,000 years old, dating clear back to the mysterious origins of the Danubian nation. Before there was anything else in Danube City, there was the Temple.

The building seemed fairly busy for a weeknight. There were no worship services going on, but plenty of people were present, praying in front of Priests or Priestesses, performing penance services, or getting counseling. Cindy took a candle and lit it, indicating she wanted a member of the Clergy to talk to her. She knelt and began praying while holding the candle. Within a few minutes a middle-aged man in a black robe approached and they stepped outside into the park behind the Temple. Kim explained a few details about the history of the Temple during Cynthia's absence, which lasted about 20 minutes. When Cynthia re-appeared, the four went down to the river.

It was a warm late spring night. They silently walked along a very dark trail until they got to a sidewalk that paralleled the East Danube River. They turned upstream and walked until they got to a park bench, where a naked muscular young woman, barely visible in the darkness, was waiting. Kim and the other woman knelt facing each other, touched their heads the ground, then knelt upright and turned to face the Temple. They scooted closer together, placed their heads back on the ground, and began quietly praying. Cynthia motioned Jason and Cecilia to step back.

"They're gonna be at it for a while, so we might as well go for a walk. We'll follow the river down to the Castle, then we'll come back and see how they're doing."

They began their trek along the shore, their walk partially illuminated by the moon reflecting off the East Danube River. The Castle loomed ahead, looking quite forbidding, with its black shape silhouetted against the moonlit night. Cynthia glanced back in the direction of her sister to the spot where she was praying with the naked woman. Cecilia looked back as well, wondering what Kim was doing.

"So, who's that woman Kim's with?"

"Her name is Criminal # 99348. Before she was convicted, she was known as Officer Malka Chorno, and Kim, even though she's an Apprentice, still calls her by her former name. Malka Chorno's the cop that arrested Kim... four years ago. Hard to believe, it's been four years already. Anyhow, Malka Chorno was a person whose soul was very damaged, perhaps as much as Jason's father, but in a different way. She was really mean to Kim during the first year of her sentence. Then, while she was switching Kim a year after she arrested her, she lost control of herself and beat Kim so hard she cut her skin open, which is illegal. When Spokesman Dukov tried to stop her, she kicked him in the stomach, in a courtroom right in front of a judge. Well, that ended her career as a cop real fast. She was convicted of a bunch of stuff and became a criminal, no better than Kim. Ever since then Kim and Malka have trying to come to terms with each other, because they both know the path of their lives requires them to do it. Their souls are tied together. Each of them became a criminal because of the other, but each was redeemed as the result of her arrest."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"Yes it does. The path of each of their lives was to get arrested. It had to be that way, because each of their souls was damaged. Before she got arrested, Kim was getting heavily into drugs. Her arrest stopped that, dead in its tracks. As for Malka, she was obsessed with what happened to her younger sister. The girl disappeared with seven other Danubian girls because of a white slavery trafficking ring that hooked teenagers on drugs and then sold them in the Middle East as sex slaves. Malka became almost psychotic over what happened because she blamed herself for not watching her sister better. She became a real monster around criminals, and especially foreigners. Her arrest, and the way Kim handled it, made her realize hatred had consumed her and destroyed her completely. She changed, became repentant, overcame her hatred, and took back her life. Malka accepted herself for what she is, a criminal. Now the Path of her life is totally different. She's the city's most popular gym instructor."

"Kim's had a very important role in Malka's life. Here's an example, just one out of a whole bunch. After she was sentenced, Malka met her husband Tuko at the Socrates Club, because Tuko was a friend of Kim. Then, last fall, Tuko (who's now a cop) went to the Middle East as part of an international police team trying to find out what happened to the victims of that trafficking ring who were still missing. Just before he left, Kim had a vision about where her body was buried and told him about it. He went to that spot, dug around a bit, and sure enough, there it was, the body of Malka's sister. Tuko came back to Danube City with her body and a couple of others. If nothing else, at least the girls had a decent burial in their own country instead of rotting out in the desert. So, ever since Tuko got back, Malka and Kim have prayed together, even though they don't really like each other. There's some sort of spiritual bond between them, something neither of them understands. And that spot where they pray, that's where Malka arrested Kim for smoking weed."

Cynthia's companions were silent, not knowing how to react. The story of Kimberly Lee and Malka Chorno was strange and very frightening. It was a very Danubian story.

Jason and Cecilia felt uneasy as they glanced off into the wooded park that seemed full of both the living and the dead. They could feel there was something in there: something ancient and mysterious. Cecilia asked why that relatively small plot of land was so important.

"This spot is the holiest place in Upper Danubia," explained Cynthia. "They call it the Sacred Ground of the Guardian Spirits, and it's been important for 3,000 years. They have all kinds of beliefs about the Sacred Ground, but the one they're really big on is that it's the only spot in the Land of the Living where you can confront whatever you did wrong in your life. The Ancients are here, and they'll answer if you call out to them. So people come here at night to pray. What they do is go to the Temple first and explain to someone in the Clergy what's bothering them. The Clergy member gives their own perspective about what's wrong and what to ask the Ancients. Then the person comes out here to face their... sins, although that's not really a good way to translate it. Maybe 'damage to the soul' is a better way to say it."

Cynthia glanced at her companions in the dark and continued.

"It's sort hard for me to explain, but anyhow, the Danubian Church teaches that the soul is a living thing, something you need to maintain and protect. You suffer, and your soul suffers, but what you need to do is come to terms with your suffering, and above all, not pass it along to anyone else. You have to repair your spiritual injuries, and the wise person asks the Creator to help them come to terms with the pain in their lives. This is where they come to do it, this ground behind the Old Temple. I've had issues...a lot of things built up in me and a lot of hatred that I carried with me since I was a little kid...and it wasn't until I came here that I found a way to deal with it."

"By converting to the Danubian Church?"

"No. That came later. Not 'till last summer. There was a lot of stuff that came before I converted, and plenty of stuff that's come since. When I converted, that was just one small part of a very long spiritual journey I've had to endure."

"So, how come you converted, anyhow?"

"I think... maybe out of all the religions, this is the one that makes the most sense to me. The faith is all about repairing the damage to your soul and doing the best you can, so you can follow the path in life the Creator laid out for you. A path not for anyone else, but only for you. The point is, to follow your path in life, you have to meet the Creator halfway by understanding how your soul might be damaged, and how you have to fix it. You're not going to do anything perfectly, but the Creator wants you to do the best you can."

"I like what they're preaching at the Temple because I see it in my own life. I mean... they do have a very strong idea about what's wrong and what's right. What's wrong is to inflict needless suffering on any living entity, and what's right is to try to make the world a more pleasant place for everyone and everything around you. They teach that a damaged soul is what destroys and hurts, while a soul on the right path of life does the opposite, makes everything better, or at least strives to make everything better. If your soul is damaged, then you will be a constant source of misery to yourself and everyone else around you."

"Like my dad."

"Yes, Jason, like your dad. From what I've heard about him, his soul is about as damaged as they come. Well, anyhow, to answer your original question, why did I convert? I think the thing that got me was the Clergy's view of the Afterlife. What the Danubians believe is that upon dying, you have to come to terms with the way you lived, and just as importantly, the way you were as a person. You face the Creator, you hold up a mirror that you're buried with. In that mirror you see your soul for what it truly was when you were alive. You see the Absolute Truth, the full truth about the path of your life. Every question you ever had gets answered. And then, except for the truth, there's no absolutes, no black and white, no Heaven and no Hell. Instead what you have is an afterlife in which your soul faces the consequences, good and bad, of everything you ever did. I like that idea, because it means that you have to take responsibility for the way you live, day to day, minute to minute. What's done in your life is done, there's no praying and just hoping it will go away. You do something, and the Creator will hold you accountable. All you can do is hope you can learn, and try to behave better in the future. A pretty strong incentive to do your best, don't you think?"

"Yeah... a bit scary, when you think about it."

"Not at all. It's very empowering. You can't make excuses to the Creator. You are responsible, and that's all there is to it. I pray a lot, but for the future, not for the past. I can't change the past, and I will face the consequences of the past when I die. However, I do control what kind of person I will be in the future. That's what I need to worry about. That's where I ask the Creator's help."

A middle-aged couple passed them in the darkness. They were as naked as Malka Chorno and wearing collars, but Jason and Cecilia noticed the collars were not typical criminal collars. Instead they were smooth and lacked the prisoner's ring.

"That couple's performing pubic penance," explained Cynthia. "I can tell, because those collars are from the Temple, not from the Ministry of Justice."

Cecilia knew about public penance, but Jason did not, so Cynthia explained it to him. In some ways penance was like a criminal sentence, but it was a sentence a person imposed on himself instead of having it imposed by the Ministry of Justice. The goal of penance and a criminal sentence were similar, to strip away as much as possible from the person's old life to allow him to start building a new one. As Cynthia put it: "The Church considers penance important for anyone who wants to make any kind of change in their life. Penance places you on public display. The idea is that the public stripping of worldly items from your body will help you to strip the worldly contamination from your soul. You're also humbling yourself in the eyes of society, because a person performing penance has the same legal status and duties as a convicted criminal. You put on the Temple collar and expose yourself to everyone around you. You are announcing to the world 'I don't like who I've been up until now. I want strip my soul and rebuild it, because I need to change. Until I can clean my soul, my body will remain uncovered.'"

"Cynthia, I'm kinda curious about something. Did you ever perform penance?"

"Yes. I wore a Temple collar last summer for a couple of weeks before I converted. I'm planning to do it again after the trial. This time it's going to have to be more than a few weeks. I might be wearing a collar for several months, but I haven't decided how long yet. When the time comes, I'll talk to the Priest who swore me into the Church and see what he thinks."

"But... how come you're gonna do it now? Did you do something wrong?"

"I have my reasons. I can't really explain them, but it's important to me. I'm just waiting for the trial to be over, and then I'm getting collared. I have some issues I got to settle between myself and the Creator."

Cynthia's explanation profoundly affected her two companions, for very different reasons.

Jason was heartened by what Cynthia had told him. He desperately wanted to mark the end of the person he had been, and the beginning of the person he wanted to become in the future. He wanted to break from his past and demonstrate to himself and the world that he could be someone else than who he had been before he entered college. He did not want to be the helpless son of a wealthy American corporate sociopath. He wanted to be someone different, someone he could actually respect. Would performing penance give him that break he needed to separate his new life from his old one?

Cecilia, meanwhile, suddenly felt horribly guilty about wanting to use a Danubian religious practice to pursue a sexual fantasy with Jason. Now that she understood the philosophy of the Temple and the seriousness of public penance, the thought of using it to make Jason into her personal servant seemed offensive, to say the least. She felt that if anyone needed to perform penance, it was she, for having such a sacrilegious thought, not Jason. An idea began forming that over the next several weeks would grow, crystallize in her mind, and ultimately force her to take action. She would need to confess to a Danubian Priest her secret fantasy of abusing public penance and accept the consequences.

The group returned to the spot where Kim and Malka Chorno had been praying to find Kim standing by herself, looking out over the East Danube River. Kim was in a quiet, reflective mood, but seemed happy to see her companions return. The four Americans made their way back to the Temple and then out to the plaza in front, where Kim pointed out the cafť where her husband had worked during his sentence.

"It's weird, how your mind plays tricks on you. Every time I pass that place I think I'm gonna see Sergekt with his waiter's tray, and of course he hasn't worked there since we finished our sentences."

Kim suddenly became less reflective and more upbeat.

"So, how tired are you guys?"

"Not too bad."

"OK, then let's get these robes off and I'll take you over to the Socrates Club."

The four Americans briefly returned to the Central Police Station to allow Kim and Cynthia to get out of their prayer robes and put their street clothes back on. However, they would remain dressed only long enough to take a trolley to the Socrates Club, the famous criminals' haunt that was the core of the entire Danubian music scene. Then everything, jewelry included, would have to come off.

The four Americans surrendered their possessions at the cloakroom and entered into a world unlike anything Jason or Cecilia had ever seen. There were hundreds of naked bodies on the dance floor, seated at the tables, and just running around with pitchers of beer or bowls of deep-fried vegetables. Kim found an empty table and ordered a large bowl of vegetables, which tasted something like salted Tempura, and a pitcher of very weak Danubian beer. It was amazing to see how at ease the Lee sisters were with their bodies, and of course Jason, who fit right in. Cecilia felt uneasy because her dark skin drew a lot of curious glances from the European crowd. The Lee sisters drew less attention because everyone in the room knew who they were.

Shortly after they sat down, a young criminal who obviously liked Cynthia joined the Americans. He invited her to dance, leaving Kim and Cecilia to converse at the table. Kim talked at length about the club and its history, as well as her own time as a criminal when "Socrates' Mistresses" was just starting out. She added that the band would perform here the following weekend, and of course Jason and Cecilia were invited.

Kim's husband Sergekt Dolkiv showed up, kissed her, and shook hands with Jason and Cecilia. Then, in Danubian he asked his wife to dance, leaving Cecilia and Jason with no choice but to get up and dance as well.

They danced slowly to a very sad-sounding song coming from the stage in a language neither of them understood. They were dancing naked, in a room of about 400 other naked young people, all of them criminals or ex-criminals, in club that was legendary for its music throughout Europe. They were in Europe's most isolated country, with no hope of being able to leave anytime soon. And yet, already, on their very first night in Danube City, there was a "normal" feel to their lives, in spite of the strangeness of their situation.

Cecilia had come into the club with a woman she idealized, only to realize that Kimberly Lee was a very ordinary person in a very ordinary marriage with an ordinary Danubian. The Lee sisters were both flawed young women whose most important contribution to Cecilia and Jason would be their friendship. Friendship was good enough for Cecilia. She and Jason would need some decent friends to get them through the difficult times that lay ahead.

At about midnight the four Americans and Sergekt Dolkiv got dressed and left the Socrates Club. Sergekt and Kim accompanied the others back to the hotel, but then got on another trolley to go home. Tomorrow was another day with a very full schedule. Cynthia went back to her own room, while Jason and Cecilia decided to go down to the hotel swimming pool.

The water looked very inviting. As they entered the pool area they noticed a sign written in various languages, including:

Danubian: NegŠtutk odyŠckt nad pisinķkt tatķk. JŠku: $ 1,000.
English: Clothing prohibited in swimming pool area. Fine: $ 1,000.
Spanish: Se prohŪben los vestidos de baŮo en la piscina. Multa: $ 1,000.

Obviously their days of wearing swimming suits had ended.

Jason and Cecilia took off their clothes and slipped into the empty pool. The swimming lessons had to continue, no matter where they were. He spent a long time encouraging her to become more daring when taking her feet off the bottom. Finally, Cecilia surprised both herself and Jason by swimming the entire length of the pool unassisted. They were making excellent progress with at least one part of their lives, keeping Cecilia alive in the water.

After swimming, the couple returned upstairs. Although she was desperate for sex, that night Cecilia was not in the mood to have Jason spend the normal session with his face between her legs. She didn't even want a massage. Instead she briefly massaged him, and then assumed his favorite position on the bed, on her elbows and knees with her bottom turned up and on full display. She wanted to present herself and submit to him. He entered her and, as usual, thrust until both of them were gasping from exhaustion and pleasure.

Later, when he fell asleep, she got up and opened the curtains of the hotel room. For a very long time she stood at the window, looking out at the moon as it slowly sank westward over the river.

She quietly hummed Kim's song "The wall that divides my soul". Now there were two walls that divided her soul, the one that separated her life in New Jersey from the one in Chicago, and the wall that separated the life in Chicago from the one she was starting in Danube City. There was one important difference, however. However hard this second transition might be, she wasn't facing it alone.