2 – A Leathered Splendor
“One last time,” Reinhard says, staring at us plaintively, “I’m going to point out that I don’t think this is going to work.”
I squeeze Leah’s hand, as much to reassure her as to bolster my own resolve. She looks up at me, expectantly. Her big doe eyes never fail to bring out the protector in me.
I typically call the shots for the both of us, but I sense a hesitation in her gaze.
She knows I just want to plunge ahead with my plan, before my courage falters. Before I can be talked into backing out. But Leah would like to hear Reinhard out, one last time.
I acquiesce with a sigh and a curt nod. Reinhard must have been studying me just as closely as Leah was, because he resumes his speech immediately.
“I’ve been researching this,” he says, looking at the two collars he’s placed on the table between us. “As far as this can be researched at all, of course. But the whole internet is talking about it, and I’ve been up all night, reading…”
I stare at him with scepticism, and a little bit of annoyance. “Reinhard, I’m not stupid. I can use the internet too.” It’s frankly astonishing how quickly WikiHow put up guides on collar avoidance.
“I know,” Reinhard says defensively, holding up his hands. “But you were mostly looking at ways to dodge collaring. I decided to try something else. I think if you want to understand how the payload works, you need to look at, uh, well… catcher spaces.”
I see the old intensity in Reinhard’s eyes, which tells me this has become an absorbing interest for him. He hasn’t just been researching it – he’s probably been reading all day, trying to understand what makes all of this tick.
I’m hoping it will come to our advantage. His analytical mind is a great asset to have in this situation. But for now, I need to try and keep up with hours upon hours of immersion that he needs to condense for me.
“Catcher spaces,” I say. “And what are those?”
Reinhard shrugs, seemingly uncomfortable with himself. “Catchers are men who have already collared a woman. Or more. There are forums and chatrooms where they gather and debate.”
I shouldn’t be surprised, I really shouldn’t. But I grit my teeth in anger and disgust all the same.
“I don’t even… what do they even talk about exactly? How it’s our fault for being collared because we dared refuse a sexual advance from them, or wore too short a skirt?”
“Some of that is definitely going on,” Reinhard says, his distate unclear. “But mostly advice, you know. Even some analysis”
My eyes widen, my nails dig into my palms, and my own mind begins to accelerate. I know I really, really shouldn’t ask the question that’s about to come out of my mouth. I don’t know whether it’s curiosity or the payload that finally makes me say it.
“What kind of advice are we talking about?”
“Mostly on the most effective ways of catching women… and how to properly domesticate them after their collaring.”
The word swirls in my brain, tainting every thought, every image. It feels so wrong and so right at once… Of course most animals can be domesticated, why should humans be any different? Why should women?
My knees tremble, and Leah next to me is basically beginning to sway. But Reinhard talks on, oblivious.
“Most men don’t really have a clue,” he says, “but a few are very vocal and extremely detailed in their guides. Their mission seems to share certain… techniques they have found to yield wondrous, and terrifying results.”
I swoon in place, struggling for balance as the payload assaults my perception.
I can certainly believe that. Take a young woman, strong, smart, fiercely independent, keenly aware of her worth, and her right to equality.
Then strip everything, piece by piece. Make her dependent, insecure, unassuming. Assign her simple caregiving tasks, dulling her intelligence through repetition and labour. Use rewards and punishments to steer her, mould her, remake her…
And Reinhard stayed up all night reading about how to best break a woman…
It really is terrifying. And in a way, it really is wondrous.
I slap my forehead again. Reinhard blinks, taken aback for a second, before resuming his speech. He’s learning to take such reactions in stride, I guess.
“I’m actually a little suspicious of these users, by the way. They seem a little too eager to help… it only makes sense that whoever designed the payload also disseminated as much information out there to maximise its effect.”
Leah whimpers next to me. I turn to face her, in shock. That’s the kind of submissive mewl she would reserve for me, when I push her onto the bed and make her beg for pleasure, or when I climb my way up her body, to straddle her face with my thighs…
I’m not sure Reinhard’s noticed. “You see the brilliance of the plan?” He asks me. “The payload makes it so that things implement themselves. It’s got the authorities in a bind.
Their only option is to find a fix to reverse the payload. In the meantime, there isn’t much they can do to counter its effects.”
Is that a hint of admiration I detect in his voice? Is he impressed by how thoroughly these misogynists planned out the downfall of womankind?
Is… Is that what Leah was mewling about?
“I think I’d be much happier if they hadn’t done such a good job,” I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm. In truth, I’m nowhere near as cocky as I sound. The performance is meant to reassure me that I can still handle all of this.
“Of course,” Reinhard says, snapping out of his elucubrations. “In any case, that’s not the point. The point is… I’m becoming convinced that the collars are a red herring.”
“Right, exactly!” I say. “That’s what I’ve been saying! We can satisfy the payload with a pantomime, and that’s it!”
But Reinhard shakes his head. “No, Audrey. The collars are a red herring for you. For all of us.”
I blink at him in confusion.
“What I mean is this: the collar is just an object. By focusing so much on it, we’re getting distracted from how the payload actually functions. It makes you want to serve men.
That’s a lot more insidious than just a circle of leather.”
A shiver trickles down my spine. It makes sense, but I want to deny it, because if he’s right… how do you fight something like that?
“That’s why I said they have the authorities in a bind,” Reinhard continues. “Think about it, why hasn’t collaring been banned yet?”
There’s a weirdly… enthusiastic glint in his eye. He doesn’t wait for me to try and fumble out an answer, either.
“You could outlaw every piece of leather on the planet,” Reinhard says, looking me in the eyes, “but how do you stop someone from choosing to just obey? To submit? It’s the collaring that’s the pantomime. The obedience, now… that’s real.”
For a second, it’s like the entire world around me holds its breath. My stomach drops, and there’s a knot in my throat. It’s all I can do to keep the dread at bay.
It’s hard to argue with Reinhard’s logic, which makes me feel even more humiliated and diminished. I know that’s just my brain trying to self-sabotage, the programming trying to convince me I’m better off letting a man do the thinking for me.
Obey, submit, I hear, in his voice. Obedience, now, that’s real.
I find myself staring in awe, battling for control of my mind, as Reinhard continues his explanation.
“The frontline of this war is in here,” he says, tapping his forehead. “Inside the mind.”
I open my mouth, looking for a rebuttal, but none comes. I know he’s right.
But I also know I can’t just keep fighting the payload. My very vacillation right now is proof of this. In fact, if he doesn’t shut up, I think I’ll end up on my knees no matter if he agrees to the ritual or not.
So I shrug, cutting the discussion short while I still can. “Well, say you’re right. Do you have a better plan in mind?”
Reinhard leans back a moment, blinking, thinking. Then he sighs, lowering his head. “I suppose I do not.”
Leah and I exchange a look. She gives me a tiny nod, which is all I need. I know she’s going to trust me with this, follow me into the breach. We’ll figure it out together. After all, we love one another, and Reinhard is our friend.
That has to be stronger than any smartphone virus. Hasn’t it?
I snap back to reality as Reinhard clears his throat. “Let’s get this over with, come on.”
I nod, with a final squeeze on Leah’s hand to lend her strength. And then, together, we flex our legs, and begin descending to our knees.
We do it in perfect sync, like we’ve rehearsed this a thousand times. Of course, we haven’t – we haven’t even talked about it.
But the ritual is etched into the brains of every woman now. Every tiny motion, every element of coreography, it’s been drilled into us, night after sleepless night. In our dreams of male dominion and female submission.
I hate kneeling, of course. Even if it’s just pantomime and it’s Reinhard. The twin symbolism of subservience and sexual innuendo isn’t lost on any of us. But as I sink lower, my eyes widen in surprise at how my body feels.
The payload, I realise. It’s working overtime to exploit this opening. It’s like a great weight has been lifted off me. I get a second wind, blasting away the fatigue and sleep deprivation of the last few days. I feel lightheaded, but also energetic.
When my knees hit the floor with a fateful thud, part of me thinks that this is a hugely significant, almost profound moment.
It’s the part that the payload’s corrupted, I know. But it’s in there, and I can’t block it off, not while performing the ceremony it’s been demanding of my brain for days on end.
It tells me that I could do worse than Reinhard.
Lesbian or not, even I can sense his magnetism. He’s ridiculously eloquent, tall, strong. His green eyes are as piercing as his intellect. He looks soulful, when he plays the violin.
With his many intellectual and physical hobbies, he’s a modern day Renaissance man. Surely even a lesbian could see value in accepting such a man’s authority over her own life?
And of course, his voice – such a low octave, the perfect pitch for resonating against a girl’s ribcage, for commanding her…
These are alien thoughts. They’re evil and cursed, and wherever they take root, they poison the soil. But as Reinhard begins to loom over our kneeling figures, one collar in hand, it’s hard to avoid the notion that he deserves to rule. That he looks like a king.
I hold my breath as the first collar snaps around Leah’s neck. Instantly she looks smaller, mousier, less of a person. She’s trying to shrivel under his gaze. She immediately bends forward, landing on her elbows, and places a soft kiss on the tip of his black leather shoes.
“I acknowledge myself owned,” she says, breathless, and the sight is like a punch to the gut. That’s my girlfriend, kissing a man’s feet, declaring herself his property!
I steady my breathing. It’s all for show. None of this is real. But the constant warring between my programming and my rage is leaving me exhausted and confused.
The confusion melts away when Reinhard steps right into my field of vision, holding the second collar right in front of my face.
Every neuron in my body flares up. The response is incredible, all-encompassing, a chasm of pure sensation that threatens to swallow me whole.
My breathing comes in short, ragged pulses as Reinhard sweeps my hair out of the way. When the leather touches my skin, a jolt of electricity courses through me.
And then, I hear it.
As the collar closes around my neck, I begin to writhe, every muscle in my body spasming and tensing. I, too, bend forward, because I’m out of breath, and I’m doubling over. The sensation rippling across my body cannot be put into words. It’s almost like an orgasm, but not quite.
The collar feels good around my neck, thick and tight. I can’t even flex my neck too much, its edge presses against my chin if I try. I imagine being forced to keep a straight neck posture, formal and servile, like I’m waiting to be inspected, and that makes me lick my lips.
The black glossy leather must make such a fine contrast with the paleness of my skin… one most pleasing to a man’s eye. As it should be.
But then, the reverie begins to fade. The pleasure retreats, and the collar doesn’t feel like a lover’s warm embrace anymore, but constrictive instead. I twist my head uncomfortably, trying to work it in a more comfortable position.
As I begin to climb down and back to normality, the repulsion returns, making me recoil in place.
I’m a lesbian and a feminist, kneeling before a man who’s just put a collar on me. And I swear, as I look up at him, there’s some weird glint in his eye…
Reinhard’s face rarely betrays his emotions, but as he contemplates me, kneeling before him, wearing his collar, it’s clear some considerable turmoil plays out across his expression.
My trust falters.
For a second, there’s nothing in the world I want more than to just bolt. Start running, and never stop.
But I’ve come this far, and I will not let my doubts poison my friendship. The people behind the payload have done enough damage. This, they won’t take from me.
I will see this through.
So I prostrate myself before my friend, wrinkling my nose at the pungent scent of the leather that hits my nostrils. Closing my eyes, I force myself to place the smallest, least enthusiastic of puckered kisses that I can on the tip of his shoes.
I have the horrible suspicion that, pantomime or not, Reinhard won’t be able to see me as an equal anymore. Not after I’ve literally folded myself in such a slavish position to kiss his feet. But I suppress the fear.
He’s a friend, and he knows this was my only option.
And so, at last, I say the words to complete the ritual, hating every single one of them.
“I acknowledge myself owned.”