Kim was brought into the Emperor’s Visitation Chambers where she was pressed down to the floor onto her knees. Though she was not bound, she knew not to move. She saw in the circular lower pit in the center of the room a crying girl, similar in age to her own. This girl was sobbing in a heap of embroidered robes. Kim looked up and saw the Emperor sitting high in his gilded throne, a look of stern intensity on his face. Kim looked away quickly.
The Chanter said, “Remove her.”
A glowing cone of light came down from above and a moment later the girl and the robes were gone. Kim stared in disbelief. A nudge and a poke brought her to her feet again and she was pushed forward into the ring where she stood before the Emperor in her own robes, not entirely dissimilar to the previous girl’s.
The Chanter asked, “Behavior?” An older woman, the caretaker for the girls brought before the Emperor, came forward with a scroll and carefully found Kim’s name on the long list. Her voice, as dry as leaves: “Insolence to her keeper. Mistakes across multiple functions. Intentional lying and misleading.” The woman shuffled into the shadows.
The Chanter looked at Kim who stared at the floor of the ring. “Punishment or Game?” No one had told Kim what was going to happen. There were no rules, only stories and rumor. Kim had heard from another girl once that those who went before the Emperor were made to perform Sapphic rituals. Another girl in her advanced kinetics class had told of a girl who had been punished so badly when she returned she could barely move for two weeks and she was forced to endure her painful recovery staring at a portrait of the Emperor and made to count pixels. Kim didn’t know what to believe, but found herself in a moment in which she had no possible answer.
The Chanter asked again, more sternly, “Punishment or Game?” Kim was a strong girl, made obvious by being top of her class in advanced kinetics as well as body physics, but she was also a keen player of chess and knew strategy well enough to not pick something that she could not win. “Punishment?”
It came out more of a question than an answer.
The Chanter: “Punishment!” There was a murmur in the chamber from others hidden in shadow. From the sides of the room, two women came out wearing thigh-high boots and nothing more, dragging long glowing cord behind them in each hand. They both appeared quite strong. Kim couldn’t imagine anything that was described as “punishment” being also described as “Sapphic” but these relatively nude women suggested otherwise.
The women bound Kim’s wrists and ankles, far too easily and quickly. The glowing cords were made of intelligent material, so they wrapped themselves tightly around her appendages and fused together like a boa around tree branch. The women threw the other ends into the air and they sought a purchase in the ring, pulling taught so that Kim stood there, arms high and wide, legs spread. They were gone as quickly as they had entered.
Then he came in. The Persecutor. He was tall and thin, but with sinewy muscles like a bicycle rider or Aerial Messenger. He didn’t really look like a “persecutor” to Kim. He walked down into the ring and moved around Kim, looking her over slowly. He moved in closer, undoing her robe and letting it fall to the floor. Kim didn’t struggle or fight. This she knew would be a bad chess move. Avoiding the glowing cords the Persecutor ran his fingers across her from neck to ankle, as if inspecting livestock for purchase.
He extended his arm as if reaching for something then and from the bracelet around his wrist came an implement Kim had not seen before. It was soft, like leather, but coiled like one might roll a towel but with a handle on one end. He cracked this implement in the air and it made a sound like a whip. Kim shuddered and jumped. He walked behind her and let the material lick her naked flesh, slowly tasting her. She couldn’t see him but knew what was next: the Persecutor pulled back, swung long and wide and let the implement sear across her back and shoulders from left shoulder to right hip. The pain was excruciating. It burned and stung at the same moment, the surface feeling like she had been cut, but then the pain spreading wider and deeper across her musculature. He did this again and again, criss-crossing her back, moving down to her bottom then letting the lip slice at her hips, thighs and the back of each leg. Kim couldn’t tell if she was bleeding or not, though she did not feel any warmth of her blood dripping from anywhere the implement had touched.
The Persecutor came around and stood in front of Kim, scanning her again from head to toe with intent eyes. The Emperor leaned forward hungrily. Then the Persecutor did the same, lashing at her breasts, her belly, the fronts of each leg. The skin was not being cut. This implement just felt like it.
Her eyesight went white and at last he lashed again, wrapping the terrible thing around her neck and choking her until she couldn’t breathe, then going slack and releasing her. She cords went slack and she dropped to her knees. One of the women in boots threw Kim’s robe at her. Kim could her another girl being brought in behind the ring, much as she had done a few minutes earlier, the next girl to be punished in line for the pleasure of the Emperor.
The Chanter uttered, “Remove her!” but before she was taken, she found her strength, stood up, looking the Emperor in the eye and shouted, “Game!” She stomped her foot defiantly for good measure, the robe dropping to the floor with the movement, exposing her red welted flesh.