Three Commandments Story from 2013. Warning: Adult Subjects
Here’s the first 2000 words of my first story on the planet Brunch. I almost sold it to Interzone, but the editor pushing for its publication left during some (I assume non-related) in-fighting. I thought this story too “mature” for U.S. science fiction magazines, and was not yet familiar with self-pub venues.
Shall I convert this to Kindle? Is there a market for long (10,000+ words) short stories on Amazon?
Sunday School Lesson
The morning after the shuttle landed us on Brunch, Madame Quigg told me I had to go to Sunday School. I was outraged. Maybe the body in the fluffy pink robe was only ten standard years old, but I had the hypertime of a thirty year old and the memories to match.
I was the highest paid of Madame Quigg’s girls and already knew everything that mattered. I spent my work time pretending to be whatever the johns wanted; I didn’t need to waste my free time pretending to be a kid.
Flouncing down onto the couch in our hotel suite, I crossed my arms and stuck out my tongue.
“We’re all going to ‘Sunday School’, Therese” said Madame Quigg, switching her glare from me to pouting May and Cynthia and Rose. The older girls were star-lagged from our month-long transit aboard the braneship Prophetess and looked it. They wouldn’t attract a sailor the way they looked, but for once Madame Quigg didn’t care. “It’s mandatory for all immigrants, regardless of actual or,” she swung her glare back to me, “virtual age.”
Madame tricked herself out in a high-necked, long-sleeved, opaque brown linen dress, which didn’t make a lot of sense given the heat of the morning and the weird range of costumes the other immigrants wore. Of course, she wasn’t merchandise. She made me wear a silk navy and white sailor dress that clung to my non-existent curves and showed my socks and knees.
I got plenty of smiles and darker looks as we waited under the spreading limbs of some kind of Earth tree for the Sunday School teacher to arrive. There were no other pre-pubes in the crowd, but I could see a couple of gawky adolescent Adam’s-apples under wisps of beards and black hats.
A melodious “bong” shivered the air, as if someone had struck one of those big copper gongs from a harem fantasy. Then a small, handsome woman in a pale yellow sari, wearing no jewelry except a databead necklace, stepped away from the trunk of the tree and climbed one of its arching, bark-covered roots.
“Welcome to Brunch,” she said, voice carrying effortlessly. She looked every one of her forty sheep in the eye, except me, because I hid my face against Madame’s brown flank. “Anybody wonder why a theocracy would name its planet such a silly name?”
No foreplay in this lady’s repertoire. She didn’t even ask us to sit down.
An adult black-hat with unattractive, curly sideburns and a long dark beard raised his hand. “Because the founders of your state religion were ‘inspired’ by the anti-religious Earth Church of Brunch.”
“Mostly right,” smiled the teacher. “Which is all any of us can ever hope to be. However, Marci and Ruth never considered the Church of Brunch anti-religious, just against divisive, organized religions. Our founders also believed in the healing sacrament of shared meals, and they bickered endlessly over whether their inspiration came from God.”
Her casual admission that her religion might be make-believe shocked the crowd to silence. This wasn’t how Sunday School teachers acted in my clients’ fantasies.
It was especially weird since Madame told me Brunchies were gaga about respect. They had three commandments: “thou shalt respect”, “thou shalt not waste” and “thou shalt be kind”, and respect was always top of the list.
The teacher let a couple of beats go by, then held out her arms like a stand-up comic. “An orthodox Jew, an agnostic and a teenager walk into a coffee shop for lunch. Why do all three leave hungry?”
We all just stared, and the black-hats gave an offended snort.
“Anyone? No? The orthodox Jew won’t eat from plates that might have mixed milk and meat, the agnostic can’t make up his mind what to order, and the teenager wants something not on the menu.”
Most of the crowd guffawed. I didn’t see what was funny. The black-hat who had spoken before didn’t, either. “I was led to expect that Brunch honored all creeds,” he said. “How can a teacher of religion show such disrespect for Judaism, the creed of one of their own founders?”
“I also poked fun at agnosticism, the creed of the other founder. On Brunch we tend to consider the Sin of Disrespect a matter of actions, not words. But if the joke offends you, you can always file a complaint with the police.” She didn’t look worried. Madame always worried about the police, and from the uniforms I had seen in the spaceport and hotel, there were lots of them on Brunch.
My hand shot in the air. Madame pinched me, but too late. “Yes, ma’am?” the teacher called.
Ma’am? I liked that. Madame stopped pinching me; she was all pragmatism, and our group would attract more attention now if I didn’t ask a questions than if I did. Anyhow, before I could change my mind, my mouth was opening and, for a change, instead of something long being stuffed into it, something short came out. “What would happen then?”
Madame’s shoulders relaxed.
The teacher beamed. “Then, as the defendant, I would get to choose which of three court systems on Brunch would handle the complaint: religious, civil or criminal. All have different procedures, different standards of proof and different types of penalties available to judges. For this complaint, I’d choose the religious court: there are no lawyers allowed and all the judges are ex-Sunday School teachers.
A bunch of people laughed. This time, I got it. The fix would be in if the teacher’s friends were her judges.
“Any more questions right now? No? Then please join us for brunch in the pavilion. We have disposable, recycled paper plates for the denominations that prefer to use them. All the food is clearly labeled as to ingredients, origin, and preparation method. Not calories, though.” She waited a beat for more snickers. This time I laughed out loud: I was the only one of Madame’s girls who didn’t need to watch her weight.
“See you there, hopefully chewing over what we’ve discussed today.” She waved, flipped the hem of her sari over her arm, and strode briskly toward the pavilion without a backward glance.
I looked up at Madame, Rose, May and Cynthia. Madame had brought only a select few of us from the House on Sembia to test the waters for a new branch on Brunch. She figured that religious types would be either pedophiles, virginity freaks or motherfuckers, so that meant me and May and Rose. But just in case there was actually demand for straight sophistication, Madame added Cynthia to our crew. No boys or men; Madame specialized.
The crowd around us dissipated, but we waited for Madame’s permission. The scent of colognes and body sprays and sweat gave way to agonizing aromas of baking and coffee. “Okay, girls,” said Madame. “One half hour free time. Coffee and fruit only, for everyone but Therese.”
Inside the pavilion, there were more people than just our one Sunday school class. I couldn’t even see the food over the backs of the jammed-together mass of bright dresses and dark suits, silk saris and cotton togas. It was worse than the spaceport: people leaned up against each other to grab steaming cups and fill plates with muffins, bagels, pita-bread, stuffed paratha, croissants, and cake. They chewed and talked and laughed with their mouths open, teeth gleaming, touching hands and arms and shoulders.
I stayed by the door, where I could keep one eye on Madame and the other on the forest of pine-like native trees that surrounded the Sunday school park. I didn’t want to get stepped on or get my dress dirty.
A hand touched my shoulder and I jumped. My clientele was almost strictly hypersex; only the very, very rich or very, very sick paid enough to touch.
“Did I surprise you, dear? I’m so sorry.” It was the teacher, and she looked guilty at startling me.
“No big,” I said, and turned away.
She turned with me. “Can’t get through to the tables? Here, let me break a path.”
Her bare fingers closed on my bare arm and my gorge rose, but I controlled it like Madame taught me. I fixed my eyes on the sun-yellow sari while I was dragged through a gap magically opening in front of a trestle table. A beaming figure in a black burqa topped by a sheer veil and a white hat like a mushroom, shouted, “Savita, where have you been? I have had to fight off half the congregation to save you the last slice of my cake!”
The teacher glanced down at me. “Do you like chocolate?”
I nodded. She waved at mushroom-hat. “Therese, this is Aaeesha, the best chocolate chef in Reunion. Aaeesha, this is Therese, a new student, just arrived on-planet.”
Mushroom-hat inclined her head, equal to equal. I curtsied with my cutest smile. Oddly, discomfort flashed across her face and Teacher’s. But Mushroom-Hat was uncovering a plas plate with a thick slice of cake so dark it was almost black, layered with six or seven stripes of milk chocolate and marzipan, topped with shiny fondant icing as black as the cake, so rich I could smell every delight across the table.
My stomach lurched, but this was the last piece. I clasped my hands behind my back. Why were they giving it to me? What strings were attached?
Teacher read my mind. “On Brunch, Kindness isn’t charity, Therese, it is a Commandment. It would be Kind of you to let me gain points with my peers by being Kind to you. Please.”
I had studied the weird State religion of Brunch during the month-long trip on the braneship Prophetess. Madame made me learn so I’d know how to manage the clients, sweeten the forbidden fruit. What the teacher said sounded legit. I unclasped my hands and accepted the plate.
“Thank you,” I said. Madame taught us to be polite.
Madame found me in time to keep me from licking my fingers. She made me do that whenever we ate in public because it made men look. But she must have decided we advertised enough this morning. Grabbing a re-sanitizable washcloth, she wiped my mouth and fingers like I was a baby, thanked the teacher for “looking after” me, and excused us. We picked up Rose and May and Cynthia at the tent door and hopped the solar monorail back to our hotel.
I tore off the starched sailor outfit as soon as we walked into our suite. Before I could throw on my soft terry shorts, Madame said, “No, Therese, you have a customer. Into your play-suit, immediatement.”
The thin, rubbery skin was hanging in my closet, first thing Madame made me unpack. I hated the way the skin pretended to be an ordinary evac suit, breaking open and stretching obligingly to let me pull it on. As soon as I pulled the hood over my face, though, the suit’s seams disappeared and it locked tight. The only way it would come off was Madame’s electronic key.
But the worst part was that the “play-suit” wouldn’t let me hear until I pushed its sensor-laden fabric into my ears, wouldn’t let me breathe until I pushed it into my nose and down my throat. Wouldn’t let me walk until I pushed it into my butt and cunt.
Once I did that, the suit pretended to go away; it pretended to be me.
“Vite, Therese, into the closet.”
We usually used an appropriately decorated bedroom as a “playroom,” but we hadn’t finished unpacking. If the john wanted a chase scenario, he was out of luck.
I pulled down a couple of Rose’s shawls and made a nest on the closet floor while I listened to Madame welcome the john and help him into his own play-suit. Madame must have met him at the brunch; we hadn’t been on-planet long enough to attract attention anywhere else. It made me uncomfortable to think the john had seen me in the flesh; which was silly when he’d see as much of the electronic me as he wanted in the virtual. Madame didn’t let me use avatars; part of my draw, she said, was the assurance that what the john saw and felt was a real, unedited pre-pube.
Of course Madame hadn’t told me what the john wanted; she said surprise made my reactions more spontaneous. More stimulating.
Like always, I closed my eyes and reminded myself that the john couldn’t really breathe on me, couldn’t touch me. In virtual, I was in control. Even if it wouldn’t feel that way.
The smell of spicy depilatory and fresh male sweat was the first warning I got that Madame was activating the link.