Mark paused, putting down the two shopping bags onto the soft, damp grass, then flexed both sets of fingers to restore the circulation that had been cut off by carrying such heavy items on two thin, stretched plastic handles. Less than half a mile to go now – albeit uphill. Maybe he’d manage it all in one go, maybe one more stop. He was glad that on a previous outing he’d discovered this shortcut along the bridle path through Richard’s Fields, as it cut almost twenty minutes off the walk. He vaguely wondered who ‘Richard’ might have been. They wouldn’t be his fields now, that was for sure.
Of course, he reflected bitterly, he could have cut all of the one and a half hours walking time to almost nothing, if Janice had only given him a lift down to the shops in the car. Her car, he reminded himself. But she’d been busy with her work and, as she’d pointed out, he’d already completed most of his chores for the day, so an afternoon strolling down to the village shop and back was just what he needed. He briefly allowed himself a vision of himself picking up the car key from the kitchen basket, sliding into the driver’s seat, starting the engine and doing the ten-minute run down to the village by himself, in warmth and comfort. He’d enjoyed driving, although he’d never really appreciated the freedom to so, while he still had it. He dismissed the images from his mind angrily: no point in dwelling on impossible fantasies.
He was probably going to be late, having taken too long in the shop, and Janice would be cross about that – with some quite unpleasant consequences. He looked around, steeling himself to pick the bags back up and resume his uphill trudge home. He had to admit: the sight was idyllic: hedgerows and coppices providing the only landmarks in the gently rolling landscape, the sound of birdsong the only accompaniment to the gentle breath of the wind on the grass and in the trees. On balance, he’d have preferred to stay in the city, but of course Janice had decided to move, so that was that. But it was certainly peaceful.
Just then, the calm was shattered as a naked form crashed through a gap in the hedge, and hurtled towards Mark’s shocked gaze. A man, a leather hood his only clothing; mud streaks on pink flesh, his chest heaving, he skidded and staggered on the damp grass.
A thunder of hooves from the direction the man had come from and two immense forms leapt ponderously over the hedge, the one landing just seconds behind the over, recovering quickly then springing forward towards the two men. The new arrival glanced back, then turned to Mark, his eyes beseeching through the holes of his black hood and gasped “Help me! For pity’s sake, they’ll – “ but his words were choked off as a leather thong whipped around his neck, whirring through the cold air to encircle it completely in a tight grip. His hands went up as if to paw at its constricting leather but then it jerked tighter still, making his eyes bulge and choking his incipient scream, as his head jerked backward and he was yanked off his feet and cast helplessly to the ground.
The first rider urged her horse forward and its hooves delicately picked their way around the prone form, as her companion twisted the handle of the whip she was holding, in a double loop to tug the braid taut around their quarry’s neck. Mark looked up in awe, recognising the insignia of the FJC: the Female Justice Corps. The first rider was bareheaded, her long dark hair flowing down across her shoulders. He had an involuntary image of how it must have flown out behind her as she had ridden in hot pursuit, just moments before. It was an attractive image, if an alarming one giving the FJC’s reputation. She was all dressed in black, her cloak pushed back from her shoulders, giving a view of a shiny item made from some artificial material, short enough for a length of toned, fish-netted thigh to be visible above her worn leather boots.
Her eyes met those of Mark, and he instantly felt a chill, under that cold, questioning stare. It was not a look as exchanged between two equals; it barely qualified as a look that one human being might give another. Mark felt himself to be an object, being considered, studied, judged – that any decision as to his fate taken by the owner of that gaze would be hers and hers alone, without the least regard for his opinions. Instinctively, he dropped his own gaze, and his head, downwards, submissively.
“Better” he heard. With relief he saw the gloved hand withdraw from the white handle of the whip for which it had been reaching.
Mark fumbled in his pocket, gripped by a sudden terrified thought that he might have left the house without them. To his relief, his trembling fingers encountered the familiar pocketbook, and he held it up and out, his arm shaking slightly. It was snatched from him.
It was written in the papers, of course, but he knew better than to point that out.
“Mark Daphnesdaughter. Ma’am.” he replied, trying to keep his voice calm.
“And your Responsible Female is…?”
“Janice Daphnesdaughter, Ma’am.”
Mark felt the other horse come up behind him, as the first rider leafed through his documents. He glanced sideways to where the naked man was lying, face down on the grass. The whip remained around his neck but had been allowed to go slack, his captor presumably reckoning that his capitulation to their control no longer required that physical restraint. She appeared to be right: he lay prone, breathing rapidly but quietly, seemingly resigned to whatever fate had in store for him.
“Where’s your fucking collar?” he heard her demand, in a flat tone that made him feel, again, like an object of enquiry rather than a fellow human being. He risked a glance. This rider was blonde, again favouring black for her ensemble: a long coat that flapped open in places to reveal a mesh body-stocking beneath. In previous days, women dressed like this for the pleasure of males, but Mark new well that these two would never do anything for that purpose, so he supposed there was some more sinister reason. Above the blonde curls, a leather cap marked this rider out as a Commandant, and Mark quickly ducked his head back down in what he hoped was reassuring submission.
“Erm, I don’t have a collar, Ma’am” he replied, nervously. “I’m a citizen – Trusted Male, Citizen Third-Class.”
She snorted, derisively. “Citizen, indeed! Look at this piece of filth calling itself a citizen, Trooper. Walking around fully clothed, not a care in the world, as if the patriarchy were still alive. It’s sickening – the next election can’t happen soon enough for me.”
Mark knew what she meant by that. The ruling Female Supremacist Party was increasingly unpopular: its moderate brand of matriarchy unable to satisfy the increasingly radical demands of the younger generation of women, educated to despise males and taught from an early age how well-justified was their fury at the millennia of patriarchal society that the “Rational Revolution” had overturned. The Femme Vengeance Movement was riding high in the polls and seemed certain to form the next government at the next election and sweep away the last vestiges of equality between the sexes, including Mark’s limited but much-prized citizenship. Of course, there was nothing he could do to influence that. Third-class citizenship had its perks but voting was not one of them.
For now, though, those perks of citizenship still protected him, as the riders could not use their whips on his nervously shaking body without permission from his Responsible Female, unless he committed a serious criminal offence such as wilful disobedience or sexist speech.
“He has permission to be outside his domicile, Commandant” the dark-haired rider remarked, having reached the last filled-out page of his identity papers. “Signed by his RF – all checks out.”
The Commandant dismounted in an easy motion, her heeled boots digging noticeably into the ground. “I’ll do a chastity check” she said, as if as an afterthought. “Raise your skirt, male.”
Mark reached out for the hem of his skirt and did as he was asked. It was not, strictly speaking, illegal to wear trousers but it was distinctly risky and few men dared. In any case, there was little point as the chastity fitting made it necessary to sit down to pee anyway. Skirts were more practical in many ways – including quick access to the buttocks to facilitate the spankings that were such an omnipresent feature of modern male life.
“Knickers down” she rapped out and Mark bunched his hem together with his left hand, while tugging down his pink knickers with the right. He stood there, his skirt up, his knickers in a rolled-up band two-thirds of the way down his thighs, wondering what his younger self would have thought of the situation. The breeze was cold around his dangling testicles and across his naked buttocks. He tried not think about the whips that each lady had so readily on-hand: citizen or not, he suspected that they would be very tempted to add some fresh welts to the two-day old marks he was sporting from Janice’s last ‘discussion’ with him.
“Look at that, Trooper” the Commandant sneered. “No spikes, no electrodes. Just a comfortable little pink tube to keep his nasty little prick all safe and sound.”
She reached out and grabbed it, then twisted suddenly to the left. Mark twisted as well in the same direction, startled by the pain. She let go and snorted in derision, then spat in his suddenly sweaty face.
“You wouldn’t be mollycoddled like this if you were under our care! The Male Re-educational Facility at Lower Dunthorpe – heard of it?”
Mark nodded mutely. Bulldozers and diggers had been carving up the narrow country lanes for several months earlier that year. Then lorry-loads of building materials, sinister steel gratings, along with several consignments of chain-ganged males armed with shovels. Clearly, they had finished their work and the MRF was open for business.
“Space for 2000 males” sneered the blonde. “4000 if they double up in the cages. Plenty of room for more: there’s only 820 inmates right now.”
She glanced over at the prone form, who now seemed to have recovered his breath.
“Or there should be, but there’s only 819 right now because this little shit somehow got away from the transport on the way there!”
She swivelled, took one step towards the prone form and kicked, hard. This was no playful reminder of status, as Janice occasionally gave Mark. This was a steel-tipped boot, propelled with all the power a muscular horse-rider’s legs could put into it, impacting the man’s rib-cage. Mark thought he heard a bone crack, before the throaty, gasping half-scream that was all the victim’s injured chest could manage, filled the air.
The blonde looked down, unsmiling, without mercy.
“Present!” she instructed.
“Oh – oh please don’t, Madame Commandant, please – “ the wretch began.
“Present!” she said again, the word somehow more ominous for being spoken more quietly, almost in a whisper.
He painfully rolled onto his side, to the left, so that his front – streaked with mud and flecked with pieces of grass – faced his attacker. He raised his right leg; knee bent, ankle and foot shakingly raised to the sky.
The Commandant stepped forward again, and this time there were no bones in the path of her boot: only soft, delicate globes of flesh. The upper toe connected and simply kept going, thwacking hard between the suffering victim’s legs, clacking too against a steel contraption fastened above the target organs . It was a heavy, serious-looking device as different from Mark’s plastic tube as is an armoured battle tank from a Mini Cooper.
This time there was no scream, her victim seemed unable even to breathe, instead gasping soundlessly to convey the inner agony that was raging through him.
“Present” the blonde said for a third time, calmly.
To Mark’s amazement, although the poor, battered body was still racked by the agony of the first kick, it raised a shaking right leg again, as if inviting another. Mark was briefly impressed by the man’s bravery, before being overcome by the realisation that this was no display of courage, merely greater fear of a worse fate from disobeying. He could not imagine what that worse fate could be – but the other clearly could, and lay there, his leg waving ever more wildly as his purple, swollen testicles awaited a second hammering.
The blonde laughed. “Maybe not” she said. “We have so many lovely things we can do to those revolting excrescences back at the MRF. It would be a shame if you don’t have a chance to experience them because your balls have been so damaged, they have to be cut off. Wouldn’t want that on your first day – in fact, we usually save it for the very last day of your sentence. To give prisoners nearing release something to look forward to. Of course,” she glanced down at the quaking form, “after this little escapade, that won’t be for a long time. You’ll get an extra seven years for this. Don’t worry, though: if you’re lucky, you won’t survive that long. Many prisoners don’t, despite our best efforts.”
“What’s he in for, anyway?” the other asked, with interest, calming her horse which had been slightly startled by the violence, but not excessively so, presumably inured to it from long experience.
“Sedition” the other replied grimly. “Ran a men’s lib, group, if you can bear to imagine such a thing. They found a hideaway full of boxes of badly printed material. Advocating the most perverted stuff you can imagine: votes for men, an end to male chastity – legal equality between the sexes, even!”
She looked down. “Men and women are of equal worth and both deserving of dignity – have I got that right, you loathsome brute?” She spat on him before he could reply, and smeared it around his chest with the sole of her boot.
“If I were thought I was merely ‘equal’ to a filthy male like you, I’d want to kill myself.” she added, raising her boot to his lips, to allow him to lick the muddy saliva from the sole through the opening in his hood. “Men are animals – and they have to be treated that way.”
“Worse than animals” the other suggested, patting her mount’s neck affectionately.
Her superior officer nodded in agreement. She withdrew her boot from the frantically licking tongue. “Get up.”
The man began to struggle to his feet, watched by the two black-clad overseers, as well as by Mark, who was relieved and thankful not to be in any way the object of their attentions. He was also experiencing an odd and gnawing fear, deep inside, too vague and formless to be identified. A memory, long suppressed, threatening to surface.
“You know” the blonde Commandant remarked to the captive, going to her mount to retrieve a long coiled object from the saddle “you’re in for some special treatment when we get to the MRF. No nice comfortable concrete cell for you – you’re going straight into the interrogation block.”
She uncoiled the rope, which appeared to have some shiny objects attached to one end.
“You see” she added, to the man, who was now standing; nervously watching her shake out the end of her rope, which revealed itself to be bifurcated in two, with gleaming and apparently heavy objects dangling from the end of each of the two strands. “We discovered that your criminal men’s lib activity goes back long before the specific offences for which you were convicted. You’ve been at it for years, haven’t you? Spreading sedition, seeking to overthrow the natural order of things? Restore the patriarchy – that your game?”
She lifted one of the strands and opened the heavy jaws of what was clearly a powerfully-sprung clamp. She reached out, pressed it to his chest and allowed it to clamp closed, with no more apparent interest than if she were attaching a clothes-peg to a washing line (an activity no female had carried out for many years, of course). Ignoring his gasping shrieks, she flicked a steel covering forward, doubling the pressure and locking the clamp firmly shut.
“Well, we’re not going back to the kitchen, or the typing pool or the beauty parade – not for you, not for any man. So, when we reach the MRF, you’ll be taken to an interrogation room, where you’re going to tell us everything. Not straight away. We’ll gag you for the first day or two so we can all just concentrate on the pain. So that that we finally ungag you, and allow you to confess you’ll be desperately pleading to tell us everything. All the names, all the places, all the groups – every single piece of male vermin with whom you’ve plotted your silly, hopeless fantasies of ‘men’s rights’. So we can go out and sweep up all of the filth and pollution they’re spreading, as well as scooping up their nasty, perverted bodies and souls.”
She had been attaching the second clamp to the desperately pleading inmate while saying this, then finished her preparations by going round behind his back and triple-handcuffing him in a complicated pattern that had his forearms tugged upwards in an X-pattern. This looked very painful, although it was probably nothing compared to the shrieks of agony from the crushed pain receptors in his clamped nipples.
“And when you’ve told us everything, your body filled with pain and drained of information” she continued “We’re going to ask you again. And we’re going to ask again, and to check and to double-check. And if we discover a single lie, or a single piece of information you held back; we’re going to start all over again.”
She clipped the other end of the rope securely to her horse’s saddle, then swung up into it.
“And when we’re satisfied that there’s nothing else – and we’ve double-checked against all the stories from the vermin that will be screaming their heads off in the neighbouring cells, thanks to your information – we’ll release you from the interrogation unit and you can start your sentence. What’s left of you.”
The man was sobbing gently, but knew better than to try to run. In any case, it was now impossible for his nipples to stray further than exactly 15 feet from the Commandant’s saddle, give or take an inch or two of agonising stretching.
“So, neighbour” the Commandant said, turning her attention to Mark at last. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you Mark… Mark…?”
“Mark Daphnesdaughter” supplied the brunette, looking at his identity book again. “Né Mark Turner, under his patriarchal name.” She tossed the book back to Mark.
“Mark Daphnesdaughter, né Turner” the Commandant repeated with a smile. “Yes indeed. Well… I do hope we meet again, Mark Daphnesdaughter né Turner.”
And she turned her horse away and quickly spurred it forward, her prisoner immediately running behind as fast as he could, without waiting for what would surely be an agonising jerk.
The other lady held Mark’s gaze for a bit, then laughed, blew him a kiss that contained nothing but malice and trotted off to catch up with the others.
Mark watched the five – two humans, two animals and one lowly creature heading to his doom – as they crossed the field. At the far edge, the riders spurred their horses to a canter and effortlessly jumped the hedge. Their trailing victim was not so lucky: he was jerked forward first to slam into the hedge, then disappeared from view – apparently dragged through it.
Mark barely noticed. He was thinking of the look he had caught in the man’s eyes, before he had been led off. Those eyes full of unworldly terror, yet so strangely familiar. He was thinking of eyes he’d seen across darkened rooms, back during his time in the city, rooms filled with men’s hushed voices, debating the rights of man, freedom of speech and how to fight back against the ever-increasing oppression. He had heard one of those voices again today, and remembered too, hearing it thank him for agreeing to store and distribute pamphlets supporting an illegal petition against compulsory public chastity laws.
He remembered the fury of Janice when she had discovered the artlessly-concealed illegal literature, and how relieved he had been after several hours of ‘discussions’ that she was prepared to accept his lies about how he had found them and panicked, not knowing how to dispose of them. That had been just before they had moved to the countryside. He had not knowingly encountered any of his former men’s lib conspirators since.
He had only been to two meetings. He knew that would not save him. And of course, never for one moment did he entertain any hopes that his former comrade would keep silent. Even the brief glimpse he had been granted today of the methods used at the MRF had been enough to annihilate any such illusions.
Mark picked up his shopping bags and turned once again towards home, avoiding looking in the direction the others had gone, towards the Male Re-educational Facility. Subconsciously, perhaps he believed that if he did not look that way, his own fate would not inevitably lead him there. Superstition, at best, but there was no point in succumbing to dread and terror.
He realised with a shock that the sun was sinking lower in the sky. He was going to be very late – and Janice would undoubtedly want to ‘discuss’ that at length. How carefree he had been, he reflected, just an hour or so earlier, when that had been his only concern.
He trudged steadily uphill, beneath the reddening sky, trudging back to where Janice would be waiting impatiently and resolved to appreciate every single moment of this life, while it still remained to him.