3 – A Tamed Gender
It’s a miserable walk to campus.
Compared to the first time I ventured out after the event, the world around me is starting to look less and less normal. There are way fewer women around, for starters. I know they’re all either bunkering down at home, or kneeling at a man’s feet.
Of those that do make the rounds, several are in the company of a man. Some are openly being led by leashes, or simply walk around wearing their master’s collar.
Every street corner, every newspaper, every conversation – the event dominates it all. The world I knew is coming apart at the seams before my very eyes, as women fall and men cast their shadows upon them.
I’ve diligently avoided social media and the internet for the past day, but I could hear Reinhard pacing the house last night, and I know he’s been up again, immersed in his reading.
I wonder if he’s still lurking in catcher spaces.
I wonder if that’s what the glimmer in his eyes is about, when we meet in the morning.
I grimace, thinking back to the way this day began. I made coffee for Reinhard, this time – even though he was up before the sun had even risen. I woke up, went straight to the kitchen, and fixed him coffee.
I didn’t even know why. It just seemed like the most natural way to begin the day. He accepted it too, with a muttered thanks, and no acknowledgement beyond that.
I rub my temples, trying to chase away the sense that I’m slipping down the spiral of the payload. Friends make coffee for one another all the time. There’s no need to overthink this.
I’m not like them, like all the women around me who are wearing their collars, walking with eyes downcast and dainty steps.
Well, I suppose I’m one of them in a way – I, too, have my collar on. Of course the difference is that, in my case, it’s only for show.
I can feel the hungry eyes of every man around me as I walk down the streets, alone and unescorted. I can see them look away when they notice I’m already collared.
Maybe I should be grateful for that, but I just find it deeply humiliating. I don’t even get to establish boundaries for myself? The only thing that will make men decide I’m off limits, is when they believe I’m the property of another man.
It’s his boundaries they’re respecting, not mine. It makes me feel like… well, like a thing.
There’s still a rally in the street leading directly to the university, but it’s hard to escape the sad reality that its numbers are dwindling. Not just way fewer women, but fewer men too, which sends a cold shiver down my spine.
How many of the guys who marched here on the first day have already given up? How many have collared a girl they had a crush on, or simply happened to pass by in the hallway?
The women, at least, are having to fight the programming inside their heads, every second of every day. No wonder even those that showed up look fatigued, despondent, and demoralised. But the guys – what’s their excuse?
I suppose it doesn’t matter. Until the payload is undone, men have no need to justify themselves to us. Not anymore.
This is only visibly reinforced when I once again spot the redhead with the megaphone. I see she is, once again, confronting the single guy who keeps showing up every day to mock the protesters.
He’s wearing a different shirt this time, one that reads “ask me for a collar!”.
I swear to god, has he gotten a whole collection of these already? Jesus.
Unfortunately, my programming is providing very strong motivation to keep my eyes downcast and keep walking. I wonder what the payload would have me do if I didn’t have Reinhard’s collar on.
Would I gravitate towards him? Wait for his approval, which might well never come? Seek his validation? Ask how I may be of service?
As it is, another girl is going through that very experience. Megaphone girl is trying her best to stand up to him, but she’s visibly trembling. I wonder how long she’s been trying to muster the courage to tell him off.
Trying, and failing.
My stomach drops at the movement I can barely spot in my peripheral vision. I know, in my heart of hearts, that the girl has fallen to her knees. I know the man has fished out a collar. And I think the sound I’m hearing is that of a zipper, being pulled down.
I start running.
By the time I’m across the street, I already have to stop to catch my breath. Between the pandemic and the event, I’ve spent so long being a couch potato, and it hasn’t done my lung capacity any good.
But as my heavy breathing subsides, and I walk the rest of the way to campus, I can hear the sound of the guy’s mocking laughter, echoing behind me…
Tear-eyed and sobbing, aroused and flustered, I compose myself before entering class. I don’t want the girls to see me like this. To see my fear… and my weakness.
When at last I feel calm enough, I make my way to my traditional seat, right next to Cindy in class. It seems the lecture hasn’t started yet, which is weird, considering how late I am, but I have no chance to ask Cindy what’s up with that.
She gasps upon seeing me, her eyes wide with horror.
“Not you too!”
It takes me a moment to realise what she’s talking about. I look down, suddenly self-conscious, my fingers brushing against the leather collar. “Oh, this. No Cin, don’t worry. It’s only for show. You know… nominal collaring.”
“Oh! Oh God,” Cindy says, slumping back in the chair. “For a second I thought, I…”
It’s not just concern or fear that’s making her react like this. I can see the subtle rubbing of her thighs, the way her lips are subconsciously pouting. She wants the collar.
When at last she finds the strength to converse with me again, I note her pointed refusal to look anywhere near my neck. She seems to be focusing on my shoes right now. “Does that even work? The nominal thing.”
Does it? That’s a good question. Ever since the ceremony, the payload seems to have calmed down a little. I’m getting restful sleep now, but the dreams haven’t exactly stopped. Maybe most importantly, I know the programming isn’t gone.
I can feel it humming in my head, like a parasite, or an ever-churning spiral, twisting and warping every thought, turning my mind inside-out and against itself.
If it stays at this reduced level of activity, though, I may stand a chance to fight it. So perhaps, while not entirely successful, my plan hasn’t failed after all.
“I guess we’ll know for sure soon,” I tell Cindy with a shrug.
She nods. “Just… let me know, ok? Because if it does work, then maybe…”
I squeeze her hand. She doesn’t need to say anymore. I know she’s losing the fight, I can see it in her eyes. How they go slightly glassy and unfocused whenever a man speaks to her…
Unbidden, I imagine how great she’d look like on her knees. With an internal scream of rage, I push the thought down, forcing myself to focus on the here and now.
It would be easier if class were to at least start. I look around, noticing the conspicuous lack of our lecturer. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“Oh, right,” Cindy says, with a dejected look on her face. “Professor Watkins got collared.”
“Yeah,” she says in a whisper. “Professor Rowland did it. He always did resent having to share the subject with her. He’s taking over all of her classes, and, well… her.”
I stare at Cindy in shock. I hate that every new day is a litany of horrors, another heartbreak, another strong woman falling.
“They’re looking for a female replacement to come teach us today,” Cindy says. “Since we won’t take a male lecturer. It’s just, there’s fewer and fewer of those, and… I guess they
haven’t found one yet. Or maybe they have, and she was collared on the way to work. What do I know?”
Chaos. This is chaos. How can this be allowed to continue? I massage my temples, trying to keep the terror at bay. God, Reinhard was right. The insidiousness of the payload is making it impossible to counter it.
How do you stop the backslide, if women themselves are being made to ask for the yoke?
“Don’t worry, Cindy,” I say. I don’t know what’s prompting this, but I’m talking to her as I would to Leah. “We’re going to be okay. I know we are.”
“Oh, Audrey,” Cindy says, shaking her head. “No, we’re not. I’m sorry. I don’t believe that anymore.”
She looks at me for a moment, confused. Then, she sits a little straighter in her chair.
“I guess you haven’t heard.”
The flat, empty tone in her voice is making me slip closer and closer to the edge of panic. I’ve never seen Cindy like this, so… resigned, so defeated. The roaring of my own heart thunders against my ears.
Cindy gulps. “Maybe you should just check the news…”
I return home fuelled by hatred and rage.
I know my anger is incongruous. I find Leah and Reinhard sitting at the table, having just finished lunch – Leah had morning classes today, and Reinhard of course stayed in to work.
They look surprised to see me back so early.
“Hey love,” Leah says. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” I say, fuming. “It’s not. They’re taking our rights away!”
“Calm down,” Reinhard says, and I can tell from his and my girlfriend’s expression that they already know. If they do, why are they so composed? Why are they sitting around like it’s just another regular day?
I feel like I’m losing my mind.
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” I shout, my emotions finally overcoming my every effort to bottle them up. “This is the biggest single reversal in human rights in modern history! How can you tell me to calm down? I’ve just lost most of my civil rights, and you’re tone-policing me?”
“Audrey,” Reinhard says, his eyes narrowing, “I said, calm down.”
And in that singular moment, I realise the tragic extent of my mistake, because I immediately shut up.
I don’t really calm down, of course – Reinhard doesn’t magically control my emotion. But the moment his words leave his lips, the programming whirs to life in my own mind, and my rebuttal dies in my throat.
I look around, confused, my mouth opening and closing uselessly. I want to scream and argue, to make my point and curse and weep, but I can do none of that – all I can do is obey.
Obedience, I remember. Now, that’s real.
Femininity is supposed to be docile and proper, the programming tells me. Shouting is unbecoming. Being assertive is a masculine trait. My lot in life is to be seen, and not heard.
I shake my head in confusion, trying to fight the morass enveloping my thoughts. I see the effect his words have had on Leah, too. She sits back, demurely, looking up at him for approval with big, pleading eyes.
My girlfriend. Looking to Reinhard for approval.
That’s when I know for sure my plan has failed. The real weakness is inside my own head, and I don’t know how to counter it. I have no options, no ideas, and no hope.
Reinhard’s not oblivious to any of this, I know. There’s something in his expression, a… hunger I’ve never seen before. His hands are trembling. I can never remember Reinhard looking so out of sorts, he’s always the picture of composure and self-restraint.
But he’s clearly struggling to hold himself back, just as I’m struggling not to fold under his gaze like a silly girl being scolded.
But… hold himself back from what? As I study his face, I find myself wondering just how long he’s spent reading blog posts in catcher spaces…
“Look, what’s happened is perfectly logical,” Reinhard says, breathing in, trying to calm himself down. “Think about it. What else can be done?”
Reduced into humiliating silence, I glare at him. I refuse to dignify the rhetorical question with an answer that would come out far too meek to actually reflect my feelings.
“Consider the following,” Reinhard continues. “I walk up to a woman, collar her, then command her to kill somebody. Can she refuse me? No. It may take time, persistence, determination, but eventually the payload would disassemble her resistance. She would carry out my command, and kill in my name.”
I let out a surprised yelp at the shiver that goes through me when he says disassemble her resistance. God, why does that sound so hot? Why does it turn my knees to jelly?
“There would be no way to ascertain she acted on my orders,” Reinhard says. “I could order her to lie, even confess she acted alone. If she wears my collar, she is compelled to do as I bid her. So, do you think she should go to jail because I commanded her to kill?”
“Of course not,” I say, begrudgingly giving him ground.
“Exactly,” Reinhard nods enthusiastically. “That’s why your legal personality’s been revoked. For all intents and purposes, women are basically minors now. It’s not meant to disenfranchise you, but to protect you.”
Leah whimpers, squirming in the chair, as Reinhard begins listing items with his fingers.
“A man could coerce you to sign a terribly one-sided contract,” he says. “Or donate all your material possessions to him. Or act as his criminal proxy in any capacity. Of course such things can’t be considered legally binding.”
“And the right to vote?” I manage to ask, through gritted teeth, my nails digging into my palms. “How does taking that away, rolling me back to the 19th century protect me, Reinhard?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” He says. “I could just order you to vote for this or that political party. It wouldn’t actually be your vote. Men with more women under their control would effectively acquire extra votes… no, it’s simply untenable.”
I see the cold logic, of course. But I despair at the idea that Reinhard doesn’t see the flip side, the raw consequence of this “pragmatic” approach. It’s playing right into the hands of whoever developed the payload.
God, I hate how much sense all of this makes. How well-thought-out the trap is. The margin for our freedom keeps shrinking under my very eyes. Every avenue of escape closed, one by one, until all a woman can do is… fall.
The yoke is tightening around my neck, around all our necks. And even my best friend is dancing to that tune, as he mansplains my own enslavement to me.
He must notice my turmoil, because his expression softens. “Look, Audrey, these measures are temporary, I’m sure. It’s only until the payload’s undone. As soon as women regain the faculty to decide for themselves, I’m sure their rights will be waiting for them. Legal emancipation, the vote, everything.”
“Right,” I say flatly, prevented from sharing how I really feel about his optimism. “What if it takes ten years to fix it? What if it’s never fixed? What, then?”
“Then we’ll figure it out,” Reinhard says, using a paternalistic tone that seems to suggest he thinks this closes the matter. That just enrages me even more. “Look, you know what this means for me, right?”
I blink for a second, in confusion. What is he talking about?
“You’re both wearing my collars,” Reinhard says, patiently, like he’s talking to a child, and I think my worst fear is coming true – he doesn’t see me as an equal anymore. I’ve never seen this condescending, domineering side of him, and it terrifies me, because I know he has power over me.
What’s even worse is that the warping effect of the payload makes me think it’s hot. Right and proper. That I was made to be taken under a man’s wing, and the fact that I’m a lesbian simply makes the humiliation even more delicious.
“That means I am legally responsible for anything you two do,” Reinhard continues. “Now, I have no doubt you’re not going to rob a bank or anything, but still, this is a huge responsibility, Audrey. If you fail to do your taxes properly, that’s on me. If you ever become indebted, that’s on me.”
He shakes his head. “I didn’t want to go ahead with the ritual, remember. It’s not like I’m looking forward to the liability.”
I stare at him slack-jawed. I’ve just lost all my rights. Yes, it sucks that he’s now liable, but how can he not see the chasm between our two setbacks? Why can’t he show a little empathy?
In fact… why did he feel entitled to command me to calm down?
I’m about to ask him this very question when Leah speaks up, with a mousy, unassuming voice she’s never used, not even when playing sub with me.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she says, and I sharply draw in breath at the word sir. “Is there any way we can make it up to you?”
In my complete bewilderment, I can’t decide if she means that genuinely, or if she’s flirting with him, with me right here in the room with them.
“Leah, what the fuck?” I manage to blurt out. “Where is your outrage? Your resistance? He’s bossing us around like we’re children, women’s rights have been erased with the stroke of a pen, and that’s how you react? You ask him how you can make it up to him?”
The look Leah gives me is devoid of any expression. Then, she turns back to Reinhard, awaiting instructions. He in turn studies us both closely, like a lab worker looking at a petri dish.
It crushes me to realise it, but Leah’s just… defeated. I’ve seen that look before. She reminds me of megaphone girl right now.
Knees hitting the floor, a hand on her head, a zipper being pulled down…
“It’s fine,” Reinhard says, waving his hand. “Just go wash the dishes. Then, the laundry, and then, you may study.”
“Yes sir,” she whispers, and all the words I could associate with her demeanour rush through my mind, a maelstrom of sexualised images that make me reel backwards into the wall.
My girlfriend is subservient, open, available, submissive, obedient. My own best friend has tamed her, is prying her away from me. She’s being demoted, made to be docile, unassuming… domesticated.
And I’m next. How long before I end up like her? Before my resistance is deliciously, systematically, expertly disassembled? How long before I start to love it? Beg for it?
I watch, stunned, as Leah takes the dishes, heading towards the kitchen, like so many women before her, confined and reduced to a helping role in the household. Like so many women right now.
Then, at last, my dread wins over the payload, just this once. I bolt into the hallway, rushing towards my room, my heart thundering against my ribcage. I need to act, before it’s too late. I need to leave.
Before I, too, have a chance to fall.
“What are you doing?”
I curse under my breath, struggling to keep my body from snapping to attention at the sound of the voice. His voice.
I keep mindlessly throwing clothing into my luggage, fighting to hold my composure. God, I must look like such a cliché. I’m not even paying attention, just dumping a whirlwind of scattered clothes in before I take the suitcase and head out of my apartment.
And then… what? Back to my parents? I stop for a second, considering the absurd question: has dad collared mum already?
Maybe they’ll do it with good intentions, to prevent other men from potentially collaring her at work.
Then, she’ll find herself following, submitting and falling. Because there’s no such thing as a nominal collaring, and the payload will disassemble us all, until we’re all simpering housewives and sex slaves, our entire lives centered on being at the beck and call of men.
“Where do you think you’re even gonna go?” Reinhard says, echoing my own thoughts. “This thing is everywhere.”
I slam the lid of my suitcase, trying to stop my hands from shaking. “Yes,” I say, my voice trembling. “Nowhere is safe.”
“It’s safe here.”
I turn to face him, and even that takes all my residual willpower. The programming demands that I look up at him from my knees, but I won’t give in. Even if my resistance is slackening, and my arousal is climbing…
“No, it’s not. Reinhard, I want you to take this collar off.”
He arches an eyebrow. “You can take it off yourself, it’s not like I’ve commanded you to wear it.”
“You know exactly what I mean!” I say, my voice coarse as I try to shout, to sound assertive… and mostly fail.
At that, Reinhard just shrugs, but I know it’s feigned calm. I can see the twitching of his fingers. The way his lips are quivering. I know he wants to jump me, and he’s barely able to contain himself.
To the true part of me, that’s the most heartbreaking thing that could ever happen to me. But to the part warped by the programming, it would be something else entirely…
“Audrey, I can’t remove the payload. Even if I undo the ritual, and free you… You will end up taking orders from a man, until this is reversed. It’s just how you’re coded, now.”
I snarl in frustration. I can almost hear the unspoken might as well be me in the air. That really, really wounds me. Worse than even the payload itself, because its developers, at least, are strangers and fanatics. Reinhard has been my friend for so many years. And what is he now?
Master, the programming whispers, and I shake my head furiously, like I’m trying to physically throw it off.
“I regret trusting you,” I say, my words laced with venom. “Maybe I should have found a gay man to collar me. He wouldn’t lust after me the way you are right now. It’s because of your crush, isn’t it? Don’t think I don’t know.”
For the first time since the event, he actually looks stung, and I know I’ve hit a nerve. Even his cheeks gain a bit of colour, but he still tries to dissimulate.
“Sure, you could have done that,” he says, ignoring the latter part of my comment. “But it wouldn’t have changed much.”
When faced with my sceptical look, he continues. “Audrey, you still wouldn’t be free. It doesn’t matter if your master chooses not to give you orders, that’s still his decision to make, not yours. You’d still be a slave, pretending at freedom.”
“I know that!” I say, hating that my voice sounds shrill and petulant, rather than assertive and confident. “What other option do I have? All I can ask for is live a normal life, until this is undone! Do you have the spine to give it to me? To treat me like a thinking adult who can choose for herself?”
I blink, realising that, in my fervor, I’ve stepped closer to Reinhard, and right into his personal space.
That was a mistake.
I’m acutely aware of his physical presence, of his sheer maleness. I feel it pull me in, like a star’s gravity well, drawing a planet into its orbit.
I take a faltering step back, lowering my voice. “Did I choose wrong? Do you have the moral temper to do what’s right, Reinhard?”
He looks away from me, embarassed, ashamed. Maybe I’ve gotten through to him. I dare hope, for a moment, that he’ll return to the person he was before the event. Before the ritual.
“You know, Audrey,” he says at last, looking back at me. “I really thought I did. I was wrong.”
And then, he takes a step towards me.
I immediately step away, recoiling from his sheer aura, his presence, his magnetism. The payload’s reacting to his aggression, working overtime to make me feel smaller and smaller as he draws closer to me.
Eventually, my back hits the wall. I feel like a cornered animal, a wild horse about to be wrangled and broken in for the saddle. It terrifies me, but I’ve been holding out for so long, and the programming is so relentless…
I can’t deny the quivering in my thighs, the lancing sexual heat that courses through me at the idea of Reinhard placing his boot on my neck and pulling my leash upwards, imposing his manly authority over the defeated lesbian he’s craved most of his adult life…
“Reinhard,” I say, realising I’m running out of options; that every breath of his pheromones, every second he provides fuel for the payload, I draw nearer to my destruction.
“Turns out I’m not that kind of person,” he says. “Too curious. Spent too much time reading vivid descriptions… imagining this moment, how it would feel: the adrenaline, the power…”
His hands shoot out to grip my wrists, pinning them against the wall. Strangely enough, my fear is subsiding, sinking down alongside my resistance. A tidal wave of arousal is climbing up, drowning my perception with its thunderous roar.
“I shouldn’t be doing this, I know,” he says, his lips nibbling at my ear. “However…”
I gasp, altering my stance, spreading my legs a little, thrusting my chest out, to give him easier access. Just like in my dreams. I realise now the dreams weren’t simply meant to convert me.
They were meant to prepare me. To make sure that, when a man finally decided to stake his claim on me, I would deliver to perfection, satisfy his every expectation.
I’ve never felt this way for a man. Hell, I’ve never felt this way for a girl, because this isn’t really arousal, and this isn’t really me.
It’s my brainwashing, disassembling every piece of me that ever thought I was an equal to a man. And making me love it.
How can simple, normal, biological arousal compete with the payload? With a programme that was tailor-made to fire every neuron in a woman’s body, until her soft feminine brain got literally fried by overloaded levels of impossible pleasure?
There’s no denying the slick wetness between my legs, the inviting pout of my lips, the dilation of my pupils, or the way my breath is coming in fast and ragged.
Reinhard’s body presses against mine, and for the first time in my life, an erection touches me – his straining cock pokes at my thigh through his pants and my jeans.
It should revolt me, but even that’s enough to shock my body with a jolt of electricity.
“You never did understand the full power of the payload,” Reinhard whispers. “And yet I tried to tell you.”
“Yes,” I say, and it comes out in a throaty, moaning voice that drips with lust.
“The true power of the payload isn’t its ability to make you submit,” Reinhard says, kissing his way to my throat, gently nibbling at the skin with his teeth.
“It’s that it makes you want to submit,” he says, smiling at the soft, feminine gasps leaving my throat every time he touches me. “If I were to step away now, you would beg me to claim you.”
“God…” I say, whimpering, realising I’m pressing myself against his erection.
And then, the unthinkable happens. Reinhard does step away. All physical contact ceases as he looks me up and down.
The sudden emptiness I feel, the craving for his warmth, for his body slamming mine down with his weight… that’s what convinces me he’s right.
I want this. I want to serve him. That’s what’s going to break me. The payload isn’t going to turn me into a puppet, it’s going to make me an addict to my own humiliation.
Desperately hooked, and unable to let go.
I descend to my knees, throwing myself at his feet, kissing his leather shoes. It’s no chaste pecking this time. I smooch slavishly, trying to adhere as close to the ground as I can.
I realise I’m virtually humping the air right now, like I’m a stupid bitch in heat, completely debasing myself before this man.
And the humiliation lances through me like pure arousal, eliciting a desperate, needy moan out of my throat.
“I consider myself owned,” I say, in a worshipful tone, like I would a prayer. “I consider myself owned!”
I’m begging, hoping, pleading for his answer, his acknowledgement, his validation. But Reinhard says nothing.
Instead, it’s another fateful sound I hear above me, as I lie prostrate at his feet.
That of a zipper, being pulled down.