After the entire galaxy saw the pet woman Emperor Crush kept on a bondage collar, the Hunter rebels were able to take more power in the Senate by leaps and bounds. Then also, of course, the shame of Crush’s worse traits being shown to so many worlds caused the deer emperor to feel something he had not been exposed to in some time. Real guilt.
Moments after his live and in Biotech 3-D embarrassment, Crush shouted for a new personal advisor. This third new minister, a deer-man named Tussus, was a fair-furred Ungulate with long white feathering over his wrists and fetlocks. All other attendants, technicians, and camera-deer were dismissed. Liyane was unconscious after they cut the long edge of her golden collar free of its tangle. She was still breathing though, and so they rushed her off for treatment.
Crush had wanted solace immediately, so he ordered Minister Tussus to sit cross-legged with him after the broadcast, and in that very wreckage of the imperial office.
Crush stated, “If you tell me that this has anything to do with some ancient Red Box prophecy coming true, I’ll wipe you off the face of this planet, and have your remains pitched by rocket-fire beyond this galaxy so they never rest.”
“My Emperor, let’s focus somewhere else in that case… and your theory would be hardly possible anyways, when holy texts rarely—never—involved… well, inscribed bondage collars.”
“It’s just a normal collar that I was able to find at the last moment, Tussus.”
“A collar. For a woman? They don’t make any normal versions of those—and that’s definitely not a necklace you got for Miss Liyane. Please forgive me for making a distinction, Emperor, but I believe some form of transparency at this point, should help you. I don’t know why there wasn’t any before.” Minister Tussus then gently changed subject, “What is the best you can do for this woman, whom you’ve made into a slave?”
Crush rubbed at his nose, then looked down his sleeve, rather than answer. Fingers tapped along his brow. Rose colored screens snapped on and off again and some power line fizzled then cracked several red-glowing joints of ceiling tile, somewhere above. Tussus ducked his head and antlers, on instinct. Crush continued to sit there, moping. Behind them both, RecordO was a blackened husk covered in ivory emergency foam.
“Ehrm, Majesty? This would be a good moment give in—quick as you can, and let your conscience guide you. Or, we could do a centering exercise someplace other than ground zero… No? Of course not then, as you wish. Perhaps, as we wait… well, maybe you might ask yourself–Is it right to keep a Human woman as a pet? Should she be here, wearing rags, suffering from some horrible, untreated skin condition? And, she’s left all alone when you’re out working—that isn’t right. Not right for a whole, sentient being so much like yourself. The crime is not that the public was able to see, but that you have her… the latter would only damage your reputation further, don’t you sense that more than ever, now? So… Considering all of these things, what do you believe you should do, about the woman?”
After wrestling with it for several moments during which his face contorted painfully, Crush finally conceded to Minister Tussus that, whenever he went out, he would begin leaving the television on for Liyane.
Regardless of other opinions, it went as the Loving Emperor willed…
And so, whenever Crush left his apartments in the palace, Liyane was able to comfort herself with daytime television. She would get shaking fingers near to the screen and turn the volume up, for The Young, The Alien and The Restless:
“Jack, I don’t understand. Phyllis hasn’t been here since the Deer Invasion. And now, you’re dreaming of her?”
“Not just dreaming of her, Gloria. Don’t you dare pretend, now that you’re back in this house–that you’ve got NOTHING to do with it!”
Liyane held onto the television screen with both hands as if she were looking deeply into a lover’s face. She was ready, to mouth the words, “I loved your father, Jack! From the day he saved me, I loved John, and I will always be an Abbot. Always, whether you like it or not!”
“I will bury you. I will take GLOW Galactic Corp. and all those nasty interplanetary Glow Worm Bar and Grill chains away from you, Gloria, and I will BURY YOU, once and for all!”
Another man entered the room. Keemo, who Liyane hadn’t seen looking like that, in a very long time.
“Keemo! What are you doing here? No one’s heard of or seen you since that time you conspired with Victor in Hawaii…”
“I’ll give you that, father. It is incredibly strange I’ve only been brought back just now. I am, afterall, arguably the most handsome man who was ever cast on this show.”
On her side, Liyane snapped to attention. “Oh! I wonder if that strange line they just gave Phillip Moon was from decades’-worth of contract negotiations?” Be pleased, it was the first coherent thing Liyane had said in months.
Keemo went on against Jack, dashing as ever, “I’m also back here in Genoa City to make sure–father,” he spat, “that you don’t ruin our family again.”
Keemo’s new Biotech body had practically raised the actor from the dead. Liyane was amazed at how good the show had become since she was last home—had Humans penetrating the galactic Senate done so much for Earth? As Liyane continued to listen, that was essentially the Y&A&R storyline as well. Adam Newman had got back together with Sharon (which also saved her from the Victor Newman clone), and Adam was currently running for one of the last free Senate seats. Though, Adam was having trouble now, because Sharon had got locked in the Newman family RecordO machine by accident last week. Gloria staged it to look like Adam had gone crazy, pulled an Emperor San’ur Crush at the last moment. Gloria even set Sharon up in a new gold necklace with chain purchased from Fenmore’s. So, the whole thing came off looking frighteningly authentic.
“I’m the one… I inspired their show?” Liyane opened her mouth with smile and never closed it.
As part of his penance, Crush had also offered to look up the soap opera’s plot spoilers online for Liyane, so she was aware of an older story arc where the ghost of patriarch John Abbot was secretly a half-deer, and not dead, AND once a member of the Hunter rebels. Could that have been inspired by her too? No, think, girl. Think clearly…
Then, another set of tantalizing voices. Liyane tried, but could not see these actresses in the scene yet. “Yes, adding alien videographic techniques to the Earth soap operas did make them better, Paramine.”
“I’d agree, Lady Billiveu—But it’d be even more accurate to say, deer civilization practically saved daytime television. As for what the Humans are doing to it now, with all this new Senate funding…? I’m afraid to ask.”
A commercial break revived Liyane and she turned to face the other women in the room.
“…As Lady Billiveu was saying,” said the woman whose lips were painted a brighter green, “Ungulates have done more for Earth than Humans ever have, for themselves. From the Biotech enhanced satellites stabilizing global warmth, down to bringing its daytime television back from the brink of extinction. And, finally, we’ll be fixing Liyane. Dear, where does he keep your real clothes?”
Paramine went to the other side of the room, began searching through chests of drawers. “Damn. You’d think with all superficial filth his mistress enjoys being exposed to, there’d be at least some makeup in here. Liyane, deer, don’t you like looking like your monstrous friends on the screen? Where is your lipstick at least, so you can look more like your favorite—Billey, what was that crazy woman’s name, with the stripes in her hair?”
Liyane shuddered, raised herself up on two legs. “That is Gloria Baldwin-Abbott–the new matriarch of a powerful… f-f-family of lawyers, fashion designers and c-c-con artists! Don’t you start making f-f-fun… She and the—artist! Who plays her son Michael Baldwin just finished masterminding a three part season finale together, in real life. There’s hope for Y&A&R as long as Earth endures, and the so the show’s going to get even better!”
“Real life?” said, Lady Billeveu. “There is no difference between this and that pathetic dream world you’ve been living in. Everyone’s a worker, doing a job—whether it’s behind a camera or at home like a bitch-dog with the Emperor’s television left on. Oh, Paramine, there’s nothing in here to do the job with, and she’s starting to sound like a revolutionary. I bet it’s all those ‘Hunter pride’ commercials. We’ve got a great deal more work to do if this is how he’s left her.”
“Hey, Billey… We’ve come this far to avoid a PR disaster. Think we can sneak her out of the palace too?”
They were finally able to convince Liyane that it was safe to leave the television and Keemo behind, by saying that it was only their intention, to get her to look exactly like one of her beloved divas, in Y&A&R.
“I have several favorites, actually, not just Gloria… and, okay, maybe you are right, that adding aliens to all the storylines saved a lot of my shows. There’s even a rumor that Phyllis is going to come with back hooves and a cute little white deer tail–she’ll be unstoppable seducing Jack–and then, Crush told me the forums online said, Phyllis might even take on the Adam-Sharon-Victor Newman Clone super-couple!”
Lady Billeveu and Paramine took her to a private room, where their handmaidens came quietly in and took Liyane’s measurements. Lady Billeveu, began asking Liyane to call her Billey once the calculations went well. “And you still have a nice figure too, deer, down under there somewhere.”
“Yes, and you know it’d be wonderful if you could make me look like season three Vicki Newmann, after she finished being a stripper and married Victor. Not his clone, but the first, original Victor that doesn’t have two sets of antlers on his head. Wardrobe is so silly—”
Paramine breathed through her nose. Lady Billey arched eyebrow in disgust.
“You see! That’s exactly how Phyllis does it, that’s good, Lady Billey. But can you do Vicki Newman’s graceful indignant look? Takes years to master, I hear. I’ve been practicing, look…” and Liyane went on and on about it as they swifted her from room to glass hallway, and then down another set of stairs. Billey mourned that Crush could not have wanted her for what all the tabloids now believed, because of that golden collar. In essence, she and her cohort were about to do a great deal of work that day, for nothing, and there was no way out of pursuing it.
“Darling, can you calm down a little, when I can’t imagine how your tone of voice, or your terrible personality will help you charm anyone? Silence, for now, is probably your best asset.”
Paramine was made of worse stuff. Once the three women were helped into a carriage outside, she clipped teeth to their chit-chattering charge and said, “Shut up, Liyane.” And then they passed the rest of the carriage ride to the Form Fitter’s in silence.
Wyle was truly an enchanting planet. Tree shadows were rose-gold. The sun was a cool, hopeful white. Leaves danced in their pleased falling, forever. However, no one in the countryside spent their time lounging. When they left the palatial estate, that was easy to observe. All those who were outside were working on their farms or at their crops in some way. The growing season on Wyle was that short.
Yellow saytyrs that pulled their carriage leaped from the palatial shelf, pawing tiny hooves through the air to fly away from a cliff that raised the Imperial Palace above the land around it. Liyane was able to look down on the capital of Wyle, a city named Wyle-wyrsh, and she quickly understood that its citizens, even those living the higher life, weren’t very sloth-minded either. Everyone went at a determined pace. They alighted near the train station in one of its most elegant districts. The women were helped out of their jingling transport by a porter who was tipped generously by Lady Billey, while Liyane watched Paramine her thumb over the lead deer-bodied female’s nose. This produced a red mark that left the she-satyr cross-eyed and turning this way or that, to try and catch it or lick it off. Paramine laughed at the creature. “Haha, it just means we’ll be back, Kisha. I never get over how stupid they are. The pretty little idiots.”
“A woman should make herself worth more.” Billey amended. Liyane startled at being included in the conversation again, and in such a completely maternal tone.
“Could I see that paint, it smells like jam—”
“I thought I told you to be mute.” Paramine walked ahead, and pocketed the ruby vial.
There was a kind of aggression in the city. No one seemed to feel that they had time to waste. Even the vagrants who drummed about the train station were begging fast in industriously tied off rags.
The best-dressed poor Liyane had ever seen.
They passed a champagne-colored road that sparkled with morning dew. “We’re going in here,” Billey turned Liyane around, by the shoulder, when she stopped to gawk at one of the solid walls. All the stonework in the plaza was a warm jewel orange, and it was possible to see through the walls and know all the business shoppers were doing. Liyane could see that toilets were even exposed. People this wealthy, the wealthiest in all the galaxy, had bodies and costumes so perfect that it seemed they were invited to show off and advertise whatever brands of underthings or Nude Form they wore beneath their clothes, in those situations.
“Oh my gourd, I think that was Phillip Moon changing—”
Billey growled, “No, it wasn’t. Will you get through that door before we’re charged for letting the good air out?” Somehow, it was polite to look, though not stare. Customs get very strange in high society, over time, no matter the planet, Liyane decided.
Liyane, Lady Billey, and the woman who had only been spoken of as Paramine went into a building like this and stood at the counter.
“Ah! The best of the Imperial Winter Party,” said the shopkeep, “I was just watching for you on the screen this morning, but you hadn’t entered yet… Falcene’s own Lady Billey and the Torturess of Thantalon Eight, General Paramine.
Liyane dropped to the floor. “Do I have to tug you up by what’s left of that collar? You’re shaming two whole planets–though Earth couldn’t get any lower in my own opinion. Get up!” yelled General Paramine.
Liyane knew she wasn’t supposed to wish for Crush again, but she did.
Billey was softer spoken, but somehow more menacing. “Which is a good segway in that… do you see?”
The shopkeeper, a woman named Mrs. Charklyle was being addressed. All sorts of strange implements were mounted on the wall behind the counter. “Ah, yes, that’s a nasty bondage collar she has on. It’s not of a very good make, either, did he order this online? How did it fuse to her neck and muscle, there must have been intense heat… oh. Well, yes, we should be able to handle it. Please, I hope you will not mind, my husband handles the female customers. He’s famous for his work and our nurse is out interviewing for her third-shift job.”
“Oh, how I hate it when they tell you they’re looking–you honestly never know whether minions consider you their first or fifth shift work.”
“Fifth? Since the humans revolted and the Senate’s been packed with foreigners, we’re up to seven shifts in the Imperial City of Wyle-wyrsh. Oh, yes, it’s true. We’re all patriots here. We’d rather take up the jobs, than have foreign aliens or their kin extensions try and get them and put a root down here. So, of course, I let my girl go early today.”
Lady Billey and General Paramine looked surprised, and then gratefully nodded at their host. Pleasant mixtures of, “Yes Madam, surely you should, of course…”
Oh, how they could turn it on and off.
It was evident, later, that Mr. Charklyle had been planning some more palatable, quiet work at home, that day. He was not glad to be presented with a client at all, but forced his smile and quick answers on who were such important women who vultured about Liyane, who was laying prone on the examination table.
“What, I…? Jeremy? We’ve done this before.”
“Well, at least she’s not asking for Phillip Moon again…”
Mr. Charklyle was not going to answer what he couldn’t from the ladies, not when Liyane hadn’t asked a real question, but he felt the stare of the polite women upon him and sent around his bright flat teeth, “Well, I don’t know who that person is—but as for this procedure, what I’m ready to engineer will be a marvel. See these pearl instruments? Infused with Biotech as even the old clerks with their red boxes would be proud of. I won’t feel a thing… A joke, of course.”
“She’s been in pain enough and desensitized, I’m sure she won’t mind it.” sniffed Lady Billey.
Paramine agreed, “And in any case, her life is about to get ten thousand times better. So, go right ahead.”
Then Mr. Charcklyle asked, probably because he sensed it would get them out of there quicker, “You’ve got another appointment today? I can make my wife come in here and hasten the process, if you like.”
“Mrs. Abby Charklyle has no real skill with fitting Nude Forms, sir. She’s adept at watching a store, only, and that’s obvious to us. Work as fast as you can, therefore.”
“So then, the Loving Emperor himself is expecting you three? I’ll definitely call my wife in then, she does have some skill in mending her own scheduling flub-ups–“
Paramine leaned knuckles on the table. They were purple and now blushed–or glowed red. Light wisps of smoke came up from the silvered table. The lace covering singed right out of the way of her hands. “Did we say that? No, we said to fix her up as soon as possible and do it right, because we’re on a schedule–“
“Parry…” Lady Billey looked elsewhere, as she chided.
Then it all calmed down, and Liyane enjoyed the terrible wonder of seeing her bruised and calloused flesh sliced open, strings of sinew and blood-thick clinging to the living muscle that beat with the rapport of her heart… and not feel one thing of it. Wherever the pearl utensils kept her pried open, Liyane realized she could feel less than nothing. Detached from pain and joy together. Beyond frustration, beyond subjugation… she felt empowered to kick free of the table and slam all their heads together. But then, the pins in her arms and legs responded and she screamed at having even thought it. She felt punishment ringing tight crown of her skull.
“Oh!” Quirked Billey, as if tickled, “It’s a good thing there’s Red Box in those pins somewhere… And I thought you were joking, Mr. Charklyle. We were all just spared a beating, it seems?”
Paramine only checked her pocket watch, brought out from a tuck of black lace along her rib. All her ribs were emphasized by red stripes that could flare wide beneath the fine black embroidery when she breathed, or really, breathed too much–showed a real incensed passion, like anger.
Mr. Charklyle was hard at work and focused on inflicting pain by degrees. Billey continued alone, comforting herself. “… I suppose those Prey Monks were good for something afterall, other than Triathlon targets.”
When Mr. Charklyle, who Liyane now understood at the fringes of her consciousness, was a BioTechnician by training, as she had once been, finished sewing a matrix of wires beneath her skin, he brought down a machine with a hard white lamp, fixed goggles and then made several clicks to a monitor that adjusted the speed of blades slicing silently overhead. Liyane felt the red around her eyes dry, the lamp was so hot and she so distressed with staring in horror. But as the whole contraption came down, the blades became an unobtrusive fan and the peculiar nozzle that was sputtering and smoking like Paramine’s fists, eventually pumped a cool cream. It went along slowly. Mr. Charklyle was aiming it with the skill of a cake decorator, and when he was done, that is how Liyane believed she looked. Or, hoped she did.
“When it’s dry, we’ll turn her over and carve up the other side…”
“That leg, especially, will need work, right along the bone there, the pipes and parts burnt her.” wondered Billey.
“Oh, no, don’t worry about it. That leg’s coming completely off. Up to the hip, maybe, to make a clean knit into the…”
Liyane passed out.
She awakened later to an empty room. After breathing, finding herself capable of steady breath and sure that she was in fact alive, Liyane rested her head on the pillow, looked at the wall. At the least, she hoped to find the comfort of a blank wall free of machinery and other frightening objects one finds in a Biotechnician’s office… but through the ambrosia crystalline wall, she realized she was watching the Charklyles having lunch.
Mrs. Abby Charklyle alternated between sewing something and taking spoonfuls of soup her husband offered. That was when he wasn’t working his own soup spoon into his lunch bowl, with his other hand.
“Ambidextrous Ungulate sons of…” but, looking for solace on the other side of the room, Liyane found herself staring through another wall, where General Paramine and Lady Billey were laughing hard over tea in the shop nextdoor. They looked at Liyane in her state and waved. They smiled over indulging more and more of cream cake. “I hate deer and all their friends. So disgusting.”
It turned out that the red mark left on the lead saytyr Kisha’s nose, was to distract her enough that she didn’t wander away with the carriage-team. Lady Billey, Liyane and Paramine were able to find their ride back home easily, and it wasn’t even necessary to pay extra for the livery-man to run and fetch fool satyrs strong enough to wander off even while tethered, but yet, not reasonable enough in temperament to be worth the risk of catching again without financial incentive.
The ride back was as before, except that the day was ending. Orange burned blue then purple, and the whole world was in warm, romantic shades of it. What had been gold before cooled to silver. Wyle was a planet where no one got a thing done, without a great deal of effort being focused on restraining themselves from basking in the planet’s intensity.
Even now, stewards were wide awake, and helped the ladies back down from the carriage and into the palace.
Emperor San’ur Crush was not very far away, in the room filled with columns, hangers-on and heroes invited to the Imperial Winter Party at the fortress, as had Lady Paramine and General Billey.
At first, Crush stood for them, fully aware of what they had done—trespassed in his private chamber, taken away the woman who was a constant comfort or addiction to him—Minister Tussus was on the verge of clarifying which. What Crush knew was that he still needed this woman he stole from Captain Jeremie Dutch, who was a rival. General Paramine and Lady Billey had tried to take her away, and only his embarrassment at them having seen his private quarters made him wary now. There was a secret investigation made, but it was not yet clear what they had seen of his or what they intended to do against him, now that they knew of it.
He chose after waiting for too long, to say something cruel. “I don’t know that certain of the husbands wintering here, will mind having their nag-wives done away with.”
But, Liyane was making an impression at the other end of the hall. The other ladies of the court could have been offended that some of them were targeted, or at least defensive. Instead, they were compelled to swarm from around Emperor Crush and greet their absent companions. The husbands assembled ceased smoking cigars and talking hard-talk.
As for Liyane, she was getting on a cloud until one of the women crowding around she, Lady Billey and the General Paramine said, “Good job ladies. As usual, you’ve done so well for us.”
Now, they brought Liyane forward. The whole group of women made a confident walk through all the columns, the millabout satyrs, the husbands setting down again in their chairs, afraid to do anything else.
“I’ve been in discussion with the Senate and my consult all day,” Crush gestured at the men of the court. His look was irritated and there was a sneer ready, just there. “The game ends now, and then we go back to work.”
Lady Billey took one of Liyane’s hands and General Paramine took the other. Crush struggled with not being able to look upon this woman he hated as a plaything any longer. The other Ladies of the Court secretly congratulated themselves. General Paramine’s red frills on her dress seethed their reddest. “Our Loving Emperor!”
“No more working tonight. You should invite all of us to dinner. We should eat steak, and we should discuss the presence of Lady Liyane, newly invited by yourself to Winter at Wyle. Should we not?”
“But Liyane is only…”
Billey took a new, glad breath. “A Human woman, whom we need, more than ever, to look cared for and an even part of this kingdom. One kindness shown in this moment… and Earth will begin to think better of you, again.”
A faint whirr, of cameras turning and tightening their lenses in a new position. There was a television monitor in the background, another ViewO, Liyane noticed, where the men had been smoking. This ViewO machine had been the object of their discussion, and it reflected back–no, played back an image of all the people presently in Crush’s presence. Other screens were set up too, that Liyane did not notice when she first came through the hall fresh from prison. These showed other parts of the palace, even into several royal bedrooms through which a cleaning lady traveled as she finished making up one apartment, and then the next. Then, all their lives shifted to a commercial break about the next Y&A&R episode, where deer-Phyllis would return, and then an advertisement about getting one’s sheets silky-soft with Fuzz detergent. An entire family of bullet-headed deer were singing about it.
“Good.” Crush said, as the television blared next that the ‘Winter at Wyrshe City reality show would return, with all the contestants at dinner.’ “And thank you, as well… for the surprise. Liyane, so… you don’t need me to look up the daytime shows for you, anymore?”
“Not unless you like seeing their ratings drop. If Humans like that so much, then they’re going to love this painted on foolishness. Emperor Crush, to them, you’ll be bigger than Victor Newman’s clone.”
“Or,” Paramine snerked, “Phillip—”
But, Billey hissed that dead. “I am not going to run up and down the aisles here to catch her, not after that exciting race around the block several times and back to the carriage, so don’t even say it, don’t even pronounce the half of it, don’t even dream it! I’m so sick and done with daytime television—or was losing my sense your genuine goal, Torturess?”
With her new body, Liyane was able to curtsey. Servants departed in every direction, to see dinner set up as fast as possible.
Lady Billey nodded, encouraging Crush to start fresh as well. She then went on and glossed over the worst of the monarch’s reply about reading Earth soap opera forums online, which must have sounded crazed.
“This development in the show you, Highness, requested air, and on prime time–during the odd, wild hours of this morning with Minister Tussus, which, haha, delightfully suprised all of us at court… should also improve our reputations after your State of the Galaxy… event. And now also, it can raise the approval rating of a hungry and demanding public converged upon Wyrshe City these days like never before. The beaten creature, the bond-collared freak—”
“It was a normal collar.” Crush objected.
“She will now be our star.”
Paramine worked hard at her version of pleasantness, “Won’t you enjoy, Majesty, this chance to make amends with her, as all our lives are being watched, before the entire galaxy? At your suddenly repentant request?”
Liyane should not have been smiling, but she found the freshly smoothed edges of her mouth tightening against its stitches.
Crush lay his antlers back in an exhausted look at the ceiling. Opened his elbows like wings, but, of course, went nowhere. Pressed palms into his eyes.
Lady Billey attempted smoothing things, again, “And you know, since they seem to have been friends before. It’ll be fun, with all the twists and turns and fascinating secrets revealed. Won’t it, everyone? The world’s just dying to know about this mysterious other life of our Emperor’s before he was moved in heart to ascend after the late imperial family was… erhrm. Shall we all walk over to dinner together, then? Now?”
Deer at cameras wheeling everywhere clicked buttons. Crush stood alone and furious as his own court passed hastily by him. Liyane came last, with Billey and Paramine holding tight on her arms. Crush popped the joints in each knuckle of his hands, lowered his antlers between them.
“You are a silly, stupid woman who can’t possibly understand the value of her role in all of this… why couldn’t you have stayed attached to that collar? Don’t I have enough to deal with? Isn’t this empire falling apart around all our ears? Liyane, you go back to our—my room at once. You, of all people, should not be in the middle of this!”
Paramine and Billey pulled Liyane safely out of the way. Liyane said, “In the middle? I’m finally the star of the show. And now that I’ve got the backing of half your court… You will beg me.”
Transmitting the reconciliation of the Loving Emperor in 5…4…3…2…
. . .
Next: So that’s how he rose to power? Oh, Great Gold Herdleader, no.