Tale no. 4 in the Selective Service series. To read the earlier stories, visit this page.
140722, usually addressed as “14” or by any of a large number of crude epithets, sat on a bench in the gladiator’s locker room, drenched with sweat, bowed over with the weariness of exertion and grief. He was naked, except for a thick wet mop of shoulder-length wavy blonde hair on his head and across his face, and for a brown leather belt and meshwork girdle about his hips, groin, and buttocks – a girdle that served, not to guard, but to display his generously-proportioned genitalia.
Once, early in his training, in that same locker room, he had complained about the girdle’s lack of comfort or protection. In response, the drill instructor had charged him viciously, aiming fists, feet, and knees at the genitals – a charge that 14 desperately, and just barely successfully, parried.
“The Mothers get to see exactly what they want to see, exactly how they want to see it”, he’d snarled into 14’s nose. “You protect your prick and balls with your skills and your wits, and you display them with the same. And if you can’t and you get them smashed, you’re done! You’re out of the show, for good! Got that? It’s not like anybody’s going to care.”
He spat the last words out savagely.
“It’s not like you exist, fourteen oh seven twenty two!”
The instructor had then spun on his heels and stormed down the corridor towards the gymnasium. The other nine males in the cohort had stared stonily ahead, walling themselves off from the altercation, from 14. When he had reached the end of the hall, the instructor had turned back and screamed, “Get your lazy asses into the weight room. You want to survive, any of you, you have work to do!”
14’s mind returned to the present; his blue-grey eyes focused on the girdle, now soaked with cold sweat and pinching him in several places, some of them tender from rubbing during the battle he’d just come back from, some of them tender because that’s what those places were to start with.
He stood up, slowly and carefully, so as not to turn a pinch into an agonizing grab, and began to work the seventeen buttons, clasps, and ties that held the garment in place. The standing revealed a hairless sixteen-year-old white body, six feet tall, in transition from the buttery litheness of late, well-conditioned boyhood to the sharply-defined contours of early hyper-fit maturity, the whiteness marred by grapple marks on the shoulders and what looked like a whip stroke diagonally across the pecs. Slowly and carefully he disengaged the girdle from his anatomy, lifted it to eye level – then with a sudden ferocity dashed it straight down to the locker room’s concrete floor. The dull, scattered thud it made was vaguely disappointing. 14 took a step away, intending to leave the offending leather contraption where it lay and stalk off for the showers.
“Pick that up, asshole.”
14 spun into a battle crouch, hard and alert, all weariness thrown off as if it were a bug he’d smashed against his hide, and faced his tormenter – the instructor of his boyhood, now Entertainment Coordinator for the Cohort. The Seattle Secret Cohort. Males assigned to the Mothers of the Seattle area Selective Service; males thought, by the rest of society, to have been exterminated long ago, a triumph of the Righteous Revolution.
7758D (for “Drill”, a token of leadership) was this male’s name, called “7D” or “Master” to his face, and many other things behind his back. An outsized hulk, fortysomething, five foot ten, olive skin, brown eyes, and no hair anywhere – anywhere – on his body. The hair had been permanently removed at the whim of a committee of Mothers whose members had fancied him. The memory, and lingering pain, of that removal had done nothing to sweeten his already ferocious disposition.
For a minute or more, 7D and 14 stared each other down, neither moving, neither relaxing. Then, slowly, without taking eyes or attention off his adversary and superior, 14 bent slowly at the knees, torso remaining erect, ready for action at any provocation. He bent until he was low enough for his left hand to reach and grasp the discarded girdle. With one lightning motion he swept the pile of leather off the floor and returned to battle stance, prepared to use the straps as impromptu lashes if he needed to.
“You will follow the full procedure for proper care of your arena dress, mamadick”, 7D snapped. “Every time! Got it?” The ‘procedure’ was a lengthy and onerous regimen for washing, oiling, and buffing the girdle. 14 and his cohort-mates suspected, rightly, that little of the regimen was necessary either to extend the useful life of the garment or preserve its appearance. If anything, it made the thing harder to put on, more uncomfortable to wear. Instead, the regimen served to occupy time and sap energy, and demonstrate the perpetual subservience of those obligated to perform it.
Which he was. “Get on with it. Now!” the Master commanded. 14 turned towards the sink complex at the back of the locker room, near the showers, that was set aside for garment washing, hoping that 7D would take the opportunity to inflict himself on somebody else. In that hope he was disappointed, for the hulk followed him and stood by him, a silent, glowering mass of disrespect and belittlement, as the younger male ran the water and began to massage individual leather strips under the stream.
For ten minutes, neither spoke. 14 had been commanded to wash, not to talk, and he had nothing to say anyway. Not out loud. 7D moved nothing; 14 could not even be sure that he blinked in all that time. Finally, 7D broke the silence, speaking in a low and muted tone that came out of nowhere and immediately caught 14’s attention.
“They will be distributing 42’s stuff tomorrow. You will be there.”
14 dropped the girdle in the sink full of water – definitely against protocol – and whipped round, astonished. “No way!” he cried. “Yeah, I roughed him up out there, but I didn’t kill him! I didn’t even hurt him that bad!”
“Says you”, the Master muttered, almost inaudibly. “The Mothers voted him off.” Abruptly, a full-volume scream, bordering on hysteria. “OK, shithead, you beat him! Did you have to humiliate him!?!”
“He tried to jump me!” 14 screamed back.
“Oh, was that it?” 7D’s scream transitioned into a hard, vicious sneer. “What’s the matter, pretty prick? 42 wasn’t good enough for you? Saving yourself for some Mother, were you? Thought you might impress by showing one of us up, did you?”
Savagely, 7D latched iron hands onto the skin and muscle between 14’s armpits and pecs, one hand on each side, and effortlessly lifted the youth high into the air. “I’ve got news for you, asshole. Members of this cohort have been gang-raped for far less that what you are guilty of! And so help me!” The Master shook 14 like a drowned puppy. “If I had my way, I’d be first in!”
With a heave, 7D threw 14 against a bare wall of the locker room – but far more gently than he might have; 14 barely felt the impact. “But”, the Entertainment Coordinator for the Seattle Secret Cohort bit off the words, “I don’t get to have my way. I got special orders from the dear ladies to look after you, keep you safe from harm. It seems at least one of the Mothers has taken a fancy to you. You might just get your wish.” He spat.
The prospect of meeting a Mother – any Mother, never mind one that, ah, fancied him, was about as far as possible from being 14’s wish. Rather, he dreaded the prospect, more than the prospect of being roughed up for real by the Master and the others in the cohort. At least that was familiar. “But, what would a Mother want from me? It’s not like they need us for anything.”
“Why don’t you ask Siri that question?” 7D jibed.
It was well known that Siri “The Ubiquitous” monitored nearly every inch of the underground, sealed compound that housed the Secret Cohort, and, if necessary, she would send robotic militia into the compound to keep order. But, except through these emissaries, she did not speak to the cohort, and the cohort’s members, denied the necessary implants, did not speak to Siri. In the first locker that 14 had been assigned when he began gladiatorial training, he had, after several weeks, noticed a faint inscription in one interior corner, perhaps one of the few places out of Siri’s view. It had read:
Males, and animals, are free.
He had long wondered what it meant, and where it came from, if indeed its history could be traced.
7D broke into 14’s wondering. “Fetch that sodden mess out of the sink you threw it in,” he said gruffly, “and take it to Disposal. I’ll sign for a new one. And be sure“, he announced more loudly, “to get yourself to 42’s distribution tomorrow. You are under protection now. You don’t know how long that will last. Abuse it at your peril.” With that parting shot, the Master finally did turn on his heels and march out of the locker room.
Leaving the youth 140722 silently, ominously, distressingly alone.