Chapter 1: Work & Enterprise
Sylvia Atterbury, Minister for Work and Enterprise in the UK's New Order Government looked down at her diary for the day. It promised to be a quiet one for the start of the New Year; one early meeting, then a ministerial visit to inaugurate a programme for supporting entrepreneurial women with new business ideas and finally a briefing session with her PR advisors in the afternoon. The turmoil and flurry of new legislation that had followed the election of New Order had given way, six months later, to the steady process of making sure the business of Government was carried out. Sylvia was not much of a political zealot but she was, she thought, good at administration. Her practical approach had earned her a reputation as having a safe pair of hands in the Party, even if she wasn't as enthusiastic in pursuing some of the more extreme ideas that the membership put forward. She mightn't cut as glamorous a figure as some members of the government (she had been criticised for a rather frumpy outfit that she had worn to attend the opening of London Women's Designer Week the month before) or be as quick with a TV sound bite as some but she had some powerful allies in the City and amongst the growing body of women industrialists. Her implementation of policies for positive discrimination in favour of women in the workplace was seen as effective, if unexciting, and she liked to think the Prime Minister valued that.
There was a knock at the door.
"Enter," Sylvia called allowing the bearer of her morning coffee to come in. Sir Henry Warren, carried the tray carefully. He had no wish to start this day off badly with slops in the saucer of the Minister's coffee. As the department's Permanent Private Secretary before New Order came to power he had been one of the most influential Civil Servants in Whitehall and he had been knighted for "services to public administration" only a year ago. Now, though, as a result of his own department's positive discrimination policies -- New Order's so-called "Womanisation" programme - he found himself sidelined from any serious responsibilities. As policies were introduced to ensure women occupied any position where decision making was needed, he had been grateful to cling on to any role in order to stay employed long enough to claim his pension. That was still a worrying ten years off though and he was wondering if he would make it, so even the menial post he found himself in now was better than none. Fetching the Minister's coffee, doing her filing and seeing to whatever minor errands needed to be carried out as well as looking after his own successor was at least a job of some sort. Some of his one-time colleagues in Whitehall didn't even have that.
Sylvia barely acknowledged his presence as he carried the tray of coffee across the room. He was about to put it down on her desk when Julia Fain, the woman who had been promoted to replace him, appeared at the door. Julia wasn't sure about Henry. She had started off in the department working for him before he concept of a woman reporting to a man became absurd. He'd always been fair and hadn't shown any resentment about the changes in the department but, and it was a big but, he still didn't have a sponsor. Julia felt that really was a problem for a man employed in the heart of Government.
Henry looked down at his tray, worried in case Julia noticed an inadvertent look of appreciation. He had hired her. He told himself it was because of her qualifications and talents and he still thought of Julia as one of his better recruitment decisions -- back in the days men were allowed to make decisions of that sort. The trouble was, he often found his fantasies turning towards thoughts of her short dark hair, coquettish face, slim hips, and rounded breasts and buttocks in quieter moments in the office. Any expression of such thoughts could be seen as a clear breach of the Government's respect agenda but they couldn't actually stop you thinking them, Henry knew.
Julia, not noticing Henry's infatuated glance, turned towards Sylvia. "Minister; your nine o'clock," she said. "Ms Courten."
A tall, slim, woman swept into the room. Her dramatic appearance contrasted with the cosy, faintly academic comfort of the Minister's office. She extended a hand as Sylvia rose to greet her. "Raven Courten, Minister" she said. "Pleased to meet you."
Sylvia found herself impressed by the woman's presence, but it was hard to imagine who wouldn't be. She must have been five feet eleven tall but the four inch dagger-like heels of her knee length boots lifted her to well over six feet, even without the knot of long black hair hair that was piled on the back of her head. A black silk shirt, narrow black leather skirt and wide black patent belt appeared to have been chosen to fit with her name. Precisely applied make-up highlighted chiselled cheekbones, sharply sculpted eyebrows, and thin lips. A black eye patch covered one eye; the other, fringed by lashes that were long and heavily mascaraed, seemed to take in the room with a single sweep.
Henry Warren made a short noise that sounded very much like a pig's squeak and backed out of the room. Julia Fain watched him go, wondering at his reaction. Still, she thought any man would be intimidated by the appearance of Raven Courten. Poor old Henry had obviously been startled. She sometimes felt a bit sorry for how the changes in Government must seem to someone of his age. And, she could see how he might have found the sight of someone like Raven Courten a shock. Julia turned her attention back to Raven Courten and the Minister.
"Ms Courten, come in. Do sit down. How can I help?"
As Sylvia's visitor sat, crossing her black clad legs, Julia Fain dropped a folder on the desk. "Ms Courten wants to discuss some of the problems her trade association is facing."
"I see," Sylvia said. "Well, we're always happy to look at how Government policy can be used to stimulate trade, if that's what is needed. Which business area are we talking about?"
Julia Fain looked uncomfortable. The Minister obviously hadn't read her briefing paper. This was going to come as a bit of a shock.
Raven Courten smiled coolly. "The sex industry, Minister. I represent one of the professional bodies for sex workers across the UK."
Sylvia was taken aback for a moment but soon recovered. She leant forward with a look that had been developed over years of experience in political office to convey passionate interest without the least chance that she was about to do anything about it. "I'm sorry, I thought our policies had been quite progressive in this area. The whole industry has been de-criminalised and largely de-regulated, at least for women."
Julia was startled by the withering look that her visitor gave the Minister. 'You obviously do not realise it, Minister' Raven Courten began, 'but Government policies have virtually destroyed this industry. It has stolen our jobs over the last year. Removing the male population from the economically active part of the nation has effectively removed our market. Preventing their use of internet devices removed the marketing channels that most of our members depend on. Encouraging those with men in their care to restrict their sexual activity wherever possible has further impacted us. Some of us have continued to be able to trade but really at nothing like an economically viable level. We don't see anything coming along to compensate for the fact that for many of us a lucrative market sector -- by which I mean men -- is no longer able to take advantage of our services. It's a combination of things, of course. I'm not accusing the Government of setting out to do this but that has been the effect. The curfew restrictions didn't help and the fact that so few men now have any access to financial resources makes it very difficult for us. And in my own area, the members I represent, of course, the state has effectively nationalised things."
"I'm sorry" Julia responded. Now I am really confused. After all New Order had been rolling back the involvement of the state in industry. I didn't think we had taken anything into state ownership.
Julia Fain leant forward. "Ms Courten is a professional dominatrix, Minister."
"Was," Raven responded. "Was. It is no longer a viable career choice for myself or for the many others that followed my profession. Those that in the past had a use for my services find they are amply catered for by the treatment that they receive at the hands of wives, girlfriends, co-workers, the police service, shop workers, you name it. Even if they were allowed money or allowed out, the men that used to visit me now no longer need to in order to have their desires met. Heaven help us, the whole idea of a woman dominated society with its own 'Male Control Force' used to be the subject of elaborate fantasies, but now........."
A look of comprehension spread across Sylvia's face. She could easily see that the effects of New Order policies might have been exactly as described. It hadn't been intended of course but she could tell that the impact must have been just as Raven Courten claimed.
"Other sectors have suffered too. There's much reduced demand for erotic videos since it became impossible for male ident cards to allow access to certain parts of the Internet, the massage parlour sector has been decimated, escort agencies -- apart from those catering to women -- have no role. I could go on almost indefinitely. The one bright spot in my own field has been that export sales have risen -- the UK is now seen as the pre-eminent centre for dominant women and a. .uk web site now has a certain caché for those with the desires I cater for, but bluntly it's not enough and it's not something that much helps others. Your party claims to be the supporter of women in the workplace but in one area where women have historically been leading innovators and entrepreneurs you are not only giving us no support, you're making it almost impossible for us to function. There is an entire of group of women unable to contribute to the economy because of the Government's policies."
Sylvia thought for a moment. It was a difficult one. The Government wouldn't want to be seen to be the cause of restrictions in any area of industry and the point Raven made about being a supporter of women in the workplace was one she'd spoken out on herself. On the other hand, Johannsen the Prime minister was rather puritanical. When it came to matters of sex she was quite happy to have them kept under the Cabinet table. It wasn't the sort of thing that Sylvia would be welcomed for raising as a policy issue for the Party. "Ms Courten, thank you," she said. "I can understand how difficult things must have been but I'm not sure what you feel the Government can do to help. After all the policies we are pursuing regarding limiting the consequences of poor male judgement have a great deal of support. You can't be expecting us to roll those back, surely."
"Goodness, no!" Raven exclaimed. "I'm sorry. I think there must be some misunderstanding." She looked across at Julia Fain, who shrugged and looked down at the papers she had left for Sylvia. "We're not expecting you to change your policies. We're offering our skills and capabilities to help you implement them."
Sylvia looked confused. Julia leant across and pointed to something on her briefing paper. "Well," Sylvia turned confidently back recovering her composure, "that's certainly a very interesting proposition. Can I ask how you think you could help?"
Raven Courten had prepared her pitch. "Firstly I think we can help by consulting with you on policy direction. You must be aware that a large cohort of males respond naturally to the approach New Order has taken. Those with experience like mine can certainly help you to tailor policy announcements and implementation to take advantage, let's say, of certain common tastes and enthusiasms. Secondly, the Government must be concerned at how it is going to equip the enormous number of untrained women now in a position of needing to keep men under control. Some will come to it naturally -- after all I had no training at all -- but many will benefit from learning better skills and techniques. It would do a great deal, I believe, to reduce sponsorship absconder rates and dissident male behaviour generally. Finally I think the Government needs to rethink its sponsorship approach. It relies too much on individual women coming forward. If the Government was to put more support behind multiple sponsorships then a range of private-enterprise organisations could be set up to fill the gaps between, let's call it domestic sponsorship and something a bit more efficient and larger scale. The trouble is that to do this we would need the Government to create some sort of networking hub, a framework where those in the public sector could call on the advice of specialists like ourselves in the private sector."
Sylvia Atterbury found herself thinking that Raven's ideas had some merit. They also had the attraction that it would be other Government departments that would benefit from them and so, if they liked the idea she would be the hero that had brought it to them and if they didn't she had the perfect excuse for telling Raven Courten that, in spite of her best efforts, she wasn't able to help. She smiled. "I've found your ideas very interesting Ms Courten and I'll certainly get my team to look into what we might be able to do. I can't make any promises of course but we will come back to your association with a response on these matters." She turned to Julia Fain. "Can you get the team to pull together an assessment for me, Julia, please and then perhaps you can set up another meeting with Ms Courten to discuss our thoughts."
Julia looked at the folder of briefing documents on the Minister's desk. She was quite happy to pull together all the assessments that the Minister wanted but if she didn't read them what was the point? "Yes, of course," she replied.
Raven Courten got to her feet towering over the other two women. "Well, thank you for your time, Minister. I'll look forward to our next meeting." Julia showed her to the door. As Raven reached it she turned and said, "Oh, and give Bunny my regards." Sylvia looked blank but by then her visitor had gone.
"Bunny?" Julia said to herself as Raven was leaving, "who is 'Bunny'?" Then she realised. "Oh, I get it, 'Bunny' Warren."
Sylvia reflected on the curious meeting she had just had. It would have been easier if she's read Julia's paper she knew. The trouble was there was just so many documents in her red box, almost every day. Heaven knows it was hard enough to keep track of what she was supposed to be doing without new ideas coming forward.
And then there was the other thing; she was going to have to talk to Julia, she thought. Julia was a bright girl. She had done a good job of stepping into Henry's shoes under the Womanisation Programme. She had the potential to go a long way under the current regime, but she really needed to get on board and show she was applying the Government's policies herself. Of course, civil servants were supposed to be independent of the party of government but a recognition of how important some policies were was important. As far as Sylvia knew, Julia didn't even have a sponsored male at home and that really wasn't on. She would need to have a quiet word.
Chapter 2: Burrowing Away
Henry Lewis Warren was petrified. The moment that he had set eyes on Sylvia's visitor he had known immediately who she was. She was a striking woman and the trouble was that the last time he met her, she was striking him. You wouldn't easily forget her wherever you had met her, much less if you had -- as Henry had -- spent hours on a regular basis strapped across a wooden punishment frame while she had applied a wooden paddle to your naked backside. Perhaps she hadn't recognised him, Henry thought. After all Henry told himself without much confidence, she had normally made him wear a rubber rabbit mask over his face. So she wouldn't remember him, would she?
He watched with some relief as he saw her saying goodbye to Julia Fain at the other end of the office. There were plenty of raised eyebrows across the office at Raven's appearance as she walked to the lift. The women obviously thought that her appearance was just a bit much compared with their own more conservative versions of power dressing. And then there were the men, who could be divided up into those like himself who looked down at their desks fearful of being caught with their tongues hanging out and the others that stared in disbelief at such an unapologetic representative of an oppressing class.
Henry was mainly relieved that there hadn't been an embarrassing confrontation with Mistress Courten. After all, he hadn't actually got around to cancelling his last appointment with her. It had been for an afternoon not long after the election, he recalled. He had put it in his diary as an intended treat after all the stress of the preceding weeks and in anticipation of a quiet time when the previous minister was returned to his position. That -- as so much -- had been turned over by the shock election result. The new Minister had got to work quickly and when he had tried leaving early a couple of days later for his appointment with Raven, one of his new Minister's special advisors, a tall, elegantly dressed woman of Asian origins, had stopped him with a snarled, imperious, "...and where do you think you're going? If you think you've got so little to do that you can think about leaving at this time you're in for a shock. You'll go when I say you can and not before!" After that he hadn't really seen the point.
In retrospect, he felt quite guilty about not having been in contact with her. After all he had been visiting Mistress Courten for a long time. It had been an indulgence that he had kept secret for years. It wasn't the sort of thing that a senior civil servant could be open about. Thinking back he must have been one of her first clients when she opened her dungeon. While he hadn't been a frequent client, he supposed he must have seen her most months but he hadn't been since the election. A casual observer might think that New Order Britain was the ideal place for someone of his tastes but somehow it wasn't the same. He missed the sessions that they used to have and now he found himself wondering how he could arrange one again.
As soon as he thought about it, though, he became discouraged. His salary had been cut back so that he could only just about manage the essentials; he couldn't imagine being able to afford her 'tribute'. And there was the fact that the curfew meant he had to scuttle for home as quickly as he could when he got out of the office. But he did miss the sly smile she used to give him as she tightened the straps around his wrists on her punishment frame and the way that she had run her gloved hand across his back and arse, sizing it up before she selected whatever instrument of punishment she had decided on for her (and his) amusement.
It didn't help that he was still daydreaming about Raven when Julia Fain came up to his desk. "Henry?"
"Sorry Mist... Sorry, Ms Fain,"
"Do try to keep your mind on work while you're in the office."
Julia Fain dumped the pile of files which she dumped down in a disorganised heap on Henry's desk. "A little job for you, Henry," Julia's smile seemed calculated to disturb him. It succeeded. "The Minister needs a brief. Trends in employment for workers in the sex industries before and after the election of the current government. Summary of who the main representative bodies are, any academic or think-tank research, media coverage. You know the sort of thing. First review on my desk for tomorrow first thing would be good."