Exploding Cupcakes


By Harold




      “You look a bit out of place,” said the cat.


      “Yes, I suppose I do.”  The man was wearing a conservative grey suit, black wingtips, and a powder blue shirt.  His only concession to the occasion was a tie that was a bit loud.  The cat was wearing what appeared to be an opaque body stocking.  A plush tail dangled to the floor.  She didn’t wear a mask, but had on a headband to which were attached two triangular cat ears.  She had whiskers painted on her face and her eyes were made up to be more elongated and catlike.  “I’m here on business,” the man told her.


      “And what business do you have at a Halloween party?”


      “I’m selling cupcakes.”


      “You haven’t by any chance noticed all the free food laying around, have you?  I like cupcakes, but you’re not likely to sell any here.”


      “Oh, but these are special.  They’re exploding cupcakes.”


      “I see.  This is a concept costume.”


      “Yes.  Would you care for one?  It’s quite an experience.”


      “Sure, why not.”


      “Come with me.”  The man led the cat out onto the porch and sat her down.  He sat down next to her and opened the attache case he carried.


      “They’re only a quarter,” the cat was informed.  “How would you like to pay for it--cash, check, or charge?


      “I don’t have a quarter on me,” she said.  It was true.  There was no place in her costume to hide a quarter.  “How about charge.”


      “Certainly,” The man pulled some papers out of his case.  “Just sign these and I’ll prepare your cupcake.”  He handed her two sheets of paper.  One was labeled ‘Informed Consent and Waiver’ and the other was labeled ‘Finance Agreement’.  Both were covered with fine print and had an ‘X’ at the bottom for a signature.


      “This says one hundred percent interest,” the cat objected.


      “Hey, it’s a quarter.  So tomorrow you pay fifty cents.”  The cat was somewhat taken aback by the paperwork, but she was intrigued, so she decided to play along.  She signed the papers and handed them to the man.  He handed them back.  “Date them, please.”  She did so and handed them back again.


      “Catherine Lund.  Is that your name?”


      “Yes, but everyone just calls me Cat.”


      “Hence the costume.”


      “It’s not very original, I’m afraid.”


      “Perhaps not, but you get extra points for cute.  Regardless, signing your real name wasn’t the best idea you’ve had all evening.”


      “So what is the best idea I’ve had all evening?”


      “You haven’t had it yet.”  He pulled out a paper plate, unwrapped a chocolate cream filled cupcake, and placed it on the plate.  Stuffing a firecracker into the side of the cupcake, he lit the fuse, and handed the plate to Cat.


      Cat reluctantly accepted the plate.  “But...”  BANG!  Cat screamed, dropped the plate, and leapt to her feet.  The plate landed on the floor, the circle of icing that had previously topped the cupcake lay on the plate where the cupcake had been.


      What the salesman knew that Cat didn’t was that explosions are radial in direction.  He had carefully handed the plate to Cat with the end of the firecracker pointing toward himself, while the side was turned toward Cat.  As a result, the salesman was relatively unscathed.  Cat, on the other hand, had half the cupcake and filling spread across her chest, the other half of the cake having fled in the opposite direction.


      “Oh, dear,” he sympathized.  “My cupcake seems to have spread itself all over your cupcakes.  Let me help you.”  He grabbed her tail, dipped the end of it in his drink, and began dabbing at her chest.


      Cat wasn’t drunk, but she had had a couple of drinks and was probably a bit more tolerant than usual.  Besides, the utter audacity of it all left her momentarily speechless.  Nonetheless, having a total stranger chasing her nipples around her chest with her tail was a bit much, not to mention the mess he’d made of her costume.


      “Can I borrow your drink?” she asked.


      The man handed it to her and continued dabbing at her chest.  Cat splashed the drink over as much of the guy’s suit as she could, then handed him the glass.


      “Asshole,” she declared and stomped off to the bathroom and cleaned herself up as best she could.  When she returned, the cupcake salesman was nowhere to be seen.  Cat hung around the party another hour or so, but it was pretty dull and she finally went home.


      Cat wasn’t even sure why she’d gone to the party.  She had been surprised when her sister, Mindy, had invited her. Cat had recently broken up with her own boyfriend, and she suspected Mindy was hoping to cheer her up with the invitation.  Mindy had always criticized Cat’s taste in men.  As if hers was any better.  Her husband, Fred, was a total jerk and he was an even bigger jerk when he was drunk, which he always was at parties.  Cat had reluctantly agreed to go.  Perhaps she would meet someone there, although the chances were slim considering Mindy’s own taste in men.  However, she didn’t have anything else to do.  Regrettably, it had been a waste.  The only interesting person had been the cupcake salesman, and Cat had poured a drink all over him.  Not that she didn’t feel justified, but the exploding cupcake had been the highlight of her evening.  That wasn’t saying much, but then it was unusual for one of Mindy’s parties to have a highlight of any sort.


      About a week later, Cat was checking her mail, which included an envelope from the Institute for Rapidly Expanding Pastry.  She had nearly thrown it out with the junk mail, but the return address had caught her eye.  Inside, she found an invoice for one exploding cupcake.  The invoice amount was $32, including penalties and interest.  Included with the invoice was a copy of the contract she had signed.  Cat read the document carefully.  Apparently, she had agreed to finance her twenty-five cent cupcake at one hundred percent interest per day, compounded daily.  In the intervening week, her ‘debt’ had ballooned to $32.  She had further agreed that should payment not be forthcoming, she would submit herself to a period of servitude to the Institute until her obligation was paid.


      Cat threw the stuff in the trash.  The cupcake thing at the party had been sort of cute, but this ‘invoice’ was tasteless and offensive.  She was, however, concerned that it had been delivered to her house.  She hadn’t given her address to the guy at the party and it wasn’t listed in the phone book.  Maybe he’d gotten it from Mindy.  It sounded like the sort of thing one of Mindy’s creepy friends would do.  She decided to call her sister.


      “Mindy, did you give my address to that cupcake salesman guy?”


      “What cupcake salesman guy?”


      “You know, the exploding cupcake salesman at your Halloween party.”


      “Cat, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


      “There was a guy at your party who sold me an exploding cupcake.  He wore a suit and looked like he wasn’t wearing a costume, but he was.”


      “I remember seeing you talking to a guy in a suit.  I figured he was one of your friends, since he wasn’t wearing a costume, but I don’t know anything about exploding cupcakes.”


      Cat told Mindy about the cupcake incident.

      “So that’s what that stuff on the front porch was all about.  I wondered what that stuff was that was splattered all over.  But to answer your question, I have no idea who he was.  The only time I remember seeing him was when I saw him talking to you.  I can’t remember seeing him before or after that.”


      “You mean this guy showed up, sold me a cupcake and left?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Why would he do that?”


      “I don’t know.  He may have been there longer, I just don’t remember seeing him.”


      “He may have been there before, but he wasn’t there after.  I went looking for him a few minutes after I’d doused him, and he was gone.  I assumed he’d left to change clothes.”


      “Maybe so.  I didn’t talk to him and don’t know who he was.  You know, you’re really never going to get anywhere if you keep running men off like that.”


      “They’re all such jerks.  You should have seen the mess he made of my costume...Mindy, let’s not go over this again.  You’ll tell me I need to hang out with a better class of guys and then I’ll tell you what a jerk Fred is and we’ll have a big fight.”


      “You’re right.  Anyway, I don’t know who the guy was.  Sorry I can’t help.”


      “Thanks anyway.”


      Cat couldn’t remember when it hadn’t been like this.  Mindy was five years older, and was always trying to run her life; especially when it came to men.  Cat was of the opinion that Mindy was utterly incapable of perceiving the beam in her own eye.  It was hard to believe she didn’t notice Fred’s behavior.  He was always trying to grope Cat and she spent most of her time at parties and family gatherings trying to avoid him.  Despite her efforts, Fred would manage to pat her on the ass or kiss her in greeting or parting.  He also had an annoying habit of draping his arm over Cat’s shoulders so that his dangling fingers brushed her nipples.  He managed to make it all look very innocent and familial, but Cat wasn’t fooled.  Cat’s complaints about Fred always made Mindy angry.


      Thinking about Fred brought something else to the surface.  She’d been aware of it in the back of her mind, but it hadn’t quite registered.  Fred had kept his distance at Mindy’s party, and although Cat didn’t get close enough to be certain, he seemed to have been sober. 


      After a couple of days, Cat had forgotten the whole thing.  She was, therefore, rather surprised when some ten days later she received another invoice.  This one was rather shrill in it’s demand for payment.  The invoice amount was now $65,536.  Cat angrily threw the new invoice in the trash.


      The next day when she got home from work, there was a cupcake on a white paper plate sitting on her kitchen table.  As she picked it up to throw it in the trash, it started hissing and a white smoke began billowing from the cupcake.  Cat dropped it and ran.  The back door was only a few steps away.  She managed to get outside and slammed the door behind her, then collapsed to lie coughing and choking on the deck.  After a few minutes, the outside air seemed to clear away the small amount of gas she had inhaled.  She rested a few minutes more, then looked in through the back door window.  The kitchen was filled with the white gas and she could hardly see the stove and refrigerator on the opposite wall.  She sat down again on the deck to consider her situation.  At the moment her house was full of poison gas.  Apparently, this institute or whatever it was, was serious about collecting money from her.  It was absurd, of course.  She didn’t owe them anything, certainly not $65,000.  Nevertheless, they seemed intent on harassing her. The cupcake left no doubt as to the culprits.  Were they trying to kill her or just frighten her?  They had certainly succeeded in the latter.  Should she call the police?  That was probably the sensible thing to do, but she hesitated.  She just didn’t want the bomb squad or haz mat people or whomever rummaging through her house.  Although Cat rarely used drugs, she did have small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, and there were other things that, while not illegal, would be embarrassing if found.


      Cat walked over to the back door, held her breath and pushed it open.  She stepped quickly away and walked around the house to the front door.  She pushed it open as well, then went to sit in her car until the house was aired out.


      It was dark when Cat awoke.  She looked at her watch.  It was past midnight.  She had fallen asleep in her car, perhaps due to lingering effects of the gas.


      Cat got out and walked to the front door.  Holding her breath again, she reached inside and flipped on the light.  The air appeared to be clear.  She stood in the doorway and drew a very shallow breath.  There were no apparent ill effects.  She drew a deeper breath.  Still no problem.  She held her breath again and walked to the kitchen, flipping on the light.  The air looked clear.  She drew another shallow breath.  Okay so far.  She turned on the range hood, just to make sure.  Cat found she could breath normally.  She closed the doors.  It was November and the furnace had not been able to keep up with the open doors.  Hence, it was chilly in the house.


      Cat went to her bedroom and put on a sweater, then returned to the kitchen.  She was hungry.  As she opened the refrigerator, she heard the hissing even before she saw the cupcake.  This time, she didn’t make it to the back door.


      Cat awoke and looked around groggily.  She was in a hospital bed.  Hospital?  She tried to sit up but was unable.  She was strapped down.


      “Where am I?  What’s going on?” Cat called.


      A woman in a nurse’s uniform walked into her field of vision.  Cat noticed she was wearing a rather odd necklace.  Actually, it was a choker rather than a necklace.  It consisted of a series of rather clunky looking silvery ovals, each joined to the next at top and bottom by fine gold chain. A red jewel adorned the center oval. The choker clasped itself tightly around her neck.


      “Good, you’re awake.  We were worried about you.”


      “What happened?  Why am I here?”


      “You apparently inhaled some toxic fumes, but you’re going to be okay.”


      “Why am I tied down?”


      “When the anesthetic wears off, your incisions will itch and burn.  We don’t want you disturbing them until they’ve healed a bit.  They heal fast.  We should be able to let you up by this time tomorrow.”


      “Incisions?  What incisions?”


      “Tomorrow, dear.  Now try to get some rest.”  The nurse walked away.


      “Hey,” Cat yelled. “Come back here.”


      The nurse returned.  She picked up a syringe from a tray next to the bed and stuck the needle in Cat’s arm.


      “This will help you relax.  We’ll talk tomorrow.”


      Cat awoke again.  This time she was less groggy than on her previous awakening.  She looked around.  There was no clock and the room had no windows.  She had no idea how long she’d been asleep.  She tried to figure out what was going on.  She was still strapped down and had apparently had an operation.  What sort of poison gas required an operation?  And what kind of operation?  Her thoughts were interrupted by the return of the nurse.


      “You’re with us again, I see.  I’m going to unstrap you now, but don’t try to get up just yet.”  The nurse unbuckled the straps holding Cat down and pushed a button which raised the bed to a sitting position.


      “Tell me what’s happened.  Why did I have an operation?”


      “The doctor will be in in a minute.  He’ll explain everything.  In the meantime, just relax.”


      “Relax!  I’m sick of relaxing.  That’s all I’ve done for the past...how long have I been here, anyway?”


      “You’ve been here five days.”


      “Five days?  I just got here yesterday.  How can it be five days?”


      “The doctor will explain.”


      “He’d better.  Somebody better explain something.”  Cat pulled the covers aside and leaned forward.

      “Please don’t get up, dear.  I don’t want to have to strap you down again.  Just wait for the doctor.”




      Cat lay back against the bed and the nurse departed.  The movement caused her neck to chafe.  Running her hands over her throat, she realized she was wearing a choker similar to the one the nurse had on.  She was trying to get it off to examine it more closely when a man in a white coat entered the room.


      “And how are you feeling today, Cat.”


      “Perplexed, and a bit angry.  Otherwise I feel fine.  What is this place, anyway?  There’s something weird about it.  It doesn’t seem like a normal hospital.”


      “I’m glad to see the gas didn’t affect your mind.  That can happen sometimes.  You’re right, of course.  This is not a regular hospital...”


      “So where am I?  What’s going on?” Cat blurted.


      “Listen and I’ll tell you.  Listen very carefully.  You’re at the Institute.  You are now a servant of the Institute...”


      “Institute?  You mean the Institute for Exploding Cupcakes or whatever you call it?”


      “The Institute for Rapidly Expanding Pastry, yes.”


      “And what exactly do you mean by servant?”


      “Just that.  You failed to pay your debt, so now you’re going to work it off.  You will do whatever we tell you until your indenture is paid off.”


      “You people are nuts.  I don’t owe you anything and if you think you can make me your slave or something...”


      “But, Cat, we can and we have.  As I said, you will do whatever we require.”


      “How do you come to that conclusion?”


      “Because we can do this.”  He pushed a button on what appeared to be a remote control.


      Cat couldn’t believe the pain.  She was being roasted alive, every square inch of her body on fire.  Red hot pokers were being pushed into her eyes and ears and every other orifice she possessed.  Her nipples were being crushed in the jaws of a red hot vise and every breath filled her lungs with flaming gases.


      Then it stopped.  The pain was gone completely.  Cat felt perfectly normal.  All that remained of the pain was the memory.  But the memory was horrible.  Cat knew she would do whatever they wanted if only they wouldn’t do that again.


      “Now do you understand?” he asked her.


      “Yes, I understand.”


      “Good.  Your indenture is currently about $131,000...”




      “Plus some change.  Now be quiet and listen.  No more interest will accrue as long as you’re a servant in good standing.  Over time, you will work off your indenture.  Tomorrow you’ll be going home.  You will return to your normal life with the exception that you will be on call.  From time to time we will contact you with an assignment.  You will be told where to go, when to be there, and what special instructions apply.  After you’ve completed the assignment, you will be compensated.  Your indenture will be reduced by the amount of compensation.”


      “What do these ‘assignments’ consist of?  How often will I get them?  What if I can’t make it to one?”


      “The assignments will consist of serving our customers.  You will do whatever they require.  Assignments will occur intermittently.  If you’re popular with the customers, they will occur more frequently.  Should you fail to appear as required, double the amount of compensation will be added to your indenture.  Additionally, you will be punished.  Should you make a habit of missing assignments, you will be taken into custody and the cost of your room and board would be added to your indenture.  When not on assignment, you would be locked in your cell.  We would prefer you live at home and pay for your own upkeep.”


      “These services are about sex, aren’t they.  You’re going to make me a prostitute.”


      “Precisely.  And you’d better be a good one.  Customer complaints are dealt with very harshly.”


      “This is crazy.  You know I don’t owe you people anything.  How can you do this to me?”


      “It doesn’t matter how.  What matters is that we have.  The sooner you surrender to this reality, the better off you’ll be.”


      “You mean the better off you’ll be.”


      “As you wish.  Just keep in mind what things will be like if we don’t think we’re better off.”


      “So now what?”


      “So now you get some rest and tomorrow you go home.”


      The doctor had mentioned one other curious item.  He had said that her indenture would be reduced by fifty percent if she recruited a new servant.  Cat wondered what was involved in recruiting a new servant.  Besides, who could she get?  She thought of Mindy.  In some ways, it would serve Mindy right.  But she couldn’t do it.  She wouldn’t wish this on anyone.  Cat lay back in the bed and cried herself to sleep.


      Some indeterminate time later Cat awoke.  She went into the bathroom and examined herself in the mirror.  Her incisions had nearly healed, but she was able to locate five of them.  There was one on either side at the base of her neck, one under each breast, and one in her groin area.  She assumed they had installed some sort of implants that made it possible for them to do what they had done to her.


      She examined her collar.  It was chafing her neck again.  It might be pretending to be a choker necklace, but she knew it for what it was.  It was the device they were using to control her.  She examined it with her fingers.  Two of the ovals joined directly together in the back with no intervening chain.  This must be where it opened.  She could feel a small protrusion where they came together.  She flipped it with her fingernail and the ovals separated.  The pain struck instantly and overwhelmed her.  It went on and on and Cat prayed she would pass out, but didn’t.  After about five years, it ceased.  The doctor was standing over her, having just fastened the collar back in place.


      “You were right,” he told her.  “The collar is the control device, but it works the opposite from what you think.  When it’s not receiving other instructions, the collar tells the implants not to cause the pain.  If they don’t receive the signal from the collar, they switch the pain on.  The collar only has a range of about two feet, so even if you got it off somehow, the pain would be turned on as soon as it was out of range.  Your collar is your friend.  Keep it on.”


      “You mean if it was accidentally damaged or something...”


      “Exactly.  The pain would continue until the collar was repaired and put back in operation.”


      “How long was it off?”


      “Less than a minute.”


      “That was under a minute?  It seemed like forever.”


      “You know how time flies when you’re having fun.  The opposite is even more true.  It’s a good thing you did that here.  What if we had to drive to your house to put it back on?”


      “Oh, god.”


      “We’ve been waiting for you to do that.  Most women try to take it off.”


      “Why didn’t you just tell me.”


      “It’s better for you to learn this way.  You’ll be very careful not to let anything happen to it now.”


      The doctor departed and a nurse or orderly came in with a meal.  She also wore a collar.


      “And how much do they pay for delivering room trays?” Cat inquired.


      “We’re not allowed to talk about that.  You learn very quickly not to ask questions.  Keep it up and they take you into custody.”


      “That’s what happened to you, isn’t it.”


      The woman nodded, but said, “Didn’t I just warn you about asking questions?  Believe me, you don’t want to learn the hard way.”


      Cat ate her meal and drifted off to sleep again.  When next she awoke, she was at home in her own bed.  She didn’t even wonder if it had all been a dream.  She could feel the collar on her throat.


      Cat got up.  She had been assured the collar was quite waterproof, but just the same it worried her to wear it in the shower.  What if it shorted out?  It didn’t, at least, not this time.


      Cat dressed and looked at herself in the mirror.  If her collar was going to masquerade as jewelry, why did it have to be such ugly jewelry?  Surely they could have designed something more tasteful.


      The phone rang.  It was her first assignment.  She was instructed to go to a certain address at a certain date and time.  She was to tell whoever answered the door that she was there to clean the clock.  She would then be shown to the room of an elderly man who was bed ridden.  She was to give him a blow job, then return home.


      Cat was worried about this assignment.  She had only done one blow job in her life, and she’d hated it.  The recipient hadn’t been all that thrilled with her performance either.  Nevertheless, she rang the bell at the appointed time.


      A teenage girl answered the door.  “I’m here to clean the clock,” Cat announced.  The girl led Cat upstairs, stopping outside a closed door.


      “He’s in there,” the girl said and walked away.


      Cat opened the door.  An ancient man lay in a bed next to the window.


      “Are you the one?  About time you got here.”


      Cat was annoyed by this remark, since she had arrived at exactly the time specified.  She approached the bed.


      “Well, get to work,” the man wheezed.


      Cat pulled the covers aside.  The man wasn’t wearing any pajama bottoms.  At least he was clean.  She had been worried about that.  She knelt and sucked the flaccid member into her mouth.  It seemed to take forever for the old man to get an erection, but he finally did.  It took even longer for Cat to get him off.


      “Not bad for a beginner,” he croaked.  “I always like them to send me beginners.  It lasts longer that way.”


      Cat agreed that it had taken long enough, although she thought that had more to do with him than with her.  Her own opinion was that someone experienced could probably make it last even longer.  Her goal had been to get it over with.


      Cat left the room.  It occurred to her that she had not said a single word to the old man.  She went back down stairs.  There was a teenage boy there, about the same age as the girl who had let him in.  The girl was still there as well.


      “I’d like my clock cleaned, too,” he announced.


      “Right here, right now?


      “Sure.  Why not?”


      “I’m sorry,” Cat said, “I don’t have instructions for that.  What about her, doesn’t she clean clocks?”


      “Of course not, she’s my sister.”


      “You were about to do it in front of her.  It’s only a small step away from having her do it.  This way you won’t have to send out.”


      “Yeah, but...”


      “C’mon, sis,” Cat said, taking the girl by the hand and leading her over to the boy, “time to earn your keep.”


      “But, I’ve never...”


      “That’s okay.  Grandpa upstairs likes beginners.  Besides, it’s likely to be a survival skill around here.”


      “Now, on your knees,” Cat said, thrusting the teenager to a kneeling position.  “And you, junior, whip it out.  You can’t expect her to do all the work.”


      “This isn’t what I meant...”


      “Hey, you’re a guy.  What do you care who cleans your clock, long as she’s female--you’re not gay are you?”


      “No, of course not.”


      “Good, then it’s all settled.  Tell you what.  I’ll help you this time, but next time you’re on your own.”  Cat unzipped the boy’s fly.  “Okay, sis, open wide.  He’s already got it up, so the job’s half done.  My guess is the other half won’t take long.”


      Cat pushed the girl’s face toward the boy’s erection.  “C,mon, honey.  I said open up.”  The girl reluctantly opened her mouth and Cat pushed her onto the boy.  “That’s better.  I’ll leave you to it.”


      As Cat walked out the door, the boy was standing in a sullen teenage slouch, while the girl was kneeling with his dick held loosely in her mouth.  Both were immobile.  Cat wondered if they’d really go through with it.  Probably, she thought.  He may have been young, but he was a guy.  Once he had his dick in someone’s mouth, it wasn’t coming out until she’d gotten him off.


      Cat left and drove herself home.  She hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble for that stunt, but she was angry at being used like this, and the smirks on the their faces as he asked her to clean his clock was just too much.  She’d removed the smirks, alright.  It would probably be a long time before that kid asked a stranger to clean his clock again.  She wondered how long it would be before he asked his sister to do it again.  It was the only satisfaction she derived from the entire assignment.


      The next morning, Cat’s phone rang.


      “Congratulations, Cat.  You’ve passed the test and completed your first assignment.”


      “What test?”


      “We often send girls there on their first assignment.  The old man likes beginners.  The kid always tries to get a free blow job.  We use it as sort of a test to see if you can follow instructions.  Every once in a while, someone gives him one.  If you’d given him a blow job, you’d have failed and would have had to be punished.  But you passed and get a bonus.  You get $100 for the blow job you did and another $50 for the one you didn’t.  You’d normally get $100, but you lose $50 for that stunt with the sister.”


      “It was worth it,” said Cat.


      “Probably it was, although we may have to come up with a new test.  Anyway, that’s $150 off your indenture.”

      “You mean your indenture.  I didn’t have anything to do with it.  The only reason I’m going along with this charade is because you’ll hurt me if I don’t.”


      “Yes, we will.  Always keep that in mind.”


      “How could I not?” asked Cat, fingering her collar.


      “Quite right.”


      “So now what?”


      “So now nothing.  We’ll contact you when we have another assignment for you.”


      Nearly a week later, Cat received another assignment.  Two evenings hence, she was to dress herself in stockings, brief panties, miniskirt, tight fitting blouse that showed some cleavage, and shoes with at least four inch heels.  She was to wear nothing else.  She should catch the city bus near her house at 7:15 that evening, bringing nothing with her except fare to get her on the bus.  The stop she was instructed to get off at was in one of the more unsavory sections of downtown.  She would receive further instructions there.


      Cat dressed as specified except for the shoes.  She didn’t have any heels over three inches.  She chose an older pair that wasn’t too expensive and decided they would have to do.  She looked like a hooker.  She knew that was what they wanted.  She rummaged through her closet and found a cheap plastic raincoat.  The raincoat would allow her to wait for the bus in her hooker outfit without any of the neighbors noticing her attire.


      The bus was only two minutes late.  Cat got on.  The ride was uneventful.  A block away from  her stop, she slid out of the raincoat and abandoned it on the seat.  As she got off, the driver handed her a transfer.


      “Take number 22, it comes in about ten minutes.  Get off at 32nd and Elm.”


      Cat took the transfer and got off the bus.  She stood on the corner, waiting for the next bus, trying to ignore the propositions and catcalls from passing cars.  A rather dissipated and dirty young man was wandering by.


      “Hey, baby, where’s your purse.”


      “I didn’t bring one.”


      “Too bad.  Nice necklace though.  How ‘bout you take it off so I can get a better look at it.”


      Cat turned to run, but the guy was faster.  His arm encircled her neck as his other hand fumbled at the necklace.


      “Oh, god, oh, god.  Please, don’t take the necklace.  Please.  I’ll do anything you want, anything at all.  Just don’t take the necklace.  I’ll do anything.  Please.”


      “Okay, baby.  You got a deal.  See that park bench over there?  Walk up behind it and bend over.”


      Cat sat on the bench in a daze.  She’d been raped.  She was surprised by her reaction.  What was wrong with her?  She should be in shock or hysterical or something.  Instead, her main feeling was one of relief.  She still had her collar on.  Further, she was annoyed that she wouldn’t get credit against her indenture for being fucked.  This last reaction made her angry.  It was as if this indenture thing had taken over her life.  The problem was, it had taken over her life.


      Cat’s musing was interrupted by the arrival and departure of the number 22 bus.  She’d missed it.  Now what?  There would be another in thirty minutes.  She waited.


      The next bus arrived on schedule and Cat got on.  She got off at the appointed stop.


      “You’re late, you dumb bitch.  You were supposed to be on the last bus.”  The voice was simultaneously angry and petulant.  The owner of the voice was a middle aged man standing next to a large four door sedan.


      “You asshole.  I was raped.  You made me change buses in that neighborhood and I was raped.”


      “Shut up and get your ass over here.”


      “Didn’t you hear me?  I said I was raped.  It’s your fault.  You made me change buses there.  It’s your fault,” Cat screamed.  She began beating at the man’s face with her fists and kicking at his groin with her knees.  “It’s your fault.  It’s your fault.”


      A powerful blow to the stomach propelled Cat backwards and she landed on her butt.  The man got in his car and drove off.


      “It’s your fault,” Cat screamed at the departing automobile.  She sat on the sidewalk and cried.  What was she to do now?  She had no ID, no money, not even bus fare or change for a pay phone.  She knew where she was.  It was about a five mile walk to her house.  Cat would normally not be concerned about walking that far, but in these shoes, dressed like this, at night, through these neighborhoods, was a different matter.  However, she didn’t see any other options.  Cat started walking.


      After about a mile, she couldn’t stand it any more and took her shoes off.  She trudged on.  After another couple of miles, a car pulled up from behind and stopped at the curb.  Cat was frightened and then relieved to see it was a police car.


      “You girls don’t usually work these residential neighborhoods. Let’s see some ID.”


      The cop thought she was a hooker.  Cat managed to convince him she was an average girl who’d just been a bit stupid.  She’d met a guy in a bar who’d dumped her and taken her purse.  No, she didn’t want to press charges because she didn’t think she could identify the guy.  The cop told her a girl like her should know better.  She wondered what he meant by a ‘girl like her’ but pretended to take the lecture seriously, grateful not to be walking.  The cop dropped her at her house.  She took a shower and went to bed.


      Cat was awakened by the phone.  It was seven Saturday morning.  Cat pulled a pillow over her head and let it ring.  After a while, it stopped.  It started again.  It stopped again.  Cat was seized by the pain for an instant.  She got the message and answered the phone.




      “We’re disappointed in you, Cat.  We’ve had a complaint.”


      “You’ve had a complaint!  What about me?  I was raped because of that asshole.”


      “Just the same, attacking a customer just won’t do.  We had to refund his money.  We don’t like to do that.”


      “Just how much did he pay you for my services, anyway?”


      “That’s none of your business.  What we do need to discuss is your own compensation.”


      “My compensation?  What compensation?  You pretend to pay me so I can pretend to pay off a debt you pretend I owe.”


      “It doesn’t matter how you feel about it.  What matters is that the debt exists and that you will pay it.  Unfortunately, on this occasion your compensation will be negative.  Your punishment for failing to satisfactorily complete your assignment is $2000 added to your indenture plus a one minute penalty to be administered in two segments.”


      “But I was raped, and I missed the bus, and that jerk didn’t even care that I was raped, he just yelled at me, and...”  Cat’s own complaint was interrupted by the pain.  It went on and on and on.  She wished she could move.  If she could move, she could kill herself and stop the pain, but she couldn’t move.  The pain was too much and she couldn’t move.  The pain stopped.


      “Cat, are you still listening?  Do I have your attention?”


      “Yes, sir.  I’m listening.  You have my attention.  Was that really only a minute?  Is it still Saturday?”


      “No, that wasn’t a minute.  It was thirty seconds.  I told you it would be administered in two segments.”


      “What!  You’re going to do that again?  Please, don’t.  Please.  I’ll be good.  I’ll do whatever you want.  I’ll apologize to him.  I’ll do whatever he wants.   Please don’t do it again.  Please, please, please.”


      “I’m sorry, Cat, but if I let you talk me out of it, I fear you wouldn’t take us seriously.  You would think you could do whatever you pleased and then wheedle your way out of it.  I can’t let you think like that.  You will pay the full penalty.”


      “Please...”  The pain came again.  Cat had been hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad as last time, that somehow she would become inured and the effect would be less, but it wasn’t.  If anything, it was worse than last time.  Why didn’t it kill her?  How could she possibly live through anything this awful?  The pain stopped.


      “Have we made our point, Cat?  Are you going to be a good girl from now on?”


      “Yes, sir.  I’ll be good.  I’ll do whatever you say.  Just tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”


      “I’m glad to hear it, Cat.  We’ll be in touch.”                                                          


       She couldn’t believe it.  Besides being tortured so horribly, she was $2000 in the hole.  And here she was groveling, begging for the opportunity to humiliate herself for the benefit of these bastards.  And at this rate she’d be doing it for the next thirty or forty years and more, if she lived that long.  She couldn’t stand the thought of spending so many years like this.  She had to do something.


      “Sir, excuse me, but I have a question.  There was some mention of reducing my indenture by recruiting someone else.  How does that work.”


      “If you aid us in recruiting someone else, we’ll cut your indenture in half.  If you find us three people, we’ll eliminate your indenture entirely and you’ll be free.  Why do you ask?  Do you have someone in mind?”


      “Do they have to be women?”


      “Yes, they do.”


      “Well, there’s my sister, Mindy.”  It would serve Mindy right, she thought.  She’d rather turn Fred over to them, but since it had to be a woman, Mindy would do.


      “I’m sorry, Mindy is not available.”


      “What do you mean, not available?  Don’t you do family members.”


      “We’ll take family members, but Mindy is not available for indenture.”


      “I don’t understand.  What do you mean by not available?”


      “I mean not available.  You’ll have to find someone else.”



      “Well, let us know if you think of anyone.”


      Cat hung up.  She was ashamed that she’d tried to give them Mindy.  It was just as well they wouldn’t take her.  She still couldn’t understand why, and they clearly didn’t care to elucidate.


      Saturday passed in a fog, as did Sunday.  On Monday, Cat was back at work.  So far, her assignments hadn’t interfered with her job since they’d been in the evening.  She hoped that would continue.  She wouldn’t dare say no to an assignment.  What if she had to miss some work?  What would she do if she lost her job?  What would they do?  Would they even care?


      On Wednesday, Cat got another call.  This assignment was to last over the next weekend.  A bus would stop in front of her house to pick her up at six Saturday morning.


      “What should I wear,” Cat asked.


      “Wear some traveling clothes, but pack a valise with some dress up clothes.  Stockings, not pantyhose.”


      Cat was angry.  No sleeping in on Saturday morning.  She would have to be up at five to be ready to go by six.  Maybe she could sleep on the bus.  But why a bus?


      A large touring bus pulled up in front.  The door opened as Cat approached.  As she got on she could see the bus was about half full of women, all of whom wore collars identical to her own.  Cat saw the windows were painted black, but she could see out the windshield.  The other women couldn’t; all were blindfolded.  The driver led Cat to a seat about half way back.  He took her valise and stowed it in the rack.  Then he took a blindfold from his pocket and buckled it in place.  Cat began feeling about for the seat, but the driver stopped her.  He seized her hands and locked a pair of handcuffs on her wrists, then threaded a chain around her waist which he locked to the handcuffs.  Cat’s wrists were now fastened at her waist.


      “Why am I chained?”


      “So you won’t mess with the blindfold.  I can’t watch you all the time and still drive the bus.  Now be quiet.”


      The driver guided Cat into her seat, then returned to the front of the bus.  Cat had the aisle seat.  The window seat was already occupied.  Cat realized the windows were blacked out not so they couldn’t see out, but so no one would see them.


      “Where are we going?” Cat asked the girl next to her.


      “Don’t you know not to ask questions?  Now shut up before we get in trouble.”


      It was too late.  The driver came stomping back down the aisle.  “Who’s doing all the yakking back here?  I’m waiting.  Who was it?”


      “I just wanted to know where we were going,” said Cat.


      “If we wanted you to know where you were going, we would have told you.  Now open your mouth.”  He stuffed a gag in Cat’s mouth and buckled it in place.


      “Now, who else was talking.  Was it you?”


      “I was just telling her to be quiet,” said the girl in the next seat.  “Thanks a lot...mmph,” she said to Cat as she, too, was gagged.  Cat hoped she hadn’t made a permanent enemy.


      The bus continued on its rounds, picking up women.  Cat lost count somewhere in the twenties, but assumed the bus was full when it finally picked up speed on the highway.  She didn’t know how long they rode.  It seemed like hours, but with the blindfold on, she had no means of keeping track of time.


      Finally the bus stopped.  The driver worked his way through the bus removing blindfolds.  The passengers wrists remained cuffed and Cat’s gag remained in place.  The girls filed slowly off the bus.  Cat saw that two other girls were gagged.  One of them gave her a wan smile of camaraderie.


      As Cat got off the bus, she saw several other busses lined up at the curb.  They were in front of a building that must have occupied several square blocks.  She and her fellow passengers were led in through a door then up a series of ramps.  They emerged on what was the top tier of a huge indoor amphitheater.  Cat wondered what the big secret with the blindfolds had been.  There couldn’t be that many buildings like this around.  It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where they were.


      The rear wall of the top tier was lined with small alcoves fitted with barred doors.  As they approached each new alcove, the door was opened and the next girl in line was blindfolded, then pushed in and the door closed on her.  Finally, Cat’s turn came.  The alcove was tiny.  With her back pushed against the back of the space, they just barely got the door closed.  They had not bothered to remove the gag or handcuffs and her blindfold had been replaced.  Cat thought the chains on her wrists were redundant.  There was no way she could move her arms in the tiny space, even without the restraints.


      The seats were filling up with spectators.  Cat could hear the noise level increase as more and more people arrived.  They seemed to be mostly male, but she could hear the occasional woman’s voice.  The PA carried the voice of an announcer who welcomed everyone to what was apparently a rodeo.  The events began, but Cat couldn’t make much sense of it.  The announcer called out the names of the contestants and their scores, but since Cat couldn’t see, the nature of the events was never quite clear.


      Cat felt like a zoo exhibit.  Every once in a while, passing footsteps would stop in front of her cage.  Sometimes the passers by would comment on her.  Other times they would linger silently and walk on.


      The door to Cat’s cage opened.  She was led back down the ramps.  Her blindfold and chains were removed, as was the gag.


      “Get undressed,” her handler commanded.  Cat removed her jeans, shirt, and shoes.


      “Keep going,” she was instructed.  She removed her socks, bra, and panties.  She was now naked.


      “You’re entered in the calf roping competition,” the man told her.


      “But I don’t know anything about roping,” Cat protested.  “I don’t even know how to ride a horse.”


      “You won’t need to.  You’re the calf.”




      “When you enter the arena, go to the center and stand in the chalk circle.  When the bell rings, run,” her keeper (as Cat had come to think of him) said.


      Cat was thrust into the arena.  The door closed behind her.  The stands were filled.  The audience was mostly men, but there were a few women scattered around.  Most of these wore casual clothes, but a few wore either lingerie or nothing and seemed to be captives or servants or something.


      Cat turned red with embarrassment from being naked in front of all these people.


      “The quarry will stand in the circle,” the announcer commanded.  Cat saw a chalk circle about three feet in diameter and went to stand in it.  She tried to examine the crowd more closely, wondering who all these people were and where they had come from.


      “The first rider in the calf roping event is Bill Jenkins,” the announcer announced.  “Catherine Lund is the calf.”  Cat was angry that he had told all these people her name.  It was somehow more embarrassing being naked when they knew who she was.


      A bell rang and a gate opened.  A horse and rider issued from the gate.  The horse sped toward her.  Cat had never been around horses much.  It was huge.  As it approached, she could literally feel the earth shake as its hooves pounded the turf.  The rider was slowly twirling a lariat.


      “Run, you stupid bitch, run,” the rider shouted.  The horse was very close now.  Cat realized she would be trampled if she didn’t get out of the way.  She turned to run, but it was too late.  The lariat settled around her shoulders and yanked her from her feet.  The rider dismounted and ran toward her.  Cat tried to get up, but the horse backed up, keeping the rope taut and pulling her from her feet again.

      The rider reached her side.  He had a length of rope in his hands and another in his teeth.  Cat was turned onto her stomach and her hands were jerked behind her and bound tightly.  Then he grabbed her ankles, crossing one over the other, and wound rope tightly around them.  He pulled roughly on the tail of the rope binding her ankles and her feet were yanked toward her waist.  He wrapped the end of the rope around her wrists so that she was hogtied with her wrists and ankles closely bound together, pulling her body into a tight arc.  The rider threw his hands in the air and a bell rang.


      “It may be a record,” the announcer enthused.  “if the judges allow it.  Yes, it is.  Wait...no.  Disqualified.  Penalty assigned to the quarry.  The rider will get another chance with a new calf.”


      “Damn,” the rider said and stomped off.  One of the grounds crew untied Cat’s ankles and helped her up.  Her wrists remained tied.  He looped the rope around her neck and led her away on the makeshift leash.  Cat was even more embarrassed being led away in ignominy like this.


      “Now you’ve done it,” her keeper informed her.  “You’ve gotten the ride disqualified and made an enemy of the rider, not to mention the penalty you’ve got coming.  It doesn’t count if you don’t run.”


      It was all so unfair, Cat thought.  She had tried.  Nobody had really told her what to do or what was coming.  What did they expect on her first time?  It wasn’t like she volunteered for this or anything.


      Cat was locked back in her cage.  “They’re going to go easy on you since it’s your first time,” her keeper informed her.  “Only $1000 and 30 seconds.”


      “Only 30 seconds!”


      “I know it seems like a lot longer, but it really is only 30 seconds.  You can handle it,” he said sympathetically.


      Cat knew she would handle it.  There was no choice.  It would happen to her and she had no option but to endure.  That didn’t make it any easier.


      Cat was locked tightly in her cage as the pain hit her.  She hoped she would pass out or something, but she didn’t.  After an eternity, it stopped again.


      Cat stood in her cage and sobbed quietly.  It was all so unfair.  She was going to have to endure a whole weekend of this sort of treatment.  Bound, caged, blindfolded, led around naked on a leash, roped and hogtied.  What had she ever done to deserve this?


      Cat’s misery was interrupted by her keeper.


      “You get another chance.  This time, run.  You’re expected to give the rider a contest.  There’s a prize for the girl who takes the longest to hogtie.”


      Cat was shoved naked into the arena again.  She walked over and stood in the circle.  This time she took off running the instant the bell rang.  She ran for the opposite wall, simply trying to increase the amount of time it would take the rider to get to her while she tried to think of something else to do.  The horse came pounding up behind her.  She stumbled as the rider cast his rope.  Cat tucked her head and did a shoulder roll.  She felt the rope land on her back, but  wasn’t ensnared.  She turned a somersault and came up running, heading off in a new direction.  The rider reeled in his rope and wheeled his horse around in pursuit.  His next cast was on the mark and Cat was jerked from her feet again.  As the rider dismounted, Cat rolled onto her stomach and came up running toward the horse.  The horse backed, but not fast enough to keep the rope taut and Cat was able to slip the lasso off her shoulders.  The rider was nearly to her as she gained her feet and rushed past him.  The rider was caught off guard.  Cat was between him and the horse.  She did the obvious thing.  She raced to the horse, stuffed her foot in a stirrup and heaved herself onto the horse’s back.  She had never ridden a horse before, but how hard could it be?  She’d seen her share of westerns.  Cat kicked her heels against the horse’s flanks and shook the reins. The horse, sensing an inexperienced rider, didn’t budge.  The cowboy had, in the meantime, reversed direction and was nearly in reach of her.


      “Hey, move it,” Cat shrilled and smacked the horse on the butt as hard as she could.  The horse leapt forward and Cat hung on for dear life.  It raced toward the far end of the arena with Cat pulling on the reins but unable to bring it under control.  When it was nearly at the far wall, it stopped suddenly, planting its front feet and lowering its head, pitching Cat off its back.  Cat flew through the air.  She tried another shoulder roll, but landed hard and the wind was knocked out of her.  She lay on the turf moaning and wheezing.  The bell clanged and the crowd roared enthusiastically.


      Cat’s keeper came trotting over.  “Don’t move,” he instructed.  “We need to check for broken bones.”


      A doctor came puffing up behind the keeper and the two of them checked her over pretty thoroughly.  “Nothing broken,” the doctor informed her.  “That shoulder roll saved you a concussion, but still you hit pretty hard.  I’m amazed you didn’t break a collar bone.”


      A stretcher crew arrived and carried her off the field.  The crowd continued to cheer.  Cat was carried into what appeared to be a locker room.  Her keeper helped her onto a massage table, then rubbed her down with liniment and massaged her back and shoulders.  Cat winced as he worked over the more tender areas, but it did seem to help.  Afterwards, she was allowed to rest for a bit.  Finally, her keeper prepared to lead her back to her cage.


      “You probably won the prize today.”


      “What’s the prize?”


      “Five thousand off your indenture.  But don’t get cocky.  You’ve made another enemy.  That rider was disqualified, not to mention embarrassed.  I think you’ll find it’s wiser in the long run to let them catch you, just don’t make it too easy.”


      Cat’s hands were bound behind her again and a rope looped about her neck.  She was now on the far side of the arena, so she was led all the way around the top tier.  She wasn’t blindfolded, so she was able to see the other girls in their cages along the wall.  Her leash pulled taut as she stopped suddenly in front of one of the cages.


      “Mindy!  Oh, Mindy.  They got you too.   I’m so sorry.  No wonder they told me you were unavailable.  I didn’t realize...Wait a minute!  The Halloween party, the cupcake salesman...they knew where I lived.  You bitch!  You did this to me, didn’t you.  How could you?  Your own sister.”


      “So they told you I was unavailable.  You were going to do it to me, weren’t you.  It just happens that I did it to you first, but it wasn’t anything you weren’t going to do to me, was it.”


      “Yeah, but you deserve it.  If you hadn’t done it to me, I wouldn’t need to do it to you... you...” Cat stopped, realizing how stupid that sounded.  “Bitch.”  She turned and stomped off.  “Take me to my cage,” she demanded.  Her keeper led her away.


      By the time they reached her cage, Cat had had a chance to cool down.  She supposed she couldn’t blame Mindy for what she had done.  After all, she had tried to do the same thing to Mindy.  She wondered who had done it to Mindy.  She thought she knew.  Fred had a habit of playing the ponies and had suffered some losses.  As a result, he had run afoul of some unsavory characters.  Had he indentured his wife to pay his debts?  Did Mindy know who was responsible for her situation?  Cat thought smugly that Mindy would finally have to admit what a slimeball Fred was.


      Without her blindfold, Cat had a good view of the arena from her top tier vantage point.  The calf roping competition went on for a while.  Cat learned a few tricks by watching the other girls, but all of them were eventually hogtied before the bell rang.  Cat was the only one to escape.  She was assured of the prize.  The competition was eventually won by Bill Jenkins, the rider who had first roped Cat.  Cat hoped this might remove any lingering animosity he might have had toward her.


      Cat drifted off to sleep.  When she woke up, a new competition was under way.  A large group of fifty or more women was huddled in the center of the arena.  Each had a square piece of cloth on her back which bore a large number.  They were otherwise naked.  Along one wall was a small area had been enclosed in a rail fence.  The fenced area had an opening with no gate and contained what appeared to be a chuck wagon and campfire.


      The bell rang and a horse and rider emerged from the gate with a dog.  The rider charged into the crowd of women, who scattered, then milled around.  The rider wandered through the group, apparently looking for a particular number.  The rider spied his prey and spurred his horse toward her, calling to the dog to indicate this was the one.  The girl yelped and started running.  The dog caught up to her first, coming in from one side snarling and nipping at her legs.  The girl turned away from the dog and ran in a new direction.  The dog followed barking with the rider close behind.  The girl was currently headed toward the fenced area.  She tried to change direction again, but the dog snapped at her ankles.  She turned in the other direction, toward the rider, and he struck her on the thigh with what appeared to be a buggy whip.  She screamed and turned toward the fenced area again.  She was obviously being herded there.  The girl continued to run, the dog nipping at her if she slowed down.  Just before she reached the opening in the fence, she turned aside.  The dog had been ready for this and snapped at her and blocked her with his body, but the rider also came toward her.  This was what the girl had been waiting for.  Her feint had pulled the rider out of position and she reversed direction and ran past the rider and along the fence.  She yelped again as the whip cracked on her thigh, but she was back in the open.  She ran along the wall, using it for cover until the dog caught up with her and managed to turn her out into the field.  This time the rider and dog herded her more carefully toward the fenced area and with a final crack of the whip across the back of her thighs, she stumbled in.


      The rider dismounted and followed her in.  She tried to run out again, but he tackled her then grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her to the center of the area.  He tied her ankle to what appeared to be an iron stake in the ground.  The girl struggled and fought, but finally he had secured all four limbs to separate stakes so that she was spreadeagled face down on the sod.  The rider then retrieved a branding iron from the campfire and approached the girl.  Her shriek filled the now silent stadium as the iron bit into her posterior.


      The announcer gave the elapsed time for the rider, then announced the name of the next rider.  Meanwhile, the girl was released from the stakes, then handcuffed and led away by the grounds crew.  The pack of women was formed up again in the center and a new girl sent out to replace the one who had been branded.


      “C’mon, Cat.  Time to join the festivities.”  Cat’s keeper unlocked her cage.  He looped a leash around her neck and led her down the ramps.  Cat was terrified.  As much as she feared the pain from the collar, this was somehow more awful.  Her keeper saw the look on her face.


      “Don’t worry.  They won’t choose you.  You’ll just be there as part of the pack to add to the confusion.  The girls who get branded are either being punished or are desperate to reduce their indentures and have volunteered.  Each girl gets $2000 for being branded and the girl with the longest time gets $20,000.”


      “Oh.”  Cat wondered if she would ever be that desperate.  She hoped not.  “What if you don’t have enough volunteers?”


      “That’s not a problem.  We usually have too many.  You get $1000 for volunteering, even if you don’t get chosen.  Some girls volunteer and hope they aren’t chosen.”


      “So all I have to do is run around naked with this number on my back and add to the confusion.”




      “And do I get compensated for running around naked in front of all those people?”


      “You’ll probably get fifty or a hundred dollars.”



      After the next girl was branded, Cat was sent out to join the pack.  The pack formed up in the center of the arena.  Cat was at the edge of the group nearest where the rider would come from.


      The bell rang and the rider came riding toward them.  The girls tried to stay tightly packed in a group to make the rider’s job harder, but the rider didn’t slacken his pace as he neared them and finally the girls panicked and scattered in all directions.  The rider circled his horse, looking for his assigned target.  The dog ran around barking at random, apparently not sure what else to do with himself until the quarry was pointed out.  He chased a few of the girls around out of high spirits until the rider whistled.  He had spotted his prey and pointed her out to the dog.  Both took off in pursuit.  She ran as hard as she could in the opposite direction of the fence and fire.  The dog ran along side her, nipping and barking, trying to turn her.  The rider caught up and snapped his whip against her thigh.  The girl collapsed on the ground, weeping.


      “Please,” she wept.  “I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t want to do this.  Please, let me go.  I’ve changed my mind.”


      The dog and the rider circled her, not entirely sure what to do.  Cat was about a hundred yards from the girl and couldn’t see her all that well through the crowed.  A couple of guys came running up to the girl, picked her up, and carried her to the fenced off area.  They passed close by Cat on the way.  Cat got a good look at the girl.  It was Mindy.  Cat knew what had happened.  Mindy had volunteered in the hopes that she wouldn’t be chosen.  The odds were with her, but her number had been drawn.  Now Mindy wanted to renege.  She must be desperate to rid herself of her indenture, Cat thought.    She could hear Mindy pleading as the men carried her toward the fire.  She sounded so pitiful, so frightened.  It made Cat cry, despite what Mindy had done to her.


      The men tied Mindy down to the stakes as the others had been, then branded her on both cheeks of her ass.  Mindy screamed continuously throughout.  Cat turned away, unable to watch.  When she finally looked again, the men had Mindy on her feet.  They had bound her hands behind her and frog marched her off the field.  Mindy struggled, cried, and pleaded even more pitifully.  She was obviously terrified of whatever was to come next.


      A new girl joined the pack and the rider emerged once again.  All the girls had been disheartened by Mindy’s fate and didn’t put up much of a struggle.  The rider easily corralled his assigned victim and she was duly branded, a good time being turned in by the rider.  He had been the last rider and the girls were herded off the field.


      “What happened to that girl who...” Cat asked her keeper as she was being led back to her cage.


      “You mean the one who tried to get out of being branded?  You saw.  She got branded twice.”


      “But what else happened?  What are they going to do to her?”


      “Don’t ask.”


      “But she’s my sister.”


      “Then you really don’t want to know.  Look, you should have figured out by now that if you aren’t told something, then you aren’t supposed to know it.  Curiosity killed the Cat.  Literally--if you’re not careful.  And don’t go hanging around your sister after this is over.  Institute servants aren’t allowed to fraternize.  They take an extremely dim view of that.”


      Cat was dismayed by this information, but did notice that her keeper had referred to the Institute as ‘they’ rather than ‘we’.  She wondered exactly what his connection with them was.


      The afternoon consisted of a couple more events which Cat watched from her cage.  At the end of the last event, a grounds crew came out and began grooming the field.  Cat’s keeper arrived to lead her away.


      “Is it over?” Cat wanted to know.  “Are we going home?”


      “Hardly.  Right now you go to the showers.  Then you dress for dinner.  After dinner is the auction.”


      “Let me guess what’s being auctioned.”


      “You got it.  But it’s not permanent.  They only get you for a night.”


      Cat was led into a locker room.  Although the room was bustling with women coming and going from the showers, dressing, and putting on make up, it was eerily silent.  She noted that a couple of the women were gagged, making it obvious that talking was not allowed.


      Cat was shown to her locker, which already contained her valise.  She showered, then dressed and put on her make up.  After she finished, she sat on the bench that ran along in front of the locker and waited.  Most of the other women were dressed and also waiting.  A few were still dressing.


      When everyone was dressed and ready, they were led as a group to the cafeteria.  They were seated at long tables and waitresses began circulating taking orders.  Cat was given a choice of chicken, steak, or vegetarian.  She chose the chicken.  The food was surprisingly good and Cat hoped the cost of the meal wasn’t being added to her indenture.


      After dinner, a man entered the cafeteria and called for their attention.


      “Alright, ladies.  It’s time for the auction.  Each of you will be auctioned to the highest bidder and he will own you for the night.  You will serve him in any way that pleases him.  I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the consequences if you fail to please him,” he said, doing precisely that.


      A girl near one side of the room raised her hand.  “How does this affect our indenture?”


      “Half of the bid price goes toward your indenture, so the more you sell for, the greater the reduction of your indenture.”


      Another girl raised her hand.  “Why did we get all dressed up?  Don’t we get auctioned naked?”


      “No, you don’t.  They’ve already seen you naked.  For the auction, we want you to look as alluring as possible.  Being dressed piques the imagination in a way that being naked doesn’t.”


      The group was led down a hall to another large room.  They were seated on benches around the edge of the room.  One by one their names were called, one about every couple of minutes.  As each woman was called, she would approach the door where she was prepared.  Preparation consisted of an inspection, with small adjustments being made to her clothing and make up.  Then her wrists would be locked behind her in a pair of manacles separated by about six inches of chain.  A similar pair with a little over a foot of chain would be locked on her ankles.  Then a leather collar would be fitted around her control collar.  A leash was attached and she was led away.


      About a third of the women were already gone when Cat’s name was called.  She walked up to the door.  The make up person was another woman in a collar.  She made some changes to Cat’s eye make up and fussed with her hair.  Upon command, Cat reluctantly placed her hands behind her back.  She felt the steel bands latch around her wrists and reflexively she tugged at them.  She wished she hadn’t.  Her bonds were unyielding and made her feel helpless in a way she hadn’t before, even though she had spent a good part of her day bound in one way or another.  She felt the chains being locked on her ankles, then the collar and leash were attached.  Cat’s keeper seized her leash and led her away.


      Cat was led down a long hall.  She took advantage of the opportunity to learn how to walk in heels with her ankles chained.  She found the idea of being auctioned embarrassing and insulting, but as long as it was going to happen, she wanted to make a good appearance and get the highest price she could.  Cat experimented with her gait and by the end of the hall, was able to walk without looking like she would trip and fall.


      At the end of the hall, they paused at a door.  “When you get out there,” her keeper instructed her, “don’t scowl.  Don’t smile either.  Try to look vulnerable and just a little frightened.  Those guys love that vulnerable look.  That’s why you’re auctioned in chains.  You’ll get a better price if you do that.”


      The door opened from the other side and Cat’s keeper handed her leash to the guy inside.  Cat was led out onto a stage.  A bright spotlight was put on her, making it nearly impossible for her to see the crowd.  She was led to the front of the stage, made to turn slowly in a circle, then stand at attention with her eyes cast down.  She had no problem following her keeper’s instructions.  She felt very vulnerable and frightened as well.


      The auctioneer, much to her discomfort, announced her name to the crowd and opened the bidding at $100.  Cat could hear the auctioneer respond to the bids, but couldn’t hear the bids themselves.  She assumed the bidders were using placards.  She did get the impression that one individual wanted her.  Every bid was topped by someone in the back of the hall.


      Cat was sold for $1500.  The auction had taken less than two minutes.  With the number of girls to be auctioned, the auctioneer was moving things along briskly.  Cat was led off the stage.


      In a small room off to the side, she was turned over to the high bidder.  Cat saw him for the first time.  It was the rider whose horse she had hijacked in the roping competition.  She knew it was going to be a long night.


      “Follow me, bitch.”  The rider grabbed her leash and set off at a brisk pace.  Cat tried to keep up but couldn’t move fast enough with her ankles chained.  She turned as she fell, trying to land on her side, but was only partially successful and cracked her head on the concrete.


      “On your feet, you stupid cunt,” the rider raged, pulling her to her feet by the leash.  “Now keep up or I’ll drag you.”  It was going to be a very long night.  Her keeper had been right.  She should have allowed herself to be hogtied.


      Cat shuffled along behind the rider as fast as she could and managed to keep up.  Arriving at a door, he pulled her into what appeared to be a one bedroom apartment.  He made her stand with her legs spread to the limit of the chain, then removed her chain and leash, but left the collar.


      “Go in the bathroom over there, remove all your clothing, and put on the outfit you find there and take your hair down.”


      Cat went into the bathroom.  What she found was a pink pinafore with a white front, white socks, and a pair of Mary Jane shoes.  The outfit did not include bra or panties.  Cat put it on and looked at herself in the mirror.  She looked like Alice in Wonderland.


      “Over here, missy,” the rider commanded as she emerged from the bathroom.  He was sitting in a straight back chair and Cat went over to stand before him.  “A good sound spanking is the way to deal with a girl like you.”


      The rider removed his belt and instructed Cat to lie across his lap.  Reluctantly, Cat complied.  He twisted her arm up behind her back with one hand to hold her in place and raised her skirt with the other.


      The first stroke of the belt was painful and the second was worse, but Cat was determined not to give him the satisfaction of crying out.  He continued whipping her backside, increasing the severity of the blows, and Cat realized she was being an idiot.  This guy wanted tears and pleading and he was going to keep whipping her until he got it.  Cat gave in.  She sobbed and begged and promised to be a good girl.  This seemed to mollify the rider and her spanking ceased shortly thereafter.  Cat was actually turned on by the combination of the spanking and her pleading, which made her angry, but didn’t stop her juices from flowing.


      For the rest of the night, Cat was treated as a naughty little girl.  Although initially a turn on, it wore thin pretty fast.  The rider was not interested in getting her turned on.  He was interested in humiliating her and he succeeded.  She was punished and fucked, forced to beg for forgiveness, to beg to be punished, and berated as a fool and an incompetent every time she attempted to obey his commands.


      Finally, the night was over.  Her keeper knocked on the door at the appointed hour.  Cat changed back into her own clothes, was locked back in her chains, and led away.


      Her keeper took her to the cafeteria, where her chains were removed and she had breakfast with the other women.  Once again, silence prevailed.  Cat looked around the room as discretely as she could to see if she could spot Mindy, but didn’t see her anywhere.


      After breakfast, the women were loaded back on the buses.  Cat was led to her seat, then blindfolded and handcuffed as on the trip out.  Some hours later, she was helped to her feet, her bonds removed, handed her valise, and shown off the bus.  The bus drove away.


      Cat was standing on the curb in front of her house.  She went in, took a shower, and dressed in some comfortable clothes.  She thought about Mindy and picked up the phone to call her, then thought better of it.  For all she knew they were monitoring her phone.  She was pretty sure they didn’t want her talking to Mindy and she certainly didn’t want to be punished again.


      The next day she got a call and was given two assignments, one for each of the next two successive evenings.  Both assignments were similar in that at each one she felt like a dog at obedience school.  Both men seemed not only interested in having her serve them sexually, but also seemed determined that she would obey them in the most minute detail.  They both seemed slightly disappointed with her ready obedience; nevertheless, each managed to find minor flaws in her compliance and Cat was subjected to corporal punishment for her failures.  Cat had already learned her lesson in that regard and her shrieks of pain and pleading seemed to please the customers.


      After the third such assignment in the same week, plus some comments picked up from the customers, Cat realized what was going on.  Her performance at the rodeo had made her popular with the Institute’s customers.  Her ‘theft’ of the rider’s horse had gotten her a reputation as incorrigible and each customer who purchased her services was determined that he would be the one to ‘tame’ her.  Terrific.  All she needed was a whole series of assholes who wanted to beat her into submission.  The worst part was, they got pissed if she submitted too easily.  They expected her to give them an excuse to punish her so they could feel like they were ‘training’ her to proper behavior.  As far as Cat was concerned, if they wanted to punish her, they would have to manufacture their own excuses.  She wouldn’t provide them with one and, in fact, took a certain delight in deflating their expectations by excessive docility.


      Nevertheless, after the fifth such assignment, it was all getting to be a bit much.  Cat decided to take some action.  She would explain her problem to the police.  Perhaps they could bust the Institute and force deactivation of her collar.


      The next morning, Cat drove to the local precinct station with the intention of talking to one of the detectives.  She pulled into the lot and sat for a few minutes, reviewing what she was going to say.  The reality of her story was really pretty far fetched and it would take some doing to get the police to believe it.  As she sat pondering, the pain struck.  When it stopped, Cat started the car and drove off.  The message was clear.  Cat wondered how they had known.  Were they following her around?  Did they have the manpower to follow everybody all the time?  It seemed unlikely.


      Minutes after she arrived at home, the phone rang.


      “That was very stupid of you, Cat.”


      “Fuck you.”  She had had it up to here with these assholes.


      “I’m sorry to see you take that attitude.  Your punishment is $5000 and one minute, but I think we’re going to have to add an extra minute for attitude adjustment.”


      “An extra minute?”


      “Yes, two minutes continuous.”


      “Oh, please.”  Two minutes.  She’d never even endured a whole minute before.  She couldn’t conceive what two minutes would be like.  “Please, I take it back.  I’m sorry.”


      “So am I, Cat.”


      The pain struck.  It was as horrible as ever and went on and on.  Cat had dropped the phone and sat slumped in her chair, gasping and at the same time trying not to breath.  Each breath brought renewed agony, but she couldn’t help panting in response to the pain.


      When it was finally over, Cat felt dizzy and sick to her stomach.  This was the first time the pain had caused any physical after effects.  Cat sat in her chair, still gasping and trying to overcome the nausea.  She didn’t want to vomit and then have to clean it up.


      When at long last she had control of herself again, Cat picked up the phone.


      “Well, have we decided to be a good girl?”


      “Yes, sir.”


      “Good.  Now beware.  Three strikes and you’re out.  That little attempt was strike one.  Be very, very careful.”


      “What do you mean, out?”


      “Permanent activation.”



      “For the rest of your life.”


      Cat didn’t think the rest of her life would be all that long under such circumstances, but she didn’t want to find out.  She would be careful.


      And then there was the $5000.  That wiped out everything she’d made at the rodeo plus all the credit she’d accumulated being ‘tamed’.  Her indenture was in the hole again.


      Cat did behave herself.  For the next two weeks, she obediently fulfilled all her assignments.  They were now coming nearly every day.  It was wearying, but she was managing to chip away at her indenture.


      It was Saturday morning.  Cat was at the mall.  She didn’t have an assignment until the evening and was getting some shopping done.  A woman coming the other way caught her eye.  She was wearing an Institute collar.  Both women automatically looked over their shoulders as if they were being followed, then approached each other.


      Her name was Monica.  She had been recruited a little over a year ago and her indenture was almost a quarter paid off.  She and Cat sat at a table in the corner of the coffee shop.  As they talked, they scanned the area for potential Institute personnel.  Cat knew their conversation was against the rules, but each of them felt the need to commiserate.


      Monica had been recruited in a manner similar to Cat, although they had used an apple with her.  The apple in question had contained a worm, and Monica knew the organization as the Institute for Inhabited Fruit.  They speculated as to what the Institute’s real name might be.


      “So you really can pay your indenture down?” Cat asked.  “It was beginning to seem like one of these deals where every time you make some progress, they find an excuse to raise it again.”


      “I’m pretty sure you can.  They don’t raise it unless you screw up.”


      “Are you sure?  Do you actually know anyone who got it paid off?”


      “Now that you mention it, I don’t think I know of one for certain.  I know of a couple who were fairly close.  Since we’re not allowed to talk to each other, it’s hard to be certain of anything.  The customers are the best source of information, but you have to be careful.”


      “Do you get many assignments?” Cat wanted to know.


      “Probably a couple a week.  I heard about the rodeo.  You seem to be quite popular at the moment.”


      “Unfortunately.  Every one of them wants to whip me or punish me or something.  It’s all so weird.  I had a boyfriend once who tied me up and spanked me.  It was sort of sexy when he did it, but there’s nothing sexy about these creeps.  Do they do that kind of stuff to you?”


      ‘I get some of that, it’s...”  The pain struck.  It was only a brief twinge, a warning.  Cat could see it had hit Monica, too.


      “Oh, god, they’ve seen us, they’ve seen us.”


      Monica seemed hysterical.  Cat tried to calm her down.  “It’s okay.  We’ll just walk in opposite directions.  Maybe they won’t do anything if we separate.”


      “No, it’s too late.  They’ve seen us, they’ve seen us.”  Monica burst into tears.


      “Monica, calm down.  We’ll just get up and walk calmly away.”


      “You don’t understand.  This is my third strike.”


      Cat made her way home.  She had meant to get Monica’s address and phone number, but hadn’t managed to do so before they had been discovered.


      Cat’s phone rang.


      “Strike two, Cat.”


      Cat couldn’t think of anything to say.  By this time, she knew pleading was useless, and she couldn’t think a good excuse.


      “That’s two minutes and $10,000.  I’m glad to see you have the sense not to argue your way into a harsher penalty.”


      Cat just moaned.  The pain came and once again she was surprised to have survived it.  It was as horrible as ever.  Not to mention being down another $10,000.  She owed them more than when she’d started.


      “A van will be by for you at six tomorrow morning.  Be sure you’re ready on time.”


      “What do I wear?”


      “It doesn’t matter.”


      When the van arrived, Cat was helped in through the side door.  There were no seats in the back.  She was blindfolded and cuffed as she had been on the bus and forced to lie on the floor.


      When she was finally let out, the van was in what appeared to be an underground garage.  Her blindfold was removed, but her wrists remained cuffed and chained to her waist.  She was taken up several floors in an elevator and led down a hall.  She couldn’t tell for sure, but she had a feeling this was the building which contained the hospital in which she’d awakened weeks before.

      Cat was led into a room and seated in a chair before an opening in the floor.  The opening was surrounded by a guard rail, but Cat had a clear view of the room below.  The room had cushioned walls and resembled a large padded cell, with one odd feature.  Near one wall was a pair of floor to ceiling uprights supporting what appeared to be a pillory.  The top section of the pillory was raised, waiting for someone to put her head in the circular cutout.  A rope dangled down each side.


      “What are you going to do to me?” Cat wanted to know.


      “We’re going to give you an education.  I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but that was Monica’s third strike.  You’re going to witness her punishment in the hope that it will act as a deterrent to your own misbehavior.”


      A door opened in the room below and Monica stumbled in, pushed from behind.  “When you’re ready, put your neck in the stock.  Pull the right hand rope, then the left hand one,” she was instructed, apparently by whoever had pushed her.


      Monica wandered around the room for a moment, took note of the pillory, then slumped against the wall.  A second later, the pain started.  Monica’s face was drawn into an appalling grimace and her mouth worked continuously, but no sound came out.


      “She gets a ten second break every two minutes.  Her punishment is much more effective if she’s given occasional relief from it,” Cat was informed.


      Monica’s face relaxed, and she looked around the room.  She was considering the pillory when it started again.  The next time it stopped, Monica got shakily to her feet and took a couple of steps before it started again.  She collapsed in a heap and lay writhing.


      “Please, stop it,” she begged during her next break.  “Don’t make me.  Please don’t make me.”  Her pleas were ignored and the pain was upon her again.  During her next break, she crawled about half way to the pillory.  She covered the rest of the distance on the following break.  She just sat and stared at the pillory during her next break, whimpering, “Please don’t make me.”


      She sat and whimpered through another break, then on the following one, she lay her neck in the notch on the lower board and pulled the rope.  The top section fell with a ratcheting sound.  The pain came again.  On the next break, she seemed to have changed her mind and tried to free her neck from the stocks, but they wouldn’t budge.


      Monica’s back was turned toward Cat, who couldn’t see her face.  Cat thought this was just as well.  The agony etched thereon was not something Cat cared to see.


      Monica struggled with the stocks through two more breaks, then on the next break, with an air of desperation, she pulled the other rope.  A blade descended from within the ceiling and landed with a thunk.  Monica’s headless body fell to the floor, spurting blood and twitching slightly.


      Cat tried to cover her face with her hands, but they were still chained at her waist.  She slid from her chair and lay on the floor screaming.  Her escort ignored her, waiting for her to scream herself out.


      Having drained herself of energy, Cat lay on the floor in a daze.  Her escort pulled her to her feet and led her back to the van.  She was returned home in the same manner in which she had arrived.  At her house, her blindfold and cuffs were removed and she was let out.  The van drove off and Cat, still in a daze, let herself back into her house.


      Cat had witnessed a murder.  It may have tried to disguise itself as a suicide, but Monica had been murdered.  Cat had understood that the institute was a ruthless organization, but only now did she realize how truly dangerous they were.  She was their virtual slave and would be for life.  Her indenture was now greater than when she had started and she had just seen what was probably the only way out.


      The next several days were a fog.  When she was finally able to take stock of her situation, she was unable to remember much about the days that had passed since Monica’s death.  She had gone to work and spent the rest of the time at home, but couldn’t recall the specifics of any of these activities.  She had not received any assignments during this period.


      A horrid thought occurred to her.  What if Mindy had suffered the same end?  She picked up the phone and started to dial Mindy’s number, then stopped herself.  She had no idea if they were bugging her phone, but they obviously kept close tabs on her.  She called her mother instead.


      She held a long rambling conversation with her mother, not mentioning Mindy.  During the conversation, Cat’s mother asked if she had heard from Mindy, since she herself had not heard from her for nearly a month.  That would make the last contact slightly before the rodeo, Cat realized. 


      While the conversation with her mother didn’t actually confirm her fears about her sister, it did a lot to increase Cat’s level of concern.  There had to be a way out of this.  It just couldn’t go on.  Cat already had two strikes of her own.  It was just a matter of time until she either made a mistake or became angry enough to do something that would bring about her own execution.  Cat decided she might as well go down fighting.  They would probably do it to her sooner or later and it might as well be for something that had some chance of doing some good.  She would hate to go out like Monica, over some chance encounter.


      There was one person who might be able to help her.  Steve, her ex boyfriend, might be able to do something about the collar.  Cat felt she would have some sort of chance if she could defeat the collar.  As it was now, they could punish her anywhere at any time and she knew that when that time came, she would do whatever they said.


      Cat wasn’t thrilled with the idea of calling Steve.  She had been the one to call off the relationship.  It wasn’t that Steve had been a major jerk or anything, it was just that he didn’t seem to have much invested in the relationship.  He seemed to spend as much time with his computers and electronics as he did with her.  He liked having her around and enjoyed having sex with her, but otherwise, it was Cat that had to do everything.  She planned all the activities, made all the arrangements, and generally made everything happen.  If things were left up to Steve, her life would consist of going over to his place every night for sex, then going off to work in the morning, only to repeat the pattern the next day.  Cat wanted more from a relationship and had finally given up on Steve.  Cat’s decision had taken Steve by surprise.  That was one of the problems.  He didn’t have a clue, didn’t even know there was a problem.  He had reacted angrily and predicted Cat would come crawling back to him.  Cat was chagrined that his prediction had come to pass.  Be that as it may, she needed him.


      The next day at work, she went up three floors from her office to visit her friend, Brenda, at another company.  While there, she asked to use the phone.  She assumed they couldn’t tap all the phones of all the companies in the building.  Steve was surprised to hear from her, but agreed to pick her up at her office after work.


      Cat had brought a change of clothes to work.  She changed shortly before quitting time, put on a wig, and turned her reversible coat inside out.  When Steve arrived, she watched with amusement as he wandered around the office looking for her.  The second time he walked by her desk, she said something.


      “Cat, is that you?  You’re different.  This is a new look for you.”


      “It’s not a look, it’s a disguise,” Cat said, mildly surprised that he would notice or comment on her look.  “Let’s go down to your car and I’ll explain on the way.”


      It was raining out and Cat pulled her umbrella down close over the two of them, hoping not to be recognized.  Steve misinterpreted her action and slipped his arm around her waist.  Cat started to shrug him off, but desisted.  She needed a major favor from this guy.  Considering all the things she’d done for total strangers in the past few weeks, an arm around her waist was nothing.  Nevertheless, Steve’s presumption was intensely annoying, and Cat was puzzled as to why it should bother her so much, but it did.


      Steve was surprised when Cat asked him to take her to his shop.  As they drove, Cat explained her problem.  Her original intention had been to tell Steve as little as possible about her situation, but there was no way to tell part of the story.  She ended up telling him everything, including the rodeo, the death of Monica, her own punishments, and her fears about Mindy.


      “Cat, that’s the wildest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.  I’ve never known you to make up stories, but this is absurd.  Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on.”


      “Please, Steve, you have to believe me.  I know it all sounds incredible, but it’s true.  I need for you to believe me.”


      “It’s clear you’re frightened.  I honestly don’t know what to make of all this, but we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on once I make some measurements.”


      Upon arrival, Steve led Cat into the shop and sat her down on a low stool in front of a work bench.  He switched on a lighted magnifier and swung the arm around so that the lens was positioned over her collar.


      “Weird,” he said.  “This isn’t just jewelry.”


      “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”


      Steve continued his inspection.  As he worked, his personality changed and Cat remembered what had first attracted her to him.  He spoke with a confidence born of competence, not arrogance.  He had the situation in hand and Cat felt safe for the first time since this had all started.  If only Steve had put that level of effort into their relationship.


      Cat watched as Steve waved what appeared to be a wand with a loop at the end around her collar.


      “What are you doing?”


      “This is a pickup loop.  See the waveform on that scope?  That’s the signal you’re collar is putting out.”


      “What does it mean?”


      “I don’t know yet.  It’s a very low level signal.  It looks like we get a burst every twenty seconds or so.  I assume those are the instructions to your implants.  It probably resets a countdown timer.”


      “What does that mean?”


      “It means that if the signal from your collar doesn’t arrive before the countdown timer runs out, the pain is turned on.”


      “You mean the implants have to get a signal every twenty seconds?”


      “Maybe, maybe not.  If I were doing it, I’d set the timer for forty five seconds.  That way it would have to miss two successive resets to activate, but who knows how these guys programmed it.  Has it ever turned on by accident?”




      “Then they probably included some sort of fail safe...Jeezus, what was that?”


      “What was what?”


      “This thing just put out a much larger signal.  Stronger than the reset signal and a longer burst.  You may be in trouble.  I think your collar just reported in.”


      “Oh, no.  Steve, they’ll kill me.  We’ve got to get out of here.”


      “And go where?”


      “I don’t know, but we have to get away.”


      “I don’t think so.  If your collar was reporting a problem, it would have repeated by now.  I’ll bet that was a routine report.”


      “Do you know what it said?”


      “No.  The signal was digital, but modulated onto an analog carrier.  It may be encoded as well.”


      “I have no idea what you just said, except that you can’t read it.”


      “I can’t read it right now.  Given time, I might be able to figure it out, but I’ve got to capture it first.”  He disconnected the handle from the pickup loop and taped the loop to Cat’s collar with a piece of electrical tape.  Then he made some adjustments to his equipment.


      “There.  Now we’ll be able to save the next one.”


      “So how far can this thing transmit?  It doesn’t seem like it could be all that far, so they’ve got to be nearby, don’t they?”


      “I doubt it.  They would use a relay device.”


      “A what?”


      “A device that would pick up the signal and transmit it at higher power to wherever they are.  They might have their own repeater, or they might be using a satellite or the cell phone system.  I would eliminate the satellite idea just because it takes more power to access a satellite and this is definitely a low power device.  My guess would be either the cell phone system or their own repeaters.  Either choice presents a number of problems, but the fact that they’ve solved those problems and come up with a working system indicates they have resources, both technical and political.”


      The two of them sat silently and stared at the screen of Steve’s scope.  Every twenty seconds, a short burst of activity would occur, then it was quiet again.


      “This is boring,” Cat commented.


      “That’s good.  If your collar had reported a problem, I think we’d have seen some other activity by now.  I think that was some sort of routine...There, got it!”  The screen had burst into activity, but this time the waveform more than filled the screen.


      “It’s been about twenty minutes.  I’ll bet this thing reports in about every twenty minutes.  We’ll have to wait another twenty to know for sure, though.”


      “How long have I been here?”


      “A little over an hour.”


      “Then they probably don’t know where I am.  They’d have been here by now.”


      “On the contrary, they probably know exactly where you are.”


      “How could they?  Even you didn’t recognize me in the disguise.  I’m sure we weren’t followed.”


      “Cat, you’re not thinking clearly.  What do you think your collar reports when it reports in?”


      “I don’t know.  Do you?”


      “No, but I can guess.  I think it reports your position.  That burst it sends out probably consists of an ID number and your current latitude and longitude.”


      “How can it do that?”


      “I think you’ve got a GPS receiver buried in your implants or collar.  Every twenty minutes it tells them exactly where you are.”


      “What’s GPS?”


      “Ground positioning satellite.  It can determine your location to within a few yards.”


      “I thought you said it couldn’t reach a satellite.”


      “It can’t talk to a satellite, but it can listen to them.  That doesn’t take any power to speak of.”


      “But if they know I’m here...”  Cat was beginning to panic.


      “Relax.  They may know where you are, but they probably don’t know where that is.”


      “I don’t understand.”


      “Just because they know your location doesn’t mean they know what’s at that location.  They know your exact latitude and longitude, but they probably don’t know you’re at my shop.  I doubt that this location would set off an alarm in their system.”


      “I still don’t get it.”

      “Okay, let’s back up a bit.  You assumed they had people following you and that’s how they knew when you went to the police.  Now you know they didn’t need to do that.  Do you think they’ve got a guy sitting in front of a terminal somewhere watching your every move?”


      “Well, yeah.  That’s sort of what I thought.”


      “Well, they probably don’t.”


      “How do you know that?”


      “I don’t.  But I can make some reasonable assumptions.  I just ask myself how I’d solve the same problem.”


      “What problem?”


      “The problem of keeping track of several busloads of women.  It would require a lot of manpower to sit and watch them all the time.  People would get bored.  They’d miss things.  That’s a job for a computer.  You just feed it a list of forbidden locations and then let it compare the incoming reports to those locations.  That’s how they knew you were at the police station.  When your location matched a forbidden one, the system yelled for help.”


      “Yelled for help?”


      “Rang a bell, buzzed a buzzer, printed a report, sent an email, whatever.  The details don’t matter.  The point is that someone was alerted and they took action.”


      “But what about when I was with Monica?”


      “That’s easy.  They also program it to watch for two locations that are identical.  At that point, somebody probably has to sit down and decide if you both just happen to be independently shopping at the same mall or if you’re in contact.  In your case, it would have been easy.  You were in the coffee shop, so your locations were identical and neither one of you was moving around.”


      “How sure are you of all this?”


      “Hang on, we’re coming up on twenty minutes...Yes, there it is.  Given that, I’d say ninety percent.  If I can extract the data from that signal, I can probably make it a hundred percent.”


      “How long does that take?”


      “It won’t happen this evening, if that’s what you’re asking.  Give me a couple of days and I’ll let you know.”


      “So, is there anything you can do?”


      “I have several ideas, and I’ll probably get a few more as I think about it.  We aren’t going to do anything tonight.  Besides, if I can read those transmissions, we have a much broader range of possibilities.  I wish I could be around next time you’re punished.  I’d love to get a copy of those instructions.”


      “What do you mean by that?”


      “If I had those instructions, I could probably manage to counteract them.”


      “Doesn’t the collar send them out every twenty seconds?”


      “No, that’s a simple reset.  There should be an override instruction that’s transmitted to the collar to turn on the pain when you’re being punished.  I’d like to see the response.”




      “No, dummy, not your response.  The collar’s response.  It probably sends back an acknowledgment.  Otherwise, they would have no way of knowing if the instructions they transmitted were received or carried out.”


      “So what’s that good for?”


      “Suppose the instructions weren’t carried out, but they received an acknowledgment anyway.  They would have no way of knowing you weren’t actually punished.”


      “Can you do that?”


      “I don’t know.  Can you arrange to be punished when I’m around so I can get a copy of the signal?”


      “Steve, you don’t know what you’re asking.”


      “Probably not, but think about it anyway.  If I could do it, it would free you from future punishment, and they’d never know.”


      “Okay, I’ll think about it.”


      “Fine.  We’d better get you back to your car.  They may be set up to raise an alarm if you’re not where you’re expected to be for any length of time.”


      “What do you mean?”


      “You’re normally home at this time, aren’t you?”




      “Well, tonight you’re not, and you’ve spent a couple of hours in the same place without moving, so you’re probably not shopping.  Are they set up to watch for that?”


      “I don’t know.”


      “I don’t either.  I’ll take you to your car, then you’d best get home.  I’ll let you know when I’ve got something.”


      “Okay.  Leave a message for me at Brenda’s office.  I’ll call you from there.”


      “Cat, I don’t think they’re tapping your phone.”


      “I don’t care.  I’m not taking any chances.  If they catch us doing this, they’ll make me cut my head off.”


      “You’re right.  Caution is called for.  I’ll be in touch.”


      Shortly after Cat arrived home, her phone rang.  She nearly panicked, afraid it was them.  Oddly enough, it was Fred.  He wanted to know if she’d seen Mindy.  Cat told him she hadn’t and Fred went away.


      Cat thought the call was odd.  If Fred had sold Mindy to the institute, he wouldn’t need to call around looking for her.  Maybe he was trying to cover up, in case her disappearance became a police matter.  The other odd thing was that Fred was distracted and distant.  He hadn’t tried to flirt with her, which he always did when he had occasion to call her.  Cat wondered if she had been wrong about Fred being the cause of Mindy’s indenture.


      The next morning, her phone rang again.  This time it was the institute.  Cat was alarmed until she realized they were only calling to give her an assignment.  She relaxed a bit.  Apparently, her visit to Steve’s shop had not set off any alarms.


      Cat was dismayed by the assignment she had received.  It was a repeat of her second one.  As before, she was instructed to dress up in her hooker outfit, catch the bus, etc.  She was further instructed that this time they had better be four inch heels.  Cat couldn’t believe the guy had actually noticed her shoes on their previous brief and stormy encounter.  If only Steve could have learned to pay attention like that.  Why was it only the jerks?  Not only that, she was going to have to go out and buy a pair of shoes after work that met the specifications.  She couldn’t afford to piss this guy off a second time.  She didn’t know if that would qualify as strike three, but even if it didn’t, her punishment would certainly be severe.


      Cat dressed as required and went to catch the bus.  She had neglected to replace her plastic raincoat and didn’t want to abandon her good one, so she waited for the bus in the hooker outfit.  At this point, it didn’t much matter what the neighbors thought.  She had more serious problems.


      This time she arrived at her destination without mishap.  The man was waiting for her as before.

      “I’m glad to see you’ve learned to follow instructions properly.”


      “Yes, sir.”


      The man pulled Cat’s arms behind her and bound her wrists, then opened the trunk of his car.


      “Okay, in the trunk.”


      “But my hands are tied.”


      “I don’t want any crap from you.  You’ve already got enough to make up for.”


      “But I’ve already been punished for that.”


      “Not by me, you haven’t.  Now get your ass in the trunk.”


      Oh, God.  Why did she get all the wackos?  Didn’t the institute have any customers who just wanted to fuck her and send her home?


      The trunk had a high lip.  Cat backed up to it and sat down.  Leaning back slowly, she tried to slide her butt into the trunk.  She slipped and fell backwards, banging the back of her head on the forward lip of the trunk.  Cat lay moaning, her feet still hanging out the back of the trunk.


      “Cross your ankles,” the man commanded.  Cat complied and he bound her ankles tightly with rope.  “Now, get all the way in.”  Cat pulled her ankles into the trunk and rolled onto her side.


      “You don’t have to lock me in the trunk.  I’ll do whatever you say.”


      “You bitches just never get it.  You always assume you’re being locked in the trunk for some ulterior motive.  You’re not.  You’re in the trunk because I like locking you in the trunk.  You’re here to please me and this is what I like.”


      “Yes, sir.”


      “Just so you don’t feel neglected, I’m going to have my friends keep you company.”  The man produced a large glass jar.  The light in the trunk lid allowed Cat to see that it contained two very large tarantulas.  The man unscrewed the lid and upended the jar.  The spiders landed with two small thumps.  Cat screamed, scooting away from the spiders..


      “If you injure my pets, you will very much wish you hadn’t.”  The trunk lid was slammed, extinguishing the light.


      Cat stopped screaming and worked her way into the far corner of the trunk.  How had this guy known of her fear of spiders?  Cat thought she heard scuttling near the front of the trunk.  She shrunk farther into the corner.  The car started and lurched into motion, making enough noise that Cat could no longer hear the spiders, if indeed she had heard them.

      Cat lay trembling in the corner, rolling about slightly as the car accelerated, decelerated, and turned corners.  She felt something on the back of her knee.  Cat screamed and flopped about, managing to bang her head yet again.  She returned to immobility, hoping she had frightened the thing away, but it was a cold night, and the spiders sought the warmth of her body.  Moments later, she felt something on her throat.   Cat screamed again, raising up with sufficient force to knock herself unconscious.


      Cat returned to consciousness.  She didn’t think she’d been out very long.  Slowly, she opened her eyes.  The red glow from the tail lights permeated the trunk with a soft light that didn’t really allow her to see anything, but did at least permit her to orient herself by the position of the lights.  Cat noticed she couldn’t see out of one eye.  She opened and closed her blind eye a couple of times.  Her eye lashes brushed against something.  She realized the thing was perched on her face, blocking her vision.  Cat screamed hideously and thrashed about, finally to lay whimpering at the rear of the trunk with her back to the taillights.  A few minutes later it happened again.  One of them had crawled up her thigh and arrived at the bare flesh above her stocking.  It was more than she could stand.  Cat screamed and kicked continuously for the remainder of the trip, pleading to be let out.


      The car stopped and moments later the trunk opened.  The man, who she later learned was named Louie, scooped her into his arms.  Cat was still hysterical and didn’t pay any attention to her surroundings.  Louie set her down in a chair and untied her ankles.


      Slowly, Cat regained her composure.  Looking around, it was obvious that she was in the basement.  The accouterments made it equally obvious that she was here to be punished.  Why did she always end up in the basement?  Couldn’t somebody just once carry her to the bedroom?


      “Now listen, cunt, cause I’m only going to say this once.”


      It was obvious to Cat that Louie saw himself as a real tough guy.  When confronted with a terrified woman whose hands were tied, Louie didn’t flinch even a little bit.


      “You’re going to do exactly as I tell you.  If you disobey in the slightest, you’re going to spend the rest of the night in a box with a dozen of my friends.  Understand?”


      Cat gulped and nodded emphatically.  Louie would be obeyed.


      Cat spent a miserable night with Louie, but no worse than others she had recently endured.  Except for the spiders, Louie was not that imaginative, and Cat was subjected to a fairly routine evening of sexual service interspersed with punishment and humiliation.  When morning came, Cat was bound and stuffed in the trunk again, sans spiders, to her vast relief.


      When next the trunk opened, Cat was released from her bonds and climbed out.  She was at the corner where Louie had picked her up.  Louie handed her bus fare and departed.  It was early morning and Cat made her way home without incident.


      Cat showered and dressed for work.  If she hurried, she would be on time, but there was no time for breakfast.


      She returned home that evening to another call from the institute.  It was another assignment, plus some feedback.


      “Louie was quite taken with you,” Cat was informed.  “He said you screamed most delightfully.”


      “Oh, no.  Please don’t tell me he wants me again.”


      “No, he never wants the same woman twice.”


      “How did he know I was afraid of spiders?”


      “He didn’t.  He does that to everyone.  Most women are frightened by spiders, although few are as frightened as you were.  He said you were spectacular.  He made a recording, you know.  He collects recordings of women screaming in his trunk.  So far, you’re his favorite.”


      “Where do you find these weirdos?”


      “Mostly, they find us.”


      “But where do they all come from?  I’ve dated a bunch of guys, and nobody ever wanted to torture me or anything. These guys are just sick.”


      “If they have the money, they can do whatever they want.”


      Cat was given her assignment, which turned out to be just what she’d been praying for last night.  Some guy who just wanted to fuck her and send her home.  It didn’t pay as well as a night with Louie, but Cat didn’t care.  The guy was actually kind of sweet, considering.


      Two sentences from the last phone conversation with the Institute stuck in Cat’s head.  The first, ‘Mostly, they find us’ caused her to wonder just how one went about finding the Institute.  How had Louie found them?  If you were someone who collected recordings of women screaming in your trunk, how would you go about finding someone to supply the women?  Cat didn’t want to know where he got the spiders.


      The second sentence she remembered was frightening.  ‘If they have the money, they can do whatever they want.’  What if they unearthed some nutcase who collected shrunken heads?  Would they sell her head?  Considering what had happened to Monica, Cat was certain they would.  And if a schmuck like Louie could find them, it was likely that even more sinister types would find them, too.  Something like that might already be going on.  Since the ban on communication among Institute ‘servants’ was strictly enforced, there was no grapevine.  Cat had no idea what the other girls were forced to endure.  Did she get a disproportionate number of wackos, or were all the institute customers like that and she was just getting an average mix?  There was no way to know.

      Two days later, Cat got a message from Brenda.  She took the elevator up to Brenda’s office.  Steve had called and wanted her to call back.  She called back from one of Brenda’s phones.


      “Hi, Steve.  What did you find out?”


      “I deciphered the transmission.  It’s not coded or anything.  It sends your ID number, followed by your location.  That’s all.  I looked it up.  The transmission I recorded contained the coordinates of my shop.  By the way, your ID is 32041.”


      “So, what do we do now.”


      “You don’t do anything.  I’m working on an idea.  I’ll get back to you when I’ve got something more.”


      The conversation with Steve left Cat with a feeling of ambivalence.  She was pleased with the news that he could read the transmissions from her collar, but disappointed to have to wait.  She just hoped Steve would come up with something before the institute managed to come up with another Louie, or worse.


      Cat’s popularity since the rodeo seemed to have waned some, and she was only getting one or two assignments a week.  That was fine with her.  She’d prefer none, except the institute might find some other way to recover the amount of her indenture.


      Three days later, she heard from Steve again.  He told her he had something for her and would be at her house that evening.


      Steve arrived carrying two boxes.  The smaller one was about the size of a bowling ball.  The larger was about the size of a breadbox.  Steve opened the larger box and removed a device that had an antenna and several buttons on the front.


      “What’s that?” Cat wanted to know.


      “It’s a liar.  It will tell them you’re here when you’re not.”


      “How does it work?”


      “It transmits the signal your collar sends out every twenty minutes.  The coordinates it transmits are the ones for your house.”


      “What about the signal my collar sends out?”


      “That’s what this is for,” Steve said, opening the other box.


      “A neck brace?”


      “Yeah.  You wear it over your collar.  It blocks the transmissions so the only ones the institute receives are the ones from the liar.  That way you can go wherever you want and they’ll think you’re at home.”


      “You mean if I want to go out without them knowing about it I have to wear this dorky looking neck brace?”


      “No, you don’t,” said Steve, somewhat miffed.  “I’ll take it home with me and bring back something more stylish in a few months.”


      “I’m sorry, Steve.  I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.  You’re being so wonderful to help me like this.  I just wasn’t expecting anything quite so conspicuous.”


      “I know it’s a pain, but I couldn’t come up with any other alternatives.  It’s the only thing I could think of that would be big enough to offer adequate shielding that you could wear in public without people asking ‘what’s that?’  With this thing, people will actually go out of their way not to comment on it.”


      “I see what you mean.  So, show me how to use it.”


      “Okay.  First we have to calibrate it.”  He flipped a switch on the front of the box and a small red light came on.”


      “What’s it doing?”


      “It’s waiting for your collar to report your location.  The red light just means that it’s turned on.”


      “Why is it waiting for my collar to report?”


      “It needs to know the timing.  It doesn’t know when your collar sent the last signal.  If they got a location report from you that was five or ten minutes off it would definitely raise eyebrows.  As soon as it gets a signal from your collar, it will report in every twenty minutes after that.”


      “Oh, I see.  So now what?”


      “When this green light lights up, it’s received the signal and is operating.  We have to sit here and wait for that.”.


      “Do I have to do this every time?”


      “Yes, you do.  We can’t have reports going in off schedule, and I didn’t have time to automate the box to the extent I would like, so you’ll have to calibrate it like this every time you use it.”


      “The green light just came on.”


      “Good.  Now it’s in operation.  Now we put the neck brace on.”  Steve helped Cat fasten the brace around her neck.


      “I can hardly move my head.”


      “Sorry, but that’s one of the side effects of a neck brace.  Now we need to sit for twenty minutes and make sure there’s no leakage.”


      “What’s leakage?”


      “We need to make sure the brace blocks all the signal from your collar.  It wouldn’t do for the Institute to get two different signals from you saying you’re in two different places at once.”


      “What about the reset signal?”


      “It gets received inside your body, so it’s not blocked by the brace.”


      “Do I have to do this every time?”


      “No.  If it works this time, it will work every time as long as you get the brace on properly.”


      “So now we wait?”


      “Right.  If the box picks up a signal from your collar, we’ll get a flashing red light.”


      “Then what?”


      “Then you can go wherever you want.  They’ll think you’re at home, but you’ve got to do it properly.  If you screw it up, they’ll know something is going on.  There are three steps.  First you turn on the box, second you wait for the green light, third you put on the neck brace.  Repeat that back to me.”


      “First I turn on the box, then wait for the green light, then put on the brace.”


      “Good.  Write that down and put it somewhere so you can find it.”


      Cat got a pen and pad and wrote down the instructions.


      “One problem you should be aware of,” Steve continued.  “When you’ve got the brace on, your collar can’t send out any signals, but it can’t receive any either.  If they send a command to your collar while you’ve got the brace on, they won’t get any response.  If that happens, they might send someone to your house to investigate.”


      “Has it been twenty minutes yet?”


      “It’s been thirty.  No flashing red light, so the box didn’t detect the signal from your collar.”

      “So now I can go wherever I want and they won’t know.”


      “Right, but when you come back, be sure to turn off the box and take off the brace.”


      “Got it.  So now I can go to the police.”


      “Have you thought that out?”


      “Not completely.”


      “So a woman goes into the police station wearing a neck brace and tells them that under the brace is a magic collar that a mysterious organization is using to control her.  Will you take off the brace and show them?  What if they want to take the collar off?  Will the Institute send someone to the police station to turn the pain off for you?  Who and where is the Institute?  Where should they go to arrest them?”


      “So I shouldn’t go to the police?”


      “How would you get them to believe you?  The only way I can think of is if you manage to get the pain turned on in their presence.  Then how would you get it turned off?”


      “I see.  So what do we do?”


      “I’m still working on that.  So far, all we’ve managed is a minor subterfuge.  I won’t feel like we’ve got any real control until I’ve got a copy of their control codes.  Then we can really lie to them.”


      “How do we get those?”


      Steve just looked at Cat.


      “Oh, no,” Cat said.  “Is that really the only way?”


      “Maybe not, but it’s the only one I know of.  What can you do that will cause the minimum amount of punishment?”


      “Maybe if I don’t answer the phone.  They once used it for a few seconds when I didn’t answer.”


      “Okay.  Try that.  The box will record any signals your collar sends out, but memory is limited.  It will remember several transmissions, but each new transmission erases an old one, so if you’re punished, push this button.  That will cause it to save the signals currently in memory.  Then call me.  Got it?”


      “Yeah, I’ve got it, but what if the box is turned off?”


      “No problem.  That part of the box is always on.  So where would you like to go?”


      “That’s right, I can go anywhere now and they won’t know.”


      “How about my place.”


      “Steve, let’s not go there.”


      “Do you mean let’s not go there or let’s not go there?”


      “Both.”  Cat thought for a minute.  “I can’t think of anyplace.  The idea sounds great, but there really isn’t any immediate use for this thing.”


      “I’d considered that.  This device is just a warmup, the first step in taking control back from them.  You still don’t have the freedom to ignore them, but I’m working on that.”


      Steve hung around for a bit longer, but the situation was becoming awkward for both of them.  For once in his life, Steve got the idea and went home without Cat having to drop too many hints.


      The next move was Cat’s.  Steve had told her he couldn’t do much more without more information.  She would have to arrange to be punished.  She didn’t want to.  Her safest ploy, that of not answering the phone, would produce the briefest reprisal, but even those few seconds were more that she would willingly endure.


      The phone rang.  Cat answered it and received another assignment.  It was with one of the first guys to whom she had been assigned after the rodeo.  He apparently wanted to see if his ‘training’ had taken.  Cat knew it meant she would receive a refresher course in obedience.


      The next day, Cat’s mind was made up.  Her assignment the previous evening had resulted in several sound whippings when she had either failed to obey promptly enough or had forgotten the obedience protocol employed by this particular idiot (they were all slightly different, and Cat would have had a hard time keeping them all straight even if she’d wanted to).


      When next the phone rang, Cat ignored it.  After a minute or two, it stopped.  It started again.  Cat sat staring at the clock.  She was able to determine that when the pain struck, it had lasted only five seconds.  If she hadn’t been keeping time, she would have sworn it was a minute or more.  The phone started ringing again.


      “Damn it, I was in the shower.”


      “Then you’d best take a phone in the bathroom with you so you can hear it.”


      “So what do you want?”


      It was another assignment.  Cat sighed.  With any luck, there wouldn’t be too many more of these.

      When she got to work, Cat called Steve from Brenda’s office.  She told him that she’d gotten the signal he wanted, but she had an assignment that night and wouldn’t be home.  Steve said he’d go by her house and download the data while she was out.


      The next day she got a call from Steve.


      “Cat, did you remember to push the button?”


      “What button?”


      “That’s what I thought.  You have to push the second button after the punishment signal is received, or the signal isn’t saved.  The box only contained routine reports.”


      “You mean I’ve got to do it again?”


      “‘Fraid so.”


      Cat wanted to cry.  It was difficult to finish her conversation with Steve without her voice cracking.


      The next morning, the phone rang again.  Cat went over and sat in front of the liar.  She wasn’t going to screw up a second time.  After the pain had stopped, she pushed the button, then answered the phone.


      “Cat, you were warned yesterday.  Today it’s $1000 and thirty seconds.”


      Cat endured her punishment and received her assignment.


      When she got to work, Cat contacted Steve again.  He promised to go by her house and download the data.


      As soon as she got home from work, Cat activated the liar, put on her neck brace, and drove to a nearby filling station to call Steve on the pay phone.


      “I got it,” he told her.  “Not only did I get the acknowledgment signal, I got the commands themselves.”


      “So what does that mean?”


      “It means I know how to turn the pain on.  More importantly, I know how to turn it off.”


      “So what do we do now?”


      “So now I have to make some modifications to the liar.  You get to wait some more.”


      “Does that mean you have to take it back?”

      “No, I can breadboard the circuits here and install them at your house, but it will take a few days.  I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”


      Cat waited impatiently to hear back from Steve.  After three days, she still hadn’t heard from him.  She contacted him again.  Steve apologized for the delay, but said he was working as fast as he could.


      It occurred to Cat that rather than sit around waiting for Steve to pull a rabbit out of his hat, she should take matters into her own hands.  With the neck brace on, it was safe to go to Mindy’s house.  Cat decided it was time to pay Fred a visit.


      “Hello, Fred.  Is Mindy home?”


      Fred was visibly startled to see Cat standing on his doorstep.  “She’s not here.  You want me to have her call you when she gets in?”


      “So where is she, Fred?”


      “Out.  She’s out.  I’ll have her call you.”


      “Out where?”


      “What did you do to your neck?” Fred asked, trying to change the subject.


      “I fell off a horse.”


      “I thought you’d survived that uninjured...”  Fred shut up, realizing he’d blown it.


      “So you know about the rodeo.”


      “What rodeo?”


      “Come off it, Fred.  You already spilled the beans.  You sold Mindy.  I know it and you know I know it.”


      “Not sold, rented.  They said she could live at home and they’d leave her alone once her indenture was paid.”


      “So where is she?”


      “I don’t know.  I haven’t seen her since the rodeo.  I tried to get them to let me take her home with me, but they told me to go home on my own and they’d send her on the bus.  She never showed up.  I haven’t seen her since.”


      Cat felt physically ill.  The idea that Fred had been at the rodeo, had watched her being roped and hogtied, had watched Mindy being branded, was sickening.  Had he been at the auction?  Had he bid on her?  She wanted to run away, to get as far from this loathsome creature as possible, but she had to find out what Fred knew.  She forced herself to face him, to speak evenly.


      “How did this happen, Fred?  How did you find the institute and what made you sell Mindy to them?”


      “I owed money to some pretty dangerous people.  I couldn’t pay it.  They told me there was an organization that would pay them off.  They could then be paid back with Mindy’s services.  The other options were worse, so I talked to Mindy and she agreed.  We didn’t really understand what we were getting into.”


      “So what happened after you agreed?  Do you know where the Institute is or how to contact them?”


      “No, I don’t know where they are or how to find them.  A few days after we agreed, we got a phone call.  They told us Mindy would have to spend a week with them, then she would be able to return home and things would return to normal except for her occasional assignments.”


      “And did they?”


      “No.  Mindy was told to take the bus alone to a certain location.  She would be picked up and returned a week later.   She left on the appointed day, and returned a week later as promised.  She was in tears and told me they had added a one hundred percent surcharge to the loan.  Her indenture was twice what we had owed.  I said we wouldn’t pay it.  She said we had to, that they would torture her if we didn’t.  She had on this choker that she said they used to control her.  I tried to take it off and she freaked.  She said it would cause terrible pain if it was removed.  Her reaction was so panicked I didn’t try again.”


      “How long ago was this?”


      “About six months.  After her first couple of assignments, Mindy was wild to get her indenture paid off.  Whenever they called, she asked if she could get extra assignments.  I told her there were other ways to reduce her indenture.”


      So it had been Fred who had instigated Cat’s indenture.  She had suspected as much.


      “That still leaves the question.  Where is she now?”


      “I don’t know.  At the Institute, I guess.  I think when she reneged on that branding thing, it was so public they needed to make an example of her.  I’m hoping they’ll send her home when they finish with her.”


      “So you’re just going to sit here and wait?  Why don’t you do something?  Find her, call the police, call the FBI, look for her yourself.  Do something, damn it.”


      “It’s not that easy, Cat.  How would you find them?  You can’t call the police without them finding out about it.  I’m afraid of what they’d do to her, or to me.”


      So Fred’s apathy was motivated by fear for his own skin.  What a surprise.


      “You mean you’re going to do nothing.”


      “What can I do?”


      “You could show some backbone for once in your life.  You could go out and find Mindy.”


      “And where would I look?”


      “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.  I’m not going to sit around on my butt.”  Cat turned and stomped off.  Fred was just unbelievable.  And Mindy... Had Mindy really been complicit in her own indenture?  Cat considered it possible, but taking Fred’s word for anything was foolish.


      Fred had raised a good question.  Where would she look?  Was it worth the trouble?  Was Mindy still alive?  Regardless, Cat felt she had to find them.  The more she knew about them, the more control she had over her own situation.


      Cat returned home to a ringing telephone.  It was another assignment.  Cat was relieved when she realized she’d been assigned to this guy before.  He mostly just wanted straight sex.  This one would be relatively easy.


      As she often had been throughout her ordeal, Cat was disturbed by her reactions.  She had just been ordered to surrender herself to some stranger and her reaction was one of relief that, at least on this occasion, she wouldn’t be made to suffer too greatly.  What would have been an outrage a year ago was now a comfort.


      A week and three assignments later, Cat finally heard from Steve again.  He would be over that evening to install the new modifications to the liar.


      When Steve arrived, he was all business.  He was obviously in ‘work mode’ as Cat had always thought of it.  He removed the back from the liar and began wiring in a pair of circuit boards.  Cat sat silently and watched for nearly three hours as Steve connected wires, soldered, and did other things incomprehensible.  Finally, he reassembled the box, plugged some sort of meter to a connection on the back, and ran some tests.


      “Well, it’s all set,” Steve announced proudly.


      “Great!  What does it do?”


      “Several things.  When you’ve got your neck brace on and it’s reporting in for you, it will send an acknowledgment to any commands it receives.  They’ll think the commands were carried out.  When it’s turned off, it will monitor incoming transmissions and if it detects a command to turn the pain on, it will immediately issue a command to turn it back off again.”


      “You mean they can’t punish me anymore?”


      “Only if you’re at home.  The range is extremely limited.  We don’t want them to detect it issuing commands.  If you’re away from home without your neck brace, you’re vulnerable.”


      “How do I work it?”


      “You don’t.  It’s automatic.  Just use it like you have in the past.  It will cover for you when you’re out and turn off the pain as soon as it’s turned on when you’re home.  If you’re at home or have your neck brace on, they can’t hurt you.”


      Steve packed up his tools and left.  He had shifted out of work mode, and his attempts at socializing with Cat were becoming increasingly awkward.  Cat sympathized with his dilemma.  He didn’t know where he stood with her and had adopted a formal and distant demeanor.  He was obviously hoping his assistance would revive their relationship, but as things failed to move in that direction, he was putting more distance between them.  Cat hoped she could continue to count on him.


      Two evenings later, Cat decided to do some shopping.  She turned on the liar and donned her neck brace.  Shopping was not something that would attract the Institute’s attention, but she didn’t like being spied on.  She also felt some degree of satisfaction in fooling them.  Cat drove to a mall on the far side of town.  She usually shopped close to home, but for some reason the sense of freedom that the liar offered made her want to wander farther afield.


      Standing in the checkout line at the drug store, Cat happened to look over her shoulder right into the eyes of someone she recognized.  It was a young woman wearing a pair of grey slacks and a black turtleneck sweater.  Cat knew what the turtleneck concealed.  The woman was the first girl to have been branded in the branding competition.  Cat had not been on the field then, and she was pretty sure the woman didn’t recognize her.  Cat waited outside as the woman paid for her purchases.


      “Did it take long for that brand to heal?”


      “Who are you?” the woman demanded.  She eyed Cat’s neck brace.  “Don’t you know what will happen if we’re seen together?  Get away from me.”


      “It’s okay,” said Cat.  “They can’t track me.”


      “Maybe you managed to ditch your watchers, but we’re in just as much trouble if mine see us.”


      “You don’t have any watchers.  They track you electronically with your collar.  Mine is shielded, so they can’t tell we’re together.”


      “You don’t understand.  I’ve already got one strike.”


      “I’ve got two,” Cat replied.  “Believe me, I wouldn’t be talking to you if I wasn’t sure it was safe.  I’ll tell you what, though.  See that pay phone over there?  Walk by it on your way out and get the number.  Then on your way home, stop at another pay phone and call that one.”


      “Okay, I’ll try it.  I’ve wanted so badly to talk to someone, but I’ve been so frightened.”


      “Fine.  I’ll walk around for fifteen minutes or so, then I’ll go and stand by the phone until you call.”


      The phone rang just as Cat approached it.  “Hello.”


      “Are you the woman in the neck brace?”


      “Yes, it’s me.  My name is Catherine, but most people call me Cat.”


      “I remember now.  You’re the one who was thrown from the horse.  I knew that neck brace made me think of something, but I just now realized what.  My name is Heather.”


      “How did you get in the branding competition?  Did you volunteer?”


      “No.  I skipped an assignment.  It was my first strike and that was my punishment.  I’d hate to find out what they do on the second strike.”


      “Then you really don’t want to know about the third.”  Nonetheless, Cat proceeded to describe what had happened to Monica.


      “Oh, no.  Oh, no.  I can’t believe it.  I’ve been so frightened, and this just makes it worse.  These people have taken over my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever get my indenture paid off.  I owe more now than when I started.”


      “I know.  So do I.  What kind of assignments do you get?  I seem to get a lot of guys who want to whip me and beat me and stuff.  I always wondered if that was typical for Institute customers, or if they were giving me all the wackos.”


      “I think it’s typical.  I get a lot of that, too.  A lot of the Institute’s customers seem to be control freaks.  They want total submission, and they do mean total.”


      “Do you have any idea who or where these people are?” Cat asked.


      “No.  I’m not even sure why they decided to pick on me, although I suspect my ex-husband had something to do with it.”


      “What happened?”


      “One day this guy knocked on my door.  He had a contract he said I’d signed and demanded money.  I told him to get lost.  A week later I got an invoice in the mail with a copy of the contract I’d allegedly signed.  It looked like my signature.  I had a feeling it had been slipped in with my divorce papers.  I signed a bunch of stuff that day without paying very much attention.  It was a pretty stressful day all around, and I just signed whatever my lawyer handed me, although I would have thought he’d have caught anything odd.  Sometimes I’ve wondered if my lawyer was in on it.  Anyway, I tossed it in the trash.  A while after that I got another one with a ridiculous amount which I also ignored.  The next day I was collected.  That evening, the police knocked on my door and I was arrested.  They put me in handcuffs and then put leg irons on me, then they led me out my front door on a leash.  The police car was sitting there with its lights flashing and a big crowd had gathered.  My neighbors all saw me being taken away in chains.  It was so embarrassing.  Once I was in the police car, it drove off and I was blindfolded.  That’s when I began to suspect they weren’t real police.”


      “Do you have any idea where they took you?  They knocked me out with some kind of poison gas and I woke up strapped to a hospital bed after they had put the implants in.”


      “No.  They drove around for a long time and turned a lot of corners.  I have no idea where I was.  Once I got there, they strapped me down to a gurney and put me under with gas.  After that I had pretty much the same experience you did.”


      Cat continued talking to Heather for a while, but didn’t really learn anything new.  Just the same, it was nice to have someone to talk to.  Heather seemed desperate to talk and didn’t want Cat to hang up.  Finally, she and Heather exchanged phone numbers and worked out a scheme for calling each other from pay phones.


      Cat drove home feeling somewhat better about things than she had in a while.  She hadn’t told Heather about the nature of the Institute’s control system or her means for evading it, even though Heather had pressed her for information regarding her apparent freedom to move about.  Letting another party in on her secret would only increase the risk, with no countervailing benefit.


      As Cat approached her house, she noticed a strange car parked out front.  She was so absorbed by the car that shouldn’t be there that she nearly failed to notice the man coming out her front door.  It was the cupcake salesman.  He had the liar tucked under one arm.  Cat sped away in a panic.


      Cat headed for the freeway, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror to see if she was being followed.  Once on the freeway, she headed across town.  She would be safer if she wasn’t in her neighborhood.  She passed through downtown and stopped at a convenience store to call Steve on the pay phone.


      “Steve, they stole the liar.”


      “They did what?  What do you mean they stole the liar?”


      Cat told Steve what she’d seen.

      “Were you followed?” Steve wanted to know.


      “Not that I’m aware of.  I tried to watch pretty carefully.”


      “Whatever you do, don’t take off the neck brace.  The moment it’s off, they have control of you.”


      “I understand.”


      “Good.  Now I want you to come to the shop as quickly as you can.  I’ll meet you there.  I’ve got to get that collar off you as soon as possible.”


      “But, Steve, if you take the collar off...”


      “Cat, I know what I’m doing.  I’ll replace it with one of my own, then they won’t be able to control you.  Now get over here.”


      Cat rang off and got back in her car.  Steve’s shop was back in the direction she had come.  She got back on the freeway and headed through downtown.  What would it be like wearing Steve’s collar, she wondered.


      Red and blue lights flashing in her rear view mirror interrupted Cat’s musing.  Oh, shit.  She was doing 75 through downtown.  Cat pulled onto the shoulder.


      “I’m sorry, officer.  I was in a hurry and...”


      “License and registration, ma’am.”


      “Officer, I don’t mean to be rude,” Cat said as she dug in her purse for her license, “but could you show me some ID.  I need to be sure you’re a real policeman.”


      “That’s quite alright, ma’am.  I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”


      Cat handed her ID through the window and the policeman flipped open a small wallet.  Side by side were a badge and an official looking picture ID identifying him as a member of the municipal police force.


      “You realize you were doing 76 in a 45 zone.”


      “Yes, sir.  I’m sorry, it was just that I was in a hurry.”


      “Catherine Lund,” he said, scrutinizing her license.  “Please step out of the car, Catherine.”


      “Why?  Is there a problem, officer?”


      “Yes, ma’am.  You have an outstanding warrant.  Now please step out of the car.”

      “But...a warrant?  A warrant for what?”


      “Parking violation, ma’am.  It’s a minor offense, but I have to take you in.  Please don’t make it a more serious matter by resisting arrest.”


      Cat was stunned.  She recalled the unpaid parking ticket.  She had only been five minutes over and it had made her so angry at the time that she’d thrown the ticket away.  She had no idea it would come back to haunt her like this.  She thought of making a break for it, but she knew her car had no chance of outrunning the police cruiser.  Reluctantly, she got out of the car.


      “Now, place your hands behind you, ma’am.”


      Cat shivered as the cuffs were locked on her wrists.  She felt even more helpless than she had at the auction.  So many thoughts were running through her head.  Steve was going to have to come down and bail her out.  What if the Institute located her in the meantime?  What if the police took her neck brace off?  What if they came to bail her out?  Could she refuse to be let out of jail?  What if...


      Cat’s thoughts were interrupted by the snick of a metal cuff around her ankle.  The policeman was down on one knee, chaining her ankles together.  Cat thought it rather extreme for a parking violation.


      “Is that really necessary, officer?”


      “Standard procedure, ma’am.  I know you’re not a dangerous criminal, but just the same you have to arrive at the station properly restrained.”


      The officer led Cat to the squad car and helped her in.  Cat was afraid he would blindfold her, but he didn’t.  She was in a mess, but it could certainly be worse.  At least it was a real cop.


      Cat watched out the window to see where they were going.  She saw lightning on the western horizon.  A storm was moving in.


      The police car headed back downtown.  It exited the freeway in an old industrial district full of large abandoned warehouses.  There were block upon block of them.  Cat wasn’t aware of a precinct station in the area, but it was a neighborhood she wasn’t familiar with. 


      The squad car pulled up next to a moldering multi-story building that occupied an entire city block.  A garage door opened in the side of the building and the car pulled in.  Cat’s heart sank.  She knew where she was.  This was where she had been let out of the van when she’d been brought in to witness Monica’s execution.  She was at the Institute.


      Cat allowed herself to be helped out of the car.  The policeman had to hold her up.  She was so frightened that her legs wouldn’t support her on their own.  She knew why she hadn’t been blindfolded, why they’d allowed her to see where the Institute was.  She was never going to leave here.  She wondered how long she had to live.

      “Hello, Cat.  Glad to see you could make it.”


      Cat turned numbly to face the voice that had come from behind her.  It was the cupcake salesman.


      “Let’s get a look at that neck brace, shall we,” he said as he unfastened it.  “Fred called us about this thing.  He said it looked suspicious.”


      Fred!  That bastard.  He’d called the Institute and reported her.  It was clear he was much more deeply involved with these people than he had pretended.  Cat had wondered about his presence at the rodeo.  It hadn’t seemed like the Institute would want the husband of one of their servants witnessing what they did to his wife.


      Part of Cat’s mind marveled that she could still be analytical.  There wasn’t much point to figuring it all out any more, but the thought of Fred made her angry.  She wished there was some way she could get even with him.


      “How did you find me?”


      “We bugged your car.  After we got the call from Fred, we decided we needed an additional check on your whereabouts.  Your car seemed to occasionally be driving around while you were at home.  We decided to check it out.  While I went to your house, Heather was sent to the mall you were at--you didn’t think your meeting with Heather was coincidence, did you?  Unfortunately, you didn’t tell her who else was involved in your little subterfuge, so we weren’t able to round you all up at once, but she did delay you long enough to enable your capture.  But that’s alright, you’ll tell our interrogators whatever they wish to know.  Then we’ll round up your friends.”


      Cat sobbed as she was led away.  She hoped she would be strong enough not to tell them about Steve, but she was so afraid. She knew that all the horrible things she had seen and experienced since Halloween were nothing compared to what they were going to do to her now.


      After being taken up several floors on a freight elevator, Cat was led down a hall and into a room.  The principal feature of the room was a pair of vertical wooden support beams.  Chained to one of the beams was Mindy.  Mindy stood naked on her toes with her wrists pulled above her head and locked in a pair of manacles.  Each ankle was bound tightly to either side of the post, spreading her legs by the twelve inch width of the support.


      “Oh, Mindy, you’re alive, you’re alive.  I’ve been so worried.”  Cat began weeping all over again.  Mindy was gagged and unable to reply.


      Cat was ordered to strip naked, then bound to the other pillar in the same manner as Mindy, then she too was gagged.  Once she was secured, the man who had bound her stood before her, looking her over.


      “Welcome to my parlor, Miss Lund.  My name is Kevin and I’ll be your inquisitor this evening.  As an appetizer, you and your sister will be enjoying a rather severe whipping, followed by some electrical torture.  The main course, if you make it that far, is yet to be announced,” Kevin declared, then laughed.


      Cat already didn’t like Kevin.  He was one of those guys who laughed too hard at his own jokes, especially when they weren’t funny, which this one especially wasn’t.  While Kevin was looking Cat over, she had been trying to figure out what was going on. Why was she gagged if they wanted to question her?  Why were they going to torture Mindy?  Was this guy’s name really Kevin?  It seemed an appropriate name for waiter, but not an inquisitor.


      “I know what you’re thinking,” the alleged Kevin informed her.  “You’re wondering why you’re gagged if we want to ask you questions.  You’re gagged because you’re going to want to tell me all I want to know long before I’m ready to ask you.  When you’re finally permitted to speak, you’ll be most eager to answer my questions honestly and in detail.  Oh, and your sister.  She’s here so that her suffering can add to your own torment.  Whatever is done to you will be done to her, so any lack of cooperation on your part will result in further suffering for her as well as yourself.”


      The alleged Kevin removed Mindy’s gag, then he began.  Cat had been whipped and spanked by any number of guys on her various assignments, but Kevin was an expert.  His accuracy was uncanny.  He could reliably hit the same exact spot again and again, land the tip of the lash directly on her nipples or between her legs, and could wring a maximum of pain from each stroke.  Mindy’s shrieks cut her as deeply as Kevin’s lash on her own skin.  Both Cat and Mindy passed out more than once under Kevin’s attention, only to be revived and whipped some more.  Cat remained gagged throughout.  It was obvious that this was only a warmup.  Things were going to get worse before she would be permitted to betray Steve.


      Finally, it was over.  Cat still couldn’t understand what was going on.  As bad as the whipping had been, it wasn’t as awful as the pain caused by the implants.  Why didn’t they just use that?  The whipping did have a psychological impact that the implants lacked.  Watching the lash leave stripe after stripe on her body, not to mention seeing it done to Mindy and listening to her scream, did produce its own special type of horror. Watching Kevin, Cat could see another reason for what was being done to them.  Kevin was busily preparing for whatever he was going to do next, and it was obvious that he was enjoying himself.  Cat was gagged because Kevin didn’t want her blabbing all she knew until he’d had his fun.


      Kevin wheeled a small cart between Cat and Mindy.  He trailed a pair of wires from the cart to Mindy and clamped the alligator clips at the end of the wires onto her nipples, producing a heart rending wail from Mindy.  Moments later, Cat yelped as wires were attached to her own nipples.


      Kevin returned to the cart and trailed a dildo over to Mindy, which he worked into her, buckling straps around her thighs to hold it in place.  Cat subsequently received her own intruder.  Then he removed her gag.


      Back at the cart, Kevin manipulated the dials and switches, drawing a long gurgling scream from Mindy as her entire body shuddered and shook, her voice distorted by the electricity flowing through her.  Moments later, Cat learned that Mindy’s prolonged scream had been fully justified as she produced one of her own.  Once again, Kevin proved to be an expert.  He played the two women like an accordion, drawing shrieks and screams, sometimes alternately and sometimes in unison.  Again, both women passed out more than once.  By the time Kevin finished this phase of their torture, both Cat and Mindy had screamed themselves hoarse.


      Kevin gave each woman a drink of water, then left the room.  He returned pushing a large transparent plastic or glass cube on wheels.  It was about three feet square and perhaps somewhat taller than that.  He wheeled in a second one.


      “Anything you’d like to tell me?” Kevin asked Cat.


      “Go to hell, you pervert.”


      “I was hoping you’d say that.”


      Mindy was released from her pillar and led to one of the cubes.  Kevin tied Mindy’s hands behind her, then opened the top of the cube and unlatched one side, swinging it open.  Mindy was forced to kneel erect in the cube as her ankles were crossed and bound, then forced to lean back so her butt rested on her heels.  Her wrists were tied to her ankles so she could no longer straighten up.  Kevin closed and latched the back of the cube, then lowered and latched the top, forcing Mindy’s chin down onto her chest.  Cat was installed in the other cube.  Crammed into the tiny space and bound as she was, she could hardly move.


      Cat wondered what Kevin was going to do to them.  She had gotten a closer look at the cube as she was being bound.  The sides were solid, but the top was perforated with numerous air holes each about the size of a half dollar.  Additionally, there was a hinged square about eight inches on a side in one corner of the lid.


      Kevin opened the hinged section and began filling the cubes with water.  They were going to be drowned?  That didn’t make any sense.  How could she be questioned after that?


      Kevin stopped adding water when the level was about even with the bottom of each girl’s rib cage, then left the room.


      A few minutes later, he returned with a companion.  It was Louie.  Louie carried two small boxes and pulled a larger one on wheels.  Oh, god.  Now she knew what they were going to do to her.


      Louie opened the large box and removed a tape recorder.  He hooked it up, then strung a tiny microphone to each box.  Using electrical tape, he fixed a microphone over one of holes in the top of each box.


      Louie wasn’t done yet.  He pulled two tripods out of the large box, set them up, and fastened a video camera to each.  He was obviously expecting quite a performance.  Cat very much feared that he was not likely to be disappointed.

      “All set,” Louie announced.  “Put ‘em in.”


      Kevin picked up one of the smaller boxes Louie had brought and approached Mindy’s cube.  He opened the hatch on top, then opened the box and poured the contents in with Mindy.  The contents consisted of a dozen or more large tarantulas.  Cat knew that Mindy’s fear of spiders was as great as her own.


      The spiders clambered onto Mindy, desperate to get out of the water.  Mindy was already hysterical.


      “Oh, god.  Get them off, get them off.  I can’t stand spiders.  Please...please...let me out.  Please, let me out.”


      Cat, staring at Mindy in horror, was interrupted by the sound of spiders splashing into her own cube.  She joined Mindy in hysteria.  There were spiders in her hair, on her neck, her face, her breasts.  Cat thrashed about as much as her restricted condition allowed, but every time she managed to throw a spider off, it climbed right back on.  The spiders didn’t want to drown and Cat’s body was their only refuge.  Cat screamed and pleaded and screamed.  She saw the spiders clinging to Mindy’s face and screamed some more.  She vomited into the water, adding to her revulsion.


      A loud tapping finally attracted Cat’s attention.  Kevin was squatting in front of her cube, rapping on the surface with a small block.  Cat looked at him and began begging for release.


      “Names, Cat.  I want names.”


      “Steve...Steve Bartlett.”


      “Who else?”                                                                                                          


      “Nobody, just him.”


      Kevin stared intently at Cat for a moment.  “Yes, I believe you.  And where do I find Mr. Bartlett?”


      Cat told him where Steve’s shop was.  Kevin unlatched the top of her cube, then cut the rope joining her wrists and ankles and the one binding her ankles.  He lifted Cat to her feet, then brushed the spiders from her body and lifted her out of the cube, setting her on a small stool.  Louie hurried over and began scooping his spiders out of the water with a small net.


      “What about Mindy?  Aren’t you going to let her out?”  Mindy was still shrieking in her own cube.


      “Mindy stays where she is until you tell me the rest of what I want to know.”


      Kevin wanted to know about the liar and her neck brace.  Cat explained the operation as well as she understood it, which she mostly didn’t.


      “That’s alright,” Kevin told her, “we can get the rest of the details from Mr. Bartlett, although it will be a shame to waste a talent like that.”


      Mindy was released from her cube and placed on a stool next to Cat.  Cat was convulsed, weeping over her betrayal of Steve.  Mindy was still shuddering over her experience with the spiders.


      Kevin waited patiently until Cat and Mindy had calmed down, then led them from the room.  He led them down a hall to another room which was outfitted as a locker room and shower.  As he unbound their wrists, he instructed them to clean themselves up and return to him.


      “What do we wear?” Cat wanted to know.




      “They’ll probably never let us wear clothes again,” Mindy commented.  Cat feared she was right.



      After their shower, Kevin bound Cat and Mindy’s wrists again and led them back to the elevator.  They went down a couple of floors and along a hall to a room Cat was familiar with.  It was the room in which Monica had died.  The guillotine device was gone, it’s place taken by a gallows.  Two nooses dangled from the superstructure.  Cat glanced up.  The railing above was lined with faces.  Apparently every woman in the building was to receive instruction from their deaths.


      “Oh, no,” Mindy wailed upon seeing the gallows.  “They’re going to kill us.  Cat, they’re going to kill us.”  She collapsed onto the floor, weeping.  Kevin maintained a grip on Cat as another man entered.  It was the cupcake salesman.  He picked Mindy up and carried her up the steps of the gallows.  Mindy struggled frantically, but to no avail.  With her hands bound behind her, she was no match for the man who was now looping a noose around her neck.  He adjusted the noose to his satisfaction, then tightly bound Mindy’s ankles.  Mindy ceased her struggling and stood very still.


      “Your turn, Cat,” Kevin said as he prodded her toward the other noose.  With an air of resignation, Cat mounted the steps and stood quietly as Kevin adjusted the noose around her neck.  Unlike Mindy, Cat’s ankles were not bound.


      “Look down,” Kevin instructed.  “You see those two buttons?”


      On the floor in front of Cat were two large buttons, one green and the other blue.


      “The blue one operates your trap door, the green one Mindy’s.  Step on them when you’re ready.  Your own button won’t work until after you’ve pushed Mindy’s.  They will only work in that order.  You have to push Mindy’s first, or yours won’t work.”


      Cat understood.  They were going to make her kill her sister before she could seek relief herself.  She hoped she could hold out until Mindy was ready.  She hoped to wait for Mindy’s request before pushing her button.


      Kevin and the cupcake salesman left the room.  Moments later, the pain struck.  It was as horrible as ever and seemed to go on for an eternity.


      The pain stopped and she became aware of Mindy’s pleading.  “Please, Cat, don’t kill me.  Please don’t kill me.”  Cat realized that Mindy had not experienced the pain.  She was not being tortured and had no reason to want to die.


      The pain came again.  It stopped, then it was back again.  It stopped again, then returned.  In order to gain relief, Cat would have to murder her sister.


      Mindy had been watching what her sister was going through, and her attitude changed.  “It’s okay, Cat, it’s okay.  Do what you have to.  They’re going to kill me anyway.  Let’s get it over with.”


      Cat didn’t know how much more she could stand.  She tried pushing the blue button, but nothing happened.  She was going to have to push the green one.


      There was a distant boom and the lights went out.  The storm she had seen in the distance must have arrived and lightning had knocked the power out.  A few minutes later, the lights came back on.  The pain started again.  The pain stopped.  Cat made an anguished move toward the green button.  Another boom, closer this time, and the lights went out again.  The emergency lights over the doors came on.  It looked like the power was out for real this time, but it didn’t matter.  Cat couldn’t take any more.  She stepped on the green button.


      Nothing happened.  Cat realized the buttons wouldn’t work with the power out.  Cat looked up.  The audience was gone, probably led away until the power was restored.


      Alarm bells started clanging.  Cat wondered if the lightning had started a fire.  She thought she smelled smoke, but could have been imagining it.  No one seemed to be coming to evacuate Mindy and herself.


      “Cat... Cat, what’s happening?” Mindy wanted to know.


      “I don’t know.  I think the lightning knocked the power out and started a fire.”


      “Do you think they’ll come and get us?”


      “I doubt it.  If they just leave us here, they may not have to bother hanging us.  If the room starts to fill with smoke, breath deeply.  It’s better to go by smoke inhalation than be burned to death.”

      Cat and Mindy stood quietly, waiting.  For what seemed a very long time, nothing happened.  Then the alarm fell silent.  In fact, the whole building was eerily silent.  Cat suspected it had been evacuated, with only herself and Mindy left behind to perish in the flames.  It was obvious now that the building was on fire.  She saw a faint haze in the dim emergency lighting, and she could definitely smell smoke.


      “Mindy, do you smell that?”


      “Yeah, I can smell it.  The building’s on fire.”


      The door opened and a figure wearing a hard hat, coveralls, and tool belt entered shining a flashlight around until it fell on Cat and Mindy.  He climbed the gallows stairs two at a time and knelt next to Mindy, fumbling with the knots at her ankles.  After what seemed like forever, he got them untied and removed the noose.  Then he was at Cat’s side, removing her noose.  It was Steve.


      “Steve!  What are you doing here?  Did you escape when the lightning started the fire?”


      “What lightning?”


      “The lightning that knocked the power out and started the fire.”


      “That wasn’t lightning, that was dynamite.”




      “I’ll explain later.  Come on, both of you.”


      “Steve, untie my hands.”


      “There isn’t time.  We’ve got to get out of here now.  Besides, I don’t know exactly who’s outside.  It might be better if you two appear to be captives.”


      Steve led Cat and Mindy down two flights of stairs and out a side door.  They were on a side street.  There were a number of people milling about, but no one near.  Heavy smoke was pouring out the first floor doors and windows.  They crossed the street and took shelter in an alley.


      Once safe in the alley, Steve untied Mindy’s hands.


      “Hey, aren’t you going to untie my hands?” Cat demanded.


      “No, I think I like you like that.”


      “Weirdo.”  Cat said as she kicked Steve in the shins.  In response, Steve wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close, and kissed her more passionately than ever he had when they had been going together.  Cat wondered if he’d do that again if she did that again.

      “Your taste in men is improving,” Mindy commented, eyeing Cat’s bound wrists.  “It’s about time someone took you in hand.”


      “You mean taken in hand like you?  Sold into slavery to pay Fred’s debts...”  Damn.  Cat wished she had kept her mouth shut.  It was the same old argument, and this wasn’t the time or place.  Mindy turned and stomped off.


      “Mindy, stop!” Steve shouted.  “Don’t go out there.”  Mindy had wandered out onto the street and was looking around.  Steve grabbed her and dragged her back into the alley.


      Sirens began sounding in the distance.  “I wonder who called them,” Steve said.  “It’s not much of a fire--mostly smoke bombs.  The sprinklers have probably gotten it under control.  I wouldn’t think these guys would want the fire department or police poking around that place.”


      “I called them.”  Steve and Cat turned to see who had spoken.  It was the man who had been Cat’s keeper at the rodeo.  “It’s about time we cleaned this place out...”


      Cat’s keeper was interrupted by a series of tremendous explosions.  Cat looked around the corner to see the entire building collapse in upon itself, raising a huge dust cloud.  As the dust cleared a bit, Cat could see that only a few sections of the exterior walls were left standing.  Except for that, all that remained of the building was a large pile of rubble.


      “It really would have been better if you hadn’t destroyed all that evidence,” Cat’s former keeper commented.


      “Who are you?” Steve wanted to know.


      “I’d rather not say.  For now, you can call me Bruce.”


      “You must be an undercover guy.”


      “No comment.”


      “You bastard,” Cat screeched.  “You let them do all those things to me, you let them chase me around and hogtie me and auction me and the whole time you just led me around on a leash and didn’t stop them or anything...and...and...”  Cat kicked Bruce in the shins.


      “I see why you keep her tied up,” Bruce commented.


      Cat aimed another kick at Bruce but missed and fell back against Steve.  Steve caught her, spun her about, and kissed her again.  Cat looked around for someone else to kick.


      “You all should get out of here,” Bruce said.  “I’m not here and neither are you.  We never had this conversation and I have no idea who blew up that building.”


      “I understand,” Steve said.  “C’mon, girls.”  Steve wrapped an arm around each girl and guided them down the alley.  The storm had arrived and it was beginning to drizzle.  The girls were naked and shivering.


      Steve’s car was at the far end of the alley.  When they reached it, Steve finally relented and untied Cat.  He put the girls in the back seat, retrieved his heavy coat from the trunk, and used it to cover them.  Cat and Mindy huddled together under the coat.


      Neither Cat nor Mindy wanted to be alone, so Steve took them both to his house.  Once inside, he seated them on the couch in front of the fireplace and lit a fire.  He scrounged around and found a robe for each of them, then made coffee.  Steve sat down between them and both girls clung to him, still shivering.  No one could sleep and the three of them huddled together through the night, discussing the evenings events.


      “So what was your car doing there?” Cat wanted to know.  “I thought they brought you in.”


      “Why would they do that?”


      “Because I told them about you.  They tortured us and I told them about you and the liar and where you lived and everything.  I tried not to, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore.”  Cat and Mindy told Steve about what Kevin had done to them and about Louie and the spiders.


      “Well, they might have come for me, but they wouldn’t have found me home.  By the time you told them, I was already on the way there.”


      “How did you know where to go?” Cat asked.


      “As soon as they took the neck brace off, your collar began broadcasting your location.  I looked it up on the map.  It occurred to me that the abandoned industrial district you were in was an ideal place for them to hide.  Once I knew where you were, I gathered a few things together and went to pay them a visit.”


      “So tell us what you did,” Mindy insisted.


      “I dressed as close as I could to a power company lineman with what I had laying around.  When I got there, I realized it was too big a building with too many people for me to just go in and wander around, so I decided to evacuate the building.  I located the transformers that supplied the power, then put on my climbing spikes and strapped a couple of sticks of dynamite to them.  It took off the whole top off the pole.  That took care of the external power.  It would require some trucks and heavy equipment to supply power to that building again.  I waited for a bit after the lights went out to see what happened, but I didn’t see anything, so I went in.  About the time I went inside, they got their emergency power working and the lights came back on.  They keep the building looking deserted from the outside, but inside they’ve modernized quite a bit with backup power, emergency lighting, sprinklers and the works.  I stopped the first person I saw and told him I was from the power and light company and asked him to show me where the breaker panel was.  He led me to it and as soon as his back was turned I bludgeoned him with my flashlight, then dragged him into an unused room.  They had a generator feeding the breaker panel, so I put a stick of dynamite on the generator and another on the breaker panel and that was the end of their backup power.  The explosion caused a small fire, but the sprinklers came on and it didn’t seem to be spreading.  I pulled the fire alarm and spread around some smoke bombs and distributed some dynamite, then went looking for you while they were evacuating the building.  I knew I’d never find you without help, so I grabbed the first guy who came along by himself and smacked him in the head with the flashlight until he told me where you were, then I beat him unconscious, since I didn’t want him informing anyone of my inquiry.  Then I came and got you, then the building blew up.”


      Cat wanted to know what had happened to Mindy since the rodeo.


      “I was taken into custody,” Mindy said.  “During the day, I had to do chores around the building, and at night I was locked in my cell except when I had an assignment.  When you’re in custody, you get all the worst assignments and they only pay you half what you’d usually get to make up for your room and board.  For the first week, I was punished for a minute every night.”


      “Mindy, did you agree to be indentured to pay Fred’s debts?”


      “No.  I knew Fred owed money and that he was desperate, but the first I knew about my indenture was when two guys showed up to take me in.  I just stood there in shock as Fred told me I was going to have to go with them.  I told him I wasn’t going anywhere with anybody, but Fred just nodded to the men and they grabbed me.  I was bound, gagged, and blindfolded and taken in for implants.  When I was returned home, the only thing in my mind was to get my indenture paid off.”


      “Is that when you decided to give me to them?” Cat wanted to know.


      “Not at first.  I thought I could work it off, but after a few assignments, I began to realize how long it would take.  Fred said I could cut my indenture in half.  I knew what he was thinking--they’d told me about the recruitment program, but I didn’t want to do that.  Then one day, after a really bad assignment, you and I had one of our ususal arguments, and I decided to turn you over to them.  I think the thing that made me do it, the thing that made me so angry, was that you’d been right about Fred all this time.  I’d been trying to ignore it, but once he pulled this indenture crap, I finally had to admit you were right.  Not that I would have admitted it to your face.  Anyway, our argument made me so mad, the next time they called with an assignment, I told them I had a recruit for them.  I’m so sorry, Cat.  Can you ever forgive me?”


      “Well, you were right when I saw you at the rodeo.  I did try to do it to you, and besides, I tried to kill you, so I guess we’re even.”


      Steve listened as Cat and Mindy talked, but it was obvious to Cat that he was bored by hearing them settle their personal karma, so Cat wasn’t surprised when he went off to the kitchen to make breakfast.  The sun was coming up, and all three of them were starting to realize they were hungry.


      After a while, Steve called them to the kitchen to eat, then went out to see if the paper had arrived.


      “Look at this,” Steve proclaimed, laying the paper on the table.




Mysterious Explosion Levels

Headquarters of Secret Organization


      A mysterious explosion leveled a building in the old West Bottoms Industrial District late last night.  The building was allegedly the headquarters of a secret organization which was involved in white slavery and prostitution.  Information is sketchy at this time, but it is known that a number of arrests have been made and more are expected.  The organization, which was known by a variety of names, but commonly referred to as the Institute, apparently involved a number of influential people.  Little else is currently known about it.


      The building had apparently been evacuated at the time of the explosion and only one fatality is so far known to have occurred.  The deceased has been identified as Fred Phillips.  His connection with the organization is unknown.


      According to fire department officials, the explosion was the work of a professional demolition team.  It is suspected that dissident factions within the Institute were responsible for the destruction.


      Police report having rescued a number of women who had been evacuated from the building shortly before the explosion.  The women said they had been held captive by the organization.




      “Don’t anybody tell me they’re sorry about Fred,” Mindy said.  “I think we’re all glad he’s dead.”


      “Are you a professional demolition team?” Cat wanted to know.


      “Hardly.  I just got lucky.  I attached dynamite to anything that looked like it might be a support structure, then set the interior charges off slightly ahead to the outer ones, hoping it would all collapse in on itself.  Apparently, it worked.”


      “But why blow it up in the first place?  We’d already escaped.”


      “Lots of reasons.  You might have escaped, but you both still had your collars on.  They knew where you lived, where you worked, and everything else.  I wanted them to have more on their minds than your recapture.  I also wanted to destroy the equipment they used to control you and to draw the attention of the authorities.  I figured a major explosion would generate lots of unwelcome attention so that you’d be pretty far down on their list of things to do.  If I’d known about Bruce, it might not have been necessary, but I didn’t know about him.”


      Later in the day, Steve took Cat and Mindy to the police station.  A number of women had contacted the police since the article about the Institute’s destruction had come out, so there wasn’t too much explaining to do.  They filled out some paperwork and were informed that they would be contacted regarding surgery to remove their implants.


      Cat didn’t want to wait.  She thought her insurance would cover it and wanted to have her implants out immediately.  She was surprised when Steve told her it was a bad idea.


      “Has your doctor ever removed a set of these before?” he had asked.


      “I don’t see how he could have.”


      “Then let the authorities handle it.  You’ll have to wait, but you’ll get a guy who’s already removed a bunch of them.  Those things are hooked into your nervous system and you probably want someone with some experience taking them out.”


      Cat had to admit that Steve was right, but she felt so invaded.  She wanted them out in the worst way, but realized that if she got in too big a hurry, they might well be taken out in the worst way.


      Two days later, Cat kept an appointment.  She stood by a pay phone at a convenience store near her home.  She was rather surprised when the phone rang.


      “Hello, Heather.”


      “Hello, Cat.  I didn’t know if you’d be there, but I hoped you would.  I wanted to apologize.”


      “No need to.  We both know what would have happened if you hadn’t done what they said.  I was surprised they didn’t use one of their own people, though.”


      “I think there wasn’t time.  I live a block from that mall.  They called and told me to go over there and delay you or else.  They knew I would do whatever they said.  I’m ashamed of myself, but I was too afraid.”


      “Don’t feel bad.  They made me try to kill my sister.”  Cat explained about the green and blue buttons.


      “That’s what was so horrible about it all.  They could make you do absolutely anything.”


      Cat returned home.  She and Heather made plans to have lunch together in a couple of days.  At the moment, she had to get ready to go out.  She was seeing Steve again.


      Cat lay sprawled face down on the bed, naked.  Steve knelt astride her, his thumbs at the base of her spine and his fingers splayed out across her back.  Steve pushed his hands up her back, pushing and stretching the muscles.  Cat felt his fingers bumping over her ribs.  As his hands reached her shoulders, he removed them, then trailed his fingers ever so lightly down her back, causing her to shiver.  As Steve continued her massage, Cat felt relaxed and content.  The last few months had been so frightening.  It was nice to feel safe.

      Steve grasped Cat’s wrists, pulling her arms down to her side, then behind her, binding them with a piece of rope.


      “Steve, don’t,” Cat whined.


      Steve rolled Cat over onto her back.  He placed a hand on either side of her head and looked into her face.


      “I’ve always wanted to do that, you know, and ever since I led you out of that building, I’ve wanted to possess you completely, to make you totally mine.  Henceforth, that’s exactly what you are--mine.”


      “But...”  Cat started to protest while involuntarily spreading her legs.  Steve thrust into her, terminating the discussion.


      Cat lay on her side, her Steve’s body pressed against hers.  Her ankles were now also bound.  She rolled back against Steve, relieving the pressure on her shoulders.  Being possessed, she thought, was mildly uncomfortable.  She wished Steve would untie her--but not right away.





Copyright 2000

by Harold