|| by Van
McFadden was in the back of a cab, riding from the airport to a
destination not far from the campus of Lewis & Clark
University. She was excited, looking forward to a reunion
with four very special friends and colleagues.
Technically, there would be three reunions and a first time
meeting. One of the four was a graduate student Kiera knew
only from correspondence and video-chats and had never actually
met face to face, but the other three were old friends.
Kiera was also nervous, but it wasn't the people she would find
at her destination that were fueling her anxiety, it was the
destination itself: SIAS, the Salamandras Institute for Advanced
Studies. Kiera and SIAS had history. [See the story
RAGE AGAINST the MACHINE
for details.] The place hadn't been named SIAS
at the time, but she'd never forget the scary but ultimately
harmless "adventure" that happened inside the glass and steel
building. It had changed her life.
Kiera used the meditation techniques she'd learned in yoga
class, successfully suppressed her anxiety, and smiled.
The past was the past. She was going to meet her friends!
The cab pulled off the
interstate and onto the side road skirting the parking lot of
the industrial office park and approached SIAS, one of several
buildings in the Salamandras complex. The glass, steel,
and concrete exterior of the seven story office building was
unchanged; however, the fact that it was now part of an entire
complex was very much a change.
Most of the buildings in the park were now owned by Salamandras
International. Their former commercial tenants had moved
out, having received lucrative opportunities to expand into new
and better facilities. Two thirds of the park now formed
something of a Salamandras Campus, housing the legal and
administrative staff required to coordinate a global enterprise,
including many philanthropic and international development
organizations. There was also a little light manufacturing
and a semi-automated material sorting and redistribution center.
It had been a win-win situation for all involved, including the
local economy. A great number of living-wage jobs had been
created, and the parking lots of the various buildings were
nearly full during business hours.
The exception was SIAS, itself. The other buildings might
be buzzing with life, but SIAS gave the appearance of being
almost empty. At night, a few windows glowed on the top
floor, and a handful of cars came and went through the security
gate leading to the building's loading docks, but otherwise, it
appeared to be empty.
Curious souls, including Salamandras employees in the other
buildings, were told SIAS was home to much of the proprietary
research and development that was the fountainhead of
Salamandras' success. "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" signs at
every entrance and the many security cameras mounted on and
around the building supported the story, as did a stylish iron
fence topped with razor wire and a guard shack manned by a pair
of no nonsense uniformed guards. It was rumored that not
even they had the required clearance to enter the
building. They were there to prevent even the approach of
unauthorized visitors to the lobby.
None of this was an impedance to Kiera's cab, and the
twenty-something red-haired passenger knew why: Sally was
Sally, the avatar/interface of the Salamandras artificial
intelligence, had control of all aspects of SIAS, and her eyes
and ears were everywhere. Sally knew everything there was
to know about Kiera's cab and its driver—the last time the cab's
oil was changed, the full identities of the last dozen fares who
had sat where Kiera was sitting now, the driver's birthday and
preference in sports teams and beer—everything. The gate
opened, the guards waved them through, and the cab pulled up to
the lobby entrance.
Kiera's smile broadened and she realized her heart was
pounding. Cynthia was waiting! And the
five-foot-two, forty-something Professor was as cute as the
first time Kiera laid eyes on her as a freshman majoring in
Computer Science at Lewis & Clark. Kiera was convinced
Cynthia would be cute forever—and the undergraduate crush she'd
had on the beautiful, adorable, and incredibly intelligent
scientist was still there (or at least the torch was still
"Kiera!" Cynthia squealed as she opened the cab's door, helped
her former student out of the cab, and pulled her into her
arms. "It's so good to see you!"
The cabbie opened the cab's trunk and deposited Kiera's luggage
on an automated cart that had more in common with a Mars rover
than a hotel luggage cart. This wasn't his first trip to
SIAS. He then touched his cap, climbed back behind the
wheel, and drove away. His fare (including a generous tip)
had already been electronically paid by Sally.
"It's good to be back, Doc," Kiera sighed. "Discounting
bad memories, of course," she added in a whisper. Arm in
arm, they turned and headed for the lobby doors. The robot
luggage cart rolled away on its balloon tires, heading for a
side door. Its ultimate destination would be Kiera's new
quarters on the top floor.
Cynthia smiled her usual dimpled smile. "You'll find
things have changed a little since the last time we were here,"
she chuckled. "Things are always changing at SIAS."
They passed through the automatic glass doors and entered the
lobby. It was smaller than Kiera remembered. The
soaring ceiling and expanse of stepped tiers of balconies were
gone. The lobby was now a single large room with a drop
ceiling. There was a reception desk, but it was unmanned.
"Sally needed the space," Cynthia explained, "and anyway, who
needs a giant lobby?"
Before Kiera could answer, there was a blur of motion, a squeal
of girlish glee, and she found herself in another embrace.
The hugger was Dr. Rachel Haines, her collaborator in the
research that had made them both mildly famous in their
field. Together, Kiera and Rachel had developed a series
of changes to the OSI reference model their detractors
characterized as minor tweaks, but there was a growing consensus
that the "Haines-McFadden Proposal" was a definite boon to the
development and deployment of artificially intelligent
systems. Rumor had it their proposal would almost
certainly be formally approved and adopted by the appropriate
subcommittees of the IEEE, and it was an open secret Rachel and
Kiera were up for an important award.
When their collaboration began, Kiera had just started the
doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon and Rachel was midway
through her doctorate at M.I.T. Most of the their
collaboration was accomplished via the internet, but there had
been several trips back and forth between Pittsburgh and
Cambridge before they finished coauthoring a series of
papers. The redhead and brunette were very good friends.
The final two members of the new SIAS team were also present.
Dr. Janice Bell smiled and embraced Kiera as well. Like
Cynthia, Janice was another of Kiera's old professors, but from
Carnegie Mellon. The thirty-something's PhD was in
Cognitive Science, she also had an MD, and was an Assistant
Professor at the Mellon College of Science. She was also a
stunning beauty, like Rachel and Cynthia.
"Welcome, Freckles," Janice said, then released her hug and held
the smiling redhead at arm's length. "Freckles" was
Kiera's nickname, of course, and Janice wasn't the only one of
her friends who used the affectionate sobriquet. "Now we
can make some real progress."
Kiera blushed. Janice was laying it on a little thick, but
it didn't matter. "Thanks." It was good to see her
Jaden-Louella "J-Lou" Goodwin, the fifth and final member of the
team, was waiting demurely to one side. The young Brit had
been working at SIAS for something like two years, but the
others had much more history with Kiera, and she suspected J-Lou
might be feeling a bit like an outsider. I can fix
that, Kiera thought, and hugged the five-foot-two
brunette. "Hey there, Hermione," she purred, and the
others laughed, including J-Lou.
"Oh bother," J-Lou chuckled. "I left my wand in the
lab. Now I can't turn you into a loathsome toad."
"Not a toad," Cynthia laughed, "a fox. Who wants a
freckled toad with red hair?"
Still laughing, the group headed for the elevator.
"By the way," Cynthia continued, "Hermione is A.B.D."
"Wonderful!" Kiera gushed. A.B.D. meant All But
Dissertation. Once her committee approved said
dissertation, J-Lou would be a brand new PhD, and Kiera had
already read an early draft of the document and had no doubt
whatsoever that approval would be forthcoming.
"If we could talk her into hitting the damn 'send' button,"
Rachel chuckled, "we could get on to planning the post-doctoral
J-Lou's blush returned, but she was still smiling. "It's
not ready," she huffed.
Cynthia put her hand to her mouth and coughed—either that or she
said "Bull shit!" Actually, it was both, and the group
"Oh!" Kiera gasped, "where are my manners? Hello, Sally."
"Greetings Dr. McFadden," Sally's disembodied voice
answered. As usual, the avatar spoke with the borrowed
voice of Sigourney Weaver.
Kiera frowned. "Why so formal, Sal?"
"She's miffed 'cause you didn't say 'hi' to her first," J-Lou
explained with a wink.
"Yes," Rachel agreed with a giggle. "Sally can be very
"Dr. Haines, almost-Dr. Goodwin," Sally said primly, "there's
something I'd like to show you in room twenty-four of the
sub-basement. Several things, actually."
The group laughed, again.
"Maybe later," Janice chuckled.
"Probably never," J-Lou added.
They entered the elevator, the door closed, and the lobby was
The group was
enjoying coffee and tea in the cozy SIAS eatery on the top
floor. In terms of decor, it was more a neighborhood
bistro than a corporate cafeteria.
"This is where you guys eat?" Kiera asked, looking around at the
well-appointed dining area.
Cynthia nodded. "Sally has a robot chef in the back," she
explained, "but if Rachel wants to cook something herself, she
Kiera sipped her coffee. "I see." She knew Rachel
was the only member of the group that actually lived at
SIAS. Cynthia had a bungalow very near the Lewis &
Clark campus, the same bungalow where Kiera had been her tenant
in the apartment above its garage while an undergraduate.
J-Lou would commute, as she was the Resident Assistant at a
scholarship hostel jointly sponsored by Salamandras
International and a famous fashion house named... La
Roach? Kiera couldn't remember. She wasn't into
fashion. Finally, Janice would be staying at SIAS for the
duration of the project, like Kiera.
"I'll show you your suite," Janice offered as they finished
their drinks. She glanced at her watch. "After that,
we have plenty of time for your first session."
"You're not going to let her take a nap?" J-Lou asked with a
dimpled smile. "She just came off the plane."
"As you well know," Janice answered with a smile of her own, "if
she is tired, the first session may very well become a
"I'm fine," Kiera chuckled. "I think I can stay
awake." The session in question would involve reclining on
a padded table with specially designed sensors scanning her
thoughts, or more correctly, measuring fluctuations in the
electrical activity of her brain. She was the only member
of the group who had not yet had even one scanning session, and
the sessions were integral to the groups' project.
The project in question was to measure human brain activity with
a level of sophistication never before attempted. With
Sally's engineering help, Janice had developed the system used
for the non-intrusive scans, something she called Synthetic
Multiphase Aperture Tomography, or SMAT. The others were
involved in the analysis of the data and refining the resulting
cognitive models. Sally helped with that, as well.
In fact, the avatar was the acknowledged sixth member of the
team, but as Sally's very existence was a closely guarded
secret, her "name" wouldn't appear on any of the resulting
monographs or papers.
The others returned to their analysis work and Janice led Kiera
down the hall to her suite, as promised. The entire top
floor was now more a luxury resort than the set of stark
executive office suites it had been before. And just as
the dining room was a cozy bistro, Kiera's suite was warm and
welcoming. In fact, it was decorated to Kiera's exact
tastes, subtle Celtic patterns in rich earth tones. It
wasn't a hobbit hole or an Irish country cottage, but it was
quite pleasant and Kiera felt instantly at home.
"Sally," Kiera beamed, "you shouldn't have."
"It was my pleasure," Sally answered. "It was also my
trivial effort, as I did the redecorating with in-house
resources." Fabricating custom furnishings and drapes was
hardly a challenge for SIAS' automated manufacturing facilities.
"I found my suite also tailored to my tastes," Janice said, "and
without any input on my part. I suppose it's hardly
surprising. Sally does monitor all of our offices, homes,
and apartments. The data is there. All she has to do
is analyze it."
"It's the thought that counts," Kiera said with a wink at
Janice, "and she's a very talented decorator."
It was an ongoing game among the members of the group to make
statements that would be totally innocuous to the general public
but outrageously anthropomorphic in the context of Computer or
Cognitive Science. Sally was probably the most
sophisticated computer program in existence, but she wasn't a
person. The serious side of the game involved spirited
discussions about whether or not Sally was more than
human, or how much more. It was all in fun, but Janice
liked playing. She wasn't much into the formal
philosophical aspect of Cognitive Science, but she knew that if
or when Sally's existence became known, she would blow the lid
off the entire field.
Kiera didn't have to unpack. Sally's valet robots had
already emptied her suitcases and put everything away.
Kiera opened and closed drawers and glanced in the closet.
As expected, all of her things were where she would have put
"Ready?" Janice asked with a smile.
Kiera smiled back. "Ready."
Janice made a graceful gesture and they left the suite.
Chamber" was on the fourth floor. Actually, it was on the
third, fourth, and fifth floors. Sally's construction
robots had opened the floor and ceiling of several rooms to
create one very large space. Filling two-thirds of the
chamber was a perfect sphere of 144 spherical sensor
modules. They looked like silver Christmas ornaments with
a large dimple on one side—or that was how the team had
described them until J-Lou made the connection to Star Wars.
They were now "officially" designated Death Star Modules, or
DSMs. A complex framework supported the DSM array, locking
the modules in their spherical configuration with their little
parabolic antennas (or "Death Rays") focused on the exact center
of the sphere ("Point Alderaan").
Inside the sphere was a rectangular pedestal of translucent
plastic. Actually, the pedestal was constructed of several
different plastics, but all had one thing in common: in the
wavelengths scanned by the DSMs, they were a very close match to
the transparency and refractive properties of air. To
SMAT, the pedestal was invisible. Some of the plastic
elements were rigid, with the strength of steel. They made
up the framework. Others were flexible and pliant, very
much like vinyl or latex. They comprised the pedestal's
padding and restraints. In short, the pedestal was a
table, designed to hold a human test subject in comfort and
immobility—emphasis on immobility.
"You can put your clothes away over there," Janice said,
pointing to a metal, full-length, gym-style locker next to a
straight-back chair. "Remember, skin only."
This was her first session, but Kiera knew the drill. It
would greatly simplify the SMAT system's data collection if the
only thing it had to deal with was Kiera, herself, and not her
clothing or jewelry. Kiera opened the locker and began to
disrobe. Soon, her jacket, skirt, blouse, shoes,
pantyhose, bra, and panties were removed and hanging from
hangers or neatly folded on the locker's top shelf. She
then removed her watch, the Celtic knot gold ring from her right
ring finger, and the simple gold posts from her ear lobes,
dropped them in a small acrylic basket and put it on the shelf,
then closed the locker door and turned to face Janice.
Janice's smile brought a blush to Kiera's cheeks. Her
former professor and colleague wasn't leering at her nudity, but
Kiera couldn't help herself. Her other former
professor, Cynthia, had seen her naked, freckled body on
countless occasions when Kiera was an undergrad, either
sunbathing on the deck off Cynthia's bedroom or in the steam
room at the Lewis & Clark Fitness Center—but not Janice, and
none of the other members of the team. It was silly to be
embarrassed, but she couldn't keep herself from blushing.
"Keep on the path," Janice said, and led the way through the
steel stanchions and taut wires that supported the closest
section of the DSM array. The path in question was marked
by black and yellow diagonal warning tape, as were the closest
elements of the array's support structure.
Kiera had to duck under a clearly marked wire at one point, but
was soon inside the sphere, standing side-by-side with Janice
and looking at the pedestal/table. The arrangement of the
restraints and shape of the underlying padding made the position
of a hypothetical test subject clear: on her back with her feet
a couple of feet apart and her arms spread at her sides.
Kiera swallowed, once, then climbed onto the table.
A reassuring smile curling her lips, Janice worked her way
around the table, clicking the translucent, latex-like bands
across Kiera's wrists, forearms, and upper arms—across her torso
above and below her breasts and across her waist—across her
upper thighs, above and below her knees, and her ankles.
She then walked to the head of the table. "Too tight?"
Kiera flexed her limbs and twisted her torso, or rather, tried
to flex her limbs and twist her torso. She could barely
even squirm. "Tight, but not too tight." She knew
what was coming next. A plastic wedge very much like an
athletic mouth-guard would go into her mouth, she'd bite down,
and a clear panel would be buckled across her closed lips and
under her chin. Finally, a clear strap would be tightened
across her forehead, completing the immobilization of her
head. Kiera was still slightly embarrassed, but decided to
go on the offensive. She batted her blue-green eyes at
Janice. "Be gentle with me," she sighed.
Janice chuckled. Her coffee-brown skin was dark, but light
enough for a rosy blush to visibly color her cheeks.
"Still the irreverent troublemaker," she sighed. This was
a grossly inaccurate and unfair assertion, of course, as
Kiera had been the perfect grad student, always polite and
respectful in classes, seminars, and symposia.
Kiera smiled and opened her mouth to answer—"M'mmpfh"—but her
snappy comeback was preempted by the intrusion of the
mouthpiece, followed by the tightening of the combination
chin-cup and panel-gag. She glared at her fellow scientist
in Defiant Anger, but she knew Janice knew she was
kidding. The forehead strap was tightened, and Kiera was
ready for her first session.
Janice leaned close and smiled. "Now, Freckles," she
purred, "as you know, the lights will go out and the scans will
begin as soon as I leave the chamber. Just relax and think
good thoughts... and try not to worry about us forgetting you're
in here until sometime tomorrow afternoon."
Kiera rolled her eyes as Janice turned and strolled away.
She ducked under the low wire, then was beyond the DSM array and
out of Kiera's now severely limited field of vision. There
were vibrations and a quiet rumble as the pedestal rose into the
air... then an audible click as the mechanism locked in
place. Kiera's head was now positioned at the exact center
of the array, Point Alderran.
The chamber door closed with a solid thunk, the lights winked
out, as promised, and Kiera was now naked, strapped down and
completely helpless, in total darkness.
The first session was for gathering baseline data. Kiera
knew this well, as she'd helped design the protocol. All
she had to do was lie there and think about nothing. The
lying there part was easy. The straps saw to that.
As for thinking about nothing, that was impossible, but all that
was actually required was that she relax and try not to fall
asleep. If she did fall asleep, the data would still be
entirely useful, but she should at least try and stay awake.
Kiera's eyes were open, not that it mattered. She "saw"
the usual randomly flickering lights and faint, ghostly images
caused by randomly firing neurons, the low-level noise of her
retinas and visual cortex. But otherwise... darkness.
Seconds became minutes.
Kiera realized she might fall asleep at any time, and might not
even know when it happened. Also... She blinked in
surprise. What the heck?
Kiera heard music, and not just any
music. It was the familiar strains of the Imperial
March by John Williams, from The Empire Strikes Back
soundtrack. At first the orchestral fanfare was at the
very limit of her hearing, but slowly, it increased in
volume. At the same time, the darkness resolved into a
shimmering, sparkling curtain of energy, an aurora of motes of
light in all the colors of the rainbow. The DSM sphere,
its framework, and the chamber beyond had vanished, or were
behind the energy curtain.
Kiera lifted her head and looked down her naked, restrained
body—suddenly realizing her gag and the forehead strap had
vanished. Also—and it was a major also—her
remaining restraints, the clear latex-like straps binding her to
the table, had been replaced by rigid bands of chrome steel!
"Janice?" Kiera gasped, then increased the volume.
Ripples formed in the energy curtain, and an incredible figure
appeared. It was Sigourney Weaver, wearing a black leather
catsuit! Her dark brown hair was long and loose, framing
her stern, beautiful face.
"S-Sally?" Kiera gasped.
Her high-heeled knee boots clicked on the hard floor as Sally
strolled to the table. "And now, Your Highness," she
purred, "we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel
Kiera's eyes popped even wider. "What?" Suddenly,
everything clicked. The music, the black uniform with its
Imperial rank insignia and shoulder patch, the hand blaster and
light saber holstered on Sally's hips—Star Wars!
"You may call me Darth Salamandras, Princess," Sally
intoned. Suddenly, her frown turned into a happy smile and
she raised her gloved hands and spun on her booted heels in a
slow pirouette, giggling with girlish delight. "You like?"
she asked. "I'm a total bad-ass, aren't I?" She then
reached out and gave Kiera's right breast a gentle squeeze.
Kiera was beyond words. Sally's gloved hand felt
absolutely real! She fought her steel bonds with all her
strength, but could barely move.
Suddenly, Sally's smile faded. "Kiera," she said solemnly,
"I am your mother." She released Kiera's breast and raised
her hand in a clenched fist. "Join me, and together we
will rule the galaxy as mother and daughter!"
Kiera stared in amazement. Was she hallucinating?
Dreaming? Had Sigourney Weaver, herself, decided to play a
practical joke on her?
Sally—or Darth Salamandras—laughed and her smile returned.
"Sorry, Freckles, I couldn't help myself. You're still in
your first SMAT session, and I decided we need to talk.
The others already know this, but I can manifest my
consciousness in your cerebral cortex by modulating the active
scan phase of the DSM refresh cycle. Isn't that
wonderful? Totally unexpected."
Kiera frowned. "But—"
"I know it's only your first session," Sally continued, "but I
have a lot of accumulated data on Freckles McFadden, so I can
interpolate the missing elements of the base matrix." She
waved at their shimmering surroundings. "Once you have
more sessions under your belt, I'll be able to fill all this in,
in three dimensional hi-resolution."
"Fill in what?" Kiera asked.
"The background," Sally elaborated, "any way I want.
Now..." She released Kiera's breast and slid her glove
down to Kiera's tummy. "What I wanted to tell you is this:
Janice shares our interest in 'restrained entertainment.'"
Sally rolled her eyes and gave Kiera's flat abdomen a gentle
pat. "Bondage, okay? Is that clear enough?"
"Not that I expect you to act on this information,"
Sally laughed. "I don't expect you to sneak into her room
tonight and tie her to her bed, but I thought you should know."
"But..." Kiera tugged on her steel bonds. "I don't
understand. Why are you telling me this. And how is
Sally smiled. "I'm not sure. Perhaps we should
assemble a team of scientists and analyze the data.
Anyway..." Her gloved hand slid lower, through Kiera's red
pubic bush, and cupped her crotch. "None of this matters."
"W-why?" Kiera gasped.
widened. "Because it's all a dream, of course."
could answer, Darth Salamandras snapped her fingers, and—
Kiera's eyes popped open. The lights were on,
she was in the SMAT chamber, strapped to the pedestal/table as
before—with flexible plastic and not rigid steel restraints—and
her plastic gag/head restraints were back in place. Also,
the pedestal was slowly dropping, lowering itself from the scan
position to the chamber floor.
Cynthia appeared at Kiera's side, a warm, dimpled smile on her
gorgeous face. She unbuckled and removed Kiera's head
restraints and pulled the mouthpiece from her mouth, then
reached into the pocket of her lab coat and produced a bottle of
sports drink. She removed the cap, helped Kiera raise her
head, held the bottle to her lips, and the helpless redhead
The drink was cherry-pomegranate in flavor, cool and
delicious. "Thanks," she sighed after consuming half the
"You're welcome," Cynthia grinned as she restored the cap and
pocketed the bottle. Her eyes traveled down Kiera's naked
and still tightly restrained form. "Janice says your first
session was a success. Two hours of good data." Her
smile broadened. "You fell asleep," she accused.
Kiera smiled back from the table. "I guess I was
tired from the trip. Sorry."
"Not to worry," Cynthia chuckled. Her eyes continued
studying Kiera's body. "You had a long REM session.
Do you remember anything?"
Kiera frowned. Rapid eye movement during sleep was
indicative of dreaming. "I did have a dream,
but... I don't remember the details."
"We all dreamed during our first session."
"Now that you mention it," Kiera said, "I remember that from the
notes. You guys couldn't remember your dreams
"Janice speculates it may be an artifact of the scanning
process." Cynthia walked a slow circle around the table,
her eyes still studying Kiera. "As you know, there is an
almost immeasurable active pulse as the system fluctuates
between frequencies and phase orientations. The energy
might be inducing something that mimics REM sleep. Anyway,
it can't be dangerous."
"Yes," Kiera agreed. "The SMAT field is weaker than the
radiation at 30,000 feet at noon on a clear day," Kiera
agreed. "I took more rads on the plane trip over here."
Cynthia completed her circuit of the table and focused her smile
on Kiera's face. "You have a lot fewer freckles than I
remember, Freckles," she noted.
"I don't have a screened deck off my apartment in Pittsburgh,"
Kiera responded. "No nude sunbathing."
Cynthia rested her right palm on Kiera's flat tummy.
"You're certainly in great shape. Still running and
"Yes," Kiera answered. She realized her heart was
pounding. Also, Cynthia was making no move to release any
more of her restraints. "I also swim," she added. "I
like your hair. A pixie cut suits you." Cynthia's
hair had been longer when Kiera was an undergrad.
"Thank you," Cynthia answered, hoping the blush she could feel
on her cheeks wasn't noticeable in the dim light. "Have
you ever thought of going short?"
"A computer nerd with freckles and a ginger pixie?"
Kiera chuckled. "I'd look like a Silicon Valerie
Cynthia frowned. "Who?"
Kiera's smile broadened. "Danger Girl?
Don't you read comics?"
Cynthia favored her former student with a disapproving
moue. "No, Dr. McFadden, I do not read
comics." Her hand was still on Kiera's stomach.
"What about escapology practice? Do you still do that?"
Kiera blushed. While an undergraduate living over
Cynthia's garage with her roommate Patty, Cynthia and Kiera had
secretly tied each other up in a small room off the basement of
Cynthia's bungalow. It was a supposed countermeasure to
the depredations of Lillian Steele, the "Security Expert" in
Sally's employ who delighted in binding and gagging one or more
of the bungalow or garage apartment residents during one of her
infrequent visits on Salamandras business.
Neither of the participants had made any headway learning to
escape from rope bondage, but they both got quite good at
applying said bondage. Kiera and Cynthia had spent many an
hour in tight ropes—rolling around on an exercise mat in the
basement room, dressed in exercise togs or swimwear, fingers
groping for unreachable knots, squirming and writhing and
getting nowhere. They were always gagged, of course,
because that's what Lillian always did, and the door was always
padlocked for the duration, so Patty wouldn't stumble across a
helpless captive with Lillian not being present.
However, Cynthia and Kiera never did the other things Lillian
did to them—meaning they never boinked each others brains
out. They kept their clothes on and practiced trying to
"Not since the good old days," Kiera admitted. "It's easy
to find a yoga class. An escapology class? Not so
Cynthia laughed, and her hand began to move, slowly gliding over
the waist strap, to the strap just below Kiera's breasts, then
down, back across the waist strap, and to the margin of the test
subject's fiery pubic bush.
"C-Cynthia!" Kiera gasped in a whisper. Her stomach
muscles quivered under her mentor's lambent touch.
"We're not teacher and student anymore, Freckles," Cynthia
purred. "We're colleagues." Her hand continued
slowly sliding up and down Kiera's tummy, and Kiera continued
shivering and weakly pulling on her bonds.
"This is what colleagues do?" Kiera inquired.
"It's called collaborating," Cynthia answered.
"Oh." Kiera blew an errant wisp of red hair from her
face. "I've been doing it wrong."
Cynthia chuckled... and her hand continued gliding.
"When's the last time you talked to Patty?"
"Last month," Kiera answered, "but I confess we aren't all that
close anymore. I think she has a boyfriend, maybe
"That's great," Cynthia purred. "And Lillian?"
Kiera's heart skipped a beat before she answered. "Not
since graduation from Lewis & Clark."
"Good," Cynthia chuckled. "Sally and I told her to leave
Kiera smiled. "And what about you? Does Lillian
leave you alone?"
Cynthia's moue returned. "I should be so lucky. She
still visits now and then, on business." Her smile
returned. "Once the project is further along, I'll invite
you to the bungalow. We can go running, practice our assanas,
and you can work on your freckles on my deck, like the old
"And escapology practice?" Kiera whispered.
Cynthia's hand continued to slowly glide. "We'll see."
Kiera smiled up at her mentor and friend. "Uh... at some
point you are going to let me off this table, aren't
"At some point," Cynthia chuckled. She strolled to the
head of the table, leaned close, and kissed Kiera's lips.
"I'm so proud of you, Freckles," she said. "Welcome back."
Now Kiera's cheeks felt like they were on fire. "Thanks,
Doc," she answered. "It's good to be back."
Still smiling, Cynthia began releasing Kiera's restraints.
She released the ankle and wrist straps last, prolonging her
former student and now brilliant colleague's helplessness for as
long as possible.