The Clairview Military Base was ten kilometres down the highway and another five off into the country at right angles to the road. It wasn't quite a desert, but it was a hot day and the sun was beating down hard enough to create small mirages.
Or maybe it was anger. Somna felt the bottled fury inside her teasing the edges of her consciousness, seeking a weakness, ready to pop. Her expression was harder than it had been in years, almost a scowl, and her company wasn't helping. "Aren't you the least bit concerned?"
"Hmm. No," Ruby chuckled as she walked alongside Somna. While the hypnotist was wearing modestly professional attire befitting of a travelling psychologist, Ruby wore her favoured leather coat, knee-length, cinched at the waist with a cord, and a large sunhat that somehow just made her red eyes seem brighter in its shadow. "We let them come to Clairview for a reason, didn't we?"
"To see if Xara was mature enough for her responsibilities," Somna growled. "I don't think she passed the test."
"Probably not," Ruby chuckled as they neared the base’s entrance. Two soldiers approached, lifting stunners up to deter them. Somna stopped at a safe distance while her companion lightly walked forward. "Hello there!"
"Stop or we'll fire!" One lf the soldiers warned. "This is military land. Unless you have an appointment you need to leave."
"Never was one for making appointments," Ruby purred as she continued her approach. "Usually people just want to see me whenever I show up." Her lips quirked into a self-satisfied smile.
The soldiers pulled their triggers and two near-invisible balls of electricity shot across the ten metres between them and Ruby, hitting her square in the chest. Her momentum halted and she paused as a large section of her coat turned grey and melded into her body, hugging her lithe and powerful form. She inspected herself, dress half in a coat and half in an Anankian bodysuit.
"The fuck?" One of the soldiers said.
"Now, this just looks silly," Ruby pouted, then darted forward, punching one of them in the chest and kicking the other at the same time. Both men fell to their knees and she bent to tear a whistle off the leader’s neck, tossing it to Somna. "See? Cake."
"You're as bad as Xara," Somna sighed. She put the whistle to her lips and blew a melody of seven sharp, rapid notes. "Stand!" She ordered.
The soldiers sprang to their feet, standing at attention. Ruby nodded approvingly. "Very nice."
"This was only supposed to be for emergency use, you know." Somna took the lead, walking into the base proper. Soldiers milled around carrying equipment, conducting drills and patrolling. All turned their eyes to the newcomers but before anyone could do anything Somna repeated her melody on the whistle, letting it echo across the yard. "Form up!"
Within a minute a hundred soldiers stood obediently, silently and rigidly in a square formation. Somna walked up and down the front, letting some lf her frustration channel into her voice. "Troops, your task today is to sit here in the yard and daydream about how normal today is. All sit!" The sound of a hundred mindless bodies sitting on the asphalt slightly calmed her down. "Ruby, what are you doing?"
The Matriarch was inspecting a power cable running from a generator to a small building as she drew something from her belt. "I need to fix myself up. What kind of a lady would I be walking around in this? It's very unfashionable." She twirled her laser knife in her fingers a moment before activating it, a much longer, angrier looking blade than most others erupting a good foot from the hilt. She slashed the cable with one easy slice, then picked the sparking end up, touched it to her chest and sighed as her nanosuit recharged itself and reformed into her original outfit. "Much better."
Somna looked back at the soldiers and point to four at the end. "You four, you're our escort. Fall in!"
The foursome stood, saluted and took up a box formation around Somna, walking with her towards the command centre door. Ruby admired the women in the group as she approached from the side. "Dibs on the sluts."
"People outside Ananke aren't usually sluts, Matriarch."
"Everyone's a slut if you're convincing enough," Ruby smiled. "I think I have some charge left. I'll get the door." She put a hand to the security lock and with a shower of sparks the interface overloaded and the door slid open. "Oh," Ruby frowned. "I thought that was just a movie trope."
"Why does that matter? We got in," Somna said, leading her new guards into the building. Ruby followed.
"I just needed to get discharged. I was hoping to cut through with my laser blade," she sighed. "It's been ages since I got a chance to use it properly."
"Can you go on one mission without wanton property damage?"
Ruby grinned, pointedly knocking a glass of water off a bench as she passed.
Xara tugged her wrists apart, unable to break the magnetic force more than half an inch. Letting her hands snap back together she sighed, staring at the desk. Then the door opened, and in walked Somna, flanked by two blank-faced women.
"Mom!" Xara shot to her feet, bending awkwardly as her hands failed to rise with her, and froze when the soldiers brought their stunners up and trailed their sights on her. "Mom?"
Somna let her worry for a moment before speaking. "Sit down."
Xara fell back onto her seat, feeling her back starting to turn clammy as anxiety flooded her. She stared at her mother and didn't speak; Somna looked about as mad as she had ever seen her.
The hypnotist took a seat, crossed her arms and glared at Xara, taking a few deep breaths. "So."
"Mom, I -"
Xara shut up as her mother held a hand out. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you're in?"
"...I have some idea, yes," Xara mumbled, looking back at her wrists.
"I don't think you do, Heiress." The title made Xara wince; Somna only really called her that to tease her or to show displeasure. "The higher-ups back home are in a panic. Nyna and Ashe have been running hither and yon through the Clairview Omninet to alter and suppress any information about a transport chase - do you know how unexpected those two working together it?"
Xara grimaced and nodded.
"And the Matriarch has come out here with me to smooth this over and cover it up."
Xara licked her lips. "Aunt Ruby is here? Outside Ananke?"
"Is she... mad?"
"Don't be daft, Xara. Matriarch Ruby doesn't get mad, she gets wrathful." A shadow passed briefly over Somna's face as she appeared to consider her words. "If you ever truly anger her you'll know you did something unforgivable."
Xara relaxed slightly. "So she's not mad at me."
"I can't speak for her, but she seems to find this all rather fun and amusing," Somna scowled. "She's acting like, well, you."
Xara risked a smile that withered as her mother's glare hardened. "Don't take it as a sign of safety, Xara. Ruby could give you a punishment worse than I'd ever give you with a grin on her face and a playful glint on her eyes. Her tone doesn't always match her emotions."
"Bring the first prisoner," Somna ordered one of her soldiers, who saluted and left the room.
"How did you..."
"Clairview is in allyship with Ananke. Ruby suggested we convince its army to use me as an annual psychotherapy expert and I just installed an override trigger for everyone in this base. We just needed to get you transferred from the Peacekeepers to the army so we could access you easier."
"Oh. That's smart," Xara complimented, hoping to score some points for the flattery.
Somna smiled tightly. "Yes, it's almost like if you did what you were told and waited we could have mobilised much more effectively, isn't it?"
Xara felt her right eye twitch. "All right, I'm sorry!"
"You will be, yes." Somna turned as Irene was led into the room. "Take a seat, sweetie. You're to act as witness."
"Irene didn't do anything wrong," Xara started, earning a surprised look from her friend and a scoff from her mother.
"I know that. I've already checked in on her mental state. Your... shenanigans really messed with her sense of identity, you know."
Irene's cheeks coloured. "Mistress Somna, I'm fine, I told you."
"And I told you I can read girls like you better than you know yourselves," Somna said, putting a hand over Irene's. "A skill I intend to teach you eventually. But for now, we have to punish my wayward daughter." She turned to the solider next to her. "Unlock her cuffs."
A moment later Xara was rubbing her wrists. The second soldier placed a box of Xara's personal items on the desk, and the Heiress gasped, digging through it to make sure everything was there.
Somna turned to her entranced guards. "Thank you, pets. You may return to the yard and join your colleagues." She cocked her head and inspected each woman's blank face for a few moments. "Hmm. Irene, come here a moment."
Irene stood and walked over to her mentor nervously. Somna pulled her closer to the soldiers. "What?"
"Can you read anything on their expressions?"
"Um... Mindlessness? Obedience. They're just thoughtless," Irene shrugged.
"No," Somna murmured, walking behind one of the soldiers and grabbing her chin, facing her toward Irene. "This one is blushing. Slight, but it's there. Yet she's entranced and her personality is turned off." She put a hand on the other's shoulder. "And this one has her hand not quite in a neutral position. See how it's turned to one side?"
"They're deeply relaxed and mindless, but their bodies are still affected by their unconscious biases. These women are attracted to each other."
Irene frowned and looked closer. "You sure?"
"Ladies, face each other." The soldiers turned, blankly facing each other. "Step closer together, til your chests touch."
The soldiers obeyed once more.
"Now watch and wait," Somna said.
Irene did so, leaning in curiously. Neither woman's expression altered; each kept the same empty eyes, neutral lips, relaxed features, but a slight blush did start to bloom at the nape of each woman's neck after a few minutes.
"It's our duty to improve the lives of those we touch, Irene," Somna instructed, turning to glower at Xara. "Not attempt to drug them."
Xara flinched and studied her wrists. Now probably wasn't the best time to comment on how hot she was finding Irene's lesson.
"Ladies, return to the yard. When you wake up, you'll feel a little more confident around each other. Talk to each other, from the heart." She snapped her fingers and the soldiers left the room. "Now. Xara. Your punishment. I'm confiscating your toy for a week. Give me the remote.
Xara frowned and reluctantly fished the remote out of the box, holding it out for Somna to take it.
"You can have this back once I restore Amanda to normal."
Xara blinked. "In a week, you mean?"
A smile finally graced Somna's lips, though there was little joy behind it. "The remote is a tool, Xara. I'm confiscating Amanda."
"No!" Xara leapt to her feet again. "I - you can't!"
"I can, and I will. I'd hoped not to ever use this one, but I'm very disappointed in you, Xara."
A hot, heavy wave of guilt washed over Xara as she fell back into her seat. The weight of all the consequences of her recent decisions crashed down on her, and she shrank under her mother's stern gaze. She couldn't even bring herself to respond.
"Mistress, I want to apologise for everything," Irene broached, but stopped as Somna shook her head.
"This isn't your fault, Irene, and it's hardly the first time my daughter's lust almost caused an international crisis."
Xara's cheeks turned bright red as Irene's eyebrows raised. "Mom," she squeaked.
"Two years ago Xara was invited to a summit banquet with the leaders of a few smaller nations," Somna elaborated. "Xara has never been able to hold her liquor, and she got quite drunk and made a fool of herself."
"Mom," Xara whimpered, almost begging.
"At one point later in the evening an innocent princess approached Xara engage in diplomatic conversation. Do you remember what your response was, Xara?"
She squirmed uncomfortably in her chair as she answered, resolutely avoiding Irene's stare. "I... mistook her for... entertainment."
"She grabbed a princess right there at the table, inviting her to sit in her lap."
Xara wanted to die. She could feel Irene's judgmental gaze, even as she stared at her feet.
"Her father - the king of a nation, I'll remind you - wasn't very happy. But our master of foreign relations here had a novel suggestion to fix the faux pas up. I can't recall, Xara, sweetie; what did you say to the king?"
Xara closed her eyes and grimaced. "I told him we could share the princess."
"Her exact words were 'she's got holes in both ends, we can both have our fun'. Now that was a night full of memory manipulation and favours," Somna sighed. "Two of our cursed were trained into custom concubines for the princess and her brother and still serve their new roles to this day. But at least in a generation we'll have a foothold in that royal family, so something good came out of Xara's... proclivities. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to give Amanda a piece of my mind, once I return the bulk of hers."
Somna left, leaving Xara and Irene in an uncomfortable silence until Irene cleared her throat.
"I always thought you were a troublemaker, but wow."
Xara groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Please, I can't deal with your disappointment too," she whined.
Irene let Xara slump on the table, then awkwardly put a hand on her back in comfort.
Somna entered another holding room and closed the door behind her. Amanda looked up at the noise and scowled.
"Oh, god, it's you. Here to turn me back into an obedient fuckpet for your spoiled daughter?"
Somna raised an eyebrow as she sat. "Eventually, but not yet. First I'm going to put you back to normal."
"This IS normal, you ethicless asshole! You won't get away with this. Ananke won't survive once people find out what's going on!"
"Goodness, you really fell into this role deep. I much prefer you as an adorable daughter-in-law-to-be." Somna lifted the remote and pressed a button, watching as Amanda went rigid, eyes closing and rapidly moving under her eyelids.
Moments later the furious expression of resistance melted into a blissful smile. Amanda sighed in utter contentment, muscles relaxing, and her eyes opened as she grinned glowingly – which then froze on her face as she beheld the woman in front of her. "Oh, fuck."
"Language. Welcome back to independence, Amanda."
"Thank you, Miss Nocturne," Amanda mumbled, squirming in her seat. She could tell she wasn't in what Xara called her 'play mode', yet she still felt submissive before Somna. "I, um..."
"Are in trouble, pet. Xara is receiving the bulk of the punishment, but you will need one too. I know you have safeties to prevent an incident such as this, which tells me you wanted this little public escapade."
Amanda looked everywhere in the room but into Somna's eyes, until the hypnotist slapped the table. Amanda jumped and forced herself into eye contact.
"I'm in a foul mood, Amanda. I love Xara and you very much, but you both disobeyed me and risked Ananke. Nevertheless, you're getting off light, much as it might not seem that way to you."
"What are you going to do?" Amanda asked with trepidation. The door opened and to Amanda's horror the Matriarch stepped in.
"Hello, my little asset. Or Assette." Ruby grinned and sat on the corner of the table. "Mmm, how's that for a superheroine name? Ananke Studios could make a lovely porn with you playing that role."
"Matriarch," Somna started evenly as Amanda blushed. "I take it you've spoken to the commander?"
"Indeed. He said he's willing to help us cover this incident up in return for a few favours."
Ruby inspected her dark red fingernails as she counted them off. "First, an invitation to Ananke's next diplomatic summit. Apparently he has heard about the post-dinner entertainment and has wanted to gain access for a while. Second, he wants to visit the breeding stables and pick three breeders to, well, breed with."
"The typical apology, then," Somna muttered. "At least most of our international issues are forgiven with a few willing sluts."
"Funny you should mention that," Ruby grinned wolfishly. "He wants three nights with Amanda."
"What?" Amanda gasped, blushing furiously. "That's not.., I don't..."
"You don't want to be used as a bargaining chip?" Somna leaned forward and knotted her brow. "This is one of his conditions, and you are in need of a punishment. I think this would serve both purposes well."
"I... I don't consent?" Amanda put forward.
"Please. I know your mind, Amanda. You might prefer it was Xara, but deep down you want to be used like this. You're too much of a slut."
Amanda bit her lip and closed her eyes. Fuck.
"You'll be brainwashed, of course." Ruby chuckled. "He doesn't want a reluctant girl pining for her lost love. He wants a klutzy new secretary who believes anything he asks is a reasonable, professional request."
Amanda made a strangled noise and squeezed her thighs together.
Somna picked up. "And unlike you and Xara, he understands rules and limits, and will keep you behind closed doors until we arrange for you to be flown back home. Until then, I'm suppressing your memories of Xara and of Ananke."
Eyes opening wide, Amanda gasped. "What? No!"
"We can't have you blabbering secrets, Amanda," Ruby smiled, leaning forward to stroke her hair. "And the knowledge you don't remember her will make Xara take this a lot more seriously. She needs to know she is privileged but she has responsibilities with consequences. And Somna here doesn't like my alternative proposal of a little... rough play."
Somna winced. "Painslut-strain cursed are a rarity and Xara isn't one of them. I'm not letting you pierce my daughter with anything sharper than a synthdick."
"See? No trust, I swear." Ruby stood and stretched. "Well, Somna, get on with it. She needs to be a happily submissive Clairview girl pronto, and we need to get back home."
Somna refocused on Amanda and fished her pendant out from her cleavage. Amanda whimpered and looked her in the eyes.
"Please, don't do this... Mom," she appealed.
Somna's eyes softened slightly. "You already consider me a mother? That's very emotionally manipulative to tell me now, Amanda. I'm almost impressed. But even though your conscious mind rebels, your inner submissive wants your mind played with, so you won't, and cannot, resist this." She swung the pendant and Amanda's eyes locked themselves on it, immediately feeling her muscles relax and her breathing slow. "Just take deep breaths and let me do my job."
"Yes, Mistress Somna."
Xara's remote was returned to her, and she, Irene and Zoe were led into the yard where a helicopter waited to speed them back to Ananke. The rows of soldiers Somna had triggered stood silently by, still entranced, as they would remain until the commander spoke a keyword over the base's PA system.
On the way to the helicopter Xara happened to look up as Ruby and the Commander shook hands, and gasped. Her girlfriend stood next to the commander in a feminine military secretary uniform, newly short black hair in a bun and wearing a pair of glasses Xara knew she didn't need. It seemed the nanocorset had been turned off, too, as the girl filled her pencil skirt to a degree most non-Anankians might consider pornographic. Most Anankians, too, but it was more of a compliment than a judgment there.
"Amanda!" She cried and ran toward the girl. She almost leapt into a hug before realising Amanda's panicked, confused expression meant she wouldn't appreciate it right now. "What's wrong?"
"Do I know you?" Amanda asked, studying Xara's face, trying to place it. Xara's chest tightened.
"This is Xara. She's Genecorp's Heiress," Ruby smiled, putting an arm around Xara's shoulder. "Don't mind her, she's a little emotional. You look like a girlfriend she once had."
"Oh. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Xara." Amanda smiled and bowed slightly.
Xara swallowed and nodded, and let Ruby guide her to the helicopter. "Don't look so dour, pet. It's only for a week. You'll be back in bed with her in no time."
"It'll feel like a lot longer than that,' Xara moaned. Ruby laughed gently.
"Well, that's the point of a punishment, isn't it? If we sentenced you to a night getting spanked by Damaris you wouldn't take it seriously."
Xara considered the words as she got into the helicopter and it rose into the air. She looked around the cabin at Somna, Ruby, Irene and Zoe, the latter two almost as morose as she. "I'm... sorry," she said.
Ruby narrowed her eyes and smiled slightly wider, while Somna's lips twitched as if she was restricting a smile of her own. Zoe and Irene looked at her for a moment, then moved across the cabin to sit on either side of her, embracing Xara as the helicopter turned and flew for Ananke.