“Upstairs,” the Serpent said. The opportunity to take him down without not-Charlotte countering her was gone, so Kara didn’t even try to object. Her body swivelled and she fell in alongside her. Her fellow invader’s gait was close to a march, and Kara’s body fell into it.
Every step was a dopamine rush as her body hastened to assure itself that in surrender it had dome the right thing. Every step flooded her brain with more pleasure. Broke down more of what had been. The core of Kara, holding itself together in the centre of her mind, already wanted to surrender, and she was far from sure how long it would take for her to find an opportunity.
There was every possibility, she realised with a sinking feeling, that she would be overwhelmed, weakened and eventually assimilated, by conditioned pleasure response, before she could strike against him. Trained like her father had trained the family hounds and horses.
And owned just as thoroughly.
They both stopped just a pace or two after emerging from the steps. Maybe it was a touch of the Serpent’s psychic reach, but they were acting in unison without really being able to see more than an impression of one another as they walked parallel.
Their Master came up behind them. His hands rested on their backsides, on no-longer-Charlotte’s warm, toned buttocks, on Kara’s cut-off khaki shorts. The phrase taking ownership floated through Kara’s mind.
With a chill, she wondered if these musings on ownership were being implanted. If the Serpent had not yet finished taking control.
But even that chill and disturbance couldn’t stop her body responding to its Master’s touch as if it had been starved for contact. It was just a hand, not even skin to skin contact, and yet it was as hot, as arousing, as anything she’d experienced.
Kara had a clear glimpse of just why her mother had abandoned them, had gone to Bimbeau.
The Serpent continued walking, and they walked too, steered and propelled by his hands. He exerted almost no pressure; his touch was barely more than feather light, but it was enough to direct and drive his slaves.
They were led over to the double bed.
“Sit,” the Serpent said, and they sat.
“I’m weary,” he said. “You’ve run me hard today.” He was addressing Kara’s body directly. Kara felt its emotionless acceptance of his critique. Somehow that seemed to shrink her in a little more.
“I need to rest and recover. You two need to be finished. And you need to not give me any more trouble.”
His slaves continued to sit and listen. They had not been asked for opinions. They had been given no opinions. They had no opinions of their own. Nor did they feel any right to offer it if they had.
Kara boiled inside. Emotion was the Serpent’s ally, but how could she shut it off? She had to find a way past the traitor in her body.
“So.” He waved his hand in a curious little gesture. “Fuck each other’s brains away. Don’t stop until you can’t go any longer. I’ll put your pieces back together later.”
His slaves obeyed. They turned to each other immediately, Kara shrugging her backpack off. Her nude comrade had nothing to remove, so she went straight to work. Another of Kara’s tank tops was ripped open with the easy strength of someone who still kept up military PT years after leaving the service.
The slave-Kara reached back to remove her bra. Inside, Kara worried about her pistol belts - once that harness was removed, she’d never get it back, nor the chance of freedom it represented - but while her fingers were on the catch of her bra, not-Charlotte had taken up her knife and made three quick slices. She put her hand on Kara’s crotch just as the Serpent had done to her, gripped her shorts and panties into a fist, and pulled; neatly cut with the knife, they came apart easily, a trace of blood on Kara’s left hip.
Her gun harness was still in place as the stronger woman bore her down onto her back, pinning her arms to the mattress, and put her mouth to Kara’s throat.
Both women were inexperienced, but both had a Master to serve. It was trial by error, by passion, and by the bliss that flooded them more the more obedient they became. They each moved to enjoy one another, heedless of the return of those sent to find them, unaware of the monitor servitors returning to their alcove, and unaware of the time passing. Kara’s red hair and pale skin were a stunning contrast against the smooth, muscled tan body against her, but nobody watched, until the Serpent finally returned.
He still wore little beyond his casual robes, but the appearance of a charismatic cult leader was now offset by one thing; he carried with him a steaming mug of coffee. A deep blue, faded by years of washing, it stood out against the soft saffron of his robes. It also bore white lettering reading STANFORD DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY.
He was not striding with purpose; he was walking lazily. He made his way over to the bed and collected Kara’s forgotten backpack, then made his way to his throne. He sat down and cast an appreciative glance over his two newest slaves, desperately trying to exhaust themselves in the throes of passion in accordance with his will.
Then he started to unpack the bag, looking at everything Kara had brought. Two piles started to form, one on either side of his throne. In one pile were things in which he had no interest; in the other, Kraft property he was claiming.
In time, as Kara’s cardio training gave up the fight but Charlotte’s did not, the training squads returned. The two new slaves were so focused on each other that even the chanting didn’t penetrate their need to carry out their commands, but inside her limp, enslaved body, Kara dimly heard the chant over the waves of pleasure battering at her defences.
“Slaves to the Serpent. Warriors for his Will.”
“Slaves to the Serpent. Warriors for his Will.”
“Slaves to the Serpent. Warriors for his Will.”
“Slaves to the Serpent. Warriors for his Will.”
“Slaves to the Serpent. Warriors for his Will.”
The words mingled with the pleasure. Kara’s wall of willpower was cracking and crumbling, and faux-Charlotte still had not stopped.
She lost consciousness.
She woke up some time after her body, the Serpent’s slave, had opened her eyes and begun responding to commands. Somehow she was still wearing her gun harness, though she was otherwise nude, standing upright, hands extended, frozen into a T-pose. There was a stinging pain at her hip, and while without an order she couldn’t look to see what was happening, she knew from her slave-self that she was being tattooed with a new identity, #124, that she would wear on her left hip for easy identification.
Her head was being gently tugged this way and that, and the smell of hairspray in the air told her that not only was her ponytail now lost, but her hair was now being teased into the cobra hood shape that the Serpent’s slaves all wore.
The Serpent made his way into view from where he had been studying (her memory supplied) 123, and looked over 124 instead. “You know how to fight,” he said. 124 felt no need to respond, but the approval in his tone sent pleasure up and down her spine. A little more of 124’s inner self, carefully protected, shredded away nonetheless. “You and your friend here will take the roles of Fang.”
124 knew that a Fang commanded a squad of Serpent Warriors, though she had never been told. She would be responsible for the success of her squad. She would be responsible for carrying out her Master’s orders.
She had a purpose that a being with free will could never equal, never know.
“And when the mood takes me, you will share my bed,” the Serpent said. A promise 123 and 124 would strive to be worthy of.
Six Months Later
123 and 124 were far from the newest recruits now. Not merely Fangs, their respect and achievements had grown as the Serpent’s empire had built. They were now Eyes of the Serpent, commanding ten squads each, and were deployed only on the most vital of missions. Their bodies were honed by rigourous PT, the Serpent having worked with each of them to find the precise balance of exercise and diet that would kept their curves the way he preferred them.
All was paradise under their Master’s will.
The Serpent’s army was by now experiencing ongoing battles with a group of plucky young ‘heroines’. If the Master were to meet with them, they would surely be lost, soon to become numbers 245 to 248, but risking the Master against them was unacceptable. And so 123, 124, and the other Eye had each been commanded to isolate heroines from their team, subdue them, and capture them, so they would soon be in position to serve their master.
124 had elected to use a strength of the Master that was undervalued by the other Eyes. As they had been controlled after a snake bite, and without a chance to purge themselves of the psychotoxin, they took their Master’s power for granted. 124, though, dimly understood that the resistant self which had struggled inside her for weeks, even after she, too, forgot 124’s previous name, had resisted so long because she had rid her body of most of the Master’s toxin.
Armed with four cages and two squads under their Fangs, 124 was in Greensboro to provoke a reaction. She had synchronised with the other Eyes, so each would begin their activities at the same time. The Upstarts would have to divide if they wanted to go after all three.
124 still wore her gun harnesses over the saffron bodystocking. Her face was masked, her hair the hood of the cobra her Master had made her, her hands sported combat gloves and the boots on her feet were top-of-the-line, sturdy, resilient, and with incredible grip. Like the Fangs and squads under her, her bodystocking had a single hole at the left hip where her number was visible, to show the world that the Serpent’s armies were legion, faceless, and limitless. Her ears boasted decorative gold serpent earrings which also served as receivers and transmitters linked to their local communication hub, in the old office building they had taken over for the operation.
“Squad Lancehead. You are ready.” It was not a question but a statement of fact, even if she waited for confirmation.
“We are ready to serve the Serpent,” came six voices at once. They were hushed, avoiding the risk they would be noticed, but exacting standards required by the Serpent made her able to pick out each one.
“Squad Asp. You are ready.”
Again the answer came back immediately “We are ready to serve the Serpent.”
“Move on my mark.”
She heard the detonations, two of them, reaching her a half-second apart due to the differences in their locations. “Very good,” she acknowledged. “Secure exits. Return.”
Twelve hushed acknowledgements followed. 124 prepared to leave the office they were returning to; she opened the cages with her Master’s modified snakes and concealed them in multiple locations about the office, then headed for the exit.
With her plan, she didn’t need to face an Upstart directly. The squads she’d deployed would lead back to this room, and a hunt for clues would see them bitten. Drowsy and more vulnerable to the Master’s mind, they could be collected at leisure.
If Asp and Lancehead had to be sacrificed to law enforcement to honour her Master’s will, so be it. The Master wanted superhuman slaves now. To maintain her spot high in his hierarchy, she knew she would have to deliver them.
124 settled down across the street from the target office. She turned on her surveillance screens and, as an afterthought, toggled a web radio app to monitor local news.
“…Angus Kraft, Scottish billionaire, became a recluse five years ago following the disappearance of his wife. He is believed to be survived by a daughter, Kara Kraft, though she has not been reached for comment.”
124 sat very still for a long time, trying to understand why that name was familiar to her. Trying to understand who and what Angus Kraft had been.
Across the street, her squads returned. A few minutes later, as they were performing equipment checks, Ruckus burst in through the window, vibrant in blue and yellow spandex, a navy blue leather jacket over the top.
124 hadn’t expected Ruckus. If she had, an elaborate trail would not have been necessary. She watched the whirlwind of battle rage through the windows. Saw Lancehead and Asp scattered like pins in a bowling lane.
The view felt like the turmoil uppermost in her own mind. She watched, feeling as if there was too much happening inside her for her to move.
Ruckus put all twelve of 124’s soldiers down. Then she cast about to understand.
124 saw her twist around. Wondered if she’d spotted movement. She lunged forward with superhuman speed, then came up holding a thin golden something. The snake wrapped around her arm and sank its teeth in at the elbow. Ruckus responded by hurling it across the room, took two steps, dropped to one knee, and seemed to come almost to a halt.
That was her opportunity, 124 decided. That was what she needed.
She left her vantage point and returned to the office.
Standing over Ruckus, 124 put her hand on one shoulder and pushed. As the heroine toppled onto her side, the Eye smiled. Helpless. Paralysed.
She opened one of the supply boxes and pulled out the restraints. Ruckus’ body was coaxed into position; her arms were bound from fingers to elbow behind her, her legs hobbled together at knee and ankle. A ball gag was fitted into place and a blackout hood attached above it. Lastly, she cut a small hole in the spandex body suit over the small of Ruckus’ back, below the jacket - given her own gun harness, she felt sure Master would keep Ruckus’ jacket.
The device she stuck in place through the hole was designed to adhere to cloth or skin, and it had two probes. Positioned across Ruckus’ spine, it would deliver steady low-powered electric jolts - enough that even when the paralysis faded, Ruckus shouldn’t be able to muster enough superstrength to break free of her bonds.
Lastly, 124 adjusted the settings on her earring, telling her communication hub to tightbeam her message back to her Master, waiting in his longhut.
“Master, I have secured the first superhuman who will serve you. I am ready for my return to be arranged.”
She felt the bliss of the Serpent’s mind reaching out to touch her. It was a moment of euphoria, something she couldn’t resist. She reeled.
His response, however, came by return tightbeam. “You please me, 124. Return to your insertion point with your team. You will be collected.”
“I obey, Master. My life for your slightest whim.”
She roused only two members of Squad Lancehead - women who had been training under her since the Master first took them - and shut down the communication hub, leaving the others unable to contact the Master once they would wake.
She didn’t understand why, but after six months of blind, devoted obedience to plans she seldom understood, she was accustomed to taking actions that made no sense simply because they appeared in her mind.
The two she roused were directed to fasten Ruckus’ hobbled ankles and wrists to a pole, which they then shouldered to carry the heroine out and down to the office’s ground floor fire escape door. Outside this was a ramshackle, beaten down van they had stolen to order when they arrived.
Ruckus was deposited carelessly in the back, along with the hub. 124 ordered the remaining team members into the van and set off for their infiltration point.
An amphibious plane acquired since 124’s capture and submission took them back to the island. 124 formed her two lackeys up behind her, had them hoist Ruckus again, and marched from the concealed landing spot to the longhut.
These days that took no exploration or navigation at all. The longhut was the centre of 124’s world, and she existed there more truly than anywhere else.
She marched her assistants in, Ruckus bouncing and swaying as the pole flexed with their rhythmic pacing.
The Serpent was smiling, to begin with. Less so when he noticed only three of the thirteen dispatched had returned.
“Explain yourself, 124.”
“I made the necessary sacrifices, Master. 171, 206, place the captive in the circle and remove the pole.”
As 124 had expected, with her servants bringing Ruckus forth, her Master stopped his line of questioning in favour instead of inspecting his new prize. Even mostly hidden as she was, the impression of barely-leashed power from the superhuman was unmistakable, and the Serpent was delighted to see it.
124, forgotten behind him, drew the pistol from her left shoulder - and Kara Kraft fired three times into the back of the Serpent.
All across the island and in several other locations in the eastern United States, unnamed, numbered women suddenly fell to their knees as a blissful weight pressing down on their consciousness was abruptly removed. Kara, whose weight had already started to crack, stumbled, hands shaking, a whirlwind of emotion in her mind. That part of her which was still 124 had responded to her betrayal with screaming pain and disorientation, a too-late attempt to punish her back into submission.
The echoes of the gunshots died away and silence reigned in the longhut.
Kara moved up to the bed where Ruckus was. She grabbed the knife from the Serpent’s body, shoved 171 aside, and briskly pulled the blackout hood from her body, then cut the ballgag strap so she could easier pull it away.
“Sorry about that,” she said, her usual politely mannered finishing-school tones washed away in the heat of the emotion by her childhood Scots brogue. “I had to get here somehow, and you were my way in.”
She started undoing the arm binder, but she carried on talking, hoping to prevent Ruckus from offering any criticism. “I tried for weeks to get to him with his guard down. It didn’t work. And every day I didn’t succeed felt better and better.” She stopped, midway through unlacing the binder, head bowed. “It felt too good to fight,” she said softly. “So instead he had me fight for him.”
“Anyway. I think I have a way out - if she’ll forgive me - but there’s over a hundred women on this island right now. So I’m hoping you have a communicator, or something, that isn’t designed to avoid being picked up by any authority monitoring.”
When the binder was almost entirely loose, Ruckus flexed her shoulders. The rest of the binding - and the stitching on the other side - both gave to the superhuman’s frustrated power. She rolled onto her back, then into a seated position, and reached behind her. Pulled the shock device away. Threw it against a wall so hard it broke.
Kara had stepped back by this point. 171 and 206 had gone from kneeling to sitting, clutching at their heads, moaning slightly. She watched them, worriedly, until she saw 206 start looking around her more intelligently. 206 pulled a face, but it was Robin Parker who said “Oh, God.” After a moment, she said “I need to call my husband.”
Ruckus looked at them all. “He should have stood trial.”
“That wouldn’t have worked, lass,” Kara said tartly, despite being, if anything, a year or two younger than Ruckus. “Put him somewhere he can make eye contact with the jurors and he’d be out on the street in minutes. Besodes, I needed to get free myself.”
Ruckus frowned stonily. She tore her knee and ankle bindings apart.
“And besides,” Kara said, “I know you know that. There’s no way you didn’t spend the whole flight over here feeling that toxin running through you. No way you weren’t thinking about what his women were. And no way you weren’t starting to notice yourself getting excited at the idea.”
Ruckus tried to stare her down, but embarrassment prevented her from holding eye contact.
“Now we need to get out of here,” Kara continued. “You OK with that?”
The superhuman stood up and glared angrily at Kara. “I’m not happy with what you did,” she said. “What are you? C.A.L.I.B.R.E.?”
She shook her head. “A concerned citizen,” she said. If anything, her accent was getting thicker the more this seemed to be turning into a pissing contest. “Not even an American citizen.”
Ruckus eventually turned away. “I guess we’re dealing with what’s happening here,” she said. “If you’ve got a way out, take it. I don’t have to point out a killer if she’s already gone when the cleanup crews arrive.”
Kara nodded, and went to find 126, hoping that by the time they met she’d have become Mike again - and hoping she’d understand the inevitability of the betrayal.
The bitterness in the eyes of the young pilot was something to behold. Between feeling the Serpent’s presence become an emptiness and Kara’s arrival, she’d found a water canteen; when Kara arrived, she was busy drenching her hair, trying to wash out the product that kept it a hood. And then, when Kara’s shadow fell over her, she snatched up a wrench, made ready to defend herself, and met Kara’s eyes.
That was when the guilt really set in. Kara hadn’t even come to terms with her own lost time, yet - losing even the chance to say goodbye to her father - but when she saw Mike, the fact she’d cost others that same time finally came home to her.
“We should leave,” Kara said quietly. “If you’re willing to take me.”
“I’m not sure I should,” Mike returned.
There was a long pause. Kara, not sure what to say and not comfortable saying anything, shifted her weight.
Mike sighed heavily. Almost theatrically. “Alright. Get in.”
Relieved, she scurried forward. They didn’t speak again all through Mike’s pre-take-off checks, through the plane taxiing out into the water, even through it taking off.
A quarter of a mile or so out from the island they saw a flotilla of Coast Guard boats and two helicopters going the other way. Ruckus had called the cavalry, and the cavalry had answered the call.
Kara’s shoulders slumped. She exhaled, looked out of the window. It was done.
“So,” Mike said, taking that as an invitation to break the silence. “It’s over?”
“Well… good.” Some of the warmth they’d shared as schoolfriends, that they’d solidified into a bond after they escaped the academy, returned to her voice. She took one hand from the stick long enough to clasp Kara’s shoulder in congratulation. “So how does that feel? To know Bimbeau’s dead?”
Kara’s face froze, then fell. She started to cry.
The guns went into a safe-deposit box in a bank in New York. The costume went in the bin as soon as she could change. The hair took hours to wash out, and would take years to return to the ponytail she truly loved.
The tattoo, though, Kara decided to keep. It would be something to give her focus. Something to drive her. Something to ensure she never again had to deal with this kind of defeat, that hopeless, helpless, utter submission. Something to ensure she wouldn’t fail friends like Mike so badly again. Wouldn’t betray them.
Mike was going home a different way. Kara wasn’t sure, but she felt that bridge might be burned.
HEIRESS RETURNS FROM THE WILDERNESS (Daily Chronicle, November 2nd 2010)
…Kara Kraft, the elusive daughter of Angus Kraft, has returned to Scotland just days after the death of her father.
“I just dropped off the grid,” she said. “Sun, sea, subtropical weather and absolutely no phone signal. If I hadn’t dropped by at the right time and heard the news, I very well might still be out there, and causing people any amount of worry.”
She now stands to inherit the Kraft fortune which, while much diminished after a ‘bad speculation in the stock market’ by her father around when her mother disappeared, has made a significant recovery over the past five years.
“I feel like I have a lot to learn,” she says. “If I’m to carry the family name and do as my parents would have wanted, I have a lot to learn. And a lot to protect. I’m going to work hard to make sure I never lose sight of that.”
However, other than promising she wouldn’t go back to whatever hidden resort she’s been enjoying time at, Ms Kraft was very close-mouthed about future plans - though she let something slip that might give our more romantically-minded readers pause.
“There is a man out there I have my eye on. I don’t think he knows I exist, but that’s OK. I’m much better prepared to deal with that than I used to be. And believe me, he won’t know what hit him.”
Dr Candace Kraft folded the newspaper and stared into space for a long moment.
This was an obvious threat. But she wasn’t sure how best to solve it.
She decided not to tell the Doctor quite yet. It would certainly be time to tell him soon, but she needed to know more.
She might be able to solve the problem and present him with riddle and solution all rolled into one. The Doctor had quite a staff now, and seldom minded when she ‘borrowed’ one or two of them to help nudge the world closer into line with his worldview.
“Oh, dear, Kara,” she said quietly. “Whatever am I going to do about you?”
She proved easy to find. A name that unusual stood out, and then there were all the Google hits. Her return had been quite the surprise, and the media in the UK had been very excited by it. So tracking her down had not taken much effort.
She paid off the cabbie, looked at the imposing, locked wrought iron gates and the six-foot-tall brick wall, and snorted. As good security as a strong front looked, there was always a weak spot somewhere. She circled the grounds of stately Kraft Manor until she found an old wooden door, painted a green that had faded almost to grey over years of exposure to the weather, set into the wall. It had a lock, but it wasn’t locked.
From there she made her way across the gardens, mindful that there would probably be security, confident she could deal with it, whatever it might be. She headed for the impressive glass-walled construction that was the Manor library.
She must have been observed on approach, because the double-doors were opened as she reached it. Kara Kraft herself stood at the threshold to welcome her in, a faint smile on her lips.
“Charlotte Whitestar,” Kara said. “You’re a long way from home.”
“You finished my job,” Whitestar returned. “I thought you might appreciate some help with yours.”