Kim had to return to work at the music store immediately following Malka's punishment. Eloisa entered Dukov's office to remind Kim that she was needed at the customer service counter. She stopped to look at Malka's prostrate body and collection of dark welts and bruises. She was awestruck by the severity of Malka's punishment, and also by the fact that one of the most feared officers in the National Police had been reduced to a beaten and semi-conscious criminal, wearing a collar and lying naked on a recovery table.
Kim left Dukov's office to return to her normal life. Eloisa came to fetch her friend not only for their boss, but also to make sure she would be available for a recording session planned for that evening. A representative from a French record company would be on-hand to witness the session. Eloisa hoped for a foreign distributor for her band's music and needed all the members to be present.
Spokesman Dukov watched the two naked young women descend the stairs as they left to go to work. Suddenly he felt very satisfied about Criminal # 98945 and her future. For the first time he knew, not just hoped, but actually knew, that his client would come out of her two-year sentence a much stronger and better person. Kim's courage had been tested, her physical endurance had been tested, and her need to come to terms with an enemy had been tested. The young woman's character displayed incredible strength in the face of some very harsh realities. Dukov reflected that, once the restrictions of Kim's sentence ended, she really would be capable of achieving great things in this life.
Dukov's immediate problem was not Kim, however. His immediate problem was what to do with Malka Chorno. The former police officer had neither a job nor a place to live. Prior to her public disgrace Malka lived with her parents, as was the case for any young woman who was not yet married. She had a very formal and traditional relationship with a fiancee, although rumors circulated that she had enjoyed affairs with several of her co-workers. All of that ended when Malka lost her badge. Her father locked her out of the family house, her fiancee left her, and her old lovers and friends turned their backs on her. She literally was starting from nothing, having to completely rebuild her life living among people she had abused and humiliated just a week before.
In many ways Kim had an easier task adjusting to being a Danubian criminal than would Malka. People generally sympathized with Criminal # 98945 because she was just 18 and a foreigner. She had no reputation prior to her arrest nor any enemies. She did not have to face the humiliation of being a criminal in front of her family and friends. Malka, on the other hand, was well known and hated by many people. She was 26 and Danubian, so there would be no patience or consideration from other Danubians like there had been for Kim.
Malka's life would be one of constant and ongoing humiliations. Any day she had to take care of business in Dukov's office she would have to walk through the Central Police Station past dozens of ex-coworkers. Every time she saw a cop on the street, she would know that person. Undoubtedly she would pass members of her family or her ex-fiancee's family every so often. Worst of all would be constantly facing other criminals, people who she had terrorized and abused in the past. Malka, of course, now held no special status among criminals, so the others would be free to jeer at her as much as they wanted.
Dukov wondered what on earth Malka could do to earn a living. Kim's music store definitely was not an option. Dukov hardly could imagine Malka smiling at patrons from a store's customer service desk. The only logical solution was his brotherís courier service. It was far from perfect and a solution that could only be temporary, but working as a courier really was the only thing Malka could do at the moment.
Dukov called his brother. Not surprisingly, Victor objected to the idea of having to employ an ex-police officer. All of his other employees were only a year or two out of high school. Just how would an ex-cop fit in with a bunch of high school graduates? Dukov knew that his brother eventually would agree to employ Malka, if only on a temporary basis, but he spent nearly an hour begging and arguing before Victor finally agreed to issue Malka a bicycle.
"I will tell you this, Vladim. You had better let her know that around me she won't be any better than one of my other employees. Don't expect me to be nice or courteous to her because I won't be. When I snap my fingers, she'd better damn-well jump."
Dukov sighed when he hung up. Victor... always his same unpleasant self.
Malka's next problem was where she was going to live. Dukov did have a possibility. He had a classmate from high school whose husband had just died. The woman was trying to raise three children and manage a small goose farm by herself. Anyone who has ever been around geese knows that geese are quite ill tempered. Well, Malka was even more ill tempered. No goose would be a match for the ex-cop. Vladim called his ex-classmate to suggest giving Malka a room and board in exchange for help with the geese and a small monthly rent. Overwhelmed with the loss of her husband, the Spokesman's classmate quickly agreed. Besides, the woman's children were getting out of hand, and having a cop around might help them calm down.
Vladim Dukov then called his secretaries in to have afternoon tea. In Upper Danubia mid-afternoon tea was a custom in all professional offices, a time when a boss and his employees sat together to relax. It was the one opportunity the Spokesman and his two assistants could sit together as equals and chat about their lives. Today's topic, of course, was the disgraced police officer recovering in the reception area and the events that led her to her current situation.
The three heard Malka stirring outside Dukov's door. They invited her in to join them for tea. Malka came into the office, knelt, and placed her head to the floor. When the Spokesman gave her permission to stand up, Malka took a cup and a sweet roll. She had to eat standing because her bottom and the backs of her thighs were dark and still horribly swollen. She would be very badly bruised for quite a while, so her first deliveries for Victor would have to be done on foot. There was no way her bottom would take the pressure of a bicycle seat until the bruises subsided a bit.
Dukov told his new client about her new job and living arrangements. Malka quietly nodded and thanked Dukov for taking the time to get her set up. As for her living arrangements, she was quite happy. She had grown up on a farm, so it would be a nice change from her life in Danube City. She had a comment about Victor that put Dukov's mind at ease. "Spokesman, your brother doesn't sound any worse than several of my section chiefs. Remember where I worked is not a place known for having nice people, and I am used to taking orders. I've been yelled at plenty of times, so I'm sure your brother will be just more of what I'm accustomed to already."
The only problem with Malka's living arrangements was the location of Vladim's classmate's farm. It was a kilometer outside the Danube City collar zone, which meant that he would have to petition to have the transmitter in her collar re-programmed to allow her to live outside the normal area for criminals. Because it was Saturday, Dukov had to wait until Monday to turn in the paperwork. It would be Tuesday at the earliest before Malka could have her transmitter re-programmed. One of Dukov's secretaries volunteered to have the criminal stay with her family until Tuesday.
With that Malka put on her police belt. She was required to wear it to show everyone that she at one time had been a police officer. The belt, sitting alone on the womanís otherwise naked body, accentuated her nudity. She sadly knelt and said goodbye to her Spokesman. Malka then left the Central Police Station with the secretary, trying to avoid the stares of her ex-peers as she made her way out of the building.
Following the broadcast of Malka Chorno's trial that Sunday night, Criminal # 98945 became something of a hero among her fellow-criminals. The others were amazed that she had been so savagely beaten and managed not to cry. They were impressed that the American was able to look Officer Chorno straight in the eye, even as the cop was slapping her face. They were gratified that Kim's actions resulted in the removal of a feared and sadistic police officer from their lives.
Kim expected the others to be angry over her plea for leniency for her former nemesis, but they were not angry at all. Danubian criminals tended to be more religious than average citizens, so Kim's actions following her visit to the Temple of the Ancients made perfect sense to them. Many of her peers even held out hope that once Officer Chorno returned to duty, she would be changed and would encourage her co-workers to treat criminals with respect and leniency.
For the first time in her life, Kim felt good about herself. She was not proud, because pride in oneself was an emotion Danubian society ridiculed. However Kim had learned self-respect and confidence in her ability to make decisions that were morally right. Her feeling of well-being increased when her father broke the news about the arrest of his attorney in Lima, the attorney who had promised, for a huge fee, that he could negotiate Kim's release from her sentence. For the first time Mr. Lee treated her with respect over the phone, gratified by the changes that had transformed his daughter into an adult.
Kim realized something else the week following Malka Chorno's trial. No longer did she want to kill Tiffany, nor in any way harm her. Her feelings about her high school friend had changed. If Tiffany were to re-enter Kim's life, she would be concerned with doing everything possible to help her. As her hatreds dissipated, Kim found herself well on her way to achieving inner peace.
The following Tuesday, exactly a week after her switching, Criminal # 98945 took Officer Malka Chorno's badge to the National Police Academy to surrender it. As promised by the judge, the institute's director was on hand to receive it. He assembled the cadets in the parade yard as Kim knelt and formally handed over the badge.
The director of the academy ordered Criminal # 98945 to stand up and then did something that shocked everyone. He bowed his head and kissed Kim's hand.
"Your gesture has humbled the National Police of the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia. I will carry through with your desire to someday provide ex-Officer Chorno the opportunity to earn back this badge. I assure you that the opportunity I will give ex-Officer Chorno will be just that, an opportunity. She will need to earn her badge. It will not just be given to her. Now, please face the cadets and remain standing."
The director then let out the loudest and most ear-piercing whistle Kim had ever heard. The cadets, in unison, shouted:
The water crisis in Upper Danubia intensified as the hot July weather showed no sign of abating. Eloisa was forced to cut back on band rehearsals as her male musicians took afternoons off to try to save their parents' vegetable gardens. All around the outskirts of Danube City groups of exhausted, forlorn young men clustered around pumps with buckets, waiting their turn to obtain precious water for their families' dying plants. Farms began slaughtering farm animals, reservoirs dried up, and the nation's forests began to change color as the trees sickened from the drought.
The Danubian government did what it could to ease the situation. Around Danube City it set up several pumping stations to move water from the Danube River to the residents' garden areas. It approved emergency measures to make sure farmers did not lose their land due to foreclosures. The Parliament approved a plan to ration water and electricity that began July 15, as the water level behind Upper Danubia's main hydro-electric dam dropped to a critical level. Danube City ended up with electricity for only 9 hours per day: from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., then from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The main purpose of the schedule was to keep the trolleys running during rush hour, but even so, the country's Prime Minister appeared on TV to exhort the citizens to ride their bicycles whenever possible.
As bad a crisis as the drought was, Danubian society was well suited to confront it. The government's main goal was to ensure the nation's food supply through the next growing season, so every action taken by the Parliament served that purpose. The population clearly understood the need to make sure everyone would eat through the winter, so any personal sacrifices that needed to be made to save a farm, or a vegetable garden, or a herd of cows, or to import food, were accepted and supported by the citizens.
On July 15 government scientists issued a warning the water table all around Danube City had dropped, and shortly many wells would run dry. The Minister of Agriculture warned that whatever vegetables people had managed to grow needed to be harvested and canned as quickly as possible. Food prices on fruits and vegetables started going up, but fortunately there was very little speculation and no panic buying.
The Ministry of Justice ordered all the nation's criminals to report to the Central Police Station the day after the warning. The police quickly turned off the transmitters in everyone's collars and then loaded the criminals onto buses to help farmers and pensioners get their vegetables harvested.
The wells ran dry over the following week as Kim and her friends helped harvest vegetables from several farms. The farmers issued the criminals work boots and aprons, and did what they could to show gratitude for the help. In the heat of the day, after working hard all morning, the criminals relaxed under shade trees and drank cold fruit punch to avoid dehydration. They started up again as soon as the sun lowered in the horizon and worked until well after dark. They slept on army cots, but in the evenings they ate well, enjoying food provided by the farmers they were helping. In spite of the hot, hard work, Kim enjoyed her week outside Danube City and the chance to see a part of Upper Danubia that normally would be off-limits to criminals.
The criminals spent their second and third weeks helping pensioners and anyone without an adult son harvest their vegetables from private gardens. They hauled baskets of harvested food to trolley-stops, and when necessary, helped pensioners carry heavy items to their apartments and houses. The fourth week most of the criminals returned to the farms for a final round of crop harvesting.
The farmers and pensioners were grateful for the assistance they had received and wanted to find a way to thank the criminals for their help. When several of them called Spokesman Vladim Dukov, he suddenly had an idea. He presented a petition to cancel all corporal punishments due to be issued through the end of September as a gesture of gratitude from the government. The idea caught on as many of those helped by the criminals lobbied their deputies to approve Dukov's proposal. The Upper Danubian Parliament approved the measure, not really having the time or the inclination to resist a popular idea. When the news broke to Kim and her friends out in the fields, they squealed with delight. Eloisa shocked Kim by hugging her. She and the others in her group had been due for a switching at the end of August. That punishment now was canceled.
At the end of the second week in August, the criminals were transported back to the Danube City Central Police Station and their collar transmitters turned back on. The majority of the help they could provide was over, so they were released and ordered to return to their normal lives. The criminals had been away for four weeks, working 16-hour days with only a short break in the mid-afternoons. They were exhausted, sunburnt, and reeking from not having had the chance to get cleaned up. Their hair was disheveled and the men had beards. The women did not feel particularly feminine at that moment. Still, the criminals all were quite happy. They had performed public service to a country that had expressed at least some gratitude for their efforts.
Sergekt and Kim trudged up the hill to Dukov's house that evening. They hugged each other goodbye, and with that she went inside. Vladim and Maritza were eager to talk to Kim, but held off when they saw what a smelly mess she was. The first thought on everyone's mind was getting their surrogate daughter into a bathtub as quickly as possible. Once that was taken care of and Kim was civilized again, there was a dinner waiting for her. She recounted her adventures on the farms, but soon was nodding off. She went to bed right after dinner.
The next morning Kim woke up and looked out her window. She had not seen the view for a month and was shocked by how brown everything in the countryside appeared. A landscape that normally would have been lush green instead reminded her of the time she went on vacation in eastern Colorado. The trees were green, but the ground underneath them was completely brown. Kim noticed something else in the distance that she wondered about, some smoke in the air. She figured a farmer must have been burning some harvest debris. She shrugged her shoulders at the desolate view and prepared to deliver packages for Victor Dukov, for the first time in over a month.
There was more smoke in the air when Kim got home that evening. She spent the evening with the Dukovs, because Eloisa had decided to hold off on band rehearsals until the following week, and her boyfriend was busy helping his mother and aunt preserve what he had been able to salvage from her garden. Kim and Vladik stood at her window, commenting about the line of smoke in the distance and the increasing haze.
"This isn't good. I'd better call my section chief and see what's going on."
What was going on was the beginning of the worst natural disaster Upper Danubia would face in over a century. There were a series of huge forest fires just getting started. Already the entire fire departments of four provinces were totally occupied fighting the blazes. Most of the soldiers in Upper Danubia's small army were on their way to the fire zones as well. Officer Vladik Dukov's chief informed him a call-up of Danube City's police officers and firefighters was imminent.
While their son was on the phone, the elder Dukovs turned on their television. Vladim, Maritza, and Kim watched news footage of huge fires burning forests, farms, and villages in eastern Upper Danubia. There were dramatic shots of frantic farmers and police officers trying to move herds of panicking cows away from rapidly approaching flames. There was one particularly gruesome shot of a pig farm on fire, with hundreds of dying pigs trapped in burning buildings.
The fires were exacerbated because the country still had plenty of forested areas, some even close to major cities. The forests were a vital economic asset to the country, as well as a traditional part of Upper Danubia's defense strategy. Having large forests near the cities allowed the Danubian military to mount guerrilla operations against any foreign invader, since there was no hope that such a small country could defend itself in a pitched battle against a large modern army.
King Vladik the Defender originally set up the forest preserves in the early 1500's after successfully using the woods to help his army repel a total of five foreign invasions. The king was a military visionary, a person whose guerrilla tactics against both Papal and Turkish armies were way ahead of their time. As they made their way through the forests, the invading armies suffered massive losses before they ever got to Danube City, at the hands of King Vladik and his guerrilla archers. Because of the forests and King Vladik's military strategy, Danube City never fell under foreign occupation at a time the rest of central Europe was devastated by wars.
The military rationale for the forests faded in the 20th Century. However, Upper Danubia still took pride in its forest preserves at a time when other European countries were trying to restore their own forests. The only problem, one that no one could have anticipated, was the vulnerability of the entire system during a drought as severe as the one currently afflicting the country.
That night Vladim and Vladik Dukov went downtown to the Defense Ministry. The Spokesman had to translate a series of phone calls, as the country's fire chiefs called overseas for advice to work out a strategy for combating the fires. Finally the fire chiefs settled on a creating a system of firebreaks to save most of the forests and more importantly, Upper Danubia's towns and farms.
The following morning Kim and Anyia watched as military convoys rolled passed Dukov's house and into the valley towards the line of smoke. A couple of military helicopters flew overhead. Kim rode her bicycle to her music store job, not realizing the fires were about to impact her life and the lives of her friends in a big way.
When Kim got downtown she saw a couple of police officers standing outside the music store talking to her boss. She noticed the "closed" sign still on the door. When she went inside, no one was working. Instead Kim's co-workers were calling their families to tell them they had been drafted into the fire-fighting effort.
Eloisa came up to her with a very worried expression.
"Kim, call home. Let them know we're heading east, out to Rika Chorna Province, and it looks like we're going to be there for a while. They're pulling every criminal in Danube City to work on the fire-break they're setting up out there."
Kim parked her bicycle inside and called Anyia to let her know that she too, would be gone for an indefinite period of time.
Criminal # 98945 and her co-workers, only two days after being released from a month of heavy farm labor, walked with the police officers to the Central Police Station. The Central Plaza was full of criminals going through a huge assembly line to get them ready to become fire-fighters. The first priority was turning off their transmitters. Kim and Eloisa tilted their heads back as the collar technician touched their transmitters with an electronic device that somehow turned them off. The next line the two women stood in was to have their feet measured for army boots. The police took down their criminal number, Spokesman's name, and foot size; entering the information into a laptop.
The next line was for clothing. Yes, clothing. This was a national emergency, so Kim and Eloisa found themselves putting on yellow fire-fighting clothing. The clothing felt extraordinarily hot and uncomfortable to Kim, who had spent the last 14 months of her life living nude, but obviously no one expected her to fight a forest fire without proper protection.
The police shouted at the criminals to find their Spokespersons. Each Spokesperson had to organize his or her clients to get on the military trucks for transport across Upper Danubia. Kim knew that Vladim Dukov still was on the phone translating for the fire chiefs, so she went with Eloisa to find Spokesman Havlakt. Sure enough, he had Kim's criminal number and her boots. He handed each of the two women a bag containing socks, a canteen and belt, a fire blanket, gloves, dust masks, and several plastic bags of US army meals, or MRE's. He then ordered the two women to turn around and slapped their criminal numbers onto the Velcro patches onto their backs. He then pointed at the long rows of Danubian Army trucks at the other side of Danube City's Central Plaza.
"Your boyfriends are in the third truck in that second row. If you hurry up you can catch it before it leaves."
Kim and Eloisa didn't bother to put on their boots. They simply dumped them in their bags and ran across the plaza in a frantic dash to catch the truck before it departed. The truck already was moving slowly, but when the driver saw the two young women desperately running behind it, he stopped to let them get on. Kim sighed with relief as she saw Sergekt and sat down next to him.
For the second time that summer Kim's normal life as a criminal was suspended as she was drafted into the service of Upper Danubia. The trucks rode out to the edge of the capitol and beyond the border of the Danube City collar-zone. The criminals whistled and hissed as they passed one of the dreaded yellow signs. It was a gesture of derision against the system that normally restricted their lives so severely.
The criminals were in a relatively upbeat mood, in spite of the danger and toil that lay ahead. It was a part of their place in society they be available for emergencies. They felt good about being able to contribute. They also looked forward to getting out of Danube City, even if it was for just a short time in a very restricted area. Most importantly, they could look forward to the possibility of having a switching canceled if they performed their duties well. If the police felt it was necessary to put a criminal in harm's way, the reward usually was to cancel a switching. That promise was sufficient to make criminals plenty willing to put themselves at risk for the good of the community.
A fairly pleasant ride lay ahead for Kim and the others, then would come days of hellish work in a smoke filled environment. The criminals filled their canteens, put on their socks and boots, and looked at their MRE's with bewildered expressions. They sang a few traditional songs, but finally settled down to sleep or watch the countryside go by. Kim relaxed in Sergekt's arms as she observed the towns and forest parks of central Danubia.
"If this doesn't get burned up, we'll come out here next summer once we get our collars off. I'm desperate for a good hike."
Kim smiled and nodded. A hike would be nice.
The criminals' convoy climbed a series of foothills, passed the Rika Chorna Reservoir, and continued through a range of low-lying mountains. As the vehicles turned out of the pass to descend into the next valley, their passengers observed with horror what was going on. A massive fire was sweeping towards the foothills and blanketing the entire valley with thick smoke. Behind the fire was an enormous blackened area containing several villages, which already were burned to the ground. A long column of evacuees and herds of farm animals streamed past the military convoy, heading in the opposite direction away from the fire zone. Helicopters circled overhead, trying to douse sections of the fire with retardant.
As bad as the situation in the valley was, what concerned the government was the need to prevent the fire from making it past the first line of hills standing between the valley and the main mountain range. If the fire made it to the mountains, it would be completely uncontrollable and char the entire central portion of Upper Danubia. Not only would the forest be lost, the water shed for the nation's main reservoir would be destroyed and Danube City would lose both its electricity and water supply. The government's solution was to create a firebreak at the top of the first ridge, and in several spots a secondary series of firebreaks in case the fire jumped the main one. Professional fire crews and soldiers had sections of the firebreak nearly completed near the main road, but beyond the main road hill after hill was waiting for firebreak crews.
The trucks stopped along the main road as firefighters divided the criminals into work crews working under the direction of a police officer or a firefighter. Several trucks ahead, Kim noticed Malka Chorno, in her collar and yellow firefighter's suit, talking to couple of army officers. The officers placed her in charge of one of the firebreak crews, her status as a criminal suspended due to the emergency. For at least a couple of days Malka could go back to being her old self as a cop and shout orders at a group of subordinates.
Malka's crew separated out first. She was placed in charge of three Danubian soldiers, who in turn led three groups of 10 criminals each. Malka and her crew climbed onto a bus and disappeared down an unpaved country road towards one of the untouched hills.
Sergekt looked around sadly at the doomed countryside, and made a comment to Kim that later would become very significant, "I've been all over this area. It has a lot of memories for me, because my father took me hunting and camping here before he died. I'm going to be real sorry to see it burn up."
The Danubian firefighters ordered the occupants of the first 15 Army trucks to get off with their gear. The firemen divided the criminals into groups of 10. Each group had a soldier leading it, and a firefighter or police officer was placed in charge of the three soldiers. The criminals received additional equipment such as shovels and pickaxes. The soldiers carried explosives to clear sections of firebreak and canisters to set backfires. Thus equipped, each crew loaded onto an old city bus and departed for one of the hills.
Fortunately the Danubian Army had managed to move several bulldozers and earthmovers out to the fire zone. The bulldozers already were en route to the line laid out for the firebreak and some already were toppling trees and brush.
Kim and her companions boarded a bus that trailed behind two army trucks towing bulldozers. They traveled about 25 kilometers away from the main road and then turned on a narrow dirt road that passed between two low-lying hills. There were five buses altogether, one for each heavily forested hill, and the other three crews to cut backup firebreak along a large meadow. The meadow was by far the more logical spot to cut a firebreak, but there was an evacuated village located at the back of the two hills the government was hoping to save.
As the smoke from the approaching fire increasingly poisoned the air, Kim's crew trailed behind the bulldozer, clearing debris as the soldiers set backfires. It was slow-going because of the large trees that needed to be cut down to clear the path. Three criminals who knew how to use chain saws switched off with the soldiers cutting branches, while the others exhausted themselves clearing flammable debris from the path. A local villager brought water and gasoline to the fire crew on a mule.
The villager also brought some bad news. The bus driver who had driven the bus Kim rode in on had a heart attack and had to be evacuated by the other bus driver. The other driver had to take the second bus back to the Rika Chorna Medical Center, but promised to return shortly with a replacement. That afternoon there was just one bus left near the road. There was no one to drive it, but the crew's supplies were there.
Kim's crew felt they had made good progress as night fell. The soldiers expressed confidence the village probably could be saved after all. The lead firefighter called his supervisor, who estimated the fire would reach the firebreak mid-afternoon the following day. The firefighter ordered the three soldiers to have their crews pick up their tools and follow him back to the road, where everyone would have dinner, reorganize their equipment, and camp. There was plenty of time remaining to widen the firebreak, set more backfires, and prepare to fight embers...or so everyone thought.
As dawn broke the following day, the fire crew noticed it was very windy. There was more smoke in the air, lots more, blowing up from the valley.
The firefighter was on his radio, talking with a very worried expression. What the Danubians overheard terrified them.
"What do you mean you can't get a driver over here? Can't you see we're trapped? What about a helicopter... too windy? Look, there's 68 of us out here... You've got to get a helicopter... No! I don't know how to drive that thing!"
The Danubians seemed immobilized with fear. Suddenly most of them got on their knees and started reciting a prayer normally spoken at funerals. It was obvious the groupís members expected to be dead in a few minutes.
What the hell is the problem, thought Kim, we just get on the bus and go. She spoke up, "Let's just get on the bus! We can get out of here on that!"
"There's no bus driver, that's why!"
"No one knows how to drive?!"
"Of course not! This is not America! We don't drive in this country!"
Kim glanced at the orange glare at the bottom of the hill. Unlike her companions, Criminal # 98945 was not yet ready to face the Creator in the Afterlife. There was only one solution. She would have to try to operate the bus and get everyone out.
"I do know how to drive! I haven't driven a bus, but I've driven a couple of vans! Everyone get on! I'll drive!"
The orange glare brightened. Kim frantically scrambled into the driver's seat of the bus. She fumbled for the ignition. The key was there, thank God. She turned it hard. The engine groaned in protest, but Kim got it running.
As Kim's 67 companions quickly filed on, she noticed the orange glowing brighter and brighter. Embers were blowing past the bus. The seats quickly filled and the final people boarding had to squeeze into the aisle or into the laps of those already seated. It was a tight fit, but everyone made it on. The firefighter took a quick look out the door to make sure no one was still outside, and climbed in.
Kim shifted into drive just as the flames became clearly visible along the road. The area was filled with smoke, making the frightened driver realize that she had a new problem, visibility. She gunned the engine and moved the bus forward, although not any quicker than the approaching flames.
Panic swept through Kim. She had to move faster, but she could only see a few meters ahead of her. The awkward and unfamiliar feel of driving such a large vehicle made things considerably worse. One wrong turn onto the wrong road, and the flames would catch them. If she lost control and went off the road, she and everyone else would die for sure. Suddenly Kim remembered Sergekt's comment about knowing the area.
Sergekt struggled to get up to the front of the bus.
"You know this area?"
"Tell me where to go! Get us out of here!"
For several harrowing minutes Sergekt directed Kim down the hill towards the village. The flames chased the bus, as though the fire was infuriated at the escape of Criminal # 98945 and her 67 passengers. The village now was doomed; the efforts of the two crews canceled by the sudden shift of wind. However, as the bus descended into flatter and more open terrain, its driver breathed a sigh of relief when she noticed the smoke was not as bad. The vehicle dashed across open fields towards the main firebreak as the fire roared behind and engulfed the village. The flames swept across the parched fields, but fortunately there was not enough fuel near the road to put the bus in any further danger. Kim sped towards her goal and rushed past the first line of firefighters. She braked, assuming, quite rightly, that the two crews in the bus were desperately needed to supplement the main firebreak. She directed her next question to the head firefighter.
"Where are we going?"
"Let's go left, towards that next hill! They'll need us up there!"
Kim turned onto a dirt road, not yet realizing the others were flabbergasted with her feat. With Sergekt guiding her, she drove along the hill and unloaded her passengers, one team at a time. The flames were approaching Upper Danubia's second, and final, line of defense. The exhausted criminals working the main firebreak cheered the arrival of re-enforcements. Because of Criminal # 98945, 68 potential fire deaths instead became 68 extra sets of hands for the drama about to unfold on the main firebreak.
The smoke thickened again as the fire approached the back-burned slope of the hill. It had run out of fuel to keep going, but in a final desperate effort to make it to the mountains, the fire shot burning embers across the firebreak. The fire-crews pounded small flare-ups with their shovels. There were plenty of scares, and one spot where it looked like the fire had indeed jumped the firebreak that had to be attacked by a tanker plane dropping flame retardant.
Finally, after two arduous days of shoveling spot fires and breathing smoke, the firefighters, soldiers, and criminals fighting the fire realized the worst was over. The central portion of firebreak had held so far. The fire still was burning towards the edges in either direction, but there were enough professional firefighters to handle the reduced crisis. The work was not over, because there was plenty of mopping up to do and the need to monitor the area, but the desperate physical danger largely had passed.
That night, as Kim and Eloisa tried to clean the soot off their faces, Eloisa mentioned Kim's hero status among her peers. Kim dismissed the entire incident. "Look, I just drove a bus for a few minutes. That's all I did, and I wouldn't have made it down the hill if I hadn't had Sergekt telling me where to go."
"Well, you can say it's nothing, but we're all very grateful for what you did. You did save us."
Three days later the criminals boarded the buses to go back to the main road. They would spend the night at the Rika Chorna Gymnasium getting cleaned up and resting. Then the plan was to transport them back to Upper Danubia's Central Valley to fight several smaller fires. However, that night, as they stood in the parking lot, Kim and her companions noticed it was increasingly humid. A light rain started as they went inside to eat and shower. Once clean and fed, the criminals relaxed on mattresses on the gymís main floor. They all were asleep within minutes. The following day the firefighters came in to announce the planned operation in the Central Valley was canceled because it had rained overnight and still was raining quite heavily. Not surprisingly, most of the criminals dashed outside to see for themselves. Sure enough, sheets of heavy rain were falling in the parking lot. The police decided to collect the fire-fighting suits and other equipment in Rika Chorna, since the items no longer were needed. As the rain continued to fall some of the criminals dashed outside and splashed water on each other. Many others, including Sergekt, were kneeling on the wet pavement, giving thanks for safely making it though the fire fighting operation. Kim knelt beside Sergekt and joined him in prayer to the Spirits who had protected her.
A week of rain put an end to the fire crisis. Upper Danubia still faced huge problems, including the rebuilding of thousands of homes burnt in Rika Chorna Province and the restocking of the area's farms. The government had to plan massive replanting operations and set up a general economic recovery program for the entire eastern half of the country. However, life in Danube City could return to normal, now that the Rika Chorna Reservoir had some extra water in it.
The government kept its promise to cancel the next switching for the criminals who had participated in the fire-fighting operation. That meant Kim's final switching on January 2 was canceled. The dreaded beatings now were behind her. Sergekt, Eloisa, and Kim's other friends now could look forward to the cancellation of two switchings, the one at the end of August, and the one at the end of December. That left them with only one switching, the one scheduled for next April, which would be the final corporal punishment for the group.
The sentencing judge decided to give commendations to several criminals whose participation in the fire-fighting operation was outstanding, including Kim and Malka Chorno. Kim found out that Malka's crew had cleared and guarded their firebreak under particularly severe conditions, and that Malka had administered first aid to three injured villagers that saved their lives.
The Danubian government made a much bigger deal out of Kim's driving than she thought was necessary. Criminal # 98945 became a hero not by being brave, but because she knew how to do something no one else in her group knew how to do. How easy it had been to be a hero. She simply was in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge. The judge asked Kim if she had any wishes in particular that she might want to make, within reason, of course.
"Yes, your honor, I do have one request. I don't want to end my sentence on July 2. I would like to complete my sentence with my friends. The day they take off their collars is the day I would like to take off mine. I know it will add three weeks to my sentence, but it is very important to me that I stand together with them the day my collar comes off."
"Well, that is an easy-enough wish to grant, Criminal # 98945. But you will take your collar off on July 2. I will shorten your friend's sentences instead of lengthening yours. So, on the Monday after July 2, there will be 29 of you in this courtroom. Considering your contribution to our country, I think that's the least I can do for you."
As they left the courtroom, Malka approached Kim. In spite of their overt coming to terms with each other, the two women still felt very uneasy in each other's presence. Malka had something she needed to say to Kim, however.
"Kimberly Lee, I have an apology I must make to you. Maybe you might think it's a trivial thing, but it has been troubling my soul in a way I don't think you can imagine. I once said that you're nothing but a pathetic little druggie and that's all you'll ever be. That was the most mistaken thing I ever said to anyone. You are much more than that... much more than that."
Malka sadly turned away and walked out of the courthouse. Kim didn't follow her. She stayed quiet, not having a clue about how she should respond.
Criminal # 98945's life finally returned to its normal routine as August drew to a close. She continued to deliver Victor's packages and messages, greet customers at the music store, and deal with a backlog of issues affecting Eloisa's band. She continued to rehearse and sing. She divided what little free time she had between Sergekt, Eloisa, and the Dukovs. Kim's life was completely full, about as full as a person's life could be.
Ironically, Kim's job with Victor Dukov became a refuge of sorts in her life. Her constant activities and social obligations might have worn on her patience had it not been for the days she spent alone on her bicycle, pedaling hard around Danube City. Victor no longer had to exhort Kim to ride fast to make her deliveries. She was under so much pressure from the other areas of her life that she vented her stress speeding along the quiet streets of the nation's capitol. She moved about so quickly that her boss stopped nagging and berating her. She became his favorite employee, held up as an example of what Victor wanted from his riders. That was not entirely a good thing, because now he placed Kim in the uncomfortable situation of constantly asking his other employees why couldn't they deliver their messages as quickly as she was delivering hers.
One afternoon Kim saw Victor berating Malka Chorno. True to her word, it was obvious Malka was quite used to being yelled at unfairly. She quietly stood at attention while Victor exhausted his long list of complaints and criticisms. Kim saw a huge irony in the situation, as Malka stood straight, listening to the complaints of a small businessman. In spite of losing her uniform, and in spite of everything else that had happened to her, Malka still looked and acted like a cop.
Kim's first night back at the Socrates Club was filled with celebration. Every criminal in Danube City was jubilant over the double cancellations of switchings; Dukov's two-month suspension of corporal punishments for their help with the farms, and the added cancellation of one switching for each criminal who participated in the fire-fighting effort. The criminals had undergone a harrowing six weeks of hard work and danger, but then returned to Danube City to receive a respite from some of the harsher aspects of their sentences. The past hardships and current absence of pending physical pain changed the criminals' outlooks on their lives. Kim noticed a difference in both the speeches and the music of the Club from the year before. The music, especially, became much more philosophical instead of morose.
Kim sat at her usual table, drinking Danubian beer and eating the usual salted deep-fried vegetables with her friends. It had been exactly one year since Criminal # 98945 started coming to the Socrates Club. Her friends commented on the anniversary and on how different she was now from whom she had been when she first came in. Kim ordered another round of beer and then stood up at her table. She put her hand on Sergekt's shoulder and smiled at him. Then, in Danubian, she addressed her group, "A year... it's really hard to believe it's been a year since I've known all of you. In some ways it seems like it's been a lot longer, and in other ways it seems like the last year went by in a flash. But... your friendship... it means more to me than I could ever express, even in my own language." With that she raised her glass. "Here's to this time next year, to our freedom, and our continued friendship!"
Everyone at the table enthusiastically raised their glasses.
Later that night Kim and Sergekt went to an intimacy room for the first time in nearly two months. She was desperate for some good sex. Once they had the door closed it was Kim who took charge. She pushed Sergekt on the bed and grabbed his hands to pin to the mattress. For a very long time she held him down as she passionately kissed him. She could feel him getting hard, so she began licking around the base of his penis and kissing the tip. As he got even harder he arched his back and ran his fingers through her hair. She got up and straddled him, grabbing his hands and pushing them back down on the mattress. Kim's gritted her teeth in an intense passion as she lowered herself on him. She guided his hands to her breasts. He massaged her nipples as she came, and then came again. Two months! There was two months of sexual frustration pent up in Kim.
The couple waited for a while, and then resumed their love-making, this time in Sergekt's favorite position, with Kim on her elbows and knees, and her bottom spread and high in the air. Kim seductively moved her bottom back and forth, as Sergekt remembered his girlfriend on her bicycle from last fall. That's right, he thought to himself, I'll owe her a nice hard spanking if I ever catch her on that fancy American bicycle she's got. As he pushed hard into her and she groaned with pleasure, Kim didn't realize her boyfriendís thoughts were on spanking her cute brown bottom.
Kim briefly fell asleep on her stomach, as Sergekt gently ran his hand over her bottom cheeks and his fingertips ventured into the darker area in between. As he studied his loverís bottom and lay recovering from his exertions, Sergekt pondered the problem of how he could catch her while bicycle riding in a place private enough where he could put her over his lap. The only solution would be to somehow find a shortcut where he could secretly pass her and then surprise her by catching her from the other end. Yes, he thought, there is one such spot on the way to my mother's garden plot, a utility path that bypasses the main bicycle trail. Sergekt gently patted Kim's bottom, thinking about the attention that it was destined to receive the next time they went bicycle riding.
Malka Chorno entered the Socrates Club for the first time at the end of August. She quietly asked the doorman whether or not she should wear her policewoman's belt, given the club's rule about clothing of any kind was very strict. No, was the answer; that comes off. Here you are a criminal, just like the rest of us. We're not worried about who you were before you were sentenced.
At the beginning Malka sat alone, given that she had no friends in the club. She watched several groups perform, and then Kim and Eloisa perform together on stage with three of Eloisa's musicians. As she watched Kim perform, Malka had a chance to reflect on her misplaced loathing of the American. She felt bad about how she had treated Kim, but couldn't see how that damage could be repaired.
Malka was extremely lonely. Because everyone in her former life had turned their backs on her, Malka had been completely by herself since she had been sentenced. She felt she deserved what was happening to her, but the pain of the betrayals by her former friends weighed on Malka tremendously.
Malka's isolation ended before Kim's singing was over. One of Sergekt's classmates, Tuko, noticed the ex-cop as she quietly sat by herself. Tuko had a girlfriend prior to the riot at his school, but her parents prohibited her from seeing him after he was sentenced. Tuko had not been able to find anyone else to go out with, and had given up hope of having a normal relationship until his sentence ended. That was too bad, because of all the members of the group, Tuko and Sergekt were the most adventurous when it came to reaching out in their personal relationships.
The disgraced ex-cop presented Tuko with an opportunity and a challenge. He found her fascinating and wondered how approachable she would be. She was 7 years older than the members of Sergekt's group, but Tuko didn't care about that. She was pretty and tough looking, as well as somewhat mature, precisely the kind of woman Tuko secretly fantasized about having in his life. Well, here was his chance. Finally he walked over to Malka's table and asked her to dance.
Tuko's relationship with Malka took off very quickly. Malka accepted the first dance out of sheer boredom and loneliness. At the beginning she had real reservations dancing with a criminal almost a decade younger than her. However, Malka knew that the old rules and protocol in her life no longer had any relevance. She now was a criminal herself, and if this guy was still in his teens, so what?
While Sergekt and his classmates watched in dumbfounded silence, Tuko bought some beer and fried vegetables for himself and Malka and sat with her. It was weird to see her smile and converse. Kim and Eloisa could tell that both Tuko and Malka were sexually aroused, something that became very evident the next time Tuko invited her to dance. Shortly afterwards the Socrates Club's newest couple headed towards the stairwell door and disappeared to go to an intimacy room.
Sergekt and Dima looked at each other, a bit shocked at Tuko's departure from their table and its result. "Well, that was fast."
The group now was faced with a dilemma. It was customary that any member who started dating someone from outside the group would bring his or her partner to the table, and the person would become a de facto member of the group. That was what happened the year before to Kim when she started dating Sergekt. Malka, however, was much more of an outsider to the group than Kim ever could have been. Kim, although a foreigner, an English speaker, a drug user, and Asian, at least was the same age as Sergekt and his classmates, and like them, a recent high school graduate. More importantly, she never had been a police officer. Kim had no past associated with her, nothing to make anyone hate her before meeting her.
An ex-police officer was different, especially one with Malka's background. The beatings Kim's friends had endured left them traumatized and afraid of anyone in a blue uniform. Until two months ago Malka Chorno had been among the cruelest of the police officers, one of the worst tormentors of criminals. Now she was a criminal herself, precisely because she had stepped over the line in her mistreatment of Criminal # 98945. How could she sit with the group? And yet... the group's subculture and their friendship with Tuko demanded that any partner of his would become one of them.
Fortunately that night the group was not confronted with the issue, because Tuko and Malka never re-emerged from the intimacy room. The group discussed how to handle the situation with Malka, should she continue to go out with Tuko and he end up bringing her to the table. Finally Sergekt stated, "Look. Officer Chorno is really Kim's problem. I think it is up to Kim to decide how we should treat her. As far as I'm concerned, whatever she says is what we'll do, and there'll be no further discussion. It's Kim's choice."
Kim was not pleased that Sergekt was dumping the problem in her lap, because she felt she really had no choice. She felt morally obligated to come to terms with her former nemesis, but she really did not want to do so by mixing Malka with her social life. Nevertheless, Kim's conversation with the old priest at the Temple gave her no alternative other than to forgive Malka for what she had done. Kim knew that Malka had repented and even tried to apologize... sort of... That meant she had to treat Malka like she would treat any other fellow criminal.
"I... suppose... that we're all criminals, and now Malka is one of us. She's not a police officer anymore... or at least not until she gets her badge back. You're asking me what I want, but that's the wrong question, because what I want doesn't matter. You see... I don't have any choice. That priest obligated me to forgive Malka, and I'm going to have to, as hard as it is, I'm going to have to. So... when Tuko brings her, I'll just deal with it."
Eloisa gave the guys an angry look, and interjected "It's not fair to put this decision on Kim."
"Life's not fair, Eloisa. I think you know that better than any of us at this table. It's not fair, but I have to forgive Malka. So, when the moment comes, she'll join us. That's my decision."
Tuko spent the next two Saturday nights sitting alone with Malka, as both of them worked up the courage to re-join his group. Finally, on the fourth Saturday Tuko and Malka were together, Kim decided to approach them and resolve the issue herself.
"You might as well join us at our table. You two look ridiculous sitting here by yourselves, so come sit with us."
Malka gave Kim a sad, but gratified look. The invitation meant an end to her isolation. She sat quietly and was extremely reserved around the others, but now she had her place at the Socrates Club. Even when she was not with Tuko, his friends would expect Malka to join them at their table. It was the beginning of Malka's transformation, the simple act of sitting at the same table with a group of fellow-criminals.
Sergekt's life changed radically at the beginning of September. He decided to reduce his hours at his restaurant and enter Danube City University to study hydrology. He knew right away what he wanted to do with his degree. He would seek to improve Upper Danubia's irrigation and public water supply systems, to assure that severe droughts never again could lead to a national disaster like the one the country recently had endured.
Sergekt had to seek permission from the sentencing judge to enter the university. Kim and Eloisa attended the hearing, as did Sergekt's mother and aunt. Sergekt knelt with his head on the floor while his Spokesman presented the formal petition. The judge then ordered Sergekt to kneel upright and explain his plans. Sergekt quickly summarized the experiences he had endured over the summer. He started by describing the collective humiliation of the young men clustered around the pumps as they watched their efforts to save their parents' gardens end in failure. Right after that came the mobilization to save part of the nation's commercial crops, and finally the horrific week fighting forest fires. He saw all that had happened to Upper Danubia that year as unnecessary.
"What distressed me, your honor, was that the water to meet our needs was there, deep underground, but we had no way of getting to it. The technology to get that water also exists in the world, but in other countries and thus is useless to the Duchy. Now I know what I want to do, and what path the Ancients have chosen for me. I will try to become educated to help solve our nation's water problems."
The hearing was really a formality, since there was no doubt what Sergekt wanted was perfectly reasonable and useful to the country. He would have to attend his first year of classes naked, of course, but there was nothing unusual about that. Plenty of convicted criminals studied at the university, and there were even a couple of criminals with lengthy sentences working as professors.
Kim noticed Sergekt's confidence in himself rose as the semester progressed. He became concerned about his future and looked upon his present as a temporary phase in his life. Just a few months before Sergekt had confided to Kim that he felt he would never be able to see himself as anything other than a criminal. Now, with the beginnings of his career as a hydrologist crowding out other concerns in his life, Sergekt's entire focus had changed. He had found his purpose.
Cynthia Lee decided to visit her sister for the second time in the middle of September. Originally she had wanted to visit in August, but had to delay her trip because of Kim's fire-fighting duties. She re-scheduled once it was obvious the fire danger had passed and there was no further chance Kim might be mobilized to fight forest fires.
As before, it was Spokesman Vladim Dukov who had to pick Cindy up from the airport, given its location outside the Danube City collar zone. However, the whole tone of Cindy's trip would be different this time, because the only reason she was visiting was to see how Kim was doing and spend some time with her. Kim requested a week off from both her jobs, which freed her during the days to spend time with her sister.
Because Cindy arrived before the equinox, Kim did not have her winter cape yet. She was naked when she greeted her sister at Dukov's office, and would stay naked the entire time Cindy was with her. This time Cindy managed to get over the shock of her sister's constant nudity rather quickly. One thing that helped was seeing how accustomed Kim was to living naked, to the point she no longer even noticed. Her younger sister was perfectly comfortable with her body, which made Cindy question, for the first time, the values of a society that required people to be dressed at all times, whether it was practical or not.
Danube City was at its best during the late summer and early fall, so Kim had the opportunity to show Cindy around and familiarize her with the many monuments and historical sites the area had to offer. She took her guest to the Temple of the Ancients and King Vladik's Castle and explained the historical significance of both locations. Cindy marveled at Danube City's beauty: its fancy old buildings, endless parks, and quiet streets. Cindy thought to herself, this place has some real tourist potential, if these people could ever figure out how to market themselves.
Kim spent hours talking to Cindy about her life and what had happened to her since last spring. She told Cindy the story of her final switching and its results, and tried to make her understand the underlying values and line of reasoning that determined how the whole affair was handled after the offending officer was arrested and sentenced. Kim eventually moved to the topic of the entire Danubian judicial system and its emphasis on corporal punishment instead of incarceration. She shocked Cindy with the following statement, "It's actually a pretty good system, even if it has its problems. I mean... people really do have the chance to turn their lives around, and we criminals have a chance to do something useful and get ready for our futures. Yes, I got my butt whipped three times, and it hurt worse than I think you could imagine, but I'd take that over a jail cell anytime."
Kim's conversation with Cindy moved on to Dukov's stalled judicial reform pending in Parliament and what he hoped to achieve and change by trying to re-write the 1780 punishment code. The legislation had not gone anywhere over the summer because of the constant emergencies afflicting Upper Danubia. Kim suspected the legislation would eventually be forgotten, which was a real pity. Cindy disagreed.
"Kim, I don't think either you or Spokesman Dukov understand what an opportunity you have. You say there's a lot of good will towards criminals because of the fire fighting. Use it. Have all those people you helped call the Parliament and pressure the... deputies? Is that what they're called?" Kim nodded. "Alright, deputies. Have people call up the deputies and tell them this is how they can thank you for putting your butts on the line in that forest fire. Pass that reform."
Kim thought about her sister's idea. Cindy pressed her point. "Look, I've been taking some political science classes in college, so I have some ideas. What Spokesman Dukov needs to do is have his supporters lobby the Parliament. Have them call the deputies. Have the firemen you helped call the deputies. Then have them hold demonstrations in Rika Chorna Province and here in the capitol. Make sure you get the press involved. You do all that, and you'll get that reform passed."
"I don't think they do things that way around here."
"Probably not. That's why, the first time there is a real public relations campaign to make some changes it'll be such a shock that it'll shake things up. I'd bet, maybe once the public gets used to nagging the Parliament over things they want, things in this country might change and the system won't be so stuffy."
"Well, you ought to talk to Spokesman Dukov about it... see what he thinks."
That night Cindy had dinner at Dukov's house. She discussed her ideas at length with Kim's Spokesman, who listened with interest.
"You suggest what you call a 'public relations campaign'. You will understand public pressure is not the normal manner of conducting political policy in our country, but I presume in this case, such a concept might indeed prove successful. You are correct about public sentiment. At no time in our country's history have people had such a favorable opinion of criminals."
During the weeks following Cindy's departure, that conversation would put new life into Vladim Dukov's ambitions to reform Upper Danubia's corporal punishment system. Whenever he had any spare time, Dukov was on the phone, talking to anyone who had been helped over the summer by Danube City's criminals. He called the religious leaders of Rika Chorna Province and obtained their full backing for the reform. On Sundays, in churches throughout the province, priests exhorted their followers to contact Parliament and pressure deputies to pass Dukov's reforms. The nation's fire chiefs told their firemen to support the reform, as did the Danubian Forest Service and the Directorate of the Rika Chorna Reservoir. Within just a couple of weeks, Dukov found himself on national television giving a joint press conference with the governor of Rika Chorna Province and the Chief of the National Fire Department. Together the three officials exhorted the need for a judicial system that would protect criminals by standardizing corporal punishments and enforcing limits on how a police officer could treat a criminal during a court-ordered switching. They had the backing of a large segment of the population, while the opponents of the reforms had to stay quiet or face the wrath of the people of Rika Chorna Province.
Cindy was on hand to watch Upper Danubia's bizarre "Day of the Dead" ritual during her week in Upper Danubia. She and Anyia followed Kim and her friends to the plaza in front of the Temple of the Ancients the afternoon before the march. Kim's sister and the teenager stood among the spectators as Kim and 2,600 other criminals had their bodies painted and received torches. As the sun set there was the usual mournful singing, the ancient hymns begging the Saints/Ancients to get Upper Danubia through the coming dark days of winter. There was the usual sermon admonishing the country for not having given proper respect to the past, and the usual prayer hoping the dead might have a chance to return to life and ward off evil through the living bodies of the marchers.
Once the marchers began filing towards the river, Cindy followed Anyia back to Dukov's house on Kim's bicycle. Upon her arrival at his home, Vladim gave Kim's sister a black robe and a long black shirt to put on underneath. Once she was changed Cindy then followed the Dukovs and Vladikís future in-laws to a small local church for a service, then out to the dark road where the marchers would be passing by. She knelt with the Dukovs, noting that her host and his son seemed lost in their prayers. The whole affair still had a veneer of Christianity, but Cindy could see how quickly Upper Danubia was returning to its Pagan roots. Upper Danubia was supposed to be a Christian country and still was very religious, but not in a way that would be acceptable to most Western churches.
After the marchers passed, Cindy accompanied the Dukovs to the Plaza of the Ancients for the religious ceremonies to be held during the day while the marchers were resting. To Cindy the Day of the Dead was strange beyond belief; leaving her with the feeling she somehow had jumped out of the 21st Century and gone back several millennia in time.
As she stood in a sea of painted bodies waiting to move out, Criminal # 98945 felt very agitated, almost scared. Her dark eyes shifted back and forth nervously and her heart raced as she wondered why on earth she couldn't calm down. Once she started moving along the river, the uneasy feeling Kim briefly experienced towards the end of her march last year came back early, and came back full force. As much as she tried to concentrate on simply moving forward, images flashed through her mind. She saw Susan lying dead in the morgue in Prague, as clearly as if she had been there herself. She could see Tiffany in an alley, brutally being beaten in a drug deal gone bad. She could see Malka Chorno's younger sister, dumped in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of some Middle Eastern city. She saw the images of villagers in Rika Chorna province, dying in the forest fires as they tried to save their livestock. The visions became stranger and stranger, as Kim's imagination moved into the past and into the future. She saw Vladim Dukov, slightly older than he was now, speaking from the steps of the Parliament building to thousands of chanting supporters. However, the strangest image running through Kim's mind was seeing Tiffany on trial in the Central Courthouse, in the prisoner's stance and tears running down her face. Was that the future? Was the image something that should have happened but didn't?
The images vanished from Kim's mind in a flash, leaving her with the shock of seeing the pre-dawn light and the other line of marchers approaching from the opposite direction. The entire night had passed without Kim realizing it. The marchers moved into the campground, ate, and settled down on army cots.
Kim lay down next to Sergekt but she couldn't get to sleep. Finally she walked out to the edge of the tents and saw a lone painted figure among the trees, contemplating the quiet countryside. It was Malka Chorno. Kim walked up to the woman and stood next to her, trying hard to control her feelings of uneasiness and discomfort. For a long time neither criminal said anything, but both realized they would not be able to leave without talking. Anyhow, Kim had something she needed to tell Malka.
"Malka, I... saw some things last night, during the march. Weird stuff, most of it not very pleasant."
"That's why they have us do this, Kimberly Lee. They send us out to let the dead see the world though us."
"So... do you believe in this whole thing, the march and all this about the spirits?"
"I don't know what to believe, Kimberly Lee. I don't. If you would have asked me three months ago, I could have told you very clearly what I thought about things, about life. Not now. I don't even know who I am, so how can I answer that question, 'what do I believe?'"
For a long time they stood silent, as Kim worked up her courage to tell her companion about what she saw during the march. She knew she had to tell Malka; she wouldn't have had that vision and then run into her if it were not absolutely necessary to share that image with her former nemesis. Finally Kim spoke. "I... saw... I... Malka, do you know whatever happened to your sister?"
"My sister? How do you know about my sister, Kimberly Lee?"
"Vladik Dukov told me about you a couple of days before you punished me in July. I asked him, because I wanted to understand... why you hated me so much. So he told me about the white slavery ring, and showed me some newspaper articles. According to the articles your sister got sent out of Upper Danubia and your government never found her."
"Yes, it is true that we weren't able to find my sister. We found four others and got them home, but we couldn't find her. I imagine that's because she didn't survive."
"She didn't. Last night, when I was walking, I saw a whole bunch of stuff. Among all that I saw what they did to her... your sister, that is. There was this grave, real shallow, out in the desert, near a dirt road and some sheds. That's where she ended up. That's what I saw."
Malka sadly nodded. There was no arguing with the Maragana Girl. She and Kim would not have ended up standing together had the American's destiny not been to relay the dreadful information.
"At least I know the truth, Kimberly Lee. Now the question is settled in my own mind, and now I owe you yet another debt in life."
"You don't owe me anything. Nothing. Just... when you get your badge back..."
Malka shook her head. "I'm not sure I want my badge back, Kimberly Lee. Maybe... maybe I want to become someone else, do something else. Leave the police work to another person. I don't know what I want right now."
Kim sadly patted Malka on the shoulder. She then left the former cop standing alone as she re-entered the tent area to find Sergekt. She looked back to see Malka's white painted figure curled up in a kneeling position on the ground. The ex-police officer was sobbing quietly and pulling at her hair.
Kim was not sure whether she had done the right thing by sharing her vision with Malka. However, as in all other aspects of her personal relationship with her former nemesis, Kim really felt she had no choice. She felt driven by forces she could not even begin to understand.
The march ended the following morning in the exact same way it ended the year before, with the dead silence suddenly shattered by hundreds of church bells and thousands of singing voices as the criminals marched down Danube City's main street towards the Plaza of the Ancients. The marchers heaved their torches into a huge bonfire and made their way into the Danube River to rinse off death and return to the world of the living. Later in the day, after the criminals were properly cleaned up, they lined up in front of the Central Police Station to receive their winter boots and capes.
The mood in the plaza contrasted with the cheerfulness during the spring, when the criminals were turning in their capes. For one thing, no criminal looked forward to the onset of winter. For another, the Day of the Dead was a time in which every Danubian, and especially every criminal, was called upon to contemplate the meaning of life and its brevity. Many of the criminals had experienced visions during their march that left them spiritually shaken.
Kim said goodbye to her friends and found her sister, who was waiting with Anyia on the outskirts of the plaza. Kim and Cindy chatted in English, while Anyia flirted with a young criminal who looked like he was still in high school. Kim ignored what was going on with Dukov's teenager, since she and the girl had an unspoken understanding that neither would tell Vladim about anything the other was doing. Kim instead concentrated on telling Cindy about her strange experiences during the first night of the march and her conversation with Malka Chorno. Her thoughts went back to Tiffany and the image of her former friend lying horribly beaten in a dirty alley, somewhere in the US.
Later that afternoon Kim got cleaned up to go to the Socrates Club with her friends. She felt bad about leaving Cindy alone with the Dukovs, but the night after the Day of the Dead celebration was an important night for criminals to get together. Cindy shocked Kim with her reaction.
"Kim, I got a question. Could I see this famous Socrates Club of yours? You've shown me everything else in your life, but I'd like to see that club."
"Why not? Didn't you tell me that former criminals could go as well? And also boyfriends and girlfriends? If not everyone there is a criminal, why can't I go?"
"Well, you could go, but I'm sure you wouldn't want to. They don't allow clothes in there. They're very strict about that rule, because they want everyone to be equal as a criminal."
"And if I don't wear my clothes, I can go?"
"Uh... well... yeah, but I can't picture that you..."
Cindy paused nervously. She swallowed and continued: "I want to see it, Kim. I want to see what you do with your friends. I want to see that part of your life. I'm willing to take off my clothes if they'll let me in."
"Well, uh, OK... if you think you can handle it, you can come with us. I'd be glad to have you. I'll get you a visitor's pass to get you through the door and a bag to put your stuff in."
That night Cindy Lee accompanied her sister, Sergekt, Eloisa, and about 10 other naked criminals to the door of the Socrates Club. Cindy was the only person in the group wearing any clothing, which made her feel very uneasy while she was still on the street. As they entered the Club's reception area Kim handed Cindy a cloth bag. Cindy took a deep breath, sighed nervously, and started stripping. Within a minute she was completely naked, except for her jewelry. Kim pointed out the jewelry had to come off as well, since jewels were an indicator of social status and as prohibited as clothing. Once everything was off Cindy's body and in the cloth bag, Kim signed a claim ticket and handed the bag to the club's doorman. With that, Kimís sister, now as naked as her companions, entered the main area of the club and sat at the group's usual table.
At first Cindy was horribly uneasy, being naked in public for the first time in her life. She was dumbstruck at the sight of hundreds of other naked bodies, male and female, mostly young but a few middle-aged patrons as well. However, within a few minutes the visitor got used to her strange situation. In the end she felt more comfortable without her clothing than she would have had she kept her clothes on. There was not a single dressed person in a room full of about 350 patrons and staff. Cindy's body drew some attention because of her tan-lines from wearing a swimsuit in the US, but she was well received by Danubian criminals eager to meet her and try out their English. Sergekt helped break the ice by asking Cindy to dance. Once they saw Kim's sister on the dance floor with one of their companions, other male criminals eagerly sought her out for dances and conversation. By the end of the evening Cindy was fully accepted as a client of the Club, in spite of her strange tan-marks and lack of a collar. It was obvious several patrons were attracted to Kimberly Leeís sister, something that deeply flattered her.
Cindy went home two days after her debut at the Socrates Club. As Kim stood at the final trolley stop within the Danube City collar-zone to say goodbye, Cindy promised, "I'll be back at the end of next June. I want to watch that ceremony when you get your collar off."
"What about Mom and Dad? Do you think you can get them to come?"
"I don't know. But I'll be here, whether they come or not."
Cindy Lee had deeply enjoyed herself on this trip, especially towards the end. Kim could tell that her sister's second trip to Upper Danubia had changed her outlook considerably and broadened her vision of what was possible in life. She hugged Cindy goodbye and watched her depart with Vladim Dukov on the next trolley headed to the airport.
The weekend after Cindy's departure Sergekt hatched his plot to catch Kim on her bicycle and give her a sound spanking. The day was perfect for such an outing, still plenty warm for a late September afternoon. The two criminals rode the bike-lane that paralleled the Danube River, and then turned inland to go to his mother's garden. Sergekt suggested a new route, which Kim readily agreed to explore.
Kim was in a very naughty mood. She shamelessly teased her boyfriend by lifting up in her bicycle seat and stretching her bottom seductively as she pedaled her fancy mountain bike. She then raced ahead, leaving him gasping for breath as he tried to catch up on his more primitive Danubian model. When Kim noticed that Sergekt seemed not to be trying so hard to catch her, she teased him all that much more. As he came close to catching up, she darted ahead; passing a small dirt side trail that did not catch her attention. Kim rode so fast that she didn't notice Sergekt no longer was behind her. She sped around a long curve that overlooked a forest-park, and finally noticed he was not in sight. Kim shrugged her shoulders, thinking she must have really outpaced him this time, and casually rode down the trail at a leisurely pace. She rounded another corner that was obscured by trees. Her heart stopped when she saw Sergekt standing in the middle of the trail, his arms crossed and his bicycle blocking the path. So... he had out-witted her. Now she was caught, and would have to pay with a sore bottom.
Kim's heart raced and she was wet between her legs. She was totally aroused; thrilled that he had been able to catch her after-all. He would punish her bratty behavior with a long, slow, sensuous spanking. Then, once Kim's emotions were fully aroused, the best part would come, the release through passionate lovemaking.
Sergekt grabbed Kim's hand, lovingly but firmly. She had been teasing him every time they had gone bicycle riding, making fun of his inferior bike. Now she was outwitted and caught. He kissed her, but then patted her bottom with a warning tap, letting her know what was coming. Kim nodded. "You got me. I guess my bottom is going to pay for my impudence?"
"That's right Kim. Park your fancy bike next to mine near that tree."
Kim complied, moving her bike off the path. Sergekt then took her hand and led her a few meters away from the main path up the shortcut. There was a park bench hidden in the bushes. Sergekt sat down and pulled Kim over his lap. For a long time she lay quietly as he gently caressed the flawless brown skin of her small shapely bottom. Sergekt lovingly patted Kim's bottom cheeks, but with a firm warning to comply with his next instruction.
"Spread you legs a little and lift your bottom up."
Kim obeyed, feeling the cool autumn breeze caress her exposed bottom-hole and vagina. The combined physical sensations and the tension of the impending spanking drove Kim wild with anticipation.
"Kim, you're 20 in a couple of weeks. That means a birthday spanking. But since you were so naughty to me on your bicycle that will be a complete birthday spanking on each side of your bottom, plus another for your whole bottom. How many birthday spankings is that?"
"Three. Three good hard spankings on my poor bottom! I guess I really have been naughty, to deserve three whole birthday spankings!"
"That's right. Maybe you'll think twice about waving your cute behind at me when you're speeding on that fancy bicycle of yours."
"Hmm. Maybe, but I doubt it." With that Kim wiggled her bottom slightly.
Sergekt rested his hand on his partnerís right bottom-cheek. He lifted his hand up and delivered a slap, one that wasn't all that hard. The feeling was just right. He slapped again on the other side. Slowly he spanked, alternating between Kim's bottom cheeks and gradually increasing the severity of the swats.
Kim's bottom was only slightly reddened at the end of her first birthday spanking. She felt a warm comfortable sting coming from her rear-end, and an extreme arousal radiating from between her legs. Sergekt knew her, and knew what she needed. The spanking would move from playful to sensuous to severe. Sergekt had allowed himself 60 slaps to build up Kim's arousal, although if he felt she needed more, he was ready to sentence her to yet another birthday spanking.
SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!...
The spanking grew louder and louder as Sergekt picked up the force of his slaps in the second part of Kim's punishment. She gasped and moaned, as the increasing heat in her bottom transformed itself into increasing arousal. Kim was so excited that Sergekt could smell her, even in the open area with the breeze blowing around them. She bit her lip as tears and sweat ran down her face.
Kim released control of her body to Sergekt. As he slapped harder and harder, he carefully gauged the effect his swats were having on his girlfriend. He took her to a level of pleasure she never before had experienced, through the sharp physical sensation of her punished bottom. Kim trusted him fully and surrendered completely. Kim was so aroused she was almost tormented, but she wanted to feel that torment, that wild mix of moderate pain and extreme pleasure.
At the end of the 40th slap Sergekt gently massaged Kim's swelling bottom, which by now was quite red. Kim groaned with pleasure, as she felt Sergekt's hand rubbing her bottom through the sting of her spanked skin. He slipped his hand between her legs, to tease and torment her, not to give her any relief. Kim would have to wait until the 60th swat before she could expect any release of her sexual tension.
Sergekt rested his hand on Kim's bottom for a few seconds. "Happy Birthday, Kim."
SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!... SLAP!...
Sergekt struck quite hard for the final part of Kim's spanking. There was much more of an element of punishment in the final set of slaps than there had been during the first two sets. By now Kim was experiencing some serious pain, but psychologically she was ready, and pain was what she wanted. As the tears flowed down her face, Kim felt the emotional release she so desperately needed. However, as Sergekt came to the end of the third set, he delivered the final several swats more gently, allowing Kim to wind down a bit before the spanking actually ended. He began rubbing and massaging Kim more and more, and finally slipped his hand between her legs again. Kim closed her eyes and concentrated on the intense sensations coming from her bottom and her clitoris. Somehow the pain from her bottom and the gentle teasing of Sergekt's fingertips on the most intimate part of her body went together, along with the gentle rustling of the leaves in the forest and the cool breeze blowing against her body, to give Kim a sensation of sexual and physical bliss.
Sergekt kissed Kim's bottom. He leaned over and kissed her shoulders. Finally he motioned her to get up. He took her hand and guided her behind the bench. He had Kim bend over the back of the bench, placing her hands on the seat. Kim spread her legs and arched her back, completely exposing herself to her lover; putting her red bottom and wet vagina on full display. Kim wanted to surrender herself completely, to let Sergekt do what he wanted with her body. She wanted him to take her.
Sergekt entered Kim. He thrust hard, grabbing her breasts with his hands. He squeezed her nipples hard between his fingers as he massaged Kim's chest. Kim groaned and thrust her head back, as she pressed her bottom backward to get him even further inside her. He thrust hard, with force. The trusts bordered on painful, but they were enough to give Kim deep satisfaction as her lover pressed into her. Kim climaxed and almost blacked out, it felt so good. Sweat poured down Sergekt's body as he pushed into Kim's body over and over. He held back with his orgasm as long as he could, wanting to relish the feel of Kim's body and the sight of her sweaty back and reddened bottom. Finally he was forced to release into her, as she groaned and climaxed yet again.
Sergekt pulled out of Kim, but she was so exhausted she remained bent over the back of the bench. He fought to regain his breath as he admired his lover's body. Finally he drew her to him and sat with her on the bench. She cuddled in his arms, although she moved a bit from the discomfort of sitting on her still sore bottom.
Sergekt felt deeply satisfied with life at that moment as he looked down at his lover. Kim's heart belonged to him. She was his, the woman with whom he would share his life. He was totally satisfied with her. Kim was a partner with whom he could play and share his sexual fantasies.
Kim looked up at Sergekt with a very naughty expression. "I'm still going to tease you on my bike, and don't think you're going to catch me here again. So I think my bottom will be pretty safe for a while."
"We'll see. Of course when I do finally catch you again you'll get a nice rough spanking. We'll have all afternoon."
"Well, you have to catch me first, and I don't see how that's going to happen."
Sergekt patted his lover's bottom. "That sounds like a challenge to me, and I always am up for a good challenge. Your bottom will pay for your impudence, Kim."
Kim pinched Sergekt's chest hard and smiled mischievously. "I still have the faster bike, so don't get your hopes up."
Of course, they both knew that someday Sergekt would figure out how to catch Kim again. Once he did, she would end up with another sore bottom. Kim wanted that more than anything, but she had no intention of making it easy for Sergekt. After all, she was quite a brat.
Malka Chorno's final integration into the criminal community came much more quickly than anyone could have anticipated and from a completely unexpected source, the owner of the Socrates Club. As he watched Malka and admired her muscular cop's physique, an idea popped into his head. He decided to approach former police officer about becoming a physical fitness instructor for the Club.
The Club's owner had heard predictions that winter would come early, which would force Danube City's criminals off the streets and seek refuge indoors. Many of them would lose any opportunity whatsoever to exercise, since no gym in Danube City admitted criminals as members. The Socrates Club's owner realized he easily could fill that need, since part of the Club's sprawling property included an empty armory. The building was a 300 year-old historical landmark and thus could not be torn down or renovated on the outside. The structure had sat empty for years, but now the Socrates Club could, with the simple installation of a heater and a new floor, convert it into a fitness center. The only element lacking was a criminal who knew how to conduct physical fitness training. That problem now was resolved with the addition of an ex-police officer to the club's clientele.
In the middle of September the Club owner called Vladim Dukov to relay his plan to offer a job to Malka. The former cop took a break from Victor Dukov's deliveries to see about the new position. The Club owner took her into the armory and discussed his idea.
"What I want is for the physical fitness program to be included in the Club's dues and room fees. It won't be a separate charge, because I know most of my clients couldn't afford a health club fee. But I think they'll come for exercise if it doesn't cost them anything extra, and if they have a charismatic instructor. It won't cost me that much, since all I need to do is put in a floor and a heater, in a building I really can't use for anything else. If you agree to do this, what you do is up to you, as long as it's general fitness. It's your chance to stop being yelled at by that bicycle guy. You'll get to yell instead."
Malka quickly accepted the offer. She had plenty of time to give notice to Victor Dukov, since she still had to wait for the installation of the new floor. She also took advantage of the time to read over her old police training manuals and set up several exercise regimes for different tastes. She decided to set up two classes of general military exercises and one class of non-combative martial arts. Malka would lead the classes by exercising herself as she shouted commands. She would lead by example, showing her classes what she wanted with her own body.
The gym was ready at the end of September, just as the weather was becoming too cold for Kim and Malka to continue delivering messages for Victor. The first Saturday night of October Malka stood on the stage of the Socrates Club for the only time during her sentence to announce her exercise classes and her schedule. She concluded, "I have taken the entire exercise program for the National Police Academy and adapted it for you. I will work with you in the same way my instructors worked with my class at the Academy. That means, don't expect me to be nice, because 'nice' is not how you get your body into proper shape. But I can guarantee my regimen will keep you fit and in better health. This is the chance for you not to become a bunch of fat slobs over the winter."
With that, Malka began her classes. Three times per day, six days per week, Malka's snarling voice could be heard on the street outside the old armory. Malka's classes started out full, but at the beginning many criminals came and left. By the end of the year the exercise groups had stabilized with a regular crowd. For the ones who stayed, Malka became something of a cult figure, the ill-tempered ex-police officer who now dedicated her life to helping anyone who cared to spend time with her get into top physical shape. Kim and Eloisa attended Malka's late afternoon sessions three times per week and always left completely exhausted. They jokingly referred to the armory as "Malka's torture chamber."
Malka became a totally different person when she was instructing her classes from any other time during her sentence as a criminal. Malka was very quiet and almost shy when she was among Tuko's friends, or with Victor Dukov, or with her Spokesman. The exercise sessions gave Malka the chance to be her old self again. In her classes she was boss, period. She had a clear idea what she wanted from her students and very quickly snapped at the ones not performing to her expectations. She pushed her classes mercilessly, but she led by example, exercising in front of her students during the sessions. As she shouted commands, Malka's sharp eyes scanned her group for anyone using poor technique. She didn't interrupt her class for errant students, but after class she worked one-on-one with anyone she noticed who was having problems doing the exercises properly. Malka's own body was in constant physical movement, pushed by the woman's incredible drive and determination.
The ex-cop managed to settle into her life as a criminal largely because of her unusual relationship with her young boyfriend, Tuko. Malka came from a very strict and upright family of small farmers. Prior to her arrest she had dated the same man for years in the traditional manner. In every sense Malka had been a hard-core traditionalist, only to have her world disintegrate during the days following Kim's final switching. Malka realized the loss of her old life was not all bad, because now she could do something she couldn't have done in the past, simply live life for herself and enjoy the moment. She did not need to follow any formal protocol with Tuko. She could joke with him and touch him where she pleased. At a moment's notice the two could run upstairs to an intimacy room. They could experiment with different sexual positions and wrestle, something Malka would not have dreamt of doing with her old fiancee.
When it came to sex, Tuko and Malka were evenly matched. Both had very strong sexual urges and pent-up erotic desires. Tuko had a stronger drive and physical endurance than anyone Malka had ever slept with previously. For the first time in her life Malka had a man who could keep up with her craving for sexual gratification. Very quickly Tuko learned to be rough with Malka, because that was what she wanted. During sex he pushed hard when he entered her, grabbed her hair when he kissed her, and slapped her bottom hard when he wanted to position her for a new sexual posture. Malka was every bit as rough with Tuko. She dug her fingernails into his back or bottom during intercourse, frequently bit him, and grabbed his penis and squeezed it, looking at him with clinched teeth and flashing eyes, warning him he'd better become erect quickly... or else. There were plenty of evenings that Malka and Tuko returned to the Club's main floor after sex with their bodies all marked up from their exertions. The other members of the group tried not to notice.
Dukov's teenaged daughter returned home one mid September afternoon with a bit of a surprise, a classmate from the United States. The girl's name was Jennifer Thompson and she was a high school exchange student spending a year abroad in Upper Danubia. Jennifer was living with a host family, who had sent their own daughter to live with Jennifer's parents in the US.
Jennifer was petite and quite pretty, with pale skin and short red hair. In the US had enjoyed sports and cheerleading. She freely admitted that the cheerleading had gotten her into a lot of trouble, as she ran wild with fellow cheerleaders and football players. Like Kim, in her high school Jennifer had been quite the party girl, which was why her parents decided to send her for a year abroad.
Jennifer was elated about going to Europe, where she had heard that societies were more liberal than even California, which was where she was from. She had not heard of Upper Danubia, but hey, Europe was Europe, so she expected to have a blast. No drinking age, lax drug laws, tattoos, raves... what more could a 17-year-old want?
Jennifer's father had sent her to Upper Danubia knowing full-well what lay in store for his daughter. Yes, his little Jennifer would have a bit of a shock awaiting her when she started her high school in Danube City. Among the papers he signed was a release allowing Jennifer to receive corporal punishment while in school, if it proved necessary. Jennifer's parents gladly signed the release, and with that Jennifer was on her way to the airport.
Jennifer was somewhat taken aback by the conservative appearance of Danube City and its busy, but very quiet streets. The bars, discos and tattoo parlors she was expecting were nowhere in sight, but occasionally she did see a naked young person running around on foot or on a bicycle. Like Kim the year before, she wondered about that, but did not think to ask due to her lack of language. The only thing she enjoyed was swimming naked at her school pool, free from the hassle and discomfort of having to wear a swimsuit. However, that hardly made up for the lack of anything else exciting to do. She balked at her school uniform and her host family with their endless rules, formalities, and protocol. She didn't bother to study Danubian in her orientation classes and wrote angry letters home asking her father, what the hell was with this country... I thought Europe would be fun... this place totally sucks.
Jennifer's heart reserved a special resentment against Helga Tolkiv, the exchange program counselor at her school who always was telling her how to behave. Counselor Tolkiv was relatively young and quite attractive, but her long skirts, old-style braided hair, and tall statuesque figure made her a rather imposing woman. She spoke in a quiet, but bossy tone of voice, always using extremely correct English. She was Danubian to the core, very serious and obsessed with "honor". Counselor Tolkiv was Jennifer's main teacher, another aspect of her year abroad that grated on her.
Jennifer became popular in school, quickly making friends with several Danubian girls with similar personalities and interested in hearing about how wild life in the US was for high school students. Jennifer embellished a bit, as her classmates struggled to understand their American friend's stories given in English. Jennifer became the center of attention of the school's more rebellious girls and a growing source of concern for the school's teachers by the end of September. Both Counselor Tolkiv and the school principal began wondering how they could exert their authority over Jennifer and lessen her influence over her classmates. Finally it was Jennifer herself who provided the school authorities with a justification to make an example out of her in front of her peers.
In California Jennifer frequently had skipped class at her high school. No one thought anything of it because so many of her classmates did the same thing. No one in Jennifer's clique took school very seriously and the teachers were glad to be rid of the more troublesome students. Jennifer skipped class for the first time during the third week of the school year to smoke a cigarette in a nearby park. Her classmates marveled at her reckless courage, but Counselor Tolkiv gave her a very stern lecture about the need to stay in school.
"You are dishonoring yourself, the exchange program, and your teachers with your behavior. I trust you shall not dishonor us again."
Jennifer rolled her eyes. That act of disrespect earned Jennifer an hour standing in the corner while the teacher graded some papers. Unfortunately the lesson did not sink in.
Jennifer skipped class again the following week, but this time the consequences were far worse. As she sat smoking in the park, a police officer noticed Jennifer's high school uniform and detained her. He demanded to know which school she had come from, getting a response in heavily accented Danubian that she had been let out early by her exchange program coordinator. The story sounded unlikely to the cop, so finally he handcuffed her and took her to several nearby schools to find out where she needed to be. Jennifer was incensed at being paraded around in handcuffs, not yet realizing there was much worse to come.
Finally the officer led Jennifer to the correct high school and into the director's office. Jennifer could tell the principal was furious. He called Counselor Tolkiv to his office and berated her in front of both Jennifer and the cop. The woman gave the girl a hostile look, angry that Jennifer, after having been warned, was responsible for making her lose honor. On top of all that, the exchange student had committed a criminal offense by lying to the policeman and was facing arrest. Counselor Tolkiv stood at attention in front of the two men and addressed them in Danubian, after giving the American another quick, hostile glance.
"Officer and Director, my student has insulted our school and the honor of each of us. I wish to take responsibility for her actions and for assuring you this incident shall not be repeated. I request your permission to properly discipline her."
The principal looked at the cop, who reluctantly nodded. "That request is granted, Counselor. If you are willing to administer a proper punishment, I believe we can let this incident be forgotten."
Counselor Tolkiv then turned to the teenager and spoke in English. "I need to chastise you, Jennifer. I am unhappy about having to do this to you, but you have only yourself to blame. You shall suffer because of the choices you made."
Fear and anger swept through Jennifer as the cop led her to an unoccupied classroom. Counselor Tolkiv trailed behind, shutting the door as they entered. The cop took off Jennifer's handcuffs as her counselor issued her next order.
"Jennifer, you shall undress. Now."
"You heard me. You are to undress, immediately."
"Fuck you! I'm not taking my clothes off!"
The two adults were in no mood to argue. The cop grabbed Jennifer's arm and twisted it behind her back, as he pushed down on her neck in a grip that immobilized her. The girl's counselor pulled off her shoes and socks, then jerked her skirt and panties to her ankles. Jennifer then felt the buttons on her shirt coming undone one by one and her bra strap being unhooked. The cop shifted position to allow the teacher to pull Jennifer's shirt and bra off one arm at a time. The student struggled viciously, but in less than a minute she was naked. The cop twisted Jennifer's hands behind her back and put her handcuffs back on.
The cop grabbed Jennifer's arms and pulled her upright. Counselor Tolkiv stood directly in front of her, face to face. The girl was resisting and breathing heavily as the cop held her tight.
"Jennifer, if you wish to struggle like a criminal, you shall be treated like a criminal."
The cop led Jennifer down the main hallway to the school basketball court as her counselor followed behind. To Jennifer's horror the entire student body was assembled on the bleachers. The school principal was standing next to a small chair and a microphone stand. The chair had a sinister-looking leather police switch on it. Suddenly Jennifer realized the seriousness of what was about to happen to her.
The two adults and their captive took position next to the principal. The cop grabbed Jennifer's arm firmly to keep her standing in position. Counselor Tolkiv picked up the leather switch and tapped it in her hand as the principal gave a rather long speech about the need to respect rules. Finally he concluded, pointing to the scared naked girl standing next to him.
"Among us is a person who thinks rules do not apply to her. I presume the fact she is an American makes her think she is special in some way, but she shall learn that in this school, a student is a student, and she shall be treated as such. She shall learn the rules apply to all of you. What we have is an act of insurrection, and its perpetrator shall be punished. She shall receive the maximum school punishment of 25 vigorous strokes across the naked buttocks with a standard leather switch."
The cop removed Jennifer's handcuffs and ordered her to lie across the chair. Her eyes wide with terror, Jennifer complied, realizing she only could make her situation worse if she continued to resist. Counselor Tolkiv took a pair of small leather straps that looked like thick watchbands from her pocket. She wrapped a strap around each of Jennifer's wrists and secured the girl's wrists to chair-legs. Jennifer's hands were immobilized, but, because this was not a judicial punishment, her legs were not tied down.
The counselor tapped Jennifer's bottom with the switch and struck her hard across both bottom-cheeks. As the stroke seared into her exposed flesh, the student screamed from the pain and the pure terror of what she was enduring. She had not yet learned that in Upper Danubia a person being punished normally tries to stay quiet as long as possible. Jennifer's high-pitched scream died down into a series of sobs as her counselor tapped her bottom and struck again. Once again Jennifer screamed as her legs kicked up and down from the sharp pain of the two strokes. The teacher did not wait, but tapped her bottom and struck hard a third time.
Counselor Tolkiv proceeded much more quickly than would have a police officer. This was a school punishment, not a judicial punishment. She struck, waited for Jennifer's scream to die down, tapped her bottom with the switch, and struck again. Each stroke was accompanied by a very loud shrill scream, followed by a lot of vigorous crying and fluttering of her lower legs.
Jennifer was noisy throughout her punishment, as her Danubian classmates watched the affair with fascination. She had been something of a small celebrity among her peers because of her nationality and her defiant attitude about school rules. The Danubian teenagers had known that Jennifer was setting herself up to be disciplined. Several of them tried to warn her, struggling through the language barrier to get the American to realize that, if she pushed too far, she could expect to be switched. Jennifer rudely rebuffed the classmates who tried to caution her, so they simply waited to see how long it would take for her behavior to catch up with her.
The teacher struck the American harshly, but at the same time punished her fairly quickly and methodically. She felt somewhat sorry for the girl, knowing that what was happening was a horrible shock to her. Counselor Tolkiv did not enjoy what she was doing, but felt the switching was necessary to prevent the American from becoming a source of further disruption at the school.
Fifteen minutes and 25 strokes later, the punishment was finished. Jennifer's counselor bent down to unbuckle the straps immobilizing the girl's hands. Once her hands were free, Jennifer covered her face and continued sobbing. The American was in a lot of pain and totally humiliated.
Counselor Tolkiv grabbed Jennifer's wrist and pulled her up off the chair. She placed her hands on the sobbing girl's shoulders to position her with her backside facing the audience. Her bottom was marked with 25 red lines and was beginning to swell. For a student her punishment had been harsh, however, any convicted Danubian criminal would have been glad to change places with her.
As the American stood with her face buried in her hands, her counselor moved in front of her to admonish her. "Jennifer, you must stop crying. You are dishonoring yourself by making such a scandal over a simple switching. Furthermore, we cannot release you until you are silent."
With a great effort Jennifer managed to stop crying after a few minutes. The school principal declared the punishment over and ordered the students to return to their classes. Jennifer had to remain standing with her backside facing her classmates until the last of them was out of the room. The students filed out of the bleachers row by row, walking past Jennifer's exposed backside as they proceeded towards the door to the main hallway. All of Jennifer's classmates, hundreds of them, got a good look at her punished bottom as they slowly filed past her.
Counselor Tolkiv then took her teary student to the school infirmary where there was a bed she could lie down on to recover.
"Jennifer, if you need to cry, now is the time to do so. You may stay here as long as you wish, but once you recover enough to put on your uniform, I expect you to come to my office."
She left Jennifer's school uniform on a chair next to the bed, and closed the door to the small room. Jennifer cried for an hour, but finally got dressed and reluctantly went to the woman's office. The American endured a rather long lecture about responsibility and needing to set an example for proper behavior. The teacher finally released the girl for the day, but made it very clear to Jennifer that she expected her back in class the next day, on time, ready to study, and with her uniform presentable.
That night Jennifer sullenly returned to her host family, her bottom still quite sore from the welts. The two parents were incensed. They pulled a hard wooden chair out of the kitchen and ordered the American to sit down in the living room. Jennifer winced as the uncompromising wood from the chair pressed into her tender backside. For the next hour her host parents, using terrible heavily-accented English, lectured their guest about personal responsibility and the need to safeguard her honor as Jennifer shifted in her uncomfortable seat and tears rolled down her cheeks.
Once the lecture was finished and Jennifer was allowed to go to her room, she finally had time to give her situation some thought, without having any Danubians yelling at her. At first she wanted to call her parents in the US and have them extricate her from her year abroad. But as she picked up the phone, she reconsidered. How on earth could she explain this to them?
Jennifer then realized she was mostly to blame for her own situation. She had chosen to come here as an exchange student. She had chosen to ignore Counselor Tolkiv and the school rules. She had no one but herself to blame for not bothering to do any research before signing the papers that finalized her exchange student arrangements. She now was stuck here in Danube City, facing the awful realization she had to make the best out of her life in this restricted country.
Returning to school the next day was one of the hardest things Jennifer ever did in her life. At first she was mortified at the thought of having been switched in the nude in front of nearly 400 classmates. After a lot of nagging and threats from her host parents, she went to school almost in tears, expecting to be ridiculed by her peers.
Jennifer quickly found out ridicule was not how Danubian teenagers usually treated a fellow student who had been punished. Such punishments were common enough in Upper Danubia and were the logical outcome of rebellious behavior in school. Instead, Jennifer's classmates somewhat sympathized with the American. Several girls calmly sat down with the exchange student and explained why she had been switched. Anyia reminded her they had tried to warn her and then added a detail that made Jennifer cringe.
"Counselor Tolkiv switched you because she had to. I don't think you realize that cop was going to arrest you for lying to him, because in our country that's a crime. They would have put you on trial and made you wear a criminal's collar for a year for telling him you had your school's permission to be out of class, and then refusing to say what school you came from. Counselor Tolkiv got you out of it; she jeopardized her own honor to prevent you from being arrested. You need to be grateful to her."
That afternoon Jennifer, nervously twisting her hands in front of her,
apologized to her counselor and thanked her for preventing her from being arrested.
The teacher responded,
"Jennifer, you shall thank me by applying yourself in your studies. If I see you improving in your ability to study and to speak our language, then you shall have shown me you are truly grateful. As for yesterday's punishment, the unpleasantness between us has passed, and I consider the matter ended."
Jennifer sadly nodded. "I'll try, Counselor Tolkiv."
Jennifer then went to the school library, where Anyia and her other friends were sitting and reviewing textbooks for an upcoming test. Jennifer pulled some books out of her backpack and surprised them by asking in her terrible Danubian, "I'm a bit behind, I guess, with the classes. Could you help me get caught up?"
The other girls nodded and with that Jennifer became part of their study group.
Jennifer spent much of the rest of her year in Upper Danubia hanging out with Anyia. The two girls quickly became close because of their very similar personalities. Anyia was a bit rebellious herself, but she knew where the limits were and how to avoid crossing them. That information was something that Jennifer very much needed to avoid going nuts in her new host country. Over time Jennifer began going over to Dukov's house, but it would be several weeks before she met Kim, given Kim's hectic schedule and late night music sessions.
One Sunday afternoon Jennifer went over to Vladim Dukov's house when Kim happened to be there. It was a bit of a shock seeing a fellow-American naked and wearing a metal collar, but at the same time seeing an American, any American, was a real treat for the high school student. Jennifer and Kim quickly struck up a conversation, both relishing the opportunity to speak in English. Kim told Jennifer her story and how she had been sentenced the previous year for marijuana possession. Jennifer was shocked.
"So... you've been like this for more than a year? For smoking a joint? I mean... they never let you wear any clothes... at all?"
Kim smiled and shook her head. "No clothes. They're very strict about that. I mean, I go to work everyday, I've been on TV, I've stood singing outdoors in front of thousands of fans, always like I am now. It's part of my sentence, but it's not so bad. After a while you kind of enjoy it, at least when the weather's warm."
The sight of Kimberly Lee made Jennifer able to put her own situation into perspective. It was obvious that what had happened to her at school was nothing in comparison with what had happened to Kim.
Kim's 20th birthday passed in celebration, first at her job at the music store, then with the Dukovs, and finally at the Socrates Club. Sergekt was very affectionate and courteous to Kim, but at the same time she could tell he was very nervous. Finally, when the night was over and they left to return to Dukov's house, she found out why. Instead of simply leaving her at the door, he asked to come in and talk to her in Dukov's living room. Once inside he opened up a small cloth bag he had carried with him and pulled out a small carved wooden box. He swallowed and handed it to Kim. He then stood silent, according to Danubian protocol.
A bit bewildered, Kim opened the box. There were three items inside, a gold ring, a silver necklace with a pendant showing two griffins standing side-by-side, and a silver hairpiece with gold in-lays. Sergekt's birthday present was an engagement box.
Kim's heart raced. She knew there had to be protocol for accepting these items, but she was not sure what it was. She took a deep breath. "How... do we do this? I mean, what do people usually do in this country... when they get engaged?"
"You hand me the items, one at a time, starting with the hair-piece, then the necklace, finally the ring. You tell me you accept each one and I will put it on you."
Kim picked up the hairpiece and handed it to Sergekt. "Sergekt, I accept this hairpiece with all my love."
Sergekt took the hairpiece and gently pushed it into Kim's hair.
"Sergekt, I accept this necklace with all my love."
Sergekt wrapped the necklace around Kim's neck and clipped the clasp shut.
"Sergekt, I accept this ring, with all my love."
Sergekt put the ring on Kim's finger. It fit perfectly, leaving Kim wondering how Sergekt knew her ring size.
Sergekt then knelt, kissed Kim's right hand and then her left. He stood up, took both of her hands in his own, and looked into her eyes. "You are the love of my present, and the wife of my future. You have my heart and in your hands you hold my happiness."
For a long time Kim and Sergekt hugged each other in the silent living room of Dukov's house. So it was done, now it was official. Kim was Sergekt's fiance.
It was painful, but finally Sergekt had to leave to go home. Kim felt bad for him because already it was well past mid-night and her partner had to be up early the next morning for classes. She watched Sergekt's bare figure as he quickly walked up the chilly street to the trolley stop. Kim was immensely happy, but also rather scared. She had thought about marrying Sergekt, but now to be formally engaged to him made her realize how seriously she had to take her life in Danube City. So this was it. There really would be no going back to the US, except perhaps to visit. Kimberly Annette Lee would give up her US passport and take a Danubian one, and return to her parents' house and her hometown as a foreigner. She was destined to finish her life in Upper Danubia, married to Sergekt Dolkiv.
The following morning Kim proudly wore her engagement items to the breakfast table and excitedly told the Dukovs about Sergekt's marriage proposal.
Kimís Spokesman had known about Sergekt's plans to marry her. Sergekt had asked his permission to propose, which he relayed to her parents in the US. It took some arguing and convincing, but finally the Lees reluctantly agreed to allow the proposal to go ahead. The decision was difficult for Kim's parents, because finally they had to formally accept the fact their daughter was not coming home at the end of her sentence. Following the conversation with her parents, Dukov went to the police warehouse and dug into his client's confiscated backpack to find a couple of rings to lend to her boyfriend to measure for a ring size.
Dukov told his client that Sergekt's proposal was timed to allow him to marry her sometime shortly after the end of their sentences in July. He had followed Danubian protocol, first by dating Kim a year before proposing, then waiting another year before getting married. It was normal for Danubians to get married about two years after they first started dating. It was a common-sense approach, which allowed a couple to gradually build up a relationship over a two-year period before fully committing to each other.
In spite of her excitement over being engaged, there was one huge disappointment. Unfortunately for Kim, the prohibition against criminals wearing jewelry applied to her engagement items. She could not wear them on the street or at work. However, at any family, social or religious function, she would be expected to wear the hairpiece, necklace, and ring to show her commitment to Sergekt. She wondered about the contradiction, but this was Upper Danubia after all, with its strange rules and customs.
Whenever Kim turned on the radio station, she had to deal with the weird feeling of listening to herself, along with Eloisa and the back-up singers, featured in the collection of music currently popular. The group's song "The Wall that Divides my Soul" was well received throughout Upper Danubia, and had been featured on the radios since the beginning of the summer. Several other songs from the group received frequent play, including the still somewhat popular "Nemat mi biciklet", the title of which, when translated to English, loosely meant "The loss of my bicycle has left an emptiness in my life".
During October, Eloisa was more upbeat than Kim had ever seen her. Increasingly she was able to allow physical contact with other people to become part of her life. She had broken the barrier of being able to hold Dima's hand earlier in the year, but now she was able to hug both him and some of her closest friends. During conversations, if she wanted to make a point, she could lightly touch a friend's hand or shoulder. Eloisa and Dima knew that sex still was way beyond her psychological capabilities, but slowly she was moving in that direction. As the fall progressed and Danube City was pelted with cold rain, the change became evident in the music Eloisa was choosing for her band's rehearsals.
Eloisa increasingly was willing to experiment with the group's music. When Sergekt and three other musicians in the group proposed trying out more modern instruments such as electric guitars and synthesizers, they received the lead singerís full blessing. "I'm willing to try anything, as long as you know how to play it and can make it work with what we have already. The only thing I ask is that you have a clear idea of how you would want to use any new instrument, and that you practice on your own before you bring it here."
Eloisa proposed something truly visionary for her group, something that completely surprised the others. She decided to re-record "The wall that divides my soul" in English. Eloisa was smart enough to realize the group had to have at least some of its music sung in English if they were to have any hope of breaking into the popular music scene outside Upper Danubia. That meant Kim would become the group's lead singer for a portion of the group's music and Eloisa would sing with the back-up singers.
Kim was dumbfounded by Eloisa's willingness to drop into the background. However, Eloisa's proposal reflected her mentality and her desire to place the needs of the group's music in front of her own notoriety. Eloisa wanted her music to succeed, period. If that meant putting someone else instead of herself at the lead microphone, so be it. As she explained it to Kim, "It's not just about the 15 of us on stage. I have to think about everyone who ever gave us a song to sing, and everyone who gave us themes speaking at the Club. This is about all of us."
Reluctantly Kim translated several songs based on themes she had brought to the Socrates Club back to English. To help Kim, Eloisa ordered her musicians to record instrumental versions of the group's music. Kim spent hours in the middle of the night quietly singing to herself, trying to see how different combinations of words worked with the group's music. By the middle of October she felt ready to present the English lyrics of four songs, "My bicycle", "The wall that divides my soul", "A question I cannot answer", and "That's all I'll ever be".
The first evening the group had to rehearse the English version of the four songs, Kim stood at the microphone alone, feeling horribly guilty. Before she cued the musicians to start playing, she looked over her shoulder at Eloisa, who was quietly waiting with the other back-up singers. Finally Kim sighed, tapped her microphone, and signaled the musicians to start playing.
Once she started singing Kim's closed her eyes and shut out everything other than her task at the moment. Eloisa, on the other hand, was very attentive to what was going on around her. Her sharp ears listened for anything that needed improvement, the tone of a singer's voice, the timing of an instrument, a misplaced note. After the first session Kim realized how much Eloisa remained in charge when she went over a long list of changes she wanted from her musicians and singers. Maybe Eloisa did not know English, but she did know how the sounds coming from Kim's mouth should interact with the sounds coming from the rest of the band. Eloisa ordered her group to sing the music over and over until they got it right. Finally, one by one, the group mastered the four songs in English to Eloisa's satisfaction and recorded them.
Eloisa and Kim presented the English recordings to the music store manager to review. He was extremely impressed and could suggest no changes. Later, when Kim was alone with her boss, she expressed her feelings of guilt by displacing Eloisa as the lead singer.
"Kimberly, let me explain something about Eloisa. You did not displace her as lead singer. She knows what she's doing. She made you record these songs in English because she had to. The English versions are what will be played on radio stations in the EU. However, people will listen to you, and they'll want to hear more of your group's songs. They'll buy the CD. Then... they'll hear Eloisa's singing. That's the real music. They'll hear the real power of her voice, and our language, in your group's songs."
Several music companies showed increasing interest in the group's music, especially now that the group had four songs recorded in English. Eloisa had become the most popular singer in Upper Danubia by that time, to the point there were real prospects of marketing the group's music outside of the country. However, there were a couple of hurdles the group had to get past before they truly could go international. One problem was their forced nudity. Obviously a group of naked singers could not produce videos for markets such as the United States and expect to be taken seriously or played on commercial television. The other problem was the simple fact the group did not even have a name.
Kim addressed the name problem first. She thought long and hard for a name that would have some meaning for the lives of the band's 15 members. Finally she settled on "Socrates' Mistresses". She ran her suggestion past the entire group, but there were no objections. Everyone simply looked at her quietly with trusting expressions, assuming that Kim, because she was from the US, knew everything there was to know about the music business.
Once the group officially had a name, events unfolded very quickly for the members of "Socrates' Mistresses". There were several televised concerts during the end of October. The group's shows began selling out, requiring them to schedule more performances. The group's reputation began to extend beyond Upper Danubia's borders, as foreign fans and tourists started crossing the border to listen to the group in Danube City's concert halls. At the end of the concerts the crowds started chanting:
"DOC-DOC ELOISA!...DOC-DOC ELOISA!...DOC-DOC ELOISA!"
Finally, at the beginning of November, an international recording company approached the group with a serious and attractive offer about the possibility of an international concert and shooting some videos. The offer presented the band's 15 members with a huge dilemma. The restrictions of their sentences remained in effect until the following July: the prohibition against travel and the prohibition against clothing. Since fans could come to Danube City, the travel restriction was not as big a problem as was the group's forced nudity. Obviously any video taken of the band would be unacceptable in most foreign markets if the band members could not perform dressed.
Spokesman Dukov, Spokesman Havlakt, and the owner of Kim's music store had to formally petition the Danubian Supreme Court to request a temporary lifting of the clothing restriction to allow the band to wear clothes during their video shoots. The court was reluctant to grant the request for a very legitimate reason; if this request were granted it would be unfair to other criminals who continued to make personal sacrifices because of the restrictions of their sentences. In the end however, the judicial panel decided to grant the request, since it was important for the band's future to shoot a video acceptable to markets outside Upper Danubia. The ruling stipulated, however, that the band could only put on their clothing during the actual videotaping. At all other times they had to remain naked.
The outfits the band would wear were the clothes they would formally receive in court during their de-collaring ceremony. That meant formal traditional dresses for the women and traditional tunics for the men. The band and the recording company had to present a formal schedule of video shoots to assure the judges the members would be dressed as little as possible.
With that Kim was pushed into the forefront of "Socrates' Mistresses". She became the band's international face, the one member who could bridge the language barrier between the other members and the outside world. She sat nervously negotiating contracts, speaking in English and translating for Eloisa and the owner of the music store. She sat as the go-between for the concert hall owners in Danube City as the recording company worked out the final details of concert locations, lighting, acoustics and other endless details needed to make sure the live concert video-shoots went according to plan. Kim had to become forceful and knowledgeable, and overcome some very serious obstacles. Vladim Dukov or the music store owner always accompanied her, but Kim was under intense pressure because she was the only person legally capable of speaking on behalf of the other members of the band. Her biggest challenge was to force everyone to take her seriously, given that she was only 20 and often she was the only naked person in a room full of older people in business attire. In the end the recording company settled on two live concerts that would be filmed in front of international audiences, and the taping of eight studio performances, four of them in English. The videos would be used to promote two CD's containing a total of 28 songs, which already had been recorded during previous studio sessions.
The studio video shoots came first. Throughout November the band spent their evenings practicing against backdrops and props brought in by the recording company. Once the issues of choreography, lighting, and acoustics were settled the band shot the footage for the eight videos during the first three weeks of December. For the first time in a year and a half Kim put on a dress as she sang in front of the cameras. The soft fabric of the long dress felt truly elegant on Kim's body, and she loved the way the dresses looked on her four female companions. Unfortunately, the women's dark metal collars took away some of the elegance from the dresses, but there was nothing anyone could do about that. She thought the guys looked a bit silly in their tunics. However, the main focus of the video would be on the group's singers, not the musicians, so the tunics really did not matter.
The final part of the video shoot project came with the filming of two live concerts in December, one on Christmas Eve and the other on New Year's Eve. Leading up to the concerts Kim and Eloisa were interviewed be several European news organizations about the band's history and how the road to their popularity in Upper Danubia. The group's status as convicted criminals and conditions of the members' sentences received much attention and comment. One interviewer asked Kim if she had any thoughts about large numbers of foreign fans coming to Danube City to see the group perform live. Kim did have a significant comment and advice for the group's fans.
"I ask everyone who wants to come see us to remember something extremely important. The Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia is not Amsterdam. Drugs here are VERY illegal. I learned that the hard way. Please... please don't bring anything illegal across the border. I want everyone to enjoy themselves, and I don't want anyone's trip to Danube City to end the way mine did." Kim tapped her collar to emphasize her last final comment.
At the beginning of January the production company packed up its supplies and its workers returned west. The project was a huge success. The two concerts received very positive reviews in the EU press. The live concert footage, combined with the studio footage, gave the European production-company what it needed to make a series of videos to promote "Socrates' Mistresses". The bands' members folded their clothes and handed them back to their Spokesman. They wouldn't see the clothing again until the end of their sentences in July.
The members of Socrates' Mistresses had spent a grueling two months as the year drew to a close. Not only did the band members have to spend their evenings occupied with the music video shoots, but they also had to fulfill their daily responsibilities to their employers and universities. The members' first obligation was to their jobs, since it was by working regular jobs that the criminals were complying with the employment requirements of their sentences. The music was of only secondary priority as far as the courts were concerned. On top of everything else were studies. All of the male members of the band were attending university classes. Sergekt had been the last one to enter classes, simply because he had not been able to decide on a career. Now, he too, had a full load of university classes, as well as a part time job and his commitment to Eloisa's band.
Kim, in spite of her overwhelming responsibilities of the moment, began to think about her own future in Upper Danubia. Perhaps her work with "Socrates' Mistresses" would last indefinitely, perhaps it wouldn't. She knew she had to study something else, have a back-up profession in case the musical one did not work out. It was Vladim Dukov who suggested a career for her, one that had not occurred to his client. At the end of December, just before the band's Christmas concert, Vladim asked Kim to come into his office and close the door. He questioned her at length about her plans and what she might do once she married Sergekt. Right away Kim realized that even if she had no clue of what she might do, her Spokesman did.
"Kimberly, we need to start thinking about our future, and this time I am not referring to the future of only you or myself. I am referring to the future of the Duchy. I believe you will perform a more significant role in the Duchy's future than you might realize."
Kim sat silent, wondering where her Spokesman was going with this. Dukov
"Kimberly, have you contemplated attending the university?"
"Uh... no, Spokesman Dukov, I really haven't. My grades from high school were so bad I can't get in anywhere in the US. I figured I'd have the same problem here."
"You figured wrong, Kimberly. There are no impediments to prevent you from attending university classes here. I believe you must consider enrolling at the university and studying as quickly as possible, starting in January."
"But... what on earth could I study? I mean, what am I gonna do here if it's not staying with the music store or singing?"
"I have given that matter consideration, and believe I know what you should do, Kimberly. You will understand I am the only Spokesman in the entire country who speaks English. I believe we must have another, that is, another Spokesperson who speaks English and can properly represent foreigners unfortunate enough to offend our laws. I believe that after several years of training, you can become that person, the Spokeswoman who can fulfill our country's needs."
Kim's heart stopped. "Me? You want me to... to... become a Spokeswoman?"
"That is correct, Kimberly. I want you to consider that as a path in your life. You can determine if such a destiny is fitting as you study and work in my office as my apprentice. If you decide such is your destiny, you could speak as an apprentice on behalf of criminals within two years. I ask you to consider this path in life for a reason. The days of our country's isolation are ending. More and more tourists will be coming to visit the Duchy, and like you, some of them will fail to respect our laws. We will be obligated to convict and punish more foreigners; people who will need a compassionate and competent official to speak in court on their behalf. You will be able to speak from the heart, as a foreigner who was herself convicted and punished. Your clients will trust and respect you, as a person who suffered what they must suffer."
"But... how could I do that? I'd have to study law and all kinds of hard things. I mean... I'm not the world's greatest student."
"And you assume I would not make myself available to assist you?"
"But you think I could really do it, I mean, be a Spokeswoman?"
"I know that fact with certainty, Kimberly. The path of your life is what I envisioned the night of the equinox. I was shocked at first, but as I reflected on what I envisioned, the more it made sense to me. I believe it is your destiny to speak in our courts, just as it has been mine to speak in our courts."
Kim paused, suddenly remembering her own vision of Vladim Dukov during the Day of the Dead march, the one of him speaking to thousands of chanting supporters. She wondered if Dukov's career as a Spokesman was about to draw to a close, if life had much greater things in store for him. If that were true, then Kim felt obligated to help him as much as she could. She would help him by replacing him, by allowing him to leave his position with the security of knowing a competent person would take his place and fulfill his current responsibilities towards his clients.
"I'll do what I can, Spokesman Dukov. I'll study and try to help you. You've done a lot for me and I do owe you."
With that Tatiana came in with a thick university packet. It turned out Kim was not the only person in the office who was destined to be a Spokesperson. Tatiana also was beginning her studies to become as Spokeswoman, with the goal of eventually returning to her home province and working in the provincial capitol. With that Kim realized she not only had a mentor, but she also would have a study partner. There was no reason, none whatsoever, why she could not eventually fulfill Dukov's responsibilities and become a Danubian Spokeswoman for the Criminal.
Kim began her classes as a Danubian university student in the middle of January. She reduced her hours at the music store to her summer schedule, working only three days per week. She studied Danubian law, history, criminology, and the Danubian interpretation of sociology. Kim's self-confidence increased as she realized she was smart enough to master the somewhat difficult coursework in a foreign language. She was perfectly capable of studying hard and studying well, as long as she had a supportive environment and some help. Sergekt helped her with the history course, while Dukov and Tatiana helped her with the other classes.
Kim enjoyed the university environment, going three days per week with Sergekt on the trolley. She spent most of her non-class time studying in the university library with her fiancee and his friends, but she also spent time with Dukov's secretary or in study groups from her classes. When she was with her classmates, Kim was the only naked person in the group, but that seemed not to matter very much. Her notoriety as one of the lead singers from "Socrates Mistresses" helped her overcome some of the distrust her classmates might have had against a foreign criminal studying Danubian law in their midst. Her classmates expected her to pull her own weight in the study groups, but as long as she did, they accepted the participation of the "Maragana Girl".
One of Kim's first major projects was a comparative study of US and Danubian criminal law. Kim knew little about the US legal system and had to quickly learn, in part by spending hours on the phone with her sister Cindy. Kim had to learn enough about the US criminal justice system to be able to understand and explain it. As the research for her project unfolded, Kim realized the Danubian legal system was much more straightforward than the US legal system, and thus easier to understand.
The simplicity of the Danubian system partly resulted from the lack of institutionalized adversity between prosecutors and Spokespersons. A defense attorney in the US would not think twice about misrepresenting the facts to obtain an acquittal for his client, but in Upper Danubia it would be a serious violation of Danubian law for a Spokesperson to misrepresent the facts of a case or attempt to conceal evidence. Instead it was the Spokesman's duty to seek out mitigating factors that favored the criminal and present them in court. Kim's own case was an excellent example. Spokesman Dukov made no effort whatsoever to refute any facts or evidence, but instead concentrated on interpreting the information in a way that forced the court to give Kim a very light sentence.
Preparing the comparison project was a strange experience for Kim, because she had to study the US legal system from the perspective of a foreigner. However, to the US, Kim really had become a foreigner, because she no longer identified very much with the country of her origin. Kim's world was Danubian, and her perspective on life had become Danubian. Anyone who studied with Kim came to realize that, in spite of her foreign appearance, she really was not American anymore. She was a Danubian criminal, with an outlook that really was indistinguishable from that of any other female Danubian criminal.
The push to pass Dukov's reforms in the Danubian Parliament intensified in February. As the moratorium against corporal punishments passed, the switchings were starting up again and there were increasing incidences of sexual humiliations and other abuses. Public support for the reform had peaked, so it was urgent that its supporters acted to pass the legislation as quickly as possible. Vladim Dukov had a secret motivation for passing the reform as well. Kim's friends were due to receive a final switching in April, and he wanted to ensure the excesses of the previous April's punishment were not repeated.
The officers of National Police Force were bitterly divided over the reform. Most of the older members of the police force, as well as some of the more religious younger officers, supported the reform. The majority of the younger officers, as well as most of the supervisors, did not. At first the proponents of the revisions had been afraid to speak out, but by February they were quite vocal and contemptuous of the reform's opponents. As a result the police split into two hostile camps that quit speaking to each other. During the final push to pass the reform Officer Vladik Dukov and his partner were under tremendous pressure from the younger officers, the ones who wanted to continue punishing criminals by humiliating them. They ended up spending their time with the older officers, ostracized by most of their academy classmates.
There were several mass rallies in Rika Chorna Province and finally one rather large rally in Danube City itself. Vladim Dukov addressed a crowd of nearly 13,000 people in the bitter cold of Danube City's Central Plaza, exhorting his supporters to defend Upper Danubia's honor and morality by treating criminals with respect during their corporal punishments. He repeated his familiar argument concerning the need to re-establish harmony in the country's legal system.
The audience then was surprised by an unexpected speaker; the disgraced ex-officer Malka Chorno. Before she got on the speaker's platform, Malka stripped off her criminal's cape. As she stood shivering in the cold, her bare body distinctly white against the old Parliament building, the ex-officer reviewed her own career and her abusive behavior towards the criminals she had punished. She sought to make sense out of her own attitude by self-analyzing her misdirected thirst for revenge against the people who had kidnapped and killed her sister.
"I did things to criminals I should never have been allowed to do, and I think... had there been some restrictions in place, I would not have turned into what I became. I disgraced my profession, precisely because no one stopped me. I cannot change what I did, but I know that a standardized punishment regime will prevent other officers from following in my footsteps."
Malka Chorno's speech had more of an impact than anyone at the time realized. The sight of a frightened, shivering, naked ex-cop, repenting and pleading for legislation that would have kept her own behavior under control, persuaded several important deputies in the Parliament to change their votes in favor of the reform. As a result, the entire opposition party delegation voted in favor of revising the 1780 Corporal Punishment Code, as did about a third of the deputies from the ruling party. The reform passed on the first vote.
Vladim Dukov was the man of the hour. As he stood in front of his cheering supporters, he was awestruck at what he had accomplished. He had changed the course of Upper Danubia's history and forced the entire country to examine itself. Dukov was not an aggressive or proud man, but he had a strong vision for what his country should be and what it should not be. Part of that vision now had become law.
There would be celebrations among the country's Spokespersons and an apology from the assistant police doctor who had scoffed at the idea Dukov could change the country's legal system. There would be mandatory retraining for the National Police Force and a series of promotions and demotions. Now the others would have to treat Officer Vladik Dukov with respect, whether they wanted to or not.
In spite of everything else that would transpire as a result of his success, Dukov's most important task was to address the people who would be most affected by his reforms, the criminals of Danube City. The night after the reform passed, Spokesman Vladim Dukov returned to the Socrates Club for the first time in several years, along with his wife and his client Kimberly Lee. He warmly shook hands with the old owner of the club and looked around at a place where he had spent much of his youth. It had not changed much, to his satisfaction. The club was filled to capacity with criminals eager to understand what the reform actually would mean for their sentences.
Vladim and Maritza may have been respected public officials, but they also were ex-criminals in a club with strict protocol about equality among the people attending. Vladim and Maritza undressed and surrendered their clothing before entering the main area of the club.
It was a bit of a shock for Kim and her friends to see Vladim Dukov step in front of the club's microphone, as naked as anyone else in the room. At that moment Kim realized how deeply her Spokesman's experiences from own his sentence were ingrained in his brain. In the Socrates Club Dukov saw himself more as a fellow criminal than as a public official.
Dukov began by explaining what the reform would do and what it would not. He went down a list of changes, the most important being the prohibition against sexual fondling. There were other revisions, including a standardization of the severity of the strokes, more authority for Spokespersons to intervene to prevent injury, and a new restriction against switching a criminal more than once every 60 days. Other provisions included not allowing a punishment to take place outside a courthouse or police station. For example, criminals never again could be punished at a school. They could not be chained and forced to march down a street. Nor could they be struck prior to the formal switching, for example they could not be kicked or beaten on the shoulders while waiting to be punished. There would be no participation in court-ordered punishments by anyone other than police officers. The days of medical students and girlfriends toying with criminals were over. Finally, there would be a time limit placed on the length of a switching. No judicial punishment could last longer than 50 minutes, one minute for each stroke.
Dukov explained his goal to keep the Duchy's corporal punishment system intact, but remove the excesses. "My desire is that, from this point forward, any criminal will know exactly what to expect from his or her sentence. What the judge orders will be what you must endure. There will be no unpleasant surprises from the police, nor from anyone else. Anything not specified in your initial sentence is prohibited."
Dukov went on to discuss the only realistic alternative to Upper Danubia's judicial system, which would be implementing a system of jails similar to what existed in the rest of the world. Dukov explained why he thought jails were a bad idea, an opinion shared by everyone else in the crowded room.
Upon the conclusion of the Spokesman's presentation, there was a shout of "DOC-DOC VLADIM!" With that Vladim Dukov and his wife joined Kim and her friends at their table, along with the owner of the club and a couple of other older professionals. It was still a bit of a shock seeing Vladim Dukov as an equal in the Socrates Club. It was even more of a shock for Kim to see Vladim and Maritza dance together later in the evening. They were reliving their time spent as criminals, a full generation ago. Their bodies were aged and no longer attractive, but Vladim and Maritza Dukov looked perfectly at home on the dance floor of the old Socrates Club. They had returned to a world their hearts really never had left.
In time Kim would follow in Vladim Dukov's footsteps and take over his responsibilities. She would be a Spokeswoman herself, and hang her collar under a picture of herself and her future husband. Kim also knew that 20 years from now she and Sergekt, their bodies weathered by age, occasionally would return to this club and dance among a new generation of criminals.
The members of "Socrates' Mistresses", along with 12 song writers who contributed music on a regular basis and 6 others who contributed sporadically, found themselves increasingly wrapped up in their music as March and April passed. They had been performing so much at the Socrates Club that they were well practiced. Recording sessions were not that big of a challenge, since everything the group sang they already had sung in public several times over.
The group's first CD sold out quickly after it was released. The company scrambled to produce additional CD's and speed up the release of "Socrates' Mistresses" second CD. The music became popular throughout Europe and parts of Asia. For some odd reason the CD became particularly popular in Japan and Taiwan. Slowly, very slowly at first, the music began to make headway in the United States among people looking for something relaxing to listen to that was different.
At first the group's music was classified as "New Age", although that description was not really accurate. When a music scene reporter asked Kim about how she thought her group's music should be described, Kim simply responded, "The music is Danubian, that's how you would place it. It's not New Age, or Folk, or 'traditional'... it's Danubian."
Eloisa tasked Kim to re-write five new songs in English. The task of translating the five new songs proved somewhat harder for Kim than doing the first four songs. Kim had provided the ideas for the lyrics of the first songs she sang in English, but the themes for the new songs had come from other band members. Still, Kim realized that Eloisa had picked songs that had universal appeal and would reach out past the cultural and language barriers that separated Danubian criminal society from the rest of the world. In the end Kim translated the five songs, practiced them late at night in her room, and presented the translations to Eloisa.
Once again Eloisa's sharp ears listened to the sounds coming from Kim's throat and assessed how well they sounded with the group's backup singers and musicians. In the end she dropped one of the translations and kept the other four, thus giving the band more songs with which they could appeal to English-speaking audiences.
Kim called the group's recording company to tell them the band had an additional 2 CD's worth of songs they would be able to record. The company responded by sending a team of recording studio employees and renting the best recording studio Danube City had to offer. The group's members spent the final weeks of March and nearly all of April recording one high-quality song after another, including the four English translations. Finally, one of the company representatives suggested that Kim sing a couple of very old English love songs that were hundreds of years old. The old English songs added two more non-Danubian songs to the music collection.
At the end of April the company's studio employees left Upper Danubia with enough recorded music to fill the two CD's Kim had promised. Later that year, a Hollywood producer making a movie about the fall of Gaul to the Romans was looking for music with a sad, haunting feel for the movie's score heard Kim's version of "That's all I'll ever be" on the radio. Intrigued with the song, he had a copy of the CD delivered to his office. As soon as he heard Eloisa's voice, he was hooked. He had found precisely the music he wanted for his movie.
As their music's popularity exploded across Europe, Kim's friends continued to live their modest lives in Danube City. The money from their efforts built up in their bank accounts, but the only person who was aware of that was Kim. Between their studies, their jobs, their personal relationships, and the restrictions of their sentences, Kim and her friends lived lives that were barely distinguishable from the lives of over 2,000 other criminals serving sentences in Danube City. They worked, they studied, and they fulfilled their social responsibilities to their families and future in-laws. They gathered at their usual tables at the Socrates Club in the evenings they were not recording, and they made love upstairs in the intimacy rooms. As criminals, they knelt in front of police officers and public officials, they shivered naked at the trolley stops, and they dreamt about July, when they finally could return to living normal lives. They were very humble, and very ordinary, people.
Ex-officer Malka Chorno shaved her pubic hair on April 5, as she prepared to receive her second punishment with her own police belt. She announced to her exercise classes that she probably would be unable to lead the sessions until Monday of the following week. That night she sat quietly with Tuko at the Socrates Club, after repeating her announcement concerning the cancellation of her exercise classes to the entire club.
Malka had one last night of aggressive love-making with Tuko, and then cleaned up and took a trolley to the Central Police Station. It was quite cold outside, but Malka was naked except for her collar and winter boots. Like most other criminals she treated the criminal's cape with contempt, wearing it only when she expected to stand outside for long periods of time.
Malka Chorno was not scared in the same way that Kim or Eloisa were scared the nights before they faced being punished. Instead she was quietly resigned to her upcoming suffering. She had violated her responsibilities as a police officer, and now she had to pay for it. Malka did not see what was about to happen to her as unfair. She had inflicted suffering on plenty of people herself, and now it was her turn.
Deep down Malka had felt guilty about the way she had been treating criminals prior to her arrest. However, as she struggled with her internal conflicts, she became all that much more vicious to the criminals she punished. In a way Malka was relieved to no longer have that continuing internal emotional conflict within her soul.
The former police officer also was relieved that her life's punishment was happening now instead of taking place in the Afterlife. Danubians had a vague idea of heaven and hell, but their Church hierarchy taught them that the Afterlife was neither. Instead, Danubian priests taught their congregations that a dead person's soul endured the results of both good and bad actions he or she had committed while still alive. For a Danubian the Afterlife was a mirror image of a person's life. Malka had grown up with that idea embedded in her brain, and thus as a cop she had been very scared of what might happen to her spirit after she died. Now that she was a criminal herself, she was paying her debt during this life instead of later. She could die with her soul at least partially redeemed.
Malka arrived at Spokesman Dukov's office and knelt in the reception area, waiting for him to arrive. The secretaries came in and asked Malka if she wanted any tea. She shook her head and asked for a small glass of water instead. When Vladim Dukov arrived, Malka knelt at his feet and kissed his shoes. Following the normal procedure for a routine punishment, Dukov retrieved Malka's police folder and prepared several punishment certificates.
One of Malka's ex-coworkers entered Dukov's office to handcuff her and take her downstairs to the punishment room. Malka quietly walked downstairs, passing several of her former colleagues on the way down. Some of her ex-coworkers glanced at her with contempt. Others gave her sad looks, thinking that what had happened to her was not fair.
Malka, her escort, and her Spokesman entered the punishment room. Malka's escort locked the door and then un-handcuffed the criminal. The chief of the Danube City Police Department, along with most of the section chiefs, were present and waiting to punish their former employee. Dukov took a quick look at their faces, trying to gauge their mood and attitude about their upcoming task. However, the stern, weathered faces of the commanders were inscrutable.
Because Malka was not a common criminal, some of Vladim Dukov's reforms did not apply to her. The police officials in charge of punishing her would not have dreamt of touching Malka sexually. However, there was no strict time limit placed on her punishment, nor any limit on the number of strokes she would receive. Malka's sentence stipulated that she would be beaten to the limit of her endurance.
Malka knelt, took off her police belt, and laid it flat on the floor in front of her. She then knelt forward, placing her forehead on the floor. Once Malka was in position and her Spokesman standing next to her, the judge spoke.
"Malka Chorno, from this point forward I will refer to you as Criminal # 99348, because a criminal is what you chose to become. It grieves me to see you like this, because I always thought you were a good officer, that is, until I witnessed your shocking behavior in this room last July. As of today, the convictions of four charges against you remain in place, two violations of Article 3 of Item 18 of the Grand Duke's reform of the Judicial Code of 1780, one violation of Article 4 of Item 18 of the Grand Duke's reform of the Judicial Code of 1780, and the violation of Article 9 of Item 5 of the Judicial Code of 1524, the crime of Insurrection. Do you have anything you wish to say to me before your punishment begins?"
"No, your honor. I was convicted according to the laws of our country and I am prepared to comply with my sentence."
"Very well. Spokesman Dukov, you will release custody of Criminal 99348 for the duration of this punishment."
With that the Chief of Police approached Vladim Dukov. The two men saluted each other. "Spokesman, are there any restrictions concerning the punishment of this criminal that I need to be advised about?"
Dukov answered: "No Chief of Police... no special restrictions."
"Very well." The Chief of Police then addressed Malka. "Criminal 99348, you will pick up your belt and present it to me."
Malka complied by picking up her belt and handing it to her former commander. He doubled it and tapped her on the shoulder with the leather. Malka now was out of Dukov's custody. Malka leaned forward and kissed the Police Chief's shoes.
"I expect you to position yourself properly on the table. Make sure that pillow is under you correctly."
Malka picked up the hard tubular pillow and laid it across the table. She then climbed up and draped her body over the pillow, leaving her bottom high in the air and fully exposed. Malka extended her arms and legs to the corners of the table, exposing herself even more. She positioned her wrists and ankles over the straps that would immobilize her. The Police Chief buckled the straps himself, and then took his position near Malka's upturned bottom. He laid the belt across both bottom-cheeks and let it rest in that position for several seconds, mainly to increase Malka's anxiety. Finally he lifted the belt, took aim at Malka's bottom, swung hard, and delivered a tremendous CRACK! to both sides of her exposed backside. Malka gasped from the pain and shock of the blow, but remained quiet. A vivid pink strip marked the womanís otherwise pale skin. Dukov looked on sympathetically, but it would be a very long time before he could raise his hand and halt the punishment.
The police chief used the same tactic as he used the year before, carefully laying a series of vicious swats, one right after the other, on the same place. After the first 10 strokes Malka had a searing red stripe marking her bottom, which was exactly as wide as the belt. The Police Chief paused, and then struck the bright-red stripe another five times. By the 15th stroke Malka was shaking from the pain and her efforts to not cry. The Chief of Police paused for a couple of minutes, as the bright red strip darkened and swelled. Finally Malka's former boss lifted the belt again.
CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!
The Chief of Police started punishing the rest of Malka's bottom, starting with the white skin immediate below the deep red stripe. As before, he punished viciously and methodically, expanding the red portion of her bottom by a belt-width.
CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!
The police chief worked his way down to the crease that divided Malka's bottom-cheeks from her thighs. He paid particular attention to the sensitive area at the base of Malka's bottom. He struck hard, determined to break Malka's resistance. Finally he decided to aim at the sensitive area between her spread legs.
He struck a couple of savage blows that made contact with Malka's exposed vagina. She grunted and gritted her teeth, determined not to give in. The police chief struck hard at the upper part of her bottom, then returned to the base of her bottom-cheeks, again aiming at the sensitive area between her legs. Finally Malka's voice cracked and her resistance broke. Her body began shaking with sobs, but still she was trying with all her effort to stay as quiet as possible.
After the 50th stroke the Chief of Police stopped. He saluted one of the section chiefs and handed Malka's belt to him. The new official took position beside Malka, and commenced striking her hard. However, the criminalís second tormentor concentrated on her bottom and made no attempt to further torment her vagina.
CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!
After 25 methodical strokes from the section chief, Malka began crying out as each stroke landed on her bottom. Between the strokes she was sobbing as loudly as any other criminal. She had held up quite well, but there was no way she could expect to hold up under such a lengthy punishment without her spirit finally being broken.
The section chief handed the belt to one of the arraignment committee members for yet another 25 strokes. When Dukov raised his hand, Malka's bottom was deep red with purplish welts. As before, her bottom would be spared any further injury that day, but her legs still awaited punishment. At that point the Chief of Police did something rather cruel to his victim. He clapped his hands and ordered tea to be served to himself and his subordinates. Malka, lying immobilized and in agony, would be forced to wait before the final part of her punishment would be administered.
When the Chief of Police asked Dukov if he wanted some tea, he angrily declined.
"I want this punishment to finish. I do not think this is appropriate, nor beneficial to Criminal # 99348. I think you should exercise a minimum degree of sympathy."
Dukov received an unexpected word of support from the presiding judge.
"I agree with the Spokesman, Chief of Police. You will continue this punishment or I will conclude it."
Somewhat chastened, the police chief angrily set down his cup and stood up. He passed the belt to another section chief, who immediately began belaboring the disgraced cop's upper thighs.
Once she had received the standard 50 strokes on the backs of her thighs, the court guards unbuckled the restraints on Malka's wrists and ankles and roughly turned her over. When they restrained her facing upwards, the woman's legs were spread and her shaved vagina was rudely exposed to the judge and the other witnesses in the room.
As Dukov contemplated his one-time enemy and current client, he felt a twinge of sexual arousal. The sight of Malka's fit muscular body restrained and spread was intensely erotic to her Spokesman, as was her teary face and her helplessness. Dukov felt guilty about being excited by the view of his prostrate client, but his mind quickly jumped to the thought that her exposed pubic area might become a target of the belt unless he intervened. The Spokesman raised his hand.
"Your honor, I am requesting that you specifically prohibit that my client be struck anywhere other than her thighs. I would like that clarified."
The judge paused for a second, noting the former police officer's exposed vagina. Yes, that part of her body was very vulnerable and it would be for the best to grant the Spokesman's request.
"I will make that clarification in your favor, Spokesman. Criminal # 99348 may be struck only on her thighs. A blow to any other part of her body will end her punishment."
The section chief wielding the belt glared at the Spokesman. He had been looking forward to laying some hard strokes between the woman's spread legs and getting some good screams out of her, but now couldn't because of the judge's order. It was a small victory for Dukov, but a significant one for his client. The man sighed and began marking the criminal's upper thighs with reddish welts.
CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!... CRACK!
Malka cried and screamed as the final 50 strokes of her punishment darkened her upper thighs. Dukov raised his hand a final time and the court guards unbuckled her from the table. She struggled to get off and maintain her balance once her feet were on the floor. She presented herself to the judge, who signed her punishment certificate. Finally came the concluding humiliation, having to kneel and kiss the shoes of each of the police officials who had punished her. Malka struggled to move on her knees from official to official, thanking each one for flogging her.
Suddenly, through the emotional haze of her pain and embarrassment, Malka remembered how she had treated Kimberly Lee at the end of the American's second punishment. She had forced Criminal # 98945 to repeat over and over her "thank you" in an effort to humiliate her. Now life had thrown that humiliation right back into Malka's face, as she was forced to kneel and say "thank you" over and over to her multiple tormentors.
With that the Chief of Police touched Malka's shoulder with the belt and saluted Vladim Dukov. Criminal # 99348 now was safely back in his custody. The Spokesman instructed his client to walk to the door ahead of him. She complied, although she was unsteady on her feet and had trouble keeping her balance. Once out the door Dukov put his arm around Malka and helped her get up the stairs.
When they entered Dukov's office Malka's situation finally hit her full-force. She knelt at her Spokesman's feet and began sobbing uncontrollably at the humiliation of her life. For the first time she truly realized what had happened to her. She had been flogged by the people she had worked under, and flogged with a piece of her own uniform.
Criminal # 99348's view of herself underwent a huge change at that moment. She knew, no longer suspected but actually knew, that she did not want to return to the National Police Force, in spite of Kimberly Lee's gesture of forgiveness. How on earth could she go back to being a police officer after having undergone the experience of serving a sentence? How could she ever face her superiors in uniform again after having been whipped by them? Did she even really want to? She now saw herself for what she was, a criminal. That realization devastated her.
Malka heard Dukov's voice from what seemed a great distance. "Malka, please, you must stand up. You don't need to prostrate yourself before me. Your whipping is over, and you can go back to your normal life."
Dukov put out his hand and his client took it. He helped her get up. Suddenly she put her arms around him and began crying into his shoulder. Dukov felt a bit uneasy having to hold her and comfort her, but such physical contact between a Spokesperson and a criminal was permitted immediately following a punishment. Some criminals needed to be comforted by being held. The Spokespersons' Code of Conduct had guidelines that permitted such physical comforting, as long as there was no sexual contact.
After a long time crying into Dukov's shoulder Malka finally quieted down, but she stayed pressed up against him. "Spokesman Dukov, I don't know what 'normal' is any more. I don't know what my 'normal life' is, or what it should be."
"I suppose your normal life is your responsibility to your gym classes and to your boyfriend. Right now those are your priorities."
"But later... later what?"
"Only you can answer that question, Malka. Your life will become 'normal', but what 'normal' actually means is a matter only you can determine."
Kim's friends became increasingly nervous as the end of April approached. The reason was simple enough; they were due to receive the final switching of their sentences on April 25. The switching was the final major event of their sentences they needed to endure before their release in July, but that did not make them any less apprehensive about having to face the switching table.
Spokesman Havlakt lobbied hard to get the group's final punishment canceled. They had contributed greatly to Upper Danubia with their music, they had risked themselves during last summer's forest fires, they were in college, and they were leading productive lives. What good could possibly come out of making them suffer yet again, for something that really was not their fault to begin with?
The sentencing judge was sympathetic to the group's plight, agreeing there was no point in administering the final switching. However, the law stipulated that unless a criminal had performed some important service to the country or an act of personal heroism, a scheduled judicial switching could not be canceled. The reasoning behind that law was to prevent Spokespersons from filing routine petitions to cancel switchings and to prevent them from seeking special treatment for their clients.
Spokesman Havlakt and the sentencing judge sat down to examine several old cases, to see if there was any way to get around that law. Finally, just two days before the group was due to report to the Central Police Station, the Spokesman found a partial solution to the problem, which he presented to the judge. The judge would not be able to cancel the switchings completely, but he felt the court could justify reducing the punishments to 25 strokes, because the crimes had been committed when Eloisa and her friends were still under 18. There was one such legal precedent for such a reduction, from a case in the 1960's that was somewhat similar to the one resulting in the convictions against Eloisa's group. On that occasion the students had been sentenced to a year of wearing collars and to receiving three switchings. Like Eloisaís group, the first switching was the standard 25 strokes for persons under-age. The second switching was 50 strokes, but the groupís final switching was reduced back to 25 strokes, the criminals being punished as minors, even though they were above 18. The legality of punishing adults as minors in the 1960ís case was never challenged. Spokesman Havlakt now had a legal precedent to request a reduction in the severity of his clientsí punishments. The sympathetic judge read over the case and agreed with the Spokesman. He could use the old case as a justification to reduce the final punishment of Eloisa and her friends to 25 strokes.
That evening Spokesman Havlakt called Eloisa and her boyfriend and told them contact all the other members of the group. They reported to his office in the evening, all 28 of them. They knew their Spokesman had something important to tell them, or else he would not have had them report to his office at night.
"I have some good news for you. It's not as good as I would have liked it to be, but still, you may consider yourselves blessed. The sentencing judge and I were determined to see what we could do to eliminate your final corporal punishment. We could not completely eliminate your final punishment, but when you are switched the day after tomorrow, you will be punished as minors, not adults. In other words, each of you will receive 25 strokes with the switch instead of 50."
Eloisa and her friends looked at each other, visibly relieved. The Spokesman continued, explaining the case that led to the legal justification for reducing the punishment. He concluded, "I don't know if this case would have helped you earlier in your sentences or not, because its legality was never challenged. There won't be any opportunity for the prosecutor to challenge the legality of the case now because it will be used on you in just two days and on a single occasion. But once you have been punished the day after tomorrow, that will be it. A little over two months from now your collars will be off and you'll be free citizens. Keep your minds focused on that when you lie across the switching table this one last time."
The Spokesman then laid out the schedule for the group's punishments. His goal was to simply get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. The police would be using two punishment rooms, 14 members of the group per room. The Spokesman decided to divide his clients into two sub-groups of 14, one of which would report to his office at 8:00 in the morning, the other which would report at 11:00 in the morning. He hoped to have the punishments completely finished no later than 2:00 in the afternoon.
Once 14 members for each shift were present, they would be divided between the two punishment rooms, 7 per room. Spokesman Havlakt would take one group downstairs, while Vladim Dukov would take the other group downstairs. They would be switched one at a time, each one then being released to return to the Spokesman's Office after his or her switching.
"I hope that, with just 25 strokes, you won't need much time to recover, but for any of you who do, I'll have my tables set up. I do expect you to stick together once you have been punished. Come upstairs to my office, or to Spokesman Dukov's office, and wait there until everyone from your group is done."
Finally, the Spokesman emphasized the changes under the new rules resulting from Vladim Dukov's reforms. "What you must endure will be very straightforward. You will go downstairs in handcuffs, each one of you will be strapped down, you'll get your 25 strokes, you'll be let up, you'll thank the cop for punishing you, and you'll come back upstairs. That's it. No leg irons, no fondling, no hits on the shoulders, no kicks, no fingers up your bottoms. We got all that to stop. The younger cops aren't that happy about it, but that's just too bad. You're not here to give them playtime."
Dima knelt and the others followed his lead. As the leader of the group he pressed his forehead on the ground at the feet of his Spokesman, and with that the group departed to the Socrates Club. The group was no longer afraid; they now simply looked at their final switching as the last unpleasant event that stood between the present and the conclusion of their sentences. For most of the group, their sentences really would end in two days. There were no more switchings scheduled, nothing to be afraid of during the final two months.
Eloisa and her friends shaved their pubic hair one final time the day before their punishments, but they did not wear the long faces they had worn during previously. Tomorrow's ordeal would be painful and unpleasant, but not horrific and humiliating as it had been on previous occasions.
The following morning, at 7:45 am, eight young women and six young men knelt in the reception area of their Spokesman's office. They had split into two groups, four women and three men each. They would follow their usual routine of allowing the women to go first. Shortly after the group was kneeling Officer Vladik Dukov and his partner entered the Spokesman's office. The 14 criminals knelt forward, touching their heads to the floor. Vladik addressed the group in a very routine manner.
"Very well, you all know the routine, so I'm not going to make an issue out of it. I need all of you to stand up in the order you plan to be punished. As I come up to each of you, you will turn your back to me and present your hands. Once I handcuff you, step into the main corridor and get in line. My partner and I will take you downstairs and we'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible."
Once the fourteen criminals were handcuffed and standing in line, a second pair of police officers joined Vladik and his partner. They were somewhat older, a man and a woman. During that spring very few younger officers were punishing criminals, since most of the younger cops had to return to the National Police Academy and be retrained to punish criminals under the new guidelines.
Once the two groups were ready, Vladik tapped Eloisa's shoulder and motioned her to follow him downstairs. With that a group of seven naked, handcuffed criminals followed the two police officers to the first of the two punishment rooms to be used during today's switchings. The second group followed behind and disappeared into the second punishment room. Spokesman Havlakt entered the punishment room along with the two police officers and seven criminals. The police locked the door and removed the group's handcuffs. There was the usual reading of the charges and sentence conditions by the judge as the seven criminals knelt with their foreheads pressed to the floor and their bottoms high in the air. Once the official reading of the charges was over, Eloisa and her companions knelt upright. They no longer would be required to keep their heads pressed to the ground until their turn came up to be punished.
Vladik and his partner took their places close to the switching table and waited. Spokesman Havlakt tapped Eloisa on the shoulder. She struggled to her feet, stepped forward with her Spokesman, then dropped to her knees at Vladik's feet. There was the normal question from Vladik. "Spokesman, are there any restrictions concerning the punishment of this criminal that I need to be advised about?"
"Yes, Officer, today there is a restriction concerning the punishment of this criminal."
"What is that restriction, Spokesman?"
"The court has ruled that you will punish this criminal as a minor, in accordance with a precedent set in 1964 with the sentence of Criminal # 52298 and her five companions. The court has ordered that you are limited to delivering 25 strokes instead of the normal 50."
"Very well, Spokesman, I will comply with the restriction."
With that the two men saluted each other and Vladik tapped Eloisa on the shoulder. The exchange had been a formality, because Vladik already was aware of the ruling. Still, the court records needed to document that Vladik Dukov understood he was to give only 25 strokes and why. The same exchange would be recorded for each criminal in Eloisa's group, in each of the two punishment rooms.
Eloisa leaned forward and kissed Vladik's shoes. Again he tapped her shoulder with the switch. "Criminal # 92870, rise and present yourself at the table."
Eloisa stood up and for the last time in her life extended herself across the switching table. Vladik's partner secured her wrists and ankles with leather straps, then buckled the strap around her waist. Eloisa was immobilized and ready to receive her second switching from Officer Vladik Dukov.
Vladik Dukov tapped Eloisa's bottom with his switch and quickly struck her with a sharp, painful blow. He was not hitting her as hard as the law permitted. However, he had to strike her hard enough to leave a clear mark, or the sentencing judge could not count the stroke when he presented Eloisa's bottom to have her punishment certificate signed. Eloisa would have to have 25 clear switch-marks on her body for her switching to meet the minimum legal standard. This was, after all, real punishment, not a formality. Eloisa understood that, and held no resentment against Vladik for hurting her. She knew that he was trying his best to keep her suffering to a minimum.
Eloisa gasped and tears ran down her cheeks as Officer Vladik Dukov laid one painful stroke after another on her exposed bottom. She was determined not to cry, however, during this final punishment of her sentence. Vladik tried to accommodate Eloisa's effort not to cry by moving as quickly as possible through the 25 strokes. He tapped Eloisa's bottom, laid a red stripe, tapped her again, and struck again. He was done within 10 minutes. Eloisa maintained her dignity and managed to stay quiet during her ordeal.
Vladik and his partner quickly undid Eloisa's straps and she struggled to stand up. A bit uneasy on her feet and her cheeks streaked with tears, Eloisa allowed Vladik and his partner to take her arms and present her backside to the judge. The judge counted 25 red welts on her bottom, and signed her final punishment certificate. Eloisa then approached Vladik and her Spokesman, and knelt to kiss his shoes. There was a salute, and that was it. Eloisa was released back into the custody of Spokesman Havlakt, never to be punished again.
Eloisa left the room and struggled to walk upstairs. The pain from the strokes had actually increased a bit, but that was normal. She walked into the reception area of her Spokesman's office and past his secretary. The secretary put her hand on a recovery table, but Eloisa shook her head. She didn't need a recovery table. What she needed was to be alone for a while. The secretary nodded and opened the door to the Spokesman's back office.
"The others will be looking for me. Please tell them where I am, but not to bother me. I need... really need... not to be bothered."
Eloisa entered her Spokesman's main office and closed and locked his door. She was alone, as she wanted, but was unsure what to do next. She walked to the window and looked out onto the street below. The trees were leafing out and people were walking around in the warm spring sunshine. Some of the younger women were wearing a new style of sundress that recently had come into fashion and that Eloisa really liked. She was hoping the style would still be popular in July, because a new summer dress was one of the first indulgences she wanted for herself once her sentence ended.
It's over... thought Eloisa to herself. This is finally over; at least the dread of the physical punishments was over. The only part of her sentence left was the waiting until July 2, and then, freedom. Eloisa knew that sometimes criminals looked back at the final part of their sentences, the weeks between the final switching and actual freedom, as the happiest time of their lives. The anticipation of freedom is very present in their minds, with none of the disappointments and hardships that invariably accompany a person's ability to exercise free will. Eloisa would have to be careful with her impending freedom, and was well aware of that fact.
Ever since her first year in high school, Eloisa's life had been one of personal hardship and psychological torment. In some ways her sentence had been far easier on her than the four years that had proceeded. Her mind had suffered and her body had suffered. Suffering was what defined Eloisa; it was what made her who she was. She expected to suffer, and actually was somewhat frightened of having to live a life in which the only suffering she endured would be the torment of her own memories and her guilt. Maybe she could someday break free from all that, maybe she couldn't.
The searing pain coming from Eloisa's bottom continued to torment her. This had been by far the most lenient punishment she had received, but for some reason today she felt that day's welts more than she had felt any of the other switchings. She walked over to her Spokesman's full-length mirror and sadly studied the red lines marking her pale skin. For a long time she stared blankly at the carpeting at the foot of her Spokesman's desk, as the anguish inside her soul rose to the surface. Eloisa could feel it, rising from her gut to her chest, from her chest to her throat, that unbelievable torment embedded in her soul.
I'm damaged, and I don't see how I can be fixed. Eloisa used the Danubian word "poganachoa" to describe herself, which meant "broken beyond repair." What if that was true?
The memories came back, full force. All those horrible things that teacher made her do... and those pictures. And on top of all that, an unfair sentence that dragged her friends, and even some students who barely knew her, into her problems... How could she ever find peace after all that had happened to her? Over and over she repeated the damning phrase from her life...
"Ya dek poganachoa! Ya dek poganachoa! Ya dek poganachoa!"
Eloisa began crying. After all these years, she needed to cry. Not cry from the pain of a sore bottom, but cry from the pain of her experiences in life. She sank to her knees and rested her elbows on one of the office chairs, burying her face in her hands. The young criminal's entire body heaved with sobs. She had been brave; she had done everything possible to live as honorably as she could, given her circumstances. She had repaid the society that had so cruelly mistreated her with kindness and the gift of her music. She had fulfilled her social duty to the friends who had sacrificed for her by becoming successful and making many of them successful. Now however, there was one thing that Eloisa needed. She sobbed on and on, louder than she had ever cried before. She had seven years of intense pain built up in her soul, and finally it had to come out.
By the time Eloisa started crying and making such a scandal in the office, all of the group's women had finished with their switchings. The women had prepared some tea and were nursing the welts on their bottoms. They were extremely upbeat, due to their relatively mild punishments and the knowledge they now were done with the physical portion of their sentence. However, their good mood was disturbed by the sounds coming from the other side of their Spokesman's door. The seven young women clustered around and became increasingly worried about what was happening on the other side.
Eloisa was confident the thick wooden door of her Spokesman's inner office would muffle the sound of her crying. Normally it would have, but she was crying so loudly that her fellow ex-classmates could hear her quite clearly in the outer office. They heard her screaming "Ya dek poganachoa", but none of them could understand why she would be saying that. The crying went on and on, continuing as the six male students from the first punishment group came up the stairs to join their eight female classmates.
Several members of the group debated getting the key from Spokesman Havlakt and opening the door. It was Spokesman Havlakt who came up with one final important detail to that plan. "If you really want to disturb Eloisa, then you need to call Kimberly Lee and have her go into that office by herself. She knows Eloisa better than any of the rest of you, and I think she's the only one who can get her to calm down."
The others immediately jumped on the idea of having Kim try to talk to Eloisa, since it was true Kim was much closer to Eloisa than anyone else in the group. One of the group's backup singers made a quick call to the music store.
Kim excused herself from work and sped to the Central Police Station on her bicycle, arriving within five minutes. She darted up the stairs to the complex's top floor and the Spokespersons' office area. She entered the office, took the key from Spokesman Havlakt and eased the door open. She found Eloisa lying on her stomach on the floor, her body still jerking with sobs.
Kim was reluctant to disturb her friend, knowing that Eloisa needed the
emotional release she was experiencing. At the same time, Kim suspected Eloisa
also needed comforting. She knelt next to her friend and laid a hand on
her shoulder. Eloisa continued to sob. While their other friends were baffled
by the statement "I'm damaged beyond repair," Kim did understand what Eloisa
was saying. She addressed her friend in Danubian,
"Tebe negat... Eloisa. Tebe negat poganachoa..."
Kim tried to fill her friend with hope, with the idea that she could, and would, get past everything that had happened to her over that last seven years. She helped Eloisa stand up. Eloisa, still sobbing, hugged Kim tight, almost intimately; to the point the American felt a bit uncomfortable. Kim felt Eloisa's naked body pressed tightly against her own, her companionís breasts flattening against her chest. Eloisa pressed her head on Kim's shoulder, which quickly became wet from her friend's tears and saliva. Kim said nothing more... she just held Eloisa for a very long time while the other women and Spokesman Havlakt watched nervously through the doorway. Eloisa sobbed and tried to speak. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
"There's nothing for you to be sorry for! You didn't do anything wrong! I want you to understand that! You didn't do anything wrong! Do you think so many people would have stood by you if you had?"
Eloisa stopped sobbing, but she continued to hug her friend tightly and cry quietly. She looked up at the doorway at the collection of concerned faces.
At that moment Eloisa realized how lucky she truly was to have such loyal friends. She realized she had one final debt to pay to them, and to herself. She had to put her awful memories behind her. She had to move forward and begin changing, to find something else to define her besides her past suffering. She would have to find happiness, or at least come to terms with herself and find inner peace. Eloisa admonished herself. If Tuko's crazy policewoman girlfriend could change, put her torments behind her, and find inner peace, certainly Eloisa could.
Eloisa was leaning hard on Kim, in a manner that made the American realize she was completely exhausted. She guided Eloisa to the Spokesman's sofa, which was covered with a clean linen cover to accommodate the office's naked clients. For a long time Kim held Eloisa, until the group's lead singer went to sleep.
Kim finally eased herself out from under her friend and gently laid her down. She would have wanted to cover Eloisa, but she knew that was prohibited. In theory a criminal was not allowed to use bed covers at all, but of course at home no one bothered to enforce that rule. In a public office however, the rule about no covers had to be obeyed.
Kim studied her friendís lovely bare figure and sleeping face. Asleep, Eloisa's face looked peaceful, free from the tormented expression she often carried with her when she was awake.
Tuko was among the guys being switched in the second group. His turn was right after Sergekt, so he watched Sergekt's punishment with deep interest. Tuko's emotions were in turmoil. He was happy this was his final switching and that the punishment had been cut in half. He also was happy about the new restrictions and not having to be humiliated once again in front of the students of his ex-high school. No more being forced to kneel spread and on full display to hundreds of jeering female spectators, no medical students shoving their fingers up his bottom, no forced erections, no male cops fondling and squeezing his testicles. However, it was precisely because the severity and much of the nastiness had been deleted from the corporal punishment he faced, that Tuko saw eroticism in what was happening to the seven young men in the punishment room.
A middle-aged female cop saluted Spokesman Havlakt and asked the usual question if there were any special conditions she needed to be aware of before punishing Sergekt. As he already responded 11 times, the Spokesman answered yes and cited the 1964 case and provisional ruling. Sergekt kissed the cop's shoes and went over the punishment table.
The punishment for Sergekt was an unpleasant experience, but in comparison with what he had endured previously, it was quite mild. He had not been groped, he had not been kicked, and his shoulders were not covered with welts before his formal switching began. He had not been forced to march down the street in chains, nor forced to stand on a stage with his erect penis on display to a shouting audience. All he had to do was face about 15 minutes of intense pain, and then it would be over... this three-year nightmare would be over. Sergekt held his breath and winced each time the switch made contact with his bottom. He gasped between strokes and sweat trickled down his face, but he never was in any danger of crying.
As Tuko studied the growing collection of red lines on his friend's spread bottom, he felt increasingly aroused. The detail that most got to him was the sight of Sergekt's testicles and exposed bottom-hole, on full display to his tormentor and to everyone else in the back of the room. His girlfriend Malka used to do this... she used to have guys strapped down and spread, naked and completely defenseless. She punished without mercy. Tuko suddenly developed a guilty fantasy. He imagined that he was strapped to the table instead of Sergekt and that the cop was Malka. He fantasized that Malka was about to punish him.
Sergekt's punishment was over just as Tuko's fantasy was getting under way. His penis had stiffened somewhat, a detail that caught the attention of everyone remaining in the room. Sergekt gave his friend a perplexed look as he nursed his marked bottom and walked out of the room.
It was Tuko's turn. He relished the preliminaries of his punishment, the kneeling, the kissing of the cop's shoes, the getting up and lying across the punishment table. All that time he was imagining that it was Malka who was wielding the switch.
The female cop lined up her switch on Tuko's bottom, but she did not strike right away. She saw quite clearly that this criminal was sexually excited. She would not have fondled him even if she had been allowed to, but she did rub the switch over his bottom to raise his anticipation. As he felt the cruel hard strip of leather momentarily caress his bottom, Tuko became even more aroused. By now his penis was quite hard, as he closed his eyes and imagined that it was his beloved Malka who was about flog him. He relaxed his bottom and tried to shift it out, wanting to expose it even more to the woman in the uniform.
The cop was fascinated by the criminal's display of arousal. Very well, young man, if it's a severe punishment you want, than that's what you'll get, she thought to herself. The cop pulled her arm back and struck Tuko full-force. The stroke landed in the sensitive lower part of Tuko's bottom, just slightly above the crease that separated his bottom-cheeks from his upper thighs. Tuko gritted his teeth as the pain seared into him, but the fantasy that it was Malka who was punishing him bore into his brain even more. He wanted to surrender himself to her, to have her completely control him.
The cop struck again, a second cruel line of pain placed immediately above the first one. Again Tuko gasped, all the time imagining that it was Malka, wearing her police uniform and her cruel smile, who was tormenting him. He imagined a full punishment of 50 strokes, laid on his bottom so hard that she would be forced to finish on his thighs and back.
The cop rubbed Tuko's bottom with the switch, touched it across the spot she planned to strike next, and struck precisely where she indicated. Again Tuko gritted his teeth and gasped, but the gasp was not entirely from the pain. A third thin reddish line took its place right above the first two.
Tuko's punishment took nearly twice as long as the switchings of his companions, almost half an hour. The cop was determined to see how far she could push the criminal while limited to 25 strokes, curious to see if full-force strokes would break his arousal. Rarely had she encountered a criminal who actually was aroused during punishment, and of the few who started out aroused, most quickly snapped out of it once the first strokes started landing. This criminal was different. He seemed to become more aroused, not less, as the pain mounted in his bottom. The cop had no way of knowing this young man was the disgraced Malka Chorno's boyfriend and that he was imagining it was own lover who was beating him instead of a stranger.
Tuko was shaking and covered in sweat when the cop finally finished with him. His bottom was severely marked; clearly showing the difference between strokes laid at the minimum legal force the others had received, and the maximum legal force. The cop and her partner unbuckled Tuko and he stood up, his penis fully erect and bobbing slightly.
The cop and her partner grabbed Tuko's arms and presented his backside to the judge. Tuko's bottom was badly marked up and there was no question his punishment was valid. The judge, however, was more concerned about Tuko's sexual arousal.
"Turn that criminal around."
The two cops complied, forcing Tuko to face the judge with his erection pointing straight at him. The judge gave Tuko an annoyed look. "Young man, you will explain to this court this indecency. Whatever is in your head, I expect to hear it."
Tuko stammered "Y... your honor... My girl... girlfriend used to be a... a cop... and I... I had this fantasy."
"You're Ex-Officer Malka Chorno's boyfriend?"
"Yes... yes your honor."
"Then maybe, once she finds out about your disgraceful behavior, she'll use some of her old punishment skills on you, which obviously you clearly need. In the meantime, you will stand next to the bench in the prisoner's stance, facing the rest of the room. You will stay in that position until that disgusting erection is gone."
Having to stand with his hands behind his head, with his legs spread and his bottom throbbing, seemed only to accentuate Tuko's state of intense arousal. He stood quietly, with his knees shaking and his penis continuing to bob up and down. In the meantime, the group's final criminal, Dima, was strapped to the table and punished. The cop had exhausted most of her remaining energy punishing Tuko and was in no mood to exert herself on the group's leader. Dima, after having been the most harshly punished criminal in the group during all of the previous switchings, today received the lightest punishment. The marks barely met the minimum legal standard and the he did not even have any tears in his eyes when his punishment ended.
Tuko remained standing in the criminal's stance after Dima was released and left the room. Right after that, to Tuko's horror, his girlfriend Malka entered, having been summoned by one of the judge's assistants. Malka took a quick look at her boyfriend before dropping to her knees and touching the floor with her forehead.
The judge ordered Malka to stand. She stood crisply at attention, in exactly the same way she had been taught to stand when she was still a cop. The difference, of course, was that now she was completely naked except for her collar and her police belt. The judge addressed her. "I expect you to teach this young man some manners. He seems to have a fantasy about you punishing him, and because of that fantasy, he disgraced himself in court today. What I expect is for you to turn his little fantasy into reality. He only has two months left on his sentence. During that time I expect you to make sure he's properly disciplined."
Malka gave Tuko another quick look. "Yes, your honor, I'll make sure he is properly disciplined. I'll need to borrow a switch."
"I'll have the old one from your uniform given back to you as soon as we adjourn. Keep in mind you may only use that switch to comply with my order. You are not to use it for any other purpose."
"Yes, your honor."
A few minutes later Malka and Tuko left the punishment room together. Malka was holding Tuko's hand with one hand and carrying her switch with the other. The naked couple made a rather odd sight as they walked to the Socrates Club, Malka with her switch and Tuko with his welt-covered bottom. By this time his hard-on finally had subsided, but the combination of fear and intense sexual arousal still was very much present in Tuko's mind.
They entered Malka's gym, which was empty at the time. Malka's first exercise class of the day had passed and her martial-arts class was not scheduled to begin for another hour. Malka ordered Tuko to assume the prisoner's stance in the middle of the exercise area. She then gently caressed his penis and testicles with the tip of the leather switch. He went hard immediately.
"Very well, Tuko. I love you, but the judge is right. You do need discipline. I've thought about that for a while and wanted to bring it up with you, but now the judge has done that for me. Having an erection in court, and then saying it was my fault! What on earth were you thinking?"
"I... I was fantasizing that it was you who was punishing me, Malka. I don't know why, but I kept imagining you instead of that other cop."
"Well, whether you like it or not, it's no longer a fantasy. As soon as your welts heal, I'm going to punish you again, and punish you for real. In the meantime I want you to keep shaving." She tapped the cleanly shaved area right above his penis with the switch. "Since I need to discipline you, I expect you to be properly shaved at all times. Now lie on the floor on your back."
Tuko complied, wincing as his welts pressed on an exercise mat. Malka knelt beside him and took his erect penis in her hand.
"You really are a bad boy. I don't think any of us realized how bad you are until today. Well, I plan to fix that." She gently massaged his penis and caressed his testicles. "So, Tuko, do you think you're a bad boy?"
"Yes, Malka, I'm bad."
"That's right Tuko, and bad boys need discipline."
Malka straddled Tuko and lowered herself onto his penis. She gasped and moved on top of him as she climaxed. The thought of punishing her young lover, precisely at the moment she felt him inside her, drove Malka wild with sexual desire.
As Malka's weight pressed his welts hard against the floor, Tuko's excitement mounted. The fear and anticipation of being punished by her took control of Tuko's soul. He relived his half-hour bent over the switching table, feeling both intense pain and intense arousal. Tuko no longer was fantasizing. He would be strictly disciplined as soon as his welts healed. He suspected he would spend most of the rest of his sentence with his bottom constantly healing from the latest set of welts from Malka's switch. That thought, combined with the intense pain from his bottom and the intense pleasure from the feel of being inside his future disciplinarian, drove Tuko to have the best orgasm of his life. The moans and gasps of the two lovers filled the gym, as did the intense smell from their sexual excitement and their sweat. Malka definitely would have to air-out before her next class.
Malka, however, was not finished. Her strong sexual drive demanded yet more satisfaction, plus she needed to establish her dominance over Tuko. She rolled on her back and spread her legs.
"Tuko, I'm a mess. You need to clean me up before my next class. Start licking. I'll tell you when you can stop."
Tuko studied Malka's shiny vagina and the pubic hair surrounding it, which had partially grown back since her last punishment. He had to clean both his own orgasm and Malka's orgasm off of her skin and surrounding hair, using his tongue. He had no choice but to submit. He had brought this on himself.
Tuko licked the area around Malka's labia first, trying to clean her up as best he could. He was somewhat disgusted by the taste of the combined orgasms, but at the same time excited by being forced to follow his lover's commands. He moved his face between her legs and gently licked around her vagina. Malka was getting wet again, so Tuko moved to her clitoris and began gently massaging it with the tip of his tongue. Malka involuntarily shuttered with anticipation. She began to sweat, a sign she was about to climax. Tuko became excited as well, his active sex drive having recovered from his most recent coupling. He moved over Malka, who complied by raising her legs. He entered her and thrust hard, the pain from the welts in his bottom somehow giving him that extra edge. Once again the gym filled with the sounds of the two lovers and the strong smell of their sex. Tuko kissed the ex-cop, smearing some of the remains from the previous orgasm on her face.
The two finally recovered from their second round of orgasms, only for Malka to realize that her martial arts class started in within 10 minutes. Malka dashed out the door to the main building of the Socrates Club to take a shower, leaving orders with her boyfriend to clean up the mats and try to air out the gym. Tuko complied, opening the windows and wiping down the exercise mat. He picked up Malka's switch and set it on her worktable. Tuko's hands trembled as he touched the black leather handle. He knew he would be seeing, and feeling, a lot of that switch over the next two months.
Eloisa recovered during the afternoon in her Spokesman's office. Finally she got up with a new resolve. She had to face her fears and overcome them. She would go to the Socrates Club tonight, try to relive what happened to her, and try to repair herself. Within two months she would have her freedom back, and she felt an urgent need to be ready to face the challenges of being a normal citizen.
That night, with all 27 of her high school friends present, along with Kimberly Lee and the group's miscellaneous girlfriends, boyfriends, and fiancees, Eloisa stood on the stage of the Socrates Club to talk. She discussed her thoughts about being damaged beyond repair and openly speculated whether or not she could ever lead a normal life. There was hope, however.
"For the first time in my life, I feel there is some hope. Maybe someday I can find happiness. I didn't think it could happen, but I now I believe it's possible. I want to say one more thing. The only reason there is even hope in my life is because you..." she turned to face her friends at the table, "...were there for me. The ancients chose to inflict suffering on my body and my soul. However, they also gave me the friendships that I needed to survive my ordeal. And they gave me one special person... the one man in this city who could understand me... who fought for me... who has waited..."
Eloisa broke down crying. Her boyfriend approached the stage and took her hand. She collapsed in his arms, as the rest of the club sat in respectful silence. They left the stage, with Dima expecting to take her back to her seat at the group's table. However, a strange resolve had built up in Eloisa. After four years of knowing him, she wanted to try having sex with her boyfriend. It would be the most difficult thing Eloisa would do in her life, but she had to break through that barrier. For some reason she couldn't understand, she felt that tonight was the one night she might succeed in reclaiming that portion of her life. She quietly took Dima aside and asked him to take her upstairs.
He reacted with doubt and fear... what if this didn't work? What if... But perhaps she knew something he didn't. Perhaps this was the one opportunity to break through her psychological wall of horrific memories and internal torment. So, to the amazement of their friends, the couple slipped through the back door of the main hall and headed for the stairs. Their hearts pounding, they found an unoccupied intimacy room. They slipped inside, but suddenly Eloisa's resolve began to falter. She didn't know what to do next, being totally fearful of being hugged sexually.
Dima figured out how they needed to approach breaking through the sexual barrier. He couldn't take her. The moment he held onto her in a sexual manner she would start having flashbacks. She would have to take him, go at her own pace, and stop where and when she needed to.
"Eloisa, I am going to lie on the bed. You're going to get on top of me. That's the one thing he didn't make you do, is that right?"
"I... I was never on top."
"Then that's how we'll do it, me underneath and you on top. You will be in control. I will do whatever you tell me to do. Take your time. There's no rush. And if you can't... well, we'll try again later on."
Dima lay on the bed on his back. Eloisa nerved herself to approach the bed and sat down next to him. She started moving her hands over his, and then ventured to massage his chest. Eloisa nervously moved her hands to the area right above his penis, exploring the shaved spot where his pubic hair had been a couple of days before. She took a deep breath and touched his inner thighs, looking intently at his penis and testicles. She had seen his body on a daily basis for nearly three years, but never this close and never from below. Finally curiosity overcame fear, and Eloisa began exploring her lover's most intimate regions with her fingertips.
The reaction was immediate; he became hard right away. She had touched him... there... and not recoiled in horror. Eloisa's heart raced as she ran her fingers up and down his stiffening penis. She was fascinated by the change, never having seen her boyfriend have an erection before. So far... so good... no flashbacks.
"What... What do I do now?"
"There's a tube of gel in the dresser drawer. Hand it to me."
Eloisa complied, and watched as her boyfriend dabbed the end of his penis with lubricant.
"I'm ready. The rest is up to you."
Eloisa clumsily positioned herself over him, trying to line up her vagina and his penis. It was a bit difficult, and he had to help guide himself inside her. The experience for Eloisa was not altogether pleasant, because no one had entered her for nearly four years and her muscles were tight. Her vagina hurt as the flesh was forced to open up, but she knew that particular pain would only be one time. The next time would be better, and less painful.
In spite of her lack of an orgasm, Eloisa was not disappointed at all. Quite to the contrary, an immense happiness swept through her as she felt her lover pulsating inside her. She was able to concentrate on the sensations of the moment, not on what had happened to her four years before. Because the position her fiancee had chosen there was nothing to associate her current efforts to have sex with anything that had happened to her in the past. The experience was far from perfect, but they had done it! They had managed to make love!
Eloisa's healing process began in earnest three nights later, when once again she straddled Dima. By the second time she had lost some of her fear and was much less tense. She moved more naturally on top of her lover, more relaxed and feeling more pleasure from his body. Finally her own body opened up. For the first time in six years she had an orgasm, a release of pent-up sexual tension. As she gasped and squeaked on top of her lover, Eloisa's body experienced sensations she had not experienced since she was 14, since the day before her teacher took the first pictures of her as a teenager.
The long-suffering lead singer of "Socrates' Mistresses" lay next to her lover once they were done. She caressed his hand and held it to her chest as hope rose in her soul. Maybe I'm not broken beyond repair after-all, she thought to herself.